Emily Prentiss' eyes flit across each face in the room, her stomach coiling with warmth as the same expression is reflected on every single person for the first time in undoubtedly a long time: happiness, contentment, relief. These aren't emotions that she feels they genuinely have together too often, but when they do, it reaffirms to her that this is exactly where she belongs. That no matter where she goes, she'll always end up back here and feel at home.
Penelope's eyes are wide, filled with unabashed joy, her smile so wide, genuine and infectious, the unit chief can't help but smile herself. Despite having his arms folded across his chest, Luke is relaxed, shoulders slumped and boyish grin so casual and carefree as he engages in conversation with Matt. He's actually lounging back against the wall, sans gun and holster for probably the first time since Emily has known the man. It sends the message that he's actually relaxed, that for once, he has nothing to prepare for and that he can just enjoy the moment.
Tara's laugh mingles with Penelope's, brightening the atmosphere in the room even more than it already was. She's smiling wide, eyes shining bright with contentment. It's as if the weight of the previous weeks had fallen straight from her shoulders and crumpled in the dust.
Standing across the room and watching everybody with a look that can only be described as "fatherly", Dave stands with a glass of the same champagne that fills everyone else's. He's waiting closest by the door: he may not have cooked for the night, but he's insisted on ordering the best pizza in town for his secondary family. It's so endearing that he cares so much, so wholeheartedly for this team like this. Emily thinks if there was ever anyone to ever care for this team, for the people who make up this team, even more than her (and it's by the slimmest of margins), it's definitely David Rossi.
Spencer is actually smiling for the first time in a very long time. The youngest member of the team has been put through hell ever since Emily can remember, seemingly never catching a break from whatever horrors life would throw his way. She doesn't remember the last time she's ever seen the man look so relaxed, so unbothered by the demons in his life that seeing him with even the smallest of genuine smiles is enough to bring tears to her eyes.
She doesn't ever think she'll ever see a glimpse of the man he once was, seemingly so innocent with his ability to spout off any facts at random and his transparent vulnerability. His time in prison, the months spent agonizing as a pawn in Peter Lewis' games, coupled with the years of trauma already stacked against him had pushed Spencer past a breaking point that Emily doubts he'll ever come back from.
She knows that feeling all too well, after all.
Seeing him tonight at Rossi's with a glass of champagne, a genuine smile on his face as he talks with Luke and Matt, and a light in his eyes she thought was long extinguished lets Emily know that for once, he's okay. He's enjoying this night like everyone else. He can let go of everything that's been haunting him just for tonight.
Her eyes finally land on the remaining member on the team; no matter how much Emily denies it to herself, her eyes always automatically fall on her.
She's the only one away from everyone else, standing out on Rossi's deck and looking out at the scenery, back towards the room full of her colleagues. The moonlight bounces off slightly curled golden locks, somehow making the woman stand out as if the moon were her own personal spotlight. She's leaning on her arms against the railing, one foot planted on the ground while the other leg presses her knee against the wooden planks. Emily doesn't have to see her face to know that she's deep in thought.
Everyone knew that JJ would rather have her space when she's thinking like this. It's why Penelope or Tara haven't dragged her back inside, why Spencer or Dave haven't offered her any company. They all know that sometimes she goes off to be alone, even around them. It allows her to get her head straight, to let her collect her bearings about a case that they had just solved, or an issue that was recently resolved.
She deserves it, Emily thinks, After dealing with Hurricane Linda Barnes (as Matt had dubbed their nearly two month long encounter with the woman). After all, it had just been days before that the Senator reinstated Emily as the unit chief, had given everyone their positions back and had warned Barnes to never even breathe the BAU from her lips ever again.
So much had happened so quickly in the month or so that Barnes took control over the unit: she had placed Emily on an "indefinite leave", had reassigned Rossi, Garcia, Reid, Tara and herself to quite possibly the worst positions they could have been assigned to, and had immediately placed JJ as the head of the BAU, only to fire her within the week of the only case they were handling (right under Barnes' nose) because she had only done what she knew was right.
