DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Lysachan, you have my gratitude for beta-reading and everything else.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To kayrynshadow[at]yahoo.com
SPOILERS: Season eight up to 8.16.

Fragile Truce
By Kayryn


Chapter 1

Erin Strauss woke to a blinding headache. In fact, her whole body hurt now that she thought about it. Reluctant to open her eyes just yet for the fear of making the headache even worse, she tried to assess her situation. The last thing she could remember was coming home. It had been a long day of fighting, again, with her superiors whether or not BAU's A-team should continue handling the case in which they themselves were targets. She'd argued fiercely on their behalf, repeating the very lines the team had given her. They knew the cases better than anyone; they were the best bet to catch the Replicator. She had fished her house keys from her shoulder bag... And then nothing; that was the last thing she could remember.

Finally, some of her age-old training kicked in. Still keeping her eyes closed, Erin was able to determine she was lying on a cold, hard surface, most likely a concrete floor. The air is was damp and a bit chilly. She wasn't gagged, or bound, so whoever took her wasn't worried about her escaping, and despite the way her body hurt, nothing seemed to be broken. She listened for any sounds, but couldn't really hear anything - except someone else breathing. Cautiously opening her eyes, Erin took in her surroundings; it was just as she'd estimated. She was in a corner of a large room with a door that looked like it could be made of steel. There were no windows or furniture, and a dim lamp hanging close to the door was the only source of light. In the other corner of the room, there was someone else lying on the floor, facing the wall. The bad lighting and the distance made it hard for Strauss tell more than that it was a woman with brown hair.

"Hello? Are you alright?" Erin called out to the other woman, but received no reply.

Slowly, Strauss first got on her knees and, then, leaning against the wall for support, stood up. This was when she noticed she had no shoes. Well, two inch heels could make for handy weapons in the right hands, she grudgingly admitted to herself. So, whoever took her and this other woman was clearly smart, leaving very little to chance.

Bracing herself against the wall, Erin slowly but steadily made her way to her fellow captive. As she got to about four feet of her, Erin's heart dropped to her stomach. "Alex?"

Still getting no response, the older woman lowered herself to the floor. At this end of the room, there was barely enough light to see the woman's features, but there was no mistaking who she was.

"Alex?" Erin tried once more, but to no avail. Hesitating for a moment, she reached out a hand to Alex's shoulder. Gently shaking the woman had no affect either, and Erin was starting to get worried.

She checked Alex for injuries and found nasty bruises on her forehead and cheek. Placing a hand on the battered forehead, Erin found it alarmingly warm; Alex was running a low fever. Carefully turning the woman to lie on her back, Erin resumed her examination. Visual inspection didn't reveal anything, but it was dark and Alex was wearing her usual black slacks, dark blouse, and a black jacket, so it was hard to be sure. Something was causing the fever, and Erin needed to know what. Silently asking for forgiveness, she ran her hands down Alex's right arm to check for broken bones, and, finding everything as it should be, she moved on to the left arm. The sleeve was wet, sticky, just below the shoulder. Erin's raised her hand and just as she feared, her hand was now covered in blood. Swallowing down her panic, she resumed her tactile inspection of the arm. Nothing else seemed out of place.

Worried about the arm more than anything at that point, Erin managed to remove Alex's jacket so that she could take a better look at it. It was a through and through, about four inches down from below her shoulder. The wounds had stopped bleeding, but the skin around both wounds was inflamed. She had nothing to clean the wounds with; the room didn't have a sink, or even a faucet, nor could Erin see any water bottles. She hoped their capturer would at least provide them with water - and soon. They were going to have to ration it, but some could be used to help clean Alex's wounds.

With some effort she maneuvered them so that she sat with her back against the wall while she held Alex's unconscious body. At least she was breathing, Erin reminded herself. And, considering how Alex felt about Erin, and not knowing how long they'd be stuck together in this room, maybe Alex being non-the-wiser about their predicament for now was a blessing. Stubbornly, Erin disregarded the knowledge that the longer the brunette stayed unconscious, more serious her situation would become.

Erin wondered how long they'd been in the room; she had no idea what time it was. Automatically checking her wrist, she discovered her watch missing as well. She glanced at Alex's wrists: No watch. There was no question in her mind that their phones were gone also.

