A/N: Hey all! Here is the final chapter of Man to Man. I hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you think. Thanks!
Disclaimer: I do not own Criminal Minds.
JJ put a hand on Hotch's arm, halting her boyfriend in the hallway that led down to the kitchen, seemingly the only unoccupied space in Kevin's new house.
Hotch seemed content at leaving his encounter at that, at him just giving Will some advice, but she was sure it was more. She hadn't seen any bruises on either of them—Hotch hid it well, but she knew how much he wanted to punch her ex, deep down—so she knew that words were the only thing exchanged. But what words; that's what she endeavored to find out.
"No, seriously. What did you talk about?" JJ asked; the note of desperation in her voice couldn't be helped. When she'd arrived at the party and seen Will, it had taken every fiber of her being not to leave right then. He harassed her enough through his lawyer; she did not want to experience it firsthand.
Thankfully, he'd kept his distance and, as long as she'd ignored his outright stares and glares, she'd been able to have a good time. Little did she know, Will had only been biding his time, until the moment she'd left the room. Hotch was his real target.
It irked her something fierce to know that Will was now harassing someone who had absolutely nothing to do with him and the issues between them. In fact, she should go back out there and call him out on every crap thing he'd done to her. Why not? The divorce was final. There were no more terms to discuss. She was free. Free to say exactly what she thought of that little piece—
Hands fell on her shoulders, gluing her to where she stood. "Whoa," Hotch called, reining her in. "Where do you think you're going?" He turned her around to face him. She had no idea she had begun to move.
Hotch was frowning, but she could at least see a hint of amusement twinkling in his eyes—Will hadn't completely ruined their evening. "Uh oh. I know that look."
What look? she thought suspiciously.
"As your lawyer would say, 'I'd strongly advise against it.' Whatever it is…" He chuckled, ruining his mock impersonation.
She deflated then, all the fight seeping out of her. Hotch was right, of course. A confrontation with Will was not something she relished. She just wanted to be able to enjoy her time with Hotch and her friends, was that so much to ask?
"Just… what did he want?" Because she knew that it had to be Will who had demanded the conversation, not Hotch. Hotch, at JJ's request, had left her to deal with Will directly, while supporting all her decisions behind scenes. He wouldn't have sought Will out.
Her boss and boyfriend—or as Garcia liked to refer to him, her BB—waved a hand in the air, aiming for nonchalance, but the gesture was so out of character for him, she knew the encounter was anything but.
Hotch blew out a breath and with it what really happened. "He wanted to set the record straight. Only, he was missing some key facts."
JJ sighed, leaning back into his chest; she loved feeling his warmth and strength under her fingertips. Sometimes, she'd just touch him to make sure he really was hers. How she'd ever fallen for a guy like Will, when Hotch had always been the man of her dreams, she never knew.
"Does he understand now?" That was all she wanted to know.
"If he doesn't, I could go back outside and try it in a different language. How about fist-to-face-anese?"
She laughed sharply and then leaned back slightly so she could look him in the eye as she lightly scolded, "Aaron, no!" He didn't need to know that she had been thinking along the same lines. Another tick in their 'meant-to-be' column.
He snuck a quick kiss; so quick, she didn't have time to properly kiss him back. He grinned. "No, I know. Not really my style…"
"Do you think he'll back off for a bit?" she asked hopefully.
The frown on his face answered her question. "Honestly, I have no clue. He has a lot of issues that he needs to deal with. His alcoholism for starters… All we can do is block him out and hope his friends can help him see that he needs to get help."
"Yeah, I guess," she said, frowning; understanding, but wishing for a different answer.
Hotch put his arms around her shoulders, squeezing tightly. "Hey, hey…" he murmured softly. "Turn that frown upside down. No more thoughts of Will. Ok?"
"Ok." She conceded with one big nod.
Hotch moved them back into party central: the living room. Despite agreeing to no more thoughts of he-who-shall-not-be-named, she remembered the night that everything fell into place for her and Hotch. And it was all thanks to Lord-Ass-emort.
~ 6 months ago:
JJ sat at her desk in the darkened bullpen, tears streaming down her face. She stared at a photograph of her and Will on the day of their impromptu, rushed wedding.
She felt nothing. Not a single damn thing. It was like the woman in the picture, smiling up at Will, wasn't her, but her doppelganger.
