DISCLAIMER: I do not own Criminal Minds or its characters. I wish I did, because it's an amazing show and Paget Brewster and A.J. Cook are hot, but...
AUTHOR'S NOTE: First and foremost... damn the writer's strike. Don't get me wrong. As a writer, I absolutely support the writers and agree that they deserve more for the incredible work they do, especially when that work includes shows as amazing as Criminal Minds. I just wish it had been settled sooner so these great shows could have carried on. That said... I hope you enjoy the story. I am by no means as talented as the people who make the show, but I did the best I could to make this worthy of them and the actors who make the show what it is.
SPOILERS: None too specific. General plot points and such from across seasons two and three.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Psychopathology: The scientific study of mental disorders
Date and Time: February 11, 2008, 18:43
Location: Ruby Memorial Hospital, Morgantown, West Virginia
JJ stretched slowly, trying to work the kinks out of her muscles. She couldn't believe she'd fallen asleep, but the rational side of her told her it had to happen eventually. She'd barely slept since they'd found out that Emily had been taken, and that had been six days ago. She knew her nightmares had been brutal, but she just didn't have the energy to think about them now. It was hard enough to force herself to function now, exhausted as she still was. She would deal with the video and its effects later. She had to remember to send a message to the therapist she'd been seeing regularly since that case where she'd all but lost sight of the fine balance she had to maintain to do her job. The therapy had helped, more because her therapist helped guide her to ways to work out her emotions without letting them overwhelm her, and how to stay detached without becoming jaded. She liked the guy well enough, grateful that he didn't pry or insist she take meds, or anything else. He just listened, then helped her think and feel her way through what was happening, trusting her to apply those same strategies to her outside life. Now that was being put to the test.
She turned, pulled from her thoughts by Hotch's voice. His hawk-like yellow eyes swept the room, taking in both of his agents in that quick glance before coming back to rest on her.
"Has she woken up at all?"
She shook her head, sitting back down at Emily's side, automatically slipping her hand back into her friend's.
"I don't think so," she responded wearily, thinking back over the time she'd been awake, "No... but I asked the doctor and he said he thinks her body is just catching up with itself. They ran a few more tests a couple hours ago, and they say that so far things look promising."
JJ sighed softly, looking over at the unconscious brunette before looking back at him. Sometimes, though not often, she agreed with Garcia. She hated profilers.
"They're still not sure, Hotch. I heard one of them say that if she doesn't wake up today or tomorrow..."
"Her odds go down and she might not ever?" he asked when she trailed off, seeing the pain flare in her bloodshot blue eyes, followed by a slow nod. He stepped further into the room, moving to Emily's other side, looking down at her, noting how clean she looked in comparison to yesterday. He had seen the plastic basin of water and the sponge, and inwardly he applauded JJ for thinking to do that for Emily. Even unconscious she would probably appreciate being free of the dirt and blood from her ordeal.
"I spoke with Ambassador Prentiss," he stated suddenly, and the liaison looked sharply up at him, her eyes suddenly fierce.
"You called her?"
He shook his head, understanding all too well where the anger had come from.
"No, I didn't. Agent Prentiss is an adult, for one. She's also a BAU agent, and we look after our own. I believe someone in Strauss' office may have called her."
"Strauss..." JJ muttered angrily, her tone making it clear enough how she felt about the section head. She shook her head, asking simply, "What did the ambassador have to say?"
"She was appalled by what had happened, to say the least," he replied coolly, trying not to reveal his own feelings on the matter, "and she wants her daughter to be flown immediately to Vermont for treatment from a doctor she's familiar with there."
"I hope you told her to go to hell," the blonde replied starkly, her eyes blazing now. He watched her carefully, his mind providing the memory of Emily's request and JJ's promise.
"I told her it would be better for Agent Prentiss to stay where she was, that she was being given the best treatment available, that her condition was as of yet unstable, and that the team would prefer to look after her ourselves."
JJ felt a rush of gratitude at that answer. Hotch may have been stiff, somewhat harsh, and very guarded, but there was no doubt, especially after Garcia's shooting and now this week, that he would do almost anything for his team. He watched over them in his silent way, and he was the one who stood up and spoke out for them when needed. She remembered now how it had been Hotch who brought Emily to Milwaukee, and Hotch who had, though she had only found out much later, gone to Elle's apartment and cleaned the blood off the wall.
"What did she say to that?" she asked curiously, pushing aside her memories in favor of focusing on the present. He shook his head, a little irritation showing through his carefully neutral expression.
"She said she would be flying down immediately and we would discuss it then. I thought I should make sure you had a heads-up."
"I appreciate that, Hotch. Any idea when she'll be here?"
He started to respond, but was interrupted by a voice down the hall. JJ, despite having only met the woman once or twice, recognized it immediately and stiffened, instinctively tightening the hand around Emily's. The Ambassador herself swept into the room moments later, taking them in with a practiced sweep of her eyes.
"Agent Hotchner, Agent Jareau. I would say it's a pleasure, but under the circumstances..."
Hotch gave JJ a quick glance, asking her in that moment to trust him to do right by Emily. She nodded slightly, knowing that if anyone could handle the Ambassador, he could, and in any case she didn't want to say anything to Emily's mother that would cause trouble later.
"Of course, we quite understand, Ambassador. These certainly aren't the circumstances any of us would prefer."
The ambassador seemed to consider continuing with the chatter, but then she shook her head slightly, visibly straightening her shoulders. JJ noticed the gesture, mentally comparing it to the same movement Emily made when she was about to take a stand. Elizabeth Prentiss did not measure up to her daughter, at least in JJ's mind.
"Let us not play games, Agent Hotchner. You know I'm here to take Emily to our doctors. She'll get the best medical care in the country, and she'll be with her family."
