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: Okay, so it's possible some of the wonderful readers of this story noticed that I missed the last of Ralst's updates. My hard drive crashed and I lost everything on it, including my notes for this story and the story itself. I was able to recover the story that had been posted so far from the site, but had to start from scratch on the chapter, which was further delayed by the need to study for finals. I apologize if the delay upset anyone, and I hope this chapter makes up for it. Thank you to all of you who have read the story, and another thank you to those who have sent me feedback, which always helps tremendously. I hope you all enjoy the chapter!
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: March 14, 2008, 17:03
Location: BAU Bullpen, Aaron Hotchner's Office
A quick rap on his door brought Hotch's attention to the man standing there, and he closed the file he had been reading, setting it down as he waved the newcomer in. He watched as Agent Morgan slid into a chair, his body language and expression betraying just how nervous and upset he really was. The younger man had been tense for days, and Hotch had decided he needed to talk to the other agent and finally settle the issue that had been gnawing at him for just as long.
"This is about the LA case."
It wasn't a question, but Aaron nodded anyway, leaning forward slightly and resting his hands on the desk in front of him.
"I've been reading some reports Agent Derst sent me on the agents who were passing information to Jenna Odari. It's disturbing enough that it was happening at all, but the numbers make it even worse. And I have to add you to that list."
Morgan bowed his head, apparently unable to look his supervisor in the eye.
"I can't believe I screwed up again," he muttered unhappily, his hands clenching tightly.
"I'm not entirely convinced you did," Hotch answered, shaking his head when the younger man looked up sharply, "but I need to know what you were thinking. I know we have to make snap judgements on this job, but we also need to be able to alter those opinions very rapidly. You didn't do that."
Derek sighed, looking down at his hands again.
"I don't know, Hotch. There was something about this case that really got me. I mean... Maybe it was the way that poor woman was murdered. I have never seen anything like that. The kind of person who could do that..."
He trailed off, and in his eyes Hotch could see the same horror that had been there the first day, and the emotions reflected his own. This was one case that would haunt them all for a long time. He was actually grateful Gideon hadn't been there.
"I guess... I guess I just really wanted to catch the UnSub before he, or she, could do it again," Morgan was saying, pulling him out of his dark thoughts, "As soon as we had a feasible suspect, it was like that just had to be it. Now I understand what happened with Gideon back in Arizona. He needed for the profile to be right, and for Tubbs to be our UnSub, because he had devoted all his energy to Tubbs and he had nothing left for any other possibilities. As soon as Prentiss and Reid started talking about the book, I knew that Keira Datton was our killer. I was so sure... and so I stopped thinking. I focused so much energy on proving that I was right that I didn't even allow myself to consider that my assumption was wrong."
The Unit Chief nodded slowly, noting that this case had brought Jason Gideon back to the fore of both their minds. There were similarities, he knew, but at the same time there were some key differences. The most important, at least in terms of this conversation, was that Gideon had doubted himself. That had been part of the problem. Morgan, though, had just shut out anything that didn't mesh with what he had decided was the truth. And as soon as he had something to reinforce that truth...
Morgan started visibly at the name, his dark eyes filling with shame and anger. His hands clenched into fists, and Aaron could see that it was taking an effort for the younger man not to punch something, and that something could very well be himself. Derek hadn't forgiven himself for what had happened, and as well he shouldn't. The reason for this discussion was for Hotch to decide if he could trust Agent Morgan's judgement and if there was a need for him to suspend the younger man.
"Agent Morgan," he interrupted a touch harshly, needing to cut through his agent's shame and doubt to get to the bottom of the situation, "what happened with Jenna Odari?"
Morgan closed his eyes, letting out a long breath and leaning back in the chair, scrubbing at his face with his hands.
"I don't know," he answered honestly, his gaze contemplative when he managed to look back at his supervisor, "I think it's like Reid said... She told me what I wanted to hear. Everything she said just reinforced my belief that Keira Datton was our UnSub."
"But why did you believe her?" Hotch demanded, fighting back his own anger, well aware that he needed Morgan to be straight with him, not defensive but unable to help his harsh tone, "Why did you put aside all your training and trust her rather than your team? Why did you treat Keira Datton worse than you would a convicted murderer even after your colleagues determined that she didn't fit the profile? Why didn't you trust yourself?"
Derek flinched under the barrage of questions, bowing his head and looking as if he might have been near tears.
"I don't know!" he cried painfully, shaking his head almost violently, "I don't know, Hotch! I saw that kid and I saw red. She just... I..."
He stopped suddenly, fixing Hotch with an intense stare as understanding crossed his handsome face.
"I looked at her," Derek started slowly, speaking very deliberately as if he were putting the words together in his mind as he said them, "and I saw a murderer. I saw those crime scene photos and the autopsy reports, and I heard Reid describing her book and how accurate it was, and I just... saw red. I wanted to kill her, Hotch. And Jo... Jenna... She played me. She played her part perfectly. She acted like Keira did, but stronger, making the pain I saw seem so much more... intense. When I first saw that kid, she... I decided then that she had not only killed those people, but that she would do it again right under our noses. It just made me so angry, and I lost it, Hotch. I just lost it."
The Unit Chief nodded quietly, opening the file he'd been reading and passing it over the the other agent. Morgan gave him a confused look before turning his attention to the contents of the file. After reading for a minute he looked up, his expression strained.
"Is this for real?"
Hotch nodded again, leaning back in his chair.
"Those are the statement's of Derst's agents, or at least the ones who had contact with Jenna Odari. You can see many of them closely resemble your experience with her. Some of them met her only once, and yet they became completely convinced of her sincerity. Many of them are, like you, good, solid agents who are usually dependable and great at their jobs. And yet, all of these men never once suspected Jenna Odari was the UnSub."
"How is that even possible?" Derek demanded, his voice conveying all his frustration at the situation and his own behavior. Hotch gestured to the file again, and Morgan flipped through it, stopping at one particular page, his eyes widening as he looked up to meet his boss's hawk-like gaze.
"It's the hormone released when women are in labor and breast feeding," Aaron explained, leaning toward the other man as he added in a low, intent voice, "and it is also at least partially responsible for the human bonding instinct. Oxytocin stimulates the need for touching and closeness, and is usually triggered as a chemical response, or precursor to falling in love."
"And the ME found oxytocin... on her?" Morgan asked, obviously needing the clarification.
"Oxytocin has been known to be used in a similar fashion to perfume. It's starting to become more common, and it's very dangerous because not only is it not regulated, the people who use it are essentially forcing something that may not happen otherwise. It's like drugging someone, and aside from what I understand to be a reasonably pleasant scent, it's virtually undetectable. We wouldn't have known about it at all, most likely, but Reid remembered something from Keira's book and asked the ME to look for chemicals on her body. And he found oxytocin."
"What... What does that mean?" Morgan asked hesitantly, visibly torn between needing an explanation and being afraid of what his boss would say. Hotch sighed, running a hand over his eyes.
"It means that you weren't entirely in control of your behavior with Odari," he replied, suddenly feeling immensely fatigued, "And while your conduct with Keira was reprehensible, it was also understandable in light of the circumstances. The oxytocin Odari exposed you to made your brain react in a similar fashion to the way you would respond if she were someone you'd known and been in a relationship with for years. You trusted her because your brain told you to."
"Hotch... Not that I'm not grateful... But that sounds nuts. I don't want this to just be an excuse. I don't think I've ever heard of anything like that."
Aaron laughed, though there was very little mirth or amusement in it.
"Believe me, Agent Morgan, I wouldn't have told you this if it weren't medically valid. It's happened before, though the affects are still being studied. It's not common knowledge. I hadn't heard of this until yesterday, when Reid brought it to my attention. Apparently he read it in some obscure journal or report after finding a mention of it in Keira's new book."
Morgan considered that, then shook his head, a weak smile starting to form on his lips.
"I'm gonna have to thank the kid, aren't I?" he mumbled, and Hotch chuckled inwardly. Balance was slowly being restored, but Derek wasn't entirely off the hook yet, and he needed that to be clear.
"You are, but don't be too relieved," he warned softly, "This partially explains the way you defended Odari, but it in no way excuses how you treated Keira. You let your emotions get in the way of the case, and that could have cost us time and lives if it had continued. It is to your credit that you eventually saw your error, but not before you nearly sent a victim into catatonic terror and intimidated one of your colleagues. That can't be explained away, and I won't allow it to be. You said it yourself. You stopped thinking."
Derek had no choice but to accept his reprimand, his guilt-laden eyes staying fixed on his supervisor, who was making up his mind about what he should do.
"I'm going to order that the entire team takes the next week off, including Prentiss and JJ. This case was a particularly bad one, and we all need to decompress. I'm not going to suspend you this time," he declared, his expression saying as much as his words, "but if you ever turn your back on your training and team like that again, I won't hesitate to take further action. I want that very clear, Morgan. You're a good agent, but lately you've been distracted easily, to the detriment of your team and your job, and I need to know whether or not what's causing it is being resolved."
