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: My apologies for dropping off the face of the earth so long, at least as far as my writing is concerned. I want to thank everyone for their loyalty and patience. Now, more importantly, this is the last chapter of Psychopathology. The story has come full circle. That DOES NOT mean the story is over, however. Far from it. Actually, I had the beginning of the next chapter written long before I finished this last chapter of Psychopathology. When I post a new Criminal Minds fic, it will be the direct sequel to this story. It will take place in the same universe and refer to the same events. As I said, I've had the next part started, and it will not take me too long to finish and post, this I can promise. The drive behind this universe still exists, and after working on this and going back over the episodes, it's only grown. I'm excited to start telling the next part of JJ and Emily's story. I have plans and ideas spanning across season four to the current season, and while that's not going to come all at once by any stretch of the imagination, I assure you that semi-regular updates are on the horizon. Thanks again, read and review, and remember that life is made up of many parts forming a whole. The same is true for our lovely ladies and their world.
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
Anticipation: To look forward to, especially with pleasure; expect
Date and Time: Unknown
JJ passed through the door Will was holding open, barely managing to keep from glaring at him at best or punching punching him in his damned smug face at worst. She couldn't accept his proposal, something that had been the subject of their long "conversation". He had played the 'a child should have two parents' card, and then the 'I'm the father, and I'd really love to have a part in raising our baby' argument, but she had countered both. Her pregnancy was the result of an accident, and while that was no fault of the child's there was no "our" involved, at least not between her and Will. As for having two parents, it would have her and Emily... provided the older woman hadn't been pushed too far, too hard, and too fast. It was entirely too possible, and since she hadn't seen her partner since she and Will had left to talk and Emily had gone to visit Cooper, she had no way of knowing. The look on the brunette's face when the detective had made his damned proclamation in front of the team with that shit-eating grin had verged on betrayal and had only darkened when she hadn't refuted or refused the proposal.
"Will, shut up," she warned harshly, breaking into his most recent argument for how wonderful things could be with them and the baby together with a look of cold disdain, "How many times do I have to tell you no before it gets through the rock you call a brain? I thought I had made this clear before, but I'll tell you one last time: Emily is my partner, my lover, and my closest friend. Even if any of that changed I wouldn't get into a relationship with you, much less marry you."
"Prentiss disappeared right after you told your team," he argued in his slow drawl, giving her one of those damn superior looks, "What makes you think she won't just bail on you?"
JJ stared at him, then closed her eyes, taking a few deep breaths before opening them again. Just as she did he bent and kissed her, taking her off guard for a second. As soon as she realized what was happening she shoved him away, her hands curling into fists and her blue eyes dark with rage.
"Try that again and I swear you're going to get something broken, you son of a bitch. Get your sorry, stubborn ass back to New Orleans. You don't get it and you have no idea what you're talking about."
"JJ! You saw how she acted! She abandoned you! She'll just walk out on you ag-" he started, but her last nerve had been trampled on a few times too many. She slammed her fist into his face, taking some guilty pleasure in watching the blood fly. It worried her a little that the only thing she regretted was not breaking his nose, but then she just decided she didn't care.
"Go to hell,," she spat, shoving past him to the black SUV waiting for her. He tried to get her to roll the window down once she was inside, to which she laughed bitterly. He barely got back in time as she pulled out of the spot in front of the hotel, and a part of her wished he hadn't.
JJ shifted restlessly, the memory even more disturbing now than it had been the first time around. Time passed, though how much was impossible to know, not that it mattered. Nothing mattered.
A barrage of sound and light hit her as sirens and flashing lights raced past and her cell phone started screaming. She snatched the thing out of its cradle, her brain identifying the caller without needing any input from her.
"Garcia? What's going on?"
"JJ! Thank God! Are you okay?"
"What's going on, Garcia?" the blonde asked, shivering as her body turned cold with mixed terror and sick certainty, "I'm fine, I just left the hotel. What happened?"
"One of our SUVS just blew up, Jayj," came the frightening answer, "We lost visual, though, so we don't know who was in it. Rossi and Morgan are on their way in, but we haven't been able to reach Emily, Hotch, or Reid yet."
Jennifer swallowed against the bile trying to come out, pulling off the road with a sharp jerk, her heart feeling as if it were being slowly crushed by ice.
"Give me a minute, Pen," she murmured in response to her friend's semi-frantic questions, "I'll come in with the guys. Keep trying. I'm on my way."
She hung up, staring at her shaking hands and the phone in one of them. Instinct had her calling Emily's cell, but all she got was ringing. It didn't even go to voicemail.
"God damn it, Em, where the hell are you?"
JJ gripped the steering wheel as hard as she could, taking some gasping breaths so she wouldn't pass out and then got back on the road. The short drive to the office was a complete blur and as she rushed to where Rossi, Derek, and thankfully Spence had gathered, part of her noted that she didn't remember how she'd gotten there or how much time had passed.
Rossi shook his head, looking as haggard as she had ever seen him.
"We still can't reach Hotch or Prentiss. We do know emergency teams were dispatched, but..."
"They won't go in, will they?" she realized, her voice hoarse with the strain of keeping herself under control, "We told them not to."
Derek nodded slowly, then grabbed her arm as she swayed on her feet, her mind torturing her with an image of a bleeding, burnt Emily in the road with no chance of help reaching her.
