"I'm gonna love you
Till the wheels come off
I love you baby and I always will
I love you baby and I always will
I love you baby and I always will
Ever since I put your picture
In a frame…"
-Tom Waits, "Picture in a Frame"
JJ sat in the same chair she had for the past three days. The beeping of hospital machines and slow breathing created a steady and depressing background noise. She stared at the book in her hands but hadn't turned a page in close to an hour. It had been days since the funeral but Emily still hadn't woken up. JJ was beginning to think she'd never wake up, in some ways she thought it would be easier. She was beyond grateful her friend was still alive but dreaded the conversation she knew she would have to have with Emily about her need to go undercover again and lose all contact with the team until who knows when… perhaps until forever.
She kept checking on the team ever since the funeral and she knows they team are taking this harder than she ever imagined they would. Rossi acted like a father who had lost a child. Reid came to her crying every night, constantly telling her he didn't understand why people kept leaving him. Garcia was anything but herself – she wouldn't into the office yet because she didn't want to see Emily's desk to remind her. They were all affected but Derek was breaking her heart. He was the worst of them all. She knew he was trying to be strong but it was as if when he found out Emily had supposedly died, a part of him died to. He wouldn't smile, wouldn't laugh - he would just look off into the distance as if he was reminiscing on the time when the BAU wasn't a broken family – a time when he had Emily Prentiss in his life.
JJ sat looking at her friend lying helplessly in the hospital bed before her and she let her mind wander back to that morning, JJ had gone to Emily's home to grab a few things she hoped to save for her friend before her belongings were cleaned out for good. She assumed her door would be locked and had grabbed Emily's key that was found among her belongings the night Doyle hurt her. But when JJ went to unlock the door, she found it was already open. She turned the knob and entered cautiously, worried Ian Doyle himself may have come back for something of Emily's. JJ walked through each room, saddened as she remembered all the happy memories she and her friends had made there over the years. Nothing seemed amiss until she made her way to the bedroom, and it was there that Emily's "death" finally hit her.
There, sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, was Derek Morgan. Only he didn't look anything like the tough, FBI agent she knew. There he was, hunched over weeping like a child clinging to a picture frame and inhaling the scent of a t-shirt. Morgan knew JJ was there but he was too distraught to care.
JJ bent down beside the broken man, sadness creeping its way into her heart and crippling her too. She put a hand on Derek's back and he fell onto her shoulder – sobbing more tears that JJ thought were possible from one person.
"Why didn't she tell me? I knew something was wrong! I could feel it. But every time I mentioned it she just ignored me. She didn't trust me but I could have protected her. I could have stopped him JJ! Why wouldn't she let me?" Derek moaned between his sobs.
"Oh Derek…" JJ began, seriously contemplating breaking all protocol and telling him the truth while driving him straight to the hospital. "Of course she trusted you! She trusted you more than anyone else. Why do you think you are the only one who noticed that she was going through that? You knew her better than anyone. But you know how she is… was. Always putting others above herself. She wanted to protect the ones she loved – to protect us, to protect you because she knew you would hunt down Doyle yourself exactly the way she did. But she loved us too much to put our lives at risk – so she put her own in between Doyle and her family."
"I begged her to hold on, to stay with me… I thought she'd be okay – If only I would have gotten there sooner, she'd be with us right here, right now. What I wouldn't give to go back JJ. It should have been me in that warehouse – not her. Never her…" Derek whispered.
"You couldn't have changed anything. It wasn't your fault!" JJ told him. "But I know that she was lucky to have you there then, in the end. And she knew it too. It's what she would have wanted. You meant so much to her. That's why she held on as long as she did – because you were there. Because she wasn't alone anymore and she died knowing how much you loved her – That you and the team fought for her even though she tried to protect us from it, even when she tried so hard to hide it. She died knowing she had a partner who was the greatest friend she could have ever asked for."
Derek looked up at JJ and she saw the eyes of a man who had lived more than twice the years of his own life; a man who had no hope for any more life at all – and that terrified her. "Derek you have to keep living, keep doing what you do best. Do it for her. It's what she would have wanted. That's why she did what she did." JJ said, hoping to elicit some type of purpose for living in Morgan's mind.
He didn't budge. And that's when she finally realized that all of her sneaking suspicions had been right all along. This bond her two best friends shared went so much deeper than partnership – they loved each other. Sure they loved the rest of the team as their family but this – this was the love she had with Will and the love Hotch had once shared with Haley.
