DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to my GF for the beta, and for encouraging me to write and post this in the first place. My first real story, so comments and criticism are welcome.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

All I Ever Wanted
By tabfan19



Jennifer Jareau brushed one hand through her long blonde hair, her blue eyes scanning her office one last time before she left on vacation. Satisfied that she had done everything humanly possible to leave the team in good shape for a week, she closed her office door, locked up, and headed out.

It was very late - she had stayed long past the rest of the team, and now there was only the usual skeleton crew. She waved as she left - they were used to seeing her, but even she usually made it home before this. She had been working to make the office as clean and easy to navigate as possible, since Emily Prentiss would be using her office in her absence, and handling anything urgent that came up.

Just the thought of the brunette was enough to lighten JJ's face slightly -- a regrettably rare occurrence these days, as she seemed to be spiraling into a blacker and blacker mood. Hence the vacation.

Something about the last case had apparently been the proverbial straw, as she was unable to shrug it off. She was losing her ability to keep the delicate balance they needed: to care enough to be able to comfort the victims; but to keep enough distance so that she wasn't emotionally devastated by every case.

And she was slowly sinking under the bleak reality of the team's work. Lately, just coming to work was a chore. When she first joined, she was buoyed by the belief that they were making a difference. Now it all seemed so pointless. How could she continue coming to work, knowing that every day there'd be more cases; more victims; more shattered lives. They all knew the truth: There would always be another killer to catch; they would never be done. She just wasn't sure she could keep doing it.

So the day after they wrapped up the case, she had asked the team's leader, Special Agent Hotchner, if she could take some leave. And since you couldn't plan for the next serial killer, he had let her take off the following week.

It gave her a couple of days to prep Emily on the basics of what she did - most specifically, the review method she used to triage which cases they should take. Since Emily was a profiler, it was easy enough to give her the basic checklist; she knew Emily would know the difference between an unfortunate but coincidental series of attacks and a budding or full-fledged predator.

It also gave her a few days to decide where to go. Because she had decided that what she really needed was time away. Away from the images, away from the murders, away from the team, away from the pressure, and even away from Emily. Because that was becoming a problem of its own.

She went to Garcia, of course.

"So, I'm taking next week off. Where should I go?" she said, as she breezed into the office of their self-proclaimed tech goddess.

Garcia eyed her. "That's sudden -- is everything okay?"

JJ had expected Garcia to be inquisitive, but she didn't want to bring down her friend and lay bare all of her issues right now.

"I just need some time away to recharge. I'm thinking someplace warmer than here," she interrupted Garcia, whose eyes had lit up, "and no, I'm not looking for any vacation flings. I just want a nice place where I can be outside, and enjoy the surroundings, but I don't want to feel like I'm the latest steak at a meat market."

"Are you sure?" asked Garcia, wheedling. "Because there's nothing like some hot action to fix whatever ails ya."

JJ sighed. "No, really. Just someplace... away. But not TOO far, because I don't want to be jet lagged. And not TOO hot, because I can get that here. Maybe someplace with interesting places to walk, or history, or something."

"Well, if you're sure you're not interested in hot bodies and hot nights..." Garcia's fingers began flying over her keyboard.

"Oh, and absolutely, positively no place I've been on a case," JJ added.

Garcia's fingers hesitated just briefly, and then soon enough she was obviously reviewing results.

"Too far away... Ugh, nasty place! Not there... Not there..."

Finally, "Oh, here's one! How about Savannah?" Garcia asked brightly.

"Savannah... Hmm... " JJ mused.

"Great historical landmark district, near the ocean, an eight hour drive... Only a couple hours by air... Let's see, nothing direct from here, so you could change in Atlanta..." Garcia saw JJ's shoulders tense and added smoothly, "or Cincinnati. What's your preference?"

"You know, I think I'll drive," mused JJ. "Any chance you could find me a place to stay?" she turned her best puppy dog eyes onto Garcia.

"No need to pull out the big guns there, missy!" Garcia huffed. "Although I will say, it's lucky it's not tourist season, or even I, the mighty goddess of all before her, could have trouble finding you a place to rest your pretty little head. However, since it's not... any preference? Big hotel? Bed and breakfast?"

"Let's go big - I'd rather be anonymous this trip."

"Alright, let's see. Here we go, nice large hotel, view of the river, Garcia discount in play. Check-in?"

"Saturday. And can you make it a late check-in? I can give you my credit card."

"No need, I have it already."


"What, you know it's safe with me. As long as you don't mind a little extra on each bill; a girl's got to shop somehow. ANYWAY," she added hurriedly, "Checking out?"

"Hmm. Friday. That'll give me a weekend to relax at home before I have to come back to work."

"And... voila! There you go. I just sent an email to you with the information."

"Great, thanks Garcia. You're the best." Stooping, JJ gave her friend a quick hug. "But that doesn't mean you can use my card for your perverted ends!"


And just like that, JJ was on her way to Savannah. She headed out at a leisurely hour on Saturday, indulging herself by sleeping as late as she liked.

The trip down was, in fact, exactly what she needed. She mostly let her mind wander; and when it wandered in uncomfortable directions, she turned on music as loudly as she could stand, singing along at the top her lungs. It felt great. And if the people in cars around her thought she looked odd... well, that was their problem, not hers.

She sped south on I-95, a straight shot to Savannah. It wasn't particularly picturesque, but at least it was quick. The highpoint of the trip -- if you could call it that -- was her brief stop at "South of the Border' -- the tackiest, loudest, most neon tourist trap she had ever encountered. She thoroughly enjoyed it, and got souvenirs for the team. Simply because everything on display was too... something... to pass up.

She pulled into Savannah after dark, but was able to easily find her hotel. She checked in, tossed her bags onto her bed, and headed out to get something to eat.

The city was still bustling -- Saturday night was in full swing. She wandered along the Riverfront, and eventually had a pleasant dinner, overlooking the river. She thought about how romantic the evening would have been with the right person. Say, a tall brunette, she thought to herself wryly, with an intense stare and a killer smile. And finally, fortified by a nice glass of wine, she allowed herself to examine her feelings toward her teammate, Emily Prentiss.

Recently, she had come to realize that her feelings about Emily had been shifting. What she originally believed to be a budding friendship was developing into a serious crush. Well, to be fair, it already was a serious crush. She was just happy being around Emily. She seemed to spend her time either looking for ways to spend more time with Emily; or worrying that when she was around the other agent she was acting like an idiot; or wondering whether the other woman felt the same way.

Basically, any brain time not spent on work or basic survival tended to fill with Emily-related thoughts.

Of course, the problem was she had no idea whether she had any hope at all with the other agent. Emily said she was particularly good at 'compartmentalizing' -- but later conversations with the brunette had revealed that as much as anything, her apparent ease at handling their cases came from having parents in the diplomatic corps. From her childhood, Emily had been trained to present a certain, unwavering image to the world, whatever she might really think.

And that friendly, impenetrable front was what made it so hard for JJ to tell if maybe, just maybe, Emily might be open to more than just friendship.

It was endlessly frustrating, and one of the things that she didn't want to obsess over, but did anyway. Sometimes she felt sure that Emily was interested in her: The way they worked together so seamlessly when they were paired up. Emily's tendency to touch her shoulder or arm in passing. The special smile that she thought Emily gave only to her, and not others on the team. Sometimes she was sure there was a spark.

And Emily had been so supportive during the whole nightmare of Garcia's shooting. If she thought about it, JJ could still feel Emily's hand on hers in the hospital. The other agent hadn't said anything, hadn't uttered meaningless platitudes. They were both too knowledgeable about hospitals and shootings and fatalities for that to help. No, Emily just sat next to JJ and took her hand, offering silent but sincere support, knowing that JJ was close to the IT tech.

But maybe she would have done that for any good friend, thought JJ. Gah, it was so frustrating! And what was worse, she didn't have anyone to hash it over with. If it had been someone outside the agency (who was she kidding, she didn't have time to meet someone outside the agency) she might have talked to Garcia about it. But she couldn't in this case -- the thought of someone on the team knowing about her crush made her skin crawl.

In fact, her bigger worry was that Garcia probably knew already. The woman was frighteningly observant. Which is what made her such a valuable friend - she always helped JJ with insightful, blunt assessments of whatever situation JJ brought to her. But in this case, JJ was working hard to make sure Garcia didn't have anything to comment on.

When Emily first joined the team, she and Garcia had naturally assessed their new coworker - at that point, Emily was still an outsider. But they had warmed up to her quickly -- they still laughed about the guy who tried to pick her up claiming to be an FBI agent! -- and talking about her after a certain point had seemed wrong.

So here she was. Left to stew in her own thoughts, running in circles, unable to get an objective viewpoint from anyone else.

In addition to just needing time away from her job, that's what this week was about. First and foremost, she had to regain her perspective on the seemingly endless parade of horrors they confronted daily. That was first. But she also had to decide how she could continue to work with someone for whom she had much more than 'friendly' feelings. And if she couldn't figure it out... JJ couldn't even bear to consider that. So she'd use this time to get her head together, and back in the game. Focused on work, not her miserable and misery-inducing love life. Or lack thereof.

But for now, I won't think about it anymore, JJ decided. Back to the hotel so I can get a fresh start tomorrow.

Emily Prentiss poked her head into Garcia's office -- her earthly domain, as she liked to call it -- first thing Monday morning.

"Welcome to the abode of all information. What can the goddess do for you?" Garcia asked brightly.

"Actually... I was just wondering if you had a chance to talk to JJ before she left?" Emily asked diffidently. "I was just... actually, I've been a bit worried about her." The normally cool agent seemed a little flustered to the discerning eye of the team's tech expert.

Garcia sobered. "Yeah, I've been a little worried, too. But I think she was feeling a lot better, just knowing she wouldn't be coming in for a week."

Prentiss looked relieved. "Oh, great. Good. Just with everything going on, she seemed... well, great, I hope she has a good time. Okay, well, talk to you later - thanks." And Emily was out the door before Garcia had time for more than a nod and a wave.

Garcia looked after her, a calculating gleam in her eye, as she began adding up two and two and coming up with her usual accurate four.

JJ woke slowly, muzzily coming awake to light in her eyes. Her mouth was dry and her head was pounding. She groaned slightly and put one arm over her eyes.

As she became more aware, she realized she wasn't in her own bed. Right, I'm on vacation, she remembered. But why was that damned light right in her eyes? Had she forgotten to turn off the light before she went to bed? She moved her arm slightly and peered through one slitted eye at the offending light source. At the sight of a bare light bulb hanging from a unpainted cement ceiling, her brow furrowed in confusion, and then the rest of her senses chimed in.

She couldn't hear anything but her own breathing. She felt cold and clammy and she was lying on something hard and lumpy, not her hotel room's comfortable bed. And she noticed now a musty, damp smell to the air as well. Oh my god, she thought in panic, and sat upright abruptly.

Too abruptly, as it turned out. Her head started spinning crazily, and a mild queasiness she hadn't noticed previously manifested itself abruptly with a series of gags. She glanced around wildly -- and saw in the corner what appeared to be a primitive toilet. She staggered over, fell to her hands and knees, and after emptying her stomach of what little was in it, continued dry heaving until finally the spasms stopped.

Shakily, but carefully, she leaned back on her heels. It was then she noticed that she had a manacle around one wrist. She lifted her right arm, and could see that the chain attached to her wrist was bolted into the corner farthest from the door. She staggered back to the bed -- or rather the cot -- and sat down.

She looked around her surroundings. She was in a small, windowless cell. The walls were made of cement block, the floor was cement, and the ceiling appeared to be made of cement as well. There was a door in the wall across from where her cot was, and, of course, the bare light bulb.

JJ rolled onto her back to ease her still roiling stomach. Closing her eyes, she again threw one arm across her face to keep the light from pounding on her sensitive eyelids. How had she gotten here?

She cast her mind back. She remembered arriving in Savannah Saturday night, dinner out, going back to the hotel. Sunday morning she had explored the River Front, doing some light shopping, basically acting like the tourist she was, exploring her new home for the week. She had picked up a book of self-guided walking tours of the city, among other odds and ends. After a light lunch, she had put the new book to the test, doing the first walking tour. She had decided to give the book a try - if she found that to be enough guidance, then she would skip the guided tours Garcia had forwarded to her. She wasn't interested in company.

The tour had been from a section of the book designed for someone who was going to be there for several days. So the first tour was intended to provide an overview of the entire historical district, allowing someone to get their bearings. Later tours would focus on specific interests, whether architectural or historical. She recalled reading about Oglethorpe laying out the city grid and about the city's distinctive and internationally lauded design.

She started the tour, and had been out for a few hours, and was close to wrapping up. She was as far as she was going to get from the Riverfront, visiting... what was it, Calhoun Square? For whatever reason - because it was the off season? because it was not one of the famous squares? because it didn't have a statue? because she just had shitty, shitty luck? -- there hadn't been many people around. It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon, so she had taken a seat on one of the benches, intent on doing just what her book suggested, and enjoying the tranquility and peace.

She had her guidebook out and was leafing through it, reading ahead for which tour to take next day. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone take the next bench, and pull out the newspaper. She glanced over as he snapped it open and straightened it out, and their eyes met briefly. He was older than she was, and seemed utterly nondescript. Brown hair, average height, wearing glasses. Not unattractive, but not likely to be on anyone's bathing suit beauty calendar any time soon. Ordinary.

He had smiled, and nodded at her book, and said it was one of the better ones. She didn't really want to talk to anyone, but she was by nature polite, so she responded pleasantly enough. He mentioned he lived near the square, and that actually piqued her interest, because she thought it must be fascinating to live in the midst of such amazing architecture and design.

After a few moments of conversation, he politely apologized for interrupting her quiet time. He got up - to move to another bench she thought - and then she heard a pop, and felt a few seconds of literally paralyzing pain. She couldn't think, couldn't breathe, couldn't do anything but be awash in pain. She thought she might have passed out. When she was aware of what was happening again, he was asking her if she was okay, and helping her to walk. He got her into a car, and then she felt something sting in arm, and she faded out again.

Looking back, she wondered if perhaps she had been tasered and then drugged. It certainly would explain how he had managed to get her into his car. She just couldn't believe no one had seen it.

But more to the point, why had he taken her? And what would happen next?

JJ awoke again, but this time she remembered far too quickly where she was. How long had she been here? She was inclined to think it was certainly Monday, if not later, because now that the queasiness was gone, she was ravenously hungry.

She looked around, and this time she noticed a bottle by the door. Had it been there before? By stretching the chain to its full length, she could reach the bottle with her unmanacled hand. Pulling it closer, she realized it looked like water. Was it poisoned or drugged? She finally shrugged -- without water, she'd die anyway, so she uncapped the bottle and took a sip. She just managed to keep from gulping down all the water. She didn't know how long she'd been here, but she shouldn't assume she was getting more.

She took a more careful look around the room. Now that she wasn't woozy from the drugs, she was discouraged to discover that it was still a plain cell with no windows and only one door. She tentatively shook the bed, to see if the frame moved, but it appeared to be bolted to the floor. And of course, she now realized her purse was gone - which included her gun and her FBI ID. She wondered if his knowing that she was an FBI agent helped or hurt her case.

She forced herself to apply what she knew about crime to her situation. Obviously, this wasn't a simple purse-snatching, or she'd still be in the park.

The reasons for being kidnapped varied. Kidnappings usually involved money or leverage; she wasn't from money, and she couldn't see why anyone would think she provided special leverage.

She forced herself to think of other possibilities. She saw dozens of cases every day where women were kidnapped. What was it Hotch had said? "Most of our cases involve young women your age."

And then she stopped thinking about what could happen. It wouldn't do her any good. She instead focused on the basics: she was trapped in this cell and needed to get out before whatever could happen, did.

She carefully looked over the cell again, this time trying to figure out whether she was being watched.

Tentatively, she said aloud, "Hello? Can anyone hear me?"

And then louder, "Hello??"

And finally she shouted, "HELLO! CAN ANYONE HEAR ME! I NEED HELP!"

She felt the sudden nearly overwhelming urge to shout and shout and shout, and just barely managed to recognize it as panic. Resolutely, she turned and sat down on the bed.

And waited.

JJ's sense was that she had been waiting all day -- and that it was now evening. She had no way of knowing, because there were no windows, but that's what her bodyclock was telling her.

Over the course of the day, she had prowled over every inch of the cell -- every inch that she could reach, at least. And there was... nothing. No convenient cracks in the wall, no loose bolts or parts of the metal cot she could pry loose. He hadn't left anything in her pockets - and even if he had left her something, what could she do? Manacled to the wall, she couldn't reach the door, or the light fixture.

The day had been a long struggle to maintain her composure; wondering what was going to happen was excruciating. A slide show of every horrific image she had seen over the past few years was on autoplay in her mind. A part of her blackly wished that he would just show up so she could get it over with; and the rational part of was dreading that moment.

Suddenly, she heard a key in the lock of the door.

JJ stood without realizing it, and backed into the corner of the room, where the chain was attached.

The door swung inward, and there stood the man from the park.

He smiled politely at her, and said, "Hello, my dear."

And then he raised his hand and this time at least she saw the taser before she was again in excruciating agony. Dimly, she felt herself jerk backwards. Her head slammed against the wall behind her and then she slid to the floor.

He grabbed her arms and pulled them together and snapped cuffs onto them. When she feebly tried to jerk away, still unable to control her movements, he said chidingly, "Now, now."

He stepped back, briskly brought in a wheelchair, and manhandled her into it efficiently. The chair was equipped with ankle cuffs, which he snapped shut, and snapped similar cuffs around her upper arms. He had worked so quickly that JJ still hadn't recovered enough from the taser to even keep her head up by the time he had her strapped in.

Then he wheeled her around, and they left the cell.

"You know," her captor started conversationally, "you're very nearly perfect, compared to the other girls. I thought they would be perfect, too, but they had flaws. I worked really hard with them to make them perfect, but in the end, it just didn't work out."

He sighed. "It's too bad. I mean, it shouldn't be that hard."

He pushed her into the center of a small room. Although it was a small windowless cell with cement walls, similar to the one she was being kept in, it had been furnished like a sitting room. There was a small sofa on one side, bookshelves, a coffee table, side chair -- even a carpet on the floor. There was an open area to one side, and it was here that he stopped her progress. JJ had recovered enough to now be aware, and started to turn her head around to try to see what he was doing.

"Don't turn around!" she heard, followed by a heavy, stinging smack on the back of her head -- not enough to knock her unconscious but enough to bring tears in her eyes, and, in her weakened state, to make her lose focus for a moment.

She shook her head, and then felt something being buckled around her neck. Instinctively, she tried to raise her hands to prevent it, but buckled as her upper arms were, she could only flail at the elbow. And this time she saw what he was using - a heavy cane of some kind -- as he brought it down sharply across her forearms. This time she couldn't stop the exclamation of pain, and the tears that ran down her face.

Her captor came around in front her.

"Now, I didn't want to have to do that but you're going to have to be a little better behaved. A lady wouldn't show such unseemly interest in something that's not really any of her business." JJ thought that something being put on her neck most certainly was her business, but decided that discretion was the better part of valor in this case. "That's our first lesson. That wasn't so bad, was it?" He smiled at her, cheerily. "My name is Charles Shrader. You may call me Mr. Shrader.

"Ms. Jarreau -- and may I say what a lovely name that is! -- I'll set some ground rules for us, and we should get along just fine. We're here because I'm looking for just the right girl to introduce to my mother. I noticed you in the park and thought maybe I had finally met the right person. But before you can meet her, I need to be sure that you are up to her standards. So we're going to have a few lessons."

He pulled over a chair and sat down. "I just fastened a little collar around your neck." His face fell sorrowfully. "I hate to have to do that, but some people just don't seem interested in learning to be a lady."

"Today's lesson is about moving gracefully, in a ladylike manner." And by movement, he apparently meant walking.

And so JJ walked. Back and forth across the small open area, while Shrader hovered behind her or to one side. Just out of her reach and out of her view.