Blue eyes blinked slowly as they met Morgan's brown, but the former athlete reacted to the horror written across her face like a physical blow. He started to say something, scared for the liaison, but out of the corner of her eye JJ saw Reid look up and across the room and followed his gaze to where Kate Joyner and their unit chief were hurrying over, yellow-brown eyes running over all of them, probably counting who was there, then fell on JJ, tracing the hand he had around one arm and the paleness of her skin. That gaze stayed locked on his press liaison as he rapidly closed the distance between them, putting his own steadying hand on her shoulder. Morgan let go of the pregnant woman, stepping back to where Rossi was growling into his phone while still watching his colleagues.
"We're going to go get her some help, JJ," Hotch assured the blonde, but Jennifer was sharply reminded of the way she'd felt when Samis had been taunting her about killing Emily, only this was much worse. She knew what she'd be losing.
"Kate and I are going to go out there," Hotchner repeated patiently, "we'll get her to a hospital and patched up."
She gave him a blank stare, then her eyes slid past him to a screen on another wall. A torn apart, flaming black SUV could be seen a distance from the camera, and she could see police and blockades between help and the burned, bleeding figure that had been thrown from it.
"Emily, no..." she whispered, her throat constricting until she could barely breathe. It was her worst fear writ large on the big screen. Her partner made a weak attempt to cry for help or drag herself to the barricade, but her body wouldn't cooperate. She fell back to the pavement, completely limp and motionless now.
"She isn't breathing," the liaison gasped as the camera focused in to give the watchers a better view, "She isn't..."
Despite the grip her boss had on her she collapsed, falling to her knees and hands, shaking violently and blinded by tears.
"Emily... EMILY, NO!"
But no matter how she prayed for that image to change, her lover didn't move and didn't breathe.
Emily was dead. She was dead and she hadn't known that Jennifer never would have left her. She had died alone and abandoned, and it was her fault.
JJ gagged, almost choking as she threw up, then toppled over and passed out, her world changing from color to shades of gray, and then to black. She didn't care. The person that was her light was gone and she just wanted that darkness to devour her too.
"NO! EMILY, NO!"
JJ jerked up so violently she fell off the bed, hitting her head on a corner of the nightstand. She stayed down on the floor, ignoring the blood running down one side of her face, or more accurately unaware of bleeding. The nightmare image of her Emily seemed to have been seared into her brain and behind her eyelids, so there was no escape from it. She had woken up alone in bed with the space next to her cold and undisturbed, giving her nothing with which to fight back against the sickening images, choking on acid that was trying to come up and out. After a few minutes she heard knocking at her hotel room door, but she couldn't do anything except curl herself into a tighter ball and just fight to keep from screaming, blacking out, throwing up, or all three.
It was Garcia's voice, some part of her mind recognized, but at the moment all that mattered was who the voice didn't belong to. She heard soft voices outside the room, then the distinctive sound of the door unlocking. The blonde cringed back against the little wooden stand, not wanting to look up and not see her partner safe and whole. Garcia's voice came closer, but she didn't open her eyes or acknowledge her friend's worried questions. A male's deeper voice asked a question from the doorway, was answered, then heavy footsteps were running away from the entrance to her room. JJ didn't care. She stayed right where she was, only vaguely aware of the rapidly cooling blood soaking into her sleeve where her head rested on forearms drawn against her chest and crossed over her knees. Derek, meanwhile, was bolting down the hall
"Shit," Derek muttered, haunted by the single look he'd taken at JJ. He didn't know what was going on in her head, but he could guess, at least in part, and he would need help if he were going to help her. He wanted to go wake Hotch, but the unit chief was pretty banged up and extremely exhausted. He couldn't bring himself to wake him, even for this. Instead he went further down the hall, pounding on the door of Rossi's room. The Italian opened the door almost immediately, looking exhausted and run down. He obviously hadn't been asleep, but he wasn't glaring or snapping, so he must have understood that something big was going on.
"It's JJ," he blurted, "She had some kind of nightmare or flashback, we're not sure. She's almost catatonic. Garcia is with her but-"
"Get back there, Morgan," Rossi ordered, and for a minute Derek thought he was going to close the door in his face or demand to know what the younger agent thought he could do, but he did neither of those things. He left his door open as he retreated back into the room, taking only long enough to grab his coat off a chair and hurrying to join his teammate in the hall.
"Try to keep her grounded," he continued, leading the way back to JJ's room, "I have a bad feeling about this if she gets any worse."
Dave glanced inside the darkened room, assessing the situation as calmly as he could, but he wasn't immune to the effect of the bleak, hopeless despair on the liaison's face.
"If we lose her we'll have to take her to the hospital," he explained, already turning away and throwing his jacket around himself, "That isn't what she needs. Even if all you can do is keep her like that, fine. I'll be back as soon as possible."
The dark agent watched him rush down the hall and ducked into the stairs rather than take the elevator, which was oddly reassuring. He wasn't wasting any time because they just could afford to.
Location: Redeye Cafe, Manhattan
"I've asked JJ to marry me."
"We're working out some kinks."
