The Five Stages of Grief are a Myth
"She never made it off the table."
Hearing it from the doctor had been like hearing it through water. She saw his mouth form the words, heard the sounds as they reached her ears, but it wasn't until she said them aloud that the weight of them hit her, like a tidal wave, and her throat closed, trying not to let the water in, trying to keep her alive by suffocating her. A faulty defence mechanism. She gaped, like a fish on dry land, unable to articulate, before a strangled sob escaped her and JJ felt her knees fall out from beneath her. Rossi caught her before she hit he floor, lowering her down gently and sitting with her when the tears came, thick and hot and endless. Penelope was somewhere close by, sobbing as wretchedly as she was. Spencer was staring. She wanted to go to him, hold him, but as she leaned against Rossi's chest and sobbed like a lost child, JJ didn't even have the strength to reach for him.
It was Hotch who comforted Reid. When he stepped into the scene a moment later, the youngest profiler looked at him with an expression so broken. JJ saw Hotch open his arms, and Reid went into them, willingly, desperately. Hotch, she noticed, couldn't meet their eyes. He was holding it together, but JJ hated him for it. She wished, just once, that he would act human. Show weakness. Fall apart.
Roslyn's funeral was the longest day of JJ's life. There were too many people talking to her, crying to her, holding her hands, hugging her. People she'd never met, and people she hadn't seen since. She had sat there, on the bench in her parents hallway, holding the necklace Ros had given her so tightly in her hand that it hurt, for hours. Willing herself invisible. Willing herself just a few days into the past, before any of this had ever happened, before her life had come to a crashing halt.
Emily's funeral was worse.
Watching Hotch, Morgan, Reid and Rossi carry the casket made JJ's heart swell with pride. Mostly because she didn't know where they found the strength. Beside her, Penelope clung tightly to her hand as they walked behind them.
She didn't hear most of what was said by the civil celebrant as she stared down at the coffin in front of her, knowing Emily was inside of it. There had been no viewing; she hadn't wanted that. She hadn't wanted this. There had been a case, years ago, but JJ remembered it. Emily wanted to be burned, not buried. JJ had yelled at Hotch, screamed at him about it. And he had let her. Then he had informed her that he had no authority, that Emily hadn't left a will or instructions of what to do upon her death. She was only forty-two years old. Ambassador Prentiss had organised the funeral. Now, as JJ stood there, her team at her side, Elizabeth's absence was like a taunt. Even in death, the Ambassador couldn't give her daughter what she had wanted. Suddenly, JJ was glad she wasn't here.
Beside her, Rossi reached for her hand, squeezing it gently. He, she knew, had been the one who insisted on a civil celebrant. Emily had been raised Catholic, yes, but the Catholic church had failed her. Her belief system had nothing to do with God, and, even if it had, God had failed her. He had failed them all.
The one significant difference between Emily and Roslyn's funerals came at the wake. Death might have been easier to process as an eleven year old if she had been allowed to drink this many vodka tonics back then. After her fourth, (or was it her fifth?), JJ could almost put away the image in her head of her beautiful Emily, cold and grey and lying alone in that casket, miles from where she now stood at the bar. JJ could see her, her skin the same pallor as the white satin on which she lay, her black hair splayed across it in curls that cut through the material like open, gaping wounds. Her face would be painted, but JJ had seen enough dead bodies to notice the cracks. Her eyelids would be sewn shut, sagging as her eyeballs began to rot away. Her lipstick would crack on her hard, dry lips. Eventually, they would pull back, expose her teeth. They, at least, would always be perfect. As for the rest of her...
"JJ, lets get you home." That was Morgan, now at her side, his hand grasped gently, but firmly, around her upper arm. She looked from his face to her arm and back again, confused.
"I haven't finished my drink," She raised her glass, indignantly, and it slid from her grip, shattering into a thousand pieces across the bar with an ear-splitting crash. She flinched away as shards of glass ricocheted towards them, throwing her hands up in front of her face. Morgan did the same.
Then she was laughing. Everyone at the wake was looking at her, she knew. She could feel Spencer's eyes, sad and weepy and always looking to her for the answers, answers she didn't have, even from across the room. Everybody always came to her for the answers. Wasn't that just so funny?
Morgan's hand was on her arm again, and this time he wasn't asking. He pulled her, and she went willingly, but as soon as they set foot outside, JJ tore her arm from his grip.
"Hey-" He reached for her again, to pull her into a hug, but JJ stumbled backwards, away from him, her heels threatening to twist beneath her ankles. "Hey, blondie, come here."
