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5 simple steps

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Sometimes Emily wished that she trusted people more. No, trusted wasn't the right word. She trusted her team, trusted them with her life, she just wished she could actually talk to them about her life, about her past. They hadn't done anything to make her think she couldn't talk to them, she knew that if she did they would understand but everything was buried so deep inside of her she wasn't sure what would happen if she let it all out, all she knew was that it went against everything she had been telling herself since she was 15. Emily didn't talk to people; she had always been just fine on her own and that didn't need to change any time soon.

-

The first step was when she started smoking (again). It had been a particularly hard case, and she had originally planned on just getting drunk in her hotel room but that had changed as she'd walked past someone smoking by the door of the hotel. She wasn't even sure why she'd started craving for the feeling of smoke in her lungs, she'd stopped smoking a long time before she'd joined the team and it's not like she'd never walked past someone smoking before. On any other day she would have ignored it, would have just locked herself in her room and got drunk like she'd planned but something about this day had been different.

A 15 year old girl had been abducted in Orlando, the third in two weeks. The first victim had been held for 1 week, restrained as she was beaten and raped before her body was found dumped in some dirty alley that was frequented by prostitutes and drug addicts. The second girl disappeared the same day that the body was found, and her story was depressingly similar; tied up, beaten and raped repeatedly before her body was found, this time dumped in an abandoned car park. They were called out after the body of the second girl had been found and a few hours before the third girl was reported missing. It had taken them 5 days to find her. The Unsub had tried to run but didn't get very far before Derek had tackled him to the floor and had handcuffs round his wrists.

It was Emily that had found the girl locked in the basement, and she just couldn't get the image out of her head. The girl's hands and feet were bound and she was lying on the cold stone floor, crying quietly. There was blood, mud and dirt smeared all over her body, but that couldn't hide all the bruised skin that was beneath it. Ugly purple marks and angry red patches were littered all over her torso and limbs. The girl was wearing her underwear and bra but her clothes were nowhere to be seen. The girl's head had snapped up at the sound of someone entering the room, the fear in her dark eyes transforming to something that wasn't quite relief but came close as she saw that it wasn't her abductor. Emily had rushed to the girls side, untying her restraints and pulling the jacket off her own back and placing it around the girl's small shoulders, whispering promises about 'it all being over' and 'everything being okay' as she collapsed in a sobbing heap in her arms.

The girl had clung on to Emily for dear life as she was led out the house and towards the ambulance waiting to take her to the local hospital. Emily had travelled with her in the vehicle, holding her hand as she flinched away from the doctor trying to treat her and trying to comfort her when the tears started again. Emily had sat with her in the hospital room, telling her everything was going to be okay as they waited for her parents to arrive. Emily had left the hospital and been ready to move on, been ready to try and compartmentalise this case just like she did any other when she received a call from the girls mother, explaining that her daughter had asked to see Emily once more before she left. Emily had obviously returned to see her, how was she supposed say no after after everything that she'd been through?

"Will I ever be able to forget?" The girl had asked, looking up at Emily with her eyes full of pain.

Emily had swallowed, taking a deep breath before answering, "No, not forget. It'll fade and it'll hurt less and you'll get better, but you won't forget."

The girl had just nodded, and then they had hugged, and then Emily had left, and gone back to her hotel and walked past the smoking man.

Deep down Emily knew exactly why this case had effected her so deeply. A fifteen year old girl with dark hair and dark eyes that had moved to a new place had snuck out of the house to try and keep in with her new friends and had ended up having her life changed forever. Yeah, Emily knew exactly why this case had left her feeling the way she did.

After a few drinks on her own Emily was tipsy but the uncomfortable feeling she hated so much wasn't going away and she still wanted a cigarette. 'Fuck it' she had thought, 'one cigarette isn't going to get me addicted again,' and then she had gone to the shop across the road and bought a 10 pack.

The next week she bought a 20 pack.

-

It was times like this that Emily wished she did talk to people, wished that she could call someone up and just talk to them; tell them what she was feeling and let them help her. If she did maybe she wouldn't be where she was now, maybe, just maybe she would be okay and wouldn't need to be dealing with her team's concerned looks burning into her whenever her back was turned. Maybe she wouldn't need to feel guilty every time she lit up another cigarette, remembering Reid's confused face when he had found the half empty packet in her bag and his questions about why she was purposely damaging her body in such an unnecessary way. Maybe she could be happy.

