Author's Note: As you all know by now, we are in full swing on the Profiler's Choice Awards hosted on "Chit Chat on Author's Corner". And we'd like to offer an extra incentive to get those nominations rolling in. For the next five people to complete the nomination ballot in its entirety, I would be happy to write a oneshot of your pairing preference (hetero, slash or femslash, doesn't matter!). We have an abundance of incredible stories and authors to choose from this year and we have already received many wonderful nominations. Just to refresh your memory though, tonnie2001969 and myself (ilovetvalot) have removed ourselves from eligibility in the interest of avoiding all appearances of self-promotion. But, we want to make this an incredible experience for each one of you and give you a well-rounded final voting selection to choose from. So let's all put on our reading caps and pick our favorites!
Also, don't forget to sign up for our newest challenge at the forum. We're honoring Halloween with our first ever "Candy Land Challenge" and signups run through September 30th! Details are at the forum!
We also have a great new interview with another fellow CM author this week. Come and get to know THUNDERBRAT.
As always, guys, Happy Reading!
Comfort Amidst the Chaos
Prompt: The Colony - "Comfort in Chaos"
Jennifer Jareau bit her lip as she stared down into the busy bullpen below her, agents hustling to and fro, filed drawers slamming shut, the low din a soothing balm to her rattled soul. God, she was going to miss the comfort she found in this daily chaos that was the Behavioral Analysis Unit.
Whether it was running interference between David Rossi and the press he hated, juggling Morgan's over crowded "social calendar" so that his lady loves didn't manage to disrupt the harmony of the team, or soothing a feather that Dr. Spencer Reid had inadvertently ruffled with his well meaning endless chatter, life here among her team...her family...had never been boring.
Watching as Emily Prentiss rolled her eyes at some joke Morgan had just made, her open palm connecting with his bald head quickly, JJ swallowed a watery laugh. God, the idea of not experiencing this camaraderie on a daily basis broke her heart. But, she knew she was making the right decision...the only decision she could make given the circumstances.
"Second thoughts, Agent Jareau?" a cool voice asked from behind her.
Silently cursing the decidedly unwelcome intrusion into her private thoughts, JJ turned to raise an eyebrow at the woman that had handed out her options only a few short days ago. "Ma'am?" she bit out briskly, forcing herself to maintain whatever semblance of manners she might still possess.
"I asked," Erin Strauss said, moving closer to JJ's side and propping her forearms against the metal railing as she, too, peered down into the lion's den, "if you were having second thoughts. There's still time to change your mind. There are, after all, other solutions available to you," she said softly.
"I'm not interested in the so-called solutions you suggested, Director Strauss," JJ said with cold resolve, stiffening with each word she spoke.
"He means that much to you then?" Strauss drawled curiously, shaking her pale head. "So much that you're willing to give up a career that you've worked very hard to build? I'm not sure whether you're very brave or very foolish, Agent Jareau."
"Then you've obviously never been in love, have you, Director Strauss?" JJ replied, her voice clipped as she offered her current boss a chilling glare.
Casting a lingering look toward David Rossi's closed office door, Erin murmured, "Once."
Nothing escaped JJ's watchful gaze and the wistful note evident in the older woman's tone could not be ignored. "Well," JJ said softly, for lack of anything better to say, her surprise at the answer evident.
"Yes, even I have fallen prey to the fickle yearnings of the heart, Agent Jareau," Strauss informed her with quiet dignity. "I chose a different path."
"Obviously," JJ demurred, averting her eyes from the other woman's steady stare. "Do you regret your choice?" JJ asked, unable to help herself.
"Occasionally," Strauss said with quiet sincerity. "But there was no way to reach my current position without making some sacrifices along the way. What you really want to know was if it was worth it," Erin informed the other woman with a tight smile.
"Perhaps," JJ murmured, inclining her head slightly, acknowledging the truth behind the statement.
"Honestly," Strauss said softly, "I don't know. It was a choice, and I made it for better or worse," she said with a small shrug.
"That much, I can sympathize with," JJ said evenly, uncomfortable with this newly discovered common ground she shared with her nemesis. Wasn't it this very woman that had forced her hand into this life-changing decision?
"I didn't have a choice, you know, Agent Jareau," Strauss offered quietly. "Pressing you into leaving the team wasn't what I wanted."
