Even if he hadn't been a profiler, he would have noticed it. But he was a profiler, and because of that, it was virtually screaming at him. The team may have agreed not to use their skills on one another, but Reid knew they each broke that agreement, almost daily. They just didn't share their conclusions aloud. Nor did he, this time. He knew it wouldn't be welcomed.
But it was too obvious not to be noticed. Ever since her return from an all-too-brief recovery, JJ had avoided being alone with him. She would somehow manage to position herself, finish her task, make herself available, for assignment in the field, with anyone and everyone else. Every case, every time.
At first, Reid reacted with self-doubt.
Does she feel safer with the others? Does she think they'll be able to watch her back better than I can?
He knew she had to have been shaken by being kidnapped and held for more than a day. It was understandable that she would need to feel confidence in her partner. Maybe she really just doesn't trust my skills in the field. And he berated himself for not being as strong as Morgan, or as good a shot as Hotch.
But then other things had begun to change. A cancellation of his visit with Henry. A retraction of an invitation to brunch. "Will has to work, and I need to take Henry to get his hair cut." As though they hadn't done it together, before.
Is she angry? Does she blame me? Should I have known? Could I have done something to stop it?
He remembered that day vividly. Their final conversation had cost him many, many hours of sleep. Why didn't I realize she wasn't just tired? Why didn't I see it as stress? Was a Korean film festival really that distracting to me?
He could have taken it all personally. And, in fact, he had. Until he'd begun to see the cracks in her veneer. The smiles that didn't reach her eyes. The shrinking of her already too-thin frame. The exhaustion that crept into her movements and her features. It wasn't personal. Not to him, anyway. Once he realized, Reid knew exactly what was happening to JJ, because it had happened to him.
That's why she's keeping her distance. She knows that I'll know. And she doesn't want to face it.
He knew her so well. And that was precisely the problem. JJ was avoiding him so she could continue to avoid herself. He knew it. But he didn't know how to approach it with her. He was certain she wouldn't react well to a direct confrontation. And besides, she'd become expert at keeping him away.
But now, just now, she'd volunteered to stay behind. Hotch had been about to send her out with Morgan again…..Reid wondering if Hotch was another person who didn't think JJ was safe with their team genius…..but JJ had offered to stay and make phone calls to the families. She'd even reminded Hotch that it had once been her primary role.
If nothing else had, that would have given her away to Reid. Since coming back to the team as a profiler, JJ had actively tried to separate herself from her former duties as their liaison, appearing to feel a need to establish herself in her new role. Reid had seen her insecurity, and gone along with her, even if it meant they worked less often together. Even if he missed her. Now, she was actually asking to resume her old role.
You want to be alone, don't you? You can't hold it back anymore, and you're afraid we'll see.
He looked his thoughts at her through the window of the conference room she was using for her calls. And he began to concoct a plan to take advantage of the chink in JJ's armor.
Reid accompanied Hotch to the office park where the most recent victim had worked. They were specifically looking for similarities to the environments of the other victims. Aspects that might have leant themselves to the proclivities of a stalker. When they'd made their assessment, Reid suggested his next task.
"If you want to join Morgan at the dump site, I can go back to the precinct and mark all of this on a map. I'll compare it with the other two work locations. And, when we hear from the others, I can add in the home locations. I'm thinking a bird's eye view might tell us something."
Hotch's brow twitched. Essentially his young genius had just given his unit chief an assignment. But Hotch was no fool. Reid's suggested case-related task was an important one. And so was the other task he knew the young man wanted to carry out. The senior agent's nod gave permission for both.
He couldn't help but notice that the blinds had been drawn on the conference room, and the door shut, presumably to give privacy as the families were contacted. But Reid knew there was more to it than that. He took a moment to gather himself, and then softly knocked on the door, swinging it open without waiting for the permission he was sure she wouldn't have granted.
JJ was facing away from him, staring out the window toward a grey horizon. He could see some of her reflection in the glass, but her face was broken up by the slats of the blinds. He couldn't make out her expression.
