Burn it down, till the embers smoke on the ground
And start new when your heart is an empty room
With walls of the deepest blue
And all you see is where else you could be
When you're at home
Out on the street are so many possibilities
To not be alone
--"Your Heart is an Empty Room," Death Cab for Cutie
"Don't look at me like that, Emily. It won't be that bad."
Emily gritted her teeth, her fingers locking around the strap of her carryon bag. The airport was freezing and she was regretting the choice to not bring a jacket. "Easy for you to say, Mom," she said. "You're not getting shipped off to boarding school in a different continent."
Elizabeth sighed. "Honey, this is for the best," she said. "St. Thaddeus is a great school. And it's about time for you to spend some time in America with normal kids, instead of getting dragged all over the world with me."
"But I like getting dragged all over the world," Emily argued. "And I love Italy, I want to stay here. I have friends here, Mom, and-"
She stopped abruptly. She hadn't told her mother about Matthew yet, and she wasn't about to now.
"...and I want to stay here," she said instead.
Elizabeth leveled her gaze. "You know that's not an option anymore, Emily," she said.
She shrugged. "You could pull some strings."
Elizabeth shifted her purse from one arm to another. "Not anymore, not at this point. I don't know what's been going on with you, Em, but trust me. I'm trying to do what's best for you."
"You could always send me to live with my dad," she said flatly.
"Enough," Elizabeth said, cool and clipped, and Emily bit back a sigh. Conversations were always over when her mother used her ambassador voice. Elizabeth glanced at her watch. "You should get to your gate. Your flight is going to start boarding in twenty minutes."
Emily's shoulders slumped, the fight draining out of her. She had already known deep down that she wasn't going to win this battle- she came by her stubbornness honestly- but she still didn't want to give up without a fight. "Mom, I don't want to go," she said. "Please don't make me."
"Sweetheart, you have to," Elizabeth said, touching her cheek lightly. She kissed her forehead. "Be safe. Call me as soon as you land. A driver is already scheduled to take you from the airport to the school." She pressed the boarding pass and passport into her hand. "I love you, Emily."
Emily nodded. "Love you," she echoed.
She shouldered her carryon and made her way towards her gate without looking back, her heart beginning to thump in her chest. International flights were nothing new, even traveling alone wasn't new. She was adept at finding her own way, forging her own path. She was sixteen years old, she could handle this.
But at the same time, she was only sixteen years old, and she was about to spend the next semester in a different country, at a new school, and for the first time in her life she didn't have the lodestone of her mother anchoring her in place.
Emily waited quietly at the gate until her boarding group was called; she was one of the first to take her seat on the plane. She sat alone by the window, fiddling with the cheap silver locket around her neck.
No going back now, she thought. You'll be fine, Prentiss. Suck it up.
JJ stood quietly next to her mother as she chatted with her new resident advisor, surreptitiously gazing around the main hall. When she agreed to go to boarding school, she didn't think it was going to be this large. There were more kids here than in her public school back home in Pennsylvania.
"So you've already gotten her textbooks?"
"Yes, and we confirmed her uniforms, and had her photo taken for her student ID."
"Then the only thing left is to get your keys and get you moved into your dorm room," the RA said cheerfully. "What's your last name, sweetie?"
"Jareau," JJ said, and she spelled it out as the RA flipped through her files.
"Aha, there it is," she said. "It's nice to meet you, Jennifer. I'm Tara, I'll be your RA in Lincoln House this year."
"I go by JJ," she said.
Tara smiled. "JJ it is," she said. She handed her a silver key and a red plastic fob on a keyring. "So Lincoln House is on the left side of the courtyard, you can't miss it. Right now all the doors are open for move-in day, but starting tomorrow, that fob will let you in and out of the building. The key is for your room, you're on the second floor in 212. I think your roommate's already moved in."
JJ rolled the cool metal key around in her fingers. "How long do we have to get her settled?" Sandy asked.
