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.

By Kyandralin


Part Nine


Psychopathology: The scientific study of mental disorders


Date and Time: March 22, 2008, 09:17 (Mountain Time)

Location: Home of Keira Datton, Mountains of Western Montana

"Morning!" a voice called as Emily and JJ pulled up in of their rented SUV and parked behind the vehicle that was already parked there, getting out into the cold mountain air. This time they had come prepared for the biting chill, and the brunette smiled to herself at the memory of a worried Jennifer trying to bundle her up until she couldn't move. They had finally compromised on a thick, long-sleeve red shirt, a dark blue turtleneck sweater, and her long black winter overcoat over heavy denim jeans and brown and black hiking boots, as well as a pair of fleece-lined black leather gloves. It's not like she could blame her companion for worrying considering she'd been in bed with a fever for most of the previous week. She shook her head, refusing to weigh herself down with thoughts of last weekend's events, instead turning her attention to the owner of the voice. He was a big man, at least six foot five, and he had the build of a lumberjack, muscle rippling visibly under his thick flannel shirt. His face was weather-beaten under a heavy red beard and his hand when he shook the profiler's was heavily calloused and rough, noticeable even through her gloves, and had clearly seen hard labor. Despite all the evidence of rough living his green eyes were merry and his smile broad and open, almost innocent.

"You must be the young ladies I spoke to on the phone after that poor kid passed on," he remarked, reaching out to shake JJ's hand, which was dwarfed by his large one. The blonde nodded, gesturing to Emily and then herself.

"This is Emily, and I'm JJ."

He gave them both long looks as if he was committing their names and faces to memory before making a little noise of pleasure that contradicted his massive size and waving them toward the cabin.

"I'm John Crest, but you already knew that. Most folks out here just call me Johnny, and I welcome you lovely girls to do the same."

The two FBI agents smiled at each other, liking the big hunter immediately. He was so unlike most of the people they met in their line of work, and the militia they had met in other parts of Montana. It was a pleasant change.

"I got a letter from the kid telling me you folks might be coming out, so imagine my surprise when I hear she's dead," he went on in a mournful tone as he led them up the walk. Emily hesitated a moment, looking around.

"We're supposed to meet some of our colleagues," she commented, trying to figure out if the pickup truck she'd parked them behind was Johnny's or not. He followed her gaze and grinned, shaking his grizzled head.

"Your friends are already here," he explained, one of his big hands gesturing to what looked like a small stable tucked behind the cabin, "I rode down on my own. Gives the dogs somethin' to do better than grievin' for their girl."

That made sense, Emily agreed, content to follow him to a gate on the side of the cabin, hearing the sounds of voices and dogs before she had even walked through. Jennifer hesitated just slightly, her blue eyes faintly fearful. Emily saw Johnny notice the look and stride over to the much smaller woman, putting one of his big hands on her shoulder, urging her to meet his gaze.

"Miss, them dogs are the sweetest creatures the Almighty ever put on this good Earth, even when they miss their girl somethin' fierce like now. They wouldn't harm nothin' that wasn't trying to harm someone, nor somethin' that didn't need harming."

The liaison looked up into the gentle man's kind eyes and nodded, straightening her shoulders and walking up to Emily with a determined stride. The brunette watched her come, smiling affectionately as she lightly brushed her friend's back and the blonde gave her a small, grateful look. The tension that had marred their interactions in the last week faded away for the moment and they were simply two very close friends, though not quite lovers, all over again. Emily leaned over, adjusting Jennifer's long coat to ease the sudden desire to hug the younger woman to her and never let go. JJ must have seen the sudden vulnerability because she wrapped an arm around the profiler's waist, providing warmth and comfort. Johnny had watched the interaction with an easy grin, showing no signs of disgust or disapproval as he opened the gate and ushered them in.

"Prentiss, JJ, about time you showed up!" Rossi called as they came around the corner into his line of sight. They both stopped, needing a moment to take stock of what they saw. Rossi was sitting on the cabin's back steps, his hands buried in thick black fur and his face being thoroughly washed by what looked like a very large black wolf. The stocky Italian was smiling widely, an expression of contentment and pleasure on his face. Neither woman could remember ever seeing him so relaxed or happy, and they took the time to just experience Rossi without his constant haunted, jaded expression.

"Jennifer, I don't think Ze'ev is going to bite you," Emily observed, trying very hard not to laugh. She slipped a small device out of her pocket and silently thanked Garcia for the loan of the pen camera as she shot pictures of the man and dog, well aware that no one on their team would believe this without photographic evidence. Looking around, she caught sight of something that would have made her jaw drop had she not caught herself. Aaron Hotchner, master of the suit and tie and the deadly hawk glare, was on his knees wrestling with a big silver husky, the dirt on his jeans and fleece sweater evidence he'd been playing with the dog for at least a few minutes. She glanced up, meeting Rossi's amused gaze before hurriedly snapping as many pictures as she could before Hotch realized they were there. When he did look up he made an effort to put his tough, stern mask in place, but the effect was ruined as Shal took advantage of his distraction and pushed him into the dirt. He laughed, getting up and roughly petting the big puppy, oblivious to Emily clicking away with the pen camera.

"As I said, Miss," Johnny commented quietly to JJ, standing right behind the two women with a gentle smile on his craggy face, "them dogs aren't gonna hurt anyone."

Emily smiled up at him in silent thanks for reassuring her friend before turning her attention back to Hotch, who was leading Shal over. That was smart, she decided. It was much better for JJ to be introduced to the smaller dog, though small was a relative term, first. She tugged on her friend's arm, getting her to kneel at her side so they were on the dog's level and hold out a hand for the puppy to sniff. Shal examined them both, her intense blue eyes reminding Emily a bit of the woman at her side. The husky gently nudged JJ's arm, making the blonde jump slightly. The puppy's ears and arcing tail drooped as if the canine realized that Jennifer was afraid of her and was hurt by that. The sadness in those eyes touched Emily's heart, and they must have reached her companion too because the blonde hesitantly reached out to scratch the silver husky behind the ear. Shal immediately perked up again, her tail wagging slowly. A charmed grin crossed Jennifer's face, and Emily smiled at the sight, making sure to take pictures of that too. Garcia, Morgan, and Reid hadn't been able to join them, and she had made the brunette promise that she'd take a lot of pictures. Now that she was here and saw the impact the canines had made on her teammates, she was more than happy to keep that promise. Already she was planning an album of pictures from this and what she hoped would be future good times for the team.

"That's a good dog," Hotch praised with a smile, unaware of Emily's distraction, making Shal's tail wag even faster. The puppy licked JJ's face, making the blonde jump in surprise, but not, Emily noticed, from fear. The blue eyes turned on her next, and she smiled warmly, running a hand through the thick silvery fur, surprised by just how soft the puppy was. Shal gave her a lick too, then was distracted by Rossi calling her name. She hesitated a moment, looking at both women curiously before turning and bounding over to the Italian. Hotch laughed as he watched Shal all but knock the other agent over, turning back to them as they stood up again, brushing dirt from their pants.

"They really are good dogs," he observed, his expression, like Rossi's, startlingly open and warm, as well as a bit wistful, "If I could, I'd take them home myself."

With that he jogged away, joining Rossi in a game of catch with Shal and Ze'ev, both big dogs romping playfully.

