Fandom: Criminal Minds
Word count: 8,237
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 2 <<
JJ knew she'd miss this sensation terribly, waking up in Emily's arms, feeling happy and well rested. She sighed contently and rolled over to glance at a small alarm clock on the nightstand next to the bed, tiredly squinting to see the time: 4:43. Groaning at the insanely early hour, she rubbed her eyes and then turned back to the sleeping beauty lying next to her. Emily looked so peaceful when she slept, and JJ tenderly brushed a lock of dark hair off the other woman's forehead.
One day. She only had one day left, before she would need to pack up her bags and leave the best thing that had ever happened to her behind. The happiness she'd felt slowly turned into overwhelming sadness and anguish, and JJ tried to blink away the tears that threatened to fall. Had her vacation been a premise for some sappy Hollywood movie, she would've left everything, her job and her home, and moved out West in order to be with Emily. But it hadn't been, it was for real, and she had real life responsibilities to get back to. Why did life always have to be so complicated and unfair?
Slowly, she climbed out of bed, trying not to wake Emily, whose chest was still rising and falling evenly. JJ scooped her clothes from the floor, where they'd been haphazardly dropped the night before, and dressed quietly, wondering whether she should leave a note or not. They both knew this day was coming, so what good would it do to make it any harder than it already was. Slipping on her jacket, she looked at Emily for a little while longer, before giving in and leaning down, kissing the brunette softly on the lips.
"I love you," she whispered, stroking Emily's cheek with the back of her hand. She felt like she was choking on her emotions, but she knew she had to leave now, before it would become too difficult.
JJ walked to the door with adamant steps, willing herself not to look back, because she knew she would crack if she did. The door closed with a small thud behind her, and she leaned against it, feeling like she'd just literally closed the door to her one chance at happiness. Life sure had a cruel sense of humour.
It was still fairly dark outside—the sun wouldn't rise for another hour—but the moon provided just enough light for JJ to walk slowly towards the main yard. Deep in thought, the faint voices hadn't registered with her at first, but when someone momentarily raised his voice, JJ's head snapped up, and she automatically leaped towards a large piñon tree that outlined the yard.
She recognized Jackson's voice immediately and pressed closer to the tree that effectively concealed her whereabouts. There were two voices she could distinguish, drawing closer and closer by the second. JJ was afraid to breathe.
"Has the route been secured?" It was Jackson.
"Did it myself yesterday." JJ would recognize the pretentious lilt of David's voice anywhere.
"It'd better be in order," Jackson grumbled. "The last thing I need is someone interrupting the delivery."
"It's all ready for tomorrow. Now we just need to dig up the goods."
"Better do it now when no one's around yet."
"I'll get the shovels."
The pair walked past the tree JJ was hiding behind, but luckily, neither of them paid much attention to their surroundings. She watched David fetch a couple of shovels from the shed, and as the pair began making their way further away from the ranch, JJ felt she had no other option but to follow them.
She was led a mile or so outside the ranch's perimeter where the river made a sharp turn and the ground was plotted with sagebrush. JJ had kept a clear distance between her and the two men, and when they finally stopped and began digging into the ground, she carefully walked to a large rock nearby and observed the operation from there.
Sunrise wasn't too far away, and the world had begun emerging from the darkness again. Her brow knitted in confusion as she watched a big, black duffel bag being dug up from the ground and David hoisting it on his back. Clearly satisfied with their work, the two men headed back towards the ranch, their tail following close behind.
Once they reached the shed again, Jackson took the bag from his partner and, without a word, stepped through the door, shutting it firmly behind him. David continued towards the main yard, only once glancing back at the shed Jackson had disappeared into. JJ made sure he was long gone before silently inching past the shed and practically sprinting to the main building and the safety of her room.
JJ was on a mission: she had to find out what was in the black bag – even if she already had a very good inkling of its contents. Pacing nervously in her room, she tried to come up with an alternative way to sneak a peek besides the one she'd already come up with, but the more she contemplated it, the surer she was that there was only one obvious way to do it.
"You have completely lost it, JJ," she muttered, scratching her forehead.
Nevertheless, she grabbed her BlackBerry and proceeded to input everything she knew, from the guns to the bag and, yes, even Emily. She hadn't seen the brunette all day, but, then, she hadn't stepped foot out of her room since she'd slid the lock in place after her impromptu tailing operation that morning. JJ swallowed as a new wave of emotion threatened to drown her, and she tried desperately to not feel so heartbroken over someone who was clearly breaking the law in one way or another. It didn't surprise her that she failed miserably in her attempt.
All the information now stored away, JJ glanced at the clock—nearly 10pm—and sent the document to the one person of the BAU who would know what to do with it if need be. Then, she waited. She knew that David had cattle duty on Tuesdays, which meant that, if he left a little after ten like he usually did, he wouldn't be back before midnight. Tuesday was also poker night at the bar, and Jackson never missed an opportunity to prove his superiority over the rest of the players. Minutes ticked by, in a painfully slow pace, but finally she heard a horse neigh outside, and as she peered down from her window, she could see David galloping past the stables and into the darkness.
