DISCLAIMER: I do not own Criminal Minds or its characters. I wish I did, because it's an amazing show and Paget Brewster and A.J. Cook are hot, but...
AUTHOR'S NOTE: First and foremost... damn the writer's strike. Don't get me wrong. As a writer, I absolutely support the writers and agree that they deserve more for the incredible work they do, especially when that work includes shows as amazing as Criminal Minds. I just wish it had been settled sooner so these great shows could have carried on. That said... I hope you enjoy the story. I am by no means as talented as the people who make the show, but I did the best I could to make this worthy of them and the actors who make the show what it is.
SPOILERS: None too specific. General plot points and such from across seasons two and three.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Psychopathology: The scientific study of mental disorders
Date and Time: February 10, 2008, 16:17
Location: Ranch House Belonging to Jonah Samis, 20 Miles Southwest of Morgantown, West Virginia
With no more warning than that, SWAT busted the door open, clearing rooms as they went. Hotchner and Morgan followed, their eyes searching and assessing, adding what they saw to the profile.
"Agents, in here!" a SWAT agent called, and the two men followed the sound of a scuffle to the back exit, where he and Rossi were facing off with a middle-aged man holding a gun to a young woman's head, an almost obscene smile on his face.
"Ah, the BAU of course. So little Emily wasn't lying. What a pity I didn't know before."
Rossi didn't visibly react, except to tighten his grip on his gun, but Morgan's eyes flared with barely controlled rage and Hotch's face, already intense, turned to stone. When JJ entered with another SWAT agent, he turned, and the two supervisors noticed a gash and a bruise marring one side of his face. They were both hoping Prentiss had caused it, although they wouldn't say it. To their consternation, the man laughed, his finger twitching on the trigger of his gun.
"Are you FBI too, little girl?" he asked, his eyes raking over her. Morgan saw the look in them too and scooted closer to the blonde, ready and willing to protect her with his life if he had to. It was bad enough they-he-had failed Prentiss. He wouldn't fail JJ too.
"JJ, stay behind me," he murmured, and the blonde glared, then started when the UnSub laughed again, this time with more mirth, and more malice.
"So you're JJ. Now that is interesting."
"And why might that be?" Rossi asked coolly, giving Hotch a quick look, getting a slight nod in return. If he had nothing else with this team, he knew he could always count on Aaron Hotchner to know what he was thinking. The hawk-like agent shifted slightly to the side, giving JJ a telling look. She understood too.
"Well," the completely unremarkable man replied, clearly relishing the whole situation, "if one of those J's stands for 'Jennifer,' you would be the one little Em was begging to save her when I tortured her."
He took in JJ's stunned, terrified look, Morgan's impotent rage and overwhelming guilt, and Rossi's stoicism with a laugh reminiscent of a child that had just been given his favorite treat. Hotch reflected on what he had said, taking in the various implications. He had known that Jonah Samis had been an associate of Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss, so that was no big surprise. What did take him off guard was the glee the man displayed at the mention of torture and in seeing JJ's expression. He was curious about that too, of course, but he wasn't going to say anything. He would bide his time, but he knew he didn't have much.
"She refused to scream, you know," Samis went on, his green eyes fixed on JJ's blue, clearly not wanting to miss a moment, "She bit her lip until it bled. No matter what I did to her she just... wouldn't scream. She should have known better. If she had screamed it would have all been over."
Prentiss had known that, Hotch decided. If she had shown how much pain she was in, the sexual sadist would have been done with her, and on to the next victim. Mentally he applauded her, and hoped he would have a chance to congratulate her.
"When she finally passed out from the agony, starvation, and dehydration," Jonah was saying, and Hotch refocused, refusing to think of Emily Prentiss as a corpse until he had to, "she'd always whisper the same thing, completely unaware she did it."
He grinned happily, and the agents noticed his finger starting to loosen on the trigger. They tensed, waiting, all except for JJ, who was staring numbly at him.
"You know what she'd say?" he asked her, his voice modulating to a horrible, cruel mockery of Emily Prentiss' smooth, low voice made raspy and weak with pain, "She'd say 'Jennifer, help me... save me, Jennifer... please save me... please make it stop...' Over and over. She would cry in her sleep, you know. Not for more than a few moments, but... she never wanted her mother, her father, her friends, anyone. She wanted Jennifer."
JJ's face became a mask of shock and horror, and her gun started to waver. So did Jonah's, though.
"JJ!" Rossi called, trying to unfreeze the press liaison with the firm strength and tone of command in his voice, "Agent Jareau!"
"She said one other thing too, you know," their UnSub continued, as oblivious to Rossi as JJ, "Only one other thing, the entire time. You want to hear it?"
"That's enough!" Morgan interrupted harshly, wanting nothing more than to kill the bastard, "Where is she, Samis?!"
He didn't respond, his attention totally concentrated on JJ.
"I asked her if she wanted me to find her precious Jennifer for her, you know. Just so she could see her one last time before she died a slow and painful death. And here I thought I was being generous and doing her a favor, but she became so belligerent. She told me she would make sure I was the one who suffered the long, excruciatingly painful death if I laid so much as a finger on her Jennifer. And you know what really takes the cake? If I had known her beloved Jennifer would be showing up on my doorstep, or in my office, as it were, I would have kept her alive a little longer, just to see the lovely look on her face when I tortured and killed you. She would have screamed then, I think. What a waste."
JJ stood completely frozen, his words echoing over and over again in her mind, drowning out everything and everyone else, then she slowly crumpled to her knees, staring blankly at the floor. It didn't really bother her that he was threatening her. She had faced worse than him. It was that he was so casual about the agony he had inflicted on Emily Prentiss... and how much more he had wanted to do to her, along with the pleasure he had garnered from her suffering. If he had killed Emily... but Emily couldn't be dead. She couldn't be gone... Not Emily, with her beautiful black hair, her intensely focused, almost black eyes, her pale skin, her guarded reserve, that sweet, goofy smile... and those hands, which always knew when to reassure, to soothe, those hands that communicated so much that her training and past wouldn't allow her to. It couldn't be too late...
