Title: Baby Steps
Warning: mention of suicide
Disclaimer: If I owned CM or made a profit from this I wouldn't be at my 'real job' right now
Author's note: For the CCatAC New Year's resolution challenge. Thanks a ton to Cadens Stella for the beta!
It's late, already dark, but the killer they're in Oregon to find is after white males in their twenties, so JJ doesn't worry about her safety any more then usual. The time difference means that Henry's already asleep and Will didn't say more then a few words to her when she called for storytime. He's angry that she's gone again after the last case that took place less then a week ago. It seems like he's always angry or disappointed with her these days.
The hotel that they're staying in backs up to a wooded area. The rooms facing the back are an extra ten dollars a room, which is why her view is of the freeway. The Bureau doesn't care about aesthetics. She takes the elevator down, walking past the lobby and cutting down a side hallway instead. She has a flashlight but doesn't turn it on; the lights from the hotel are bright enough to illuminate the path.
Cement gives way to cobblestones, and just past a bench that's obviously been placed there for guests to enjoy the cobblestones, they disappear and it's just a dirt path leading up to the trees.
The very dark trees.
She stops just two feet shy of the first tree, the toes of her shoes resting on the knot of a root. She can do this. They're only trees, this isn't even a real forest. She deals with the worst people society has to offer; compared to what she sees on the job it should be easy to walk into the woods.
But it isn't.
"One foot in front of the other, JJ," she mutters to herself encouragingly as she takes a single step forward.
"That's usually how it's done." A minute ago she'd been alone, but now someone was only a few feet behind her.
"Son of a..." She jumps before she realizes that the voice is a familiar one, her eyes wide as she turns in a half circle. "Damn it, Morgan, you scared me."
"I called your name twice. It's not my fault you didn't hear me. What are you doing out here?" He's as relaxed as he gets when they're still in the middle of a case, his hands in his jacket pockets, the side of his mouth curled up in a grin.
"Nothing; just taking a walk. I was too restless to stay in my room."
"When you're too restless to stay up in your room you either find Prentiss, use the hotel gym if them have one, or come down to the bar and have one drink." There's a touch of smug in his voice, mixed with a good helping of 'I'm not buying this BS.'
"So what are you really doing out here?"
Sometimes it's awkward and annoying to work with people that knew you so well. JJ sighs in defeat, "Will wants to take Henry camping."
"Scoping out camp sites?" Morgan teases.
"I'm not taking my son someplace I can't protect him, and I can't protect him if I'm jumping at every animal screech and snapped twig." JJ glances over her shoulder, feeling as if the trees are looming over her.
"Does Will know how you feel about the woods?" She'd strung him along with her made up story about why she was afraid of the woods, but he'd seen the look in her eyes; the fear was real even if the tale wasn't.
"It's never come up." There are many things that have never come up; being in a relationship doesn't change who she is, and JJ has always had a hard time opening up to people. The team knows, but with the things they see, the hours they spend together, and the level of trust they all have in each other; it just feels more natural to share some things with them. Maybe it's wrong, but she's never claimed to be the perfect girlfriend, or even a good one.
"I'm sure if you explain..."
"No." JJ shakes her head.
She has so many things she has to ask Will to understand, so many things that she has to ask him to accept. She's missed enough weekends and days off, too, that it doesn't feel right to ask Will to change his plans for the family trip. "I can do this."
"I was just thinking to myself earlier that a walk might do me good. I think I might tag along." When she turns back to face the trees, he's standing right next to her.
"You don't have to do this." Two steps closer to the forest, though, and she isn't feeling as anxious now that she isn't alone.
"I don't have to do anything. Neither do you. But as long as you don't mind the company I think I'll stick it out."
"I don't mind the company." She's grateful for it, actually. Now that he's here it would be twice as hard to be alone again, and twice as hard for her to face her fears.
They are far enough into the trees that they can't see the hotel anymore when JJ feels the nervous flutters in her stomach return. She tries to ignore them. A few more steps and she stops, her hand against the trunk of a tree, the bark digging into her palm.
"Take a deep breath, Jayje. Close your eyes and just think about your breathing." Morgan's hand settles onto her shoulder, his warmth passing through her sweater and into her skin.
"It's so dark that I don't need to close my eyes." But she does as she is advised. Her first attempt at taking a deep breath is more of a gasp, but by the third time it is a deep shudder and the sixth breath is closer to a meditative one. Her heart rate slows, at least a little. "I don't know why I do this."
"Maybe one too many slasher films about young blond women finding dead bodies at summer camp?" he suggests satirically.
"I so had you going for a minute there." She laughs, and for a minute she doesn't have to think about her breathing; it's just her and Morgan talking like they had a thousand times before.
"You really don't know why?"
"I really don't. I went to camp when I was little, and I didn't have a problem. When I was in high school the whole team went camping and I was miserable the whole time. Something changed and I don't know what. All I know..." she shakes her head; some things are even harder to face then her fear of the woods.
"All you know?" he prompts, waiting patiently for her to feel the silence.
"My sister loved the forest. She planned trips to the national parks, went hiking, and talked about being a ranger when she grew up."
"I've only ever heard you talk about your brother." Morgan is leaning against a tree, giving her a little space but close enough to touch if she needs him.
"Alice killed herself when she was seventeen." Even after all this time the words are hard to say. A little less hard, though, since she'd talked to Hotch about her sister. JJ reaches up to touch her necklace. Her touchstone.
"God, JJ, I'm sorry." His expression is unreadable in the darkness, but his voice is full of sympathy intermingled with sorrow.
"I don't know why I'm afraid of something that she loved so much. I don't want to be. I want to share places like this with Henry, like she would have if she was here." The pain of missing her sister has been stronger in some ways since her son was born, when she wondered what Alice would think of being an aunt, if they would have both had children at the same time, how much more they could have shared if they'd been adults together.
"You will." Morgan touches her arm, tugging her back towards the hotel. "Baby steps. If we're still here tomorrow we'll come out here again. If not you and I can go hiking next Saturday; it's hard to pay much attention to the forest when Clooney's doing his best to entertain."
"You really don't mind?"
"I really don't." He holds the door open for her when they reach the hotel. "Now how about that drink in the hotel bar neither of us had earlier; it's a good way to unwind."
"Only if you let me buy," JJ agrees, smiling at him and feeling lighter than she has in a very long time.