“I can’t thank you enough, Kurzbard,” Morgan said.
“It’s the least I can do. Matt was my best friend,” The detective said on the other line. “She should be landing soon.”
“Yeah, I’m already at the airport.”
“This is the fastest I’ve ever seen anyone become a foster parent before,” said Kurzbard.
“It helps when you’ve got friends on the inside,” said Morgan. “Reid’s adoption agent managed to work it out with the agency in Los Angeles. All the papers are done.”
“Well, good luck, Agent Morgan. I hope you and Ellie have a happy life together,” said Kurzbard.
Morgan thanked him and hung up. Then he waited, looking for a certain eight-year-old girl.
“Agent Morgan!!” Someone hugged him from behind.
“Ellie!” Morgan turned and embraced her.
“Are you really gonna be my foster parent?” She smiled at him. Her hair had been trimmed so it was even, and it was held back by a blue headband.
Morgan noticed she hadn’t called him ‘foster dad’. She’d been in a temporary home while Morgan and the agencies filled out the paperwork, and so that the funerals could be arranged. Derek hadn’t been able to attend, but Kurzbard had taken Ellie so she could say goodbye.
“Yes, I am,” Morgan assured her. “But you can call me Derek.”
“Okay, Derek.” Ellie said.
Morgan picked up one of her two suitcases and she followed him to his car, heading straight to his apartment.
“It’s not very big.” Derek said, unlocking the door once they arrived, and turning on the lights. “But you’ll have your own room.”
“Whoa!” Ellie took a step back as something big and furry tried to tackle her.
“Down, Clooney,” Morgan ordered.
“You have a dog?” Ellie smiled widely at the large dog, but didn’t make a move to pet him.
“Yeah, this is Clooney. Clooney, this is Ellie. Be nice.”
Clooney followed orders and sat with his tongue sticking out and panting. Ellie reach out and scratched him behind the ear, earning a lick from him.
“Come, I’ll show you around,” Morgan said.
He gave her a quick tour - two-bedroom, two-bathroom. He’d always meant to find a roommate, but it had never happened, so he had a spare room that was never used. Reid and JJ had helped him pick out a simple furniture set fit for an older child. Something that she would still use as she grew up.
Ellie set her bags on her bed and looked around. There was a single long shelf across two walls, a good-sized closet, and a plain blue bed set. The walls were a light peach color. Everything was empty, waiting to be filled.
“I know it’s plain, but I thought I’d let you decide how to decorate it,” Morgan explained. “We can go to the store sometime and pick up posters and stuff. Kurzbard’s mailed some things from your old house, too.”
“What’s going to happen to it? My house?” Ellie asked.
Morgan sighed, leaning in the doorframe. “The lawyers are still sorting it out. Your dad left a will, and everything was supposed to go to you and Kristen.”
“Are they going to sell it?”
“Only if your dad owes money - the banks will take it and short-sale it, but according to his partner at LAPD, he didn’t. He was in good standing.”
Ellie nodded, and opened her suitcase.
“Ellie, if you want your dad’s house, just tell me, and I’ll do what I can to try and protect it.”
Ellie glanced up. “I do want it, but I don’t want to force you to make promises like my dad and aunt.”
“I understand. I’m not making promises. But I’ll talk to the lawyers and Kurzbard and see what can be done.”
“Thanks, Derek.” Ellie said.
“I’ll let you unpack.” Morgan said, turning to leave.
“Actually,” Ellie stopped him. “Can you help me unpack?”
Morgan smiled. “Sure, kid.”
Ellie quickly became one of the family in the BAU. Emma had insisted on meeting her as soon as possible, so just a week after her arrival, Derek brought Ellie to the park for a playdate.
Hotch and Reid did this regularly, so they didn’t look out of place at the picnic tables next to the playground with several other families. Reid was tutoring two twins name Luwi and Kali, both of whom were struggling in math. Emma was on the playground with Jack and some of the other children.
“Morgan, glad you could make it,” Reid greeted him as he and Ellie walked up. “Hi, Ellie, do you remember me?”
