DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
SPOILERS: Gideon's disapperance. Season 3, Episode 1: Doubt and Season 3, Episode 2: In Birth and Death.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Hello, I'm In Delaware
5 months ago
JJ stacks the papers in her hand onto the desk, arranging them in order of threat levels. She'll have to go over the top pile in the morning, pick a few, and brief the team.
It'll be just another day.
She checks her phone it's only ten after midnight; she can still get to the bar and see Garcia and Elle, maybe win a few rounds of darts, throw back a few beers, find a warm body to spend the night with. But the pile on her desk frowns at her, so she kicks off her heels and slips her tired feet into the sandals she keeps in the bottom drawer. I'll just go home and go to bed, she thinks, not bothering to stifle her yawn.
She almost doesn't hear them, with their low tones and the door closed. Her sandals flop noiselessly against the carpeted catwalk and she knows she's nonessential no one can hear her, which means they'll never see her.
"Jason " Hotch's voice rises into a fierce whisper.
"Don't 'Jason' me Aaron. I said I was done with this, and you won't let it go." Gideon rakes one hand through his short-cropped hair.
"I just think you should sit down and rethink your decision."
"No." Hotch's eyes she can see them in the dim light coming from the hallway, through the glass window flash fire and she feels her breath catch. She's never seen Hotch this way.
He looks angry, with his hair disheveled and his wild eyes and his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He looks harried and furious and lost.
She's afraid of Hotch.
She's afraid for Gideon.
"I'm giving you one more chance to change your mind," Hotch warns, his voice lower than usual and JJ finds she can't pull her eyes away, afraid she's witnessing the unraveling of a man she's proud to call her boss.
Gideon stands, his shoulders square. "And I said 'no,' Aaron." The older man turns towards the door and JJ knows she should hide, but her feet won't move and if Gideon comes out the door, he'll run right into her, standing there like a fish out of water.
"I said 'change your mind!'" she hears Hotch yell.
And then the world freezes.
Hotch's hand is already in motion, pulling his gun out of its case on his hip, before Gideon even turns around. JJ watches helplessly as Gideon's eye widen and his mouth forms an 'O'; watches helplessly as Hotch his eyes dead from where she's standing fires three times in succession.
She watches helplessly as Gideon falls to the floor, his body falling into the doorway, and his eyes land on her standing there, motionless.
"R-un," he croaks out, blood already trickling across his pale face.
She takes off down the hallway, out the glass double doors, not stopping to think about anything she left behind, because she can hear Hotch's heavy feet behind her, slapping against the ground as he catches up to her.
She takes the stairs, not the elevator, and runs as fast as she can out of the building, one sandal back at the bottom of the steps.
She doesn't care.
She pulls into her driveway, her eyes automatically scanning the front porch. It's been months since she had a badge, but that part of her will never die she'll always be on edge, afraid of the next guy out there who will terrorize her quiet street.
Not that anyone has 'terrorized' her street yet.
But it's only a matter of time.
She knows the odds she was constantly surrounded by profilers, for god sakes, and she's seen the numbers; they've littered her desk and she never made a substantial dent in them.
She knows that the quiet streets are always the ones that hold the most secrets; the quiet streets are always the ones that hold the most evil.
JJ shakes her head, trying to clear her thoughts.
"Hello Jennifer," Mrs. Macintyre, her neighbor, calls from across the driveway. JJ piles her groceries into her hand and closes the trunk of her 4-door sedan.
Jennifer, her neighbors call her. Jennifer Periangelo, age 28, recently moved to Dover from Maine for a job opportunity at the Dover Post. She's single, not looking, has no immediate family and lonely.
She hasn't been Jennifer Jareau for almost 5 months now, and yet, sometimes, she forgets to look up when people call out Ms. Periangelo.
"Hi Mrs. Mac," JJ replies. "How's Mr. Mac doing today?"
The older woman shakes her head and gives a slow smile. "He left his truck keys in the refrigerator this morning, then spent almost an hour looking for them!" She smiles again, wider this time, but JJ can see the fear in her eyes. "We're just afraid for when he's going to start forgetting other things, things that matter," she adds softly.
"Well, one of these days, I'm going to have you over for dinner, alright?" Mrs. Mac nods enthusiastically and heads back inside, leaving JJ to walk back across her lawn to her front door.
"So you're making friends?" The smooth voice makes JJ jump, her groceries spilling out of the paper bag and littering across the porch. A box of rice she bought breaks open as it hits the ground under her feet and her hand flies to her mouth before she realizes who she's seeing, her eyes taking a minute to adjust to the late afternoon shadows engulfing her front porch area.
"Jesus Christ," she breathes out.
Emily Prentiss, her handler, smiles sheepishly. "Uh, sorry about that?"
JJ tries to slow down her heart and takes a minute to stare at the US Marshall assigned to her case. Emily Prentiss is everything JJ isn't: brash, tall, dark-haired, with dark eyes and an attitude that screams 'either get out of my way, or I'll get you out of the way.'
She remembers the first time she met Emily, as soon as she got out of the car after driving the 86 miles from DC to Dover; after giving her statement to the District Attorney in The State of Virginia vs. Aaron Hotchner in the death of Federal Agent Jason Gideon and civilian Joseph Andrews III. She remembers getting out of the car in the rain and almost running right into Emily, standing close to the car under a giant black umbrella, a smirk in place.
"This the new one?" she remembers Emily asking, pointing at her.
"Jennifer Jareau," JJ had said, sticking her hand out into the rain. Emily ignored it.
"You're Jennifer Periangelo now, and you should come with me." Emily turned on her heel and walked towards the Federal Building, not waiting for JJ to catch up.
She was such a bitch, JJ remembers thinking.
"Don't do that," JJ hisses, dropping to her knees to pick up the cans of green beans before they rolled down the steps.
"Sorry," Emily says, putting her hands up.
JJ shakes her head. "I'm sorry. I'm just on edge, I guess."
Emily nods sympathetically and picks up a loaf of bread. "It was completely my fault. I don't know why I was even sitting here waiting for you. I should have called," she admits.
"Why are you here?" JJ asks, her paranoia rising into her throat. "Did he, is he here?"
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she's aware that she sounds like a little girl, and she can't believe that she's so afraid of Aaron Hotchner who took her under his wing and trained her to be all that is all that she was a press liaison for one of the most highly respected divisions of the government.
Now, she writes box scores for the Dover Post, where everyone calls her JP instead of JJ and she just smiles and nods.
"No, no," Emily says quickly. "I'm just checking up on you, is all. He's not here, don't worry." Her hand moves up and down JJ's arms soothingly, and JJ can feel her world tilt just slightly.
"Well," she says when she gets all of her groceries back in the bag. "Did you eat anything yet? Are you hungry?"
Emily gave her another sheepish smile. "Would it be rude if I said that that was one of the reasons I came today to check on you?" JJ lets herself smirk. "I ran out of food," Emily mumbles.
"Oh, I see. Well then, what can you make?"
Emily blinks. "I, what?"
"Emily," JJ stresses, "you came to my house because you ran out of food, you sat on my front porch in the dark and waited until I got here where you proceeded to freak me out. You're making dinner."
Emily smiles and JJ almost melts, because she doesn't really know this woman, but she seems warm, if a little distant, and her smile is one of the nicest things JJ has seen in a while.
"I can make chicken and rice." JJ nods and slips the key into the lock, opening the door and ushering the Marshal into the hallway. She drops her keys into the bowl on the table by the door, because some habits never die, and turns on the lights as she enters each room.
"You made it home, huh?" Emily asks, referring to JJ's insistence that she'd never be able to use a house this big not when she lived above an old couple in a rented two-bedroom apartment back in Quantico. JJ smiles sheepishly, trying her best not to blush.
"It worked itself out," she admits.
Emily grins. "Good. Now, kitchen?"
JJ points down the hallway to the darkest room at the end. "Everything should be in there. I'm going to put my work stuff away," she says, motioning to the computer bag slung over her shoulder. She turns to the right down a different hallway and Emily can't stop herself from following the other woman's walk with her eyes, watching the subtle sway of her hips.
She knew that Jennifer Jareau Jennifer Periangelo, she reminds herself was going to be different from all of the 349 people she's relocated since taking this job. The woman was a Fed herself, not a gangster or a druggie or a corrupt businessman. She was a Federal Agent who worked a little too hard and it got her in trouble.
Not to mention she was drop dead gorgeous noticeable in any crowd.
