DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Total and utter thanks to the fabulous Freya and Racethewind10 who are great and kept me on the right path. Any mistakes, however, are mine alone. Hope you like the final cut.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Only Thing That Makes Emily Prentiss Flinch
Part One: A tough case; an ordered mind
Emily knew who was standing in front of her desk long before the gentle voice announced her presence. Emily had heard her footsteps on the gangway outside her office above the bullpen and she had sensed, in a ripple of instinct coursing over the back of her neck, that Jennifer Jareau had crossed the unusually quiet workspace on the way to where she sat.
"Hey," Emily raised her head from the open file on her desk, smiling up into dancing eyes. Her own dark gaze flitted over the blonde's face, cataloguing once again the flawless contours that her memory was already familiar with. Emily had long ago resigned herself to acknowledging her less than professional feelings towards the blonde press liaison: acknowledging, but not acting on them. Instead of letting them affect her work, her life, their friendship, Emily did what she was good at: again. JJ had once asked her how she coped with the trauma, the blood, the tragedy.
You don't even flinch
Emily's answer had been simple: compartmentalization. That's what she did; locked everything away. Kept the good and the bad separated out across the expanse of her self. There was, in her mind, a dark and twisting room; a looming tower, glowering out of its windows the warped faces of unnamed unsubs, casting immovable shadows over every victim she had ever saved. The only thing that kept her demons from pouring out and tainting every other part of her life was the door that, each day, was firmly shut locked and bolted in her mind as she left the B.A.U. That door held behind it a neat compartment for all of the catastrophes that were eventually compressed into a grim case file on someone else's desk.
On rare occasions the door threatened not to hold. As tiny slivers of grief and guilt and failure slipped into the other rooms of her life, Emily threw all of her weight behind the door knowing, in the most basic, elemental way, that if the door was flung open and the true horrors of her life and work were exposed to her deceptively vulnerable soul, she would not survive.
It wasn't just her work she compartmentalized however. She was the daughter of an ambassador. Yes, Sir. No Ma'am. Posture, manners and respectability. All of that neat expectation relegated intense but inappropriate romances, cigarettes painting smoke on the canvass of dark winter nights, and late night trysts with whiskey shooters, in a less than ambassadorial bar, to small, well hidden side offices locked in the recesses of her personality.
And in the middle of it all she kept JJ. The windswept hair, the gleaming eyes, the tentative smile and the way she had rested her slender fingers on her full lower lip that night on the plane. These and others were memories both precious and fragile, too fragile, and so she hid them away.
On the surface no one could see she was falling. And it didn't matter that she found herself watching JJ, in a way that she hadn't felt the need to watch anyone else before. Or that no one had made herself feel this weak and yet this strong in over twelve years. Emily would do what she had always done: what she was good at; again. She would keep JJ inside. Her friend and colleague would be right at the heart of her ordered mind. Vital, dominant, almost overpowering. But inside she would stay; wrapped up in all of the love Emily would never admit. That way Emily was safe from herself. Safe from having the meanings behind the glances, the touches, the half hidden smiles torn away from her in the heartbreak of truth. That way JJ was safe, too. From having a strong friendship and trusting professionalism shattered by unreturned declarations. And all of the smiling blonde confusion that had been invading her sleep every night since Agent Jennifer Jareau had first briefed her on procedure would not infiltrate her work or the team. The risk to her heart, in suppressing her feelings like this, she knew, was great. But the risk to the team, when it all came out; the risk to her friendship with JJ, when it all disintegrated in that special kind of awkwardness unique to unrequited romantic attraction; the risk to the self-protecting order she had imposed on her life; when the truth fractured every foundation of every wall she had ever built, was too great.
So Emily smiled back at the woman standing over her desk and creeping into her heart. Ending her moment of visual indulgence she raised an eyebrow slightly, in a quiet question as to why, exactly, JJ had come to see her.
"This was a hard case, wasn't it?"
JJ's expression was a one of understanding, of shared pain. Four dead girls. One, a sheriff's daughter. All young. All innocent. All held, tortured and killed by a man eventually turned in by his own heartbroken and disgusted daughter. A daughter who, unable to deal with the weight of the pain, had led the team to her father and, in the immediate aftermath of the tense arrest, picked up her father's gun from the corner Morgan had kicked it into, and turned it upon herself.
"Yeah," Emily sighed, all thoughts of JJ shadowed by the memories of an echoing shot and the crumpling girl. "It really was."
"You couldn't have changed it, Emily,"
JJ, whether she could read Emily's thoughts, or just her expression, cut right to the heart of Emily's darkest worries.