"With all due respect, Ambassador," JJ interrupted, careful to keep her tone respectful even though she wanted to start yelling, "Emily is with family."
Hotch looked over at her for a long moment, then nodded and turned his attention back to Emily's mother.
"Ambassador, Agent Prentiss is in no condition to be taken anywhere. She had emergency surgery yesterday, and she's still not entirely stable."
"Then I will fly my people out here until she's stable enough to be moved."
JJ would have said something then, but a look from her supervisor reminded her that she needed to trust him. He wouldn't let anything happen to his team if he could avoid it.
"Ambassador," Hotch started, his voice firmer now, "Emily is receiving very good care here. When she wakes up and stabilizes she can decide for herself where to go and who she would prefer treating her injuries."
The older woman fixed him with an intense stare, but he didn't waver in the least. Instead, he stepped forward, placing himself deliberately between his two agents and the ambassador.
"Emily is stubborn, and she doesn't always know what is best for her. I do."
"Are you sure about that, Ambassador?" the unit chief asked softly, earning another sharp look from her.
"Do you dare presume-"
The blonde turned away, tuning out the argument when she felt Emily's hand tremble in hers. The older agent's face had tensed, lines of fear and pain deepening noticeably. She shifted a little, then trembled more violently, clearly in pain and still unwilling to make a sound.
"Hotch," she called, immediately getting her supervisor's attention. He took one look at Emily and his frown deepened. She remembered then that he hadn't seen, as she had, the silent torment Emily went through moment by moment until right then.
"Ambassador, you and I will discuss this in the lobby. For now, your daughter needs rest and quiet."
JJ ignored them both, focusing instead on calming her friend down. When the ambassador suddenly appeared at Emily's side, though, she glared fiercely, unable to forget that one of this woman's friends had done this. When Elizabeth touched her daughter the reaction was instantaneous. Emily flinched and tried to turn away, but the pain was too much and she shivered, her entire body a testament to what she couldn't give voice to.
The senior agent was already moving, politely but firmly pulling the ambassador's arm. JJ focused on her friend, gently soothing her hair and stroking the hand still wrapped in hers.
"It's okay, Em, you're safe. You're safe now. No one is going to hurt you."
Emily sighed, turning her face into her hand and relaxing again, falling back into more restful sleep. Once she was sure her friend was calm she turned on the ambassador, her blue eyes dark with anger.
"We're Emily's family," she repeated, her voice a harsh warning even as her hands remained gentle, "And she isn't going anywhere with you unless she tells me she wants to. Have you forgotten that all of this was done by Jonah Samis, a friend of yours? It's no surprise she isn't exactly in the mood to trust you or your 'people.' So, with all due respect, Ambassador, please leave. I'll look after Emily."
"I am her mother, Agent Jareau, and I-"
Hotch ran out of patience then. It was obvious having Elizabeth Prentiss there was stressing both his agents, neither of whom needed any more stress.
"Ambassador, come with me."
His firm grip and tone brooked no argument, and he led the older woman to the waiting room.
"Agent Hotchner," she started, but he shook his head, not letting her go on.
"It's my turn now, Ambassador. Agent Prentiss was nearly killed by Jonah Samis, an old colleague of yours, and she was the lucky one. She was the one who survived. He killed four other women, all daughters of female diplomats, all brutally tortured. Emily and the latest victim got away, and the only reason for that is because Agent Prentiss did not give him what he wanted."
"What he wanted?" Elizabeth asked sharply. He nodded, already knowing he might just have to show the ambassador what he meant.
"She never gave in to him," he replied starkly, "She never screamed or begged him to stop. For six days, she held on, and I, for one, am beyond impressed."
"Jonah Samis was a good, caring man," the ambassador argued, "I find it hard to believe he would-"
"Believe it," Rossi's voice broke in from a nearby consultation room. He waved Hotch over, gesturing for the ambassador to join them.
"I have something here you need to see, Ambassador Prentiss," he added with his typical irreverence. Rossi could get away with it where even he couldn't, Hotch decided. Rossi had been one of the first profilers, and had the honors and experience to back up his attitude. If anyone could get away with what they were about to do, it would be David Rossi. The stocky agent set the ambassador in front of a waiting laptop, and Hotch nodded when the older man gave him a quick look, approving of the plan he wasn't sure he could have implemented.
"Ambassador, I would suggest you brace yourself."
That was all the warning Dave gave her before starting the video. Hotch could tell he'd deliberately set it to Samis' description of what he wanted to do to the Ambassador, then made sure she saw some of the "highlights" of the torture.
"That is quite enough, gentlemen," Elizabeth declared sharply as Samis once again started beating her daughter, and again Emily refused to make a sound. Rossi frowned, then clicked on the timer, fast-forwarding to the end of the last "session." The brunette was unconscious, hanging limply against her restraints, and once again the two agents heard the haunting apology, the impact in no way lessened by a second viewing. If anything it was made worse in light of everything they knew now that they hadn't before, both about Emily's injuries and about Samis himself. They'd interviewed the UnSub, and he had made no bones about what he'd done. In fact, he'd taken great pleasure in describing exactly what the women had suffered before he'd killed them. The only thing he seemed upset about was his inability to break Emily. Hotch and Rossi both had been very grateful JJ, Morgan, and Garcia hadn't been there. They doubted the younger members of the team, all of whom were closer to the injured woman, could have held it together.
"That is just a small look at the hell Agent Prentiss went through in the last week. We spent more than twelve hours going through it yesterday," Rossi remarked, watching the ambassador's reaction closely, "And I don't know if you noticed, but the only person she wanted help from was a member of the BAU. Not you, not any of your people."
Elizabeth stared at him, clearly unaccustomed to being spoken to that way. Hotch was silently applauding his mentor, wishing he could be so direct but knowing he couldn't afford to be.
