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like blood in the body, like wind in the water

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The poet Pablo Neruda wrote: 

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul. 

I love you as the plant that never blooms,
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

 

Emily reads these words for the first time in Spain. She’s sixteen, and is finding Seville’s mild winter climate tiresome; it hasn’t snowed since the 50s, one of her mother’s aides tells her, and laughs when she glowers. Elizabeth Prentiss is, as always, unseasonably busy, which is a blessing when one considers that the alternative is her best attempt at mother-daughter quality time. So Emily spends her weeks roaming the city, testing the boundaries of what’s permitted to an ambassador’s daughter, dogged as she is by one of her mother’s unyieldingly dull security detail. 

She skulks past tourist shops and through discount book stores, collecting battered volumes of Spanish-language literature based solely on their covers; her mother is half-heartedly scandalized by Gabriela Mistral’s Sonetos de la Muerte. The best day is when she wheedles her long-suffering security detail into a movie— the Spanish limited release of Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Terciopelo Azul. The release posters make it look like a luridly dull bodice-ripping romance. Emily loves it when it isn’t, and the absolutely wretched guard gives her considerable space for the next week.

She thinks endlessly about Isabella Rossellini after that. She’s realizing, with the ringing certainty with which you come to know these kinds of things, that she’s attracted to women. It’s come with the stability of her enrollment at Garfield High School, where she watches her best friend laugh and feels an odd, longing ache at the way she tucks her long, honey-brown hair behind her ears. She brushes her fingers over Neruda’s words, and imagines the kind of woman it takes to feel like this, like two slow-blooming flowers in the dark. She starts to worry that she might not get to know. What if she never manages to live life unsupervised? What if there will always be a scrutinizing light illuminating its dark corners and shadowy recesses?

She tests the words on her tongue, tries them against her fast-improving Spanish.

What Neruda wrote was:

Te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.

Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.

Tonight she slips quietly out of the house, past her mother’s desk, where Elizabeth has nodded off, past where three members of her security detail play a quiet, low stakes game of cards, and out into the warm night, out onto the neighboring Puente de Triana. In the mild light of the streetlamps, she cries, hot, fat tears, dropping from her chin down into the Río Guadalquivir, until the night cools beyond comfort and she has to flee back indoors. All through the winter, she thinks about those words, about what it might mean to live in a house without security near every entrance and her almost-unsleeping mother restlessly reading in an office just off the hall. About how close to a woman is tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño: so close your eyes close with my dreams.

 

one.

 

As most things do, it begins with the end of something else. Emily staring down the impending end of her lease, for one thing. The final inches of Will’s patience, for another. 

The day they get back from Houston, JJ walks in on Emily crying. It’s not something she’s seen before. It doesn’t seem to be something Emily’s fully aware of: the wide tear-tracks gleam openly on her cheeks, scattering light as they tip with the anxious tremble of her shoulders.

JJ thinks better of her passing question and closes the door. 

Emily likes her privacy. Emily likes to slink, catlike, out of having to discuss her emotions, until they’ve become so agitating that she can’t help but boil over. She mourned Matthew Benton with quiet, simmering rage, which one day just disappeared. In Paris— well. In Paris she was taciturn, and wiped tears of pain and helplessness from the corners of her eyes with quick, trembling fingers. Fingers that were tattered beyond belief: they left, once, a smear of blood that JJ wiped from her cheek. In Paris she seemed desperately angry, and angrily desperate, and hadn’t minded that JJ held her, and soothed her, and combed calm, deft fingers through her newly-cropped dark hair.

But things are different now, in ways that terrify JJ. Emily admitted to Hotch that they’d maintained contact after JJ left, though she withheld the extent of it. That had been a breach of security, surely, but it was hard to imagine Doyle in hiding, licking his wounds, monitoring JJ’s Words with Friends history. There had been a little thrill to it, the names that were legible only to them: Cheetobreath77 and Merulamerula. 

Until Emily said it, she hadn’t been positive. 99%, but not fully there. Maybe that was what licensed it. One day, the request came: Merulamerula would like to play a game. She’d told Emily they could play, wrote down the username for her. She got random requests, now and then; it was how the game worked. But when she googled the name, she knew. Or at least she suspected. Turdus merula merula, the common blackbird. 

