DISCLAIMER: All herein belong to CBS and its affiliates, not me. Not profit was made, no disrespect intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Not a song fic. Although, listening to Trisha Yearwood’s song of the same title, it became clear that it could have been written for Emily Prentiss. So I decided to write a story about Emily and JJ that encapsulates some of the emotions of the song. Unbeta’d, so any and all errors are mine.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Hearts in Armor
The carpet under her feet was a shade of green that Emily was fairly certain wasn't found in nature. It had once been shag, but now the pile was beaten down and matted, like a lawn trampled by drunks after a Fourth of July cook-out. The bedspread had clearly been intended to be a contrast to the carpet, a vaguely Caribbean print with swirls and shapes of palm fronds, in what may once have been the same unnatural green, combined with a rust orange and a mottled looking yellow.
Emily knew without looking that the underside of the spread would be a vast field of stubby polyester balls where the fabric had pilled beyond repair, leaving it rough and vaguely repulsive to the touch. The blanket would be brown, to hide the numerous stains of twenty years of use, equally pilled and equally repulsive and the sheets see-through thin, white and barely reaching the corners of the lumpy mattress.
She had been here before.
Well, not really here. For a moment she couldn't quite make her mind work enough to remember exactly where here was. There were moments, far more frequent than she was comfortable admitting, that she would wake in the dim, grimy light just before dawn and stare into the gloom, making out the shape of the same atrocious paintings bolted to the same yellowed walls, and see the same water stained ceiling above her and not have the slightest idea where she was. There had been so many run-down motels, so many low end chain hotels, that it wasn't until she threw open the dusty curtains over the sealed up window and looked out through the streaked, opaque glass at the parking lot du jour that she could fix in her mind where they were this time.
Grant City, Missouri. Population barely 1,000.
It might just as well have been Mayo, Florida or Diablo, California or Magnolia, North Carolina. Small towns all: one main street, a couple stoplights. One motel, one restaurant, one school. Places where people still let their children roam free and barefoot through summer days. Places where people still left their doors unlocked at night. Until the unthinkable happened. Until the rest of the world, with all its corruption and sin and violence crept in the dark of night and shattered forever the idea that anywhere is safe from the monsters.
One of those monsters had brought the B.A.U. here, to northern Missouri; brought Emily to this room in this motel that looked like so many others, to sit on the edge of this bed, exhausted and drained. The muscles in her neck and back felt like bands of iron, twisted and melded together by some fierce conflagration, so that every movement was stiff and painful. It had been three days and three nights of constant work, interviewing, tracking down leads, only to run headlong into brick-walls.
The break they had been praying for had come this afternoon, in the most devastating of forms, and while they had managed to capture the unsub, the broken body of another child, this one only twelve, had left them all staring blankly at the ruins of a young life, their achievement in stopping the killer lying like bitter gall on their tongues.
Emily had walked away from the derelict shed, long ago abandoned in a field, the roof rotting and the worn brown timbers pockmarked with holes from wood bees and termites, unable after the initial examination to bear the sight of another murdered child. The black gloss of her boots was quickly coated with reddish dust from the dry clay of the fallow field. The late winter sun was low in the sky and Emily could almost see the individual rays as they slanted down onto the ground, the golden cast of the light turning the soil the color of blood. So much for escaping the horrific image inside the small barn.
She wasn't certain what it was about this case that had gotten under her skin, although she suspected it was the depth of despair of the parents they had interviewed. The team had dealt with cases involving kids before, but here, in this small town in the middle of America, where the fields stretched out to the horizon and the morning air was crisp and clean, where the idea of family was more than an idea, but the central spoke around which life turned, the loss of a child seemed somehow all the more obscene. For many of the victims' families, and for the town itself, the knowledge that such evil actually existed and that it preyed on the most vulnerable had altered their lives forever. Grant City would never be just another small town again.
Emily hadn't heard JJ's footsteps on the crumbling clay of the field and so she was startled to hear her voice so close behind her.
"Hey, you okay?" JJ asked hesitantly, uncertain of Emily's mood. She had watched the brunette turn and leave the barn, seen the look of anger and deep sadness on her face. It was unlike Emily to react to crime scenes like this, and so she had given her a few minutes before she followed, a part of her needing to make sure that the older woman was all right.
Emily stiffened at the sound of JJ's voice, her natural instincts kicking in, a blank mask dropping down over her features; all the profound sadness, all the righteous anger disappearing like actors when the curtain comes down. There was little left but a professional detachment.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Emily mouthed, a slight smile touching her lips to confirm her statement. "Just needed some air."
JJ's eyes raked over Emily's features, trying to see something beyond the neutral expression, searching those expressive brown eyes for a sign. Of what she wasn't sure. Perhaps just some sign of weakness in the armor Emily normally wore, for some hint of a chink, or a dent to allow JJ to believe that Emily might actually need someone. Need her. Need her the way that she seemed to need Emily. She didn't find one.
"You sure?" JJ didn't know why she felt compelled to push the subject, but she couldn't stop the words that tumbled from her lips. "You looked upset when you walked out. If you want to talk about it, you know I'll listen."