Because she sure as hell never felt like smiling at Will like that. Couldn't even remember a time when she had ever wanted to.
She brought the photo up to her face for closer inspection. The light of her desk lamp wasn't much at all and she was bleary-eyed; however, she was determined to figure out just who that person was.
"Is it me?" she murmured to herself incredulously.
It sure as heck looked like her.
And then she caught it, just around her eyes, little lines of tension that weren't there normally. God, she thought harshly, as she flung the photo, frame and all, across the bullpen. It hit the railing of the stairs noisily with a crash and splatter of glass. Even then some part of her had been screaming for her to get the hell away from Will.
Why—oh, why—hadn't she listened to that part? That part was so smart. That part had recognized Will to be the boil on her soul that he was.
A door from up above creaked open abruptly. Oh crap! She wasn't alone?
JJ rubbed at her eyes frantically, pulling a file in front of her. She opened it up and stared down at it, feigning work.
"JJ?" a voice called uncertainly.
Crap! Crap! Crap! she thought rapid fire. Hotch! He was the last person she wanted to see her like this. He'd already been present for her other weak moments. She felt like she was beginning to give him the wrong impression.
He'd been through so much and stayed strong for his son and professional at work. JJ admired him for his perseverance and looked up to him, wanting to emulate his stoic-ness. But it was easier said than done. And it was at least twice now that he'd been witness to her unravelling. She hated herself for it. JJ wouldn't add this encounter to the list. Hastily, she picked up a pen to further help with the façade.
She didn't reply—maybe he'd think no one was there—but it made no difference. She heard the approaching footsteps a second later. JJ didn't have to look up to see that he was coming closer.
The footsteps halted and she could hear him breathing, slightly heavily from his rapid descent. He was right there and she would not look up. She wouldn't. Because if she did—If she looked at the man that, if she was truly honest with herself, had always been the man of her dreams, she'd crumble under the weight of her reality. The reality that the man she did have was a verbally abusive, alcoholic, cheating bastard!
God, how did her life go so wrong, so fast?
"Hey, Hotch!" she said in as chipper a voice as she could manage—unfortunately, she could still hear the tremble in her voice. "Sorry, busy. Need to finish up this case file. Uh… you… need it right away?" Damn the indecision she let slip into her voice.
Think stoic, JJ. Think tough as nails and hard as stone. Be the Hotch… she mentally coached herself.
A large hand splayed over the file, blocking her view, not that she had been seeing any of it anyways.
"One," Hotch began. "I don't need anything right now. Definitely not at one am." He paused, moving his hand, only to pull the file from her grasp. "Two," he continued, depositing the file back in front of her, confusing her. "If you are going to do any work at one am, it would help if the file weren't upside-down. And err… and your pen too." She looked at her right hand and hastily corrected the pen position, blushing furiously. "And last but not least," he said voice gentler now. "JJ, you're crying, what happened?"
Shit! she swore. So much for her calm and collected front. She just failed at everything.
"I was trying so hard," she murmured so quietly.
"JJ, look at me." A hand came down to grasp her own. "What were you trying?"
She couldn't resist anymore. JJ glanced at him from beneath the fringe of her lashes, just a peek. The genuine concern and caring she saw on his face for her, had her staring at him head on, holding his gaze, never wanting to let go.
But there was something else there, something more to it than just worry.
She recalled the times he saw her at her most vulnerable; even in the past she could see an inkling of something deeper than friendship in his eyes, just like now. Always, she'd chalked it up to him just wanting to protect her. But now, as she thought about it some more, maybe she saw it at other times, too.
She just didn't know. She hoped—even though she didn't have a right to. But she also feared that if he did care for her, it was out of a misguided knight-in-shining-armor, damsel-in-distress complex.
"I… I didn't want you to see me… like this."
"JJ," he breathed out, her name a sigh, a caress on his lips. She felt every possible emotion when he said her name like that. "You… you don't ever have to hide your feelings from me… I wish you weren't hurting. But I want to know so I can make it better. So I can make you happy…"
Her eyes widened. Those were not words you said to your friend. Those were things you said to the one you—
"What happened?" he interrupted.
She hung her head low, avoiding the intensity in his gaze now, not wanting to see the oncoming scrutiny. She only knew too well that the skills of a profiler were always on. "Will and I are through."
She heard Hotch gasp, and then the hitch of his breath, as if he were holding it as he pondered what to say. "I'm… I'm so sorry, JJ. You must be… devastated."
