Author's Note: So, it's been a while, our friends. Sorry for the delay in posting. But, I swear, I think my co-author and I have found a way to keep writing. Ton and I have devised a new strategy. With eleven ongoing epics (and two more that we had not even began to post yet), we've come up with a plan. Each month we are going to concentrate on bringing you chapters of FOUR of the eleven stories we have out there. Each month, we'll alternate. Now, that doesn't mean that you won't get the odd chapter of the other seven stories ongoing during the month if the muse cooperates, but we want to bring you well written material and we think this will help. You'll also see oneshots, challenge pieces, and post eps (especially with our Shakespeare Series) during the month, too, but we'll only concentrate on four epics during any month. Make sense? I hope so.

For the month of April, we'll be concentrating on the epics, "Southern Traditions", "The Girl Who Lived", "In Sunshine or In Shadow", and "Sweet Silver Lining".

At any rate, those of you not familiar with our work, please swing by our forum, "Chit Chat on Author's Corner" for ongoing discussion threads and challenges. We'd love to have you.


Closing his apartment door with a soft click, Spencer Reid pressed his back against the cool wood, his eyes scanning the familiar surroundings of his home. Although, he thought almost clinically, nothing felt familiar now, the proverbial rug having been jerked from beneath his feet.

It still didn't feel real. Sure, he'd gone through the motions...sitting in the waiting room awaiting news...carrying the coffin to a final resting site...standing there while some robed man said a final solemn goodbye to his friend.

But nothing had felt real. Nothing was tangible. Nothing made sense, no matter how hard he attempted to analyze the entire situation.

Perhaps he was crazy, after all.

He could almost hear Emily's laughter in the silent apartment. She, of all his team, had been the person that had constantly reassured him that he wasn't crazy. Maybe a little unwell, she would tell him with an exaggerated wink, but never crazy.

Blinking back tears, he realized that he'd never have those kind, if a little comical, reassurances again. At least, not from her.

She was gone.

Moving toward his threadbare couch, he sank down on the cushions and shook his head, the empty room merely remaining the same despite his denial. It was surreal. He knew everything that had transpired was real, but there was still this sense of unreality. This feeling that something, somehow, didn't fit.

Leaning his head back as he attempted to relax his tense shoulders, he thought back over the past several weeks.

He'd known something had been bothering Emily. Never one to talk about her feelings, a trait they'd shared in spades, he'd been loathe to push her for answers that she wasn't ready to give. He'd watched Morgan suffer her wrath when he'd lightly pushed for explanations, and, always being one that learned from others mishaps, hadn't been anxious to experience the same. Maybe it had been the coward in him. At the time, though, he'd put it down to self-preservation.

Now, he knew differently. One of his biggest regrets would always be not asking her about Lauren Reynolds when he'd heard the name. Could this tragedy have been avoided if only he'd been a better friend?

Squeezing his eyes closed as they burned, he inhaled deeply. It would be so easy to lose himself find some back door dealer and allow his body the drugs it so desperately craved. His hands trembled with the need to feed his dark addiction. But only the image of Emily's disappointed face hovering on the fringes of his mind kept him still. After they'd been taken hostage in Cyrus' compound, she was the one that had stayed with him through the weekend afterward, keeping him sane and on the straight, narrow path that he'd yearned to stray from.

She'd fought for him. For his sobriety. Harder than anyone had ever fought for him. Even with her own pain, she'd put him first.

No one had ever battled for him like that. Before or since.

And now she was gone. In the blink of an eye, his life had changed course, never to return to that pathway again. And he was no more prepared for it now than he'd been the day Jason Gideon had plucked him from his graduate abnormal psychology course and offered him the opportunity of a lifetime.

Sinking his teeth into his lower lip, Spencer Reid shivered.

None of this made sense. Realistically, he knew why Emily had run. Her desire to protect those she cared for had outweighed any fears she'd held for her own life. But, the idea that she hadn't trusted them enough to confide in them...that worry lingered.

Cursing his memory and its ability to recall conversations at will, moments with Emily played like a film projector in his active mind. Her teasing of his addiction to all things Star Trek, her affectionate wink when she'd seen his new haircut, the way her voice had broke every time he'd stood at her side while they'd given bad news to a victim's family...that look of revulsion when she'd discussed death with him.

Catching his breath as one conversation in particular resonated in his mind, he could still hear her disdainful tone whispering against his ear and see her nose, slightly curling in disgust. She hadn't wanted to be be embalmed, he recalled. She'd wanted to be cremated. She'd thought polishing an empty shell had been wrong.

Sitting up a little straighter, the blurry edges of his memory sharpened, recalling the exact conversation. They'd been on a case. Girls going missing, turning up later embalmed...

And she'd been very clear about her wishes.

She'd said it in front of the team. In front of JJ...and Hotch.

Feeling the first wave of doubt assail him, Reid struggled to keep calm.

And why hadn't JJ allowed him to see Emily one last say a final goodbye? And where had the Ambassador been for Emily's funeral? Even strained familial relations wouldn't have kept the regal woman from saying goodbye to her only child, would it? Public perception would have driven the politician to make a perfunctory appearance, wouldn't it?

Gears shifted and clicked within him as Spencer Reid's heart thumped against his rib cage.

JJ...State Department...covert operations...relocations...

"Oh, my God," Reid breathed as perspiration beaded on his forehead, his living room suddenly becoming as hot as a kiln. "She's not dead."

Closing his eyes again as he processed this new information, his fingers itched to reach for the scream his news to his colleagues. But something held him back...

Grim knowledge.

As long as Emily remained "dead", she was safe from Ian Doyle and his retribution. And the more individuals aware that she lived, then the more danger existed for her cover to be blown.

Then her alleged death would become a reality.

Because one thing was certain.

Ian Doyle had developed a taste for blood...and he wanted the finest vintage...that of one Lauren Reynolds…Emily Prentiss.

Settling back in his seat, Reid nodded jerkily. For that reason alone, he would take Emily Prentiss' secret to his grave.

And resting his head against the back of the couch as he let his eyes drift close, he finally began to relax.