DISCLAIMER: I don't own Criminal Minds or its characters. That honor belongs to CBS, and probably others. I just borrow the characters from time to time for my own entertainment, and make no money from this work of fiction.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is not even remotely the missing scene story I set out to write. The image I had in mind originally was Emily comforting JJ in the back seat of an SUV, while Reid or Morgan drove them to the hospital. That was it. One scene. A scene that, ironically enough, I never wrote. Instead, I started out trying to explain how someone who'd been tortured could possibly chase after her captor, and the next thing I knew, I was writing an actual story and trying to fill in some of the blanks the episode left us with. Especially with the retcon of JJ's season six backstory. I consider the story canon-compliant rather than AU, even though my take on some things is fairly different than conventional wisdom. The story will make little sense if you haven't seen "200." It may make little sense even if you have, but that's an entirely separate problem...LOL. While Will and the team are all an important part of the story, it's the JJ/Emily friendship that's center stage. As with most of my f/f friendship stories, it can be read as pre-slash if you're so inclined. Not beta read, so all remaining mistakes are my own. Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoy.
SPOILERS: Missing scene fic for "200." Specific spoilers for "200" and "Lauren."
WARNING: References to canon torture and non-con touching
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author
FEEDBACK: To cheerfuloceangazer[at]gmail.com
By ocean gazer
"In order to rise /From its own ashes /A phoenix /First /Must /Burn." Octavia Butler
It's amazing how long adrenaline can keep someone going.
Adrenaline is what gave JJ the strength to chase after Michael Hastings, and leap to Emily's defense after he knocked the brunette flat. It's what got her off the rooftop and out of the building on her own two feet, with only a little help from her friend. It's what propelled her into the ambulance to talk to Matt before he was whisked off to the hospital. It's what kept her standing while FBI and State Department officials took her statement. It's what helped her find the presence of mind to preemptively defend her team's actions to her interviewers, declaring that if not for the BAU, Hastings and Tivon Askari would have escaped with critical classified information.
Now, standing near the edge of the plaza, on the sidelines of all the hubbub, alone for the first time in what seems like hours, JJ feels the adrenaline finally starting to fade. She's shaky, like she's run a mile flat out, and can't quite seem to catch her breath. Every bit of her, from head to toe, hurts.
She knows she should go find a medic, probably needs to go to the hospital. There may be residual drugs in her system, and she's still chilled to the core from repeated blasts of cold water from the high-pressure hose. And though she hasn't yet had the courage to lift her shirt and inspect the main area Askari targeted with his electroshock torture, she can tell from how badly it hurts that he did some serious damage.
But the thought of letting anyone touch her right now, even just to check her injuries, sends chills down her spine. Not because she's afraid that it will trigger sense memories of Hastings' hands roaming freely over her.
Because she feels emotionally raw. Vulnerable.
She takes a faltering step, then another. Inch by inch, she moves completely off of the open plaza, into the shadows. No one seems to notice her absence. She makes her unsteady way around the side of the building, taking careful steps so that she doesn't topple over. Though she's walking slowly, it isn't long before she leaves behind the noise, the blinding flashing lights from the police cars, and the gathered crowd.
Finding a set of stairs parallel to the building, leading up to what's probably a maintenance entrance, she lowers herself down carefully to sit on a step, hissing as the movement sharpens the pain in her side. She's facing the front of the building, so if anyone follows her, she'll see them coming. With the wall to her right, the railing to her left, and the staircase behind her, she's as protected as possible.
When she's finally settled, she leans forward slightly, her right arm snaking lightly around her torso, hugging herself. Her left arm hangs limp at her side--shoulder muscles throbbing, fingers numb, the palm of her hand just brushing the edge of the stair she's sitting on. She tries to take a deep breath to steady herself, immediately regrets it when her chest aches and her ribs protest. Instead, she closes her eyes tightly to shut everything out.
She just needs a moment alone. A moment away from eyes that alternately judge and pity. A moment away from the reminders of the world of war she was thrust into wholly unwilling and that has cost her so dearly.
A few minutes where she can just be, without needing to pretend that she's fine, and then she'll go back. That's what she tells herself as the tears start to flow.
"Has anyone seen JJ?"
Though Hotch's tone is neutral and his expression is as inscrutable as usual, Spencer can easily interpret the worry clouding the unit chief's dark eyes. He glances past the three people he's huddled in conversation with--Hotch, Morgan, and Emily--and scans the remaining crowd, looking for his friend. The last time he saw JJ, she'd been flanked by top officials from the State Department, who hadn't looked too pleased with whatever she'd been telling them.
Now there's no sign of her anywhere.
Morgan sounds distracted as he takes his own look around the plaza and says flatly, "I thought she was on her way to the hospital. Or already there."
Hotch frowns. "Only one ambulance left the scene with a patient--the one Cruz was in. I just checked with all the EMTs on scene and none of them have seen JJ--let alone treated her."
Spencer sees the sudden alarm on Derek's face, and understands what prompted it. It's been two hours and thirteen minutes since they first arrived at the site to find and rescue JJ and Cruz. Even with the pressing need for a debriefing on the situation from the only agent in any condition to provide one, that's a long time for their teammate to be up and on her feet considering everything she's probably been through.
Questions have been asked, statements have been taken, and forensics teams are scouring every part of the building. From his shameless eavesdropping, Spencer knows the State Department is currently opting not to file official interference charges against the BAU. The seemingly snap decision shocked him, since Hotch was told point-blank to keep the team off the case. But Emily's here and playing the Interpol card, so maybe that's why. It's likely that no one at State really wants to pick that particular inter-agency fight at the moment.
While he knows the decision is subject to change, depending on the political winds of the next few days, he's not going to argue with it in the meantime.
Especially since the team still has to face a thorough questioning by FBI Internal Affairs. But that's a headache for later today. Literally. Since it's nearly dawn and none of them have slept in well over twenty-four hours, they've been told to go home, get a few hours of rest, and report back to the bureau by 2pm.
The scene is clearing out--most of the law enforcement officials dispersing--and any loose ends pertaining to the kidnapping are either being dutifully cleaned up or deliberately swept under the rug. So it shouldn't be at all difficult to discern the whereabouts of one injured and exhausted woman with distinctive blonde hair.
Then again, he thinks he knows why JJ is apparently missing.
He glances at Emily. She's been uncharacteristically quiet during the exchange and is shifting slightly from foot to foot, indicating she's uncertain about something. She seems to sense his scrutiny, turning to look at him, and he sees the faint tightness around her mouth and eyes that tells him she's trying to keep her expression neutral. Based on her reactions, he's certain that at a minimum, she's drawn the same conclusion he has. But it's highly probable that she knows in actuality exactly where JJ is. He nods at her, offering his support in the only way he can under the circumstances, and sees the flash in brown eyes as she comes to some type of decision.
Emily clears her throat and Spencer notes the speed with which both Hotch and Morgan lock gazes on her. He watches as she sets her chin in that defiant way she has, and he hears the note of challenge in her tone when she says, "I saw her slip away about fifteen minutes ago. There's nothing to worry about. She's okay enough for the moment."
Spencer fidgets nervously when he notices the abrupt rise of Hotch's eyebrow and the sudden tensing of the man's jaw. The unit chief is clearly upset that Emily didn't do anything to intercept the other woman, or--at the very least--mention her disappearance sooner. The reaction really isn't that surprising--since JJ has just been kidnapped, it's predictable that Hotch's protective instincts would kick in and he'd want eyes on her at all times. But even so, the dawning anger on the usually stoic face is still unnerving.
Swallowing his discomfort, Spencer speaks up quickly. "Actually, it makes perfect sense. After being questioned about her ordeal by so many people, JJ probably just needed a quiet moment away from all the chaos."
He can tell that both Hotch and Morgan seem mollified by his statement, even though it's not the exact truth. He's fairly certain that it's not the chaos JJ is trying to escape, but the need to put on a brave face. Even though it isn't rational, since no one would fault her for being shaken up after what she's been through, he knows his friend's fear of showing weakness. It's hard enough for her to let down her guard even with the team--and they're all people she knows well and trusts implicitly. It's almost impossible for her to allow herself to do so when there are others around, particularly a large number of people in a stressful situation.
Glancing between his companions, he notices Emily studying him with one eyebrow raised, as if she's trying to determine if there's more to his words than what he actually said. He shifts his gaze to his teammates for a fraction of a second, then gives her a slight shake of his head. When the woman's stiff shoulders relax a tiny bit and she gives an equally brief nod, he knows that she deciphered his cues correctly. While the entire team has a soft spot for JJ, he and Emily understand her far better than the others do. He doesn't want to say anything that might pique Hotch's or Morgan's curiosity and prompt them to ask questions he doesn't want to answer. He's too on edge right now to successfully dodge them.
He sees Morgan frowning, and knows from experience there's probably a scathing comment on the tip of the man's tongue. Derek hides his worry behind anger. Thankfully, Emily speaks up before his teammate can say anything. She offers, "Since things seem to be wrapped up for the moment, why don't you guys touch base with Rossi, Blake, and Garcia before you head home. See how they're doing, and compare notes to make sure you're all on the same page. Reid and I will get JJ to the hospital and let you know what the doctor says."
Morgan doesn't quite look convinced, but there's unmistakable relief in their unit chief's eyes at the suggestion. Spencer isn't positive, but he suspects Hotch is far more rattled by the whole situation than he's letting on, and doesn't have the energy right now to deal sensitively with a potentially fragile victim.
Victim. That word sounds so wrong for his strong, protective friend. But it's a truth none of them can avoid.
Jarred by that thought, he simply watches silently as Hotch nods at Emily, then steers Morgan away with a hand on the shoulder, the two of them heading off to find and unofficially debrief the rest of the team.
When they're out of sight, Emily turns to him and beckons. Spencer follows as she leads the way across the plaza. They round the curve of the building, and when they're almost halfway along the side of it, he hears sniffling. In the soft light of dawn beginning to break, he can make out a slumped-over figure sitting on a set of stairs several feet away. JJ. He stops short at the sight.
