DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
THANK YOU: To shaych_03 for the late night suggestions and beta, and to fewthistle who begged, threatened, cajoled and tempted the muse, and then beta’d. She did everything but hit my muse over the head, and without her, this fic would most likely not exist. It certainly would not be any good. All hail fewthistle *eg*.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Elements of Emotion: Trust
By racethewind10



If Belief was the most unstable of the elements, then Trust, JJ had come to believe, was the rarest. Brittle and complicated, trust did not occur naturally. It had to be built; earned through a thousand moments, both great and small. The soft touch, the shared look, the perfect word spoken into an empty silence that echoed in the memory, each reverberation striking a cord somewhere deep within a wary heart. Each of these left an imprint, a tiny trace of something that accumulated, like the dust from a butterfly's wings, until time and experience and knowledge somehow strengthened and cemented it into a connection; a bridge upon which something more was created, something lasting and powerful and beautiful.

In retrospect, JJ realized it was unsurprising that she trusted Emily. Emily Prentiss was simply the kind of woman that it was safe to have faith in. Indeed, JJ had a hard time imagining the dark haired agent ever letting anyone down; such was her nature and the aura she so effortlessly projected. Time and time again, JJ watched as grieving families, victims, even criminals placed their trust in Emily. Each did so for different reasons - be it justice, solace or understanding - and each time they did, it added a little to the burdens already weighing on those slender shoulders. And yet, as JJ had noted long ago, Emily Prentiss never flinched.

No, what JJ marveled at was the evidence of Emily's trust in her. For all her compassion and support and quiet empathy, Emily was not a woman to trust easily. There were moments that JJ imagined she could almost see the armor the darker woman had built for herself. It was shining and well kept, but heavily scarred and oft repaired. It was an armor of intellect and professionalism and iron control. It was an armor forged, JJ imagined, from years of Ambassador Prentiss' stern example and living in a world where a single wrong look, an unplanned smile or misinterpreted gesture could lead to disaster. It was an armor that protected a soul and a heart JJ had come to realize were more delicate than most would imagine.

JJ herself knew how hard it was to build trust, especially in their world. Their lives - their every day existence - were founded upon witnessing and understanding all the deeds that shattered trust, and with it, lives.

It was for this very reason that JJ almost missed it. Struggling not to lose herself amongst the deaths, the fears and the pain of those still alive, she almost missed those first, fragile moments; almost didn't hear those soft, weighted words; almost didn't see that the look in Emily's eyes had warmed, that some slight layer of steel had been pulled back to give JJ a glimpse of the soul shining tentatively behind mahogany irises.

The realization had shocked her at first and made her hesitate. Like a child held in rapture at the sight of a baby animal, it made her tremble if she thought about it too much. Even more so because JJ knew how much it cost the other woman; how rare and precious that trust truly was. The trust of an innocent was a powerful thing, but the trust of someone who carries the scars of betrayal and disappointment, rejection and the dozens of life's other tragedies is a humbling weight. There was a part of JJ that had momentarily balked at the thought of such a burden, afraid she was unworthy to carry it; afraid she might shatter that fragile gift.

Somehow though, while her head was arguing, the weight of that responsibility had been picked up - settling over her heart not as a hindrance, but with the familiar, comfortable heft of a down blanket or a favored winter coat, somehow protective and strengthening – and it had become a part of her.

It was that weight, that need to protect the tennative connection that had formed between them that led JJ to Emily's door that night.

Today had been the second time that Ambassador Prentiss made an appearance at the BAU. The first time, JJ hadn't yet been able to read the tiny, nearly invisible signs of distress in Emily. This morning however, when Emily's eyes met JJ's across the bullpen, the press liaison could see all too clearly the effect that the mother had on the daughter.

The Ambassador hadn't stayed long, but it was obvious that she had stayed long enough. Though JJ doubted the others noticed anything untoward, the blonde could see all too clearly the wound the other woman carried in the wake of the surprise visit.

A part of JJ had desperately wanted to reach out Emily, but was unsure of exactly how to do so. Their connection was too new, the trust still fragile enough that a wrong word or move could break it, and so JJ held herself back. Until now.

She still wasn't sure, but as her knuckles met the smooth, hard surface of Emily's door, JJ understood that whatever happened, her need to affirm Emily's trust in her dictated only one direction: forward.

The door swung open and the blonde agent caught surprise and the merest hint of pleasure that flickered across Emily's features before it was carefully schooled away, buried under the familiar mask of polite curiosity. JJ felt her own lips twitch; such was the predictability of the darker woman's reaction.

