The first time Emily had thought about coming out to her team, it was no special occasion. There was no big, dramatic chain of events that had led her to this point, no special reason that she had to say anything. She just wanted to.
A long case far from home had ended up with the team making their way to a local hotel for the night. They hadn’t expected to be in the unfamiliar city for this long, but the string of murders they were investigating proved much harder to solve than they’d originally thought, so they hadn’t made any sort of reservations in advance. The team waited quietly in the lobby while Hotch spoke to the receptionist, rubbing sleep from their eyes and fighting back yawns.
The team leader was back with them a few minutes later, a grim expression settled on his face as he gestured to the keys dangling from his finger.
“There’s only three rooms left,” he paused, giving the rest of them a chance to groan before finishing. “They’re twin rooms, but we’ll have to bunk up.”
“I call the kid,” Morgan said quickly, throwing his arm over Reid’s shoulders. The younger man shrugged his acceptance.
“That leaves me and Dave sharing, and you two together,” he said, nodding to Emily and JJ. “Everyone ok with that?”
There were no complaints from the rest of the BAU, so Hotch nodded again before gesturing to the sign for the hotel restaurant.
“None of us have eaten since this morning. Let’s grab something and then get some rest, we need to be back at the station at 8 tomorrow.”
So, at around midnight, the BAU found themselves as the only customers in the little restaurant (unsurprising given the time), huddled together in a corner booth. Rossi was complaining about the quality of his spaghetti with his usual ‘I’m Italian, I know Italian things’ routine. Reid had launched into a detailed explanation of the nutritional benefits of the salad on the edge of his plate, and Morgan took his distraction as an opportunity to steal his fries when he wasn’t looking. Emily and JJ watched with amusement, nodding enthusiastically at Spencer’s words and trying not to laugh at Morgan. Hotch was quiet, but was wearing one of his rare smiles as he observed the teams’ childish antics.
Their laughter easily made up for the silence in the restaurant, but they all started to droop with exhaustion again when they had finished eating, and Hotch ordered them up to their respective rooms for some well-earned shut-eye.
So that was how Emily found herself laying in the dark, staring at the ceiling as she listened to JJ’s breathing across the room. She had only been an official part of the team for a few months, but sat in that restaurant that night, she had finally felt like she belonged. Like she was a part of their little family.
As always seemed to happen late at night, the two women launched into a whispered conversation about everything, and nothing, and all that fell in-between. Something about the cover of darkness made it easier to be honest, like any secrets that were spilled would hide in the shadows quietly by the time day rolled around.
For the first time, in the safety of that darkness, Emily found the words on the tip of her tongue, the confession trying to sneak out with every whisper, every hushed laugh. Something about JJ was easy to talk to, as well. There was no judgement with her, just an overwhelming feeling of understanding and care. Their words were slurred from the lack of sleep by now, but Emily finally plucked up the courage to say something, to admit what she hadn’t done to another person in years.
But, of course, JJ was already asleep when she choked out the words.
Maybe another day, Emily thought to herself. Maybe another day.
The second time Emily considered coming out was, again, late at night. This time however, she found herself not in the quiet comfort of a hotel room, but instead sat on the FBI jet next to Derek, who had shed his usual pair of headphones to share a murmured conversation with her.
Around them, the team were all busy with sleep or work, leaving the two alone to chat. Reid lay across the couch, fast asleep, covered by a blanket that Rossi had carefully draped over him before retreating to his own seat and dropping his head into his hand for some rest. JJ was opposite him, knees drawn up to her chest, dozing with her head on her folded arms. Hotch was the only one other than Derek and Emily who was still awake, sat alone as he looked over some files from the case they had just been working, presumably trying to get a head start on his paperwork so he could get home to Jack as soon as possible.
“So, Prentiss,” Morgan started with a smirk. “You still haven’t told me where you were before we got called in yesterday. Hot date?”