Emily takes a dozen steps forward before seeming to realize he isn't beside her. She turns back to him, a question on her face, and he moves quickly to join her, holding up his hand to keep her from saying anything. He whispers, "I think I'd just be in the way."
He watches her weigh his words for a moment, then nod. She reaches out and pats his shoulder briefly before giving him a quick smile and walking slowly towards JJ.
Spencer knows most people would assume his statement was simply a way to avoid having to deal with an emotional situation. It's not exactly a secret that he's far more comfortable with facts and figures than with feelings. But Emily, like his teammates, knows better. Avoidance isn't what he's doing at all. He and JJ are close. But in many ways, she and Emily are closer. They have a deep connection that defies easy explanation. It's not something he's jealous of, any more than he's jealous of her marriage to Will. JJ has very different relationships with each of them, and his unique friendship with her isn't diminished in any way by her bonds with other people.
Because of that friendship, he knows that what JJ needs most right now isn't his logical analysis or his recitation of relevant facts or his admittedly clumsy attempts at reassurance. In fairness, he knows what it's like to be kidnapped, held prisoner, beaten, and tortured mentally and physically. He can sympathize with what he surmises she's been through. But it's not understanding or sympathy that she needs. Not at the moment. What she needs is shelter and security. Comfort and caring.
What she needs is Emily.
He carefully moves closer, watching intently as Emily approaches their friend. He notes the exact moment JJ realizes she's not alone--her eyes snap open, wide and dark with panic. Her gaze is glazed over and unseeing; her respiration is accelerated; and her body is stiff with tension. He hears the soft lilt of Emily's voice, repeating JJ's name, telling the blonde to look at her.
After a few minutes, the words seem to break through JJ's apparent panic and shock, and he notices how her gaze locks on to Emily as though the other woman is a lifeline. He sees the tears glimmering in blue eyes, the pain and weariness on his friend's face.
When Emily kneels down in front of JJ, talking to her quietly in that same soft, lilting voice, Spencer backs away slowly, giving them space. He'll return to the front of the building and stand guard against anything or anyone that might disturb them.
JJ's safe and in the right hands, and he doesn't want to intrude.
JJ comes out of her panic slowly. She sees the bushes lining the side of the building and the pavement path leading back to the front of it, and knows she's not still in that basement. She sees Emily in front of her. She hears her friend's voice, the gentle cadence soothing even though she doesn't understand the words, her mind too scattered to process them. She feels the rough surface of the step she's sitting on and the chill of the early morning air through her still-damp clothes.
But even with all those tangible reminders of what's real and what's remembered, it takes time for her to banish the all-encompassing fear, for her to truly believe that she's safe.
When things do fall fully into place, she sighs heavily with the suddenness of it. Exhaustion and emotion flooding through her, she slumps forward, tears slipping down her cheeks, curled around her right arm which is still wrapped around her torso. With anyone else, she'd be struggling to put up her protective barriers, fighting to put on her "I'm fine" facade. But this is Emily. The person who's seen her at some of the worst moments of her life. The one person who's always accepted her exactly where and as she is.
She scoots closer to the staircase railing, wedging her limp left arm against the metal slats, making room for Emily to sit beside her. The older woman is silent for a minute, then asks, "Are you back with me?"
JJ can't seem to form words, so nods instead. She feels an arm slide around her back, pulling her into a sideways embrace, and follows the prompt, leaning against her friend. Emily's voice is low, coaxing. "It's just us here. You don't have to be strong right now. Let it out, sweetheart."
Her tears stream faster at the endearment, and though strained neck muscles protest, JJ turns her head, burrowing into her friend's shoulder. She feels Emily shift slightly, turning towards her, and strong arms wrap carefully but securely around her. A kiss is pressed against the top of her head, and the simple, sweet gesture undoes her completely. Sobs wrack her body, all the things she kept tamped down during her ordeal bubbling to the surface.
She cries for her shame at breaking under the torture. For how defiled she feels from Hastings' hands on her. For the terror of never seeing her son again, of never seeing her husband or friends again. She cries for her fear of letting everyone down. For her fear of the brutality of the men who held her captive. For the physical pain singing through every nerve ending. For the emotional pain of being taunted with memories of the child she'd lost. She cries for feeling helpless and vulnerable and weak. And she cries for all the secrets she's had to keep from those she loves most in the world--the secrets of the assignment that nearly destroyed her.
By the time her sobs finally taper off, she's completely drained and immensely thankful for Emily's sheltering embrace. She's not sure she can even sit upright by herself. A handkerchief is pressed to her nose and she blows gratefully, then the soft cloth runs gently over her face, cleaning off some of the mess of tears and snot.
Voice rough from crying, JJ murmurs, "Thanks." She waits a beat, then straightens slightly so she can see Emily's face, and says, "Someone called Will, didn't they?"
It's essentially a rhetorical question, more to reassure herself than because she actually needs the answer. She knows her team. They work like a well-oiled machine, seamlessly trading off the duty of keeping loved ones informed when a case goes sideways. She'd been far too overwhelmed by the press of people earlier to even think about making the call herself. Not to mention being disoriented and in pain and almost at her limit.
Emily's smile is sympathetic. "Hotch did. He told him you were safe and didn't appear to have any serious injuries. He also told him that you were in the middle of an emergency debriefing and still needed to be examined by a doctor, so it would probably be a while before you could contact him. Will said he was going to try to get some sleep, and that he'll check in with one of us when he wakes up if he hasn't heard from you by then."
JJ sighs in relief at that and sags back against Emily's shoulder, leaning heavily on her friend. Much as she loves her husband, she's not ready to talk to him just yet. Not when she's still so raw.
As upset as he's often been about the demands of her job with the BAU, it utterly pales in comparison to how angry he was about the cloak-and-dagger nature of her time at the State Department. Not only could she not let him know what she was actually doing, she couldn't even tell him where she was really going. Text messages and phone calls had been limited to "dire emergencies only" whenever she was in the field.
The first three months of her assignment had been beyond difficult. Every time she returned from Afghanistan, she'd braced herself for the possibility that he wouldn't be there when she got home. Things had improved after New Year's, when she'd taken two full weeks of long-overdue vacation to spend time with him and Henry, and they'd been able to reconnect as a couple and as a family.
When she'd told him that she'd been pregnant and had lost the baby, she'd once again prepared for the worst--especially since she couldn't tell him how or where or why she'd gotten hurt. To her profound relief, he'd been supportive rather than accusatory, his reaction probably helped by the fact that she'd been reassigned to a Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five desk job at the Pentagon shortly after the attack. No more travel; no more secrecy. He'd freely shared all of his grievances; she'd cautiously shared some of her grief; and they'd worked hard to get past that rough patch in their relationship. But the loss is still a painful subject for both of them.
And while they've long since created a solid, stable partnership, the memories of those months of hell still randomly pop up to taunt them.
She's acutely aware that Will has been aggravated recently because of all the clandestine calls and texts, even though he knows who they're from and why she can't talk about them. So she's not sure how he's going to react now, once he has a better sense of the magnitude of what she's been hiding and gets a tiny glimpse at some of the ghosts who haunt her.
Sharp fear rises and a violent shudder works its way down her spine. What if finally understanding just how deeply these events from her past have scarred her is Will's breaking point? And how can she blame him if it is?
She still blames herself for so much. For letting herself trust Hastings despite her initial impression that he was extremely dangerous. For not being a good enough profiler to see the monster behind Askari's mask. For suggesting the raid that led to good soldiers dying in an ambush. And she feels so guilty. For not being able to keep Nadia safe. For not being able to keep her unborn child safe.
Emily's arms tighten around her and she abruptly realizes she's shaking like a leaf. Her friend's voice is fiercely protective. "It's going to be okay, JJ. Whatever happened, whatever happens next, we're all here for you. Just like you're always there for us. We're a family and nothing will ever change that."
There's a long pause and she feels a gentle kiss pressed into her hair. Emily says softly, "And I will always be there for you, sweetheart. Always. No matter what."
The declaration, coming on the heels of her sudden panic, almost makes her burst into tears again. She probably would be crying if she wasn't so tired. Instead, she nods against Emily's shoulder and whispers, "I know. And that means more to me than I can tell you."
Emily inhales sharply, like the words worry her for some reason. JJ doesn't understand the reaction. Then again, her friend has always had a knack for reading her and might just be picking up on all the tangled emotions she's struggling to keep in check. She doesn't ask. She doesn't have the energy to deal with the answer.
After a moment, Emily switches gears deftly. "We need to get you to the hospital. Can you walk?"
JJ starts to say yes, determined to make it out of this nightmare under her own steam. But she can't. Her body is screaming at her, pain pulsing in time with her heartbeat, and she doubts she'd make it more than a few feet without falling over. Biting back tears, she shakes her head, then mumbles, "I'm sorry."
Another soft kiss against her hair soothes her slightly. Emily's tone is matter-of-fact. "It's all right, JJ. You have nothing to be sorry for or embarrassed about. After what you've been through, it's impressive that you've held it together this long. I'll text Spencer and have him bring the paramedics to us."
JJ sighs in relief, then snuggles closer to Emily, taking comfort in her friend's embrace, and closes her eyes. She wants to soak up the feeling of safety and security just a little while longer before she's dragged back to reality.
Will sits next to his wife's hospital bed, holding her right hand, his eyes trained on the doctor standing at the foot of the bed. Emily's in the chair on the other side, holding JJ's left hand, their fingers twined together. Henry, who had way too much sugar for breakfast courtesy of the childless agents at the safe house, is out in the hallway under the dubious supervision of an extremely caffeinated Spencer Reid.
Under any other circumstances, watching the two of them together would be highly entertaining.
Will rubs the back of his neck with his free hand, overwhelmed by it all. For a moment, he mulls over the quick rundown JJ gave him and Emily of her captivity and torture, and her bare bones explanation of who took her--and why. Then he shifts his focus to the overview the doctor just gave them of her physical condition.
