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.
SPECIAL NOTE: Thank you so much to everyone who emailed me. Your feedback has been incredible, and I really appreciate it. I wasn't sure how others would feel about this story, and everyone has been wonderful. Any and all feedback is welcome, including criticism, but it's been great knowing people are enjoying the story. I've enjoyed writing it, and sometimes that makes all the difference. Hopefully it shows.
NOTE 2: A huge thank you goes out to someone who went way out of their way to help me with the French translation. As I noted to them, French is a weakness of mine and my usual helper was unavailable. For that person, you have my gratitude. I hope the changes I made are acceptable.
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 Five


Psychopathology: The scientific study of mental disorders


Date and Time: February 19, 2008, 13:22

Location: BAU Jet, In the Air over Maryland

Hotch looked up from the file he was reviewing, discretely enough that the objects of his curiosity were unaware, but not so much that the man across from him didn't notice. He just chuckled and went back to his own file, knowing exactly why he was doing it. Emily Prentiss was sprawled on one of the jet's couches, her head comfortably cushioned in Jennifer Jareau's lap. She still wore a bandage around her head from both the brutal gash across her temple and the place they'd needed to drill to keep fluid buildup from killing her. It had amused him how meticulous they'd been about cutting away as little hair as possible, but in a way he was glad. It allowed his agent to retain some sense of normalcy, which he knew she desperately needed. Right now JJ was tenderly stroking said hair, her blue eyes distant and thoughtful. He wondered what she was thinking about, but doubted he didn't already know.

"Do you think they'll ever be able to forget?" Dave asked him suddenly, and he turned, looking at the man who had been his mentor, and was now his subordinate. Rossi had been uncompromising with Strauss and Ambassador Prentiss, and for that he was grateful, although the burden of command had, of course, fallen on his own shoulders.

"Forget? I don't know," he replied softly, considering the question, "I doubt it. Could you?"

The Italian shook his head, setting down the file he held.

"Do you think they'll make it?"

This time he didn't have to think.

"If anyone can survive this, it's them. You know as well as I do how much it takes just to get this far. And it isn't as if either of them are denying it, either. Both of them have made appointments with therapists, and I know they've talked about it. They're surviving, Dave. Right now that's all we can ask of them."

"And you still think they don't know?"

Now he chuckled, glancing back at the two women, then at Morgan and Reid, who were playing cards behind them. Garcia sat across from them, looking a great deal like a mother bird standing guard over her fledglings.

"You know they don't. If they did, we would know. As far as I can tell, it just never occurred to them. It's an innocence you don't see a lot in our line of work. I think we should let them find out when they will. Not that it will change much. For all practical purposes, they've already made the big steps. Now they just have to make the smaller ones."

Rossi raised an eyebrow.

"You think that is a small step?" he asked pointedly, and Aaron smiled.

"I suppose not. For them, though, after everything they've been through, it does seem that way, at least from the outside. They may not agree, but I'm hoping they won't let it get between them. Hard to believe anything could, but that..."

The older agent nodded, risking a glance at the two women again. His eyes were sad when he watched them interact, Hotch had noticed, as if for the first time he was really seeing everything he had given up to get where he was. He understood that. Losing Haley had been a blow, because he truly loved his wife, and he adored Jack. And yet, even for them, he couldn't stop being a profiler. Maybe if Haley had been one too, but...

"Jennifer... No!"

The sudden exclamation startled everyone, and they all turned, seeing the expression of absolute terror on Emily's face that was becoming almost familiar. Already, though, JJ was soothing her back to sleep, stroking her hair and speaking to her in a soft whisper. Almost as quickly as the nightmare had hit, the injured woman was relaxing back into her friend's lap, accepting whatever reassurance she'd been given.

"Do you think that's an improvement?" Rossi asked him quietly once they were sure Emily was really asleep. Hotch considered, well aware he was talking about the fact that sometimes the brunette actually spoke out in her dreams now. The trouble was that meant she was dreaming about the worst parts of the torture, when Samis had threatened to track down and kill JJ. She had been dying when they found her, and almost beyond recovery. The last thing Jonah Samis had said to her had been a promise that she would die knowing she had caused her best friend to suffer, and that was what she dreamed of most often now.

"I don't know," he replied finally, "but it could be. If she can get past that part..."

Dave nodded. If she could get past her own near death, as well as the fear for JJ's life, she might be well on her way to recovery. The older man sighed and went back to his file, and Hotch did the same for a while, until something occurred to him and he gestured Garcia over. The woman seemed reluctant to abandon her 'post,' but she came.

"You and Morgan finished everything, right?" he asked softly, realizing that he hadn't had a chance to confirm the information before they'd taken off. She grinned and nodded, looking quite pleased with herself. By all accounts, she certainly had the right to. When he'd talked to Morgan on the phone, he'd mentioned that everyone involved was so thoroughly terrified of Garcia that they'd finished the job to the very best of their abilities and in the smallest time possible. They'd also given the lowest price they probably ever had, just to keep the analyst from coming down on them for that.

"It's all set up, sir."

He nodded, giving her a small smile. She smiled back before going back to her seat, alternating her attention between Morgan and Reid's game, and her two friends on the couch. He watched her watch them for a moment, then sighed, setting his file aside and rising, heading for the pilot's cabin. The man assured him they'd be setting down soon, but there was a weather system just ahead and it would cause some turbulence. As he went back to his seat, he paused to warn the two younger men, then Garcia. Moving carefully, he kneeled next to JJ, who acknowledged his presence without stopping the gentle caress of the older woman's hair.

"The captain mentioned we were going to be hitting some weather in a few minutes, but we'll be on the ground in less than half an hour."

The blonde nodded her understanding, so he rose and silently walked back to his place across from Rossi, who was watching them again.

"It's amazing what the human mind is capable of denying," he murmured softly, shaking his head. Hotch smiled a bit at that. His former mentor was certainly right, since they saw it often enough in their line of work, but this time he wasn't talking about psychotic tendencies or a need to kill. Before he could respond, though, the jet hit the first rough patch, and he instinctively braced himself, looking over to see how JJ and Emily were faring. The blonde had an arm wrapped tightly around her companion, leaning protectively over her and whispering something into her ear.

"JJ?" he called softly, and she looked up, shaking her head. Her blue eyes were intense, even from a distance, and he sighed inwardly, worrying about his agents. He was the only one who knew how much Prentiss had sacrificed for this team, the only one who knew why she'd nearly resigned back in October. He doubted even JJ had heard the full story. Emily was too modest to say, and he'd never found the right time. There was no doubt in his mind that losing Prentiss would devastate the team far more effectively than losing Gideon. It wasn't her profiling skills that would do it, although many of their recent cases had been cracked by contributions from the dark woman. It was the silent support she gave everyone else, her way of joking with Morgan, keeping him in his place, the way she made Reid think in ways he wouldn't on his own, the way she understood Garcia... and then there was JJ. The blonde was well loved by her teammates, but it was Emily who was always ready with a look, a light touch, or the right words to comfort her when things went bad.

"You won't lose them, Hotch," David murmured suddenly, breaking into his thoughts, "You were the one who told me they'd make it. Now you have to believe in them too."

He glanced over at his former mentor, smiling to himself. He was glad no one else on the team knew him so well. He could accept that sort of thing from the older agent, but he didn't think he could tolerate it from the other members of his team.

"I do believe in them," he replied, his voice equally soft, "especially them. I have to. If I didn't, we never would have gotten Samis, or found her and the other woman alive."

Rossi nodded, fixing him with his intense stare. He chuckled, knowing what the other man wanted from him.

"They're my family, Dave. I have to do whatever I can to protect them."

"And you will."

That seemed to settle the issue for him, and the Italian turned back to the file, apparently oblivious to the rocking of the plane. Hotch knew him well enough to know it made him uncomfortable though. Rossi still wasn't used to air travel.


He was in motion as soon as he heard his name, helping the blonde secure her friend while waving the others back to their seats. Emily was half-awake and disoriented, but she wasn't quite strong enough to hold herself on the couch, or awake enough to know she needed to. He was careful not to do anything threatening, hoping JJ's hold and voice would keep her from panicking. It was, it seemed. When they were through the weather system the brunette sat up slowly, looking around. Her eyes were reasonably clear, and while her expression was guarded, she seemed to know when and where she was.

"Hotch, what happened?" she asked, reassuring him that she was, in fact, in the present.

"We just hit some weather," he assured her, "but the flight's almost over. We're almost home."

She nodded, trying to sit up straight and take everything in, but it was obviously difficult for her. He knew she was suffering the lingering effects of a nasty concussion, among many other things, and moving quickly was still extremely painful for her.

"Take it easy. We'll be down in about ten minutes. I'll be driving, so you can rest in the car," he said soothingly, patting her arm gently before turning his attention to JJ, "Did Dr. Kelso give her a script?"

She nodded, gesturing to the bag at the other end of the couch. He snagged it, handing it over and getting a bottle of water from the bar.

"Em, here," JJ was saying when he returned, taking the bottle with a grateful look in his direction. The brunette frowned at the pills, glancing between her supervisor and her friend.

"I don't want to be knocked out..."

The press liaison smiled and shook her head.

"I know. It's just naproxen for the headache. Dr. Kelso gave you something stronger, but said you could take it at your own discretion."

That reassured the dark agent, and she took the two blue pills, leaning back against the couch. She still looked exhausted, with deep shadows around her eyes and a wariness about her that never quite faded. She didn't look gaunt and nearly transparent as she had when they found her, though, and he found that eased his mind. The rest he knew he'd need to trust JJ to handle. Not that she'd be left to do it all herself, of course, but most of the burden would fall to her.

"Thanks, JJ. Thank you, Hotch."

The blonde smiled warmly, playing with the other woman's dark hair. It seemed to be unconscious, he noticed, as was the way Emily leaned into the touch, her expression relaxing and the tension that almost radiated off her easing. At an announcement from the pilot he saw to it his team was buckled in, then returned to his seat. The landing was smooth, as always, but disembarking was a little difficult. While Emily could walk on her own now, she was still unsteady and weak, and needed to move slow. Stairs were an issue, but the brunette couldn't be persuaded to allow herself to be carried. Part of it was stubborn pride, but another was that it was entirely too reminiscent of being captured by Samis. They compromised, with Derek, Reid, and Rossi carrying the bags while Hotch and JJ supported her. At the bottom she thanked them, trying to walk the rest of the way alone.

