Chapter 1: Caught Up in Caution
Emily watches as the clouds seem to float past her window. They pass by one by one– weightless, serene, even peaceful. Up in the air, it’s easy to forget the horrors that lie thousands of feet below them. There are no unsubs– no serial killers. She wishes she could stay up here, disconnected from reality. More importantly, Emily wishes she could keep JJ in the safe confines of the BAU’s private jet forever. She’s not stupid, she knows that JJ is exactly the type of woman the unsub goes for. Usually, she can compartmentalize that fear, but this case felt different. Something deep in her bones told her that this time– this time– something was going to happen. Emily couldn’t shake that unsettled feeling no matter how hard she tried. Instead, she pours over the case files trying desperately not to see JJ in every picture. Every woman, barely recognizable through the evidence of extreme torture, reminded her of JJ– so much so that Emily had to glance over and check just to make sure she was really there on the jet with her.
Emily allows herself a small smile at the sight of her. JJ is sitting just across the aisle, her legs curled up underneath her small frame. She’s wrapped in an obscenely large blanket, tucked away as if nothing can touch her underneath it. Emily wonders if she’s dreaming, if she ever dreams of her the way she dreams of JJ. She allows herself a moment to take in the peaceful beauty sleeping soundly before her. Her soft, golden locks cascade around her face and down her shoulders. JJ’s hand is tucked just underneath her chin, and it reminds Emily almost of a child– innocent, pure, untouched. She wishes she could shield her from this unsub the way the blanket seems to be shielding her now, but Emily knows JJ can handle it. Despite everything in her screaming to keep her safe, Emily knows that JJ is professional– whether she likes it or not.
She sighs and looks back down at the case files. Emily wonders if these women had people in their lives that look at them the way she looks at JJ– people that think of them the way she thinks of JJ. What Emily would do if anything happened to her, she doesn’t quite know, but she knows she never wants to find out. She shakes her head slightly, trying to force her thoughts of JJ in their neat little box inside her head, locked up tight, never to be seen or heard. Right now she needs to focus on the case and the woman the unsub has captive, not the beautiful blonde sleeping safely mere feet away from her.
“So we know this unsub is a sexual sadist. He gets off on the pain he inflicts on each of his victims. The question is, why?” Hotch’s words pull Emily out of her head and back into reality.
“Could be surrogates of someone in his life who inflicted extreme levels of pain.” Emily chimes in, forcing her mind to stay in the present. She pauses, mulling the idea over in her head before she speaks. “Maybe he was abused as a child? Garcia, can you cross check cases of severe abuse that would’ve happened fifteen to twenty years ago in the area? Focus on boys who suffered abuse from their mother. The father could’ve been in an accidental death or murdered.”
“My nimble fingers are already eons of keystrokes ahead of you!” Garcia chirps from the laptop situated between the team.
The team bounces ideas off one another for a bit longer before the conversation eventually dies down. They were fresh off of another case and none of them had gotten any sleep before heading straight back to the jet for this one. As the snores and breathing of her teammates filled the room, Emily found herself glancing back to JJ once more.
JJ wakes and stretches her arms as she yawns the lingering exhaustion away. She catches Emily’s eye and quickly adjusts her clothes and wipes at her mouth. “What? Was I talking in my sleep or something?”
Emily, realizing her glances had turned into full on staring, tries to busy herself with the case files laying forgotten in her lap. She looks up at JJ again, shy this time, and blurts, “No… no you’re perfect,” before she can stop herself.
JJ cocks her head and stares back at Emily, holding her gaze. She looks as if she’s pondering something for a moment before she laughs and looks down. “Okay, Em, whatever you say. Have you gotten any sleep yet?”
Responding with a laugh, Emily shakes her head. “Guess I just can’t sleep with this case feeling so…” She trails off, avoiding JJ’s eyes. She wants to say close to home , but she can’t bring herself to say the words aloud. Emily knows nothing would happen– the team is a family, after all, but somehow verbalizing it means admitting that it’s not just the team. JJ is home for her.
The nervous energy radiating off of Emily is almost palpable. JJ sits up at that, suddenly completely awake and alert. She crosses the aisle and grabs Emily’s hands. It’s only then that she notices Emily is shaking. “Emily, where’d you go? You know you can tell me anything, right?” JJ’s gaze shifts between Emily’s brown eyes frantically, searching for any hint of what’s going on behind them.
Emily stares into JJ’s now wide, watery blue eyes and for a moment, she considers what it would be like to give in to her touch– to pull the hands holding hers and the woman they belong to into her arms and let go. For once in her life, Emily wants nothing more than to let go of control and let JJ comfort her; she wants to let JJ in.
Summoning up years of forced pleasantries, she feels her lips twitch into a small smile. Emily pulls her hands away from JJ’s, despite the loss she feels, and pushes her dreams as far back into her mind as she can. “It’s nothing, Jayje. Don’t worry about it. I’m just tired.”
JJ looks at Emily for a moment longer, flashing her all-too-familiar, split-second, uncertain smile, nods, and retreats back to her seat. “Go to sleep, then. I’ll wake you if we get any new information before we land. Promise.”
JJ’s scream pierces through the otherwise silent warehouse as the shock courses through her system. Every nerve in her body is on fire as the metal sears into her skin. Her muscles contract in an effort to get away from the shock, but JJ is bound– she can’t move. The harsh fibers of the ropes around her wrists and ankles dig into her already sensitive flesh as her body seeks relief from the pain. Everything around her starts to get fuzzy, and then all at once, the metal is torn away from her skin, leaving her breathless and frantic, unable to find the comfort her body so desperately needs.
Faintly, JJ registers blood trickling down from the corner of her mouth. She fights to remain conscious as she runs through her memories of the day’s events, but she just can’t remember anything before this. Being here, tied up and vulnerable, enduring more pain than she’s ever experienced. Her eyes droop as she succumbs to the pain and exhaustion threatening to overtake her, and all at once, everything goes black. She can feel her body weight slump against already sensitive rope burns as silence overtakes her surroundings.
Emily’s scream wakes everyone on the jet, and almost instantaneously, JJ is at her side. “Emily! Emily, shh, hey. You’re okay. You’re on the jet. It’s just dream. Come back to me, Emily.” Unconsciously, JJ starts running her fingers through Emily’s hair, trying anything she can to comfort her friend while gently cooing comforts into her ear.
Through the darkness a faint voice can be heard. Emily feels around in the pitch black for any sign of JJ. She could hear her screaming and now there’s just nothing. How could there be nothing? She tries desperately to follow the voice, but she can’t hold on to it. The image of JJ bound and gagged, blood trickling from her lips is seared into her brain and it’s all Emily can see in the dark. She was just there! Emily groans in frustration as her legs carry her forward seemingly of their own accord. She has to find JJ again. She has to.
Something warm brushes her face and without thinking, Emily leans into it. The voice grows louder and she thinks she can hear JJ’s voice. “JJ! Jennifer! Hold on. I’m coming! I’m coming, JJ!” Emily’s throat feels as if it’s on fire as she screams into nothingness. JJ’s voice grows louder still, and she runs as fast as she can. When she can no longer run, she collapses into the warmth that followed her in her search for JJ. It’s so comforting– so real. Is it an angel? Is she hallucinating?
“Emily, I’m right here. Shh, it’s okay. I’m okay. Don’t worry. Just come back to me, okay?” JJ is frantic now as Emily screams for her in her sleep. The thought of Emily being so haunted by something about her is enough to send JJ into a panic. She never– ever– wants to be the cause of this beautiful woman’s pain. JJ holds Emily’s face in both of her hands, trying to bring her back to reality without startling her into an episode. She strokes the impossibly soft skin underneath her fingertips, and somewhere at the back of her mind, JJ registers that it feels like she was meant to comfort Emily.
Emily gasps for air as her eyes shoot open. A fuzzy JJ comes into focus and she can feel cold sweat seeping through her shirt. “J-Jen… JJ?” The light coming from behind forms somewhat of a halo around JJ, and Emily wonders if she’s still dreaming. Hadn’t she just heard an angel’s voice?
JJ soothes her thumb across Emily’s cheek, her fingertips catching stray tears as they fall. “I’m right here, Em. I’ve got you. We’re safe.”
Looking around, Emily can see the rest of the BAU circled around her. “What happened?”
“You had a nightmare, Em.” JJ glances around to her teammates, silently telling them to back off; she’s got this. As they retreat to their respective seats, JJ turns her focus back to Emily. “You were screaming, and then you started saying…” JJ looks down, unsure of whether or not she should tell Emily just who she was screaming for. Her voice barely above a whisper, she continues. “You started screaming for me, Emily.”
Flashes of her nightmare swirl around in her mind as it comes back to her. Emily can see JJ hanging from the ropes, blood and burns everywhere. She feels acid threatening to make it’s way up her throat and she pales. Before she registers what she’s doing, Emily is slumped over the jet’s toilet, the contents of her breakfast reappearing into the otherwise perfectly white porcelain.