Tara checked her watch. "It's nine-thirty now, you'll have until five tonight," she said. She handed a red folder to Sandy. "There's plenty of information in there- a map of the school, your schedule for orientation week, important phone numbers. And that includes mine, so don't hesitate to call me if you need me."
"Thank you so much," Sandy said, shaking her hand. "Come on, JJ. Let's get you moved in."
JJ followed her mother obediently through the crowd, staying close to her side. Not only was St. Thaddeus larger than her school back home in Pennsylvania, it was a rich kid's school, all mahogany walls and marble floors. Suddenly this seemed like a very, very bad idea.
The courtyard behind the main building was beautiful, a main cobblestone square surrounded by emerald green grass and orderly rows of azaleas and hollybushes. Posterboard signs with cheerful bubble letters and balloons in bright primary colors marked the way.
"There we go, Lincoln House, right over there," Sandy said. She wrapped her arm around JJ's shoulders. "Looks nice, doesn't it?"
Sandy gave her a little squeeze. "I think this is just what you need, sweetheart," she said. "A fresh start."
"Sure," she said, and she slipped out from her mother's embrace. "Let's go. I want to see my new room."
Lincoln House wasn't nearly as fancy as the main hall. The lobby was a little plainer and little homier, with plain yellow walls and a scuffed hardwood floor. A tired upperclassman boy in a red tee shirt that said "RA" in big yellow letters sat at the desk next to a sign pointing towards the stairwell.
"Second floor isn't too bad," Sandy remarked. "Not too many steps."
JJ shrugged. "It's fine."
Each door on the second floor was marked with construction paper hearts listing the names of the occupants. A couple of doors were already decorated with other things- sports banners, streamers, little whiteboards with scribbled messages. JJ pulled out her key as they reached room 212 and turned it in the lock.
One side of the room was left plain and stocked with standard dorm room furniture- a twin bed, a nightstand, a desk and chair, a dresser- and the cardboard boxes they'd shipped ahead of time from Pennsylvania were stacked neatly on the floor. The other side was already decorated.
The comforter on the bed was vibrant pink and covered in sequined pillows, a glittery lava lamp bubbled on the nightstand, and the walls were decked in posters. A large iMac stood on the desk, and every square inch of space left was covered in a vast array of brightly colored figures of animated characters and cute animals.
"Well," Sandy said. "Your roommate seems fun."
JJ stared. "Uh-huh."
Sandy clapped her hands cheerfully. "Well, let's get you unpacked, okay?" she said. "You get started, I'm going to go give Dad a call. I'll be out in the hall if you need me."
"I'll be fine," JJ said. She pulled the tape off the top of the first box in a neat single strip and started pulling out clothes.
Her dad hadn't wanted to come with them. He had claimed he was too busy, and that it would be fun for them to have a mother-daughter trip. But she wasn't stupid. She knew he didn't want to come.
"Oh, hi!" a voice chirped behind her. JJ dropped the dress she was unfolding. "Sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I have that effect on people sometimes."
JJ turned around slowly. "Hi," she said.
"Hi, yourself," her new roommate said. She was around the same height as JJ, and also blonde, but her hair was tied up in two buns with purple bobbles and her eyes danced behind a pair of chunky pink glitter glasses. "I'm Penelope Garcia. I think you're my roommate?" She peeked around to the front of the door. "It says Jennifer. Are you Jennifer?"
"I, um...I go by JJ," she said. She was getting the impression that her roommate was less of a human and more of a living Lisa Frank character.
"JJ, perfect, I love it, it suits you," Penelope said. She picked up a blue sharpie marker from her desk, plucked the construction paper heart from the door, and scribbled on it. "I'll fix it. There. So much better." She slapped the heart back on the door. "Lovely."
JJ blinked. "So...you already moved in, I guess?" she said.
"Uh-huh," Penelope said. She frowned, dug around under the sea of pillows on her bed, and grinned as she pulled out a Macbook covered in stickers. "I did the whole early admission thing. Got here yesterday." She plunked down on her bed. "So you're a freshman too?"
JJ threaded a hanger through the dress in her hands. "Mm-hm."