"Did you reach them all?" Breaking the ice.
She nodded without turning around. And, just like that, he knew. She didn't want him to see, not realizing how transparent she was to him. He moved further into the room, closing the door behind him. When she heard the click of the knob, she stiffened. He was giving them privacy. Which meant….
As soon as he'd uttered them, he'd feared they were the wrong words. He'd been sure that they would be met with denial. But he was wrong. Not denial. Instead, his words were ignored. She kept her back to him, and picked up the phone as though to begin another call, hoping he would leave her alone.
But he wasn't about to leave her. Reid started to close the distance between them, and could see her shoulders tense as she realized he was coming nearer. But he also noticed that she didn't pretend to dial the phone, nor did she turn him away. Instead, she placed the receiver back into its cradle and stood, waiting.
He moved just behind her now, so close that JJ could smell the cologne she'd given him for Christmas. There was something about the scent that she'd thought was 'so Reid' when she'd picked it out. Simple, yet with hints of sophistication; plain, but with a depth that gave it a sense of being incredibly complex. The scent behind her began to permeate the barriers she'd erected. As desperately as she was trying to keep them in place, she could feel them crumbling.
"What's wrong?" Whispered over her shoulder.
She'd been so good at it. So good at hiding the pain, even from herself.
At the beginning, it had been born of her desire to reassure Will and Henry. They'd been so worried, and then so relieved to have her back. Really, she'd only been gone a day. By collusion, she and her husband had decided that their son didn't need to know his mother had been taken. Henry could believe she was simply away on another case, one that brought her home so much quicker than others had.
And so, the artifice. After a day or two, it had been easy to keep it up, even for Will, who should have known better. It had been easy to give assurances. 'I'm fine. I'm ready to go back to work. Never better.' And, whether he'd really believed her or not, Will had gone along with it. Maybe it was just easier not to acknowledge the trauma. Maybe it would hurt too much to know what she'd been through.
She'd returned to the BAU the same way. 'I'm fine. Going stir crazy at home. Glad to be back to work.'
Work. Where there were daily reminders of how evil humans could be to one another. Where there was never time for processing the expected reactions to violence, and malice, and depravity. Where being effective necessitated burying one's emotions until the case was resolved.
But work was also where her friends were. Those friends who were schooled in all aspects of human behavior, who knew how victims tended to react. They would be expecting the same of her. They would be watching...
Victim. The very word made her sick. That it should apply to her was outrageous. That the others might see her that way was inconceivable. It implied weakness, inability. Inability to protect oneself. Inability to fight off one's attacker. Inability, in this case, to do one's job.
She rejected it outright. The word. The role. The implications. If she'd been lying to Will before, she was lying to herself now, and she didn't care.
I'm not weak. I'm strong. I'm whole. I'm not…..broken. I'm not…..shattered…..
But she was. And the lie wouldn't hold.
This case had overwhelmed every one of her personal barriers. A young mother, out for a run. An athlete, taken from her family. Raped. Beaten. Tortured. And then killed.
JJ had gone to the ME's office with Alex, and seen the victim. Even lying on a slab in the morgue, the woman hadn't looked weak. She'd just looked dead.
It could have been me. It was me. For hours and hours and hours, it was me.
The young profiler had only managed to hold in her reaction by biting her cheeks, so hard she'd nearly drawn blood. She'd bitten them all the way back to the local police precinct that headquartered their investigation. When Hotch had begun distributing new assignments, JJ had quickly offered to make phone calls from their conference room, desperate for the solitude it would give her, craving the release.
She'd been so inwardly focused, so intent on just holding on, that she'd not seen Reid's reaction, nor realized his determination to take advantage of the situation. Not dreamed he would burst into the room just as she was trying to repel the latest wave of crushing grief.
She tried to get him to leave. Hoped he would take her shrug as dismissal, and go about completing his duties. Not realizing he saw his role with her as his primary duty.
Now, the scent of him, the sense of his presence just behind her...and the shadow that overwhelmed hers in the overhead light, told her he was going nowhere.
"What's wrong?" He repeated it softly, in his interview voice.
