Author: Sara Nublas
Character: Emily Prentiss main, all team involved
Summary: This is the sequel of my previous fiction 'Asteriscus hierochunticus', hence it takes place after the episode 6x18, the summary follows: after Emily is back to the BAU she realizes her return might not be as easy as everybody wished. The story is organized as a sequence of snapshots, each describing Emily's relationship with her friends one by one alternated to her reflections.
Warning: SPOILER to Lauren 6x18, it's not necessary to read 'Asteriscus hierochunticus' to understand it, it just makes more sense...
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of the show Criminal Minds, I'm just borrowing them. No infringement intended
NOTE: After some very good criticism, I decided to edit the story and this required going through it since the beginning. Nothing paramount, I just changed the tense in a way that seems to make the narration flow better.
For this a huge thank you to rabirhek for the suggestions and the kind support.
1.There’s a smell of cheap disinfectant floating in the air of this apartment, it’s not exactly pleasant but apparently did the job because there are no traces of the mess that happened few months ago. Just a halo of a slightly darker hue where the blood impregnated permanently the wooden floor is left to indicate that the body was lying here, but aside from that the walls are impeccably stainless and freshly painted, you couldn’t say someone died in here.
This house is exactly what I need right now, four walls and a roof over my head, nothing cozy or familiar; it well recreates the atmosphere of the places where I’ve lived over the past nine months, no personal items, no pictures or books to warm up the environment, no traces of my presence; the clothes stay in the bag, except the ones I wear by the day, a gun is safely stored under the pillow and a picture of the team is beside the clock on the ground near the bed, it’s the only personal item I own, the only object that could betray me, but I need something to hold on to, something to remember who I am.
The previous owner left here a table with few chairs, a crippled sofa and a mattress; it’s all I need.
A soft thud at the door interrupts her thoughts “Emily?” JJ cautiously enters the apartment and immediately freezes at the sight of the bare room, the big windows and the high ceilings exalting even more the desolated emptiness.
“Hi, JJ” Emily welcomes her with a bit of awkwardness. There will been a lot of it in the future, it’s always difficult to understand which register to use with someone who came back from the dead, whether to pick up things where they were left or to acknowledge the uneasiness attempting to fill the gulf that was left by the absence.
“Sorry, the door was unlocked” the blonde justifies her intrusion, still dumbfounded at the sight of the hovel where Emily has decided to live “Emily, if you have money problems..”
The brunette catches her friend’s worry “No JJ, you don’t have to worry. I know this doesn’t exactly look like my style, but I didn’t want to fool myself with the promise of a stable life until I know for sure this could work”
“This?” JJ looks more and more perplexed by the second.
“My return. It’s not that I come back after months of hiding and everything goes back to normal, and honestly I am not even sure I can still attribute a meaning to this word” she goes on with a shrug “They were all happy to having me back and alive, but I don’t know how the team is going to react at the perspective of working with me in the field, I don’t know if I still have a spot and if they can trust me again. So before knowing what’s going to be I can’t start building anything solid, I couldn’t take it if I had to undo it all again” Emily immediately regrets her admission, not because she has showed her weak side but because this caused a veil of pain to descend on her friend’s face and frankly what she hates most is the pity on people’s face, it makes her feel a painful case and she’s had enough of this.
“I understand Emily, even though I believe you can find a temporary but more hospitable solution. This place seems the hideout of a drug dealer…” JJ comments bothered.
Emily welcomes that observation with a tip of resentment “yeah, I guess over the months I had the chance to gain a perspective of life very different from yours. The concept of home as a hospitable nest to come back to at night ceased to mean something to me a while ago” she says, and again she regrets not counting up to ten before opening her mouth, “When I was at the hospital visiting Morgan I heard two nurses talking about this apartment, and how despite being a deal nobody wanted to live in a former crime scene”
“A crime scene?” JJ echoes with even more worry than before.
“The previous tenant was some kind of artist who was shot, they actually never cleared if it was suicide or homicide, but for sure he wasn’t a snow flake and your hypothesis of the criminal hideout is probably not far from the truth. Anyway, the landlord was giving it away for a ridiculous price because apparently many people find it creepy to leave in a house where someone deceased” she comments with a flat tone to which JJ reacts arching her eyebrow.