"Oh, perfect," Penelope said. "Sometimes they mix up grades, and I was like...ugh, what if they put me with an upperclassman with no sense of humor? And I'm only thirteen, I skipped fifth grade, so I'm the youngest student in the ninth grade here."
"That's cool," JJ said, smiling as she hung up her dress in the empty half of the small closet. "I'm fourteen."
"Do you need any help unpacking?" Penelope asked eagerly. "I'm extremely bored, and I'm extremely good at organizing."
JJ laughed. "Sure," she said. "I think that box has books, if you want to do those."
"Perfect!" Penelope said, jumping off her bed. "Where do you want them? Don't worry, you're in good hands."
"When you two offered to help me move into my dorm room, I thought you would...you know. Actually help me."
Rossi grinned and flipped a page in his magazine. "I'm offering moral support, that's helpful," he said. Alex rolled her eyes and he tipped farther back on in her chair, his feet propped up on her desk. "Hey, I'd do more, but James already offered to do all the heavy lifting."
"Listen, I would pay money to see David Rossi doing heavy lifting," she said. "And you know I'd be helping you two, if you were boarding instead of day students."
He turned another page in his magazine. She knocked his shoes lightly and his chair came crashing back down on four legs. "Hey!" he yelped.
"My room, my rules," Alex shrugged.
James hobbled into the room, lugging a cardboard box. "I found it, it was at the front desk, it was labeled wrong," he huffed. "Jesus, Alex, what do you have in here?"
"Books, probably," she said. She tugged the lid back to take a peek. "Yep. Books."
James sighed. "Where do you want them?" he asked.
"Oh, no, you've done enough, make Dave put them away," she said.
"You're the one who works in the school library, why don't you do it?" Rossi protested.
James ruffled his hair. "Come on, Dave, I believe in you," he teased.
Alex brushed her hands off on her shorts. "I'm going to get a drink out of the vending machine, I'll be right back," she said. "James, keep an eye on him." She grinned at Rossi. "And if those are my dictionaries, I'd like them in alphabetical order by language, please."
"Yes, ma'am," Rossi sighed. He pulled the box open. "Great. Her dictionaries."
James laughed. "You heard her," he said. He picked up a book and chucked it at Rossi. "We told Alex helped."
"No, you told Alex we would help," Rossi corrected. He frowned at the cover of the French-English dictionary and chucked it on the shelf above the desk. "And you only told Alex we would help because you've been hopelessly in love with her since our freshman year, and now that we're seniors you're running out of time."
James ducked his head. "Come on, Dave, it's not that easy…"
"It is!" Rossi said. "It is that easy, Blake! You ask her to go with you to the coffee shop in town on the weekend. Or you ask her to a dance. Hell, you pass her a note that says 'do you like me, check yes or no'."
James flushed red up to his ears. "Listen, just because you've gone out with every girl in our grade doesn't mean you're qualified to give me advice on my love life."
"Or lack thereof."
"You haven't gone past a third date! Ever!"
Rossi shrugged. "Que sera sera," he said. He held up a dictionary. "What language is this?"
"Uh...Welsh, I think."
He held the book at arm's length. "Huh," he said. "That's a new one for her." He shrugged and dropped it on the shelf.
A dark-haired girl peeked around the door as she knocked lightly. "Hi. This is 612, right?"
"Yeah, sure is," James said. "Are you Alex's new roommate?"
The girl walked into the room and sighed heavily as she dropped a monogrammed carryon bag on the floor. "I think so," she said. "God, there's so much walking on this campus. And why don't you guys have elevators?"
"Around here they believe that stairs build character," James said, amused. "You're new, I take it?"
"Yeah," she said, and she stuck out her hand. "Emily Prentiss."
"James Blake," he said, reaching out to shake her hand. "This miscreant over here is David Rossi."
Rossi held up a dictionary. "Pleasure," he said.
Emily brushed her dark hair back from her face; her thick eyeliner and mascara had smeared a little bit around her eyes. "But I'm guessing neither of you are my roommate," she said. "Somehow St. Thaddeus School doesn't strike me as the kind of forward-thinking institution to allow co-ed dorm rooms."
