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.
CHAPTER NOTE: I passionately believe in the power of music as a form of expression, which is demonstrated in this chapter. As always, all feedback is appreciated, and I thank those of you who have taken the time to tell me what you think and anything I may have done wrong or poorly. I hope everyone will continue to do so.
SPOILERS: None too specific. General plot points and such from across seasons two and three.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Psychopathology: The scientific study of mental disorders
Date and Time: February 26, 2008, 03:58
Location: Emily Prentiss' Condo, Outskirts of Washington, DC
Emily jerked awake, startled out a somewhat sound sleep, but she wasn't sure why or how. She looked around, getting her bearings and trying to locate JJ. The blonde was curled up against her side, whimpering faintly. She sighed inwardly, realizing that the sound must have been what woke her up, and she glanced over at the clock, cursing the time.
"Shh, Jennifer," she whispered softly, stroking her friend's hair, "I've got you. I'm here."
The blonde nuzzled against her neck, falling into a deeper, more peaceful sleep. Emily forced her body to relax, not wanting her sensitive companion to wake up. The poor woman had only just gotten to sleep about two hours ago, after spending the whole night looking after her. She'd had some flashbacks that had sent her into a panic, and only Jennifer's gentle presence had kept her from losing herself in them. It was no wonder she was having nightmares now.
"Emily," the liaison murmured sleepily, apparently slipping into more pleasant dreams, or at least less frightening ones, "they won't stop dancing. Make them stop dancing. They're making me dizzy."
"Yes, sweetheart," she replied quietly, trying to keep from laughing, "I'll make them stop."
JJ settled against her with a happy little sigh, and the brunette smiled affectionately as she watched her. She had never known her friend to talk in her sleep when they'd shared hotel rooms while they traveled for cases, but now she did so fairly regularly, although she'd found that she would quiet down if Emily answered any comment directed at her. She had a good idea what this particular dream was about, and she sometimes wished she could watch it as it appeared in JJ's mind. After all, Gideon, Rossi, and Hotch all doing the Macarena while Strauss gave them the beat and a gaggle of reporters and FBI agents stared obliviously ahead had to be hysterically funny. JJ's mind seemed to have gotten used to it, though. Apparently it was a recurring dream.
"What am I going to do with you?" she whispered, her eyes running over the younger woman's face. Since realizing she was in love with Jennifer about a week ago she'd carried out a subtle campaign of attentions, and while there were times her friend seemed to be responding to some of her flirting, she had no definite answer. It was possible she was interested, but it was also possible they were just very close friends.
"You can do anything you want," that familiar voice retorted suddenly, one eye opening slightly, "just as long as it doesn't involve getting out of bed."
That said, Jennifer promptly fell back to sleep, nuzzling against her neck. Emily sighed. It was moments like this that she wondered the most, moments when JJ was at her most open and unguarded and seemed to be responding to her, but it was ambiguous. She could just want to sleep longer, and she couldn't blame her. It wasn't as if they had anything to do anyway, and the weather outside was cold, dark, windy, and wet, so there would be no going out. Not that anyone would be mad enough to go out at this hour anyway.
"You'd have to be completely nuts to want to be awake at this hour," she mumbled to herself, her thoughts turning from the weather to Jennifer, where they stayed. Sometimes she wished she were brave enough to just tell the other woman how she felt and see what happened. In her more daring and frustrated moments she thought of just grabbing the woman, pinning her to the nearest flat surface and kissing her senseless, but that wasn't going to happen either. Instead she was stuck in this limbo, not knowing one way or another and unsure of what to do either way. Knowing this train of thought would just frustrate her, she leaned over a little and picked up her iPod and headphones. She had loaded the CD Reid had given her onto it, and now she intended to actually listen to it. She liked and appreciated the Coltrane and the classics Reid had included, then got to a song called Broken, performed by Lifehouse according to Reid's notes. The music caught her attention immediately, then the opening verse had her riveted and she sat completely still as the song played.
The broken clock is a comfort, it helps me sleep tonight
Maybe it can stop tomorrow from stealing all my time
I am here still waiting though I still have my doubts
I am damaged at best, like you've already figured out
I'm falling apart, I'm barely breathing
With a broken heart that's still beating
In the pain there is healing
In your name I find meaning
So I'm holdin' on, I'm holdin' on, I'm holdin' on
I'm barely holdin' on to you
The broken locks were a warning you got inside my head
I tried my best to be guarded, I'm an open book instead
I still see your reflection inside of my eyes
That are looking for a purpose, they're still looking for life
I'm hangin' on another day
Just to see what you will throw my way
And I'm hanging on to the words you say
You said that I will, I'll be ok
The broken lights on the freeway left me here alone
I may have lost my way now, haven't forgotten my way home
Emily stared at the little device in her hand, pausing it before it could go on to the next song. She needed some time to absorb Broken. It wasn't a genre she listened to especially often, but she liked it well enough. This song, though, summed up so much of what she had been thinking and feeling during those six days of torture, and fairly often since. She had held on to Jennifer, to the memory of the other woman's touch, voice, and eyes, wanting nothing more than to see her again. In her dreams she had come, promising that she would find her and make the pain stop, and she had. Even before that, though, Jennifer had always been there for her, and on her bad days she'd gone to work because the blonde was there and if she cared about nothing else, she wanted to see what the day would bring for her friend.
"How did Reid know?" she whispered, shaking her head slightly. Reid was a genius, but his social skills were somewhat lacking. He had understood her feelings, though, for all that they weren't especially close. Then she figured it out. That was what he had felt after being kidnapped and tortured, then trying to deal with all of it alone. It seemed that he didn't want her to think she was in this alone, which at times she had, even with Jennifer at her side. Bracing herself, she pressed the play button, listening closely to the next song. It was becoming very clear to her that the young prodigy had put a lot of thought into the music he selected, and the best thing she could to do to thank him would be to get the message he was trying to send her. Over and over she heard the same theme underlying it all: you aren't alone, and you shouldn't force yourself to be when you have people who love you.
"I know," she murmured to the absent young man, "I get it now."