The kitchen phone rings as she's stirring the rice on the stovetop and Emily looks at as if she'd never seen a phone before, just stares at it as if it was a foreign object. She hears no movement from the study and when it becomes clear that JJ won't pick the phone up, she hesitantly reaches forward.
"Jennifer Periangelo's house," she says diplomatically.
There's a hesitation on the other end before someone clears their throat. "JP?"
Emily wonders who JP, but then she gets it. "Uh, no. This is her friend, Emily. Can I ask whose calling?"
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Jennifer JJ leaning against the doorframe of the kitchen, her arms crossed over her chest, an amused smile on her face.
The man because the voice is deep and baritone on other end of the line clears his throat again. "Uh, this is Will, from work. Can you, can you have her call me back, you know, whenever she gets around to it?"
Hopefully, she never does Emily finds herself thinking. "I'll give her the message when I see her," she says instead.
JJ raises an eyebrow. "And who was that?"
Emily shrugs. "Some guy named Will. Called you JP?"
She can't help but feel a little relieved when JJ sighs heavily and drops her shoulders.
"That's Will LaMontange, from work. He writes the advice column."
"'A Slice of Advice from the Pie Guy'" Emily asks with a laugh. "That's him?"
"Be nice," JJ scolds, but she's wearing a smile too. "He keeps asking me out, and I keep saying no. I think he has a hard time taking a hint, if you know what I mean."
She does. She's had her fair share of people who have a hard time taking hints it comes with the job. So she smiles at JJ JP, she reminds herself and turns back to the rice. The blond steps closer and peers over her shoulder and Emily can smell something familiar that she can't put her finger on.
"Looks good Agent Prentiss," JJ teases.
Emily flashes a grin over her shoulder and JJ feels something inside her heart melt a little bit. Because Emily Prentiss has this smirk that causes one side of her mouth to lift ever so slightly faster than the other and the overall result makes JJ's knees buckle.
"Never let it be said that I can't make a meal," she replies, turning just a little back to the stove and reaching for the chicken on the counter, to toss it into a waiting pan. Her small side-step forces her closer to JJ and Emily can hear her heartbeat as their arms brush.
Neither of them moves away.
"Emily," JJ whispers, her hand hovering in the small space between them.
"Yeah?" Emily's voice is just as breathless.
And the phone rings again.
JJ's eyes break the stare first, drifting over to the phone, staring at it dumbly. Emily would find it just a little funny, the look of confusion on JJ's face, but she's breathing too hard and working on controlling it too much to even think about laughing.
"I should "
"Yeah," Emily repeats.
She picks up the phone, casting a long look back at Emily whose just standing in her kitchen, a piece of raw chicken in her hand, precariously close to falling to the ground.
It's Will, again.
"Hey JP, what's going on?" JJ looks at Emily again, but the Marshall is focused on the stove now, expertly sprinkling seasoning into a sizzling pan.
"Hi Will," she says in almost a whisper, her feet finding their way out of the kitchen and into the hallway. From here she can't hear the crackle of the cooking chicken or the boil of the rice and it's oddly discomforting.
"I called, uh, earlier," Will says and JJ holds back a sigh. Will's a nice enough guy, albeit a little too aggressive even though she said "no" more than once, but he doesn't register on her "evil-radar" so she just keeps turning him down and he keeps coming back. "I talked to your friend, but I wanted to make sure I talked to you."
"I was busy," is her only explanation.
"That's alright," he says brightly, like he's forgiving her for something she did wrong. "I was just calling to see if you wanted to go get drinks, later tonight I mean."
JJ glances back into the kitchen and catches what she expects to be the end of some "cooking dance" Emily is doing, because the brunette stops in mid-spin and smiles sheepishly.
Sorry she mouths, but JJ only smirks and shakes her head.
Don't let me interrupt she mouths back.
"Can't Will, I've got company," she says briefly into the phone, hanging up before the advice columnist can say another word.
"Important call?" Emily asks cautiously as she comes back into the kitchen. She watches as the Marshall easily finds her plates in the cabinets and some glassware.
JJ thinks it over. "No. Now," she gives a bright smile. "What do you need me to do?"
5 months ago
She come bursting out of the stairwell into the lobby, the night security Joseph something, she thinks rising out of his chair immediately.
"Agent Jareau?" He moves around the desk and into the open foyer and she sprints towards him, her words caught in her throat but her arms flailing.
"Go, go! Get out of here!" She screams as she gets closer.
Behind her, she hears the door crash open and Hotch's expensive Italian dress shoes slapping against the marble floor.
"JJ!" he bellows.
"Call the police!" she screams at the rent-a-cop, and she doesn't even have time to think about how she's a Federal Agent, out-ranking some D.C. cop, and that this security guard has a gun of his own. "Get out of here!"
The shot goes wide, shattering a front window and the glass ends up sprinkling the ground. Sirens and lights go off and she skids to a stop, some glass embedded in her sandal-less foot, then dives to the left behind another security desk.
The guard drops down behind his own desk, gun drawn.
But he's shaking like a leaf and JJ knows that if he even manages to get a shot off, it won't be anywhere close enough.
She doesn't have her cell phone, and the phone next to her isn't plugged in.
She's going to die in the foyer of "supposedly" one of the safest buildings in the east.
At the hand of a man she considered to be a father.
The next shot zips by her head, shattering another window above her. It stings as it falls on her and she watches in horror as the security guard takes a shuddering breath and leans around the counter.
He falls without getting a shot off, his gun falling out of his hand as the bullets from Hotch's weapon force him staggering backwards before he crashes to the ground. She waits for anything: for a twitch or a groan or a whimper, but the man lies silent, not breathing just bleeding, red spilling onto the floor, staining the glass crystal from the windows.
She makes a split second decision and lunges for the gun.
There's a small searing feeling in her leg and an explosion of muscle, but she turns anyway and fires a round off, the kickback unexpected as her hands recoil back into her nose.
As her vision blurs and tears start cascading down her face, she sees the red bloom spread across the lower half of Hotch's white shirt and she allows herself to breath as he crashes to the ground and the sirens keep ringing.
She stares at her phone expectedly, waiting for it to ring.
It stays silent.
It's been seven days since she had dinner with Emily Agent Prentiss, she corrects and it's been the longest seven days she's had in a while since the last unsub they tracked down, actually. It's almost embarrassing, the way she's waiting around for Emily to call, but she can't get the woman's deep laugh and her trouble-filled smile out of her mind.
Emily Prentiss has effectively ruined her work days and her nights alone.
"Hey JP," Will drawls, sidling up next to her cubicle, hanging down over the divider. "How's the day treatin' ya?"
Will's not an unattractive guy, she decides letting her eyes drift over him. His smile is a little too confident, his aftershave is slightly intolerable, and he hangs around me entirely too much, but otherwise
"Will," she says cordially. "How's the column coming?"
There's a deep blush that disappears under Will's Saint's t-shirt. She first realized that she could knock him down a peg or two, or get him to back up a step or two if she asked him about his column counting on his embarrassment at his job.
"It's uh, good. It's fine."
She smiles sweetly. "Well, good."
Ring. Please, ring, she begs her silent phone.
"So, do you have plans for Friday night, or anything?" Behind Will, she can see the entire sports staff leaning up against Robbie "Tug" Tuggan's desk, watching attentively. The senior writer himself is smirking at her, taunting her, she knows, and while she doesn't want to let Will down in front of half the newspaper, she doesn't want to date him either.
She picks the lesser of two evils.
"Listen, Will," she starts.
But he jumps to interrupt her. "No, listen. We can do, casual, alright? Like, jeans and t-shirts, go to the sports bar, check out games, have a few beers."
"I have plans." Well, no, I don't, she thinks. But I'll find something to do.
He looks hopeless his face drops and his eyes stop smiling. "Oh, well, maybe some other time then."
She doesn't say yes, just gives him a half-nod and a small smile and after a few awkward moments he turns on his heel rather quickly and it catches her off guard and strides across the newsroom back to his desk.
Tug just grins at her life a goon and slides across the hallway between their chairs. "So, you've finally ditched that Cajun for me, huh sweetheart?"
JJ guffaws at the sixty-year-old, happily married older man a man she's starting to see as a father figure. She knows she needs to be careful with that because look at what happened with Hotch, she reminds herself. But he's a sweet old man with an even sweeter man who makes her coffee just the way she likes it and sends her home when she's been working too much.
She can't help it: old habits die hard.