She hadn’t been positive because the world had its space for pie-in-the-sky, impossible coincidences. Some lonely, multilingual ornithologist out there might have been delighted to play along with some stranger’s friendliness, and may have found, in that camaraderie which bloomed to a kind of quiet, flirtatious longing, a vicarious fulfillment and catharsis.

They were bolder then. It was something about the distance and absence; it made them daring, even reckless. It hadn’t been anything drastic, but it had been I miss you turning into I’ve been dreaming of you, and then a gentle, slow fall to its blunt, instinctive articulation: I need you. JJ putting the fading scraps of high school French together to say, Je veux être avec toi. Je veux vivre avec toi. Je t’aime. Je suis à toi. These billets-doux intertwining with the patter of the game, with Merulamerula’s constant gripes about the lack of an international dictionary, fuming in the chat when the game wouldn’t let her play DESOLEE off JJ’s ZEBRA. (So WHAT if it’s désolée? It’s not MY fault they don’t have accent marks in this STUPID game.) She was an unrelentingly sore loser, even when she usually won. If Doyle was watching, it looked like JJ was having the world’s least torrid affair with a French pedant.

They hadn’t done anything, not in actuality. They couldn’t, not when their only resources were letter tiles and a suboptimal in-game chat. When Emily didn’t say anything more, JJ thought that might be the end of it; it might have been some odd folie à deux brought on by circumstances so extenuating they had been previously unthinkable. It might have felt less like a confession of love (god, love?) to Emily than an anchor, a heightened platonic affection to prostheticize the temporary loss of all other meaningful human contact.

She doesn’t know whether, or how, to bring it up to Emily. Soooooo… was that flirting? You know, the times we said we loved each other, and you corrected me from je suis la tienne to je suis à toi, then said it back to me in English? Je suis à toi. Je t’appartiens. I’m yours. When you put it like that…

But you might also put it like, was that flirting, when we told each other we missed and loved each other, which would be true of any member of this team in your position? Did we take that too far, when it felt like the world was crumbling around the empty space you left behind you? Because they were, after all, a family, and articulated it with the kind of comfortable and unqualified love that you had for a family you acquired. As much as Emily acted like she didn’t need to be reassured, it was hard to imagine her, holed up in a drafty apartment in Paris, trapped alone in a city lovers and travelers prowled with uninhibited abandon. It must have felt like a life sentence. She would probably have agreed to anything.

It terrifies her, the thought of asking.

It shocks her when Emily seeks her out, later, her eyes barely beyond description as red and damp. She sidles into JJ’s office, past the unending volume of files that furnish it.

“Hey. Sorry you had to see that.”

“I thought you might want privacy,” JJ says quietly.

“Yeah. Yeah, I did. I was um, looking for a new apartment.” 

“God, have prices gotten that bad?”

They both grin warily at the joke. Emily stares pointedly at JJ’s outbox for what feels like a decade, then says, “It’s hard to know what to plan for, now.”

Right. Of course. Emily might have gotten on that plane back to Virginia expecting that her life would be fundamentally different. Not a girlfriend waiting for her, but the possibility of one. She might have expected that JJ and Will broke up in her absence. She could have thought anything. 

But Emily forges ahead like there isn’t some unspoken gulf between them. “Pet friendly apartments, or not. A sublet or a lease… Clyde’s been hinting about poaching me for some startup Interpol thing.”

That hits like a kick in the teeth. “Where?”

“London.”

“Would you …”

“I don’t know. I like London. I can stomach Interpol, even if it isn’t really my style of work. I just don’t know if—” A beat. Emily blinks, stares away for a second. She’s deciding something. “I just don’t know if I can deal with being alone in Europe again. Leaving’s hard, but settling in is harder.”

What profiling is, JJ is coming to realize, is knowing the patterns of human behavior so well that you can analogize person from act, and act from person. It’s one thing to do it on paper, another to feel that cold, detached sensation of knowing in the back of your mind when you’re talking to someone you love. Let your loved ones be complex, messy, unpredictable, she’s been thinking. They’re better that way. 

Complex, messy, unpredictable Emily is here because she can’t stand to be alone in her own head anymore.

“What happened back there?”

“Regina Lampert said,” says Emily. She’s speaking slowly and with terrible finality, like the slide of a glacier. “My monster’s dead. I’m lucky.”

