DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds belongs to CBS. This is a work of fiction. All the characters portrayed in this story have no relation to anyone living or dead.
SPOILERS: Set around Season 4 / Season 5. No specific spoilers to any TV episodes.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To rebelgirl_uk[at]yahoo.co.uk
"Can I help you, young man?" the elderly lady in the large sedan asked.
Morgan hesitated for a moment, his knowledge of the situation at odds with the seemingly innocently fragile appearance of the woman. "Are you Mrs Parsons?" he asked, stalling for time.
"I think you know exactly who I am," the grey-haired woman responded tartly. "You may have reason to think my son has done something, but that does not mean you can harass me."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Mrs Parsons," the dark agent responded politely. "But I do have a job to do." He flipped the cover of his ID back over and returned it to his back pocket. "I need to search this vehicle," he advised her assuredly.
"On what grounds?"
Morgan looked carefully at the woman. She was collected and confident, and obviously knew her rights. "We're investigating a series of missing women and two murders."
"And you think that has something to do with me?" Mrs Parsons probed, a note of incredulity in her voice.
"We've found something that connects your son to one of the murder victims. We have to follow up every link in order to find the person responsible for these crimes. I'm sure you'd support that, Mrs Parsons" The ex-Chicago cop kept his voice reasonable and hopeful in equal measure.
Norma shook her head slightly as she pulled a small moue of disgust. "I wouldn't dream of wanting to obstruct your investigation, officer. You're welcome to look in the car."
Morgan was surprised but kept his face schooled into a neutral position. He also resisted the urge to correct the woman's nomenclature of his title. He stepped back as Mrs Parsons got out.
"You're free to look at anything that is in plain sight. But please don't move anything."
"Mrs Parsons, if you've got nothing to hide, it shouldn't be any trouble for me to conduct a search," Morgan responded, using a tried and tested bait he hadn't realised Hotch had previously attempted. He was disappointed at the response.
"I have absolutely nothing to hide, but I know my rights. If you want to take a closer look at anything, then get a warrant."
Morgan looked carefully at the inside of the car but could see nothing that might provide any clue to the whereabouts of either Harrison Parsons or his missing team. The interior of the car was old and tatty, but relatively clean. The dark agent then stepped back toward the trunk of the car and grabbed the handle to open it. He grimaced as he discovered it was locked. "Mrs Parsons?" he called out.
He waited as the elderly lady opened her door and pulled herself out. She stepped round and used the car key to open the trunk before stepping back to allow Morgan to fully open the compartment. With only the ability to look at what was in plain sight, it was obvious that there was nothing to note in the trunk. It had a box of cleaning materials, what looked to be a toolkit and various grubby cloths. Morgan took the time to examine the material closely, looking for blood or any other suspicious trace. He stood back and waited for Mrs Parsons to shut the trunk. "Where are you headed off to?"
"I'm not sure that's any of your business young man," Mrs Parsons responded tersely.
"Ma'am, like I said, we're conducting an investigation. We need to follow every lead."
"Am I under suspicion for anything?"
"No ma'am, but you are linked by your relationship with your son," Morgan persevered, struggling to maintain his patience.
Inside the hidden compartment of the trunk, Harrison Parsons concentrated on keeping stock-still and tried to ignore the tickling sensation created by rivulets of sweat running across his back. The Alabama heat had already turned his hiding place into an oven, and he would not be able to stay in hiding long, before being adversely affected. He focused on keeping his breathing even and regular, and monitoring his captive's movements. For the moment, the blonde woman was unconscious, but he was taking no chances. One arm was wrapped round her torso as he hugged himself tightly into the cramped space. His other hand had covered her mouth the moment he felt the vehicle come to a halt, and he kept it there in case she tried to call out.
The bulky man was aware of the heat and sweat she was generating and once more, he felt himself harden as he relished the feel of her. If it wasn't for the fact that he could hear voices right next to the car, he would have been tempted to use the close confines to his advantage and take her right there, but he knew that wouldn't give him real satisfaction. That would only come when she was screaming his name and fighting him as he dominated her. He gritted his teeth as another line of sweat stimulated his sensations and he wished his mother would hurry up and get moving. When he heard the catch of the trunk open, and the voices suddenly become much clearer, the man tensed, closing his eyes even as he squeezed into his captive, willing her to remain unconscious.
He had left previous homes like this on several occasions, but this was the first time the vehicle had been stopped. Despite the oppressive heat, he silently thanked his mother for once again protecting him. He knew he would pay the price at some point however. She always punished him when he got careless and had to move on. He tried not to think how bad it would be now she had to move too. He tried to distract himself from that frightening thought, and the airless confines of his hide-out by thinking of new ways to play with the woman he was holding. He wanted to test his theory that she was stronger than she looked.
"I'm going into town for my weekly grocery shop," Norma conceded, after deciding that it was prudent to let the agent know what she was up to. "I'm assuming that I'm not breaking the law by doing that?" she continued facetiously.
"No ma'am," Morgan replied dutifully. "But I would ask that you remain in the local vicinity for the time being until we've had an opportunity to contact your son."
"It appears I don't have much choice, do I?" Mrs Parsons rejoined, nodding her head at the large number of law enforcement officers in the area.
"No ma'am." Morgan was at a loss. "How long do you intend staying out?"
"Are you setting up a neighbourhood watch scheme?" Norma Parsons couldn't help the sharp rejoinder, and inwardly she berated herself for bristling. She needed to remain calm and placid. She certainly didn't need to draw unnecessary attention to herself. As a long-time resident of Alabama, she was also acutely aware of the impact of the heat. She needed to get moving quickly so that air could circulate round her son and his plaything or she'd have two corpses on her hands.
"Mrs Parsons?" Morgan was struggling to maintain his composure and remain polite. Norma Parsons was behaving abnormally and every alarm bell in his head was ringing, but he couldn't put his finger on what exactly was wrong.
"I'm sorry, officer," the gray-haired lady apologised. "I think I'm more affected by what's going on than I thought. I am returning straight back home. If nothing else, if I stay out too long, my groceries will spoil." She patted Morgan's arm in a motherly way. "If I speak to my son, I'll tell him you're looking for him."
Morgan was not sure he wanted her to tip him off in that way. "Ma'am, if you speak with your son, can you contact me direct? Here's my card." He dug out a small card from a side pocket in his cargo pants. He looked around and thought for a few seconds as he handed the card over. The Chicago agent was at a loss. He had delayed Mrs Parsons for as long as he could but without further direction from Rossi or Hotch he knew he would have to let the woman go. He stepped back as the old lady moved back towards the driver's door and got in.
"Goodbye officer," Mrs Parsons called as she sat down. "And don't take this the wrong way, but I hope we don't meet again." With that, she turned the engine over and pulled away smoothly, indicating as she got to the end of the road, a perfect lesson in driving.
Morgan shook his head, annoyed with himself that he hadn't been able to delay the woman any longer. He turned back toward the Parsons' residence and jogged round to the front entrance. Hotch and Rossi stood by the door. "You going in?"
Rossi shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm sure that's gas I can smell. Wouldn't want to lose a property unnecessarily or endanger the lives of neighbours, would we?"
"Aren't you supposed to be detaining Mrs Parsons?" Hotch questioned, his frown deepening across his forehead.
