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((this is for jezebel215. hope you like it! sorry it took me forever to get the first part up.))

JJ's POV

It was so stealthy JJ nearly missed it. In fact, if she hadn’t been watching him off and on for the past hour, she wouldn’t have noticed at all. He had looked around at the rest of the team and then met her eyes. His expression faltered momentarily into one of discomfort, his eyebrows knitted in the shape of a V and his lips pressed into a singular line, but soon he had to open his mouth as he took in a what appeared to be a gasping breath and then turned away from them all, stifling a sneeze entirely. The only evidence he’d sneezed was the slight jerking of his shoulders, but even that was discrete.

He turned back around and looked at her. That was when she realized she’d been staring at him. She averted her gaze, equally embarrassed that she was obsessing over her boss’s health as he must have been to let his body betray him under her watchful eye. She really didn’t have a reason to be so worried except last night he’d called her after they’d gone to their hotel rooms to tell her that the unsub was likely going to be at the site of the press conference and to be careful. His voice had sounded hoarse and she’d asked him if he was okay to which he replied the typical Hotch reply: “I’m fine”.

Naturally, JJ hadn’t pressed it. Who was she to force Hotch to admit he was sick? Hell, she didn’t even know if he was sick… Except she did. She knew it in her gut and that sneeze was not just a coincidence… Okay, so it could have been a coincidence but Hotch didn’t sneeze. Ever. She guessed it really shouldn’t matter to her but for some reason it did as he wrinkled his nose for a minute before resuming his stone-faced exterior. Damn the man could be so stubborn.

She tried to distract herself as she prepared for the press conference. She really needed to get the details nailed down. In fact, she needed to meet with Hotch again to figure out how she should appear when describing the unsub (sympathetic, admiring or enraged on his behalf), but she didn’t have the heart to bother him especially after she’d interrupted his moment of being the man and not the superhero.

Eventually as the time drew nearer, she had to approach Hotch’s desk, noticing he hadn’t left even though the rest of the team had split up to interview the victims’ friends and family about their legal histories. Each had been arrested and then acquitted of a crime in the past two years. The charges they were acquitted from had not been consistent and had no visible pattern, ranging from a charge as simple as larceny to one as extreme as rape. They were pretty certain the unsub was male, but they weren’t sure if he was performing vigilante justice or not, but JJ figured she needed to get Hotch’s thoughts on the matter in case the rest of the team couldn’t find out whether the victims had simply gotten away with the crime or had been justly acquitted.

“Hotch?” she asked as she approached, noticing the faint fatigue half moons forming beneath his eyes.

He looked up and she could have sworn his eyes seemed a little distant and bleary, but he quickly cleared his throat and focused on her. “Yes?”

“I was wondering if you had any idea which direction I should go tonight at the press conference. If the unsub does think he’s punishing the victims for a crime they got away with, I would imagine me seeming dissatisfied with our justice system’s trials would be the best route to go. However, if he was wrongly convicted of a crime and is merely taking out his anger on the victims, I think sympathy of his plight might be effective. Alternatively…”

She paused as she noticed his eyes glaze over and saw his nostrils flare once. For his credit, he attempted to fight back the sneeze without so much as acknowledging it, but as his eyes began watering he was forced to give in. He turned away from her and brought his fist up against his mouth, rocking forward twice with two harsh stifles. Gnxt. NXXXtt

“Bless you,” JJ said as she surveyed her boss.

“Thank you. I apologize. Continue,” he said.

“I was saying alternatively if he’s just an opportunistic killer who encounters these people at courthouses and figures they’ll be less guarded after being acquitted of a crime, then perhaps admiration would…” she again stopped speaking as he brought his fist back up to his mouth and turned away. Hih’IXgshh. Igtschhh’uh.

“Excuse me,” he said again, this time sounding the slightest bit frustrated.

“Bless you. If you don’t mind me asking, are you feeling alright? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sneeze,” JJ said hesitantly, knowing how Hotch was about maintaining appearances.

“Fine,” he said a little too fast then offered her a half smile as he pondered her observation. “I do have to sneeze sometimes, JJ… As to your question, there’s really no way to know since it isn’t as if he has been consistent in his targeting of victims. If he were to target only people who hahhh had been acqihhh acquitted of rape thehhh then we would be able to suhh suspect thahhh that he’s trying to serve his own juhhhh…” he trailed off as he had to give into the itch that had been teasing him. He pulled out his handkerchief from the pocket of his suit and turned as far away from her as he could before the sneezes came out. Hah’TSCHuh. TSCHH. TSCHH’TCH.

JJ was sure she looked uncomfortable as she stood there with her arms folded over her chest. He pinched his nose with the fabric of his handkerchief as he turned back to face her and lowered it, his eyes slightly red-rimmed and nostrils pink, as well.

“I’m really sorry, Agent Jaruea. I don’t know what’s upsetting my nose.” He used her formal title as a defense mechanism, she was sure.

I do. You’re sick. JJ wanted to say that, but she knew it wouldn’t be well received. Instead she said, “Don’t worry about it Hotch. It’s not like I’ll tell the rest of the team you stayed behind to have a sneezing fit.” She smiled to show him she was joking, but her eyes remained concerned.

“I appreciate thahh’TSCH’uh that. Excuse me,” he said, having barely been able to steeple his hands over his nose as that sneeze caught him off guard.

“Bless you. So you don’t have any idea what I should do?”

Hotch remained silent for a minute, acting as if he were thinking when JJ could still see his nostrils flaring. Soon he got it under control and he tried to casually clear his throat before he answered. “I presume me telling you to guess isn’t helpful?”

It took her a second to see that he was joking or at least partly joking, and she chuckled before her expression became serious. “I just don’t want to mess this up and make the unsub retaliate further,” she said quietly. “I don’t want to make him kill anyone else.”

It was a concern she was familiar with. In fact, they all were. After all, unsubs were generally fragile when it came to their psyches. One wrong move could cause more harm than good.

“JJ,” Hotch said softly, meeting her eyes with his sneeze-irritated ones. “Whatever you say or do won’t change the fact he’ll kill again if we don’t catch him.”

She nodded halfheartedly. She really wasn’t comfortable making the decision of what to do if they had yet to make any progress in determining motivation.

Hotch seemed to sense this, too, even if he was clearly ill. “I would imagine the most likely possibility is vigilante justice. Just suggest that the victims had been charged in cases that many still suspected them to be at fault for and this may be a form of retribution. Don’t praise the unsub but don’t sympathize with him either. Simply state the fact that these victims had in all likelihood been unfairly acquitted. Does that make sense?”