"Don't-" The rest of the team were piling out of the bar now, Hotch carrying a jacket that JJ recognised as her own. She hadn't noticed the chill until right then. She was pointing at him, at Morgan. Even her nails were painted black, and she suddenly hated it. "Don't you dare. You were too slow. You didn't save her! You -Why didn't you save her?"
The wall of muscle beneath her fists didn't falter as JJ hit him. She was crying. Finally. All day, tears had eluded her. Finally, she was crying. Her punches grew weaker, and Morgan caught her wrists in his hands, wrapping her arms around his neck. She felt an arm scoop her legs up, and then felt Morgan sit down. She stayed there, clinging to him, while the tears fell. Somebody, probably Hotch, draped her coat across her shoulders. Morgan's voice never faltered. He rocked, back and forth, like she was an upset child.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't save her. I'm sorry I let her down. We're all we've got left of her, Jayje. We have to stick together, we have to keep her close, now." His voice, low and melodic and continuous, never gave in. Eventually, the tears stopped, but JJ didn't move.
She didn't know how long they sat there, how long Morgan let her cling to him like her lifeline.
"Hey, Jayje," Morgan's voice was soft in her ear, and far away. She blinked, her eyes heavy with sleep, and stretched. Her arms were still wrapped around his neck, but Morgan shifted and she sat up, still on his lap.
"You wanna go home now, angel?" Will's voice woke her up completely. The look she cast him was contemptuous, and she saw him flinch away from it.
"You should get some rest, JJ." That was Hotch, and JJ realised he was sitting behind her on the bench. She hadn't even noticed he was there.
Standing up, she pulled her coat tight around her shoulders and stared between them, from one to the other, to the other. Where Reid, Penelope and Rossi had gone, she didn't know. Home, probably. It was cold now, and she shivered.
As far as she was concerned, they had all failed. Will had failed to comfort her. Derek had failed to save Emily. And Hotch had failed to do everything in his power to help her, before it was too late. With one final glance between the three of them, JJ turned on her heels and stalked off towards the car. She didn't want to see any of their faces.
The five stages of grief are a myth. For JJ, there was only anger and depression, and she seemed to swing quite freely and unpredictably between the two. It took a lot, for her to finally realise the truth, that she had been in love with Emily Prentiss for as far back as she could remember.
It was impossible to decide when she had fallen. Perhaps one girls night, out with Penelope, over wine and a cheeseboard, she had looked across the table to find Emily laughing, her brown eyes lit up with the glee of it, tongue pressed between her teeth cheekily, and the floor had fallen out from beneath her feet right there and then. Maybe it was during a case, seeing Emily work tirelessly, aggressively, to the detriment of her own health and well being, to save a victim. JJ would watch the older agent impatiently blink away the tiredness that threatened, down triple-shot coffee's to stay awake into the early hours, if it meant finding a child alive. Maybe it was the very first time JJ had seen her.
She hadn't known who Emily was back then. As far as she knew, she was just another agent here to see Hotch. But i was impossible to miss how beautiful she was. JJ's breath had caught in her throat when Emily smiled at her. It took her a moment before she realised she was being spoken to.
"I'm sorry, what?" JJ asked, as politely as she could. Emily didn't seem to mind, though she looked a little amused.
"I was just asking if you could direct me to Agent Hotchner's office?"
"Of course," JJ had said, "I'll show you the way."
Their first interaction. Maybe i had happened right there and then. Maybe it was always meant to happen. That...that made no sense, though. It made no sense, if they were meant to meet, if JJ was meant to love her, for Emily to be taken away like this.
But you didn't love her, did you? Not outwardly.
The break-up had been coming for a long time. Henry had been the only thing keeping them together for years, and Emily's death, the event that finally wrenched JJ's heart from her chest, That's why she moved out. That's why she broke up with Will. Because, she couldn't love Emily in life, so she would love her in death. It wasn't enough. It never would be enough. But it was all she had left to give now.
Penelope would call her morbid, but JJ didn't care. When she moved out of the apartment she had shared with Will, there was only one place JJ wanted to be. She packed a suitcase and headed there straight away. The key she had been given was still safe in her purse and JJ let herself in easily.
Everything was exactly how Emily had left it. There was a coffee mug standing by the sink, moulding. Emily had left it there as she rushed out of the door, and had never made it back to wash it. There was a pair of jeans thrown onto the bed, and a pair of boots chucked on the floor. Everything about the scene said someone was coming back to it, but Emily had known better.
Even when Emily had been here, the place had been pretty sparse. Something about Emily had always seemed to transient, like she never intended to stay for very long. In her time at the BAU, in the years JJ had known her, she had moved three times. Emily never could settle down. JJ had put it down to her childhood, but it all made even more sense now.