Without missing a beat, JJ is by her side. She brushes stray strands of hair out of Emily’s face as she steadies herself. Tanned knuckles turn white as Emily grips the edges of the toilet, avoiding eye contact.
“What was it about, Emily?” JJ’s voice is soft and uncertain. It’s so quiet she wonders if Emily could even hear her.
With a sigh, Emily sits back and looks at JJ. “You,” she whispers. JJ just stares, silently willing her to continue. Emily swallows. “You were being tortured by the unsub. I saw… I saw everything, but then… I couldn’t find you , JJ! I couldn’t…” Emily feels hot tears streak down her face as she trails off.
JJ pulls Emily into her arms, stroking her hair as the woman she’s hardly seen lose it falls apart. “I’m okay, Emily. It was just a dream.”
Feeling too much like a child caught in the middle of a tantrum, Emily straightens. She brushes the wrinkles out of her pants as she stands. “You’re right. You’re right, I’m being silly.”
“No, Emily, hey! You’re not being silly. What we do– what we see, it’s,” she pauses, searching for the right words. “It’s haunting, Emily. There’s a reason it’s so hard to get into this team. It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. It means you’re human, Em.”
Emily stops. Slowly, she turns back to JJ. “It means I’m weak,” she throws back angrily. It’s not that she’s mad at JJ– God, she could never be mad at JJ– it’s that she’s mad at herself. She never wanted to be that vulnerable. Especially not in front of the team– not in front of Jennifer Jareau.
Dumbstruck, JJ stands frozen. She stares after Emily in shock as she walks back to her seat. Why does she feel like she’s just been slapped in the face?
After what feels like an eternity, JJ runs after her colleague. “No, Emily. You’re one of the strongest people I know.” She sits next to Emily lightly as she searches her eyes. Anyone else would leave it, but she isn’t just anyone. JJ knows Emily– maybe more than she knows herself. “What’s going on, Em? Talk to me.”
At the sound of JJ’s soft, melodic voice, Emily softens. “Don’t worry about it, JJ, please. The victims just look like you and my imagination ran with it. I’m sorry.”
Warmth spreads through JJ’s chest, and she’s pretty sure she’s blushing. “Don’t be sorry, Em.” Suddenly bashful, she looks down. “I can’t believe you care that much about me.”
Emily gently lifts JJ’s chin with her finger. It’s suddenly very important she make sure JJ knows just how much she does care– that she cares so much it hurts. She locks eyes with her, holding her gaze for a moment to emphasize what she’s about to say. “JJ, I don’t ever want you to doubt how much I care about you, okay? I would– very literally– take a bullet for you and not regret it for a second.”
JJ’s eyes fill with tears that threaten to spill over at any second while Emily absentmindedly caresses her face. “Emily,” she whispers. It’s soft, broken, almost like a plea. For what, JJ isn’t sure.
Realizing suddenly that she’s still holding JJ’s face, Emily abruptly pulls her hand away and clears her throat. “Anyway, I’m fine. We should look over the case file again before we land.”
“Right.” JJ croaks, like the word is stuck in her throat. She can still feel the warmth from Emily’s touch, and while she’s not entirely sure why, JJ knows she wishes she’d kept her hand there. Silently, she tells herself to unpack that when the case is over.
Rossi nudges Hotch as he watches the two female agents in front of him. Emily is gently stroking JJ’s face, clearly unaware she’s even doing so. Hotch follows the other man’s gaze and gives him a knowing look when he realizes what caught his attention.
“You think they know yet?”
Rossi chuckles. “They’re in love. Of course they’re oblivious.”
The team ushers into a cramped, clearly underfunded police station and JJ snaps into her communications liaison mask with ease. “Detective Sampson, I’m Agent Jareau. We spoke on the phone.” She stretches her hand out in greeting before turning to the rest of the team. “These are Supervisory Special Agents Hotchner, Rossi, Prentiss, Reid, and Morgan. Do you have a place where we can set up?”
Clearly still trying to connect the names to faces, Detective Sampson stares at the team for a moment before answering. “Uh, yes. Yes, right this way,” he stammers. “It’s not much, but we’ve never had something like this happen before, so we’re all kind of scrambling right now.” He gestures them into a small conference room. “We really appreciate you coming up from DC, Agents.”
JJ offers a well practiced smile. “It’s no problem, Detective. We’re here to help.”
“Please, call me John.” The detective returns JJ’s smile, clearly comforted by the gesture.
JJ nods slightly. “John, then. The rest of the team will be working to get a preliminary profile going in here. Could you direct me to the media? We want to get ahead of the exposure as quickly as possible so we can control the narrative.” She guides him out of the room, leaving her team to get to work.
Emily watches as JJ leaves with the detective. A small part of her knows she’s being irrational, they’re in a police station , for God’s sake, but she can’t help but feel on edge the minute JJ walks out of her line of sight. Victimology has resembled JJ before, so why now? Why can’t Emily control her nerves on this one? She tries to push the building anxiety down and focus on Reid as he spits out a string of obscure facts that could help them with the case. She registers sound hitting her ears, but for the life of her, Emily can’t comprehend what Spencer is saying.
As if on cue, Hotch places a strong hand on Emily’s shoulder and discreetly nods towards the door while Morgan and Reid launch into a discussion on victimology.
“Emily, is everything alright? If you need to take a day or two, the team can manage without you for a little bit.”
“No!” Emily’s protest is almost instant. She squirms a little under her Unit Chief’s intense stare before continuing. “No, Hotch. I need to work this case. The victimology is just a little… unsettling. That’s all.”
“JJ can handle herself, Emily. She’s come a long way since the Hankel case. She might as well be a profiler, herself.”
Emily’s eyes widen at her boss’s words. “Hotch, I never said–”
“I see it, too, Emily. I see it every time it happens. It’s alright if it gets to you every once in a while, but we need you here . You’re no good to the team if you’re distracted.” Hotch stares at Emily, trying to read her. He knows it won’t do any good to take her off of the case, but he also knows how rare it is for the job to get to her. “Why don’t you head to the hotel early. Clear your head. Get some rest. It’s been a long day and a lot of traveling.”
Deep down, Emily knows Hotch is right, but she doesn’t want to admit it. “Hotch,” she starts. “I’m fine, really.”
Sensing more protests from his agent, Hotch holds up his hand. “We’ll call you if anything new comes up. This isn’t a request, Emily. We need you focused. Go to the hotel and we’ll see you tomorrow at seven AM.” Emily gives him one last pleading look before he continues, a bit softer this time. “There’s not much more we can do today, anyway. Without any new leads, we’re just going to be talking in circles trying to come up with a working profile and you know that.”
Knowing she’s lost the fight, Emily nods. She turns to leave before a thought occurs to her. “Can you keep this between us?” She knows Hotch wouldn’t say anything regardless, but Emily feels like her vulnerability is coming out much more than she’s used to.
“Of course, Emily. Now go.”
Emily drops her go-bag unceremoniously onto the floor the minute she reaches her room. The hotel is small, but it’s nice enough. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting from such a small town– they’re somewhere in the middle of Minnesota, although she can’t remember the name of the town for the life of her– so she’s pleasantly surprised to find it’s not a complete disaster. She scans the room. There’s a bathroom, a modest office area consisting of a desk and a small table by the couch, and what looks to be a king sized bed stacked with the fluffiest pillows Emily’s ever seen. If nothing else, they got that right.
Slipping off her shoes, she blindly grabs around her bag for a few moments before she pulls out an old t-shirt to sleep in. It’s still early, but Emily figures she should get as much sleep as she can while she has the chance. She rubs at the back of her neck and it’s only then that she realizes how tense she’s been since they got the case. Deciding to take a hot shower to try and relax her muscles, she makes her way to the bathroom.
Emily stands under the almost scalding hot water, letting the pressure from the stream slowly ease some of the tension she’d been carrying away. She starts going through the motions of her usual shower routine, but her mind wanders back to the case. Back to JJ. Each victim flashes through her mind before it settles on the image of Jennifer Jareau, lying lifeless on concrete, barely recognizable through the blood caked on her limp features. It startles Emily so much, she has to brace herself against the tiled shower wall to keep herself from falling over. She leans against the wall for a moment, trying to steady her breath and stop herself from shaking, before blindly grabbing for her towel.
In a daze, Emily stumbles into her shirt and onto the bed, barely dry before her head hits the pillow. She can feel the moisture from her still-wet hair seep into the pillow immediately, but she’s too wound up to care. All Emily can see is JJ. Bloody, unconscious JJ. Emily tries to close her eyes but the picture only grows more vivid with each attempt. With a frustrated sigh, Emily slams her fist into the comforter next to her. Every muscle in her body tenses as she fights off tears she knows she’s too stubborn to cry anyway. She wants to rip every blanket and pillow off of the bed, launch the lamp next to her clear across the room, anything to make this feeling go away. Instead, however, she hides her head underneath a spare pillow and screams. She screams until her throat is raw. She screams until any energy she has is ripped from her body. Only then can she let herself sleep. Only when Emily can no longer physically remain awake, does she succumb to the blissful nothingness.
