Author's Note: When I finished The Phoenix's Child, there were a lot of requests to tell the story of how Emily and Elizabeth would finally come out of hiding. Well, here you are! I know Paget is coming back next season (hurrah!) but this follows the path of the Phoenix's Child, which picked up after "Coda" and departed from the events of "Valhalla" and "Lauren." That being said, I've taken the same backstory revealed in those episodes and used it in this story because frankly, there's no improving on that magnificence.
Nora Brewster leaned forward and pushed her fingers through her blond hair, squinting at the dark roots. Yep. Grey.
There wasn't a lot, but when your hair was as dark as Nora's, there didn't have to be.
She let out a sigh and straightened up, running her hand over her hair. After six years of home bleaches, it felt like straw. With that grey, maybe she could go back to her natural color.
She pulled out a strand and squinted again, considering. If she chopped off all the blond right now, she'd look like a Marine. But hair grew, and God, did she need a better job. The short hair would look more professional than this bleached horror, which had never done her any favors besides hiding her identity from the international criminal who wanted her dead.
A gigantic favor. Still, the blond could probably go.
She flicked off the bathroom light and stepped out into the hall. Her bedroom door was wide open. She stopped.
She'd left it half-open.
Every muscle went tense. She spun on her heel and bolted into her daughter's room. The bed was empty.
Even as her belly turned to ice, Nora registered that the blankets on the bed were pushed back, as if its small inhabitant had gotten out under her own power. She took a quick breath and turned again. As she moved heel-toe and silent through the hallway, she darted her eyes sideways to check the windows. The security bars were still up, the screens still whole. Nobody had gotten in that way.
But she didn't lower her hands from fighting position. There were any number of ways somebody could have gotten in. Through the thin walls, she could hear the couple in the next apartment start a fight. Was somebody using that to cover the sounds of his own movements?
Her gun - unregistered, the serial numbers filed off, but still all hers - was locked in the safe under her bed, ten feet and a million miles away.
The room looked empty, but in the middle of her bed, the blankets swelled up over a little-girl-sized lump. She approached it, hardly able to breathe. It would be something he'd do . . . leave a tiny, broken body in Nora's bed . . .
She ripped the covers back.
Big, dark eyes blinked up at her.
She caught her breath and managed to smile. "Aha. Just as I suspected. A stowaway."
"Hi, baby." She forced her shoulders to relax. "Whatcha doin'?"
Elizabeth sat up, inky hair falling down around her shoulders. "I wanted to talk to you," she said seriously.
"Scoot up to the top of the bed, honey," Nora instructed. She cast a dark look at the wall as the fight got louder.
Ignoring the noise next door, Elizabeth scooted, planting her butt on her mother's pillow and settling her back against the headboard. Nora picked the sheets off the floor, sweeping them across her bed again. Elizabeth looked down as the cloth settled across her body and wiggled her toes so the sheet bounced.
"So," Nora said, repeating the process with the thin summer blanket. "Conversation? At ten o'clock at night?"
"It's only nine-fifty-two," Elizabeth corrected. At five, she was very precise about numbers.
"Right. Of course. Eight minutes makes all the difference." Still, she climbed into bed and snuggled her daughter close into her side. There was a particularly loud shriek from next door. She lifted her fist above her head and thumped once on the wall. The noise subsided. "All right, my baby koala. What's so important that you're staying up way past your bedtime, the night before your very, very first day of school?"
Elizabeth laid her head on her mother's breast and played with the hem of her sleep shirt. "Mama, I don't want to go."
Above her daughter's head, Nora's mouth fell open. A hundred different responses flashed through her head, ranging from, Do you know how hard I had to fight to get you into first grade? to And just where do you think you're going instead, young lady? to Get back to bed, it's too goddamn late for this shit.
She settled on, "Oh? Why's that?"
"Why's that, Elizabeth?"
"I just don't want to," she mumbled.
"Mmm." She rested her chin on her daughter's head. "Okay. What do you want to do instead?"
"Go back to Mrs. Rios' class."
"Well, I'm sure she'd be happy to have you come back for a visit. But you can't go back to Head Start, baby."
"Do you remember the last few months there? You were pretty bored, weren't you?"
"It was okay."
