A/N: FitchSwitch and Lizardwriter here! (Okay, well technically just FitchSwitch writing the author's note, because two people can't type at once, I mean they can but it would get messy…I digress.) Anyway, this is our brain baby. Lizardwriter bullied me into watching a show called Criminal Minds and I absolutely fell in love with the (somewhat crackish) pairing of Jennifer Jareau and Emily Prentiss. JJ is played by a woman named AJ Cook, who also played, when she was younger, a troubled teen named Shelby Merrick in a school for troubled teens called Horizon on a show called Higher Ground. After Liz bullied me into watching that too (it's a great show so there wasn't much bullying involved, and it also features itty bitty Hayden Christenson and Jewel Staite, give it a go it's on youtube) I couldn't get the idea of Emily going to Horizon and meeting Shebly and the gang out of my head. Liz agreed with me and took it one step further by writing this. So here it is, chapter 1 of an AU JJxEmily story that substitutes Shelby for JJ and sends a 17-year-old Emily Prentiss to Horizon. Enjoy. (I know I did.) – FS
(SPOILERS for all of Higher Ground - not necessarily all in this chapter - and episode 4x17 of Criminal Minds - "Demonology")
Disclaimer: We don't own Criminal Minds or Higher Ground, in case you didn't know.
She climbed slowly out of the car, dragging her feet for as long as she thought she could push it before her mom would storm back to the car for her. Her mother was just swiveling around when she was taking her first step away from the car, the no-nonsense stride of her mother making her wish, not for the first time, that Ambassador Prentiss occasionally left the "Ambassador" part of herself behind in favor of the title of "mom".
Emily shook her dark hair out so that it fell around her face, obscuring it from any curious onlookers, and she moved to catch up with her mother who had stopped to wait and was impatiently tapping her foot.
"Smile, Emily," her mother instructed as a man with an air of authority and a broad smile approached.
Emily glanced from the man to the ground and kept her face stoic. She knew her mother would be too busy smiling at the man and pretending to be perfect to notice that she hadn't bothered.
"Hi, I'm Peter Scarbrow. Director of Horizon. Welcome..."
"I'm Ambassador Prentiss and this is my daughter. We spoke on the phone?"
"Of course. Nice to meet you," Peter replied, extending a hand first to Ambassador Prentiss and then to Emily who regarded it warily, but took it under the stern gaze of her mother.
She risked another glance at the man's face, and found bright blue eyes examining her curiously. He wasn't unattractive, she decided, with his chiseled jaw and perfect smile. She forced a smile in return, then dropped her gaze once more.
"Mr. Scarbrow, I won't beat around the bush. I know you've had some financial issues here at Horizon, and I know you're pretty full. My daughter can no longer travel with me. My job requires she be on her best behavior and have fine-tuned social skills, and my daughter...She's become an embarrassment to me and my position, which she has put in jeopardy by her actions. I simply cannot tolerate her or her attitude anymore. I will donate a hefty sum to this...establishment, if you should take in my daughter. Beyond the tuition, of course. She can stay for holidays?"
Emily's face remained stoic despite her mother's words. She was used to hearing how big of a disappointment, how much of a screw-up she'd become, not that it made it hurt any less. Still, she'd learned how not to show her pain. She instead began to look around her new surroundings, pretending not to see the sympathetic smile that Peter shot her way. She didn't need pity.
"Of course, if she needs to. And the money would be welcome, but we can do without it. You don't have to buy..."
"Emily," her mother supplied.
Peter nodded. "Emily's place here at Horizon. We do what we can for who we can and we hope those who go here will do the same in return when they make it back out in the world."
Emily had to resist the urge to laugh at the man's overly optimistic words. She looked to the side to keep him from seeing the repressed laughter in her face, and caught sight of a group of kids about her age. The group consisted of two girls and a boy. The boy had curly dark brown hair and a kind of geeky air about him. The girl on one side of him was a brunette with a wry smile, while the girl on the other was a blonde with a slight smirk who was in the middle of rolling her eyes. The brunette girl said something that Emily couldn't quite hear, and all three started laughing before the boy piped up with something that sounded suspiciously like a factoid of some sort.