As the words that had been on repeat in her mind cycled again, bringing the image of the smug, condescending look Will had turned on her with it, Emily shook her head, leaning against the frame of the window she was staring out of. Jennifer hadn't said she wasn't considering Will's proposal, and she hadn't said what she planned on doing when the baby was born. That wouldn't have been such a problem on its own, but the blonde had gone back to the hotel with Will and hadn't said much of anything to Emily since her revelation earlier. She shook her head again, trying not to feel the fear, jealousy, and almost-betrayal that had started building when JJ hadn't actually denied or refused Will's proposal. She hadn't looked the dark profiler in the eye since the New Orleans native had arrived, but that could just be embarrassment.
Right, Emily, and tomorrow all the terrorists in the world will set their evil ways and weapons aside, join hands, and dance in fields of flowers and sunshine while singing songs about love and peace.
It almost made her laugh, but the ridiculous image couldn't quite break through her melancholy and fear. Even if the worst happened she wasn't about to abandon Jennifer, but she needed time to brace herself against the possibility of the choice being taken out of her hands. Dark eyes narrowed at the thought of William LaMontagne Jr. and that cocky, mocking look he'd given her. She caught the look reflected in the glass and turned away from it, staring at her laptop screen instead. She had planned on working on her case report, but she hadn't written more than a couple sentences in the last two hours. This was the problem with interdepartmental relationships, and she was honest enough to admit she could understand the concerns and regulations. She couldn't function like this. If another case came up before she got a grip on herself she would have to back out, if only for a little bit. The brunette could usually count on her mind to push these kind of feelings to the back of her mind until she could deal, but Keira had been right.
'I don't know if it's possible to stop loving someone. I think that feeling is always there, it just gets pushed into the background unless something brings it back up.'
Memories of the shattered writer bubbled up into her conscious mind, something that happened sometimes, usually when things with Jennifer weren't very certain. She reached into her laptop case, pulling out the writer's photo keychain, which came on to the picture of Shamira embracing a grinning Keira. She had kept it in her bag since then, occasionally taking it out when she found herself looking back on that day. Tonight she remembered how Keira had looked when she'd told them how Shamira had died.
'Are you going to be all right?'
The breakdown that had followed those words was as vivid now as it had been then. The unspoken answer had been no. she was never going to be all right again, and then she was dead. Another memory surfaced, this one echoing through her mind like the haunting refrain of a sad song.
'You have to understand, she told me she loved me, and I never said it back.'
Keira had died with a smile on her face. She had thought it was all worth it, and in the end her beloved had come for her. That hole in her, the regret of knowing what she hadn't said and should have, had been filled. Her problem, though, was different. Jennifer knew she loved her, so why did that suddenly seem so important? Why were those particular memories coming up now? Why did it feel like one of them was making the mistake that had broken Keira's spirit and heart?
Emily looked up from her aborted attempt at work and the picture in her hand, surprised to see Rossi rushing toward her, his expression as close to panic as she'd ever seen.
She rose without thinking, her hands packing her laptop on auto-pilot while her eyes bored into Rossi's. The keychain was tucked away safely, as it always was, but with no conscious intent on her part.
"What happened to Jennifer?"
If the Italian was surprised by how quickly she'd understood without him saying anything, he didn't show it. He picked her phone up off the table, glancing at it once before tossing it in her computer bag, which she slung over her shoulder as she followed him out at a near-run.
"Your phone's battery died, Emily," David pointed out, her face telling him she hadn't known and that she understood why it mattered, "She had some kind of nightmare, or something. None of us are sure. Garcia and Morgan are with her, but she was going into shock when I left. They might have had to call an ambulance already, but I hope not."
"Me too," she agreed quietly, the quick pace making her voice a bit unsteady, not that it mattered, "She needs me far more than a damn ER. If she's that bad off, bringing her to an emergency room is just going to bring up some very bad memories."
Dave glanced over at her as they both started up the hotel stairs, taking them two at a time.
"You know, I hadn't thought of that," he remarked thoughtfully, ignoring the stitch in his side caused by the unexpected workout, "I just thought of her being alone or restrained, not to mention medicated and then admitted. I hadn't thought of the ER itself."
Emily didn't waste her breath responding. The image of a catatonic Jennifer isolated in a hospital psych ward made her feel sick, and that was almost as bad as the image of her lover trapped in her head reliving the many times she had been in ER's along with whatever had gotten to her in the first place. She hit the door to their floor at a dead run, easily pulling ahead of the stockier, older agent. Inside the hotel room, JJ sunk into the building and increasingly welcome darkness. The only break in the nothingness her mind had become that never-ending cycle of Emily struggling and dying, struggling and dying, over and over. She wanted the nothingness to take her, wanted anything that would make it stop, would make Emily stop dying. The blonde was vaguely aware of pain and shadows around her, but none of it was real. Only Emily was real, and she couldn't get to her. She couldn't save her, couldn't even tell her she loved her, that she'd never leave her.
She knew that voice and looked up through the darkness to where her partner lay dying. She hadn't heard that voice in so long... so long... and now she never would again.
"Jennifer, look at me."
She blinked, and for the first time in eternity the scene changed. Emily was still burnt and bloody and dying, but she was also next to her, holding her, warm and whole and alive.
"Look at me," the phantom repeated, and she slowly turned, afraid the specter would disappear if she did, but Emily was still there, patiently waiting for her. She hesitantly brought her hand up to touch the familiar features, pleasantly startled by the brush of a kiss against her fingertips as they passed over soft lips.
"I... Are you... Am I just... Emily?"
Everything came back to that one word, but the older woman understood.
"Come with me and find out."
