Title: Return to Oz
Rating: PG-13
Fandom:
Criminal Minds/Supernatural
Universe: Demon Days (Part 3)
Characters/Pairing:
Emily Prentiss/Dean Winchester, Castiel, Penelope Garcia, Kevin Lynch
Genre: Drama/Angst
Summary:
A phone call takes Emily back to D.C., but what awaits her there may be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.
Warnings: Character Death

It was dark when Emily woke. Early, rather than late, she gathered, noting the bright red numbers on the alarm clock that sat on the table between the two double beds. Dean was still fast asleep. No. Not fast asleep – he was still asleep. You didn't get to sleep heavily much in this business. There was just something about staying up all night to kill a werewolf, or going over the profile until 2am that meant regular sleep patterns were a pipe dream.

But then, she was used to that. It was almost terrifying how easily she found herself adjusting to the hunting lifestyle; how similar it was to the life she'd already had. The only differences were, she didn't have a badge anymore, and the monsters were a little more varied.

Grabbing her phone from the nightstand, and making sure the room key was in the pocket of her sweatpants, she stepped outside into the crisp, early morning air. It wasn't quite dawn, but she could see the light starting to slowly creep up the horizon. Any vampires still hanging around outside would be starting to wander home.

Home.

That was a nice thought.

She didn't really know what "home" meant, but it was a nice thought anyway.

Outside she found Castiel, standing straight, with his hands behind his back. His gaze was unmoving – she thought perhaps he might have been appreciating the view, but there wasn't really much view to speak of. Just another small town in the middle of nowhere.

'Anything?' she asked, out a need to break the silence, more than anything else.

'Nothing of great consequence,' he said, not taking his eyes away from that spot on the horizon. Emily sighed internally. She should have known better than relying on an angel to provide small talk.

In D.C., it would be almost seven a.m. Most days, she'd be on her way to work by this time, inhaling coffee as though it were her lifeblood.

Emily stared down at her phone.

'I'm going to go make a call,' she told Castiel, who didn't seem overly concerned.

'Do not stray too far,' was all he said, and Emily caught herself halfway through an eye roll. It wasn't as though she was going to let herself walk right into a demon trap. Still, she made sure to keep herself within Castiel's line of sight. While he could probably still hear her anyway, the illusion of privacy was comforting.

Emily barely heard the ringing on the line before someone picked up. She held her breath…

'Emily, why haven't you been answering my calls?'

And there it was.

If there was one tone of voice Elizabeth Prentiss could nail, it was admonishment. Hello to you too, mother, she thought to herself, but said instead, 'I've been busy.'

'I've called three times – you could have been dead.' There was concern in her mother's voice, which was almost surprising. But then, Emily knew she had been a bit quick to judge when it came to her mother. It seemed easier that way.

'No, I'm…I'm fine,' she said, which was true, depending on your definition of the word "fine." Freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional. But that was nothing new. All things considered, it could have been worse.

'You're not in the District,' the Ambassador said, and it would have been conversational, but Emily knew that tone all too well. This was the conversation that she absolutely didn't want to have.

'No, I'm in…' Crap, what was the name of the town? 'I'm in Pennsylvania. Um…travelling.' It wasn't a very good excuse, and she was absolutely certain her mother could see right through it. There was as much profiling in diplomacy as there was in being an actual profiler.

'Really, Emily. Just because you resigned from the BAU doesn't mean there aren't other options available. You have a skill set that would serve you well in many fields.' Emily could have laughed; it was almost a compliment.

'I don't think many people would want to hire someone with my history,' Emily told her mother drily, awaiting the indignant response. "The event" was something that the Ambassador would have preferred to sweep under the rug, but the deaths of five FBI agents wasn't exactly something that could be covered up.

'Really, Emily, If you're so concerned about what people might think, I can make a few calls-'

'No!' Emily cut in, the word a lot louder, and a lot more discourteous than she had intended. 'No, mother, I…I'm doing what I need to be doing.'

'Really – and what's your main source of income?'

Gambling and fake credit cards.

'I have some money saved, I don't…I can't go back to working right now.'

She wasn't sure what she could tell her mother that wouldn't sound like the words of a crazy person. Sorry mother, the apocalypse is coming around – again – and I need to make sure that the angels and the demons don't succeed in their evil plan.

That was pretty much a one way ticket to institutionalization. All things considered, it wouldn't have been too hard a story to sell. Overworked FBI agent snaps, kills colleagues and then goes on a monster hunting spree. Delusional, superiority complex, not guilty for reasons of insanity get the strait jacket we've got another one for the snake pit.

Of course her mother would probably call it a mid-life crisis, because insanity in the family wasn't particularly becoming.

'You can't run forever, Emily,' Elizabeth said, and Emily bit her lip. She didn't think she was running. She was fighting. But then, maybe she'd been running her whole life anyway. The rest was just semantics.

'Come home.' The words echoed in her ear, and she allowed herself to consider the thought for one brief second. Home.

Home was where her family was. Home was where her friends were.

But no.

Her mother was the only family she really had left, and most of her friends were either dead, or thought she was a heartless killer. Garcia and Kevin were the only ones left, but the thought of having a Doctor Who marathon while the apocalypse raged on outside was a sobering one.

You can't go home again.

'I'm sorry, mom…I'll try to make it home at some point, but right now…I have things I need to do.'

'I'm sorry to hear that, Emily. I hope you'll reconsider. Have you spoken to your father lately?'