JJ narrowed her eyes slightly. Hotch rarely asked if what he said made sense, mostly because he knew that it did make sense. This time, though, his advice was shrouded in a bit more vagueness and she guessed he was feeling off in other ways besides just sneezing. “Yes,” she replied finally and smiled.

“I need to go talk to the police chief about the press conference,” he said and stood up. He had taken a few strides in the direction of the break room when he turned around. “JJ?”

“Yeah?”

“You’ll do great. I don’t think I tell you enough that your wonderful at what you do. You don’t need to worry about how you’ll be perceived by the unsub. I trust you.”

She felt her cheeks redden and softly thanked him. It was after he was away that she let out a sigh and murmured to herself, “If you really did trust me, you’d let me know you’re sick so that I can take care of you.”

TBC

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  • 3 weeks later...

((sooo this is dramatic. haha. so sorry to jezebel215 (and the rest of you) for the ridiculous delay in getting an update up, but i am on summer break now, so let the fiction-writing roll. hopefully this isn't TOO out of character for JJ or hotch.))

Hotch’s POV

As soon as Hotch was out of JJ’s view, he turned in the direction of the police chief’s office but made his way to the men’s bathroom. He cast a quick glance around to ensure no one else was in the bathroom before he entered a stall, bracing his body against the walls as he let out a couple of ticklish sneezes he’d been holding back. Huh’ETSCH’uh. TSCHH’uh. Blowing his nose, he allowed himself to succumb to his misery momentarily as his nose gurgled and popped, yet no mucus seemed to actually dislodge. He let out a sigh, which turned into a cough, and he leaned to his right, resting his face momentarily against the cool wall of the bathroom stall, trying not to think about how unsanitary it was. Closing his eyes, he counted backwards from 10, willing his headache and sinus pressure to be alleviated or at least subdued until this case was over.

Hotch knew JJ was suspicious and why would she not be? After all, he wasn’t the sort of man who allowed himself to be weak so any time his nose did itch under normal circumstances he could stop a sneeze in its tracks by his sheer willpower. Sickness was a different story entirely, however. He pinched the bridge of his nose as he let himself admit it: he was sick.

There was no time to dwell on his health with these murders happening, so he splashed a little cold water on his face and muttered aloud: “You can do this”. With a sad look in the mirror at his pallid face, he pulled the door open and reentered reality, where he’d have to do his damn best not to so much as sigh.

He hadn’t been lying when he told JJ he had to talk to the chief, so he located the man and thankfully his body cooperated as they discussed the press conference and he reassured the officer of his team’s efficiency. Hotch understood why it was hard for a man like the chief to accept that locating and pinning an unsub for a murder was a lot more complicated than nailing a perp in other circumstances. A lot of perps were good people who just got led down a bad path; the unsubs they found were monsters more than half the time.

By the time the press conference rolled around, Hotch had been hoping the rest of the team would have been back, but a text from Morgan let him know it was taking longer than anticipated and that they’d check in with him at the hotel tonight. He knew what that meant: he was going to be alone with JJ. Somehow that idea terrified him because there was something about her that made him feel comfortable enough (or at least made his body comfortable enough) to drop the front. He’d been able to hide his ill health from the rest of the team flawlessly, but he’d sneezed in front of JJ a number of times. He didn’t want to be alone with her anymore than he had to in fear of him acting like he needed help… And in fear of him letting her help him.

Thankfully he was able to avoid her before the press conference, knowing there was nothing else he could tell her but still feeling guilty for not giving her a few encouraging words. He just couldn’t handle her pity. Not now. Not when all he wanted was some hot tea and soup... Haley had made the best soup.

He forced that wistful line of thinking from his mind and took his place at the periphery of the crowd of journalists, watching as JJ approached the microphone. To anyone else watching her, it was impossible to tell how nervous she was, but Hotch could see it as she offered a smile to diffuse the tension and said hello into the mic. She really was the best person for the job: warm, amiable, trustworthy and intelligent. These were traits that made her an effective communicator. These were also traits that made Hotch wish he wasn’t the team leader so he could feel comfortable confiding in her.

As JJ talked, Hotch felt that tickle in his nose return and he rubbed the edge of his nostril, pressing his lips together as he tried to stand guard over his team member. He was so busy focusing on the itch that he didn’t notice at first as JJ’s voice rose a little and as a man started screaming… A man whose voice was familiar. It wasn’t until a journalist nearby screamed that he felt himself come back to reality and saw the gun in the hand of the most recent victim’s boyfriend, Conner, and heard him yelling that the Feds weren’t doing shit. Hotch had started to walk towards JJ, trying not to alarm Conner and trying to get to his agent. It wasn’t until a shot rang out that Hotch felt his exhaustion and sickness dissipate and his protector response fully kick in.

Other police officers nearby had drawn their weapons and were pointing them at Conner who was pinned beneath a heavier journalist who had taken him down right after he’d pulled out his gun. Conner had discharged his gun as he was being taken down, and it had nicked the building 15 feet above JJ’s head. She had drawn her gun, too, but within a matter of seconds, Conner’s weapon had been wrested from his grasp and he was handcuffed and dragged away, weeping violently and looking more like a kid than a grown man who had aimed to kill one of his agents.

Although the immediate crisis was averted, Hotch wrapped an arm around JJ. She stiffened at his touch, and he gently tugged at her elbow to get her to lower her gun. At that point she grappled for the microphone, and he cut her off.

“What are you doing?” he asked quietly, his eyebrows knitted in concern.

“I have to finish the c-conference,” she whispered back. Her voice was level until the end, but at the last word it cracked and he tightened his grip protectively.

“Come on,” he urged and led her back into the building.

She walked robotically, her eyes wide and steps even. It wasn’t until he had gotten her into the kitchen area of the precinct and placed a cup of coffee in her hand that she acted fully coherent, although the words that came out of her mouth worried him further.

“I’m sorry, Hotch,” she whispered in shame. “I didn’t see him or the gun. I should have seen him and known. Someone could have been hurt.”

“JJ…” he began slowly, his voice concerned. “This isn’t your fault. You could have been hurt.”

“No, it was, Hotch. I wasn’t watching the crowd,” she admitted, in a small voice. “I was watching you.”