JJ looked over her shoulder at her nightmare, her reality wavering, and with it the phantom Emily at her side.
"No! Don't leave me! Don't leave me again! Don't leave me alone!"
"Open your eyes, love," that haunting voice urged, even as the owner of that voice faded from view, "Open your eyes, Jennifer. Let go of the nightmare. I need you out here, sweetheart. I need you."
Confused, the blonde blinked, trying to do what Emily was asking of her but not sure how. Her eyes were open, weren't they? Warmth penetrated her diffused awareness, seemingly wrapping her in a soft blanket, but the blanket was moving? A sound reached her then, a rapid, pulsing sound that seemed to come from the warmth holding her, and for some reason the sound pulled her, anchored her. Her world slowly narrowed and focused until she was feeling a throbbing pain in her head that didn't match the sound she was hearing. The comparison made her realize what the sound reminded her of, and hoped flared. She was hearing a heart beating, a strong heart that was beating faster than it should have been, but it wasn't the sound of a life fading away.
Now she could feel the chest housing that heart, could feel and hear breaths being drawn in and out, and that, combined with the steadily calming heartbeat, pulled her out of her nightmare and into a dream. Her eyes opened and looked up, right into a pair of very dark eyes very close to her.
"I am," Emily's voice answered, the sound washing over her like a warm shower. Without looking away from those eyes she reached up with one shaking hand, tracing the familiar face, almost gasping at the heat she felt when the brunette lightly kissed her fingertips as they passed, just as she had before.
"God... I thought..."
"I know. It's all right now, Jennifer. I've got you."
The blonde suddenly lunged forward, kissing her lover so hard she almost knocked her over. As it was Emily caught her, holding on just as tightly. Garcia didn't need to see more than that to know they all needed to leave.
"Okay, boys," she started, already pushing at the two men, "They need some private time."
Emily was absently grateful, but most of her attention was focused on the much more immediate need, and as Jennifer's hands started to undress her she stopped thinking about anything other than the affirmation of life and love. An exhausted but contented JJ woke up later, feeling the other woman's hands tracing patterns along her belly.
"It's hard to believe there's a life growing in there," she commented thoughtfully, happy to relax and enjoy the contact and the love that came with it, "I mean, I've considered kids before, but I wasn't expecting this."
She cringed, hating the sound of those two letters. She knew her partner was trying to come to terms with everything, and at the same time she was bracing herself for loss and pain. As much as she didn't want to think about it or admit it, she knew Emily had every right to pull back into herself, distancing herself from the blonde.
"Emily, listen to me," she commanded gently, turning so she could look into dark, uncertain eyes, "I'm not leaving you. I'm not going to marry Will. That was never even a remote possibility, Em. Never. I'll tell you what I told him when he kept going on about how a child needs two parents: if you're willing, I couldn't imagine a better parent for my baby."
Emily frowned, but she could tell it wasn't because the older woman was going to reject the idea out of hand. She was processing, and she knew she had to give her time. She had needed something Emily had given her freely to fight her way out of the hell of her nightmare reality, and now she needed to return the favor.
"He might have a point," the profiler observed softly, sounding and looking pained even as she said it, "I mean... The baby is his, there's no question about that. He's the baby's father-"
"Em, for all the difference the biology makes he might as well have been a sperm donor," the blonde broke in wryly, enjoying the laughter that followed, "He is not this baby's father, we're not going to split weekends or shuttle it or us back and forth, he's not moving to Virginia, I'm not moving to Louisiana, and I almost broke his nose trying to get that through his thick skull."
She grinned, seeing the guilty pleasure under the surprise.
"He wouldn't let up, and..."
Jennifer stopped, closing her eyes as she remembered everything, including what had led up to her nightmare.
"He kept trying to convince me you were just going to bail and that I couldn't rely on you, but I could trust him to always be there for me and the baby. I almost hit him the first time he said something like that. I tried the whole 'close your eyes and count to ten' thing, but he took advantage and kissed me. I warned him off, but he just kept going on about you and I lost it. I wish I had broken his nose, Emily. I wanted to run him over for being part of the reason you had that look on your face when you left."
"Let me guess... You were dreaming about that, and then..."
Blue eyes closed against the tears that were trying to fall, their owner shaking with remembered fear and grief.
"An SUV blew. Garcia called me in a panic and I drove back to the office. Rossi and Derek had gotten there first, and Spencer was there before me, but no one could find you or Hotch. I had tried calling you, but it wouldn't stop ringing, then the report came up on the TV and it was you out there. You looked so... God, Emily... You tried to get to help, but we had told them not to go in. I watched you die. I watched you stop breathing. You were... There was so much blood, and the burns... And the SUV was totally torn apart. Hotch and Kate came. They... They promised they would get to you, would get you help, but you died. It was too late and you died and... and..."
Strong arms pulled her closer, a hand guiding her head back to where she could hear that strong heart beating. She took a few long breaths, just soaking in that sound, then went on, not moving this time. She needed to be where she was to talk about this. She needed to know Emily was alive, and was going to stay that way.
"I think I might have woken up. I'm not really sure. I remember my head hurting and Garcia's voice, but none of it seemed real. I don't know what happened. All I knew was that you kept dying in front of me, and I couldn't get to you. I couldn't help you, and I couldn't even tell you how much I love you, how important you are to me. I tried so hard, but I couldn't and you kept dying and I wanted to die too, because I didn't want to face living without you, especially after knowing you had died thinking I might leave you. I just... If you were gone..."