The least the blonde deserves is time to think about it.
It doesn't stop Emily from longing to go over and talk to her, or at the very least offer her some company.
"She missed you, you know?"
"What?" Her eyes now drift over to Spencer, who she didn't even see or hear come up beside her.
The youngest member of the team brushes his unruly curls away from his forehead, pointlessly tucking the most stubborn locks behind his ear. "JJ," he tells her, as if it weren't obvious to Emily who they were talking about. "She missed you a lot when you weren't around."
When Emily opens her mouth to reply, he continues with a half shrug. "That's not to say the rest of us didn't miss having you around, just not more than her." He pauses to take a sip from his champagne flute. "On more than one occasion, I've heard her say that she wished you were around and I know that she wasn't just talking about having you on the case." Another pause. "You tore into Barnes for her."
"I would have done the same for any one of you," she says without any hesitation. "You know that."
He scratches mindlessly at the stubble on his chin, shrugging at her reply. "You did in a way, I suppose," he relents. "But you stood up to her in JJ's defense," he points out matter of factly, evenly.
Emily's head spins, her thoughts swirling around her brain in a confused spiral as she tries to figure out just exactly what weight Reid's words hold.
"What are you getting at, Spencer?" she questions almost cautiously, as if she were afraid of what answers the genius holds. She's starting to think that, despite his age, despite his innocent, boyish looks, that Dr. Spencer Reid might be the most observant, therefore, quite possibly the most dangerous member on the team.
The rest observe, sure. That's the point of their entire job to observe what other people don't even think to examine. It's just natural at this point to profile, and sometimes they can't control when they profile each other, even if it's something that Emily discourages. They all have a life outside the unit, and she feels that they're all owed that privacy.
They don't profile each other often, but Emily knows that it's out of their control, and sometimes it happens. Some people on the team, like Luke and Dave, make it obvious, letting everyone know that they are open to talk with them. Others, like Tara, Matt and JJ, are more stealthy, more cautious and confront when the issues become more prominent.
But no one sits back, no one watches silently and observes quite like Reid. His brain picks up so much minute detail about a person's behavior and he sits on it, he keeps the information to himself because he doesn't gossip. He waits for people to come to him because he knows he's trusted, knows exactly how to use the information he's gathered to help people solve their problems.
She knows Spencer is, could never be, someone she genuinely fears. He's not dangerous in a physical sense, or even in a psychological sense. He's dangerous in a way that he just knows everything without having to even ask. Behind his innocent demeanor and hiding behind a clueless facade lies a man whose more wise and observant than anyone gives him credit for. In reality, he quite possibly knows every secret that everyone on the team tries to hide.
That is what's scary about Spencer, Emily decides as she stares back at the man in silence, unsure of the nature of this conversation. The fact that he knows and she doesn't.
But, really, she thinks she has a hunch. After all, something about Reid's tone, the knowing glint in his eyes makes Emily suddenly feel very wary to tread in the young man's waters. She feels like an open book with her emotions, her vulnerabilities put out on display.
Vulnerabilities and emotions she must have let slip just once, just enough to key Spencer in.
"Talk to her," he replies simply, half smile on his face as he nods out to the blonde on the deck. "I can tell you want to."
She swears under her breath, downing the rest of the champagne in her glass before shooting the man a glare. She really hated profilers, sometimes. They were too observant for their own damn good.
Ignoring her steely gaze, Spencer polishes off his glass. "I think you guys are long overdue for one, anyway."
"And what does that mean?" Emily retorts, challenging the young man with another glare. Her heart is pounding, palms sweaty, and she's internally freaking the fuck out, begging Reid silently to not say it, to not say it, even though she knows he would never do that to her.
He flashes her a smile, that damn knowing smile that says everything for Emily, tells her all she needs to know.