Morgan and Rossi, seeing the glazed emptiness of her blue eyes, both tried to break through the shock, but she didn't, or couldn't, hear them. Jonah started to laugh, softly at first, then harder, until it rocked his entire body and he threw his head back from the joy of it all. Hotch made his move, grabbing Samis' gun hand and forced it up so he fired into the ceiling while Reid, who had slipped in during his sick story, grabbed the girl he'd been holding hostage and pulling her out of the way while Rossi and a SWAT agent forced the UnSub down, kicking the gun out of his hand. Seeing it was under control, Morgan stayed at JJ's side, still trying and failing to bring her out of her paralysis.
"Search the rest of the house," Rossi snapped at the SWAT and other BAU agents while Samis was being all but carried out, displaying for the first time the rage he'd been suppressing since Prentiss had been kidnapped, "She must be on the grounds somewhere. He wouldn't take her very far. It would be too much trouble."
They scattered immediately, Rossi, Hotch, and Morgan to join SWAT in the search, Reid to move to JJ's side while a SWAT agent escorted the former hostage to a chair and started asking her questions, which he half-listened to. He was worried about Emily too, like everyone, but right now he was almost more worried about JJ. It would be horrible if Emily died, but from the looks of it, that would shatter JJ, and they'd effectively be losing two good agents. Two good friends, really, because they both were that too.
"We're going to find her, JJ," Reid whispered, feeling helpless in the face of the blonde's obvious despair, "Don't worry... we'll find her. We have to. We will, JJ."
Meanwhile, Agent Hotchner was the first to find the entrance to what must have once been an old bomb shelter in the cellar. He called for SWAT and the bomb squad, watching impatiently as they assessed the risks of any traps Samis may have put in place. The wait was almost unbearable as his mind raced through all the possible scenarios waiting for him behind that door. It frustrated him to be in this situation. It was bad enough that a member of his team had been taken. He respected and cared a great deal for all of them, but Prentiss had earned his trust and respect in a trial by fire she had never expected, and he couldn't forget that. She was part of the team, well-liked and talented. He wondered at JJ's reaction to what Samis had said, but he couldn't blame or fault her for it. If it had been Haley... he shook that thought off, finding it unpalatable and distracting. That, of course, lead him to the other reason this was so frustrating. Derek Morgan was brave, loyal, and relentless... but he was also young, good looking, and male, and it was that last part that had gotten him in trouble. He and Prentiss had been in town interviewing the locals and he'd lost track of Emily while he'd been flirting with a beautiful young woman he'd met. He hadn't even realized she was missing until an hour later, when she hadn't appeared with that trademark Prentiss smirk asking about what he'd been doing.
"Damn it..." Hotch heard Rossi mumble, noticing how impatient the older man looked. He echoed the sentiment. The kidnap of Agent Prentiss had devastated his team, not in the least because of how badly they had needed her keen eyes and mind on this case. At the same time, the internal cohesiveness that had held them together through hell and back had been all but destroyed. JJ wouldn't speak to Morgan unless she had absolutely no choice, and even Garcia wasn't entirely able to forgive him, or persuade the blonde agent to take it easy on him. In fact, JJ hadn't been saying much at all, but she had worked tirelessly on this case, showing again that she had all the skills of a profiler even if she lacked the formal training. Morgan had been guilt-ridden, angry, and agitated, which made the others back off even if they wanted to say something reassuring to him. Reid had been confused by JJ's withdrawal, but Hotch thought it was his disappointment that was really striking. He was disappointed with Derek, and the dark man knew it. Rossi had been his typical self, for the most part, but the fragile rapport he'd built with Agent Morgan seemed to have vanished.
"How much longer?" Hotch asked, trying to sound professional rather than anxious, and doubting he'd succeeded.
"We're almost set, sir," the bomb squad leader replied, turning back to her team. Hotch might have said more, but suddenly Reid's voice was crackling in his ear.
"Hotch, the girl Samis was holding hostage was the daughter of another high-profile female diplomat," he started with uncharacteristic succinctness and clarity, "And apparently her mother was an associate of Ambassador Prentiss."
"Did she know anything about Agent Prentiss?" he asked softly, watching Rossi as he digested the information they had so far. He knew they were both hoping for the best while fearing the worst.
"She was brought here just a short time ago," Reid replied promptly, "and she says she saw a woman matching Emily's description against the wall of the room she was put into at first, but she was only there for a minute or two. And Hotch..."
Here he hesitated, then added softly, "She didn't know if Emily was alive. What little she saw of her would seem to indicate that she was in pretty bad shape."
The two senior agents digested that, but were distracted as the bomb squad declared the door clear and SWAT opened it, releasing an odor of blood and decay. One of the SWAT guys found the light switch and flipped it, revealing a scene both grotesque and terrifying. Blood coated the back wall of the big room, and body parts in containers bolted to the walls testified to the horror Samis had wrought on other women. The worst part for the two agents was the sight of Emily Prentiss against that bloody back wall. At first it looked as though she were standing against it, but as they rushed toward her she collapsed, all but boneless, onto the hard concrete floor. They could see where the ropes that had held her had frayed and finally broken, and both wondered if she had done that somehow.
"We found her, Reid. She's in the basement. We need a medic."
He heard Reid's confirmation, then something else in the background. Before he could even check Prentiss' pulse, JJ had appeared in the doorway, her blonde hair flying behind her like a banner as she rushed to Emily's side, two fingers immediately pressing to her neck.
"She's alive! Where's that medic?!" she cried out, staring down at the older woman as panic gave way to mixed horror and relief. Relief because her friend was alive, but the extent of her injuries was terrifying. While she still wore her black suit and white shirt, they were dirty and torn so badly they were barely recognizable as clothes, making them a mockery of Prentiss' usual impeccable dignity. Almost every inch of exposed skin was covered in bruises, dirt, blood, or burns, and sometimes all of the above. Interestingly her face was almost unmarked, except for a deep gash across her temple. That was curious, but at the moment no one had the time or energy to devote to the anomaly.
