In this line of work, I thought I would lose the ability to trust. But I’ve realized I can’t really look at anyone without seeing their death. As bad as losing faith in humanity seems, losing your faith in happy endings is much worse.
Emily learned what her mark meant the day she started kindergarten.
"When you grow up," her mother told her, “you’ll have a date on your wrist like your father and I.”
Emily smiled at the memory of tracing her parents' numbers in the rare moments she was close enough to do so. She reached out to do the same now before her mother stopped her hand mid-reach. Emily didn’t protest as she folded her hands in her lap. She knew better. “What do they mean?” she asked.
“It’s the date your soulmate dies.”
Her mother’s voice was unwavering with the simple explanation. It was as though this was something that had never caused her distress.... something she believed wasn’t worth getting upset over.
But no matter what her mother said, or how her mother said it, Emily could feel her walls going up.
It was on that day that she decided she would never see the date on her own arm.
She caught the number coming in before it was dark enough to read, but she had prepared for this. She wasted no time in hiding the area under foundation strong enough to cover it. It was an action that soon became a daily precaution, and it didn’t take long for the routine to become a habit for her.
Despite keeping it covered, the date weighed heavy on her arm, and with every day that passed, it seemed to get worse. The horror stories she read of people self mutilating to destroy the date started to make sense. Of course, the mark didn’t always ruin lives. There were plenty of happy couples enjoying their time and people living unaffected. But in her line of work, Emily saw death all the time. She wasn’t going to take the chance.
So Emily did what she did best.
She didn’t let herself love anyone.
For years it was so easy, moving from place to place with no attachments. Her job wasn’t the kind of career that supported long term relationships anyway. All the more reason to never have them.
But as it happened with everything, there came a time when something changed the game.
For Emily Prentiss, that something was the BAU.
She went into the position with her usual attitude. She was going to do her job to the best of her abilities and look no further. Her team would be only that—her team.
Really, it happened by accident.
Hotch was the first one she met. With those stern eyes and stoic face, Emily believed she wouldn’t have to worry about getting close to him. He seemed as guarded as she was, but it didn’t take long for her to see past his hard exterior and find a friend underneath.
Morgan was much the same in that he was tough to crack—not that she was trying to, but it was inevitable. She related to him in so many ways, and it must have been mutual because he always saw right through her. Whether it was the literal walls in the homes he restored or the figurative walls of Emily's mind, Derek Morgan was great at deconstructing them.
Reid was one of a kind. He may have been a genius but he was always humble. He never held his brilliance above anyone’s heads. and he was sure to give everyone’s thoughts as much weight as his own, if not more. Emily thought he would be hard to befriend, but in the end all it took was the right algorithm to bring them together.
And then there was Penelope. Her bubbly personality and her radiant smile were infectious, and her presence alone lit up the entire room. It was exactly what the team needed when they came back from a particularly tough case. In her entire career, Emily had never worked with anyone like Garcia. Now that she had, she knew how hard it would be to walk away.
Jennifer was the one she never saw coming. The minute Emily stepped into the liaison’s office and their eyes met, her heart stilled in her chest. As JJ filled her in on protocol, Emily found it hard to stay focused. She couldn’t understand why, after years of building walls and keeping people at arm's length, someone was able to break through with a single smile. There was something about the woman that made Emily want to give in, and that alone made her more determined than ever not to let that happen.
Over the years, the team had their fair share of near death experiences, but they all made it out alive. Everyone was beyond grateful, but with each stroke of luck, she couldn’t help but feel like time was running out.
When Emily’s brush with death came, she used it as a way to run away. She left behind all the growing connections she’d spent so many years trying to avoid. It would likely hurt her teammates, and she knew it would hurt her, too. But sometimes sacrifice was necessary for the greater good.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise when she found her way back to them.
At first it was hard to fall back into her place on the team. But as time passed, Emily could almost convince herself everything was going back to the way it was.
Until one day that changed everything.
It wasn’t enough that there was a bank heist or that Will got shot.
It wasn’t enough that Will got abducted or that Henry was being babysat by a seasoned criminal.
It wasn’t enough that Clyde offered Emily a chance to run Interpol’s London office.
It wasn’t even enough when Emily found Will in the Mezzanine with a bomb strapped to his chest.
The real icing on that horrific day was everything that followed.