Emily rolled her eyes. She had been five minutes late to the briefing yesterday and Derek had clearly let his imagination run wild.
“I was just getting some stuff for Sergio.”
Morgan sat up a little straighter, grinning like a child “Sergio, eh?” Emily quickly realised what was going on but bit back her laugh, waiting for her friend to dig himself further into a hole. “The Emily Prentiss has a secret boyfriend! Give me the details right now.”
“Well, it’s been a few months… He can be a little grumpy sometimes but I think it’s going pretty well.” Morgan still hadn’t stopped smiling, surprised that the usually closed off woman was sharing so much. “He’s super cute, and so fluffy…”
“Fluffy…?” Morgan furrowed his brow, confused. “Does he need to shave? Or- “
“Sergio is my cat, Morgan.”
Emily burst into fits of quiet laughter as Derek shot her a murderous glare, careful not to wake the others. He grumbled something about her being a tease but smiled good-naturedly, falling into the easy banter that had been present between the two of them practically since they’d met.
“I don’t get it though,” Morgan started, when her giggles had died down a little. “There’s gotta be some secret man. You’re too hot to be single.”
Emily rolled her eyes again (something she did a lot with Morgan) at the strange but well-meaning compliment.
“There’s not exactly a massive amount of options for me, Derek.”
“What are you talking about?” He questioned incredulously. “You’re an FBI agent with a badge, and a gun, and a kickass sense of humour. Ill bet there’s guys lining up for you.”
And again, Emily found herself frozen on the edge of a decision. This would be the perfect time to tell him. Not only that, but Emily found that she actually wanted to, for the first time since that night in the hotel with JJ, share a part of her life with her friend. She felt like she could.
Unwillingly, the agent was drawn back into a memory of the one of the first times she had ever come out to anyone. Belgium, age 16, a young and rebellious Emily had been smoking on the roof of her school with her friend. He was tall, and pretty quiet until you got to know him. He was also the only friend she had made since leaving Matthew Benton behind in Rome, the only person she felt like herself around. So, she let the secret slip out between puffs of smoke, and watched through tears as he left her behind with only a cigarette and her own misery for company.
Emily stopped smoking after that.
But now, looking across to the opposite seat at the toothy smile of Derek Morgan, she couldn’t help but be reminded of the boy she had once trusted with her secret. She couldn’t help but remember the disgust in his eyes as he turned away from her.
So, she couldn’t do it.
She gave Derek some generic response about how it was hard to date with their work schedule, grateful that he accepted her answer and moved onto some easier topic.
Emily wanted to tell him; she really did. She just couldn’t lose him too.
Penelope Garcia was almost the push that Emily needed to tell her team the truth.
After the eccentric woman was shot by her crazed date, she met fellow FBI technical analyst and loveable nerd Kevin Lynch. The two gravitated towards each other, naturally, and it wasn’t long before he plucked up the courage to ask her out on a date. Garcia was excited, of course, but as the evening fast approached, the nerves got the best of her and she found herself summoning Emily to her lair.
“You called?” Emily said, popping her head round Garcia’s door.
“Enter, my beauty!”
Emily smirked, pulling the door shut and falling into a chair next to Garcia. “If Hotch asks, you’re helping me out with some paperwork.”
Garcia nodded with a smile but the profiler could see the tension in the other woman’s shoulders, saw the way she was twirling a feathery pencil between her fingers with nerves.
“What’s up, PG?”
Garcia didn’t even hesitate before launching into her story, talking at the speed of light (as usual). “Well you know how I’m going out with Kevin tonight?” Emily nodded. “I’m kinda freaking out, and I know what you’re going to say so don’t even start with the ‘he’ll love you’ lecture. I just need you to help me out with something.”
Emily let her curiosity soften into sympathy. “What can I do, Pen?”
“Well,” The blonde said mischievously, “I was thinking of suggesting a double date to Kevin. Me and him, you and… someone else.”
