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Tangibly Frangible

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Prologue

It was late afternoon, and the sun shone brightly above the practice field at East Allegheny High School. A young blonde was the only one remaining on the field as she practiced her ball handling drills. The rest of her team had long since left to shower and head home for the evening, but she wasn't quite ready to call it a day. She had recently been named captain of the varsity soccer team, and she wanted to make sure she lived up to the honor of her new title. Rolls, foundation, pull back and go, turns, change with fakes and then back to rolls again – over and over she ran through the drill until she felt the click and pushed through the last set with her eyes closed.

Whooping when she finished the final Rivelino, she immediately started her stretches, already making plans to get in some time juggling the ball when she got home. Pleased with her workout, she headed back into the gym and through to the locker room where she discovered that she was alone. After only a moment's hesitation, she decided to wash up quickly, grab her stuff, and head out. She was just opening her locker when she heard a noise coming from around the corner.

"Who's there?" she asked nervously. Heart pounding, she waited for a response but was met with only silence. Deciding she must be hearing things, she grabbed her bag and her jacket and was just about to lock her locker when she was grabbed from behind. Struggling hard against her captor, she felt the arm around her throat tighten, each gasp for breath more difficult than the last, until, finally, she lost consciousness.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.

Anna Quindlen


 

Chapter 1

Jennifer "JJ" Jareau awoke with a start, grasping at the fading tendrils of whatever phantasm disturbed her slumber. It was not an uncommon occurrence. These nocturnal interruptions were part and parcel to working with the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico – a side effect of the job, if you will. The dreams she used to have paled in comparison to the things she experienced on a day-to-day basis. But there was that one big difference – the elephant in the room – as she once again felt that sense of déjà vu and overwhelming dread. You see, when JJ had one of those dreams, the things that she dreamed about usually turned out to be true.

She knew sleep was no longer an option and so she got up and made some coffee. As she waited for the pot to brew, she reviewed the fragments of her dream. The images were not very clear and seemed somewhat disjointed. If this were one of her premonitions, she would be hard pressed to state with any certainty what was going to happen. This fact gave her hope that perhaps this was merely a nightmare and the sense of dread simply a lingering effect of some of their recent cases. Speaking of… it was late enough now that she could shower and head in to work without being too early.

Freshly showered, with a large cup of coffee in hand, JJ made her way to the BAU. The air was crisp and fresh – it was a truly beautiful day – but the blonde barely noticed as she contemplated her recent dream. She just couldn't shake the feeling that something unpleasant was going to happen today. She parked her car, walked to the elevator, pressed the button for the sixth floor and stepped off when it arrived, but if asked anything about her journey, she wouldn't be able to recall a thing. She moved to her desk, and just as she was settling down to review some paperwork, Supervisory Agent Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner called her into his office.

JJ felt her heart speed up a bit as she wondered if this was the unpleasantness she was anticipating. She watched as the dark-haired man took a seat behind his desk and motioned for her to sit as well. His expression was unreadable, so JJ could only wait for him to speak to find out what this was all about.

Finally, Agent Hotchner opened a folder and turned it toward JJ. "There's a new case we need to brief the team on."

"I didn't get a call on this one," JJ commented as she took the folder and began to read through its contents.

"I know. The case was brought to me so that I could discuss it with you first." Agent Hotchner watched as the blonde perused the documents, watched as her posture stiffened slightly. "As you can see, it involves your hometown as well as your high school. I wanted to give you a chance to look over these documents before the briefing." He waited a few more minutes before placing his hand on her shoulder. "We should get this investigation underway; JJ, will you be alright participating in this?"

Still a bit stunned by what she was able to read about the case, she stood and handed Hotch the folder. "Of course, I'll be fine, thanks for asking, and thanks for the advance notice."

He merely nodded and gestured for JJ to precede him out the door, immediately calling the rest of the team into the conference room for the briefing.