"Emily!" JJ suddenly exclaimed, catching her friend as she started to fall barely a third of the way across the tarmac. With a visible sigh the brunette slung an arm across her friend's shoulders, letting her support her weight. Hotch knew better by now than to offer a wheelchair or an arm of his own, but it didn't stop him from wanting to. When they finally reached the parking lot he breathed an inward sigh of relief, glad that this part of the journey was almost over. He knew from experience that being in one's own home could make a huge difference when one was afraid.

"How much further?" Emily asked quietly, sounding more than tired. She sounded subdued, he decided. She wanted to be home as badly as they wanted her to be. JJ helped her slide into the car, sitting next to her and holding on to her hand. He kept an eye on them in the rearview mirror, driving as fast as he dared. At the brunette's building he parked and remembered with more than a little gratitude that there was an elevator here. The ride up was short, and he noticed that Emily didn't seem overly uncomfortable with the confined space, but then Samis' bomb shelter had been fairly large. That was one less thing to be concerned about, anyway.

"Here we are," he declared when they reached the appropriate floor, leading them down the hall with their bags. He took the key JJ held out to him, giving him a worried look that mirrored his own feelings. Emily wasn't entirely present right now, not so much out of fear as from exhaustion, but that wasn't really any better in the long run. They needed to get her off her feet. He opened the door, holding it so the two women could follow, and strode the the base of the stairs, setting the two bags down at the base of the stairs where he had known Emily usually put hers.

"I'll get out of your way shortly, but I wanted to show you something first."

He persuaded JJ to let him support Emily, and told her to stand at the base of the stairs.

"There's a handle there," he pointed it out, waiting for JJ to take it and showed her how it pulled out, "now, lean on that and hold on."

He pulled a small remote out of his jacket pocket and pressed a button. The blonde started when the surface she was standing on rose, then started to slide upward, skimming just an inch or two above the stairs themselves. He reversed the direction when it reached the top, telling JJ how she could move the handle to a better position. Once she'd returned to the bottom, she guided the clearly amused brunette to the couch, turning back to grin at Hotch.

"That was pretty cool," she declared with a laugh. He smiled faintly, agreeing with the sentiment.

"Morgan and Garcia supervised the installation. The tracks were colored to blend into the wall, and more than strong enough to support both of them, so you two should be fine. Garcia also bought some groceries, so you won't have to worry about food if you don't want to go out."

"Thank you so much," the dark agent stated softly, her eyes conveying what she didn't seem to have the words for, "and tell them thank you, too. I can't believe you guys went to so much trouble."

"It's no trouble," he replied, patting her shoulder and moving toward the door, knowing his welcome was pretty much up here, "You two take care, and if you need anything, anything at all, give me a call. If there's any way I can help, I will."

"Hotch, thank you," Emily repeated, looking at him intensely. He nodded, returning the look in silence for a long moment before giving them both a short, sad smile and stepping out. He wanted to stay, to make sure they got settled, but knew that was unnecessary. Besides, he thought to himself with a grin, they deserved some time alone. They had almost constantly been surrounded by doctors, nurses, and the team, and while that was good in some ways, he'd noticed they often seemed more relaxed when they'd had some time to themselves.

"Have a good afternoon," he called, gently closing the door behind him. Emily sighed inwardly, closing her eyes and leaning into the cool comfort of her own couch. She could feel JJ shifting near her and turned to the woman, smiling gently.

"I'm okay," she assured her gently, not needing to open her eyes to know her friend was worrying about her, "just tired. Thank you for coming home with me."

"No thanks needed," Jennifer answered softly, her voice low and warm. After a moment Emily felt a calloused hand running through her hair, then moving to cup her face. She leaned into the touch, feeling her muscles loosening at her awareness of her friend's nearness. For what seemed like the hundredth time in a day and a half she thought about what Dr. Cameron had said, and what she'd implied. Looking at it objectively she could see how the way she and JJ interacted could be interpreted as something more than friendship. It was also true that no one made her feel as warm, as special, and, if she were honest with herself, more loved. She wasn't naive enough to say it was the love of a sister she felt, either.


The sound of her own name made her smile, and she opened her eyes, finding herself looking into worried blue depths. She wondered what her expression had given away to her perceptive friend, but she wasn't too worried about it.

"Do you remember the first time you and I were on this couch together?" she asked softly, and JJ laughed.

"Yeah," the blonde replied, grinning fondly at the memory, "I went to all the trouble to give you a massage, and you thanked me by telling me to shut up."

Emily chuckled, pulling her companion down onto her lap. JJ was startled, but still she leaned into her when she wrapped her arms around her, resting her head on her shoulder. She sighed, her demons becoming irrelevant in comparison to the feeling that came with having this woman in her arms. She had never really noticed before, never thought about the subtle relaxation of her guard or how much easier it was to breathe when she held her friend.

"Is it my fault you give such a good massage, Jennifer?" she asked teasingly, hearing for the first time how her voice changed when she talked to JJ, how it warmed and softened as it never did when she talked to anyone else. If someone who didn't know them were to walk in right now and see them together, they would probably lay down good money that they were together. And she didn't think she'd particularly mind if they said so. The thing she needed to figure out was whether or not she felt anything romantic or sexual toward the other woman. If Dr. Cameron hadn't suggested it, she doubted it would have occurred to her to wonder about it.

"No, I suppose not," the younger agent replied, looking very pleased with herself, "I guess I can't blame you for being overwhelmed by my skills."

Emily laughed, tightening her grip and letting her head rest against the blonde's. She could feel JJ relaxing against her and she could see how tired she was. At this range she could easily trace the dark shadows around her eyes and the heavy lines marring her pale face.

"You should rest, Jennifer," she chided gently, running her fingers through strands of golden hair. JJ mumbled something about being fine, but her face was buried in her neck and she couldn't quite make it out. She knew the other agent had been staying awake much longer hours than she had, always on alert for nightmares or flashbacks. They were safe here, though, and even her unpredictable mind seemed to be able to concede that point. She wasn't stupid enough to think that she was fine now, but she knew she could give her friend some time to sleep.

"It's okay," she whispered soothingly, "take a nap, Jennifer. I've got you."

"I'm supposed to be looking after you," the younger woman objected, lifting her head from its resting spot and trying to look awake and alert, "not the other way around."

"Well right now I don't need looking after," she retorted, keeping her tone light, "and you need sleep."

JJ sighed, looking somewhat resigned at what she was sure was a very stubborn expression on her face and moved to get up, but she wouldn't let her. She was mentally stable for the moment, but she didn't think she was physically strong enough to move very far, or emotionally strong enough to tolerate being alone, even if Jennifer was just in the next room or upstairs. She felt horribly selfish, but she knew it would make JJ feel horrible if she woke up to find her screaming or worse.

"I'm not going anywhere," her friend assured her, reading her expression, "Just don't want to crush you."

"I don't think you could."

Emily saw the slow smile and returned it, shifting a little so she could lay back, wrapping herself around her companion much the way she had the first time JJ had been here. Her friend seemed to recognize the similarities too, because she grinned, pressing herself further into the older woman's embrace.

"Promise you'll wake me up if anything happens?"

She agreed to the condition, waiting for the lovely liaison to fall asleep before reaching up, tenderly playing with her hair and going back to her earlier train of thought. Did she have feelings that would be described by her colleagues as 'romantic'? It was an awkward question when she phrased it that way, but it was still something she needed to know for herself. It was strange, since she'd never thought of JJ in those terms, but she forced herself to go through a mental exercise she'd been taught in school that had probably never been meant for something like this.

"Here goes nothing," she muttered, feeling more than a little guilty, but still making a mental photograph of the scene and holding it in her mind as she'd been trained to. Next she altered the scene with careful deliberateness, feeling more like she was having a fantasy than performing an intellectual exercise. She and JJ were on the couch as they had been that day, her on her stomach and JJ leaning over her, massaging her back. This time, though, she didn't fall asleep. Instead, she turned over and kissed her. Emily jerked herself out of the 'exercise,' but her guilt was insufficient to drown out the fire coursing through her. She shook her head slightly, forcing herself to relax. Lately JJ had been entirely too aware of her, and she didn't want to wake her up, especially since she now had even more to think about. So far she'd very vividly confirmed that she was capable of a physical attraction to the other woman, but now she needed to know if it was merely a latent attraction to her own gender or if it was really her friend she wanted. So she tried the exercise again, using some of the most beautiful women she'd ever seen as her imaginary partner. While her body did sort of react, it was in the same abstract way she felt when she imagined herself with a male partner, which she tried next. Still nothing of the fire she'd felt when she'd kissed the imaginary blonde. She did notice that while she was a little more comfortable with the male image, that seemed to be more from experience than anything.

"Now what do I do?" she muttered, careful to keep her voice down. It was a serious question, and one she needed to find a way to answer, preferably before Jennifer woke up. In her mental image her friend had been responsive, but what if this whole thing were completely one sided? And even if it wasn't, would it just a physical thing? She didn't believe for a moment how she felt for this wonderful woman was just physical, since until today she'd never thought of her friend that way, but did she love her as more than a friend?

"Mmm... Emily..."

She turned her attention back to her companion, feeling JJ turn over in her arms and nuzzle against her neck. Sensitized as she was by her little 'exercise,' she was very aware of how her body reacted. She frowned inwardly, wondering how she could have possibly missed the way her heart would skip a beat then speed up, or the way her skin warmed and sort of tingled wherever the blonde touched for so long. That got her wondering if she was just imagining it, looking for something that wasn't there because of what Dr. Cameron had said. With an inward sigh she scolded herself for looking for an out. She was a profiler, not an adolescent, for all that she felt like a misbehaving teenager. She had failed to recognize the reaction because she hadn't been looking for it. It had simply never occurred to her that the way she was feeling was at all sexual. Now it seemed so much stronger because she was aware and paying close attention to every little detail. Perhaps too close if something so simple had left her gasping.

"Is this just me, Jennifer?" she whispered, stroking her hair to soothe her back into a deeper sleep, "Am I the only one feeling this?"

She sighed again, holding JJ more tightly. Cameron had certainly implied it was mutual, but she didn't know if she believed that. When she asked herself why, it came down to a simple equation of fear and doubt. She'd been burned so many times that when it came to something, someone, she really cared about, she was just too scared to hope. And that answered her second question. She was in love with JJ, her Jennifer, and she had been for a long time. Maybe since the day they'd met, maybe not. She had no way of tracking how long it had been, exactly, since it had been a subtle thing, so much so she hadn't been aware of it at all. Her mind and body had dealt with the attraction through acceptable outlets, like the gentle touches that were so much a part of their interactions, and the way her guard was always much lower around the beautiful blonde. Somehow her friend had gotten inside her defenses without setting off any alarms, and she had wondered, in some distant corner of her mind, how that was possible.

