Fandom: Criminal Minds
Word count: 7,696
Summary: While solving a case, Emily & JJ are forced to take a closer look at their relationship.
Part I || Part II
A sharp beeping of a cellphone penetrated Emily's deep state of sleep, and with an annoyed groan, she finally reached for it and switched off the alarm. She always had her cellphone ring at six a.m. when she was working, so she didn't need to check the digital clock on the television to know that she had exactly an hour and a half to drag her butt downstairs and meet the rest of the team.
Taking a deep breath, she blinked. Her eyes fixed on the outline of the window that looked down on the busy street in front of the hotel. It was still dark outside, but there was enough light for her to make out random shapes of furniture and the tall plant in the corner of the room. The noises of traffic could be faintly heard through the glass. Reaching for a light switch, Emily turned on the small bedside lamp and blinked against the sudden brightness that illuminated her surroundings.
Her head felt oddly heavy, the remnants of sleep refusing to let go, and it seemed like every muscle in her body was truly and utterly spent. Furiously rubbing her eyes, Emily tried to sit up, but her right arm refused to move an inch.
It was then that it all came back to her.
A surge of adrenaline washed over her, every instinct suddenly hyper-active. Turning her head to the right, she caught a glimpse of blonde hair and finally registered the soft and regular breathing against her skin. Her colleague was sound asleep on her shoulder, peaceful, her head buried in the crook of Emily's neck, and her arm swung carelessly around her waist.
"Oh no," Emily muttered, details of the previous night coming back to her, one by one. In a need to make absolutely sure, she slowly peered under the sheet; although, she knew exactly what she was going to discover.
No clothes. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
"Shit!" she cursed loud enough for the blonde next to her to stir, but JJ only nuzzled closer to the warm body and soon her breathing was even again. Emily let the sheet fall back on their naked bodies and stared at the ceiling.
This was so not the way she'd imagined it would happen. Getting drunk while working—at least they had been off the clock, she noted, mortified—and then sleeping with your co-worker was pretty much the worst idea in the history of the universe. What the hell had she been thinking?
She should've put a stop to it. JJ obviously hadn't been able to think lucidly; the three vodkas on an empty stomach had made sure of it. And while Emily hadn't been quite sober herself, she'd still been sober enough to know better. But feeling the blonde's lips on hers, a year of longing, hopeless fantasies, and anguish finally coming to an end, she simply hadn't been able to pull back. She hadn't wanted to. She'd been offered the forbidden fruit, and now there wasn't so much as a seed left.
It was all so messed up.
Carefully extracting herself from the sleeping blonde, Emily bitterly realized how incredibly right and perfect it felt to hold JJ, to feel her heartbeat under her palm, and to see her chest rise and fall peacefully. It was everything she'd ever dreamt of – except now it was real, and she had no idea what to do. Her life seemed to be an embodiment of irony.
JJ let out a small whimper when Emily slid out from under her, but thankfully, the movement of the bed didn't wake her up. The brunette let out a sigh of relief. She needed to think, to find a way out of this mess before they were inevitably forced to deal with what they'd done.
There was a small part of Emily which innocently believed that it'd be all right, that maybe JJ could actually feel something for her and that they could live happily ever after in a big house with a white picket fence. The sensible part of her brain laughed at her for being so unbelievably naive and ingenuous. Rationally, she knew this was a dead end, the farthest she could ever get with JJ. She'd blatantly taken advantage of her friend, and she hated herself for it, no matter how amazing the night had actually been.
Pulling on her bra and panties, Emily tried to locate her pants and finally spotted them behind the TV set. She'd barely stepped into them when her cellphone came to life again, playing that annoying default alarm tone she'd grown to hate. Emily froze, her pants halfway up her legs, and stared at the phone on the night-stand in horror.
JJ stirred again. She turned to lie on her back and stretched lazily, the movement causing the sheet to slide back, revealing quite a bit of her upper torso. Emily stared, blushing furiously when the gorgeous sight in front of her brought forward certain images of the previous night.
The brunette quickly pulled her pants the rest of the way up and bent down to fetch her shirt from the floor. She was hugging it to her chest when JJ's eyes slowly opened and met hers. Emily couldn't breathe. The alarm ended, preparing to blast out another awakening in ten minutes time, and left the room in eerie silence.
JJ's eyes were confused at first, the look on her face thoroughly clueless. Then she blinked a few times, her eyes drifting to her bare chest, and Emily could easily pinpoint the exact moment when it all sank in. JJ's eyes widened, her hand flying to her breasts to cover her immodesty, and then she looked up at Emily, shocked.
