DISCLAIMER: X-Men and Criminal Minds belong to their creators and anyone else with a legal right to their use and abuse.
SEQUEL: to Commodum Ex Iniuria (The Reward of Injustice).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Genosha.

9 Crimes
By Alsike


Chapter 1

Sleepless again, Emma couldn't turn her mind off. The bed, the pinnacle of comfort, felt cold and hard. Harder than a blanked spread over bare ground. Harder than a cheap mattress in a crummy rural hotel. She rolled over again and tried not to think about the last night she had spent watching Emily sleep. She hated every moment of it: lying there, holding her, watching her breathe. She had drawn the dark strands away so she could see her face, relaxed for once, not tired or drawn with care. And she wanted to destroy her. Digging her nails into flesh and scraping away the skin, ripping her open, bones snapping away, wrenching apart her rib cage, and lowering her head to sink her teeth into her heart…

If she were the one who killed her, maybe it wouldn't feel like a loss.

Emma had never claimed to be in love. She didn't believe in it. Having torn through the wreckage of a thousand minds, she had found no trace of such an emotion. Attachment, sure; obsession, of course; but nothing that she would call love. And she would never call this feeling love. It was more of a horrified desperation, a longing for something that lay with its hips brushing hers, and yet rested too far apart for her to ever own or possess.

Emma had watched her breathe and considered what she would do the next time she stopped.

Her heart had been beaten over and over again, her hopes, dreams, faith chipped away until all that was left was a solid diamond core.

But she knew better than most that even diamond could shatter.

The scent of ozone, hot winds and damp grass, preceded her friend's arrival, and Jean breathed it in with delight. Majestic as always, Ororo glided to the ground and Jean ran to hug her.

She would not talk about Scott, she told herself, griping about him would ruin a perfectly good visit. She would not talk about Scott.

"How is that going?" Ororo inquired, spotting Emma stalking across the gardens towards a group of students, already cowering in terror from the telepathic advance guard. "I do not trust her, and I cannot imagine why Charles is doing so."

Jean smiled as Emma verbally lacerated Quentin for bullying and shook her head. "I'm beginning to think that she actually has reformed. She's… different. We had this mission recently, where we had to work with the FBI, and oddly enough, I think she made a friend."

Ororo raised her eyebrows. "A human friend?"

"I know! Isn't that inspiring?"

"Incredible, yes, inspiring I may have to withhold judgment upon."

Jean laughed. "But it was so sweet. She wouldn't speak to anyone for the whole flight home after she had to say goodbye to Agent Prentiss."

Ororo paused, and frowned. "Prentiss?"

Jean nodded. "Agent Emily Prentiss."

"Wait. Emma's friend is named Emily? Emily Prentiss?"

"Do you know her too?"

Ororo's expression hardened. "I may have to pay her a visit, just to make sure Emma isn't breaking the rules." She turned and called out to a member of her team, just now passing on their way to dinner. "Sage? Sage. I need an address."

Jean stepped back and watched the exchange, rather mystified. What was it about Agent Emily Prentiss that seemed to make everyone want to break the rules?

Emily was fine. She didn't need another pity party making sure she wouldn't spend her Friday nights drinking alone. She hadn't planned on spending her Friday night drinking alone. She hadn't planned on spending it drinking at all. She had in fact gotten the new book by Roy Hazelwood, one of the pioneers of criminal profiling, out of the library, and was hoping for a little time to herself to enjoy it. But it was not to be.

Garcia, JJ and Morgan showed up at her door to drag her out of the house. They only ended up with movies and popcorn at JJ's, but they desperately attempted to make sure she was having a good time. One of these desperate attempts involved vodka.

Emily had never seen the point of alcoholism. Too much broke down her treasured control, and though a little bit made her relax, being relaxed just made her too honest.

This time honesty meant, when Garcia came over to where she was lying face down on the sofa and asked her how she was doing, she replied, "God, fucking leave me alone. I'm fine."

If it was not a particularly convincing response, it was the alcohol's fault, not hers.

"What do you mean, 'it's encrypted'?"

"It means," Sage began, the exasperation in her tone only apparent to those very familiar with her, "that someone has decided to restrict access to Emily Prentiss' personal information. Including her Amazon shipping address."

"Can't you get past it?"

"Probably. But I'm more interested in who did it and why."

Ororo frowned. She hadn't meant this to be a mission, but if Emma had something to do with why Sage was having trouble getting this piece of information, perhaps there was something to look into. Still, Ororo couldn't help but consider the trustworthiness of the source of her own information. Emma and Sage did have a lot in common.

"I've traced the lock."

"Well, where's it coming from?"


Garcia had set up her regular surveillance tapes, and was happily taking screenshots from the locker room footage to add to her collection of FBI Erotica, when someone, completely unregistered by her cameras, opened the door to her office and stepped inside. Disbelieving, Garcia glanced back and forth from the footage of her closed office door, to the dark haired woman in sexy sunglasses. Sunglasses, that Penelope finally noticed, she could read.

No words were spoken. No words needed to be spoken, but more information was communicated in one glance than would have been in an hour of intimate conversation.

Sage picked up a fluffy pen off her desk, and brushed her nose with it, experimentally, as if to see what it might do.

"You're different," she said, keeping Garcia in her peripheral vision, "You speak to them, to us, but you also speak human. Lucky."

Garcia blinked. "You mean you don't?"

Sage looked away, letting her fingertips run caressingly down the side of a CPU, an odd smile on her face. "Humans have always been a bit inscrutable to me."

Ororo knocked on the door of the apartment. There was a pause and then a crash from the inside.

"Sorry, one moment!"

Storm felt a frisson of tension and self doubt that she hadn't been familiar with since she had fallen from the sky and been hailed as a goddess nearly twenty years before. She wasn't wrong though. Sage, hooked up to the FBI intranet, had given her a rundown of the history of their quarry. It was clear that the daughter of recently deceased Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss had been in Cairo at the same time as she had. And Ororo had polished those memories over and over again, turning them into little kernels of hope. They had given her light while living as an alley rat in the squalor of the slums.

She was not about to forget the too pale girl with too dark eyes and too dark hair, her negative image, who knew about not looking like anyone else around you. They knew the looks of envy and disgust given to Americans that their parents thought they were too young to comprehend. They had played deadly serious games, pillow cases as veils, practicing their Arabic greetings, wishing to be allowed to wear the veils in public, wishing for something to protect them from the harsh predatory stares and the prayers that doubled as curses. They played at being the demons they were called.

The door opened, and Ororo stood immobilized by the familiar eyes, which had only fulfilled the prophecy of tragedy they held when young.