JJ washed the coffee mug, setting it onto the shelf with the rest. She put the jeans in the washing machine, wiped down the boots and put them on the shoe rack in the hallway. The only thing missing was Sergio, but he lived with Penelope now.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, JJ looked around at the shell of a life Emily had left behind. There were no photographs on the walls, no ornaments, no magnets or postcards on the fridge in the kitchen. The closets were still full of her clothes and would, at some point, have to be sorted. But not tonight. Not now.
Climbing beneath the covers, JJ inhaled, deeply. The smell of her was so overwhelming that JJ lay there, unable to move, unable to so much as blink, simply breathing it in, until she finally, mercifully, fell asleep.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"I know. None of you want to. Everybody needs to."
"Why?" JJ challenged her unit chief, with accusing eyes. "Why do I have to talk about it?"
Hotch's level eyes bore into her, like he was sizing up the best approach here. Which, of course, he probably was. She hated that.
"Stop profiling my grief, Hotch, it's sick." JJ stood up, folding her arms across her chest, and wandered across his office to the window, where she stared out at the blank expanse of concrete wall it faced onto like it was the most interesting view she had ever seen. She felt foolish, now that she was standing here, but she didn't turn back to him.
"You should blame me, you know," Hotch told her, "Not Morgan. There are a thousand things I might have done differently and if I had-"
"Stop it." JJ closed her eyes against the sound of his voice, "Stop it! Why are you saying this? I'm not going to tell you you're wrong."
"I don't want you to tell me I'm wrong-"
"Then, why?" She turned back to him, hands splayed out to the side, "Why say it at all?"
"BECAUSE I'M ANGRY TOO!"
She flinched away from the volume of his statement.
"We're all angry, Jennifer," He said, softer now, and JJ wandered, slowly, back towards the couch. "We're all walking around looking for somebody to blame. There's only one person to blame."
"Doyle." JJ nodded, but Hotch was shaking his head.
"Emily." She stared. "There were a million things I could have done differently. There was one thing she could have done that would have saved her life. I'm not the one you're angry with, JJ. Morgan isn't the one you're angry with. You're mad at her."
JJ was shaking her head, but as soon as he said it, she knew he was right, and she hated him for it.
"Screw you, Hotch," She said, through the tears that never seemed far away anymore. She buried her head in her hands and let them come. They spilled through her fingers, onto the carpet, leaving tiny, dark stains, turning the pale red carpet the colour of blood.
Grief was an old friend of JJ's. One that had been around for longer than any of her corporeal friends. It had held her hand since she was eleven years old, tugging her back when things got too hard, or too emotional. Grief had kept her safe for a long time. Emily had shattered that security.
As the months passed and they licked their wounds, it got easier.
She moved out of the apartment because Penelope was right, it was morbid. She even organised Emily's clothes. Most went to goodwill, bu there were a few pieces, a few signature Emily pieces, that JJ kept for herself. Reid had wanted her leather jacket, so she kept that aside for him. His eyes had filled with tears when she handed it to him in the office, and JJ walked away quickly, unable to deal with his grief on top of her own.
Healing was slow, and uncomfortable, like the itch when a wound tries to knit itself back together. But they were healing. Morgan cracked a joke one day and, without thinking, JJ laughed, loudly and obnoxiously. There was a beat of silence, followed by raucous laughter from the rest of them. It was, looking back, a horrible joke, but it made JJ laugh until her stomach hurt.
It reminded her what laughing felt like.
She didn't remember the last time she'd laughed so hard.
And then she did.
It was on the phone. On the phone to Emily.
The laughter died as quickly as it had come, and JJ felt like she'd been smacked in the face. She coughed, cleared her throat, and turned to the file sitting in front of her. Morgan didn't try cracking any more jokes that day.
Tears stop suddenly, when you're grieving. One day, JJ was in the toilets at Quantico, sobbing wretchedly over the sink, or crying silently to herself on the jet as she stared out of the window and the others pretended not to notice, or curled up in a ball Emily's bed, sobbing so loudly, so dramatically that she thought her vocal chords might break.
And, the next, nothing. Dry as the Sahara. No more tears.
Then, a few weeks later, they find you in the middle of the night, and they shake you to your core and make you vomit with their persistence and power.
The cycle repeated itself, over and over. She was okay, really. Until she wasn't. Those days came and went, the good ones, and the bad ones. But the tears always came back.
Tears of grief, not only for the friend she had lost, but for the love, the potential, the future.
JJ lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling of her new apartment, smaller than Emily's, on the sheets that no longer smelled of her, and let the what if''s and the if only's eat her alive. Then, she got up each morning, to be a mom and a friend and an agent, and to do it all over again. Grief became her bedfellow.
