A/N: And...this is it. At long last, this story has come to an end. I know most of what happens with these two in their futures, but I can't say they'll ever end up on paper. This is where this part of their story ends. Thank you to everyone who read, reviewed, and encouraged. You guys are awesome. And I really hope you like this
Hotch glanced over at his son as they sat on the swings, enjoying their ice cream cones. The little boy looked comical with his huge scoop of chocolate ice cream, the milky treat covering his face and inching up towards his nose. "Yeah?"
"Do you love Cara?"
His eyes widened as he stared down at Jack. The question had blindsided him, but it also mirrored his thoughts and the conversations he'd been having with Rossi lately. Had he really been so obvious that his five-year-old could figure it out?
"Why do you ask?"
Jack shrugged. "I heard Unca Dave tell Aunt Emmy that you do." He looked up at his father with big eyes. "Do you?"
It was one thing to admit his feelings to himself, or to Dave…it was another thing entirely to admit it to Jack. But he had already promised himself that it was time to stop running from it, and he wasn't going to lie to him.
"Yes," he answered slowly. "I do."
"The way Unca Dave loves Aunt Emmy?"
"Yes." Hotch paused. "Is that okay with you?"
Jack took his time to think about it, and Hotch wished, not for the first time, that he could see into his son's head. "Does that mean she would stay with us forever?"
"Well, that would depend."
"On if she loves me back."
"Oh." Jack paused. "I think she does," he said finally, his voice firm.
Hotch's lips quirked up into a half-smile. "Oh you do, huh?"
The little boy nodded, and then his expression grew serious. "I want her to stay with us, Daddy."
He seemed so small and vulnerable right then – which wasn't too far from the reality of the situation – and Hotch felt his throat lock up. "I do too."
They sat like that for a little while longer, Jack struggling to conquer his ice cream, while Hotch stared out over the park. He was starting to regret his decision to talk with Cara. The conversation needed to be had, of course, but now he was wishing that maybe he had just taken a leap of faith and made a move. This felt like pulling a band-aid off slowly, and it gave him far too much time to over think things.
"You have no idea how tempting it is to push you."
Both of the Hotchner men turned around at the sound of her voice, smiling at the sight of Cara standing behind them.
"That would probably be very messy," Hotch commented.
Hands on her hips, Cara smirked at him. "I wasn't talking about Jack."
Jessica came up to stand beside her, her eyes widening. "Oh my. That's quite the ice cream scoop."
Jack grinned at her. "It's chocolate!"
"I can see that. Since it's all over your face." She gave a mock glare to Hotch. "Somehow you never manage to stay clean when you're with Daddy."
"I maintain he gets much messier baking with Cara."
Hotch shrugged. "Truth hurts. Did the two of you have fun shopping?"
"We always have fun shopping," Jessica replied. "Especially when JJ and Emily and Penelope join us."
"That sounds dangerous."
"Only for the people we talk about," Cara smirked. "Which means you probably shouldn't ask any more questions about what we did."
"Point taken." He glanced up at Jessica, catching her eye and giving her a small nod. Then he looked over at Jack, ruffling his hair. "How about you take Aunt Jessie to get a cone of her own?"
"What about Cara?" he asked.
"I'll take her to get one after."
"Okay!" The little boy wiggled down from the swing and ran over to catch his aunt's hand. "C'mon, Aunt Jessie!"
She let herself be pulled away, rolling her eyes and laughing at her nephew. Once they were gone, Cara turned back to him.
"Do we have something else to do?"
He swallowed down his nerves and stood up. "I was hoping you'd take a walk with me."
Her smile was immediate. "Of course."
They turned and started through the park, their steps slow and with no real destination in mind. Their shoulders bumped as they walked, the contact soft and reassuring. When their knuckles brushed, Hotch let their fingers tangle together until they were holding hands. He risked a glance over, resolve strengthening when he saw Cara smile shyly at him.
She could feel her cheeks heating up, but Cara didn't really care at the moment. She had an idea where this was going, and thanks to her conversation with JJ, she wasn't afraid anymore. She and Hotch fit together. They made sense. And she was growing increasingly fond of the warm feeling that spread through her whenever he smiled at her or touched her.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I'm not very good at this."
