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This story is loosely based on season 5 episode 21 of Criminal Minds in that the team is rooming together and it’s set in Alaska, but I’ve changed the storyline completely in order to not spoil the episode OR write it inaccurately since I haven’t watched the show before and I couldn’t get all the details I needed online. As always please don’t hate me for anomalies, Google was absolutely zero help when I tried to use it as a resource. It also focuses almost exclusively on Hotch and JJ. Also, this is a finished story for once! And possibly a prelude to another. 

I’m sorry for any character inaccuracies.






JJ sighed as she walked into the BAU. She was tired, and frazzled, and under a good deal of stress both at work and at home. Will was doing his best to help but he’d been away for almost a week, leaving her to care for Henry alone. He’d come home the night before last and it had been great to see him, but she’d had to turn her attention to the piles of paperwork she hadn’t completed rather than use the time her husband was home to reconnect. 


“Is everything okay?” The media liaison jumped about a foot in the air as Hotch’s voice came from behind her, causing her to spill the coffee she was in the process of pouring. 


“Sorry Hotch, I didn’t see you there. Everything’s fine, just a long couple of days.” The unit chief looked less than convinced but let the matter drop. He was exhausted too, and worse was the general ache that had settled throughout his body. Jack had been fighting a cold all week and while his son was finally on the mend, he was pretty sure he was beginning to come down with the cold himself. He just dipped his head in acknowledgement of what JJ had said and watched as she headed to her office before pouring himself his second cup of coffee. It was going to be a long day.


JJ had picked up on Hotch’s fatigue, and wondered if everything was okay with him. It was not a question she was willing to risk asking-though normally even tempered, Aaron Hotchner was notoriously prickly when it came to inquiries about his personal life and health. The last time he’d had a cold he’d shut himself in his office and kept working as though nothing was wrong, though he was careful to wash his hands and sanitize them frequently to try to prevent his team from catching it as well. As she sat at her desk, she realized that might not be a possibility this time around if he was sick-there was a case in Alaska that desperately needed their attention. 


She took the file upstairs to his office, knocking hesitantly. A low “come in” was all she needed to enter. He glanced up from the paperwork he was working on and she thought she saw a look of resignation flash over his features before they settled into his usual stoic expression. 


“There’s a case in Alaska that needs us, sir.” She passed him the case file and he looked it over, nodding as he did so. 


“Gather the team. We’ll meet in the conference room in fifteen minutes.” JJ nodded and left as quickly as she came, concern blossoming in her stomach as she took in the dark circles underneath Hotch’s eyes. She was almost positive he was paler than normal, too, though that was a difficult observation to make. He always looked tired and he always looked paler than she thought was healthy.


As soon as he was certain she was out of earshot, Hotch let out a frustratingly wet duo of sneezes into steepled hands. 


“Hhheentschoo! Hhhhgschuh!” He sniffed sharply afterwards, barely avoiding a third sneeze as the air tickled his passages. Taking a tissue from the box on his desk, he blew his nose softly and then sanitized his hands before turning his attention to the file in front of him. 


So far, three teenage girls between the ages of 16 and 18 had been kidnapped, their brutalized remains discovered 48 hours later. JJ was right that this case desperately needed their attention, but the fact that it was currently frigid in Alaska certainly wasn’t going to help his cold. Sighing, he stood and made his way to the conference room, doing his best to ignore the pounding headache that had settled behind his eyes. 


He was one of the first in the conference room-only JJ and Garcia had arrived thus far. Garcia looked more withdrawn than usual, which made sense. Cases involving younger victims were always challenging. She still flashed him a smile when he walked in the room. 


“Good morning sir. How are you today?” Hotch prayed his voice would hold when he answered. 


“Fine Garcia, and yourself?” She studied him for a moment before responding. 


“Ready to catch whoever’s doing this.” She answered. Hotch nodded in response and sat in his usual chair. It wasn’t long before the rest of the team had joined them and the briefing got underway. It was decided that, given the spotty Wi-Fi in the small town and the need for efficient communication, Garcia would be coming with them. 


