DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the result of a random shuffling of two songs, back to back: The Beauty of the Rain by Dar Williams and I Run for Life by Melissa Etheridge – plus a real life event for one particular actress. My Criminal Minds world remains suspended in animation, right up to the untimely and completely unbelievable reappearance of William LaMontagne. Very special thanks to Kim for her constant encouragement and helpful suggestions and to Deb for always making herself available to beta, even when she has absolutely no time to do so. Thanks ladies!
WARNING: This story deals with a disease that has touched many lives, and as such, it may hit too close to home for some readers and simply be too difficult to read.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
CHALLENGE: Written for Epic Proportions 2009.

The Beauty of the Rain
By Ann


If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I'd finger-paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging and less tugging.
~Diane Loomans



A dark haired woman sat demurely on a black marble bench and stared at the thick glass doors of the building's entrance, watching for a very familiar face. The security officer had been kind enough to allow her to wait inside the spacious, slightly pretentious lobby, despite her lack of proper credentials - credentials that would have gained her entrance without a single question and more than likely have afforded her the VIP treatment she'd grown used to over the years. Choosing to believe that she'd been able to convince the man to allow her to remain in the lobby solely because of her superior negotiation skills, she simply ignored the more likely possibility that he'd taken one look at her frail appearance and had felt sorry for her.

In her haste to get to her destination, she'd forgotten her wallet and all other forms of identification that proved not only her identity, but her official place of status as well. When she'd finally gathered up her courage for the face-to-face meeting she'd been avoiding for the past week, she'd dropped everything and jumped into her car before she lost her nerve – again. A gentle tapping sound drew her attention to the paned glass behind her, and she shifted to investigate the disturbance.

Raindrops fell steadily and beat softly against the window pane, the serenity of the scene offering a sense of much needed tranquility and peace for the troubled woman. Ignoring the gift Mother Nature had so graciously provided for her, she focused instead on a single droplet of water. She watched intently as it slowly inched its way down the smooth tempered glass, picking up speed as it neared the ground, but she instinctively closed her eyes before it could splatter against the concrete below, not able to bear witness to its unavoidable demise into a shallow puddle of water that had formed at the base of the window. Swallowing hard, she opened her eyes and lifted her head slightly, but this time, she looked past the moisture that clung stubbornly to the glass and stared out at the empty courtyard beyond.

The rain continued to fall steadily in gentle drops that lazily rolled off the edges of large green and white striped umbrellas that covered wrought iron tables scattered around the courtyard. She'd always adored the beauty of the rain, but today was different. Today, she struggled with the scene before her, not able to fully appreciate what once had filled her with a sense of calmness and harmony. She knew that when the moisture finally evaporated, the scene would revert to its original state. There would be no blemish, no scar, no sign that the rain had ever been there. She wished she could be so lucky.


Emily's steps had faltered when she'd first entered the building and had noticed the figure sitting against the far window. Stepping to the side of the door and out of the way of the steady stream of ingoing and outgoing human traffic, she'd pretended to fiddle with her umbrella as she'd studied the woman who'd always seemed larger than life to her.

Her mother had looked tired and haggard - her usually erect posture slumped and her face pale and drawn. It was the first time Emily had ever seen her so out of sorts, and she'd hesitated a few moments to gather her thoughts before she'd approached. The woman who sat on the bench was indeed her mother, but definitely not the always composed Ambassador Prentiss.

"Oh," said Elizabeth, raising a hand to sweep through her hair. She cringed when several strands broke free and clung helplessly to her fingers and quickly slid her hand into her pocket, hoping Emily hadn't noticed. She'd somehow forgotten her daughter was a trained profiler.

Emily frowned slightly at her mother's odd movement. Elizabeth Prentiss rarely placed her hands in her pockets, stating that it was a sign of weakness. If one had cold hands, then gloves were the answer. She was hiding something.

"Let's go somewhere more private," said Emily, extending her hand in invitation and watching her mother's reaction carefully. Would Elizabeth ignore her offer and stand on her own or would she accept simply as a matter of proper decorum?

Elizabeth stared at her daughter's steady hand, palm side up with fingers splayed slightly apart. She knew if Emily rotated her palm downward, her fingernails would be short and to the quick, her nasty habit of biting them one of the few things Emily had had control of over during her childhood. She'd hoped her daughter would've outgrown it now that she had become her own person, but the last time she'd checked, Emily hadn't.

"Mother?" asked Emily softy, her brow knitting in worry. Whatever the reason her mother had come to Quantico to seek her out, it definitely wasn't a good one.

"Oh, sorry," said Elizabeth, finally taking hold of Emily's hand and grasping it as tightly as she was able. Slowly, she pushed to her feet, but kept hold of her daughter's lifeline. It felt so warm and safe, and she wished she could bottle up the feeling and call it back whenever she had need for it, which she figured would be more and more in the coming months.

Emily remained silent as she led her mother through security and down the corridor, but a last second thought had her veering to the right and heading for an office down the hallway. Stopping just outside an open door, she knocked lightly on its frame.

"JJ? Could I borrow your office for a while?"

JJ looked up from her computer and smiled teasingly. Opening her mouth to ask her lover just what exactly she had in mind, she spied a dark head just over Emily's shoulder and clamped down on her proposed innuendo before it could escape.

"Um, sure; let me just grab these files," she said instead, scooping several folders from a tall stack that perched precariously on her desk's edge. Easing her purse from the back of the chair, she started for the door and finally turned her full attention to the person who stood behind Emily. She almost dropped her files to the floor when she instantly recognized Ambassador Prentiss.

"You remember my mother, JJ?" asked Emily, her tone sounding much calmer than she actually felt. Years and years of playing the role of a diplomat's daughter had programmed her well to guard her true emotions in favor of what was expected.

JJ, on the other hand, was armed with her own experience as the Behavioral Analysis Unit's press liaison to aid her in greeting the mother of the woman she'd just recently begun a relationship with. Although, nothing truly prepared one for his or her first meeting with a lover's parent – a parent who had no knowledge of the relationship in the first place.

"Yes," said JJ, with a barely perceptible trace of nervousness, as she crossed the room and extended her hand in greeting. "How are you, Ma'am?"

If Elizabeth detected the uneasiness in the young woman's voice, she hid it well. "Fine, thank you. And you, Agent Jareau?" She slipped her hand into JJ's and performed the expected perfunctory handshake, only with a weak grip and slight tremor.

JJ was pleased the Ambassador had remembered her name, but her pleasure soon turned to confusion when she detected a dent in the woman's armor. She'd deemed Emily's mother unflappable during their first, albeit short, meeting and began to wonder if perhaps the other woman was as nervous as she was. But detecting a light bead of perspiration that had formed above Elizabeth's pale lips had JJ convinced that nerves had nothing to do with the Ambassador's current state. She glanced at her lover to note that Emily had come to the same conclusion.

"I'm well," said JJ, as she slowly eased her hand free of the feeble grip. "But if I don't get these files updated by the end of the day, I certainly won't be," she added with a smile. "I've got to meet with Hotch in about ten minutes, so you two take your time."

With a slight nod at the Ambassador, JJ spared a quick glance at Emily before stepping out into the hallway and closing the door. It was painfully apparent from the expression worn by both mother and daughter that neither woman looked forward to whatever the upcoming conversation would bring.


Chapter 1

"Why don't you sit in JJ's chair, Mother?" Emily said more as a strong suggestion than as a matter of politeness. Elizabeth appeared to be having physical difficulties, the most obvious of which was standing. Slipping her fingers under the edge of JJ's desk the moment the press liaison had stepped from the room, she hadn't even attempted to hide the move, making Emily more concerned by the second.

"I think that's a good idea," said Elizabeth softly, easing her way around the desk and into a soft padded chair. She released an unsteady breath and stared down at the folder-sized rectangular area of the desk that had just been cleared of the files JJ had taken with her. This was not the appearance she'd hoped to present to her daughter when she finally revealed the secret she'd been keeping from Emily for the past three years.

"Do you need me to get you something? Tylenol, perhaps?" Emily inched closer to JJ's desk, her worry increasing tenfold when her mother had so easily acquiesced to her suggestion without any sign of a fight. Elizabeth hated to be coddled to even more than Emily did, another sign of weakness according to the Ambassador.

"No, it won't do any good," Elizabeth said quietly, knowing over-the-counter drugs were a complete waste of time. They couldn't come close to touching any of the symptoms that ailed her. What she wouldn't give for the days of simple headaches.

Emily bit down on her lip to keep from losing her trademark composure and demanding to know what was wrong, why her mother had sought her out, and what she needed or expected of Emily. Instead, she gripped the back of a folding chair that sat against the wall and resettled it so that it was positioned directly across from where her mother was sitting. Taking a seat, she crossed a black, woolen-covered pant leg over its counterpart and waited. She knew this game well; her mother would reveal all when she was good and ready. No one rushed the Ambassador.

A not-so-comfortable silence ensued, the only sound in the room from that of a clock on the wall as its second hand clicked unnaturally loud with its precise movement. Emily struggled against shifting in her chair but remained perfectly still so as not to distract her mother from ordering her thoughts. In the end, however, it wouldn't have mattered as Elizabeth veered sharply from her usual formal introduction of a topic of conversation and just blurted out her secret.

"I've got cancer."

Emily froze, her dark eyes widened perceptibly and her jaw dropped slightly to allow a startled breath to escape. Her hands, that she'd folded together and rested on a bended knee, reflexively clenched tightly together, partly due to her attempt to maintain her composure, but mostly to keep from reaching across the short distance to physically touch her mother. Their relationship had never been one that included hugs, pats on the hand or back, or kisses on the cheek, except on those occasions when Emily had arrived late for one of her mother's diplomatic functions and Elizabeth had been forced to keep up appearances, always smiling and taking Emily's hand, kissing her lightly on the cheek. Emily had tried to pretend the gesture had been genuine and not notice that the offered smile hadn't reached her mother's eyes.

"When did you find out?" asked Emily, her mind racing to catch up, while her heart pumped out a staccato beat. She was surprised her voice had sounded so strong and steady.

Elizabeth avoided eye contact with her daughter and kept her focus on the desk in front of her, feeling a bit like the smooth surface that was surrounded by chaos in the form of files that she was certain contained unspeakable evil. Emily had taken the news rather calmly, but she knew her daughter's reaction to her next statement would be much more animated, hers certainly would've been had the shoe been on the other foot. Her breathing hitched at the thought, and she said a silent prayer of thanks that the disease had chosen her instead.

"Three years ago." Elizabeth looked up when she spoke her words. She owed Emily the opportunity to show her mother how truly angry and hurt she felt at being kept in the dark all this time.

Emily didn't disappoint.

"Three years?" Her daughter's two words carried more emotion than Elizabeth thought possible as did the multitude of expressions that crossed the younger woman's face. Try as she may though, she couldn't put a name on most of them as Emily had stopped expressing her feelings long ago, finally just giving up and doing what her parents had expected of her or, on some occasions, simply ignoring them altogether.

Emily took a deep breath and slowly released it. She had no idea where to begin. Her thoughts were a mass of jumbled questions, all needing immediate answers. Had her mother been so brazenly arrogant to have ignored treatment all this time? The silent question became her focus.

"You've known for three years, and you're just now doing something about it?" Emily wanted to ask if her mother had thought she was God or perhaps immortal. It was typical of the Ambassador to put off important issues in favor of her job, but this was different. This was her life she was playing with.

Elizabeth shook her head. "No, I took a leave of absence and had a double mastectomy. I also endured numerous rounds of chemotherapy." She had lied to everyone, told them her services were needed overseas and that she wouldn't be returning until the end of the year. That had been in January of 2006. No one had doubted her word, not even Emily.

A hand reflexively went to Emily's mouth to keep a gasp from escaping or perhaps it was meant to stop the little air she had left in her lungs from leaving her literally breathless. She worked back through her memories and stopped on a conversation she'd had with her mother involving an emergency assignment. She'd not seen her mother for the better part of a year after that.