"Whatever Freakin," Emily heard the blonde girl say as she reached over and ruffled the boy's hair, though he ducked away with a complaint on his lips a moment later.
They seemed surprisingly happy given that they were stuck at a school in the mountains, virtually in the middle of nowhere, she couldn't help thinking.
Just as she was thinking that, the blonde girl looked up and met her gaze. She raised an eyebrow curiously at her, but continued walking.
Emily felt her cheeks flush at having been caught staring at the strangers, and went back to looking at the ground. She began counting blades of grass while her mother and Peter continued to talk, not really bothering to listen to anything that they were saying because her mother had pretty much made it clear that she didn't have a choice in any of this.
"Emily, pay attention," her mother snapped, and she looked up to find Peter regarding her expectantly.
"Sorry," she mumbled.
Peter shook his head and smiled. "I was just explaining that you're going to be put in our group the Cliffhangers. They're a great group. I think you'll like it there. If you want to just follow me, I'll be giving you your entrance interview while your mom goes over some of the paperwork with my colleague Sophie." He gestured to a tall, athletic blonde woman who had come out of a nearby building and was approaching them. I'll need to check you and your belongings for drugs and weapons and ask you some routine questions, but we'll try to make it as non-invasive as possible," he continued with a smile. "And you can meet back here and say a proper goodbye to your mom when we're all done -"
"Actually, I'd like to get going as soon as possible. I have a flight out of Seattle tonight, and an early meeting with the French consulate in New York tomorrow," Ambassador Prentiss cut him off.
Always the professional, Emily thought bitterly.
"All right, well, we'll give you two a moment to say goodbye now, then," Peter said in an amiable fashion. He stepped away and began talking quietly with the woman he'd referred to as Sophie, and Emily turned to her mother.
She knew better than to expect some sort of emotional goodbye. Emily was trying to feel some sort of affection towards her mother, some sadness that she was essentially being abandoned here, but the truth was that her mother had abandoned her long ago in favor of her career.
"Bye, mom," she managed when she realized that she was expected to make the first move.
Her mother moved forward, arms open, and Emily stepped into the hug, surprised at the almost affectionate gesture, although it still came across as stiff. "Be good. I'll see you...When you've gotten your act together you can come for the holidays."
Emily nodded her head, then stepped away, breaking the uncomfortable embrace.
"Ready?" Peter asked, moving towards them again.
Emily nodded again as Sophie officially introduced herself to Ambassador Prentiss and began to lead her away.
Emily watched her mother's retreating form over her shoulder as she followed Peter towards a nearby building, and silently bid her old life and her freedom good bye.
She just wasn't sure how free she'd ever really been.
"So, Emily, I'm guessing that I won't be getting your records from...Italy, was it?"
"France for the past six months," Emily corrected.
"Right, well, I'm sure it will take a while for your records from your schools to get here. And do you have any police records?"
Emily shook her head. She'd never been so careless as to get caught by the police, and even if she had, her mother would no doubt have worked something out so that there wouldn't be a record. Ambassador Prentiss couldn't afford the shame of a public scandal involving her daughter's arrest.
"All right, well, how about you tell me what I'm going to find in your academic records, then."
Emily's eyes traced the grain in the wood of the table in front of her while Peter continued to rummage through her belongings. "Pretty good grades."
"Really? Pretty good grades tend not to land kids at Horizon."
"They might've slipped some in the last year or so," she admitted. School had stopped being quite so much of a priority. What was she getting the grades for, anyway? Her mom? She'd already proven herself to be a massive disappointment in other ways to her mom. Good grades weren't going to change that. Herself? Why, when according to some people she was already going to Hell? It wasn't like the nuns at the school in Rome hadn't all looked down at her. It was hard to learn from people who regarded you as lower than dirt for making a decision that was both excruciatingly difficult and the best one for you (at least that's what she tried to tell herself every night when the guilt set in).
"Well, we'll see if we can't bring them back up. What about drugs? Your mom was pretty vague on the phone, but she seemed to think you'd made some bad friends and some bad decisions. Were drugs a part of that?"