"Emily?" JJ asked softly, shaking the older woman gently, terrified, despite her own assessment, that the brunette was dead or so far gone she may as well have been. When a sliver of darkness appeared in Emily's eyes the tears that had been threatening for almost a week were set free, falling silently against the pale woman's skin. Hotch leaned over, checking her pulse for himself and gesturing urgently to the arriving paramedics, who hurried forward and started putting leads on the profiler as her friends, her family, looked on helplessly.
"Don't worry, we're here to help you. Can you speak, Agent Prentiss?" one of the medics asked, checking the monitors and using gestures to convey rapid commands to his team. They got a backboard under her, but as soon as they tried to restrain the semiconscious woman and put her in a neck brace she struggled weakly. What was even more disturbing was her silence, and Hotch realized that she didn't know who the paramedics were. She didn't, couldn't, tell the difference between them and the man who had been torturing her. He had said Prentiss had largely refused to speak, except...
"Emily," JJ whispered, moving to her side and gently holding her down, a simple enough task considering how weak the other agent was, "Emily, it's okay. You're safe now."
The brunette's eyes opened a little more, emotions barely recognizable as doubt and terror flying across them before they resumed their previous dullness. Her expression was empty and dead, and that was terrifying. Prentiss had great control over her expressions, but this was different. It was a complete lack of emotion from a woman who normally displayed a wide range, even at the worst of times.
"Emily, listen to me. Listen to my voice," the blonde went on soothingly, reaching out with trembling hands to gently cup Emily's face, turning her to look up at her, "It's me, Emily. It's Jennifer."
Emily froze completely, then the numbness gave way to terror.
"Jennifer... JJ... no... get away... escape... get out..."
"Shh," JJ soothed, stroking the limp hair behind her friend's ears, "Shh, Emily. It's okay. We got him. He can't hurt you anymore. You're safe now, sweetheart. I'm here."
Prentiss relaxed, her face turning into JJ's touch.
"It's really over?" she asked softly, her voice weak and raw, as if she'd almost forgotten how to use it, "He's gone?"
"He will never touch you again, Emily," the blonde replied firmly, her voice so full of fire and conviction that Emily made the apparently massive effort to open her eyes and look at her, a faint hint of a smile touching her cracked, bloody lips.
"Jen... JJ..." she started haltingly, stumbling over the name. The paramedics took advantage of her complete focus on the blonde press liaison to finish what they started, but once again she struggled against the restraints until JJ cupped her face in one hand, the other gesturing for the paramedic to hand her the restraints and neck collar. After a glance at Hotch, who nodded, he handed them over, primarily concerned with getting his patient treatment, not with how or who did it.
"I'm going to put this around your neck, okay Emily?" she asked gently, waiting for the slight nod before putting action to words, adding in a whisper to keep her friend distracted, "and if you want to call me Jennifer, that's fine with me. And whatever you decide, please, just trust me. I'll take care of you now, Emily. I'll protect you. I promise you I will."
"I always knew you would," the brunette whispered back, the tension and fear in her body starting to fade away, until something occurred to her that put the panic back in her dark eyes, although it had little or nothing to do with the restraints JJ had just put on her. She didn't even seem to be aware of them, the watchers noticed. All her attention was on JJ.
"Don't let her ship me off," Emily rasped, her voice fearful and desolate.
"My mother," the brunette replied, her voice beginning to fail her, "She hates my job... she'll use this as an excuse to ship me off somewhere... don't let her, Jennifer... please..."
"I promise, Emily," JJ assured her, "I'm not letting anyone take you away from me... us... again."
Emily smiled slowly, her eyes starting to slide closed.
"I knew you'd make it stop, Jennifer... You always do."
Before the younger agent could say anything the brunette fell limp against the board she was on, passed out but not, as the paramedics were quick to assure her, dead. She was, however, not out of danger, and they needed to get her to a hospital ASAP. When JJ said she would be going with them, no one dared object. The profilers may have seen more of the nuances than the medics or SWAT agents, but no one could miss the fierce protectiveness in the press liaison's bearing and the raging fire in her blue eyes.
"Let's go then."
JJ helped them get the board onto a stretcher and followed them out, a hand wrapped around one of Emily's. Morgan caught up with them at the ambulance, standing stock still as he took in the damage done to the other agent.
"JJ..." he started hesitantly, but was frozen in place by those eyes that had turned to ice whenever they landed on him in the last week. Now it was even worse, somehow, and his guilt increased exponentially.
"Derek, you know I like you. We're family," the blonde stated softly, the words themselves kind, but the tone and expression serious calm, "but if Emily dies... I will hold you personally responsible and see to it your life becomes a living hell."
With that she turned away and the ambulance doors slammed shut, leaving him staring as the big vehicle raced away, sirens piercing the apparent tranquility around them. He heard a throat clearing behind him and turned, finding Rossi there. The older man was looking at him with that clinical look he gave UnSubs, and it irked him. Despite that, he didn't say anything. He didn't feel he had the right to.
"The lady has a point, Agent Morgan," the senior profiler remarked suddenly, his voice as clinical as his face, "if Prentiss dies, it's because you let yourself get distracted on the job and allowed her to be taken. From the looks of things, she put up a hell of a fight, and might have won if she'd had backup. You could have saved her a lot of pain and torment."
"I get it, okay Rossi?!" Derek shot back, wishing he could punch the older man.
"Do you really?" he asked implacably. The dark agent sighed, too frustrated, tired, and beaten down emotionally to argue or fight with Rossi.
"Yeah, I do."
With that, he turned and walked away, his head bowed and his shoulders slumped. Rossi watched them go, not reacting when Hotch appeared at his side.
"Did you have to be so hard on him, Dave?"
He nodded absently, knowing Hotch well enough to hear what he was really asking.