"I just keep thinking, you know, we should have realised. We're profilers. And we didn't even see it coming," Emily shook her head sadly, "She should never have been there in the first place."
"Emily," coaxed JJ softly, "you would never have found him if she hadn't taken you there. It was her choice Em, it's not your fault," JJ continued searching for something in Emily's down cast eyes. The shining eyed smile Emily had greeted JJ with was gone. JJ pressed on, longing to ease her out of despondency, "You were concentrating on him, Emily. On the arrest. There was nothing you could have done."
"Maybe," Emily said finally, "But I "
"No, Emily," JJ said forcefully, her jaw set in compassionate determination. She placed her hands on Emily's desk and leant down so their faces were level, "If it wasn't her father's gun it would only have been another."
Emily considered JJ's words. She had told herself the same things, over and over again on the plane back to Virginia, but coming from JJ as she stared at her so intently and spoke in that gently lilting voice, those simple words carried much more weight.
"There was nothing you could have done."
JJ's voice was soft again. Gentle and final. She had seen that her message had gotten through. Emily nodded. The corners of her mouth inched upwards in a quiet smile of gratitude. JJ beamed, seeing a shift in the elegant woman before her, the tension was visibly melting from Emily's shoulders. She changed the subject.
"So listen, we're all going out for drinks. You in?"
JJ waited expectantly, hopefully; trying to ignore the queasiness in her stomach signaling just how much she wanted Emily to say yes. She was trying so hard she missed the almost imperceptible flicker of hope, elation, and suppressed expectation cross Emily's features, before being expertly controlled by the knowledge that there was nothing special in the invitation.
"Sure," Emily nodded, and smiled with some restraint. She fought the urge to seem too enthused, and was relieved to see that JJ was oblivious to her internal wranglings, "Let me just go put this file on Hotch's desk."
JJ nodded, a wide grin spreading as Emily cleared up her paperwork. She grabbed her long black coat off the back of her chair and shrugged it on. Reaching for her phone, keys and gun she pocketed everything she needed and strode over to Hotch's office. JJ leant against her desk and watched the tall dark agent walk away from her. JJ's eyes were drawn from the shining light on her raven hair and down the line of her back. She drew in a breath, hoping that no one caught her admiring her friend. Her colleague. The woman who had stole into her heart and didn't even know it. She shook her head, smiling wryly at herself. What was she doing, inviting the whole group out just so she could spend time with Emily? She was crazy. And she was going to get herself into a hell of a lot of trouble.
But she remembered how hollow she felt when she heard Emily was leaving; and the elation she felt when she returned. Emily's smile had mirrored her own. She remembered the rock in the pit of her stomach as she worriedly reached out to Emily, her injured Emily, on that same case. She remembered that night on the plane, where she looked across at the hurt and vulnerable woman opposite her and suddenly saw them together, in a home, surrounded by happy children living safe in the love of their two mothers. And when Emily took her hand as she had sat, praying to God that her best friend would survive, she had felt hope, and love, and friendship, and the promise that no matter what, Emily would always be there.
The trouble would always be worth it. Emily would always be worth it.
Garcia gave her hope, swearing that she saw something there as well, that it wasn't all in JJ's head. It wasn't just her feeling the heat of all of those tiny, mutual glances. Garcia, too, had caught those little interactions: a slender hand on the base of her back, the gorgeous brunette leaning in closer than necessary, the times when they walked together so close that she could almost hear the pounding of Emily's heart matching her own.
Maybe Penelope was right. JJ allowed herself the warmth of the thought before it was chased away, a furrowed brow marking her porcelain features. She was probably horribly wrong. It was all a terrible risk, telling Emily. But she didn't have a choice, something had to be done. She had once asked Emily how she had come off a desk job and fit right into coping with all the horror that they saw.
I guess I just compartmentalize better than most people
Well JJ wasn't as good at that as Emily. One thing affected another. There were no neat drawers separating JJ's worlds. She couldn't go on any longer pretending that she only cared for Emily as a friend, or a colleague. She couldn't go on telling herself that she didn't want more. Somehow she had to tell Emily. Tonight? How much whiskey would she need to give her the courage to look into those dark, compassionate, soulful eyes and not suffocate in her own freezing fear of rejection?
Emily reappeared, her hips swaying, eyes shining, and a smile, real and open and honest was reaching out only to JJ. JJ smiled back, feeling her knees weaken momentarily, her stomach plunging with nerves and desire. It didn't matter what the consequences were; the risk to the team; the risk to their friendship. The risk to JJ's heart was too great, and her want for Emily was too overwhelming. Sometime soon, maybe even tonight, the truth would have to come out.
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