DISCLAIMER: All herein belong to CBS and its affiliates, not me. Not profit was made, no disrespect intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Fluff. Well, slightly substantive fluff. A first-time, New Year’s Eve tale with no relation to anything else I have written; though hopefully, at least, in keeping with the characters, as much as is possible in fluff, substantive or otherwise. My thanks to a trio of lovely beta readers, in alphabetical order: eclecticfan, ralst, and tremblingmoon (wonderful, helpful women all! *g*)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Cup of Kindness
She had always hated New Year's. It wasn't that she was opposed to reflection on the passage of time and a little genuine soul searching. God knows, she indulged in both on a frighteningly regular basis. But she adamantly refused to do so based upon some arbitrary date on a calendar, a calendar that had been altered so many times over the centuries to suit this church or that ruler that it held little real meaning in terms of the ending of one year and the beginning of another. It was just another day. Except that it wasn't.
There was, instead, some absurd, collective agreement in the Western world that tomorrow was the day that we start over; tomorrow was the day when the leaden weight of one year was shrugged off, layer by pathetic layer of forgotten dreams, broken promises, and staggering disappointments; all peeled away like thick woolen sweaters, each knitted by hand, each moth-eaten and sodden from the rain.
Tomorrow was the day when a whole new wardrobe was begun, every stitch uniquely, tragically our own, each pattern a tribute to the individual capacity to hope for things that we knew, in that rational part of our brains buried under the clogging silt of optimism, would never come to pass.
Emily slumped down on the couch in her living room, staring resentfully out at the spectacular view beyond the wide glass doors. Out there, the Capital city was preparing itself to celebrate the end of another year of unadulterated greed, corruption, and malice. Tomorrow, it would simply pick up the threads and begin again to weave the same fabric. It didn't matter who was in charge. The design always remained the same.
Her hair was pulled back in an elegant French chignon, her black cocktail dress pooling around her thighs, liquid and silken, dipping down like a lover's caress into the curved "v" of her cleavage. Next to her on the floor, a pair of three inch Prada heels lay waiting, Cinderella's slippers, anxious for the ball. Only Emily wasn't going to the ball. Actually, she was going to her parents' house for her mother's obscenely expensive soiree to usher in another baleful new year.
She had said that she would go. To be honest, she had been guilted into going, the tenor of her mother's voice over the phone line one with which she was far too intimately familiar. She could close her eyes and see the expression of martyred disappointment settling over that patrician countenance, lips thinning to a tightened ribbon of repressed annoyance, eyes narrowed as the Ambassador gazed at the falsehood of a family portrait that had always graced the corner of her desk.
Her tone was intentionally light, the only tell the slightly lilting rise in intonation, as her voice altered into one used to lure a stubborn, untamed animal or a spoiled, recalcitrant child. Emily was never quite sure which one her mother regarded her as, simply aware that other mothers spoke to their children with genuine affection, not the overplayed cheerfulness of a second string off-Broadway actress.
Odd that a woman who spent her life convincing other nations to accept the transparent lies of her government, with honeyed voice and brown eyes oozing sincerity, couldn't quite manage to convince her own child that she loved her.
It was little wonder that, sometimes, Emily found that it was just less wearing on her ears, and her soul, to acquiesce.
So, against her better judgment, at seven o'clock she had dragged herself off the cushiony comfort of her sofa, putting down the hilarious, irreverent copy of Christopher Moore's Lamb, which Garcia had given her for Christmas. Forcing her legs up the stairs, she had stripped off her sweats and showered, stepping under the luxurious spray of hot water that cascaded over her head, a curtain of wet heat across her face, and down the length of her body.
Washing her hair, she regretted for the thousandth time giving in, not merely to her mother's coercion, but to the weak, clownish figure of hope that refused to be rooted out of her adult brain; the one that had run excitedly to the wide reception halls of half a dozen different embassies when it heard the sound of her returning mother's voice; the one that persistently trusted that this time, things would be different. They never were.