JJ hung back and allowed the others to enter before her. Spencer Reid, boy genius and one time date, as baffling, as he was brilliant, Derek Morgan, a gorgeous man with absolutely no ego whatsoever and never far behind Morgan was the effervescent Penelope Garcia, a wiz with all things electronic and one of the most interesting personalities the blonde had ever met. Then there was Emily Prentiss, a beautiful woman with such a dignified carriage, an aftereffect of her well-to-do upbringing as the daughter of an ambassador. When JJ had first laid eyes on the brunette, she wasn't sure what to think, but they'd soon learned to accept one another, and a comfortable rapport had developed between the two. Finally, JJ entered the room, followed closely by Supervisory Special Agent David Rossi. This man was truly an enigma, and like everyone else, she'd long ago given up trying to figure him out.

As soon as everyone settled into his or her seat, Hotch began to brief the team. "I'll be taking point on this case for reasons that will become apparent as the facts are revealed." His eyes scanned quickly over the team to see how they would react. Satisfied that the widening of their eyes was going to be the extent of their reaction, he went on. "We received a call from North Versailles Homicide," He attempted to quickly continue – at least until the Goddess of all information made the connection.

"Hey JJ, isn't that near your hometown?" Garcia asked the blonde.

"Uh, yeah, it is." JJ answered simply, not wanting to go into any detail, her earlier sense of dread returning twofold. She hoped everyone would let it go, for now at least, so they could get back to the details of the case. It seemed they all caught on quickly as each person's attention returned to Agent Hotchner.

"As I was saying, we received a call regarding what appears to be a string of homicides. It seems no one made the connection between the cases until just recently when a rookie Detective caught the latest case." The dark-haired man handed each person at the table a folder. "These are summaries of the three related cases. The first occurred nearly seven months ago – a blue-eyed blonde, female, late teens, strangled and left in a life preserver bin at a rental cabin in the Finger Lakes."

Pausing to give the group time to review the photos, he went on. "The next occurred 28 days ago – blue-eyed blonde, female, early twenties, strangled and left in a Salvation Army clothing receptacle in Trafford." Once again, Hotch hesitated, stealing a quick glance at JJ before continuing. "The latest victim was found three days ago, blue-eyed blonde, female, late teens, strangled and left in her gym locker at East Allegheny High School." Hotch looked up from the file and turned his attention to the team's audio/visual technician. "Garcia, I want you to check the MO against other similar cases and send your findings here." He handed the analyst a card with access to the server in the hotel where they would be working. He knew she'd have a direct link established well before the group reached their destination.

"The rest of you I want packed and ready to head to Monroeville. We've got rooms at the Radisson and full access to their conference facilities to set up a base of operations as their police station is too small to accommodate us." He looked at the group, JJ in particular, and added, "We'll leave in one hour. It's roughly a forty-five minute flight, so we should arrive around one o'clock. The Homicide Detective on the case will meet us there, and the hotel will provide a late lunch as well."

As everyone stood to leave, Emily moved to JJ's side. "Hey, how are you doing?" The brunette couldn't help but ask. It was never easy when a case hit close to home, and she felt that this one might be even more unsettling to the blue-eyed blonde, varsity soccer team captain, and East Allegheny High School alum.

JJ looked over at Emily as if she didn't hear what was said but recovered quickly and responded. "I'm not really sure… I don't think it's sunk in just yet."

Not liking the slightly glazed expression on the woman's face, Emily put her hand on JJ's shoulder. "Listen, how about I drive you to pick up your bag, and then we'll swing by to grab mine? No reason for both of us to take separate cars, right?" She knew JJ recognized the gesture for what it was but wanted to let it appear as if it were her idea.

"Sure, sounds good to me." JJ replied as they started for the garage. The pair walked in silence the entire way to Emily's car, and the silence continued well into the trip. JJ was still trying to wrap her head around this case and the fact that she was headed back to her hometown, while Emily was contemplating how she could get the blonde to open up to her about the obvious tension she was experiencing over this case.