Sighing out softly, she glances at JJ over her shoulder, eyes softening slightly as they land on the ethereal blonde. Her stomach is in absolute knots, her mind racing with possible negative outcomes and suddenly she feels like a scared teenager. She looks up at Reid one more time, expression unsure.
He flashes her another smile, this one more soft but just as genuine as they had been all night. "I wouldn't be pushing you to talk to her if I wasn't sure you should," he assures her, reaching out and giving her arm a reassuring squeeze.
Puffing out one last tiny sigh from her lips, Emily swallows audibly, yet quietly as she finally gathers the courage to go out on the balcony.
She stops, hesitates once she's past the threshold of the door, placing a hand against the doorframe to ground herself.
Even in a simple thin, flowing red shirt and casual black plants, her face angled ever so slightly towards the night sky, reflecting off her hypnotizing, bright blue eyes, golden colored locks framing her face covered in just the most basic eyeshadow and nude lipstick, Jennifer Jareau is still quite possibly the most beautiful sight Emily has ever seen.
She swallows, forcing herself to remain steady as she carefully clears her throat to let the blonde know she's there. (Though, Emily suspects that JJ already knew she was there— she's been trained to know when someone is near.)
"Care for some company?" Emily asks softly, refusing to take a step closer until the younger woman replies.
JJ's face turns slightly towards her, a slight smile on her face as she acknowledges the brunette. "Of course." She turns her head back out towards Rossi's backyard, eyes up towards the sky. "It's a beautiful night," she adds just as softly, conversationally.
Stepping outside and placing a few feet of space between them, Emily leans on the railing of the deck, humming softly in agreement. She had to admit, it really was beautiful tonight. The atmosphere and the distance from the city, coupled only with the fact that it's the more spacious area to occupy, is a major reason that the team spends a majority of their time together here.
Rossi's house was just far enough out of the city, just isolated enough to be on the edge of the rural countryside. His backyard was spacious, lined with thick foliage and large, towering trees. If she listens close enough, she picks up the sounds of the stream running just a few yards into the woods, the sounds of owls hooting. The sky is a bright navy blue, is absolutely littered with stars and a bright full moon. The air is clean and crisp, smells of damp earth and the lilac bushes which line the eldest man's property. It's warm, the summer humidity clinging to her skin, causing a fine sheen of perspiration to form on her arms, on her face before a gentle breeze cuts through the trees and provides some relief.
They stand in a silence that's proving difficult for Emily to read: there's certainly no tension in the air between them, but it's not entirely what she could describe as comfortable either. She leans on the railing with her hands clasped loosely as they hang over the balcony, JJ's holding on delicately to a glass of red wine that's half empty. Both agents' attention is drawn to a fat opossum that strolls out of the brush, sniffing curiously along the ground.
"Emily," JJ finally starts, mouth opening and closing as she tries to find the right words. Her eyes follow opossum, who gets spooked back into the woods at the sound of her voice. She blinks hard, shoulders slumping as she sighs. "When I said I wanted to be unit chief... I never meant that I wanted the position like that. I never wanted to replace you."
Emily looks over at the blonde, eyebrow raised slightly. "Is that what's been bothering you all night?" Smiling softly and shaking her head without waiting for a response, she continues. "JJ, you know I don't care about that. It's natural to want to move up and better yourself in the field."
"I know that," JJ responds quietly. "I just..." She bites her lip before taking a sip from her glass. "I could never replace you, you know that? This team is never complete unless you're here." She breathes out a slight chuckle. "No matter who we bring in to fill in for you, they can never be as good as you."
"I'm here to stay for good this time," Emily murmurs like a reassurance. "This is where I belong, even if it took me a while to figure that out." Her expression softens, another gentle smile forming on her face. "Seriously, don't ever stress about little things like that, Jay, especially when it's out of your control. You make a great leader. This whole ordeal at least gave you a chance to prove that to everyone else. I know you'll make a great unit chief some day."
