DISCLAIMER: All herein belong to CBS and its affiliates, not me. Not profit was made, no disrespect intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: For Rachel, who demanded a sweet story with a happy ending to counteract the trauma of the “Dirty Little Secret” series, and even offered grammatical and typos suggestions. Here you are, Your Majesty. Thanks to racethewind10 for her beta and suggestions and her little muse who tempts mine to write. To eclecticfan, who listens to my bitching about writing stories that are too long. To darandkerry, seftiri, and tremblingmoon for reading and patting the Gremlin muse on the head and getting her to keep writing when all she wants is a beach, naked women, and a pitcher of mojitos. Cheers, my friends!
AUTHOR'S NOTE #2: Jane Rule, a most wonderful writer and insightful woman, once wrote: “Clichés are only a sin in literature.” Well, guess what, my dears? This isn’t literature; it’s fanfiction, and as such is, by its very nature, rife with clichés. This contains at least one major one, and quite probably several minors ones. Forgive me.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The world was reduced to a whirlwind of white. Snow covered every surface. The dense woods that lined the highway were transformed into a mysterious, monochrome forest, trees bent down in homage by the weight of a million flakes and then a million more. The sky hung so low that it felt as if they were driving through an endless tunnel of cloud and earth. The road was covered with a quickly thickening layer of snow and ice, as the SUV practically crawled along, the tires crunching in a slow, steady rhythm.
The occupants of the black Suburban were silent, careful not to disturb the concentration of the driver of the vehicle, aware that one false move, one slowed reflex could send them all fishtailing into the icy forest that surrounded them. The only sounds were the staccato rhythm of the wheels on the icy road and the low hum of the heater.
In the far back seat, Emily and JJ sat close together, eyes heavy with exhaustion, all of the team's bags piled behind and to the side of them, cocooning them in on the leather seat. In front of them, Morgan and Reid sat at opposite ends of the shorter middle seat. Morgan's eyes were focused on the winter wonderland Hotch was attempting to navigate, his head resting back against the edge of the seat and part of the window, the heat from his skin leaving a halo of condensation on the ice chilled glass. Reid's light brown hair stood out at odd angles, particularly along his collar, where a thick wool scarf was wound around his neck. He was lost in the dulcet strains of Coltrane filling his ears from the iPod clutched in his left hand.
JJ's eyelids drooped heavily, covering the dark blue of her irises, grayish smudges marring the skin under her eyes. She burrowed down into the thickness of her woolen coat, her blonde hair spilling down her back. Her body was tilted to the left, her shoulder and leg pressed against Emily's, the dark brown leather of the brunette's coat a sharp contrast to the pale gold of JJ's hair.
Emily leaned into the pressure of JJ's arm against her own and the warmth of JJ's thigh through her jeans, the dichotomy of the chill of the plastic and metal of the door on the other side all the clearer. She glanced surreptitiously at the blonde at her side, her expression concerned, brown eyes sweeping over the drawn skin of JJ's face, noting the dark circles under dull blue eyes, the downward pull of the corners of full, soft pink lips. The last few cases had been brutal, and the strain was showing on them all, but Emily had noticed that JJ had become increasingly withdrawn, pulling into herself like a turtle withdrawing her head into the safety of its shell. And that was before yesterday, before the situation on a ranch in South Dakota had spiraled into chaos and death, a pall of tragedy that clung to their clothes and hair, a sickening perfume of calamity and heartbreak.
From the driver's seat, Hotch felt the tension in his shoulders and back as he gripped the wheel tightly, fighting to keep the oversized vehicle on the increasingly slippery road. They had been driving now for over two hours and had only made it about fifty miles. Their latest case had taken them to the northern plains of South Dakota, almost to the North Dakota state line, nearly a hundred and twenty miles from the nearest accessible airstrip, and so they had been forced to land in Rapid City and drive north, through the rolling countryside. The drive north had been fine, the weather incredibly cold, but dry. The drive back was proving an entirely different story, however.
The maelstrom of wind and snow ebbed and flowed around them, over them, until there was no place, no time, no world beyond the white cocoon that encased them. Hotch strained to see even a foot in front of the hood, leaning forward, dark brows drawn down further than usual as he squinted into the whitewashed world outside the windshield. The speedometer registered just twenty miles a hour, and even at that, it felt that they were going too fast as the tires tried to grip the road that lay under several inches of snow.
