JJ is 28 years old, and she’s doing fine. She has a great job, she can always afford food and rent, and she isn’t trapped in a bad relationship. She never feels guilty for eating an entire pizza by herself, staying late at the office, or ignoring her mother’s phone calls. Other than the occasional stress cold, she’s doing just fine.
In fact, she’s doing so well that she doesn’t even start smoking again when Elle leaves. She thinks about it, but she can’t find any cigarettes in her car, or her house, or her office. She doesn’t even buy any more when she realizes. That counts as a victory and just proves how fine she is. If she bums a smoke off a local detective on their first case without Elle, it doesn’t count.
Besides, she doesn’t self-harm anymore. JJ doesn’t smoke, she doesn’t get blackout drunk, and she doesn’t cut herself. She doesn’t even shave, just in case. Instead, she waxes, enjoying the sharp sting without having to draw blood. It’s a win-win. She pays for expensive manicures to keep from destroying her fingernails and wears a slim rubber band to distract from other impulses.
Overall, she’s just fine. JJ always has groceries in her fridge, always does her laundry, and always has dry shampoo and baby wipes in her purse for when she forgets to shower. No one can see the deeply hidden depression she buries out of sight.
No one, that is, until Emily Prentiss. When they meet in JJ’s office to discuss protocol, Emily notices the rubber band on her wrist, the bottle of dry shampoo on her desk, and the tiredness around her eyes. However, even though JJ knows she’s put it all together, Emily says nothing. She just sits down and gets ready for the orientation.
It’s one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for JJ.
The kindness continues. Emily is always right where JJ needs her. She’s bringing JJ snacks, somehow sensing when she’s forgotten to eat. She’s reminding JJ to shower when they’re on cases or having sleepovers. She’s snapping the rubber band on JJ’s wrist when she disappears into herself. It’s comforting, supportive, and entirely too much.
JJ feels seen in the most terrifying way. Clearly, Emily knows about JJ’s weaknesses. She looks at her and sees someone who can’t remember to eat or shower. Emily never asks, but she obviously knows that JJ has cut herself, each loud snap of her rubber band giving her away. Every time Emily is kind, JJ can only feel her pity.
So, after months of kindness and a drunken kiss at Penelope’s after a girls’ night, JJ stops wearing her rubber band, she stops bringing her emergency shower kit with her, and she stops meeting Emily’s eyes. She doesn’t want pity. She doesn’t need it. She’s fine.
Her newfound shame-based strength lasts for a while. She doesn’t self-harm at all. Emily starts showering with her most nights, so she doesn’t even need her emergency kit. Whenever they aren’t on cases, Emily is at her apartment, so laundry and groceries still get done. She and Emily drink wine and wax together before falling into a bath and each other. JJ is doing completely fine.
Then, on a busy day in the middle of a difficult case, JJ answers her cellphone without looking at the caller ID. She’s flipping through files, doing her best to breathe as the gruesome pictures bother her as much as they always do. Her team is all out in the field and she’s stressed and distracted, so she answers her phone.
“Jennifer!” a voice she hasn’t heard in almost two years says cheerfully. “Happy birthday!”
JJ’s throat tightens. “What?”
“It’s your birthday, isn’t it?” Her mother laughs and JJ can hear the sound of paper rustling. “Yup! I can’t believe my girl is 29! Wow, I…” She sighs heavily. “I’m really glad you answered. I was worried.”
“Uh-huh.” JJ’s mind races as she thinks about the date, about being 29, about being 18 years older than she was when Ros died. “I’ve been busy.”
“Oh, I know. Don’t worry! Still, it’d be nice if we could talk more.”
“I have to go.”
JJ hangs up her phone, tossing it away from her onto the table. 18 years since Ros died. JJ does her best not to think about her age, not to think about how she is so much older than Ros would ever be, not to think about all the milestones she’s hit that Ros never got to. Now, the sound of her mother’s voice and the reminder of her birthday just makes her think about how she graduated high school, went to college, got a job, had sex, fell in love, and grew older than Ros will ever be.
Why is JJ allowed to grow old? Who is she to be happy when Ros is dead? She reaches for her rubber band and only finds skin. Bile rises in her throat and she stands quickly, barely remembering to grab her purse before leaving the conference room and then the station. It isn’t fair that she is alive and Ros isn’t. It isn’t fair that she should be happy and in love and…
Emily. What gives JJ the right to pretend like she is enough for a woman like Emily? JJ, who can barely function without help. JJ, who has nothing to offer. JJ, who is broken beyond repair.