She looked down at the blonde limpet attached to her side, smiling sadly. A few days ago, Hotch had told her he thought she should trust her instincts when it came to her emotions and Jennifer, but it was hard to do when she was so torn. She didn't know where instinct ended and outright terror began sometimes these days. The FBI shrink she'd seen yesterday had been impressed by her stability, and had been very encouraging about her ability to return to work, while her outside therapist had told her she was healing, but to be patient with herself. He'd explained that she needed to be careful about fear, especially when it came to acting on fears. He'd told her to trust her instincts too, but had added that she needed to listen to herself very carefully before acting or speaking when she was scared. She understood that all too well now. So she watched her friend in silence, thinking about fear in all the forms she'd experienced it in lately.
The familiar voice startled her, and she looked down at her friend, surprised to see her awake. When she glanced at the clock, she was even more surprised to realize she'd been lost in thought and staring into space for over three hours. That didn't seem possible, but then again she knew she had a lot to think through. All of that became irrelevant, however, now that Jennifer had woken up.
"Hey. How'd you sleep?" she asked quietly, not wanting to wake her companion up more if she wasn't really awake. The blonde smiled a little, but her blue eyes were fixed on her face, shadowed with concern.
"Very well," Jennifer answered, her voice still a little rough from sleep, "but you look like you haven't slept at all. You didn't have any more nightmares, did you?"
"No, nothing like that. I was just thinking about my last therapy session. You remember me telling you about what Dr. Adoni said last time?"
"Yeah, of course I do," JJ replied immediately, and Emily grinned. Of course she remembered. JJ hadn't forgotten a word related to her treatment, care, or other needs. She had a good memory anyway, but she verged on obsessive when it came to her health, of all sorts. She had never wanted a roommate, or a caretaker, but somehow the blonde managed to be both without crowding or annoying her. In fact, she'd caught herself wishing more than once that this could be permanent, but Jennifer had her own home to go back to, and eventually she would.
The brunette blinked, realizing she'd been lost in thought too long and worried the younger woman. She smiled reassuringly, hugging her friend to her as she thought about what she was going to say, and what she shouldn't. She settled on most of the truth, realizing that the shrink had been right. She couldn't let her fear alter too much of what she did and said with Jennifer. She just had to keep reminding herself that being in love with the woman was not a new thing, and if she behaved differently because of it she was being, essentially, dishonest and even silly. That didn't exactly make it easy though. It was damn hard. But it was, as the doctor had told her, the right thing to do. The only thing to do, really.
"I was talking about Dr. Adoni, right?" she asked, waiting for Jennifer to nod before going on, "You know what he said about fear. Well, I'm not used to being scared like this. I'm not used to looking at something and seeing what isn't there. I've never hallucinated, never had visions or flashbacks like I do now. I have never experienced pain like this, like I did then."
She sighed, fixing her companion with an intense stare.
"And I have never needed someone as badly as I need you. I hate that I can't do this alone, Jennifer, but God am I glad I have you here with me."
"That's what you were thinking about?" the liaison asked after a few minutes of silent contemplation. She nodded, waiting for her friend to say or do something in response. JJ was quiet for a long time, then finally she grinned, rolling over so she was straddling the older woman's waist, looking down at her with a decidedly smug expression, though there was just a hint of doubt and worry underneath that. Emily gazed up at her, pointedly ignoring her body's more visceral response.
"So," the blonde went on, acting as if she hadn't spoken, "does all that translate to you giving in and asking me to move in with you on a permanent basis? Become your roommate officially?"
She froze, hearing the echo of her own thoughts in the only slightly joking comment. She wanted to say yes, and badly, but she couldn't. Not if JJ didn't know the truth about how she felt, because as desperately as she wanted to act as if everything was the same, it wasn't, because she wasn't, and she couldn't deny that. Or maybe she was the same, but her awareness had altered. Either way, it was more or less the same result. Emily was tired of denial, tired of hiding, and she needed it to stop. But always there was the fear, the terror that wouldn't go away, and that was what was stopping her from telling the truth. She started to say something, then froze, hearing something through her earphones that caught her attention.
But now, a smile and a touch of your hand,
Just makes me come unglued.
Such a contradiction, do I lie or tell the truth.
Is it fact or fiction,
Oh the way I feel for you.
"Emily? Em, what's wrong?"
The profiler looked up, seeing how worried her friend was getting again. She shook her head, wordlessly handing over the iPod and earphones. JJ shifted to one side, and she took the opportunity to get up, slipping out of the room. She could feel eyes staring after her, but she didn't turn. She limped down the stairs, needing to put some distance between herself and what she'd just done. It was possible Jennifer wouldn't figure it out, but she seriously doubted it. The woman was brilliant, and it wasn't as if the message could easily be misunderstood.
"Damn it..." she murmured softly, flopping down onto the couch. She found the remote for her stereo and flipped it on, finding the song she'd left her friend with and playing it, mouthing the lyrics along with the singer, Carolyn Dawn Johnson.
I'm so scared that the way that I feel,
Is written all over my face.
When you walk into the room,
I wanna find a hiding place.
We used to laugh, we used to hug,
The way that old friends do.
But now, a smile and a touch of your hand,
Just makes me come unglued.
Such a contradiction, do I lie or tell the truth.
Is it fact or fiction,
Oh the way I feel for you.
* So complicated, I'm so frustrated.
I wanna hold you close, I wanna push you away,
I wanna make you go, I wanna make you stay.
Should I say it? Should I tell you how I feel?
Oh, I want you to know.
But then again, I don't. It's so complicated.
Oh... just when I think I'm under control.
I think I finally got a grip.
Another friend tells me that,
My name is always on your lips.
They say I'm more than just a friend,
they say I must be blind.
Well, I admit that I've seen you watch me
from the corner of your eye.
Oh, It's so confusing. I wish you'd just confess.
But think of what I'd be losing,
if your answer wasn't yes.
Oh, I hate it. 'Cuz I've waited.
So long for someone like you
Oh, what do I do.
Oh should I say it.
Should I tell you how I feel.
I want you to know, but then again I don't.
It's so complicated...
It's so complicated...
It's so complicated.