As she walked, Shrader barked out instructions and corrections. "You're walking too quickly, it's not a race." "Don't stride, shorten your step!" "Don't wave your arms like that!" "Back straight, head up!" Of course being dizzy with hunger wasn't helping. When had she last eaten, anyway? She thought longingly of the sandwich she had picked up Sunday afternoon before her walking tour.

But she quickly learned not to let herself get distracted. If she didn't respond quickly enough, or made a mistake, she got another sharp rap with the cane. Along her shoulder blades, or on the back of her legs. Each a hard, precise strike that brought tears to her eyes, but wasn't hard enough to break anything.

"Don't make me tell you again to keep your head up," Shrader said, with an odd anticipation in his voice. It seemed only moments later that he said, "For the third time: Keep your head up!" That was the last thing she heard before paralyzing pain rocketed through her, this time starting from her neck. Involuntarily, she grabbed at the collar -- which was all too obviously electrified -- and received a series of hard strikes on her forearms, as he shouted, "Put your hands down!" The end result was long, agonizing moments on the floor, helpless tears running down her face, as she waited for the shocks and bruises to stop aching. But she got no reprieve -- as soon as he could see she was coherent, he was urging her to her feet again.

"Quickly, now, I wouldn't want to have to encourage you with the collar."

And they continued as if nothing had happened. He added other activities. Standing and sitting gracefully. Picking up pieces of paper from the floor or from the coffee table, or from the desk. And all had to be accomplished in his pre-approved 'ladylike' fashion.

JJ couldn't just passively continue. Thinking she might be able to negotiate her own way out of this mess, she attempted to start a conversation. "You know, Mr. Shrader, I'm an FBI agent."

"Don't drag your feet" was her only response.

"I have friends who'll be looking for me. Why don't you just let me go?"

This time the response was another shock. Another face to face with the hard floor, more cane strikes all over. Not the result she was hoping for.

It seemed hours had passed -- but was probably much less. Nonetheless, JJ was so tired that she was having trouble even standing, let alone carrying out his precise movements. Even sitting, which of course required a straight back and head held high, and legs and arms just so, was exhausting.

Shrader finally said in disgust, "Alright, you may sit down in your chair. We're done for the day. I'm disappointed, but you're clearly not paying enough attention."

She sat down as she had been instructed, and suddenly, again, was in the grip of blinding pain. This time, she must have actually passed out - when she came to, she was back in her cell. The collar was gone, and she was chained to the wall again.

Thus began JJ's training. She had made another attempt to engage him in conversation -- but was met again with a collar charge. JJ decided she couldn't bear the thought of any more shocks -- especially since her conversational gambits didn't seem to be getting her anywhere.

That night, she lay on her cot, too hungry and in too much pain to fall asleep immediately, even though she was thoroughly exhausted. Her neck was tender, and her throat was raw. And everywhere he had hit her was throbbing -- and that was pretty much everywhere. She could see red welts over her arms and legs, and given how sore her back was, figured that was more of the same.

She was in despair over surviving this - she, more than anyone, knew how easy it was to make someone disappear. Her mind filled involuntarily with the images - the hundreds of horrifying images of mutilated women they had found. Women brutalized beyond any sane comprehension.

Involuntarily, she jerked upright on the bed, shaking her head. The movement was rewarded with a reawakening of every ache in her body, but at least it cleared her mind.

Okay, he's obviously deranged -- sane people don't kidnap other people to be their fiancees -- but no need to go straight to worst case scenario, JJ chided herself. Think about something happy.

Immediately, Emily Prentiss filled her mind. JJ constructed an image to ward off other, less appealing images. Of course, the brunette would be wearing those sexy, sexy jeans -- the ones that hugged her curves tight, and hung low on her hips. Mmmmm, sighed JJ. Let's see, how about that red t-shirt she wears, with the v-neck, I love her in red. Done. And she's laughing, because I just said something funny. And she's looking at me with that look, the one that makes me think that maybe she likes me as more than just a friendly co-worker.

JJ let the image firm and solidify in her mind. It's my own 'happy place' she thought, a little bitterly.

But it gave her a little peace as she finally, fitfully drifted off.

As she woke up on the second day, JJ realized that it was only Tuesday -- and that no one would even miss her until the following Monday. If she was going to survive this -- and she knew enough to recognize that this was not likely to end well -- she needed to make her own plans.

She rolled over and tried to sit up -- only to gasp out loud in pain. The collection of bruises from last night now woke up, and every movement lead to aching spasms and cramps.

Grimly, she forced herself through some stretches, trying to loosen up muscles tense from pain. She had gathered from something Shrader said last night that he thought the perfect woman was slim -- and judging by the fact that he had left her another bottle of water, but no food, apparently 'slim' to him meant 'starved' to the rest of the world. So she didn't try to exercise -- she needed to conserve her energy as much as possible.

She knew she was lucky. Sad state of affairs when getting beaten and tasered is 'lucky', she thought, blackly. But she knew it was true. Her personal knowledge of what happened to some victims meant that if this was the worst of her treatment, then she would be fine.

Of course, she knew this ultimately wouldn't be the worst of her treatment. He had mentioned 'others' so she knew she wasn't his first victim. And since he was still looking for a fiance, she knew the earlier candidates had not survived.

But somehow, having been through the first day made the second day in the cell easier.

There was still no way out that she could see, which meant that aside from the stretches -- which she continued to do at intervals, in the hope that the bruises would hurt less -- mostly she had time to think.

After a little time fantasizing about a burger -- which didn't help at all -- she turned her mind to her favorite subject. Emily Prentiss. Dark hair, dark eyes, a killer smile - and a brain to back it all up. What's not to like?

She wasn't sure when her feelings for the other woman had drifted from enjoying having another woman on the team to wondering if she was up for a date, but they had most certainly changed. She was embarrassed to realize that lately around the brunette she was acting more like a teenage boy than a mature adult. Peeking glances at her, getting flustered when Emily asked her a question -- not to mention the absolutely hormonal reaction she had to her physical presence.

Emily seemed completely unaware of how attractive she was, which made her even more irresistible. And yet sometimes, she'd be talking to Emily, or watching her from afar, and the brunette would smile, or laugh, or even just look pensive. And something would strike JJ, almost like a physical blow. Her awareness of Emily was sometimes on a purely physical level, and begat an involuntary physical reaction - a rush of heat. She had already on several embarrassing occasions had someone ask her if she was alright because she was flushed or distracted, all because of the brunette.

JJ spent the day with her memories of Emily, her "Power of Prentiss" happy place, her efforts to stay limber and occasional fruitless efforts to scour the cell again and again for some missed weakness to get out.

Tuesday, Emily called the team together -- team leader Hotchner, Dr. Spencer Reid, and agents David Rossi and Derek Morgan.

"As you know, I'm filling in for JJ in her absence, keeping abreast of incoming cases to see if any warrant our attention. And I think I've got one." She flipped to the screen. "Three women have been found dead in Savannah over the past three months. One three months ago, one a month ago, and one this weekend."

"So if it is one killer, it's possible he's losing control and accelerating his kills," said Rossi.

"The Savannah PD believes it is the same killer, and I'm inclined to agree. The women were all about the same age. They were all dumped in the same general location - the historic district of Savannah. All the women showed signs of dehydration and starvation. All had been violently stabbed to death. And, here's the main point, all were found posed with a red rose clasped in their hands."

Hotchner looked around the room. "I know we're a man down with JJ out, so we'll all have to pitch in to do her work. Let's get moving, we'll start the profiling on the plane."

"I'll let the Savannah PD know we're on the way," said Emily, as the room emptied.

Emily was wrapping up at JJ's desk when Garcia poked her head in.

"What's up?" Emily asked with a smile.

"I can't believe we have a case in Savannah," said Garcia, in an incredulous voice.

"Yeah, unfortunately," sighed Emily. Something about Garcia's voice caught her attention. "Why, is there something wrong?"

"Well, I wasn't going to say anything, because I wanted to give her as much space as possible, but... that's where JJ is."

Emily could only stare in disbelief.

The team spent the first 45 minutes of the plane debriefing. Emily thought the whole team got a wake up call about all the work that JJ did that they didn't really notice. Hotch would mention something that needed to be done -- often the behind the scenes work that the profilers never really thought about -- and there would be a little pause while everyone waited subconsciously for JJ to chirp, "Okay, I'm on it."

But now they had worked out the basics of who would do what -- which included distributing JJ's not inconsiderable share of the workload -- and they still had another 30 minutes before they landed.

Emily thought back to Garcia's bombshell. You have got to be kidding me, thought Emily. Of all the places to take a vacation, JJ had to pick the place with an active serial killer. What were the odds?

And having now brought up the beautiful blond agent, she let her mind linger. She didn't even try to hide from herself anymore that she found the other woman attractive. I mean, really, I'm breathing, right? Anyone who could look at the vivacious, blond haired, blue-eyed, poster girl for All-American beauty and not at least feel a twinge of something was clearly too far gone to worry about.

And at first, that was all Emily had seen; the pretty face and the good looks made it easy to miss the sharp intelligence that lay behind it. JJ was their public face, and some might mistakenly believe that she was all surface and no substance. They would be wrong.

Emily had gotten to know the other woman better over the course of the months she had been with the team. She had seen JJ display personal courage in ways that were almost unfathomable. After she had been attacked and injured by wild dogs, she had remained with the team and stayed on-site in house that she had publicly called her own nightmare. The brunette had also seen JJ's vulnerability then. The blonde was as self-possessed as anyone Emily had ever met, but she had been clearly barely able to maintain her equilibrium, until finally, mercifully, they found Reid, wrapped up the case and could go home.

JJ's role on the team also had some of the worst responsibilities, as far as Emily was concerned. The blonde never complained, but she was often the liaison to family members, which meant far too often she was the person delivering bad news. And yet each time, JJ was able to muster honest empathy and support. Being the public face also meant she took the brunt of the public's anger; Emily knew that had been particularly hard on JJ when they worked the college case a couple of months ago.

Filling in for JJ had been eye-opening as well. She had only looked at one day's worth of files, and she was appalled at the idea that the blonde saw that much horror every day at work. She had never really thought about the fact that the press liaison weeded through all their case files. For every case JJ brought to the team, or forwarded to an individual profiler for a report, she had to read ten. It was a wonder she slept at night.

And in fact, Emily had noticed something off about JJ lately. Her usually chipper demeanor seemed forced, and an indefinable aura of sadness seemed to linger behind her usually sparkling blue eyes. She had been working late too much -- Emily had been dismayed but not surprised to discover that she had still been at work when they found out about Garcia. And she had stopped socializing as much with the team. After the last case, JJ had declined again. Emily had been tempted to try to make a personal plea, going so far as to put a hand on JJ's shoulder, but she had lost her nerve. She didn't want to be personally rejected.

So she couldn't say she was surprised to hear that JJ had taken time off. She clearly both needed and deserved a break from her job.

Emily just wished she had picked a better time to go to Savannah.

Garcia had a nagging feeling, and she had learned to listen to them.

So she composed a cheery email to JJ, Just to be, you know, safe.


Subj: A message from the goddess

hey, vacation-girl! hope you're having a fabulous time! just checking to make sure the hotel accommodations are up to snuff, because you know i have mad reservation skillz. :) did you try the walking tours i forwarded?

looking forward to hearing all about it -



Garcia dithered a bit more - she hated to even send an email, but she knew JJ would at least be keeping an eye out for anything marked urgent -- but finally hit send determinedly.

"What?" she said aloud as if arguing with someone. "If she replies to me, no harm done, and at least I'll know."

The team was now gathered together in a room in Savannah's police headquarters, going over additional information provided in the case files.

"Okay," started Rossi, "Let's recap what we know." He turned to their whiteboard. "All single women. All about the same age. What else? Did they have a similar appearance? Are we looking for a type?"

"Well, all the victims were blonde," said Morgan.

"Well, sort of," said Emily. "The driver's license for the second victim shows her as a brunette."

"Do we know when she dyed her hair?" asked Rossi.

"I'll find out," said Emily, and left the room.

"Eye color?" continued Rossi.

"Blue, blue and... missing," said Reid. "Third victim's eyes had been gouged out. Her file says she had brown eyes."

"Body types?"

"All about the same height and weight - slender, although they were all a little gaunt by the time the unsub killed them," said Morgan.

Emily came back into the room. "Susan Fredericks' missing persons report lists her as a brunette. I've got Garcia checking to see if she dyed her hair while she was in town."

"Which brings us to our next point, all the victims were tourists," added Hotch. "That's worked in the unsub's favor so far -- the women he's taken have not been missed immediately. From what we can piece together, he keeps them for about a week before he kills them; and he dumps the bodies immediately after that."

Morgan's phone rang.

"What do you have for us, baby girl?" he asked, putting the phone on speaker.

"Susan Fredericks did not dye her hair while in Savannah. And in fact, the last footage of her - from the hotel's security cameras - shows her as a brunette," she said firmly.

"Thanks, Garcia," said Emily, and Morgan hung up the phone.

"So the unsub dyed her hair," mused Morgan. "Why would he do that?"

"And why gouge out one Karen Bennett's eyes, but not the other two. That's breaking a pattern," added Reid.

The team sat silently for a moment, considering.

"Unless he's putting them into a pattern with these changes." Rossi continued his line of thought, "Maybe he picks women close to his ideal, with the idea that he'll make any changes necessary. He dyes Susan's hair blonde, and gouges out the brown eyes, but not the blue. So he's fixated on blond hair and blue eyes. Was anything done to the first victim, Paula Tribelli?"

"Yes." Hotch flipped open his file. "He cut her tongue out."

Tuesday night after training, JJ lay exhausted on her cot again. Shrader had arrived in the evening again - maybe after he got off work? Today he had taught her table manners. For some reason, mimicking the act of eating when she was so very hungry was truly painful. And as ever, he wasn't shy about using the cane. She thought his ability to hit just her, and not the table, bespoke practice, and fleetingly wondered how many other victims he had had. Unfortunately, Shrader was keeping to the 'third time' use of the shock collar, and she again spent more time getting up off the floor than she thought was probably good for her.

However, she had learned that she'd be meeting "Mother" Saturday night, so she knew she had to get out by then. She had also had time to start considering plans and she believed she had a way to get out. She just hoped she had the strength to put it into action when the time came.

Wednesday morning, the team briefed the local police on their profile -- which was, so far, distressingly generic. But they had also managed to uncover some additional facts -- all the bodies had been found on Sunday morning, and all had been dumped within a fairly small radius. At this point, Garcia was trying to cross reference all the people within a mile of the dump sites with their profile to see what came up. But Savannah was too metropolitan to allow them to narrow the list enough. They also had no idea where the victims had been abducted -- only where they had been dropped -- which wasn't helping.

The team was also privately aware that what they needed was a break of some kind. Unfortunately, that might mean they had to wait for the unsub to make a mistake -- and that meant another victim.

Garcia, meantime, hadn't gotten a response from JJ. She finally broke down and called JJ's cell phone. Maybe she decided to take a real vacation and turn off her PDA for once, thought Garcia hopefully -- which was of course nonsense, none of the team would ever do that.

She went straight to voice mail, and left a quick message. "JJ, I know you're on vacation. Everything is totally fine, but can you just give me a quick call? I'll tell you why when you do, and then we can both laugh about what an idiot I am! But seriously - call or email when you get this message. Thanks."

Wednesday evening's training for JJ was elocution and polite speech. She was finally allowed to speak, but only certain phrases, repeated over and over, as she sat ramrod straight in a chair. Then he had her begin reading from a book, testing her pronunciation. Shrader stalked around the room as usual, mostly behind her, coaching and prompting her, using the cane and then collar in his usual pattern.

JJ realized Shrader almost seemed to be trying to give her a southern accent. Fortunately, she was fairly good with accents, and was able to mimic what he was saying well enough to meet his standards. And in fact, did well enough that both the cane and collar got less use than usual. Which was just as well. JJ was so sore from Monday's and Tuesday's 'lessons' that even lightly touching her sore arms and legs -- which had taken the brunt of the abuse so far -- was painful. As a result, even the hard smacks he was dealing out with the cane were now nearly as bad as the shock collar.

He seemed quite pleased by her progress, and ironically complimented her on her "delightfully soft voice." JJ didn't bother to tell him that her 'soft voice' was due to all the collar shocks - she wasn't sure she could manage a loud voice if she wanted to, and was just grateful he wasn't requiring more volume.

Shrader was so cheery that JJ decided to risk another attempt at engaging him in conversation. She chose a topic she knew was important to him. "So, I'm looking forward to meeting your mother," tried JJ. "Maybe you could tell me something about her?"

It was almost funny. She had gotten shocked so many times that she had lost count, and yet she kept thinking at some point she would get used to it. But each time, as now, it was freshly excruciating. This time, she had apparently gone too far -- Shrader was beating her with the cane, much harder than usual, with frenzied swings that hit her indiscriminately, as she lay on the floor, covering her head with her arms.

Shrader finally got himself under control, and stopped swinging the cane. JJ was weeping silently -- even if she had wanted to stop crying, she couldn't have, because the pain was just too much. Shrader was standing over her, his face red, a vein in his temple throbbing. "You do NOT mention my mother."

And then he was prodding her with his cane, urging her back up into the chair, to continue the lesson.

Emily's phone rang Wednesday night, as the team was getting ready to go to a late dinner. She was surprised to see it was from Garcia, but answered promptly. "Hey, Garcia, what's up?"

Garcia spoke in a rush of words, clearly nervous. "Okay, I need you to tell me I'm being crazy. After I realized the unsub was targeting tourists in Savannah, I sent JJ an email yesterday, just to check in. And I didn't hear back. And this morning, I left her a voice mail, and I still haven't heard back. And I know she's on vacation but she would answer my email or my voicemail, I know she would. I mean, I know I'm just being paranoid, what are the odds of ... anyway, I'm sure she's just doing something fun where she's out of range of cell service, and I'll hear back but I just needed someone else to tell me that."

It took Emily a moment to process what Garcia had said. When it sunk in, she tried to ignore the frisson of alarm that shivered down her back. "Okay, let's think rationally. She IS on vacation. And we're at the ocean, so... maybe she went out on a boat today, and who knows when she'll get back."

Emily heard furious typing in the background.

"Okay, it's the off-season, so only two tour operators have boats going out right now." More clicking. "Both ocean tours are back already," Garcia reported, concern evident in her voice.

Emily was non-plussed. "Hunh. Okay. Well, maybe she... well... what if she met someone?" Emily hated to suggest it, but people did have vacation affairs.

"What, and they live on the moon and don't have cell service?" said Garcia. "Besides, JJ specifically said she was not interested in any quick flings -- I was trying to convince her to go to some place like South Beach and find a hard body, and she said no way."

Emily tried not to be pleased about the fact that JJ wasn't the type to go looking for cheap sex in her downtime.

"Look, this is silly, I'm sure she's just out late tonight, and she'll call you tonight. We're both being worry warts."

"Maybe you're right," said Garcia uncertainly. "I mean, I did just call her this morning."

"Exactly. I'm sure she's out having a great time somewhere, and just hasn't had a chance to return your message. So no more worrying." Emily paused. "But just so I know..." added Emily diffidently, "Can you call me, no matter what time it is, when you hear from her?"

Wednesday night, JJ felt almost unable to continue. If only she wasn't so tired. And hungry. She couldn't seem to muster the will to live -- let alone the energy needed to plan her counterattack. The rational part of her brain knew it was the food deprivation that was making her feel this almost deadly lassitude, but that didn't make a difference to her energy level. Plus, she was in immense pain -- every movement seemed to bring a wave of pain and tears to her eyes, thanks to the crazed beating Shrader had given her.

She lay on the cot, once again too hungry to fall sleep and too exhausted to do anything else, and morbidly wondered what the statistics were on the medical effects of repeated taserings. Too bad Reid isn't here, he'd probably know, she thought. With the thought of Reid, and by extension the rest of her team... no, her family... a wave of desolation swept over her. She had been working so hard to avoid thinking about all the ways this could go wrong. She tried desperately to summon her 'happy place' but for once, the Emily Prentiss magic didn't work.

JJ suddenly felt the enormity of where she was, and what she faced. Trapped, alone, probably headed for a painful death. And at this point, no one even knew she was missing.