"He stopped thinking, Hotch. When a profiler stops thinking, even if it's just for a moment..."
He trailed off, but he knew he had been understood. It fascinated him, although he'd never say it, that Aaron Hotchner understood him so well. For having millions of "fans" and a following in the business, he really was something of a dark horse. Not with Hotch. And, in all fairness, he was probably the one who knew Hotch best, perhaps even better than Haley. He gave a moment's thought to his-friend's?-beautiful wife, wishing she hadn't sent those divorce papers. Hotch loved Haley, and he loved Jack. But like Rossi himself, profiling wasn't a job to him. It wasn't something he could switch off and on. Profiling, and the BAU, was a fact of life for them. They lived and breathed it. He was only sorry that it had come at such a high cost to the man at his side. He, who had never had much to lose, hadn't given up much. Aaron had, and he respected him all the more for it, even if he regretted what came of it.
As the hawk-like eyes turned away, David wondered if Hotch guessed at his thoughts, or was simply responding to his comment. It was probably both.
"Do you think she'll make it?" he asked softly, showing some of his concern for the injured agent the only way he knew how. For just a second a hint of a smile showed on Aaron's face, then it was gone. Rossi understood.
"She's strong, Dave," the taller man replied calmly, but his eyes gave him away to the more experienced profiler, "and more importantly, she has a great deal to live for, whether she realizes it or not."
"Do you think they do know?"
This time Aaron actually chuckled faintly and looked down at him.
"They're profilers, Dave, even JJ for all that she doesn't have the title. So, naturally... they have no idea."
The older agent laughed, shaking his head. Hotch clapped him on the shoulder and led him to the SUV awaiting them. It was time for them to support the fallen members of their team. Hotch drove, hitting a speed dial number on his phone.
"Hotch? What happened? Is everyone all right?" Garcia's voice asked urgently, the questions coming out in a jumbled rush. He shared a quick look with Rossi, who simply smiled. Garcia amused and intrigued him, Aaron knew, even if he wouldn't admit it. He had said she wore her individuality like a shield, and that was true. Now he wanted to know what was underneath.
"We got Prentiss," Hotch answered softly, managing to convey relief and reassurance with only a subtle alteration of his tone, while at the same time giving the sensitive "tech goddess" a warning that all was not exactly well.
"Oh my God... how is she? Did anyone else get hurt? Why didn't Derek or JJ call?"
Once again the questions came out in a jumble, but the two men were used to it.
"Everyone else is fine. Morgan has some issues to work out, with himself and with Prentiss and JJ, though. And before you ask, JJ is fine. She went to the hospital with Prentiss."
He hesitated slightly before adding carefully, "It doesn't look good, Garcia. JJ is pretty torn up. Apparently our UnSub tortured her pretty brutally and-"
"Oh my God..." Garcia interrupted, sounding so terror-struck and alarmed that he actually stared at the phone for a second. Rossi straightened in the passenger seat, hearing the shades in her tone just as Hotch had, even if he wasn't quite as familiar with translating "Garcia-speak."
"Garcia, what's wrong?" he asked sharply, knowing the older man would let him be the one to ask the questions.
"I just checked my e-mail..." Garcia replied slowly, sounding absolutely horrified, "and there was one... from Jonah Samis sent about ten minutes before you guys would have gotten there. He forwarded it to everyone, Hotch."
With an abruptness that actually startled Rossi, he pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road, staring at the phone as if he could see through it to Garcia's many screens.
"Garcia... what's in that e-mail?"
"It's a link to a video, sir..."
There was a long, pregnant silence, and the sounds of crying from the tech analyst that all but confirmed Hotch's fear.
"It's a video of Emily being tortured, sir... all of it. From the entire week. Every single... brutal... cruel... sadistic... vicious... sickening... moment. All of it. Every- Oh my God! Oh my God no!"
Again there was silence, and again they could hear Garcia crying, but now she was sobbing almost uncontrollably. When she spoke, her voice was so laden with grief and agony that neither man could help being affected.
"How could she... how could anyone... survive that kind of torture... how could someone do that to another human being... how... It's wrong... it's just so wrong..."
They heard her sniffle and blow her nose, but her voice still had tears in it, and the horror remained.
"And it gets worse."
"There's worse?" Rossi asked softly, too quietly to be picked up by the speaker.
"He e-mailed it to everyone on the team, Hotch. To me, to you, to Rossi, to Morgan, to Reid, to JJ... and to Emily. And before you ask, he apparently got the addresses from the FBI database, and it wasn't sent to any of our private addresses. There's no indication he had personal information on us, or that he even knew Emily was an FBI agent, even though he sent it to her work address. Maybe he thought she worked for the Bureau as something else."
"He seemed surprised," Hotch agreed, but his brain was stuck on the fact that an e-mail of the torture had been sent to, of all people, the woman who had suffered it. That level of sadism was...
"Disgusting," Rossi growled, unwittingly finishing his thought before adding, "Garcia, is there any way you can delete the e-mail sent to Agent Prentiss?"
"I think so, sir... but just Emily's?"
"Yeah... I think so."
He looked at Hotch, but the younger man was turning, getting one of the FBI issued laptops and connecting to their satellite uplink. He handed the laptop over to Rossi and went back to driving. The other agent knew he was rushing to their motel, where they would be able to watch and assess the video in private.
"Garcia, how long is it?"
"How long, sir?" she asked uncertainly, "It's hours long. Apparently he tortured her on a regular schedule every day. From the time stamps it looks like an hour twice a day, every day from the third day she was missing."
"The third day?" Hotch asked curiously, "What did he do the first two days?"
He heard a rattling of keys, an intake of breath, then, "He talked to her, sir. On the first day it was about her mother, about herself as a child, about her father, and about his work. On the second day he talks to her about what he's going to do to her, and about how he fantasized about doing all that to her mother."
"Is there any indication he let her eat or drink in that time?"
"No sir... it looks like he did give her an IV to keep her hydrated the first two days, but by the third day it's gone."