And that is why JJ finally started to cry along with Derek. She knew Emily was alive but the thought of a love like that lost was too much for her to bear and she hated herself for the lies she was telling Morgan when she realized the BAU wasn't losing just one life with these past events, they were losing two.
Derek and JJ sat like that for a few more moments, both finally composing themselves enough to seem somewhat presentable to the rest of the world. But their hearts were still with Emily.
Derek was the first to speak as he held up the picture he was holding to show JJ and a flicker of a slight smile flashed across his face. "Remember this?" It was a picture of Derek and Emily together – just the two of them. They were outside, snow dusting Emily's hair and the rest of their clothing. They were smiling as wide as their faces would allow. They weren't looking in the direction of the camera – they were looking at each other because Derek had made a joke about the snow.
Then they both remembered. It had been a cold night in the November of the first year Emily had joined the team. After a particularly difficult case, they had all decided out to dinner and a movie together. But during the movie, Emily – still trying to impress the rest of the team - had volunteered to go refill the popcorn for the group. Derek saw this and rushed out behind her so she wouldn't have to go alone. When they began talking in line, they both discussed how much they hated the movie but would still watch it because Reid had picked it out.
But when they walked to go back into the hallway of theaters, a young high-school student who worked there asked them to see their tickets before they could enter and they realized that Garcia had all of their ticket stubs with her. Not wishing to argue with the boy and also not wanting to finish the movie, they both opted to take a stroll around the mall the theater was housed in until the movie was over. But at Emily's insistence Morgan texted Garcia to tell her what had happened, not to worry and that they would meet them after.
The two friends, looking much more like a couple, walked through the outdoor mall as the snow flurries dusted their faces. Though neither of them seemed to mind while they chatted laughingly. But as the time passed, Derek noticed Emily's usually pale nose was pink from the cold and, always the gentleman, insisted the "Princess" take his jacket to stay warm. This only prodded her to insist they lock arms so he wouldn't freeze – it was one of the first times they ever made contact – and they both were filled with warmth that no physical fire on earth could create, but only a fire kindled within the heart. It was that night that the two partners recognized the connection they shared…
"You're probably wondering why I came here if it will only make me more miserable," Derek began, the tears returning to his sad eyes. "But I can't let her go JJ. I can't forget her – the way she looked, the way she sounded, the way she smelled… the way she smiled. That smile got me through the hardest of days. And now I don't know what will"
JJ knew what would – if only she told him the truth. But she knew no matter how much she wanted to, she couldn't break protocol. "Then remember it, remember her. Doyle is still out there and so is Declan. Do what she died trying to do, loving and protecting him. Don't let her death have been in vain. Remember her that way – through protecting the thing she loved most – Declan and the team."
Derek nodded, still looking like a sad and lost puppy but with a new purpose. "I should go. Thanks JJ…" Derek stood and made his way toward the bedroom door.
"Derek wait!" JJ exclaimed. She held up the picture and shirt. "Don't you want to take these?"
"I don't need to. I got Emily that picture for Christmas the same year it was taken and the night we exchanged presents, we realized we had gotten each other the same thing. I already have a copy at my house. And the shirt, well I just can't take it back. I let Emily borrow it one night a few years ago after we were working on one of my houses." JJ looked at Morgan with a smirk accompanied with a raised eyebrow. "Now now it's not what you think… Anyway, it was kind of a joke we had – that she would never give it back to me because she said she always forgot. I just couldn't take it back now."
JJ nodded with understanding. Derek conveyed his thanks once again and moped his way out the door. Then JJ picked herself up off of the floor and devoted herself to the original reason she had come here, only this time, she had an even better plan in mind.
JJ was pulled out of her memories of the morning by the sounds of rustling sheets and soft moans from Emily in the hospital bed before her. She watched as her friend finally began to wake up after so many days. Emily's head tossed and turned until her eyes opened in a startled and confused manner. She look around the room frantically – JJ thought for sure she was still looking for signs of Doyle. So JJ spoke Emily's name, telling her she was safe and in the hospital.
Emily seemed to relax and this and finally made the effort to speak. "What happened?"
JJ took a deep breath as she began the most difficult conversation of her life. "I came to help find you. When we did, you were rushed into surgery at the hospital immediately."
