I just got this plot bunny which grabbed on and didn't let go until 30 pages later. I hope you like it. This is the first fic I've posted here. Does anyone know anywhere else to post it?
Title: Becoming Real
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Spoilers: None. And I ignore the bits of canon I don't like.
Warnings: Contains transphobia and transphobic violence, but NOT expressed by the good guys.
Also contains other violence, but less than what you'd see on the show.
“We’ve got a case,” JJ said, walking into the meeting room and waiting for everyone to file in.
“The Police Department in Ashville, Wisconsin, found the bodies of what they thought were two teenage boys, but on further investigation, it appears that both were undergoing hormone treatment and were living as female. Last night, another body, apparently female, was found, victim of the same MO, and is as yet unidentified.”
“A hate crime?” Reid queried, looking up from the case file.
“The police aren’t sure. None of the victims showed signs of violence and the ME isn’t sure of cause of death yet, as initial toxicology results came back clean. The police were unable to find any forensic evidence at the scene that might identify the unsub.”
“What’s the timeline?” asked Hotch.
“The first victim, birth name Robert Harris, chosen name Kelly, was 17, and was found a week ago. The second victim, Charles, or Megan, Rosswell, 15, was found on Thursday. The police called us in when the third victim was found. The first two victims were found wearing male clothing, and were laid out on a church doorstep, Kelly in West Ashville, Megan in the northern suburb of Brookhaven.”
As she spoke, she put up pictures of the victims and the crime scenes. The first set mostly showed a dark-haired, olive-skinned young man, short for his 17 years, with long black hair covering much of a face marked by a surly frown. Amidst those photos was a single picture, of the same teen but now dressed in a skirt and blouse, the hair no longer covering her face, wearing a smile that the surly youth didn’t look capable of.
The second set were such a contrast to the first: most of the photos were of a short, slightly chubby blonde girl looking no different to any 15 year old girl. In some the girl’s parents appeared, looking uncomfortable. It was the crime scene photos that were out of place: they showed the same teen, long blonde hair trimmed inexpertly short, in an ill-fitting suit, face cleaned of make-up allowing the sickly pallor of death to show.
JJ’s heart broke a little at the pictures they painted.
“Are we sure they’re homicide? I mean, the suicide rate for gay young people is over four times that of straight youth. I’d imagine it’s at least as bad for transgender youth.” Morgan asked reasonably.
“Six. Six times as high.” Prentiss said quietly.
“I know,” said JJ, sparing Emily a thoughtful glance, “but these bodies appear to have been dragged to the church doorsteps, and it looks like the clothes were put on post mortem.”
“What about the third victim?” Hotch asked.
“She was found in the same position as the others, outside a church in the western suburb of Greenvale, wearing a dress, high heels and make-up.”
“And this was a woman?” Morgan clarified.
“The body appears to be physically that of a woman in her teens, but given the first two victims, the police suspect that this victim may also be transgender.”
“Fine. Tell us the rest on the plane. Good work, JJ.”
They spent the plane trip reviewing the files. JJ took her usual seat next to Emily and looked over her notes. The victims were so young and had probably already faced so much prejudice because of their choice to live as they were. JJ’s anger, usually directed solely at the perpetrator of each crime, seemed this time to overflow onto the society which had made these kids’ lives so hard and which had produced the crimes which had ended them.
She remembered the prejudice that her college friend Helen had had to endure. JJ acknowledged that she herself had said some things which had hurt the other woman, simply through not understanding. She hadn’t realized, at first, the difference between a drag queen and a transsexual, hadn’t realized that Helen wasn’t putting on an act, that it was the male attire she had renounced which was the act. But as she got to know Helen, she had begun to understand.
She had a particularly vivid memory of sitting in a beer garden, several sheets to the wind, and listening to some of Helen’s horror stories. It was then that she realized she owed the other woman an apology, which she had then repeated the next day, sober. Helen had accepted it with more generosity than JJ thought she’d have been able to muster under the circumstances.
Those horror stories were coming back to her now as she looked at the young faces in her file, and she found herself getting angrier. Suddenly she felt a hand on her leg: Emily had been sitting next to her, unusually silent even for the self-contained profiler, and must have noticed her growing agitation. JJ looked across. Emily didn’t quite manage a smile, but her touch had its usual effect on JJ: her distress started to abate and she felt warmed by her friend’s concern.
