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.

By Kyandralin


Part Four


Psychopathology: The scientific study of mental disorders


Date and Time: February 17, 2008, 15:21

Location: Ruby Memorial Hospital, Morgantown, West Virginia


JJ stared at the board, then up at her grinning friend, then turned to Reid, who was fixed on the black and white pieces.

"How did you..." he sputtered, shaking his head. JJ covered her mouth, trying not to laugh, but Morgan had no such compunctions.

"She beat you AGAIN, Reid. How does a normal mortal beat the super genius at chess, anyway? You losing your touch?"

The younger man looked up at him, clearly indignant, and JJ started to worry she'd have to break up a fight between the two agents. Emily distracted them both with a soft laugh, her voice still raw and raspy, but getting stronger every day.

"Hey Morgan, you want a game?"

The dark agent looked from the board to the dark brown eyes, then shook his head, holding up his hands in surrender.

"Hey, if you can beat boy wonder here, I don't have a chance. I'd rather be spared that."

"Afraid your fragile male ego couldn't take it?" JJ teased, and he straightened to his full height, pointing a meaningful finger at her.

"You listen here, little lady. My male ego is quite secure, thank you very much. I just prefer not to go into something knowing I'll lose."

"Smart man," Emily retorted, giving JJ a wink. Morgan shook his head, knowing better than to say anything more. Those two were merciless as a team. He was just glad Garcia wasn't here to make it worse.

"I demand a rematch!" Reid declared suddenly, "you must have cheated!"

Emily stared at him, and the two watching agents could tell she was somewhere between amused and offended at the accusation.

"Emily did no such thing," JJ cut in, seeing that her friend was unable or unwilling to respond, "I watched the whole thing, and so did Morgan. You lost, fair and square. Get over it, genius. The woman is just too much for you to handle."

The brunette turned and grinned at her, looking for all the world like her usual self, but JJ wondered if she were the only one who could see the dark shadows lingering in her eyes and the tension that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in her muscles. Judging from Morgan's understanding gaze when she glanced his way and looks she'd seen from Hotch and Garcia, they weren't fooled either, but they wouldn't say anything. They had apparently decided to trust her to know when to call Emily on something, and so far she thought she'd done a fair job of it.

"In any case," she went on, "it's my turn to pick a game. I want to play gin, and that's what we'll do, once I go to the bathroom."

Emily laughed, but the blonde knew her friend was watching her leave. She put on a good face for the guys, but she was the one the older agent allowed to see at least some of her fear, and she could tell Emily wasn't entirely comfortable when she was out of the room. That was okay. She wasn't entirely comfortable being away from her either. She knew that should make her feel stifled or restricted or something, but it didn't. It just made her feel wanted, needed even. It also reassured her own mind that the woman was really alive, really safe, and not in the hands of some sadistic psychopath.

"JJ cheats at cards!" she heard Reid cry as she walked the short distance down the hall to the restroom, probably in response to something Morgan had said. Emily still didn't talk much, and when she did it tended to be in short bursts, at least with everyone else. With JJ she seemed to work at it, telling the blonde liaison a lot more than she did the other members of the team. That suited her just fine. As she finished washing her hands, a familiar sharp voice froze her in place for a second. She grabbed a paper towel, dried her hands, and hurried back down the hall, wishing she'd just used the restroom in Emily's room.

"Emily, don't be so stubborn about this," she heard Ambassador Prentiss command as she turned the corner into the room. Reid and Morgan were ranged on either side of their colleague, offering their support, but she didn't miss the quick look of relief on the two men's faces, or the tension in Emily's, when she strode in, resuming her place next to her friend.

"Is there a problem, Ambassador?" she asked politely, a gentle hand on Emily's shoulder. She could feel the stiffness of the muscles beneath cloth and skin, and a surge of irritation rushed through her, which she suppressed rapidly. Emily had finally started to relax more, and now the older woman's appearance had undone all the progress they had made.

"A problem?" the woman repeated, a pleasant, diplomatic smile pasted on to her face that did nothing to hide the frustration in her gaze, "I don't believe there is a problem, or there wouldn't be if my daughter would see reason."

"And just what would that be?" she asked softly, her voice and face settling into the mask she used when doing particularly difficult press conferences.

"Why, that she must immediately resign from the FBI and come home, where she won't be so much at risk. Look what has happened. What if next time she doesn't survive?"

She could feel the tension worsening under her hand, and she gently squeezed the shoulder she held, feeling Emily's eyes on her, trusting her. She didn't look away from the Ambassador, but she didn't have to. She knew Emily.

"Ambassador, Emily wasn't taken in the line of duty," she reminded the woman firmly, her fingers beginning to lightly massage the knots she could already feel gathering under her fingers, asking through the touch to be forgiven for what she was about to say, "She was stalked and taken by an obsessive sexual sadist. He would have found her whether she was working in the BAU or not. One of the women Jonah Samis killed was kidnapped from her parents' estate in Maryland, another from a friend's birthday celebration in DC. He had access to these places. You yourself are among those whose gatherings he attended regularly."

She fixed the woman with an intense stare when she might have spoken, holding up a hand to silence her.

"And believe me, none of us are unaware of the danger. If Emily were to leave the BAU, none of us would fault her for it, but so far she has shown no inclination to do so."

"Emily, you cannot seriously expect to return to work after all of this," the aristocratic woman broke in, looking intently at her daughter, "How could you be effective in your post after such a trauma? No, you must come home to recover, then we will find you something safer, something-"

"Mother, stop," the younger brunette interrupted, firm and clear despite her raw voice, "I cannot believe you would bring up my ability to do my job, of all things. You saw how devoted I am to the BAU when you came to us for help last year. I had hoped we'd reached some sort of understanding over dinner then, but clearly we didn't."

She paused, and JJ took the opportunity to hand her a cup of water, which she took gratefully. She could speak much more clearly and for longer periods than she could just a few days ago, but it still took a lot out of her and strained her healing throat.

"I am just trying to do right by you, Em," the ambassador was saying when she returned her attention to her, "I am, after all, your mother."

Emily sighed, taking comfort in Reid and Morgan's solid presence, but even more from Jennifer's gentle gaze and touch. Just as she had during that horrible six day period of captivity she reminded herself that the blonde wouldn't let anything happen, and held tightly to that. It was curious, her mind noted, that she likened facing off with her mother to the torture she'd suffered.

"No, Mother," she replied softly, "what you're doing isn't right. Coming in and trying to steamroll me isn't right. Trying to make me doubt my choices and my abilities isn't right."

"Now Emily," Elizabeth started, but her daughter shook her head.

"No. I will not resign from the BAU unless I find that I am no longer effective there, and even if that does happen, I will not be going back to your house with my tail tucked between my legs. These people are my friends, my family, and they were the ones who saved my life and took care of me all this time, not you."

"I tried!" the ambassador retorted sharply, "but these friends of yours would hardly allow me to see you!"

"Ambassador, you wanted to ship Emily to God knows where while she was still unstable," JJ replied lowly, her voice a warning, "and all that against her will. You cannot seriously believe we would have just let you get away with that!"

"I simply-"

"That is enough!" Emily interrupted sharply, too drained emotionally to even attempt to be properly polite. Her mother raised an eyebrow at her, shaking her head and giving a look that spoke of deep disappointment and frustration, as if she were just being obstinate and childish.