"Agent Rossi, I am just trying to-"
"No, Ambassador," he interrupted harshly, "this isn't about you. This isn't about you. All of us, me, Hotch, Agent Jareau, we're here for Agent Prentiss. There is no room for someone with a personal or political agenda. If you continue to try to relocate Agent Prentiss against her will, we will all fight you on it. Agent Jareau has taken responsibility for her care, as per your daughter's request. Until she says otherwise, Agent Prentiss is staying here."
"How do you know what my daughter-"
Again Rossi interrupted, holding out two documents Hotch hadn't seen before, but recognized immediately.
"These tell us, even if we hadn't heard Agent Prentiss ask Agent Jareau to see to her care."
The Ambassador stared at the sheets, one an advance directive giving JJ the right to make medical decisions if she were incapacitated, the other a signed and witnessed limited power of attorney once again giving the press liaison the authority to decide anything related to her health care. None of them had known she had done that, but Hotch wasn't really surprised. From the first day JJ had consistently been there for the older agent, helping her fit into the team as best she could. He also knew they sometimes spent time together outside of work, which he wholeheartedly approved of. And just recently, when JJ had lost that all important balance, he knew Emily had been there for her, and before that, when Garcia had been shot, it had been Prentiss who had been there for JJ. It made sense that she'd be the one Emily would count on in a crisis like this.
"What is this..." the Ambassador asked finally, looking both hurt and angry, "How could she just... gamble her life on the whim of some..."
"Be very careful how you finish that statement, Ambassador," Rossi warned lowly, sounding both impatient and angry, "Jennifer Jareau essentially saved your daughter's life. She is also a federal agent and a well respected member of the BAU. Agent Prentiss obviously trusts her with her life. Legally speaking, you have no power here."
"I am her mother!"
"And Jennifer Jareau is effectively her guardian," Hotch reminded her, "That was her decision. You of all people should know that your daughter wouldn't do this without good reason. She trusts JJ with her life, and I for one believe she's more than earned that trust. If you try to fight Agent Jareau on this, you'll be fighting the law and the entire BAU."
Elizabeth stared at him, then looked down at the documents, her eyes tracing her daughter's strong, familiar handwriting.
"I can't believe she would go outside of the family for this," she whispered, "I am just trying to protect my daughter. My doctors are the best in the country."
The tall agent turned, mildly surprised to find JJ in the door. Blue eyes swept from him to the ambassador to the documents on the table, and stopped there.
"What are those?" she asked nervously, and Hotch realized immediately that she was afraid that Ambassador Prentiss had found some way to overrule her. He picked the papers up and handed them over, watching her skim over them, then stop abruptly, her eyes widening.
"When did she..."
Rossi almost smiled, glancing at his old friend before explaining.
"From the dates, she set these up shortly after the Milwaukee case."
"Wait... after she got hit by David Smith's father?" she asked, more than a little startled. Hotch smiled inwardly, remembering his conversation with Dave yesterday. They really didn't know, but at the same time they were acting out what they were oblivious to. Profilers could be so blind sometimes.
"She was obviously concerned," he remarked softly, "Smith could have killed her. He wanted to, as we all know. Maybe she didn't want to risk something like that happening and not having someone she trusted taking care of her."
Ambassador Prentiss started to rise and object, but JJ, recovering from the worst of her shock, shook her head, looking the older woman in the eye.
"Even without this, I would have fought you if you tried to take Emily. With this, you have no chance. Once Emily is stabilized, the only place she's going is home with me and the team. If she tells me otherwise, I'll respect that, but for now it's my choice, not yours."
JJ hesitated for a moment, then softened just slightly.
"I know you're trying to care for your daughter, but that's my job now. That's what she is asking me to do, so that's what's going to happen. Emily trusts me to do this, so I think you should too. Ma'am, you have to remember how closely we all work. When we're on the road, we pretty much live together. She and I have shared rooms, even beds, and occasionally even a toothbrush. I think she trusts me to know what she'd want, and I'd like to think I do."
"If you were family, or her husband, there would be no question," the ambassador pointed out, shaking her head as if trying to deny the whole situation, "Why couldn't she have just gone into the state department like I wanted her to? She could have had a good life, and done all the traveling she wanted without all the danger, and she could have had a good man to take care of her."
JJ sighed, and Hotch could see her almost straining to get back to Emily's side, and yet she seemed unaware of her own body language.
"Emily didn't want all of that. She's an amazing profiler. The BAU is where she belongs. As for a husband, well..."
Now the blonde actually colored faintly, apparently unsure how to finish, but determined to press on.
"Emily just isn't ready to settle down, I guess. We've talked about it. She said she just hadn't met a man she'd be willing to spend her life with. She also said she didn't think most men would understand her dedication to the BAU."
"That's what she told me too," Elizabeth muttered, visibly disgruntled, "but I told her that she shouldn't place her work above-"
"Above what?" JJ interrupted, the anger coming back into her eyes, "Above her life? Above her happiness? Above comfort, or a normal, picture perfect family? The BAU is her life, just like the rest of us, and as much as anyone can be doing what we do, she is happy. As for the rest... she isn't the type to settle for anything less than what she wants. She's brave, compassionate, and strong as hell. If she hasn't proven that to you by now, you don't know her at all."
With that she turned on her heel and left, apparently angry enough to forget what she had come to ask her boss about. Hotch thought he knew, though. She had probably wanted to ask if she had any legal basis to fight Ambassador Prentiss on if she pushed the issue. That point was moot now. It was the Ambassador who would have to fight if she wanted to take over her daughter's care, and now she knew she had no leg to stand on. His prosecutor's mind raced, trying to find any loopholes Elizabeth might try to utilize, but she really had no chance, especially since he would personally oppose it if she did. Emily had seen to it that JJ would have all the power she needed and her mother would have no say. The one thing that surprised him was how careful she had been to keep the ambassador out of this. He had known they were somewhat estranged, especially lately, but he hadn't known quite how much.
