Chapter 1: Bark and Bite
Jennifer Jareau sat on the floor of her bedroom in the Delta Nu sorority house, half-listening to the news that played on her television and half-listening to the excited chatter streaming in from the hallway through her open door. It was Saturday, which meant it was JJ’s day to get errands done. She’d already gone grocery shopping, finished her homework, and called her mother.
One Saturday a month, she got to do her favorite activity - grooming Henry. JJ’s golden retriever, Henry, was her service dog, specially trained to help her through anxiety attacks and larger breakdowns. They’d been together since JJ was 16 and getting him had been a life-saver.
JJ’s sophomore year of high school, her anxiety had become unbearable. So, her mother had used JJ’s college fund to get her a service dog. Not only had Henry helped her schoolwork, but he’d helped her get through her time on the soccer team, which got her the scholarship that had replaced her fund. Five years later, JJ was just about to graduate from UPitt with a bachelor’s degree in Health Science. She wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do after that, but she was confident that Henry would be by her side.
“Did you hear that?” she asked, voice cheerful and breathy as she spoke to Henry. “A Georgia lawyer struck down a bad, bad bill! Isn’t that great?”
He just panted back at her and she kissed the top of his paw. Returning to her task of gently filing his nails, JJ glanced at the alarm clock on her nightstand. It was still the early afternoon. She ran through the last of her tasks for the day.
Once she finished with Henry, she needed to go to the gym, then shower, then get ready for her date with her boyfriend, Hotch. Aaron Hotchner was a fine guy, but he wasn’t someone JJ wanted to date forever. Unfortunately, she was pretty sure he was ready to propose.
They’d been dating for three years now. After meeting in a mandatory Biology class, they’d started talking and just kind of...never stopped. Now, so close to graduation, JJ was ready to let him go. However, he’d been acting so oddly around her lately, and she was worried he’d ask for more. While she was more than ready to turn him down, she knew it could end up being very awkward.
Kissing Henry’s paw again, she set it down and patted him on the head. “That’s the last of your nails, buddy. Thanks for being so good. Bed.”
He licked her cheek before jumping up onto her bed. With an exaggerated groan, JJ climbed to her feet and looked around. It was hard to believe that she’d be moving out soon. The only reason she’d even joined the Delta Nu sorority was because her mother had been a Delta Nu. JJ wasn’t really the sorority type, but she’d made some good connections and she’d met Kate and Ashley through the sorority, too.
As if her thoughts had summoned them, Ashley and Kate stuck their heads into JJ’s room. When they saw Henry on the bed, they hurried inside and hopped up beside him. Grinning as they immediately began to pet him, JJ went to her door and closed it.
“Hello,” she laughed, putting her hands on her hips. “You’d think after four years, you’d be immune to Henry’s charms.”
“Never!” Ashley cheered. She pulled Henry into her lap so she could get a better angle to pet his stomach. “Sorry, JJ. He’s always going to win.”
She sighed dramatically, rolling her eyes. “I guess I understand…”
“Are you done grooming him?” Kate asked. Scooting up the bed, she leaned against the headboard. “I need your help with my final paper.”
“I know more about your major than you do. Maybe I should have minored in Criminal Justice…” She winked when Kate stuck out her tongue and went to her dresser. “But yeah, I’m done with Henry for now. I need to go to the gym before my date, though.”
Ashley and Kate giggled, making JJ spin around to glare at them. They both thought Hotch was the hottest guy on the planet. JJ could agree that he was attractive, but they definitely liked him more than she did. They’d be ecstatic if she asked them to be co-maids of honor at the wedding.
Kate Callahan was graduating with JJ. She’d already secured an internship with the FBI in DC, which was annoying. Of course, JJ was happy for her, but she was also jealous. She wished she had such a clear path. She’d miss her best friend, though.
Ashley Seaver was younger than them. Only a sophomore, she’d clicked with Kate and JJ right away when she’d pledged her freshman year. JJ was pretty sure that Ashley would immediately move into her room, but that was fine. JJ wouldn’t be here to see it.
“You work out so much,” Kate groaned, her head falling back against the headboard with a soft thunk. “Babe, you’ve already got a six-pack. You’re stronger than your man!”
“I know.” JJ preened at the comment, tossing her workout clothes on top of the dresser. “I get hit on way more when we go out. He takes it well, but I know he’s jealous.”
The three women laughed together as JJ quickly changed into her workout gear. They’d be happy to help her get ready for the date later. For now, JJ shuffled them out of her room, grabbed her things, whistled for Henry, and headed for the gym.
Stripping out of her sweat-soaked clothing, JJ reminded herself that she loved exercising. She loved pushing her body to its limit and beyond. Most of the time, she practically vibrated with anxiety and energy, but when she worked out, she had to focus completely on her body and what she was doing. Otherwise, she could end up hurting herself.
There was just something about being sweaty and sore and out of breath that made her feel amazing. It was some of the only time she could think clearly. The gym was where she did most of her studying.
Instead of listening to music, JJ usually listened to lectures, either her own or one from a past year. She absorbed information like a sponge when she listened to it. It also replaced reading and let her spend more time doing what she wanted to. Besides, how many times had she invited friends over to listen to lectures? It was the perfect thing for solo and group studying.
However, she may have pushed herself too hard during her last session. Despite having stopped exercising an hour ago, JJ was still actively sweating, her skin flushed and warm. Hotch was picking her up in 45 minutes, but she still needed to shower and get ready. Reaching into the shower, she winced as her body protested.
Tapping her foot impatiently, she waited for the water to warm. She knew why her body was in so much pain. She’d been thinking about Hotch and it had made her careless. Whether or not he proposed on the date, JJ was going to break up with him. It just wasn’t going to work out between them. Especially not with him going to Harvard and her staying in Pennsylvania. His parents also disliked her, which didn’t help. They weren’t happy Hotch was dating a lowly commoner.
Once she finished showering, she dressed quickly. Hotch always took her to nice restaurants for their dinner dates. It was fun, at first, but now she was just tired of always having to wear dresses and heels and a full face of make-up. What was wrong with take-out and pajamas?
Whistling for Henry, JJ walked into the hall, closing her door behind her. She made her way down the stairs, spotting Kate, Ashley, and the rest of the house waiting for her. Rolling her eyes good-naturedly, she made her way to the first level and took her purse from Ashley.
“You guys are crazy,” JJ laughed, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “You all know I’m breaking up with him.”
“Maybe not, though!” Ashley said hopefully, hands clasped together. “His proposal could sweep you away and remind you of the good times you had together.”
JJ honestly couldn’t remember too many good times. There weren’t really bad times either. She and Hotch just kind of… went on dates, had sex, and bought each other birthday and Christmas gifts. JJ didn’t feel like she’d wasted her time with him, but all of that was bound to end sometime anyway.
“Maybe,” she replied, smiling. “Or, maybe I’ll meet a rich diplomat’s daughter and she’ll sweep me away in her black Ferrari and we’ll drive off into the sunset.”
“You never know…” Kate teased before patting her on the shoulder. “Anyway, call if you need anything later. Henry has our number.”
The dog nudged JJ’s hand with his nose and she squatted down to pet him. Kate handed his leash over and JJ clipped it to his vest. He always looked so handsome in his uniform. Henry gave her a short boof to let her know that she was smelling anxious.
“I’m ok,” she told him, pressing her cheek to his. “Normal stress.”
A knock sounded on the front door and JJ knew her night had really started. She and Hotch kissed politely before heading to the restaurant. They ate dinner in relative silence, making their usual small talk about school and friends. When they finished eating, JJ sighed, her shoulders slumping. Henry rested his chin on her knee. She patted his head, thankful he was there beside her.
“Hotch?” JJ said quietly, looking across the table. “Can...we talk?”
He nodded and coughed into his fist. “Actually, I have something important to say. May I go first?” JJ wanted to say no, but she wasn’t sure if breaking up now or after the proposal was the best time. Unfortunately, he took her silence as an affirmative. “Jay, you’re so wonderful. Thank you.”
“For being you,” he answered.
She looked him over. Even though their relationship was ending tonight, she was thankful to have had the time with him that she did. He looked young in his black suit, the shoulders a little too wide and the sleeves a little too long. She wasn’t upset with him, and she knew she may even miss him a little bit.
“Thanks for being you, too.” She reached out to take his hand in hers. “It’s been really great.”
“It has,” he agreed. Taking his hand from hers, he clasped his hands on the table and met her eyes. “One of the reasons I wanted to come here tonight was to discuss our future.”
JJ’s shoulders slumped at the confirmation that he was going to propose. “My thing is also about our future.”
“Good.” Hotch winced, clearly feeling just as awkward as she did. “Um… You know how I’ve been applying to law schools?”
“I got into Harvard.”
JJ gasped, genuinely pleased to hear that. “Congratulations! Aaron, that’s great!”
“It is.” He cleared his throat and ran a hand through his hair. “Harvard is going to be different, though. Law school is a completely different world, and I need to be serious. I mean, my family expects a lot from me.”
Nodding, JJ fiddled with the stem of her wine glass. “I know. It’s ridiculous how much they expect.”
“Perhaps.” He shrugged. Remembering his own glass of wine, Hotch took a quick drink before speaking again. “I expect a lot from me, too. I plan on being Attorney General, working for the FBI. I want to run it some day. That’s going to take a lot of work.”
JJ suddenly realized that this didn’t sound like a proposal. It actually sounded a lot like what she was going to say. Of course, her version involved taking care of her mother and pursuing a career with a professional sports team, but the basic principles were the same. She was going to be busy and would need to focus on herself.
“Hotch, what’s happening?” she asked directly.
He flinched. “I’m...Well, I need to stop messing around with my life and to do that, I need to break up with you.”
“You ‘need to’?” she repeated, raising her eyebrows. “Or, you are? This is you breaking up with me?”
“Yes.” His face softened, shoulders slumping, and he leaned closer, lowering his voice. “It’s my parents. You know them. I really do want to be a lawyer and work with the FBI, but they think I should be with someone who can help me make connections.”
She scoffed. “Someone rich, you mean?”
“And powerful,” he tried to joke, one corner of his mouth twitching. When JJ didn’t smile, he frowned again. “You can’t have thought this was going to last forever?”
“No!” She tucked her hand into the back of Henry’s collar, letting his presence calm her. “I was planning on breaking up with you tonight. I just thought…”
“I thought you were proposing." It felt silly to say out loud now, but it had been the truth. JJ had some insecurities, but she knew she was a fucking catch. Hotch would be lucky to have a wife like her. “I’m surprised you’re still letting your parents dictate who you date.”
“They don’t!” he protested weakly. “They just made some good points. Besides, we would be long distance, and you don’t want to hear me talk about law all the time.”
“We already talk about law all the time,” she pointed out, scowl deepening. “You never ask about my classes, but I practically helped you pass all of yours. Maybe I should be the one going to law school!”
He chuckled at that and dropped back into his seat. “Come on, JJ,” he laughed, holding his hands out. “You think you could get into Harvard? It’s not UPitt. You’re not exactly pushing yourself academically.”
“I was valedictorian of my high school, Hotch.” She straightened up, anxiety replaced by anger. “I may not have gone to boarding school, but I’m not an idiot. You can break up with me because I’m not rich, but do not break up with me because I’m stupid.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that. I’m sorry that’s what you heard. I just don’t think you could handle the rigorous curriculum of law school. Or the stress.”
JJ stood abruptly, chair scratching loudly across the restaurant. “Fuck you, Hotch.” She took Henry’s leash from his mouth and wrapped it around her hand. “You can’t even stand up to your absent parents. What do you know about stress? Good luck passing your finals without me.”
His eyes widened, but she hurried past him before he could say anything else. Who did he think he was? He thought she was stupid? Hotch thought she couldn’t handle law school?
Striding out of the restaurant, she started the walk home, thankful for the exercise to help clear her head. Henry trotted along beside her, nose tilted upward to let her know that she was getting overwhelmed. JJ took a deep breath and did her best to stay calm.
Hotch thought she couldn’t get into law school. He thought she’d burn out, or break down. She was going to prove him otherwise. She knew she had the grades to get in, her financial situation would get her at least a partial scholarship, and her disability made for an interesting admissions essay. JJ was going to law school. She finally had some post-grad plans. She was going to Harvard.
Chapter 2: Blue Skies
The next day, JJ went straight to her advisor’s office. As she was falling asleep after her date (and a good cry), she’d expected to wake up and decide against going to Harvard. That hadn’t happened, though. She’d woke up, taken one look at Henry laying beside her, and knew that it was going to happen.
JJ hadn’t been so sure of anything in a long time. For so long, the only thing she’d cared about was getting out of her hometown and then graduating from UPitt. Honestly, she’d been worried about what would happen after she graduated. She’d already spoken to a few teams about working as their Athletic Trainer, but nothing excited her.
When she’d remembered her date the previous night and the spur of the moment decision to go to Harvard, a thrill ran through her. It was something new to do and a brand new type of goal to work towards. Was JJ just doing this to avoid going back home? Well… Maybe, but she was also interested in the law.
After all, she had plenty of opinions on how the country was run. There were things she could do with a law degree, people she could help. Going to Harvard, becoming a lawyer, gave her a chance to do some real, permanent good - to leave her mark on the world. The desire to be remembered for helping people wasn’t new, even if this specific path was.
So, she’d gotten dressed, told Kate and Ashley she hadn’t gotten engaged after all, and set off across campus with Henry. It was a bright, sunny spring day and she took that as a good sign. The world was encouraging this. The thought made her feel a little better about the reckless decision.
Because the Delta Nu house was so close to campus, it didn’t take her long to walk to her advisor’s office. She stopped outside the door and took a deep breath, reaching down to scratch Henry’s head. She could only hope that Gideon would be as encouraging as the blue sky outside.
Steeling herself, she knocked and waited for the barely audible ‘come in’ that Gideon always muttered. When she heard it, or thought she heard it anyway, she opened the door and headed inside. He glanced up at her, down at Henry, and then back up at her again, face unreadable.
“I’m not a big fan of dogs,” he said as she closed the door. “Can it wait outside?”
“ He can’t,” she answered, crossing the room to sit in front of his desk. Henry sat beside her. “You know he’s a service dog, and I need him with me.”
Gideon took his glasses off, squinting. “Right.” Sighing heavily, he closed the file on his desk. “Well, what can I do for you?”
“I’d like you to look over my file and tell me what I need to do to get into Harvard Law.”
He stared at her for a moment. “Harvard?” he echoed, eyebrows shooting up. “You want to go to Harvard?”
“Yes.” She smiled kindly, tilting her head. JJ had a superpower, like most women did. She could smile and tilt her head and wrinkle her nose and get whatever she wanted. She called it the Blink and Smile. It worked 9 times out of 10. “I’d really appreciate it.”
Predictably, he nodded and caved. “Alright, well, let me pull up your file.”
She smiled triumphantly, sitting back in his seat. It took him a moment to navigate his computer and find her file. When he did, he sighed heavily and shook his head.
“Harvard is a top three school.”
JJ nodded. “I have a 4.0.”
“Yes,” he agreed slowly, “but your major is…” He squinted at his computer screen. “Health Science. That’s not exactly a typical pre-law degree.”
“I think they’ll see it as a sign that I’m bringing something unique to the school,” JJ countered, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “Not everyone goes into Harvard having majored in Pre-law. I have an interesting perspective.”
He stared blankly at her, the gears clearly working in his head. “Alright. What are your backups?”
“I don’t have any,” she replied. Straightening up, she met his eyes. “I’m going to Harvard.”
Gideon seemed to shrink back slightly at her sharp glare. “Well…” He trailed off, sensing her determination. She wasn’t going to let him deter her. “Ok. You’ll need excellent recommendations from your professors?”
“Not a problem!”
“You’ll need a heck of an admissions essay.”
JJ grinned. “My sister committed suicide and I found her. That always gets them.”
He shook his head, unable to argue about that. “The last thing you’ll need is at least a 175 on your LSATs. I hope you test well.”
“I’m a great test taker,” JJ told him, chuckling. “Trust me. I haven’t met a standardized exam I couldn’t beat.”
“You don’t beat tests…”
Shaking a finger at him, she smirked. “That sounds like someone who didn’t do well on tests. Trust me, Mr. Gideon, everything has a system and everything can be beat. Besides, I helped my boyf-” She caught herself and frowned. “Let’s just say, I’ve taken the practice test a few times already and I’ve always done well.”
“That’s good, at least.” He scowled at her, leaning forward. “I hope you’re up for this.”
“Mr. Gideon,” JJ started, leaning forward, too, “I once had to judge a tighty-whitey contest for Lambda Kappa Pi. I can handle anything.”
“This is so exciting!” Ashley squealed, pinning the last of JJ’s photos to her corkboard. “I can’t believe you actually got in!” She spun around to smile apologetically at JJ. “I mean, I can believe that you got it. It’s just… Harvard! You know?”
“I know,” JJ laughed as she tucked clothing away into the small dresser in her dorm room. “I’m just as surprised as you are.”
“You know what’s not surprising?” Kate asked, tearing a flyer off the bulletin board in the hallway and bringing it into JJ’s room. “You have to go to orientation before you can start classes. I thought that was just an undergrad thing.”
JJ shrugged, grabbing her jeans from her suitcase and putting them away. “I’m happy about it. It’s just a meet and greet, really, but it’ll be nice to know a couple of people before classes start. I’m pretty sure I won’t make any friends.”
Patting JJ’s shoulder, Kate sat on the small twin bed beside Henry and pulled him into her lap. “That’s true. I’m just grumpy because I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you guys, too,” JJ assured her. She shut the drawers and turned away from the dresser. “Thanks for coming with me. I mean it. I know 8 hours isn’t the worst drive, but I’ll be so far away from you now. You won’t even stay in Pittsburgh that long and then you’ll be even farther.”
She sighed and sat beside Kate on the bed, leaning her head on the other woman’s shoulder. They’d arrived at Harvard a couple hours ago and found their way to JJ’s new home. Law Students had their own dorm building on campus. JJ was really glad she wasn’t going to be surrounded by undergrad the whole time.
It was also nice to have her own room instead of having to share. Her dorm room was much smaller than her room at the Delta Nu house. She had a twin bed, a desk, and a dresser. That was it. There was a little extra space that she’d filled with her small tower of weights and a small bookshelf. It was a small box, but at least it was hers and at least it was at Harvard.
She was really grateful Kate and Ashley had come with her. They had to leave before too long, but at least she’d have some nice memories to keep her company later. She hoped that the other students in her hall would be friendly. One of her favorite things about the Delta Nu house was how she could always hear people talking in the hallways.
With a sigh, she smiled at her two friends. “I’m hungry. Let’s go find a diner. I need a job, anyway.”
“Here you go!” Penelope said, handing JJ an application. “Just so you know, I could really use some help, so if you have any experience at all, you’ve got the job.”
JJ chuckled as she began to fill out the form. “I’ve got years and years of experience waitressing. I can even inventory and order.”
“If I believed in God, I’d thank her right now!”
The two women laughed together and JJ looked around the diner they were in. She’d had a great dinner with Kate and Ashley, but they’d had to leave as soon as they’d paid. She’d stuck around, struck up a conversation with the friendly blonde behind the counter, and then asked for a job.
The diner was really close to campus and JJ knew she’d be spending a lot of time here no matter what. The food was cheap, the company was nice, and she was willing to bet it only got loud early in the morning. That made it the perfect study spot.
The restaurant wasn’t that big, but it certainly wasn’t cramped. It had a row of booths against one wall and a row of tables beside it. There was also a counter that spanned the length of the room. The decor was quaint and vaguely ‘Harvard’-themed, meaning that it was mostly dark wood and brick. It felt homey and comfortable and JJ loved it.
Her eyes landed on Henry and she winced. “Um, there is one thing…”
“What is it, Peaches?” Penelope asked. “Is it a criminal record? I don’t mind unless it’s murder or tax fraud.”