Gently cradling Alex, Erin leaned her head against the wall, unsure of what to do next. Calling for help, or banging the door with her fists, would probably do no good. At worst, it could invite the wrath of whoever had taken them. Strauss swallowed; if it had been just her in this room, the UnSub could've been just about anyone. But to take both her and Alex? It had to be the Replicator.

Knowing and accepting that this was the only logical explanation was a lot harder than Strauss cared to admit. Despite trying not to, she wondered what he would do with them, what his endgame was. Was the team already aware that she and Alex were missing? If so, how close were they to finding them? Would they find them soon enough? She knew she was starting to panic, and it was something she definitely couldn't afford right now. She needed to keep her head clear, keep an eye on Alex, and try to figure out if there was anything she could do to help their escape. The problem was, she had no idea where to start.


Chapter 2

Sometime later, Erin opened her eyes; she'd fallen asleep, again. She was slightly disoriented, and her legs were cold, her knee-length skirt not providing much warmth. The rest of her was warm, though, thanks to the woman still lying on her lap. Strauss shifted her focus on the other woman. Alex was restlessly muttering something, but Erin couldn't make out the words. She checked the woman's forehead even in the faint light, the brunette's skin looked unnaturally pale it was still warm. The arm looked a bit more swollen, and Erin berated herself for falling asleep; obviously, her body had needed the rest as she was feeling a bit better now, though she should've stayed awake and kept an eye on Alex. She looked around the room and was both surprised and disturbed to notice that four bottles of water and a lidded bucket had appeared next to the door. She swallowed; he'd been to the room, and she'd been asleep. Panic threatened again, but she couldn't afford it; Couldn't allow herself to think about how vulnerable they'd been while he was standing that close. She looked down at Alex again and was met with a pair of brown eyes staring back at her.

"What the-,?"

"Alex. Thank god. How are you feeling?"

"Erin? What the hell?" Alex's speech was slightly slurred, Erin noted. The younger woman struggled to sit up, but Strauss gently pressed her back down. Blake resisted, wincing in pain and biting back a groan.

"Easy, Alex. Just try to relax for a moment and hear me out." Strauss waited for Alex to lie back down, which, after a moment, she did.

"How's your head?" Erin wanted to know.

"Feels like someone took a sledgehammer to it," Alex replied and closed her eyes against the headache.

Erin almost reached to stroke Alex's dark tresses, but quickly pulled back, knowing the gesture would not be welcomed. "You probably have a concussion. Your right temple and cheek are badly bruised. You've also been shot in the arm; it's a through and through. If you're feeling warm, it's because the wound is infected, and you have a fever," Strauss listed.

Blake sighed and took a moment to let it all sink in. Then she opened her eyes and tried to take a look at their surroundings. "What's our situation? How long have we been here?"

"We don't have our watches, or phones, so there's no way to tell just how long we've been here," Strauss explained. "I was unconscious when we arrived, and I fell asleep again for an unknown period of time. I... I surmised that, as it's both of us he's taken, it would make sense if it's the Replicator."

"Have you seen him?"

"No," Erin sighed. She was about to let Alex know about the man's apparent visit, when Alex interjected with an observation.

"Clearly he doesn't want us dead just yet, since we have water."

"Those appeared while I was asleep. When I first came to, the room was completely empty, except for us."

"Oh." Alex was clearly pertubed by this, and Strauss could hardly blame her. She tried very hard not to think about it. Trying to keep her mind on the positive, she reminded Alex that the arrival of the water bottles clearly meant that they were meant to stay alive.

"True," Blake allowed. "But he probably also wants us weak, hence no food." The lidded bucket, which was obviously there so they could relieve themselves, was left unmentioned, something that Erin was grateful for. She wanted to ignore that until it was absolutely necessary not to.

Suddenly, Alex seemed to realize that their current positions weren't what she, in all likelyhood, deemed appropriate for their relationship. She tried, once more, to get up, but, again, Erin pushed her down.

"Let me up," Alex demanded, clearly frustrated with her own weakness.

"No," Strauss argued back. "You need to lie down. Just... try to forget it's me and let your body rest." A moment went by as Alex clearly tried to decide whether to push the issue or not, but the Section Chief distracted her with another question: "What is the last thing you remember?"

