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: (*Thanks go to Cabrini Green for a certain description of Will that appears in this chapter, which I couldn't resist making a place for in the story. Cheers!) Well, I'd hoped to be done with this much sooner, but alas finals, holidays, and then getting sick will throw a wrench in anyone's plans I suppose. My apologies. I'm pretty sure I've got the wrench out. Now if I could only find the monkeys that threw it in there and get them back in their proper place... Also, I do not speak French, German, or Italian. I wish I did, but despite my best efforts only a few languages have managed to stick in my thick head, and then only in fragments. I am aware of this shortcoming, but it is my sense that Emily's talent with languages is a part of who she is and mustn't be ignored. Anyone who sees an error in my usage is welcome to correct me, and if possible inform me of a more reliable translator than the one I'm using.
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: March 25, 2008, 10:08 AM
Location: BAU Jet, In the Air Over Virginia
"We got the file for this case last week, and sent a profile back. Unfortunately, in the last few days the situation has escalated. This morning, I received further information, which you're all familiar with. We've all seen the file. There's been a series of strange kidnappings outside of Waco, Texas."
As the liaison passed out files containing the now semi-familiar information, Emily glanced over at Rossi, seeing, as she'd half expected, a faint twinge of anger and something undefinable cross his face. He remembered Waco, and he didn't want to.
"These are some of the strangest kidnappings I've ever seen," she commented aloud, purposely drawing attention away from her senior colleague, "No violence, but the people are all relatively healthy, with some capability of self defense... The fact the profile suggests an older man without the physical strength to subdue these people brings up the question of drugs or something similar."
Hotch nodded from his seat across the way, looking through the file as thoroughly as she was, probably seeing the same abnormalities she had.
"It rather resembles what Frank used to do," he observed quietly, glancing between the written report and the photos, "but unlike Frank, this man doesn't seen capable of moving unconscious bodies on his own, but there's no indication of an accomplice."
"So what?" Morgan asked, shaking his head slightly in confusion and frustration at the contradictions everyone had agreed were present, "Is he coercing them? We know he's not blitzing them. He wouldn't be able to."
"Frank used ketamine," JJ remarked slowly, avoiding anyone's gaze as she usually did when giving her thoughts during these discussions, "to keep his victims conscious while he cut them apart. What if this man is giving them something to make them more cooperative? Maybe something that will make them weak and malleable while still conscious and mobile?"
The silence following her suggestion made the golden skin redden, but Emily shook her head, smiling with a little more open affection than she had intended.
"You've got a good point, JJ," Reid agreed thoughtfully before the brunette could say anything, his sincerity unmistakable, "There are any number of drugs that could be used either alone or in combination that would make a person controllable. In fact-"
"I can think of a few off-hand," Morgan interjected, eager to forestall one of Spencer's frequent lectures, "I've been talking to some old buddies in the DEA about some of their recent cases, and they were sayin' they've been seeing a big rise in the sale and use of amphetamines."
"Amphetamines?" JJ repeated, tilting her head curiously as if trying to remember the classification, "Isn't Ecstasy in that group?"
"Among others," the genius answered approvingly, his eyes excited, "although Ecstasy isn't purely an amphetamine. It's-"
"Ecstasy could be used for what our UnSub needs," Hotch interrupted, giving Reid a quick warning glance laced with affectionate amusement he wouldn't have shown in front of others, "Especially if it were cut with something else. It's a good thought, JJ. When we land, you and Morgan work with any local Narcotics or DEA officials, and any pharmacy or MD that may have had stock, and perhaps an employee, go missing recently."
Jennifer's blush was a proud one this time, and Emily grinned at her, proud of her partner for thinking of something that the over-thinking profilers had missed. It never bothered her when her beloved thought of something she hadn't, though sometimes it did when her other colleagues came up with ideas that she had missed. If anything should have tipped her off sooner, she realized, that might have been it.
"Je t'aime," the brunette whispered as she passed her partner, apparently to hand some notes over to Hotch. JJ's blush darkened, but she hid it well. Emily refocused on the case, or at least made sure she looked as if she had, but the brush of tanned skin against her arm as she turned to go back to her seat threw her back to waking up that morning, before the call had come in and before they had been anything but two people facing a new day.
"Mm..." Emily murmured, coming out of a very deep sleep to find herself pressing against the warmth at her back, warmth that somehow snaked around to her front. The source of that heat mumbled in return, and only then did the brunette start to remember just where she was, and who she was with. A slow grin spread across her face as she realized just how deep and rejuvenating her rest had been. There was none of the darkness about her thoughts or the weary strain in her body that she had been waking up to, but there was something new that took her a moment to place. When she did, she was torn between blushing and grinning and settled for doing both.
"Jennifer," she called softly, laughing to herself when her partner grumbled sleepily and held on to her more tightly. She whispered a prayer in Arabic, just a few simple words to greet and praise the day and God for granting it to her, then tried again.
"Jennifer, mi amor, it's time to wake up."
Again all she got for her troubles was a soft, sleepy grumble and a leg tossed over hers, clearly intended to keep her from moving. Grinning to herself, Emily stretched under the arm holding her, prompting the hand attached to it to take a more solid, possessive hold on the flesh it gripped. Despite herself the profiler gasped, drawing her companion into the waking world as words alone couldn't have.
"Emily?" JJ asked, her voice groggy and confused, "What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she assured the blonde quickly, although some part of her argued that 'fine' wasn't exactly the word for what she was, "You with me now?"
"Mm-hmm," the liaison agreed sleepily, less interested in wakefulness now that she'd established her partner wasn't hurt or in distress, "Why're you awake, Emily? It's too early in the morning. Can't you take a day off your self-imposed torture?"
That "torture" was the exercise routine Emily had prescribed for herself to regain the muscle tone she had lost while Samis had starved her, a routine Jennifer often argued was too strenuous. This morning, Emily was inclined to agree that maybe she could take a day off, but she knew her reasons were less than precisely virtuous.
"Jennifer, my love, I'd love to stay in bed with you as long as you'd like," she replied carefully, all too aware of how true that was, "but I'm afraid if you keep doing what you're doing, there's no way we're making it to work, or anywhere else today."
The taller woman brushed her hand against where Jennifer's was tracing some invisible pattern under her nightshirt, blushing hotly as the calloused fingertips reached the base of her breast again and started working their way up and around it. She had woken to find her breast had been claimed by a very possessive Jennifer Jareau at some point during the night, and while heart and body argued very passionately against that hand being removed, both then and now, the reality was she didn't trust herself not to find something else for it to do, something that would go completely against the limits they had set for their physical relationship. Her mind unhelpfully pointed out that those boundaries were already pretty blurry considering just where Jennifer's hand was, but she had already decided that was no excuse. JJ reaching out in her sleep and laying a claim she could excuse. Her taking advantage of the situation she couldn't... Or so she wanted to believe.
"Oh... God... Emily..." the blonde stuttered when she finally realized what her hand was doing to the older woman, who by that time had lost much of her will to argue the point. The realization had come at the tail end of a soft moan, and the profiler could feel the heat of a dark blush burning her neck where her bedmate's face was buried.
"I don't want to ask you to stop," she managed to murmur honestly, despite what most of her really wanted to say or do, "I would kind of prefer you didn't... But if you don't, we aren't leaving this bed and all those careful rules we came up with are going to straight to hell. I'm not sure either of us is quite ready for that."
Emily shivered as the hand in her shirt abruptly stopped and started to withdraw, then hesitated, still touching the bare skin of her abdomen.
The brunette braced herself, know that if JJ pushed right now while she was in this state, and after the dream she could vividly recall having, she wouldn't be able to say no again. She hadn't wanted to the first time, but she had done so out of a sense of responsibility that was rapidly fading. She was, after all, only human, not a saint, and the woman touching her with such unconscious possessiveness and desire was the person she most wanted to give everything to.
"You're right," Jennifer finally finished, her hand sliding out from under Emily's shirt. The profiler felt its loss far too keenly, and would have pulled it right back where it had been had JJ not laid it gently on her belly, over the night shirt this time. The touch was still intimate and possessive, but also loving and soothing in a way she badly needed to regain her bearings just then.
"Not yet, my Emily, not yet," the liaison whispered, her tone as regretful as Emily felt, "I didn't mean to..."
"It's all right," she broke in, quick to reassure her partner that she understood what had happened, "You can't control what your unconscious self does, Jennifer... and I can't exactly say I didn't like where that was going."
"I know I did," the younger agent muttered, her words just barely audible. Emily smiled, turning around abruptly so they were face to face, keeping herself from kissing JJ by sheer force of will rather than any desire to be so restrained.
"Work awaits," she declared, hoping the comment would calm her raging heart and over-sensitized body as well as her partner's, but rapidly realized that short of pulling herself out of this warm nest and taking a very cold shower, there was nothing that was going to be able to keep her from taking a step they might not be ready to take.
And had Jennifer not moved first, Emily decided, returning to the present, she wasn't sure she could have stopped herself. JJ had been the one to get up and start the day, and only after her blonde partner had slipped into the bathroom and out of sight had she been able to get any real control over her far too active hormones and imagination. They had showered, dressed, and gone about their routines separately, rejoining for a breakfast that could barely be tasted for the fireworks that had flown between them whenever they touched or their eyes met. More than once she had seen Jennifer questioning the wisdom of having them sleep together again, and privately Emily agreed. It wasn't wise at all. It was dangerous, and could very well lead to one or both of them crossing their self-imposed boundaries, but the fact was it was also necessary. They might be able to cope separately during the day, but at night they were far too aware of the darkness to be alone.
The dark woman looked up, drawn out of her thoughts by Reid. Thankfully the young prodigy was so caught up in what he was doing he hadn't noticed her distraction, and her teammates were too busy eyeing Spencer oddly to notice her.
"Yes, Reid?" she urged gently, realizing that the doctor was getting at least as caught up in thought as she had been, though most likely on a totally different track.
"Oh, yeah... So, I think you're right. Most likely the profile is almost entirely accurate. A disgruntled pharmacist would easily be able to get what he needed to pull this off. It could also explain some other oddities. If he's taking some sort of psychedelic drug himself, it could explain what caused him to escalate this far."
"You mean he's doing it as part of some delusion?" Morgan asked carefully, obviously trying to phrase the question in a way that didn't invite a lecture.
