innerslytherin

My Girl, Rossi/Prentiss, PG

My Girl, Rossi/Prentiss, PG

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Title: My Girl
Author: [info]innerslytherin
Rating: PG
WC: 4,821
Pairing: Rossi/Prentiss
Summary: Emily thought the teenage years were supposed to be a challenge. Apparently no one informed one precocious eleven-year-old.
Prompt: Written for the [info]cmrossiprentiss Family Picnic Summer 2010 ficathon. My prompt was Dave & Emily's daughter.
Note: Thank you to [info]smacky30, who has twice now dropped everything for a last-minute beta. Thanks also to [info]astraea36 for providing early input about being the mother of an eleven-year-old girl.


"Cara Alexandra Rossi, you get in here this minute!" Emily shouted. She'd always told herself she wouldn't be the sort of mother who shouted, but there were times that having an eleven-year-old every bit as strong-willed as both of her parents made Emily break that vow.

"Ooh, Alexandra, I must really be in trouble." Emily didn't know when exactly that level of snark had developed in Cara's tone, but she had perfected it in the months since earning her first detention.

"Yes, young lady, you are really in trouble," Emily said. "And be glad I'm the one who found this instead of your father. He would send you straight to Father Jimmy without asking for an explanation first." She held up the expensive red mp3-player that she knew damn well neither she nor Dave had purchased for their daughter.

Cara's lips pressed together and twisted. She was tall for her eleven years, and her dark, wavy hair was pulled back in a ponytail. When she scowled, then forced it away, like she was doing at this moment, it made Emily feel almost sick with guilt. She and Dave had tried hard to raise their daughter with the security to fully experience her emotions, rather than feeling as though they had to be hidden as Emily had throughout her childhood. She's too much like me, Emily reflected ruefully. And that, of course, was part of the problem.

"Well?" she demanded. "Don't you even think about lying to me, young lady. Where did you get this?"

If she'd found the mp3-player a year ago, even six months ago, Emily might not have been as suspicious. After all, Cara got a generous allowance, and she'd been known to save up for big purchases before, like two years ago, when she just had to have a big-kid bike like Jack and Henry. But ever since Henry went on to high school, Cara had been almost unmanageable. The three of them had grown up together, and the boys had always spoiled Cara, but the downside was that Cara had never really made any close friends in her own grade. This year she'd had to make friends, but at least one of the girls had been in trouble for shoplifting, and she was the one who'd incited the argument that caused the detention.

Emily had always thought it was the teenage years that were difficult, but eleven was shaping up to be pretty crappy too. It doesn't help that I was in Qatar for two months after Mother's illness, she thought guiltily. And Dave had had a book tour that took him across the country right after Christmas. Emily's brief taste of being a single parent had been exhausting and stressful.

Cara was glaring at her, her brown eyes expressing both resentment and hurt.

Great. What have I done wrong this time? Emily wondered. She caught her daughter apparently shoplifting and yet somehow she was the one who was feeling guilty. As usual.

"Cara Alexandra," Emily demanded, forcing her voice to be calm as she pushed down her guilt. It had to be one of those other girls who dragged her into this. Maybe one of the others had taken it, and Cara was just hiding it for them. Cara was a good kid, smart and industrious most of the time. She was just having a hard year.

Cara heaved a long sigh and held out her hand. She'd been biting her nails again, Emily saw. The light blue fingernail polish had almost all peeled off since they'd painted them two days ago. "Here," Cara said, taking the mp3-player from Emily's hand. "I'll show you." She pulled her lips over to one side and added, "And by the way, if Daddy had been the one to find it, he wouldn't have sent me to Father Jimmy. Dad helped me pick this out."

She slid a switch to one side and the screen lit up. Emily hadn't even thought to look and see what was on it. When she read the screen, her heart plummeted. God, she had messed up.