The dark agent was quiet for a long moment before finally sighing, absently rubbing at his shaven head.
"Is there a situation I need to be aware of?" Hotch asked quietly, his tone softening as he watched the younger man and saw the signs of a secret that needed to get out before it gnawed away at its keeper, "If there's anything you need to discuss, my door is open."
Morgan nodded but didn't say anything right away. Aaron was content to wait, knowing Derek would need to decide for himself whether to talk about what was bothering him, and then get up the drive to do it.
"In the middle of January," Morgan started abruptly, the words coming out in a rush, "I heard from an old buddy from my bomb squad days. He wanted me to come to his wedding and started razzing me about not having found anyone and telling me about how great she was and all that. I knew her from the old days. She was a bomb tech back then, but she had made it up to raid leader last year. He sounded so happy, Hotch. A couple weeks later, in the first few days of February, I found out he shot and killed her and tried to kill her twin sister."
He reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet and slipping a picture out, holding it up so his boss could see it. Hotch started, realizing that the woman looked a great deal like Jenna Odari, though she had a smaller nose and lighter eyes, and there were no red highlights in her brown hair.
"This is her," Derek explained, quite unnecessarily, "I had a bit of a thing for her when we worked together, and we've kept in touch on and off."
"And when you saw Odari..."
"All I saw was her," Morgan finished, just as Hotch had expected him too, "And when she implied that Datton had hurt her, it just made me so angry... I couldn't take losing her again. All I wanted to do was protect her from that, and Keira became the enemy. I told you already, I just saw red when I saw Datton. I didn't even realize how much Odari and my old friend looked alike until after we got back from LA."
Hotch took that in, trying to decide what to do about it. Derek hadn't been consciously aware of what he was doing, and the chemical oxytocin had altered his response, but he had been out of line, he had still acted impulsively, and he had still let his emotions get the better of him while on the job.
"I need you to be able to check yourself," he stated finally, "if you find yourself seeing your friend rather than the person in front of you, back off and let another agent handle it. Gideon refused to do that and..."
Aaron trailed off, but the point had been made and understood. Morgan nodded, but he wasn't finished yet.
"And Agent Morgan... If you don't back off whatever that situation is..."
Again Morgan nodded, his dark skin paling a little.
"I won't let it happen again, Hotch."
He started for the door, but then the supervisor asked with a small smile, "You ready to move Prentiss into JJ's house tomorrow?"
Derek turned back, laughing as they both remembered the casual way Emily, with JJ watching, had come up to him, Hotch, and Rossi while they'd been talking earlier in the week.
"I'm moving into JJ's. Would you guys be willing to help move my stuff out of my condo and into her house this weekend?"
When they'd all nodded she'd smiled, striding away before they could ask questions with the air of one who had just won some major victory.
"I can't believe she just dropped that on us," Derek remarked, shaking his head and giving his boss a grateful look for easing the tension. Hotch had to agree, even though he'd known Prentiss when she had been younger and seen then that she had a mischievous sense of humor at times.
"We all agreed to go, though," he pointed out, "and knowing JJ, she's not going to let Prentiss do much, so we're going to be working hard. I suggest you come prepared to do some heavy lifting."
Morgan chuckled, turning back to the door and heading out, leaving Hotch alone in his office. Aaron's smile quickly faded, his eyes still on the door where the younger man had been standing moments before.
"You're very lucky you're so good," he murmured to the absent profiler, "because if you weren't I would have had to fire you... And I still might. Don't prove me wrong, Derek..."
Date and Time: March 16, 2008, 10:17
Location: Jennifer Jareau's Home Outside Quantico, Virginia
"Are you sure about this?" Emily asked for what might have been the twentieth time, shifting the box she was carrying to a more comfortable position. She'd lost count after a while, but she sincerely meant the question, and she had to admit that she took a little pleasure in the way Jennifer's blue eyes would roll and the blonde would fix her with a look that was at once tender and impatient, with a little amusement thrown in.
"Yes I'm sure, for the twenty-third time," JJ replied, giving her the expected look, apparently keeping better count than the brunette had been, "and you know it. So shut up and put that down in your room so the guys and Garcia can finish unpacking."
The warning glance she received convinced Emily to shut up and do as she was told, but she smiled as she followed Jennifer into what had been designated 'her room,' though it was clear that the liaison wasn't planning on her using the very comfortable bed JJ had insisted on buying. It had been a compromise, since both women agreed that sometimes they would need the space to work separately or on occasion at a time when the work would disturb the other. It pleased her, and her therapist, that they'd decided to go ahead with the move this way, but the amount of arguing there had been about the actual packing and moving had worn her out. She had been determined to prove that she could pack and move her own things, but JJ hadn't liked the idea of her picking up anything heavier than a pillow. There had been a debate that had flared into an argument that had ended up with them staring at each other and falling over laughing, realizing how stubborn and ridiculous they were both being. Still, it had been decided that the guys would carry anything JJ deemed 'too heavy,' which Emily found very funny considering how scrawny one of said guys was. Still, the move had been surprisingly smooth. Well, maybe not too surprising considering that Garcia and Jennifer had orchestrated it all, and there was no saying no to their combined front. Morgan and Hotch had been given the task of carrying and placing any furniture that needed moving while Reid and Rossi had carried many of the boxes, though a grinning JJ had taken custody of the box containing her collection of trashy romance novels, for which she was eternally grateful. Even Garcia hadn't been given so much of a glimpse at them, much to her relief.
"Em," JJ's voice rang out, breaking into her amused reverie, "Box. Down. Now."
She set down the very light box she'd been carrying almost without thought, the commanding tone in her friend's voice making her react more on reflex than any conscious will.
"Jennifer," she tried again, speaking as reasonably as she could, but the blue eyes cut her off again, narrowing dangerously as their owner got very, very close, poking a finger at her chest.
"Emily Prentiss, I am responsible for making sure you don't get hurt," the liaison growled fiercely, apparently unaware both of how territorial she appeared and of Morgan's aborted entrance into the room, "and I am damn well going to make sure you don't get so much as a sore finger. Your doctor said you were not to lift any significant weight until he said otherwise, and I-"
Blonde hair almost smacked Emily in the face as Jennifer turned on Derek, who took one look at her face and decided whatever comment he was going to make would be better left in his own mind and for his own safety he'd better back out of the room until he was invited in by the ranting press liaison.
"Jennifer," the brunette murmured gently, trying not to let on just how adorable she was finding her friend right in that moment, "There's no need to scare off the help. Then I might have to actually lift something heavier than a box of stuffed objects."
The blonde took that in, then turned back toward the door.
"Derek, get in here!"
The big man came in as ordered, gingerly setting his box down and standing very nearly at attention. Two pairs of dark eyes met, one highly amused and only mildly annoyed, the other slightly frightened. The look made it very clear that they were both thinking along the same lines. Jennifer was scary when she was feeling particularly protective. Neither of them had seen this side of her until this last month or so, not even when Garcia had been hurt. In that case Morgan had taken charge of the stubborn woman's care, and Emily reflected that he had been equally protective, if not quite so... intense... about it. Reid's arrival broke the standoff as the youngest profiler came stumbling in, apparently overburdened by the box he carried, which Emily moved to take from him until a hard look from JJ 'encouraged' Morgan to take the initiative.
"Why don't you two go see about lunch while we finish this?" Hotch suggested, following Reid in with a much larger box than the young genius had carried and apparently catching on to the energy in the room, "there's not much left, and I'm sure the four of us can handle it."
Reid or Emily might have objected, if for different reasons, but JJ was pulling her out before she got the chance, forcefully sitting her down at the kitchen table that Garcia had been setting up as a sandwich-making station. Emily glanced at the tech analyst, who was watching her friend with some surprise and a great deal of barely contained laughter.
"Jeez, Jayj. Think you could be a little more 'mama bear' on the poor woman?'"
JJ stared at her, and that's when both women realized that their friend really had no idea how over-the-top her behavior was. The profiler reached out, gently taking hold of one of the blonde's hands and waiting for Jennifer to look over at her.
"Jennifer, you're treating me like I'll snap in half at the slightest breeze. I'm not an invalid anymore."
Blue eyes widened, looking between Garcia and Emily in confusion and consternation. Penelope came over, taking hold of the liaison's free hand.
"Sweetheart, if Emily were anything other than the saint she is around you, she would have slapped you already," the analyst stated bluntly, but conveying sympathy as only she could. JJ whirled back around to Emily, who blushed and looked down at the table, not quite sure how to respond to that. She made no effort to hide her feelings for JJ, exactly, but she kind of hoped they weren't just out there for the world to see. It didn't exactly surprise her that Garcia had caught on, but she wished she weren't as apparently obvious as she was.
"Em, is that true?" the blonde asked gently, squatting down at her side and forcing her to meet the blue pools that seemed to always see right through her.
"You are acting a little... Overprotective," she answered tactfully, wishing she could make herself look away.
"In other words, honey," Garcia translated helpfully, "You couldn't be more with the 'Rawr!' if you tried."
