DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. Law & Order belongs to NBC and Dick Wolf. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a series titled, “Dirty Little Secret”. It would be most beneficial to read the first two stories before proceeding. The first is Similar Features, featuring Emily and Serena, and then Ann’s A Revelation of a Different Kind, featuring JJ’s corresponding evening. There will hopefully be three or four more stories in this series. Hopefully. My eternal gratitude and deepest thanks to racethewind10, my wonderful beta on this, who prodded, poked and generally nagged the hell out of me to finish this. She also provided me with absolutely fantastic suggestions and fixed all my typos. Cheers, dearest!! Thanks also to eclecticfan who read and re-read, gave great comments and encouragement and served as my technical advisor/geek! And to Ann, my partner in this little undertaking, who keeps telling me not to worry, just write *g*.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
There were no stars. There were never any stars. Not here. Not in this overcrowded marble kingdom that had no need of such celestial displays. The confluence of lights banished them to more hospitable realms, places out in the vast rolling plains of the republic, where you could stand along the edge of a country road and count them, until the sheer weight of the numbers on your tongue sent you tumbling back against the hard black soil, head cradled on the fragrant earth. Here there were only street lights and spot lights and headlights, staining the sky and turning it a sickly washed out grey.
Emily would have given anything to see the stars, would have found some comfort in tracing the lines of ancient constellations, in reciting to the darkness the tales of heroes and monsters, of great beauties and petty gods. Anything to chase away the images that plagued her thoughts, had plagued them since she awoke, alone among tangled sheets this morning. Yesterday morning. Sunday morning. It was Monday now, albeit the first wobbly hours of Monday; two a.m. by the stark red glow of the clock on the bedside table. And there was nothing to distract her mind from memories of silken skin and the fall of golden hair across the pillows. Nothing. So she simply lay on her bed and stared, unseeing, at the swath of sky visible through the glass doors of her bedroom.
If asked, she would have been hard pressed to account for her day. The hours had melded together, an endless chain of minutes and seconds full of regret and recrimination and longing so intense it twisted around her chest, encircling her arms, squeezing so tightly that she felt it in the fine bones of her hands. Layered through it all was the agonizing guilt of pleasure, of desire and a deep satisfaction that she could physically feel in the slight ache of the muscles in her back and legs. She still couldn't believe that she had actually picked up a stranger in a club and brought her home. She didn't do things like that. Other people did things like that. Not Ambassador Prentiss' perfect daughter. Except that she had.
And had it been just that, had it been merely a chance encounter, a transitory lapse of judgment, a simple surrender to a physical need, then she might not have felt the discomfiting weight of it pressing down on her. But Emily knew that it hadn't been just an exercise in desire. From the moment that she saw Serena, the elegant sweep of blonde hair around her shoulders, the deep, clear blue of her eyes, Emily had felt her will power desert her as an insidious voice in her head had whispered that for one night, at least, she could almost have what she desperately wanted. Almost.
The blonde hair, spread like a golden curtain across her pillow, wasn't JJ's. The blue eyes shaded to darkest sapphire, gazing down at her, hooded with passion, weren't the same ones she gazed at over the conference table every morning. They never would be. The reasonable, rational part of her brain had come to terms with that knowledge, had made its peace with the idea that, like so many other things over the past thirty-eight years of her life, Jennifer Jareau was never going to be hers.
Unfortunately, it appeared that the rational part of her mind had ceded power to that small, remote region of her brain that still foolishly believed that soul mates existed, that true love could conquer any obstacles, that there was good in all people, and that her mother actually loved her more than she loved her career. All lies, she knew, but ones that made it easier to sleep some nights.
Just not tonight: tonight the hollow hours clicked by with each flicker of bright red numbers, minute by minute, marching solemnly toward the shallow, false promise of dawn. A dawn that came too quickly.