Rossi sat in the passenger seat, his eyes rarely leaving the notes he was making in the small spiral book he carried with him. His occasional glace at Hotch seemed less concerned than merely curious how the other agent was handling the stress of the situation, his dark eyes scrutinizing, void of expression. He might have been watching a movie or viewing a suspect through a window, so little did the tension of the atmosphere affect him.
Emily could feel the pressure of JJ's body against her own grow slightly heavier, as the blonde agent gave in to the force of gravity and allowed her body to relax as exhaustion claimed her, burying her under its weight, as the trees in the woods bowed under the accumulation of snow. Her head shifted sideways, resting against Emily's shoulder, eyes closed, lashes dark against the slighter paler gray smudges. JJ unconsciously rubbed her face against the cool, smooth leather of Emily's jacket, the scent of it and the spicy richness of Emily's perfume enveloping her, fragrant and comforting. Emily fought the need to reach over and smooth back the hair that had tumbled over JJ's forehead or to place a light kiss on the top of the blonde head resting against her shoulder.
She knew that she should simply let JJ sleep, but the awkwardness of her position and the tilt of her head ensured nothing so much as a sore, cramped neck, not any meaningful rest. With a slight shrug of her shoulders, Emily stirred JJ awake, only to slide away from her, pushing her body up against the cold of the side panel and the bitter winter wind trying desperately to slip in through the cracks along the window glass. JJ's eyes fluttered open at her movement, and as Emily slid the warmth of her body away, an expression of confusion and embarrassment, combined with a child's sudden loss of comfort, settled on her face. She was about to murmur an apology for falling asleep with her head against Emily when the brunette tuned away and reached behind them. When they had started out, what seemed like days ago, Morgan had tossed a black and orange Chicago Bears neck pillow in the back of the Suburban, after complaining that all it did was make his neck hurt in a different spot than it did not using it. Emily snagged it and placed it on her lap, motioning for JJ to lie down.
A few months ago, JJ probably would have protested, would have argued that she was fine; would have stated firmly that she didn't need anyone to take care of her. But this wasn't a few months ago, or even a few weeks ago, and none of those things were true. The last three or four cases they had handled had left her feeling bruised and battered, like a lone buoy in the ocean, swept up in the tumult of wind and wave, tossed at will by the changeable, uncaring sea. Mentally and physically she was shaken, and though most of her struggled against giving in to her feelings of imbalance, and even more to accepting Emily's offer, some small part of her mind not often allowed expression screamed loudly that right now she did need the simple warmth of another person; did need to lie down like a child and be comforted.
Emily must have seen the aborted struggle for self-sufficiency in her eyes, because she smiled that gentle smile that JJ had never seen her give any one else, and silently gestured with her head. "Come on," the smile said, "I promise not to hold it against you. I promise that I don't think that you're weak or that you can't handle this job. Just lie down. Just trust me."
For some time now, JJ had been aware of the subtle, delicate growth of her feelings towards the older woman; feelings that had altered from paler shades of friendship and respect to something darker and richer and much more dangerous to her peace of mind. There were times when their eyes met, that JJ could swear that those feelings were returned. There was something in the depths of Emily's brown eyes that promised far more than friendship; layers of sienna that spoke of quiet companionship, of loyalty, of tenderness; darker shades of espresso that promised heat and passion and desire. Right now however, those eyes were simply a warm and soft brown, offering support. No strings. No hidden meanings. No quid pro quo expected. Just trust.
Releasing the breath she didn't realize she had been holding, JJ shifted back toward the bags stacked at the end of the seat. She bent her legs and angled them up on the seat, easing her upper body down, her arm sliding beneath her, hand left dangling out over the carpeted floor of the truck. She gingerly laid her head on the pillow. She could feel the warmth emanating from Emily's legs under her cheek and neck, smell again the scent of her perfume and the leather car coat she wore. JJ held herself stiffly at first, afraid to relax, afraid of the compromise to her sense of autonomy; afraid also to simply give in to the inherent rightness of letting Emily Prentiss take care of her. It was the feel of warm, smooth fingers on her forehead and in the fine hair at her temple, soothing, tender, that sent a tremor through her, releasing her tight grip on her muscles, her body deflating like a balloon slowly losing its air, melting into the seat. With a deep sigh, JJ closed her eyes, giving in to the sensation of Emily's fingers in her hair, sleep blessedly claiming her.