It wasn't until they were on their way to Emily's place that the brunette decided to break the silence. "So, how are you doing?" Realizing she'd asked that very same question already, she quickly amended. "You know, with the case being in your hometown?"

"Well, I'm not gonna say it isn't a bit disconcerting. I haven't been home in a while, and this isn't really how I wanted to go back. Not to mention what everyone obviously realizes – the similarities between these victims and me." The blonde shook her head. "Particularly the last one, she is who I was fourteen years ago."

"Maybe that will allow you to have insight into the case that the rest of us wouldn't have." Emily offered. "I know that's cold comfort, but it's something to hold on to."

JJ smiled ruefully, "Yeah, I guess there's that."

Arriving back at Quantico, JJ and Emily stowed their bags in the back of the SUV and took the two rear seats, Reid and Morgan situated themselves in the middle seats, and Hotch drove while Rossi rode shotgun. There was silence during the ride to the airport, and during the flight as well, as each person read the available information and prepared to try and come up with the beginnings of a profile on this unsub. To figure out the how that should lead to the why, and then, hopefully, the who.

The group arrived at the hotel just before one and checked in. They were immediately shown to their rooms and told that lunch was waiting for them in the executive conference room whenever they were ready. Everyone quickly dropped off their bags and made their way to the conference room, anxious to get started. As with every case, they wanted to do all they could to solve it before the unsub had the opportunity to strike again. The last to arrive was Agent Hotchner, who was trailed by a striking redhead wearing a gold detective's badge.

"All right everyone," The dark-haired man addressed the group. "I'd like to introduce the homicide detective on this case and have her brief you on any new developments. Detective Todd." Hotch gestured for the redhead to begin.

"Hello all, my name is Mackenzie Todd, but please call me Mac." She looked at each person in the room in turn as she continued, "I'm grateful to all of you for coming here so quickly, and hopefully, we'll be able to find out who's behind these crimes." She smiled at the dark-haired woman, and then her gaze moved to the blonde next to her. "We can visit the..."

The redhead's eyes went wide as she recognized just who the blonde was. "Jay Bird?"

JJ had an equally stunned look on her face. "Mac?" She went a bit pale as the full impact of who was standing in front of her hit her. Rising to her feet, JJ quickly made her way out of the room, calling out an apology as she hurried through the exit. "I'm sorry."

Mac watched the blonde leave and turned to the remaining group. "If you'll excuse me..." she said and went in search of JJ. Spotting her as she slipped out the front door, Mac quickly caught up to her. "Jennifer," she said softly as she grabbed hold of JJ's arm.

JJ stopped long enough to pull out of the redhead's grip. "Don't," she commanded. "Don't touch me." JJ couldn't make eye contact yet, and with the way her stomach was roiling, she was glad she hadn't yet eaten anything. "Am I supposed to just act as if I barely know you? Or maybe I'll pretend I just met you, because the girl I knew back in high school would have found a way to get in touch with me. She would have let me know she was all right. She would never just leave without a word. Without a word, Mackenzie! More than fourteen years, and I'm just supposed to accept that you're standing here in front of me - whole and healthy - and I'm expected to work with you on this case. Here, back where it all started... ironic don't you think?"

Mac didn't know what to do. She was just as shocked at the turn of events and wanted to tell JJ everything, but knew this wasn't the time. "JJ, I can try to explain it all to you, but not now. We've got to focus on this case and find this killer, and after we do, I promise you full disclosure." The redhead's eyes welled up with tears as she waited for what she hoped would be a positive response.

JJ stared into Mac's gray-blue eyes and saw a pain and sorrow that matched her own. "I've waited fourteen years already; I suppose I can wait a bit longer." Her own blue eyes shone bright with tears as the blonde reached out and pulled her long-lost friend into a hug. "God, Mac, I'm so glad to see you."

The redhead gratefully accepted the peace offering. "Oh Jay Bird, me too, you." She felt the tremor of a laugh at the oft-used terminology. "I never meant to hurt you, believe me." They each tightened their grip on the other. "Now, we better get back to your team and explain our hasty departure."