"You are correct," Rossi said. "Your actual roommate would be-"
Alex nudged the door open with her hip, her hands full. "All right, James, I got you a coke, and Rossi, I got you orange because you're a weirdo-"
"And we got you a roommate," Rossi said as he accepted the drink. "And orange soda isn't weird."
"Yeah, it is. All the sodas in the world, and you pick that one," Alex said. She cracked open her Dr. Pepper. "I'm Alex Miller. You're Emily Prentiss, I take it?"
Rossi could see the girls sizing each other up- Alex with her neatly tied ponytail and her school band tee shirt and her white keds sneakers; Emily with her heavy makeup and black-painted fingernails and heavy Doc Martens- and took a slow sip of his soda. This isn't going to end well, he thought.
"Well, welcome to Roosevelt House," Alex said. "Do you need help getting unpacked? Between the four of us we can probably get everything set up pretty quickly."
"No, I'm good," Emily said. "I can do it myself."
Alex shrugged. "That's fine," she said. "Do you-"
But Emily had already popped a pair of airpods in her ears, effectively tuning her out, and was tearing open the top of a box. Alex sighed. "Oh boy," James teased. "And you were looking forward to having a new roommate for your senior year."
"Hush," Alex said, elbowing him lightly in the ribs. "She can't be nearly as bad as last year's."
Hotch sank down in his chair, biting back a yawn. It was almost six, and he'd been up since five running around up and down the stairs in Lincoln House getting new students moved in. And that was after the past week of prepping for orientation. He hadn't slept more than a few hours a night since he'd gotten on campus.
He stretched out his legs and watched new students hustle in and out of the lobby. It was worth it, at least. Becoming a resident advisor meant he could spend his junior year in a single room without a roommate, plus extra money in his flex account (especially since god only knew his aunt and uncle wouldn't give him any). And if he had to be in charge of the seventh floor and deal with a bunch of unruly high school boys, it would be a pretty decent trade off.
A basketball bounced on the hardwood floor and he bolted upright. "Hey, cut it out," he said. "You guys know better."
Derek Morgan fumbled to catch the ball before it could bounce again. "Yeah, yeah, sorry," he said with a broad grin.
"Funny, you don't sound very sorry," Hotch said, rolling his eyes.
Morgan tucked the basketball under his arm. "And you don't sound super excited to have me on your floor this year," he said.
"How could you tell?" Hotch said dryly. He sat up in the chair and cracked his neck. "Are you trying out for football?"
"Hell yes I am!" Morgan said. "I heard we got a new coach. Maybe this one will let underclassmen play varsity."
"Even with a new coach, your odds aren't great," Hotch said. "Varsity is almost always the upperclassmen from Roosevelt and Kennedy. A sophomore from Lincoln has better luck getting struck by lightning." Morgan frowned. "Don't look at me like that. I don't want you getting your hopes up too high and then moping around for the rest of the semester like you did last year."
"C'mon, man, I was a scrawny little freshman last year," Morgan said. "I finally hit my growth spurt, they didn't assign me a roommate so I get the whole place to myself...it's gonna be my year, Hotch."
"If you say so," Hotch shrugged.
Morgan punched him lightly on the shoulder. "What about you?" he asked. "You gonna go out for baseball in the spring?"
"Probably not," Hotch said. "I don't have the time for extracurriculars."
Morgan perched on the arm of Hotch's chair and balanced the basketball on his knees. "Listen, I know you're focused on getting into law school, but lighten up a little, man," he said. "I'm sure you have a little time somewhere for having fun."
"No, my schedule's full," Hotch said. "And no basketballs in the dorm lobby."
"You're no fun at all."
"I'll compromise," Hotch said. "I'll let you leave it in the lobby closet. It's almost time for dinner."
Morgan craned his neck to look at Hotch's watch. "Oh shit, really?" he said. "Hold on, let me put this away."
"Make sure you get it after dinner!" Hotch called after him. He pushed himself out of the chair and stretched his arms above his head, finally giving into the yawn he'd been trying to hold back.