"Oh, well..." Blake took a moment to think back. "Because of the workload, we postponed our Monday meeting till 6 pm. We weren't done until after seven, and I was late getting home. I remember I left my car in the parking garage and I was going to pick up some take away from a place around the corner. I heard footsteps behind me, but, when I turned around, I couldn't see anyone. Then, when I kept walking, the footsteps resumed, and I hid behind a concrete column. I remember hearing a shot fired. I ducked, but I guess I wasn't fast enough."

Erin closed her eyes. Up until now, she'd been very careful to touch Alex as little as possible, but, now, one of her hands found its way to the younger woman's shoulder. She wasn't sure if the shot had been meant for the arm or not, but she thanked whatever deity was listening that Blake had taken the hit in the arm, and not suffered an injury that was more serious. She marveled at Alex's steady recounting of the events; the woman was, of course, a field agent, but, even so, it was a different thing to witness something than to be the victim.

"He attacked," Blake continued her story, unaware of Erin's inner thoughts."I tried to fight him off, but, pressed against the ground like that and with my arm injured, I couldn't get a grip on him. I know he wore a mask; I saw that much. I think he hit my head against the floor, and I blacked out."

As Alex finished her narrative, silence fell upon them. Erin had tried to listen to the woman's story objectively and treat it as it were any other case she came across, but she couldn't. This was Alex, and the woman in her arms was injured and in pain. She wanted to offer comfort, but the unfortunate fact was that she had no right to do so - not the way she wanted to. There was too much history and too much hurt caused by her mistake; she didn't have any rights at all when it came to Alex.

"Try and sleep, Alex. We need all the rest we can get," Strauss broke the silence after a while. She was quite proud of how steady her voice sounded. "We don't know when he's coming back, or what he's got planned for us."


Chapter 3

A/N: As the show took liberties with the real Amerithrax case, so have I.


It was a high profile case, more so than ever before during Strauss' career. The entire nation, as well as large parts of the rest of the world, were already on edge after the 9/11 attacks; the anthrax letters created a new level of panic, and everyone in the Bureau was working like mad to apprehend whoever was responsible. As a part of a larger team, Strauss and Blake had been working closely for weeks.

As Unit Chief, Strauss had soon noticed how the men were inexplicably uncomfortable working with Blake. For all its declarations of equality, FBI was still very much a boy's club, and the boys often got defensive at the sight of an intelligent, independently thinking woman. Their behavior was childish and ignorant, but after a few, forced attempts to make them play nicely together with Blake and taking into account the pressure they were all in, Erin had decided to deal with team issues later. For the moment, she tended to pair Blake with herself, which, with the long days and long hours they pulled in, meant that they spent more time together than with anyone else. A fast friendship was formed.

As the weeks passed, those long days started to take their toll. It became almost a routine for people to crash, every now and then, on the old army cots at Quantico's basement, and Strauss and Blake included.

Erin sat across the mattress from Alex, leaning, leaning her back against the wall, with Alex sitting cross-legged next to her. They'd come down to the basement almost an hour ago, but, despite the long day and being exhausted, neither of them could sleep. Unfortunately, it was a common occurrence. Their minds were still working, even if their bodies were ready to call it quits for the night. Thankfully, the room was deserted, except for the two of them, so, at least, they could pass the time by talking before sleep would finally claim at least one of them.

"There just didn't seem to be a point to it anymore," Erin said, opening up for the first time about her recent divorce. "Everything we did for years revolved around the children, and now they're old enough so that they don't depend on us so much. I hadn't realized it, but, for a long time, our lives were so ridiculously routine we didn't even talk about who would pick up Michael from practice, or take Samantha to her piano lessons, or Andrea to her friend's house. We hardly ever talked to each other anymore. Not even about the children. And it was like John and I suddenly had nothing to say to each other. There was just this huge nothingness between us."

"But you tried to figure it out, right?" Alex gently inquired.

"We tried. We talked some, went on a few... well, dates, I suppose. We tried to get on the same page, sort of find each other again." Erin shrugged slightly. "It turns out, it's hard to do that when the other one has already set sights on someone else."