"Where? Where did you go?" Emily needed more information before she could adequately become angry enough to confront her mother about the lies and deceit that the other woman had been playing at for the better part of three years. She couldn't understand how Elizabeth could have kept something so important from her.

"Houston." Elizabeth opted for a simple answer. She could see the anger rising in her daughter and figured less information was better for the time being. She should have thought this out more clearly. Emily's workplace was not the ideal location for this conversation.

"Okay, okay," said Emily, seeming as if she was of the same mind, but nothing was further from the truth. She'd figured the where could wait for now, it was the why she was most interested in. "Why now? Why tell me now?"

"Mine's an aggressive form. You know me, always shooting for the top," she said with a shrug, figuring if she was owning up to things, then she may as well own up to the way she'd lived her life, too. Emily wasn't amused.

"Jesus, Mother. This isn't something to be taken lightly."

"Don't you think I know that? Why do you think I'm here?" Elizabeth's patience slipped momentarily. She wasn't in the mood to hear another lecture; she'd already heard enough from her doctors about the seriousness of the situation. Besides, she was doing something; she was here, wasn't she?

Emily seemed to be able to read her mother's mind, but it wasn't helping. She was still very much in the dark.

"Why are you here, Mother?" Emily flinched at her choice of words but mostly at her harsh sounding tone. She gentled her voice and hurried to make amends for both. "I mean, what do you need me to do?"

Elizabeth let the question linger in the air for a moment and selfishly drank in the sincerity she'd found in it. She looked her daughter squarely in the eye.

"I need to stay with you for a while."


Chapter 2

A lamp glowed softly from behind closed curtains and silhouetted the shadowed figure that moved across the room every now and again. Outside the house, Emily sat in her car and stared up at the starless night, warring with indecision. It was late, very late, much too late to show up on her lover's doorstep unannounced, especially as she'd pretty much avoided JJ for most of the day, avoided most everyone actually. She'd called her mother's driver, had walked her mother to the foyer, and had waited with the Ambassador to make sure she'd made it safely inside the car. The rest of the day had been spent on paperwork and stealing as many moments as possible on non-work related research – breast cancer research. She'd been so involved in her reading she hadn't heard her cell phone's soft beeps, warning her of a low battery. Subsequently, she'd missed every one of JJ's calls, including the ones she'd missed while she'd been driving aimlessly around in search of answers that continued to elude her.

A sharp rap on the passenger-side window caused Emily to jump in her seat, and she hit her temple hard against the window she'd been pressed against in her attempt to find a single star that might hold the answers to her many questions. She pressed her hand to the sore spot and rubbed lightly to soothe away the pain as she turned her attention to the person who'd been responsible for scaring her half out of her wits. Dark eyes struggled to keep from drowning in blue pools that stared back with a plethora of emotions lurking in their depths, concern and a barely concealed anger leading the way for the others to follow.

"JJ, I…" Emily started, but cut off her words when she realized the other woman couldn't hear her through the glass. She moved her hand from the side of her face and eased it to the door locks. A loud clicking sound signaled she'd been successful in wordlessly inviting her lover inside, and JJ didn't hesitate to accept the offer as she grabbed hold of the handle, opened the door, and slid gracefully into the passenger seat.

"Are you okay?" she asked, reaching out and taking Emily's hand into her own. Her concern had won out over her hurt and anger that Emily hadn't sought her out after the Ambassador had left or bothered to return any of her calls, the latter of which was easily explained away as JJ noted Emily's cell phone laying on the console, a thin black wire connecting it to where the cigarette lighter usually resided.

"I'm so sorry," whispered Emily around the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. The long day was finally taking its toll, her frustration in being just as confused and uninformed about the disease as she had been that morning having reached its peak. She squeezed JJ's hand but didn't let go, instead she interlaced their fingers together and soaked in the soothing warmth against her cooled skin. "I could really use a glass of wine."

JJ scrunched up her nose and offered an apologetic smile. "Um, I'm out of wine. I think I've got some Crown and that's it." She'd been intending to restock Emily's favorite cabernet but hadn't gotten around to it.

"Crown may be better after the day I've had," said Emily with a sigh. She looked down at their joined hands, not wanting to relinquish the comforting feeling the simple contact had on her whole being. "Guess we need to go inside though, huh?" Glancing up at JJ, she smiled tiredly.

"Probably a good idea." JJ returned the smile, and leaning forward, she kissed Emily lightly on the lips. "C'mon," she tugged gently on her lover's hand. "It'll be more comfortable making out on the couch." She raised and lowered her eyebrows playfully.

Emily chuckled softly and shook her head at her lover's words and actions. "Sounds like a plan." Reluctantly, she released JJ's hand and reached for the door handle. There wouldn't be much sleep for either of them tonight.

Moonlight shone brightly through a floor-to-ceiling bedroom window, its light creeping across a plush carpeted floor in an attempt to steal a glimpse at the king-size bed on the far side of the room. It bent sharply across the rich burgundy colors of a down comforter, searching every square inch from an ornate headboard to a rounded footboard and finding only throw pillows and shams that had been precisely placed to attain the maximum decorative effect. The bed was otherwise empty.

Across the room, a still figure sat in an overstuffed chair, her feet bare, crossed at the ankle, resting on a matching ottoman. Elizabeth stared out into the night and tightened her arms across her chest, a sudden chill coursing through her. She reached for an afghan that rested on the chair's back and tossed it over her feet and legs, pulling it higher so that it covered her shoulders. Her thoughts returned to where they'd been centered on most of the day – her conversation with her daughter.

Emily had remained much calmer than Elizabeth had expected, although she hadn't truly believed her daughter would completely lose it and yell and shout at her for keeping the news from her. Of course, Elizabeth had to admit, she hadn't played fairly by coming right out and telling Emily the truth. Perhaps, subconsciously, she'd felt a need to protect herself against a possible onslaught from her daughter by using a shock tactic, but she did know that deep down the main reason for the way she'd presented her illness was that she simply couldn't bear to hear hurtful words flow from Emily's lips. Emily was all she had left.

Her eyes shifted toward the perfectly made bed, coming to rest on its right side, the side her husband slept on, before he'd rushed to take an assignment that would keep him away from American soil for the next two years. No longer able to deal with his wife's illness, he'd chosen to run as far away as he possibly could. Not that he'd been much help or comfort to Elizabeth, even when she'd first been diagnosed, but just knowing that he was under the same roof and shared the same bed had at least offered her some semblance of normalcy. It had been the one thing she'd clung to during the more difficult times.

Forcing her gaze back to the moonlit terrace, she tried not to think ill of the man she'd never really shared a true relationship with. It had been a marriage of convenience, pure and simple, and they'd both profited from it in their own way. She'd just never realized that there'd come a time when she'd wish there'd been true romance, true love. Simply too weak to face another bout alone, she could certainly use a shoulder to lean on.

"Emily," she whispered into the silent room. Perhaps she did have someone she could rely on, someone who'd be there for her.

Only time would tell if Emily followed through with her promise.

Closing her eyes, Elizabeth allowed sleep to finally take her.

Emily hovered between sleep and wakefulness, floating on a soft cushioned cloud just outside the boundaries of consciousness where dreams and reality blurred together. Her brow knitted in confusion as she struggled to separate her two worlds, despite her fear of what she might find in her waking one. Had it all been a dream? Had her unconscious mind somehow conjured up a scenario that had turned into a terrible nightmare? And why? Why would she even think of such a horrible thing?

An awareness of a gentle pressure across her middle pulled her free from her personal limbo; she breathed in deeply, welcoming fresh air into her lungs and hoping it would rouse her enough to cast away the upsetting words and flashes of various images that threatened to imprint themselves on her brain. Slowly, she opened her eyes and gazed across the shadowy room, taking a moment to allow her vision to adjust to the poor lighting.

Her black jacket lay, neatly folded, across the top of a mirrored triple dresser, while her black Prada boots sat on the floor at the base of the furniture, one boot standing and the other tilted over on its side. Emily turned her attention to her current attire and immediately noted her red v-neck shirt that had been pulled free of black woolen pants, both articles of clothing from her ensemble of the previous day. A bare arm was draped over her hip and disappeared beneath her shirt. She inhaled deeply once again, feeling the distinct outline of a hand against her warm skin. She smiled.

Usually, it was Emily who ended up holding JJ by morning's light. It felt so good to have their positions reversed. Closing her eyes, she snuggled closer to her lover as the events of their late night discussion played out in her mind.

JJ had been so very patient, listening to Emily's recap of the conversation she'd had with her mother earlier in the day. She'd held Emily's hand and offered silent support, seeming to understand that her lover had needed to finish what she'd started without interruption. The two had talked and talked afterward about everything: Elizabeth staying with Emily for a week starting the following Monday, then the possibility of a few days every three weeks afterward, while she underwent experimental treatments, how Elizabeth would only need Emily's immediate help for the first week of the preliminary tests and perhaps a day or two after the first treatment. It was the proximity of Emily's apartment to the National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Health that would be needed after that. Even someone with the Ambassador's wealth needed to be cost conscious as the treatments would continue for the next three years, barring any complications or further progression of the disease. The disease…

… Cancer.

Emily reached for JJ's hand.

It hadn't been a dream after all.


Chapter 3

"If you need anything else, Prentiss, just name it," said Hotch, his tone and expression as serious as if he were profiling a sadistic serial killer, but Emily looked past his stoic delivery and took the offer in the way she knew it had been intended – with utmost sincerity.

"Thank you, Sir. Just the rest of the day and next week free and…" she paused briefly, knowing she'd already asked for Hotch's discretion in the matter, but it was important to her mother that as few people as possible know of her situation. It was going to be hard enough trying to keep the secret while being treated at the government's premiere research hospital.

"I've logged it as personal leave. No one needs to know the reason." Hotch, as usual, anticipated his agent's concern. "You may want to consider telling the rest of the team. They'll worry."

Emily nodded in understanding. "I agree. JJ has already promised to fill them in sometime today. I, um… trust her to explain the situation." And she did, implicitly.

"Good, I think that's a wise choice." Hotch pushed to his feet and walked around his desk. "I'd appreciate it if you kept us apprised, and please don't hesitate to call if you need us."

"I'll do that," replied Emily, nervously taking a step toward the door. She'd held it together when she'd told Hotch about her need for some time off, but if he made any attempt to try to comfort her in any way, she was certain that she'd lose it. "See you in a week then."

With a forced smile, she turned and walked away, her focus shifting to her next task: preparing her spare bedroom for her mother's stay. She had no idea what she was going to do with all the boxes she'd been storing in the room since she'd first moved into her apartment.

"And she had no idea?" asked Garcia, her large brown eyes widening almost comically behind dark rimmed glasses and her mouth slightly agape. She was the first of the team to hear the reason why Emily wouldn't be gracing the halls of the BAU the following week. Of course, if she hadn't been the first, JJ would've never heard the end of it.

"No, none at all." JJ plopped down into a chair next to her friend and glanced over at the bank of computer monitors spread out in front of them. She purposely bypassed the nearer ones and zeroed in on the far monitor that tracked the comings and goings of people into and out of the building, almost immediately catching sight of Emily as she neared the exit. "It certainly explains some things though."

Following JJ's line of sight, Garcia spotted Emily just as she stepped through the glass doors, her strides confident and her head held high, looking every bit as if she hadn't a care or worry in the world. Garcia wished she could zoom in on the agent's dark eyes - they were truly the windows to her soul - but she didn't want to give JJ any more cause for concern.

"So, what are you going to do?" The computer analyst swiveled her chair around to face her friend. "Does the Ambassador know?"

"What?" JJ turned her attention from the monitor that no longer held the image of her lover. "About what?" She repeated herself, unsure of the question. Had she missed part of the conversation when she'd been so focused on Emily?

"You know," said Garcia, gesturing with her hand at JJ and then flitting it toward the far monitor, before she flicked it back toward her friend. "About the two of you?"