The bomb would detonate before the squad arrived, and as much as Emily wasn’t ready to face the possibility of death, leaving Will wasn’t an option.
"Get everybody out of here," Will insisted. Emily scoffed, shaking her head. “I'm serious, Emily, go.”
"I'm not gonna leave you. Give me a minute,” she quipped as she shifted to get a better look at the bomb and the timer attached to it.
The entire situation had Emily worried out of her mind. How was she supposed to defuse a bomb? She had no bomb squad experience, no idea how to handle a situation like this, and no hope for their survival. But if nothing else, she was stubborn. She wasn’t going to abandon Will.
Her resolve seemed to comfort the detective, and the confidence in his eyes was evident as he told her. "We're going to be okay.”
"How can you be so sure?"
“I just know,” was all he offered in response. Emily figured it had something to do with the date on JJ’s arm, but she didn't want to dwell on the possibility. Not now. She needed to calm her nerves and clear her head so they could both make it out of here alive.
The feeling Emily experienced when the second timer started to count down could only be described as emotional whiplash. Relief, shock, panic, all in one single second. But Will didn’t waver, so Emily didn't let herself either. She pulled herself together and gave it her all, and with one second left, she managed to save them both.
"I told you," Will commented with a smug grin, and all Emily could do was shake her head in disbelief. She untied the detective's hands before sitting next to him, waiting on the squad's arrival.
They sat in silence for a moment before Will spoke again. “Emily?” She hummed as she looked up at him. “Thank you,” he said, his hand resting on her forearm. She flinched out of habit, but the action didn’t get past Will, who looked down at her wrist. "Where are your numbers?" he asked.
She shrugged as she pulled her arm away, covering the place where the date hid. "I never wanted to see them," she said before she could stop herself. "It’s easier to pretend they aren’t there at all."
He gave her a soft smile. "I understand. But you've got time, Emily. Years. Don’t be afraid to let yourself live."
She couldn’t help but snort. “What makes you say that?” She tried to laugh as she asked, but the sound came out too serious to be anything but skeptical.
The detective's forehead creased, and there was a moment of silence as he opened his mouth to respond. The bomb squad rushed in before Will had the chance to say anything. Hotch rounded the corner with his usual stern expression, and that was all it took for Will and Emily to crack. They exchanged an amused glance as they laughed. Emily could already imagine the lecture he'd give her for making such a reckless decision.
As the two of them left the building and headed to the hospital, the tension had almost dissipated. Will offered her another heartfelt thank you before they separated but said nothing more about soulmate dates. Despite that, Emily couldn’t stop thinking about them.
For the first time in her life, she felt tempted to look at her numbers.
Sitting on the edge of the hospital bed, she turned her wrist over in her lap, staring at the blank space. She was so used to the spot staying covered up that she wondered how unusual it would be to actually see the black numbers looking back at her. She knew what they would look like—she’d seen enough of other people’s to know—but still, nothing could prepare her for the burden of the date on her arm. Would it be sixty years from now? Next year? Already past? She wet her thumb with her tongue and let it hover over her wrist. It wouldn't take much to unveil the date. She closed her eyes.
Before she could uncover the numbers, a voice came from the doorway. Emily didn’t need to look up to know it was Jennifer. “I knew you were going to save him,” she said as she walked into the room until she was standing a step away from Emily. “I knew it,” she said again, her voice as strong as it was when she delivered a profile or spoke to the press. But she fidgeted once, her left arm twitched, and immediately Emily knew what this was about.
“Why? Because today’s not the date on your arm?” Emily glanced down to the numbers she knew were on JJ’s but had never actually seen. For the first time she found herself wondering what they were. She wasn’t usually one to pry, but how else could JJ be so sure the bomb strapped to her boyfriend wouldn’t detonate?
Instead of answering, Jennifer covered her wrist with her left hand. She wouldn’t meet Emily’s eyes. A moment of silence passed before JJ relaxed and started to say, “Will isn’t—” but she stopped with a shake of her head. “I should go check on him.”
She started to leave, but Emily reached out, her left hand slipping into Jennifer’s. “Wait,” she said, unsure what she was going to say—if anything. JJ’s hand felt warm in hers, and Emily's heart throbbed, but she forced herself to ignore the spark between them yet again.
If only things were different.
If only JJ wasn’t with Will. If only Emily wasn’t so terrified of those numbers on her arm. If only Emily would let herself feel.