He paused at that admission, unable to stop himself from asking: “Why were you watching me?” He immediately regretted it as it came out sounding like he was mad at her and her face showed it. Her eyes filled and she blinked rapidly to try to empty them, rubbing her collarbone in a way that showed him how upset she was. She pressed her lips together and looked away from him.

“I thought you were sick… I know you said you’re fine, but I wasn’t sure. I was watching you… And then I heard him t-talking. When I looked h-he was h-holding the g-gun. I w-was wrong to w-watch you and now the un-sub k-knows how m-much p-power he h-has. I’m s-sorry.” Her voice was barely audible by the end and she turned her body away from him. He couldn’t see her face, but he could see from how her back trembled that she was withholding sobs and he felt himself begin to feel sick again just watching her. He stood up after a moment and shut the blinds that looked into the kitchen and locked the door so that they were completely isolated.

“JJ,” he whispered after a minute, gently laying a hand on her back and frowning as she let out a small whimper and took a few gasping breaths. “Please turn around.”

He could see her hesitation, but he knew she wouldn’t disobey an order. When she turned around, though, she wouldn’t look at him and he watched for a minute as tears rolled down her cheeks and splashed into her coffee. He leaned forward and pried the cup from her fingers before placing his hand in hers. She lifted his hand and leaned her forehead against it as a sign of remorse before she released his hand and wrapped her arms around her middle trying to contain a breakdown.

“JJ. No one got hurt,” he said as a reminder.

She took a small hiccupping breath and nodded, but the tears fell faster.

“You were just worried about me.”

She looked at him with a heartbreak in her eyes that made his own chest ache, and she nodded.

“You’re very perceptive so don’t think you failed in some way by not noticing him…” He sighed and decided to let a blooming itch in his nose grow instead of trying to fight it. He needed to let her know she wasn’t off base to watch him if only for her health. Soon his breathing hitched and he turned away from her, politely directing a triplet into his handkerchief that he pulled out. Hih’KGTTchh. Hah’TCHH. TCHH’uh.

“B-bless you,” she whispered shakily as she swiped at her cheeks to no avail.

“You were right to worry. I think…” he paused, wishing he didn’t have to admit this to her. “I think I’m a little under the weather.”

JJ’s face crumpled and she let out a small sob, but her shoulders fell in relief. “I k-know I s-shouldn’t h-have b-been w-watching y-you, but y-you are s-s-sick… H-Hotch, I-I’m s-sorry f-for…” she couldn’t keep talking and covered her face.

“It’s okay. I’m… I’m not sure if I’m contagious or not, but I’d like to hug you.” He cleared his throat awkwardly after he said it. He wasn’t a hugging sort of guy, but standing there in front of her as she fell apart made him feel like he needed to comfort her in a more profound way than a hand squeeze or shoulder pat.

She lowered her hands and looked at him in shock before she flocked into his arms, leaning against his feverish body as she cried, and he noticed just how thin she had gotten. He rubbed circles on her back, trying not to count each and every rib he could feel. Soon she merely trembled against him, and she lowered her arms, but she murmured, “Don’t let go yet, okay?”

“I’m not letting go,” he promised, leaning his chin against her head as he continued to rub her back, glad the blinds were drawn. This was out of character for him, but this closeness felt so good, especially as the soothing warmth of her body helped to ease the discomfort of his clammy skin. For this moment even though he could feel the congestion building in his sinuses and his head ached dully, the stillness and closeness of the two of them made him feel better. This was the first time he’d been able to hold someone since Haley and if he was being honest, he didn’t ever want to have to let go.

TBC

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oh i love this! hotch having to let his guard down, JJ feeling guilty about caring -- it's sooo good!

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((next part! yay i love having time to write! biggrin.png))

JJ's POV

JJ leaned against Hotch for as long as she could, listening to his heart beat, strong and steady. It soothed her and she became acutely aware of her tender eyes and exhausted muscles, but she knew she couldn’t ask to go back to the hotel. Instead she allowed herself to close her eyes, trying to hold onto this moment for as long as she could. She knew there’d come a point when this would become awkward, but she figured for now her breaths still came out in irregular fits and starts, and she’d wait until she was fully calm to break this contact.

A few minutes passed and she still didn’t feel ready to be on her own, afraid that without his support she’d crumble from the guilt of what she’d let happen. Even if Hotch reassured her it was alright, JJ knew it wasn’t. She knew her mess-up would cause harm. She just wasn’t sure to what degree. She was so focused on Hotch that she was able to notice as his heartbeat picked up and his breathing became shallower. She was about to look up at him when she felt him tense and pull away from her, and just like that she was left standing by herself, the contact broken and unlikely to recur. Unconsciously, she crossed her right arm over her stomach, watching as her unit chief’s eyebrows drew and mouth sagged open. He brought his fist up and jerked forward twice with two almost silent sneezes. Hih’Mppch. Gxxt.

She made eye contact with him and frowned. His eyes were apologetic but there was a degree of haziness that let her know just how badly he felt. “Bless you,” she said quietly.

“Thank you. I apologize,” he said, nearly saying something else, but he cleared his throat and gave a little cough. “Everyone will meet us at the hotel. Would you like a few minutes before we go?”

JJ was a little caught off-guard by his question, but a glance at the microwave door showed her the reason why he was offering her a few minutes. Her eyes were puffy and red, stripped of the mascara and eyeliner she had been wearing which now was smeared across her cheeks and, to her horror, stained on Hotch’s tie. “Oh no,” she breathed out swiping at her cheeks as she felt them burn with embarrassment. “I’ll replace your tie. I’m such a mess. I’m sorry.”

At her words, Hotch looked down and seemed to notice his tie, too, but he looked back at her with a disarming and unassuming gaze. “It’s not a problem,” he said dismissively. “I’m going to go gather some files and I’ll meet you in the lobby in 15 minutes.”

“Alright. Sure,” JJ replied, still swiping ineffectually at her mascara-stained cheeks.

“I’ll make sure the hallway is clear when I go, then you can follow behind.”

She offered a small, embarrassed smile. “Alright. Thank you. You… You won’t tell anyone about this, right?”

“Of course not,” Hotch said warmly. He hesitated at the door and turned around rubbing his neck awkwardly. “Presuming you don’t tell anyone about my… Condition.”

If she didn’t feel so pathetic, JJ might have laughed at Hotch’s code for “sick”. He was such a macho guy that he couldn’t even admit that he was ill. She shook her head. “Your secret is safe, boss.”