Before she knows it, she is in her hotel room, a plastic bag clutched in her hand. Undressing quickly, she takes her things into the bathroom. It isn’t hard to fall back into old habits and she settles into the bathtub, letting the pain in her body numb the panic in her mind.
Sometime later, she is woken jarringly. She is being shaken, someone calling her name and hovering over her. Frowning, JJ blinks up at her attacker. Emily slowly comes into focus, face wet with tears.
“What’s wrong?” JJ asks her weakly, reaching up to brush her fingers over Emily’s cheek. “Are you ok?”
“Jesus Christ,” Emily gasps, yanking JJ up to her and hugging her tightly. “I thought you were dead.”
JJ can’t think of a reason that Emily would think that, but, as she becomes aware of her body again, she realizes that she is somewhere hard and cold, completely naked. She feels something sticky on her body and she remembers her trip to the convenience store, the bottle of whiskey, and… Shivering, JJ hugs Emily back, hands clutching her shirt.
“I thought I lost you,” Emily sobs. “You left your phone. I didn’t know where you went. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.”
She pulls away and JJ looks down at herself. Long cuts cross her stomach, stark against old scars. They cover her thighs, too. Some are dangerously close to major arteries, and she is sitting in a puddle of her own blood. It reminds her of finding Ros and she throws herself over the edge of the tub, vomiting onto the floor.
When she lifts her head, she can see the whiskey bottle, worryingly empty. Emily’s hands gather JJ’s blonde hair out of her face, and she rubs her hand over her back. JJ’s stomach and throat clench painfully, but nothing else comes up.
“I’m sorry,” JJ apologizes. “I didn’t… I haven’t done this in so long. I don’t even… I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s okay, JJ,” Emily tells her, gently turning JJ’s head so their eyes meet. “It happens. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or that you failed, okay?” She waits for JJ to nod before kissing her forehead. “I’m going to get you cleaned up and then we’ll talk. Is that okay?”
“Yes.” JJ drops her eyes, feeling terrible for making Emily have to take care of her. “I’m sorry.”
Emily doesn’t answer. Instead, she turns the bathtub’s faucet on and gets to work cleaning JJ. Her touch is so tender as she carefully cleans the blood away and washes JJ’s hair. When she is done with that, Emily wraps a towel around her shoulders, leaving her in the tub as she cleans up the vomit on the floor. She removes every evidence of JJ’s breakdown, and then helps JJ get in bed.
After tucking JJ in, Emily strips down to her underwear and slides under the covers, taking her girlfriend in her arms. “You don’t have to talk right now,” Emily says quietly, “but you will have to talk eventually. You can talk to me, or to a therapist, but you have to talk.”
“I want to tell you.”
So, she does.
JJ tells Emily about Ros, about her history with self-harm, about getting her life together, about managing to keep herself going. She tells Emily about getting rid of her coping mechanisms to seem more put together. JJ tells Emily about being fine.
When she’s done, voice raw from talking, Emily just pulls her close. She tucks JJ’s head under her chin and holds her. It’s comforting and safe and JJ closes her eyes.
“It’s okay not to be fine,” Emily whispers, voice thick with emotion. “It’s okay to need help and to let people take care of you. I like taking care of you. You don’t have to be perfect all the time. I’ve never judged you for struggling. I struggle, too.”
“You do?” JJ asks, hating how small her voice sounds. For the first time, she doesn’t worry that Emily will pity her for sounding weak.
“I do.” Emily kisses the top of JJ’s head. “You know, it actually helps me to help you.”
“What do you mean?”
Emily chuckles. “When I think about how you need to eat, I remember that I need to eat. Showering with you makes me shower, too. Helping you stay focused, makes me stay focused. Trust me, I’m not always fine, either.”
Pulling away, JJ looks up at Emily, really looks at her. She recognizes the exhaustion in her eyes, the way her hands are holding on just a little too tightly, the way her throat works as she swallows. JJ has been so wrapped up in her own determination to pretend that she’s fine that she never noticed Emily’s own tenuous grip on ‘fine’.
“Emily,” JJ breathes, cupping her face, “I’m going to take care of you, too. We can take care of each other?”
“I mean, you still need to talk to a therapist,” Emily jokes, grinning cheekily when JJ rolls her eyes, “but I’d love to talk to you, too. We can be fine together.”
“No.” JJ kisses Emily, pouring all her love into the other woman. “I don’t want to be fine. Fuck fine. Let’s be good, Emily. Let’s be great.”