"JJ, I wasn't expecting you," which was Emily Prentiss for 'what the hell are you doing on my doorstep?' The press liaison could read that easily enough. For a moment however, she hesitated. The smooth, rich tones of Emily's voice held only confusion, not irritation at the interruption, but JJ was all too aware of the weight her next words might carry. Now came the moment on which all those following would rest. JJ knew this. She had known it the entire drive over here and for some time before that. She had known it standing in her too quiet apartment, imagining Emily doing the same thing and finding the idea disquieting.

What she said now would shape the structure of what was to come. The wrong word and their fragile trust might snap: the right and the possibilities were both unknown and wonderful. JJ had mulled over what to say at this moment, running through a dozen different scenarios. She had discarded them all, and now, standing here, noticing how the warm hall light gave depth and sparkle to Emily's eyes, she was glad.

Trust could only be built upon truth.

"I wanted to see how you were doing. I know it must be difficult to have your mother show up like that."

JJ could practically see the decision being made in Emily's mind, and when the darker woman gave her a weak but genuine smile and stepped back, beckoning her in, the blonde agent knew she'd made the right choice.

"Apparently Grandpapa left some things for me. His journals. Mother thought they should be donated to the university library of some friend of hers. I disagreed." The bitterness in Emily's voice was evident, but JJ stayed silent, sensing the time wasn't right for her to speak yet.

They were seated on Emily's couch, looking out over the lighted, marble and electric sculptures of the Capitol. At the moment however, both women were blind to the luminescent beauty in the distance. Emily's focus was turned inward, and JJ's was consumed by her.

Despite the blonde's earlier doubts, the atmosphere between them was comfortable, the slow tides of emotion and memory somehow tamed within the shared space. They sat close, though not touching. Emily's legs were curled beneath her where she had tucked herself into the corner of the leather sofa and JJ leaned against the plush back, her knee just inches from Emily's. A bottle of wine sat half full on the coffee table, and JJ absently swirled the liquid in her glass, a tiny, inner restlessness needing some small outlet. Emily's glass was empty and the brunette toyed with it, watching the last stain of deep red against the clear crystal like it might hold some hidden truth.

The silence stretched lazily for a moment before Emily spoke again, her voice and gaze far away. "It was so peaceful there." The words were spoken with so little strength that at first JJ had to strain to catch them, and even then she wasn't sure of the meaning.

"He never expected me to be anything but myself. I think… sometimes I think that those summers were the first time in my life someone loved me for who I really was."

As the words and the emotions behind them suddenly became clear, JJ felt something in her heart tear. A part of her ached for the pain of the young girl that Emily had been, the young girl that she could easily imagine – so proper, so bent on trying to live up to her mother's unending expectations - and a part of her ached for the woman who still carried that pain.

Emily's voice trailed off and JJ watched the conflict play out in the shadows of the past that darkened her eyes. The blonde stayed silent as Emily struggled for control against the bittersweet memories, and although it pained her to see the dark woman like this, a part of her marveled at the gift she was being given as Emily allowed her rare witness to her emotions.

In one tiny stretching of a second, JJ realized in the sudden, all encompassing way that the heart occasionally has when it finally manages to make itself heard, that she was being given a keystone. In her grasp lay a moment that, despite its apparent simplicity, held the strength to change the direction and shape of their relationship, for better or worse, from that instant on.

She could stand by, offering her silent support and maintaining the equilibrium they had built, or, as she had decided earlier that night while standing on the other side of Emily's door, she could move forward. JJ felt the choice; she saw the delicate scales balanced inside her mind and the options written clearly before her. They were inscribed in the polished mahogany of Emily's eyes and the wine stained red of her lips, in the rich tones of her voice and the brilliance of her smile, and in the thousands of other things JJ had come to love about the woman sitting in front of her.

Reaching out, she covered Emily's hand, grasping it gently and recalling a similar gesture given to her in the cold waiting room of a hospital. Then, as now, there were no words, but the bloom of surprise, gratitude and something richer and deeper on Emily's face said clearly they weren't needed.

"Thank you," she said. Her voice was thick, and in those simple words, JJ felt something click into place between them. It was as fine as the dust from a butterfly's wings and like that shimmery powder, JJ knew it would remain long after the moment itself had flown.

"Tell me about your grandfather," she questioned softly.

Emily paused for a moment, obviously searching for a starting point. JJ knew she'd found it when those full lips stretched into a wistful smile.

"It took me months that first summer to realize he didn't have an agenda, that he didn't expect me to be perfect. I honestly had no idea what to do…"

Propping her cheek on her fist, JJ slowly stroked the skin of Emily's palm, taking pleasure in the tactile evidence of their connection. As she listened to the measured cadence of Emily's voice and felt the shared warmth of their entwined hands, JJ understood fleetingly that trust, despite being the rarest of elements, was all the more beautiful for being so.

The End

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