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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Agent Hotchner stared at the small red circle as if willing it to increase in size. When comparing it to the area of the entire map, he figured the ratio to be roughly 1:100. The unsub had an overwhelming advantage; he knew exactly where he was, whereas the B.A.U. only knew where he wasn't anywhere inside the confines of the tiny red circle.
"What's next?" Emily stood beside the agent in charge, her arms folded over her chest as she scanned the map. Her focal point was the range of mountains outside the area that had already been thoroughly searched.
"Prentiss, I need you to go back to the cabin. It's possible we missed something, and without some sort of clue, we're going to need divine intervention to catch this guy, especially with the storm that's rolling in." Hotch forced his eyes to take in the rest of the wall-to-wall map.
"I'm on it." Emily was halfway across the room when Hotch called out to her.
"Take JJ with you."
"Did Hotch say what we should be looking for? It's already dusted for prints, and both you and Morgan have gone over this place with a fine toothed comb. The unsub purposely led us here because he knew there wasn't a single shred of evidence that would tell us who he is." JJ sat behind the massive desk and pulled the top drawer open. It didn't take a trained agent to know that someone else had already rifled through its contents.
"Hotch is certain there's a clue to the unsub's identity somewhere in this cabin."
Emily's voice sounded muffled, and JJ looked up to find her colleague on her knees, bent over the floorboard that she'd loosened. Tilting her head to get a better view, JJ smiled, completely missing the majority of Emily's next words.
". . . What do you think?"
JJ's head snapped up. "Um," hesitating, she went with what she thought was a safe answer, "I'm not sure."
"You're not sure?" Emily lifted something from beneath the floor's surface, something rectangular in shape. "Not sure that it's pathetic that the unsub has been to more Broadway shows than me or that I have no life?"
JJ zeroed in on Emily's hand, instantly recognizing what it held. She pushed to her feet and crossed the room to stand next to where Emily still knelt.
"That's a lot of playbills." JJ looked down into the small crevice. Kneeling next to her colleague, she pulled up the adjacent board. The number of visible playbills multiplied. "This guy is a neat freak; why would he haphazardly toss these down here? And look, they're not in any particular order. His life is all about order."
"Maybe they're not his. Maybe they belong to the previous owner." Emily turned the playbill over in her hand, noting the significant amount of yellowing. "This one is from 1963. This can't belong to the unsub."
JJ offered Emily the playbill from the top of the stash. "Look at the date on this one." She watched the other agent zero in on the month, day, and year.
"This one is from two weeks ago." Emily frowned and reached for her phone.
JJ sat on the wooden floor in front of a stack of playbills. A few feet away, Emily was sitting in front of a stack of her own. They had spent the past two hours, sorting through their latest find, separating the programs, chronologically and alphabetically.
"You know, more than half of the ones I've sorted have been signed by one or both of the lead actors." JJ leaned back on her hands and stretched her neck.
"Me, too. I wonder how this guy gets backstage. I don't think it's likely he would know all the actors. Maybe he works in theatre," Emily mused, mimicking JJ's position.
JJ swiveled towards Emily. "What if he's already backstage?"
"What do you mean; like a stagehand? He'd already be backstage." Emily turned her attention back to the top of her stack in search of a pattern. In chronological and alphabetical order, she'd found the common link. The more recent playbills were all from the same theater.
Another hour of sorting had the stacks arranged by three criteria: month, date, and theater. Six different piles led to six different theaters. Now, the problem was how to explain the span of time from the first to the last.
"He can't be this old." JJ stood in front of the first stack, staring down at the dates.
Emily ran her hand through her hair in frustration and read the cover of the last playbill to date. "What if these belong to two different people?"
The next words were spoken simultaneously. "Father and son."
The two women smiled broadly.
"Okay, Hotch. We'll stay put until the storm blows over. Will you keep us apprised of any updates?" Emily stood in front of the cabin's window, looking out over the layer of white. She couldn't believe that she and JJ hadn't been aware of the storm that had been brewing outside.
The cabin's door flew open, and JJ stepped inside, stomping her feet on the mat. A fine layer of white covered her hair and jacket. "Damn, it's really coming down out there. I thought it wasn't supposed to blow in for another couple of hours."
