lysachan's creations (vesikirppu) wrote,
lysachan's creations
vesikirppu

fic: criminal minds - keeper of the winds [emily/jj] 2/3

Title: Keeper of the Winds (2/3)
Author: lysachan
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Paring: Emily/JJ
Word count: 10,974
Rating: R
Summary: In need of some time-off from the BAU, JJ ends up on a remote ranch in New Mexico and stumbles upon an unexpected adventure involving crooks and a certain cowgirl.

>> Part 1 <<

Chapter V

The Fourth of July festivities were in full swing when JJ came through the doors and stepped outside. There was an enormous bonfire in the middle of the yard and that, combined with the several lanterns of various colours that were hanging from ropes tied between buildings, lit up the whole area. The sun had set some ten minutes previously, but the horizon was still glowing with shades of yellow, red, and blue.

Noel Jackson had obviously gone all out for the party: there was live music in the form of a local folk band, the bonfire was constantly kept alive by two men throwing wood on it, and the tables were laden with all sorts of delicious things that made JJ's mouth water.

"Glad you could join us, Miss Jareau," Thomas, one of the stable boys, said smiling when he spotted JJ. Apart from Emily, he was probably the only person JJ had interacted with the most during her stay, due to the blonde's newborn infatuation to riding.

"Yeah, I needed to take a short nap after my riding lesson this afternoon. I was totally spent afterwards." JJ smiled back. She really liked the boy and could easily see why Emily had chosen him to help her with the horses and other chores around the stables.

"Riding can do that to you," he concurred and nodded. "You've come a long way, though. I can't believe you only started a month ago."

"Why, thank you," JJ said and curtsied as a joke. Thomas answered by raising his hat and grinning.

Unable to keep herself away from the food any longer, JJ excused herself and made a beeline to the tables, proceeding to pile as much food on her plate as possible. She hadn't realised how hungry she'd been until her eyes had landed on the plethora of goods. She was munching on a piece of deliciously moist corn bread when Noel Jackson approached her.

"Enjoying the party, Miss Jareau?" he asked politely.

"Vewy mush," JJ replied, her mouth full. Jackson chuckled.

"I'm glad. This thing, the Fourth of July party, is turning into an annual tradition in these parts." He stood next to her for a moment, a distant look in his eyes. "So, you're from Virginia, aren't you?"

"Umm, yes." The question took JJ completely off guard.

"Lovely state. Did you know that eight of our presidents have come from Virginia?" He picked up a chicken leg from the tray next to him and bit down on it.

"Actually, I didn't." JJ lied, uncertain as to what had prompted this strange conversation. "Now I do."

"Yes, quite an interesting fact. What was it again that you said you do back home?" He asked, seemingly uninterested, and threw away the greasy chicken bone which was the only thing left of his snack.

"I don't believe I ever shared that information." JJ kept her voice conversational, not wanting to let on how uncomfortable his line of questioning actually made her.

"Oh, well, what do y-," Jackson began, but he was cut off by someone invading their space.

"Here you are! I was beginning to think you were a no-show." Emily was her happy self as she stood in front of them, one hand casually in her jeans pocket, the other curled around a glass of punch.

"Don't worry, I wouldn't have missed this for the world." JJ smiled radiantly and sent a silent 'thank you' to whatever higher power had sent Emily her way just then.

"Wonderful party, Mr. Jackson, as always," Emily complimented and raised her glass in salutation. Jackson's moustache twitched and he smiled a thin smile, not even trying to hide his annoyance at the interruption.

Either Emily was completely oblivious to Jackson's displeasure, or she pretended incredibly well that she was, but whatever the case, JJ was utterly relieved that she'd been rescued from the rancher. When had Emily become her personal bodyguard? First David and now this. The brunette's timing was impeccable.

"Thank you. Miss Jareau and I were just talking about Virginia. That's the state she's from, you know," he added almost matter-of-factly.

"I do know," Emily said slowly, and the blonde suddenly felt like she was a piece in some invisible mind game between the two.

"Where are you from, then?" JJ asked the brunette, her goal to steer the conversation away from her as quickly as possible.

"Massachusetts originally," Emily replied, sipping from her glass.

"Oh, I love Massachusetts. Boston is one of my favourite cities," the blonde said enthusiastically. It was all true.

"Have you ever seen the Boston skyline in the evening or night?" Emily asked and continued when the younger woman shook her head. "It's one of the most gorgeous urban things I've ever seen. Especially the south side of the Charles River."

"I'll have to make sure to go see it one day," JJ stated. The two women smiled at each other, both forgetting that Noel Jackson was still standing within feet of them. He cleared his throat and two sets of eyes turned to him.

"If you'll excuse me, I need to go mingle with the other guests. I wouldn't want them to feel neglected." He nodded curtly at JJ and let his eyes slide over Emily in near contempt before making his way towards another group of people standing nearby.

"What's his problem?" JJ asked, frowning.

"Women," Emily said simply, and the blonde had to agree that it made a whole lot of sense. "Or strong women, I should say. I'm sure he would've fired me ages ago if I wasn't so important to him."

"Well, thank you for saving me. He makes me...uncomfortable," JJ admitted, her gaze still aimed at Jackson's back.

"He's your typical hillbilly." Emily shrugged and downed the last of her punch.

JJ was about to ask the older woman for more information on her pompous host, but before she could open her mouth, there was commotion further in the yard, and they all turned to watch as a group of people were trying to line dance on the sandy surface.

Realizing the opportunity for extra entertainment, the band began playing 'Boot Scootin' Boogie', inciting the dancers even further. More and more people joined in, laughter and clattering of boots filling the night air, and JJ found herself enthusiastically clapping to the music as well.

"Come on!" Emily grinned widely and took JJ by the arm, leading her towards the centre of the yard.

"No! Emily, I don't know how to line dance!" JJ shouted over the music and other noise, freaked out by the prospect of making a complete fool of herself.

"Who cares? I'll teach you!" The brunette tugged her arm again and JJ relented, having no idea what she was getting herself into.

Much to her surprise, it was actually fun. She stared at Emily's feet as the other woman demonstrated the basic steps, and soon the blonde was stumbling along, giggling at the somewhat absurd situation. The music shifted to 'Achy Breaky Heart', and within no time, she'd mastered the basics. With silent mirth, she wondered that if someone had told her a mere six months ago that she'd be line dancing at a remote New Mexican ranch and actually, God forbid, enjoying herself, she probably would've punched them in the face.

