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There's several things Emily Prentiss really enjoys about being the active unit chief at the BAU. She likes that she's back with this team, with people she considers her family more than her own blood relatives. She likes that everyone on the team feels each other is like an extended family in a way. She likes that Matt Simmons, Luke Alvez and Tara Lewis all feel welcome and accepted into this crazy, chaotic family unit despite them being relatively new compared to everyone else here.

She likes that she's comfortable with this job, that she finally feels like she does an alright job at leading her team. She knew when the position was offered to her that she would have big shoes to fill; Hotch was always a great leader. She knows she's screwed up a few times, knows there's times she could have done something one way, or another that way. But after being in this position for a couple of years, she finally feels like she's doing things right, that the unit is running like a well oiled machine just as well as it did under Hotch (at times, Dave does tell her that she runs the team better, but she figures it's just his "inner dad" kicking in).

[The one thing she certainly can do without is the mountain of paperwork that comes with the job, but most of the time it's manageable.]

The office, for her, is one of the biggest perks of the job. It's obviously much bigger than the small desk she occupied years ago and has a certain privacy factor that she hadn't realized she would find so comforting (though, most times, her door is wide open for anyone to come in). She most definitely likes the fact she can shut off the lights and close the blinds when her migraines get too intense.

Today, her blinds are closed and her lights are off, but not to ward off a migraine. Instead, she wants to avoid the prying, curious eyes of the profilers outside the door as she periodically grimaces or flinches due to the sharp pain on her chest.

The shamrock branded into her skin almost feels hot, as if a fresh iron had just been pressed against her skin. The flesh is white and raised up into a scar that captured every little detail of the rod as it pressed onto her. It stings just as bad today as it did when Doyle had put it there years and years ago.

She knows realistically that it doesn't hurt, that the pain is only psychosomatic but it doesn't seem to register fully with her brain as the area feels swollen, red and singed. She swears if she stops focusing on typing up the current case file, she'll smell her flesh burning.

It irritates her that she feels like this. It's not even close to the anniversary of her kidnapping and "murder". It's never even hurt like this before on the anniversary of that day. It's like Doyle still has a grip on her, the mark symbolizing that he owns her, even from beyond the grave.

It makes her feel sick.

Throughout the day, she manages to hide her discomfort from the team. The pain stops briefly during her lunch break with JJ, the blonde offering her a distraction and comfort in the form of innocent conversation about the boys. After she gives the older woman's hand a gentle, reassuring squeeze before she heads back to her desk, Emily starts to think that whatever is going on with the scar is over with, that she finally got a grip on herself and snapped out of it. Only for her chest to start hurting again so intensely, she just barely manages to stifle a soft cry of pain by biting the inside of her cheek.

She tries to avoid it as long as she can, really she does, but by mid afternoon she's periodically rubbing at the area with a look of discomfort seemingly plastered on her face. She knows this isn't the best thing to do; if anything, she's irritating her skin more than she is helping herself. But in her mind it does help, in a way, for her to do this, to chant in her head that whatever's hurting isn't real, her pain isn't real.

She startles out of her trance at a knock coming from her door. Dropping her hand down, her head snaps up from the computer to her doorway where Garcia stands with a worried look on her face.

"Everything okay, PG?" she asks with a clearing of her throat, expecting the other woman to hand over a case file until she makes note of her empty hands.

"Yes!" technical analyst nods, then hesitates, biting her lip, "Well, no..." Taking a deep breath she lets herself into the office, shutting the door behind herself with a sheepish look. "Look, I know that I shouldn't be paying attention to the security cameras, and I'm not, but they're on my wall and they shuffle through and I couldn't..." She starts to ramble but stops, collecting herself as she clasps her hands together nervously.

"I noticed you kept doing..." she gestures towards Emily, slightly embarrassed to have caught her at a moment she knew she shouldn't have. "I know it's bothering you today and I couldn't just stand by and watch one of my angels hurting and not do anything to help stop it..." She pauses her ramblings again, pushing her glasses up her nose before retrieving a business card from her back pocket and handing it over to the unit chief, who had just barely managed to follow the series of ramblings with a confused frown.

Emily takes the small, colorful card carefully, looking over it. The one side is colorful and has a ton of grungy, chunky drawings on the front, all outlined with thick, black lines and colored ridiculously bright. The back is plain black with white type that reads "Cassadee Knightly" with an address, a business email, a user name for Instagram and phone number underneath in smaller type.

"My friend Cassadee is one of the best coverup artists along the east coast," Garcia explains as Emily's confused look deepens a bit. "She's known for her new school designs, but she can knock out an amazing piece in any genre," she adds quickly as a reassurance. "Don't let the colorful designs on the card fool you. She has an amazing, very diverse portfolio and can make you forget you ever got that thing. Just give her a call or go to the studio and say I sent you and she'll get you in right away."

Emily's eyes softens at the sentiment, at the kind gesture from her friend that she's rendered nearly speechless. "Penelope..."

"You don't have to get it covered," Garcia quickly backpedals. "I just... I wanted to give you an option that might help."

Wordlessly and almost breaking into tears, the unit chief stands and wraps the younger woman into a tight,  grateful hug. "Thank you," she whispers sincerely. "I'll think about it, okay?"

Garcia gives her friend a tighter squeeze, reassuring her. "I'm here for you, okay? If you need to talk, I'm here, Emily."

She feels guilty for the underlying tones of panic in the younger woman's voice, knows it stems from a time where she kept the most dangerous part of her life hidden away from the team. She tries not to be like that anymore; it never did seem worth it to her to put the team through something as traumatic as her "death". Penelope knows that she tries to be a bit more open, doesn't try to hide much anymore. But Emily assumes that once someone faced death as many times as she has herself and barely managed to escape by the skin of her teeth each time, the technical analyst is justified. It's her way of letting Emily know that she cares, and the unit chief deeply appreciates it.

"I promise you, I'm okay," she assures Garcia with a strong, reassuring squeeze to her shoulder.

"He's dead," the younger woman says, giving her free hand a squeeze.

"I know that."