Tears began to trickle down her face, as she considered her family. Reid and his annoying, endearing facts for all occasions. Morgan's sexy strut and unwavering support. Hotch might be a stickler, but he was a good man to have in your corner.

And what about Garcia? Her best friend on the team, the sister she'd never had. What's worse, having just gone through the same thing with Garcia, she knew exactly how worried and upset Garcia would be. More than anything, she didn't want to put Garcia through what she had been through when Garcia was injured.

And she could barely bring herself to think about the last member of the team. Emily. Her magic shield against the horrors of this place. She had spent now the better part of two days thinking about nothing else, and she was nearly positive that the other woman had feelings for her.

What if she really never made it out of here? What if this was it? The thought of what she would be missing was incredibly painful. No more stolen moments on the plane, watching Emily sleep out of the corner of her eye. No more of Emily's 'real' smiles, the rare ones that made the entire room light up. Never to hear again that wonderful laugh. Never to look into those gorgeous dark eyes. Never again to share a quiet moment together.

She kicked herself for foolishly squandering opportunities that now seemed too precious to waste. No chance to ever find out whether Emily could feel the same way. No chance for a first date, a first kiss, a first time together. No chance to explore a life together. And maybe even a child someday, looking up at her with Emily's big dark eyes. None of that.

Only now, when she knew it wasn't going to happen, did she realize how very desperately she wanted all of those things. With or without Emily, she wanted all those things. But the idea that she might have had a chance with Emily -- but now nothing could ever come of it because she had been too cowardly to even try -- that was like the final knife to her heart.

JJ was weeping now, hard but silently, sobs ripping through her frame. She put her arms up over her face, and just let the tears come.

After long moments, she started to run out of steam. Finally, she took a long shuddering breath, and released it. She felt strangely at peace. Empty, even.

And so she decided. She had seen what happened when Shrader got angry. And she knew if she tried her plan, but failed, she ran a real risk of his losing control and beating her even worse than tonight. But she also knew that the chances of her surviving in any case were slim to none.

She knew the odds were against her, but tomorrow, one way or another, she would end it.

It was nearly midnight, and Emily still could not sleep. Garcia's call had ripped any hope of that to shreds.

She had been antsy enough, knowing that JJ was somewhere here in Savannah. In her downtime -- driving to a new site, or catching a meal -- she had taken to concocting ridiculous schoolgirl fantasies in which they happened upon JJ. She could imagine the blonde's face lighting up at the sight of her team. If Emily wanted to imagine that she would get a special smile from the blonde, well it was her fantasy. And if the fantasy continued with JJ suggesting that Emily stay on in Savannah and finish her vacation with her, and got progressively more X-rated from there... well, you can't blame a girl for having a dream.

She had been tossing for an hour, when she finally gave in. She thought it extremely unlikely Garcia was asleep already, but to be safe, she sent a quick text: "Any word from JJ?"

She was not surprised when her phone rang moments later.

"No, I still haven't heard back," Garcia said without preamble.

"Okay, I know this is wrong, but... do you know where she's staying? Can you just call her hotel room?" asked Emily.

"Already tried it," admitted Garcia. "No answer."

Emily's heart fell. She had been holding onto the hope that a quick phone call to the hotel would answer their questions.

"Okay, can you find out what room she's in? And see if any of the security cameras have spotted her lately?" suggested Emily.

"Yeah, I'm on that too. I have my facial recognition program scanning all the cameras. I started Saturday - it picked her up when she checked in Saturday night, and then I'm pretty sure I have her leaving Sunday morning, but my first run through doesn't show her again," responded Garcia.

There was a brief pause.

Garcia rushed to continue, "I know, I shouldn't have broken into the hotel's security system, but I'm telling you, I should have heard from JJ by now."

"What?" asked Emily, confused. "Oh, no, I'm glad you checked. I'm just trying to decide whether to go over there tonight and see if I can get into her room," she admitted.

"Well, your hotel is only a few minutes away by taxi. And I have the name of the night manager, if you want to go take a quick look," said Garcia.

Emily paced around the room.

"Okay. She drove here, right? Can you see if her car is still in the garage? If her car's gone, then maybe she just took a quick trip somewhere "

She could hear Garcia's keyboard clicking furiously. "That's going to take me a minute. Let me check the garage cameras, and call you right back."

Emily was now pacing nervously around the room. She was too close to this to be objective - she wanted to storm over to the hotel and demand answers. But if she did manage to get into JJ's room - would she be able to tell anything anyway? She would have no way of knowing how long she had been gone, or whether her bed had been slept in -- that would require interviewing the cleaning staff.

And say she did get into JJ's room, and the other woman WASN'T missing -- how would she feel to discover that Emily had violated her privacy like that?

Her phone rang. "I think her car's still in the garage," said Garcia, worriedly. "I found footage of her entering, but can't find it leaving."

"Okay, here's what we're going to do. Did you leave a message at the hotel for her to call you?"


"Alright, I don't want to break into JJ's vacation if we don't have to -- we both know how much she needs it. So. Tomorrow, I'll tell Hotch what we know. And I'll let him make the call. Besides, by tomorrow it will have been 48 hours since you first reached out to her - and he knows as well as anyone how unusual it is for her to be out of contact."

Garcia sighed. "Okay, I guess you're right. If she's just having some quality downtime in Savannah, and we make like SWAT through her hotel room door... Well, not pretty."

"I hope that's exactly what it is - she's just put BAU completely out of her mind for a week. She deserves the time off. Now let's both get some sleep. I'll talk to you in the morning."

Emily tried very hard to take her own advice. But she knew that with her feelings for JJ, she wouldn't sleep well until she knew the blonde was safe and sound.

Thursday morning, Emily's insides were in knots. She had checked in with Garcia first thing; still no word from JJ. She was first into the team's ready room, marshaling her case for Hotch. As the other team members trickled in, she could barely be bothered to say hello, so impatient was she to have her say. She knew now exactly why Garcia had called her in the first case; she desperately wanted Hotch to pooh-pooh her concerns, so she could relax and stop worrying.

Okay, she would probably continue to worry. But if Hotch took her seriously -- agreed that it was sufficiently alarming to take action -- then she knew the niggling tickle in her stomach would start heading quickly toward full-blown panic.

As soon as Hotch walked in, she took him to one side. Quickly, she outlined the situation: JJ very uncharacteristically out of touch for now 48 hours. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed JJ, a young female tourist in a city with a serial killer preying on blonde-haired, blue-eyed female tourists.

"What do you want to do?" asked Hotch.

"Well, if you don't think I'm... we're worrying unnecessarily, then I'd like to check two things; first, whether her car is still at the hotel, and second, whether her bed has been slept in," said Emily.

Hotch considered. "Do it," he said. "And check the hospitals, just to be safe - maybe she was injured. And let's keep this quiet for now. She's still on vacation for all we know." And he headed over to hand out the day's assignments to the rest of the team.

JJ awoke, hungry as usual. Today, she saved her water, to drink it closer to her training session. As she had the previous mornings, she stretched and tried to make herself feel more presentable - not for him, but for herself, to keep a part of herself as normal as possible. Once again, the agony of the stretching brought her to actual tears, but after her muscles warmed up, the movements were at least manageable, if still painful.

Then she settled in, dusted off her favorite images of Emily, and waited.

It took Emily less than an hour to discover that according to the maids, JJ's bed had not been slept in for at least two nights, possibly more. And they had easily found her car in the garage. A check of the hospitals -- how could she have not thought of that? Emily chastised herself -- had come up empty. No Jennifer Jareaus or even Jane Does matching her description.

The lump in Emily's stomach now felt like a cold, leaden bowling ball. Her mind kept flashing on the images of the other women they'd found -- the savage stab wounds, the sightless staring eyes -- or no eyes at all. But now she saw JJ's eyes staring up at her accusingly: "I needed your help, where were you?"

When Emily reported to Hotch, he seemed to consider for a moment, before nodding decisively. "Have Garcia see if JJ's credit card has been in use anywhere else. Let me know what you find out."

Garcia quickly discovered that JJ's last purchase had been on Sunday, a book at one of the main bookstores: "A book on walking tours," she informed Emily. "Oh, why didn't she take one of the guided tours like I told her to?" worried Garcia. Because although they were still pretending everything was okay, and they were just looking for JJ so she could give them a hard time, both woman were now seriously concerned that JJ was in real trouble.

Hotch called the team together, with Garcia on the line by conference call. They had been reviewing information on the still too large list of suspects based on their general profile.

"Alright, I have some more information. JJ was vacationing in Savannah this week. As you all know, she fits the victimology -- blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and a tourist. She has not responded to our efforts to reach her, and I'm sure you all know how unusual that is. Therefore, I want to start breaking down the case as if we're sure she's already in the hands of the unsub."

Emily could barely stay seated; and Garcia's gasp on the phone was nearly drowned out by the exclamations from the other team members, for whom this was all new. Emily and Garcia were both stunned to discover that Hotch apparently now considered their concerns credible enough to factor into the case itself.

"According to what we know, she hasn't been in her hotel room since at least Monday. We know the unsub has been keeping his victims about a week, so that doesn't give us much time. This could be the break we've been hoping to get. For once we may know who his victim is in advance, and that means we may be able to get a jump on him."

Hotch continued, doling out assignments: "Prentiss and Reid, you go to JJ's room, see if there's anything there to indicate that she's out of touch for her own reasons. Garcia - review that book she bought. I believe you helped her book her travel here?"

"Right" was all Garcia could manage, flooded with guilt.

"Then look and see if you can figure out which tour she would have taken. In the meantime, we'll have the local police start asking around if people have seen her in our target area. Rossi, Morgan, you lead that effort.

"Alright, let's get moving. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that if I'm right, we have more incentive than ever to find and capture this unsub, so let's get moving."

The team that reassembled at dinner time was disheartened. They had found nothing in JJ's room to indicate anything other than that she had gone out for the day.

And the police so far had not turned up anyone who remembered her.

On the one hand, Emily privately found it astonishing that no one remembered JJ. She personally found it almost impossible to tear her eyes off JJ, and couldn't understand how she had failed to make a lasting impression on someone, somewhere.

More realistically, though, she knew that it was a big city, and they didn't know where JJ had even been walking. Garcia had said she thought JJ was interested in being outside, and doing the walking tours, so they had been focusing on the historical squares, but that was still a lot of ground to cover.

With every moment that passed, Emily felt like an internal clock was ticking, ticking, ticking.

She knew, somehow, that they were running out of time.

When the door opened Thursday evening, JJ was ready. After that first evening, Shrader had given her a choice - cooperate in being shackled to the wheelchair, or be tasered again. She had chosen to cooperate. After she locked her legs in, he came up behind her and bolted in her arms and buckled on the shock collar.

He wheeled her out of her cell and across the small hallway, and into her training room.

Today's lesson was a review session. And that made JJ's plan that much easier. She had been exceedingly obedient and cooperative during the last lesson; but she had been (at great personal cost) testing his reactions; trying to predict how he would respond, depending on where he was standing. He was after all only human, and he had his own patterns. And now she was ready to take her shot.

She was still curiously calm, and almost well-rested. Last night's little... alright, maybe it was a breakdown, she admitted to herself... had left her so drained she had actually slept fairly well - relatively speaking, anyway. And she had spent practically the entire day in her 'happy place' -- and today, the "power of Prentiss" as she had started to call it, had been sufficient to keep the demons at bay. Apparently rerunning in her mind, over and over, every interaction she'd had with Emily Prentiss, interspersed with some of her favorite still shots, and just one or two personal fantasies, could keep her happy all day.

Shrader was having her walk around the room, and then sit at the table, "eat" something and then engage in polite conversation. Combining all of the lessons into what JJ could clearly now see was a dress rehearsal for the meeting with Mother.

The thought of finally fighting back had adrenaline pumping in her blood. So despite her fatigue, and faintness from hunger, and pain and stiffness from his "lessons", she was doing a good job, even by his exacting standards. He was relaxed, taking her through her paces, enjoying her instant unquestioning obedience. She hoped that would help.

She internally braced herself. They'd been working for at least 30 minutes now, with few mistakes on her part. She was currently seated at the table, and knew where he was behind her. She knew any mistake here would get her a sharp crack across the forearms.

So she made a flagrant mistake. She heard the swoosh behind her, but this time, she knew from experience where the cane would be coming from. She leaned back sharply, turned her hands over, and grabbed the cane with both hands.

She easily wrenched the cane out of his hands, due to the complete surprise of her attack. JJ knew she only had seconds before he used the shock collar. She rose and spun, and swung the cane as hard as she could toward his head. Shrader was looking down, fumbling for the collar control. The sound of her chair being shoved aside had him glancing up again - just in time for the cane to come crashing across his temple.

The blow staggered JJ and stung her hands, but more importantly, dropped Shrader to the floor, where he lay, motionless, like a sack of potatoes.

For a long moment, she just stood over him, breathing heavily, cane still clenched tightly in her hands. Then he twitched, and the slight movement galvanized her into action. Cautiously, she knelt, and found the collar control on the floor next to his body, and the taser clipped to his belt. She moved back to the table, out of Shrader's reach, and put both on the table beside her, the taser close at hand. Her hands shook as she worked the buckles on the shock collar around her neck. Finally, it was off. With a shudder of revulsion, she threw it across the room, away from Shrader, and into a corner.

Shrader was now stirring slightly. JJ stood well back from him, taser at the ready.

He slowly came to.

"Shrader!" JJ barked.

He stared at her in confusion.

"Get up! Get up and get into that chair!" said JJ, loudly.

Groggily, he managed to get up. He was so out of it, he seemed almost grateful to sit down in the wheel chair he'd been using on JJ. Only when JJ said sharply, "Put your arms in the cuffs!" did he seem to realize something was wrong.

His eyes focused, and he started to get out of the chair -- and JJ tasered him.

JJ's stomach rolled as she watched what the tasering looked like from the other end of the gun. She shuddered once, her remembrance of the pain almost physical.

She shook it off, and quickly moved over to the chair and secured Shrader's arms in the chair. She was working on fastening his legs into the chair when suddenly his right foot lashed out. His heel smashed into her cheekbone and temple, but she managed to pick up the taser and fired it again. She noticed this time she didn't have any sympathetic pangs, although that might have had something to do with the cut on her temple, and the blood she could feel welling in her mouth from a cut inside her cheek.

This time she got both his legs buckled in. With an effort -- he wasn't that big, but the adrenaline was wearing off and she was very weak from hunger -- she wheeled him out of the training room, parked him in her old cell, and locked the door behind her.

She tucked the taser into the back of her pants, and set out to examine her former prison.

The SPD liaison knocked on the door of the BAU team's ready room and then came in. "We may have a lead."

Across the hall, an elderly woman was sitting primly in one of the empty offices, talking to another police detective. The detective stood up as Morgan and Hotch entered the office - the rest of the unit watched from the observation room.

"This is Mrs. Curtis, who lives on Calhoun Square. Mrs. Curtis, this is Agent Hotchner and Agent Morgan, with the FBI. Mrs. Curtis is in the habit of sitting in the square most afternoons, and saw something that might be helpful. Please go ahead, ma'am, and tell them what you told me."

"Well, it was, oh, last Sunday I believe.... Yes, I'm quite sure, because it was such a beautiful day that I went outside as soon as I got back from church. Well, I was sitting on my favorite bench -- it gives a nice view of the entire square, and usually there are tourists and such to watch. I do love to people watch, so much better than the television!

"Anyway, it wasn't too late - I think maybe after 3:00 or so -- when the nice young woman in the picture entered the park. I thought she must be from out of town, because she had one of those tourist guides with her. The one with the walking tours. You see them all the time. And she seemed like such a nice young woman. She sat down across the park from me, and she was reading her book, and I thought it was quite nice she seemed to be taking her time, enjoying the afternoon. Most people just go rushing through Calhoun Square, in a hurry to get to the end of the tour, always something else to do next."

"Did you see someone else talking to the woman in the picture?" asked Morgan.

"Why, yes, as I was telling the detective. I saw a man sitting on the next bench over from her, and it looked like they were talking. Then he got up to leave, and she seemed to be taken ill. And it was as he was helping her up off the bench that I realized it was little Charlie Shrader."

Morgan glanced meaningfully at the observation room, but Emily was already on the phone to Garcia. "What have you got on a Charles Shrader, lives in Savannah."

"Who is Charles Shrader, ma'am? How do you know him?" asked Hotch in the interview room.

"Oh, I've known him since he was a baby. His mother and I knew each other before she passed away earlier this year, God rest her soul." Morgan and Hotchner exchanged quick glances, but Mrs. Curtis didn't notice, and continued.

"She lived right on the square, too -- she used to say that she was a descendant of John Calhoun." Mrs. Curtis gave an indulgent laugh. "Well, now, I don't know about that, but it doesn't hurt if she wants to believe it, right?"

"Mrs. Curtis, what happened to Mr. Shrader and the woman? You said his house is on the square? Did he take her into his house?" Morgan asked, urgently.

"Well now, no he didn't. I believe he helped her into his car. I thought he must be going to take her to the hospital. And they drove off together," she replied.

Emily was still on the phone: "Garcia, Shrader has a house on the square. But we need a make and model on his car, as well as any other property he might own."

Mrs. Curtis continued, with another little laugh. "I remember thinking that little Charlie was turning into quite the Sir Galahad," she added.

"What do you mean?" asked Hotch.

"Well, it wasn't but a month ago that I saw him help another poor woman out of the park! I was thinking it was so romantic - maybe he'd finally meet a nice girl his mother would have liked. It was so unfortunate, she never did like anyone he brought home." Mrs. Curtis finally noticed the stillness in the room that had fallen when she mentioned the other woman. "Is there something wrong?" she asked, concerned.

"No, Mrs. Curtis, thank you, you've been a tremendous help. If it's okay, we'd like you to make an official statement - the detective will take it."

Hotch and Morgan excused themselves and left the room. Emily, Rossi and Reid were waiting outside the door.

"Shrader has a town house on the square, just like Mrs.Curtis said. However, he also has a beach house, about 30 minutes outside of Savannah, according to Garcia," said Emily.

"Rossi - you, Morgan and Prentiss check out the beach house; Reid and I will take the house on the square. Let's move!"

JJ realized almost immediately that she needed keys to get out. The key to her cell had been left in the door, but the other doors were locked, with no keys. She returned to her former cell, where Shrader was yelling obscenities at her. When he heard the key in the lock, Shrader quieted for a moment. JJ came around in front of him.

"Where are the keys?" she asked, simply.

"Go to hell, you little whore!" he shrieked.

JJ raised the taser. "Tell me, or I'll take them myself."

She was gratified to see that the threat shut him up immediately. "Not so much fun on the receiving end, you bastard, is it? Now where are the KEYS?" she demanded.

Shrader hesitated, then said sullenly, "In my breast pocket."

JJ looked him over, and said, "If you're lying, or if you try to stop me, I'll keep tasering you until this damn charge wears out. And then I'll find a fresh battery and do it again. Are the keys really in your breast pocket?"


JJ moved around behind him, and pressed the taser up against the back of his neck. Sure enough, there was a set of keys inside his jacket's breast pocket.

"Good boy. Now stay here," JJ said, and left the room again.

The first door she unlocked was a storage room. The second door revealed a set of stairs leading up to the main floor. As she had expected, she was in the basement. There was another door to unlock at the top, and she listened carefully for a long moment before she opened it. She found herself on what she presumed was the main floor. She walked carefully through the house, taser at the ready, though she had had no indication that he had an accomplice.

It was full dark outside, and she was working her way from the back of the house to the front door when suddenly she heard banging on the front door.

"Charles Shrader! This is the FBI! Open up!"

JJ thought she must be delirious - that almost sounded like...

Then the door was being kicked in, and JJ thrust her hands in the air shouting: "Federal Agent! Don't shoot! Don't shoot!"

And then someone was rushing over to her, and putting a hand on her shoulder. "JJ! Oh my god, are you okay?" JJ thought she must be hallucinating -- what was Emily doing here? Had she thought so much about Emily that she had conjured her? The illusion was shattered, though, when the other woman put her hand up to JJ's cheek and temple -- even the light touch hurt. JJ hissed in pain and knew this was real.