“It’s not a criminal record,” JJ told her with a lop-sided grin. “I have a service dog, Henry. He needs to stay with me at all times.”
Penelope lifted herself up onto her toes to peer over the counter. She spotted Henry and squealed before running around the counter to pet him. She hesitated just before touching him, remembering herself.
“Can I touch him? I know some service dogs don’t like that.”
“You can pet him,” JJ chuckled, nodding at her and then going back to her form. “I figure he’ll just sit by the counter as I work. I don’t need him to follow me around.”
Penelope cooed, scratching Henry under his ears. He panted happily, enjoying the attention. “Can I ask what he does? You don’t have to disclose that for the job. Also, I love him, and he can live here if he wants to.”
“Anxiety,” JJ answered easily, swallowing the lump that formed in her throat whenever she told a new person about her struggles. “He keeps me calm, helps me through panic attacks, etc. He has meds in his vest and a few things for stimulation.”
“Good to know!” She looked up at JJ, no judgment at all in her eyes. “I had a cat that I loved. Sergio. He was perfect!”
JJ finished her form and set her pen down, leaning against the counter to watch Penelope pet Henry. “Was? I’m sorry if that’s sensitive.”
“I had a shitty ex,” Penelope told her. She rolled her eyes. “Asshole kept the cat. He doesn’t even care about him!”
“I’m sorry,” JJ said sincerely. “Everyone deserves to have their pet with them.”
The bell above the diner chimed and the most beautiful woman JJ had ever seen walked in. She had straight, dark hair with a center part that worked for her in a way it didn’t work for many people. She was dressed casually, in a Harvard sweatshirt, a pair of dark leggings, and black Uggs. Even in pajamas, half-asleep, with no make-up, this woman was stunning.
Henry nudged JJ’s leg. When she looked down, he raised his nose, telling her that her heart rate was climbing. She rolled her eyes and tapped his nose with two fingers, telling him she was fine. This was the first time in a while that he’d warned her about being overwhelmed because of someone cute.
The woman saw Henry and hurried toward him, stopping when she saw his red vest. Her wide dark eyes turned on Penelope. “Can I pet him?”
Her voice was rough and low, incredibly hot. JJ thought that it just wasn’t fair that one person got to be hot like this. She was just blonde and muscular. A little jealous, JJ wished she had a sexy voice, too, or mysteriously black eyes.
“He’s not mine,” Penelope said in response. She pointed at JJ. “He’s hers.”
The woman looked at JJ. “Can I pet him?”
“Yeah,” JJ managed. “Go ahead.”
As she squatted beside Penelope, the woman looked JJ over, eyes lingering on her bare arms before dropping to the strip of skin visible between JJ’s tank top and jeans. Smirking, JJ couldn’t help feeling satisfied that the woman was checking her out. She always felt good when hot people thought she was hot, too.
“My name is Emily,” the woman said as she began to pet Henry. “What’s yours?”
Emily raised a perfect eyebrow. “A nickname. Mysterious.”
“Hardly,” JJ laughed, shrugging. “Juvenile, maybe, but not mysterious.”’
“Nicknames are cute.” Emily flushed. “Your nickname is cute. JJ. It suits you.”
JJ’s cheeks warmed at the compliment. “Thanks. Emily’s a nice name, too.”
JJ and Emily both jumped slightly. They’d forgotten about the third person in the room. Emily smiled guiltily and looked at the woman beside her. She held out a hand.
“Nice to meet you, Penelope.”
“Thank you!” Penelope stood with a groan and moved back behind the counter. “Did you want to order something?” she asked Emily. “Or did you see Henry through the window and come in?” She looked at JJ. “He could be good for business!”
Emily chuckled and stood, too, moving to the counter. “I actually just wanted to get a stack of pancakes to go.”
“No problem! I’ll go tell the chef!”
Winking at JJ, Penelope disappeared into the back of the store. JJ blushed and looked back at Emily. The brunette was checking JJ out again, eyes snapping up when JJ moved.
“Hey,” she said, smiling casually and leaning against the counter, “I know this is really forward, but can I get your number? I’m new in town and I’d love to spend time with someone who knows the area.”
JJ grinned. “Actually, I’m new to the area, too. I start at Harvard on Monday.”
Emily’s eyes lit up and she stood up straight. “Really? Me, too! Now, I really need your number. We can study together, explore Cambridge, and so on.”
“And so on?” JJ repeated with a chuckle. “Sounds enticing…” She picked up the pen she’d just used and took Emily’s hand in her own. Quickly scribbling her number on Emily’s palm, she shook her head. “I was already looking forward to Harvard, but now I’m even more excited.”
“Me, too,” Emily agreed, “and this is a two-for. I get to take two beautiful blondes out.” When JJ released her hand, she squatted in front of Henry again. “Isn’t that right, you beautiful boy?”
Henry licked Emily’s face and JJ’s eyebrows shot up. He didn’t usually do that. It took Henry a while to get to know people. Kate and Ashley had proved their friendship to JJ before Henry relaxed around them and he’d never liked Hotch. Emily, it seemed, was something else entirely.
The other woman laughed as she fell onto her butt, Henry knocking her over in his eagerness. He sniffed her ear and looked up at JJ, mouth falling open in a happy pant. JJ felt the same optimism that had filled her months ago on the walk to Gideon’s office. Coming to Harvard had been the right decision after all.
Chapter 3: In and Out
JJ patted the grass beside herself and watched as Henry settled down. It was Monday, and her first day of law school. Of course, she didn’t have her first class until that evening, but she was still counting it. She was on campus and it was the first official day of the semester. She’d begun her new life!
After eating breakfast in the dining hall, she’d made her way back to her room, gotten dressed, and headed out to the courtyard where the orientation tables had been set up. There were a lot of people milling about, but she still tried to spot Emily. They’d texted a bit the day before, but both of them were busy getting ready and hadn’t made any plans to meet up.
JJ was kind of grateful for that. She was overwhelmed by the new school, all the strangers, and the sinking realization that she’d committed to three more years of school. That was a long time. She’d have her work cut out for her, but it’d also give her time to figure out what she was going to do afterward.
She’d gotten a full ride scholarship, of course. Still, it didn’t give her any extra money for food, supplies, or other expenses. That’s what her job was for. She could only hope that all the stress wouldn’t get to her. She just had to take things one step at a time.
After getting to the courtyard, she’d found her orientation table and gotten her information packet. It had her class schedule, map, and book list. She’d already bought her books, of course. Before she left UPITT, she’d made Gideon figure out which classes she was taking and what she’d need. Despite her preparedness, she hadn’t had time to read anything yet. Hopefully, she could do that after meeting her orientation group. She was working the afternoon shift at the diner, but she could still read if it wasn’t too busy.
Once she had her things, she found her orientation group. It was just a second year student and two other students. They’d all gathered on the green, surrounded by other small groups. JJ was as excited to meet new people as she was nervous.
Their orientation leader was a man named Stephen who managed to be pleasant while still conveying how little he wanted to be there. “Alright,” he sighed, looking at all of them. “Welcome to law school. This is the part where we go around in a circle and everyone says a little bit about themselves.” Stephen nodded at the man next to him. “Let’s start with you.”
“My name is Spencer Reid,” the man said. JJ knew he was probably an adult, but he looked incredibly young to be at law school. He was skinny and tall, if the way he was folded awkwardly was any indication. “I have a PhD in Mathematics and Physics. For the last six months, I’ve been taking a break from school to… research how schizophrenia presents in Alzheimer’s patients.”
JJ’s eyebrows flew up. He definitely looked too young to have done all of that. She tried to ignore the way his casual tone made it sound like they all should be so accomplished.
“Awesome,” Stephen muttered. He nodded to the woman beside Spencer. “What about you?”
“Hey. How’s it going?” the woman asked with an easy smile. “My name is Tara Lewis. I have a PhD from Dartmouth in Forensic Psychology and, last year, I single handedly organized the march for Lesbians Against Drunk Driving.”
JJ looked Tara over, trying to assess how she’d take it if JJ just introduced herself as bisexual and asked to be friends. In her experience, that worked, but she didn’t know how a lesbian with a PhD would feel about being reduced to her sexuality. Tara met JJ’s eyes and the blonde smiled. Tara did not.
When she looked away, she met Stephen’s eyes. “Me?”
“Ok,” she chuckled nervously, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Hi. I’m JJ -uh, Jennifer Jareau, and this is Henry.” She grinned. “This is Henry Jareau.” No one smiled back at her. Continuing on nervously, she tried to ignore that Henry had put his chin on her thigh to steady her. “I’m from East Allegheny, near Pittsburgh. I have a bachelor’s in Health Science.” Hesitating, she scrambled her brain to think of anything interesting she could say. “Last year, I organized my sorority’s Take Back The Night March!” She glanced at Tara and saw the other woman crack a small smile. Encouraged, she added one more thing. “I want to be an advocate for queer women. All women, really, but queer women specifically. We need better laws. So, I came to law school.”
Tara was fully grinning now, hiding her mouth behind her hand. Spencer looked incredibly confused by her rambling and Stephen looked really bored, but JJ was excited that she’d made some progress with Tara. They may not be friends yet, but at least Tara knew she was gay now.
The orientation wrapped up quickly after that and JJ hurried to the diner for her shift. It was only a few hours, but the diner had been crowded with new students and families. JJ understood why Penelope had scheduled her, even though she worked such a short shift.
She was exhausted by the time she made it back to her dorm room. Part of her wanted to just strip and take a nap, but she couldn’t miss her first class. Henry sat by the door as she quickly changed into her new clothes. She’d splurged a bit and bought herself some business clothing. It felt weird to be wearing pencil skirts and button downs, but it was better than the athletic wear she usually wore. This was law school after all.
When she was ready, she grabbed her bookbag and put Henry’s leash on him. It didn’t take her long to get to the building where her first class was. JJ was hurrying toward her classroom when she almost barreled into someone.
Recovering quickly, JJ turned to apologize to whoever she bumped into and ask them how they knew her name, when she saw who it was. “Hotch.” She swallowed hard before putting a hand on her hip and smiling. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“I’m sorry,” he muttered, looking confused. “Are you here to see me?”
She laughed and rolled her eyes. “I go here. I decided to put my money where my mouth is and go to Harvard, just like you. After all, I practically put you through pre-law.”
“Right…” He narrowed his eyes at her. “You got into Harvard Law?”
“What, like it’s hard?” Glancing at a clock on the wall, she shook her head. “I have to go to class. See you later.”
“Wait!” He jumped forward to grab JJ’s arm. “Meet me on the benches after class?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Maybe. I’m pretty busy.”
Pulling her arm from his grip, she turned a way and hurried to her class. Why did she have to run into Hotch on her first day? Now her excited mood was ruined. In all the fuss about starting law school, she’d forgotten that this had been out of spite. For her, the decision to come to Harvard had been for herself. Unfortunately, Hotch was also there.
JJ made it into her classroom just as Dr. Blake was turning away from her TA. She sat in the front row, at the end, and Henry laid down beside her, familiar with classrooms. Dr. Blake’s eyes flicked between JJ and Henry before looking away. JJ hadn’t been able to get a read on what the woman had been thinking.
Dr. Blake would have been told ahead of time about Henry, but JJ usually liked to talk to her professors about it before class. Hotch had stolen her time, though. Hopefully, Dr. Blake didn’t have anything against Golden Retrievers.
“A legal education,” Dr. Blake started as the students hurried to pull out their laptops and textbooks. JJ followed suit, cursing herself again for not getting the reading done. “A legal education means you will learn to speak in a new language. “You will be taught to achieve insight into the world around you, and to sharply question what you know.”
JJ looked around the room, trying to see if Tara and Spencer were in her class. They were. When she turned in her seat to look directly behind her, her eyes met ones she recognized. Emily was in her class. JJ began to smile, but hesitated as Emily’s eyes widened. A second later, her face shifted and she was staring at JJ with an icy scowl.
JJ frowned and turned back toward the front of the room. She wasn’t sure what she’d done to upset Emily in the brief time that they’d texted. Maybe it was something else entirely. Maybe Emily thought she was too good for JJ.
“The seat you have picked will be yours,” Dr. Blake continued, “for the next nine months of your life. Those of you in the front row? Beware.”
JJ flinched as the man beside her held something out. She’d been listening to Dr. Blake and not paying attention to her surroundings. That was always bad. Taking the clipboard she was being offered, JJ scribbled her name on the seating chart.
Dr. Blake gestured to a phrase she’d written on the board as her TA picked up the clipboard. “‘The law is reason free from passion.’ Does anyone know who spoke those immortal words?”
Spencer’s hand shot into the air. Dr. Blake smirked and nodded at him, slowly stepping forward. “Aristotle.”
“Are you sure?”
“Would you be willing to stake your life on it?” she asked, stopping beside his seat in the third row.
Spencer paled, but he nodded. “I think so.”
Dr. Blake hummed and took a step back. She smacked the student sitting in front of Reid on the head with her pencil. “What about his life?”
Spencer managed to pale even further, a bead of sweat appearing on his forehead. “I… I don’t know.”
“Well,” Dr. Blake shrugged as she made her way back to the blackboard, “I recommend knowing before speaking. You were correct, though.” She met JJ’s eyes. “The law leaves much room for interpretation, but very little for self-doubt.” Her TA held out the seating chart for her and she scanned it quickly. “Now, I assume all of you have read pages 1 through 48 and are now well-versed in subject matter jurisdiction. Who can tell us about Gordon V. Steele?” She looked at JJ again. “Ms. Jareau?”
JJ’s heart thumped hard in her chest and Henry’s head shot up. “Yes? Dr. Blake?”
“Your thoughts on the reading?”
“Well…” JJ swallowed hard, reaching down to put her hand on Henry’s head. Dr. Blake’s eyes noticed the movement. “I’m so sorry, Dr. Blake, but I didn’t have time to do the reading.”
“You didn’t have time.”
JJ shook her head, trying to ignore her rising embarrassment. Henry put her paw on her knee and she scratched him behind the ear. The last thing she needed was to have a panic attack on her first day of classes. “Again, I’m so sorry. It’s been- You don’t need excuses, but, uh, No. I didn’t do the reading.”
Dr. Blake looked at her for a moment. Something like sympathy flashed through her eyes, but it disappeared as quickly as it came. She looked at her seating chart again.
“Emily Prentiss,” Dr. Blake said in a clear voice, “a question.” JJ’s heart managed to race faster as she turned in her seat to see Emily staring over her head.
“Yes, Dr. Blake?”
The professor snorted. “Do you think it’s acceptable that Ms. Jareau is not prepared?”
Emily smiled as Dr. Blake moved closer, but schooled her face into a neutral mask. “No.” She finally looked at JJ again and all trace of that nice woman Uggs in the diner was gone. “I don’t.”
“Would you support my decision to ask her to leave class, and to return only when she is prepared?”
JJ’s stomach sank and she took a few deep breaths. This was like every nightmare she’d ever had. She’d shown up to class barely on time, without doing the assignment, and everyone was turning against her. The reality of Harvard was really barreling into her and she just wanted to curl up on her bed and cry.
Emily hesitated for a moment, sitting perfectly still. Then, she blinked and said, “Absolutely.”
Dr. Blake barely had to look at JJ before she was packing her things up. It seemed to take forever to put all her things away. When she was ready, she stood, Henry lightly tugging at his leash. She gathered herself together and turned an apologetic smile on Dr. Blake.
“My apologies, again,” she said, sounding as pleasant as possible. Dr. Blake looked impressed at how she’d put herself together so quickly. This wasn’t JJ’s first time holding it together as she was about to fall apart. “I’ll be prepared on Wednesday.”
With that, she left the room. She made it out to the hallway and continued her stiff, sniffle-filled walk. By the time they reached the exit, JJ knew she wasn’t going to make it back to her room before having her panic attack. She went to the closest bench and dropped heavily onto it, letting her bag fall to the ground.
Henry jumped up beside her as she crossed her arms over herself and bent forward. He stuck his nose under her arm and forced her to sit up again, wiggling his way into her lap. Putting his paws on her shoulder like a hug, he started licking her ear. It helped ground her and her ticklishness forced her to stop crying so she could laugh.
Hugging him tightly, she buried her face in his fur. His presence helped her begin to calm down. He smelled familiar and safe and she focused on that. He was her home, even when she’d moved hours away from her old home. She may not have friends, but she had Henry.
“Uh,” a man’s voice drawled. “Hey. You alright?”
Lifting her head, she looked up at a kind looking man standing in front of her. He looked slightly older than her in his casual button down and jeans. He was cute, even if his facial hair covered part of his face. A leather satchel was slung over one shoulder.
“Can I ask you a question?” JJ requested instead of answering his stupid question. “Do they put you on the spot like that all the time? I don’t know if I can handle that.”
“The professors?” he asked, accent coloring his words. “Yeah, they tend to do that.” His southern drawl made the corner of JJ’s mouth perk up. “Socratic method.”
“And if you don’t know the answer, they’re just going to kick you out?”
“Dr. Blake, huh?” He clicked his tongue and took his bag off, sitting beside her.
JJ shifted toward him, wiping her cheeks. “Yes! Did she do that to you, too?”
“No, but she did make me cry once.”
“Oh, well, she’s got me two for two.”
They chuckled together and JJ felt a little better. It was nice to have someone on her side, even if it was a stranger she’d probably never see again. She absently pet Henry.
“Don’t worry, though. It gets better.” He pulled up a leg on the bench to face her. “Who else do you have?”
“I have Barnes, Rossi, and … Donovan.”
“Yeah, let’s see.” Rubbing his chin, he nodded to himself. “Speak up in Barnes’ class. She likes people who are opinionated. In Rossi’s class… Try to get a seat in the back. He spits when he talks about products liability.” They both chuckled. “Uh, for Donovan - Make sure you read the footnotes, ‘cause that’s where she gets her test questions from.”
“Thanks!” JJ leaned back against the bench, feeling almost fully calm again. “I’m really glad I met you.”
“I’m happy to help.” He smiled in a way that made her believe he meant it.
She smiled back at him. “Are you a third-year?”
His answer was lost as Hotch arrived, speed-walking toward them. JJ rolled her eyes at his brisk pace. He probably saw Henry in her lap and knew what happened. Hotch stopped in front of her.
“JJ,” he said, reaching for her before flinching back, “are you ok?”
“I’m fine, Hotch,” she answered, annoyed. “I’m just chatting with a new friend.” She frowned as the stranger stood up and grabbed his bag. “Going so soon?”
“I have class,” he answered.
She watched him walk away and threw a glare at Hotch. “I was having a conversation.”
“Sorry.” Shifting awkwardly, he coughed into his fist. “So, how was your first class?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she muttered. Distractedly, she twisted strands of Henry’s hair together. “Some rich bitch tried to make me look bad in front of the professor. How was your summer?”
Hotch coughed into his fist again, face turning red. “It was… Uh, yeah. It was good. Um.”
Emily appeared beside them, dark eyes fixed on JJ. She slid an arm around Hotch’s shoulders and something glimmered on her finger. It was an engagement ring. The easy way she pushed herself onto her toes to kiss Hotch’s cheek made JJ’s stomach flip unpleasantly. What was Emily doing asking her out if she was engaged?
“Hey, Hotch,” Emily said, glaring at JJ. “How’s it going?”
“Emily!” He adjusted his tie. “Have you met JJ?”
The question made JJ want to laugh. Of course, they’d met. They’d spent most of yesterday flirting over text and trying to make plans for brunch. This was not that Emily, though, and it seemed the other woman agreed.
“In class,” Emily answered, voice still thick like molasses. “Emily Prentiss.”
JJ glanced between Emily and Hotch. “Do you know her?” she asked him, even though she knew the answer. “How?”
“His fiancée,” Emily said pointedly. She wrapped her free hand around the straps of her bag, knuckles white. “We’re engaged. I didn’t know you’d be coming to Harvard. I didn’t know who you were until late last night.”