Emily gave a sigh. She didn't even know where her father was. It wasn't that they had a bad relationship – all things considered, she probably got along with her father better than she did her mother. That didn't mean much when he was only in the country a few days out of every month. Still, she made a mental note to call him – he, at least, would be a little less critical of her choices.

The conversation didn't last too much longer, because apparently matters of international importance didn't subscribe to regular schedules.

'I love you Emily, remember that.'

'I love you too, mom.' She hung up with guilt pooling in the bottom of her stomach, even if she wasn't exactly sure why. It wasn't as though the relationship with her mother was particularly close knit; it was amicable, but it wasn't a "dinner on Fridays, salon, manicures and lunch on Saturdays" kind of relationship. Maybe in another life.

Castiel's face was impassive as she walked past him, and she wondered whether he actually had any expressions beside "stoic." He reminded her of Hotch, in a "still waters run deep" kind of way. Two years ago she wouldn't have put a single cent on the bet that she'd meet someone who smiled even less than Hotch did.

Of course, Emily didn't smile so much herself these days either. Her right index finger twitched, and she was pretty sure if she closed her eyes she would relive that moment when she put a bullet into Aaron Hotchner's skull.

She kept her eyes open.

Emily tossed another pair of pants into the washing machine, hyperaware of the ridiculous number of stains that had built up on the things. While there were a lot of similarities between hunting demons and hunting serial killers, hunting demons was just plain messier. In her time at the BAU, Emily had tossed a few shirts due to blood stains, but if she started following the same guidelines now, she was pretty sure they'd spend as much time clothes shopping as they did hunting, and she didn't need to be a profiler to know that Dean Winchester was probably not all that interested in clothes shopping.

'Can't believe I've started wearing flannelette,' she muttered to herself. Not so long ago, her wardrobe had consisted of pantsuits and ankle boots. Now it was jeans and Docs Martens; a half ironic throwback to her teenage years. So much for progress. The brown leather jacket she wore was one holdover; this close to winter in Pennsylvania wasn't cold by the extreme definitions of the word (Emily had lived in both Chicago and Moscow. Pennsylvania felt like a warm spring in comparison).

She was measuring out the powder to go in the machine when her phone rang. Only three people ever called her anymore; one of them was one block down in the motel, one of them she'd spoken to this morning. Still, a quick check of the Caller I.D. confirmed her suspicions.

'Hey Garcia.'

'Are you sitting down?'

Emily paused. Of all the things Garcia could have possibly said, that was one of the worst. Her tone of voice was stressed, and whatever words came next were going to be bad news.

'Why would I need to be?' she asked cautiously.

'I wanted to tell you before you saw the news – your mother died this morning.'

Slamming the door of the washing machine shut, Emily grabbed her purse, halfway out the door as she said, 'Why would it be on the news?' Already, she feared she knew the answer.

'They think she might have been, um…murdered.'

Fuck.

The tears were gathering in her eyes, and she tried to block them out, but no amount of compartmentalization was going to help with this.

The small town rushed past in a blur of colors, but Emily wasn't paying attention. Her gaze was focused on that rundown motel with frayed carpets and horrendous wallpaper.

'What else?' Emily asked, half out of breath already.

'Local P.D. were first on the scene, but I'm hacking the files now…'

'Send them to me,' Emily demanded, struggling with the key to their motel room. The door swung inwards before she'd even managed to get the key out, and Dean stood there, his expression dropping the moment he saw her face.

'Emily, I can't…'

'What's wrong?'

Emily shook her head, and went straight for the T.V remote. No news on any of the basic channels, but then, it was only quarter past the hour. Nothing on CNN either. Too much to hope that she didn't have to do resort to Google.

'I'm putting you on speaker,' Emily announced, as she booted up her laptop. She was hyperaware of Dean standing behind her, and yet she could quite bring herself to explain what was going on. The door opened, and then Castiel was there too, which only served to make things worse.

'Was there anything demonic at the scene?' Emily queried, and she could almost hear Dean straightening in interest.

'Not as far as I can tell; two gunshot wounds to the chest, nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything. Someone from the Embassy found her when she didn't show up to work this morning.' There was something wrong there, but Emily wasn't quite sure what. She choked out a half sob, lowering her head slightly.

It took a few moments of navigating the news website to find what she was looking for: Ambassador Killed in Home. Too much to hope that they wouldn't have used a picture. Emily bit her lip and tried to ignore the professional head and shoulders shot on the right hand side of the screen.

'Was there any sulfur at the scene?' Dean queried, and Emily was grateful that he didn't drill her on the specifics. There was no doubt in her mind that he knew, if not from her tears, then from the name and the photo in the article.

'I do not know, second of mine amigos. I literally got this news about ten minutes ago; I'm not sure if the crime scene folks have been through yet, but I can make some calls. You really think a demon did this?'

Emily was silent. Like any diplomat, her mother had enemies, but there was something niggling in the back of her mind. Something telling her that it was more than just a political thing.

Finally, it hit.

'When I called this morning…she was interrupted by something. I assumed she was at the Embassy, so I thought it was work related, but…'

But she was interrupted by the person who killed her.

Maybe. Being in the BAU had taught Emily not to make assumptions, but she couldn't let that thought go. Maybe she could have done something.

'You were three hundred miles away, Emily, you couldn't have done anything,' Dean said quietly. Emily resisted the urge to give him a scathing look. Considering she'd been fifty feet from the freaking teleporting angel at the time, distance wouldn't have been a problem.

Emily shook her head.

'Garcia, what's the nearest city with an airport?'