In the rearview mirror, Hotch met Morgan's eyes, seeing in them the same conclusion that he had reached. They had to stop. There was no way that they could continue in this weather and the chance that they might have an accident, or breakdown was too great. They wouldn't last long in the snow and the freezing temperatures. But they were going to need some help finding somewhere to pull off.
"Morgan?" Hotch called quietly.
Morgan slid forward so that he could lean in between the front seats.
"Call Garcia, if you can get a signal, and see if she can find us anywhere to stay. I don't care what it is, but we can't keep driving like this. I can't see more than a foot in front of us and the snow is getting too deep for the tires to get traction," Hotch said, his voice barely carrying over the rush of the wind and the steady crunch of the tires on the icy road. Taking his foot off the gas, he risked another glance back in the mirror, taking in Morgan and Reid and Emily's dark head in the back. "Where's JJ?"
"She's lying down."
A quick look toward the passenger seat revealed that Rossi appeared to be sleeping. Not surprising, given the profiler's personality. Unless there was a real crisis, he wouldn't be bothered with the incidentals. Although the older agent had been with the team for a few months now, Hotch still felt reticent in discussing the rest of the team with him, or even in his hearing. Given the situation, he thought that he could risk it.
Again meeting Morgan's eyes in the mirror, his own reflected worry.
"Do you think that I should be concerned about her?" Hotch's voice was barely above a whisper, and Morgan had to lean forward a little more to catch what he had said.
Morgan didn't reply for a moment, waiting as Hotch maneuvered around a large drift on the side of the road. He slipped his cell phone out of the clip on his waist and pushed in the speed dial for Penelope Garcia. As the cell clicked through, attempting to find a signal and tower, he answered just as quietly, certain that he could not be heard beyond the front seat.
"I think she'll be fine," he said firmly, his expression mirroring his confident answer. He stopped himself from adding that he was certain that Emily would take care of JJ, thinking better of it, knowing that the comment would raise far more questions than the one that it answered in his mind.
Turning to look toward the back of the SUV, he could see Emily's head tilted to the side, her eyes focused on the woman sleeping peacefully in her lap. Despite the edict not to profile each other, Morgan had been hard pressed not to notice the slow, subtle shift in the relationship between his two lovely colleagues; from easy acceptance to friendship to something a little more than friends and a little less than anything else. He wondered sometimes if they had noticed the shift themselves, and if they had, if either of them would ever act on it. The click of the line opening brought his attention back to their current predicament.
"Garcia, Tech Goddess and Finder of All Things Lost, Misplaced or simply Unfindable."
"Garcia? Hey, Babygirl. We are up to our asses in snow, and we need your help. We can't even see a foot in front of us, so can you see if you can find us somewhere to pull off and stay?"
"Aw, Sugar, you know that anything that I can do to help your remarkably fine ass is yours for the asking," Garcia's voice came back over the static of the line. "I've already tracked your position and there should be an exit for a small town about a mile and a quarter down the road. I will see if there is anywhere to stay and call you right back."
"Thanks, Babygirl," Morgan grinned back at the phone, despite the circumstance. No matter how grim things got, Garcia could always make him smile.
"She's going to find us a motel or something up ahead. She says there's an exit a little over a mile from here, and she's checking to see what's available. Although, from what we saw on the way up there, it's probably a one horse town," Morgan informed Hotch.
"At this point, I don't think that I would object to sleeping in a stable, as long as the roof was intact," Hotch muttered, again having to slow their already snail-like pace as a deep drift covered half the highway.
The silence of the next ten minutes was broken only by the increased sound of the wind, as each new gust seemed intent on driving the heavy SUV off the road, buffeting it, putting a stubborn, windy shoulder to the side of it and pushing, hard. It took all of Hotch's concentration and skill to keep the vehicle moving, inching closer and closer to the promised exit. The shrill ring of Morgan's cell startled them all, earning a murmur of protest from a still sleeping JJ, who stirred a bit, but was soothed back into slumber by the slow, gentle rhythm of Emily's fingers along her hairline, and around the shell-like curve of her ear.
"Hey, Babygirl, tell me you found us something," Morgan answered, a thread of tension evident in his voice as he watched the muscles in Hotch's jaw clench and unclench as he fought for control of the Suburban.
"Sweet thing, you know that I will do whatever I need to make sure that exceptionally gorgeous ass of yours is safe and sound," Garcia smiled through the phone, aware that the team was in a precarious position and attempting to lighten the mood a bit. "At the end of the exit take a left. Go a mile and a half and take the first right. Half a mile down on the right side is the Enchanted Pines Motel and Cabins. The owner, a lovely woman named Gladys Vogler, has three cabins available. She caters mostly to hunters out there for a week or so, but this time of year, she's usually got a few vacancies. What with the blizzard, she's pretty full up, so we're lucky she had anything. So, you're all set, Sweet Cheeks. Call me when you get there."