-

Step 2 was when she started eating less (again). It hadn't been an intentional thing, she just stopped getting hungry. Emily knew that in the weeks following the case in Orlando something about her had changed, but not enough for anyone else to notice. It wasn't like she was acting any differently, something inside of her just felt a bit...wrong.

Emily wasn't sure how to describe it, but the best way she could was that she felt permanently sick, like she was going to throw up even though she knew she wouldn't. She just felt permanently uneasy, and eating just made the sick feeling inside of her grow and it made her feel like her insides were twisting and knotting together and she couldn't bear it, so she just started eating less.

She knew that it was wrong and it was bad for her health, but it some fucked up way it made her feel better. No, not better, temporarily stable. That was a better way to describe it, like she was finally finding some solid ground to stand on after being stuck, struggling to keep above water at sea for hours.

However much Emily liked to pretend that her past didn't exist, she couldn't deny that this feeling was one she knew well. They were the same feelings of emptiness and control that had plagued her teenage years. Moving around from place to place had been hard, and making friends had been harder. All she'd wanted to do was fit in but sometimes it was so hard to find people that liked her, so 14 year old Emily had decided that she would just have to make it easier. After all, everyone liked skinny girls, right?

It wasn't like she'd just stopped eating. At first she'd just cut out unhealthy foods and tried to exercise a bit more, and it was working but it just wasn't enough, especially after everything that happened when she was 15. Emily still classed the moment she found out she was pregnant as one of the worst in her life, she could still remember the mix of shock and anxiety settling inside of her body, leaving her mind reeling and her thoughts blowing around her head like a hurricane. That was the moment her life changed. The feelings of confusion never really left, even after she'd had the abortion she was different, little things around her just weren't making sense anymore and she didn't know what to do to get herself back to normal. It had only got worse when she had been forced to leave Italy, forced to leave the only real friend she had ever had. That was when she stopped eating. There was an indescribable feeling of control that came with being hungry, the same feeling she was experiencing now, Emily could hardly believe she had let herself go down this road again, but she wasn't about to try and stop, it felt good, and as long as she didn't let it get as far as it did last time, she would be fine, right?

When she was 16 she had ended up in hospital for 3 weeks after she had passed out while out on a run. She hadn't eaten for days. After being forced to speak to a therapist Emily had been diagnosed with anorexia. Looking back now she knew that she had been ill, but back then it had been the only thing that made her feel better and she hadn't understood how that could have been a sickness. The only reason Emily had agreed to therapy sessions and starting to eat more were her mothers threats of having her sent to some inpatient facility where every single move she made would have been monitored. The only thing Emily hated than eating at that time was being watched and having other people trying to control her life.

That's why this wasn't the same, she was a fully grown woman that had full control over her life, and she wasn't going to let it get to the point that she was sick and in hospital again.

She was controlling this, it wasn't controlling her.

Emily repeated that statement to herself so many times that she almost managed to convince herself it was true.

-

Emily looked at herself in the mirror, the short black dress she had put on her body elongating her legs and enhancing her cleavage. She would have said she looked hot if she didn't know better, didn't know the truth about the scars underneath the clothes and the bones that were beginning to jut out from her torso a little too much.

That didn't matter right now anyway. She'd had a rough day and all she wanted to do was head out to some sleazy club, get drunk and find a fit guy to go home with. She knew she should would probably regret it in the morning but right now all she wanted to do was to escape the realities of what her life had become for a few hours; too much alcohol and a quick fuck seemed the perfect way to do that.

She grabbed her bag and headed towards the kitchen to feed Sergio and make sure he had water before she left. Her eyes lingered on the salad she had bought earlier and thrown on the side. The only thing she had eaten all day was an apple, she knew she should eat the unappealing green leaves but right now she felt so on edge she wasn't sure if she would even be able to keep them down.

Her eyes then trailed to the pack of cigarettes on the side next to the food. She would be able to survive on a couple of them instead.

-

The next step was when she began to isolate herself (again). Admittedly she didn't have loads of friends and she wasn't close to her family, so there wasn't too many people to isolate herself from but she managed it. Honestly it was as much for their benefit as it was for hers. She knew that they knew something was wrong with her, and they knew that she knew that they knew, and was just outright ignoring all their subtle ways to offer help and attempts to find out what was actually wrong.