The last steps of the dance session involved linking arms with whoever was standing next to you, and JJ found herself clinging to Emily while making a fast circle. The band played the final note of the song, and the line of dancers erupted into wild applauds and cheers. JJ was still holding on to Emily's arm, laughing alongside the brunette who didn't seem to be in any particular hurry to let go of her arm either.

"That was so much fun! I can't believe I just did that." JJ shook her head in awe, unable to stop grinning.

"You were great!" Emily shouted over the ruckus that still filled the air.

"I had a great teacher."

Emily smiled at the compliment, and when her eyes met JJ's, they were gentle and sincere, and the blonde simply couldn't look away. JJ wasn't sure what it was, but something transpired between them; she could feel it all the way in her toes, and it made her heart flutter. Her breath caught as Emily suddenly leaned forward to whisper in her ear.

"Come with me, I want to show you something."

JJ took one look at Emily's face and allowed herself be led across the yard and towards the stables. Emily grasped her hand tightly, as if to make sure she was really following her, and with sudden clarity, JJ thought that the contact of their entwined hands was one of the most wonderful things she had ever experienced.

The brunette only let go of her hand once when they reached the stables door, and JJ was told to wait while the other woman went inside to fetch something. Soon, she emerged with a blanket that she'd tied up with rope and hoisted on her back. In her left hand she held a flashlight, the right one again immediately reaching for JJ's as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

"Come on," Emily whispered and tugged on JJ's hand, the blonde following willingly.

Emily lit the way with the flashlight, and the pair slowly made their way towards the large rock formation JJ remembered rounding when she'd stumbled upon the strange conversation involving Noel Jackson and the mysterious Stenton character. In the darkness of the night, the blonde could just make out the outlines of the formation against the cloudless sky.

It took them ten minutes to reach the first of the bigger rocks, and to JJ's surprise, she could distinguish a footpath going up the steep wall of the ridge. She'd completely missed it when she'd been exploring the area. Her hand still firmly in Emily's, she carefully followed the brunette over the loose rocks and small sagebrushes.

"Almost there," Emily finally said and slowed down. "This is the trickiest part. There's a small gap in the ground, so make sure you don’t step on it."

With the help of the flashlight, JJ saw the opening and easily stepped over it, almost running into Emily's back as the other woman suddenly stopped. They'd arrived on a flat ledge that appeared to be almost ten feet wide. It looked down directly on the ranch that was illuminated by the bonfire, making it possible to estimate their whereabouts.

Emily laid out the blanket and gestured for JJ to sit down, which the blonde more than happily complied. Joining the younger woman, Emily sat down next to her and switched off the flashlight.

"Look up," Emily said. For a few seconds, all JJ could see was the darkness, but then her eyes began to acclimate and she gasped.

The sky was illuminated with stars, millions and billions of them. There were no clouds or air pollution to hinder the incredible brightness, and JJ was speechless.

"Oh, my God," she breathed.

"The stars have always been my favourite thing about this place," Emily confessed.

"Incredible."

"I used to be able to find most of the constellations," Emily said wistfully. "My grandfather bought me a telescope for my tenth birthday, and we used to sit on his porch for hours on end, searching for stars."

"That must've been amazing."

"It was. Whenever we distinguished a new constellation, he would tell me the story behind it. That's how I remembered them all."

"Show me one," JJ asked solemnly. The brunette scanned the night sky for a while, as if deciding which secret could be shared.

"Okay, do you see that one?" She leaned towards JJ, her arm stretched out as she pointed to a group of bright stars above them. "The three stars that are clustered next to each other?"

"Yeah."

"That's Orion. Or, rather, Orion's Belt. It's one of the most easily recognizable ones," Emily began. "It's also one of the oldest man-spotted constellations. In Greek mythology, Orion was a giant huntsman who Zeus placed among the stars, because he challenged the gods by saying he could slay every wild animal on earth. Well, that's one of the interpretations."

"Wow," JJ muttered, completely mesmerized by the stars and the story.

"Through the stories you can sort of see back thousands of years if you think about it."

"My God, this is truly the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," JJ whispered, her eyes firmly nailed to the miracle-like display of light above her. It was true: she had never seen anything quite so spectacular.

When there was no answer, the blonde tore her eyes away from the sky and glanced at Emily, only to find out that the brunette was quietly watching her, a faint smile gracing her lips. Emily's eyes looked almost black in the moonlight.

"I'm glad you like it," she finally said quietly, not taking her eyes off of the younger woman.

"I love it," JJ said sincerely. In fact, it was probably the most wonderful thing anyone had ever done for her.

Suddenly, the blonde was painfully aware of the warmth radiating from the body sitting so close to her, and she felt a small shiver go down her spine. Emily was still looking at her, those dark eyes alluring, but gentle at the same time. There was no way JJ could've resisted them, no chance whatsoever. Her eyes slid slowly to Emily's lips and then back up again, her heart hammering so rapidly in her chest that she thought it would burst.

She saw Emily leaning forward, or maybe she did so herself, but all she knew was that the brunette's lips were suddenly so close to her own that she could feel Emily's breath caressing her skin. JJ felt enchanted, possessed, the rest of the world shrinking away until there was nothing left but Emily and Emily's lips, which she was simply unable to resist. The few, final inches and -

A loud bang tore through the night, shattering the magic of the moment in a blink of an eye. Both women drew back, their heads whipping around and up to the sky where a constant stream of fireworks lit up open stretches of desert.

But JJ didn't really see the festival of lights before her. Blinking rapidly, she was unable to think of anything else but the fact that she had been within milliseconds of kissing Emily.

It was then that a realization of utter importance hit her. Her hands suddenly began to shake uncontrollably in her lap, and she squeezed her eyes shut tightly.

The noise of the fireworks echoed off the rocks as loudly as her sudden realization ricocheted in her head.

***



Chapter VI

The faint ticking of a clock on the wall sounded through the darkened room. It had to have been close to 4am already as the last time JJ had checked the digits on her mobile phone screen it'd said 3:09.

She couldn't sleep, and not because she wasn't tired, because she was. In fact, she was absolutely exhausted. This marked the second night in a row that she'd just lain there, unable to close her eyes even for a second without images of Emily, and stars, and kissing Emily under those stars flashing through her mind.

JJ wasn't quite sure what had happened after the fireworks, but they'd somehow climbed down from the ledge and had returned to the party without a single word spoken between them. Or, rather, JJ had pretty much made it known that she wouldn't talk, and Emily had honored her wishes. The blonde had fled the party as soon as she could and had barricaded herself in her room. It was an incredibly immature thing to do, she knew it, but she simply couldn't have handled it then. Not that she was having any more luck now.

