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: I'm not an avid Criminal Minds viewer, catching it mostly in syndicated reruns, and I doubt I've seen even half the episodes. But I adore the friendship between JJ and Emily, and wanted to explore it a little. This started as a very short hurt/comfort piece, and evolved into something more. There's mention of JJ/Will and their relationship, but it's not the main focus. As with most of my f/f friendship stories, you can read it as pre-slash if you prefer...lol. Unbetaed, so all mistakes are my own. Hope you enjoy.
WARNING: Mild, non-graphic reference to canon torture and non-con touching
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author
FEEDBACK: To cheerfuloceangazer[at]gmail.com
By ocean gazer
"You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept." Kahlil Gibran
JJ sits on the couch, her eyes on the city lights twinkling outside the penthouse apartment's living room window, her fingers gently stroking through the hair of the woman whose head is pillowed in her lap. She hears a soft snore and shifts her gaze, looking down fondly at her friend.
Emily looks strangely vulnerable in sleep, though that may be partly due to the livid bruises marring her left cheek and the stitched cuts arching over her right eyebrow.
It's not the first time they've been here on Emily's couch like this--one of them injured, the other providing comfort. It definitely won't be the last. Not with the jobs they have, the cases they work, the unsubs they pursue.
With her free hand, JJ reaches out, blindly patting the top of the end table until her fingertips touch her cell phone. She inches it towards her, picks it up, fumbles around until she gets a solid one-handed grip on it. She scrolls with her thumb until she gets to the message screen, and though it's a little awkward, she manages to peck out a short text. She's finally asleep. I'm staying the night. Love you.
She sets the phone aside, not bothering to wait for a reply. Her husband already knows where she is; she called him before the team left Phoenix to tell him Emily had been hurt and she'd be driving her home and getting her settled. Besides, Henry and Michael are spending a few days with her mom, so if Will's not enjoying a rare night out with the guys, he's likely enjoying a rare evening alone at home, eating greasy pizza and watching bad horror flicks to his heart's content.
If he responds at all, he'll either return the sentiment or he'll sound petulant because she's already been gone for two weeks. If it's the former, she already knows that. If it's the latter, well, she's not going to deal with it via text.
It's not like she's doing anything wrong. Or unusual.
Emily tosses and turns restlessly, whimpering softly. JJ gently brushes her thumb back and forth across her friend's uninjured cheek, as if wiping away tears after a nightmare, her other hand still stroking through thick hair. She knows from experience that particular touch will soothe the other woman. And indeed, moments later, the brunette shifts onto her side, curls incrementally closer to her, sighs, then stills.
JJ's heart swells with affection. She's aware that she's one of the few people Emily has ever let past her formidable walls. She doesn't take that trust lightly.
Any more than Emily takes her trust lightly. Her barricades may be plastic sheeting in comparison to her friend's stone facade, but JJ still has her issues with letting people see her when she's vulnerable, still keeps a careful guard on her heart.
Emily's one of the only people she's never been able to hide from. One of the only people she's never felt the need to hide from.
Their friendship has been like this almost since the day they met. It's nothing like the sibling vibe Emily has with Derek. It's nothing like the relationships JJ has with Spence--her best friend--or Penelope--her partner-in-crime. The bond they share is powerful and intense and she's never been able to adequately explain it. It's survived being separated by team shakeups and job transfers. It's survived them living on different continents and having only infrequent contact. It's survived despite jealous boyfriends and a still occasionally insecure husband.
It's survived because even though they've never discussed it, they've made it non-negotiable. They're platonic soulmates, for lack of a better description, and their romantic partners can either accept it or move on.
As Emily put it to one former lover who wanted her to choose: she was part of my life before you got here and she'll still be here when you're gone.
The chirp of her cell phone jars JJ out of her thoughts. She doesn't reach out to pick it up, knowing it's just Will answering her text. Less than a minute later, it chirps again, signaling another message. When it chirps a third time, she sighs in exasperation. She lifts her hand off of Emily's cheek and grabs her phone, quickly adjusting the volume to turn off the ringtone. She glances down, checking to see if the noise has disturbed her friend. Not that that's likely, given the combination of drugs swimming through the brunette's system, but still.
Shifting her gaze to her phone, annoyance giving way to fear that something's wrong, she scans the three messages.
I've missed you, darlin', but stay as long as you need. Have last minute plans for tomorrow. Tom and Bryan decided to take their boat out and invited me and Cassie to come along. We're leaving at dawn.
Hope Emily's okay. Give her my love. I'll probably be home by four, six at the latest. See you then. Love you.