Seeing that Emily was also bothered by this case but seemed not to want to talk, she wordlessly covered her friend’s hand with her own, and left it there for the remainder of the flight. As they were getting ready to disembark, she removed her hand with a squeeze, for some reason not wanting the connection they had shared to be seen by anyone else, as if it would spoil the moment.
When they arrived at the police station in Ashville, they were welcomed by the station Captain, a tall rangy man who had surrendered to his thinning hair by buzzing it short. With him was a stocky young man with reddish hair and freckles.
“Captain Richards. This is Constable Martin, who is in charge of this case. Thank you for coming,” he said, looking ill-at-ease. JJ took in the officer-in-charge: Constable Martin seemed barely out of the academy, his uniform ironed within an inch of its life, and his utility belt loaded with all the paraphernalia that more experienced police officers usually cut down to bare minimum. It spoke volumes about how much priority they had placed on this case.
“Jennifer Jareau, we spoke on the phone,” JJ gave her usual introduction, schooling her expression. “And these are SSAs Prentiss, Rossi, Hotchner, Morgan and Dr Reid.”
“Well, thank you all for coming. I don’t really know what we’ve got here, and I have to tell you, a lot of my people are pretty uncomfortable about this case.”
“Because of the gender identity of the victims?” JJ asked.
“Well, yeah,” he said, as if it were obvious. “But this is the third case in just over a week, so we figured we’d better call you in,”
You mean you figured you’d better pass the buck, JJ thought cynically. She noticed Prentiss and Morgan share a glance, as if they’d had the same thought.
“Well, I’m glad you called us in,” Hotch replied, before the Captain noticed the glances. “JJ and Reid, you set up here. Reid, start a geographical profile. JJ, set up interviews with the families. Morgan and Prentiss, I want you to go to the first two sites. Dave and I will take the most recent site and talk with the ME to see if we can get an identification or cause of death. Garcia’s already going through the victims’ online histories, to see if they had anything in common. Meet back here at five to review.”
JJ watched everyone walk out the door, and then turned to Richards. “Right, where can we set up?”
After being shown to an office, JJ sat down heavily. She looked around the small room, the décor the same utilitarian grey of police stations all over the country. She sighed. Contacting families was always the worst part of her job. It never got any easier, but every time she was fortified by the knowledge that this was one burden she could shoulder and spare her team. She picked up the phone.
“Mrs. Harris? This is Jennifer Jareau with the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI. We’re working on your child’s case.” She winced to herself at the clumsy wording, angry that she couldn’t be sure of how the grieving mother referred to her own daughter, remembering all those pictures of Kelly as a frowning Robert.
“Oh.” She sounded shaky. “The police have already asked me about Robbie. What else do you want to know?” JJ’s question was answered.
“Ma’am, the BAU is a specialist unit. We’ve been brought in to develop a profile of the person who did this. We’d like to ask some more questions that may be different to the types of questions the police asked. We can have someone pick you up.”
“That won’t be necessary, Miss… Jareau?” she waited for JJ’s confirming murmur. “My husband and I will come in this afternoon at four.”
“Thank you Mrs. Harris.” JJ gave her the details and said goodbye.
One down, one to go, JJ thought wearily to herself, before picking up the phone again, hoping that this one would be better.
That afternoon she sat in her borrowed office, listening to Emily and Rossi talk with the couple.
“Robbie was such a sweet boy,” Mrs. Harris was saying. “I was devastated when he got mixed up in all that sick cross-dressing nonsense.”
“Mrs. Harris, we understand that Robbie was undergoing transgender hormone treatment, and was using the name Kelly?” Rossi asked quietly.
“Well, that was just a phase! He would have come to his senses! Bob, tell them!” she turned to her husband.
“Mister, our son was no pervert. He just got caught up in some twisted fad. He met this girl, and she took him along to this ‘tranny club’, where these kids all hung out and dressed in each other’s clothes or some such. I don’t want you dragging my son’s name through the mud over this.”
“Sir, we’re just trying to get a picture of what happened.” Rossi said calmly. “Can you tell me a little bit more about this ‘club’?”