Emily's gaze went from surprised to confused and intent, taking in the blue eyes and white hair that made Ororo distinct anywhere she went. She looked foggy and overwhelmed, and Storm wondered if she would be recognized at all, or merely for her public reputation.

But the sound that came out of her mouth was clearly "…Ro?"


Emily rubbed her eyes and looked at her again. "People… people don't come back from the dead. Who are you?"

"I did not die. My parents were killed in the explosion. I was trapped beneath the wreckage for days. But my powers manifested when the truck came through the window. The winds saved my life."

Emily just leaned on the doorframe, staring at her.

Ororo bowed slightly. "As-salaamu `alayki."

Emily gaped. "… wa-" The response formed without thought. She stopped it and shook her head, as if to clear it, then looked up and smiled. "Wa `alayki as salaam."

Ororo accepted it.

"It is you."

"It is."

Emily left the door open and staggered back into her apartment, falling into her sofa and pressing her fingers to her temples. "Please come in. I'm sorry I'm a terrible host, but I'm still hung over." She glanced up in time to catch Ororo's disapproval, looked at her face for a long time, and finally smiled. "Your disapproving expression hasn't changed a whit. But it's not my fault. Allah preserve me from well-intentioned friends."

Ororo nodded and accepted the invitation.

"What happened to you? They said you were dead."

"I became lost in the city. I survived, thievery and scamming tourists. It was hard, but not without its small pleasures."

Emily rubbed her eyes. "You were supposed to bring me," she said. Her voice weak. "You weren't supposed to be alone."

Ororo felt the tension slip from her shoulders. It was painful to remember that time, even after the horror had faded with the immediacy of hunger. She had thieved in the marketplace, and waited for the thrill of adventure to return, as it had been when she had played that way with Emily, but while she was alone it never did. "I looked for you, in the markets. I didn't think you would remember that promise."

"Mother dragged me to Kabul a month afterwards. Cairo was unsafe."

"Afghanistan. That must have been a challenge."

"I was probably the only peace-loving American grateful for the Soviet invasion."

Ororo laughed, and Emily felt the last vestiges of confusion and anger slip away. "Do you want tea? Let me make tea."

"Not if you're feeling poorly."

Emily, already moving toward the kitchen, smiled over her shoulder. "I feel like celebrating. How often do you get a friend brought back from the dead?"

Ororo decided not to answer that with a number as her experience was slightly anomalous. Instead she settled for perusing the photos framed upon Emily's mantelpiece. They were few, a candid shot of a large friendly group, Emily caught in the center, looking surprised and slightly uncomfortable with the attention, but not pushed to the side like the frowning man with dark hair, who was relegated to watching. The second was odd, a fading picture, printed on copy paper, leaving only the outlines of the back of a blonde woman in a pale sterile environment. And the third was a publicity shot, Ambassador Prentiss shaking hands with Erik Magnus, in his incarnation as president of Genosha. Ororo stared at that for a long time. How strange that she would choose this out of what must be a filing cabinet full of photos of her mother greeting various heads of state.

Emily's footsteps sounded behind her.

"I heard about your mother's passing. I am sorry."

Emily set down the teapot, her hands not shaking. "Thank you," she replied, but her words were forced. "But you know what she was like."

"I know what it is like to be suddenly an orphan as well."

Emily nodded. But suddenly she looked up, her face twisted with anger. "She was the one. She was the one who told me you were dead. I was… was I eight yet? She didn't even try to make it easy, she never tried to show that she cared, and she liked you. She came into my room, and said 'your friend Ororo has died,' just like that. I ran away to the café and I saw the wreckage, and when I cried she had me sedated."

Ororo reached out and took her hand. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."

Emily batted her away. "Don't pity me. You had it worse."

"To be honest, I would not like to be the one who had to tell a child their friend had died."

Emily closed her eyes. "No. Not as bad as telling a parent the fate of their child, but the pain is more immediate somehow, when they understand. And it's not like moving away. The adult can't protect himself with the lies, the lies about letters and phone calls."

"The lies?"

"Kids' friendships aren't intellectual, they're immediate, about presence."

Ororo nodded. It was the truth. But when you had no friends, you remembered instead. You imagined conversations and adventures. You shaped friends from the wind. The friends looked and smiled and spoke like people you knew so long ago, that you wondered if they were only ever imaginary.

"The lies are only comforting to adults."

"Do you wish your mother had lied?"

Emily sat back and held her knees. "No," she said finally. "I would rather know. Even though it did turn out to be false."

She gave Ororo another weak smile. "It doesn't feel false though. So much must have happened to you. You must have been extremely lucky to survive."

Ororo acquiesced. "I was."


Chapter 2

Emily poured the tea. "Why are you here?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why did you knock on my door? Even old friends who I don't think died long ago don't just drop in."

Ororo tapped the side of her cup. The jasmine blend reminded her of mornings she had awoken in the forest, soft hints of sun finding their way through the trees. "I was surprised to hear your name again, particularly in conjunction with Emma Frost's."

Emily's eyes widened. She frowned, then pressed her forehead in irritation. "You're an X-Man, of course. I should have recognized you years before."

"Low quality news footage does not make for easy identification of childhood friends."

"And you don't braid your hair anymore."

"Not often."

"I still should have known." Emily shook her head. "But just dropping in?"

Ororo leaned forward. "How do you know Emma?"

Emily stiffened. "This is about that? She was right. Emma Frost condescending to even argue with a human is so out of character for her that you mount a vast information gathering operation to find out what horrible treachery is coming your way."

"She has not proven herself trustworthy in the past."

Emily shrugged. "What do you want to know? I can't tell you if she's been screwing with my mind or has some nefarious scheme planned. It wasn't exactly our usual topic of conversation."

Emily looked bitter and upset and Ororo considered backtracking swiftly. But if just mentioning the White Queen's name was enough to cause such a reaction, the questions might be worth pursuing.

"The coincidence of it being you was by far the most surprising part."

Emily let out a faint huff that seemed intended to be a laugh. "Small world?"

"In my experience it is rather large until there is a reason for it to shrink."

"I don't want to talk about her. So if you must interrogate me, do it quickly."

Ororo shook her head. "I don't want to interrogate you, but…"

"But Emma doesn't have human friends," Emily filled in. "I know. She mentioned that. Does she have human fuck buddies? Would that clear up the trouble if that was all our relationship entailed? Because we're not friends. I'm not in contact with her. We just needed each other for a while, but we don't anymore. We survived."