"I guess we know now..."

Her thoughts continued to race, coming to a third question. Would knowing how she felt change her relationship with JJ? That was a terrifying thought, but she forced herself to consider it. After sitting there in silent panic for a while, she realized that once again it was much more simple than she was making it out to be. This wasn't a new thing. It seemed like she'd always loved the smaller woman, and simply being aware of it didn't really change anything, except how she herself thought of things. And even if Jennifer didn't return her feelings, she didn't want to lose the connection and closeness she'd always had with her. Which of course got her wondering if she should tell JJ about the revelation. Her instinctive response was a resounding NO, but she made herself think about why before dismissing the idea out of hand. What she came up with was fairly simple. She was afraid of losing JJ, whether through prejudice, awkwardness, or even an eventual breakup. That last got her thinking again, and she decided that if somehow they did end up together, it would have to come with some reasonable surety they could last, which was very hard to come by. She couldn't lose JJ.


She smiled, tightening her hold at the reminder of why she couldn't bear to lose the other woman's friendship. So, since she wasn't going to just out and say she was in love with her, she would need find ways to show her, subtle, small things that she hoped would build sufficiently for her to determine how Jennifer felt without giving too much away. Essentially seducing her, she thought with a small grin. She'd have to be careful not to let this new awareness alter her behavior too much, though. It wasn't like it had been some profound epiphany, or a bolt of lightening that came down from the sky and struck her in the head. It was just a natural conclusion to an unusual, for her, anyway, train of thought. Getting her now very jumbled thoughts and emotions was difficult, though.

"This should be interesting..."

She spent the next two hours while JJ slept making a plan, thinking of little things she could do to draw out anything beyond friendship her friend might feel for her, knowing she was limited by her physical and mental state. When the younger agent finally did wake up, she decided that she'd better put that plan into action, preferably before she chickened out.

"Mmm... Ahh..."

JJ groaned as she stretched, careful not to dislodge Emily from where she was wrapped around her. The thought reminded her that the brunette had probably been laying awake the entire time she slept, and she looked around for a clock.

"Oh, God. I can't believe it's been three hours. You must be so crushed by now."

She started to get up, but Emily's arms tightened, holding her in place.

"Not at all," she assured her, her voice low and gentle, "I was very comfortable."

The blonde looked up, silently wondering when she'd turned over to face her companion. She was extremely comfortable though, and not particularly inclined to move just yet, so she was glad Emily wasn't any more eager to get up than she was. There was something different about the expression on her friend's face, something she couldn't put a name to, but it didn't seem to be negative, so she let it be.

"How'd you sleep?"

She considered the question, then smiled.

"Like a baby," JJ answered contentedly, meeting Emily's dark eyes, "Thank you for making me take that nap, Em. I feel a lot better. So, you feeling up to having something to eat?"

"Would it involve moving?" the older woman asked teasingly, and if she didn't know better, she'd swear she was being flirted with. Of course that was ridiculous.

"Well, I don't know what you could possibly eat here. The couch, I suppose," she teased back, grinning up at her friend. Emily looked around appraisingly, as if seriously considering the idea, then fixed her dark eyes on her.

"Well... there are alternatives to the couch," her friend remarked, once again with that strange look on her face. JJ stared up at her, wondering what she could mean by that, but before she could figure it out Emily smiled gently, starting to sit up. She froze suddenly, her face a mask of pain. JJ sat up immediately, helping her friend ease herself back down. Any movement made her wince, and she could see how her throat tightened as she swallowed back a groan. Once again she cursed Samis. It was bad enough he had tortured this amazing woman to within an inch of her life. It was even worse that she'd been forced to stay silent through it all just so she could survive.

"Oh, Emily... I'm so sorry..." she whispered, shifting around so she was the one holding the older agent, rather than the other way around. She gently massaged her temples and down to her shoulders, knowing that would help take the edge off the pain. When the worst of the wave had passed she helped her sit up again, this time more slowly. Much more slowly.

"I hate this," the dark agent growled, still reeling, "I can't even sit up without... damn."

JJ sympathized. She knew how much it galled Emily not to be able to move freely, not to be able to stand up on her own or walk more than a few steps without getting dizzy or being overwhelmed by pain. She was just grateful that she let her help her. No one else on the team was allowed to see what she did, and more than once they'd gotten growled at or coldly rebuffed, though the brunette had apologized after each time that had happened. Never JJ, though. It was as if Emily just wasn't capable of turning that barely suppressed rage on her. She saw it, but around her it came out in trickles, rather than waves. Like now.

"I just want to be able to get up and walk into my kitchen, and I can't even do that without help," Emily went on, all her anger put into her words and flashing eyes, "It's not fair, Jennifer. I wish I could have just shot Samis, but I couldn't let that girl die... but she died anyway!"

She pulled her taller friend against her, rocking her gently as she cried. Emily didn't cry often, but when she did all she could do was hold her. It wasn't as if she didn't have plenty of reason to break down, after all. If it had been her, she would probably be a lot worse off. It wasn't that she thought of herself as weak, by any means. She knew better. It was that just watching that damn video had torn her apart, and if she hadn't been taking care of this incredible woman she would have just locked herself up in her own home and cried for days. If she had been the one in Emily's place...

"I've got you, Emily," she whispered, letting her own tears fall. She had learned early on, while they'd still been in the hospital, that somehow the brunette always knew when she was holding herself back, and she had seen the hurt and fear in those dark eyes when she did. It was better, they'd agreed after discussing it, for her to just let out her emotions. It gave her some release, and validated what Emily was feeling, so it helped the both of them. When her friend finally relaxed again she smiled, helping her get to her feet and to the bathroom, where they both washed off their faces, then led the way to the kitchen, sitting Emily down on one of the bar stools near the counter.

"So, what are you in the mood for?" she asked, opening the fridge to see what the options were. Garcia had gone shopping with her usual flair, she noticed, and shook her head, amused by her friend's antics. There was enough food to last them a while, most of which would keep for some time.

"Is that a serious question?" she heard Emily mutter, and turned, giving her a searching look. The dark eyes were totally focused on her, and once again she could have sworn she was being flirted with. Something had changed in the three hours she'd been asleep, she realized, but she wasn't sure what. There was a tension coursing through the other agent that hadn't been there before, but at the same time she seemed more relaxed somehow, as if something that had been bothering her had been settled. It was a strange contradiction, and one she was too tired to sort out just yet.

"Uh... yes?" she tried, and Emily grinned affectionately, her earlier anger, fear, and pain all but gone. It would be back, of course, but for now the storm had passed, and Jennifer was grateful.

"In that case, tell me what's on the menu."

For just a second, JJ found herself considering saying that she was, just to see how the brunette would react, but she put the idea off as quickly as she had it. That was crazy, after all. Not that she never flirted with Emily, or Garcia for that matter, or that Em never flirted back. But Emily never meant anything by it, so she shouldn't act as if she did, right? She felt in that moment like some little voice in the back of her mind was laughing at her, but she ignored it. She was just being silly and trying to release some tension.

"Well, Garcia did the shopping, so there are a lot of options. It's more a question of what you don't feel like having, I suppose."

Emily chuckled, looking past her into the fridge.

"You've got a point there. Well, you're the one who got all the lectures from Dr. Kelso and Nurse Khee. What can't I eat?"

She ran over the list in her head, then frowned. She was pretty sure she'd memorized everything, but she didn't want to take any chances. Being starved and dehydrated on top of being tortured had made Emily's body very sensitive to anything new or difficult to digest, Dr. Kelso had explained, and they'd need to be careful not to do anything that would upset the balance that was slowly being restored. She dug around in her bag until she found the notebook she'd used at the hospital, checking over what she'd written down.

"Well, nothing too spicy or seasoned, and nothing too sugary or salty, but he did say you could eat almost anything boiled or steamed, provided it was prepared carefully."

"I'm not old and toothless," the older woman grumbled, but it was as good-natured as possible, and JJ smiled tenderly. She knew her friend was chafing at being so restricted, but she also knew it was for her own good. She also got the sense that Emily was keeping herself calm and her temper under control as much, if not mostly, for her sake, to make her job easier, and while she appreciated it, she wished for once the brunette was a little less altruistic.

"Well, I'm certainly aware of that," she replied, deciding that maybe it was okay to flirt a little. Maybe it would cheer her companion up a little. Dark eyebrows rose a little, and she was surprised to find a hint of challenge in the deep brown eyes.

"Oh? Are you sure? Maybe I should find some way to remind you."

Inexplicably she blushed, and she was sure she was imagining the desire-the longing?- in that familiar gaze.

"Well, if you felt you needed to," she answered, keeping the mood light and easy, but still aware of the unusual undercurrent between them. Whatever had changed in Emily had met something that mirrored it in herself, she realized, but she still didn't know what that was.

"I think I'm safe enough for now," the other agent remarked, looking amused and letting whatever the tension had been fade away, "so, what should we have for dinner, mon amie?"

She tilted her head, searching the other woman's face for some hint of what was going on. Emily knew a number of languages, she knew, and had heard her speak them first hand on a number of occasions, but it somehow still struck her as odd to hear her speaking French here, to her. That struck her as important, somehow, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it, and she got the feeling from her own mind that she was being obtuse. It wasn't as if she'd called her anything but a friend, though. She must be more tired than she thought, she decided. Her imagination was getting away from her.

"Well, how about I-" she started somewhat uncertainly, turning back to the fridge. She stopped abruptly, surprised to find herself being wrapped in a warm embrace and the dark-haired woman looking over her shoulder at the food waiting to be cooked. She meant to object, to tell her friend to sit back down, but something told her not to. Emily wasn't strong enough yet to stay on her feet for long, but it was good for her to get up and it made her feel better to at least be trying. Not to mention the fact that it felt really good to be held like this. It was very reassuring to feel how strong her friend still was, despite everything.


"I'm not going anywhere," the dark agent whispered softly, and she stiffened. How had she known something that until that moment even JJ herself hadn't been consciously aware she was worrying about? Every minute of every day for the six days Emily had been captured she'd been terrified they'd never find her, then she'd almost died anyway. It was like a nightmare she couldn't quite shake. First Elle had been shot and then left, Morgan had been arrested for murder, Reid was taken, Gideon had left and Hotch and Emily had almost gone, then Garcia was shot, and then Emily... it was like the fates were trying to take her family away from her. And Samis had come so close to killing Emily. If she hadn't been so strong, so stubborn...