The Harrises told Rossi and Emily what they could, Emily quietly taking down notes about the club.
“We understand Robbie was not living at home?” Rossi asked.
“Well, we couldn’t have that kind of behaviour in our house!” Mr. Harris exploded. “His younger brother could get all sorts of ideas. Of course he couldn’t live at home.”
“Can you think of anyone who would have wanted to hurt Robbie?” Rossi finished.
“No, nobody,” Mrs. Harris answered, “but maybe it was better this way. Maybe it’s better that he couldn’t mutilate his body with surgery. He’s still whole in the eyes of God.”
JJ noticed that Emily’s jaw was clenched so tight she could almost hear her teeth grinding. She was fighting to keep her face neutral herself. While her experience with transgender issues wasn’t great, she knew how her friend Helen would have felt hearing words like that from her parents, and she could imagine how much Kelly would have hurt to hear her parents saying similar things in the past.
“Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Harris, you’ve helped us a great deal.” JJ’s training came to the fore, keeping her face calm and allowing her to be polite as she escorted the couple out.
When she walked back into the office, Rossi was talking. Emily looked sick. JJ couldn’t tell if Rossi didn’t notice, but thought it more likely that he was politely pretending not to.
“I’m going to check out this club. It could be how our unsub is targeting the victims. The Rosswell’s are here. You two take that interview.” He walked out with his case notes, leaving JJ with Emily.
“Here, I got you a drink. You looked like you could use one.”
Emily looked up. “Thanks, I could,” she said, taking the glass. She stared straight ahead.
JJ just sat in silence for a while, as the color returned to Emily’s face.
“I know what it’s like to have parents reject the decisions you make,” Emily started slowly. “If I -” she broke off. “Look, let’s get to the interview.”
JJ didn’t push, but she gave Emily a long look as they left the office.
This interview was much less harrowing. The Rosswell’s clearly loved their daughter, tried to support her, and generally referred to her as Megan and ‘she’, though they occasionally slipped up. JJ could see Emily relaxing. But they didn’t have any new information. Megan had never gone to any kind of club, and they didn’t know who she had talked to.
After they escorted the Rosswells out, they realized that it was a little after five, and they were late for the meeting.
As they walked into the conference room, Rossi was saying “We’ve got an ID on the third victim. Legal name was Stephanie Woodward, but he was going by the name Steve, and living as a male.”
“All victims were in their teens, Kelly Harris was living in a student share house and the other two lived at home, and all were transsexual.” Hotch summarized.
“But it doesn’t read as a straight hate crime. I didn’t get a sense of rage or hate from the scenes at all. I almost got a sense of… love. The bodies were all carefully dressed and laid out peacefully. Their arms were crossed over their chests. The unsub even put a piece of tarpaulin under them to protect them when dragging them to the church doorsteps,” Rossi mused.
“Why not carry them?” Morgan asked. “None of the three were very large. Does this mean we’re looking for a smaller man, or even a woman? Someone physically unable to carry the victims?”
“Maybe,” Hotch confirmed. “The ME managed to isolate the cause of death. Insulin overdose. Poisoning is much more common for female unsubs. We could be looking at a woman.”
“That would fit with the sense of love I got from the scenes. I think these victims represent someone very close to our unsub, probably a child.” Rossi added.
“She has a child who is transgender?” Reid queried.
“I would say so,” Rossi confirmed. “This child probably died recently. She would have been unable to cope with their transsexualism. She put the victims in the clothes appropriate to their birth gender, as a way of denying their transsexual identity in their final moments.”
He’s still whole in the eyes of God. The memory of Mrs. Harris’ words left a bitter taste in JJ’s mouth.
“We have both male and female victims, so we can’t narrow that down, but I’ll have Garcia check into recent deaths of young people who may have been transsexual.”
“Not just recent. This could have been brewing for a while,” cautioned Hotch, as Rossi started dialing Garcia.
As the discussion went on, JJ noticed that Emily hadn’t said a word. She was sitting there looking attentive, but this silence was unusual for the dedicated profiler. She tried to send a reassuring glance, but Emily wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“Garcia, start by getting a list of all deaths of people aged 12 to 25 in the last three years, in the western and northern regions of Ashville.” JJ’s attention shifted from Emily in time to catch Rossi’s question.