"EMILY'S RELAXING MUSIC," flashed across the screen. As Cara scrolled through the list, Emily saw three classical music mixes, several trance and house playlists, and then the mix that told her exactly how this had started: Santana for When Mom Wants to Make Dad Shut Up.

Three weeks ago Emily and Dave had argued playfully in the car on the way to Nonna Rossi's house. He'd tried Carole King and she'd countered with Siouxsie; he'd responded with James Taylor and Emily had played David Bowie. Cara, in the backseat, had chimed in with her opinion on each. They'd finally agreed on Santana, which had finally ended the mock argument.

"Oh, shit," Emily said out loud, then slapped her hand across her lips lightly. "Shoot. Gosh, I'm sorry, baby." Her cheeks felt hot. Most of the time she felt like even after eleven years she was still making this up as she went along--and getting it wrong most of the time. "I am so sorry. Your dad made you do this, didn't he?"

Cara rolled her eyes. "He still can barely work his PDA. There was no way I was letting him touch your birthday present. God, Mom, I can't believe you thought I stole this!"

Emily rubbed her hands against her cheeks and shook her head. "I am so sorry. I should have known better. I just..."

"What were you doing going through my stuff, anyway?" Cara put her hands on her hips. "I put that in my closet so you wouldn't find it!"

"Yeah, and I do your laundry, genius," Emily said, though she wondered if teasing was a good idea right now.

"You don't usually put it away." That was true enough, but Emily had thought it would be a nice favor for Cara, who had been very good this week about practicing her piano every day and getting all her homework done and ready to show off by the time her parents got home from work.

Emily shook her head. "Cara, I'm sorry."

Cara glared at her for several more heartbeats, but finally she sighed. "You know, I'm not exactly like you, Mom. If I get pissed off at you, I yell at you. I'm not gonna start smoking and drinking and stuff just to get your attention."

The words stung; for all that she'd talked frankly about some parts of her past with her daughter, it was almost painful that Cara could see through her so easily. "I know," Emily said. She brushed her daughter's bangs out of her eyes and cupped her cheek. "I love you, sweetie. I hope you know that, if nothing else."

"I do. I love you too. But it still doesn't make it cool that you thought I was stealing." Cara's gaze hardened again. "I think you need to and give me space."

Emily bit her lip. Give me space, was their code phrase, and it was one they had both learned, through painful lessons, to respect completely. She nodded unhappily and gestured at the mp3-player, then went downstairs.

She heard Cara's door slam behind her.

***

"You going to tell me what's wrong?" Dave asked. His voice was mild, but his gaze was sharp. He'd gotten home fifteen minutes ago, long enough to greet Emily with a kiss, sort through the mail and go through his post-work ritual of removing his gun, badge, watch, and shoes.

And he probably knew something was wrong the minute he walked in the house, Emily thought ruefully.

"Other than that I'm a horrible mother and Cara hates me right now?" she said. Damn it. Her voice was thick with emotion. She'd gotten worse at this compartmentalization thing as she'd grown older and spent more time with her family.

Dave didn't say another word. Instead he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. Emily tucked her head against his neck, under his chin, and wished she didn't feel so damn helpless sometimes. She could face down unsubs that would make hardened NYPD cops flinch, but she consistently found herself cowed by an eleven-year-old girl who was as smart as her father and twice as stubborn.

"You're a great mother," Dave murmured after a while. Emily pressed her fingertips into stinging eyes and snuffled. She hadn't cried as much in the last ten years as she had this year, either.

"I accused her of stealing," she confessed. "And I should have known better. Of course I should have known better. So now she's pissed at me and I don't think she accepted my apology, and I owe you a dollar, damn it."

Dave snorted. Ten years ago they'd started paying each other a dollar for every swear word they let slip in front of their child, and since Dave had paid out at least four times as much as Emily, she knew she wouldn't get any sympathy there.

"Em, you're a good mom. And Cara hasn't exactly been a bundle of joy to be around lately." Dave was stroking his hand up and down Emily's back. "I think it's been worse for you than it has for me since you two are so much alike. She's fierce and driven and she doesn't want to disappoint you, but she also wants our trust."

