Author's Note: Someone asked for a sequel to "Living Proof" and this is my attempt. I hope you enjoy it. I've never been physically abused, so, I hope I can accurately portray the feelings and emotions associated with such heinousness. Again, many thanks to my co-author and beta, tonnie2001969. I couldn't do any of this without her constant advice, support and way with words. Please enjoy.
The Deepest Scars
It had been six months. Six months since her life had been twisted by tragedy, forcing her to take actions that he knew still haunted her to her very core.
And as he stole another worried glance at her as she took yet another step backward from the Southern reporter currently asking her questions regarding the successful resolution of their case, he spotted the glint of fear in her eyes and slowly moved forward to intercede on his agent's behalf. He knew...and she did, too...that her fear was reactionary. The result of similarities between the stature and tone of the man asking her questions and her long dead fiancée. But fear was fear, no matter what its underlying cause might be.
And he'd realized months ago that he'd do whatever it took to erase as much of it from her haunted eyes as he could.
Stepping fluidly between JJ and the reporter, Hotch held up a silencing hand as the man had once again started another demanding question. "I believe that's all we have time for today. Please feel free to address any further questions you have to the Bureau. I'll make sure you receive a timely response, sir," Hotch offered with a voice smoothed by years of carefully cultivated professionalism.
Watching as the disappointed newspaperman walked away, Hotch turned as JJ shivered despite the warm balmy night. "You okay?" he asked softly, aware that they were surrounded on all sides by various law enforcement officials, his voice concerned while his face remained neutral.
Smiling tightly, JJ nodded, her fingers curling against her palms. "Yeah, am now. Thanks," she said quietly, looking self-consciously around, her cheeks blanching even deeper in that moment.
"No one noticed, JJ," Hotch assured her in a low voice.
Staring at the ground, JJ mumbled almost to herself as much as to the man standing beside her, "I didn't want you to have to intercede. I was trying to keep it together. He just kept stepping toward me."
Gently grabbing her arm as she stumbled over some loose gravel, Hotch tugged her unconsciously closer, meeting Dave's worried eyes in the distance. Seeing the questions reflected in those dark eyes, he held up a hand, assuring the other man that he had the situation under control. Breathing easier as he watched the older man return to his conversation, Hotch knew without having to be told that each member of their team was worried for their JJ.
It had taken her months to return to the field with them, and they'd all noticed her difficulty in dealing with some of the more demanding men in the media. And each of them despised watching the formerly strong-willed, formidable woman deteriorate before their eyes, and each of their protective instincts, especially his and Dave's, had risen to the fore. Dave's on a more parental level...and his...definitely something different.
He couldn't say that it didn't make sense to him though. He, better than most of them, knew that in order to rebuild a foundation, the old one had to crumble and fall. And watching her pale face in the moonlight, he could see the final shards of her relationship with Will LaMontagne slowly dropping away, leaving her bare and unprotected against the harsh realities around them.
They were all doing their best to buffer her. Seldom was JJ without either himself or Dave in the field, both men deliberately placing themselves between her and whatever danger she perceived, real or imagined. And at those odd times that they weren't available, Morgan readily and willingly slipped into big brother mode, his bite equally as damaging as his bark.
He knew Emily, Reid and Garcia had each served as JJ's sounding board more than once, their ears and shoulders giving her a constant source of support and safety. Whether because of their age or the fact that two were women and one was a soul so sensitive that it was easy to confide in him, he didn't know. Didn't care, either. As long as she could talk to someone who cared, who would listen without pressure or presumption.
Surprisingly, even their Section Chief, Erin Strauss, had firmly supported his media liaison, offering both her encouragement and assistance from the moment she'd been informed of those horrific events, months ago.
It was their resolute boss that had visited JJ's hospital room as he'd sat by her bed and calmly, quietly assured her that some of her worries were in vain. She'd assured the injured woman that she'd personally see this incident was handled in confidence with only the bare minimum of people actually privy to the circumstances surrounding LaMontagne's death, and that she would intercede on JJ's behalf if it ever became necessary. Strauss had rendered JJ's actions clearly defensible and between her and Rossi, they had openly defied anyone to disagree with the rendering. One had power and the other had money. Together, they were a volatile combination. Especially when they stood, amazingly, firmly on the same side.