The way she said that almost felt like an apology. JJ was probably reading into it, and to the way Emily’s eyes kept meeting hers and darting away. Despite her cold exterior, she didn’t seem to be comfortable at all. Hotch cleared his throat.
“Emily was my prep-school girlfriend. We got back together this summer while I was interning for her mother.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “Who my mother is doesn’t matter.” She glared at JJ. “Don’t you have a bench press to do?”
Stomping away, Emily dragged Hotch along with her. She glanced back over her shoulder once, face inscrutable, and JJ just looked away. This was a lot to handle on her first day. She was already exhausted and there was so much more law school to go.
It didn’t help that Emily had been so mean. Where had that nice woman who called Henry beautiful gone? Emily Prentiss was stressful, too. JJ could have sworn she was a lesbian, but she was engaged to Hotch. That was another mystery. Why was Hotch suddenly in a rush to get married?
Rubbing her forehead, she smiled at Henry. “Women, am I right?”
Chapter 4: Questions and Answers
JJ sighed heavily, dropping onto a stool in front of the counter. “I just don’t know what to do, Pen. It’s harder than I expected, and I expected a lot. I have yet to make it all the way through a class without getting kicked out.”
“I’m sorry, Sunshine.” Penelope leaned on the other side of the counter with a sympathetic smile. “I could schedule you less?”
“No!” Pouting, JJ lazily turned her stool in a slow circle. “I need the money. I just also need to study.”
She was three weeks into the semester and still so far behind. There was so much reading that it was impossible to keep up. Between work, class, exercise, and the tiny amount of sleep she was getting, JJ was overwhelmed. She may not be able to do it all, which was hard for her to admit.
“Ask Derek if you can study at work,” Penelope suggested. “I’m sure he’d agree.”
JJ brightened. “That’s a good idea!”
“Duh,” Penelope snorted, wiggling her eyebrows. “I thought of it.”
The door to the diner opened with a cheerful ring of the bell. JJ turned with a smile to greet the newcomers, but saw Derek Morgan instead. The diner’s owner loved to stop by to ‘check inventory,’ but all the employees (and the regular customers) knew that he really came to flirt with Penelope.
“If it isn’t my two favorite blondes,” he chuckled, rubbing his hands together. “And I thought the two-for-one special was Strawberry Milkshakes today!”
JJ laughed, rolling her eyes good-naturedly. “Real smooth.”
“I thought so,” he chuckled. Derek moved behind the counter, dipping down to pet Henry on his way. Throwing an arm around Penelope’s shoulders, he kissed her cheek. “How’s it going, Babygirl?”
“Better now that you’re here, Hot Stuff,” she answered playfully, hugging his waist. “Did you stop by just to see me?”
“No,” he denied unbelievably. “I’m… doing a spot inspection.” Looking around at the two occupied tables in the diner, he gave JJ a thumbs up. “Looks great.”
JJ shook her head, smiling. “Thanks. Hey, can I ask you a question?”
“Would it be possible to study during my shift?” She held her hands up quickly. “Only when it’s not super busy, or even only when I have a test.”
He nodded, not looking worried or upset at all. “That’s fine. Do what you need to. I know it’s hard to work and study. I’m sure Babygirl will keep you in line.”
“I’ll keep you in line,” Penelope squealed, tickling Derek.
Pretending to gag at their flirting, JJ turned toward the door when the bell chimed again. “Hello,” she started, “welcome to…”
Her voice trailed off when she saw who had entered. It was Emily, back in her comfortable clothing. She wasn’t alone this time, though. Tara and Spencer were with her, laughing together quietly. JJ blushed with embarrassment.
She’d managed to avoid giving away the fact that she was poor, but nothing screamed ‘scholarship kid,’ like having a job. Henry stood with a long stretch and trotted over to Emily. Letting him distract the group, JJ slid off her stool and pulled three menus from the basket on the host podium.
“This way,” she muttered, patting her thigh so Henry came back to her. He licked Emily’s out-stretched hand one last time and returned to her side. “Table or booth?”
“Booth,” Spencer said right away. “Do you work here?”
JJ nodded, glancing at his messenger bag. “I do.”
“That’s cool.” He slid into the booth she stopped beside. “I’ve never had a job before.”
Biting her tongue, she just handed him a menu. When Tara settled beside him, JJ gave her a menu, too. Emily reached out for the last one, but JJ just dropped it onto the table and walked away.
Penelope was whispering into Derek’s ear. She was probably telling him why JJ was acting strangely. JJ ignored them as she went behind the counter to get the table water.
“Damn,” Derek muttered, clicking his tongue, “that’s harsh. Sorry, JJ.”
JJ rolled her eyes, filling the water glasses with ice. “It’s fine. I don’t care about her, or Hotch. It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with being working class.”
“Of course not,” Penelope agreed quickly. “Besides, you got into the same school they did without any of their fancy training.”
“That’s true,” Derek agreed, shaking his finger at her. “You should take a portrait when you graduate and we can hang it on the wall.”
JJ smiled fondly. Their teasing support actually made her feel a lot better. Placing the three cups of water on a tray, she stuck her tongue out at them as she passed by. The easy smile stayed on her face as she crossed the diner, nodding to another table as they asked for their check.
“Here you go,” she said to her classmates, transferring the glasses onto the table. JJ tucked her tray under her arm and pulled three straws from the small apron around her waist. “What can I get you?” she asked, tossing them onto the table.
Spencer looked up from the notes spread over the table in front of him. “Can I get a grilled cheese? And a coffee?”
Tara rested her elbows on the table. “I’ll have the garden burger, but with sweet potato fries, please.”
“No problem,” JJ replied. “Just ketchup with that? Or Honey Mustard?”
JJ grinned at her. “Good choice.” She’d delayed long enough and finally met Emily’s dark, thoughtful eyes. “And for you?”
“McCulloch v Maryland,” Emily answered, picking up a straw. “Who won?”
“McCulloch,” JJ said without thinking. “Why?”
Emily ignored JJ’s question as she picked the paper sleeve off her straw. “What was the cause of the suit?”
Shifting her weight, JJ put a hand on her hip. “Are you going to order anything?”
“I will. Answer my question.” She raised a sharp eyebrow. “Unless you can’t.”
“181. Maryland passed legislation to impose taxes on the bank. McCulloch refused to pay the tax, filing a suit with the State Appeals Court.”
“Did Maryland win?”
“Chief Justice Marshall redefined ‘necessary’ to mean ‘appropriate and legitimate,’ changing how the Court understood the Necessary and Proper Clause. He held that states have the power of taxation, but the Constitution and laws override state laws. Since Congress had the power to incorporate banks, Maryland couldn’t tax instruments of the National Government employed in the execution of Congressional powers.”
“A Greek salad.”
JJ blinked, thrown off by the mention of food. “What?”
“I’ll have a Greek Salad,” Emily clarified with a tight smile, “and a Strawberry Milkshake. They’re the special on Wednesdays, aren’t they?”
Nodding JJ looked at the other two people on the table. Tara was hiding a grin behind her hand. Spencer glanced between JJ and Emily, looking as confused as JJ felt. Still dazed, JJ made her way back to the counter to put their order into the system.
The rest of the night passed similarly. Emily kept throwing questions at JJ and JJ kept trying to answer them. If she didn’t know the answer, Spencer was happy to provide.
After a few hours, JJ was ready to punch someone - probably Emily. The older woman was infuriatingly smug, asking questions and interrogating JJ for answers. It was like she was shoving JJ’s face in the fact that she kept getting kicked out of class. Emily didn’t even have the decency to limit her torment to Harvard’s campus.
JJ did her best to serve other customers, answer the questions, and ignore Penelope’s teasing looks. She was sure the other blonde would joke about children pulling on their crush’s pigtails on the playground. Penelope and Derek would probably say that Emily was only being mean to JJ because she liked her. If it was true, JJ wished Emily could find a different way to show her affection.
Eventually, the trio finished eating and studying. They gathered their things, dropping cash onto the table and heading out. Before she left, Emily squatted down to pet Henry. The service dog was smitten with the brunette and JJ couldn’t tell who she was more jealous of - Emily for stealing Henry’s attention, or Henry for getting touched by Emily. Pushing the thought away, JJ ignored the soft smile on Emily’s face.
Emily straightened up with a groan, keeping a hand on her heavy bag. She met JJ’s eyes. “Good luck on the test tomorrow.”
She left the diner, the bell ringing loudly. It took a moment for her words to filter into JJ’s brain. ‘Good luck on the test tomorrow.’
JJ had forgotten all about the test in Dr. Blake’s class. She thought back to how many of Emily’s questions she’d gotten wrong. It had probably been about half, most of them coming from readings she hadn’t had time to do. After all the conversations, she could practically hear the trio’s voices telling her the answers. Emily hadn’t been tormenting her; she’d been tutoring her. She’d just done it in a way that held up her Rich Bitch reputation in front of the others.
Sighing, JJ shook her head and decided not to read into it. Emily was an enigma. From her sexuality to her hot and cold behavior, JJ just couldn’t figure her out. Clearly, she wasn’t a bad person, but JJ didn’t have the mental energy to figure out what kind of person she was.
Walking to their table, JJ gathered the cash and the check and took it back to the counter. She noticed immediately that there was way too much money. She counted it quickly and found that someone had left an extra hundred dollars as the tip. Anger filled her, making her hands tremble.
Whatever good will Emily had gained was gone. How dare she just throw money at JJ like that, as if it made up for her rudeness? JJ wasn’t going to be bought like that. Whatever Hotch had told the other woman about her, JJ wasn’t in need of hand outs. She didn’t need some rich woman with a savior complex force feeding her test answers and then leaving hundred dollar tips.
“Uh, Jayje?” Penelope asked, prying the money from JJ’s white-knuckled grip. “She does that.”
“Does what?” JJ bit. “Act like we’re peasants who need to be saved?”
Penelope wrestled the check from JJ, too, shaking her head. “No… She just leaves big tips. She told me the other day that her mother never tips, so she tips a lot to make up for it.”
Some of the anger drained from JJ as she realized she’d jumped to the worst conclusion. It still didn’t feel great to be called out in front of the entire diner and then treated like a poor person, but that didn’t necessarily mean that Emily’s intentions were bad. Henry bumped his nose against her leg and she rested a hand on his head.
“You’re right,” she sighed, closing her eyes. “Sorry. I’m just...stressed.”
“Why don’t you go home early?” Penelope suggested quietly. “I’ll clock you out later, hmm?”
“Peaches, you need some sleep. You have a test tomorrow, right? Go home, study some, and then pass out. How does that sound?”
JJ smiled gratefully. “That sounds amazing.”
“Then, it’s settled.” Penelope reached across the counter to grab JJ’s face and plant a kiss on her forehead. “Sweet dreams, my sleepy Stevens.” When JJ raised her eyebrows, Penelope just grinned. “Yeah, I can name Supreme Court Justices, too.”
“Good night, Pen,” JJ breathed. She took off her apron and traded it for the leash she’d hidden under the host podium. “Save my tips.”
“Including the ones from Ms. So Wrong And Yet So Right?”
Rolling her eyes, JJ pushed the door open and glanced over her shoulder at Penelope. “She’s so off-limits, but yes, including those.”
“The dangerous ones are the best!” Penelope called after her as she left the diner.
JJ did her best not to think about Emily on the short walk home. She already knew that she wasn’t going to get any studying done. She was bone deep exhausted and just wanted to curl up with Henry and sleep for 12 hours. With a sigh, she looked down at her boy.
“I’m going to be the big spoon tonight. Don’t even try and fight it.”
Henry woofed softly in response.
The next couple of weeks passed in a blur. Life was moving at breakneck speed and JJ was just letting the current carry her. By the time midterms came around, JJ had almost caught up with her reading. The only bigger miracle would be actually passing her midterms.
Once she’d gotten permission to study at the diner, things had improved. JJ hadn’t been kicked out of class once since then. She was very grateful not to be embarrassed on a daily basis anymore. Of course, not getting kicked out didn’t mean she was always enjoying herself.
In Dr. Blake’s class, she always felt Emily’s eyes burning holes in the back of her head. The inscrutable woman was as snobby and rude as ever. During their classes together, she glared at JJ, made snide comments, and hung all over Hotch. Outside, usually at the diner or if they found themselves alone in the hallway of their dorm building, Emily was quiet and downright friendly.
JJ couldn’t figure her out, but she wanted to. Despite all the frustration and annoyance, JJ wanted to know why Emily was such a mess of contradictions. Why was she suddenly engaged to Hotch? Why was she still coming to the diner a few times a week to test JJ? Why did she have to be so hot?
It was really unfair. JJ had to focus on her schoolwork. She had to focus in class, too. It was already hard enough to follow along, but in Barnes’ class, the class she was currently in, it was the worst.
Emily was pointedly not looking at JJ. Instead, after a quick, unreadable glance when they sat down, she was entirely focused on Barnes. JJ knew it was a pointed dismissal because Barnes wasn’t that interesting of a lecturer.
The short-haired woman was a legend in her field, but she was as well-known for her bad attitude as she was for her case history. It was an honor to learn from her, but she didn’t make it easy. JJ tried to listen to her professor.
“I should warn you,” Barnes was saying, “that, in addition to competing against each other for the top grade in the class, you will also be competing for one of my firm’s highly-coveted four internship spots next year, where you’ll get to assist me on real cases.” A murmur ran through the class and Barnes clasped her hands in front of herself, smiling. “I know. Halfway through the semester is a little late to tell you, but I wanted to see what your baselines were. Now, let’s see you push yourselves.”
JJ really hoped she hadn’t been the only one already pushing herself. From the looks on other students’ faces, she wasn’t. Swallowing hard, JJ focused on Barnes again.
“Alright,” she said, picking up the clipboard that held their seating chart, “let’s begin the usual torture. Ms. Jareau.”
JJ’s head snapped up, wondering why she always seemed to be the first one called on. “Yes, Professor Barnes?”
The older woman looked her over quickly. “Would you rather have a client who committed a crime malum in se, or malum prohibitum?”
JJ hesitated for a moment when Emily turned in her seat to look at her. “Neither,” she blurted out.
Barnes raised an eyebrow. “Why is that?”
“I’d rather have a client who was innocent.”
The class chuckled, but Emily’s expression turned thoughtful. Henry put his head in JJ’s lap and she scratched him behind the ears to soothe herself. She felt like an idiot for her answer, even though it was true.
“Dare to dream, Jennifer,” Barnes chuckled. She looked at her seating chart again. “Ms. Prentiss, which would you prefer?”
“Malum prohibitum,” she answered instantly before twisting in her seat to shoot a contemptuous look over her shoulder at JJ. “Because then the client would have committed a regulatory infraction, as opposed to a dangerous crime.”
“Well done, Ms. Prentiss.”
JJ watched as Emily put her hand on Hotch’s shoulder to show off her engagement ring. JJ’s hand shot into the air. She cleared her throat.
“I’ve changed my mind,” she said confidently. “I’d pick malum in se.” Her eyes met Emily’s. “I’m not afraid of a challenge.”
Emily’s eyes widened and she blushed. When she turned back around, hand dropping from Hotch’s shoulder, JJ smiled. Emily wasn’t the only one who could be a huge bitch.
A couple days later, JJ decided that she was finally caught up with her schoolwork. So, she put on a sports bra, a pair of spandex shorts, and the arm strap that held her Ipod. Grabbing Henry’s frisbee and a bottle of water, she whistled for her dog and headed out to find a patch of grass.
Luckily, there was a perfect patch only a couple buildings over from her dorm. A few groups were already out enjoying the nice day. JJ ignored the men playing football when they whistled at her. She knew she was hot, but finding a man was not why she’d come to Harvard. It was actually the antithesis of why she’d come to Harvard. Thankfully, they left her and Henry alone.
It felt amazing to spend time in the sun, playing with Henry and listening to old law lectures on her Ipod. Most of her runs were at night now, so she was getting seasonal depression before it had even gotten cold. She knew that this was going to be a new hobby for her.
Some time later, JJ was taking the frisbee when she felt eyes on her half-naked body. She looked over her shoulder, ready to glare at the gawker. Instead, a smirk spread across her face.
Hotch and Emily were walking back to the dorm, a path that took them right past JJ’s patch of grass. She noticed Hotch’s stiff shoulders and the way he was obviously not looking at her. Emily, however, wasn’t hiding the fact that she was checking JJ out.
Her eyes lingered on the way JJ’s collarbone and neck shimmered with sweat. She looked over JJ’s abs, her muscular thighs, and her well-defined biceps. When she’d looked over every inch of the blonde’s body, she finally met JJ’s eyes.
JJ expected her to look embarrassed, especially because her cheeks were already pink. Emily didn’t seem embarrassed at all. She winked at JJ, biting her lip to hide a smile. Clearly, Emily liked what she saw.
Not knowing how to interpret the look, and the flirtation, JJ turned away, throwing the frisbee again. She couldn’t stop herself from glancing at the couple again, but they had moved on. Her stomach twisted when she saw Emily take Hotch’s hand in her own. It was the same claiming touch that Emily always did.
Sighing heavily, JJ dropped down onto the grass, smiling at Henry. He trotted over to her and set the frisbee on her lap. Sometimes, she wished Henry could talk. She wasn’t sure what he’d say, but it’d probably be something like, ‘don’t develop a crush on your ex-boyfriend’s hot new girlfriend. That’s only going to end badly.’
“I know, buddy,” she said out loud, scratching him under the chin. “You can be my new boyfriend. How does that sound?” He woofed softly and she laughed. “It’s a deal.”
The next chapter is a good one! Long, soft, and dramatic!
Chapter 6: Masks and Costumes
JJ sat at the counter, chewing on the end of her pen and trying not to be bothered by the loud laughter coming from across the diner. Emily and her friends were back again. This time, Hotch was with them, along with Jordan, another rich girl who had bonded with Emily immediately. The whole gang had been cackling all night. Apparently, they’d finished the readings already. JJ wished they’d shut up, so she could do the same.
Thankfully, her shift ended quickly and she left the diner, not bothering to tell them they’d have a new server. The walk home was pleasant, despite the late hour. Now that it was October, the weather was beginning to cool off, making outdoor exercise more bearable. She was going to have to buy some sweaters soon, though.
As she led Henry into their dorm, she sighed heavily. JJ had to admit, if only to herself, that she was a little jealous of her cohort’s comradery. She didn’t have any friends at Harvard.
Penelope was amazing, but JJ didn’t want to cut into her personal life when they already spent so much time together at work. Henry didn’t really count either. He was good company, but not great conversation.
JJ unlocked her dorm room and went inside. For the first time, she was feeling a little homesick. She missed her friends, Pittsburgh, and free time. Maybe she should call Kate and see how she was doing.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, she picked up her phone and dialed the number she’d had memorized years ago. Instead of Kate answering, though, it was Ashley on the other line. When she spoke, JJ’s heart clenched and Henry curled up the bed beside her.
Ashley squealed and JJ heard Kate ask who it was. “It’s JJ!” Ashley told her. “At Harvard!”
“I hope she hasn’t forgotten me that quickly,” JJ chuckled. “It hasn’t been that long.”
“Of course, we remember you!” Kate shouted, distorted voice telling JJ the cellphone had been put on speakerphone. “Jay - guess what I’m doing right now?”
Smiling at her friends’ cheerfulness, JJ shrugged even though they couldn’t see her. “I don’t know. What?”
“I’m trying on my wedding dress!”
Kate and Ashley squealed. “Chris proposed!” Kate told JJ. “Took him long enough!”
“Wow!” JJ said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “Congratulations!”
There was a shuffling of the phone and then Ashley asked, “How’s Harvard? Have you made any new friends?”
“Oh,” JJ hesitated. She’d wanted to vent to her friends, but she wasn’t going to do that when they were in such a good mood. “Yeah,” she answered. “The manager at my job is really nice. You guys would love her. The owner, too.”
There was some commotion on the line and then Kate came on the phone again. “Sorry, Jayje! We have to go! Keep June 1st open! You’re a bridesmaid!”