Emily sighed gustily against Dave's neck. "But that rotten Laster girl is such a bad influence on her." It didn't matter; she knew that from experience. After all, her mother had taken an instant dislike to John Cooley, which was probably what had made Emily cling so fiercely to him that she'd agreed to sleep with him. Emily had always tried not to react like that to Cara's friends, but it had always been easy before this year, because Cara's two best friends had been Jack and Henry.

"You know that and I know that, but Cara hasn't figured it out for herself yet." Dave kissed Emily's hair, then pushed her back just enough to meet her eyes. "She will. I promise." He gave her a crooked smile. "She's just as smart as her mom, after all."

Emily didn't point out that it had taken a crisis to make her wise up to John Cooley. Instead she just lifted her face for a proper kiss. Things would work out. They always did. And he was right, they had to trust Cara. She was a good kid, and she had parents who adored her and were always available to her. She wouldn't make the same mistakes Emily had made--even if she didn't know all the details about Emily's mistakes.

Dave's lips parted against Emily's, his tongue teasing at her lower lip, and she melted into the kiss, grateful that after thirteen years they still had so much passion for each other. Of course that was when footsteps pounded down the stairs. A moment later Cara's disgusted voice said, "Ew! Get a room!"

Emily and Dave were both laughing as their daughter pushed past them into the kitchen.

***

Emily frowned at the checkbook and then rubbed her eyes. She and Dave had made a deal when they'd first gotten married: he would cook most of the meals and she would take care of all the family budgeting and bill paying. It was an arrangement they had both always been happy with, though Emily found herself helping Dave in the kitchen a lot simply because he was fun to cook with. She figured it was only fair, since bill-paying was a weekly chore at most and cooking was daily.

But tonight she couldn't concentrate on anything and she'd already had to void two checks after writing them wrong. Cara had come home from school and practiced her piano with a vengeance; Emily had never heard Bach sound so angry before. After half an hour Cara had gone upstairs and shut her door harder than necessary.

Emily knew she'd already apologized, but she couldn't help feeling desperately guilty that she'd suspected Cara, and guilty that she'd ruined Dave's surprise--even if he hadn't realized that yet. Of course, if Cara told him, Emily would deserve it. She hoped Cara would keep it a secret to spare Dave's feelings. Cara often was more sensitive about her dad's feelings, and Emily could only imagine it was because Dave had always worn his heart on his sleeve where his family was concerned. Despite her best efforts, Emily was much more guarded.

She sighed and left the checkbook and bills spread out on her desk in the study she and Dave shared. They wouldn't go anywhere for the next three hours, and she had some serious making amends to do.

After letting Cesare out into the backyard (he was a worse beggar than Mucci had ever been) she pulled out her cookie sheets and her grandmother's battered orange Betty Crocker Cookbook. An hour later she carried a plate of chocolate chip cookies and two glasses of milk upstairs and knocked on Cara's door.

"What?"

Cara's voice was short, but not actually sullen.

"Need a homework break?" Emily called through the closed door. They'd agreed last year that unless Cara said Come in, the door stayed closed. It was a rule Emily was still having trouble following, mostly because when she was eleven she would have loved for her mother to knock on her bedroom door for any reason. But she was trying, so she stood outside the closed door, hoping Cara would relent, until she heard the handle turn.

Cara's eyes were wary, and Emily's heart ached knowing that was her fault. Cara brushed her hair coolly over her shoulder and just looked at Emily.

"I baked cookies," Emily said, holding up the tray. "I thought we could talk for a while, if you want."

Cara chewed her lower lip for a long moment, studying Emily's face. Finally she shrugged and turned to walk back to her desk. "Okay. If you want."

Emily's heart jumped happily and she went into the room and settled on Cara's bed. Cara turned the chair around to face her, then took a glass of milk when Emily offered it. She dunked her cookie in her milk and took a bite. Emily waited until her mouth was full to speak.