"What happened to your face?" Emily asked in concern.

"I'll be fine," JJ said distractedly, getting to the heart of the matter. "Emily, what are you doing here? How did you find me?"

"We're here because someone saw Charles Shrader abduct you from Calhoun Square."

Morgan broke in, urgently. "JJ, where's Shrader?"

She answered automatically, "Downstairs, locked up in my cell. Here - take the keys."

JJ could feel the rush of adrenaline that had sustained her ebbing away. Relief at having her team on hand, and relief at finally, finally being able to relax and let down her guard, was making her light-headed. Or maybe it was not having eaten for four days. Or was it five?

But she had to know, "What are you guys doing in Savannah?"

Emily was distractedly motioning for a medic, so it was Rossi who answered, brusquely as ever. "We're pretty sure you just single-handedly caught a serial killer, JJ. He's killed three women so far, and you were supposed to be number four."

JJ looked at him in shock. Hearing it in blunt English - what she had feared but tried to ignore, that she was in the hands of one of the unsubs they tracked - was the last straw. The entire ordeal caught up with her at that moment, and she gladly let the darkness take her away.

Emily was waving at one of the policeman to call for an EMT so she could get some medical attention for JJ, when she heard Rossi's response. She whipped her head around to stare at Rossi in disbelief and horror, when she saw JJ's eyes roll up in her head and her body begin to fall to the ground. Emily just had time to turn and grab JJ, changing it from a headlong plunge to a more controlled descent. She gave up on subtlety and yelled, "Get a medic over here now!"

As she lowered JJ to the ground, she exclaimed, "She feels like she's lost ten pounds." She knelt next to the other woman, gently brushing the hair off her face, her fingerstips lingering on the darkening bruise on her cheek.

"The other victims had all been starved - I'm guessing she has been, too," said Rossi, clinically.

An EMT finally hurried up, so Emily moved back, to let him tend to JJ. She felt someone watching her, and saw Rossi looking at her, face unreadable. Too late, she thought she must be showing too much of what she felt, and she let her diplomat face slam down. "Did Morgan find the unsub?" she asked, in an effort to change the topic.

As if in answer, Morgan and several police men frog marched Shrader through the living room. Emily felt a primal surge of pride in JJ when she saw Shrader's face -- and an equally primal instinct to go inflict some of her own damage.

At the sight of JJ on the ground, Morgan broke off. "Is she okay?"

Emily turned her attention back to the EMTs now working on JJ.

"She's dehydrated - let's get some saline going into her." "Jesus, look at her arms."

At the exclamation, Emily leaned over, and saw that JJ's arms were practically one solid bruise, from wrist to elbow. She felt sickened at the evidence of what JJ had had to endure.

"I think so - she seems to be dehydrated, and it looks like he did beat her like the others," Emily answered Morgan.

The EMTs had now gotten JJ up onto a gurney and strapped in.

"Guys, I'm going with her to the hospital." Emily resolutely refrained from looking at Rossi as she spoke. She could tell Morgan approved of her decision. They were a tightly knit team, and someone should be with JJ.

As she walked to the ambulance behind the EMTs, Emily flipped open her phone. "Garcia, we got her. We've got JJ. She's fine. Well, she's not fine, but she will be -- we're on our way to the hospital now."

"Oh thank god," said Garcia, fervently.

"Yeah, she had already escaped when we arrived, and clocked that bastard a good one," Emily said proudly.

"You go girl!" crowed Garcia.

"Okay, I'm getting in the ambulance, I'll talk to you later. And Garcia -- good instincts."

The ride to the hospital was swift. Emily was worried that JJ didn't seem to be coming to, but the EMTs didn't seem to be too concerned: "She doesn't seem have any serious head injury, so it could be exhaustion or fatigue."

JJ started to stir on the gurney. She was moving restlessly, and suddenly her eyes snapped open, a wide, panicked look on her face. She was straining against the restraints, trying to get free.

Despite the efforts of the EMTs -- "Ma'am, you're safe!" "Calm down, it's okay!" -- JJ's movements only became more frantic.

Emily finally stood, and hunched over the gurney so she was directly over JJ's head.

"JJ! JJ, look at me!"

Wide blue eyes fastened onto deep brown, and calmed almost instantly. "It's fine. You're safe now. We're going to the hospital and you're in the back of an ambulance, and you're fastened onto the stretcher. But you're okay." Emily's deep, soothing voice seemed to bring JJ back to herself. Reason returned to her eyes, and she managed a weak smile.

"Sorry, I just thought..." she started, her voice hoarse.

"I know, but you're safe now. Just relax, we'll be at the hospital soon." Emily's smile, tender and caring, was burned on JJ's eyelids as she drifted back off -- secure in the knowledge that Emily would be watching over her.

In the emergency room, the doctor said JJ needed to be treated for dehydration and exhaustion. She had severe bruising on her arms, legs, and back, and a hairline fracture on one arm. She would recover fairly quickly - physically, at least, Emily thought.

While JJ was waiting to be moved to her room for the night -- apparently even FBI agents weren't exempt from some hospital bureaucracy -- the police arrived and took JJ's statement.

Emily hoped she had been able to keep her face sufficiently expressionless as she listened. From the bodies of the other victims, they had been able to extrapolate what had happened. But to hear JJ describe the events so calmly and coldly -- to watch that usually expressive face shut down, becoming distant, as she clinically detailed Shrader's "lessons" and abuse -- taxed every ounce of her self-possession. Even listening to JJ was a reminder -- the doctor said the repeated shocks had stressed her vocal chords; although she should recover completely, for the time being she sounded like she had been smoking for the past 20 years.

Soon after JJ arrived in her room, the rest of the team arrived. JJ assured everyone she was fine, and was pretty convincing, too -- at least to someone who hadn't seen the panic in her eyes in the ambulance. JJ got a laugh when she said, gravelly voiced, it was her "best vacation ever."

JJ insisted on being filled in on the case that she had been, so unwittingly, part of. Charles Shrader, it turned out, had been the only child of a controlling, obsessive mother. They had found his mother's body in the sitting room of Calhoun Square house, seated primly in a chair, where she had been since her death last spring. From what they pieced together, Mrs. Shrader had been insistent that Charles find just the right woman to carry on their family name. And after her death, it had become his obsession. They had recovered JJ's purse -- including her weapon and ID -- from that house, where Shrader lived.

The sitting room had obviously been the site of the stabbings; although Shrader had obsessively cleaned, forensics was able to find blood spatter.

"We believe that when his mother failed to 'approve' his candidates, Shrader killed them," Hotch finished. There was a moment of pregnant silence -- they were all considering how close JJ had come to being his next victim. No one felt it necessary to detail the violence of the deaths they had seen and that JJ had narrowly avoided. And in any case, JJ knew first hand Shrader's temper and could easily fill in the blanks herself.

The team left soon after that and Emily headed over to JJ's hotel, to bring back a change of clothes. JJ would be released from the hospital in the morning, and was planning to fly back on the team plane in the morning.

Emily got back to the hospital and made her way to JJ's room. JJ was asleep, and Emily was transfixed by a moment of intense tenderness for the other woman. The sight of that beautiful face, blond hair spread across the bright white pillow, so young and peaceful in sleep, was riveting. The bruises that marred her face provided an ugly reminder of what she had endured, and Emily again felt a visceral urge to visit some serious violence on Mr. Charles Shrader.

She stood for a moment, enjoying this rare chance to openly study JJ's features -- something she couldn't do usually. She studied the delicate features, and marveled at how when JJ was awake, they filled with liveliness and humor, or empathy and compassion.

She chided herself for taking advantage of the other woman's privacy, and was turning to leave when she noticed that JJ was stirring restlessly. A small furrow appeared between her brows, and frown appeared. Her eyes snapped open, wide and panicky, like they were in the ambulance. She gazed wildly around the room, and Emily immediately stepped up next to the bed, in JJ's line of sight.

"Hey, how are you doing?" Emily said, soothingly.

JJ seemed to visibly relax when she saw Emily. "Not too bad," she croaked, smiling back weakly.

"Everything okay?"

"Yeah, fine," JJ said, but her attempt at a confident smile definitely wavered. Her eyes dropped under Emily's understanding gaze. "Well... I think it'll be better when I'm waking up in my own room, actually. All these strange rooms..." she admitted.

"How about if I stay a while," suggested Emily.

"Oh, you don't have to," protested JJ - but rather weakly, in Emily's opinion.

"Don't be silly."

Blue eyes met dark brown in a long moment of understanding.

JJ tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her relief. "Well, it would be nice to have company for a little while," she admitted.

There was a brief pause.

"So, best vacation ever?" Emily asked skeptically

JJ managed a little laugh. "Okay, maybe not."

"Well, if you want to compare notes -- how about the time my mom thought a tour of the U.N. office buildings would be the perfect way to spend my school holiday?"

JJ gaped. "No," she said hoarsely.

And Emily was off, describing a series of perfectly horrible 'vacations' courtesy of her mother, the Ambassador. JJ made encouraging noises at the right spots, but soon drifted off again, the painkillers and exhaustion taking their toll.

Emily let her voice trail off. She sat for a long time, contemplating the blonde. Reassessing everything she knew. She had known how strong and capable the other woman was, but what she had just been through... Her ability to not just survive, but overcome... Emily was in awe. And, if she was honest with her, more attracted to her than ever. However wrong it might be.

JJ stirred, restlessly. The blonde's eyebrows furrowed again; her tossing became more pronounced. Instantly, Emily was on her feet, hovering at the side of the bed. JJ's eyes fluttered open. She seemed surprised to see Emily, but a fleeting look of relief passed across her face before she wrestled her usual confident smile into place. "Hey, sorry about that, I must have dozed off," she said, somewhat hoarsely.

"Go back to sleep. Don't worry, I'll be here," soothed Emily.

JJ looked like she wanted to protest.

"Shhh," said Emily, putting her fingertip gently against JJ's lips. "Just rest." She could see in JJ's eyes a moment of intense gratitude, before the other woman managed a brief yet heartfelt smile.

"Thank you," she whispered, before allowing her eyes to slip closed again. "My own personal power of Prentiss," she murmured as she drifted off.

Emily thought she must have misheard - what on earth was a power of Prentiss? - but didn't worry too much about it. Emily sat in silent vigil through the night, her eyes rarely leaving the other woman's face. When JJ's slumber was troubled -- as it too often was -- Emily was there, either with a reassuring clasp of her hand around JJ's, or standing so that the other woman could see her when her eyes opened.

It was dawn before JJ woke again - and when she saw the sun coming in the windows, she insisted that Emily leave. And she sounded so much better that Emily agreed.

But Emily had had a lot of time to think over the course of the evening. To assess how worried she had been. How much she enjoyed the other woman's company. How she'd like to get to know her much better.

The week's events had crystallized for Emily how she felt about the other woman. And she was determined not to let something that could be special slip away from her.



JJ was wrapping up her first week back at work. Hotch had insisted she take another week off after her failed first attempt at a vacation -- so she had spent the time at home mostly: healing, catching up on some reading, watching DVDs.

The bruises were no longer visible on her face, and although her arm was still sore, she was generally back to full health. She was still a little jumpy, but was sleeping much better, so JJ was starting to feel like she had put the events in Savannah behind her.

Before she went to Savannah, JJ had just completed her series of mandatory visits with the FBI's therapist, required after she shot and killed Garcia's attacker. She had been concerned then -- after the shooting -- to realize just how little she cared that she had taken someone's life. But the talks with Dr. Bonner had helped her come to terms with both the shooting and her reaction -- or lack thereof. And he had suggested that maybe that lack of reaction was a sign of the deepening malaise she felt with her job -- another of the reasons she had felt a break from the BAU might be a good idea.

Of course, after Savannah, Hotch had naturally suggested more time with the therapist might be in order, which JJ had agreed to. She knew she needed to talk to someone -- wanted to talk to someone -- to get past what had happened. More importantly, JJ knew that if she wasn't at the top of her game, lives literally could be lost. So she went to the sessions determined to emerge from them ready to tackle her life -- and her job -- with a fresh attitude.

In their final session, Dr. Bonner had given JJ some advice: "JJ, you need a life outside of the job. Find someone or something that gets you away from the job; something to give you perspective and an escape."

JJ had promised herself that she would definitely start working on that recommendation immediately.

Of course, JJ thought ruefully, it was a lot easier to make bold statements when you were sitting on your couch with a glass of wine.

Sitting at her desk, JJ dropped her chin in her hands. She had spent plenty of time since Savannah stewing over how, exactly, to get what she wanted: Emily Prentiss. Yes, she felt that over the past few months, they had become close friends. Yes, she thought she had occasionally seen a look in Emily's eyes that might indicate a more than friendly interest. Yes, Emily had been her rock at the hospital that night.

But could she trust her own instincts? Or was she only seeing what she wanted to see?

JJ had come to realize that her friendship with Emily was truly a lifeline to her. A lifeline that, it had become apparent, was becoming not just important, but actually necessary, the longer she worked in the BAU. So, she could keep things as they were, thus ensuring that she never lost this extremely important relationship.

Or she could risk that relationship by gambling that she could parlay it into something even better.

Which didn't even get to the big question: Was Emily even interested in a relationship with another woman?

She just didn't know.

After two weeks, though, it had come down to this: Savannah had taught her, if nothing else, that life was too short to wonder about 'what could have been.' So she decided that she owed it to herself to at least try. Hopefully, even if she didn't get everything she wanted, she'd at least be able to salvage the friendship.

Thus, her simple plan: Invite Emily out to dinner. Somehow let Emily know she was gay. If the other woman was still around after that, ask Emily out on date. Live happily ever after.

Piece of cake.

The rest of the team was milling around their desks, cleaning up and getting ready for the weekend. At the sight of JJ entering the bullpen, Morgan gave a big smile and asked: "JJ, you up for going out?"

JJ noticed out of the corner of her eye that Emily appeared to be paying close attention. JJ said, "Count me in. Who else?" And was both pleased -- and nervous -- when Emily and Reid added yeses. A quick trip past Garcia's office meant the tech analyst made up part of the crowd, too.

They ended up at a favorite bar -- one the three women had visited before. JJ only had to say, "Kicking criminal ass" to get both Garcia and Emily laughing. Then of course they had to fill in Reid and Morgan. Reid's befuddled: "But why would being an FBI agent help you get a date?" only set them off again.

After a couple of hours, JJ was ready to call it a night. She had been looking for a chance to talk to Emily privately, but so far, there had always been others at their table.

"Okay, guys, I'm beat - I'm heading home," she said finally. Groans came from Morgan and Garcia, but Emily stood up and said, "Yeah, me, too. Okay if I walk out with you, JJ?"

JJ's heart suddenly started racing. "Sure."

The two gathered their belongings and headed out.

They had made it nearly to Emily's car before JJ finally kicked herself into action.

"So, what are you doing this weekend?" JJ asked, trying to sound offhand.

"Oh, the same old nothing. Errands, laundry, blah blah," Emily said, as she dug through her purse to pull out her keys. She found them and then looked up at JJ.

"Interested in maybe getting dinner tomorrow night?" asked JJ. "There's some new places in DC I've been thinking about trying." JJ kept her face casual, but her heart was pounding. What was that in Emily's eyes? Anticipation? Friendly interest?

Several lifetimes later -- or maybe it was a few seconds -- "Actually, that sounds great," said Emily, a small smile on her face.

JJ thought she actually got a little light-headed as a rush of relief swept through her. "It's a date then," she said, a pleased smile breaking out on her face. "I'll call you tomorrow with details."

It was 7:00 on a Saturday night. Date night, thought Emily. She had tried very hard not to obsess over the fact that JJ had said "It's a date" -- but because she wanted it to be a date, she had failed completely. Was it a sign that JJ really did feel the same way she did?

She and JJ hadn't really talked since what happened in Savannah. Emily had left a voicemail checking in with her while she was out and JJ had responded, but it had been pretty impersonal. And this past week, she had spent time with JJ, filing her in on what had happened while she was gone, but JJ had kept everything very professional. Friendly as ever, but that closeness from the night at the hospital was gone.

It was causing her to doubt, as usual, her deep down hope that JJ liked her. In the sixth grade, "liked her, liked her" sense. Emily groaned; this thing with JJ was reducing her to pre-teen levels of emotional maturity.

And JJ's distance meant Emily had spent all week wondering if she'd shown too much -- gone too far -- by spending the night at the hospital with her. Did a good friend do that? Or had Emily made it too clear that she wanted something more, and that's why JJ was so distant this week? Maybe JJ felt like she had to reset their relationship to be just friendly co-workers, and nothing more.

And yet... Emily felt they had forged a bond that night in the hospital. And before this week, she could have sworn that sometimes, when they were working together, there was a palpable tension. An indefinable something extra in their glances.

Emily watched JJ all the time -- she was embarrassed to have been caught more than a few times by the blonde -- but Emily was also nearly positive that JJ spent plenty of time returning the favor. Sometimes when she was on the plane, and it was night, the airplane windows served as mirrors, and she had noticed that JJ spent plenty of time looking at her when the blonde thought she was unobserved.

That long night in the hospital -- thinking about what could have happened, but didn't -- had crystallized for her how important JJ was to her very existence. But she thought what JJ probably needed right now was a good friend -- someone she could rely on. And she didn't want to deprive JJ of emotional support now, when she was still trying to get back on her feet.

So, tonight is just dinner with a friend, Emily told herself firmly. Unfortunately.

JJ walked up to Emily's condo, hoping that the pounding of her heart was not as loud as it sounded in her own ears.

So, check off Part 1 of The Plan: Have dinner with Emily. The women had never spent any real time alone that wasn't work-related. Sometimes, she couldn't imagine a more perfect fit for her than Emily Prentiss. And then she remembered how very different their lives had been, and couldn't believe they'd have anything in common outside the BAU.

JJ swallowed, nervously flipped back her hair, and knocked on Emily's door. She saw a shadow pass over the peephole, then the minutest of pauses, and then locks turned and Emily Prentiss stood revealed before her.

"Hey, Emily. You look great," JJ managed to get out, as she desperately scrambled to keep her composure. JJ thought it was a miracle she could form words, because Emily looked amazing. She had on tight fitting, low cut dark pants, with the sexy wide belt that always got to JJ. And on top a blouse -- if you could call it that, since it was so transparent -- with a tight fitting tank with a plunging neckline beneath it -- all in a gorgeous shade of dark red that accented and enhanced Emily's pale skin and dark hair.

"So do you," said Emily, as she backed up to let JJ in. "Just let me grab my purse."

Emily took a few minutes to show JJ around her place. "Sometimes, it's nice to have an ambassador as your mother," she said dryly, when JJ exclaimed over the great location and view. And then it was time to walk to the restaurant.

The restaurant turned out to be just as good as the reviews had said, although JJ could have been eating sawdust for all she cared. Conversation flowed back and forth between them like they had known each other forever -- no horrible gaps in the conversation, no awkward moments, no unpleasant discoveries.

The conversation had hit a tiny, natural lull, when Emily looked up, and fixed those dark, expressive eyes on JJ. "I have to ask you something, but if it's too personal, that's okay, you don't have to answer."

For a moment, JJ thought her heart would stop. Emily sounded so serious. JJ knew she had been flirting with the brunette -- was she being too obvious?

JJ braced herself, and replied with a drawn out "Okaaay...?"

"How are you doing, really? I mean, about the... situation in Savannah?" The rest of Emily's words came out in a rush, "You seem to be doing just great. I mean, you seem better than ever, and I just wanted to make sure everything was going okay, you know? We really haven't had a chance to talk since you got back to work. And I wanted to let you know that if you need anything, anything at all, you know I'm here for you, right?"

Emily looked cautiously at JJ, clearly concerned about either offending the other woman, or bringing up bad memories. But just as clearly, she was determined to put her offer on the table.

JJ looked down for a moment, relieved that it wasn't what she had feared. And then, when she let what Emily had actually said sink in, she was deeply touched at the other woman's evident concern.

JJ cleared her throat. "I'm guessing you know that I took the time off because I was ... struggling." JJ glanced up and saw the understanding in Emily's eyes.