“Sounds great.” JJ rubbed her forehead. “I’ll talk to you later. Love you.”
“Ove you!” They both cheered before hanging up.
JJ fell back onto the bed with an exaggerated sigh. That hadn’t made her feel better at all. She may actually feel even lonelier now. Her friends were still together, moving on with their lives, and JJ was alone.
Some time later, she woke up, body aching. She wasn’t sure when she fell asleep, but she regretted the nap immensely. Her whole body ached from the terrible angle. She was also still in her work clothing, shoes on and everything. Sitting up with a groan, she looked at her alarm clock.
“2am?” she asked out loud, looking at Henry. “Jesus. At least I only have an afternoon class tomorrow. Wanna go for a run?”
He perked up and JJ gave him a scratch behind the ear before standing. She stretched, a yawn overtaking her. It didn’t take long for her to get ready and lead Henry out of the room.
As she was locking the door, she heard another one open. JJ glanced down the hall, not thinking anything of it when she saw Tara leaving her dorm. Freezing, keys still in hand, she realized that Tara wasn’t leaving her own room. She had walked out of Emily’s.
Tara winked at JJ as she walked by, tying her robe closed. “Good night.”
“Seems like it,” JJ muttered under her breath.
Emily cheating on Hotch was not JJ’s problem. Emily having sex with a woman was not JJ’s problem. Sighing yet again, she led Henry to the exit.
The run successfully tired her out. JJ was sweating and panting as she and Henry approached their dorm. It was a chilly October night and the cool breeze felt great on her hot skin.
She noticed someone sitting on the front steps and slowed down while she attached Henry’s leash. When she got close enough, she saw that it was Emily. The brunette lit a cigarette as JJ approached.
“You know,” JJ started, “those things will kill you.”
Emily looked her over, taking in the way the campus’ lampposts cast an orange light that made JJ’s skin glow. “Well, something has to. I’d rather it be this than…”
Her voice trailed off and, despite her constant annoyance at the other woman, JJ found herself asking, “Than what?”
“How do you do it?” Emily replied, answering a question with a question like she always did. “School, work, Henry, the break-up… I don’t know that I could do it.”
She suddenly looked incredibly young in that orange light, and JJ remembered that they were probably close in age. Emily may not be working, but she was obviously stressed and unhappy. She was closeted, engaged to a virtual stranger, and related to an ambassador. That had to be a lot to handle. JJ whistled softly and dropped Henry’s leash, sending the dog to sit beside Emily.
“It’s hard,” JJ admitted quietly, watching Emily smile as she pet Henry with her free hand, “but I want to be here. I need to be here.”
Emily grimaced and took a deep pull of her cigarette. The smoke left her mouth as she spoke. “Yeah. I feel that. My mother… That woman has a long reach and a longer gaze.” She met JJ’s eyes. “What’s your mother like?”
Snorting, JJ reached out and took the cigarette from Emily before dropping on the step beside her with a sharp exhale. “My mother is… Well, she isn’t really anything.” JJ paused for a moment to smoke, feeling how the taste coated her mouth and burned her throat. “We have some family trauma,” she said dramatically, making Emily chuckled. “I got out of that house, though, and I’m never going back. Like I said - I need to be here. So, it’s work and school and Henry and -” She rolled her eyes. “The break-up is a non-issue.”
Emily looked a little relieved by that. She took the cigarette back. “Hey…” She met JJ’s eyes again as smoke curled between them. “I know it’s not fair. Actually, I wanted to apolo-”
The door behind them opened and Emily leapt to her feet, a sneer appearing on her face. Seeing that the tolerable Emily was gone for the night, JJ grabbed Henry’s leash and stood, too. Jordan walked out of the building, looking between them.
“Emily?” Jordan asked curiously. “Are we still planning the party?”
“Yup,” she answered quickly, grinding her cigarette against the wall before throwing it into a trash can. “I’m done out here.”
Biting her lip, JJ couldn’t help asking, “Party?”
Emily met her eyes. Her mask was firmly back in place and her thoughts were completely hidden. “Yeah,” she muttered, tucking her hair behind her ear. “You should come,” she continued, drawing a curious look from Jordan. “It’s on Halloween at 9pm. 45 Dunston Street.”
“You said it’s ‘on Halloween’,” JJ pointed out with a smile. “Is it a Halloween party ?”
“Yes!” Jordan answered quickly. “Wear a costume.”
Emily’s eyes widened, but she didn’t say anything, so JJ just shrugged. “Great! I’ll see you there.”
JJ arrived at the party out of breath and 45 minutes late. It had taken her longer than expected to do her make-up, but why even dress up like 7 of 9 if you aren’t going to put in the time? Still, she wished she’d gotten there earlier. This was an adult party with law students, not some sorority rager she’d been dragged to. This was practically a networking event.
That’s why she was a little surprised that it was a costume party. It seemed a little juvenile for this crowd, but JJ wasn’t going to complain. She knew she looked good in her maroon bodysuit, hair tied up in a tight bun and bone structure emphasized by 7 of 9’s face piece.
She made her way down the street toward 45 Dunston Street. Like the night she’d been invited, Emily was waiting outside. However, instead of just sitting and smoking, Emily was pacing in front of the house, chewing on her fingers. When she spotted JJ, she straightened up and headed toward her.
“Don’t go inside,” Emily barked. “You’re going to embarrass yourself.”
“Excuse me?” JJ scowled. She’d just arrived at the party and Emily was already being a bitch to her. “Can you cut the crap for one night?” JJ asked, walking around her toward the house. “I get it - you’re unhappy. You don’t have to make me miserable, too.”
Emily grabbed her arm and yanked her around, eyes flashing. “I’m not being a bitch. I’m serious. It’s not-”
“Not what?” JJ snapped, tearing her arm away. “I’m a big girl, Emily. I’ll be ok.”
With that, she pushed past Emily, climbed the three steps to the house, and entered the party. Immediately, she knew what Emily had been trying to tell her. Absolutely no one else had dressed up. JJ’s body turned cold and Henry gave her a warning bark.
She’d had nightmares like this before, where she’d been entirely out of place at a party or a social event. JJ wasn’t a huge fan of crowds with everyone packed close together. She didn’t like strangers touching her, people looking at her, and the smell of humans and alcohol filling her senses.
Turning to leave, she saw Emily standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, staring at her helplessly. JJ couldn’t go back out there. She’d have to apologize to Emily, but she didn’t want to. Emily’s mercurial attitude was really to blame here and JJ wasn’t going to apologize for sticking up for herself the one time Emily was actually being a decent person.
So, JJ took a deep breath and headed into the party. She knew that Hotch was going to be in here somewhere. If she just found him, then she’d have someone to talk to. He was on the second floor of the townhouse, talking with Tara.
“Hotch! The English language is all about subliminal domination,” she was saying with wide gestures. “Take the word, ‘semester,’ ok? This is a perfect example of this school’s discriminatory preference of semen to ovaries!”
“Oh, yeah?” he asked, clearly drunk, but doing his best to follow along. “Ovaries, hmm?”
She nodded, grinning. “That’s why I’m petitioning to have next term be referred to as the winter ‘ovaster’.”
“Hey,” JJ said, walking up to them. “Can I talk to Hotch?”
Tara did a double take, looking her over and whistling. “Wow! That’s… I wouldn’t have expected Star Trek from you.”
JJ gave her a tight smile. “Happy Halloween.”
“Happy Halloween,” Tara murmured, getting the hit. She patted Hotch on her shoulder before walking away. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”
Hotch grinned at JJ, looking so much like the boy she’d met years ago. “Jay! I can’t believe you came. You’re scared of crowds.”
“I’m not scared of crowds,” she replied, frowning. Henry was staring up at her face, keeping a close eye on her. “I just… dislike them. I went to a ton of parties at UPitt. Why are you so surprised that I’m here?”
“I don’t know,” he answered with a shrug. “That was different, though. This isn’t really your scene.”
Her jaw clenched as she bit back a frustrated scream. “Why is this not my scene?”
He gestured around them. “I just mean that these are law students, not…”
“Not scholarship kids,” JJ finished for him. “This isn’t my scene because I shouldn’t be hanging out with influential people.”
“No,” he protested, frowning. “You’re just… I don’t know. You don’t have anything in common with them. Beyond begin at Harvard, I guess. It’s just a different world than what you’re used to.”
“Right.” She shifted her weight, her anxiety turning into anger. “I should stick to sorority parties where I’m forced to wear bikinis and act like I want shirtless men to lift me over their heads. That fits me so much better than a calm gathering where people can actually have conversations. We both know how much I hate mature conversation.”
He swept a hand over her costume. “Jayje, you wore a costume. That doesn’t exactly say ‘serious adult,’ does it? People in this room could be on the Supreme Court one day, or leaders in the FBI, and all of them are gonna remember the time you dressed as… Uh…”
“Do you want to know why I’m dressed like this?” she spat. JJ shoved a sharp finger in his face. “Your fucking fiancée told me this was a costume party.” She nodded when he looked surprised. “Yeah. Emily fucking Prentiss has been giving me shit all semester long, like some jealous school girl, like I have any interest in getting you back, and you’ve done absolutely nothing about it.”
“You seemed fine,” he said defensively. “You’re a grown adult. You can handle tension.”
“Get your story straight. Either I can handle myself like a grown adult, or I’m not capable of adult conversation. You’re head is stuck so far up your own ass that you haven’t even noticed she’s-”
JJ caught herself before she outed Emily. She had no problem talking shit about the woman, but outing someone was something else. Not even Emily deserved that. Instead, JJ ran a frustrated hand through her hair. Henry nudged at her leg and she squatted to pet him.
“Hey,” Hotch said softly, “I’m sorry. I’ll talk to her. Maybe you… Maybe you should take a break from school. You know, to manage your anxiety.”
“Go fuck yourself,” she said as she stood. “I’m not a child, Hotch. I’m not fragile, or weak. I have an anxiety disorder and I’m handling it just fine. I’m going to get that internship, and you’ll see just how well I handle adult situations. Happy Halloween.”
With that, she turned on her heel and stormed out of the house. Emily was nowhere to be seen and JJ was grateful. She wasn’t sure if she would scream at the woman or punch her if they met right now. What a waste of a great costume.
She broke into a jog, running with Henry back toward campus. Something good had come out of the night. JJ wasn’t going to let Emily and the rest of her cohort distract her anymore. Going to Harvard was an amazing opportunity; JJ wasn’t going to let distractions keep her from a successful, meaningful future. No one was going to keep her from finding her purpose.
She slowed to a walk when she got back to campus, walking slowly to catch her breath. Henry was panting, too, and she patted his head before looking around to get her bearings and figure out the way back to her dorm. Spotting a man coming toward her, she squinted her eyes to see who it was.
“Oh, hi!” she greeted the man who’d helped her calm down her first day of class. “How are you? I haven’t seen you around in a while.”
He smiled back at her waving. “Hello. I’ve been busy! I’m sure you have been, too.”
“Yeah, I have.” Frowning, she gave him a thoughtful look. “I don’t think I got your name last time we spoke. I’m Jennifer Jareau, but you can call me JJ.”
“That’s a great name,” he said, accent making him sound sleepy. “My name is Will LaMontagne, Jr.”
She chuckled. “That’s a great name, too.”
“Thanks. It was my father’s.”
They laughed together and JJ felt a little bit better. It was nice to talk to someone completely new, who had no connection at all to her past. She tilted her head, looking at the books in his hands.
“Studying on Halloween?” she asked him.
He shrugged and gave her a lopsided smile. “Always studying. I found a little diner the other day. I’m going there now.”
“I think so,” he answered. “There’s a really energetic blonde?”
JJ laughed, nodding. “Yeah, that’s it. I actually work there.” An idea occurred to her and she blushed. “Hey, do you want company? I don’t have my books with me, but I can eat a cheeseburger in support.”
“I’d like that.”
Chapter 7: Growth
The semester chugged onward and things got a little easier to handle. Emily had stopped being such a bitch, either because she felt guilty about the party or because Hotch had talked to her. JJ didn’t really care either way. She was just glad she had one less thing to deal with.
Her grades began to improve, too. Most nights, Will came to the diner to do work and they talked about cases and readings. He’d even been kind enough to share some of his old notes. JJ had to admit he was cute, but she wasn’t here for a boyfriend.
Still, he was good company and Henry didn’t mind him. That was a pretty good sign. Henry really didn’t like anyone except JJ. And Emily. Who JJ didn’t care about at all.
Will’s comforting presence, and Penelope’s energizing one, had JJ really enjoying her job. Most nights, like tonight, it was fairly empty. The 9pm to 5am shift was her favorite, and Penelope knew to always schedule JJ for them when she didn’t have a morning class. JJ wasn’t entirely sure how Penelope managed to always be working. Did she sleep at all?
Of course, the quiet couldn’t last forever and, around 2am, the bell over the diner’s door jingled. JJ’s head snapped up from her reading at the sound and she scowled as she saw Hotch and Emily enter the diner. Looking back at Will, she crossed her eyes and walked around the counter.
“You know the drill,” she said, grabbing menus. “Sit anywhere.”
Hotch started for a booth, but Emily hung back for a moment to pet Henry. JJ wished she could tell Henry not to be so friendly, but she wouldn’t deny him a scratch behind the ear. When Emily was done, she glanced at JJ once before following Hotch to the booth.
“Anything to start?” JJ asked flatly, pulling two straws from her apron and tossing them onto the table. “Black coffee and a strawberry milkshake?”
Hotch just nodded, but Emily smiled at her. “Yeah. Thank you, JJ.”
“You’re welcome.” She spun on her heel and headed back to the counter, sticking her tongue out at Will when he grinned at her. “Oh, shut up,” she laughed as she headed for the soda fountain to get waters. “You’re so stupid.”
“I’m helping ya pass law school and you’re calling me stupid?” he teased, gesturing to his book. “That’s real rude of ya.”
She reached for the plastic water cups, but hesitated. “Hey,” she called out to the table, looking over her shoulder. “Do you guys want water, too?” They shook their heads, so JJ shrugged and moved her attention to the coffee machine. “I’ve been meaning to thank you,” JJ said softly to Will, focusing on the machine so she didn’t have to meet his eyes. “For your help. It really has been life-saving.”
“Of course, Cherie,” he chuckled. “I gotta admit, I don’t have many friends around here, and none of them are as easy to look at as you.”
Blushing, JJ rolled her eyes, filling Hotch’s mug. “Whatever,” she mumbled, flattered despite herself. “Don’t get any ideas.”
“Oh, I have ideas, but I’ll keep them to myself. I know you’re focusing on school and all that.”
When JJ turned to set the mug of coffee on the counter, her eyes met Emily’s across the bar. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think that Emily looked jealous. JJ put the coffee down and leaned toward Will, smiling flirtatiously.
“I won’t have school forever,” she said with a wink. “Jot those ideas down.”
“We’re ready to order,” Emily said loudly, glaring across the diner at the blonde. “If you’re done flirting?”
Her suspicions confirmed, JJ’s smile grew and she turned her attention back to her customers. “Hold your horses, Your Majesty. I haven’t even made your milkshake yet. Besides, I know your order.” Emily’s eyes widened as JJ rattled it off. “Greek Salad. No cucumbers, extra tomato, extra feta, light on the red onions, regular olives and bell pepper.”
“We’re a diner, Emily,” JJ snorted, walking down the counter to the small ice cream freezer, “order a burger, or something.” She met black eyes. “Order pancakes.”
Emily blanched at the mention of their first meeting. It felt like so long now, and JJ knew that she was admitting that she still thought about the two days when they’d flirted, but she needed Emily to know that she hadn’t forgotten about it. JJ was tired of pretending like they didn’t have a connection, like she was crazy for wanting to know Emily, or crazy for being annoyed at her attitude.
“Ok.” Emily smiled when JJ blinked helplessly. “I’ll order pancakes.”
Hotch frowned at the brunette. “Really? I wouldn’t expect that from you.”
Head snapping around to look at him, Emily’s face changed into a snobbish glare. “We had a talk about expectations, didn’t we, Hotch ?”
“Right.” He glanced at JJ and away again. “Sorry. You’re right. Ok, well, if we’re not pretending anymore… Can I get a Southwest Burger, Jayje? With the parmesan fries?”
Thoroughly confused, JJ could only nod and head to the computer to type their orders in, abandoning the ice cream. What was that all about? Burgers were Hotch’s guilty pleasure food. He only had them when he really didn’t care about appearances and just wanted to relax. It seemed like pancakes were the same thing for Emily.
JJ looked across the diner at their booth through her lashes and saw that Emily was looking at her again. The brunette looked as lost as JJ felt, just as confused about who she was and who she wanted to be. Hotch leaned close to her and whispered something and Emily burst out laughing. The sound was wonderful and free and JJ couldn’t stop the blush that colored her cheeks. This was going to be a long shift.
JJ had taken to late night jogs. They helped her tire herself, and Henry, out before bed and they were a good way to maintain a somewhat consistent sleep schedule with work. Most of the time, she didn’t see anyone she knew. There were the occasional solitary students walking back from the library or a restaurant, but mostly it was some of the only quiet time she got to herself.
She really liked how quiet the campus was, and the runs were a great opportunity to listen to old lectures, or catch up on the news. The quiet, measured voices on the recordings eventually became soothing. JJ could absorb information without much trouble.
The case she was listening to during this jog was a little bit different. She was pretty sure she understood why it was important, establishing the precedent that necessity is not a defense for murder, but there were so many cases to understand before the actual one they were studying that she was just a little bit lost.
Slowing to a stop in a small square, she put her hands on her hips and caught her breath. Harvard was beautiful at night. The walkways glowed under the orange light and the shadowed patches of grass made the old campus spooky. She paused her lecture and looked around.
There was a tall, thin man coming toward her and she instinctively moved toward the edge of the walkway to let him pass. When he stepped into the light, she saw that it was Spencer, one of the men in her class. Remembering how easily information came to him, she grinned and jogged over, bringing Henry with her.
“Hi!” she greeted cheerfully, “you’re Spencer, right? I’m JJ.”
He swallowed nervously. “Spencer Reid. You go by JJ?”
Nodding, she relaxed. This was the first time they’d been alone together and she’d been worried that he was secretly some snob. So far, he seemed really nice. “Yeah.” They just looked at each other awkwardly for a moment and she chuckled, tucking a stray hair behind her ear. “Sorry to bother you. I just had a question about R v Dudley and Stephens? Do you have a second?”
“I have more than a second!” he blurted, looking very excited at being asked a question. “That’s one of my favorite cases!”
“Great!” She started walking and gestured for him to follow. “Ok, I’ve got the necessity-murder part, but why is U.S. v Holmes so important? Or the Essex’s crash?”
“It’s all about establishing precedent!”
JJ flipped through her textbook as Dr. Blake lectured. It was a lot easier to follow along now that she was caught up. Will was a great help, and using her time at the diner to study was making a world of difference.
“So,” Dr. Blake was saying, “You’ve filed a claim. What’s next?” JJ knew before the professor said anything that she’d be called on. “Ms. Jareau?”
“You need evidence.”
“Meaning you need reasonable belief that your claim should have evidentiary support.”
Dr. Blake looked impressed at her quick, and correct, answer. She nodded and continued, throwing another question to the class. “And what kind of evidentiary support does this case require?”
“Ok,” JJ cackled, bending over the counter as she wheezed, “That’s crazy! Why would you even say yes?”
Penelope just shrugged helplessly and threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know! He was cute in a dorky way, but it just got to the point where I couldn’t ignore how annoying he was. I mean, he hated how much better with computers I was.”
JJ nodded sagely. “Insecurity, I get it. Hotch always hated that I could lift more than him.”
“Well, that’s just silly,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Who doesn’t want to be bench-pressed?”
“Do you?” JJ asked. “Is Derek Morgan bench-pressing you? In bed?”
Blushing, Penelope just reached across the counter to push JJ’s shoulder. “Shut up! I can’t think about him right now. I’m too upset about Sergio.”