This hadn't been her only New Year's invitation. Garcia and JJ had tried unsuccessfully to talk her into going out with the rest of the team, well, minus Hotch and Rossi, to a great new club that Morgan promised would be just the way to celebrate the infant year's birth. She'd wanted to go with them, wanted to be part of the surrounding warmth of her new family, but in the end, she had begged off, her promise to her mother a legitimate excuse to spare herself what she knew would ultimately be a disappointing evening.
It wasn't that she didn't enjoying spending time with her teammates. She did. Well, with some more than others. Actually, in moments of intense personal honesty, with one in particular.
Somehow, over the course of the past several months, Jennifer Jareau had managed, without any apparent effort, to pry open windows and doors inside Emily that she could have sworn she had nailed shut long ago. And it scared Emily to death. Armed unsubs, angry militia members, determined Bureau chiefs all were met with the same unflinching, stoic courage.
It was only one slender, blonde Communications Liaison who reduced Emily Prentiss to a state of abject terror, mainly at the thought that, finally, she had met someone capable of sorting through all of her carefully arranged compartments and finding the one which held her heart.
Emily harbored no illusions about the lovely blonde agent. Although no one, aside from Hotch, had much a personal life, there had never been any indications to suggest that JJ was anything other than straight. Yes, she was sweet and engaging, yes she talked to Emily a lot, and yes, their eyes met quite often during the course of a day, and there were perhaps more than the occasional brush of hands on arms, but all those things could simply be put down to an outgoing, open nature and a desire to make friends. After all, the team did spend seventy percent of their lives working together, so it made sense that their small group would be the source of support and friendship.
None of which made Emily's burgeoning feelings for JJ any easier.
And the thought of spending the evening at the club, watching JJ flirt and be flirted with by every man with a pulse was something that didn't make Emily's list of things to do to welcome in the New Year. In fact, it ranked somewhere just below a high colonic as a fun way to spend some time. That didn't even take into account the idea of the ubiquitous midnight kiss. Seeing JJ kiss anyone, even if it was just a friendly peck, was something that Emily was fairly certain her heart couldn't handle.
So, that left going to her mother's party. Painful, yes, but a pain that held a certain comfort in its familiarity, a dull, companionable ache right behind her breastbone.
As opposed to the sharp stab to the abdomen that would come with witnessing Jennifer Jareau on the receiving end of a New Year's kiss. That was something Emily could live without.
Finally dressed and coifed to within an inch of her mother's approval, and standing in front of the mirror in the entranceway of her apartment, Emily paused to slip her earrings in, the gold gleaming dully in the half light of the foyer. An elegant woman peered out at her from the glass, dark hair swept up to reveal a long, slender, graceful neck, equally dark eyes in the muted light reflecting back her image to yet another Emily; an endless series of Emilys, none of them looking pleased to be heading out on this crisp New Year's Eve.
Meeting the gaze of all those other selves, she couldn't help but grimace as the absurdity of the whole situation struck her. Here she was, dressed to the nines, ready to drive all the way out to her parents' house in McLean, through holiday traffic, with every drunk in the world, to attend a party full of people that she didn't know, or if she did know, hadn't seen or spoken to since last New Year's Eve. A party where her mother would by turns ignore her or look askance at her for her lack of a date or a different job or a different pair of shoes.
And none of the Emilys standing there gazing in the mirror were confident that the evening could be accomplished without at least a few angry words and brittle recriminations.
So she simply stepped out of her three inch heels, leaving them forlornly beside the couch, and dropped onto the cushions. She knew that she should call and tell her mother she wasn't coming after all, but the imagined conversation was nearly as bad as actually sucking it up and going, so she sat and gazed out at the glow of white marble in the distance. She'd call her mother in the morning, make some excuse of having been called into work and listen as the new year began much like all of its preceding brethren: weighted down with thirty-eight years worth of misunderstandings and miscommunications and misplaced blame.
So much for new beginnings.
The annoying chirp of her cell phone ringing interrupted any more end of the year bitterness. She thought about not answering it, but over ten years with the Bureau had so engrained a response into her that she couldn't ignore the sharp ringing that seemed to echo through the darkened apartment.