"It would make sense!" the pale agent replied, nodding several times as he worked through his own thoughts, "Some of the strangest aspects of this case would make much more sense when viewed in that light."
The "stranger aspects of this case" were strange enough that Emily was all but forced to agree it would take someone on some powerful drugs to even think of the things this man had done. Targeting older couples wasn't all that strange, but tying up one member of the couple and leaving them locked in their own house and unharmed while taking the other was a little odd. Painting their faces, however, was more so. It wasn't with threatening messages, with their own blood, or anything otherwise violent, however, and if nothing else that was what stood out. He had painted butterflies, flowers, even a peace sign on his victims. The other half of the ten couples, however, hadn't been located, and that was what had caused the BAU to be called in.
"Is it weird that we're so worried because this guy isn't painting demonic symbols or threats on these people, or using their own blood?" she asked aloud, looking through the pictures again as she did. It was disturbing to see images usually associated with innocence in their files, she realized.
"Maybe a little," Derek agreed with a grin as he followed her train of thought, "but there's so much weird about this case that I think it's okay if a little rubs off."
She chuckled, sighing as she turned to look at the patchwork of clouds and earth passing below them.
"Get Garcia on the line and ask her to run a search," Hotch was saying, and the brunette listened without looking back, knowing she had done her part for the moment and now it was Garcia's turn. As usual the tech goddess was prompt, and by the time they landed they had a good working profile added on to the preliminary report the locals already had. With the facts they had on hand their resident tech goddess was able to put together a reasonable list, but there was something of a hitch, and that was the reason they were in Texas rather than in Virginia working this over the phone. As far as the profilers were concerned, the man they were after was well known in the small community, and had probably been interviewed by the local police already. The Sheriff who had called them in had been the first to suggest this, though he had done so grudgingly. They respected his willingness to admit a fault in himself and his people, and the fact was the case would run cold if someone didn't step in to stop the kidnappings and find the missing men and women. As far as the locals were concerned, however, they were intruders in what should have been a community matter, and only the Sheriff's stubborn insistence that they be welcomed had garnered them an office to work in and any cooperation at all. Garcia's digging had given them a good starting point, and within a few interviews, JJ reported that she'd found an odd trend.
"It's not so much what they're saying that got my attention," the blonde explained when the team gathered around the conference table, "but the name Ren Krue, a philosophy professor living nearby, has come up multiple times. I don't know if she would be a suspect, exactly. I hadn't gotten that impression. It's more like everyone seems to think that Ms. Krue knows more about what's going on than anyone else. If nothing else, she seems to know just about everyone, and she might have some information that wouldn't occur to others. She has an office along with some other academics a little outside of town."
Hotch nodded, glancing over the address and background information Jennifer had already gotten from Garcia, frowning a bit at something.
"Hotch?" Morgan asked curiously, seeing the same thing Emily had, "Something wrong?"
The unit chief shook his head slowly, handing the file back to Jennifer.
"You and Agent Prentiss go to her office and try to talk to Ms. Krue. If you can't get her to answer your questions today, try to set up another meeting with her. Morgan, I want you to go with them. Reid, work on the geographical profile with Rossi. These attacks are spread out all over the area. We need to try to establish a pattern and narrow down where the UnSub might be taking the people he kidnaps."
"Preferably before he takes someone else," Rossi muttered, and the rest of the team agreed, separating to go about their tasks. The drive to meet the philosophy professor was a blessedly short one as the vehicle they had been given by the local agents had been lacking in air conditioning, and despite the season Texas was baking around them. Morgan wiped his bald head, obviously uncomfortable in his heavy black pants, boots, and muscle shirt. He had already stripped off the jacket he'd brought with him from Virginia back at the office, as had the rest of the team, but it just wasn't enough.
"When we get back, I'm going to have a long talk with the agent who gave us this hunk of junk," he growled. A glance at Emily and JJ told him they agreed, but JJ was shaking her head, pulling sweat-soaked blonde hair into a loose ponytail.
"They're trying to get to us, Derek," she warned, blue eyes reflecting his own anger, "They want us to get angry and offended, because they don't want us here."
"We're here to help them, though," he argued, but sighed as he said it, adding quietly, "but it doesn't matter. They may want to help these people, but they want to do it without us. Why? Why is it so important that they accomplish this without help from the BAU?"
"Because if our profile is right," Emily murmured quietly, dark eyes fixed on the building ahead of them, apparently tracing the relief above the door, "They've deliberately avoided facing the truth. A federal agent can't afford to do that. If we find out the UnSub is someone they dismissed due to a personal relationship, they could lose a lot. Possibly even their jobs. They're good agents, Derek. I asked Garcia for their files before we left. The agents here are some of the best in the state, and several of them have received multiple commendations over the years. This could ruin their careers, and if they go down, they'll blame us, not their own actions."
The former football star eyed his colleague curiously, a little surprised. Emily was thorough in any case, but checking up on the local agents? Without turning to look at him, the brunette shrugged.
"We knew the local agents had dismissed the members of their community. We knew they were searching outside the town for suspects, or holding transients and travelers. We knew they'd probably be obstructive when we got here. I wanted to know why."
Derek nodded slowly, about to head into the building, but the odd look on JJ's face stopped him. The liaison brushed Emily's arm, and still the brunette didn't turn, and that was weird. Those dark eyes always tracked to the blonde. Even when she had barely been conscious and recovering from surgery Emily had responded to JJ's touch.
The brunette blinked slowly, finally looking down at her partner.
"Je me rappelle..." she murmured softly, "Je sais pas, Jennifer."
She glanced at Derek, then shook her head, switching back to English when she saw his confused expression. If he wasn't mistaken, she hadn't even realized she hadn't been speaking in English. He had never seen her slip like that during a case, and he wasn't sure what to make of it.
"I remember something from one of the files, something about a building that had that scene... I just can't place it. If Reid were here he'd remember, but it wasn't this address. It's strange that two buildings in the same area would have this particular scene."
"Why's that?" he asked curiously. He had noticed the relief before, but all he knew about it was that it was Greco-Roman art and very detailed. He took a closer look now, but he would be the first to admit that greek mythology wasn't his strong suit.
"It's the goddess Athena's birth," JJ explained quietly, "In the myth, Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom, was "born" fully formed inside Zeus's skull. The god of fire and craftsmen, called Vulcan by the Romans and Hephaestus by the Greeks, uses his own axe to cut open Zeus's skull, "giving birth" to Athena."
"Some philosophers argue that this story is supposed to imply that because Athena was born entirely from Zeus's body, she was the symbolic heir to his throne, and she was given her place as goddess of wisdom and war to bring balance," a strange voice remarked, and the three profilers looked away from the carving of a woman rising from the broken skull of a man while a huge smith looked on. A woman in her late 30's or early 40's was approaching them, brushing dark brown hair out of an angular face. She was a little overweight for her build, he noted, as if she had once been lean and athletic and had only recently lost her figure.
"You must be the agents my assistant told me I was to meet with. I'm Catherine Krue, but everyone calls me Ren."
"I'm Agent Jareau," JJ replied immediately, slipping into what Garcia called her 'alpha blonde' mask, also referred to as her 'don't fuck with me, I know what I'm doing, bitch' glare by the same person. It was the face she wore when she was uncomfortable with someone immediately. It was an instinctive reaction he had seen more than a few times, and he had learned to respect it. JJ liked people as a rule, even though she saw the worst in them as they all did. When she took an immediate dislike to a person, there was usually a reason for it.
"Yes, Agent Jareau. You spoke with my assistant on the phone. You called to ask about those strange disappearances?"
JJ nodded, her expression guarded. "Disappearances" was an odd word to use in this case, and the former football player didn't miss the way Krue had emphasized the word. It was stranger still considering he knew the blonde had said they were asking about "abductions" when she had spoken to the philosopher's assistant.
"These are Agents Prentiss and Morgan," the liaison introduced, gesturing to them in turn, "they'll be the ones interviewing you if you're willing to meet with them."
Ren nodded, taking a PDA out of her pocket.
"I have a meeting to attend in a few minutes," she replied somewhat distractedly, working on the small device, "I'm surprised my assistant didn't inform you, but I may have forgotten to tell her again. but if you'd like to discuss something..."
She trailed off, then stopped and scanned the screen before looking back up, smiling warmly at Emily. A little too warmly, in Derek's opinion, and from the way JJ's face stiffened momentarily, she agreed. He had given women that look before. It was meant to convey interest, an interest that was sure to be reciprocated. Emily's dark gaze never wavered, and neither did her smile, but the way her hands tightened behind her back told him she was aware both of the philosopher's attraction to her and her partner's response to it. That was reassuring, he decided. Emily's instincts were right on, as usual, and this case was going to demand everything they had.
"I'll be available in about two hours, if you'd like to meet then."
JJ nodded slowly, looking back at her colleagues and waiting for their agreement.
"I'd like to take a look at some things here," Emily admitted, "I'd be willing to wait."
"I'll stay too," he agreed when the blonde looked like she might says something revealing, "Anything but driving that damn thing back to the office and then here again."
He gave the philosopher his best grin, but though she smiled back, it was clear her interest was mostly on Emily.
'Why is it,' he wondered to himself, 'that we keep running into lesbians? We've had more cases involving lesbians in the last few weeks than in the last year.'
That might have been an exaggeration, he admitted privately, but not much of one. Keira Datton and Jenna Odari would haunt the team for a long time, and he just hoped this woman wouldn't be another ghost to torment his family at the BAU. The ones they had were enough. It was an irrational association, he knew, but one he couldn't stop himself from making.
"Very well. I'll be back as soon as possible. A pleasure meeting you agents, and my apologies for having to leave so quickly."
And leave she did, though not without another long look at all three agents. There was no mistaking the way she was sizing them up, and Derek had to wonder just what it was she was looking for, or what she hoped to gain. The team had known about the connection between their beautiful colleagues long before Emily and JJ had. He and Garcia had talked about it any number of times, and the team had all agreed it was plain as day for anyone who knew human behavior. Now, however, the obviousness of the relationship wasn't quite so funny. The look Krue had given JJ in particular had been almost nasty, though concealed behind a polite smile, and he didn't like the vibe he got from her. He tried to put words to his sense of unease, a sense he could tell his companions shared, but JJ's phone rang before he had sorted it out.
"Hotch, you've got me, Emily, and Morgan. Any news?" JJ answered, putting the phone on speaker.