"Hey Hotch, I'm going to escort the ambassador out. Care to join us?" Rossi asked, his tone laden with hidden meaning. The younger man nodded, moving to Elizabeth's other side. Between the two of them she had no choice but to leave. JJ, meanwhile, watched from the door of Emily's room, then sighed softly and closed it, leaving her alone with the injured, unconscious woman. She moved to her place at the older agent's side, taking her hand again and stroking it softly.
"I had no idea you did that, Emily," she whispered, staring down into the sleeping face, "but I have to say, I'm glad you did. I was so scared your mother would take you away. I don't want anyone to take you again."
She sighed again, watching the muscles twitch beneath Emily's pale skin, watching for any signs of nightmare and fear but not finding any, at least not until a nurse came in, wheeling in another bed. Since she knew this was a private room she was confused, but then Garcia appeared, hurrying the man along.
"Hey JJ," she called, then lowered her voice at the sight of the unconscious agent, adding, "I figured you were probably exhausted, but you told me before there was no way you were leaving so Hotch, Reid and I talked the staff into giving you a bed."
JJ felt herself starting to smile for what felt like the first time in a week, content to watch her friend direct the nurse. She was slightly surprised that she insisted he set the bed up right next to Emily's, but when she turned a questioning look on her, the tech analyst shrugged.
"She needs you, Jayj."
The simple statement explained everything, and JJ smiled tearfully, letting Garcia embrace her tightly as the nurse finished setting up the bed and locking it into place. He also had the good sense to lower the railings between them, and took the initiative to pad the small wedge between the two beds. JJ tried to thank him, but he waved her off.
"Over a year ago the BAU stopped the bastard who murdered my best friend," he explained softly, "that freak who left bible verses at the scene?"
JJ remembered that case. Tobias Hankel had suffered from multiple personalities and a psychotic fracture, and had killed people because of their "sins." His body count had almost included Reid, after all. She couldn't forget that.
"Anyway," the young man went on, seeing that the two women understood, "I remember you both. I was so happy to hear you caught him. I moved up here to be closer to my family. After losing him, it just didn't seem so important to be 'independent' and all of that. When I heard that someone from the BAU was coming in rolling code 3, I asked the charge nurse if I could stay on her case. When he found out my history with the BAU, he agreed. If you need anything, anything at all, just ask for Nathan Khee. I'll make sure you get it."
Garcia grinned at him, and JJ managed a smile. He was Asian-American, clean-cut, probably a few years younger than she was, with intelligent black eyes and an open face. When he finished straightening the bedding and stood up straight, he was about JJ's height or slightly taller, and she decided that she liked the young man, especially since he seemed willing to go out of his way to help Emily, and her, apparently.
"Thanks a lot, Nurse Khee," she started, but he shook his head, interrupting her.
"Nathan, please. I'll just get out of your way, here, but do you need anything? You must be starving."
JJ thought about that, trying to figure out if she was or not. She'd been running on fear, adrenaline, and coffee for so long that it seemed strange to actually stop and think about food, or anything besides Emily. At her side Garcia laughed softly, distracting her.
"Nathan, the woman hasn't eaten in a week. She must be famished."
He blushed slightly and chuckled, looking a bit sheepish.
"I should have guessed. If it were me I wouldn't have eaten either. Well, we have a cafeteria, but I think a BAU agent deserves something a bit better than that garbage. Hospital food always tastes like... well, like a hospital. There's an Italian place down the block, a diner across the street, and a Japanese restaurant down the other way. Any preference?"
JJ was prepared to argue that hospital food was just fine, but before she could Garcia tossed her a look and lead Nathan out and down the hall, their heads bent together. She shook her head at the sight of the two plotting, then turned back to Emily, who hadn't moved much during the exchange, but if she wasn't mistaken, her head seemed to have turned, as if she had been looking for something. She wondered if it had been her.
"He's cute," she commented softly, finding it oddly reassuring to talk to Emily as if she could hear her, "And he seems to get along great with Garcia. You know, it's funny. We don't usually get to meet up with people we helped later. We just see the death and the mayhem. I can see now why Gideon kept track of the lives saved. It makes it so much more worthwhile to see the good in what we do, rather than always seeing the bad."
Emily was silent, of course, but her mind could summon up an image of the older woman's gentle smile and ready agreement to that statement easily enough. As she started toward the new bed, she noticed that Garcia had brought in her laptop bag, which she had forgotten about yesterday. She hesitated slightly, then sighed, settling herself in bed at Emily's side and pulling over the nearby tray table, setting her computer in place and plugging it in. The last thing she wanted to do was think about Samis and this last week, but she had a job to do, and nothing else to pass the time. She was halfway through her report when Nathan and Garcia returned with Reid in tow, looking quite pleased with themselves as they set out something like a buffet on another table Nathan had cheerfully claimed for them. Rossi and Hotch arrived moments later, apparently summoned by Reid and done with Ambassador Prentiss. She managed another weak smile at the flare Garcia gave the simple act of doling out food and set her computer aside, willing herself to focus on the positives for now. Emily was safe. Nothing could happen to her with the team watching over her.