He gave her a half smile and then exited. She waited a minute or so before she followed his path, entering the bathroom without running into anyone thanks to him. Once there, she sighed at her reflection. Her cheeks were flushed with emotion, eyes swollen and bloodshot, and her face looked like someone had beat her up from the black streaks that ran down it. Naturally she hadn’t thought to wear waterproof make-up, and she scrubbed at her face until her cheeks were raw. Although her make-up was wiped off her cheeks, she still looked rough, and she felt naked without the mascara that set off her eyelashes from her skin. Without it, she looked young and innocent, like someone who needed protection, which she guessed she did judging from that breakdown with Hotch.

JJ knew she’d probably regret letting herself go like that, but for now she decided not to dwell on it. She couldn’t change the past and so she focused on the present and not letting the whole damn office know she was a crying little girl. Hotch seemed to read her mind and she received a text from him that put her fears at bay: ‘No one in the stairwell. Meet you soon.’

Thanks to the text, she managed to exit the office without running into anyone, and as she opened the door to the lobby she was met with a strong, albeit sick, Hotch who walked alongside her, discretely blocking her from any inquisitive eyes and making it look as if they were merely walking out together. Once he had gotten her safely to the SUV he seemed to sag a little in his seat and JJ watched him with guarded worry. She didn’t want to annoy him, and she could tell from the terse line of his lips that he didn’t want to talk about his health, so she stayed silent on the ride back.

In fact, they remained silent until they reached the hotel and shared an elevator up to the fourth floor. “The rest of the team is going to check in with me tonight, but you can get some sleep. Let me know if you need anything, and remember to drink some water,” he said as the elevator dinged at their floor.

“Right back at you, Hotch. Thank you,” she said, allowing herself a minute to really look at him with worry.

He stiffened a little under her worried gaze but nodded his head curtly. “Goodnight, JJ,” he said as she reached her room and she inserted her key card.

“Night, Hotch.” She held her door open until she saw him reach his door, noting it was six doors to the right of her door and then she entered into her room, collapsing onto the bed to indulge in an exhaustion that only came from crying.

She didn’t let herself sleep, though, before she drank three glasses of water to attempt to prevent swollen eyes in the morning and she ran herself a bath to ease her sore muscles. In fact, by the time she was ready for bed she had stopped feeling tired and she lay on top of her comforters managing only a light doze until 2:00am when she awoke with a start, having slipped into a dream in which a whole pile of bodies was found with a note from their unsub thanking her for the encouragement.

Her mouth was dry and she gulped down water, reminding herself it was only a dream, but it didn’t ease the slamming of her heart and the cold sweat that coated her body. She found her phone and checked the time: 2:15am. She doubted anyone was up, but she couldn’t help it as she typed in Hotch’s name and sent a text that she both wanted and didn’t want to be returned: ‘You up?’

Feeling reminded that she was not alone in this hotel and that she wasn’t alone on the team, JJ eased back and stared up at the ceiling, not tired in the slightest. She wasn’t really expecting a reply, but within a minute her phone buzzed noisily on the bedside table and she read the text Hotch had sent back. ‘Yes. What’s going on?’

Before she could think better of it, she grabbed her keycard and padded down the hallway barefoot to his room. She knocked gently and then realized she probably should have changed out of her lavender-colored pajama bottoms and gray cotton t-shirt. Hell, she wasn’t even wearing a bra. She debated running back and pretending like she hadn’t been the one to knock on his door, but as she heard movement and the door unlock, she knew she didn’t have time to escape. When Hotch opened the door and faced her with that concerned expression of his, she couldn’t stop herself from admitting weakness for the second time that day: “I had the worst dream...”

If he was annoyed or judgmental, he didn’t show it. Instead he opened the door all the way and gestured for her to come in. “Do you wadt to talgk aboud id?”

The gravelly congestion in his voice shocked her and judging from his frustrated expression it was unexpected. She guessed he hadn’t been doing a lot of talking at 2:30am, so he hadn’t anticipated that his voice would let her know how sick he was. She felt instantly bad for coming over, even more so when she looked around the room and saw the covers strewn across the bed and the tissues littered nearby. It was pretty clear he’d been asleep when she’d texted, but the noise had probably woken him and JJ felt bad that she’d invaded his sleep. He wasn’t her therapist… He was her boss. And this was a mistake.

A liquid sniffle brought her out of her own mind and she turned to see Hotch looking ashamed with his wrist beneath his nose. She went to the tissue box to grab him a tissue only to find it empty. He must have used them all already.

She then went into the bathroom and grabbed some toilet paper, returning to find Hotch’s mouth pressed into a line, his nostrils flaring and his eyes watering. God, he was so stubborn, she mused, and it wasn’t until she’d pressed the toilet paper into his hand and then turned around to give him some privacy that he let himself sneeze. Even then, they were violently stifled and judging from the deep sigh he gave afterwards quite painful. Hih’txxxtch. Xxxngsch. Ngxxt.

“Oh, Hotch,” she breathed out, turning around to watch him sit down on his bed, trying not to act dizzy. “I’m so sorry for waking you up.”

“I wasd’t asleeb,” he protested feebly. “I was workidg od the case.”

She wanted to argue with him, to get him to admit to being sick, but she figured she was already out of line. Instead, she went for a different line of questioning. “Have you taken anything?”

“For whad?”

She gave a soft sigh of exasperation. “For your cold. Do you have a fever?”

He crossed his arms defensively and his voice sounded annoyed through his congestion. “JJ, I did’t asgk you to cobe over. This isd’t aboud be.”

She tried her best to disguise the hurt on her face, but she had to turn away from him, the guilt at messing everything up gnawing at her stomach. “You’re right,” she said once she turned back around. “I’m just being stupid. I’ll leave you alone.” She walked to the door and glanced back at him to find him pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Doh, waid. I’b sorry. I was oud of lide,” he said softly. “I’b jusdt tired and grubpy…”

“No, don’t apologize. You’re completely right. This is none of my business. You’re an adult, and you can take care of yourself. For that matter, so am I. I don’t know what I was thinking coming over for a nightmare. I’m an idiot.”

JJ opened the door, unable to disguise the hurt on her face as she turned around again. “Goodnight, Hotch. I’ll see you in the morning,” she said softly, adding something else as she walked out the door. “Feel better.”

Once the door shut between them, she heard a rapid-fire double sneeze followed by a groan. Hih’itschh’tschh. It took all of her self control not to force her way back in there, but she reminded herself that she was right when she said Hotch was an adult. She didn’t need to play mother hen. She didn’t need to do anything except try not to think about how pathetic she was for going over there in the first place for a nightmare. And with that in mind, she returned to her own room, crawling under the covers and hoping sleep would come easy and remain dreamless.