“Did something happen?” JJ glanced down at Henry, knowing she’d be distraught if something ever happened to him. “Have you heard from Kevin?”
“No! That’s just it!” Penelope slumped against the counter, pouting. “It’s almost Sergio’s birthday, and Kevin hasn’t even sent me a picture in months. I bet he doesn’t even know that I always bake Sergio a little cake for his birthday! I was with Kevin for 10 years, but he and Sergio never got along. He just kept him to spite me.”
JJ straightened. “Did you say 10 years?”
“Yeah. I know. It was too long.”
“No, it’s not that,” JJ murmured. She looked over her shoulder to where her cohort was studying together in their usual booth. “Hey, Spence?”
Spencer looked up, a pencil tucked behind his ear. “Yeah, Jay?”
JJ saw Emily look between them, frowning, but ignored her confusion. She didn’t have time to tease Emily about stealing her friends. “How much do you know about Common Law Marriage?”
Professor Barnes turned toward the class. “And what is the purpose of diminished capacity?” Before anyone else had the chance to, JJ’s hand shot in the air. Barnes looked shocked at her confidence, but she nodded. “ Go ahead, Ms. Jareau.”
“To negate Mens Rea?”
“That is correct.”
JJ grinned, thrilled that she was right. Her eyes dropped down to the row in front of her and she watched as Emily turned to look at her. Instead of glaring or looking annoyed that JJ had gotten the answer right, she smiled, seemingly happy for the blonde. Riding the high of her answer, JJ grinned back.
JJ, Penelope, and Spencer walked down the hallway toward Kevin’s apartment. Despite having a job, and not being a student, Kevin lived in one of the buildings around campus. Thankfully, it wasn’t the same one as the awful Halloween party, but JJ had to admit it was weird for him to live here.
Penelope had told them more about Kevin once they'd met up at the diner to walk over together. She and Kevin had met through the hacking community. To be honest, JJ hadn’t known that existed outside of movies, but Penelope was mysterious enough to be involved in something as sketchy as that.
She and Kevin started dating quickly and it was fun and sexy for a while. They were competitive and pushed each other to do better, but, eventually, Kevin started to resent that she was improving faster than he was. Penelope told them that she would never dim her sparkle to let someone else shine. So, she’d left him after 10 years, but he’d kept Sergio.
Derek had offered several times over the years since to beat Kevin up and just take Sergio back, but Penelope knew that Kevin had enough ammo on her because of their illegal activities that he could get them in real trouble. She hadn’t had an above board way to get Sergio back. That is, until now.
JJ counted the numbers on the apartment doors, stopping in front of #310. She glanced at Spencer and Penelope before knocking confidently. After a moment, the door opened and Kevin appeared on the other side. As soon as he saw her, he perked up.
“Hello!” he greeted cheerfully. “Wow! Did Mike send you?”
“No. We,” she said pointedly, moving aside and gesturing to Spencer, “are Penelope Garcia’s legal team.”
Kevin stuck his head out of the door, looking at everyone. When he saw Penelope, he grimaced. “Really, Penny? You brought lawyers into this?”
JJ continued before anyone else could speak. “Mr. Lynch, I’ve heard that you have threatened legal action against Ms. Garcia in the past, so it’s only right that she take legal action as well. We’re here to pick up Sergio.”
“Sergio?” he repeated dumbly. “The cat?”
“Yes. The cat.” JJ rolled her eyes. “Mr. Lynch, I don’t think you understand that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognizes your 10 year relationship with Ms. Garcia as a Common Law Marriage.”
He shrugged. “So?”
“Well,” Spencer spoke up, “that means that she’s entitled to an equitable division of property.”
“We’re taking Sergio,” JJ clarified, pushing past Kevin into the apartment.
It didn’t take long for them to gather what they needed. Spencer filled a box with cat food and toys, JJ grabbed the litter box and Sergio’s bed, and Penelope got her boy, cradling him in her arms. She stuck her tongue out at Kevin as they left, ‘accidentally’ stepping on his foot with her heel.
As they left the building, celebrating their daring rescue, Penelope rested her head on JJ’s shoulder. “Thank you. I think this is the nicest thing anyone has done for me.”
The sincerity in her voice made JJ blush and she just shrugged awkwardly. “Spencer helped.”
She hadn’t expected to feel as good as she did. This was the first time that she’d actually used something she’d learned at Harvard to help somebody. It was a real life example of how law worked, and how useful it could be. She kissed Penelope’s cheek and grinned at Spencer, feeling much more excited than she had in a while.
Chapter 8: Holidaze
Two chapters in one day? It's because I have an MRI in the morning and I'm very nervous rip
As the winter holidays approached, Barnes’ class got a little more fun. Instead of just answering questions, she started having them debate cases. She’d propose the case, have the class present evidence, and then they would see who had the best argument.
It was more fun than JJ expected, but she had yet to actually join in beyond giving evidence. Barnes was intimidating, and JJ still wasn’t sure how to read the older woman. Still, she had brought her resume to every class for the past few weeks, trying to figure out the best time to hand over her resume and ask to be considered for the internship.
She knew it was her anxiety that was holding her back. JJ would have to be an actual moron not to apply for the internship. However, her traitor brain kept reminding her how terrible it would feel to give Barnes her essay and have the professor rip it up right in front of her. She knew that wasn’t going to happen, but the fear remained. Shaking her head at herself, she just patted Henry.
What was most important was being present and active in class. Currently, they were debating The State v Latimer, a custody case. JJ was convinced that Latimer should not be given visitation, but she still listened as Hotch gave his argument.
“According to Swinney vs. Neubert, Swinney, who was also a private sperm donor, was allowed visitation rights as long as he came to terms with the hours set forth by the parents. So, if we’re sticking to past precedent, I mean, Latimer wasn’t stalking. He was clearly within his rights to ask for visitation.”
It was a weak argument. Swinney had prior permission to see his child. Latimer was stalking and claiming that his intention was to gain visitation rights. Barnes seemed to agree with her.
“But Swinney was a one-time sperm donor,” she argued, “and, in our case, the defendant was a habitual sperm donor, who also happens to be harassing the parents in his quest for visitation.”
“Well, yeah, but I mean, with this man’s sperm…” Hotch paused as he put his thoughts together. JJ was sure that whatever he said wasn’t going to be great. “Without this man’s sperm, the child in question wouldn’t exist.”
Barnes nodded, looking please. “Now you’re thinking like a lawyer.”
Hotch grinned and looked at Emily who did her best to smile back. Sometimes, Emily barely seemed interested or impressed with Hotch. Like now, it was obvious, at least to JJ, that Emily knew Hotch’s argument wasn’t strong and that it wouldn’t actually hold up in court. When Emily glanced at her, JJ knew that this was a chance to impress both Emily and Barnes.
She raised her hand. “Professor Barnes?”
“Yes, Ms. Jareau?”
“Although Mr. Hotchner makes an excellent point,” she began, giving Hotch a sickly sweet smile that made his face pale, “I have to wonder if the defendant kept a thorough record of every sperm emission made throughout his life.”
The class around her chuckled, and Emily’s brow furrowed, but Barnes let JJ keep going. “Interesting. Why do you ask?”
“Well, unless the defendant attempted to contact every single one-night stand to determine if a child resulted in those unions, he has no parental claim over this child, whatsoever. Why now? Why this sperm?” She looked to the side at Spencer and saw him frown for a moment before beginning to take notes. Swallowing, she tried to ignore that everyone was staring at her. “And for that matter,” she continued, “all masturbatory emissions where his sperm was clearly not seeking an egg, could be termed reckless abandonment. If we’re placing so much weight on his sperm being the impetus for his child’s life.”
Hotch slumped in his seat, good mood gone. She felt bad for him for about a second, but then Emily was looking at her with thoughtful, considering eyes. It wasn’t the first time JJ had seen that look, but this time, she felt like she understood it a little bit more. She’d done something new, something Emily hadn’t thought she was capable of, and the other woman was intrigued. At least JJ knew now that Emily was as fascinated by her as she was by the brunette.
Her celebratory mood was bolstered when Barnes said, “I believe you’ve just won your case.” JJ’s mouth fell open and Henry placed a paw in her lap. Barnes just shook her head and glanced at her watch. “Alright. Class dismissed.”
As JJ was leaving the classroom, one hand wrapped around the strap of her backpack and the other around Henry’s leash, Barnes stopped her. “Miss Jareau, do you have a moment?”
“Of course,” JJ answered quickly. She pulled Henry out of the way of the other students and smiled at her professor. “What can I do for you?”
“You did really well today.”
“Really?” she asked before she could stop herself.
Barnes thankfully ignored the resulting blush and just shoved her hands into her pockets. “You’re applying for my internship, aren’t you?”
JJ blinked with surprise. “I- Yes. I am. You think I should?”
“Definitely,” Barnes replied. “If you want to give me your resume, you have until the end of the week. The deadline for applications is Friday.”
“I have it now,” she blurted out, awkwardly digging through her messenger bag for the folder. She handed it over. “Here you go!”
Barnes simply nodded and dropped it onto her desk. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you! For your consideration.” JJ took a deep breath and nodded. “Ok. Well. See you next class!”
Parking Penelope’s car in front of the grocery store, JJ grabbed her things and climbed out of the car, boots crunching in the snow. She shivered despite her thick coat and debated if she needed to bring Henry in. She was just running inside to grab a few ingredients and the car would be much warmer for him. She could probably handle this.
“Stay,” she told him softly. “I’ll be ok. Stay here.”
She kissed his nose and shut the car door, locking it before running into the store. Penelope had invited her over for a Friendsgiving at her apartment. Apparently, she and Derek did it every year and JJ was honestly honored to be invited. Kate and Ashley had gone to Vale with their families, which JJ just could not afford, and her mother hadn’t even called.
Pushing that thought away, JJ headed straight for the baking aisle. She just needed to grab some powdered sugar, condensed milk, and chocolate chips. When she turned into the aisle, she sighed loudly.
Emily Prentiss was standing directly in front of the chocolate chips, hands on her knees as she bent forward to look at her options. JJ was a little surprised to see her still around campus. She was dressed like she was the first time they’d met, in sweats and comfy boots. Instead of uggs, they were laced snow boots, but the rest of her outfits was the same.
Why wasn’t Emily somewhere like Vale, too? Shouldn’t she be off with Hotch and his family? JJ frowned. Why wasn’t Emily with her own family?
“Hey,” JJ called, “how’s it going?”
Emily’s head snapped up, eyes wide. She straightened up with a smile. “Hey. You caught me.”
“Did you forget a few ingredients, too?” she asked, wandering over. “I actually need a bag of chips, too.”
“Oh, sorry.” She moved out of JJ’s way. “I’m actually just getting something sweet to snack on.”
JJ tried again. “Can’t make it to dinner?”
Scratching her forehead, Emily sighed and shook her head. “No. Uh. I’m… not celebrating.”
“Oh, ok.” She hesitated for a second before grabbing a bag of chocolate chips off the shelf. “You don’t have any plans for tonight? At all. Where’s Hotch?”
“Abroad,” she answered, picking the same bag of chocolate chips JJ did. “Mother isn’t big on holidays and I just didn’t have the energy to be ‘Hotch’s girlfriend’ for the entire long weekend.” Emily shrugged and smiled at JJ. “And you?” Her brow furrowed. “You’re not from Boston, right? Why aren’t you home?”
“Mother isn’t big on holidays,” JJ parroted with a wry smile. She moved further into the aisle to look for the other things she needed and Emily trailed along. “No, uh, I’m having dinner with Pen and Derek. From the diner,” she clarified. “They invited me over.”
Emily nodded, looking a little wistful. “That’s really nice of them.”
Already kicking herself, JJ tucked her hair behind her ear. “Do… you… want to come over? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”
“Oh, I couldn’t impose,” Emily said. It was clear that she was lying, but she stiffened, fighting against her emotions. “I don’t want to be a bother.”
“You wouldn’t be.” JJ felt warmth flicker in her chest at the hopeful look in Emily’s eyes and the way she was clutching her bag of chocolate chips. “Please. Have Thanksgiving dinner with us. We would- I would be happy to have you there. I’m sure Henry would, too.”
Emily looked around for the dog and realized he wasn’t there. “Hey, where is he?” She looked at JJ with worry. “Should you be without him? I don’t know how this works. Are you ok alone?”
“I’m fine, Emily,” JJ chuckled, the warmth in her chest growing at Emily’s sudden panic. It felt different than Hotch’s did. It felt sincere. “I can handle something small like this. I don’t wake him up every time I go down to the vending machines in the basement every night. He’s in the car.”
“Ok,” Emily sighed, relaxing slightly. “Cool. Sorry. Um, I’d love to come over.” She tensed again. “If that’s okay.”
“More than.” JJ tossed her bag of chips at Emily, laughing when she scrambled to catch it. “You’re paying.”
Henry flopped onto his back, paws in the air and tongue hanging from his mouth. He looked adorable and Penelope immediately started snapping pictures. Emily waited for her to finish before tossing him a treat and letting him relax. She grinned at JJ.
“He knows so many tricks!”
The blonde laughed, stretching her legs out on Penelope’s couch. “I’ve had him for a while. He’s a great boy.”
Penelope scoffed as she settled back onto Derek’s lap. “He’s the best boy. Other than Sergio, of course.”
“And me?” Derek said, sounding offended. “I’m not even on the list.”
The aforementioned cat was sleeping on a chair tucked under the dining table. The group had had an amazing dinner once JJ had returned to Penelope’s apartment with Emily. She’d been right about Pen and Derek being more than welcoming. They’d given Emily hugs, given JJ knowing looks, and then given everyone a glass of wine.
JJ had been a little apprehensive about Emily, worried that she’d slip into her bitch mode, but so far, Emily had just been herself all night. She’d offered to handle drinks because, apparently, she wasn’t that good of a cook, and she’d stuck to her word. During dinner, Emily had been eager to learn about everyone, even if she kept a lot of her own history to herself.
It was hard to remind herself to keep her distance. JJ watched as Emily sat on the floor with Henry, feeding him treats and scratching his belly. The brunette just seemed like a normal woman, a little awkward, but kind and fun to talk to. JJ kept finding herself wanting to touch the other woman. She’d almost held her hand at the dinner table and, now, she’d put herself on the couch so she didn’t accidentally try to cuddle. The wine and food was really getting to her.
“You’re the best man,” Penelope corrected. “I thought that was obvious.”
“Well, now it is.”
Derek laughed, wrapping his arms around Penelope. JJ met Penelope’s eyes and wiggled her eyebrows just to tease her. She really hoped they got together soon. They were obviously perfect for each other. With a sigh, JJ gave in and slid off the couch onto the floor.
“Henry,” she said, “what do we do when someone gives us treats?” He wiggled across the floor to Emily, setting his head upside down on her lap and pawing at her chin. “Yeah,” JJ giggled, “I haven’t really figured out what to do after that.”
“This is perfect,” Emily chuckled, bending forward to kiss his nose. “A good thank you.”
JJ threaded her arm through Emily’s and rested her head on the other woman’s shoulder. This was exactly what she’d been trying to avoid, but she was sleepy after such a long, active night. Closing her eyes, JJ waited for Emily to buck her off.
Instead, Emily took her hand and rested her head on JJ’s. It was nice, easy, and far too comfortable. JJ knew that it was bad to feel any sort of closeness with Emily, but something had changed recently. After their weird moment in the diner, when JJ had called Emily out, the other woman had stopped being as mean to her. She wasn’t exactly nice, but they hadn’t had any particularly memorable moments.
Until now. JJ knew that she’d think about this when she was stressed. The next time she felt nervous about speaking up in class, she’d think about Emily’s thoughtful look. Maybe JJ could even ask to hang out with Emily and their classmates some time. She knew Pen would give her some time off. For now, though, she’d just take comfort in their quiet.
Lifting her head, she looked at her friends. Pen and Derek were cuddled up in the armchair, whispering to themselves. JJ turned to gaze at Emily and met deep, dark eyes.
“Thanks for inviting me,” Emily said softly. An almost invisible smile tugged at her lips. “I mean it. I think I’ve been alone on Thanksgiving for the past… I don’t know. 7 years?”
“That’s too long,” JJ murmured, eyelashes fluttering as her sleepiness threatened to overcome her. “I’m glad you said yes. You’re pretty cool when you’re not… You know.”
Emily’s smile grew at JJ’s mumbling words. “I do know.”
“Good. Stop doing that.”
“Ok,” Emily laughed, dragging JJ into the booth, “open my present.”
They were at the diner, celebrating Christmas with Pen and Derek. It was technically a few days before Christmas, but both Pen and Derek were flying to Chicago for the holiday, so they’d decided to just have dinner. JJ had invited Emily again, this time by texting her instead of running into her. It was the first time she’d used Emily’s number since the beginning of the semester, but the other woman had responded immediately.
JJ grinned at the woman next to her. “Only if you open mine, too.”
They exchanged gifts and dug into them. JJ was worried that her choice wouldn’t be good enough for Emily, but her worry was for nothing. Emily stared down at the autographed Ani DiFranco poster with wide eyes.
“Oh my god,” Emily said, looking up at JJ, “I loved Ani DiFranco so much. I’ve seen her in concert like four times.”
“Really?” JJ cackled at that. “I saw that online and thought you might like it. It seemed like you.”
Emily shook her head and slumped back against the booth’s cushion. “Wow. It is definitely me. Wow.”
She fell silent, lost in thought as she stared at the poster. JJ took the opportunity to look the woman over. Emily looked different tonight. She was in her casual clothing again, a big knitted sweater and thick leggings, but something had changed again. When she looked up at JJ, the blonde realized what it was.
“Open your gift,” Emily said gently, nodding to the half-unwrapped gift JJ was holding. “Please.”
Nodding, JJ focused on her gift. She avoided the affection in Emily’s eyes. She avoided the way Emily’s quiet request sent butterflies racing through her stomach. She avoided her realization - she had a real, actual crush on Emily, and Emily had feelings for her, too.
Emily’s gift was in a mahogany box, and when JJ opened it, she gasped. The inside of the box was lined with dark velvet and a small pillow sat on the bottom. A few metallic toys rested on the pillow. JJ recognized them immediately. They were fidget toys, great for anxiety, but these were made of metal, heavy and sturdy and expensive.
“Emily,” JJ said, looking up at her with wide eyes, “this is so nice. I can’t accept this.”
“Don’t be silly,” Emily countered. She shrugged casually. “I called one of Mother’s friends and asked what I could get you to help with your anxiety. Not because I think you need help,” she added quickly. “I just thought you may not have these.”
JJ smiled, wiping her cheek. “Yeah. I don’t. They’re-” She stopped herself from saying expensive. Instead, she took a deep breath and grinned at the nervous woman in front of her. “Thank you. I really appreciate it. You’re the one who’s going to suffer for it. You sit in front of me in Barnes’ class. Hope you enjoy the sound of whirring.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Emily replied. “I’m happy to give you something practical and useful.”
Determined not to get too heavy, JJ raised an eyebrow. “Is that a comment on my gift?”
Emily rolled her eyes, grinning. “No. Obviously not.” She put the poster down on the table and began to reach out to JJ. Then, her cell phone rang and she sighed. Pulling it out, she rolled her eyes again, this time with annoyance. “It’s Hotch. I’ll be right back.”
She scooted out of the booth and headed out of the diner. JJ stared after her, knowing she was doomed. How had she ended up yearning for her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend? Emily was the legal definition of ‘off limits’. She hadn’t come to law school to fall in love, something she’d told herself often over the past few months, but she never quite managed to internalize it.
Next semester, she’d be overwhelmed again. Classes would be harder, she’d still be working, and, if she got Barnes’ internship, it would be a second job. JJ worried that she’d drown under the extra weight. Emily would just be another tangle in an already complex web. JJ just didn’t need the potential drama. She didn’t need relationship drama to be the final stone that crushed her.