"Derek, get in here," she called softly, knowing the dark man was loitering outside. There was no way Garcia would have refrained from dragging him here. When he came around the corner and met his eyes, no words were needed. She hadn't forgiven him, and probably wouldn't start to until Emily recovered, but that was no reason for him to starve with all this food in front of them. And for all that she was still extremely upset with him, he was still family. With a nod and a sad smile he sat down at Garcia's side, talking and joking with her almost normally. Hotch and Rossi were mostly quiet, but they were obviously making an effort not to dampen the mood, and even threw in a few jokes here and there to keep the conversation going. As JJ ate, she reflected on how grateful she was to be part of this family, despite everything. More importantly, she was glad Emily had them all to look out for her. She was just sad the woman couldn't be awake to enjoy this, which she certainly would. Once the food was gone, she half-expected everyone to disperse, or for the doctor, Roman Kelso, to kick them out when he arrived, but he just smiled and went about his work, speaking mostly to JJ, clearly aware that she was responsible for decisions here, but also for the benefit of the rest of the team.
"Her vitals are stable, and stronger today than they were yesterday. I've said this before, but I do believe she's still unconscious mainly as a way for her body and mind a chance to recover and repair before facing the world. Her blood work came back with indicators of an infection, which is to be expected given the conditions she was in, but we're keeping an eye on it and giving her antibiotics to treat it. Her injuries are healing normally, and our plastic surgeon says the scarring should be minimal. There will, of course, be scars, as there's only so much we can do about these kinds of wounds, but we do strongly hope that Agent Prentiss will recover fully."
JJ watched his face closely, seeing the slight hesitation and reserve there, and hearing the careful phrasing of his comments.
"But?" she asked softly. His hazel eyes saddened for a moment, and he ran one hand, elegant despite his age, through his white hair.
"Agent Jareau, your friend's body and mind underwent massive trauma, as I'm sure you all know better than I do. Her recovery hinges on her ability to fight the infection with the help of our medications, as well as how effectively her brain copes with everything that's happened."
He sighed, then smiled softly, looking around at all of them, then finally back at JJ.
"I think, Agent Jareau, that she has better chances than most. I've discovered in my years of practicing medicine that with all medical realities being equal, the ones who survive are most often the ones who are loved. Agent Prentiss clearly is that."
With that he made a polite exit, leaving the team to make themselves as comfortable as possible. They all had work to do, and they all did it, but JJ got the sense that it was half hearted at best. In any case, she found that it was much easier to finish the report surrounded by these people, knowing as she did that they completely understood. She wasn't sure when or how it happened, but someone was suddenly slipping her computer off her lap and setting it aside, covering her with a light blanket that, oddly enough, didn't smell like a hospital. She pried her eyes open, wondering when they had closed, surprised to see Hotch tucking her in as if she were a child. The others were slumped in their chairs, covered by hospital blankets she vaguely remembered Nathan providing, but the blanket wrapped around her now was unfamiliar to her. As she tried to process everything, Hotch noticed she was awake and shook his head, a finger to his lips.
"I asked Garcia to pick up a few things from Emily's condo," he whispered, "I thought she would feel safer if she had her own things."
She smiled up at him, seeing the side of him he rarely revealed. This was the father in him, the man who watched over them all in silence, and she respected him all the more for it.
"Thank you," she answered softly, turning to look at Emily. The older woman was still unconscious, but once again she was facing JJ, one hand out as if she'd been reaching for her. She took it gently, leaning over to make sure the light quilt was wrapped completely over her. When she laid back Hotch was watching with the faintest hint of a smile on his face.
"Get some rest, JJ. Our family is safe for tonight. I'll make sure of that."
She nodded, shifting her pillow over a bit to get comfortable. Hotch watched, his brown eyes both sad and pleased. He wished Haley were here. His wife had liked Emily, and he knew she would have liked to be here to support her. For all that she hated the separation his job had called, the team had been like a second family. They had even had a couple barbecues at their house... until she had left, anyway. He considered calling her but decided to wait, at least until tomorrow. She had probably already heard about what had happened, given that the kidnapping of a federal agent was big news, but it would have to wait. For tonight, all he could do was stand guard over these incredible people who would probably never know just how much he cared about each and every one of them.
Date and Time: December 4, 2006 23:31
Location: BAU Bullpen, Quantico, Virginia
Emily sighed tiredly, wishing she could just throw her pen across the room. Looking around, she noticed that she was the only one left in the bullpen. She considered that seriously, then, putting all her frustrations of the last few days, she flung the writing implement against the wall, taking more than a little satisfaction from the sound of the impact.
She whirled around, staring at the figure standing there.
"JJ... I... uh... what are you still doing here?"
The blonde stepped forward, eyebrows raised.
"Did the pen do something wrong?" she asked bemusedly. The brunette blushed faintly, then sat back in her chair, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples against the headache that had been nagging at her for days now. She was too tired to be diplomatic, too worn down to care about how things looked or sounded.
"No, the pen didn't do anything wrong. It's just been a shitty week."
The liaison hesitated, then moved to lean against the desk at her side, setting down the file she'd been carrying.
"You want to talk about it?"
Emily hesitated, wondering if she should. She tried to keep her personal life and her work life separate, and before the BAU that had worked. Now, though... now it was hard to tell where work ended and the rest of her life began. She had never worked in such close quarters, and for such lengths of time, with a group of people. She was about to say something dismissive, but then hesitated. JJ was the only one who hadn't been chary of her since she arrived. She hadn't interacted with her the way she did Garcia or the rest of the team, but she certainly didn't expect her to. It was more than enough for her that JJ treated her with the respect due another agent, and a totally unexpected kindness. That made the decision for her.
"I do, actually."
JJ, who had obviously braced for rejection, gave her a warm, welcoming smile, which reassured her further. She shyly smiled back, still unsure of herself but willing to hope.
"Well, I just need to put these in Hotch's inbox," the blonde remarked, "you want to go get a drink after that, or do you still have something you need to be doing?"