Morgan poked him in the side. "No wonder you're in such a bad mood, you need a nap, dude," he said.
"I'll sleep when orientatation is over," he said. "Come on, let's go."
The courtyard was quieter now that the sun was beginning to set; the orientation team was taking down the balloons and posterboard signs. He followed the familiar path to the dining hall, Morgan at his heels.
"Uh-oh, we got some lost freshmen," Morgan said. He nodded towards them. "Ten o'clock."
Hotch sighed. Two girls were standing on the path that led towards the science building, looking around in visible confusion. "Hey, you two," he called. "Where you headed?"
"The dining hall," the girl with pink glasses said. "I didn't think I needed a map, and I was sorely mistaken."
"Well, you're going the exact wrong way, baby girl," Morgan said.
The girl raised an eyebrow and his smile vanished quickly. "Baby girl?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't-"
"That's so cute!" she said. "My first school nickname. I love it. Adorable."
The other girl turned to Hotch. "Do you mind showing us around?" she asked. "We're a little lost."
"Not at all," Hotch said. "Stick with us. What's your name?"
"JJ, and this is Penelope," she said. "You're in Lincoln House too, right?"
"Yeah, I'm the seventh floor RA," Hotch said. "Where are you two?"
"Second floor, with Tara Lewis," JJ said.
Hotch opened the double doors to the hall. "You're lucky, then, she's one of the good ones," he said. "Come on, let's go. Hurry it up, Morgan."
Energetic high schoolers packed into the huge dining hall, the room buzzing with excited energy and buzzing with hundred of conversations. Alex picked her way through the crowed and set her tray down on the table next to Rossi and James. "Scoot, you guys," she said. She handed James a napkin. "I knew you'd forget."
"Oh, shit. Thanks."
Rossi set down his water glass. "So what do you think of your new roommate?" he asked.
She glanced back at the cafeteria line; Emily trailed behind the students in front of her, absently picking at her already-chipped black nail polish. "Not sure yet," she said. "I don't think she likes me all that much, that's for sure."
"Eh, give her time," Rossi shrugged. "Everyone struggles at a new school. And she's better than the girl with the rubber duck obsession."
"And the girl who kept eating your poptarts and borrowing your laptop when you weren't there," James offered.
"Or the girl who kept trying to sneak her boyfriend over."
"Rossi, the boyfriend was you," Alex said dryly.
Rossi shrugged. "She was the worst." Alex tore off part of her roll and tossed it at him.
Emily set her tray down across from James. "I hope you guys don't mind, I don't know where else to sit," she said.
"No problem," Rossi said. He waved his hand, dropping breadcrumbs from his roll. "Join the party. James and I are heading out soon anyways."
Emily frowned. "Why?"
"We don't live on campus," James explained. "Rossi and I commute. We're in Kennedy House. We've got a building of our own, but the dorms are just for Kennedy kids that want to stay overnight on occasion."
"And we have Cruze for our head of house, so we can get away with practically anything," Rossi added. Alex elbowed him. "I said practically."
"So what's the difference between Roosevelt and Lincoln?" Emily asked. "They're both dorms, right?"
"They are, but Lincoln is for the…" Alex paused.
"The troubled kids go to Lincoln," Rossi interrupted.
She sighed. "They're not bad kids, don't say it like that," she said.
"I'm right, and you know it," Rossi said, pointing his fork in her direction for emphasis
"What's that supposed to mean?" Emily asked as she hacked off the corner of her lasagna. "Is it like juvie or something?"
"Not exactly," Alex hedged.
"Lincoln is for at-risk kids that scored really high academically, or have some kind of potential that interests the school," James explained.
"But some of those kids should have gone to juvie instead," Rossi said. Alex elbowed him again. "Stop hitting me, Alexandra."
She rolled her eyes and switched to Italian. "You have got to get your head out of your ass. Just because your parents own half the town doesn't mean you can be a jerk," she said.