Not 'Is there something wrong?', but 'What's wrong?'
He knew the answer, even if she didn't. He knew it exactly, had known it all along. One couldn't live through captivity and torture without seeing the traces of it in another. He'd known. And he'd remembered. And he'd realized he would need to wait for her to get there. He hadn't been able to let his own turmoil surface before he was ready, all those years ago. He recognized her struggle, because he'd shared it. And now, it looked like the time for patience was over. Her anguish could no longer be contained.
She tried desperately to swallow the first sob. The effort caused her entire body to shake, with the bolus of air demanding release, yet forced back inside. From behind her, Reid recognized the emergence of grief. He opened his arms wide, enveloping her.
She felt him wrap himself around her. She'd gotten so thin that each of his arms reached entirely across her body, his fingers landing on her shoulders, her back cradled against his chest. He held her so tightly that she felt cocooned. She knew she couldn't possibly come apart, not when she was so firmly tethered to him. The knowledge loosened something inside of her, gave a permission she'd not been willing to grant…and the spigot opened. Every pang of grief, every ounce of protest against the helplessness, every mournful thought, came pouring out. Reid's body shook with hers, the force of her weeping was so great.
He didn't try to speak, not just yet. He simply held her, and laid his chin on her shoulder, knowing instinctively that she would feel the weight of it as a statement. That she would feel grounded, and know that he wouldn't let her go.
Her head bowed, and her face fell onto his crossed arms. He could sense the moisture of her tears on his skin, and he visualized his pores soaking them up, as if he could absorb some of her grief. After a few moments, when sheer exhaustion stemmed the flow of her sobs, he took advantage of the new quiet. He began to whisper into her ear.
"It's all right. You're here. You're not lost. He didn't take you away. He tried, but he didn't do it."
Her words were interrupted by the hitching of her breath as she tried to still her diaphragm. "I'm not. I'm…..not…the..same."
Reid closed his eyes in sorrow. She was right. She wasn't the same. She could never be the same again. But she could be better. And he told her so.
"You're stronger. You may not feel it right now, JJ. But you're stronger. You're stronger than him, you're stronger than the person you were before."
Still hitching. "But…..how? I….I ….couldn't stop him…and he….and he…."
She hadn't told any of them except Hotch what had happened in the basement. They'd all known the possibilities, but had put them out of their minds once she was found, alive. Even Reid. Now he wanted to kick himself for having assumed...
"He what? JJ, did he….."
She shook her head, starting to cry again, more softly this time. "He started to…. But Matt gave him the information he wanted."
Someone else might have been relieved at hearing that. But Reid heard the subtext as well. She'd been violated anyway, just by not having control. Just by having to fear that he could have done anything he'd wanted with her. In their business, the imagination could run wild with terrifying, and soul-stealing, possibilities.
He pulled his arms even tighter, not sure whether it was for her benefit or his, and not caring.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, JJ. I would give anything if I could make it so it never happened. So you wouldn't have to know…."
"Know what?" She realized he'd cut himself off.
"How it feels to be helpless." To be at the mercy of the merciless.
His embrace calmed her enough to allow her to listen. And to process his words.
"Like you know it, you mean? You know what it feels like, don't you, Spence?" She started to turn around, to look at him. When she did, she could see his remorse. "What?"
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have compared what you went through to what I did. Mine was my own fault. You did nothing to deserve what happened to you. "
"Neither did you." She heaved a great, calming sigh. "Both of us were caught up by evil, Spence. And neither of us asked for it."
Their hands each became entangled in the others', as he loosened his grasp to allow her to turn. She stood, looking at him, searching his face, seeking answers.
"How did you do it, Spence? How did you get through it?" And how is it that you know what it feels like, yet you can come to work every day?
He made a face at her. It was never spoken about aloud, though they all knew how he'd 'done' it. He'd developed an addiction.
She could almost see his thoughts going there. "No, that's not right, Spence. Don't you ever think that. That wasn't your doing either. It was just a part of what he did to you. It was one more thing you had to get past."
