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It was raining. Standing alone in her small, tidy kitchen, slender fingers wrapped around a steaming black mug of coffee, Jennifer Jareau stared out the window above her sink. Cornflower blue eyes watched the endless stream of grey rivulets make their way down the glass, but JJ wasn't really seeing the rain. Her normally clear gaze was distant and reached not in front of her, but behind.
She had loved the rain once. Once, rainy days meant an excuse to hit the snooze button one more time. They meant curling up with a good book while Henry played with his toys in his room.
They meant lounging in front of a fireplace with Emily Prentiss' arms around her, the only sound in the room the crackle of the fire and the steady heartbeat beneath her ear.
Now JJ looked out the window and saw only the weather, and the cold.
Taking one last sip of her coffee, the blonde woman placed the mug in the sink and grabbed her keys off the kitchen counter. As she did, her gaze rested for one moment on the framed picture of her son that hung just inside the entry to the kitchen where she would see it every morning.
It was a charming picture bright with sun and Henry's laughter. The toddler was wearing denim overalls and a white shirt and his cheeks were pink, his smile endless and mischievous. It was clear that the picture had meant to be posed there was a hay bale and a stick horse in the corner of the frame and it was equally clear that the young boy had seen something more interesting and was headed in that direction. He was being stopped, however, by a hand on his coveralls and the camera had captured the second where Henry strained against that hold, chubby arms outstretched. It was an innocuous, innocent picture and everyone who saw it (though they were few, for JJ rarely entertained these days) assumed it was JJ herself who was attempting to drag her wayward child back to the center of the frame.
She never corrected them.
But it was not her hand in the picture. Her hand had been holding the camera and she had been laughing so hard that the blonde was still amazed she'd managed to snap the picture at all. No, the hand holding Henry back belonged to the missing occupant of JJ's life, the person who despite the space she occupied in the blonde woman's heart took up no room on her walls. Not a single picture existed in the small, cozy house of JJ and Emily together, because to do so would have been to invite danger on JJ, on Henry, even on Emily herself wherever she was.
So every morning, the last thing JJ looked at was a picture of her son and the only evidence that Emily Prentiss had ever been the most important person in her life, and then she shrugged on her black, or tan, or grey coat, collected her briefcase, and walked out her door to her office at Homeland Security where she was polite to her colleagues, and was good at her job, and missed her family with every breath she took. By now however, JJ had significant practice living with that pain. It had been nearly two years since the former FBI agent sat in the soft air of a spring Paris night, whispered 'good luck' and watched the woman that she loved with all her heart walk away into the darkness and out of her life.
Locking the door behind her and scanning the area briefly more out of habit than real need for caution JJ walked down the street and hailed a cab. If anyone had been watching, they would have seen nothing out of the ordinary: just another professionally dressed D.C native in a conservative rain coat with the ubiquitous leather briefcase hailing a cab on a wet sidewalk. No one would have thought anything odd about the traveler putting their hand back in their pocket as the cab pulled close, after all, it was wet and she wasn't wearing gloves. What they couldn't see was the way JJ's fingers unerringly found the small, worn, much folded piece of thick paper hidden in her coat pocket. She had no need to pull it out to read the two words written in a bold hand, black lines against the white paper that would have made little sense to a stranger but held such meaning for her. It was enough to let her fingers graze its familiar surface. To anyone else, it would have been no more than scrap. To JJ, it was the only remaining proof she had been loved.
As the bright yellow cab pulled away from the curb and into another dull, grey Washington D.C. morning, JJ looked out the window, watched the rain, and remembered.
"How come none of this gets to you?"
"What do you mean?"
You came off a desk job, now suddenly you're in the field surrounded by mutilated bodies and you don't even flinch."
"I guess I just compartmentalize better than most people."
They'd been standing in that cramped, fetid bathroom of the house that no human being should have had to set foot in, let alone live in for days. Reid was gone, taken by Henkel and enduring God knows what, while JJ was dizzy with the loss of adrenaline rush and pain and Emily Prentiss looked like this was simply another day at the office. JJ wanted to be angry with the older woman, but the words came out more as a plea than an accusation.
She'd accepted Emily's answer because even as shaken as she was, the blonde had sensed it was all she was going to get, especially with Hotch standing right there. She'd let it go, but she'd never truly believed.
That pat, too-careful answer stood between them for years. Not as a barrier per se, but as some kind of marker; a sign that JJ couldn't quite decipher. Until, that is, the day JJ left the BAU. That was also the first time that Emily Prentiss told her that she loved her.
There are things we don't want to happen, but have to accept. Things we don't want to know but have to learn, and people we can't live without but have to let go.
"Be honest" Hotch told her. And she was. Mostly. Because even as Supervisory Special Agent Jennifer Jareau put pen to paper in her last act as an agent of the Behavioral Analysis Unit and wrote in ink as painful as if it were the blood being pulled from her very veins, she held one thing back: On single truth that meant everything to her. One thing that she had long since vowed nothing could take from her, least of all Erin Strauss' political ambitions. She might be forced to walk away from one family a family forged by bonds at once intangible and unbreakable; people she had worked with and laughed with and fought for, for nearly seven years but she would be damned if she let circumstance rip her from her other family: Her other family that was made of blood and love, trust and tenderness, and that even now waited for her.