Neither of them dared to say a word, all that happened the previous night hung like an impenetrable cloud between them. With sadness it dawned on Emily that whatever the outcome might be, their friendship would be changed forever, irreparably damaged. She couldn't believe she'd let it happen; she was usually so level-headed.
Just when Emily had gathered enough courage to break the silence, JJ scrambled to her feet, the white sheet wrapped tightly around her. She quickly collected her clothes into a small bundle, squeezing it tightly against her chest, and then, without a word, disappeared into the bathroom.
Emily stared at the closed door, her emotions at war with each other, wreaking havoc in her head. Feeling oddly numb, she threw on her shirt and buttoned it with trembling fingers. Vehemently combing her hand through her hair, she tried to get rid of the worst tangles that served as further proof of her nightly activities.
When JJ finally emerged from the bathroom, fully dressed, Emily had stood, unsure of what to do, in the middle of the room for a good ten minutes. It hadn't seemed like a fair option to flee and leave the blonde behind, so she'd fidgeted in the same spot, waiting for the damn door to open.
Awkward didn't even begin to describe it. Neither still knew what to say, neither could look the other in the eye, both women wanting nothing more than to run out of the room, screaming. JJ scratched the back of her neck, her left arm protectively wrapped around her middle section. Protection from what, Emily wasn't sure.
"The drinks. Who...I mean...," JJ struggled for words, her cheeks turning a faint shade of pink. And despite the God-awful situation, the naive part of Emily found it adorable.
"I'll just pay the clerk beforehand. It won't show in the bill," Emily replied quietly, immediately able to follow JJ's train of thought.
"Oh, okay." The blonde still wouldn't look at her, and Emily felt a sting of anger in her gut.
So very messed up.
"JJ-," she began, but JJ raised her hand, and Emily's words died on her lips.
"I just...I can't right now." JJ rubbed her eyes and then ran a hand through her golden hair. "I need to go and...and change." With that, JJ turned on her heels, and the door closed behind her with a thud before Emily had time to grasp what was happening.
Emily wasn't quite certain how long she simply stood there, staring at the closed door, wishing she could take the last twelve hours back. She realized, embittered, that she'd swap the previous night for her unrequited love and for having her best friend back in a heartbeat.
And that really was the worst part. For the rest of her life, she would know exactly what she couldn't have, what she would miss. It hadn't been easy before either, but now she wouldn't need to imagine anything because she'd know exactly what it felt like to be with JJ. She could never go back to pretending – it'd never be the same, not even close. It'd be like switching to lemons after you'd run out of oranges; she'd always be able to tell the difference with painful accuracy.
An hour later, Emily found herself sitting on the foot of the bed—the same spot she'd sat only hours before—and staring into space. The clock said 7:20, which meant she had roughly ten minutes to put on her mask of professionalism, force herself to leave the safe haven that was her room, and prepare to work the entire day without being preoccupied by her personal life. She fell back on the bed, the springs of the bed making a squeaking sound.
Yes, she'd be dead by lunchtime.
The rest of the team were already waiting in the lobby when Emily finally stepped out of the elevators on the ground floor. She easily spotted JJ, standing a little apart from the others and wearing her sunglasses – an obvious attempt to hide the black circles under her eyes. After a quick detour to the front desk—she'd just tell the others she needed new towels in her room—Emily joined the team, and they headed out.
It didn't really surprise the brunette that JJ again chose to ride in the SUV she wasn't in. Succumbing to her guilt, Emily stared out of the window without really seeing the scenery and wished she was anywhere but there.
The precinct was already buzzing with energy when they stepped inside a little after eight. The team gathered in their temporary headquarters where Sheriff Gordon was already waiting with a thick manila folder.
"The autopsy report of Charlotte Hemingway came in twenty minutes ago," Gordon began, looking satisfied. "It's basically identical to the last two. The ME wasn't able to get much of anything from the first two victims, but I think this definitely establishes the pattern for certain."
"Good." Hotch nodded. "Then I think we're ready to give the profile." He marched out of the room, the Sheriff close behind him.
"Wait, we are?" Emily asked dryly, consciously avoiding looking in JJ's direction.
"Better just roll with it," Morgan mused, leading the rest of the team to where Hotch and Rossi now stood in the squad room.
Giving a profile was one of the things Emily loved the most about her job. It all came together so beautifully as they took turns in dissecting the criminal mind, the profile being a perfect skeleton of the unsub's psyche. It never ceased to amaze Emily how accurately a person's mental state could be analyzed by using only arbitrary details of them in the visible world.