“Alright, wheels up in thirty. If you don’t have cold weather gear in your go bags, pack it.”He announced as the briefing drew to an end. The tickle in his throat resurged and he cleared it as he stood to leave the room. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw JJ flash him a glance and resolved to redouble his efforts to appear healthy. 


That turned out to be easier said than done. He’d kept up a good front once they boarded the plane until they started climbing into the air, where the change in pressure coupled with the slight congestion in his head had him pressing a hand to one ear then another. Rossi flashed him a look of concern and he let the hand drop, only to raise it again as he jerked forward with two perfectly silent stifled sneezes. 


“Are you feeling alright Aaron?” Rossi asked in an undertone, noting the pallor of the younger man’s skin and the faint reddish tint  to his nostrils. Hotch flashed him a mild glare. 


“Fine. Just the air pressure.”


The team spent most of the seven hour  flight reviewing the case in depth so they would be prepared as possible when they landed, and Hotch spent most of the flight trying to focus on the conversations happening around him and not the worsening of his symptoms-or the growing fuzziness in his head. He resolved to drink a large cup of coffee when they made it to the police station they’d be working out of. He needed to be on his “A” game, not whatever level this was. 


If he’d thought ascending was bad, descending was terrible. That change in air pressure sparked a tickle he couldn’t ignore, and this time he knew he’d be sneezing more than twice. He was smart enough to pull out his handkerchief as he suffered through a proper sneezing fit, ears popping painfully. 


“Ngkt! Hhngkt! Nngxt! Nnngktxcht! Hhgnt! Hhhnxcht!” Six sneezes later, he looked up through watery eyes and saw Rossi staring at him in concern. “I’m alright.” It came out a little creaky, but the congestion that he knew would settle in eventually wasn’t there yet. Still, his nose was running so he pinched it in the soft folds of his handkerchief before putting the handkerchief away. 


“Are you sure?” Rossi wasn’t afraid to get straight to the point. “You could go back to the hotel, try to sleep this off…we’re going to need you later and we’re going to need you functional.”


“I’m sure. It was just the air pressure Dave. It happens occasionally.” Rossi looked like he didn’t believe the younger man for a minute but nodded in surrender. This was not a battle he would win. 


As they got off the plane, Hotch could feel himself rally. The adrenaline of knowing there was a case to work pushed his symptoms down, at least for the time being. It was impossible not to notice the biting chill in the air though, and he decided the first step would be to change into warmer clothes. This decision was solidified when he noticed JJ shivering slightly as she stood at the base of the stairs, cheeks flushing as she noticed him watching her but unable to do anything to subdue her body’s reaction to the bitterly cold air. As soon as everyone was on the tarmac, Hotch addressed them. 


“I want us all to change into clothes more appropriate for the weather here once we’re at the station. Fleece jackets, warm undershirts, heavier pants, thick socks and boots.” He looked around and was glad to see everyone nodding, meaning no one had ignored his directive to pack warm clothing. They piled into waiting vans, two officers from the local precinct at the wheel. Hotch, JJ, Rossi, and Prentiss piled into the first van while Reid, Morgan, and Garcia climbed into the second. It was about a twenty minute drive to the local station and Hotch was grateful his nose behaved. He could feel it wanting to run but a single sharp sniff took care of that. 


Once at the station, the team climbed out of the car and grabbed their bags so they could change. It took only a few minutes with the amount of bathroom stalls available in each restroom and before long the whole team was dressed from head to toe in warm weather clothing. Everyone looked visibly startled or somewhat amused to see Hotch in a fleece jacket. 


“It’s barely above zero.” He stated somewhat irritably, and Reid and JJ both looked chagrined. Rossi just smirked. Eager to change the subject, Hotch began doling out assignments. “JJ and Prentiss will be coordinating with the media and local PD, and interviewing victims families tomorrow respectively, but since it’s so late tonight, you’ll be driving to the first dump site and going over everything you can find there. The locals have tents over the sites and lights around the area so we can work after dark. Rossi and Morgan, you’ll be going to the second dump site and I’ll be going to the third dump site with Reid. Reid, tomorrow you’ll be working from here establishing a geographical profile and Garcia, you’ll be here at the station as well doing what you normally do, but from the station instead of from DC. Let’s get started.”