“Will do, but that’s going to be a long list. Wait… Got it. Seven hundred and fifty eight names.” Garcia replied.
“Narrow it down to suicides, unexplained deaths or poisoning.”
“Right…” Garcia paused, and JJ could hear the sound of typing. “That will narrow it down a lot. Most deaths in that age range are motor vehicle accidents. Okay, we have forty seven names.”
“Organize it by the occupation of the mother.” Morgan added. “The lack of evidence at the scene could indicate someone in law enforcement, or the use of insulin overdose could indicate someone in the medical profession.”
“No problemo, Hot Stuff. This might take a while; I have to cross-check some different databases.”
“Look, when you’ve got that list, I want you to go through it with a fine tooth comb. Look at whether the children were on any online groups that were geared towards transsexuals.” Hotch asked.
“Well, all three of our victims were on online transgender groups, but they weren’t all on the same one. The two girls had one group in common, but the latest victim didn’t share any groups with the first two.” Garcia told them, still typing away.
“Good. Check if any of the people on your list were on any of those groups.”
“Will do, but I’ll have to get back to you. This could take a little while.”
“Excellent, Garcia. Keep us informed,” Hotch signed off. “All right, while we’re waiting for that, I suggest we head to the hotel, get checked in and get some quick dinner. When Garcia comes back with that information, we’ll have a lot of work to do.”
JJ collected her things quickly; she wanted to make sure she shared a car with Emily. She was worried about her friend. Emily was usually so contained, so stoic, but, despite the team’s unwritten rule not to profile each other, she couldn’t help but notice the strain on her friend’s face.
At the hotel restaurant, Emily only picked at her food, and a quick glance around the table told her that the others had noticed it too. When Emily left the table early, JJ excused herself and followed before anybody else in the team could volunteer.
They were silent in the elevator and on the walk down the corridor. When they neared their rooms – JJ had as usual booked them rooms next to each other – JJ asked softly: “Are you okay?”
Emily looked at her, soul-deep weariness in her face, and JJ could tell that she was clearly not okay.
“I don’t really want to talk about it.” Emily replied, her voice dull.
JJ reached out a hand, entreating “Em…”, and was startled to see Emily wince slightly and turn away.
“Please. I just don’t want to talk about it.” Emily’s hand was on the doorknob, trying to get out of there as fast as possible.
The rejection hurt; she hated when Emily shut her out, but just offered a gentle “Okay, but I’m here if you want to talk.”
The wan smile in response took away some of the sting, but as she went back downstairs, it nagged at her.
The rest of the team looked up enquiringly when she returned. She just gave a tiny shake of her head, her face drawn.
Just then, Hotch’s cell phone rang. “It’s Garcia,” he said, looking up from the display. “She’s got a name.”
Morgan looked at JJ and, at her slight shrug, said “I’ll get Emily.” He hurried upstairs.
In the car with Rossi and Reid, JJ got Garcia on speaker phone.
“Okay peeps, eighteen months ago I’ve got a report of a fourteen year old named Rebecca Graham committing suicide by overdosing on benzodiazepine. There was an investigation into how she got the sedatives, with suspicion the mother had been careless with hospital medications, but no charges were laid. Her mother, Toni Graham, is a nurse at Ashville General.”
Garcia continued: “I managed to track down some Internet activities for Rebecca, and she was a member of several online groups for transgender youth. She had corresponded with all of the three victims, and in her, well, his, online posts, had said he identified as male and wanted to be referred to as John. I’ll send a selection of posts to your mobiles.”
“You think it was actually a suicide?” Reid asked.
“No way to tell, but it does look suspicious. Nothing I could find in his online messages indicated suicidal tendencies.”
“If it wasn’t a suicide, it could have taken the mother this long to deal with the aftermath of her act and start looking into John’s friends. Trying to save them?” Reid speculated.
“Right,” Hotch said, on conference call from the other car. “See if you can look into the mother’s employment records. Let us know if you find anything before we get there.” Hotch signed off.
“Thanks Garcia. Talk to you soon.” JJ hung up.
