A/N: The timeline on this is wacky, I know. It's after Unfinished Business, but before whichever episode had Gideon calling his son, and it might have some things thrown in from Fisher King. Just trying to make a good story here, not randomly throw the show's storyline out the window. So just bear with me, ok? And don't ask me why I felt the need to write a Christmas story in October. There is no reasonable answer to that question. Or to the one about starting another story before I finish the other FIVE unfinished ones. So don't ask :D
Hotch looked hopefully up at the clock on his office wall. And breathed a sigh of relief. The BAU was now officially on Christmas vacation. For 35 hours. At this point, though, whatever he could get was a welcome reprieve. Now if only the serial killers, rapists and kidnappers would send him a signed guarantee that they'd take Christmas off, too. So far, though, no new cases had landed on his desk, and he was damn well going to disappear before they had the chance. He locked up his office in record time, being sure to stick his head out the door first and look both ways down the corridor. He wanted to have a chance to run if he saw J.J. coming.
He heard snickers from the floor below and peeked over the railing to see Elle and Morgan laughing at him.
"Hey, Hotch!" Morgan shouted, gleefully ignoring his fellow agent's imploring quieting motions. "Why don't you take the service elevator? She'll never find you there."
"Morgan..." Hotch shook his head wearily. "Don't you want a vacation? Don't you want to spend Christmas with..." He stopped himself, remembering to whom he was speaking. "Someone special?" he finished lamely.
Morgan grinned. "Oh, don't worry about me, my friend. I've got plans."
"I'll bet," Hotch muttered. "Don't tell me," he interrupted, as Morgan opened his mouth to do just that. "I don't want to know." He was just about to make a dash for the elevators when he noticed that although Morgan was packing his things with a look of extremely recognizable expectation in his eyes, and Reid's desk was already empty, Elle was dawdling in her own workspace, arranging papers, occasionally making an obligatory motion to throw something in her bag, even several folders that looked suspiciously official. He waited for Morgan to make his cheery exit before he approached her. "Elle?"
"Oh, hey, Hotch, Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas. What are your holiday plans?" he wanted to know.
"Oh, you know. Wait for Santa to come down the chimney." She smiled casually, but Hotch almost rolled his eyes. They hadn't made him head of the BAU because he looked good in a suit.
"Elle, you're just going to bring paperwork home, aren't you?" His expression sobered as their conversation about Max Ryan floated back into his mind. "You can't spend Christmas alone."
Elle shrugged. "It's a lot easier to spend holidays with your family when you have some." She smiled at his crestfallen expression. "Don't go feeling sorry for me. I'm used to it. Maybe a little quiet time is a good thing once in a while...keeps us all sane. Have a nice holiday, Hotch; I'll see you later. A book, a glass of wine and my fireplace are waiting for me."
He caught hold of her arm as she tried to pass. "Not so fast. You're coming with me."
"Don't be ridiculous," she laughed. "You're going to spend Christmas with your wife and son. And I'm going home."
"No, you're not. Hang on," he insisted over her protests, holding fast to her arm with one hand while he found his phone with the other. He foiled Elle's struggles and waited for Haley's voice on the other end.
"Aaron! When are you coming home?"
"Right now, actually. I can't wait, either. But listen, Haley, there's something I need to ask you. Elle, stop it! No, not you, honey. I've got Elle captive here. I found her racing home to an empty house. She can spend Christmas with us, right?" He knew he was treading on very thin ice; Haley had been looking forward to some time together as a family. But if he knew his wife, she wouldn't want Elle whiling away the holiday with paperwork, either. He wasn't disappointed. After a short, pensive silence, Haley spoke warmly.
"Yes, of course, that's fine. We've got plenty of extra food, anyway. Just hurry home."
"Will do. Thanks, Haley." He hung up and looked Elle in the eye triumphantly. "There, you see? Now, come on, and don't make me drag you to the car."
"You're both insane," she murmured. "This is going to be all kinds of awkward. But it's on your head. And I appreciate it," she admitted with a grateful smile that only confirmed for Hotch what he had basically known all along: that she was lonely. He made a mental note for a New Year's resolution to take better care of her. His team was his second family, after all, and although he shared the role of pater familias with Gideon, his friend had his hands full with Reid. If Hotch were inclined to charge for his psychoanalytic services, he could retire on what he'd earn trying to convince Gideon of the truth: that he was using Reid as a replacement for a son who wanted nothing to do with him. Morgan, J.J., Garcia...they really needed nothing other than leadership. But Elle and Reid were both hurting, damaged...the kind of people naturally drawn to the power of law enforcement and psychological profiling.
Gideon had gotten somewhere with Elle, that was very clear, but Hotch could also see the limits to their relationship. He was always trying to teach, to guide, she to question and tease him, even rebel against the order of his universe by calling him "Dad" in jest. She was like a teenage daughter, with her grudging respect for him and her headstrong conviction that she was smart enough, strong enough, without him. Hotch also knew where this came from; he had read her file, of course, when she had first joined the unit. If she hadn't been able to convince herself that she needed neither father nor teacher, she probably wouldn't be here now, he thought sadly.
All this ran through his head as he led Elle to his car and opened the door for her, and it ended in a concerned frown as he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. Minutes passed before he realized that Elle was staring at him. "Do you always drive and daydream?" His mystification was his obvious answer. "I only ask because you're about to take the exit back downtown," she deadpanned, laughing when he accordingly swerved back into the correct lane with a startled oath. "What's up with you?"
"Just thinking," he said softly.
"Obviously. What planet were you on, anyway?"
He looked at her for a moment before he spoke, turning back to the road. "The one where you make a New Year's resolution and keep it."
"I know that one...in a galaxy far, far away."
Hotch smiled ruefully. "I hope not." He didn't elaborate, Elle's penetrating looks notwithstanding, and she eventually gave up. The rest of the ride was spent in silence, watching the lights of D.C. eventually give way to the occasional streetlights and winding roads of the suburbs.