"He can't hurt you anymore," Garcia adds, more firm this time.

A small, sad smile manages to flash on her face for a brief second. "I know that, too."

Exhaling with a nod, Garcia goes to open the door.

"Penelope?"

The colorful blonde turns towards her boss. "Yes, Em?"

"Thank you," Emily murmurs again, holding up the card. "Really, this means more to me than you know."

With a small smile and another nod, the technical analyst exits her office, leaving the door wide open on her way out.

The rest of the afternoon seems to fly by after that, Emily typing up a few more reports before she stops suddenly and looks at the card once more. After Garcia left, she had put it at the corner of her desk, right next to the framed pictures of drawings from both Henry and Michael (a scene [admittedly, one of Henry's favorites] from one of the Magic Treehouse books drawn out in pencil and a portrait of her small family done in crayons done by the younger boy at preschool respectively).

She picks it up after a few moments, leaning back in her chair as she studies the stark white san serif font on the back of the card. The material is a thick card stock, laminated on the side with all the artwork. The text is engraved into the card— she can feel the bumps as she runs her finger across the card.

"Emily."

Glancing up at the doorway and at her expression, the unit chief can tell JJ's been standing there for a few minutes at least, studying her in silence. She's known something's been wrong with her partner since she woke up this morning, knows that the conversation isn't one to be had at work. But it doesn't stop the concern from showing in her gaze, or the worry emanating from her.

"You ready to go home?" the blonde asks carefully from where she stands when Emily's gaze meets her own. She longs to go over and kiss her pain away but knows that it's not appropriate here, not with Spence and Rossi, the last remaining people in the office, so close by.

Glancing towards the clock and then the last half typed up report, Emily saves the document and clicks the off button to her monitor with a nod. She'll finish it tomorrow, she decides. "Yeah, let's go," she murmurs, sticking the business card into her back pocket.

Chapter Text

To Emily’s relief, the scar had stopped hurting as soon as she walked through the door and was greeted by the two boys, allowing her to immediately settle into a more domestic role. She had cooked dinner while JJ helped Henry with the remainder of his homework and kept Michael occupied so he would stay out of the kitchen. Afterwards, the blonde offered to clean up and put away the leftovers while Emily got the boys ready for bed. 

 

Nights like this were nice. 

 

Peaceful. 

 

It made her realize that all the shit life had thrown at her for years and years was worth it. Especially if it meant she could come home to an amazing partner who loved her with every fiber of her being and two amazing children to share her life with on a semi daily basis from now on.

 

Michael's hair is still damp, still smells of green apple shampoo from his bath as he rests his head on her chest. Her arm loops protectively around the young boy's frame as she reads softly to him. His eyes follow her finger sleepily, his mouth silently reciting the words he knows by memory now. 

 

"No matter where you go, no matter where you are, no matter how big you grow and even if you stray far; I'll love you forever," Emily reads off, smiling to herself as Michael reads off the last line with her. "Because you're always my baby star."

 

"That's my favorite part," Michael whispers to Emily with a yawn, cuddling into her side as she lays the book down on his side table. The book was a favorite of Henry's growing up and soon enough became Michael's favorite too. This copy of the book is new, a gift from his "Uncle Spencer" for his third birthday a few weeks ago. JJ still keeps a copy of the book in her desk at work, as does Emily shortly after she and the blonde became partners. Will has his own copy at his house and Emily's certain that if she were to look through the expansive collection of books that adorns Henry's bookshelf, she'd find the original, worn copy of the book that he had been gifted as a baby by his grandparents.

 

Pressing a kiss to the top of his head, Emily smiles warmly. "It's Henry's and mommy's favorite, too," she tells the toddler softly.

 

"What's your favorite?" Michael wonders curiously, glancing up at the older woman.

 

"When the mommy star kisses baby star's sparkly nose," she says, kissing the little boy's nose and grinning when he giggles softly. Sliding from the bed, she gently sets the boy down in the middle and covers him up, kissing his forehead gently. "I'm going to go get mommy to tuck you in, okay?"

 

Nuzzling into his pillow with another yawn, the small boy nods. "Okay."

 

Giving him one more kiss and smoothing out his hair, Emily murmurs, "Night, baby star. I love you."

 

"Love you too, Emily," Michael replies just as softly.

 

She carefully shuts off his table side lamp, flicks on his nightlight and stands, knees cracking as she heads from his room to the hall. JJ passes her as she makes her way from Henry's room to Michael's, briefly stopping to give her arm a grateful squeeze, a silent "thank you" for getting the boys ready for bed. Emily flashes her lover a small smile in return, breaking apart to go into Henry's room.

 

The boy is sitting under his covers in bed, his lamp illuminating the book he has in front of him as he silently reads. His reading glasses are skewed slightly, perched on the very tip of his nose, which he manages to adjust before they fall off his face completely.

 

"Hey, buddy, bedtime," Emily says softly as she enters his room. "You got school tomorrow."

 

"I know but...," he replies quietly, looking up at her innocently. "Can I finish reading this chapter? Please?" He pauses for a moment, seeming to consider something. "Can you read it to me?" 

 

Emily's heart almost melts at the question, at the simple request she doesn't think she could deny even with a gun to her head. She knows Henry's no longer a little boy, and requests like this rarely come from the ten year old anymore, which only makes it more impossible for her to refuse. 

 

Pretending to think the question over, she leans her head against the door, tone soft. "How many pages are left?"

 

The smile that breaks out on Henry's face is infectious, Emily unable to stop as it spreads on her own face as he counts the remaining pages. "Eight," he informs her.

 

Staring into his excited eyes, Emily knows she's a goner, that she's already lost this battle that wouldn't have even started. JJ does the same thing at times, knows that that specific look in her eyes can have the older woman wrapped around her finger in a heartbeat. 

 

(Or anyone, for that matter. 

 

JJ often uses those irresistible, bright baby blues to the team's advantage when a particular officer or family member is being rather difficult to work with and won't coordinate with them. Her prior experiences as media liaison partnered with her irresistible charm has saved the team a ton of hassle and stress on plenty of those occasions.