"Je ne te quitterai pas, mon amie," the brunette whispered, the French rolling smoothly from that rich, versatile voice, "I won't leave you, Jennifer. If this wasn't enough to break us, I don't know what could be."

JJ sighed, looking up into those dark eyes that looked black in the light of the kitchen.

"How do you always know what to say?" she asked softly, relaxing a little into the embrace. The brunette smiled rather sadly, tightening her grip somewhat.

"I study behavior," she answered, her voice equally soft, "Sometimes people need more than closure, need more than saving. Sometimes they need to hear things that no one else thinks to say. I know I've needed that a lot lately, and you know, you're the one who always knows. Maybe I just learned it from you."

"I think it's the other way around, Em," JJ argued, closing her eyes at the relief that washed through her, "You did it again, you know."

"Did what?"

She smiled, her mind creating a detailed picture of the expression that would be on her friend's angular face right then.

"You made the world right itself."

She could see the slight frown in her mind's eye, the small crease between those dark eyes and the confusion in their depths. When she opened her eyes, the expression was exactly as she'd pictured it, and in the back of her mind she wondered when, exactly, she'd become so familiar with this woman's features and expressions.

"Sometimes, like when Garcia was shot, I feel like the Earth is just going to fall into the sun, or worse," she explained quietly, watching emotions flicker across that mobile face, "That night in particular all the nukes on the planet could have gone off and it wouldn't have surprised me in the least. I'm not sure I would have cared if they had, because I had lost all faith in humanity, in goodness, love, and kindness. And you just sat there and took my hand..."

She demonstrated as best she could at this angle, wrapping her hand around the elegant but strong wrist, then around the long, steady hand.

"...And somehow, that was enough to restore my faith. All that night in the hospital, you were there with me. You never had to say anything then, and then you did it again when I shot Battle. You rubbed my back, and suddenly having faith made sense again. And other times all you have to do is be in the same room and I can think when I couldn't before."

Emily nodded against her shoulder, then closed the fridge and lead her over to the bar, sitting them both down on stools there. She was grateful, really, because she wasn't feeling all that stable right now, and she had started to worry that she'd somehow unbalance and hurt her friend. Somehow something Emily had said had unlocked something she'd tried to keep closed, and now it was all pouring out in a rush. As always, though, the brunette was the soul of grace and understanding, and she wondered why it didn't make her feel more guilty. It didn't, though.

"I've had to shoot people before, but that was chaos and noise, and it was very rare. When I killed Deputy Battle, though, it was just so quiet. Hotch and Rossi were just staring at me, and I couldn't tell what they were thinking... but the bastard had tried to kill Garcia twice! Then he was going to shoot up the BAU, and I knew you guys would be coming... then he was dead, and you were there. And I wanted to ask you then... would you have done it?"

"Yes, I would have. In a heartbeat," Emily responded readily, shaking her head slightly, her voice distant and cold as she added in a whisper, "Si c'était toi qui avait été blessée..."

The brunette trailed off, and for once JJ wished she knew more than basic French.

"If you had been the one hurt," Emily said after a few minutes, and she realized that she was translating, however belatedly, "If you had been the one he went after, I would have hunted him to the ends of the Earth. I love Garcia, of course, and I would have made sure Battle paid for what he did, but..."

The blonde frowned, lifting her head to look into Emily's eyes. They were darker than usual, and more distant, as if the older woman was seeing some possible future or past that haunted her. She'd seen that look a few times in the last week, and she'd always wondered what it was her friend saw that seemed to torment her so badly. She had asked once or twice, but all she'd found out was that she wasn't remembering her torture. Suddenly she got the impression that they weren't talking about Garcia and Battle any more, or at least not them specifically.


Dark eyes focused on her, but there was a wall up that hadn't been there before. That settled the mental debate she'd been having. Emily was definitely holding something back, masking some emotion or thoughts that hadn't been there just a few hours ago, and while anyone else might have been fooled, she had spent far too much time around the older agent to ignore it or write it off as something minor. Emily rarely shut her out like this, and when she did something was seriously bothering her.

"Emily," she started again, "what happened while I was asleep?"

The brunette laughed softly, the sound wistful and almost bitter, then she sobered, the mask she recognized from Elizabeth Prentiss' face falling across her features.

"It doesn't matter, JJ. Don't worry about it."

Under the mask she could see a deep well of depression rising, and it worried her. She'd known that her friend would have moments like this, bitter, sad times that were all but inevitable, but that didn't mean she'd been prepared for the reality of it. Worst of all, she didn't know what had caused it. It wasn't as if they'd been talking about Samis or the torture, and up until a few moments ago her friend had been in a reasonably good mood. It was like something she'd said had blown a land mine in Emily's mind, and now the woman was hurt and scared so badly she didn't know what else to do but go numb and cold.

"I do worry about it," she argued gently, knowing she needed to walk softly, especially since she didn't know where the mines were just yet, "because you haven't called me JJ while we've been alone in over a week. What'd I do, Emily? Tell me, please."

"You didn't do anything," the brunette replied, her face and voice softening as suddenly as they had become so hard, "I'm sorry. I just had a thought that didn't exactly settle well."

JJ was starting to think this conversation would end up involving whiplash pretty soon from all the abrupt changes. She was a press liaison, so it wasn't as if she were unfamiliar with it, but it was odd coming from Emily.

"What thought?" she persisted, unwilling to drop the subject just yet. The other agent smiled sadly, her eyes so full of shadows that they looked black. She met the dark gaze unblinkingly, sensing that looking away now would be something of a failure on her part, and she refused to fail this woman. Finally Emily looked down at her hands where they rested on the bar, then hesitantly reached over, wrapping one in her longer ones.

"Just a passing thing," she murmured, but JJ got the sense that wasn't the answer to her question. The brunette was silent for a few minutes, then looked at her with an expression so torn and pained that she felt herself gasp in sympathy at the emotion there.


"I never was very good at these things," her friend remarked reflectively, her voice every bit as conflicted as her expression, "I never had much practice. I don't know how to..."

She trailed off, looking down at their hands again. JJ watched her, wondering what was going through that agile mind. Her free hand came up, her fingertips caressing her hair and pushing it back behind her ear, and the blonde shivered a little under the look of almost painful tenderness on her companion's face.

"Tu es si belle, ma chère."

Well that certainly hadn't been what she expected, but she'd take it. She wasn't sure of the exact meaning, but she knew she'd just been complimented. The phone rang before she could ask, though, and Emily was moving toward it, brushing her arm as she went. The contact was startlingly normal, reminding her of how things were before all of this. It reassured and touched her, and she smiled affectionately as the older woman picked up her phone.


JJ was content to watch her friend for the moment, wondering what it was she hadn't said. Suddenly Emily paled, her skin so starkly white that she looked deathly ill. The blonde was on her feet in seconds, but still she barely managed to catch the phone before it hit the floor. Forgetting all about dinner or anything else, she took hold of one stiff, trembling arm and lead her friend back to the couch, just managing to get her there before her knees buckled from under her. She wasn't entirely sure what had happened, but she could see that Emily was both terrified and extremely angry, and the adrenaline wasn't good for her. It could trigger flashbacks or worse.

"This is Agent Jareau," she growled into the phone, her voice a none too subtle threat, "Who is this?"

"JJ, it's Morgan," the familiar voice replied, sounding worried, "What just happened? Is Prentiss okay?"

"No, Derek," she retorted sharply, pulling a conveniently placed blanket over the other agent when she started to shiver slightly, sitting next to her and rubbing her arm with her free hand, "She's not okay. What the hell did you say to her? She was doing okay before you called, and now..."

She heard him groan, and could picture the hangdog look on his face. She knew she was being hard on him, but whatever he said had upset her companion, and she resented that. This had been a better day for Emily. She'd smiled and laughed more since she'd woken up than she had in days. She didn't want that to be taken away again.

"Samis may have had a partner," Derek finally answered, "or at least told someone what he was doing, someone who decided he had the right idea. Ambassador Prentiss was nearly attacked in her home, but her security stopped the guy. He got away, though, so her head of security called us. The last thing he said was that her daughter would pay for what happened to Jonah."

"You're telling me someone threatened to kill Emily?" she clarified, looking over at her clearly upset friend. She wrapped a protective arm around her, her expression an apology for the stark comment. Emily, who seemed impossibly paler, managed to smile wanly, working to pull herself together. Her admiration for the woman grew, but she wished she could tell her it wasn't necessary. At the moment, though, it just might be.

"We think he knows where she lives, JJ," he went on, knowing he didn't need to repeat her last statement. The blonde mumbled curses under her breath, wishing she could shout them out loud but knowing better.

"And what-"

She paused, hearing muffled footsteps just outside the door, then rose, grabbing her gun and Emily's from their nearby bags, though she was loath to move from her shaking companion's side. She returned immediately, handing the brunette's weapon to her. Emily checked to make sure it was loaded, then clipped it to her waist band. Though she still looked frightened, she was starting to look more like the steady, reliable FBI agent she was, and her dark eyes were full of rising fire. The brunette hid behind the couch, knowing as well as JJ did that she wasn't strong enough to move much further.

"Get some people over here NOW, Derek," she hissed, putting the phone down and moving slowly toward the door. Before she had gone more than a few steps it was kicked in, revealing a man who looked a great deal like Jonah Samis, although Jonah had been middle-aged while this man looked a little younger than Emily herself. When she tried to raise her gun, he laughed, aiming a gun of his own at her.

"Put it down, or you die along with her."

She hated doing it, but she slowly lowered the weapon, not so much because she was afraid to die as she was afraid he'd kill her and get to Emily before help could show up. She had to keep him occupied until the others showed up.

"Now, where is she?" the man rumbled, a manic gleam in his green eyes as he started forward, keeping just out of her reach. She stood her ground, refusing to give anything away. She just had to buy time, she reminded herself. Just a little longer, surely. Hopefully Emily would stay hidden, and she found herself praying to every god she knew that her friend would make it out of this alive. She'd suffered enough already.

"I know she's here," he went on, "The Ambassador may have been brave and stoic, so true to form, but her aide was not. He told me she'd be here today. Now, just give her to me and no one else has to get hurt."

JJ stared back at him, her blue eyes focused and intent. When he forced her back against a wall and tried to brush past her to check the rest of the condo, she lunged, trying to knock the gun out of his hands or at least keep him from going closer to Emily. He started to turn, obviously meaning to kill or disable her, but suddenly a dark form slammed into him, bearing him down to the ground and wrestling for control of the weapon.