Standing slowly, she crossed the short distance to the island in the kitchen where she normally dropped her phone and keys. Picking it up, she pressed the answer button without even looking at the caller id.
"Hey, Emily." Through the open line, Emily could hear the steady thump of a beat and the sound of several other, unrecognizable voices, combined with car horns and traffic whizzing past, all nearly drowning out the low tones of JJ's voice.
"JJ?" Emily knew it was her, of course. She heard that voice in her sleep, and it would take a lot more than ambient noise to disguise it from her. Asking simply gave her a moment to slow the sudden quickening of her pulse.
"Hang on a sec," JJ answered, and Emily heard the sound of footsteps and a lessening of the other sounds. "There. Is that better?"
"Yeah. Where are you? I thought that you were going with Garcia and Morgan and Reid to some club?" Emily asked, walking back over and dropping unceremoniously onto the couch.
"I did. I am. At the club, I mean. I just came outside to call you," JJ hesitated, and for a moment Emily wondered if she had lost the call, but then JJ spoke again, her voice warmer, more intimate. "I wanted to wish you a happy New Year before it got too late or too loud. I'm really sorry that you couldn't come out with us. It would have been fun."
Emily smiled, despite the nagging thought that JJ's idea of fun probably wasn't hers.
"Thanks. I'm sorry, too. Next year, I promise," Emily assured, trying a little unsuccessfully to keep the wistful note out of her tone.
"Granted that I have never been to an extremely classy New Year's Eve kind of thing, but your mother really does throw a quiet party," JJ responded, the complete shift in the conversation throwing Emily for a moment. "There's absolutely no noise where you are. Here it sounds like Mardi Gras."
Emily considered lying, considered telling JJ that she was on her way out the door, or that she was actually at her mother's, secluded in the study, away from the noise of the party, but she couldn't bring herself to lie. JJ didn't deserve her dishonesty, even if it would make it easier on her.
Well, maybe a little white lie wouldn't hurt.
"Um, actually, I didn't go. To my parents. I think that I may be coming down with something. I've got a really bad headache and I just feel sort of blah, so I decided just to stay home," Emily managed to get out in a reasonable facsimile of her normal tone of voice.
"So you're spending New Year's alone in your apartment?" JJ asked, a distinct note of sympathy coloring her own voice.
"Yeah. Really, it's no big deal. I'm not a huge New Year's fan anyway, so I'll probably just watch the fireworks and go to bed early," Emily rushed to reassure her.
"Oh, Em. I'm sorry. That kinda sucks," JJ said softly, the harsh blare of a car horn carrying through the line.
"I'm fine. Honest. It was great of you to call, though," Emily said, again trying to keep the trace of sadness out of her voice and again failing.
"Why don't you come and meet us at the club? Have a drink to welcome the new year. You don't have to stay long," JJ cajoled.
"That's really sweet of you, but I'm not dressed and by the time I changed and got there it would be late. Plus, I don't think that loud music would do much for my head." For some reason this lie came a little easier, as her previous vision of JJ kissing some handsome stranger plastered itself across her mind's eye.
"Okay," JJ replied, after an interval of silence, something in her tone that Emily didn't recognize. "Well, like I said, I just wanted to wish you a happy New Year."
"Happy New Year, JJ," Emily said softly, not even attempting to disguise her wistful melancholy. "Have fun tonight. Don't do anything I wouldn't do. Scratch that. Just have fun and be safe."
"Happy New Year, Em." JJ's voice was equally soft, and equally pensive.
Then there was no sound but the click of the line going dead.
If she hadn't already been depressed by the fatalism of the holiday, the death of one second-rate year and the birth of another, that phone call would have pushed her to it. There's nothing so delicate as the line between bearable attraction and abject longing, and the sweetness of JJ's gesture had sent her sailing right through the silvery cobwebbed barrier into the muck of unrealized desires. Sighing deeply, Emily hunkered down against the cushions and wallowed.
She knew that she should get up off the couch and change her clothes, get out of the dress and hose, wash her face and prepare to meet midnight on her own terms. She just wasn't sure what those terms were or how certain she was that she could live with them.