The problem was that she was incredibly attracted to Emily. There, JJ thought, she had finally acknowledged it, even if only to herself. She had no idea how it had happened, but she just knew that the things she felt when she was with Emily were something she'd never felt for anyone else before. When their almost-kiss had been cruelly interrupted, for one brief moment she'd been certain she'd die without feeling Emily's lips on hers. She'd almost kissed her. And oh, she'd wanted it. She'd wanted it more than anything. And that? That scared the hell out of her.

Swallowing hard, JJ squeezed the phone in her hand, contemplating for the umpteenth time whether to call Garcia or not. But what would she say to her? Hey, I almost kissed a cowgirl whose last name I don't even know, and I think I also might be totally gay for her. Garcia would call the state police to come and pick her up in that instant. Actually, she'd probably send the FBI Critical Incident Response Team to raid the entire place.

JJ buried her face in her hands, feeling so incredibly frustrated and scared that she thought she might burst. And God knows what Emily was feeling. JJ had been a total coward; she hadn't left her room all day in fear up bumping into the other woman. She simply couldn't face her. Not yet. Was she being selfish? Maybe, but for all she knew, Emily had only been having a little bit of fun.

Yet, the moment the thought entered her mind, JJ knew it wasn't true. She hadn't imagined the look of desire in Emily's eyes; she knew the brunette was just as attracted to her. Besides, Emily's conduct on the ledge had clearly implied that she didn't bring people there very often. All that probably should've made her feel somewhat at ease, but it didn't, because it also meant that there might actually be something between them. Something that JJ doubted she was ready for. Or maybe she was and the whole freaking out thing was simply her brain's way of protecting her from the inevitable heartbreak.

One thing was certain, the heartbreak was coming. JJ's entire life was in Virginia. At the beginning of August, she'd be heading back home, because she couldn't drop everything indefinitely; Agent Todd was only available as a replacement for her until August anyway. And Emily's life was here, at the ranch. The way she'd spoken about her old life back East wasn't terribly heartwarming, so it wasn't like Emily was planning on leaving this particular lifestyle anytime soon. And JJ was probably completely jumping the gun, because she had no idea how Emily felt about the whole situation. Another wave of guilt washed over her.

"You're such a coward, Jareau," she whispered in an annoyed tone as she flipped over, burying her face in the pillow.

***



Walking – the best way to sort out your thoughts. JJ had always resorted to long walks or jogs when she had too much on her mind and needed an outlet for it. She'd always feel refreshed and more in control once she got back – except now. If anything, she was even more confused and at a loss than before. The afternoon had already begun to turn to an early evening when she saw the first employee lodge houses in the distance, and she quickened her step so that she'd be back to the main house before it was too dark.

Following the river back towards the ranch, JJ was momentarily distracted from her personal problems by the memory of Noel Jackson going into one of the buildings in front of her. She bit her lower lip, pondering what to do, but, once again, the agent side of her finally won over, and she made her way towards the mysterious shed.

Fortunately, it was dark enough for her to move somewhat invisibly, and she tiptoed around the corner of the first house and slowly approached the one she was the most interested in. The windows were all nailed shut, and it was so dark inside that JJ couldn't see anything through the small cracks between the boards. Rounding to the front of the shed, she saw that there was a heavy padlock on the door, making it practically impossible to get in without making too much noise. She contemplated picking the lock, but she didn't have the necessary equipment, nor could she risk someone walking in on her.

Pursing her lips, JJ had to admit that she hadn't discovered anything new and let out an annoyed sigh. She ran a hand through her hair and decided to head back to her room; it wouldn't do her any good to just stand around. She obviously needed more planning.

Just as JJ had begun to walk across the yard, she spied Emily approaching from the opposite direction, and her heart dropped into her stomach. The brunette had probably finished her daily duties at the stables and was walking home, but JJ could only think that the timing simply couldn't be worse. Panicking slightly, she realized that she was too far from anything she could hide behind, and the colour drained from her face.

As if sensing she was being watched, Emily looked up and their eyes met. JJ could see an array of emotions pass across the other woman's face as they both stopped abruptly. Emily took off her signature cowboy hat, still intently looking at JJ, and was clearly about to walk over when the blonde spotted David walking her way. With a quick sidestep, she looped her arm through his, clearly taking him by surprise.

"David, hi. Would you mind walking me home?" She knew it was a horrible thing to do, and she didn't have a clue what had possessed her to do it, but there was no turning back now.

"Why, certainly." He tried to smile charmingly, but it was more smug than anything else.

As they walked towards the main building, JJ risked a glance at Emily, who was still standing in the same spot. The brunette was fiddling with her hat, her eyes cast down to the ground in defeat, and JJ's heart broke at the sight.

***



JJ felt an enormous bang of guilt hit her when she looked up at the clock. It was well past nine already, which meant she was late for the morning’s riding lesson, again. It was the second lesson she'd skipped, and much to her relief, Emily hadn't come looking for her.

Well, no wonder after the ridiculous way you've been acting, a familiar voice of conscience nagged at her, and JJ felt twice as mortified. She'd truly been horrible towards Emily without actually saying a word to her, but that hadn't been the worst. In order to avoid a confrontation with the brunette, JJ had resorted to David, and the sad excuse of a man had happily accepted the assignment.

"Some feminist you are," JJ scoffed and stared at the ceiling, all of a sudden having an overwhelming need to talk to someone. She had to call Garcia.

"Ooo, is it really my favourite cowgirl calling?" Garcia answered the phone after the second ring.

"Garcia, I really fucked up." She suddenly had a terrible urge to cry.

"Jay-J?" Garcia's voice immediately sobered up, and JJ knew she had the other woman's undivided attention.

"I just...I don't know what to do, and I just needed to talk to someone." She felt a tear roll down her cheek, and she brushed it away angrily.

"JJ, what's happened?"

"I did something really stupid, and now I don't know how to make it better," she explained miserably.

"Okay?" Garcia said uncertainly. "Why don't you tell me everything, start from the beginning."

"You're going to hate me," JJ whispered.

"Sweetie, you know I could never hate you. You're too cute for that."

Gingerly, JJ began relating her story, but soon she realized that it was actually rather easy to confide in Garcia and that she really needed to get it all off her chest. The tech queen of the BAU listened silently, only uttering an encouraging word here and there. When JJ came to the end of her story, there was a brief silence on the other end.

"Well, I have to say, I was not expecting that," Garcia finally said, but the tone in her voice let JJ know that she wasn't, by any means, freaked out by what she'd just heard.

"I can't help it, Garcia," JJ said quietly, incredibly relieved now that her secret was out. "It's just that when I'm with her...I feel whole." She rolled her eyes at the cliché.