"Jennifer, I know."
Her heart sped up and a rush of heat passed through her at the sound of her name. She was Emily's Jennifer again. She wasn't JJ the friend, JJ the lost, Will's JJ. She was Jennifer again.
"I love you."
The liaison sighed contentedly, letting Emily's unconscious tracings relax her, letting her sleep. The profiler smiled as she watched the younger agent drift off, only then realizing what her hand was doing but seeing no reason to stop. Despite the adrenaline crash and the lack of sleep she couldn't drift off herself, the train of thought that had started at the coffee place picking up again. Holding her lover's naked body against hers had eased some of the urgency of the questions, but hadn't answered them. It didn't make any sense. The air had been cleared, at least as much as could be expected, anyway, but her mind had returned to contemplating that sad refrain. She had Jennifer and the assurance that their relationship wasn't over or seriously undermined by Will's stubbornness, and there was no doubting the love and lust between them, so what was her problem?
"I can take care of you, Jennifer," she murmured, as much for her own sake as the other woman's, "I have no problem with that, and we'll figure the rest out over time. Even if I'm not ready when your baby is born I'll stand by you, and I would try if you left me for Will or anything else. What am I missing? What are we missing?"
Her mind continued to work through the problem, but it wasn't until she could see the sun starting to rise through the hotel room drapes that she had at least a partial answer. By then she was so exhausted her eyes were watering and her body felt like it was made of logs, and everything seemed kind of funny, but she still couldn't fall asleep. In the relatively lucid part of her mind she laughed at herself, knowing she wouldn't have come up with an answer if she had been more awake.
"God, I'm such an idiot."
"Only when you think like that," JJ's voice answered tiredly, startling Emily out of a few years of her life. Blue eyes met hers, their owner greeting her with a mock-scolding glare.
"You're beautiful and brilliant, Emily, and I love you even when you are being an idiot, so stop muttering already."
"Crap, I'm sorry Jennifer. Did I wake you up? I didn't know I was saying anything."
The blonde shook her head before letting it drop back to her lover's shoulder, one hand coming up to play with the dark hair that had fallen across Emily's face. She hadn't been woken up by the profiler's muttering. She'd started to wake up a little while ago and had just let herself drift rather than making any effort to get up or open her eyes. When Emily had started talking to herself she had felt it rather than heard it, and she still had no idea what her partner had been saying or thinking about, but she knew her friend's moods. Emily was exhausted to say the least, and she'd been stressed about something all night if she were any judge, and not just her, her nightmare, and her and Will.
"Em, it's fine. I've been awake for a bit, I was just too comfortable to do anything about it. What's kept you up all night after the last few days we've had? No offense, sweetheart, but you look like hell."
The dark agent chuckled, but JJ lifted herself up on one arm, seeing the slightly hysterical cast in her lover's face that she'd heard in her voice. Sleep deprivation would account for some of it, but there was more going on, and she was stuck in something of a dilemma. She could get Em her meds and talk her into a relaxing shower and massage, she could try to persuade her partner to tell her what was going on, or she could work on getting them the hell out of this damn city. She hadn't been particularly fond of Manhattan before this case, but now she could honestly say she passionately hated the place. Kate Joyner was dead, Hotch had nearly been killed, Morgan had almost been killed getting that ambulance somewhere safe, Garcia would probably be terrified for all of them, particularly Derek, for weeks, Reid and Rossi were stressed and exhausted in the extreme, and Emily...
"I wish Will had been in that SUV."
The profiler laughed helplessly, but as she'd thought the borderline hysteria was still there and probably would until they were home and they could get the dirt from this city off and out of them. She wasn't sure if it was safe for Hotch to fly, but she knew they had to get out of here, all of them. None of them would start to mend here, and she was also aware of herself to know she desperately wanted, or rather needed, to just be with Emily in the safety of their home with the company of each other and the loving, playful creatures waiting for them. JJ had, as she'd told her partner, grown up around dogs, but it'd been so long since she'd had a pet she'd forgotten just how much it helped to have animals around. Adopting Keira's dogs may have been one of the smartest things she'd done in a long time. She felt herself smiling at the thought of the smart and sometimes rowdy canines, and Emily gave her a quizzical look. She just chuckled, kissing her companion's cheek before pushing herself completely upright. She hadn't thought anything of it, but as the blanket pooled at her waist already dark eyes dilated, making them look completely black. Jennifer forced herself not to start laughing as she very deliberately stretched before getting up, running her hands through her hair to get it in some kind of order. The whole time she watched Emily out of the corner of her eye, grinning to herself as she watched the other woman watch her. JJ had been in relationships before, and she'd been with men who'd given her similar looks, but they had never affected her the way those dark eyes did.
"I think I'm going to take a shower. I had something of a workout last night, after all. You interested in-"
Emily growled, twisting out of the bed and grabbing her for a fiercely possessive, loving kiss before tugging the very willing and very amused blonde into the bathroom. Two doors down the hall Hotch was easing himself to his feet, letting Dave steady him only because he knew his former mentor understood how it felt to lose his equilibrium due to an ear injury from firsthand experience. He was fine once he was upright, if a little light-headed and dizzy, it was just getting there that was hard.
"Vertigo's a bitch, huh?"