 

"I'm dubbing it the Jareau Effect," Matt had teased her about it once on a plane ride back home to Virginia after a particularly difficult case where JJ had to step in several times over just to get local PD to work with the BAU team, rather than against them. The newest member of the team had dodged the playful swat the blonde had aimed his way with a grin. "One look and even those most difficult to deal with will crack.")

 

Emily's starting to think it's unfair that Henry and JJ use "the Jareau Effect" against her, knows it's just as much her fault for being so soft when it comes to her family.

 

Smiling wide, she chuckles. "You learned that from your mother, you little sneak. You know I can't say no to those adorable baby blues," she teases as she straightens herself from the door frame. 

 

Henry grins, shrugging innocently.

 

Emily beams, shaking her head. "Come on, scoot over," she says.

 

Henry excitedly does as he's told, moving over to the left side of his bed and taking his glasses off. After setting them in the case, he cuddles into Emily's side much like Michael did earlier, his eyes closed as he listens to her read from his book.

 

Emily knows Henry is asleep by the time she finishes the chapter from the sounds of his even, gentle breathing and his relaxed, calm expression. Fetching the bookmark that Garcia helped him make a few years ago from the table, she slides it into place, laying it down and shutting off his lamp. Giving him a kiss on the top of his head, she carefully crawls from the bed.  "Night, love you," she murmurs softly into his hair as to not wake him, sneaking out of the room and shutting the door quietly behind her.

 

JJ meets her outside the door, greeting her with a soft kiss. "Great job tonight, super mom," she jokes lightly.

 

"What can I say? I learned from one of the best," Emily replies just as softly against her partner's lips. She pulls away with a soft sigh, pressing a kiss to the top of the other woman's head. "They're such great kids."

 

"They absolutely adore you," JJ murmurs, loosely wrapping her arms around the older woman's waist. "They always asked about you whenever you weren't here."

 

"Why do you think I decided to move in?" Emily says playfully, chuckle husky and low when JJ turns and shoots her a mock offended look.

 

"And here I thought you moved in because we wanted to settle down officially, Agent Prentiss," the blonde teases.

 

Emily shrugs, smiling down at her lover. "Cat's out of the bag, I only moved in for the kids." She carefully lays her arms over the younger woman's neck, fingers absentmindedly playing with the slightly curled golden locks. "Although, you're pretty great, yourself, Agent Jareau," she leans in and whispers, capturing her partner's lips in a passionate kiss that leaves them both breathless.

 

"I love you so much," JJ puffs out once they both pull away. "I honestly don't know what I'd do without you."

 

"I love you, too," Emily responds softly, sincerely. "All three of you, more than anything." A pause. "I'm not going anywhere. Not anymore," she adds in quietly as a reassurance. 

 

Instead of a verbal reply, the blonde's response comes in the form of a small, gentle kiss pressed against the older woman's throat. The silence between them is comfortable and warm as they stand like that in the hallway, holding each other and letting the stresses and worries of the day slowly fade from existence.

 

"Come on, I drew us a bath while you were reading Michael his bedtime story," JJ murmurs, leaving a few more lingering kisses against the older woman's neck.

 

Emily sighs contently, smiling at her statement. "You really do know the way to my heart, huh?" she teases lightly.

 

JJ shrugs innocently, playful smirk on her face. "That or I'm just really good at my job," she jabs back, pulling the older woman towards the bathroom before she gets a chance to respond.

Chapter Text

The bathroom is lit up by tea lights strategically placed around the tub, illuminating it in an orange glow that contrasts with the cool feeling of the tiles beneath their feet. The oil defuser is on, a steady stream of lavender scented fog swirling around the room. The bath is still relatively warm, the steam from both the diffuser and the water fogging up the mirror.

JJ's fingers press firm, precise circles against her, causing her hips to jut at the delightful sensation. The light, pleased whimpers and gasps that escape her mingling together harmoniously with the soft splashing sounds the water makes when the blonde moves her wrist. She curls one hand into the blonde's hair, the other grasping the side of the tub desperately. She closes her eyes just as the pads of JJ's fingers rub her clit, muffling a moan into her partner's hair.

The younger woman's teeth gently scrape at the brunette's neck, teasingly nipping at the skin beneath her lips until they settle at the valley between her breasts, gently sucking a trail of light bruises there. She makes a mental note of the choked gasp escaping her partner's lips when her lips barely brush over the shamrock scar, avoiding the area to press a kiss right under her chin. The fingers of her free hand explore the plane of Emily's stomach, laying flat against the scar Ian Doyle had left all those years ago with a piece of broken wood.

She knows Emily's close by the grip she has in her hair, lightly pulling on the blonde strands beneath her fingers desperately as the sounds escaping her lips become more desperate. Trailing a series of frenzied kisses back up the brunette's throat, the younger woman presses their lips flush together in a deep kiss that only breaks for a split second when Emily sighs out one last whimper.

JJ pulls away first, pressing a few more kisses on her partner's jaw before locking her arms around the brunette's waist, head resting just below her shoulder. Emily rests her lips at the top of the blonde's head, sighing contently against her skull.

"Talk to me," the blonde murmurs softly. "What's going on with you today?"

Emily's arms tighten around JJ's waist, a small smile coming to her face as she teases, "Ah, so is that why you gave me that orgasm? To get me to talk?"

"No," the blonde replies honestly. She leans up and kisses her girlfriend's cheek. "But in my experience, a good orgasm or two never really hurt anybody." She turns in Emily's arms, reaching up and brushing her hair back behind her ears. "Em, I could tell something was off with you since this morning," she continues, face and tone becoming more serious as she runs a hand reassuringly through the brunette's hair.

Emily leans her head against the wall and exhales slowly, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.

Sensing her partner's hesitation, JJ sits up, meeting her eyes with a soft, reassuring smile. "Hey,we don't have to talk about it tonight, you know," she murmurs understandingly. "I just want you to know that you can talk to me. No secrets anymore, remember?"