Looking around the diner, she realized that Pen and Derek had disappeared. The bell chimed above the door as Emily came back inside. She shivered, heading to the counter to pick up the pumpkin pie and a couple forks. She brought the goods to their booth.
“Alright,” Emily sighed, putting the pie down and dropping heavily into the booth, “I have to go soon, but let’s finish this bad boy off.” JJ nodded silently and grabbed a fork. “Hey, are you ok?”
“Yeah. I’m just thinking about next semester. It’s going to be a lot. I’m a little nervous.”
Emily picked up her own fork, giving JJ that same thoughtful look. “You’ll be ok. You made it through this semester.”
“That was before…” She trailed off. It wouldn’t do to spill her secrets now and ruin any chance of a normal second semester. “Nevermind.” She scooped up a piece of the pie and held it up for a toast. “Merry Christmas, Emily. Thank you for the amazing gift.”
“Merry Christmas, JJ. Thank you for giving me a second chance.”
Chapter 9: Stress
The list of students chosen for Barnes’ internship was posted much earlier than expected. Normally, Barnes chose her law interns based on their final grades, emailed them over the summer, and put them to work at the beginning of their second year. JJ had applied, but she hadn’t really expected to get it. She’d expected to show up for the first semester of her second year and find out that other students had already been chosen.
That isn’t what happened, though. When their spring semester started in mid-january, JJ made sure all her reading was done. She wasn’t going to start off on the wrong foot again. Her professors would be the same because she was taking the second half of their classes, so she needed to be on her A game. JJ wanted to make a better impression than she had the first time and show them that she’d really grown.
However, as she walked to her first class with Barnes, a few days into the semester, she found the door blocked by a large crowd of students. It looked like her whole cohort was swarming around the bulletin board beside Barnes’ classroom, trying to peer at a piece of paper. JJ stopped beside Spencer, who was lingering at the edge of the group.
“What’s going on?”
He looked down at her, grinning nervously. “Barnes’ firm is defending a murder trial! Her case load is so big that she’s taking on first-year interns!”
“Oh, wow,” JJ muttered, tightening her grip on Henry’s leash. He was sticking close to her side to avoid getting stepped on. “Do you know who was chosen?”
“I haven’t seen the list yet.”
JJ set her shoulders with determination and held Henry’s leash out to him. “Guard my dog. I’m going in.”
Reid grabbed the leash and JJ forced her way into the group. She was much stronger than the other students, so it wasn’t too hard. When she was close, she heard Emily’s familiar laugh.
“We did it,” Emily said gleefully, hugging Hotch. “We got the internship! I knew we would!” She turned back to the list as JJ arrived beside her. “Who else?”
JJ looked over the list and gasped, catching Emily’s attention. She could barely hear the other woman laugh again or feel the way she hugged her excitedly. Her name was on the list. The list had her name on it. The list read: Aaron Hotchner, Emily Prentiss, Tara Lewis, Jennifer Jareau.
“JJ!” Emily squealed, picking her up and spinning her around. “You did it!”
“I did it?” JJ asked dumbly as Hotch took her hand and pulled her from the crowd back to Spencer, Emily trailing close behind. She turned wide, blue eyes on her ex-boyfriend. “I got the internship?”
He grinned down at her. “You did. I’m sorry for doubting you.”
His apology snapped JJ out of her fog and she punched his shoulder, making him groan in pain. “You did doubt me,” she growled angrily. “I put you through pre-law and you didn’t think I could get this internship. I bet you wouldn’t even have gotten it without Emily’s help.”
Wincing, Hotch just rubbed his shoulder. “Yeah. Probably not.”
“This is great,” Emily said, putting an arm around Hotch’s waist. “We’re going to be working together.” Winking at JJ, she waved a finger at the other woman. “You’re going to be sick of me. We’ll be together in class, at the diner, at the internship.”
The reminder that this was another large responsibility on JJ’s place soured her mood and made her heart begin to thump. Henry woofed softly, tugging on his leash. JJ held her hand out to take it back from Spencer, who was frowning.
“I’m guessing I wasn’t the fourth intern,” he sighed, shaking his head. “That’s too bad.”
“I’m sorry, Spence,” Emily told him. She reached out to rub his shoulder. “You’ll probably move up to top of the class because we won’t have as much time to study.”
The thought made Spencer perk up, but it made JJ’s stomach turn to lead. How was she going to do this? How could she work, study, exercise, intern, and sleep all at once? She was barely keeping her head above water as it was. Would she have to work less and barely have enough money to eat? Would she have to sacrifice her grades? What if that led to her losing her intern spot?
Panic began to rise in her throat and Henry pawed at her leg. She smiled tightly at the others, ignoring Hotch and Emily’s twin looks of concern. “If you’ll excuse me.”
JJ turned on her heel and left the hallway, resigning herself to missing class. As bad as that was, it was less embarrassing than crying in front of Barnes and everyone. Thankfully, she managed to cross campus without running into anyone she knew. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it to her dorm room.
Instead, she fell to her knees in the lobby, landing in front of the old payphones that still hung on the wall. Henry immediately put his paws on her thighs and began to lick her face, but it wasn’t enough to calm her before she started crying. Wrapping her arms around him, she sobbed into his neck.
It had finally gotten to be too much. JJ just couldn’t do it. She wasn’t strong enough, smart enough, or good enough to do everything she needed to. She was bone deep exhausted and just wanted to go home. Maybe if she had friends here that she could talk to, friends who knew all of her secrets, then she could make it, but she didn’t.
Penelope had her own stress, she didn’t need JJ dumping on her. Will was nice, but JJ couldn’t ask him to be there for her like that when he had a crush on her. She wasn’t going to use him like that. Tara and Spencer were just classmates. Hotch might be insensitive and make it worse. Emily…
A loud sob ripped from JJ and she tightened her grip on Henry. Emily stressed her out, but she calmed her down at the same time. JJ wished she could confide in Emily. She wished Emily wasn’t so hard to read. She wanted and wanted and wanted, but she was still alone.
Looking up at the payphones, JJ took a deep breath. She could call her mom. It might not help entirely, but at least her mom knew her whole story. JJ dug into her pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. Counting them, she saw that she had enough for a call.
JJ pushed the coins into the payphone and dialed her mother’s phone number. It only took a couple of rings for her to answer. Her mother took a shaking breath before speaking.
There was a moment of silence and then her mother spoke again. “Jennifer?”
“Yeah. It’s me.” JJ leaned her forehead against the payphone and closed her eyes, the weight of Henry leaning against the back of her legs helping to ground her. “How are you?”
“I’m ok,” her mother answered quietly. “How is law school?”
JJ sobbed, fisting her empty hand and digging her fingernails into her palm. “Not great.”
“Are you coming home? I need to wash your sheets.”
“I’m not…” JJ tried to breathe. “Can you support me, please? Not just assume I’m quitting.”
Another silence stretched between them and JJ just listened to her mother breathing. She already regretted this call. Why did she think talking to her mother would help her feel better?
“So, I don’t have to wash your sheets?”
“God, you can’t even fake it?” JJ asked tearfully. “Did you expect me to fail this whole time?”
“Jennifer, don’t make me the bad guy. Law school is stressful. You have anxiety. What did you think would happen?”
JJ hung up the phone and dropped to her knees again. There was just enough space under the payphone for her to curl against the wall, so she pressed as hard against it as she could, body trembling as she did her best to keep breathing. Henry began to huff at her, presenting her with his side so she could take medicine from his vest. JJ couldn’t make her hands stop shaking enough to open the small pouch.
If her own mother didn’t think she could do this, then why was she even trying? Maybe her mother was right. Maybe Hotch was right and JJ just wasn’t cut out for this. She couldn’t even handle the pressure without completely unraveling. She was having an anxiety attack in the lobby of her dorm at Harvard. Why did she think she could graduate from Harvard?
Even though she knew this was her anxiety talking, that she needed to argue back against these thoughts, JJ couldn’t do anything. It had been so long since she’d had an anxiety attack this bad, since it’d come on out of nowhere. Now that she was in the middle of it, she wasn’t sure what to do. She was terrified that she’d end up hurting herself, but there was nothing she could do to calm herself down.
Henry’s head snapped around toward the door and he raced away. Jumping up, he pressed the button beside the door that triggered them to open automatically, just like he was trained to. Then, he ran outside.
Curling into a ball, JJ tucked her face into her knees, arms wrapped around her legs. She couldn’t even keep her service dog. Even Henry didn’t want to stay with her. Why did she think she deserved anything if she couldn’t keep man’s best friend interested in her.
“JJ,” a soft voice breathed and gentle hands pulled at her arms. “Look at me.” The hands kept tugging, but JJ couldn’t unlock her body. “Come on, JJ. Just open up a little bit.”
Latching onto the plea, JJ managed to relax just a little bit. Her arms were opened and then someone pulled her into a hug. She could feel a hand stroking her hair and another stroking her back, and she focused on the soft, calming touches. Throwing her arms around her savior’s waist, JJ kept her face tucked into their neck as they slowly rocked together.
“I’m here,” the voice said again. “I should have followed you sooner. I’m sorry. I’m here now. When you’re ready, we can go to your room, okay? I’ll tuck you into bed.”
JJ recognized the voice as Emily and melted against her. Even though Emily didn’t know JJ’s whole story, the other woman was comforting her. Her arms felt strong and safe, sturdy and soothing. Still, this wasn’t Emily’s job.
“I’m sorry,” JJ sobbed against Emily’s skin. “You don’t need to take care of me. I’m ok.”
“Stop it,” Emily replied, holding JJ tighter. “You need help right now and that’s fine. I’m here for you. Let me be here for you.”
Nodding, JJ leaned away. Emily let her, keeping her hands on JJ’s shoulders to steady her. When JJ looked at her, she saw only understanding and worried affection in Emily’s eyes.
“I’m so tired,” JJ told her with a quivering voice. “It’s so much.”
Emily smiled at her and cupped her face. “I know,” she sighed, brushing away tears with a tender touch. “It’s hard for me. I can’t imagine how hard it is for you.”
Even though JJ knew what Emily meant, she still bristled at the implication that she was weak. She pulled back out of Emily’s hands and sat back on the ground. Her breathing was still heavy and her whole body was still shaking, but she glared at Emily, offended.
“You didn’t think I could do it either,” JJ muttered, stomach turning. “You think I’m too weak. You’re just like everyone else.”
Her heart began to race again. She didn’t want to spiral back into her anxiety attack, but it was devastating to know that the person supporting her was just taking pity on her. Emily thought she was stupid and weak and incapable of doing anything right.
“JJ!” Emily shouted, getting the blonde’s attention. “JJ, can you hear me?”
Had Emily been talking to her? JJ hadn’t heard anything. She hadn’t even seen Emily’s mouth moving. How long had she disassociated for?
“I don’t think you’re weak,” Emily told her, reaching out to put her hands on JJ’s shoulders. She met unsteady blue eyes with her own. “I think you’re incredibly strong. My point was just that. You are so strong to be handling so many things at once. I’m only dealing with school and…” She hesitated for a moment before smiling kindly. “I could never do what you’re doing. You’re a superstar, Jennifer Jareau.”
JJ blushed, knowing her face must already be splotchy and red. She must look like a mess. “Thank you.” Blinking tiredly, she sighed heavily. “Will you help me to my room?”
Emily helped her stand, staying close in case her legs gave out again. When JJ stayed upright, Emily took Henry’s leash and led both blondes toward the elevator. It didn’t take them long to get to JJ’s room. Emily dug into the blonde’s pocket and pulled out her keys, letting them into the room and helping JJ onto the bed. Henry jumped up to sit beside her.
“What can I do to help?” Emily asked her as she closed the door.
JJ took the box of tissues off her nightstand and began wiping her face. “Could you find me some pajamas to wear?” JJ hated how wobbly her voice still was and the fact that she was still trembling. “I want to change.”
Nodding, Emily went to the dresser and opened the top drawer. When she found herself face to face with JJ’s bras and underwear, she blushed a deep red and moved on to the next drawer. Her embarrassment made JJ smile. It made her feel a little bit better to see that Emily could be caught off-guard, too.
“How’s this?” Emily asked, pulling out a large UPitt shirt and a pair of shorts. She held them out for JJ to approve. “Good?”
“Great.” She took them from the other woman and set them on the bed. JJ began to unbutton her shirt, but froze when she remembered who she was with. She glanced at Emily. “Um, can you turn around?”
Emily’s blush deepened and she spun on her heel. “Sorry.”
JJ changed quickly, pulling off her school clothes and changing into the pajamas Emily had chosen. This was actually an old shirt of Hotch’s, but JJ had kept it in the break up. It was huge on her and the most comfortable sleep shirt she had. When she’d changed, she climbed under the covers and settled into bed.
Looking over her shoulder, Emily sighed with relief when she saw that JJ was dressed. Emily took a step toward her before hesitating. “Um. Do you want me to go now? Are you ok?”
The thought of being alone again made a shiver run through JJ and she smiled apologetically. “Would you mind staying a little longer?” She remembered that she’d skipped class and frowned at Emily. “Why aren’t you in class?”
“I…” Emily’s blush managed to darken further. “I wanted to check on you. You kind of just ran away.”
“That’s really nice of you.” Pulling her knees up to her chest, JJ covered herself with her blanket before gesturing to the bed in front of her. “You can sit.”
Emily did, pulling Henry into her lap and petting him. They sat in silence for a moment as Emily gave Henry love and JJ finished calming down. Crossing her arms on her knees, she rested her head on her forearms.
“He’s a good boy,” JJ murmured, smiling at the two of them. “The best boy, really.”
“He came and got me,” Emily replied. She rubbed her nose against his with a smile. “What a good boy!” Henry licked her face and she laughed, jerking away from his eager tongue. She grinned at JJ. “I love him.”
“How long have you had him?” She hesitated, smile flagging. “Sorry. I don’t mean to pry.”
JJ just shrugged sleepily. “It’s ok. I’ve had him since high school. After my sister died, I was kind of a mess. There was a lot of pressure to get a scholarship, take care of my mom, etcetera. I needed the help.”
Emily gave her the same thoughtful look that usually appeared in the classroom. “You’ve always had a lot to handle, huh?”
“It sounds dramatic, but it isn’t. Every kid has their struggles.”
“I can’t argue with that,” Emily muttered, “but you still went through a lot. You’re strong. I really think that.”
JJ blushed. “Thanks.”
Nodding, Emily tore her eyes from JJ and turned her attention back on Henry. “Can I ask what triggered you? Was it that you have too much going on? Too much stress?”
“Yeah.” JJ ran her hands through her hair, trying to figure out how to articulate her feelings. “I think… I’m already struggling, you know? With school, work, exercise…” She blushed. “Friends.”
Emily glanced up at her, blushing, too. “Right.”
“I just don’t know what this internship is going to be like. I can’t prepare for it like I prepare for everything else, so I’m really going to be blindsided.”
“I did a law internship last summer,” Emily told her, shrugging. “Want me to tell you about it? I think this will be more intense than that, but I can tell you what I know and we’ll be on the same playing field.
The offer warmed JJ’s heart and she nodded happily. “I would really appreciate that.”
“Okay,” Emily chuckled. She pet Henry idly as she smiled at JJ. “At least this time I won’t be as distracted. Hopefully.”
“You were distracted last summer?”
Emily rolled her eyes. “I had a summer fling with another intern. She was incredibly hot,” Emily said wistfully. “Great in bed. Really distracting, though.”
JJ tried to ignore the way her heart began to thump again at the reminder that Emily slept with women. It was impossible not to imagine Emily in her suit making out with another hot intern in a supply closet. JJ’s blush deepened and she looked away.
“I thought you reconnected with Hotch over the summer?” JJ remembered the awkward conversation they’d had on the first day of law school. “He interned for your mother.”
“Right.” Emily scowled and looked away. “It’s… complicated. I’m- Look, this engagement… It’s really about convenience, okay.” Emily rolled her eyes again. “Hotch needs to get his parents off his back. So do I. It’s not…” She met JJ’s eyes. “It isn’t real.”
JJ smiled, hugging her knees. “What is real, Emily?”
“This,” Emily said without hesitation. “This is real.” Taking a deep breath, Emily shook her head. “So, my internship.”
Emily began to talk and JJ did her best to listen. She was distracted, though, and she thought it might be in the same way Emily had been distracted the summer before. Now JJ knew that Emily and Hotch’s engagement was just for show. She knew that Emily was interested in women. She knew that she and Emily had a real connection.
She also knew that this was dangerous. Emily was dangerous. JJ couldn’t go too far with her, at least until the internship was over. When JJ’s life had some room in it again, she’d fill that space with Emily, but for now, her previous worry remained. JJ was walking that fine line between overwhelmed and just stressed. She needed to keep her guard up. Emily smiled at her and she knew that would be as difficult as law school itself.
Chapter 10: A Few Firsts
The next Monday morning, JJ walked into the courthouse and headed for the conference room where Barnes’ team would be meeting during the case. She’d looked up a map of the interior of the building in the library the night before, so she could confidently find the room. There was nothing more embarrassing than having to ask for directions when you were supposed to be a crack lawyer’s intern.
She led Henry through the halls, smiling at everyone who smiled at him. Henry was a great buffer. JJ just had to let him lead her and no one gave her a second look. She was incredibly thankful for that.
Penelope had gone shopping with her over the weekend to buy a few more outfits. JJ’s school wardrobe was nice, but it wasn’t Courtroom Nice. So, they’d picked out a new blazer, a couple pairs of nice dress pants, and a few button downs. She definitely preferred the pants to her pencil skirts. The belt also let JJ attach Henry’s leash to her waist, freeing both her hands to carry files.
When she turned the corner to their hallway, she found herself face to face with Emily and Hotch. The two of them could be models. Their clothing was clearly expensive and their hair was absolutely perfect. JJ felt her shoulders curl with embarrassment.
“You look nice,” Emily said with a smile. “New clothes?”
JJ relaxed. “Yeah. Penelope picked them out for me.”
“Doesn’t she look nice, Hotch?” Emily asked, looking up at him.
He nodded stiffly. “Yes.”
With that, he walked between the two women and headed for their conference room. JJ giggled at his stiff back, following after him. To her amusement, Emily crouched down beside Henry to pet him, halting JJ’s progress.
“We’re going to be late,” JJ chuckled. “We can’t be late on our first day.”
Emily just grinned at Henry, scratching behind his ears. “Tell your momma that we’re half an hour early,” she cooed into his face. “Tell your momma to take a chill pill.”
Rolling her eyes, JJ whistled softly and Henry tore himself out of Emily’s grasp. “I’ve taken several chill pills today, thank you very much.” They started toward the conference room. “I’m as chill as I ever am.”
“How are you doing?” Emily asked quietly, running her eyes over JJ’s face. “I’m not asking because I think you’re gonna cry. I’m just asking.”
JJ blushed at the teasing care. “I’m okay. I feel better after our talk.”
They made their way into the conference room and sat down. Tara was already there, too, sitting across the table from them. Hotch sat beside her. There were also a couple paralegals and second year interns, too. The group had just finished introductions when Barnes walked into the room, immediately launching into the case.
“We’re defending Elle Kane,” she told them, “whose very wealthy husband was found shot dead in their Beacon Hill mansion.”
JJ frowned. That name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t quite place why. She repeated the name to herself. Elle Kane… Elle Kane…
“Gold digger?” Emily asked, opening the file a paralegal handed her.
Barnes shook her head. “You’d think so since the stiff was 60, but she was rich on her own. Some kind of self-defense empire.”
Suddenly, JJ knew why she recognized Elle’s name. “Wait,” she muttered, making everyone look at her. “Are you talking about Elle Greenaway?”
“Uh…” Barnes checked her notes. Her eyebrows jumped up and she looked at JJ, impressed. “Greenaway is her maiden name. How do you know that?”
“She’s a Delta Nu,” JJ replied, blushing. “She wasn’t in my pledge class, but she goes back once a year to teach the new pledges self-defense. I’ve met her a few times.”