"With what? There's nothing in the car. LEO's are trailing her into town." Morgan's update was halted as Rossi stood back and kicked the front door. "Isn't that my job?"
"We're wasting time," was the terse response as Rossi moved in, gun drawn. His colleagues immediately followed his lead and stepped into the house, searching each corner carefully. With a deliberate cautiousness born from years of practice, the three agents cleared each room, ensuring they were safe to progress further into the property.
Finally, they reached the cellar door. Hotch and Rossi stepped laterally, keeping their glocks trained on the doorway. Morgan slowly moved the door handle and then applied pressure to open it, but realised immediately that the door was locked. Glancing at his partners, the tall agent took a step back and then kicked the door, keeping his gun pointed forward even as the door fractured away from the hinges with a loud crash.
Derek twisted the maglight strapped to the barrel of his gun and moved slowly forward, the torch illuminating motes of dust in a narrow circle. The agents moved on carefully with Morgan leading the way, his weight causing the wooden steps to creak as he descended into the basement.
At the foot of the stairs, he noted the black tarpaulin stretched from floor to ceiling, with crude fastenings on the floor. The dark agent glanced back to confirm that his colleagues were ready and then he stepped through the gap in the barrier.
"Emily," he breathed, dismayed to see his usual partner slumped unconscious on the floor, her head bleeding heavily. With a clear sense of urgency the three men searched each corner of the room before approaching the prone woman.
Hotch knelt down and placed two fingers at her carotid. "She's got a pulse." He grabbed his phone and began dialling, even as he nodded toward the final door. "I need an ambulance at Norma Parsons' residence now, officer down."
Rossi and Morgan looked at each other and again approached the door cautiously. This time, Rossi tried the door and it opened immediately. It obviously led to the garage and echoed hollowly. It took just seconds to confirm the room was empty. "Where the hell is JJ?" Morgan asked as he turned back to return to where Emily lay.
"In the car," Rossi supplied grimly, holstering his gun and grabbing his phone. "Sheriff, you have to stop Mrs Parsons' car. We believe she may be hiding one of our agents in it." There was a pause. "How can they have lost her? She was going into town five minutes ago." Rossi raised his voice uncharacteristically as Morgan stared at him wide-eyed. After another short pause the Italian spoke again. "Start searching the area now, and get staff on all routes out of town. We are not losing our agent."
Rossi stabbed at his phone and jammed it into his pocket. "Get out there Morgan, find Reid, and motivate the cops into finding JJ." He stopped as he saw the black agent look to where Emily lay. "We'll look after her till the paramedics arrive. As soon as she's on her way to the hospital I'll come and help."
Morgan hesitated for a fraction and Rossi tried again. "Emily is safe. JJ isn't. She's the one who needs you right now."
The veteran profiler's words galvanised Morgan into action and he nodded grimly. He headed straight for the garage exit and hefted it open. "Get Garcia on a trace of Parsons' phone. We may be able to track her down that way." With that, he sprinted from the house towards Reid.
Rossi hurried over to where Hotch was sitting with Prentiss. "How is she doing?"
Hotchner grimaced slightly. "Still out of it. Looks like she struggled for some time." He gestured to her damaged wrists. Rossi allowed himself to examine the room for the first time. There was a wealth of information contained within it, as long as he could unlock the clues. The work bench had obviously been used extensively, and most of the tools were stored neatly, but Rossi noted a number of items on the floor near Prentiss. He also spotted a large knife that had been left on the table almost casually. There were blood stains and splatters everywhere, in various colours depicting a wide time scale and Rossi knew that this was undoubtedly where Parsons' victims had fought for their lives.
The senior agent slowly walked to the pillar that took centre stage, noting various marks on it and stains on the floor around it. There were iron hoops embedded into the pillar that apparently acted as an anchor for rope or whatever bindings the unsub chose to use to restrain his victims. Rossi closed his eyes for a second as the thought washed over him that he was now counting JJ as one of those victims.
Exhaling to ensure his composure, Rossi used his phone again. "Garcia, I have news."
Norma Parsons turned onto a single track road suddenly, knowing that the bend in the main road would obscure her for just long enough from the police vehicle tailing her. With iron discipline, she willed herself not to speed, it would kick up dust and give her away.
When she began collecting girlfriends for her son, Norma knew that one day she might have to leave her home town. The elderly lady was surprised she had remained in Pleasant Grove for so long, given her son's proclivities but she had never taken her security for granted and had planned an exit strategy early on. Over the years, she had made adaptations and adjustments to the plan as the town had grown and roads changed. Two years ago, she had stored a van in a garage halfway down the road she was currently travelling. Knowing that if they did have to leave in a hurry, chances were that at best, the police would be on the lookout for the vehicle registered to her, and at worst they'd be following her. Today was worst case scenario, compounded by the additional element that her latest offerings to her son had been FBI agents.
Despite the additional complexity, Norma was confident that she had thought through all the permutations. They would make their escape successfully just as she had assisted Harrison in disappearing from all his previous abodes. The bushes that lined each side of the road were high enough to obscure vehicles moving along it, so unless she was really unlucky and didn't make the natural bend in the road before the patrol car pulled level with the junction, her detour from the main route would be undetected. Norma also figured that once the the deputies cleared the bend, their instinct would be to speed up, with the assumption that she had tried to lose them down the highway.
Parsons continued her journey for a few more moments before allowing the car to coast to crawling speed as she approached a large dilapidated barn. Finally, she applied the brakes and put the car in park as soon as it came to a halt, leaving the engine running as she opened the door. After locating the appropriate key from her purse, the woman unlocked the padlock that secured the doors and then pushed them open, feeling them judder in protest against the rust that had settled on the hinges. The barn housed a grubby white van. Norma turned the ignition over and after a small protest, the engine kicked in noisily and she left it running as she checked the lights on the vehicle. It was old, and the last thing she wanted was an unwelcome stop for a minor traffic offence.
Satisfied that the vehicle would not attract unnecessary attention, Parsons hauled herself into the driver's seat and drove the vehicle outside, replacing it with her sedan. She opened the back doors to the van before returning to sedan and opening the trunk.
Quickly she removed the few items stored there before lifting out the false panel. She nodded reassuringly at her son as he turned and squinted at her. "Hurry up and get out Harrison. Get her in the van and make sure she's secure."
The hulking man awkwardly shuffled back, dragging JJ with him as he extricated himself from the small hiding place. He stopped briefly as he heard the blonde woman groan but she didn't appear to regain consciousness so he hooked his leg out of the trunk and hauled himself out, wincing as his cramped muscles protested. he turned back and looped his arm around the media liaison's waist, roughly pulling her out so he could transfer her to the other vehicle.
It was as he swung round toward the van that he suddenly felt the woman shift in his arms, throwing him off balance as she threw herself upright and crashed the back of her head into his face.
JJ managed to stay on her feet as her captor instinctively dropped her. Working on pure adrenaline and a feral will to survive, the agent stamped her heel onto the man's foot and shoved him at the same time, propelling him backwards towards his mother who had yet to react to the latest situation. Even as he stumbled away from her, JJ spun round and ran round to the side of the van. She had heard the engine running and knew it was her best chance to escape. Jareau yanked the door opened and grabbed the steering wheel as she prepared to leap into the vehicle but she felt herself pulled back viciously as she took a step. "No!" She exclaimed in frustration, even as she missed her footing and barked her shin against the step. The blonde barely had time to register that new pain when she felt herself being thrown backwards onto the ground. She looked into the furious eyes of Harrison Parsons as he bore down on her and tried to scramble back out of his reach.