She gently nudges the blonde's side, smile widening when she gets a tiny smile in response from the blonde. "Unit Chief Jennifer Jareau certainly has a nice ring to it."
JJ laughs quietly, shaking her head before she takes another sip from her glass. "Yeah, I'm nowhere near ready for that. Not yet. If anything, this whole ordeal with Barnes just confirmed that I wasn't ready. The team... we still need you." She opens her mouth to continue, a choked noise just barely escaping her lips before she presses them together, downing the rest of her glass.
"I'm not going anywhere, I promise," Emily swears softly. "And that's one promise I'll be damn sure to guarantee." She ducks her head to meet the blonde's gaze. "But something tells me that's not all that's bothering you. What's really going on in your head, JJ? You know I'm always here for you."
The blonde purses her lips slightly, setting her win glass down a few inches down on the railing before bringing her hands together, clasping them tightly together. Her eyes flicker over towards the older woman for a split second before they drop back out to the yard. "You stood up to Barnes for me."
When Emily opens her mouth to elaborate, to remind JJ the same way she reminded Spencer, the blonde shakes her head. "How many times have we ended up in this situation? Where you have put yourself on the line for me? The bomb you disarmed from Will, dropping everything overseas when Hotch told you I was in danger, the rooftop with Hastings and now what happened with Barnes?" she lists off, finally looking over at Emily.
For once, the older woman doesn't have an answer at the ready because she's caught off guard. She's not sure if JJ knows it, but they're teetering on a fine line with the nature of this conversation, something that could escalate past a point of never returning to normal. (Then again, she thinks, When has her relationship with JJ ever been classified as normal?)
Now dropping her eyes away from JJ, Emily swallows thickly as she chooses her next words carefully. "I care about you," she finally replies quietly. "You know how much I care about you. You matter so much to me that... sometimes I don't even think about what could happen to me. I just want you to be safe."
She realizes the weight of her words, how much emotion they hold as soon as they escape her lips. She's aware of the hidden implications behind them, knows JJ's smart enough to catch on to them. The fact that she could care less about herself if it means JJ's spared says it all, doesn't it?
JJ brings her palms up to her eyes, rubbing them firmly before she leans into them. "I care about you, too," she whispers, her voice cracking near the end of her statement. "And I can't believe it took me so long to finally figure that out."
"JJ, what does that mean?" Emily asks carefully, cautiously. She's struggling to keep her tone even, to stop her hands from shaking and from her mask from dropping, but it's proving to be difficult. Especially right now with JJ, someone who can always, always see past her facade and look deep in her soul. Someone who always seems to know what's going through her head.
"Do you ever feel like you've made the wrong decision, even if that decision hasn't mattered for years?" the blonde asks, her palms sliding down her face before she grips them on the railing with a short, breathless chuckle. "And the only reason you chose that decision in the first place was because you were scared, and he was easier to be with and because she pushed you to be with him?"
"JJ..." Emily starts, nearly rendered speechless by the blonde's admission.
"And then you get sick of pretending because so many things in your life have gone so far out of your control that you just want to at least be in control of that part of your life again?" JJ continues breathlessly, running a hand back through her hair in disbelief. "You don't want to lie to yourself, to other people in your life anymore."
"JJ," Emily tries again, unable to stop a small smile from forming on her face as the blonde continues.
"And then when you're figuring out what it all means, it suddenly hits you that the right decision has been in front of you for nine years, and it only took you three near death encounters that she directly put herself in the middle of for you and two months under the supervision of a power hungry official? But it's never that simple because you just got her back and you don't want to scare her away with all these feelings that you've had pent up for years? All you want to say is how much you really care for her, and how much she really matters to you because it's never been as simple as a friendship, or even like the relationship she has with the other people on the team. All you want to do is tell her that..."