"Yeah, Tug, just for you. Don't let Mary hear you talking to me like that," she warns playfully, making a mental note to call the Mac's and have them over for dinner on Friday. She doesn't actually have plans yet, but she'll make them.
"Speaking of my wife, you should get home, it's after six." In the back of her mind, she's wondering how Tug got from his wife to her working overtime, but she sighs and rolls her eyes.
"I'm leaving, I'm leaving," she insists, piling papers and shoving them into her messenger bag. It was a birthday gift for Reid she was planning to give him, but after her relocation, she found it stashed away in a box labeled Junk and decided to use it for herself.
Jennifer Jareau would have never used a canvas messenger bag.
But Jennifer Periangelo seemed like the type of girl who would.
"Night Tug," she calls over her shoulder and the older man raises a hand goodbye, shooing her out of the newsroom. She says goodnight to Tommy, the night guard because since Hotch killed the Quantico guard whose name she never knew until it was engraved onto a headstone, she's made it a point to be extra friendly and always says hello and goodbye.
The drive home is uneventful. There's traffic no matter what city you live in, she knows, but on the plus side, the drive from the Post to her "home" takes only half the time it took her to get from the FBI Building to her apartment.
Mrs. Mac, as usual, is out gardening in her front lawn and JJ pulls into her driveway smiling it's clockwork, her new life.
"Oh, Jennifer," Mrs. Mac says with a worried smile. "I "JJ shuts her driver door and walks around the car to see the older woman. "There's a woman, I think, who's been sitting on your porch for quite some time now." Her voice drops to a whisper. "I was going to call the police, but it didn't look like she was going to break in or anything, so I left it alone."
JJ smiles gratefully while her heart starts to beat a little bit faster. "Thanks Mrs. Mac, I bet it's just my," she pauses. My what, she wonders. My handler? "I think I know who it is," she decides to finish.
She takes the porch steps all five of them two at a time, her bag banging mercilessly against her side and comes to a complete stop with her mouth open.
There's blood everywhere.
Emily is sitting on her porch swing, clutching one arm to her body, her eyes closed.
For a horrifying minute, JJ thinks she might be dead.
Until she hears a small "JJ," whispered against the late afternoon air and then she rushes forward, catching Emily right before she slides off the swing entirely.
She doesn't ask questions, but lifts Emily the best she can and half-carries, half-drags the older woman into the house, trialing blood behind them. It's a knife wound, she can tell at first glance, and it's deep.
Emily should be at a hospital, not bleeding to death on her front porch.
But she'll deal with it later.
"Come on," she whispers harshly into a head of dark hair, pulling Emily through the living room into the kitchen, dropping her into a chair. She immediately has to grab hold of Emily's arms though, because the Marshall slumps to the side, her body weight threatening to take her crashing to the floor.
This isn't the way she expected their next unscheduled meeting to go.
"Jesus," she hisses when she rolls Emily's suit jacket sleeve off, divesting the woman of the charcoal, blood-soaked material. The gash is deep and long, extending from Emily's mid-forearm to the crook of her elbow, seemingly missing the major vein in her arm. But JJ is no doctor and not very good at sewing.
"I need to get you to a hospital." She starts to grab the phone but Emily's other hand slams down clumsily on her wrist, sending the phone to the floor.
"Don't," she grits through her clenched teeth, gasping in the next breath. "It's not, it's not as bad as it looks.
It looks bad.
"Just clean it and stitch it," Emily orders, eyes closed. JJ makes to pick up the phone, but Emily kicks out a leg and the phone ends up sliding against the linoleum floor, skidding into the hallway. "Just clean it," she demands.
Silently, fuming because Emily Prentiss seems to be under the impression that she can just barge into JJ's life whenever and however she chooses, she grabs the first aid kit out from under the sink and gets to work.
When she's done, there is a pile of bloody napkins littering the table, opened anesthetic wipe wrappers, thread and rust-colored needles lying about and an unconscious U.S. Marshall sprawled out on her bed.
She doesn't have answers only a hand imprinted on her bicep where Emily grabbed hard as she stuck the needle into her skin again and again.
But she makes a pot of coffee and cooks herself dinner and grabs a pillow and blanket, settling down on the couch for the night.
And she waits.
Washington, District of Columbia
Five Months Ago
"Ms, Jareau, we need to be quick about this," some burly agent says from the doorway. She wants to take his head off; she just needs one goddamn minute to think, but he says they have no time.
Aaron Hotchner took a bullet to the lower left abdomen to the small intestine and managed to get up and escape into parts unknown.
And now Garcia and Derek and Reid God, Reid and Elle all think she's dead at the hands of the leader of her team.
"Ms. Jareau," the agent warns and she turns to him, ready to tell him exactly where he can shove his words, but she can't, because she's too tired all of the sudden and her leg still aches from where they extracted a bullet lodged in her Achilles tendon and she's still confused about what happened and how Hotch Aaron Hotchner, the father of a beautiful baby boy could do this.
"What do I do with all this stuff?" she asks wearily.
The gorilla says nothing, just grunts in the direction of the packing boxes littering the doorway.
She's expected to fit her entire life into two dozen boxes and call it a day.
This is bullshit.
"I want to call Garcia," you demand, extending a hand out, waiting for your cell phone.
"I'm afraid that's not possible," a voice says from behind you. "Ms. Jareau, you need to understand that your life as you knew it is now over."
She's never hated Erin Strauss more than in this moment.
But the older woman cuts her off. "Agent Jareau, listen to what I'm saying. Your. Life. Is. Over. You've been briefed on what will happen once you leave this apartment and you'll start over somewhere new."
"I don't want to start over anywhere new," she says vehemently, her anger rising in her throat. "I want to stay here with my friends and I want to be able to call my family and tell them that I'm okay and I want to sleep in my own apartment."
"Well you simply cannot afford that luxury right now Jennifer. So act like a big girl and pack your things."
She's furious can feel her cheeks burning red but Strauss has a point: she should be a big girl and accept her situation.
But she's feeling childish because she was shot and she's pissed off.
"You'll meet Agent Prentiss at the Federal Building in the city you're being transferred to, and have the finer details of the program explained to you." Strauss turns to leave but pauses in the doorway and JJ for just a second thinks she might be something other than a goddamn cyborg.
Because the look in Strauss' eyes is almost human.
"Agent Jareau JJ I'm truly sorry that this happened to you. You could have gone far in this world, in your world. I'm I'm very sorry."
JJ looks around the room one more time and sighs; she needs to start packing.
Emily wakes slowly, her head aching and her arm burning and the sun too bright.
She's not in her own bed, that much she knows, but she's not freaked out either, because it somehow feels familiar in the back of her mind. She twists her body around and buries her face into her pillow, taking in the limited air.
"You're up," she hears from the doorway and she turns onto her back at the smell of freshly brewed coffee. "I was getting nervous that you weren't going to ever wake up."
She remembers now.
She remembers that witness on the other side of town getting into some trouble and she remembers getting in that bikers face and she remembers his knife, glinting in the dim bar light and she remembers the way it cut through her skin so precisely at least, that's the lie she's going to remember.
She remembers stumbling up the stairs at JJ's and falling haplessly into the swing seat and she remembers JJ running up the same stairs, gasping and dragging her inside.
She remembers the burn of the alcohol and the sting of the needle and then nothingness.
"I," she clears her hoarse throat. "That's smells good," she finishes sheepishly, eyeing the coffee mug in JJ's hand.
JJ takes an agonizingly slow sip. "It is," she confirms.
Emily swings her feet around the comforter, dropping them to the cool wood floor, wincing as she puts pressure on her left arm as she tries to push herself off the mattress.
"Damn it," she hisses under her breath as she collapses back down.
JJ doesn't move from the doorway.
She tries again, but the pain slices fire hot through her body, burning behind her eyelids and this time her entire body crumbles in a heap to the mattress.
JJ raises one eyebrow over her coffee mug.
"Are you done trying to be Superman, or do I have to watch you do that again?"
This isn't the JJ she knows knows? she asks herself. I don't know her at all. This is snarky JJ, JJ with angry eyes and a cold smile and while it's appealing to say the least, she doesn't want snarky angry JJ right now.
She wants funny, smiling, bright eyes JJ.
Or maybe even sympathetic JJ.
"I'm done," she whispers in defeat.
Only then does she come closer, crossing the threshold into the room, her arm offering you the cup of coffee. Emily reaches forward with her right arm, grasping the handle of the warm mug, taking a generous sip.
It's just the way she likes it.