Oh...we're almost out of coffee. Can you pick some up on your way home?
She smiles and her thumb moves quickly over the screen. Message for Emily...check. Coffee...check. Good luck with the fishing. Get some sleep, babe. XOXO
She sets the phone aside again, squirms slightly to get more comfortable, then looks back down at her friend, making sure she's still sleeping peacefully. Her fingers continue combing through tousled hair. It's more to comfort herself right now than it is to soothe Emily.
Their close call yesterday had been way too close.
Even though they spend their lives rushing into dangerous situations, most of the time those situations are fairly well controlled. They know who they're after; they have backup with them; they have the training to deescalate things as much as possible and the means to defend themselves if they can't. But sometimes, they're caught off-guard. And occasionally--they find themselves the targets.
She closes her eyes, replays the events of the day before in slow motion. They'd finally identified a suspect in their grueling and gruesome case, finding an address for him out in the desert near Gila Bend. They'd driven the seventy-odd miles to apprehend him, local sheriff's deputies joining them en route, but a search of his house, garage, and outdoor workshop had turned up no sign of him or his latest victims. Most of the deputies had returned to town, just two remaining to patrol the outskirts of the property in case the suspect showed up. The team had split up to look for clues that might point them towards his whereabouts. Part of the group had gone back to the house, while Rossi checked out the garage and she and Emily tackled the workshop.
They'd been standing in the middle of the room, just doing a quick visual survey to get a feel for the space and the man who'd used it, when the suspect made a wholly unexpected appearance.
The team had carefully checked the floor for trapdoors. No one had seen the well-disguised one in the ceiling.
The man had jumped down on them from his hiding place, landing literally on top of them and sending them both sprawling. Before JJ could get her gun out of its holster, he'd been beside her, his knee pinning her wrist to the floor. She'd barely had time to register the pipe wrench in his hand before it connected with her jaw and her world went dark. When she'd finally regained consciousness, it was to the sight of Emily lying in a bloody heap a few feet away and the suspect in the custody of their thoroughly pissed off teammates.
Given the man's predilection for kidnapping his victims in pairs--one to use frequently as a punching bag, the other to rape and torture repeatedly--JJ has no doubt what would have happened to her if Emily hadn't been able to fight back, hadn't made enough noise to alert Rossi and the deputies to the danger they were in.
She shudders, remembered fear knifing through her. Way too close.
Sense memories suddenly flood her. Askari's knuckles slamming into her cheek. Electricity sparking against sensitive skin; unrelenting agony pulsing through her. Hastings' hands sliding up the backs of her thighs, his fingers splayed possessively across her abdomen. She sees their faces--their eyes alight with sadistic pleasure at her suffering.
Her breath catches in her throat and her heart feels like it's trying to beat its way out of her chest. She closes her eyes tightly, forces herself to take deep breaths, reminds herself she's safe. Over and over, she tells herself that they're not here, they can't hurt her any more.
After a few minutes, the images fade, her ghosts slipping back into the dark corners of her mind where they lurk, and the sense of panic ebbs away.
The flashbacks are unwelcome, but not surprising. She knows exactly what triggered them. It's been a long time since she's been in a situation where she was at risk of being abducted and assaulted. It's been a long time since she's felt as vulnerable as she did in the hands of Askari and Hastings. The suspect's attack left her helpless, completely at his mercy, and she's painfully aware of all the horrific things he did to his victims.
JJ shudders once more at the thought, then opens her eyes and straightens her shoulders, deliberately focusing on the tangible--the lights of the city outside the window, the feel of silken hair against her fingers, the warm weight of Emily's head in her lap. She slowly grounds herself with what's around her, in what's real.
As both her therapist and Will regularly remind her, thinking about all the what ifs is a sure way to twist herself up in knots. She has to focus on what is. Which is that she and Emily both walked away from a bad situation in one piece. A little worse for wear, but alive and whole.
In their line of work, sometimes it's hard to ask for more than that.
As if prompted by the memories, her jaw starts throbbing. Reflexively, she reaches up to check the source of the discomfort. Though her probing touch is light, it sends a fierce jolt of pain through her and she can't hold back a sharp hiss. She drops her hand back down, resting it lightly against Emily's shoulder, takes a deep breath against the incessant ache, blows it out slowly. She frowns when she realizes she has no idea when she last took a pain pill. This morning at the police station when they were wrapping things up, maybe? She's been so focused on taking care of her friend that she's forgotten all about taking care of herself.
"Hey. Are you okay?"