Three broken ribs. A number of livid burns from electric shocks. Minor bruising to her arms and legs and face. Deep bruising to her wrists from handcuffs. Nerve damage--hopefully temporary--to her left arm and hand. Multiple strained muscles. Treatment for hypothermia, arrhythmia, and dehydration. Monitoring for potential complications from waterboarding, like pneumonia or pleurisy.
Alarming as it all sounds, he knows she's damned lucky. Given who had her and what they wanted, it could have been a whole lot worse.
He hears the doctor clear her throat expectantly and manages to pull his scattered thoughts together to form a coherent sentence. "You said you wanted to keep JJ overnight."
The doctor smiles sympathetically, her gaze touching on all three of them. "Just for observation. I'd like to make sure that her temperature and heart rhythms are stable for twenty-four hours before I discharge her."
He tells her he understands, hears Emily say the same thing. JJ merely nods, and her lack of protest speaks volumes to him about how awful she feels and how much she's hurting. He shares a knowing glance with Emily, then exchanges a few pleasantries with the doctor before she excuses herself to see her next patient.
The door shuts with a solid thunk and silence falls, save for the steady beeps of the machines JJ's attached to. Will's grateful for the sudden quiet, for this moment to process everything he's heard in the last hour. Not so much about his wife's injuries. He knows those physical pains will heal in time. It's getting this brief look at the shadowy world she was thrust into unprepared that's throwing him for a loop. She'd told him her work was critically important. That was the reason she hadn't simply quit despite the toll the classified assignment had taken on her, and on their relationship. But he'd had no idea just how dark and dangerous her mission truly was. Still doesn't, actually, since most of it's still classified. But he now knows enough to be completely horrified.
Will shakes his head, thoroughly disgusted with himself. Over the past several months, he'd sensed that JJ was worried, but had been too irritated by the renewed secrecy to recognize how scared and on edge she really was. And during her time at the State Department, he'd had no clue what all she'd been dealing with. Not one. He'd been far too consumed with his anger about the whole situation.
He knows his frustrations about the assignment--particularly the covert travel and complete lack of contact while she was gone--were valid. He knows he had every right to share his feelings honestly with her.
He also knows it wasn't fair to make everything all about him and his wants and his needs.
He hadn't listened to her all that carefully, or paid much attention to how she felt about any of it, though it's obvious in retrospect that she'd been struggling with not only the stress and repercussions of an assignment she'd never even wanted, but his annoyance and accusations to boot. And he's aware that his lack of consideration was especially unfair since he's known from the very beginning just how important her career is to her. When they first started dating, she'd made it clear that the FBI was her first priority and that if he couldn't handle that, they needed to just be friends. He'd assured her that as a detective, he understood the demands of law enforcement work better than anyone, and he'd sworn he'd never ask her to give it up or hold it against her.
As often as he's broken that oath over the years, he abruptly realizes that he's damned lucky she hasn't ever gotten fed up enough with him to walk away. He makes a silent promise to himself that whatever problems the two of them have in the future, him continuing to be petulant about her job won't be one of them.
Hearing a sniffle, he turns his head to find his wife staring up at him with tears in her eyes. What on earth...?
JJ's voice is so soft he can barely hear it. "I'm so, so sorry, Will."
He shakes his head again, this time in confusion. He looks over at Emily, who appears equally puzzled, then shifts his gaze back to JJ. "This isn't your fault," he starts hesitantly, not sure what she's talking about.
"Not the kidnapping." JJ's forehead is wrinkled in worry, her normally bright eyes dark with distress. "I've failed so many people. Especially you."
Now he knows what the problem is. It's not the first time demons from her past have brought her deep-seated insecurities to the surface. If he hadn't been so stunned by everything, he'd have figured it out sooner.
He catches a glimpse of movement and glances across the bed to see Emily trying to simultaneously pry her fingers loose from JJ's and rise from her chair, clearly taking the confessional words as her cue to leave. Raising his free hand to get her attention, he waves her back down. He doesn't miss her raised eyebrow, but she settles herself in the chair again without arguing. He also doesn't miss his wife's sigh of relief or the way she tightens her clumsy grip on the brunette's hand.
Emily's friendship--like Reid's and Garcia's--has been a crucial part of JJ's life ever since he's known her. If she wants the other woman here now, he's not going to deny her that. Besides, as far as he's concerned, there's nothing about this conversation that needs to be hidden from Emily.
"You've never failed me, JJ," he says firmly and clearly. "Yes, you've done things I wasn't happy about. Just like I've done things you didn't like. We've both made mistakes in our relationship. It's part of being human."
He sees her mouth open, and reaches out with his free hand, placing a finger lightly over her cracked lips to silence her protest. Earnestly, he continues, "I don't know who you think you've failed, darlin'. I don't need to know. What I do know is that you would never let harm come to an innocent person if you could help it. Sometimes we make the wrong choices. Sometimes our actions don't lead to the outcome we want. Sometimes we can't rescue the person we're attempting to save. The only real failure is if we don't even try."
"I couldn't protect our baby."
JJ's voice breaks on the last word, and Will's heart aches for her pain. He doesn't dare look at Emily to gauge her reaction. Though he's fairly sure the brunette already knows about the miscarriage--likely the only other person his wife felt comfortable confiding in--he can't handle explaining things if she doesn't. The subject is too difficult--and not because JJ didn't tell him about the pregnancy until after it ended.
During those few weeks between when she learned she was pregnant and when she lost the baby, they literally hadn't had more than five minutes alone together with everything else going on: the Ian Doyle situation, the BAU mourning Emily's "death," him putting in long hours on a big case, and JJ leaving again. With Reid coming over every night while she was home, wracked with grief, they hadn't even slept in the same room. Will had had their bed to himself, while JJ had curled up on the couch with Spencer so she could soothe his troubled dreams.
They'd had neither time nor energy for that particular conversation, and he wouldn't have wanted to find out via phone call or text. Been there, done that with Henry. Though it had ended up working out fine, he'd told her afterwards that if there was a next time, he wanted to hear the good news in person. That she owed him the courtesy of telling him face-to-face that he was going to be a father. Despite everything, he was glad JJ had remembered and honored his request.
The pain for him is mostly the loss of possibility, since he's long wanted a second child.
He keeps his gaze on JJ, lets go of her hand and reaches up to brush his thumb across her cheek, wiping away the tears that have spilled over. He says softly, "If there was anything you could have done, you would have."
"Will's right." He's surprised by Emily's interjection, but isn't surprised when she leans forward and cups her free hand gently against the side of JJ's head, her fingers stroking rhythmically through blonde hair. Her voice is mild, but unwavering as she continues, "Sweetheart, you are the most protective, nurturing person I know. But you can't always stop bad things from happening. I hate to break it to you, but you're not Superwoman."
Ridiculous as the last sentence is, it makes JJ give a tentative smile and Will's intensely grateful for that. Breaking through her self-recriminating mood is the first step. Time for the next step.
He wipes away an errant tear from his wife's cheek and says, "You've been through hell and I know everything seems big and overwhelming right now. But you've been here before, darlin'. Once you get some sleep and some distance from what those monsters did to you, things will look a little better. It won't make everything magically okay, but at least you won't feel quite so adrift."
JJ stares searchingly at him for a moment, then nods. He sees the fatigue lining her face, knows she's about at the end of her rope. Frankly, he's surprised she's managed to stay awake this long. Lifting her hand to his mouth, he dusts a kiss across her knuckles. He says, "It's almost noon, so while you get some sleep, I'm gonna take Henry home and feed him something without an ounce of sugar for lunch."
She chuckles faintly, and Will rolls his eyes. After a moment, he continues, "I'll bring him in to say goodbye, and we'll be back tonight after dinner. I love you."
"Love you too. And thank you," she says. He knows she's not referring to the arrangements he's just laid out.
He drops another kiss on her knuckles, then lets go of her hand. Rising from his chair, he walks over to the door, opens it, and gestures at Spencer, who appears to be talking a thousand miles a minute to a nurse who looks utterly shell-shocked. Will almost feels sorry for the Internal Affairs agents who will be interviewing the good Doctor Reid that afternoon. Almost.
Moments later, Henry races into the room and heads straight for his mother, though he slows and moves carefully as he climbs up to sit next to her. Reid follows at a slightly more sedate pace, taking Emily's place as she eases her hand free from JJ's, pushes out of her chair, and moves away from the bed.
Will gestures at Emily to join him near the door. He glances over, sees that his wife is fully occupied with Henry's hugs and kisses, and whatever Reid is babbling about now. Keeping his voice low, he says, "Can I ask a favor?"
Emily cants her head to the side in question, and he continues, "Can you stay with JJ until Henry and I come back? I know it's asking a lot, since you've already been awake since God knows when. But Reid and the rest of the team have to go back to Quantico and I want someone she trusts and--"
"Of course." Emily's voice is as quiet as his. "I was already planning to offer. I don't want her to be alone."
Her answer is exactly what he'd hoped for, and Will sighs in relief. His "thank you" is simple but sincere.
The brunette chuckles. "Besides, Reid plied me with enough coffee while we were in the waiting room that I'm still wired. While JJ sleeps, I can get caught up reading the seemingly endless sea of reports in my email. When you guys come back, I'll go find a quiet corner and crash for a couple of hours."
He grins in response, then moves back to the bed and gathers up his son. Reid says his goodbyes to JJ, and the three of them make their way out of the room. Once in the hallway, Henry excitedly grabs Spencer's hand and practically drags the man down the corridor towards the exit. Will shakes his head at the dynamic duo, then turns for one last look through the open door.
Emily is settled back in her chair, JJ's fingers once more twined with hers. JJ's eyes are closed and the worry lines in her forehead have finally eased. Will smiles at the peaceful sight and closes the door behind him before heading down the hallway.
Hard as it sometimes is to have a wife who's married to the BAU, he wouldn't trade the extended family he's gained from it for anything.
JJ runs blindly through bushes and trees. The dark night presses down all around her. Sinister faces leer from the shadows. Disembodied hands reach out to grab her.