"I know," the brunette breathes out just as softly, leaning her cheek into the blonde's palm. "I know. It's not that, it's just..." She exhales slowly, shoulders slumping as she sinks into the tub. "The brand... It hurts," she murmurs in a small whisper, sitting up slightly to allow JJ to slide behind her. She relaxes easily in this position— despite her hard, serious demeanor around the office and in the field, she vastly prefers being the little spoon when she's with JJ behind closed doors.

Pumping a small dollop of shampoo into the middle of her palm, the blonde gently clicks her tongue, gesturing for the older woman to remain in her seated position. At the feeling of her fingers massaging through her hair, Emily sighs and closes her eyes, leaning into the feeling. "It's not even close to the anniversary of the attack," she murmurs softly.

"Baby, that's completely normal," JJ reminds gently. "Trauma doesn't care what day it is, or how close or far away anniversaries might be. It just happens and that's okay." A brief pause. "Tilt your head back a little bit more."

"I know that," Emily murmurs quietly, doing as JJ instructed. "I'm just... frustrated about it, I guess," she finally admits.

"The scar on your stomach doesn't hurt?" JJ pries gently, lathering the last bit of shampoo into the dark locks of hair before her fingers just swirl random shapes in her girlfriend's hair.

Shaking her head, Emily's jaw tenses slightly. "It never has. It symbolizes that I won, that I beat him. I'm here, and he's not. Despite what he did, I'm still alive," she explains gently. "But... this one..." she trails off, exhaling shakily as JJ gives her waist a reassuring squeeze.

Swallowing thickly, she pushes the suds running from her forehead with the side of her palm, opening her eyes to look back at the younger agent. "It's like he still has a hold on me, that even though he's dead, a part of him is with me forever."

"Have you given any thought to the tattoo?" JJ asks softly, using her own hand to stop the suds from getting into her partner's eyes. At the curious look Emily gives her, she elaborates quietly with, "You get distracted easily when you get like this— you didn't empty out your pockets after work. And I saw Garcia give you the card at the office."

"I thought about it before," Emily whispers. "Trust me, it's something I have been considering for a long time."

"What's stopping you?"

The brunette pauses a bit at this, shaking her head slightly when JJ murmurs an apology. "It's okay," she says off handedly, allowing the blonde to rinse the foamy suds from her hair. "I guess... I'm afraid that even if I get it covered up, it won't make a difference about how it makes me feel. If I feel any relief, it will only be temporary because this will always be a part of me," she rants softly after JJ's done rinsing her hair.

"It'll symbolize you being able to take control of your life again," the younger agent points out. "You taking something that you want on your body to cover up what he did is like saying that he can't win. No matter what he does, he can't control you anymore because you took away the one thing he still holds over you."

Leaning back against her partner, Emily exhales softly. "Yeah, I guess so."

Kissing her temple and giving her shoulders a squeeze, JJ whispers in her ear, "Even if you have a bad day after you get it covered, no one will let you go through it alone. You have the support of your team, of our sons, of me... We'll never let you go through it alone again."

At the firm assurance, the use of the word "our" when JJ refers to the boys, Emily manages to crack a genuine smile. "You mean that?"

Tucking a strand of hair behind the older agent's ear, JJ nods firmly without hesitation. "Of course I do," she replies honestly without asking for an elaboration on the question. She knows what Emily is asking about. "As much as mine or Will's."

"Emily, I'm not saying it's a guaranteed fix and I can't promise how much it'll help, but it is an option." She gives her partner a kiss on the cheek. "Whatever you decide to do, I'll support your choice 100%. I have your back."

"You always have," the brunette murmurs, sinking slightly beneath the bubbles as she melts into the soft, passionate kiss JJ pulls her into. "I asked the boys what kind of tattoo I should get earlier," she admits breathlessly when her partner pulls away. "Just to entertain the option," she adds, gathering some shampoo in her palm, swinging a leg carefully over JJ's so she's straddling the younger agent's frame.

The blonde smirks in amusement at the change of her girlfriend's position, closing her eyes obediently before Emily starts lathering up her hair. "What did they say?"

"Michael thinks I should get a dragon," the brunette says, unable to stop the grin that appears on her face as she recalls the toddler's earlier words. "He says it's because I'm strong and have the right attitude."

A giggle bubbles its way out from JJ's lips. "Well, he's not wrong," she teases gently. "But if you get that, I'm allowed to call you "the dragon lady" around the office."

Emily snorts in amusement at this. "Yeah, not even in the bedroom. Keep poking the sleeping bear, babe, and see what happens. Maybe I'll just cook you breakfast tomorrow— burnt toast straight from your stubborn ass toaster."

JJ laughs, closing her eyes again and humming appreciatively when her partner's fingers scrub through her hair. "What did Henry say?"

"Something transformative, like a phoenix," the brunette murmurs, smile still evident in her voice. "He really thought it through."

"He's such a smart kid," JJ murmurs thoughtfully. "They both are."

"They both thought it over, I'll give them that," Emily agrees easily, still in awe on how much effort both boys put in to their answers.

"What do you want to get?" JJ asks, opening one eye briefly to peer at her girlfriend. "You know, entertain the option?"

Emily releases a long breath, using one hand to act as a shield for the younger agent's eyes as she rinses out the shampoo. "I haven't thought about it too much," she admits. "It's part of the reason I asked the boys— I needed ideas. I like the idea of a phoenix, symbolizing a new part of myself rising from the ashes, and leaving the old part, the part that he still has control over, behind."

A pause. "I would look pretty fucking hot with a dragon, though."

"What about something colorful?" JJ suggests innocently, pushing wet, limp locks out of her to look at Emily. "A group of orchids?" She trails a hand reassuringly up the brunette's side with an apologetic smile at the slight frown that appears on her face at the suggestion. "Right. You've never been the type for flowers."

"It's not a bad idea," Emily murmurs slowly, assuringly, reaching over for the conditioner. "It's just—"

"Not your style," JJ finishes for her, nodding in agreement as the older agent starts working the slippery substance through her hair. "No butterflies or doves..." she hums, trailing off.

"Crosses, clocks," Emily adds in. A pause then a cringe. "Mandalas or a tribal."

"What about something ferocious like a tiger?"