"So finish the coffee, manage to get yourself out of bed and drag yourself into the kitchen." JJ turns on her heel and stops in the doorway. "You've got a bloody mess to clean up and then you're going to sit down and explain to me what the hell is going on."
Emily watches her leave, falling to the end of the bed to watch JJ glide down the hall and she rolls onto her back, groaning. "Oh dear Lord," she whispers.
JJ hears Emily shuffling around and sighs.
She knew she wanted to see the brunette Marshall again, but not under these circumstances; not under blood-stained paper towels and gushing wounds; not under half-conscious slurs and steady tears.
She was thinking of something like chicken and rice and wine and watching stars even.
"Did you want breakfast," she offers tightly.
Emily smiles but it looks more like a grimace. "That'd be nice."
JJ makes herself busy: cracks an egg against the side of the pan, drops the toast into the toaster, pours another cup of coffee. She turns back to the stove and idly pushes the egg around, cutting it up. She hopes Emily likes scrambled.
"Do you have, uh, any plastic bags?" Emily asks hesitantly, noting the tension radiating off of JJ her shoulders eerily squared and her head held perfectly still, her arms at exactly 90 degrees. She's not a profiler like the people JJ worked with, but she knows enough of the human nature to recognize the signs of anger and the littlest twinge of disappointment.
JJ doesn't turn to face her, but points off to the side and Emily shuffles over to the drawer and pulls out a bag. Sheepishly, awkwardly, she shoves the bloodied napkins into the plastic bag, refusing to wince at the dark rusty red color.
"Trash is in the closest," JJ says softly, grabbing the toast just as it finishes. By the time Emily makes it to the closest, throws away the soiled material and gets back to the table, JJ is putting down two plates of steaming eggs.
"Thanks," Emily whispers.
It's not a "thanks" for breakfast, they both know that.
Emily sips her coffee gingerly, her left arm sprawled uselessly in her lap and JJ flips through the newspaper, settling like Emily somehow knew she would on reading the Sports section.
And it feels normal.
Minus the obvious tension, it feels like this is something she could do every day: eating breakfast together and swapping sections of The Post; leaving for work at the same time in two different cars; coming home to JJ smiling at her, rinse and repeat.
But JJ is a witness and there has to be rules about that.
She sips her coffee and doesn't care.
"My neighbor saw you," JJ says quietly. "I don't know what she saw probably not much, because her glasses prescription is old or so she tells me, but she saw you. I don't know if that means anything to you "
"As long as she didn't see the blood " Emily trails off and winces. "Your porch. I'll clean it," she says decisively.
"I cleaned it. At dawn."
Emily ignores the bitter tone. "I'm sorry," she says genuinely.
"I don't want apologies. I want an explanation. I want to know why you decided to almost bleed to death on my porch, when you probably definitely should have gone to a hospital." JJ steadies herself, bracing her hands, palms flat down, on the top of the table, her entire mood darker than normal.
Emily is fascinated.
She's seen JJ's eyes before the soft sapphire color of them but now, now they're midnight blue and she can see the tiniest hint of a storm raging at the corners.
"If I went to the hospital," she tries to explain glad for the backup lie she always has on hand, "I would have had to file a report the hospital would have had to file one too. My witness, Rossi, he's gotten into some trouble in the past, with the administration, and he can't afford to have it happen again. They'll remove him from the program and there are some nasty people out to get him so " Her voice fades.
JJ looks unimpressed.
"Not a valid excuse," Emily says softly, nodding her head. "I know, I know, it's just, I, I knew I could trust you."
JJ sighs heavily like she did when Will called that night while Emily was making dinner and runs a hand through her hair. Emily looks at the clock.
"Shouldn't you be at work?"
JJ glances at the clock too and sighs again.
She's been sighing all morning and she's tired of it. "I called Tug and told him I was taking a sick day."
"I said I didn't want your apologies." JJ's voice isn't bitter anymore, just tired and small. "You're not allowed to do that again," she adds.
Emily grins. "Apologize?"
"No." Emily's grin fades. "You're not allowed to just be sitting on my porch bleeding anymore, do you understand? You gave me a heart attack."
She starts to say "I'm sorry" but JJ is holding a cup of scalding hot coffee and she doesn't want to risk it. Instead, she tries to smile charmingly. "Well, you saved the day."
JJ scoffs. "I didn't have a choice."
"You could have left me there."
"Left you there to die? Yeah, because that wouldn't have weighed heavily on my conscious or anything." She gathers the breakfast dishes and deposits them in the sink, turning on the hot water. Emily sidles up next to her, placing her coffee mug in the warm soapy water that's filling the basin.
And it feels so natural to lift her good arm, tuck her fingers under JJ's chin and pull the blond's head around to face her.
So natural to lift JJ's face up ever so slightly.
So natural to lean in and brush her lips against JJ's once, like she's kissing her goodbye on her way to work only it's too much like a first kiss should really be for it to seem like it's something that normal.
She pulls back slightly, her dark eyes searching JJ's, waiting for any reaction: a slap, a swear, another kiss. But JJ just stares at her, unblinking, not breathing, just staring.
"I think," JJ pauses, half-turns, then turns back, dropping a dirty plate back into the dishwater. "I think maybe I will head into work for a bit."
And she leaves Emily standing at the sink.
5 months ago
She saw the highway signs on their drive in; knows that they've moved her to Delaware and she offers up a silent prayer that the 105 miles between Quantico and Dover is really farther than it sounds.
The Federal Building is up ahead, or so the gorilla sitting next to her grunted out a minute ago, and she's curious to meet this Agent Prentiss everyone has muttering about. Ever since Strauss mentioned the name the agents escorting her have been mumbling nonstop, talking in low tones to each other and she thinks she might have even heard the big one growl.
Agent Prentiss must be a big shot, she decides, taking a quick glance at the scowling man next to her.
The radio on the middle console squawks and she jumps at the sound of the static.
"Are you goons almost here?" An angry voice says, cracking halfway through the sentence. The gorilla grunts again but no one makes a move to pick up the radio and answer the mystery speaker.
"Todd," the radio cracks again. "Todd, pick up the goddamn radio and tell me where the hell you idiots are."
A woman in the passenger turns sideways in the seat and reaches for the radio, but the driver pushes her hand away.
"What are you, Prentiss' dog?" The words are harsh and unkind and JJ realizes right away that these particular agents clearly didn't take the required sensitivity training course. It's almost amusing. "Don't pick it up; we're going to be there in two minutes anyway."
"So I'll just say that," Todd explains, reaching for it again.
Again, the driver pushes her hand away. "Todd," he sighs and now his voice is softer. "Jordan, don't let Prentiss push you around, all right?"
Heavy rain beats down on the top of the car, pelting against the windshield and the driver swears under his breath while flipping on the wipers.
She hasn't seen rain like this in a while.
In the back of her mind, she thinks it's appropriate. Back in D.C. Strauss handed her a card that had Gideon's memorial information on it, claiming that she "should take a minute to pray for his soul" during the hour and half funeral time.
She checks the car's clock they're burying Gideon right now, and according to her aunt, the angels are crying.
"Todd," the radio cracks dangerously. "I'm standing here in the goddamn rain so if you're not less than thirty seconds away from this building, I'm going to make your ass do the memo reading."
She leans slightly across the agent on her right and looks up at the tall dark building, which looks even more sinister in the downpour. The driver parks the car and shuts off the engine.
"Get ready," he says darkly, jumping out of the vehicle. The agents on either side of her disappear and she slides to the right, dropping out of the SUV, landing on the wet pavement with a small splash.
She almost falls backward as she all but lands on top of a woman standing in front of her with an umbrella covering half her face and when she tips it back, rain hits the top of it and ricochets into JJ's eyes.
The woman is smirking.
"This the new one?" she asks, pointing at JJ with her eyes raised skeptically.
"Jennifer Jareau," JJ says cautiously, sticking her hand out into the rain. The woman ignores it.
"You're Jennifer Periangelo now, and you should come with me." She turns on her heel and walks towards the Federal Building, not waiting for JJ to catch up.
"Bitch," she hears the driver mutter.
"Wait." The hands pushing at her to move stall and she turns to find Agent Todd. "That's Prentiss?"
Todd laughs. "Yeah, who'd you expect?"
A man, she says to herself, but she shrugs. "I don't know what to expect anymore," she says honestly, going through the doors out of the rain.
Here's where she starts her new life.