Barnes’ impressed look shifted into a scornful one. “You were in a sorority?”
JJ was mortified, but she nodded. “I was a legacy. Trust me, it wasn’t my cup of tea at all, but it was a great way to do community service, which helped with my… scholarship.”
She knew she was rambling and that only embarrassed her further. Shooting a frantic look across the table at Tara, she hoped the other woman would get the message. Thankfully, she did.
“That’s a useful connection,” Tara said, pulling attention away from JJ. “Elle may be more willing to talk to a woman with similar experiences.”
Barnes scoffed, but she dropped the topic. Looking back at her notes, she shook her head. “Helping young women or not, there’s a large chance this woman is completely guilty. She was seen standing over her husband’s body.”
“By who?” Hotch asked.
“By his 26-year-old daughter and the pool boy.”
The door to the conference room opened and JJ twisted in her seat to see who had entered late. To her surprise, it was Will. He smiled apologetically, boyish charm in full force and shrugged at Barnes.
“Sorry, I’m late.”
Barnes glared at him, but didn’t say anything. Instead, she introduced him to the room. “Everyone, this is Will LaMontagne, an associate. Top three in his class and former editor of the Harvard Law Review. You’ve probably seen him lurking around campus doing my research.”
JJ grinned at him, giving him a small wave. He smiled back as he settled at the other end of the table. When his eyes drifted Emily, he paled and turned his attention to pulling out his files. JJ glanced at the woman beside her, biting back a smile when she saw the jealous glare Emily was shooting in his direction. It seemed the other woman hadn’t forgotten how much Will flirted.
“So,” Hotch said, bringing everyone back to the case, “what about the murder weapon?”
“The gun is missing,” Barnes replied. “Coroner said he’d been dead about 30 minutes when the police arrived, giving Elle plenty of time to stash it.”
JJ sighed. “I just don’t think Elle could have done this.” When everyone stared at her, Henry put his head on her leg and she pet him behind the ear. “Sure, Elle is a bit of a misandrist, but that makes it even more unlikely.”
“Why do you say that, Ms. Jareau?” Barnes asked skeptically.
“Well, she wouldn’t have married a man unless she really loved him.” JJ sat up straight. “You said she has her own money, so it wasn’t for his money, right? Why would she marry a man and then kill him? There just isn’t a motive.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“I didn’t do it,” Elle scoffed, crossing her arms. “I walked in. I saw my husband lying on the floor. I bent down to check his heart, screamed my head off, and then Luke and Megan ran inside.”
After they’d finished their briefing, the whole team had gone to the jail to talk with Elle. As soon as JJ saw the dark-haired woman she remembered that she’d always had a bit of a crush on the self-defense teacher. She was fiery and confident and really hot. They’d even hooked up JJ’s freshman year, before she started dating Hotch.
Blushing at the memory, JJ leaned against the back wall and did her best not to attract attention. It didn’t work. Henry had sat right beside her and Elle’s watchful eyes had landed on the dog, flicked up to JJ’s face, and sparked with recognition. Thankfully, Barnes had begun talking right away, distracting everyone.
It was immediately clear that Barnes thought Elle was guilty. The older woman was skeptical of everything Elle said and asked incredibly pointed questions. “Ok,” she sighed, “your stepdaughter and the pool boy came in where they saw you standing over the body, covered in his blood.”
“Why would I kill my husband?” Elle asked, echoing JJ’s earlier question.
“Insurance?” Barnes suggested. “Love affair? Pure, unadulterated hatred? Believe me, the DA will come up with plenty of reasons. This doesn’t look good.”
Elle bared her teeth, leaning forward. “I loved him.”
Looking around the room, JJ saw that most of the team seemed just as skeptical as Barnes. Emily and Tara seemed unsure, but almost everyone else looked convinced. JJ hoped she’d have a moment to talk with Elle privately and assure her that there was at least one person on the team convinced of her innocence.
“He was 34 years older than you,” Barnes pointed out, slowly walking around the table toward Elle. "That doesn’t look so good to a jury.”
“Then show them a picture of his dick,” Elle shot back with a glare. “That might clear things up.”
Emily bit her bottom lip to hold back a laugh and Tara and Will covered their mouths. For a moment, Barnes just looked shocked, but she recovered quickly. Faking a sympathetic smile, she rested her hands on the table and bent down to Elle’s level.
“Mrs. Kane, I believe you,” she said unconvincingly, “but a jury is going to want an alibi.”
“Well, I can’t give you that, and if you put me on the stand, I’ll lie.”
Her tone was final and Barnes knew the conversation was done. “Well then, I guess we’re done for the day.”
She swept out of the room, leaving her team scrambling to gather their things and follow. JJ hung back, nodding at Emily to go ahead. This was her chance to talk to Elle. She made her way to the other woman, who instantly looked friendlier.
“Don’t I know you?” Elle asked her as she held her hands out to a guard. “You look familiar.”
JJ blushed and nodded. “I was a Delta Nu at UPitt. We… met there.”
Laughing, Elle let the guard cuff her. “I remember now. I don’t remember many people I meet, but I certainly remember you.”
“I just wanted to say that I really do believe you’re innocent,” JJ told her, knowing their time was short. “Barnes is kind of a bitch, but she’s a good lawyer. Even if she doesn’t believe you, she’ll make sure you don’t get put away.”
“I know her reputation,” Elle replied, “that’s why I hired her.” The guard began to lead her away. “I’m just glad someone on my team has a brain.”
She winked at JJ before turning away and leaving the room. JJ followed after her, turning left when Elle and the guard turned right. She had to do her best to keep Elle from being found guilty of a murder she didn’t commit. JJ wasn’t going to let her first case fail, and that meant she couldn’t fail Elle.
“I’m telling you, Penelope,” JJ said, dipping her chicken tender into a ramekin of honey mustard, “Barnes is barely even pretending to care about Elle. She just wants to protect her reputation and get her name out there.”
Penelope sighed as she leaned on the counter across from JJ. “That’s lawyers for you, Peaches. You gotta be the change, etc.”
Rolling her eyes and chuckling, JJ took a bite of her food. They’d been working the case for a week now and Barnes was making their lives a living hell. She’d had to give up a few shifts at the diner, which was really hurting her bank account, but at least Derek let her eat for free. JJ was exhausted and, even if she’d had money, she may not have had the energy to go grocery shopping.
She also hadn’t had much time to talk to Emily. After their talk, they’d definitely become friendlier, but JJ wasn’t really putting in the effort to make time. They’d all fallen into a pattern of working, studying, sleeping, repeat, so Emily hadn’t exactly been pursuing her either. Besides, fake engagement or not, dating would blow Emily’s cover and reveal the lie to her mother.
Penelope wandered away down the counter and JJ continued eating. As soon as she resigned herself to a boring night at work, spent reading and trying not to fall asleep, the bell above the door chimed. She looked over her shoulder at the customers and saw that it was Emily and Hotch. They smiled at her and headed to their regular booth.
“The usual?” JJ asked, mouth full of chicken. She winced. “Sorry.”
Emily just smiled at her. “Please.”
With a nod, JJ slid off her stool and headed to the computer to put in their orders. By now, both Hotch and Emily had stopped pretending like they were posh eaters. Instead, Hotch always ate his burger and fries and Emily ate pancakes. JJ wasn’t sure how the brunette ate so many carbs and so much sugar and still looked so good. Emily definitely wasn’t the type to work out.
She finished putting the order in as Penelope walked back out of the kitchen. Moving to the coffee machine, she poured two mugs. Penelope patted her shoulder as she passed and went to the hostess stand. As JJ finished with the coffee, the front door opened and Derek entered.
Immediately, JJ noticed something was off. Penelope turned a bright red when he walked by and he barely glanced at her, his own face dark. The waitress put her mugs on a tray, smiling at him as he passed by.
“Hello.” He didn’t meet her eyes as he passed. “Looks good.”
He disappeared into the kitchen and JJ turned her suspicious gaze on Penelope. The other blonde was still blushing, piquing JJ’s interest. Picking up her tray, JJ headed for the end of the counter.
“What’s going on?” JJ asked quietly, stopping in front of the hostess stand. “Did something happen with you and Derek?”
“No!” Penelope answered too quickly. She avoided JJ’s eyes. “Nothing happened.”
JJ laughed. “Bullshit!” Pen’s head snapped up and she glanced at the kitchen to make sure Derek hadn’t heard. “Come on, PG. I know you better than that by now. What’s going on?”
“Okay…” Penelope tucked her hair behind her ears. “We almost kissed on Christmas, but nothing happened. It’s just been weird since then.”
“Just ask him out,” JJ said, rolling her eyes. “Problem solved.”
“You say that like it’s easy,” Penelope replied. “I’m not smooth. I can’t just ask people out. It’s not like I can bat my eyes and make him fall in love with me.”
JJ snorted. “That’s exactly what you do, babe. You bat your eyelashes and tilt your head and pretend like you really need your help. It always works.”
Penelope didn’t look convinced. “It can’t be that easy.”
“It is! I’ve gotten so much free shit doing that.” Smirking, JJ wiggled her eyebrows. “I’ve made a lot of dates like that, too.”
Now it was Penelope’s turn to smirk. She crossed her arms on the hostess stand and leaned forward. “Ask Ms. So Wrong And Yet So Right out on a date.”
“No way,” JJ gasped, grip tightening on her tray. “She’d never say yes.”
“I thought this was a foolproof method.”
Trapped between embarrassing herself by backing down and embarrassing herself by asking Emily out, JJ decided to just go for it. One date wasn’t a relationship. Besides, if Emily said yes, then JJ could convince Penelope to ask Derek out. Yeah. This was for Penelope.
Sticking her tongue out at Penelope, JJ turned around and headed for Emily’s booth. Hotch was gone, probably in the bathroom, so the coast was clear. When she got to the booth, she set the tray down and took the mugs off it.
“How’s it going?” Emily asked her with an easy smile. “Not too busy I hope.”
“It’s been quiet.” JJ reached into her apron to pull out a few small plastic creamer cups, but she ‘accidentally’ dropped them. “Oh no!” She turned her baby blues on Emily, batting her eyelashes and tossing her hair over her shoulders. Emily looked dazed by the look. “Would you pick those up for me?”
Emily practically fell out of the booth to gather the cups. Glancing over her shoulder at Penelope, she smirked when Pen rolled her eyes. ‘A date!’ Penelope mouthed at her. ‘A date!’ JJ rolled her eyes in return and turned back to Emily.
“Here you go,” Emily breathed, setting the cups on the table and sitting down again. “Did you need anything else?”
“Actually…” Leaning her hip against the table, JJ batted her eyelashes again, making Emily’s cheeks turn a soft pink. “I was wondering if you would get coffee with me tomorrow morning? There’s a cart in front of the courthouse. I’ll let you buy me a drink.”
Emily nodded immediately, a grin spreading across her face. “I’d love that. I’ll buy you as many coffees as you’d like.”
“That’s okay,” JJ laughed, feeling flattered by Emily’s eagerness. “I think we’ll start with one.”
With that, she gave Emily one last smile and turned away, heading back to Penelope. She made it all the way to the hostess stand before she realized what she’d just done. She’d made a date with Emily. A public date. An official date. Looking over her shoulder again, she saw Hotch slide back into the booth. She’d just made a date with her ex-boyfriends fiancée.
“Oh my god,” JJ muttered, turning back to Penelope. “What have I done?”
“You made a date!” Pen laughed as she reached out to push JJ’s shoulder. “Congrats!”
Henry sensed JJ’s rising heartbeat from where he was napping under an unoccupied table. Standing up, he trotted over and tilted his nose up at her. JJ absently patted his head.
“I can’t date Emily!” JJ hissed frantically. “I’m too busy and she’s going to marry Hotch! It doesn’t matter if she’s attracted to me, or I’m attracted to her. It’s a bad idea!”
Penelope rolled her eyes, not buying it. “Buck up, buttercup. You’ve got a date!”
“Ok, well, you have to ask Derek out now!”
“Oh, I did.” Penelope reached out to tap JJ’s nose. “We did kiss on Christmas, and we’ve been kissing ever since.” She shimmied her shoulders as JJ’s mouth fell open. “That’s right, my blue-eyed baby. You got played.”
JJ groaned, head falling backward. “You’re the worst!”
“It was Derek’s idea! I don’t just like him for his body, you know.”
Chapter 11: Falling and Tripping
JJ arrived at the coffee cart early. She had almost abandoned her date altogether and spent the morning cuddling with Henry in bed. It felt a little naughty to let Emily buy her a coffee while she was engaged, but JJ told herself it wasn’t a real date. They’d already had Thanksgiving and Christmas together, and Emily had helped her through an anxiety attack. What was a coffee before work?
She turned around, a grin spreading across her face, and saw Emily jogging toward her. The other woman was wearing a dark maroon pantsuit, her hair pulled up into a tight bun. She looked amazing despite the early hour. JJ had thrown on a dress and sprayed dry shampoo into her hair. How did Emily always look so hot?
“Hello!” the blonde said cheerfully, adjusting her grip on Henry’s leash. “Good morning!”
“Good morning,” Emily replied breathlessly. She just smiled at JJ for a moment before jumping. “Oh! Let me get your coffee.”
JJ watched as Emily stepped around her and ordered from the barista. She didn’t know why she was as nervous as she was. She knew Emily now and they were on good terms; her heart shouldn’t pound this hard when they’re together, but it did.
“Anything special?” Emily asked her.
JJ cleared her throat and stepped forward to talk to the barista. “Can I get two extra shots of espresso?” The barista nodded. When JJ looked at Emily, she was met with raised eyebrows. “What?”
“That’s just a lot of caffeine,” Emily chuckled with a shrug. “Isn’t that intense?”
“I’m just really tired!” She pushed Emily’s shoulder lightly with her free hand. “What did you get?”
Emily narrowed her eyes. “I ordered right before you. You weren’t listening?” She shoved her hands into her pockets and smirked. “Too distracted by my beauty?”
“Oh, shut up.”
She just grinned stupidly at Emily, knowing that she looked like a crazy person, but not caring. Emily was looking back at her with the same dopey smile. After a moment, JJ laughed, rolling her eyes at their awkwardness. She took a deep breath and handed over Henry’s leash.
“Say good morning to him, too.”
Emily squatted, moving her bag out of the way, and cooed into Henry’s face. JJ’s stomach fluttered as she watched them both get along so well. Henry took care of her. She never thought she’d have a human to take care of her, too. Emily wasn’t her girlfriend, but the other woman clearly cared about her.
“Who’s the best boy?” Emily asked Henry, brushing their noses together. He woofed softly in reply. “That’s right! It’s you!”
The barista set their cups out and JJ picked them up. “Come on, lovebirds. Let’s find somewhere to sit.”
“Ooh…” Emily crooned, standing and following JJ to the steps of the courthouse. “We’re sitting out here? That’s cutting it close. There’s only an hour until we’re supposed to be inside.”
“Alright,” JJ laughed as she waited for Emily to sit before handing her coffee over. The brunette settled and Henry sat on the step below her, laying between her legs. “No need to tease me. You’re in such a good mood this morning.”
Emily blushed as she took her cup, their fingers brushing together. “I am. It’s a good morning.”
Her eyes met JJ’s, full of affection. It took JJ’s breath away to see how much Emily liked her, so she dropped her eyes and sat beside her. Emily was still off limits. She was unattainable at least until the internship was over, but probably until they graduated Harvard. Maybe Emily would never decide to shrug off her mother’s expectations and she’d never be available at all.
“Hey,” Emily murmured, bumping their shoulders together, “where’d you go?”
JJ blinked and took a sip of her coffee before responding. “Sorry. I was just thinking.”
“I could guess that.”
Henry lifted his head to look at JJ. Reaching over Emily’s leg, she scratched his chin, trying to ignore how close she was to the other woman. “Why are you engaged to Hotch?”
She could feel Emily’s thigh tense. “I told you-”
“I don’t mean because it’s convenient.” JJ looked at the other woman, sitting back to take her in fully. “I mean, why do you care so much about what your mom thinks? Why not just be single, or date a woman?”
Emily was quiet for a moment, staring off into the distance and drinking her coffee. JJ just looked at Emily’s profile, at the way her hair was slicked back, at the curve of her ear and the point of her nose. Emily was beautiful and smart and kind. Why was she pursuing Law and not something else?
“I don’t like Mother,” Emily finally muttered. “She’s cold, dismissive, and judgmental.” Dark eyes turned back to JJ. “But she’s my mom.” Sighing heavily, Emily shook her head and reached down to pet Henry with her freehand. “I’m not studying Law because of her. She wishes I’d gotten married at 18, honestly, and become a socialite, but that was never going to happen.” She shrugged. “I think she’s satisfied with my being a lawyer. Still wants me to be married, though.”
“So… You’re marrying Hotch because your mom is fine with law school?”
Emily snorted. “I guess. I just…” Her head tilted back, eyes blinking rapidly. “Is it stupid that I want her to be proud of me?”
JJ took Emily’s free hand in her own, threading their fingers together. “Not at all. I wish my mother would be proud of me, too.”
“How could she not be?” Emily asked, brow knitting with confusion. “Look how much you’ve done and how far you’ve come.”
“I told you, remember? Family Trauma.”
Emily squeezed JJ’s hand. “Can I ask a personal question?”
“We’re already getting personal,” JJ chuckled, but she nodded. “Yeah. Go ahead.”
“You’re bisexual, right?”
“I am. And you?”
Taking a deep drink of her coffee, Emily glanced at her watch. “I’m a lesbian.” She gave JJ a tight smile. “I promise I’m not trying to take your man.”
The comment made JJ laugh out loud. Her eyes squeezed shut as she cackled, partly laughing at the idea that she cared about Hotch and partly laughing at the absurdity of the situation. She was on a date with her ex-boyfriend’s lesbian fiancée before her internship with her Harvard Law professor. How had all this happened?
“I don’t care about Hotch,” she managed, squeezing their joined hands. “I mean, not romantically. I care about…” She blushed. “I care about you. Is that weird?”
“The whole situation is weird,” Emily replied. She smiled, though, and leaned into JJ. “I care about you, too.”
“Hey!” Both women pulled their hands back as they looked up to see Hotch walking toward them. “Getting coffee without me?”
JJ and Emily exchanged a glance, silently coming to the same conclusion. Handing Henry’s leash back, Emily stood and answered Hotch’s question. “We ran into each other at the cart,” she lied, “and you know I love Henry.”
Nodding, Hotch didn’t seem suspicious at all. “I’m going to get one and head inside.”
“Okay. I’ll go in with you.” She looked down at JJ. “Come with us?”
“Of course. We’re on the same team, remember?”
Rolling her eyes, Emily smiled at her. “Yeah, yeah.” When Hotch wandered away toward the cart, Emily’s face turned serious again. “I’m not going to be with him forever,” she said quietly. “I just…”
“I know.” JJ stood with a groan, clipping Henry’s leash to her belt and adjusting her grip on her coffee cup. “I don’t know that I could, you know, during this internship anyway. It’s a lot.”
“Yeah.” Emily chewed on her lip for a moment. “Maybe we could have a real talk afterward?”
JJ grinned. “I’d like that."
“Well, if Elle didn’t kill the guy, then who did?” Will asked from his seat at the conference table.
JJ smiled at him from her own seat as she idly picked at the paper sleeve of her coffee cup. “My money is on the angry daughter or the ex-wife.”
The team was discussing the case again. Without an alibi, they needed to figure out their strategy. The current plan was to introduce more possible perpetrators and prove they had more motive than Elle.
“Megan has a trust fund,” Barnes countered. “She didn’t need the insurance payoff or the inheritance.”
“What about the mother?” one of the second year interns, Grant, asked.
Barnes rolled her eyes. “Covered. She was in Aspen at the time.” She looked at Emily. “Prentiss, get me a coffee.”
Stiffening, Emily visibly swallowed a rude remark and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Ten people saw her downing cosmopolitans at the Caribou club,” Barnes continued. She watched Emily make her coffee at the small table in the corner. “You couldn’t have a tighter alibi.”