"Something about that last case -- the one in Virginia, remember? ... I just couldn't find the right balance. You know, you have to care, or why do the job, but if you care too much, then it's impossible to live with everything we see."

Emily nodded supportively.

"And being on the other side of what we do... Well, let's just say I reached a moment of clarity while I was in that cell." JJ smiled wryly as she studied her hands. "I don't know -- I guess it just reset my priorities, made it easier to see what was important."

JJ glanced up. "NOT that I recommend getting kidnapped as a way to regain your emotional footing." Emily's eyebrow arched as she acknowledged JJ's attempt at humor.

"I guess that's a really long-winded way of saying, 'Thanks for asking.' I'm feeling a lot better, and it means a lot to me - really - that you offered to help," finished JJ. "I hope you know it goes both ways? You may be able to 'compartmentalize' as you said, but I'm always here if you need a sympathetic ear..."

Emily's face broke into a shy smile. "That's great, JJ. And thanks, I'll keep that in mind the next time the walls start closing in."

JJ cleared her throat. "And one last thing -- something I should have said before." JJ looked directly into Emily's face. "Thanks for the night in the hospital. I..." JJ struggled to find the words. "It meant a lot. Thank you," she finally said sincerely.

JJ instinctively reached over and gently rested her hand on top of Emily's.

The quiet moment seemed to thicken, as both women sat, smiling at each other. JJ felt an almost irresistible pull toward Emily, and felt herself falling deeper and deeper into rich brown eyes.

And then Emily blinked, and glanced down at their clasped hands, and the moment was broken.

Now the two women were standing outside the restaurant. Dinner had gone so well, JJ was reluctant to say goodnight.

"Interested in hitting a club?" she asked Emily. "Morgan's been telling me about a great one downtown. He says the crowd is very easy on the eyes," JJ asked, hopefully.

Emily agreed with alacrity -- she had been no more eager than JJ for the night to end.

Emily let JJ lead the way into the club. She took a moment to enjoy again JJ's outfit. Her shimmering blue shirt brought out the color of JJ's eyes while clinging in all the right places. Then she nearly groaned as the other woman walked in front her. She loved JJ in those pants! And the little bit of skin showing above the pants and below the shirt was just plain cruel.

The club was packed with singles out for a good time, many of whom were hoping to go home with company. JJ and Emily worked their way toward the bar and got drinks and then miraculously snagged a tiny table as the previous occupants headed to the dance floor.

The bass line of the current song was pounding through the place, and Emily realized that any sort of conversation was going to be nearly impossible. They had to shout in each other's ears to have even a chance of hearing each other. Although Emily certainly didn't mind putting her lips next to JJ's ear; or feeling the other woman's breath on her neck.

JJ meanwhile was wrestling with herself internally. She could see Emily's foot tapping -- it was practically involuntary, given the music's almost physical presence. Should she ask Emily to dance? When she was a teenager, she and her friends used to go dancing, just girls, all the time. But they were older now, and it was just the two of them. Would it be weird?

JJ's fretful thoughts were interrupted when she realized two men were now standing at their table. One of them leaned in close and said, "Such beautiful women should be on the dance floor. May we have this dance?"

Just because you're too much of a coward to ask her out on the floor doesn't mean Emily has to just sit here all night, JJ thought. She obviously wants to dance.

So when Emily swung around to her with a raised eyebrow, JJ forced a smile on her face and said, "I'm game if you're game." Something flashed across Emily's face -- JJ wasn't sure what, it was there and gone so quickly. Then Emily turned back and said, "Sure" with a friendly smile.

They paired off easily enough. The taller of the two, who had done the talking so far, swept Emily ahead, and JJ and the second man followed.

JJ found out her partner was Bill-- a lanky guy with tousled brown hair who seemed actually very nice. And as a vehicle for letting her dance near Emily -- if not actually with her -- he would serve. JJ responded to Bill's occasional shouted comments so smoothly that he had no idea she had absolutely zero interest in him. She smiled in the right places, probably even flirted a bit -- all on autopilot.

JJ tried to keep Emily in view amidst the sea of bodies, while she mentally kicked herself. She should have realized that taking someone as attractive as Emily out to a club was guaranteed to result in Emily getting asked to dance. Of course, I said it was okay with me, but she could have said no, thought JJ, with a leaden feeling spreading throughout her entire body.

And did she have to look like she was having so much fun? wondered JJ miserably, the sight like a punch in the gut.

JJ could see the guy periodically leaning in close to Emily to say something in her ear. He must be funny given how often Emily was smiling and even throwing her head back to laugh.

Now his hands were on Emily's waist. Was his right hand creeping lower? JJ was torn between jealousy, wishing that could be her hand traveling down Emily's back; and the certain knowledge that if she had to watch Emily let someone feel her up on the dance floor, she would, actually, be physically sick.

The crowds shifted, and she could no longer see Emily. By this point, JJ's imagination was so vivid -- featuring Emily in a romantic embrace -- that an actual visual wasn't necessary for her to feel queasy.

Emily, meanwhile, was dancing mechanically on the dance floor with... what was his name - Jeff?

Emily had had high hopes when JJ had suggested a club, because she loved to dance. And dancing was very sexy with the right person.

But then JJ didn't seem to want to dance with her, and Emily started to wonder if she was wrong. Why did JJ say yes to these guys? God, apparently JJ had just brought her along as a wing man.

Great. JJ was laughing and flirting with whathisname, and she had a front row seat.

Several millenia later -- or that's what it seemed to JJ, whose thoughts were now completely torturous -- the ebb and flow of the crowds brought JJ up behind Emily.

JJ couldn't help herself. She leaned close to Emily's ear from behind: "So, are you still going to be leaving with me, or did you find someone else to spend the evening with?" JJ had tried for light and amused, but she had seen Jeff's hands creeping lower again, and she was afraid a bit of her bitterness had seeped through.

Emily looked back over her shoulder at JJ, pleasure on her face at seeing the blonde. Then as what JJ had said sunk in, she first looked surprised at JJ's words, and then her eyes narrowed. Seeming to come to a decision, she turned back to Bill and Jeff, shouting, "Guys, we're going to take a break. Thanks!"

Emily seized JJ's hand, and dragged her across the dance floor and up some stairs to a balcony where people were watching the dance floor. It was both quieter and less crowded, and Emily pulled JJ into a corner.

Emily stared at JJ, a faint look of hurt on her face. "What was that about? Asking me if I'm going home with that guy?" Emily finally said.

By this time, JJ realized how her comment on the floor had sounded -- implying that she believed Emily was the kind of woman who'd go home with someone she had just met in a bar.

"Emily, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean that. I was just, you know, teasing... It just seemed like you were getting along with him," stuttered JJ.

"Getting along with him?? If he tried to grab my ass one more time, I was going to put him in a choke hold," said Emily, exasperated.

"What?" said JJ, confused.

"JJ," said Emily slowly, "I was dancing with 'Grabby Greg' because I thought you wanted to dance with whatshisname."

As JJ processed what Emily said, she felt an enormous wave of relief spread through her entire body.

"I didn't want to dance with Chuck -- I just didn't want you to think that you had to sit on the sidelines if you wanted to dance," said JJ.

The two women stared blankly at each other.

And then Emily's mouth curled into a smile.

JJ grinned sheepishly. "So we don't need to find Grabby Greg and whatisname for an encore?"

Emily shook her head decisively. "Absolutely not!" She hesitated, and then said, "But I do want to dance. Why don't we just go out together?"

JJ felt another rush of adrenaline course through her body. "Sounds good to me," she managed.

They spent the rest of the night on the dance floor, only taking a break when they were too parched to continue. They were well matched, dark and light, and had they been aware of anything aside from each other, they might have seen the admiring glances they were getting.

At one point during the evening, the tempo of the music had changed and slowed. Emily had leaned in close to JJ's ear and asked if she wanted to leave the floor to get a drink. Emily lightly rested a hand on JJ's shoulder, and JJ naturally put a hand on Emily's waist while she was listening. JJ leaned back just enough to get a look at Emily's face. For a moment, she was frozen. She could feel Emily's hand on her shoulder; feel the heat beneath her hand that was Emily's waist. She was mesmerized by those lush red lips, so close... Involuntarily, she felt herself swaying forward, getting ready to capture those lips with her own. Her eyes had started to close when she suddenly realized what she was doing, and forced herself to change direction, leaning instead toward Emily's ear, to agree they should take a break. Did she see regret in Emily's eyes when she changed course? Or was that wishful thinking on her part?

They left the club in the wee hours, laughing and exhausted.

"God, I love dancing," said Emily. The two were boogeying along the sidewalk, looking for a taxi.

"Girlfriend, where did you learn your moves?" laughed JJ. "That bump and grind nearly killed at least two guys that I saw! I thought I was going to have to perform CPR on the dance floor!"

"Me!" exclaimed Emily. "Hello, your shimmy" she demonstrated a pelvic thrust that JJ had been putting to use all night "should be illegal."

They collapsed into a cab, exhausted but content. However, the adrenaline from the dancing was wearing off, and a companionable silence had fallen between them by the time the cab dropped them off at Emily's condo.

The two stood awkwardly for a moment, and once again, that strange electricity seemed to build. JJ had to fight back the impulse to reach up and kiss the brunette good night.

Instead, JJ said, softly, "Thanks for coming out with me, Emily."

Emily smiled -- her rare, real smile -- and said, "I had a great time. How about next time I pick the restaurant?"

JJ felt a glow spread throughout her body at the words 'next time.'

Tamping down on giddy smile, she said, "That would be great. See you Monday?"

"See you Monday," Emily agreed.

They stood staring at each other for another long moment before JJ, with an almost physical effort, tore her eyes from Emily's and turned to walk to her car. Emily watched her safely get in, and then headed into her building, her body still buzzing.

Emily spent Sunday reexamining her evening with JJ.

She had been thrilled when JJ had invited her out to dinner. And the dinner had been amazing - she hadn't felt that relaxed and comfortable with someone in... well, forever. And after they cleared up their little misunderstanding, the dancing was great, too. JJ certainly knew how to move on the dance floor. And as Emily had known it would, that blue shirt had provided tantalizing glimpses of JJ's midriff and back throughout the night.

And at one point Emily had been positive, just positive, that JJ was going to kiss her right there on the dance floor.

Emily's only lingering concern was the way JJ reacted when they saw those two women practically making out right next to them on the dance floor. JJ had gotten really stiff, like she was put off. Emily wondered if being from a small town in western Pennsylvania maybe had more impact than she knew. JJ seemed open and accepting -- but she was, after all, forced to get along with all kinds of people, even if she didn't like them.

And at dinner, when Emily had looked at their joined hands -- reveling in their closeness, and touched by JJ's soft thanks for her support in Savannah -- well, JJ had hidden it, mostly, but Emily could tell she had nearly jerked her hand away, like their holding hands was embarrassing or wrong.

Emily wanted to be honest with JJ about her hope for more than just friendship. But if JJ was so put off by Emily's attraction to women that they couldn't even be friends... well, maybe better to find out now, than when she was even more invested.

If nothing ever happened between the two of them, JJ thought, she would still have burned on her retina for all eternity the image of Emily, looking absolutely stunning, grinding to club music. The brunette's face flushed with the exertion and the heat of the club, her hair clinging gently to her face, her eyes burning into JJ's as she moved to the music. Just the thought was, again, enough to get JJ's heart beating faster.

They had started by dancing separately, but next to each other. And by mutual agreement, at some point they had started dancing as a couple. Although it had started as a joke -- "No more Grabby Gregs!" -- by the end, she for one had forgotten all about any pretenses, and she was simply dancing with Emily.

Of course, she still needed to get the fact that she was gay out in the open. However, she now felt pretty comfortable that Emily wouldn't be completely repulsed.

JJ had been extremely nervous when she saw the two women making out practically next to them -- the image was the last thing she needed when she was dancing with Emily Prentiss -- but Emily had seemed completely unphased. And not in her 'diplomat face' way, where the mask hid how she felt. Just completely unconcerned.

Although, of course, gay-friendly was still pretty damn far from 'interested in dating another woman.'

Emily poked her head into JJ's office late Thursday. "Hey, I'm going to have to cancel our plans for dinner," she said, a look of regret on her face. Monday afternoon, Emily had, as promised, suggested a 'next time' -- dinner at another hot restaurant downtown.

"Everything okay?" asked JJ, concerned.

"Yeah, fine -- it's just my mother insisting I attend some event with her. I'm heading out tomorrow after work, so I'll be gone all weekend," explained Emily.

"Oh, that's too bad. Well, I hope it goes well," said JJ, sympathetically. She knew that Emily found time spent with her mother to be emotionally draining, though of course the other agent put up a good front.

Friday, as JJ was heading home, Betsey Devine, who worked in Section Head Strauss' office, caught up with her at her car.

"Hey, JJ, how's it going?"

"Hey, long time no see. How are you doing?" Before BAU, JJ had worked with Betsey but had lost touch with the other woman.

"Oh, same old, same old. I've been meaning to catch up with you! Do you have time for a drink tonight?"

JJ considered, then nodded. "Sure."

Not long after they'd been seated at the bar together, JJ remembered why she hadn't stayed in touch with Betsey; she was a gossip, and a vicious one at that. JJ had stayed friends with her while in that department out of self-defense -- better to be Betsey's friend than not.

Betsey had apparently run out of news on their mutual acquaintances. "So, how's BAU treating you?"

"Still keeping me really busy, but definitely worth it," responded JJ, lightly. JJ had known drinks with Betsey meant an inquisistino, so she was prepared for the question. Unfortunately, though, she missed the vindictive gleam in Betsey's eye when she asked her next question.

"I've been meaning to ask, how's that new agent -- Emily Prentiss, isn't it? -- working out?"

"Well, hardly so 'new' any more -- she's been here eight months already. And she's fitting in really well -- a great member of the team," JJ responded.

"Interesting," said Betsey.

JJ knew she would hate herself for asking, but she couldn't help it. "Interesting? Why?"

"Well, I just mean.... Strauss is the one who appointed her to your team. You did know that, right?"

JJ hadn't known that, but she didn't let that show in her face. "So?"

"Well, don't you remember what happened the last time Strauss assigned someone directly to a section? Remember Brubaker in White Collar Crimes? Strauss placed Ross in there directly, and within a year, the entire section had changed. Brubaker got pushed into another job, Ross got promoted, the rest of the section was moved or swapped."

JJ did remember that. She just hadn't known it had all started with an employee hand-picked by Strauss. But she was sure that Emily didn't even LIKE Strauss. "Oh, I can't see Em... Prentiss doing that -- I don't think she even gets along all that well with Strauss," she said mildly.

"Oh, who does?" said Betsey airily. "I'm just saying, it could be a little quid pro quo -- we all know Strauss has it in for your team. She suspended Hotchner, didn't she?"

"So, what, you're saying Strauss put her in to take over BAU? There's no way she's qualified," said JJ with a hint of disbelief in her voice.

"Oh, of course not. I'm just wondering if she's back channeling information to Strauss," Betsey said piously. "I wouldn't want you to get caught up in the crossfire."

Betsey glanced over at JJ to see if any of these darts were landing.

JJ had her beer bottle up to her lips, and took a swig to give herself a moment. She swallowed, and then swung and managed a convincing grin. "Betsey, you always have the best conspiracy theories! I suppose next you'll tell me that Prentiss was the second gunman in Dallas, too," she said, smoothly.

Betsey's face fell, and JJ just managed to keep her sigh of relief internal. For the sake of the team -- of her family -- she did not want the other woman to think she gave any credence at all to this story. Betsey was much more unlikely to spread it now that her best source in BAU had laughed it off.

Betsey moved onto other stories, and after enough time had passed that it didn't seem like she was running out early, JJ managed to excuse herself and head out to her car.

JJ walked into her apartment, dropped her keys and purse and changed out of her work clothes -- all on auto pilot. Her brain was still whirling, trying to come to terms with Betsey's claims. She had laughed them off at the bar, of course -- she didn't dare show weakness in front of that viper.

But here, at home, sitting on the couch with some alcohol for support, she examined them again, taking out the separate facts, and trying to piece them together in a way that wasn't so completely damning.

Betsey was a tale-bearing little wasp, out for nothing but causing pain and stirring up trouble -- but experience had shown JJ that she did, inevitably, have the real goods. So JJ knew that the core fact -- Strauss had hand-selected Emily -- was almost certainly true.

What JJ found so distressing was that the other evidence made Betsey's assertion credible. Looking back, she remembered the way Emily had been dropped on them. Hotch clearly had no idea they were getting a new agent. In fact, JJ wasn't sure Hotch even wanted a new agent. Plus, the BAU was an elite group, and openings usually resulted in fierce competitions. The speed with which the decision had been made and Hotch's lack of involvement certainly made it seem like Betsey was right. And Strauss certainly had the clout to parachute in her own person.

Okay, so maybe Strauss did handpick Emily. That fact alone -- although disturbing, and unwelcome news to JJ -- was not enough to condemn Emily.

JJ also knew Emily wanted to be on the team -- everyone could tell that. She had been eager to prove herself and fit in. But was Emily desperate enough to be on the team to make a deal with Strauss?

Emily came from a world where deal-making and quid pro quo were as natural as breathing. Did that make it more -- or less? -- likely that Emily would have made some sort of deal with Strauss to get what she obviously wanted -- a BAU assignment?

And, of course, JJ could factor in her own knowledge of Strauss. JJ wasn't sure she had ever met anyone else less likely to do something altruistically. Another point in favor of Betsey's story.

JJ by now was feeling positively unwell. She was feeling an almost physical sense of vertigo, dazed as she was by this uprooting of her basic world view. A world where Emily was this filled with subterfuge seemed impossible -- but this frighteningly plausible scenario said differently.

JJ spent the rest of that long, miserable weekend stewing over her discovery.

Around and around she went, analyzing every aspect of what she had learned from Betsey. Again and again, she came to the same conclusions: She knew Betsey was almost certainly telling the truth about Strauss placing Emily into BAU. Emily wanted to be in the BAU. Strauss would certainly expect something in return. Strauss clearly had it in for Hotch. Therefore, Emily would pay back her favor by feeding her information on Hotch. It was simple, obvious, and... incredibly painful for JJ to consider.

Of course, they hadn't seen much of Strauss lately. But maybe Strauss had backed off since then because she knew she had someone in place, and could afford to bide her time. Oh, god, JJ thought. It all made perfect, twisted sense.

JJ's one lingering, fading shred of hope was that Betsey was wrong about Strauss actually successfully planning and pulling something like this previously. It seemed so... over the top, and unnecessary. This whole house of cards relied on Strauss actually being willing to go this far to get what she wanted. JJ did certainly recall the unexpected shake-up in White Collar Crime, so she would see what Garcia could find out about it.

She wished she could just call Emily and find out directly. But how could she? If this whole sickening scenario was true, then she didn't dare let Emily know she was aware of her double role. And if it wasn't... God, she wished that were the case. But right now, all the evidence pointed to a simple, frighteningly believable scenario. Strauss appoints Emily, so Emily helps out Strauss.

It made for a long, depressing two days.

Monday, after an agonizing weekend spent alternating between desperate efforts to believe in Emily's innocence and despair at the apparent inevitability of the truth, JJ popped into Garcia's office to get what verification she could.

"Hey, Garcia," she said. "Can you do me a favor?"

"Sure, the goddess is at your disposal," Garcia said cheerfully.

"Well, it's not really case related, so if you can't get the info, that's okay," JJ began.

"Can't get the info? Ha!" interjected Garcia.

JJ gave her a tired smile. "I was out with Betsey Friday night," JJ rolled her eyes and nodded at Garcia's sympathetic groan, "Yeah she caught me going out the door. Anyway, she told me this story about White Collar Crimes that I'm having trouble..." JJ trailed off, as Garcia had already started nodding. "What, you know about this?" JJ asked.

"Girlfriend, no need to go any further. I just can't believe you didn't know it! Wow, I guess sometimes I am kind of discreet. Anyway, since I'm only corroborating -- I presume that Betsey spilled about the Strauss Bomb? She forces in Ross, Ross takes out Brubaker, Ross takes over the division."

"Where did you hear it?"