Devastated? No. She shook her head, looking up at Hotch once again. He needed to see how angry she was, the truth to her words. "I'm absolutely livid. I'm pissed off as hell. I'm… I'm… I feel like the most foolish person on Earth!"
"He cheated on me, Aaron," she cried out. "He's been seeing some woman… He's even let Henry meet her. I'm not only a fool, but a terrible mother too! God, what is wrong with me?"
She placed her head in her hands; she shook from the rage she felt for Will, but most of all, for herself.
"Hey, hey," Hotch said soothingly. His hand fell to her shoulder, rubbing consolingly. It took every ounce of her being not to lean into that touch. She didn't want to embarrass herself any further. "Don't blame yourself. He's the one who's made mistake after mistake. He's the fool, not you. JJ, I'm so sorry he hurt you."
"It's not even that!" she exclaimed. "Yes, it hurts that he would betray our marriage like that… but, it's my fault!"
"It's not," Hotch denied.
"It is!" she waved her hand at the broken glass across the room. "Even back then, I knew I shouldn't have married him. That woman in that photo is screaming out, 'What are you doing? You don't love him! You never loved him!'" She took a deep breath. "That's why I'm the idiot. Because I could have saved us all the trouble if I'd only listened to what I already knew. Will has never been and never will be the man for me."
"Oh!" Hotch exclaimed, taking a step back.
"Oh?" she echoed, watching his retreat acutely. There was a peculiar look on his face. Halfway between a look of consternation and like he was having an epiphany. "Oh…" she prompted him.
"So… just to clarify. You aren't sitting here in the dark because you just found out the love of your life is cheating on you. But because you feel foolish that you didn't listen to your gut instincts in the first place?"
"Yes," she breathed out.
And then to her surprise, Hotch blurted out, "I love you!"
"What?" She jumped in her seat.
"God, this so isn't the right time. But… I couldn't hold it in a minute longer. I love you, JJ. I'm pretty sure I always have. And, God help me if you laugh in my face, I always will. I… I love you."
She stood up abruptly, knocking her chair backwards. "I… wow! I… I don't know what to say."
So many emotions lit inside her, like mini fireworks, making their presence known. Each and every one was welcome and wondrous, if a little confusing.
Hotch visibly paled. He took a few more steps backwards. "Oh man. Forget it. Forget I said anything. What was I thinking? Right now isn't about me, it's about you. You don't need me muddling everything up. Forget it. Just… forget it."
He turned to go.
"I… I don't understand. You don't love me?"
He halted at her words and re-met her gaze. There was fear in his dark eyes. And then she understood. He'd taken her wonder as rejection.
"I… do," he said resignedly and more calmly. "I do, JJ. I love you. But this… this isn't the time to tell you. It's wholly inappropriate."
She took a step towards him; he watched her cautiously, uncertainly. Yes. This was very inappropriate. She was a married woman. Or, married fool, if you'd like. But this, this was the man she'd always secretly cared for, standing before her, declaring his love for her. How could she let him get away? She couldn't; it was as simple as that.
Tentatively, she reached out a hand, letting her fingers graze his chest, feeling his strong muscles beneath the fabric. He was real and what's more he didn't move away at her touch. This was real.
She took a step towards him. "It might be wholly inappropriate…" she began, nodding her head. "But, I wholly approve…"
She moved into his arms then, and let him kiss away the world around them.
Startled out of her thoughts, she looked up to see Hotch watching her, an amused smirk on his face. "Where'd you go just now?"
She shook herself and the remnants of the memory with it. "The night you told me you loved me."
"Oh, God, I was a stumbling mess that night," he chided, though he continued to grin.
"You were adorable," she said kissing his cheek.
He shrugged his shoulders self-consciously. "If you say so…"
"I do. And I…" She was hit with a wave of sentimentality just then. "And I really wanted to thank you, Aaron. For always having my back. Even when… even when I was clueless in knowing that you did. Thank you for being there for me."
"Always, JJ, always."
Well that's it for this one. Only one chapter shy of what I originally promised, but I felt that this was a good place to end this one.
Anyways, thanks to everyone for reading and sticking with it. And thank you to everyone who reviewed the previous chapter: Christiangirl; Dante 101; mummacass; Lalina92; Snowbeardolphin; natexserenafan; Jotch fan; Snowgirl01; and CSIflea.