Emily sat back a little, mind whirling with a million possible excuses for how to get out of this. “What about JJ? Isn’t she your go-to for this stuff?”
“She and Will have been together for a while now. It’d probably be weird for them to go out with us, seeing as it’s our first date.” Penelope paused before adding, “Besides, I think they’re going through a bit of a rough patch. And JJ isn’t my only go to.”
Emily tried to ignore the comment about JJ and Will’s ‘rough patch’. It was none of her business. She wasn’t quietly pleased that hear that they weren’t doing so well together. Not at all.
Instead, she focused on Garcia’s later statement, trying not to get too sentimental about it. “You really want my help?”
Penelope’s voice softened at the uncertainty in the brunette’s eyes. “Of course I do, Em.”
Emily shook the smile off of her face and realised that it was looking harder and harder to get out of this. “I don’t even have a date, Pen.”
“I’ll tell Kevin to bring a guy.”
A guy. Kevin would bring a guy. Or, Emily thought, she could bring someone of her own. Someone who was preferably not a guy.
But before Emily had the chance to even think of broaching the subject, Derek slipped into the office without a knock.
“Baby-girl, you ready for lunch? Oh, hey princess.” He shot a smile at Emily. “You joining us?”
“I- uhh… No. I’ve got a lot of work to so. I’ll see you tonight, though, Pen.”
Penelope grinned at her success. “I’ll text you details,” she chirped, and then she was gone with Derek. So much for an actual date, Emily thought to herself.
That evening, sat around a table with Garcia, Kevin and Kevin’s friend Brian, the FBI agent cursed her own hesitation. The guy was nice enough, sure, but he was little awkward and had a little too much stubble and, well, he was a man. Emily was glad that Kevin and Penelope seemed to getting along well, but trying to force conversation with Boring Brian was just painful. In fact, she spent most of the evening texting JJ under the table and hoping he wouldn’t notice.
Next time, she told herself. Next time she had the opportunity, she’d say it.
Unsurprisingly, the next time Emily had the opportunity, she didn’t say it.
After finding out about the murder of Matthew Benton, of her Matt, she was understandably distraught. So, when David Rossi offered her a lifeline in the form of a willing ear, she took it. Standing outside that old house in the snow, she couldn’t look at him, couldn’t bear to face the truth for fear of the judgement she would receive. But then he spoke, soft and caring and almost fatherly. Like he really, truly wanted to help.
“If you don’t want to explain, that’s fine. But if you do, I’m all in.”
She looked up to meet his eyes and found only sincerity there, and before she knew what she was doing, the truth came spilling out in a landslide. Everything about moving as a child, about being in Rome at age fifteen and doing everything she could to fit in. She told him about the pregnancy, the abortion, the way Matthew stood by her side and held her hand through it all.
At this point in her story, Dave had taken a gentle hold of her elbow and lead her to sit on the front step on the old house, leaving one protective hand to rest on her arm as she spoke. He asked her if the event had led to Matt’s crisis, his religious questioning. And she said yes.
It was partly the truth. Emily’s pregnancy and the aftermath clearly contributed to his subsequent crisis of faith. But it wasn’t the only reason. She hadn’t just told Matt about being pregnant. He was also the first person she ever came out to.
And it ruined him.
Maybe that was why Emily found it so hard to tell the truth about herself. She had seen the damage her honesty had caused for the person she had trusted the most, and couldn’t bear to put anyone else through that. Couldn’t bear to lose anyone like she had lost him.
She whispered so quietly, then, that it was a surprise Dave even heard her. She let the guilt come tumbling past her lips with half of the truth (the other half safely tucked away, as always).
“This is all my fault.”
Rossi wrapped an arm round her shoulders with a sigh, matching her volume as he responded, “You didn’t do this. You hear me kiddo? This wasn’t you.”
And he let her cry, just for a few minutes. Let the grief and the pain and the guilt pour out of her in this rare moment of weakness, on that snowy front step. She needed a moment to break before she had to pull it all together again, and he gave it to her.