"And that's why you've been parading around with some local hillbilly the past week?" Garcia asked disapprovingly, making JJ's cheeks redden.

"I panicked, okay?"

"That's a load of bull, and you know it."

"It's not that easy!"

"Sure it is. You're just too afraid to accept any kind of happiness life might offer you, and I can't quite grasp why that is."

"I'm not afraid!" JJ felt anger rise within her at the implication.

"Yes, you are." The blonde agent had never heard Garcia be quite so serious and frank, and it unnerved her. "Why do you think you've been trying to kid yourself with Will all year?"

"Just leave him out of this. He has nothing to do with anything." JJ was ashamed to realize that she hadn't even thought about him during the entire time she'd been at the ranch.

"JJ, he has everything to do with it. Look, you called me because you wanted my advice. Before you can even think about sorting out this mess, you need to be honest with yourself first," Garcia said frankly, and JJ swallowed, knowing deep down that it was true.

"I need to go," she said after a few moments of silence and heard her best friend sigh.

"Take care of yourself, Girlfriend." JJ was glad the other woman let it be.

"I will." She disconnected the call and threw the phone on the bed, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her palms.

This is such a nightmare.

***



Chapter VII

JJ let a few days pass by before she figured she'd had enough. She couldn't hide in her room forever, no matter how much she feared facing the truth. Maybe it was the general frustration she felt, or the need to distract herself from all the angst, but something prompted her to find out more about Noel Jackson's strange antics.

Standing at the window of her bedroom, the blonde glanced up to the sky, noting the dark clouds that were gathering above, indicating an upcoming weather front. The yard and its surroundings seemed almost deserted as people had fled inside, away from the impending rain. JJ fiddled with the various, somewhat improvised, lock picking tools in her hand and then finally pocketed them, taking a deep breath before heading to the door.

Avoiding the certain floorboards that made a nasty creaking sound when stepped on, JJ managed to climb down the stairs and slip out of the door, hoping no one had noticed her departure. It was dark already, the ominous clouds making it seem like it was much later than it actually was.

Cautiously, she inched closer and closer to the mysterious building which stood at the brink of the river. Just like last time, it was dark inside, the cracks between the boards revealing nothing. JJ looked around her in the semi-darkness and, not seeing anything suspicious, squatted down so that she was on eyelevel with the gray padlock. Withdrawing the tools from her pocket, she got to work.

It had been awhile since the last time JJ had needed to pick a lock, but she hoped it was just like riding a bike. She soon noticed that the lack of light was, indeed, problematic and contemplated on using a small flashlight she'd taken with her, but finally decided against it. It would simply be too risky. Although the small warehouse was located on the edge of the housing area with only one side facing the houses that served as accommodation for the employees, JJ wanted to play it safe.

And really, she didn't actually have a clue what she was doing. She had no real evidence that Jackson was involved in anything shady or illegal, only her gut feeling which definitely wouldn't stand up in court. JJ shook her head as the ridiculousness of the situation dawned on her, once again.

The small click of the lock giving way sounded horribly loud in the quietness of the evening, and JJ hurriedly looked around her. Slowly, she slipped the opened lock through two metal rings that, together with the lock itself, had effectively kept all the undesired people out. She couldn't help feeling satisfied with herself when the door slid open as she turned the handle. With one final glance behind her, she slipped in and closed the door firmly behind her.

For a few seconds, JJ simply stood still in the pitch black room, not sure if this had been such a good idea after all. This really is the most insane thing you've ever done, she scolded herself, but figured she might as well go all the way since she was already more than halfway there. She switched on the small flashlight and looked around her, taking in her surroundings.

It was, indeed, a garden shed of some sort. Shelves and racks lined the walls from the floor to the ceiling, and there were four tall set of shelves in the middle of the room as well. It all seemed perfectly innocent: blankets, garden tools, mops... JJ walked closer, her eyes scanning the plethora of items around her. It wasn't until she'd rounded the first set of shelves in the middle that she noticed two large, metal boxes lining the back wall. Both were locked with two padlocks, albeit smaller ones than the one on the door, and JJ frowned.

Holding the flashlight between her teeth, she quickly picked the locks, curiosity bubbling inside of her like a geyser. Holding her breath, she slowly raised the lid of the first one, and her eyes widened when she saw what was inside.

Guns. Dozens of them and various kinds. JJ's eyes landed on a handgun similar to her own service one back home, and right next to it laid an M240G machine gun. She peered into the second box as well with the same result, finding at least two dozen firearms neatly organized inside. The bad feeling JJ had about Noel Jackson tripled in an instant, and with rapid movements, she slipped the locks back in place.

There was no way all the guns were legal, that much JJ was sure of. And what would a ranch owner need with a machine gun used by the US military anyway? Plus, although the guns were behind various locks, the warehouse was still an awfully public place to store them. Considering all the gardening tools and other everyday items, the employees must have used the shed pretty much daily. The risk of people stumbling upon the hidden arsenal at the back of the room was incredibly high.

The realization hit JJ like a ton of bricks.

"Unless they're involved in it as well." Again, whatever 'it' was.

JJ smacked her palm to her forehead, reproaching herself for being so thick. And then an extremely unpleasant thought crossed her mind, her hand sliding slowly off her face. Emily worked for Noel Jackson. She couldn't possibly...there was no way she would... JJ refused to acknowledge what her new theory clearly implied. She liked to think she knew Emily, and even if she didn't know her background, exactly where she came from, she knew Emily, the person. And the person she knew would never get mixed up in anything like this. A small voice at the back of her head sneered at her for being so incredibly naïve, but she effectively ignored it.

The first drops of rain fell from the sky when JJ hurriedly closed and locked the door behind her, all the while stealing glances over her shoulder to make sure she was still alone. It didn't take long until the rain came down with full force, soaking her blue shirt before she had a chance to take more than a step or two. Shit! Hurrying forward, she rounded the corner of the first house, only to run into something solid. She stumbled backwards, her eyes landing on the woman who had controlled her every waking thought for weeks now.

Emily looked just as surprised as JJ felt herself, and for a few, torturous seconds they simply stared at each other. Water ran down Emily's face, and her check-patterned flannel shirt stuck to her skin, accentuating the perfect curves of her body. JJ caught herself staring at the utter perfection in front of her and tore her eyes quickly away.

"Sorry, I wasn't looking where I was going," she mumbled, not meeting Emily's eyes, and proceeded to walk past her.

It didn't really surprise her that much when she felt a hand grasp her arm, effectively, but not forcefully, stopping her. She looked up into sad eyes and took a steadying breath to calm herself. She could feel the warmth of Emily's body, just like that night on the ledge when she'd almost kissed her, and her heart automatically started beating faster.