TBC

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“Of course not,” Hotch said warmly. He hesitated at the door and turned around rubbing his neck awkwardly. “Presuming you don’t tell anyone about my… Condition.”

I squealed

that `was amazing i neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed more!

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  • 1 month later...

((oh man, over a month later and FINALLY an update. sorry guys. life has been kicking my butt again. haha.))

Hotch's POV

Hotch spent a long time feeling guilty about how he’d reacted. He was a man of patience. He rarely let himself raise his voice with his son, and he could count on one hand the number of times he’d gotten short with his team. He was depended upon to be levelheaded… Hell, he was depended upon to be depended upon, and he’d let JJ down in both those respects. First he had been distracted and nearly let her get hurt. Secondly, he made her feel unwelcome when she clearly needed a friend.

Although he knew he needed to get some sleep, his guilty conscience nagged him, and in combination with the intense sinus pressure that made it near impossible to lie down comfortably, he spent the night closing his eyes and worrying about what else he’d mess up on this case.

His concern felt justified as he looked at the clock to see he hadn’t slept since JJ woke him up, and it was now five until 5:00, which was the time his alarm was set to go off. The pounding in his head had taken on a whole new dimension with a base level of pain that remained constant and a jolt of pain with each movement of his. Hotch took a long shower, letting the steam clear out his head. He didn’t stifle any of his sneezes, hoping that if he let them out his cold would miraculously disappear, but alas almost immediately upon getting out and breathing in the room temperature air, his nose plugged back up, and his head buzzed with an electric sort of pain.

He wasn’t aware of how much slower he was moving than normal until he heard his phone ringing and had to look at the clock as he passed. He had told Garcia they would be back at the office around 6:45, and right on time she was calling. He gave his throat a clear that caused him to wince with pain before answering in a gruffer and more congested voice than he would have like “Hotchder”.

“My king, you don’t sound well,” Garcia cooed over the phone.

“I’b fide, Garcia. We’re ruddidg a liddle behide schedule. I’ll call you in aboud a half hour whed we ged to the office.”

“You sure you should be going to the office? No offense sir, but you sound…. Off.”

He could tell she was choosing her words carefully and he did appreciate it, but he felt the part of him that snapped at JJ flare up at Garcia’s concern, as well. “I’b fide, Garcia,” he said flatly. “I’ll call whed we ged id.”

“Of course, sir.”

“Add, Garcia? Gnod a word of this to Borgad or the rest of the teab. Thad’s add order. You understadd?”

“Oh, of course, sir,” she sputtered out.

“Thadk you…” he murmured, as if becoming aware of the fact that he’d issued an order for Garcia not to tell the rest of the team. Even though he was the boss, he didn’t like prefacing requests with the word “order”. He could force people to do things, but he would rather people do things because they wanted to.

Speaking of forcing actions, he really wished he could force his nose to cooperate. He said a quick goodbye to Garcia and hung up the phone, swiveling around to brutally pinch off two sneezes that made his whole body jerk forward. Straightening, he rubbed his temples and grabbed a tissue, blowing his nose as hard as he could, since he didn’t want his congestion to give him away. Sighing, he grabbed his supplies and opened the door, where he kicked a small bag with a note attached to it.

Sorry about last night. I won’t ask how you’re doing, but please take one of these just so I know you’re okay. Come and get me when you’re ready to go, and I’ll round up everyone. – JJ

He opened the bag and smiled faintly at all the medicine JJ had picked up for him: Dayquil, Nyquil, Sudafed, cough drops and good old fashioned Tylenol. Considering, he popped two of the Dayquil, hoping that it would clear his head of the fogginess wrapped around it. He then placed the remainder of the medicine in his room, stashing another sleeve of the Dayquil in his pocket before exiting for good.

Although he was a stubborn man, he followed JJ’s advice, knocking on her door, which she opened almost immediately. He could see the concern on her face even as she tried to hide it. “Hotch, I’m…” she began to apologize.

“Be too.”

She opened the door wider and he stepped in as she sat on the bed to slide into her heels. He let the door shut as his nose tickled, and he sniffed hard trying to ignore it even as his eyes became glassy.

JJ handed him a box of tissues, and he fought the sneeze as long as he could before pinching his nose hard through the fabric of the tissue and jerking forward four times consecutively with muffled Mfmpp sounds that made his ribs ache.

“Bless you,” JJ said as she grabbed her bag.

He simply nodded, his throat stinging from the subdued sneezes.

“Ready to go?” she asked hesitantly.

Again he nodded and exited her room, feeling dizzy as the florescent lights in the hallway blared down at him. He braced the door before he could help it and immediately JJ was at his side and to his horror she gently tugged on his bicep and guided him so that he was leaning against her.

“Hotch, you’re burning up,” she murmured.

He instinctively pulled away from her and managed to stand for himself. “I’b fide,” he argued.

She met his eyes momentarily, and he could see the worry present, but he began to walk towards the elevator and tried to pretend that he was fine. Perhaps if he believed it, his body would begin to follow suit. At least the Dayquil should be kicking in soon.

“I’ll grab everyone else. Meet you down at the car?” she asked, and he could tell she wanted to ask if he could make it to the car, but he knew that she was choosing her words carefully.

Another nod and he entered the elevator, waiting until the door closed to bring the crook of his arm to his mouth and allow a small fit of barking coughs to escape. He could tell by the dryness that as soon as his congestion began to make its way down his throat, he’d be saddled with that hacking cough that lingered for weeks on end. He tried not to think about it, though, just as he tried not to think about the aches and pains throughout his body and the pressure that made his sinuses feel like they were going to implode. He just needed to make it through this case and then he’d be able to go home and nurse himself back to health there. Maybe he’d even ask Haley’s sister to watch Jack just so as to not expose his son to this and so he could focus on taking care of himself.

Soothed by his plan of action, he managed to make it to the SUV, where he sank into the seat and fought the urge to close his eyes. As the exhaustion became more pronounced, he fumbled for the sleeve of medicine in his pocket and withdrew it, letting out a hoarse groan as he read the imprint of the name on the back of the pack: Nyquil.

TBC

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YAY!!!!!!! Sorry I haven't been writing lately. i'm at the hospital 11-14hrs/day and am barely holding on to my sanity.