Emily closed her cell and crossed the room. "Have you checked the time lately?"
JJ frowned and looked down at her watch. "Five? It's already five? When did that happen?"
"Probably when you were going on and on about how Chicago was the best musical of all time." Emily smiled easily. She was just as upset as JJ to have lost track of time, but listening to JJ prattle on excitedly about the musical had been quite entertaining.
Still unaware of their forced captivity, JJ glanced over at the neatly formed stacks of playbills. "Maybe we should take the last decade and leave the others for later."
"Um, JJ, I was just on the phone with Hotch. Most of the road is already impassable."
JJ caught on immediately. "We're stuck here?"
Emily shrugged. "Seems that way."
"For how long?" JJ began to fidget. She'd never spent a great deal of time alone with Emily, and thus far, she'd been able to keep her attraction from the other woman. She'd really like to keep it that way.
"I don't know. Hotch said the forecast is for snow to continue through the evening. The sheriff told him the driving conditions in the mountains are already considered to be hazardous. Darkness only exacerbates the problem. We'd only make it a quarter of the way before nightfall."
JJ looked around nervously. "So, what do we do?"
"Build a fire, for one. I imagine this cabin will get quite chilly now that the temperature has dropped." Emily headed for the door, grateful the unsub had left a stack of wood just outside on the cabin's porch.
JJ wrapped her arms around herself and moved towards the fireplace to prepare the hearth, only to find the area cleaned and ready. A shiver crept down her spine and settled in to stay. This was the second time she'd spend the night in an unsub's domain, and she didn't like it any better than she had the first time. Her head snapped up as Emily stepped inside with an armful of firewood.
"You weren't kidding about how fast the snow's coming down. It may be days before we can drive out of here." Emily kicked the door closed and headed towards the fireplace.
"Days?" JJ's voice cracked.
"You'd rather be trapped in here with Reid? Or worse, Hotch?" Emily placed the wood down on the hearth and grabbed one of the larger logs, gently laying it in the andirons.
"I'd rather not be trapped at all." JJ spotted the fireplace matches and handed them to Emily.
"Me either." Emily turned the gas jet on low and lit the match, igniting the wood. "But you'd be my first choice of people to be stuck with."
JJ snapped out of her worrisome mood. "Hey! What do you mean 'stuck with'?"
The two women sat on opposite ends of the couch, facing each other. Emily sipped from her mug of hot chocolate while JJ took another spoonful of soup.
"At least, the unsub's pantry wasn't bare."
JJ slid her half-empty bowl onto the sofa table. "I think I've just lost my appetite."
"Don't think of it as his food, JJ; just think of it as a necessity to survive." Emily continued to sip from her mug.
"What if it's tainted?" JJ gestured towards Emily's mug.
"The hot chocolate was sealed inside a packet that was sealed inside an unopened container. Besides, I watched you check for puncture marks in the soup can. You didn't find any, did you?" Emily grinned.
"No, but we can't be too careful, Emily. This guy is a manipulative bastard. He may have planned this entire scenario."
Emily swallowed the last of her hot chocolate. "JJ, there's no way he'd know that we'd be eating his food, much less be forced to stay here because of a snowstorm. Next, you'll be suspecting him of controlling the weather."
"It *is* winter, Emily; snowstorms go with the territory." JJ's stomach growled pitifully, and she eyed her soup.
Chuckling, Emily pushed to her feet and reached for the bowl that had been out of her reach. She handed it to JJ with a smile. "Here; I'm going to get a bowl of my own to prove to you this soup is perfectly okay."
JJ watched the other woman head for the door. "You're not proving anything; you're just hungry."
"Yeah, that, too." Emily stepped into the kitchen, leaving her words behind her. JJ cautiously swallowed another mouthful of soup.
An hour later found both women sitting in the exact same spot, each facing forward this time, staring into the fire.
"What would you be doing about now?" JJ crossed her arms and stretched her feet on the coffee table next to Emily's.
"Sitting on the couch, staring into the fire." Emily smiled. "Except, I'd be sipping on a nice glass of wine." She turned towards JJ. "How about you?"
