JJ sat in a local Starbucks with Garcia. This was where they met every Tuesday, 9 AM, for some much-needed catching up. Tuesday mornings, they were both free.
Tuesdays had quickly become JJ's favorite day of the week.
JJ sipped her Caramel Brulée Latte and sighed. It was as close to perfection as you could get. Plus, she loved how pretty the shimmery caramel pieces on top always looked. JJ had insisted Garcia branch out and try a holiday beverage, so she was experimentally sipping the Peppermint Mocha.
"Why not just mix up some hot cocoa, throw in some instant coffee and melt a few candy canes in it?" Garcia asked.
"You seriously don't like it?" JJ asked dubiously, crumbling off a piece of her apple fritter and popping it in her mouth. "You know, for someone as fun and free as you, you're sure particular about your menu..."
"Ah, but I didn't say that," Garcia clarified. "I love this. I just thought, making it at home would be more exciting. And cheaper."
"Since when are you worried about money?" JJ asked laughing. "I saw what you got Henry for Christmas... A computer, Garcia? He's two years old!"
"I'm not frugal, Jaje. I was just pointing out...You know what? Never mind. And it's not a computer, it's a LeapFrog ClickStart My First Computer."
"Seriously, Garcia," JJ objected, laughing. "I can barely use the new laptop. How am I gonna hook up a kids computer?"
"I'll show you," Garcia took a bite of her blueberry streusel muffin and scowled as her phone vibrated.
"Sir?" she asked, her expression changing from annoyance to concern as she registered her boss's voice.
"Garcia, we have a case," he told her seriously. "We need you."
"Certainly, sir," she answered, sending a disappointed look JJ's way.
"Garcia? Hold on. Is JJ with you?" Hotch asked, sounding weary and slightly tentative.
"Yes. Sir. She's right here."
"Hotch," Garcia mouthed, handing her across the table, and securing a lid on her cup.
"Yes?" JJ asked, unable to shake her professional demeanor when she spoke with her former boss. Selfishly, JJ hoped she was being asked back. Hotch had promised he would do all he could to get her back from DC.
"JJ. I have a personal favor to ask," Hotch said. She could tell by the tone of voice that Hotch was probably pinching the bridge of his nose. That he was stressed.
"Jessica's on vacation, and I need somebody to watch Jack while we're gone. I wouldn't ask, but there aren't many people I trust him with, and he feels comfortable around you."
"Right. Uh, no. That's fine," JJ said, getting up from the table. "Nope, no need. I've got a bag in the car," she smiled. "Yeah, something like that. I'll be right there."
"What was that about?" Garcia asked, juggling her muffin, her cup, her purse, her keys and now her phone.
"He needs somebody to watch Jack," JJ passed along. "So, I guess I'll be there until you guys get back. You take care. Be safe," JJ said, reaching over to give Garcia a hug.
"What about your job?" Garcia asked.
"I've got a couple days off anyway. They can live without me."
The minute JJ walked inside Hotch's apartment and was met by a glare from Jack, she knew this was going to be interesting. She had experience with children, but none who had been through what Jack had - losing his mother while Jack had hidden in the house.
"Hey, Jack," she said, smiling at him.
"Hi..." he sulked.
Hotch had slipped out as quickly as possible, since Jack was in the most horrendous mood ever, and had spent the morning talking back, and throwing a huge tantrum because he didn't have the right shirt to go to kindergarten in.
"Send him to school if you can get him to go," Hotch said apologetically.
"What's the matter?" JJ tried, not moving from her crouch in front of Jack, who stared at the cartoon on TV blankly.
"Go away. Go away just like Daddy," he said darkly.
JJ excused herself, and went to Jack's bedroom, keeping an ear out for him. She spotted the Spongebob sweatshirt balled on the floor in the corner. The room smelled like pee, and JJ wondered if Hotch had been too busy, too overwhelmed, or just too defeated to take on one more thing this morning. Instead of dwelling on it, JJ got to work, taking the sheets, the mattress pad, the comforter and the shirt and putting them in his clothes hamper. It was a good thing she always carried quarters in her purse.
"Jack, come here. I'm gonna wash your shirt for school, okay?"
"The Spongebob one?" he asked, with one eyebrow raised.
"Yeah! Come on!" she said, trying to make laundry sound as exciting as she could.
"That's not my favorite..." Jack denied, focusing on the screen again.
"Really? 'Cause that's the shirt I found covering up this guy..." JJ said, producing a stuffed bear from the pile. "He could use a cleaning, too."
"She's a girl." For the first time, Jack didn't sound defiant or depressed. Just serious.
"Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am," JJ said to the bear. "My mistake."
"She's scared of the washing machine..." Jack pointed out, tentative.
JJ took his hand. "Well, I'm sure she won't be if you're there, will she? What's her name?"
"Yes, she will. She'll just pretend she's brave and tell me to go hide. And then she'll say a lot of swears and fight. Then she'll scream and not stop. 'Don't come for me, I'm okay! Stay right there! I love you! Stay right there!' She has to stay right there," Jack said, matter-of-factly dropping the bear on the carpet and covering it up with a newspaper.
JJ blinked, stunned. "What's her name?" It was the only question she could manage.
Somehow, JJ convinced Jack to walk with her to the laundry room, but "only if she promised to check it for bad guys first." So, JJ had made a big show of checking out the room, looking in corners, behind machines, and then giving him the all clear.
"I don't know why my dad had to go to work..." Jack ventured, pouring Tide into the cap and dumping it in the wash. "He's not very good at getting bad guys."
"He gets a lot of bad guys," JJ told him. "I've seen him."
"Yeah, but he didn't get George. He didn't get the one who got my mom."