"You touch one hair on her head, Samis, and I will torture you in ways your brother never dreamed," Emily growled dangerously, and JJ, who had started to move to help, stared at her, surprised to see her up, much less fighting so hard with a grown man.

"You hurt her," the brunette went on, her tone dropping even lower, "and I guarantee that I will tear you into so many pieces no one will ever find them all."

"My brother said there was something wrong with you," the intruder muttered, trying to struggle out from beneath the dark woman's body or at least free his hands, which for the moment she held pinned, "he said your mother used to ask him why you could never be what you were supposed to be, and why you let so many opportunities slip away."

The blonde expected her friend to react, but her dark eyes were cold and focused. JJ could see what it was costing her, though, and so could Samis. With sudden violence he rolled Emily off of him and knocked her into the wall. The impact was enough to stun her, and he grinned, drawing a hunting knife from out of his boot. He had apparently forgotten his gun, as well as the other agent still in the room, but JJ was ready. She scooped up her own gun and kicked his away, then rushed forward, pressing her weapon to the back of his head. Now she understood the feral quality to Emily's face when she'd hit him. He was trying to hurt Emily. No one hurt Emily in her presence.

"Move away from her, slowly," JJ commanded, her voice so cold and full of barely suppressed rage that she startled herself a little, "and if you make one wrong move, I'll kill you."

"It would kill you to lose her, wouldn't it, little Emily?" he asked the dazed woman mockingly, though JJ noticed that he did ease a step or two away from them both, a hint of fear in his face at the proximity of the blonde and her gun, "I saw my brother's tapes. I saw everything, not just the torture. You'd cry in your sleep, you know. Always for your Jennifer, always for your aimée. Does she know, Emily? Does she know about you?"

He looked down at the dark agent to gauge her reaction, grinning sadistically just as his brother had. The expression faltered, though, when Emily, who had shaken off the worst of the apparent dizziness, just glared back at him, her eyes as cold as the other woman's icy blue gaze. He turned back to JJ, looking her up and down.

"You're pretty enough, I suppose," he observed, sounding amused, "but I don't see why Emily would be willing to lay down her life for yours. She would have, you know. And what a waste it would have been. Pretty girls almost never have the brains to back up their looks. And she could have had so much better, too. My brother always thought I would make a good husband for her. I could keep her in line. Did you know we actually dated once? Never seen such a little-"

"You shut your mouth," Emily hissed suddenly, shifting so she was in a crouch and drawing her gun, the motion distracting JJ from the mild irritation at the insult that was nothing next to her other emotions, "You have no right to look at her, much less say anything like that. Now back off and shut up."

He did back up another step, looking between the two women. His fear visibly grew when he realized that there were two guns being held by two extremely angry women, and they were trained to kill. Never had JJ seen a man look so helplessly frustrated before in all her time with the BAU, and she realized then just how insane he was, and how dangerous to Emily. Before she could reflect on it though, Hotch and Morgan rushed in. His green eyes widened when he saw them, and he lunged at JJ, clearly hoping to do some damage before he was taken, probably realizing that if he could take her down, he'd have a hostage, a bargaining chip, and if he could kill her he'd do a great deal of damage to the brunette. To all their surprise, Emily rose and caught him in the abdomen with her knee, all in one fluid motion, as she had done to Morgan more than once in sparring sessions. He hung suspended, completely winded, for just a second, then she shifted her weight and kicked him into the wall. His head hit with an audible thump, and in the back of her mind JJ was impressed he hadn't made a dent in the wall.

"Get him out of my sight," Emily growled fiercely, but they could all see that whatever had given her that burst of strength was fading, "Before I shoot him myself."

She turned, stumbling slightly as she did, and caught hold of the man, pitching him to the ground in front of the other agents. They stared, a bit stunned, but Hotch recovered rapidly, handcuffing the younger Samis and shoving him toward Morgan, who yanked him out with such force that he was practically carrying him. JJ started toward Emily, but those dark eyes froze her in place when they met her own. There was such loathing, fear, anger, and helplessness in them that she wondered how the woman wasn't screaming out her rage and pain. Suddenly they gentled, and Emily had moved to her side, a soft, faintly trembling hand brushing her arm as if its owner needed to be reassured she was still there.

"Emily, are you..." JJ started to ask, then trailed off, unsure of how to finish the question. Emily was not okay, and to ask would be foolish and somewhat insulting. The brunette understood, though, and gave her another wan smile.

"I'll live," she answered calmly, though her voice, like the rest of her, was a bit shaky, "Are you okay? He didn't hurt you, did he?"

"No," she assured her friend, helping her to one of the nearby bar stools so she could sit down while their boss asked them any questions he might have, "I'm fine, thanks to you."

"Are you sure you two are all right?" Hotch asked, stepping forward and taking in the scene. They both nodded, though JJ could feel her companion trembling a little under her hand. He sighed, shaking his head tiredly.

"I'm so sorry we weren't here sooner. We tried, but..."

"It's all right, Hotch," Emily reassured him softly, and two pairs of eyes, one clouded blue, one intense yellow-brown, turned to her, both a little surprised, and both very concerned. The dark agent shook her head, then groaned faintly, leaning it against JJ's side instead. The blonde was a little startled at first, then she smiled to herself, reaching down to carefully stroke the dark hair.

"I'll make sure that door gets fixed tonight, but... I have to ask. Would you feel better if you were somewhere else? Now that your home has been violated..."

Emily sighed, meeting her boss's hawk-like gaze with amazing calm for how tense JJ could feel she was.

"I don't want to go anywhere, at least not tonight. I just want to eat something then sleep. If I can't deal with it, then I'll leave. That is..."

She hesitated, then turned to look up at her companion.

"That is, if you don't mind, JJ. If you want to go..."

The liaison shook her head, feeling a weary, affectionate smile cross her face. Emily was such a treasure. She was still worried about her, even though she was the one who was injured and had just had her home violated. She could she was serious, too. If she wanted to leave, Emily would haul herself out along with her. She didn't want to leave, though. For one, it was obvious the brunette didn't want to. For another, she didn't care where she was, as long as it was with this woman.

"Okay. I'll get a team over here for the door," Hotch stated, already lifting his phone, "JJ, why don't you get Emily upstairs? I'll stay and make you both some dinner, since it doesn't look like you had a chance to make anything. And don't argue with me. You both look dead on your feet."

JJ chuckled wryly, leading Emily to the stair elevator. It was the first time the dark agent had ridden it, and she chuckled merrily on the way up, sounding, if only for a moment, like her usual self. In her bedroom the press liaison helped her change into something more suitable for sleep, using the opportunity to give her friend a brief massage. Her friend chuckled when she started, but within minutes her body was relaxing under JJ's touch, and the blonde got the very cooperative profiler into bed, where she continued the massage, hoping it would help to ease the headache she was sure to have later.

"Je suis si heureux vous êtes bien," the brunette muttered quietly as she worked out the last knots in her back and neck, "Et un jour vous comprendrez pourquoi, mon cher."

JJ worked her way through what little she understood of the French, wondering once again why her friend kept reverting to it. Maybe because she didn't want to say what she was saying in English? Or maybe she couldn't? It would make sense. Emily had already said she wasn't good at finding the right words, though the liaison disagreed. She did know she'd said something about being glad or happy and the word for good or well had been in there, so she assumed Emily was saying something about being glad she was well, but the second part confused her. The only word she was sure of was the one for understand or comprehend.


There was no answer, and at first she was worried, at least until she realized that the dark woman had fallen asleep. She grinned, proud that once again she'd managed to soothe her friend with something as simple as a massage. She got a rather strong sense of accomplishment from that.

"Dors bien, mon amie," she whispered, brushing dark hair from her companion's face. She hadn't studied French since early on in college, and she decided she was overdue for a brush up. First she needed to check with Hotch, which would require her to go downstairs. She frowned at the thought, then shook her head. She'd be back within a few minutes, and hopefully Emily was relaxed enough that she'd be okay for that long. She slipped out silently and went down to the kitchen, where Hotch was cooking something with the skill of a master chef, occasionally glancing toward the three guys replacing the door. It had already been painted to match the old one, and it was clear one of the men was a locksmith. She smiled at that, amused by the sides to Hotch she'd never seen before. How he had gotten a painter, a carpenter, and a locksmith out here so quickly, she doubted she'd ever know.

"How's it going?" she asked softly, and he looked over at her, giving her one of his small smiles.

"Pretty well. They'll be finished in a short time, and so will this. How is Prentiss?"

"As well as can be expected," she replied softly, and he gave her an understanding look before turning back to his work.

"She's tough, JJ. And she's got you. I think you'll make it."

At face value the comment was exactly what it was, but something knowing and almost smug in her boss's face gave JJ pause, and she looked again, making Hotch look up at her, his intense eyes faintly amused. She stared at him, wondering why he seemed to know something she didn't that seemed to be about Emily, and it didn't seem like he was going to tell her.

"Sir?" she tried. He smiled, going back to his cooking, though she could tell he was still paying attention to her.

"Yes, JJ?"

"Do you know something about Emily I don't?"

He seemed to sigh and covered the pan he'd been using, setting it off the heat before turning back to her. She was startled to see a flicker of pain in his face, but it was gone so fast she was left wondering if she'd imagined it.

"JJ, I know a lot about Emily Prentiss. I've known her family for a long time."

He paused, hesitating visibly, then seemed to decide some internal debate and fixed her with his hawk-like eyes, the intense stare making him look all the more the predator for a moment. The look made her nervous, but she wasn't going to back down right when he seemed to be ready to tell her something. Finally he blinked, though it did nothing to lessen his intensity.

"It isn't my place to interfere with the personal lives of my team, and I won't unless I feel they're in danger. All I can tell you is that I think you both have things to figure out, both separately and together. Where that will take you, I don't know. I wish you both the best, however."

He sighed, turning away before she could ask him any more. He checked over his creation, which she still hadn't identified, glanced at the workers again, then looked back at her.

"This will be done in about ten minutes, and they look like they're just about done."

She nodded, understanding that their previous conversation was done and he wasn't going to say more about it. She sighed inwardly, wishing he would be less cryptic, but he had a point. It wasn't his place to get involved in their personal lives, and if there was something she needed to figure out, it was better that she do it herself. And unless whatever it was could harm Emily, she'd wait for the other agent to tell her on her own terms. She had started to earlier, so maybe it wouldn't be too long. The thought cheered her up, and she started to think of other things.