“You’re Dr. Reid. I remember.” Ellie said.
“He’s a genius.” Luwi said.
Ellie laughed. “I know.”
“This is Luwi and Kali.” Reid said, introducing the twins. “They’re going into fourth grade, like you. Girls, this is Ellie, and Derek Morgan.”
The girls waved at her.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if we were in the same class?” Kali asked excitedly.
“No, goof. We’re never in the same class,” Luwi said. “They always split us up, remember?”
Kali sighed. “But Ellie coming to the same school would be nice. What school are you going to go to?”
“Are you gonna go to the academy like Emma?” Luwi asked.
Ellie looked up at Morgan, who shook his head. “I haven’t signed up anywhere yet.”
“Then you have to go to our school!” Kali cried, jumping up and grabbing Ellie’s hand. Luwi followed suit. “It’s the best. I mean, it’s not the best-best, but it’s pretty great. And we could be your best friends!”
“Your best-best friends!” cried Luwi.
“Slow down, girls.”
The twins turned to find their mother behind them.
“I’m glad you’re trying to make a new friend, but Ellie is new. Give her some space,” The twins did as they were told, and sat down in front of their workbooks again.
“I think it’s time for a break,” said Reid. The girls cheered, and put their things away in their bags.
They approached Ellie a little slower this time.
“Do you want to come play with us?” Luwi asked.
“We can introduce you to everyone,” Kali offered.
“Sure, I’d love that.” Ellie said, with little hesitation. They ran to the playground. Morgan was glad she hadn’t lost any confidence.
Morgan sat down next to Reid. “So is this some sort of planned thing?”
Reid shrugged. “We’ve only been official for about two months. We all realized that we come to the playground the same days every week, and our children like to play together, so we’ve made ourselves into a group.”
“We’re still working on a name, of course.” said the twins’ mother. “I’m Janna Previlus, by the way. Spencer and Aaron have told us all about you and Ellie. We’ve been looking forward to meeting you. There’s five families in all. You and Ellie would make six. We spend time at the playground together once a week. Of course, you and your co-workers have unpredictable schedules, but Emma has Paisley and Jack has Jessica, so they’ve never missed out. We’re working on planning other events like cookouts and book clubs, too. Becoming a real organization, see?”
“That’s pretty cool,” Morgan said. “I think we’d definitely be interested. Ellie’s already made friends with your girls.”
“Yes, it seems they have. How about I introduce you to the rest of the group?”
Reid told Morgan later that Janna was the unofficial president of the group, and Hotch was the vice president. Each member was grouped by their family, even if they didn’t share the same last name. Aaron, Jack and Jessica were the Hotchner’s. Spencer, Emma, and Paisley were the Reid’s. The Previlus’ consisted of Janna, her husband, Rodelin, and their three children - the twins’, Luwi and Kali, and their older brother Tshambi (a sixth grader).
The last two families were the McCoy’s - the parents, Kendall and Laura, and their two young children, Lucy (first grade) and Michael (kindergarten) - and the Angelo’s - Benjamin and Georgia, and their daughter, Maya (sixth grade).
Reid and Mr. Angelo both tutored the children - Reid in mathematics and Angelo in reading (he was the one who wanted the book club). Georgia Angelo liked to plan crafts for the children to make.
The McCoy’s often brought bubbles and sports toys for the kids, encouraging them to run around and challenge themselves.
Rodelin was an outdoors person, and liked to plan nature walks. He wanted to take the group to the zoo. Janna’s main job was organizing them all - the group had been her idea.
Hotch didn’t seem to have an exact function, aside from being Janna’s V.P. He seemed content helping her manage (something he was naturally skilled with) but always able to take a backseat when needed.
Morgan felt a little intimidated as the structure of the group was explained to him. He wasn’t sure if he had any skills or hobbies to pass on to the children like everyone else. Surely he wasn’t supposed to teach them self-defense or how to shoot a gun?
The kids played for half an hour before returning to the tables, where they cleaned their hands with wet wipes and helped set up for lunch. Apparently each family took turns making lunch for everyone.