"Sitting on the couch, flipping through the channels." JJ chuckled and added, "drinking a nice bottle of beer."
Emily laughed. "I wonder if the unsub has any alcohol."
JJ flinched at the mention of the unsub. Emily had unwittingly put a damper on their easy banter, but JJ made a valiant attempt to recapture the mood.
"So you're a homebody during the week; how about the weekends? I imagine your dance card is filled."
"No, no dances for me." Emily turned her gaze back to the flames and tried to remember the last date she'd actually had. Ever since she'd joined the B.A.U., she'd pretty much immersed herself in her work. She hated the downtime; it only served to remind her how lonely she truly was.
"Oh, c'mon; you can tell me. I won't blab to any of the others." JJ resumed her earlier position, leaning against the end to face Emily.
"There's nothing to blab, JJ. I wasn't kidding or withholding anything from you." She glanced towards the blonde. "I'm not dating anyone."
"Me either. Guess neither of us has time to have an actual life. Look at Hotch; if he can't make it work, there's no hope for any of us."
Emily pushed back against the cushions. "You know, I promised myself that I wouldn't allow my work to get in the way of my relationships. I swore that when I found someone that I would make sure that I put our relationship first. And if I had kids," Emily sighed, "well, let's just say that they would be my first priority."
Silence ensued for several minutes before JJ decided to offer some insight into herself. "I was just the opposite. I swore when I got away from Pennsylvania that I was going to give everything I had to my job. I didn't need anything or anyone."
"Has that worked for you?" Emily fiddled with a loose thread on the couch, purposely avoiding eye contact.
"Which part?" JJ stalled. She knew what Emily was asking, but she needed time to think about her answer. She didn't want to freely admit how very lonely she'd been.
"The part about not needing anyone else." Emily lifted her head and looked directly at JJ. "Are you happy being alone?"
JJ felt as if she were under a microscope with Emily focused solely on her. Not comfortable with such intense scrutiny, JJ tried for a bit of levity.
"I'm not alone, you're here." Her attempt at humor failed; Emily kept her focus on her initial query.
Taking JJ's hand into her own, Emily whispered her question once again. "Are you happy being alone?"
Stunned by Emily's actions, JJ could only stare at their joined hands. She'd felt that same warmth, only once, when Garcia had been shot. Her upset and turmoil hadn't allowed her to fully experience the touch then, but there was nothing keeping her from enjoying it now. She interlaced their fingers together and smiled.
"I'm happy now." JJ chanced a peek to gauge Emily's reaction.
Emily had watched JJ's eyes track to their hands, and she'd immediately regretted her bold action. Her mind was racing, trying to come up with a reason to excuse herself from the room. She needed to put some distance between the two of them, but just as she'd opened her mouth to apologize, JJ had intertwined their fingers together and smiled. She'd actually smiled, right before she threw the ball back into Emily's court. Dark eyes swung up to meet blue ones, and time stood still.
Emily squeezed the hand she held, allowing JJ's warmth to seep into her every pore. Without a word, the two slowly gravitated towards the other until they were a hairsbreadth away. Eyes closed slowly as lips pressed together gently, but firmly. This time, it was JJ who took the initiative and deepened the kiss, but it was Emily who eased away.
"Not here, JJ."
"I'm sorry, Emily. It just felt so right. I didn't mean . . ." Fingers to her lips silenced her words.
"Don't apologize, JJ. This does feel right, very right, but I don't want our first time to be in the cabin of a serial killer." Emily slid forward until she was practically on top of JJ. Turning, she lay back against the other woman, placing her head on the soft shoulder. JJ couldn't help but chuckle.
"As a matter of fact, I am."
"So, what do we do now?" JJ uttered the same words as earlier, but her previous case of jitters was long gone.
"We get to know each other better and hope that the storm passes through quickly. I'm sure Garcia has already put her mad computer skills to use and has come up with the name of the unsub."
JJ slid her arms around Emily and pulled her close, leaning her blonde head against the dark one. Emily smiled and pressed her cheek against JJ's.
Emily placed her hands on top of the strong ones which held her. She'd never felt so safe in her entire life.
"I'm happy now, too."
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