A/N: Written for Passion & Perfection's Epic Proportions challenge. Set during Season 3, so the fic Includes tiny, tiny, blink-and-you-miss-it kind of spoilers for the first couple of seasons. A BIG thank you to Ann for the wonderful beta.
"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."
- Soren Kierkegaard
Tommy Jenkins loved to play baseball. For his twelve-year-old self, the sensation of the bat hitting the ball at just the right angle and the perfectly round object then flying all the way over to the small patch of woods on the other side of the park was the best feeling in the whole wide world. He was a good player, one of the best in his local league; he knew that one day he'd play professionally, maybe eventually even compete in the World Series, and that prompted him to spend all his free time in the park, practicing furiously. Placing his black White Sox cap tightly on his head, he prepared to take a yet another swing at the ball that he threw in the air shortly afterwards.
As the ball once again found its way to the familiar area of trees, Tommy swept perspiration off his forehead and began jogging at a leisurely pace across the field, a confident smile still gracing his lips. Reaching the first of the tall oak trees, he slowed his steps, his eyes on the area in which he figured the ball must've landed. The thick layer of leaves on the ground shone with different shades of yellow and red, making the task just that much more difficult.
Rounding yet another, clearly impressively old tree, Tommy suddenly bumped into something firm and stumbled backwards in surprise. Taking off his cap which had slid onto his face, he glanced up, automatically apologizing, but the words died on his lips when his eyes landed on the sight in front of him.
All Tommy Jenkins could do was scream.
Emily Prentiss liked to think of herself as a woman of principle.
In fact, when she truly decided something, she was usually extremely pigheaded and didn't waver an inch. And that's why she found it completely unforgivable that at that very moment, she was standing half naked in her apartment, her hands on a blonde who was also wearing suspiciously few clothes and, right then, doing rather incredible things to her earlobe.
It was Monday night and Emily knew she needed to be at work at eight o'clock sharp the following morning, which usually put a lid on her needs – but not today. Today was different. After a particularly difficult day, a crappy day, an unbelievably shitty day at the office, she had felt like she was drowning in hopelessness and unhappiness. And finding a way to relax, to ease the growing feeling of emptiness that was slowly but surely taking over her, simply couldn't be achieved by staying within the four walls of her home.
So, she'd broken her own sacred rule and gone out on a week night.
Emily slid her fingers slowly up the side of the blonde woman who was like putty in the agent's hands. The skin she discovered underneath the white blouse was smooth and warm, the irresistible softness urging her hand closer and closer to the more important areas. She kissed the woman's neck, making her way down to her collarbone, and heard the other woman moan quietly in appreciation. Taking one full breast in her hand, Emily captured the blonde's lips again, all the while maneuvering them towards the fashionable-looking couch in her living room.
It was a fancy couch, and Emily was rather proud of it. Its creamy color complemented perfectly the rather subdued colors of the rest of the apartment. It was a couch that was just on the border of being either posh or simply elegant, and for once, Emily had to admit that her mother had been right about it. It'd been an insane gift from Ambassador Prentiss several years previously when there'd, once again, been something she needed to compensate for with her daughter. Emily hated that her mother usually went on a shopping spree instead of a normal, internal guilt trip, especially since most of the time, the things she was offered Emily most certainly didn't need. But the couch had been a lovely exception, and now it worked nicely as an eye-catcher in her living room. Although, she wasn't so sure her mother would appreciate how she currently put it to use. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd sat on it like ordinary people.
Emily snapped back to the present when she felt the blonde in her arms effectively unbuttoning her crimson red blouse, the soft brushes of the woman's fingers against her sensitive skin leaving a trail of goosebumps in their wake. If Emily concentrated really hard, she could almost imagine someone else standing in front of her, see someone else smiling seductively at her and feel someone else doing incredibly wonderful things to her.
It wasn't like her current guest was by any means unattractive. No, she was beautiful, gorgeous even. But it didn't matter what an incredible catch she was, because she simply wasn't her. And that's why Emily unabashedly used her imagination, blurring some features out and sharpening others. The woman before her became someone else, and the thought sent a pleasurable shiver down her spine, a shiver that ended up somewhere between her legs, making her breath catch. She swallowed, working hard to keep her fantasy from slipping away.