"You're amazing, Garcia," Morgan grinned, the relief of an end in sight to the drive from hell washing over him. "I'll call you from the motel. Thanks, Babygirl."
"No problem, Hot Stuff. Goddess out."
Morgan relayed the conversation to Hotch, giving him the directions that Garcia had supplied. Rossi stirred at the extended conversation, glancing at Hotch and quirking down one corner of his mouth, but offered no comment, clearly content with letting the others handle the situation.
Morgan leaned back and lightly hit Reid on the arm to get his attention. Their resident genius opened his eyes, focusing slowly, looking for all the world like a young owl, feathers sticking up everywhere, eyes round and wide and blinking rapidly.
"What's up?" He asked, his gaze now swiveling to take in the vortex of white that surrounded them. It had been snowing when he had turned on his iPod and closed his eyes, but nothing like this. "Man, it's really snowing, isn't it?"
"You really do have a gift for stating the obvious, you know that, kid?" Morgan teased, shaking his head at the younger agent.
Turning his head, Morgan met Emily's gaze, slender brows coming down in censure at the loudness of their voices.
"She still asleep?" Morgan mouthed, leaning back to peer over the edge of the seat at JJ, and caught in wonder at the picture she presented.
Her hair was tucked back behind her ear, the strange light of the snow bound world and the dimness of the interior turning it to palest platinum. Her skin appeared as the finest alabaster, the dark smudges under her eyes shaded violet, each classic feature of her face delineated and drawn in perfect lines and curves. Sleep had smoothed out the faint trace of lines around her mouth and eyes, marks of laughter, the remnants of too many stressful days and too many sleepless nights.
Morgan smiled and whispered to Emily, whose gaze was still fixed on the woman lying so vulnerably in her lap, "Sleeping Beauty. The question is, who's the prince?"
Emily's startled brown eyes snapped up, only to slide quickly away at the knowing look she found in Morgan's expression, and the almost sympathetic smile that just touched his lips. She felt a tendril of panic start to climb the length of her body, slipping around her chest to tighten convulsively as the clear meaning in Morgan's words and face became all the more evident. Morgan saw the flash of surprise in Emily's face, followed immediately by a sharp bolt of alarm, and rounded out with a jagged streak of terror. He opened his mouth to reassure her, but Hotch's words interrupted, forcing his attention back to their current dilemma.
"Morgan, can you see the exit? This is where it's supposed to be, but I can't see anything," Hotch asked, his normally monotone voice now far less than normal, containing more than a waver of irritation, of stress evident.
Morgan, Rossi, and Reid all peered intently out the windows, trying to differentiate between the highway and the exit that would lead them to the small town that lay hidden in the vast expanse of white that covered the countryside. Finally, a small break in the tree line showed the snow covered exit off the road to the right. Hotch eased the SUV onto the exit, the vehicle just crawling along, but even at that slow speed, the back end fishtailed, sending them spinning like a wayward top along the frozen pavement.
Emily automatically reached down and wrapped her right arm tightly around JJ's waist, securing her as the passengers were flung sideways by the spiraling motion of the SUV. JJ came awake with a start, the pull of gravity and the feel of Emily's arm like a steel band around her waist dragging her abruptly from a satisfying slumber. Hotch steered into the spin, so that eventually the vehicle righted itself, coming to rest in the same direction it had begun, a few feet ahead of where the spin had started.
JJ sat up, the suddenness with which she had been snatched from sleep leaving her groggy and disoriented, unsure of where they were or what was happening.
"What the hell is going on? Where are we?" She asked Emily, shaking her head to try and clear away the lingering mist that clung to her mind.
"Trying to get off the highway," Emily explained quietly, the rest of the team silent as Hotch edged slowly down the slight decline of the exit. "Garcia found us a motel, about two miles from here, but we have to get there first. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Not the best way to wake up. I guess I was really sound asleep," JJ replied, her glance at Emily just a little embarrassed. "Thanks. For, you know."
"JJ. There's nothing to say thank you for. You know that," Emily said gently, her expression warm and sincere. In the failing light, all JJ could see was solid liquid brown as iris and pupil melded into one.