"I know where to find you." Garcia didn't say, "I know where you live," because JJ was rarely there anymore. The apartment that the world believed she called home was little more than a place holder, a pasteboard front for a life she no longer inhabited.
Home - her real home - was somewhere else now. With someone else. Suddenly looking at the empty bullpen, it's the air thick and heavy with so many memories, was the last place JJ wanted to be right now.
How she made it to her destination in one piece the blonde was never quite sure. Emotions clambered like discordant church bells in her heart, not the least of which was fear. So much had changed in her life recently and nothing was certain. JJ was no hopeless romantic to believe that considerations like careers made no difference to love. If, indeed, love was what she even felt, for neither one of them had spoken the words despite the way their lives now intertwined almost completely. Ultimately, there was nothing to guarantee that when JJ turned her key to what had become 'their' apartment, the blonde agent would not be greeted by the silence of empty rooms, cold takeout and the knowledge that she was long overdue to pick Henry up from the sitter. Or even worse, that she would be met with caution and words like "maybe we should take a break for a while," or "it would just be too hard on both of us."
So if her hand shook slightly and she fumbled the key once or twice, well, she could be forgiven.
But the door did not open to sterile darkness nor gentle pity in dark eyes. Instead, JJ stepped inside the small entryway to the smell of something amazing with garlic and rosemary cooking and the low, soft tones of Grant Green twining through the richly scented air. Henry she could see playing in the living room, and in the kitchen
Emily Prentiss, still dressed in her work slacks, though sans shoes and with the addition of an oversized, worn navy sweatshirt that proclaimed FBI in cracking white letters, stood stirring something on the stove. It was a common sight, one utterly domestic and ordinary in its simplicity, and yet the familiar comfort of seeing her lover there; of coming not just home but home, struck something deep inside JJ and the blonde felt her breath catch in a throat suddenly thick with emotion.
Swallowing hard, she tried to turn away to compose herself, but was stopped by gentle hands cupping her face. Reaching up, JJ held onto the slender wrists, feeling the warmth of Emily's skin and the strength beneath it. Standing close, the older agent's eyes glistened with answering emotion and JJ watched Emily lick her lips as if steeling herself.
"I need you to listen to me JJ," she said softly, her voice rich and tender in a way that seemed to fill the younger woman's entire awareness. "I know what we have, neither of us was expecting or even looking for, and I know that we've both been careful not to define it, but I need you to know that there are no words, that can truly tell you how much I love you Jennifer. I know it's going to be different now and I won't pretend for one second that it doesn't hurt to think of not being with you every day on cases, but if you're willing to fight for us, then so am I. Erin Strauss is not going to take you and Henry away from me."
And JJ had smiled through her tears and made the only response possible in that moment. She had pulled Emily to her and kissed her tenderly, trying in that press of lips to convey the fierce, incredible joy that soared through her heart like a long-caged bird finally set free. When Emily kissed away the single tear that had slipped from the dam of her lashes, JJ looked into dark eyes as full as her own and thought she might have succeeded.
They had eaten dinner and put Henry to bed and then spent the entire night affirming the words spoken earlier. Putting signs to signifiers and creating meanings of touch and taste, of skin against skin, of the press of lips and the feel of tender hands. Again and again they rose to each other, and if there was a thread of desperation running through the desire, it was mutual a need to cement what had been growing between them for months, to make it strong enough to survive whatever might come.
JJ wondered sometimes, if she had truly known how events would eventually play out, if she would have tried harder or held tighter to Emily. Even as she wondered though, her heart answered that it would have been impossible. She had held nothing back that night or any that followed it, and neither had Emily.
Lying tangled in the sheets and each other with JJ's head resting on the dark woman's shoulder, the blonde let her mind drift, her body languid and sated. Darkness still reigned outside, but it was the deep, still blackness of the precipice, where any moment the scale would tip and night's hold on the world would begin to loose. JJ was just slipping toward sleep when she felt Emily's arms tighten around her.
"JJ," the older agent whispered, and something in her tone made the blonde force aside the desire for sleep. Shifting, she looked up at Emily and into dark eyes made fathomless in the room lit only by the distant lights of the city outside. Whatever JJ was expecting, it was not for Emily to lick her lips and move away from her. Suddenly scared, the - now former - press liaison sat up, bringing the covers around her.
"Emily?" she asked hesitantly.
For a long moment there was nothing, and then the older woman turned to her and JJ read some kind of decision in her face.
"You asked me once how coming off a desk job, I never flinched when surrounded by death." It was not a question, and JJ simply nodded, remembering instantly.
"The Henkel case. You told me you compartmentalized better than most I never really believed that."
Now Emily's lips quirked and it was her turn to nod and take a slow breath, as if steadying herself.
