Author's Note: Thanks so much to Kavi Leighanna and Sienna27 for their Television Prompt Challenge.
And please, check out our writing challenge on our forum on "Chit Chat on Author's Corner" (you can find the link on my profile page.) In order to expand our horizons and stretch our writing wings, everyone who joins the challenge will be writing an exciting new pairing. By signing up, you'll get to suggest a pairing for someone else to write in addition to agreeing to write yourself. The story can be a drabble or an epic, romantic or friendship, AU or canon, angst or comedy…or anything in between. As the author, it is your choice to determine the direction and plot…we'll just be providing the pairing. Thanks to everyone who has signed up so far….and it's not too late for YOU, too! Feel free to email, PM or post to the forum thread if you'd be interested in participating.
And please, check out our newest interview over on "Chit Chat". We're talking to the lovely and talented CMali today.
Who I Am
Prompt: The Secret Life of the American Teenager - "The Father and the Son"
And a few weeks later, Henry Jareau finally got exactly what he wanted.
As his high school headmaster's deep baritone voice spoke into the microphone, everyone in the packed auditorium clearly heard the announcement that Henry Jareau Hotchner should come forward and accept his diploma. Scanning the crowd as he slowly climbed the metal risers, he found his mother's shocked eyes widely staring back at him, his father's face beaming with pride beside her as the rest of their true family surrounded them.
His family. The family that had chosen him and that he had, in return, also willingly chosen.
Accepting his diploma with nerveless fingers, his new name ringing in his ears, Henry quickly made his way back to his appointed seat as valedictorian at the head of his class. The rest of the ceremony became a blur for him as he kept his eyes affixed to his family's faces, each one beaming back at him. And in those long minutes, he knew he'd made the right decision by choosing to confront LaMontagne alone...or as close to alone as his elder brother and younger sister would ever allow him to be. Uncle Dave had once told him, in a voice that wasn't entirely joking, that their family was sort of like the Mafia. Once you were in the Hotchner clan, you could never get out.
Not that he'd ever want out. He was man enough to make his choices and to stick to them. Their family was forever.
As the Dean of Students made his closing remarks, Henry's heart pounded faster, a faint sheen of perspiration slipping underneath the collar of the shirt he'd borrowed from Jack. In just a few minutes, he'd receive his parent's reaction to his surprise. And while he could tell from the looks of their faces that they were both happy, he felt a small twinge of trepidation, knowing full well he'd be forced to own up to the deceitful way he'd done things.
As the recessional began and the graduates filed past the audience, Henry smiled at his brother as Jack high fived him on the way past their row and chuckled as he heard his Uncle Dave's slow drawl of, "You've got some 'splaining to do, my boy."
And fifteen minutes later as he heard his mom's lilting voice behind him, he knew the jig was up.
"Something you forgot to mention to us, son?" JJ asked, suppressing a smile as her son turned to face her.
"Now, Mom," Henry hedged, holding up one hand as he stared down into his mother's twinkling eyes, "this is a day for celebration, isn't it? One more kid down, one left to go," he stalled, glancing frantically toward his father for help.
"Don't look at me for help," Hotch shrugged, more than willing to allow his wife of better than ten years to have the first go at their son. She had been the one to bring him into the world, and according to what she was quick to inform all of their children on a regular basis, she could just as easily take them out.
"You could have told us what you wanted," JJ said softly, reaching up to cup her son's cheek, his height putting her at a slight disadvantage. "If your name bothered you, you know your dad and I would have made it right for you."
"It's not that it bothered me, Mom," Henry shook his head, his mother's hand always a comfort, no matter how old he grew. "I always knew who I was and who my real dad was. I just wanted the rest of the world to know it, too," he explained, glancing toward his dad as his mother's soft blue eyes teared up. "And now they do," he said matter-of-factly, meeting his father's dark gaze levelly.
"You made your mother cry," Hotch said slowly, sliding a hand down JJ's back, the boy's shoulder's almost equal with his. "You know how I feel about that."
"Not fair, Dad," Henry whined as he turned, his eyes twinkling with mirth, "I can't be blamed for that. She's been crying since I put on this freaking gown this morning."
"True," Hotch conceded, his lips twitching as JJ glared equally at each man in turn, her pert nose wrinkling. Leaning toward his wife, he murmured, "You did kind of lose it when the kid put on his cap."
"You two!" JJ snorted, turning to slap her husband's arm as he took a step away. "I'm going to seriously consider Ari's idea of disowning you both!" Turning back to her son, she smiled weakly as she tugged him down to her eye level and said softly, "I've never been prouder of you than I was today. I love you."
"Mom," Henry whined, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment, the sounds of his fellow graduates filling the air around them.
"Just like a Hotchner," she snorted, glancing over her shoulder to include her husband in her complaint. "You're all uncomfortable with public displays of affection. I'm going to ride with Aunt Pen to get the house ready for the graduation party. Your sister is riding with Jack, so..."
"The boy and I will be right behind you," Hotch interjected, pulling her away from their son when Henry flashed him a pleading look. Turning her small body toward the group gathered behind them, he urged, "Go on, sweetheart."
Nodding once, both men watched as JJ quickly walked away, scrubbing her eyes again even as she laughed at something Garcia whispered in her ear.
"At this rate, you're gonna have to buy stock in Kleenex, Dad," Henry joked, watching his mother reach for another tissue from her purse.
"Don't tease your mom," Hotch admonished gently, automatically shaking his head as he let his eyes linger on the beautiful woman that had given him his family. "It's traumatic watching your baby spread his wings. And she's had to do it twice in under five years."
"Yeah," Henry nodded as they moved through the crowded hallway, walking beside his father toward the parking lot. "At least you've got awhile now before Ari flies."
"We do," Hotch agreed, throwing an arm around his son's wide shoulders. "But each child is different."
Studying his father's profile, Henry said softly, "You weren't shocked, Dad. You were happy. But not shocked. You knew, didn't you? You were there that day, weren't you?"
Trying not to grin, Hotch nodded, his voice even as he agreed, "I did and I was."
"Who blabbed?" Henry groaned, his chin dropping for a second as he realized that his well-laid plans had been leaked.
"Doesn't matter," Hotch replied, shaking his head as he led his son out into the bright afternoon sunlight. "I just couldn't let you confront Will alone."
"Well, if you paid attention, I wasn't alone. Jack insisted on going with me," Henry chuckled, tucking his hand into the pocket of his trousers.
"Okay," Hotch amended, " I couldn't allow any of my kids to place themselves in that position without me. You'll understand one day, Henry. But whether you're five or fifty, as long as I live, I'm never going to willingly watch while you put yourself at risk. But for the record, what you did meant more to me than anything anyone has ever done. Because you chose me. Most kids...they don't get to pick out who they recognize as a parent. You did. And I can't tell you how much joy that gives me."
"I could feel you there that afternoon," Henry said quietly, scuffing his slightly-too-big dress shoes against the dimpled concrete sidewalk. "Almost like you were cheering me on."
"Maybe that's because I was," Hotch replied, pausing mid-step to meet his son's eyes. Staring down into those bright blue orbs that were exact replicas of Jennifer's, he said, his own eyes suddenly crinkling, "You've always been my little boy, Henry. From the day your mother let me into your life. But seeing you take on LaMontagne...you made me proud to call myself your dad."
"Thanks," Henry replied huskily, his throat thick with emotion as he stood face to face with the one person who had taught him how to be a man . From the first time he had realized what the word meant, Aaron Hotchner had been only father he had ever known…and ever wanted. And standing there, the golden sun shining down on both of them, Henry Hotchner muttered the only words that truly mattered.
"I love you, too, Dad."