The days sport stories are spread out across her desk, but she has no idea what any of them say. She's looking at them, but she's not seeing them and people are starting to notice.
Will won't stop staring at her.
She kissed me, she repeats in her head, over and over. She kissed me, she kissed me, she kissed me, she kissed me
"Hey Junior, you doing okay over there?" Tug is leaning against the side of her cubicle, his old eyes worried and she feels a little twinge of regret. When she showed up an hour earlier, after she'd called in sick, he didn't say anything to her, just stared at her a little longer and handed her the same pile of stories he usually gave her.
"Huh?" She looks up after a few moments and then registers that he's talking to her. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she rushes to assure him.
She's not; fine, that is.
And slightly sated.
Tug studies her face, scrutinizes her expression and his mouth quirks. "That Pie Guy still bothering you," he asks, hitching a thumb towards Will who's still sitting on the edge of his seat, eyes boring a hole into your head.
"Nothing I can't handle," she answers honestly.
"Oh, I know you can handle it alright. I'm just wondering what's got you all backwards today." He points at her stack of papers. "Do you even know what sport you're reading about?"
"JP," he says with a sigh. "You called in sick, alright? So go home, and take the day to relax, clear your head, okay?"
When she opens her mouth to protest, he stops her. "You're actually doing more harm than help Junior, so don't make me call Mary and have her tell you to leave," he jokes.
But where am I going to go, she wants to ask him. Because she might still be at my house and I don't really want to talk to her right now.
I wouldn't mind kissing her, she admits to herself.
"I'm going," she tells him wearily, packing her messenger bag back up. She rolls her chair in and grabs her keys, heading for the elevator. She pushes the down button and watches the already moving lights get closer to her floor.
"JP," Will calls out annoyingly.
My god, she seethes. He doesn't understand rejection, does he? She doesn't even bother trying to fake a smile this time, just wills the elevator to move faster.
"I thought you were sick today," he says, his voice deep with what sounds like accusation.
"I am. I thought I could work through it, but Tug is sending me home," she says pointedly, glancing up at the flashing numbers. One more floor.
The ding of the elevator sends a breath of relief through her entire body and she turns to give Will a small wave before he can say anything else, but her eyes are pulled back to the elevator and they get stuck there.
Emily Prentiss is standing in the middle of the metal box, in her black pants with the extra wide belt buckle, a white button up shirt and her arm in a sling.
And she's smiling at JJ.
"Hey," Emily says gently, her eyes searching cautiously for the threat of JJ causing a scene. All she sees is a blank face with a slight hint of fear and disbelief, and some guy standing behind JJ scowling at her.
"Hi," she directs at the guy wearing a "Trix! It's Just For Kids!" t-shirt. He doesn't smile.
"You went to the doctors?" JJ asks her and Emily smiles at the resolve JJ has, to ignore her showing up at her work; to not yell at her in front of the newsroom; to play nice.
"Something like that," which isn't a lie. She went to the "local" doctor though; the kind of doctor people don't talk about in public venues.
It seems to be enough for JJ, because she nods a little and glances back behind her. An older man Emily recognizes him as Tug Tuggan, from off of the television is watching them with a reassuring smile for JJ.
For JP, Emily reminds herself.
Only she knows her as Jennifer Jareau, former press liaison of the Behavior Analysis Unit, who witnessed a man she trusted murder two men in cold blood.
Everyone else knows her as Jennifer Periangelo, a vaguely familiar, former Maine reporter, recently transplanted to Dover, who couldn't ever fathom what a dying man looks likes.
And oddly enough, Emily likes being the one who knows JJ's secret.
"Can we talk?" JJ opens her mouth, but the man behind her steps forward before the blond can say a word.
"Actually, we were in the middle of something," he says, his accent thicker than Emily imagined.
This must be the Pie Guy, she thinks, remembering the voice on the phone.
JJ doesn't even turn to face him, her eyes riveted on Emily. "No we weren't." Emily grins with a little satisfaction at him as JJ steps onto the elevator.
"JP," he calls out, but the doors shut on the rest of his sentence and it's just them alone in the elevator.
"Hi," Emily whispers again, feeling unusually nervous.
And it happens in slow motion.
JJ leans forward, one hand resting lightly on Emily's cradled arm, up on her tip toes. She leans forward and bumps against Emily's nose once before finding the right angle and finally finally, Emily's mind whispers her lips slide against Emily's tasting like promise and vanilla and Emily just stands there, not breathing.
Then JJ pulls away and the world rushes back in, and she can her heart jack-hammering against her ribs and the blood rushing in her ears and the dull ache in her arm.
"Now we're even," JJ whispers, still standing so close that Emily can see the barely there dark circles under JJ's eyes.
Even, Emily realizes with an internal sigh of defeat. Now we're even.
She wonders briefly: if I kiss her again, will she have to kiss me back?
But the idea is filed away in the back of her mind, because while she came here to see JJ just to see JJ there's another reason she needed to escort her back home.
Just the elevator comes to a halt Emily reaches forward with her free arm and pulls JJ around to face her. "JJ," she says in a low voice, wary of the surrounding area. "JJ, they found him. They found him and they locked him up and now you've got to testify." It's a bit unpolished, she knows, but JJ's the kind of girl, she figures, that likes to know things without all the wishy-washy language buffers. She gets off the elevator and strides through the lobby, waiting as JJ says goodbye to the security guard, holding the door open.
JJ brushes past her and she feels fire race through her body.
There's a car waiting for them JJ's car will be picked up later, she assures the blond and they slide into it. Agent Todd grins at them from the front seat.
"Hey there Ms. Jareau."
It takes JJ a minute to realize that the young Marshall is talking to her, because no one has called her that in months now; she's ashamed, because she should remember her own last name.
She had it her whole goddamn life until it was taken away from her.
"Hi Agent Todd." Todd smiles even wider.
"You can call me Jordan," she insists and JJ can't stop the little lifting of the corners of her mouth.
"And you can also get a move on," Emily hisses from next to her.
Todd immediately straightens up and turns to face forward, putting the SUV in gear and pulling into traffic. JJ, an eyebrow raised in confusion and amusement.
"What?" Emily hisses, though her pale skin is flushed red.
JJ says nothing; just settles back in her seat, because the car ride from Dover to Washington isn't quick.
5 months ago
"Do you understand everything we've read over?" JJ nods numbly, her eyes scanning the document.
Words jump out at her: requirement, entitlement, protection.
But they all end up mashed together in a big pile of There Goes My Life.
"Ms. Jareau," the agent from the car Agent Todd, she reminds herself asks gently. The other agent, Prentiss, snorts.
"Don't coddle them Jordan," she directs, winking at JJ like it's some sort of joke. "Anyway, Ms. Jareau, welcome to the Witness Protection Program. Sit tight and I'll go get you the necessary paperwork.
She still can't believe this is happening. To her. She's just a girl from Nowhere, Pennsylvania who had big dream. She's just a woman who worked too hard; trusted the wrong person.
She's seen movies and TV shows like this: a criminal turns on his crime boss and gets shuffled into witness protection program; she's seen a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie about this once.
But she's not a criminal and she's not an Olsen.
She's just Jennifer Jareau.
Not anymore, she reminds herself. I'm not Jennifer Jareau anymore; now I'm Jennifer, Jennifer
She can't remember yet, but she'll get it eventually.
"Here you go," Agent Prentiss says cheerily, dropping a large stack of papers on the desk in front of her, throwing a manila envelope on top. "This is everything you're going to need. You went to school for communications, but you minored in journalism, right?"
The Agent doesn't wait for an answer, just looks down at a little black notebook she's been carrying with her since you got in the building and she makes a noise that sounds like "hmm."
"So, we've set you up in a development called Gasoline Alley. Sounds rough," Agent Todd snorts and Agent Prentiss grins. "But it's nice. Your neighbors are half-way in the grave, so don't worry about them. Rent's paid for the first couple of months; give you a little time to save some money up."
She's about to ask how they expect her to do that, but Agent Prentiss just keeps going.
"And as for a job " she trails off, checks her notebook again. "Oh, right. You like sports, right? I was told by the guys who picked you up that you had quite the collection of Redskins junk, memorabilia," she hurriedly corrects. "Sorry, memorabilia. Anyway, you've got a desk job as a junior sports reporter for the Dover Post. It's nothing big, and I know you're used to being in front of a camera, but "
"It'll be fine. Really," she reassures the brunette.