"Well, this is it then," JJ said to no one in particular as she grabbed her flashlight and lock picking tools from the bed and headed for the door. Reaching the entrance to the dining area, she hesitated, finally building up enough courage to peek around the corner to make sure Jackson was, indeed, at the poker table. Sure enough, Jackson, with his thick moustache and impressive cowboy hat he never seemed to take off, was immersed in the game, his eyes glued to the cards he was holding, a smoking cigar perched in the corner of his mouth.
Letting out a sigh of relief, JJ quickly slipped outside and strode across the yard and towards the shed. The heavy padlock was still in place, but within minutes JJ had managed to pick it, remembering the right technique from her previous attempt. Once inside, she didn't waste any time and hurried to the back of the room. The mysterious duffel bag sat on top of the left metal container, and with trembling fingers, JJ unzipped it.
Although she'd known what to expect, the sight still made her hold her breath. JJ ran her hand over the blocks of drugs—heroine, she presumed—tucked inside, calculating rapidly in her head that the contents of the bag must’ve been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. So Sunrise Valley was a stopping point for a drug smuggling ring. You really know how to pick your vacation destinations, JJ, she though sarcastically and reached for her phone in her pocket. She needed to photograph the dugs for evidence.
JJ should've been aware of it, should've heard something. She was supposed to be an FBI agent after all. But she'd been completely oblivious to everything until the distinctive sound of a safety catch being pulled back filled the silence of the quiet room. JJ froze, knowing far too well what that particular sound indicated, and didn't have time to react properly as a switch was flipped, and a small light bulb, hanging from the ceiling, illuminated the back of the room.
"Turn around and keep your hands where I can see them," a low voice commanded, and JJ recognized it from that first meeting she'd stumbled upon soon after she'd arrived between Jackson and the man who know held her at gunpoint, Stenton.
JJ did as she was told and turned to face an average-looking man with a 9mm semi-automatic in his hand. The barrel was pointed directly at her chest.
"Who the hell are you?" Stenton demanded to know, his whole being devoid of any kind of emotion. The coldness in his voice made JJ's skin crawl.
"I'm just a guest here. I...I was looking for a broom," she said, naming the first thing that came to mind. Way to go, JJ, way to go.
"Bullshit." He took a step forward, the gun in his hand never wavering. "Now, I'm asking you one last time. Who are you?"
JJ swallowed. She couldn't believe she'd been so stupid, walking straight into a trap without a gun—or any sort of a weapon for that matter—and backup. I'm the worst agent in history. Helplessly, she stared down the barrel of the gun, realizing with utter clarity that there was no way out of this situation.
"Drop it, right now." A gun was pressed against the back of Stenton's head, and JJ's eyes widened as Emily stepped out of the shadows. She was holding a Glock 19, but rather than seeing the gun itself, JJ noticed the brunette's firm hold of it; Emily knew exactly what she was doing, which both calmed and somewhat alarmed JJ.
"What a..." Stenton was taken completely by surprise, but he remained motionless, clearly understanding that the situation had taken a serious turn against him.
"I said, drop your weapon, Stenton," Emily repeated, her voice even and uncompromising, giving absolutely nothing away.
"Emily?" The man finally recognized the person standing behind him and smiled sarcastically. "Well, ain't this a nice little twist."
"I'm not going to ask you again."
"Or you'll do what?" he challenged, raising the gun in his hand so that it pointed toward JJ's forehead.
"Stenton, I swear to God. You hurt one hair on her head, and I'll kill you."
"I always said to Jackson that you were bad news," he said, but slowly lowered his gun and threw it to the ground. "You two gonna split with the load or what?"
"Kneel down," Emily said, not paying any attention to Stenton's remarks.
"You know they'll hunt you down if you do." He knelt down, putting his hands behind his head. "You and your little girlfriend here." He leered at JJ.
"You really have no idea, do you?" Emily said, raising her hand and knocking him out with the butt of her gun. He fell to the floor with a grunt. Slipping the Glock into the waistband of her jeans, Emily kneeled down and tied Stenton's hands and feet with a rope she grabbed from one of the shelves. To finish it off, she gagged the man with a piece of cloth, dragged his limp body behind a row of shelves, and then stood up, looking satisfied.
JJ had been watching it all, rooted to the spot and unable to utter a word. She was too stunned, completely caught off guard, her mouth hanging slightly open. She had no idea what had just happened. Emily finally looked at her and, seeing her bewildered state, she simply grabbed the blonde's arm and dragged her across the room.
"Come on, Jennifer. We need to go." JJ felt as if she was in a haze and simply followed the other woman's lead.
The cool night air hit JJ in the face when they stepped outside, and she was finally able to shake the nearly catatonic state she'd fallen into. She shook her head as if to clear it and watched as Emily reached for her gun again. The brunette's right hand was still around JJ's upper arm as she led them further and further into the darkness, again only the moon giving them a vague idea of where they were going.
