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: Unknown
Emily woke up slowly, pulling and clawing herself out of a nightmare of darkness and agony, only to feel herself pinned by a weight across her waist and something on her shoulder. She almost panicked, but something held back the flood of terror that threatened to drown her, and she decided that opening her eyes would be a good first step. She did so slowly, some instinct making her wary. She was glad of her caution moments later when the dim lights of wherever she was seemed to sear her retinas. She waited a few moments before trying again, this time with more success, but once again she was forced to close her eyes again, and this time she used the time to think. She knew that her kidnap and subsequent torture had happened. That much was burned into her memory, but there was something else that she couldn't be sure was reality or fantasy. She hoped it was the later, because if it weren't... well. She'd deal with that if it came up. With that terrifying thought at the fore of her mind, she opened her eyes, and this time she was able to keep them open, though she had to blink hard a few times. Her view was hazy, but it sure didn't look like the bomb shelter she'd been trapped in for almost a week. That wasn't immediately reassuring, however. That didn't eliminate more than one potential hell, nor was it conclusive proof she was free.
She frowned at the whisper of sound right next to her ear, which seemed to have come from the weight on her shoulder. Blinking slowly, she turned her head, her eyes, probably so weak because of disuse, she decided, barely able to make out the shape of a woman's face. As she adjusted to the dim light, and to seeing, she was able to differentiate between tanned golden skin and strands of hair ranging in color from platinum to almost amber. Her eyes widened as her brain, muzzy and unfocused, she noted absently, made the leap to knowing who the owner of that face, and that hair, was. She glanced down, assuring herself that the warm, living weight around her waist was an arm, and the pressure against her side was from a body pressed against her own. She sighed inwardly, but then the panic returned. All she had ascertained so far was that Jennifer Jareau was laying next to her. That didn't mean either of them were safe, despite the lack of restraints and the relative comfort of the bed she was on. Fear cleared some of the fog, and the adrenaline rush gave her the strength to shift slightly, ignoring how much moving hurt.
Again that soft murmur derailed her thought process, taking the worst of the edge off her fear, keeping it at bay while still allowing her to utilize it. As she forced her eyes to focus, she realized that the dark shapes scattered around the walls of the room were those of her teammates, and her heart beat faster. She had to believe Samis wouldn't go to the trouble of capturing all of them, and no one looked injured or restrained. She sighed silently again, laying back and letting her eyes focus further. Finally she looked above her, finding the unmistakable monitors and wires that always meant hospital. Now that she looked she could see the IV in her arm and the bags that fed into the tubes, and from there into the needle embedded in her vein. Banana bag for nutrients and a glucose solution to stabilize her blood sugar, her brain supplied, which again indicated hospital. Samis wouldn't have gone to the bother, would he?
The sound of her own name got her to turn back to JJ, but the woman was apparently still asleep. As she looked at her team again, she realized that they were really all there. Rossi was propped up in a chair in the corner to the left the door, Hotch opposite him in the right corner. Garcia was leaning against Morgan to her left, the man's arms wrapped protectively around her, and Reid was on his own near the window to her right. And JJ...
Emily watched her friend as she breathed slowly and apparently fell back into a deeper sleep, taking in the dark shadows around her face and how pale and gaunt she looked from this range. She frowned worriedly, but it looked more like exhaustion than torture and starvation. She was grateful for that. She was well aware that she had compartmentalized all too effectively this time, and that she was somewhere between shock and dissociation, but in the end she really didn't care. Which was part of the problem of course, but she knew that she hadn't completely succumbed, because she was capable of feeling and aware of her emotions, and she was most definitely experiencing the relief of knowing that JJ was safe. If she had woken up to find that JJ was being tortured as she had been, she thought she would have shattered, but her mind clung to the very real weight and warmth of her friend's body like the lifeline it was. As long as JJ was safe, as long as her team was free, she could hold on. She felt her whole body tensing in response to that remembered terror, but she was once again distracted as JJ stirred, lifting her head up and blinking tiredly. The first thing she did was look down at her, Emily noticed, then she froze as she realized Emily was awake and looking back at her.
"Emily... oh thank God... please tell me I'm not dreaming this."
Emily blinked slowly, realizing slowly that her friend wanted, even needed, a verbal reply. Struggling against an instinct that had been almost all-powerful during that week of hell, she forced her brain to form words, having to work hard to remember how to give them voice.
The single word was almost inaudible, and she frowned again, feeling the rawness of her own throat, remembering idly that sometimes electric shock did that. Screaming would too, but she knew she hadn't screamed. If she had, she'd be dead, like the others. JJ must have seen something of the fear the thought triggered, because she reached out, cupping her face in one hand. Only then did she realize that the other woman was holding tightly to her other hand.
"You're safe now, Emily," JJ whispered soothingly, her fingers brushing her hair behind her ear, "I'm here. I won't let anything happen to you."
For the first time in at least a week, plus however long she'd been unconscious, or at least she assumed she'd been unconscious, she wasn't afraid. It only lasted a moment, but it was enough to push back the worst of the fog again.
"How... how long?" she rasped, hoping JJ would understand. Of course she would, she reminded herself. Since the first day they'd met, Jennifer had understood her.
"We found you four days ago," the liaison replied, watching her eyes widen.
Here Jennifer hesitated, but Emily knew she wouldn't lie to her. She was just trying to find the right words, the ones that would tell her both the good news and the bad without sending her into a panic. She wished she could explain that it was all right, that she wouldn't shatter, but the reality was that she didn't know if those words would be true, so she didn't say them.
"Bad, Emily," JJ started at last, her blue eyes, bloodshot and dull, filled with pain and what might have been tears, "He cracked a few ribs and caused some internal bleeding. You had a bleed in your brain they had to drain the day we found you, then again two days ago, but that ended up being for the best. It turned out it was the pressure of the fluids on your brain that was causing a lot of problems for your body. It was touch and go for a while, but they figured it out. They even managed to avoid having to shave your head to do it. That was a big concern."
A single tear tracked down JJ's pale face despite the attempt at a joke, the hot liquid falling onto Emily's shoulder.
"I was really worried about you," she whispered, obviously holding back more tears. Emily tried to smile reassuringly, but she knew her face wasn't cooperating. Next she tried embracing the younger woman, finding that while she couldn't lift her right arm, her left would cooperate, even if it wasn't exactly how it normally was. JJ apparently saw the struggle and smiled tearfully, bringing up the hand she still held and pressing it to her chest.
"He did some damage to the nerves in your hands and feet, but it's not permanent. Actually, the doctors did some tests yesterday and said it was mostly healed. They told me you had lost a lot of muscle, though, and you would have to work to get it back."
That explained a lot, and it made perfect sense. Being starved and dehydrated for six days could do that to a person. It still didn't get her what she wanted, though, so she slowly and carefully freed her hand from JJ's. Seeing the hurt in her blue eyes, she reached out again, tugging weakly on the blonde until realized what Emily was asking. She hesitated a moment longer, probably about to say something about her being injured, but she tugged again, more insistently this time, and JJ gave in, burying her face in her shoulder and sobbing freely. Knowing her friend as she did, JJ would feel guilty for breaking down as soon as the worst of the storm had passed, so she rubbed her back as well as she could and struggled again to find the words she needed. The effort was almost too much for her, but for Jennifer, it was worth it. Whether she knew it or not, the woman had saved her life.
"Jennifer... it's okay," she whispered, hating the way her voice sounded like it belonged to a woman thirty years older and in the habit of smoking a couple packs a day, "It's okay to cry... let it out."
After a moment of once again trying to hold herself in check, JJ did let go. As she cried, Emily felt something within herself come loose, like a tight knot finally coming undone, and to her surprise tears started falling from her own eyes. As the salty fluid fell she felt as if a little of the horror she'd experienced, and witnessed, was starting to be cleansed from her, and while each tear was like a drop being taken from the ocean, it was something. At some point JJ's sobs eased off somewhat and she had taken her head from the crook of Emily's neck. Now she was looking down at her with such an incredible mix of relief and gratitude that the brunette was overwhelmed by her own emotions for a moment. The flood was gone as quickly as it had come, and far too fast for her to give names to all the emotions, but she knew without a doubt that this woman had kept her alive for ten days, and she didn't think she could ever repay that debt. JJ smiled tenderly, wiping the tears off her own and reaching over, taking a damp washcloth from somewhere and rubbing it over her face. Once again Emily felt as if she was being cleansed one drop at a time, but this time it was Jennifer purifying her, and somehow that was so much better. She wasn't alone any more.
"Jennifer... I think I'm falling asleep," she whispered faintly, realizing only as she said it that it was true. She had obviously exhausted whatever reserves her body had managed to regain, and while she didn't like the weakness, she could live with it as long as she knew she would never wake up in that place again. And of course JJ understood.