"It wasn't a lie. But it wasn't the whole truth. And if I love you JJ, but in order for you to love me, there are some things you need to know. Things that I shouldn't tell you. Things that are classified and could be dangerous but that but that not knowing could be more dangerous. And I don't want I never want you hurt."
There was no reply that JJ could give, so she simply pulled Emily back down to her and drew the covers around them and held the darker woman tightly while Emily Prentiss laid bare her past and Jennifer Jareau learned why she never flinched. As the night gave way to the steeled sky of a new dawn, Emily's voice finally ran out and JJ, her own eyes stinging with tears and shared pain she knew she could never erase from her lover's heart, kissed Emily on the brow and whispered "I love you." And holding each other fiercely, they finally surrendered to sleep.
For a while it seemed like they had everything. They had careers they cared about, they had friends who supported them, even if they never officially mentioned their relationship. They had a son who had long ago started to treat Emily as his second mother, and they had each other, even if it was never for long enough. Emily's words of caution about her past were never spoken of again, and though JJ was not naïve enough to think them banished, nor did she spend time worrying. After all, her job at Homeland Security meant she now had her own secrets. Emily never asked about those secrets, but JJ knew she understood.
And then Ian Doyle escaped from prison.
The night the older agent told JJ the news, the blonde held Emily close, clinging to what they had together as much as the woman herself, because she knew it was about to change. JJ also knew, in that moment, how much Emily loved her choosing trust over habitual caution. Which is why she didn't give the darker woman platitudes about working things out together. Whatever was coming, it was Emily's fight and JJ could only stand by and support her from a distance. So it was that the younger woman was silent while Emily laid out, carefully and clearly, the fight that was to come and JJ's role in it.
Which was no role at all.
"If he finds you, if he realizes how important you are to me " Emily trailed off, her voice failing and her eyes shining with tears she refused to shed.
"I know." JJ said simply, wrapping her arms around Emily and holding her tightly.
They spent the night in each other's arms, simply holding each other and then, in the cold dark just before morning, they set about removing any trace of Jennifer Jareau from Emily Prentiss' life.
The last time JJ saw Emily was as the sun broke over the D.C skyline. It streamed in through Emily's windows and caught in her hair, giving it mahogany highlights. For a long moment the two clung to each other, trying and failing to stop the inevitable march of time.
"I love you."
"Don't underestimate him."
And then JJ turned and walked out of Emily's door, hearing the soft click of the latch behind her sound with a terrible finality. She heeded Emily's advice though, making sure she wasn't followed, taking a long, winding route home and sitting at the end off her street, marking everything before at last walking up her steps. Henry was at a friend's sleepover and as soon as it was possible, JJ would go pick him up. She would need to change her usual arrangements for him, but that would be later. Now, JJ closed her door, locked it behind her and for the first time since she was a child, she sank to her knees and prayed.
The cab pulled up to the curb nearest the entrance to JJ's building. The cabbie had clearly been driving D.C. long enough to know not to try and even approach the government offices. JJ murmured her thanks and slipped a crumpled bill into the till, not looking back as she slid out into the rain.
People swarmed the sidewalks and umbrellas added new obstacles as the agent wound her way toward the entrance. Surrounded by strangers and cloaked in the rain though, JJ was only half aware of the world in front of her. Memory had her in its grip and it wasn't letting go.
If JJ thought that walking out of Emily's apartment was the hardest thing she had ever done, she was soon mistaken. Days stretched into weeks and she heard nothing from her lover. The old adage "no news is good news" became a mantra in her head, a lifeline she clung to as she went about her day. Quietly though, JJ prepared. She talked to Henry's sitters a couple of retired FBI agents who were never able to have children and who had a habit of going armed even at home telling them that she might need to leave suddenly and that there might be trouble from an old case they had worked. She kept her information vague and they didn't ask. They understood. Kelly just took Henry's backpack and patted JJ on the arm, telling her not to worry that everything would be fine. As she said it she patted the bulge under her sweater jacket that JJ knew was a Sig Sauer.
The blonde packed and re-packed her ready bag and withdrew in a series of small, random withdrawals several grand in cash. Just in case.
And then she waited some more.
She was at her desk when Aaron Hotchner called her. When he told her Emily had gone missing, she gasped, unable to stop herself. When he asked her if she knew of Emily's past before the BAU, her silence told him everything he needed to know.
"We need you back JJ. She needs you back."
She didn't have to say she knew. They hung up. Twenty minutes later JJ was throwing on her coat and repeating "yes sir, I understand sir, highest priority sir," to her new boss and striding out the door.
It should have been a homecoming, but walking into the bullpen, seeing Garcia and Hotch, Morgan, Reid, Rossi and her replacement, all JJ felt was fear: Fear that she was too late. Fear that Emily was already lost to her.