The other woman took the passing look of desire as encouragement and gently pushed Emily backwards until the brunette's legs came into contact with the side of the couch, and she had no other option than to fall on it as gracefully as possible, followed shortly thereafter by her companion. Sinking her fingers in the blonde's hair, Emily squeezed her eyes shut, her breathing beginning to become ragged as she concentrated solely on the lips that were now tracing her pulse point and sending jolts of pleasure through her body.
A hand made its way down her abdomen, stopping at the waistband of her jeans, and after a moment of pure torture, slipped underneath the denim barrier. Emily's breath hitched, and rational thinking became an impossible task.
"God, Jennifer, don't stop."
The moment the words were out of her mouth, Emily realized her mistake. The lips on her neck, as well as the hand down there, stilled and soon clear blue eyes were peering down at her, confusion and bafflement written all over them.
"I know we just met, but who the hell is Jennifer?"
"I..." Emily felt the words abandon her, her mouth opening and closing as she tried to somehow ameliorate the situation.
She wanted to lie, desperately, but for some reason, she couldn't bring herself to do it. All it would take was some sappy made up story about how her lover of ten years just left her for a banjo player in some weird Eastern European folk music group, that she was still not quite over it, God forbid, and all would be back on track again. Only, she couldn't; she'd deceived the woman enough as it was. The silence, however, left Emily in a very awkward and unbelievably embarrassing situation.
The other woman's lips pressed into a thin line. Game over, thanks for playing.
"Um, I think this is my cue to leave." The blonde stumbled from the couch, buttoning her pearl white blouse and trying to smooth the worst of the wrinkles from her skirt that their little tryst had caused.
"No, please. I just..." Emily followed suit, pulling the lapels of her own blouse closer together in a sudden wave of prudishness. It was ridiculous, really, considering that just minutes earlier she'd been ready to discard far more than just her shirt. "I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to-,"
"What's my name?" The blonde cut her off, the look in her eyes challenging.
"What's my name, Emily?" The other woman repeated her question, emphasizing the last word so that the brunette involuntarily winced. Fetching a pair of high heels she'd lost on the way to the living room, the blonde turned back to her, eyebrows rising in silent question.
Emily fidgeted, her fingers subconsciously playing with the hem of her shirt until she caught herself and crossed her arms self-consciously over her chest. Clearing her throat, she finally raised her eyes to meet the sapphire blue ones that were still firmly fixed on her.
"...Holly?" she finally tried and flinched at the look that passed on the other woman's face.
"Wow." The blonde chuckled humorlessly, shaking her head in disbelief. Collecting her purse and coat where they'd been unceremoniously dropped on the floor earlier, she continued, "I think I just remembered why I don't normally do this." She looked at the brunette again. "Have a nice life, Emily." It was said without malice.
"Yeah. You too," was all Emily could muster as she helplessly watched the blonde walk out of the door, leaving only silence and a faint scent of perfume behind. She walked slowly to the door and slipped the dead bolt in place, both symbolically and literally barricading herself from the outside world. Leaning her forehead gently against the smooth surface of the door, she sighed resignedly before making her way back into the apartment.
By chance, she glanced in the mirror that was hanging in the foyer and was taken aback by the sight that greeted her. She looked tired, exhausted even, her hair hanging lifelessly around her neck and ugly, black circles marring the skin around her eyes. She couldn't recall the last time she'd slept properly, her mind constantly plagued by thoughts she couldn't shake off.
Sometimes, in the throngs of passion, when she was clinging to a woman who reminded her of JJ and begging her not to stop, she was able to forget for a while. It never lasted, though. It was like a trip to a drug addict. But it gave her just enough strength to get through yet another few days of painful acting and being forced to constantly acknowledge what she couldn't have.
Glancing one last time at the door, she sighed again and rubbed her eyes tiredly.