"That's another thing: you being on camera. You're," Agent Prentiss pauses. "Not uncommon looking, so when people look at you, we're hoping they're going to see another blond who looks like they could have been on television, but odds are they're just going to find you familiar in a way that they'll disregard."
"It'll be fine," JJ repeats again, trying not to take offense to being called common.
Agent Prentiss grins again. "Swell," she drawls out. "Now do me a favor, alright? Don't get too good at your job, because I hear that Tug Tuggan is thinking about retiring and if you're too good, they'll want you to be the replacement and that's not the kind of attention you want."
She nods wordlessly.
"Taking notes Jordan?" Agent Prentiss spins her chair around to the younger woman. Agent Todd nods wordlessly and continues writing. "She's still getting her wings," Prentiss whispers conspiratorially.
"So, Jennifer Periangelo "
That's her new name.
"Welcome to Dover, Delaware, population approximately 36,000." Agent Prentiss extends her hand out and JJ reaches for it, still entirely numb.
"I'm your handler, Emily Prentiss. If you need anything," she continues, turning to walk out the door, already snapping her gun back in place on her hip. "Don't hesitate to call Jordan. She'll get you settled in your new place." She waits for a confirmation nod from Agent Todd. "And I'll stop by within the next couple of months just to make sure everything is running smoothly."
"Well," Agent Todd gives JJ a bright smile. "Let's go get you to your new house, huh?"
Washington, District of Columbia
"Jennifer, it's good to see you," Erin Strauss' voice cuts through the humming in JJ's brain. Emily stands next to her, silently her pillar of strength, whether JJ will admit it or not.
But she nods at Strauss, not sure what to say.
This isn't what she wanted: out of all of the people to know that she's still alive, Erin Strauss had to be the one. In the back of her mind, she wonders why Garcia hasn't done any computer searches for her, but she doesn't have time to think about it for long, because Emily's nimble hand is wrapped around her elbow, ushering her out of the underground parking lot into the garage elevator.
"On the move," Emily mutters into her microphone attached to her collar.
"Work injury?" Strauss asks. "Your arm," she elaborate when Emily just blinks.
The brunette nods slowly and JJ keeps her face a mask of perfect blankness. "Yes, work injury," Emily breathes.
Strauss isn't impressed. "How unfortunate."
The elevator reaches the ground floor and Emily's hands is wrapped around her elbow again and JJ can feel the warmth of her hand spreading through her arm and into her torso.
"Emily," she whispers, leaning her head in slightly. Emily blinks, startled, but lets go of JJ's elbow and covers the microphone.
"Is he, will," she can't bring herself to ask the question ashamed at her own fear, but Emily smiles reassuringly.
"No, he's not here. He's locked up, tight. With guards who have guns." JJ takes a deep breath and nods. "I'd never let him hurt you," Emily whispers so quietly that JJ almost doesn't hear her.
But she does, and she turns to give Emily a grateful smile. She wants to say "thank you" or "I know" or something anything at all. But instead, she smiles again and follows Emily into a conference room, but the brunette stops in the doorway.
"I can't go in there with you, rules and all. But I'll be right outside of the door if you need me, okay?"
I need you in there, JJ wants to tell her, but she nods bravely as Emily's phone rings.
"Sorry," Emily mutters, opening the phone and pressing it against her ear. "Hello? Rossi? Rossi, calm down. Rossi, stop." Emily turns away from her. "David, I need you to calm down."
Emily's voice fades as she paces away and JJ enters the conference room by herself, spotting Strauss at one end of the table. The older woman subtly glances at the seat to her right and JJ drops into it gracefully, self-consciously straightening her white shirt, hoping it's bright enough; clean enough; ironed enough.
Across from her, Agent Todd raises an eyebrow and gives her a small smile; she stops fooling with her shirt.
"Ms. Jareau," the man at the head of the table says, his voice booming through the half-empty room. "Are you ready to give your testimony in the case of The State of Virginia vs. Aaron Hotchner?"
It sounds so official and the weight of the situation comes crashing down on her: her words will put a father behind bars for possibly the rest of his life.
She wishes Emily was here.
"Yes," she finally mutters, her hands tied together nervously under the table top.
So she talks: she tells them about the nothingness in Hotch's eyes except she calls him Agent Hotchner; she tells them about the way his arm swung around as he reached for the gun; about passing out in the foyer of the building, and the sirens and the awful feeling that she was going to die.
She doesn't ask them why Hotch didn't just shoot her dead when he ran, if she was clearly incapacitated.
A woman is taking notes off in the corner it's like a courtroom without the galley and the jury.
"Thank you Ms. Jareau," a dark-haired woman says softly, her smile not quite reaching her eyes. Agent Todd rises slowly, and JJ moves with her, nodding at Strauss as they go to leave.
She turns back at the last second, throwing the dark-haired woman and Agent Todd off balance. "Ma'am?" Strauss looks up at her, distracted.
"Yes Jennifer?" In the back of her mind, she's aware that no one calls her Agent Jareau anymore; aware that it's a title she no longer possesses.
"They're, they're, are they doing okay?"
She's talking about Reid and Morgan and Elle and Garcia. Strauss sniffs.
"They lost half of their team in one night Jennifer they've had better days." Her tone softens and her eyes dim a little. "One day, they'll be able to look back on that day and be okay about," she continues. "One day they'll be fine."
It's enough for now, JJ decides. It's enough to know they're still getting by.
Agent Todd escorts her to the hallway and her eyes frantically search for Emily: she's sitting on a bench, her arm still in its sling and her head hanging. The brunette snaps to attention at the sound of three sets of heels clacking against the marble and JJ watches as a slow grin spreads across Emily's face.
Then disappears instantly.
"Emily," the dark-haired woman from the conference room greets coolly.
Emily reaches out as soon as JJ is close enough, giving the blond's shoulder a small chafe. "Hello Mother," she greets amicably.
"I wasn't aware you were assigned to this particular case," Emily's mother apparently says not unkindly. "And what on earth happened to your arm."
Emily's grin is reckless and taunting. "Bar fight," she whispers conspiratorially. "You should see the other guy."
JJ holds in her snort and Agent Todd has to look away, but Mrs. Prentiss isn't impressed. "Honestly Emily, I wish you would grow up."
JJ watches a transformation occur: Emily's smile fades and her shoulders square and her eyes grow hard. "Excuse me, Ambassador," Emily hisses, gripping JJ's elbow again. "But I need to get my witness back to where she belongs."
"I doubt we'll see you at dinner," Ambassador Prentiss apparently calls down the hallway.
"I'm busy," Emily tosses back. "Indefinitely," she adds.
JJ waits until they get down to the bottom floor of the garage, waits until they're in the car and Agent Todd can pretend like she's not paying attention to their conversation. "So, your mom seems nice."
"Nice isn't the word I'd use."
"That's because I have manners," JJ mutters softly.
It isn't until they get past the beltway that she remembers the heavy weight on her arm and looks down to see it still there.
"Emily," she whispers softly. The brunette looks up expectantly. JJ leans closer. "You can let go of me now."
5 months ago
The houses all look the same. They're all clapboard perfection: white siding and black shutters; white siding and navy shutters; blue siding and white shutters.
Agent Prentiss wasn't kidding: Gasoline Alley wasn't the "rough-and-tough" place she pictured. She was probably going to be the youngest person in the neighborhood.
"Ms. Jareau?" Agent Todd's voice draws her out of her head.
"Yeah?" There are no formalities with Agent Todd, she decides.
"I was checking to make sure you were still alive over there." JJ wants to be snarky; she wants to tell Agent Todd "well, actually, I'm not, because I'm apparently dead to the world and my friends and my aunt and my uncle are going to keep on living their lives while I play dress-up in someone else's clothes and shoes and pretend to be someone I'm not, she rages internally. But thanks for asking.
Instead, she sighs. "Yeah, I'm here."
"I know this is going to sound cliché," Agent Todd starts. "But it's going to get easier, being someone else. It's kind of like a do-over on your life. You get all new people to be friends with and you get all new chances with them that you never had before. A lot of witnesses end up married, with kids and grandkids and in their past lives they never even had anything close to that. So," her voice fades. "So, just remember that."
JJ snorts. "Does it say that on the brochure?"
For a split second, the young Agent looks wounded and JJ immediately feels awful for it. Just because I'm angry and bitter doesn't mean I can be a bitch.
"Sorry," she mumbles.
Agent Todd tries to smile brightly. "Oh, it's alright. Em Agent Prentiss makes, huh, fun of me all the time."