"We've made some progress narrowing our list of suspects, and we have some new information on Ms. Krue. I take it you weren't able to talk to her?"
"She had a meeting she forgot to tell her assistant about," Derek explained, picturing his boss filing away the information and nodding slightly, "She said we could talk to her in about two hours. Emily and I were planning on staying out here and possibly talking to some other people, including Krue's assistant. Something is off about that woman, Hotch."
"Anything specific, or..."
"Nothing specific," Emily replied, sounding as unsure as he felt, "just a feeling. We may not be able to pin it down until we talk to her, but in the meantime I'd like to find out more about her."
"I'll ask Garcia to dig a little deeper," Hotch agreed, and Morgan smiled to himself, silently basking in the trust implied by that statement. Their Unit Chief knew they wouldn't have brought it up if they didn't think it was relevant.
"In the meantime," their boss continued, "I'm going to have Rossi pick JJ up on his way back from the latest crime scene. We need the press's cooperation if we're going to solve this case, and the people I've talked to haven't exactly been cooperative."
"They rarely are at first," the liaison muttered irritably, and Derek chuckled lowly, as did Emily. Even the most hard-headed of reporters had a hard time refusing Jennifer Jareau for very long when she was determined, and in a way he sort of pitied anyone who tried today. His companions did an admirable job of keeping their relationship and their work separate, for the most part, but that didn't stop one from affecting the other, and JJ was annoyed at the very least. He would be if he were in her place, if he were honest. Some stranger had designs on JJ's woman, and Morgan wasn't about to see someone messing with them when they were just starting to get things moving.
"How soon will Rossi be here?" Emily asked, and there was a pause. After a moment Hotch was back, talking briefly with someone on the other end of the line before answering.
"He should be there in a few minutes. The crime scene was only ten miles or so from where you are."
Derek brought up a map of the area on his phone, the locations of the various crime scenes already marked from their earlier review of the case.
"You know, Hotch, that's the first time there's been an abduction anywhere near here. All the other times the UnSub abducted people from outlying areas far from both here and the busier parts of town."
Hotch was quiet again, then Reid's voice came over the phone.
"You're right! All the previous abductions took place at least twice that distance from those offices. That could be a deliberate pattern, and if it is Krue could have some connection to him. Then again that office building is in a less traveled area and-"
"We'll hold off on speculation for the moment," Hotch's voice cut in, and the three agents smiled at each other, familiar with Reid's intense focus, "but I do think we should follow up on that idea. Good work."
"What idea?" Rossi's voice asked from behind them, and Emily shifted to let him into their small circle.
"JJ can explain on your way back here," the Unit Chief assured him calmly, "Prentiss, Morgan, find out anything you can about Krue while you're there. Also, try to get some sense of anyone else who may either be involved or at the very least have some relationship with the UnSub. You both know what to look for."
They agreed to do so, and JJ ended the call, putting her phone away and eyeing her colleagues. Her blue eyes rested longest on Derek, and he sighed silently. That gaze wasn't the confident, trusting look he might have gotten from her a few months ago. She didn't entirely trust him to watch her partner's back, and he couldn't even blame her. If he had been in her place, he wouldn't trust the guy who let his girl get snatched. It didn't help his sense of guilt that the warning was so clear, as if it hung between them in bold black letters. You're responsible for her safety. If she gets hurt, I'm holding you accountable, it said, and he nodded, accepting that charge. He would have anyway, since it was part of his job, but watching Emily's back had become a special priority for their team. First it had been Garcia they had almost lost, and he still felt intensely protective of the crazy analyst, even months after the shooting. Emily's abduction and torture was more raw, a barely healed wound on all the members of the team, and not one he was about to see torn open again. Looking at JJ now, he saw his own fear and concern writ larger and bolder across her eyes when she turned to her partner, and he could only imagine how hard it was for her to smile as if nothing was wrong, brush the brunette's back with her fingertips, and turn away with Rossi. He watched her walk away and refuse to turn back, and he watched Emily watch the retreating agents before she turned to him, her face a mask of professionalism.
"Let's get started then."
He followed her lead, still considering the implications of what he'd just seen, as well as the larger context around it. He had always believed there was sound reasoning behind the Bureau's policy about inter-team relationships, though he didn't always agree with it as a whole. They complicated already complex situations, and they distracted people from their jobs. In some ways those two were a prime example. Their relationship was a distraction both to each other and to the team, but these days he saw something the higher-ups in the Bureau wouldn't understand. The link between Prentiss and JJ was almost tangible. They would finish each other's sentences without realizing it, and where one might lose her train of thought the other would pick it up. The pair of them were better people and better agents together than they had been apart, and that was why Hotch had refused to step in and separate them. He could have, Derek knew. The ramifications if the Bureau found out would fall largely on Hotch's shoulders as Unit Chief, but cold, humorless, strict Agent Hotchner had chosen to back his agents and support their relationship. He had been the one to keep any rumors or backlash from reaching JJ and Emily when the brunette had moved in with JJ, and he had kept the agency from looking too closely at the reasons for the move.
The dark woman turned, brown-black eyes searching his. He had surprised her, he knew. His voice had come out softer than he'd intended, and he had no doubt the look on his face mirrored his tone.
"You know all of us have your backs, right?" he asked quietly, and she frowned a little, eyeing him closely as if unsure of what he meant. He knew better, though. She wasn't sure if she should trust him. She had looked at him that way since the mess with Keira Datton. It wasn't just JJ and Emily that case was haunting, he knew. It haunted him as well. He had made mistakes he continued to regret, and continued to pay for. He loved both female agents almost as much as he did his sisters, and this quiet estrangement hurt. Not being trusted by his team was a strange experience, and not one he enjoyed in the least.
"It's all right," the brunette interrupted gently, her face relaxing into a smile, "I know, Derek. We're grateful. But right now we have a job to do, and something weird is going on here. We'll talk about it after this case, okay?"
He nodded, agreeing somewhat reluctantly. It wasn't that Emily was off in her assessment or anything. He just wanted the situation resolved, and putting it off bothered him. He liked action, and he hated being on the outs with his team and not able to fix it right away. With a quiet sigh at his own impatience, Derek followed the older agent into the office complex, taking a closer look at the relief above the door as he did. It was kind of a strange scene, and Emily had been right. It would be kind of weird for that image to be in two places in the same town, particularly so considering that as far as he knew this was the only place so dedicated to history and philosophy, other than the town library.
"Hey Morgan, take a look at this," Emily called from across the lobby, and he shook himself, wondering how she'd gotten so far ahead of him. He had promised himself and JJ, however indirectly, that he'd protect his dark-haired companion, and he wasn't getting off to a good start.
"What is it?" he asked, striding over. She pointed to one of the many papers posted up on a bulletin board that covered most of one of the lobby's walls. He followed the gesture, his eyes widening as he read the notice.
"A group discussion on drugs and perception, headed up by Dr. Krue," he summarized aloud, glancing at his colleague, wondering if she was getting the same gut feeling he was. From her expression, she did, and it wasn't good.
"It's nothing conclusive, nothing solid," Emily murmured, catching his glance and nodding slowly, "but it's a piece of the puzzle. So what's the picture we're supposed to be putting together?"
"And where does Krue fit into it?" he added for her ears only, "And why do I feel like that woman knows something we need to know?"
The brunette shook her head uncertainly, reading over the nearby directory.
"Krue's office is on the third floor," Derek observed, "Want to head up there and talk to her assistant?"
Emily nodded, frowning as they walked into the elevator. She was quiet as the doors closed and the car started going, and Derek knew they were both trying to answer her previous question. They both felt like Krue had something they needed to get out of her, but it was nothing they could pin down and put a name to. Still, they were experienced agents and profilers, and they knew better than to ignore their instincts when they were so clear. If Hotch felt he could trust those instincts, it fell on them to find out what they were trying to tell them. Two hours later, however, they still had little to go on except a vague feeling about Krue and a sense that there was something off about the whole reason they were here. Krue's assistant hadn't been particularly informative, but the way she had talked about her boss had been telling. She described Krue as extremely intelligent with a knack for reading people and getting ideas and thoughts out of them in discussions that might not have come to light with someone less observant. From Garcia they had found out that the philosopher had gotten a degree in psychology before switching to philosophy midway to her masters, and none of the records could tell them why. As far as the analyst could tell, all Krue's professors had been convinced that the woman would make an excellent clinical psychologist, then the abrupt change of fields had happened. The only piece to that puzzle Garcia had found was a brief mention in Krue's file of a fellow student being asked to leave the program several weeks prior over her strenuous objections. It wasn't a lot to go on, and as the philosophy professor hurried down the hall and unlocked her office, gesturing the two agents in, Derek couldn't shake the feeling that he was missing something right in front of his face.
"Please have a seat. I apologize for making you wait so long. Now, what can I do for you?"
Morgan launched into their pre-planned explanation, which he and Emily had discussed and agreed on earlier, simply telling the professor that her name had come up in several interviews as someone familiar with the community and with behavior, and they wanted her input on this case. Krue seemed to accept this, but Derek didn't miss the long, thoughtful look she threw at Emily during his little speech, nor did he fail to notice the way he was being quietly dismissed, even when he was the one doing the talking. The two agents had agreed that they wanted to start out trying to draw attention away from Emily, but if that tack failed they'd have to try something else.
"Well, I'm certainly familiar with a great many of the people who live around here," the philosopher agreed once he'd finished, "but why ask me about this case? I've been interviewed by our local agents several times, as have many others, and they didn't seem to think it necessary to ask any more questions. So what brings your team all the way from Quantico?"
The bemused look on Emily's face told him his colleague was as aware as he was that Krue hadn't actually said or admitted much of anything, other than knowing her neighbors, and instead had turned the interview back around on them. He was willing to bet the local agents had just let her talk around their questions, but he couldn't afford to do the same. The problem, of course, was that she was a philosopher, and in his experience those people rarely answered questions, and usually asked more questions. The Socratic method was all well and good, but annoying when interviewing suspects or potential witnesses.
"Dr. Krue," Emily started, but the professor held up a hand, smiling warmly to take any rudeness out of the interruption.
"Please, Agent Prentiss, Ren. No need to stand on formalities, is there?"