'Wait, you want to go back?' Dean asked, half incredulous. This time, Emily did turn to face him.

'Of course I'm going back,' she told him, fire accompanying the tears in her eyes. 'Why wouldn't I go back?'

'This could be a trap,' he said, the volume of his voice increasing dangerously.

'I don't care!' she yelled back, with far more heat than she had intended. 'I know you didn't have a particularly good relationship with your father, Dean, but this is my mother, and I am going back whether you think it's a good idea or not.'

'Emily…' Garcia started.

'Don't you dare say that he's right, Garcia. Not now. Not today.' Emily wiped away the tears at her cheek, determined not to break down into hysterics in front of Dean and Castiel.

'I was just going to say I booked you onto a flight for this afternoon.'

Emily stared at Dean. 'I am going to the airport, and I am going to get on that plane. If you don't want to drive me there, that's fine – I'll find my own way.'

'I'll drive you,' he said, his voice deadly serious. A little louder, he added. 'Garcia, book three tickets, please.'

'No,' Emily told him sharply. 'You don't have to come with me – there are people that need you.'

'You need me,' he countered, and while Emily appreciated the sentiment, she didn't like to need people – that was a consequence of both her upbringing, and her less than exemplary teenage experiences.

Emily shook her head. 'Drive, then. I'm not going to be responsible for pulling you out of your depression if that car gets stolen.'

'Fine,' Dean conceded. 'We'll meet you there, but if there really is someone out to get you, then your condo is the first place they're going to look – we can stay in a hotel.' Emily was half a second away from arguing, but restrained herself.

Packing in a hurry was a skill that Emily had perfected a long time ago; when you got a call about a case at two in the morning, and all your clothes were in the dryer, and your go bag was airing out, there wasn't exactly time to sort through and color coordinate.

Which reminded her; the washing machine was still going at the Laundromat. Crap. She wasn't particularly sentimental about the clothes, but it would be a pain in the ass to fit clothes shopping around funerals and demon hunting.

'We've got time,' Dean told her, his voice steady. 'Go grab it.'

Emily felt like throttling him. How could he be so calm?

It was in that moment that she realized just how far she'd fallen.

She passed off her gun to Dean, along with anything else that was restricted by security. It might have made her feel that much more vulnerable, but she preferred vulnerable to "detained in custody."

The flight wasn't a particularly long one – it was much quicker than driving – and the plane wasn't very full. Emily was grateful to have a row to herself, picking at a bag of peanuts as she listened to AC/DC on her iPod. Not quite the tape deck of the Impala, but it was comforting nonetheless. There was a book in her bag, but her body was wracked by nervous energy, threatening to burst out at any moment.

In the scheme of things, breaking down on a half-full airplane was little better than breaking down in front of Dean and Castiel, but Emily was determined to keep it all bottled in – at least until she was alone.

Just like mother had taught her.

When the drinks cart came around, she ordered a scotch and soda – just enough to calm herself a little, but not so much that she'd look like the in-flight drunk. A sorely tempting thought.

There was some strange distortion of time when you were flying – two hours seemed to last two years. "Relativity," Reid had explained once, but it had been a long case, and Emily wasn't exactly up to listening to the details. She'd never taken Physics. Biology, yes, as well as a few Forensics course, both in college and at the academy, but never physics.

Thinking about time dilation would have been a nice distraction from what was actually going through her mind. Nightmares of vampires and werewolves and demons; what if her mother was dead because of something Emily had done? She had enough guilt already, without bringing that into the mix.

Maybe another drink was a good idea. It seemed to dull the accusatory voices in her head – the voices that didn't seem to bother her too much when Dean was around. It almost terrified her to think that she'd grown reliant on him, but then, it was no secret that she'd been wallowing in self pity before he showed up in her life.

It would be pathetic if it wasn't so depressing.

Hell, maybe it was both.

The plane landed without incident; Emily wasn't quite sure whether she was expecting ghosts in the forward restrooms, or something, but it was comforting nonetheless. After flying privately for so long, commercial – especially coach – pissed her off way more than it had any right to, but today was better that most. All things considered, it was ridiculously good luck, because she was pretty sure she'd snap someone's neck if anything did go wrong.

Emily had planned on catching a cab to the police station, but she was completely unsurprised to see Penelope Garcia, a neon beacon in a sea of darkness. She barely had time to reposition her bag before she was wrapped in a tight, almost asphyxiating hug.

'I missed you,' Garcia said, her words almost superfluous in light of the hug.

'I missed you too,' Emily replied, letting herself suck in a breath of air when Garcia finally let go.

'You've lost weight?'

'Have I?' Emily feigned ignorance, pretending not to remember that her belt had tightened a full notch since she'd left D.C. While the questionable nutrition was the same as it had been hunting unsubs, there was definitely a lot more running around in hunting the supernatural.

'Don't play coy, Auntie Em – I'll have to get Kevin to buy a box of those bacon donuts to fatten you up a little.'

Emily's nose wrinkled in disgust, any pretenses dropping away suddenly. 'And turn Hansel and Gretel into a horror story? No thanks.'

'All fairy tales are horror stories,' Garcia said matter-of-factly, and Emily wasn't inclined to disagree. Going by all the things she'd learned over the last couple of months, it would surprise her if Hansel and Gretel was based on a true story. 'And you have to come over for dinner one night – Dean, too. Which reminds me – who was the mysterious third person he wanted to book a ticket for? Another hunter?'

Emily blinked. Of course. She'd almost forgotten that it had been less than twenty-four hours since Castiel had joined them.