"Not now, Harrison," Norma chided firmly. "We need to get to safety first."
For a moment, JJ actually felt gratitude for the woman who had kidnapped her as a plaything for her son. Her blood chilled when she heard Parsons' response. "Yes now, mother. She needs training right now."
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," Morgan berated himself as he banged the steering wheel in frustration with his right fist. His left hand gripped the wheel tightly, as he kept a tight control on the SUV he was flooring down the road that led into town.
Reid looked up from the map he had been studying. "Morgan, you can't blame yourself for this. You did as much as you could."
"If I'd done everything I could, I would have searched the vehicle properly and found JJ," Morgan objected immediately.
"You had no warrant or probable cause at the time," the young doctor pointed out reasonably.
"Probable cause my ass. If I'd been able to delay her a few minutes more, Rossi and Hotch would have found Emily and I would have got JJ back." Morgan was in full on self-loathing mode. He hated anyone in the team getting hurt or put in danger. It was one of the reasons he threw himself into the mix so readily. He would happily take a fall for any of them, every time.
Reid shook his head slightly, knowing that he couldn't placate the older agent. He looked back down at the map, running his fingers over the contours of the roads it displayed as mentally reviewed all the data he was aware of.
Morgan glanced at him again. "Please tell me you know where they're headed," he pleaded, knowing he was going to get a negative response.
Spencer didn't respond for a moment, his lips moving slightly as his finger traced their route. Suddenly he looked up, taking in his surroundings for the first time. "Have we passed any junctions yet?" he asked earnestly.
"Have we passed any junctions or side roads yet?" The young doctor's voice became urgent.
Morgan thought for a beat. "No, not yet. But we haven't even caught up with the police yet."
"We don't need to. They're already off this road." Reid flicked the map with certainty. "The only way they could have lost their tail is if they got off this road." He looked up again and looked at the topography of the road in front of him. "There should be a junction up round this bend. Take it."
"Are you sure?" Morgan began to question but stopped himself. "Of course you're sure. Okay, call it in." Morgan felt a thrill of anxiety course through him as he crested the hill and saw no junction, but as they continued down the hill and round the bend, it became clear that there was a concealed road leading off the main highway. Morgan barely slowed down as he angrily forced the car into a turn, the wheels protesting as they skidded onto the new trajectory and he put his foot down again as soon as he could feel the tires gripping the road surface once more.
Reid stared straight ahead and mentally rechecked every calculation that had led to his conclusion. He knew that there were always unknown variables that could throw anyone off track, but he knew that JJ was somewhere down this road. He hated the tiny pinprick of doubt in the back of his mind and tamped it down. If, no when they found JJ, Parsons would need to be stopped, and the other mental calculation he had made forecast that the local police would be at least 10 minutes behind them. Morgan would need his back up, particularly if he went in all gung-ho as he was often prone to do when he was up against it. More importantly, JJ would need him. Reid hadn't seen Emily, and Morgan had only indicated that she was alive but hurt. The young genius stopped his mind speculating on JJ's physical and emotional state, concentrating on the obvious fact that she must still have been alive when they left, or why bother moving a body.
All thoughts came to a screeching halt as a dilapidated barn came into view. The doors to the barn were wide open and a white van was parked outside with the driver's side door open. All that was observed almost as an afterthought because for both agents, the primary focus was on the two people struggling on the ground near the van. In a sickeningly unfair fight, Morgan and Reid saw the man, who was massive in comparison to his adversary, swing back and punch her in the jaw, stilling her struggles.
"Son of a bitch," Morgan whispered, instinctively speeding the vehicle up to close the distance as quickly as possible.
The tall, dark agent was out of the car before it had come to a halt, building speed up quickly before launching himself at his target. His momentum threw the big man off the motionless young woman and Morgan rolled with him before trying to disentangle himself. Getting to his feet, he swung a punch swiftly and followed it with a kick to the man's abdomen.
Parsons grunted, not used to dealing with a much stronger opponent, but he was still burning with anger, and totally irrational. He simply switched his focus from JJ to the FBI agent, rolling onto his feet and swinging out to attack the man who dared to interfere.
Reid was a few seconds behind, pulling the small 9mm from its holster on his waist. Unfortunately, Morgan and Parsons were engaged in a full on battle, and Reid that he was no way near a good enough shot to intervene. Of greater concern was the absence of Norma Parsons. Reid knew that she had a heavy involvement in this, and until he located her, the scene wasn't even close to safe. Keeping the two fighters within his peripheral vision, he scanned the surrounding area looking for any sign of the woman as he edged his way to the blonde woman laying nearby on the ground.
Spencer felt himself breathe a sigh of relief as he saw her moving slowly and gingerly. He refused to register the wounds and blood that covered her body. That would mean having to deal with what Parsons had done to her, and until he and Mrs Parsons were secure, Reid couldn't afford the distraction.
He knelt down by JJ, even as he continued to train his gun on the two men grappling in front of him and was startled when he heard her speak, her voice cracked, quiet but laced with steel.
"Give me your gun."
"JJ, stay still. Do you know where Mrs Parsons is?"
The blonde agent shook her head slightly, wincing with the movement. "I haven't really been in a position to look out for her," she responded ruefully.
"Don't worry, help is on the way, but I need to leave you just for a minute," Reid tried to reassure her.
JJ swallowed down her fear, knowing that Spencer was doing the right thing. It was incredibly difficult to manage her emotions after her ordeal. She had thought she was now safe, and couldn't control her reaction to her rescuers leaving her side, certainly while Parsons hadn't been stopped. She nodded again before letting out a short, bitter laugh. "You need to check out the barn."
Reid swallowed nervously. The events at the Hankel farm had occurred over two years ago, but the memories for both agents had not faded. The young man looked over toward the building, scanned his route carefully and looked back to where Morgan and Parsons were still fighting. It was clear that the dark agent had the upper hand and their primary suspect would be subdued, so Reid hurried over to the barn to track down the other one.
Reid blinked the dust from his eyes as he entered the barn, squinting slightly as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. He waited, listening for any clue as to where Mrs Parsons might be and kept his gun trained in the direction of his vision as he peered into the areas that he could see.
The sounds of the fight continued outside, making it difficult to differentiate any other noises, so the doctor stepped carefully forward, rolling his feet so as not to create too much noise of his own. He wondered briefly at JJ's bravery for entering a barn in the pitch black, after a terrifying unsub. His own heart rate had accelerated while he checked out a barn that was mottled with light.
Reid moved steadily round the car that sat in the centre of the building. From what he could tell, it was the only place Mrs Parsons could be hiding. He just needed to get sight on her and make her safe so that they could get away from here and get JJ to the hospital. He stepped boldly round the front of the car and then moved away from it as he continued round, so that he could maximize the angle of vision.
He spotted her at exactly the same time she saw him. "FBI, put your hands in air."
Norma Parsons rose from the crouch she had been in and moved her left hand up slowly as she straightened her body. Suddenly she flicked her right hand up, revealing that she was holding a tazer.