"Emily, then," the brunette shot back, returning the smile, or at least appearing to do so. Derek knew his companion well enough to easily read the reluctance in the expression, and the strain. Krue wasn't actively doing anything they could call her out for, but they both knew Emily was being flirted with, and Emily didn't like it. Morgan caught himself wanting to laugh and stifled the impulse with an effort. Whatever it was Krue wanted, she wouldn't get it from Emily. The woman might not be married in the traditional sense, but she may as well have been with all her devotion to JJ. No one, including the attractive and intelligent Dr. Krue, was going to break through that. What concerned him was how JJ might react to the situation. The blonde had a big possessive streak when it came to Emily, though he wasn't sure she realized it, and along with that came a tendency to become jealous. Most of the time he and Garcia found it funny, or "cute" as the tech goddess was likely to describe it, but right now it wasn't funny. It was dangerous, and he had to do his part to keep this woman from coming between his colleagues in some way. A lot of JJ's possessiveness came from fear, both of herself and of the world around them, and that fear could cause some unpredictable consequences.
"Well then, Emily," Krue was saying, her voice making the name a caress, "ask your questions. I'll answer them if I have answers to give."
Derek carefully kept his expression neutral, but it was difficult. There was so much he wanted to say to the woman, not the least of which was to tell her to back off Emily, but he couldn't and wouldn't. He just had to trust Emily, and by extension JJ, to be professional about this new weirdness. Outwardly at least, it seemed like the weirdness was getting to him more than his beautiful colleague.
"Ren, do you know anyone who may have suffered a recent loss or trauma, and may have had reason to turn to drugs to cope?"
"A trauma or loss? Hmm. Of what sort do you mean? That could describe many events in people's lives."
"Oh, something like a recent divorce or loss of a loved one," Emily countered readily, on to the professor's game and turning it back on her by being unshakable and steady, "Loss of a job, or a demotion of some sort. Even something more subtle, such as a friend moving away or an argument with those close to him or her."
Krue's hazel eyes widened a little at the quick response, but that was her only reaction. Her face took on a thoughtful expression, and to all outward appearances she was considering the answer, but somehow Derek doubted that was all that was going on in that mind.
"Several friends have recently been faced with the disappearances of their loved ones, but I'm sure you're aware of that. After all, you're here. Still, none that I know of have resorted to drugs, legal or otherwise. They still have hope that their loved ones will return safely. Do you really think drugs have something to do with those disappearances?"
"Dr. Krue, as far as the FBI is concerned, these aren't 'disappearances' at all. These are abductions," Morgan corrected carefully, taking his cue, "One partner is incapacitated and painted on while the other is abducted and taken somewhere we have yet to find. This isn't a case of a few people who may have wandered off one day. Someone is taking them somewhere, and for all we know that person is torturing and killing them. It's very important that we identify and locate their kidnapper, and hopefully the victims, as soon as possible."
"Tortured and murdered?" Ren repeated, sounding shocked by the idea, "Do you really think that's what's happening?"
"We don't know," Emily answered softly, "and that's why we're here. Until those people are found, we can't be sure what may or may not be happening to them. Part of our job is to assume the worst, because that's generally what we see. So, if you have any information that might help us locate the victims or their abductor, or any future victims, we'd be grateful if you'd share it."
The woman considered the two agents for a long time, then sighed.
"What kind of people do you see that leads you to make such leaps of logic?"
"Ma'am, we profile, track, and arrest serial killers and other offenders for a living. In our experience assuming the worst while hoping for the best is all we can do," Emily explained, her voice conveying only a fraction of the emotion they all felt toward their job. It took the older woman aback for a moment, and she eyed them both closely.
"It's a sad, wearying job you have, isn't it?"
His patience was running out, but Morgan caught himself before he could say anything too destructive to their cause.
"Do you ever stop asking questions and actually answer them?"
Ren laughed, tilting her head thoughtfully, then sighed softly, shaking her head.
"A philosopher who doesn't ask questions is no philosopher at all, you know. It's what we do. Still, I realize my manner can be frustrating, if not counter-productive in such an investigation. I apologize."
She seemed sincere enough, so he leaned back in his chair, smiling by way of apology for his harshness. Krue was quiet for a long moment, then she sighed again, her voice dropping as if she feared eavesdroppers.
"Agents, what I'm going to tell you puts a dear friend of mine at risk, not because he's likely to be a victim or because he's been threatened, but because if I'm right, he's the reason you're here. Normally I wouldn't believe him capable of it, but just before this all started, his wife left him. Prior to that, they had been considered the happiest couple in town. He's the senior pharmacist at a big pharmacy, and he has access to a wide variety of drugs, psychedelic and otherwise. That wouldn't have meant anything to me either, until the local agents started questioning me about these cases, and they showed me your profile. I didn't know what to do, or what to say. I don't have any proof, and until two days ago I had no reason, beyond the profile, to suspect him. And then I got this."
She reached into her desk and pulled out an envelope, handing it over to Emily. The brunette pulled out the note inside and glanced over it, her eyes widening slightly before she got her expression under control and handed the paper over to Derek.
"I'm terribly sorry, Ren. You have been the dearest of friends, and I never meant to cause you any trouble. I stayed far from your home and office in the hopes that the police would leave you be, but to no avail. And then Stan said something, and I couldn't get it out of my head. I realized Joe and Lily had what Amanda and I had. I lost Mandy, you know. I never saw it coming. So I'll show Lily the innocence of her love, the dream, and Joe the nightmare, so they know what they have. I took it for granted. Maybe Joe won't. And if he does., that's okay too. Then he'll learn what I learned. I tried, Ren. I know they're just down the street from you, but there's no choice anymore. I'll have to remember to thank Stan later."
It wasn't signed, but he could easily see what had gotten Emily to react.
"Joseph and Lily Rodrick were the latest victims."
Ren nodded, her hands twining together in the first anxious gesture they'd seen from her.
"And Stan Aransdale is another friend. He and his wife just celebrated their 35th anniversary."
"We need to know who sent this," Emily commanded quietly, the intensity of her tone making up for any lack of volume, "And then you need to tell us why you are the person he's reaching out to, and why he's so determined to keep trouble away from you."
"Yes, it does," Emily interrupted firmly, dark eyes boring into Ren's hazel, "It matters because right now, you could be charged with a felony, and I don't want to have to do that. Right now, you can help us, and yourself."
To her credit, Krue didn't ask what felony she could be charged with. She didn't ask anything, in fact. Instead, she reached into her desk again, this time far back into a locked drawer, and brought out a photograph. It was old and a little faded, but clearly cherished. This she handed to Morgan, and this time he was the one to be a little shocked.
"Michael Cooper," Ren explained, gesturing to the picture, "And his daughter, Mariana. And me. That picture was taken over thirty years ago."
"You grew up together."
The professor nodded needlessly, leaning back in her chair as if distancing herself from them.
"Mariana and I were best friends until our junior year of college. Her twin brother was kicked out of the psychology program we were all in for a crime he didn't commit. He was accused of raping another student, and even though he was found innocent, the department kicked him out anyway. The supposed victim was his ex-girlfriend, and the daughter of the department chairman. Mari and Mark ran away a month later, after being assaulted and ostracized all over campus. Michael was devastated, and I helped him through it. Since then I've been sort of a combination confidant and second daughter to him. His wife Amanda and I were close too, but I never did know why she left. All I knew was it had something to do with Mari and Mark."
She took the picture back when Morgan handed it to her, and she stared at it, her fingertips tracing the little brunette's face. Derek hadn't failed to notice how much Mariana looked like a younger version of Emily, but he wasn't about to comment on it.
"You have to understand, agents... Michael is the only family I have left. My own parents died when I was in high school, and I don't have any siblings. I didn't... I couldn't believe that he could do this... And to turn him in..."
Normally this was the kind of time when Emily would reach out to comfort a grieving witness, but she didn't. Her expression was guardedly sympathetic, but the quick glance she threw at him told Derek that something wasn't coming together for her, and he shared that feeling. It was all too pat. She fell apart too easily after all her mind games and obstruction, and here was the case in a neat little package. Still, they had to check out the information, and Morgan got up and left the office to call Garcia, leaving Emily to give their thanks and excuses while still keeping an eye on her through the office window.
"Baby girl, I need you to get us everything you can on a Michael Cooper and his family, and then I need you to look up a Stan Cooper. He's a potential witness, if not a future victim."
While he listened to Garcia's keyboard being abused he watched as Emily rose, shook Ren's hand, then slipped out of the office to join him pinching the bridge of her nose, a sign she was getting a headache.
"She wants me to have dinner with her after the case is done," she explained when she realized he was watching her, and his eyebrows went up.
"She thinks we would have a lot to talk about," she went on, her voice tense with some emotion he couldn't immediately identify, "And she hinted that maybe my 'blonde friend' wouldn't mind her borrowing a little of my time."
Emily snorted, leaning back against the wall and massaging her neck.
"Garcia getting our info?"
"But of course," Penelope replied from the other end, "Anything for my picture of sugar-lips there in ass-less chaps."
Derek almost dropped his phone, barely managing to field it before Emily grabbed it from him, holding it out once he had gotten himself back under control. Brown-black eyes gave him a look that said and this surprises you... Why? He shook his head, knowing he should be used to Garcia's antics by now. Somehow the tech kitten still managed to catch him off guard sometimes, and every time he paid for it in seemingly endless teasing from whatever teammates happened to see.
The analyst chuckled merrily, and he could hear her singing something he couldn't quite make out but sounded distinctly naughty.
"Just send whatever you get back to the field office, okay?" Emily suggested, obviously trying not to laugh and encourage Garcia to do worse, "I'll ask Hotch to get Rossi and Reid to go check out Aransdale."
Suiting words to actions, she started to walk away, her phone to her ear. Morgan followed, and so was close enough to hear half the conversation.
"Hotch, we got a potential lead out of Krue. She had two names for us. Michael Cooper, who might be our UnSub, and Stan Aransdale, a possible witness or victim. Morgan is having Garcia check them both out and she'll send whatever she gets straight to you. Once she gets Aransdale's info it might be good to have Rossi and Reid go check him out."
There was a long pause, then a break in Emily's stride. It lasted only a moment, but Morgan saw the hesitation, read the sudden concern on her face, and knew something unexpected had come up.
"Alone, Hotch?" she asked softly, her voice conveying none of the momentary fear that had flashed across her eyes, "Once Morgan and I get back, we could-"
Again Emily hesitated, and again her eyes betrayed her.