She started to protest, but the feel of Emily's fingers around her wrist caused the words to stall in her throat like a flooded engine. All the skin that Emily touched felt hot and tight, like a sunburn, sending slender trails of heat through small veins, heat that traveled swiftly to other parts of her body, leaving her flushed and warm. Her eyes dropped to look at her arm, as if her mind needed to see the source of the burning sensation, taking in the paler skin of Emily's hand against her own honeyed flesh. Emily saw her look down and misinterpreting the response, immediately removed her hand. A soft sound of protest escaped JJ's lips, lost in the sound of the wind and Morgan's voice coming from the seat in front of them.
"Okay, take this right," Morgan told Hotch, "and it should be up here on the right about a half a mile."
The SUV inched along at barely five miles an hour, the team searching the landscape for a sign or a marker to tell them where the motel was. Reid saw it first.
"There! There's part of a sign visible, and beyond that there are several buildings."
The relief of having finally found the motel seemed like a rush of fresh air through a window, dissipating the tension that had hung like the heavy clouds outside. The SUV coasted to a stop beside a small white clapboard structure, a neon red sign in the window announcing "Office". There was a rustle of movement as the team began to gather their belongings.
"Why don't I go and get everyone's keys and then we can go straight to the cabins, which I am assuming are those smaller buildings down the driveway? Morgan, you and Reid can bunk together, and Rossi and I will share," Hotch stated, starting to open his door. He was forestalled, however, by Reid's voice.
"Um. Hotch, do I have to share with Morgan?"
"What do you mean, do you have to share with me?" Morgan asked, his voice rising a little in indignation.
"Well, it's just that you snore," Reid began, interrupted immediately by a highly offended Morgan.
"I do not snore, kid. And besides, if I can put up with listening to you ramble on about quarks and Star Trek conventions and how long it really would have taken to build the Death Star, I think that you can deal with a little snoring. Not that I snore. Cause I don't."
"Actually, you kinda do. I mean, you've snored on the jet the last couple flights," Emily interjected, a vague sense of owing Morgan some payback for the Sleeping Beauty comment pushing her to come in on Reid's side on this one.
"Hey, people who get to share with JJ don't get to comment on anything, all right?" Morgan's eyebrows rose in emphasis as he met Emily's amused countenance.
Emily seemed to weigh the words for a moment, before she shrugged and with a grin replied.
"Yeah, and Hotch, how come Emily and JJ always get to share? I mean, we're all adults here. Friends. Colleagues. Professionals. Why don't you make Emily stay with Agent Know-it-All sometime?" Morgan expounded, clearly on a roll after several hours of stressful travel.
Before Hotch could respond, JJ piped in, her tone dry and self-satisfied, despite her look of exhaustion.
"You know Morgan, there really are very few benefits to being a female FBI agent. Getting to sleep with Emily instead of you or Reid is definitely one of them. Now shut up and help Boy Wonder there get the luggage out of the back while Hotch gets the keys, okay? I don't know about you, but I am tired."
Hotch could be heard to distinctly chuckle as he wrapped his coat collar tightly around his neck and made a dash for the office door. With a minimum of complaining, Morgan and Reid climbed out as well, shivering as they circled the back of the SUV and threw open the doors. The rush of frigid air sent tremors all along JJ's skin, and she snuggled down into her coat.
Handing items over the seat to Emily, Morgan and Reid made quick work of unloading the bags, slipping back into the relative warmth of the Suburban, and slamming the doors against the unholy cold. A few minutes later Hotch emerged from the office, crossing to the vehicle and climbing into the driver's seat. He turned to face the others, three old fashioned room keys in his hand.
"Okay. Mrs. Vogler has three cabins available. Two of them have twin beds and one has a double bed," he announced matter-of-factly. "So."
A silence pervaded the interior as the dilemma presented itself. Emily and JJ glanced at each other with knowing looks, but neither of them moved to break the quiet. Morgan and Reid both seemed unable to meet each other's eyes and Rossi was again absorbed in his notebook. Hotch simply waited, knowing that eventually one of the others would be forced by the pressure to speak.
"I mean, if Junior here doesn't even want to share a room with me ," Morgan began, his voice layered over by Reid's very similar pronouncement.
Rolling her eyes, JJ said sharply, "Oh, for heaven's sake, give us the double so we can get out of this car and get some sleep."