"Emily, once you're released from here, what do you intend to do? You cannot return to work for some time yet, I'm sure, even if you are mentally stable enough for it," and her outwardly diplomatic, reasonable tone indicated a hint of doubt at the possibility that further agitated all four federal agents in the room, "and I do not believe you should be alone in your condition. You cannot expect the members of your team to be able to provide you 24-hour care while you recover. They have very important work to do. It's unreasonable to demand that of them."

This new argument seemed to be getting through, which worried JJ. She knew her friend felt guilty about all the time the team was spending with her, as if they, including Emily herself, hadn't done the same when Garcia had been shot.

"Your concern is appreciated," JJ commented in a carefully pleasant voice, as if she were truly sincere. She saw Emily glance at her a touch nervously, and a thread of hurt ran through her at the thought that she would ever believe that JJ would just dump her off as soon as she had a chance.

"It's unnecessary, however," she went on, still pleasant, "I will be seeing to Emily's care until she's well enough to be on her own."

"Agent Jareau," and now that eminently reasonable gaze was turned on her, "that is a lovely offer and I'm sure my daughter quite appreciates it, but I doubt that the BAU can stand to lose two agents in such a short time. You surely would not want to risk your position over a situation that could so easily be avoided?"

"I am glad you have taken such an interest in my team's welfare, Ambassador," Hotch's voice cut in before JJ could reply, and the tall man followed it in, moving to stand beside JJ's bed, Morgan on his other side, "but neither Agent Prentiss nor Agent Jareau are in any danger of losing their jobs with the BAU. I have already processed the paper work for a medical leave of absence for your daughter, and paid vacation time for Agent Jareau. I am grateful that you are so eager to ensure their well-being, but things are already well in hand."

A low cough was the only warning of Rossi's arrival, and the older man leaned back against the wall to Emily's right, out of the Ambassador's immediate line of sight, which was good since he wasn't exactly making an effort to hide his smirk. Garcia appeared moments later, and JJ noticed that Morgan had his phone behind his back. She hid a smile behind her hand, once again grateful beyond words for these amazing people she called her family. She could see tears forming in Emily's dark eyes and reached over, lightly brushing them away when the Ambassador wasn't looking.

"Agent Hotchner..."

It was clear that the Ambassador had momentarily run out of arguments. She had obviously not expected to be faced with the united front of the BAU, despite the fact that she'd been warned. Maybe she had hoped to convince Emily while just the younger members of the team were there, unable to stop her.

"If you'll come with me, Ambassador Prentiss, I'll explain the arrangements that have been made in more depth."

Once again Hotch was leading the woman out of the room with Rossi falling in with him, and once again she was too stunned to object. Once she was gone more than one sigh of relief was audible, but JJ wouldn't relax until she was sure of where Emily stood on this.

"Emily?" she asked softly, worriedly taking in the slightly glazed look in her dark eyes. The brunette turned to look at her, her expression shifting and her eyes glistening with tears.

"Jennifer... I can't ask you to do that... maybe my mother is right."

"I can't believe you said that," the blonde retorted, but her voice was gentle, knowing where the doubt came from, "but your mother is wrong. Besides, you're not asking. You never would, anyway. I'm volunteering, and I'm happy to do it. We're family, remember?"

A tear fell from those dark eyes, and JJ glanced at Garcia, knowing she would understand.

"Come on, boys," the tech analyst called, pulling Morgan and Reid out with her, "I have a craving for real food."

Once they were gone, the blonde turned back to her companion, wiping the tears that were coming faster now away.

"Emily, you're going to be discharged soon, and I know you want to go home. I want you to let me stay with you and make sure you're okay, at least until you're strong enough to get around on your own."

She saw just a hint of fear, of doubt, in those familiar depths and silently cursed Elizabeth Prentiss for making her usually confident daughter doubt herself the way she was. She could read into that reaction immediately, and she had a pretty good idea what was going through her friend's mind.

"You should know I would never doubt you, Emily. Right now, though, you're hurt and you need help. You're the one who told me that we all do sometimes. You've been there for all of us. Let us, let me, be the one who's here for you now."

She could see she was starting to get through the walls the Ambassador and Jonah Samis had built up, and she gentled her voice even further, stroking Emily's dark hair in a gesture at once soothing and reassuring.

"Come on, Emily," she went on persuasively, "It's about time you had someone at your beck and call, someone who will pamper you for a change. You're always the one taking care of us, even if no one else really notices. It'll be fun, like a long-term sleep over. We can sit up eating junk food and gossiping and talking about those horrible dramas they have on TV lately. You could finally catch up on all that reading I know you've been meaning to do, too."

A slow smile crossed the brunette's face as she spoke, and as she paused to breathe, the older woman pressed a finger to her lips, keeping her from going on.

"Okay, Jennifer. You win. But are you sure you wouldn't rather stay at your place? I really wouldn't mind."

The press liaison shook her head.

"What I want isn't important. What's important is what you want. So would you rather stay at your apartment or at my place? Answer me honestly now. I think I know you well enough to tell when you're lying."

Emily pondered the question seriously. She liked JJ's home and felt comfortable in it, but there was just something about being in the place she'd cut out for herself, surrounded by her own things, sleeping in her own bed, that appealed to her. The thought reminded her of something though, and she frowned.

"There are stairs in my condo," she pointed out, "and my bedroom is up those stairs. I don't want to spend all my time in bed."

JJ shrugged.

"We'll figure it out, Emily. If necessary, we'll just have Morgan come and carry you up and down the stairs as needed."

"Hey now," the aforementioned agent complained, striding in with Garcia and Reid, "I have a life, you know. I'm happy to help, but Emily is already going to have you waiting on her hand and foot, and anywhere else that's needed. Isn't that enough for anyone?"

Garcia smacked him on the arm as she went past, and he rapidly backpedaled, or tried to.

"Uh... I just meant that-"

"I think we all know what you meant, Morgan," Emily interrupted, laughing, "and I think you're right."

That surprised everyone, especially JJ.

"You... do?" he asked, clearly confused. Emily grinned, but refused any attempt to get her to explain further. Instead she turned her attention to the meal Nathan appeared with, silently appreciating his impeccable timing. The others settled down to eat, as she'd known they would, and she relaxed as best she could, thinking about the best way to deal with her lack of mobility once she was back home. Before long her thoughts changed direction, instead focusing on the fact that JJ was going to be coming home with her. She knew she should have expected that, but she hadn't somehow.

"Emily?" the communications liaison asked softly, seeing how distracted she'd become. Emily smiled reassuringly, squeezing her hand, but before she could say anything a woman knocked gently on the door and came in, her badge and the clipboard she carried marking her as a hospital official. Her eyes, which swept the room before landing on Emily with an expression of gentle concern and intent assessment, made it clear she was a shrink. The brunette sighed inwardly, knowing this was procedure in cases like hers but still irritated by it. She also knew her discharge would depend largely on what this woman said, and she really wanted to get out of this hospital. Kind and respectful as the staff here was, she hated hospitals with much the same intensity as her teammates, and for at least some of the same reasons.

"Agent Prentiss?" the woman was saying, and she turned her attention back to her, taking in the steadiness of her forest green eyes and the confidence in her bearing. She was probably at least a few years younger than herself, she decided, and experienced enough to be sure of herself, but still young enough to not have been jaded or burnt out. That was promising. She also got the sense that the shrink was aware of being profiled by everyone in the room, and she admired her composure in the face of that. Most people couldn't be so relaxed in a room full of FBI agents, much less agents who did what they did. Her estimation of her rose a notch, and she sat up a bit, nodding in response to the admittedly unnecessary question.

