"Mommy!" Henry ran down the aisle. "Mommy, I
flyed the plane!"
JJ gave Hotch a brows-up look. The unit chief had just brought Henry for a visit to the cockpit.
"Ed let him touch the control for a couple of seconds, that's all. Oh, and he listened in on the radio."
She smiled at her son. "Wow, little man, I didn't know you were a pilot."
"Should we add that to the list, Henry? Do you want to be a pilot now, too?" asked his Uncle Spenc, seated next to JJ. Reid remembered the litany of aspirations Henry had recited to him a few months ago.
"A pilot? No, I want to be a plane-flyer, Uncle Spence!" And the little blonde leveled off his hand and began flying it in a circle. Until he remembered an even more important fact that he just had to share with his mother.
"Mommy, they have a kitchen! A 'frigerator and everything! With snacks! And, Mommy," he drew close to her to whisper into her ear, "they have Cheet-Os!"
It had been more of a stage-whisper, and all of the rest heard it. JJ was certain of that when the entire team burst into laughter. Her weakness for Cheet-Os was well known.
"Henry," said Morgan, "do you know what your mother's nickname is?"
She sent daggers his way. That's all I need, to have my son calling me 'Cheet-O Breath'!
Morgan got the message. If he knew what was good for him…. So he turned once again to Henry. "We call her 'Blondie'."
The little blonde knock-off sniffed, unimpressed. His mother called him that, all the time. He climbed up into his godfather's lap and sat, looking out the window.
"We're upside down, Uncle Spence! The clouds are on the bottom of us!" Henry was so much back to normal that he was once again ending every sentence in an exclamation point.
From the aisle, Aaron Hotchner watched as Reid explained to Henry about the clouds, and pointed out the sights below. Henry had recovered so quickly from his ordeal that he'd been discharged directly from the ICU. Apparently that happened a lot with kids. Hotch wished he could hope for his traumatized team to heal as easily, but he knew better than that.
He recognized the new family forming in front of him. He would give them time to be together, to keep the world at bay for just a little while. But then they would have some difficult realities to address. He smiled when Henry looked back up at him, and then he continued down the aisle, taking the seat across from Emily Prentiss.
"He's amazing, isn't he? How fast he's gotten back to being Henry?" Emily had been watching the scene from her seat.
"Kids are resilient, thank God. I just wish adults were as well."
"You think JJ will have trouble getting past this, don't you?"
"I hope not, but this was the second time that Henry's been put into danger because of a BAU case. The second time within a year. That's got to give her pause."
"But she had a good outcome, both times." Emily looked steadily at her old boss. "You didn't. And yet, you stayed."
She always had been able to see through him, through the surface, to what was below. He looked away from her, toward the window, sighing as he did.
"I thought about it. I had to. For Jack. And Strauss even offered me a way out…."
"You mean, she took the opportunity to try to get rid of you."
Emily had meant to say it under her breath, but he'd heard. And he smiled.
Hotch continued. "I thought about it. But, if anything, it motivated me. It made me more determined. I need to be a part of this fight, I need to try to make things better for every family…including mine."
Emily gave him a knowing smile. She understood. She really understood. Because she had stepped away from it, and now, with all that had happened, she was feeling compelled to come back. But Blake was already with the team. It had been her own decision to leave, and she would have to deal with the consequences. She would say nothing to Hotch now. It wasn't his burden to bear. Instead, she turned to another subject.
"What about Reid? You're still worried about him, aren't you?"
"He had a flashback at the cabin, when Morgan shot Arnold. You didn't see it, but he completely froze, and it took him a while to reorient. I thought he came back to work too soon. But he insisted, because of the Replicator. And I let him. Now, I don't know..." He shook his head.
Emily wasn't convinced. "But don't you think it was specific? I mean, maybe he only had the flashback because this was so much like the other time. It was the second time a woman he loved was in immediate danger of dying, of being shot."