But please, tell me, did Hotch just take Nyquil instead of Dayquil? Cause that's going to be FANTASTIC.

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((yayay glad you both liked it. poor little hotch with the nyquil. i've taken nyquil by accident before and it was as if someone shot me with a tranquilizer gun. and no rush to write. i'm trying to finish up this story before i leave for england for six weeks because i doubt i'll have anytime to write while i'm there. too much to see!))

JJ's POV

JJ could tell Hotch felt terrible. The fact that he was even willing to let her wrangle up everyone while he waited in the SUV worried her. For a normal person, being on death’s doorstep would involve some sort of deathbed but for Hotch that damn SUV would be the place he’d curl up and die. She knew she was being melodramatic as she pictured a Hotch corpse in the SUV, but she couldn’t shake the fear that this wasn’t just a cold.

Usually a good multi-tasker, however, JJ was able to assemble everyone. What she wasn’t as good at was hiding her concern as she explained that Hotch was waiting in the SUV and like a good group of profilers, they were instantly aware.

“Is Hotch okay?” Reid was the first one to ask, and he mused aloud on his observations from the day before. “Hotch’s reaction time seemed to be slightly depressed yesterday. Is he ill?”

“Hotch shouldn’t be working if he’s sick. He’s trained us well. Why don’t we just tell him to stay here?” Prentiss asked logically, to which Morgan responded quickly.

“By all means, Emily, I’d like to see you try to tell Hotch to stay in bed.”

“Everyone, yesterday Hotch tried his hardest not to let on he wasn’t feeling well. Today he seems pretty sick, but I think for now we should try not to make it into a big deal.”

“So what we’re supposed to ignore it?” Prentiss asked.

“I think that’d be the best course,” Morgan said.

Reid looked anxious and hesitated. “But someone ought to look out for him.”

Dave, who had remained silent, chose that time to speak up. “Someone is,” he said simply, meeting JJ’s eyes for a second. “I think JJ’s right. Why don’t we let her drive with Hotch? We’ll meet them there.”

Reid was the only one who was hesitant to agree, but Rossi clapped him on the shoulder. “He’s in good hands, kid. Now come on, JJ has got it covered. You’ll see him soon enough at the station.”

As Reid, Morgan and Prentiss walked in the direction of the other SUV, JJ touched Rossi’s arm. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” he said with a wink. “Now you trick that man into thinking it was his idea to take care of himself.”

JJ laughed lightly and nodded. “I’ll try my best.”

“Good luck.”

-------

When JJ got to the SUV, she felt her heartbeat pick up. She had been stupidly imagining Hotch dead in the front seat, but he looked pretty lifeless as she approached. In fact, he was slumped over the steering wheel and she jogged toward the car, trying to open his side of the door only to find it locked.

She looked around for a way to open the car when she noticed the rise and fall of his back, and she went for a different method, rapping twice on the window, wincing as Hotch coughed and blearily turned to look at her. He blinked a few times and she had to gesture for him to open the car before he unlocked it. Instead of going to the passenger side, she pulled open the door and surveyed him with a concern she couldn’t hide.

“I’m driving.”

Again she felt her heartbeat pick up as he nodded dumbly and fumbled to undo his seatbelt. She helped him and then hovered by his side as he stumbled to the passenger side of the car, yawning openly as he all but collapsed onto the seat.

She adjusted the driver’s seat, frowning as she noticed her hands were shaking, but Hotch was barely conscious, staring in a zombie-like trance out the windshield.

“Hey… You dreaming with your eyes open, boss?” she joked, her faint smile turning into a frown as he shook his head slowly and massaged his temples at an equally glacial pace.

“No… I… I think I took the wrong medihhh’gxxxTSCH.” His voice was hoarse but clearer of congestion. It was, however, slurred with exhaustion and raised as his words dissolved into a sneeze.

“Bless you. Did that medicine happen to be of the alcoholic variety?” she attempted another joke, frowning in sympathy as he tried to laugh only to pinch his nose shut with his left hand and jerk forward with two audibly stifled sneezes Hih’IXXXttt. GNXTT’uh. He then slowly held out his right hand and she took the sleeve of pills in it, turning it over in her palm and letting out a sigh. “Nyquil.”

“‘M tired, JJ,” he said, fighting to keep his eyes open as he looked at her.

“Even in your stupor, I’m guessing you wouldn’t be willing to stay here, huh?”

“I… I have to go in… We’re racing against the clock. We… We have to beat the unsub to his next target.”

“No offense, Hotch, but I don’t think you’re in any condition to race. I don’t think the tortoise wins the race applies in this case.”

She could see his nostrils flaring and his fatigued frustration as he pinched the bridge of his nose. Quickly he moved his grip down to pinch his nose shut as he jerked forward with another couple of obviously painful cut-off sneeze.s NGKTT. GNXXT. He let out a small sigh of pain and rubbed his nose.

“Bless you.”

“Excuse me,” he said belatedly and rubbed his eyes.

“Sorry to tell you this Hotch, but Nyquil is like a tranquilizer. You mine as well not fight it. Your bed would be a lot more comfortable for sleeping than this SUV.”

“Can’t sleep… Shouldn’t,” he mumbled and sat up straighter for a minute as if that would re-alert him to his surroundings. It did to a degree and he blinked blearily at her. “Where is everyone?”

“We’re meeting them there. I wanted you to have some time to feel better before you saw everyone.” As he yawned again, she continued. “Clearly that point is moot now.”

“Do they know?” he asked, acting somewhat lucid for the first time.

“Yes.” She decided it was best not to lie to him even as he sighed and absentmindedly rubbed his nose.

“Why did you tell them?”

“They’re profilers, Hotch, and I’m not the best actress around my friends or when I’m concerned about someone whom I care about.”

He seemed to be mulling that over but soon pinched off another single sneeze. Hih’NGGX.

“Bless you. You shouldn’t do that, Hotch,” JJ chided. “It’s just me and the jig is up. I already know you’re sick.”

Yawning, he leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes. She hoped he was falling asleep, but when she glanced at him, he was tiredly looking at her. “You care about me?” he whispered tiredly .

She was taken aback by his question and felt her cheeks warm up. She almost winced as her words came out in a jumble. She was usually good at communicating. “What? Yeah... Of course I do. Now if you care at all about you, why don’t you close your eyes? I’ll wake you up when we get there. Maybe a little power nap will counteract the Nyquil.”

He turned to more fully look at her and she nodded in encouragement.