Her terror builds. Her lungs ache. She struggles to breathe. Her heart pounds furiously. Danger lurks all around her. Overpowering. Unstoppable.
She pushes herself to run faster. Desperately, she searches for any hint of a path through the dense woods. But there's nothing. No way out that she can see. No escape.
Then she hears a silvery voice. It's familiar, but she can't place it. She whirls around wildly. She strains to listen through the roar of her heartbeat in her ears.
She hears the sound again, starts running towards it. There's sanctuary there. She knows that without a doubt. As she runs, the voice grows louder. She can't understand what it's saying. Except for one thing. Her name.
It's Emily. There in the impenetrable, frightening forest with her. Calling to her. Beckoning her to safety.
Rays of sunlight break through the darkness. The monsters in the shadows fade, blurring into a murky haze.
JJ wakes up just enough to recognize that she's caught in a dream. She takes several shuddering breaths, trying to calm her racing heart. With effort, she manages to still her frantic movements.
She tries to open her eyes, but can't quite accomplish it, feels panic start to rise at not knowing where she is. Then she hears her name again, in that same dulcet voice from her nightmare. She feels a gentle hand brushing across her cheek, another rubbing her shoulder. The touch calms her. Her fear ebbs.
"Em?" It's all she can manage, still firmly caught in the fog between sleep and wakefulness.
"I'm right here, JJ. It's okay. You're in the hospital. It was just a dream. You're safe, sweetheart."
Reassured by both the words and the knowledge that she's not alone, JJ sighs softly. She reaches up blindly towards the fingers caressing her face. Emily's hand grabs hold of hers, carefully lowers her arm back down to the bed. Strong, slender fingers lace with hers, cradling her hand tenderly. The connection grounds her.
She hears Emily humming, recognizes the tune as a lullaby she used to sing to Henry. The familiar melody soothes her, banishing the last wisps of the terrifying nightmare. JJ sighs again, comforted and comfortable, and slips readily back into sleep.
Derek squirms slightly, trying in vain to find a more comfortable position. He's sitting on the window ledge in JJ's hospital room since there aren't enough chairs for all of them, and the hard surface is unforgiving.
Leaning forward, he braces his hands on the edge of the ledge and glances around, taking in the scene. Garcia is in the chair to JJ's left, talking to the injured woman in a rapid-fire whisper, no doubt relaying a highly embellished tale of how the team found her and Cruz. Blake sits on the other side of the bed, leaning back in her chair and listening intently to Penelope, her expression highly amused. JJ is listening as well, but not nearly so intently; he rather suspects she's letting the words wash in one ear and out the other, tired as she seems. Hotch is in the chair at the foot of the bed, looking as stone-faced as ever, though Derek can see the softness in dark eyes that tells him how relieved the unit chief is that his team is back together again, safe and sound.
He knows the feeling.
He, Garcia, Hotch, and Blake had headed straight over to the hospital after what ended up being a marathon session at Quantico. First, they'd spent the afternoon playing Q&A with Internal Affairs. Then, they'd had to write down everything they'd just told their interviewers, outlining exactly what they'd done--and why. When the team had finally come up for air, he'd been shocked to discover it was after 8pm.
Then again, given the way the BAU stepped all over the toes of the State Department, he can't blame the Bureau for wanting to be sure they have all the facts straight in case someone at State decides to file a formal complaint. Not that he gives a damn if they do, or if he gets in trouble. He'd do the exact same thing again in a heartbeat to save a member of the team. They all would.
By the time they had everything wrapped up for the day, Reid had finally hit his caffeine wall. Rossi had volunteered to drive their resident genius home and figuratively tuck him in to bed. Hell, maybe even literally, given how droopy Spencer had been in the elevator. The rest of them had come here, arriving just in time to exchange greetings with Will before he took a very drowsy Henry home for the night.
Derek's startled out of his musings by Hotch clearing his throat and rising from his chair. The unit chief smiles down at JJ and says, "I need to go pick up Jack and then get some sleep, since I've got an early morning meeting. But I'm glad to see you're doing okay."
He frowns at Hotch's words. As far as Derek knows, they're all supposed to report to work like normal tomorrow to write up their reports on the case in Cleveland, as well as be available if IA has any more questions. This is the first he's heard about any meeting.
Hotch glances over his shoulder, catching Derek's eye, and murmurs, "An unofficial meeting with an ally."
Though the unit chief stops there, it's enough for Derek to get the idea. Someone has information to pass along, probably related to either the kidnapping itself, or JJ and Cruz's time in Afghanistan. He only hopes it's something beneficial to the BAU.
Garcia and JJ seem oblivious to the exchange, but he notices the rise of Blake's eyebrow. She cants her head slightly to the side, and he shrugs in response to the nonverbal question.
He sees the slight quirk of her lips and offers her his best nonchalant grin. She rolls her eyes at him, then shifts her attention to JJ, her expression growing fond. Derek watches Alex reach out and gently squeeze the blonde's hand, before saying that she needs to head home as well. Blake pushes up out of her chair and comes to stand next to Hotch. There's a round of farewells, and the two of them head out the door.
Derek observes how JJ slumps wearily in the bed the moment they're gone, and notes the pinch around her eyes and the tightness around her mouth that tells him she's in pain, but trying to hide it. While he knows she's been glad for the company, he also knows how worn thin she must be after her ordeal and how much she probably needs some peace and quiet.
He slips off the window ledge with a muffled groan, and makes his way over to Garcia. Standing behind her, he lays a hand on her shoulder, interrupting whatever tale she'd been about to launch into. "Baby Girl, it's getting late and JJ needs her beauty sleep."
To her credit, Garcia doesn't even blink at the artless maneuver. "Oh! Of course. We should go," she says, managing to make even those simple words sound cheerful and bright.
He grins at the way JJ blinks owlishly up at them, as if she's too tired to know whether to be amused or annoyed.
Derek watches Garcia lean forward and carefully pat JJ on the shoulder. Her tone shifts, becoming as serious and sincere as he's ever heard from the bubbly tech analyst. "I know Emily is staying here tonight and you'll have plenty of nurses hovering over you. But if you need anything--and I mean anything at all--call me. I don't care what time it is, I'll be here in a flash. I want to do whatever I can to help you through this, sweet pea. You know I love you, don't you?"
JJ's answering smile is dazzling, belying the sudden glassiness of her eyes. "I know. I love you too, Penelope." She pauses for a moment, then continues softly, "I'm okay enough right now, but I'll call if I need you. Thanks."
Derek moves forward and leans down to kiss JJ's forehead. "Sleep tight, sunshine."
The team--with the notable exception of Garcia--isn't usually so demonstrative in either words or actions. They have far more nuanced ways to show affection and support, especially since they're acutely aware of the concern among the brass that the team is too close. But when one of them is hurt or in crisis, subtlety goes out the window and the hell with what anyone thinks of that.
JJ blinks sleepily up at him and murmurs, "You too."
It takes a few more minutes before he's able to steer Garcia out the door. First she gets sidetracked plumping up JJ's pillows. Then she has to gather her errant belongings. Then she offers her help a few more times while adjusting and readjusting the blankets around the injured blonde. Derek stands against the doorjamb and watches, his arms crossed over his chest, but doesn't say anything to hurry her along. He understands where the frenetic activity is coming from. It's Penelope's way of expressing her worry, of showing how much she cares.
Given how patiently indulgent JJ is with Garcia's fussing, despite her obvious pain and fatigue, he knows she understands it too.
Eventually, he and Garcia make it out of the room and head down the hallway. He smiles to himself as she babbles about the get-well gift basket she wants to put together for their friend. He's suddenly reminded of how lucky he is--to know such an amazing group of people and to be a part of such an awesome team.
And how lucky they all are to have their kind, caring JJ back in one piece.
"Hey there! I didn't expect to see you this morning."
Hearing Matt's chipper greeting, JJ manages a tiny smile. She gives him a little wave as Rossi steers her wheelchair through the doorway of the section chief's hospital room. Reid is right beside her, maneuvering her IV stand.
As they move into the room, she looks Matt over carefully. He's bright-eyed and alert. While he sports several colorful cuts and contusions on his face and arms, the wounds don't appear particularly serious. His wrists are chafed and bruised, but it's nothing like the deep purple marks that mar hers. He's pale, but not dramatically so. Not bad for a man who'd been tortured, then stabbed in the gut and left to bleed to death.
The thought occurs to her that he almost looks better than she does.
Rossi settles her next to Matt's bed, then sets the brake on the wheelchair and casually retreats to sit in one of the chairs in the corner of the room. Reid quickly joins him. Though she knows they can hear everything, she appreciates the pretense of privacy. Besides, she knows she can trust both of them--and, by extension, the rest of the team--with anything that might be said.
"You look really good," she tells Matt, and means it. Considering what all he's been through, he looks fantastic.
He studies her thoughtfully, but doesn't return the sentiment. Not that she can blame him. Most of her injuries aren't visible, but there are dark circles under her eyes, and she's pallid and drawn. When she caught sight of herself in the mirror earlier, it had been like looking at a ghost.
For a long, uncomfortable minute, neither of them says anything. She's reasonably sure it's not because of their audience. It's just...where do they start in light of everything they've gone through together?
Finally, she licks dry lips and says, "I wanted to thank you."
Matt shakes his head, his mouth dropping open, and she holds up a hand to forestall him. "Not just for that," she adds quickly. There's no need to specify. They both know what "that" is.
JJ sees the confusion on his face and forces herself to continue before she loses her nerve. "For not judging me because I wasn't strong enough to take it..." She trails off, choking on the words. She knots her hands in her lap and stares down intently at them for a moment before whispering, "Because I broke."
She can't bring herself to look up--not sure whether she's more scared of seeing disappointment or pity in his eyes.
The use of her name catches her attention, and she slowly raises her head, daring to meet his gaze. Matt's expression isn't any of the reactions she feared. There's nothing but understanding on his face.