Hotch got Emily's point….and he'd also heard what else she'd said. "You see it, too?
Now she smiled again. "You mean Reid and JJ? Doesn't everybody?"
When he chuckled, she added, "I'm not sure they were willing to admit it even to themselves before, especially considering everything that's gone on in both of their lives. But….well, didn't you see them before we went to Arnold's cabin?"
"No, what happened?" He'd been busy looking at the site plans.
Emily told him how JJ had pulled Reid aside. And how passionate both of them had looked in their exchange of words. She wasn't a skilled lip reader, but she was pretty sure she'd seen "I love you" coming from each of them.
"I think they were both terrified that she might not come out of it. And that pushed them over the edge."
Hotch nodded, understanding. The last thing he'd told Haley was that he loved her.
"Will it be a problem…..you know, if they're together? Will it be a problem for the team? For the FBI?"
He answered so quickly that Emily could tell he'd already been giving it thought. It may have been Emily who'd witnessed the declaration of love, but Hotch hadn't missed the growing attachment.
"It's not a problem officially. But, for us…I don't know. I don't want to lose either of them, they each bring something important and unique to the team. I suppose I could try to make assignments that kept them from both being in danger…I just don't know. It's not come up before. Not for me, anyway."
Emily had been with the CIA. It wasn't unusual to have agents who were married placed together. She knew there was precedent. But she also knew that her former team would have to feel its way through this one on its own.
JJ turned the key and opened the door. The house was as they'd left it. Everything had been put to rights except Henry's room. That had been left exactly as it had looked on that fateful evening when they'd come home to find him missing. The impression still on the bed, the left-behind toys strewn about the room. And, God bless Penelope Garcia, a brand new set of Superman sheets ready to be stretched across the mattress.
When she took in the sight, the whole of the ordeal washed over JJ all at once, and her knees felt weak. She lowered herself to the bed. Reid joined her and put an arm around her.
Henry was happily reuniting with his toys, oblivious to the adults.
She was slow to answer. "Yeah. It's just…..I think a part of me thought this would never happen again. That I'd never be home, with Henry, happy and playing. I couldn't let myself think about it, but it was there, all the time. It was easier to just think about what I needed to do in the next five minutes. Otherwise I'd have stopped moving altogether. But now…..now, it just hit me. What I could have lost…."
She couldn't speak any longer. Reid took her chin and turned her face into him, so Henry wouldn't see that she was crying. But the little boy was too attuned to his mother. He put down his toy and walked over to stand in front of JJ, his face somber.
"Mommy, why are you crying?"
She sniffed, trying to stem her tears before she turned back to him. By the time he saw her face, there was a smile on it.
"I'm just happy, Baby. I'm happy to be home again, with you. And Uncle Spence."
Henry wasn't sure. She'd been crying.
She could tell he wasn't convinced. "Sometimes people cry because they're happy, Honey."
Henry looked to his godfather for confirmation of this strange phenomenon. Reid shrugged, and nodded.
Happy or not, Henry made the only response he knew was appropriate when somebody was crying. He spread his arms wide and hugged his mom.
"I love you, Mommy."
JJ fought for control. The last thing she wanted to do was to frighten Henry again. She hugged him back, tightly, until she'd gotten her emotions in check. When she released him, she returned the sentiment.
"I love you too, little man." She rose as she added, "We should get some dinner into you and then it's early to bed. Any special requests?"
Reid comically raised his hand and shouted, "I know, I know!" He gave Henry a conspiratorial wink, and the two replied at the same time.
"Chocolate chip pancakes!"
As excited as he was about the idea of pancakes for dinner, Henry was also exhausted, and nearly fell face first into his plate. Reid lifted him out of his seat and carried him to bed.
JJ finished tucking the covers in around him, and then placed Brownie into his open hand. She smiled at Reid, remembering.
"Can you believe Morgan?" she whispered.