"Well, I won't reveal my sources, but I will say that as far as it's possible, I verified it."

"Doesn't it seem a little over the top? I mean, it's just the FBI, it's not like..."

"I know, crazy. But I guess if this is all you got..."

JJ nodded wearily. Just what she didn't want to hear. Not only was Strauss capable of organizing something like planting Emily in the BAU -- she already had successfully done it to another division.

Garcia noticed the change in JJ's demeanor.

"Hey, girl, I know it's sad for Brubaker, but honestly, he was no prize..."

"What? Oh, no... I mean..." JJ visibly cheered herself up, "Anyway, how was your weekend?"

JJ was faced with the unpalatable truth. She had looked at it every way possible, and while she wanted not to believe -- she didn't have that luxury. If Betsey was right, and JJ was afraid she was, the woman she had been getting to know was just an illusion.

Emily noticed almost immediately that JJ had kept to her office all morning, only coming out for a visit to Garcia. While JJ working hard was not particularly news, she was usually out more often than this. And lately, a stop at Emily's desk had become a regular part of her daily routine.

Finally, Emily found a reasonable excuse for going up into JJ's office. Not that I need one, she thought defensively. We're friends, I can just stop by to see how she's doing.

JJ's door was open, so Emily knocked lightly on the door frame to get the other woman's attention.

JJ looked up briefly, and Emily saw something flicker in the blonde's eyes, but it was gone too quickly for her to interpret.

JJ's usual pleasant smile appeared briefly as she glanced up at the woman, before looking down at her case files again. "Hey. What can I do for you?"

"I wondered if you still had the back up documents for the Edmundson case - I need to clarify a few details before I can finish my report."

JJ shuffled through the stacks of files on her desk and unearthed the file in question, and handed it over to Emily wordlessly.

There was a brief, slightly uncomfortable pause, and then Emily said, "So, how was your weekend?"

"Oh, it was fine. I ran errands, you know, stuff like that," the blonde said vaguely. Still shuffling papers, she glanced up at Emily again, and then after a moment, as if the words were being forced out of her, said, "How about you? How's your mother?"

"She's fine. It was the usual dog and pony show -- I was just there for window-dressing," said Emily.

JJ looked down, moving some papers on her desk, not really looking at Emily. The conversation ground to a halt again.

Emily felt strange undercurrents flowing through the office, but was unable to pin down what was wrong.

"Well, okay, maybe I'll see you later?" she said slowly.

"Sure," said JJ, with a distracted smile and barely a glance up at the brunette in her doorway.

"Alright," said Emily, completely bewildered now, as she turned and left.

Emily walked thoughtfully back to her desk, a tiny crease between her brows. JJ had been perfectly pleasant, but... Recently, a visit to JJ's office lasted until one of them realized just how long Emily had been there. And they always had plenty to talk about. They had never -- not even when they first met each other -- had such an awkward, limping conversation as that.

What the hell? thought Emily, in confusion. She didn't usually have to employ her profiling skills in her personal life, but this was just baffling.

And then it hit her. JJ had been avoiding her eyes for the entire conversation. Which was... unusual, to say the least. So what on earth was making JJ want to avoid eye contact?

Was JJ mad at her? Because she had to go out of town this week? That was just... silly. And not like JJ at all.

There was something else about that conversation, she thought, now sitting at her desk, staring fiercely at her computer screen.

Holy shit, she nearly said out loud, as she sat up straight in her chair. That was JJ's press conference face and voice. She was talking to me like I was a complete stranger.

And again, she wondered in complete confusion, What the hell?

JJ slumped over her desk, dropping her head into her hands. God, that was awful, she thought miserably.

She had tried to brace herself all weekend for that first meeting. She had reminded herself constantly that the other woman was a mole for Strauss and tried to work up some righteous anger. But all for nothing. Her visceral attraction to the brunette was so strong it was as if nothing had happened. She wanted nothing more than to somehow forget what she knew and go back to that happy pre-Betsey place, rife with possibilities. Now that her very friendship with Emily hung in the balance, her previous fretting about anything more seemed silly.

It had been almost impossibly hard to maintain that cheery but impersonal demeanor. Part of her wanted to shout at Emily, and find out just what the hell made her think it was a good idea to cut a deal with Strauss. Part of her, when she saw the tiny crease in Emily's forehead, and the look of confusion, wanted to apologize and make it all better. JJ knew that for all that Emily had acted as if she had enjoyed the weekend, it must have been hard for her to spend the days with her mother. JJ wanted to be supportive, and find out how it really went, and ask her all the questions she knew the other woman was expecting. To have gotten up, as she usually might, and lean on the end of her desk so she was closer to the brunette. To put a hand out, and rub it along Emily's arm, to show her she was sympathetic about the trials of dealing with a family that just didn't understand you.

JJ couldn't decide what was worse: the look of sad confusion on Emily's face, the knowledge that she had put it there, or the fact that she still cared so much.

Emily had eventually decided that maybe JJ was just ... busy. She didn't really believe it, but she had no alternative that was better. So she decided to give JJ the benefit of the doubt.

But she was soon proven wrong. JJ had finally emerged from her office, and was interacting just fine with the rest of the team. Just not with Emily.

The first time it happened was that afternoon. JJ came into the bullpen with a file for Reid. She didn't particularly linger, but she seemed reasonably chatty with Reid; stopped for a moment to say "hello" to Morgan on her way by his desk; and completely ignored Emily. Well, not completely, but practically.

Emily had been watching JJ's progress across the room expectantly, waiting for JJ's usual visit to cap off her tour of the desks. When JJ instead turned her head toward Emily, offered up a quick "Hi" and left, Emily was nonplussed, to say the very least.

Again, she thanked her years of being a diplomat's child for providing her with what she hoped -- desperately, desperately hoped -- was an unruffled and pleasant demeanor.

Emily hadn't felt this way since she first joined the team. In those early days, she had hidden behind a facade of cool professionalism. She could tell that the team was wary at best about her skills as a profiler, and still felt obvious loyalty to the agent she had replaced. It wasn't until after a few weeks that she began to really interact with the other members. She'd even managed to overcome her rough start with Reid.

So it hurt something, deep inside, to feel like she had to crawl back into her protective shell, now that JJ was treating her like a virtual stranger. She just prayed nobody else could see the pain and bewilderment she was feeling.

Late Wednesday afternoon, after two more days of the same distant treatment, Emily finally had had enough.

Muttering something indistinct, she headed out of the bullpen and down to JJ's office. She knocked lightly on JJ's door frame, to announce her presence

"Hey, what's up," asked JJ, glancing up briefly with a friendly but bland smile before becoming once more engrossed in the paper on her desk.

Emily looked at JJ for a long moment. Her silence eventually caused JJ to glance up again, and what she saw apparently got her attention, since JJ didn't look down again.

"Is something wrong?" asked Emily, finally.

"What?" said JJ, forcing a look of polite confusion onto her face.

"Did I do something to upset you?"

"No, of course not," replied JJ.

"You've just seemed a little distant," said Emily.

"What? No, I've just been really busy," JJ said with another of her professional smiles, although she couldn't hide the bit of discomfort that showed in her eyes.

Bullshit, thought Emily, bitterly. "Well, up for a raincheck of last weekend's dinner?" she asked, with her own false smile. "My turn to pick, remember."

JJ fixed a look of dismay on her face. "I'm sorry, Emily, but I have something else I have to do," she said with a polite look of dismissal.

Emily looked at JJ consideringly; watching as a faint, tell-tale blush rose below the other woman's fair skin. "Yeah, that's too bad," Emily replied, as insincerely as JJ's refusal.

She thought about pushing it further, but not here, not at the office. But she couldn't help herself from one parting shot as she stalked out the door. "You know, JJ, you're a terrible liar."

And with that, she turned on her heel, and stalked back to the bullpen.

Emily had no idea what the problem was, and thus no idea how to fix it, and that made it all somehow worse. She had tried asking JJ directly; and that had failed. Now she was left to wonder what had happened, watching as a relationship she had had such high hopes for abruptly came to a halt. She tried to maintain her usual friendly demeanor, but she felt confused, and saddened, and hollow inside. Emily's only defense was to retreat within herself, locking away the hurt and confusion someplace deep inside where she didn't have to dwell on it.

Emily didn't trust easily, and to have this relationship blow up in her face -- for no reason that she could see -- was like a gut shot. To have their relationship -- even if it was nothing more than friendship, even if it never came to more than that -- come crashing down around her hurt like nothing had in a long time.

She was spending long, restless nights, trying to figure out what could have happened over the weekend. Her bewilderment had slipped seamlessly into sadness.

Work was no better. Every time she saw JJ -- and got Agent Jareau instead of the woman she had been getting to know better -- it was like a fresh slap in the face. What on earth could have happened to make JJ stay away from her, when obviously it was clearly upsetting them both? She just couldn't understand it.

The only thing she could imagine couldn't be true, could it? The one thing that had, in the past, caused someone to literally end a friendship with her. But JJ wasn't like that, was she?

Emily forced herself to dispassionately compare JJ's reaction with that time in Cleveland. Emily, younger then, and more naive, had told a supposed friend in the office about the woman she had been dating at the time. The reaction, looking back, was very similar to what she was seeing from JJ -- a complete freeze out, while pretending there was nothing wrong.

Emily sighed heavily and dropped her head into her hands. Had she done something to tip off JJ; something that let the other woman know that she was interested in more than friendship? And now JJ was freaking out?

Emily tried to look on the bright side. If this really was the problem -- if JJ was so homophobic that she couldn't stand to be around Emily -- surely she'd be able to get over her attraction to the other woman easily enough. You keep telling yourself that, mocked her brain.

If only she knew what had happened!

Which left Emily back where she started, with her familiar refrain: What the hell?

JJ was doing no better. She was making a sizable dent in her wine collection, spending far too much time sitting in her dark living room, staring into space.

Her plan to just ignore Emily until she got over being so attracted to her was going about as well as she could have expected -- which is to say, it was failing miserably.

Every time she saw Emily, she experienced the same exhausting series of emotions: the initial, involuntary thrill of excitement and attraction; the rush of despair when she remembered what Emily had done; the disappointment in herself at not being able to get over it; and the deep, nagging concern that she might never get over it.

She was exhausted from her mental merry-go-round, and incredibly conflicted about what to do. Emily, after her visit on Wednesday, was ignoring JJ, as well. Of course, JJ was so perverse that she was actually disappointed by it.

The idea of working with Emily while nursing an unrequited crush had seemed so terrible; but it was infinitely better than harboring a helpless attraction for someone when you should certainly know better.

By the weekend, Emily was finally getting angry. At first she had thought that maybe she had done something wrong. But an obsessive review didn't show anything that merited the cold shoulder she was getting. And she had had about enough. Screw that. I'm past this high school crap. I deserve to know what the hell is wrong, she thought fiercely.

After brooding all day, Saturday evening Emily drove to JJ's house. JJ had claimed to have made other plans, but Emily would bet her last paycheck that JJ was just sitting at home.

Sure enough, Emily could see JJ's car in the driveway as she strode to the front door and knocked. There was a momentary delay, and then she could hear steps inside. She could feel the pause on the other side of the door as JJ registered her presence. And then the door swung open, and JJ was standing there.

"Emily?" JJ said, obviously surprised. "Is everything okay?" she asked with concern, obviously thinking it must be a work crisis.

"Everything's fine," Emily assured.

There was a pause. JJ still seemed stunned to see Emily standing on her doorstep.

"Can I come in for minute?" Emily finally asked.

JJ started. "Oh, um, sure, come on in," she finally said, to Emily's ears clearly reluctant to talk to her.

What could be so bad that she can't even stand to be alone with me? wondered Emily -- a part of her afraid she already knew.

"So, uh, what brings you to my neck of the woods," JJ asked as they walked through to her living room. JJ turned on the lights -- obviously she had been sitting in the dark -- and she gestured to Emily to take a seat in the living room.

Emily debated, and then sat on the couch -- she could see a wine glass and figured that's where JJ had been sitting. She was not surprised when JJ took the chair as far from her as possible.

"JJ, what's wrong?" Emily finally asked bluntly.

JJ had apparently been expecting something along these lines, because she didn't look surprised.

"Emily, I don't know what you..."

"JJ, cut the crap. Look, I get that you don't want to spend time with me any more," said Emily forcefully. "Hell, I think all of the BAU knows that too," she said bitterly. "I just want to know why -- I think you owe me that much."

JJ clearly hadn't expected such a direct approach. Something indefinable flickered across her face, and she hesitated for a moment before she said, "Really, Emily, I don't know what you're talking about."

Emily looked at her. "Is it that I had to go spend the weekend with my mother, and had to cancel our da... dinner plans?" God, she had nearly said date.

JJ looked horrified at the idea that Emily thought she could be that petty. "No, of course not, I know you had to go."

"Then what? Friday when I left, everything was fine. I come back Monday morning, it's like we've never met," she said. Actually, it was worse than if they had never met; because if they'd never met, she wouldn't know what she was missing. Knowing what it was like to be close to JJ, and then having it taken away? That was much, much worse.

Emily stared inquiringly at JJ.

JJ couldn't believe Emily was pushing this so hard. "Look, Emily, I'm sorry it seems like things have changed, but I've just been busy at work, and..." JJ trailed off, in the face of Emily's look of disbelief.

Emily stood up, too agitated to sit any more. "So busy sitting here alone with a glass of wine that we couldn't go to dinner tonight? Give me some credit. You're not too busy to talk to Reid, or Morgan, or Garcia. You're only too busy to talk to me."

JJ sat silently; unable to deny the obvious, and unwilling to lie any more.

"Did someone say something?" Emily stopped, looking at the other woman intently. JJ was good at controlling her feelings, but something had flickered across her face. "Wait, someone said something about me? Jesus Christ, JJ..." Emily's voice trailed off.

God, I hate profilers, thought JJ despairingly. Clearly she hadn't been able to hide her reaction when Emily's words triggered a response, since it was Betsey who had started this whole disaster. JJ stubbornly kept her silence, looking down at the table.

"I thought we were getting to be good friends," said Emily. Her throat constricted as she did the math. JJ had just as good as admitted that someone had told her something, and now JJ was reluctant to even be alone with her. God, could it be any clearer? She had forgotten what a small town the FBI could be when people were sharing gossip -- and JJ had connections everywhere, because of her job as their press liaison

"Is it..." Emily had to clear her throat, "Is it because I'm gay?"

JJ looked like she had been slapped. She just stared at Emily, stunned. If JJ thought things were bad before, now they had managed to get worse. It wasn't enough that Emily was betraying the entire team; no, now, NOW, she would find out she had actually had a chance with Emily. Brilliant, brilliant timing.

Emily's face had drained of color as she took in the look of shock that broke across JJ's expressive face. Emily felt almost light-headed. "That's it, isn't it. Someone told you I'm gay, and now you can't stand to be around me."

JJ realized what Emily was saying and leaped up. "NO, no, that's not it! I didn't even know you were gay," she said, defensively.

But Emily was pacing, not listening, "Oh, my god, I can't believe it, it's ridiculous, I thought people were past this."

JJ tried to interrupt, "Emily, no, of course that's not it..." but Emily was on a roll and couldn't be stopped.

"God, it explains everything, why you seem uncomfortable around me, the way you reacted to those women at the club," Emily continued.

JJ couldn't believe how this was getting out of hand, and finally shouted: "I found out about Strauss, okay?"

That brought Emily to a stop, and she spun around in amazement. The two women stared at each other in silence.

"You found out about Strauss?" Emily said blankly.

"Yes. I found out that Strauss put you into the BAU so you could spy on us and break up the unit." JJ held her breath unconsciously. This was the big moment -- now she would finally find out if it was true. She prayed that Emily would stare at her blankly, and ask her what she was smoking. She, Emily, would never work for Strauss. Surely JJ knew that?

But Emily's next words shattered JJ's hopes, and her heart.

"How did you find out about that?" asked Emily in bewilderment.

"Oh my god," said JJ, feeling as though she had just been punched in the stomach. She actually took a half step back, as if it had been a physical blow.

JJ hadn't realized until just this moment how much she had believed that there must be some explanation. That it was a mistake. Something. To hear Emily admit it was true -- and so casually, like it was nothing -- was devastating. And the best way to deal with all that hurt was to channel it into anger, so she could ignore the pain.

"You wanted BAU so much that you were willing to betray us all? Take down Hotch? God, Emily, how could you?"

Emily, meanwhile, had finally caught up with the conversation. It wasn't about her being gay. It was about Strauss. She had thought that only she, Hotch and Strauss knew about that horrible time.

Now Emily seemed to really hear what JJ was saying. She raised both her hands, and looked at JJ. "Wait a minute. You found out that Strauss arranged for me to join the BAU. And you believe that I would sell out the BAU to Strauss?" Emily asked, with disbelief in her voice.

"You just admitted it. What am I supposed to believe?"

"You're supposed to believe that I wouldn't do that!" said Emily, with hurt in her voice. She was stunned that JJ could believe her capable of something so calculating, so cold. Didn't JJ know her at all?

JJ stood her ground silently, staring accusingly at Emily.

After a moment, Emily continued. "You think that I would take a job knowing I'd have to betray everyone I was going to be working with," Emily asked, in a curiously dispassionate voice, as if she were simply confirming facts for a case.

"Tell me what else I'm supposed to think," JJ said, stubbornly, crossing her arms.

Emily looked at JJ for a long moment. She had stopped pacing, and now just stood there, unmoving. She tried hard to maintain her diplomat face, but she felt a sense of defeat seeping through her entire body. She felt awash in an indescribable mix of sorrow and pain and hurt and betrayal.

"You're supposed to know me well enough to know that I'd never, ever betray my friends," Emily said quietly. "You're supposed to believe in me, at least a little," Emily's voice sounded hollow.

"Emily -- look at the facts! Strauss parachutes you in; you owe her a favor; she hates Hotch. She's done it before! You have to admit, it makes sense," pointed JJ, with what Emily had to admit was inescapable logic. "I don't want to believe it, but..."

"I just thought you knew me better. But if you can believe me capable of this, then obviously I was wrong."

"Just tell me it's not true," JJ said, now pleading.

Emily rubbed her face in her hands. She was tired, so tired, of having people assume that because her mother played politics, she did, too. She had really hoped for better from JJ, and to be proven wrong...

"You want the truth? Ask Hotch, since you obviously don't trust me. I just can't believe I thought... Well, I guess we weren't even very good friends, if it's so easy for you to think the worst of me." Emily's voice was flat, and her face a frozen mask, but her eyes -- her eyes were anything but emotionless.

Those expressive dark eyes were showing enough devastation and pain that without realizing she was even doing it, JJ reached out, involuntarily, to provide comfort. Anything to get rid of that look.

"Emily?" JJ asked uncertainly.

Emily gave JJ one more glance, filled with pain, before she simply said, "Goodbye JJ," with an air of finality, and walked out.

The sound of the front door closing firmly finally released JJ from her state of paralysis. She slumped back onto her couch, emotionally drained. What had just happened?

God, the look on Emily's face. She couldn't get it out of her mind -- the look of pain in those dark eyes, the disbelief, the anguish... The image was burned in JJ's memory, and almost seemed to sear through her brain.

Emily had seemed so hurt. And Emily so rarely showed emotion that JJ's immediate instinct was to offer comfort.

But how could Emily act like she was the victim? Hadn't she just admitted that it was all true?

JJ had expected guilt, or anger, or defensiveness. Not the deep, bitter sadness and even disappointment she had so clearly seen.

JJ tried to recreate the conversation. Her accusation hadn't come as a surprise to Emily -- so clearly there was some element of truth. She seemed surprised by the fact that JJ knew about it, not the fact itself.

But despite admitting that it was true, Emily had seemed so betrayed by JJ's accusation. That look -- if Emily could produce that sort of emotion on demand, then she was the greatest actress ever. That wasn't exactly the reaction of someone guilty of betraying her friends.

Which meant... If Emily was genuinely hurt by the accusation, then did that mean JJ didn't have the whole story?

Emily's words echoed through her mind: "You're supposed to believe I wouldn't do it."

The words struck a chord.

