David Rossi was baffled.
JJ had just told him that he'd been her inspiration for becoming the brilliant agent she was today. Well, not in so many words, but certainly close enough. Now, he sat on the plane, by himself in a corner, trying to decipher what that meant here and now, between them. Because he didn't think he'd ever had that kind of impact on anyone, but more than that, it shocked some synapse in his head to think that of all people for him to influence, it was her.
He had no idea why she didn't stand out in his mind, why a stunning blond such as the media liaison – even after a baby, he might add – had escaped his attention back then. And it wasn't like any marriage was about to stop him. Yet his words, his talk, his book had brought her to the FBI and some twist of fate had put them on the same team. And he knew for a fact that the second time he'd seen her, the first time he'd actually met her, she'd stuck.
But he could tell within the first few weeks of knowing the petite firecracker that she was off limits. He'd caught on quickly to the idea that JJ was taken and though it had been a surprising blow to his gut, he knew he'd sworn off women long ago. Yet she managed to haunt him and while he'd liked Jordan Todd, enjoyed being a mentor for her in a unit as tough as the BAU, he'd seriously missed JJ. And that was why it had been terrifying to see her so off-kilter upon returning to work again. He'd done his best to reassure her that she could get back into the swing of things, do her job because of Henry, and not simply because he trusted that she could, but, and much to his own surprise, because he realized that he didn't want to be doing this job without her.
Terrifying didn't begin to describe how he'd felt when he'd figured out that little gem. He'd sworn off of women other than simple, quick affairs. JJ, he knew, should he ever get the chance, deserved more than an affair. JJ was the type that deserved marriage, family and a house to call her own. And he really wasn't sure he was prepared to give her such a thing.
Then she'd told him that, for all intents and purposes, she had joined the Academy because of him. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with that tidbit of information.
The question plagued him for hours, long after they'd returned to Quantico and long after he expected people to be home. A soft rap on his door had him looking up. His brows wrinkled. "You should be at home."
She chuckled. "I know, and I wish I was. Mom took Henry for the case and I'm not due to pick him up until tomorrow. I figured I'd get as much done tonight as I could so I could spend more time with my son."
He'd heard rumours about the dissolution of her relationship and, at the time, he hadn't been sure what to think. Part of him wished Will hadn't walked out of her life – of course, that was assuming that particular rumour was true, and he liked that one best – and yet the other part of him was a little glad. So he leaned back in his chair as JJ took a seat in front of him. It wasn't the first time they'd done this. In fact, there were cases that haunted them both and they'd taken these same positions many times since he'd returned to the unit.
"Are you going to tell me what happened with Will?" he asked gently. He genuinely wanted to know, but he didn't want her to feel threatened. He was baffled by men who could walk away from a family.
"Washington wasn't his style," JJ said with a tender smile. "Most of it was a mutual decision, Dave. I wasn't ready to leave the Bureau and he wasn't ready to play second fiddle to a job that could cost me my life. We agreed Henry would stay with me because I'm his mother and he went back to Louisiana. I'll take Henry down there in a few months to visit."
David was honestly surprised at how amicable the split sounded. "And you're okay?"
"I am," she said and he could see the sincerity in her eyes. "I'm wondering if you are."
And this was really what struck him about JJ. The blond, he had learned, had an endless capacity for caring. She was a single mother, raising a son while trying to balance a job that took up her life. "I'm sure I will be."
She cocked her head to the side. "It's not your fault, you know. Even her mother said it probably wasn't your fault."
He sighed, used to this part. It wouldn't be the first time she'd gone through the process of trying to pry information out of him. He'd long ago discovered that it was often just easier to tell her than to make her go through the interrogation process. "I know."
"Then what's got you here so late? And don't tell me paperwork. You, like most of us, hate it."
"Hotch doesn't hate it."
"He's used to the bureaucracy of it." She bit her lip. "Emily too, now that I think of it. Reid doesn't have the attention span. But we're digressing."
David had hoped she'd let it go. He wasn't sure he was all that ready to delve into this particular topic of conversation.
"If paperwork isn't what's got you here and Zoe isn't what's got you here, what is?"