"What?" asked JJ, seeming to have lost the rest of her vocabulary. Her cheeks turned slightly pale. "No!" She winced at the volume of her reply and ran a hand through her hair to steady herself. Announcing a relationship – a gay relationship at that – was the last thing the Ambassador needed to deal with right now. "She doesn't even know Emily's gay."

Garcia's brows scaled upward and made a valiant effort to touch her hairline. "You're kidding. Does the woman live in Disneyland?" She paused momentarily in thought, adding at the last second, "Scratch that; she'd have noticed Goofy's gay."

JJ chuckled aloud, which was exactly the reaction Garcia had hoped for. A lighter atmosphere was definitely needed for this particular topic. Biting down gently on her lip, she reached out and lightly patted JJ's arm. "Seriously though, JJ; this woman has been everywhere, seen everything. You can't possibly believe she hasn't figured it out."

"Well," JJ started, her thoughts going back to the reasons Emily had given her when the subject had first come up between the two lovers. "They don't spend much time together, and their conversations rarely involve personal matters. Emily said they're more formal in nature." She opened her mouth to cite yet another example when Garcia took hold of her friend's hand, cradling it between her own.

"Oh, hon," Garcia said sadly, giving JJ a concerned look. It reminded JJ of the one her grandmother had given her when, as a child, JJ had adamantly refused to believe Santa Claus was a fictional character, stubbornly holding onto her beliefs and rambling through all the reasons why he was truly real. But in this instance, she'd known the truth all along but had allowed her heart to override her mind.

"Yeah, I know," she admitted with a sigh as she looked down at her hand snuggled in-between her friend's. Whereas Garcia's hands barely covered hers, Emily's completely engulfed hers, offering a safe haven whenever JJ needed it. She wished it was that easy to shelter Emily from what lie ahead of her.

Taking care so as to not put too much pressure on JJ's hand, Garcia squeezed gently. "We'll be here for Emily."

JJ glanced up and nodded, but she just couldn't allow a smile to grace her lips. Garcia had touched on the one thing that worried her most.

"Yeah, but who'll be there for her when she's alone with her mother for an entire week?"

"Emily?" JJ stuck her head inside the apartment door and called out her lover's name.

When her knocks had gone unanswered, she'd used the key she'd been given months ago, for emergency's purposes only of course, to let herself inside. She'd just talked to Emily thirty minutes earlier, and the other woman hadn't said anything about going out. Stepping inside the foyer, she juggled the large, rectangular box she held in her hand and closed the door behind her, calling out yet again.


"Here!" A muffled voice sounded from somewhere far away, and JJ frowned but moved further into the apartment. Glancing around the immediate vicinity, she still couldn't find the other woman.


"Up here!"

This time, JJ was able to track the voice to the top of the stairs. With her frown still in place, she carefully laid the pizza she'd ordered on the kitchen bar and started toward the stairs. She made her way to the second floor and stopped dead in her tracks. Box after box stood in her path.


A dark head poked up from behind a particularly large box and turned in JJ's direction. Emily's frenzied, almost frantic expression instantly morphed into one that could only be described as immense relief, and JJ should know, she'd seen a similar look from her lover countless times before and in a much more enjoyable situation.

"Oh thank God."

Even the words and tone Emily chose to express her contentment were similar, but JJ swallowed her mirth and concentrated instead on the sheer number of boxes that surrounded the two of them.

"Are you moving?" she asked, inching her way past the first few boxes that blocked her path. She'd only glimpsed Emily's spare bedroom once before, but she certainly didn't remember seeing this many boxes.

"Ha-ha," said Emily, squeezing between a set of taller boxes that lined each side of the narrow hallway and making her way forward. She stopped just short of JJ, desperately in need of a hug but leery of sharing her Eau de Cleaning scent with her lover. JJ didn't seem to have any qualms though as she closed the remaining distance and slid her arms around Emily's waist, resting her hands in the small of her lover's back as she pulled her gently closer. Emily closed her eyes and melted into the embrace.

"I brought pizza," JJ whispered into a nearby ear and smiled at the resulting groan emitted by a famished Emily.

"Bosco with sausage, pepperoni, and extra mushrooms?" she asked hopefully. Pizzaria Paradiso made the best pizza in the city as far as Emily was concerned.

"That'd be the one."

Opening her eyes, Emily visibly grimaced at the number of boxes that needed to be dealt with. "What about all these boxes?"

JJ eased out of the hug and took a small step backward, pleased that her heel hadn't bumped into one of the storage boxes. "They're not going anywhere."


"But nothing. You need to eat."

"I'll never get them all put away before mother's arrival on Sunday," said Emily in an uncharacteristic whine. To her, it appeared that the boxes had somehow replicated themselves.

"Leave that to me. We'll have them stored and out of the way in plenty of time." JJ smiled and took hold of Emily's hand, carefully navigating them both through the maze of cardboard.

Emily stayed silent and obediently followed. She was too exhausted to ask exactly how and where JJ planned to store them all.


Chapter 4

"Damn, Prentiss. Whatcha pack in this one? Rocks?" Morgan gripped the box tighter and struggled to make it down the last few steps without losing his cargo.

"Careful, my delicious hunk of burning love, we can't have you pulling something of extreme importance," said Garcia, hurrying over to stand at the base of the stairs, but she was only there to direct Morgan to the proper stack of boxes he needed to head toward. The moment she'd arrived at Emily's apartment, she'd taken on the role of supervisor, making it abundantly clear to everyone that, in the technical world, her hands were akin to that of a surgeon, highly skilled and always at the ready, and she simply couldn't risk injuring them in any way. They'd all wholeheartedly agreed with her assessment even though each of them knew the true reason for her self-appointed task: Garcia wasn't about to chance breaking a nail.

Morgan grunted as he eased the box next to its counterparts and took a quick inventory of his progress. "I've got a question." He stood to his full height and made a show of rubbing his lower back as he gestured toward the stairs. "How come Reid only manages to bring down one box to my three?"

Carrying one of the very few smaller boxes, JJ placed it on top of the one Morgan had just set down on the already crowded floor of the entryway. "Probably because he gets sidetracked so easily. After he found that box filled with ancient maps and scrolls Emily's father had given her, he keeps trying to sneak a peek inside all of them."

"Hey, I resemble that remark!" said Reid, his voice cracking slightly. He offered up a boyish grin as he crossed the room with an oddly shaped lamp tucked under one arm and a small rolled up rug-like item under the other. "I found these tucked away behind the last of the boxes." He shifted the base of the lamp onto his hip and slipped his hand up its 'calf.' It wasn't as exciting as the maps he'd found, but he was certain the story behind the items would be just as interesting.

"Oh… fra-gee-lay!" Garcia exclaimed as she hurried to Reid's side and ran her hand slowly up the lamp's shapely shaft, before moving it up to finger the black fringe. "Wow, even the shade's the same."

"An old college friend's joke for a housewarming gift," Emily explained, glancing worriedly at the wall mural clutched beneath Reid's other arm. She was inordinately pleased to see the light cord still tied around its backing keeping in rolled up tight. It wouldn't be quite so easy to explain away what the hidden side of the mural depicted.

"You know, if you want to get rid of this gift, I'll take it off your hands." Garcia had been oohing and ahhing over the lamp since she'd first spied its high-heeled base.

Emily readied to take the technical analyst up on her offer when she suddenly realized she could kill two birds with one stone. She grinned.

"Actually, you can have the mural, too."

"Great! Reid can put them in my car while we wait for Hotch and Rossi to get here. Then we can load everything up to take to JJ's." A grin formed on Garcia's face at the thought of the two men meeting up with her friend, Terrence. "I bet ol' Terry is going to give Hotch and Rossi a hard time."

"How come?" asked Reid as he balanced Garcia's newly acquired lamp on top of one of the nearby boxes. He shifted the mural and almost lost his grip on the material, much to Emily's dismay, but she blew out a sigh of relief when he resettled the wall mural against his side. If he'd have dropped it and the tie had broken, it would have been Emily on the receiving end of a hard time, courtesy of her colleagues, once they'd pried their jaw from its locked and frozen position at seeing two lovers - two women - lying together naked and entwined around each other so tightly it was difficult to tell where one started and the other ended. Their resemblance to Emily and JJ was almost frightening.

Garcia's next words drew Emily's full attention back to the here and now. "Think about it… two attractive men showing up to rent a U-Haul? Terry's probably going to say something about them suffering from a gender identity disorder and then ask how long they've been together."

Morgan's roar of laughter was accompanied by Emily's rich-filled tone and JJ's quiet chuckle, while Reid frowned in confusion. Garcia shook her head and tsked out loud as she moved over and put her arm around the genius' shoulder, explaining the joke in the simplest of terms.

Leaning against the kitchen bar, JJ listened to the easy banter of her friends and smiled. This had been the best idea she'd ever had and just exactly what Emily had needed.

Several paintings of subdued tones and serene landscapes - some with trees, some with water, and some with both – hung on cream-colored walls of a private waiting area. Emily stared across at a picture of an old windmill, its tall tower and vanes tarnished with age, set against a backdrop of willow trees, their branches shown at the peak of a swaying motion, courtesy of an unseen breeze that had gently lifted the heavy limbs usually weighted down with greenery. It was a perfect representation of how she felt at the moment, as if there was some unseen force at her back, pushing against her, keeping her off-balance and threatening to topple her over at any minute.

Their ride to the National Cancer Institute had been an interesting one to say the least. The security measures had been impressive, but at the same time, Emily had been completely put off with not being able to go from point A to point B without having to present proper paperwork or pass an armed guard. She understood the need for such precautions to ensure the safety of some of the more important clientele the nearby National Institute of Health served as well as the need to protect world renowned research that was taking place in and around the NCI, the NIH, and the surrounding naval facilities. But due to the current circumstance for her visit to the institute, she wished for an easier time for her mother. It was difficult enough having to worry about acceptance into a clinical trial and, subsequently wondering if the procedure would work its miracle, without having to be subjected to constant scrutiny by various security teams at the many, many checkpoints. At least they'd been directed to a private waiting area once the Ambassador's status had been formally entered into the system's computer.

"I can't believe I forgot my readers," grumbled Elizabeth quietly as she squinted to read the lines on the first of the forms she'd been handed to complete by the registration nurse. Her uncharacteristic gripe immediately caught Emily's attention, and she wasn't certain what surprised her the most: Elizabeth's acknowledgement of her forgetfulness, Elizabeth admitting that she actually needed glasses, or that her mother had spoken at all as she'd not said more than two words since they'd left Emily's apartment.

"Need some help?" asked Emily softly, adding a smile to her offer and hoping her mother would allow her to do something to help. The Ambassador had refused her daughter's assistance when stepping into or out of the Metro train – a mode of transportation made necessary because of the strict requirements for those individuals actually allowed to travel to the facilities in their own vehicles - as well as climbing in and out of the shuttle bus that had taken them directly to the doors of the NCI. She'd tempered her refusals, however, with the assurance that she'd be relying on Emily soon enough.

"I don't suppose you have a pair in your purse." Elizabeth glanced at her daughter and sighed tiredly. "Here." Thrusting the clipboard in Emily's direction, she reached inside her purse to retrieve two neatly folded sheets of paper, one nestled inside the other. "Insurance information and significant dates, names, and places can be found here. Ask me if you can't find something." She barely waited for Emily to take the items from her before she leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes. She was already exhausted and silently wondered if she was physically up to all the tests she'd have to endure in the next several days.

The truth of the matter was she didn't have much of a choice; the clinical trial wouldn't wait until she was able to regain some of her strength weakened by her latest chemo round, chemo that had been cut short when it had been discovered that it wasn't working properly. The time had finally come for more drastic measures.

Emily looked down at the clipboard and papers in her hands and then snuck a quick peek at her mother who, by all appearances, had already fallen into a light doze. Balancing the clipboard on her lap, Emily carefully unfolded the crisp white vellum paper and noted her mother's flawless handwritten print on the top sheet. She turned her attention to the information itself and was just able to control the threat of tears and sudden wave of nausea that swept through her when the chronological list of various surgery and chemotherapy dates swam into view. She knew there would be more of the same when she flipped to the second page.