She couldn't imagine that she was much fun to be around nowadays anyway. Whenever she was forced to go somewhere with the team all she did was sit as quietly as possible in a corner somewhere, play with the food that was placed in front of her (because for some reason there always seemed to be food these days) and take as many cigarette breaks as she could. Sometimes someone would try and force her to go and dance or tell her a funny story that she was supposed to laugh at but she just couldn't bring herself to do it. She wasn't the same as she used to be so why would she enjoy the same things that she used to? What made these evenings and nights worse was that she could feel them watching her. Whatever she was doing she knew her team were following her with their gazes, whispering theories and ways to help as they stared at her in concern. She hated it, the feeling that she needed babysitting and watching permanently, she wasn't a child!

Avoiding people had been easier when she was younger. After moving away from Italy she hadn't bothered to make any new friends, just kept herself to herself and was happier that way. Her mother had been so busy with her job and life that she hardly noticed Emily locking herself up in her room for days on end, only coming out to go to the toilet, get some water or go on a run. A couple of years before that she would have hated being on her own all the time, she would have got bored and lonely but after everything that had happened all she wanted was to stay as far away from people as she could. People were mean and judgemental and made up rumours and tried to tear each other down and Emily wanted nothing to do with them.

After she got out of the hospital Emily's mother had decided to sign her up for some group therapy sessions on top of the 1 on 1's she had to have twice a week. She had said that it was 'the perfect opportunity for Emily to keep getting better and make some more friends.' Emily had disagreed, but she didn't have much of a choice in going if she wanted to keep what little freedom she still had. The actual sessions were awful, just a bunch of rich kids complaining about their life and some snotty leader nodding and saying 'thank you for sharing' before offering some pointless advice, but the sessions were also where she'd met Jade, so she supposed they weren't all bad.

Jade was 18, and something about her was just intriguing. At first Emily thought it might just be because they had the same problem, and that Emily had finally found someone she could relate to, but it soon turned into more. That was when she'd started smoking, after she'd met Jade. The older girl smoked a lot, said that the cigarettes helped her calm down when she couldn't ground herself, so Emily had tried one. Jade was right, they helped. Jade also managed to have a permanent alcohol supply and she was more than happy to share. Emily loved being drunk, it let her forget about what she had become and what she felt and being drunk with Jade was even more fun. It was one drunk night with Jade that led to her realising that maybe she wasn't completely straight.

Jade had become one of Emily's closest friends, maybe she should have classed her as something more than that, but there was one problem that they both knew would lead to heartbreak, Jade wasn't trying to get better. While Emily was forcing herself to eat a sandwich at the time she had been designated to by her therapist Jade just sat there and watched. Every time she ate and Jade didn't Emily would ask the older girl if she wanted anything even though they both already knew the answer. 'No,' Jade would reply, 'I'm not hungry now, maybe later'.

Jade died about 9 months after she and Emily had met. They both knew it was coming, Jade was tired all the time, couldn't stand up for too long without getting out of breath and she was so skinny Emily could hardly believe she was still a real person. A few days before it happened, whilst they were laying on a field just smoking and staring at the sky, Jade had told Emily where she kept her stash of cigarettes and alcohol, and where she could get more if she ran out. Emily had just said thanks, and then they had fallen into a comfortable silence until Jade spoke again.

"Thank you, for being here, for being my friend." She had said in a soft voice.

"Thank you for being mine." Emily had replied, slipping her fingers in between the older girls.

"I love you Em." Emily had pretended not to hear the crack in Jade's voice.

"I love you too, J."

A few hours later they both went home and Emily never saw Jade again.

-

Emily glared at her phone screen. The text from Derek seemed to be glaring back at her. 'Hey Princess, just checking that you definitely don't want to come out with us tomorrow, I'm planning a big night!'

All the team were going out for Derek's birthday, of course she'd already been asked but she'd spun some bullshit story about Sergio not being well and having to stay in to look after him and give him his medicine at regular intervals. Everyone knew it was a lie, and a shitty lie at that but she was too tired to come up with something more believable.

Part of her wanted to go out and have a good time but she knew she wouldn't enjoy it and she'd bring the whole mood down and the last thing she wanted to do was ruin Derek's birthday. It wasn't like she was just ignoring it either, she'd got him a card and a present. She knew the present was a little bit extravagant compared to what they usually got each other but she couldn't help feeling that she owed him more this year, she had to do something to try and make up for how she was now.

She sighed as she picked up her phone and quickly typed out a reply, 'Sorry, but I really need to stay in and look after Sergio. If I could come I would, have fun!'

-

The 4th step was when Emily started drinking a lot (again). It wasn't like she was permanently drunk or was relying on alcohol to get her though the day, if she had to last without it she would have been fine. It just helped, when the cigarettes wouldn't curb the feeling inside of her and the emptiness in her stomach wasn't giving her the same feeling it used to, alcohol always worked. She didn't even need to be drunk for it to help, being buzzed was enough.

