A Cloudy Paradise
"N-nothing," JJ whispered, shaking her head quickly as she drew in a deep breath, her courage suddenly thin and fleeting.
Seeing the slight flush reddening her cheeks, Hotch's brows furrowed in consternation. Covering the hand that still rested against his arm with a warm palm, he whispered, "I know I'm not the world's greatest conversationalist, but I'm not half-bad in the listening arena. You can talk to me, JJ. About anything."
Lifting shocked eyes to collide with his, JJ swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry as Aaron Hotchner afforded her a golden opportunity to be honest about feelings six years in the making. For what seemed to be countless ages, she'd held her tongue for one reason or another. First, she'd remained silent because he'd been happily married, the evidence seen in Haley's visits to the unit and the joy over his son's birth. Then, by the time of his divorce, she'd met Will and forced herself to leave behind what she had tried to convince herself was an adolescent crush on a superior. It hadn't worked. Her avoidance tactics had only prolonged the inevitable realization that her feelings for Aaron were all too real and consistent to be imagined.
She was in love with him. And had been for years.
"I...I'm not sure how to..." she stammered, her hand tightening around his arm as the plane made a small dip in the sky, her leather soles shifting against the carpeted floor.
"How to what?" Aaron asked softly, her uncertainty and hesitance worrying him. JJ was a lot of things, but nervous and anxious had never been defining characteristics. Tightening his hand around hers, he wordlessly willed her to confide in him. To trust in him. It was if he was caught in a timeless loop, unable to move forward until he knew that she was once again the confident Jennifer Jareau he had always known.
"Do you ever wonder...if you've made the right decisions? The right choices?" JJ asked faintly as the sun waned through the window, early evening wrapping around the airborne plane, dimming the cabin.
"I think everyone questions themselves at some point," Hotch replied evenly unsure where her question was leading, his voice low in the rapidly darkening cabin. "It's human nature to wonder about what might have been. No one lives without regret, JJ. All we can hope for at the end of the day is to learn something from the mistakes we made."
Smiling sadly at his steady words, she whispered, "I've made some bad decisions in my life. Missed opportunities I should have taken."
"You aren't the only one," Hotch admitted, thankful that shadows were beginning to shroud them, guarding the intimacy of the moment. "And chances are, we'll make those mistakes again. Again, human nature," he said ruefully.
"You've been spending too much time with Spence," JJ admonished gently, squeezing his fingers to lessen the sting of her rebuke, the feel of his strong muscles comforting and alluring at the same time.
"Perhaps...but you've got to admit, he's an excellent student of human nature," Hotch said with a low chuckle, barely loud enough for her ears alone.
"You make a valid point," JJ grinned, settling deeper into her seat as her arm brushed against his. Inhaling deeply as she gathered her courage, JJ cast a quick look around at their still sleeping traveling companions. Seeing them all still blessedly oblivious, she looked up into Hotch's dark questioning eyes. "I don't want to miss any more opportunities if I can avoid it," she blurted, leaning forward to press her supple lips to his, gently kissing his pliant, yet unresponsive lips.
Meeting his surprised gaze as she pulled away quickly, she whispered frantically, "I'm sorry, Hotch. I should never have..." She began trying to pull her hand from underneath his where it still rested against his arm, her heart sinking as her mind reeled at her obvious unappreciated action.
"JJ, don't," Hotch murmured, tightening his grip around her hand when she would have pulled away. Lifting a warm palm to cradle her cheek, he guided her lips back to his, gently sipping her lips as she held herself rigid. Teasing her lips with the tip of his tongue, he felt her sigh against him, her mouth parting, affording him entrance into the warm cavern of her mouth. Kissing her softly, a slow, tender tangling of tongues that didn't last nearly as long as he'd like, he deliberately pulled away, nipping her lower lip as he did.
Releasing a shaky breath as he stared into her face, obscured by the shadows around them, he whispered, "As much as I wish we could have had this discussion in private, I'm glad you feel the way you do."
"Y-you are?" JJ asked shakily, her breath trapped in her throat, almost unable to believe that he hadn't pushed her away or chastised her for mixing her personal feelings with her professional life.
Nodding, Hotch offered her a small smile. "I might think you're slightly insane for wanting to take a chance on a man that's failed more than he's succeeded lately in the personal realm of my life, but I'm grateful for it," he confessed, his own heartbeat pounding louder than he could remember in years.
"The risk would have been to continue not telling you," JJ choked, blinking back joyful tears as she realized how fortunate they both were. Perhaps those fates she had railed at in the past were choosing to favor her for once.
"Good think you have more courage than I do then," Hotch admitted, stroking a finger against her cheek, relishing the feel of her soft skin beneath his touch. "Do you have plans tonight? I'd really like to continue this conversation in a more appropriate atmosphere, preferably over candlelight and a bottle of wine. I'm pretty sure that's still the way it's done anyway."
"I don't know how it's supposed to be done, but I definitely like your idea. I'd love that," JJ whispered as they felt the plane begin a slow descent.
Hearing a noise behind them, Hotch slowly drew away from her, reluctant to break what had become a life-giving contact. "Until tonight," he murmured, with one last squeeze to her fingers, gently placing her hand safely in her lap. Settling back against the leather seat as the seatbelt sign flashed on overhead, Hotch released a contented breath, the thoughts of the coming hours filling him with anticipation and just a little hope.
With JJ glowing happily beside him, Aaron Hotchner decided he just might not be as hopeless as he initially thought.