"I'm Stephanie Cameron, one of the psychiatrists on staff here. Would you mind if we talked privately?"

Her gaze fell on JJ, who returned the look with one of her own, though Emily knew that was the stare she gave reporters when she had to make a good impression but didn't really like them. She wondered about that, but certainly wasn't going to ask in front of the doctor.

"No, of course not," she replied smoothly, giving the hand still in hers another squeeze, hoping it would help JJ relax. The blonde gave her a quick smile and stood up, moving slowly toward the door. She tried to ignore how her heart started to beat a little harder as her teammates filed out, hoping the monitors wouldn't give away her fear. JJ was the last to step out, turning to look back again. Emily gave her a warm smile, doing her best to convey her usual confidence and calm, despite the fact that the anxiety that always waited at the edges of her awareness was starting to push forward.

"Let us know when you're done, Dr. Cameron?" JJ asked in a voice that was just as much a command as a request. The shrink nodded, and with a last look at Emily she stepped out, closing the door behind her. The brunette turned her attention to the psychiatrist, watching her smooth her strawberry blonde hair where it had slipped out of the ponytail it was in, trying almost desperately to ignore the feeling of a massive weight pressing down on her chest or the cobwebs that were already forming in her head. The woman must not see how terrified she was without her team... without Jennifer especially. She could hold it together with her team. She felt safe with them, knowing that each and every one, even Rossi, would kill or die for her, as she would for them, but Jennifer was her anchor, the one who could banish the shadows back into the depths of her subconscious with just a look.

"So, I just have a few questions for you. As you probably know, we have to be sure you're safe psychologically as well as physically before we can discharge you," Dr. Cameron was saying, and once again she focused on the woman, forcefully disciplining herself to calm, "Now, most of this is pretty straightforward, so we'll start there."

They went through the standard questions about her state of mind, whether or not she had any suicidal or self-destructive ideation, how she felt about going home and about her work, and other routine, predictable questions she knew were designed to feel her out and determine whether or not she was mentally competent and stable. She answered carefully but honestly, knowing herself well enough to know that she was in fact competent and as stable as could be expected, but also aware that she must not come across to this doctor as an FBI profiler who knew how to fake her way through a test. She just wished this would be over. It was getting harder to ignore the panic that always threatened to overwhelm her when she was alone, even briefly, or when she was with a stranger.

"Well," Dr. Cameron remarked finally, setting her clipboard back in her lap and meeting her eyes, "You're clearly quite resilient, Agent Prentiss, and recovering well from your trauma. I just have a few more questions before I can finish my report."

Emily nodded, warned by her tone and expression that these weren't going to be so easy. At her nod she glanced down at her notes, then looked back up.

"You said you're reasonably confident in your ability to return to work in time. Are you sure that's the best course, and that perhaps you shouldn't seek employment elsewhere, or at least look for a different assignment in the FBI? Being exposed to the sort of things the BAU deals with could severely impact your ability to cope with your own trauma."

Hearing her mother's words being thrown back at her, albeit with more kindness and a very different agenda caused a surge of anger to flare up, which she carefully controlled. Still, anger was better than panic in her opinion.

"Dr. Cameron," she started slowly, making sure to keep her tone as light as possible while at her most formal and diplomatic, "if I didn't think I could cope, I would have already resigned from the BAU. The team can't afford to have anyone who isn't focused on the case and isn't in control of their emotions and thoughts. If a situation arises where I find myself unable to function as part of the team, I will seek a posting elsewhere. Until then, I will remain on the team. I've discussed this subject with them already, and they all believe that is for the best, including my supervising agent."

Cameron nodded, but her green eyes, which her mind insisted on pointing out were just a few shades darker than Jonah's, gave away just a touch of surprise at her response.

"And your team? You're very close, it seems."

"What about them?" she asked guardedly, instinctively protective of the team and their privacy, especially after Strauss. Dr. Cameron must have seen the shift in her expression, because she shook her head.

"I don't mean anything negative by the question, Agent Prentiss. It's just that you interact and work very closely with these people, and I'm curious how you feel about them now, especially since you yourself noted one of the other agents was nearby when you were kidnapped, but since he was otherwise occupied, he didn't come to your aid."

This time Emily let the anger show in her dark eyes, almost, though not quite, glaring at the therapist.

"That's been resolved to my satisfaction, Dr. Cameron," she replied coldly, "as I'm quite sure I already told you. Derek Morgan was not at fault, nor do I really believe he could have done anything anyway. Jonah Samis was too well prepared. As for the rest of the BAU... I would, and do, trust each and every one of them with my life. We are, as you pointed out, very close. Seeing and doing what we do, we have to be, and when we travel we pretty much live together."

"And what about Jennifer Jareau? Where does she stand in all of this?" Cameron asked suddenly. Emily was caught off guard by the abrupt shift in focus, but she recovered rapidly, silently thanking the woman in question for her coaching those first days on how to deal with reporters and the questions they asked to rattle the recipients. Granted, the woman wasn't a reporter, but she may as well have been. Thinking of that made her chuckle, and it was obvious that the woman had indeed asked the question with the intention of catching her off guard and gauging her response.

"Well I could answer that a few different ways. JJ," and here she was very careful to use her friend's nickname, though she wasn't entirely sure why, "is the team's Communications Coordinator and Liaison. That's her official title, anyway. Unofficially, she's our public face, the one who answers the hard questions and clears the way for us to do our job. She's very much a part of the team, if that's what you're asking."

"It is," Cameron replied carefully, apparently unsure what to do since she hadn't been able to trap her the way she'd obviously planned, "but it isn't."

Emily waited as patiently as she could, her mind feeling as if it were at war with itself, and she wasn't sure if she would win out against the fear that was getting stronger minute by minute. Thinking of Jennifer and the team helped, so she focused on that. Finally the shrink seemed to sigh, giving her a long, searching look.

"I'll be blunt, Agent Prentiss. You made Agent Jareau your guardian in the event you were incapacitated, a logical concern given your line of work. Are you satisfied that you made the correct decision, and that she acted in your best interests? She isn't, after all, a family member or, as far as I can see, your partner. She is a friend and a colleague, and in situations where a family member, spouse, or otherwise significant relationship isn't selected to take on that role, there is sometimes some amount of resentment or frustration in how the matter was handled. I wanted to ensure that wasn't the case, or if it was, see to it that it's resolved."

The brunette thought about that seriously, a slow smile reaching her lips as she remembered that her friend was going to be the one staying with her once she returned home. The guilt about that remained, of course, but that didn't mean the idea wasn't appealing.

"I have no problems with how JJ handled the situation," she replied softly, still smiling, "In fact, the choices she's made have all been excellent, as far as I'm concerned. As for your other concern, I don't have a partner, and I'm not especially close to my family. I do disagree that what she and I have isn't a 'significant relationship,' as you phrased it. JJ is my best friend, and I trust her absolutely."

"I didn't mean to imply otherwise," Dr. Cameron answered, smiling a little sheepishly, "I must admit, we have it ingrained in us to be politically correct, and sometimes that wins out over good sense."

Emily nodded, liking the doctor better for the admission, and so was much less annoyed by the next question than she might have been.

"So, you have no objections to her being responsible for your care once you're discharged?"

"None at all, except that I wish it weren't necessary. I know it is, but I would prefer she, and the rest of my team, not have to be concerned with taking care of me. I still can't really get around on my own, though, so I know I have to have help. If I could choose anyone to do it, though, it would be JJ."

Cameron marked something down on her clipboard, looking pleased with the response.