"Just promise me you'll wake up again," the blonde whispered, "and I'll promise that I will be right here next to you, and you won't ever wake up there. Never again, Emily."
She felt herself starting to smile, tugging at muscles in her face that had gone stiff and sore with disuse, but the expression on Jennifer's face told her she'd managed this time.
"Of course I'll wake up, Jennifer," she replied teasingly, or as close to that as she could, "What sane person wouldn't with that kind of incentive?"
JJ had the good manners to blush at her admittedly lame attempt at humor, earning another weak smile from her friend. Before letting go of her grip on consciousness, though, she turned to Hotch, meeting his hawk-like gaze. He rose and strode over, moving silently so as not to wake the other agents.
"It's good to see you awake," he murmured softly, and she nodded, knowing he was sincere. Still, she had to make things right, even if it was in only one small way.
"Hotch... you need to make sure everyone rests. As in goes home. There's no reason for them to stay here."
She felt JJ stiffen and start to object, but the older man held up a hand, fixing Prentiss with his intense stare.
"One of our family was hurt, Agent Prentiss. We have every reason to be here. And today of all days no one should have to be alone, although many people will be."
Emily and JJ both frowned, trying to figure out what he meant. JJ, who had more reason than her friend to know the date, gasped suddenly, tears inexplicably rushing to her eyes again.
"Emily... it's Valentines Day."
The brunette had to think about that for a few minutes, wondering at the significance. If it hadn't upset JJ so badly, she might have just given in to the exhaustion that was weighing down her mind and body, but it had, so it mattered. Finally the holiday registered, as did the reason it had made Jennifer so sad.
"Go, Jennifer," she whispered intently, almost slipping back into the darkness against her will, but she rallied with the same will that had kept her together during her torture, "All of you should go. Be with your friends, family... anywhere but in a hospital on a day like today. Please go."
Again Hotch held up a hand, holding back what would have been a vehement refusal from JJ.
"Prentiss, I assure you that if anyone wishes to leave they may. In fact myself and Rossi will be leaving shortly to go back to Quantico to file our reports. JJ, I'm going to make sure you and anyone else who wants it is given all the vacation time they need."
Once again Emily was confused, then a little afraid as JJ suddenly released her hand and got up, moving to stand in front of the unit chief. When she suddenly threw her arms around him, Hotch started, then carefully wrapped his arms around his crying press liaison, looking over her shoulder at Prentiss, who looked both confused and touched. He was uncomfortable with displaying affection, especially with members of his team, but JJ needed this, and he decided in a way that Prentiss did too. She was stubborn and willful, and yes, almost reckless, but she was also incredibly loyal. If she didn't see that JJ was getting the support she needed, she wouldn't allow her friend to support her. If that happened... well, it wouldn't be good. So he allowed the embrace and calmed JJ as best he could before guiding her back to her bed.
"Thank you so much, Hotch," the blonde murmured, hopping up and resuming her place at Emily's side, wrapping a protective arm around the barely conscious agent.
"Of course," he replied gently, patting her shoulder, "Call me if you need anything, or if something comes up. I'll keep my phone on."
He turned his attention to his wounded agent, giving her shoulder a light squeeze, gratified to notice that she didn't shy away from the contact. That was a good sign. It wouldn't be good if she would only trust JJ. Behind him Rossi was rising, straightening his clothes and looking for all the world like he'd never been asleep.
"If you need anything, at all, you know how to reach me. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Emily nodded, but he could tell she wasn't really aware of much. He smiled faintly and glanced at JJ, who was watching her friend with eyes both affectionate and protective. She was in good hands, and he felt better about leaving.
"You'll tell her when she wakes up?"
The blonde nodded, and he patted her arm before turning away, clapping David on the shoulder and striding out with the older man a step behind him. JJ watched them go, but already her attention had shifted. Emily was asleep again, but this time she wasn't worried her friend wouldn't wake up. Besides, it was only just after five in the morning. No one should be awake if they didn't have to be. She used the time and silence to finish filing her report for this case, wanting very badly to just be done with it, as well as to halfheartedly check over a few new cases she had been asked to review for the BAU. Right on schedule, Nathan and Emily's doctor appeared to give her the mandatory morning checkup. They were quiet, respecting the FBI agents' need to rest, but for all that they were thorough as always. No doctor or nurse ever skimped on Emily's care, she'd noticed, and for that she was grateful.
"So she woke up this morning?" Dr. Kelso asked softly when JJ related the morning's events. She nodded, and he smiled, more than a little relief in the expression. She'd known he'd been worried that Emily's prolonged unconsciousness was a sign of some internal damage they hadn't detected, and hearing that his patient had come to, even if it was only for about ten minutes, and she'd been able to speak and think reasonably coherently, must have taken a huge load off his mind.
"The fact that she was so coherent tells us that her brain used its rest period effectively," he explained, as always ensuring that JJ knew what was going on with her 'charge', "which is a very good sign. Most trauma patients wake up very confused and disoriented at first, and sometimes they aren't able to speak at all."
"She was disoriented," the blonde remarked, remembering the fear and haziness in her friend's eyes when she'd first awoken, "And I think she was awake for a little while before I was. I think she probably had time to figure out where she was, otherwise she would have been terrified. I did notice that she didn't seem to be able to see very well, and she had to really work to talk."
He nodded, making notes on the chart he held.
"That's pretty normal. Your colleague is very strong-willed, Agent Jareau. I don't think I have to tell you how incredible it is she survived what she did. Now that she's woken up, she should be past the worst of it physically. I'm not a psychiatrist, so I can say nothing of her mental state, but medically, she's on the mend."
JJ nodded, but she heard how worried he was. She was too, if she were honest. Emily hadn't been all there, and while she knew her friend was good at coping with things that would have sent most people into a panic, this was different. She didn't believe anyone could "compartmentalize" what the brunette had suffered. She certainly couldn't. It wasn't the worst torture she'd ever seen, but it was the first time she'd seen it done to someone she cared so much about. Reid's torment had been horrible, but this had been worse, in her mind at least. It had been for longer, and with much more directed cruelty. And it was Emily... brave, brilliant, strong Emily who had always been so steady, so sure. And here she was, wounded, barely recovering from everything, and still she was taking care of the team as best she could. Emily had wanted them to go live their lives, almost as if...
"Oh my God," she whispered, realizing what it had sounded like. Emily was too strong to die, too strong to give up or scream even when that worthless piece of shit tortured her to within an inch of her life. And yet some part of her seemed to believe her life and well-being was less important than her team having a good Valentine's Day.
"Agent Jareau?" the doctor asked worriedly, gesturing for Nathan to steady her. She had paled dramatically, and she looked very sick. The nurse took her pulse and watched her with growing concern at the racing blood he felt in her wrist.
The blonde shook her head, broken out of a very disturbing, very dark train of thought. She had enough experience with victims and their families to know what that kind of thinking lead to, and that was where Emily was right now in her head, whether she realized it or not. Fortunately for her, she was surrounded by profilers who understood the psychological impact of torture and also cared a great deal for her. And she had JJ.
"I'm all right," she reassured the two men, noticing that their voices had roused her teammates, "I just realized something. Don't worry, I'm really okay. So, Emily's doing okay."
They glanced at each other, and Dr. Kelso nodded to Nathan, who retreated to his side, but they both still looked concerned.
"She's doing as well or better than we could have expected physically. As I told you before, the patient's mind is always a factor in recovery, and Agent Prentiss clearly has quite the will to live."
At that JJ smiled, giving her friend an affectionate look.
"Emily has a lot to live for, and I think she knows that. I certainly hope she does."
"She better," Garcia commented, standing up and moving to her side, taking her hand, "and if she forgets, we're all here to remind her."
The two medical professionals had to smile at that. They hadn't expected a team of federal agents to be this close, and this protective of each other, but there they were. The blonde especially watched over their patient with an intensity and focus they rarely saw.
"Okay, good. Well, we're done here. We'll be back later, and you know who to call if she needs anything."
Nathan and Dr. Kelso left, leaving the BAU team alone. JJ sighed softly, looking down at Emily again before looking up at her colleagues, her family. She would need their help to ensure her friend's survival, and she hoped Emily would understand that they were going to help her, because almost inevitably she would have times of despair that she wouldn't want to live through. The key was making sure she got through them, and that until the worst of those waves had passed, she was never alone. JJ wasn't stupid. She would be there as much as possible, but she wouldn't always be able to be there. She wouldn't go back to work without Emily, though. She knew Hotch would see to it that she wouldn't have to, but there would still be times she'd have to away from her friend. Even things as simple as grocery runs and that sort of thing had to be planned for.