JJ slides the keycard into its slot with ease, thankful to finally have time to sleep. She spent all day dealing with the press, and if she was honest, all she wanted to do was shut the entire world out for a night. The fact that they were in a small town made her job infinitely more difficult. Anything about this case was front page news, and frankly, JJ didn’t quite care for how sensationalized the case had become. It was like these people actually wanted more victims. It made JJ sick to think about.
She didn’t bother with the lights when she stepped over the threshold and into her hotel room. Slipping out of her work clothes and into a t-shirt she managed to pull out of her go-bag in almost complete darkness, JJ makes a beeline towards the bed she knows is waiting for her in the middle of the room. She wraps herself in the impossibly fluffy blankets and lets her mind drift while she tries to fall asleep.
Trying to get comfortable, JJ turns onto her side and sprawls out under the covers. When she stretches her arms out, however, she’s met with a warm body. The rational side of her knows there must be an explanation, but JJ can’t help the panic that rises within her as her eyes struggle to adjust to the darkness to figure out who she’s apparently sharing a bed with. JJ knows she needs to keep her cool. If the person is dangerous, she can just as easily slip out of the room as she had slipped into it. Now is not the time for sudden movements.
As her eyes finally adjust to her surroundings, JJ can make out the familiar silhouette of none other than Emily Prentiss. She breathes a sigh of relief before a whole different type of panic hits her. She’s sharing a bed with Emily Prentiss. JJ racks her brain for the details of the accommodations she’d arranged hours ago in the early morning light just before their flight. The receptionist had been babbling on about something, but she was in such a rush she didn’t think much of it. Desperately trying not to wake Emily while she struggles to remember the conversation, JJ lays uncomfortably still. It’s the only hotel in town. They’d overbooked.
She sighs inwardly as JJ weighs her options. She could move to the couch. She knows Emily had an even longer day than she did, and she looks so peaceful sleeping next to her. Although, JJ can feel the feather soft plush of the mattress underneath her, and she decides maybe it wouldn’t be so bad sharing a bed. They’d shared a room on occasion in situations like this. It’s not like it’s weird. She just wasn’t prepared, is all.
Snuggling deeper into the covers, JJ tries to convince herself that’s the only reason she feels anxiety bubbling in her chest. It certainly has nothing to do with the brunette sleeping so soundly beside her– so close she can feel the body heat radiating off her skin. It’s definitely not the faint scent of Emily’s shampoo lingering in the air. No, she was just caught off guard. That’s all.
So why, then, was JJ suddenly painfully aware of every breath, every movement, every gentle rustle of the covers that accompanied even the slightest shifting of weight? She stares at the ceiling, willing her heartbeat to slow itself down. It’s Emily. She’s never been this wound up around her before. JJ chances a sideways glance at the woman next to her. She can see the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest as she breathes, unaware of the outside world as she dreams. JJ wonders briefly if she’s dreaming at all, or if she’s just lost in the black depths of her mind. Silently, JJ hopes Emily is dreaming. She hopes that at least for tonight, Emily can escape whatever horrors plagued her mind on the jet earlier.
As JJ skirts the line between conscious and unconscious, her thoughts wander to what it would be like to hold Emily as she slept– what she’d feel like in her arms, if she’d fit as perfectly as JJ imagines she would. She looks over at her companion once more, and JJ begins to wonder when her thoughts of Emily shifted into this new territory. JJ suspects that maybe she’d always thought of Emily this way. Admitting it, though, was something she wasn’t sure she could do. Admitting that her thoughts of her best friend have started to stray into dangerous territory would make it real, and JJ isn’t sure she could handle the fallout if things went awry. Not with Emily. Not ever.
She thinks back to earlier on the jet. JJ can still feel Emily’s hand, barely touching her face, as if it’s hovering there, but just enough to ignite something inside of JJ that she’d long since forgotten. When Emily let her hand linger on her skin, JJ felt like, for the first time in a long time– maybe ever– she’d truly been touched . And that scares the shit out of her.
JJ shakes her head. She’s being silly, letting her thoughts run away with her the way she has. Emily is her friend. This is crazy. Get a grip, Jennifer .
Deciding sleep deprivation has gotten the better of her, JJ forces herself to sleep.
Emily smiles as the light filters in through the window. She’d been having a good dream, a nice contrast to the last time she slept. Instead of not being able to save JJ, Emily was sleeping next to the beautiful blonde. Not wanting it to end, she closes her eyes and snuggles in deeper. She can almost feel JJ pressed against her body as she moves. She pulls JJ in closer and Emily swears she can smell the body wash she uses.
She feels JJ wrap her arms tighter around her and Emily’s eyes snap open. She can feel JJ. This isn’t a dream. Emily looks down at the blonde sleeping in her arms. When did she get here? Why is she sharing a bed with me? Too afraid to move, Emily considers her options. She figures the only realistic thing to do is wake JJ up and figure out why she’s in the same bed, but the masochist inside of her just wants to hold JJ until, inevitably, the blissful bubble bursts and she wakes up. Before she can make up her mind, though, Emily finds her hand playing with JJ’s hair– almost as if it has a mind of its own. As her fingers glide through the golden tresses, Emily feels any lingering anxiety slip away. Whatever the reason, it feels like she’s where she’s meant to be.
As subtly as she can, Emily moves even closer to JJ. If this is the only time she’s ever allowed to feel JJ’s body against her own, she wants to memorize every curve; she wants to remember exactly what it feels like to have her in her arms, exactly how perfectly she fits. Emily can see JJ’s eyelashes flutter as she dreams, can feel her breaths against her skin. Emily decides right then and there that if Heaven is real, this is what it would be.
Emily sighs as she reluctantly pulls away from the woman sleeping peacefully in her arms. JJ whimpers in her sleep and pulls Emily back. Emily thinks she might actually prefer facing down psychotic serial killers over having to untangle herself from JJ’s arms.
Realizing she isn’t going to get anywhere with JJ playing tug-of-war with her arms in her sleep, Emily lightly squeezes her shoulders. “Jayje. Wake up. We have to get to work soon.”
JJ whines as her lips form a pout. “Stay in bed with me. Please, baby,” she mumbles and Emily freezes. Obviously JJ’s still asleep and is unaware of who’s in bed with her, but hearing those words directed at her, coming from JJ of all people, is enough to kill Emily on the spot.
“Jennifer. It’s Emily. We have to get up.”
“Mmm, ‘Mily. C’mere.” JJ wiggles her way closer to Emily and buries her face in the crook of Emily’s neck. Briefly, Emily wonders if her job is even worth waking JJ up and cutting this moment short.
Changing tactics, Emily softly caresses JJ’s cheek with her thumb. The blonde instinctively leans into the touch, and Emily can’t help but smile at the sight before her. “JJ,” she whispers as she glides her hand into JJ’s hair, tucking the stray strands behind her ear. “It’s time to wake up now.”
When she sees JJ’s eyelids flutter open momentarily, Emily knows she’s finally making progress. Fuck it, she thinks. Throwing every rational thought she’s ever had out the window, Emily continues. “Baby,” she starts, and her hand slides down to rest against JJ’s neck. “Wake up.”
JJ slowly opens her eyes and smiles. “Mmm, morning Emily,” she murmurs while she wiggles her head impossibly closer into the crook of Emily’s neck.
Anxiety mingles with confusion as Emily hesitantly keeps her hold on JJ. “Jayje… you’re in my bed. And we’re… cuddling right now. What’s going on?”
Emily can feel JJ shrug against her before she speaks. “Hotel was overbooked. Had to double up rooms and apparently ours only had one bed. Didn’t wanna wake you when I got in last night.”
Looking down at JJ, Emily is sure her expression looks as if JJ had just grown three heads. She tries to process the new information. Sharing a room she can understand. It’s happened before, just with separate beds. What Emily doesn’t get is why she’s still entwined in JJ’s arms, and why JJ doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by it. “Okay. So you just,” Emily pauses, afraid of JJ’s response. She tightens her grip on the blonde before continuing. “You cuddle in your sleep, then?”
JJ laughs before pulling away slightly so she can look Emily in the eye properly. “Only when there’s a hot FBI agent in my bed.” She winks before removing herself from Emily’s arms completely and walks over to her go-bag forgotten on the floor.
Emily’s mouth drops. Is she flirting with me? She pushes the thought out of her mind as quickly as it had come. JJ is her best friend. She’s obviously just joking around with her. That’s all. Still, though, Emily can’t help the seed of hope that had taken root in the pit of her stomach. Maybe , she thinks. Maybe .
Hope is a foreign feeling to Emily. She’s not sure what box to put it in– which compartment it would fit neatly into inside her mind. For now she just pushes it in to its dark corners, hoping she’ll find a place for it later. Right now, she needs to focus. The middle of a case is not a time for unrealistic fantasies.