Jennifer glanced over at the analyst before turning back to Emily, who was staring fixedly down at her hands. The liaison sighed, reaching out to grasp the brunette's long hand again, her free hand brushing a bit of hair that had escaped Emily's ponytail off her face.
"I'm just doing it because I care about you," she murmured softly, "and it would kill me to see you hurt again. You know that, right?"
The profiler sighed and nodded, letting herself enjoy the contact and the gentle tone while it lasted. Something always made JJ pull back, so she had learned to take what she could from these moments.
"So why didn't you call me on how I was behaving?"
The question made Emily smile, and she met her companion's gaze with a calm, amused one of her own.
"Because it was very touching, in a way," she answered honestly, then whispered with a bit of a grin, "and it was kind of adorable. I've never seen you like that with anyone."
JJ blushed darkly, and as the profiler half-expected she stood up, retreating as she often did lately when their interactions became too intense for her. As her friend turned her back Emily sighed to herself. Jennifer was so strong in so many ways, but the slow shift in their relationship was one of the few things that really shook her up, and Emily didn't know how to feel about that. When she looked up Garcia was watching her with understanding eyes and it was her turn to blush. The analyst came over when JJ left the room to answer the phone that was ringing, forcing her to hurry to the front room where she'd left it. After a second's hesitation Garcia sat down at the table next to her, watching her in a knowing way that told Emily a great deal about what she was thinking.
"You told her, didn't you? That you're in love with her?"
The profiler had expected the question, but when it came she was still shaken by it. She leaned back in her chair rubbing her eyes tiredly with her free hand while Penelope took hold of her other one, squeezing gently.
"Yeah. You all knew, huh?"
The tech goddess shrugged a little, her voice sympathetic as she replied, "We guessed a while ago. It wasn't like it was anything blatant. You were just... happier around her. And you were both so much more comfortable with one another than you were with almost anyone else, even when you had just met. Besides, you never touch anyone as often as you do my very lovely, very dense friend. It just all sort of added up after a while. No one ever really talked about it. It just was."
"I must have looked like such a fool," the brunette muttered, staring down at an old coffee stain on the table as a wash of depression fell over her. Garcia squeezed her hand again, drawing her attention back to the computer genius, who was watching her with a great deal of compassion and empathy. So much, in fact, that it made Emily a little uncomfortable, but she needed it. She had tried to keep Jennifer from realizing it, but this little dance they'd been doing, especially after the case, was wearing on her and she just needed someone to understand that.
"You never did, Emily," Penelope assured her warmly, "We've all been there. We've all been rooting for you, you know. You may have gotten a rocky start, but you're part of the family now, and we want you to be happy. Even Rossi... I think."
That last made her chuckle, and she sighed, trying to push back the cloud that had been attempting to crash down on her since the case in LA.
"Anytime," her companion replied firmly, holding out her arms. Emily smiled, giving in and allowing herself to be wrapped in one of the analysts patented hugs, letting her friend's warmth surround her. On this one thing she couldn't turn to JJ, and it was such a relief that there was someone there.
"Hey... Is everything all right?" JJ's voice asked, sounding worried, and the two agents looked up, meeting the blonde's concerned gaze.
"Everything's fine," the brunette reassured her immediately, giving the beautiful liaison a warm smile that threatened to fall apart as soon as she saw the confused, almost dazed expression on her friend's face, "Who called?"
Jennifer suddenly looked nervous, running a hand through her hair before walking around the table to take the empty chair at the brunette's side.
"I missed the call, but there was a message. It was from Will LaMontagne, the detective from New Orleans?"
The profiler and tech analyst nodded, sharing knowing looks before turning back to their friend, waiting for her to go on, which she did after taking some time to collect herself.
"Well, apparently there's some appeal or something coming up related to the case, and he was hoping I'd be willing to go down there and run over some of the details with him. And he asked if I'd be willing to fly down this weekend. As in... today."
Emily blinked once, her only outward reaction to the news, but Garcia's response was much more obvious. Her eyes widened and she looked between the blonde and brunette, opening her mouth to say something. The profiler discreetly gripped her hand, distracting her before she could.
"If you want to, you should go," she remarked calmly, summoning up another warm smile when JJ met her eyes, clearly uncertain, "I'll be all right. The guys are perfectly capable of finishing up with Garcia's supervision, and I won't do anything more strenuous than feed hungry mouths."
Sensing that the larger woman was about to object Emily flashed a warning look in her direction before returning her attention to Jennifer.
"I'll be fine," she repeated reassuringly, "If you don't want to go you shouldn't, but if you do, there's no reason you shouldn't get on a plane and go."
The profiler felt Garcia watching her and almost shifted under the burning intensity of that stare, but she held still, knowing that any doubt or hesitation on her part would keep her friend from going even though she was obviously excited about the idea.
"I don't want you here by yourself," the blonde started, "I know you've been having nightmares, and I don't want to risk not being here in case you have one of the bad ones."
Emily was touched by JJ's very real concern for her, but she wouldn't allow the blonde to neglect her own life to take care of her. She'd been taking care of herself for a long time, and she would continue to do so. She'd be an idiot to say that she didn't need JJ, but it was just one weekend. Surely she could manage that much for her friend's sake, right?
"It'll be okay, really," she urged patiently, continuing to ignore Garcia, "If anything happens you're just a phone call away, right?"
"A phone call and a thousand miles," the liaison retorted immediately, "Emily, I don't want to leave you alone in what is still a relatively unfamiliar place when you're going through a rough time. This last case was really hard on you, and anyway, we were going to go up to Keira's place tomorrow, remember?"
"Don't worry about that," Emily replied, shaking her head, "I'll call and reschedule. He said he's happy to care for the dogs as long as we need, so it won't be a bother."
She softened her tone and expression, giving Jennifer a tender, reassuring smile.
"You can't tell me this last month hasn't been hard on you," she went on delicately, "You deserve a vacation, and Det. LaMontagne will, if nothing else, be sure to give you a proper tour of his city and show you the best places to unwind."
The brunette shook her head again, her smile firmly in place.
"You want to go. I can see it. So get up and go pack, Jennifer. I promise I won't strain myself. I'll just relax and watch TV or something while you're gone. It'll be okay."
JJ hesitated a few minutes longer before giving in, hesitantly getting up and heading toward her bedroom, stopping in the doorway and starting to turn back.
"Go, JJ," the brunette commanded, giving her friend another smile. Once she was out of sight the profiler sighed, finally turning to look at Garcia.
"Why... Just why?" the analyst asked, conveying all the frustration and concern she'd been forced to contain during the debate. Emily shook her head, reaching back to rub her shoulder. She hadn't told JJ about the throbbing pain that had been there for the last couple of days, knowing she would delay the move or cut her entirely out of the process because of it. She hated hiding things from Jennifer, but it was for the best in this case. She needed to feel like she was doing something, being useful, or that cloud of depression would manage to fall on her.
"You know as well as I do that she wanted to go," the brunette pointed out, "and she likes him. It's not like I can ask her to suspend her whole life just because I'm a bit beat up."
"You're also in love with her!"
She stood up, not meeting Garcia's eyes as she nodded in agreement.
"If she's interested, she's not ready yet and I have to wait," she stated firmly, hoping she didn't sound nearly as hopeless as she was starting to feel, "and if she's not, I have no right to hold her back."
She started walking out of the kitchen to go see how the guys were faring, but Garcia caught her arm, turning her back around.
"And maybe she's interested and she needs to be pushed a little," the analyst suggested, her tone almost fierce as she searched her face, "JJ isn't known for making the best choices romantically, and she's more likely to run away from something good than toward it. Are you really going to let that happen after everything?"
Emily closed her eyes, knowing her expression betrayed the pain she was feeling, pain that had been steadily building within her and not just the pain in her shoulder.
"I can't push unless I'm sure," she choked out, hating how vulnerable she felt but needing Garcia to understand, "and I won't stop her from having a life. Having her resent me for tying her down when I had no right to would be worse than watching her with someone else."
As she strode away she winced as Garcia asked quietly after her, "Is it really?"
An hour and a half later the brunette was watching as JJ climbed out of the car at the airstrip. When Hotch had heard what was going on he'd given JJ permission to use the BAU jet barring an emergency, and the blonde suspected from the look he'd given her that he'd done it largely so she'd be able to get back faster if something happened to Emily. It didn't matter what his motivations were, however. She was just grateful for it, because the reality was that if something did happen, being forced to take a commercial flight back home would drive her insane. She felt bad enough for leaving in the first place, but this case was important to Will, and she really did like the guy. That last thought reminded her of what was perhaps the most confusing part of this whole thing. Emily was in love with her, but she had still encouraged her to go, knowing full well that Jennifer had been, and might still be, interested in the New Orleans detective. She had known the brunette was incredibly understanding, more so than the liaison felt she deserved, but this either qualified her for sainthood or for some sort of 'idiot of the year' award. She doubted the latter, since she knew very well how intelligent the profiler was.