When they arrived at the address, some uniformed officers from the Ashville PD were already leading a woman out in handcuffs. She looked old beyond her years, and tired, and inexpressibly sad. She looked up at JJ and the rest of the team, and it seemed to JJ that her eyes were searching, even begging for something, but JJ couldn’t tell what.
Hotch instructed the uniforms to take her back to the station and hold her until the BAU team got there after taking a look through the house. He stayed outside with JJ, organizing things with the officer in charge, while the rest of the team went inside.
JJ watched Emily stand outside the door, as if steeling herself to go in, before grabbing the handle and following the rest of the team.
JJ stood making arrangements with the PD, and watching some uniforms secure the house, the police cars’ lights washing the darkness red and blue. She had just finished the conversation when Morgan came out of the house, followed by the rest of the team.
“There’s religious iconography all over the house. There’s practically a shrine in there, set up to her dead kid. No pictures of Rebecca as John. Only photos where the kid’s in ultra-feminine clothes,” Morgan described. “And next to the computer there’s a big list of people the kid corresponded with. Our three vics are highlighted.”
JJ noticed that Morgan kept referring to John as ‘the kid’, uncomfortable with either Rebecca or John.
“Did she leave any of John’s things in his room?” asked JJ, trying to give him back his name. She noticed Emily glancing at her, her expression indecipherable.
“I only saw really feminine things,” Morgan replied.
“She was trying to erase the part she couldn’t deal with,” JJ mused softly.
“Okay, let’s get back to the station and do the interview,” Hotch interjected. “We can finish up here tomorrow.”
They got back into the cars and drove back to the station in silence.
When they got there, Hotch and Morgan picked up some case files and walked into the interview room. JJ stood with the rest of the team in the observation room.
Morgan read Toni Graham her rights, and then began the interview.
“Mrs. Graham, tell us about Rebecca,” he started with an open question.
“Rebecca?” she seemed startled. “Oh, my dear sweet Rebecca. She was such a lovely girl, always did so well at school. She loved her ballet, and her make-up. She was so pretty, she wanted to enter into a beauty contest, did you know that?”
JJ, who had read some of ‘Rebecca’s’ online journal entries, found the blatant over-compensation nauseating.
“That’s not true, though, is it?” Hotch asked gently. “Rebecca didn’t like make-up, did she?” Toni Graham’s face started to show panic. “She didn’t want to enter a beauty pageant, did she? In fact, she’d told you she didn’t like doing ‘girly stuff’ at all.” Hotch used the words he’d read from John’s online posts.
Toni Graham was starting to babble, offering explanations, but the agents didn’t let her finish.
“Your child told you that she was in fact a he, didn’t he?” Hotch pressed on.
“No!” came Graham’s helpless denial.
“He told you he wanted to be called John, didn’t he?”
The woman was crying now, sobbing desperately.
“It’s okay, Toni,” Morgan offered sympathetically, a foil to Hotch’s relentlessness. “I understand you just wanted what was best for her. She was much too young to make that kind of decision, wasn’t she? You were just trying to help her, weren’t you?”
“Yes, yes, I was just trying to help her!” Toni Graham grabbed on to that desperate life-line.
“You just wanted to save her, didn’t you? What she was talking about is a sin. You couldn’t let her live that perverted life.” Morgan sounded completely sincere, and JJ could see that even knowing Morgan was just saying what he had to to get the suspect to talk, Emily’s face was going white.
“Of course I wanted to save her! She was my beautiful daughter! But she just wouldn’t listen. She wouldn’t listen...”
“You wanted to save her soul, didn’t you?” Morgan asked gently.
“Yes, yes I did.” Toni Graham fell silent.
“Tell me,” Morgan entreated. “I understand. You did what you had to.”
“Yes. I couldn’t let her go on in a state of sin.”
“Tell me,” Morgan repeated.
“I had to send her to God pure. I sent her to God.”
That was still ambiguous. “How?” Morgan asked.
“I used some tablets from the hospital. I gave them to her. It didn’t take long, and then she was with God.” No ambiguity in that. “Then I put her in her prettiest dress. She looked so beautiful…” she trailed off.
While JJ was watching, a police officer came in to ask some questions about the future handling of the case. JJ answered distractedly, most of her attention on the interview going on on the other side of the window.