“You won’t…”

“I won’t tell,” she finished for him.

For a split second, the fogginess in his eyes cleared as he looked at her. “Thank you,” he said finally and just as quickly as his alertness appeared, he descended into a hard sleep.

TBC

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  • 5 months later...

((soooo i've seriously been MIA for forever. i went to england shortly after the last part of this story and had a grand time, then came straight back to school and have been busy ever since... until today. here's an update to this story. i've been itching to write. hope you like it!))

JJ's POV

JJ took a long way to the station, trying to squeeze out as much time for Hotch to rest as possible. She briefly debated calling Rossi and getting him to carry Hotch back to the hotel, but she knew that would be a betrayal of Hotch’s trust. She had promised to wake him up when they arrived at the station, and so after she parked in front of the building she tenderly touched his shoulder.

“Hotch. C’mon, wake up,” she said, her voice low as she squeezed his bicep gently, noticing how firm it was. She knew her boss was built, but it wasn’t as if she got to break the touch barrier often. In fact, the fact that he’d comforted her yesterday and now she was trying to comfort him was unheard of.

As she shook his shoulder, he let out a soft sigh, his eyebrows knitting and lips parting. She watched as his nostrils flared and he let his sneezes loose, clearly still half asleep. Hih’KTCHUH. TCSCHH. Hngktsch. The last one seemed to cause him to stir more and he sniffled pathetically, his eyes opening slowly at first before his entire body tensed and he scrambled to a position of perfect posture.

“Bless you,” she said gently, realizing her hand was still on his arm.

“Ah… I’b sorry. Excuse be,” he said groggily, rubbing the side of his face to undoubtedly wake himself up. He gave a rough sniff, pressing a balled up fist beneath his nose, his eyes unfocused as the itch in his nose continued to taunt him. JJ watched helplessly as he gave a swift hitching breath and then managed to subdue the urge by sheer willpower, although irritated tears collected in the corners of his eyes. He sighed as he swiped at his eyes, and she could swear she saw his cheeks redden in embarrassment as he kept his gaze fixed at a point on the windshield.

“No reason to be sorry,” she said dismissively. She wanted to ask if he had changed his mind about staying in the hotel and resting, but the stern pursing of his lips and frustrated expression at his own weakness meant there was no way he would consent. Instead she did the next best thing as his breath began to hitch again, his fist pressed hard against his upper lip and nostrils. “I’m going to go run inside and then pretend that I forgot something out here. I’ll be back in five minutes.”

“Whhahh will you tell theb aboud be… Hihhh!?” Hotch asked, closing his eyes as he lost the beginning of the battle, jerking forward with a painfully quelched sneeze. NGGxxtsch.

“I’ll just tell them that you’re on a call,” JJ said softly. “Just please for God’s sake let yourself be sick for the five minutes I’m gone because you’re gonna burst an aneurysm holding it in like this.” She gave a rueful smile.

Hotch nodded, his eyes half closed as his breath hitched stubbornly and he jerked forward with a rapid fire double that he failed to fully subdue. Hih’IHTschh. Tsch.

JJ gave another small smile and patted his leg boldly. “Bless you, boss. See you in five.” With that, she got out of the car, wincing as she heard a harsh sneeze from inside the vehicle. She fought the urge to turn around in concern, knowing that he didn’t want an audience for this loss of control. It wasn’t until after she was inside the building with tinted glass windows that she let herself watch him rock forward with a constant fit of sneezes, one of his hands pressed flat against the airbag panel to brace his body for the impact. “Oh, Hotch,” she murmured, pulling out her cell phone and sending a text to Rossi. At the station. Giving Hotch a few minutes to collect himself. If he asks, I told you he was on a call.

Within a minute, her phone buzzed with a text back from Rossi. Grazie, bella. He needs this. See you soon.

JJ looked at her watch, keeping an eye on the time. Once the five minutes had elapsed, she made her return to the car, frowning at how awful Hotch looked. His eyes were bloodshot from Nyquil-induced exhaustion and nasal irritation. His forehead shone with a layer of sweat. Worst of all was his general demeanor as she slowly opened his side of the SUV. He stared at her blankly, shuffling weakly out of the car and accepting her help as she snaked her arm protectively around his waist. She had to brace herself at how much weight he was shifting onto her, feeling even more worried as he let his head dip for a moment to rest against her head. Of course, he quickly corrected himself, untangling his arm from her and blinking rapidly to bring himself back into lucidity.

“We can go back any time you want,” she reminded him gently, and he looked at her silently before shaking his head.

“I have to be here,” he said hoarsely.

“Well just let me know if you need me,” she said, watching apprehensively to see whether she had offended his superhero complex. She was pleasantly surprised as he gave a small nod, looking over at her with a wistful expression momentarily before he opened the door to the station and hardened his face once more.

“I’ll be fide,” he said simply, ending any further discussion on his health as he turned away from the elevator. “I’ll meed you ub there. I’b godda take the stairs.”

JJ wanted to follow, but she knew better than that, pressing the button for the elevator and letting out a sigh. “Stubborn, stubborn man,” she muttered under her breath, crossing her arms over her chest as she let herself worry.

TBC

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You're back!!!! Hooray!! clap.gif AND you're going to keep working on this story?! Hooray again!!! I looooove this story. Just went back and reread the whole thing from the beginning :)

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Just went back and reread the whole thing from the beginning smile.png

Me too! This is great, and I eagerly await more. Hope you had a good time in sunny (hah!) England!

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((yay i'm glad the interest is still here, and i'm super excited to pick this back up! as for england, i had a wonderful time... but seriously. i want to live there. and the weather was pretty wet in the first half of july, but by my last few weeks there, it was GORGEOUS. :D))

Hotch's POV

Hotch took his time walking up the stairs, metering his breath so he didn’t break into hacking coughs and at the same time mentally preparing himself to seem healthy. He’d done it a handful of times, although those times had been more successful and tended to overlap with a vacation of some sort. This cold, or flu, or whatever the hell it was felt different than the rest of the sick days he spent at work. It felt more insidious, and coupled with the lingering effects of the Nyquil he felt like he was in a parallel universe.

He quickly dislodged that train of thought (and the knot of mucus tying up his throat) and opened the door to the office, stepping in and carefully avoiding JJ’s scrutinizing gaze.