"I wasn't trying to " but JJ lets her apology fade, because she was trying to make fun of the young woman.
"It's okay," Agent Todd insists. "I'm a junior agent, I have to get used to it for a little while."
"Why the Marshalls?" she asks, turning in her seat completely, ending up sideways. "I mean, out of the entire realm of government agencies, why that one?"
"I was on loan, only going to stick around for a couple of weeks to fill in during someone's maternity leave, and I got, I don't know, invested." Agent Todd shrugs. "And when it came time to go back to Counterterrorism that's where I started, originally I just didn't have the heart to leave."
JJ knows about attachment; about the overwhelming feeling that comes from saving someone.
"Agent Prentiss took me under her wing, showed me the ropes. She's still showing me the ropes," Agent Todd adds. "But, I'll get the hang of it. She's really your handler, but she's letting me do most of the leg work."
It sounds like Agent Prentiss is living the easy life, JJ can't help but think.
"Speaking of Agent Prentiss," she leads in, waiting for Agent Todd to take the bait.
They turn down a street Longview Parkway: this is where she'll be living and Agent Todd takes her time answering. "What about her?"
"Is she always, so, like that?"
The younger woman scoffs. "I don't even know what that means."
Another turn and they're pulling into a driveway and JJ is staring up at her new home.
At least there's a porch she muses.
"Welcome Home Jennifer Periangelo," Agent Todd announces, shutting off the car.
Home sweet home.
She stands in the doorway, watching JJ silently. The blond curled up on the couch as soon as they had gotten inside the house, claiming to have a headache, and wanting to rest.
It's not until she's been standing there for a while not until her arm pressed against the doorframe falls asleep that she realizes JJ probably hasn't eaten all day except for breakfast. Quietly, she moves into the kitchen, pausing in the middle of the room to think about what she can make.
Like I even have the right to be here, she silently fumes.
There are rules against the things she's feeling. Rules that clearly state, in big red letters "NO" but she's been ignoring them because it's just easier.
And it's ridiculous, she knows, because even if she's "known" JJ for five months, she hasn't talked to her since the initial meeting, up until eight days ago. Eight days, and already, she catches herself smiling like a fool in any reflection she passes.
Eight days ago, everything changed.
She remembers picking up the phone, beating Jordan to it by seconds and hearing the heavy breathing; the panting. She remembers pressing speaker and placing down the console, waiting in deathly silence for something, then cringing at the sound of the scratchy voice.
She knew that voice.
She knew it from a long time ago, when she still trailed along on her mother's trips, wreaking havoc and having a good time; knew it from long before she started hating her mother and before her mother hated her; knew it from the dining room table, at Thanksgivings and dinner parties.
Aaron Hotchner breathing into her phone was the only reason she decided that she should visit Jennifer Jareau.
Aaron Hotchner was the reason there was a 5 inch long gash through her arm; the reason she ended up on JJ's porch when she shouldn't have been there.
Even though she apprehended the former Agent Hotchner, she needed to make sure that JJ was okay; that he had only stalked her and not touched a hair on her head. Even though she broke his cheekbone and three ribs, she needed to see firsthand that JJ was still breathing and walking and smiling; that nothing had happened to her.
And for all her troubles, she got yelled at, ridiculed and somewhere in between, she decided that kissing JJ was the best way to say "thank you."
When, really, the best way to do that would have just been to say, "thank you."
Somehow, she finds chicken broth stashed in the back of the pantry, and she knows JJ would have chicken in the fridge, so her hands work tirelessly while her mind shuts down for a while and she loses herself in the makings of the soup, letting her thoughts drown in the mixing broth.
She's almost completely done with the soup, searching for bowls, when she hears it: one short, sharp, shrill scream that echoes through the entire house, cutting Emily down to her core.
JJ must be having a nightmare, but Emily stands, stock still, in front of the cabinets, one hand clutching a loose glass so hard she can feel it pop in her hand.
Then there's nothing but silence.
"JJ," she implores silently, and minutes later while she's still standing with broken glass at her feet she hears JJ's feet flitting across the hardwood floors, barely making them creak under her weight.
"Hi," the blond whispers, her fingers tied together and her smile soft.
And, Emily decides, this is the moment she falls in love Jennifer Jareau, alias Jennifer Periangelo.
This is the moment she falls in love with JJ, alias JP and it's not a big bang, the way she expected it to be when it actually happened (which is pathetic, if she thinks about it, because if she's honest she's never been in love like this, or maybe she's never been in love at all, and she's practically too old to be in love). It's more like a soft boom that echoes through her body, settling in her heart and just resounding there, getting louder with each beat.
It's a buildup, a slow crescendo that builds like she's taking a breath really slowly and instead of letting it out, she just holds it.
"I made you soup," she says, when what she means is I'm in love with you.
"You broke my glass," JJ says slowly, her eyes tracing the sparkling light on the ground.
"I'll replace it," she mutters, turning away to scoop some of the hot soup into a bowl.
"Don't touch that," JJ hisses, moving into the room. "You might break that too," she continues, her voice softer.
She should nod and say yeah, I probably will; she should put the ladle down and walk away.
She shouldn't reach out the second JJ gets close enough.
She shouldn't loop her good arm around JJ's waist and pull her close enough so that there's no space between them.
She shouldn't pause inches away from JJ's mouth, feeling JJ's breath ghost across her bottom lip.
But she does.
And then there's no space left between them, because as JJ is leaning past her, grabbing for the ladle, she leans forward too, finding the edge of JJ's mouth with her own, her eyes closed and her heart in her throat.
JJ doesn't move, not at first, but then Emily can hear the ladle hit the floor; hit the glass and her free hand is grasping the back of Emily's shirt, twisting the fabric tightly until it pulls out from Emily's belt and her fingers slide across the rim of Emily's skin.
She sighs into Emily's mouth and feels it resound and she's hyper-aware of everything around her: of the crunching of broken glass under their feet, of the sloshing of the soup pot as Emily's back hits the stove, of the clock ticking away their time together on the wall, of the way she can't breathe without Emily kissing her, of the way her ribs hurt and the blood is rushing in her ears. She becomes hyper-aware of the kitchen and the long stretch of hallway that leads to her bedroom and how Emily could probably, even with one functional arm, lift her feet off the floor and carry her down there, into her room.
"JJ," Emily says against her lips, leaning back down to them once before coming back up. "JJ, I "
"Yeah," she whispers back, her fingers tracing the soft skin of Emily's ribs, under her shirt, pushing against her until she moved, away from the stove and into the hallway, moving slowly down and down until she could see the corner of her bed from the doorway.
"Yeah," she repeats, softer this time.
She can't stop smiling and she knows everyone is staring at her, wondering what it is that's got Jennifer Periangelo smiling like a fool.
"Hey JP, how's it going?" Will asks, perching himself at the edge of her desk, and she's just too damn happy that she can't find it in her to tell him to get his dirty jeans and his horrible t-shirts off her desk. "You feelin' okay?"
She smiles wider. "Yeah, I feel great."
Because she does.
For the first time in five months, for the first time since Gideon hit the floor, she actually feels like waking up in the morning has a purpose; that each day from now that she opens her eyes, she'll have a reason to.
A-brunette-with-dark-eyes kind of reason.
"Are you sure? 'Cause ya know, you look all "
"She looks happy LaMontange, so why don't you go write back to 'Lost In The Grocery Store' or whatever other quack wrote to you this week, okay?" Tug cuts in, dropping his coffee mug heavily onto her desk.
She hardly notices that Tug sounds angry or that Will flashes a frown. She hardly notices anything, really.
"Hey, Junior, get those stars outta your eyes for a minute," Tug pleads, shoving the coffee further under her nose. She takes a gulp and smiles up at him. But he just stares at her.
"Junior," he comes closer, sliding across the smooth edge until his leg is almost pressed against her arm. "I " but his words seem stuck.
That gets her out of her stupor, because Tug never hesitates to talk when he needs to, and by the look in his eyes, he needs too. She swings around so that her hands are tented on her knees and she scoots closer, the wheels of her chair scraping against the wood floor of the newsroom.
He stands and sighs. "Junior, just go home and open this when you get there. And, uh, if you need me, you call and Mary'll get me, okay?"
He forces an envelope into her hand and lifts her by the elbow with the other, pushing her a few feet away from her desk.
"Tug, what's "
"Just go, Jennifer."
It's the Jennifer that makes her move, because Tug only ever calls her Junior or JP.