'Not quite,' she replied, lowering her voice as they passed through a crowd. 'Castiel – he's…he's an angel.'

'Jenkies. That is quite the party.'

'Yeah. It's…different.'

Emily let her head fall back against the seat, silent as Garcia spoke about happy, inconsequential things. She didn't speak about work, or about anything otherwise related; it had been Henry's birthday last week, and Garcia had almost certainly bought him a boatload of presents. Three years old, and without a mother, thanks to Emily. And Jack – Jack was an orphan, probably being raised by his aunt. She wondered if he'd grow up blaming her. Maybe one day she'd wake up and find little boy Hotchner all grown up, standing at the door with a gun in her face.

As if she'd ever last that long.

'Who's lead detective?' Emily said finally, knowing she couldn't ignore the situation for any longer.

'Leland Stapledon,' Garcia replied, a little too quickly, which meant that she already knew everything there was to know about the case. Completely unsurprising.

Emily had worked with Stapledon before – a serial rapist out of Arlington. He was a good cop, both in terms of skill and integrity. Still, the things Emily had been up to over the last couple of months weren't exactly events she could relay and still be considered sane.

'What do they know so far?'

'Silenced gun, no-one heard anything, no-one saw anything. Alarm was turned off, so it either could have been someone she knew, or…'

'Or something supernatural is going on.'

'Right,' Garcia confirmed. 'I'm still waiting on the evidence reports to make it into the system, but when they do, I will be all over them.'

Emily gave a tired smile. Without Penelope Garcia, she was pretty sure she would have lost herself completely. But even then…

'I'm not getting you into trouble with the Bureau, am I?'

Garcia gave her a look. 'First of all, Emily the Strange, I have been playing fast and loose with FBI regulations since long before we met, and secondly, I put my friendship with you above my job any day of the week. They fire me, and I'll just stalk you and that lover-boy of yours on the next cross-country demon hunt.'

Emily felt her face flush slightly. 'We don't…we're not lovers.' She'd always hated that word – it always made things sound so much more clandestine, so much iniquitous than they really were.

'I was making a joke, sunshine,' Garcia told her, not even bothering to hide the wide smile that said she didn't believe a damn thing Emily said.

'This could take a while,' Emily said, when they finally pulled up outside the station. It wasn't an experience she was particularly looking forward to, but it was one that she needed to get out of the way, if only so that she could move on. There were a few journalists hanging around outside, and it was probably wishful thinking to hope that they wouldn't recognize her. 'If you wanted to go grab lunch, or something, I'll give you a call when I'm done.' Emily was fairly sure that her case wouldn't exactly be helped by the exuberant technical analyst attempting to bully police officers into submission, even if it was only going to be an informal interview.

She hoped.

The last thing she needed was for someone to take a look at her arrest history and come to some kind of ridiculous conclusion.

Garcia was reluctant to leave, but apparently, she didn't want to spend too much time arguing with Emily or getting harassed by journalists. She waved goodbye as she reversed out of the parking lot.

Ignoring the questions pushed at her, Emily stepped inside with a deep breath, half expecting to be tackled to the ground. When that didn't happen, she proceeded to the front desk.

'I'd like to speak to Detective Stapledon please.'

'Name?'

'Emily Prentiss.'

There was a flash of recognition in the officer's eyes, but she said nothing, directing Emily to take a seat. She curled her arms around her stomach, feeling the nausea starting to rise. The last time she'd been in an interrogation room was Seattle. They'd waited until her release from hospital, and dragged her down to the station for questioning, an hour's worth of I don't know and I can't recalls in conjunction with the rest of the evidence being enough to formally press charges.

Here was different.

Here, she knew that she wasn't responsible for this; at least not directly.

Leland Stapledon was in his late forties, tall, blond hair, strong chin. His expression was a little more somber than it had been the last time she'd seen him, almost two years ago.

'Miss Prentiss.' She stood to greet him, and shook the proffered hand.

'Detective.'

'You're a difficult woman to contact, Miss Prentiss – I've had people trying to track you down all afternoon.'

'I've been out of town,' she replied. Not a lie, but nowhere near the whole truth. 'My…a friend called me this morning to inform me of the news.' The words sounded so stiff, so formal, belying the chronic ache she felt in her chest. Mother would have been proud.

'Of course. Can I buy you a coffee?'

Emily raised her eyebrow. Of all the outcomes, it was probably the least expected. It had been a long day – hell, a long week – and coffee sounded really, really good.

The back exit was decidedly less blocked, for which Emily was grateful. There was a diner less than a block away, no doubt catering to police officers on break. A dark-haired waitress gave Detective Stapledon a nod as they entered, gesturing that she would be with them soon.

Emily stared at the menu, knowing that Stapledon's gaze was affixed on her. She didn't particularly need the menu, having practically attained a Ph. D in typical diner offerings over the years, but it was the only barrier she really had.

'Moccaccino with Splenda and the pecan pie,' Emily ordered when the waitress approached. No longer afforded an excuse to avoid eye contact, she set the menu down.

Stapledon gave his order, with an affectionate smile, and the waitress tipped him a wink in reply. In any other circumstance, Emily might have suppressed a smirk.

For a long while, neither of them spoke, the tense silence hanging thick in the air.

'I'm sorry about Seattle,' he said finally, which wasn't the line she had expected. Usually the response was a variation upon "is it true that you killed the rest of your team?'

'Me too,' Emily murmured, refusing to meet his eyes.