"No, it's no problem. Of course we will. We'll see you later."
She hung up, turning back to him with an expression so empty of any emotion that he was a little afraid of what Hotch had said.
"Je- JJ is going to go talk to Aransdale. Garcia was already sending the information when I called."
"What about Rossi and Reid?" Derek asked worriedly, starting to put the pieces together.
"They're going to go try to catch Cooper at home. Hotch is worried Krue might tip him off, and wants us to keep an eye on her. He isn't going to send a local agent with her for the same reason. We don't know what they might do or say."
"And what's Hotch going to be doing?"
"What he does best. Keeping everyone else off our backs so we can do our jobs."
The observation was true enough, but the bitterness in it was sharp and harsh.
He stopped there, not knowing what to say. JJ was more than Emily's partner. He wasn't blind, after all. And the idea of JJ being out there alone, with no one from the BAU and not even a local agent or cop, must be tearing Emily apart, but here she was, when every instinct was probably telling her to be there, with JJ.
"Let's get this done. It'll be fine."
It has to be fine was what she was really saying. Had Derek known JJ was thinking the same thing at that exact moment, he might have laughed. Jennifer, for her part, didn't find any of this funny. She knew Hotch was doing his job, and she knew he had considered every plausible option before sending her out on her own, but that didn't mean she wasn't afraid. Most of her fear wasn't really for herself, though, but rather for what Emily would be going through when Hotch told her what was going on. Emily had been so adamant about no one being sent out alone, and Hotch had said that as long as there was any other choice, no BAU member would go into the field alone. And here she was, and there her partner was with Morgan and with a woman who obviously had more than a passing interest in her gorgeous colleague and had some connection to this UnSub. The more she thought about it the less she liked the picture she was putting together, so she consciously forced it out of her mind and focused on the drive. Aransdale lived some thirty miles or so outside of town, according to Garcia, but the empty roads made the drive more of a luxury than a burden. She just hoped everything would go so smooth.
"Get in, talk Aransdale and his wife into coming to the field office with me, get back," she mumbled when she arrived, repeating the short version of Hotch's orders. She wasn't here to be their protective detail. She was here to get them, and herself, out of here. Her boss had stressed that fact to the point that it had gotten annoying, and she had cut him off before he could repeat himself again. She knew it was because he cared, and because he worried, but she still hadn't been able to tolerate it anymore. Shaking herself from her thoughts, she strode up the front stairs, admiring the big ranch house with its stained-wood, wraparound deck. The place had a clean look that spoke of good upkeep and housekeeping more than newness, and if she had to guess she'd have placed the construction of the place around the early 1900's, with some more recent additions.
"Been looking at too many remodeling magazines," she grumbled at herself, but couldn't keep from smiling. She was proud of her house and the work she'd done there, and more than that she was proud that Emily saw fit to call it home too.
"Lucy, I'm home!"
JJ chuckled under her breath at the memory. Emily had been late coming home from work due to some paperwork issue, and the blonde had been cooking in the kitchen when the front door had opened and Emily had yelled that line in a flawless Cuban accent.
"Whatever you say, Ricky," she'd called back, "now get in here and eat before you faint from hunger."
Emily strolled into the room, her tired face brightening as she leaned against the kitchen doorway, smiling that sweet smile of hers. Unable to stop herself, Jennifer crossed the small space and pulled Emily into a kiss intended to be short and sweet, and instead left them leaning against the wall and each other, breathing deeply in an attempt to maintain, or regain, control.
"Welcome home," the liaison murmured, still trying to get a grip on herself but unable to keep from grinning broadly at Emily's easy, contented reply.
"Glad to be home"
The blonde sighed, forcing herself to knock on the door and get on with her job. When the door opened under the light pressure from her knuckles, however, all thoughts of her partner, except ensuring that she got back to Emily safely, fled. She slipped her gun and phone out of their respective holsters, bringing the phone to her ear and the gun to the ready.
"Hotch, it's JJ. I'm at Aransdale's, but something's wrong. The front door was left open and from what I can see of the front room, there was some kind of disturbance here. What do you want me to do?"
There was a long pause, and she could just picture Hotch considering and dismissing all kinds of ideas.
"We need to know what happened, JJ, but I don't want you going in alone. Take a look around the premises, try to locate the Aransdale's, but don't go into the house until backup gets here."
She agreed, only able to guess what that conclusion must have cost him, but he wasn't quite done with her yet.
"And JJ... Backup will be there ASAP, but still, walk softly."
In his voice JJ could hear the same thought that had been going through her own mind: Emily will never forgive me if something happens. She put her phone away and eased her way across the deck, keeping her body as much in the shadows as possible and, as her boss had advised, walking as softly as she could. This all felt creepy, and more than that it felt like a trap. Worse, she had no idea who the intended mouse was, or if the cat was just waiting for her to walk into its mouth. A creak on the deck made her swing in that direction, only to find her mouth and nosed being covered by a damp cloth that smelled sickly sweet, then she felt nothing but a distant sense of falling endlessly.
'Damn it,' she swore softly, 'Emily is gonna kill me.'
Date and Time: March 25, 19:02
Location: Home of Stanley and Theresa Aransdale
"I got here as fast as I could," Rossi growled into the phone, "but I can't find any sign of her, Hotch, except the SUV she drove out here. There isn't any sign of the residents, either. They're just... Gone."
Even though Aaron wasn't the type to groan, this time he did, and in that groan Rossi heard an echo of his own thoughts.
"Prentiss is going to kill us," he remarked, and Hotch made a soft noise of assent.
"Krue must have tipped Cooper off while they were talking to me and Garcia. That's the only opportunity she would have had. Morgan and Prentiss have been with her full time otherwise. I'll have them bring her in for questioning. In the meantime, you have until full dark to search the house and the property, then I want you back here. We need to know where he's taking his victims, what he's doing to them, and how we're going to get JJ back before..."
Dave didn't need the Unit Chief to finish that thought. He knew what Aaron was thinking, and he didn't like it. They had nearly lost too many of their teammates already, and if they lost Jareau they'd lose Prentiss. He had no doubts when it came to that.
"We'll find her, Hotch."
His one-time protege disappeared from the other end of the line, and David put the device away, running a hand through his graying hair as he looked around. They had dogs and agents crawling all over the place, but still there was no sign of their missing agent, and finally he was forced to admit that there was nothing more he could do that night. Despite bracing himself the entire drive back, he was still taken aback by the flames in Emily's dark eyes as he walked into the office set aside for the BAU.
"Nothing?" she rumbled, and he nodded, wishing he knew what he could offer her by way of reassurance. There really wasn't anything, in the end. He didn't know if JJ was okay or not, and he couldn't make any promises other than the one she knew already. With a shrug that might have looked nonchalant to a non-profiler, Emily rose and paced to the white board, apparently studying it, but he knew better. Prentiss was miles away, wherever her blonde partner was being held.
"Krue let anything slip?"
"I don't know. Morgan's been grilling her since we got back, and Hotch and I were going over the geographical profile with Reid."
"She's back to mind games," Morgan remarked as he slipped into the room, "And she's got the locals thinking we're crazy, and that JJ just... Wandered off."
Prentiss turned a little too sharply, her anger just a little too hot, and Rossi stepped between her and the still open door. The last thing they needed was for one of the BAU agents to go flying off the handle, and Emily was just too close.
"Which we all know isn't true," he pointed out firmly, keeping the dark woman in place with the force of his stare and voice alone, "So we all need to stay calm and keep our heads clear. We need to figure this out. Mind games won't work on us, right Prentiss?"
She took a long, deep breath, brown-black eyes staring fixedly on a blank stretch of wall before slowly letting it go, leaving her looking drained but calm.
"Good. Now, let's solve this case and get Agent Jareau back, shall we?"
The three agents settled around the table, Morgan with interview notes written by Reid, Prentiss with the maps she and Hotch had been going over when he'd left, and Rossi with his notebook and his memories of the house. Over the next several hours the profilers debated back and forth, discussing possible locations and strategies. Reid and Hotch joined them at some point, and the map slowly got filled in piece by piece as parts of town and the outlying areas were discussed and dismissed. Dave was about to give in to frustration and get up for coffee when Morgan suddenly froze mid-stretch. Before Rossi could figure out what his problem was, the former athlete practically ripped the map in his haste to grab it, as well as a file laying under it.
"I think I know why we can't find her," he declared, sounding enthusiastic for the first time in hours, "Every other time, he's taken one part of a pair, right?"
They nodded, every agent waiting to be let in on Morgan's epiphany.
"If that's the case, it may be that grabbing JJ was either an accident or something he wasn't really prepared for if Krue called him in the short time we were out of the office. And why would Krue, who only met JJ the one time, want her to be grabbed anyway?"
"Well, she obviously likes playing mind games. She might have done it just to mess with us," Reid remarked, but Morgan was shaking her head.
"That's not all of it. When she met JJ, she was openly hostile toward her. She took one look at JJ and immediately hated her? Why? JJ was a little curt with her, but she didn't do anything overt. So why the hostility?"
Making a sound of approval as he found what he was looking for, Morgan dug through the file they had assembled from the information Garcia had sent them until he pulled out a photograph of a blonde in her twenties, a blonde who bore a passing resemblance to JJ, though the girl in the photo had darker hair and skin, and eyes that were more of a sea blue than JJ's.
"Mark Cooper's accuser, Jessi Flanders. By all accounts she was a party girl, prone to reckless, selfish behavior and lying. Her father's position protected her, though, and caused Cooper's son to be kicked out of his degree program."
"Krue said... Cooper's wife left because of something to do with Mark and Mariana's disappearance," Emily murmured, staring at the photograph, "What if she blamed Flanders for the destruction of her surrogate family and Michael Cooper's downward spiral? Could she have... Could she have transferred all that onto JJ somehow?"
"It's entirely possible," Reid chimed in, leaning so far forward his chair threatened to roll out from under him, "It wouldn't be the first time a tense situation or traumatic event brought previously unknown pathologies to light. Freud would have argued that it was an unconscious conflict brought on by an imbalance in the-"
"So maybe she had a deeply buried, burning hatred of blue-eyed blondes," Rossi interrupted smoothly, "And maybe our arrival, or Cooper's letter, or both, or something else entirely, brought it to the surface. So let's say she fixed that hatred on JJ, and sent her father, crazed with loss and drugs, to go after JJ. Or maybe he was going after Aransdale and JJ just happened to be there. Either way, Krue is who we have and she's our shortest route into Cooper's head. So how do we use this?"