"We'll help, JJ," Reid commented from Emily's right side, having watched the play of emotions across her face. He stepped up nervously, his eyes strained with remembered pain. He had relived his own torture watching that damned video, but because of that he had come to a decision. He had isolated himself from the team, had refused to let them in until it was almost too late. Ethan and Gideon had pulled him out of it, but he had never quite forgiven himself for the way he'd treated Emily, who had really tried to help him despite his attitude. He'd never apologized to her, or let her know he understood what she'd tried to do. He didn't want her to go through the same thing he had, and he definitely didn't want her to shut them out the way he had.
"All of you helped me back then, even when I didn't want you to," he remarked softly, giving voice to thoughts he'd been having since Emily had disappeared, "No one should have to go through that alone. I didn't have to, but I tried. It was... it was stupid of me."
It was difficult to admit that, they all knew, but JJ was touched that he'd made the effort.
"Thanks, Spence. I mean it."
He smiled shyly and stepped back uncertainly, running a hand through his messy hair. Morgan smiled faintly, and Garcia grinned at him.
"And of course you know I'm in," the tech goddess chimed in, hugging JJ gently, "Emily is fantastic, and she's family. She's been hurt enough."
JJ smiled at them all, although her gaze was colder when she looked at Morgan. The dark man bowed his head, then looked back up, his face incredibly sad.
"You know I'll do anything to help. I just hope she'll forgive me..."
The other agents all looked at him, Garcia and Reid wishing they could offer comfort, but in all honesty they were upset with him too. After a quick look at JJ, the tech analyst did hug him, but he could feel that it wasn't nearly as warm as it usually was. He didn't blame her.
"Well, I have this idea that could help cheer her up a little bit, but I'll need your help to pull it off."
She quickly outlined her plan, and while Reid was a little embarrassed by the whole thing, he readily agreed to play his part. The team scattered, leaving JJ alone with Emily again. She called Nathan in, pumping him for information she needed. He quickly figured out what she was asking and why, and soon enough he was gone again, a wide smile on his face. She raced through her remaining work this time, wanting to get as much finished as she could while Emily was asleep. By the time the brunette started to stir in the late evening, everything was in place and she had gotten through a significant chunk of her pending workload. She was watching this time as her friend came to, and saw the fear, the disorientation, and the momentary panic as Emily realized she was there next to her, and she was prepared for it.
"It's okay, Emily," she whispered soothingly, stroking her hair back and tenderly cupping her cheek, "I've got you. You're safe. We are safe. And we have a few things we want to give you. Do you think you could sit up a little for me?"
Her companion tried, but it wasn't until JJ and Reid helped her that she managed to straighten up. Morgan propped the bed up for her so she wouldn't have to support herself, and they helped her lean back until she was comfortably upright. Prentiss gave Morgan a long look, and the lithe young man looked back, his gaze so guilty and self-loathing that even JJ almost took pity on him.
"Derek..." Emily started hesitantly, visibly trying to sort through her memories and find what she wanted to convey to him. Finally she sighed, the liaison easily able to see how intensely she was concentrating to do something they all took for granted.
"I can't say I'm glad you were too busy flirting to notice I got grabbed," she stated firmly, sounding almost like her usual self, but JJ could see the toll it was taking on her, "but the fact is, Samis had decided he was going to get me one way or another. He was prepared to kill anyone who got in the way. I'm almost grateful you got distracted. According to him, that woman saved your life."
"What are you saying?" he asked, his tone full of both fear and hope. The brunette sighed, and JJ felt her starting to tremble with the strain of speaking like this, and about this particular subject.
"I'm saying that I don't consider you responsible for what happened. He got me because he had a knife to a woman's throat. When I got an opening I almost had him, but I couldn't let that woman die so I could get away."
Dark brown eyes glazed over then, and the blonde gently squeezed her hand, anchoring her to the present. They all knew that woman had ended up dead in the end, and one of the things they would have to address was that it wasn't Emily's fault. She had almost lost her life trying to protect her, but her fate had been sealed. Today wasn't about that, though. Today was about getting her to smile, and, if only for a moment, maybe even to forget.
"Emily," Derek whispered, stepping forward and hesitantly holding out his hand. Emily nodded, allowing him to embrace her carefully, although she clearly wasn't strong enough to return the hug with any force.
"I am so sorry, Emily..."
"Don't be sorry. Just don't do it again."
The simple statement sounded so much like their Emily Prentiss that they all chuckled, even Morgan, despite the tears on his face. He pulled back after a moment, looking at his teammates. He knew they were still upset, and with good reason, but the fact that Emily had apparently forgiven him went a long way.
"Okay, enough with the serious talk!" Garcia declared suddenly, startling Emily into looking over at her. As she did her eyes took in the sudden color filling the room, and she blinked, trying to reconcile the image with how the room looked when she'd first woken up. The flowers and decorations were all new. The room looked more like a Valentine's supply store than a hospital room.
"What is all this?" she asked weakly, unable to keep her voice strong and even any more. One look into JJ's reassuring blue eyes told her it was okay, that she didn't need to keep up a facade, and that was enough for now.
"Just be our Emily," JJ whispered in her ear, reminding her of a conversation they'd had more than a year ago. She gave her friend a small smile, letting her know she remembered.
"So, we have presents for you!" Garcia went on, outwardly oblivious to the exchange between the two female agents, "Mine first though!"
Emily turned back to her, raising an eyebrow at the huge basket Garcia set on the bedside table.
"What is this?" she asked again, taken aback by the change in the room and the festive atmosphere her friends were managing to give the sterile hospital.
"That, my lovely lady, is everything you're going to need to keep yourself busy while you recuperate. I got trashy tabloids, puzzles, comic books, crosswords, board games, and even some romance novels just for kicks!"
Dark and light eyes met, and this time Emily's smile was wider. JJ was the only one who knew about or had ever seen her secret stash, but they weren't about to say anything about that now.
"Thank you so much, Garcia," she answered sincerely, wishing she were physically strong enough to dig in now, but knowing she had neither the energy or concentration for anything remotely intellectually challenging right now. She was more clear-headed this time, but with that came a price. She remembered more clearly too. Shaking off her dark thoughts, she turned to Morgan, who handed her a small wrapped package and two cards.
"Happy Valentines day. Motor-mouth here forgot to give you her card, and that's mine too."
She opened Garcia's card cautiously, and true to form it immediately started blasting out the song Too Sexy. She managed a soft laugh, shaking her head. The words were simple but sweet, wishing her happiness and reminding her how loved she was. Morgan's card was a little more toned down, but once again very sweet. She held them out to JJ, who smiled and set them upright on her bedside table where she could reach them. Next she opened the gift, another smile crossing her face at the contents, an autographed first-edition of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. She waved the dark man over, hugging him as best she could, which wasn't well.
"I guess it's my turn now," Reid mumbled, and handed over a card and another gift. The card was unsure but kind, like Reid himself, and more than anything else she appreciated the effort on his part. Spencer Reid was not a master of these sorts of things, but he had tried, and that was the sweetest thing he had ever done for her. She gave him a hug too, whispering a very sincere thanks in his ear. He backed away blushing, but clearly touched. His gift was a CD he had clearly burned and hand-labeled, with a song list on the back of the case. The artists were varied, and she realized that while some of them were songs she liked, many of them had to be from his personal collection, or songs he had heard that he thought she'd like.
"Thank you, Reid. This looks great."
He blushed again at her compliment and backed away a little further, clearly unsure of what to do now. She smiled at him, then started to turn to JJ, but then the door swung open and Hotch came in, looking just a little harried, but also almost smug.
"I hope I'm not too late to take my turn."
Emily stared at him, and he smiled a little, holding the door open. To everyone's surprise, Haley Hotchner strode in, looking uncertain at first. When she saw Emily she rushed forward, embracing the dark woman tightly.
"What are you doing here?" Emily asked when Haley pulled back, wiping tears off her face. She hated how raspy and weak her voice sounded, but there was just nothing she could do about it.
"Aaron called and told me what happened. He asked if I was willing to fly down here to visit you, and of course I said yes. How are you feeling?"
The brunette considered that, then shrugged slightly, trying for a wry smile.
"I've certainly been better, but I'll live."
Haley gave her a piercing look not unlike an expression she'd seen on her supervisor's face, and she knew that her bravado hadn't worked. She shook her head, unwilling to break the mood.
"Don't worry. I've got my family to look after me."
The statement made Haley smile, and she watched her turn, giving Hotch a long, considering look. When she turned back her eyes were tear-filled but content.
"Yes you do."
