Okay, before I get into the meat of this there's a few things that need to be said:
1) Technically, this is the story that's meant to follow Trusting in Change. That story sets the foundation for the relationship between Emily and Hotch and some of his concern for what's going on in this story.
2) I have, in no way shape or form, forgotten about One of Your Own. On the contrary, it's blown so out of control, I don't think I could. I will still be writing it, no worries. This is for the times I get stuck on One and need a little bit of a break. This, and the other AU CM story I'm currently working on. That one probably won't get posted until I've finished at least one of these two.
3) There are going to be things that aren't going to be regulation. If you need to, suspend your disbelief for a while so this makes sense.
4) Updates will not be regular in the slightest. I know, I'm going to make any reader wait almost forever because I'm building and building, but this is both a test and a side work for me. Updates are going to get farther and farther between as it is simply because school is coming up and I'm going to be crazy busy. I've already started planning my annual Christmas story so that I can start writing it and posting it with the regularity I'm used to.
5) This is one of those stories where reviews are more important than ever. This is off the beaten path for me because I'm throwing in an original character to wreak some havoc on Emily's psyche, so to speak. Any opinion is greatly appreciated and since I'm posting irregularly, ideas are also welcome. The chapters I've written are disgustingly short and I'd love opinions on interactions people would like to see.
Now, I'm sorry for keeping you so long. I hope you enjoy this!
Scared came nowhere close to defining what Leah Scott was feeling at that moment. Scared was reserved for those times where someone told a particularly good ghost story or your house creaked in the middle of the night. Leah was petrified and it had everything to do with the fact that she'd just moved from Chicago to Seattle.
Most eight-year-olds wouldn't really think twice about cross-country moving. Most of them would probably throw a fit about leaving friends behind, about having to start at a whole new school, but none of those things bothered Leah. What bothered Leah was much deeper.
The raven-haired woman driving the midnight black Tahoe sighed. "Lee, how many times have we been through this?"
"Eight hundred?" Leah responded smartly. "I just don't understand why I have to move this far!"
"Sweetie, listen to me, okay? The guy is still out there."
That thought utterly terrified the girl. "But-"
"No buts. You are a ward of the state, but more importantly, you're a living victim, a witness," the older woman explained patiently. She was used to Leah.
And Leah was used to her. She was the one tangible connection she had to everything, the one person who she trusted with her life. Which, really, was what she was currently doing.
"We need to keep you safe and you keep you safe…"
"You're putting me in Witness Protection, I know. But why in Seattle?"
"Because it's far away from Chicago."
"Em," Leah whined.
She sighed, turning onto a small residential street. "I know it isn't the best," she began slowly. "And I'm sorry I have to take you so far away from everything you've known."
Leah knew she was. If there was something she'd learned about the dark-haired woman it was that she was loyal to those she cared about. And she cared deeply about Leah. "You just want what's best for me."
"I do. We agree this is what's best for you."
Leah watched the houses go by, trying to guess which was going to be her new neighbours. It was difficult for her to truly comprehend what was about to happen. It was one of those things she was just going to have to experience. She understood the logistics of being placed with a foster family, an adopted family, but she didn't know how she'd fit. She had no idea if she'd like her new 'parents'. She wanted her own back.
But that wasn't going to happen and the scars up her arms were a painful reminder. Her parents had been stabbed to death in a string of apparent murder-suicides in Chicago and Detroit. They still hadn't found the guy. Leah was the only survivor. The young agent sitting beside her was her hero and the closest thing she now had to family.
The house they pulled into had a perfectly manicured garden, but the grass hadn't been mowed in a couple of days and it gave Leah a little bit of hope. She wasn't exactly into the whole idea of the perfect little family. She was damaged and she'd never fit into that view. She climbed out of the SUV, backpack on her shoulder and took the proffered hand from her companion. It gave her a little bit of strength for what she was about to do.
The door opened to a friendly enough looking woman. She was dressed like Em on her days off in comfortable looking jeans and a t-shirt. She smiled brightly at Leah before waving them in. "Kitchen's this way," she said.
"I have to get back to Chicago."
The words almost froze Leah's blood. "Can't you stay just a little bit longer?"
The woman seemed to sense that this was something between the other two. "I'll go get David. He'll be so happy to meet our Bell."
There was about five seconds before Leah let herself launch into her nerves. "I don't want to stay here, I want to stay back in Chicago. Can't I live with Casey?"
And she did. It wasn't often she got her full first name.
"I know this isn't ideal, okay? I know it's a strange city, a strange family, strange neighbours, a strange house… but you need to make the best of it. You knew I was going to have to go sometime."
"But does it have to be now? Can't you be here for a little while? Just until I get settled in?"
The smile she got was sad. "I can't, sweetheart. I have to go back to Chicago. I have a pile of cases on my desk and a team to help."
"Your stupid job."
Dark eyes glittered in affection as she tweaked Leah's nose. "It's what saved your life, so don't knock it 'til you've tried it." She sighed and pulled Leah to a nearby bench. "I have your e-mail. When I get home, I'll set up a free account, just for us. We'll chat all the time."
"I promise. And you have the Seattle number in case of an emergency? And the laptop?"
The laptop had been a gift, all pre-set up with the features she'd need to maintain connections and still follow the rules of the Witness Protection Program. Leah nodded.
"Lee, in all seriousness, I can't stress how important it is that you work with me, with us."
"No contact with your friends in Chicago. Nothing. Not even a text message, okay? To the rest of the world you're not Leah Scott anymore."
"I'm Annabelle White," Leah said dejectedly. She went willingly into the hug she was pulled into.
"To me, you'll always be Leah."
Leah sniffled as she pulled back. "Promise."
"Mom, I'm home!"
"In the kitchen."
Annabelle made her way through the front foyer of the house, arching an eyebrow at her father as he passed. He shouldn't be home for at least another hour. She hadn't lost track of time at work. It had been a busy day of work and school for the sixteen-year-old sophomore, but it was her life and she enjoyed the busyness of her schedule. "Hey Mom."
"Hi honey. How was work?"
"Chuck dumped a soda over Dan again," she responded, kissing her mother's cheek.
Annabelle wrinkled her brow. Her mother was usually talkative, usually asking all sorts of questions about her day about her friends. "Is everything okay?"
Her father cleared his throat from the kitchen doorway. "Bells, you're going to want to see this."
Annabelle wrinkled her nose. "Did somebody die?" Her parents didn't laugh and Annabelle felt a lump form in her throat. "What's going on?"
Her father held out the paper to her and she took it with shaking hands. There, on the cover: Sixteen-Year-Old Takes Own Life After Slaying Family.
Annabelle scanned the article briefly, then read the whole thing through in more detail. She remembered those details, remembered telling them to her parents not six months before. She shivered. "Please, no."
"We've already called Agent Spring at the Seattle office," her father said softly. "They want you out of here."
"I'll go to Washington," Annabelle said without thinking twice. "That's back across the country. I'll be safe there."
"You don't know anyone in Washington," her mother argued.
"I don't," Annabelle agreed. "But Leah does."