Both Morgan and Parsons looked to the barn as they heard a shot echo from it. Parsons could see that Jareau was still on the ground near the van but could not see his mother anywhere. He turned back to Morgan, his rage even more out of control than before, and charged at the black agent.
Derek refused to think of the possible permutations for the outcome of that shot. He had his own battle on his hands and he needed to stop this guy. With a trained calm he allowed the man to run at him, and then stepped slightly to one side as he closed, using the momentum to carry them both to the floor. With a practiced twist, he landed on top of the man, following the jar of landing with a sharp jab to the man's ribs and then his jaw. He rolled quickly and, using the full swing of his broad shoulders, punched his opponent right in the jaw. Parsons collapsed unconscious onto the ground.
Morgan finally unholstered his gun and kept it trained on him one-handed as he struggled to release his cuffs from their holder. "Just stay down, man. It's over." he gasped, his heavy breathing telegraphing the amount of energy he had expended on the fight.
"Oh it is over, Agent Morgan," a voice came from behind him. "But for you." Morgan turned his head slowly, his gun remaining trained on the big man. He bit back an epithet as he saw Norma Parsons with what looked like Reid's gun pressed into the back of JJ's head. JJ sat awkwardly, one arm braced in an effort to keep herself upright, her face ashen with the effort.
"The cops are on their way," Morgan reminded Mrs Parsons. "You aren't getting out of here."
Norma smiled icily. "You really think I haven't planned ahead? Now unload your gun."
Morgan hesitated a fraction but complied as Norma viciously pushed the muzzle of her 9mm into the back of JJ's head.
"Empty the chamber and throw the gun down."
Morgan bit back a sound of frustration. He had hoped she might forget about the single bullet left in the gun, but that was not to be. He yanked back the chamber and watched the bullet tumble out before tossing the now empty weapon onto the ground.
"Do you think the locals are going to stop an FBI agent driving out of here at speed?" Norma asked conversationally.
"I'm doing nothing for you," Morgan demurred.
"Oh I don't really think you have a choice, do you?" To emphasise her rhetorical question, Norma grabbed JJ's shoulder and shook the woman slightly. "After all, you've come so close to saving her. You're not going to risk that now are you?"
"Don't do it," JJ ground out quietly, looking at her colleague imploringly.
Morgan glanced back to the man that had brutally beaten his colleague who was still laying prone and then returned his gaze toward the man's mother. "What do you want me to do?" he asked, his voice heavy with defeat.
"First you need to put Harrison in the trunk of your car. When you're done with that, get into the driving seat and handcuff your left hand to the steering wheel." Norma was very precise with her instructions and waited for Morgan to react. When she saw that he wasn't moving, she used the heel of the gun and rapped a sharp jab into JJ's temple, eliciting a grunt of pain from the blonde. "Don't second guess me or even think about doing anything stupid," she warned menacingly.
Morgan nodded slowly but still didn't move toward Parsons. "Someone needs to open the trunk," he pointed out reasonably.
Norma squinted her eyes at the man, weighing up his words as she tried to determine if there was any trickery or deceit in them. "I'll get to that, once you have my son in your arms. It'll make you easier to manage," she provided as an unnecessary addendum.
Derek nodded again and looked squarely at JJ. "Hold on JJ," he told her. "Help's coming."
"Don't build her hopes up, Agent Morgan," Mrs Parsons chided mockingly. "You're in no position to assist her, and once we disappear it will take too long to track her down." She smiled cruelly. "My son will have finished with her by then and she'll be disposed of like all the others." It was almost a release to talk about her grisly history, and Norma found she was enjoying it, particularly taunting the muscular black agent who had hurt her son. She gestured toward the car impatiently. "Now hurry up," she commanded.
It was the mistake Reid had been waiting for. He had been floored by Norma's tazer in the barn, his gun going off as him arm spasmed, and had watched helplessly from the ground as she discarded her weapon and collected his. He had crept his way out of the barn as soon as his muscles allowed him to get up. He was still weak, but he concentrated on keeping his movements quiet and steady in order not to draw any attention to himself. He noticed that Morgan had spotted him and was trying anything to keep the woman's focus on him. Stealthily, he moved behind the woman preparing to take any opportunity. He knew he couldn't risk tacking her while she held his gun to JJ's head.
As soon as the older woman gestured with her gun, Reid stepped forward and swung the lump of wood he had found in the barn and connected heavily with her head. As the woman slumped forward, the gun falling from her hands, Reid realised that he hadn't even hesitated to neutralise her, giving no thought or consideration to her outward appearance and age. She had enabled her son to do heinous things to innocent women and disposed of the bodies afterward and she had captured Emily and JJ and not shown any mercy on them. Reid was convinced that she held no remorse and had the same pathological disregard of humanity as her son did.
Morgan reacted the second Norma Parsons crumpled. He spun round and grabbed his handcuffs, quickly moving to secure Harrison's hands behind his back and minimise the danger from him. The man grunted, indicating that he was regaining consciousness, but Morgan was confident that the restraints would keep him secure. He then pivoted and scooted over to where Reid was securing the older woman with plasticuffs, allowing himself a cursory inspection to be satisfied that Reid was dealing with her appropriately. Acknowledging the younger agent's competence with a curt nod, he turned his attention to his other colleague.
JJ had slumped over as Norma collapsed unconscious, and she struggled to get herself upright.
Morgan stopped his approach and tried to catch her glance. He could see the visible evidence of Parsons' attacks on her, but he didn't know how far he'd gone. The last thing he wanted to do was rush up on her and scare her again.
JJ looked up at Morgan, her eyes surprisingly clear. "Emily?" she asked urgently.
Morgan nodded as he answered. "She's safe. Hotch and Rossi are with her. They were arranging an ambulance for her as we left."
"Thank god," sighed the media liaison in relief. "I don't know what I'd do if..." she trailed off as her mind took her back to the cellar and the horrific events she had been through.
"You're safe now JJ," Derek told her again and this time moved forward slowly, wanting to take her in his arms and provide comfort, but unsure where he could hold her without hurting her again.
The blonde saw his hesitation and wondered just how bad she looked. "Derek, I won't break. I know this is down to him," she gestured to the prone man lying a short distance away. "Just hug me and tell me it's all over."
Morgan needed no further encouragement, smiling sadly at the wounded agent as he leant forward to do just that. The second his hands touched JJ's back he heard her inhale in pain and felt her flinch away. "God, JJ. How do I hold you without hurting you?"
JJ blew a breath out of her mouth as she tried to ignore the burning pain in her back. It had been a visceral reminder of the beating she had suffered at the hands of her captor. She glanced up as she caught the wail of sirens in the distance and then looked down at her appearance; blood-stained blouse ripped and gaping open, the buttons of her pants undone with more stains on them. "Morgan, I don't want to be seen like this, can you take me to the hospital?"
Morgan looked at the young woman incredulously. "Jayje, you need medical assistance. I've gotta get you an ambulance."
JJ shook her head vehemently. "Please," she begged. "I'll hold on to you if you pick me up. We can go in the SUV. I'm not refusing treatment, I just don't want to deal with anyone else."
Morgan looked at Reid questioningly. The young doctor nodded silent assent. He was as horrified as Morgan by JJ's injuries and he knew that even if she wasn't jumpy now, things could change quickly and negatively for her.