'A lot of people…thought that you were guilty, but seeing your team work together…there's no way you would have hurt them.'

But I did, she said to herself. To Stapledon, she said nothing.

Fortunately, she was spared further scrutiny when their coffee arrived. Emily relished the warmth of the mug, wrapping her hands around it. Caught in the throes of late fall, D.C. was wet and miserable, but at least it wasn't snowing.

Feeling the tears that were starting to swell, Emily bit her lip.

'I'm sorry,' Stapledon apologized. 'Today has been hard enough already; I didn't mean to make it worse. I have to ask, though…'

'I was in Pennsylvania this morning,' Emily told him, anticipating the line of questioning. 'You can check flight records.'

'When did you last speak to your mother?'

'I called her this morning – it was probably right before… Nothing sounded out of the ordinary. She wasn't afraid, or angry. She was just…normal. Asked me why I hadn't answered her calls, what the hell I was doing in Pennsylvania…'

'What were you doing in Pennsylvania?' Stapledon asked. Emily's sigh was silent – internal. Of course he'd be asking these kinds of questions. He was a detective. That's what he did.

'Independent contracting,' she told him, which was really, the best way she could put it. To explain better, she pulled out her wallet and passed over her Private Investigator's license. While Dean was content with impersonation, that was a line Emily wasn't quite willing to cross – the license gave her a legal right to be investigating, even if most of the work was technically pro bono.

A fact that hadn't escaped Stapledon.

'We checked your financials –there are significant withdrawals, but no income has been reported since your resignation from the Bureau.' He evidently sensed the distress she felt, because he followed up with, 'I'm sorry for this, but you understand that even in cases like this, family members are the first suspects we look towards.'

Emily nodded. While profiling serial killers wasn't exactly Homicide 101, she did know the basics. 'I wasn't doing it for the money. I was doing it because I needed to do it.'

He seemed satisfied with the answer, but Emily was hyperaware of the fact that she was being profiled. It irked her as much today as it had a year ago – she still had secrets to hide, even if the secrets were a little bit different. She knew that picture, the mask that he must have seen – the mask of a broken woman who didn't have anything else left.

It wasn't a mask.

'Do you know anyone that might have wanted to hurt your mother?'

Emily shook her head. 'I know that being an Ambassador isn't exactly the most thankful of jobs, but she never…we didn't talk about that.' They hadn't spoken about anything, really, in a long time. For a long time after Seattle, Emily had kept her distance from everyone – even those that tried to help. She was afraid that she would hurt them too. More than anything else, it pained her to know that their last conversation had been stilted, short and more than just a little bit strained.

Barring ghosts, or Ouija boards, or resurrection of some kind, she would never speak to her mother again. Knowing that she lived in a world where ghosts and Ouija boards and resurrection were viable methods of speaking to the dead didn't make it a damn bit easier.

'I think that's all I need to know,' Stapledon said quietly as he took a final sip from his coffee mug. 'Here's my card, in case you have any questions.' He handed her the small rectangle of white cardboard, and Emily stared at it.

'Can I see her?' she asked, as he stood.

'The body was already formally identified, there's no need to…'

'I want to,' Emily cut in, before he could offer any arguments otherwise. 'I need to.'

Stapledon was reluctant, but had no grounds on which to refuse her request. They paid for their food and left, the trip back to the police station conducted in relative silence.

There was nothing more to say.

Emily liked Stapledon well enough, but small talk somehow seemed inappropriate for the situation. Fortunately, it wasn't a long walk, and Emily found herself facing the next agonizing task of the day.

The morgue was significantly colder than the rest of the police station, and Emily tugged her jacket around herself just that little bit tighter. Stapledon pulled one of the drawers open, and gave Emily a nod. He stepped back far enough to give her some privacy, but stayed close enough to keep her in sight.

Never dismiss a suspect. No matter how good the alibi, no matter how virtuous the behavior. Emily found it interesting that he was so ready to profess her innocence regarding Seattle.

Her breath caught in her throat as she pulled the sheet back, revealing her mother's head and shoulders. Her pose was regal, even in death, though the skin was pale and waxy, and there was absolutely no mistaking the fact that Emily was staring at a dead body.

Her mother's body.

She had seen bodies before. Dozens of bodies. Hundreds, even. People who were burnt to death, people who were shot, people who were torn apart by werewolves. They wouldn't let her see the bodies of the team after Seattle, and she'd almost broken down after seeing the photos during the trial.

Now, she was clinging to her composure by a thread, the veneer slowly cracking into spidery-thin veins. The moment she was alone, behind locked doors, those cracks would widen, splinter, the pieces falling away.

For a little while.

Then she'd build it right back up again, pretending that nothing had ever happened.

Her hand trailed over the rest of the sheet, and she hesitated.

'Two gunshot wounds to the chest,' Stapledon told her. 'Do yourself a favor. Don't look at more than you need to.' Emily tore her eyes away from her mother's face, and pulled the sheet back over. 'I understand you're upset,' he said, when she joined him at the door. 'But don't underestimate my people – we will find out who did this.'

Telling him otherwise wasn't worth the effort. Instead, Emily said, 'When's the autopsy?'

'Tomorrow – if you can provide me with a contact number, I can give you a call once you can have your mother transferred to a funeral home.'

Emily came to the suddenly realization that as the next of kin, she would be the one that had to deal with choosing a coffin, and picking flowers, and all those other painful details.

It was going to be a long week.

It was almost five when Dean pulled into the visitor's parking lot of the D.C hotel. It wasn't the same place he'd stayed in last time; though he doubted they'd remember him, he wanted to maintain some semblance of anonymity.