"We're looking for a man in his mid-30s, Caucasian. The killings started a month ago, so look for stressors around that time; something made him snap," Hotch explained to the roomful of uniformed police officers, most of them furiously taking notes while he spoke.
"His M.O. is rather specific in terms of the means and the method of killing. The stressor most probably had something do with a person close to him, a person who took her own life, presumably by hanging," Emily chimed in, the others nodding slightly as she spoke.
"The unsub is average in every way." Morgan took over from her, taking a few steps forward. "Average-looking, average income, average life. He has a gift of making people trust him, since he was somehow able to lure these women to him."
"At the same time, he's physically unsure of himself. There are no signs of struggle at the scenes because he used chloroform to subdue his victims. He wants to make sure they don't fight back because he might not be able to hold them down," Rossi finished, the officers hanging on every word he said.
"What about the suicide note?" one of the officers asked, and all eyes expectantly turned to Reid.
Clearing his throat, he began explaining in his typically enthusiastic manner. "The wording in the note suggests the unsub is angry at whoever committed suicide and left him behind. He's expressing this anger through these murders and thinks he's doing something noble and courageous. His anger is clearly only fueled by the killings, seeing as how he has escalated radically during the last two weeks.
"Also, the fact that all the victims had previously attempted suicide simply can't be a coincidence. To him, these women are not worthy of anything, so what better way to put them to use," Reid finished, his eyes shining with excitement.
"Somehow our unsub has access to information about the victims' backgrounds. He knows they have a history in terms of suicide, and purposefully, picks his victims that way," Hotch concluded. "Any other questions?"
No arms rose, so Hotch ended the briefing with a nod and led his team to the back office while the officers returned to their daily routine.
"We need to talk with Charlotte Hemingway's family. Dave, you and Prentiss do that. The rest of us will stay here and work on the evidence we have so far. Let's meet back in two hours," Hotch said and Emily nodded, thankful that he'd decided to pair her up with Rossi instead of JJ.
"The media is insisting on a press conference. It's been three days," the blonde media liaison noted flatly when Emily and Rossi were preparing to leave. JJ had removed her sunglasses, and Emily flinched inwardly at the exhaustion that shone on her face.
"Yeah, put one together, but keep the information to a minimum for now," Hotch agreed, his eyes lingering on JJ's tired features.
Walking across the precinct, Emily could feel JJ's eyes burning a hole in her back, but she forced herself to ignore it and followed Rossi out of the building. She had no idea how she could keep on working with JJ after everything that had taken place. Every single detail of their love making was burned into her brain like a brand, and it was a brand that most certainly dictated ownership; in one night, JJ had ruined her for everyone else. Emily knew she would never be able to act like nothing happened between them, if that indeed was what JJ wanted.
Anger and frustration built up inside her, a big lump of blackness in her chest making it hard to breathe or concentrate, and Emily slammed the car door closed a little more forcefully than she'd intended. Rossi glanced at her, his eyebrow slightly crooked, but she was too pissed off to wonder what her open display of irritation might look like to the newest addition to their team.
Feeling like the world was out to get her, Emily realized, that for the first time in over a year, she didn't particularly look forward to working.
It was the fifth time she'd attempted to read through the same paragraph. Tapping the table in a frustrated manner with her thumb, JJ started over again, this time getting two lines in and then losing her concentration. It was impossible; she simply couldn't get anything useful done, and she felt absolutely horrible for it. Personal issues should never override the job at hand, and by letting her mind wander JJ felt like she was letting everyone down.
She'd even royally messed up the press conference by basically giving the impression that it was her first day on the job. Forming coherent thoughts had been insanely difficult, which certainly didn't help when she was supposed to answer the reporters' various questions in a way that didn't make them wonder if she knew what she was talking about. She should've known to expect it beforehand, though; there was no way in hell she would remember anything about the case while the thoughts of Emily making love to her played in an infinite loop inside her head.
And trying to forget sex with Emily Prentiss was something JJ wouldn't have recommended for anyone. Mostly because it was impossible. A paradox. An oxymoron of sorts. One simply didn't forget having sex with the most gorgeous woman on the planet.
She felt ashamed for dealing so poorly with the whole thing afterwards, but her brain couldn't have processed what had just occurred the night before. Standing in the middle of Emily's room, she'd felt like she was on candid camera, and someone had pulled the cruelest joke possible on her, like she was in a farce of some sort, because things like that simply didn't happen to normal people.
