DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My thanks to darandkerry for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Is this the future that I've promised myself?
A pretty perfume bottle on the shelf
Take it down and I'm someone else
The perfect spell is
(Nina Gordon, Pure)
Emily stared at herself in the mirror of a badly lit hotel bathroom, its tiled wall cracked, the thin, irregular lines running through a faded dull blue, more than likely the result of angry fists or simply the passing of time. The mirror posed an odd contrast to the appearance of the rest of the less than stellar bathroom, the smooth surface spotless and completely undamaged. Perhaps, it had been replaced with money from a benevolent businessman who'd mysteriously decided to invest in the only hotel of this godforsaken town when the old mirror had become too blind, too worn from accepting the many troubled, disappointed, or expressionless faces throughout its life. Now, the gleaming surface stood out against the shabby rug, the ageing tiles, and the sink that was beginning to show signs of a yellowish tint.
Somehow, Emily wished the reflection thrown back at her wasn't so clear and painfully sharp, that it didn't show the faint trace of a line across her forehead, or how tired her eyes looked, or the clenched muscles of her jaw. She couldn't for the life of her remember whether she'd noticed the small crease before, but she wasn't surprised that it made an appearance now. It had been one of those days when she wondered how much more evil the world could take, when she asked herself again whether believing that she would never be capable of such cruelties was plausible, a day when not even she could lock away the memories in a hidden corner deep inside her mind.
Lowering her head, Emily placed her hands on the cool brim of the sink and closed her eyes, breathing in and out slowly and deliberately. She wasn't certain whether murder had a smell, but sometimes she imagined that she took something home with her every night, tiny particles of broken souls, unsatisfactory explanations, and bloodied hands clinging to her skin like a rain-soaked t-shirt, not allowing it to breathe. It didn't have the tangy quality of sweat or the sickeningly sweet odour of actual blood. This smell was entirely inoffensive, not distinct, only perceptible to Emily, and its grip on her senses stemmed not from its chemical nature, but from her knowledge of its origin. Whether or not it was real didn't matter; it was enough to make her feel slightly nauseous.
If she concentrated hard enough, Emily could still sense her own perfume underneath this smell of crime, nearly buried by it and faded from a long day with too many other influences threatening to suffocate the delicate scent. It was there, on the lapel of her blouse and in the small hollow between collarbone and throat, stubbornly refusing to be drowned out. A rich scent, complex and multi-layered like a fine glass of wine, with two or three main notes and a variety of subleties that weren't immediately obvious. Emily wondered whether the fragrances individuals chose to wear reflected their personalities and allowed others to draw conclusions about what kind of person they dealt with. If she were to encounter a stranger, he'd perceive strength and femininity, intensity and concinnity, and, if he was good, an underlying wistfulness and an almost hidden lightness. Emily wasn't sure how congruent that was with who she truly was, whether her perfume enhanced her personality or acted as a mask she wore every day.
When Emily turned her head slightly to the right, she detected another scent on herself, one that had nothing to do with murder and that didn't belong to her either. She opened her eyes and looked down on the sleeve of her blouse intently. It was rolled up to her elbow, a bit wrinkled now, the white fabric bearing a longish grey print from where she'd brushed a dirty door frame in the unsub's house. But it wasn't this flaw in an otherwise clean item of clothing that captured her attention; it was the barely noticeable scent that rose from her arm and tickled her nostrils, and Emily knew exactly where it had come from. JJ had stood close to her earlier, her arm touching Emily's, warm skin against warm skin and wool against cotton. Emily couldn't remember why they'd been this close; there were only flashes of butterflies dancing across her forearm and a longing that, she thought, shouldn't be caused by such a simple touch.
A bit of JJ lingered on Emily's skin, a presence not visible, not audible, not touchable, a mere ghost that seemed to taunt Emily with what she didn't have. Closing her eyes again, she drew a slow, tentative breath, unsure of what inhaling JJ's scent would do to her. A frown appeared on her tense features when she couldn't grasp it. Too faint was the fragrance, only teasing Emily's senses for the briefest of moments, luring her like a Siren, and then eluding her before she could catch it with careful hands and keep it safe. She needed a reminder of this part of JJ, needed to recall her scent to keep her grounded in this very moment, and when she couldn't, it unsettled her deeply. She knew it was a scent she loved, and not being granted the comfort it could have provided in this bleak hotel bathroom with its cracked tiles and its shiny mirror sent Emily tumbling into an uncharacteristic abyss of loneliness.
She fought the urge for only a moment, and when, minutes later, Emily found herself standing in front of the door to JJ's room, staring at flaking paint the colour of mud, she wasn't really surprised that she'd ended up there. In the bathroom, she'd hesitantly reached for her satiny toiletry bag and retrieved her perfume bottle. Weighing the cool, thick glass in her palm, she'd watched the pale pink liquid twirl around in the flacon before she'd raised it to her neck and emitted a fine mist of the concentrated fragrance with a push of her finger, its initial sharpness taking her breath away for a second. Why she'd done it, she wasn't quite sure; it had been an almost compulsive act.