Castiel in tow, he made his way to reception, credit card bearing the name "Eric McCreary" in hand. Eric McCreary was in town on business with colleagues, and required two double rooms. The card processed without drama, which was something of a relief – with everything that was going on, he didn't want "arrested for credit card fraud" thrown into the mix.

Dean passed one of the spare keycards over to Castiel, who stared at it with some confusion.

'It works the same way as a key,' Dean told him. 'You just shove it in the slot, and then "whammo!"'

He was more than happy to step back and let the angel take care of opening the door – Castiel was frustrated at first, then pleased when the door opened, though anyone who didn't know him would have probably missed the signs of emotion.

The first room was of a decent size – larger than the ones they usually got at nameless, side of the road motels, but at the same time, it seemed more stifling. The first thing he did was break out the salt and run a line across the door, and underneath the windows. They were fifteen stories up, but he sure as hell wasn't taking any chances.

While waiting for Emily to call, Dean decided that the most useful course of action would be to test the mattress. Five points for comfort. Two for springiness.

It was almost six o'clock when she finally did call, and her voice was both tired and melancholy.

'Hey, Garcia and I are grabbing dinner – what did you want?'

What he wanted was roast beef with potatoes and carrots. Sunday dinner was always a big event at the Braeden house, and Ben would always make sure they had apple pie and ice-cream afterwards.

'Subway,' he settled on, because burgers every freaking night got a bit boring, and if he lived past forty, then he wanted to make sure he wasn't going to die of high cholesterol.

Here's to a normal, apple pie life, Sammy.

He'd broken that promise, ten times over. The life he was living now seemed just as strange – if not stranger – than the life he'd had with Sam. Things got confusing when you started working the other side of the line.

'Garcia should stay here tonight,' Dean said, and he heard Emily relaying the suggestion.

'You think someone might be after her?'

'I don't want to take any chances.'

'She wants to know if she can bring her boyfriend.'

Dean paused. Sure, let's turn it into one giant demon-hunting party. That won't attract any attention.

'If demons are responsible, then he too could be a target,' Castiel provided. Dean rolled his eyes.

'Sure, bring the whole gang along.' He was glad that they'd booked two rooms now, because if Garcia was bringing her boyfriend along, things would probably get crowded. Not to mention awkward. "Happy families" wasn't a game that Dean was good at. Sam was the one that had wanted a normal life. Dean had his chance, and he'd walked away.

Anyone else and they'd have to attach a freaking side-car to the Impala. Washington D.C. was seriously cramping his style. Too many people, too many problems.

While they waited, he set up Sammy's old laptop. The news sites still had pitifully little information, but then, Dean usually left the database hacking to other people.

Here, the murder of a diplomat was pretty big news; the journalists didn't seem particularly happy about the tight-lipped attitude of the police.

'What do you think?' he asked Castiel, who was standing by the window, staring out over the city.

'There is much darkness in this city.'

Dean grunted. 'They call that politics. Freaking monsters are easier to understand.'

'Humans are…strange creatures.'

'You're just figuring that out now?'

'Lucifer's plan is flawed in its execution, but his ideals-'

Dean cut the angel off before he could speak any further. 'This is not "sympathize with the devil" day, alright?'

There was a pause.

'I was not attempting to justify his actions; I was questioning God's.'

'Oh.' That was better. Maybe.

'There are some who are able to provide me with information, but it may take some time.'

'I get the feeling we'll be here for a while anyway,' Dean said. Castiel nodded, and then teleported out.

It felt strange, being alone in the hotel room, but then, he wasn't alone for long. It was twenty minutes later when Emily sent him a message, asking to meet them down in the lobby. He was a little suspicious for a minute, before he remembered that you needed a keycard to use the elevator. That didn't preclude the possibility of a demon attack, though, so he tucked his gun into the back of his pants, hoping that the cut of the jacket would hide the bulge.

He was hoping to avoid attention, but apparently that wasn't on the books – Penelope Garcia was wearing a lime green bubble skirt, with a ridiculously flowery blouse, and the man who he assumed to be her boyfriend wasn't much better. In jeans and a t-shirt, Emily was the least conspicuous, but already they were attracting stares from other hotel guests.

Garcia gave him an enthusiastic greeting, introducing him to the boyfriend – Kevin Lynch, also a technical analyst with the FBI, apparently. He was hanging out with way too many FBI agents lately.

Emily gave him a grim smile, but said nothing, as they made their way back to the bank of elevators.

'How did it go?' he asked, in a low voice, falling into step beside her.

She shrugged. 'As well as could be expected. They don't have any leads yet, but they didn't arrest me and toss me in a prison cell either, so that's something.' She sighed. 'On top of that, I need to co-ordinate with my mother's assistant to sort out funeral arrangements…' Her face twisted into a frown. 'You don't mind staying in D.C. for a few more days?'

'We're staying until we find out what happened,' he replied. 'If there was a demon involved, we need to know.'

'Why would a demon kill my mother?' she asked, her voice weary. 'There are easier ways to get my attention.'

Dean shook his head.

He didn't know that answer to that one.

Dinner was a mostly silent affair, Garcia and Kevin both setting up their laptops. The hotel room was starting to look like a computer store.

Emily leaned back into the pillows of the bed, closing her eyes. It was so damn tempting to sleep, but if she did, she knew that the nightmares would come. The trouble was, staying awake seemed just as uninviting.