Ororo was making another disapproving face. 'Fuck buddies' was not a term she appreciated. Emily caught her expression and winced. "All that living in Islamic countries didn't rub off too much, did it?"

Ororo arched an eyebrow. "Are you asking if I am homophobic? I would have little leg to stand on if I were." Emily frowned, clearly wondering if that was a confession. "But you should be more respectful of your body. Mere pleasure should not be worth damaging your self respect."

Emily closed her eyes and took a breath. Then she smiled, almost amused. "It wasn't like that. I almost wish it were. It would be easier if my self respect were all that was injured."

"Has she hurt you? You said you would not know if she had touched your mind."

"She threatened to, many times. But she never took the last step."

"Are you certain?"

"I told her to do it, to rip herself from my memories. It would have hurt less. But she wouldn't do it." Emily touched her mouth.

"She hurt you." It was an understatement, but all she could manage. And Ororo began to consider how she could inadvertently electrocute Emma again.

"She saved my life."

The thing that had changed the least about Emily to Ororo's mind was her wide-open face. All her emotions were written there in broad lines and though you might not know what she was thinking, her feelings were as clear as the sky on a bright day. It was this that kept Ororo prying, even when faced by Emily's amusement at questions about inexplicable lapses in memory, or important meetings that she had only the barest recollections of. But there was nothing. Emily bore no signs of possession, of use, only the grief of a woman who had been rejected in the most mundane of ways. And that grief was displayed with a mocking self-loathing that Ororo knew better than to attribute to Emma's intervention. Those were the marks of Emily's mother alone. And, for the first time, Ororo was angry about her past, not because of her loss, her suffering, but for the loss of her chance to help another.

It was rare that Garcia let herself be dragged away from her post for lunch. But here she was, sitting under trees buzzing with cicadas, and feeling a bit like she was under recruitment by a Soviet agent.

She shook her head, irritated by Sage's lack of response. She wanted to treat her like a human, because a computer that could think and come to decisions on its own was as terrifying as something out of a Phillip K. Dick novel.

"Look!" she said. "I believe in the system. It's not perfect, but it has the ability to change peacefully built into it. I won't be your spy."

"Not a spy, then." Sage blinked once, lizard like. "A guardian, perhaps. Revolution often comes from the inside. Who better than you to make sure the government stays as pure and uncorrupted as you believe it to be?"

"I would risk my job, everything."

"Only if you get caught."

Jean was smiling at her again. It was repulsive. Emma hated being trusted, and now all she could think of was Emily's incredulous disbelief when she warned her that she had no place in her plans. She had plans. She was the type of person who would choose power over anything else. And Jean's hopeful expression, her sudden belief that Emma might actually be one of the 'good ones' was so irritating as not to be spoken of. She didn't want to be trusted. She didn't deserve to be trusted, not after the things she'd said…

Every night Emma woke up with nightmares. Their content varied, she had enough horrific images that her unconscious was not strained into making things up. But the ones that had plagued her of late were worse than usual. Her dreams mocked her.

After Genosha she had been hammered with the memories of seeing her children dying. Her students: torn apart by falling beams, bleeding out from the broken glass, crushed under brickwork and the sentinels' footsteps. They cursed her, even after death, blamed her, begged for help, cried out for their parents, asked after their friends, asked why. She had woken up, sweaty and freezing, and Emily had been there. Splaying her fingers over her warm back, feeling it tense and relax as she breathed, burying her face in her hair and breathing in its scent, all the stronger after days sweating in the African sun, had been the only thing that kept her sane. Right there she could focus on the life, remember that there still was life. She was not alone in an empty world.

But now the dreams played tricks on her. She would wake from one nightmare to the next, Emily limp and cold in her arms, in her bed. No way to rouse her, nothing left.

And when she woke up again, she was alone.

Alone, she couldn't remember if she had saved her, or if she really was gone.

Seeing Ororo had woken up far too many emotions that Emily preferred to keep buried. The anger at her mother had resurfaced and multiplied, and the guilt that always accompanied it left her sick and tired. How dare she, Emily asked over and over again, how dare she die before I had the chance to tell her how much she hurt me? But it was unfair to be angry with the dead.

The story of Emma switching minds with Ororo hadn't been as shocking as Ro seemed to expect it to be. Emma was petty, vindictive, selfish. She knew that. She didn't want to be warned about her. She wanted to stop thinking about her. It would be nice to be able to write everything she did off as a sign of an evil nature, but she had seen much worse done, and evil had always been too bland and simplistic a word.

In Buddhism, enlightenment was often known as awakening, awakening from the dream of the world to its reality. She sometimes thought that the dream was the search for meaning. It was meaning that seemed to be the cause of most of the evil in this world, valuing things like racial pride, believing that destroying a symbol of a thing would rid you of its curse, that killing a woman would break the rein your mother put on you. It was magical thinking, the doctrine of signatures, sticking pins into a doll of cloth and expecting it to bleed.

But what else was there? If you saw the true emptiness of reality, the random death, the violence of ignorance, how could you bear to survive?

The tiredness and melancholy stayed with her throughout the week.

It was a week of paperwork, of statistics and graphs, mindless fussy work that was a relief from thought. At the end the team had a party, to push away the shadows left as pictures of forgotten victims crossed their desks, and the guilt for betraying the promise to never forget such an atrocity rose up like their gorge.

Emily drank, knowing that everyone was worried about her, trying to have fun, trying to be social. When the party started fading, Emily, feeling buzzed and only partially connected to her body, was disappointed. JJ was apparently her assigned babysitter for the night, sitting next to her and sipping soda, and looking at her with dark worried eyes. Emily was starting to wonder if all of this was her fault. She waited. She always waited too long.

When Ororo left, with a hand squeeze that was almost painful in its intensity, and leaving her cell number scrawled on the pad beside Emily's phone, more than she had ever gotten from Emma, Emily had thought about kissing her. She could almost feel it; she had been so close to doing it. It might have only ended up being a pathetic lunge for connection with a long lost friend, but it would have been something. But she waited, and it ended up being nothing, like everything else.

JJ rubbed her shoulder. "Hey, are you okay? Everyone's gone. Do you want me to drive you home?"

"Don't want to go back there," Emily mumbled, not enough out of it to be unaware of what JJ's touchy-feely tendencies were doing to her.

"No?" She heard the chuckle in JJ's tone and scowled. "Are there monsters?"

Easily and charmingly JJ tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, her hand stayed and threaded through Emily's thick dark locks. Emily stiffened and pulled away.

"Don't touch me like that."

JJ looked surprised and confused. She strung her fingers through her own hair. And Emily was so sick of waiting.

She kissed her.