This was going to be much harder than she'd originally thought.


"Four men killed within days of each other, all members of the same fraternity in college, all returned to their home town of Henderson to start their lives, and now, all minus their left ear," said JJ, arms laden with files as she headed toward the conference room with Garcia matching her stride for stride.

The techno-goddess unconsciously rubbed her left ear. "Yeow, I'm not even going to ask if the removal was made while they were still alive." She hurried ahead of JJ and opened the door for her friend. "But still, I was hoping for something closer to home."

JJ sighed. "Yeah, me, too." Even though it was highly unlikely that she'd be able to see Emily face-to-face during the week, it was a comfort to know that she was just a short drive away should her lover need her for anything, and she was fairly certain it was just as comforting to Emily as well. Now, they'd both have to settle for knowing the other was a phone call away.

"Maybe it'll be a cut-and-dried case, and you'll be back in a day or two," offered Garcia in sympathy. When she'd first heard about the Ambassador's illness, she'd been worried about more than just the health of Emily's mother, although she'd prayed to every goddess she could possibly think of that the woman would beat her cancer and live for years and years to come. However, she couldn't help but concentrate most of her worry on her two friends. She'd known more than one relationship that had fallen apart from the stress caused by situations far less complicated than the one Emily and JJ had been thrust into.

"From your mouth to God's ears," said JJ, placing files down on the conference table as she made her way around the various chairs. She hesitated beside Emily's briefly but moved on to Morgan's. She hadn't noticed the face Garcia had pulled at her choice of words.

"Eww, JJ, please… no ear jokes."

"Someone say something about ears?" asked Reid, crossing the room and taking his usual seat. He opened the file and gazed down at a photo of the latest victim. "Ah," was all he said as he shook his head in understanding, his mind already beginning to search for a theory. "I wonder what significance the victims' ears hold for this Unsub?"

His rhetorical question went unanswered as Morgan strolled into the room and gave a toothy smile to Garcia. "You coming along this time, Baby Girl? JJ will probably let you bunk with her." He winked teasingly. "Unless you'd prefer to room with someone else."

Before the queen of come-backs could offer a sassy reply – one that involved the potential of girl-on-girl action – Hotch entered the room, his usual business-like expression in place. Rossi walked in seconds behind their boss.

"What've you got, JJ?" asked Hotch, reaching for a file, flipping it open, and looking at the first few photos. He glanced up at the team's liaison and tilted his head in question.

"Oh, right, sorry," apologized JJ as she turned toward the front of the room and pushed a few buttons on the remote she held in her hand. The faces of the victims, minus their left ears, came into full view on the large media screen.

"Henderson, Nevada has a real problem on their hands…"


Chapter 5

Emily peeked around the doorframe of her spare bedroom, her eyes taking in the still form that lay on top of the coral beach paisley comforter of the queen size bed. She concentrated her focus on Elizabeth's midline, watching closely as it slowly rose and fell, before she moved her eyes upward, purposely averting her mother's chest, to settle on the pale skin of the other woman's face. This was the first time Emily had been able to study her mother in an unguarded manner, and she finally allowed her gaze to move to the one area she'd been consciously avoiding since she'd been told of the cancer, the area where the disease had focused its initial attack.

Never one who'd been well-endowed, Elizabeth had chosen not to undergo the cosmetic reconstructive surgery that had been offered to her when she'd had her radical mastectomies. She'd told Emily that she couldn't very well miss what she'd never really had and had then moved on to discuss the phase three clinical trial she hoped to gain acceptance into. Emily had tried to listen carefully to the specifics of the trial, but she just couldn't get past the idea that her mother had completely disregarded one of the main areas she'd always stressed – appearance was everything.

Releasing a shaky breath, Emily stared at the smooth silky fabric of her mother's robe, specifically the trimmed piping that extended from the neckline to… A soft gasp escaped and was quickly stifled by Emily's fist. She didn't need to see the skin underneath the designer robe to know what she'd find; she didn't have to see more of the visible scars to know they were etched deeply into the skin; her mother had been to hell and back without anyone along to fight the battle with her. Never again though, Emily vowed, never again.

Emily suddenly jumped and moved back into the hallway, reaching into her pocket for her cell that she'd set on vibrate. Moving toward her bedroom, she flipped the phone open and put it to her ear as she eased the door closed behind her.

"Hey, I got your text. Nevada, huh?" Emily walked over to her bed, sat on its edge, and slipped her shoes from her feet as she listened to JJ outline the details of their latest case. Reaching toward the headboard, she pulled a pillow free and leaned back onto the mattress, placing the pillow under her head and sighing in relief. She hadn't realized how truly tired she was until now.

"That's a new one. Does anyone have any idea why he takes their ears?" Emily closed her eyes as she listened to JJ explain Reid's theory of how, in ancient times, the Chinese cut off the left ears of animals or enemies as evidence to get rewards.

Opening her eyes, Emily wrinkled her brow and stared up at the ceiling. "Rewards? Whatever for?"

The rich tones in her ear calmed Emily, despite the nature of her lover's words. Not many people would find comfort in hearing about the horrible acts of a serial killer, but Emily didn't actually listen so much to the words as to the sound of JJ's voice. She knew it would soon be her turn to relay the events of her day, and she wasn't sure if she'd be able to report a single detail. For now though, she'd just lay back and lose herself in JJ's soothing voice.

Fifteen minutes later, however, JJ finally asked how things were going.

"You can't believe how difficult it is to get inside the facility," Emily shook her head in memory of the tight security. "And I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I wish mother had a higher government position. They fly the bigwigs in on a helicopter. When Chief Justice Rehnquist was being treated, he chose to drive in and was allowed two vehicles to escort his own. All cars entering the premises have to have prior permission and are then x-rayed and carefully inspected, even the shuttle buses. You'd have to see it to believe it."

Emily's earlier fears were unfounded as JJ's timely replies and reassurances coaxed her through the recap of her first day, from the initial meeting with the doctors to the trek across to the NIH for blood work. The major tests would begin the next day, and Emily expressed her gratitude that they'd all be housed in the same building. She opened up to JJ about everything with the exception of what JJ had interrupted with her call. Emily still needed more time to process and accept everything her mother had gone through prior to today.

The two women exchanged a bit more conversation until JJ realized the time difference and forced Emily to say goodnight, promising to call again the next evening. Emily grudgingly agreed but made JJ end the call first. Staring at the lighted display until it went dark, she finally flipped her phone closed.

Lying perfectly still, she clutched her cell phone tightly in her fist and held it close to her heart. Tomorrow would arrive far too soon.

A distant sound grew closer and closer as a hand reached out from under the covers and snagged a ringing cell phone that lay on a nearby nightstand. A second hand moved to the edge of a hot pink sleep mask and lifted one corner just high enough for a dark eye to blink several times before focusing on the digital red markings of a bedside clock: 1:00 with a small dot in the left corner indicating a.m.

Garcia silenced Elvis' A Big Hunk o'Love with a flick of her wrist, pulled her mask free, and pushed herself to a sitting position against her headboard. "Hi, sexy, you've reached the one-on-one fantasy line. Limber Linda speaking. What can I do you for?"

"Penelope?" asked JJ, yanking the phone away from her ear to check the number she'd just punched in. Garcia's cell number glared back at her.

"JJ?" squeaked Garcia, unknowingly mirroring her friend by sneaking a peek at the caller ID. Morgan's name assured her that she hadn't been dreaming about Elvis after all. "What are you doing calling on Morgan's phone?"

"Um, my battery didn't have enough of a charge, so I borrowed his."

Garcia frowned. "You never let your…" A light went off and almost blinded Garcia with its brilliance. "Ah, talked too long to Emily, huh?" If the proverbial light hadn't already cast such a bright glow, Garcia's smile would've lit the room.

"Yeah," JJ admitted, her cheeks coloring slightly. "Listen, I know it's late there, and I promise to tell you everything when we have more time. I was wondering if you could do me a favor."

"Your genie awaits your command, oh blonde one."

JJ paused to state the obvious. "Garcia, you're blonde, too."

"The better to serve you, my dear. Besides, who knows what hair color I'll be donning upon your return," quipped Garcia, well aware of the bottle of Comb-In Hair Color, the pink highlight variety that currently sat on her bathroom vanity.

Chuckling, JJ moved her focus back to the favor at hand. "There's a key in the top left-hand drawer of my office desk."

"And it goes to?"

"Emily's apartment; I'd like for you to pick up a few things and deliver them, if possible."

"Sneaky, I like that." Garcia grinned widely and switched on her bedside lamp. "Hang on a sec." She rummaged around in the drawer of her nightstand until she found the items she'd sought out. Resettling against her headboard, she balanced a pen over a small notepad. "Okay, shoot."

"You truly are a goddess, Garcia. Here's what I need…"

Emily didn't normally fidget. It was yet another in a very long line of bad habits her mother didn't appreciate. But her mother wasn't here now; she'd been called back for her CT scan and had asked Emily to stay behind. So, Emily chose to use her time wisely – she fidgeted while she could. After all, her mother was to blame for her sudden bout of restlessness. Emily had absolutely no idea how to react to the other woman's swinging moods.

One minute, Elizabeth had been her usual 'show no emotion' self, and the next, she'd make a comment that could easily be construed as humor. Only Elizabeth didn't do humor.

Take their arrival for the CT scan, for instance. Emily had taken a seat on a couch in the corner of the room and waited for her mother to join her after checking-in with the front desk. Elizabeth had exhaled audibly when she'd sat down, white Styrofoam cup in hand, and Emily had asked if there was something she could do.

Elizabeth had turned toward her daughter and extended the cup toward Emily. "You can drink this white pasty stuff and then go do my CT for me," she'd said, completely straight-faced. Emily had stared down at the milkshake-looking concoction, uncertain as to how to answer her mother's offer and hoping it was rhetorical in nature.

Of course, it had been. Elizabeth had shrugged and leaned back in her chair, sipping on the barium contrast as if it was a martini.

And then, when the nurse had called out her name, Elizabeth had slowly pushed to her feet, but not before reaching over to touch Emily's hand, a gesture that clearly hadn't been accidental despite the obvious avoidance of eye contact by the older woman. By the time Emily had glanced down at where her mother had touched her, Elizabeth had already started across the room, only looking back to instruct her daughter to wait behind. There was no sign whatsoever from the Ambassador that she'd done anything different than usual, as if she'd made physical contact with her daughter every day. Emily had hoped her own expression hadn't shown anything to the contrary.

Fidgeting some more, Emily unconsciously rubbed the back of her hand in an attempt to relive the brief moment, but it wasn't quite the same, just as it hadn't been when she was younger and used to close her eyes and pretend her mother had taken her hand and promised that whatever the latest catastrophe that had befallen her would soon pass. That everything would be okay.

Emily instantly stilled and leaned her head against the wall, closing her eyes.

Everything just had to be okay.


Chapter 6

"Agent Jareau."

JJ spoke into her phone without bothering to check the identity of the caller as she hurried up the steps to the police station. The local authorities had received a complaint, by one of the city's residents, of loud yelling and screaming coming from an abandoned house on the outskirts of town. The citizen had sustained a flat on a long stretch of road miles outside the city limits and had heard the sounds when he was changing his tire. He'd been aware of the recent slayings and chose not to investigate, calling the authorities to report the incident instead.

"Oh, hey Garcia. I think we may have caught a break in the case."

"That's great, JJ. I was just calling to let you know that Operation Break-In went off without a hitch," reported Garcia, not missing a beat as her hands flew across her keyboard, finding the report of the complaint JJ had just spoken of and pulling it up on her screen. "Whoever said a flat tire isn't good luck has never lived in Henderson, Nevada when some crazed idiot is going around killing people and cutting off their left ears."

"We're not sure it's him yet. The guys are surrounding the place along with the locals. I just hope they aren't too late," said JJ, crossing the wooden floor of the precinct and heading toward a back room that had been set up for their operation. "The last of the city's fraternity brothers went missing last night. He ditched his detail to go out drinking."

