DISCLAIMER: All herein belong to CBS and its affiliates, not me. Not profit was made, no disrespect intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: These are meant to be three possible moments in Emily Prentiss' life. Together they form a triptych, three paintings that make a whole. Thanks to tremblingmoon, eclecticfan, darandkerry, seftiri, and racethewind10 for the kind words, encouragement, and pointing out of flaws. Any and all errors are mine.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
I. Cold Like the Sun
She was surprised at how cold she felt. For endless miles all around her, the desert stretched, empty and vast. An ocean of sand, broken here and there by the rise of buttes, the scattered remnants of ships lost at sea, their sails scarlet and tattered against the washed out denim blue of the sky. The sun was a massive sphere of light that seemed to fill the entire horizon; white, unrelenting, rays beating down on the defenseless earth, drawing forth every last ounce of moisture, leaving behind only the desiccated remains of life. It had to be a hundred in the shade and yet, she could barely contain the shivers that coursed through her body.
Odd, that a bullet would feel like a frozen arrow into her skin. She had always imagined that the metal, forced by a contained explosion from the barrel of the gun, sent hurtling through space at impossible speeds would be searing; imagined that she would feel the wound as a white-hot poker imbedded in her flesh. Not this immense chill seeping through her limbs, leaving her paralyzed and frozen. If she closed her eyes, she could almost picture a plain of white, covered in snow and ice, arctic winds sweeping across the flat expanse of ground; not this sun-scorched vista, wind whipping up small sand storms that pummeled already bruised skin, sweeping away every last trace of man in this inhospitable land.
Looking down with an abstract curiosity, she could see the growing stain of dark brownish-red spreading down the sleeve of her shirt and over the swell of breast. It began in her shoulder, the viscous liquid soaking into the fabric, the dark red swallowing the pale purple, seeping slowly downward. She had tried unsuccessfully to stem the flow with her left hand, but it had little effect. She could feel the thick welling between her fingers, feel the obscene heat of her body leeching out, the blood burning the skin of her hand with its warmth. In the distance, as in a dream, she could hear the cry of voices, the sounds of shots being fired, the sharp bark of the guns echoing inside her head.
She thought that she heard a voice calling her name, a voice that she ought to know as well as her own, a voice that held more than a trace of panic. Anxiety and fear colored the sound so that she could almost see it against the faded blue sky; see it, a blood-orange flag streaming frantically in the platinum rays of the sun. She willed her body to turn, forcing her recalcitrant limbs to obey just a few rudimentary commands, flipping ungracefully onto her side. From this angle, she could see the others, pinned down, bodies stretched flat against the unforgiving ground, or folded at awkward angles along the hard metal exteriors of vehicles. Out of the corner of her peripheral vision, she could just make out the solid shape of the concrete and stucco house that sat, squat and unwelcoming, in the middle of this barren plateau.
It was supposed to have been a normal questioning of a witness. Not this. Not the quick flash of polished metal in a window and the rat-a-tat of shots ringing out. Not the hard jab to the shoulder that sent her spinning to the ground, her head meeting the uncompromising earth with a clang that rattled her senses. Her eyes refused to focus completely, and she blinked them rapidly, trying to clear the blurred images that swayed and shimmered in the hot desert air. A glimpse of gold caught her attention, and she tried, unsuccessfully, to bring the figure into relief. Again, she heard her name being called, questions lofted toward her, falling just short, the words garbled and indistinct.
As suddenly as they had begun, the shots ceased, and a strange silence fell over the landscape. All that she could hear now was the ragged rasp of her own breathing, and the solid thud under her ear of feet pounding on the hard packed ground, coming toward her quickly. She felt soft hands against the clammy skin of her face, brushing the dark locks out of her eyes, as another hand pressed firmly against the wound in her shoulder, the pressure seeming only an ineffectual dam to counter the rushing tide of blood. Words echoed faintly in her brain, like whispers in a long tunnel; desperate words; panicked words, words begging her to answer, demanding her attention, demanding a response. The only one she could manage was no more than a moving of lips; the effort needed for sound beyond her right now.