"I think I should take a shower," she commented hesitantly, realizing how true it was as she caught sight of herself in the reflective surface of the chrome fridge, "but I really don't want to leave Emily alone any longer. Could you-"

"Of course, JJ," he interrupted gently, "I'll be up as soon as this is done."

She smiled gratefully and slipped back upstairs, stopping just long enough to grab a set of clean clothes from her bag. She was immediately reassured when she entered the bedroom that Emily was still calm and relaxed, and it was only reluctantly that JJ woke her, wanting giving her a chance to compose herself before Hotch came up but wishing she could just let her sleep. She needed it, and she had looked so peaceful, but she also needed food. She could sleep after she ate.

"Would you mind if I took a shower?" she asked softly once Emily was awake, "Hotch can stay with you and-"

"Breathe, Jennifer," the brunette interrupted sweetly, visibly trying to hold back laughter, "That's fine, and of course I don't mind. Hotch and I can converse reasonably intelligently, and after that wonderful massage I doubt I'll have any problems. It isn't as if Hotch and I haven't been alone for periods of time before this."

The blonde chuckled, realizing how anxious she'd sounded. She was beyond grateful that the woman could be so incredibly understanding, and could take care of her in subtle ways when she was the one who was supposed to be the caretaker. She was tempted to feel bad about it, but the brunette's expression and tone seemed to be refusing to let her.

"I'm sure Agent Prentiss and I can manage, JJ," Hotch added reassuringly as he came in bearing a laden tray, "and this should keep until you're done. Now go. Knowing you, you'll worry the whole time, so the sooner you start the sooner you'll finish. We'll be fine here for a little while."

She laughed, knowing it was true and also aware she was stalling. With another quick look and smile at Emily she carried her clothes into the bathroom, finding that of course Garcia had prepared. There were two bath towels and two robes hung up, and she shook her head, writing herself a mental note to thank the tech goddess later. She owed her for all of this.

"Now how do I repay her?" she muttered to herself as she started the shower, glancing around and noting that the fixtures were elegant and tasteful, and the room was painted and tiled in warm shades of red, gold, and just a little orange. The robes and towels matched, of course, since Garcia did have quite an eye for colors, and overall the room gave an impression of cleanliness, order, and welcome, much as the rest of the condo did. It was all very much like the woman who lived here, and as she stepped into the hot spray she smiled inwardly, her thoughts turning from the decor to Emily, where they were often centered these days. It wasn't a new thing, she noticed, but the older woman was her friend, and it made sense that she'd spend a lot of time thinking about her,


She hadn't realized how tense she was until the pounding of the hot water started relaxing her muscles, and she leaned back, letting the liquid wash over her, taking away the dirt, sweat, and fear she'd been carrying with her. She found Emily's shampoo and conditioner, subtly fragrant, herbal products that explained some of why Emily's hair tended to look and smell so good. With an inward sigh of relief she scrubbed herself rapidly, uncomfortable being away from her "charge" for long, even knowing her very capable supervisor was there with her. She dried herself with the thick, fluffy towel Garcia had left and dressed quickly, having chosen a pair of old black shorts and a loose gray t-shirt she usually wore to bed. She was still toweling her hair dry when she stepped back into Emily's room, but she noticed the way brown-black eyes tracked to her immediately, and then stopped. She smiled a greeting, but just for a second the brunette didn't respond. She seemed transfixed by something, and her eyes darkened with some strange, unidentifiable expression. JJ started to worry after a moment, but Emily suddenly blinked and the look was gone, replaced by her much more familiar smile, though even that was shaded with something else, and her pale cheeks were just a little flushed.

"Hey. You have a good shower?" the older agent asked warmly, although her tone betrayed just a hint of something else, nervousness or shyness that wasn't usually present in her voice, especially around JJ, "You find everything okay?"

She nodded, laying the towel across her shoulders to keep her hair from soaking her shirt and moving to her friend's side, glancing at the barely touched plate in front of her and noticing the frisson of tension that seemed to pass through the other woman when she came near, but it was gone so fast she wasn't sure it had been there at all. After all, Emily had rarely, if ever, been uncomfortable having her close by.

"I did, thanks," she answered contentedly, then fixed her friend with a piercing look and added, "but you were supposed to eat, and it looks like you haven't. I doubt Hotch is that bad a cook, so..."

Emily blushed faintly, and their boss chuckled, rising to his feet.

"She insisted on waiting for you," he explained, "and as I said, it'll keep. So, unless you two need anything else, I'll be going. The leftovers are already in the fridge and the door is finished."

He started for the door, and had a hand on the knob before he was halted.


He turned back to the dark agent, and JJ was a little surprised to see that where Emily looked just a little uncertain and shy, Hotch's expression had gentled and he looked both understanding and kind. She started wondering what they had been talking about, but wasn't sure if she should ask.

"Do you really think..."

She looked between them when the brunette trailed off, her expression just a little helpless. Hotch actually smiled then, taking a step back toward them.

"I do," he answered, and JJ was more than a little confused now, "Don't worry, Emily. I'm sure it'll work out the way it should. It'll be fine."

He waited until Emily smiled before nodding and stepping out, leaving one faintly blushing and one very confused federal agent. JJ desperately wanted to ask, but decided against it for now. Emily deserved whatever privacy she could get, and it didn't seem to be anything bad, so she let it be, focusing instead on the more immediate concern of food and ensuring that said food was in the stomach of Emily Prentiss. She'd think more about the issue later, but for now she just wanted to be next to this woman and revel in the fact that for just a little while, she was safe, she was reasonably happy, and that JJ was there with her. That was all that was important at the moment, and Emily seemed to agree. They started to eat together, talking about little things, and soon they were both laughing easily, as if that earlier tension had never existed. The world could wait a while, she decided as she watched her friend. She had everything she needed.


Date and Time: April 13, 2007, 07:33

Location: BAU Office Corridor, Quantico, Virginia

JJ walked into her office and turned on the lights, setting down her bag and powering up her computer before going back out, heading for the breakroom to get coffee. She didn't always come in this early, but she had a lot of backlog to deal with from the last two months and she preferred the quiet peace that came with having almost no one else there. She scanned the bullpen, as she always did, expecting it to be empty, but to her surprise one desk was lit. She frowned worriedly, wondering why someone from her team would be here this early. She got her coffee and strode over, surprised and concerned when she saw a dark head resting against an unusually messy surface, the expression on the face half-covered by hair strained even in repose. Something wasn't right.

"Emily?" she called softly, but the dark form didn't even stir. She felt her heart starting to beat a little faster and set her mug down off to the side, reaching over to gently shake her friend's shoulder. Once again there was little response, though she could feel that the muscles under her hand were tense and stiff.

"Emily?" she repeated, louder this time, "Emily, wake up. It's JJ, Emily. Wake up."

She carefully reached over and brushed the dark hair off the other agent's face, needing to see if she was hurt in any way. She seemed physically unhurt, but her eyes were ringed by deep, heavy shadows and there was an almost painful tension about the woman's expression.


She tried shaking her friend again, this time getting a faint groan in response. Taking that as better than nothing she tried again, this time a little more firmly.

"Emily, wake up. Please wake up..."

Finally the shadowed eyes flickered, then opened slowly, revealing exhausted, bloodshot eyes that were a murky, dull brown rather than their usual deep, lively brown-black. JJ was getting more worried by the minute, and she kneeled at her friend's side, a hand on one black-clothed knee. Emily was wearing the same black v-neck and slacks she'd last seen her in, but now they were somewhat wrinkled and unkempt, something she knew her friend would not want their colleagues to see.

"Uhhh... what..."

Finally awake and aware, Emily looked around dazedly, obviously disoriented and confused. When her gaze landed on her blonde coworker she frowned, but JJ thought she saw relief in her friend's eyes and felt a subtle relaxation of the body under her hands. She wondered at it, but it wasn't her priority. Right now she was mostly concerned with ensuring that Emily was unhurt and finding out what was wrong, because there was no disputing that something was.

"JJ?" the brunette asked, her voice dry and husky with sleep, "What are you... what time is it?"

"It's just after seven-thirty," she answered softly, guessing from the way her companion was wincing that she had a headache, and probably some other aches from the way she'd been sleeping, "I just got in and found you here. Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

Emily looked confused, then blinked slowly, seeming to realize how this must look and shook her head, sitting up and stretching. She groaned and winced, and JJ agreed with the sentiment. From the number and volume of joints that popped into place she probably hurt all over.

"I'm okay," the older agent replied, though her expression and appearance gave lie to the sentiment, "I'm not hurt or anything. I just can't believe I dozed off..."

JJ shook her head, planning to get a much better answer in the near future, but for now she just reached back and picked up her coffee and held it out to Emily, who looked like she needed it a lot more than she did. The brunette gave her such a pathetically grateful look that she blushed, but she was distracted by the sight of the hand that took the mug from her own. Emily's hands were graceful and elegant, much like her, but today they were scuffed, bruised, and swollen, and now that she was awake JJ could see that her eyes were red-rimmed and a little swollen too, as if she'd been crying. Now she was really worried, but as badly as she wanted answers, she didn't want anyone else to come in and see her friend like this.

"Come into my office and I'll get you some more coffee," she suggested, though her tone made it something of a command. The older agent didn't argue, just followed her with slow, deliberate strides and none of her usual grace. When she had Emily seated on the couch she would always be grateful Hotch had allowed her to have in here, she went back to the break room and refilled her mug and picked up another one, filling it too and carrying both back with her. She gave Emily hers, watching her wrap those damaged hands around it as if it were a holy artifact.

"Now spill," she stated firmly after giving her friend time to take a few sips, kneeling down so she was at eye level with the other woman. Her blue eyes brooked no argument, and the brunette sighed, looking down at the dark fluid as if hoping answers would pour from it. When they didn't she met JJ's gaze, looking even more tired and worn than she had before.

"I told you I was having dinner with my mother yesterday... Wednesday night, right?" she asked, waiting for the liaison to nod before going on, "Well, we went out and had dinner, and it was going great, all things considered. She was on her best behavior, I was on mine, you know the drill. We were actually getting along for what might be the first time in at least twenty-five years. We parted on good terms, and I felt like we had really reached an understanding, you know?"

The blonde nodded, but kept silent, knowing there was more. Emily sighed again, and her friend wondered what could have happened between then and now to do so much damage. She'd known the Ambassador's presence had been hard on her friend, and had done what she could during and after the case to keep her in good spirits, but she'd left for that dinner hopeful, and now...