The drive to the dump site was only about twenty minutes, but it felt much longer. It was pitch dark outside and that, coupled with how bitterly cold it was, made Hotch eager to get some rest. Reid spewed facts the whole way over and he did his best to tune in, but the pounding of his head and the increasing aches in his limbs made it difficult to focus. They finally pulled up to the site that, as promised, had been well lit and covered by a tent. The wind bit through his thick clothes as soon as Hotch stepped outside the car and he had to work hard not to shiver. Reid tried and failed to hide how cold he was and Hotch resolved to get the younger agent back to the station quickly. He’d always had a soft spot for Reid, who reminded him a lot of Jack, and he looked out for him more than he did the others. They got to work right away reviewing the remains and the surrounding area, Hotch forcing himself to think clearly, as difficult as it was. 


Hotch quickly noted that the first phalange in each finger had been removed, as though with a clipper. Reid observed that the remains were roughly 3 days old, and Hotch concurred. That was what the coroner had said as well. The remains of the girl were dressed in a simple white nightgown. 



Rossi and Morgan had better luck in their assigned area. They had more meat on their bones than Reid, and weren’t teetering on the edge of a fever, so it was easier to keep the cold at bay as they worked-and to think clearly. They found several promising “tells” on the remains that they felt could link them to the UNSUB’s method of killing or postmortem posing, and photographed and documented them. They also noted that these remains were about 5 days old-right on par with the coroners observation. 


Prentiss and JJ had similar findings to the two groups of men-a girl posed in a white nightgown, first phalanges cut off. She, however, had been killed much earlier, nearly twelve days ago. 


When the team met back at the station and shared their timelines, it showed a significant amount of acceleration in the UNSUB’s work. Reid wore a frown as he pinned the photos up and wrote the timeline on the board. 


“He’s definitely decompensating. The first victim was killed twelve days ago, the next a full week later, and the third only two days after her. Our UNSUB could kill again any time now really.” Hotch nodded. 


“You’re correct Reid. Until the next body is found, we have no way of knowing if there is a true timeline or if this is just a series of random rage killings happening at random times. If it’s the latter, it’s going to be harder to pinpoint who the UNSUB is and what’s setting him off. I’d like us to work a little longer tonight, try to gather more information from what we have, before we head to the hotel and start fresh in the morning.” 


The team nodded in agreement. Reid sat down to work on the geographic profile and everyone else took a file and began reading, trying to gather whatever information they could on the victims and their families. There wasn’t much to go on until they could interview the families in depth the next day. 


In the midst of all of this, Hotch could feel himself fading fast. His mind felt hazy and eyes heavy, and he quickly poured himself that long awaited cup of coffee. Before he knew it he’d swallowed wrong and he was coughing, choking on the liquid as it slid down the wrong pipe. Several heads jerked up in alarm and he waived them off, stepping into the hallway as he tried to sputter out an excuse. Out in the hall with the door to the conference room closed, he let himself lean slightly against the wall as he fought to catch his breath. The coughing petered out, leaving him breathing raggedly and exhausted but able to drink the coffee. 


Unfortunately, the coughing fit had left him even more tired than before and he could tell he was going to need to get some sleep before he would be useful. God, he hated when Rossi was right. Still, he drained the cup of coffee and headed back into the conference room where JJ and Rossi both flashed him looks of concern. 


“I’m alright.” He reassured them, though the slight rasp to his voice probably didn’t go undetected. JJ shot him a small smile before turning back to the stack of papers in front of her, and he didn’t miss the tense expression on her face. They worked in silence for another twenty minutes before he decided to call it a night. It was after 11 and the whole team was exhausted-by the time they got settled in their hotel it would probably be close to midnight. “Let’s pack up for the night and head to the hotel. We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.” 