"Okay, JJ," Morgan acquiesced. "Let me get you into the car, and we'll leave as soon as the LEO's get here and take these two in."
JJ nodded and looped her arms round Morgan's neck. She took a deep breath as she prepared herself. "Okay, I'm ready," she signalled.
As gently as he could, the dark agent put his arm under her thighs, and then stood slowly, lifting the petite woman as he rose. He waited for her to settle as he balanced her on one arm, anxious not to touch her back again, knowing the pain she would endure. As soon as she nodded that she was ready, he moved toward the car, only to stop as he heard a gruff, deep voice call out.
"This ain't finished, darlin'. I'll find you to finish off our business," Harrison Parsons vowed.
Morgan felt JJ immediately tense up and was surprised when she turned to face her tormentor; he was certain she would want to ignore him.
"They have the death penalty here, Parsons," she reminded him coldly. "And even if you manage to elude that, you'll be rotting inside a sweaty prison for the rest of your life. And I don't plan on losing a moment's sleep over that, you sick loser." She turned back and rested her face into the crook of Morgan's shoulder. "Get me out of here," she whispered desperately.
Emily was aware of her surroundings before she could open her eyes. In fact, she was having to fight very hard to open her eyes as they remained resolutely shut, despite her best efforts.
Her other senses told her instantly that she was no longer in the basement of Norma Parsons' home. The air was clean and dry, and cooled. She was in an air-conditioned room, and from the soft feel of the surface beneath her and the smooth covers over her, she surmised that she was in a bed. The rhythmic pinging at various tones and volumes provided the additional information that made her believe she was in a hospital bed. That could only mean that she had been rescued.
A sense of sheer relief washed through the brunette agent, even as she began to catalogue the various pains and aches she was feeling throughout her body. Her head was pounding, and felt swollen. Her body felt weak and exhausted and her hands and wrists were very sore.
Even as she acknowledged her injuries, Emily realised that she did not know what had happened to JJ, or even if she had been found. It was this spur for additional information that finally made her prise her eyes open.
Her headache was exacerbated by the bright lights of the hospital room she did indeed find herself in and Emily squinted, trying to limit the light into her eyes.
As she looked round, the brunette agent could make out a shadowy shape to one side of the room. Blinking in an effort to focus her vision, Emily realised that it was her unit chief keeping her company. She opened her mouth to speak but her throat was parched and she could only manage a weak rasp.
Hotchner snapped his head up as soon as he heard the sound emanating from the hospital bed he was holding watch over. The raven-haired man stood and stepped closer to the injured agent, a tiny smile of relief ghosting his features as he looked at his subordinate. "Nice to have you back in the land of the living," he commented drily.
Emily coughed slightly. "Water?" she asked, hopefully.
Hotch glanced toward the door. "I ought to check with the doctor first," he demurred.
"Please, Hotch. Just a sip," the woman begged plaintively.
The saturnine agent paused a second more before reaching for the jug at the side of Emily's bed and pouring out about a small amount of water. "Don't rush it," he warned, knowing through unfortunate experience that headaches and concussion were frequently accompanied by nausea.
Prentiss was only too familiar with getting injured but appreciated the reminder nevertheless. She wiggled up the bed slightly and took just enough water to moisten the insides of her mouth, relishing the chilled liquid as she swallowed. She looked up at Hotch and pinned him with a look. "JJ?" she enquired directly, surprised that her voice betrayed none of the sheer dread she felt.
Aaron had been with the BAU for far too long not to notice the tension in Emily as she asked her question and was quick to reassure her. "She's safe. Morgan and Reid brought her in a little while ago."
"How badly hurt is she?"
"They've taken her to surgery," Hotch advised. "Punctured lung,couple of rib fractures and numerous other soft tissue injuries," he continued. "She's also on the query list for a concussion." He stopped as he saw the pained etched on Prentiss's face. "Emily, do not hold yourself responsible for JJ getting hurt. This is all on Parsons."
"I'm a trained field agent, Hotch. I'm used to dealing with this. I've prepared for it. It should have been me..."
"Emily, I can't take away the guilt you're feeling about this. It's human nature to feel that way when we can't protect others."
Emily shook her head slightly, realising as she did that the motion was not helping her headache. "It didn't matter what I did, he wasn't interested in me. He just wanted to hurt her and I couldn't do anything to distract him."
"Then you already know that you did all you could. JJ's a trained FBI agent too."
"That's not the point," Emily snapped irritably.
"Then what is the point?" the unit chief probed softly.
Emily opened her mouth to speak again but stopped herself. "It doesn't matter," she brushed away the probe, looking away from Aaron as she spoke.
Hotch knew his agent well enough to know when she was compartmentalising. "I'm going to fetch the doctor to check you out," he stated, guiltily realising that he should have done that before anything else. "If he gives me the go ahead, are you willing to do a debrief now?"
Emily nodded acquiescence and the tall man strode swiftly from the room.
JJ decided that she had never felt so comfortable in her entire life. The bed was soft and clean, nothing hurt and she knew without looking that there were staff around to protect her should she be put in danger. She also knew that her being pain-free was entirely due to the large drug cocktail that the doctors had prescribed and that the second she actually tried to move, she was likely to find out that they were not perfect and that something would hurt, probably quite a lot. Despite knowing this however, JJ still forced her eyes open and tried to sit up, wincing and grunting as her body confirmed her suspicions.
"Hey, where do you think you're going?" a deep voice asked as she felt a hand still her movement.
JJ looked up and saw Morgan looking down at her, concern etched on his face.
"I want to see Emily," she explained. Or at least, attempted to explain. Her voice was raspy and weak, betraying the agent's physical shape.
"Emily is doing fine. And she won't be happy with you if she finds you dragging yourself out of bed, and possibly hurting yourself trying to see her."
"Well then get me a chair and take me to her," JJ countered, her voice no stronger.
"JJ, you've just undergone major surgery, and you've been out of it for hours. You really need to rest," Morgan tried again.
JJ was having none of it. "Derek, what I really need," she interrupted, "is to see with my own eyes that Emily is okay. The last time I saw her..." her voice faltered as she closed her eyes, recalling the brunette lying slumped on the ground.
"Hey," Morgan's call brought her back to the present. "I understand," he continued gently. "But she will kick my ass if I let you hurt yourself in a stubborn attempt to see her. Please take it easy." Morgan held out a cup of water with a straw dipped in it and waited for Jennifer to take a grateful sip. He pulled it from her reach after a short time. "Don't overdo it, you'll end up barfing everywhere," he explained at her confused expression. "JJ, be patient and let me check with the doctors to see if I can move you, and if they say it's okay, I promise I'll take you to see Emily."
Morgan waited for JJ to acquiesce before leaving the hospital room. He strode purposefully to the central desk and caught the eye of one of the nurses there. "Is it okay for me to take JJ to see her colleague?" He gestured JJ's room with a flick of his hand, to give the nurse a clue as to who he was talking about.
The petite nurse looked at the agent with a confused look. "Sorry agent, Ms Prentiss discharged herself about an hour ago."
"What? She can't be well enough to leave hospital yet." Morgan argued.
"Her supervisor was with her and assured us that he would keep an eye on her back at the hotel. I believe he was making arrangements to get her home tomorrow morning."