Elizabeth had been leaps and bounds ahead of the other kids, reading independently while her classmates struggled with letters, and using the blocks and beads to explore mathematical concepts while they built towers. She'd started to get arrogant about it around Christmas. It had been that arrogance, and all the parent-teacher conferences with the patient but increasingly exasperated Mrs. Rios, that had changed Nora's mind about putting Elizabeth through school at a normal speed.
She explained now, "You already knew everything that Mrs. Rios was trying to teach. You need to learn new things."
"You liked your new classroom when we visited last week. And you liked Ms. Andrews."
"But - "
"Delia and Matt aren't going to be in my class."
"Well, no. They're going to be in kindergarten."
"Why can't I go to kindergarten?"
"Because the same thing will happen. You know everything kindergarten has to teach you already." A battery of tests had confirmed this for the doubtful school administrators. "You need to learn first-grade stuff."
"But I don't know any kids in first grade."
"Why aren't Delia and Matt in first grade?"
"Because they don't know kindergarten stuff. They still need to learn it."
"So kindergarten is for stupid kids?"
Oh Jesus, this again. They must have talked about it seventeen times. "Elizabeth. What did I say about that word?"
She hadn't liked all those talks any more than her mom had. She ducked her head and made a noncommittal noise.
"We don't call other kids stupid just 'cause they don't know as much as me."
"Uh-huh." Nora tipped her daughter's chin up with one finger. "Kindergarten is not for stupid kids. It's for kids who still have some things to learn, things you already know. It doesn't make them stupid, and I don't want to hear any of that in first grade, either."
Tiny voice: "Kay."
Nora snuggled her close. "Listen up, okay? I know you're not sure about first grade. You don't know any of the kids, you don't know the teacher, and you don't know what's going to happen there. But you're my brave girl, and you can do it. I bet you'll even like it."
Elizabeth burrowed her head into her mother's armpit "I'm not."
"You're not what?"
"Well, I think you are."
Burrow, burrow. "BuhImscare."
Nora lifted her arm. "Say that again?"
"But I'm scared," Elizabeth repeated. "I'm not brave, I'm scared."
"Sweetie, being brave doesn't mean you're not scared. It means you are and you do what you have to do anyway. The more scared you are, the braver you get to be. Does that make sense?"
Elizabeth frowned and shrugged.
Okay. Philosophy could wait. "You think about that. In the meantime, I promise that if your first day of school kills you dead, you won't have to go back."
That coaxed forth a giggle.
"Until then . . ." She scooped her daughter up in her arms. "Let's get you back to bed. It's late and you have a big day tomorrow."
Tiny arms snaked around Nora's neck. "Can we read, Mama?"
"What do you want to read?" Nora was pretty sure she knew the answer.
"Go Away, Big Green Monster."
"Go Away, Big Green Monster it is." She carried Elizabeth across the hall to her little room and plopped her in the middle of her bed, then went to the crammed bookshelf. In a place of honor resided a battered black picture book with a Kilroy-style green monster head on the cover. The spine and corners had been taped over and over again. Nora had found it at Goodwill when her daughter was tiny. Even after she was reading on her own, Elizabeth insisted on reading this book together.
Nora settled herself against Elizabeth's pillow, and her daughter curled into her side. "Go Away, Big Green Monster, by Ed Emberley," she read from the cover, and opened the book to the first page. "Big Green Monster has two big eyes . . ."
"Big yellow eyes," Elizabeth corrected.
"Big yellow eyes. A long bluish-greenish nose . . ."
On they read, enumerating the features of Big Green Monster, then banishing each, one by one. Elizabeth read the second-to-last line aloud, as she always did. "Go away, Big Green Monster."
Nora finished it, as she had so many times before. "And don't come back until I say so." She set it on the bedside table, then hugged her daughter close. "Do you feel better?"
"School is gonna be so good for you, devochka. You'll see." Nora climbed out of her daughter's bed, then pulled her covers up snugly around her, the way she liked best.
Elizabeth's dark eyes fixed on hers, wide and beseeching. "Can you stay, Mama?"
"Of course." Nora kissed her forehead. "But close your eyes." She sat on the floor, stroking her daughter's hair. Gradually, Elizabeth's breathing slowed and her body relaxed.
Someday, if Doyle ever did find them, Elizabeth would need more courage than first grade demanded. But the woman who had been Emily Prentiss sat next to the daughter that Spencer Reid didn't know he had, and prayed that day wouldn't be for a long, long time.