DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series titled, “Dirty Little Secret”. It would be most beneficial to read the first three stories before proceeding. The first is fewthistle's Similar Features, featuring Emily and Serena, then A Revelation of a Different Kind, featuring JJ’s corresponding evening, and followed by fewthistle’s Perfect Girl, featuring Emily’s Monday after . There will hopefully be three more stories in this series. Hopefully. Thanks to shaych_03 and atfm. With this story, I was extremely lucky to have two betas as well as two individuals who didn’t hesitate to offer suggestions and encouragement to prod my muse along. Thanks also to mrswoman for assuring me that I’m still recognizable – she’ll know what I mean. :) Very special thanks to fewthistle, for not only allowing me to partake in this adventure with her, but for forcing me – in a very good way – to look past my world of black, white, and shades of gray to see the many colors that have been lurking just outside my boundaries.
SERIES: Part of Ann & Fewthistle's 'Dirty Little Secret' series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Running on Empty
The early hours of Monday morning crept slowly by, the movement of the clock barely discernable to the sole occupant of the mostly quiet house. The only sound breaking through the stillness was rhythmic in nature, a sound that usually brought peace and a sense of calmness to the one responsible for creating it. Sweat trickled from JJ's brow as she blew out another deep breath and increased her speed, forcing the digital speedometer of the stationary bicycle to climb another notch. She ignored the burning sensation in her calves and thighs, and instead, maintained the insane pace, hoping the physical exertion would clear her mind. Like a second skin, a series of troubling thoughts had clung to JJ, taking hold and becoming an integral part of her focus. Pumping her legs even harder, she gazed out the window of the small room.
JJ cursed the pitch black that lurked eerily behind the clear glass, but mostly the weather conditions outside that kept her from her one true solace: running. It was the one activity she'd come to depend on through the years. As a child, she'd accidentally discovered its importance in her life when, one day, she'd run down the steps of her house and sprinted towards the woods as fast as her little legs would carry her. That was the first time her mother had told her to stop fantasizing about a life she would never have and concentrate on making the best of the one she would instead. With tears streaming down her cheeks, JJ had run and run until she'd dropped to her knees in the middle of a tall grove of trees. Looking up, she'd been caught in the wonder of the golden glory of the sun as it pierced the twisting, majestic branches of the trees above her. Bathed in streams of bright light, her hair had metamorphosed into a crown of gold that curled about her head and shoulders like the shimmering, magical mantles of children's tales. At that moment, JJ was overcome with an unprecedented calm that, even for her youth, she recognized as deeply significant. From then on, every time she ran, JJ had been able to find the same peace. It was the one thing that always allowed her to put order to even the most chaotic of thoughts.
Now, the dismal weather was keeping her from the balance she so desperately needed to find. JJ was willing to risk the dangers of the night in an attempt to purge the troubling dream of waking beside another woman, another woman that wasn't Emily Prentiss. Awakened from another night of restless sleep, JJ knew better than to chance running on the ice-covered sidewalks and streets. Her hip was still smarting from the hard fall sustained the day before when she'd taken to the pavement to rid the feelings of guilt from the previous night; a purpling bruise served as a vivid reminder of the mistake she'd almost made. JJ was still unable to accept that she'd driven to a bar with the sole intent of picking up someone for a night of mindless sex, all out of the desire to regain her balance and perspective. Instead, it had only served to add to her instability, eliciting feelings of deep remorse at her actions.
Even though she and Emily had no relationship to speak of, JJ found herself consumed with self-condemnation, and those feelings alone filled her with doubt and confusion as to what she should do to get a handle on the totally hopeless situation. There had to be a way to come to terms with the reality of the situation, and JJ needed to find it quickly. She didn't know how much longer she could continue to keep her feelings for Emily hidden from her teammates, and especially from the one person who held JJ's heart, the one who had no idea of the depth of JJ's feelings. In this, JJ had no frame of reference with which to compare them to; she'd never felt this for anyone, ever.
JJ had spent hours and hours on Sunday shifting through the many reasons why a relationship with Emily was a really bad idea and had actually succeeded in naming quite a few highly logical and sound reasons why she should let go of the thin thread of hope she'd held on to so tightly. Now, if she could just make her heart understand, and more importantly, accept the dreams for what they truly were: yet another one of many things that she could never have. Perhaps her mother had been right; she should accept what she had and quit fantasizing about what was beyond her grasp.
For the first time since she'd climbed onto the bicycle, JJ glanced across the room at the clock which sat atop the otherwise bare dresser, the large red numbers brightly displaying the ridiculously early hour, two-three-five. With a sudden burst of energy, JJ accelerated; she had mere hours before she would come face to face with Emily, and as if sensing that she was running out of time, JJ's subconscious added to the mounting distress. Various images of Emily flashed before her eyes in the form of random stills, one following the next in an almost timed fashion: Emily pouring over the contents of a file, her face etched in concentration; Emily reaching out to take a file from JJ's outstretched hand, wearing a smile that was meant solely for JJ; Emily pacing back and forth in front of the whiteboard, the bright red shirt clinging to her, its low neckline affording JJ a most spectacular view; Emily always seeming to know when to glance JJ's way, a silent offer of support when JJ most needed it; Emily's dark eyes boring into JJ's blue ones; Emily's face . . . everywhere. Closing her eyes tightly, JJ sped up once again, the motion creating a visual blur of both the rapidly turning wheel and the furiously churning legs as JJ struggled to picture another scenario; one where she was running through the familiar woods behind her childhood home.
