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.