"Wait." JJ finally regained her ability to speak. "What just happened there?" She tried to stop, but Emily wouldn't let her.
"Jennifer, not now."
"No, what's going on?" JJ asked heatedly and wrenched her arm free, causing Emily to finally turn around.
"I'm serious, we don't have time for this!" She glanced restlessly towards the ranch.
"Who are you?" JJ asked, taking an involuntary step back.
"Jennifer..." Emily's eyes were pleading, but JJ wouldn't budge. She knew they were in a hurry and it was stupid, but something inside of her made her stand her ground.
"No." JJ shook her head. "Who are you?"
She saw Emily swallow nervously, the look on her face the one of vulnerability she'd seen during their riding trip to the mountains. And, exactly like back then, Emily now closed her eyes, and when she looked back at JJ again, the invisible wall had erected itself between them.
"Supervisory Special Agent Emily Prentiss from the FBI. Nice to meet you." Emily extended her hand for emphasis, but JJ was too dumbfounded to even realize the sarcastic gesture.
"What?" She whispered, blinking. This was all too much.
"Jennifer, I can explain everything, but first we need to get out of here. Fast." Emily reached for her hand, and JJ let herself be led forward again, away from Sunrise Valley.
The small cave was surprisingly warm, although the temperature outside had already dropped close to 50F. Emily was perched on a small rock at the entrance, her right hand wrapped tightly around her Glock. She had a look of concentration on her face as she peered outside into the darkness. They'd managed to find their way to the cave Emily had said was her meeting point with her FBI contacts, and now there was no other option than to wait. It felt like it'd been hours already.
"So you're working undercover at the ranch?" JJ asked from where she was sitting on the other side of the cave, arms wrapped securely around her midsection.
"Yeah. It's a joint operation between the FBI, the DEA, and New Mexico State Police," Emily admitted.
"Are they all involved, Jackson and the lot?"
"Pretty much." Emily nodded, her gaze still aimed at the darkness. "Sunrise Valley is a meeting point for various drug smugglers. Shipments from South America are stored on its grounds, and the whole tourist business makes running the operation pretty easy. My assignment was to try and infiltrate Jackson's gang to gather as much information as possible about the shipments, as well as their distribution."
"Yeah. Took me over a year, but Jackson finally let me in last September when she needed someone to ride to Chimayo for a delivery. I've been keeping tabs on the operation ever since."
"So you probably know I'm FBI as well then, huh?" JJ couldn't keep the hurt out of her voice.
"I'm required to check the background of anyone who passes through the gate," Emily replied quietly, and JJ just shook her head.
"Great." She snorted. "I bet you had a long laugh at that."
"God, how can you even think that?" Emily finally looked at her, irritation clear in her eyes. "I was so excited at the prospect of meeting someone who's from the same world as I am after being in this place for so long, someone with a similar frame of mind. And I did meet that person."
JJ watched as Emily squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed the bridge of her nose, exhaustion clear in her posture.
"I think it goes without saying that I didn't expect it to go this far." Emily sighed. "You were so funny and adorable and wonderful, right from the beginning. And while I knew I should've kept my distance, I just couldn't stay away from you. You were just...perfect," she admitted, smiling sadly. "I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't break my cover, for anyone, you know that, right?"
JJ looked away, knowing that Emily was right, knowing that when undercover, the cover needed to be protected at all costs. It didn't stop the blonde from feeling somewhat betrayed, though.
"Funny thing, actually," Emily continued and snorted humorlessly. "I almost applied for the BAU a few years ago."
"What? You did?" Small world.
"Yeah. One of your team members left, right?" The brunette glanced at JJ for confirmation, and the younger woman nodded. "I seriously considered applying, but, for some reason, the position was never opened. And then I was offered this instead."
"I still can't believe you just left everything and came here."
"Well, so did you, right?" Touché.
Before JJ had a chance to reply, however, the distinctive sound of voices, just outside the cave's entrance, filtered into the small space, and Emily immediately perked up.
"Get behind me!" She gestured for the younger woman to crawl over to her.
"I can take care of myself, too, you know?" JJ noted quietly. Still, she was moved by how protective of her Emily was.
"Which one of us is holding the gun again?" The tone in Emily's voice didn't leave any room for negotiation, and JJ actually had the grace to blush. She quickly moved behind the other agent.
"What time is it?" Emily whispered, prompting JJ to turn on the small flashlight and point it at her wrist watch.
"Could be them," Emily mumbled to herself.
"Shhh!" The voices were closer now, and they could see flashlights bouncing off the rocks.
"Prentiss!" Someone hollered, and JJ could feel Emily's demeanour relax.
"Matt! Over here!" the older woman called out and stood up so that they could see her. Soon, a brown-haired, middle-aged man, dressed in Kevlar and a blue uniform, appeared from their left and grinned wickedly at Emily.
"Prentiss! Damn, it's been too long." He gave the brunette a quick hug before his eyes turned to JJ. "And you must be Agent Jareau. We can do the pleasantries later. Let's get you out of here first."