Hours later, when the sun had risen above the horizon to begin its journey across the sky, JJ found herself practically at a standstill in the midst of heavy traffic on her drive into the city. She watched the large, golden orb cast a molten glow across the highway, spreading warmth in its path, and although pleased to see the sun's appearance, she silently cursed its previous absence. The line of cars slowly moved forward, and JJ inwardly grimaced at the snail's pace, knowing that her current predicament was her own fault. She'd purposely taken her time showering, allowing the hot water to beat down on her neck and shoulder muscles until the last traces of tension were finally washed away and carried down the drain with the rest of the water. Mindlessly, she'd applied her makeup and moved to her bedroom closet, choosing an outfit at random. Fastening her gun to her lower back, she'd slid into a dark jacket and headed for the door. A quick stop at Starbucks served a dual purpose: it would ensure that she would arrive after Emily, and it would also allow JJ to bypass the coffee pot at work. She could have her caffeine and still be able to avoid Emily until the regularly scheduled briefing.
Leaning back in the seat, JJ sipped on her cappuccino, a treat she rarely allowed herself, and inched forward with the rest of the cars. She had plenty of time to prepare for the team briefing as all that was needed was to complete a few profiles for various outside agencies and then to distribute the everyday paperwork each member of the team was expected to complete. The mere thought of seeing Emily seated across the table sent a flurry of butterflies through JJ's gut, and she briefly wondered if perhaps she should've called in sick.
As JJ entered the building, she headed directly for her office but slowed her steps when she spied Emily through the glass doors which led to the desks of the B.A.U. personnel. Something on the brunette agent's desk top held her attention, and JJ spared a moment to watch the other woman, noting immediately that something seemed different about the older agent. Her usually erect posture and look of confidence were missing, replaced by a slouch and an aura of nervous confusion. Frowning, JJ instinctively started toward the door, but stopped abruptly when Emily seemed to transform before her very eyes. Sitting up perfectly straight, Emily rotated her head slightly to the left and then to the right before schooling her expression to one of perfect calm. JJ could feel the confidence build and build until it rolled off Emily in waves. The transformation was so drastic, so complete, that JJ began to wonder if she'd imagined the whole thing. Forcing herself to walk away, JJ headed toward her office, but not before she made a mental note to keep a close eye on her colleague. Just because she'd made the decision to accept that Emily would never be romantically interested in her didn't mean that the two of them couldn't continue to remain friends. In fact, JJ was certain that she couldn't live without Emily in her life in some fashion or another.
Safely ensconced in her office, JJ tossed her empty Starbucks cup towards the trash and sat back in her chair. Preoccupied with her thoughts of Emily, she never noticed the lip of the cup clip the rim of the receptacle or the dull sound produced when it bounced onto the floor to land between the metal trash can and the baseboard. Even the slow back and forth rocking motion of the cup didn't catch her attention until it finally came to a halt against the vinyl baseboard. She glanced at the muted colored cup and tried to make some sense of what she'd just witnessed. Why had Emily looked so . . . so . . . JJ frowned, still not able to put a name to Emily's distraction. The ringing of her phone startled her from her thoughts, and she stared down at the offending object for a moment before removing the receiver from its cradle.
At the sound of Hotch's voice, JJ began to gather the various files needed for the briefing. "Yes, Sir. I'm on my way." She quickly hung up the phone and snatched up the files from her desk. A quick glance at her watch told her that she had roughly ten minutes to check in with Hotch and organize her materials before the team would be assembled. Brushing past the trashcan on her way out the door, she forgot all about the cup that had fallen on the floor, but her earlier thoughts of Emily slid right back into place. JJ was glad she'd already be in the room when the team arrived. It would afford her a slight advantage and give her a few extra moments to observe Emily while the brunette agent was unaware of her scrutiny. Lengthening her stride, JJ hurried toward Hotch's office.
Five minutes later, JJ stood in front of the freshly polished mahogany table and looked down at her reflection as she waited for the team. She'd already placed the neatly stacked folders, in the proper order in which she'd planned to proceed, in front of each team member's chair. She'd purposefully moved her own stack just a little more to the left of where she normally positioned herself as the location would afford her a better view of the seat in which Emily usually sat. JJ figured she'd just reposition herself should Emily choose a different seat today. Her disappointment of Morgan being the first to walk through the door was hidden with a flash of a smile.
"Hey, JJ." Morgan returned the smile with a bright toothy grin as he moved to sit. JJ was pleased to note that he'd taken the chair beside her own.
"Morning everyone." Reid was next to enter the room, followed closely by Emily, who just nodded her greeting and moved directly to her chair. Without meeting anyone's gaze, she immediately removed the top file and began to scan its contents.