Emily again offered an abbreviated smile, one that never came close to reaching her eyes, and shook her head gently, the motion causing her dark brown hair to sway slightly. For just an instant, JJ thought she saw a flicker of irritation slip across her features, but then it was gone, and the blonde was left wondering if it had merely been her imagination.
"Honestly, JJ, I'm fine. Don't worry, all right? We should probably head out and notify Eric's parents. I know that it's a long shot, as the other parents haven't been able to tell us much, but they might have some information about his friends, his normal activities, that will give us a clue about who might have done this," Emily stated calmly, her voice confident, nothing in her demeanor giving a hint that she had ever been disturbed.
She knew that she had hurt JJ's feelings. Again. The flicker of annoyance that flashed in her brown eyes had been directed at her own inability to show any weakness, not at the genuine concern in JJ's expression. She often wondered why the lovely blonde kept trying in the face of polite rebuff. It seemed that whenever the other woman extended a hand to her in an attempt to offer comfort, in an attempt to reach beyond the confines of their friendship, Emily pulled away, slipping back inside the sturdy, comforting weight of the armor she had forged, unaided, the past thirty-nine years.
Well, almost unaided. Her mother, a master armorer herself, had given her the tools, taught her the fundamentals. The design, though, was Emily's alone.
Turning, she had walked away from JJ, back toward the barn and the rest of the team, unable to meet the blonde's piercing blue eyes again, knowing that they already saw far more than she was comfortable with; knowing that somehow, JJ managed to slip under her defenses and leave her feeling exposed and unprotected. She just wasn't sure that she knew for certain any more what she was supposed to be protecting herself from, or why. Or if it was worth it.
Against the odds, Eric's parents had one scrap of information that lead to another scrap, until the team had been able to piece together a fragile cloth that held the clue to the unsub's identity. None of which gave them back their child. He was lost to them, as were the three other children, the ones they knew about, whose existence had been prematurely ended; threads in a fabric that hung loose, the pattern incomplete.
Now, five hours later, Emily sat on the edge of the bed in her motel room, her gaze focused on the ugly green carpet. The walls were paper thin and she could hear movement in the adjacent room, the sound of running water, the creak of the mattress springs as weight settled on them. Emily closed her eyes and in her mind, saw JJ, face scrubbed clean, clad in a tee shirt and sweats, hair pulled back in a headband, looking young and beautiful and uncorrupted. Except that she knew that last part wasn't true. If anything, JJ was forced to see far more than the rest of them, as file after file came to her desk: images of torture, of desecration reduced to glossy 8x10s for her to wade through and choose the ones she thought were stoppable. As if any of it ever stopped.
Tonight, like so many other nights in some anonymous motel room, Emily fought down the drowning waves of emotion that cascaded through her: rage, guilt, regret, disgust, all interwoven with a profound and bottomless sorrow. Sorrow for the ones they couldn't save, and sorrow for the ones who had to wake every morning to an empty bed, or an empty chair at the breakfast table; for the ones that looked out at a bicycle in the drive that would never again be ridden with abandon down a sidewalk in June. It was at times like these that Emily was hard-pressed to find a compartment in her mind vast enough to hold all the stored grief for lives lost; to hold the anger and bitterness at the walking evil that stalked the world.
The silence of the motel was broken only by the occasional crashing of ice into the machine outside the doors and the rush of a car down the narrow two lane road in front of the motel, a ribbon of gray that disappeared around a hairpin curve into the dark Missouri night. Morgan, Rossi, Hotch and Reid were on the other end of the single story building, and as far as Emily had seen, there were no other cars outside besides the two black Suburbans. She considered turning on the television, attempting to bury her wayward thoughts in some mindless sitcom, but she didn't even have the energy to get up and locate the remote.
She lay back on the top of the bedspread, the faint odor of bleach from the sheets assaulting her nose. There was a stain on the ceiling in the far corner of the room that was shaped like Texas, the edge where New Mexico should be fading into the wall. She wondered idly if there was a NM shaped stain on JJ's ceiling. JJ. Eventually, her meandering mind always returned to thoughts of the lovely blonde. She knew that she dreamed of JJ, the images liquid; molten glass that filled fissures in her soul. But when she tried to hold onto them, in the murky hours before dawn, tried to capture them, keep them, they slithered away from her, eel-like and slippery.
Still, the fractured pictures that stayed with her left her feeling decidedly off-balance, unable at times to meet those clear blue eyes over the conference table, or across a booth at the local diner for fear of giving herself away and acknowledging what they both already knew. For fear of letting JJ too close.
For fear of allowing her precious armor to be breached. Because, God knows, that would never do.
So each time JJ touched her arm, each time those sapphire eyes looked down through all the tangled mess inside her, straight to the soles of her feet, Emily tried, often unsuccessfully, to shore up her defenses. And each time, JJ managed, effortlessly so it seemed to Emily, to find another way in, to find another, hitherto unnoticed hole in Emily's Maginot line. In moments of clarity, Emily knew that eventually JJ would simply find a way around the line and then she would have no option but to surrender or retreat.
And Emily wasn't at all confident that when the time came, she would be able to walk away from the possibilities that she could see in JJ's eyes. Or that she really wanted to.
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