A group of seven agents helped them climb down the steep slope, and JJ simply followed blindly, having absolutely no idea what was going on.
"I radioed my boss earlier, before I started keeping an eye on the shed," Emily explained when she saw JJ's confused look. "I figured we might need rescuing by the end of the night."
"Did I just ruin your whole operation?" JJ asked, mortified at the prospect of sabotaging over two year's worth of undercover work all because she couldn't keep her curiosity in check.
"Nah." Emily smiled reassuringly. "You just sped it along a little."
"So it's all over? Jackson and everyone have been arrested?" JJ saw a shadow pass across Emily's face.
"It's complicated," she replied, and then there were voices and people and flashing lights, and JJ didn't have time to ask Emily to elaborate. The area in front of them was swarming with agents and cars with flashing red-and-blue lights, drowning their surroundings in surreal light.
"JJ!" JJ's head whipped around, and she needed to blink a few times before realizing she wasn't hallucinating.
"Morgan?" she asked incredulously. She looked past him and saw Hotch and Rossi walking towards her as well. "What are you doing here?"
"We got a call saying that one of our agents had gotten herself involved in an undercover operation." Hotch quirked his eyebrow. "And then I had a visit from Garcia," he continued knowingly.
"Oh," JJ said, embarrassed.
She turned to look at Emily, who was still standing beside her, but when their eyes met, JJ was struck speechless, not knowing how to say everything she needed to say. She didn't even know where they stood. Emily smiled tenderly and took JJ's hand, seemingly unnoticed by everyone else.
"Jennifer, I-." She wasn't able to finish before she was interrupted by a tall black man in a well-tailored suit. He was obviously her boss.
"Prentiss, how are you?" the man asked, laying a hand on Emily's shoulder, and determinedly but not forcefully, steered her away from JJ and the other three BAU agents. "We need to brief you ASAP."
"I'm fine," JJ heard Emily reply absentmindedly, before turning her head back to the younger woman. Her eyes told JJ everything she needed to know, and JJ took an involuntary step forward, craning her neck in order to see where they were taking Emily.
She saw Emily's final, helpless glance aimed at her, before she disappeared into one of the black SUVs on site, and as the car sped away, JJ felt like it was taking her whole life with it.
It was the strangest feeling to walk along the corridors of Quantico again. A ranch in New Mexico was so drastically different that it would probably take JJ a while to get used to concrete walls and technology again. Her heels made a distinctive clicking noise on the polished floor as she walked, the resulting sound odd and alien after three months of crunching desert sand under her boots.
The past week had been gruelling. After she'd gone through everything—barring some minor, personal details—with both DEA and the CJIS, she'd needed to do it all over again with Hotch, who was, understandably, concerned that one of his agents had found herself in the middle of a large scale drug trafficking investigation.
All in all, JJ was physically and emotionally drained, and it certainly hadn't helped that she hadn't heard anything from Emily all week. That was really the worst; she had no idea where the other woman was, or when she might see her again – if she would ever see her again. JJ refused to think the worst, but the doubt had already been planted in her mind and in her heart as well.
Garcia was kicked back in her chair, eating a Butterfinger, when JJ stepped into the unofficial information center of the BAU, the technical analyst's free hand dancing elegantly across the keyboard in front of her. She held a look of sympathy on her face when she saw her friend enter, but she remained silent; Garcia knew there was nothing she could possibly say to make things better, so she simply let JJ know that if she needed to talk, she would be there for her.
"I think I'm ready," JJ said, arms crossed above her chest, attention aimed at the various monitors before her.
"Are you sure?" Garcia asked gently, hoping JJ wouldn't take offence.
"I need to see it."
"Okay." The Butterfinger long forgotten, Garcia turned her attention to the screen, her fingers hesitating for a second before she started typing commands. "Emily...?"
"Prentiss," JJ said, her voice dull. Strange, but the name 'Thomas' hadn't made sense or suited Emily at all in JJ's opinion, while 'Prentiss' fitted like a glove.
An FBI agent profile popped up on the screen, and JJ took a steadying breath before daring to look at it. There was a photograph of Emily on the left, her hair free and just brushing her shoulders, and a faint smile on her lips. JJ swallowed as she looked into familiar eyes, feeling as if any moment now the sadness inside her would consume her whole.
"Wow, she's striking," Garcia admitted quietly, quite easily able to tell what JJ saw in the dark-haired woman.
Leaning forward, JJ began reading the contents of the profile, hungrily absorbing every possible detail of the person she missed more than anything. Rank: Supervisory Special Agent... Years of service: 13... Language skills: English, Spanish, French, Arabic, basic Russian... Closest relative: Elizabeth Prentiss (mother), Ambassador...
"Her mother is Ambassador Prentiss?" Garcia asked incredulously, having reached that part of the bio as well.
"I guess her parents really did own that farm," JJ muttered to herself, feeling like the last possibility of finding something in Emily to be angry or offended about—to ease the profound yearning for the brunette within her—had just flown out of the window. She let out a frustrated sigh.