And then, there was the look on Emily's face when JJ had stepped out of the bathroom, the one with a mixture of confusion and fear, and that had essentially assured the blonde that she really couldn't talk about it yet, not when she knew exactly what Emily was going to say. It'd break her heart in a million pieces, and she needed to prepare herself before letting Emily tell her, in all likelihood volubly and with colorful terms, why they should simply forget anything ever happened.
All this, because she was stupid enough to get drunk.
JJ had never been a big drinker; usually she took a drink or two when she was out with friends or the team, and maybe partake in some wine at dinner when she was truly pampering herself after a particularly difficult day. But she never, ever, got drunk on vodka with a co-worker and while basically on duty, and then flagrantly took advantage of said co-worker who was probably just too polite to turn her down.
She really should've known better than to take Emily's suggestion for a drink. She'd known the alcohol would loosen her tongue—especially since she hadn't really eaten anything the entire day—and perhaps, make her say or do something she'd regret later. But nothing like this. Nothing. She'd felt so defeated, and seeing Emily standing there, her eyes shining with tenderness and understanding, JJ had relented without much struggle. And if that wasn't enough, she hadn't even been smart enough to overindulge in her drinking so that she wouldn't remember anything the following morning. It certainly would've made the whole thing significantly easier to deal with.
The amount of self-loathing JJ felt at that very moment could've cast an ominous shadow over the entire precinct, if it was distributed equally.
She was so engrossed in her internal battle that she didn't notice Emily and Rossi's return until the latter dropped a large case file on the desk with a thud, startling her. She glanced up from the file she was supposedly reading, and her eyes landed on the soft curves of Emily Prentiss, who was standing in front of the evidence board. The brunette was studying the different crime scene photos and various pieces of paper pinned to the board, her back to the room and to JJ.
"Anything useful from the family?" Hotch asked from the other side of the table, forcing JJ to take her eyes off of Emily’s backside.
"Hmph," Rossi snorted, taking a seat at the far end of the table as well. "Nothing we hadn't heard already. Her first suicide attempt was five years ago after she and her husband lost their child in a car accident. But apparently she was back to 'normal' again and living happily with said husband."
"It's the previous suicide attempts which work as a commonality between these cases, so maybe we should concentrate solely on that," Morgan suggested, pouring a cup of coffee from the pot that had been delivered to them by a polite beat cop just moments before.
"Guys?" Emily's voice interrupted whatever it was that Hotch was about to say, and all eyes shifted to the brunette, who was still scrutinizing the board.
She turned around, her eyes shining. "Does it seem odd to anyone else that none of the victims had their cellphones with them? In fact, their cells haven't popped up anywhere."
Rossi's eyes narrowed. "Go on," he encouraged her, clearly intrigued by this seemingly irrelevant detail.
"It just occurred to me that when we interviewed Sally Dern's parents yesterday, her mother remarked that Sally was constantly calling to assure them everything was fine. Well, if she called so often, where's her cellphone? It's the 21st century, everyone has one." Now having the undivided attention of everyone in the room, Emily pointed to the photos of the personal items that were recovered at each scene.
"And it wouldn't be half as odd if the other victims weren't missing their cellphones as well. All of their purses were found in the vicinity of the crime scenes, but no phones. Although I have no idea why, I'd be willing to bet my right arm that the unsub took them as souvenirs." Emily crossed her arms on her chest, waiting for the verdict.
"Nice catch," Hotch said, impressed. "Morgan, get Garcia on the phone."
The robust agent hit speed dial and put the phone on speaker.
"The office of everything supreme, how may I rock your world?" Garcia's cheery voice sounded through the speaker, earning a round of chuckles from the rest of the team.
"Garcia, we need you to see if the victims owned a cellphone," Hotch instructed the computer whiz, and soon a faint sound of fingers tapping on keyboard could be heard.
"Yep, they all had one. At least, they all paid a phone bill once a month," Garcia concurred.
"Can you pull their phone records and cross-reference them?" Emily cut in, leaning her hands against the table. "I have a hunch," she explained and shrugged when the others looked at her, puzzled.
"Easily, but it's going to take a while," Garcia replied, the sounds of the keyboard increasing.
"Just call back when you're done," Hotch instructed.
"Right-O." The line went dead, and the atmosphere in the room was suddenly more excited than ever before during their stay.