When the song finished she turned off the stereo, getting up to look out at the dawn rising over Washington D.C. This was not how she'd wanted this to go. She hadn't planned out how she'd explain this to Jennifer, but this was not it.
"Damn," Emily repeated, crossing her arms over her chest against the cold. It wasn't so much that she thought this would be the end of their friendship or anything like that. She knew JJ too well to think that. The problem, once again, was fear. The thought immediately made her angry, and she turned on her heel, pacing the room. She had never been one to let fear control her. If she had, she wouldn't be a profiler or an FBI agent. She never would have left home or fought against her mother... so why was she letting it control her now? She swore softly, knowing the answer. It all went back to Samis.
"You son of a bitch," she whispered, slamming her hand against a convenient wall. Before she could do it again, though, a hand caught her wrist while an arm wrapped around her waist.
"Emily, enough. Stop punishing yourself for what happened to you."
All the tension that had been building up in her body suddenly fell away, and she turned, sagging limply against the wall, running her free hand through her hair.
"Jennifer, Emily," the liaison corrected firmly, shaking her head, "I get you not telling me. The song made that perfectly clear. But I do want to know how long."
"How long?" the brunette repeated tiredly, "If you're asking how long I've know, I figured it out last week. How long have I been in love with you? I have no idea."
Jennifer nodded slowly, sliding her hand from Emily's wrist to clasp the longer one. Her blue eyes were understanding and warm, far more so than the brunette had expected.
"Emily, if you've been in love with me all along, I don't see a problem. You're obviously not going to jump me or be inappropriate, and even if you did, if I told you to stop you would."
The profiler tried to say something, but the younger agent shook her head, cutting her off.
"I know we have things to talk about, Em. I'm not so naive as to think this won't affect our relationship. It already has. You've been acting different with me lately, and I assume it's because you figured out how you felt. But there's only one issue that's relevant right now."
"And what is that?" Emily asked, too drained to argue the point. When her friend suddenly smiled, just as she had before, she realized she knew what was coming, and she was torn between laughing and crying.
"When are you going to ask me to move in?"
The question was asked in a teasing tone, but JJ suddenly sobered, brushing a few strands of dark hair out of her eyes.
"Because I'll tell you right now, Emily Prentiss, I don't want to go back to my place without you. It wouldn't be home. And I know you're going to tell me all about how I shouldn't sacrifice my place for your sake, but it's not just for you. I don't think I can sleep without knowing you're close by," she explained softly, earnestly, "Emily, I love you. I don't know about romantic love, being in love, any of that. None of that is as important to me as the fact that I love you, and I have to know you're safe. I have to know that if I have a nightmare, I can wake up and find you, and you'll be there to hold me. I need to know that if you start having flashbacks or nightmares you won't be screaming alone in your head. I have to know there's someone to cook for, someone who'll read me excerpts from hundred-year-old romance novels and laugh along with me after a bad day, or that same someone will be there for me to hold so I can make sure the bad day isn't any worse than it has to be for her."
Emily searched that familiar gaze, looking for any hint of doubt or fear. There was none. It was JJ being herself, and she found herself wondering how she had possibly missed the fact that she'd fallen in love with her best friend. She leaned against the hand on her face, sighing softly. She'd been so obnoxiously blind, and now...
"We need to go shopping," she stated quietly, cutting off her own train of thought and smiling a little when JJ jumped at the sudden comment, adding, "I won't let you give up your house, Jennifer. It's a beautiful place. The only reason I wouldn't stay at your home was because I didn't want to intrude on your space, and I wasn't ready to be anywhere but my home yet. But if you're serious about this, we're going to do it right."
"I won't argue with you about it," she interrupted gently, smiling to take the sting out of it, "since I know you wouldn't have suggested it if you weren't ready and willing. And you're right. I was just thinking about how much I wished we could make this whole roommate thing permanent."
"Give up my condo?" she asked, and when JJ nodded she explained.
"I love your house, and I know you spent a long time making it a home. Garcia told me about some of it, and I've seen the before and after pictures. This condo, it's great, and I spent a while painting and refurnishing it, but it's not like I couldn't part with it. You put two years of blood, sweat, and tears into making that house what it is now. I will not let you toss that away for this place, or me."
The blonde blushed, and Emily grinned, glad she had finally gotten to use that little tidbit of information. Not many people knew about the renovation, even the BAU. Garcia had, of course, and the tech goddess had told her after a little prodding.
"I'd give anything for you, Emily," the liaison whispered once she'd gotten over her surprise, stepping forward to embrace her, in the process taking some of Emily's weight off her progressively weaker legs, "I realized that after you were taken. I thought... I thought I'd lost you, and..."
The older woman hugged her tightly, stroking her hair and back. For a fleeting moment she was worried that Jennifer would take the gesture the wrong way, but she shook it off when her companion leaned into her, just as she always did. That was when she stopped thinking and just held on until the wave passed, then she lead JJ over to the island, sitting her down while she went around and started pulling food out of the fridge and a couple pans out of the cupboard, starting to make breakfast. One thing she'd learned about her friend was that when she was upset and hungry at the same time it was much harder for her to calm down. That was totally understandable as far as she was concerned, so she made her an omelet and hash browns, refusing to hear any objections. It was hard to be on her feet so long, and by the time she finished she was barely able to slide the plates across the island, but it was worth it to see her best friend digging in with a will.
"Sit down before you fall down," the blonde commanded between bites. She smiled, meaning to do exactly that, but she lost her balance, barely managing to catch herself before she hit the floor. She felt something odd, but it didn't process until JJ screamed her name seconds later, and she turned her head as the woman half-tackled her. Only then did she realize she'd put her hand down on the range.
Her hand was promptly dragged under cold water from the tap, numbing the pain she'd only just started to feel. That's when she remembered the nerve damage done to her hands and the warning Dr. Kelso had given her about hot or cold surfaces. She wouldn't always feel things right away, he'd said, and she should try to avoid situations like that. It was too late now, though.
"It's okay, Jennifer," she reassured softly, a little surprised by the intensity of the terror in those blue eyes, "It's just a minor burn."