"I'm not being a jerk! I'm being honest. Some of those kids definitely should have gone to juvie," he argued.
James dropped his fork in his salad. "Guys, cut it out, you know I hate it when you speak in Italian to each other and leave me out," he complained.
"You could learn," Alex said to him as she picked up her water glass. "We've tried to teach you."
"And you know how bad I am at it."
Rossi raised an eyebrow. "Think of it this way, bibliotecaria," he said slyly, switching back to Italian. "We can gossip about your roommate and she won't have any idea."
"Roommate speaks Italian," Emily announced. She nudged her plate away. "And this lasagna is shit."
James burst out laughing. "Oh, man, Rossi, you didn't see that one coming."
"Not so fast, Blake, this means three of us can speak in Italian without you," Alex countered. She grinned at Emily, who tentatively smiled back.
James dropped his chin in his hand. "Goddammit," he sighed.
He had been wandering the campus for the past half hour, completely lost. There were no signs pointing his way, and he didn't have a map, and it was dark. It wasn't his fault that he'd missed orientation day, it wasn't his fault his flight got delayed.
He stopped in the middle of the path, gripping tight to the straps of his backpack, and swallowed down the babyish urge to give in to the tears that threatened to fall. This was not the time to cry. He could do this.
Other students walked past him in little groups of twos and threes, chatting with their new roommates and laughing over jokes that he didn't hear. He needed to ask him somebody to help him. But he had never been very good at that.
He wandered along the path, staring up at the night sky that had never seemed quite so big or quite so full of stars at home, until he suddenly collided with someone taller, sending him sprawling on the ground, eye-level with a scuffed pair of Doc Martens.
"What the fuck?" the girl said, bemused.
He squinted up at the strange girl. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I didn't-"
She held out her hand, a rack of bracelets jingling on her wrist. "Are you okay?" she said.
The girl's friends caught up to her. "Jeez, Prentiss, you've been here twenty minutes and you're already beating up underclassmen?" one of the boys teased.
"Rossi, cut it out," the other girl sighed.
"I kid, I kid," Rossi shrugged. "Don't read me the riot act, Alex." He crossed his arms. "Speaking of kid, who's this?"
He adjusted his backpack on his shoulders. "Spencer Reid," he said. "I'm new."
"Yeah, that I could guess," Rossi said, but he didn't sound like he was teasing to be mean. He wasn't sure, though, he was never good at figuring those things out.
"Are you lost?" Alex asked. "This is a pretty big campus, everyone gets turned around for the first couple of days."
"I missed orientation day," he said, and he could feel tears pushing against his eyes. He wasn't stupid, he wasn't a crybaby, he would have been fine if he had a map.
"What do you mean?" the other boy said.
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "My plane was delayed, I don't know why, I think it was a problem with an aileron, so I ended up landing late, and no one was there to pick me up, so I had to figure out the bus system, and I take the bus system all the time back home but it's different here, so I only got here an hour or two ago, and-"
"Okay, motormouth, okay," Rossi said, but he didn't sound upset, he was laughing a little. "We get the picture."
"So you missed everything today?" Alex said. "You don't have any of your paperwork or your room key?" He shook his head. "That's okay. Do you remember which dorm you were placed in?"
"Lincoln House," he said.
Rossi looked at James and raised an eyebrow. "We'll walk you over there and figure out where you're supposed to be," Alex said. "Or at least Emily and I will. I think the boys have to hit the road."
"Yeah, probably," James said. "Nice to meet you, Spencer. We'll see you around, okay?"
He nodded. Alex touched his shoulder lightly, steering him down the path. Emily followed and stuck her hand in her jacket pockets. "I'm new too," she offered. "Fucking sucks, doesn't it?"
"I don't know, I think it's at least marginally better than my old school," he said. "There's also a lot more grass here than back home."
"Where's home?" Alex asked.
"Las Vegas," he said. "There's some grass, but only very specific drought-resistant varieties can grow. Did you know that zoysia grass is native to Asia, but it's been in the states since 1895?"
"No, I didn't know that," Alex said.
