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Proof of Life

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The six people standing around her faux grave were in clear view to Emily's position. JJ and Hotch with their backs towards her; Rossi, Reid, Morgan and Garcia facing her.

The agitation Morgan was feeling was plain for her to see in the way he was clenching and unclenching his fists. Emily would've willingly bet on it that without the restricting hand laid on his arm by one Penelope Garcia, Morgan would have been pacing, too. Garcia, Emily noted, had vaguely confused look on her face and was throwing wary looks between Morgan, JJ and Hotch. Even though she couldn't see their faces, since they stood their backs at her, she was sure they shared equally serious facial expressions. She felt a familiar bang of guilt at that, but forced it down and turned her observant eyes towards David Rossi, immediately noting he had a familiar mask on, the one that was meant to fool you into thinking he knew exactly what was going on when in truth he had absolutely no clue. Between Rossi and Morgan stood Reid, his face unreadable, his poker face draw up to its fullest. Had all those people who over the years underestimated Reid seen him now, they'd been astounded. Nothing on his face betrayed his feelings and that made Emily sad, before you could see the truth in his eyes, but not anymore. Not anymore, and she knew she was to blame for that.

Emily could hear the sound of small engine nearing the group standing silently in semi-circle in front of JJ and Hotch, and the heavy sigh of Jennifer Jareau.

"Guys… There's something we need to –"

The wind swept away rest of JJ's words but Emily could make a fair guess how she ended it with; "–tell you about Emily."

Emily could see a tiny crack in Reid's façade when he turned his head to regard the small excavator that was slowly making its way towards their corner of the cemetery.

She could see his brain working and his lips forming the word "exhumation" apparently loud enough for Rossi to hear, since he whipped his head sharply towards Reid, then as sharply back to JJ and Hotch.

"– the truth, Aaron!" was all Emily could make out, and was almost glad for it. Rossi didn't often show it, but he had something of that famous Italian temper as his to wield when he so desired. Had the situation been any other Emily might have felt touched that Rossi considered her worthy of such strong emotion, but she could see the indignation on his face. The profiler in her knew that even though right now Hotch and JJ were on the receiving end, soon it'd be directed solely on her and her alone. As it should, that didn't quell the feeling of dread, though.

Turning her eyes to observe Morgan and Garcia's reactions she could almost feel her heart break. Penelope's face held a heart clenching combination of disbelief and hope. Morgan had his thinking face on, he was saying something, too quietly for Emily to hear but his words were having an affect on JJ, at least. She stood rigid, her back straight and head held high. Emily had seen that stance before but never before the team, always before horde of reporters behaving badly.

"Yes – is alive." To Emily's ears JJ sounded weary, but not like in her hardest press conferences. This was different. This was the unit that was very akin to family for all of them. Lies don't only hurt those whom they're kept from, but the keeper also. That tiredness was clear in the tone of JJ's voice. Hotch sifted slightly, unconsciously, to shield JJ, Emily supposed, and to remind she wasn't the only one to be blamed.

Snippets of Rossi's voice, demanding proof were mixed with high gasps of surprise Garcia was emitting. Emily was sure that only Morgan hugging her tightly and talking to her prevented her from hyperventilating. Reid's face exhibited the familiar expression, he was clearly going over all the evidence, re-examining it in light of this new information.

"–here for," Hotch said with a gesture towards the excavator, only twenty feet away.

The group fell silent for the duration of the digging. She had asked for this herself. Emily needed them to see the proof for themselves, the empty coffin, before she could even fathom facing them. And it was also for herself, assurance that she was alive.

With mixed emotions she watched her coffin being raised from the grave, in remarkably good condition for having laid there nearly a year. All the faces Emily could see were stony, with different undercurrents. Impatience, acknowledgement, doubt and incredulity, respectively. None of them wanted to endorse hope until they could see it for themselves.

Emily had to forcefully withhold a gasp when Hotch went against the policy and had the gravedigger open the coffin immediately in stead of doing it in a forensic lab. The man didn't argue much, but seemed little ill at ease, no wonder there. He probably didn't know the grave was empty. Upon opening the coffin the poor man's eyes widened and he hastily crossed himself before vacating the immediate area. The others took the separating steps towards the now open coffin. Emily leaned forward almost involuntarily, and even she could see the three sandbags in the otherwise empty wooden box. She stumbled a little, trying to regain her balance on her suddenly weak legs while battling the near irrational relief.

That movement furthered her plans involuntarily. Reid's head had snapped towards her location in such an eye catching movement that Hotch also turned to look behind him. Reid took few hesitant steps towards the white mausoleum Emily was disguised behind. Or rather, had been disguised behind. Rossi, still taking in the lack of rotting Emily Prentiss in front of him, Garcia and Morgan, now holding the crying technical analyst hadn't yet noted Reid's steps forward, but his tentative voice calling out, "Emily?" certainly caught their attentions.