"You have all the numbers for the team and the hospital, and the hotel I'll be at, and Will's phone?" she asked, breaking herself out of her confused thoughts and concentrating all her attention on her watching friend. Emily gave her another of those sweet, affectionate smiles, but JJ wasn't blind. There was pain behind that expression, pain that most people never would have noticed but was blatantly obvious to her. She recalled something Keira Datton had said about learning how a person's mind worked when you lived in close quarters, acknowledging the truth in the writer's words.
"Go on, Jennifer," the brunette replied, shutting off the car and getting out, going around to her side and lightly clasping her arm, "I'll be fine. You go have some fun."
The liaison seriously considered asking Emily to come with her or just changing her mind about the whole thing, but the look on the profiler's face told her neither was really an option.
"You're so stubborn," she declared with a laugh that was almost a sob. She scolded herself for being silly, since she'd only be gone for two days at most and she had been away from the team longer than that before. Still, this was different. This was the first time she'd left Emily alone since they'd rescued her from Samis and it was tearing her apart, mostly with concern and fear for her friend's safety, but if she were honest with herself it was also because she was scared for herself too. There hadn't been a night they hadn't shared a bed in a month, and most of those nights if she hadn't woken up screaming Emily had, leaving them both needing the comfort of the other. No matter how much she liked Will, he would never be Emily, and his arms couldn't provide what the older woman's did. Not that she planned on doing anything with him, of course, since that would just feel wrong, but still.
"If anything happens, you call me," she ordered, fighting back tears as she looked up into Emily's brown-black eyes, "and I mean anything. I don't care what time it is or what I might be doing. You understand?"
The profiler nodded slowly, but JJ held her gaze a moment longer, needing to be absolutely sure.
"Promise me, Emily. Otherwise I'm not going and Will can figure out the case on his own."
Emily chuckled, taking a small step forward and pulling JJ into her arms, hugging her tightly. The blonde melted into the embrace, hugging her companion almost as tightly. The only reason she held back from holding the woman as tightly as she physically could was the nagging fear of hurting the still-healing profiler, and she knew Emily knew that from the soft laugh that came from right next to her ear.
"I promise, Jennifer. It's just two days, though. We'll survive. Now get going."
That last was said in a bit of a rush as Emily tried to step back, but JJ wouldn't let her, at least not right away. She could sense this was at least as hard for the brunette as it was for her, and her will to leave was lessening with every moment. In general she hated the idea of needing another person this way, but this was Emily, and that made it different.
"Go," the profiler repeated, her voice starting to waver a little as she added, "Just come home safe. And soon."
The tears forming in the dark eyes nearly broke her then and there, but Emily shook her head and backed away, her fingertips brushing a tear from the liaison's face before turning her back, walking back to the driver's side with stiff, slightly uneven strides.
"I'll miss you, even if it is just two days," JJ whispered, wanting to run and hold her friend but knowing she wouldn't be able to leave if she did, "And I'll be home soon."
She could tell Emily had heard her by the way her shoulders relaxed a little, but the brown-black eyes didn't meet hers. With a sigh Jennifer turned away, feeling that dark gaze following her as she walked up into the plane, closing the hatch behind her and making herself comfortable in one of the seats. She looked out the window, both warmed and pained to see Emily waving as the big vehicle's engines, which had been idling since they'd arrived, rumbled to life. She waved back until she couldn't see her dark friend anymore, sighing to herself as she leaned back in her seat to think. One thing she very much needed to consider was the almost physical ache she felt at the knowledge that she couldn't just call Emily's name and find the brunette there. They hadn't been more than the length of a conference room or the bullpen from one another in a month, and she was finding that her usual need for independence and a little solitude had been pushed aside almost completely. That wasn't to say that Emily didn't give her privacy or respect her independence. If anything, she was more guilty of that with the older woman, but as Garcia had half-jokingly commented earlier, Emily had the patience of a saint, and she'd be forever grateful for that.
"So why do I wish she'd just... Lose it a little?" she asked herself out loud, needing to hear the words somewhere outside of her own mind. It scared her that sacrifice came so readily to the dark profiler. She didn't want to ever take that for granted, and she was very scared that she might be starting to. Emily had already sacrificed too much and had fought too hard to live to spend her life waiting on the decision of a woman who had a really bad track record of running away from relationships when they started to become too real, which it was starting to appear might happen. Silently flaying herself for being a coward and sticking her best friend in limbo emotionally at a time when she needed stability, Jennifer reached into her bag and pulled out her journal, paging through the entries that started shortly after they'd come back from the hospital in February and continued on at least a daily basis to the present. The journal contained all the her confusion, her fear, and her doubts, the things she was most afraid to tell Emily about for fear they would cause her pain or worry. Now, sitting alone on a plane that was rapidly taking her away from the beautiful woman, she understood what Emily had been trying to tell her on this same plane while they'd flown to Montana. If she looked up she felt that she'd see herself almost bolting during that conversation, once again kicking herself for being a coward. At least that time she hadn't run away. Well... much.
"She deserves better," she muttered unhappily, staring blankly down at the pages full of everything she hated about herself. All the things she never wanted anyone, especially someone like Emily, to know about her, were there for her to see. Her therapist had suggested she write down all her darker thoughts and read them over as an exercise in understanding herself and how irrational her doubts were, but alone in the air they started to make entirely too much sense, especially the one that showed up in every entry.
I'm so afraid of getting hurt that I push away everyone who gets close, even the ones I want closer.
The single sentence, written somewhere on every page in one form or another, haunted her. And here she was, returning to the man she had run away from about a year ago, terrified of how much she'd liked him and making all kinds of excuses to keep herself from seeing how much of a coward she really was.
The more I care about someone, the harder I push them away, and the more we both get hurt.
JJ sighed, thinking back to her last therapy session. She could vividly remember her therapist's words after he had read some of the entries.
"You're too hard on yourself, Agent Jareau," he'd remarked at his most formal, "As I'm sure you know. Your next project is to find something that makes you stare all these doubts in the face and put something symbolizing it in the back of this journal. In the front put something that symbolizes those fears and doubts."
She had agreed, if somewhat reluctantly, and gone home to find something. The hardest part of choosing something to represent her doubts had been deciding amongst the many options and possibilities. Finally she'd decided on a photo of her family. The choice had caused her a great deal of guilt, but the reality was that as much as she loved her family, she knew they doubted her and didn't understand why she did what she did. They just didn't get that some things in life were more important to a woman than making babies or getting married and being taken care of. And the pain that caused her trickled into every aspect of her life, magnifying already existing fears and making her doubt herself even more, because if her own family couldn't understand and support her...
"You move around enough you get used to being whoever people want you to be."
The blonde sat up a little straighter, pulled out of the building wave of self-pity by Emily's voice, even if it was just a memory. Her hands moved seemingly of their own accord to the back of the journal where, after much debate that mostly centered on whether she was being completely ridiculous or not, she had put a copy of her favorite photograph of herself and Emily. Garcia had taken it in the hospital, but if she hadn't known she never would have guessed. The shot focused completely on their faces, and as she stared down at it Jennifer realized that all she wanted to do was tell the pilot to turn around.
"How can you still be so brave?" she asked the woman in the photograph, brushing her friend's frozen face with her fingertips, "How can you trust enough to smile like that? You've been hurt, and if anything your family is worse to you than mine is to me. So why is it you can look at me like that when I can't even look you in the eye sometimes because I'm scared of what I'll see there?"
Jennifer sighed, turning to stare out the window, the journal still open in her lap as she continued to think about what her friend had said back in Arizona. She could see part of the point Emily had been making. She hadn't moved a lot, but each time she had there had been a demand for her to be someone other than herself. First it had been college, and later an even more drastic change in the FBI academy. That was where she had learned to smile when she was scared, hurt, or angry, and laugh when she wanted to cry or scream. The BAU had given her a chance to be herself at last, or at least it had once she'd proven herself capable, but she had never broken the habits of her academy days. Sometimes those habits served her well, making her look stable and reassuring to the press, the victims, and her own team. On the other hand, those habits kept her at a distance from the team, though Garcia had rarely been fooled by her smiles. At first that bothered her, but eventually she had learned to appreciate the analysts forthright nature. Then Emily came along with her dark, understanding eyes and that shy, sweet smile, and once again there was someone who saw through her and would call her on it. She could remember telling Emily to be herself with the team on multiple occasions, that they just wanted the person she was, not the Ambassador's daughter or anyone else. So why couldn't she follow her own advice, especially with something that mattered so much?
"Why can't I..."
She trailed off, already knowing the answer to her own question. She couldn't shake the smiling, stable persona she had created for fear of what she would see in the mirror if she did. She had spent so long pretending to be this fearless person who was rarely upset by anything that she was scared to be anything else. And now that she had become responsible for Emily's care while she recovered, she was even more afraid of the self just under the smiling mask. She couldn't risk letting Emily down, and just like the brunette had observed, she had shoved her own well-being to the back of her mind to care for her friend. It wasn't supposed to work like that, though. She had always been taught that a person couldn't care for someone else effectively without taking care of his or herself first.
