Disclaimer: I do not own Criminal Minds.
Author's Note: I was in a weird mood, and my muse demanded I write this. I was in the midst of working on a chapter for my current story, Dysfunctional Family: Teenage Edition. This one-shot seemed to commandeer all the creativity I had. I would love to know what you think.
She's drowning. It's obvious from the look in her eyes. Her emotional facade has failed at masking the hurt. We all know how much pain she is in.
She's numb. It's obvious from the way she forces a smile. Her compartments have overflowed to a point she doesn't know how to begin sifting through it all.
Case after case, I watch her slip deeper into an encompassing depression. I can't remember when it started- if it was a certain case or if the job finally started taking its toll. My mind races as the feeling of déjà-vu assaults me. I have seen these signs, first with Elle and then Gideon. She is barreling towards the edge of a mental break, and I don't see any way I can stop it.
Day after day, I watch her go through her daily routine. It's almost as though she's on autopilot. I'm sure at this point if I moved the coffee pot two inches to the right, she would return to her desk with an empty cup. She only focuses on her consultations. She throws herself into helping these victims and finding their killer. Her coping mechanism is at least partially responsible for her crumbling walls.
Morgan tries to draw her in. He starts conversations that are immediately rebuffed with monosyllabic responses. He profiles the way her shoulders hunch in concentration when she dives into a case file and the immediate change in her posture when she's finished. It's almost possible to see the exhaustion, stress, and emotional war weighing down on her.
Reid spits facts about Vonnegut, speaks phrases in different languages, and offers up riddles and solutions to mathematical proofs. He does his part to reengage her by hinting at the knowledge she once found so fascinating. Sadly, he realizes her curiosity now lays dormant.
Rossi pretends to focus on his manuscripts, but he studies her carefully. He walks the fine line between mentor, father figure, and friend. He worries about pushing her too hard in this fragile state. He would never forgive himself if he thought his words ultimately pushed her over the edge into a mental break.
Garcia keeps one of her computers dedicated to the video feed of the bullpen. She watches from her lair. She tries to keep her bubbly personality afloat, but with Emily sinking so steadily, she can't find the energy to be exceedingly happy. She's consumed with worry and a helpless feeling that sits uneasily in her heart.
Hotch glances towards the bullpen often. He takes more frequent trips to the coffee machine in the break room, purposefully passing by Emily's desk. He feels responsible for letting her depression consume her this entirely. He worries for her safety, but also the safety of his team. He prays he won't be put in a position where he has to order her to remain at Quantico. He fears that would be her breaking point, being told she was not allowed to do her job.
They see her for the extent of a workday. Everyone hopes that she will go home, relax, and find some piece of herself that has been lost to the darkness. They want her to walk into the bullpen with her old confidence, witty humor, and contagious laughter. They crave the spark with which her eyes shone or the warmth of her friendly hugs. They want their friend.
She's my best friend. She's my fiancé. She holds my heart, which aches uncontrollably with the idea that she is suffering alone in her self-imposed solitude.
I fought so damn hard to get through her walls. Emily Prentiss is nothing if not guarded. She is protective and rightfully so. Her childhood didn't exactly set up the foundation for an eagerly trusting individual. When she started at the BAU, she trusted members of the team about as far as she could throw them. Garcia was the first to break through and win her over. Honestly, there was no surprise there. Even the stoic brunette couldn't resist the blonde whirlwind of excitement and happiness. After she made friends with Garcia, the rest seemed to fall into place. She fit perfectly in our team, the missing piece to complete the puzzle of our quirky family.
She was the piece I didn't know I was looking for until she was right in front of me.
Now, it seems I stand on the outside of her walls again. I don't know how I got on this side first of all. There was no exceedingly traumatic event, no single case that started the destruction.
She tried when we were home to keep up our usual banter. Her compartments crumbled ever so slightly, but never enough to offer me a way in.
Tonight, I sit curled at one end of the couch. I lean comfortably against the armrest, my feet tucked under me. Countless files stacked in front of me as my eyes read over the reports of a potential serial killer in Wichita, Kansas. I reach for a colored sticky note, adhering it securely to the cover of the manila file. I scribble a couple of notes before placing it in a specific pile. I pause momentarily, my eyes lifting from the stark white pages detailing horrific acts of mankind to the window through which DC is beautifully lit. The Capitol glows warmly in the night, and it's a peaceful sight. Then, my eyes continue their path, looking in front of me at the woman of my dreams.
Long forgotten, a book rests against her knees. I can't tell what she's reading. It's not in English. It looks like French, but upside down from cushions away, I can't be sure. Her feet are pressed firmly into the cushion as her bent knees cradle her book. Her arms are crossed tightly in front of her chest, and her face is emotionless. Her dark brown eyes simply look lost, glazed over and unfocused. Something breaks her from her train of thought, and she meets my gaze, only briefly, before sucking her bottom lip between her teeth and staring back at the open page.