Startled, she looks down and sees that Emily is awake, lying on her back and staring intently up at her. Brown eyes are foggy from sleep and medication, but the concern in them is clear.
She smiles at her friend, shrugs self-deprecatingly. "I'm fine."
Emily's raised eyebrow speaks volumes and JJ squirms. All of her teammates know that her standard response is a deflection. Most of them rarely call her on it, taking it as a request for space. Emily, however, usually refuses to accept it as an answer. Just as she does when the tables are turned. The fear of showing weakness is deeply ingrained in both of them, but that doesn't mean it's healthy.
JJ licks dry lips. At length, she answers honestly, "The pain in my jaw flared up again and I had a flashback." She doesn't elaborate on what she flashed back to. She doesn't need to. After a moment, she shrugs again. "But I'm okay enough."
Emily's hand comes up to cup her cheek for a minute, then moves down to rest against her arm, caressing gently. It's a small gesture, but it further grounds JJ, and the comfort it provides is immeasurable. She feels like she can finally breathe freely again.
She watches Emily study her. Eventually, the brunette nods, satisfied, then asks, "How long was I asleep?"
It's not the question JJ expected, but she understands what lies behind it. She checks her watch and answers, "About an hour."
She sees brown eyes widen, isn't surprised. She's pretty sure Emily hadn't expected to fall asleep like that, even heavily dosed with painkillers and muscle relaxers.
By the time they made it from the airport to the apartment, Emily had been miserable. JJ had drawn her a bubble bath, then undressed her and helped her wash. She'd gotten the brunette into clean clothes, re-bandaged her wounds, then sat her down at the breakfast bar and made her something to eat so she could take her meds. She'd come out from cleaning up the kitchen to find Emily staring blankly out the window, in tears, slumped over slightly and hugging herself, everything catching up with her all at once. JJ had wrapped her arm around her friend, guided her over to the couch, then sat her down and held her close while she cried.
It had taken well over an hour to get Emily calmed and soothed and finally settled comfortably.
She watches her friend blink rapidly, putting the pieces together. After a bit, Emily asks, "Have you had a chance to call Will?"
"I texted him. He said he hopes you're okay, and sends his love."
Emily nods briefly, then glances away. When the brunette looks back up at her again, brown eyes are soft with barely disguised emotion. Her friend's voice is even softer. "Are you spending the night?"
She runs her thumb gently down Emily's unbruised cheek. "Yes. Wild horses couldn't drag me away."
Emily's answering smile holds more than a hint of relief, but when the brunette finally speaks, her tone is neutral. "Well then, let's move this somewhere more comfortable. Help me up."
She slips her hands under the other woman's shoulders and lifts, while Emily grabs hold of the back of the couch to help pull herself up. Once the brunette is sitting upright, JJ levers herself off the couch, unable to stifle a groan as stiff muscles protest, then turns and holds out her hand to her friend, helping her to her feet.
Once they're both standing, Emily takes the lead, tugging her along via their joined hands until they reach the bedroom. Without a word, the brunette propels her into the en suite bathroom. JJ opens a drawer, pulls out the toothbrush she keeps here. In silence, they brush their teeth, sharing the sink.
Emily finishes quickly and heads into the bedroom. JJ puts her toothbrush back in the drawer and takes out her hairbrush. She pulls her hair out of its ponytail holder and brushes it, then puts the brush away. Reaching for the cup on the back of the sink, she fills it under the faucet. She fishes the bottle of ibuprofen out of her pocket, shakes three into her hand, swigs water to get them down. Setting the bottle on the counter, she braces her hands on the sink edge and stares at herself in the mirror. Her jaw is far more purple than it was when she last looked, and the bruise seems to have doubled in size.
JJ grimaces at her reflection. No wonder she's in pain.
She runs the water until it's warm, bends down and cups her hands under the faucet, splashing her face to rinse off the worst of the grime from their long day of travel. Pulling a hand towel off the rack, she carefully pats herself dry. She drapes the damp towel back over the rack, then turns and pads into the bedroom.
Emily is already in pajamas and turns towards her, handing her shorts and a long-sleeved tee-shirt. JJ takes them with a grateful smile, moves over towards the king-sized bed, and sets the sleepwear down on top of the comforter. She doesn't hesitate to take off her grubby clothes, slipping her slacks down her legs and stepping out of them, unbuttoning her blouse and dropping it in a heap on top of her pants. Unhooking her bra, she slides the straps off her shoulders, easing out of the garment, and lets it fall to the floor beside her shirt. Finally, she strips off her panties and adds them to the discard pile.
