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instruments of faith

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JJ wonders sometimes if every member of their team has nightmares.

She sees snapping teeth like some grotesque Russian ballet, she sees a blank video feed. For two weeks every time she closes her eyes she sees them. She sees herself at the target range, shooting people between the eyes. She sees the normal stuff too, beaten and bloodied women, bruised dead children, empty eyes, continual effigies of cruelty that during the day barely even registers. The BAU only deals with 'unique' cases these days, because there are so many on her desk that it has to take something special to even capture her attention. Each manila folder is the same size, depth, width, and she has two paperweights from last Christmas stopping them from falling cascading off her desk.

"Hey," Reid says, and his hand trembles. JJ's not a profiler, she has no idea how all these people take minute details of facial expressions, tone of voice, one smile, one tic, and create a whole person. That's not what she does.

"How many cups is it this morning?" she asks Reid, and keeps her voice light.

Reid shrugs, face a half-grimace, half-grin, mouth down-turned in a guilty expression that is a little too familiar these days; then walks away, probably fifth cup of coffee for the morning. They've got four dead in New York State, some nice small town like all the others, and Reid's probably been here all night sleeping at his desk like the rest of them. You don't need a PHD in behavioural science to see exhaustion.

JJ wonders sometimes if they all get nightmares, but most of the time she knows they do. You don't need a PHD in behavioural science to see that, either. Two of their team were abused physically as children; one was held for over twenty-four hours by an un-sub and lives in perpetual fear of exhibiting mental illness. Elle actually snapped, and JJ can't believe that more of them haven't done the same.

"JJ?" Prentiss hands her a paper cup with a Splenda, lukewarm just the way she likes it. Prentiss is more likely than the others to notice how people take their coffee. JJ assumes it's from living with politicians, who are almost as good as the BAU at realizing people's weaknesses. In politics, they just use it against you to further their own agenda.

But JJ takes the coffee, smiles. "Thanks."

"Are you--" and Prentiss pauses, re-evaluates. "You looked distracted." Allowing her the option of not answering, should she choose. Empathetic.

JJ shrugs, and takes a sip. She replies, "It's nothing, you know?" and then, "It's just, everything."

Instead of tilting her head in the typical pose of someone assessing the situation - the way a profiler exhibits concern for someone as a specimen of the human race - Prentiss puts a hand on JJ's arm and squeezes. She says, "yeah," and adds, "Sometimes it's just nothing."

-

The fifth victim is dismembered as well as disemboweled. JJ doesn't puke. She watches, for once, the way everyone else discusses the crime scene at police headquarters. No one is out of place; no one steps off the script. The profile is basically complete, and it's all but certain they'll catch the guy now. 35-45, white, disorganized killer, same old, same old. JJ tells the media in the same considerate, professional tone she perfected a while ago.

JJ wasn't abused as a child like Morgan - and she didn't have any idea that he was before it became part of the case. There was nothing in his behaviour, no reservations with women, no discomfort, nothing. JJ didn't know. She wasn't beaten as a child like Hotch, and that one stands out a little more than Morgan, but then Hotch actually hides his failings less than Morgan and he hardly ever smiles.

JJ didn't lose a parent young like Morgan and Garcia and Elle and Reid, she doesn't have a history of mental illness in the family like Reid, she doesn't have a long FBI history with gruesome, unimaginable cases like Gideon did. She doesn't have any large scars. JJ has a degree in Communications and Media, with a minor in psychology, and none of it prepared her for working with a team of completely broken people, so fragmented they can't even see it with all their experience and expertise.

-

"What is with you today?"

"What?" JJ blinks, and she's on the plane, Hotch looking at her like she's another species. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"

Hotch sits down across from her, and stares at her the way he stares, intense and all. JJ mostly ignores it, and he says, "you're distracted, you're distant. JJ, you've barely been here the entire week."

Brief flare of anger: she's not even allowed a bad day since she's not the profiler, she's not the one that deals with the hard part. She only sits with the families and then explains it to the public on the evening news. Then the anger's gone. It's not really Hotch's fault. JJ says, "yeah. I guess I have been a bit distracted."

He lets it go, because she's the normal one.

When they land, Prentiss says, "aren't you coming?" and JJ shakes her head no. Everybody else heads straight to the bar down the street to drink away their sorrows and dance; she's got another dozen case files to go through before tomorrow, and another two dozen the next day.