Emily trailed off, realizing she really didn't know why she was still at the office. She had mostly finished her report, which really could have waited until tomorrow. For the last half hour, she had been spending more time staring into space than working. The case had disturbed her, of course, but she had quickly learned to set that aside until she could think her way through it, rather than allowing it to overwhelm her by thinking about it all at once. One of the few advantages to being the daughter of a diplomat was that she had learned from a very young age how to keep things that were difficult or painful in compartments in her mind. Sometimes it didn't work so well, like now. It wasn't the case that had upset the fragile internal balance she maintained. It had been Hotch's attitude. Sitting here now, looking up at the sweet blonde, she decided to take a leap of faith and trust JJ as she had once before, during their initial meeting.
"I'm done here," she decided, setting the report inside her desk and locking the drawer out of habit, retrieving her purse as she did. JJ smiled, gesturing for her to follow. She waited outside the door to their boss's office as JJ set the file in his inbox, then followed her out and down to the garage. JJ gave her quick directions to a nearby bar that catered to hardworking FBI agents, and that's where they ended up. The younger agent waved her to a quiet table in the corner before disappearing, coming back moments later with two beers.
"You are an angel," Prentiss murmured, taking a sip of the amber beverage. She usually drank wine, but today was definitely a beer kind of day. She was almost tempted to try something harder, but decided that it wasn't worth the potential hangover, or the possible embarrassment.
"Well, it's good to know you're easy," JJ teased, and Emily almost choked on her beer. The blonde laughed, giving her a 'helpful' thump on the back to clear her airway. The grinning blue eyes encouraged her, and she laughed along with JJ, seeing the joke for what it was. They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, and Emily was grateful the other woman was letting her do this on her own time. She had probably realized how hard it was for her to open up like this.
"Congresswoman Stiles was an old friend of my mother's," she started slowly, looking down at her beer, her fingers shredding a cocktail napkin quite without her consent, "and she met with Hotch a few days ago, not long after we first found out about the case. After she got done talking to him, she came to ask about how my parents were doing, and about some mutual acquaintances. It was just polite chatter, really."
JJ nodded, but she still waited in silence, for which Emily was grateful.
"You remember when I asked him about that meeting later?" she asked, waiting for the other woman's acknowledgment before going on, "Well, he pulled me into his office later and basically asked if I was spying on the team and accused me of having a political agenda."
"Do you?" the blonde asked, but there was no judgment in her voice. If anything, it seemed like she was asking more for Emily's sake than for her own.
"No!" the brunette answered, but instead of being harsh her voice was just sad and disappointed, "I told him that I thought politics damages people, that it makes them paranoid and destroys families. I really do believe that. I don't want to be my mother, JJ. People respect her, but they don't like her. All my life I've tried to get out of their shadow, and all my life, I've been shoved into a box because I happen to be their daughter."
She took a long swallow of her drink, almost slamming down the cup as the anger built, crawling under her skin like a living thing. It was the first time in years she had said any of this, and now that the dam had cracked, she had trouble holding back the flood.
"I didn't ask to be the Ambassador's daughter. I didn't ask to be a window dressing for them or to be any of the other dozen thing I have to be because they happen to be my parents!"
JJ watched her for a long moment with those intense blue eyes of hers, then suddenly rose. For a split second Emily was afraid she was going to leave, but to her surprise the blonde just moved around the table and sat down at her side, putting a hand over the one still tearing at the shreds of what had once been a napkin.
"Then don't be," she said simply, startling her into staring at her before adding, "Emily, right here, right now, are you the Ambassador's daughter?"
JJ smiled, squeezing her hand reassuringly.
"Right now, you're a woman with a lot to prove, and a federal agent who doesn't know where she stands with her team," the blonde observed, speaking slowly and clearly, as if to make sure Emily caught every word, "You're sitting here with another agent, wondering if you should have trusted her, and if you're making a big mistake. You're afraid that the team, and the team's leader, won't see you as anything but the Ambassador's daughter, and that scares you more than anything."
She stared at the woman at her side for so long that her eyes burned, and only another squeeze of her hand reminded her to blink.
"Are you sure you're not a profiler?" she asked, her voice a little weak.
JJ laughed and shrugged.
"Am I right?"
"Pretty much spot on," Emily replied, deciding then and there that JJ had more than paid back her trust. The press liaison grinned at her, pretending to polish the nails of her free hand on her shirt.
"Well, you spend enough time around all those profilers, you start picking things up. I've worked around these people for years, and while they don't always notice, I do pay attention."
A minute or two of surprisingly comfortable silence passed, then Emily sighed, turning to really look at JJ. There had been no doubt in her mind that the younger woman deserved to be an agent. She had already known she was intelligent, quick-minded, and alert, but she hadn't known exactly how much of a profiler the press liaison would turn out to be. Thinking about it now, though, she realized she really shouldn't have been surprised.
"Why aren't you a profiler, JJ?" she asked softly, "You obviously could be. I've heard you in the briefings. You're careful about the way you throw out ideas, but when it comes down to it you know your stuff."
"You know, Hotch suggested I take the classes once, but I turned him down" the younger agent replied, taking a long draft of her beer, then turned to look over at her, her eyes serious behind a thin veil of laughter.
"Can you really imagine any of those guys having to interact with the press or go through the amount of paperwork I do on a daily basis?"
Emily chuckled at the image that conjured and shook her head, then sobered abruptly, fixing the woman at her side with a piercing gaze.
"No, not really. It just seems like a big sacrifice for you to make just so the team will have an easier time."
It was JJ's turn to give her a long, searching look, apparently startled by the observation, then her expression changed, becoming more introspective.
"I suppose so... but they're my family. Don't get me wrong, I love my family back home, but they don't have a clue what it is I do, or why I need to do it. They wanted certain things of me, like all parents do, I guess. The team, at least, understands, because we all have that need, that drive. It seems to be that what I give up to support the team is nothing compared to what I would be giving up if I didn't. I can't say I always enjoy my job, but someone has to do it. Better me, someone who knows and gets it, then someone less dedicated to them."
Emily smiled warmly, but she had the feeling that JJ had more she wanted to say, so she waited. Sure enough, the blonde took another sip of beer and turned back to her.
"I can't imagine what it would be like to be the daughter of people like your parents, but I do know what it feels like to be a disappointment, the dark child who never quite measures up. The big difference between you and I is that it's so much more public for you. Your parents are always in the spotlight, and because of that you have to be too. That has to be so draining. At least my 'failures' are restricted to a small group of people from a small town who probably would never even dream of the kind of fame and wealth your parents have. It's just so sad that those things are what make it so much harder for you, when most people would think they'd make it easier."
"It only makes it easier if you fit the mold," Emily agreed softly, then shook off the building depression, turning her hand over to give JJ's a gentle squeeze, "but you know, that doesn't mean much of anything. In the end, it doesn't matter how big or small the community is, or how much money is involved. All that really matters is that we have to live with the feeling that somehow we failed the people we most want to please because we're doing a job that has to be done, a job so few people understand."
"You really do get it, don't you?" JJ asked quietly, and Emily nodded.
"I've spent most of my life trying to get out of the box, JJ, trying to prove that I'm every bit as worthy as anyone else, and not because my parents have money or power. I've always believed that what a person works for and earns on their own merit is more valuable than what they're born into, but so few people are prepared to accept that I will work hard. And when I finally prove myself to the world, I've also failed in my parents' eyes. That hurts, every time I have to see it. My mother especially hates that I joined the Bureau, and she hates that I'm doing field work even more. But I need to do this job, just like you need to do yours. If we don't do it, who will? I just wish that people like us didn't have to give up on ever pleasing our parents to do it. We already give up so much. A personal life, for one. Peace of mind would be another."
JJ snorted softly at that. They both knew how true it was. No one who did what they did, saw what they saw, could ever look at humanity in the same way again.
"You've been on the job what, two, three weeks, and you already have all that figured out?"
Emily smiled wryly, shrugging.
"I'm a fast learner."
"You certainly are that, Emily," she replied softly, looking her directly in the eye, "and I think you've already found your place here. Give the team some time, and they'll see it too. Just remember that we don't need or want you to be the Ambassador's daughter. We just want Emily. If they learn to see you like I saw you that first day, and tonight, you'll be part of the family in no time."
She squeezed the brunette's hand again, smiling gently.
"As for me... as far as I'm concerned, you're part of my family already, Emily, and that's something I'm proud of."
A slow, sweet smile spread across the older agent's face, and for just a moment the habits of a lifetime tried to assert themselves, telling her to back off, to close down, but she just couldn't. So instead she made a conscious decision to ignore that little voice and raised her glass.
"To family then."
JJ lifted her beer, clinking them together, then they both took a long drink, sealing the deal. They both turned to each other at the same time, breaking out laughing in sync, the sound breaking the tension that had somehow formed around them. Emily, feeling more at ease than she had in a long time, sat back in the booth, finishing off her beer. Deciding she'd better not drink anymore, she ordered a soda water when the bartender came around again to ask if they wanted anything else. JJ did the same, both of them in silent agreement that it would be a bad idea to drink when they were both exhausted and still needed to drive home.
"So Emily," JJ started once the new drinks were delivered, "tell me something about yourself I don't already know."
The brunette thought about that seriously, then leaned close, JJ doing the same instinctively.
"I've never told anyone this before," she whispered, "so you can't say a word to anyone."
JJ nodded, taking this as seriously as she appeared to be, although Emily was sure her expressive eyes were giving her away.
"Some people know I'm an English geek. I'm a fan of the classics, of Shakespeare, and of obscure writers only a total nerd would read, or have even heard of. What no one knows is that behind my collection of first edition Chaucer's, Faulkner's, and Frosts, there is a secret stash of incredibly trashy romance novels dating as far back as the late 1800's."
Of all the things JJ had expected her to confide, that had obviously never occurred to her, and soda water went spewing across the table. Emily tried, really tried, not to laugh, but she couldn't stop herself. JJ mock-glared at her, grabbing the napkin she held out as a peace offering and wiping off her face and clothes.
"You really have hundred-year-old romance novels?" the blonde asked after only another moment of trying to maintain the facade of annoyance. Emily nodded solemnly, trying once again to hold back the mirth.
"Exceedingly trashy ones," she corrected seriously. That did it. JJ burst out laughing, and Emily joined her, enjoying the sense of camaraderie she was sharing with her companion. She noticed the bartender look over at them, clearly wondering what two FBI agents could possibly be talking about that was that funny. The poor man had no idea.
"So it's your turn," she commented, still chuckling. JJ considered that, although the attempt at seriousness was marred as she started hiccupping. Emily clapped her on the back until the hiccups stopped, then waited. The blonde thought for a few minutes, then looked up, leaning over to whisper, "Even Garcia doesn't know this, so if I ever hear anyone talking about it I will track you down and shoot you myself."
Emily nodded earnestly, knowing better than to take the threat too seriously, but nonetheless finding herself excited at the prospect of sharing secrets with JJ. She'd never really had anyone to share this kind of "girl talk" with, and it was fun to have it now.
"Well," JJ murmured, still speaking directly into her ear, "Every time I have to do a press conference and someone asks a question that really catches me off guard or hits a nerve, I imagine Hotch and Gideon doing the Macarena behind all the reporters. I swear it works every time."
Emily had put down her drink, having the good sense not to have anything in her mouth based on the wicked gleam in JJ's blue eyes, but she still found herself choking somehow, the mental image apparently short-circuiting her brain. The idea of the stiff, stoic Aaron Hotchner and the reserved, sometimes even cold Jason Gideon dancing the Macarena at the backs of a mob of reporters was so absurd that even her very vivid imagination was unable to quite cope with it.
"That... is so... twisted..." she gasped out, laughing so hard she could barely breathe. JJ laughed right along with her, leaving them both turning red, then almost purple. The bartender actually came over then and asked if anything was wrong, which just set them off again. He walked away quickly, almost as if he were afraid they were infected with some deadly disease and he would catch it, which only made it worse. They finally managed to stop, so drained by their mirth that they were slumped against each other. Companionable silence fell, broken by an occasional chuckle, and Emily felt herself starting to actually drift off a little.
"I don't think I've laughed like that since I was a little girl," she said softly, reluctant to bring the mood down but wanting JJ to know just she'd done for her, "In fact, I don't know if I've ever just... let go that way."
"Well, I'll have to think of some more stories then," JJ replied, apparently unperturbed by her sudden sobriety, "and next time, we should bring Garcia. Between the two of us we'll have you rolling on the floor crying for mercy."
Emily chuckled lowly, reveling in the calm surety of a "next time." That nagging little voice tried to tell her she probably shouldn't be slumped down in a booth at a bar with a coworker, but she shrugged it off. JJ was no better off. In point of fact, the younger woman's head was resting against her shoulder, and she seemed content to stay there for now. Emily once again decided that it wasn't worth listening to that voice. She finally had a friend she could just sit and enjoy herself with, and she was going to revel it while she had it. She wasn't naive. She knew nothing was perfect or eternal, but for the first time in a very long time, she was just Emily, and she couldn't help but notice she rather liked that person. Apparently JJ did too, and that was important.
"Thank you for tonight, Emily," JJ whispered, startling her out of her almost melancholic reverie. She glanced down at the blonde agent, meeting the blue eyes that had turned to meet her own.
"No, thank you. This was fun."
JJ nodded slightly, and the brunette smiled, seeing how tired her companion really was. She looked so young like this, she noticed, but that took nothing away from the person she knew JJ was.
"We should get home," she murmured softly, loath to end the evening. It seemed a shame to make JJ get up and drive when she was so clearly exhausted and relaxed, but she had the sense that if she let her... friend... fall asleep now, she would be in no state to drive at all. She seriously considered driving the blonde home herself, wondering if she would be offended by the offer. Neither of them were in the least bit drunk, especially after the time since their beers, but sometimes exhaustion was worse than intoxication, and if JJ got into an accident...
"JJ, give me your keys," she commanded gently, that last thought making her mind up for her, and the blonde looked up at her blankly for a long moment, then understanding crossed her face.
"I'm not drunk, Emily." she replied, but it was more of a statement of fact than an objection. Emily sighed and nodded, but still she held out her hand.
"No you aren't, but you're falling asleep sitting up. I don't want you getting into an accident driving home."
The other agent might have tried to argue, but then she stopped, looking up into the older woman's dark eyes. Emily thought she must have seen the fear there and figured out where it was coming from, because in the next moment JJ's car keys were being pressed into her hand. She smiled, more than a little relieved by the capitulation to her request. She helped JJ to her feet, noticing that the woman was swaying on her feet, yet more evidence of her exhaustion. She quietly paid their bill and fetched their coats, guiding her charge to her car and settling her in the passenger's seat before getting in on the driver's side and strapping in, needing to push the seat back to compensate for the difference in their heights. Only then did it occur to her that she wasn't exactly sure where JJ lived.
The blonde chuckled, hearing the unspoken question. She gave directions, which Emily wrote down rapidly, deciding that while she usually had an excellent memory, she didn't want to risk getting them lost. JJ was mostly silent during the drive, and after a while she glanced over and smiled, realizing she had fallen asleep. Her directions had been perfect though, and before long she was pulling into the driveway. She quietly parked and went around to the passenger's side, helping JJ out of the car and into her home, patiently asking her where her room was. She tried to offer to give her the nickel tour, but Emily refused, half-carrying the exhausted woman to her room and helping her lay down, helping her take her shoes off and settle the covers over herself.
"How are you going to get home, Emily?" JJ asked tiredly, already nearly asleep. Emily smiled affectionately, impressed that the woman was still conscious, much less thinking about her welfare.
"I'll call a cab to take me back to my car, don't worry."
"You could stay here..."
Again Emily smiled, tempted to accept, but she decided against it. She was awake now, or at least as awake as she could be, and she didn't want to impose on her new friend.
"Shh, JJ. Get some rest. I'll call a cab and drive home. It'll be fine."
"Call me tomorrow then," the blonde insisted sleepily, "so I know you got home okay."
"I will," she promised, smoothing the blankets again, "I'll talk to you tomorrow, JJ. Thank you so much for tonight."
She saw a faint smile cross the blonde's face, and the blue eyes opened somewhat.
"That's what family does, Emily. So any time you need an ear, or two, you know where to find me."
Emily rolled the word over in her mind, and for the first time it made her... happy. This is what family should be like, she decided, mutual support without strings or price, and that was what JJ had given her so easily tonight.
"The same goes for you, JJ," she whispered, kneeling down so her friend would hear the words, "Any time at all."
JJ caught her hand and squeezed it as she rose, and Emily returned the gesture. She started to leave, knowing that if JJ weren't asleep already, she would be shortly, but then hesitated and pulled out one of her cards, which were very, very new, and quickly wrote her cell phone number and a quick message on the back, setting it on the other agent's nightstand, weighted down by the gun JJ had unclipped and set there. As she reached the door she turned back and smiled warmly.
"Sweet dreams, JJ."
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