A/N: Howdy! I'm back. I had planned to get back from Dallas last Sunday and finish this story. However, my wife and I found out a sad truth that morning: we are too young (I'm 40, she's 44) to go to bed at 11 with the older folks but WAY too old to close down the bars with the younger folks. FYI- -Hangovers suck! :o)
So this one picks up right where "50" ended. Time for the team, minus the blonde incubator, to head out after the bad guys. Lets see what happens when Emily is forced to go "Into the Wilderness."
JJ answers the phone after the first ring. "I'm fine. I swear."
Emily smiles sadly. "I know."
JJ hears the melancholy in her wife's voice and sighs. "Case?"
"Yeah. Winslow, Arkansas."
"Where the hell is that?"
"Too far away from you for me to follow through on the promise I made you about this weekend."
"Emily, it's the job. I get it. Beside, Mom and Dad will be here this evening. I won't be alone and they can take care of Rocky and Henry. And I can be up after today anyway. Things will be fine and if you all need me out there I can fly out Sunday."
"NO!" Emily snaps.
"Excuse me?" JJ snaps back, irritated.
Emily pinches the bridge of her nose. "I'm sorry, Jen. I just…remember when I went to Lancaster and that guy knocked me over. I want to wrap you in bubble wrap the next month but I know better. It just…scares me to think of you in the field right now."
"Get over it," JJ says softly. "Honey, I remember what happened to you. I remember hearing about what happened while I was in Afghanistan and you all were in Denver. I remember every bit of it as if it was tattooed on my brain. If I am pregnant, we'll work with Hotch to keep me as far out of the field as possible. But I will point out, I was pregnant with Henry and everything was fine. We'll have the whole team around us this time. Two won't be off in the Middle East. We will be fine."
Emily sighs. "Okay, you're right on all those points."
JJ smiles. "Still screwed up in your head?"
"No, my head gets it. It's my heart that is waging war within me. It's the one that came up with the bubble wrap idea."
JJ laughs. "I understand. I'll be okay, Em. You guys go out and catch the bad guy. I'll be here unless Hotch needs me out there, okay?"
"Okay. I love you, Jen. Take care of our little nesters. I'm ready for one of them to be our next little Prentiss."
"I am, too. If it's meant to be…"
"…it will be," Emily finishes. "I know, baby. Uh, the team is heading to the conference room. I'll call you when I can."
"Right. Good luck, honey."
Emily smiles. "You, too, sweetheart. Love you."
"I love you, too."
Emily hangs up and shoves her phone in her pocket. She grabs her tablet and goes up to the conference room for the briefing. Hotch looks at her as she walks in.
Emily nods. "Fine. Jen said if we need her out there she can fly out Sunday."
Rossi rolls his eyes. "Heaven forbid she take the weekend off."
Emily grins. "Look, I know you all are almost as invested in this baby as we are but you have to trust us. I'll have the panic attacks and JJ will be the voice of reason. And the last thing I plan to do is coddle her or force her out of the field if she feels she can be there. I value my life too much to risk that."
Hotch nods. "Good point. Still, I think we can agree to do our best to only need her assistance long distance this time, right?" The team nods. "Good. So, now that that's settled, Garcia, what do we have?"
Garcia turns on the computer. "We have a series of escalating rapes in the Winslow, AR area."
Reid frowns. "That town is tiny! Less than 400 people in the 2000 census."
Morgan turns to him. "Are there any stats you DON'T read, man?"
The team smiles as Reid just shrugs. Garcia continues.
"The thing is, the women are being taken from other cities, the unsub takes them camping in Devil's Den State Park and then dumps them on the steps of a church in the wee hours of the morning on Monday. Police tried staking out the churches so the unsub dumped the eighth woman at the museum."
"Churches…great," Emily mumbles. She looks up from her tablet. "There couldn't have been many cars on the road at that time of night. The police didn't see anything?"
"No. According to the women he carried them to where he left them. He's a real outdoorsman type. They all said he was able to get fires going, catch and find food, a real minimalist. Only thing he packed in other than them is a few tools, a tent and a sleeping bag," Garcia explains.
"Same camp site every time?" Morgan asks.
"No. And each woman said he left the trail soon after they started into the park," Garcia answers.
Rossi shakes his head. "Still, this is a historically significant park. It's extremely poplar with campers, hikers, and even horse back riders. How does no one see anything?"
"Tourists," Hotch points out. "Too many people may see something and not realize it's linked to a series of attacks."
"Then we need to get word out to the tourists," Reid states. "They need to know to be on the lookout for a woman who doesn't seem to want to be with a man."
Emily frowns. "Why are they going with him? Why aren't they screaming for help? No way he can have them drugged if they are being marched through the woods to a remote, primitive site."
"True. Rossi, Reid we need to find out how he kept them from calling for help. Morgan, Prentiss, plan to go on a ride and hike tomorrow," Hotch says.
"Uh, what?" Emily asks.
"We have approximate sites of his camps based on bloodhound tracking. Horses will be made available to you and a deputy will lead you to each one via horseback. You need to profile those scenes. He had to know where he was taking them."
"How many sites?" she asks.
"Eight," Garcia answers.
"And, um, how long will this take?"
"Plan to spend the night out there," Hotch replies.
"In the WOODS?" Emily screeches.
Morgan busts out laughing. "What's the matter, Princess, never been camping before?"
"Does staying at a Swiss Chalet count? I mean, there were trees all around and no cooks or maid service."
Rossi laughs. "Oh, Emily, you are in for a treat."
Emily shakes her head. "Jen camped as a kid. Why the hell does this case come up now? Son of a bitch…"
"Wow…Emily Prentiss intimidated by something. Glad I have an eidetic memory so I won't forget this moment," Reid jokes.
Emily just glares at him. Hotch stands.
"Wheels up as soon as Prentiss and Morgan get back with their hiking and camping gear."
Morgan looks at Emily. "Do you have hiking gear?"
"I have boots."
"And camping gear?"
"I'm screwed if Jen doesn't have something."
Morgan laughs. "I'll call her to see if she has something for you. If not, I've got you covered."
Emily smiles. "Thanks, Derek."
He nods. "Anytime, Em."
"How will this affect your shoulder?"
"Let's just say I'll pack plenty of Aleve."
"Morgan, if you can't ride, I can go with the deputy alone."
"I'll be okay, Em. But thanks."
Emily nods and grabs her purse so she can go home to pack for a work-related camping trip.