Chapter 3

Jean sighed, leaning on the back of the couch in the teacher's lounge. Emma was at the table, a change of scenery for her never-ending grading.

"Christ, what a sentence," she muttered to herself, wondering whether the student himself would understand the thought if she read it back to him. One of the irritating lazy brats had complained about having to write papers when she could just glance in their mind to see if they knew the material. This was entirely missing the point. If intelligence were defined by knowledge alone, any telepath would be a thousand times smarter than Beast. A paper was a chance to use one's brain, to consider and connect ideas in original ways, and, god forbid, have an idea. And then they had to express it. She viciously circled a misplaced apostrophe in red pen. They whined, but it completely threw off the meaning of the sentence. Quentin's was one of the worst. "Telepathy is no excuse for laziness," she scrawled on the back, followed by a C. Thought was easy; communication was not.

"How are your papers?"

Emma looked up and frowned, not appreciating content-free interruptions. "Repulsive as usual."

Jean grinned. "One of your students came to me with an essay you corrected, crying."

"It's always good to know you've made an impression."

"We went over your comments though, and I think she understood them at the end."

"Who was it?"


Emma glanced back through the papers she had already marked and found the Cuckoos' set. Esme's was obviously plagiarized. Sophie, Mindee, and Celeste's were virtually identical, which was the trouble with sharing a mind. But Phoebe's had been a surprise.

"She did much better this time. Your hard work has paid off," she commented wryly.

"I think it was your hard work. I just convinced her that you actually weren't being arbitrarily cruel."

"I am arbitrarily cruel. To everyone." Spotting a completely unintelligible misspelling, she circled it with half attention.

Jean chuckled. "Do you get many students coming to you with… personal questions?"

"Enough. I do have a degree in psychology, even though my intimidating character makes some less than willing to confide in me."

"I was wondering…" Jean was staring vaguely off into the distance, and the fog of sadness she rested in was written on her face as well as filling up the mental plane. "When do you know a relationship's over?"

Emma blinked. Content-free small talk had become an impromptu counseling session. "You're a telepath. Most people think that we have some divine omniscience in these matters."

"Do you?"

Emma laughed.

"And I wouldn't… I couldn't do that. Then it would be over, either way."

"If there is one thing I have learned from counseling, it is that the doubt that comes with being a sapiens is terrible. You have an advantage that many would kill for. If your human senses are giving strong hints, use your mutant ones, cut your losses, and get out."

Emma bore her down with her gaze and Jean looked away. "Cut your losses?"

"No one has strong enough shields to block all their feelings. If you aren't feeling anything good, there's nothing good there."

JJ took in a quick gasp as they broke for air. Emily moved in for more and found unexpected hands at her chest, keeping her away. She tried to go over them.

"Emily! Stop!"

Emily kissed her again, awkwardly, half missing her mouth, before JJ finally elbowed her away. She held her firmly by the upper arms and gave her a sharp look. Emily's eyes stung and she squinted to try not to cry.

"I can't do this."

Emily swallowed hard and wished she wasn't so drunk. She could control herself better if she weren't like this.

"I've made a lot of mistakes," said JJ, shaking her head. "And one was not understanding what you were offering until it was too late. But I'm happy with what I have."

She made a strained painful-looking smile. Emily was sure if it weren't for the firm grip on her arms, she would drop under the table and never come out.

"It wasn't… what I expected, exactly. But it's right for me. I'm sorry I hurt you, but I don't know if I could have ever chosen you. I need to be happy, make the person I'm with happy, and I don't think you know how to live like that."

Emily blinked back her tears. "I've been happy."

JJ sat back, letting her arms go, and watching her pityingly. "Not truly at peace and happy. I don't know if you're set up for it."

Emily closed her eyes and tried to breathe. It came hard. She nearly choked on the air, on the bitterness that it tasted of.

It wasn't fair that Emma was always right. She'll never love you. It wasn't even 'wrong time, wrong place'. It was 'you are damaged, and it's not worth it to me to put up with that'. No one would ever pick her, not if they had the chance to be with someone whole.

No one would ever pick her.

Scott was the next one to come to Emma for advice. He walked right into her office and shut the door, standing stiffly in his impenetrable magenta armor. Emma groaned inaudibly and folded her glasses, sitting back in the chair.

"What do you want, Scott?"

"I've been having a difficult time dealing with my possession by Apocalypse."

Dear God, thought Emma, do I look like fucking Oprah?

"He showed me that I have darkness on my soul that I never knew was there. I thought you might have some familiarity with that."

What did he mean soul? What soul? "Darkness?" She laughed. "You think you have darkness? You don't know what the word means."

"I've done things I'm not proud of. I've been angry."

"You've been angry." Emma mocked him. "Have you ever wanted to kill someone you loved, just so no one else could?"

He stared at her, his expression unreadable behind the glasses.

"And have you imagined it, and felt the pleasure of it? Sadistic pleasure is a kind I know only too well."

"I am afraid of my own capacity for violence. My powers give me the ability to kill easily. And sometimes, I don't care. I am afraid of that, of not regretting it."

"Why should you? The heat of battle, a cruel enemy."

"I've killed tactically before."

Emma smiled, tilting her head. Did the white knight have stains on his hands? How interesting. "Have you? Now that is a grey area. Rationalization and logic often masquerade in the other's guise. Can you ever be sure that you have removed all taint of anger and frustration? Did you desire to kill, and let that blind you?"

"I never desire to kill."

"No? Then why are you here? Actions untainted by feeling should never weigh on your mind, no more than the man who opens the door to a Nazi oven considers the morality of his actions. He is just opening a door. Just as you are doing your duty."

"I don't think that comparison is valid."

"Convictions are a greater enemy to truth than lies."

He looked puzzled. Emma smiled. "Well, if you've never desired to kill, have you ever wanted anything not sweet and vanilla? Because if you've dreamed it, I've done it."

Scott went stiff and angry, turning his face away.

"If it were anything else, you wouldn't be hiding from her, Scott. If it were killing, or anger, or feeling out of control of your own actions, Jean would understand. Do you think she doesn't know the pleasure of destruction, the woman who murdered a whole world?"

"She wasn't in control of herself."

"Neither were you. A possession is a possession. And we love to show you what you're capable of, what your training and socialization repress."

"She wants forgiveness for that, not…"

"Not punishment? Not those kinky erotic fantasies I see floating around in your head?"

Scott's muscles tensed, but other responses were beginning to show.

"You always did have a thing for murderously insane women, didn't you, Scott? Compared to the Goblin Queen and the Dark Phoenix, I'm rather tame. But you've tasted Hellfire, and it's hard to go back."