As her brown eyes meet my blue, I see for an instant a part of Emily left temporarily unguarded. As quickly as it was there, it disappeared though it left me with some understanding.
She felt she didn't deserve to be saved.
She felt that suffering through this drowning depression on her own was, somehow, what she deserved.
She couldn't save them all, so she didn't deserve to be saved.
It wasn't about showing weakness, asking for help, or trusting enough, I realized. I move the files onto the coffee table as I readjust myself on the couch. I scoot up a cushion, resting my forearms on her knees. My right leg slides gently off the edge of the couch and touches the hardwood floor. I pause. I breathe, giving her the chance to move if she felt pressured. Slowly, I reach down and close the book, flagging the page in the top left corner. I place a sweet kiss to her knee.
"Em," I start slowly, still unsure about how I plan to proceed. "I miss you," I breathe. It's the truth. I miss everything about the woman she used to be. Regardless, I love her still. I want her to be happy, and this is not happy. This is drowning. This is suffering. I need her to be okay. I need the woman I fell in love. I need my best friend to survive.
She swallows. I can tell she's nervous about the path this conversation could take, but I need her to understand. "I miss you," I repeat. This time, she nods softly. She averts her eyes, still staring at the place her book used to sit. I reach out cautiously, tentatively. The moment I touch her face her eyes flutter closed as she takes a deep breath. My thumb gently traces her lips before soothing over her cheekbone. I offer a sad smile when she instinctively leans into my caress. Her eyes are still closed.
"I don't want to push you, but I need you to understand," I whisper. "Emily, I desperately want to help you. I don't know how. I can't watch you spiral downward like this. It hurts, Em. I am terrified," I admit. I feel her shake her head slightly. I know what she's going to say before the words form on her lips.
"I'm fine," she insists. The phrase is soft, lacking conviction. She says it more to convince herself than to convince me. I know this, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to shake her into a realization.
"Please," I beg. "Please don't lie to me. I know you, Emily. I am your fiancé. I know you are not fine. I may not be a profiler, but you are my best friend. You are everything in the world to me. I know you're not fine," I repeat. I reach over with my other hand, gently holding her face. I'm not sure whether it's to keep her from physically running away or to soothe my own need for a physical connection. "You are not fine."
"I am," she murmurs. I can feel her jaw move underneath my palms. I tuck my head down, resting my forehead against her knees, hiding my face away from her. It's pointless I know because she still hasn't looked at me. I'm dying to see those brown eyes full of life, sparkling with mischief and laughter. I take a deep breath and another. I will myself not to get angry. I bite my lip when the urge to yell washes over me. I drop my hands from her face, bringing them into my lap.
"Okay," I concede. I can feel tears prickling in my eyes. I know I can only help her when I'm strong enough to do so. If she sees me cry, she will think she is the reason for it. She will blame herself, which will only worsen the situation. She doesn't need the extra stress. "Okay," I repeat quietly as I move off the couch. I bite the inside of my cheek. I take my files back as I sit in one of the armchairs. I have to get these files reviewed and sorted for consultations. I take a deep breath, in through my mouth and out through my nose. I open my eyes and focus solely on the file in front of me. I feel her eyes watching me carefully. "I'm going to go take a shower." It's a feeble excuse, but it is the best I can think of.
I strip my clothes off, throwing them into the hamper. I turn on the shower and hover around the door until I know the water is hot. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and resist the urge to scream. I don't give a damn if the water isn't the right temperature. I know if I see my reflection again, I won't be able to keep the self-deprecating thoughts from my head.
The steam fills the tiled area around me. I breathe in deeply, hoping that it will help purify my soul, that it will give me some fraction of strength. My skin tingles as the water beats down on my body. I glance down, and I can see red splotches starting to form on my honey-toned skin. This is my own form of therapy, my own release. I turn the knob again, hissing as the immediate change in temperature shocks my system. Soon, my body adjusts to the heat, and I can feel the tears welling up again. I distract myself as best I can by going through my normal routine. The conditioner sits in my hair as I wash my face and my body. "It's not working," I whisper to myself, my words camouflaged by the heavy water hitting the tiled floor.
I rub my face as I lean into the wall, grimacing as the cool tile offers a sudden contrast from my heated body temperature. I drop to the ground unceremoniously, my back sliding down until my knees are flush against my chest. I wrap my arms around my legs and tuck my head into the space created. My wet hair falls around me, acting as a curtain, muffling the sob that escapes my throat. Tears drip from my eyes as I've lost control over them.
