DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to the wonderful mrswoman for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Christmas to Remember
A pair of leather Gucci suitcases, an outrageously overpriced gift she'd received last Christmas from her mother, sat next to the door, each packed in a neat and orderly fashion and containing clothes that hadn't been worn since the year before. Emily knew her mother meant well when she'd presented her with the chocolate-colored luggage to use for her work related travel, but she much preferred the imitation leather bag she carried with her whenever the B.A.U. was called into action. So, for the very first time, it was the two suitcases that stood at the ready, waiting for the doorman to retrieve them while their owner lounged on the couch and stared out the window, deep in thought.
Her mother always assured her that 'this year,' they'd spend time together, just the two of them. But every year, one obligation after another had taken the Ambassador away from her daughter, just as they had every Christmas since Emily was a little girl. Emily sighed as she tried to recall a single year when her mother, or her father for that matter, was present when she'd opened her gifts. She knew there was no such memory, but she made an attempt nonetheless. Closing her eyes, Emily was swept into her past.
Regardless of the location of her parents' current assignment, the scene was always the same. Emily would tiptoe down the stairs, well before six a.m., taking care not to make a sound. She'd make her way to the tall, brightly lit tree and sit down quietly next to the stack of beautifully wrapped presents. They were always there waiting for her, and she knew if she looked around, there would be no others to be found. She'd often wondered if her mother and father exchanged gifts, but she'd never bothered to ask; she'd always been too hurt at being left to open her presents alone with no one to thank.
The Christmas meal would have the same results. When she'd sat down at the table to eat the traditional meal of turkey and dressing the cook had prepared, her parents would be absent, instead dining with some diplomat or another. Emily remembered vividly how small she felt sitting at the long, elegant table with the many, many empty chairs.
The sound of three short knocks pulled her from the sad memories, and Emily pushed to her feet. As she placed her hand on the knob to greet the doorman, another more recent memory surfaced. She pictured JJ's conversation with Garcia, really more of a reassurance that she would, in her own words, be 'just fine by herself on Christmas day.'
With arms full of groceries, JJ juggled her keys and struggled to unlock the door. She pressed the bags close to her and was finally able to push the key into the cylinder and turn the knob. A lone box of popcorn escaped over the edge of the brown paper sack, landing just outside the door.
"Damn it." JJ quickly righted the bag and then righted herself, pleased that the rest of the items stayed nestled inside their containers. She smiled and edged the box through the door with the toe of her boot before using the same toe to push the door to. Stepping over the fallen box, she headed for the kitchen to unload her purchases.
JJ stared at the items on the counter, taking inventory of the goods and feeling a bit hedonistic at what she saw; junk food, nothing but junk food, greeted her eyes. Ice cream, a variety of cookies and chips, nuts, hot chocolate, marshmallows, and caramels, which would be melted to drizzle over the popcorn lying near the front door, lined the countertop. A smile slowly began to take shape until a full blown grin graced her face. The comfort food had already begun to spin its magic, pushing the last of the guilty thoughts of the argument she'd had with her mother, concerning JJ's decision to spend Christmas alone.
Quickly storing the items, JJ grabbed for her phone to complete the next phase of 'Operation Christmas.' From memory, she punched in the number of her favorite pizza parlor and ordered a large pizza with all the toppings. She figured she'd eat part of the pizza tonight and the other part the next day, Christmas Day.
Glancing at the clock, JJ figured she'd have just enough time for a soak in the tub and to change into her sweats before the pizza arrived. Her plan was working like a charm; all she had to do was follow it to the letter, and she'd make it through the holiday just fine.
Memories of her promise to Garcia filtered into her thoughts, followed closely by Emily's concerned look; the result had JJ rethinking her decision to spend Christmas alone. However, another stray thought to spending Christmas with her family and having to endure their never-ending commentary on how she was ruining her life gave her renewed determination. With a confident stride, she headed towards the bathroom.
The taxi wheeled in next to the airport's curb and slid to a stop behind another cab. The driver jumped out to retrieve the luggage from the trunk, but his passenger never budged as she stared at the door leading into the terminal. Emily wasn't really seeing the entrance; instead, she visualized herself, staring into the fire as she sat in her father's leather recliner. In her mind's eye, she was sitting alone, sipping on mulled cider, and wishing she was anywhere else other than where she was.
A thundering noise had her reaching for the gun that wasn't at her waist, and she looked up, wide-eyed, to find the concerned driver peering into the window. He eased the door open and offered his hand to assist Emily from the car.
"We're here, Ma'am."
Emily blinked as her surroundings slowly came into focus. "Oh, sorry, I was daydreaming."
"My wife does that all the time." He offered Emily a smile. "Are you spending Christmas with your family?"
Emily once again pictured the fireplace scene before she offered her reply.
"No, not really."
JJ slipped her sweatshirt over her head and stepped into the den just as the doorbell chimed. Pleased that the extra couple of minutes of soaking time hadn't thrown her timing off, she veered towards her purse and grabbed her wallet. With her focus on her cash, she opened the door and pulled out a twenty for the deliveryman. The bill fell from her hand when she looked up into the eyes of Emily Prentiss.