The team pulled on their coats and grabbed their bags before making their ways to the front of the station. Now that night had truly fallen, it was bitterly cold outside. By the time all the bags were loaded and everyone was inside the car, Hotch was feeling the cold and he could tell the others were as well. He drove the first van, Rossi in the front seat and JJ and Emily in the back, while Morgan drove the second with Garcia riding shotgun and Reid in the back. It wasn’t too far to the hotel, and the conversation flowed easily about the case. Hotch stayed quiet for the most part, afraid his voice might break if he spoke, but interjected just enough so as not to be suspicious. Only once they arrived at the hotel did they realize there was going to be a problem.


“I’m so sorry, but we only have four rooms available.” The woman at the front desk looked like she felt guilty as she told seven FBI agents she didn’t have enough rooms for them all to have single rooms. Reid looked mildly horrified and Hotch sighed internally. He was tempted to pull rank and take the single room, but knew Reid slept best when he was on his own. 


“That’s no problem, my chocolate thunder and I can share a room.” Garcia purred, making the receptionist blush. JJ noticed how uncomfortable Hotch looked and pulled him to the side slightly. 


“Hotch, I’m happy to room with Em if you’re more comfortable with Rossi. I know this isn’t an ideal situation and you seem like you might be frustrated so whatever I can do just let me know.” Hotch stared at her in surprise-he hadn’t realized he was that easy to read. Realizing that Rossi was going to be a pain in the ass about every cough and sniffle, he chose to pick JJ as his roommate. 


“Rossi, you and Prentiss are together. Reid, you’ve got the single room. JJ and I will room together as well.” Rossi shot him a knowing look but didn’t say a word, for which the unit chief was grateful. JJ looked shocked but didn’t argue, keeping her promise to do whatever she could to help. 


Hotch followed JJ to their room, carrying his bag over his shoulder with a little more effort than usual. He doubted it showed on the outside but he was tired and the weight of the duffel felt heavier than it normally did. As they got off the elevator, he found himself with the building urge to sneeze. Without breaking stride, he knuckled into his fist with a silent stifle…and then another. If JJ noticed, she didn’t say a word, for which he was grateful. When they reached their room JJ opened their door with her keycard and Hotch was dismayed to see it had only a king size bed in the middle of the room and a table with a set of chairs in the corner. He blushed furiously as he tried to work out how exactly this was going to work out. JJ looked just as embarrassed. 


“I…I’m…I’m so sorry Hotch. I’ll try not to toss and turn too much and I’ll stay as close to the edge as possible-“ She stammered. He held up a hand. 


“It’s not your fault.” His voice was rough and he cleared it which nearly made him cough. He managed to keep himself together and continued. “I’ll take the side closest to the door if that’s alright.” The media liaison nodded her assent and deposited her bag on the side closest to the windows. They both made eye contact as they tried to figure out who would go through the bathroom first. “Go ahead.” Hotch reassured her, and she carried her toiletries and pajamas into the restroom and shut the door. 


Once she was inside, Hotch sat on the edge of the bed and took off his shoes and tie and allowed himself to take in the situation. He really didn’t want to get JJ sick. That was his first priority. His second priority was keeping her from finding out he was under the weather-that sounded much more conducive to leadership than sick or ill did. So far he was pretty sure he could keep it under wraps, and he hoped whatever this was wouldn’t progress farther. 


It didn’t take long for JJ to change and go through her nightly routine, and he had changed into sweats and brushed teeth in a matter of minutes before heading back out into the bedroom. JJ was already in bed, looking apprehensive and nearly falling over the edge in her attempt to be out of Hotch’s way. He shot her an amused look.


“It’s a king bed Jennifer, you’re allowed to sleep in it.” She flushed and scooted off the edge but still didn’t look comfortable. Hotch was too tired to let himself care that he was in the same bed as a subordinate and let his eyes close. He was nearly asleep when a wet sneeze burst out of him, shaking the bed. “Hhhhnntschoo!” 


He could feel JJ jump beside him and realized he had startled her. His “I’m sorry.” Was spoken overtop of her “bless you!”Silence filled the room, save for an occasional sniff from Hotch, before the senior agent drifted off to sleep. JJ laid awake awhile longer, wondering if her boss was okay and anxious about the sleeping arrangements. 