Emma knew the pleasures of wanton destruction. It was a child's tantrum, the joy of power, of feeling the strength in your hands. She hadn't missed it, but it was something integral to her character. She saw the opportunity in front of her. If she didn't take it, she wouldn't know who she was anymore.

Emily wondered if she had ever been happy. It was a difficult thing to consider, because one way or another she had always managed to laugh, to make other people happy when they needed it. But even in high school the son of the Japanese Ambassador had once sketched a cartoon of her as the sad clown, the broad smile and sobbing eyes.

Lying on JJ's couch, the small mutters from Henry's baby monitor, JJ and Will speaking in murmurs in the next room was not where she had expected to end up tonight. She already felt hung over, though she was probably still drunk. And she had kissed JJ, kissed one gorgeous unattainable woman because another had ripped her apart.

She felt like a homeless orphan standing outside a shop window, starving for the things on display inside: her mother's love, real friends, someone who wouldn't make her feel like she had to be strong all the time. But the wealthy people going in and out barely gave her a glance and tossed her their left over scraps.

She supposed she had real friends. What was better proof of that than having the married woman you made a drunken advance on letting you crash on her couch?

It wasn't as if she thought Emma could give her what she needed. Commiseration was not the same as love. Sex was a tool, an anti-depressant, a moment where you didn't need to think. It was nothing more.

Emily knew she was starving, so painfully aware of the gnawing, not in her stomach, but in her soul, and she was being tossed fake sugar candy, and dying of malnutrition. It was poison, but she would drink it gladly, because for a moment she could feel full.

Happy? No, JJ was right. She had never been happy.

She didn't know what the word meant.


Chapter 4

It hadn't felt like this before, not for a long time. Emma scrubbed her face viciously and then hurled the washcloth at the mirror. The wet trail it left distorted her reflection. It seemed more recognizable that way, lumpen and swollen, with gaping jagged chasms, where important parts, like honesty, forethought, and self-respect, were missing.

Scott nodded to her in the hallways and she was revolted. Him and his masculine hypocrisy, did he think he owned her now? That was what the others had thought, that once she had touched their magical tool, she couldn't betray them, couldn't fuck them over, like they planned to do to her. And she hadn't even touched Scott.

They were still playing the game that this was therapy, that living the fantasy would make them easier to resist. Catharsis had been disproven years ago. If you hit a pillow when you're angry, the next time you're angry you are more, not less, likely to lash out with your fists. And Scott, living the sick little fantasies his mind created and hers brought to life, was being trained in patterns of response that could turn him from a man, nobly in control of his lesser urges, into a monster.

She had made it his idea: as long as it was only in his head, it wasn't cheating. That was bullshit. But she couldn't bring herself to let him touch her. Just feeding the fantasies into his mind, passing him in the school and knowing that he thought he had some right to look at her, was enough to make her sick.

It hadn't felt this way before. No, that was a lie. It hadn't felt this way for a long time, not since she had beaten down her humiliation at taking her clothes off for strangers. She had turned their eyes, blank, staring without feeling as they rubbed their crotch and tried to get off on these moving meaningless bodies, into some kind of worship. Any kind was better than none, and none was what she was used to.

She had taken their money, every last cent, as vengeance. It hadn't felt like much. It hadn't made it worth it to know that they walked away smiling, penniless, but thinking that she had gotten on her knees for them.

But that training had been her in with the Hellfire Club. It had given her real power. And after a few months she had stopped feeling much of anything. It had been easy to kill back then, because she had so much anger ready to be let out. And after she lashed out, she felt nothing.

But this time there was no anger. She had chosen this course. It was her fault. And she waited for it to end.

Another dead children case. Too many memories, faces, were overlaid on the images. Stories cut off at the first line, those surrounding warped into twisting shadows. There were no happy endings, just tugs on the reins of tragedy.

Emily stared at the slides of the children, kidnapped and kept captive for weeks, raped repeatedly, left alone in their own excrement until they died, usually of dehydration, and tossed into the river.

She wished she could think, wished she could let the facts click together like an erector set. She would be clambering up the scaffold, working it out, solving the problems. But the grim fog that had closed around her wouldn't let her out. All she could do was wonder why none of this surprised her anymore.

Children were just symbols, the symbol of the freedom that we have all lost.

She didn't feel shock, didn't feel horror at the visuals, just a general numb melancholy. She glanced around the room and wondered who else was faking it.

JJ's brow was furrowed, with the wide tortured gaze that meant she didn't care. When she cared, she got angry, impassioned. This expression only meant that she was afraid of what living in this world meant for her.

Reid's eyes pierced the screen, but it was only his intellectual curiosity that fueled him. He wanted to see patterns, to put the pieces together. She wondered if he ever looked into himself and saw them there.

She relaxed when she saw Morgan's expression. He was truly seething. He wanted this guy.

Emily just wanted action, pain, anything to shock her out of this stupor. She'd try to get paired with him

"We found the warehouse!" Emily hissed into the phone. "We're going in."

"Do not, by any means, go into that warehouse. We don't know where he is. We don't know what he's capable of."

"The girl could still be alive." Her mother was a local cop. She had seen the photos of the other children, and Emily would never forget the look on her face as she sank into the chair.

"Wait for the swat team."

"We don't have time!"

"If you go in that warehouse alone, Prentiss, you're fired."

"I'm not alone." She glanced over her shoulder and grinned at Derek. "Got my back, Morgan?"

"You bet I do."

The little girl was cowering under the bench. Morgan stood at her back, steady and on guard in the warehouse. Emily crouched and whispered to the child. "Hey, hey, are you hurt?"

The child looked at her with wide blue eyes.

"We're going to take you home. Come out, please?"

She shook her head.

"Don't be scared, please come out."

Finally the little girl started moving. She crawled slowly out and put her arms around Emily. Emily held her, getting to her feet. "Okay, let's go, Morgan."

Then she looked up and saw the glint of the shadowed man's smile and the click of the gun. "Too late," he said. "Game over."

Emily spun protecting the little girl with her body. The killer fell, riddled with bullets from Morgan's gun. Emily was on her knees, gasping. She let the child drop to the ground. She touched her shoulder, at the edge of her vest, and her fingers came back bloody. She swallowed hard. Not again.

Morgan said, "Emily…"

The little girl started to cry.

"Oh no, no, no, girl." He picked her up awkwardly, keeping his gun out.

Emily sat back slowly, trying to breathe calmly. She was all right, she told herself. She was fine. Her knees shook slightly as she got to her feet.

"You okay Prentiss?"