Instead, she rose and crossed back over to the kitchen, snagging a bottle of expensive Pinot she had been saving for something special, and tugging the cork free, filled a large fishbowl glass nearly full. Flipping on the CD player, the mellow, husky stylings of Diana Krall filled the high-ceilinged room. Emily settled back on the overstuffed sofa, long legs clad in sheer stockings propped up on the coffee table, and sipped the ruby liquid, the taste of blackberries and a hint of red plums lingering in her mouth. She could hear the sounds of music and laughter from the apartment below her, which only served to worsen her mood.
As a general rule, Emily tried to avoid indulging in moments of self-pity, but there was something about the enforced atmosphere of recollection and reexamination of this time of year that seemed to almost demand it, and for once, she was loathe to break with tradition.
So, she finished the glass of wine and poured another, staring without really seeing through the glass doors at the brilliantly lit column of white marble that rose into the air in the distance, the slender obelisk somewhat overpowered by the gloried bulk of the Capitol building glowing in the background. The seductive sway of the singer's voice hung in the room like blue-toned wisps of smoke against red walls turned to deepest claret by the darkness.
She lost track of time, her thoughts a jumble of images, all perfectly focused and heartbreakingly clear. A flash of white teeth smiling at her. The astonishing clarity of sapphire eyes turned her way, questioning, compelling. The burnished strands of hair transformed to gold and platinum under the light of a winter sun. All the images melded together in her mind with the lingering remains of a hundred conversations, a phrase, a gentle cadence, the touch of fingers on her arm as JJ made a point.
She chastised herself for being so pathetic, shaking her head in disgust. The thought did little to cheer her.
Her melancholy reverie was broken by the tentative rapping of knuckles on the wood of her door. No doubt someone in search of the party downstairs. Probably too drunk already to realize that they had the wrong floor. Emily considered just ignoring them, but the knocking continued, no longer hesitant, but sharp and demanding. Pushing up off the couch, she walked slowly to the door, a scowl of irritation clouding her features, the hardwood floor cool under her feet.
She didn't bother looking through the peep hole, intent on sending whoever it was on their way as quickly as possible. She flung the door open, mouth opened to issue a less than kind rebuff for disturbing her evening, and found herself staring into the same blue eyes that had taken up the last forty minutes of her thoughts.
"JJ? What're you doing here?" Emily asked, her astonishment clearly written on her face.
JJ simply smiled at her, that slow, sweet, surprisingly sexy smile that always made Emily's stomach flutter a bit, and held up a leather gloved hand in which she carried a green tinted bottle of champagne.
"Mohammed, meet the mountain," JJ laughed, her eyes sparkling with amusement and something else that Emily couldn't quite make out. "I decided that if you wouldn't come out with me, that I would come here. The club wasn't all that great and I wanted to see you. So, here I am. Can I come in?"
All Emily's suddenly overworked brain could do was nod in agreement as she stepped aside and let the blonde slip past her into the gloom of the apartment. JJ brought with her the scent of perfume and cold air, teasing Emily's nose as she brushed by her, causing her dark eyes to flutter shut for a moment as the fragrance surrounded her.
"I thought that you said that you weren't dressed, so you couldn't come over to the club?"
JJ's words cut through Emily's perfume induced fog and she opened her eyes to meet knowing, questioning blue ones. Again the fleeting thought of a little harmless prevarication tickled at the edges of her mind, but she pushed it aside.
"It's kind of a long story," Emily admitted with a sigh, gesturing with her hand for JJ to make herself comfortable on the recently vacated couch. "Would you like a glass of wine?"
Glancing at her watch and seeing that there was still another hour until midnight, JJ nodded.
"Sure, wine would be nice. We can open the champagne a little later," she answered, following Emily's example and slipping off the heels she was wearing and settling onto the soft cushions of the couch.
A little later. The words ricocheted around in Emily's head, the metallic ringing covering up the reasonable warnings her heart was uttering. Attempting to ignore them all, Emily brought another glass over and filled it from the half empty bottle sitting on the coffee table. Handing it to JJ, she sat down, careful to put some distance between her and her lovely guest.
