She stirs, stretching the sleep from her body. Her eyes flash open when she doesn't meet the warm body of her girlfriend. A quick run of her hand over the other side of the bed shows that the spot has been empty for a while. She notices a folded note perched on the edge of the bedside table. Flicking it open, she reads,
'Jen, I'm sorry. I know we talked about meeting up with everybody but I have to do this. I have somewhere I need to be and I hope you know that I love you and I didn't mean to let you down. I'm sorry.'
JJ's heart sinks for a moment. She was hoping to spend the entire day lazing around before they had to be at Rossi's that night. Everyone was coming, including Beth, Jack and Henry. Speaking of Henry, he was supposed to be getting dropped off at lunch time after spending the past couple of days at Will's. A quick glance at the clock shows it's only a quarter to eight. She contemplates going back to sleep but realizes she's too far awake. Forcing herself out of bed, she steps into the shower, hoping the hot water will help keep her mind off her absent girlfriend.
The morning passes slowly as JJ tries to find ways to keep her mind off of Emily. Only the doorbell shortly after noon keeps her from the brink of going insane.
"Hey chere," Will says with his usual accent.
"Mama, mama, mama," Henry chants, bolting towards his mother. JJ leans down, using the three-and-a-half year-old's momentum to swing him up onto her hip.
"Oof," she grunts. "You're getting heavy, my man." Henry giggles and holds up one arm.
"All my muscles," he says almost seriously. JJ cocks an eye.
"Did Uncle Derek show you that?" He nods.
"He say that I has more than Unc' Spence. Unc' Spence not like that. He hit Unc' Derek an' Unc' Derek stucked his tongue out. I not hit, right, mama?" JJ rolls her eyes. She'll have a word with those two.
"That's right." Henry nods, satisfied that he was indeed correct.
"I go play now, mama?"
"Sure, my man. I'm just gonna..." She trails off, and is met by silence as Henry buries himself in his toys. She heaves a sigh.
"Everything okay, chere?" JJ startles. She'd forgotten Will was still standing there. She tries to compose herself.
"Yeah. Just..." She hesitates. Just what? What was she going to tell Will? That Emily was gone and she didn't when, if she'd be back. "Nothing," she finishes off. "I just missed Henry, is all." To Will's credit he doesn't push the issue. He gives a short nod and a wave, calling out "Bye," to Henry before heading back down the driveway and driving away. She shuts the door, glancing back at her son. Where was Emily?
She looks down at the source of the disruption beside her. It's JJ ringing again for the umpteenth time. Actually, it's only for the fourth time but it's the fourth time in three hours. She wonders if she should call back, if she should somehow ease the blond's worries but she can't bring herself to let her girlfriend in. She laughs humorously. Her girlfriend. They'd been dating for a year and a half now, just after Henry's second birthday, but they'd only moved in together five months ago. She'd pretty much let the blond into every aspect of her life. Except one.
She heaves a sigh, forcing herself to ignore the thoughts of her girlfriend and to focus on the task at hand. She turns the knob of the stereo up, as the soft tunes of Band Aid 20 filter out.
"Do they know it's Christmas time at all?" she sings, kneading out the dough. She presses different shapes into the dough, scooping them up with the flat side of a knife and placing them onto a baking tray. She loads the trays into the oven, checking the temp and flicking on the timer.
"Here's to you, raise a glass for everyone. Here's to them, underneath that burning sun," she sings. She holds up a glass of eggnog silently toasting those without Christmas.
"Mama?" Henry comes wandering out, hands sticky with jam and cream cheese from his mid-afternoon snack. It isn't until he touches his mother's arm, that JJ responds. She takes in his sticky mess, and grabs a wet cloth from atop the counter.
"Mama, where's Emmy?"
"Oh, baby," she sighs. "Emmy'll be back soon, 'kay?"
"Then mama be happy again?"
"Is mama sad?" JJ asks, surprised. Henry contemplates, head tipped to the side, nose scrunched up.
"Yes," he decides. "Emmy gone, make mama sad. Emmy come back, mama be happy again." He wraps his now clean hands around his mother's neck, squeezing his little body against hers. She folds her arms around him, fighting back the tears of her little boy's wisdom.
"Goddess of All Things Wise," comes the chipper voice on the other end of the phone.
"JJ! What can I do for one of my lovebirds? You guys are still coming to Rossi's tonight right?" JJ hesitates.
"Jay?" On the other side, Garcia sits still.
"Em's gone," JJ answers softly.
"Gone?" Gone where?"
"I don't know. I woke up this morning and she was gone. She left me a note."
"What did it say?"
"That's she's sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"That's it, I don't know." JJ scrubs a hand across her face. "Have you or Morgan heard anything?"