Garcia tsked out loud. "I pegged that guy perfectly, didn't I? Darren Chalmers, idiot extraordinaire."

"Yeah, well let's just hope he isn't a dead idiot," said JJ, picking up a photo of the idiot in question. He could easily have passed for the poster child of 'Arrogant Assholes of the Universe.' "He's our only hope of catching the Unsub, especially with all the other members of the fraternity, who live elsewhere, having rock solid alibis. I still think he knows something; he's been acting kind of…" A soft beep sounded in JJ's ear and interrupted her train of thought. "Hang on, Garcia; I've got another call."

JJ hurriedly pressed SEND and returned the phone to her ear. "Jareau... Hey, Reid... you bringing him here?... okay, I'll tell her." Within seconds, JJ had Garcia back on the line.

"Garcia, you were completely wrong about the case being cut-and-dried, but you were definitely right about it only taking a day or two." JJ smiled. "They got him."

Emily shoved her key into the lock and quickly opened the door for her mother to enter the apartment ahead of her. Elizabeth had returned to her stubborn mode toward the end of the day and had refused assistance from Emily, insisting she could walk on her own two feet, even though she'd had to stop occasionally to steady her balance. Simply put, Emily hadn't felt the need to fidget since her time in the CT waiting room.

"I told you. I'm not hungry," said Elizabeth as she stepped into the foyer, exhaustion evident in her features. The thought of solid food made her stomach ache even worse than it had when she'd ingested the barium for her scan.

"You've got to eat something. You're too weak, Mother; you need to keep your strength up if you're going to make it through the rest of the week." Emily closed and locked the door, ready to start round three with her mother.

Passing through the foyer, she stopped dead in her tracks beside her kitchen and took in the scene before her: Elizabeth was sitting in the middle of the sofa, completely still, and staring down at a clear vase filled with perfectly arranged white Calla lilies that stood, tall and majestic, in the center of the glass coffee table.

"I love Calla lilies," whispered Elizabeth in a reverent tone and so softly Emily barely heard her words. She'd known, of course, that Calla lilies were her mother's favorite. When Emily had been just six years old, she'd been the one who'd talked her father into buying white Calla lilies in lieu of the usual yellow roses he always sent on Elizabeth's birthday. She remembered vividly the smile that had graced her mother's face when she'd first spied the vase of flowers sitting on the dining room table; it had been the only time she could ever remember seeing her mother truly pleased and happy. From that moment on, Calla lilies had become Emily's favorite, too.

Taking a step forward, Emily caught sight of a small white envelope near the edge of the bar, an envelope that hadn't been there when she and her mother had left earlier in the day. She immediately recognized the bold strokes of Garcia's handwriting that had splashed her name across its front, and she reached out, easily sliding the insert free from its confines.


Don't shoot the messenger…

I'm just following orders. :)

Vegetable soup is in the refrigerator

Pasta salad, too.

Freshly baked French bread can be found

next to the fridge.


Emily glanced over at the kitchen counter and spied a long, narrow white bag. She knew if she moved closer she'd be able to read the name of the nearby deli she and JJ frequented. With a smile, she dropped Garcia's note back onto the bar and walked over to the couch. She kept her tone light and easy.

"How about some vegetable soup?"

Elizabeth tilted her head and sighed softly, never taking her eyes off the gorgeous arrangement in front of her. She slowly began to relax into the sofa cushions, a slight smile forming in the corners of her mouth.

"Soup sounds divine."

A grin split Emily's face as she turned back toward the kitchen. She owed JJ big time and looked forward to paying her debt in full.

"If one of them had only said something, given us something to go on, instead of sticking to their stupid fraternity oath, the last few murders could've been avoided." JJ placed another set of files inside a brown cardboard box. "Five deaths, all senseless."

"According to Chalmers, he and his frat buddies thought they'd be charged with murder. They had no idea Jonathon Matthews had survived his fall years before." Reid understood the victims fear to a certain degree, but after the second murder, he'd have thought the former fraternity brothers would've taken their chances in court, especially with a lesser charge of attempted murder.

Morgan hefted two of the boxes onto the same scarred wooden desk they'd sat around when they'd been focused on motive and possible suspects. "I just wish Matthews had trusted the justice system instead of allowing his anger to fester. Vengeance is never the answer."

JJ continued to pack up the last of the boxes in silence. There really wasn't anything left to say. Chalmers and his fraternity brothers had allowed their fears and prejudices to guide them into violence during spring break of their senior year, and now, four years later, the violence had been returned. Only Matthews made certain his victims had actually died.

"Wheels up in half an hour. Rossi and I will finish up here," said Hotch, striding purposefully into the room and taking the files from JJ. "You three need to get your things from the hotel."

"Did Chalmers say anything?" asked JJ, easing her purse strap from the back of a chair and slipping it over her shoulder.

"Just that they should've made sure Matthews was really dead before they cut off his ear." Hotch shook his head at the man's cold nature. Chalmers was just as guilty as Matthews. His arrogance had cost him his own ear and something much worse – the lives of his friends.

Emily sat in a chair next to her mother's bed and longed for the safety of the waiting room. She took back all the times in the past two days when she'd wished to be alongside her mother instead of sitting outside, far away from the current procedure being performed, feeling completely useless. Useless was looking very good to her right now.

Her eyes wandered, once again, to the machines set up on the other side of Elizabeth, each attached to a small tube leading to and from her mother's arms, left and right respectively. Emily tried not to look at the liquid being collected, but she was drawn to the odd pinkish substance being stored into a large collection bag. It was hard for her to fathom that what she was seeing had actually come for her mother's blood; plasma or platelets or blood cells, she wasn't exactly certain. She just knew she was no longer interested in learning how the apheresis process worked.

A shiver coursed through Elizabeth, and Emily stood quickly and moved to her mother's side, reaching a hand out but pulling back at the last second. She looked over at the nurse who seemed to be watching her curiously.

"Mother, are you okay?"

Elizabeth shivered again and looked up at Emily. "Cold," she managed to push through gritted teeth, making Emily wonder just how much discomfort her mother had been experiencing while Emily was wishing to be somewhere other than the small room that appeared to be growing even smaller by the second.

"There are some heated blankets in that cabinet over there," informed the nurse, pointing at a steel container set against the wall. She rose to her feet and moved to check the tubing that pumped blood to and from the machines, seemingly satisfied that everything seemed to be in working order. With a quick glance at the monitors recording Elizabeth's vitals, she started for the door. "I'll be right back. Use the call button if there's a problem."

Removing a warm blanket from the cabinet, Emily just nodded at the departing woman and returned to her mother side, gently placing the cover on Elizabeth's feet and easing it up the other woman's small frame, taking care not to jostle the tubing. She tucked the edges under her mother's shoulders.

"There; that better?"

Elizabeth stared up at her daughter and took a deep breath as if to say something, but she exhaled the necessary air instead as if that had been her intention all along. Her eyes betrayed her though. It was obvious that she had something she wanted to say, but it was equally obvious that an internal struggle was keeping her from doing so.

Emily stood her ground and pretended to fiddle with the blanket until her mother swallowed her stubborn pride and just spoke whatever was on her mind. Neither of them was going anywhere anytime soon; they still had two hours before the process would be complete.

"Um," stuttered Elizabeth uncharacteristically, her teeth chattering slightly. She hoped Emily would believe her inability to form a proper sentence was due solely to the chill that had taken over her body and not because she absolutely had no desire to voice her question for help. But she had no choice; she couldn't stand it any longer. "I was told that I couldn't move."

"I know." Emily nodded. "I was here when they hooked you up."

"Well, um…" Elizabeth really, really hated not being able to move right now, almost as much as she hated the irritating stutter than had suddenly struck her. "Do you think… ," she paused and wrinkled her nose, almost bunny-like, a couple of times. Emily noted the rather odd gesture and was suddenly filled with understanding.

"You want me to scratch your nose?" She bit down on the grin that threatened to escape and kept her face as expressionless as she possibly could. It was a good thing, too, as Elizabeth seemed to be searching her daughter's face for any sign of derision. There was none to be found.

"Yes, please," relented Elizabeth, closing her eyes and trying to stay as still as possible when all she wanted to do was lift her head closer to Emily. The damn itch had been driving her crazy for the past half hour.

Reaching over, Emily used only the pad of her index finger as she ran it lightly up and down her mother's nose. Elizabeth smiled in relief.

And so did Emily.


Chapter 7

"All because he sketched the guy nude?"

Sitting on her sofa, dressed in a green short-sleeved shirt and grey lightweight sweat pants, Emily extended her legs and rested her sock-covered feet on the edge of her coffee table as she sipped her favorite cabernet. Her mother had gone to bed an hour earlier, leaving Emily to her own devices. She'd straightened up the downstairs area and waited until she was certain Elizabeth had settled into bed before she'd poured herself a glass of wine, picked up her cell to call her lover, and sprawled out comfortably on the couch.

"Well, Chalmers didn't exactly pose that way, and he wasn't the only subject of the sketch. Matthews drew the entire group of them in rather compromising positions – all kneeling around a naked Chalmers, um…" JJ paused, searching for just the right words, "… waiting for their turn."

"Whatever possessed him to draw them like that?" Emily couldn't quite wrap her brain around any part of the strange case – past or present.

"They'd been harassing him all week whenever they'd passed him on the seawall with Chalmers leading the taunts. So, Matthews offered to sketch him for free, providing the group left him alone. They were hurting his little side business of sketching tourists."

"Ah," Emily said, starting to get the picture. "I understand his motivation but did he really think they'd leave him alone after that stunt?"

"I'm not actually sure what he was thinking," replied JJ, figuring Matthews had wondered the same thing. "Chalmers started toward him, and Matthews took off running along the seawall. He came to a dead end and stepped up on the wall."

"He fell?"

"Nope, Chalmers pushed him. It's really a miracle that Matthews survived the fall; he landed on a small grassy patch surrounded by jagged rocks."

"Why didn't Chalmers and his friends just leave him there? Run away from the scene?" asked Emily, wondering what possessed the fraternity brothers to climb down the seawall and cut off Matthews' ear.

"Idiots?" answered JJ, having already reached the same conclusion very early in the investigation. "Who knows? For some reason, Chalmers talked two of his frat buddies into scaling down the wall to check on Matthews, while the others stayed up top to dispose of Matthews' art supplies. They got to the body and thought he was dead. That's when Jason Carter, the first victim, got the bright idea of cutting off Matthews' ear – a la Van Gogh."

"Ah, poor tortured painter goes mad, cuts off ear, and jumps off seawall?" Emily easily surmised the flawed plan of Chalmers and company.

"That's what they were hoping."

"Didn't they realize the police would figure out that the ear had been cut off after the fall?"

"No, their reasoning skills were severely hampered by the alcohol they'd consumed earlier. And their fearless leader, Chalmers, isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed on the best of days," explained JJ, having firsthand knowledge of just how little snap Chalmers had at his disposal. She figured he'd made it as far as he had on his looks and arrogance alone. "Anyway, Matthews suffered amnesia in the fall, and police suspected a mugging gone horribly wrong. Three years later, Matthews came to Henderson for an art show and saw Chalmers on the street. It all came rushing back to him, and he began to plan his revenge. Having the others in the same city made it that much easier."

"There's something to be said for fate, I guess, even when it takes a turn for the worst." Emily sighed and rearranged her feet on the table's edge, careful not to accidentally dislodge the vase of Calla lilies. The beautiful floral arrangement caused her to smile and the Matthews case was instantly forgotten. "Oh, the flowers and food were perfect, JJ, and couldn't have come at a better time."

"I figured you might have a tough day and thought they'd brighten things up." The smile in JJ's voice could easily be detected on Emily's end.

"They certainly did," said Emily, leaning her head back against the cushions and staring up at the ceiling. If she was this tired, she couldn't imagine how her mother had managed to make it up the stairs. "I don't think I'd have succeeded in getting mother to eat anything. The soup was a nice touch, but the flowers are what really did the trick."