JJ accepted the wineglass, tucking one of her feet up under her leg and regarding Emily with a curious expression, blonde head tilted to the left, blue eyes narrowed in contemplation.
"So, are you going to tell me why you're looking so amazingly gorgeous just to sit alone in your apartment?" The words caused Emily's breath to catch, her dark eyes widening at the unexpected compliment.
"Umm. Well, I was going to go to my parents' party and I even got dressed and was just ready to walk out the door when it occurred to me that I really didn't want to go," Emily began, her voice taking on an odd staccato rhythm as she spoke, "So, I didn't."
JJ waited for Emily to go on, but when no more was forthcoming, she realized that the brunette was going to require some coaxing to tell her anything else.
"So, you decided not to go to your parents'. What time was this?" JJ asked, not wanting to push too hard by asking her the reasons why she had decided not to go.
"I don't know. A while before you called," Emily answered hesitantly, "I was going to change and have a glass of wine, but I never actually made it upstairs. And then you called, and I guess I just lost track of time."
"So, why did you tell me that you weren't dressed and that you hadn't gone to your parents' because you were coming down with something?" JJ knew that she was pressuring the other woman, but right now, she needed to have some idea of where she stood in all of this.
Emily sat quietly for a few minutes, and JJ began to worry that she had stepped over some invisible line she wasn't meant to cross.
"I just wasn't up for a club and a night out, I guess," Emily told her finally, having come to the conclusion that half-truths were better than nothing. She certainly wasn't going to tell JJ that she just didn't think that she could stand watching her get hit on all night, or getting groped by drunken idiots herself. She ran her fingers along the stem of her wineglass, clearly not comfortable meeting JJ's eyes at this point. "I didn't want you to think that I didn't want to spend the evening with you. I did. I do. Just not in a loud nightclub."
"So, why didn't you just ask me to spend New Year's here with you?" JJ asked, not sure that she was ready for Emily's answer.
For her part, Emily was quite certain that the sudden shift of the earth that she had felt had less to do with the two large glasses of wine on an empty stomach and more on JJ's words and the look on her face.
"I just assumed that you would have much more exciting plans and I guess it never occurred to me that you would want to spend New Year's Eve with me," Emily answered slowly, her tone more than a trifle confused at the turn the conversation had taken.
Her confusion grew and expanded to fill her chest as no answer came from her lovely guest. Long minutes passed and JJ didn't respond, her eyes focused on the contents of her wine glass, ruby liquid that just caught the angled shaft of light spilling in through the open blind of the balcony doors. She drew her bottom lip in, capturing it between her front teeth, and took in a shallow breath. It was only when Emily stood abruptly, clearly upset, and crossed the room to stand looking out at the spectacular view of the city that JJ looked up and spoke, a frown creasing her forehead at the brunette's hasty movement.
Receiving no reply, JJ stood as well, crossing to where Emily remained motionless, arms folded across her chest in a self-protective pose. Reaching out a cautious right hand, JJ gently wrapped her fingers around Emily's forearm, the skin smooth and warm beneath her fingers. She felt Emily's slight flinch at her touch.
"Emily, please look at me," JJ urged, moving to stand in front of Emily, with her back to the glass, feeling the change in temperature as the air outside tried to force its way in through the panes. "Please?"
"Why did you come, JJ? Why didn't you just stay at the club with Garcia and the others?" Emily knew her voice sounded harsh, but she just couldn't help it. Emotions were coursing through her and she was having a hard time keeping them all under control.
"Because I didn't want to be with Garcia or Morgan or Reid or anyone else. I wanted to be with you," JJ explained slowly, her own voice a far cry from its normally modulated tones, her eyes earnest and sincere. "I should have just asked you to spend New Year's with me, but instead, I chickened out and arranged for all of us to go out, thinking that at least I would get to spend the evening with you, even if we weren't alone.