"Minor burn?" the younger woman growled, shaking her head violently, "We need to get you to a hospital and have this looked at. God, I'm so stupid. I should have made breakfast. I-"
"Stop!" Emily commanded firmly, gripping the other agent's shoulder with her good hand and shaking her a few times, quickly figuring out what this was really about, "Jennifer, stop it! This isn't your fault! None of it was your fault!"
The blonde gaped at her for a moment, then sighed, relaxing a little bit.
"Oh, God... Thank you for that," she murmured, "I think I was having a miniature flashback. I'm okay now. Let's take a look at your hand, okay?"
The profiler nodded, accepting that for the time being and holding out the limb in question. The press liaison carefully dried it, getting down the burn kit Emily had told the younger woman about a few days ago when a pan had slipped and burned her fingers. She slathered the palm with antibacterial burn cream and put a light dressing on it, more to keep the cream from getting everywhere than anything else. The brunette was reassured by the calm steadiness of the other agent, glad to see a reemergence of the Jennifer she knew so well. She hated the rare moments when her friend would crack and show the echoes of the panic she must have gone through after she been kidnapped.
"You're right, it's a minor burn," JJ finally declared, "but I'd feel better if you got it checked out."
Emily just looked at her, and Jennifer chuckled, surprising her companion by leaning up to press a quick kiss to her cheek.
"If you're looking for ways to seduce me, Supervisory Special Agent Emily Prentiss, which I just realized you've been doing quite a job of doing this last week," she remarked as she pulled back, her eyes sparkling with restrained laughter and emotion, "I don't recommend getting hurt as a way to do it. Just so you know. Stick with chocolate, flowers, wine, and those sweet things you're so good at thinking of."
The dark woman stared for a long moment, then cracked up, hugging her friend tightly. She could have kissed her in that moment, not just because she wanted to anyway but because she'd broken the tension that had started to form around them and in just a couple of sentences all but proved that she was okay with their relationship as it stood, and even hinted that maybe, just maybe, it was possible there could be more. What more could she ask for?
"Okay," JJ started once their laughter had died down a bit, "you need to eat, then we're going to plan out what we're going to need to do to and buy to move you into my place once you've recovered a bit more."
She smiled, letting her friend sit her down and watching as she finished making the second omelet. Jennifer, of course, made sure she ate every bite and a glass of juice before she'd sit down so they could have any of the various serious conversations they needed to. Once the dishes were rinsed the blonde came around the island and sat down at her side, checking over her hand again. Emily sighed, closing her eyes. There was too much hanging between them. She just wanted to resolve it, but didn't know how. This wasn't exactly something she'd had to do before.
"Stop right there," the liaison ordered, her eyes blazing with intense blue fire, "Let's make one thing very clear. You've been calling me Jennifer since we found you over two weeks ago. Now, it's fine with me if you call me JJ with our friends, but when we're alone, you call me by my name."
The brunette might have said something, but the younger woman shook her head, lightly brushing her arm to keep her quiet.
"Look..." she started again, her face softening and her expression becoming almost sad, "I told you before, Emily, I've never really liked my name, but when you say it... it's different. I don't know... maybe it's because you're in love with me. Maybe it's because I love you as much as I do. Maybe it's just because you're you, and everything seems a little different around you, a little better. I don't really care. All I know is that when you say my name, I feel like I've found a part of me that I thought was gone, that I never knew was missing. So please, Emily..."
Emily squeezed the hand holding hers, realizing how important this was to her friend, and to her. It sounded strange that a name would be such a big deal, but Jennifer was right. It made a difference to them both. It was something of a symbol of what had changed between them, because a lot had. It was Jennifer, not JJ, who had saved her life and took care of her, and it was Jennifer who continued to give her back the life that could have been stripped from her. It was Jennifer she'd fallen in love with.
"You're right, of course. I'm sorry, Jennifer."
The blonde accepted that, gently pulling away to gather their purses, cell phones, jackets, and guns. This would be their first outing since before the last case, and obviously they'd be taking no chances. As they walked out the door, Emily smirked to herself, just as JJ looked back. The younger woman threw her a questioning look, to which she responded with an enigmatic smile, surprising Jennifer by not saying a word when she opened the door to the passenger seat for her, sliding in without any objections. She didn't want to drive today. She just wanted to watch the blonde and think. The ride was quiet, and that didn't surprise her in the least. They both had a lot to process. At JJ's home they took a look at the guest room, but the liaison didn't make a list or anything like that. Instead she sat down on the bed, gesturing for Emily to take the chair. Her face was contemplative, but there was something else there, a shadow that had been growing around her during the drive.
"Jennifer?" she asked, wondering what was going on. The blonde was quiet for a while, then looked up at her, her blue eyes dark with some unreadable emotion. That was a little scary for Emily, since it was unusual for her to have so little clue what her friend was thinking.
"How did you figure out you were in love with me, Emily?"
The tone of the abrupt, blunt question matched the expression, and the brunette frowned worriedly, wondering how they had gone from teasing one another to serious discussion so quickly, and how she seemed to have completely lost track of what was going on. Whatever it was, they clearly weren't going to talk about moving plans until this was settled.
"Well..." she started, thinking through the question and realizing they might as well get this out of the way now, "It started with Dr. Cameron, I suppose. She asked if we were together, and if I would tell her if we were. Which I would, of course. But we weren't... aren't... and have never been. Then my shrink started asking questions, and Hotch... he didn't say much, just that I needed to trust my instincts."
"Until now, until this, you've always been attracted to men though, right? You always considered yourself straight?"
Now Emily was starting to go beyond worried to genuinely scared, but she decided that answering the questions was the only way to deal with this. Whatever was bothering JJ so badly would come out in its own time, and she had to trust that they could, and would, get through this and move beyond wherever this conversation was going.
"I did, yes."
"And if your parents, your family, were to find out, how would they react?"
"They'd be extremely upset to say the least," she answered quietly, the question one she'd considered on her own before this, so it wasn't exactly new to her. She was just surprised to hear it brought up here of all places, and from this woman.
"And you're okay with that?"