"Well done, Emily; really well done." She glared at herself in the mirror and then shuffled along the hallway and toward the infamous couch. Flopping down on her back, she stared at the ceiling above her and wondered how different her life could actually be if she'd only made the choices her mother had urged her to make. Sure, she wouldn't be doing the work she loved, with people she highly admired, but maybe her life would make just a little bit more sense, and maybe it'd have some stability that her current state of being clearly seemed to lack. In a moment of annoyance towards her mother and life and, most of all, herself, she picked up a flowery-patterned cushion, which just happened to match the color of the couch to an annoying extent, and threw it angrily across of the room. Burying her head in her hands, she cursed out loud.
"God, I could've sworn it was Holly!"
Jennifer Jareau—or JJ as everyone apart from her mother called her—prided herself in being punctual. In fact, her job very much required that characteristic in a person, so she'd simply perfected an already existing skill. It was her responsibility to ensure that the team of the FBI's Behavior Analysis Unit be able to work smoothly and efficiently as they attempted to catch the most horrific criminals in the entire country. In order to do just that, the media liaison needed to be painfully precise about everything.
Punctuality was an attribute JJ had possessed for as long as she could remember. When she was little, she was always the one who turned up too early to her friends' birthday parties and was then forced to sit awkwardly on the couch until the others finally arrived – twenty minutes late. She'd never been late to a single date in her whole life, and the times when her partner for the evening happened to turn up fifteen minutes after the agreed upon time, she was already long gone. Patience, in terms of her schedule, simply wasn't her forte.
And that was why it truly ticked her off that Agent Prentiss was late for the morning meeting.
Or, that was what she told herself anyway. Emily's chair was the only unoccupied one in the stylish BAU briefing room, and on a regular basis and very much by their own accord, the blonde's eyes returned to that particular piece of black leather furniture. Unconsciously tapping her pen against a brown FBI folder on the table in front of her, she sighed.
"Should we just start without her?" she finally asked Aaron Hotchner, their team leader, who was seated to her right. She knew the annoyance in her voice was just a tad too obvious, but she was only being punctual, was it that difficult to understand? Hotch eyed the clock on the wall, and, perhaps unconsciously, straightened his tie at the same time.
"She called earlier and said that she'd be running a little late. We might just as well wait." He glanced curiously at the blonde media liaison—the way profilers tended to glance at people like they knew everything about them—and then turned his attention back to the file he'd been immersed in earlier. Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, JJ busied herself with her papers.
"It's the third time this month," Spencer Reid, their super genius and walking encyclopedia, noted absentmindedly while trying to balance a pencil on his outstretched finger.
"Maybe she's been busy at nights." Derek Morgan wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, his trademark grin making an appearance. For some inexplicable reason, the ever calm Agent Jareau wanted to strangle him at that very moment.
"What do you mean?" Reid frowned and looked at Morgan, giving up on his little acrobat show.
"Sometimes I really can't believe you're a genius, kid." Morgan chuckled when the look on Reid's face turned even more confused.
JJ saw the former child prodigy's mouth open to reply, but then there was commotion at the door, and the team's eyes turned to Emily who quickly slipped into her seat. She was panting like she'd run the whole way from her car to the briefing room.
"So sorry I'm late." She looked sheepish and snatched her copy of the case file from the table, fanning herself with it a couple of times before concentrating on the actual contents.
"Hot date last night?" Morgan quipped, clearly amused by Emily's slightly rumpled appearance.
God, didn't he ever stop? JJ forced down a sudden urge to throw something at the brawny agent, and instead, snuck another peek at the brunette. Blinking, she realized that Emily was wearing the exact same outfit she had on the day before; that crimson red shirt, which hung in just the right places, was wrinkled, the buttons on the sleeves unbuttoned, and JJ remembered the black slacks because of Emily's brief visit to her office.
The realization that she knew all that for certain—she could take a damn oath and swear to it in court—made her feel slightly lightheaded.
"Oh, wouldn't you like to know?" Emily pursed her lips and glanced at Morgan who laughed at the easy banter.
"Focus, please," Hotch intervened, but his eyes betrayed his amusement.