Morgan was astonished. He would have laid money on Prentiss barging down JJ's door in an effort to see her, but instead she had left the hospital. He looked back to where the blonde agent lay resting after her surgery. What was he going to tell her that would either not break her heart, or provoke her into self-discharging and possibly hurting herself?
Stumped, the muscular agent retrieved his cell from the holster on his belt. "Hotch, what the hell is Emily up to?" he asked without preamble.
Aaron's slightly modulated voice responded quickly. "She insisted on leaving. I think it would have done more harm than good making her stay."
"Why didn't she come and see JJ?"
"Told me that as long as she knew JJ was safe, there was no reason to disturb her."
Morgan shook his head, knowing that his supervisor couldn't see him. "What? That doesn't make any sense," he protested.
"Hang on a minute." There was a pause and Morgan could hear soft shuffling over the phone line and then a muted clunk of a door shutting. After a few more seconds Hotchner spoke again. "Sorry Morgan, I was in the room with Emily. And she knows I'm going to raise concerns with you, she's not stupid, but you're right. It doesn't make sense and I spent some time arguing that with her before we left." The unit chief sighed as he composed his thoughts. "I don't know what else has gone on here, but Emily is blaming herself completely for JJ getting hurt. It doesn't matter what I say to her."
Morgan was stumped. He glanced over to the room where JJ was lying. "What do you want me to tell her, Hotch?"
There was a long pause at the other end that Morgan interpreted as Hotchner being equally perplexed. "You'll have to tell her the truth, Morgan. JJ would see through anything else in an instant. Is there any word on how long she needs to stay in?"
"I haven't asked yet to be honest. I didn't think there would be any rush."
"Emily is insisting she goes back to D.C. tomorrow. Rossi and I need to finish up the interviews and paperwork. Can you go back with Emily or would you prefer Reid go back?"
Morgan thought for a few moments, as he weighed up the pros and cons of a very unsatisfactory situation. "Hotch, I know she's my partner, but I actually think Reid might be better support for her. If she's locked into some bizarre logic world of her own, he'll have the best chance of breaking in and helping her out." He stopped himself from saying that he was angry with the brunette for her apparent selfishness, knowing that it was evident in his voice, and that it simply would not help matters.
Hotch's dismembered voice broke through his thoughts. "Agreed. Do your best to keep JJ in hospital until the doctors clear her. We don't need two agents out on extended sick leave through sheer pig-headedness."
Morgan hung up without saying goodbye, knowing that his work was cut out for him. He started back towards JJ's room before changing his mind and heading back to the nursing station. "Sorry to bother you again but when will the doctor see JJ?"
The nurse smiled sympathetically, picking up on Morgan's mood without knowing the reason behind it. "I've paged him and he's on his way."
Morgan nodded. "I know you probably can't say but how long is JJ likely to stay in?"
The nurse barked a short laugh. "That really is for the doctor." She paused a beat before continuing. "But in my experience, you're looking at two or three days minimum. She needs the GA to get right out of her system before they even think about releasing her."
"General anaesthetic, and the heavier pain killers. Believe me, she probably thinks she can cope right now, but give it a couple of hours and she will really begin to feel it."
Morgan thanked the nurse and headed back to the recuperating agent. "Hey Jayje," he greeted softly as he stepped through the door.
JJ opened her eyes drowsily, surprised that she had dropped off again so soon. "Hey Derek. What's the verdict?"
Morgan returned to the chair by her bed and sat down. "I'm sorry JJ, but Emily left the hospital earlier. She's flying back to Washington tomorrow."
JJ stared at her co-worker as the words sank in. Morgan could see confusion in her eyes as she processed the information. She swallowed, wincing at the pain in her throat as she tried to keep her voice level and composed. "Did she at least come and see me while I was out?"
Morgan's hesitation to answer was enough and JJ closed her eyes, trying to hide the pain she knew was reflected in them. "Thanks, Derek. If it's okay with you, I think I need to rest."
Her reaction stumped him; he had fully expected her to insist on following Emily back to the hotel. Morgan felt helpless, but stamped on his anger with Emily; there had to be a good reason for what she was doing. "Do you want me to leave?" he asked courteously, knowing that JJ would want some privacy.
"No," she croaked, raw emotion colouring the tone. The answer surprised him, but he nodded silently, and sat back, determined to be there for her when she needed him.
Emily swilled her wine glass slowly, studying the eddy of ruby liquid slow down gradually as she sat back on the couch. It had been three days since she had left Alabama, flying back on the jet with Reid. Mercifully, the young doctor had made no attempt to engage her in banal conversation, simply indicating that he was there if she needed to talk before sitting in the seat across the aisle; staying near by, but not cloyingly so.
Emily hadn't taken Reid up on the offer. She didn't know where to start. Something about the whole situation had paralysed her mind and she had no idea how to move on. It was impossible to shut away the images of an injured JJ that seemed to have been burnt onto her retinas. All her established methods of compartmentalising had deserted her. She regretted even using the term to describe how she dealt with things, because right now, it couldn't be further from reality. It didn't matter how many boxes or walls she tried to erect around her feelings, all she could focus on was the fact that she had been unable to protect the woman she loved.
Emily slumped further back into the sofa. At least she had finally admitted her feelings to herself, even if they did no good. She had flirted with the blonde ever since she had laid eyes on her, but until this case had stubbornly told herself that they were simply platonic actions with a close friend. There was a real irony to the situation as Emily openly admitted she was guarded with her own feelings. It was typical that when at last she acknowledged what they truly were, she just could not act on them. How could she? How would JJ even consider a relationship with a woman who failed to protect her? How could JJ even look her in the eye, or bear to be in the same room as her? Emily could barely tolerate being in her own skin. The situation was a complete SNAFU and she was responsible.
To top it all, Hotch had sent a text a short while ago saying that they were finally returning. This would mean that at some point, JJ would be back at the BAU office. Emily had demanded continual updates on the Media Liaison's condition from Morgan and he had willingly supplied the information, though always with the suggestion that she could speak to JJ herself. Emily had deflected every time, not remotely ready to speak to the other woman yet. Morgan had coaxed, cajoled and downright dared to get Emily to speak to the other woman, but Emily remained obstinately observing from a distance.
She had gone into the BAU since her return and worked, going through the stack of consults that often got pushed to one side in the event of a live ongoing case. It had been easy going in when it was only Reid and Garcia to keep her company. The technical analyst had remained suspiciously reticent about Emily's behaviour, and instead told her that her office door would always be open for her, as long as she knocked first. Emily had nodded in appreciation, and then ensured that she remained busy, ignoring Garcia's offer by distracting herself with work during office hours, and then leaving for her apartment late into the evening.
It was not compartmentalising, Emily concluded with another wave of self-loathing honesty, it was simple avoidance. She did not know how to deal with her own feelings of inadequacy with the Parsons' case. She did not know how to deal with her feelings of love for JJ, and she certainly did not want to hear how JJ's feelings had changed toward her during their capture and torture.
Emily frowned as she studied her now empty glass. When had she finished it? Shaking her head slightly at her lack of focus, she stood up to get a refill. The one thing she had managed to do successfully since her return was get a good buzz on every night. It was almost a shame to waste good wine just to take the edge off, but Emily knew that if she drank the cheap stuff, it would hit her like a freight train in the morning.