Emphatically, he says, "There's nothing to judge you for. Everyone eventually breaks under torture. Everyone. It's not a matter of being weak. The human body can only take so much abuse."
She shakes her head vehemently, winces as strained muscles protest. "You didn't," she says quietly. "Hotch told me you were taken at least a day before I was, and that Askari's methodology was to spend twenty-four hours with his victims. But you held strong. You didn't break. You didn't give up your codes. Not until--"
"That's because Askari didn't torture me."
She stares open-mouthed and unblinking at Matt. She can't possibly have heard him correctly.
He gives her an enigmatic smile. "I was kept handcuffed to a chair in a small, dark room. He and his minions came in every so often to slap me around and rough me up. It wasn't fun. But given his usual M.O., it wasn't what I'd call torture. Hell, I've gotten worse bruises taking down an unsub. So have you."
She can't deny that, much as she wants to, but can't help thinking that the situations aren't at all comparable. Matt doesn't give her time to respond, instead continues, "The fourth time they came in, Askari told me he wanted the codes to Integrity. I told him to go to hell. He just laughed and said I'd be the one in hell. Said he knew exactly how to hurt me the most and precisely what would break me. Told me he planned to make me suffer, and that before he was finished, I'd be desperate to make it stop. After that, he left me there alone."
Matt chuckles mirthlessly, then says, "Askari and I have...history. It's complicated. I despised him, and he hated me. He enjoys torture, don't get me wrong, but he wanted to hurt me in a far more personal way than that."
JJ shakes her head again, but carefully this time so she doesn't aggravate aching muscles. She frowns, feeling as if Matt's completely downplaying his ordeal, and argues, "It's still torture. Being held captive and beaten repeatedly. Being left alone to wonder what your captor was going to do to you. Fearing and dreading the unknown. It's psychological torture, if nothing else."
He raises an eyebrow. "Not quite. Not when Askari knew that I knew exactly what he was doing. Not when he was the one who'd taught me and most of the support staff about resistance techniques. A mind game, yes. But one I was equipped to handle."
She's shocked all over again. She hadn't known that Matt--or any of the non-military personnel at the camp, for that matter--had had training like that. It just intensifies the feeling she's always had about her time in Afghanistan--that she'd been thrown in way over her head and woefully unprepared for what they'd expected from her.
Not for the first time, JJ wonders why she, of all people, was assigned to that mission. Sure, she had ample experience with mediation, communication, and creating rapport. But so did a whole bunch of others--people who were also well-versed in the realities of working in a war zone. Part of her wonders if it was simply because Strauss wanted to work with a known quantity in such unfamiliar territory. Most of her thinks it was for the practical reason that she was obviously a civilian, and projected a non-threatening, sympathetic mien. The female prisoners were far more likely to trust someone like her than any military officer--no matter how kind.
A small, cynical voice in the back of her head can only imagine that she was chosen because someone, somewhere, for some reason, expected--or wanted--her to fail.
She takes a measured breath and locks down those thoughts with the ease of years of practice. She doubts she'll ever learn the whole truth about any of it. And in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter. Not any more. Like it or not, she can't do anything to change the past.
Matt doesn't seem to have registered her reaction or noticed her woolgathering. He continues seamlessly, "My torture didn't start until they dragged me into that room and I saw you there. Until I had to watch him assault you over and over, completely helpless to stop it."
For a minute, JJ can't breathe. It feels like the bottom has dropped out from under her. It had never occurred to her that Askari's intent focus on her was as much to hurt Cruz as to break her. She feels a surge of shame for being the weak link, a burst of guilt for being the reason their captor had gotten under Matt's skin. Maybe if she'd fought harder, been stronger or more defiant, the situation would have been easier for him to bear.
Even as the thought occurs to her, she realizes it wouldn't have changed anything. Except to make Askari angry enough to hurt her even worse.
She sags forward slightly in her wheelchair, hugging herself, feeling completely at sea under the weight of Matt's revelation. Then she feels a hand on her left shoulder. Spence. Senses a presence just to her right. Dave. Neither saying a word. Both offering unconditional support. It soothes her, just a little.
There's a lump in the back of her throat and she has no idea what she can possibly say in response. She just sits there, staring blankly at Matt. He glances uneasily between her teammates, as if he's not sure what to expect from them, then shifts his gaze back to her. The distress on his face is almost unbearable to witness, and compassion floods through her, washing away her other conflicting emotions. She deliberately sits up straight, settling her hands neatly back in her lap, and gives him an encouraging smile.
Matt's strained expression eases, as if he can read the understanding in her eyes, and he says softly, "Askari was right, you know. He knew exactly how to get to me and I was desperate to make it stop. When I told you to give up your codes, it was partly because I knew you couldn't take much more. But it was partly because I couldn't bear to keep watching you suffer. And I was positive he wouldn't kill you afterwards, no matter how serious his threats sounded."
The last sentence helps kick JJ's brain fully back into gear, and she ponders it for a moment. "Because he would have lost his ultimate leverage over you. His threats were a game he was playing with me, not you."
Matt flashes her a grim smile. "Exactly. After all, I knew Askari as well as he knew me. My plan was to taunt and defy him no matter what he threatened to do. To make him angry enough to finally lash out and torture me for a while before he switched his focus back to you."
She hears Spence's nearly inaudible gasp of surprise, doesn't have to be a mind reader to hear Rossi's unvoiced "You call that a plan?"
If she were on the outside of the situation looking in, she'd probably agree with both of them. But she has a pretty good idea what Matt was thinking. She states, "You wanted to buy time for the team to find us."
Matt nods vigorously, then winces. No doubt his neck muscles are as strained as hers are from hours of being strung up in chains. He says, "I know the BAU. I knew they'd start digging, and would eventually put all the pieces together." He gives Reid and Rossi a lopsided grin. "And that they'd leave no stone unturned to find you, no matter who tried to stand in their way."
He pauses there, then gives a rueful chuckle. "My plan probably would have worked, too."
JJ finishes the thought, her voice flat. "If Askari had actually been the one in charge."
She sees remembered dread and fear flicker across Matt's face. His tone is clipped. "I'd counted on the fact that Askari had lines he wouldn't cross. But when Hastings came into that room and I realized he'd been the one calling the shots, I knew we were in trouble. He was something of a rogue agent before he went off the grid. Afterwards, well, there was nothing to hold him back. Nothing to keep him from doing whatever he wanted..."
A shudder works its way down JJ's spine, tension stiffens her shoulders, and her hands tremble. She can't hold Matt's gaze, instead looks fixedly down at her lap again. It's going to be a long time before she can shake off the horror of everything her tormentor put her through, before she can get past her revulsion at what Hastings did to her--and what he threatened to do.
She's grateful when the hand on her shoulder disappears, Spence clearly picking up on her sudden agitation even if he doesn't understand its cause. She's even more grateful that neither he nor Dave moves away from her. Their proximity is comforting. As is their continued silence.
Matt clears his throat expectantly. JJ fists her hands tightly to try and get herself under control, and forces herself to meet his eyes once more. She sees anger and anguish on his face. She's not sure whether it's from the memory itself, or because he can tell his statement hit a raw nerve for her. He doesn't elaborate, merely says, "I'm just glad your team showed up when they did." His gaze drifts to Reid and Rossi, and he adds, "Thank you."
She doesn't have to look to know that Spence is fidgeting and offering an embarrassed half-shrug, or that Dave has one raised eyebrow and a wry expression on his face.
Another uncomfortable silence falls. Her mind is spinning with everything she's just heard, and she's still trying to put the pieces together in light of the new information. She feels like she should say something to Matt--offer reassurances or sympathy or something. But she can't seem to find the right words.
At length, she says simply, "Thank you. For staying strong and focused under horrific circumstances. For what you did for me back in that room. And for telling me all this now."
It doesn't feel like nearly enough, but Matt's answering smile is genuine and there's something like relief in his eyes. "You don't need to thank me. You'd have done the same thing for me--or for any of your teammates."
The truth of it hits her hard, like a shovel to the back of the head. Because he's right. She would have.
Before she can figure out how to respond to that, there's a knock at the door. She can't see who enters, but sees Matt's face light up. Moments later, she, Reid, and Rossi are being introduced to his mother and sister, who just flew up from Florida. His sister will stay a few days, until he's out of the hospital. His mom will stay a few weeks, until he's back on his feet. JJ's glad to know he'll be in good hands.
They exchange pleasantries for a few minutes, then she and her teammates leave Matt to the care of his family. The three of them make their way down the crowded corridor in silence, Rossi pushing her wheelchair, Reid walking beside her, guiding her IV stand.
When they're alone in the elevator, JJ hears Spence clear his throat nervously. She looks up at him and he says quietly, "You know we're all here for you, right? You don't have to go through this alone."
She doesn't have time to reply before Dave moves out from behind her, into her line of sight, and adds gently, "My door is always open if you need to talk, cara."
Their words, simple and unsurprising as they are, touch JJ deeply, and she feels her eyes prick with the threat of tears. She blinks the tears away, looks at both of her friends in turn. "I know, and I appreciate it. More than I can tell you. But right now, it's just..."
She trails off, not willing to actually admit how vulnerable she still feels after her ordeal, how raw she is after the intense conversation with Matt. They've probably already guessed all of that, but giving it voice would make it real in a way she's not ready for. Not now. Not when she's about at her emotional limit.
Reid's expression is soft and sympathetic, but it's Rossi who speaks. "We understand. It's a lot to process. Just know we'll be there when you need us."
She nods, but doesn't say anything, not trusting her voice. Then the elevator doors open and they're no longer alone.
As they head down the hallway towards her room, Reid gestures excitedly at a pain scale chart on one of the walls. It's not like any that JJ's seen before; it's more of a cartoon with various frowning, bug-eyed faces. Spence exclaims, "I'm surprised the hospital is willing to display something non-clinical like this. It's from a blog called Hyperbole and a Half, and many patients find the descriptions--though humorous--far more fitting to what they're experiencing than the pain scales medical doctors more commonly use."