She cuts herself off with a soft gasp when Emily finally has enough, gently grabs her waist and pulls her in, shutting her up with a kiss that she immediately sinks into. Her hands frame Emily's face carefully, migrate towards the back of her neck to hold her there as the kiss deepens.
Emily's grinning down at her when she finally pulls away for air, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "I promised you I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me."
JJ, unable to stop herself, smiles widely back up at the older woman. "You didn't even let me finish," she murmurs with a gentle shove to the brunette's shoulder.
"I didn't hear you complaining," Emily teases. "But, by all means, please finish what you were going to say."
"I've always loved you," JJ admits quietly, genuinely. "It took me so long to figure that out and even longer to admit it to myself." She shakes her head, biting her lip before she continues. "It used to scare me so much, especially when I first realized how deeply I felt. It wasn't until I almost lost you that I realized how much I couldn't bring myself to picture a life without you."
Gently stroking her cheek with the side of her index finger, Emily carefully shushes the younger agent. "You don't have to be afraid anymore."
"I'm not," JJ replies, pulling the brunette back in and murmuring, "No more secrets. No more hiding," before reconnecting their lips once more.
The older agent can't help but smile when the blonde breaks away after a few minutes with a light laugh. "What?"
JJ clears her throat, eyes shining in amusement without removing herself entirely from Emily's hold. "We better go inside," she says, eyes darting to the door with a smirk. "We've got quite an audience gathered," she adds with a nod of her head.
Emily curiously glances over, smile only widening when she sees the rest of the team gathered around the door.
"Busted," JJ says in a soft, sing-song voice right in Emily's ear with a grin.
Tara and Matt immediately look away from the two women when they both look over at the door, hiding their knowing smiles behind their drinking glasses. Luke smirks back at them, eyes shining in amusement. Penelope is gripping on Spencer's arm, excitedly shaking his frame as she practically bounces in place. Spencer smirks knowingly at Emily, shrugging his shoulders innocently when she narrows her eyes curiously at him.
Yeah, Spencer definitely knows a lot more than he ever lets on.
It's Dave, however, that breaks the silence between everyone. He's in the back, silently watching everyone with blank stare. When Emily finally looks at him, his face breaks out in a grin. "Well, it's about damn time you both admitted it!"
"I know," Spencer agrees with a smirk. "What's it been, like, nine years?"
"God, and I thought waiting four was torturous!" Tara playfully groans.
"I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!" Penelope squeals. "I always knew there was something going on between you two! My angels are in love!" She fans her hands over her face, nearly bursting into tears of joy. "Oh, I'm so happy I'm finally around for the super important things."
"You two have never exactly been subtle about it," Luke teases them, laughing when Emily grumbles immaturely and flips him off.
"Honestly, we're all just surprised this didn't happen sooner," Matt adds in, gesturing between the two with a grin.
"You all seriously knew?" Emily asks in disbelief. "We didn't even know!"
"Denial is a powerful force, my friends," Luke smirks.
"Is the damn pizza here yet?" the unit chief mutters in attempt to deflect the attention off herself and JJ. Her cheeks warm when JJ laughs quietly, pressing a kiss to the side of her head to placate her.
"Oh, it's been here for a few minutes. We sent Penelope to get you two," Dave says with a warm smile.
"But you two were a little... preoccupied," Luke concludes playfully.
"And just like that, Agent Alvez, you get a special assignment on Monday! You get to complete all the unfinished paperwork on my desk," Emily tells the man with a smirk of her own, everyone laughing when Luke pouts at her response.
"Okay, I deserved that one," he admits with a soft sigh.
"In all seriousness, though," Tara speaks up genuinely, smiling over at the two women. "We're all happy that the two of you are finally official and support you 100%."
Emily's heart warms at the woman's words, at everyone's genuine murmurs of approval. She never had any doubts about the support of her team, but hearing them being vocal about their unyielding encouragement is enough to nearly bring tears to her eyes. "Thank you guys so much."