Cold, she mouthed. Cold.
Forcing her eyes open, she willed them to focus. Like a reflection in a foggy mirror, she could just make out the classic lines of JJ's face, brows pulled sharply down, pupils so thin in the harsh desert light that all she could see was blue darkened to cobalt with worry. Her hair fell around her face, the blonde turned to burnished gold in the sun. She knew that JJ was speaking, knew that she was telling her something, asking her something, but it was if only one of her senses could function at a time, and so all that she could do was see those full lips, tightened in fear and concern, moving in slow motion. The world was still and silent. And she was cold, cold like the sun.
II. A Separate Peace
It began slowly, an intermittent pattering of drops against the windshield. She wondered if, given enough time, Reid could come up with some formula to figure out exactly where the next drop would fall. Quite probable; although it wasn't something that she would ever ask. As often as science gave them insight into the wonders of the universe, sometimes, it seemed to her, it took away a little of the magic. Probes to Mars, marvels of human engineering and imagination, sent back gorgeous Technicolor photos of the stormy, wind-driven plains of red dust. It was just that, in each crisp picture, that long harbored belief, the one held onto fiercely by children still clad in footie pajamas, that out there on that red planet gracing the winter sky, small green men plotted the downfall of the Earth, was ripped from us, and little by little that child in all of us was banished to bed by the clear light of science. She preferred just waiting patiently as each new drop fell, random and haphazard. Much more magical.
That is, if sitting in a parked car in a cold November rain, in a run down section of Newark could, in any way, be classified as magical. The view out the front window was of a gray building, on a gray street, in a gray world. The only bits of color were the sad, tattered stripes of orange and yellow on what had once been a McDonalds ad on the billboard tilting precariously toward the large warehouse. Even the trash that littered the street was gray; soggy papers, and crushed bottles. It was only two in the afternoon, but it seemed much later, the dim radiance of the sun just a suggestion of light behind the thick cloud cover. The only thing magical about the whole day was sitting beside her in the Suburban: JJ.
Glancing sideways, she watched JJ stretch, her back arching into the seat like a cat, shoulders rising, first one, then the other, neck turning, flexing slowly. There was an athletes grace to her, a fluidness of motion, even in this confined space that Emily found immensely appealing. She loved to watch the blonde move; loved to watch her walk, loved the simple elegance in her hands gesturing as she talked. Truth be told, there was far too much about JJ that Emily loved, at least for Emily's peace of mind.
Workplace crushes were bad enough, but this was so much more. This wasn't about harmless flirtation or about the way Emily's pulse fluttered when JJ stood just a little too close, something that Emily couldn't help but note that the blonde was wont to do. It was about the feeling of peace that settled into her bones when she gazed just a little too long into clear blue eyes; the feeling that for that frozen instant of time, all was right with the world, despite all the daily, hourly evidence to the contrary.
The silence between them seemed to fill the empty back seat, coalescing into an unobtrusive, yet ever-present figure, slumped almost sullenly against the tan leather. The only sound was the steady tattoo of the rain beating on the steel roof, the downpour reducing the broken landscape to vague, hazy shadows and unrecognizable shapes. Emily tried to keep her eyes focused on the empty warehouse in front of them, but the rain made it difficult to see. Besides, they had been here for two hours now and the only movement had been a rail-thin stray tabby that strolled nonchalantly across the cracked asphalt, its yellow-eyed stare fixed on them with a bored air for a moment before it slipped between the building and a fence and was gone. For Emily, surreptitious glances to her right were much more rewarding. Much more dangerous to her state of mind, but infinitely more rewarding.
"If you couldn't do this, what would you do?" JJ asked suddenly, her voice incongruously loud. Emily almost expected the ubiquitous figure of silence in the back to let out a squeak of surprise. She nearly did.