"I know from talking to your doctor that he thinks you should be close to your usual self within two to three weeks." she offered, "provided you're careful, of course. And Agent Jareau is familiar with what's going to be involved?"

Emily chuckled at that, remembering times she'd seen JJ and Dr. Kelso talking earnestly together.

"She might be more aware than I am. She takes her responsibilities very seriously."

Dr. Cameron considered that, then nodded.

"That's good to hear."

She hesitated for a moment, then set her clipboard back in her lap, leaning toward Emily, her eyes searching.

"Agent Prentiss, don't take this the wrong way, but... if Agent Jareau were something besides a good friend, would you say so?"

The brunette frowned, confused by the question. It didn't seem like a trap, but she couldn't imagine why the psychiatrist would ask her that.

"Of course I would. Why wouldn't I?"

The younger woman sat back, shaking her head, a faint smile on her face.

"I just had to be sure. Sometimes people are unsure how others will perceive them if they admit to certain things, as I'm sure you're quite aware."

"JJ and I are more than good friends, but I have no problem saying that," the profiler replied, still confused, "we're family. All of us are, although I know I'm closer to her than the others."

After a pause, she tilted her head, her expression becoming decidedly odd.

"Were you implying that JJ and I might be involved in a romantic relationship?"

Stephanie bit her lip, trying not to laugh. The woman she was interviewing was clearly brilliant, driven, and more than a little attractive, but she seemed completely unaware of how she and the young blonde agent interacted, and how it could look to an outsider. The idea that their relationship could be construed as something more had obviously never occurred to her.

"Would that be a problem?" she asked cautiously, still trying to hide her mirth from the profiler's dark eyes. Fortunately she was sufficiently distracted by what she'd said to be focused on her.

"No, of course not," Emily replied, still looking a bit dumbstruck, "in my line of work, real love is so rare and precious that there really isn't room for us to be anything but grateful for it when we see it. I've never had any problems with lesbianism, for all that it really wasn't accepted in many of the places I've been, or in my family. Something about the appearance of impropriety, according to my mother."

Stephanie nodded, looking down at her notes in an effort to hide the strain of not laughing aloud. The poor woman was so blind-sided by the idea, and she couldn't help but wonder if that blindness was the only thing standing between the two agents and a relationship. They certainly interacted with a level of familiarity and comfort she usually only saw in long term partnerships or marriages. It certainly didn't seem as if their team would have any problem with it.

"Uh... anyway, I just have one or two more things before I'm done," she stated, grateful that the agent was still a bit too distracted to notice her verbal stumble. Emily nodded, blinking slowly and shaking her head slightly as if to clear it. The sight threatened to send her over the edge, but she gathered herself again, knowing the last two questions were no laughing matter.

"Have you been having nightmares, sleep disturbances, that sort of thing?"

The brunette looked at her as if assessing whether or not to tell the truth, then shrugged.

"I think I'd be concerned if I weren't. My team and JJ have always been able to get me out of them, so I'm not too worried about that. I know I've woken up in a cold sweat, or been startled awake by some innocuous noise that nearly sent me into a panic, but I'm learning to handle that."

The psychiatrist nodded, checking something off, then looked at her seriously.

"Agent Prentiss, this is my last question, but it's also one of the most important. How well do you remember what Mr. Samis did to you?"

The sound of his name was still enough to frighten her and send her pulse racing, but she tried to control her facial expression, wondering how well she was succeeding but hoping it was well enough.

"I remember everything," she answered shortly, knowing a longer reply would give too much away, "at least everything I was conscious for. I can't forget."

Stephanie nodded, watching her with a concerned expression.

"And how does that make you feel?"

Emily let out a short, harsh laugh she knew would have startled her friends, none of whom except Jennifer had seen her at her more cynical and bitter.

"Absolutely terrified, both for my life and for the state of the world. Bastards like him are the reason me and my team are so necessary, and why, no matter how scared or hurt I am, I need to find a way to deal with it and get back to the BAU. He's given me more reason than ever to do my job, and do it well."

The psychiatrist nodded, accepting that answer and everything that went along with it. Emily watched her, afraid she'd said too much and the woman would decide she wasn't stable enough to go home.

"So?" she asked quietly when she rose, clearly done with her interview. Cameron stepped forward, looking at her with an expression of mixed sympathy and sadness that did nothing to comfort the dark agent.

"You show all the signs of someone who has been through something extremely traumatic, but you also seem to be coping remarkably well. You're in for a rough time, Agent Prentiss, but I think you would recover faster in the comfort and safety of your own home. Hospitals are not the most peaceful of places, and you need that now. My recommendation is going to be that you be discharged as soon as medically possible, but I also suggest you see a therapist."

Emily nodded. JJ had already made sure she made an appointment, so that wasn't an issue. She watched in silence as Dr. Cameron moved to the door, a little surprised when she hesitated and turned back before opening it.

"Agent Prentiss, I don't usually say this kind of thing, since it's really not my specialty, but I do want you to consider something. Think of it as the advice from a colleague of sorts, rather than my professional opinion."

She tilted her head, just waiting. Already she had unconsciously fallen into the habit of silence, of waiting. Cameron saw it, but didn't comment, knowing that in the fragile state she was in, the wrong words could send her into a deep downward spiral, and that wouldn't be beneficial to the beautiful FBI agent. Even if she couldn't say so, she was rooting for her. She just hoped the one thing she was going to say would help.

"Sometimes what we most need, and want, are right in front of our faces. You said real love, true love was rare and precious, and you're right. It is. Sometimes we don't even know what it is when we see it, and sometimes the people who are in it aren't aware they are. I could be wrong, but I think you have something very special, and you don't even know. Just... think about it. I know I'm just a therapist, not a profiler, but if I know anything about people, it's that they don't always see what's right in front of their face."

Emily knew that was true, and as the therapist stepped out and closed the door, she tried to think about what she'd meant, but it was getting harder to think at all. She noticed a strange pounding that seemed to be surrounding her, but only when she tried to locate it did she realize it was her own racing heart. It all seemed very distant compared to the sense of overwhelming, pervasive darkness. She heard the echoes of a scream, of laughter, and her blood seemed to turn to ice. The stark white walls of the room seemed to turn to twisting, warped shapes of shadow and blood, as alive as she was, and as aware.

"I finally found you, little Emily."

She wanted to scream, to cry out at the echo of that voice, but she couldn't, and she wouldn't. She knew it was a memory, knew it wasn't real, but that knowledge wasn't enough for her heart to stop racing or her eyes to see past the illusion they were presented with. She clung to her awareness that it would end, that it wouldn't all happen over again, and that eventually someone would come. Her mind told her who that someone was, but she couldn't seem to remember their name, or why she wanted that one person so badly.

"Maybe I'll find her for you. Would you like that, little Emily? Would you like me to bring your precious Jennifer to you?"

Jennifer. He was going to hurt Jennifer. She couldn't let him take her away. Not her. She wanted to scream, to curse him, anything, but again she reminded herself this wasn't real. It felt real, though. It felt like hell.

"I think I'll bring her here. Let her see everything. It won't be nearly as enjoyable as making Elizabeth suffer, but it would make you scream. It would finally break you, and those lovely eyes of yours would tell me everything. About you. About her. About loss. You will show me the true meaning of despair, Emily Prentiss, and then you will die knowing the person you most wanted to protect died right in front of you."