“And the others?” Morgan asked.
“I had to save them too.”
“How?” Morgan asked again.
“I used insulin. I didn’t want them to suffer.”
“You mean you didn’t want to be caught?” Hotch took over the questioning.
“I didn’t want them to suffer!”
Emily had been watching silently ‘til then, but now she spoke bitterly. “It almost sounds as if she cares.” She turned away from the observation window.
“I’ve got to...” she broke off, her voice thick, and walked out the door.
The police officer was still asking JJ questions, and she stared after Emily, burning with frustration.
“Look, just... not right now. I’ll get back to you. I have to...” JJ made her somewhat incoherent excuses and bolted out the door.
She couldn’t see Emily in the corridor. She searched the station unsuccessfully, before moving outside, where a sound made her look in the darkness of the alley behind the building.
Emily was leaning her head against the wall, her hands bunched in fists, choking back sobs.
“Hey,” JJ said softly. Emily didn’t reply.
“Emily?” she queried, and was surprised when the other woman burst out: “Don’t call me that!” and punched the wall viciously.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry.” JJ replied, confused, but starting to get an idea. “What should I call you?” Her only answer was a shrug.
About to suggest ‘Em’ when she remembered the earlier flinch at the name, she asked instead: “Is Prentiss okay?” Another shrug.
“Talk to me, sweetie.” JJ put her hand on Prentiss’ shoulder.
“Dammit, JJ, those kids were killed just for being themselves!” Punctuating the statement with another punch to the wall.
“This wasn’t even a difficult case! We got a name in less than 12 hours, but do you think the cops could care less? You saw how little work they’d done! How little they cared!” Every sentence another punch.
“Hey, sweetie, Prentiss, stop,” JJ begged, trying to catch Prentiss’ hands.
“JJ, they were killed for being brave enough to tell their truth. For being brave enough to say what I’m too cowardly to.” The eyes that turned to her held such a desolate look, and suddenly, JJ understood.
“Oh, sweetie, come here.” JJ enfolded Prentiss in her arms, holding him close as he cried. She whispered “It’s okay, it’s okay,” over and over until he quieted down.
“JJ, I’ve never told anybody,” Prentiss whispered.
“It’s okay. I understand. However you identify, you’re my friend, and you’re an amazing person,” JJ said, stroking dark hair away from a tear stained face.
“I can’t live like this any more, JJ. I’m not a woman. I’m not... Emily. I don’t know who I am, but I’m not her,” he said the last word with distaste.
JJ didn’t really know what to say, what to feel, but this was her friend, so she just kept holding on and repeating “It’s going to be okay.”
The crying had quieted, and JJ remembered Prentiss’ hands. She caught them up gently.
“Oh, sweetie,” she said with sympathy at his raw and bloody knuckles. “We better get those looked at.”
“I’m fine,” he said uncomfortably.
JJ gave him a pointed look. “Flex your hands,” she instructed.
A grimace of pain crossed Prentiss’ face as he tried to comply. “Okay, maybe they hurt,” he admitted ruefully.
“Okay, just hold on a second.” JJ took out her phone. “Rossi? Prentiss and I have to go take care of something... No, it’s fine... Yes... I’m sorry, I don’t know how long we’ll be. I’ll let you know... Yes, we need to take the car. Thanks.” She hung up and turned back to Prentiss. “Okay, let’s go.”
They walked round and picked up a car, and got in silently. JJ started the car, and keyed in a search for the nearest hospital on the GPS. She acknowledged to herself that she was using this as a way to avoid thinking about what Prentiss had just revealed.
They got to the ER and registered with the triage nurse, and then sat down for the wait.
“JJ? Are you okay? With this, I mean?” Prentiss asked nervously.
JJ thought about it, not wanting to give a pat answer, knowing he deserved her complete honesty. “Yeah, yeah I am. I guess I don’t really ‘get’ it. It’s going to take some getting used to and I’m afraid I’m probably going to get things wrong, but you’re my friend and I love you, and whether you’re Emily or Evan makes no difference to me.”
A smile lit Prentiss’ face, along with an odd look JJ couldn’t name. “Thanks,” he said simply.