Emily's face scrunched up as she tried to piece together what little she remembered of that night. It took her a few seconds to organize her thoughts but she finally spoke. "Morgan found me. He was with me in the ambulance and then…" Emily's thoughts went dark there – she remembered the feeling of darkness and cold she experienced and shuddered at their reappearance in her mind. She pushed the memory far back into her mind to be addressed another time.
"You were taken into surgery. It took nine long hours but you pulled through it." JJ told her friend with a hollow smile. But before she could tell her the bad news, a nurse walked in and assessed the newly awoken patient's vitals, commenting that all looked well before she left the room – a security guard closed the door behind her and Emily's feelings of nervousness returned instantly.
"Where's Doyle?" a concerned Emily asked the moment the door shut behind the nurse.
"Emily…" JJ hesitated. "Emily, we didn't find Doyle."
Emily's breathing became heavy and labored. She knew Ian; she knew that he would stop at nothing to hunt her down as he had before. And now that he knew the truth about Declan, he had even more of a reason to find her again. But then Emily thought of how the team had obviously saved her, particularly Morgan. And it was then that her fears subsided slightly because she knew they would fight back even harder.
Emily drew a breath and put on a face of sheer determination. "That's okay. We can find him. I know about his movements here, what he'll be looking for… With the team's help we'll find him. Where is the rest of the team? How long have I been here? Are they on a case?" Emily inquired, not knowing the heartbreaking answers to her many questions.
"Emily… There's something I have to tell you."
"Oh God, he hurt them… Doyle did. Who? JJ what happened? Are they all right? Where is the team?" Emily asked nervously.
"No, no. The team is safe. You're safe. Only… they don't…" JJ took a deep gasp before finishing her tragic sentence. "They don't know you're safe."
"What?" Emily said, utterly confused by JJ's tearful face before her.
"Emily. You've been here over a week. The team, for your protection… because Doyle hasn't been found… Emily, they have been told you didn't make it."
Emily couldn't process anything – thoughts, sounds, nothing. She knew she was alive but she felt dead – not from Doyle's wounds but from her best friend's words. "No… No! JJ! No! That can't be true! Where are they?"
"Emily it's for your safety! For theirs! If you were alive who do you think Doyle would go after first? The team! He's a family annihilator and the BAU is your family. It's what's best for everyone until he is caught. But for now, you are being put in witness protection overseas."
"JJ!" Emily exclaimed in disbelief.
"It's the only way!" JJ cried at Emily, more of a way to prove it to herself rather than her friend. She knew there were better ways that wouldn't cause so much pain but sadly she didn't run the government.
"No! They have to know the truth! I kept too much from them already. They're here. They have to know! Derek!" Emily sat up and began screaming at the top of her lungs. "Reid! Garcia! I'm here! I'm alive! Hotch! Rossi!"
JJ shot up from her chair to try to calm her distressed friend but Emily pushed her away, ignoring the pain in her abdomen to tend to the excruciating pain in her heart. "Emily they're gone!" JJ began, finally able to put a hand on her friend's shuddering shoulder. "You're in a different state for your protection. Emily, your funeral was four days ago! The team is gone."
Rather than a verbal answer from Emily herself, JJ was greeted with the sounds of hospital machines going off loudly as Emily began to hyperventilate – gasping for air. The nurse who had just visited flew into the room accompanied by a doctor who rushed to Emily's bedside and JJ moved out of the way.
Emily fought them off as hard as her weak frame would allow but they were easily able to calm her with an injection. Soon after, her breathing returned to normal and she was laid back down into a resting position on the bed. When her vitals were acceptable, the nurse and doctor left the two friends alone.
JJ returned to Emily's bedside and took hold of her hand. Though Emily had been calmed by the medicine, it hadn't affected her too strongly so that when JJ touched her hand, she jerked it away forcefully and anger stirred on her face that refused to look at the blonde.
"I know you're angry. And you have every right to be. But this is an order from the top – the very top. We couldn't risk unnecessary lives so only Hotch and I know."
Emily sat in silence for several minutes as her brain processed the information she had just received. "You know they'll think I gave up on them. That I left them because I didn't care enough… Reid will start using again. Rossi will sink even farther into his shell. Penelope will be a basket case. And Derek…" Emily's voice cracked when she said his name as she remembered some of her now last moments with him. "Derek will blame himself – he told me to hold on, to stay with him. He found me and he held my hands…" Emily was beginning to break down now, tears welled in her eyes and her voice shook. "He told me he wouldn't let me go so I did my best to promise him I wouldn't either. JJ he has to know! He'll blame himself, he'll feel guilty for the fact I didn't make it but I did! He's the reason I did. He's the reason I didn't die on that floor, in that ambulance!"