Emily mouthed a silent 'sorry' and finally turned fully to JJ who suddenly felt like fleeing the room. If JJ didn't know any better she would've thought she was jealous – which she totally wasn't. She didn't get jealous. Especially of co-workers. And female co-workers at that.
Clearing her throat, JJ stood and aimed the remote towards the big plasma screen, more than grateful for the interruption and being able to concentrate on the job at hand.
"Right. Chicago, Illinois. They have a real problem."
"What kind of a problem?" Reid asked, and five annoyed pairs of eyes turned to his direction. "Sorry," he muttered and slumped back in his seat.
"Like I was saying," JJ began again and pushed another button on the remote. "They have a serial killer. There've been four suspicious hangings in the northern part of the city during the past month." Four face shots appeared on the screen. "All victims are female, ages ranging from 21 to 50, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different life circles. The local police didn't connect the dots until the latest victim, Cheryl Thompson, 21, was found dead yesterday afternoon." A set of crime scene photos replaced the head shots.
"Well, that's a ladder imprint if I've ever seen one." Emily noted quietly, inspecting her own set of photos from the folder.
"It rained heavily the night before and the ground was still nothing but mud when our killer strung her up there. A detective assigned to the case pulled all other recent suicide files and three of them matched the newest one. Also, he discovered this." A push of a button and an image of a white sheet of paper appeared. "The suicide note in all four cases is the same. Word for word."
"Wow. Four victims in a month?" Reid's eyebrows shot skywards. JJ nodded, looking around the room from one concentrated face to another.
"Someone's angry," David Rossi noted, his eyes narrowing slightly. The blonde could almost hear the wheels turning in his head and wondered if he was going to share his thoughts with the team. None of them still completely trusted the BAU legend after the rocky start they'd had, but lately, things had begun to change for the better.
"All the bodies were found hanged in public parks or wooded areas. As for the killings themselves, we don't know much of the specifics yet, especially since the first three cases literally weren't under a microscope until this fourth one. We should find out more once we get to Chicago," JJ said, flipping through her countless papers and notes, which gave her something else to do for a few seconds rather than wonder what on earth Emily had been up to since the last time she'd seen her.
"The suicide note. It's pretty average, don't you think?" Emily asked, reading through it again.
"It's exceedingly average. Partly, at least," Reid agreed, nodding. "I mean, 'I simply can't do this anymore' must be one of the most overused expressions in suicide notes." He underlined that specific line from the note. "But then there's the, 'I know this is wrong.' part which isn't consistent with your usual pattern."
"It isn't?" Morgan asked, now studying the text himself.
"No. Suicide notes rarely comment on the morals of the act." Rossi said, turning Morgan. "It's usually more about the reasons behind it." Morgan nodded, satisfied with the explanation.
"Whoever wrote the note clearly resents these women and the act of hanging itself," Hotch spoke up. "He must be familiar with suicide, one way or another."
"Family member, probably," Emily said, the others nodding in agreement.
"JJ, let the people on Chicago's end know we're coming." Hotch told the media liaison and then proceeded to stand. "Get your bags, everyone. We'll be leaving in an hour."
The sound of chairs being pushed back and the noise of papers being shuffled filled the room as the team finished their briefing. JJ switched off the TV screen and piled up her various files, still preoccupied by the brunette woman on her left that she wasn't able to shake off her thoughts.
"I'd swap that shirt if I were you." JJ heard Morgan's sly comment to Emily as he made his way towards the door. Swallowing nervously, the blonde kept her eyes on the files, wishing she was anywhere else but trapped in the room. She really, really didn't want to be in the middle of Emily and Morgan's oh-so-witty repartee.
"Oh, funny." Emily chuckled. "Guess where I'll be heading right now?" she continued in a knowing tone.
"Someone's been getting some lovin' lately." Morgan's chipper voice carried to JJ's ears even though he wasn't in the room anymore. After being certain of his exit, she allowed herself to look up again.
Emily snorted, her eyes on Morgan's retreating form. Then she turned back to her papers, shaking her head in an amused manner.