“I made sure to pack extras,” said Laura McCoy. “Aaron said you and Ellie might come today.”
“Thank you, Laura,” Morgan said, gratefully. He hadn’t thought about food. He was really new at this parenting stuff.
The children were allowed to sit where they wanted at the four tables. Maya and Tshambi sat together with Maya’s parents. Benjamin Angelo was a teacher at the middle school that Maya and Tshambi were going to start sixth grade at, and they had tons of questions for him.
Jack and Michael sat with their parents at the second table. Reid and Morgan were joined by the Previlus’ at the third table. From there they could see Kali, Luwi, Ellie, Emma, and Lucy, who were all sitting together at the last table. Despite their age, Emma and Lucy were always included by Kali and Luwi. They laughed and talked and whispered to each other.
Morgan was overjoyed to see Ellie open up so quickly. He definitely didn’t regret bringing her here.
“So, are you eventually going to adopt her?” Janna asked.
Morgan nodded. “That’s the plan. Ellie’s a great kid, and I want to give her the best life that I can.”
“You’ve got great dedication,” Rodelin said. “But you also seem to be very withdrawn. Make sure you keep an open line of communication, or she’ll do the same as you and close off her emotions.”
“He speaks from experience,” Janna said. “We had a lot of problems last school year with Tshambi. He kept getting into fights and we did what we thought was right - consequences and such. But he just kept on doing it.”
“Turns out he was actually defending another student who was being bullied,” said Rodelin. “The teacher didn’t report it, because the bullied kid was black. The principal fired her, thank god. The parents were going to sue. They still should, I think.”
“The bully already has a record. He’s going to an alternative school. Tshambi won’t have to deal with him next year,” said Janna.
“Anyways, if we hadn’t jumped to conclusions about everything, we would have been able to avoid a lot of issues. We finally sat him and down and tried to get him to open up. That’s when he told us everything,” Rodelin said. “Take it from us, always talk with your kids - never talk at them.”
“Thanks, I’ll remember that,” Morgan said.
Eventually, everyone started to pack up and say goodbye.
“So, what do you think, kid?” Morgan asked.
“That was the best day I’ve had in a long time.” Ellie admitted. “Can we go again next week?”
“Of course.” Morgan said.
“What if you work? Don’t you go back on Monday?” Ellie asked, sounding worried. “Where am I supposed to go when you’re at work?”
“Good question. You like Emma, right?”
“Yeah, she’s cool. A little nerdy, but cool.” Ellie said.
“Well, her nanny has offered to take care of you. And Jack’s Aunt Jessica will when the nanny can’t.”
Ellie gave him a look. “A nanny? Like Mary Poppins?”
Morgan laughed. “Not at all. Paisley’s nice and all but she doesn’t have a magical umbrella or bag. She’s a college student, going into medicine. You’ll meet her tomorrow. Reid’s invited us to dinner with Hotch.”
“And Jessica is Jack’s aunt?”
“Yeah, she’s the back-up if Paisley is in class. She takes Emma and Jack, and she’s offered to take you, too.”
“That’s nice of her. They don’t even know me, though.”
“What, you think they won’t like you?” Morgan glanced at her, then moved his eyes back to the road. Good, she wasn’t crying.
“They might think I’m weird.”
“Ellie, if anybody can understand what you’ve been through, it’ll be Jessica and Jack.”
Morgan took a deep breath before delving into the story about Haley Hotchner and the events of last summer. By the time he was finished, Ellie was unusually quiet and thoughtful.
“What’s Emma’s story?” she finally asked.
“Her parents died when she was a baby,” Morgan explained. “She spent the first few years in foster homes. She was highly intelligent, which led to some bullying in school and no one really understood her. Her agent, the same one who helped me bring you here, was the only one who really cared about her. She did everything she could to find Emma the perfect family to adopt her. Then one day, Spencer Reid entered her office, and the rest is history.”
“Well, I guess that’s a happy ending,” said Ellie.
“Or a beginning. Depends on how you look at it.”
Ellie nodded. “Yeah, a beginning…