Next to her and sounding nearly as choked up, JJ adds, "It means a lot, really."
"I think this definitely calls for celebration," Matt finally breaks the comfortable silence between the group with a grin, giving everyone inside a look before nodding his head back towards the dining room of the house.
"I'll go grab more champagne," Dave promises as the group starts to file back inside before he pauses with a grin. "What the hell! I'll pull out the good wine!" He laughs when Luke and Penelope let out a whoop from inside the house, leaving the two women alone once more on the deck.
"Is that okay?" JJ asks Emily softly.
"What? That everyone knows about us, the official part or that Rossi's pulling out his expensive alcohol?" the brunette asks with a small smile.
"Both. All of it," the younger agent elaborates, swinging their intertwined hands together absentmindedly.
Emily grins, slowly bringing their hands up to her lips and kissing the back of JJ's hand gently. "I'm more than okay with every part of you," she confirms.
"Good," the blonde murmurs softly, pulling the older woman down for one more chaste kiss. "Come on, let's go eat. Rossi's pulling out his good wine," she adds in with a playful wag of her eyebrows.
"Then let's not keep the man waiting," Emily replies just as playfully, sneaking in one more kiss before JJ pulls away and drags Emily inside with a grin.
The take their place at the table, Emily sitting with Spencer flanking her left and Penelope flanking JJ's right. The bright, bubbly blonde wraps her arm around JJ in a firm side hug, grinning ear to ear proudly at her friend. The other blonde responds with a smile of her own, squeezing Penelope's arm gratefully.
Emily gently nudges Spencer's arm, eyebrow raised slightly when the genius focuses on her. With a secret smile, he shrugs. He ends up grinning when Emily ruffles his hair, tucking his hair back behind his ear. His eyes are warm and his smile bright when the unit chief places a grateful hand on his arm, a silent "thank you" for the young man pushing her in the right direction.
Everyone's attention is drawn to the head of the table when Rossi uses the side of a butter knife and clinks it against his wine glass. When all their eyes land on him, he clears his throat with a smile. "In honor of everything that this team has been through the past few weeks, I would like to propose a toast," he starts.
"In all my years in the Bureau, not once did I feel like I've been bonded with anyone as I have bonded with each and every single one of you. I'm incredibly honored, not only to be to be working along side such a talented group of profilers, but to know everyone here on a personal level. Our bond, the connection we have, has proven time and time again why we work so well together. Hurricane Barnes was no exception to that statement..." A pause to wink over in Matt's direction, who smirks and nods in approval.
"Because of the dedication and loyalty of everyone in this room, we have managed to defeat one of the greatest threats to the unit. We did it together. Be proud of that. We won't let this divide us, instead, we'll take this as an opportunity for growth. May this ordeal strengthen the bond we have as a team, as a family moving forward."
Rossi finally raises his glass, the others following suite. "To us, to the future of this unit, to new beginnings..." Another pause to smile over at JJ and Emily with a gesture of his glass. "To family. Salud."
His toast echoes around the table as they all raise their glasses up in the air, before they take turns clinking their glasses together, the sounds of their laughter mingling together with the sounds of the glass.
JJ meets Emily's eyes last, gently clinking their glasses together with a smile , squeezing her hand under the table before her attention is drawn to Spencer. Her head falls back as she laughs joyously at his words, Emily grinning ear to ear at the scenery.
She pauses for a moment, allowing her eyes to drift around the table once more to observe her team. The genuine joy on their faces, hearing their laughter is quite possibly the best thing she's seen from everyone in a really long time.
She knows that tomorrow's not guaranteed. When they all clock into work on Monday, they'll dive right back into the horrors of their job. She knows that things won't be so easy with JJ, not with her boys in the mix, but she's more than willing to work on that, to do what's best for everyone.
Tomorrow's not guaranteed, but at least the team have this night to serve as a good memory to hold on to when days get rough.
Right now, this is enough.