She knew it was a bad habit, but she was tired of always being worried and stressed, she just wanted to be able to relax. It was a habit she'd first picked up after Jade died. She was heartbroken and felt empty, so had turned to the only things that had managed to make her feel better before; Jade's stash of cigarettes and drink. She didn't have any other friends to drink with but she didn't really mind, she was back on her own and it was better that way, that way she didn't get hurt and she didn't hurt anyone else.

If no one else was home she would sit up in her room and smoke and drink until she felt better but if people were around she had to go out and find somewhere else to do it. The most common place she went was to the old park on the hill that she and Jade used to go to all the time. It was rusty and dirty and falling apart so not many people went there, which was why it was perfect. The 2 of them had spent so many hours there, smoking and drinking and laughing and having fun but now Emily had to do that on her own.

She guessed she did get lonely sometimes, but it was never enough to make her want to make new friends or spend time with people. She was perfectly fine being self-destructive without any help.

Emily remembers the day that everything blew up and came to a head (well she remembers most of it anyway). It started off okay, but then she managed to get into a massive argument with her mother. Apparently they were having a gathering full of very important people later that night and Emily was expected to be downstairs fro the whole time, mingling and socialising, something she was not planning on doing. It had been exactly 3 months since Jade had died and all she wanted to do was get away from everything. The argument had resulted in her storming from the house, a bottle of vodka and pack of cigarettes stashed firmly in her bag.

Instead of going to the park like she usually did she ended up going to the field she had sat with Jade on the last time she had seen her. She wasn't particularly sure why she did it, it just felt like the right thing to do. She sat on the field for hours, just sitting and drinking and smoking and remembering the last conversation she'd had with Jade. It was getting dark and cold by the time she decided that it was time to go home. She had drunk so much that her vision was starting to get blurry and she could hardly stand up and all she really wanted to do was sleep. That's where her memory began to get fuzzy. She knows she got home but she can't remember how, she assumes that she walked but she wouldn't know cause the next thing she remembers is stumbling into a room full of ambassadors and other important people, seeing her mum's expression of pure anger and horror and throwing up all over a very expensive rug. Then she stumbled out again, somehow managed to clamber up the stairs to her room and passed out next to her bed.

When she woke up the next morning she could still taste sick in her mouth and her head was banging, but she was in her pyjamas in her bed. Someone, presumably her mother had come up and helped her get changed and under her covers, but honestly it could have been anyone from the little that Emily remembered. Part of her didn't want to leave her room, she wanted to stay shut up in there forever, that idea was 10 times better than the thought of having to face her mother. She knew she wouldn't be able to avoid her for long though, so she figured she should at least shower and try to freshen up before she had to face the undoubtedly furious woman.

An hour later Emily slowly walked down the stairs, praying that her mother would be out so she had a little while more to prepare for the telling off she was about to experience. Unfortunately she had no such luck. As she rounded the corner into the kitchen she had come face to face with her mother. Emily had taken a deep breath, preparing to be screamed and shouted at until her ears bled, but that wasn't what happened. She and her mother just stared at each other for a moment before Elizabeth spoke in a surprisingly calm voice, "We're going back to America next week, make sure you've got everything packed by Friday."

Emily didn't say anything as she watched her mother walk past her and into the study. She wasn't sure what had just happened, where was the anger and the yelling? She wanted to ask her mum why she wasn't being punished, but didn't want to risk evoking her anger so Emily just left it and did as her mother said, making sure that all of her belongings were packed up by that Friday.

-

Emily had known that she needed America to be her fresh start, and she made it work. She made sure she was eating properly, made friends, stopped drinking except for fun and even managed to tone down the smoking a bit, even if she didn't stop fully until a few years later. She got good grades, attended an amazing university and got a dream job that she loved. She had got her life back together, so why the fuck was she back where she was now? How had she let herself get back to this?

She had turned up to work drunk the other day, not stumbling all over the place and throwing up but drunk enough to get sent straight back home and told not to come in until she felt 'ready to uphold the expected standards of a work environment' (courtesy of Hotch, of course). She wasn't even sure what she'd been thinking, she'd hardly slept and she felt so bad that all she could think of to help her focus and keep her grounded was a few shots of whatever she could find in her cupboard, and evidently she'd had a few too many.