Emily pauses to consider this, then makes a face, causing JJ to laugh quietly. "Not too keen on getting a tattoo of a pussy cat?"

"Remind me again why I'm with you," the brunette scowls playfully, which immediately vanishes when the younger woman kisses her softly.

"Maybe it's got something to do with you being a complete sucker for cute blondes," JJ teases, giving her girlfriend another kiss that she reciprocates immediately.

"Hmm, I'm only a complete sucker for you," Emily argues gently against her lips, smiling wide when the younger woman mumbles something about the line being "completely cheesy" but she'll let it slide because she finds the brunette "so adorable".

"You don't have to decide tonight, or tomorrow, or even a few weeks from now," the blonde begins softly when they pull away. "You can take as long as you need to consider your options. No matter what you decide, you have my endless support."

"I know," Emily says softly, yet firmly. Her hand finds the blonde's, giving her fingers a grateful squeeze. "Come on, let's get cleaned up."

They finish their bath in comfortable silence, the only sounds coming from tiny bubbles from the foamy soap popping and water dripping back down into the tub.

Moments like this, simply washing each other with no underlying sexual motivation, feels so intimate and loving it makes the brunette's heart clench. Being able to let her guard down and be vulnerable with someone she's known for so many years and loved just as long is something Emily couldn't have imagined for herself even in her dreams.

But when she catches JJ's eyes and loving smile as she's running the scrub gently up her partner's arm, or when the blonde sneakily smears a soapy streak on her nose, she's reminded that this is real, that this is her life now.

She couldn't be more grateful.

They crawl into bed around a half hour later, stark naked under the sheets. Emily rests her head comfortably against JJ's chest, curling into her body for extra warmth. Her hair is splayed out across her partner's chest, a few stray drops sliding across the blonde's skin, leaving goosebumps in their wake.

JJ's strong arms loop protectively around her frame, dainty fingers tracing soft, flowing patterns against her skin. Her lips press firmly on the top of the older woman's head for a brief moment, contently sighing into the older woman's hair.

"JJ?"

Humming in acknowledgement, the blonde brushes hair from her girlfriend's eyes when she looks up at her.

"Can you take over for me on Thursday, if we don't have a case?"

Cracking a small smile, the blonde teases gently, "Well, being in charge when you're gone is the main duty of an SSA, baby." Moving her fingers through dampened locks and tracing the same gentle shapes at the base of the brunette's skull, she continues more seriously. "You don't have to go to get this done in a few days, especially if you're still not sure about this.

"I know that. But I'm sure," Emily murmurs. "The talk we had helped. I was so focused on how it still affects me, not how I could overcome that feeling. You put things into a better perspective than I had been." She exhales softly, leaning into the feeling. "I don't want to feel like he owns me anymore. I want to be able to look at myself and acknowledge that he can't win anymore, that I reclaimed myself again. I want this."

Squeezing her shoulders supportively, JJ kisses her forehead. "I'm proud of you, Emily," she murmurs genuinely. "I can hold down the fort for a day, keep the gang in line," she continues. "If Luke starts sulking around for the next week or so because his paper basketball record was demolished, I had nothing to do with it."

Warmed by her partner's reassurance and support, Emily smiles fondly at the blonde. Sneaking in a quick kiss, she smirks. "Uh-huh, and I'm sure the security cameras would show you'd be the innocent, totally responsible party in that situation."

"100%," JJ mumbles on her lips with a smile, pulling the brunette back in for a longer kiss. "Oh, and I'm not touching the reports you already have on your desk."

Swearing under her breath, Emily's eyes shine playfully as she says, "Well, I can always ask for more." Placating her scowling girlfriend with a gentle kiss, she chuckles. "It's okay, I didn't expect you to get them anyway. Just keep the boys and Garcia in check. I think we both know Tara and Dave are responsible enough without supervision."

"Dick around all day, got it," JJ teases. "What are you going to get for the coverup?"

"I want to meet up with Garcia's friend, get her opinion on a few designs. Have a discussion about what I have playing around in my head. Get an appointment set up, all the fun stuff," the brunette says. "Let her work her magic and hope that this thing will be gone when she's done."

"Do I get to know what you're thinking about getting?"

"You'll see when it's done," Emily chuckles breathily.

"You're totally getting a dragon," JJ smirks. "I knew it. I can't wait to call you "Dragon Lady" around the office."

"Okay, don't push your luck there, Agent," the brunette scowls playfully. "I can still get Anderson to bring you all the extra reports he can find."

"Right, gotcha, just in the bedroom," the blonde continues with a wink.

Sighing exasperatedly, Emily buries her face in JJ's chest. "You're insufferable."

"That's not what you were saying in the bathtub earlier..."

"Jennifer," Emily whines exaggeratedly.

Laughing softly, the younger agent finally relents and kisses her girlfriend's head. "I love you."

"I love you too," the brunette mumbles back. "Even if you are the biggest pain in my ass at times."

"Lucky for you, that's a huge part of my job as your partner."

"Wouldn't have it any other way, babe," Emily murmurs genuinely before yawning. She curls herself against JJ's body, twining their legs together and looping an arm around her waist. As the blonde's around wrap around her and another kiss is pressed against her head, Emily allows herself to give into exhaustion and drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

The soft chime rings out into the room as she steps through the door. As she listens closely, she can hear the distinct buzz of a tattoo gun hard at work just above the gentle music playing from the top corner of the room. The walls are white with a wooden trim, almost ever inch of space covered with a frame containing various flash sheets of tattoos in all styles.

The front desk that separates her from the back rooms she assumes the artists work in is made of glass, the top shelf showcasing various styles of jewelry for piercings while the bottom holds a neon sign glowing brightly with the shop's name. Sitting on top of the corner of the desk in a tiny leather jacket and a spiked collar is a pink and gray Sphinx cat. The cat blinks up at her slowly with two different colored eyes, one green and one brown, but doesn't acknowledge her more than that.