"Honesty is a policy we strive for here at Horizon. We won't push you to unload all of your personal demons until you're ready, but for your safety I need to know if you're detoxing."
"I've tried a few things, but I'm not a regular user."
"What do you mean by 'not a regular user'? And what have you tried?"
"Mostly weed. And I mean I haven't even touched anything besides a beer in a month."
"So you're a drinker."
"It's not illegal to have a beer with your parents at seventeen in Europe," Emily pointed out.
Peter nodded. "Okay. Fair enough. Here at Horizon there is no drinking, no drug use. This is a safe place. There's no sex, no inappropriate touching, no fighting, and no insults."
Emily let out a little snort of laughter.
"No insults? You can't stop teenagers from insulting each other. It's in their nature."
"Okay, true," Peter admitted. "Not that it's in their nature, but it is hard to completely prevent insults from happening. We discourage it, though. If you break the rules here you do get punished, just like at every other school. We expect you to do your work, go to class, and help cook and clean and maintain this place. Everyone does their part, staff included."
He had moved on to Emily's toiletries, and she cringed as he actually opened the box of tampons she'd packed and dumped them out, proceeding to pack them back in one at a time once he was satisfied that she apparently wasn't trying to smuggle drugs in that way.
"Is this really necessary?" she asked.
"I'm afraid so. Can't be too careful. It's your health and safety, and those of every other student here that we have in mind when we do these checks."
She watched as he started to unravel her tube of toothpaste. "Really?"
Peter finished checking it out, then rolled it back up. "I've learned not to underestimate kids' creativity when it comes to trying to sneak things past adults."
Emily nodded, as Peter put the toothpaste back and apparently decided the search was over. He sat down across from her and looked at her. "Do you have any questions for me?"
Emily shook her head. It wasn't exactly the first time she'd switched schools. Just because this one was in the mountains, surrounded by woods, and full of what she understood to be mostly juvenile delinquents and other fuck ups like herself, didn't mean that it would necessarily be all that different. She'd fake it until she could leave again.
She had her rules:
1) Don't make friends because they're hard to leave, but be friendly enough that you have someone to sit with at lunch.
2) Make the adults like you so that they trust you so that they inevitably leave you alone more.
3) Above all, don't let anyone get too close. It just leads to trouble and pain.
Rome was proof enough of that.
"Okay, well, I'm going to have one of the Cliffhangers, Daisy, show you around. She'll take you over to the dorms and get you settled, and she'll be responsible for showing you the ropes over the next few days. Welcome to Horizon, Emily," Peter said with a broad smile just as a knock came at the door.
Peter stood and answered it to reveal the brunette girl that Emily had seen walking by earlier. She had hazel eyes and a pale complexion and her hair fell to just below her shoulders, just a few inches shorter than Emily's.
"Daisy, meet the newest Cliffhanger. This is Emily. Emily, this is Daisy."
"How lovely to meet you," Daisy said in a dry voice, but there was the hint of a smile on her lips and a sparkle in her eyes that made Emily instantly like her.
"Right, you girls have fun!" Peter said, shoving his hands in his jean pockets and exiting the room, leaving the girls to themselves.
"Come along, then. I'll show you to our five star accommodations."
Sarcasm, Emily thought, repressing a smile. She liked sarcasm. "Sounds exciting," she muttered.
"Oh, it is," Daisy replied with a sickeningly sweet smile.
Emily couldn't help the smile the snuck across her lips then. She grabbed her stuff and headed out of the building trailing after Daisy.
"This is the -"
"Kitchen?" Emily guessed. It wasn't like she'd never seen one before, after all.
"You're remarkably observant," Daisy said, the dry sarcasm that seemed ever present in her voice coming out as her eyes twinkled in amusement.
"I try," Emily replied, matching her tone of voice, which elicited a faint smile from Daisy. She was good at this game. She could mimic well enough to make anyone like her, by this point, though that didn't necessarily mean she fit in. For the most part people were interested in her as the new girl, but after a while she always just seemed to melt into the background. There had been a time when she'd wanted to feel more like she belonged. Not anymore, though. Now she mostly just wanted to be left alone. She didn't need people asking probing questions.