"I get the impression that he doesn't smile like that much," Johnny commented, stepping around the women and turning back to face them, "but that's somethin' dogs are good at. There's a reason they call 'em 'man's best friend.' A dog can heal all kinds'a hurts, even the ones you didn't know were there."

With that he strode away, heading for the stable and the big chestnut stallion there. Emily turned her attention to Jennifer, wondering if she really was coping as well as she seemed with what had been an overwhelming terror of dogs to find her watching the two grown men, experienced and jaded federal agents both, playing fetch with the dogs and laughing like little kids at a party. The blonde was shaking with silent laughter, but she sobered abruptly, aware of Emily's gaze but not turning to meet it.

"Hey Em..."

The brunette waited, seeing that her friend was working through something in her head and knowing better than to interrupt when Jennifer was thinking this hard and obviously struggling with whatever the subject was.

"It's probably hard for them," the liaison continued after a moment of thoughtful silence, her blue eyes fixed on the scene before her with surprising intensity, "being here without Keira. I know people say dogs don't remember much, but I don't believe that. I grew up around dogs, and they always knew when someone died or moved away. That's why it was so hard to kill Hankel's dogs, even though they were coming at me. I know they have feelings of their own."

Emily nodded patiently, knowing JJ could see it even if she didn't acknowledge the gesture, waiting for the rest. Jennifer blinked once, then turned to look up at her, confusion and remembered sadness and fear written in every line of her face as she searched the older woman's dark eyes.

"I have that big piece of land along with the house, you know," she went on finally, "It's all fenced in, and I don't use it for anything. I thought about getting horses or something, but..."

She trailed off, shaking her head slowly.

"Maybe we could take Shal and Ze'ev there," she finished in a rush, turning away from Emily as if she was afraid of Emily's response, "at least until we find them homes. Johnny was right. They're good dogs, and I think it'd be horrible to separate them, and it might be a while before we find someone who can take on two big dogs like that and-"

"Jennifer," the brunette interrupted, gently breaking through her companion's babble, masking her surprise both at the idea and at the nervousness JJ was displaying when asking for her opinion, "I think that's a great idea. Hotch and Rossi have obviously bonded with them, and I think it's only fair that the others should meet them. If they're so good with those two, Reid, Morgan and Garcia are going to have to fall in love with them."

The blonde turned her head so fast Emily was afraid she was going to get whiplash. Part of her heart broke at the sight, and she sighed inwardly. The last week had been hard, even with the high fever she'd had taken out of the picture. JJ had been quiet and tense constantly, and Emily had been too sick and too confused to talk about it. Jennifer had taken care of her with the same devotion and care she'd shown since the Samis incident, and that had added to her confusion. She hadn't known what to feel, and her fevered mind had spun with worst and best case scenarios. Now, however, she wasn't feverish, though she'd be lying if she said she wasn't confused. For now, though, Emily just smiled, taking hold of her friend's arm and leading her over to Ze'ev and Rossi, promising herself they'd talk later.

"You're right about having all that space," she continued as she walked, keeping her other thoughts to herself for now, "and I bet it wouldn't be too hard to get our big tough males here to build some sort of dog house for them if you're not comfortable having them in the house."

"Dog house?" Rossi asked, catching the last piece of their conversation, "Does someone need a dog house?"

Emily laughed, holding out a hand to Ze'ev, who seemed calmer than Shal, but that was probably just his age. She was glad, though. He was so big that if he jumped up he would probably be able to get his massive paws onto her shoulders and knock her over without meaning to.

"Well," Jennifer answered hesitantly, "I was thinking about taking the dogs to my place. I'm the only one who has enough space for them, but even if it's just temporary I'd hate to have them outside without any shelter. They're too big and active to be indoor dogs, though."

Rossi nodded thoughtfully as he stood up, then he grinned. He hadn't been there for the Hankel case, but he'd heard the story from Hotch and bits and pieces from the others. He was certainly bright enough to know how hard it would be for Jennifer to suggest what she had.

"I want to show you something," he explained, then focused on the big dog, holding out his hand, pointing down.

"Ze'ev, sit," he commanded, and the dog sat immediately, his golden eyes fixed on the Italian profiler as he ordered, "shake!"

Z lifted his right paw and placed it in Rossi's outstretched hand. The agent praised him vigorously, scratching behind his big ears before commanding, "Paw!"

The dog dropped his right paw and lifted his left, repeating the gesture and getting more praise, much to his evident pleasure. His big, arcing tail wagged, and his eyes were bright and alert, big ears perked up.

"Down!" Rossi ordered, palm facing down. He dropped to his belly, his tail wagging faster now. Obviously this was a familiar game to him.


Ze'ev rolled over, coming back up into a seated position and waiting, his whole body a mass of contained canine energy just waiting to be let loose. It was impressive, but didn't exactly explain the twinkle in Rossi's eyes. Then he said something unexpected.

"Ze'ev, phone."

The big dog tilted his head, but just when Emily was thinking there was no way he understood he nosed the phone clipped to Rossi's side. She laughed delightedly, finding herself on the end of that golden stare. Emily was surprised by how much he resembled wolves she had seen in zoo's and in the mountains when she had visited with her grandfather. Ze'ev had all the lines of a wolf, for all he was bigger than any she had seen, but the difference in his expression was the most noticeable. Wolves were intelligent animals, she knew, and wild ones looked at humans with mixed fear and disdain. Z's gaze was intelligent, certainly, but there was an easiness about the dog that had always been lacking in wolves, and a joyful, playful nature humans rarely got to see in the wild creatures.

"How many things can he identify?" she asked curiously, kneeling down to scratch the canine's ears and neck. JJ joined her after a moment, making the big dog writhe in pleasure at the twin carresses. The Italian smiled, looking between the two women with an expression as proud as if he had trained Ze'ev himself.

"I'm not sure. I asked Johnny, and he said both dogs know about two dozen common house items that he knows of. Apparently Ze'ev's previous owner also trained him to hunt, and more importantly to track. He showed me the dogs' paperwork. Both of them have had rescue training and some guidance and guard training. Shal is a purebred husky, but Big Z here is part wolf, which makes him a natural choice for a hunting or rescue dog."

"Can he find things or do they have to be right there?" JJ asked, getting into the conversation now with far more enthusiasm than she'd displayed so far. Once again Rossi grinned, obviously enjoying showing off the wolf-dog's abilities.

"Ze'ev," he called, returning the dog's attention to himself immediately, "bring rope."

Once again Z tilted his head, apparently considering the request, then made a huffing sound and bounded off in the direction of the stables. They watched him go, the two women both surprised and impressed as he not only located a coil of rope, used his size and an incredible amount of dexterity for a creature who could only use his mouth to ease it off the hook it was on and run back to Dave with it in his mouth. He didn't drop it at the man's feet, though. Instead he set it in Rossi's hand, sitting back as if waiting for more commands.

"Johnny said Shal isn't quite as good at it as Ze'ev because she's smaller and still young for this kind of training, but she can do some things like that," the profiler explained.

"Why not just drop it, though?" JJ wondered aloud, earning a surprised look from Rossi and a warm one from Emily. It made the profiler happy to see Jennifer acting more like her old self rather than the tense, fearful shadow she'd been lately, though at no point had Emily rebuked her for what happened. She didn't know how she felt about it, so how could she lash out at her friend? She didn't even know if she could really say what had happened wasn't in some part her own fault.

"He's been trained for rescue," the Italian reminded them, ignoring the distant expression on Emily's face if he noticed it, reaching down to pet the animal affectionately, "and in an emergency the rope wouldn't do me any good on the ground."