"I have an idea," Prentiss commented, her voice cold and her face devoid of all emotion except a smile Dave could only call vicious. As she outlined her plan, David glanced at Hotch, silently asking for his opinion. Aaron shrugged, his haggard face a touch uncertain, but determined nonetheless. The plan was a good one, they knew, but it depended on Prentiss keeping herself on a very tight leash with the woman who may have helped kidnap her partner. They both knew she was a damn good agent, but JJ was her achilles heel.
"Prentiss, can you do this?" Hotch queried, once again the Unit Chief and not the uncertain father-figure of this strange family Rossi found himself a part of.
"If it means finding her," the brunette replied fiercely, "I'll find Archimedes, his damn lever, a place to stand, and if needed I'll get out and push."
Despite being visibly taken aback, Hotch nodded, and Emily left, her shoulders straight and her expression a mask of calm so convincing the profilers were all startled.
"Archimedes, a lever and what?" Morgan asked, confused. Before Reid could explain, Hotch waved his hand.
"Archimedes is quoted as saying, 'Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I'll move the world.'"
"Apparently philosophy is rubbing off on Agent Prentiss," the Italian observed wryly, but inwardly he was feeling rather sorry for Catherine Krue. With a nod toward Hotch the two older men got up, leaving their younger colleagues to work with what they had while Prentiss worked Krue. They stood in the observation room, silently watching as she first charmed the professor into relaxation, then, with little more than a smile and a calculated toss of a photo, had Krue talking about the college incident. The venom in the philosopher's voice when she talked about Flanders was unmistakable, and Emily's sympathetic tone had Krue bending their ears on the evils of a girl she'd known only briefly some twenty years earlier.
"They're all like that, you know," the philosopher declared, and Emily pretended confusion with such accuracy that had Hotch and Rossi not known her so well, they might have fallen for it too.
"She missed her true calling," Rossi muttered, "She should have been an actress."
"I'm just glad she's on our side," Derek agreed, slipping into the room and silently closing the door behind him, "If I didn't know better I'd think she actually believed what she was saying."
Hotch waved for silence as Krue spoke again, her expression twisting darkly.
"Them. The pretty blonde athletes. They're all so special, so perfect. That one you were with is like that too. She's just going to stab you in the back in the end. That's all they ever do. All they're good at. They lie, cheat, and steal, then they spit in your face and put a knife in your back. And there she is, so pretty, so perfect, and she things she has you all wrapped around her little finger, but you know, don't you? You know what she really is. A praying mantis who can't wait to chop your head clean off for her own pleasure."
There was a dangerous moment as Prentiss tensed, her expression unreadable, then she reached across the table and patted Ren's hand.
"Don't worry, I know exactly what she's up to. I've always known. I've just been waiting for my chance, you know? Like you."
"Exactly!" Krue agreed, grabbing Emily's hand in a grip that looked painful in her enthusiasm, "I finally got my chance when your friend showed up. And poor Michael lost everything because of one just like her. I lost everything to her! So I told him that he was right, that Stan and Theresa needed to be taught, like all the others, and then I told him that Jessi would be there too, and that maybe he should keep her somewhere safe until she could tell us what she did with Mark and Mari."
"What she did with them?"
"She chased them away," the professor hissed, "She taunted them and sent her little posse after them, and I couldn't stop them all. So she chased them away."
"JJ? Or Jessi?"
"Jessi! They're all Jessi! Can't you see that?!"
Prentiss remained remarkably calm considering the fanatical madness in her subject's eyes.
"But what about Stan and Theresa? They're not Jessi. They haven't done anything to you or Michael. So why should they have to pay?"
Krue looked momentarily confused, then shook her head.
"They... They shouldn't. Stan and Theresa have always been good to me and Michael. But Michael... All he can see is his little mission now. He wants them all to see what he didn't see, but there's nothing there. There's nothing for them to see except an old man who's high as a kite and off his rocker. I asked him where he was putting all those people, you know. He said he had them stored, and that even if he could only take Theresa with him, he'd make sure Stan and Jessi were safely put away until we had time to talk to them."
"Could only take-" Prentiss repeated slowly, then rose, giving Ren one of her most reassuring smiles, "I'm going to get some coffee. You must be tired too. I'll be right back."
She joined them in the observation room as Rossi was taking out his phone to call Garcia.
"I need blueprints of the Aransdale house," he ordered rapidly, "We have reason to believe that JJ might still be in the house, but we tore the place apart looking for her already, I need to know if there's some little space Cooper might have hidden her in, someplace that we wouldn't be able to see without knowing it was there."
"Can do, Sir Beardsley! It'll be flying to you faster than a cat with a squirrel complex."
He blinked slowly, staring at the device.
"Cat with a..."
"Don't ask," Aaron suggested bemusedly, "It's much safer that way. Anyway... It looks like Aransdale and JJ might still be in the house. That doesn't answer the question of where he might have taken the other ten."
"Actually, maybe it does," Emily corrected, pushing dark hair out of her face, "Krue said he was "storing them" where they could "see". Do we know if any of those couples had some sort of storage locker or something other than a safe deposit at the bank where they may have stored their old things, old memories?"
"Actually, I think I saw a mention of something like that in the first couple's file, the Jerbas couple," Dave commented thoughtfully, "And the Victors might have had one too. It'd be in their files, wouldn't it?"
Leaving a local agent to babysit Krue, the profilers went back to their little office and each took a pair of files, all searching for the same thing. As he'd expected, Rossi found mention of public storage lockers under the assets of both the Victor and Jerbas families.
"The Leroy's and the Ryan's had lockers at the local public storage place," Morgan read, and Reid nodded, pointing out where in the file it said the fifth and sixth couples, the Thomas's and the Bickers, had storage there as well.
"I've got a definite on the Martinez' couple," Prentiss stated, shaking her head as she looked through the other file she held, "But nothing on the Whitely's. Hotch?"
"Nothing in either one."
"But still, seven out of ten have lockers in the same storage facility? That can't be a coincidence."
"And neither can this," Reid added, coming back from an unnoticed trip to the printer. He laid out the blueprint copy Garcia had sent them. At first Rossi couldn't see what he was talking about, but then spotted something that didn't make any sense when placed against his mental map of the place.
"This space here," he pointed, "This wasn't there. Or it was, but it was inaccessible. I do remember thinking that the shape of the rooms there was strange, like something was missing, but..."
"The blueprints show there should be a doorway into that space. It's marked as storage. Could the Aransdale's painted or built over it during their remodeling?" Morgan asked, "I've done that more than once with my properties. They might have completely forgotten about it."
"But if it was built over, we would have seen the damage."
"But not if it was just painted over. This space looks like it was originally supposed to be part of a larger closet or something. It would have been easy to miss it during a search."
Rossi felt a little better at that, but the idea that he could have missed something so vital bothered him anyway. Putting self-punishment aside for the moment, however, he focused instead on a plan of attack.
"I think we need to go after this storage facility and the Aransdale house at the same time," he concluded aloud, "That way we should get everyone at once, rather than risking missing one or the other. Also, if Cooper is going to be in either place, it'll be at the storage building. He has to "teach" them some kind of lesson, right?"
"You're right," Hotch decided, nodding slowly as he sorted through the various possibilities, "We'll separate into two teams, with the sheriff taking some of his deputies to Cooper's home, just in case. Dave, you and Prentiss will go to the house while Morgan, Reid and I will go to the storage building. We'll both take some of the local agents for support, and so they can see there's actually something going on."
Before anyone could start getting ready, the Unit Chief held up his hands, fixing them all with that hawk-like stare.
"We'll go at dawn. Until then, I want everyone to go back to the hotel and sleep. We're all exhausted, and tired people make mistakes."
Prentiss looked rebellious, but to Rossi's surprise she said nothing, though her black glare was comment enough. Still, she got up with the rest of the team and loaded herself into the SUV with him and Morgan without a word. The drive to the hotel was disconcertingly silent, but worse to Rossi's thinking was the silence in the next room. Emily made no noise, no bedsprings creaking, no water flowing, nothing. There was only silence.
Date and Time: March 26, 2008, Time Unknown
Location: Home of Stanley and Theresa Aransdale
"Mr. and Mrs. Aransdale, we're with the FBI! Call out if you can hear us!"
This wasn't the first time the occupants of the house had heard that call, but bound as they were there was no way they could reply. Next to the balding, retired homeowner JJ was almost tempted to roll her eyes at the ineffectual efforts of the local FBI squad. Unable to summon up the will to be annoyed, she gave her companion as reassuring a look as the gag would allow, since it wouldn't do to have the poor man upset now, when help was coming. Still, she couldn't help but wonder just how the team was going to find them. They had been subdued and hidden with surprising skill considering their attacker had been a partially blind 65 year-old man in poor health.
"Mr. And Mrs. Aransdale? Agent Jareau?!" another voice called, and this one made JJ sit up straighter. She felt herself smiling despite the gag and her general soreness. She knew that voice, and it was close, and getting closer.
"Check here," that voice commanded, overriding an objection that the area had already been searched from a man the liaison didn't know by voice. There was a moment of silence, then that familiar, comforting voice sounded again.
"Give me that, then, and move."
Something in the other's tone, a harsh note of both command and dismissal that made Jennifer want to laugh. Emily Prentiss was many things, but she was not a woman to cross or obstruct. She heard a harsh wrenching noise, a grunt of mixed exertion and annoyance, then a quiet growl. She knew that sound, and as best she could JJ moved rapidly back, grateful she had done so when the boards of the door to the hiding place she and Aransdale had been stuffed into burst inward. Even without seeing it she could picture the powerful grace of her partner's body as she kicked the concealed door in. The woman herself appeared, carrying a flashlight and shoving the wreckage of the wood out of her way, her brown-black eyes burning as they met JJ's blue. Obviously shunning the offered help of one of the local FBI agents she crossed the small space, barely more than a large extension to the closet, and began working Aransdale's bonds loose, then Jennifer's. The blonde knew why Emily had gone to her second, and it made her grin widen. The hands untying her were shaking as they touched her, and the profiler's face when she got a closer look was tense with anger and fear, and more than a little exhaustion. Aransdale lumbered out under his own power, looking a little dazed and sore but otherwise none the worse for the stay in the little room, leaving the two women alone. Almost immediately the liaison had all but forgotten about the man she'd been sent to interview, focusing all her attention on the other agent.