"And if you forget it, you've got plenty to remind you," Rossi observed, coming in as he spoke. Emily looked around at everyone, feeling, not for the first time, just a little closed in, but at the same time there was a safety in having everyone there with her.
"And now it's my turn," JJ murmured, clearly able to see that Hotch and Rossi had done and said as much as they were going to right now. She took something off the table and handed it to Emily, surprised by the almost reverent way her friend unwrapped it. Inside the paper was a leather-bound photo album she'd put together to give to Emily after she'd found out she'd gone missing, knowing from experience that she'd need something uplifting. It was the one thing she'd done during those six days that hadn't been directly related to finding the older woman, and she had decided now was as good time as any to give it to her.
She watched the play of emotions flicker across her friend's face as she looked at the pictures. Some were from outings and barbecues they'd had with the team, some were single shots, others of groups and pairs. Each picture had a little label with the date and a little comment telling the reader where the pictures had been taken. When Emily looked up at her with those expressive brown eyes full of tears, she smiled gently and wrapped her arms around her, holding her as she cried softly, one hand stroking her hair. Once the storm had passed she looked up with a tired smile, meeting the eyes of everyone in the room.
"Thank you all so much. I think this is the best Valentine's I've ever had."
"Now that's just sad," Garcia muttered, shaking her head in apparently sincere disapproval, "Once we get you out of here and get you all better, I'm going to see to it you get a proper party. And next year, well..."
She trailed off, but they all knew her mental wheels were spinning.
"Should I be scared?" Emily asked the woman at her side in a stage whisper, and the blonde laughed.
The team broke out laughing, even Rossi, who had been there long enough to be familiar with some of Garcia's eccentricities. As if summoned by the sound of laughter, Nathan slipped in, carrying a couple of bags in one hand and balancing a tray with the other. Morgan hurried to relieve him of the heavy paper bags, leaving him free to set the tray down in front of Emily with a little flair.
"What's this?" she asked curiously, trying to figure out who the strangely familiar young man was.
"Well, your friends asked me what you'd be able to eat and if I could get something for you. So..."
With a mock bow, he pulled off the cover, revealing a surprisingly tasty looking plate of steamed vegetables, soft bread dyed red and cut into little hearts, and a bowl of light broth. On the side were two chocolate hearts, which he informed her were raspberry truffles.
"I love raspberry... truffles..."
She trailed off, fixing JJ with an incredulous stare.
The blonde laughed and nodded, gesturing to the tray.
"Of course I did. And just so you know, this is Nurse Nathan Khee. Our team got him justice for a friend of his, although we didn't know it at the time, and he's been kind enough to help us all out while we've been here."
Emily smiled at him, and he grinned, waving slightly.
"Agent Jareau asked me if I'd be willing to pick these up for you, and of course I was glad to help. Valentine's Day isn't just for lovers. It's for family, in a way."
With that he slipped out, embarrassed by what he'd said. Morgan chuckled at his abrupt retreat, handing out the bags he'd been carrying.
"He brought food for everyone, it looks like. Oh, and Emily," he turned to look at the wounded woman, grinning mischievously, "I think he has a bit of a crush on you and JJ."
Emily snorted softly, waiting until everyone else had their food before carefully lifting her stronger hand and spearing a very tender carrot.
"I don't doubt he could have a crush on her," and she gestured at JJ with a slight tilt of her head, "but I've been unconscious for four days and I'm sure I look like hell warmed over. I doubt he'd develop a crush on me."
Before Morgan could think of anything to say, JJ leaned over, brushing her hair out of her face.
"Actually, Emily, you're way too hard on yourself. I think you look beautiful."
The blonde's tan skin colored at the looks she got from the team, but Garcia readily backed her up, followed by Morgan a second later. She got the impression, however, that Emily hadn't even heard them. Her eyes were fixed on JJ's, her pale cheeks a little red.
"You think I'm beautiful, Jennifer? Now, of all times?" she asked, the question masked from the others by a boisterous argument that had sprung up between Morgan and Reid about some favorite food or something to that effect. JJ was surprised by the intensity behind the question and almost made a joke to break it, but as she looked into Emily's dark eyes she realized how important this was to her friend.
"I've always thought you were beautiful, Emily," she replied, her tone and expression just as serious as her friend's, "and that's certainly true now. I don't think anything could take that away from you. But right here, right now? I don't think I've ever seen anything so amazingly beautiful as you are when you're smiling. And knowing everything you went through, that smile is even more incredible."
There was stillness around them for a few moments, as if the two bickering men and the others didn't exist, then Emily let out a soft sigh and rested her head on her shoulder, leaning into the touch as JJ gently wiped away her tears. After a moment she looked up, a sweet, shy smile on her face that she hadn't seen even a glimpse of in too long.
"Thank you for believing that," she whispered, "It really means a lot."
The blonde smiled back, wishing she had a camera to capture that expression in a picture. She blinked as a sudden flash of light blinded her, looking up to find Garcia hurriedly hiding a digital camera behind her back, looking guilty. Suddenly Emily burst out laughing, and after a shared glance JJ joined in, catching on to the joke.
"You better be planning on giving me a copy of that picture, Garcia," Emily rumbled, her voice once again more like its normal self, "because if you don't, I'll have to hunt you down for it."
The tech analyst grinned and nodded earnestly, and that apparently settled the issue. Things got more or less quiet as they all turned their attention to food, including Emily, who, now that she'd relaxed, realized she was really very hungry. She knew better than to rush, though. Her body hadn't had anything but IV nutrition for ten days, and she knew the food she'd been given by the nurse had been very carefully chosen to keep from upsetting her digestion. The vegetables were so soft they almost melted in her mouth, the broth was bland, but not so much so that it was unpalatable, and the bread, when dipped in that same broth, went down easily enough. She was very full by the time she'd finished the small portions, but she was not about to waste good chocolate.
"So, did Nurse Khee happen to mention where he was getting these from?" she asked curiously, and JJ grinned.
"He did, actually, since I told him to tell Garcia where to go. I would never get you anything but the best chocolate, Emily Prentiss. That'd be like giving you a six dollar bottle of wine."
The brunette laughed lowly, putting a truffle in her mouth and feeling it melt, the explosion of flavor properly overwhelming to her deprived senses, and she actually moaned aloud, not caring that Hotch and Rossi were still there, or that Haley was in the room. When she remembered she blushed but Rossi just looked amused, and Haley and Hotch were looking at each other, Haley with understanding and Hotch with bemused tolerance. Garcia understood, of course, and Morgan just shook his head. Reid was blushing and looking anywhere but at her, which made her smile again. She picked up the other chocolate treat, considered, then turned, pressing it to JJ's lips. The press liaison took it, grinning appreciatively, then moaning herself as she tasted the finest chocolate DC had to offer for only the second time in her life.
"I must have done something very right for you to give that up," she mumbled, and Emily laughed, ducking her head a bit to hide the blush she wore.
"You did, Jennifer. Believe me, you did."
"All right, crazy women," Garcia interrupted, drawing the two women's attention, "since no one saw fit to share any chocolate with me, I'm going to go fetch some of my own."
With that, Garcia strutted out, Morgan in tow. Reid mumbled something incoherent and followed, and Rossi left a few minutes later when his cell rang.
"It's good to see you smiling, Emily," Haley remarked into the quiet, and three pairs of eyes turned to her. She shrugged, glancing over at Hotch before looking back.
"I can't stay, since I left Jack with my sister and she has to work tomorrow, but I'm glad I was able to come see you. Take care, Emily. If you need anything, Aaron can always reach me."
She stepped out, but both women saw the way she quickly grasped the unit chief's hand on the way out. He followed her out, giving his agents a small, sad smile as he went. Once they were alone, Emily sighed, closing her eyes tiredly.
"You know, I love all of them, but they're really exhausting in a group," JJ commented, putting words to the thoughts Emily herself had been having. She nodded slightly, and her friend smiled as she saw how close to just falling back asleep she was.
"I have one other gift for you, Emily, if you think you can stay awake long enough."
The brunette chuckled faintly, opening her eyes and giving her a teasing look.
"Ten days without a cup of coffee and you'd be falling asleep too, Jennifer," she grumbled, but her eyes gave her away. JJ didn't call her on it, but she didn't need to. She'd noticed something else, too. Emily hadn't stopped calling her Jennifer. Not that she thought she should, but it was interesting to her that every time she called her that, those expressive eyes seemed to be full of shadows and fear. It was like using her formal name somehow grounded Emily against the trauma and its aftermath.