"Oh, Erin." Alex reached to hold her superior's hand, but, as soon as their hands touched, she seemed to realize she was overstepping boundaries. They were friends, yes, but Strauss was still her boss - and a very private one at that. Blake started to withdraw her hand when Erin grasped it and didn't let go.

It had stung at first, but Erin had come to terms with her ex's infidelity. It said a lot about the state of their marriage that she'd been able to do so as quickly as she had. "She was a finance consultant, hired for their company." Strauss chuckled under her breath. "The thing is, though, that she's not younger, nor necessarily even prettier. She just doesn't work as long hours as I do, and she's not tied to maintaining a household with three teenagers after all that."

Alex winced in sympathy and then looked wistful, something that didn't escape Erin's notice.

"What about you and Ted? You're still happy, right?"

The brunette looked down, her dark hair obscuring her face from Erin's questioning eyes. "Alex?"

"I'm not sure if he's having an affair, or if he really is that dedicated to his job. Whichever it is, I'm definitely coming second," Alex finally admitted, after a long silence.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Strauss murmured. She was about to continue when the door of the room opened, and another female agent walked in. Pulling their still linked hands apart, the women nodded a greeting to the intruder. Alex glanced at Erin and offered a rueful smile; the time for confiding was over for now.

Two weeks later, Blake and Strauss found themselves wrapping up the day earlier than usual. Or, what was rapidly becoming 'usual'. The Unit Chief stretched her aching muscles and watched as Blake stood beside her desk, packing a few items into her bag.

"How ridiculous is it that when we, for once, get to go home around a decent time, I'd rather stay downstairs than go home?" Strauss asked around a yawn. "I just don't want to drive all that way to an empty house. Then again, I don't think my back could handle the poor state of those bunk beds tonight."

Alex squinted her eyes, looking at Erin as if she was trying to decide on something.

"What is it?"

"Okay, you have to tell me if this sounds weird, or if you feel like I'm crossing a line here," Alex forewarned. At Strauss' accepting nod, she continued. "I'm not too thrilled about the idea of heading home either. Ted's working a double shift, or so he says. All I've got waiting for me at home is an aquarium and leftover pizza, so... We could get a room at the Dumfries' Holiday Inn, relax, get room service, have a glass of wine… or two, and, I don't know, recharge by watching a comedy or something."

Erin had to admit she was tempted. The idea of no cooking, no cleaning, and just taking it easy for the rest of the evening sounded like heaven. She readily agreed.

The following morning Erin decided that it was the best idea Alex had had since they'd started working together. The evening had been enjoyable, and Erin marveled at how the easy friendship they had developed over the past months had somehow deepened in just one evening. They'd talked, late into night, and discovered their many similarities and shared interests. Erin found herself trusting the other woman in a way she had never really trusted another person. She treasured the times they spent together and was surprised to discover just how much she had come to rely on Alex.

Soon, it became something of a tradition for them; whenever their day ended reasonably early, so that they could enjoy the evening together, they'd get a room at the Inn. By their fourth stay, they had added sex to the list of activities for the night. After the first time it happened, Erin woke the next day with a serious case of regret over their actions. She couldn't believe they'd allowed things to take such a turn, no matter how each of them had wanted it. She was still Alex's superior, and sex could, and most likely would, complicate matters. And Alex, well, Alex was still married. Erin agonized over their indiscretion while still lying in bed, the other woman snuggled to her side. Then Alex lifted her head from Erin's chest and smiled brilliantly before leaning in for a kiss. After that, Erin couldn't, for the life of her, come up with a reason why she should end this arrangement.

For two months, Alex and Erin made their way to the Inn after work, sometimes once, sometimes twice a week. The frequency of their meetings after work made them both worry over being found out, and so they soon started staying in different inns, rotating them at random intervals. If either woman noticed how those evenings went from chance encounters to moments they worked hard to fit into their schedules, neither mentioned it. By some miracle, they managed to hide the affair from their co-workers, though, if anyone noticed how close they'd become, they probably contributed it to their obvious friendship.

It was the first week of January, and the first time since before Christmas that Alex and Erin had been able to arrange to meet in private. Now, two hours after checking in, Alex collapsed on the bed, quite exhausted from their enthusiastic reunion. She laid on her back, pulling the covers over her and Erin. Alex let her eyes rest on the other woman, who, still slightly out of breath, settled against Alex.