They had to concede that, but it was impressive that someone took the time and effort to train a dog to understand that. Dogs weren't really good at thinking in the abstract, and everything Emily knew about dog training said that in order to teach a dog to do something complicated, the trainer had to be patient with the animal's limitations and teach them that what they were doing was something the human wanted.

"Shamira and Keira must have really loved these dogs," Hotch commented in an uncanny echo of Emily's thoughts, striding over with Shal, "They're well groomed, well fed, and incredibly well trained."

He was about to say more, but at the sound of the women's names the two dogs' tails dropped low and they both laid down, Ze'ev resting his head on Shal's back. The motion interrupted him and anything the other agents might have said in response. Realizing what he'd done, Aaron sighed, kneeling down to stroke the big canines apologetically.

"I'm sorry," he murmured gently, "You miss them, huh?"

Rossi watched in silence for a moment then walked into the cabin, coming back a few moments later with two bowls of dog food, which he set down in front of Ze'ev and Shal, watching mournfully as the animals ate half-heartedly.

"Dogs always feel better with food in their stomachs," he explained with the tone of someone who had a great deal of experience, "kind of like humans. They're great companion animals, but anyone who says dogs don't have feelings is an idiot. Dogs are incredibly happy most of the time, but it's easy to hurt their feelings. Dogs are especially sensitive to their people, too. They may not understand what happened to their people, but they know that they aren't here and they miss them. It hurts, and a hurting dog is a dog that needs to be loved even more."

The other agents couldn't argue with that, and they sat together with the dogs while they ate and then cuddled up together. Emily was a little startled by the depth of Rossi's empathy for the animals. He had never shown quite that much compassion with any human they'd met, but these dogs seemed to tug on his heart.

"We should let them get some rest," Hotch decided aloud, gesturing for his agents to precede him into the cabin, "while we discuss what to do."

Johnny rejoined them as they sat down in the living area of the home, his ruddy face sad as he looked around.

"I never got the chance to know the kid too well," he remarked quietly, "but she treated me as well as any neighbor could ask, and she was always happy to help out where it was needed. She was good people, and I for one think the world lost a mighty fine soul when she died."

Jennifer trembled faintly in her seat beside Emily, and the brunette turned to her, understanding the reaction. They met a lot of different kinds of people in their line of work, people at their worst, best, and everything in-between. One of the skills required of the BAU agents was the ability to detach from these people, to empathize without giving too much of themselves, and for the most part they were all very good at it. Sometimes, though, certain people and cases would stand out, and Keira had been one of those people. Emily and JJ in particular had grown attached to the young writer, and sitting here in her house once again, talking about her in the past tense and seeing the grief in her beloved dogs brought home just how much of an impact she'd had on their lives and memories.

"She was an outstanding human being," Rossi agreed, his eyes on the grieving profiler and liaison, "and none of us are going to be forgetting her, I'm sure."

"No," Jennifer admitted for Emily's ears only, "I don't think we will. We owe her too much to do that."

Emily agreed, grateful for the blonde's arm around her as she remembered the quiet woman who had given up everything to atone for sins no one had any right to place on the strong but bent shoulders. Had she lived, Emily knew she would have done everything in her power to help Keira find her life again, the life that had been stolen twice over by Jenna Odari, once during their relationship and again when Odari had killed Shamira.

"Did you ever meet Shamira Resman?" Jennifer asked, as if aware of the turn Emily's thoughts had taken. Johnny glanced at her, then nodded slowly, his green eyes becoming dull with grief.

"Never seen love like that before," he answered thoughtfully, looking off into the distance as if seeing his memories there, "Always knew there was somethin' odd about that Shamira, but I never did find out what. I can tell you that she would have gone to hell and back if the kid had asked. Ms. Resman was a stubborn, proud sort, just like the kid, but fragile, too. Both of them had this way about them, like someone had gone and broken their hearts. When they were together, though, it was like nothin' could touch 'em. Ms. Resman would smile at the kid sometimes, and it was the most heart warmin' thing you ever saw. You just knew those two were meant to be, you know? Like the other filled in the part that had been missing all along."

The hunter wiped at his eyes, clearly unashamed to be crying in front of the federal agents as he added, "When the kid lost Ms. Resman, she was never the same. She rarely smiled any more, and I'd catch her cryin' sometimes when I came down to see her. She'd always try to hide it, but I knew she died a lil every day Ms. Resman wasn't there. She tried for the dogs, but she jus' couldn't be alive without her other half. Only talked to me about it the one time, just a few days a'fore she died. She said she had some things she couldn't stop regrettin'. Said not letting herself love that woman sooner was the biggest mistake she ever made, and she had made some big ones. Ain't a man or woman alive who can tell me those two aren't in heaven together as we speak. I was taught that a woman lovin' another woman like that is an abomination of Satan's, but I know better after meetin' them. The love them ladies had was gift from the good Lord himself. The Devil has no place in that, nor does anyone have any right to say other than that."

Jennifer shook against her, visibly fighting to keep her emotions contained, and Emily could barely keep herself from crying. The big man had touched both their hearts with his speech, and his sincere honesty made it harder still to control herself.

"Aww, Lord, I'm sorry," Johnny mumbled, seeing the varied but powerful reactions of the FBI agents, sitting down in a big leather chair, his already ruddy face almost matching his beard, "didn't mean to get all emotional on you lot. Bein' in her house makes me 'member all kindsa things and I run off at the mouth a bit."

"It's all right," Rossi replied, shaking his head to dismiss the apology as unnecessary, "We didn't have much time to know her, but she reached all of us in some way. An unusual young woman."

Johnny smiled sadly, then squared his broad shoulders, visibly determined to talk about something else.

"So you're interested in taking the dogs?" he asked, looking around the small group. JJ was the one to answer in the affirmative, voicing her concern about leaving them alone for long periods while they were out on cases. At that the hunter became thoughtful, then shrugged.

"Z and Shal are good company to one another, and they've been alone before when young Keira went off on trips for her writing. She'd have me come check on them when I could to reassure them and make sure they had plenty of food and water, but they can get by on their own if they have to."

"But after losing Keira and Shamira, won't they-"

"Be worried about losing you too?" Crest asked, following the blonde's train of thought. Jennifer nodded, and he considered that.

"They might," he conceded finally, "but you know, if you keep coming home to them I think they'll be all right. The best thing would be if you could get someone to come by and see them, so they know they're not alone. They're pack animals after all, and like to know they're still a part of the pack, even when not all the members are there."

Emily found herself wondering who they could trust enough to come to the house and check on the dogs, then she grinned, coming up with a solution.

"What about Garcia? She usually stays at home when we travel, and she could check on them whenever she gets a chance."

JJ smiled in return, though the dark woman knew she was still being haunted by Johnny's words and memories of Keira.

"It's a good idea, if she likes the dogs and she agrees."

The discussion turned to planning how to ship the dogs across a large part of the country, and to everyone's surprise it was Hotch who suggested they take them in the BAU jet. When looked at in askance by the rest of his team he explained the process involved. The dogs would have to be sedated for the trip, but the plane would get them to their new home faster than any other method, and would not be nearly as difficult to manage as driving them across the country or flying commercially. The decision was made when Johnny pointed out that Ze'ev had already flown across the country once before, and he had apparently handled it well. Rossi and Hotch launched into a debate about the best sort of outdoor shelter for the dogs, which Johnny joined with enthusiasm. While they were sketching out ideas the two women smiled at each other and rose, silently agreeing that they wanted to look around. They found the promised copies of Fracture's sequel displayed prominently on the young writer's desk, and in what was obviously Keira's room they found a series of black and white photographs decorating the walls, all of natural scenes. Several must have been taken in the surrounding mountains, and some couldn't have been, but they were all beautiful.