-

JJ doesn't slur when she's drinking because she doesn't drink as much as everyone else. Girls who play sports don't drink because while football players and cheerleaders can party after the game, if you're on a team and female it's not cute. Garcia keeps sipping her pink martini and staring at Morgan. JJ barely shakes her head.

"What?" Prentiss says, eyebrow up, small smile. What, indeed.

JJ leans over, suddenly, and asks, "what's your type, Emily?"

Prentiss blinks, leans back again. "My type?"

JJ shrugs, looks at Garcia, looks back at Emily, smirks. JJ says, "I don't know mine. I mean--" and her phone beeps an email. Emily nods, JJ nods. They make the polite movements to acknowledge that because of that beep, in a moment they're all going to have to go back to work. Unbidden, a flash of snapping teeth comes to JJ. She breathes in, and it's gone, and she can bring herself to pull out her phone.

Garcia and Prentiss are watching her now, instead, but instead of the FBI, the email is from the New Orleans detective who actually continued to call her when she gave him a Washington number. Prentiss asks, smile gone, "Back to the office?"

"No," and JJ picks her beer up, puts the phone away. "It's -- it was an email. From my type, I think."

"Oh," and Prentiss grins. "What's he like?"

Even Garcia turns around long enough to ask, "Who? And where did you meet him?"

Once they know it's not work, JJ thinks bitterly, they're more than willing to ask what's going on. Then she smiles at the two of them, and the bitterness is gone again. It's not anyone's fault for shooting the messenger.

"So?" Prentiss asks.

JJ grimaces, drinks the last of her second beer. "Uh, remember that detective from New Orleans?" They stare at her, and she nods. Yes, that detective.

JJ's dated the press, she's dated other agents, cops, and lawyers. Very few of them were ever satisfactory, because two faces with permanent worry lines rarely make each other smile. She leans on the table, and says again, "So, Emily, what's your type then?"

Garcia turns back to the dance floor, continues to watch Morgan. "I know mine," she mutters.

JJ laughs. "Garcia, we all know yours."

Garcia sighs, then, turns back to the table. Sardonic smile from her this time, half-grimace, that's obvious even to a non-profiler; even though it's a joke, none of them find Morgan and Garcia funny anymore. "Yeah," Garcia says finally, with a forgiving shrug, and then she says, "So Prentiss, tell all."

Emily blinks, and finally says, "I honestly don't know. I keep meeting men--" and she pauses, and JJ nods, says,

"Yeah," and Emily nods, too.

-

After Garcia gets shot -- and JJ even starts to think of it like that: After Garcia Gets Shot. Elle was shot, Garcia was shot. JJ shot a man. It's absolutely nothing, and yet it should be everything. At least that's what the FBI psychologist implies at her, and never says.

"Should I even keep coming back?" JJ says, tired. It's her third appointment - once a week since she shot a man in the head - "because I don't know if I'm really getting anything, and you probably have better things to do."

The office could be Hotch's, it's set up like every psychologist's office employed by the FBI. It shouldn't be a reassuring environment. The psychologist looks at her for a minute, a long, silent minute, and JJ realizes what she said, what she implied: he has better things to do than listen to her, because her problems don't amount to anything when stacked on the scales against everyone else's. She stands up, tells him, "so, I know it's not right, but I have to do it to do well at my job."

The psychologist nods, agrees, says, "You do." He also says, "But you may want to be careful how you put away what you're feeling, submerge it." He stands, hands her the form that certifies she's been to a session, and that it was voluntary, and that he sees no need for her to return unless she wishes it. The department is very strict on that point. Every time a behavioural agent goes in, the shrink provides a note saying they don't have to come back. It maybe speaks volumes to the kind of people in the BAU that they have a form for that. It maybe also speaks volumes about the reasons the people in the BAU don't go to the FBI shrink unless they're ordered, and then only seldom.

JJ takes it, folds it carefully into her briefcase. JJ tells him, "I do have to be there for people," and then, "or I can't do my job."

The psychologist gestures towards the door. He says, "Come back if you want to, but--" and then waves his hand in the air, maybe out of frustration. JJ can't really read body language like the rest of the team; not unless it's someone behind a camera. "But," he continues, "you might want to find someone to talk to."

"About the shooting? I really--" she starts, "I've processed that. I'm not ignoring my feelings towards it, I just don't think I've got any lingering issues--"

He cuts her off with, "no, about, just anything, Jennifer," and that's maybe true, so she doesn't contradict him. She's learned from the cases in the BAU that isolation rarely helps a sickness, but she still has that stack of files; she always has that stack of files.