Taking a deep breath, and squatting her shoulders Emily stepped away from the tomb and purposefully walked towards her team. For a moment they stood frozen, maybe still little disbelieving she was there, really there and not some hallucination. They stared at her, and she nearly drank in their faces now that she could see them all. The stillness was shattered with a broken gasp of "Emily!" from Garcia, who then disentangled herself from Morgan's now lax arms and hurried towards her.

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly depending who'd you ask, Reid was faster in reaching Emily. Maybe it's his longer legs, was the silly thought in her mind as she responded to the unexpectedly tight hug.

"Don't you ever…" his voice broke. Having Spencer Reid at arms length Emily studied his face – was he little more underfed that when she last saw him? –she noticed she was also under scrutiny. Emily knew that look. Reid was consciously memorizing her.

"I won't, I won't," she promised him, and vowed to herself the same. Never again.

Then Garcia was there and Reid stepped back, his face unreadable again.

"Oh honey, I'm so relieved you're –," Garcia cut herself off, unable to say the word, opting instead to scold her, "If you ever even think of doing something like this again… I'm so mad at you."

"I'm sorry, PG, more sorry than I can in words express."

Garcia hugged her again, before making room for Morgan, who wrapped his arms around her and nearly lifted her from the ground. His face held a peculiar mix of joy and seriousness when she apologized to him.

"I get why you did it, I really do, but it hurts Emily. It hurts."

"I know," her voice seemed to be stuck in her throat, "I just hope you'll forgive me some day."

With a solemn "Yeah, me too, girl, me too," he stepped in to the sidelines holding his arms open to Garcia who was standing her wrapped up in Reid's arms, unsuccessfully holding back her sobs.

Turning her head back to the rest of her team – studiously ignoring the head stone that proclaimed her name, date of birth and supposed date of death – she saw that Rossi had closed the distance between them. Seeing he had her attention he half spoke, half whispered "You've got lot to make up for kiddo, but I'm damn glad to see you alive."

Pulling the older man into an embrace Emily said, "I'm glad to see you, too."

Taking a step back, Rossi tilted his head a little, considering, and proved himself to be a true gentleman by drawing a white handkerchief from his pocket and dabbing away the tears Emily hadn't even noticed she was shedding.

Her breath hitched in her throat she just mouthed "Thanks," at him before turning to face Hotch, who gave her the customary scrutiny before nodding and giving her a small smile, "Good to see you, Prentiss."

She nodded her head few times in agreement, "You too, Hotch. And… Thank you."

Last but not least there was JJ. Her eyes were also glistening from tears, barely held back by strong will. Emily wanted to apologize for having asked her friend to take on such burden, but the words were still stuck behind that large something in her throat.

"I wasn't sure if you'd be here today," JJ's vocal cords seemed to be working, even if her voice sounded little strained, "God, it's so good to see you again."

Separating from the mutually tight hug, they turned towards the team. They stood there for a moment, unsure how to address the different stages of betrayal hanging in the air.

With an effort Emily swallowed and willed her voice to work. "Drinks, anyone? I'll buy."

"I'm in," Rossi declared, "I wanna hear this story," he added with meaningful glance that told Emily there better be alcohol and truth and nothing but the truth. She smiled feebly – that she could deal with.

"Absolutely," Garcia answered not needing to add the "I'll need it after that". Morgan and Reid nodded their agreement and she didn't even need to ask JJ.

"Boss man?" Garcia's enquiry seemed to bring Hotch back to their realm.

With a slow nod he said, "I need to make a call." Emily supposed he meant he needed to inform Jessica Brooks, Jack's aunt.

Morgan made a grand "after you" gesture to the ladies, towards the cemetery parking lot and Garcia taking the cue linked both of her arms with Emily on the left and JJ on the right, and took a heading towards the cars. The men were left trailing behind them.

Emily knew their issues hadn't been solved, nor was she (or Hotch and JJ) forgiven yet, the matter had been just little postponed, but she was thankful for it. It felt good being back among people she trusted completely, even if they were little wary of her right now.

They exited the Arlington National Cemetery and only Emily threw one last look to the still open black coffin.

Behind them the wind blew dead leaves into the open grave. The unlucky gravedigger who had the unfortunate job of taking the coffin away and filling the grave shivered. And, just in case, crossed himself once more, uttered a quick prayer and kissed his cross pendant before getting to work.

 


 

Lucian Staniak wrote "There is no happiness without tears, no life without death. Beware! I am going to make you cry."