"All the more reason to protect him from Doyle – he's your partner Em. Morgan would be Doyle's first target to get to you."
Emily couldn't argue with JJ about that. Emily knew she was right. But that didn't stop the pain of losing her whole family all in one day.
"I'll brief you on your status in witness protection tomorrow. You've been through enough today."
"What is going to happen to Declan? Is he being watched? He isn't safe now that Doyle is still at large." Emily said with the concern of a mother, returning to her former self and all together forgetting her own tragic fate for the love and life of another.
"Declan will be fine," JJ stated vaguely, ignoring Emily's question and continuing. "I brought something for you." JJ pulled out a bag from underneath the bed. "I snuck in your apartment and got you some personal things you can sneak with you wherever you go – to remember us by," JJ's voice waivered as she was attempting to maintain her composure.
She pulled out different items she had gathered from Emily's apartment. Each were significant in that they each meant something about one of the team members – a Christmas scarf from Reid, a piece of jewelry from Garcia, and so on… there was even a box with pictures and memories from Declan. And finally – a picture frame and old looking t-shirt from Derek. Emily's heart caught in her throat at the sight of all of these memories with her friends. She wasn't furious anymore because she was just too disheartened to care about her anger.
JJ didn't know if she should tell Emily the truth, but she was so sick of the lies that she went for it anyway. "I found him with these this morning, in your apartment" JJ stated softly. Emily looked up at her with wide, wet and pleading eyes. "He was just sitting there Em, sobbing with these in his hands. I've never seen him like that."
"JJ are you trying to make me feel worse?" Emily screamed, her intensity startling even herself.
"Emily, he was lost, broken. But we talked; he's going to protect Declan. And I know he'll hunt down Doyle if it's the last thing he does. Declan will still be safe, Derek is going to finish what you started. Then maybe it will be safe for you to come back!" JJ said with a new hope in her voice, attempting to lift Emily's spirits and even her own.
JJ watched as her friend silently picked through the only remnants she had of her now former life. Tears streamed down both of their faces. She reached out to place her hand on Emily's shoulder once again but was startled at her reaction. Emily jerked back, turning her body away from JJ's direction. She didn't speak but the sounds of her sobs scared JJ. She knew Emily would take this news hard, but she had never seen her friend like this – this heartbroken.
"Just go," Emily whispered between her weeping.
JJ didn't want to leave Prentiss, but instead wanted to make everything alright – ease here friend's pain - and also afraid of what Emily might do to herself. But she knew Emily needed time, the way Morgan did, the way they all did. Emily wasn't the only one injured by the actions of Ian Doyle – they all were: physically and emotionally. "I'll be back tomorrow to brief you on your new identity and location."
JJ just looked on helplessly as she saw her friend's tragic state and she had no power to help unless she broke all rules and protocol that had been put in place after Doyle's escape. JJ walked to the door and looked back at her distraught friend one last time.
Emily now lay on her side away from JJ in her hospital bed. The pain in her abdomen was nothing compared to the pain in her heart. Her friends, her family, her very life had been stripped away from her in an instant – and she didn't even have a choice in the matter. Emily looked across the items strewn across the bed, touching each of them tenderly as she remembered the memories made with each person she loved that she might never see again… and she let the tears continue to fall until she had none left.
Finally, Emily clutched the picture frame and t-shirt as if they were her only source of life. And in a way it was, it was the only proof her now past life ever even existed. And at this point, she didn't care if that was the only life she ever had - As she inhaled the scent of Derek Morgan she swore still lingered on the shirt – the reason she had never returned it in the first place – and remembered how her partner and her friend had held her hands like his own life depended on it – willing and pleading with her to stay alive and she knew it was the only reason she was still breathing that very moment – because he was there to save her, like he always was.
She always knew they had something special, something more. But now, they would never know and she began to sob even harder. So Emily looked down at the picture once more and remembered that night – one of the best nights of her life. The night she felt special, the night her partner turned into someone special – he had become one of her closest and most trusted friends. And that night, as they strolled together in the snow, she remembered that it was the first time Derek had ever called her "Princess" – and as she sobbed into her pillow, she prayed it wouldn't be the last.