She'd then left her room and slowly made her way down the narrow hallway in which overly bright neon lamps had been affixed to the ceiling every few feet in a failed attempt to hide the oppressive dinginess of the hotel by lighting every corner of it. In reality, it only highlighted the smoke-stained wallpaper and the dubious shade of brown of the carpet, Emily had thought as she'd edged past a moth-eaten armchair that filled far too much space in the hallway, the cold of the Montana winter night pressing in through the outer walls and crawling over her bare arms.
Standing in the chilly corridor, Emily raised her hand and rapped her knuckles on the rough wooden surface softly. A few moments later, she heard muffled steps and watched the door being swung open to reveal an endearingly dishevelled JJ.
"I once had a dream like this, only you had a bottle of wine with you and we weren't in Montana." She smiled disarmingly.
Emily revelled in the enchanting warmth of that smile and how JJ greeted her at this time of night as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
"Were you doing something? I mean, if you're busy, I can"
JJ shook her head. "No, not at all." Her look changed to one of concern, her eyes never leaving Emily's face. "Are you okay, Emily?"
Hearing her name spoken so gently had Emily almost crumbling. "I " she began. I couldn't remember your scent, so I came here to remind myself and never forget again. "I needed some company."
Without hesitation, JJ reached for Emily's hand and pulled her inside. She scrutinised her and noticed how unusually raw and exhausted Emily looked, standing there near the wall with an unreadable expression in her dark eyes. "Bad one, huh?"
Emily slowly nodded. "Very bad. I'm glad we're going home tomorrow."
"Me too. The guys are still over at the bar." JJ nodded towards the window that looked out on a deserted street. Then, she became slightly distracted by the intense scent that emanated from Emily's body and crinkled her forehead. "Did you put on perfume before you came here?"
Thrown off by the question, Emily considered turning on her heel and fleeing the room, but instead, she settled for asking one of her own. "Do you think wearing perfume is a sort of deception? Make-believe, camouflage?"
Sensing what Emily was getting at, JJ stepped closer, their bodies almost touching, and rested her hand on Emily's waist gently. "It accentuates your personality. It can neither make you someone you're not nor can it hide your true nature." After a few seconds, she added softly, "I can see you, Emily."
Emily nearly winced at the words and the wonderful warmth seeping through the fabric of her blouse from JJ's fingers. There it was again, the scent that stirred something inside of her, still faint, but not eluding her any longer. In an unsteady voice, she whispered, "I couldn't find you."
To Emily's surprise, she saw only silent understanding in those beautiful eyes, the widened pupils leaving merely a narrow rim of the dark blue iris visible in the half-light of the room and letting Emily feel JJ's intense gaze on her in an almost physical way.
"I'm right here," JJ said quietly, sneaking her thumb under the hem of Emily's blouse and stroking it reassuringly over the warm skin.
And slowly, unobtrusively, Emily felt calmness spread all through her mind. Like morning sunlight peeking carefully over mountain crests before making its journey into the valleys and eventually flooding them with warmth and golden brightness, it skimmed along the edges of her consciousness, dared to move further when it encountered no obstacles, and finally settled over Emily like a soft blanket.
She reached out and drew JJ close, encircling her in a tight embrace and feeling a pair of arms slide around her waist. Her nose buried in blonde hair, Emily lightly nuzzled the spot just behind JJ's ear and inhaled deeply. JJ wore no perfume, Emily realised, and she tried to put her finger on what scent had enticed her so. Adjectives flitted across her thoughts, some of them seemingly not compatible with the description of a fragrance. Gentle and velvety, steady and determined. Safe. A fresh aroma with just a hint of sweetness, underlined by a subtle dash of melancholy. But the word that struck Emily most, the word that seemed to hold everything else together, was sincerity. No metaphorical rusty nails to tear her sleeves on, no sharp edges to cut her fingers, no wound paths in a maze to get lost in. Just a straightforward scent, as clear and pure as water.
Emily's lips stretched into a slow smile. Pure. That was it. The scent that had triggered such longing and now was responsible for such peace was JJ, pure and simple. And Emily knew that the ability to experience someone on this level, to derive comfort from an invisible scent hovering around JJ, was what set her apart from those she evaluated on a daily basis.
JJ brushed her hands up Emily's back in a soft caress and tangled them in her dark hair. Marvelling at how easily and naturally her body fit against Emily's form, she let her eyes drift closed and relaxed. "I'm here, Emily," she repeated, her lips close to Emily's ear, "I'm here."
"I know." Emily rested her cheek against JJ's temple and took in their mingled aromas, the whole becoming something greater than the sum of the parts, perfect complements that overwhelmed the senses with an intricate complexity. Unlike before, Emily found it difficult to define what it was she perceived. But, she thought, perhaps that wasn't necessary, perhaps some things could exist without being analysed and explained until all their components had been uncovered.
In the quiet of the room, Emily held on to JJ tightly.
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