Hotch had told them all to take a short break, before getting back to the endless task of going through files and documents, and JJ had taken the opportunity to head outside in a vain attempt of clearing her head. After what had to be close to a quarter of an hour, she was convinced that nothing she did would ameliorate her mood in the slightest. There was no other option than to try and concentrate the best she could because it, frankly, couldn't get any worse than it already was.
Of course, she was greatly mistaken.
As she was walking back to the countless files and trivial details, someone grabbed her arm and pulled her into a small, unoccupied office. She snatched her arm back and, her eyes burning with fury, turned to look at the person who'd interrupted her journey. The air was knocked out of her lungs when she realized she was staring at Emily, Emily with a look of uneasiness and nervousness on her face.
"What are you doing?" JJ asked, her voice more annoyed than she intended. She subconsciously rubbed the spot on her arm where the brunette had touched her.
"We need to talk." Emily closed the door firmly behind her and stood in front of it, efficiently cutting off JJ's only means of escaping.
"I don't think we do." The room suddenly felt a whole lot smaller.
"What the hell is wrong with you, JJ?" Emily raised her voice and took a step forward.
"God, nothing's wrong with me!" All the frustration JJ had felt manifested itself as pure anger. "And we certainly don't need to talk because I have no idea why I was moronic enough to sleep with my co-worker!"
"Right," Emily mumbled, casting her eyes to the floor between them. "Well, I can see it's really bothering you, so-,"
"Don't profile me, Emily." JJ's voice was low and cold.
"It actually doesn't take a profiler to see it." Emily snorted humorlessly.
"I need to get back to work." JJ said as evenly as she could.
"Exactly. Look, we need to work together, so could we just talk and get it over with?"
"We're only working together because you were Strauss' personal sock puppet!"
JJ knew she'd crossed the line with that one. She felt a horrible pang of guilt hit her when she saw Emily's face grow pale and her eyes flash with hurt. The anger inside her subsided and was replaced by sadness so powerful she felt she was drowning in it. She couldn't believe she'd gone that far; she knew that was the one thing Emily felt insecure about in terms of her role in the BAU. The brunette had told JJ about the whole Strauss debacle, on the spur of the moment, when they'd gone for drinks one time after work. Emily didn't trust people easily, that much was clear, and she'd confided in JJ, and now the blonde had thrown it back in her face like it meant nothing to her.
She was such an asshole.
"Wow." Emily's voice was rough, making JJ cringe. "I honestly thought you were different, JJ." The way she said it, the amount of disappointment and mortification encoded in her words, made the blonde want to cry.
"Emily," she began, desperate to apologize, to explain everything. But before she had the chance to do so, there was a sharp knock on the door, and Reid popped his head in.
"Garcia's got something." Apparently it didn't seem odd at all to him that the two women were standing in the middle of an empty and poorly-lit office. Reid simply offered a smile, blowing a few random locks of hair off his face.
Emily followed him out of the room before JJ could stop her, and the blonde was left standing alone in the dark. She fought the urge to curl up in the corner and weep. She forced her legs to move and finally followed the other agents, trying to hide the pain she was in. She'd just irrevocably hurt the person who meant the most to her in the whole world, and there really was no other pain like that.
Impassively, she stepped back into the room and moved to stand at the far end, as far away from Emily as possible. She noticed that the brunette was sporting her usual mask of authority as if the earlier conversation had never taken place. It always seemed like the other woman was used to it, used to hiding herself from the world. She made it look so effortless while JJ herself was seriously struggling. Emily once again leaned over the table, her eyes focused on the speaker in front of her.
"Well, what do you know, my little cherubs, the phone records showed something very intriguing," Garcia said with excitement.
"We just got the fax you sent, so go on, Hot Stuff." Morgan grinned, and JJ had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. Yes, the constant flirting between the two was adorable, but right now, she felt like throwing the speaker against the wall. She took a deep, calming breath and concentrated on the matter at hand.
"I cross-referenced all the records like Emily asked, and I found something interesting. All of them have one number in common, as in all of the victims have called it. The calls lasted from ten to thirty minutes. Well, this might not be more than a coincidence, but then I checked the time in each record, and each call was placed less than twelve hours before the particular time of death," Garcia explained fervently.
"What number is it?" Rossi asked, a hint of impatience in his voice.
"That's the best part. It's a number for a suicide help line in the Chicago area." Garcia sounded almost gleeful.
"And that's how he knows his victims." Emily straightened up.
"Garcia, do you have an address?" Hotch asked, already standing up from his seat, ready to embark on their next task.
"But of course."