He laughed. "Yeah, big tough guy's a total softie underneath," he whispered back.
Neither of them realized it at the time, but Morgan had made sure that Brownie was along for the ride when the team went to meet the unsub. Once he'd realized the toy's importance to Henry, he'd not let it out of his sight. He'd retrieved the beloved dog from the SUV and brought it into the hospital as soon as he learned Henry was awake. There had been many a shared smile about it, but none had had the nerve to say anything to the man.
"I'm definitely telling Garcia." JJ smiled just thinking about the tech analyst's reaction to proof of the soft side of her 'Chocolate Thunder'.
They left Henry's door ajar, so they could listen for him. The hospital had been too alien an environment to assess how well he'd do with sleep. It wouldn't surprise them to hear him in a nightmare.
It was only a few short steps to the living room. As they entered it, Reid grabbed JJ by the hand and turned her around.
"We have some things to talk about, don't we?"
He'd caught her by surprise. She knew it was there, but wasn't sure how to approach it. And now, totally out of character, he'd done if for her. She nodded. "I guess we do."
Reid lost himself in those eyes again, and lost his train of thought in just those few seconds. He had trouble coming back to himself when JJ spoke again.
"So, do you want to talk?"
Reid shook his head, his movements guided by another part of his anatomy. "Later."
His grip on her hand drew her closer, close enough that he could reach her face. Reid's gaze was intense as it traveled back and forth between her eyes and her lips. When he finally brought her lips to his, he could feel her smile against his own.
A very long time ago, he'd dreamed of this, of kissing this beautiful, smart, talented woman. But beautiful, smart, talented women didn't fall for Spencer Reid. He'd known his dream was unattainable. As he'd done with so much else in his life, he'd actively suppressed it until, finally, he was able to let it go.
So much had happened since then, in both of their lives. So many moments of joy and sorrow, interspersed. So much of it shared with one another. They'd already seen each other at their worst, and embraced one another through it. Now, this woman whom he'd loved for what seemed like forever was in his arms, opening herself to him. Spencer Reid felt like was living someone else's life. Someone whose life permitted the kind of fulfillment he'd only read about.
JJ studied him as they drew close. She didn't know when the fire had ignited. Its warmth had always been there….. the fondness, the loving friendship. But somewhere along the way, somehow, what had been a comfortable, glowing ember had erupted into full flame, complete with shifting colors and blazing heat. There were so many layers to him, so much she'd come to know, so much still to learn. She felt like she could spend a lifetime at it. For the first time in her life, she was certain of love. That he loved her, and she loved him.
Their kiss was gentle, and light, their lips barely touching. Reid held her face away from him again, his eyes wandering her features, trying to take her in, trying to fathom the moment. JJ allowed him a few seconds, but she wanted his lips again, wanted…..more. She pulled his face down to hers again and claimed it.
This kiss was deeper, filled with longing, and need…..and triumph. Both together and part, they'd faced death, and betrayal, hurt and despair. Apart, they'd struggled. Together, they'd triumphed. Their kissed celebrated a victory of love over loss.
When they broke for breath, Reid squinted his eyes at her, asking a question. Her response was to lead him by the hand, into her bedroom. There they kissed again, and uncovered one another, and touched, and tasted, and explored, and loved one another. Reid, who for so much of his life had eschewed any kind of physical contact, couldn't get enough of it with JJ. He couldn't get close enough….until he did. And, in that moment, he realized a part of the dream that he'd never before acknowledged. Union. Two-become-one. Knowing, and being known. Accepting, and being accepted. Now, he understood.
"I love you, JJ. I…..I don't know how to say what I really mean….." It felt so much deeper than those three words could express. "Just….I love you." The words were so inadequate. He wanted to spend his life showing her, instead.