"God... She was right."
JJ bowed her head, looking again at the picture before turning back to the front of the journal, looking into the eyes of her family. They were smiling and happy in the picture, but it didn't take much to call up an image of them looking at her in confusion, disappointment... And even occasional disgust. They loved her, but she didn't fit the mold. She wasn't one of them, and they didn't like that. She had fought so hard to get out of East Allegheny and leave that life behind, but she hadn't known what it would cost her. Now she did, and while she wouldn't change her life for the world, the fact remained that the ripples of her choices back then were still affecting her now, making her run from the one person she most wanted to be with.
"I should have stayed," she whispered, staring into the still faces of the people who had raised her, played with her as a child, and who had tried to shape her in their image, "I should have stayed with Emily."
In a moment of self-loathing rage she slammed the journal shut, almost chucking it across the plane. A sudden memory of Emily throwing a pen across the bullpen stopped her, pulling an unbidden laugh from her throat. With a sigh she opened it again, writing out everything she had been reflecting on, everything that had triggered her rage and her depression. She had just finished filling up the last page of what had become a nine page entry when the captain announced they were about to land in New Orleans. She put the journal away, feeling drained but somehow relieved, as if writing it all out had taken some of the burden off her mind, allowing her to think more clearly. She would help Will and do her best to relax in New Orleans, and then she would go home to Emily and they would talk. Really talk, that is, and she would show her friend the journal. She would show the dark woman the side of herself she most hated and feared, and accept the consequences. Emily deserved nothing less than complete honesty from her, and now she would give it. As the plane slowed to a stop, she once again considered asking the pilot to just turn around and take her home so she could get this over with, but she decided against it. Hopefully this weekend would relax her enough to actually be able to go through with it. Either way, it gave her a chance to think about what she would say and how to say it.
"Damn the torpedoes," JJ muttered wryly, shaking her head as she hefted her bag and climbed out, smiling when she found Will waiting on the tarmac with a car and a slow grin. She couldn't decide whether to shake his hand or hug him, but the detective took the choice out of her hands by wrapping her in a warm embrace before sliding her bag off her shoulder and on to his own, leading her toward the car with a hand on the small of her back. The gesture was similar to one of Emily's that she started, her brain automatically comparing the two and finding that, a little to JJ's surprise, that she'd much rather Emily be touching her. She shook the thought off, focusing on Will as he stowed her bag and they climbed into the car.
"So, where to first?" he drawled, giving her another smile, "We playin' it Pennsylvania or New Orleans style tonight?"
She laughed, aware that the detective was flirting with her and finding herself charmed. It had been a while since she'd had a guy look at her like that, and she was finding that she liked it. The feeling made her guilty, though, reminding her that Emily gave her a look that made her feel both incredibly wanted and completely terrified and accepting Will's attentions made her feel somehow unfaithful.
"I got a call from one of your friends," Will was saying, apparently oblivious to her internal conflict, "That dark-haired one, Agent Prentiss. She warned me I'd better show you a good time or she'd come kick my ass. Since I don't want none of your friends hatin' me, I figure I'd best do as the lady says."
JJ chuckled, thinking that was so like Emily to do, and some of her guilt waned. Some, but not all, or even most. With an inward sigh she forced herself to focus on the present and her current company, though she checked her phone to make sure she hadn't missed any calls, which of course she hadn't.
"Well, work first," she decided, and the detective laughed.
"Had a feeling you'd say that."
And work they did once they got to her hotel, all the way through the dinner they'd ordered from room service. The entire time Will had been charmingly flirtatious, and more than once she caught herself flirting back, accepting more contact, more open displays of affection. The tension kept building between them until it reached an unbearable level. When she realized what she was happening she frowned inwardly, thinking of Emily and wondering why she was doing any of it when she didn't want to. It was almost as if she were reacting out of habit, not any conscious desire. Before she could come to any conclusions Will leaned over and kissed her and she was kissing him back. Her mind tried to tell her to stop, tried to tell her that Will, that this, wasn't what she wanted, but her body seemed to be acting almost of its own accord. As the detective started slowly undressing her, Jennifer felt as if she had left her body behind and was watching from above, screaming silently for it to stop, to get away, to end it before it started, but still the dance continued until Will was laying naked at her side, asleep and sated, leaving her to come back to herself and wonder what she had just done. She rolled, moving away from Will and off the bed, ignoring his mumbled complaints. She collected her clothes in silence, tossing them down next to her bag, more than a little tempted to throw them away. She felt dirty, she realized. Soiled, disgusting, and undeserving. She glanced back at the bed, seeing a flash of Emily's face superimposed over the reality of Will that made her stomach turn painfully. JJ rapidly collected a fresh set of clothes and ducked into the bathroom, locking the door behind her and kneeling over the toilet, vomiting as the mental and emotional storm passed through her.
"What have I done?"
When she was reduced to dry heaves and sobs she stumbled into the shower and turned it on, needing to scrub the smell and feel of sex from her. She could barely stand, barely think, but still she rubbed her skin until it was raw and red. She needed Will off her. She couldn't go home to Emily with him on her skin. The thought wasn't rational, it wasn't logical, it wasn't even particularly coherent. It was purely raw emotion, and it was out of her control. That thought made her realize what had happened and the knowledge brought her to her knees.
"No..." she whimpered, staring blankly at the walls while the scalding water poured down on her. For almost three weeks Emily had been flirting with her, surrounding her with everything from shy compliments to outright displays that left her trembling and dazed. All the while there had been the same tension building she had felt with Will, except with Will she had given in to it. It was safe to give in to Will, she thought, her stomach churning and her eyes burning. It was safe because he wasn't Emily, and when it inevitably ended, when she inevitably hurt him, he wouldn't be the person she could least stand to cause pain. She had taken the easy way out, whether or not it had been intentional or entirely willingly, but it wasn't easy to deal with the consequences. She still had to face the team, after all. She'd still have to face Emily. For a wild moment she considered not telling her, but she had sworn to stop running away, to face herself and show Emily everything she tried to hide.
"I can't stay here," she mumbled, the words breaking through the chaos in her mind, which in turn made her aware of how raw her back felt where the burning water was pouring down on it. She almost laughed at the sick irony of it all, turning off the spray and wrapping a towel around herself, wincing at the way the cloth rubbed against her sensitive skin. She carefully dried off and dressed, working through the pain as best she could, berating herself the whole time. She shouldn't have come out here. On some level she had known this would happen, and it wouldn't surprise her in the least if Emily had known too. So why had she pushed her to go?
"Because she loves me."
JJ groaned, wanting to bang her head against the wall for being so insanely dense. Emily was the kind of person who loved with everything she was, but she had learned a very long time ago not to hope for much out of the people she loved. She had known that. Jennifer was probably the only one on the team Emily had trusted with so much of her past. She had known that Emily would never, ever hold her back from something the brunette thought she wanted, even if it broke her. The dark profiler loved her enough to watch her walk away, and that knowledge was enough to bring JJ to her knees. She should never have come here. She hadn't even wanted to come, but Will had sounded so hopeful and Emily...
"Damn it," she sobbed, leaning back against the cold wall, "Why didn't I listen to her?! Garcia knew and tried to stop me, but no... I let myself get talked into going, even though the look in Emily's eyes when I left..."
That memory drained any remaining blood from her face, and when she glanced at the mirror her skin was almost bone white, leaving her looking sickly and weak.
"I can't stay here," she repeated, shaking her head violently, trying to clear the conflicting thoughts, "This isn't right."
Her mind made up, JJ stood on legs that threatened to give out again, leaning over the sink to wash the tears from her face. When she stepped out of what had become her sanctuary, her nose wrinkled at the smell of sweat and sex. Will was still sleeping as she collected her bag and quietly packed her things, for which she was incredibly grateful. She wrote him a note, even her knew resolve to face things unable to overcome her disgust with the room and what she had done in it. She needed to get home. She needed to get to Emily, even if it meant telling her what had happened and facing the disappointment and pain she was sure would be in those dark eyes. Better to face that than how much worse it would be if she were to stay or, God forbid, do it again. With a quiet sigh she slipped out of the room and into the elevator, running a tired hand through her hair. She stopped at the front desk to get a cab and pay her bill before leaving, calling the jet's pilot while she waited for the cab, incredibly thankful to find him awake, sober, and willing to fly her back home. JJ fell into something of an exhausted daze once she sat down in the cab, so worn out emotionally and physically that all she wanted to do was sleep, but at the same time she was keyed up and tense. Aside from the obvious, well... JJ hadn't had sex in a long time, and while Will may have been satisfied, she wasn't. While he was a good lover, it just wasn't good enough for her. The left over tension was not helping her mood, and it was keeping her awake. Deciding to make the best use of that tension, she pulled out her journal once she'd gotten settled on the plane, writing just as she had on the way to New Orleans. The words poured out of her without any conscious thought, so when she sat back and read what she'd written, she was shocked by the sheer honesty and utter confusion it revealed. Apparently sexual frustration could be quite the inspiration. The entry was written as stream of thought, and so had no clear organization. What it lacked in structure, however, it made up for in content, including some that made her blush to read.