Emily forced herself out of bed, her limbs heavy, the skin under her eyes smudged and sunken. She stood listlessly under the stinging spray of the shower, willing the heat of the silken water to bring to life a body and mind frozen by guilt and indecision. She dressed automatically, slipping into the black of an expensive suit, wide collared white blouse a stark contrast to her jacket and the curve of dark hair along the elegant column of throat.
Meeting the reflection of the woman staring absently out of the mirror, Emily wondered if a passing stranger, or even a curious friend would be able to see the invisible imprint of Serena's fingerprints against the creamy white of her skin, see the phantom crimson of the trail of kisses down her neck and along the sharp line of her jaw. The evidence of her indiscretion seemed to stand out like the stain of dark blood along high cheekbones, clear and damning.
The drive to Quantico didn't provide the usual respite from thought; quite often, she could focus on navigating the clog and tangle of other cars and other drivers, but today traffic was light and there was little to distract her mind from the events of the weekend. In the pocket of her jacket, crisp and rustling against the supple fabric, was a business card: one she had found propped up on the dresser of her bedroom, white and formal and incongruous with the memories it brought with it; memories of damp skin and the warm, sleek heat of mouths, each touch claiming more than simply flesh and bone.
"Serena Southerlyn, Attorney at Law", it read, accompanied by the requisite phone numbers and email addresses. On the back, in the blue ink from the pen Emily had thrown carelessly on the dresser the other day after work, the rounded digits of a cell phone number stared back at her, the series of straight lines and looping curves carrying far more meaning than simple words could have managed.
Emily wasn't certain what had possessed her to slip it into her pocket on her way out the door. All day yesterday, she had seriously contemplated dropping the card in the trash. She had seen the white gleam of it when she had first woken up, eyes bleary from too little sleep. The chilled emptiness of the bed next to her and the quiet of the apartment told her that her guest had departed, perhaps hours ago.
Rising groggily, she had padded slowly across to the highly glossed wood of the bureau, the cool air of the room raising goose bumps all along the completely exposed flesh of her body. Gingerly picking up the card, as she would evidence at a crime scene, she had read without any real comprehension the embossed words, until finally, she had turned and fallen back on the disordered bed, pale sheets rumpled, heavy comforter clinging desperately to the edge of the mattress.
She had lain there for hours, turning the small cardboard messenger over and over in her fingers, the incongruity of something so insubstantial laying like a heavy weight in her hand not lost on her ever present sense of irony. Still, she couldn't bring herself to discard it. There was something in the symbols of black ink on the thick cardboard that stopped her; some hidden language interwoven into each individual letter that she knew she must try and decipher before she could move on.
So this morning, hefting her keys in her other hand, she had slipped it into the woolen darkness, where it whispered to her of desire and pleasure and the possibility of a future that had nothing to do with a certain blonde press liaison.
Making her way to her desk, a cup of coffee clutched like a cylindrical life preserver in her fist, Emily dropped down in her chair, grateful for the moment that none of the team were in the bullpen. She needed time to readjust the mask of calm and professionalism with which she faced the world. Somewhere between her car and the elevator it had slipped from its velvet ties and she feared that more of Emily Prentiss was on display than she was comfortable revealing. To anyone. Especially to one person in particular.
An hour later, Emily perched straight backed on a chair in the conference room. There was no new case, just a series of profiles to complete and send out to various agencies, along with everyday paperwork. Yet, Emily felt a tightness settle across her chest as JJ began the morning meeting. Faced with the actual person, the resemblance between her lovely blonde colleague and her equally lovely blonde paramour faded. In the stark brightness of day it was revealed as just a trick of the pulsating light of the club; a trick of the eyes; a trick of the mind. Nothing more than coloring and build. Similar features, that was all.
Still, the susurration of gold and platinum strands along JJ's back and the bright gleam of intelligence in blue eyes were enough to send a wave of heat to Emily's lower extremities. Fragments of images flickered across her mind, bringing a flush to her cheeks, as the sensation of strong hands on her and in her, of soft lips tracing the line of bone and the curve of flesh, washed over her. Meeting JJ's eyes, she quickly looked away, an expression of something akin to shame ghosting across her eyes before she could hide it.