JJ was more experienced with love-making. But now she wondered if she'd ever truly been loved. Because this felt so much different. This man, whom she'd admired, and respected, and genuinely liked….was now inside her heart. She didn't have to shift, or constrict herself, or change her shape to make room for him. He simply entered her, and she, him….and they melded, each becoming more fully who they were meant to be.
"And I love you, Spence. I told you, remember? I carry you in my heart."
Four months later
Finally, the last little boy and his parents went home. It had been four months since the horrific events in the bayou, and Henry was celebrating his fifth birthday with a party in the backyard, complete with games, and races and a magic show, courtesy of his godfather.
The adult part of the gathering took place on the patio.
"I know I've said it before, but it's so great to have you two back," gushed Penelope Garcia. After a two month leave, both Reid and JJ were now full time with the team again.
Anna Hughes hadn't been able to promise Hotch anything. "As you know, Aaron, anyone can react to anything, at any time. But I think it's safe to bring them back. They both seem to be in a pretty healthy state of mind right now. Seems like they've made pretty good use of their time away."
He could hear the smile in her voice, and returned it. It was out in the open now. JJ and Reid were together, and the whole team was happy for them. As for how to handle things in the field going forth…..well, he'd figure it out. For now, he was just glad that each of them had found happiness.
"Ah, but our team still isn't complete, is it?" Rossi turned to the brunette on his left. "Any word?"
Emily crossed her fingers. "I should hear something this week. Strauss isn't exactly greasing the paperwork. But, with Alex's move to Boston to be with her husband, and now with JJ and Reid back, they'll want to get the team off stand down. They'll want to fill the slot and get us going again."
They'd all caught the use of the word 'us'. Since the incident with the Replicator, Emily had found more and more reason to cross the Atlantic to spend time with her old friends. As soon as Blake announced her departure, Hotch had been on the phone to Emily.
"Prentiss? How are things?... Nothing, just wanted to give you an update on the Replicator case. Oh, and, by the way…..there's an opening on the team. Do you know anyone who might be interested?"
So like him to play it cool. She could do that too.
"Hmm….I don't know, Hotch. The hours, the travel….they're pretty difficult. I don't know that I could convince anyone. But, hey, if you're really hard up, I suppose I could try to help you out. I guess I could put in an application."
"You do that. Thanks, Emily." It wasn't until he'd broken the connection that he realized he'd never given her the 'update'. But she'd noticed.
JJ rejoined the group after seeing Will out. Since the court decisions hadn't yet been finalized at the time of the event, he hadn't technically kidnapped Henry. There was an option not to pursue any criminal charges against him, for which JJ was actually glad. No matter what was between them, he would always be, for better or worse, Henry's biological father. And she didn't want to give Henry the burden of an incarcerated parent. But that didn't mean she wouldn't pursue a civil solution to Will's influence on his son.
Astoundingly, from his hospital bed, Will tried to blame the events in New Orleans on JJ, saying that it was her job that had placed both himself and Henry in danger. Even his own lawyer discouraged him from this, noting that he was likely to be 'crushed' in court if the issue came before a judge. Will's extended family in New Orleans, having seen how much the man had been changed by his time in DC, encouraged him to 'stay home', and return to the NOPD. After much soul searching, he agreed with them. He didn't like who he'd become any more than JJ had. He would stay in New Orleans, and visit with Henry as often as possible. Where once JJ might have worried about Henry's separation from his father, now she welcomed it.
Henry. He'd had nightmares. He'd been clingy. He'd flat out refused to go on an outing alone with his dad, even with the promise of chocolate chip pancakes. His preschool mind couldn't articulate why it had been bad for his father to steal him away from home, but it was astute enough to know that it had been wrong. He loved his father. But he didn't trust him. In the end, they'd had to settle for Will visiting Henry at the house. It was awkward, but it also gave JJ some peace of mind.
As JJ came back to the others on the patio, Hotch's cell sounded. All of them watched his face for an indication of what he was hearing, forgetting for a moment that he held his expressions in check. This was a call they'd all been anticipating.
