"Love comes to those who still hope even though they've been disappointed, to those who still believe even though they've been betrayed, to those who still love even though they've been hurt before." Author Unknown

A Cloudy Paradise

Chapter One

He loved that look in her eyes. It didn't happen often. Rarely, did she ever allow her guard down. But there were times, particularly after a difficult case, where the mask would slip, if only for a split second. And she would look almost...wistful. Her eyes would soften to almost the color of the clear blue sea, and she'd stare distantly into space. Almost as if she were escaping the horrors they saw on an almost daily basis.

He envied her the ability to let go and lose herself for a few stolen moments, his own drive and focus often a detriment in the rare moments of downtime they had. He'd never learned the ability to shut down and turn off, his own mind constantly churning with thoughts of his own failures and shortcomings, all the things he could have done better...faster.

He flushed as he realized that he'd held his stare too long. That he'd been caught by her intelligent deep blue eyes. Damn it! He was usually quicker than this. He knew there were more embarrassing things than being caught longingly looking at an incredibly beautiful woman. Though, at the moment he was hard pressed to think of one.

Trying to think of something to say, he realized that in all his forty-three years, he never became as tongue-tied as he did when exposed to Jennifer Jareau. Oh, he could do professional all day long. He'd perfected the stoic boss routine admirably. But the other side of the man he was...that was a different story altogether.

Because with this woman, he could very easily slip and allow himself to become human. She invited it with her warmth and compassion. With her soft smile and kind eyes. Her lilting voice and wisdom beyond her years. Yes, he could very easily allow himself to fall under her spell. Hell, he was fairly certain he already had, even if he wasn't quite ready to admit it to himself yet.

"You okay, Hotch?" she asked softly, mindful of their sleeping teammates around them, the hum of the airplane engines lulling in the background.

Flashing her a tight smile, he deliberated his response to her hushed question. She must have seen the flash of indecision in his eyes, he thought miserably, because suddenly she was unsnapping her seat belt and slipping into the seat beside him at the back of the plane.

"Hotch?" he heard her gently prod, resting a light hand against his arm.

God, she really had no idea what those soft inadvertent caresses did to his libido, the warmth of her soft skin seeping through his jacket. How the waves of yearning crashed over his body, reminding him of exactly how long he'd been without a woman. "I'm fine, JJ. I was just admiring your ability to tune things out," he said softly, willing his suddenly tense body to relax and ordering his groin to cooperate with his mind's order. He was nothing if not disciplined.

"I have to," she said with a soft smile as she shifted slightly in her seat to see him better, her shoulder leaning deeply into the forgiving leather. "When we see as many ugly images as we do, sometimes I just have to allow myself to drift away."

'Don't look at her...don't look into her eyes, Aaron,' he silently told himself. He was entirely too aware how easily he'd lose himself in their endless depths, a siren's call to a drowning sailor. "Where do you go?" he asked softly, trying to ignore the fact that her hand hadn't moved from his forearm, her palm print burned into his skin.

"Most times, anywhere but here," she confided with a sad smile, the corners of her rose-tinted lips barely tilting. "It just seems sometimes that no matter how hard we work to eliminate the evil, a new breed rises to take its place. And I have to try and convince myself that it matters...what we do...that we are making a difference."

"You make a difference, JJ," Hotch said deeply without conscious thought, the words flowing out his heart by way of his mouth. "To all of us. You see the worst of it, every day, in all those files you pore over. And every day, you come back and do it again and again. "

"I just recognize the bad guys on paper...you guys are the ones that get inside their heads and beat them at their own game," she shrugged modestly, her fingertips silently rubbing against the soft fabric of his suit jacket.

"You're undervaluing your contribution to this team," Hotch stated softly, glancing at her serene profile as her eyes drifted toward the cabin window. "I've never liked it when you do that," he reminded her with a firm voice, the undercurrent of a smile trying to make an appearance.

"I'm aware I'm an important cog in the BAU wheel," JJ smirked, not turning her head, trying to lose herself in the passing clouds, his nearness of his strong presence threatening to overwhelm her. "Your last lecture still rings in my ears."

"Glad to know I made an impression," Hotch said with a rare grin, unexpected wrinkles appearing at the corners of his eyes. "But it seems you might need a refresher course."

Watching as she sank her teeth into her full lower lip, Hotch fought the urge to reach up and sooth the delicate, offended skin. He knew that look she wore now, all nuances of this woman familiar to him. She wanted to say something and she was debating the wisdom of actually putting her thoughts into words.

"What?" he asked softly, watching her eyelashes blink at that simple word. "What is it you want to ask, JJ?" Hotch asked huskily.