"You mean there's something out there besides sitting here in an abandoned section of one of the ugliest cities in the US, in a torrential downpour that has all the makings of the next great flood, staring at an empty building for hours on end, on the off chance that a possible witness to a horrific string of murders might just wander through?" Emily answered, one eyebrow raised, the corner of her full lips quirked up in amusement. "Gosh, JJ, you mean this isn't on your list of ways to spend hours of your life that you will never, ever get back?"
JJ chuckled, her laugh rich and throaty, skirting along Emily's skin, causing an infinitesimal shiver. Emily turned slightly in her seat, needing for the moment to see the grin that brought out small dimples at the edges of JJ's lips.
"I meant, smartass, if you couldn't do this job, if you weren't a profiler, what would you want to do?" JJ tossed back at her, blue eyes twinkling in the faint light, the fond note in her voice almost turning the insult into an endearment.
Emily paused, taking in the expression of genuine curiosity on the blonde's face, the subtle shift in her body, so that she leaned back against the passenger door, her head tilted to the left to lie against the headrest. It wasn't often that they found themselves alone like this, and Emily felt a thin trickle of warmth spread across her chest at the look in JJ's eyes. An answering smile touched her lips as she contemplated JJ's question. Her eyes fluttered shut and for a brief moment, the damp, chill rain of New Jersey fell away, the gray street dispersing like vapor in the heat of the desert wind, and she was in the vast silence of arching ceilings, golden stucco walls surrounding her. The air was musty and dry, and thirteen year old Emily was certain that she could just catch a whiff of frankincense and kapet.
Dark lashes flickered open over dark eyes, and Emily met JJ's slightly concerned stare, brows drawn down, creating small wrinkles on the smooth skin of her forehead.
"Sorry. I was just remembering. When I was younger, I wanted to be the curator in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo," Emily replied quietly, eyes glowing softly with forgotten dreams. "I used to go there all the time, when mother was posted in Egypt. It was like an oasis in a teeming sea of people and noise and chaos. The minute I walked inside, there was a stillness, a sense of having literally stepped back into the past. The air smelled dusty, the ceilings and doorways were these graceful arches into other worlds. Outside the museum, there were too many people, too many conflicts, but inside, there was only tranquility and silence. I never wanted to leave."
JJ's smile was tender as she met Emily's gaze. Slowly, she reached out and brushed her fingers back and forth along the smooth skin of Emily's hand, where it rested on the console between them.
"What made you change your mind?" She asked, her eyes following the traced pattern of her fingers on Emily's skin.
Watching the shift of color in JJ's eyes, the dark indigo along the outer rim, the paler, crystal sapphire of the iris, Emily pondered the question. When she spoke, her voice held a sadness that struck JJ's skin like the sharp sting of the ice cold raindrops that pummeled the ground outside.
"Riots broke out. There were bombings and killings throughout the Middle East; conflicts that had begun centuries ago boiled over again and again. I guess that I realized that no matter how you bury yourself among the dead, life goes on; the dying goes on. And that the peace inside the museum was only an illusion. The beauty and the majesty of the tombs and the statues and the gold are just shiny, gilt coating. I realized that no matter how appealing we might try to make it, underneath it, there was cruelty, greed, corruption, murder; just like today. You can't hide in the past, because the past is never over."
JJ didn't reply. Instead she simply slipped the hand still tracing patterns on her skin into Emily's, fingers meshing together in a perfect fit. Emily gazed down at their joined hands, the slender length of JJ's fingers honey against her own paler skin. The interior of the Suburban was a separate place, disconnected by the curtain of rain from the dismal world outside. Silence settled back into the SUV, although this time it rested comfortably, no longer a disquieting figure slouched petulantly in the back seat. As they resumed their surveillance of the empty warehouse, the rain washed away a little more of the past.
III. Sins of Omission
Even through the layer of hermetically sealed Plexiglas, she could smell the desert. Gazing at the once vibrant colors, she could catch the musty scent of packed earth in the passageways, the damp odor of stone that held, in each tiny crevice along its rough hewn surface, the blood of slaves three thousand years dead.