JJ watches Emily for a moment out of the corner of her eye. She can see her pause and for a moment, something JJ’s never seen flashes across her face; it makes her uneasy and JJ instantly starts second-guessing herself. She doesn’t know why she felt bold enough to flirt with Emily– or why she was flirting at all– but she does know that it feels like she’d been doing it all her life. Being with Emily, curling up in her arms, felt like the most natural thing on the planet to her– like breathing. JJ doesn’t know whether she wants to run for the hills at the thought or run straight back into Emily’s arms.
Emily scoffs. “Did you see someone I didn’t?” She makes a show of lifting up the covers to look. “Pretty sure it’s just me in here, JJ.”
Rolling her eyes, JJ walks back over to the side of the bed. “Oh, shush, Prentiss.”
“Don’t you ‘Prentiss’ me!”
JJ gives Emily a pointed look. “Don’t sell yourself short, Em.”
Suddenly, Emily feels exposed– vulnerable. JJ’s impossibly blue eyes are staring straight into hers; it feels like they’re staring straight into her soul. She swallows. How could the mood change so quickly? JJ lightly squeezes her shoulder and Emily brings her hand up to rest on top of JJ’s.
Mustering up a smile in response, Emily squeezes JJ’s hand. “Come on. We’re going to be late”
“JJ come on we have to go! The team is waiting!” Emily yells over her shoulder at the hotel door she’s left wide open. She can hear a faint laugh coming from the room, and she knows any earlier tension has since melted away. She turns around and strides purposefully back into their room and grabs JJ.
“Jennifer Jareau. We’re going. You’re perfect. You’re prepared. Quit stalling, you goof.” She pulls JJ by her arm as she drags her out of the hotel room and into the hall.
“Sorry I wanted to make us coffee, Em. God I’m so inconsiderate, aren’t I?” JJ teases back. She hands Emily the aforementioned coffee and sticks her tongue out at her before she walks over to Reid.
From a few rooms over, Derek raises an eyebrow at the exchange. He walks over, chuckling to himself, before stopping at Emily’s side. “What’d you do, Em, sleep with her?”
Emily nearly chokes on her coffee, coughing and sputtering frantically. She grabs at her chest, trying desperately to regain normal breathing. Once she gets enough air back into her lungs, she looks at him. “Derek Morgan!”
Morgan raises his hands in surrender. “I’m just saying. That’s the most relaxed I’ve seen you two, well… ever.” He looks at her, a smile creeping across his face, before he adds, “Must’ve been some slumber party.”
At that, Emily hits him on the shoulder. “Shut up , Derek! The hotel was overbooked, as I’m sure you could have guessed from your own slumber party with Reid.”
“Hey, woah, no! I love the kid, but I took the couch.” He shoves her back playfully. “Somebody is avoiding the topic at hand.”
Emily sighs. Outside of JJ, Derek is her best friend. She knows he’s bound to have figured it out by now, but admitting it–out loud– to someone else, to someone she’s as close to as Derek Morgan, makes it almost too real for her to handle. “JJ’s my best friend, Derek.” Her voice is barely above a whisper.
Morgan places a reassuring hand on Emily’s back. “I know, princess. I know.”
As soon as the team sets foot into the police station, Detective Sampson beelines towards them. “They’ve found another body.”
The team erupts into action, each person playing their part in their well-rehearsed routine. Hotch advises that the address has been sent to their phones. Reid heads straight for the whiteboard they’d set up the previous night in the conference room. Morgan follows to work victimology. Hotch, Rossi, Emily, and JJ all head to the SUV idling outside for them. They functioned like a well oiled machine.
Once at the crime scene, everyone takes in their surroundings. They’re in an old, run down warehouse on the outskirts of town. The walls are littered with graffiti and it’s clear the building had been forgotten long ago– left to wither away and decay much like the victim had been. She was dumped unceremoniously in the middle of the open space amidst the cobwebs, trash, and debris.
While Hotch and Rossi break away to talk to the victim’s family who’d arrived sometime before them, Emily approaches the victim’s body– or what’s left of it. She can see the blonde hair stained with blood. Her blue eyes still open, frozen in fear. She can see every sign of torture imaginable, and then some. Her clothes are ripped everywhere, barely clinging to the now lifeless body, and she looks like there wasn’t a single inch of skin the unsub hadn’t violated in some way. Emily looks over to JJ who’s silently circling the crime scene looking for any leads she can find. When she looks back to the victim, the only thing Emily sees is JJ. Cold, still, lifeless.
A wave of nausea washes over Emily without warning, and she books it outside to a somewhat secluded area. Once she’s completely emptied her stomach, she leans against the wall of the warehouse where the body had been discovered. She wipes at cold sweat that had formed on her forehead and her whole body feels clammy. Get a grip, Prentiss! Tears spill over against her will and a mixture of frustration and panic overwhelm Emily’s senses.
Having noticed Emily leave the building, JJ follows after her a few minutes later. When she sees her, deadly pale and crying, JJ immediately rushes to her side.
“Emily, what’s wrong? What happened?”
Emily takes one look into the endless depths of blue that are JJ’s eyes and starts to unravel. She feels her knees give out and idly registers JJ’s arms wrapping around her body as she hits the ground. Her lungs constrict and all at once breathing is the only thing Emily can do to keep herself grounded in the present. All of her attention focuses on breathing in, then breathing out. One at a time, one after the other.
JJ, growing more alarmed by the second, holds Emily in her arms and strokes her hair while she cries. She does her best not to show just how terrified she is. She’s never– never– seen Emily lose it like this on a case. Especially not at an active crime scene, while they’re working, with half the team in plain sight.
Emily feels silly for crying, for breaking down. If anyone should be shaken up, it’s JJ. She’s the one who looks like all the victims. She’s the one in danger here, not Emily. But here she is, comforting her as she cries like a baby in the middle of a crime scene. She clutches to JJ, clinging to the fact that she’s here; she’s alive.
When Emily doesn’t calm down, JJ pulls away slightly. “Em, what’s going on? This isn’t… this isn’t like you.”
“JJ,” Emily whimpers, her eyes glassy and unfocused. “I’ve got to catch this unsub before…”
JJ’s brows furrow. “Emily, we’ll catch him. We always do. Why is this one affecting you so much?”
She wants to scream, to throw something, shake her, anything . “It’s you , JJ! How can you not see it? Every victim. Every face. All I can see is you! And you’re putting yourself in the middle of it. Right in his comfort zone. What happens if I can’t protect you? What if he sees you during a press conference and decides he wants you next? What then, JJ? Because I can’t do this without you, I just can’t.”
“Emily, I learned a long time ago not to go there. The victims… more often than not, I fit the victimology in some way. It’s just an occupational hazard. If I let myself think that way, I’d never leave my house.”
“I can’t lose you, JJ.”
Her impossibly blue eyes soften, and tears line her lids, threatening to spill over. “You won’t, Em. I promise.”
As if out of nowhere, Emily registers where she is and what’s she’s said. Her eyes widen. “Oh, God, JJ. I’m so sorry I shouldn’t have said anything. I shouldn’t have gotten emotional like that.” Her cheeks blush as she angrily wipes at her tears. She doesn’t do this. Emily Prentiss does not break down.
Confused by the sudden change in attitude, JJ stares at Emily questioningly. “It’s okay, Em. Everybody has those cases.”
Emily can feel the cracks starting to form and she can’t let anything else slip through them. She simply needs to pull herself together and remind herself that JJ has been doing this for years. Nothing is going to happen to her. She’s a trained professional working with a team of the best the FBI has to offer. She’s being ridiculous.
JJ shoots her a look and Emily repeats herself, harsher this time. “ I don’t. ”
When the team exits the warehouse, they’re greeted by every media outlet operating in the area. JJ nods at Hotch, silently communicating that she’ll stay behind to deal with it and that they should go ahead back to the station to deliver the profile. Hotch gives her a small nod in response as he follows the rest of his agents into the SUV.
“Agent, is it true that the victims are nearly unrecognizable because of the extent of torture they had to endure?”
“Who was this latest victim? Did she have a family?”
“What can you tell us about the theory that this man is targeting young blondes? What should the women here do? Dye their hair?”
JJ holds her hand up in an effort to silence the reporters. “The team is doing everything we can to assist the local police department in this investigation. At this time, we would like to respect the victims and their families’ privacy. When the PD has an official statement, they will make one. Thank you.”
There’s a buzz of reporters protesting, but soon enough they all go back to the respective news vans. All but one.
“Excuse me, Agent…” He trails off, questioning JJ with his eyes for her name.
“Jareau. Agent Jareau. Can I help you with something?”
He’s quiet for a moment as he studies her. He takes in her confident posture, her perfectly manicured nails, her golden blonde hair– there’s not a hair on her head that’s out of place. He himself is a bit disheveled. His shirt is only half tucked in and there’s dirt underneath his fingernails; it’s unusual for a reporter, but JJ brushes it off. He must just be having a bad day. It is a small town, after all, and it’s not every day they deal with a serial killer. He continues to study her for a moment, as if he’s trying to make up his mind, before he speaks again.