And in the end, that fear had been founded, just in a way JJ never would have imagined. Emily survived the surgery, but the moment she saw the nondescript man in the nondescript standard issue government suit and tie enter the viewing area where the surgeon had allowed her to stay while the rest of the team was relegated to the visitor's waiting room, JJ felt her heart sink. The badge he flashed sported credentials she had only seen in files the files from Emily's past. Clean cut and utterly forgettable, the man that stood before her probably didn't even exist on paper anymore, and once again JJ felt the gnawing fear of what might be.
The agent started speaking, and JJ's fear began to grow, stealing her breath and locking her knees. It seeped through her blood like ice water until she could no longer feel the floor she stood on; could indeed, no longer feel anything.
"Ian Doyle is still alive, Ms. Jareau. As long as he is, Emily Prentiss, you and the entire BAU are in danger. Agent Prentiss is also our best bet of apprehending or neutralizing Doyle. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Emily Prentiss is now dead, and she will remain so until Ian Doyle is in custody. Given your current security clearance and your association with Agent Prentiss, I've been cleared to read you into her new assignment."
There was no pity in his tone. No hint of humanity or compassion. Yet nor was there malice. He was simply stating a fact, and in doing so, the unknown agent changed JJ's life, remaking the world so that the woman she loved was no more. In her place was someone else - an asset, a weapon, a tool to be used against a terrorist.
"You will act as Agent Prentiss' contact until such time as this situation is resolved."
As if she didn't already know, he explained to her what she had to do, and that was how Jennifer Jareau found herself walking out of the viewing area, down the short, sterile hallway to the visitor's lounge and telling her friends her family that one of their own was gone from them forever.
She had thought walking away from Emily's apartment was hard.
It was nothing compared to her first assignment.
The night air in Paris was soft and inviting and JJ dressed causally and strolled (or tried to) toward her destination as if she were nothing more than she appeared a carefree tourist with nothing on her mind beyond the scenery. In truth, the sites of the fabled City of Lovers were utterly lost on the blonde agent. Her heart was in her throat and it took all her training to keep her hands from shaking.
The café was easy to find, and despite the rather ridiculous new haircut, JJ would have known her lover anywhere. With hungry eyes she searched Emily's face, drinking in the familiar line of her jaw, the arch of her brow and the depth of her eyes like one lost in the desert happening on an oasis. She wanted to fling herself into Emily's arms; to hold her close and feel her heartbeat beneath her hand once again. She wanted to hear Emily's voice whispering words of love in half a dozen languages, low and rich in her ear.
She wanted so much.
But Jennifer Jareau had not flown half way around the world to be granted these wishes, and so because she had a duty, and because it was the only way to keep Emily safe, she slid a small packet across the table.
"Passports and bank accounts in several countries to keep you comfortable."
"Thank you," was the soft reply, but JJ heard the longing and the emotion beneath it.
"Good luck," was all she could offer in return, only just managing to keep her voice from breaking. What she couldn't say aloud JJ had written as a note just a tiny slip of paper inside the package that Emily would see whenever she opened it. Five words that she did not even sign. "I love you. Come home."
It was all she dared.
Those words echoed in her mind, begging to be spoken aloud as JJ watched Emily stand and walk into the neon darkness of the Paris night. It was - she would realize later when she was capable of feeling again - the hardest thing she had ever done.
Her purpose served, the blonde sat numbly at the small table until a waiter came and asked her in a slightly bored tone if she wished to order anything.
"No, thank you," the agent replied absently. It took a moment, but JJ steeled herself, gathered her bag and stood up. She had a flight back to the States to catch.
It had been almost two years since that night. Two years where contact with Emily was sporadic at best: Cryptic information exchanges and updates. Emily's was not a normal assignment. She had no group to infiltrate or organization to gather information on. Instead, the powers that be had set her like a huntsman directs a hound or an archer looses an arrow. Emily had one target only: she was hunting Ian Doyle and until he was in custody (the official version) or dead (the preferred outcome) the dark woman had no tethers to the world JJ existed in. JJ herself was little more than a conduit of information between Emily and her superiors and the older woman did nothing to hint that JJ had ever been more than a trusted colleague and perhaps friend.
Only once had Emily sent a personal message to JJ. Waiting for the next available elevator up to her office floor, the blonde's fingers touched the scrap of paper in her pocket and she remembered.
Just over a month had passed since JJ stepped off the plane from Paris, and outwardly, her life moved along smoothly. She worked as Justice Department liaison and sometimes was loaned out for other "jobs" though she rarely acted as a handler. Emily was the only 'asset' she ran. She had no more contact with the BAU beyond an occasional phone call or lunch with Garcia. Henry went to school and grew up too fast. And inside, JJ was numb. Utterly, completely, numb. Not since she hugged Spencer in the hospital at Emily's supposed 'death' had she shed a single tear. It was as if her heart was still in shock, unable to cope with the wound she had been dealt.
And then the letter came.