"Hey now, you make it sound like we have issues with sharing a bed with another man. I have no problem with sleeping in the same bed with Reid here, except that he can't stand my snoring," Morgan protested, his righteous indignation quickly quelled by the accusing looks he received from two sets of eyes, one blue, one brown, both clearly skeptical.
"I thought that you said that you don't snore?" Emily asked innocently, gathering her bags and sliding out after JJ to the door. "Hotch, the key?"
The key was duly passed back to her by Reid, who failed to meet the eyes of either of his female colleagues.
"It's the second cabin," Hotch informed them, a slight smile on his lips at the discomfort of Morgan and Reid. "I don't think that we will be going anywhere anytime soon. Mrs. Vogler said they are calling for at least three feet of snow tonight and tomorrow, maybe more, so feel free to sleep in. She told me that she serves lunch at noon for all the guests here at the main building, so we won't starve. Get some rest."
As Emily and JJ slipped out of the SUV into the stinging wind and snow, the male members of the team clearly heard mutterings from both women, the words 'adolescent' and 'infantile' and 'homophobic' carrying back to the car on the stiff breeze, before the two disappeared into the veil of white.
JJ stood by the window of the cabin and watched the snow blanket the earth. The faint lights from the main motel building illuminated the yard, theater spot lights for a one night only performance. The wind sent the snow pirouetting against the night sky, great waves of white that crashed against a white sandy shore, then rose again in swirling clouds, only to flutter, spent, back to the solid ground. She wrapped her arms tightly around her stomach, the comfortable well-worn cotton of her sweatshirt smooth against the skin of her palms. She could hear Emily moving around in the bathroom, hear the running of the tap, the sound of the water unnaturally loud in the silence of the room.
There was a surrealness to the moment that struck her as a physical blow. It seemed impossible to believe that just yesterday the team had stood on a ranch that ran along the border between North and South Dakota and watched as flames engulfed the home of a suspect in a series of rapes in isolated areas along the border. They had been forced to watch helplessly as windows exploded outward, watch as the unsub stood with his three young children in front of the living room window, until they lost sight of them in the smoke and flames. JJ squeezed her eyes shut, willing away the images that haunted her.
The sound of running water ceased and Emily opened the door, throwing a splash of light across the thin carpet of the floor, the stream of light thinning to a trickle as she pulled the door almost shut.
JJ watched Emily's reflection in the cold glass of the window, the image superimposed upon the wintry scene outside, so that the brunette appeared to exist in a warm, windless bubble of space, unaffected by the fierce, frigid gusts of air that sent the descending flakes skittering along the already frozen ground. There was an elegance, an economical grace to Emily's movements that JJ had always admired, sometimes feeling a bit young and gawky next to the older agent. The fact that Emily was completely unaware of how assuredly she moved, how she projected an aura of confidence bordering on arrogance, made it all the more endearing. To JJ, at least.
"Why aren't you in bed?" Emily asked quietly, dark head tilted to the side, dark eyes meeting JJ's in the strange, mirrored world of their reflected images.
JJ turned finally, her gaze unconsciously sweeping down Emily's lanky frame, taking in the faded blue Yale sweatshirt, the bold white letters across the chest crackled like the fissures in old glass, part of the "e" missing, matched by equally faded sweatpants. Emily had washed her face, the skin tight and slightly pink from scrubbing. JJ could easily imagine that she had looked much like this twenty years ago; could see a young, awkward teenager, just starting her college career, determined to make something of herself that bore no resemblance to her mother. A far more innocent Emily, one who hadn't witnessed the utter depravity of human beings; one who had never gazed, eye to eye, into the face of evil; one who had never seen the desecration, the carnage that one person could wreak upon another. Upon a friend, a stranger, a spouse, a sibling, a child.
A child. At the thought, a tremor shot through JJ's body, an expression of horrified despair stealing across her face before she was able to push it away; but not before Emily saw it. JJ waited, gauging the brunette's response, uncertain that she could handle any display of sympathy from the other agent without breaking down. Emily must have recognized the wary look on her face, because she simply met her eyes, and smiled, an expression that held much more melancholy than mirth, and moved toward the bed.
"Which side do you want?" Emily asked her, reaching out to pull back the green and white quilt, sending ripples through Jacob's ladder, as the sheet covered part of the pattern.
"I don't care. Honestly. You take whichever side you want," JJ replied, grateful, as she so often was, that Emily seemed to know exactly how to respond to her, sensing her moods and reacting accordingly.