"Huh," he grunted, not really feeling like going to the effort of a longer answer. Rossi chuckled quietly and slapped him on the shoulder before following the younger man out of the room and down to the lobby, though the elevator ride made his head pound and spin. David didn't say anything then or during the trip to Federal Plaza. He hesitated after getting out of the SUV, looking around. It had been long enough that Kate's blood and the vehicle debris were completely gone, leaving almost no evidence of what had happened here. Hotch realized he was staring at the spot he had found himself in after the explosion, his mind readily supplying the details.
"Hotch," the Italian's voice called, making him turn away and look at the other agent, "We need to wrap things up here. I told you about what happened with JJ last night, and you know that kind of thing will keep happening the longer we're here. We've done our part. Time to go home."
Aaron nodded, sighing tiredly and going through the door Rossi held open for him. Most of what they needed to do was routine, but the discussion about Morgan potentially taking Kate's place shook him up. It wasn't as if he hadn't known, but every time he heard it a part of him winced, not wanting to think about why the position was open and who had filled it before.
"Are you going to talk to him about it?" Dave asked as they were leaving several hours later, both men drained and ready to be gone, "Or are you just going to tell him and have him say yes or no?"
"I'm not sure yet," he admitted quietly, closing his eyes after buckling himself into the passenger's seat for the short drive back to the hotel, "I almost want to just let the Bureau handle it, but I need him to understand the significance behind what he did. I think I'll leave it until after we're all back in Quantico. I'd talk to him on the flight, but..."
"I get it. I'm happy enough to be leaving to actually look forward to getting on that damn plane."
That got a laugh out of the Unit Chief, relieving some of the tension that'd been building in his body and mind. Once everyone was informed and taking care of whatever loose ends they might have here he pulled JJ aside after seeing the way she'd looked after Emily had left to talk to Agent Cooper. The brunette hadn't really looked much better, but the press liaison had drawn into herself since her partner had left and he was worried about her. She was an intelligent, rational, and hardened (if sometimes jaded) federal agent, so the nightmare she'd had the night before must have been extremely potent and vivid to overwhelm her so completely. He didn't want her being left alone, particularly if Prentiss was gone, but he also needed to get a few issues cleared up.
"I'm not marrying Will," she assured him before he could ask anything, her bloodshot blue eyes meeting his with impressive force, "I'm not leaving the BAU, Emily, or whatever else."
"Good," he answered quietly when she was done, "Have you and Prentiss cleared that up?"
She paled, ducking behind her hair.
"Yes... At least for the moment. It's just one more big pile of crap to get through, right?"
He frowned, his concern for the woman increasing rapidly. She sounded angry and bitter, and more than a little ashamed. It would be pointless to say the whole situation with Will and the baby wasn't her fault, in no small part because it wouldn't be true. Still, he did think she was taking on more than her share of the blame, and he could guess why it was just getting worse. Will LaMontagne. The man just wouldn't let up, and he seemed oblivious to the strain it was putting on JJ. Even if she hadn't been in a relationship with Emily the detective would still be pushing at cracks in the liaison's defenses, but with the situation as it was LaMontagne was putting an intolerable amount of stress on the younger agent. He had known that was the case before this case, but Dave's description of what had happened the previous night told him it was worse than he'd thought. JJ's pregnancy would be leaving her more sensitive and with fewer reserves than usual, a connection she didn't seem to have made yet, but she would.
He stiffened at the sight of the figure scanning the lobby, shifting so he was between him and his agent. Will looked rather the worse for wear, he noticed in passing. The detective must have been drinking the night before and hadn't gotten much sleep, but he had no sympathy for the headache the New Orleans native had to have.
"JJ," he started again, knowing JJ hadn't really registered the hesitation or movement an worrying because of it, "You and Emily have gotten this far together, and we're all behind both of you. I know you're both getting individual, outside help too, but if there's anything I can do for either of you, I'd like to know."
"Thanks, Hotch," Jennifer murmured, meeting her boss's intense gaze, "I can't think of any one thing, but..."
She hesitated then, but he just waited. He could see her mind working the way it did when she was trying to come up with a tactful way to ask or say something.
"You were with Haley when she was pregnant with Jack. I've been around pregnant women and newborns, you know that, but now that it's me I... I don't know what to do. It's not like I can call my mom and ask her anything... I just don't know who to go to or what to ask if I knew."
Aaron smiled slowly, feeling very much the father talking about his first grandchild. The thought made him feel rather old, but it also helped him put things in perspective. Right now he wasn't the Unit Chief talking to his press liaison, and he needed to act accordingly. JJ didn't need her boss. She needed a father figure, and her own would be no help. Actually, he would more than likely make things even harder for the young woman, but Hotch knew he could step into that role without undermining his authority as JJ's boss. He had done it before, and he had and would do it for the rest of his team, except Rossi of course.
"When we get back you and I can talk in more detail, but for now the most important thing you can do is stay healthy. Let Prentiss help you when you need it, and remember that she will want you to ask her. You know about fetal alcohol syndrome and similar illnesses, so you know what to avoid as far as consumption. Other than that you need to try to keep your stress levels down and make sure you're getting a lot of nutrients. This is your first pregnancy, and that's usually the hardest on the person and on the body."
He paused to think, then put a reassuring hand on JJ's shoulder, making sure he had her attention and held it until her face relaxed into an almost shy smile.