"He really is sure of himself sometimes," Emily said inattentively, and JJ wasn't sure if she was expected to comment, but she decided that it'd seem more suspicious if she didn't.
"He's a man," JJ finally bit the bullet, her ears burning. Clearing her throat, she glanced at Emily who was now staring at her with those gorgeous brown eyes, and damn it, JJ simply couldn't look away. A wide grin spread on Emily's face, and her laugh was full and unrestrained, making it impossible for JJ not to crack a grin of her own.
"Touché." Emily finally managed. JJ could do nothing but look at her.
The brunette agent let her guard down so rarely that whenever it did happen, JJ knew to treasure the moment. Seeing Emily laugh, without reserve, was something so exciting and precious that JJ thought she'd burst with joy. And she loved nothing more than being the one who was able to bring out that side in Emily. Somehow seeing her content and happy made JJ's own fears and doubts shrink away – for a little while at least.
There was a strange connection between the two of them, a connection that JJ wasn't sure Emily was even aware of. It was a connection she had felt the moment she'd been introduced to the new addition to their team, and although it was there, lingering, every single moment the two were in each other's presence, JJ hadn't been able to give a name to the extraordinary link. It was something that was beyond everything else, something almost too big and profound to comprehend. JJ only knew that Emily simply got her, she understood.
Now, standing in the middle of the BAU with the agent who had fit the team like a glove, JJ all of a sudden felt that connection stronger than ever. Emily's presence lit up the entire room, the light wrapping the blonde in a cocoon she never wanted to leave. What she had thought was a harmless crush, innocuous flirting between two good friends, suddenly transformed into something else entirely. And in a moment of epiphany—it was like a veil had been lifted from her eyes—JJ realized why exactly she cared so much what Morgan said or if Emily slept with the entire city of Washington DC.
And that realization scared the hell out of JJ.
"I'd better go and change this damn shirt." Emily rolled her eyes at herself, gesturing vaguely with the pile of papers in her hand. "I'll see you on the plane." A final smile aimed at the press liaison, a smile JJ could swear Emily didn't use with anyone else, and all she could do was politely smile back.
Emily swaggered out of the room, leaving JJ staring at her wake and feeling more a loss than ever before.
Every time the team traveled in their own private jet, Emily couldn't help but marvel at the group of people she was honored to be a part of. Confined in a fairly small place, the plane traveling only emphasized the team dynamics and how perfectly they worked together. It still amazed her how close knit they were, like a second family to each other – and, in Emily's case, this was a family she highly preferred. She'd often wondered if the others had any idea how important they were to her, how much being accepted as part of the team meant to her.
Studying the familiar faces around her, Emily felt overt pride of finally belonging somewhere. She'd never thought she was a part of anything before joining the BAU, not within her own family or in terms of her work. But now, now she knew she'd finally found her place, and she felt happier than she had in years.
It was partly because of the still fairly new and somewhat fragile feeling of belonging that her growing attraction to one Agent Jareau distressed Emily tremendously. By compromising the team dynamics, she would put not only her own personal career, but also their collective work at risk. And she had absolutely no right to jeopardize the team. But she couldn't just turn a switch in her brain and stop longing after JJ, which meant that she would have to suffer in silence and to try to ignore her increasing heart rate whenever the blonde smiled, talked, or simply was in the vicinity.
The bitter irony of the situation didn't go unnoticed by Emily.
"The locals faxed me some more info on the victims," JJ announced and sat opposite the brunette, bringing her back to the present. The press liaison slid a copy of the fax across the table to Emily who gratefully picked it up.
"None of the victims were reported missing?" Emily's eyebrows rose high on her forehead.
"None of them were gone more than a few hours before they were found dead," JJ explained, preoccupied, her fingers dancing on the buttons of her cell phone, a small frown on her face.
"How does someone trick four women into going with him just like that, especially since there were no visible signs of violence on the bodies?" Morgan mused incredulously, reading the fax over Emily's shoulder.
"He's either extremely suave, or they knew and trusted him," Hotch noted, and Reid nodded in agreement.
