He keeps her talking so he doesn't have to say it, and he doesn't say it. There are two words that can't leave his lips, two words so final that he refuses to utter them. He doesn't want them. He can't speak them. And no matter how long he talks to her, Aaron can't say goodbye. He can't say two syllables that hold such finality the thought of them stings his eyes.

He hesitates before he reaches out his hand, because he knows it's not the proper way to say goodbye: but he doesn't want to say goodbye. He can't. Oh, any fledgling profiler would have a great time profiling him right now. Hell, he could profile himself for them.

He can't let her go. And he's afraid - so very afraid - that if he allows himself that slip, if he allows himself to hug her, he'll be done. That simple movement will crack the facade of stone he's crafted around himself, the facade that hints nothing can crack him, even though in the past year he's been broken and cracked so badly he must look like a puzzle. The places that interlock, holding him so fragilely together, are visible to any naked human eye.

He's afraid to hug her because it will mean something. It will be so out of his normal character that JJ will know that even though he says he'll try to get her back, the chances are so very slim.

The hug will mean goodbye. and so he doesn't. He uses a handshake instead because it's normal. It's easy. And while it means goodbye it doesn't mean that final goodbye; it doesn't mean finality. A hug feels like someone's died, and a handshake means I'll miss you, You're amazing, I'll try to get you back, Until next time.. Maybe he should have hugged her, maybe he should have wrapped his arms around her, just a little extra to tell her how much she means to all of them. Maybe he should have, but he doesn't.

He doesn't hug her because if he does, he's afraid he won't let go. He's afraid his arms won't unlock and she'll see that this is breaking him. She'll see just how close he is to letting the tears slip over. She'll see he can't lose another person, especially not her. He can't lose someone who brings so much joy and lightness into a day usually filled with only dark. He can't tell her that the day will be empty.

He wants to. He probably should.

But he doesn't want to burden her, because this isn't her fault. She doesn't deserve being burdened by the knowledge of what her leaving will do to them, even if she already knows. She doesn't need the confirmation.

He doesn't hug her because she'll know, then. A hug from him will mean something.

He doesn't hug her because he's afraid he won't let go. He's afraid that he will let go.

It almost feels like losing his sanity.

It's a denial. He won't accept it, but he has to.

And it's almost like grieving.

There's denial in abundance. Denial is the first fuel that keeps him working, that allows him to move and keep pushing. The case helps, too. The case keeps him working and allows his mind to skip, even though the idea comes back every time he sees her. Only, he won't accept it. He keeps fighting for her.

Anger comes next, hot and red like he hasn't seen since Haley's death. Aaron Hotchner knows these stages. They are familiar, the back of his hand. The anger boils under his skin, sets his jaw, has him nearly screaming at Strauss on the phone - because she's never understood. If she understood, she'd fight like he did. She'd fight. The anger ends when he sees her watching the family of the girl she's saved. There's no doubt in his mind they would have been retrieving a body instead of an alive Kate Joyce if it weren't for Jennifer Jareau. The anger isn't helping them. The anger dissipates.

And the bargaining takes over.

He stands in front of Strauss and tries to get her to reconsider, even though the deal has already been made. Even though the devil known as bureaucracy has taken over. He offers anything and everything to keep JJ on this team - tries to explain to her just how important she is, how she saved their case - but Strauss thinks everyone is replaceable. And Strauss replaces JJ.

Depression starts before she even walks out that door for the last time. It starts in the office even though he struggles to hide it. Part of the family is leaving, and while he's under no presumption that he won't hear from her again, it still leaves a sour taste in his mouth and his heart beating too fast.

And when she leaves, depression hits hard and fast. He sits in the dark of his bedroom after Jack's asleep, with his eyes closed but his mind wide awake. The day hasn't even closed and already there's an empty, hollow space.

And he knows, without a doubt, that he should have hugged her, damn the consequences.

Acceptance. It's a difficult concept, turning and twisting in his mind for a year and a half before he's able to understand that he's not going to be able to get her back, even though he keeps trying for some time. Maybe he's never really accepted it, not in five years, not in seven years, not in eight years, even though he's stopped trying to get her back because she's happy where she is and he tried.

And when she invites them all to Henry's elementary school graduation, he's learned the difference between acceptance and being happy with something. He doesn't have to like it, but he's accepted it.

He's not going to get her back. But she's happy.

And when they're standing at the refreshment table, he finally gives her that hug.

Author's Note:

This is what happens when I attend history classes with teachers who talk too fast for me to copy notes. Actually, it started when I was WALKING to that history class. For once, I'm moderately happy with something I've written, and I'm particularly proud that I managed to sneak in that hug. And sorry, Agni, it's not Hotch/JJ but it's close enough?