He narrowed his eyes slightly. "My book pushed you to the Academy?"
Her eyes flashed with something too quickly for him to catch. The smile on her face was serene. "What can I say? It was a good book."
"It was one of the big influences," she conceded.
"Why did you tell me?"
"Because you looked like you needed the reassurance," she responded promptly, in the blunt way that had shocked him into silence in the past.
And it did it again this time.
She smirked. "Everybody makes their own decisions, Dave," she said softly. "Zoe made hers in going to that house. I made mine in joining the Academy. You were an influence, yes, but not the only one."
There was something else itching at the back of his mind too, something that made him wonder. "Do you still have the book?"
The laugh she released was a little self-deprecating. "I do. Can you believe it? Dog-eared and everything. I didn't even know you and you'd turned my world upside-down."
Her words made him shiver pleasantly. "Why did you keep it?"
"Because it reminds me every day of why I decided to do this," she replied. "I'm surprised you haven't seen it. It's in my office."
He didn't exactly make a habit of looking all around her office when he was in there. He preferred his much more spacious one if they were going to have any sort of discussion. JJ's was cramped and always filled to the ceiling with files. "Your office looks like Archives threw up in it."
She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes. "Thanks, but I don't have a huge office like yours, Dave."
"You should," he said. "You deserve an office like this more than I do."
JJ chuckled. "I'm not the world-famous David Rossi," she replied flippantly, standing. "The Bureau gives the offices to people who are important."
Somehow, he managed to stand and slide in front of her before she could make it to the door. "You are important."
She arched an eyebrow. "Not in the office hierarchy, I'm not."
"The office hierarchy, as you charmingly called it, is a bunch of bull. You're important, Jen."
Her head tilted to the side, in the playful way it did when she was curious. "Is that why you call me Jen when no one else is around?"
He blinked. She'd just challenged him and he knew it. He could see it in his eyes. "You're JJ on the job."
"And we're not on the job now? Does that mean you're not telling me I'm important as my boss and a senior agent but something different?"
She was rather effectively boxing him into a corner. In fact, there was no present tense about it. She had backed him into a verbal corner. So he had a choice. He could tell her that her words about his influence in her life had rocked him to the core, or he could take the cop out and tell her she was his friend too. Then she did something he most definitely wasn't expecting.
"Too long, Rossi."
It took his brain a few seconds to catalogue the fact that she was the one that had initiated contact, that the pressure he felt against his mouth was her own lips. Jennifer Jareau was kissing him. And it was over much faster than he would have liked.
"I'll see you tomorrow, David. Bright and earl- whoa!"
His mouth came down on hers with much more force and pressure than her kiss. He revelled in the way she fell into the feeling, seemingly ignoring everything but him and his mouth. So he took advantage, putting the seniority of his years to good use for once. She whimpered. He pulled away, putting his cheek against hers, leaving his head at the perfect level to whisper in her ear.
"All I could think of was how could I miss her? How on earth had a missed a woman as stunning as you are sitting in an audience in front of me? Because let me tell you, Jen, seeing you in Hotch's office was a moment I will never forget. You've been on my mind since and it took you going on maternity leave to realize how important you are in my daily life."
She was the one to take the almost-imperceptible step backwards, and he allowed her, well aware that his words would spawn a conversation that required some sort of distance. "What does that mean?"
"I don't know," he replied honestly. "I know that you're important to me. I know that I care, but I don't know much else. I don't know whether I can give you the stability you need and deserve with a young son. I don't know whether I can be anything other than cynical and jaded."
JJ looked at him for a moment, her eyes calculating. "I'm a single mother that looks at death all day," she said quietly. "I'm not exactly a catch myself."
He laughed, actually laughed, and cupped her cheek in his palm. "You're young, beautiful, vibrant, compassionate... I don't want to bring you down."
"You won't," she whispered.
And David was no longer worried about the influence he'd had over a young Jennifer Jareau. The one he had in the present, the one with her arms wrapped around his waist, was what mattered. He was presented with a whole new way of looking at his future and a whole new type of influence.