"Yeah," she said, her voice breathier than usual. She gulped. The world was starting to spin and weird electronic trombones were playing in her ears. "Yeah… I think I've been shot."

And the world went black.

She had looked at Scott, just once, and he looked right back. It was so easy that it was disgusting, like he had been waiting for the opportunity. She gave him every fantasy he was too ashamed to speak of to his wife, and more, in his head. She fattened his mind with better sex than he could imagine.

Jean had never understood how to really use her powers, not like this. But Emma had years of training, prepackaged Hellfire fantasies, and total disregard for 'comfort level.'

Emma could drive someone crazy in four easy steps. She could inflame a person's pleasure centers until they died screaming their release. She could pick apart the differences between reality and fantasy until her victim couldn't trust his memories to warn him that he really couldn't fly. People tried to imagine the threat an unscrupulous telepath could be, but they didn't know. No one really knew.

And when Jean found out, stumbling in upon one of poor Scott's hilarious fantasies about being dominated by his possessed genocidal wife, she was devastated.

Scott's infidelity was painful and shaming, but not new. Jean was truly humiliated and betrayed because her idea of the person she believed Emma was, or at least was becoming, had been proven a naive fantasy.

Jean ripped her apart. If Emma's power was a diamond-tipped scalpel, Jean's was a flaming broadsword. She peeled open her sealed places, shredded the latticework that locked back unruly emotions, and pillaged her memories for sins and shame. The rawness and horror Emma kept locked inside spilled out, and the phoenix danced in the charred wreckage of her mind.

Then Emma screamed, crying out for Emily, and Jean stopped.

It took three days of lying in a dark room for Emma to put her mind back together.

<< Why did you do that to her? >>

Jean was sitting in midair, nearly invisible in the shadows, just a glint of red hair or of fire. Emma couldn't tell if it were Jean or the Phoenix, if she were really there, or just a construct created by her own mind.

<< You wish you just had shitty luck or bad karma, which you deserve, but you don't even need that. It's you, you're the poison. You destroy and kill everything good in your life. It's your fault, Emma, face it. Everything is your fault. >>

When she staggered out of her room, still pale and nauseated, with unrelenting headaches, she found out that Jean had left immediately after the incident to join up with Storm's team, and the only person in her head had been herself.

"What did you really want, Scott? Did you want someone safe to play with, because your wife is the most fucking terrifying woman on the planet?"

Scott blinked, and looked serious. She thought he might be about to say something about her helping him, about not calling it a mistake, and turned away. She couldn't stand him. The only person who repulsed her more was herself.


Chapter 5

Xorn went crazy and destroyed the school, which at least meant that Emma was no longer the most reviled teacher on campus. They pursued him to Manhattan and tried to fight, but his minor healing ability had turned out to be, in truth, the controlled gravitational pull of a star.

He was still a social incompetent, though. He tried to spark a revolution, to lead a cleansing of the world. Few listeners were convinced, and Emma fought a blinding headache to increase their doubt and skepticism.

Isolated and frustrated, Xorn grew more and more angry. His powers were too strong for their depleted force to battle. He tore up the world in his anguish.

Reinforcements arrived in the form of Jean and her new team swooping in to save the day. For a woman who had eaten a star out of a solar system, Xorn's miniature glow was like an olive on a stick.

No matter how many times Emma blinked, the red glow that surrounded Jean would not go away. But no one else seemed to see it.

Wolverine ripped Xorn's head from his body, but no one seemed to notice that he had already been dead. The Phoenix had devoured him. Emma wondered why she, far more lowly, had been left alive.

It was irritating to need to be rescued, but terrifying to be the only one able to see Jean's phoenix smile even through the pounding in her head. Scott didn't see it. She glanced through his eyes and the red glow did not exist for him, no more than it did on everything.

He hardly reacted to Jean's arrival, and that was even more frustrating. What happened to their much vaunted true love? What happened to their psychic bond? They seemed completely unaffected by the other's presence. If Scott would just make up with his wife, then maybe he would finally leave her alone.

Ororo gave her one look, full of spitting disgust. "You're still here? I thought you'd go once you finished making a misery of everyone's lives."

Emma turned away from her, looking out at the wreckage of the city. The best thing about the hero business was that you didn't have to stay behind and pick up the pieces. You got to ride off into the sunset, pretending that you saved the day, forgetting that you left destroyed homes, livelihoods, families in your wake. But you forgot everything else as well.

"There's someone buried there." Emma glanced over to Storm. "Wind Rider, feel like being a real hero?"

Wind and diamond dug through the rubble until the barely breathing form was exposed and handed over to the medical teams. There were too many screaming minds for Emma to turn around and ignore, so they dug until they were black and sweaty with soot.

"We make a good team."

Ororo glared at her. "Don't think this makes you a good person. And stay away from Emily Prentiss. After what you did to Jean, I wouldn't trust you within fifty miles of one of my friends."

The name hit like a fist in the gut. All of this had been so familiar, and Emma had looked over her shoulder twice and been surprised to see Ororo there instead of Emily.

"You know nothing-"

"I know you. I know how selfish you are, and Emily deserves better than that."

"I don't see anyone else in line," Emma snarled.

"I don't see you there now she's hurt."

The inflection was off. Emma looked at her sharply. "What?"

Ororo sneered archly. "Don't you know?"

Emma didn't have time for this. She knocked Storm's shields aside with a single blow and tore the information from her mind. The blinding headache that resulted was barely thought of.

Emily had been shot.

One twist and Scott volunteered to carry critically injured victims of Xorn's rampage to less overburdened hospitals, a smattering of logistics and they were heading to Washington DC.

Scott kept on casting searching glances her direction. Finally irritated, she checked what he was thinking. He thought she looked upset, and through his eyes she noticed how blatant it was. She looked beaten, dirty and tired. The headache had etched lines in her brow. Emma hated being obvious. She straightened her posture and tried to push her feelings down. But her mind didn't work the same way it used to. There were no diamond cases to hide them in. Wherever she put them, they hurt.

She leaned against the window, staring out at the ugly highways that cut the land like twisting veins. The low flying plane slid into a cloudbank and she wished she could be there permanently, locked in the quiet cool softness of it, alone.

Scott tried to stop her from leaving as they unloaded the wounded. She walked past him as if he hadn't spoken.

"You were shot."

Emily looked up at her. She was paler than usual, and looked tired and weak. "Couple days ago."

"Yes. News doesn't travel particularly fast among X-Men. And of course, Manhattan was destroyed."

Emily nodded and gestured up to the TV, which was playing the news on mute. For a moment Emma saw herself, helping a limping man out of a half-collapsed building. The news-caster spoke, and smiled with her tacky red lips. Emma felt sick.