He wasn't about to explain addiction to her. Not in this conversation. But he knew what she meant. And he knew what she needed. She was lost in a wilderness of pain, and she was praying he knew how to lead her out.
"I had you, JJ. All of you. The whole team. People who I knew had my back. People who knew me enough to have faith in me, even when I'd lost it in myself. And all these people out there…." He gestured with his chin toward the window, not ready to let go of her hands. "….all these people who needed me."
She returned her eyes to the floor, upset again.
"Henry needs me. And Will. But…I feel different, Spence. For the first time, I'm not sure I have anything to give them."
She started to fill up again, and her voice began to shake. "I don't feel like 'me' anymore. I feel like he took me away…..he took my confidence, he took….he took 'me'." Tears falling again.
Reid bent so that his face was even with hers, and lifted her chin. "No, he didn't."
Said so softly, yet so firmly, that she couldn't help but believe him. "He took nothing. That's what I meant before. I know what it's like."
He stood up straight again, looking over her head, gathering his thoughts.
"It's like…..like you have a sense of yourself, an image of who you are. And you never see yourself as a victim. You never see yourself helpless. Right?" Looking down at her now, wanting her to follow him.
"And then something happens that shakes all that. And you have to change your image. But it's just that. It's just the image. It doesn't change you. It doesn't change the person inside. I mean it, JJ, really. It doesn't. Please believe me on that." It had taken him so long to believe it about himself.
She wanted so desperately to be able to do as he asked.
He urged her on. "It doesn't change that you are the person you've spent your whole life becoming. You're still smart, and compassionate, and….and…and sarcastic…..and…"
Her eyes widened at the 'sarcastic', and he knew he had her.
"And you're still a great mom. Henry still loves you, right? He still loves to be in your lap, and to tell you all about school, and kick the soccer ball around with you, and have you read him stories…..right?"
Just a hint of a smile, now. "Right."
"And you still can't keep your desk neat, and you still love junk food, right?" Smiling as he said it.
She laughed, brushing at the wetness on her face. "Right."
He took both arms again, earnest now. "You're still here, JJ. He didn't take you away, and I won't let you let him. He never had that kind of power. That's what you all helped me see, when it happened to me. Can't you see it too?"
"I want to. God, how I want to...but..."
He shook his head. "No 'buts'. You will." Said with such assurance that she could only hear it as fact.
She teared up again, sniffling. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
She had, in fact. Last year, when he'd lost Maeve, and almost lost himself. She'd been his anchor, and now he wanted to be hers.
She reached up and cupped his cheeks. "My Spence. What would I do without you?"
He grinned. "How about we never find that out?" He caught her hands again and squeezed them.
JJ heaved a great sigh as she leaned back against the table. "Thanks for this. I'm….sorry. I'm sorry that I put so much between us. It's just…..I think I was afraid of…"
"Shh. You don't have anything to apologize about. It's all a process. It happens when we're ready. And, JJ…you know it's not over…right?"
She nodded. "I know. I've stayed in touch with too many of our 'saves' not to know that. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to get started."
"You're wrong about that. Your healing started in that basement, when you survived. And every day after that has been a step forward. The only difference now is that we're doing it together."
"We?" Smiling a real smile at her best friend.
"We. Anytime you need me, I'm there. And even when you think you don't…even if I just think you do….I'm there. I'm about to make a pest of myself."
She giggled at him. "Why stop now?"
He grinned in mock indignation. Their subject matter was anything but normal, and yet this was the most familiar exchange they'd had in months.
The sounding of Reid's phone interrupted them.
"You're on speaker, Garcia. JJ's here with me."
"Hi, my sweet boos. Bad news for you. Or for her. Another body has been found and Hotch wants you guys at the scene."
She gave them the location and signed off.
Almost simultaneously there was a knock on the door, and a detective poked his head into the room.
"Agent Jareau, Dr. Reid? Another body has been found. We're heading out to the scene."
The world was intruding on their cocoon. Soon they'd have to emerge. Changed. Free.
The two looked at each other silently.