This shop is certainly more clean, more welcoming than the shabby parlor in a back alley in Rome she went to as a teenager to rebel against her mother. The wobbly, poorly shaded anchor that she had gotten on her ankle had gotten infected and fallen out within a week of her getting it done. She still has the sizable scar, but could care less about it since her socks normally cover the area.

"Can I... help you with something?" the man behind the counter asks, eyeing Emily warily. He's dressed in all black, his jet black hair spiked up into sizable points that are dyed cobalt blue. His eyelids and lips are covered in dark black makeup with the same blue accents, his eyebrow and lip piercing matching his hair as well.

Emily had opted for the most casual clothing she could find instead of her normal attire, a simple pair of black jeans she borrowed [stole] from JJ's side of the closet and a simple short sleeve flannel that went down past her thighs, as an attempt to present herself as more casual, as more of an Emily Prentiss and less of an Agent Prentiss. She even left her gun and credentials at home, though she feels almost naked without them.

She can guess by the man's tone that she's not usually the type of clientele that walks through the doors of the shop. Or maybe there was a part of her, the agent part at least, that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't make herself turn off completely.

Clearing her throat softly, Emily heads up to the counter. "Yeah, my friend recommended this place to me and told me to ask for Cassadee Knightly?" she asks with a polite smile and soft tone.

The man, or Angel, as his name tag reads in a scribbly font, stares at her for a few seconds. Emily can practically see the gears in his head turning, until he finally holds a finger up and pushes himself from the chair. "Give me one sec," he tells her before disappearing into the back.

She waits patiently, carefully holding out her hand for the Sphinx cat to sniff at, gently clicking her tongue at the feline. "I don't look too much like a fed, do I? I think I can present as pretty casual," she tells the cat quietly with a light smile. Now that she's up close to the cat, she notices the embroidery on the jacket: Munchkin.

The Sphinx blinks up at her once more, meowing softly at her before stretching and laying out flat on the desk. He nearly knocks off a sign that reads, "Yes, you can pet the cat" with a cute little doodle of Munchkin in the corner, complete with a rainbow mohawk and a scribbled cat paw doing a rock pose next to it.

"Comes with the territory of being a Prentiss, I suppose," she murmurs, gently using her fingertips to stroke along the fuzz on top of the reclined feline's head.

She looks up when Angel comes back with a woman Emily presumes is Cassadee (as if her name tag wasn't a dead giveaway). She has short hair that comes just above her shoulder, each layer dyed a different bright color of the rainbow. Her arms are covered in colorful, bright tattoos that stand out even more against the gray shirt, the black skirt, fishnet stockings and black combat boots she wears. Her nails are short, painted with bright neon colors, the bright purple pinkie nail matching the contacts she wears in her eyes.

"I have been summoned," Cassadee jokes lightly, holding her hand out to greet Emily. "I'm Cassadee, what can I help you with?"

"Emily," Emily introduces herself, giving the other woman a firm handshake. "My friend Penelope Garcia told me about this place and said that I should ask for you if I needed a coverup?"

Eyebrows raising in recognition, Cassadee's smile breaks out in a grin. "Well any friend of Penelope's is more than welcome here." She steps aside slightly, nodding down the hall. "Follow me down into my lair and we'll get down to business."

The hallway is lined with several autographs from famous tattoo artists hanging in picture frames, brightly colored skulls of animals covered in floral patterns and mandalas scattered around the frames neatly. "They're all faux taxidermy," Cassadee explains softly to her as they pass by them. "One of my friends makes them."

"They're beautiful," Emily murmurs just as softly, hyper aware of the other clients in rooms they pass by. "How do you know Penelope?"

"We dated for a brief time years ago," Cassadee smiles, waving her hand slightly. "She encouraged me to get into tattooing and has been one of my biggest fans from the beginning."

"She always sees the potential people have," the agent murmurs with a small smile, sliding into a room behind the tattoo artist.

"That she does," Cassadee agrees, shutting the door behind them before sitting in a wheeled chair and gesturing towards another one for Emily to sit in. "So, what am I working with here and what sort of thing you looking to get it covered with?"

"Well, it's not another tattoo," Emily starts off slowly, sinking down in the seat. "It's a scar. A brand," she elaborates quietly.

Cassadee hisses quietly through her teeth at this, frowning softly. "Ouch," she murmurs. "I won't ask you how you got it, but do you mind showing me the area so I can get a better look?"

Wordlessly, Emily gently unbuttons the flannel she has on halfway down her chest, carefully moving it and her bra strap to the side. She adjusts when Cassadee gently instructs her to, holding the flannel open for the tattoo artist to get a better look.

"It's pretty prominent," Cassadee admits. "Whatever was used went pretty deep, but it's nothing I haven't seen before scarring wise."

"You'll be able to cover it?" Emily reaffirms hopefully.

"Easily," the tattoo artist confirms. "Although, I will let you know that whatever you want right here, this area will either have to be a deep red or purple, or a solid black if you want this outline to completely vanish."

"I was thinking more along the lines of a black and gray piece anyway," Emily assures her.

Cassadee beams. "Awesome. Do you know what you want, the style or have a reference picture you want to base a design off of? You can go ahead and cover back up," she adds, grabbing a clipboard for Emily and a sketchbook off her table. "Go ahead and fill that out while we chat."

"I was thinking a realism piece," Emily starts out after she fixes her shirt, using the pen attached to the board to start filling out everything. "I didn't bring any reference," she admits, slightly ashamed.

"No worries," Cassadee waves her off. "Let's talk this over and figure out a design that you'll be proud to wear."

Cassadee is extremely patient with Emily as she describes what she wants, offering suggestions here and there to help guide her down the right track. When they're done talking, Emily feels tremendously excited by what they talked about and cannot wait to see the designs Cassadee comes up with.

"Give me a few days to get some sketches done and I'll update you with those via email, if that's okay with you." When Emily nods, Cassadee continues. "I know the nature of your job is unpredictable as hell, so I understand we can't exactly set a date. However, Monday we're closed and it's my free day, and if that day works for you, we'll be set."

"I can arrange something," Emily confirms. "Unless a case comes up and the team needs me, but if that happens I'll let you know." She stands up from her chair, extending her hand to the tattoo artist in gratitude. "Hey, thank you so much again for this."