"Well," the dark agent went on, shaking her head, "I got home, things were fine, and then the next day I get a call from one of my parents' staff that they had asked me to join them for dinner. It was rather sudden, but I just assumed that my mother and I had bonded or at least called a truce and she wanted to spend more time with me. God, I was so stupid."

"What happened, Emily?" JJ asked softly when she trailed off. She didn't like hearing her usually confident friend insult herself, and she knew that somehow Elizabeth Prentiss and/or her husband was responsible, but she kept her anger to herself.

"When I got there everything seemed normal, but then my mother told me she had just received an assignment and she'd been called away, and my father too. She had invited a couple friends to 'keep me company' so I wouldn't have 'traveled all that way for no reason at all,' as she put it, so I went into the dining room, and was promptly greeted by several of the most eligible scions of the upper echelon. All wealthy, cultured, and successful, of course. I felt like they were all sizing me, and each other, up."

The blonde growled inwardly, fighting to keep her disgust from showing. She knew how Emily felt about her parents shoving men at her. They'd talked about that before, and it was something they shared a passionate hatred for.

"That wasn't the worst of it, though," Emily went on, startling her out of her seething thoughts, "Apparently my parents 'suggested' that I would be open to invitations to... well, almost anything. All but one of them I was able to get out of, but one guy was very insistent, and I thought... I don't know. Maybe it would be okay, and it might satisfy my parents, I guess. He was the younger brother of an old friend of theirs, Daniel Samis, and I figured if I could just get through dinner with him and he brought a good enough report back to his brother..."

"So, how did it turn out?"

The older agent shook her head, her expression shifting from irritated to sad to simply weary.

"He was handsome, charming, and polite. By the end of dinner he had talked so much about his dreams for his future wife and family, and about how his wife would be able to do anything she wanted as long as she was safe and happy, and oh, what did I do? FBI, now isn't that something, well, he didn't think his wife should do something that dangerous but... And so on. He talked like he was going to propose then and there, and I would never even dream of refusing. I finally escaped by pretending I had been called into work, and I drove here since I figured I might as well blow off some steam in the gym. When I finished I realized I hadn't finished my report on this last case because I was distracted by my mother, so..."

"And you ended up falling asleep at your desk?"

The question made Emily blush faintly and look away, staring down into the mug she still held.

"Well... yes?" she mumbled helplessly, meeting her eyes again with an expression so like a puppy expecting to be scolded that the press liaison was both charmed and apologetic for the teasing. She shook her head, letting the issue go at that, but she was still concerned. After all, her friend's hands were still badly bruised, and the poor woman still looked horribly exhausted. She also looked a little gaunt, as if she hadn't eaten for a while, and she wondered a bit about that. She would find out in due time, but first she needed to take care of the injuries, since it obviously hadn't occurred to the other agent to do so.

"Okay, Emily," she started decisively, "You stay here, and I'm going to get something for your hands, something for you to eat, and if your ready-bag is here I'm going to get you a change of clothes. That is... if you won't just let me take you home."

The look in her companion's dark eyes answered that immediately, and she chuckled wryly, shaking her head as she rose. Stubbornness was something all profilers seemed to have in common, and Emily had it in spades. She had met Ambassador Prentiss briefly when she'd come to the BAU with the Chernus family, and she reflected on the differences and similarities between mother and daughter while she went about her self-appointed tasks. They both had strong wills, there was no doubt of that, but something had bothered her about the Ambassador. She had struck JJ as so guarded she was almost cold at times, and at others she'd worn a mask of warmth and sincerity that she had immediately distrusted. In her line of work she dealt with people who would as soon tear a person apart as give them anything, and that's how she had felt with Emily's mother. The woman must have her good points, though. She had raised Emily, after all. The blonde smiled at the thought. Dark, brilliant, sweet, goofy Emily, who would sooner die than betray her, or betray the team. She knew that as surely as she knew she'd do the same for Emily and the others. She just wondered where her friend had gained that depth and loyalty. Maybe Elizabeth Prentiss had once had it, and somewhere along the line, the demands of her work and the role she had to play had taken it away from her. It was a scary thought, but it would explain a great deal about the diplomat.

"Oh, God, let me help you with that!" Emily exclaimed when she strode back into the room, juggling the black ready-bag, a first aid kit, and a paper bag. She smiled warmly, letting her friend take the paper bag, largely since it was for her any way, but holding onto the kit and setting the ready-bag down on the floor next to the couch.

"It's just from the academy cafeteria," she explained, "but it's better than nothing, since it looks like nothing is all you had yesterday. Did you not eat when what's-his-name took you out?"

Emily rolled her eyes, digging through the paper bag and coming up with a turkey and cheese sandwich, which she unwrapped and bit into greedily.

"No, actually," she replied somewhat irritably once she'd swallowed the mouthful she had, "Daniel took us to this horrendously fashionable restraint, where the cheapest thing on the menu is a twenty dollar appetizer, and he decided he needed to order for both of us. I couldn't exactly tell him I would much rather go to a deli on the rough side of town then eat anything on that menu, so I just sort of..."

"Pushed your food around and feigned interest?" JJ finished understandingly, then something occurred to her, so she added uncertainly, "but Emily... don't take this the wrong way, but weren't you raised with... well..."

She couldn't find a tactful way to finish the sentence, but she didn't need to. Those dark eyes flashed for just a second, but then they softened, becoming much more amused than angry. JJ hadn't missed the momentary defensiveness, though, and she regretted bringing it up. She knew that was a sore spot for Emily, and she hated when people made assumptions.

"I was raised with a silver spoon, yes. The whole set of silver, actually," the brunette answered calmly, then grinned a little wickedly, adding, "but that doesn't mean I didn't find the most creative ways I could to dispose of my food without actually having to eat it. My mother's table was one of the best among her circle, but I would have much rather gone out to some dive my mother and her friends would never be seen within a mile of. And fast-food, well..."

The liaison laughed, knowing she'd been forgiven for her slip-up and grateful that Emily was so willing to accept from her what she wouldn't tolerate from others. As for the image of her friend eating at some little hole-in-the-wall diner, that was a little hard, but not at all impossible. She'd discovered in the months the brunette had been working with them that while she did have a taste for the finer things in life, she was perfectly happy with take out and fast food. Sometimes on cases they didn't have anything else, and she knew Morgan and Reid had been sure Emily would never be seen eating a McDonald's cheeseburger, but she had, and she'd enjoyed it. It was a side to her elegant, poised friend that she was very fond of, and she knew got to see it more than most. Watching her now, tearing contentedly into a simple turkey sandwich, made her wonder once again how Elizabeth Prentiss could have become the way she was if she had ever been like her incredible daughter. Now that, she couldn't imagine.

"Thank you so much, JJ," the brunette murmured as she ate, digging out the bag of apple slices that was in the bag, as well as the little container of yogurt. The blonde shook her head but didn't say anything, still lost in her thoughts. Ambassador Prentiss couldn't be all bad, really. She was just angry with the woman for upsetting Emily, she decided. As confident and sure as she appeared with their colleagues, JJ knew there were a couple of very deep cracks in her armor, and one of them was her mother. She'd seen both the fragile hope and the doubts in her expression and bearing when she'd left to have dinner with the Ambassador, and it seemed the doubts had been validated. She thought her friend beyond brave for trying to mend things with her mother, but it hurt to see how the effort had turned out.

"JJ?" Emily asked suddenly, looking at her worriedly, "Is something wrong?"

"What? No, nothing. Why?"

"You just looked really... sad for a second there. Are you sure you're all right?"

JJ understood then that more of her thoughts must have been showing on her face than she'd intended, and she sighed inwardly, moving to sit next to her companion, her expression serious and focused.

"Yes, I'm all right," she replied soothingly, "but I'm sorry thing turned out the way they did for you. If I had known yesterday I would have found some way to get you free of what's-his-name. I think you would have had a much better time with me."

"I know I would have," Emily remarked firmly, "I have more fun with you than I think I've had with anyone in my life."

The liaison blushed, but she didn't doubt the statement. The other agent sounded much too definite for that. Instead she waited for her to finish eating before working on her hands, doctoring them gently but thoroughly.

"Why didn't you wear gloves, Em?" she asked curiously after she'd finished cleaning and taping the injured extremities. The brunette sighed, leaning her head back against the couch.

"I did."

Now JJ had a good picture of just how frustrated she must have been to do that much damage even with gloves on. She almost felt sorry for the punching bag she'd used. At the same time she rather wished she could inflict similar harm on Daniel Samis for upsetting her friend so badly, or helping to anyway.

"Was it that bad?"

The question was rhetorical, and they both knew it. The brunette rolled her eyes toward her, then smiled suddenly, looking like she'd remembered something.

"Hey, did you ever hear from that detective from New Orleans?"

JJ blushed at the question, thinking about Det. LaMontagne and the last time she'd talked to him. Garcia and Emily were the only people she'd told about his interest in her, and only Emily knew all the details, since she hadn't found the time to talk to the tech goddess about it. Between the case in New Orleans, the arsons in San Francisco, and the case with the Chernus's, Garcia had been swamped, leaving poor Emily as the only outlet she had.

"Uh... yeah, I did," she answered, blushing all the more at how embarrassed she knew she sounded, "He invited me down to visit him. Promised a real date and all, rather than just a working drink."

Emily nodded, listening attentively and patiently as she always did. That somehow made it easier to talk to her than it sometimes was with Garcia. The profiler never rushed her, never interrupted her with silly or teasing questions, which wasn't to say that Emily didn't tease her. She did, mercilessly at times. It was just that she always seemed to know when JJ just needed to think her way through things, and she gave the impression that she'd wait as long as it took.

"I... I turned him down," she finished finally, looking down at the bandaged hands she still held in her own, "I decided that while I really, really like the guy, I wasn't willing to fly all the way down there just to see him. And I would certainly never up and leave the BAU for him."

She looked up as she spoke, and was startled to see a flash of pain and fear cross those dark eyes at the idea. It was gone quickly, replaced by a calmer expression, but she knew it had been there, and she had a good idea at its source.

"I'm not going anywhere," she promised gently, then, hoping to lighten the mood, added, "You're not getting rid of me that easily, Emily Prentiss. No guy is going to take me away from here, away from all of you. You need me too much."

"Yes, we do."