"God woman, what you do to me," Erin sighed against Alex's shoulder.

The younger woman laughed. "What can I say? I missed you."

The kiss that followed the heartfelt confession was sweet and tender. Too soon, though, exhaustion took over and they gave into sleep. An hour later, and refreshed from their little nap, it was mutually decided a shower was needed, after which they ordered light dinner to be sent to the room.

Finally reclining on the bed again, this time, Erin resting against the backboard as Alex leaned against her lover, their discussion drifted back to work, as it sometimes did, despite their best efforts. This had been a good week, though; they talked about the breakthrough they'd just had. An arrest had finally been made, two days before, and the BAU's profilers were currently interviewing the suspect. Soon, they'd find out just how many people were behind these attacks, and they would finally put an end to this madness. Erin congratulated Alex on providing the vital insight against the terrorist.

"It wasn't just me though, Erin. It was the team, all of us," Blake stated. She might have helped with the linguistics, but they all agreed on the meaning of the wording, which, in turn, lead them to the right man. Now, it was just about making sure they had tied all the loose ends and hadn't missed anything.

"Well, either way, it looks like we'll be wrapping this one up soon. God, just thinking about the amount of paperwork waiting for me once this is all over gives me an ulcer," Strauss lamented. She was a bureaucrat, it wasn't something she was ashamed of, but just because she was a firm believer in rules and regulations, didn't mean she loved paperwork any more than the next person.

"So, once the case is done..." Alex's words drifted off; they were both well aware that the end of the case meant there would be no more excuse for long days.

No need to rent a room at a hotel.

"I don't want to give this up, Erin." Alex kissed the woman's bare shoulder and reveled in the feeling of Erin holding her just a little tighter.

"I don't want to either," Erin confessed quietly.

The three, unspoken words hung in the air but remained unsaid; this was not the time for grand declarations. Maybe, once the case was truly over. Their eyes met, and it was as if a silent agreement had been reached; as if they'd just made a pact. Unable to stop the smile spreading on her face, Erin leaned closer to Alex and kissed her thoroughly. She couldn't have been happier.

The next day, Erin sacrificed Alex's career for the sake of the team's reputation – and her own.


Chapter 4

Things had gone to hell after that, Strauss reflected. She glanced at Alex, who was now feeling well enough to be sitting next to her, though she was still leaning against Erin. The brunette was clearly in pain, but she had claimed that her back was starting to ache from lying down for so long and, that she needed to change positions. Erin wasn't quite sure how they ended up talking about the past; that had not been her intention at this time. It wasn't that she didn't want to talk about it at all; she had, in fact, wanted to talk to Blake about their past for several months now. It was just that this situation was not ideal for that kind of a talk. And, yet, here they were.

"And... while it doesn't excuse anything, and I know I deserved every bit of it, it was hell for me, too," Erin said.

Alex remained silent, and Strauss interpreted it as a permission to continue. Though everything she uttered sounded like an excuse, even to her own ears, she tried to explain the reasons behind her actions that had taken place over a decade ago.

Their relationship, if you could even call it that, had still been in its baby steps. There had been a strong connection between them, Erin knew, but going public would have been impossible. She couldn't deny that she had panicked, and how, in that moment, she had doubted it all. There was no telling how long the relationship would have lasted. Alex had said that she didn't want to "give this up", but what had that meant? Had it meant that she hadn't wanted to give up the few nights of passion here and there, or was it something more permanent she'd had in mind? Alex had still been married, but would she have even considered a divorce, or had Erin just been a distraction, until Alex sorted things out with her husband? On top of everything else, Erin couldn't have sacrificed her career for a relationship that might not have had a future. She'd just lost the husband, the girls had somehow ended up siding with their father, even though he was the one that had cheated and walked out. And, even her son, who had still been loyal to her, had had his own friends and had hardly ever been home. So, she had gone from having a fulfilling job, a husband and kids, to no husband, kids she hardly ever even saw, and a job which had been on the line.