She and Emily have been friends long enough and have shared close quarters for work so many times that modesty with each other long since went out the window.
Shivering in the slight chill of the room, she quickly pulls on the tee-shirt and shorts. They're a little too big for her, but they're clean and soft and comfortable.
By the time she's picked up her dirty clothes and set them on top of the laundry hamper, Emily's already in bed and lying on her back under the covers. Shivering again, JJ quickly follows suit. The mattress is soft under her sore muscles, the sheets smell of lavender, and the blankets are warm and cozy. She sighs contentedly and soaks up the sensation.
It isn't long before she feels the mattress shift as the other woman rolls over and curls up against her side. Emily reaches out and wraps an arm around her, hand resting on her stomach. JJ smiles as the brunette tucks her head against her shoulder so they're sharing the pillow, and cuddles close.
JJ brings her hand up and settles it on the arm draped over her, careful to avoid the thick bandage just below Emily's elbow. Her fingers move in a light caress. She sighs again at the comfortable familiarity of it. This--or some variation of it--is how they always sleep when they're together.
The two of them share a bed periodically when traveling for work, when whatever hotel/motel/flea-trap the team is staying in doesn't have enough rooms and beds for their whole group. After the first few times, when they volunteered simply to put an end to the guys bickering about which of them needed privacy the most, it became an unspoken assumption. And throughout their friendship, whenever one of them has been hurt--physically or emotionally--and the other is staying the night, they've always ended up entwined like this. It's just how they are.
JJ knows a lot of people assume there's more going on than just sleeping. Their teammates know better, but she's heard whispers and insinuations around the office. While she hates being the subject of gossip, she can't say it surprises her. It's an intimate thing to share a bed with another person. And in a sex-obsessed culture, intimacy is almost invariably linked to sexual arousal and desire, almost always discussed only in terms of the erotic. Linking it to love seems incredibly old-fashioned. Linking it to friendship is downright antiquated.
She's grateful that Will actually understands those distinctions, that he easily accepts that physical affection is just part of their friendship. It probably helps that they've been like this since the day he met them, that he's known since the beginning exactly how demonstrative they are with each other.
And he's seen them sleep like this before, on the handful of occasions when she's brought Emily home with her after a particularly rough case. They've never tried to hide it. He's come to wake them and found them snuggled together on the living room futon, has laughed at the way JJ springs easily out of bed, buoyed by the promise of coffee, while Emily grumbles about morning people and burrows deeper under the blankets. He has his moments of jealousy, to be sure, but not because he's ever thought their relationship was something other than platonic.
His insecurity is because of the depth of the friendship itself, because of those times when the intense bond she has with Emily stands out so starkly that it's impossible to miss how close they are.
At least his jealousy is easy to defuse. Though he doesn't equate lovemaking with love any more than she does, JJ knows it reassures him that she shares something with him that she doesn't share with anyone else, that he has a piece of her that Emily doesn't. For him, sexual intimacy is the most sacred type of connection.
She doesn't begrudge him that, though she still wonders if he understands that for her, emotional intimacy is what's most meaningful. Then again, it doesn't matter if he gets it. They love each other dearly, share similar values, and have worked hard to get past the rough patches to this place where they're comfortable with each other and the life they've built. Their marriage works for them, they're happy together, and that's ultimately all that really matters.
It's enough that Emily understands that about her, truly gets her.
Part of that understanding comes simply because of the work they do. Their team is close--some say too close--as people are when they live practically in each other's pockets for days or weeks at a time. They trust each other without question--the kind of absolute trust that develops when people routinely put their lives in each others' hands. Her team is a family, trite as that sounds to say.
Part of it is simply that they're both women in a working environment that's still very much the old white boy's club. There's a sense of solidarity in standing together, facing that world.
But mostly, it's something far more than just that. Not like two halves of a whole or anything out of a fairy tale. Sometimes, two people meet and have a connection that defies easy explanation. That's what happened with them. And they've put a lot of time and energy into nurturing that bond, into making their friendship an integral part of their lives.
It's a rare gift to be so completely understood by another person. It's not something she will ever take for granted.
JJ turns her head, presses a kiss to Emily's forehead. Her friend is already half-asleep, breathing slowly and evenly, body limp and lax against her side. She rests her cheek against the brunette's head, closes her eyes. The arm across her stomach is heavy, lulling, and the skin under her caressing fingers is warm and soft. The ibuprofen is doing its trick, taking away the pain, letting her relax enough to feel drowsy.
Comforted by Emily's presence, grateful that they're here together, safe and secure, JJ lets sleep overtake her.
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