They were almost to the motel now, and Hotch almost hit another vehicle while parking, now in a visible state of agitation and anger.
"Hey, Hotch, what's the rush?" he heard Morgan's voice ask and turned, seeing the somewhat ironic look on Rossi's face as he did.
"Come on. There's something we need to take a look at."
With that he strode toward his room, knowing the other two would follow him.
"Garcia," he started, seeing Morgan's flinch at the name but not having the time to address it now, "I'm going to send the jet back to Quantico to get you. We caught the UnSub, but right now we need to focus on Prentiss. None of us are in any state for new cases, and I think if nothing else JJ could use the support right now."
"Oh, God, thank you sir..."
"And Garcia... I don't usually say this, but you do not have to watch that video. Just make sure that Prentiss doesn't get the e-mail."
The relief in her voice made it worth it, he decided, and hung up, turning his attention back to the computer screen and opening up his e-mail.
"Get comfortable," he commanded, remembering how to connect the TV and the computer from previous experiences, "we're going to be here a while, and this is not going to be pleasant viewing."
They did settle into chairs, but neither man looked comfortable, and Morgan was confused on top of it. As soon as the video feed began, though, he was frozen in place. Thirteen hours of cruelty and horrific torture later, all three men were staring at the screen, even though the video had ended. After a few long moments Derek stumbled to his feet and staggered into the bathroom. The two senior agents could hear him throwing up, and neither blamed him. If it weren't for their years of practice in self-control, they would be in there too. When he returned and sat down, a bottle of water from the mini-bar in hand, there were a few moments of pregnant silence.
"That piece of..."
That had come from Rossi, and it didn't surprise Hotch that he was the one to break the silence. Morgan was still in shock, and Aaron knew there just weren't any words for what had just played out before their eyes. The UnSub had been telling the truth when he said that Prentiss hadn't made a sound, except when JJ had been threatened and when she had just passed out from the torture, which seemed physically and psychologically impossible. The last thing they'd heard had been perhaps the single most haunting thing of all, despite all the torture, cruelty, and sadism that had been so rampant.
"Jennifer... Forgive me..."
Prentiss had been dying. Of that they were certain, just as they were certain that she'd known it. And never once had she begged for mercy, or for food and water. And she had never begged him, which had by turns vexed and enraged him. The only person she had ever begged for anything had been 'Jennifer.' Hotch noted that not once had any of them had questioned the fact that it was JJ she was talking to. It was understood by all three of them, as it had been by Samis.
"The important thing is we found her and she's still alive," Hotch declared, though he knew it lacked most of his characteristic confidence, "and that call from JJ was reassuring."
That last, at least, was mostly true. Although she had been badly starved and dehydrated, Emily hadn't reached that critical point where her pain-weakened body could no longer survive. The doctors were sure they could get her back on track in terms of nutrients and lost muscle in time. The torture, which they now knew had ranged from electric shocks from a tazer to beatings with brass knuckles and a whip-like stick to having intensely hot coals pressed against her skin and held there until they finally cooled to having her fingers and feet stuck in ice until they were burned by the cold. He'd splashed her with acid and watched it eat through her clothes and dribble down her body... and more. Each session had been different, and it had become more violent as time went on and still Prentiss refused to break. Thankfully the ice burns would heal, leaving her limbs fully functional, and they thought they could do something about most of the burns to keep the scarring to a minimum. Fortunately, Prentiss could afford the best medical care available, and JJ was ensuring she got it, even if the blonde ended up footing the bill.
"And what about the bad news?" Rossi asked tersely. The "bad news" had been that the doctors weren't sure if the electricity had caused damage to the circuitry in her brain, and while scans were promising, they weren't sure yet. Prentiss had been unconscious for the most part, but she was at least somewhat aware of her surroundings, according to JJ. She would fight restraints, which had been suggested for her own safety. JJ had rejected that plan apparently, telling her coworkers that there was no way in hell Emily would be tied down any more. The disturbing thing, the blonde agent had mentioned, aside from the injuries, of course, was that she never made a sound, no matter what they did or how much pain she had to be in. JJ had informed Hotch that she had talked the other agent out of several apparent nightmares, which she had only been able to identify by her expressions and the way her muscles tensed.
"She'll make it," Hotch replied, "that's the important thing."
"She's not out of the woods yet," the older man persisted, "all those shocks are going to take a toll on her muscles, to say the least. And you and I both know that if she doesn't have the will to live, she won't survive those injuries. We've both seen people who medically could have survived, but still died because they didn't want to live."
"Emily wants to live," JJ's voice interrupted from the door. They turned to face the obviously exhausted blonde, noticing that she carried Prentiss' ready-bag over one shoulder, her own over the other. Garcia stood behind her, looking as if she had been crying for a long time. Morgan started to rise, obviously wanting to offer comfort, but he hesitated. JJ looked at him for a long moment, then at Garcia, who was also watching her.
"I won't be responsible for dividing up my family. But Derek... what I said before stands."
He bowed his head, but still he strode past JJ and opened his arms, closing them tightly around Garcia when she stepped into them, rubbing her back and hair as she cried. It was all the comfort he could give, but it was better than nothing.
"I take it you're planning to stay with Emily then?" Reid asked softly, coming in from the adjoining room. From the quick glance at the laptop and the pale, horrified cast to his features, the three men realized that he had seen the video, and had likely relived his own trauma as well. JJ nodded, also glancing at the laptop. Before anyone could ask or approach the subject with kid gloves, she shook her head, her usually lively blue eyes dull and bloodshot.
"I saw it too," she stated, earning a horrified gasp from Garcia and long looks from the four men in the room as she added more hesitantly, "I mean... I skipped the first part... the first two days. I watched the rest while Emily was in surgery."
"Wait, surgery?" Morgan asked, echoed by Reid. JJ blinked, confused, then shrugged.