If only Emily didn’t feel.
She dropped JJ’s hand. She knew what she needed to do.
“You’ll be okay, right?” Jennifer asked her. Of course, it sounded like she was checking in on her about today's events, and Emily was sure that was the intention. But it also sounded like she knew what had taken place in Emily’s mind only a moment before.
“Of course,” Emily answered. JJ smiled at her one last time before walking out the door.
It was a night of big decisions. Emily was saying goodbye to the team before heading to England to work for INTERPOL again. Two things she thought would never happen.
Then there was JJ and Will’s wedding. When Emily found out about their engagement, she couldn’t help but return to that moment when the second timer on the bomb appeared. Emotional whiplash. Relief, shock, panic—eventual catharsis. Much like the bomb, she had only so much time to get everything under control. Or else she may find herself falling apart.
Despite it all, Emily couldn’t help but feel some sort of relief that JJ was in good hands. There was even a little bit of closure. She wouldn’t have to fight her longing now that the door had closed. She would be able to stop hoping for the impossible. She would be able to stop wishing for what she couldn’t have. She would no longer have to ignore the pull between them—it wouldn't be there to feel anymore.
Besides, she’d seen the numbers on Will’s arm. She knew Jennifer would be just fine.
The day she got the call from Hotch, she had a bad feeling. It was almost like her stomach was full of rocks, trying to weigh her down in every possible way. The feeling might have been arbitrary, but when she saw the caller ID, the puzzle pieces started to come together.
She tried to maintain her composure as best she could on the jet ride to Quantico, but the heavier her heart felt, the harder it was to concentrate.
On arrival, Emily had compartmentalized everything she needed to be helpful to the case. She wasted no time in reacquainting herself with her former team, assisting them in every way she could.
It didn't seem like much at first, but there was a glimmer of hope once they located the missing member of their team. It should have been comforting to see that word on the computer screen—blackbird—but Emily felt hollow. She couldn’t say why, and she couldn’t let herself think about it as the team made their way over to JJ’s location.
Everyone prepared to walk into a tough scene, but no one could have prepared for the sight that awaited them.
Jennifer’s body hung there—bruised, beaten, and bloody. Lifeless, the only movement it made was a subtle swaying from the hurried movement into the room.
Emily swallowed hard, waiting for the tears to come, but they didn’t. The sight before her couldn’t be real, she kept telling herself, but nothing was changing. No matter how many times she shook her head, nothing changed.
She only moved when she heard gunshots from another room. Reid put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay,” he told her through a choked voice. “Morgan’s going to—” he started to say, but a sob interrupted him. Watching him cry brought Emily back down to earth, grounded again by the weight in her stomach.
“Come on,” she said. “We should get her down.”
Together, they held JJ upright as they unclasped the shackles and lowered to the ground with her body. Her head was heavy in Emily’s lap, and she instinctively started to brush strokes through the blonde hair. A tear slipped out when she received no reaction. The lack of JJ’s soft smile, the silence instead of a hum of contentment—it was all too much for Emily. She released a sob as she leaned down, her head resting against JJ’s.
The room was still for a long time, the silence broken by Spencer’s soft admission: “I know how you feel.”
It was an odd thing to say, considering that of course he would understand. They were both experiencing the same loss. But when Emily looked up to meet Spencer’s eyes, she realized that he wasn’t looking at her.
He was looking at her wrist.
The date wasn't covered anymore.
“Maeve,” he says, and he didn’t need to explain any further, but he did anyway. “The morning of the zugzwang call, I had that feeling. Everything felt heavy and...inevitable. That didn’t go away until she was gone. I knew it would happen, but I’d hoped I could stop it anyway.” He finally looked up to meet Emily’s eyes. “Did you know she was your soulmate?”
Emily’s heart thrummed at the question, and she imagined a world in which she wasn’t so guarded about love. She imagined the spark of JJ’s hand touching hers as they greeted each other for the first time. She imagined beautiful blue eyes glowing with potential. She imagined the prospect of a soulmate she could love and give the world to. She imagined the wholeness of having Jennifer by her side, partners in work, in life, and in love.
But in reality, all she could feel was JJ's dead weight against her, the coldness of her body, and a hollow emptiness in her chest that Jennifer should still be here to fill.
“No,” she told Reid, her eyes on Jennifer’s instead of his. “I had no idea.”