"And what were my other alternatives, Director Strauss?" JJ ground out, her tone sharpening once again. "Oh yes! Now I remember," JJ smiled with no hint of warmth. "Either end the most successful relationship that I've ever been involved in or take a transfer to the New York field office. Those weren't options," she rapped out. "Each involved losing the man I love in one form or another, and you know it. Tell me, exactly why do you despise Agent Hotchner so much that you have to periodically play this game of emotional roulette with him?"
Raising her chin defiantly, Strauss shook her head. "I don't despise Agent Hotchner. In point of fact, I quite admire him."
"Really?" JJ snorted, doubt filling every syllable.
"Agent Hotchner inspires a level of loyalty in his subordinates most Chiefs only dream of having, Agent Jareau. In a Bureau filled with backbiting and one-upmanship, the devotion that agents show to your Unit Chief is virtually unheard of. So, yes, I admire that. However, that doesn't mean that I can excuse blatant disregard for regulation and adherence to the rules.
"There was nothing blatant about our relationship, Director Strauss. The only reason that you ever found out was hearing Jack call me 'mom' at our annual unit picnic. Otherwise, you'd have remained indefinitely clueless," JJ shook her head, tightening her hands around the metal railing as memories of that very moment came unbidden.
"Really," Strauss said, smiling without rancor. "You, Agent Jareau, have been intimately involved with your Unit Chief since one very late night at the office three years ago. You gave the table in the break room a new purpose, I believe."
Eyes dilating, JJ swallowed as she felt the blood rising in her cheeks. "How did you know about that?" JJ whispered, turning to stare in mixed awe and embarrassment.
"Because," Strauss said with a small chuckle, "I was thirsty. You and your little encounter stood between me and my Diet Coke. But, in the interest of preserving everyone's dignity, I simply dealt with being parched."
"I've known," she confirmed with a small, almost imperceptible nod. "And to my knowledge, I was the only person that knew. But Agent Hotchner's proclamation changed things. There were some very important people at that picnic. Some very important people with very large ears. I did the best I could for you whether you want to believe that or not, Agent."
"Why would you have let us..."
Cutting her off, Strauss lifted a regal hand, silencing JJ. "I've never deliberately begrudged anyone a modicum of happiness, Agent Jareau. I would have maintained my silence as long as I could. After Jack's misstep, that luxury became an impossibility and for that, I'm sorry." Erin lips twisted ruefully as JJ gaped, slack jawed. "I know," she commiserated, her eyes crinkling, "it's quite a shock to learn that the resident Antichrist is actually just a measly fallen angel with a bent halo and a broken wing."
Attempting to shake off her stupor, JJ blinked rapidly as she searched for something salient to say. "I suppose that an apology would sound trite and weak, wouldn't it?" JJ asked faintly, swallowing hard as she wondered if she had indeed been transported to some fourth dimension where opposites reigned supreme.
"A smidge," Strauss sighed, dropping her gaze back to the bullpen. "But, I understand. And, honestly, I don't mind. It's easier when you're a woman in a powerful position to allow people to believe what they want. Fear is a powerful motivator AND intimidator. It's worked well for me."
"So why share your secret with me?" JJ asked, more confused than ever.
"Because," Erin said softly, "I wanted to tell you that I admire your choice, Agent Jareau. Twenty-five years ago, I chose the opposite direction as you. You see what I've become, good and bad. I'm going to be interested to see how it might have gone if I'd chosen the other path." Turning to extend her hand to JJ, Strauss offered the younger woman a genuine smile. "I hope you and Agent Hotchner are happy together, Agent Jareau. It's truly been an honor," she said, quickly departing, her steps sure as she slid down the corridor.
And staring after her, JJ shook her head. In the course of mere minutes, everything she'd thought she knew had been turned around. Foe was actually friend? Looking back down into the maze of desks below, JJ shook her head. Not only was there comfort in the chaos, but apparently compassion lurked nearby as well.
Author's Note 2 - Also guys, please don't forget that if you'd like to advertise the awards on your own profile pages or stories, there's a short blurb on my (ilovetvalot) and Tonnie's (tonnie2001969) profile page for you to copy and paste if you choose! Thanks again for reading!