She walked him towards a large stone building with broad double doors propped open, leading to a well-lit lobby. Spencer stayed close to Alex's side, Emily trailing behind them. A dozen kids were hanging out, scattered across the lobby, but Alex made a beeline for the dark-haired upperclassman boy behind the desk. A couple of kids surrounded him. Two blonde girls sat on top of the desk; the one with pink glasses was talking way too loud and way too fast, flailing her hands around.
"...and so that is how season five ended, it was supposed to be the series finale, but it got renewed for a sixth season, and so the first episode of season six, there's a one year time jump-"
The boy sitting on the floor dropped the basketball he was attempting to spin on his fingers. "Wait a minute, wait a minute, how many seasons does this show have?"
"Fifteen. So anyways, in season six-"
He threw his head back and laughed. "Baby girl, we haven't even started the first day of classes yet, slow your roll," he said. "You've got plenty of time to explain all fifteen seasons."
"Fine," she sighed. "JJ, you'll watch with me though, right? I have all of it downloaded to my computer."
The other blonde girl shrugged. "Sure."
Alex cleared her throat. "Hi. I'm guessing by the shirt that you're an RA?" she said.
The oldest boy glanced down at his red shirt with the yellow RA letters. "Uh, yeah," he said. "Can I help you?"
"I found one of your kids," Alex said. "This is Spencer Reid. He missed orientation day, but he's in Lincoln House."
The RA paused, looking Spencer up and down. He was used to that look. It happened a lot after he skipped four grades in elementary school. Spencer pulled his welcome letter out of his pocket and silently handed it over.
He skimmed it quickly and handed it back. "Oh, Jesus," he said. "Hold on just a second, I'll go check in with the head of house and see if I can get his file." He got up, sliding JJ out of his way.
"Your boots are amazing," Penelope said to Emily, leaning to one side to get a better look.
"Thanks," Emily said. "Nice...glasses."
The boy on the floor got up, tucking his basketball under his arm. "So you're Spencer?" he said. Spencer nodded. "I'm is Penelope and JJ. Hotch is the RA...well, my RA, at least, I'm on his floor."
He offered them a half smile. There was too much happening, and the lights were too bright, and the lobby was too noisy, and for the first time in a long time he wished he could stay in Vegas and not have to deal with any change.
Hotch strode back towards them, followed by an older man in a well-worn maroon sweater. "Spencer, this is our head of house, Jason Gideon," he said.
Gideon held out his hand. Spencer usually avoided shaking hands if he could help it, but he tentatively shook it anyway. "I've been wondering where you've been, Spencer Reid," he said. "We didn't have a phone number to reach you or your parents."
"I don't have a phone," he said. "And my parents-"
He broke off midsentence, but Gideon either didn't notice or chose not to. "Luckily, you've already met your RA," he said. "You'll be on Aaron's floor, rooming with Derek Morgan."
"Oh, shit!" Derek said. "I thought I was gonna get a single room this year."
"Watch you language," Hotch warned.
Gideon didn't seem to notice. "We'll get your key and the rest of your paperwork in order tomorrow," he said. "It's getting late, we'll worry about the details later." He grinned. "I'm sure Strauss won't like that I'm disregarding procedures again, but unlike Strauss, I understand when the rules need to be bent a little bit." He turned to Alex and Emily. "Speaking of which, you two ladies should get back to Roosevelt House before she realizes you're not there."
"An excellent point," Alex said. She patted Spencer's shoulder lightly. "I'll see you around, Spencer, okay?"
Emily raised her hand in a peace sign. "Bye, kids."
Hotch looked at his watch. "Yeah, it's getting late," he said. "JJ, Penelope, you two had probably better call it a night. Morgan, let's get Spencer moved in." His eyes narrowed. "And no more basketball in the lobby. I mean it."
"Fine," Derek said, rolling his eyes. "Come on, kid. Where's your stuff?"
Spencer rolled his shoulders, try to ease the strain of his heavy backpack. "This is it," he said.
"Did your parents send your stuff ahead of time? I didn't see anything in the room other than Morgan's things."