"Awesome," Cassadee grins, standing up with her sketchbook under her arm as she shakes Emily's hand. "And it's my pleasure, really. See you on Monday."

The next few days seem to drag on by for Emily at the office. There's no new cases that come in that are urgent enough to warrant the whole team's help. The only one that comes close is a case in Arlington that Rossi and Reid take care of in just a few short hours.

She finds herself constantly refreshing her email for Cassadee's updates, almost picking up the habit of biting her nails again until Garcia scolds her with a rolled up stack of old papers during their lunch break.

"What was that for?" Emily pouts dramatically, rubbing the back of her hand with a scowl. "JJ, she hit me!"

"JJ, she was biting her nails again!" Garcia retorts just as childishly. "Patience is a virtue, princess! Learn to exercise it!"

JJ pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs exasperatedly. "Ladies, behave or I'm grounding you both."

"Hey, I'm the innocent one here," Tara adds, palms up in the air in surrender.

"And that's why you're the favorite today!" JJ points to the woman with her fork.

"Oh, but you can't ground us," Garcia starts off with a playful smirk. "Something tells me our stoic unit chief here has a thing for getting into trouble and likes being on the receiving end of a little corporal punishment." Grinning when Emily flips her off, Garcia sits back in her chair. "What is Cass drawing up for you anyway?"

Emily dabs her lips with her napkin, smirking. "Top secret."

"You won't get it out of her," JJ tells Tara and Garcia before taking a bite of her food—leftovers heated up from the night before. "She won't even tell me." She pauses. "I still think it's a dragon."

"You only wish it was a dragon," the unit chief teases her girlfriend.

"Honestly, I'm just glad you seem so excited about it," JJ admits. "You seem to really love what you guys ended up discussing."

"I am excited," Emily confirms with a soft smile. "I just can't wait to see some of the designs, get this thing covered up and forget it was ever even there to begin with."

"You deserve it," Tara says genuinely, while Garcia squeezes Emily into a side hug. And, while they normally keep the PDA on the down low at the office, JJ had leaned over and quickly pressed a kiss on her forehead, leaving Emily grinning ear to ear. "Thanks, guys."

When she gets the email from Cassadee with the digital sketches she had come up with after the other three agents leave her office, it takes all of her not to jump up in excitement. The gasp that escapes her lips as she clicks through the pictures is soft, shocked. She has to bite her lip from crying at them; they're all so beautiful. She can see either one of these designs on her chest, would proudly wear any of them with pride.

She keeps going back to the fourth drawing, her mouse lingering over each and every single detail with her smile growing each second. This is exactly what she pictured in her mind when she pitched her ideas to Cassadee. She knows that this piece in the artist's capable hands will make the brand disappear completely.

"I'm taking control of myself again," she murmurs to herself in disbelief after shooting Cassadee an email about what design she wanted, confirming their appointment for Monday and profusely thanking the woman once again. She laughs breathily, wiping her hands over her face in disbelief. "I'm taking control of my life again."

Monday comes quickly after that.

After dropping JJ off at work and Michael's favorite stuffed animal he forgot to pack the night before off at Will's, Emily heads off to the tattoo studio.

The door is locked, but Cassadee spots her quickly, letting her in and greeting her with a grin. "You ready?"

"More than ready," Emily admits, following the artist back to her room.

"That's what I like to hear," Cassadee laughs, patting the back of a tattoo chair. "Go ahead and pop yourself down and get that shirt opened up, move everything off to the side. I don't think anything's going to be in my way, so everything can stay on," she says as she goes over to a sink and begins to wash her hands.

Emily does as she's told, unbuttoning her shirt all the way down.

Cassadee's gloves slap against her wrist softly. On the table next to the chair is a tattoo gun, a small bottle of isopropyl alcohol, several containers full of ink, a sketch of Emily's design on transfer paper and the full black and gray colored image on a propped up iPad. "Alright, let's get this stencil on. Lay on back in the chair."

When the tattoo artist pulls away the dampened paper slowly from her skin, Cassadee clicks her tongue proudly. "Oh today is going to be a great day. That's the perfect stencil right there," she murmurs to herself, gesturing for Emily to stand up. "Go ahead and use that mirror over there in the corner to make sure it's good for you."

Emily does as she's told, tearing up slightly when she sees the sketch over the scar, nodding with a small sniffle. "It's perfect."

Cassadee grins and comes up, gesturing over the area with her pinkie. "This area right here is going to be the darkest part. I'm going to use the natural contour and shapes to make this scar just completely disappear, okay?"

Emily nods gratefully, sitting back in the chair and holding her shirt off to the side. The tattoo artist carefully cleans the skin she's about to work on, blowing softly to dry the damp skin.

"Awesome. Let's get started!" Sitting back in her own chair, Cassadee starts up the machine, dipping it in the ink before turning it off again. "Go ahead and get yourself comfortable there, alright? We're looking at around 4-5 hours of sitting, so if you ever need a break or if it starts to bother you too much, just give me a heads up and we'll take five."

"Got it," Emily exhales, relaxing back in the chair.

"Okay, here we go," Cassadee says, starting up the machine once more. The pass of the needle barely bothers Emily at all, especially when Cassadee's hand is incredibly light.

Whistling through her teeth quietly, Cassadee shakes her head in disbelief. "Your skin is taking this ink so well. Most of this stuff will be a one pass and done deal. Awesome, awesome, awesome." Smiling lightly, she adds, "You'll have to forgive me, I talk to myself sometimes. This design obviously means a lot to you," she adds in to strike up a conversation.

"It's fine," Emily assures her. She then smiles softly, unable to help herself. "Yeah, it does. My partner encouraged me to get this tattoo done. She inspired the design," she admits.

Cassadee grins without looking up from her work area. "That's adorable. How long have you two been together?"

"Three years, but I've known her for over a decade," Emily murmurs, her tone dripping in affection. "She's always been such a prominent and important person in my life. She's always pushing me to better myself, to face my problems in healthy ways that actually help."