"I think Shamira might have taken these," JJ murmured, looking at the pictures. At Emily's confused glance she pointed to one in particular, one of a lightning storm over desert.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that picture was taken anywhere in this country. It looks more like pictures I've seen of the Middle East."

The profiler moved so she was right behind JJ, leaning past her to get a closer look. Her eyes widened as she realized her companion was right. She had been to the place the picture had been taken. She couldn't think of the name off-hand, but she recognized the mountains in the background and the ruins visible along one edge.

"Pictures Shamira took, but none of Resman herself," she noted aloud, looking around again to be sure. Jennifer nodded, turning her head to meet the dark eyes.

"She couldn't look at Shamira all the time," she guessed, though her tone made it sound like she was speaking from personal experience, "but she needed something of the woman she loved around her. These pictures were probably Shamira's way of expressing herself, like writing was to Keira."

The blonde paused, searching Emily's face. The profiler was suddenly very aware of her proximity to the younger woman. They were standing so close they were touching, something she hadn't noticed before due to the many layers between them. Now that she was paying attention, though, she found she could smell Jennifer's conditioner and had to fight the urge to bury her face in the long blonde hair just in front of her.

"I wonder how hard it was to live in this place together, to share meals and time and space and maybe even a bed and never be able to reach over and touch the other person?" Jennifer whispered, never looking away and barely blinking as she spoke, "Keira said she never told Shamira she loved her. How hard must that have been to live with? She never forgave herself for that, even though no one could blame her for being scared."

Sensing the shift in both their moods, Emily wrapped her arms tightly around the liaison's waist, trying to find something to say.

"Everyone has fears," she murmured finally, "and everyone has some reason for it, rational or not. Keira didn't know how little time she was going to have with Shamira. Maybe if she had things would have been different, but maybe not. Maybe it would have made her more afraid to lose what she didn't think she should have in the first place."

Silence fell between them, and the brunette found herself thinking through everything she was afraid of, wondering where the line was between rational and irrational fear.

"I don't know why I'm so afraid, Emily," Jennifer whispered suddenly after the silence had become thick and heavy around them, "All I know is I'm terrified all the time. Last weekend I made a horrible mistake because of that fear, and now things are so twisted... I don't know what to do. I don't know what I have the right to ask from you. I don't know if I'm more scared because I think you should have run for the hills after what I did or because I know what I'll feel if you actually do."

"Tell me," Emily urged, feeling as if Keira and Shamira were watching them, pressing them to speak where they hadn't been able to before. No case had ever haunted them like this one had, and now its real impact, something they had both tried hard to ignore, was materializing. They couldn't hide from one another, not in this house, not when the sorrow and loss that had been experienced here was right there, impossible to ignore.

"You're so beautiful, Emily."

The quiet comment startled her, and she searched the blue eyes gazing up at her, wondering how that answered her question. JJ smiled wanly, gripping the arms around her waist.

"You are," the blonde insisted, probably seeing the hint of doubt behind Emily's eyes, "and that's just the problem. I look at you, and you're so beautiful, so together. I see the other side, too, the part that has nightmares and cries in the dark, afraid to see those walls, that place again. But you're still so damn beautiful. Sometimes I start to forget that you're afraid when you smile at me. I know you want to me to believe you're not scared, but..."

"I'm scared all the time, Jennifer," Emily agreed, tightening her grip on the shorter agent, needing the comfort as she went on, finding the words as she went along, "I'm afraid of waking up and finding Samis still has me. I'm afraid of waking up and finding that you've left, that Will or someone else has taken you away. I'm afraid that one of us won't come back some day. I'm scared that I won't be strong enough, that I won't love you enough to hold us together. I'm terrified of what would happen if my mother found out, or Strauss. So I don't press. I don't push you, even when I probably should. Instead I lay next to you, wanting you so badly it hurts but not crossing that line. If I did, and you let me... There would be no going back. So I don't."

Even as she said it Emily realized it was true. She had put the ball in Jennifer's court and had never taken it back. She had pushed JJ to go to New Orleans, all but shoving her into his arms, and even so some part of her fevered mind had wanted to blame the blonde, wanted to make it all her fault, and Jennifer had let her. She'd taken the blame and the responsibility, and still she had stayed and taken care of her. She, on the other hand, had taken no responsibility. Granted she'd been sick and unable to think rationally for much of the week, but in the end that was no excuse. She should have stepped up before. Garcia had been right. JJ needed to be pushed, at least a little, so Emily had pushed her. Only it had been in the wrong direction.

"You keep being there for me," the profiler whispered, giving in this time and burying her face in Jennifer's silken hair, "I've been asking so much of you, Jennifer, and you keep giving. I never knew how big that heart of yours was."

"You're too hard on yourself," Jennifer argued, refusing to let her take on the burden that the brunette was starting to believe was rightfully her own in the first place, "You gave me everything, Em. You gave up your condo because I wanted you to live with me. You gave me your heart, and you give me so much you don't even know about."

Emily shook her head, her face still buried in blonde hair

"Jennifer, I shouldn't have pushed you at Will. All I wanted to do was tell you not to go. I wanted you to stay with me. I wanted... I want you to love me, not him. I want to give you everything I am, everything I have, but I'm so afraid."

Her shoulders shook, and she felt herself losing the battle against the tears she'd felt coming earlier.

"I'm so tired of being afraid," she cried softly, clutching Jennifer as she would a lifeline, "I've been so scared all this time, Jennifer. So afraid. It was easier to push you away than let go of the fear. What if I do it again? What if I keep doing it until you're gone?"

"That won't happen."

Emily looked up at her friend, feeling the tears on her face, but unable to wipe them them away. She couldn't bring herself to let go of her anchor, not when the ghosts of Keira and Shamira seemed to hang in the heavy air, as did all her own ghosts and skeletons. The conviction in JJ's voice cut through her awareness of those specters and turned her attention back to her friend. Jennifer let go of her arm with one hand, brushing the salty fluid off her face. Where this place, this room was tearing her apart inside, it seemed to be having the opposite effect on Jennifer. The blonde's blue eyes were blazing now, and there was a confidence in her that had been lacking since the incident with Samis, and even before.

"Keira lost what could have been the best part of her life in this house," the liaison observed, almost growling as she added, "And I almost lost you in a hotel room in New Orleans. She told me not to make her mistake, and I started to anyway, even with all the evidence of the costs in front of me. So you need to know something. After that you can decide what you want to do."

Jennifer cupped the side of her face with a gentle hand, keeping Emily's eyes on the blue ones. It was necessary, since Emily's fear was starting to overwhelm her again and she wanted to just bury her face in JJ's neck and never leave that soft, warm, sweet-smelling place again.

"Emily, it's all right," the blonde murmured soothingly, stroking her face and hair, "It's all right, Em. Listen to me, sweetheart. Stop listening to the ghosts for a few minutes for me."

That last made her chuckle and brought her focus completely onto Jennifer. She didn't believe in ghosts, exactly, but her awareness of what had happened here, and what was happening in what had become her home, weighed on her more than she had realized until they had come in here, away from the other two agents and the friendly John Crest.