Prentiss and Rossi had lucked out slightly-they’d gotten two twin beds in their room. Rossi had instantly claimed the one closest to the door and had gone through the bathroom first. Prentiss had changed in the bedroom and brushed her teeth after Rossi, and the two had drifted off to sleep fairly easily. Morgan and Garcia had also gotten a king bed but, unlike Hotch and JJ, were completely okay with that. Reid was happy with his single queen bed. 


When morning came, Hotch was definitely feeling  worse for the wear. His head felt like it was filled with cement, his previously sore throat felt like it had been scraped absolutely raw, and every limb in his body felt heavy and bruised. He was dismayed to note that the congestion had settled in overnight-there would no longer be much chance of denying being sick, just downplaying it. JJ was still asleep, so he sat up and waited for the momentary lightheadedness to pass before standing and grabbing a change of clothes from his suitcase. He was showered, through the bathroom and back out to the bedroom in less than twenty minutes.


JJ had woken up by the time he emerged fully dressed, and shot him a concerned glance as she took in the darkness below his eyes and the pallor of his skin.


“Are you feeling alright Hotch?” She couldn’t resist asking. He was about to answer but coughed instead, answering the question for her. Holding up a finger, he fought to get himself under control before answering in a slightly husky and congested tone.


“I’ve got a touch of a cold. I’m fine. If you’re more comfortable rooming with Reid I understand.” Something in JJ’s gut told her to stay with her boss, that he might need someone to look out for him, and she chuckled softly. 


“I have a son Hotch. If I were going to get a cold I’d get it from him.” Hotch nodded, clearly uncomfortable, and JJ stood to shower and change as well. Her shower was also quick and they were both ready well before it was time to meet the team in the lobby. JJ noted that Hotch was in long sleeves, a thick fleece jacket, long pants, and had put on thick socks before pulling on boots. It was strange to see him so dressed down but it was good to see him taking care of himself. She was also pleased to note that he’d tucked his handkerchief and a pack of travel tissues into his pants pocket. She’d stowed a pack away as well, along with some cough drops and a blister pack of ibuprofen and Tylenol. Eventually it was time to head downstairs. No one seemed oblivious to the state Hotch was in-his nose had already taken on a slightly reddish color from the rough tissues in the hotel room, and he had to clear his throat before speaking. 


“To address the elephant in the room, clearly I’ve got a slight cold but I feel perfectly fine-I’ve just got some minor congestion and my voice is starting to go.” Hotch stated right off the bat, figuring his team of profilers would connect the dots sooner rather than later and not wanting them to be distracted. Everyone looked concerned and he held up a hand. “Focus on your jobs, not on my health. I. Am. Fine.” Though rougher than usual, his voice was authoritative. “Now that that’s covered, I will head to the morgue now that all the bodies have been collected and follow up on forensics. Morgan, you’re going to interview the first victims family, Rossi, I’m sending you to interview the second, Prentiss to interview the third, Reid will be at the station running a geographic profile, JJ will be coordinating with the local PD and media, and Garcia will be at the station doing what she does best. Let’s get to the station and go from there.”


They took the two cars to the station and then split up from there. The station had generously lent them more vehicles to get to the houses of the victims families, and Hotch took a car to the morgue to follow up on forensics. Alone in that car, he allowed himself to truly feel as miserable as he felt. He was putting on a good front for his team but he felt worse with every passing hour. It took effort to get out of the car and walk into the building, and he muffled a sneeze into his elbow as he descended the stairs into the morgue. “Hhnmpfsch!”


“Are you Agent Hotchner?” A middle aged man greeted him as he pushed through the double doors. He nodded and flashed his badge. 


“I am. Have you found anything?”


“I have. We normally don’t get so lucky, but we found a DNA match using a hair found on your first victim, Patty Marsh. It belongs to Robert Hiddlestine.” Hotch blinked in shock, and crossed his fingers this would be an easy case. 


“Thank you. Any other findings?” 


“Your victims were assaulted before death, but your perpetrator used a condom and there’s no DNA evidence we could find there. We’ll be in touch if there’s anything else we find.” Hotch nodded, thanked the man for his help, and left the building. Once back in the car, he dialed Garcia. 