"What are you grinning at?" Emily asked somewhat sharply when she caught sight of her partner's goofy expression, and JJ couldn't help herself. She burst out laughing, hugging the older woman tightly. Obviously confused and startled the profiler wrapped her arms around her, and JJ sighed contentedly.
"You're hot when you get all butch," she observed, almost giggling at the inanity of her comment, regardless of its truth. More obviously worried now, strong hands ran over her body, and she couldn't hold back the giggles when the light touch tickled in places, but the giggles faded rapidly. Her skin was extremely sensitive, and the nearness of her partner was wreaking havoc with her already tenuous ability to concentrate.
"You've been drugged," Emily concluded abruptly, ducking away slightly when the blonde tried to kiss her, making JJ pout. The older agent's expression was contrite, though, so Jennifer forgave her. The rational part of her brain agreed that yes, she had been drugged. She knew that the man who had locked her and Aransdale in the space she stood in now couldn't have taken control of them any other way. Unfortunately for Emily, rationality wasn't really high on her mental list of priorities. Apparently of their own accord her hands slid around to her companion's front, pushing away the bulletproof vest and smoothing her rose-colored v-neck with perhaps a little more attention than necessary, smiling wickedly when Emily jumped, belatedly catching her hands.
"Jennifer, sweetheart... What did Cooper give you?"
"Cooper?" she asked blankly. The face of the man who had locked her and Stan in here swam into her mind, but she found herself distracted by the way Emily's shirt tightened across her body under the open jacket and half-open vest when she twisted to glance at the source of a noise outside the little room. She felt a low, approving hum form in her throat and leaned almost limply against her partner, nuzzling her neck. Again Emily jumped at the unexpected contact, but some protective instinct had caused the brunette to release JJ's hands and reach to steady her drugged colleague.
"Let's get out of here," the liaison murmured, sliding her freed hands under the brunette's FBI jacket, seeking the familiar, pleasant softness of skin, "I feel fine, really."
"I'm sure you do," Emily replied a touch breathlessly, not quite pushing the other woman away but definitely struggling to gain control of the situation, "but you've been drugged, Jennifer. We need to get you checked out."
"You can check me out," JJ murmured contentedly, the pleasant haze she found herself floating in too thick for her more rational and irritatingly fearful side to cut in, "I'd enjoy that."
"Whoa boy," she heard her partner mutter under her breath, then add more loudly "This stuff is hitting you pretty hard, isn't it?"
"Doesn't mean it's not true," she objected mildly, unable to summon more than token irritation at the implication that her behavior was entirely caused by the drug making its way through her system. Even her rational side knew better, but that didn't mean said rational side was in agreement with what she was doing.
"Come on, Em," she urged gently, looking up into concerned, shaken eyes with a pleading cast to her own, "Let's just go back to the hotel, or home. I'm fine, really. I'm good."
An arched eyebrow told her the older woman didn't exactly believe her, and she frowned a little. It was suddenly very important to her that she get Emily alone, preferably without so many clothes. This wasn't the first time she'd had such thoughts, but it was the first time she'd felt so intensely compelled to act on them. She felt warm with Emily, grounded as she hadn't been without the beautiful brunette. Aransdale had been friendly enough, but the gags had made conversation impossible, and even so he hadn't been her beloved Emily. If anything, the drug seemed to have enhanced her longing for the other woman, and she had filled the as yet indeterminate amount of time she'd been sitting in this little room with her favorite images of her partner. She hadn't been afraid, she noted absently. It had simply never occurred to her that Emily wouldn't find her. Even the more rational, cynical side had admitted that.
"Mmm... Please, Em? I've missed you."
The arms around her tightened, and although her body was a little over-warm, she welcomed the warmth that flooded her body at the increased contact.
"I missed you too, Jennifer. I was so worried when you and Aransdale disappeared. Thank God Reid and Morgan figured out where Cooper was going, and Rossi thought to get the blueprints for the house."
JJ nodded absently, acknowledging the flood of words without really processing them. It was enough for her that Emily was here, touching her, talking to her. Understanding would come later, she knew, and her more rational side knew that with understanding would come the inevitable side effects of the drug, but that didn't matter now.
"Agent Prentiss?" another familiar voice called, distracting JJ from the dreamy, comfortable sea she was drowning in. The same thread of mild annoyance that had reached her while the FBI agents searched the house managed to make itself felt as Emily turned in response to the call, though without quite letting go of the blonde. She didn't want Em to move, unless it was toward a bed or something else that was soft and cool and involved being very close to Jennifer.
"How's Aransdale?" the profiler called back to Rossi, who stood just outside the little room. The part of the liaison's mind capable of informed, rational thought noticed that he was blocking both access and view of the two female agents, his stocky form and Stan's larger body effectively keeping the locals from getting a glimpse of what must look like a decidedly odd scene.
"He should be fine with some rest and medical attention," the Italian replied, sounding incredibly calm considering Aransdale kept trying to hug and touch him, though not at all with the same intentions JJ knew herself to have for her chosen touchstone, "How's Agent Jareau?"
Emily trailed off, sounding a little uncertain. Inwardly laughing, the blonde thought up words that might fill the space. Amorous was one that came to mind immediately, and she giggled. Her companion glanced down at her, then sighed almost silently.
"She's unharmed, sir. We should get both of them che- uh... examined. By a doctor."
Jennifer laughed lowly, catching both the hesitation and the change in emphasis.
"You could examine me," she remarked almost innocently, "Make sure Cooper didn't hurt me or anything. I don't really remember how I got here. You could do a very detailed examination. I wouldn't mind, I promise."
That last was true, but she doubted Cooper had hurt either of them. That hadn't been his goal, though it would take too much effort to sort through her hazy memories to determine just what his goal had been. Instead she let her mind fill with images of what she would do with Emily if she could just get the woman somewhere more comfortable. She didn't even especially care if they were alone or not. Over-heated as she was, the warmth of Emily's body still pulled her, and she sighed softly, falling into the older woman's embrace with abandon.
"'Mly," she murmured, slurring the name a little on accident and smiling in appreciation of the way it sounded, "My 'Mly... Please. I just wanna be with you. I know you wanna be with me. So come on... Let's get somewhere comfortable."
Emily shivered, then gasped as her partner's hands slid under her pink shirt again, this time very deliberately brushing her breasts. The brunette grabbed at her hands again, but JJ just laughed softly, kissing her companion's neck with far more focus and intent than even she had thought herself capable of in her current state. Emily, her beautiful Emily, was all she knew, all she wanted, and the woman was right there. She just had to persuade her partner to see things that way too.
"Rossi, could you do me a favor and clear the house? I'd like to bring Agent Jareau out separately. She's a little... Out of sorts. I think it would be better if she's not exposed to too many people all at once."
In an abstracted way Jennifer was rather proud of the profiler for her control over voice and body, but she couldn't stop herself from giggling softly. Emily sighed, half-pulling, half-carrying the younger woman over to one wall, as out of sight of the door as it was possible to be in the small space. Before JJ could take advantage of the new situation, however, she felt a sharp pain she couldn't quite place, then the world went dark. Emily caught her partner as she fell, sighing tiredly and more than a little regretfully. Resisting Jennifer's advances had been incredibly hard, even more so than she had thought it would be once she realized what was going on. It had taken all her self-restraint, and more than a few forceful reminders that the gorgeous blonde was drugged and not herself. Otherwise there was no way she could have stood that long. She still wasn't sure she could have lasted the way things were going.
"I'm here, Agent Rossi," she replied tiredly, draping her beloved's arm across her shoulders and straightening her vest as best she could, "We're coming. Is the house clear?"
"Yes," he assured her gently, and as she slid out of the small "room", barely managing to keep Jennifer's weight balanced, he was there to help, taking some of the weight on his own shoulders. She smiled gratefully, though there was a nagging voice in the back of her mind resenting the fact she couldn't do this herself, and another resenting herself for not giving in to the urging of her partner and her body. She shoved both away with an internal growl. Rossi helped her get JJ into the back of their SUV, since the ambulance had already left with Aransdale. There was a silent agreement between the two that the best way to deal with the situation was to keep it as private as possible. They both knew Emily wouldn't and couldn't just leave her partner now that she'd been found, but they also knew, though the brunette preferred not to think of why her colleague knew, that Jennifer's behavior couldn't be predicted or trusted while the drug was in her system.
"'Mly," JJ murmured as the older agent settled herself against her fair companion, wrapping an arm and a seatbelt around her. The blonde was still unconscious, for which Emily was grateful, but even in her sleep the liaison was feeling decidedly amorous. Her hands and lips were, if anything, more free with the taller body than they had been when JJ had been conscious.
"You all right, Prentiss?" Dave asked from the front, pointedly not looking in the rearview mirror to see what had caused a distinctly strained squeak from his usually dignified colleague.
She was lying, and they both knew it. She couldn't easily restrain the hands that were making free with her person and also avoid the lips doing the same, but if she didn't...
"Oh God..." she whispered when the blonde's hand got a little too low, "Jennifer..."
Emily groaned softly, feeling herself shivering.
"Rossi... How much longer?" she queried a little desperately, silently thanking and cursing the fact she'd worn thick cotton slacks rather than something thinner, despite the heat of the Texas weather. The predawn chill had made her choice for her, and the sun's heat had yet to make itself known. Even so, she was entirely too warm.
"Almost there, Prentiss," the senior agent replied, and she could hear the concern and amusement in his voice as he added, "She waking up?"
"Not exactly," she replied softly, hearing the groan in her own voice as JJ moved against her, obviously still unconscious and just as obviously seeing something that, in another time, place, and situation, Emily might have killed to be a part of. Right now, though, she demanded self-control and restraint of herself that she didn't know she was capable of, and still wasn't sure she had in her. Had Jennifer not been drugged, she wondered, would the blonde ever let herself be this out of control? It didn't seem likely, and the pain of that thought sobered her, distracting her from her body. And what if she didn't? What if the liaison never let herself go? What if Emily never did?