A calloused finger pressed against her lips, silencing her. Once again she was aware of the distance between them, or lack thereof. Now that JJ had her full attention, she wasn't able to ignore the closeness of her.

"Emily, I need you to listen to me for a minute. You have to know something, okay?"

The profiler nodded absently, the words almost penetrating her new focus, her friend's lips, which happened to be very close. Soft laughter drew her gaze back to the blue eyes, and she blinked slowly, then blushed. Before she could apologize, JJ closed the distance between them, catching her completely off guard with a tender, loving kiss.

"Wha-" she stammered, shaking her head, "huh...?"

She blushed at her incoherency, but Jennifer just smiled, leaning her head back to get a better view of her.

"I love you, Emily Prentiss. I'm so in love with you I can't think sometimes. I've fallen for you so hard I don't want to get up again. I don't want to love someone else like this. I think you might be it for me, Em, because I don't think I could lose you and get out of it with a heart left. You've taken it all... And the most terrifying thing is I don't want it back. I just want to love you for the rest of our lives."

Emily forgot to be nervous or confused at the sound of those words. She forgot where she was and why, and who was in the next room. She would have forgotten to breathe, but Jennifer whispered the word in her ear with a chuckle. The profiler took a deep, surprised breath and lost it when the blonde kissed her again.


"I know it's a little late," the blonde interrupted, showing some nerves now, "and I know I may not have the right after what I did, and it might be a weird place, but-"

"It's the best place."

The brunette kissed her companion more firmly, a knot of tension she hadn't been aware of unravelling in her stomach as Jennifer leaned into her, tightly gripping the arm she still held around her waist. She silently recited an old prayer in Arabic, knowing nothing in English could match it in simple elegance: "Thank you, Allah, for my life."

"I wanted to tell you sooner," Jennifer was explaining softly when Emily recovered enough to realize she was talking, "but it was just..."

"Too hard," the profiler finished for her, smiling sadly. JJ nodded, looking up at her with those haunted blue eyes. Emily kissed her again, reveling in the freedom to do so. She had expected there to be some awkwardness when the moment finally came. Their first kiss could have been many things, from messy to chaste to so passionate it left them gasping and tearing at each other's clothes, but it hadn't been any of those things. It had just been right, the most natural thing in the world for them to do. The awkwardness might come later, but the brunette wasn't sure. Like all things in their relationship so far, this had been a long time in coming. Nothing they had done had been rushed or especially sudden. If anything, it had all been overdue, and she said as much. Jennifer nodded slowly, then turned in her arms, hugging her tightly. The taller woman fell into the embrace, finding that she needed to be held while the relief and wonder of the moment finally coursed through her. She found herself crying and buried her face in JJ's neck, feeling the blonde's calloused fingers carding through her hair. When she had herself under control again she straightened, knowing they needed to rejoin their colleagues before they came looking for the two women.

"You okay?" JJ asked softly, searching her face. Emily nodded, reluctantly stepping back, out of the warm arms. Without intending for it to happen her hand lingered, trailing down the liaison's arm to grasp the slightly smaller one. Jennifer smiled slowly, twining their fingers together and not letting go as they left the room and re-entered the main room. In the time they had been gone the three men had a rough sketch of a dog house, and had apparently agreed it would be built in the next week or so, and the dogs would be brought to their home next weekend. In the meantime Johnny would continue to care for them. Emily also realized that the extra week would give them some more time to figure out what to do with Keira's home. Since the plan was so well laid out, they could do nothing but agree, and with a goodbye scratch to both dogs the agents left, JJ and Emily in one car, Rossi and Hotch in the other as before. The ride back down to the mountain was silent, but not uncomfortably so. JJ's hand stayed twined with her own whenever possible, and while the tension between them hadn't been at all reduced, there was a sense now that they could afford to wait a little longer to deal with it. The brunette knew she wanted time and privacy, neither of which they'd have until they were back home. When they finally got there, both were tired and a little on edge. There had been an unexpected storm over Montana, slowing the flight home as the pilot had to fly around it, then another delay driving back through Virginia. They were both weaving a little as they walked in the house, exhaustion taking its toll on both of them. They collapsed on the couch after tossing aside their jackets in the front closet, Emily propping herself up against JJ and the blonde leaning against the arm. Jennifer sighed in quiet relief, glad to be home. The profiler squirmed a little, resting her head on her shoulder. She stroked the dark hair fanned across her companion's face, finding herself wanting to lean down and kiss the older woman. She looked for the courage and comfort she'd found in Keira's house, but it seemed to have been lost in the exhaustion and turmoil of the long trip back home.

"Jennifer?" Emily asked, looking up when her hand stilled, then started to shake. She sighed, easily able to read the confusion in Emily's face. She closed her eyes, fighting back the memories that were trying to force their way to the surface, memories she thought she'd buried completely. She could feel the profiler staring at her, wondering what was going on, but she couldn't find the words. She couldn't bring herself to go back where her mind was trying to go. It was one of the differences between them. Emily might compartmentalize, but she understood that sometimes the compartments had to be looked through and their contents dealt with. JJ didn't deal with the contents of her own locked away emotions until they blew up in her face, and now was one of those times. She just wished Emily wasn't about to become a victim of that explosion.

"It's like she said," Emily murmured suddenly, her tone making JJ open her eyes to find the other agent looking at her with an expression of almost painful understanding, though there was something else behind it the blonde wasn't sure she could read, "Jennifer... Have you ever been in love?"

The liaison felt herself flinch at the question, and she looked away, staring past her friend's face to the wall behind her. Keira continued to haunt them, even here in their home. Never had a case kept gnawing at them like this, and never had a victim torn at the hearts of the team like Keira had. It was too much for Jennifer. She just wanted to forget, but Datton had gotten a wedge into the door she hid her memories and emotions behind, and Emily had widened the gap. Now it was either face up to it or try to bury it again, which she was intelligent enough to realize would probably make things worse. She couldn't take worse. She couldn't lose Emily.

"Not really. I thought I might have been, once, but..."

She trailed off, wondering how it was possible Emily didn't know this story. Then she remembered that Emily hadn't arrived yet when it was most likely to have become an issue. Elle had been gone, and there had been no one else who would have asked. Now, any of the guys might have, but Emily... Emily would have seen through her. She would have known and she would have made JJ tell her. Rather like she was now, actually. All the brunette was doing was watching her, but those eyes made her want to open her mouth and tell a story she'd barely allowed herself to consciously remember all these years. And she would tell her, because she couldn't refuse this woman anything .

"After Elle left, we got a case in North Mammon, Pennsylvania. It was a football town, like most small towns in Pennsylvania. A friend of my aunt's came to me directly. Three female soccer players had been kidnapped. One of them had a scholarship, her ticket out of there. At first people thought they'd just gone away, but I knew better. Little by little we found more evidence that they'd been kidnapped together. They were best friends, Emily. They had grown up together, played soccer together, and did all the things high school girls did together. They were just like I used to be."

She heard her voice trembling a bit, felt Emily's hand take hers, but she pressed on, needing the profiler to understand. She needed her own mind to understand.

"That week was the football championship... And that was why the guy had taken them. He had an old grudge against the other guys on his team. So he kidnapped the girls, and told them that if they chose one to die, he'd let the other two go. They found out later that they'd have to kill her themselves. And one of them, who had been sick and would have been killed by the other, smashed in her friend's skull with a hammer to save her own life. We found them in the streets... I found them. And when they told me what had happened to them..."