"Guys, we have a commonality," JJ interrupted, glancing up from her cell phone. "Garcia says that all the victims had previously tried to commit suicide. Unsuccessfully, obviously."
"That's a hell of a commonality," Rossi said, his fingers tapping rhythmically against his thigh.
"Maybe we're dealing with an avenger of some kind?" Emily proposed. "Maybe he's punishing these women for what they did in the past."
"Could there be a religious aspect?" JJ inquired and looked across the aisle at Rossi.
"Doubt it." The older agent pursed his lips, leaning slightly forward in his seat. "In that case, the religious aspect of the murder would play a significant part in the suicide note. There's nothing overt."
"He probably stalks his victims prior to abducting them," Reid said, and the others murmured in agreement.
"There'll be a briefing on the latest murder as soon as we get there, to get us up to speed." JJ turned to Emily, and their eyes locked. Emily felt her heart skip a beat, like so many times before, and with great effort she tore her eyes away, shifting in her seat uncomfortably. She busied herself with the fax in front of her and missed the flustered look on JJ's face.
All of a sudden the cabin of the plane felt almost claustrophobic.
As the team finally stepped out of the plane in Chicago, Emily felt the familiar surge of excitement wash over her. Although she saw truly horrible things that no person should be forced to see, the brunette truly loved her work. The criminal mind fascinated her, and she loved nothing more than to outmaneuver the killers simply by using her brain. It was a vicious circle she found herself in, though; for them to do their jobs and catch their killer, several people had to die. She hated that. But when they finally caught their guy, the guilt for not being able to save the victims eased just a little. And then the circle began all over again, because there was always a new case, always a new killer. Emily had to admit that it was morbidly addictive.
The local FBI office had sent their cars to the airport, and the team divided into two groups as they hopped into the provided vehicles. It didn't go unnoticed by Emily that JJ quickly made a beeline to the SUV in the front after the brunette had already picked the other one. She was strangely relieved and annoyed at the same time. A fleeting thought of JJ knowing that there was something going on with her filled Emily with growing uneasiness, and she tried to ignore the little panicky voice in her head which scolded her for being so careless.
The precinct that would become their command center during the case was like any other police station in the country. It was slightly cramped, detectives and police officers milled about, and Emily instantly felt out of place. The room suddenly got quieter, and she could see the people around them eyeing them in suspicion. That was one of the rare things she actually could've done without in her job, the feeling of being under extreme scrutiny every time they turned up to help. And that's exactly what it was: helping.
A brown haired, middle-aged man dressed in jeans and a vest approached them. What set him apart from the rest was the large silver star on the front of his shirt, identifying him as the boss of the local law enforcement. The star glinted faintly under the halogen lamps, and that, combined with his confident strut, reminded Emily of John Wayne in 'Rio Bravo'. JJ stepped forward, offering her hand.
"Sheriff Gordon?" The man grabbed her hand and nodded. "I'm Special Agent Jareau. We spoke on the phone. These are Special Agents Hotchner, Rossi, Morgan and Prentiss. And this is Doctor Reid." Sheriff Gordon shook hands with them all, a grim look on his face.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I'd rather not need you here," he grunted.
"Likewise." Hotch nodded. "Is there somewhere we can set up shop?"
"Yes, follow me." Gordon made a vague gesture to the back of the station, and the team followed closely behind. He led them to a large, office-looking room that was almost Spartan in terms of furnishing, and Hotch looked around him, satisfied.
"What can you tell us about the latest victim?" Rossi asked once everyone was inside.
Gordon blinked. "It's straight to business with you people, isn't it?"
"The sooner we get to work, the better," Hotch said in his typically expressionless way.
"Right." The sheriff scratched his chin, clearly intimidated by the authority that oozed from the federal agents in front of him. "The latest victim, Cheryl Thompson, 21, she was last seen around eight o'clock on Monday morning. A kid playing baseball found her body in a park around noon the same day. The autopsy confirmed that she died of asphyxiation by hanging. The ME also found traces of chloroform in her system, which might explain how she was taken so easily."