"This is where we cook the brilliant meals and over there," Daisy indicated the large cafeteria area, "is where we eat them."
"How is the food? Honestly, I mean."
"Edible...mostly," Daisy replied thoughtfully. "Depends on your taste buds, doesn't it?"
"Guess so," Emily agreed, leaning against the wall. She'd never gotten used to the salt-less bread when they visited Tuscany for instance, but the natives seemed to have no issues.
"Come on. Much more to see," Daisy beckoned in a cheerful voice that Emily couldn't help thinking was done a little ironically.
She proceeded to follow Daisy on around the rest of the campus, which was larger than she'd initially thought. Daisy's version of the tour, she was sure, was not the officially sanctioned version, but Emily found it surprisingly entertaining. It was the little details like "This is the boatshed which is the best place to hookup without getting found out, assuming you get up early enough or are sneaky enough to be out after curfew" and "This is where we keep the wood we chop. They did tell you about the slave labor aspect of the school, right?" that brought a smile to Emily's face.
"So what're you in for?" Daisy asked as the tour was drawing to a close.
"Well, you don't get here by being a model student and child...Or your parents' version of one, at least. So what did you do? Who fucked you over? Mom? Dad? Both?"
Emily's jaw clenched. She didn't answer personal questions. "No one."
"Oh, come on. Everyone here's been fucked over by someone or something. Even you."
"Who fucked you over, then?"
"Dear old mom and dad. Of course mom's dead now, thanks to her drinking, and I took a golf club to dearest daddy, which is what landed me here in the first place, so you can imagine that he and exactly best friends..."
Emily's jaw dropped. She hadn't expected such a candid answer from a virtual stranger. "I...Sorry...I -"
Daisy shrugged. "It is what it is. So what's your story?"
Emily frowned again. "I don't like to share."
"Come on. What happened to you?"
"Life fucking happened," Emily muttered, half to herself.
Daisy tilted her head to the side and studied Emily for a second, then she grinned. "Oh, you'll get along great with Shelby."
"Oh, yes. Silly me. I haven't introduced you to the gang yet. Come on, they'll probably just be getting back to the dorms right about now. Let's go. We can get cleaned up for dinner, too...then we'll be cleaning up more because Cliffhangers have dinner clean up tonight. Lucky you. Only your first night here!"
Emily suppressed a groan as she and Daisy started back across campus. They stopped by the boys' dorm on the way, which Daisy had already told her girls weren't really allowed in, but exceptions did happen. She rapped on one of the windows, and shortly thereafter the same curly-haired boy Emily'd seen walking with Daisy earlier popped his head out the window.
"What can I do for you, m'lady?" the boy asked with a bright grin.
"New Cliffhanger. Gather the boys and come meet her."
The boy nodded at Daisy, took in Emily for a moment, then disappeared back inside. A moment later four boys stumbled out of the front door, shoving each other as they did so.
"Greetings, new girl," the same curly-haired boy who'd come to the window greeted her, stepping forward with his hand out.
Emily took it tentatively.
"I'm Ezra, also known as EZ or the pharmacist."
Emily raised an eyebrow at his enthusiasm and his nicknames.
"He's tried almost every drug, and can identify anything that could potentially be used as a drug," Daisy informed her quietly.
"I'm Emily," Emily introduced herself.
"No. YOU are smoking hot," a rather sleazy looking boy with kinda pasty olive skin and beady eyes pushed Ezra to the side and stuck out his hand. "And I'm David."
"Get a life, man. She's not gonna be interested in you. She just got here," a short latino boy with kind brown eyes stepped forward and shoved David out of the way before Emily had a chance to take his hand. "Hi, I'm Auggie. It's nice to meet you."
Emily smiled and shook his hand. "You too," she mumbled.
"I'm Scott," the last guy, a tall, athletic-looking boy with blond hair and a cute smile introduced himself.
Emily would be willing to bet that he had been a heartbreaker back at his old school.
"Welcome to Horizon," Scott added before stepping back.