JJ shook her head, remembering the terror-stricken eyes of the two survivors as vividly as if it had been just last week. She rose, gently brushing Emily's shoulder to keep her in place. It only took a moment to retrieve a framed photograph from her room and return to her friend, holding it out to her.

"This was taken my senior year of high school," she explained softly, gesturing to the two girls with her, not able to look into Emily's dark eyes as she added, "and they were my best friends. We did everything together."

She stared down at the photograph for a moment, pointing to the pretty, almost elfin brunette on her left. "She was small, but she terrified the other team. She could be just about anywhere and they wouldn't know until it was too late."

The liaison hesitated a moment before turning her attention to the other girl, aware of Emily's curiosity without having to look at her. This girl was larger and darker, with sharper features than her other friend. Now that she looked closely, she realized that the girl from her past and the woman next to her looked somewhat alike, though Emily was, in her rather biased opinion, far more beautiful and different in her air of quiet dignity and compassion. The girl in the picture had never been that way. She had never been so calm and sure of herself, never been so... Loving... And not all of that could be attributed to her having been a teenager back then.

"And she was our goalie... And my closest friend for a long time."

JJ closed her eyes as a wave of memories she usually kept locked away hit her. She might have been overwhelmed by them, but the solidness of Emily kept her grounded. Somehow she found the strength to keep talking, to face the memories, which she'd never been able to do before. She had never wanted anyone to know, but now there was someone who had to.

"The first time we kissed, I thought I was going to faint. I was sixteen, and very dramatic back then. We were together in secret for two more years, thinking we were brave and rebellious, and so clever. Her parents caught us together... And called my parents."

Emily made a soft, sympathetic sound, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her closer as the blonde became more upset. JJ usually tried not to remember that period of her life. Though she was years away from the angry, broken-hearted teenager she had been, the emotion, the pain, was still there and still somehow raw. It didn't seem right that this had stayed with her so long.

"You never talked about this, did you?" her dark friend asked softly, gently stroking her hair. It felt wrong to let Emily comfort her when things were so messed up between them, but the profiler was right. She had run away from the memories and let them fester, and if she didn't deal with them now, here in the arms of the one person who must know the reasons why, she probably never would, and it would keep damaging her relationships, romantic and otherwise, and most importantly, it would keep tearing her away from Emily.

"I thought we were in love," she whispered, seeing her parent's faces as she walked in the door, "but I was just a stupid kid. She blamed it all on me, and her parents believed her. My parents wanted me to blame her, but I wouldn't. Our families never spoke again, and my parents... That was probably the only time in my life my father hit me. He was always strict, but he was so angry at the idea of his daughter being a 'deviant.' He apologized immediately, but swore that he'd shoot her if she every tried to force her 'perverted ways' on me again, and that was that. I tried calling her, but her father picked up and said the same thing my dad had. Called me a lot of names and swore I was going to hell for what I did to his daughter. I just... I couldn't believe she'd turn on me like that, and after a while I just got angry. My mom talked to me, told me that it was okay to experiment once, but that she knew I would behave myself from then on. So I did. I dated the football captain and did all that cliche stuff we see kids, and adults, do when they're from homophobic families."

"You're not a cliche," Emily reassured warmly, though her voice was threaded with rage, "but that does explain a lot. So you just dated guys after that?"

She nodded, turning to rub her face in the softness of Emily's shirt to hide the tears that threatened to fall, then froze as she remembered something else. She had sat like this with her girlfriend way back when, sharing all sorts of secrets and dreams, telling her everything she hoped to do when she got out of East Allegheny. Then all of it had ended, and she had been left with just herself. She couldn't talk to her family before the incident, and certainly not after. So she had learned to keep to herself and just focus on school and soccer. She had distanced herself from the rest of the girls on the team, and when she'd gotten to college she'd dated only rarely. When she had, any relationship she'd been in had fallen apart because the guys could never understand why she was so distant with them. Even when she had sex she hadn't been all there. It wasn't that she hadn't felt anything for the men, or that the sex had been bad. She just couldn't connect with anyone, male or female. Isolation had become such a habit by then that very little could reach her. In some ways that ability to separate herself had helped in the BAU. She'd become close to Garcia first, largely because the woman was so eccentric and so different that she couldn't help but feel something of a connection to the analyst. Then there'd been Reid with his adorable mix of shy awkwardness and brilliance, and Elle with her tough shell and sharp sense of humor. It had taken longer to get close to Morgan, but it had happened eventually. Then there was Emily.

"I am a cliche, Emily," she replied quietly, looking up into the brown-black eyes that were watching her with a much softer expression than they had been before she'd started telling the story, which made her feel even more guilty, "I let what happened affect the rest of my life. It's still affecting me ten years later, and now it's affecting you. I know exactly how my parents would react to you, Emily, because I've seen it before, both in my own life and in our work. And I know how they'll react to me too. It scares me. I thought I was over it, but I'm just like all those other-"

"You aren't just anything, Jennifer."

She was startled by how sharp her friend's voice was, and it must have showed on her face because Emily smiled wryly, though her expression was still unquestionably angry.


"No," the brunette interrupted firmly, shaking her head, her eyes flashing, "I'm still not sure where I am with the Will thing, but the fact is, you and I have never set rules, never talked about what we're doing, or if we were going to be exclusive. It's not a good situation, Jennifer, but we can still make this work. You just need to talk to me, tell me these things. Just so you know, though, if I ever meet your parents, I might not be able to be responsible for my actions. Or that girl."

The blonde stared up at her, more than a little confused now. Emily's fingertips brushed her face, as if she knew exactly where her father had hit her ten years ago. Her gaze was focused and intense, the compassion that was so integral to who she was cutting clear through the anger, reminding JJ all over again why she loved this woman so much.

"No one has the right to hurt another person," the brunette murmured almost reflectively, breaking into her thoughts, "but hurting you is something I take particular offense to."


The dark agent shook her head, and Jennifer could feel her companion's body, which had become tense and drawn as she told he story, start to relax. It had never occurred to her that telling Emily about what had happened would have anything close to this result. She hadn't thought it was all that important, but apparently her friend did. A horrible thought occurred to her, and she shook her head slowly, denying the implication.

"Emily, I didn't tell you that story so you would forgive me. It's not an excuse or-"

"It's an explanation," Emily corrected calmly, slowly starting to smile again, giving her one of those looks that told her she was being dense, "not an excuse. I told you, I'm still not sure what to think, but at least now what happened isn't just..."

She trailed off, looking pained for a moment.

"It isn't just about me," she finished softly, her tone thoughtful and a little distant, "It's not just me you can't face. You've been running away for ten years, Jennifer. How can I expect you to stop now? How can I demand you put something that's been haunting you for a decade aside just like that? These things are a process, like everything we've been dealing with lately."

Jennifer sighed, the guilt and shame rising and nearly choking her. She didn't deserve Emily. A calloused hand pushed her chin up so she could meet warm, dark eyes again, and in them she could see a reflection of her own fear and doubt.

"I never thought I deserved you," the profiler mused, once again giving the younger woman the impression she could read minds, "and maybe that's the biggest problem. It's too easy for me to believe you would find someone better for you than I am, and it's too easy for you to believe you're just going to be hurt or betrayed again. We're both so scared we don't know what to do with ourselves, or each other. We forget to talk about it, and we get stuck in this cycle of doubt. We spend so much time thinking about what could go wrong, we make our own self-fulfilling prophecies."