A good day. A smiley day, as Penelope had taken to calling them. Henry had woken her by climbing into her bed for cuddles, and that was always the best way to start the day. For the first time, she had avoided the sadness. Pancakes and hot chocolate for breakfast, a quick shower for Henry before daycare and music so loud she couldn't hear her own thoughts in the car.
The elevator was as far as JJ could get without thinking about it, though. Once she stepped inside, she took three deep breaths. In, hold, out. In, hold, out. In, hold, out.
Walking past her picture everyday was the hardest part of it, and not just because JJ knew for a fact that Emily would have hated that picture. They should have used the one from her I.D badge, the one of her beaming smile, that made her eyes light up. That was always JJ's favourite. Emily's I.D badge now lived in JJ's desk drawer, which she knew was entirely against the rules, but Hotch had seen it and had held his tongue, so JJ saw no harm in keeping it. It wasn't like she took it out to look at, she just liked knowing it was there. On that picture she looked vibrant and alive.
On her photograph hey had proudly hung on the Wall of Honor, she looked strict and severe and not like her Emily, at all. JJ hated it, she hated looking at it, but, everyday, it drew her eye. The Wall of Honor, JJ had decided, should be renamed the Wall of Grief.
"JJ, Hotch needs us in the conference room," Penelope said, on her way past. JJ frowned; there hadn't been a case approved yet, as far as she knew, but she ducked into her office to set down her bag and coat and followed Penelope up the ramp. The rest of the team were already gathered around the table.
Hotch, if possible, looked even more agitated than usual.
"JJ, have a seat."
She did as she was bidden, mostly because Hotch didn't look like somebody she wanted to argue with right now, and was quiet as she waited to be told why they were here. Must be a bad case.
"Seven months ago, I made a decision that affected this team. As you know, Emily lost a lot of blood as a result of her fight with Doyle. But the doctors were able to stabilise her and airlift her from Boston to Bethesda under covert exportation. Her identity was strictly need-to-know and she stayed there until she was well enough to travel. She was reassigned to Paris, where she had several identities, none of which we had access to, for her security."
Silence. The loudest silence JJ had ever known. here were no thoughts in her head, just an expanse of nothingness, as Hotch's words hit her like that tidal wave once again.
"She's alive?" Penelope's words were mangled, thick, like JJ was hearing them from far away. Hotch said nothing, instead, he looked over JJ's head, towards the door. Morgan, Rossi, Reid and Penelope all followed his gaze and the shock that JJ saw on their faces made her mouth dry. She was shaking her head.
"No," She said, aloud. "No."
"JJ, turn around." Reid told her, quietly. Still shaking her head, JJ refused. She clung to the arms of her chair, feeling as though the ground was about the disappear from beneath her feet again.
"No, no, no, no."
The hand on her shoulder was warm and small. It's nails were bitten to stubs. The perfume that washed over her was as familiar as her own. The voice was the only thing JJ had wanted to hear for seven months, the one she had listened to on repeat, calling Emily's old phone and waiting for that message.
Hi, it's Emily. Leave me a message and I'll get back to you.
I'll get back to you, JJ had listened to that almost every night since she'd gone. Like a promise.
Now, here she was, back from the dead, kneeling beside JJ's chair, and JJ couldn't bring herself to look her in the eye. She stared straight ahead, her eyes fixed on a spot on the wall behind Hotch's head.
"JJ, look at me." Her voice was calm, soft, and it took JJ back six years, to the last time she'd heard Emily say those words. Then, she had brought her out of a trance, brought her back down to solid ground. Now, JJ was afraid that if she did look, everything was going to disappear. Because this couldn't be real. She was dreaming. An awful, hopeful dream that was going to be torn away from her as soon as she looked into Emily's eyes. Then Emily took her hand, and JJ had never felt anything so solid in her life.
The smile she was met with was dazzling, pained and so real it hurt her heart.
"Hi," Emily breathed, through that watery smile. Her brown eyes were sparkling again, though this time with tears. Her hair was shorter, her face a little sallower, and she looked thin, but she was here.
"You're really here?" JJ asked, tearfully, desperately. Emily nodded, her smile faltering, her jaw shaking with the effort it took to withhold her sobs.
"Yeah, Jayje, I'm really here." Emily pressed JJ's palm to her cheek, leaning her face into it.
"You're here." JJ repeated, like a mantra, trying to convince herself, trying to unlearn everything she had known for the past seven months. All of the what ifs and the if onlys came flooding back, and panic flared in JJ's stomach like a burn. She had to say it now, before it was too late again. "Emily?"
"I love you."