"What?" Garcia glanced up at her. "Did she lie?" she asked carefully, lowering her tone to soften the blow just in case the answer was 'yes'.
"No." JJ shook her head, angrily wiping a lone tear from her cheek. "No, she didn't lie. That's the problem."
She skimmed down the page and finally stumbled upon the part she'd been too scared to look at until then. Emily's work record showed that she’d been involved in various joint operations between agencies and had worked in many FBI field offices around the country during her career. But JJ didn't really care about that. Her eyes were fixed on the last two lines of the list.
Current assignment: undercover/classified (2006 - ?). Joint: DEA, NMSP.
"Oh, God," JJ mumbled and sank into the nearest chair, burying her face in her hands.
"I'm so sorry, Jay-J," Garcia said, watching helplessly as her best friend tried to hold herself together. She put a hand on the blonde's back for comfort, worrying that she'd never seen JJ quite that broken before.
"I thought that her being FBI would actually make things easier, but..." JJ shook her head. "Shit, this is even worse!"
"Hey, you don't know what's going to happen." Garcia tried to be positive. "And Emily will probably contact you as soon as she can."
But she hadn't. A month had gone by, then another, and JJ began to think that life would never stop sucking.
JJ knew it wasn't normal to feel so empty and almost catatonic, but nothing seemed to matter much anymore. She just wasn't interested in anything, which left her strolling the corridors of Quantico and the hallways of her apartment in a nearly mechanical manner. She did her job just as well as before, but everyone on the team noticed that she wasn't entirely there; the dullness of her voice, as well as the lack of spark in her eyes that always used to be there, didn't go unnoticed by anyone. But although JJ acknowledged the change as well, bringing herself to do something about it was more easily said than done.
Garcia had attempted to talk to her about it on various occasions, and as much as JJ wanted to give her friend what she wanted, she simply was unable to open up. Just the other day, the computer tech had asked her if she'd even cried since finding out about Emily's continuing assignment. No, I haven't cried, she'd relayed to Garcia, but it hadn't been because she didn't want to, but rather, because she couldn't. It was so much easier to deny the emotions, to be unable to actually feel, than let free the sorrow that loomed just under the surface.
It was close to midnight when JJ closed the last case file of a serial in Phoenix, Arizona, who had chosen to target police officers. She'd present the case to the team in the morning, which meant that by that time the following day, she'd probably be stuck in a hotel room somewhere in the middle of Phoenix. With a sigh, she made her way to her ready-bag which had been haphazardly thrown in a corner of her office after their previous case that had taken them to Atlanta.
Just the thought of the Atlanta case made her shudder involuntarily. Being undercover alone in a nightclub hadn't actually been her ideal way to solve the case, but she'd long ago learned not to question Hotch's decisions. Once again, she wondered why Elle had never been replaced; her position had simply been left open. A position that Emily would probably have applied for, JJ reminded herself and sighed. She wondered how different her life would be, had she met the brunette through different circumstances.
JJ rummaged through the bag, checking to see if she had everything she needed, or if there was something she should take with her from home in the morning, when she felt something solid in the side pocket of the bag. Frowning, she unzipped it and found the Kay Scarpetta book she'd been reading during her vacation; she'd obviously forgotten it was there when the bag had turned into her BAU ready bag again, and somehow she hadn't noticed it before now.
Biting the inside of her cheek, JJ turned the book in her hands as if she didn’t quite know what to do with it. She'd finished the novel just before her second endeavor to find out the truth about Noel Jackson by stupidly sneaking her way into the shed, after which everything had unravelled at such a speed that just thinking about it still made her head spin. Carefully leafing through the book, she frowned when she spotted something stuck between the pages. JJ inhaled audibly when she realized what it was.
"It's a White Marsh Marigold. They're typical for the mountains in the area."
Emily's words echoed in her head, and she couldn't breathe. JJ had completely forgotten she'd placed the flower in her book; she'd insisted on taking it with her when she'd left Emily's that morning, despite the brunette's insistence that there were plenty of better looking ones in the mountains and that the one in her hands was wilted and quite pathetic at best.
But it was the thought behind that particular individual marigold that counted more than its appearance, and it was that same thought that now made JJ gasp for air, unable to concentrate on anything but the small, pressed flower before her. The lock that had kept her emotions hidden away from the world suddenly gave way, and she felt everything at once. With trembling hands, she closed the book and hugged it to her chest, refusing to let go of it as she leaned against the door of her office and slowly slid down the smooth surface.
The tears finally came as she sat on the floor of her office, clutching the book with the flower in it, her only anchor to keep her from losing it completely.
It was that time of the year when Garcia realized, once again, how festive a person she actually was. Striding along the corridor in an elf's hat and a shirt that said, 'Jingle my Bells', she made a mental note to take some decorations with her when she'd head over to JJ's later. It had taken much begging and pleading to get JJ to finally agree to celebrate Christmas with her, instead of moping the day away, alone in her apartment.