JJ took a moment to consider that, her eyes widening slightly as she realized what Garcia and Keira had both tried to tell her. She chuckled grimly, really meeting her friend's gaze for one of the few times since they'd gotten home.

"We've been making all the steps, Emily," she observed, starting to laugh, though the sound was more raw and painful than she had intended, "It's no wonder everyone thought we were together. We've been acting more like an old married couple than friends for a long time, especially since that bastard got you. Then we move in together, and at this point the only thing we haven't done is..."


If she had been drinking or eating something she would have choked on it. As it was, Jennifer sputtered, blinking rapidly. Emily laughed at her reaction, shifting on the couch so she was leaning over the younger woman, her breath brushing the blonde's face. JJ became very still, intending to keep her eyes on Emily's, but it didn't work. They kept roving down, stopping at Emily's lips and staying there until she realized she was staring.

"What are you so afraid of?" Emily's voice whispered, the agonized words barely reaching her ears, "If you could sleep with Will when you didn't even want him, why can't you kiss me? Didn't we cross that line today? Why are you so afraid to touch or even look at me now?"

"Because I can't lose you," she whispered back without meaning to, not giving the words any conscious thought, "I can't look at you without wondering what I'm going to do to make you leave. And now I've done something that probably should have you running to the hills."

"No, Jennifer," the brunette replied, both reassuring and tender with just a little anger under it, though she couldn't tell if it was anger at being doubted or anger at the situation, "I'm not going anywhere. Whatever you did with Will, whatever happened in the past, it's not going to chase me off. I love you, damn it. I know you've heard that before and it hasn't meant anything, but it means something from me. I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean the kind of love that lasts, Jennifer. And how could I justify leaving you when you stayed with me through so much? You kept me alive after my worst nightmares. How can I leave you? Maybe it's selfish, but I need you."

The blonde blushed as Emily shifted against her, bringing them impossibly closer. She breathed slowly, trying to calm down but feeling every shift in the body pressed against her own. Their breathing fell into sync, and the heart she could feel beating through the layers between them was soon beating in time with her own. A stillness fell over the house, and JJ felt herself starting to relax. Emily's warm weight was relaxing and arousing her all at once, and she wasn't sure if she would fall asleep or ravish the older woman if they stayed like this.

"I love you so much, Emily," she found herself whispering, and she pressed herself up, kissing the profiler gently. Her hands slipped down and under the hem of the older woman's shirt, stroking the soft skin she found there. Here and there her fingertips felt scars, reminders of the hell this woman had gone through, and something inside her seemed to tear lose. What Samis had done to Emily could happen again. In their line of work, it was entirely too possible. And this woman was beautiful, strikingly so. She had caught the eye of more than one unsub. Jennifer would be damned if Emily had to go into a hell like that not knowing what it was she was living for.

"All the motions," she murmured, shaking her head, "but not the last step. But Em, my parents aren't here to walk in on us, and even if they did, you would stay."

The profiler looked like she might object, her expression unsure, but JJ shook her head, smiling wryly.

"It's not all magically better, sweetheart," she remarked quietly, knowing that would be a core part of any objection her almost-lover might make, "And maybe I'll freak out later. Maybe I won't be able to handle it. But Emily, I can't face the idea that we'll never do this, and if I can't... I don't have any right to be with you. If nothing else, I need you to know that this, that us, is more important to me than the fear."

Emily blushed, then paled, her uncertainty clearly visible now.

"Jennifer, you should know... I've never been with a woman," the brunette admitted shamefully, "I mean... I've read... I've done research, but..."

JJ interrupted the stumbling admission with a kiss, finding herself taking comfort in the knowledge that she wasn't the only one who was both unsure and inexperienced.

"Well, it's been a decade for me," she observed with an ironic chuckle, terrified but amused to find herself the expert here, "but I think I remember a few things."

Her own fear wasn't completely gone, however, and she knew Emily's nerves were getting to her. She leaned up, briefly kissing the other agent again before falling back to rest her head on the arm of the couch. Emily followed her down, seeming almost unaware of having done so until they were kissing again, and then neither was thinking about much of anything.

"You know, I think we're pretty good at the kissing thing," Jennifer gasped when they separated again, leaving both women out of breath, "Maybe we could just start there."

Emily chuckled lowly, brown-black eyes glinting as she leaned in again, nipping at the blonde's lips.

"Sounds good to me."


Date and Time: October 27, 2007, 14:32

Location: Montgomery Mall, Bethesda, Maryland

"What about that one?" JJ asked, pulling a deep blue top off the rack and holding it up against her bemused friend. Emily gave her a long look before taking the shirt, glancing at the nearby mirror.

"I think it would look better on you," she replied, pushing the garment back into her companion's hand. JJ frowned at her, but then caught the odd look in the brunette's eyes as she held the top against her own body. Just for a second Emily had looked at her almost as if...

"Go try it on," the dark woman urged quietly, breaking her out of her thoughts, "It's closer to your size anyway."

Jennifer had to admit that was the case, but as she slipped into the dressing room to try the silk shirt on she was thinking far more about the look in the brown-black eyes than the fit of the garment she was trying on. When she came back out Emily was waiting, and once again something she couldn't name flashed through her eyes before a warm, appreciative smile took the expression away, leaving behind one she was much more familiar with.

"That looks great on you, JJ!" she exclaimed, walking around the blonde to get a better look. The liaison looked in the mirror and was forced to agree that the blue made her eyes and pale hair stand out nicely. She was surprised by how well the fabric fit across her shoulders, as the shirt had been on a rack more suited to her friend's longer frame.

"It does look pretty nice," she agreed finally, "but it's not like I would wear it at the BAU."

"Wear it on a date," Emily suggested pragmatically. She cast another long look in the brunette's direction before giving in, going back to the dressing room to change into her own comfortable white polo shirt. Emily took possession of the shirt, putting it gently on top of the other clothes in the cart. Jennifer glanced at their finds so far, amused when she noticed the older agent had largely chosen yet more black for her wardrobe. On someone else it would be drab, but Emily wore black well, and there was enough variety to keep it from getting boring. Not that there was really anything boring about the profiler. Before she could find anything to say her phone rang, and she gave the brunette an apologetic smile before answering it.

"Agent Jareau."

She felt her expression crumble at the sound of her father's voice on the other end, immediately drawing her friend's attention. She gave Emily what she hoped was a reassuring smile before turning her attention back to the phone call. He wanted to know if she was coming down for Halloween, and a part of her cringed. Halloween in her family was a mix of of good and bad memories, more bad than good. A part of her wanted to believe that her father wanted to rectify that, but she doubted it. More likely he wanted her where he could keep an eye on her. It wasn't that he didn't love her, she knew, but he didn't like the choices she had made back when she was a teenager and didn't trust her not to repeat those mistakes.

"I'm sorry, dad," she replied quietly once he'd finished his pitch, "Halloween is a busy time for the team. I have to be here."

She sighed inwardly as he began to argue that they could surely spare her, and why couldn't they spare her for just a few nights. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to stop the oncoming headache. She loved her family and wanted to spend more time with them, but she couldn't take the way they stared at her like a stranger if she talked about anything she cared about, like the team or DC. Caught up as she was in her thoughts and her father's speech, JJ was startled to feel a hand gently brush her back, and she turned to find almost-black eyes peering at her with painful understanding. Something in that gaze reminded her why they were out shopping to begin with, though she knew that hadn't been Emily's intention, and she resolutely turned her attention back to the present.

