JJ and Prentiss sat side by side outside Hotch's room, both of them dozing off occasionally. The ward was very quiet, only a few small lamps lit the otherwise dark walls. It was still relatively early in the evening but it had been completely dark outside for almost an hour.
"Why didn't you tell me Will was having an affair?" Prentiss asked suddenly.
"Hm?" JJ said, lifting her head from Emily's shoulder, taking a moment to register what she had said. "I don't know… I wasn't planning on telling anyone, not for a while anyway," she said, feeling slightly guilty even though Emily's tone was not accusatory. “But Hotch walked in on me crying and he wouldn't let me go until I told him what was wrong." JJ stretched and yawned and sat up properly. Emily hadn't said anything else but JJ felt the need to keep explaining herself. "It was bad enough admitting it to one person, I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone else."
"I could have helped, you know. Or alternatively I could have had him killed.”
JJ smiled. "I know. It wasn't you, I was just too embarrassed."
"So that's how you and Hotch ended up getting together?" Prentiss asked. There was a loud thump and a woman's voice came through the door along with the sounds of many plastic bags and the scrape of a suitcase.
“Wait, wait, wait! Don’t tell her the story without me!"
"Garcia?!" JJ and Prentiss stood up to greet their unexpected friend as she bustled through the door, arms laden with more luggage than she could possibly need.
"I brought your spare go-bags," she said, beaming widely. "And some snacks and gifts." She dumped the bags on the floor and pulled them both in to a hug. "Oh, I was so worried about both of you! I don't know what I would have done if anything had happened to you!"
"What are you doing here?" JJ asked, laughing.
"Well it's not like you're going to be working any cases for a few days so I wasn't really needed in Quantico, but I couldn't just sit at home and not see your lovely faces so I acquired myself a seat on the first flight to Arizona and came to see you!"
"You 'acquired' a seat?" Prentiss asked, raising an eyebrow.
"The details don't matter," Garcia said, waving a sparkling hand. But JJ and Prentiss exchanged the same doubtful glance.
"What aren't you telling us?" Emily asked. Garcia looked at them both for a minute and her luminous façade slipped ever so slightly.
"Curse you profilers," she grumbled, starting to fiddle with her chunky purple necklace. "I've been suspended for two weeks, pending an investigation in to my suitability for the Bureau," she said as though reciting it from an official document. JJ's mouth fell open.
"What did you do?!" Prentiss asked.
"I may have threatened Strauss..." she said. Both women stared at Garcia, shocked and impressed in equal measures. "Oh and I may have also threatened national security," she added, with another casual wave of her hand. "Like I said, the details don't matter."
"You got yourself in to all that trouble to get us out of the mine?" JJ asked, feeling suddenly overwhelmed with disbelief and gratitude. Garcia shrugged in an attempt at nonchalance, but her eyes grew a little watery.
"Of course. I'd do anything for you guys."
"Hotch owes his life to you," JJ said. "We all do."
"Speaking of Hotch," Garcia said, clearing her throat and reapplying her vibrant smile, "tell me everything!"
"There's not much to tell," JJ said, but Prentiss and Garcia were both staring at her, excited and expectant. JJ took a deep breath and wondered where to start. "So I guess over the past six or seven months we had been spending a lot more time together. Hotch was the only one who knew about Will's affair so whenever I needed to talk to someone, I talked to him."
"If this wasn't such a darn romantic situation, I'd be a little offended that you didn't tell me," Garcia said. "But continue, continue!"
"At first we just chatted in his office, then we started going to dinner sometimes, and we would meet up for playdates with the kids. Then we went out to Boston for that school-shooter case and Hotch and I had to share a hotel room. The night we caught the Unsub, everyone went out for drinks," JJ said, addressing Garcia now since she had not accompanied them on the case. "We had a few drinks and everyone went back to the hotel and… one thing just led to another I guess."
Prentiss smiled and Garcia made a high-pitched noise of excitement. "But you had totally had feelings for him before that night, right?"
"Yeah," JJ admitted. "We had been seeing so much of each other and then one day I just looked at him and realised that I had fallen for him." She smiled a little as the memory came to the forefront of her mind.