Logically, it made sense that they'd have to look into this. Thanks to the incident in the bar, they knew that there were demons on the prowl. Emily had never met a demon that used bullets to kill someone, but then, the only demon she'd really met was the one that had attacked them just yesterday. Dean was the expert, here.

If the murderer were human, then they'd be on Emily's turf. She didn't know which outcome she preferred.

Her mind was pushing through the same thoughts over and over again. She's dead, Emily. You could have saved her. You could have told her what was out there. No amount of rationalization, no amount of logical rebuttal would stop those voices.

'I'm gonna go have a shower,' she muttered, grabbing her bag, and the keycard to the other room. It wasn't particularly late, but it had been a long day for all of them. She could already see Kevin starting to yawn.

'We might go to bed,' Garcia said in agreement. 'If we get some sleep now, we can keep working tomorrow.'

Dean didn't seem particularly overjoyed about being stuck in the room with them, but Emily wasn't in the mood for caring.

The hot water stung like a bitch.

Castiel had healed all of her bar fight injuries, but when you had the water running as hot as it would go, it tended to sting no matter how uninjured you were.

She let her mind melt away.

Easier said than done.

She put on her dress pants, and the one shirt she had that would be actually suitable for a hotel bar; most of her more sophisticated clothes were still in her closet at the condo, probably musty as anything by now. She didn't have any heels with her, but then, the amount of drinking she planned on doing, flats were probably better anyway.

Emily walked softly to the elevators; letting Dean on to where she was going was more trouble than it was worth. Tonight was about blocking everything out.

The first drink she ordered was a White Lady; her mother's drink. Emily herself preferred her alcohol neat or straight up.

The second drink she ordered was scotch. It burned on the way down, but that was the whole idea.

The third drink she ordered was scotch again, but before she had the chance to drink it, she felt the shadow looming over her.

'What do you want?' Emily muttered, not turning around. Dean watched as she turned the glass on the table, fingers trailing through the ring of moisture.

'You could have told me where you were going,' he said.

'And what would you have done? Handcuffed me to the towel rack?'

'Made sure you didn't drink yourself into a coma, for starters.'

'No offense, Dean, but when you met me, I was drinking myself to sleep most nights.'

'How'd that work out for you?' he asked, shaking his head. 'We should go back upstairs – it's not exactly safe down here.' Especially not with her trying to drown her sorrows, he added mentally.

Emily shook her head. 'No,' she said. 'I am sick of this bullshit; you can go back to your cozy little duprass with Mr. "I only have one facial expression" and leave me the hell out of it.'

Dean sat down on the stool beside her, flagging the bartender down. 'Could I get some water, please?' He turned to face Emily. 'First of all, we both know that God doesn't give a crap about what any of us do. Secondly, if I have a duprass with anyone, it's S…It's not Castiel. Thirdly, if you really want to take Bokononism seriously, then we can go upstairs and pretend that we're happy.'

The bartender passed him the glass of water, which he gave to Emily. She stared at him for several seconds before downing the glass in one gulp.

'Isn't that what we're always doing?' she said, and for a moment, Dean wasn't quite sure whether she was talking to him. 'Pretending that we're happy?' She paused. 'Which is your favorite?'

Dean frowned. 'My favorite what?'

'Vonnegut, genius. You like Cat's Cradle?'

'I like Mother Night.'

She nodded. 'Mother Night is awesome. Here's to fighting that fight without anyone ever realizing it, right?'

'Right.'

'It's funny…most people usually say Slaughterhouse-Five.'

'I guess I don't like being told that there's no such thing as free will.'

'Is there?' She stared at him, an utterly forlorn look in her eyes.

He shook his head. He didn't know that answer to that question. Once upon a time, he would have said "yes, absolutely," but there had been a general air of hopelessness to things lately. 'Come on. Let's get back.'

Emily was a little wobbly on her feet, but she refused any help walking to the elevator. Not as drunk as she seemed, apparently.

She started crying the moment the doors shut. Loud, wracking sobs that would probably have embarrassed her if she had the capacity to care. The events of the day were finally coming to a fruition.

Dean pulled her into a one-armed hug.

'I'm sorry,' Emily murmured. 'It's just…she's dead, Dean. My mother is dead.'

'I know,' he said, feeling a little awkward. She was looking to him for comfort, and he wasn't quite sure he could give it.

Dean Winchester was no stranger to death. Really, he had a more intimate knowledge of what it was like than most people, having died no less than three times now. He didn't count Broward County, though, which probably would have put the tally up into the hundreds. He could, with some accuracy, tell Emily just what awaited her mother in the afterlife, but that wasn't what she wanted to hear.

What she wanted to hear was that everything was going to be okay.

So Dean Winchester lied.

He let a hand brush the tears from her cheek. 'Everything's going to be okay,' he said, and it didn't take a genius to realize that she didn't believe him.

Their lips were hovering, just inches apart, and Dean knew it was a bad idea, but he'd never really been one for doing the smart thing. It had been months since they'd first kissed, and he still remembered how it felt

This kiss tasted like salt and whiskey. Salt from the tears, and whiskey from the sorrows that she'd been drowning down in the hotel bar.

They pulled apart as the elevator stopped at their floor.

'Emily…'

'I'm a big girl, I can take no for an answer,' Emily told him, the fierceness in her voice belying the melancholy in her eyes.

There was a long silence.

Finally, Dean said, 'What if I don't want to say no?'

She gave a wavering smile. 'I can take yes for an answer too.'

'Good.'

Castiel was still out on his information-gathering mission, and Penelope and Kevin were both asleep in the room next door, which meant that they had a hotel room to themselves.