“Garcia, what can you tell me about Robert Hiddlestine?” He quickly pressed the mute button as his voice broke and he began coughing again. Garcia didn’t seem to notice the sudden silence on the end of the line and dove right into an explanation. 


“He’s 17, goes to Fairview High, had classes with two of the victims-Patty Marsh and Anna Long. From social media records, it appears he was dating Patty Marsh.” Hotch turned off the mute button after clearing his throat, but when he spoke again his voice was still rougher than he would have liked it to be. 


“Do you have an address?” 


“Of course. But he’s in school at the moment if you’re looking to interview him.” Cursing himself for not thinking that through, Hotch tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He felt foggy and like he was a step behind where he needed to be when processing information. 


“Right. What’s the address for the school?”


Seven minutes later he was pulling into the parking lot for Fairview High. He took a moment to sit in the parking space and collect himself before getting out of the car and striding confidently inside. Hotch knew his only option was to be in total control and show no weakness, and that was exactly what he planned to do. After being buzzed into the office, it didn’t take long for Robert to be pulled out of class and set up in a conference room with the unit chief. Right away, Hotch got the sense that this kid probably wasn’t their UNSUB. He looked terrified, his eyes and nose red and swollen from crying, and he made himself as small as possible in the chair across from the older man. Robert was a tall and lanky brunette dressed in a sweater and jeans, wearing glasses that were too big for his face and looking much younger than his 17 years. Since he was a minor, his mother had been called and she was sitting in on the interview as well. 


“Robert, I’m Agent Hotchner. I’m here to ask you a few questions.”


“O-okay.” The young man stammered, twisting his hands together. Hotch continued. 


“You knew Anna Long and Patty Marsh, correct?” Robert nodded, tearing up. “What was your relationship to each of them?” 


“Anna and I had classes together. Patty was m-my girlfriend.” Hotch paused to clear his throat under the pretense of writing down notes, also taking a moment to swipe at the building tickle in his nose. It backed off and he let out a silent breath of relief. 


“Did you have any relationship to Eleanor Wright?” Robert paused, thinking hard, then shook his head. 


“I don’t think we ever met. Did she go here?”


“No.” Hotch answered shortly. “One of your hairs was found on Patty’s body after it was recovered, do you have any idea how it would have gotten there?” Robert broke down at that, needing a moment to pull himself together before answering. 


“We were…together for the first time the night she went missing. It was so special, I drove her home and she got inside safely, and then that was the last time I saw her.” He put his head on the table and started crying in earnest. 


Hotch could feel his headache growing worse and knew he needed to get some medication in his system. His thoughts were jumbled but he knew he had a few follow up questions. He waited until the younger man had calmed down to ask them, then closed his notebook and adjourned the interview. 


“Stay in town. We’ll follow up if we need anything else.” Robert and his mom nodded at that. Hotch left the building and the second he stepped outside he sneezed three times into a clenched fist. “Hhhnfshoo! Hhhhtschoo! Hhhhtsch!” They were powerful enough to make his head spin and he had to stop in his tracks in order not to stumble. As soon as he had his bearings he made his way back to the SUV and drove back to the station, head throbbing still. 


His face must have looked pinched when he walked in, because JJ made eye contact with him and then turned back to the conversation with the chief of police for several minutes before excusing herself. She walked up to him before he could sit down and cringed a little as he shot her a fierce look, but didn’t back down. 


“Hotch, can I talk to you in here?” She gestured to an empty conference room. Trying to remain calm, he nodded and covered a wince as the pain in his head increased before following her into the small room. JJ shut the door and lowered the blinds before turning to face him. He could see right away that she was carrying an immense amount of stress and was about to ask what was wrong when she forced a smile and spoke. “You look like you have a headache. I grabbed some ibuprofen on my way out the door this morning. There’s water in the corner too.” Hotch arched an eyebrow but accepted the blister packet gratefully. With JJ, he felt a little more at ease than with the others. They’d been through so much together. 


“I keep telling you, you ought to be a profiler.” His voice was on the raspy side of normal and she held out a lozenge but he shook his head. “I’m alright, just a headache. How’s the morning been for you?” At that her shoulders visibly slumped.


