The team arrived at their allocated hotel, the Green Valley Inn, a big sand-coloured building with palm trees in a neat row outside. Each tree was lit from the bottom by a small spotlight, painting a regular pattern of light and shadow across the black ground. Hotch was pleased to see that there were more lights on inside the hotel, albeit dim ones. While everyone else climbed from the car and collected their bags, Hotch glanced up at the cloudless and cold night. The sky was a uniform deep blue and he was surprised by how many more stars appeared when there was no light pollution from the streets and homes of Green Valley. Some of the stars were bright and clear but others were soft and flickering and only visible when you didn't look too hard.
They walked up the paved courtyard and in through the glass doors. It was pleasantly warm in the lobby after several hours of sitting in the Sheriff's Office where a biting desert chill had started to creep in.
Hotch waited with the rest of the team who were congregating around the couches in the lobby while Rossi headed to the reception desk to check them in. The reception area was small and homely with red patterned carpets and dark wood furniture. After putting down their go-bags, they were approached almost immediately by a woman in her mid-thirties with short brown hair, dressed in a navy blue skirt suit.
"Hi, welcome to Best Western Green Valley Inn," she said, shaking Hotch's hand vigorously and for much longer than necessary as she beamed around at the rest of them. "It is an absolute pleasure to have you. We apologise for the power outage, but thankfully we have a backup generator which means that you can still make full use of the showers and the heated pool and there are emergency lights all over the hotel so you can see where you are going!" She was speaking very fast, apparently thrilled at the idea of having real FBI agents in her hotel.
"Since it is almost golfing season I'm afraid we are a little busy; we only have double rooms available so you'll have to pair up. I'm very sorry for the inconvenience."
"It's not a problem," said Hotch. "As long as we have somewhere to sleep, we don't mind." She gave him another wide smile before walking over to the reception to join her colleague. It wasn't the first time they had had to share rooms, nor would it be the last. For Hotch, at least, it was never much of an inconvenience, but almost as soon as the woman was out of earshot, there was an eruption of bickering.
"I'm not sharing with Rossi," said Reid quickly.
"That's not fair, man, I was with him last time," said Morgan.
"Well I'm not sharing with him, that's just weird," said Prentiss.
"Aw, take one for the team, Emily," Morgan said.
"No! I'm not sharing a room with him," she said.
"What's the problem?" Hotch asked, confused as to why sharing with Rossi was such an issue.
"Haven't you even shared a room with Rossi?" JJ asked.
"Not for a long time," he said. "Why?"
"Rossi snores," she explained.
"Really badly," added Morgan. "The last time we shared a room, I was ready to suffocate him. Anything to make the noises stop." Reid nodded earnestly in agreement.
"Well, Emily and I should share," said JJ. "So it's between you boys."
"Look, I shared with him before," said Morgan to Reid. "It's your turn, kid."
"No way! I'm not backing down, Morgan. I shared with him in that B&B in Connecticut two months ago." Both men turned slowly to look at Hotch.
"Fine," he said. Personally, he thought they were all being a little childish. Rossi's snoring couldn't be possibly be that bad.
A moment later, Rossi returned with three little envelopes containing their key-cards. When Reid reached out to take his, Morgan took the opportunity to hang his go-bag on the younger man's outstretched arm.
"Take that up to our room, would you kid?” he said, flashing him a bright smile that always seemed to look even whiter against his dark skin. “I don't know about anyone else, but I'm going for a quick swim before I hit the hay."
"Oh, count me in," said Prentiss, looping the strap of her bag over Reid's head. The young doctor sighed.
"I want you all back down here at eight a.m.," Hotch said as they turned to walk away but by the time he had finished speaking, they were already out the lobby door, becoming shadowy shapes against the gentle blue light of the pool.
JJ took Emily's bag from around Reid's neck and looped it over her shoulder.
"You okay?" Hotch asked her quietly, so as not to attract the attention of the other agents.
"Fine," she said, with a little nod, as though she was trying to convince herself as much as Hotch.
"Here." Rossi approached them and took both go-bags from JJ. "You coming, kiddo?" She turned and smiled a little, the first smile Hotch had seen on her face since her argument with Will.