"I will kill you if you touch her," her own voice responded, all memory gone. All she knew was that JJ, her Jennifer, was being threatened, and she wasn't strong enough to stop it. She could see him now, blurry and undefined, but present against the twisting shadows.

"You lay one finger on Jennifer, touch one strand of her hair, and I will make you suffer," she hissed fiercely, baring her teeth almost ferally, "You will feel more pain than you ever caused the women you tortured, more than all of it combined. You will know the meaning of despair, because you'll be experiencing it for yourself!"

He moved forward, but this time her hands weren't tied, and even weak she could, and did, fight.

"Emily, stop! Calm down!"

She growled lowly, lashing out even harder. To her surprise, a soft hand clasped her arm on the other side, a touch she recognized.

"Emily, look at me. Look at me, sweetheart."

Despite herself she did turn, unable to disobey the command underlying the sweet, gentle voice. Blue eyes were waiting for her, eyes that were calm, steady, and infinitely tender. Those eyes knew her, knew everything.

"I've got you, Emily. You're safe now. You're safe, I promise."

She stared into those eyes, wanting to believe in them, needing to, in fact, but she was so scared. She couldn't be there. She had to be hallucinating. It was a trick. It had to be. Those eyes saw through her, though. They knew.

"It's me, Emily. It's Jennifer. You know me, sweetheart. You know I won't let anyone hurt you. Come on, Em. Try to remember where you are, and who you're with. You're not there any more. He can't hurt you. I won't let him. You're safe."

JJ's face came into focus, solid, strong, and undeniably real. The harsh lights of the room seemed to make her hair glow, giving her a halo of sorts.

"There you go, Emily, that's it. I've got you."

She sighed softly, forgetting to be scared. The fact that moments ago her mind had been telling her she was back in that bomb shelter was irrelevant. She was safe now. Jennifer was wrapping her in a warm embrace, drawing her head to her chest. She could hear her heart beating, slowing a little bit now, but still going faster than usual. She was healthy, though, the soft skin covering firm muscle unbroken and undamaged. Jennifer was safe.

"Thank God..." she heard her friend murmur, a hand lifting to slowly stroke her hair, "I was afraid I was going to lose you to him again. God, Emily, I was scared for you."

"Prentiss, you all right?"

She turned slightly, terrified that JJ would disappear, but she didn't. Those arms were still around her, and she could feel those eyes still on her. Derek Morgan was standing a few steps from her bedside, a bruise developing on one side of his face.

"I'm... I'm okay," she replied hesitantly, then looked again at the bruise, realizing where it must have come from, "Oh... God, Derek, I'm so sorry. Did I..."

He shook his head, a slow smile crossing his face.

"Hey, if you can clock me like that, I'm not too worried. You are one tough lady, Emily Prentiss. You'll beat this in no time. I'd bet on you and JJ every time, in any situation."

She smiled weakly at that. She didn't know about herself, but no matter what happened, she knew she could trust the woman holding on to her so tightly. Thinking back, she had never let her down, never let the team down.

"You're just jealous that she's beaten you up twice now, Derek," JJ teased, grinning up at the dark man with more than a little gratitude in her eyes. She knew Emily needed this, needed acceptance, understanding, and friendship. Right now, though, she needed to be comforted and reassured, and that was something only she seemed to be able to do.

"Hey now," Morgan was objecting, "she didn't beat me up that time."

"Face it, Morgan," JJ told him, laughter in her voice, "you got beat up, and beat, by a girl. She's a better shot than you too, remember?"

He huffed, shaking his head and turning to Garcia, who was giggling at him.

"Not you too, baby girl. Come on, let's give these two ladies some air. I saw a place when we were getting lunch I wanna check out real quick."

Once again the two women were left alone, and once again Emily was ashamed to realize she was relieved. JJ sighed and leaned back, still holding her tightly, but settling her into a more comfortable position.

"What'd the shrink say?" she asked curiously, and the brunette smiled, knowing she asked just as much because it would distract her as because she was curious.

"She thought I was recovering well and I would do better at home than here," she answered readily, then paused, remembering what else she'd said. She would have to think more about that later, she decided, since right now she had no idea what the hell she'd meant by it. She and JJ were friends, sure, but they were also two of only three women on the team, and in a work environment that favored men. That made them, by necessity, even closer than they might have been otherwise.

"Well that's good, right?"

"Yeah," she sighed, "but you know... right now I really just want to be wherever you are."

JJ stared down at her friend, then smiled, pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head, just as she might a frightened child.

"I know the feeling."

It was Emily's turn to smile, and with that her whole body seemed to come unwound, leaving her relaxed to the point of limpness in JJ's arms. She did want to be home, she decided, but the definition of the word 'home' was flexible.



She looked up, her eyes gentle under the liaison's curious, tender gaze.

"Thank you for saving my life."

A tear fell from one blue gem, and JJ's smile was decidedly watery.

"Thank you for letting me."

With that the last of the shadows left her, and Emily once again made herself comfortable against her pillows, drawing a deck of cards from the basket of games and supplies Garcia had given her. JJ grinned, shifting so she was sitting cross-legged on Emily's bed, facing her over the tray table. That's where their colleagues found them when they returned, and that's when JJ finally got her delayed game of Gin.

Date and Time: February 26, 2007 19:07

Location: FBI Gym and Training Rooms, Quantico Virginia

It had all started off as a simple discussion of military combat techniques, JJ remembered, smiling. She and Emily had done some weight training earlier, and then they'd done some light sparring, just to keep their hand-to-hand skills up. It was important for FBI agents to be able to defend themselves, after all, and she had to admit to being impressed by her friend's speed and skill. Emily was so elegant and refined most of the time, though sometimes her rather quirky sense of humor gave her away. She was as elegant in combat as she was in everything else, she'd decided. After their last case, Emily had apparently done some research into the training regime of the Army Rangers, and they'd been talking about that after they'd finished sparring. Morgan had come in at some point, and somehow the discussion had turned into a debate. Somehow the subject had gotten into the training given FBI agents, and whether or not it was enough. Emily, still somehow retaining her usual grace in her sweats and tank top, had claimed it was all about application and discipline, and Morgan had argued that when it came down to it, size and sheer physical force mattered more.

"Come on, Prentiss," he'd said, "if some guy, or woman, has more muscle, reach, and stamina than you do, they'll take you."

"You think you could beat me in a fight, don't you?" the brunette had asked, half teasing, half serious.

"Well... yeah. No offense, Emily, but I'm a lot stronger than you are, and more physically fit. I'd take you down before you got a chance to use any fancy moves you might have picked up."

Dark brown eyes had flared at the challenge apparent in the other agent's tone and body language. And here they were. She sat watching as Morgan stretched and Emily, already warmed up, adjusted her gloves and mouth guard. Noticing her gaze, the brunette strode over to her, and JJ grinned, giving her a quick once over. Their workout earlier had tired Emily a bit, but she looked calm and confident, but unlike Morgan, not cocky.

"Go kick his ass, Em," she whispered, and her friend grinned back, lifting up one gloved fist. The blonde tapped her own fist against it, a fighter's gesture of good luck and faith. She watched as Emily turned her dark gaze on Morgan, and she could see her assessing him, again with that calm confidence that seemed to characterize her most of the time.

"Hey, don't bias the ref," he called, having seen the interaction between the two women. JJ laughed and Emily chuckled, shrugging.

"What, you're so worried about losing that you're already accusing me of cheating? We haven't even started yet!"

Morgan laughed, walking over to meet the other agent in the middle of the mat, both taking a ready stance. Out of the corner of her eye JJ saw Hotch standing in the doorway, attempting to be inconspicuous but obviously curious about how this would turn out.