"Jack, please don't go far!" Hotch called, keeping a close eye on his son and he ran in to the middle of the park, a football tucked under his arm and Henry scurrying after him as fast as his little legs could manage. The sun was warm on JJ's neck and she could smell the cut grass. Her eyes instinctively followed Henry wherever he went and she watched him run after Jack who, it would seem, was his new idol. In his haste, Henry tripped over his own feet and landed on his hands and knees. JJ was about to go and pick him up before he started to cry. He always cried when he fell, not because he was hurt but mostly due to the shock of suddenly crashing to the ground. But before she could start hurrying towards her son, Hotch took her by the hand.
"Give it a minute," he said. JJ watched for a moment longer and saw Jack realise what had happened. He ran up to her son and pulled him to his feet, brushed the grass from Henry's knees, took his hand and started showing him how to kick a football. Henry didn't even shed a tear.
"That's one heck of a kid you've got there," she said, looking up at him, a rare smile on his face and JJ felt her heart hammer in her chest. "You must be proud."
"Very," Hotch said, putting his arm around her. "He loves Henry, he thinks the world of him. And so do I."
"That makes three of us," JJ said, slipping her arm around Hotch's waist and leaning her head on his arm. A light breeze blew through the trees, bringing with it the smells of summer and some relief from the warm sun. JJ let out a sigh.
"How are you doing?" Hotch asked.
"I'm great," JJ said, and for the first time in weeks, she really meant it. She watched the boys run and chase each other, both of them squealing with laughter."Hey, do you want to take them for ice cream?" she asked.
"Sounds great," he said and then he leaned down and kissed her. It took them both a few moments to realise what had just happened. It had felt entirely natural, completely normal as if they had been a couple for years, it hadn't felt like their first kiss. Hotch laughed a little nervously.
"Sorry," he said.
"Don't apologise." JJ said, unable to stop smiling.
"Good, because I'm not sorry." She looked at him for a moment longer, marvelling at this relaxed and carefree side of Hotch that he kept so carefully hidden, and she wished the day didn't have to end.
"Ice cream then," she said at last, pulling her gaze away from Hotch.
"Ice cream," he said. She slipped her hand in to his and they walked across the field to get their kids.
The sound of a laugh brought her back to reality. Garcia and Emily were staring at her and she had the uncomfortable feeling that one of them had just asked her a question and she had no idea what they had said.
"Um… what?" she asked.
"I was asking…" Prentiss said with a mischievous glint in her eye, "how was it?"
"How was what?" JJ asked, pretending not to understand the question.
"You know! How was it? Your night in Boston," Garcia pressed, making JJ a little uncomfortable.
"Come on JJ, you didn't tell us about Will or Hotch! You owe us this much!"
"Emotional blackmail," JJ said. "Nice."
"I bet he's great in bed," Garcia said, so caught up in the romance that she was clearly forgetting that this was her boss she was talking about. "He's so kind and caring in person, I'm sure that translates in to the boudoir…"
"Garcia!" JJ said, feeling her face turn redder.
"But I bet you he can rattle a headboard too," Prentiss said, staring off in to space. "Like a screen door in a hurricane…" she added dreamily.
"Guys seriously!" JJ said.
"We're only messing with you," Emily said, nudging her playfully. "I'm really happy for you."
"Me too," Garcia said. "Now, my second order of business, where is my enormous hunk of chocolatey goodness?"
"He's down in the cafeteria with Reid," JJ said.
"I will see you guys later," she said, grinning and hurrying off to find her favourite man, completely abandoning the seven or eight pieces of luggage she had brought with her. JJ and Emily fell in to exhausted silence once again and JJ was pleased to finally feel the heat in her cheeks begin to dissipate.
"So, you and Deputy Commander Watts," JJ said slyly, feeling like a little revenge was in order. Emily laughed.
"Yeah, he seems nice."
"He likes you."
“I seriously doubt that."
"You should ask him out."
"And say what? Hey, Deputy, do you want to travel two and a half thousand miles to go out for a drink sometime?"
"Well, we're going to be in Arizona for another few days at least," JJ said. "Go on. Bring your number up to an even twelve."
"Morgan told you?!"
"Morgan told everyone," JJ said.
"I'm going to kill him," Emily said, standing up and JJ wasn't entirely convinced that she was joking.
"You can kill him later," she said, pulling her friend back down on the chair. "You guys seem to be pretty close lately," she added and Prentiss gave a small, very un-Prentiss like smile, gazing down at her leather boots.
"I guess," she said.