How the hell was she going to make it through the entire day with this steady drum of guilt drowning out all of her other thoughts?
She hadn't done anything wrong. Rationally, she knew that. She was a grown woman, unattached and free to sleep with whomever she chose. It's impossible to cheat on someone you weren't even involved with: someone who saw you as nothing more than a colleague and friend. And yet.
For the rest of the meeting, a casual observer would have remarked that the lovely brunette sitting opposite the door appeared to be fixated on the fractured lines of blue that crisscrossed the yellow legal pad in front of her, a frown tugging down the sloping curve of her thin brows. The observer would also have noted the expression of concern and confusion on the face of the equally lovely blonde who sat nearby, sharp gaze shooting sideways on several occasions to scrutinize the other woman.
Blessedly back at her desk, Emily shrugged her shoulders and rolled her head cautiously to each side, willing the tension that had drawn every muscle in her body tight as a bow to leave. How an hour meeting could feel like a two day seminar was beyond her. She usually looked forward to the daily briefings, to the doling out of work, to the give and take of conversation, the easy familiarity of these people who had become like a second, highly preferred, family to her. But not today. Today the burden of secrets threatened to bury her. Secret longings, secret desires, secret encounters. All with the potential to alter completely everything she had built here.
Emily knew that JJ had seen something in her face, glimpsed the shadow of embarrassment in her dark eyes. She had noted remorsefully the look of worry and uncertainty on JJ's beautiful face, as time after time Emily refused to meet her eyes, the small smile she forced on her lips a sickly substitute for the grin usually reserved for the lovely blonde. JJ knew something was wrong, and being a concerned friend and colleague, Emily had no doubt that before the day was out, the press liaison would find an opportunity to get her alone and ask what was troubling her. That was a conversation to be avoided at all costs.
After all, what could she say? "I'm sorry, JJ. It's just that I've fallen hopelessly in love with you, despite knowing that you see me as nothing more than a friend, and I'm just feeling a little guilty because I had sex with a complete stranger for the sole reason that she looked like you. And now I am having a hard time looking you in the face"? Just hearing the words rattling through her brain like pennies in a tin cup sent a rush of color up and over Emily's sculpted cheekbones, the accompanying wash of regret and guilt threatening to drown her.
Regret and guilt were not emotions with which Emily was unfamiliar. They had been a constant presence in her life for as long as she could remember, coloring her memories, leaving behind a bitter aftertaste of which she could never rid herself, like the lingering sharp tang of burnt coffee. She had spent most of her childhood and adolescence bent down under the weary load of failure and recrimination, of not quite measuring up to some mysterious, nebulous standard: a standard that remained unspoken but blindingly clear in each disappointed glance from her mother's hazel eyes. Emily doubted seriously whether she could withstand seeing that same look in the crystal blue depths of JJ's eyes.
Never, in a brief, gentle touch of her hand, or in the brilliance of a smile, or in the intensity of a look, had Emily ever allowed herself to perceive anything more than the kindness and sincerity of friendship from JJ, and she was loathe to read into any of those things her own overpowering desires. And even if she did allow those specious thoughts to take hold in her mind, she could never get beyond the possible repercussions of anything more than friendship existing between her and JJ.
They had both worked so hard, putting aside relationships and friends, becoming disciples at the temple of law and order, crusaders for the fragile possibility of justice. They had made it to one of the most elite units in the FBI and the reality of that, of who they were and what they did, eclipsed everything else. The thought that JJ might be willing to put at risk a career she had labored long and hard to achieve, for the slim prospect of a relationship founded on the need for secrecy and deception, was one even too ludicrous for Emily to imagine.
Hence, the remainder of the day was spent in avoiding being alone with JJ. Or even semi-alone with JJ. Or even in the same room with JJ.
Emily knew that her clear attempts at evasion were confusing her friend and hurting her feelings, but she was damned if she knew what else to do. For reasons she couldn't explain, none of what was happening, none of her unclear, peripatetic emotions would willingly fit into one of the neat compartments with which she normally managed her life. And that bothered Emily more than she was able to acknowledge.