"No, he didn't," JJ agreed. "But he wanted to. He tried his very hardest to. Sometimes, bad things just happen."
Jack seemed content to be distracted by comparing each piece of laundry that went in the machine. "You know, my dad has very big clothes. I have little clothes."
"Really," JJ said, feigning shock for Jack's benefit, shoving his bedding inside.
"Yup. And one day, I'm gonna be big like him." There was a pause. "Miss Jareau?"
"Honey, call me JJ. We're friends, right?" she asked gently.
Jack nodded, distracted. "JJ? I don't want my mom to be all alone in heaven, with no one else there."
"Let me show you something," JJ said when they were back in the apartment. Carefully, she opened the locket around her neck. "See the picture inside?" JJ asked.
Jack leaned in and examined it carefully. "You?"
"No," JJ laughed quietly. "That's my big sister, Janet. She went to heaven, too, a long time ago when I was a kid."
"Did a bad guy get her, too?" Jack asked, fingering the photo softly.
"Kind of..." JJ allowed, biting her lip. "But the thing is, your mom isn't all alone. Because my sister Janet is there, too. So she and your mom can hang out, and not be lonely. How's that?"
"Not as good as them being here," Jack concluded, closing the locket.
JJ and Jack kept very busy the rest of the morning. They got the laundry, put Jack's sheets and blankets back on his bed. Jack changed into his favorite shirt. They gave Haley the bear a gentle bath with just a warm washcloth. JJ made lunch - Strawberry Toaster Strudels and mac and cheese.
By the time she sent him to kindergarten, JJ was exhausted. She didn't know if she'd have the energy to do this when Henry was school-aged in a few years.
But at least she had some time to think before Jack arrived home that afternoon. She planned supper - real food this time - and did a little more cleaning around the house. It wasn't that Hotch couldn't keep house, he was just busy, and clearly not used to having Jack with him so often.
She found important documents with pen scribbles on them. A pair of Hotch's work shoes in the middle of the kitchen in a way that suggested a child had walked out of them and left them behind. She found countless unmarked DVDs in Jack's room, and discovered quickly that all of them were home video of him and his mom, for Hotch, probably.
Before JJ knew it, Jack was back and full of energy.
"We're gonna sing a concert at school! But don't tell my dad! It's a surprise!" Jack said, bounding inside.
"A concert is like a play and a bunch of music and stuff," he said, as if JJ had wondered aloud about it.
"Are dads supposed to come?" she asked, curious.
"Yep!" Jack said, dumping his backpack out on the table.
"How do they know to come?" JJ asked.
Jack shrugged like it didn't matter. "They just know."
"Okay..." JJ said, smiling a little. "Hey, Jack? When is it?"
When he told her, JJ discreetly added a note to the large wall calendar, so Hotch could magically know when his son had an event, and be there.
So that something could be as it should be for this child.
Jack and JJ were sitting cuddled with one another on the couch, watching Tarzan on TV, when there was a knock on the door. JJ rose and got up, unconsciously checking for her weapon and glancing through the peephole.
An elderly woman JJ recognized as Hotch's neighbor was holding a pair small boy's underwear aloft.
"Miss?" she called too loudly. "These are Jack's! I found them in the wash, when I went to do my laundry!"
"Okay, thank you," JJ said, relieved that they were at least clean.
"What was that?"
"Thank you!" JJ said a little louder.
"No problem, honey!"
"Hey, Jack! Did you hear that? Your neighbor found your undies. How lucky is that?" JJ asked turning.
But JJ found herself talking to an empty room.
Jack had disappeared.
Damn it. JJ should have been paying closer attention. She took a deep breath. Hotch's place wasn't that big. She could find him.
"Jack?" JJ called. "Where are you? We're gonna miss Trashin' The Camp," she bribed, thinking of the song Henry liked the best.
Quickly, JJ did a thorough search of Jack's room. The kitchen. The living room. The bathroom. Finally, feeling totally weird about it, JJ opened Hotch's bedroom door, and searched the closet and under the bed.
JJ was halfway out in the living room again when she heard it. A tiny sniffle. She stood still, listening, and trying to figure out where the heck Jack had managed to hide.
She heard it again, and knelt on the couch, glancing in the tiny space between it and the wall. Jack sat huddled there. JJ noticed Haley the bear haphazardly left in the middle of the room, an old throw draped over her.
"Hey... You wanna come out of there?" JJ asked.
Silent, Jack shook his head.
"What happened? Whatever it is, I'll make it better, okay? I promise."
Jack shook his head again.
Sighing, JJ got down and walked to one end of the couch. She used all of her strength to heave it a couple inches. Sliding in the tiny space, JJ sat beside Jack, startled when he climbed, shaking, into her lap.
"What is it?" she asked softly, letting him climb all over her in the awkwardly tight space.
"You didn't say..." he whispered, hoarse.
"I'm sorry," JJ apologized before she even knew why. "What was I supposed to say?"
"If people are coming... George...that killed my mom? He knocked."
JJ closed her eyes, willing herself to stay composed. "I didn't know she was coming, honey, I'm really sorry. But it was just the nice lady in the pink robe. She found your underwear and she was just bringing them back for you."
"Boxer shorts?" Jack whispered.
"Nope...regular old underwear...I think superheroes..." JJ remembered quietly.
"What can I do?" JJ asked.
"Stay with me?" Jack asked in a tiny voice.
"Absolutely," JJ said, hugging him tightly. Then, because the movie was still playing, JJ joined in softly.
"Come, stop your crying it will be alright. Just take my hand, hold it tight. I will protect you from all around you. I will be here..."
"Don't you cry," Jack sang, holding on.
"Okay now?" JJ asked.
"Yes...but will you still stay here with me?"
"You bet," JJ promised, kissing his head.