If she had been asked last Thursday if she trusted Emily Prentiss, she would have said, "Yes, with my life," without a second thought.

It was as though Emily's dark, pain-filled eyes had pierced a mist filling JJ's brain. JJ felt as though she was thinking clearly for the first time in a week.

Now, when it was probably too late, JJ could see what should have seen before. Emily was right. She should have trusted the other woman. Or she should have at least talked to Emily about what she had learned. Why hadn't she?

Why had she believed anything Betsey Devine said? Betsey Devine, who positively delighted in causing friction and chaos. Betsey Devine, who probably knew perfectly well through the grapevine that she was chummy with Emily, and had waited until just the right moment to plant her evil seeds.

Because Betsey had provided enough truth to make it believable, but had, of course, left out key information.

God, what had she done? Why had she actually had to hurt Emily to see the truth?

It was obvious, now, how she should have reacted. She should have laughed off Betsey's story and moved on with her life -- trusting that Emily would never betray her. Instead, like some mindless twit, she had believed every word, and just struck a devastating blow at the foundations of the most important relationship in her life.

And maybe that's why she had believed so easily, she realized. She was nervous, uncertain about where things were going with Emily. Maybe some part of her had been glad to have an excuse not to believe in what could be, an excuse to keep from having to put herself and her heart on the line.

Now, though, JJ knew with certainty that Emily would not -- could not -- have done what Betsey said. Clearly there was truth to the story somewhere -- Emily had admitted that much -- but Emily betraying the team -- her -- was an impossibility.

JJ was now pacing around her living room, trying to come to terms with the emotions coursing through her. First she had been devastated when Emily apparently admitted everything. Then angry on behalf of her team. Then concerned and confused by Emily's reaction. And now? Now she felt consumed with guilt.

And deep down, JJ also harbored one more emotion: hope. She didn't have time to consider it right now but she couldn't help but remember that Emily had admitted she was gay.

Of course, that hope was instantly dashed when she realized that she had just insulted the other woman, and treated their entire relationship as if it were worthless. JJ groaned and chanted, "Stupid, stupid, stupid."

She took a deep breath and realized that she owed Emily an apology. Maybe, if she was really lucky, at least she could salvage the friendship.

Emily barely remembered the drive back to her condo. She had parked her car and was standing in her kitchen before she even registered it.

It wasn't cold outside -- and yet Emily felt a pervading, bone-deep, chill. Dispassionately she wondered if perhaps she was in shock. Certainly she felt detached and remote -- never a good sign.

She kept running through the scene at JJ's, over and over.

Sad, really -- she had thought that finding out that JJ was avoiding her because she was gay would be the worst case scenario. But she had been proven wrong. That would have been painful enough. But to discover that JJ didn't trust her... Thought her capable of betraying the team... It was somehow more personal. JJ being homophobic was something she could maybe blame on upbringing, or society.

But for JJ to know her, and still think that she was the kind of person who could be Strauss' puppet...

After all she'd done and after all her efforts to fit in, JJ had been able to discard their relationship like it meant nothing her. And JJ hadn't even bothered to ask her if it was true. JJ had just cut off her ties, and abandoned the friendship.

So much for her belief that the two of them were getting closer; so much for thinking she'd really met someone with whom she could have a special bond. Apparently, she had read everything wrong. Of course, it didn't really matter much what it had been or even what it could have been; it was over now.

Emily stood still, staring out the window, and felt tears pricking at the back of her eyes. This glorious view, that usually helped her recover from even her worst days at work, might as well have been a brick wall.

She was cold, so cold inside.

Now it was JJ's turn to drive. On her way up, she tried to rehearse what she should say. But since "I'm sorry" seemed like not nearly enough, and she didn't think she had anything better, it wasn't really helping.

She walked swiftly up to Emily's door, and knocked before she could lose her courage. She heard footsteps approaching, and saw something flash behind the peephole.

There was such a long pause that JJ really thought Emily might not even be willing to open the door.

JJ realized she was holding her breath, and was getting ready to knock again, when she finally heard locks turning in Emily's door.

The door opened far enough for her to see Emily leaning against the door frame, looking exhausted and beaten.

"JJ, what do you want?" Emily said wearily.

"Please, Emily. I know you have no reason to listen to anything I say, but please, please can I come in?" pleaded JJ.

Emily gave her a cool look, her usually sparkling eyes dull and uninterested, and then turned and walked back into her condo, leaving the door open behind her.

JJ figured that this was as much of an invitation as she was going to get, and stepped inside, shutting the door behind herself.

Emily walked back into her living room, and sat on her couch with a glass in front of her.

JJ stood, indecisively, not sure whether to sit or stand. Finally, she perched gingerly on the couch next to Emily, her body turned to face the other woman. She could see only Emily's profile; the brunette seemed intent on ignoring her now that she had let her in.

"Emily," JJ began, and startled herself with how loud her voice sounded in the brooding silence of the apartment.

Emily didn't look at her, just took a sip from her glass of wine.

"Thank you for letting me in. I know right now you're ... upset ... with me. And you have every right to be," JJ began.

"First, I wanted to say how terribly, terribly sorry I am that I ever believed you would work with Strauss." JJ rubbed a hand tiredly over her face. "I don't know what happened, I don't know how I could have believed that."

JJ waited to see if there was any response. Emily was now at least looking at her, although her face remained expressionless and remote.

JJ forged on, determined to get it all out while she could. Who knew if Emily would ever agree to speak to her again. "You were right. I do know you better than that. I know you have more integrity than anyone I've ever met. I know you've been loyal to the team, and I know -- I know! -- you would never do what I accused you of. I'm embarrassed to have ever even thought it. And ashamed that I said it to you."

JJ could no longer sit on the couch; her mortification and emotional turmoil made it impossible to stay still. She stood, and moved a few steps away so that Emily could see only her profile.

"You told me to ask Hotch for the truth. And I'm telling you now that I don't need to ask anyone anything. If Strauss stood right before me and told me you'd sold out the team, I'd laugh in her face.

"My belief in you is all I need."

JJ shot a quick glance at Emily, and saw she still had the other woman's attention. She took a breath.

"I'm also so sorry for the way I've been acting for the last week. I guess when I thought you were a spy for Strauss..." JJ broke off.

"God," JJ groaned, wiping at her face with her hands, "Just saying it makes me realize how utterly insane it is."

JJ straightened. "Makes me wish I had told someone -- I'm sure saying the words out loud would have made me realize I was wrong immediately."

JJ paused, lost in her own thoughts for a moment.

"You didn't tell anyone?" Emily's voice shocked JJ -- JJ had figured she was going to apologize and leave without Emily ever speaking to her. Not that she would blame her.

"What?" asked JJ, startled. "Uh, no, I didn't."

There was a pause. JJ was still mentally berating herself, and Emily was staring contemplatively at JJ.

"Why not?" asked Emily, curiously, as if it were purely an academic question.

"Why not what?" asked JJ, somewhat lost.

"Why didn't you tell the team? Warn them about the traitor in their midst?" demanded Emily bitterly, her cool facade cracking somewhat.

"Well..." JJ didn't actually have a good answer. Why hadn't she warned the team?

"I don't know why," said JJ, thinking she owed it to Emily to try to answer any question she asked. "Maybe.... maybe my subconscious is smarter than I am," JJ said, surprise evident in her voice. "Because you're right -- if I truly thought you were a threat to my team -- my family -- I wouldn't have hesitated."

Emily didn't say anything, but JJ felt a lessening of the atmosphere, as though the revelation had released some tension in the other woman.

JJ now turned back, and crouched on one knee on the floor in front of where Emily was seated, unconsciously literally begging forgiveness.

"Emily, if I could somehow erase how I've behaved -- what I've believed -- over the past week, I would. I made a huge mistake, and I'm so very, very sorry." She took a steadying breath. "I know you have no reason to, but I hope at some point you can find it in your heart to forgive me."

JJ paused, then looked up into Emily's dark eyes.

"I hope some day at least we can be friends again."

JJ waited for a long moment, to see if she got any response. She couldn't read Emily's expression -- the other woman' face was closed to her -- though JJ hoped, prayed, she saw at least a little warmth in Emily's eyes.

When no answer was forthcoming, JJ forced a smile onto her face, even as she felt her heart breaking. Stupid, stupid, stupid! What did you expect?

"Okay, well, I just wanted you to know how sorry I was. I won't bother you any more."

Emily's eyes followed JJ as she stood, and began to walk toward the front door. Something about JJ's abject apology had broken through the wall of ice Emily had felt encasing her. Maybe it was just being in the other woman's presence, after a week-long drought, but she didn't want JJ to leave.

"Have you eaten?" asked Emily.

"Huh?" Both the surprise of hearing Emily's voice and the apparently random question caught JJ off guard. She stopped and turned back to look at Emily, blankly.

Emily got up off the couch, and turned to face JJ.

"I said," she repeated, "Have you eaten?"

JJ stared dumbly at her for a moment before finally saying, "Uh. No. No, not since... anyway, no."

"Well, I don't know about you," and JJ could now see just a bit of Emily's usual sparkle in her eyes, "but I'm starving."

By now Emily was standing directly in front of JJ. And a small smile was making an appearance on Emily's clearly drained visage.

"So, do you want to go get something to eat?" she finally asked, looking carefully at JJ.

JJ stared for just a moment longer, stunned by the sudden reversal.

"Yeah, dinner would be great," she managed.

"C'mon, there's a little place we can walk to around the corner," said Emily, and led the way out the front door.

"So, let me tell you a story about an idealistic FBI agent," Emily said.

They were seated at the restaurant -- which was not at all what JJ had expected. Emily exuded a cool elegance, so this homey Tex-Mex restaurant with the unassuming decor was a surprise. The wait staff had recognized Emily, who seemed a little embarrassed by it.

They had ordered their meals and this sentence marked Emily's first real conversational gambit.

"She joined the FBI out of college. All she ever wanted was to join the BAU. It's why she joined the Agency. It's what she studied in college. It's what she followed in her off time. She thought if she just worked hard enough, she would get her chance."

JJ sat still, listening intently.

"Our agent came from a well-to-do family with connections and power. You would think that this would make it easier to get to where she wanted, but in fact it made her life harder. Everyone always assumed that every advancement she got, every achievement, came because of her family connections, not her skill or talent. So she had to work twice as hard to prove herself."

If Emily saw the look of guilt flash across JJ's face as she remembered their assumptions when Emily joined the BAU, she ignored it.

"However, this agent, perhaps because she grew up in a family of politicians, never had any patience for standard office politics. And her disinclination to kiss up to the people in charge, and tendency to act first and ask for permission later, got her labeled as 'reckless.' And she knew she might never get into a competitive, sought after unit like the BAU."

"Then one day, after she'd been in the FBI for ten years, and started to wonder if maybe she'd never get her chance, the call came. She'd always applied for every BAU opening, and now, here it was, her big moment. Even she wondered if maybe her parents had something to do with it.

"But she decided that she shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. She settled in to the BAU. The team was slow to accept her, but she didn't expect anything else; she knew she would have to prove herself first. After a while, she seemed to be fitting in. And she loved it. She had been right; this was where she was meant to be; this is the job she was meant to be doing. And she was happy." Emily smiled slightly as she finished, looking a little embarrassed at how much she enjoyed her job.

"Of course," she added, returning to her tale, "That should have been her first sign that something was wrong," she finished in a bitter voice.

"The agent soon realized that all was not well on the team. A previous member had left under a cloud. And within a month of her arrival, one of the team members, who had survived a horrific ordeal," Emily paused, and glanced at JJ, whose face had gotten pale, "seemed to be struggling with demons."

Emily took a breath and let it out, slowly.

"Then the shoe finally dropped. The section head, let's call her Smith," Emily gave JJ an ironic look, "was intent on insuring no one stood between her and advancement. Smith called our agent in for a private meeting and informed her that it was pay back time. The agent found out that Smith had selected her personally to fill the vacant spot. Which explained why the team leader hadn't expected -- or wanted -- the agent on the team." The bitterness now in Emily's voice was almost tangible.

"Smith said that as quid pro quo for being allowed to stay on the team, our agent would have to help Smith take down the team leader."

JJ gasped almost inaudibly, causing Emily to flinch slightly.

"I..." Emily stopped, and the remote look settled on her face again. "The agent didn't know what to do. Maybe she could pretend to help? She liked her new team; she loved what she was doing; and she thought the team leader was exactly the right man. But she knew Smith would be relentless.

"The next case went badly for the team when two people died. Smith seemed to be calling our agent constantly, demanding updates and information to end the team leader's career. And Smith took her first step in her plan, and suspended the team leader for two weeks."

"Those two weeks were pure hell. The team was in disarray, and the agent was under constant pressure to find and deliver information to Strauss.

"Finally, she knew there was only one thing she could do. She loved her job; it was what she had worked toward for ten years. But she couldn't live with herself if she betrayed these people -- people she respected and admired.

"So she waited until the team leader returned, and informed him that she was resigning from the FBI."

"Oh Emily," JJ breathed. Her heart was breaking as she listened to the impossible situation Emily had been forced into.

Emily continued her tale as if she hadn't heard JJ's interruption.

"The team leader had announced he was leaving the BAU. And the remainder of the team had gone off to another case, now at only half strength. So the team leader said he'd help one more time. But first he stopped to visit our agent. He told her he knew that Smith had been pressuring her to give evidence about the team. And that he knew that she had resigned instead. But he convinced her it was more important to help the team than worry about politics. And by the end of the case, both our agent, and the team leader, were back with the BAU."

JJ reached across the table, to where Emily's hands were shredding a cocktail napkin. She gently put her hand over Emily's. "God, Emily, I am so, so, sorry."

Emily had seemed enthralled by the napkin, but at the touch of JJ's hands on hers, she finally looked up. She hadn't realized how much that whole ordeal had hurt her until she now, finally, got to share it with someone. The look of gentle sympathy in JJ's eyes was almost her undoing.

Their eyes locked and held for a long moment. JJ could feel some of the knots still in her gut dissolving, as she realized that there must be hope for at least their friendship, if Emily was willing to share this story with her. She felt completely unworthy of the trust Emily was showing, and ashamed again of the past week.

Emily looked down, and said, "So, you were right. Strauss did handpick me to come in and take down the BAU."

"No," JJ said forcefully. JJ waited until Emily's eyes rose and met JJ's. "I was right when I said anyone who thought you were capable of betraying the team was completely insane." JJ was gratified to see a flash of relief in Emily's eyes.

She added, "So obviously, I've been a victim of temporary insanity for the past week. I just hope you'll forgive me for being so completely stupid."

Emily managed a little laugh. "Well, it's a little hard for me to get too offended since you were actually right about Strauss' intention..."

"No, I should have known better," JJ interrupted. "I just don't know what came over me..."

This time, it was Emily who reached over to take JJ's hand.

"JJ, it's okay. I was upset, but... For you to come over and tell me you believed in me, after I had just told you that Strauss did bring me in... That counts for a lot. And since for at least a little while, I actually was her mole... well, it would be a little hypocritical to act too self-righteous."

JJ gave Emily a look of gratitude, but Emily could tell she hadn't forgiven herself. Which perversely made Emily feel that much better. "Look," she said, lightly, "I'm willing to let you plead temporary insanity. So let's just let it go, okay? I don't really want to keep rehashing it."

JJ wasn't surprised that Emily found the whole Strauss debacle a sore subject, so immediately acquiesced and changed the subject. She might not forgive herself any time soon, but she certainly wouldn't force Emily to keep reliving the events.

"Fair enough," she said agreeably. And JJ turned the conversation to the latest news about an upcoming movie that the two had discussed going to see together.

After dinner, the two women walked backed to Emily's place in easy silence. At the door to Emily's building, JJ glanced at her watch.

"Wow, it's really getting late. I should head home."

Emily was tempted to ask JJ in -- but in truth, she was so exhausted from the day's emotional ups and downs that she knew she was due to crash. "Yeah, I'm beat myself," she admitted.

JJ looked at the other woman's face, and could see the tiny lines of fatigue and worry -- that she had put there with her stupidity -- and wanted to kick herself again.

Instead, she looked at the other woman seriously for a moment. Emily returned her gaze, one eyebrow rising inquisitively, before JJ gave into impulse. Stepping forward, she wrapped her arms around the other woman. She turned her head toward Emily's ear, and said, softly, "I'm so, so sorry, Emily," and gave her a squeeze. Emily stiffened, and for a moment JJ thought she had seriously miscalculated. Then she felt the other woman's arms come up around her, and return the soft hug. They stood for a timeless moment, both struck by the rightness of how they were feeling, before JJ reluctantly stepped back.

"Well, I'll see you Monday," she said, as she backed up, before turning and heading to her car.

"See you," Emily said simply, as she watched the other woman walk away.

Emily realized that, no matter what might have happened, she was just grateful to have her friend JJ back. She hadn't realized how much of the empty space the other woman had filled until suddenly she was gone. The gaping void left behind was stunning. And it was frightening to Emily to see just how quickly the other woman had become an essential part of her life.

Emily thought being more cautious in her dealings with JJ. The memory of that moment when she realized that JJ had judged her capable of such a betrayal -- and the gut punch it had been emotionally -- meant that rationally, she knew she should try to maintain some emotional distance. If she could be that badly hurt after just a few weeks, the damage if they got any closer was almost inconceivable.

And yet, Emily couldn't help herself. Their time together at dinner, talking about nothing in particular, had been like standing in the sun after weeks of rain. JJ nourished something in her soul, and no matter what the cost, she couldn't imagine being able to ever deny herself the other woman's company.

Monday, JJ made a point of making an early round of the bullpen, being sure to stop by Emily's desk.

JJ wasn't sure, but she thought there might have been some coldness on the part of Reid and perhaps Morgan toward Emily by the end of last week -- and based on Emily's comments, she wasn't imagining it. At the time she had loved the boys for their unquestioning loyalty. Now that she knew it was totally unfounded, she just felt even worse.

Emily noticed the blatant attention, and was both amused and grateful. She didn't begrudge Reid or Morgan for taking JJ's side in the events of last week. She and Reid had gotten off to a rocky start anyway; and Morgan was nothing if not incredibly loyal. She had been a bit saddened, but not surprised, to see that they would take JJ's side over hers. It had just been another painful part of a long, horrible week.

JJ had waited all week to see if Emily would suggest they do something this weekend. JJ made a point of telling Emily that she'd love to do something, but then left it up to Emily. As the guilty party, JJ figured she needed to let Emily dictate whether they could be friends outside the office, or whether they would go back to being friendly co-workers.

JJ was delighted that Emily seemed willing to forgive her so easily. She knew she had a lot of lost ground to make up, and was just profoundly grateful that Emily wasn't holding her recent case of -- insanity really WAS the only word for it -- against her. And the bitterness of realizing she actually might have had a shot with the other woman before she pissed it away by listening to Betsey Devine was just something she'd have to live with.

JJ was almost positive Emily was, in fact, telling the truth, that she was ready to move past last week's mess. They had slipped back into their usual routine, stopping by to chat, occasionally getting coffee together.

But by Thursday, JJ began to wonder if Emily was just putting up a good front. From casual conversation, JJ was fairly certain that the other woman didn't have any major plans this weekend. JJ was beginning to resign herself to a solo weekend when she heard tapping on her door frame.

She glanced up and her face immediately broke into a welcoming smile. JJ stood, and moved around to lean on the side of her desk, closer to Emily.

Emily smiled back, and took a moment to enjoy the contrast with last week. The memory of that JJ, indifferent and cool, was slowly fading, but was still fresh enough that she could appreciate this reception even more.

"So, there's a new winery that opened in the Shenandoah -- about 45 minutes away. I was thinking of heading out there to check it out on Saturday; you interested?"

JJ's smile got even bigger. "That sounds great! Count me in," she said.

And who knows how long they would have stood there, smiling at each other, if Reid hadn't poked his head in.

"Later, JJ," Emily said, and ducked out the door as Reid asked JJ about a file.

Saturday turned out to be a spectacular fall day.

JJ picked up Emily and it was almost as if the Strauss nightmare had never occurred. The drive flew by; the vineyard was in the midst of spectacular fall foliage in the Shenandoah mountains; and even the wine was good.