-

Garcia is family and Garcia would listen, but Garcia was shot, and sometimes the tech's hands still shake outside her office. Instead, JJ finds Prentiss in the bullpen, alone on a Saturday night. "Hey," JJ says, "I thought I was the only one here."

Prentiss looks up, almost guilty, and replies, "Uh, yeah, I was--" and she bites her lip, and then continues, "honestly, I was just catching up on some articles I haven't had time to read yet. My apartment is just so empty, it's better to read here."

JJ sits on the desk. "You could call someone," she starts, and then realizes, she's doing it again. Habit. JJ says, "I'm apparently alone on a Saturday night too. We could go out."

Prentiss grins. "We could," she says, and then, "are you all right?" JJ blinks, and Prentiss adds, "I just don't usually see you here Saturdays."

"I come in Sundays to catch up, mostly," JJ replies. She pauses, almost leaves it there, but then her sessions are open record. That's part of the BAU protocol, but even if it wasn't there's no point in hiding things from profilers anyway, and Prentiss actually asked what was wrong as if she wanted JJ to answer, instead of just reading her mind. JJ adds, "the psychologist thinks I like to be alone when I review cases for us to pursue. So I don't have to deal with the rest of you trying to get involved."

"In case selection?" Prentiss asks, and then ponders it for a moment. "Probably wise," she tells JJ, "since we are a crew of narcissists and egos."

JJ laughs. "Yes, yes you are."

"You're on this team," Prentiss fires back.

JJ shrugs. "Yeah," she says, "I am."

"You don't think so?"

JJ shrugs again. "The psychologist thinks I also like to step back from the team a bit," she tells Prentiss.

"About that. I, uh, I didn't know you were going," Prentiss says. "Is it because of Jason Battle? Because if Hotch said you had to go, it's just routine, you don't have to worry--" and JJ interrupts,

"No, I actually elected to go. I think that's probably why Hotch never said I had to," JJ comments, and it's probably true; she volunteered to go to talk to someone, which demonstrated that she didn't need to. Whatever kind of roundabout logic that was, it suited her well enough.

Prentiss asks, "are you okay, though?"

"Yeah," JJ tells her. "Yeah, I am, I'm just," and JJ bites her lip, shrugs, tries to explain how even when something is going on, it's never really going on. It always feels so wrong to try and find the time to talk about the human condition when, all around her, people are being murdered and mutilated and shot and having nightmares about things that really happened to them, and she's mostly not.

Prentiss takes her hand, and it's smooth and cool to the touch. "It's okay," she says to JJ slowly, "to feel upset about anything, JJ, that's upsetting."

"What did you dream about last night, Emily?" JJ asks suddenly. It's an impertinent question, and she wouldn't have asked it of anyone else.

Emily frowns. "Car bombings, I think. We used to -- when I lived overseas, it, we'd hear them at night sometimes."

JJ nods, grimaces. "You know what I dreamed about last night?" Off Emily's look, JJ adds, "I dreamed I was being tortured."

"We see images, meet people, see victims, every day, and those images are always--"

"But I never was." JJ pulls her hand away, crosses her arms and sighs. "My dad used to take me to the rifle range," she tells Emily. "We used to practice. When I shot Battle," JJ says calmly, "it was, mostly it was like that." Emily looks at her, and JJ adds, "I had a normal life, Emily."

"Listen," Emily says slowly, and takes both of JJ's hands in hers, "listen to me, JJ. No one's pain is more or less than someone else's. That's what you say when you talk to the families, right? You give everyone's pain equal weight. You're a great facilitator," Emily says, "we don't really appreciate what you do for us, but you're good at it. Better than we are, maybe."

"I don't know about that," JJ quips. It's not true, it's not possibly true. No one is better than the BAU at doing what they do.

Emily squeezes her hands, holds tight until JJ squeezes back. Emily tells her, "you're a good agent, JJ, but you're also a good shoulder for everyone else. No one else on this team can do that."

It's not entirely true, because they're all there for each other. That's family. JJ's suddenly homesick, yearning for her parents' two-bedroom rancher out in Pennsylvania, blue-collar evenings, anything that's like where she grew up. Then she looks around at the bullpen, at the dirty coffee cups that Reid inconsiderately left around, at the pictures of Morgan's sisters taped up to his desk - thinks of the folders they've managed to close - and isn't.