When they walk out together, it's quiet. Neither speaks. They don't need to. Morgan walks with a dignity that guards him, not the other way around. JJ thinks about how lucky this team is to have him on it. Even as her heart breaks for the boy he was. The boy no one came to help.
JJ thinks about everything she could say, but lets it go. In these moments, it's better to be a silent support than to think you have all the right answers. Her silence, she's sure, is the only reason Morgan hasn't hurried off with some excuse. Their time with Angel had been grueling. Heartbreaking. Terrifying. And it had bonded them in a way no other case had in seven years.
At her car, she takes her keys out of her pocket and hesitates before she hit's the unlock button on her keychain. But Morgan surprises her. He speaks first.
"Hey…do you ah… Do you wanna grab a drink or something?" he asks.
"Sure," she nods and they drive to a local bar and grill. She picks a table in the back. He comes and sits with two beers. He sets one in front of her. Gratefully, she cracks it open. They're quiet for a long time.
"God…that was some case…" Morgan says softly, and there are ghosts in his eyes. JJ knows he is thinking, "God…that was some kid…" He hasn't touched his beer while she is clutching hers like an alcoholic.
"Yeah," she says, forcing herself to loosen her grip on the bottle. After being around a teenager who had been through everything Angel had…after treading so carefully for hours and days and weeks…well…it's hard to let go of the tension.
"Do you ever wonder…" she ventures, her voice quiet and a little hollow. "Do you ever think about what becomes of the kids we help? Like little Katie from the mall in Woodbridge? Or her cousin? Or Tyler and Carrie from Denver? Or Nathan from DC who bonded with Reid? Or Christopher from Wyoming?" The beer seems to be loosening her tongue.
"You remember all their names and where they're from?" Morgan asks. JJ can't tell if he's impressed or freaked out.
"I know… Weird… But they stay with me… Ellie from LA - she was my last case before I transferred - and Morgan I even think about the cases I wasn't here for. Robert and Ana who were abducted on the Appalachian Trail? I pull the files and I read about them. What does that say about me? God, sometimes I don't want to let Henry out of my sight for a second…knowing that these monsters are out there…"
"Shows that you care," he says simply. "And you're not the only one. I think about 'em, too. I'm still in touch with Ellie, as right or wrong as that may be. I can't just leave her to get through life alone after what she went through."
"What about Angel?" JJ asks cautiously. "Do you think he'll be okay?"
This time, Morgan is silent. This time, she may have hit too close to home. "I wasn't," he admits. "I was hurt by that bastard for years and, yes, he is the reason I'm here. But he's also the reason I went through hell. He's also the reason I have nightmares off and on to this day. After what Angel went through? I don't know. I hope he'll recover. But realistically, it's a lot to come back from."
"You did," JJ tells him seriously. "I didn't know you as a kid, but I know you now. And I know there's no one else I would have rather been with in that room trying to get through to that boy than you. Yes, it changed you. Yes, it hurt you. But without what happened to you? You wouldn't have been able to reach Angel the way you did. He saw something in you that he could trust and he grabbed onto that."
Morgan looks at her, silent. "What I went through and what he went through… They were both terrible things, but they're not the same."
"No, but we all have our own ghosts. Our own demons. Sometimes, if we're lucky, they help us reach someone like Angel. Someone who might be totally unreachable otherwise," JJ muses. She has all but forgotten about her drink. Morgan hasn't touched his.
Silence grows between them, until finally, JJ takes a deep breath and breaks it. "My older sister killed herself when I was eleven. It was completely sudden and I had no warning. My parents were out, and I was home on the phone. I didn't even know she did it. I went to the park and played soccer while my sister was…" she trails off, unable to finish the thought or shake the guilt. "After that? My family was never the same… After that I wasn't Jennifer anymore…I was JJ. Because from that moment I had to become the strong one for both my parents to lean on. Without any training at all, I was the liaison for my family."
"I'm sorry, JJ…" Morgan says, looking her in the eye.
"It wasn't something I'd wish on anyone else…and I still miss her every day…but without that I wouldn't be where I am today…" JJ says, mirroring his earlier words and feeling the truth in them with everything in her.
"Still…" he hedges.
"I know," she sighs sadly.
Hours pass and finally they force themselves to rise and leave. Before they each go to their own vehicles, JJ stops and looks at Morgan. "You didn't deserve what happened to you," she says in the no-bullshit tone that Morgan appreciates.
He nods, and swallows, but he doesn't say he knows it isn't. There is a sadness in him that JJ can't fix, no matter how much she wants to. Finally Morgan clears his throat. "I'm gonna…I'll be staying in touch with Angel…"
"Let me know how he is?" she asks.
"Yeah. You need anything, call." he says and unlocks his car.
She threads her fingers through his and squeezes his hand, feeling strength and support that words cannot describe. There are seven years of friendship there, and now, a case that has changed them both beyond measure.
The thought is there and it takes root before JJ can dismiss it: maybe they all have wings on their backs. Maybe that's what gets them through the really tough times. Before she can think better of it, JJ slips a quarter into Morgan's hand. It's no military Challenge Coin, but there's a bird on the back. And Morgan has given away his only coin with wings. She thinks of the necklace tucked safely at home in her jewelry box.
It's not a lot, but maybe it will mean something.
He holds it like it's something precious and takes it as the message it is.
Hope in an ordinary thing, after all, is still hope.
JJ ought to know.