"Why are you here?"

Emily's eyes pulled at her, and Emma wished she had words to explain how much she needed to be here right now. Unfortunately most of the sentences required words like "fear" and "sorry" and those didn't come out easily. "Someone told me to stay away and leave you alone, and I felt like being contrary."

Emily smiled weakly. "Sounds like you."

Emma sank into the chair and leaned her head on the raised hospital bed.

"I hate hospitals."

"Me too." Emily let her hand rest on top of Emma's. Their fingers twined together without conscious thought.

"Emma?" Scott peeked in. He stopped short when he saw Emily. He frowned, recognizing her face, but not placing it. "Um, hello."

Emily nodded at him, too exhausted to move.

"I told you to leave me alone, Scott."

"But you looked upset. I thought-"

"This has nothing to do with you."

Scott looked hurt and Emily glanced up, her eyes sharp with suspicion. Her eyes flicked to Emma and then back to Scott again. "You and…" she hissed at Emma, pulling her fingers out of the clasp. Emma stiffened, the rejection stinging like a slap.


"No! I can't deal with this!" Her skin suddenly went icy pale, and glistened with sweat. She choked, pressing her hand to her shoulder. Monitors started going off.

Emma blasted Scott out of the room with half a thought and pressed her fingers against Emily's temples.

"Calm down! Calm down! Please!"

The pain in her mind was too much, physical and emotional. Emma had forgotten how fast her shields dropped around Emily, and took the hit, stunned to inaction by the blow of raw anguish.

A nurse hurried in, pushing Emma out of the way as if she were a twig, and opened up Emily's shirt. The bandage was a wet red. Emma covered her mouth to clamp down on her need to vomit.

"We need to change these bandages, and give you a little more morphine, okay?" The nurse turned to Emma, clinging to the sink and breathing through her nose. "You should go now."

Locking eyes with Emily's stricken, bloodshot ones, Emma moved towards the door. "I'm sorry. I… I love you."

She left the room, cursing herself for her actions and her words. But there was nothing else that could describe something so imperfect, so worthless, so damaged.

Emily had thought she was hallucinating at first. The morphine was oh so good, still a fog, but a painless one. She had been able to watch Manhattan crumble into avalanches of broken concrete and skeletal twists of metal with interest, and without feeling, as if it were a movie. Emma was in the movie. She glittered. Emily was mesmerized by the sparkles.

It had been so long since she was able to think about Emma without remembering dying as well. The sharp shock as she tried to breathe, the clenching in her chest, her throat, coughing. The panic had risen. She inhaled through her nose and nearly vomited. She choked on the scent of brimstone, blood pounding in her head. Then he had come out and grabbed her arm as pain spread across her chest. He held her down, but she could hardly see him, her vision fading in and out. She felt disconnected, pulled out of her body into the sulfur-scented darkness.

She wondered for one long moment if she were going to hell, and was almost interested to find out how it could possibly be worse than life.

In the movie, Emma was digging now, and she could remember how she had been before, rooting through the broken buildings, her broken home. Her back unbending as she rose, brushing away her tears, which were nothing like diamond. She stood like one unbroken pillar or beacon amongst the wreckage.

The morphine high was fading. Emily felt the sadness that the drugs had kept hovering above her head begin to settle back onto her shoulders. And then Emma was there, in her room, looking like that same pillar of salt.

It was disgusting how everything felt better with her holding her hand. I don't need you! She had cried, and she had tried to mean it. But here she was, in her own wreckage, wounded and sick, and facing a psych evaluation before she could go back to work.

Emma's mouth on hers had brought her back to life. She hadn't been able to face what that meant.

It managed to be even worse than she had feared.


Chapter 6

Jean found her during the rebuilding of the school. The red glow hadn't faded. Emma hated the flush of fear and the sharp pounding headache that overtook her any time the Phoenix came near.

"Why are you still here?"

Emma had had enough of that question. She glared, as best she could. "Where the hell else am I supposed to be? You're the one who ran away."

Jean smiled in that way that made Emma feel like a hunted animal.

"I forgive you."

Emma froze, never having been more blindsided. She heard the words twice, she realized. Her ears registered Jean's voice, Jean's pitiful self-sacrifice, Jean's inability to forgive herself for things others had done. But in her head the Phoenix spoke, and the words were utter disdain. She stared.

"What… what happened to you?"

And she saw Ororo open the door and reach out to catch the woman who still smoked like a hastily doused campfire as she fell apart. But the embers were still glowing, and when Jean needed strength to put herself back together, she had one source overflowing with it.

"What did you do to me?"

"I forgave you." And it was the command of a goddess. "Don't ask me to do it again."

Emma didn't go back to DC until after nearly a month of judicious phone calls to the hospital, leeching information from Emily's colleagues' minds, and limited physical surveillance. This informed her of when Emily had been allowed to return home, deemed self-sufficient once more.

Emily opened the door, her arm in a sling, and looked vaguely amused at Emma's Ray-Bans. "Hello, stalker."

"Good afternoon to you too." Emma pushed past her, gently, and went inside, dropping onto the sofa.

"Have you come to explain yourself?" Emma looked blank. Emily sighed. "I didn't think so."

"Explain what?"

Emily uncorked a bottle of wine and took a drink without even pouring a glass.

"Do you mean Scott?"

"Why not give it a try? I'd love to see if you can come up with something new. Mutant flavored, maybe? Valuable genetic material? Progeny?"

"With Scott? You repulse me."

"Then tell me your excuses. If you want to start with 'we weren't even in a relationship,' I will tell you that we still aren't and we won't ever be. So you can leave."

Emma scowled. "Why do I need to defend myself to you? I don't need an excuse. I can seduce, drive mad, and destroy as I wish. That's who I am. Whether or not Scott's hands ever touched my body has nothing to do with you."

"Fine. I concur. I'm glad we're on the same page. You can go now."


"Go! Leave me alone, so I can drink and pop ibuprofen in peace."

"Why are you being like this?" Emma tried to get a read on her, but Emily's mind was locked up tight.

"Because I don't want you here! You're fucking someone else, and I don't want you!"

Emma stood up, using every inch of her greater height. "You don't get to do this to me! You don't get to tell me when I can stay and when I can go!"

"Oh, fucking hell! You are always the one who gets to blow me off! Over and over again you fuck me and leave. That's all I've ever gotten from you!"

"You know that's all I can give you! You know that being here now is more than I should do! More than you deserve!"

"More than I deserve? More than I asked for! I don't need you!"

