Goodbye To You
Pausing, searching her eyes for any flicker of acceptance, of hope, he added, carefully, "And I lost my way. Sure, I came to work and did my job. Then I'd go home to Jack and try to put on my dad mask. But I was dead inside. Then you…you made me feel again. In one sweet night, you reminded me what it felt like to love someone. To want to protect and shield them from any and everything that could possibly hurt them. And I realized…I thought…that your biggest danger originated with me."
"But that's…that's ridiculous," JJ gaped in shocked amazement, his words slowly seeping into her damaged soul while slowly feeling the warmth of his fingers seep into her chilled skin. Staring into his earnest eyes, she realized he wasn't here to hurt her. He was here to make amends.
"It didn't seem so stupid at the time," Hotch mumbled, his lips barely moving as he tightened his fingers around her delicate skin. "At the time, all I could think is that I'd already gotten one woman that I'd loved killed. And I couldn't risk another."
"Wait!" JJ murmured quickly, shaking her head as she struggled to process his words above the cacophony of sounds surrounding them. "It sounds like you're saying that…"
"That I love you," Hotch supplied, staring somberly down into her wide blue eyes. "I do. I love you," he admitted quietly, his chest tightening as he let those tiny words slip out of his mouth. Swallowing hard, he continued, quietly, "I swear to God, JJ, I tried to stop. Tried to tell myself that you were better off without me. But the truth is, I'm a better man with you. And I can be a better man for you and Jack and Henry if you'll just let me try. Dave was right. I've been a complete idiot, but I did have my reasons. I just couldn't see how foolish they were until I almost lost you. Tell me that I didn't wreck what we could be," he pleaded, his dark eyes beseeching hers, his body slipping another inch closer. "Tell me that you'll let me try to undo the damage I've done. Please, JJ."
"I'm not…I can't…" JJ stuttered, shaken to her core by the admissions and confessions streaming from the normally tightlipped man in front of her. Feeling herself spiral against the cacophony of sounds and sights around her, she slipped her fingers against his chest, needing a steadying base, something to keep her grounded in this sea of change. Drawing in a shuddery breath, she whispered, "Are you sure, Aaron?"
"Never more sure of anything I've ever said or done, Jennifer," Hotch vowed, dropping his hands from her arms to her hips, his thumbs sliding against the edge of her winter sweater. "I'm beyond sure. I'm positive. Just give me a chance," he begged, no longer afraid of hiding from others or from himself. "I don't expect you to believe I've changed overnight. Just give me the opportunity to prove that I will. That I can."
Biting her lip, she stared back at him uncertainly, terrified to believe, petrified at the thoughts of opening her damaged soul again. "You hurt me," she whispered, the words grinding out of her throat, "So much."
"I know," he nodded, his words pained, forcing himself to move beyond the anger he felt at himself for harming this amazing woman. "And as long as I live, I'll try to earn your forgiveness for that. But, I don't ever want to hurt you again. I've spent too many long years hurting the people that mattered to me. I love you, Jennifer."
"I love you, too," JJ whispered brokenly as a tear leaked down her cheek, leaving a trail against her pale skin. "Loving you was never a problem. But trusting you…"
"I know I'm asking a lot of you…too much. But Dave asked me tonight if I could live without your light in my life, JJ. And the answer is that I know I can. But, God, I don't want to try. Not when I know that what we could have together would be amazing," Hotch whispered, lifting a trembling hand to wipe the tear trailing down her cheek away, silently wishing that he could remove her pain just as easily.
Swallowing, JJ felt her resolve weakening as she stood meeting the steady, sincere gaze of the man she'd loved longer than she wanted to admit. "Strauss would never let us work together if we were in a relationship," she said slowly, her voice filled with practical worry, and maybe just a smidge of hope. "And I need a job."
"I'll find you a comparable position here in DC. Perhaps not in our unit, but somewhere close," Hotch promised readily, the massive void inside his soul suddenly filling ever so slightly at her words. "And if I can't find one, we both know Rossi will manufacture one. He'd do almost as much as I would to keep you and Henry here. I'm pretty sure if you get on that plane, you've signed my death warrant with him. And the rest of the team, for that matter," Hotch smiled.
"Last call for all boarders of the 6 pm flight from Dulles non-stop to La Guardia," they both heard over the loudspeakers.
"What's it gonna be, JJ?" Hotch whispered, staring into her eyes, praying he'd made enough of an impact with his declarations to sway her.
"How can I leave when everything I ever wanted is right here?" JJ said weakly, dropping her head as her tears began to flow in earnest.
Releasing the breath he'd been holding, Hotch pulled her into his arms as she buried her wet face against his neck. "Thank you," he whispered shakily against her hair. "Thank you so much, JJ," he breathed, tilting her head to capture her lips in a kiss filled with love and promise.
And as David Rossi watched Aaron Hotchner sweep Jennifer Jareau into his strong arms, he heaved a sigh of relief. Dropping his eyes to the drowsy baby in his arms, he whispered, "Looks like you just got lucky, kid. You've inherited a daddy and a grandpa in the same day." Looking back up at the young lovers entwined in each other's arms, he murmured with a soft smile, "Life is looking pretty good right about now."