As she poured out another good size measure, she heard a knock at the door. The profiler rolled her eyes; she might have guessed that Hotch would come round straight away to see how she was. He was never one to leave things alone. In fairness, she grudgingly admitted, he was also their team leader and therefore needed to ensure that he had a functioning unit. Emily wasn't sure she could give him that assurance once JJ returned to duty.
Sighing and leaving the glass in the kitchen, Emily went to the front door, pausing only to do a perfunctory check at the spy-hole and then froze halfway to taking the chain off the door. It was JJ waiting outside.
Knowing that the blonde media liaison would have heard the jangling of the chain, Emily had no choice but to continue opening the door. She gripped the edge tightly, partly to keep herself from overtly shaking, and partly to steel herself for the inevitable onslaught. JJ's face showed livid marks from their capture; reds and angry purple hues decorating a swollen cheek and eyes. The bruises continued down her neck, and Prentiss knew that the smaller woman's body would also be covered with wounds that had no right to be there. "JJ," she greeted, mentally cursing her voice for cracking as she spoke.
JJ looked at the older woman for a moment, still uncertain whether to be mad at her for not keeping in touch, or to run away from their contact. She wanted so desperately to know why Emily had isolated herself but simultaneously knew that she was not prepared to hear that the brunette had decided that perhaps there was nothing more between them than a work-based friendship that had been torn asunder by a depraved sadist and his equally psychotic mother. Emily's face was healing, but there was an ugly discoloured swelling on her left temple, and JJ knew that she had injuries over her body, just as she did.
In the moment she heard her name spoken, JJ realised that Emily was hurting as deeply as she was, and the only way they were going to heal was to talk it out, no matter how painful that might be. "Emily, can I come in?" she asked gently.
Emily frowned briefly in confusion. She had expected an immediate confrontation, but JJ had surprised her with the soft request, and the ambassador's daughter stood to one side, silently giving permission for her colleague to enter.
Once JJ had stepped over the threshold, Emily closed the door and threw the deadbolt, before fixing the chain across the door. It was a ritual she had begun years ago, but the noises made as the door was secured seemed loud and jarring to her ears now.
Emily turned round to see JJ seemingly stranded in the centre of the room. "Take a seat, Jayje," Emily invited. "Do you want something to drink?"
JJ perched herself on the edge of a sofa, not feeling entirely comfortable. "Just some water, thanks."
Emily obliged and returned to the living area with a large glass of water and her own wine glass. "You sure you don't want something stronger?"
JJ shook her head. "On meds for another week. If you're up for keeping me company when I break my abstinence, let me know."
Emily began to respond and then stopped herself uncertain of how exactly to respond to that. She sat down heavily in the chair opposite JJ. "I don't know what to say," she said finally.
JJ stared into the glass of water she had been given and sighed. "Neither do I," she admitted. "I had a big long speech rehearsed in my head that I kept repeating on my way over, and it's all gone."
Emily closed her eyes for a long second, hating that she was the cause of JJ's fragility. "I should have protected you," she muttered angrily to herself.
JJ looked up at the woman sadly. "Emily, you did everything you could. And don't you think I was doing the same thing, trying to protect you from him?"
"I don't know how you can even stand to be in my company JJ," Emily continued, not really registering the other woman's words. "I should have been able to stop him." She was getting irritated with herself again.
The blonde media liaison took a long draft of water before setting the glass down on a nearby table. "Emily, we were taken by surprise by someone we had no idea of suspecting. The situation we were put in was not your fault. I don't blame you for that."
Emily stared pointedly at JJ, her profiling instinct kicking into overdrive. "But you do blame me for something," she probed, feeling a sharp stab of pain in her chest.
JJ swallowed nervously and stood, walking away from the older woman. "No, not really," she hedged, brushing away a stray tear that betrayed the maelstrom of emotion she was feeling.
Emily stood up and closed the distance between them slightly, careful not to intrude too greatly into JJ's personal space. "JJ?" she prompted softly.
"You weren't there, Em. You weren't there to fill in the gaps for me," JJ replied cryptically, frustrated that she couldn't articulate what she wanted to say without being overly emotive, or accusatory.
"Gaps? What gaps?"
JJ shook her head, knowing that her feelings were unfair. "It doesn't matter," she demurred.
"It does, JJ. It's tearing you up. What gaps? What are you talking about?" Emily was genuinely confused.
JJ spun round to face the older woman. "I had to wait for the results of a rape kit to confirm what he had or hadn't done to me," she blurted, her eyes widening in horror as the words fell from her mouth.
Emily paled and almost staggered at the sheer hurt in JJ's voice. She took a step back, feeling almost physically struck by the words. "Oh my god!" It was clear that it hadn't even occurred to Emily that JJ would need that sort of information. The brunette could feel her mind and emotions swinging between two reactions. She was lurching between a total self-loathing paralysis and angry recrimination with an underlying determination to actually do something. Something inside her finally gave; she had been wallowing in reflective inaction for far too long. All she was doing was hurting JJ, and not giving herself an opportunity to heal or help. It was time to change.
Exhaling heavily, the agent stepped toward JJ again. "I am so sorry, JJ. You shouldn't have had to do that alone. I have no excuse for my behaviour." She ran a hand through her hair nervously. "I know this is probably too much to ask, but I am here now. I will do whatever I can to help you."
JJ barked out a short sob as she heard Emily's words. "Why do you think I'm here, Emily? Of course I want you to help." She drew a shaky breath. "I... I need you to help," she continued.
Emily closed the gap and took the smaller woman into her arms gently and held the woman, feeling JJ grab onto her blouse and grip her tightly even as her body continued to tremble as she cried. The dark-haired agent could feel her own cheeks wet with tears but did nothing to stem them. It was time for them both to have a catharsis. Details, recriminations, blame, reflection and acceptance could wait. Now was a time to let go.
There was something intensely centering about Emily, JJ decided as she took strength and comfort from the other woman's embrace. She had known it almost since the day they had met. They had shared a connection that couldn't simply be put down to being a woman in a man's world, or anything else as trite as that. Emily understood JJ in a way that few others did. She held onto the taller woman and let the feelings of comfort and security wash over her and steady her. She had no idea how long it lasted for and she was in no mood to break contact any time soon, but eventually she pulled away enough to be able to look at Emily's face. She noted the tear-stained cheeks and knew that hers were the same. Taking a shaky breath, she lifted a hand up and gently wiped away the tears before trusting her voice with words. "I really don't want to break the spell, but we do have to talk."
Emily nodded forlornly, and grabbing JJ's other hand, led her to the sofa and sat down, pulling the blonde agent down onto the couch with her. She frowned slightly as a thought came to her. "JJ, why aren't you at home with Henry?" The ambassador's daughter knew the younger woman well enough to know that her son was the centre of her life.
JJ wrinkled her nose with irritation. "Will thought it was a good idea to take him down to New Orleans for the weekend. Give me time to get used to being at home before having to look after him, he said." The disgust in her voice was evident. "It took me the whole flight from Alabama to admit that he was probably right," she grumbled churlishly.
Emily couldn't help herself. "Probably?"