Regina Lampert, who held her rapist hostage, and who only didn’t get to kill him because of Emily’s lie. That explains it. Hotch had seemed… different in his bearing toward Emily afterward, like she might catch fire if anyone looked at her too sharply. Like she might, if the light hit right, combust.

“You know,” Emily says, blinking fast and hard, “she gets to hope there’s an easy way it’ll be better. He might get killed in custody, like so many monsters before him! And then she’ll be free.” Her voice has a brittle edge. “And who would I be to tell her that even when you make your own monster, the grass isn’t greener on the other side? Who would I be to say that freedom from fear is its own trap, because then you get to realize it’s all just you, in your own head, giving him life after death? How am I—”

She pounds her fist down, hard, onto the arm of the chair. “How am I supposed to tell victims they have to live with the fact that their own minds will resurrect him?”

JJ’s on her feet before she knows she is, and is on her knees clasping Emily’s shaking fist in her trembling hands before she thinks to do it. Emily responds with a hollow laugh, then a wet sniff. “Bet this isn’t what you thought you were signing up for when I was in Paris,” she says.

“You know it was.” JJ winces inwardly at how it sounds. Like a vow, almost. It’s in those tones that people say I do, and I will. 

“I’m just worried I can’t do my job,” Emily replies doggedly, as if she’s conducting her own internal performance review, and deciding how lacking to find herself. “Every time this goddamned Bureau therapist says that counseling victims from a place of empathy is an asset, I want to jump out a fucking window. London wouldn’t be better, but it sure wouldn’t involve as many opportunities to let victims down. I know this is something I have to get over, wherever I am. I just hate it.”

“I can’t help you choose,” JJ says, fighting back the part of her that wants to scream like an angry child. Don’t leave! I can’t take it! “I want you to stay too much to be rational.” She’s sure there’s a thing to say, hovering somewhere out in the world. This Thing To Say has the right touches of therapizing without condescension, and a joke somewhere in it, because Emily’s threshold for earnestness rises when there’s a joke involved, and it won’t take her over ten minutes to properly articulate. It zings, wherever it is. But she can’t find it, and instead presses her lips softly to Emily’s hand. “I know it’s hard,” she says finally. “But we’re all here for you, for whatever you need. Whatever I can do.”

In the months to come, she’ll recognize this as the moment Emily decided to stay. But in the meantime, she can’t help but thinking she’s blown it, somehow. That there should be some way to name, and thus to control, this particular pain, and the way it sends out ripples. That if she can just find the right sentence, she can exorcize this ghost.

 

two.

 

There is a storm roiling out on the Atlantic. Dark clouds send out tendrils of lightning, almost imperceptibly settling over the wide expanse of the horizon, scored by the distant growl of thunder. It promises a blessed but violent end to the early waves of summer humidity that have settled over the last few days. JJ watches it solemnly. As it sweeps toward Chesapeake Bay, it brings wind and rain in tentative gouts, and lightning like a spark of panic in the storm’s otherwise dark, unfeeling eye. Realistically, it is just an unusually early tropical storm. There is nothing in the weather that can choose to portend gloom. But it portends all the same. 

Behind her, Emily is still slung uncomfortably into an ancestral leather wingback. It creaks when she shifts her weight, which she does with a restless frequency. “You know how they say a watched pot won’t boil?”

JJ’s gaze is still fixed on the storm. “Yeah.”

“What are you simmering about?”

JJ turns around finally, to look at her. Emily is sitting in the chair the way you might try to sit in a cubist-period Picasso. The few students trickling past aren’t gawking, necessarily, but some of them are being very careful not to. On the way to the safety of their dorms, two thirty-something women whose demeanors scream Fed and whose body language mutters fuck off don’t present a particularly opportune detour. It doesn’t hurt that Emily’s coat is splayed loosely around her, leaving her side holster exposed. They make it look like something far more serious than a guest lecture is going on.

Emily slides her legs together obligingly when she comes to perch on one of the arms of the chair. She doesn’t want to tell Emily. It feels like a particular twist of the knife. 

“I don’t think— I don’t think Will and I are going to last much longer.”

Emily’s brow furrows. She’s propped up on her arms on the chair’s opposing arm, looking up at JJ. The angle and posture make give her an almost owlish look. “What’s happened?”

“He wants me to leave the unit. For real, I think, this time.”

It’s serious. It’s been serious. They’ve promised each other to never leave Henry truly unattended, not without one of them on hand. JJ’s the one who keeps making that promise impossible to fulfill. Realistically, she’s the less stable parent: she works insane and exhausting hours, and those hours are more or less painted with blood. It’s unfair to Will, of course. Both of them need the other to be a stay-at-home parent, and between the two, Will’s work schedule is more forgiving. 

They’ve rehearsed the logic dozens of times. She’s got the kind of resume that would allow her, if she condescended to do so, to basically dictate her own hours in a variety of federal desk jobs. She could probably work from home if she got into consulting. Will doesn’t have that luxury. At some point, Henry’s going to know the procession of babysitting cousins and neighbors as well as he knows his own parents, if not better. Who’s going to help him with his math homework, pick him up from school, kiss his forehead when he’s ill? Seventeen-year-old Katie from down the street? Whichever aunt lives in the most convenient proximity?

It’s serious because JJ knows she can’t do it. And Will can only hear that as won’t. Won’t make a (to his mind) minor sacrifice for their family. Won’t give up her high ranking job in order to actually parent her son. If he quits, he’ll be a stay-at-home dad, period. She’ll still miss it all. There’s only one compromise that actually puts her in Henry’s orbit. Tell me it doesn’t bother you, being on call all the time, sometimes not seeing Henry for weeks? Is that why we had him?

It would only be cruel to point out that there isn’t a why to Henry.

He has a point. The cases with children gut her now. They vivisect her and leave her dragging her viscera around for days. In Arizona, one of the cops called the unsub a ‘kiddie diddler’ and she’d thought she might puke right there, right into the desert sand. But by the same token, he doesn’t understand why it’s so crucial that she stay.

She knows she can never tell him about what would have been their second child. The constant, low-level tension about her hours and availability is bad enough. She can’t have him worrying about her safety again. She can’t mourn an unborn child with him. It would ruin them both, for each other and maybe for the world. It’s not fair to him, but there’s no distribution of information and agency that’s fair to either one of them. 

Emily nods, her eyes and mouth set firmly. “You can’t,” she says, and it’s only marginally a plea. About a quarter. The other three quarters are just observation. 

“He doesn’t understand.” The logic is so palpable she doesn’t need to rehearse it. For all the horror she sees, the idea that she could extricate herself from trying to stop it— that’s more horrifying. How do you see all that the world contains and decide not to set yourself against it? What she has said, repeatedly, to Will is, how do you see what the world can do to a little boy like ours and not feel a deep, burning desire to protect all families like ours from that knowledge? And every time, he’s said, what will depriving a child of his mother and a mother of her child do to help?

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m not quitting. I don’t want Henry to have to deal with us splitting up. But better now than …”

Better now than years of bitter, angry silence, punctuated by vicious fights. Better now than when he’s older, and when he can see resentment more clearly in the weary set of his father’s jaw, and the defiant jut of his mother’s shoulders. 

If they stay together, held there only by the extent of her willingness to yield, there will come a point where she might resent Henry too, how his birth made her first unable, then afraid, to think about other possibilities.

“It’s never easy,” Emily says. JJ realizes she’s never heard her mention her own father. “But he might not remember it, if it happens now.”

If it happens.”

“No, of course. That’s what I meant.”

“Yeah. If it happens, then now would be the time.”

Emily reaches out and squeezes her hand. It’s not comforting, just … final. Both of them have been expecting this, probably. 

There’s a long, stagnant pause. Then JJ asks what’s been worming its way across the front of her mind for the last hour. “Do you remember when you said I should ask Will out? When we were already dating, and you knew? What did— what did you think was going to come of us?”

Emily purses her lips. JJ can tell that she isn’t trying to remember; she’s putting on her best show of active recall while she tries to decide if the truth is worth it. Finally she says, “not this, definitely. I thought you might be embarrassed about having a personal life, and about how you’d met him during a case. I thought it was more of a casual fling.”

“Did you think that because we didn’t seem serious about each other, or because it’s not possible to be in the BAU and have a permanent, fulfilling relationship?”

“Both. Well— you were lying about your relationship. So that, too.”

JJ slumps back against Emily’s knees with a groan. Her hand’s still in Emily’s as Emily slouches down into the armchair with a wheeze and creak from the leather. “We just keep having the same conversations.”

“You could take a leave of absence,” Emily suggests. She grins cheekily. “I hear they give you your old job right back.”

She could. That might be her compromise: I’ll go on leave until you see how much of a nightmare I am when I’m restless and angry. But that’s not how she wants to live the rest of her life, making false compromises to win an argument neither of them will yield ground on. 

Emily squeezes her hand again, and JJ turns to look at her. The look in her eyes is serious, in the same way that the situation with Will is serious. Another storm along the horizon, this one with sun breaking through the clouds. “If I asked you to let things fall apart with Will,” she says quietly, each syllable falling like it’s being carved into stone. “If I said what I’ve wanted to say since I got back, which is that I’m serious about you, about us. I can’t just leave it at those little Scrabble messages. I can’t offer you the stability that Henry needs, but I can give you everything else I’m capable of, and I’d never stop trying.”

This is no easy promise. JJ thinks of Declan, suddenly, and of how Emily did all but move heaven and earth for him. No one’s going to hurt Henry— that’s been her mantra, the thing she says firmly, in her mind and heart, every time she looks at a hurt child and her vision goes dark around the edges with terror. But if they tried— whatever her situation, she’d want Emily involved. Everything else sends a dark shiver down her spine, an unfamiliar sensation of want. She wants to know what Emily’s capable of, given the latitude. She wants the recently tense edges of their friendly familiarity to relax and expand.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Hotch sticks his head through the door then, Exhibit A of the universe’s cruel sense of timing. “There you are. Have you seen Reid? We’re heading out in 30. Meet on the quad. Unless I can’t find Reid.”

They release hands, slide apart. Emily keeps their solemn eye contact a moment longer. JJ hopes she can see the fear in JJ’s eyes, and knows it’s the only thing restraining her from the words that are bubbling up in her chest, with a naive, honest simplicity that embarrasses and excites her: Yes. Yes, forever yes. Je suis à toi, remember? All I’m capable of— you don’t even have to ask.  

“Think on it,” Emily says finally.

“I will.” I already have.

 

three. 

 

A poem should always have birds in it. Mary Oliver wrote that, railing against the gaudy shame of simultaneously finding out you’re at the top of the heap, and meeting who’s at the bottom. With watery eyes, JJ wanders out into their backyard; the sun and air have an unfamiliar sensation, like she’s just stepped out onto the surface of the moon. Henry is there. He shouldn’t be— she and Will were too busy arguing to give him his allergy pill, and his little feet are bare in the grass. That will be a problem soon. But for now … there is a mourning dove in the grass, pecking for food. Henry watches it solemnly; it watches him back with a kind of glassy, inexpressive wariness.

You get blackbirds here, and often. The ones with a halo of red splashed across their wings, or the males, anyway. Last year, JJ sometimes caught herself wondering if she should keep a camera handy, to take pictures for Emily, before she remembered the glitch in that plan. She never did. There will always be more birds, after all. Emily will be able to see them out of her new window, finding restless and fleeting perches on tree branches. Henry will watch them, and the woodpeckers too, and the sparrows, and starlings, and nuthatches. The rare red burst of the cardinal, up against newly drab browns and greens.

It’s twisting in her stomach. Guilt, fear, anger, regret, some coiling mass of things Henry doesn’t need to see or hear. It isn’t his fault, but it is his problem, and will continue to be for, no doubt, as long as he lives. 

Henry turns to face her slowly, pressing a finger to his lips in warning. He doesn’t notice her expression, the angry reds and pinks no doubt ringing her eyes. Let him have the stillness, she thinks, and its quiet, curious joy. He’ll be sorry enough when it’s over. 

The sound of Will’s car door slamming shut startles the three of them, and the bird takes flight. The undersides of its olive-gray wings are splashed with white, and seem to disappear against the sky, caught in the blinding path of sunbeams. Henry sighs and rolls back into the grass, shielding his eyes with his hands. He looks at her, and for a second, his gaze feels shrewd. 

“Where’s daddy?”

“He’s— he’s got some things to get.”

“How long?”

“I don’t know. It might be a while.”

How do you explain forever, but only in a sense, to a toddler?

A half-hour later, Emily receives them in her apartment. She’s half-packed, and her apartment is strewn with the detritus of disassembled shelves and their disorganized contents. She casts one long glance over the two of them, and JJ knows she looks precisely as terrible as she feels, in her battered New Balances and running shorts, Henry perched on her hip, tugging at the collar of her least ratty crewneck. Henry’s got a bright cloth bag full of foam play blocks hanging loosely from his hand. She looks like she got back from a run and immediately got into a relationship-ending fight, which is exactly what happened. Bet this isn’t what you thought you were signing up for when you were in Paris, she thinks. If she said it, she’d cry. Fuck it, she’s probably going to cry anyway.

Emily gestures toward her couch, which is only partially covered with coats. 

“You gotta clean,” Henry announces as he surveys the room. “Unassebable.”

“Unacceptable,” JJ says automatically. Emily bites back a smile at the little moment of speech pathology, her wide eyes sparkling with delight.

“Unaxepable. Giant mess.”

Sorry, JJ mouths to Emily as she sets Henry down on the couch, opening the bag of toys for him. 

Emily just grins down at Henry. "I'm gonna clean soon, I promise," she says. Then she turns her eyes back to JJ, and that smile turns tentative.

She doesn’t know what to say to Emily, as they step behind her kitchen bar for the barest illusion of privacy. “Well,” she says finally, “I thought about it.”

“What happened?”

There was an ultimatum. The last of many. Will, and he had every right to, panicked. I can’t live like this. He can’t live like this. Can YOU live like this? This doesn’t happen to normal families, Jennifer! 

But it could have. Will was just— luck of the draw. Aces wild. And if it had happened to another family, that husband and child might not have made it. It was cold, cold comfort, frigid in her veins. If it weren’t for Emily, she kept thinking. It felt like the only available, possible thought.

“He asked me to marry him again, in the hospital. I couldn’t answer. He said he was going to take himself out of the field, and I should do the same.”

Emily’s brows furrow, like she’s encountering a language she hasn’t spoken in a decade, and very nearly understands it. JJ knows that was the look on her face, too, when Will told her what he wanted. It’s logic she can nearly parse, but only at a distance. Your job has always been too dangerous. 

“He’s traumatized,” Emily says finally. “He can come around.”

“Until when? And then what? Why are— why are we arguing about this?” She feels like she might at any moment wake up to Will shaking her. Another bad dream, babe? Maybe it’s time to call in those vacation days…

“Because I want you to be sure, instead of moving from one compromise to another.”

On the couch, Henry tosses one of his blocks, and squeaks with annoyance when it hits the corner of the cushion and bounces off. Or maybe it’s delight. “Unaxepable mess,” he says, pointing to where it lies, beside a stack of shelves that once held books.

“You don’t throw a safe bet away unless you’re really, really sure,” JJ says. 

The look on Emily’s face is like nothing she’s ever seen before. Complex, messy, unpredictable. “Clyde offered me a job,” she says. “In London.” For a split second, the world swims crazily into view in JJ’s vision, warping in scope: there between them is the entire Atlantic, and they’re marooned at its furthest edges. “I turned it down.”

Mary Oliver also wrote: And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything? And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for? And have you changed your life?

God. Telling Will is going to be a nightmare, whenever it happens.

“The house…?”

“Structural integrity issues.”

“Did you talk to Derek?”

“Of course. He thinks I’m a crazy person.”

“So you’re packing because?”

“My lease is up,” Emily says. Were they this close a minute ago? “Derek’s hooked me up with a sublet for the summer— he couldn’t find a tenant for one of his condos.”

“That’s going to be funny, him as your landlord.”

“Weirder than dating a coworker?” It’s funny until: “Oh God,” Emily says, suddenly stricken. “We’re going to have to tell them.”

 

four.

 

Penelope’s the first one to notice it, of course. They might as well have sent her a Save the Date. Then she sends out feelers. They don't see the ambush on the horizon until they're in it.

“Something’s different,” Penelope announces to JJ. She taps the pink-feathered end of a particularly bedazzled pen against the frame of her glasses. “You’re going to tell me what it is.”

JJ chokes on her coffee. “Excuse me?”

“I said what I said! I can basically smell secrets, you know. And it’s not just the fact that you and Prentiss both smell like your shampoo now, but that’s definitely part of the fragrance.”

Penelope’s got a very bright and sweet look etched onto her face. It makes the sharp, hard gaze she’s got trained on JJ look like the muzzles of two guns leveled directly at her. Your money or your life, it seems to say. It takes the passive out of passive-aggressive, and slaps her upside the head with it. 

JJ closes the door to Penelope’s office. She tells her nearly everything. She leaves out the part that makes them both look really, earthshatteringly stupid, which is the months of near-stasis they spent thinking about what might have been, marrying Will and moving to London. Settling. Running. Leading lives that were complicated in familiar ways, the furnished home and made bed of their worst impulses.

When she’s done, Penelope is staring at her with fond, outraged awe. “Jennifer Jareau,” she says slowly, savoring it. “You’re the worst!”

“Excuse me?” JJ says, again, this time without the guilty conscience.

“Okay, we’re going to shelve the fact that I was right, and circle back later when I feel like gloating. But I cannot believe the sheer amount of crazy juicy gossip you haven’t told me, and why, because you’ve got this whole cloak-and-dagger thing going on about your personal life? Everyone’s got one! What makes Jennifer Jareau so special! You started up this whirlwind romance with, oh my god, Special Agent Tall, Dark, and Handsome, in gay Paree, in her time of need, convalescing, learning to walk again, learning to love again— and you didn’t tell me? What’s wrong with you? I have to look at, with my own precious eyes, all the grossest stuff this team gets up to and the instant it goes all James Bond but without all the old-timey gender politics I’m out of the loop? And another thing—”

Two floors above, in the conference room, Emily’s getting a similar third degree from Derek.

“Emily?”

She turns around guiltily. It’s something in his voice. It lilts up at the end in a way that very much is not questioning. 

“Where have you been staying? ‘Cause I know it’s not at my place.”

“What do you mean?”

Derek raises his hands in a mock gesture of submission. “Okay, okay, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s normal in all the places you come from to let your mail pile up for weeks.”

“You went by?”

“What? I had to fix the— wait. I’m not the one with explaining to do. So what’s the deal?” He slouches in the doorway, putting all that hard-earned broadness to good use.

“If I say nothing?”

“Emily, this is what I’m talking about when I say you’ve got to start letting people in.”

He’s got her there, probably. It’s not like this is a sustainable secret. “Oh man,” she says, and collapses into one of the chairs. “Okay. Fine. Close the door, though, because this is definitely a HR write-up story.”

“My favorite kind,” he says, obliging. “Who’s the lucky lady?”

She tells him. Paris, Words with Friends, her impetuous promise, and the sudden implosion of both of their worlds. Their initial promise to take it slow, which was practically hurled out the window the first time Henry fell asleep in Emily’s lap. Emily, in her best attempt at chivalrous, took the guest bedroom, but that too soon sailed out the broken window of reasonable behavior. 

“God damn,” Derek finally says, when she finishes talking. “I mean, really, God damn.” He’s sporting the most mischievous grin Emily’s ever seen on his face. “All these years of dodging dating stories, and then you bring me the wildest thing I’ve ever heard?”

Emily knows she’s blushing. It can’t be subtle: her two modes are light flush and stop sign, and this is not a light flush situation. 

“And,” says Derek, mercilessly, “this all started over Scrabble? I thought Reid was the only word game Lothario in town.”

Reid?! Lothario?!”

“This is a hell of your own making, Princess. You know, I really thought you had more game than that. I really thought a girl like JJ required more game than that.” 

“You’re such a jerk when you’re being smug,” she says reproachfully. “I’d like to see what kind of ‘game’ you’ve got when you’re stuck in hiding, with a giant hole where your abs used to be.”

“Dire straits,” he says with a careless shrug. Then he looks up at her again, all his joking manner gone. “But it’s good? You two are happy? Will’s not a problem?”

“Will doesn’t know yet.”

“Fair. He probably shouldn’t for a while, huh? I’d take it pretty hard if someone stole my girl over Scrabble.”

And it all goes from there. 

 

five.

 

What JJ doesn’t tell Penelope, and Emily tactfully glances past with Derek, is how quickly and totally they fall into place. Years of fieldwork together has attuned each to the other, and Emily learns Henry’s rhythms as quickly as she once learned JJ’s.