The older profiler nodded, checking to make sure LaMontagne wasn't still around before sending her to meet the rest of the team at the jet. He smiled when he saw that Emily had returned and was waiting for her partner outside. They didn't hug or kiss or do anything ostentatious, though he would have bet serious money that they wanted to, but to anyone paying attention their posture and the looks passing between them practically screamed love and devotion. The sight reminded him why he was willing to sacrifice as much as he would for them. What they had was painfully rare, and they were both so fragile in their own ways. That served as another reminder and he turned, searching the lobby and the area outside until he found the distinctive form of the hungover detective and crossed over to him, giving him a fierce glare. Will was startled to find the BAU chief standing in front of him, but he was more shaken by how much the man resembled an angry bird of prey.
"Uh... Have you seen-"
"Detective LaMontagne," the agent broke in as Will had half expected him to, cementing the knowledge that he had no allies among the BAU, "You are walking a very fine line, and I suggest you exercise some discretion."
"Um, what would that line be, sir?"
That hawk's glare became more intense, making him feel unpleasantly helpless and exposed.
"You are essentially stalking a federal agent, Detective. If you continue to do so I will have you arrested and help JJ and Prentiss get a restraining order against you. If I hear that you've made further attempts to pursue Agent Jareau without her invitation you risk losing your badge as well. I'm hoping I've been clear enough to not need to repeat this conversation yet again."
"Agent Hotchner, I'm that baby's daddy!"
"And JJ has made her decision regarding that. If you want to address the issue you're welcome to go through the courts, but whatever you choose to do, you aren't to contact JJ unless she does so first, and you already know what will happen if you 'just happen to be in the area' again."
Will waited, wondering if more was coming. Again the agent surprised him by softening somewhat, giving him a much more understanding look.
"Detective, I'm a father. My wife... My ex-wife has custody of our son and I have to go through her if I want to see or talk to him. I could get more rights, I suppose, but I don't want to drag either of them through a legal battle. That doesn't mean I love Jack any less or that I'm not his father. It just means I recognize that some fights are better not started."
"What are you telling me here? That I should just give up?"
"I'm telling you that you need to respect JJ's wishes. She is the one carrying that baby, and it's her mind and body that are going to be taking the abuse."
"But I'd help out!" the younger man argued, hoping that he might have finally found someone in the BAU who might understand what was going on and might be willing to at least reach some kind of compromise. He hated admitting it, but the thought the that Prentiss woman with JJ and possibly raising his baby made him see red. When Hotchner shook his head, he knew he had lost, even though the agent supposedly knew what he was going through.
"Agent Jareau doesn't want your help, Will," Hotchner replied, though not unkindly, "that's her decision and her right. She elected to put herself and the baby in the care of her partner, and frankly I think that's the best course she could have taken. Emily knows her much better than you do, they live together, and they trust each other implicitly. Why does it keep surprising you when JJ chooses her over you?"
The New Orleans native muttered some response, but from the look he was getting the Unit Chief had seen his anger at the mention of Prentiss and her relationship with the liaison.
"You know where you stand, Detective. I'm not going to warn you again. You aren't going to win here, and your jealousy does you no credit. Go home, do your job, and if you're going to insist on a custody battle, fine, just leave them alone until the courts say you can do otherwise."
Hotchner's glare darkened and he took a step closer to him, his anger so intense Will almost expected to be hit at any moment. He couldn't hold the older man's stare and looked away, knowing he'd lost any ground he might have gained and about another mile. He backed away, feeling that predator's gaze following him and didn't turn around even after he'd gotten in his rental and was gone. He knew the agent could and would have him arrested, and given he was a former prosecutor Will knew that could only lead to more trouble than he could get himself out of. Now he had to decide if he was willing to get into a legal battle with him and JJ. Aaron, watching him drive off, already knew what the detective would do. For now he would run with his tail tucked. It would take him a while to get his nerve up to do anything, much less start legal proceedings, and he would talk to the women before Will could do so. He had actually been considering urging JJ to let the father of her baby have at least partial custody, but after talking to him there was no chance. The detective's blind hate for Prentiss and his inability to control himself had ruined any sympathy Hotch might have had. He wasn't the kind of father Aaron was willing to see raising JJ's baby, even on a part-time basis. She trusted him, and he wasn't going to betray that trust over something as stupid as Will LaMontagne.
Date and Time: February 3, 2008, 18:22
Location: FBI Field Office, Morgantown, West Virginia
The blonde looked up from the notes and file she had been working on, a little surprised to see Hotch standing there. He had been planning on going over the interviews Prentiss and Morgan had been out doing, but neither agent was with him. The thought made her look at her boss's face more closely, seeing the strain and anger there.
"What happened? Are Morgan and Emily okay?"
The Unit Chief shook his head, slowly sitting down in a chair across from her. He suddenly looked years older, though she and Rossi might be the only ones who knew him well enough to see it.
"JJ, Prentiss disappeared while she and Morgan were conducting on-site interviews. When Morgan realized she hadn't met him or called when she was supposed to, he got worried and went looking. He found her badge, gun, and cell phone partially hidden under a trash bin a few blocks from where he had been. It looks like she may have kicked them under there, and you know she would only do that for one reason."
Jennifer stared at him, trying to make the words process.
"But... Derek was right there. No one should have been able to..."