"What?" JJ asked, her voice audibly quivering.

"Have I offended you somehow?" Emily asked, not letting go of the blonde's arm.

"No."

"Have I done something to upset you?" The amount of anguish in the other woman's voice made JJ want to cry.

"No." The reply was barely a whisper.

"So why are you avoiding me then?"

"Let go of me, please." She wasn’t ready. She wasn't ready for this.

"Not until we sort this out," Emily stated adamantly, not giving an inch.

"Please, Emily." Her voice was so pleading she wanted to die.

"Jennifer, I thought we were friends. You've given me nothing but shit this past week, and I think I have the right to know why!"

"I don't need to explain myself to you, okay?" JJ's eyes flashed. She brushed matted hair off her forehead, challenging the other woman with her gaze. She expected an angry retort, a frustrated comeback perhaps. Anything, but the softening of Emily's eyes and the searching look she aimed at her.

"What are you afraid of, Jennifer?" Emily asked quietly, the words barely audible above the woosh of rain.

"Nothing." She wrenched her arm away, and Emily didn't resist.

"Yes, you are." Their rapid breaths came out in white puffs as the rain had significantly lowered the temperature, but neither of them noticed.

"Don't, Emily. Just...don't." JJ shook her head, trying to quell the tears that threatened to fall. The direction their conversation was heading was dangerous to say the least.

"What is it?" JJ couldn't stand the tenderness of Emily's voice. How in the world was the other woman able to get to her so easily and so effortlessly?

"No!" she exclaimed and turned around, wanting to flee the scene as quickly as she possibly could.

"Jennifer." That one word, that one goddamn word and the way Emily had said it, froze JJ to the spot. Afraid to turn around and face the other woman, she just stood there, shivering and unable to take another step.

"Look at me, please." With the amount of emotion Emily had been able to interject into her simple plea, JJ had no coice but to slowly turn around, her eyes unable to conceal anything from the woman standing before her.

"I can't do this." JJ shook her head, painfully aware of how much the older woman's presence affected her.

"Do what?"

"This!"

"Yes, you can! What do you want, Jennifer?"

"I don't know what I want!"

"Don't give me that bullshit. What do you want?"

"Emily, I'm warning you."

"What do you want?"

"I want you!"

It was out before JJ had time to think, leaving only silence in its wake. She could feel her face grow pale and watched as Emily blinked once, twice, before taking a few, quick steps and then she was standing before her, her eyes dark and full of wonder. Warm, perfect lips landed on hers, and whatever barrier JJ had tried to maintain between her and Emily had been blown away like a piece of paper in a storm. Her arms wrapped around the brunette's neck, and she could feel herself melting into the kiss that, she was sure, would consume her whole.

"I just want you," JJ whispered between kisses and felt Emily's arms hold on to her even tighter. She didn't care that tears were still falling down her cheeks or that she was soaking wet from the rain. She didn't care that the whole thing was irrational and so not her and that there was still a side of Emily she felt the other woman didn't want to let her see. No, she only cared about the small jolts of electricity Emily's touch seemed to generate, about how wonderful Emily's lean body felt against her own, and how perfectly their lips fit together when they embraced.

"You have me." Emily's reply was just as breathless a whisper, her arms enveloping JJ in a warm cocoon she never wanted to leave.

The warm air washing over them raised goosebumps on their skin when they stumbled across the threshold to Emily's small living space. Clothes were scattered randomly on the floor, but neither bothered to pay attention to anything else but the other. Emily's lips were intoxicating, and JJ knew she was already addicted to them for life.

Emily's skin was smooth and perfect as JJ ran her trembling fingers across the brunette's chest, in awe at the perfection she discovered after every piece of clothing had been removed. Emily's mouth left JJ's and travelled down her neck, the blonde's nails digging almost painfully into the other woman's back in reaction. She felt the back of her knees hit the side of a bed, and with one gentle push by Emily, JJ found herself laying supine on the soft sheets, Emily's warm body covering hers.

It was the most natural thing in the world and just as perfect as it was supposed to be. Emily was everywhere, surrounding her, gentle hands worshipping JJ's body, leaving her gasping and breathless. The way Emily made love to her was pure magic, like she knew exactly where to touch her and when. Burying her hands in Emily's long, dark hair, JJ brought the older woman's lips back on her own and knew that she was forever ruined for anyone else.

***



It was warm and comfortable when JJ gradually woke up from a deep sleep she couldn't remember experiencing in a very long time. She inhaled deeply, the sweet scent of a certain cowgirl filling her senses, and a happy smile slowly spread on her lips. She pressed closer to the soft body under her and, in a movement that felt nothing but natural, buried her face in the crook of Emily's neck as if she'd done it countless times before. A hand lay on her back, drawing small circles on her naked skin, and a tiny shiver went down her spine and ended up somewhere south of her navel.

"Morning, beautiful," Emily spoke softly and kissed the top of JJ's head.

"Morning." The blonde's voice was partly muffled by Emily's neck. She stretched her legs and finally looked up to the gentle eyes she knew were aimed at her. The look of utter adoration JJ saw in them made her blush, a shy smile the only way she could respond.

"You're adorable when you blush," Emily murmured, leaning forward and capturing the blonde's lips with her own. JJ sighed contently, relaxing into the kiss and revelling in the feeling that she’d never before felt this content and at peace with herself after waking up with someone.

"You up for some breakfast?" Emily asked when they were finally able to pry themselves apart.

"I'd love some." JJ nodded, only then realizing how famished she was.

With one final peck on JJ's lips, Emily stood up and grabbed an oversized t-shirt from the closet next to the bed, throwing it on while she made her way to the small kitchen area on the other side of the room. When JJ was finally able to tear her eyes away from the other woman's backside, she truly saw the room she was in for the first time. It was small and simply furnished, and it didn't seem like Emily spent much time in it. There were no such personal belongings you'd expect to find in a person's home: no photographs of any kind on display, walls that were completely bare, and the whole place lacking the feel of hominess.

"Penny for your thoughts." Emily's voice brought JJ back to reality, and she studied the woman standing across the room from her for a moment before answering.

"I was just thinking that you probably don't spend much time here." She made a vague gesture with her hand.

"I only sleep here, really. Most of my days are spent at the stables and around the ranch," Emily explained, breaking an egg on the edge of a hot frying pan.

"When was the last time you went home?" It was the brunette's turn to be silent.

"I haven't been back since I left." There was something in Emily's voice that JJ couldn't quite decipher.

"Do you miss it?"

