Disclaimer: I do not own Criminal Minds… still. It's sad, I know.
Rating: M for dark themes (self harm)
Author's Note: My reviewers are wonderful! Enjoy this chapter. Please keep reviewing!
JJ had never been more thankful for the millions of times she had driven to Emily's condo. She knew all of the speed traps and where cops generally patrolled. She had never heard Emily's voice so broken and lost. She didn't know what she was going to stay or do to help her hurting girlfriend, but getting pulled over by an excessively large police enjoying the clichéd sprinkled donut did not fall in the category of helping Emily. Nodding her regards to the doorman, she walked past the front desk without a problem. Throughout the number of years she and Emily had been best friends, she practically lived in this apartment when they weren't on a case. It was rare she was home anymore, but sometimes she just needed her space. Emily understood that. Finally reaching Emily's door, she used her key and immediately noted the scene around her. The plastic wrap from the top of a brand-new bottle lay discarded on the dark marble of the bar top. Music pulsed through the stereo; JJ recognized it as a playlist Emily listened to when she was feeling out of sorts. Taking the stairs two at a time, JJ walked directly into Emily's bathroom, something calling her to that room. Emily leaned against the cool marble outline of the tub, her knees pulled to her chest and her head resting delicately on her crossed forearms. Out of one hand, she grasped the once-brand-new bottle. The other was dripping blood. She sat amidst shattered pieces of mirror.
"Emily," JJ gasped. "Baby, what happened to your hand?" Emily didn't move her head or speak, rather pointed at where the mirror previously existed. Carefully stepping over the shattered pieces, JJ located Emily's first-aid kit and a fresh bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Crouching by Emily's side, she noticed the intensity of the bruises decorating her lover's skin. Pursing her lips to resist gasping in shock, JJ pressed a kiss to Emily's forehead. "Can I see your hand, Em?" Emily's shoulder rose and fell as she deeply inhaled and exhaled before passing her injured hand to JJ. JJ felt the slight tremor coursing through Emily's hands and wanted nothing more than to hug her best friend. "This may sting a bit, Em."
"That's the point of all of it isn't it?" Emily's question was practically inaudible. Taking a towel from the tub behind them, JJ placed Emily's hand in the towel on her lap. Pouring the hydrogen peroxide generously, she grimaced as Emily inhaled, a pained sound forming. As she spread Emily's hand from its previously clenched position, a small blade dropped into the towel. JJ bit her lip and continued wrapping Emily's hand in sterile gauze. She spread the towel over the path from the tub to the door, covering the broken pieces of glass. Gently removing the bottle from Emily's hand, she offered her hand as a replacement; Emily accepted the offer, and JJ helped her off the floor.
"Have you eaten anything?" JJ prodded, doubting the other woman would allow the coddling. Emily shook her head and reached for the bottle in JJ's hand. JJ gave it up without a fight, knowing the amber liquid steeled Emily's nerves. "I'll make some mashed potatoes," JJ offered. The suggestion of her comfort food made Emily nod ever so slightly.
Speak, Emily, her mind screamed at her. The hard part was asking for help. Say something. You would have broken every law in the book to get to her doorstep, so she did the same for you. She drove all the way over here and is taking care of you. It's pathetic already, but if you don't say anything and just squash into one of those compartments, you've wasted her time. Say something! Anything! Just speak! "I uhh thank you. I'm not sure how I would have coped on my own," Emily whispered, her voice lost after hours of silence. Could your voice have sounded a touch more needy; really, Emily? She chided herself, slightly shaking her head.
JJ turned around a serious expression on her face. She walked over to where Emily sat perched on the barstool and gently held the other woman's face between two gentle hands. Their lips barely touched and JJ pulled back to look meaningfully into Emily's eyes. "Thank you for calling me. I love you; I just want to help. Asking for help doesn't make you weak, Em. It means you're human."
Ignoring everything after the statement of love, Emily looked at JJ wide-eyed. "You love me?"
JJ realized what she had said as they had only been dating under a month. Seeing the nervous look in Emily's eyes, she quickly explained, "I've always loved you, Em. You're my best friend. Now, though, I'm falling in love with you. I know it's soon, but in reality, we started dating at a point where we were already so comfortable with each other. You know me better than anyone."
"I'm falling in love with you too," Emily whispered against JJ's lips. JJ smiled and returned to the stove where she whipped up a steaming plate of Emily's favorite food. She knew Emily would talk eventually; JJ understood it was a matter of her figuring out how to verbalize her feelings. JJ would patiently wait until then if it meant helping the woman who held her heart.
"You know, of all the places in the world you grew up, how your favorite food is mashed potatoes, I will never know," JJ teased, trying to ease Emily's nerves.
"Hmm, Max used to tease me about that all the time."
"That's because it doesn't make sense. You moved out of the country before you could even eat mashed potatoes."
"I know. But when have I ever made sense?" Emily tried to keep up the banter, but it didn't feel right. JJ could hear the underlying attack Emily made to herself.
"You make sense, Emily. You do. It's just finding the words to say it."
"Can we play a game?" Emily asked sheepishly, hoping to change the subject.
"Sure," JJ relented. "What game?"
"Tell me something I don't know."