As much as Erin hated to admit it, she had panicked when it became clear that the arrest they had made was a false one, and the powers that be had been looking for someone to blame. She'd grabbed on to her career with everything she'd had, and she hadn't thought about anyone but herself, while pushing Alex under the bus. Then, when she'd realized what she'd done, and although she felt horrible, it had felt like it was too late for her to back out, so she'd kept silent. Her guilt had only multiplied when she learned that Alex had been demoted, and she herself was given another promotion, just a few months later.

The only thing that seemed to ease the pain a little had been a glass of wine after work.

Silence had fallen upon the women after Erin had finished telling her side of what had happened. As time crawled forward, Alex started leaning more heavily against her companion, and Strauss hesitantly placed her arm around the drained woman. From the way Alex was breathing, Strauss surmised that she'd fallen asleep again. It was probably for the best; the fever wasn't letting up, and Alex needed the rest. Erin tried not to think about how, despite the dire circumstances, it felt good to hold the other woman again. It dawned on her that she had so many regrets, and her head was full of 'what ifs'.

Strauss wasn't sure how much time had passed when she heard the rattling of the locks on the door. Fear gripped her, and she held on to Alex a little tighter. Her heart was pounding in her ears as different scenarios flashed through her mind, each one worse than the next.

"Alex, wake up." Erin kept her eyes firmly on the door, but she sensed Alex stirring next to her. "He's here, wake up."

But, as Alex was trying to sit up straighter, the door swung slightly inwards. An arm quickly appeared and then disappeared just as quickly, leaving behind a paper plate with a loaf of bread on it. Both, Alex and Erin, stayed still, frozen in their places. Only when the locks were replaced and, after a minute, there hadn't been another sound except for their breathing, did Erin withdraw her arm from around Alex.

"Do you think it's safe to eat?" Erin wondered.

"If he wanted us dead, he would have killed us many times over already. Whatever his plan is, it includes us staying alive, for now," Blake reasoned.

"I'm not sure that comforts me as much as you think it does." Erin quipped and then groaned in pain as she got up to fetch their meager meal. She was aching all over from sitting on the cold, hard floor, for however long it had been.

The bread was dry, and they had to drink more water than what their rations would've allowed just to get it down, but, at that moment, Strauss couldn't really give a damn; it was food. She did, however, have to keep encouraging Alex to eat; the other woman's condition was clearly getting worse.

Once they'd forced down enough of the bread to take most of their hunger away, Alex surprised Erin by shuffling closer to her, before, once more, leaning against her former lover. Strauss glanced at Alex and saw that she was biting her lip in discomfort. Erin took her hand, but then she realized how intimate the gesture was, even in these circumstances. She didn't have the right to initiate such an intimate gesture, and she was about to pull her hand back when Alex gripped it tighter. Erin leaned her head against the wall and sighed.

"Just hold on, Alex. Just hold on."

When the team rescued them, it happened in a strangely calm manner. Alex and Erin were in what had become their usual spots, when they heard voices through the door. The locks were pried open, the door flung open, and, a second later, Hotch stood in the room with his gun in hand, his focused glare taking in the scene. He was quickly followed by Jareau and Rossi, and, a moment later, three EMTs.

At the hospital, and after having been treated by the doctors, Strauss demanded to see Alex. It took some persuasion from both her and Hotchner, as well as the embarrassment of being wheeled to Blake's room, but, in the end, she got her wish. When she reached the agent's bedside, the woman seemed to be resting peacefully. Erin was slightly shocked to see all the bruising on Alex's temple and cheek under the harsh hospital lights. In the dull light of the basement, she hadn't been able to ascertain just how bad the damage was. It wasn't anything time wouldn't heal, but it looked painful enough.

Erin's perusal of Alex's injuries was interrupted when Blake opened her eyes, and the two women stared at each other uncomfortably. It was as if whatever bridges they'd rebuilt over their captivity had suddenly vanished into thin air. However, Strauss refused to give up; not after all they'd been through.

"How are you feeling?"

"Broken and bruised ribs, concussion, bruising on the temple, stitches for the arm, and antibiotics for the infection," Blake listed, giving Strauss nothing but a fact based report. "They'll observe me for another 24 hours, and then release me. I'm on mandatory paid leave for two weeks, then on desk duty until th-"

"That's not why I asked," Strauss softly interrupted. She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Are they giving you enough medication for the pain?"