JJ couldn’t hold her curiosity in anymore: “How do you...?” she wasn’t sure how to finish.
“How do I know?” Prentiss asked. At JJ’s nod he went on: “How do you know you’re a woman?”
JJ looked taken-aback. Prentiss continued: “I just do. This body doesn’t... fit. It’s not like I’m stuck in the wrong body, it’s just that this one has some things that just aren’t... me. I just feel better when nobody’s expecting me to be... womanly”
“I guess I can see that. You never did seem quite at home on girls’ nights with Penelope and me,” JJ said with a grin. Prentiss answered it with one of his own.
“Damn, my hands are starting to hurt. Remind me not to do that again,” he said wryly, changing the subject.
“Let me look at them,” JJ instructed, taking them gently in her own, allowing him the change of subject, not sure she was ready to talk about it herself. “Ouch, they look bad. I think you might have broken something.”
That appraisal turned out to be accurate. When the doctor took some x-rays, she found two broken metacarpals in his right hand. JJ winced right along with Prentiss when the doctor called him ‘Ma’am’.
The doctor prescribed some pain meds and called in a nurse, who splinted Prentiss’ right hand and just cleaned and bandaged the left.
By then, Prentiss was exhausted, emotionally and physically. JJ took charge of him, ushering him into the car, driving back to the hotel, talking when Prentiss wanted to talk, keeping comfortable silence the rest of the time, her hand resting reassuringly on his leg.
Back at the hotel, JJ walked with Prentiss to his room. She stood uncertainly in the doorway. “Hey, it’s going to be okay, you know. I’ll be there for you. Whatever happens, whatever you want to do, I’ll be there for you.”
He looked at her, a sweet smile stealing over his face. “Thank you,” he said. He stepped towards JJ, raising his bandaged hands to her shoulders, and kissed her softly on the cheek. “Thank you.” He closed the door with a smile.
JJ stood staring at the door for a while, an odd feeling creeping over her, then went back downstairs to see if the team had finished up at the station. She found them in the hotel bar, sitting round a table.
“Hi. I’m sorry about cutting out on you,” she said, taking a seat.
“Is Emily okay?” Rossi asked.
JJ found that, even having only found out a few hours ago, the name already sounded strange.
“Yeah,” she said. “She hurt her hands, but she’s okay. She went up to her room.” The ‘she’ was awkward in her mouth, but it wasn’t her story to tell.
“How-?” Morgan started, but JJ stared at him, trying to making it clear that she wasn’t going to answer any questions. He broke off.
“Okay,” Hotch said after an uncomfortable pause. “Everything is pretty much wrapped up at the station. There will be a few things to finish up tomorrow, but then the plane will be leaving at eleven. Let’s get some sleep.”
JJ walked back upstairs, had a quick shower and then lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, hyper-aware of the fact that Prentiss was just a wall away, and unsure how she felt about the evening’s revelations. It took her too long to get to sleep.
The flight home was quiet. Prentiss sat next to JJ. He’d taken his pain meds, which were making him drowsy. It wasn’t long before he fell asleep, slumping over to rest on JJ’s shoulder. JJ looked down at him, a wave of tenderness washing through her, and stroked his hair gently, ignoring the occasional odd look from the rest of the team.
When they got back to the BAU, Prentiss went into Hotch’s office. JJ stared at the door. He wasn’t in there for long. He came out and came down the stairs towards JJ, and looked around to make sure nobody else was in earshot.
“I’ve taken leave without pay. I told you, I can’t live like this any more. I’m going to do something about it. But I can’t do it here. Not in front of everybody. I can’t transition and do my job.”
JJ’s stomach lurched. “How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know. I’ll keep in touch. I wanted to thank you. For last night. It meant a lot. It means a lot, what you said, about sticking by me.”
“Prentiss…?” JJ wasn’t sure what she was asking.
“I’m sorry JJ, I have to.”
“I’ll miss you,” she said, lifting her hand, wanting to stroke Prentiss’ face, but unsure of herself. She settled for touching his shoulder. “I’ll miss you.”
“Thank you,” he said, his eyes warm. “I’ve got to go. I’ll be back, I promise,” he finished, and then he walked out the door, leaving JJ staring after him.