"When did I start noticing her lips?" she asked aloud, torn between tearing up the pages she'd all but scribbled on, laughing, or maybe even crying again, "Or her chest, of all things?"
It wasn't actually a surprise. She knew she'd been physically attracted to Emily for a long time. That was an indisputable fact, and one that had prompted her to ask the brunette if she had ever fantasized about them together. Emily's response had been in the affirmative, but she hadn't had the guts to ask for more details. Now her own fantasies where written on those pages, along with all the reasons why she had never, and thought she would never, act on them. The idea of Em seeing this was completely terrifying, but on the other hand it would be such a relief. She hated hiding anything from her friend, even if it was habit and second nature.
"Ma'am, we've landed," the captain announced over the PA, startling her out of her thoughts, "and there's a cab waiting to take you wherever you need to go."
JJ nodded even though he couldn't see her, almost running down the steps and into the cab. She had committed to her plan now, and for better or worse she needed to see it through. It was too late now to have the discussion she felt they needed to, but for tonight she'd settle for being near Emily, as much as she knew she didn't deserve it. The older woman grounded her, and she really needed that right now. When she finally got home, she tossed her bag into the front closet and set her laptop down on the small table she usually used for mail. To her surprise there was a slip of paper there that had her name written on it by a hand she knew as well as her own.
I went for a run out toward the gas station. I don't know if you'll get this or if you're coming back tonight, but if you do I want you to know I'm fine. I just needed to clear my head.
Will called. He sounded concerned. You should probably call him back.
JJ stared at the writing for a long moment, suddenly very, very afraid of what might be running through her friend's mind. If she had talked to Will...
Before she had consciously thought about it she was in motion, collecting her keys, a bottle of water, Emily's pain medication, and a jacket before bolting out to her truck, throwing the jacket across the passenger's seat as she started the pickup. The gas station Emily had mentioned was about 6 miles south of her home, though she was hoping the dark profiler wouldn't try to go that far. Her body was in no condition to do something like that, and even if she didn't further injure herself she could easily get very sick.
"Come on, Em... Come on, where are you?" she muttered, her headlights on high and her eyes searching. She was about a mile from the station when she caught a glimpse of black and gray that didn't fit in with the darkness around it. JJ pulled over, the light from the truck catching on highlights in raven-black hair and a pale face she'd know anywhere.
"Emily!" she called, leaving her vehicle idling as she rushed around it to her friend's side. The brunette was sprawled on the concrete sidewalk, her face twisted with pain and the right leg her sweatpants torn. Emily groaned, looking up at her with a visible effort.
The liaison nodded absently, preoccupied with assessing what might be the problem. She couldn't tell in the dark, though, so she focused on the her friend's face, noticing a scrape on one cheek like she'd skidded on the ground. Her clothes were sweat-soaked and she was shivering noticeably, so JJ turned and yanked the jacket she'd grabbed out of the truck, wrapping it around her friend as she pulled her into her arms, hoping the heat of her body would help to stave off a chill in the cool March air.
"There you go, Em," she murmured reassuringly, gently rubbing the strong arms and back, "What happened? What hurts?"
"My l-leg," Emily stuttered, her voice strained with pain, "Muscle spasm... I fell... Ugh!"
The painful groan accompanied a sharp jerk of the brunette's leg, and JJ knew she had to get her companion home, if not to a hospital. The electric shocks Samis had inflicted on Emily had caused potentially permanent damage to the nerves in parts of her body, especially her left leg, causing them to misfire and send the muscles they connected to into spasms. The doctors hadn't been sure why the left leg in particular was so bad, but they warned that they could be crippling if left too long.
"Let's get you into the truck, Emily. You think you can get up?"
The profiler groaned, struggling to get upright. JJ slipped an arm across her shoulders, bracing her weight for the few steps to the truck and almost lifting her in, easily able to see how much the pain was wearing on her. She gave the older woman credit for just being conscious and trying to help. JJ didn't think she could take that kind of pain, but Emily did it and acted as if it were nothing. Give the woman a paper cut, however...
"Breathe, Em," she murmured gently, reaching past her friend to grab the little orange bottle and the water, opening the first for two pills before closing it and setting it aside.
"Open your mouth," JJ commanded, which Emily did. She helped the older woman take a sip of water and held the pills up to her lips, waiting until they were swallowed and chased by more water before setting aside the bottle and taking a moment to breathe herself.
"Let's get you home and into a hot bath to relax those muscles, okay?"
It wasn't really a question, and Emily managed a weak smile to show she knew it too. JJ smiled back, impulsively leaning up to press a kiss to her companion's cheek, trying to ignore how soft the skin was, and trying even harder to ignore the thought that it was much nicer than kissing Will. It became much easier to ignore when she realized just how hot the skin had been, and she frowned, touching Emily's forehead with the back of her hand.
"God, Em, you're burning up!" the blonde cried, shaken by the heat radiating off the shivering woman. It could have just been pain, but JJ wasn't taking any chances, and the next words out of her companions mouth just confirmed her suspicions.
"I'm c-cold," Emily argued weakly, burrowing into the jacket around her. JJ frowned, closing the door and going around to the other side, getting in and shutting that door too. She turned the heater on when she started the truck, taking possession of one of the dark woman's hands for the entirety of the drive home. Somehow they managed to get inside and into the master bathroom, where JJ got water going, turning her attention to getting Emily out of her sweats and running shoes once the tub was filling. This wasn't the first time Jennifer had needed to do this, but it was the first time Emily hadn't even attempted to tease her about it. In fact, the brown-black eyes wouldn't even meet her own, and that worried her. It wasn't like Emily to be so quiet, even when she was in so much pain. Once the tub was full she half-carried her friend into the water, watching the shock spread across her face at the heat. Worried by how hazy and detached the other agent's face, she kicked off her shoes and socks and tossed her jacket away before sliding into the water behind the brunette, all but pulling the woman into her lap to keep her from slipping under the water.
"Mmm," Emily murmured sleepily as JJ wrapped an arm around her waist, holding her in place while the other hand gently massaged whatever the blonde could reach. Jennifer could feel the profiler relaxing as the combination of medication and the hot water eased the contracted muscles, leaving Emily limp and boneless, but she was still shivering. The shivers weren't from the cold however, as they radiated from any place Emily's skin touched her own. JJ had forgotten, if only for a moment, that the woman in her arms wanted her, and this wasn't exactly an ideal situation for easing the tension that had started this whole chain of events. It was too late to worry about it now, though.
"I've got you, Em," the blonde whispered tenderly, working very hard not to think about her more visceral reaction to the body she was hugging to her own. She could feel her friend struggle weakly against the medication's effects, but as she spoke Emily became still, staying that way for a long moment. It was the kind of stillness that told of a decision being made and reconsidered over and over again, not relaxation. Finally the brunette sighed and leaned back, resting her head against JJ's shoulder as she closed her eyes in surrender, though surrender to what was the question.
"Your clothes are going to be ruined," she remarked, sounding a touch mournful. Jennifer chuckled, hugging the slowly recovering agent tightly.
"That's okay. Just means we have an excuse to go shopping for new ones."
Emily laughed, but it was a little forced, making the blonde frown worriedly. Emily was in love with her. Being this close and this exposed had to be incredibly difficult for her, but she was in so much pain there was no alternative. When JJ felt that the bath had done all the good it was going to, including get the sweat off her companion's body, she got up and out, draining the tub around Emily and wrapping a towel around her before helping her out, too cautious to try moving her while she was wet and slippery and aware that the poor woman probably felt far too vulnerable as it was. Once the brunette was out she wrapped her in a robe and helped her travel the short distance to JJ's bed. Emily took over from there, toweling her hair dry while the younger agent changed. Once again there was no banter, no flirting, and that worried Jennifer. She wanted her friend to get some rest, but she had to know something first.
"What did Will say when he called, Em?" she asked gently once she was in clean, dry pajamas and reasonably dry, sitting down on the bed next to her companion. Emily sighed, her dark eyes foggy from more than the medication and exhaustion. Once out of the hot water her muscles would have contracted somewhat, meaning she was once again in pain but not as much as before. Given how strong the medication Dr. Kelso had prescribed was, however, the fact that the profiler was still conscious said quite a bit about both her pain levels and her mental state. Emily was much more upset than she wanted Jennifer to think she was.
"He said you'd disappeared after you two had sex and he was worried. He asked if there was someone in your life and wanted you to call him if there wasn't, or even if there was," Emily replied in her quiet, straightforward way, then paused, turning her head just slightly to look into JJ's blue eyes.
"I was worried too. I tried calling you, but your cell was off. Your cell phone is never off, Jennifer, so I was concerned," Emily murmured quietly, letting that last hang in the air a moment before she added, "I waited a while, but when your phone didn't come back on I called Garcia, and she told me the jet was in the air, probably on the way back here. I decided you'd call when you were ready, so I went for a run. I guess I just needed some time to think."