Plain and unassuming, battered and much folded, it was tucked in among some bills and the local coupon booklet when JJ checked her mail one evening. The postmark came from Italy. There was a return address JJ didn't recognize, but the handwriting was as familiar to her as her own. Hastening into her house, the blonde agent shut the door and turned the lock with shaking hands, dropping her briefcase and the rest of the mail to the floor without a second thought. There in the entry way, she tore open the flimsy white paper of the envelope, her heart in her throat.
Inside was a thick piece of creamy vellum plain, but clearly expensive. On it, in bold, clean black lines, it said only, 'No words ' Nothing else. No signature and the phrase was left unfinished. JJ, however, didn't need any more. Tears clouded her vision as she remembered that night in Emily's kitchen. "There are no words to tell you how much I love you "
Sliding to the floor clutching the paper, for the first time since she heard the name Ian Doyle, JJ cried.
Flashing her ID and walking though the metal detectors at the entrance of the State Department, memory finally began to catch up with the present.
The last contact JJ had from Emily took place three months ago. It had been little more than an update and a hint that the dark haired agent might have a significant lead.
Two months ago, bodies started showing up.
One in Belgium. Two in Prague. One in London.
Local authorities didn't connect them and the deaths themselves had been ruled either accidental or natural causes. The only reason they were noticed at all was the timing, and the connection the deceased had to one Ian Doyle.
Somewhere out there, Emily was moving closer to her endgame. JJ tried not to think too closely about what the woman she loved was forcing herself to do.
Unlocking her office door, JJ walked into the small, not-quite-sterile space and dropped her briefcase in the chair by her desk. She was just shrugging off her still damp trench coat when her office line lit up, signaling a call.
"Jareau .yes sir, right away sir."
Dropping the phone back into the cradle, JJ grabbed a file folder and strode out her door and down the hall to the elevators. Up two floors and down another hallway until she knocked at a small conference room, entering to find her boss and three men she didn't know on sight looking at a flat screen TV showing what looked like the BBC news feed.
"In international news, former IRA member and weapons dealer Ian Doyle was found dead last night by InterPol officials. No word yet on the circumstances of his death. Doyle was convicted of ."
One of the men turned down the TV and then four sets of eyes were fixed on her.
Her boss, James Donner, was a man JJ knew had spent time working for "the Company" before transferring to a desk job at State. He was the first to speak.
"Were you aware of this Agent Jareau?"
"When was your last contact with the asset?"
"Three months ago."
"And it didn't worry you that she had gone dark?" This from one of the men JJ didn't recognize.
To Donner's credit, he stepped in smoothly. "Given the nature of the assignment, we were not concerned about the extended period of non-contact by our agent."
On and on the discussion went until JJ wanted to scream. Her shoulders and neck were knotted with tension and her nerves were strung like piano wires, vibrating at the merest provocation. It was only years of practice that kept her outward countenance smooth and composed. Beneath the professional mask, JJ was screaming in frustration. Only one thing mattered to the blonde at this moment, one question that clambered in her brain.
Where was Emily now?
Such was the cacophony of fear and hope in her heart that JJ almost missed Donner's look in her direction. With an effort, JJ trained her attention once again on the room.
"Well however this plays out, the objective was achieved. JJ, you'll have your report finished by tomorrow?" It was a question that wasn't and the blonde nodded. She could read the undercurrent in the room readily enough. Whatever they wanted to talk about now, it was above her pay grade. Fine by her. JJ didn't give a damn anymore.
The day passed with interminable slowness, as if Time itself was mocking her with its leisurely pace. JJ finished her report to Donner - the official one that said absolutely nothing and spent the rest of the day in a blur.
The rain had stopped when she hailed a cab to go pick up Henry, but the sidewalks were still wet, the streets glistening, reflecting the street lights in pools of yellow, green and red. Halfway to Kelly and Ron's, JJ's hand reached inside her coat pocket and brushed the familiar worn vellum.
Taking out her phone, she hit the speed dial.
"Kelly? Yes it's JJ. No, no, everything's fine, don't worry. I was just wondering if you could keep him tonight. Your nephews are there? Are you sure you want that many boys running around? Ok thank you so much, I really appreciate this. Yes, I'll be by tomorrow first thing."
Whatever happened, JJ felt the need to be alone tonight.
Stepping out of the cab and into the still damp night JJ scanned her street. Nothing was out of the ordinary, no strange vehicles or suddenly dark houses, but the blonde agent felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise with the sense she was being watched.
Unobtrusively, she switched her keys to her left and un-snapped her holster as she climbed her stairs. For a moment, the porch light gave her a halo of soft gold, and then JJ stepped inside her home and bolted the door behind her. A quick check of the house revealed nothing. Everything was as she had left it.
Relief warred with a strange disappointment and JJ chastised herself. What did you expect? To come home and see her standing there in the kitchen?
The logic, however, did nothing to assuage the ache deep inside her heart.
With a soft sigh, JJ shrugged out of her clothes and went to take a shower. The hot water failed in its goal however, doing little to calm the bitter, aching restlessness that had taken her over. Indeed, it merely grew worse until finally, wrapped in a thick, black silk robe with her hair still damp and disheveled, JJ slipped back downstairs and pulled out a cut crystal tumbler and a slightly dusty bottle of very, very expensive single malt scotch.