While Reid continues his running commentary, Rossi snorts behind her and JJ doesn't have to look to know he's rolling his eyes. Despite her pensive mood, she can't help but grin. It's comforting to know that no matter what, there are some things in the world that will never change. Spence being Spence is one of them. She's intensely grateful for that.
Emily wakes with a start to find a hand on her left shoulder, shaking her gently. She blinks rapidly, trying to get her bearings. Will. It's Will standing over her. She's in a recliner, leaning back with her feet propped up. A soft fleece throw blanket, the color of cornflowers, is draped over her. JJ's blanket. The one she gave the blonde for Christmas a few years ago.
Memory returns quickly as she shakes off the fog of slumber. JJ had been released from the hospital just before noon. Will had insisted that Emily come home with them to get some real food and a few hours of actual sleep. He'd settled his wife on the couch, settled her in the recliner, then attempted to settle his son down for a nap.
Emily glances down at her watch. It's nearly four.
Will's tone is apologetic. "I wouldn't have woken you, but I'm taking Henry over to Jessica's. He and Jack are having a sleepover while the team goes out to celebrate. He wanted to say goodbye."
She nods and kicks down the footrest of the recliner, then pushes herself out of it with a barely concealed groan as stiff muscles protest. Shrugging the blanket off her shoulders, she hangs it over the back of the chair. She glances over to where JJ is lying on the couch, and smiles when she sees Henry cuddled up against his mother, peppering her face with sloppy kisses.
Then, in a burst of energy that makes Emily feel old and tired, the little boy launches himself off the couch and across the room. Seconds later, she has her arms full of the blonde whirlwind. He gives her a big hug, then practically leaps out of her grasp to go grab hold of Will's hand. "Time to go see Jack now," Henry declares, tugging impatiently on his father. "Bye, Mommy. Bye, Aunt Emmy. Be careful chasing the bad guys."
Emily bites her lip to keep from laughing out loud at the irrepressible child. Catching Will's eye, she sees the twinkle of amusement there. While there have been many times in the past when she's been annoyed with the man, with his frequent and all-too-obvious fantasies about a more conventional life with JJ as a doting wife and stay-at-home mom, she has to admit he's mellowed a lot since the last time she saw him. He's steadier, more understanding, not as easily irritated.
She wonders if his near-death experience had something to do with it.
Will looks down at his son. "Patience, boy." He ruffles Henry's hair fondly, then glances between her and JJ and says, "I need to run a few errands after I drop him off, but I'll be back by the time we need to leave. Emily, you don't mind helping JJ get ready, do you?"
She shakes her head and he smiles at her. Emily watches his gaze shift over to JJ, sees his expression grow soft as he looks at her. His tone is equally soft. "Are you okay with that, darlin'?"
JJ gives a brief nod. Though it's a simple gesture, it appears to be more than enough for Will, who turns his smile on his wife for a second before shifting his attention back to his son, who's now bouncing from foot to foot. But Emily, studying the other woman closely, sees more than just the obvious. She notices the way her friend slumps back slightly against the pillows, notes how the faint worry lines in the blonde's forehead completely disappear. She registers the nearly imperceptible relaxing of JJ's fingers where her hand is draped protectively across her abdomen. And there's no mistaking the flash of relief in blue eyes.
Emily's positive her friend's reaction has nothing at all to do with Will. She thinks she knows why JJ would be more comfortable with her right now than with any man--even her husband.
Seemingly oblivious to the subtle undertones in JJ's demeanor, Will glances between the two of them again, smiles at his wife once more, then lets Henry drag him out of the house.
Emily chuckles at the sight as the door closes behind them. When her laugh morphs into a yawn, she raises her arms over her head and starts stretching, working out the kinks from her impromptu nap. As she eases back into her normal posture, she hears a sharp gasp. Turning towards the couch, she sees JJ struggling to sit up. Her friend's face is creased in pain. She hurries over and stills the blonde with a touch on the shoulder.
"Mind those ribs," she says, and offers her hands. Though JJ's grip is weak, Emily's is secure, and she carefully pulls the other woman into a sitting position.
JJ gives her a wan smile, pushes shakily to her feet, and heads across the living room towards the bathroom, moving slowly. Emily calls, "I'm in the mood for some hot apple cider. Want some?"
The blonde turns, expression vaguely amused. "Since when do I ever want cider instead of tea? Or, better yet, coffee."
"Since you can't have caffeine with your meds," Emily reminds her mildly.
Her friend's answering pout is exactly what she'd expected, and she's grateful to see it. It's the most normal reaction she's gotten from JJ since the rescue. It's not like the trauma is going to go away overnight--Emily knows all too well that that's not how it works. But it's reassuring nonetheless to get a sense that the core of who the other woman is remains intact.
JJ sighs in resignation. "Fine. But I'd rather have hot chocolate."
"Your wish is my command," Emily says with an exaggerated bow.
She notices that JJ merely shakes her head at the absurd gesture, rather than rolling her eyes like usual. She also doesn't miss the fact that her friend wants comfort food. It's completely natural after such a harrowing experience, but she makes a mental note of it anyhow.
As the blonde limps off to the bathroom, Emily goes over to her bag in the entryway. She reaches into the pocket that holds her travel food supplies, rifles through the bags of chai, dried fruit, and protein bars until she finds her stash of cider. Fishing out a packet, she heads into the kitchen. It's been a while since she's been here, but JJ and Will's haphazard organizing style hasn't changed. She finds mugs in the turntable spice cabinet, finds packets of tea and cocoa randomly strewn in a drawer with assorted condiment packages, a box of straws, a few plastic bags, and a handful of clothespins.
She fills the tea kettle with water and puts it on to boil, then dances around the homey space, humming under her breath. By the time she has the beverages made and returns to the living room, mugs in hand, JJ is back on the couch. The blonde is sitting upright, legs outstretched on the cushions, leaning back heavily against two pillows propped up against the arm of the couch. JJ's face is pale, and Emily can hear her labored breathing. She sets the mugs down on the end table and picks up the bottle of painkillers lying there. She shakes out two and hands them to her friend, along with the glass of water Will thoughtfully left next to the medication.
Retrieving the blanket she'd left on the chair, Emily drapes the soft fabric over the other woman, then helps her get settled more comfortably against the pillows. She trades out the water for the cocoa, sets the glass back on the end table, and picks up her mug of cider. She starts walking towards the recliner, but stops in her tracks when JJ calls her name.
Turning, she sees that the blonde's knees are bent and her feet are pulled back, making space for Emily to sit. With a smile, she comes over and plops down on the opposite end of the couch from her friend, her back against the arm of it, one leg curled under her.
After a moment, JJ stretches her legs out and settles her feet in Emily's lap. Emily smiles, contentment flooding her. It's comfortable. It's like old times.
For a while, it's quiet as they sip their drinks. Emily toys with initiating conversation, but isn't sure where to start, what to say. Instead, she covertly watches JJ, observes the blonde subtly curling in on herself, cupping her hands carefully around the mug, as if still trying to get warm.
Emily knows it's a psychosomatic reaction. One that's not at all unexpected. But knowing that doesn't make it any easier to see her strong friend so seemingly fragile.
Eventually, it's JJ who breaks the silence. The blonde leans over awkwardly and sets her half-empty mug down on the floor, then straightens with a grimace. When blue eyes latch on to hers, Emily sees the pensive look in them. Her friend says soberly, "I never doubted that you would come for me. That the team would come for me. It gave me something to hold on to when..."
JJ's voice falters and Emily's heart aches for her. Because she knows exactly how it feels--to be at the mercy of someone else, to be assaulted and threatened, to be scared and powerless.
Before she can say anything, the blonde rallies and finishes quietly, "When I wasn't sure I could take any more. Thank you. For always being there when I need you the most. I miss you."
Emily sets her mug down on the floor. She rests her hand on JJ's leg, just above the ankle, and rubs soothing patterns with her thumb. "I miss you too," she says softly.
For a scant second, she nearly reverts to her default and tries to lighten the mood with a joke. Just as quickly, she tamps down on the impulse. Emily's aware that it's no easier for JJ to show vulnerability than it is for her, and she doesn't want to make light of being allowed to see it. Her friend's trust is too important to her for that.
She gives JJ a tender smile, then grows serious. "There's nothing to thank me for. You'd have done the same for me. You have done the same for me. You dropped everything to come help the team with the Ian Doyle fiasco. Then you got me out of the country, and stayed with me in Paris until I was situated with passports and bank accounts. All while having to keep my survival a secret from everyone. I know what a toll that took on you. And then there were all those Scrabble games and silly, cryptic messages while I was in hiding. They may not have seemed like a big deal to you, but they were a lifeline for me. I'm not sure I ever told you that."
Emily's glad when she sees relief and gratitude spark to life in blue eyes. She knows how important it is to remind JJ that as small as her world seems right now under the weight of fear and pain, her life is far bigger than what Tivon Askari and Michael Hastings did to her.
After a moment, Emily asks gently, "Do you want to talk about any of it?"
It doesn't surprise her when JJ turns her head and glances off to the side, unable to hold her gaze. She's fully prepared for the blonde to say no, to say that it's too soon. Emily's been there herself. She understands how hard it is to open up after a trauma, knows it's easier to just pretend everything is fine. She also knows from painful experience that pretending will only work for so long, and that at some point, the dam of denial will break.
She vows to herself that when it does, she'll do everything in her power to be there for her friend.
When JJ finally does respond, it isn't at all what Emily expected to hear. "You know that when I was on that assignment, I suspected there was a double agent. I told Askari, Hastings, and Cruz that we had a mole in Ops and had been authorized to use enhanced interrogations on our own people to ferret him out. That wasn't exactly true. We did have permission to question people aggressively, but only using standard techniques."
Emily easily fills in the blanks. "You thought it was one of them. You hoped the threat of enhanced interrogation would cause him to either say something incriminating, find a way to weasel out of the questioning, or abruptly leave the camp, thus confirming his guilt. And eliminating the threat he posed."