The first thing Dean did was draw a new line of salt across the door; he would be really, really pissed if a demon decided to burst in on them tonight, of all nights.

He shucked his clothes quickly, and Emily did the same, their actions interspersed by intense, rapid-fire kisses. Tonight wasn't about romance – it was about passion, and maybe a little bit of stress relief. Dean liked and respected Emily a lot, but he knew – and he was pretty sure that she knew too – that he could never do the whole romance thing.

It had barely lasted a few months with Lisa, and even if Emily was a hunter rather than a housewife, he couldn't exactly imagine them still hunting together in ten years, he taking down a djinn, or a vampire, or a wendigo while she took the kids to school.

Really, though, that wasn't something he was trying to think about. He was trying to think about the woman whose throat he was kissing. Foreplay wasn't exactly on the books; it was hard, fast, and immensely satisfying, but Dean was still content to wrap an arm around her, dark hair splayed across his chest.

Sometimes it was nice to have and to hold, without all that extra stuff. For all they knew, the world would go to hell tomorrow. Sometimes, Dean wondered if the world had gone to hell a long time ago, and the forces of good and evil were just catching up.

The question was, how long would it take?

Emily's phone rang at a ridiculously ungodly hour the next morning. Her head was pounding, even though she hadn't exactly had that much to drink, and her body was pleasantly aching in all the right places. She rolled off of Dean, who started to stir, and reached over to the nightstand.

The Caller I.D. read "Detective Stapledon," and if it was anyone else, she would have been pretty damn pissed.

'Hello?'

'Ag…Miss Prentiss? Detective Stapledon here. I just thought you'd want to know that we just arrested Peter Straczynski for your mother's murder.'

Emily blinked.

'Peter?' she asked, a little incredulous. The man had been her mother's assistant, and while she'd only met him a few times, he didn't seem the murdering type. But then, some of them never did.

'He's already confessed – there were some altercations, and according to several of your mother's associates, she was on the verge of firing him.'

'Okay…' She heard the shakes in her own voice. It all seemed so anticlimactic, so purposeless. Her mother's death had absolutely nothing to do with the damn apocalypse. It was simultaneously a weight off her shoulders, and a knife to the gut.

She felt kind of empty, as she hung up the phone. That the case was solved gave some kind of closure, but the fact remained that her mother was dead. She would never be coming back.

'Whozat?' Dean asked, his voice a mumble.

'Detective Stapledon,' she told him. 'They made an arrest.'

He sat up suddenly. 'No demon?'

'No demon,' she confirmed. 'We can rest easy. At least for today.'

Dean gave a hollow laugh. 'Somehow, I doubt it.'

'Yeah…' she agreed. 'I guess I should probably find a funeral home.' She shook her head. 'You know, I don't think I even have any clothes for something like this.'

'You want to make a run back to your condo?' he asked. 'Pick up a few things.'

It was almost pathetic how much those words made her feel better. There were a few things that she'd left behind that she wanted to grab.

Breakfast came first – with Castiel still not back, it was just the four of them. Emily was hyperaware of the suggestive looks that Garcia kept shooting her way. She rolled her eyes. There was no way in hell she was going to discuss the situation with Dean still in the room, so it would just have to wait until later.

Kevin and Garcia stayed at the hotel, while Dean and Emily made the drive to her condo. It wasn't a long drive, but the Metro wasn't a particularly appealing option to either of them. Even the elevator ride up was a more comforting experience than she was willing to admit. Out of all the places Emily Prentiss had lived, this was the one that felt most like home.

It took less than five seconds between opening the door and realizing that there was something very, very wrong.

They both drew their weapons simultaneously, sharing a glance.

The man came out of nowhere, flinging Dean across the room. He fell to the ground, unconscious. At least, she hoped like hell that he was unconscious, because she really, really didn't know what she'd do if he ended up dead too.

Her finger squeezed against the trigger, firing half a dozen bullet's into the creature's chest, each having as little effect as the last. Demon, her mind said, with the addendum of fuck.

She had no salt, no iron, and a ridiculously small amount of hunting experience. Dean might have been able to get out of this one. Emily didn't have a chance.

But the demon didn't do anything. It just stared.

She kept her feet firmly planted on the ground as it took a single step towards her, its eyes blood red with a black pupil. 'What do you want?' she asked, determined not to let the fear enter her voice.

The demon grinned. 'I want to make a deal.'

When Dean woke, it was with a splitting headache, and the sinking feeling that the world had gone to hell.

He remembered Pennsylvania, and the long drive to D.C., and Emily…

Emily.

He stood quickly, the world spinning around him. Blood was trickling down the side of his face, but none of that was important. What was important was grabbing Emily, and getting the hell out of there.

He saw the blood before he saw her. Just a small pool of it – his heart sunk a little, but not too much. Not until he saw the wound in her chest, and the stillness of her form. He put a hand to her cheek; her skin was soft and cold.

No, please no.

She wasn't breathing.

It seemed almost pointless to check for a pulse, but he did anyway, hoping like hell that he would feel even just a soft, slow, beat.

There was nothing.

The demon had killed her, and left him.

Why?

'I'm sorry,' he whispered, voice choked with tears.

He heard the distinctive sound of a door being kicked in, but he didn't move.

He heard the distinctive sound of cuffs being clicked around his wrists, but he didn't move.

The cop dragged him to his feet, and he couldn't quite take his eyes of the body.

Another person dead, because of him.

The world really had gone to hell.