“You’re with the Behavioral Analysis Unit, correct?”
JJ narrows her eyes slightly. What’s he trying to get at? “I am.”
“Can you tell me what the nature of their involvement is with this case?”
“I’m sorry, what network did you say you were with?”
The man’s eyes gleam with something that makes JJ’s stomach churn. “I didn’t.”
Backing away slowly, JJ’s nerves kick into overdrive. Keeping up her calm façade, she responds without missing a beat. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid I can’t divulge that information at this time.”
The reporter matches JJ, step for step. His face transforms into a menacing glare. “A shame, really. It’d be nice to know what I’m going up against once I have you.”
JJ swallows and slowly reaches for the gun holstered on her hip.
The unsub notices the movement, his eyes zeroing in on her hands. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Agent Jareau. You see, I’ve had my sights set on you ever since I saw you at the police station.” He pulls a knife out of his pocket and toys with the blade. “I’ve noticed you seem to have a more… active interest in that brunette colleague of yours than the others. It’d be a pity if anything were to… happen… to her. Don’t you think?”
JJ’s heart sinks. Emily. “Don’t you touch her.” She pulls out her gun, but the unsub was ready. He takes her by surprise and knocks the gun out of her hands and to the side before JJ can even register that he’s moved.
JJ struggles, but he manages get an arm around her neck and another around her waist. The element of surprise was working in his favor. “Oh, Jennifer , I really wish you hadn’t done that.”
He knew my name all along. The bastard has been stalking me and I didn’t even know. JJ fights against him, but his size overpowers her.
He takes the knife and applies just enough pressure to draw blood before dragging it down the side of JJ’s stomach, causing her to scream out in pain. “All those reporters are gone now, honey. Nobody’s here to hear you scream, and by the time they realize you’re missing, you’ll be dead.”
The unsub laughs– a cold, shrill laugh– before he pulls out a rag spiked with chloroform and covers JJ’s mouth and nose. The last thing she sees is the inside of a van before everything goes black.
“This unsub will want to insert himself into the investigation somehow. It’s not enough to torture his victims. He’ll want to watch the panic he creates, as well.” Hotch looks at the crowd of police officers standing before him.
“He’s smart. He’ll want to know if you’re on to him, and if you are, he’ll try to throw you off.” Emily interjects.
Reid jumps in without missing a beat. “We believe this unsub suffered abuse as a child, most likely at the hands of his mother, but it could have been another female authority figure in his life. His victims are surrogates for the real target of his rage. We believe this is his ultimate end goal.”
“He’s narcissistic, so if you encounter him, it’s imperative that you feed into his ego. Tell him you’re impressed– he’s stumped even the FBI. Make him think we’ll want to study him.” Hotch ends the profile with a thank you before meeting back with his team in the conference room.
“Reid, Morgan, I want you two to go over the case files we pulled of potential fathers for our unsub. Emily, check in with Garcia and see if she’s found anything that will lead us back to this guy. Rossi and I are going to head back to the crime scene with fresh eyes to see if there might be something we missed. He’s speeding up his timeline; he’s made a mistake somewhere. We just have to find it.”
The team all nods and sets off on their respective tasks. They’re so focused on catching the unsub, nobody noticed JJ still isn’t back from the crime scene yet. Not even Emily. Rossi shoots Hotch a knowing look, and he nods slightly in response. Both men know that their media liaison has been gone much longer than she should’ve been, but they can’t let the team worry. Not yet.
They aren’t going to look for more leads at the crime scene. They’re going to look for JJ.
“Hotch,” Rossi calls out once they arrive at the scene. He nods his head in a gesture meant to tell the other agent to come to him. “Isn’t this JJ’s gun?”
Hotch lets out a slow, measured breath before he pinches the bridge of his nose. He nods before responding. “The son of a bitch got her.”
Chapter 2: Outrunning the Dark
"I want you to sing to me softly, cause then I'm outrunning the dark. That's all that love ever taught me."
With JJ's life in the balance, the team frantically searches for answers. Emily unravels with each second JJ remains missing. Meanwhile, JJ hangs on by a thread as the unsub holds her hostage. Will they find her in time?
It's been a long time coming, but I hope this chapter is worth the wait! It's pretty much entirely unedited, so please forgive me for any mistakes. I was just too excited to finally update! Please let me know what you think! You can find me on twitter @_jenniferjareau or tumblr @jenniferjareau
Hotch braces himself as he heads into the conference room to deliver the news to the rest of his team. He knows JJ being taken will affect all of them, but he’s especially concerned about Emily’s reaction. She’s been on edge and worried about JJ since the minute they took this case; JJ being the latest victim is not going to sit well with her.
He clears his throat, and the room stills. The air grows thick with tension as the team looks to him expectantly. Hotch gives each of his agents one of his many intense stares, and they all sit wordlessly– all except Emily.
The minute he locks eyes with her, he knows. She’s already putting it together. The gears are turning, her eyes shifting between his. Searching. Pleading for a different conclusion. Emily holds his gaze hesitantly for a moment before she speaks. “Hotch,” she starts. “Where’s JJ?”
The words hang in the air between them. They’re suspended, stretching out to assault anyone who hears them. Time seems to stand still. The whole team shifts to the edges of their seats. It didn’t take a profiler to know something was very, very wrong.
“As you know, Rossi and I went back to the crime scene–”
“Hotch,” Emily interrupts. Her voice is louder, more insistent. “ Where is JJ? ”
“We don’t know. We found her gun on the ground outside the warehouse.” He pauses. “She’s gone.”
The words hit her ears like any other sentence– any other case with any other victim. But this isn’t just another victim. After a few moments, Emily processes the weight of the words that are still ringing and reverberating around the sickeningly silent conference room. She’s gone.
And then she springs into a flurry of action. Emily whips her phone out and is dialing Garcia’s number before any of her teammates have even registered the news. “Garcia!” She barks. “Where’s that list of possible matches? Any that stand out? We need to get moving!”
Garcia chirps out a rather nervous reply but Emily is already moving on. She almost yells into her phone for Garcia to send her the file ASAP while she storms out into the main area of the station.
“Detective. Get me everything you’ve got on known sexual offenders. Put extra focus on men with troubled pasts. I need a rush on this! Make it a priority.”
Detective Sampson looks bewildered as Emily continues her rampage through the station. Her entire body is vibrating with rage and determination. They aren’t doing enough. Nobody is doing anything. The fact that they still don’t have any leads is enough to push her over the edge. She refuses to let the case continue in the direction it’s been going.
Hotch chases after her. “Prentiss!” he calls, but she doesn’t look back.
“Prentiss.” He repeats. His hand is on her shoulder now. “Emily,” he pleads. His voice is stern but it’s laced with softness. He knows. He knows how hard Emily is taking this. He knows how she works. He knows.
“Hotch, I can’t just sit in that damn conference room and theorize while that bastard is out there with JJ!” The lump in Emily’s throat is growing bigger by the second, but she swallows it down. She’s suffocating– drowning in her nightmares, her worst fears come to life– but she forces it out of her mind. Right now all she cares about is finding Jennifer Jareau.
“I know, Emily. But we have to be smart about this. It isn’t going to do us any good to exhaust our resources chasing dead ends.” Hotch nods his head towards the conference room, gesturing for her to follow. “Come on. We can make a game plan. We’ll find her, Emily.”
Reluctantly, Emily follows him back into the conference room. Reid looks like he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Morgan is glaring at the board in front of him as if it was the unsub right in front him. Rossi is standing in the corner, quietly watching the team’s reaction. They all turn when Emily reenters with Hotch.
“Let’s get to work.”
JJ feels a hard surface beneath her. There’s a sharp pain shooting up through her hip and she realizes she’s been thrown onto the ground. JJ doesn’t know how long she’s been out, but she knows she’s surrounded by nothing but darkness. She goes to push herself upright, but her hands are tied.
Throbbing pains surge through her head when a door opens and light floods into the room. JJ can make out the silhouette of the man who took her. “They’ll find you,” she spats.
A cold, shrill laugh reverberates through the room. Involuntary chills shoot through JJ’s body. The man walks closer to her. He takes his time, deliberately putting one foot in front of the other. It’s his grand entrance; he wants to enjoy it. The man crouches down beside JJ. His breath is hot on her face. He moves even closer– inches from JJ’s face– and smiles. “Oh, but will they? You guys have nothing on me.” He laughs. “ Nothing. ”
The unsub slowly gets up, shooting another menacing look at JJ. He’s definitely enjoying this. Sadistic doesn’t even begin to cover it. He walks away and when his back is turned, JJ can hear the clinking of chains.
JJ feels pressure on her restraints and then all at once she’s being pulled upright, the harsh surface of the concrete scraping at her skin. She feels blood spring from the new wounds as her body stretches painfully to accommodate the sudden change in position. She’s hanging from the ropes around her wrists, her feet barely scraping the ground. She has nothing to help hold her up. Gravity pulls against her as the ropes rip into her skin to keep her standing.