So she moves, going down in the elevator, trying to forget that just a couple of days ago, she pressed herself against the length of Emily's side and pressed her mouth against the brunette's, because her hands are shaking now and she has to take three deep breaths before she can even get the car started.
The envelope just sits on the passenger seat, begging her to open it, but she puts it aside for now and waits.
Emily is waiting for her at home.
She's sitting on the porch, drinking something that looks like sweet tea and smiling, but the minute she see's JJ's face pale and shiny and looking damp with perspiration she's on her feet and the glass is rolling across the wood, staining the porch with the liquid.
"JJ? What is it?"
She doesn't care she broke protocol by addressing JJ by her real name, or that she actually spent the night with one of her witnesses, because JJ is just staring at her clutching an open letter envelope and she looks like she's falling apart.
The envelope is addressed to Jennifer Jareau, care of Jennifer Periangelo.
"Tug, it was in his mailbox. It's a news story," JJ half-whispers, half-moans.
Technically, it's a printout of a news story, detailing the case of Aaron Hotchner, listing Jennifer Jareau as the only surviving witness as a woman who now lives under the name Jennifer Periangelo in the city of Dover.
Technically, this clears up everything for them: JJ will be moved out of the East Coast program and then she won't be Emily's witness anymore and they'll be free to pursue whatever it is they're starting.
Technically, this is good news.
"JJ, it's going to fine" she soothes, running her hand through JJ's hair slowly. "It's going to be "
Her phone rings from inside the house, the generic cell phone tone that tells her her boss is calling and she better pick up the damn phone. "Prentiss," she barks into the phone, holding it away from her ear as her mother screams into it, because in the last line of the article, it mentions her own name, which will cause problems and she'll probably be uprooted too and sent off into the attic of old U.S. Marshalls.
Technically, this is good news for her and JJ.
She hangs up slowly and grips JJ's shoulder a little tighter, holding her a little closer and lets herself press a kiss to the other woman's temple. She wants to savor this moment; they might not have another after this.
The Big Bosses in D.C. want her to bring JJ in the trials over now, Agent Hotchner is in jail, and she's been exposed: there's no reason to keep her in the program if she doesn't need to be there; if valuable resources are being wasted on the girl who no longer needs to be protected. It doesn't happen often, but when it happens it happens fast and so swiftly that JJ's head will spin and by the time she finds her balance, she'll be back in D.C. with her friends and in touch with her family.
Which means she'll be away from Emily.
"What," JJ hiccups. "What did they say?"
"They said you're free to leave the program," she says slowly, already working it out in her head how she needs to get Jordan on the phone and the movers back and make sure JJ's apartment is still available and how to smooth this over with her mother and how to keep her job and
JJ kisses her on the porch, in broad daylight with tears streaming down her pale face and Emily just holds on like it's the last time.
"What if I want to stay," she asks breathlessly as she pulls away and Emily needs to think a moment before she understands what JJ is asking.
"You might have the choice," she answers honestly.
But she knows; she knows the minute JJ gets back to her own place, with her own friends and her own job, she won't want to come back to Dover. She won't want to stay and be the Junior Sports Reporter for the Dover Post who lives next to an elderly couple surrounded by elderly couples and has to constantly fight off dirty Cajun men with a stick. She won't want to stay with an Federal Agent who comes home and leaves at odd hours and who can't actually talk about her work day or her charges.
JJ won't want it.
Emily won't let JJ want it.
Washington, District of Columbia
"Agent Jareau," Strauss greets with a smile. "It's so good to have you back."
She hasn't actually said she'd come back yet, but just the idea of it gives her a little bit of lift to her step and butterflies in her stomach and a real smile, because she likes being Agent Jennifer Jareau she knows how to be that person.
The part of her that won't let her make up her mind yet is Emily; is knowing that Emily won't be in D.C. with her.
Which is ridiculous, because she's only known Emily Prentiss for less than two weeks.
And that's not really enough time to fall in love with anyone, let alone throw away the second chance at your life.
"It's good to be back," she says honestly.
Garcia squeals from down the hall, all pink-hair and junk jewelry jingling down the hallway like little bells and JJ barely has herself braced before Garcia is in her arms, alternately sobbing into her shoulder and yelling at her for being an idiot and not calling and telling them she was alright.
She sees the shadows under Garcia's eyes and wishes she had called to say she was safe.
Elle is standing right behind Strauss and as their eyes catch, she sees the relief there and the visible sag of the brunette's shoulders.
This is her family.
Derek's arms sweep her up the minute Garcia is pried away and he holds her so tight that she can't breathe and her feet aren't actually touching the ground. "Don't you ever do that again, you understand me? And from now on, no working late and not without any one of us here with you? Alright? You got me?"
She does; she understands.
She'll never leave them again.
"Hey JJ," Reid says awkwardly and she kind of just stares at him, because he called her JJ; because his hair is a little longer; because he's the most refreshing thing she's seen in five months.
"Reid," she barely breathes out before she grabs him by the neck, bending his back over until their eye level. "Oh, God, Reid. I'm so sorry, so sorry." She's apologizing for Gideon, for Hotch, for another man in his life letting him down.
"It's alright," he whispers. "It's fine. You're back."
He doesn't spout off statistics or logistics or reasons why this happened to them.
He tells her its fine and she knows she can't leave them now.
She can't leave them now that she has them back, all to herself, for the rest of her life. She won't ever leave them again.
She looks over her shoulder and Emily is standing in the doorway, talking over the specifics with Strauss, but the instant JJ looks back, Emily's head snaps over and their gazes catch unerringly, like they've been doing that same thing for the last twenty years of their life together, but really, they've only been doing it for the last two weeks of their life together.
It's like Emily moves in slow motion towards her.
We'll always have Delaware she wants to say; she wants to say something catchy and something worthy of a last line, something that'll wrap them up with a nice little bow and some ribbon.
But Emily smiles, a slow sad lift of the corners of her mouth, and she doesn't smile back.
"That Pie Guy wanted me to give you his number, in case you forgot it," she mumbles. Emily had been the one to go clean out her desk at the Post, because even if Tug knew, she still couldn't face him not after all the lies.
"Is that so?"
Emily nods. "Yeah. Unfortunately, I must have lost in between getting it and packing away your horse race results. Somewhere around the trash can area," she clarifies with a small laugh that doesn't make JJ's chest rumble the way it usually does.
"Damn shame," she agrees without a happy smile.
"Listen, JJ " but she stops Emily, because she doesn't want to know.
She doesn't want to know that they had a good time, that they're better off, that Emily is only a phone call and 100 or so miles away.
"Yeah," Emily breathes out, agreeing. "Yeah."
"Give me a call sometime?"
Emily nods again. "Sure."
"Or you could write," JJ suggests.
"I could," Emily agrees.
"I'll see you later," JJ promises with a whisper, because Garcia is calling her to come and see how they decorated her office and she's missed them so damn much.
"Yeah," Emily says softly.
7 months later
She clutches the bag nervously, staring up at the house with a critical eye. There are a couple of dark spots on the porch, like someone had dropped wine or blood or paint and couldn't get it all out. The swing is a little crooked too, like the rope has been fraying.
The knocker looks glossy, shiny and even from the sidewalk she can tell it's cool to the touch.
"Hello?" someone calls from the other side of the bushes.
"Hey Mrs. Mac," she says sheepishly as the older woman comes into view.
She nods and Mrs. Mac puts on hand against her chest, taking a little more time to let a grin slide across her face.
"Well, it's about time," the older woman claims.
"I just need to, uh " but Mrs. Mac smiles and holds up a hand to stop her.
"Say no more. You're back. You are back, aren't you?"
She nods so hard that she's afraid her head will roll right off her shoulders. "Back for a while, actually."
Because even if she was home she was lonely. And even if she had Garcia and Elle and Morgan and Derek she didn't have Emily. They're not entirely valid reasons for coming back, but she's already here now, and there's no else she needs nowhere else she wants to be.
Mrs. Mac slips back to her side of the lawn and she takes a couple of cautious steps towards the steps, dropping down onto the first one, fishing for her cell phone in her pocket. She pulls it out with shaking hands and scrolls through the contacts until she finds the one she wants.
The phone rings and she holds her breath.
"Hello?" she asks, when it's picked up. "Hi Emily," she breathes out, her body sinking into the steps of the porch. "I'm just, I'm calling to say I'm, uh, I'm in Delaware and I was wondering if yeah, I'm at the house. I was wondering if yeah. I'll be waiting."
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