It would get better with time, Garcia was sure of it, but until then, she would be there for JJ every step of the way. It wasn't often someone fell for another as deeply as JJ seemed to have had fallen for Emily, so it was only understandable that it'd take some time. Not that it had helped much that Will had called for the first time in months, causing the young agent to throw her phone against the wall, accompanied by a colourful array of swearwords. The poor man probably wouldn't be bothering her again, although, after that, basically everyone else and their mother had called JJ – everyone except Emily.
Garcia rounded a corner, still wondering about the somewhat mysterious brunette agent, and stopped abruptly when her thoughts seemed to have materialized in front of her.
"Oh my." She couldn't stop staring. Emily Prentiss looked fantastic, even Garcia had to admit that; her ID photo hadn't done her justice. The brunette was standing in the hallway, peering at the BAU bullpen through the glass doors. She was dressed in charcoal grey pants and a matching jacket with a white shirt underneath it. Elegance, thought Garcia, Emily practically oozed it. The computer tech stepped forward and cleared her throat before she was caught ogling a female agent in the middle of Quantico.
"Excuse me, can I help you?" she asked and warm, brown eyes turned to her. Emily blinked, clearly caught off guard by the fascinating appearance of the woman before her.
"Yes, actually I'm looking for Agent Jareau." Garcia found Emily's obvious nervousness endearing.
"She's already headed home and, as remarkable as it is, won't be back until after Christmas, I'm afraid."
"Right, of course." Emily looked down, defeated, but then quickly raised her head. "It's just that I, erm, I really, really need to find her."
"I know." Garcia grinned, unable to keep up the façade any longer. She'd always been a sucker for mushy romantic stories such as this particular one had the potential of being.
"Pardon?" Emily frowned in confusion.
"I'm Penelope Garcia, the computer whiz extraordinaire of the BAU, and JJ's best friend." She extended her hand toward the other woman who, after a bit of hesitation, reached out and shook it.
"Right." Emily still didn't seem to know what was going on.
"And I know about you," Garcia stated meaningfully.
"Oh." Garcia watched as realization hit the agent. "Oh." The blush that crept up Emily's neck made Garcia chuckle, but then her voice sobered.
"You didn't call her." She stated matter-of-factly with just a hint of accusation.
"I know." The look of sadness on Emily's face was so profound that Garcia found it impossible to stay mad at her. Not that she let the other woman see it, though. "God knows I wanted to," the brunette added as an afterthought.
"She's been a wreck these past months."
"So have I," Emily said to no one in particular.
"It took me three cartons of Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough to convince her to actually get out of bed on Thanksgiving."
"Damn." Emily ran a hand through her hair. "So, are you saying I should just leave it?" She looked miserable.
"God no!" Garcia exclaimed, briefly startling Emily.
"Good. Because I don't think I could," the agent said honestly, and from that moment on, Emily had gained Garcia's respect.
"Excellent." She patted Emily on the arm. "That's all I wanted to know. Now, I think it's time for you to pay a certain blonde press liaison a visit."
Emily smiled knowingly, and Garcia almost wished she wasn't into men.
JJ had never been so unenthusiastic about Christmas before. It was usually one of the rare occasions she spent with her family back in Pennsylvania, but this year she'd made up a lame excuse about needing to work through the holidays in order to get out of it. The disappointment in her father's voice had been heartbreaking, but she figured it was better than going home and ruining her family's Christmas by sulking in the corner.
Flipping through her countless CDs, she looked for the one Christmas album she owned which Garcia had asked the blonde to track down before her arrival. It was the last thing she wanted to do, to listen to Christmas carols and songs of how everything was so merry and goddamn wonderful when everything certainly wasn't. Snatching the aforementioned album from the pile as she finally came across it, JJ flipped it over and groaned when she saw the track list. 'Jingle Bell Rock'? Oh, hell no.
The doorbell rang before JJ had time to conveniently get rid of the album, and she walked to the door with the CD in her hands. Garcia was early, which was quite unusual for her.
"Garcia, we're so not listening to th-." The words died on her lips as her eyes landed on a nervous-looking brunette standing on the other side of the door. The CD case fell from her hands, but she didn't even notice. All she could do was to stare at the woman who had haunted her every thought for months.
"Hi," Emily said, her voice uncertain. She bent down and slowly retrieved the fallen CD from where it had landed.
"What...how did you...?" JJ couldn't think straight. The world was spinning around her, and it was an impossible task to grasp that Emily had just materialized out of nowhere, even when the apparition was still very much visible.
"I was, erm, relieved from my assignment yesterday," Emily explained, nervously cradling the damaged jewel case of the Christmas CD in her hands. JJ could only blink.
"I think I need to sit down," JJ suddenly mumbled and scrambled back inside, hearing Emily follow after a moment of indecision.
"Do you need a glass of water or something?" Emily asked, worried, as JJ slumped into one of the chairs in her living room, her breathing slightly ragged.