"Every now and again, I suppose." The older woman shrugged indifferently before turning towards the bed. "I meant what I said on that boulder. I don't really have anything to go back to, and I love working with horses, so it's not that bad."

JJ watched silently as Emily continued working on breakfast, putting the fried egg on toast, and adding a little salt. Her mouth watered as Emily approached the bed and handed her a plate, and it wasn't until then that her eyes landed on a small flower decorating the edge of it.

"Where did you get this?" she asked incredulously and carefully raised the white flower that looked like a fancy version of a daisy. In its simplicity, it was absolutely gorgeous.

"I went hiking the other day." Emily shrugged, clearly sheepish about the whole thing. "It's stupid, really."

"What's it called?"

"It's a White Marsh Marigold. They're typical for the mountains in the area."

"It's beautiful," JJ said in wonder, her eyes tracing the small and elegant petals. She looked up at the brunette who was still fidgeting next to the bed. "Thank you."

"I'm glad you like it." Emily cleared her throat, her cheeks red. She gestured towards the toast, clearly wanting to shift the attention away from herself. "It's nothing special. I don't really have much stuff in my fridge," Emily said apologetically, but JJ waved it off with her hand.

"This is really good," she said, her mouth full. Emily chuckled and fetched her own plate from the kitchen counter before returning to sit on the bed.

"This may sound weird, but..." JJ bit her bottom lip, pondering how to continue. "Although I don't know much about you, I feel like I...well, know you." She snorted. "Okay, that didn't make any sense at all."

"No, it did," Emily assured her, her eyes warm and understanding like so many times before. "I know exactly what you mean," she added, and JJ felt her heart skip a beat.

They finished their breakfast in silence, and Emily took the dishes back to the sink, JJ's eyes intently following her every move. The blonde couldn't understand how she could be so turned on by simply looking at someone, but Emily had that exact effect on her. JJ's eyes roamed up long, muscled legs and she felt her pulse quicken the closer she got to the hem of the t-shirt Emily was still wearing.

"You really should stop looking at me like that." Emily's voice was nothing short of amused.

"Like what?" JJ blushed. Again.

"Like you want to rip this t-shirt from my body." The brunette walked slowly back to the bed, but remained standing.

"Why?" JJ swallowed, the close proximity of the other woman already making her brain go haywire.

"Because otherwise I'm going to do this," Emily murmured and leaned down, capturing the blonde's lips in a passionate kiss that left JJ's head reeling.

"Well, you certainly don't hear me complaining," she managed to utter in a small voice and heard Emily laugh before plush, soft lips descended on hers again and thinking became a completely alien concept to her.

***



Chapter VIII

JJ could feel the strength and the beautiful elegance of the palomino beneath her as she sat in the saddle. They galloped through the field, and as the stables drew nearer, JJ pulled back the reins a little and the horse slowed down to a trot. It still boggled her mind that she was actually riding, really riding, without someone else holding her hand while she did it. JJ saw Emily leaning her back against the fence, her eyes proudly following the blonde's every move.

"That was perfect, Jennifer," she complimented when the horse came to a halt and JJ dismounted.

"I can't believe I never even thought about riding before," she said, her cheeks flushed and a wide smile on her lips.

"Well, you're a natural." Emily took the reins and stroked the horse's soft neck. Then she peered at JJ, looking almost shy. "Would you be willing to take that mountain trip next week, the one I was talking about when all this riding business started?"

"Wow, you think I could?" It was one thing to ride in the enclosure, but riding cross-country was a whole different venture.

"Easily. The path to the mountains is even and well-travelled; it'd be just like riding in the field here."

"If you think I can..." JJ cleared her throat, looking down at the ground to hide her nervousness; the prospect of leaving the safety of the ranch on horseback unnerved her more than she cared to admit. She felt Emily take her hand and was met with tender, brown eyes when she finally looked up.

"Jennifer, I would never ask you do anything I didn't know you were capable of," Emily said softly, her thumb gently rubbing across the back of JJ's hand.

How does she do that? JJ wondered for the millionth time and relented.

"Okay, I'd love to go," she said sincerely.

"Great! I have a day off on Tuesday, how's that for you?" Emily asked as they walked the palomino back to its stall.

"Tuesday's perfect," JJ agreed, excitement evident in her voice.

"It's a date then." Emily grinned widely as she closed the gate of the stall once the horse was inside and slipped the bolt in place.

JJ turned to head to the door, but before she could take more than a step or two, a hand on her arm easily spun her around. She bumped against Emily who was standing right behind her, and she saw the mischievous look in the older woman's eyes before soft lips captured her own.

"What was that for?" JJ asked playfully when they finally broke apart. She closed her eyes and giggled as Emily kissed the tip of her nose.

"Do I need a reason to kiss my favourite student?"

"You only have one."

"Doesn't mean you aren't my favourite."

"Smartass."

JJ swore she would never get tired of kissing Emily. It was nearly impossible to describe what she felt when their lips locked and tongues fought for dominance. She'd never thought kissing could be such an overwhelming experience. Quite frankly, she'd always thought that it was highly overrated, but with Emily, she knew exactly what all the trashy romance books were talking about.

"Emily!" A booming male voice sounded from outside the building, and the two women couldn't have jumped apart faster. They were still standing in the middle of the stables, their faces flushed, when Noel Jackson walked inside.

"Mr. Jackson?" Emily asked nonchalantly, but JJ could hear a sheepish lilt in her tone.

"Ah, Miss Jareau." Jackson tipped his hat at her. "How's your day been so far?"

"Fine, thank you." JJ tried to sound as normal as possible.

"Excellent." Jackson said, but there wasn't a trace of sincerity in his voice. His eyes finally turned to Emily. "Emily, I was wondering if you have a moment." He quirked his brow meaningfully, and JJ saw Emily's demeanour change from the corner of her eye.

"Certainly," she replied tensely. "Jennifer, can you give us a moment?"

JJ looked between the two and nodded, making a hasty exit. She stepped outside, burying her hands in her jeans pockets and casually glanced back, her curiosity getting the better of her. She saw Emily nodding, her hands making a calming gesture to Jackson whose back was to the blonde. The brunette's eyes strayed to JJ for a moment, and she could see Emily swallow nervously before returning her attention back to the man before her.

Turning her eyes away, JJ took a shaky breath and walked over to lean against the fence. She rubbed her forehead anxiously and pondered what she should do. Nothing! It's none of your business, the rational part of her brain exclaimed, but the rest of her couldn't just let it be. Seeing the array of guns in the shed had convinced her that, besides running the ranch, Noel Jackson certainly had some other, most probably illegal, business on the side. But she couldn't very well run to the police and demand they arrest him, because she still didn't have enough evidence, and what she did have had been acquired only semi-legally. Nor could she do it anyway, because, in all probability, it would only spook whoever else was involved.