"You head up, I need to call Will… see how Henry's doing." JJ went to stand outside the front doors and only Hotch and Reid remained in the lobby. He was about to ask Reid how he was doing, but his attention was diverted when he heard Prentiss scream. He looked out the glass doors and although they were no more than silhouettes, he could see that Morgan had thrown Prentiss easily over his shoulder and was getting ready to plunge in to the pool, kicking the pile of their discarded clothes out of the way. For a moment Hotch contemplated giving them a lecture on professionalism but he didn't have the energy and if he was honest, he hadn't seen either of them that happy for a long time. They deserved a break. A sudden thought crossed Hotch's mind and he turned to Reid.
"Did either of them bring a bathing suit?"
Reid slept badly that night, cold and miserable. He lay curled in the top corner of the bed with three pairs of socks on while Morgan was sleeping spread-eagled, somehow occupying all of the sizeable mattress. Several times Reid tried to push Morgan back over to his own side of the bed, but it was in vain, and he even considered waking Morgan up, but decided against it. Waking a strong, alpha male FBI agent in the middle of the night was probably not the best idea and it would almost certainly result in some kind of injury. Not to mention that Reid was fairly sure Morgan slept with his gun under his pillow.
In the next room, Hotch was having an equally bad night. Rossi's snoring was unbelievable. Hotch had no idea how so much noise could come from one person and as the night went on, the idea of beating his old friend to death with a pillow was becoming increasingly more inviting.
Every so often, a strip of light would slide across the yellow walls of the hotel room as the headlights of a passing car cut through the gap in the curtains. Hotch counted the passing vehicles, hoping to lull himself to sleep but his mind kept drifting to the latest murder victims, the young family stolen from their own car in the middle of a dark road.
Perhaps the mother had held her terrified daughter to her chest as the Unsub shovelled dirt on top of them, wept as the last rays of light were obliterated by the earth piling slowly and heavily on top of them. Perhaps the father raked at the wood of their makeshift coffin until his nails cracked and his fingers bled, not once giving up on the hope of saving his family until his lungs took their last painful, desperate breath. His dark thoughts melted in to dreams and for just a few seconds he was asleep. Then Rossi rolled on to his back and made a noise that sounded something akin to a fighter jet.
Hotch dragged himself out of bed, picked up his gun and slid it in to the waistband of his grey sweatpants. He stood for a moment and rubbed his eyes before he headed for the door, grabbing a sweater on the way. It was a brown sweater, the same one he had worn when the team had travelled to the woods of Pennsylvania to hunt down Shane Wyland who had been abducting and killing young boys. It was strange how things like pieces of clothing, places, or names could take on a grizzly significance when your job revolved around the the most disturbed and twisted people in the world.
He knew he was going to have to endure yet another sleepless night, so he sat down in the hallway with his back against the cold wall and waited for morning.
The low rumble of passing traffic had all but disappeared as the night wore on and the crescent moon drained the narrow corridor of colour and filled it instead with a wash of bluish-white light. After hours of silence, Hotch heard a door open at the end of the corridor and JJ walked up the hallway and entered her room. She hadn't noticed Hotch sitting in the shadows. A few minutes later, she re-emerged, inching the door closed behind her with a look of intense concentration as she tried not to wake Emily. She had changed in to her pyjamas, a loose-fitting mint green camisole and matching shorts. She looked pretty. Still not realising she had company, she leaned against the wall with her head tipped back, staring at the ceiling, taking deep, calming breaths.
"JJ?" She jumped and looked around.
"Hotch," she said, as she finally located where the voice had come from. "You scared the hell out of me."
"Sorry." She came and sat beside him on the green and yellow patterned carpet. "Where have you been? It's almost two," he said.
"I was on the phone with Will. Why are you still up?"
"It's terrible isn't it?"
"I've never heard anything like it," he said. "Maybe we've finally unravelled the mystery of why his three wives left him." JJ gave a little laugh and Hotch actually felt the beginnings of a smile pulling on his lips but his frown returned when he looked at JJ.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"It's nothing," she said with a convincing smile. She would appear to anyone else as the epitome of composure and grace but underneath that, he could tell she was struggling with something. He wished JJ wouldn't be so guarded when it came to her personal life, but he also realised how hypocritical that was.
"Really, Hotch, it's nothing," she said. "We're investigating the murders of seven people. One of them was a little girl who suffocated in her mother's arms. I'm not going to sit here and complain about my problems when they really don't matter."