"You're mine." Emma spat back; she couldn't even remember what they had been fighting about, but she was so angry it took everything she could to not grab Emily by the shoulders, injured or not, and shake her. "Eventually you'll get that through your thick head."

Emily stepped back, stunned. "God, you're possessive, Emma." She blinked furiously, wishing that Emma hadn't said that, hadn't discovered the same thing that she had when their fingers laced together on the edge of a sterile hospital bed.

Emma grit her teeth.

"I'm yours?"

"Of course." Emma crossed her arms, and stood, stiffly self-possessed.

Emily rubbed her forehead. "Just like that? I belong to you?"

"Nothing new. You always have."

Emily cradled her sling to her chest and sank down into the couch. "I don't understand you."

Emma watched her ginger movement and felt like a heavy weight was crushing her. She hated seeing her hurt. She hated always having to see her hurt. But she couldn't do this again, not finding out until it was too late for her to do anything. She closed her eyes.

"I… I am a possessive person."

Emily snorted, but didn't swear at her for the understatement.

"I don't like losing. And I don't like losing things… people. I don't like losing people."

Emily's eyes changed, becoming deep and haunted. She knew how little Emma liked losing people. Emma lowered herself to sit on the sofa and looked up at Emily, shields and angry defenses beaten down.

"So just… just understand what I mean when I say that you're mine. You're someone I would not like to lose, and I wish you would be more careful." She shook her head. Perhaps trying to clear away the disgusting leak of honesty. "And I won't even respond to your previous inquisition. I never touched the ugly cheating asshole, and whatever may be going on in his head, is his business alone."

Emily sighed, knowing better than to believe her entirely blameless. But she knew she had lost the battle and it was time to lower her drawbridge and submit. She glanced at the open bottle of wine.

"Do you want a glass?"

"It would do wonders for my headache." Emma stood. "But I will fetch it. Would you like one too, or are you planning to continue your wino impression."

"Well, if you happen to spot a brown paper bag…"

Emma laughed. "For that, you're getting juice." She went to the kitchen, easily snagging two wine glasses and juice. She knew this kitchen better than her own. It made her shake her head in amusement.

"Have you been making a habit of combining alcohol and painkillers?" she remarked as she came back in.

Emily rolled her eyes. "I'm sorry that you drive me to drink."

Emma re-corked the wine bottle and put it on the floor by her end of the couch. She passed Emily her juice with a challenging look. Emily just shook her head, but took it.

They sat, drinking juice and insulting bad television late into the night, as if they were friends.

After a few days Emma had to leave to start the fall semester. As it was, Emily had her psych evaluation the day after. Emma stood at the door, sunglasses in her hand and glanced back at Emily, still in her sling, watching her. She frowned, not certain what to say.

"Don't do anything idiotic, all right?"

Emily grinned. She reached out and snagged Emma's phone from her pocket. "I am giving you my number. I don't care if you want it or not."

Emma rolled her eyes. "Give it back."


Emily finished typing it in and handed it over. "Call me. I don't care how long it takes you, or when you do it, just give it a shot. Once."

Emma looked at the corrupted instrument and put it in her bag. "Don't hold your breath."

Emily smiled. She stepped in and gave her an awkward one-armed hug. After a shocked moment, Emma's arms tightened around her. She bent her head, burying her face in Emily's hair and breathed in.

Brushing her lips lightly across her cheek, Emma turned and left, jamming her Ray-Bans on over her nose before anyone could see her eyes.

The young federal psychiatrist had leaned in eagerly when Emily mentioned her near-death experience and how she had felt like she was living in limbo, only half alive, ever since. She suppressed her smile, she had him, and she was cleared for desk duty. Returning to the field would have to wait until she had ten counseling sessions and a positive report, but as she wasn't going to have full range of motion in her shoulder for another two months, the psych issues wouldn't delay her further.

JJ dropped a folder when she saw her back. She gave her a hesitant embarrassed smile.

"Hey… I've been meaning to come see you."

Emily nodded, willing to take that at face value, although she was pretty certain the reason JJ hadn't been by once she was out of the hospital had a lot to do with an awkward conversation that she would rather not repeat when Emily was sober.

"That's alright. Emma came by and stayed for a few days."

The confusion hit first, then incredulity, shock, and finally irritation. Frankly, JJ looked a little pissed off. "Emma?"

"You… really don't like her, do you?"

"I don't." JJ was stiff and her voice blunt. "I don't like how she screws you around. And she uses her mutant powers in a way that scares the bejeezus out of me. And I don't like it how she doesn't care if she hurts you while you're having sex." JJ froze. "She didn't open up your wound, did she? I'll kill her!" JJ reached for her holster. "I don't care if she's a mutant. I'll kill her."

Emily's jaw dropped, and then she covered her mouth, trying not to laugh. "Cool down! We didn't have sex."

"You… didn't?" JJ looked bewildered. "Why did she come?"

"If that's why you think most people visit the sick, I think I'm glad you didn't show up."

JJ flushed.

Garcia greeted her with a shriek and a hug. Morgan pounded her on the back, trying to cover up the relief and guilt with enthusiasm.

The rest of the team seemed relieved to have her back, but something else had changed too. The atmosphere in the briefing room seemed lighter. More of the team met her eyes, and she looked back. It had been so long, she had forgotten how it felt to be with her family of colleagues, to not be shutting them out.

She probably wouldn't mention to her therapist that she hadn't felt as good as she did after she got shot for a very long time.

It was 3:15 am and the phone rang. Emily groped around on the side table until the hopping buzz indicated she had found her cell. She answered it.


"Hi." Emma's voice was soft, almost a whisper, but immediately recognizable.

"Emma?" Emily sat up a little more. "Is something-"

"No. No emergency. Not that I would call you if there were one."

"That's good to know." Emily sank back into her pillow and smiled absently. "To what do I owe the honor then?"

"Just checking that you haven't managed to get yourself shot again."

"Not since last time. And you? All whole?"

"As whole as may be expected." Emma's dry tone didn't cover up the misdirection in her words. It was almost a confession, as if the fact that she had called at all wasn't.

Emily couldn't suppress the laugh in her voice. "I am unaccountably relieved."

"Tell me something."

"Like what?"

"I don't care. Anything."

Emily smiled. "Well…" She considered. "It turns out that Garcia has been taking surveillance shots of our locker room and posting them on the Internet."

Emma laughed. "I may have to request the URL."

"No way."

"Was that a yes, indeed? That's what I heard."

Emily shook her head and responded. The lonely night receded into warmth, and for a while, nightmares were banished into forgetfulness.

The End

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