In spite of her massive failure in terms of her personal life, JJ felt that familiar thrilling sensation in the pit of her stomach for getting yet another step closer to the unsub. When they headed out to the cars, hastily pulling on kevlar and making sure their guns were in place, JJ mused that this was exactly what she needed right now; a little adrenaline rush and taking down a bad guy would mercifully take her mind off of other things and give her a moment of peace. Hopping in the car next to Sheriff Gordon, her hair already in a ponytail, she felt positive for the first time all day.
The building where the help line offices were located stood tall in downtown Chicago. The skyscraper impressively reached for the sky in front of them, and JJ felt smaller and smaller as they approached yet another massive epitome of the modern world.
It took them a little while to find the right floor, but then the elevator doors slid open on the 35th, and JJ felt another surge of adrenaline flow through her veins. The room in front of them was large and divided into small cubicles like any other office space. They stepped cautiously out of the elevator, the blonde only moderately aware of Emily standing not far to her right, their eyes darting around the space with suspicion. Their ears were filled with ringing of the phones and people chattering away.
Some employers in the cubicles closest to the elevator looked at them with bewilderment, and finally a man in jeans and a stylish shirt approached them.
"I'm Max Gerrard, the head of this department. Can I help you?" He eyed them nervously.
"We're looking for an employer of yours." Rossi stepped beside Hotch, his hand on his belt making him look nothing short of intimidating.
"Who might that be?"
"We're not quite sure yet," Rossi said lightly, and Max frowned.
"He's very much average, middle-aged, he's precise and doesn't like disarray," Hotch started listing. "He's never late, and although he's probably been here a while, no one really knows anything about him."
"Damn, that's Phil to a T!" Max chuckled and then obviously realized that there must be a grave reason for the presence of the FBI, his face growing serious again.
"Is he here now?" Rossi asked, his eyes pinning the man to the spot.
"Yeah, uh, Phil Flanders, he's in his cubicle. It's one of the last ones in that row." He pointed to his left. "It's where all the calls to the suicide help line come in."
"Thank you. Stay here, please," Hotch said, and with a quick look at the others, he started slowly making his way past the first set of cubicles.
Her hand slightly on the butt of her gun, JJ followed suit, her heart beating fast against her ribcage. They were halfway down the aisle when there was commotion in front of them. Someone from a cubicle not far from them jumped up, his eyes widening with horror when he saw the team of FBI agents heading his way.
"Jesus!" he shrieked. "I'm truly gonna pay that bill as soon as my next paycheck comes in! I swear! Just please don't arrest me!" The man stepped in front of them, his hands raised above his head, eyes wide with terror. He was trembling all over.
"We're not here for you," Hotch said, his voice unusually chilly, and the man swallowed. Just as quickly as he'd appeared, the man apologized furiously, explaining something about not having any unpaid bills after all, and then stumbled back into his cubicle. JJ rolled her eyes and saw Emily grinding her teeth, clearly annoyed.
When they turned back to their intended destination, they saw a man sprinting towards a door at the end of the room. Cursing heavily, Rossi started after him, the rest of the team following close behind. There was a glowing exit sign above the door.
"Morgan, Prentiss, JJ. Check upstairs. The rest of us go down," Hotch gave the order before he was fully through the doorway. He headed down the stairs without a second look behind him, the team splitting in two as the three assigned agents started their journey up the steep steps while the others followed Hotch.
JJ unholstered her gun, following Emily's example, and stayed near the brunette, who was leading the way. Her finger-tips tingled with excitement as she felt the cool metal of her semi-automatic between her hands.
It was fairly recent that the team included the blonde in their field missions. Although JJ had been more than qualified as a field agent when joining the team, somehow her specialty being media relations had come across as an equivalent for 'no field action, please'. Truth be told, it had definitely felt ridiculous at times for her to walk around with a gun attached to her hip while in reality she never needed it. Perhaps, she could've brought it up with Hotch sooner, but when Elle had left the Bureau, JJ had all of a sudden found herself being included in all the action. Due to lack of experience, she'd been hesitant at first, not sure whether she was of any use to the team, but with time, she'd become more and more confident, and now, she almost craved for some field time whenever they had a case.
The threesome arrived at the next floor, and Morgan pointed to the door leading to another office, indicating with his hand that he was going to check it out. Nodding in acknowledgment, Emily and JJ steadily continued their way upwards, soon realizing that there were no other floors after the one Morgan was investigating. The stairs spiraled two or three times more before the two women found themselves standing behind a thick steel door which led to the rooftop. A rusty padlock hung on a little metal hook, unlocked.