The liaison took that in, then sighed, realizing they were going to have this conversation tonight, though that had not been her intention. She'd just wanted to know what Will had said to send her off into the night despite all her doctor's warnings and Emily's own awareness of her condition. Now that they were on the subject, however, the dark profiler wouldn't rest without some resolution. It was just the way she was. Emily didn't like unanswered questions, which was part of the reason she made such an amazing profiler.
She wanted to take her friend's hand, but she wasn't sure how Emily would take it just yet. They needed to make some things clear first.
"What happened with me and Will-"
"It's all right," the brunette broke in gently, shaking her head slowly before meeting JJ's eyes again, "When I was running I realized you haven't been with a guy in a long time. The last date I know you went on was that time with John, and you left early because of me. I can't ask you to make that sacrifice for me any more, and I won't. I may be in love with you, but that doesn't mean I have some sort of claim on you. I told Garcia the same thing earlier."
Jennifer shook her head, but Emily kept going, not giving her a chance to speak, her expression one of profound sadness that probably wouldn't have shown through had it not been for the medication. The brunette seemed unaware of how open she was right now, and JJ wished she could warn her. It would kill her if Emily ever thought she'd been taken advantage of.
"I knew when Will called you guys would probably end up together. I just didn't expect to hear it from him... And I didn't think you'd come back here. I was surprised to hear you'd left, and even more surprised when you drove up. He seems like the kind of guy who goes for a commitment."
Now that sadness made sense. Emily had expected her to either stay with Will or come back with him, neither of which had the slightest chance of actually happening. Emily had no way of knowing that, though. Despite the move, the brunette had no assurance that their relationship, whatever it was, could or would be permanent. Her whole life had been one disappointment after another when it came to those she loved, and almost nothing JJ had done would have lessened the fear, the expectation even, of getting hurt. If anything, much of her behavior would have added to Emily's worries. And the profiler had no way to know that JJ cared far more about Emily and her happiness than all the men in the world. She'd have to change that, make very sure her friend understood there was nothing and no one more important to JJ than her, but tonight wasn't the time. She had to get Emily to relax and sleep so her body could recover. That had to be her priority now, but Em wouldn't accept a 'let's talk about it tomorrow,' so she needed to say something to reassure her sufficiently that she'd sleep.
"I'm not looking for anything like that, even if he is," the blonde started slowly, gingerly taking hold of her companion's hand as she went on, hoping the contact would be both welcome and reassuring, "It was a mistake, Emily. I didn't go there to sleep with Will. I just wanted to help him with the case. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow, but for tonight, please, just accept that I'm not leaving you, and certainly not for Will LaMontagne."
The liaison shook her head, meeting Emily's dark, foggy eyes and holding them, seeing in their depths the fear and confusion she'd known would be there. She sighed, reaching up to brush dark hair away from the scrape on her friend's face.
"Emily, I've told you before. I love you. I talked you into moving here with me because I want to spend more time with you. I'm not going to go running off with someone at the first opportunity when I finally have you here. I've been thinking about asking you to move in with me for months. Until now, though, I didn't think I could get you to say yes. Now I don't want you going anywhere. I want this to be your home, and I'd like to be a part of that."
She stopped talking for a minute when she realized she was rambling. Emily was too tired and too hurt to be bombarded with revelations right now. She just needed to know what was important for the here and now.
"I'm not going anywhere, Emily," she concluded firmly, watching as some of the tense fear faded from brown-black eyes, replaced by gentle affection, "Anything and everything you want to know, you can ask me after you get some sleep, and you can hold me to that. Come on, sweetheart. You can't tell me you're not tired."
The profiler watched her in silence, then suddenly smiled, leaning into Jennifer's touch.
"I'm not tired," she contradicted wearily, startling the blonde until she added, "I'm exhausted, I'm in pain, and all I want to do right now is fall asleep with you next to me."
"I'm pretty sure we can arrange that," JJ replied with an affectionate smile, helping the dark agent out of the robe and into clean, dry sleepwear. It was very, very distracting to have the beautiful, almost aristocratic Emily Prentiss naked on her bed, even if just for the short time it took for her to dress. The blonde once again ignored her hormones and turned her attention to making Emily as comfortable as possible. She could tell her friend was still in pain despite the medication from the way she curled up on her right side, keeping her weight off her left leg. Jennifer laid herself down so the older woman was facing her, holding out a hand.
"Come here, Emily."
The brunette hesitated only a second or two before letting herself be wrapped up in the liaison's arms, her bad leg thrown absently across JJ's lower body. Jennifer reached down with her free hand, gently massaging the tense muscles in a slow, relaxing rhythm that had Emily all but purring after a few minutes. The dark profiler melted against her as she drifted off, her face nuzzling into JJ's neck and her arm wrapped tightly around the blonde's waist. JJ kept up the massage for a long time after Emily had fallen asleep, the contact easing some of the built up tension in her gut and helping to reassure her that the older agent wouldn't be in as much pain when she woke. Finally she stopped, just listening to the sound of breathing in her ear and reflecting on how it would feel to never hold Emily like this again, to have some guy, or Will, in bed with her instead. The thought was sickening to say the least, and her hand tightened convulsively on the thigh under it. No, she decided. Will wasn't worth losing this. Nothing could be, but as she remembered the wounded expression on Emily's face as she conveyed Will's message, she became very afraid that she didn't have a choice in the matter. She'd screwed up badly, and now she had to heal the damage that mistake had caused. The alternative was too unbearable to contemplate.
Date and Time: October 7, 2007 13:12
Location: Emily Prentiss' Condo, Outskirts of Washington D.C.
Emily groaned at the sound of a knock at her door, opening her eyes to find herself on her couch where she vaguely remembered falling asleep last night. She started to sit up, then groaned again, her head reminding her that it had been in the path of a two by four yesterday.
Hotch's voice. She sighed, knowing she needed to get up and answer the door. She managed to get to her feet, but she had to brace herself against the couch to keep from falling or throwing up. She'd forgotten just how much concussions hurt.
The voice was more concerned this time, accompanied by a sharper knock. Despite the pain and grogginess she smiled, wondering if it'd be easier to just let Hotch break in rather than get to the door herself.
That was not Hotch's voice, and it made her straighten unconsciously and reach up to try to tame her hair. JJ had been worried yesterday, but they hadn't been able to talk much after the case. She should have expected the blonde to show up today. A glance at the clock told her she'd slept in much too late, and in the short moment they'd had to talk last night JJ had made her promise to call in the morning. So had the liaison called Hotch, had it been the other way around, or had they just happened to show up at the same time?
The note of panic in JJ's voice was enough to propel her to the door, which she opened to find, as she had expected, Aaron Hotchner and Jennifer Jareau. Emily leaned against the door frame, pushing the door open wider and gesturing them in. She didn't want them to see her in this condition, but since she didn't have any real choice in the matter she needed to try to make the most of it. Hotch took one look at her and strode past into the condo, but JJ paused in front of her, closing the door behind herself as her blue eyes examined Emily's face.
"You look like hell," the blonde observed matter-of-factly, and despite herself the profiler smiled. The blonde smiled back, but the expression was shadowed with concern. Emily allowed her friend to lead her back to the living area, where she sat down in one of the cushy armchairs while Hotch sat across from her and JJ took a seat on the couch. She watched them both in silence, waiting to hear why they'd come and in too much pain to deal with niceties.
"Didn't you get a script for pain killers, Prentiss?" Hotch asked quietly, as if aware that even a normal speaking voice would be too much for her right then.
"Yes sir," she replied readily, "I just haven't filled it, and I don't intend to."
"Agent Prentiss," he started chidingly, but JJ cut him off.
"Emily, you were hit in the head with a damn two by four. Give me the prescription and I'll call it in and pick it up for you."
The brunette tried to say no, to tell her friend that she didn't need it, but between the liaison's fierce expression and Hotch's amused glance in JJ's direction, she decided it wasn't worth it and started to dig around in her pocket. She groaned when she tried to move, however, realizing only then how stupid it had been to just flop down in the chair. She was not in a comfortable position, and now she was paying for it. JJ's expression softened, and the blonde got up, leaning over her and sliding a hand into her cargo pants. Emily shivered, unaccustomed to such close contact. She could smell JJ's shampoo and the fragrant body wash she used, and for just a moment she forgot that she was in pain and probably had a concussion. When her friend pulled back, the prescription in her hand, it all came rushing back. It must have shown on her face, because as soon as the liaison took a look at her she was pulling out her phone and pacing the room, muttering under her breath all the while.
"Damn stubborn woman, won't even get some damn pain killers after being hit in the head by a damn serial killer. All it would take was a damn phone call, get someone to drop it off. I would have done it last night, damn it. If she says she's not going to take the damn pills I'll shove them down her throat myself."