"And she'd tried to commit suicide before, just like the others?" Morgan asked, leaning casually against a large table in the middle of the room.
"Yes. And the suicide note that was left on the scene, it was pinned to her shirt, it was exactly the same as the three previous ones."
"Right." Hotch turned to Morgan. "You and Reid stay here, get everything organized. Rossi and I will go through the other three case files with a fine-toothed comb. Would you help us with those, Sheriff?" Gordon nodded firmly and left the room.
"You two." Emily and JJ looked expectantly at Hotch. "We need to interview the victims' families. I know it's been done already, but you know what to look for and which questions to ask."
"Wouldn't Morgan be more suitable for this?" JJ asked uncertainly, giving a sideway glance at the brunette agent standing next to her.
"No, I think we need to play the gender card here. They're more likely to relate to you than to Morgan." Hotch turned away, and JJ sighed.
Emily couldn't help feeling hurt at JJ's obvious discomfort with the assignment. But as they walked out of the station, she told herself that it was nothing to do with her, and that JJ was probably just feeling out of her element in the field.
As if. Pretending had never been Emily's forte. Her mother would vouch for that.
The drive to the house of the first victim's family went by in semi-comfortable silence. JJ was grateful Emily didn't try for small talk, because it would've required reciprocation on her part, and she most certainly wasn't in the mood. Only the GPS lady uttered a seemingly obvious instruction on random intervals. JJ hated the GPS lady; the way she said "re-cal-cu-lat-ing" drove her up the wall, and by the time Emily pulled the car next to the curb in front of the white suburban house, the blonde was ready to murder the damn thing.
Quickly hopping out of the car, JJ registered the worried expression on Emily's face with slight annoyance. Nothing went unnoticed by the profilers, which meant she needed to keep her game face on 24/7.
But JJ was bone-tired. She was exhausted as well as utterly confused and completely at a loss. And when she had so much on her mind, it became more and more difficult to keep up appearances. Also, the tiny, tiny fact that even her basic brain functions seemed to short-circuit every time Emily happened to be in the same room with her, made the task just a little bit more difficult.
Actively ignoring the other agent's baffled gaze, JJ made her way to the front door, soon sensing Emily's presence beside her. She pressed the doorbell and waited, bracing herself for what was to come.
The house appeared to be well maintained, the lawn was cut, the windows were spotless, and absolutely nothing seemed out of place. Keeping up appearances, indeed. The house belonged to the parents of the first victim, Sally Dern, who'd been found in a park only a few blocks down the road.
There was a faint sound of footsteps, and the door was slowly opened. Dull, green eyes looked right at JJ. Suddenly, the blonde didn't quite know what to say, staring at the face of an older woman and feeling her throat constrict at the thought that they had to bring up something the woman probably wanted to forget ever happened. Fortunately, Emily covered for her.
"Good afternoon, Ma'am. I'm Agent Prentiss, this is Agent Jareau. We're from the FBI." She flashed her badge in an experienced manner while JJ pathetically fumbled with her own. "We're very sorry to disturb you, but would it be possible to come in and ask a few questions? It's about your daughter, Sally." Emily's voice was full of compassion.
The woman before them studied the two agents for a moment and then stepped aside, opening the door wider.
"Thank you," JJ said and made her way inside, Emily trailing closely behind her.
In the living room, the gray-haired woman sat gingerly in a ragged arm chair and gestured the visitors to take a seat on the couch opposite her. After being seated, Emily leaned forward slightly, resting her arms on her knees. JJ was secretly glad that Emily, with her usual air of confidence, seemed to take the reins of the situation.
"Mrs. Dern, I know this must be awfully difficult for you, and I'm sorry we need to bring up unpleasant memories, but it would really help us if we could ask some questions about Sally."
Emily's voice was soothing, genuine, and once again, JJ marveled at the other agent's ability to empathize, to communicate with the victims, and to make them trust her seamlessly. With wonder, the blonde watched as Mrs. Dern's features softened at Emily's words, her eyes filling with tears. She took a shuddering breath and nodded.