When at last her breathing had steadied, Rossi stood and held out a hand to pull her up. “Let’s go deliver the profile, shall we?”
She nodded silently and followed him out of the garden, feeling like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Well, part of the weight. The other half of the story was still there, sitting on her lungs so she could never quite take a full, deep breath. That weight had been there since she was fifteen, and she was so used to it now that she didn’t even really feel it.
Climbing into the SUV, she wondered if she’d ever share the rest of that weight. Wondered if she’d ever take that free, deep breath again.
The next time Emily was faced with a chance to tell someone, the circumstances were much less dramatic. That didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking though. Just the thought of honesty, the idea of the truth finally being revealed; it set her heart at double speed and put a tremble in her hands.
And this occasion was no different.
Mick Rawson was a name that had been tossed around the BAU offices more than once over the past few weeks, and Emily was pretty sick of hearing it. All that had happened between the two of them was a bit of light flirting (which obviously meant nothing on Emily’s part), but the younger members of the team had been teasing her mercilessly about it. Thankfully, Rossi and Hotch seemed unbothered, but the other four – they were something else.
It started with honest questions about whether she’d asked him out or not, but quickly turned to chaos when Penelope used some (not so legal) techniques to track down the man’s cell phone number and put it in Emily’s phone. She knew it was all in good fun, but when Morgan asked to be the best man at the wedding, suggesting Reid as the ring boy, she seriously considered climbing onto her desk and very dramatically declaring to the entire office that she was gay.
This incessant banter had been going for a couple of weeks by the time the BAU ladies decided to head out together and do some Christmas shopping. Penelope had disappeared around 20 minutes earlier, saying she just needed to grab a few bits, leaving JJ and Emily to grab some coffees and wander the softly lit streets. When the two were alone, JJ decided to prod the other woman a little more.
“JJ, that’s not the point!” Emily sighed, exasperated.
“Well are you gonna call him?”
JJ groaned at her friend, and Emily felt the familiar nerves climb into her throat that always seemed to appear when her love life was being discussed.
“Mick Rawson is an arrogant, oversexed, egotistical- “
“Hot, British dude with a sexy accent, badge and gun?” JJ interrupted, looking over at Emily to gauge her reaction. “Just your type.”
Emily fought the urge to roll her eyes again. At least JJ got that last part right: British dudes weren’t exactly her thing but… badge and gun? She could think of a few people who matched that description that were definitely her type. Well, one person in particular, but she wasn’t going to dwell on that when the said person with the badge and gun was walking right next to her.
“You know, I don’t get you sometimes.” JJ said, sipping her coffee.
“It wouldn’t go anywhere.” Emily quipped back. That was true at least, but not for the reasons JJ thought. In fact, Emily again found herself thinking about explaining those reasons, but then JJ started talking about Will and any thoughts she’d had of even broaching the subject slipped away.
Luckily, Garcia arrived precisely that moment, saving Emily from the embarrassment of having to pretend she liked Will (she totally wasn’t jealous). She was sure the conversation would have led back to Rawson had JJ not gotten a text from Hotch at that moment, summoning them back to the BAU, and so for once she was grateful to have her free time interrupted by their demanding work schedule.
Hopefully, they’d all get over the Mick Rawson thing soon enough. If not, Emily thought she may just have to make up a fake boyfriend to get them all to leave her alone.
She wouldn’t name him Sergio this time, though.
When the BAU finally learned the truth about Emily, not a single one of them was expecting it. Not even Emily.
It was a routine case – psycho killing women in San Francisco, probably had some sort of major mommy-issues. And the BAU had been tasked with flying out there to catch him. Simple.
When they touched down, Hotch decided he wanted the whole team to head down to the station to check out what evidence had already been gathered, before they all headed out to various other locations. Upon their arrival, they were shown to a sizable conference room with a board set up for them, and an officer told them that the lead detective was just following up on something, but she would be back in a few minutes.