Emily slipped into bed, sighing deeply as the mattress sank comfortably beneath the weight of her body, her hair almost black against the white of the pillowcase. JJ lowered herself to the bed, swinging her legs up and under the heavy quilt, surprise registering in her weary brain at the softness of the bed and the smooth, thick cotton of the sheets.
"Either I am beyond exhausted and anything would feel good, or this is one of the most comfortable hotel mattresses I have ever felt," JJ murmured, reveling in the cushiony surface beneath her back.
There was something decadent, something deliciously forbidden about lying in the murky darkness and feeling the bed shake as Emily's throaty chuckle reverberated in the small cabin. JJ closed her eyes and let the rich sound wash over her, her own lips turning up in an answering smile. It wasn't exactly the way that she had imagined experiencing it, in many a late night fantasy, but still, it wasn't half bad.
"Actually, I don't think that it's you. Although, given the comparison to the back seat of the Suburban, anything would probably feel wonderful," Emily laughed.
"I don't know, the Suburban had its good points. I had a very comfortable pillow," JJ replied, the relative darkness giving her a courage she normally wouldn't allow herself in the bright light of day.
"Liar. But thanks anyway," Emily said lightly, only a subtle trace of something else in her voice betraying her pleasure at the compliment. "I guess that we should get some sleep. I know that you're as exhausted as I am. It's been a rough few days."
A silence settled over them, not uncomfortable, but heavy with unspoken words, as the high pitched whine of the wind raced between the cabins, chasing the swirling fall of snow across the plains, through the thick forests that lined the Black Hills, along the snow covered roadways, and sang a mournful lament. Images rushed across JJ's mind, distorted, bloody, filled with flames and fear and death. Images that she had been trying to erase for the past twenty-four hours, with little success. The moment that she stopped, stopped talking, stopped focusing, stopped firmly shutting them out, they returned with a staggering force, knocking the wind out of her, leaving her dizzy and off balance.
She rolled over on her side, her face away from Emily, attempting to will herself to forget, to find some way to lock the memories away in a room somewhere until she could handle them, until some time and distance had managed to reduce them to something that didn't leave her stunned and paralyzed.
"Goodnight," JJ found that her voice was as uncooperative as her mind, sounding far too upset, telling far more about her state of mind than she had intended to reveal. It wasn't until hot tears began to slide silently down her cheeks that she realized that the sharp stab of emotion combined with complete exhaustion had defeated her efforts to stem the flood from overwhelming her.
JJ felt the shift in the mattress as Emily turned on her side as well, and JJ lay still, uncertain which way she had turned. The weight of the mattress shifted as Emily laid back down and JJ allowed the muscles she had tensed at the other woman's movement to relax a little. She closed her eyes, taking in a ragged breath. Suddenly, JJ felt an arm slip under the pillow beneath her head, and the soft press of a body behind her, as Emily's other arm wrapped gently around her waist, a hand coming to rest flat against the taut muscles of her stomach. For a moment, JJ held herself stiffly, a part of her, the same part that had warred with giving in to Emily's gesture in the car, fighting valiantly to remain strong, to not admit weakness. She expected Emily to say something, to murmur something soothing, but she didn't speak; she just held her.
JJ found her hand, of its own accord it seemed, slipping up under the pillow to find Emily's hand, the first hesitant touch embraced, Emily's fingers intertwining with hers, melding together, fitting perfectly. As they did, JJ felt the tension seep from her body, her hips shifting back on the mattress, pressing into the incredible, welcoming warmth of Emily's arms. Those arms tightened a bit, the hand holding hers squeezing gently. Emily finally spoke, a soft whisper that stirred JJ's hair, tickling her ear.
"Sleep. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."
JJ couldn't imagine that the first time she actually had the chance to lie in Emily's arms she would fall asleep, but as she lay in the cocooned sanctuary, Emily wrapped around her, she felt a wonderful lassitude slide over her and closing her eyes, she drifted off, the only images in her mind of the lovely brunette who held her.
Emily woke slowly, the vague shape of the window outlined against the dark of the walls, the lights from the motel and the early glow of dawn obscured by the heavy cloud cover and still falling snow. JJ hadn't moved all night, her breathing deep and steady, her hand clasped lightly in her own. Emily wished that she could see her face, but if she closed her eyes, she could remember how JJ had looked lying asleep on her lap, the stress and tension of the previous days wiped away, like words from a white board, leaving only serene beauty. The feel of JJ against her, the curve of her back fitting along the sloping line of Emily's body, as if it had been ordained in the first incandescent hours of time, sent intricately shaped molecules of hope and desire streaming recklessly through Emily's veins; however, she remained completely still, unwilling to chance waking her slumbering companion.