“There’s a lot of pressure from the media to solve this one. I’m trying to keep things smoothed over but there’s only so much I can do…” She trailed off as Hotch’s phone rang. He answered it and his face immediately darkened. JJ’s stomach dropped-she knew that look. Her boss hung up the phone after a minute of listening and his voice was grave when he spoke. 


“We need to call the others. They found another body.” 


“Another body? I didn’t even realize another girl had been reported missing!” JJ exclaimed as she pulled out her phone. Hotch shook his head, clearly displeased that they hadn’t received that information, his phone already up to his ear. Working together, it wasn’t long before they’d called the members of the team back to the station and gathered everyone in the conference room. The news gave Hotch a bit of a second wind, and he gathered himself enough to address the team. 


“Somehow, another girl-Hannah Carter-went missing without our knowledge and turned up dead this morning. Rossi and I will drive out to the dump site to examine the remains, and then hopefully we’ll be able to make a positive ID so we can find out who this girl was and when she went missing. We’ll update you with more information as it comes.” 


“So this body was found four days after the last victim was killed?” Morgan asked, trying to figure out the timeline. Hotch turned to the board, head swimming, and confirmed Morgan was correct. He didn’t want to admit it but he should have taken the ibuprofen JJ had given him-the headache was impacting his ability to think clearly. Morgan noticed and arched an eyebrow but didn’t say a word. 


“The timeline makes no sense.” Prentiss said, a look of concern on her face. “He’s accelerating and then draws out the time between kills again?” 


“We need to move on this and we need to move fast.” Hotch said, voice cracking slightly on “fast”. He cleared it and continued. “Prentiss, did you interview all three families?”


“I have two left. The first family was so distraught it was difficult to get information out of them.” 


“Okay. Morgan, take the second family and Prentiss take the third. Rossi and I are heading to the dump site and we’ll relay any information we have back to Garcia. JJ, do your best with the media. Reid, keep working on that geographic profile.” 


Before they left the station, Hotch swallowed the ibuprofen with a sip of water. He didn’t miss the stressed look on JJ’s face as he passed her on his way to the car or the raised voices of the officers she was with, but he was in a rush and knew time was of the essence and couldn’t stop to find out what was going on in that moment. He joined Rossi in the car, climbing behind the wheel per usual. 


“Are you up for this?” Rossi’s tone was mostly flat, somewhat concerned, with a hint of condescension, or at least that’s how Hotch read it. He instantly bristled. 


“I’m fine Dave. I can work with a cold.” The fact that he didn’t cough or sneeze after that statement was of great relief to him. Rossi’s tone was carefully even when he responded. 


“Never said you couldn’t, just asked if you were up for it. You definitely seem under the weather.” Hotch stayed quiet, knowing if he spoke he’d cough and if he coughed it would take a while to stop. His throat felt raw, tender, and extremely dry and his head was pounding, but he was the unit chief and he wasn’t about to admit that he would rather be in bed than working this case. 


They arrived at the dump site in less than 15 minutes. It seemed where the UNSUB was dumping the bodies was the one consistency-he or she was dumping them just inside the forest line that surrounded the town. 


“It’s almost as if he wants us to find them.” Rossi mused. Hotch nodded, concurring with that statement. 


The girl had been dead for roughly a day, meaning she’d been killed two days ago-only a day after their third victim. Hotch felt his stomach drop at the acceleration in the timeline. The UNSUB had clipped her first phalanges again, posed her in a white robe, and left her in a shallow grave. After thoroughly working the scene, Hotch and Rossi finally cleared the forensic investigator to take the body to the morgue. As they drove back to the station, Hotch was quiet. 


“Penny for your thoughts?” Rossi finally broke the silence, concerned for the younger man. He had a hard look on his face, like he was beating himself up over something. Hotch gave his head a slight shake before answering. 


“How did we not know a girl had gone missing? It’s a small town, that should have been big news.” Rossi frowned. He’d been wondering the same thing, but clearly it was eating the unit chief alive. Hotch normally didn’t get stuck on those details-he looked at the whole case until it was solved, and fixated on the details he thought mattered. Clearly the man was overtired and not thinking the way he usually did. 