She hadn't responded to any of the texts her team had sent her, all asking the same thing in different ways. 'What were you thinking?' 'You're lucky you still have a job' 'Are you okay?' 'Do I need to come round and see you?' 'You need to sort yourself out' 'You can talk to me about anything' She just watched as the messages became more concerned and worried, not knowing what she could say in response. How was her team still supporting her after everything she'd done? She'd pushed them all away and become a completely different person and still they were trying to make sure that she was okay. 'Answer someone to let us know that you're okay' 'Don't do anything stupid' 'Em, we love you, just let us know that you're okay and we'll leave you alone for a bit.'

Shes responded to that last one (which was from JJ) with a simple, 'I'm fine' before she turned her phone off and just sat on the sofa; thinking about everything she'd done and what she had turned into. Again.

She hated the fact she'd let herself get like this, she hated herself for letting it get this far, she just hated everything. She could hardly go an hour without smoking a cigarette, she was hardly eating, she had pushed all her friends away and she was back relying on alcohol to try and fix everything inside of her, which of course would never work. She wasn't stupid, she knew that it wasn't going to fix anything but she didn't know what else she could do, maybe she was just too far gone for anything or anyone to help her. Maybe all she could do now was give in to everything and just let it happen. Maybe it was time to let the little bit of fight she had left inside of her go, and just accept her fate.

-

Emily Prentiss had spent the last 2 days drunk. She had locked herself in her flat and smoked and drunk and not eaten and left her phone off and she wasn't sure how she was expecting to feel afterwards but it wasn't this. She was sad and alone and she had realised that this wasn't what she wanted, she just didn't know how to change. She had tried to fight everything for so long but giving in hadn't felt as good as she'd expected it to. She thought she was going to feel better somehow, but it hadn't happened and now she just felt worse than ever.

She needed help, but asking for it went against everything she had ever done. Asking for help showed weakness, and if there was one thing that Emily wasn't it was weak, not to the outside world anyway. Then again there was a group of people that already knew just how fucked up she was, they'd watched her fall apart and tried to help but she'd just ignored all their offers, and now she was here. If there was anyone to ask it would be them, she just didn't know how to do it, how was she supposed to make the words make sense in her head and then actually force herself to say them?

She didn't know yet, she wasn't sure what she was going to say or who she was going to call but she needed someone. Anyone. She grabbed her phone and turned it on, her hands shaking as she did so. She ignored all the messages she had received while it had been switched off and scrolled through her contacts until she found the name she was looking for and pressed call. She sat silently, wincing slightly at the sound of the phone ringing, questioning whether this was really the right thing to do. She didn't have any time to change her mind though as phone she was calling was picked up and she heard the voice she needed to hear come through her speakers.

"Emily?"

"JJ," Emily croaked, her voice rough and tired, "I need help."

20 minutes later there was a soft knock at the door. Emily had already text JJ saying that the door was open. She was sat in the corner of the hall, her arms wrapped around her knees as she just stared at the door. She watched as it slowly opened, watched as JJ entered the room, watched as she processed all the empty bottles of alcohol and the stale smell of smoke, watched as her gaze landed on Emily and something that looked close to sympathy and sadness entered her eyes. JJ then cast her eyes back behind her, outside of the flat, and shook her head slightly, obviously telling someone not to come in right now. Emily would have rolled her eyes if she didn't feel so awful. The others were here too, of course they were.

Then JJ spoke.

"Oh, Em." Her voice was soft and kind and before Emily knew what was happening she was crying. Emily didn't cry. She hardly ever when she was on her own and she certainly didn't cry in front of other people.

Emily almost didn't notice JJ making her way across the room through her tears and sobs and disjointed apologies. All she could focus on was the panic rising in her chest as she realised how vulnerable she was in this moment. The blonde just crouched down next to her, wrapping her arms around her heaving shoulders and holding her as she cried. "It's okay Em, I'm here, we're all here. You're going to be okay. I promise."

Emily couldn't say anything, couldn't do anything except cry into the younger woman's chest. She knows she should have felt something when the rest of the team walked into the room, but she couldn't bring herself to care. All she cared about now was the fact that she was finally letting her emotions out, and the fact that it almost felt good. For the first time in a long time she felt different, better, like a weight was being lifted off of her. Not completely, but just enough to help her breathe a little easier.

As she sat there crying in her dirty flat, surrounded by people that she loved and that loved her back Emily let another thought cross her mind. Maybe she could get through this.

-

The fifth and final step of Emily falling apart was when she cried in front of her friends. That was when she knew she had hit rock bottom but, surprisingly, it also seemed to be the moment that she realised that maybe she could get better again. Maybe the final step of her falling apart and the first step of her putting herself back together were the same thing.