She trailed off as the pharmacist or whoever was on the other end of the line picked up, her blazing blue eyes fixed on Emily's as she put in the order, only distracted once when Hotch told her to use his authorization to have a rush put on it.
"I'm going to go get your meds," the blonde growled when she got off the phone, "and when I get back, you are going to shut up and take them. Are we clear?"
The profiler nodded, deciding arguing with JJ might be more hazardous to her health than the two-by-four had been. The press liaison strode out, leaving Emily to turn her attention to her supervisor, giving him a questioning look. He smiled faintly, cocking his head in the direction of the door.
"She called me," he offered quietly, "and I'm glad she did, Prentiss. You should have called in that prescription. Any member of this team would have picked it up for you, including me."
She sighed, aware her supervisor had a good point, but...
"Have you talked to your mother?"
Emily flinched, unable to meet Hotch's hawk-like gaze, which had turned from amused to piercing in a matter of seconds.
He nodded slowly, but didn't say anything, obviously expecting more information. The brunette considered not answering the silent questions, then gave in with a sigh. She owed this man more than what he was asking for.
"She wasn't happy," she murmured, the quirk of Hotch's dark eyebrow conveying his understanding of just how much of an understatement that had been, "I couldn't tell if she was more upset that I had been hurt or that I had gone back to the BAU right when I was about to do what she wanted me to. It doesn't really matter either way. My mother and I are clearly not going to agree on what I should be doing with my life."
Hotch watched her in silence for a moment longer, then leaned back a bit, the tension in his face relaxing a little.
"So you still want me to make sure you retain your position on the team, right?"
She hesitated, knowing what he was offering. Right here, right now, she could back out, leave the BAU, and he would support her. This was the only way he could show his appreciation for what she had done, she realized, and the thought made her smile faintly, despite the pain that was still making itself very much at home in her skull. Emily thought about what it would feel like not to have to face the carnage and destruction, and the disappointment of her family, and had to admit that would be nice. Then she considered the flip side, and how she would feel to leave something she had only just begun to really feel like she was a part of. She thought about the faces of her colleagues, the people who had become a second family to her, and faced the knowledge that even if she left the BAU, her family, her parents in particular, would still be disappointed in her. She was too different, too stubborn... And, if she were honest, too much like her mother. Lastly she thought of what it would feel like to face JJ. She hadn't forgotten the look on the younger woman's face when she'd walked in the door. Had there not been a table and a murder case between them, JJ just might have tackled her and never let go, or at least that was the impression she'd gotten. That moment, that look, had told her the choice to go to Milwaukee had been right, and had sustained her until she'd gotten home and spoken to her mother.
"I can't leave, Hotch," she declared quietly, the choice made without even a conscious realization of it, "I've sacrificed too much to get where I am, and I'm just starting to really settle in. My mother will just have to get over it, like she has everything else."
Hotch snorted, knowing as well as she did that Elizabeth Prentiss had never gotten over her daughter's "rebellious" choices. What he said next, however, surprised her enough that she all but forgot about her mother and her conflicts with her family.
"You aren't staying just for someone else's sake, are you?" the Unit Chief asked guardedly, and not for the first time Emily wondered if he really did have the ability to read people's minds.
"You know, it's really creepy when you do that," she remarked, too tired and in too much pain to censor the comment. He surprised her again by laughing softly, but his eyes told her the question was sincere, and he needed an answer.
"JJ's the best friend I have," the brunette almost whispered, meeting his yellow-brown eyes in hopes that he could see what she didn't know how to say, "and I will admit that she's one of my reasons to stay, but she's far from the only one. The whole team has been wonderful to me, and I think the least I can do to repay that is to stick it out with them, especially now that Gideon is apparently gone. Things are shaky enough without me making it worse."
He nodded, giving her another of his small, slow smiles.
"For what it's worth, Prentiss, I'm glad you're staying. We couldn't have done what we did without you, and I know I don't say this often, but I fully believe you've more than earned your position on the team. You're a damn good profiler, and it'd be a shame to lose you."
"I second that," JJ's voice remarked from the door, followed by the liaison herself. She was carrying a small white bag and larger brown one that must have been heavy if the way the blonde was struggling to keep it balanced was any indication. Out of habit and instinct Emily started to get up to help, but the pain she'd almost forgotten in light of the rare and glowing compliments returned with a vengeance, leaving her reeling. She must have lost a little time, because the next thing Emily knew Hotch was in the kitchen area and JJ was kneeling over her, her blue eyes concerned and slightly annoyed, and as Emily became more aware, she realized her friend was once again muttering to herself.
"-born woman, you'll get yourself killed before you- Oh!"
The blonde fell silent, her hands more than making up for her lack of speech as they gently eased her back into the leather chair, tipping her head back in the process. Once she figured out what JJ was doing, the profiler wanted to tell her she could take her own medication, but something in her friend's eyes kept her quiet. If nothing else, it felt good to be taken care of, especially after her mother's response to finding out she'd been injured. Ambassador Prentiss had all but said she was on her own unless she planned on moving back into her parents' home, and Emily was not about to do any such thing. So she had tossed the phone aside, plopped down on the couch, and fallen asleep, hoping tomorrow she'd wake up and things would be better. And, if she were honest, things were. As JJ gently pressed the pills and then a cup of water to her lips, she realized, for the first time in her life, she had someone who would take care of her. It was... nice. But she knew it couldn't be permanent, and that part of her mind that always kept her from getting close to people chimed in, reminding her of the past, both recent and otherwise.
"I'm okay," she murmured after swallowing, "Just moved a little too fast."
The blonde frowned, and Emily noticed a touch of hurt in her face. She sighed inwardly, remembering how she had all but dismissed her friend's concern yesterday. That was before the adrenaline had worn off, and before the talk with her mother. She needed to be taken care of, she decided. She needed to let her friend do for her what she had done for JJ. It was just that simple, and that was probably how JJ saw things too.
The two simple words made the press liaison smile slowly and gently squeeze her hand. Emily relaxed in her chair, the pain starting to ease. It made her wonder if some of the pain had been tension cause by her talk with her mother. It made sense, and she growled inwardly, angry with herself for letting the Ambassador affect her so strongly. She knew what to expect by now, after all, and she only had herself to blame for letting herself hope things would change.
"Anytime," JJ whispered, her hand brushing Emily's arm as she rose, turning to their boss, who was striding back in from the kitchen.
"Hotch, if you don't mind, I think I'm going to stay here. Thanks for the ride. I'll call a cab when I need to leave."
That startled the dark woman, and she turned to Hotch, who looked back impassively.
"I think that's a good idea, JJ," he replied quietly, "Prentiss shouldn't be alone right now. Head injuries are unpredictable. If you need anything, give me a call. And if it looks like that headache and dizziness are going to last, call me and I'll drive you both to the hospital so she can get a CT scan."
"Thanks, Hotch," the liaison murmured, smiling softly, but Emily had noticed an odd change in the Unit Chief's behavior. He should have been home with his wife and son, not waiting on the summons of his agents.
"Sir... Are you sure Haley won't mind?" she asked cautiously, realizing that the medication must have been kicking in as she spoke. The pain was slowly fading, and her mind was clearing. JJ's blue eyes locked on their supervisor, and Prentiss could see her figuring out what she had already guessed.
"Haley... isn't at home," Hotch answered reluctantly, his yellow-brown eyes shifting away from them. Emily had to force herself not to stare. So Haley had left him, probably for coming back to the BAU. No wonder he was so understanding and sympathetic to her troubles. His own beloved family was gone, slipping further out of his reach.
"I'm so sorry, sir."
It was all she could say, and she thought her boss knew it. He nodded, looking pained and uncomfortable. She didn't blame him. He wasn't used to being the one receiving the sympathy, and certainly not from his subordinates. She didn't think he would have accepted it from her had it been even a day ago. But this was today, and she had proven herself to him in some undefinable way. He didn't chide her or worse, reprimand her. He just straightened, looking down at the two agents with a stoic expression that didn't quite hide his grief.
"Don't forget to make sure Prentiss eats," he remarked, then turned away, walking across the apartment and out the door. JJ turned to her, silently asking a question she wasn't sure how to answer.
"I think he still needs to process," she offered quietly, and the blonde nodded, visibly shifting her focus from the problem she could do nothing about to the one she was here to see to. Emily laughed to herself even as the medication started to take hold, making her sleepy as the pain faded. JJ had a look in her eye that told the brunette she was in for some serious pampering, and maybe a little punishment for her recklessness. That was okay, though. From JJ, and for JJ, she could take it.
(Author's Note: Okay... I tried. I really tried. I struggled with this chapter for a long time, scrapping and rewriting it several times in an effort to make the canon work. But no. I'm not going to pair Will and JJ the way the show did. I can't do it. Part of me thinks they threw that in just because they found out Emily and JJ had a femslash following. I know that's ridiculous, but still. That said, please let me know what you think. As I said, I struggled with this chapter, though it did give me a chance to plan out the next chapter or two. Hopefully those updates won't be too long coming.)
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