And then there was Emily. JJ closed her eyes and sighed. No matter what she thought about it—and lately she hadn't really thought about anything else—Emily had to be involved somehow; she just couldn't figure out how. There was something that JJ couldn't quite put her finger on, something Emily closed off from everybody, and it both frustrated and fascinated her at the same time.

The agent side of her was absolutely horrified that she was actually able to look past all that, but whenever Emily simply looked at her, JJ forgot about everything else. And the way Emily's eyes softened in her presence, the amount of happiness she could see in them, was all the proof she needed, because no one could fake the emotions JJ saw shimmering in those beautiful brown eyes.

Besides, she had no idea what was going on between them anyway. A summer fling before returning back to the grind? How high school-ish, she thought. All she knew was that she wanted to be with Emily all the time, and if she needed to give that up in a month's time, so be it. But right now, she simply wanted to enjoy the moment and that moment included Emily, criminal or not.

JJ was so engrossed in her thoughts that she hadn't realized Emily was again standing next to her until she felt a hand on the small of her back.

"Jesus!" She nearly jumped out of her skin.

"Are you okay?" Emily chuckled at her reaction.

"Yeah, sorry. I was...thinking," JJ explained, a shaky hand still on her chest.

"What about?" Emily asked, propping her elbow against the fence and leaning her head against her hand.

Like always, Emily's eyes were nothing but sincere, and JJ decided to bite the bullet.

"I was actually thinking of Noel Jackson," she admitted and leaned against a fence post.

"Okay, can't say I saw that one coming. Should I feel threatened?" Emily joked and chuckled, receiving a playful slap on the arm.

"I'm serious. There's something weird about him."

"What do you mean?" Emily stood up straight, the nervous reaction not lost on JJ.

"It's just this feeling I get whenever he's around. Like he has something to hide."

"Everybody has something to hide, Jennifer."

The comment hung heavily between them.

"I just don't trust him, that's all," JJ finally continued, not willing to acknowledge that she was hiding a big part of herself as well, a quite essential part.

"Noel Jackson is your stereotypical chauvinist straight guy," Emily said and shrugged. "Just try to ignore him."

"I...I have a friend back home. She works for someone who has access to certain...resources." JJ hesitated momentarily before continuing. "I could ask her to check him out, just in case-,"

"No!" JJ's head snapped up at Emily's harsh tone.

"I just-," she began, but was cut again off by the frantic Emily.

"No, Jennifer!" She shook her head, her hand gripping JJ's arm. "Don't go anywhere near him, do you understand me?"

"Emily, relax." JJ frowned, taken aback by the sheer panic that loomed behind Emily's eyes.

"Promise me, Jennifer." Emily still wouldn't let go of her arm. "Promise me, you'll leave it be."

"Okay, I promise, I promise," she assured the brunette, raising her right hand to a calming gesture, much like she'd seen the other woman do with Jackson only minutes earlier.

"Good." Emily let out a sigh, her whole being gradually relaxing again. "It's just that he can be really nasty when he wants to. Better not piss him off any more than we need to," she tried to explain. JJ nodded, but she knew Emily didn’t believe for a second that she had the blonde convinced.

"You up for some dinner?" JJ finally asked, cutting through the awkward silence that had fallen between them. She saw Emily smile in relief.

"I'd love some." She gestured towards the yard. "Lead the way."

And just like that, things were back to normal.

***



JJ's phone lay in the middle of the bed, the blonde eyeing it from where she was standing at the window. Biting her lower lip, she nervously tapped her fingers against the window sill and tried to reach a decision.

"Oh, for God's sakes," she finally muttered, snatching the phone off the bed and sitting down on the soft mattress. She was an FBI agent. The curiosity would kill her.

"Well, good morning sunshine," Garcia answered the phone in her usual eccentric way.

"Garcia, I need you to run a name for me." JJ opted to go straight to business.

"And here I thought you wanted to talk to your best friend who you miss so much it's unbearable," Garcia feigned hurt, but JJ heard a chair creak as the computer tech wheeled herself closer to her beloved monitors.

"Noel Jackson. I want to know if we have anything on file."

"Noel Jackson? As in the ranch owner?" JJ could practically hear the frown Garcia was more than likely wearing in her voice.

"The one and the same. I just...I have a weird feeling about him, that's all," JJ explained, not wanting to let on just how much she knew.

"I thought you were supposed be vacationing, taking some time off from criminal hunting. Right, let's see." Garcia's fingers tapped against the keyboard, and JJ bit her nail in anticipation. "Hmm. That's odd."

"What is?" JJ stood up, unable to stay still.

"There's a file, but it's confidential. Only accessible to people way above our heads."

"Well, can't you get past that? It is an FBI file."

"Of course I could get past it, Sweetie. Remember who you're talking to? It's just that if I do, it's bound to leave a trace and, quite frankly, that's the last thing I need."

"Damn," JJ muttered, not liking this new twist at all.

"What's this about, JJ?"

"I told you, just a weird feeling I have," she replied absentmindedly.

"Uh-huh." Garcia obviously wasn't convinced. "Did you need anything else?"

"Actually, yes." She squeezed her eyes shut tightly. She just had to know. "Can you pull the employment records for Sunrise Valley?"

"JJ..." Garcia's voice was hesitant.

"Garcia, I need to know."

"Fine." Garcia relented. "What do you want to know, O' Curious One?" she finally asked after a moment of typing.

"You know what I want to know."

"I'm so going to regret this later," the computer whizz mumbled, but obliged nevertheless. "We have one Emily Thomas, is that her?"

"I..." JJ suddenly realized that she still didn't even know Emily's last name. Thomas? "Yeah, there's only one Emily here as far as I know."

"Wow, this is quite odd as well."

"What?" JJ was afraid to ask.

"It says here that she was employed by Jackson a little over two years ago, but when I try going further back, there's nothing.

"What do you mean there's nothing?"

"Exactly that. There's nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. It's like she didn't exist before 2006."

"What, you mean like a Witness Protection Program kind of a thing?" JJ asked incredulously.

"All I know is that your Emily has a driver's licence, a social security card, and the works, but they're all dated post January 2006," Garcia explained.

"Right." JJ suddenly felt nauseous and sat down on the side of the bed. "That doesn't look too good, does it?"

"Jay-J." Her best friend's voice was full of sympathy. "It does look a little shady, yes," she finally admitted, sighing.

"God," JJ muttered and covered her face with her hand. "Just my luck, huh?" she said miserably.