"Hey Pen, you near your computer?"
"Do you think you could find Emily? I've tried ringing her, but it just keeps going straight through to voicemail." Garcia is at loss. On one hand, she wants to help her friend, but on the other, she knows Emily values her privacy. She hesitates.
"C'mon Garcie," JJ pleads. "This is Em we're talking about."
"I know, cupcake, but..."
"Please?" There's something in her voice that makes Garcia reconsider. She clicks a few keys, remotely activating Emily's phone and bringing up the GPS.
"She's at the church a few blocks from your apartment."
"Yeah." She pauses. "Go get her, cupcake."
She looks up, sensing something different. Never did she expect to see JJ standing there. Never did she expect to see her girlfriend standing in the doorway of the church and feel... What did she feel? At peace, she decides. Calmly, she passes the plate of cookies she is holding to another volunteer, and heads towards the entrance.
"Hi," the blond greets softly, still standing awkwardly in the doorway.
"Hi," the brunette greets back, not making a move to touch the other woman. They stand in silence for a few moments, both unsure of what to say.
"Are you- can we talk?" JJ finally asks, speaking first.
"Sure. Uh, this way." Emily leads them outside into the cooling afternoon. She leads them towards a small clearing at the back of the church, to wear a wooden bench sits beneath a couple of old trees.
"Em?" JJ whispers, unsure of situation. Emily begins to speak softly, staring at her hands.
"Every year, ever since I could remember, I would spend Christmas Eve with Nikola. She was the woman the Ambassador left in charge of me when she and my father had to work. Nikola and I would bake these cookies that I kept begging her to tell me the recipe for, but she would never tell me and we would dance around the kitchen listening and singing different carols. Mostly they'd be in English, but there was a few which she claimed sounded better in her own language. She was right of course." Emily gives a crooked smile.
"When the cookies were done, we'd take them to the local shelter, share them out with those who were less fortunate. We'd spend a few hours just being with the people, hoping to cheer them up. When we'd get home again, there would be two cookies left, one for each of us, waiting on the bench. She and I would eat them before my parents would come home and get ready for their fancy Christmas Eve dinner. Even when I was old enough to be at home by myself, I'd still spend the day with Nikola." She stares off into the distance, lost in the memories of her childhood.
"Em?" JJ asks softly, not wanting the walls of her girlfriend's heart force themselves back up. "What happened to Nikola?"
"She died a few years after I graduated from college. When we haven't been on cases, I've tried to keep the tradition going..."
"And this year I was going to break it." JJ finished. "I'm sorry."
"No, don't be. You didn't know. There's not many people who know. Not even the girlfriend I had in college." She laughs bitterly at the memories. JJ reaches one arm out, pulling Emily close. The brunette collapses into the embrace, as if all her strength had disappeared with the telling of her tale.
"Em?" JJ says, pulling the keys from the ignition. Emily startles, blinking wide at the blond. "We're home."
"Wha-? Oh, I'm sorry." Emily flashes her an apologetic smile. JJ shakes her head.
"You ready?" the blond asks softly, placing one hand on her girlfriend's hip. Emily takes in a deep breath, placing one arm around JJ's shoulders, pulling her closer. She kisses the blond's temple, and whispers, "You know I love you, right?"
"And I love you too."
"Good." She straightens up, grabbing the last of the presents from the back of the SUV and shutting the door with her hip. JJ gives her an impressed look.
"Been practicing have we?"
"That's not the only thing I've been practicing," Emily smirks.
"Hubba hubba," comes a voice. Both women turn to glare at the dark-skinned man standing in the doorway. "Come on. Rossi says in chow time and the boys are hungry." His words a punctuated by a loud grumble of his own stomach causing both women to laugh.
"Alright, we're on our way," Emily replies, threading her fingers through JJ's. Together they step into the comfortable aroma of Rossi's house and Christmas cooking.
Once inside, Garcia manages to catch JJ's eye. JJ nods at the unspoken question. She'd explain as much as possible later but now was for spending time with friends and family.
Dinner passes with much laughter. They each took turns telling embarrassing stories about one another, and even Henry and Jack piped up with a few funny stories of their own. Emily leans back with a groan.
"I'm stuffed." Morgan, ever cheeky, leans over and pats Emily's food baby.
"So, when are you due?" he jokes.
"Ha-ha," she replies with a glare.
The boys, having been excused whilst the adults finished up their dinner, come bounding back into the room.
"Is it present time yet?" they ask, almost begging.
"As soon as everything gets put away, yes," Hotch answers, as Rossi starts piling plates.
"Awesome," they chorus, dashing away again. JJ leans over to slap the eldest profiler's hands.
"You cooked, we'll clean." Rossi holds up his hands in submission.