"She sounds great," Cassadee compliments, gently wiping away the extra ink with a paper towel. "I'm sure she'll love this, especially since you're so excited about it."

"She will," Emily confirms with a grin.

"Alright, we got that outline done in no time flat! You still good?" At Emily's nod, Cassadee grins enthusiastically. "Great! Let's get started on this coloring..."

Chapter Text

"How did everything go? Can I see?" JJ asks excitedly as soon as she gets in the car.

Emily grins, shaking her head with a chuckle as the younger agent buckles up. "I just got back from picking up some things I need to take care of it at the store. I haven't even unwrapped it yet."

JJ places a hand comfortingly over Emily's as she calms down, kissing her cheek. "Okay, that's fair. How did everything go?"

"It went incredibly well," Emily admits as she starts to pull out of the parking garage. "Jayje, it's so beautiful," she adds, nearly tearing up again at the memory of seeing the finished tattoo for the first time. "You really can't see the shamrock at all."

Smiling softly at her girlfriend's emotional confession, JJ loops their fingers together and squeezes Emily's hand. "I'm so happy for you," she tells the older woman genuinely.

"Thank you for encouraging me," Emily replies just as genuinely, voice thick with emotion. She clears her throat, bringing their intertwined hands up to her lips and pressing a kiss on JJ's hand. "I have to unwrap it once we get home."

"I can't wait to see it," JJ says softly, smiling wide at the small gesture. "I love you."

"I love you," Emily replies with a grin. "How was work? Will I have to deal with a sulking Luke Alvez tomorrow?"

JJ looks over at her girlfriend innocently before breaking out into a grin. "I finished up the reports you needed to get done and completely whooped his ass in paper basketball."

Emily laughs, shaking her head. "That's my girl," she says proudly, giving the younger woman's hand a squeeze before they fall into a comfortable silence for the rest of the car ride.

Emily parks her SUV in the garage, turning off the car before carefully pulling JJ over to her by her arm and kissing her gently. The blonde's freehand goes to Emily's neck, their intertwined hands falling on the brunette's waist.

"Mm, not that I'm complaining, but what was that for?" JJ asks breathlessly when Emily finally pulls away, stroking her girlfriend's side gently with her thumb.

Emily shrugs with a loving smile. "Just because," she replies softly, pulling JJ in for a series of short, but passionate kisses before getting out of the car with a bag from the store. JJ, still slightly delirious from all the kisses, follows before getting in front of the older agent and opening the door to the house for her.  

They take some time to wind down, Emily starting the coffee while JJ changes from her work clothes before they both settle on the couch facing each other. On the coffee table is a small basin of soapy water and a soft baby wash cloth JJ had gotten out of the attic. Emily had carefully popped open the dark button down so that the black square of plastic and gauze covering her new tattoo is visible. "Help me get this off?"

JJ carefully works the tape on the opposite side that Emily is, fingertips hovering over a patch of dried blood. "Did it hurt?" she asks softly out of concern.

"Nah," Emily assures the blonde with a smile. "Not really. It kinda sucked when she went over the scar, but it wasn't that bad. There we go," she murmurs when they both release the tape from her skin.

When the black plastic gets removed and set down on the table, JJ freezes in surprise.

The tattoo, covering the brunette's upper left chest is of a blackbird in flight. Each feature of the bird is detailed, each feather looks soft enough for JJ to run her fingers through. The highlights in the beak and the eyes give the bird a life like quality that leaves the blonde speechless. But it's not just the amazing artwork that makes JJ's heart clench, that makes her eyes well up with tears.

Because "blackbird" was always something strictly between them, always theirs—not Reid's, not Rossi's, not Morgan's, not Garcia's, not even Hotch's. It was more than a code word, more than an alias for an account on Online Scrabble, more than the name of a song. It runs so much deeper than what it was supposed to be.

When Emily was "dead", "blackbird" was the one way JJ could assure herself that she was okay, that one day, she would come back. Small assurances like the notification on her phone from Scrabble that "blackbird" had played her word, the unmarked envelope that arrived at base camp for JJ when she was over in Afghanistan, containing only a small piece of paper with "blackbird" written in Emily's elegant handwriting, and even hearing the song come on shuffle when nights got hard were enough to calm the blonde's frazzled nerves, to let her know that Emily was safe.

Even when the older agent came back, even through her attempts to save her already fragile and crumpling relationship with Will, even when Emily had gone overseas to London to work for Interpol for a short time, "blackbird" was still the only consistent JJ could rely on. It meant that Emily would be there for her in a heartbeat. With just a simple text, email, or even handwritten "blackbird", came the assurance that the brunette would be there for JJ, and in turn, she would be for Emily.

"I always did like the song," Emily murmurs emotionally, her expression mirroring JJ's as they lock eyes. They both know that "blackbird" runs much deeper than that.

"Emily..." the blonde starts off thickly, fingertips hovering over the design before she dips the baby cloth in water, dabbing the area clean.

"I wanted something positive," Emily explains softly, reaching over and wiping the tears from JJ's face. "Something that would never fail to make me smile. What better than to get something that reminds me of you?"

"I love it," JJ admits, dabbing at the spots of dried blood on her girlfriend's chest. "I love you so much, God! Do you love it? What do you think of it?" she asks with a breathless chuckle, running her freehand through her hair.

"I love you," Emily replies, briefly placing a kiss on the blonde's lips. "I love it. It means so much that I got rid of someone so negative in my life and was somehow blessed to get you into my life. I know now when I look at this, I won't be reminded of him, but of you, of the boys, of the life I have now."

JJ's kiss is soft, is sweet, but is full of so much emotion and passion, Emily can't help the soft moan that escapes her lips when they connect with the younger blonde's. Her hands grip the open sides of Emily's shirt firmly, holding the older woman close, pouring every ounce of love that she has for her into the kiss. "The boys and I are so lucky to have you in our lives, Emily Prentiss," she murmurs genuinely, carefully rubbing lotion on the tattoo.

Emily kisses the top of the blonde's head, heart full of so much love for the woman next to her, it makes her heart clench in the best ways. "And I am lucky to have all three of you in mine."