The profiler looked up, and Rossi's startled expression told her how vulnerable she must look. Emily shook herself, opening the door and pulling JJ out with her, into a wheelchair Rossi had commandeered. She had no idea how long they'd been stopped, but it couldn't have been more than a few minutes. What was more surprising was how intense the fear and pain must have been to distract her from the way Jennifer was currently nuzzling her neck. She sighed, easing her partner into the wheelchair despite her sleepy protest as she was separated from the brunette. The effects of the drug had left the liaison malleable, which of course had been the point, but it didn't make Emily feel any better. Between her own exhaustion and active imagination, and Jennifer's prompting, her mind and body were at war with each other, but the one thing she was sure of was she could not and would not take advantage of what Cooper had done to her beloved Jennifer.
"She's going to need a full tox screen," she explained to the doctor once JJ had been checked in, "Our UnSub doped her with some kind of amphetamine, we think, but we don't know exactly what yet. It's making her act pretty strangely, though, and I had to sedate her. The paramedics said the stuff they gave me was safe enough, but I want to be sure."
The stolid, white-coated figured nodded and left to put in the orders, and Emily had already forgotten his face as she turned back to Rossi and Jennifer.
"I heard from Hotch while you were getting her checked in," the Italian explained quietly, "We were right. All ten victims were at the storage facility. All alive, though some of them were pretty beat up. Apparently they weren't absorbing the "lesson". Hotch also said both Cooper and Krue have been taken into custody, and they'll be put into a facility for care and treatment."
Emily nodded slowly, accepting that. Cooper and Ren had been more tragic than anything else, and even with what had happened to JJ, she couldn't convince herself that they belonged in jail. They had committed crimes, yes, but they had been driven by some underlying fracture of the psyche, not by truly violent impulses. Of course, she was also aware that if something they had done were to permanently impact Jennifer, she might not be so understanding.
"Then all we can do is wait, for now. It sounds like everything is being taken care of."
Rossi nodded, giving her a long look. For a moment it looked like he might say something, then he changed his mind, nodded, and left them alone. Emily, for her part, waited and watched until a tech came in to draw blood, then leaned her head against the wall, ignoring the awkward angle in favor of having a good view of her partner. Some time later, Jennifer slowly became aware of herself and her surroundings, her mind absently observing that it was more like she was slipping back into her body from some bizarre journey than waking up. There was no real distinction between the two states, so subtle was the transition between them. Even fully conscious she remained aware of a warm haze surrounding her, and at first she expected her thinking to be hazy as well. As she fell more into her body and mind, however, she realized the opposite was true. Her thoughts were acutely, almost painfully, clear, and she turned her head slowly, taking in the long, lean form she had known would be seated at her side. Emily was asleep, her head resting against the wall at an angle that would leave a nasty knot in her neck later. One hand rested on the bed, not far from JJ's face, as if the older woman hadn't been able to tolerate being as far away as that chair. The blonde sighed, shifting cautiously to rest her own hand against the long, elegant limb. She winced a little at the effort involved, not so much because she was physically unable to move, but because her body, like her mind, was acutely attuned to everything. The rasp of the soft sheets against her skin bordered on painful, and even the longed-for contact with Emily's soft skin was almost too much. Her nerves hummed, and the liaison was quietly grateful for the silence of the room. Had she been met with sound and light and sensation beyond this quiet, peaceful scene, she might have had to scream.
Her own voice made her cringe, as did the rustling of cloth and the creak of abused joints as Emily straightened. The sharp, pained hiss the profiler released as she moved vibrated up Jennifer's nerves, and she flinched a little. The brunette's dark eyes softened as they fell on her, and the other agent stilled, smiling in an attempt to mask her concern and fear.
"The doctors warned me you'd be sensitive when you woke up," Emily explained in a deliberately smooth, gentle voice that managed to surround them without overwhelming the blonde, "Like all your senses were stuck in overdrive. They said the effect would wear off gradually."
The succinct statement told her that her partner had gotten a good deal of information on her condition from the aforementioned doctors, and Jennifer spared them a grateful thought while at the same time cursing the cause of her current condition. Her ire didn't last long, however, since she just didn't have the energy or will to sustain it. Instead she turned her too-sharp focus on her companion, taking in the lines of weariness and fear that marred the beautiful face and the soft curve of a relieved smile Emily didn't seem aware she was wearing. JJ found herself needing to touch that face, trace the shape of that smile and reached out, trying to ignore the flood of sensation as the silk sleepwear she found herself in brushed against over-sensitive skin and the crack of her elbow as the stiff joint was stretched out. Mercifully, the other woman didn't stop her approach, instead letting the blonde do as she would.
The word came out as a sigh, and when she finally made contact with her beloved's face it was more of a whisper than a touch, but it was just what she needed.
The brunette's face slowly turned, soft lips pressing the faintest of kisses to the palm of her hand.
"I'm here, Jennifer."
It wasn't enough. It was too much.
"I need you."
The words came without thought, without any sense of purpose behind them, but at the same time they were the single truth of her existence in that moment. All of her senses, all of her too-focused mind, bent toward the other woman, and Emily, her Emily, slowly leaned forward. On one level JJ was acutely, painfully aware of the protests of the brunette's stiff, abused body, but on another all she knew was the exact shade of brown making up Emily's eyes, the transition from black to brown and back of her hair, the curve of her lips and angles of her cheeks. Her fingertips traced those curves and angles, traced the mahogany highlights in the raven strands, stilling only when Emily's lips met hers for the barest of seconds, and even then the contact was almost too much to bear.
"Jennifer, mia speranza, mia amore..."
The sound was like a cold breeze floating by her ear, too sharp but too perfect to turn away from.
Again Emily's lips brushed her own in a touch so fleeting it barely existed, and again Jennifer's senses could barely stand it and demanded more all at once.
The dark woman sighed softly and leaned in again, this time staying until JJ had no choice but to pull away or risk being driven mad by her overloaded mind and body.
"Is this a dream?"
Her companion laughed, a slow, deep rumble of sound that might have hurt, but she was too distracted by the thrill it gave to feel pain.
"If it is, I don't want to wake up. Living with you... Being with you... It's a dream come true. But sometimes, I wish..."
She cut herself off, her pale skin flushing darkly. The blonde frowned, ignoring the near-pain of movement so she could reach out, cupping her partner's soft cheek. For a moment she was distracted from her purpose by the sheer intensity of such simple contact, but she shook herself free and turned all of her too-keen focus on her companion.
"What do you wish, Emily?" she pressed, knowing that the clarity and fearlessness of her current state wouldn't last. Once it faded she'd be back in the dark, unable to see the light and shadows Emily's face was showing her now, unable to see the pain written in the lines of her face, the longing in the brown of her eyes. Emily was lonely, she realized, and more than that she was afraid, and JJ had caused it.
"What do you wish?" she repeated softly, more urgently. Emily had been about to brush it off, to tell her it was okay, but she could see, and what she saw was not okay.
"I... I just want... I just want to be with you, Jennifer."
JJ could have taken the statement at face value, but she didn't. Her heightened awareness of her partner refused to let her ignore the tension that vibrated through the lean body and the tears forming in those dark, haunted eyes.
"What do you wish?" she repeated again, forcing back a hiss of near-pain as she started to sit up, pulling Emily toward her. Soft as her sleepwear was, it rasped against her skin like nails on a blackboard, but she couldn't be distracted. Somehow she had missed this before, had missed this pain and loneliness. How, she didn't know, as it was so clear now, but that didn't matter. She could see it now.
"Is this what it's going to take, Jennifer?" Emily finally whispered, sad, unsure brown eyes searching blue, "When we found you, you were so... Loose. Drugged. Uninhibited... I've never seen you so out of control, and so wanting. And it was hard to say no, harder than I thought possible, because I want you to want me like that. I want to come home sometimes and barely be able to get in the door before..."
The dark woman trailed off, but JJ knew where the thought had been going. It wasn't a new idea, she knew, but it was the first time she'd heard it from Emily and not herself.
"Sometimes, just sometimes, I want hard and out of control. We spend all our time in control. We have to, it's the job, but does it ever stop? Is it never going to be okay to just... And I..."
Again Emily cut herself short, and again the blonde understood what she wasn't saying. The profiler shook her head, finally getting to the question that was clearly the source of her turmoil and pain.
"Is it even possible? What if the only times we can really talk, or be so out of control, are times like this, when one or both of us is drugged or doped up on painkillers or recovering from a head injury because some UnSub beat the crap out of us with a two by four or-"
The liaison couldn't take it anymore. The fear and frustration surrounding her beloved was so intense it was almost tangible, and JJ felt it like a tidal wave. Ignoring all sensation except one, she cupped her partner's face and pulled her into a long, loving kiss to cut off the flow of words and pain. She didn't need to be drugged to realize that Emily had been pushed to the brink by exhaustion and the bizarre situation. If she concentrated she could vaguely remember the way she had pushed when the beautiful profiler had found her, touching Emily everywhere she could reach and only knowing she wanted more. She had wanted everything, and she still did. She always did, but she never acted on that desire, or if she did it was in short bursts that left them both wanting more but unable to follow through. It was usually Emily who spoke up, who gave her the choice to back off, and she had always taken that route with hardly a thought for the cost to the other woman.
"I've been so selfish, Emily," she murmured, cutting off any objections with swift kiss, "I ask you for so much, and sometimes I forget that you aren't invincible. Even with all your scars, even knowing you like I do, I still forget, and I'm sorry for that. And right now you're probably wishing you hadn't said anything, that you were selfish to bring this up. And you're wrong. These are things I have to know, sweetheart. And I want you to feel like you can bring them up when I'm not drugged."
By the end of her small speech the liaison's ears were ringing with sound and lights danced across her eyes, forcing her to close them against the real light of the room.
"Damn it," the blonde swore softly, and reached out blindly, suddenly needing an anchor as her world spun. Strong, elegant hands caught her and pulled her close, holding her against the storm of sound and light.
"The drugs are working their way out of your system," a very quiet, very smooth voice murmured from somewhere near her ear, "but you're going to get some overload before they do. You probably shouldn't have sat up so soon."
Despite the tidal waves crashing around inside her skull, JJ could hear the regret in her protector's voice. Shaking her head, she burrowed into the gentle strength of Emily's body, finding as she had before that the nearly overwhelming pleasure of contact with her beloved was preferable to the very overwhelming chaos of the larger world.
"Hold on, love. Just hold on."
If she hadn't been losing herself in sensation, Jennifer would have laughed. Holding on was exactly what she was going to do. Letting go of Emily wasn't an option.
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