"Yes. I see. Yes. Thank you. Yes." He ended the call and looked into the distance.
"Well?" Morgan brought him back.
"It's over. They're closing out the case. There's no evidence of an associate." They'd been afraid of this. All of them thought it was premature.
Arnold's computer had been full of images of the team, of their cases, of the cases he'd replicated, of plans for each murder he'd committed, and those that had been prevented. He had specific plans for the murder of each member of the team. And, between murders, he'd gone to classes, written papers, taken labs. No insanity there. The man was a sociopath.
Maeve had, indeed, been collateral damage. A crime planned and perpetrated by someone else, taken advantage of by the Son of the Fox. He'd found a way to inflict damage that required virtually no planning or work on his part. The trauma of Will and Henry had been the same kind of gift. Evil taking advantage of evil. To the team, it seemed a neverending cycle.
Morgan wasn't convinced. "He had to have help. The surveillance alone defies the time constraints. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he had 'fans', just like his father."
Emily nodded. "Morgan's right. The FBI may be closing out this case, but I think it would be a mistake for us to join them."
Reid smiled at his old friend. "Well, when you come back, it can be the first folder on your desk. Or, should I say, my desk?" Referencing her habit of slipping files into his pile.
She laughed. "Busted. But no, this one is all mine. No one goes after my family and gets away with it."
They all silently acknowledged the same sentiment, before Rossi rose.
"Well, back to the salt mines tomorrow. But I will leave you with a toast. Or two."
He raised his glass, signaling the others to do the same.
"To Henry, Happy Fifth!" They each hoisted their glasses and took a sip, and then Rossi continued.
"To Emily, hurry back!" A bunch of "Here, Here"s at that.
"To absent Alex, good luck, and thanks!" Each sipped again in honor of their valued colleague, so briefly with the team.
"And to us, the best damn team….and the best damn people…..in the FBI!"
"You said it!" "Here, here!" "Amen to that!" from the toasters.
"That's four toasts, Rossi," corrected the ever-precise Reid.
Rossi gave him a look that said, Oh yeah...well, here comes number five, Genius!
"And to better times ahead, to health, and happiness….and love." As he ended, he bowed in the direction of the new couple.
"To love!" shouted each of the others, save the new couple. Who both blushed.
"Whew, what a long day!"
They'd just gotten a wired Henry down an hour past his usual bed time. The yard had been picked up, the dishes cleaned and the house put to rights. JJ fell onto the sofa next to Reid.
He turned and looked at her. "You're exhausted, aren't you?"
She picked something up from his tone. "Not too tired for you. Is there something on your mind?"
He hesitated. He'd been working his way to this for a while, and didn't want to lose his nerve. But….maybe it's not the right time.
"It can wait."
She'd been slouched against the pillows, but now pulled herself up. "No, that's okay, Spence. I'm not that tired. If you want to talk, I want to listen."
He almost wished she would put him off. Nervous now, he leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. As much as he'd thought about this, as much as he'd tried to prepare, the words seemed to be eluding him.
JJ misunderstood. She thought he was upset, and began to rub his back.
"Was today hard for you, Spence? Thinking about Arnold, and Maeve?" Her name hadn't even been mentioned, but JJ knew Reid well enough to be sure where his mind had gone.
He turned to her, confused by her confusion. "What? No….no. I've been over that in my head a thousand times. He was sick, and so was Diane. And now, one way or the other, they're both gone." And so is Maeve.
Neither had said it, but it was in both of their minds. The woman he'd loved had no physical presence in their relationship, but she was there, nonetheless. It was she who'd awakened in Reid that capacity for love. She who'd helped him see when JJ was in trouble, and how to help her. She who'd released him, in her final moments.
His mind on that thought, Reid realized there was something he'd never shared.
"I never told you, did I? That I figured it out. I figured out the dream."
"You did?" She was actually excited for him. "When? What?"