"Emily? What are you doing here?"
Emily noted the stunned expression on JJ's face and froze. She'd been certain that JJ's assurances to Garcia had all been a ruse, but the pasted on smile and slightly narrowed brow JJ had worn the day before when she talked of sleeping late, ordering pizza, and having a movie marathon were nowhere to be found. Instead, a very relaxed-looking JJ stood in front of her, and suddenly, Emily's idea to spend Christmas with JJ sounded more like a plea for help on her part only, and if there was one thing Emily didn't do, it was play the role of 'poor pitiful me.'
"Um, I, well, sorry to bother you, JJ. I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas."
JJ's eyes tracked to the elegant luggage, sitting in the hallway behind her colleague. "You brought your suitcases with you to say Merry Christmas?"
"Huh?" Emily turned towards her bags as if she had no idea they were there. "Oh, the luggage; I was just on the way to the airport."
"So, you called a cab, had the driver stop by here, and then carried your luggage up with you? Were you afraid he was going to steal it or something?" JJ leaned against the door facing, settling in to make herself comfortable. She'd never seen Emily flustered before.
Emily stared at the larger of her two suitcases, wishing she could climb inside and send herself across the ocean. "Um, he was a bit suspicious looking."
"What time's your flight?" JJ had done a bit of eavesdropping of her own. She was well aware that Emily's flight was scheduled to depart in the next half hour, and factoring in the traffic, there was no way the agent would be able to make it to the airport on time, much less make the flight once she'd cleared all the security checks at the terminal.
Emily visibly cringed. She was a horrible liar, and she knew it. It was time to pay the piper and then slink away, but just as she opened her mouth to explain why she'd come to JJ's apartment, the deliveryman stepped off the elevator and walked towards the two women. He smiled at JJ.
"Hey, Ms. Jareau, you're in luck tonight. Your order was accidentally duplicated, and since you're a regular, the owner said he'd let you have it for free, kind of like a Christmas present."
Emily used the welcomed distraction to step back and reach for her suitcases; however, the slight move was noticed by an observant JJ. Although, if truth be known, JJ had made it her practice to always notice Emily's every move.
"That's great, Steven. It just so happens that I have an unexpected," JJ winked at Emily, "but welcomed guest. Two pizzas are perfect." She thrust the twenty towards the young man. "Here. Keep the change."
Steven grinned and handed the boxes over to JJ. "Thanks, Ms. Jareau. You be sure to have a Merry Christmas." He tipped his hat at Emily and turned to leave. Emily slowly extended the handles of her suitcases and tilted them onto their rollers, readying her own departure.
"I'll let you dine in peace, JJ. I'll see you after Christmas." Emily turned to make her escape. If she hurried home, she could order a pizza of her own.
"Hey, wait a minute!" JJ stepped into the hallway. "Didn't you hear what I said to Steven? You don't expect me to eat all this pizza by myself, do you?"
Emily looked at the large boxes and then back at JJ. After a moment's hesitation, she asked, "What kind did you get?"
"The five meat special with mushrooms, onions, olives, and peppers."
The combination sounded divine, but Emily hesitated again. "No anchovies, right?"
JJ smiled and moved back into the apartment. "Nope, no anchovies; now, why don't you roll those suitcases in here while I get us some plates?"
Emily returned the smile and stepped inside.
"I think it's cute the way they flirt with each other, but I just can't see the two of them as a couple." JJ leaned back in her chair and took another bite of pizza.
"Why not? It's not because of a race issue, is it?" Emily sipped on her wine and watched as JJ consumed more pizza. She had no idea where the blonde was putting it; Emily had stopped after her second piece.
JJ shook her head and swallowed, "No, it's because it's Morgan and Garcia."
"And, it's Morgan and Garcia." JJ gestured with her hand as if the motion would suddenly clear the muddy water.
Emily smiled at the other woman. JJ was so cute in her defense of why Morgan and Garcia shouldn't become romantically involved. "Well, I still think they should go out at least once."
JJ chuckled and pushed her plate away. "I'd better stop now and save room for dessert. Hope you saved room, too? I've got ice cream for later."
'Later?' stayed on the tip of Emily's tongue, and instead, she asked, "Ice cream? Ice cream on top of pizza?"
JJ closed the pizza box and stood. "Emily Prentiss, you stick with me, and I'll show you all kinds of pleasures." JJ winked and turned to store the leftover pizza in the refrigerator.
Emily grabbed onto the edge of the table to keep from falling from her chair.
"You've never seen 'A Christmas Story'? How could you have possibly missed it? TBS runs it every year for twenty four hours straight, starting on Christmas Eve. It's a classic, Emily." JJ placed the DVD into the player. "I prefer watching it commercial-free though." Grinning, JJ turned back towards the couch.
Emily studied the woman walking towards her. Without makeup, and with her blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, JJ appeared so very youthful as her blue eyes shone brightly with excitement.