“Oh, poor Jennifer . Did that hurt?” The man circles back to stand in front of JJ. He runs his fingers down her cheek. “Such a pretty girl.” He slides his hand further down her body, resting it on her hip. “You know,” he starts. “I think I’m gonna take my time with you. Have some fun with it.”
JJ swallows– a reaction she’s powerless to control. Her body tenses as she trains her eyes on the man in front of her. She can feel his calloused fingertips ghost against her skin until they stop over a particularly nasty cut on her stomach. He traces it, softly at first, and then he’s pushing into it so hard JJ’s vision blurs from the pain. She bites her lip. JJ can taste the metallic pang of blood from the force, but she won’t give in. She’s not going to let this man hear her scream.
“Why so quiet? Cat got your tongue?” His thumb goes deeper into the wound. JJ bites down harder, her eyes involuntarily squeezing shut. She tries to take a controlled breath through her nose. “Now, now, Agent. Live a little. Let me hear that pretty voice of yours.”
I have to ground myself. JJ frantically wracks her brain for the most peaceful experience she can think of, and then it hits her. Soon enough, images of Emily’s arms wrapped around her fill the darkness behind her eyelids. She walks herself back through every detail– the way her hair smelled, the warmth of her body against hers, the way Emily called her baby when she thought she was asleep.
The pain slips from her consciousness as memories of her morning with Emily replace the terrors of reality. JJ focuses on her breath, imagining the reason it slows is because Emily is pulling her closer, caressing her face to gently wake her up. Baby, she whispers in her ear. JJ replays the moment over and over, like a mantra. Nothing else matters– not the pain, the fear, the man standing before her. Just that one soft word, murmured in the peaceful glow of the morning light. Baby.
The man pulls a knife from his pocket, frustration radiating off of him. He’s determined to make the woman before him scream. JJ feels the knife drag down her abdomen, pain searing through the cut like a fire.
The knife stops moving, stilled deep in JJ’s flesh. And then she feels it. The man twists the knife, ripping through the muscle, tearing apart her body in its wake.
He slowly pulls the knife out, taking care to prolong the process as much as possible. JJ is struggling to breathe as he walks away. Is it over?
Suddenly there’s something hard and cold against the side of her ribcage, and without warning, JJ can feel the excruciating shocks of electricity pulsing through her nerves.
He turns up the voltage, and JJ sees spots behind her eyelids.
Everything gets fuzzy. JJ can feel herself slumping against her restraints, her body unwillingly sagging against her captor. He turns up the voltage. Unbearable pain surges through JJ’s entire body. Everything goes black.
Emily is sitting at the table in the conference room. The rest of her team is scattered about the police station– Reid sat pouring over old case files of potential fathers, Morgan pacing the break room going over the profile again and again. Hotch and Rossi are huddled in a corner, speaking in hushed tones and shooting concerned glances at everyone in the team; this doesn’t go unnoticed by Emily.
She pushes it away, though, as she stares at the crime scene photos in front of her. She’s been studying them– in agonizing detail– to the point that she could close her eyes and still see every cut, every bruise, every single rip and tear in the fabric once known as clothes clinging to the lifeless victims. Emily flips back to the first victim again. She thinks it’s probably the millionth time she’s looked at her picture. Bella Smith, twenty-seven years old, now known to the world only in sound bites. Her name, her age, her hair color, and how she died. The world doesn’t seem to care that she was out for a walk with her infant son when the unsub took her– or that she leaves behind a heartbroken husband, unable to look his son in the eye because of how much he reminds him of her. All anyone sees are the scars that son of a bitch left on her body. The bruises that will never heal. The fear that still glimmered in her eyes when she died.
Emily looks into the haunted blue eyes of Bella Smith and she can’t help but shudder at the thought of what JJ might be going through. Does she have a nasty cut above her right eye like the one Bella had? Are there burns all over her body? God, just the idea of JJ being held captive by that monster is enough to bring up Emily’s lunch.
Tracing the outline of Bella’s face, Emily wills herself not to see JJ. JJ is alive. JJ will never be just a string of sound bites to the world. She’s so much more than that. People will remember her as a hero. As the brilliant, unparalleled media liaison of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. She’ll never be known as merely the fifth victim of this unsub: name, age, hair color. Emily will die making sure of it– that much she knows.
A tear splashes neatly onto the pictures, and it’s only then that Emily realizes she’s crying. She angrily wipes at the tears streaking her cheeks and looks around the conference room to make sure nobody can see her. She has to keep it together. JJ needs her. She can’t be falling apart looking at pictures of what already happened; she needs to be strong enough to stop it from happening again.
When she’s sure nobody has seen her, Emily heads to the bathroom. She’s going to pull herself together, clean herself up, and get back to finding JJ. There was just no alternative.
Out of the corner of his eye, Derek sees Prentiss get up from her spot at the table in the conference room. She’s been there for hours staring at the case files; Derek’s pretty sure the director himself couldn’t pull her away from trying to piece the puzzle together. And that’s when he sees it: her eyes are rimmed with just enough red for it to be more than exhaustion. They’re just a little too glassy, her face just a little too pained. As Morgan watches his teammate stumble into the bathroom– a teammate he considers more like a sister– he knows. She’s about to break down.
Emily can feel her knees weaken with every step. Her resolve crumbles with every tear she holds back, as if the sheer act of holding it in is enough to make her implode in on herself. She finds herself gripping the sink to hold herself up. How can this be happening? How could I have let it happen? Tears are falling freely now as Emily gives in to the despair building within herself. She’s powerless to stop the sobs as they wrack through her body. Her breathing quickens, her heart pounds in her chest, and all she can feel is the tears making a mess of her otherwise collected and composed demeanor.
Images of the victims flash before her eyes, except this time, they’re all JJ. With each blink, a new image of JJ appears. Emily’s battling her mind as she tries everything she can think of to calm herself down. We’re going to find her, Emily. Get a grip. Her throat’s constricting now and she’s pretty sure she’s about to break the sink with how hard she’s squeezing it. It’s all she can do to keep herself standing.
“Oh, Emily.” Derek’s voice cuts through Emily’s sobs, startling her.
She turns, trying to hide her vulnerability from him. “Go away, Derek.”
“Not gonna happen, Princess.”
Panic rises as Emily tries to keep her distance. “Derek, leave!” she shrieks.
Morgan takes a step closer, gently turning Emily around to face him. “Emily.”
The concern in his eyes pierces through her and all at once, the emotions become too much for Emily. “How could we let this happen?” she screams at Derek. “I knew she was his type! How could you not see it? ” She lunges towards Morgan and frantically starts throwing punches into his chest. They’re weak, but it’s something. Tears are flowing faster now as she continues weakly. “I knew. I knew this would happen.” She looks up at Morgan. “Hotch told me not to worry! LOOK WHERE THAT GOT US, DEREK. JJ IS GONE. SHE’S–”
Emily’s knees buckle underneath her and Derek catches her as she falls to the ground. “I can’t help her. I feel powerless. JJ is out there all alone while that… that bastard does god-knows-what to her and I’m paralyzed with fear.” Emily can barely see through the tears built up in her eyes now. “How can I help her when I can’t even hold it together? I’m useless, Derek.”
Morgan’s heart breaks with every word that escapes Emily’s mouth. “Shhh. Hey. Don’t say that, Princess.” He strokes her hair as Emily sobs into his chest, no longer able to string together sentences to convey how she feels. Derek can feel her entire body shake with sobs as he holds her– can feel the tears soaking through his shirt and seeping onto his skin. “She’s strong, Em. JJ will be okay. I promise.”
At his words, Emily lets out a gut wrenching cry. She’s not even aware of the sound until it’s ripped from her throat. “You don’t know that, Derek.” Emily’s voice is small, broken, raspy with the effort it takes for her to speak.
“Yes I do, Princess. And you do, too.”
Emily hiccups as she finally gives up the fight and releases the tension in her body. She falls deeper into Derek’s arms as she cries, acutely aware that if he weren’t here, she’d be a puddle of tears on the ground.
Emily’s not sure how much time has passed when she finally looks up at Derek through the clumped mascara that she’s sure is also running down her entire face. She takes a deep, steadying breath. “Thanks, Derek,” she offers quietly while she gets up and regains her balance. She’s had her time to cry. She’s had her time to break down. Now it’s time to find JJ .
She glances in the mirror and haphazardly wipes at the makeup and tear stains on her face before turning to Morgan. “Let’s go find her.”
The overwhelming urge to cough wakes JJ from her fitful sleep. Her throat is scratchy and dry, and every inch of her body aches. She squints into the darkness, unsure of how long it’s been since she was taken. She can feel dried blood and sweat caked on her skin as she tries to sit up.