"Right before I told you...you know. At the cabin, in the bayou. I had the dream again right before that, and I figured it out. It's why I knew I could tell you. That I should tell you."
"That you love me, you mean?" They caressed one another and kissed at her words.
"That I love you."
"So, what did you figure out? What does it mean?"
"Did. What did it mean. I haven't had the dream again. Not since then. Guess I don't need it anymore."
"Okay, what did it mean?" Even as she said it, she wondered if he was sad not to see Maeve in his dream anymore.
"It was right there in front of me the whole time. The whole time. She even said it to me. There, in the loft. That's why she said it."
She'd been trying to follow him, but was lost. And then she realized.
"The quote? The Merton quote?"
"Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone. We find it with another."
JJ sat back, understanding. "She was giving you permission."
Now he shook his head as he turned himself to look at her. "No, she was giving me a mission. To find love, to find the relationship that would give meaning to my life."
She searched his face, knowing the answer even before she asked the question. "And have you found that relationship?"
He smiled at her and laughed. "Oh yes, I most definitely have."
What happened next took them both by surprise. He was half turned on the sofa. Then he slipped to the floor, landing on one knee. JJ recognized the pose.
His heart plummeted. Had he misread things?
"You're not gonna make me ask you four times, are you?" As she'd done with Will.
"I'm not even going to let you ask me once." She pulled him back up to sit next to her.
He was stunned. He'd been so sure. He couldn't even turn to look at her now.
So she slipped to the floor in front of him, landing on both knees.
"You don't get to ask anything. It's my turn."
He started to open his mouth in protest, but she put her hand to his lips to shush him. Then she dropped her hand and took up both of his.
"Spencer Reid, you have shown me what I should have known all along. That true love is freedom, and nurturing, and cheering on. That it helps us to grow to be who we are, not who someone else wants us to be. That it means we're more when we're together, than we are when we're apart. I've found that love with you, Spence. And I want to share it with you for the rest of my life." She swallowed back her tears as she finished. "Spencer Reid, will you marry me?"
If he thought he'd been stunned before, he was doubly so now. Reid could barely see, his vision blurred by his tears. He placed a hand on each side of her chin, and lifted her face to his. No falling into her eyes this time. This time, he took his time, and entered them purposefully. He looked deeply, until he found himself there. And he knew.
"I will love you for the rest of my life, Jennifer Jareau. You're on." He hesitated just a second before he asked, "But can I keep my last name?"
She laughed. She'd just proposed, and he'd just accepted, and they were both laughing. JJ hugged her best friend, and kissed her lover. She threw her eyes in the direction of Henry's bedroom.
"We're a package deal, you know."
"Wouldn't have it any other way."
She smiled, already well acquainted with the bond between her son and his godfather.
He got serious for a moment. Taking her hand, he held it to his lips,and kissed it. Still holding on, he said, "JJ, I wouldn't have survived this past year without you. I don't just think it...I know it."
She squeezed back tears as he continued.
"You've given me my life...and made it so much more than I ever knew it could be." He was struggling with his voice. "You and Henry. I never knew there was such...fullness...out there. Until it came into my life. And I will spend the rest of my life thanking you for it."
She stroked his hair as she answered him. "You know what I was like...before." With Will, but she didn't want his name to sully the moment. "I didn't know which direction to turn, except to turn to you. I didn't know then, that I was turning home."
Their lovemaking was gentle that night. Assured, content, hopeful. The way it happens when there's the promise of a next time, and a next...and a lifetime of 'next times' after that. Even when there might not be. For at least one night, they could pretend.
Before she nodded off, secure in the arms of the one who loved her, JJ thought once more about Reid's dream, and the quote. How generous the woman had been in her final moments, how focused she'd been on how it would be for him.
JJ had only been with Maeve Donovan for the last 15 seconds of the woman's life, but her life had been changed because of it.
Thank you. I'll take care of him. Until we all meet again.
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