"Thank you," Emily said quietly. She cleared her throat. "We understand that Sally had tried to commit suicide once before. When was this?"
"Oh." The older woman sat up straighter in her chair, wiping moisture off her cheeks. "That was when she was 19."
"She had some difficulties adjusting to college. Me and John, my husband, we didn't really give her as much support as we should've." She stammered. "Anyway, then her boyfriend left her, and she just spiraled into a bad place. We really should've been there for her, but..." She finished with a sad shake of her head, her shoulders sagging.
"It's not always easy being a parent." Emily gave a supportive smile. "Did she ever recover from all that?"
"Yes, that's the thing!" Mrs. Dern exclaimed fervently. "She was fine! It took her some time, but she was back to her old self again. She was happy, she was planning on continuing her studies, and everything seemed just how it used to be. She always called us several times a day to let us know everything was okay, especially since she knew we were still worried about her." Blowing her nose, Mrs. Dern looked old and fragile, although, she couldn't be much older than 50.
"I'm sorry, but I need to ask this. How did Sally try to take her own life?" Emily's voice was yet a notch gentler, and JJ realized she was actually holding her breath.
"Drug overdose. Ritalin. Got it from a friend of hers," someone with a deep voice said from behind them. Heads swirled towards the figure standing in the doorway, and JJ's eyes landed on a handsome-looking older man with a sad look on his face. The two agents warily stood up.
"What's this about? Why are you asking about Sally?" It didn't take a rocket scientist to tell that Mr. Dern was still deeply mourning the loss of his daughter.
"There's been a new development," Emily said, and Mr. Dern's posture immediately straightened.
"What kind of a development?" he asked, Mrs. Dern joining him, hooking her arm with his. They stared at the two women in confusion. Finally, JJ stepped forward.
"We have reason to believe that your daughter's death was actually a homicide." JJ could tell the exact moment the new information registered with the parents. Mrs. Dern's hand flew to her mouth in horror, while Mr. Dern visibly paled, his left hand forcefully grabbing the door frame.
"What?" Mr. Dern's voice sounded horrified, and at that moment, JJ hated her job.
"There've been other cases, cases with some striking similarities to your daughter's death," Emily answered. JJ watched helplessly as the parents attempted to come to terms with it all.
"Someone killed her?" Mrs. Dern asked in a desperate whisper, pressing closer to her husband for support.
"Yes," JJ answered simply, casting her eyes downwards in order to avoid the open look of despair on the parents' faces.
"We would like to be alone now, if you don't mind," Mr. Dern said hoarsely, his arms around his wife, who was now fully sobbing.
"Of course." Emily nodded, bowing her head slightly. "I'll leave my card. Call me if you need anything, or if you want to talk."
The Derns didn't look at the agents when the two women passed them in the doorway, and JJ numbly followed Emily out of the house. She felt absolutely drained after only one interview, and with growing forlornness, she thought about the three others that were yet to come. Rubbing the bridge of her nose tiredly, the blonde got in the car without a word.
"Do you want to take a break?" Turning to look at Emily, JJ was met by gorgeous brown eyes filled with understanding. Faltering under the intense gaze, JJ hated herself for being so damn weak.
"No. No, I'm fine." She flashed a tired smile and purposefully turned to look out of the window.
JJ hoped Emily would simply drop the matter, and she closed her eyes in relief when she heard the other woman finally turn on the engine. Soon, they were on their way to the second destination of the day, again accompanied by the annoying GPS lady. JJ had no idea how she'd be able to last the day.
"What's the name of our second victim?" Emily asked when they'd driven a good ten minutes in silence.
"Heather Brown, 32," JJ answered, flipping through the case file.
"Heather!" Emily exclaimed all of a sudden, hitting the wheel with her hand and making JJ jump. "Of course, Heather, not Holly. Goddammit."
JJ blinked, staring at Emily like the brunette had suddenly grown a second head. The other agent shook her head in an amused manner, and it wasn't until then that she apparently remembered she had company. Glancing sideways at JJ, Emily swallowed and finally sighed in defeat.
JJ wasn't sure she even wanted to know.