Disdaining to turn the lights on, the blonde collected her drink and her gun and moved into her living room, twitching aside the curtains to the view outside. The rising moon let its light fall on a small, neat lawn and a tidy wooden slat board fence. It was ordinary and mundane and as far from the stunning view of the capital city that she associated with Emily as was possible in this area, but JJ needed that right now.
Curling up into the overstuffed armchair in the corner where she could look out the window and still see the hallway to her front door, JJ sat in the dark of her silent home and slowly sipped her scotch, letting its fire gradually thaw the cold tension that still gnawed at her. How long she sat there, watching the moon rise and a few of the brightest stars come out, the blonde agent didn't know, but when she heard the soft click of a key in her front lock it was not surprise that flooded her chest. Still - heart racing - JJ set the now empty glass on a side table. Her other hand slid the safety off her Glock.
From just beyond her sight she heard the door shut softly and the lock click shut again and still she sat, hovering now on a knife's edge of fear, hope, and fear of that same hope until Soft footsteps and a shadowed figure slowly moved out of the hallway and took a step toward JJ, dark eyes she had dreamt about a thousand times finding her unerringly in the dim light of the living room.
For a very long moment neither woman moved, as if afraid that somehow none of this was real and they might wake at any moment, a thousand miles apart.
It was the intruder who spoke first, her voice rougher than JJ remembered, but wrapping around her soul just the same.
"You should have changed your locks."
"I wanted you to be able to come home again."
"Jennifer " just that, only her name, but it was enough to propel the sitting woman out of her chair. The Glock was discarded on the table by the empty scotch glass and in three steps JJ was flinging her arms around Emily and holding her in a crushing embrace, one that was returned with equal measure until they were both struggling to breathe.
"Is it really you?" JJ realized she was crying and didn't care.
"Yes, love, I'm really here."
"Oh god, Emily "
"I know," the darker woman whispered brokenly. "I know."
At last JJ pulled back, but couldn't bring herself to totally sever the connection between them. Twining the fingers of one hand through Emily's JJ cupped a cheek that was sharper than she remembered and looked at Emily. In some ways she still looked utterly the same. Her raven's wing hair was long again, flowing to just over her shoulders and there were no bangs to hide those incredible eyes. Her lips were still full and inviting, but there was a tiredness in the lines of her face; a graven exhaustion that said more than any visible wound. The older woman's eyes fell closed and she leaned into the caress. It was only then, when she reached up to hold JJ's wrist that the blonde realized Emily was trembling. It was a fine tremor, barely discernible, but JJ had not lost the trick of reading her lover's body.
"Please say you can stay," she whispered.
A kiss to her palm and a weary smile was her answer. "For now. I don't really have anywhere else to go."
Because her apartment had been sold. JJ remembered boxing up Emily's things, wondering with each object that disappeared into newspaper and packing material how long it would be before their rightful owner saw them again.
"I stored all your things, we can get them later."
"Thank you," Emily sighed. Such simple words that stood for so much more than boxing up books and clothes and pictures. JJ simply nodded in return. When Emily opened her mouth to speak again however, a single finger placed against her lips silenced her.
"Not tonight. I know we have so much to talk about, but it can wait. Right now, you need to rest, and I need to hold you. Just tell me one thing. Is it over? He's really dead?"
Even in the darkness JJ could see the hardness settle like a mask over Emily's features.
"Yes." One word, sharp and cutting, but it was all JJ needed. With a gentle tug, she pulled Emily into the bedroom where the dark woman tugged off her clothes and JJ felt a pang of sadness. The older agent had lost weight she didn't have to spare, her shoulder blades and hips forming too-sharp angles beneath her moonlit skin.
Right now though, none of that mattered.
Emily showered quickly, her actions that of someone who was no longer used to enjoying simple tasks. When she opened the bathroom door, her eyes finding JJ sitting on the bed waiting, the blonde knew she wasn't alone in needing to maintain some kind of connection, even if it was just the sight of each other.
Wrapped in JJ's spare terrycloth robe and toweling her hair, Emily moved to where the blonde bent down to pick up her discarded clothing. Silent until now, the darker woman paused, dropping her towel over a chair.
"Wait," she asked gently and JJ stilled. With careful hands, Emily reached into the pocket of her black slacks, withdrawing a small, worn scrap of paper that JJ would have recognized anywhere. Her heart caught in her throat and it was suddenly difficult to breathe as the blonde let the pile of cotton and silk fall so she could reach into the pocket of her robe and draw out the bit of vellum she kept always with her.
"No words "
"I love you. Come home."
Twin declarations: Twin pleas that had been answered. JJ reached out and once again clasped Emily's hand, the exquisite lines of the dark woman's face now blurred by tears, and pulled her lover down to the bed. Exhausted, elated, still not entirely daring to believe that the last two years were over, the two women slid under the covers and into each other's arms. Gold hair tangled with midnight: Sun and shadow faded to silver by the gentle moonlight streaming through the window as two hearts beat together, at last.