"You two ready?"

"Bring it on," Morgan replied with an easy grin, already sure of the outcome. Emily just winked at her, getting a smile in return. Morgan hadn't watched them sparring earlier, so he had no idea what he was up against. She did, and while she knew from experience and observation how tough he was, she remembered a stray thought from the first day she'd met the dark-haired agent. She'd bet on Emily Prentiss any day.


The two combatants tapped their gloves, circling each other. Morgan made the first strike, which Emily simply stepped away from, recognizing, as JJ had, that it was simply a feint to test her reflexes. As she watched, the blonde noticed that he became a little unnerved by Emily's refusal to close in on him, so, as she'd expected, he decided to take it for a lack of confidence or skill.

"Come on, Emily. If you never hit your guy how can you expect to beat him?"

Emily was silent, but she was smiling. JJ knew what she was doing, though. She'd fallen for that trick too. When Morgan made his move, her friend was ready. He feinted left, made a quick strike at her side, then lunged, the move very reminiscent of a football tackle. Emily suddenly wasn't there anymore, though. Just as he'd reached the moment where he could no longer change his direction, the brunette had sidestepped left, bringing up one knee. The breath was yanked from his chest as he impacted it, then Emily pressed up and over, using the momentum of his charge to send him flying. The impact was audible as he hit the mat on his stomach, leaving him stunned for just a second before he rolled and got back to his feet, looking at the other agent more warily this time.

"Okay, I get it. You still haven't beat me yet."

And with that he went at the slim, elegant woman, using a mix of martial arts and football techniques. Emily was too fast for him, though. More than once the blonde caught herself holding her breath, afraid that one of his blows really would land, but somehow, with an amazing economy of motion, she was just never where Derek expected her to be. He did get in some hits on her, and finally seemed to be gaining the upper hand. Emily was tired, JJ could tell, and her muscles were slowed from the weight lifting earlier. Morgan noticed this too and grinned, apparently deciding to finish it. He lunged, the force of his body aimed for her abdomen, and the blonde froze, actually afraid for the older agent. Derek was tired too, and a little less in control of himself than she would like. Just when he should have hit her, though, Emily suddenly twisted in an amazing show of agility, catching his forward arm and throwing him over her shoulder, following him down and using his own speed to catch him in the diaphragm with her knee, the other leg pinning his arm at the elbow, effectively immobilizing it. She pinned his free arm with her right, her left forearm pressing down on his neck. Her weight was very evenly distributed, the blonde noted in passing, just enough in all the right places to keep him pinned while still maintaining balance while he struggled weakly. Normally, she knew, he would have been able to use his legs to get out, but any movement increased the pressure on his throat, blocking him from getting any more air while what he had was forced out of his chest.

"Okay! I give up!" he wheezed, and Prentiss flashed a grin and rose smoothly, her previous exhaustion gone. She gave him a hand up, nimbly blocking the leg he swung out, hoping to trip her up. Once again Morgan was looking up at her from the mat, and she shook her head, laughing.

"Poor loser, Morgan?"

With that she walked over to JJ, winking. The press liaison laughed, helping her pull her gloves off, not because she needed the help, but because it gave her a chance to check her friend over for any injuries. She winced at a bruise that was forming on one shoulder, partially hidden under the tank top, but the dark-haired agent shook her head, keeping her from commenting as their boss approached, helping Derek to his feet.

"That was cheap," the unit chief pointed out. Morgan shook his head and sighed.

"You made your point, Prentiss," he admitted, "I shouldn't underestimate anyone. You never know what hidden talents they may have."

"Well, I should point out that you're probably not used to fighting a profiler," Emily replied humbly, although the woman at her side could see the slight hesitance at giving herself that title. Oblivious to it, the former quarterback laughed, agreeing with her.

"So, are you ready to go, now that you've proven you can beat up our big tough star here?" JJ asked. Her friend nodded.

"Just let me go get my gun," she answered, already starting off in that direction.

"Your gun?" Derek asked curiously, his interest once again piqued. After a quick glance at JJ, Emily shrugged.

"Target practice. You interested?"

For just a second he looked surprised, which irritated both women. They were FBI agents too. They had needed to prove their skills with a firearm just like he had. Hotch must have seen the look that passed between them, because he turned to the other man with a slightly more severe expression.

"You should go, Morgan. You could use the practice."

The dark agent looked offended, but Hotch was already leaving, probably wanting to get home.

"Yeah, I'll come with you," Derek declared after a pause, "but don't you start thinking I'm losing my touch. You caught me off guard, Prentiss. It won't happen again."

"That was the point, Morgan," the older woman pointed out calmly, "if you can make your opponent overconfident, you can beat him, even if he's better than you. You could probably rip me apart, but I guarantee you'd get hurt in the process, and so would anyone else who tried to hurt me or anyone I was protecting. It's not about winning. It's about caring enough about something to risk getting hurt or dying to keep it safe."

She turned away, heading to the women's locker room with JJ a step behind her, leaving the other agent standing on the mat staring after her. When they reached the locker room the brunette sat down on the bench, leaning against the cold metal behind her. The liaison watched her in silence for a moment, then moved forward, gently unwrapping her hands. Dark eyes watched her, full of suppressed emotions. She put the wraps in Emily's bag, which she took from her friend's locker, then sat down at her side, just waiting.

"Do you think he'll be upset?" the brunette asked finally.

"No," JJ replied readily, having expected the question, "I think you gave him some things to think about. And he'll be better for it. Derek can be kind of overconfident about his skills sometimes, but he's a good agent, and a good profiler. And he does like you. You two bonded over the whole Vonnegut thing. He may even be considering asking you out."

Emily snorted at that, lifting her head from the locker to look more directly at her.

"Not likely, and if he does, I'm just going to have to bruise his ego all over again."

"You'd turn him down?" she asked curiously, and the brunette smiled a little sadly, her brown eyes full of shadows.

"Yeah. Morgan is a good guy and all, but you saw him at the club. He's the kind of guy who can't feel too tied down by a woman. If he is, he'll bolt. He might change for the right person, but I know I'm not it."

"Why not?"

Emily hesitated slightly, then shrugged, giving her a slightly brighter smile this time.

"Well, for one, I know I couldn't change him, nor do I have any desire to. For another, he really isn't my type. He's good looking and all, but he just doesn't do it for me. Besides, I'm just not looking for a guy these days. I love my job, and almost any man would ask more of me than I could give him. Even someone like Morgan, who understands what we do, would need too much time and energy that I just don't have."

"So if an opportunity came up, you wouldn't take it?"

Emily shrugged, finally getting up and slipping out of her tank top, comfortable enough with JJ to change in front of her.

"I don't know. I guess, like Morgan, I would need the right person to make it worth it. I know my mother would prefer I 'settle down,' but..."

JJ nodded, understanding that all too well.

"My parents want that too," she offered, getting up to change herself, "and it's hard to go home to that all the time. They just don't understand why I'm not married and have kids by now."

The brunette nodded, wiping herself off with a damp towel. She hadn't worked up too much of a sweat, she decided, although she'd need a shower once she got home. She really didn't like showering here for some reason. It wasn't that she was uncomfortable with JJ, she decided. It had much more to do with how easy it would be for just anyone to walk in. As she stared to pull on a clean shirt, she winced, painfully reminded of her various bruises. Her companion saw the expression and looked over, frowning in concern at the marks standing out vividly against her pale skin.