“And you’re fine with that?” her friend inquires.
“Well, I find it kind of ironic… I faked my death, then I came back and now I live in a house where somebody died for real but in unclear circumstances. Fake ghost meets real ghost” her smile fades in front of JJ’s concerned expression “Just don’t tell Morgan about that, if he finds out I live here he will come by and renovate the house entirely” she tries unsuccessfully to relieve her friend’s worry with a joking tone.
JJ finally gives up, she knows that if Emily decides something nobody can dissuade her, but her concern over her friend hasn’t diminished at all when she bids her goodbye, “I’m sorry for the brief visit but I have to go and pick up Henry at school. I’ll see you soon anyway, I believe Garcia is organizing a big welcome back dinner and we’ll all be there” she squeezes Emily’s hand who responds with a smile.
“Thank you JJ, for everything you did” she replies before closing the door behind her back.
You can’t understand it. You can’t possibly grasp the catastrophic effect that such a radical change of life has on someone. Keeping track of her movements, reading reports or handing paper bags with passports and bank accounts at a bistro in Paris is not enough to get it. You do your job and as ugly as it gets, at the end of the day you come back home to your family who helps you to get your humanity back.
When you hide for months like I did, there’s no escape from the desperation, the nightmare, the lie inside the lie; you can’t afford friends, acquaintances or reference points, it’s only you and your memories, which get more and more feeble each day. To become a ghost, to survive in the darkness without destination, it requires to dig out your primal instinct, to be driven by bare survivalism and nothing else, it’s a scary dark place where to venture and it’s easy to turn into a rabid beast. Many times I found myself soaking in grudge, because they trashed me into a cell and thrown the key away; I knew it was not the truth, they all loved me, but anger was all I had to hold on to, sometimes.
How can you explain that hell is not dying, hell is surviving to your own death? Hell is looking at the face in the mirror every morning clutching to the memories of your past identity, to the painful awareness that once you were real. This JJ can’t understand, nobody can.
2.Emily walks through the empty bullpen keeping her breath and appreciating that Hotch has summoned her that early in the morning. Being able to dodge the welcome back committee by the team in full formation is a big relief. Not that she doesn’t want to see them or she isn’t happy to have her family back, but after months of solitude and isolation, the simplest social interaction can easily get pretty intense and even though everybody has been incredibly accommodating so far, she can’t help reading the pity on their faces.
Passing by her previous desk she notices it is now someone else’s working place and feels a twinge in her chest; staplers, scissors and pens are accurately lined on the right upper corner of the table and on the opposite side few plastic containers are filled with paper clips and drawing pins of even color.
A drawer partially opened exposes folders ordered by color code, she can’t help wondering which classification criteria has been used, typology of offender, geographical location of the case, alphabetical order..
Her profiling is interrupted by Hotch clearing his throat and staring at her with an arched eyebrow from the entrance of his office.
As soon as she closes the door behind herself, he motions her to sit down on the sofa “Do I have to remind you the rules about profiling colleagues?” he starts calmly with a feeble grin of amusement.
Emily smiles apologetically “First, technically I’m not part of this team anymore, and second nobody respects that rule, you know it well. Usually we’re just cautious enough not to be caught, but we do profile each other, continuously. Am I wrong?”
Hotch hints a nod and turns serious, the weight of the unspoken words and the long kept secrets between them instantly pours and fills the room with a mix of feelings difficult to organize and disentangle. From the dismay for how things went awry, to the sorrow for the burden that both of them – in different forms – had to carry, to the regret for not having seen and not having said before; all their private demons are suddenly unleashed to haunt them.
Finally Hotch breaks the silence “I guess that if we started looking back at the past months we could find infinite reasons to beat ourselves and to blame each other. Honestly I believe you already went through hell over these months and you don’t need a further process, I also know your proclivity to martyrdom and I’m convinced you found plenty of ways to punish yourself more than I could ever do. I know it’s not easy to disappear and I know how excruciating it is to be parted by your family against your will and leaving everything behind” he takes a pause then, his voice slightly cracking “I would like to provide a nobler justification to my choice, but truth is that given the situation, faking your death and sending you away was the only safe option for you, for the team and our families; as chief in charge I had to protect my team and in this case the only way to do it was by leaving behind one of us and lying to the others. I’m sorry.”