The jar was small, too small it seemed to her to be able to hold something so immense as the desert. For thousands of years it had sat, undisturbed, in the echoing blackness of a tomb, its contents slowly decaying, turning back to dust. Turning back to sand.
Around her people milled, murmuring in low tones, but she ignored them, her eyes fixed on the small canopic jar. The jackal-headed god Duamutef stared back at her with righteous indictment, as if she alone were responsible for the desecration, the sacrilege committed. And perhaps she was.
After all, what was one more sin, really?
In the grander scheme of things, at least this one might be forgivable. She doubted very seriously that some of her others were.
Not that her sins were all that grand. No crimes of passion. No thefts of priceless paintings. No threats of bodily harm. No murders. Emily wasn't prone to actual sinning. Not the kind that required action, anyway. No sins of commission.
No, her sins were the ones she tried not to commit.
Like not acknowledging that she was falling in love with JJ. That JJ was falling in love with her. She had been striving mightily for months now to not admit what she knew was happening. To not act on it. To not say the words that perched like frightened birds on her tongue, threatening at any moment to take flight. Words her chest ached with holding in. Words that left her mouth dry as the desert that had held these jars; held the decaying remains of these souls. Words that held the power to destroy her fragile hold on her emotions and held the key to unlock the compartment that contained her heart.
Words she carefully omitted.
The crowds milled around her, sticky schoolchildren, uninterested teens. In whispered tones, she heard admonitions to silence by harried housewives, whined complaints of boredom from eight year olds and eighteen year olds. Phrases in three or four different languages floated toward her in the still air of the Smithsonian, sentences in lilting cadences and brusque commands. Words of awe and wonder at the survival of something so delicate, something made only of sand and water and heat. Expressions of admiration, of fascination. Words of commission.
Words like the ones she could never quite bring herself to say.
She had come so close last night, so close to telling JJ how she felt for her. So close to telling her that there were times, particularly during a grueling case, when being near her, being able to see the understanding, the depth of compassion in her eyes were the only things that kept alive her belief in the existence of any good in the world. They had both been teetering on the brink of exhaustion, emotions raw, steely barricades battered and bent. It would have been so easy. So easy to tell her, so easy to say, "Come home with me, JJ. I need you. Please."
The melodrama of it nearly made her laugh. Or cry. She wasn't sure.
Emily wondered if they had felt such things, the petrified bones turning slowly to dust in these boxes of wood and gold. Rationally, she knew that they must have; must have experienced the first toddling steps of love, unsure on its feet, yet wholly confident, arms stretched out, certain that other stronger arms would be there to catch it. She knew that they must have known passion, must have felt a heat unmatched by the desert that surrounded them; must have lain on soft cotton bedding, skin flushed and glistening with sweat, moisture that evaporated like magic into the arid night. She wondered if they had left words unspoken, frightened beyond measure of the reply. She wondered if they had paid for the sin. She wondered if the price had been worth it.
Now they were nothing. Empty shells. The jars were supposed to save them. In each clay vessel all that they were, their souls and minds, their emotions, their very essence were stored until they reached the land of the dead and lived again. Not bad, as theories go. Except for the desert; the desert that swallowed up tombs and cities and souls. That didn't allow for redemption or second chances.
She was nearly six thousand miles from the desert that had reluctantly given up these treasures, sands shifting for a brief window in time, allowing the past and the present to mingle. And yet, if she closed her eyes, she could hear the cries of the street barkers, hear the droning hum of cars speeding past, the steady heartbeat of the city, as if the people knew they must make enough noise to drown out the unbearable silence of the endless stretches of sand all around them.
She knew she was being childish, hiding here among the dead. JJ had called her this morning, asked if she was interested in grabbing some lunch, maybe catching a movie. She had lied, told her that she had to visit some old friends. Well, not quite a lie. A half-truth. An omission, perhaps. A small sin. Not one as terrible as the sin she committed every day in allowing her fears to stop her from putting her arms around JJ and whispering, "I'm in love with you". As sins went, that one had to be unforgivable, and like the desert, just as unlikely to offer any chance at redemption.
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