"I forgot to tell you in my message? She had a cracked rib that the doctors considered dangerous to her lung, so they did the best they could to stabilize it. Then they found some internal bleeding that hadn't shown up on their scans and had to do an exploratory surgery. And she had fluid built up in her head, and that had to be drained. So yeah... surgery."
She held up a hand to forestall other questions, shaking her head wearily.
"I have to get back. I don't want to leave her alone just in case she wakes up. And sir," now she turned on Rossi, weary blue eyes blazing fiercely, "You haven't been here very long, so you don't know Emily all that well. Or me. She's stronger than anything, and even if she does start wanting to give up, I won't let her. If I got nothing else out of those videos, I know she trusts me. So I'll protect her. You can be as cynical and sarcastic as you want, but you don't get to doubt Emily. She suffered, and survived, too much."
With that she was gone, leaving the others in stunned silence, broken only by the faint sound of Garcia's sobs into Derek's chest. Hotch sighed, longing for Haley's warm embrace and Jack's innocence. He felt soiled, he realized, as if by watching Emily's torture he had been tainted. He didn't feel he had the right to go near his son or beloved wife, much less touch them. He shook himself from his thoughts, knowing that as unit chief he had to pull it together for his team, then saw Rossi watching him with that look of understanding that at once annoyed and reassured him. At least someone understood, someone he respected and trusted to help him maintain his privacy, despite occasionally asking some rather pointed questions.
"Garcia, you can take JJ's room. Morgan, take Emily's. They're adjoining, and right over from us here. I know we all want to see how Agent Prentiss is doing, but we all need to get some sleep. JJ probably won't leave the hospital until Prentiss does, but the least we can do is make sure we're rested enough to support her while she supports Emily."
It struck him as sad in that moment as his team separated once again that for as close as they all were, it had come to this. JJ and Morgan were at odds, and he didn't doubt that JJ would hold Derek responsible if Emily died. He wasn't sure yet if she would ever forgive him, and that was a concern. He also had no idea about how Prentiss herself would feel toward the young man. And worse, the burden of watching over Emily at her weakest and most vulnerable had fallen on JJ's slender shoulders. How, he didn't know, but that was how it was. He just hoped she would be strong enough for both of them, and he could be strong enough for them all.
Date and Time: February 11, 2008, 06:33
Location: Ruby Memorial Hospital, Morgantown, West Virginia
JJ sighed softly when she arrived at the door of Emily's room, more than a little relieved to find her just as she'd left her. No one had come in, the nurse assured her, and she moved slowly to Emily's side, feeling tears threatening all over again. She forced them back, focusing all her attention on the woman laying helplessly in bed, still largely smeared with blood and dirt. The remains of her suit had been cut away during surgery, and the stark whiteness of the hospital gown seemed dark in comparison to her skin. Lines of tension marred the sunken features, and JJ reached out slowly, twining her hand into Emily's, her thumb stroking the back of her hand. Even in sleep Emily seemed to turn toward her, and JJ hiccupped as her emotions threatened to overwhelm her. She flashed back to sitting in that hallway while the doctors operated on Garcia, remembering the horrible pain and fear that had been coursing through her. That night, Emily had been at her side, silent, solid, watchful, and warm. Emily had been the one to take her hand, the one who, despite her own fear and pain, had guarded and supported her, the one who gave her the strength to hold on. It had been Emily that had held it together then.
"I never thanked you for that..." she whispered, then almost smiled as her mind gave her an image of her friend's goofy, shy smile and the gentle assurance that there was no thanks needed. With a soft sigh she rose again, braced by her memories, and strode over to the nurse's station. A few minutes later she returned with a basin of water and a soft sponge. In that short time the tension had returned in force, and she quickly set the basin down and hurried forward, taking Emily's hand again and stroking her hair back with her own.
"You're safe now, Emily," she whispered gently, watching the monitors closely. As she soothed the brunette her pulse, which had risen noticeably, started to go back down. She smiled, keeping her hand in the older woman's while she turned away, bringing the basin over and setting it on the bedside table.
"I bet you'll feel better without all that dirt on you," she murmured, starting with Emily's face. The gash had been cleaned up and stitched closed, but all around it the evidence of trauma and abuse remained, and that's what she washed away, careful to be gentle for fear the unconscious woman would feel threatened by something she did. Her mind had blocked out most of the video she'd watched, although she knew it wouldn't last long. The only thing she had been glad for was that there was no indication Samis had raped Emily. Despite that, she would have every reason to interpret any touch as an attack. The bastard had used so many different methods that she doubted Emily's mind would be able to tell the difference between a friendly touch and the beginnings of an attack.
"Emily, you have to hold on for me," she whispered, slowly moving down Emily's body, unable to keep the tears back as she saw more of the brutal injuries marring her friend's arms, torso, and legs. She didn't dare try to turn Emily over, but she knew that he had kept Emily strapped to a movable frame and he hadn't done anything to her back. He'd wanted to watch her face as he tortured her.
"I'm here with you, Emily. I'm not going anywhere," she promised, sitting down in a chair at her friend's side, holding tightly to her hand and leaning her head against the hospital bed. Her mind raced and froze by turns, trying to process and block out what she had seen all at once. She wondered if Emily was dreaming, and hoped that if she were, it was pleasant. After the hell she'd gone through in the last six days, she more than deserved it.
Date and Time: November 19. 2006, 9:13 AM
Location: Quantico, Virginia, Jennifer Jareau's Office
JJ looked up at the sound of a soft knock on her door frame, taking in the well-tailored suit, neat, straight black hair, and strong, if slightly unsure, bearing of the woman standing there.
"Can I... help you?" she asked slowly, unsure what else to say. She knew she was supposed to be briefing their new team member on protocol over the next couple days, but that meeting was scheduled for 9:30. Maybe the woman was lost?
"I'm sorry... are you Agent Jareau?"
The woman's voice was deep and fluid, almost musical despite the undertones of uncertainty and anxiety. JJ started to rise, holding out her hand. The woman smiled, the expression both shy and grateful as she shook it firmly.