Hotch's eyes didn't leave hers, keeping her where she was even though what she really wanted to do was bolt out and find her friend, which was probably why he wasn't letting her go.
"Morgan admitted he got... distracted. He didn't actually realize she was missing until almost an hour after the time they'd agreed to meet at, and she would have been long gone by then. We Rossi and Morgan out with a K9 team, but we're not hopeful they'll find anything."
"She fits the profile of the victims," the liaison realized out loud, staring at her boss with growing horror, "A high-profile, female ambassador's daughter, beautiful, intelligent, and professional... This guy has..."
She stopped herself, narrowing her eyes as something occurred to her.
"The UnSub has never taken more than one woman at a time, but we know another woman is missing. That's why we're here. So did he grab Emily by chance? That would mean he'd have to know who she was and what she looked like. Was it a spur of the moment thing?"
"I don't think so, no," Aaron admitted, knowing JJ's mind had taken the same path his own had, "This isn't the kind of person who does things at random or on a whim. If he were we wouldn't be needed to help catch him. He would have made mistakes. He didn't just grab her. He must have planned this, otherwise Prentiss wouldn't have had a chance to get her hardware where we found it, and that wasn't a random drop or coincidence. That was intentional. He may have seen her here or found out where she was. I think she may have been a target of opportunity, but..."
"But he had time to plan how he would take her and he was almost as careful as he has been every other time. How would he have known? We've only been here a couple days!"
The Unit Chief waited, seeing the wheels spinning behind blue eyes. She sometimes made connections the rest of the team didn't, and right now he would take absolutely any help. Agent Prentiss was an invaluable member of his team and a person he respected greatly, and JJ probably knew her better than anyone. She might know something that could help them.
"We hadn't... Hotch, we looked at the girls and the ambassadors, looking for links. There were too many to pinpoint any one as critical or outstanding. We need to go back to that list. We can rule out diplomatic and political issues and connections, as well as any foreign involvement. This guy is way too organized and he doesn't take risks, so this was personal. This is someone who knows Ambassador Prentiss well and who knows Emily. He would be someone the ambassador trusts, but a friend, not a colleague. She doesn't trust anyone in her field, not completely. None of them do. I guess it's a job hazard."
"Go on, JJ," her boss urged, pulling her back from the tangent and the concern for her friend that could distract her from what he needed her to be doing, "Why a friend? Why not a colleague, rival, or enemy of some sort? These women spend most of their time abroad and much of that in potentially hostile situations. We all know they have plenty of enemies."
"Because he knew where all of them were, Hotch. There's no sign he stalked or watched them. He knew exactly where they would be and apparently how to gain control over them without much if any sign of struggle. A family friend could approach them and they would think nothing of it, just a strange coincidence. A rival or political opponent would have to work harder at finding and grabbing them."
"Okay, I see your point. Keep going."
JJ closed her eyes, forcing herself not to think of the bodies that had been found so far and putting Emily in their place. If she let those thoughts in she would be worse than useless in the search, and that would drive her insane.
"He knew exactly where to look without having to look. What if he had been over for dinner or at a gathering and someone on the staff or the ambassadors mentioned their daughters in passing? We know Ambassador Prentiss has been vocal about getting Emily to change career tracks. She knew where we were going because she had wanted Emily to come to some party thing. Em said her mother had been mad about her not going..."
All the color had drained out of the liaison's face when Hotch had broken the news, but now she was flushed and her eyes were on fire.
"Her being grabbed had nothing to do with her being an agent, Hotch. He went after her because of her mother. He knew she was coming here on business and since he was already here, it must have seemed like the perfect chance. If he took the risk to grab a second woman and this is personal, then we need to be looking at Ambassador Prentiss specifically."
"That's a lot to work through, JJ," the profiler turned out, but not as a rejection of her conclusions. It was just a statement of fact.
"We won't get any help from the Ambassador, so we're going to have to do this the hard way. It's going to take time, and in the meantime..."
Raging eyes turned on him, the only break in the professional mask JJ had snapped across her features. Though worried about the integrity and objectivity of his team, he knew the woman across from him would be one of his best weapons in the fight to get the UnSub and, God willing, somehow get Prentiss back alive. He knew the price of that detachment and knew he would be paying it too, but it was the only thing between them and a deadly loss of focus.
"Alive or dead, we're going to find her," the young woman said flatly, her voice becoming an icy monotone, "And whatever happens, we will find him and he will go down. She will fight to give us time and we're wasting it. I will not waste Emily's life."
The older agent nodded, digging the information they had gathered on the ambassadors and their daughters out of the files while JJ went to the whiteboard, erasing everything and taking the various pictures and pieces of information they'd put on the wall down, all except the geographic profile, and talking to Garcia at the same time. When Rossi, Reid, and Morgan got back the liaison and Unit Chief had piles of information organized for everyone to start working from, piles that continued to grow as Garcia faxed what she didn't send to their laptops. Rossi had brought coffee and sandwiches back with him, all of which were consumed with no thought or attention. JJ had been completely right in her description of the passing time: it was Emily's life, not minutes or seconds or hours, and they all knew it. Time was their enemy and they had no way to know how much Prentiss had. Her survival was completely dependent on her ability to delay and withstand the torture the UnSub would put her through. Hotch had no doubt all of them were pleading with deities known and unknown, and to Emily to hold on a little longer.
terminus pendeo super exordium
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