There was also the issue that, despite knowing that her reasons for doing it were wrong, despite the unplumbed depths of her feelings for a certain Jennifer Jareau, which were frighteningly, bewilderingly immense and overwhelming, Emily had enjoyed being with Serena. Enjoyed it a great deal. She had enjoyed the quick, gentle wit of the lovely attorney; enjoyed being the cause of the minute dimples that appeared at the corners of full lips when she smiled; enjoyed the feel of satiny skin under her hands and mouth.
There had been a nearly forgotten thrill at the spiraling sense of power that left her reeling as she watched Serena's orgasm overtake her, feeling the clench of muscles tight around her fingers. And she couldn't escape the truth of the simple comfort that came with the press of a warm, supple body curled up beside her in sleep.
All of which brought with it an entirely new set of emotions, emotions that Emily wasn't certain that she was equipped to sort through and evaluate, much less comes to terms with. Because, in the end, it came down to one basic thing. There was probably a universe somewhere in which having sex with Serena Southerlyn was a bad thing. Emily was just having a hard time convincing herself that it was this one.
Nine o'clock found her cradling her phone in her hand as she sat on the overstuffed sofa in her living room, a half-empty tumbler of Irish whiskey resting precariously in the uneven ledge of her crossed legs, the amber liquid creating a wavering angle along the thick crystal of the glass. The room was dark, the flicker of candlelight on the coffee table and the kitchen counter sending grotesque shadows dancing along the walls, swaying to a tune Emily couldn't quite hear. Beyond the glass doors of the balcony, the sky had the texture of melted wax, a mottled, whitish gray.
In her other hand, Serena's business card performed a dance of its own as it shifted back and forth through Emily's fingers, pirouetting gently in the faint light. She had left work as soon as she could, slipping out the door as Reid explained the design of the first steam driven car, developed thousands of years before Henry Ford to a less than enthusiastic Morgan. JJ had been nowhere in sight.
Glancing toward the blonde agent's office, Emily had let the wave of guilt roll over her, every cell in her body urging her to go to JJ and confess, explain, apologize. This was one instance when Emily was very certain that confession would not be good for the soul. Hers or JJ's.
Her thumb rested on the rounded buttons of the phone, rubbing lightly across the raised edges. It was only a phone call. A phone call to a woman with whom she had spent a very pleasurable evening. She had faced down serial killers, angry section chiefs, and her mother; surely she could make one phone call. The dull ache in her chest that came with the realization that it wasn't to the one person she wanted it to be was something she couldn't change. And she was just going to have to learn to live with that fact.
Pressing the numbers into the key pad, Emily listened to the faint clicking noise as the cell found its target. The phone rang once, twice, three times, and Emily was about to hang up, her courage deserting her at the thought of leaving a voice mail, when the line clicked open and she heard Serena's softly enunciated "Hello."
"Hello?" There was an edge of annoyance to the blonde's voice now.
"Hi. It's Emily." God, she felt like a teenager calling for a date to the prom.
"Hi," Serena answered brightly, the change in her tone clear. "I was wondering if I would ever hear from you."
"Sorry about that. I'm not all that up to speed on the etiquette of all this," Emily admitted, taking a searing sip of whiskey. Dutch courage, she thought. Well, Irish, in this case. "I was wondering if I could interest you in dinner sometime?"
There was a very long pause, and Emily felt a sinking sensation in her stomach as no reply was forthcoming from Serena. She was about to apologize for disturbing her and hang up, when the rich tones of the blonde attorney's voice came over the line.
"To be honest, Emily, you could interest me in anything. Anytime."
As the gratification and delight at the sentiment, and the sexy tone with which it had been delivered, ran like molten glass through her body, Emily became a little more convinced that, indeed, this wasn't one of the universes where sleeping with Serena was a bad thing. It wasn't JJ, and it was by no means perfect; but then, she'd never been a perfect girl.
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