JJ nods, then slowly turns her head and meets Emily's gaze. Blue eyes are filled with remorse. "I never imagined that there could be two of them, or considered just how ruthless they might be. If only I'd figured it out sooner..."
Emily wants to say something to comfort her friend, but doesn't have a chance before JJ takes a deep breath, as if to steady herself, and continues, "The four of us and an escort were en route to the offsite interview location when we were attacked. The vehicle Hastings and I were in got the worst of it and we were both injured. Askari's true loyalties were exposed at that point, but his men made it look like they'd kidnapped Hastings so we wouldn't guess that he'd betrayed us as well."
The blonde glances down and shakes her head sharply, clearly disturbed by the memory. Emily sees her friend wince, no doubt because the sudden movement has aggravated strained muscles. She caresses JJ's leg gently, doing what little she can to offer support and sympathy.
After a moment, the blonde meets her eyes again. "It didn't make any sense for them to take him, but we all believed it. I believed it. But Askari wasn't stupid and wouldn't have taken the needless risk of taking a hostage. If he'd been working alone, he would have just slipped away and disappeared, not drawing further attention to himself. It was Hastings who liked to grandstand..."
The sentence trails off, but before Emily can figure out how to respond, JJ shakes her head again and says bitterly, "The pieces were all there, staring me right in the face, but I didn't put them together. I screwed up. I should have--"
"JJ, stop." Emily's hand stills on her friend's leg. "It wasn't your fault. There's no way in the world you could have guessed all of that."
Though the other woman is keeping the details vague, obviously still trying to honor the constraints of the classified mission, they're long since past that point. Emily clears her throat. "Between Interpol's files and the team hacking into restricted information, we know most of what happened in Afghanistan. There were no red flags to suggest Hastings was a traitor. No indication that he would ever work with our enemies. Askari's past was highly questionable, but you didn't have access to any of that information. He'd been vetted by our own people, so there was no reason for you to be suspicious of him."
Emily stares pointedly at her friend and continues earnestly, "And there's absolutely no way you could have seen the attack coming. I mean, c'mon. Who the hell orders a convoy to be blown up while he's in the middle of it?"
JJ gives a one-shouldered shrug and looks away again. Her tone is brooding. "I still feel like I failed. I'm supposed to be a profiler. I should have seen the signs that the two of them were working together. I should have recognized that something was seriously wrong when more than one prisoner mysteriously turned up dead from torture. I suspected Askari had something to do with it, but no one at command would talk about it. Not even Matt. He reminded me that we were under the military's jurisdiction and that the fate of a few known terrorists wasn't our business. He told me to leave it alone and focus on my assigned task."
Emily hears the catch in her friend's voice, can only imagine how distressing it had been for JJ to have her concerns so casually dismissed. The blonde sighs heavily, then says quietly, "I realize now that Matt was just trying to protect me. But it still wasn't fair for him to brush me off like that. I shouldn't have let it go. I should have pushed harder for answers. And I should have known that Hastings was involved when we found Nadia..."
"When you saw that she'd been raped before she was killed."
She watches JJ screw her eyes shut at the blunt statement, hears the harsh sounds of her friend's rapid breaths. She knows the feeling. It never gets any easier to see a victim turn up dead because the team couldn't identify and find the unsub in time. Because you couldn't.
"It still isn't your fault," Emily says firmly. "It's easy to look back, knowing everything you know now, and second-guess your actions. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. But even if you'd done things differently, the outcome might have been the same. Or worse. You did the best you could, where you were, with what you had. If there was anything you could have done to save Nadia, you would have. I know that, because I know you."
She's not surprised that the other woman doesn't seem convinced. Emily knows from experience what it feels like to be wracked with guilt. She's well aware that in the midst of self-blame, even the most objective and honest reassurances ring completely hollow. But she'll keep reminding JJ of this truth. And maybe one day, her friend will even believe it.
Silence falls again. At length, JJ's eyes open and the blonde looks up at her. The naked anguish on her friend's face takes Emily's breath away.
"I told Hotch and the others that Matt gave up his codes when Hastings threatened to rape me."
It sounds like a non sequitur. Emily knows it's not. She doesn't say anything, just moves her thumb in soothing patterns against her friend's leg, giving JJ space to speak in her own time. She watches as the blonde knots her hands in her lap and stares down at them.
JJ says slowly, "What I didn't tell them is that he did more than that."
Emily sees a shudder work its way down her friend's spine. She keeps her voice soft and sympathetic--the same tone she uses with traumatized victims. "He touched you. Intimately."
It's not a question. She already knows the answer.
She's the only one who'd gotten a good look at the other woman during the rescue. She and Hotch were the only ones who'd gone into that room, and the unit chief had been fully focused on other things at the time--first on stopping Askari, then on tending to the gravely wounded Cruz. When Emily unfastened her friend from the chains, she'd noticed that both JJ's blouse and pants were unbuttoned, and had seen the black bra and honey skin on display where the blonde's shirt hung completely open in front.
And up on that rooftop, after pulling her friend to safety, Emily had been the one who straightened JJ's clothes and got her properly covered up again, because the blonde's hands had been shaking too much to be able to fasten the buttons herself.
JJ nods, still staring down at her lap, and Emily sees tears welling up in blue eyes. She continues her gentle caress of her friend's leg through the blanket, hoping the touch is providing at least a little comfort since the other woman hasn't tensed up or pulled away. She doesn't say anything else, just waits patiently.
After a few minutes, JJ looks up and cautiously meets Emily's gaze. Her expression is haunted. "I still feel dirty from his hands on me. Ashamed that I couldn't do anything to stop him. Humiliated that there were other people in the room, watching everything he did to me. But that wasn't even the worst part. He had his hand splayed across my stomach, fondling me. He said maybe he could make...maybe he could make me another one..."
It takes a moment for Emily to understand. When she does, her heart breaks for her friend. "Oh God. JJ."
The blonde drops her gaze back down, staring blindly at her white-knuckled hands. The line of her jaw is so tight that Emily's aches just looking at it. When JJ continues, the strain in her voice is obvious though she's speaking extremely quietly. "Those monsters were responsible for the attack that caused my miscarriage. And Hastings taunted me about it. He mocked me for what I'd lost because I figured out there was a traitor. He made me relive one of the hardest days of my life."
JJ trembles uncontrollably, tears trickling down her cheeks, and her whisper is so soft that Emily can barely hear it. "He loved the idea of getting me pregnant. Of making me carry his ch...child when I'd lost my husband's. I could feel how much it ex...excited him. It arou...aroused him as much as touch...touching me did..."
At those broken words, Emily's off the couch before she even registers that she's moved. She kneels on the floor beside her friend, pushing the discarded cocoa mug aside, and wraps her arms around the weeping woman, pulling her close. For a moment, the blonde is completely stiff and still in her hold. Then, like a marionette with cut strings, JJ collapses into her embrace, arms loosely circling her, and sobs as though her heart is breaking.
Emily holds JJ securely as she cries, but doesn't say anything. There is nothing she can say that will make that horror, those memories, any easier for the other woman to bear. She simply makes soft, soothing noises and cuddles her distraught friend throughout the maelstrom, one hand on the back of the blonde's neck, rubbing gently.
Her knees are aching by the time JJ's sobs finally subside to sniffles.
The blonde leans heavily against her, limp and clearly spent. After a minute or two, Emily shifts her hands to her friend's shoulders, holding JJ upright, and pulls back slightly to study her. The younger woman is an absolute mess--face thickly coated with drying tears, eyes swollen and bloodshot, nose running freely, wild wisps of hair straggling out of her messy ponytail. But there's a peace in JJ's expression that wasn't there before, as if some of the weight she's been carrying has been lifted.
Not all, by any stretch of the imagination. Emily's painfully aware that her friend has barely mentioned Askari, talking about him only in the context of things that happened in the past, in Afghanistan. To her, that's extremely telling, since he's the one who actually hurt JJ--assaulting her physically, playing games with her mentally, and torturing her emotionally with his sadistic delight in watching her suffer.
Horrible as Hastings' actions were, they were mild in comparison to the torment Askari put the other woman through. Emily suspects the CIA turncoat won't be the main cause of whatever nightmares and long-term trauma JJ experiences. Particularly since her famously closed-off friend has already opened up about what he did to her. That might be the most telling thing of all.
Still, lifting even a little of the burden is better than nothing, and Emily's glad she could do something to help.
JJ's voice is far raspier than usual, but Emily can hear the sincerity in it.
It's a simple exchange, but with the weight of years of friendship behind it, it says more than the words themselves do. It's an affirmation, an acknowledgment of everything they've shared with each other.
Emily glances down at her watch. "Do you want to take a bath? You've got time before we need to leave. The doctor sent along some plastic patches to keep the burns from getting wet, and I can change the bandages and help you get dressed when you're done."
She sees the longing look in JJ's red-rimmed eyes, understands that the need to feel clean runs deeper than just the dirt and grime the blonde accumulated while held captive. Deeper even than trying to erase the sense memories of Hastings' hands on her.
She also sees the faint hint of a fond smile, and knows exactly what prompted it. Her friend made the same offer to her in a hotel room in Paris, and for much the same reason. Emily recalls finally breaking down about her ordeal at Ian Doyle's hands while sitting in that bubble bath, sobbing desperately for the first time for everything she'd lost because of him. She remembers JJ pulling her out of the tub, wrapping her in an over-sized towel, and then settling them down together on the tiled bathroom floor--the blonde rocking her like a child, soothing her, and telling her that somehow it was all going to be okay.
But none of that is voiced aloud. Instead, JJ merely whispers, "Please."
Emily levers herself to her feet, then holds out a hand to her friend and helps her up. JJ sways unsteadily, and she wraps an arm carefully around the blonde's waist and guides her towards the bathroom.
While she knows one conversation is not a panacea, Emily's grateful that JJ felt comfortable confiding in her. She's even more grateful that the distance between them hasn't diminished the strength of their bond. Their friendship is a rare gift, and one she doesn't take lightly.