"No, I'm good." JJ's voice was muffled by the hands on her face. Emily remained standing, weighing her options, and finally, she decided to bite the bullet as she walked confidently to the sitting woman, shedding her overcoat on the back of the couch on the way.
"Jennifer." She kneeled down before the blonde and gently laid a hand on her shoulder. JJ slowly looked up and saw Emily smiling at her.
"Hi," she whispered shyly, still not believing Emily was truly there. A hand slowly moved up to cup her face, a thumb tenderly stroking over the soft skin of her cheek.
"Hi," Emily replied quietly, revelling in the feel of JJ's soft skin against her hand once again.
"I think I'm dreaming."
"Do you want me to pinch you?"
"You disappeared." It wasn't said accusingly, just with sadness.
"I know. And I'm so very sorry."
"Where were you?"
"Still stuck undercover in New Mexico, wrapping up the case. I was the only one who knew the details of the smuggling scheme. Jackson & Co. were arrested before they could rat me out, so I was still useful for the parties involved." Emily was babbling and looked away guiltily. "Not that it justifies me not calling, but I couldn't make contact without being compromised."
"I thought I'd never see you again."
"I was just waiting for a way out. I'm so sorry it took this long."
"You don't have to go back?" JJ couldn't help the feeling of hope that sprang from within her.
"No." Emily shook her head and took the blonde's hands into her own. "I'll actually be, umm, working from Quantico from now on."
"What?" JJ's eyebrows rose high on her forehead.
"Yeah, I...I applied for a transfer. There's an open teaching position and-,"
"You'd do that just for me?"
"I thought that much was obvious by now."
"Oh, my God." She covered her face with her hands again, the news both exhilarating and terrifying.
"JJ?" Emily frowned at the reaction she hadn’t been expecting.
The tangled web of thoughts inside JJ's head made rational thinking extremely difficult. She glanced back up at Emily, her eyes watery and indecisive. There she was, crouched down next to her, the woman who had turned her life upside down and was now offering her a way out, a chance for happiness, and JJ was suddenly afraid. She recognized the all too familiar feeling of cowardness seeping into her and looked pleadingly at Emily.
"I'm so tired of running," she admitted quietly, needing Emily to understand where she was coming from. All her life, it'd seemed that her role had been to be unhappy and lonely, a part she'd happily played, but giving that up shouldn't have been this difficult.
"So don't." Emily's reply was just as quiet, and she didn't back down an inch.
"It's not that easy."
"Yes, it is. You just stop." Fingers under JJ's chin urged her to look up into beautiful brown eyes. "You have me." The familiar phrase caused a sob to pass the blonde's lips.
"Hey, you okay?" Emily asked gently, her eyes never leaving JJ's.
"Yeah." A nod. "Yeah, I'm better than okay." JJ whispered, quickly wrapping her arms around Emily's neck. The familiar scent of the other woman filled her nose, and she felt good for the first time in what seemed like forever. "I'm perfect." She squeezed her eyes shut, a few tears still running down her cheeks.
"Yes. Yes, you are," JJ heard Emily murmur close to her ear and felt her heart swell with happiness.
"I actually got you a Christmas present," Emily confessed nervously, holding a fairly sizeable box she'd fetched earlier from the car. "Just in case," she then added, her cheeks reddening.
"Can I open it?" JJ took the offered box and shook it tentatively.
Smiling widely, JJ untied the bright red ribbon on top and carefully eased the lid off. She covered her mouth with her right hand when she saw what was inside, and with trembling fingers, she lifted a stylish, mocha-coloured cowboy hat from the box.
"I wanted to buy you one this past the summer, but I never got the chance. Anyone who rides horses as well as you needs to have their own hat," Emily explained, scratching the back of her neck.
"You really think of everything," JJ said and eased closer to the brunette, kissing her deeply. She took every opportunity to kiss Emily after being unable to do so for so long. "Thank you."
"Let's see." Emily took the hat and put it on the younger woman’s head. "Perfect."
"You think so?" JJ asked, her voice taking on a sultry edge.
"Oh, I know so." Emily wiggled her eyebrows mischievously, before leaning down and capturing the blonde's lips again.
The doorbell rang interrupting the kiss, and JJ giggled as the other agent pecked her first on the nose and then on both corners of her mouth. Finally, she managed to slip away, albeit grudgingly, from Emily's affectionate grasp and hurried to the door, a wide grin plastered on her face.
"Jay-J, I was just che-." Garcia fell silent and blinked. Her eyes slid up to the cowboy hat JJ was still sporting, making the 'cowgirl' blush beet red when she remembered her new accessory.
"Um, hi Garcia." She quickly took the hat off, not able to meet her best friend's eyes.
"Well, ho, ho, ho and yee-ha!" Garcia's eyes sparkled with merriment. She saw Emily stepping behind JJ and winked at her. "Hi Emily."
"Penelope," Emily acknowledged the other woman, smirking knowingly.
"Have you two met?" JJ inquired, confusion etched on her face.
"We bumped into each other earlier," Garcia replied elusively, still studying the older agent with amusement. "Anyway, I just wanted to drop by and say that, unfortunately, I can't make it this Christmas after all."