Emily looked down at her hands, willing them to be still. She wasn't prepared for this, but prepared or not, they were having this talk, and she would be honest. She had told herself earlier that she was done hiding, and now she had to stick to that. She just hoped Jennifer wasn't going to shut her out too much longer. She didn't know if she could live with that, and it was just too different from how things were not long before.
"Of course not, Jennifer," she replied, her voice cracking slightly despite her efforts to hold herself steady, "but if I were to decide what to do with my life based on what they liked, I'd never have done anything I wanted to do. The FBI, the BAU... none of it. I learned a long time ago that to be happy, or at least content, with myself, I might have to give up my family. It's like Abraham Maslow, the one with the theory of the hierarchy of needs, said. 'A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.' When I read that quote back in school, I decided to live by it, and I think I have. I'm a profiler, I'm a nerd... and I'm in love with you. Those are just facts of my life, outside of any labels or control."
When JJ didn't say anything she decided to go on, wishing, almost praying, that something would break through the wall her friend had put up.
"I don't think of myself as a lesbian or a heterosexual... and I don't really care. In our line of work, as Dr. Cameron helped me realize, we don't have the luxury of thinking like other people, in black and white terms. We label people every single day, but we know that those labels could change, and that they aren't all-encompassing. We accept that, difficult though it may be. And love above anything else is so precious, and so rare, that sticking it in a neat compartment with a little label is impossible, and all but criminal. I won't do it. I can't. Not for my family, not for the team... not even for you, though God knows I've tried."
She looked straight into those dull blue eyes, searching for understanding, compassion, even something as simple as some acknowledgment of what she was saying. She couldn't seem to find any. They were closed to her, impossible to read, giving her no choice but to plunge on.
"If this is going to make you uncomfortable, I'll leave, Jennifer," she murmured, hating every word that was coming out of her mouth now but feeling that they were what was left to be said, "I just... couldn't find a way to hide it. Once I knew, everything I did and said felt a little more like a lie. I've been denying this for I don't know how long, and if I learned anything from being tortured and nearly killed, it's that I'm sick of hiding and denial. My mother and family will never accept me, and that hurts. I tried so damn hard, Jennifer... but I'm done. As Reid once said, I yield, submit, surrender, capitulate... I give up. I can't be someone else, whoever it is they want me to be. So just tell me now if you want me to go and I will, because I don't think I can stop loving you and I won't try. Somehow you became a part of me, something I can't replace."
For long, terrifying minutes there was silence, and the brunette could feel the rapid pounding of her heart becoming more constricted and painful. This wasn't how she'd hoped Jennifer would find out all of this, everything she'd been thinking, planning and processing for more than a week, but it was far too late to take it all back now. Unable to hold that nearly empty gaze any longer she bowed her head, closing her eyes in defeat.
"Don't ever change, Emily."
The words came so suddenly and in such a quiet voice that at first she doubted she'd heard them, but when she looked up the life was back in blue eyes, lighting them from within. JJ's expression was intensely focused, determined even, and Emily found herself trapped completely by that look.
"W-what?" the older agent stammered, once again extremely confused about what had happened, but Jennifer didn't leave her hanging for long, thankfully.
"I love you the way you are," the liaison explained calmly, though her voice was threaded with steel, "and because you're more true to who you decide to be than anyone I've ever known. No one else would have been that honest about all of that. No one else I've known would be willing to give up everything to stay true to who they are. You would, and have. But I look at you, and I see everything you gained, Emily. You've told me that you're a disappointment to your family, but I don't know how anyone could be disappointed in you. And you're certainly not one to the family you've been adopted by. Every single member of the BAU can, will, and has fought for you. And I..."
She trailed off, then shook her head, fixing the brunette with that intense stare again.
"It would kill me if you left, Emily, but I wouldn't stop you if you thought you had to go. But let me make this very clear: right here, right now, I can't imagine ever asking you to go. I'm asking you to stay. Stay with the BAU, if you can, stay in the FBI, and stay in this house with me."
JJ stood up, holding out a hand, which Emily took on instinct, letting herself be pulled to her feet and guided down the hall to a somewhat familiar room. It took her a moment to recognize it, but when she did she turned back to the other woman, disoriented and shaken.
"I'm asking you to stay here," the blonde finished, carefully enunciating the last word. The brunette stumbled, completely taken off guard after the way the conversation had been going just moments ago. JJ caught her arm, drawing her into a warm, strong hug. She shivered faintly, trying to catch her breath and her balance, and not really succeeding at either. It had never occurred to her that the other agent would go so far so quickly, but she had to admit she wasn't sure she could sleep without those arms holding her, without the safety of another person, of Jennifer, so close. She just wished it didn't make her feel so incredibly selfish.
"Jennifer... I can't ask you to-"
"You're not asking," the liaison interrupted gently, "I am. We've been sleeping together since we found you. I've never been one to share my bed, Em, but I think I'm addicted to sleeping with you."
As the implications of what the younger woman had said sunk in both agents blushed, staring at each other before breaking down and laughing so hard they both lost their balance, leaving them flopped gracelessly on the floor, crying and laughing all at once. When the phone rang JJ staggered over to it, still giggling,
Emily watched her friend's expression alter a little, becoming a bit embarrassed.
"Oh... sorry Garcia. No, we came over to my place to check things out. I want Em to move in here with me."
There was a pause, then JJ turned deep red, glancing over at her then looking away.
"No, Penelope. You're being ridiculous. I haven't had a guy over here in... I've never invited a guy here, you know that. She's not going to 'cramp my style' at all."
Again the blonde was quiet, then she chuckled, pushing a button on her phone and setting it down, shaking her head slightly. She held out a hand, pulling the brunette to her feet and hugging her tightly.
"How's Garcia?" Emily asked, rubbing her back gently, sensing that she needed the comfort and the grounding the contact gave them both.
"She's herself," the liaison replied, giggling a little, "She said that if I'm not going to have a man in my bed, at least you're a good substitute. You won't take advantage or get me knocked up. And she's right. You'd never would."
"Well, I certainly can't knock you up," the profiler replied, chuckling quietly, "I don't really have the equipment for that."
When her friend gave her a searching look, Emily grinned, refusing to add anything about taking advantage. It was strange to flirt so openly, but it was fun too, and she was enjoying it. If she wasn't very much mistaken, so did JJ, and that was good. It was very good, in fact.
"Come on," the blonde finally said, breaking the silence that had fallen, a silence full of tension that wasn't entirely foreign to them but was strange nonetheless, "Let's figure out what you're going to need to get settled here. That is... if you're still sure you want to do this?"
Emily laughed, scooping up her purse and digging out the pad and pen she always carried, just in case of, well, any number of possible situations. The press liaison smirked at her, taking the paper out of her hand and gesturing for her to sit down on the bed, which she did gratefully, before wandering around taking notes and muttering to herself. The brunette couldn't hear what her friend was saying, but she could see JJ was off in her own little world, and she was becoming just a little afraid of what might be on that list. If Garcia had been drawing it up she would have been more concerned, but the other agent had learned some interesting and unpredictable lessons from the tech analyst and she never quite knew when something would come up that would throw her for a loop. Like this situation, for example. It was overwhelming, she decided, and while her mind was already working to actively separate the issues into their different categories, there was still one thing that troubled her, something she couldn't just categorize and set aside for later contemplation. This was too fast. Not the move, exactly, she could cope with that. It wasn't as if she hadn't thought about it, and apparently Jennifer had to. It was how quickly JJ had apparently come to terms with her sexuality and feelings for her. She still hadn't come to terms with those things, at least not completely, and it didn't make sense to her that the blonde could, unless one of two things were the case, and neither appealed to her.
"I'm not rationalizing," JJ remarked suddenly, and she looked up into blue eyes, wondering if she was really that transparent or if Jennifer just knew her that well.
The blonde shook her head, moving to kneel in front of her, her expression earnest and sincere, her shoulders tense and her hands shaking just slightly.
"I'm not rationalizing or dismissing your feelings, Emily," the other agent explained, "And I'm not done processing. I don't want you to think otherwise, and I just realized my behavior may have looked like that to you. I assure you, I have more questions for you and things I need to work out for myself, but I don't think any of that is so pressing that we can't function and live. I admit I'm going to need some time and I'm sure me and my shrink, and me and you, are going to be talking about this off and on for a bit, but I already told you the most important factor here. I love you, and I don't think I can live without you. Frankly, I don't want to try."
"Jennifer, any questions you have... you should ask them," Emily interjected softly, her dark eyes a little mournful, "I don't want this to come between us any more than it has to, or any longer. I know we can't resolve everything now, but... don't let anything fester, okay?"
Jennifer looked thoughtful for a few long seconds, then finally answered, "You're right. And I do have one or two questions that maybe shouldn't wait."
"Okay... here goes..." she started haltingly, her tanned skin just a little flushed for some reason, "I guess I really want to know if this means you're attracted to me... physically, and if you've ever... imagined us together. Sexually."
Emily was suddenly very grateful she hadn't been drinking or eating anything just then. As it was she snorted and choked anyway, almost falling sideways off the bed. She knew she should have expected that. Hell, she probably had, but still it felt like something impacting from the far, far left field. She blushed as she thought about it, but it had been a reasonably frank, if somewhat awkward, question, and it deserved an honest answer. Once she had gotten herself under control again she looked intently into her friend's eyes, managing to look very seriously despite an internal war going on about whether to jump the woman and kiss her senseless, run away screaming, or just break out laughing. She still wasn't sure if she'd do any, all, or none of the above, but she hoped this would end well.
"I am attracted to you physically, yes," the brunette replied, speaking slowly and carefully to maintain the outward appearance of control and calm despite her ongoing internal debate and her very mixed, very intense emotions about the few times she'd allowed herself to try out her little 'exercise' again after the first time, "And I have thought a little about us together. I try not to, out of respect for you and admittedly a certain lack of knowledge and experience. It's still pretty new to me too, after all."
"Respect for me, huh?" JJ echoed, her voice both thoughtful and vaguely teasing, "Just how far does this respect extend?"
If there was one thing Emily Prentiss could not be accused of, it was a lack of willingness to take chances. She'd been labeled reckless for a reason, after all, but she wasn't reckless. She believed firmly in planning an angle of attack and committing to it, but if she saw an opening, she would adapt her plan to it and take advantage. Now she took full advantage of that particular ability, fixing her companion with an intense, smoldering look that turned her face red almost immediately and, unless her eyes and ears were deceiving her, left Jennifer a bit breathless.
"Only as far as you want it to, Agent Jareau."
It took a visible effort for JJ to recover from, had someone simply heard the comment in passing, a simple, slightly formal reply to an important, blunt question. Had that same person stopped and looked, they would have seen a polite, if intense, expression on her face. Jennifer knew her, however, and she was both grateful and embarrassed. Still, she decided, better to put it all out there now. No use holding back when she was offered a chance like that.
"Uhhh... Good," was JJ's stammered response, then the liaison gathered herself, adding with a little smile, "I did have one other question for you."
Emily nodded, waiting and bracing herself.
"What brand of toothpaste do you prefer? I don't think I paid any attention before, and I want to have it on hand when you move in."
The profiler almost fell off the bed, this time because of laughter, and the blonde joined her readily, the tension diminishing and allowing their equilibrium to be restored. Life went on, and the ripple effect it had began to fade away, to be all but forgotten.
Date and Time: June 2, 2007 20:23
Location: Club Near FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia
Jennifer Jareau was feeling and thinking many things as she walked into the club with her date, but above all she was distracted and concerned. She hadn't had much time to talk to Emily recently, and she knew their recent cases had taken a toll on her. She blushed faintly when the man at her side gave her a concerned look that verged on irritation, giving him an apologetic smile. John was handsome, well-mannered, and charming, and he'd been as patient as she could expect with her distracted state. She couldn't help it, though. When Emily had left that night, there had been such a stricken expression on her face, the same expression the brunette had been wearing when she thought no one was looking for weeks. First it was the two hunters, then Maggie and the butcher, then Frank and Jane. She had accepted John's invitation in hopes it would help her unwind, and so far it had more or less worked. She just wished she wasn't so worried about her friend.