The next morning JJ called Kelly and asked her to keep Henry for one more day, glad she had left the couple with several changes of clothes for her son. When Kelly paused and asked if everything was ok, JJ couldn't keep the choked smile out of her voice and Kelly hung up satisfied.
It seemed to be an ongoing state this teetering between tears and elation - and JJ knew she wasn't the only one who couldn't quite believe that they were together again. She caught Emily in the kitchen the next morning, holding the framed photo of Henry that had been JJ's touchstone for so long and staring at it with a mixture of longing and awe. Walking up behind the older woman, JJ slid her arms around Emily's waist, resting her head on her shoulder.
"I remember this " Emily whispered. "I don't remember it being framed."
"I needed something of you. I couldn't just I needed something." JJ replied, swallowing.
Carefully, Emily placed the photo back on its hook. Turning in JJ's arms she cupped the blonde woman's face and slowly, as if the action were unfamiliar, she smiled. It wasn't the quick and easy grin that JJ remembered so well but a rare, careful, radiant smile that transformed the dark woman's features, easing the marks of pain and exhaustion from her face.
"Well, now you have me."
"And I'm not letting you go again," JJ nearly growled, pulling Emily to her and kissing her. It started slowly as with lips and tongue they retraced memory and explored each other. But it didn't stay slow, and like someone dumping gasoline on a banked fire, the hunger between them ignited, heat roaring through their blood to send hearts pounding.
One of them moaned and then hands were searching for and finding skin and robes were shed and suddenly JJ was being pinned against the wall, Emily's mouth on her neck and her hands at her hips.
They couldn't get enough of each other: Not the taste of each other's skin or the sound of their cries or the feel of hot, slick need. At some point they stumbled to the couch, and at some point after that they fell onto the plush carpeted floor, but it was hours before anything more than ragged breathing and breathless pleas were heard in the small house. When their tired bodies finally demanded a rest they lay entwined, Emily's alabaster skin against JJ's golden; JJ's head pillowed on Emily's shoulder and a throw rug tugged haphazardly over them. They'd managed to make a mess of the living room and each other and JJ couldn't help the smile that tugged at her lips.
Neither bothered with statements like, "I've missed you," or even "I love you." Neither woman needed the words spoken, as they were written clearly in the language of bruised lips and heavy lidded eyes, in languid bodies and sated hearts. As JJ drifted somewhere between awareness and sleep, with the steady drumbeat of Emily's heart her only anchor and Emily's skin beneath her hands, she gave a brief prayer of thanks to whatever deity might be listening that no matter what was to come, they at least had this moment.
Because the blonde agent knew that soon they would have to face tomorrow and the rest of the world. Soon Emily would be debriefed by shadowy figures who JJ has no access too. Soon cover stories would be composed and paperwork would be completed and their life would take another direction - one as yet uncertain. If they were incredibly lucky, they might be given back what they had lives led in the open, jobs that allowed them to be a part of each other, friends and family who knew them, a son they could watch grow up.
If they weren't that lucky JJ didn't think beyond that. One thing she knew however no matter that it broke half a dozen protocols, no matter that she could well lose her job for it there was a reunion that needed to take place and answers that needed to be given.
It was time to reunite their family, if only for a short time.
"Emily," she murmured, receiving a contented 'hmmm?' in reply.
"They should know you're alive." No need to specify who they were.
A long silence followed where JJ could almost hear the direction of Emily's thoughts and then slender arms tightened around her. "Yes." One word filled with longing and hope.
But that would be later. Now JJ simply closed her eyes and surrendered to sleep, safe in the arms of the woman she loved.
JJ took her unused vacation time and if Donner suspected anything he let it go. Quiet and watchful, JJ guessed that her boss knew much more than he let on, but he appeared content to leave it unspoken. For that reason, before she hung up the phone with him, her 'thank you,' was soft and laden. The blonde almost thought she heard a smile in his voice when he told her 'you're welcome.'
The next person she called was Garcia.
They were lying in bed, Emily's head on JJ's shoulder this time where the dark woman could hear Penelope's voice, tinny through the phone speakers. When the bubbly tech greeted JJ, the blonde heard her lover's breath catch and she turned her head to see dark eyes glistening with emotion. Squeezing Emily's hand, JJ turned her attention back to her call.
"Garcia, hey. Listen, I was thinking. I haven't seen you guys in so long. I'd like to have you all over this weekend for dinner."
"Oh Jayj, you know we'd love to " Garcia started going on about schedules, real regret in her voice.
JJ interrupted her, her voice calm, smooth and utterly implacable. "Garcia. I would really like to see you all this weekend."
There was a careful pause at the other end of the line. Penelope Garcia was not a profiler, but she had been a long time with the BAU.
"Of course JJ. I know we'd all love that. I'll talk to the others."
Details were exchanged and then the two friends hung up.
Turning her head, JJ found Emily's gaze was distant. "Em?"