"Oh really?" JJ's eyebrow arched, easily able to spot the bullshit.
"Really. Morgan invited me to Chicago with him, and I obviously can't turn my chocolate honey-bunny down."
"So, you two enjoy your Christmas without the radiant presence of the glorious yours truly." The computer tech took a few steps backwards. "And JJ? Call me," she added pointedly.
"Merry Christmas, Penelope," Emily said, the connotation of the greeting much more profound than a simple expression of holiday cheer.
Garcia walked back to her car, sighing happily, the other two women watching her departure from the door. JJ felt Emily's lean figure press lightly against her back, the brunette's hands finding their way to her hips. She swallowed as Garcia's car sped away, but she just couldn't bring herself to move and close the door. One hand slowly slid upwards, fingers lightly caressing the smooth skin under the hem of her shirt. JJ's breath caught.
"Emily?" she murmured.
"You do realize that my neighbours have a full view of my door, don't you?"
"Uh-huh." Soft lips descended on her shoulder and started a journey up her neck.
"God..." JJ squeezed her eyes shut, every cell in her body humming with pleasure. With much effort, she managed to lift her foot just enough to kick the door closed and turned around in Emily's arms at the same time.
"Nope, just me," Emily quipped, her hands inching higher and higher under JJ's shirt.
"Oh, shut up." JJ chuckled, before capturing Emily's lips and efficiently silencing her.
The snow underneath JJ's feet made a delicious crunching sound every time she took a step. There was a good ten inches of snow on the ground, the first snowfall of the season, and it never failed to elevate JJ's mood. The snow made the darkness of the early evening seem much lighter as she walked through the park, deep in thought.
Nothing prepared her for the round mass of coldness that suddenly hit her in the back of the head, jerking her slightly forward. Slowly, she turned around, a few drops of melted snow sliding down her neck and underneath her coat.
"Emily, you didn't." She glared at the dark-haired agent, who was standing a few feet away, another snowball quickly taking form in her hands. The only reply was a wicked grin on the brunette's face, and the second snowball hit JJ squarely in the chest.
"I'm going to kill you," JJ muttered and scooped up snow for her own snowball arsenal.
Much shrieking and dodging of snowballs ensued before JJ was finally close enough to Emily to have her revenge, but her snow missiles missed their goal with painful inaccuracy. Having run out of ammo, Emily scooped JJ up, bringing about another set of shrieks and laughter, before they fell to the ground, exhausted. They lay on their backs for a while, both simply trying to catch their breath.
"I love you." JJ gasped when she heard the quiet words, her heart skipping a beat. The two women turned to look at each other, both recognizing the significance of the moment.
"I love you too." JJ whispered reverently, amazed at how easy it had been to finally say those three little words out loud.
Silently, they turned their eyes back to the night sky that was illuminated with stars. JJ flashed back to the magical moment they'd shared in New Mexico, when she'd first realized the staggering beauty of the burning plasma balls millions and billions of light years away. JJ guessed Emily had made the same association, because she heard her take a deep breath, speaking words they both knew to be true.
"It won't be easy." It was a simple statement, not meant to imply anything.
"I know," JJ said quietly, nodding for emphasis.
Their job would make things difficult, that much was certain. They were both women, which still carried a fairly unpleasant stigma. And if that wasn't enough, Emily had just spent two years of her life pretending to be someone she wasn't, which meant that it'd take a while for her to completely assimilate herself with her old life.
"But we can do it."
"Yes, we can do it." JJ finally spotted Orion's Belt among of the millions of lights. "Teach me another constellation."
"Can you see that very bright star right there?" Emily asked after a brief silence, pointing up and to the left. JJ scooted closer in order to see what the other woman was pointing at. She laid her head on Emily's shoulder and squinted up to the sky.
"Yeah. Yeah, I can see it."
"Right. That's Sirrah, the brightest star of the Andromeda constellation. If you look to the left of it, you can see a line of stars that form it," Emily explained.
"What's the story?"
"Well, we're venturing into the Greek mythology again." Emily cleared her throat. "Andromeda was a princess who was chained to a rock and exposed to a terrible sea monster, Cetus, as punishment for her mother's boast of her daughter's beauty being superior to that of the Nereids, sea nymphs."
"Perseus saw her when he was on his way back from his expedition against Gorgon. He fell in love with her and promised Cepheus, Andromeda's father, that he'd free her if she could become his wife. The father agreed, and Perseus killed the monster and got the girl." Emily fell silent.
"So, a bit like a hero-in-shining-armour kind of a thing."
"Yeah, you could say that," Emily agreed.
"Well, you're my hero in a cowboy hat." JJ chuckled and felt Emily softly kiss her temple.
They fell silent again, both looking up at the millions and millions of stars littering the night sky. JJ felt Emily's hand grasp hers, their fingers entwining in a perfect fit, a symbolic manifestation of their souls that were now forever bound together, just like the ancient constellations above them.
"Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth."