?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
07 August 2008 @ 04:33 pm
Fic: Shattered Glass, Tempered Steel (Criminal Minds, JJ/Garcia) Part 1  




Title:  Shattered Glass, Tempered Steel
Author: DiNovia
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Pairing: JJ/Garcia (established relationship)
Rating:  R
Words:  11,882
Archival:  P&P and Kimly, of course.  Everyone else, please ask.
Spoilers:  none
Summary:  A couple of rural Nebraska teens make a gruesome discovery while seeking out a quiet spot to celebrate their high school graduation with liquor lifted from their parents' cabinets.  When the local sheriff and the state troopers unearth the sixth body, they call in the BAU, who make a gruesome discovery of their own.
Content Disclaimer:  Descriptions of a violent rape, of decomposition, of infanticide, and of consensual sex between consenting adult females. 
Source Disclaimer:  I do not own Criminal Minds or the characters from that show.  I seek no profit from this story. 
A/N:  For Tiff, who would not let me forget that this story was unfinished and should not be left so...  She also made the story banner, so Yay Tiff!  I love you!



Penelope Garcia's cell phone's insistent jangling jolted her awake and the first thing she noticed after her eyes adjusted to the dim light filtering in through her purple curtains was a white envelope on the pillow next to hers in her bed, the pillow usually occupied at this time of the morning by her beautiful lover.  It wasn't addressed, of course.  It didn't need to be.  She knew who it was from and what it probably meant and her stomach sank as she reached for her phone. 

"Garcia's All-Night Nerd Nook," she intoned morosely as she answered.  "I tag 'em, you snag 'em."

"Garcia, it's Reid.  Hotch is calling everyone in.  We've got a case."

"Where?"  She reached for her glasses on the bedside table and put them on, stifling a yawn in the process.

"Cody, Nebraska," replied Reid, making the answer sound almost like a question.  A question he would happily answer, of course.  "It's a small town off Route 20, south of the Nebraska/South Dakota border.  Population of 149 at the 2000 census."

"Well, that should make questioning the locals easier," mused Garcia.  "You can round 'em all up down at the one room school house that doubles as Town Hall.  Is it bad?"  She knew all their cases were technically bad but she had a short list of personal squicks that could make a case so much worse for her.  The team knew what they were and did their best to protect her from them.

"Some local teenagers celebrating the end of the school year found a shallow grave in the hills outside town.  They'd gone up there to drink, according to the police report, and saw what they thought was a mannequin's hand lying near a dried stream bed.  When they got closer and discovered it was real, they went home to get their parents, who then called the local sheriff.  He called in the state troopers and when they found the sixth grave, they called us.  They believe there are more graves, dozens maybe, all along that stream bed."

"Ugh."  Garcia grimaced at the thought of the pictures she knew she would be getting soon.  "Anything on the victims so far?"

"Nothing yet.  The most recent--the one the teenagers found--is the best possibility for quick identification.  Minimal decomp.  She's female, approximately 40 years old.  Her head had been shaved and she was buried nude and face down.  Preliminary COD is listed as strangulation.  The ME up there estimates she's only been dead for 7 to 10 days.  She is not someone the ME recognizes as being part of their small community so she's being called Jane Doe #1."

"Okay, Reid, get me pictures of her face and any identifying marks and I'll see if I can track her down in missing persons reports.  I'll be in within the hour."

"Thanks, Garcia.  Sorry to ruin your weekend."

Garcia smiled at Reid's boyish earnestness.  "That's why they pay us the big bucks, Reid.  Anyway, I'd never let the team go to Nebraska without me in The Box.  I'm not sure a town that size even has indoor plumbing, let alone a computer.  Sounds like you're heading for Laura Ingalls country."

"Yeah.  We have to fly into Rapid City and drive 194 miles to Cody.  We're taking over the high school gym as our staging ground.  The guys are sleeping there.  Emily and JJ will be staying at the sheriff's house--"

"Wait," interrupted Garcia, "let me guess--'On account of them are womenfolk'?"  She did her best John Wayne impression.

Reid chuckled.  "That's the gist of what he said, yeah.  See you when you get here."

"Yeah.  Bye."  She dropped her phone on the bed, her mind already racing, plotting out what she needed to do and in what order to make her morning the most efficient.  She saw the envelope again when she stood up and all those thoughts simply scattered.  She looked at it for a long moment before opening it, smiling sadly as she turned it over to remove the crisp card from within.  It read:

Pen,

Got an email this morning that looks like we might have a case, so I went into the office.  I'll wake you when we need you but I wanted to let you sleep as long as possible.  You looked so peaceful, so beautiful...  Do I look that way to you when I am sleeping?  I wonder... 

I've taken my ready bag, just in case.  I'm sorry about our weekend.  You know I'd rather be here, cuddled up on the couch with you and The Carol Burnett Marathon, right? 

I love you.

J

Penelope Garcia smiled so widely she thought her cheeks might ache for the rest of the day.  She replaced the card in the envelope and dropped it into her purse on the way to jump in the shower.  She decided suddenly that she'd set her DVR to capture the entire marathon so that she and JJ could enjoy it later. 

No sense in letting perfectly good cuddle time go to waste, she thought, humming a happy little tune.  As she stood under the hot spray of water in her shower, washing her hair with a sharply-scented green apple shampoo, she began to think about what she would cook for that eventual weekend, forgetting all about the bodies being unearthed in far away Cody, Nebraska.

----

Penelope Garcia, FBI Tech Analyst extraordinaire, picked up the envelope propped against her pen cup and slid out the card for what had to be the thousandth time in four days and every time she read it, it generated a full-on, million-watt smile.  This time was no exception.  She needed it, too.  They were on grave number 37 along that stream bed with no end in sight.  The resultant massive law enforcement presence--there were CSUs from three states walking around up there--had probably spooked their unsub.  Rossi believed he was long gone, whoever he was.  The others were not so sure.  Cody was a small town.  Very small.  If the unsub had been a part of their community, the team would know it by now, wouldn't they?  But no one in or around Cody could recall seeing anyone suspicious or out of place in the last two weeks.  Not even the most recent victim.  It was all very confusing.

Garcia had worked magic on that identification and she knew it.  Even Rossi, may the fleas of a thousand camels infest his bad-tempered armpits, had said so.  Evelyn Dearborn, an unmarried herbalist and holistic health practitioner from Delaware had decided to take a few months off after the death of her mother to travel the country in her mother's prized possession: a gently used, white-topped '67 Chevy II Nova Wagon in original Nantucket Blue--as yet unrecovered.  Friends said she had chosen a route that did not include Nebraska.  It did, however, include South Dakota and state troopers were checking with hotels along Interstate 90 to find out where she had last been seen.  They figured most people would at least remember the car. 

In the mean time, the team continued canvassing community members, which was proving more difficult than Garcia's prediction of a quaint little round up down at Town Hall.  This community extended well beyond town limits to include people who were truly rural.  Some of these families only came into town two or three times a year, mainly to restock in staples and seed for their farms or to sell whatever meager harvest they had scratched out.  Finding some of them was nearly an exercise in futility--with directions like "take that wagon track until you see the fourth cottonwood copse and then bear left past the old rusted cistern..."--so each pair from the team had a local deputy with them acting as a guide.  It was a painstakingly slow process that, so far, had yielded nothing.

Garcia was just putting the card back into the envelope when her phone rang.  She propped the love note against her pen cup for easy retrieval and jabbed the answer button on her phone.

"Speak that you may become enlightened, O mortal one!  You have reached Garcia's Nerdly Nirvana..."

Jennifer Jareau grinned and turned as far away as she could from fellow agent Emily Prentiss and their deputy guide, Hank Brodie, in the front seat, lowering her voice to keep them from overhearing her response.  Emily was driving them over some pretty bumpy terrain which she knew would help, too.

"I'll show you Nirvana when I get home," she promised huskily, chewing briefly on the nail of her left index finger and leering gently.

Garcia gasped, jerking ramrod straight in her chair.  Her entire body instantly became engulfed in tingles and she felt both feverish and freezing at the same time. 

"JJ," she breathed, dazed with desire.  She stared blankly ahead, her fingers poised over her keyboard until she managed to shake herself out of her reverie.  "God, you can't talk to me like that at work!" she admonished plaintively.  "I go into shock and become useless!"

"I'm sorry," said JJ, immediately contrite, her voice sounding tinny and very far away.  "I was actually calling for work reasons but you said 'Nirvana' and distracted me."

"Everyone's a critic!" retorted Garcia brightly, her voice retreating to its normal, professional timbre.  "And before we get around to how I can help you, what in the Goddess' name is wrong with your phone?"

JJ snorted, the sound melting with the static on the line.  "Nothing that a local cell tower wouldn't cure.  If they had one.  Which they don't." 

"Are you sure you're even still in the 21st century?" asked Garcia snidely, her lips twisted in a sardonic grin.

"I'm not sure we're even on the same planet.  I've never seen so much...landscape before.  And all of it is beige."

The pink-streaked blonde chuckled.  "What do you need, hon?  Before I lose you to the Hell of the Lost Signal."

JJ discarded the first two less-than-professional responses to her lover's perfectly innocent question and replied, "Emily and I are heading up to someplace called the Petit Farm but our guide is a little lost.  Can you lock onto my GPS signal and get us heading in the right direction again?  We're pretty much in the middle of nowhere."

Garcia's fingers flew over her keyboard as she activated several searches at once.  "Give me just a sec, Sugar, and I'll find you..."  A red blip appeared on the satellite map Garcia had in front of her.  "There you are..."  She entered information into the mapping software from another search she'd done on county records and waited for the results. "And the Petit Farm is...just over three miles due north of you."

JJ relayed that information to Emily and Garcia could hear the SUV grinding through what sounded like gravel as it changed directions.  "Don't they have roads there either?"

The blonde agent almost rolled her eyes.  "Not so much.  There's not even a hint of a trail, really.  It's much more...subliminal." 

Garcia laughed.  "Subliminal roads, no cell towers, and a command center smelling of boys' gym socks.  No wonder they sent you out with guides."

"Yeah.  Hotch was getting annoyed at all the time being wasted."  JJ looked out the windshield and noticed a graying hulk of a barn in the distance.  Beyond that, she could just see a dilapidated farmhouse with windows as dark and hollowed out as the eye sockets of a skull.  "Hey, as long as we're still connected, can you tell me anything about who lives here?  They're one of the families that doesn't make it into town that often and I want to know what to expect."

"Uh...sure..."  Garcia began running several searches simultaneously, mostly through state databases, county records, and newspaper archives.  There wasn't much but, then, there wasn't much of Cody, Nebraska either.  "The land is currently owned by Ollie Petit, wife of the late Charles Petit who died in...1992.  Winter.  Pneumonia.  Ollie is 78-years-old and receives disability checks for...blindness.  She apparently lost her eyesight in what is listed as a 'farming accident'--whatever that means--back in 1960 and has received disability checks since then.  There's a human interest story in the Rapid City Journal--dated September 12th, 1971--all about how she weaves these intricate tapestries on this big antique loom even though she's totally blind.  Pretty amazing..."

"Okay..."  JJ wasn't sure how amazing it was, actually.  It sounded sad to her.  Desolate.  Stuck out in this bare land with nothing to do but weave since she'd lost her eyesight?  JJ thought it was a recipe for madness.  "Anyone else?" 

Fingernails clicking on her keys, Garcia cross-referenced the name Petit with all state records on file.  "I have a Richard Petit, 52-years-old, who has a current Nebraska driver's license listing that address; a Josie Petit, 50-years-old, arrested twice last year in Valentine for public drunkenness--the farm is her last known--and multiple truancy notices from the early '90s on Ricky and Joey Petit, a pair of twins, and a Crystal Petit..."  A burst of rapid clicks and then silence.  "It looks like that's it.  Sorry, Jayj."

"Sorry?  Garcia, that's more than we knew from the sheriff.  At least we have...an idea...now..."  Garcia heard JJ gasp and what sounded like a muffled, urgent conversation between Emily and the deputy.  The SUV came to a stop and Garcia clearly heard three car doors slam.

"JJ?"  Penelope could feel the tension radiating from her lover.  "JJ?  What's going on?"

"Garcia, Emily's sending you some pictures from her cell.  I don't know how clear they're going to be--"

"Pictures of what?"  The tech analyst refreshed her email inbox reflexively but nothing new came in.

"License plates, hundreds of them.  They're hanging from two trees in the yard and are nailed onto the side of the barn.  Multiple states...  Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania...  I see two from DC and one of them is older.  Maybe from the '70s?  It's a government plate, Garcia--"

Suddenly a voice Garcia didn't recognize--a harsh, shrill, shrieking voice--sliced into JJ's description.  "Get off my land!  You aren't welcome here!"  She was a little distance away from JJ's location but getting nearer.

"FBI, ma'am!  We are federal agents!  Put the shotgun down now!"  That was Emily's voice, strong and fierce, authoritative and urgent.  Everything happened too fast after that--the sound of JJ's service weapon leaving her holster then a thump and rustle after which the sounds became even fuzzier and more distant.  Garcia heard Emily shouting again, followed by two different men's voices, then JJ ordering someone to drop their weapon, more shouting, and then shots--first one, then too many to count--until finally Emily's voice again, louder now, shouting into her own phone.  "Officer down!  We have an officer down!" and then a more panicked "Get into the car!  Pull it around--"

That was the last thing Garcia heard. 

-----

Jennifer Jareau sat at one of the desks in Cody-Kilgore High School's gym where she and her team had set up their command center.  She pressed a square of gauze against her forehead and patiently endured the ministrations of Deenie White, school nurse, who was checking several smaller cuts for broken glass.  The sharp scent of iodine made her nose twitch and the cuts sting, but she sat through it without complaint, sighing with relief when the short, elderly, penguin-shaped woman declared her 'all patched up.'

Emily Prentiss came over to check on her, her camel-colored suit pants and her white Oxford still stained dark with Hank Brodie's blood.  She'd washed her hands, though, JJ noticed.

"How are you?" asked the brunette, her dark eyes taking in the small bandage on JJ's forehead and her numerous other injuries.

JJ smiled weakly.  "I'm fine.  Superficial cuts from the shot that took out the driver's side window.  They shouldn't scar unless--and I quote--'you're like Janie Landry's oldest girl, Tillie.  Picked at her scabs all the time.'"  

Emily's eyes went wide.  "Tillie?  As in the sheriff's wife?"

JJ shrugged.  "I guess so," she said, laughing.  She looked across the room at the tiny, stocky, gray-haired woman who was now speaking to the sheriff.  "How many generations do you think she's told to 'turn your head and cough'?"

"Oh God..."  The look on Emily's face was a priceless mixture of disgust and mortification, making JJ laugh even harder.

Emily grinned and the sight jarred JJ a bit.  With the deputy's blood staining her clothing and that conspiratorial grin, Emily looked like a feminine version of Sweeny Todd.  The blonde agent shook her head to dislodge that particular thought and changed the subject, asking, "How's Hank?"

"They took him to Valentine.  He's in surgery but they think he'll be okay.  Collapsed lung."  The brunette sighed.  "It could have been worse."

"Yeah."  JJ thought about that, letting her eyes wander the nearly empty command center.  Hotch was on the phone organizing the arrival of even more Crime Scene Units now that they had a primary crime scene.  The sheriff was talking to one of his other deputies, a young, clean-cut redhead who practically squeaked when he walked.  He nodded sagely as the sheriff spoke then turned to carry out whatever orders he'd been given with intense concentration carved into his features.

"Josie Petit's in surgery, too," continued Emily, her features smooth and unreadable.  "They're not sure she'll make it.  Richard Petit is dead."

JJ nodded.  It had been a good shoot and she'd say as much and more in the review.  Emily Prentiss had clearly identified them as federal agents before any shots were fired.  They'd been attacked without provocation. 

"Those license plates...they're what we thought they were, aren't they?" she asked hollowly.

Emily sighed and sat on the edge of the desk.  "Looks like it.  They found Evelyn Dearborn's plate hanging from the smaller tree out front.  Morgan, Reid, and Rossi are up there right now with some of the sheriff's deputies, sorting through the rest of them by state so they can get Garcia to cross-reference them with missing person's lists.  They go back years.  Morgan said he has two from 1961 already.  That may be the starting point."

"The year after Ollie Petit went blind from a farming accident," said JJ absently, thinking about the call she'd been on with Penelope before all Hell had broken loose and the call she'd made to her after, almost as soon as she was inside the gym's heavy institutional doors and before she'd let the nurse touch her.  Penelope's voice had been so relieved and so angry at the same time and the knowledge that she'd caused her sweet, funny, violet-eyed lover so much pain hurt JJ more than the stinging cuts on her face and neck.  Much more.  She sighed then deliberately pulled her mind away from her guilt, sore like a bruise.  She couldn't fix it from here, she reasoned.  She'd have to wait until she was home. 

Attempting to take her mind off the sound of tears in Penelope's voice, she wondered, "What kind of farming accident causes blindness like that?"  She remembered with revulsion Ollie Petit's eyelids, sewn shut over empty eye sockets, the skin around the ancient wounds tough and leathery, the scars thick and mottled.

"Farming accident?" repeated Emily, clearly confused.  "It wasn't a farming accident.  At least that's not what Sheriff Collier told me.  He said some drifters had shown up in town one Spring and Charles Petit had hired them on as farmhands, thinking hard work would straighten them out.  They were okay for about a month.  Then Charles Petit came back from a trip into town to find his son and daughter tied to the tree in his yard, mouths gagged with rags, and his wife laid out on the kitchen table, naked, beaten, and raped.  The farmhands had apparently cut her eyes out in an attempt to keep Ollie from identifying them to the police but they were already long gone by the time Charles Petit found her."

JJ, her sky-blue eyes wide, grimly finished the story.  "And to keep their 'troubles' private, they put 'farm accident' on the disability application."

"Or the town doctor did, out of loyalty to the family," agreed Emily.  "Whatever they called it, it's certainly the trigger point for whatever else happened at that farm.  We're up to 50-something graves out at the stream bed.  If those graves go all the way back to 1961 and the killing truly was a  family affair then there must be..."  She didn't finish the thought.  Somehow a 47-year-long killing spree by one rural farming family was too weighty and horrid to speak of, even for Emily Prentiss, who was usually so good about compartmentalizing the death and mayhem they often saw in the field.

"Have they located the boys yet?  Ricky and Joey?"

"No," said Emily, shaking her head.  "But they were at the farm as recently as Sunday.  Rossi thinks they got spooked and took off when the sheriff called in the state troopers."

"Then they could be out there, anywhere, starting over..."

Emily's features hardened and her mouth flattened into a thin line of determination.  "If they do, we'll find them.  They won't last long."

"And their sister, Crystal Petit?  Did anyone ever find out what happened to her?"

"Apparently she hanged herself from the big tree in the front yard the night before she turned 18--about ten years ago," said Emily solemnly.  "According to Ollie, age 18 was when the kids went through their right of passage: hunting and killing their first victim.  Crystal killed herself rather than take another's life.  She's buried on the farm next to Charles Petit in an unmarked grave."  She turned inscrutable dark eyes toward JJ, sadness tugging at her mouth.  "Ollie said Crystal was the only angel she'd ever known."

-----

Penelope Garcia watched on one of her monitors as the team returned from Cody, Nebraska.  They straggled in, tired and defeated, dropping their ready bags to the floor as if they carried the weight of the world in them.  This case hadn't wrapped itself up into a tidy little package and two unsubs were still on the loose, possibly looking for a new home base.  The CSUs had found a total of 211 graves up in the hills along the stream bed near the Petit Farm.  That meant the Petit family had killed an average of four people a year, roughly.  Four tourists or wanderers or traveling businessmen, four college students on road trips, four armchair historians, four people just passing through on their way to somewhere else...every year.  No wonder Morgan and Reid both looked like kicked puppies.

She was waiting to see JJ, of course.  Normally she wasn't such a voyeur--okay, not as much of one--but she had to see JJ as soon as she walked into the bullpen.  To know that she was okay.  Once and for all.  Those moments after hearing Emily shout "Officer down!" had been among the worst in Penelope's life and her heart thundered with panic when she remembered them even now.  Not until JJ had called her had she regained some semblance of equilibrium.  But it wasn't a complete recovery; a tiny but insidious question had infected her.  What if? 

Not one to let doubt keep her from being the best tech analyst she could, Penelope had pushed the strangely viral question down deep to focus on the case at hand.  Now, though, she could feel the words lying in wait--like a knot of spiders sitting at the base of her skull.  She tried to shut the door on them once again.  It was harder this time.   

The team had spent the last few days of their time in Cody sorting through the gruesome license plate collection--grouping them by state first and then by year in ascending order.  Only five states were not represented: Hawaii, Alaska, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Nebraska.  Rossi figured that the lack of Nebraska plates meant the family had rules and would not hunt 'their own', either out of loyalty or simple pragmatism.  Hunting fellow Nebraskans might have ended their killing spree years ago, drawing attention to their location or putting them at risk of being recognized.  Plus, the drifters who had raped and blinded Ollie were not from Nebraska.  If Charles Petit had been seeking vengeance for their acts, he would not have meted it out against his neighbors.  Hawaii, Alaska, and Rhode Island were probably missing due to simple statistical improbability.  However, no one had the faintest clue why New Jersey had been overlooked. 

There were 218 plates all told--which, of course, had the forensics people pulling their hair out.  They were preparing to exhume the entire family plot, wondering if the missing seven graves were there.  Garcia wondered how long the CSUs would be working the Petit Farm.  It could be months before every body was found and identified.

She glanced at a monitor to her left, the one cross-referencing plate numbers and states to missing persons reports.  She'd already found 44 matches, including the owner of the 1972 government plate from DC that JJ had mentioned just before Chaos had intervened.  Turned out that poor schmuck had probably walked right up to the Petits' front door. 

Records showed that Charles Petit had been flagged for an audit after he failed to file his taxes for five years in a row.  Unable to reach Mr. Petit by phone (even now the farm didn't have one) or by mail (all the letters they'd sent had gone unanswered), the IRS had decided to send an auditor to contact the family in person.  That auditor had been Bob Finch, a 29-year-old unmarried number cruncher originally from Tennessee.  No one, apparently, had ever heard from Bob Finch again.

Bob's parents, now long dead, had filed a missing person's report nearly three months after the scheduled date of Charles Petit's audit but the report didn't say why they'd waited so long to act.  The only record Garcia could find in the IRS' personnel records pertaining to Bob Finch was an invoice for the black Buick he'd been driving on that trip.  The bastards had sent the invoice for the missing car to his parents, who'd dutifully paid it.  Three grand for a 1969 Buick LeSabre four-door sedan in black with black leather interior.  It made Garcia sick.  She wondered if she could get the government to give the money back and who--if anyone--would be alive to receive it.  She made a mental note to see if Bob had any living siblings or cousins. 

Movement on the surveillance monitor caught Garcia's eye and she turned back to see Rossi arrive with Emily Prentiss, the two members of the team least likely to show the emotional wear and tear of a case.  Not this time, apparently.  Rossi seemed agitated and on edge, his movements sharply defined and staccato, while Emily's usually perfect posture sagged alarmingly.  Garcia imagined she could see dark circles under the brunette's eyes and her heart went out to the agent.  She watched Emily drop her ready bag on her desk and turn to look back the way she'd come, frowning just slightly.  Then Hotch and JJ entered the bullpen and Garcia--watching on the monitor--made a tiny yelping noise which she stifled by clapping one hand over her mouth. 

She ignored Hotch and his stern-but-exhausted features.  She focused only on Jennifer Jareau and even then barely saw her, overwhelmed by relief and love and doubt and fear.  The square of gauze on JJ's forehead, the deep sadness haunting her eyes, the nervous glances she threw toward the door to The Box as Hotch caught her elbow and said something to her--all of this hardly registered with Penelope Garcia.  Instead, she felt her face flush hotly and her heart beat wildly, she heard only the blood rushing in her ears, and saw only JJ, alive and whole.  She felt the ache of relief wash through her, chased by doubt, dark and mercurial.  She could hardly breathe.

Emily took a step toward JJ on the screen but JJ dropped her bag on Reid's desk and headed toward The Box.  Penelope flipped off the incriminating monitor and held her breath as she heard the door to her office open and then close gently.  She stared straight ahead, trembling with an overpowering need to touch JJ, to hold her in her arms.  It was a staggeringly intense desire and it took everything that Penelope had not to give in to it.  Two tears crested over her lashes and slipped down her cheeks in scalding rills.

JJ saw the tremors shudder through Penelope's shoulders, noted the tension in her bearing.  She took a step toward her lover, her own throat aching with unshed tears.

"Pen--"

"Don't."  Garcia's voice was hollow, harsh.  She held up a hand to stop JJ's movement toward her.  "Don't, JJ."

JJ stopped instantly, frozen by confusion and fear.  "Honey?" she whispered and Penelope heard the worry and the hurt in the blonde's soft plea.

"I can't," she explained, her voice hard with conviction she didn't feel.  "All I want in the world is to see you, to touch you, but if I do--if I look at you right now--I'm afraid I'll lose it and I can't do that here.  Not...here.  Not where I have to be strong, day after day.  Not where I'm charged with keeping all of you safe."  She wiped her tears away with an angry swipe of her hand.  "I have to know that I can stay focused in this room, that I won't...fall apart if something happens to you.  Can you understand that, JJ?" she asked, her voice tinged with desperation, the sound of a woman barely holding on.

JJ closed her eyes and took a deep breath--the first in ages, or so it felt to her.  She considered Penelope's words carefully, finally letting them settle inside her.  They were twin pebbles--reality and duty--and they sank solidly to the pit of her belly.  Their weight was a weight she knew well.

"Yes," she answered simply, opening her eyes.  Her pride in her lover made them bright blue.  "I'll see you at home?"

Penelope let go the breath she'd been holding and nodded her head once.  "Yeah.  At home." 

"Home" meant her apartment, where they spent most of their time together.  JJ always said her own apartment was just a place to sleep.  Like a hotel room, cold and bereft of personal attachment.  Garcia's apartment, on the other hand, felt like a combination between a carnival and a gypsy fortune-teller's tent, filled with color and music, redolent with spice and warmth, heady with comfort and safety and love.  They'd traded keys a few months back and it was no surprise to JJ that she used hers more.  Even now she felt the pull of that haven and the exhaustion that she'd been fighting suddenly seemed to overwhelm her. 

JJ gazed at the back of Penelope's pink-streaked head and smiled softly.  Her eyes filled with tender emotion and it spilled over the rest of her features, smoothing out the hard lines of a long and grueling couple of weeks, erasing the furrows and frowns that had seemed permanently etched into her features only this morning.  "I love you," she whispered, pulling the door shut behind her as she left.

Penelope Garcia smiled in spite of herself, grateful beyond measure that she had a lover like Jennifer Jareau.  "I love you, too," she whispered back.

----- 

Emily Prentiss watched with concern as Jennifer Jareau exited the room the team lovingly called The Box, her hand still gripping the doorknob, her head bowed.  She watched the younger blonde take a deep breath and then straighten, as if readying herself for the camera, hiding--once again--the reality of her life and experience beneath a mask appropriate for public consumption.  Emily glanced at Morgan and Reid who were slowly finding their own equilibrium after the events of the past few weeks, bantering with one another over the original Star Trek series and whether or not Captain Kirk was an adequate leader.  She didn't roll her eyes at the boys, but it was a near thing.  Instead she headed toward JJ.

"Hey," she said, touching the communication liaison's elbow to get her attention.  "Everything okay?"  Her dark eyes slid past JJ to look at Garcia's closed door, a slight frown deepening the lines on her forehead.

JJ smiled wearily.  "Yeah," she said, nodding her head, her blonde hair shimmering around her face with the movement.  "Yeah, everything's fine."  But Emily saw that the smile didn't quite make it to JJ's azure eyes.

"JJ, this isn't a press conference.  Talk to me.  What's going on?"

The young blonde looked at Emily for a long moment, considering her options.  She knew she could trust the SSA with her life but could she trust her with this?  In the end, it wasn't a difficult decision.  Emily had never shown herself to be anything but steadfast, trustworthy, discreet, and kind.  As far as confidantes went, JJ could do much worse.  And as far as the team went, Emily really was the only choice.  JJ glanced at Reid and Morgan--now thumb wrestling for God knows what reason--and grimaced.  No, she could never share this with either of them.

JJ pulled Emily farther away from the boys to a deserted area of the bullpen.  She glanced nervously at Hotch's and Rossi's offices and chewed on her bottom lip, wondering how to ask for this favor that she needed, for this validation that she sought.

"JJ, whatever it is, it stays with me.  If that's what you're worried about."  Emily lowered her voice, her eyes darting around the room in the same nervous way as JJ's had--before she stopped herself abruptly, chastising herself.  Why not just yell "We're having an extremely private conversation over here!" into a bullhorn? she thought.

"Emily, I need a favor.  A big favor.  And before I tell you what it is, I need you to know that you don't have to say yes, okay?"  JJ looked away, her eyes dark blue with memory and pain.  "But this case..."  She rubbed the gauze bandage on her forehead absently then looked Emily dead in the eyes.  "Emily, Garcia and I have been seeing each other for over a year.  Romantically."  She closed her eyes briefly and lamented the use of the ridiculous word romantically but there was nothing she could do about it now.  Grim determination thinned her lips and she lifted her chin in defiance, prepared to defend her relationship if need be.

"I know," said Emily, her features open and encouraging as she concentrated earnestly on JJ's every word.  "And?"

JJ blinked.  "You know?" she asked incredulously.  "What do you mean you know?"

Emily allowed a small grin to tug at her lips.  "We are profilers, JJ," she explained gently.  "Some things are more...obvious to us then they would be to a...layperson."

JJ swallowed.  She couldn't hear very well through the blood rushing through her ears.  And what were those flashing spots in front of her eyes?  "'We?'" she asked weakly.  "Everyone knows?"

Worried that this knowledge might upset JJ even further, Emily found she could only nod.

"Oh God!"  JJ crossed her arms over her chest and began to pace in tight, panicked circles.  Emily reached out to stop her.

"JJ, it's okay!  Everyone's happy for you--for you both!  We're a team, remember?  We look out for each other."

JJ didn't look convinced.  "Hotch knows?"  Aaron Hotchner would not be understanding...would he?  As their immediate supervisor, he'd have all sorts of HR considerations and regulations on his mind.  Would he simply turn a blind eye, giving tacit approval while still maintaining "official" ignorance?  Would he really take that risk?

Emily nodded again.  "And Rossi.  Not Strauss, though.  And we don't think she'd be very accepting so you might want to be discreet around her."

"I thought we were being discreet around all of you!" complained the communications liaison, exasperated. 

"The difference is we've got your back, JJ," replied Emily sternly.  "We know.  We care about you and about Garcia.  We will look out for you both.  Now, can you get a grip, please, and tell me what this big favor is so I can just do it for you and go home?  I don't know about you, but I really want to get out of these clothes, take a bubble bath, and eat an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's Marcia Marcia Marshmallow--and not necessarily in that order."

Stunned, JJ could only stare at Emily Prentiss, her eyes big and round.  Then she laughed.  "Yeah, okay," she agreed, grinning.  "I can do that."  She glanced at the door to The Box and her smile faded just a bit.  "The favor is..."  She stopped and took a deep breath, turning to face the dark-eyed brunette fully, her eyes bold and pleading at the same time.  "Emily, if anything ever happens to me in the field...if I...  Will you tell Penelope?  I don't want her finding out...you know...accidentally.  I want it to come from someone who knows about us.  From someone who cares.  She's lost so many people...her parents, her grandparents...and...I...I just want her to be taken care of, if something happens to me."

"She will be," said Emily gently.  "We will close ranks around Penelope like the Secret Service and she will have everything that she could ever need."  The words except you went unsaid but JJ could see them written in Emily's Moroccan leather eyes.  "You know that, JJ," she continued.  "Or you should."  She smiled warmly.  "Okay?"

JJ smiled a watery little smile.  Emily hadn't demurred or shushed her with useless platitudes.  She knew--like they all did--that anything could happen in the field; that you could be knocking on someone's door or tracking down someone at their workplace one minute and shooting snarling, blood-matted attack dogs the next.  That was just the way it was in their line of work and JJ was extremely grateful for Emily's simple acceptance and understanding.  "Okay," she agreed, her voice catching with sudden emotion. 

"Come on, let's go home," sighed the older agent.  "You have a date with the sexiest tech analyst in the whole FBI and I have a date with Ben & Jerry."

"Huh," said JJ pensively as they returned to the occupied portion of the bullpen to retrieve their bags.  "I wouldn't have pegged you for the threesome type, Emily."

"You haven't seen me with a pint of Marcia Marcia Marshmallow and a spoon," replied the dark-haired agent, winking saucily.

JJ just shook her head and laughed.



Continued in Part 2

Enjoy!

DiNovia