On the side of Jennifer Jareau.
Looking around at the assortment of law enforcement vehicles, their lights flashing red and blue, and at the collection of news media vans blanketing the area, Hotch suggested, his voice tinged with just the slightest bit of authority, "Let's get out of here, JJ. I'll drive you back to the hotel. We've done all we can do here. Dave and the others can wrap this one up."
Nodding wordlessly, JJ fell into step beside the tall man beside her, his mere presence eradicating her lingering fears. Funny, only he could do that now...make the panic that still occasionally seized her dissipate just by being near. She was always comforted by Rossi's nearness, and Morgan's protectiveness was oddly endearing, but Hotch...he could make the background noise of her fear stop solely by standing beside her.
It was as if the demons that inhabited her world scurried back into their shadows at the sound of his footsteps.
Riding in comfortable silence back to the Holiday Inn they were booked in for the night, JJ cast Hotch a sidelong glance. Finding her voice, she murmured, "I don't know if I said it...but thank you for everything you've done...you're doing, Hotch."
"I haven't done anything, JJ," Hotch replied evenly, purposefully keeping his voice light and easy as he pulled their SUV into a parking slot not far from the main door.
Thinking back over the last several months' worth of nights where she and Henry had alternately slept in his spare bedroom or he and Jack had stayed in hers, all so she could simply sleep, JJ shook her head, smiling sadly. Only a man like him would plead ignorance of her soft statement. The Aaron Hotchner she knew had never responded particularly well to being recognized for his nobility. These past months, he...and the rest of the team to varying extents...had relentlessly guarded her and her baby boy, physically and emotionally. But no one had done more to allay her fears than the man sitting beside her.
He'd continually gone above and beyond the call of duty. He was the one that had helped her find a new place to live, the memories of her former home horrifying and paralyzing her when she'd reentered the former sanctuary after she was released from the hospital. He'd seen her overwhelmingly visceral response and swept her and her son back out the door, installing them in his home for over a week. Then he'd helped her move what was left of her life to a new place...and began to help her create new memories.
Memories that had no hint of the horrors of her former life.
And on those nights when the silence overwhelmed her and the dark nightmares crept into her consciousness, he'd kept her company, either at her place or his. He'd made sure that she'd known that she never had to willingly suffer alone. And there was an odd comfort in having that simple knowledge.
Pulling herself back from her musings, she softly denied, "We both know that isn't true, Hotch. And I really am sorry about my reaction at the scene."
"JJ, you're always going to react to memories...they cloud everything we do. That man reminded you of someone that hurt you terribly. It's a human response that eventually will ease. Until it does, all of us will do whatever we have to in order for you to feel safe."
"It's stupid," JJ whispered into the silence of the vehicle, her eyes staring at a reflection on the windshield, focusing on the sheer nothingness. "I know he's dead...that he can't hurt either Henry or me anymore..."
"But the memory of what he did remains, JJ," Hotch replied gently, his eyes skipping over her profile. "And there are going to be all kinds of things that bring those thoughts and feelings back to the surface. It's not stupid. And it's not something to apologize for," he admonished gently, his voice serious yet gentle.
Swallowing past the lump in her throat as she gained control of emotions that seemed to slide out of control so easily, JJ whispered, "I'm still grateful."
"Be grateful quietly then," Hotch teased, reaching out to pat her chilled hand, his fingers skating against her wrist, "And let's get you inside. A warm bath and I'm sure you'll feel better. And if not, you know where you can find me."
Waiting until he'd circled the SUV to open the passenger door, JJ met Hotch's dark eyes as she dropped her feet to the running board. "Do you think we can skip the part where I try to handle things on my own tonight?" she asked hesitantly, her eyes flashing with uncertainty, needing him more than she knew how to verbalize.
Sighing inwardly at the faltering tone he recognized so well, Hotch pressed a gentle kiss to JJ's temple, feeling another shiver rack her too-thin shoulders. "Why do you think I got the only room with two beds?" And guiding her with a gentle hand toward the hotel's entrance, he knew JJ wasn't the only one relieved not to be alone that night.
Because somewhere amid the tragedy and the angst, he'd fallen in love with Jennifer Jareau.