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night /Take these broken wings and learn to fly." Paul McCartney
JJ leans against Will and glances around the bar at her gathered friends. Between her injuries and the emotional conversation earlier, she doesn't really feel up to a night out. But she knows how important it is for them to be here together like this--to celebrate that they're all safe and sound, and that Emily is with them.
Not to mention celebrating the fact that Internal Affairs has cleared the team. She still doesn't have the full story, but apparently Hotch got his hands on incriminating information about someone at the State Department. Something about a set-up using her and Cruz as bait, then sitting back to let the BAU do their dirty work. She'll ask him about it later, when she has the mental capacity to process it. The bottom line is that the FBI is irritated enough with the other agency's meddling that her teammates won't face misconduct charges for disobeying orders. They'll receive reprimands for insubordination, but what else is new?
JJ's arguably the most deferential out of all of them, and even she has a few write-ups for that.
She's pulled out of her musings when Hotch asks Emily how much longer they have her. While she already knows the brunette will be flying back to London in the middle of the night, needing to be at the Interpol office by late afternoon for a meeting, hearing that they only have six more hours together is a little jarring. It reminds JJ again how much she misses her friend. Garcia's distressed, "It's too soon," mirrors her feelings.
Rossi pragmatically points out, "It's more than we had yesterday."
That's true enough. JJ knows she's spent far more time with Emily than anyone else, her friend a near-constant presence in her hospital room. Ironically, whenever her teammates were there to visit, the other woman was always off elsewhere--making phone calls, showering, napping in the nurse's lounge. Aside from the rescue and the debriefings immediately afterwards, the rest of the team hasn't really had any interaction with her.
JJ smiles as Alex speaks up, saying she's glad she finally got to meet Emily since she's heard such amazing things. They'd all tried hard to strike a balance between making their new teammate feel welcome and keeping the fond memories of their old teammate alive.
Emily's dismissive, "All lies," is belied by the grin on her face.
The simple words trigger something in JJ and she's speaking before she knows it. "No. No more lies."
She glances at her teammates, then turns her head and focuses on the front of Will's shirt, not quite able to meet his eyes just then. After a moment, she manages to look up at him, and her voice is quiet as she says, "Nothing but the truth from now on."
JJ searches her husband's face, hoping he can read the apology in her eyes for all the things she had to conceal from him because of this assignment. She's actually told him far more than she should have--particularly what to do if something happened to her, when he shouldn't even have known she might be facing a threat. But it still doesn't stop her from feeling guilty about keeping secrets. Even if she didn't have a choice.
The expression in his eyes is soft and understanding, and she breathes a bit easier.
Will leans close. "Oh, yeah?" he breathes, and kisses her. She kisses him back. It's an answer and a promise.
She feels her teammates' gazes on her, but can't look at any of them just yet. JJ's certain they've all picked up on the fact that she's not just talking to Will. She's been keeping secrets from them too, for far too long--about her time at the State Department, about knowing Matt, about the danger she suspected she was in.
While she knows they'll understand why she couldn't say anything, it doesn't change the fact that she'd despised all the lies. Especially after the ordeal of having to keep the team in the dark about Emily surviving Doyle's attack. She'd hated herself for deceiving them. The only thing that kept her from breaking down and telling them the truth to assuage their grief had been the awareness that her friend's very life depended on her silence. Although the ruse had been Hotch's decision, when the truth finally came out, JJ was the one who'd borne the brunt of her teammates' anger and distrust. It hadn't surprised her, exactly, but it had hurt. A lot. The whole experience had been a nightmare, and she'd never wanted to go through anything like that again.
And yet here she is, back in the position of having to explain all the secrets and lies. No more. She swears to herself that she's never again going to be forced into this kind of cloak-and-dagger routine.
Private as she is, there will always be parts of her life that she keeps to herself. And she'll always uphold confidentiality about their cases when such discretion and delicacy is needed. But neither of those are the same thing as mandated secrecy. She's done being told by someone else what she is and isn't allowed to talk about. What she can and can't share with the people who mean the most to her in the world.
She'll walk away from her career for good before she lets anyone drag her down that road again.
It doesn't take long for the serious spell of her words to wear off, the mood becoming jovial as more drinks are passed around. Still leaning against Will, too drained to pretend that she's fine, she watches her friends. She sees the relief in their eyes that they're here together again, sees the smiles on their faces as they start telling new stories and embellishing old ones.
After a bit, Garcia, Morgan, and Hotch steal Will away, needing a fourth to play Euchre. JJ leans back against the counter, careful not to jar her aching ribs, and takes a sip of her ginger ale. Setting the glass down, she hugs herself, grateful that when Emily picked out clothes for her, the brunette found this over-sized sweater in the back of the closet. The fabric is soft and warm, and the sleeves are long, coming down to the tips of her fingers, conveniently hiding the hideous purple marks around her wrists. The cut and bruise on her cheek were easy enough to cover with concealer, though she'd opted not to wear any other makeup.
She was afraid it would look ridiculous, as pale and drawn as she still is.
She's not trying to hide her injuries for her team's sake. They've undoubtedly already heard about them from Hotch or Reid. But she doesn't want to draw any more attention to herself than necessary. She already feels exposed enough out in public. Her senses are on alert for danger, even though she knows intellectually that she's safe and surrounded by friends. Even though she knows for a fact that her tormentors are dead.
Taking as deep a breath as she can manage with her broken ribs, she calms herself. She glances around again at her companions. Hotch and Will are both shaking their heads and muttering, while Derek looks almost unbearably smug and Penelope's grin is blinding. JJ chuckles to herself. As many times as they've played that game, she'd have thought that by now either her husband or her unit chief would have figured out that both Morgan and Garcia have lucky streaks a mile wide, and that letting them be partners is a terrible idea.
Her gaze drifts over to where Reid and Alex are deep in an animated conversation about...well...she can't actually hear what they're talking about and probably wouldn't understand it even if she could. She smiles fondly at the sight. After everything Spence has lost, she's glad he's gained this friendship with someone who can actually keep up with his big brain and esoteric interests.
Much as JJ loves him, she knows she's not that person.
As if sensing her scrutiny, Reid looks over at her. She sees him cant his head to the side, takes note of his furrowed forehead and the brief rise of one of his eyebrows. JJ's touched by his obvious concern, by his nonverbal query as to whether she wants company. But she really isn't in the mood to talk, and doesn't want to let on just how fragile she's feeling. She shakes her head, careful not to aggravate sore muscles, then jerks her chin slightly towards Alex and nods. A grin briefly touches Spence's lips and he nods in acknowledgment before returning to his conversation.
She watches him for a moment, enjoying his obvious enjoyment of whatever he and Blake are talking about. Then she lets her gaze wander again. She finds Dave and Emily standing in a corner. Though the two of them are chatting happily away, Rossi can't seem to take his eyes off one of the bartenders. As JJ studies him, he says something to their former teammate, then turns and walks off towards the bar.
Emily looks over and meets her gaze, and even at that distance, there's no mistaking the amusement in dark brown eyes. JJ rolls her eyes in response and watches the other woman make her way across the room.
The brunette slides onto the vacant stool beside her with an exaggerated huff. "And here everyone thinks Derek's the player," Emily comments dryly. "He's got nothing on Casanova over there."
JJ chuckles, but doesn't bother to respond. Emily carefully slips an arm around her back, then gently pulls her into a sideways hug. She sighs softly and snuggles close to the brunette, reveling in the sudden sense of safety she feels.
She rests her head against Emily's shoulder, unabashedly leaning against her friend, and lets her eyes drift lazily over the crowd, watching her teammates. Despite her exhaustion and pain, JJ's glad she's here with them and that they're all enjoying themselves. Given the stresses of their job and the horrors they confront on a daily basis, finding moments of happiness like this is essential to their mental and emotional well-being.
"You're gonna be okay, JJ. It's not going to be easy, but you'll get through this."
Emotion unexpectedly wells up at the fierce certainty in Emily's tone. JJ nods, brings her hand up to wipe away an errant tear. Her friend's arm tightens around her, holding her close, and she hears the brunette's soft whisper. "Whenever you need me, sweetheart, I'm only a phone call away."
She nods again, not trusting her voice. Emily kisses the top of her head, seeming to understand all that she can't put into words. They've always had that knack with each other.
They sit together in relative silence. JJ savors the sense of security she finds in Emily's presence, enjoying it while she can. The real world will encroach on their little bubble soon enough.
JJ's not naïve. She's seen the effect of trauma on victims of the unsubs they hunt. She's seen it on members of her team. There are likely to be some pretty rough days ahead until she can shove the monsters back under the bed where they belong, and pretend that as long as she can't see them, they won't hurt her.
It's probably not the healthiest coping technique. But it's what she learned to do as a child. It's what she knows how to do.
Still, that's a worry for tomorrow.
Right now, she's content to be right here. With her friends, her chosen family. With Emily. Surrounded by laughter. By love. By hope.
For the moment, that's more than enough.
End author's notes: (Warning: story spoilers)
In the episode, JJ says, "Askari couldn't possibly know that I was pregnant. I didn't tell anyone, not even my husband. I only told Matt, right before you came and gave me that message from the BAU." The use of simple past tense and the reference to a particular event indicate that she didn't tell Will about the pregnancy when she first found out. Citing that as the reason Askari couldn't have known only indicates that as of the last time she saw him (the day of the convoy attack), she still hadn't told anyone but Matt. There's nothing specific in the episode to suggest that she didn't talk to Will about the loss after she got back home.
As for the idea that Matt wasn't tortured the same way JJ was, I was as surprised as anyone when the words showed up on the page. But though the team makes that assumption based on when he was kidnapped, the script never actually specifies it. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made. Given what we're told about Askari's methodology, time line, and skills, the idea that Matt still hadn't broken after more than forty-eight hours (half his own torture, half watching JJ's) didn't sit quite right. Hence this alternate explanation.
And the stuff about Hotch getting incriminating information on someone at the State Department is based entirely on a deleted scene, available on the DVD. (Why, yes; I do still order DVDs from Netflix...)
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