Emily glanced at JJ, her hand on the bar, ready to burst through. JJ looked back and nodded, easily understanding Emily's silent question. Satisfied by her response, the brunette pushed the door open and moved quickly to the bright daylight, her hands firmly holding the gun before her. JJ followed, her eyes darting from one possible hiding place to the next.
Emily steered to the left, so JJ headed in the opposite direction on the vast rooftop. There were various storage boxes standing in front of her, and she cautiously made her away around them, securing every direction before continuing forward. After rounding another corner and spotting absolutely nothing suspicious, JJ saw the edge of the building and sighed with exasperation. Step by step, she drew nearer to the wide stone railing and the last storage unit that blocked her of a complete view to Lake Michigan.
JJ didn't know why exactly, but she made the fatal mistake of quickly glancing behind her, before taking the last turn around the final corner, and the next thing she knew, there was a hard blow to her wrist which sent her arm flying to a wall. She lost the grip on her gun as pain radiated up her arm, the weapon making a clattering sound when it hit the ground. Disoriented, JJ glanced up, and for a brief moment, her eyes met those of a feeble-looking man before she felt another hard push as the man ran past her.
It all took only a second or two at most, but for JJ, it had happened in slow motion and had felt like an eternity. She'd felt the push as the unsub shoved her aside, and then her hip came into contact with the railing. She gave a strangled cry as her brain registered what was about to happen, and her heart stopped when she realized there was absolutely nothing she could do to prevent it. She grabbed the edge of the railing with her left hand, the laws of physics making fun of her as the rest of her flew over it. Her body slammed against the gray stone wall, and a sharp pain shot through her shoulder, making her eyes water. But the surface of the railing was smooth and round, and the weight of her body was far too much for her arm. Her fingers were slipping, and then there was that terrifying moment, lasting less than a fraction of a second, when she knew that she couldn't hold on and that she was going to fall. With horror, JJ felt her fingers lose the battle against gravity, and then there was only air under her.
Just when she thought she was going to die for certain, something wrapped around her wrist and effectively stopped her falling motion. She tried to claw her way back up, her feet easily slipping on the flat surface of the stone and every failed attempt fueling the growing panic inside of her. She couldn't tear her eyes away from the tiny cars, miniature streets, and people that swarmed like an ant colony hundreds of feet below her.
JJ knew she was hyperventilating, which was never a good thing, and then the feeling of panic and shock was simply too overwhelming. She screamed and cried and yelled and begged, all the while furiously trying to propel herself upward.
"JJ!" The blonde vaguely registered someone calling her name. "JJ!" Again.
The blonde looked up sharply into brown, scared eyes and finally realized that it was Emily's hand around her wrist, keeping her from falling. She quickly wrapped her right hand around Emily's, instinctively holding on for dear life. Panic raised its ugly head again, and she looked back down.
"Oh, God! Pull me up! Pull me up!" JJ almost didn't recognize her own voice. "Please, pull me up, pleasepleaseplase..." Her pleading faded to desperate whispers.
"JJ, look at me!" Emily's voice broke through her hysteria again. "Look at me!"
Taking a shaky breath, the blonde looked back up, meeting Emily's reassuring eyes. The other woman gave a small smile, and JJ knew she'd be all right.
"Good." Emily nodded. "Here's what we're going to do. You need to let go-,"
"No! Don't let go!" JJ's fingers curled even tighter around the brunette's hand for emphasis.
"JJ, we don't have time for this!" Emily held the eye contact. "Do you trust me?"
"Yes." A whisper.
"Okay. Then do what I tell you to do. You need to let go of my hand. I won't let you fall, I promise. I'll pull you upwards, and you'll take hold of the railing, so that I can grab your waist and pull you all the way over. Okay?" The confidence that greeted JJ in Emily's eyes calmed her down enough to concentrate, and she nodded weakly.
"On three." Emily's eyes never left the blonde's. "One...two...three!"
JJ felt her body move up, and then she saw the railing and grabbed it with everything she had. Emily got a hold of a belt loop, and soon JJ felt herself being pulled over the edge and back to solid ground. She swung her arms around Emily's mid-section, holding on as tightly as she could, and they stumbled backwards, ending up on the ground a few feet away from the edge.
She was shaking uncontrollably, her fingers digging into the harsh kevlar Emily was wearing, her breathing ragged and fast. JJ felt the other agent envelop her in a warm embrace, shielding her from everything around them, and she allowed herself to bury her head in the crook of Emily's neck. Squeezing her eyes shut, she concentrated on the rapid beating of Emily's heart under her ear. She fought the need to hyperventilate, trying to convince herself that everything was fine, and that she wasn't going to fall. The presence of the brunette next to her eased the extreme trepidation that was still looming under the surface.