JJ didn’t like the way Barnes looked at Emily, or the way she always made her fetch files and make coffee. Emily was there to help with the case, not be Barnes’ personal assistant. Glancing at Tara, she saw the same frustrated frown on her face.
“Look,” JJ said, sighing, “I just know it wasn’t Elle.”
Her comment pulled Barnes’ eyes and attention off Emily. “That’s touching, but we need an alibi.”
JJ watched as Elle picked up the phone on the other side of the glass, pressing her own to her ear. After her meeting with the team, JJ had gone to see Elle at the jailhouse and bring her some supplies. It had cut into her budget some, but if it made Elle like her more, and got them an alibi, then it was worth it.
She really knew that Elle was innocent. Maybe she felt like that because they’d slept together or because she didn’t like the thought of misjudging someone, but either way, she was on Elle’s side. She just needed to convince everyone else, too.
“JJ,” Elle greeted with a slow smile, “I’m glad you’re here. Barnes is such a bitch.”
Laughing, JJ put her bag of gifts onto the small table. “She really is. I’m always ready for her to just punch me.”
Elle laughed with her, looking at the bag. “Is that for me?”
“It is!” JJ pulled the bag open and Henry tilted his nose up with interest. “I brought you some comfortable sheets, the entire Clinique skincare line, a loofah, and the latest edition of Sports Illustrated.”
“The bible,” Elle joked. Her face grew thoughtful. “Thank you, JJ. I’ve never had a lawyer actually care about me before.”
“I do care. More people should.” JJ smiled kindly. “So, how are you? Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” she answered. “I’m a big girl. I’m really just glad that it’s you and not Barnes.”
JJ opened her mouth to insult her professor and boss again, but felt guilty. “She means well. She’s brilliant.”
“She better be for what I’m paying her.”
“I have to tell you the real reason I came here,” JJ sighed. “Professor Barnes says we really need your alibi.”
“No.” Elle’s face scrunched into a scowl. “Absolutely not.”
“JJ, it’s off-limits.” Elle slumped and, for a moment, looked like the young woman she was. “It’s incredibly embarrassing and possible career ruining.”
JJ leaned forward. “I’m sure it’s not that bad, Elle. Even cheating and tax fraud gets forgotten about eventually.”
“It’s so shameful.”
“Whatever it is, Elle, it could save you.”
“That’s just it!” Elle slumped back into her seat, orange jumpsuit making her look sickly. “It would ruin me.”
“How?” JJ asked, trying to draw the truth out of her.
Elle just stared at her for a moment, clearly trying to decide if she could trust JJ or not. “I have made my fortune on the ability to make women confident and teach them how to be athletic and aware. That’s the most important thing - being aware.”
JJ grinned encouragingly. “I know! I took your dvd course and ended up beating the shit out of a guy who tried to grab me one night.”
“That’s great,” Elle chuckled. With a heavy sigh, she sat forward and flicked her hair out of her face. “Look… On the night of Andrew’s murder, I was… I was with an orthopedist.”
“Really?” JJ raised her eyebrows. “Did you break something?”
Elle nodded. “I broke my foot. I was out of commission for weeks. I was at my final check-up when he was shot. I came home and found him.”
“Elle, that’s a really strong alibi, and really provable!”
“But the reason, JJ.” She grimaced. “It’s so embarrassing.”
“What happened? I won’t tell.”
Elle narrowed her eyes. “You promise?”
Rolling her eyes, JJ nodded. “Do I have to fucking Double Delta Nu Sister Swear?”
“I’d love to see that,” Elle chuckled. She smiled at JJ, looking a bit more relaxed. “Ok. I’ll tell you.” She leaned into the glass and JJ leaned forward, too. They were both on phones, but it felt more private to be close. “I tripped and fell in the kitchen,” she muttered, blushing. “I fucking tripped over nothing and broke my fucking foot.”
JJ bit her lip as a grin spread over her face. It was kind of hilarious to know that a woman who taught awareness and agility literally broke a bone doing nothing. “I see…”
“Don’t laugh at me!” Elle said, grinning, too. For all her embarrassment and the seriousness of the situation, it was nice to have a good moment like this. JJ knew she probably wasn’t getting many. “Remember - you promised not to tell.”
“I’m not going to do the dance,” JJ replied, “but I still Double Delta Nu Sister Swear it.”
Chapter 12: Kiss and Don't Tell
“Emily,” Barnes barked, walking into the conference room where everyone was working on the case, “get me a coffee.”
Rolling her eyes, Emily pushed her seat back from the table and went to make coffee. JJ watched her go, reading the tension in her shoulders. Barnes was still being a total bitch to the brunette and there was nothing JJ could do about it. Well, there was one thing she could do.
JJ leaned over the arm of her chair and unclipped Henry’s collar. When he looked at her, she whistled softly, nodding toward Emily across the room. The service dog carefully walked under the table before bounding over to Emily. He pawed at her leg to get her attention.
As the coffee brewed, Emily squatted beside him, petting him softly and pressing a kiss to his nose. She glanced across the room at JJ, smiling. JJ just smiled back and turned back to the case file on the table in front of her.
“We’ve got two interviews tomorrow that Anderson and Sharp are going to handle, and the ex-wife in an hour,” Barnes told the room, slowly walking along the table as she read from her folder. She stopped across the table from JJ. “According to this Communique from the prison, our client had a visit from her sister.” JJ tensed and looked up at Barnes. “A Miss… Delta Nu.” Barnes raised her eyebrow. “Anyone you know?”
Eyes sliding past Barnes, JJ watched as Henry’s face turned toward her and he jogged back. “Ah. Yes. I went to visit her.”
“What the hell do you mean you ‘went to visit her?’”
“I went to get her alibi,” JJ continued. Henry’s face appeared between her legs and he rested his chin on her knee. “I thought she might talk to me. We… know each other.”
Emily’s head snapped up to look at JJ, her hands still making coffee. JJ winced. Sighing heavily, Barnes spread her hands.
“And? Did you get it?”
“Yes,” JJ confirmed with a nod. “It’s really good, too.”
“Well, great,” Barnes chuckled derisively. “What is it?”
“I can’t tell you.”
Barnes scoffed loudly. When Emily went to her with the mug of coffee, she snatched it from the other woman’s hand. Emily glared at her for a moment before returning to her seat. When she looked at JJ, the blonde realized that everyone was looking at her.
“Miss Jareau,” Barnes snapped, “why the hell can’t you tell me?”
JJ’s shoulders curled in at the harsh tone, but she forced herself to sit up straight again. “Because I promised Elle that I’d keep it a secret. I can’t break her trust.”
“Screw trust!” Barnes hissed, slamming her folder onto the table and leaning forward. “This is a murder trial, not some scandal at the sorority house. I want the alibi.”
“I can’t give it to you,” JJ said again. She ignored the way everyone was still staring at her and focused on the weight of Henry’s chin on her leg. “I can tell you she’s innocent, though.”
Barnes opened her mouth to scream at JJ, but his assistant stuck her head into the conference room. “Ms. Barnes, Mrs. Strauss is on line two for you.”
Taking a deep breath, Barnes nodded at the team. “Someone reason with her while I take this.” She took a sip of her coffee and left the room.
Grant Anderson, a second-year intern, who had barely spoken to JJ leaned toward her. “Are you crazy? Just tell him the alibi.”
“We’re going to lose this case if you don’t,” he tried again.
JJ rolled her eyes. “Then we’re not very good lawyers.”
“If you tell him,” Hotch said from his seat beside her, “he’ll probably make you a summer associate. I know you care about Elle, but think about your career.”
“I gave her my word, Hotch.” JJ frowned at him, scratching Henry’s ear. “That means something to me.”
Hotch nodded, knowing that JJ wasn’t going to be swayed on this. Her eyes slid to Tara, who just smiled at her, looking thoughtful. Emily rested her chin on her hand and smiled at JJ, too. It was nice to know the other two women in her cohort supported her decision.
Barnes stomped back into the room. “The ex-wife seems unconcerned with the fact that her interview is today,” she sighed. “She’s at a spa in the Berkshires.”
“A spa,” Grant snorted. He smirked at JJ. “Isn’t that like a sorority girl’s mothership?”
JJ opened her mouth to tell him to fuck off, but caught herself. She turned to Barnes instead. “I could go, if you’d like.”
“Alright.” Barnes nodded and turned to Will. “LaMontagne. Go with her.”
It was a two hour drive from Harvard to the spa in the Berkshires. Will and JJ spent the whole time talking about school, the team, and the case. They kept the back window down for Henry, who happily watched the landscape pass. By the time they were close to the spa, JJ and Will were stuck on one point.
“She just seems completely untrustworthy,” Will sighed, scratching his forehead as he drove.
JJ rolled her eyes. She shifted to lean against the car door, arms crossed, and glared at him. “Why?”
Will tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel. “I mean, this is a person who’s made their living telling women they’re too weak.”
“Elle would never tell a woman she’s too weak,” JJ said defensively before wincing. “Well, maybe she would, but it’s in the name of making them stronger!”
“It seems to me like she’s hiding something.”
“Maybe it’s not what you think.”
“Maybe it’s exactly what I think.”
Rolling her eyes again, JJ smiled at Will. “You just need to have a little more faith in people. You might be surprised.”
“I have faith in you,” he told her, glancing at her before turning back to the road. “If you think she’s innocent, that’s enough for me.”
“Thank you,” she replied sincerely. Hesitating for a moment, she decided that now was as good a time as any for a conversation she knew they had to have. “Hey, I know that it might not be great to bring this up while we’re stuck in a car and have a 2 hour car ride back, but… I think we need to talk about our relationship. Our friendship,” she corrected quickly.
He sighed heavily, but he nodded. “I know, Cherie. I’m not as slow as this accent makes me sound. We’re just friends.” He grinned as he turned into the Spa. “I just like flirting with ya.”
“Okay, good,” she sighed. She punched his shoulder. “You couldn’t stop flirting with me if you tried.”
“No, Ma’am.” He laughed and pulled into a parking spot. “Not when you always look that good.”
It didn’t take them long to make their way through the spa and find the former Mrs. Kane in the mud room. The current Mrs. Strauss was wrapped tightly in gold foil, laying on a bed under a few sun lamps. Her blonde hair was swept up in a bun over her head, her face was covered in a blue face mask, and her eyes were hidden under cucumbers.
When they entered the room, she didn’t even move. JJ signaled for Henry to stay by the door and she and Will made their way to the bed in the center of the room. Will stood there awkwardly, doing his best to seem like he knew what was happening and that he was incredibly uncomfortable. JJ patted his arm before speaking to the woman Elle had replaced.
“Mrs. Strauss?” JJ said quietly, reaching out to take the cucumbers off the older woman’s eyes. She set them on the bed. “We’re from Rossi, Donovan, & Barnes, and we’re here to ask you a few questions.”
Mrs. Strauss wasted no time in talking badly about Elle. “So, I hear that little bitch shot poor Gerald.”
“Well,” Will said in his pleasantly gentle voice, “that’s what we’re trying to prove didn’t happen.”
“Do you have any reason to believe it did?” JJ asked.
Mrs. Strauss raised an eyebrow and sighed heavily, as if they were ruining her day with their presence. “Well, I’ve never actually met the woman,” Mrs. Strauss admitted, “but my daughter says she can be a real bitch.”
Will ignored the insult, and stayed as calm and nice as ever. “Now, did your daughter ever mention anything to you about the relationship between Elle and Gerald?”
“Well, she did say they humped like gorillas,” Mrs. Strauss said almost gleefully. She grinned as both Will and JJ stiffened. She sighed dramatically again. “I guess it wasn’t enough, though, for Elle.”
“Why do you say that?” JJ asked.
“Haven’t you seen the cabana boy?”
“Thanks for driving me home,” JJ said to Will, reaching for the door handle. “You’ll update Barnes?”
He nodded. “I will, Cherie. I know how to handle her.”
“Good.” Rolling her eyes, JJ pushed the door open and climbed out of the car, grabbing her bag and throwing it over her shoulder. “Why can’t successful people also be nice?”
“You’ll be the first,” he joked, watching as she moved to the back and opened the door for Henry. “Have a good night, JJ.”
She waved at him before squatting beside Henry and pulling his leash out of his vest. Clipping one end to him, she stood again and clipped the other side to her belt. JJ headed toward her dorm, wanting to fall asleep, but knowing that she had reading to do. It was hard to keep up, but she was doing ok so far. She planned to keep her head above water.
The campus was quiet around her and JJ took a deep breath. She really liked Harvard. As stressful as it was, she liked the long brick paths that crisscrossed grassy areas. It was beautiful during the day under the bright sun, and peaceful at night, half-lit by orange lamps and light spilling from windows.
As she got closer to the dorm, she heard Spencer’s voice and turned to see him talking to a couple of women a few feet away. He looked nervous and awkward, books clutched to his chest. Wandering closer, JJ smiled, happy that he was feeling more confident.
“So, I called your room last night,” Spencer said.
One of the women sighed. “I heard.”
JJ could see him swallow hard. “I was thinking maybe we could go out sometime.”
“No, you’re a dork.”
The women laughed, and JJ’s hackles rose. She tensed, glaring at the back of their heads. Spencer was a bit of a dweeb, but he was cute and sweet and smart. They’d be lucky to date him.
“I’m in law school,” he tried, brow furrowing as he blushed. “At Harvard.”
“Look,” the woman snorted, “I’m not going to go out with you. Girls like me don’t go out with losers like you.”
The young man deflated, turning a dark red. JJ was moving before she realized it, stalking over to them and shoving her way between the two women. Smiling sweetly, she batted her eyelashes at Spencer.
“You go to Harvard?” she asked flirtatiously, twirling her hair. “That’s really cool.”
“What?” he asked. He took a deep breath and shook his head. “You know-”
JJ cut him off before he exposed her ruse. “I heard you telling them. I’d love to get dinner with you sometime.” He opened his mouth again and she almost rolled her eyes. “Actually, why don’t you come back to my place? I’ve heard your reputation, stud.” She grabbed his hand and dragged him away, glaring at the two women. They looked absolutely shocked. “Let’s go.”
Pulling Spencer with one hand and Henry’s leash in the other, JJ headed for her dorm. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the women walk away and slowed to a stop. She dropped Spencer’s hand, smiling at him.
“Sorry,” she sighed, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I saw them being assholes and just couldn’t take it.”
“Thanks! I’m trying to be more social, but it doesn’t always work.” Shrugging, Spencer just grinned at her. “I’ll get a girlfriend eventually. Or a boyfriend. Who knows!”
Laughing, JJ nodded and started drifting away. “You’ll meet someone,” she assured him. “Goodnight, Spencer.”
JJ flipped through the thick, bound deposition on her lap, eyes glazed as she tried to take in the information. She’d already read it before, several times actually, and she was just exhausted now. She really wanted to help Elle, but she felt like she was at an impasse. How much could she really do without giving up the alibi? Still, she had promised Elle that she would keep it, and she would.
A knock on the door startled her out of her daze, and JJ looked over at Henry, who lay on the bed beside her. His ears perked up, but otherwise he didn’t move. Deciding that it probably wasn’t a masked robber, especially because her dorm room was on the third floor and grad students weren’t known for having anything worth stealing, JJ relaxed.
The door opened, and Emily stuck her head in, looking around before stepping inside. “Hey, I was wondering if you’d finished that deposition yet.”
Closing the thick text, JJ held it out with a smile. “Here, take it. I’ve read it about 20 times.”
Emily walked over to her and took it. For a moment, she looked like she might say something, but then she thought better of it. She made it halfway across the room before turning around again.
“You know, JJ…” She clutched the deposition to her chest. “I still can’t believe you didn’t tell Barnes the alibi. She was really grilling you for it.”
Sighing, JJ pulled her knees to her chest and rested her arms on them. “It’s not my alibi to tell, Emily.”
Emily’s eyes widened. “I know. I’m not criticizing you. I think you’re very noble. You’re a good friend.” Now, her eyes narrowed. “To Elle. And Will.”
“Are you jealous?” JJ asked with a cheeky smile. She’d seen Emily glaring at Will before, but this was the first time she’d vocalized any sort of annoyance at the fact that JJ talked to other people.
“No!” Emily denied quickly and unconvincingly. “I’m just… You’re very pretty, and kind, and you get a lot of attention.”
“From people other than you, you mean.” Crossing her legs, JJ rested her elbows on her knees and leaned forward. She was only wearing comfy pajamas, but Emily’s cheeks still reddened. “You want me all for yourself?”
Stiffening, Emily’s eyes darted away and she took a small step backward. “I can’t ask for that,” she mumbled. “It wouldn’t be fair.”
The reality of their situation filled the room, making JJ’s shoulders slump. Emily wasn’t hers to tease, and JJ shouldn’t be so mean. The other woman was in a tough situation, one that JJ understood. With a sad half-smile, JJ leaned back against the wall.
Emily nodded stiffly and turned to leave, but she hesitated by the door. JJ could practically see her inner struggle, and she felt bad. It must be so frustrating to be closeted.
“Did you ever notice,” Emily started, glancing over her shoulder with an unreadable expression, “how Barnes never asks Hotch to bring her her coffee? She’s asked me at least ten times.”
“She thinks other women are helpless,” JJ replied. She reached out absently to pet Henry. “Somehow, she got to the top of the food chain and decided to punch down. She’s practically one of the men now, and men are helpless.”
Grinning, Emily turned around, happy that JJ was still willing to talk. “I know.” She dropped the deposition on JJ’s desk and sat on the edge of the bed. “Hotch doesn’t even do his own laundry.”
“I know! He has to have it sent out!”
The two women laughed together, leaning close. It felt nice to talk about something other than law or their feelings. Even though they were discussing Hotch, it didn’t feel like the conversation was about him. JJ tucked her hair behind her ear.
“It annoyed me so much at UPitt. Why does he wear so many suits?”
“Insecurity,” Emily answered immediately, rolling her eyes. “I wear suits because I look good in suits. He wears suits because he’s trying too hard.”
JJ just laughed at that, nodding in agreement. Henry shifted to his feet and wandered over to lay on JJ’s pillow. Taking advantage of the extra space, Emily took her shoes off and fully sat on the bed, leaning her shoulder against the wall to look at JJ. She knew she should tell Emily to leave, but JJ was enjoying the company. It was nice to gossip with a friend and relax.
“Did you know…” Biting her lip, Emily leaned in conspiratorially, smiling when JJ leaned forward, too. “When he first applied, he got wait-listed.”
Gasping, JJ’s hand shot out to grab Emily’s knee in surprise. “What? He did?”
“Yes!” Emily giggled, moving even closer. “His father had to make a call.”
“I bet he bombed his finals without me,” JJ laughed. Her eyes met Emily’s and she realized how close they were. “I always helped him too much.”
Emily swallowed hard, eyes dropping to JJ’s lips. “You’re too good. You’re going to be a great lawyer, without anyone’s help.”
Closing the distance between them, JJ kissed Emily, eyes fluttering shut. Just as she felt herself begin to melt into the kiss, she started to pull away, sure she’d made a mistake. Then, Emily’s hands gently cradled her face, keeping her in place. It was such an innocent kiss, but JJ found herself warm and soft.
Emily was safe. Despite all the reasons why they should be apart, JJ couldn’t stop the kiss. Emily had seen her at her worst, sobbing and shaking with anxiety, but she still believed in JJ. She was the only person who didn’t think JJ’s anxiety would stop her. With a happy sigh, JJ cupped Emily’s face, deepening the kiss.
After a moment, Emily pulled away, pressing their foreheads together. “I don’t want to be stressful,” she breathed, eyes searching JJ’s. “I want to take care of you. I want to be something positive in your life. We can’t do this right now.”
“I know,” JJ replied sadly. She brushed her thumb over Emily’s cheek. “Thank you. I want to take care of you, too. You promised me a talk when the case is over. I’m going to hold you to that.”