"I'm Emily Prentiss... uh... Agent Emily Prentiss?" the brunette started haltingly, starting to look a little unsure again as JJ continued to watch her, "I know I'm early, but I... if this is a bad time..."
JJ shook off her confusion and surprise and smiled gently, gesturing Prentiss into a chair and making an attempt to clear off the piles on her desk so she could actually see the other woman.
"Not a bad time at all," she assured her, giving her a sweeping look, this time taking her measure as an agent she was about to be working with rather than someone who was simply passing by. To her surprise, she felt herself liking this Emily Prentiss. It made her feel guilty and disloyal to Elle, but if she had learned nothing else from working with profilers, it was to trust her instincts and not let emotions get in the way. Unless and until Prentiss did something wrong, she would treat her with all the courtesy due another agent. In any case, Reid, Morgan, Hotch, and Gideon would give her enough of a hard time, although Garcia was usually friendly enough. There was no reason for her to be rude, and honestly she doubted Elle would especially want her to be.
"I can wait if you need me to..." Prentiss replied, still clearly hesitant. Oddly, JJ liked her all the better for that vulnerability, especially since she was reasonably sure it was genuine.
"Don't worry," she answered reassuringly, pulling a file out of the stack, "There's no time like the present, so let's get started."
Emily smiled warmly, but JJ could see that those dark eyes, while expressive, were guarded, and a thick wall of reserve and wariness seemed to surround the older woman. The initial briefing went smoothly, and JJ's opinion of the other agent rose quickly. She was clearly intelligent and eager to learn, and absorbed the information JJ was giving her like a sponge. The only thing that unsettled her was how uncertain and guarded Emily was. She was holding something back, and at the same time seemed to almost expect a blow to land. What could have made her so wary?
"Emily," she started during a natural lull in their discussion, "I don't know about you, but I could use some coffee. Are you up for it?"
The brunette's response to the simple idea was stunning. A broad grin spread across her face, and for just a moment the reserve around her seemed to vanish. It was back in seconds, but JJ had already seen just a hint of the woman underneath, and decided right then to do what she could to get her to open up. It might take a while, but if what she had seen was any indication, it would be worth the effort. As she showed Emily the break room, such as it was, and poured them both a mug of coffee, she considered her instant response to the brunette. She knew she should be wary of her, since she was new and, if Hotch's attitude had been any indication, not entirely welcome, especially after Elle, but she just couldn't bring herself to dislike the woman.
"You know, the name Prentiss sounds really familiar," she remarked, trying for casual conversation, "Have we met before?"
She doubted it, since she was fairly sure she'd remember the striking brunette. Once again, Emily's reaction surprised her. She paled first, then looked strained and sad until her walls slammed back into place with a firmness that almost felt like a physical blow to the watching liaison.
"No, we haven't met, Agent Jareau..."
Emily looked down, apparently finding her coffee fascinating for a few minutes until she straightened her shoulders, guarded, dark eyes meeting curious blue.
"My mother is Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss," she stated simply, then fell silent, just waiting. Once again JJ got the impression she was waiting for a blow to land, and thought through the implications of that. If someone had told her the new agent was the daughter of two high powered diplomats, her first thought would have been that her parents must have made some calls. She wasn't entirely sure how she felt about it now that she'd spent some time with Emily, though. She didn't dismiss the idea, by any means, since she had no evidence one way or another, but she somehow doubted it. Prentiss wasn't a snob or an arrogant upstart. She had read her file. The woman had gone through all the training and applied for every BAU opening she could. Her resume had shown a slow, steady progression through the ranks of the Bureau, and more than once she had been noted as extremely hard working, but also somewhat reckless. Nothing in her file showed anything other than a woman who worked hard to prove herself in a world that still wasn't entirely accepting of women.
"Yeah? And?" she asked softly, obviously startling Emily, "Did your parents make a call to get you here?"
"NO!" the brunette replied sharply, her tone both pained and sad, with a touch of anger thrown in, "I don't know why I was put in the BAU without Agent Hotchner's go-ahead, or Agent... Gideon, was it? I don't know why the paperwork got screwed up. I do know I worked hard to get where I am, without any help from my parents!"
The passionate reply reassured JJ immediately, and she instinctively reached out, laying a hand on Emily's elbow.
"Okay then. There's no problem."
The older agent stared at her for several long moments, then glanced down at the hand in question before looking back up, a slow, pleased smile spreading across her face.
"Okay?" she asked softly, just for a moment sounding like a much younger woman who needed to be reassured that she hadn't done something wrong. JJ smiled back, giving the arm she held a gentle squeeze before pulling away, noticing as she did that it was much easier to reach out and connect with Prentiss than it had been with Elle. Once again she felt disloyal, but then she and Elle had never exactly bonded. She had always gotten the impression that Elle had seen her more as a blonde than as an agent, and that the tough New Yorker had always sort of questioned her right to be an FBI agent, something she had never quite reconciled.
"Yeah," JJ replied, giving Prentiss another smile, "so let's get back to work. You up for a little more drilling?"
For the first time since they'd met Emily gave her a completely unguarded smile, taking years off her age and making her dark eyes sparkle warmly. It was gone quickly, but not before she saw the gratitude and respect in the expression. It was strange, she thought as she led Prentiss back to her office, that so far at least she hadn't gotten the slightest impression that Emily questioned her right to be there. Maybe because, unlike Elle Greenaway, she had needed to prove her mettle again and again. Elle radiated confidence and strength, and no one doubted that she was tough. Here, though, was a woman with a different kind of strength, a quiet surety and quick mind that was hidden by the diplomatic mask and the very feminine grace she carried herself with. She wasn't the kind of woman men would bet on in a brawl, for example, the kind with the quick fire and anger just barely contained in every line of her body.
"Thank you," JJ heard the other agent murmur once they'd reached her office, and the blonde turned around and smiled. Despite her willowy, elegant appearance, JJ found herself thinking that if it came down to it, she would bet on Emily Prentiss. And for now, that was enough.