Emily didn’t ask for her name. She should’ve asked for her name.
The team deliberated for a few minutes over a preliminary profile, bouncing ideas off each other in their usual easy way while they waited for the detective to arrive. They grabbed a coffee, looked over files, stretched their necks after the long flight. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Then the detective arrived.
Det. Archer entered the room with a professional smile, shaking Hotch’s hand and listening carefully as he introduced each member of the team.
“This is agent David Rossi, Derek Morgan, Jennifer Jareau, Dr. Spencer Reid and- “
“Emily Prentiss,” Archer interrupted with a wide smile. “Long time no see. How’ve you been?”
Emily couldn’t breathe. Her tongue had turned to lead at the sight of the woman and she couldn’t form a single word. Hotch, seeing she wasn’t going to respond, asked: “You two know each other?”
“You could say that.”
JJ looked over at Emily questioningly, murmuring so nobody else in the room could hear her, “You ok Em? You look like you’re going to be sick.”
Emily didn’t get the chance to respond, because at that moment, Detective Archer answered the question that was on all of their lips, the words slipping out as casually as if she was discussing the weather.
“We dated for a while back when Em was in the academy. Ancient history though, right Prentiss?”
Emily’s heart dropped out of the bottom of her stomach. She didn’t even look up to gauge the rest of the team’s reactions before shooting up from her chair and mumbling a barely audible “excuse me” to her shoes, speeding out of the room as quickly as she could without running.
She found herself in the bathroom, gripping the edges of the sink with white knuckles to stop herself from collapsing while trying to push down the brewing panic attack. Not here. Not now.
Not 30 seconds after she had come into the bathroom, however, JJ came rushing in, her face a picture of concern. Her eyes attached to the shaking form of the other agent and she was at her side in an instant, running a comforting hand up and down her spine. The ragged gasps for air she heard coming from Emily broke her heart a little bit.
“Hey, you gotta slow down, Em. Breathe for me.”
The other woman couldn’t hear her over the pounding of her own heart, her head spinning with memories of Matt, of her friend in Belgium, of her mother, all of whom had been turned away from her after they found out the truth. She was going to lose the only people she had left. She was going to lose her family, her BAU family.
But a soft voice in her ear drew her out of the web she was spinning for herself, mumbling words of comfort and understanding, none of the horror she’d expected. JJ’s voice grounded her, for a second, and she managed to draw in a rattling breath that burned her aching lungs.
“That’s it, Em. Just keep breathing.”
So, she kept listening to the blonde, to her quiet instructions of in, out, in, out. She felt a little steadier on her feet. She saw a little clearer without the haze of blind panic. And at last, she looked up at JJ, terrified of her reaction but knowing that it was too late now to take back the words that Detective Archer had said.
And JJ smiled.
Just like that, Emily felt that last bit of weight lift off of her. JJ wasn’t gone. She hadn’t turned her back or run away. And chances were, neither would the rest of the team. Emily had finally faced the truth that she had been afraid of for so long, and it was ok. It was actually ok.
JJ stayed with the other woman for a few more minutes to make sure she really was alright, before promising Emily that she would tell the team not to make a big deal out of it, and heading out to give her a moment to gather herself. True to their word, when she returned to the conference room a few minutes later, nobody gave her any trouble. Detective Archer looked a little sheepish and kept glancing nervously at Rossi (who was sat next to her) as though he’d just given her some sort of stern telling off.
Reid and Morgan both sent her warm smiles as she sat down. JJ reached under the table and squeezed her hand comfortingly. Hotch showed his support in his own way – by going on with the case like nothing had happened.
When the briefing was over, Archer left to go and talk to some of her officers while Hotch handed out assignments to his team. Emily was the first to stand to leave, but just as she reached the door, a voice called her back for a second.
“Hey.” It was Morgan. He glanced around at the rest of the team, who were all looking at him expectantly. “You know we love you, right Princess?”
And for once, she did.
She really did.