Doubling over, JJ takes a sharp intake of breath as her body gives her a painful reminder of the torture the unsub had inflicted. She leans against the hard cement wall behind her and tries to take stock of her injuries. Her stomach is littered with lacerations, the sensitive burns on her side bubbling up. JJ thinks they’re probably infected. She raises her hands before her eyes, taking in the bruising running along her arms.
Fresh tears clear a path through the grime covering JJ’s face as the gravity of the situation hits her. She’s bound by her wrists in a dark warehouse. She can barely move from the pain. She’s alone. Left for dead– or worse– helpless to wait for the man to come back for more. JJ isn’t sure she can take anymore.
She thinks of her team– wonders if they’ve gotten any more leads. Please let them find me. Her tears spill out faster now, JJ’s shaky breaths sending waves of pain through her body, but she’s powerless to stop them. She feels defenseless, helpless. Broken. She tries to think back to her morning with Emily, but it only makes her cry harder. I’m never going to feel her arms around me again. Never hear her voice again.
JJ’s whimpers echo and dance off the walls of the empty room. Her pain amplified in the darkness. “Emily,” she sobs. “Emily, please.”
She wraps her arms around herself in a fruitless attempt at comfort. She wishes they were Emily’s arms around her. JJ lets out a strangled cry as even the thought of being comforted brings a new pain to the surface. Will I ever see Emily again? The realization dawns on her. It’s been right in front of her the whole time. Everything she wants. Everything she needs. It’s Emily. It’s always been Emily. All of her thoughts, tucked away for fear of what they could mean– they all make sense. And now I’ll never get the chance.
JJ makes no attempts to silence her sobs as they fill the room. Her entire body is shaking, both from the pain and from her cries, and she lies herself down on the hard, unyielding floor.
JJ’s breaths become shallow, labored. She squeezes her eyes shut, trying desperately to quell the tears. “I’m sorry, Emily,” she whispers as she gives in to the pain. JJ lets the tears escape. She closes her eyes and tries to take herself back to the hotel. All she wants is to sleep. To sleep and forget.
Reid is sitting in the conference room pouring over old case files Garcia flagged as possible connections to the unsub. There are hushed conversations between officers filling the otherwise silent precinct and the room he’s in smells of stale coffee. His team is spread out throughout the room– Rossi is stretched out on the couch in the corner pinching his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Reid is pretty sure he can hear him muttering to himself in Italian. Emily is pacing in front of the board they have set up, stopping every so often to look at something more closely. Derek is on the phone to Garcia, listing off parameters for new searches in an effort to find a solid lead. Hotch is whispering to Detective Sampson, the harsh lines of his face somehow deeper than Spencer’s ever seen them.
Reid sighs and analyzes the file in his hands. He’d been at it for a little over an hour, but he doesn’t mind because he knows if anybody else tried to go through the cases, they’d be reading for days. It’s just something he’s accepted comes with the territory of reading twenty thousand words per minute.
He sets the file he’d been reading down and grabs another one from the stack. It only takes him a few seconds before he knows this case is significant. Adrenaline rushes through his veins as Spencer quickly makes his way to the front of the room. “Guys, I think I found something!”
His colleagues perk up from their respective places around the room, each one rushing towards him. They’re all running largely on caffeine and fear at this point, so any news feels like good news. “Harrison Moss, thirty-two, died in a car crash leaving behind a wife and twelve year old son. Foul play was suspected but eventually ruled out when nothing panned out. It was ruled an accident.”
Morgan hits the number for Garcia on his speed dial. She answers after one ring. “Please tell me you’ve found JJ and I can go back to watching kitten videos in peace.”
“Not quite, baby girl. I need everything you’ve got on Harrison Moss. Died in a car accident twenty years ago. Could’ve been a murder.”
The sound of Garcia typing at lightning speed floats through the phone’s small speaker as the team waits for more information. Even Garcia can’t type fast enough to keep their nerves at bay. Not when one of their own is on the line.
“Got it! Harrison Moss, husband of Danielle Moss, father of Jeremy Moss. His brakes went out on his drive home from work, but it was suspected they were cut. When they couldn’t find any evidence confirming the theory, the detectives ruled it an accident and closed the case.”
“Look into his medical history, Garcia. Were there frequent hospital visits? Check the son’s medical records, too.” Hotch barks at the phone.
“Oh this is interesting. Harrison had several visits to the ER with injuries consistent with domestic abuse, but since Danielle never had more than some minor bruising and surface cuts, nobody questioned it further. It looks like they didn’t think Harrison could be a victim,” Garcia reads from her screen as her fingers tap away on her keyboard in the background.
Spencer chimes in with the statistics. “While it’s generally assumed domestic violence happens exclusively against women, one in four men in the US will actually fall victim to it. If you average it out, one male is abused by his partner every 37.8 seconds.”
“So Danielle abuses her husband, and nobody thinks to question it because she’s a woman?” Emily’s voice is filled with disbelief and disgust.
“Harrison never filed a report,” Garcia shrugs.
Hotch cuts back into the conversation. “What about their son? Any ER visits?”
More typing comes through the speakers as Garcia searches for the requested information. “They’re much less frequent, but they’re there. I’ve got five ER visits by the time the poor kid was ten.”
Emily shakes her head. “So just infrequent enough to keep social services off her back.”
“And here’s where the plot thickens, my fine furry friends. The son, Jeremy, moved out when he was fifteen and disappears a few years later when he turns eighteen. No bank statements, no address, nothing.”
“What about the wife? What happened to her, baby girl?” Morgan questions.
“Looks like she got a decent sized life insurance payout and moved a few towns over. Still lives there now.”
“Send us the address, Garcia,” Hotch orders as he moves towards the door. “And keep looking for the son. He could be our unsub.” He directs his attention to his team. “Morgan, Prentiss, you’re with me.”
“I will leave no stone unturned, sir. If he so much as got a cold, I’ll find it.”
JJ sputters and coughs as she’s forcefully awakended by her captor. The hard surfaces around her scrape at her already broken and bruised skin as he jolts her awake. “Up,” he barks.
Slowly, JJ manages to sit upright– despite the aching pain all over her body. “What do you want?” she throws back. She hopes her disgust breaks through the pain she can hear in her voice.
The unsub lets out a cold, calculated laugh before he considers the woman before him. He cocks his head while he locks eyes with Jennifer. No woman has held out this long. Certainly not well enough to look him in the eyes. Definitely not well enough to keep from screaming for this long. No, this one is different, he thinks. He ponders his answer for a moment more before he speaks. “You know, Jennifer, I think I might want the whole set.”
JJ is taken aback by his answer, and even moreso by his honesty. “Set of what?”
“If your stamina is anything to go by, I think maybe I might like brunettes, after all.” He pauses. His eyes narrow and a wicked grin plays across his face before he continues. “ One brunette in particular. You seem to be quite fond of her, actually.”
Rage shoots through JJ’s impossibly exhausted body at the mention of Emily. “Don’t you dare.” She struggles against her bindings, but it’s no use. The last thing she hears is the man’s laugh echoing around the room before he hits her, rendering her unconscious.
The team pulls up to Danielle Moss’s residence, and everyone takes in a collective breath. This could be the break they need to bring JJ home. Hotch shoots a sideways glance at Emily and notices she’s picking at her nails– a sure sign that she’s trying to hide her stress. He puts the car in park and they all file out of the SUV.
Emily can feel Hotch studying her, but she doesn’t have the strength to protest. All of her energy is going into calming the nerves threatening to push her over the edge. Being so close to a real lead– it’s almost too much hope for her to handle. She doesn’t know if she should give in to the hope or push it away. What if Moss isn’t their unsub? What then? It’s the only thing they have to go on, and right now, JJ’s life depends on them. Emily shudders at the thought.
She’s the last to get out of the SUV, and half the team is already at the door, waiting. Emily jogs her way to the door and gives them a nod. She’s ready. Hotch knocks forcefully on the door and they all hold their breath waiting for a response.
JJ’s life hangs in the balance.
Blue eyes pierce into Emily’s brown when the door creaks open in front of her. Strong eyebrows flecked with grey arch above them, questioning. Emily holds the woman’s gaze for a moment before taking in the rest of the woman’s appearance. Soft wrinkles wrap around her face and a few age spots are beginning to peek through the delicate skin. Her hair is light– the color looks almost platinum until Emily looks closer. Grey mixes with blonde as the strands fall haphazardly around the woman’s face and rest atop her shoulders.
“Can I help you?” the woman barks, clearly unamused by her unannounced visitors.
Emily forces a smile through the unease and disdain she immediately feels. “Ms. Moss?” she extends her hand, “I’m Agent Prentiss with the FBI. May we come in?”
Danielle Moss makes a show of looking Emily up and down before settling her eyes on her outstretched hand. Her contempt is clear on her face as she steps aside, wordlessly allowing the team to enter.
Followed closely by her team, Emily steps into Danielle’s tidy– almost sterile– home. There’s a throw blanket neatly folded sitting on the corner of the couch, where each pillow is perfectly placed. The fireplace looks as if the wood inside it is plastic, and the mantle houses only three pictures, none of which include Danielle’s late husband or estranged son.