She squeezed his hand. "You're doing much better than you think." When she saw him continue to struggle, the words sticking in his throat, Cara stopped, squeezing his hand and turning to face him. "Would it be easier if I said it first?"
There was a mixture of fear and relief in his eyes. "You know what I'm going to say?"
"I think I do." She squeezed his hand again. "I hope I do," she added quietly.
He took it as a good sign that she was still smiling, still standing there holding his hand. Being on the same page would certainly make this easier, and for the first time, he really let himself hold onto the hope that she felt the same way he did.
"I think I need to say this," he finally said. "Just…give me a chance to get through it all, okay?"
Cara nodded. "Okay."
He turned and started walking again, pulling her along gently. It had been a long time since he had felt so normal – just walking through the park with the woman he loved by his side. For so long, his days had been an endless cycle of blood and guilt, while he tried to balance his work with his life with Jack. The sun warm on his face, and her hand firmly in his, he realized that that had all changed.
He knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to tell her that she was a blessing in their lives, that she had saved them from the darkness that had been growing around them. He wanted to tell her that he loved seeing her every morning, standing in the kitchen, cooking breakfast. He wanted to tell her that he liked to stand in the hall while she sang to Jack at night, his chest aching with how right it all felt. He wanted to tell her that her songs helped him sleep as well, that he slept better when they were on the road if he talked to her on the phone before going to bed.
She deserved to hear all those things. But the words stuck in his throat, making him feel like a bumbling idiot. Words were his power on the job, and yet, when it came time to be honest with someone about how he felt, they failed him.
He came to a stop and tugged on her hand, turning her to face him. "It would seem I haven't gotten much better at the talking thing."
Cara gave him a soft smile, seeing the struggling in his eyes. Reaching up, she placed a gentle hand on his cheeks. "Aaron…"
Squeezing the hand that he was holding, he took a small step closer and leaned in, brushing his lips against hers. It was soft and quiet, but she didn't hesitate in returning it. Hotch pulled back slightly, telling himself that he had to say something, but her eyes were shining as she looked up at him, and he was moving in to kiss her again, the fingers of one hand tangling in her hair as he pulled her closer.
He was smiling when they pulled back again, unable to do anything else when he saw that Cara was grinning right back at him. Holding her, kissing her…he felt more right than he had in a very long time.
He still hadn't said anything, though. His thoughts jumbled and stuck in his throat again, and he let out a quiet sigh. Cara seemed to take pity on him, though, and she let out a quiet chuckle.
"Aaron, we don't have to talk this one to death. Breathe."
He took a deep breath, his smile turning rueful. "Sorry."
Cara shook her head, biting her bottom lip for a second. "I don't do things halfway," she said slowly. "And I don't think you do, either."
Somehow, both of his hands had found their place on her hips. "No," he agreed. "And I don't think I could with you, anyway."
"Good." She ran her fingers down the side of his face. "We can figure out the other stuff as we go along."
"There is one thing I need to say."
Hotch took a deep breath. "I'm in love with you."
Her grin was automatic and bright, and she reached up to hug him tightly. "That's a very good thing, Aaron Hotchner. Since you and your son have had my heart for quite a while now." They stayed like that for a minute, just enjoying the feel of the other. Slowly, Cara pulled back just far enough to meet his eyes. "Didn't you say you were gonna get me an ice cream cone?"
Hotch laughed at that, nodding. "I did indeed."
He turned and took her hand again, leading her back the way they had come. Jessie and Jack were back at the swings, and when Cara saw the expectant look in the other woman's eyes, she knew that Jessie had known what was going on. She gave a little nod, and Jessie smiled, nodding back.
"Do you think Jack is gonna be okay with this?" Cara asked, leaning closer to him.
Hotch smiled at his son as they got closer. Jack was grinning right back at him, and he waved excitedly at both of them.
"Trust me," he murmured, kissing her temple. "He'll be ecstatic."