"Good, I'm glad they helped," replied JJ, pleased to know that her gesture had been well-received, even if she had been an accessory to breaking and entering. Well, the entering part anyway. It did help to somewhat assuage the guilt she'd felt at breaking her promise to Emily. "Sorry I didn't call last night. We had a slight delay taking off and then I got caught up at the office, finishing up paperwork. It was after midnight when I finally got home and I knew you had a long day ahead of you, and well, you know," she said apologetically, the cadence of her speech increasing in pace with each passing word, before tapering off into silence.

Emily smiled around the rim of her wine glass. JJ was so cute when she was slightly flustered, especially when she had no reason to be.

"Yeah, I do know, besides, I got your text; I knew you were busy," Emily reassured as she took another sip of her wine and closed her eyes, savoring the sweet flavor of fruit as it burst across her tongue and anxiously awaiting the toasty oak and vanilla finish. As always, she struggled to keep her mind free of any comparisons to yet another extremely enjoyable palatable experience.

Completely unaware of Emily's private battle or that she played a starring role in her lover's current thoughts, JJ softened her voice, unconsciously mirroring a tone she regularly used in the bedroom. "I miss you."

Emily, even in her present state, hadn't seemed to notice the way JJ had said the words; it was the words themselves that caught and held her attention. Tears she'd been keeping at bay since the day her mother had first shown up at Quantico to reveal all sprang to her eyes at the three simple words that had been spoken with what she knew to be utmost sincerity. JJ never said anything she didn't mean.

Swallowing hard, Emily hoped her voice wouldn't appear to sound as emotional as she felt. JJ's confession deserved an immediate answer, and Emily wasn't about to disappoint her lover.

"I miss you, too, JJ."

Emily had failed miserably. Her tone had relayed a plethora of conflicted emotions she'd believed to be safely locked away in her many compartments: longing, pain, happiness, hope, fear, loneliness, frustration, but most of all, love.

Near the top of the stairs and out of Emily's line of sight, a slender, bare foot paused on the third step and slowly withdrew backward as the robe-clad figure silently retreated to the second floor landing and returned to her bedroom.

"So no warrants issued for our arrest?" Garcia held the door open for JJ to pass through and quickly caught up to her friend just inside the lobby of the FBI building that served as home to the BAU.

"No," said JJ with a smile. "Operation Break-In was a huge success."

"What did the Ambassador say when Emily explained how the items managed to find their way inside her apartment?"

Slowing her strides, JJ wrinkled her brow in thought. "You know, Emily never said anything about that. She just indicated that her mother enjoyed both."

"So, magic flowers and deli food?" Garcia shrugged, gripping the strap of her large colorful bag to keep it from sliding from her shoulder. "Works for me. Throw in some hottie waiting to service my every whim and wearing nothing but a smile, and I'm there."

A soft chuckle escaped JJ's lips at her friend's quick wit, although she often wondered how much truth there actually was behind Garcia's constant barrage of teasing remarks and comebacks, both in passing conversation and work-related exchanges. Would she ever really follow through if someone were to take her up on one of her flirting suggestions?

"I don't think the Ambassador would've approved of any hotties."

"You never know. It's the formal, reserved type of individuals that you have to look out for," said Garcia, turning the corner of the hallway that led to JJ's office.

JJ shook her head, certain of her assessment of Emily's mother. "No, not the Ambassador."

"If you say so," replied Garcia, holding out hope that the woman had them all fooled. "Speaking of, what's on tap for her today?"

Unlocking her office door, JJ stepped inside and moved around her desk, confident that Garcia had followed her into the room.

"PET scan." JJ picked up the first of many files she'd need to read through before the day's end and glanced up at her friend. "Emily really hates the waiting."

Fingers drummed softly on the underside of the arms of a worn leather chair, the motion constant and never missing a beat. Exactly as to what beat, Emily wasn't certain. She just knew that she'd returned to the 'wanting out of the waiting room and back at her mother's side' mode after only five minutes of being left alone, but apparently the PET scan was more of a solo kind of an act.

What was more troubling to her though was Elizabeth's return to monosyllabic replies, specifically 'yes' and 'no,' ever since she'd awakened that morning.

Emily had truly believed they'd been making progress, too. Nothing mind-blowing or anywhere near miraculous in nature, but progress nonetheless. Their conversations hadn't come close to evolving into what one might consider earth shattering or even normal on any level for two people who shared such a close blood relationship, but they'd managed to push past their usual short, and often stilted, word exchanges and had actually talked – really talked. Or at least, in Emily's mind they had.

First, it had been the specifics of the clinical trial Elizabeth hoped to be accepted into, and then they'd spoken briefly about how they'd manage the every few week's stay at Emily's apartment. Elizabeth had been adamant about wanting to disrupt her daughter's life as little as possible, and Emily had been equally adamant about wanting to be available should her mother need her. They'd compromised on waiting until they knew exactly what Elizabeth's schedule would be.

The natural progression had moved forward into areas they both loved and enjoyed: theatre, art, fine wine, and exquisite cuisine, and Emily had hoped, and actually expected, the two of them would slowly ease into topics that were more personal in nature and perhaps venture into a mother-daughter type of subject or two. Emily wasn't sure she'd recognize what would constitute the latter type of conversation, but she still held on to her dream that they were capable of such a talk.

Restless fingers instantly stilled at the thought that had begun to take root, clinging to her mind like wandering ivy to a crumbling ruin. She frowned, clearly puzzled, her eyes narrowing slightly and her forehead wrinkling as she contemplated the possibilities. What did mothers and daughters talk about?

The remainder of her wait sped by as Emily attempted to work out the question in her head, but her efforts proved fruitless. She hadn't managed to come up with a single idea as to an appropriate topic for her and her mother to discuss by the time she'd looked up to see Elizabeth standing in front of her, purse in hand, and obviously ready to leave the NIH for the day. Slightly flustered at being caught completely off guard, Emily quickly gathered her things and hurried to catch up with her mother, something she hadn't had to do the last few days. She had to wonder where Elizabeth's sudden surge of energy had come from.

And if Emily had thought her mother's terse replies before the PET scan had been bad, she soon discovered the non-response tactic afterward was much worse. Once they'd finally made it to Emily's car after their shuttle and Metro rides, Elizabeth merely nodded her head in agreement when Emily suggested that they stop on the way back to the apartment for a bite to eat, not even bothering to glance in her daughter's direction with her nonverbal reply. Emily just sighed and ran her fingers through her hair, resting her elbow on the edge of the car door near the window and leaning her head against her fist as she silently drove to a quaint Italian restaurant near her apartment. It was going to be a very long evening.


Chapter 8

Their arrival at Emily's apartment was eerily similar to the night they'd come home to find the Calla lilies and much welcomed food. The only thing missing was the word exchange they'd had concerning the need for Elizabeth to eat something to keep up her strength. Of course, that topic had been made moot this evening as both mother and daughter had eaten well after another long day at the hospital. No, the current problem was that there'd been no word exchange at all since Elizabeth had returned from her PET scan, except when she'd been forced to break her silence to relay her order to the waiter at the restaurant. The meal itself had been consumed with nary a word from either woman.

Flipping the locks on her door, Emily readied herself for more non-conversation with her mother and found that she looked forward to the time when Elizabeth decided to retire to bed. A tiny sliver of guilt ate at her for wishing away this rare and treasured time with her mother, but at the moment, she felt like she was the only one trying to communicate. Elizabeth no longer seemed interested, and Emily couldn't help but wonder if her mother's efforts during the week had only been made out of some misguided notion that she'd owed her daughter as much.

Emily tossed her keys on the bar and spared a glance over at the far cabinet, spying her wine glasses through the decorative etched glass insert. She longed to just crawl on her sofa and unwind with a glass of wine, but she'd noticed that Elizabeth hadn't ordered wine with dinner and had followed suit, figuring her mother's diet had restricted her from alcohol consumption. But that was then and this was now and Emily really needed a glass of wine. Or so she thought…

"I've been selfish," Elizabeth said softly, settled back into her familiar perch on the sofa as she stared blankly at the vase of lilies. Emily stood frozen, a few feet away, scared to move and possibly distract her mother from continuing. Her mind refused to stay in the moment, however, accelerating like a runaway rollercoaster and threatening to derail at every hairpin curve, each of which could easily have acted as a figurative representation of the many possibilities in which her mother was referring.

Emily knew deep down that the various moments of her life that had immediately sprung to her mind at hearing her mother's words hadn't actually constituted selfishness on her mother's part but had been more about priority. The Ambassador's job had always won out over all of the special times in Emily's life. And even knowing that, it hadn't made it any easier to accept, now or then.

Which curve would Elizabeth take?

"I could've stayed in a hotel near the naval base and hired a nurse. I just wanted…" she broke off her confession and focused on the white satiny blossoms of the lilies. Behind her, Emily took a tentative step forward and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

"You just wanted?" Emily finally said in a whispered tone, having inched closer and closer until she stood near the sofa table directly behind the couch. She made certain to stay out of her mother's direct line of sight, but she needn't have bothered as Elizabeth was intensely focused on the floral arrangement in front of her and would have never noticed Emily's approach.

As if hypnotized, Elizabeth leaned forward and reached out, slowly and reverently, to touch the nearest bloom, her hand shaking slightly in its effort. Emily wasn't sure if it was due to physical weakness or simply because her mother feared the delicate-looking flower would break apart at her touch. It seemed to have a hold on Elizabeth though, pushing her to finish her thought.

"I didn't want to go through this week with only the company of someone I'd hired. I wanted…" she hesitated again, pulling her hand back just as she'd been about to make contact with the lily, as if she weren't worthy of its flawless beauty. "I wanted you to be with me. This is it, Emily. If I'm not eligible for any of the clinical trials, I have nowhere else to turn. I didn't want to face that prospect alone." Her voice wavered slightly with her words.

Emily slowly exhaled the breath she'd been holding, one as shaky as her mother's hand had been, and used the tip of her tongue to moisten lips that had suddenly turned as dry as a withered field of corn stalks scorched by a summer sun after being denied the necessary water to make it flourish and grow. This hadn't been the curve she'd been expecting.

Elizabeth's candid honesty about her prospects seeped into Emily's brain and spread like a wildfire out of control. Even when her mother had first told her of the disease, even with the thoughts that had coursed through her mind when she'd thought Elizabeth had ignored the cancer and put her treatments on hold, and even knowing how deadly the disease truly was, not discriminating against anyone – rich or poor, young or old, famous or ordinary – Emily had never truly considered that it would take her mother. No, this situation was different. The Ambassador always found a way to come out on top of any problem that she faced.

"You'll be accepted, Mother," Emily said with as much conviction as she could muster. To consider the alternative was simply asking too much. It would go against everything she'd discovered about her mother's inner strength and dogged determination through the years, two attributes that had been reinforced time and time again. So to believe otherwise would mean Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss was fallible. A concept that was completely foreign to Emily.

Elizabeth shifted in her seat and angled her hips so that she could make eye contact with her daughter. She shook her head sadly. "You can't know that."

Emily swallowed the fear that had been lying in wait on the periphery, threatening to consume her. Like a distant thunderstorm looming on the horizon, the dark ominous clouds and loud rumbles of thunder edged closer and closer. She struggled to control it, to keep it locked inside its designated compartment, but she wasn't able to hide her anxiety from her usually calm and controlled tone.

"Look how far you've come."

Immediately picking up on the sudden change in Emily's voice, Elizabeth softened her own voice as if calming a small child. "People much stronger than me and that have gone so much further have still lost their battle, Em. Stem cell transplants, high dose radiation, and experimental chemo didn't do the job. The cancer still won."

"Yes, but…" Emily started to protest but cut off her words, realizing her argument was faulty. It was one that was based purely on her personal feelings. No science, no data, no breakthrough technology or medicine – just her belief that her mother wasn't like the others. In fact, her mother wasn't like anyone she'd ever known or – and, of this, Emily was absolutely certain – anyone that she'd ever meet. Struggling with her thoughts, she worked to come up with a proper reassurance.