JJ tilted her head, giving her friend a long look. The reply had been almost husky, and was just a little too raw. Emily did need her, she realized, and far more than William LaMontagne Jr. did, no matter what he said. Looking down at those bandaged hands reminded her all over again just how much her friend depended on her, and also how much she depended on Emily. No guy would be worth losing this woman for, and she wasn't naive enough to think they could maintain their closeness over the phone and e-mail. It was possible she and Garcia could manage it, if somewhat unlikely, but so much of the communication that passed between her and the woman next to her was in contact and expressions. She didn't want to lose that.

"Why don't you stay here, Emily?" she suggested suddenly, kicking herself for not thinking of it sooner, then went on when her friend gave her a confused look, "I mean stay here in my office, on the couch. You need to get some rest, and this way you'll be right here if something comes up. And don't worry, I'll get my work done and you won't be disturbing me. I just want you to rest. Please?"

She knew she was babbling a little from the look her companion was giving her, but she could read the grateful acceptance in those dark eyes, and that was enough for her. She mentally scolded Garcia for passing on that particular habit, then refocused, getting Emily settled on her couch and wishing the stubborn profiler would let her take her home, but of course she wouldn't. She went back to her desk somewhat reluctantly, working her way through the contents of her inbox. After about ten minutes she looked up, feeling someone watching her. Emily, of course, her gaze focused and direct.


"I was just thinking," the brunette answered softly, "you really are the best friend I think I've had. I just thought you should know that."

JJ smiled warmly, going back to her work with a lighter heart. It was like the simple comment had taken off some load she hadn't been aware of carrying. After another few minutes the atmosphere of the room seemed to change, becoming more peaceful, and she looked up, feeling her face soften at the sight of Emily Prentiss curled up on her office couch, dead to the world. As she went through the files, she discovered that she was thinking more clearly than before, as if the world had suddenly come into sharper focus. Even the grueling work of choosing which cases to reject and which to consider seemed to be just a little less depressing, though it was by no means easy or simple. When she'd finally sifted through the really urgent work, she gave herself a moment to sit back and think about the change. It wasn't the first time she'd felt this, she realized, a little surprised by the conclusion she'd come up with. It seemed to happen whenever she and Emily were in the same room, like the older agent gave off some indefinable aura that just soothed the soul. JJ settled back to her task with a faint smile. She had called Emily magic before, and now she'd discovered yet another way the incredible woman seemed to heal and strengthen her without even trying. One day she'd have to find a way to tell her. For now, though, she was content to watch over her as she slept. When she heard a knock on her door she got up to open it, finding Garcia there. She stepped into the hall, shutting the door behind her so they wouldn't disturb Emily.

"What's up, Garcia?"

The tech goddess raised an eyebrow at her, and JJ blushed faintly, feeling strangely like a kid who had gotten caught with her hand in the cookie jar. It wasn't like she'd done anything wrong, though.

"How is she?"

The question was surprisingly sincere, and JJ reminded herself that Emily was her friend to, for all that they weren't as close. She shrugged, looking over her shoulder as if she could see through the door and into the dark profiler's mind. She didn't want to betray her confidence, but Garcia was her best friend, and she wanted her support and advice. She compromised, finding something she could tell her friend without breaking Emily's trust.

"She's tired. Family, you know? Her mother pulled something and she ended up here all night. I found her passed out at her desk, and figured she could use some sleep."

"Looks like it," the analyst agreed readily, "I just came by to check up on you. We haven't been able to chat much lately and I've missed you!"

JJ chuckled, knowing it was true, and that she'd missed her colorful best friend as well. She needed to spend some serious time with her. As if reading her mind, Garcia grinned.

"So, you want to go out for drinks after work? You know, catch up? We've all been so busy lately, and it seems like we could all use some time to unwind."

"That sounds like a great idea, Garcia," she replied immediately, liking the idea of the whole team going out together. The last time they had all been out as a group had been the aborted Super Bowl party, which had not exactly ended well. She knew Morgan and Reid would go, though she wasn't so sure about Hotch, but Gideon never seemed to join them for any outings. Despite how strict and stiff Hotch could be, she'd enjoyed having him there for the Super Bowl party. He'd seemed so much happier and more relaxed with his wife there, and she'd liked Haley.

"You invite Morgan and Reid, and I'll ask Emily and Hotch, okay? And try Gideon. I know he always says no, but it's still worth a shot."

Garcia nodded, rushing off to track down their teammates, who had only come in an hour ago. She checked on the dark-haired agent again, who was still sleeping, and went to Hotch's office, knocking a touch uncertainly on his door. He looked up from the paperwork he was doing, waving her in.

"I'm guessing you're not here about a new case," he remarked, seeing her empty hands, "So what do you need?"

When she had first joined the team she had been put off by Hotch's demeanor and apparent lack of a sense of humor, but she knew he had one. He just hid it well. He joked with Reid about his "physics magic" rockets, occasionally teased Morgan, went along with some of Garcia's jokes, though not all of them, and he'd been known to joke with her a little. She liked the man, though it had taken a while, and she definitely respected him. He had saved them all more than once.

"Garcia is planning an outing after work," she started quietly, feeling, as she always did, just a little nervous around him, "And I was wondering if you and Haley would join us."

He sat back in his chair, and for the first time she could see the weariness in his face, echoes of the exhaustion shared by the entire team. Now she hoped he'd agree even more. He needed to unwind at least as much as they did, after all.

"Let me call Haley," he stated finally, "and I'll let you or Garcia know."

She nodded, turning to leave.

"And JJ," he called, waiting for her to turn back to him, "You're doing the right thing with Prentiss. And you can tell her from me that she has permission to go home and get some rest. I doubt she'll take it, but it's worth a try. If she does agree, take her home. She's in no shape to drive."

The liaison was a little startled, but she nodded, stepping out of his office. As she went back to her own, JJ smiled. Sometimes Hotch seemed to know everything that went on within the team. It made a certain amount of sense, after all. He was the Unit Chief for a reason.

"What'd he say?" Garcia called from Reid's desk, where she was harassing him to tell her how he made his little rockets work. She grinned, remembering watching one fly and smack Emily in the forehead. She knew her friend had touched the genius by being interested even after being hit with the rocket. She walked over to them, smiling a greeting at the two guys.

"He said he'd call Haley and tell one of us what she says."

They nodded, and as she walked back to her office she heard Garcia talk Reid into demonstrating the rocket trick for Morgan, who chafed at having to turn around just as Emily had. She heard the starts and turned, only to feel plastic impacting her head. She blinked, understanding her friend's reaction all those months ago. It had stung a little, but mostly it was just the surprise of it. Reid started to apologize, but she shook her head, laughing softly.

"I think you aim those things, Spence," she teased, "Just remember, what goes up, must come down. Physics, right?"

Before he could react, she'd swept up the little canister and chucked it across the room, chuckling as it impacted the top of his head and retreating to her office. She hadn't been sure her aim was still good, but she'd been an athlete too long for it to degrade apparently. Granted she'd been more into soccer than anything else, but she'd been known to throw things around from time to time, and not always related to sports.

"Ugh... JJ?" Emily groaned as she closed the door. She felt guilty for a second, then realized that her friend had probably been woken more by the laughter from the bullpen than by the door.

"Yeah, I'm here," she answered, hurrying over. Brown eyes assessed her, then their owner frowned slightly, brushing her forehead with her fingertips.

"You look like you just got hit with one of Reid's little rockets," the brunette muttered, and JJ laughed, pleased she remembered. That would make Reid happy, she knew, and that was important to the dark woman.

"I did," she explained with a grin, "then I hit him in the head with it, so we're even. I just hope he realizes that. He is a genius, after all. His revenge could be totally unpredictable and crazy."

Emily laughed, her face a lot more relaxed than it had been earlier. Her gaze seemed clearer too, and she was rather relieved. She'd been worried, but now she knew all her companion really needed was some good R&R.

"Garcia is getting everyone together to go out tonight. Do you think you'd be up to joining us?"

The profiler hesitated just long enough to make her wonder if she was going to refuse, but when she smiled and nodded JJ let out a sigh of relief, lightly squeezing her friend's forearm. She hadn't known until right then how much she wanted Emily to come along, but she was, so all was well.

"Hotch also wanted me to let you know you have his permission to go home," she added, but as she'd expected the older agent refused, getting up to go to the restroom to change. When she returned she looked much better. She'd washed her face and brushed her hair, changing into a dark red button-down shirt and dark gray slacks with a matching coat. Her black leather belt was off-center, JJ noticed, the silver buckle just a little out of position, but it didn't look messy. Had she been a guy, she might have called it sexy. As it was, she decided it suited her.

"You look great," she observed aloud, charmed by Emily's shy smile at the compliment, "not at all like you spent the night getting a kink the size of Texas in your neck."

The brunette laughed, shrugging slightly.

"That is what I was going for," she replied, her voice distinctly amused, then she sobered a bit as she added, "I want to thank you for... well, everything."

"No thanks needed, Emily," JJ answered firmly, "That's what friends do for each other."

The dark agent laughed, brushing her hand down her arm before picking up her bag and slipping out, heading for her desk. JJ watched her go, laughing when she ducked out of the path of another rocket. Emily Prentiss was, if nothing else, a fast learner.

"Are you sure you don't aim those things?" she heard her ask before she closed her door, settling down to work still wearing a warm smile. JJ noticed immediately that her earlier feeling of focus had faded somewhat with Emily's absence, proving that her friend really was the cause of her clear-headedness in the face of the horrible crimes that crossed her desk. She lost all track of time, falling into a rhythm of surveying each potential case and marking each as a definite no or a maybe. When she finally got through the initial pile, she went over each maybe, separating them again into those she'd consider and those that could be handled by local FBI or with the aid of a faxed profile. It took a toll on her, as it always did, but every once in a while she'd glance up and swear she saw Emily Prentiss asleep on her couch. The image made her smile, and made it easier to keep going. When Garcia came to collect her for the evening out, she was surprised, but more than ready to leave. She grabbed her purse, locked up her office, and joined her friends, finding Haley and Hotch waiting for them.

"I'm so glad you could come," Emily declared, smiling warmly at the other woman. Haley smiled back, and JJ remembered that she'd been very nice to Emily at the Super Bowl gathering, which she was grateful for. As they headed out toward the cars, Emily appeared at her side. Her hand touched the small of her back for just a moment as she got into the car while her friend held the door open, and she grinned. She was going to make the most of the night, and if it didn't end with Emily Prentiss relaxed and happy, she would be very surprised. She was a woman on a mission, and she had every intention of fulfilling it, whether or not Emily went along with or even knew about it. The Ambassador may have had plans for her daughter and been determined to carry them out, but she had nothing against the Jareau stubborn streak.

Part 6

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