She can smell herself. It's a strange thing to think about, really, but she does. As she stands under the showerhead, feeling the hot water slap down against her skin, she thinks that maybe she catches just a whiff of the subtle perfume she put on almost fifteen hours ago.
Ah, but that was fifteen hours ago. Surely, that smell is long gone now. Covered up by the stench of dirt, sweat and blood.
And fear. She's can't forget that one.
For a moment, she shakes beneath the water, as if cold. But certainly she's not that. Perhaps the water is even too hot. There's certainly steam everywhere.
Her body aches. The wound on her forearm screams in agony. She even thinks she feels the tiny mark made by the needle. The needle that carried the serum meant to guard against rabies into her bloodstream.
Because God only knows what those dogs had going on inside them.
She thinks about when she was a small girl. She had a dog then. A tiny and pathetic thing with fur the color of snow. His name had been Gomer. He'd never barked, only whined. But damn if she hadn't loved him. Even called him the only man besides her daddy that a girl could trust. Gomer'd been her constant companion. All the way until she'd gone off to school.
She can still remember the call. The one that'd been made to tearfully tell her that her precious pup has passed on. She'd cried for what had seemed like hours.
But she'd been a child then.
Now, as an adult, even before this, she'd had no time for a dog. Even owning a fish was dicey these days. Captain Hook numbers one through eight had all died tragically, each ending up swirling around in a toilet as she offered up a eulogy.
She shivers, her hands shaking. Her fists clench and unclench, almost as if spasming.
Her mind strays on her, loses contact with reality. Loses the touch of the water.
She wonders where he is.
She wonders how she'll ever forgive herself if he dies.
Then she laughs.
It's an absurd sound. A bizarre one even. It's close to hysteria. But then, she pulls it back in. Because really, what's the point?
The answer is simple and obvious. The question need not have been asked. And yet, she answers it aloud, just because she has to. Just because maybe she hasn't really memorized the rules of the game just yet.
"No," Jennifer Jareau says quietly, as the trembling of her body increases.
She plays their last moments over and over in her head again. She remembers him telling her that they should split up. She remembers starting to protest.
But he didn't listen. He didn't listen. He just got up and left.
And so she had gone into the barn.
And God if that image wasn't going to stay with her for the rest of her life. The blood. The dogs. What'd they done to that woman. What they wanted – no, what they were going to do her.
In her career as an FBI agent, she'd had very little use for her gun. Sure, there'd been more than a handful of times where she'd wanted to pistol-whip a reporter or two, but for the most part, her firearm had stayed holstered.
But she knew how to shoot. And thankfully, her hand had stayed steady.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Three dogs down. Two had died immediately, but one had been shot on the side. Enough to fell him, but not instantly kill him. He'd whimpered in pain for what had seemed like hours. She'd even seen his eyes.
But she hadn't trusted them. Even as the dog had lifted its big brown eyes up to her, whimpering pathetically, she'd waited for him to attack. Somehow absurdly sure that this was some kind of trick. That he was just waiting for her.
And so she'd kept her gun trained and ready.
Until he'd finally closed those eyes. Until his chest had stopped rising and falling. Even then she'd stayed on guard. Waiting. Because maybe there were more.
But it'd been Morgan and Prentiss who she'd seen next. Morgan who suddenly could barely meet her eyes. Morgan who was clearly blaming her.
They were lucky, the two of them. They'd probably never know how close they'd come to both taking a bullet. Because when they'd come in, she hadn't seen them. She hadn't really seen dogs either. Hard to describe, really. For a moment though, all she'd known was that they were the enemy and it was her or them.
But they'd all survived that.
Reid, well maybe he wouldn't be that lucky.
And the answer was still "no". Forgiveness would be impossible.
A knock on the door gets her attention and suddenly she's brought back to the present. She looks around and notices that she's standing in a shower stall. Tobias's shower. She'd been told to go back to the hotel.
"Get some sleep, JJ," Hotch had said.
Absurd. Idiotic. Obscene.
So Prentiss had brought back clean clothes for her. Clothes that weren't covered with blood. Her blood. The dogs blood. Maybe even that poor woman who'd been torn apart- maybe even her blood. God, so much blood.
Her forearm aches again. The mark from the needle screams.
And suddenly she becomes aware of the heat from the water pouring down her. It's damn near scalding her skin.
For a moment she just stands there and lets it.
Again the knock. Then Prentiss's voice. "JJ? You okay in there?"
JJ smiles a bit, more ironic than humorous. This, too, is a question that need not be asked.
But Prentiss is still new. She doesn't understand how this game is played. Eventually she will. Eventually she'll learn that if you the questions, if you asked "that" question – "are you okay?" – after every case, you wouldn't much care for the answer. The truthful one anywhere.
So a deal is struck. One party doesn't ask. The other party doesn't answer. Both acknowledge that each case is a drill-bit to the soul.
But Emily Prentiss is new. She'll learn.
JJ thinks that she's still learning. But she's getting better at it. Maybe next time when she asks herself if she'll be able to forgive herself if Reid dies, maybe she'll even find a way not to answer.
She's getting there. Not quite yet, but getting there.
And so she finally replies to Prentiss. "Fine." It's one word, but it's clipped just the same. Clipped and cold. Emotionless. Empty. Or so she hopes.
"Okay," Prentiss replies, sounding a bit surprised by the tone. For a moment, JJ thinks maybe she insulted the other woman. But she doesn't think much on it. Right now her mind can't stay focused long enough.
She climbs from the shower and looks at her reflection in the fogged-up mirror. Her skin is flushed red from the heat. After a moment, she turns and reaches for her clothes. As she starts to dress, she again hears the growling.
She knows it's not real.
Or at least fifteen hours ago she would have. Fifteen hours ago she would have turned around and asked the question, maybe something like "what the hell?" She would have tried to figure out if she was losing it.
But that was fifteen hours ago.