"This game is getting harder and harder since I swear you know everything about me, but let's see what we can find. My favorite bedtime story when I was a kid was Goodnight Moon."
"I wish I could sing."
"I have a list of all the places in the world I want to see before I die."
"I'm a cat person."
"I knew that. Try again," JJ smiled while shoveling a fork full of mashed potatoes into her grinning mouth.
"My favorite photos are black and white."
JJ gauged Emily's posture; using all the knowledge she picked up working with profilers, and decided to breach the subject of the evening's events. "I owe you an apology. He should never have been able to get you away from the table without me noticing. I was two feet away and I didn't notice a thing until you were already being dragged down some hallway. I'm sorry, Em," JJ said genuinely, conveying her true feelings.
"It's not your fault. You have nothing to apologize for."
"Please look at me," JJ requested in a soft whisper. "Please look me in the eyes and show me that's what you believe." Pained brown eyes met sad blue ones, and Emily repeated herself, "You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for. I didn't even realize what was happening until I was too far away. No one noticed anything until I was in the hallway, myself included. This was not your fault." The sincerity in Emily's voice almost brought tears to JJ's eyes.
"I have a question for you. Why am I here?"
Emily closed her eyes before focusing on her bandage hand. "Because something was different about this time. I've had close calls before, but something is making this harder to handle than other times. I don't know what it is, but I know I needed someone on my side. I needed someone to remind me I was loved and had a place here. The only one I trusted enough to call who wouldn't make me feel more pathetic and weak than I already feel was you."
JJ, too, closed her eyes against the swell of emotions listening to Emily speak the thoughts from her jumbled, dark mind. "Emily, look at me." JJ placed two fingers under Emily's chin, careful of the ever-darkening bruise, and tilted Emily's face. "Please look at me, Em." Again, the sad yet hopeful cerulean eyes searched the depths of chocolate eyes. "I want you to listen very carefully," JJ continued when she felt Emily nod slightly. "I am always on your side. Even when we have an argument, ultimately I'm on your side. I want nothing more than for you to be happy and healthy. I love you. I'm falling in love with you. You are my best friend and I cannot live without you. You have a place, Em. You fit right here with me, with our family. This is your place, and no one else can fill the shoes you fill. If you take yourself away from this, all of us will be crushed because there is no one else like you. And by no means are you pathetic or weak for asking for help. Yes, you've had closer calls before. Yes, you've been hostage for days at a time, but your compartments accepted this situation differently. That changes nothing about your strength as a person. You are one of the strongest people I know whether you're compartmentalizing a world falling down around you to help a victim or you're asking for help. I love you, Em, and I'm here for you. I'm not going anywhere." Now, JJ searched Emily's eyes for signs of understanding, or at least hope. "I cannot lose you. I don't care how many nights I speed here or how many times I bandage you. I'm not going anywhere, and neither are you. I will make sure you're here for the long haul because I am. Do you believe me?"
"I believe that you love me, and I believe I'm lucky to have a girlfriend like you." Emily sighed, dropping her eyes and breaking eye contact with JJ. She couldn't lie to her best friend; she didn't believe she had a place. On her better days, she liked to think of herself as a placeholder, good at filling the empty spot, but not at all unique in doing so. Days like today, she didn't really like to think at all; it never ended in pleasant thoughts, only ones that made her delve deeper into a depressed mindset.
"But you don't believe you belong here? With me? With our team?" JJ asked her voice clearly laced with disbelief. She wondered how Emily could think so little of herself as to think she didn't hold a special place in the team, in their family. Emily shrugged nonchalantly and took a swig from the bottle that was almost a fourth empty now. "You don't see how important you are to all of us?" She received another shrug in the form of a response. "Let's spell it out. We'll start with Morgan; he's your partner after all. He said it himself he thinks of you as a younger sister and a best friend. He doesn't trust anyone on the team as much as he trusts you. You honestly think someone else could just fill your shoes and he wouldn't notice? Then we have Spence. You are the only one who can talk to him on his level. You give boy genius a run for his money; people like that don't come around everyday. Pen, lord, that woman would cry for days on end if you followed through with any of your thoughts. She's quirky and bubbly, yes; but underneath it all, she's haunted. She leans on you. She turns to you, Em. No one on this team trusts easily, but you are ingrained in each one of our lives. This is your place; this is where you fit."
"I guess," Emily muttered a noncommittal response.
"I wish you could see the amazing, caring, brilliant, gorgeous woman that we see."
"Me too," Emily whispered dejectedly. "Me too."
"What will change your mind?"
"I honestly don't know. I'm sorry. I'm not making it easy for you to help me; I know."
"Em, you don't need to apologize."
Neither woman realized the minutes slowing ticking the stressful day into another. The mashed potatoes long gone, and the scotch replaced with ice water. They talked until the sun rose- JJ wanting to make sure the other woman didn't disappear, Emily holding onto the one worldly connection that kept her sane. It wasn't a perfect relationship, but it was one founded in trust, comfort, and love. With those pieces and my family, I can't fail.
Upstairs the alarm sounded a new day; new killers to battle, and new victims to save. In the kitchen, the coffee pot automatically kicked into life, wafting the smell of roasting coffee beans and carrying with it the hopes for a better, happier tomorrow. Together, JJ was sure, they would make it through. One day at a time.