He screwed up his face. "Um...no," he said.
Derek tossed his arm around his shoulders. "It won't take long to get you unpacked, then," he said. "Let's go, kid."
Spencer had said he didn't have a lot of stuff. Morgan was not prepared for how little he actually had. As soon as they got to the room, Spencer set his ratty backpack down and started pulling out the contents- books, mostly, from the look at it.
"You need some help?" he asked.
"If you want to," Spencer shrugged, handing him a book.
Morgan frowned at the cover. "The Mab...what is this?"
"The Mabinogion," Spencer explained, pushing his hair out of his eyes. "It's a compilation of some of the earliest prose stories found in Britain. They were originally written in Welsh. Well, Middle Welsh. Did you know that 'w' is actually a vowel in the Welsh language? It makes a kind of 'oo' sound. And technically they have twenty-nine letters in their alphabet."
"I didn't know any of that," Hotch said.
Spencer unpacked his clothes into a pile along with a toothbrush and a half-used tube of toothpaste. "That dresser's yours," Morgan said.
He paused. "The whole thing?"
"Yeah, the whole thing," Morgan said. Spencer hesitated, then dumped all of his clothes into the top drawer. "That works too."
Hotch frowned. "You're in ninth grade, correct?" he asked. Spencer nodded. "If you don't mind me asking...how old are you?"
Spencer hesitated. But Morgan was glad Hotch had asked, he was kind of curious himself. Spencer was small and thin as a rail, his hair shaggy and his clothes two sizes too large for him. He definitely didn't look like he was thirteen or fourteen.
"I'm ten years old," he confessed. "I skipped second grade. And third, and fourth." He paused. "And fifth."
"So...are you a genius or something?" Morgan asked.
Spencer scrunched up his face, making his nose wiggle like a rabbit's. "I have't had my IQ tested yet, but it's a distinct possibility," he said. "Researchers aren't sure of the ideal age for testing, so I'm just waiting until my brain develops a little more." He shook out a navy fleece blanket on his mattress and set his backpack on the floor. "I'm unpacked. Where's the bathroom?"
"Down the hall," Morgan said. Spencer picked up his toothbrush and toothpaste and walked out. Morgan immediately rounded on Hotch the second he was out of earshot. "This isn't just me, right? Something's not right."
Hotch's perpetual frown deepened. "He doesn't have any bedsheets, or even a pillow," he said. "No family photos. And nothing sent ahead from home. Literally...just what he could carry in his backpack."
Morgan yanked the drawer under his bed open and pulled out an extra set of sheets. They still smelled a little bit like home, and he knew his mother had folded him neatly for him. "He can borrow these," he said.
"I've got at least one extra pillow," Hotch said. "But I'm going to bring this up to Gideon in the morning."
They made quick work of covering up the bare mattress. Hotch had just set the pillow down when Spencer walked back in and stopped dead in his tracks. "Where did those come from?" he asked.
Morgan opened his mouth to answer. "They're school provided," Hotch said quickly. "So breakfast starts at eight tomorrow. Make sure you're ready. We'll go talk to Gideon afterwards." Spencer nodded. "G'night."
The door closed, and Morgan was left alone with his new roommate. Spencer quietly took off his sneakers, set them neatly on the closet floor, and sat down on his bed. He looked a little lost and dazed, his legs tucked up to his chest and his chin resting on his knees.
"Hey, don't worry," Morgan said. "St. Thaddeus is a good school. There's a lot of rules, and classes can be kind of tough, and some of the rich kids suck. But..I think you'll like it here."
"Thanks," Spencer said, not meeting his eyes. Morgan was starting to get the uneasy feeling that the kid didn't know to react when people were nice to him. "Can I go to sleep?"
"Yeah," Morgan said, a little surprised. "Yeah, that's cool. I'll be ready for bed in a second, I'll turn off the lights-"
"You can leave them on," Spencer said. He laid down, pulling the blankets up to his chin. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Morgan echoed, more than a little confused.
I hope the rest of the school year isn't this weird, he thought.