"And then you said that you couldn't go, that you had to go to your parents'. So, when I called and you told me that you hadn't gone, I thought that this was my chance to spend New Year's with the person I wanted to spend it with. Emily, I honestly thought that you've been feeling the same things I've been feeling. But if I've misread some signals, or misinterpreted in any way, I'm so sorry." JJ drew in a deep breath and dropped her eyes to the floor. "Maybe I should just go."
"Don't go," Emily replied quietly, a bewildered look on her face as her eyes dropped from her studied perusal of the view of the city to JJ's face. "Please. JJ, you haven't misread anything. I just assumed that you couldn't possibly be feeling any of the things that I was. That's why I didn't want to go to the club tonight. I didn't think that I could stand watching every man in the place flirt with you. Or watch you flirt back."
At Emily's words, a slow smile spread across JJ's face.
"The only person I was interested in flirting with, the only one I have been flirting with for the past six months, is you," JJ assured her, her left hand coming up to grasp Emily's other arm, slipping along the warm silk of flesh to her hands, drawing Emily's arms back to circle her waist. Her own slim arms wrapped around Emily, pulling her close.
For a full minute they simply stared at each other, bemused and not a little amazed, eyes flitting down to full lips and back up again.
"Emily Prentiss, if you don't kiss me right now, I'll have to take matters into my own hands. If you think that I am waiting until midnight, you're sadly mistaken," JJ said in mock threat, only the slight tremor in her voice giving away her sudden feeling of panic.
"It's eleven thirty," Emily said teasingly. "You can't wait half an hour?"
"No." JJ said with no equivocation.
Fortunately, JJ didn't have to follow through on her threat as Emily slowly tilted her head, dark eyes slipping shut as she pressed her lips to JJ's. Her touch was incredibly gentle, the tiny noise that she made at the back of her throat drawing an answering moan from JJ. Sliding her hand up the smooth skin of Emily's arm, and along the graceful arc of her neck, JJ pulled that dark head closer. Her lips parted under the sweet pressure of Emily's, the tip of her tongue teasing along the full curve of Emily's bottom lip.
Raising her head, Emily brushed her lips along JJ's cheek, pressing them reverently against the silken strands along her temple. JJ released a sigh she didn't realize she had been holding, turning her face into the satiny smoothness of Emily's throat.
"There are supposed to be fireworks over the river at twelve," Emily murmured, tightening her hold on the slender blonde in her arms. "We could open the champagne and sit on the couch and watch them."
JJ didn't respond immediately, pulling her head back to gaze up at Emily speculatively.
"Do you have the same view from your bedroom?" She inquired finally, the smile just touching the corners of her lips far from sweet, a corresponding glint lighting her sapphire eyes.
"Yeah," Emily replied, her dark eyes widening as the reason for the question became clear.
"Well then, can I offer an amendment to those plans?" JJ was grinning fully now, her eyes focused almost solely on the perfect fullness of Emily's mouth.
"And what would that be, Agent Jareau?" Emily asked, bending her head to run her lips along the softly sloping curve of JJ's jaw line, slipping her hands up under the silk of JJ's blouse, caressing along equally silken skin.
JJ laughed, tilting her head to the side to allow Emily better access to her throat.
"First, we open that ridiculously expensive champagne I bought. Then, we go upstairs for the fireworks."
Emily chuckled at JJ's obviously intentional forgetting of the "watch" part of that sentence.
"Hmm. Not a bad amendment at that," Emily smiled, pulling back and slipping out of JJ's arms to cross over to the kitchen. Opening a cupboard, she drew out two champagne flutes, and picking up the bottle in question, walked back over to where JJ waited by the stairs.
"You know, Emily," JJ said in a decidedly husky tone, watching as the brunette made her way across the room, "although you look positively delectable in that dress, I'd much rather see you out of it."
Emily grinned at her, a simmering, sexy smile.
"You know, just two hours ago, I thought that 2008 was going to start off as a bad year."
"It still might if I don't get you out of that dress soon," JJ promised, taking Emily's hand and leading her up the stairs. Part way up, she paused and looking down at Emily, JJ whispered the words she had come there to say. "Happy New Year, Emily."
"It is now."
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