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Detour To Destiny
"Hotch?" JJ asked as the man stared distantly across the room, his eyes unseeing. "I mean, Aaron," she said, flinching as she realized how easily she slipped into old habits.
"What?" Hotch said, jerking his gaze back to her as he heard his given name slip melodiously from her lips. "I'm sorry...woolgathering."
"It's okay," JJ said with an understanding smile, a sudden shyness invading her words. "I knocked you for a loop."
"You did," Hotch agreed with a nod, swallowing hard as he added, "But I guess we need to look at the potential of the situation, don't we?"
"Potential?" JJ repeated, her eyebrows furrowing as she steadfastly quelled the hope blooming in her heart. She refused to allow herself to get excited yet. He hadn't said anything beyond what any good boss would say to a loyal employee in this situation.
"For instance," Hotch said, clearing his throat quickly, "the hours. You'll be able to find something more conducive to parenthood. And better pay. Better benefits. And, let's face it, promotions come a hell of a lot slower at the Bureau than in the public sector."
"There is that," JJ agreed with a tight smile, forcing her heart to remain in its current position, the sinking feeling threatening to overwhelm her. While all those things were true, they weren't what she wanted to hear him say. But what had she expected, she thought bitterly. Professions of love eternal? Get real, Jareau. "I suppose the glass is half full when you put it that way, Aaron," she nodded, wishing for a stiff drink to magically appear in her hand. She could certainly have used the fortitude at this juncture.
And as if he'd read her mind, she heard Hotch casually ask, "Okay, I know you said no to coffee, but perhaps a glass of wine would do us both some good? I think we've earned it."
"Wine actually sounds really good right now," JJ replied with a stiff smile, wondering if it would be rude to request the entire bottle.
"Not like we need to worry about the fraternization rules anymore, huh?" Hotch said, rising and tentatively lobbing the proverbial ball in her direction. Cowardly, yes. But after years of singledom, he wasn't quite sure how the hell this game was played anymore. Hell, he wasn't sure if he'd ever even played it before. How could he be expected to be a pro when he'd never been an amateur?
Eyes widening, JJ tracked his movement as Hotch retreated into the kitchen. Had her former boss just made a vaguely suggestive comment? Or was that her overactive wishful imagination? Damn it! When had she become this insecure person?
She heard Hotch in the kitchen, the clicks and pops resounding as he slowly poured their wine, and she told herself to remain aloof. She'd always thought part of her problem with Will had been her eagerness. Of course the source of that eagerness had been her desire to get over the man whose house she currently sat in. But, still…
Offering her a rare smile as he returned a moment later, a glass of red wine in each of his capable hands, JJ relaxed slightly underneath his perusal. This didn't have to be awkward. It was merely a glass of wine between friends and former colleagues. She could handle just being his friend. Hadn't she been doing it for years?
"So, tell me what your next step is," Hotch invited, handing over the stemmed glass. "You said you were staying in DC," he prodded, hoping that statement didn't sound quite as relieved to her ears as it did to his.
Taking a quick swallow of the sweet wine, JJ hummed appreciatively the alcohol slid easily down her throat. "Actually," she said, meeting his dark eyes, "I think I'm going to take a few weeks off and regroup. Spend time with Henry, you know?"
"I think that sounds like a good plan," Hotch replied, hoping his gasp had been inaudible when he'd watched her delicate pink tongue lick a droplet of wine from her upper lip. "I've actually been considering taking some time off myself. Those vacation days only carry over for so long, and it's been awhile since I spent any quality time with Jack."
"Really?" JJ murmured, lifting surprised eyes to Hotch's impassive face. The Aaron Hotcher that she knew rarely took any time off. Would miracles never cease?
"Really," Hotch nodded, taking another quick sip, fortifying himself. "I was thinking sunshine and sand," he said carefully, measuring his words as he watched her eyes.
"That sounds lovely," JJ murmured wistfully, smiling faintly as images of palm trees and the ocean drifted into her thoughts.
Oh, hell, Hotch groaned silently, watching as her perfectly formed lips tilted upward. There was that smile. That lost smile she had when someone said something that pleased her. "You know," Hotch suggested casually, "we could make it a dual event. I mean," he said, suddenly nervous about her response, "our boys do enjoy being with each other."
Astonished, JJ stared at him for a moment, wondering if her ears had deceived her. "That's true," she said, her eyes meeting his as she pressed the flat bottom of the stemmed glass against her leg.
Captivated by her glowing face, Hotch admitted, "And I certainly enjoy being with you, JJ."
"Wh-what?" JJ faltered, almost dropping the glass in her hand completely.
"Nothing," Hotch said quickly, drawing back slightly. "Never mind," he said, mistaking her shock for something else entirely. "Please forget I said that. It was stupid of me to..."
"What?" JJ said, interrupting him. "No! I don't want to forget it," she said quickly, reaching forward without thought to grab the hand he waved.
Seeing the genuine hope shining in her expressive blue eyes, Hotch ceased his uncharacteristic babbling. "What did you just say?" he asked JJ uncertainly, warily.
"I said that I didn't want to forget it," JJ said softly, releasing his hand slowly only to have Hotch turn his palm to surround her small hand and pull it back into his grip.
"Why?" Hotch asked, his deep voice curious. "Why don't you want to forget it, JJ?"
"Because I liked the way it sounded," JJ answered shyly.
Watching a becoming crimson stain spread across her high cheekbones, Hotch slowly tightened his grip around her fingers.
"Could you be more specific, JJ?" he requested huskily, a slow swell of hope blooming around him as he dropped his glass with a slight clatter to the side table.
"You, me, our kids...together. I really liked the sound of that," she whispered reluctantly, averting her gaze as embarrassment flooded her. Oh, God, was she really on the cusp of admitting her feelings for her former boss? Here? Now?
"Can I let you in on a well-kept secret, JJ?" Hotch asked, lifting the hand not holding hers to her chin and lifting her face to look at his.
"Yes," JJ murmured hesitantly, afraid to hear what he had to say. But hadn't she promised herself just a scant hour earlier that she was going to take this chance?
"You aren't the only one that liked the sound of that scenario," Hotch informed her quietly.
"Oh," JJ replied weakly as Hotch's eyes softened.
"Figured it out yet?" Hotch whispered, afraid his voice would break the magical spell cast over their moment.
"God, I really hope so," JJ whispered happily as Hotch's lips descended toward hers.
And long minutes later, he'd given her all the clarification she'd needed. It might have been a long and winding detour to her destiny.
But Jennifer Jareau had finally arrived.