"They matter to me." She looked at him for a long moment. "There will always be someone who is in a worse position than you, JJ, but that doesn't mean you lose the right to be miserable every once in a while." She wrapped her arms around herself, and Hotch saw little goosebumps running up her arms.
"Here," he said, pulling off his brown sweater and handing it to her, immediately feeling a rush of cold air against his exposed arms.
"Thanks," she said. The sleeves fell several inches past her hands but she didn't bother rolling them up. She studied him for a little while longer before giving a resigned sigh, "So, Will apologised for yelling at me," she said.
"Good. What were you talking about?"
"Everything, really. We've done nothing but fight for the past six months but we haven't really talked to each other. It was nice to finally get everything out in the open."
"He's moving out."
"I'm sorry, JJ."
"Don't be. It's been a long time coming. He was right though, I do need to spend more time with Henry."
"You're considering leaving the BAU aren't you?" Hotch asked.
"It's crossed my mind," she admitted.
"I nearly left after Haley died."
"What stopped you?"
"I wanted Jack to be proud of what I do. There is nothing more important to me than being a good father to him, but I wouldn't be setting a very good example for my son if I gave up on the job I love, the job I've worked so hard for." JJ nodded. "And besides, he thinks I'm some kind of superhero and I spend my days saving lives, so that's pretty cool."
"That's what Henry thinks too," JJ said.
"Of course the choice is completely up to you," Hotch said, "but you should know if you ever decided to leave the BAU, I won't stop until I get you back."
She smiled. "You make a compelling argument, Agent Hotchner."
They continued talking about their children, reminiscing about their early years in the BAU and then they were just chatting about nothing in particular. The conversation was easy and comfortable and they talked until the cool morning sunlight started to ooze over the horizon. Then for the first time in hours, there was silence between them and it didn't take a profiler to see that there was still something she had left unsaid.
"Listen, Hotch. There's something I really need to tell you - "
At that moment, Reid emerged from his room wearing several pairs of socks and a scarf with his hair standing up at all angles. He slid down the wall, landing with a thump and a groan on the prickly carpet on JJ's other side. He didn't greet them, he just covered his eyes and said,
"Can I please kill Morgan?"
"Why?" asked Hotch.
"Because he is taking up the entire bed. It's almost six a.m., I've barely slept and I'm so tired and so cold." Hotch looked over to him. The poor kid looked exhausted with his knees curled up to his chin and his head in his hands.
"What are you guys doing up anyway?" he asked.
"Just talking," said JJ. "I'm actually going to go to bed, I'll see you guys in a couple hours." She moved to pull off Hotch's brown sweater.
"Keep it," he said. She smiled and stood, the sweater falling just above her knees, making it look like she was wearing a deeply unfashionable dress. And just like that, it was no longer the Pennsylvania-serial-killer sweater; it had a brand new, much more pleasant significance.
"Goodnight, Spence," JJ said, ruffling his hair as she passed him. "Night Hotch."
Hotch felt a little pang of regret as JJ's bedroom door closed. The entire team spent huge amounts of time together as co-workers, but it wasn't very often that they got to be together as anything more than that.
"I hate sharing rooms," Reid moaned. "I think the only good night's sleep I had was when I shared with you or Prentiss because you sleep like a normal people and not like a giant, annoying, cover-stealing starfish." Hotch held back a smile as the usually eloquent doctor turned in to a six-year-old before his very eyes.
“I wish I’d volunteered to share with Rossi. At least I’d be under the covers,” said Reid. “And I don’t think a bit of snoring could keep me awake right now.”
“Want to swap rooms?”
“Oh, I wasn’t suggesting -” he started.
“It’s fine Reid, I’m not going to get much sleep anyway. It doesn’t matter which room I’m in.”
“Thanks,” he said, dragging himself up from the floor and heading for Hotch’s door. He paused before he entered. “Good night, Hotch.”
Half an hour passed before Hotch stood. The small of his back was numb and his legs were stiff; perhaps he would try to catch a few hours of sleep in a quieter room.
Hotch entered Morgan’s room and closed the door silently behind him. He breathed a sigh of relief when he realised that he could no longer hear the grating sounds of Rossi’s breathing from the room next door. Once his eyes were accustomed to the darkness, he could make out the shape of Morgan, his limbs hanging from every corner of the bed. Hotch strode up to him, shoving him on the shoulder.
“Morgan, move the hell over.”
“Mmm, yeah, sorry Hotch,” he said and rolled over, still fast asleep.