"Do you think they can forgive me?" came the whispered question, rare, painful uncertainty woven through the soft words. JJ thought her heart might break. Her first instinct was to say "of course," but the blonde knew well enough that no answer would assuage what Emily felt. So instead she simply pulled the dark woman close and kissed her temple.
As the day of the 'dinner' approached, Emily grew more and more withdrawn. JJ did her best to reassure her lover, but she also understood that it was an exercise in futility, so she simply gave the dark woman her space. It helped that Henry had not forgotten his other 'mother' and his shriek of excitement at seeing Emily again had lit the older agent's face with that rare, radiant smile.
The three of them existed in that week in a world all their own. JJ had no contact with work, and she had little social life outside of the office anyway. As far as the rest of the world was concerned Emily Prentiss was dead and Henry was too young to have friends who would notice his absence. So they spent the days simply being together and playing with Henry and the nights remembering the feeling of each other's bodies, knowing that this period of grace would not last for long.
When the appointed evening arrived, Emily and JJ agreed that it would be best to wait until JJ could explain to the group a little of what had transpired the last two years before Emily revealed herself. Henry was at his sitters. It would be just the adults tonight.
Garcia and Morgan were the first to arrive. Garcia's hair was blonde with brilliant pink streaks once again and Morgan was, well, Morgan: Handsome and chiseled as ever.
Rossi was next, a bottle of very good Burgandy in hand. He was followed by Hotch, still in his suit and tie and Reid, whose hair had grown long again and whose brilliant eyes were more shadowed than JJ remembered. She hugged all of them, even Aaron as they came in, showing them into the living room. Drinks were poured and shared and Garcia raised her glass.
"To family gatherings," she smiled gently and they all followed suit.
For a moment there was silence as they drank and then five pairs of eyes turned to JJ.
Now that the moment was upon her however, the former press liaison struggled for her voice. How long had she waited for this moment to fall silent? Silently JJ cursed herself. Busy chastising herself, she almost missed the looks being exchanged between her former team.
It was Reid who spoke.
"So, is she here or what?"
JJ blinked, her mind blank.
Now it was Rossi's turn to quirk his lips as the others leaned forward, a hopeful tension riding the air. "Prentiss. I assume that's why we're here."
"But how did you " JJ stammered, and Reid let out a whoop.
"I knew it!"
"You didn't cry at the funeral," Rossi spoke up.
"Last week, InterPol officials, very conveniently found Ian Doyle dead," added Morgan.
But it was Hotch who said, "Paris. You went to Paris approximately three weeks after the funeral. Just enough time for a gut wound that didn't damage any vital organs to heal enough for someone to walk."
JJ had just enough time to wonder how the hell they had found out about that trip when
"Walking yes. Without pain? No." the dark, rich voice came from the other room and Emily Prentiss, still too thin but dressed elegantly in black slacks and turtleneck walked into the room. She barely made it two steps before Garcia shrieked and flung herself at Emily, nearly tackling the dark haired woman in a hug.
After that it was chaos. When Garcia finally let go, tears streaming down her face, it was Reid, then Rossi folded her into an embrace that was at once tender and fierce. Hotch was more restrained, but his smile even rarer than Emily's was not, and Morgan took her by the arms, shaking his head and trying to look pissed through a shit eating grin.
"I am so beyond mad at you Prentiss," he laughed, and then wrapped her in a bear hug, lifting her off the floor. Then Garcia had to hug her again while trying to tell Emily that she too, was mad at the former profiler. She wasn't' any more convincing than Morgan and when they were done, Emily's eyes were shining with tears.
"Its true then, Doyle's gone?" Morgan asked, and Prentiss nodded once, her face taking on that hard look again.
"He's gone. And I'm home."
None of them missed the emphasis.
There wasn't a one of them with dry eyes as JJ ushered everyone into the kitchen. The drinks flowed that night, the clinking of dishes softly punctuating the rise and fall of voices as they tumbled over each other to catch up on two years of absence. Emily explained where she had been and what she had to do not all of it of course, but they knew. They were profilers and could fill in the blanks easily enough. In return, the dark haired woman heard about cases, successes and failures, adventures in romance, the addition of a plant to Rossi's office the myriad of details and stories small and great alike, that she had missed while she chased a killer all over Europe.
The food was long gone and the candles burned low, but no one noticed as they talked long into the night. Spread around JJ's living room they drank and talked. Reid curled on the floor by the fireplace, while Hotch and Rossi each took an armchair. Morgan and Garcia leaned against each other at one end of the couch, while at the other, Emily held JJ close in her arms. No one had shown the least bit of surprise at the two women's position.
Tomorrow or the next day JJ would have to report back to her superiors. Emily would be caught up again in the wheels of bureaucracy hopefully to be spit out again by JJ's side or back with the BAU, and the team would go back to fighting the unending darkness of human violence. But right here and now, none of that mattered. As the night passed gently and the moon began to set, a group of people who were each other's family, finally began to heal.
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