"Probably," she agreed, but her thoughts were still racing. Almost no one called her Jennifer any more. She introduced herself as Jennifer Jareau, but always added that most people called her JJ. Actually, the only person who'd called her Jennifer in a long time prior to this was Emily. She could think of only once, actually, when Emily had introduced her to the daughter of their UnSub, Stanley Howard, who had been using people's fears to kill them. Even Garcia generally called her Jayj or JJ.
"What's wrong?" Emily asked after she'd been silent for several minutes, and she looked down at her friend with a smile.
"Don't worry about it, Em."
The brown eyes didn't waver, and she sighed, realizing that Emily was going to make herself stay awake if she thought something was bothering her. The woman was incredibly sweet for thinking of everyone else's welfare, but just this once she wished her friend was a bit less selfless. If she had been, she wouldn't have been caught in the first place. A horrible thought, yes, but a true one.
"I was just thinking about how different it is to be called Jennifer. Ever since I was a little girl everyone has called me JJ, even my parents."
A slight frown marred Emily's tired face, causing a little crease to appear between her dark eyes.
"I'm sorry if I-"
"No, Emily, don't apologize," she cut in gently, shaking her head, knowing what her friend was going to say, "That's not it at all. It's just that it seems to help you, and I was just wondering why. I have absolutely no objection to you calling me Jennifer."
Her companion's frown deepened, and she straightened up a bit so she was looking JJ in the eye. The blonde sighed to herself, knowing this was about to become a rather serious conversation and she really wasn't sure Emily was up for it. On the other hand, she knew her friend wouldn't just let it go. She wasn't very good at that.
"I don't really know," the brunette began, pausing a moment before going on in a thoughtful voice that did nothing to mask the pain and remembered terror, "I remember when Samis was telling me all about what he was going to do to me, I had already figured out that I'd have to fight to survive, and that I'd need something to hold on to, something I could focus on while he did... what he did. While he tortured me. And the first thing I thought of was you. You are definitely the best friend I have, and we've been through a lot together."
JJ nodded her understanding, but stayed silent, waiting for Emily to gather herself enough to go on. She had heard the way her friend's voice had hitched at the mention of Samis and the torture she'd suffered, but in true Emily Prentiss fashion she was pushing herself forward. The woman never gave up. It came at a cost though. Her eyes were dull and distant, and her hand, wrapped tightly in the blonde's, was trembling.
"The first time he just beat me. Apparently that had been enough for the other women. I could tell he was surprised. As I passed out I remembered that first day we met, when you had formally introduced yourself halfway through our first briefing. I remembered thinking back then that Jennifer was a beautiful name. That memory kind of stuck in my head, I guess. It's because of memories like that, memories of good times, that I held out. You saved my life. If it hadn't been for my memories of our time together, I think I would have given in."
The press liaison smiled, but the expression was sad and her eyes teary.
"I don't know, Emily. I think you are by far the strongest person I've ever known. I certainly couldn't have lived through..."
She trailed off as Emily's expression changed and her already pale skin turned bone white.
"Emily?! Emily, what's wrong?!"
"You know exactly what happened, don't you?" the brunette asked, sounding more than a little faint all of a sudden. JJ frowned, wondering what she meant, then paled herself, realizing what Emily was talking about. She didn't know about the video. No one had mentioned it, of course. That would have been extremely awkward, to say the least. She tried to think of something to say, something to take away the devastation ripping across her friend's face, but in the end she realized that, horrible as it was, she'd be better off telling the truth. At the very least Emily would know they understood, or so she hoped.
"Samis... Samis sent a link to a video recording to the BAU," JJ explained haltingly, hating the words only worsened the horror on her companion's face, "He apparently recorded... everything."
"You mean his 'sessions,' don't you?" Emily broke in, her voice devoid of emotion, "and you saw it. You saw it all. Did everyone else."
"Uh... Garcia didn't. She couldn't watch it, and Hotch basically told her not to. The guys all did, though."
Dark brown eyes closed, and JJ was afraid she'd either passed out or had retreated into her mind. For several impossibly long seconds she was frozen, terrified that this had been the last straw Emily's fragile psyche could take. When those eyes opened again, she breathed, realizing only then that she had been holding her breath. The dark brown depths were glassy and unfocused, but they did seem to be alert and aware.
"That's what today was all about. You guys know what happened, and you wanted to take my mind off it."
JJ was surprised by the sudden calm in Emily's voice, and some of her previous fear returned. It was still possible her friend was dissociating, and that would not be good. With as delicate as her physical health was, any upset could tip the scales the wrong way.
"Something like that," she replied cautiously, "It is Valentine's Day, after all. We all kind of needed to have a little fun, but yeah, we mostly did it for you. We wanted to give you a chance to laugh a bit, and some reminders that we're all here for you, and that as much as possible, we understand."
Emily was silent for a while, and JJ was afraid she'd be angry, or worse. When her gaze focused on her again, she clearly was angry, but not at the team.
"I can't believe that son of a bitch did that," she hissed, her face a study in passionate rage, "It's bad enough he put me through what he did, bad enough he may have left me scarred for life and, if I can't pull through this fear, cost me a job I care a great deal about. No, he had to hurt the people I love on top of it. He had to hurt you! That god damn piece of-"
The wrathful brunette abruptly cut herself off, breathing deeply. JJ cast a concerned glance at the monitors, noticing, as Emily must have, that her heart rate was getting dangerously high. Adrenaline was helpful enough in some cases, but very dangerous to a woman in her condition. After waiting for her take several slow, deep breaths, JJ reached over and poured a glass of water from a pitcher on the tray table she'd been using, helping Emily to sip it slowly. She was a little surprised by how rational her friend was about all this, if she were honest. Emily had clearly not been talking about the physical marks when she'd mentioned scars, after all. She was a profiler. She knew that when a person suffered a trauma, it left an imprint in their soul, something that couldn't just be washed away. It had to be lived with and fought through, until it was just a scar that sometimes itched a bit, but could be managed. Right now it was a raw, bleeding wound as dangerous, if not more so, than anything left behind physically. And she was right. If she didn't learn to live with the fear and the memories, it could cost her the assignment she was so dedicated to, and maybe even her position in the FBI.
"Emily," JJ murmured once her friend had calmed down a bit more, "you'll get through this. I know you'll find a way to heal. You've gotten yourself this far. You can't think about losing everything when you've already fought through so much."
Blue eyes searched familiar brown pools, looking for some thread of connection, something she could pull on that would start her friend down the right path. Much to her surprise, it was Emily herself who found it.
"I know I have a long way to go," the brunette stated softly, "but you're right. I can't think like that. I guarantee I will, in the dark hours of the night when the memories get to be too much... but there's always the new day. What's that saying? 'It's always darkest before dawn?' I think I get that now. I just... I can't do this alone, Jennifer. I'm not strong enough. I survived that hell because I had something to hold on to, something to make living worth the pain. If I lose that..."
"You won't," JJ replied firmly when she trailed off, her blue eyes full of fire now, "I won't let you. None of us will. I promise you, Emily, we won't let you suffer alone. You might hate us sometimes, but I for one can live with that, as long as you're alive."
Emily smiled slowly, her body starting to relax and her heart rate slowing to a more normal rhythm.
"Sometimes working, and practically living with, a bunch of profilers can be a real pain, but times like this, it's worth it. Unlike most people, I know I have people who understand what I'm going through, and people who care enough to remind me."
"People who love you," JJ corrected with a soft smile, "We're family, remember?"
The older agent nodded, letting her friend guide her head down to rest against her shoulder, once again feeling exhaustion settling into every line of her body.
"Speaking of family," she remarked after a few minutes of peaceful silence, startling JJ a little, "I had this dream, which I only remember because it wasn't like all the other nightmares, which I know really happened."
"What kind of dream?" JJ asked cautiously, hoping it wasn't something too terrible. She already had an idea, though.
"I thought I heard my mother's voice."
The blonde nodded, absently reaching over to stroke her friend's dark hair as she spoke.
"Ambassador Prentiss wanted to whisk you off somewhere, just like you told me she would. Between me, Hotch, Agent Rossi, and you, she didn't have a chance."
"Me?" Emily asked, startled, "Wasn't I unconscious at the time?"
"Yes," she replied, her lips curving up into a smile as she remembered how she'd felt when Hotch had handed her those two pieces of paper, "but as it turns out, you signed both an advance directive and a power of attorney giving me authority over your medical care if anything happened. Don't you remember? Hotch said it was after the Milwaukee case."
The dark woman thought back, then blushed faintly, not quite able to meet JJ's blue gaze.
"Yeah... I remembered how upset you were then, and I got to thinking that if he had caused more serious damage, or if something else happened, my mother could have just come in and done as she wished, and my... family... wouldn't have had any say. I decided that if anything happened, the person I trusted most should have the law behind them. I didn't want to risk, say, being knocked into a coma and you... and the team... not having any idea what was going on or where I was. I knew with those papers in my file you'd be notified, and you wouldn't keep the team in the dark like my mother probably would."