It’s not like they’re perfect, despite Penelope’s insinuations. You don’t get to be perfect when one of you has an ex-fiancé still, however tenuously, in the picture, and when the other still, occasionally, comes up as dead in the FBI’s groaningly vast system of medical databases and personnel files. 

Gosh,” Penelope says moonily on this bright August morning, as Emily drops the keys to the rental condo on Derek’s desk. Emily rolls her eyes in response. JJ’s taken a week of vacation days off to make custody arrangements with Will, and Emily’s once more made herself carefully invisible from JJ’s life. It’s going to have to end, eventually, and before Henry’s the one to break the news to Will. That would, as Penelope keeps insisting, crack Will like an egg. 

They’ve started looking for a new place. The house JJ and Will rented is, of course, fine, but it’s also always going to be the house JJ and Will rented. Morgan’s connected them with a few brokers he knows.

Maybe they’re moving too fast. But it feels more like making up for lost time. 

JJ finally convinced Emily to forsake her aspirational commitment to the guest bedroom and its unfriendly full-size bed weeks ago. The room has started to change around them. First it was Emily’s sheets, which have a higher thread count than Will or JJ would have even known to buy. They feel like being wrapped in silk. Emily laughed exultantly when JJ slipped nude into bed, just to feel the sensation of them, and of Emily, on her skin. And then there’s half her closet, populated now by Emily’s wardrobe, the odd jewel tone mixed into an otherwise inky sea of fabric. The books, too. It would be wrong to say Emily’s a voracious reader, because it’s hard to commit to reading when you can’t guarantee you’ll be able to sleep in past 5 A.M. But Emily does read to her in a manner that might be described as voracious, because it comes with a kind of unspoken desire to be known in all of her variety and particularities. 

Emily translates to her from a tattered, flaking paperback, Cien sonetos de amor by Pablo Neruda. “I got this when I was sixteen,” she says. “It was months after I lost contact with Matthew for the first time.” She tells JJ of that slow, dreamy winter, half nightmare and half daydream, in which she wandered the streets of Seville and tried to play out a future in her mind that didn’t fill her with dread. She tells her about the abortion, and about the landslide of its aftermath— Matthew’s crisis of faith, her unspoken rejection from the church community, the quick retreat to America, just for a more normal setting. Punctuating this is the slow rustle of old pages, almost like Emily thinks she can trick her mouth into giving up all its secrets if she strings them along between poems. “Veo en tu vida todo lo viviente,” she reads out, and rests an anxiously roaming hand on JJ’s bare thigh. “I see in your life everything that lives.”

JJ tells her about the miscarriage. She doesn’t mean to, at first— they aren’t exchanging stories in this way. But it becomes something she needs, and wants, to say, and she watches Emily’s brow furrow with the same wrench of sorrow and exhaustion that twists in her. The world is so cruel, they both think. How terrible it can be to be in it, full of love and want.

Sometimes they wake up and Henry is sprawled between them; more often, they wake up because he wants to be.

They plan to travel. Anywhere but Paris or London, at least for a while. Emily tells her about the first girl she ever loved. How afraid she’d been to touch her. How important it was when she finally did. JJ tells her about the first boy she ever loved, because the first woman she ever loved is the one still holding her now. Maybe that’s a story of missed opportunities. But now, it feels unimaginable that either of their lives should have gone differently.

It helps that they know each other so well. It helps that there’s still so much left to learn. Complex, messy, unpredictable, JJ thinks when she presses her lips, gently, to the rough and guttered edges of the scar on Emily’s belly, and Emily responds with a deep and exultant sigh, with all the joy of life and survival. When Emily rests a comfortable arm around her sun-dappled shoulders at the grocery store, she finds herself breathing out the same sigh.

Emily reads her that sonnet she fell in love with decades ago, with its dark secrecy and hidden blooms. JJ likes the one that comes later:

Ya eres mía. Reposa con tu sueño en mi sueño.
Amor, dolor, trabajos, deben dormir ahora.
Gira la noche sobre sus invisibles ruedas
y junto a mí eres pura como el ámbar dormido.

Or, as Emily renders slowly beside her, half-lulled into sleep by her own reading:

Now you’re mine. Rest with your dream in my dream.
Love, pain, work— they should all sleep now.
The night turns on its invisible wheels,
and with me you are pure, like sleeping amber.