Prentiss sighed, shaking her head wearily.

"I should have ducked faster."

JJ looked up from her examination, then chuckled when she realized her friend was teasing, but it still bothered her more than she could really account for to see the other agent in pain.

"You're going to be very sore soon," she remarked, noticing that already Emily looked uncomfortable when she moved, "Maybe we should forget about the range for tonight."

She felt the dark eyes on her without needing to look up, and she blushed a little, realizing how she was starting to sound lately. She was very protective of everyone on the team, but she was especially so with Garcia and Emily. Maybe even more so with the brunette, she realized, since she regularly went out into the field and put herself in harm's way. Garcia, at least, was usually safely in her office. Ever since Reid's kidnapping, she'd felt like they were all a bit more vulnerable, and a part of her was afraid that if something happened to Emily the team wouldn't work nearly as hard to get her back. Maybe not hard enough.

"I'm sorry," she murmured softly, "I just... don't like seeing you hurt."

"Don't apologize," Emily replied softly, her tone soft and warm, "It's always nice to have someone who cares. And as it happens, the feeling is mutual."

The blonde smiled, giving the bruises a last look before letting her friend put her shirt on.

"Well, how about we go to the range, you prove Morgan wrong yet again, we get some take out, then I drive you home and give you a massage so you won't be one massive ache tomorrow?"

"Now that sounds like a plan," the brunette replied, sounding considerably cheerier. JJ smiled, glad the brunette had gone along with her idea. They had already planned on having a late dinner together, and since they had carpooled there had been so vague idea of having a slumber party of sorts to give them both a chance to unwind from the last couple of cases. They had even invited Garcia, but she apparently had some tech related thing to go to. If she were honest with herself, she was almost grateful. She and Emily hadn't been able to spend a lot of time together in the last couple of weeks, and she knew the older agent was feeling a little isolated, especially after the way Reid had been treating her. She loved Garcia and knew the tech goddess was coming to accept Emily quickly enough, but even the sociable, over-the-top Penelope was a little quieter around the dark-eyed agent, and she'd seen the way it wore on Emily to always feel like she had to be charming and friendly. It was better that it was just the two of them.

"You ready to go show up Morgan?" Emily asked with a soft smile, lightly squeezing her arm as she stepped past her. The liaison smiled in return when she glanced back, hefting her bag. The young man was waiting for them at the range, fiddling with his gun. Both Emily and JJ used their own guns as well, rather than one provided by the agent supervising the range. He readily agreed with the choice, since those where the side arms they'd be using while in the field. The blonde checked her clip, starting to feel a bit nervous. Morgan was a great shot, and he knew it. Emily was also very skilled with her weapon. She spent the least amount of time in the field, and the least amount of time actively using her gun.

"Hey JJ?"

She turned, finding her dark friend standing just behind her, looking both typically elegant and especially dangerous with her gun held comfortably at her side. Emily gave her a look so confident and full of faith that she warmed, momentarily forgetting her nerves. It was hard to doubt herself when someone was looking at her like that. When Emily looked at her that way, she corrected herself. That kind of confidence was more than a little inspiring, she decided, especially from one so skilled and self-assured.

"Go show him who's really the best."

With her friend's words ringing in her ears, she stepped into the cubicle waiting for her, putting on her headphones and goggles, waiting for the signal to start. She knew Morgan was to her left, and Emily was to her right, but as the targets came up, her focus narrowed to the barely visible lines and circles on them.


She fired, all thoughts or worries gone from her mind. When her clip ran out and the call came to come see their results, she was startled, having forgotten that they were just at the range and there was a beginning and an end. She hesitantly stepped out, her hands shaking so badly she couldn't put the weapon back in its holster. She didn't know why this always happened, but whenever she practiced the end always made her heart race and her hands tremble violently.


Her friend's soft voice made her jump, but then familiar hands had slipped her gun out of her grasp and was replacing the magazine. Emily slid the weapon into its place, gently grasping her hands for a moment before turning away to say something she didn't quite hear to Morgan. Distracting him, she realized, as she got herself together. She felt a surge of grateful affection for her friend and sighed, forcing herself to relax. It was the break in her focus that threw her off so badly and left her like this, she decided, and the residual force from her gun.

"Your results, agents."

She took the sheets automatically, grinning at Morgan's proud remark about his skills.

"Beat that!" he laughed, looking quite sure the dark woman couldn't. She smiled calmly and shrugged, handing over her results. Derek's eyes widened, and JJ took the sheet out of his hands, comparing it to the one he still held. Emily's speed had been lower than the other agents, but her accuracy was markedly higher. Speed was important in a crisis, she knew, but accuracy could more than negate that.

"JJ, let's see yours," the brunette called, and the blonde handed over the paper without looking at it. Emily's smile widened suddenly, and with a laugh she handed the paper she held over to the waiting man.

"Beat that," she declared proudly, and Derek sighed, then laughed good naturedly.

"I don't think I can," he answered, shaking his head, "JJ kicked both our asses."

The blonde frowned, actually looking at the scores this time. To her amazement, and Emily's apparent unsurprised, she had rated significantly higher on accuracy, speed, and overall skill. The dark agent laughed and clapped her on the shoulder, pausing when he caught sight of his watch.

"Sorry ladies, but I gotta run. I've got a date to get to."

With a broad grin at both of them and a wink, he was gone. Emily lightly clasped her arm, leading her out to the car and away from the entirely too curious gaze of the supervising agent. When they got outside the brisk wind drew her out of her stunned state, and she looked up into her friend's dark eyes, looking for an explanation. Emily laughed, the sound low and lilting in the crisp, cold air.

"You're incredible, you know that?" she asked, her hand falling naturally to the small of her back as she led the blonde to the waiting car.

"What are you talking about?" JJ asked, finally recovering from her startlement and wonder. The other agent laughed again, drawing her to the passenger's door and ushering her in. She took her place on the other side and started the car before turning her attention back to her companion, still smiling.

"JJ, you do know that Morgan was all set to brag and show off when his scores turned out to be the best, right?"

She nodded absently, wondering how that related. As she drove out of the parking lot, the dark agent continued to smile, the expression becoming more affectionate when she glanced over at her friend.

"You would have had plenty of bragging rights, you know," Emily went on finally, giving her another warm look, "You did so much better than he did, and all you did was stare. I know why, though. I know what it feels like to be yanked out of the kind of focus you have. On the other hand, I also know it never occurred to you to put Morgan in his place for that, of all things. You never believe me when I tell you're the better shot."

JJ looked over at her friend, understanding the joke now, but when Emily's expression suddenly darkened, she frowned. After a few minutes of silence she carefully put a hand over her friend's where it rested on the wheel, and the brunette looked over at her, still with that sad look on her face.

"Emily, what's wrong?" she asked softly, startled by the shift in the brunette's demeanor. Emily smiled wanly, her formerly bright eyes dull.

"I wish... I wish you didn't have to be so good at it, JJ. I know you're as much an agent as any of us, and there's no denying that, but..."


"I don't have a lot of friends, JJ," the dark woman finally blurted, her gaze fixed on the road ahead, a blush coloring her pale skin, "I never have. Between being my parents' daughter, being the Ambassador's child, being an FBI agent, and being myself, people aren't... aren't really comfortable getting close to me. And I don't exactly trust people easily."

She sighed, shaking her head slightly.

"I don't have enough friends to lose any, JJ," she finished quietly, still staring fixedly at the road, "And every time we go into the field, all of you risk your lives. I know my parents are still alive. I know I have cousins and other relatives but this team, the BAU... you're all the family I have. All the family that counts to me. I love my parents, but they aren't family."