"And you trusted me to take care of you if something like that did happen?"
The question came out both pleased and a little incredulous, and Emily picked weakly at the quilt covering them both, sighing quietly. When she spoke JJ realized she'd misinterpreted her meaning but she couldn't think of how to respond right away.
"I should have asked you, I know, but I did it, and then never got a chance to tell you. I'm sorry..."
"Don't apologize," JJ whispered softly, gently lifting her friend's face so they were eye to eye again, "Please don't apologize for that. I would have been glad to know, but only because it would have been reassuring that something had been put in place. If you had asked, I'd tell you what I'm about to say now: I'm just so glad you trust me that much. I know all of us have understandable trust issues. After all, we see the worst humanity has to offer on a daily basis. It's such a relief to know that you believe enough in me to do what you did."
"Of course I do," Emily retorted, looking surprised that she'd doubt it, "Jennifer, ever since I joined the team you've been the best friend I could ask for. If I had to place my life in someone's hands and plan to come out of it alive, you're the first person I'd think of, every time, no matter what the situation. Clearly I was right. Look what you got me through this time. If I can survive something like this, how could I possibly not trust you with my life?"
JJ blushed darkly, earning a bemused smile and a raised eyebrow from her companion. She took a moment to get herself together, more overwhelmed than she could have imagined by that impassioned speech. Just because Emily's usually fluid voice was raw and strained, it lost none of its power. If anything, the fact that she'd made the effort to say all of that when it was so clearly difficult only heightened the effect the words had on her.
"Emily, that is very possibly the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me," she whispered softly, hugging her taller friend as tightly as she dared, smiling when the other agent returned the embrace as well as she could, "and I promise to do whatever I can to never betray that. Now, you need to rest, but I still have that last present for you."
"You don't have to give me anything," Emily objected, her voice and body already starting to give in to sleep as the last of the unexpected adrenaline rush drained out of her body, "You've done so much more than enough, and I certainly don't have anything to give you."
The blonde turned from whatever she'd been doing, fixing Emily with the most intent stare she'd ever seen on her friend's face.
"Emily Prentiss, I'm going to ignore the first part because you're one of the most stubborn people I've ever met, and you'll just try to force yourself to stay awake to argue about it. As for that last, you've already given me the greatest gift you could. You're alive and right next to me, alive and as well as can be expected. As if that weren't enough, you entrusted me with your life. I can't think of anything more precious than that. So be quiet and let me give you this so you can go to sleep and start to get better."
Deciding that Emily was suitably cowed, she turned away, finally finding the bag she'd asked Garcia to bring stuck part way under the bed. She freed it carefully, then pulled out the object she sought, holding it behind her back as she straightened up. The brunette was watching her with mixed affection and awe, and she decided she was rather proud of herself. She'd been taking her cue from Garcia on that one. Those little speeches of hers could break through the most obstinate of heads. Even a head as thick as the one belonging to a certain dark-haired, dark-eyed, thickskulled profiler, apparently. Garcia would be so proud.
"Close your eyes, Emily."
The brunette blinked once in confusion, then good-naturedly closed her eyes. JJ was once again almost overwhelmed by the display of trust, but she wanted to get this done so the poor woman could get some sleep. Even her massive strength of will was losing against her exhaustion. She carefully freed her hand from Emily's, causing the other woman to frown faintly, but then she pressed something soft into it.
"Okay, open your eyes, Em."
She did, although it was something of a struggle, and looked down, a charmed smile spreading across her face. JJ had given her an extremely soft teddy bear in a shade of rich, chocolate brown so dark it was almost black. Emily stroked its "fur," her expression warm and touched as she looked up at her friend.
JJ had never thought two such common words could mean so much. She tilted her head, wondering if anyone had ever given her a gift that had been bought just for her. It was hard to imagine that Emily hadn't been showered with gifts, both as the daughter of high-profile diplomats and as a woman, but looking at her now she wondered. Emily always reacted so strongly to the simplest of things. Maybe she hadn't been given things bought just for her, with no motive other than to bring a smile to her face. It was sad, but seemed likely when she remembered the various conversations she'd had with the older agent about her life as the Ambassador's daughter.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Emily," she murmured, hugging her friend gently before adding in a more commanding tone, "now get some rest. I'll be here when you wake up."
The brunette smiled wearily and closed her eyes, hugging the stuffed animal to her. JJ smiled at the sight of the tough FBI agent cuddling with the little bear, then the smile widened as Emily, already mostly asleep, reclaimed her hand, bringing it up to rest on her pillow. The blonde sat awake for a while, just watching her sleep, alert for any sign of the inevitable nightmares. They came, but she was ready for them, and she quietly eased her friend back to more peaceful sleep each time. For tonight, Emily would be safe. When Hotch returned, he took up his post near the door, this time with Morgan on the other side. Reid, Garcia, and Rossi had returned to the motel to sleep, but they would be back tomorrow, the unit chief assured her. With the two agents on guard, JJ finally let herself sleep, secure in the knowledge that they wouldn't let anything happen. It was great, she decided as she drifted off, to know you had family you could always count on.
Date and Time: February 11, 2007, 01:55
Location: Emily Prentiss' Condo, Outskirts of Washington D.C.
The ringing of her cell phone jarred Emily out of a restless sleep, and she fumbled for the device, checking the caller ID. When she realized who her caller was, and how late the hour was, she answered the call immediately, her heart racing as she mentally listed the possible reasons for the call.
When initially she heard nothing, her heart started pounding even harder.
"Hello?! JJ? JJ, are you there?!"
"Yeah," her friend answered finally, and Emily let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding, "Yeah, I'm here. I'm sorry to call so late... I should really let you get back to sleep."
That told her a lot. It meant that there wasn't a new case, that it wasn't a BAU-related crisis, and no one was dead or dying. What it didn't tell her was the reason JJ was calling her at two in the morning.
"No, it's okay," she was quick to reply, "I wasn't exactly sleeping well anyway."
She waited, and while she could hear JJ breathing a little harshly on the other end of the line, the blonde didn't say anything for a long moment.
"JJ?" she asked softly, "What's wrong?"
"It's so stupid," the press liaison muttered, and she could just imagine the slightly irritated look on her face, "I should go. I'm sorry to wake you up."
Before her friend could hang up, she stood, already in motion as she said, "JJ, no. Don't hang up. Tell me what's wrong."
There was a long pause, then the other agent replied somewhat weakly, "I... I just... I can't forget what happened in Georgia. I can't sleep. I... I shouldn't have called. It's no big deal."
Emily shook her head, then sighed, realizing JJ couldn't see the gesture.
"If you're calling me at two in the morning, it's a big deal," she answered softly, keeping her voice low and soothing, the tone she'd used when they'd found JJ in that dark, bloody barn surrounded by the corpses of dogs and the mangled pieces of a woman they'd devoured, "and I want to help if I can."
Again her friend was silent for a few long moments, then, "I don't know what to do, Em. Every time I turn the lights off I can hear those dogs... and it all comes rushing back. And I see Reid getting beaten and how he looked when we found him, and the video of the murder..."
By now Emily was dressed, her gun, purse, and keys in hand, and not entirely sure how or when she'd decided on her current course of action.
"JJ, do you want me to come over so we can talk about it?" she asked, then added bluntly when her friend hesitated, "Don't answer based on how you think I would feel, because I'm more than willing. Honestly, yes or no?"
The word came out in a strangled sob, and that was all she needed. She was out the door and heading for the stairs, then down to her car.
"I'm on my way, then. Stay there, and if you need anything, you call me right back, okay?"
She heard JJ's soft affirmative, then another faint sound that she recognized immediately.
"I'll be there as soon as I can, JJ. And remember, absolutely anything you need, you call."
With that she hung up, getting into her car and driving as fast as she dared. JJ's home was a ways away, but she got there in record time, even with the two stops she'd deemed necessary to make. Her firm knock on the door was met with an almost instant response as her friend all but threw the door open, taking one long look at her before hugging her tightly, sobbing into the sweatshirt she wore. Emily sighed, resting her head against JJ's pale hair. She'd known JJ had been upset, and had even offered to let her stay in her guest room, since she really didn't think her friend should be alone right now, but she'd assured the brunette she was fine. Emily had let it go reluctantly, hoping Garcia would have more success than she had. Now she regretted not pushing harder, not insisting, but she hadn't felt she had the right.
"Come on, JJ, lets get inside, then we can talk about it, okay?"