Upon a closer look at the first of the photos, Emily is struck by the woman pictured. The photos are aged somewhat, but staring back at her is undoubtedly a younger Danielle. What sends chills down her spine, though, is the resemblance to JJ; she could be her twin. Emily can’t seem to shake the brilliant blue eyes staring back at her through the frame. Clearly, Jeremy Moss is their unsub. And this is where his victimology began.
Shaking Emily out of her reverie, Danielle speaks. “To what do I owe the pleasure of having a whole team of FBI agents showing up at my door?”
Hotch and Rossi hover silently close to the front door, while Reid and Morgan are at either side of Emily. She takes a tentative step towards Danielle. “Ma’am, have you spoken to your son recently?”
“Jeremy?” Danielle Moss sounds incredulous. “What do you want with my sad excuse for a son?” Her disdain for him is evident. She doesn’t even try to hide it. The team exchanges knowing looks.
Hotch jumps in. “We believe he could be connected to the recent string of murders.”
Danielle laughs. It’s shrill, maniacal even. “My boy? There’s no way. He doesn’t have the guts.”
“Do you have any idea of his whereabouts?” Emily pushes.
Danielle rolls her eyes before answering. “Beats me. Haven’t seen or heard from that son of a bitch since he was eighteen. Your guess is as good as mine. Are we done here?”
Hotch takes another step closer to Danielle. “Not quite,” he interjects. “What can you tell us about what happened to your husband?”
Narrowing her eyes, Danielle stares heatedly at Hotch. “Was an accident. Nothing to tell.” Her tone is defiant– defensive. It’s clear the team wouldn’t be getting anything more from Danielle Moss.
JJ is awoken by the hoarse voice of Jeremy Moss cutting through the fog that’s taken up residence in her brain. Her eyelids feel impossibly heavy as she strains to open her eyes to find the source of the sound.
“Wake up, bitch! Ready for more?”
The familiar pull of her restraints jerks JJ up without warning. She lets out a groan as her body stretches painfully once more. She can feel a few wounds on her stomach burst open from the force, but she’s too focused on the man in front of her to care. It takes every ounce of strength JJ has left to face her captor yet again.
“You won’t break me,” JJ hisses. A surge of adrenaline rushes through her veins as Jeremy inches closer.
“Oh?” he starts. “And why won’t I?” His eyes flicker with cruel curiosity and JJ can see him toying with something in his hands.
She shuts her eyes, takes a deep breath, and tries to center herself. When she looks back up at the man in front of her, there’s nothing but hatred in her eyes. “You’re nothing,” she spats.
“You’re nothing. Just like your father!” Twelve year old Jeremy Moss runs to his room, desperately seeking the solace underneath his bed can provide. His mom storms after him, livid.
He tries to hold his breath, even though he knows his mom will find him. She always does. “You think you can hide from me?” Her voice grows louder now, and he knows he’s done for.
His mother’s footsteps ring out like warning bells before they abruptly stop. He can hear his dad’s voice. Jeremy stifles the tears as he listens to his parents fight. A loud crack breaks through the noise and Jeremy watches in horror as his father falls to the ground in front of him. There’s blood trickling from the corner of his mouth when he locks eyes with his son. Jeremy’s eyes widen at the sight of his dad, rendered powerless with just one strike from his mother.
The footsteps return and he knows this time, nothing will stop his mom from unleashing that same rage on him. All he can do is wait for it to happen. Right there, under his bed, Jeremy decides he doesn’t want to lie down and take it anymore; he wants to fight.
With everything he can muster, Jeremy races towards his mother. He gets in a few feeble punches before she grabs his wrists. Soon, he joins his father on the floor. Everything goes black.
“What did you just say to me?” Jeremy’s voice is icy cold, barely above a whisper, and his grip on the jumper cables tightens.
JJ hears the tone in her captor’s voice shift and she knows she’s hit a nerve. “You’re nothing,” she repeats. She can feel a hint of energy surge through her body and wonders if maybe, just maybe , she’ll make it until her team finds her. Until Emily finds her.
“SHUT UP!” His voice crashes through the room like a gunshot; the sound bounces and echoes in the darkness, leaving behind a palpable rage. Jeremy closes the distance between him and JJ and, without warning, he presses the cables against her skin.
Searing pain courses through every inch of JJ’s body. He presses the cables in further, and JJ hears a scream escape her throat. It’s raspy– raw– and she registers that at some point, she started crying. Momentary relief comes when Jeremy takes the cables away, but as soon as they had gone, they were right back where they had been. Burning. Blistering. Tearing her apart from the inside out. Any energy JJ may have mustered up seems like a distant memory now. She idly wonders if death would be a welcome escape from the fury that the man before her has unleashed.
Minutes pass, or maybe hours– JJ doesn’t really know– before Jeremy pulls the cables away for good. She can see his lips moving, but all she can hear is the ringing in her ears. He walks wildly around the room, pausing and gesturing his hands for emphasis, but JJ’s vision blurs. All she knows is pain.
When he notices JJ isn’t listening to him, Jeremy lunges towards her. The cables are back. They’re on maximum voltage and JJ thinks she can see stars. She looks to his mouth and can see it forming the words, “I’m just getting started.”
JJ feels her lungs start to constrict. Her throat feels tight and all at once, the panic seeps into her system. There’s no way out, no escape. There is only this present, neverending torture. She can feel her hands itching to claw at the ropes that bind her, her skin crawling with the urge to move. JJ feels like her whole body is vibrating with the need to run– to throw something at the man causing her pain, anything.
Instead, she stays insufferably still. Her voice has been silenced. I can’t make a difference, she thinks. Her last shred of hope leaves like it’s the last breath she’ll ever take, and JJ slumps into the ropes holding her upright. For once in her life, JJ has no fight left. The pain, the anguish, the torture, all of it– it’s taken her will to keep going, to keep moving. She has nothing left. Nothing but regret. JJ thinks if this really is the end, she wishes she could’ve had more time. More time to tell Emily everything she felt. Time to get to know her friend the way she really wanted. Instead, JJ feels the trickling of blood sliding down her cheek and the feeling that she’ll never have a chance at the happiness she craved. This man wasn’t just taking her life; he was taking her soul, too.
Garcia’s typing is the only sound in the room as she furiously searches for answers behind her monitors. She’s tracked everything she can think of to try and locate Jeremy Moss, and she knows time is ticking for her poor Jennifer.
Just when she thinks she’s tried it all, the idea strikes. With a few strokes of her keyboard, Jeremy Moss’s last known address pops up on her screen. She’s done it.
With her usual flourish, she hits her speed dial and the dulcet tones of Derek Morgan fill the room.
“Please tell me you have good news, baby girl.”
“I have better than good news. I have an address,” Garcia chirps proudly into the speaker.
“You’re the best, mama.”
“Go bring our girl home.”
The thrum of anticipation races through her veins and Emily can feel her heart pounding in her chest. Her nerves feel as though they’re vibrating at an impossible frequency inside her and all she can manage to do is keep herself focused on the door in front of her. Her chest feels eerily empty and she can’t stop the anxious shaking of her leg as she awaits what’s on the other side of the door. She’s on the verge of the unknown; she feels like her entire life is hanging in the balance. Emily’s never felt this uneasy– this unsure– before. Not ever. She’s always been the confident, determined, headstrong woman people know her as. She puts her head down and gets things done. She always gets what she wants, simply because she never gives herself another option. But now, with so much uncertainty seemingly mocking her very existence, Emily can do nothing else but question her every move. Never before have her decisions been this monumental before. Sure, her job required her to put her life and others’ lives on the line every day, but this– this felt all together different. New. Something Emily isn’t ready for but knows she needs to push through anyway.
What lies behind the door– and how she handles it– could change the course of her life forever.
Emily knows it’s silly to think that way. It’s JJ’s life who is certain to be irrevocably damaged from this ordeal. But somehow, Emily knows her life hangs in the balance, as well. If her emotions throughout the past couple of days have proven anything, it’s that Emily cannot function without Jennifer Jareau. The thought alone is enough to send a normally composed Emily into a tailspin right in front of her entire team.
She’s never been this unraveled, and it unnerved her. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t keep her emotions tidied up in their neat little boxes anymore. The cracks just keep getting wider and Emily knows it’s only a matter of time before they burst completely. Unable to hold in their contents any longer.
She takes a deep breath– a vain attempt to qualm her mounting nerves– as she knocks on the door. If their profile is anything to go by, Emily knows there won’t be an answer. She knows she’ll have to spring into action. She’s just not sure she trusts herself to do anything right anymore.
Her breath seems to be caught in her throat as she waits for the response that never comes. A quick look back to Morgan and a slight nod confirm that it’s now or never. JJ is somewhere on this property. They’re all sure of it. It was just a matter of finding her. Finding her before it was too late.
With one swift kick, Morgan forces the door off its hinges. They’re in.
Time to find Jennifer.