"I want to apologize, Care," she said, holding her daughter's gaze. "I made some assumptions of you that were unfair and unfounded. And I'm really sorry."

"It really sucks, Mom," Cara told her. She didn't look away, but her brown eyes were getting glassy all of a sudden. "You tell me you want me to be responsible and shit, but then you don't believe I can."

Emily's eyebrows shot up. "I believe you can get your mouth washed out with soap," she said, only half-joking. She'd done it exactly once, after seven-year-old Cara had watched a Mets game with her father and uncles; Dave had forgotten his daughter was present, and Cara had gone into the kitchen and announced, "Damn it!" to Emily and her sisters-in-law.

Of course, everyone had expected Emily to yell at Cara, but the only person who ended up with suds in his mouth was Dave.

Cara glared at her. "You and Daddy can talk that way, but I can't?"

Emily sighed. "That's not the issue here."

That earned her an eye-roll, but Cara stuffed another cookie in her mouth. They both chewed silently for a few moments then Cara said, "You hurt my feelings."

"I know that," Emily said quietly. "I'm sorry. I hope you know that's the last thing I would want to do."

Cara's mouth quirked at one side, which was a clear tell that she was about to cry. Emily felt her own mouth turn down. Of all the things she'd gone through--having her car roll down a hill, being beaten up by a cult leader, even being shot--nothing hurt as much as seeing her daughter in pain.

"You didn't even try to trust me, Mom," Cara said, her voice wobbling. "You just saw that and jumped right to me being a thief!"

Emily sighed and set her glass aside, then wrapped her arms around Cara. It was awkward leaning across the space between them, but she didn't care. "I wish I could do it over again," she murmured. "But I can't. All I can do is ask you to forgive me."

Cara buried her face against Emily's shoulder. "Yeah, and what happens next time you go through my stuff?" she demanded.

Emily stroked her fingers through the dark tangles. "I have a confession," she said after a moment. "Sometimes I forget you're growing up. And when I'm reminded of that, I just want to hold on tighter and keep you little."

"Mooom," Cara protested.

"I do," Emily said. "I remember when you were little, there was nothing your dad and I couldn't fix by kissing it better or giving you a hug." She blinked back tears. "I remember sitting up through thunderstorms with you, when all you needed was to have me sing to you and you wouldn't be afraid. I remember when you'd stub your toe and your dad would spray it with Bactine and blow on it, and that's all it took to get you smiling again."

"Mom," Cara said again, but her voice was softening.

Emily shook her head. "And sometimes, I admit, I see you making a mistake, and I want to jump in and fix it. I want to save you the pain or the trouble that mistake will cause." She squeezed Cara gently. "I forget that I had to make all my own mistakes when I was your age."

Cara's arms crept around Emily's waist. Emily blinked hard but she couldn't keep the tears from slipping down her cheeks.

"I love you so much, Cara Alexandra Rossi."

Cara huffed. "I love you too, Mom." She sat up and frowned at Emily. Her nose was red; she'd inherited Emily's porcelain complexion, which was never kind when they cried. "But what mistake do you think I'm making by helping Dad with his present?"

Emily shook her head. "Not that," she said. "I just think that you were happier when you were spending time with Henry and Jack. I don't think Sarah Laster is very good company for you."

Cara made a face. "Jack's not interested in hanging out with me anymore," she complained. "He's a junior in high school and he thinks that makes him so much better than me."

"He still adores you," Emily said. "I think he just doesn't remember how to talk to you." Honestly if any other junior in high school expressed interest in her daughter, Emily would have a background check run on him faster than he could say statutory rape. But she knew Jack Hotchner, and although Emily and Dave had been unable to have more children, she considered Jack and Henry both as surrogate sons.

Cara just shrugged and looked down.

That was when they heard Dave's voice calling up the stairs. "Where are my two favorite girls?"

Emily and Cara looked at each other for a few seconds. Emily raised her eyebrows. In response, a slow smile slid across Cara's face. Together they stood and headed downstairs.

***

Emily's birthday was low-key, as she had requested. She didn't think fifty-two was a birthday that required a big celebration, and she'd somehow managed to get Dave to agree. Of course, he hadn't quite stuck to his end of the bargain, since he'd bought her an expensive present, but she was willing to overlook that.

When she got home from work, Cara met her at the garage door and dragged her for a long walk around the neighborhood. She was terribly obvious about the fact she was keeping Emily out of the house, but Emily was more than happy to go along with it. When Cara finally checked her watch for the twentieth time and said she was tired and wanted to go home, Emily had to fight to keep from laughing.

When they walked in the front door, the curtains were drawn, making the house dim. She recognized "Peekaboo" by Siouxsie and the Banshees on the stereo. And behind her, she heard her daughter start giggling.

"Signora, your meal is prepared." Dave was standing in the kitchen entry, his gaze warm on Emily's. He held out a hand and she stepped forward to twine her fingers with his. Cara snorted and followed them...not to the dining room, as Emily had expected, but to the living room. The coffee table was set with paper plates, napkins, and a pizza box from Avanti's.

Dave and Cara broke into song as Emily started laughing. They did the birthday song in Italian for her instead of English, and then Cara showed off by singing it in Spanish too. Emily applauded obligingly when she was done then she let Cara tug her over to the couch.

With her husband on one side and her daughter on the other, Emily couldn't help but feel like the luckiest woman in the world. Dave slid an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.

"You said you didn't want a big production for your birthday," he murmured. "So Carebear and I thought this would be fun."

Emily kissed him and squeezed Cara. "It's perfect," she said happily.

"Presents or pizza first?" Dave asked.

Emily gave him a look. "Do you really need to ask? Pizza! We can't let it get cold."

They dug in and Emily told them about her day in between bites. Dave had poured a glass of wine for each of them, and Cara was drinking Cherry Coke out of a wine glass. After a while Cara started telling knock-knock jokes, which Dave and Emily laughed at obligingly. Then Dave talked about the chapter he'd just finished in his book about Zoe Hawkes. Her mother had agreed to let Dave write about her, and in exchange Dave had asked if he could establish a scholarship in Zoe's name using the profits. Emily knew Cara didn't really understand the significance that Zoe held in Dave's life, but she asked eager questions and Dave seemed to appreciate her interest. Emily found herself leaning back, watching her husband and daughter converse as she sipped her wine.

Finally Dave wound down and looked over at her. "You've been quiet tonight."

Emily shrugged, smiling. "I'm content."

"You'll be even more content once you open your presents," he informed her, and got two boxes out from under the coffee table.

"One from Daddy and one from me," Cara informed her. She kept a straight face as she said it, and Emily decided Cara must not have told Dave.

Emily tore open the first box to find a white picture frame. Inside it was a watercolor Cara had obviously painted herself. It was a painting of the white swing on their front porch, with Emily's ferns hanging from the porch ceiling and Dave's deep purple pansies in planters at either end. Last summer Emily and Cara had spent a lot of time sitting on that porch swing while Emily recovered from being shot by a serial rapist in Baton Rouge.

"Cara..." Emily whispered, and looked up at her daughter, who was grinning. Emily smiled and hugged her tight. "Thank you. This is perfect."

"It's not very good," Cara muttered, but Emily put a finger over her lips.

"Of course it's good," she said. "You painted this for me, and it's absolutely gorgeous. I'm going to hang it in my office at work."

Cara made a face and Emily laughed and rained kisses on her cheeks. "I'm going to show it off to everyone who comes through my door," she said, ignoring the way Cara squealed.

Dave was laughing, leaning out of the way of Emily's and Cara's play. "She'll probably requisition an accent light to show it off properly," he teased. Cara wrinkled her nose at him.

"Open Daddy's present!" she ordered, tugging out of Emily's arms. She bounced in place and watched as Dave held out a small box.

Emily caught her lower lip between her teeth and tore the paper recklessly, hoping she could act surprised. When she pulled out the red mp3-player she gasped as realistically as she could.

"Dave," she said, looking at him. "I told you nothing big this year."

He shrugged. "I knew yours quit working a couple of cases ago, and I hate the thought of you traveling without your stuff to relax."

Emily smiled and leaned over to kiss him softly. "Thank you," she said. "I love it."

"It should be all ready to go," he said, poking a finger at her hand. "I had Carebear load it up with music for you."

Emily raised her eyebrows and looked from Dave to Cara. Cara was giggling almost silently, one hand stuffed against her mouth. Emily fought the urge to roll her eyes; Cara was going to give it away if Emily didn't.

"Well, great, it'll be loaded with that Robbie Super and Disney music," she complained, and shook her head.

"Moooom," Cara drawled, and gave an overly exasperated sigh. "Nuh-uh. I put music on there that you like."

"Oh, good." Emily mimicked wiping her brow in relief and Cara rolled her eyes.

"Here. Try this one," Cara said, taking the mp3-player for a moment and scrolling through the lists. Then she hooked it up to the stereo and the sultry tones of the Temptations rolled out of the speakers. Cara gave them a quirky grin and handed the mp3-player back to Emily.

"Happy birthday, Mom. I gotta go finish my social studies homework." She hugged Emily and gave each of her parents a kiss on the cheek, then headed upstairs.

Emily looked down at the display and laughed, then held it up for Dave to see: A Motown List Mom and Dad Can Agree On.

"I think we're raising a little profiler," Dave commented, grinning as he pulled Emily into his arms. "She definitely got this mix right," he added as "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" faded into Linda Jones' "Your Precious Love". Motown was something they both loved, and was probably what Cara loved the most out of all the music they listened to. Emily suspected it was because of all the times they'd caught Dave doing silly dances as he sang along to the Temptations or the Jackson Five.

"I think she's getting a lot of things right," Emily murmured, snuggling into Dave's side. She watched as he refilled their wine glasses. "How did we manage to raise such a great kid, Dave?"

He hummed in amusement. "It must have been your influence," he said, his lips brushing her temple. "If it'd been left up to me, she'd probably be drinking and swearing like a sailor by now."

Emily snorted and sipped her wine. "I don't know. If it's my influence, we're lucky she's not smoking like a chimney and wearing short skirts already."

Dave growled at her and wrapped both arms around her. "I guess we did all right muddling through somehow." He kissed the tip of her nose and pulled back to study her. "Whatever was going on between you two earlier this week seems to be resolved."

"Mm. I apologized and we had a serious little talk," she confirmed. "I think we figured some things out."

"I noticed you baked cookies the other day and I didn't get any." Dave pouted at her. "You could've kept one or two out for me."

"It was only one batch," Emily said, "and all of them were needed to talk things out properly."

Dave shook his head in mock sorrow, but he kissed her. "Next time I buy you a present I'm giving it to Reid to hide," he whispered, and started laughing when Emily thumped him in the ribs.

"You knew?" she demanded.

Dave shrugged. "It's pretty hard to keep secrets in this family," he said. "You did a good job acting surprised, though."

Emily shook her head. "You're impossible, Mr. Rossi," she said, and set her wine glass aside to wrap both arms around his neck. "Sometimes I ask myself how I've put up with you this long."

"Do you ever come up with a good answer, Mrs. Rossi?" he murmured, trailing his lips across her cheek to the spot behind her ear that always made her shiver.

Emily smiled and ran her fingers up into his hair. "I guess it's because no matter how crazy you drive me, I feel pretty darn lucky to be married to you."

"Mmm." Dave sucked lightly on her neck, then lifted his head to kiss her hungrily. Emily was about to shift into his lap when they heard footsteps on the stairs and their daughter's voice saying,

"Ew! Get a room!"

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