She led the distraught woman inside, closing the door behind them and guiding JJ to the couch, vaguely remembering the placement of the furniture from her previous visit here. Once the worst of the sobs had passed, the blonde looked up at her with bloodshot eyes that were suddenly full of guilt.
"Oh God, Emily, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to just fall apart on you like that."
Emily shook her head, reaching into one of the bags she'd brought and pulling out a box of tissues, opening it up and handing one to her friend. JJ took it, still looking guilty, and blew her nose. She held out the box, and the younger woman took another one, wiping off her face.
"Don't apologize. We all have to fall apart sometimes," she remarked soothingly, rubbing her companion's back gently, "I'm just glad I can be here for you."
"God... I can't believe you drove all the way out here in the middle of the night," JJ exclaimed suddenly, staring up at her in more than a little awe, "What were you thinking? It's not that big a deal, and you must be exhausted!"
Emily smiled, well versed in the ways of stubborn women, considering she was one herself.
"I'm your friend, JJ," she pointed out calmly, "this is what friends do."
The blonde shook her head, about to say more, but she wouldn't let her.
"This is not about me. Coming here was my choice, and you didn't force me in any way. Now, take some deep breaths and then try to tell me more about what's wrong."
The liaison gave her a long look, clearly thinking of arguing some more, but as her arm shifted she winced a little. Emily frowned, looking down at the bandaged limb in question.
"How's that doing?" she asked, noticing as she looked closer that it looked like JJ had been trying to take the bandage off.
"Oh... well..." and now her friend looked a little sheepish, as well as guilty, "The paramedic told me I should probably change the dressing to something lighter after a couple days, so it could 'breathe,' as he put it. I just couldn't seem to get it loose."
A dark eyebrow rose, making JJ's blush deepen.
"Where's your first aid kit?"
The look she gave her colleague brooked no argument, and JJ pointed toward the kitchen, where the kit was already open on the table. She stood, bringing the blonde with her so they were standing over the kitchen sink while Emily carefully worked the bandage off, tossing away the dirty gauze and taking some supplies out of JJ's kit.
"This will sting a bit," she warned, then she was carefully washing and disinfecting the bite wounds, noticing as she did that they were relatively shallow, and that the paramedic who had worked on the injuries had done a good job of cleaning them up. They looked like the were healing well, and probably wouldn't leave more than a faint scar.
"Sorry," she said when JJ winced at the harsh sting of the alcohol. When she was finished she dried the area, then wrapped it lightly in gauze so it would stay clean but still be able to "breathe."
"Where'd you learn to do that?" her friend asked curiously, giving the wound a cursory glance. Emily chuckled, taping the gauze into place.
"I've gotten more than my share of scrapes and bruises, you know," she replied absently, checking over her work, "and if I didn't want my parents to know about them, I had to take care of them myself. Never thought those skills would come in so handy though."
JJ chuckled at that, probably imagining a younger Emily taping herself up, but she tilted her head, seeing something in her friend's expression that made concern enter her tired blue eyes.
The brunette realized she'd been staring at the floor for a few minutes now and looked up, searching JJ's face.
"I was just wondering something," she explained softly, trying to find the words that couldn't be misinterpreted, "and I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but why did you call me?"
Seeing that JJ was, in fact, taking the question the wrong way, she shook her head, taking hold of her friend's shoulders.
"I don't mind at all, so don't think that. It's just... you know everyone else on the team so much better. I've only been here a couple months, and while I'm certainly glad you felt comfortable enough to call me, I just want to be sure I'm the right person."
Understanding flared in those pale eyes, and JJ smiled softly, the expression relaxing some of the tension in her face.
"I don't know why I called you," she answered honestly, "but I think part of it is that when we were in Georgia, you were the only one who made sure I was actively involved in getting Reid back. Everyone else, even Garcia, was too busy or, like Morgan, too upset, to give me something to do, to let me help. They all kept saying I should rest and let them take care of it. You, though, you got me out of that house, and actually seemed to remember that I was a federal agent, not some civilian who was in the way."
"JJ, you're a great agent," she reassured her firmly, seeing the doubt in her friend's gaze, "and I never once thought it was your fault Reid got taken, either. You got hurt too."
She glanced meaningfully at the arm she'd just finished treating, JJ smiled, but it was weak, and something seemed to still be troubling her.
"Does any of it ever bother you, Emily?" she asked suddenly, looking up to meet her eyes, "What we do, I mean. You said you compartmentalize, but... does it ever just..."
Emily flashed back to that somewhat awkward conversation where that had come up, sighing over her obviously inadequate answer and her memory of Hotch's strange appearance and the look he'd given her.
"Of course it gets to me," she replied softly, unable to keep a trace of hurt out of her voice, "It's just that... I've seen a lot of things traveling with my parents, and I learned a long time ago that I couldn't show any weakness, because my parents' enemies would use that. It doesn't mean it doesn't affect me. I break down too, JJ. I go home and I have nightmares and sleepless nights, and days where I wish I could just get so drunk I can forget it all, and days that I don't want to get up and go into work. But I do, because if I don't, it'll be someone else, and I worked too hard to get to the BAU to give it up because of something that can't be avoided in our line of work."
"So how do you handle it? How do you face every day and never flinch?"
With another sigh, she took JJ's arm and led her back to the couch, sitting down with her there.
"I focus on finding the UnSubs," she started carefully, wondering how to explain something she'd been taught to do so long ago that it was instinct now, "I think about all the people they won't be able to hurt if we find them, and on figuring out what I can do to make it easier for the victims and their families. Everything else gets locked away in boxes until after I get home and I can sit down with a glass of wine, put some music on, and just let go a little at a time. Sometimes I stare out my window for hours, looking out over the capital of our country and wondering how people can do the things they do, and how our government can be so powerless in comparison."
She shook her head, looking down at her hands.
"It's never easy, JJ, and it's an imperfect system, but I do what I have to do so I can function at my job. Every time it seems like it's a little harder to box it all away, a little harder to get up, but when it's like that, I find something to hold on to, something to fight back against the horror we see every day."
Emily lifted her head, meeting JJ's curious, haunted blue eyes. She wasn't entirely sure why she was telling her friend all of this. She'd never told anyone about any of it, but here she was, telling this woman things she had kept secret for years.
"Sometimes it's something as simple as listening to Morgan harass Reid and flirt with Garcia. On those days I watch them interact and it's enough to make me smile. Other days, I need more. Those days, I might read one of those horribly trashy novels I told you about, or even something like a children's fairy tale. I've long since known better than to believe in princes riding in on white horses to save the day, but the fantasy is nice. It reminds me that I do this so other people can believe in the dream, so they won't have to see what we do."
She shrugged, grateful when JJ stayed quiet, sensing there was more.
"On really bad days, I just do whatever I can to get through, then go home and break down, and those times all I have is the knowledge that eventually the day will be over, one way or another. After days like that, I sit in bed and force myself to remember the good in my life. I remember that I'm still alive to face another day, that I'm healthy and comfortable, with more money than I care to have or will ever need, and then I think about the most important thing of all, something that always manages to pull me through in the end."
"Which is?" JJ asked softly, hanging on her every word. Emily felt her expression soften, and she gently put a hand over the younger woman's, relieved when she returned the gesture.
"In some small way, I'm doing good. I'm helping to make a difference with a group of people I come to respect more every day, people who I think of as family. People like you, JJ. When I feel like the world is just too far gone and it's all pointless, all I have to do is think of that to remind myself that there is something worth putting ourselves through hell for."
"Is it worth it?"
The blonde's voice wavered as she spoke, and Emily smiled sadly, wrapping an arm around her friend's shoulders, drawing her closer to offer whatever comfort her touch could.
"I think so, but you have to decide that for yourself. You've been doing this longer than I have, and maybe once I'm less new at it, I'll start doubting. Until then, I'll do whatever I can to put these guys away so they can't hurt someone else. I told you, JJ, it's not a perfect system, but for now, it's enough."
She hesitated, then added softly, "You have to ask yourself if the reasons you go into work are better than the reasons not to. No matter what you choose, though, I know it'll be the right choice for you, and that's the important thing."
"Would you... would you think I was weak if I couldn't handle it?" JJ asked, the words so quiet Emily had to strain to hear them, "I don't want to leave the BAU, but times like this I get to thinking, what if I'm not strong enough? What if one day I really just can't take it anymore, and the reasons to do it aren't enough? Do you think the team would think less of me? Would you?"
The brunette tightened her hold on her friend, looking into her sad face with an expression so intense that JJ looked startled.
"I don't think anything could make me think less of you, Jennifer Jareau," she answered firmly, her voice so confident and full of fire that the blonde didn't dare doubt what she was saying, " After this last week or so, that's even more true. And while I can't speak for anyone else, I can tell you with absolute confidence that I would never see you as weak. I certainly wouldn't if you left the BAU, although I'd be sad to see you go."