"Well after it took me three attempts to stand up after the flight I had to admit to myself that I am not in any shape to be running after my boy. He's coming home tomorrow night." She smiled wanly. "To be honest, he would have been asleep if he was at home when I landed, and if I woke him up looking like this, it'd probably give him nightmares for weeks." She gestured vaguely at her battered face.
With the conversation steered neatly back to the root of their problems, Emily swallowed nervously, studying their hands that had remained entwined. "I don't even know how you can forgive my behaviour," she whispered, refusing to meet JJ's gaze.
JJ gently squeezed the other woman's hands. "Sshhh," she guided softly. "Give me a minute," she continued, equally quietly. "I had this big speech rehearsed in my head," she stated, not remembering that she had already told the older woman this. "I wanted to yell at you, Em. You were so hell-bent on your own self-loathing, you didn't know what it was doing to me, or anyone else."
Emily looked up, confusion painted across her features. "Everyone else?"
JJ shook her head, her smile a fraction more amused. "That's what you choose to concentrate on?" she prompted, a slight tinge of disbelief colouring her tone.
Emily shook her head, immediately contrite. "Sorry."
JJ untangled her hands from the brunette's grasp and placed her fingers gently over Emily's lips. "Please, let me finish," she requested softly.
She felt Emily nod acquiescence and then continued, her voice raw and deep with emotion. "I spent the last three days in a hospital bed wondering what had happened to you, and wondering what I had done to drive you away."
Emily opened her mouth but JJ shook her head, unwilling to cede the conversation yet. "The first thing I thought was that you couldn't bear to look at me; that I'd let you down by drinking that stupid drink and getting drugged. It was my fault for us even being in that position."
"JJ," Emily tried again.
"No, Emily. I need to do this all in one hit, or it's not going to get said. I promise you will have the chance to answer anything and put me right if you have to," the media liaison stated, putting a knowing emphasis on the final phrase, having worked around profilers for long enough. "So, at first I blamed myself, and I think I drove Morgan to distraction asking him how you were, and if you were okay and getting better, and a million and one other questions in the hope that any single answer might give me a clue as to why you'd gone away. But Morgan didn't have any answers for me either." She looked carefully at the brown-eyed woman. "You need to speak with Morgan," she advised sagely.
Emily nodded, but recalling JJ's earlier plea to be heard, remained silent, even though it felt as though an icy hand was clenching her heart.
JJ exhaled again, trying to centre herself. "When Hotch did my debrief, he told me that my rape kit had come back negative, although there were traces of fluid on my body." She shuddered in disgust. "None of the medical staff had told me the results, and I knew that I would have had to have a test done, so I'd spent the better part of two days wondering what if..." She swallowed, trying to dampen the emotion that made her voice so raw. "Until I knew that it was negative, I thought that perhaps you couldn't look at me because I'd somehow let him do that to me."
"JJ, No!" Emily exclaimed, promise be damned. "None of this was your fault."
The blonde stood up suddenly, running a hand nervously through her hair as she turned away from her companion. "Then why weren't you there Emily? Why weren't you there when I needed you?"
Emily stood up immediately and placed her hands on the smaller woman's shoulders. "Because I didn't know how to deal with letting you down," she admitted. "All of this was my fault, not yours. I couldn't stop him beating you, or touching you, and I wasn't even conscious when they took you away. By the time I came round you had been found, but that had nothing to do with me."
Tears were streaming down Emily's face again, but she was oblivious to them. "How could I expect you to look at me, or even tolerate being in the same room as me, when I had failed you so badly?"
JJ turned slowly, wiping her own tears away before brushing tears from Emily's cheeks. "Are you really that clueless?" she pondered almost to herself. The frown gracing Emily's brow was enough. "Emily, I could never hate you, or think so badly of you that I couldn't be with you. Don't you know what you mean to me?"
"All I know is that I wasn't there for you when you needed me the most," Emily demurred gruffly.
"I needed you three days ago, two days ago, yesterday and I need you today," JJ pointed out gently. "Please never hide or run from me. I couldn't bear it."
Emotions were crashing over Emily. She was stunned by what JJ had said and it was difficult taking it all in. As she began to process the meaning behind the words, the older woman had to marvel at JJ's resilience and determination. What amazed her all the more was the faith that she was showing in her, by turning up and talking the issue through, rather than avoid it. She swallowed down a bitter taste as she considered her own behaviour.
"I am such a coward," she muttered in disgust, deciding that her own actions were detestable.
JJ shook her head immediately. "Don't do this to yourself, Em," she advised. "You deal with things differently to me. That doesn't make you wrong and me right. But I have to ask you to trust me, and trust in me if you want to go any further in our relationship."
Emily's eyes widened instantly in surprise. "Relationship?" she asked nervously. Surely JJ couldn't want to have anything more to do with her than at best friendship over their professional relationship.
"Emily, if there was one single thing I learned from this experience, it was that we can't take time for granted. I can't take you, or our feelings for granted." She pinched the bridge of her nose for a moment, composing her thoughts again before looking straight at the older woman and taking a deep breath. JJ knew she was risking everything here but the alternative was unthinkable. "Emily, I love you. I would like to be with you and share my life with you..."
Anything else JJ intended to state at that moment was cut off by the soft press of Emily's lips on her own. Initially startled, JJ quickly responded and the two women stepped closer into each other's arms, the kiss almost tentative for the longest time before mouths opened and sensations explored. Emily could feel her heart hammering in her chest and was quite sure that it was no longer functioning properly but she didn't care. The sensation of JJ's lips and tongue was something she couldn't give up and for the first time in days, thoughts of the horrors she and JJ had endured slipped back into the recesses of her mind.
Eventually, the two women parted, resting their foreheads against each other as they took a moment to recover from the sensation. Swallowing, Emily looked into JJ's eyes. "I've never been in a relationship where I've truly opened up to someone before," she admitted cautiously. "I'm not sure I can just start doing that. It's not that I don't trust you, it's more like I can't trust myself I think."
"Emily, I'm not asking you to start baring your soul overnight. Just try and work with me, and understand that when I get frustrated at you not sharing, and let's face it, that is going to happen, I will be annoyed because I want to help, not just cause you further discomfort."
Emily nodded. "You are too good for me, you know that? I don't deserve you."
"Emily, you deserve to be loved," the blonde refuted gently. "You are an amazing woman. I've been captivated by you for..." JJ frowned for a moment as she tried to pinpoint her emotions.
Emily looked at JJ curiously as she noted an embarrassed flush creep over her face. "For how long?" she asked, with naive inquisitiveness.
JJ's chagrin continued as she looked into the older woman's eyes. "Since we first me," she admitted finally. "I just never had the courage to act on my feelings."
"You're the bravest person I know," Emily retorted firmly.
"Not when it comes to matters of the heart," JJ refuted. She stepped back slightly and rubbed her face. "Emily, I know this hasn't started under the best auspices," a hand gestured languidly between them, "but I mean it when I say I want to be with you."
"I want to be with you too," Emily responded instantly.
JJ smiled, her body relaxing slightly. "Yeah, I get that," she acknowledged. "But this is a crazy situation. Can we take it slow, work together and deal with all the crap that has happened and make sure we build our relationship on solid terms?"
Emily closed the gap between them once more. "We can work through this Jayje," she assured her. "Just be patient with me," she pleaded.
"Always," JJ whispered, before capturing the brunette's lips once again.
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