Not that JJ really remembered. She couldn't have told you what they tried or whether it red, white or pink. All she knew is that she was spending time again with Emily.

Her nerves felt a frisson every time Emily looked at her. She knew that she owed everything to the other woman for being willing to overlook JJ's lapse in faith. JJ still occasionally felt the urge to slap herself for nearly throwing away everything they had together without even giving the Emily a chance to defend herself. But as long as Emily was willing to stay at least friends, JJ would count her blessings and be grateful. And tickling at the back of her mind, tantalizing her with lost opportunities, was the knowledge that if she hadn't been so idiotic, she could have, maybe, had much more.

They got back to Emily's around dinner time, and had dinner at the same Tex-Mex place where they had eaten the week before.

After dinner, they were settled on the couch at Emily's apartment, drinking one of the bottles of wine Emily had bought. Emily had been a bit distant all day; almost like she was holding some part of herself back. JJ mourned the loss of the closeness they had had before she had been such an idiot -- but knew she had only herself to blame. She just hoped that over time Emily could learn to trust her again.

After a moment, JJ realized that Emily wasn't really listening any more. JJ didn't mind particularly, though the slight frown on the brunette's face worried her a bit. She was surprised when Emily suddenly stood up, and walked over to stare out her window.

Emily, meanwhile, was struggling. She had warned herself before they left this afternoon that she needed to watch her behavior. Emily was acutely aware that JJ now knew that she was interested in women -- it was possibly the only good thing to come out of the whole Strauss misunderstanding. JJ had shown quite clearly that Emily's attraction to women didn't bother her in the slightest.

In fact, JJ was going out of her way to show Emily that she was happy to be just friends again. But Emily still felt she needed to be more aware of herself and her actions around JJ. Reining herself in, maintaining her distance -- she didn't want JJ to think that she was hitting on her. So she had tried to keep from the casual touches that were usually a routine part of their interactions.

But it was proving almost impossible. She still felt laid bare by last weekend's events. And while she had tried to stay cool and controlled all day, she wasn't sure she could keep it up. Everything she felt for JJ seemed to be on the surface now.

More to the point, she wasn't sure she wanted to try to keep her emotions hidden. After everything they had been through, Emily just wasn't up for more caution, for trying to watch her every move around JJ. It was exhausting.

She was tired of always being so careful.

JJ sat on the couch for a moment, looking after Emily with concern.

"Emily?" she finally asked, quietly.

There was no answer.

JJ stood and walked over the window as well. She made as if to rest her hand on Emily's arm, but stopped -- she felt she had lost the right to casually touch the brunette.

"Is everything okay?" she asked, instead.

Emily stood for another long moment, before she took a deep breath, and swung around to face JJ.

"I can't do this," she said abruptly.

JJ felt her stomach plummet, but hoped she manage to keep her face calm.


"I can't pretend that... that nothing's changed," Emily said, an impenetrable look on her face.

Emily paused again, clearly marshaling her thoughts.

"I can't just ignore what happened last weekend," she said, finally.

JJ's heart fell, and she thought for a moment she could actually feel it breaking.

She took a step back from Emily. "I understand," she said, as calmly as she could. Of course Emily didn't trust her and didn't want to spend time with her. Why should she? What had she done to deserve it, but turn on her, assuming the worst, without giving it a second thought.

God, this was all her fault. How could she have been so stupid? She wanted to scream and wail, and tear her hair. But she knew she owed it to Emily to make it easy on her.

"Well, thanks for a great day," she said, proud that there was no tremor in her voice. If she could just make it to the car, she could cry all the way home, but not here, it wasn't fair to Emily. She turned to leave.

"Wait, what are you doing?" asked Emily, looking confused.

"I get it, Emily. You're still mad at me about last week. It's okay. I don't blame you, I blame myself. So I'm leaving," said JJ, still clinging to her composure.

JJ had made it two steps away before Emily pulled herself together.

"JJ, wait, no, stop," she exclaimed, and now she put her hand on JJ's arm, stopping her progress. "That's not what I meant at all," she said.

JJ remained steadfastly turned away.

"JJ, look at me," Emily said softly. JJ finally turned, but wouldn't look at Emily.

Emily reached out and gently lifted JJ's chin, until finally JJ's blue eyes were locked with hers. JJ's eyes were sad, filled with self-recriminations.

"I'm not upset with you, that's not what the problem is," Emily said softly.

"This is the problem."

And slowly, ever so slowly, Emily leaned in and kissed JJ.

Emily thought she had never felt anything as amazing as JJ's lips. They were soft, and sweet, and tender -- and just the touch was enough to set her heart racing. Emily's eyes fluttered shut, involuntarily.

After a moment, she leaned back, and opened her eyes, reluctantly, fearful of what might be in JJ's eyes.

But the relief and happiness in JJ's eyes led her to believe that she had nothing to worry about.

"Just so you know, Emily, that is NOT a problem," JJ husked.

And then JJ leaned forward to claim Emily's lips with her own.

JJ's kiss, like Emily's, was light and tentative. She kissed the other woman softly once, twice, feather light kisses. As she leaned in the third time, Emily was ready, meeting her, matching JJ's kiss with one of her own. The two women lost themselves in each other in a long, sweet kiss.

Emily pulled back, finally, and looked into JJ's eyes. "So, now what?" she asked, somewhat flushed.

JJ considered for a moment, then glanced at the clock, realizing how late it was with a start. Her master plan briefly danced through her mind, so she pulled back, and said, with a gleam in her eye, "Now, Ms. Prentiss, I ask you if you'd consider going on a date with me."

Emily stared at her for a moment.

"A date," she said, blankly.

"Yes, a date," said JJ.

There was a pause.

"Now would be a good time to say, 'Why, yes, Ms. Jareau, I'd love to go on a date with you'," prompted JJ. A look of uncertainty crossed her face. "You do want to go out with me, don't you?"

The look of self-doubt on JJ's face immediately cleared the lingering fog from Emily's brain. She smiled -- a sexy, promise-filled smile -- and said, "Why, yes, Ms. Jareau, I'd love to go on a date." The smile alone made JJ's toes curl, and she briefly regretted bringing things to a halt for the evening.

But she had her plan, after all. And the idea of a real date with Emily -- one where they spent the whole evening knowing they were on a date -- was too appealing to give up.

JJ rose to her feet. "I need to get home," and she heard Emily's little exclamation of surprise at the hour, "but I was thinking maybe we could go out next Saturday?"

Emily's face fell. "Saturday's a long way away," she said, with a pout.

"I'll make it worth your while," said JJ with a positively scorching smile.

One part of Emily couldn't believe she was letting JJ walk out her door, especially after that smile. But the other part, though of course she wouldn't admit it to JJ, was also looking forward to a week of anticipation building up to their date next week.

At the door, JJ turned and pulled Emily into a parting kiss that left both women breathless.

Emily groaned as JJ broke away. "Are you sure you want to leave?" she asked, piteously.

JJ wasn't sure at all, but having suggested the date, she was going to stick to her guns. "Yes, I'm sure." She leaned forward, gave Emily a quick peck on the lips, and was out the door before the other woman could tempt her further.

JJ was just starting her car when her phone rang.

"Hey," Emily said. "Just wanted to say drive safely. And I'll talk to you tomorrow?"

"Yes, you will," said JJ. "Sleep well, Emily."

"You too."

Monday at work, JJ felt like a teenager, giddy with barely contained excitement. The thought of seeing Emily again -- even though they'd be at work -- was enough to set her heart racing.

She had talked to Emily on the phone several times Sunday. Several times, for several hours, it seemed. JJ grinned self-consciously -- the two of them had acted like teenage girls, spending long periods of time on the phone, talking about critical things like which commercials were the worst on television, or the play of their favorite football teams.

JJ tried to be calm and cool -- but the bubbling happiness inside her would not be contained. The emotional rollercoaster she had been on was finally at the part where she was overwhelmed with happiness, and she was going to enjoy it as much as she could.

Ruthlessly, she tried to ratchet down her excitement. She worked with profilers, dammit, and if she walked around all day with a big, shit-eating grin, she was doomed. She mercilessly corralled the emotions running rampant inside her

Which lasted exactly until she heard a husky voice in the doorway. "Hey, JJ, have a nice weekend?" asked Emily innocently. Well, the words might have been innocent, but the gleam in the other woman's eyes was anything but.

JJ felt like she had been dipped in hot water -- every part of her body felt hot and flushed.

She tried to give Emily a disapproving look, but gave it up as a lost cause.

"Why, yes, Emily, I did," said JJ, and she brought her fingers up to her mouth, running the fingertips along her lips as if she was thinking. But it had exactly the effect she intended, as Emily's face, in turn got flushed.

The two women shared a pregnant pause.

Emily finally cleared her throat.

"Saturday, eh?" she asked, just the teeniest hint of a whine in her voice.

JJ's grin was both sexy and merciless. "Saturday," she confirmed.

Emily gave a sigh, and headed back to her desk.

JJ stopped by Garcia's office, as was usual on a Monday.

Garcia took one look at JJ, and said imperiously: "Spill, girlfriend."

JJ tried to look innocent. "What?"

"Don't you 'what' me, little miss 'something-happened-this-weekend-and-it's-written-all-over-my-face'!"

JJ's face fell. "Is it really that obvious?" she said worriedly.

"Well, maybe not to everyone," Garcia reassured her, "but you can't hide from me. So?"

JJ hesitated. "I just had a nice day Saturday." At Garcia's raised eyebrow, she added, "With Emily. We went to a winery."

"And that's it?"

JJ nodded, but something on her face gave her away.

"Jennifer Jareau, are you actually trying to keep a secret from me?" asked Garcia in amazement.

"Well..." JJ looked helplessly at Garcia.

Then she continued in a rush, so earnestly that the other woman immediately got more serious, "Just for a little bit. If that's okay? I just..." JJ seemed at a loss for words.

"Hey, JJ, I'm just giving you a hard time. You'll tell me when you're ready," Garcia immediately said with a gentle smile. But inside, she was amazed. She had thought that JJ had a hot and heavy crush on the dark-haired agent. And she had sensed the brunette was interested as well. But with the way JJ was acting, it looked like it might be something much more serious. And if that was the case, she was happy for JJ -- happy enough to let her off the hook.

JJ looked at the other woman gratefully, before giving her a quick hug. "You're the best, Garcia." And JJ soon had the tech goddess chatting away about her own weekend.

Finally, the week was over and blessed Saturday was here. JJ was uneasily certain that despite their promises to each other, she and Emily had not managed to keep their behavior at work entirely professional. Oh, they hadn't done anything actually improper, but JJ knew she had spent much more time at Emily's desk than usual. And more to the point, she knew they had been completely violating any personal space edicts that applied to co-workers. JJ had found at least two case files each day that required Emily's personal attention, and spent far too much time at the other woman's desk, close enough to touch, carefully pointing out key elements of the case.

JJ stood nervously in front of Emily's condo building. She was seriously starting to worry that the butterflies in her stomach were going to cause her to pass out.

This is ridiculous, she chastised herself. You've been out with Emily before, what is wrong with you?

But this is a DATE, her brain helpfully reminded her.

Yeah so what? she said bravely.

A D-A-T-E. And who knows what will happen afterwards.

JJ certainly had high hopes for 'afterwards'. But first -- they had to get through the date. She decided she better get inside before Emily saw her standing out here looking like an idiot, dithering.

JJ might have felt better if she had realized that Emily was just as nervous.

Emily had changed twice, and had only stopped changing clothes when she realized she was running out of time. She, too, was battling her nervousness with an irritable conversation with herself.

Jesus, Emily, you're a grown woman. Stop changing clothes!

But what if she doesn't like this shirt?

Oh for... She'll like the shirt. I think. I hope. Oh, jesus, just stop it and go answer the door!

JJ could already feel the difference from this date and their last evening out.

This time, when Emily swung the door open, she wasn't obliged to act like she was just a friend. This time, she swept her eyes up and down Emily's figure, taking in the deep purple, low cut shirt tucked into tight black pants. She let her complete appreciation for Emily's seductive outfit appear on her face and said huskily, "You look amazing." And this time, she got to enjoy the blush that faintly tinted Emily's cheeks.

"Thanks," said Emily, "you don't look too bad yourself." Emily, like JJ, was also openly admiring JJ's outfit - a white top with a black jacket and dark gray low cut pants.

"Shall we go?" asked JJ.

Tonight there was an undercurrent to the entire evening -- a delicious tension that hadn't been there before. Every look, every word, seemed imbued with special significance. Both women were caught up in the pleasant anticipation. Now that they were actually out on a date, they were able to enjoy flirting with each other. Every gesture was filled with meaning, intended to tease or torment.

JJ could not believe, as they headed to the dance club, that simply eating a meal could be so... hot. She had been mesmerized by watching those full red lips eat the food, sip at the wine, watching as Emily's tongue darted out to clean the last crumbs from her mouth.

She knew occasionally her conversation had lapsed, as she simply drank in her fill of Emily. And she would be brought back to the conversation when she saw Emily's amused eyes, with one arched eyebrow. JJ had shrugged with a guilty smile, and said simply, "I've been staring at you for weeks - it's one of my favorite things. So sue me." And by the rush of color to Emily's face and her embarrassed but pleased look, JJ knew she was forgiven.

Little moments were seared in JJ's mind. They had shared food back and forth, both interested in trying the tastes and styles of the restaurant, so Emily had offered her a bite of her fish.

Last time, Emily just put a piece on JJ's plate. This time, Emily held up the bite, letting JJ take it from her fork. The intimacy of the gesture was unmistakable. Emily's eyes darkened as she watched JJ's eyes flutter shut in enjoyment at the tastes exploding in her mouth.

"Amazing," said JJ, after she had swallowed, her eyes hooded, and Emily knew she wasn't just talking about the food.

"Try mine," suggested JJ, and like Emily, held her fork out, watching intensely as those red lips closed around the food and removed it from her fork. JJ reached out with her thumb, and caught a tiny drop from the side of Emily's mouth.

"You missed a bit," JJ said in a low voice, licking her thumb.

Emily gave a little moan. "You are killing me, you know," she said -- but the little smile playing over lips seemed to indicate she wasn't really upset.

JJ's return smile was positively sizzling.

JJ had picked a different club this time -- one that was more patently women-friendly. She knew that two women dancing together on a dance floor was acceptable at any club -- hot was hot, after all. But she wanted a place where two women dancing together meant they were 'together' and not 'trolling for men' -- so they were less likely to have to spend the night fending off advances of men.

Emily's eyes nearly rolled back into her head when JJ checked her jacket on the way in. JJ had kept the jacket in the restaurant, where it had been cool, but it was already stifling in the club. And now Emily discovered that the low cut, white top she had admired earlier in the evening from the front was actually a halter top.

"You are trying to kill me," she said, groaning -- only for JJ to throw a completely unrepentant look over her shoulder in response. The golden skin of JJ's toned back, muscles just visible as they worked their way through the crowd, was like a siren's call to Emily, and it was all she could do not to press her lips to that spine and... Shuddering, Emily wrestled her mind away from those images -- but not before her eyes had gone smoky and intense, triggering an immediate response in JJ when she glanced back again.

They made it to the bar and ordered drinks, surveying the crowd for a moment. They were oblivious to the eyes on them, JJ's golden lightness a stunning contrast to Emily's dark beauty.

If the dinner was hot, the dancing was incendiary. There were no holds barred now. They weren't pretending to dance 'next' to each other, they were dancing together. And a little part of each of them was entirely focused on, if possible, teasing the other woman until someone made a move.

JJ thought Emily was sexy dancing last time, but she was woefully unprepared for having all of the brunette's attention focused on her. Emily's dark eyes seemed to go completely black as they danced close to each other, breathing each other's air, occasionally brushing against each other. Finally Emily put her hands on JJ's back, nearly groaning out loud with pleasure at the feel of her hands smoothing over the skin. JJ couldn't keep her eyes from fluttering shut at the first contact, and responded by putting her hands on Emily's hips. She could feel the heat of her hands burning through Emily's jeans, and wished she could touch the skin underneath.

As far as the two women were concerned, the club could have been empty. They heard the thumping of the music, but all they saw was each other. JJ could hear her blood pounding in her ears, in time to the music. Occasionally, Emily would lean forward to say something in her ear, and each time, her hot breath on JJ's neck felt like an electrical current shooting through her entire body. Her eyes were locked on Emily's, and she felt like she was disappearing into them. She wanted to kiss Emily desperately, but was aware that after the past hours of teasing, once she started kissing her, she wouldn't be able to stop.

She wasn't sure how long they had been dancing -- long enough for her to be pleasantly tired -- but the teasing touches and glances had her entire body completely sensitized. She was no longer even certain she could form a complete sentence; she felt like every particle of her being was focused on Emily; either focused on what she could see of the other woman, or focused on not attacking her right here in the club.

Finally, when she wasn't sure she could stand another moment without tasting those lips again, Emily leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "Let's get out of here."

JJ's skin was so sensitive that Emily's breath felt like a caress, and she whispered back, "God, yes."

They turned toward the exit as one, Emily's hand now firmly in the small of JJ's back -- the skin on skin contact making both women flushed.

The cab ride back to Emily's house was silent, but charged with electricity. JJ had put her coat back on, and now instead Emily's hand rested lightly on JJ's leg; although to JJ, it felt like Emily's hand was burning through her pants and branding her thigh.

Finally, finally, they were at Emily's condo. Emily only had to raise an eyebrow for JJ to nod mutely and follow her upstairs.

Emily shut the door behind JJ, and the next thing the blonde knew, she was pressed back against the door, the brunette pressing her entire body against JJ, and possessing her lips with a deep kiss. She broke off long enough to pant, "Oh, god, I've been waiting to do that all night."

JJ gasped, "Me too," before she finally got Emily's shirt untucked and could finally feel the other woman's bare skin on her hands.

They staggered away from the door -- JJ groaning in protest when Emily's lips left hers -- and ended up on the couch. They were too focused on their kisses and on finally touching skin and flesh that had been visible but out of reach all night to care if it was graceful.

Emily had JJ pinned down, and the full body to body contact was both soothing -- it was what they had each been craving all night -- and like fuel to the fire.

Emily had both hands deep in JJ's hair, holding her head as she plundered her lips with deep kisses, demanding and receiving entry into the other woman's mouth.

JJ for her part was eagerly participating. She had completely yanked Emily's shirt out of her pants and was running her hands over every inch of Emily's body that she could reach, needing to brand herself on the other woman.

Emily rocked her hips slightly, and JJ made a sound that resonated with pure need.

Breathing hard, Emily leaned back.

"Please tell me we're done dating now," she said, just a hint of humor in her eyes.

"Yes, oh god, yes, we're done dating," managed JJ in a strangled voice.

Emily gave a little amused chuff of air at JJ's fervent comment.

But looking down at JJ, Emily felt her mood shift slightly. She felt a rush of tenderness and protectiveness for the other woman. She kissed JJ again, softly, lingering, and said, "God, you're beautiful."

JJ stilled beneath Emily, looking deeply into dark brown eyes, now nearly black with desire. She brought one hand around to cup Emily's face. "Make love with me?" she asked, huskily.

Emily felt the words rush through her entire body, settling low and hot and needy in her belly.

Wordlessly, Emily pulled herself off the couch, and extended a hand to JJ, and led her upstairs to her bedroom.

Later, much later, JJ was sprawled bonelessly over Emily, both still breathing hard.

They knew the outside world awaited them. At some point, they would have to deal with their teammates, and their jobs, and their families. They knew better than most that no one could predict the future. So they were determined to make these precious moments last as long as possible.

Right now, securely wrapped in each other's arms, nothing could disturb their world.

Words weren't enough for everything JJ was feeling. She leaned forward and kissed Emily deeply, gently; a kiss that promised everything she could give, for as long as she could give it. Emily's eyes shone with unshed tears as she felt everything JJ was saying without words.

JJ looked into Emily's dark, glistening eyes, and thought again about her plan, and all they had been through to get to this moment. Filled to the brim with happiness, she smiled just a little.

She had been right: Piece of cake.

The End

Return to Criminal Minds Fiction

Return to Main Page