She reached out hesitantly to smooth the disheveled blonde hair, relieved when JJ allowed, even encouraged the friendly contact as she went on.
"You sit in that office, surrounded by requests for the team, and you're the one who has to make the hard choices. No one could blame you for being overwhelmed by that. I know I couldn't do your job," she smiled suddenly, wanting to lighten the mood a bit, "I'd be running down the halls screaming after a day or two of that, and Morgan would have to knock me out to get me to shut up."
JJ laughed aloud, her body relaxing against the older woman's. Emily laughed too, deciding the embarrassment of the image was more than worth getting JJ to cheer up a bit. Not many people saw her more silly side, and it was nice to share it with someone.
"I could always handcuff you to the chair," her friend remarked, still laughing, "there would be no escape then, and it would save Morgan the trouble."
They were both laughing hard now, and they let the mirth ease off until they were both just chuckling softly.
"So what else is in those bags you brought?" JJ asked when they'd calmed down, apparently just now remembering the items in question still laying at Emily's feet. The brunette smiled and began pulling things out and placing them on the coffee table, watching appreciatively as JJ's eyes widened as she came up with two wineglasses, a bottle that had cost a couple hundred dollars, and a box that smelled of rich chocolate.
"Emily..." the blonde whispered, awestruck as she examined her offerings, "Where the hell did you get all this at 2 am?"
"I have my ways," she replied, intentionally putting a touch of aristocratic snobbishness in her tone before smiling and adding, "I know a few places that stay open at odd hours. I found out about them from my mother's staff, and occasionally take advantage of the information. This," and she pointed to the wine, "Is one of the best vintages I have ever tasted, and while I confess that I abused my mother's name to get it a bottle, I don't feel at all guilty. And these," now she indicated the chocolates, "are the finest truffles you could hope to find within a 500 mile radius."
When she saw JJ's skeptical expression, she grinned and opened the box, unleashing pure olfactory heaven. The blonde stared at her, which made her smile widen further. She would have another convert, if she didn't already.
With what she considered almost appropriate reverence, JJ took one of the treats and placed it in her mouth, closing her eyes in appreciation and letting out a moan that might have been embarrassing if she hadn't known exactly what the experience was like. Emily knew she looked more than a little smug when those blue eyes opened, but JJ didn't comment on that. She knew her friend had been right.
"Oh my god," she whispered once she had finally gotten the last possible bit of chocolate off her lips and fingers, "That was incredible. How is that even possible?"
"I've never been able to figure it out either," the brunette replied, unconcerned with her ignorance on the subject, "but I don't care. I'm telling you, these truffles, especially with the wine, are better than sex."
JJ looked at her expectantly, but with far less skepticism this time. With an expert twist of the bottle opener she fished out of the bag, she had the wine open and delicately poured into two glasses. The blonde gingerly picked up the glass and tasted heaven. She sighed, leaning back against her couch and savoring the experience.
"I think you may be right," she remarked finally, "and I have to tell you, Emily, I think you've just ruined any future dates I may go on. Unless someone else knows where to find this stuff, it'll always fall flat in comparison."
Emily laughed at that, taking a sip of her own wine.
"I think I've given up on dating," she commented, but there was no regret in her voice, "because really, I've never met a guy who understood my work, much less managed to treat me as well as I'm capable of treating myself, so really, why bother?"
"So do you share this with all your friends?" JJ asked curiously, taking another small sip of the fragrant wine. The brunette sighed, turning to look over at her.
"No. You're the first. I've never really been able to make friends I wanted to share things like this with. It's like... like a religious experience, almost."
She half-expected the other agent to look at her like she was insane, but instead she nodded, plucking another truffle out of the box.
"Emily Prentiss, you have officially spoiled me," the blonde stated softly, "and I thank you for that. And believe me, I get what you mean. Great wine and chocolate shouldn't be wasted on just anyone, so I'm glad you're sharing with me."
"Well," Emily replied, blushing a bit, "I figured you'd be able to appreciate it. Even my mother insists on the best of everything, doesn't seem to get it."
JJ swallowed the mouthful of chocolate and wine she had in her mouth, giving her friend a long look.
"Her loss, my gain."
Emily laughed, and they sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, each thinking her own thoughts. When she felt JJ sigh, she turned expectantly, knowing that they were finally going to get down to the reason she was here.
"I've always liked dogs," the blonde started slowly, looking down at the contents of her wineglass, "but Hankel's dogs were just... twisted. They had just torn that woman apart, and there was almost nothing left of her. When they came after me, I just fired without thinking, but I was so damn scared. Then you and Morgan found me, and I realized that Reid had been taken. I kept thinking that a man who could raise dogs to be so vicious was a man who could do just about anything. I know that must sound so ridiculous, but..."
"No," the profiler broke in when she trailed off, "I know what you mean."
JJ gave her a searching look, then nodded, apparently realizing that she did understand, and that seemed to give her the strength to go on.
"When you came into the bathroom later on, I almost shot you... I just kept hearing that growl, and I could swear I saw one of those dogs in the mirror behind me."
"I thought it was something like that," Emily replied calmly when those questioning blue eyes turned on her, all but begging for forgiveness, "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned, but I never believed you would shoot me."
JJ nodded, relaxing as one of the many burdens she'd carried from the case was taken from her, and she leaned against her tall friend, taking another sip of wine before continuing.
"It just all kept going downhill. Reid was being tortured, everyone," she paused, then glanced up at her companion, smiling slightly, "well, almost everyone, was walking around on eggshells with me, if they weren't trying to ignore me completely, and all I wanted to do was help find him. I was so afraid we were going to lose him, and it'd be my fault, and... and then we were finally able to get to him, and he just looked so fragile, like a stiff wind would break him. I keep thinking we may have gotten him back, but he lost some part of himself back there."
Emily sighed and set down her glass, hugging her distraught friend warmly. The wine, chocolate, and laughter had relaxed JJ somewhat, as she'd hoped they would, but still she was so upset, so hurt.
"Let it out, JJ," she urged gently, "don't try to bottle it up. It's okay to let go. We got him, and if something is wrong, we'll help him get through it. You're the one who told me that the BAU is a family. He won't have to face this alone, and you shouldn't either."
JJ turned and buried her face in Emily's neck, once again crying helplessly. The dark woman held her tightly, wishing there were more she could do for both JJ and Reid. With an inward sigh, she realized that the brilliant Dr. Reid might not take too kindly to her efforts to help if she made any, but at least with JJ there was something she could do, and she was doing it.
"You know," she heard JJ mumble against her skin, her tone both raw and amused, "I think I got the better end of the bargain. Reid wouldn't appreciate chocolate and wine, and I seriously doubt he'd ever let himself just break down and cry on a beautiful woman's shoulder."
Emily laughed, startled by her friend's return to relatively good humor and mildly embarrassed by the compliment.
"Well, as you said before, it's your gain. And I think you're right. He wouldn't get what's so great about wine and chocolate. That's more of a... female thing."
JJ snorted, lifting her head to smile up at her, once again accepting the tissue she offered.
"I can't believe you'd drive all the way out here to sit here listening to my woes over wine and chocolate that must have cost way too much and then getting cried all over," the liaison remarked, holding up a hand before she could argue, giving her a soft smile, "but I'm glad you did. You're a great friend, Emily."
Unable to think of an appropriate reply, she just smiled shyly and offered the aforementioned box of chocolate truffles. JJ laughed and relaxed against her side, taking one of the treats and reclaiming her wine glass. Her eyes were still haunted, but Emily noticed that they were a lot lighter now, as if between the crying and just giving voice to her fears and worries some of the shadows had been lifted away. Emily picked up her own glass, holding it up for a toast. JJ smiled, and clinked her glass against the brunette's, both women remembering the last time they'd done that together.
"You and I should really get together more often," the blonde remarked after taking a sip, "and get Garcia out with us. We deal with doom and gloom all day, and sometimes all night. We need to take some time to unwind, and if anyone knows how to have a good time, it's Penelope Garcia. And you, Agent Prentiss, know damn well how to spoil a girl. Are you sure you weren't one of those princes riding around on a white horse in a previous life?"
Brown eyes widened, then Emily burst out laughing, running a hand through her dark hair, pushing it out of her face so she could see JJ more clearly.
"I don't know about that, but I don't doubt Garcia knows about having fun. Any time you want to go out, just give me a call. If I can go, I'd be more than happy to join you guys for a girls' night out."
JJ grinned, once again tapping her glass against her friend's.
"It's a deal."
Return to Criminal Minds Fiction
Return to Main Page