Elizabeth watched Emily closely, noting that some things never changed no matter how old one might become. She clearly saw the fear and unease her daughter struggled to hide, much like Emily had done when she'd been younger, but she also saw something else in dark eyes that so closely resembled her own – a look of sheer determination tinged with a touch of what she'd hoped she'd find: a barely concealed stubbornness that Emily had perfected as a child. It was right then and there that all her previous doubts evaporated as quickly as rain dampened pavement on a blistering hot summer afternoon. She'd made the right choice believing in Emily.

Patting the cushion next to her, Elizabeth offered a slight smile. "I know what you're thinking, and you're absolutely correct. I'm not giving up. I'm fighting this disease to my very last breath. Now, come sit down and let's talk about tomorrow. We can discuss our options."

Emily hesitated momentarily before walking around the sofa and taking a seat beside her mother. She had no idea what tomorrow would bring or what their options were either, but she was damned certain of one thing: nothing would keep her from being at her mother's side for the rest of the fight.


Chapter 9

Darkness slowly edged over the horizon, enveloping the lingering rays of the fading sunset and leaving Emily hidden in the shadows cast off by the soft light of the street lamps that shone into her unlit apartment. She'd tucked Elizabeth away in the safety of her mother's car shortly after they'd returned from the NIH, while Stevens, the Ambassador's driver, had stowed the luggage in the trunk. The two women had kept their good-byes simple with Elizabeth promising to phone the next day. They were both just too emotionally drained to deal with a more effusive parting.

Balling her fists loosely, Emily placed them on the sofa cushions to either side of her and pushed to her feet. She crossed the short distance to the large picture window that looked out over the heart of DC and allowed her focus to take in the various buildings, one by one; the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and finally, the Capitol. Her gaze swept over the gorgeously serene view laid out before her and slowly returned to settle on the tall, obelisk monument that reached high into the heavens, the rhythmic blinking of a light near its top giving the illusion of a star that constantly faded in and out, refusing to extinguish into nothingness as if it was never there. She couldn't help but make a more personal correlation to the light's steady reserve to continue its silent battle, quietly but steadfastly staying its course.

Emily ran her hands briskly up and down her arms to calm the raised flesh that had suddenly come to life. Her mother's course had been charted today. All that was left to do was to navigate safely through the deep waters, some familiar and mapped out and some unknown and potentially treacherous. But at least Elizabeth would be allowed on-board and wouldn't have to stand on the shore and watch as others sailed away into undiscovered territory, each given another opportunity to continue their battles.

A very light tapping sound drew Emily's attention from the tranquil scene before her and caused her to turn toward the door. Another more solid knock and she left the historical buildings and her inner musings behind as she walked toward the foyer, switching on the den and entryway lights on her way to the door. She hadn't been expecting anyone until much later in the evening.

Peering through the peephole, she quickly pulled away and threw back the locks. "JJ?" she said, having yanked the door open and hurriedly stepping back to allow her lover entrance. "I thought you were working late."

JJ smiled and moved inside, a bottle of wine tucked under one arm, the handles of a brown paper bag clutched firmly in her opposite hand, and an overnight bag slung over her shoulder. "Surprise," she said, giving Emily a gentle peck on the lips. After the week they'd both had, it was well worth taking a chance that they might be seen. "Thought you might like a snack."

Pushing the door closed, Emily's thoughts moved in one direction, while her body followed another, instinctively turning to follow JJ into the kitchen. She watched with a decidedly dejected expression as her lover set the wine bottle on the dark granite countertop and removed crackers and Gouda cheese from inside the bag. It seemed their ideas of what constituted a snack varied drastically as Emily's mind had taken a completely different path and had ended somewhere near the gutter. Six days had seemed like an eternity to Emily.

"How'd you get away?" she asked, careful not to step on JJ's plaid-colored luggage that sat on the floor near her feet as she positioned herself at the end of the counter and placed her elbows down on its cool surface. Consoling herself with the knowledge that nourishment was a probably a good idea, too, Emily leaned forward and followed JJ's movements, keeping tabs on her lover as she made herself at home.

JJ certainly knew her way around Emily's kitchen. In a matter of minutes, she'd found a serving platter, silverware, wine glasses, a corkscrew, and even a cutting block made especially for cheeses, all without asking a single question. "I asked permission." She shrugged nonchalantly, a ghost of a smile forming in the corners of her mouth at the memory of Hotch's almost puzzled expression when she'd casually mentioned that she'd like to check on Emily and wondered if it would be okay if she came in a few hours the next day to finish up her paperwork.

Hotch hadn't responded immediately; he'd just stared across the expanse of his desk at his press liaison, a tiny wrinkle forming between his brows, as if he were contemplating whether to ask a question. Finally, he nodded his head in agreement, stating that it was probably a good idea for Emily to have someone to talk to. He'd already gone back to reading from another file by the time JJ had opened her mouth to ask if he was certain, and she quickly snapped her teeth together when she'd had a few seconds to think more clearly.

Without another word, she hurried from the room before Hotch could change his mind, only hesitating briefly when she'd climbed into her car. But that wasn't out of guilt or worry; it was to momentarily contemplate what she should bring to Emily's in the way of food and drink.

"You asked?" Emily's voice raised an octave, and she pushed down hard on the counter with her forearms, lifting herself into an upright position. Even though she was fairly certain the rest of the team – exclusive of Garcia who was already in the know - had figured out about her relationship with JJ, it wouldn't be very prudent of them to call attention to themselves should she be incorrect in her assessment. She'd just figured the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' motto had extended into their ranks as well.

JJ removed the cork from the wine with a smooth, practiced twist of her wrist and placed the bottle back on the counter as she walked over to her lover. "C'mon, let's go sit for a few minutes and let the wine breathe." She eased her hand into Emily's, their fingers interlacing naturally, and led the other woman to the sofa, waiting until they were both seated comfortably before starting in on the questions that had been brewing in her mind since their brief phone conversation earlier in the day.

"You said your mother qualified for one of the trials. Was it the one she'd hoped for?"

Emily was still a beat behind, trying to wrap her head around what Hotch might have been thinking when JJ had asked to leave early. She shook it gently to dislodge the worrisome thoughts and to concentrate on JJ instead. "Yeah, but just barely; she'll have only been off her chemo for the requisite amount of time on the very first day of her clinical trial. Otherwise, she would have been excluded."

"So, what's involved? What does she have to do?" JJ inched closer, needing the physical nearness as much as Emily did. It had been a very long week for both of them.

Emily exhaled tiredly just thinking about the work that lay ahead of her. "I've got to do lots of research. I truly don't understand it all, but it's something called angiogenesis inhibitor therapy."

"Sounds complicated." JJ scrunched up her face. She'd have to research, too, but she wasn't certain if she could even spell the treatment correctly to get a proper hit when she Googled.

"It has something to do with tumors not being able to grow or spread without the formation of new blood vessels. So, they're going to use natural and synthetic angiogenesis inhibitors in the hopes that the chemicals will prevent or slow down the growth of the cancer by blocking their formation. From what I understand, it might not necessarily kill the tumors, but it'll keep them stable. That's why it has to be administered over a long period of time."

Emily had apparently absorbed more information than she'd indicated, and JJ struggled to keep up. "Chemicals? As in?"

"A type of chemotherapy, I think. I'm not sure which one they'll use in mother's clinical trial." Emily had been taking copious notes when the doctors had been outlining the different possibilities, and she was sure she'd butchered the spelling of most of the chemo names. Phonics was all she had to go on.

"Must have been some kind of research genius to have come up with that idea."

Emily smiled at JJ's assumption; she'd thought the very same thing herself. "Actually it was a kid with a science project. He tried the idea out on a frog. Researchers took it a bit further."

"Wow, that's incredible." JJ thought back to her high school days of Biology, not able to come up with a single student in her class who'd been serious enough to think outside the box or, for a good number of them, inside the box, for that matter. "All the guys in my school were too busy trying to throw their frogs at the girls instead of concentrating on the science end of it."

Emily laughed out loud. She could easily imagine a frightened JJ screaming and running from the room as fast as her feet would take her. And for a soccer star, Emily imagined it would be very fast.

"So, no frogs and no woods for you, got it," teased Emily, recalling that her lover hadn't been very fond of wooded areas either.

"You better," JJ warned playfully, enjoying the way the two of them always managed to keep things light even when surrounded by serious issues and, oftentimes, horrific crime scenes on an almost daily basis.

"Think the wine's breathed enough?" Emily's voice had softened to a whisper, and she shifted toward JJ, moving her hand to rest on her lover's hip. She moved it gently back and forth over thick denim material.

Returning the favor, JJ upped the ante as she eased her leg over the top of Emily's until the two women's upper bodies were facing each other, mere inches from touching. JJ stared into eyes that had darkened with need. She felt sure that Emily would find a matching desire in her blue ones.

"Do you really have your heart set on a glass of wine?" JJ asked softly, adding an inviting smile to her already less-than cryptic invitation.

Emily's answer was to tug on JJ's hip, pulling her lover forward and closing the final distance between them. Their lips parted slightly and fitted together perfectly in a soft, sensuous kiss. Neither woman seemed in a hurry, both content to just enjoy the closeness and slowly stoke their desires.

Twin groans of frustration erupted at the sound of a shrill chirp from Emily's cell phone, and reluctantly pulling away, Emily slipped the phone from her pocket.

"Prentiss," she answered firmly, her unhappy tone very telling of her current mood.

"Emily? Did I interrupt something?" Elizabeth frowned on the other end of the line. She hated to bother her daughter, but her question simply couldn't wait until morning.

"Mother?" Emily sat up straighter and looked over at JJ, her expression of surprise twofold. First, and foremost, a look of deep concern as Elizabeth wasn't scheduled to call until the next day, and second, a decidedly nervous grimace similar to the one Emily had usually worn throughout her childhood whenever she'd been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, both literally and figuratively. "Is something wrong?"

"No, no… Well, maybe," said Elizabeth, reflexively reaching for her ear lobe. "I can't find my diamond earrings and wondered if I'd left them on the nightstand in your spare bedroom. If not, I need to call the NIH and see if there's any chance someone might have found them and perhaps turned them in."

Emily instantly relaxed at the knowledge that her mother was okay and more so that she was miles and miles away and hadn't been witness to her making out with JJ on the couch. "Um, let me go check, and I'll call you right back."

"Thanks, Emily. I'd really appreciate it."

"No problem. Give me just a minute." Flipping her cell closed, Emily turned to JJ and smiled. "I need to check the bedroom for mother's earrings. I'll be right back." With a light kiss to her lover's lips, Emily jumped to her feet and started for the stairs.

JJ watched until Emily's feet had disappeared from view, before leaving her comfortable position on the sofa and heading toward the kitchen. No sense wasting good wine and cheese.

Besides, they had all night to get properly reacquainted again.

Deep in thought, Elizabeth stared down at the telephone receiver still clutched tightly in her hand. The thick black plastic felt warm against her skin despite the fact that her phone conversation with Emily had been brief. It had been an exchange, however, that hadn't been at all like their usual phone calls. It hadn't been forced, and there hadn't been any true sign of hesitancy on either woman's part, except perhaps for Emily's surprise at hearing her mother's voice a day earlier than she'd expected. The conversation could easily have been described as normal by anyone's definition. It certainly was by Elizabeth's.

An incessant, irritating beeping sound finally made its way to her ear, and she realized that she'd been holding on to the receiver long enough for the phone company to have decided that she needed a reminder to hang up and had begun its programmed loud alarm-like noises that would be closely followed by a recorded voice asking if she needed assistance. Not needing any further reminders, she slipped the receiver back onto its cradle and turned her thoughts to the day's events.

She'd been scared, absolutely terrified now that she'd allowed herself to finally admit it. Her fate had depended on the results of her tests and the decisions made by a committee of doctors after having reviewed all aspects of her medical case. Elizabeth had known going in that there was always the distinct possibility that an unfavorable test result, or a wrong chemo taken at the wrong time, or even some unknown pre-existing condition would exclude her from any and perhaps all of the clinical trials offered by the NCI.