They sat down and got comfortable again, Emily with her notepad and file, JJ with her own file and ready pen. Before starting the briefing again, though, she hesitated, making a decision that she hoped she wouldn't end up regretting.
The brunette looked up immediately, a flicker of worry behind her eyes before it vanished behind that damned mask.
"Is something wrong, Agent Jareau?"
JJ shook her head slowly, starting to smile again.
"Well, firstly I just realized I was very rude earlier. I never did exactly introduce myself. Not a good habit for a press liaison."
She held out a hand, smiling gently as she said, "I'm Agent Jareau, communications coordinator and liaison for the BAU. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Emily grinned, taking her hand. JJ noticed that the motion was most decidedly practiced, but the warmth behind the expression and the clasp of her hand seemed sincere.
"The pleasure is mine," Prentiss replied contentedly, then added in a tone of mild confusion, "was there a second thing?"
JJ chuckled, finding herself somewhat charmed by the quizzical tilt of her head and the expression of mild confusion on her pale, angular face.
"Not many people call me Agent Jareau. The team certainly doesn't. Most people call me JJ."
"JJ..." Prentiss repeated, then tilted her head curiously again, brushing her straight black hair back. The blonde noted absently as she did it the light caught on streaks of deep mahogany she hadn't noticed before.
"So I get the second one, Jareau. What's the first 'J' for?"
"Jennifer," she replied readily, surprised she hadn't mentioned it before.
Prentiss' low voice seemed to be testing the name, then she shook her head, smiling faintly.
"If I'm going to call you JJ, you should probably call me Emily," she murmured, an almost conspiratorial gleam in her eyes. JJ laughed and agreed, and they spent the next couple of hours going through more of the rather large amount of information the brunette had to have to function as part of the BAU. JJ was surprised by how much she wanted to help Emily fit in and be able to ease her way into the team. She didn't want the woman to go through what she had to prove herself, even though she knew she'd probably have to no matter what she did. She was startled out of her explanation of some salient point that Emily had asked her to clarify by a knock on her door, and looked up, confused. No one usually came to her office at this time, except...
"Come on in, Garcia," she called, flashing a quick smile at the woman across from her. Emily smiled back uncertainly, and JJ could see her taking in Garcia with more than a little surprise. She also suddenly realized how tired she looked. There was just so much for her to take in, the blonde knew. It was also true that the sheer exuberance that was Garcia radiated could make anyone unaccustomed to her weary immediately. The tech analyst looked between the two of them, then back at JJ, silently asking who the woman was. JJ smiled, gesturing to Emily, who was also watching her.
"Garcia, this is Agent Emily Prentiss, our new agent. Emily, this is Penelope Garcia, the BAU's technical analyst. She's pretty much our expert on anything technology related, and she has access to our records and files. If you need any information, one of us will usually have it."
Garcia gave JJ a long look, which JJ returned. After a moment she grinned and turned to Emily, holding out a hand.
"Welcome to the team," she declared as Emily rose shook the proffered limb. The brunette smiled slowly, glancing over at JJ again, who winked at her. The liaison was a little surprised by how reassured the new agent was by the quick exchange, then she found herself warmed by it. She had obviously touched the older woman earlier, and it was gratifying to know that already Emily felt at least somewhat comfortable with her, and that behind that wary, guarded mask, she might just be starting to trust her. She also had probably seen the way Garcia had looked to her, and was most likely grateful that JJ had encouraged her to be welcoming.
"Garcia, did you need something?"
"Oh, right!" the cheerful analyst replied, handing over a file.
"These are those reports you asked for from our last few cases."
"Great, thanks Garcia," she answered, taking the file, "I wanted to make sure Emily knew what we had been working on lately."
She caught the quick, assessing look her friend threw at her and shook her head slightly. She saw Emily watching the by-play curiously, and could almost hear the wheels turning in the profiler's mind. She smiled, seeing what had become a familiar process of cataloguing information going on in the woman's eyes. Garcia smiled at them both and left, making sure to welcome Prentiss to the team again.
"Garcia is pretty much my best friend," she remarked once the analyst was gone, although she would have bet that Emily had already figured that out, "and when she talks about being the gatekeeper of all things knowable and unknowable, she kind of has a point. Garcia can get into just about anything and find almost any information we need."
JJ smiled, seeing the lingering confusion in the other woman's face.
"Don't worry about it. You'll see."
Emily returned her smile, the expression widening slightly as JJ yawned and stretched suddenly. As her shoulders cracked she heard Prentiss muffle a laugh and mock-glared at her.
"Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and laugh. I bet you're no better."
Emily laughed softly and stretched, the sound even louder than it had been when she'd stretched. JJ grinned, shaking her head, well aware that Prentiss had done that deliberately.
"I think we've covered enough for today, but you're welcome to come by tomorrow."
"I wouldn't want to take too much of your time," Prentiss replied somewhat hesitantly, glancing around at the many files that surrounded the blonde, "I'm sure you're very busy."
"I am," she answered easily, still smiling, "but Hotch told me to brief you. Anyway, you have to admit this is better than reading case file after case file and trying to figure out which of them would be the one the BAU takes."
Emily sat back, looking at her in a quietly assessing way that almost made her uncomfortable, but didn't quite. She felt exposed and vulnerable, but there was a safety in the older agent's reserve, a sense that she wouldn't take what she saw and use it against her. Finally she smiled slightly, waving a hand at the notes she'd been taking.
"You sure about that?"
JJ laughed warmly, appreciating the shy attempt at humor. She covered Emily's hand with her own, squeezing gently.
"See you tomorrow then?"
"Tomorrow," the brunette replied softly and rose to her feet. She looked back as she reached the door, hesitating slightly.
"It was really nice meeting you... JJ."
The press liaison smiled gently in return, seeing for just a moment a vulnerability about the guarded agent she hadn't expected.
"It was great meeting you too, Emily. Have a good night."
Apparently reassured, the brunette nodded.
With that she was gone, leaving the blonde with plenty to think about.
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