"Are you sleeping with Morgan?" JJ asked, completely caught off guard by Emily's sudden coyness.
"No!" she said, snapping her head back up. "Of course not! No! Definitely not."
"But you want to," JJ said.
"An inter-office romance?" she asked, looking skeptical. "No offence, JJ, but isn't it all a bit… messy?"
"Relax," JJ said, smiling. "Everybody's doing it."
Later that night, Rossi was the only person still awake, making himself as uncomfortable as possible to stop him falling asleep and disturbing the rest of the team with his snoring. He had spent the evening time people-watching instead, which became distinctly less interesting when all the people he was watching fell asleep, but it was something.
The entire team was crammed in to his and Hotch's room where they had spent the evening talking and laughing and sharing stories. The memory of their ordeal still hung over each of them, but being together was enough to keep everyone smiling, especially since Garcia had arrived. She had told them the story of threatening Strauss at least four times now, and she had become less modest and more detailed with every retelling.
Prentiss had been the first to fall asleep, squashed on to a little chair beside Morgan. In true slumber-party style, Morgan had taken the liberty of drawing a long and twirly moustache on to the uninjured side of her face without so much as disturbing her, before falling asleep with his arm draped over Garcia who was asleep on his other side. Reid was out-cold beside Rossi, with his skinny limbs hanging off every edge of his armchair. JJ had fallen asleep next, squashed on to the little hospital bed beside Hotch.
Rossi saw Hotch stir in the small hours of the morning. He had been woken by the pain in his shoulder, not that he would admit it, but Rossi could see it in his face.
"Hey," Rossi said.
"Hey. Can't sleep?" Hotch asked quietly.
“I just can’t help thinking that maybe this was all…”
“Don’t say it Rossi,” Morgan mumbled, turning over in his chair, only half-awake.
“A little too easy?” Hotch finished. Morgan grumbled his annoyance, but fell back asleep a second later.
“Yeah,” Rossi said, reluctantly, looking almost guilty for even thinking it.
Hotch sighed. “I know it doesn’t always feel like a win when the Unsub walks straight in to our hands, but Robert Fox was the killer, and now he’s dead.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Rossi said, assuring himself as much as Hotch. “But I just can’t shake the feeling, y’know?” Hotch mumbled his agreement and they sat in tired silence for a few moments while Rossi watched Hotch glance at JJ from time to time, his forehead creased in a little frown.
"Go on then," Rossi said. Hotch looked confused.
"Go on what?"
"This is usually the part where you tell me how worried you are about not being good enough, and that you don't think you'll be enough for JJ and you'll mess your relationship up et cetera, et cetera," Rossi said. Hotch smiled and shook his head a little.
"Sure, that still terrifies me," he said. "But I'm just taking it one day at a time." He looked back down at JJ with one of her arms lying across his chest and her fair hair falling over her eyes and he smiled. "Something tells me we're going to be fine."
Rossi was surprised by Hotch's positive outlook and wondered how much of it was genuine and how much of it was just for show. "That's good to hear. I hate seeing you torture yourself over things you can't change."
"Like the mine collapse?" Hotch asked, his eyes darkening almost immediately.
"That was my fault, Dave. All of it -" Rossi cut him off with a stern don't-argue-with-me look and Hotch fell silent. Rossi smiled inwardly as he recalled how many times he had used that look on Hotch in his younger years, two decades ago. Two decades, six published books, countless Unsubs caught, thousands of cases closed but the one thing he was most proud of was the man lying in front of him, the best profiler he had ever met, the strongest and bravest man he knew, battered and broken and doing his best to hide it.
"You and JJ are going to be great," Rossi said.
"I hope so. It scares me, you know... how much I love her. I feel like I'm setting myself up for a fall."
"I get the feeling she'll catch you if you do."
Just then, the door to Hotch's busy little room flew open and slammed against the wall. Every single agent jolted awake. Morgan and Prentiss reflexively reached for their guns, bleary-eyed but alert. Deputy Commander Watts was standing in the doorway, silhouetted against the lights of the ward. He was pale and out of breath.
"The Sheriff is dead," he said.
"What happened?" Hotch asked.
"He was buried alive last night."
"We've got a copycat," Reid said.
Prentiss groaned. "It's not over," she said.
“What did I tell you?” Rossi said, looking over at Hotch. “It was too easy.”