"No arguments here." Hotch chuckles. JJ rounds on him.
"That goes for you too, Hotch. Actually, it includes all of you. Emily and I were last, so we'll do the packing away." Emily's face falls comically, causing Morgan to laugh. JJ leans over to whisper in her ear.
"I'll make it up to you later," she breathes. The change from pouting Emily to one of satisfaction causes Morgan to laugh harder. Garcia reaches up to slap his bald head.
"What?" Reid asks, apparently missing the point once again.
"Come on, boy genius," Garcia says, shepherding the youngest profiler out of the room. Rossi, ever the old-fashionist, actually suggests they pile the dishes in the dishwasher rather than hand-wash them. The team piles out, leaving the two women alone.
JJ passes a glass to Emily, holding up her own. "A toast," she says, "To Nikola." Emily stares at her girlfriend with tears in her eyes.
"To Nikola," she repeats, and they clink glasses. Once they've both had a sip, the brunette leans over, capturing her girlfriend's lips in a passionate kiss. "Thank you," she breathes, when they part for air.
"Mama! Emmy!" a young voice hollers from down the hall. JJ chuckles.
"It looks like we're being summoned," she points out dryly. Emily drops her head onto her girlfriend's shoulder before straightening up.
"Com'on, before they start without us."
Hand in hand they join the others in Rossi's large living room. A massive Christmas tree stands in the corner of the room, presents placed hap-haphazardly beneath.
"Okay, Christmas elves, wanna hand out the presents?' Garcia claps her hands excitedly. It is only then that JJ and Emily notice that Henry and Jack are wearing elf hats and are now digging beneath the tree for gifts.
The presents are passed out to everyone, the boys making quick work of clearing out under the tree. There is much squealing and laughter, even a few indignant shouts as Morgan plays 'Keep Away' from various team members, namely Reid. It isn't until Garcia mumbles a few words in his ear that he sheepishly returns the stolen present to the young doctor, causing the rest of the group to laugh harder.
In the midst of the good times, JJ notices Henry yawning more frequently, even Jack was struggling to stay away.
"I think it's time for two young boys to go to bed," she says, holding out a hand to her son.
"But I'm not tired," Jack whines, stifling a yawn.
"Jack," Hotch merely warns, standing. Jack frowns, but slowly makes his way out of the room.
"Night everyone," he says, stopping in the doorway. "And thanks."
"Night Jack," the group choruses. Rossi takes a look at his watch and is surprised.
"No wonder they're crashing," he comments. "It's a quarter to eleven."
"Waaay to late for children to be awake," Emily points out. "And maybe even for some adults," she adds, catching a sight of Garcia trying to hide her own yawns.
"Oops." The technical analyst grins and snags Morgan's hand. "Bedtime?" she suggests.
"If m'lady wishes," he jokes with a half bow. Garcia rolls her eyes. The pair quickly exit the room, followed by Rossi and Reid, who make their own excuses to leave.
JJ, with a practically asleep boy in her arms, turns to her girlfriend who is still sitting on the couch.
"Meet you in five?" she asks.
Exactly five minutes later, the media liaison steps into the room she is sharing with Emily.
"Hey," she greets, moving over to her go-bag. She pulls out two items, one being the old nightshirt she sleeps in, the other being a small clear Tupperware container. She quickly strips off her clothes, and slips into bed, wearing only her panties and the nightshirt, joining Emily who is similarly attired.
"So," JJ starts, fiddling with the container in her hands. She pauses, wondering how to proceed.
"What's that?" Emily asks, pulling the blond from her hesitation.
"I saved these." She shoves the container at the brunette, nervous. Emily pulls back the lid to see two cookies nestled in amongst a few napkins. She breathes in deeply, fighting back the sting in her eyes.
"Did I do something wrong?" JJ asks worriedly.
"You are the most amazing girlfriend, you know that, right?" Emily whispers, trying not to cry.
"I remember you telling me that Nikola used to save two for you guys to eat when you got back home. I didn't know if you had saved any this time so I snagged a couple before they got passed around." Emily plants a solid kiss on JJ's lips.
"Thank you," she breathes, kissing the woman again. JJ responds breathlessly.
"Always." She pulls back, taking one cookie, offering the other. "To Nikola," she toasts, holding up her cookie.
"To Nikola," Emily echoes, holding up her own cookie. They munch in silence, and as soon as Emily swallows, she kisses JJ again. She wraps her arms around the blond, holding her tightly.
"Em?" JJ pipes up after a few moments of silence. "Do you think, maybe sometime later, you could tell me about Nikola? I mean, only if you want to, that is."
"Sure." Emily snuggles them both further beneath the covers. She takes in a deep breath, thinking back to her childhood.