Emily fakes a feeble smile, knowing that probably none of them will ever let out how they really feel about the situation and also understanding how painful it has to be for Hotch to experience so up close the obvious parallel between her and Haley, “Hotch, when I left to face Doyle I wasn’t even planning to survive. I just wanted to be sure that no one in the team or near it would be harmed and as far as I am concerned it worked, not in the way I expected, but now Doyle is dead and everybody is safe. Those months were hard for me as for you and the team and I know there’s no way of going back or wipe the past and start all over, but I accept everything that will happen and the awareness that everybody’s safe will pay off even for the bitter turn this situation might take”
Hotch scrutinizes her, it’s hard to accept that for five years he worked side by side with a woman who deceived them all without contradicting herself ever, and accepting her back implies the logic assumption that they will trust her without questioning her sincerity. Sooner said than done.
“We had to replace you with another profiler during your absence” he says briefly.
“I know and I understand” she swallows, she doesn’t like it at all, but she understands it and can’t blame Hotch for his decision.
“You will join the team on probation. You are not allowed to join us in the field yet. Just paperwork, consultations, profiles, reports and office job; you will help Garcia while we are on cases and take part to the meetings, I want to see how the team deal with you and you with them and if you can work together again. Agent Lloyd will go on working actively in the team until I make a decision, which will be supported also by psychological and physical evaluations that you WILL undertake regularly. Eventually I will decide whom of you two will stay. Clear?”
“Clear” she breaths out.
“Also to avoid tensions and overcrowding you will be in JJ’s former office, on your own. I can imagine that at the beginning your return will be a bit of a bombshell and I don’t want you or the rest of the bureau to be distracted by this” he carries on stern.
“Thank you” and for this she’s sincerely grateful, already dreading the daunting first days among puzzled looks, hand-shaking and big-hug-time.
“It’s all for now” Hotch dismisses her and watches her as she walks through the bullpen and toward her office, well aware that it’s far from over and the process of coming back will be long and difficult.
Everybody looks at me as if this was the end of a nightmare, the happily ever after we were all waiting for. I crossed all the lines, lied to my friends, I died, then nine months after I mysteriously reappeared to kill the man who destroyed my life and my reputation, and now everybody clap their hands in a standing ovation. It’s actually grotesque and genuinely irritating to realize how carefully everybody is avoiding the crucial question, the one they are dying to ask but don’t have the guts to: what have you done during these nine months?
I guess some monsters are better to be kept in the closet, there’s no good in dragging them out of darkness. Not even Hotch has the force to ask that to me, we hide behind the excuse of clearance and classified information but I see how he struggles to look me in the eyes. The same is for the others, they jump around in happiness, they worry that I feel welcome back and at home but nobody really wants to know where I’ve been, what I’ve done, who I’ve been. It’d hurt them too much to know in detail what I had to sacrifice to have them all safe, and I’m okay with that; I’m not too anxious to expose my private life again to them and I really agree with Hotch that this was the best decision to take, I couldn’t live with the idea that some innocent fell for my battle.
But there’s a part of me that screams and shouts, that it’s tired to wear this façade, that is exhausted by this masquerade. Emily Prentiss is dead, something else came back, something corrupted, hopeless, rabid and scared, something I allow to come out only at night when I crouch in my bed, sleepless and terrified until I find oblivion through the sobs. Nobody seems willing to acknowledge this change, they see I’m sure, but they don’t want to accept it. So again I find myself floating in the crowd like a shadow, unseen, unnoticed and pretending to be okay with that.
All of a sudden I start realizing how Haley must have felt, she was sent away to start from scratches with a son and no more contact with the outside world; her job, her friends, her family were all gone. Everyday surviving, waiting for bad news or good news but also dreading them because they were the reminder of the life she abandoned and couldn’t have back, not being able to do anything but to wait for her fate. In this perspective I ask myself whether it’s harder to be the rabbit hiding in its hole or the greyhound chasing the prey, and honestly I can’t figure out the answer.