In a roomful of profilers, JJ was careful not to show her disappointment of being snubbed by the other woman. She took a bit of solace knowing that Emily had basically ignored Morgan and Reid as well.
"So, how was everyone's weekend?" Morgan leaned back in his chair, perfectly content to wait until the briefing began before digging into the files.
With a huge grin on his face, Reid began to excitedly launch into a synopsis of his entire weekend, starting with a recap of a fourteen-hour marathon Dungeons and Dragons session that he and a few old college buddies had played and ending with the same group's antics at a local karaoke bar. JJ couldn't help but smile at Reid's weekend rundown, but a quick glance at Emily showed the other agent still focused on the file in front of her. Emily didn't looked up for even a second, and JJ thought she could detect a bit of unease, or perhaps, embarrassment on Emily's face. Even Emily's movements were off; the usually smooth way in which she performed even the simplest of tasks seemed clumsy, almost disjointed in motion. Now, JJ was more confused than ever.
"Please tell me you didn't stand up in front of a bunch of strangers singing the lyrics to 'The Love Boat.'" Morgan's smile had grown until he was grinning from ear to ear. He could just imagine Reid and his buddies each taking on a role from the sappy show much as they had in their earlier game of Dungeons and Dragons. Morgan's rich laughter filled the room, and JJ forced herself to chuckle, wondering why no one else had noticed how out of character it was for Emily not to join in the fun. She guessed Reid was so wrapped up in his story and Morgan so intent on teasing his colleague that both men were in their own little world. But Emily not adding to the teasing should have made her strange behavior obvious to even a blind man. JJ took a step to move around the table, intent on asking Emily if something was wrong, but the arrival of Hotch and Rossi stopped her before she could act.
"Okay, JJ, let's get this over with so that we can finish the paperwork by the end of the day." Hotch moved to take a seat while Rossi chose to lean against the far wall.
"Yes, Sir." JJ nodded her head and reached for the top file. With her professional mask back in place, JJ opened the top folder and began to discuss the first profile of the morning. Little did she know what the rest of the day had in store for her.
Nine o'clock found JJ standing in her kitchen and staring unseeingly into a mostly empty pantry. Her day had been fraught with confusion, uncertainty, and anger; the last of which had turned into an intense feeling of hurt. Every effort she'd made to smile or make eye contact with Emily had been shunned by the other woman. The easy, comfortable feeling JJ always counted on was gone, replaced by a stiff, almost cold-shoulder treatment directed towards her, and when JJ'd finally decided to seek Emily out and ask her point blank what was going on, Emily had been nowhere to be found.
So, after leaving work late and passing up every single drive-thru restaurant, JJ now found herself searching for food in her bare pantry. Her hurt and confusion were back with full force, but they were quickly replaced by a surge of anger so intense it bathed the room in a sea of red. JJ closed her eyes and allowed it to take control of her senses. The scene outside the bar Saturday night began to play out in her mind, and JJ suddenly began to question her decision to come home alone that evening. Maybe she'd been too hasty in allowing her allegiance to Emily to get in the way. It was obvious that Emily didn't want her, so maybe now was the perfect time to remedy her mistake. A lust-filled night would, at the very least, distract JJ for a few hours, and perhaps even allow her to get lost in the sensual sensation of another's skin against her own. With her mind clouded with erotic visions, she headed for her bedroom to change. She was out the door fifteen minutes later.
The streetlights cast an eerie glow on passersby as JJ moved down the sidewalk. Everyone she encountered seemed to be in a hurry to get out of the chilly weather, but JJ continued her steady pace, enjoying the crisp night air. Her spur of the moment plan to revisit the nightclub had been spoiled when she'd gone into the bedroom to retrieve her clothes. The outfit she'd worn Saturday night still lay across her chair, but when she'd reached for her shirt, her gaze had instead focused on the pair of running shoes which lay on their side just to the right of the chair. So, she'd bent down and retrieved them, and after slipping into her running outfit and strapping her gun to her back, JJ had taken to the streets.
A mile into her run, JJ still had not managed to achieve that perfect sense of calm, but she was completely overcome with a moment of perfect clarity. All the things she'd thought of the day before ate at her like a slow fire burning steadily through her mind, even as she ran onward. She'd fought so very hard to get to where she was today, and to chance losing everything she held so dear on the possibility that Emily would ever be even remotely interested wasn't worth it, especially as evidenced by Emily's actions during the day. She'd shunned JJ for no apparent reason. What would happen if there truly was a reason for Emily to be scared and nervous? What would happen then? Was it worth holding onto the hope that there could be a chance?
JJ came to a stop, choking back a sob at the direction of her thoughts. Everything was so raw and the pain so fresh that the feelings she'd held deep inside just wouldn't go away. JJ knew deep down that she wasn't ready to give up on Emily, and with that realization, the clarity had come. But at this particular moment, JJ was beyond exhausted, both mentally and physically; she simply couldn't focus anymore. Turning towards home, she hoped she had enough strength left to make it back to her door. Because right now, JJ was running on empty.
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