"JJ, are you sure you're up for this?" her darkly good-looking date asked softly, almost managing to hide his frustration. The poor man had been wonderful, but she knew his patience had to be wearing thin.
"I'm fine," she replied soothingly, giving him another smile, "Just thinking about a coworker. She's had a hard time lately."
"So have you," John pointed out with his charming, almost silly smile that oddly enough reminded her of someone, though she couldn't think who, "Come on. Let's have a drink and dance, take your mind of it. I'm sure your coworker will be fine."
JJ nodded, following him into the nearly packed club, her senses adjusting to the press of moving, shifting bodies, sounds, sights, and smells with relative ease. True to his word, John bought them both a beer, guiding her over to a table he'd just barely managed to snag when another couple had vacated it. She made a conscious effort to relax and enjoy herself, and slowly the tension started to fade from her. John was good company, keeping her laughing and talking mostly freely, although she conscientiously avoided shoptalk. When they got up to dance she was more than ready. She loved dancing and the release it gave, and her date was a reasonably good dancer along with everything else. Just as she was finding her rhythm, though, she happened to glance up and saw a face she'd recognize anywhere. For a moment she almost turned away, but then she saw the expression on that face and all thoughts of walking, or dancing, away vanished.
"JJ?" John asked, and she cringed mentally, regretting what she was about to do, though not enough to change her mind.
"I'm so sorry, John. My friend is here and I..."
"Need to go deal with it," he interrupted, nodding and running a hand through his thick black hair, visibly frustrated, "Go, JJ. I'm just going to head home."
She tried to apologize, but he was already gone, making his way through the crowd of dancers and drunks toward the exit. JJ sighed, apologetic, but she had her priorities. She fought her way through the crowd in the opposite direction, heading for the tables. Her target was staring down into a glass, apparently lost in contemplation. Before she could get in earshot to call out, though, the person left, slipping into the mob and appearing again at the bar, probably to pay the bill, then again at the exit. The liaison growled inwardly but still doggedly made her way to the door, determined to see this through.
"Emily!" she called, hoping to grab her friend's attention. The brunette didn't seem to hear her, which made sense considering the noise and distance between them. She tried calling the other woman's cell, but it went straight to voicemail. Frustrated but unwilling to give up, she ran to her truck, managing to track down the older woman's car thanks to the relatively light traffic in the area. Apparently everyone was in the club. She lost track of the car a couple times, but she let it go when she realized where she was going. The liaison slowed down, a natural enough thing to do in a pickup truck, letting Emily's dark car get ahead of her. When she pulled into the parking lot, she stayed seated for a few minutes, letting her eyes getting adjusted to the dark before going out. After walking for a few minutes she found Emily's car and looked around, barely making out a set of footprints.
"Em... what are you doing here?"
Here was a small, secluded beach not far from DC, the kind of place you only went to if you had been there before. It was a place one went to think, to get away, and at worst, to end things. She was sure Emily wasn't about to kill herself, but she was concerned that she'd come all the way out here if she was feeling as bad as she'd looked in the club. She walked slowly along the path she almost couldn't see, catching sight of her friend among the shadows near the water line. She was standing alone in the wind, her arms spread wide and her head thrown back. The blonde moved closer until she was within arm's reach, but she didn't touch her.
"I thought you had a date tonight, JJ," Emily remarked, her arms falling to her sides.
"I did," she replied calmly, stepping closer so she was within her friend's personal space, "I cut it short. You're more important. I saw you at the club, and you looked so upset. I followed you out here. I thought maybe you could use someone to talk to."
The profiler was quiet for a long time, but JJ was willing to wait. The silence wasn't uncomfortable. It was the kind of silence that always came with pain and despair, and ended in truth and healing. That's what she held on to, what allowed her to stand quietly beside her friend in the cold wind. When the silence was broken it was the most natural thing in the world, and she was ready for it.
"Frank was a sadistic bastard," the brunette started quietly, her voice low, tired, and a little rough, "and I'm really not sorry he's dead. Jane, though... Jane was a sick woman who needed love and understanding. She was so alone. And then Maggie... she was terrified, JJ, and we almost didn't make it to her in time. Bobbi Baird too... Paul was about to shoot her too, like he had everyone else. Jane ended up dead beneath a train with the man who nearly killed her, and that was it. She was written off."
"But we got Bobbi and Maggie," JJ pointed out softly, letting her hand touch Emily's briefly, "Both times you were there, and you got them."
"Bobbi asked me how they could do it," her friend stated, as if she hadn't spoken, "I told her they didn't think like us. Morgan asked me why I was so quiet later. I told him that I thought we do think like them. We learn about our targets, track them, hunt them, catch them... sometimes we kill them. I shot Charles Holcomb. We shot him. Like the Mulfords shot Alex Harrison and the others. How are we any better?"
"Morgan shot Paul Mulford without a second thought, you know. I would have shot him if he'd tried to get up or get to his bow. He shot his prey, and he didn't think twice. We pretend we're so much better than them, but are we? How many people have we killed, JJ? We call it justice, necessity, but we're all killers. If we didn't have badges, we'd all be in jail."
JJ shifted so she could look into her friend's dark eyes, glad there was just enough light from the moon that she could see them. They were shadowed and pained, filled with fear, doubt, regret and despair.
"That's not true," she whispered intently, keeping her eyes locked on her friend's, watching for a reaction, "You want to know the difference between them and us, between people like Mulford and Frank, and you? Because I can tell you."
Emily looked down at her, an almost desperate expression on her face behind the barely maintained wall of control. She took that as an affirmative and gently cupped her friend's face, wiping away the tear that had managed to fall despite the brunette's visible efforts to stop it.
"You would never shoot someone in cold blood. You would never kill blindly, or hurt someone for the pleasure of it. You'd never get off on causing pain or seeing someone suffer. No one at the BAU would. You, though... you're different than Hotch or Morgan. They know pain and suffering, so they fight it. They've been hardened, almost jaded by it, for all that Morgan acts like he hasn't. Reid too. He's a kid who saw too much. You, though, you fight with everything you are to not lose yourself in what we do, and at the same time you don't lose your compassion, your gentleness."