“Good morning,” he said as clearly as he could, looking around at this team. Almost immediately he could tell they knew he was sick but that someone, probably JJ and Rossi, had told them not to acknowledge it. Reid’s face was pinched and anxious, whereas Morgan looked too cool, as if forcibly attempting to be apathetic. He softly cleared his throat before posing the question that would hopefully get everyone’s minds off of his state of health and back on the case: “So what have we got?”

Hotch spent the morning meeting with everyone except JJ, attempting to reason out what the next course of action was and how long it would be until another body turned up. Sure enough, their calculations that a body would be surfacing any moment were confirmed as the phone rang and the police chief began scribbling down notes with a somber expression.

Thus far, Hotch had done a good job at ignoring his symptoms and ignoring JJ, but as the police chief mumbled his, “I understands” and “that’s a real shame,” Hotch found himself studying JJ. Her expression was superficially calm, but he was good enough at his job and knew JJ well enough to recognize the subtle signs that she was anything but fine. That’s what led him to Rossi’s desk as the team began to pack up to go, finding it harder to concentrate on appearing well around someone he was sure had first noticed his sickness.

Sure enough, Rossi surveyed Hotch intensely before letting out a sigh. “You really ought to be in bed.”

Instead of denying that, Hotch gave a small cough and shrugged. “I don’t really have a choice.”

“That’s not true, Aaron,” Rossi said levelly, but he set the papers down he had been studying. “But I understand why you feel like you need to be here.”

Uncomfortable, Hotch cleared his throat again before casting a look back at JJ who was staring blankly at her desk as she shuffled papers together in preparation.

“You’ve trained your team well, Aaron,” Rossi said, using his first name again. “You can hang back for a bit and come out to the scene in say… A half hour? We’ll have it under control.”

Hotch was appreciative of Rossi’s suggestion, and he nodded absentmindedly, still looking towards JJ with concern.

“She can hang back, too. We’ll just meet you two out there.”

After an appropriate amount of hesitation, Hotch looked to Rossi and nodded, his voice becoming lower as he acknowledged the favor Dave was doing for him. “Thank you.”

Rossi just nodded and then stood up, saying something to the three other team members as Hotch approached JJ’s desk.

“We’re gonna hang back for a few minutes,” he informed her as casually as he could, but he felt guilty as he saw the panicked expression on her face.

“Why? I’m fine, Hotch. You explained to me that it’s not my fault. We’ll catch him.”

Hotch crossed his arms over his chest as JJ parroted back what he had told her yesterday. It was a clever tactic to begin a sentence with “you explained to me…” It gave the illusion of agreement, but really no matter what he told JJ he could see the guilt written on her face and in the tense curve of her shoulders. As the rest of the team cleared out, he placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Jennifer,” he murmured, frowning as he felt her muscle shake with contained emotion.

“Jesus, I’m sorry,” she said thickly, turning to look at him with eyes wet with regret and fear. “I just can’t help feeling like I exacerbated the situation… Like maybe if I had handled things better the new victim wouldn’t be dead. I feel like I ought to apologize.” Her voice shook at the word ‘apologize’, and she swiftly stood up, walking urgently towards the women’s bathroom, a place he suspected she thought he would avoid.

He gave her a few minutes before he tapped on the door, opening it gingerly and giving a quick glance to ensure no one else was in here. He could hear her sniffling and it inspired his own nose. He placed the top of his wrist against his nose but quickly bent forward with two liquid stifles. Hih’ightschhh. GnxtSCH.

JJ’s voice was meek but present as she whispered, “Bless you. Please, Hotch. Just give me a minute. I don’t want to burden you.”

“You’re nahhh’KTSCH. TSCHH.” He sniffed hard and tried again. “Gnod burdedidg be.”

“You sound terrible,” she observed softly, and he heard the stall door open, barely able to see her through the pools of water in his irritated eyes.

As he pinched his nose and stifled a sneeze, he felt toilet paper being pressed into his other hand. He nodded his thanks before turning away from her, the sneezes he’d been withholding all morning tearing out of him. Hih’ITSCH’uh. Huh’ESCHH. TSCTCHH. KTCHHH’oo. TSCHHH. Hih…. Ehhhhtzngtsch. At that point he was able to blow his nose, hard and without restraint as he tried to satisfy the burning in his nose that made a few tears spill over. ATSCHH. TSCHHH. He could see JJ’s worried face hovering near his and felt her steadying presence as she wrapped one arm around his back and rubbed his bicep maternally. KNGTSCHHH’oo. TSCHHH’uh. He blew his nose again and that time it seemed to do the trick as the tickle abated and he leaned against the wall, exhausted.

“Bless you… A million times,” she said softly, and he noticed her eyes were no longer teary.

He attempted to thank her, but the words got caught in his throat, coming out as a rasping squeak. He tenderly touched his throat, mouthing the words instead.

“Will you please let me take you back to the hotel?” she begged, unwrapping her arm from his back but keeping a grip on his bicep.

Considering for a moment, Hotch gave a tired nod, pulling his phone out of his pocket and scrolling to Rossi’s number. He held it out to her before he exited the bathroom, not wanting to hear what she was going to say. It was hard enough acknowledging his weakness to her, but he didn’t want to be present for her explanation to Rossi that he was too sick to work.

After a minute, JJ exited the bathroom and sat next to him on the bench right outside of it. He fought the urge to close his eyes, looking at her as he felt her worried stare bearing down on him.

“Rossi said they’ve got it under control,” she explained. “He told me to get you to bed and to tell you to stop being so stubborn.”

Hotch forced a slight smile at that. It was such a Dave thing to say. After a moment, he remembered why he had hung back with JJ in the first place and he turned to study her. His brain might have felt foggy as his skin buzzed with a fever, but he was able to focus on this. As she looked back into his eyes he cleared his throat, wincing at the raw feeling, but it allowed him to hoarsely whisper a few words. “How about you? Are you okay, Jennifer?”

JJ patted his knee reassuringly. “Don’t you worry about me. Now let’s get you back to the hotel before you go to sleep right here.”

He wanted to pursue his line of thought, but the word sleep made him yawn and he nodded in concession. He could ask about JJ later. For now, he would let her mother him if only for a few minutes because God knows how good that would feel.

TBC

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“Bless you… A million times,” she said softly, and he noticed her eyes were no longer teary.

He attempted to thank her, but the words got caught in his throat, coming out as a rasping squeak. He tenderly touched his throat, mouthing the words instead.

OMG! This is sooooo delicious! It felt inappropriate to just quote the whole story in my response so I had to settle on this delightful little nugget of adorableness.

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