"Okay, okay. Enough ogling of Emily. I need to go introduce her to the girls. You know, the civilized members of the Cliffhangers?" Daisy teased with a playful wink at Emily, who smiled.
Despite her self-imposed first rule about getting to a new school, she found herself thinking that she could actually see herself being friends with Daisy.
"Sorry about the boys. They think that every new girl is a potential opportunity to score," Daisy said as they walked back to the girls' dorm. "Well, Auggie's with Juliette, actually, which is why he didn't hit on you. And Scott and Shelby just broke up like two weeks ago...It's a bit of a sore subject for both of them. I wouldn't bring it up. But, anyway, he probably won't hit on you either. Not yet, anyway."
"I knew he was a heartbreaker," Emily replied. "He had the look."
"Who said he was the one that did the breaking up?" Daisy asked. "So you've had your heart broken before." She said the second sentence more as a statement than a question, so Emily didn't bother answering, not that that was a question she'd have wanted to answer anyway.
She let Daisy go through the door in front of her, and then stepped inside to decidedly more noise than had met them earlier when she'd dropped off her stuff.
"Urgh! Juliette, shut up!" the blonde girl that had caught her eye earlier was groaning as she flopped down on her bed. On the bed across from her sat a girl with long dark brown hair, bright eyes, and a goofy grin. She looked perfectly poised and put together. She was one of those girls who cared a lot about her looks, Emily decided. She must hate being at a school that revolved around wilderness excursions.
"Girls, girls. Do I have to separate you?" Daisy asked, playing the part of parent in a practiced way that told Emily that the two other girls probably bickered a lot. "We want to make a good impression on the newest member of the Cliffhangers!"
"Oh, hello," the brunette turned to her, sounding far too chipper. "I'm Juliette."
Emily nodded in her direction.
"And that's Shelby. She's grumpy today. You'll have to excuse her lack of manners," Juliette continued.
Shelby, promptly picked up her pillow and threw it at Juliette's head, which elicited a small scream of surprise from her, and a cry of "Shelby!"
Shelby sat up and looked at Emily, studying her, and Emily felt a small shiver run down her spine under the intense gaze she found herself under.
She could see, from this close, that Shelby's eyes were a dazzling shade of blue, and as she looked she could see surprise depths hidden in them, promising secrets that only she knew and probably wouldn't tell.
It intrigued Emily, and she found herself holding Shelby's gaze.
"What'd you do to land here in Hell?" Shelby asked after a moment, and her voice was smooth and velvety. Even though she'd heard it earlier, it caught her off guard.
"Oh, come on, Shelby. You know you love it here," Daisy scolded, moving to take a seat next to her.
"Well, it's better than home."
"Amen," Daisy replied.
Emily suppressed a shudder at the sudden religious sentiment.
"Anyway, she doesn't want to talk about why she's here yet," Daisy informed her.
"Smart girl," Shelby replied. "Once you start talking, they don't really let you stop until you've explored all your deep dark secrets and your feelings about them," she advised.
Emily grinned as Shelby made a face.
"She's kidding," Juliette countered.
"Not really," Daisy said.
"Whatever. We should go eat now so we have time to before they stick us in the kitchen. Come on. And Juliette, if you start gushing about Auggie again while we're cleaning up I swear to God I'm going to dump a cup full of dirty dish water on your head."
Emily let out a small laugh, and Daisy eyed her curiously. "We might have had actual laughter right there. Well done, Shelby."
Shelby shrugged as she stood. "Shall we go?"
"Let's," Daisy agreed.
Emily waited until the other three girls had filed out of the room, then, for the third time today, she found herself trailing after people to her destination. At least if she was behind them, she figured, they would be less likely to remember her, which meant they'd be less likely to pry. Still, all in all, things didn't seem like they were going to be all that bad here at Horizon.
A/N: Feel free to give a push on that little button there and take a minute or two of your time to let us know what you thought. Have you seen the shows? Do you think we're doing the characters justice? Did you like it regardless of if you've seen the shows (which you should totally do, by the way)?
Hope you enjoyed it! Stay tuned for chapter two, which will be out whenever our busy schedules allow for it!
-FS and Lizardwriter xx