Gradually, her own heart stopped racing, and the magnitude of what had nearly just happened sank in. Taking a shuddering breath, JJ opened her eyes, content with just letting her head rest on Emily's shoulder. Emily's hand made reassuring circles on her back, and JJ couldn't remember if she'd ever felt as cared for as she did at that very moment.
Reluctantly, JJ eventually pulled back. They looked at each other, Emily's hand still firmly on the blonde's back, and JJ could see the relief she was feeling reflected back in the brunette's eyes.
"That was close," JJ said with a shaky voice, needing to make light of the situation.
"Too close." Emily shook her head in disbelief, turning to look at the edge that would most certainly cause nightmares for the blonde in the future.
"The unsub. What happened?" JJ finally remembered why she'd almost been sent flying without a parachute in the first place.
"No idea. It was either you or chasing him, so..." Emily's words faded away, and it hit JJ just how incredibly close she'd been to becoming a wet patch on the sidewalk.
Suddenly feeling an almost compulsive need to make sure she was, indeed, safe, JJ grabbed Emily's hand tightly, soundlessly pleading for understanding. She felt the tears of shock and fear burning her eyes, and she finally stopped resisting when the brunette's hand wrapped tightly around hers. Silent tears fell down her cheeks as she looked into Emily's eyes, so gentle and full of something so powerful that it took JJ's breath away.
And then she recognized it, all the pieces of the puzzle locking into place. She remembered seeing that look before. She remembered seeing it so many times during briefings, when they were sitting opposite each other on the plane, when they went for drinks after work, when Emily took her hand after Garcia was shot, when they were sitting close together in Emily's hotel room the previous evening. She remembered the intensity of that look, how it took over her entire being and left her breathless. The final details of their night together were revealed to her before her very eyes, and with wonder she realized how that look—what it signified—had been present in every look, every kiss, every tender touch of Emily's hands.
In awe, JJ understood the depth of the emotion she saw in the other woman, and she wondered how it was possible that she'd never been aware of it until now. The events in the precinct earlier that day came back to her, and she chastised herself for being so unbelievably blind and clueless about what had been right in front of her the whole time. All of a sudden, she saw every interaction, every look and touch in a different light. Tears long dried up, the blonde simply observed Emily in amazement.
Seeing the change in JJ's demeanor, Emily quickly looked away and self-consciously cleared her throat. With a small grunt, the brunette rose to her feet, wiping dirt off her navy-blue pants, and then held out her hand for the other woman. JJ took the offered hand with gratitude, and Emily pulled her up with one, swift motion.
"Come on, duty calls," Emily said softly, all the while still running her thumb soothingly over JJ's knuckles. "And we need to get that shoulder of yours checked out."
JJ then remembered her injury and winced as she tried to move her left shoulder, a jolt of pain shooting through her entire arm – yet another reminder of how dead she could be without the woman standing next to her. The adrenaline was, little by little, wearing off, and JJ could feel the gnawing pain becoming more and more intense by the minute. Emily handed JJ her gun, and the blonde slipped it back to its usual place on her hip.
Her hand securely on JJ's lower back, Emily guided her away from the edge and back towards the door that led into the building. They'd just rounded the last two storage units when the door in front of them flew open, and Morgan emerged, his gun pointing straight at them for a few seconds before he recognized who they were.
"What the hell happened?" he asked, worry obvious in his voice. He holstered his gun and studied the two women, who approached him with a fatigued look on their faces.
"We had a little incident," Emily replied. It was the understatement of the century.
"Did we get Flanders?" JJ asked, her left hand hanging unnaturally still at her side as she tried not to move it any more than she had to.
"Yeah, he ran right at me in the stairs. Son of a bitch surrendered without a peep. I took him downstairs, and when Hotch and the others joined us and told me that they hadn't heard anything from you guys, I got a little worried." Morgan swept moisture off his forehead, his eyes turning to JJ's shoulder.
"Seriously though, what happened to your shoulder?" He opened the door for the two women, curiously studying them.
"Let's just say that I won't be going to any rooftops anytime soon," JJ said through clenched teeth, the pain in her shoulder now absolutely excruciating. Thankful for the body next to her, she pressed a little closer to Emily and let the other woman lead the way. As always.
Next: Part IV