Again Emily shook her head, looking distinctly frustrated.

"What's really bothering you," JJ asked, gently squeezing the hand she still held, "Why are you so upset?"

The brunette stopped the car, and it took a moment for JJ to realize they were outside her friend's apartment. Emily sighed, looking at the hand covering hers for a long moment before she finally turned to meet her companion's gaze.

"I don't want to lose you, JJ. Any time you have to use that gun, it's because someone wants to hurt you or someone near you. You're... you're the best friend I have. God... am I making any sense at all?"

JJ opened her door and strode around the car to the driver's side, opening the door there and kneeling at her startled friend's side. She took hold of the hand nearest her and looked up into the dark brown eyes, eyes that appeared black in the darkness.

"If I didn't know how intelligent you were, I'd call you an idiot here and now. Since I do know, I'm going to tell you how you're being an idiot," she started, her tone light but her expression serious, "Garcia is pretty much my best friend. You know that. What you don't seem to have realized is that you're one of my best friends too. Every time you go out into the field, I sit, stand, or pace around wherever I've been left, absolutely terrified some psycho is going to take away my family. It used to be just the boys I really had to worry about, but now there's you, and as much as I hate to admit it, it would hurt me so much more if you were the one who was taken. I love Reid. He's like my frighteningly brilliant little brother, and Derek is like our jock big brother watching out for us. Hotch is this ever-present father figure, and Gideon... he's like the uncle no one really knows much about but who always seems to be around. Garcia is my sister, the one I share almost everything with, the one who teases and torments me but ultimately has my back."

Emily laughed softly at the way she described their teammates, but she sobered quickly.

"And where do I stand in all of that?"

The blonde sighed, refusing to look away from that shadowed gaze.

"You don't fit into a neat label or compartment," she replied, seeing that her companion had easily caught the reference, "but you're most definitely family. I don't want to ever find out what it would feel like if something happened to you. So yes, Emily, you were making perfect sense."

The dark woman smiled sweetly, sliding out of the car and pulling JJ up with her, just to wrap her in a warm hug. Admittedly she was more than usually grateful, since it was a very cold night and she hadn't put her overcoat on when she'd gotten out of the car. As if sensing her thoughts, the brunette pulled her closer with one arm, the other pulling off the thick coat she wore and wrapping it around the smaller woman. When JJ might have objected, she shushed her, giving her another firm squeeze before stepping back, hefting both their duffle bags and leading the way up to her condo, refusing to hear even a whisper of argument until they were already inside.

"Emily, you didn't have to carry my bag up here."

The older agent laughed, putting the bag down next to her own at the base of the stairs. She waited, and JJ, true to form, got distracted by the chance to look around a place none of their colleagues had been before. It wasn't exactly what she'd expected the Ambassador's daughter to be living in, but it was very much what she would have expected from Emily. The colors were warm without being too bright, subtle and elegant without giving a visitor the impression of being unworthy. The furniture was much the same, muted woods and leathers that were understated but well matched to both the rest of the decor and the woman who lived here. The kitchen, slightly offset from the rest of the condo, was big enough that two may have been able to cook there together, but no more. Not that it looked like anyone else lived there, which fit with what she knew of Emily, and what she had said about herself.

"It's just you here?" she asked, more for the sake of surety than because she really doubted it. The brunette nodded, looking around absently before returning her attention to her friend.

"I've never been good at living in close quarters with other people. Habit, I suppose."

The dark woman shrugged as if she were undisturbed by that fact, but the blonde knew her better. She also knew that the fact Emily had invited her here said a lot for how much she trusted her, and she wasn't going to question it.

"So, I was thinking we should amend our plan a little," Emily started, outwardly oblivious to her thoughts, "I could call for take out to be delivered here, and we could-"

"That sounds great," she interrupted, grinning to take the sting out of it, "so, you order whatever you think would be good, then you're going to go lay down on that astonishingly comfortable-looking couch and I'm going to give you that massage I promised."

It was her turn to interrupt when her friend might have objected, and at the look she gave her, Emily held up her hands, surrendering with a gentle laugh. She called her favorite Asian take out and ordered some dishes she thought JJ might like, knowing they'd arrive with the food as soon as possible. She kept the fair agent entertained with stories of growing up in the Ambassador's household, and with how different it was to live here. When the food arrived JJ took over telling the stories, describing in such vivid detail life in East Allegheny that she caused Emily to nearly fall over laughing more than once, as was her intention.

"That was wonderful," she decreed once she'd been stuffed to the brim. Her friend smiled affectionately, prepared to suggest they watch a movie or some such, but before she could those blue eyes were locked on her. JJ knew exactly what she was up to, and in one imperious look she completely negated that idea. Emily almost said something to argue with her, but once again she was cut off with a single look. She smiled and turned over from where she'd been reclining on the couch so she was on her stomach, taking her shirt off in the process. JJ grinned, pleased to have gotten her way with the proud, stubborn woman, and set to work unknotting the surprisingly thick muscles in her friends arms, shoulders, and back. She and Garcia had done this before, although Garcia insisted she'd learned the technique from Morgan, but it was different with Emily. The older woman was startlingly pliant under her hands, turning into putty in her grasp. It was amazing how Emily transformed, and she started to wonder something that never would have occurred to her before.

"Emily, has anyone ever given you a massage?"

"Huh... no... little higher..."

She grinned, shifting her hands a little. In that case, she decided, she would see to it that this was the best possible massage she could give. By the time she'd finished, Emily Prentiss, regal daughter of powerful parents, fearless and brilliant FBI profiler, was practically purring, so relaxed she may as well have been boneless. JJ was, to say the least, quite proud of herself.

"You're magic," the dark woman murmured in a slow, contented drawl. The blonde chuckled, deciding she didn't have the heart to make her companion move, even though she really should get her to bed. She started to get up to get a blanket instead, but Emily grumbled incoherently and tossed an arm around her, pulling her against her bruised body. Already all but unconscious, the other agent could tell, but she was touched that Emily wanted her to stay close.

"I should get a blanket or something," she started to say, but the brunette hushed in, drawing her closer. To her surprise, she found that she was plenty warm enough right where she was. Her friend nuzzled her face into her hair, and she laughed softly.

"That tickles!" she scolded, but she didn't really mind. It wasn't as if Garcia hadn't ever treated her like a living stuffed animal in her sleep, after all. It was just that it was so much more unexpected from Emily.

"You're really just a soft touch, aren't you?" she asked affectionately, "You can beat up the guys and the UnSubs and never flinch, but give you a massage and you turn into a cuddly teddy bear."

"Uh-huh..." Emily mumbled, "Whatever you say. Now shut up and sleep."

She laughed, deciding that was a good idea. She managed to snag her overcoat from where her friend had placed it over the couch when they'd come in and pulled it over them, resting her head on the older agent's bare arm.

"You know I'm never going to let you live this down, right?"

The dark-haired woman grumbled again, tightening the hold she had around her waist.

"Agent Jareau, do I have to sedate you?"

With a laugh she settled down again, willing herself to relax and sleep. Sleep she did regularly enough, but it was rare that she relaxed completely. In Emily's arms, though, any fears or anxieties faded into the background, leaving her almost as limp as her companion.

"You can say what you want," she whispered, softly enough that it wouldn't disturb the sleeping woman, "but you're the one who's magic, Emily Prentiss."

Part 5

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