As my tears fade, I notice I don't feel any better. My heart still aches. I stand up slowly on shaky legs, tinted an angry red from the heated spray. I rinse the conditioner out of my hair before turning off the shower. I avoid the mirror at all costs. I don't want to see the heartbroken reflection staring back at me. I will myself to be strong, to be the person she needs.
I can't help myself. I need to be reminded of who we used to be. I grab one of her old Yale t-shirts. I hold it up to my nose and breathe in her familiar scent. Slipping it over my head, I pull on a pair of boxers. I glance at the clock. I can't pretend to go to bed now. She will think I'm avoiding her. I'll just lie there anyway, I tell myself. I know it's true. Sleeping has become more and more of an issue as I lie awake at night wondering how much of her I will lose to the depression the next day.
I sit back in my spot on the couch, tucked against the armrest. I start my system again. I get through one file. Then another. I mentally applaud myself. I'm finding my focus. Then I hear a soft whispered apology. I look up, and she's staring at the texture of the fabric on the couch. After a moment, I whisper, "I know". I offer another sad smile despite her eyes being focused elsewhere. "You're wearing my shirt," she observes. How, I'm not sure. I haven't seen her look at me or even in my direction.
"I am," I confirm, my tone telling her it wasn't a mistake.
"I needed to feel close to you, and this was the only way I could think to do it."
"Oh," she mumbles again. I nod jerkily, swallowing deeply. I softly sigh at the desperation I heard in my admission. I try to focus my attention back on the file in front of me. I close my eyes, count to ten, and reread the first paragraph of the report. It seems to be a one-time kill, not a spree, so I grab the corresponding sticky note before putting it in its pile. Ten more, I coach myself. Eight more, and I realize she never turned the page. Five more, and I know she is caught in her train of thought. Two more, I press my fingertips into my forehead, attempting to massage out my growing headache. Finally, I drop the last file into its pile. My shoulders sag in exhaustion. I stack the piles accordingly, putting them back in my briefcase, which is waiting patiently for morning by the gun safe.
I stand near the stairs just looking at her. I want to kiss her, hug her, anything that will assure me that, despite her emotional state, she's still here. I know her past though. I don't want to push her towards a path she has previously traveled. I wrap my arms around my waist, trying to comfort myself. I crave the way her strong arms hold me tightly against her, the way she kisses the top of my head, and the way she runs her fingers through my hair reassuringly. "God damnit," I whisper.
"What?" She turns to look at me. She's confused.
"I uh," I stutter. I didn't mean to say that out loud. I squeeze myself tighter. I can feel her eyes analyzing my posture. I know she's profiling me. "I'm sorry," I apologize. "I didn't mean to say that out loud." I opt for the truth. I doubt she wants to hear my need to hold her. My fingers grip into my sides. I can't find the comfort I crave. It makes me sad and lonely. I never thought I would feel alone when my best friend was sitting mere feet away from me. That realization only deepens my sadness.
She gets off the couch, her movements slow and precise. She stops in front of me, and I take a half step back. My ankles graze the bottom step. Her eyebrows rise inquisitively as her brown eyes trace my features, her gaze stopping at my tightly crossed arms. She wants an answer as to why I moved away from her. My eyes catch hers, and my shoulders sag in defeat. "I miss you," I whisper again. "I really miss you." I close my eyes, breaking our connection. I don't want to see the hurt that flashes in her eyes. I don't want to know I was the one to cause it. "I just…" I stop, trying to find the strength to say it or run away. "I just need a hug."
A tear slips down my left cheek. That didn't answer her question, I know. I see no point in wiping away my tears. She already sees them. "I'm afraid that if I get much closer, I'm going to crack. I can't crack," I insisted. "I can't crack because I know you're hurting. I need to be strong for you, so I don't lose you. I can't crack because I don't think you can handle another added stress." I pause. My eyes burn. My knuckles are white from gripping my sides so hard. "As much as I want to hold you, I'm not sure I'm strong enough to be what you need. I also know I'm not strong enough to lose you. I'm fighting a losing battle, Emily." I stop because I can't breathe.
"I would give anything to see you smile or to hear you laugh." I stare directly at the floor. I feel my tears drop silently onto my forearms.
Her hand reaches out and gently lifts my chin. It takes all I have not to gasp at the touch. Her eyes find mine, and my breath catches in my chest. Her brown eyes shine with unshed tears. She swipes her thumb tenderly over my damp cheek. Her hand slides from its place to my neck, pulling me into her. Throwing my arms around her torso, I hold on for dear life. Rooting myself to this moment in which I can feel her heart beating against my chest, I bury my head in the crook of her neck. Her arms tighten around me, holding me close. I feel her body shake as a sob bends the air around us. She kisses me forehead, and her lips are wet with tears.
I know we have a long road ahead, but in this moment, the healing begins.