She had lain awake for some time last night, feeling JJ's weight settle against her as the blonde slipped off to sleep, the tightness of her grasp on Emily's hand loosening. Lying wrapped around JJ, her face almost buried in silken locks, Emily could smell the faintly citrus scent of JJ's shampoo, intermingled with the fresh air fragrance of wind and snow that still clung to her, cold and clean and crisp. She didn't know quite what had come over her last night. The idea, the fantasy, of holding JJ was never far from her mind, but she had honestly never thought to act on it; dreams were never meant to be tainted by the harshness of reality.
In the real world in which they both lived and worked, there was little room for tenderness, or desire, and especially not for love. Not for the two of them, at least. It would be too hard, too painful, too risky to even contemplate. Even if JJ felt the same way. Which Emily was sure she didn't. Those harsh reality checks were the things that Emily continually tried to convince herself were true; they were the only things that let her sleep at night, not kept awake by the idea of JJ; the idea of JJ lying asleep in her arms. Like this.
A soft sigh and a flexing of muscles in shoulders and back signaled that JJ was awake. The fingers intertwined with Emily's readjusted, sliding back into position, tips pressing against the back of Emily's hand, thumb moving in a gentle caress along the smooth, tender skin of her wrist. Emily felt the blonde in her arms wriggle back against her, pressing her body a little more firmly into her own, each movement accompanied by another soft sigh of contentment.
Emily tightened the arm around JJ's waist, pulling her closer, her hand against the aged cotton of the sweatshirt that covered JJ's stomach. She waited for JJ to say something, but another satisfied sigh was the only sound from that side of the bed. Finally, unable to stay silent any longer, Emily drew in a deep breath and spoke.
"Are you awake?"
"Umm-hmm," came the sleepy reply.
"Do you want to go back to sleep?" Emily asked, a slight smile creasing her face at the tone of JJ's voice.
"Can you say anything besides 'umm-hmmm'?" Emily laughed, squeezing JJ's hand.
"Umm-hmmm. It's only six and it's not even light outside. Go back to sleep, Emily," JJ murmured, attempting unsuccessfully to move back closer against the brunette.
"Did you sleep all right?" Emily couldn't stop the words from leaving her lips, despite JJ's admonition.
For a long moment, JJ didn't answer. Emily had just decided that the blonde had indeed gone back to sleep, when she spoke, her voice so quiet that Emily had to strain to hear; it was clear from the care that she took with her words that JJ's sleepiness had left her. Her thumb traced a line up Emily's palm, moving in slow, abbreviate circles along the sensitive skin.
"I slept. Really slept. No tortured dreams, no stress; no lying awake and staring at the ceiling; no being afraid to close my eyes because of what I might see. I can't remember sleeping like that in years. Since I was a child. Maybe not even then; I don't know that I ever felt safe enough when I was a kid to sleep that deeply. But last night, I felt completely safe, completely protected. That was an amazing gift, Emily. I don't know quite how to thank you."
A flush of pleasure stole over Emily's face as the meaning of JJ's words sank into her consciousness.
"JJ, you already did. Yesterday, on the road, and then last night. You trusted me. You allowed me to be there for you. I know how hard it can be to let someone in, and especially to let down your guard and trust someone enough to let them take care of you. That was the amazing gift," Emily answered softly, her voice low and full of emotion.
JJ lay still, not replying. It had to be perfectly clear now to both she and Emily that the feelings they harbored for each other were mutual. She knew that something had altered between them, like the shifting of tectonic plates before an earthquake; signaling the possibility of monumental change. Although her heart rebelled at the idea, JJ knew that there might never be more for them than this; that they might never have the courage or the strength to explore their feelings for each other. She hoped fiercely that that wasn't the case; that eventually, they would find a way to move on, together, building something resilient and enduring.
For now though, there was this; the sanctuary of strong arms around her, the gentle clasp of a hand in her own. In a world that so often seemed darker than death itself, just the knowledge that she had someone to hold onto, someone to trust, nearly overwhelmed her.
"Emily? Would it be okay if we just stayed right here until we have to get up for lunch?" JJ asked, closing her eyes and tilting her head back a little, snuggling into the pillow.
"I think that I can manage that," Emily replied, the smile on her lips evident in her voice. "Go to sleep, JJ. I'm not going anywhere. I promise."
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