"Yes, they are."

Silence threatened to take over again; only, just as it was starting to become too strained, Alex cleared her throat. "And you?"

"I got off easy in comparison; two bruised ribs and some scrapes and contusions, nothing that won't heal fairly fast."

The awkwardness continued to dominate every moment the two tried to pretend they weren't trying to size each other up. Strauss sighed; this was going nowhere, fast.

"Is there anyone I could call?"

"No," Alex's gaze shifted down to her hands. "Hotch called Ted, and he's coming to pick me up tomorrow."

Erin felt at a loss on how to respond, the mention of Alex's husband hanging heavily over them, but then Blake continued: "Turned out he just really is/was that dedicated to his job."

"I..." Erin paused to search for the right words. "I understand that we're still a long way from things being alright between us, and that I still have a lot to make amends for. But I don't want to lose whatever connection, however tentative, we managed to rebuild in there. I feel that, as bad as what we've just been through was, and as clichéd as it sounds...well, I'd like to think that something good came out of it."

Silence was Erin's only answer, as Alex didn't say anything, but, after a few moments, the brunette tilted her head in a way that Erin chose to interpret as an assent. Strauss was about to continue when a nurse entered the room, and, eventually, that's when she decided to make her escape.



Early the next Monday morning, Strauss arrived at Quantico. Though, she'd been back at the office already on Thursday, the day after being rescued. Truth be told, Strauss had been ordered to take a week off, but she couldn't imagine staying at home with nothing but her thoughts as company. She'd been exhausted, she couldn't deny that, and her body had still ached from the ordeal. She hadn't touched the painkillers and muscle relaxants the doctor had prescribed, and that had meant sleepless nights. Though, she'd be lying if she tried to claim it was all because of the pain. She knew the dark room, the Replicator, and, on top of that, whatever had happened with Alex, would stay with her for a long time to come. All in all, she felt like crap which is why during the two days she'd worked the previous week, she'd taken it easy.

But now, it was a new week, and it was time to put excuses aside. Erin had no doubt the team would, eventually, catch the Replicator. The people higher up the ladder might have them, growing day after day, but, over the years, Erin had come to understand just how good Hotchner's team was, and what they could accomplish. She was still forced to walk the fine line placating the big wigs, while supporting Hotchner's team the best she could, but she was happy to do it. She had a lot to make up for; they'd saved her life, after all.

She'd just reached her office and sat down behind her desk, when there was a knock on her door. She looked up and saw a familiar brunette leaning against the door frame, with a white paper bag in one hand.

"Alex?" Erin couldn't hide her surprise at seeing the woman at the door. "Aren't you supposed to be on mandatory leave for another two weeks?"

"I am, but I couldn't, for the life of me, take the silence of the apartment for another day."

Strauss lowered her head, knowing exactly what Alex was talking about. It was strange how much their lives mirrored each other's, and, yet, how vast the distance between them remained. Erin was about to say something to the effect when Alex continued:

"I won't even suggest going to the field until the doctor clears me, I promise." The agent seemed to be under the impression Strauss was about to send her back home. "I've already talked to Hotch, and he promised that I can help the team in whichever way I can as long as I sit behind a desk. But, only if you agree... Erin, I just really want to work. I need to. I need to know I'm doing something to help the team to catch this son of a bitch."

Erin nodded, understanding Alex's position all too well. Then she offered half a smile. "I can hardly fault you for that when I'm here against medical advice myself."

Now it was Alex who nodded. Strauss thought she could see a hint of a smile on Blake's lips, but it was so fleeting she wasn't sure. Blake kept staring at Strauss, almost as if she was somehow studying her. Erin came to the conclusion that that might be exactly what Alex was doing, and she waited. She wasn't sure what she expected, but when Alex turned to leave without another word, Erin found herself strangely disappointed. She started to log on to her computer when she noticed Alex turning back to her. Once again, Erin waited. Alex was looking at her again, with the same strange expression on her face.

Then, finally, Alex stepped fully into Erin's office. She opened the white paper bag she was carrying and pulled out a take-away coffee cup, offering it to Strauss.

"I have a feeling it's going to be a long week. I thought we could start with coffee, as you suggested."

The End

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