Emily, on the other hand, hadn't figured it out until halfway into their meeting with three of the doctors from the committee. Her slight intake of breath had been her tell-tale sign when it had been pointed out that her mother hadn't qualified for two of the trials because she'd already undergone several rounds of chemotherapy not allowed by their protocols.

Elizabeth had reflexively reached under the table where they'd sat, side-by-side, and had taken her daughter's hand. Emily had grabbed on tightly, but later, it would be Elizabeth who'd be grateful for the contact when the lead doctor announced that Elizabeth would begin the first week of the clinical trial she'd hoped for in just three weeks time. Had she not had a firm hold on Emily, Elizabeth had truly believed that she'd been in imminent danger of slipping from her chair, but in typical Ambassador Prentiss form, she'd simply smiled and thanked the doctors for their consideration.

From that moment on, everything had been a blur as there'd been forms to sign and appointments to schedule. Emily had stepped in and taken over, reading documents and pointing to where her mother should sign her name. The process had taken half the time, and Elizabeth had been extremely grateful to her daughter, making certain to thank Emily when they'd climbed into the shuttle. Elizabeth hadn't been able to recall a single time when she'd seen Emily smile so brightly.

A touch of a smile graced her own lips in memory as Elizabeth slowly returned to the present. It had been a wonderful, miraculous day. She'd been given a second chance at life, and perhaps, she and Emily had been given a second chance as well.

This time she wouldn't fail.

A leg so fair it appeared almost alabaster edged out from underneath a sateen weave sheet and lay across a smooth, honey-colored limb, a light sheen of perspiration coating the toned muscles of each. Had a casual observer been able to peer beneath the Egyptian cotton, he or she would only be able to differentiate between the two bodies by skin color alone. The picture presented would have Garcia marveling at the similarities between the erotic image displayed by her friends and the one depicted in the mural that now hung prominently in the technical analyst's bedroom.

"Your mother called me today," whispered JJ into a nearby ear, snuggling even closer to Emily and tightening her hold on her lover as she calmly relayed her news. Strong arms and legs flexed in preparation for the leap of escape she expected from Emily when her words crept into the other woman's euphoric-induced haze, but Emily's reflexes proved to be better than JJ had thought, and she was forced to lock her elbows and knees to keep her lover from jumping from the bed.

"What?" yelped Emily, struggling weakly against JJ's hold after her initial efforts failed to free her. "When?" With one final tug, she collapsed against her lover, completely spent from her short-lived attempts. JJ had planned her revelation perfectly, figuring Emily hadn't had adequate time to recover from their marathon love-making.

Desperately needing to lose themselves in each other, they'd been relentless in their endeavor to reconnect and had pushed to the limits of their stamina. The only difference in their 'recovery time' was that JJ's week hadn't been as emotionally draining as Emily's.

"This afternoon," JJ explained, grateful that Emily had stopped trying to flee. "Shocked the hell out of me, that's for sure."

Closing her eyes, Emily burrowed into her lover's side, scared to know the reasoning for her mother's call, but too curious to just let it go. "What did she say?"

"She found the card Garcia left the other day." JJ loosened her hold and began to lightly run her hand up and down Emily's arm in a gentle, calming motion. "She called Penelope to thank her and very casually, according to Garcia, asked where the 'orders' for the delivery had come from."

"Casually?" Emily opened her eyes and tilted her head toward JJ. "Mother doesn't really do casual."

"Well, according to Garcia she does. Your mother was quite diplomatic when she spoke to me though."

"Now that sounds more like it." Emily nodded before returning her full attention to the actual word exchange that had taken place between her mother and her lover. "What exactly did she say?"

JJ noted a tiny bit of nervousness in her lover's voice and knew exactly what Emily was thinking, having thought the same thing when Elizabeth had identified herself on the phone. "She merely thanked me for my generosity and said she'd like to return the favor some day."

"What did she mean by that?" Emily frowned, turning her mind to the different possibilities. Surely her mother hadn't suspected anything and planned to test her theory.

"I imagine she was just being nice, making an offer that she probably won't have an opportunity to follow up on. It was a kind gesture regardless."

"Yeah, but…" Emily started, but the rest of her words were literally stopped by a gentle touch of fingers to her lips.

"But nothing. She was just being polite." JJ saw the doubt still lingering in her lover's eyes. "Emily, I really don't think she has a clue about us." She offered a look of reassurance and kept mum about her other suspicions. She was in full agreement with Garcia that there was a real possibility that the Ambassador was well aware of her daughter's sexual orientation.

Emily watched JJ closely, but her lover never wavered in her sincerity. Choosing to believe in JJ's assessment, Emily let go of her uncertainty and concentrated on all the things she had to be thankful for instead. Her mother had been given another opportunity to continue her fight, and the oftentimes shaky balance in their relationship had shifted subtly toward more solid ground with a definite promise of growing stronger and stronger with time. Plus, she had someone she could count on, someone she could call on anytime she was in need, someone she could lean on when times were difficult, someone she could finally allow herself to love, and someone who just happened to be lying naked beside her.

"Ready for another round?" she teased, easing her hand down a silky, smooth thigh as she shifted her full focus to her most fortuitous position. Her second wind had returned yet again.

JJ's grinned saucily and rolled Emily onto her back, hesitating briefly to look down at her lover. Bright eyes and an unguarded expression stared back at her, and JJ took advantage of the rare moment. Gently caressing Emily's cheek, she bided her time and tried to put a name on what she saw before it disappeared as quickly as it had come. The emotions projected toward her were so open, so honest in appearance, they were almost palpable: trust, contentment, hope, and something that made all the difference, something she'd thought she'd only partially glimpsed on one other occasion – a love so deep, it transcended all boundaries of time and space.

JJ blinked, expecting Emily to have slipped on some kind of mask to cover the feelings that had clearly shone on her features, but when JJ refocused, her lover's expression hadn't changed. The emotions were still very much visible.

Slowly, she inched closer and closer, committing the moment to memory.


Epilogue – 6 months later

"I don't understand why you need to go back tonight? You're always so tired after apheresis and then chemo." Emily switched her cell phone to her other ear as she stepped onto the Metro train. She'd gone into work early so that she'd be able to meet her mother at the NIH in time for the apheresis process. Elizabeth seemed to always get a nose itch halfway into the procedure.

"There's a dinner tomorrow night I need to attend. It'll be easier on me if I don't have to jump out of the car and hurry to get ready," replied Elizabeth, smiling at the young medical technician that had just drawn her blood. The strawberry blonde had been so gentle and patient trying to find a vein, unlike some of the others who just jabbed and jabbed until they finally coaxed one to work properly.

"Okay, why don't we talk about it when I get there? I'm on the Metro now."

Elizabeth rolled down the sleeve of her blouse and reached for her purse. "Alright. I'm headed to apheresis. I'll meet you in the waiting room." Flipping her cell closed, she thanked the technician and started for the door, a smile threatening on her lips. There was no way Emily would talk her out of going home this evening.

"How was work?" Elizabeth lay on the bed, perfectly still as always, desperate to get her mind off the fact that the blood leaving her body was soon to be returned. She really hated apheresis.

Emily re-crossed her legs and tried not to focus on anything other than her mother's face. She reached out and smoothed down the blanket that covered Elizabeth. "We may be on our way to Florida tomorrow. JJ just has to convince Hotch."

Elizabeth wished she could see Emily's face, but the last time she'd turned her head, the attending nurse had reminded her, in a not so pleasant tone, about the necessity of keeping perfectly still. Elizabeth couldn't understand how rotating one's neck could interfere with the process.

"I thought Agent Jareau was the one who chose your cases."

"Most of the time," said Emily with a note of appreciation in her tone, having the utmost respect for the decisions JJ had to make on a daily basis. "Sometimes there's a priority from Hotch or someone higher above, and sometimes cases come in that appear, at first glance, like one that doesn't fall under our purview. JJ has to dig a little deeper and then convince Hotch that our help is needed."

"Ah, I see," remarked Elizabeth, although she didn't really understand the whole inner workings of the BAU and she truly had no idea what Emily actually did, other than being able to determine certain characteristics of individuals solely by observing their looks, mannerisms, and housekeeping skills. She often wondered what Emily would make of her had they just met.

"So, about tonight…" Emily stood and moved closer to the bed, needing to have this particular exchange face-to-face. For some reason, she'd gotten a vibe that her mother hadn't been totally truthful about the dinner she'd kept insisting that she just had to attend. "What time do you have to be…" she paused in mock thought, "… you never did say who was hosting this dinner."

Elizabeth frowned slightly, careful to only move her facial muscles lest Attilla the Nurse come down on her again. "Didn't I?" she asked innocently, buying enough time to come up with the name of an appropriate hostess. "Sarah Collins is having a little get together to welcome the new curator of the local museum."

"But I thought…" Emily started, stopping abruptly when her mother sighed audibly. Elizabeth seldom let her discomfort show. "What? Is something the matter?" Emily glanced nervously at the nurse who'd moved to check the tubing.

"It's my nose," Elizabeth informed, wrinkling the facial part in question.

Chuckling, Emily reached out and gave her mother's nose a healthy scratch.

Elizabeth sighed contently. The dinner party was forgotten.

"Call me the minute you get home."

Emily stood on the curb outside her apartment building, her hand resting on the top edge of a car door. At various times during her mother's stays, Emily had slipped into the role of parent much to Elizabeth's dismay, although the older woman had been amused by it the first few times.

"I am not a child, Emily; however, I will call you just because I know that you'll call me if I don't."

Emily smiled in victory, although her mother's concession had only been a small consolation after arriving home with Elizabeth to find Stevens waiting for them by her mother's Lincoln Town Car. It seemed the Ambassador had given her driver her key to Emily's apartment and had instructed him to retrieve her luggage from the spare bedroom.

"Okay, I'll see you in three weeks." Emily nodded at her mother and then leaned in and called out over the seat to Stevens. "Drive carefully."

"Yes, Ma'am," was the simple reply as he started the car and waited for further instructions from the Ambassador.

Closing the car door, Emily paused briefly before turning and starting up the sidewalk to her building. She didn't notice that the black Town Car had only moved a few feet before it stopped again.

Elizabeth watched from behind tinted glass as her daughter disappeared through the front doors of the building. She kept her focus on the entrance momentarily and then turned her attention to the surrounding area. With a finger resting on the automatic controls, she lowered the car window halfway, her eyes scanning the different passersby until she finally spied a glimpse of blonde hair, the bright sunlight having triumphantly captured the strands and turning them a rich golden color, like a patch of goldenrods alongside the highway, blooming in a late summer sun.

Smiling, she followed Jennifer Jareau's progress as the young woman veered down the adjacent sidewalk and unknowingly retraced the steps Emily had just taken. Pushing through the front doors, Jennifer stepped inside the building and vanished from sight, taking the luminous aura that had surrounded her along with her.

To Elizabeth, the only thing better than knowing what Emily and Jennifer would find inside the apartment would be seeing the look on their faces when they spied the elegantly decorated table and catered meal from LaChaumiere. They'd know the minute they laid eyes on the centerpiece of Calla lilies and opened the accompanying card that Elizabeth had been responsible for their dinner date. She'd have to send a proper thank you to Penelope Garcia for her invaluable assistance in orchestrating her plan.

"Stevens, you can take me home now," she said triumphantly, her finger perched back on the controls. Her motion came to a sudden halt, however, when she noted a phenomenon just outside her window. With the sun fully in the sky and shining down brightly on the city, a gentle, steady rain had begun to fall.

Staring up at the heavens above, Elizabeth marveled at the rainbow that stretched from one end of the sky to the other, its arch centered directly above Emily's building. The rain had waved its magic wand and had once again captivated and entranced her with its beauty, restoring an inner peace she feared had been lost forever. Closing her eyes, she sighed contently and allowed the feeling to spread its comforting warmth from deep within her, pushing past disfiguring scars and continuing outward until her entire body had been consumed by it.

She'd finally reclaimed her soul.

The End

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