"I can't talk now, Dad. I'll call you and mom later."

With that she hung up, ignoring his protests and leading Emily to the checkout counter where she paid for both their clothes, not letting the stubborn brunette argue with her, and lead the way to a relatively quiet bench off to one side.

"I was going to let you take your time and tell me what's wrong when you were ready," she murmured softly, "but whatever it is has been bothering you for days. Talk to me."

"What was the call about? Your father wanted you to go visit them?" the profiler asked, not meeting her gaze. That had been a theme lately. Emily wouldn't quite look at anyone. She was edgy and quiet, and her eyes had been haunted constantly since the Katie Jacobs case. All of them had been affected by that night, but Emily seemed to have taken it the hardest. JJ wanted to know why.

"Emily," she warned gently, "Don't change the subject. What's going on with you?"

The brunette tried to deflect her for several more minutes, but Jennifer persisted, knowing from experience she could get the hard-headed profiler to give in with patience, gentle prodding, and the occasional verbal smack upside the head. Finally Emily sighed, giving her a look that was somewhere between a glare and an affectionate smile.

"Fine, fine. It's not really that big a deal though."

"It's big enough that you haven't been sleeping or eating enough. Garcia noticed, and you can bet the others have or will. So spill, Prentiss. Wouldn't you rather deal with it with me than, say... Hotch?"

The profiler's eyes glazed over, and JJ smiled to herself. She would bet good money Emily was picturing that conversation.

"Uh... Yeah."

Jennifer chuckled, but she could tell her friend was still uncomfortable. Emily was private by nature as well as by training, and she wouldn't talk in the middle of a crowded mall. Fortunately the liaison had planned for this, and they'd been shopping just across the way from a quiet little restaurant that had always served as an ideal place to talk after a long day of mall crawling. They were seated immediately, and Emily started speaking almost as soon as the waitress, who was familiar with the habits of the two FBI agents, had made herself scarce.

"You're going to think this is so stupid," Em muttered in that self-deprecating tone that always made JJ want to beat Ambassador Prentiss to a pulp for teaching the dark profiler, "but I can't stop thinking about Susan Jacobs."

"What about her, Em?" the liaison asked softly, slipping her fingers into Emily's, trusting the touch to assure her companion that she didn't think any of this was stupid.

"She was so ready to just let Katie die, rather than face what her husband was. She let her son suffer the guilt and her in-laws go through hell, all because she didn't want to face reality. What kind of person can lock a little girl in a locker and sit with her screaming, crying, hysterical parents and comfort them?"

The blonde nodded, remembering her own comment to Garcia about Susan comforting Katie's mother. She understood why that would have left Em so haunted. It'd certainly stayed with her, and she hadn't been the one to confront the woman with her crimes and the results of her actions. She hadn't been the one to show Susan that little girl's desecrated doll, and she hadn't been the one who had cuffed her, walked her to the police car, and spoken to Susan's teenage son as his mother was taken away. She said as much, pausing when the waitress returned with an apologetic expression and their food. Once the young redhead was gone, the blonde turned her full attention back to her teammate, deliberately spearing a piece of tender chicken and penne and guiding it into Emily's mouth.

"I can feed myself, JJ," the brunette chided, but her haunted eyes had lightened and her muscles had relaxed somewhat. The liaison smiled as she took the food, chewing it slowly, keeping eye contact the entire time.

"Kari has to live with what happened to her family," Emily murmured, apparently randomly, after she'd swallowed, but JJ was unsurprised by the change in subject.

"She has to live with the memory of watching Gary murder her parents and finding her brother dead in his room. She has to live with the fear of never being the daughter she should have been. And Katie Jacobs has to live with what her uncle and aunt did to her. One has no parents left, and the other may never be able to trust hers. What kind of people are they going to be as adults? And what kind of person leaves a kid to face that? We may solve the cases and find the killers, and we may even bring the families some kind of closure, but we don't have to stick around and help them heal. We rarely see these people once we're done with the case. We're trained not to think about them, JJ. We're trained to move on to the next case and forget about the people left behind. I was never good at that part. I always remember them. I can't forget."

The liaison nodded, watching her friend fiddle with her glass with her free hand, the one holding her own tightening its grip.

"They can't train the heart out of you, Em," she observed quietly, "and I'm glad they can't. You can compartmentalize all you want, Emily, but I've never known you to stop caring. Hotch once told me that empathy can make or break us, but it's better to have it than not. It's not perfect, Emily. Nothing is. He was right about that. We get through it by caring enough to go on and face the next victim, the next case, and the next crime scene. We'll never get them all, but we do it so the kids like Kari and Katie can at least have a chance. And if you didn't remember them and wonder how they're doing, if you didn't hope for the best for them, you wouldn't be you, Emily Prentiss. You wouldn't be this incredibly kind, compassionate woman, and you wouldn't belong on this team. We all care too much, Emily. It's what makes us the best."

Very slowly a smile started to spread across Emily's face, and JJ felt an answering one forming on her own. Playfully spearing another bite of chicken and penne, she waved it in front of the older agents face, waiting for her to bite down. After a moment she did, quirking an eyebrow at her blonde friend. The liaison just laughed, digging into her own meal. There was comfortable quiet between them for a while, then the profiler gently tugged on the hand she still held, getting her attention.

"What'd your father want?"

The blonde felt the blood drain out of her face at the mention of the earlier phone call, but she shook it off, refusing to ruin their day out. Emily needed to unwind, and if she were honest, so did she. She'd much rather they do it together. She'd missed being with Emily like this. Garcia was a great friend, her best friend, but there was a vast difference between being out with her and being out with the beautiful Agent Prentiss. Garcia was fun-loving, unpredictable, and a little crazy. Emily was generally confident and self-assured, with an underlying sense of mischief and fun that made being around her almost as much of an adventure as being with Garcia. The difference was that with Garcia, there was always the question of whether or not the tech goddess would be able to get them out of whatever trouble she got them into. There was never any doubt with Emily. If the dark agent were to get them in trouble, or if something went wrong while they were together, JJ knew she could count on Emily to have her back. She loved Penelope Garcia dearly, but in a crisis involving anything except computers, she would rather have Emily Prentiss there with her steady gaze, sharp mind, and calm hands.

"They want me to come home and celebrate Halloween with them," she replied, deciding just as she spoke to tell her companion the truth, "and I'm not going to. I don't want to be with them, Em. They don't understand me or what I do, and they don't want to. They just want me to be..."

"Someone else," Emily finished for her, nodding thoughtfully. She eyed the blonde, taking another slow bite of her lunch before putting her fork down.

"Who do you want to spend Halloween with, JJ?" she asked softly, "Who do you want to spend the holidays with? You won't spend them with your family back home, and you don't seem to have anyone but the team. I know the team is family, but..."

"It's enough for me, Emily," JJ assured her, smiling gently and squeezing her hand. When the brunette looked like she might object, she gripped the limb tightly with both hands, refusing to let Emily look away.

"It's enough," she repeated softly, her meaning clear to them both. Emily smiled back, brown-black eyes soft and a little shy. They both turned their attention back to their food, busying themselves with the simple process of chewing. The waitress, passing by to check on them, couldn't keep from grinning. These two were too cute.

Part 10

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