"There might be some other explanation," Garcia tried to reassure her.

"Yeah, I'm sure." JJ scoffed.

"I'm sorry, Hon."

"Yeah, me too."

"What are you going to do?"

JJ pondered the question for a few moments, contemplating her options.

"I don't really know," she answered truthfully. "I mean, I'm leaving in three weeks anyway, right? Might just as well enjoy the time we have left."

"Sounds like a plan," Garcia said softly.

"God, why is my life such a mess?"

"We can't choose who we fall in love with, JJ."

"What? I'm not...," JJ tried to deny it, but then realized it was pointless. Garcia had always been able to see right through her. "This is shit, Garcia."

"Girlfriend, when life gives you lemons, you stuff them in your bra to make your boobs look bigger."

There was a brief silence before JJ started howling with laughter.

"God, I love you, Garcia," she managed to utter between giggles, so very grateful for having someone like Garcia in her life.

***



The ride to the mountains had been just as easy and uncomplicated as Emily had said. Although being completely out of her comfort zone, JJ had enjoyed every minute of it and followed Emily's lead with ease. The sun had been scorching hot, and sweat had glued JJ's white shirt to her skin, but now that she was looking over the desert plain that spread out for miles before her, she figured that it'd definitely been worth it.

Snuggling closer to the warm body behind her, JJ sighed contently, wishing they could stay where they were forever. The dry and inhabited land seemed like a paradise to her. She felt calm and free, a combination she hadn't realized she missed, but now was certain she couldn't live without.

"What are you thinking about?" Emily asked quietly, her arm wrapping tighter around the blonde's midsection. They were sitting on a ledge very similar to the one of the Fourth of July festivities, but this time they were much higher up from the ground.

"That I wish I never had to leave this place," she replied truthfully.

"I know what you mean," Emily said wistfully, and JJ covered the hand on her stomach with her own.

"I don't think I've ever been this happy," JJ confessed quietly, surprised that it was so easy to confess something so personal out loud.

She felt Emily move slightly, and then there were fingers under her chin as Emily tipped her head up and brought their lips together. It was perfect; the kiss, the scenery, everything. And JJ couldn't understand how someone mixed up in illegal activities could be so, well, perfect.

"Jennifer..." The hesitation in Emily's voice was clearly noticeable. "There's, umm, something...something I need to tell you. About me."

JJ swallowed, preparing for the worst, and leaned back slightly so that she could see Emily properly. The look on the brunette's face was that of indecision and uneasiness – something JJ had never witnessed before.

"What is it?" she gently probed, although she wasn't certain she was ready for the answer.

"I..." JJ could practically see the wall go back up, before Emily turned her eyes away. When she glanced back, her gaze was warm and loving, but the earlier vulnerability was long gone. "I'm really happy with you as well."

It was said with utter sincerity, and although JJ felt a small pang of disappointment somewhere deep inside her, she couldn't help the watery smile that spread on her face. Leaning forward, she captured Emily’s lips with her own and decided to simply enjoy the moment – her personal motto during the past months.

"Where did you learn to kiss like that?" JJ asked playfully when they'd settled back into their previous position. She buried her head in the crook of Emily's neck – a place she now loved the most in the world. She felt completely safe in the brunette's arms, which, again, didn't compute with the idea she had about being in the company of criminals.

"Summer camp." Emily's reply was dead serious.

"Oh, really?" JJ chuckled.

"Oh, yes. It was Kelly, my first love. We couldn't take our hands off of each other."

"What happened to her?"

"The last time I heard she was married with three kids."

"Oh well, more for me," JJ quipped and kissed Emily softly behind the ear. She felt a shiver run through the older woman.

"I don't want you to leave." The admission was said so quietly that JJ almost didn't hear it. She pulled back, her hand cupping Emily's cheek as she looked into sad brown eyes.

"I don't want to go either, but I don't have a choice. My job, everything..." she trailed off, shaking her head. "Can we just forget all that? We still have more than two weeks."

Emily nodded, putting on a brave face. She covered JJ's hand with her own, entwining their fingers together, and took a steadying breath.

"Two weeks is a long time," she said. JJ wasn't sure if Emily was trying to convince herself or the blonde. "We'll get you riding real cross-country by that time." Emily cracked a smile.

"Yeah, right." JJ snorted. "How long have you been riding, anyway?"

"Since I was three."

"Wow. I was still learning how to walk properly at that age."

"My family owned a farm, with horses, so it was just a natural step to take." Emily's voice had taken on a nostalgic tone.

"I bet they didn't teach you rodeo back then," JJ said, remembering the first time she'd seen the brunette atop a bucking bronco.

"No, that came when I was a lot older." Emily chuckled. "Not that I ever seriously considered taking it up. It can be really cruel to the animals. Rollo, he's the only horse here who has the temperament for rodeo, but we only do it for show at times."

"Well, you were amazing."

"Thank you," Emily murmured, clearly flattered by the compliment.

"My parents couldn't really afford any fancy hobbies, so I just played soccer."

"Were you any good?"

"I got a college scholarship to play," JJ admitted sheepishly, feeling like she was boasting.

"Really? You must've been brilliant." Emily was sincerely impressed. "Yeah, I was an only child and my parents were...sort of diplomats, so I guess money wasn't really an issue. We travelled a lot, though."

"So you lived abroad a lot?"

"Most of my childhood."

"Wow." The lifestyle Emily had just described was so unfamiliar to JJ that she couldn't even begin to imagine what it would be like.

"It had its advantages, like learning different languages, but it also meant that I couldn't create any lasting friendships, or get accustomed to things before I was dragged away to yet another country again." Resentment in Emily's voice came through loud and clear.

"So you can speak other languages beside English?" JJ decided to stay on safe ground.

"A few." Emily's answer was elusive.

"Say something in some other language."

"Like what?"

"Anything. Say something in...Spanish."

Emily was quiet for a moment, and JJ was about to repeat the request when the brunette began to speak in a whispered tone.

"Creo que te quiero, cariño. Te quiero mucho, y no sé que hacer." JJ was mesmerized by the softly spoken words.

"That was beautiful. What did you say?"

"Oh, just...just something random." Emily cleared her throat, sounding uncomfortable, and JJ didn't pressure. She only wished she'd taken Spanish in high school instead of French.

They fell silent, both simply content to be. The sun had reached its zenith long ago, and with every passing minute, it descended closer and closer to the Western horizon again. JJ heard Emily sigh, knowing that the other woman was aware of the dwindling time as well. She pressed closer to the warm body behind her and closed her eyes, wishing that time would just stop and leave them alone.

***


Part 3
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