"I don't watch much television." Emily didn't dare admit that she couldn't remember the last time she'd actually turned on her television.
"Well, you're watching now." JJ plopped down on the couch next to Emily and hit play.
Ninety-three minutes later, JJ slid her empty ice cream bowl onto the coffee table and turned towards Emily.
"Well, what did you think?"
Emily glanced at the bowl. "I think you're going to be sick as a dog in about an hour."
JJ grinned. "In about an hour, I'm making caramel popcorn. I can't watch 'It's a Wonderful Life' without it."
Emily's eyebrows scaled upward. "JJ, you can't be serious."
"As a heart attack." JJ grabbed her bowl and stood. "Let me put this in the sink, and I'll start the next movie."
"If you keep eating like that, you're going to have a heart attack." Emily muttered under her breath as she watched JJ leave the room. Leaning her head against the back of the couch, she stared up at the ceiling and smiled. This was turning out to be the best Christmas Eve she'd ever had.
"Look Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings."
"That's right, that's right." George clutched his daughter tightly and looked upwards. "Attaboy, Clarence."
"I love that one." JJ's words were spoken quietly from the vicinity of Emily's left shoulder. Sometime during the movie, the two had slumped down on the couch, and JJ had leaned into Emily, placing her head on the other woman's shoulder. She never moved once, not even to make her traditional caramel popcorn.
"It was good," Emily agreed, unable to keep the sadness from her voice. Her time with JJ was quickly coming to an end.
Keeping her head firmly on Emily's shoulder, JJ tilted her head slightly. Emily was still focused on the television, but JJ was fairly certain her thoughts were elsewhere. She slid her hand into Emily's.
"Why'd you come here tonight, Emily?"
Emily started at the touch. She looked down at their joined hands and smiled sadly.
"I didn't want to spend another Christmas Eve alone."
JJ shifted until she was shoulder to shoulder with Emily. "But, I thought you were visiting your parents."
Emily let out a sound that was half grunt and half chuckle. "More like visiting my parents' house."
"What do you mean?" JJ kept her focus on the sad face.
"I've always been alone at Christmas, JJ. I've opened my gifts alone, dined alone, and gone to bed alone, every single year of my life."
JJ squeezed the hand she held. "No one should be alone at Christmas."
Emily finally made the eye contact she'd been avoiding. "Then why'd you decide to stay here?"
"Just like you said, Emily; I would've been alone even though I was surrounded by family. They don't understand me anymore; they want me to be the same ol' JJ I was growing up. I'm not that person any longer."
"I'm glad I didn't get on that plane." Emily tightened her grip on JJ's hand and smiled.
"Me, too." JJ returned the smile and lifted her free hand to touch Emily's face. She wasn't sure where her courage had come from, but JJ wasn't about to let this moment slip by. She'd never felt this close to anyone.
"Emily, would you mind terribly if I were to kiss you?"
Emily's reply was to tilt her head and lean forward. She was met halfway as eyes closed and lips gently touched together. The unpleasant memories of both women's past Christmases were swept away when Emily deepened the kiss.
Endless minutes later, Emily reluctantly released the soft lips. "It's late, I should go."
JJ stared into dark eyes. "Please stay."
"But . . ." Emily's words were cut off by fingers to her lips.
JJ gestured towards the door. "Your things are already here. I'd really like to spend Christmas with you, Emily." She smiled easily and added, "I've got pizza and junk food, lots and lots of junk food."
Emily chuckled. "Now, how could I possibly turn down an invitation like that?"
"So, you'll stay?"
"Yes, I'll stay. Just get me a pillow and blanket, and I'll sleep on the couch."
"I thought you'd sleep with me."
Emily swallowed hard; things were moving much too fast. "Um, JJ, I'm not " Once again JJ stopped her words.
"Just to sleep, Emily, nothing else, just sleep."
"I don't know, JJ." It wasn't JJ Emily was worried about; now that she'd tasted the sweetness of JJ's lips, she didn't know if she would be able to control herself if the temptation was so near.
"Well, this Christmas, I don't want to go to bed alone. Do you?" JJ cupped Emily's jaw, lightly rubbing her thumb on the smooth skin.
Emily looked into clear blue eyes and found only honestly and sincerity. She didn't hesitate to answer.
"I don't want to go to bed alone this Christmas, either."
JJ smiled brightly and pushed to her feet, tugging Emily up with her. "Okay, it's settled then. You get your suitcases, and I'll put the blanket on the bed. It's supposed to get colder tonight." Stealing a quick kiss, JJ turned and headed down the hallway.
Emily slowly lifted her fingers to her lips as she watched JJ walk away. Her entire world had changed the minute she'd made the decision to have her bags put back into the trunk of the cab. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine things would turn out the way they had.
A slight smile crossed Emily's face as she moved to retrieve her luggage. After all these years, she'd finally experienced a fond memory of Christmas, and if she had her way, it would be the first of many more to come. Picking up her pace, she rolled her suitcases towards the bedroom.
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