She paused, gauging the effect she was having before going on, wiping away more tears.
"You were the only one who really tried to reach out to Jane and understand her. You wanted to help her. Even Reid just dismissed her as a psycho. I did too. But I watched you talk to her. You tried to explain things, to reassure her. With Maggie, you comforted her, made her feel safe again, which should have been impossible after what she'd gone through. And you did it before that with Bobbi. You make people feel safe, cared for."
"You do that too," Emily pointed out, though her expression was starting to relax a little, "And so does Morgan. And Garcia, when she's in the field."
"Not like you though," the blonde argued, smiling inwardly, pleased she was getting through to the older woman, "Jane responded to you. She never reacted to anyone the way she did you. Not even to Gideon, who really just wanted to catch Frank. You were there for her."
The brunette sighed, shaking her head slowly.
"I told Jane the truth," she commented, pushing her dark hair out of her face, "I don't think falling in love is a choice. She couldn't stop herself from loving him, any more than anyone can. The difference is that she fell in love with the most prolific serial killer we've ever seen or heard of. It must have been so hard for her mind to reconcile that when she found out the truth. But she needed to be loved so badly..."
JJ nodded, sitting down on the sand and waiting for Emily to join her. After a moment the taller woman leaned over, resting her head on the blonde's shoulder.
"Thank you for coming after me, JJ," she murmured quietly. The liaison smiled affectionately, wrapping an arm around her friend and scooting a little closer, both for the comfort and the warmth. They sat there together, just listening to the sound of the waves coming in. It was peaceful and relaxing, but she couldn't help but notice the slowly lowering temperature. Emily must have felt her shivering because she was suddenly shrugging off her overcoat and wrapping it around her. She tried to object, but the brunette gave her that sweet smile of hers and stood up, helping her up and adjusting the coat.
"Come on, JJ. You should get home."
"So should you," JJ answered immediately, earning another smile, "Preferably before you catch pneumonia."
"I'll be fine. Living in the mountains with my grandfather got me used to the cold. Go on."
The blonde stood her ground, and Emily grinned. She plopped down in the sand, gesturing JJ down with her. When she tried to sit down at her side the brunette caught her arm, pulling her down to sit in front of her, taking off the overcoat before hugging her tightly. The press liaison was surprised at first, but then she noticed how much warmer her back was now. Then Emily tossed the long coat across her legs, smiling again when she caught on and adjusted it. It was large and thick enough to function as a blanket, and once her body adjusted to the temperature and feel of the sand she was amazingly comfortable. Again they just sat in silence for a while until Emily broke it again.
"Why did you come out here, JJ?"
JJ sighed, leaning back to look up at her friend, propping her head up on her shoulder.
"I was worried about you, Em. I saw you in the club and you seemed upset. I know our cases have been hard, especially since we had to deal with Frank again. Being so compassionate takes a toll on you. I've seen it, even though you're very good at hiding the strain."
"But you were on a date," the brunette objected, "He wasn't a loser like that guy from the bar before the hunter case right?"
"Not at all," she replied with a faint smile, "John was a decent, intelligent, charming guy."
She laughed, shifting a little to make herself more comfortable, then chuckled again. If she got much more comfortable she'd be asleep.
"Because my family is more important to me than anything. And you're a very important part of my family," she answered contentedly, realizing that while she felt bad for how she had treated John, she didn't regret ending it early. This was much better. Had this been a date, the only thing that could make it more perfect would be Emily's incredible wine and truffles. It wasn't a date, though. That was ridiculous.
"What would you have done if I had packed up and gotten on a plane?" the older agent asked after a few minutes, a hint of amusement creeping into her voice. JJ smirked, closing her eyes as the tension she'd been carrying around started to fade away. The balance was being restored to her life, and to her family.
"I'd have gotten Garcia to track your flight and followed you wherever you went. I know you Prentiss women think you've got stubbornness mastered, and Morgan thinks he's the relentless pit bull of the BAU, but none of you have seen how stubborn and relentless I can be."
"I think I have," Emily murmured, her voice conveying affection, pride, and contained laughter, "and you just might be right."
They were quiet after that, just leaning back and enjoying the peace. A change in the light caught JJ's attention and she blinked, startled when she noticed she was stiff and the tide was going out. It had just started coming in when she'd arrived, so she must have lost a significant piece of time. Then she realized what had caused the shift in the light. The sun was just starting to lighten the sky, meaning she had to have drifted off for hours. She glanced up, smiling at the peaceful expression on Emily's face. Her friend would probably have one hell of a sore neck, but she couldn't bring herself to wake her just yet. All the agony she'd been carrying around was gone, replaced by a calmness that had been missing for a while now.
The liaison grinned as Emily started to wake up, groaning as her neck cracked audibly and seemed to be refusing to straighten out. JJ chuckled, considering getting up and giving her companion a quick massage, but her body refused to even consider crawling out of its warm nest, and when she finally did persuade it to cooperate the dark agent wouldn't let her, her arms tightening in a motion that almost seemed convulsive.
"You okay?" she asked instead, trying not to laugh again at the expression on her friend's face. Emily muttered something under her breath and pasted a smile on, slowly working the kinks out until she was at least able to hold her head straight.
"I'm great, actually," the profiler replied once she had gotten past the worst of the pain, "I feel a lot better, for all that I think I have sand in places it definitely doesn't belong. More importantly, how are you?"
"I'm great," JJ replied, then added teasingly, "but then again I had something of a pillow, so I was very comfortable. You're right about the sand though."
That actually got a laugh out of the other agent, and this time when the blonde started to rise Emily let her, getting to her own feet a little more slowly. The liaison tried to hand back the overcoat after shaking most of the sand loose but of course Emily wouldn't accept it when she saw her shivering again.
"Thank God it's the weekend, huh?"
The blonde laughed, impulsively hugging her friend. The other woman started slightly but immediately returned the gesture, and JJ was surprised to realize how warm and strong her companion was. It wasn't the first time she'd hugged the profiler by any means, but for some reason this was different. She didn't know why, or particularly care at the moment. She was just happy to feel so safe and know that the older agent was probably feeling the same.
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