“Aaron, it’s not on you.” He said gently. “We’ll find out once we have an ID on the body-Garcia will be able to tell us what happened there. We have to let it go and focus on what will help us solve the case.”


“Right. Right.” Hotch said, but his tone was distracted. He coughed hard after speaking, raising a gloved wrist to the back of his mouth and coughing as though he couldn’t stop. Rossi looked at him, alarmed, until Hotch finally got his breathing under control. “I’m alright.” He rasped an answer to the unasked question. “Let’s just solve this one.” 


Back at the station, Hotch poured over every piece of evidence he could find as he waited for forensics to ID the body. His head was spinning though, which made focusing difficult. It also felt like it was filled with cotton due to the congestion. He was so focused on trying to make sense of what was on the page that he didn’t hear JJ come up beside him. 


“Hey, you okay?” She asked, touching his shoulder when he didn’t respond. Hotch jumped-he hadn’t even heard her enter the room. 


“I didn’t hear you come in. I’m fine. Did you need something?” A quick look at his face told her he was anything but fine. He was paler than he’d been that morning with heavy bags under his eyes-clearly he was fading as the day went on. She wasn’t totally unsure he wasn’t running a fever. 


“I was just checking in to see if you needed a second pair of eyes on anything.” That sounded less risky than asking if he needed anything. It was only 5pm and she didn’t want to push him too far-she could see the irritation forming before she got to the second half of her question. He relaxed and shook his head, looking at her for the first time. JJ’s face looked pinched and tense-clearly her day wasn’t going any better than his. Before he could ask what was wrong, she set a mug of coffee next to him and walked away. He flashed a grateful look at her retreating back and turned back to the notes in front of him. 


Around 7pm, everyone had returned to the station and gathered in the conference room to discuss what they’d found that day and how to move forward. It was warm with so many people in the room and Hotch found himself struggling to focus for once as the heat became too much to handle. He’d taken off his fleece jacket but even that didn’t help. It finally became too oppressive and he excused himself when the team took a break for a quick meal, stepping into a cooler conference room down the hall. To his surprise, JJ followed him. 


“You’ve got a fever Hotch.” He shot her something approaching a glare. 


“I’m warm. The conference room was warm. That’s all there is to it.”


“Your cheeks are flushed and your eyes are glazed.” JJ countered, handing him a packet of acetaminophen. “Take the medication or don’t, you’re an adult. I won’t tell the others but they’ll figure it out soon enough.” She turned on her heel and left. 


He did feel woozy, so a fever made sense. As soon as JJ was out of sight, he grabbed a bottle of water from a small fridge in the corner before sitting down at the table in the middle of the room and swallowing the dose of acetaminophen. It made him cough and once he started he found he couldn’t stop. It felt like the coughing fit went on forever and when it finally passed he felt too tired and dizzy to do anything but lay his head in his folded arms and close his eyes for a minute.  


He woke to someone shaking his arm gently and calling his name. 


“Hotch? Hey, Hotch, are you alright?” He opened his eyes and found himself staring into the gaze of a very worried looking JJ. Hotch passed a hand over his face, trying to pull himself together. He truly felt awful. The world seemed to be swimming around him he was so tired, or maybe it was the fever? JJ must have had the same thought because her wonderfully cool hand was suddenly on his too hot forehead. “Oh Hotch, you’re burning up. You should be in bed.” Before he could stop himself, he found himself nodding in agreement. 


“How long have I been asleep?” He asked, clearing his throat and coughing several times before sitting up taller and straightening his tie. He could do this. He could get through the night. JJ shook her head. 


“It’s only 8:15, you’ve only been asleep maybe twenty minutes.” Hotch breathed a sigh of relief that made him cough again and stood up, gripping the back of the chair and the table as he did so for stability. The room spun a little but came into focus quickly. 


“Okay.” He rasped. “Let’s get back to work.” Knowing Rossi and the others would help talk sense into him, JJ followed her boss down the hall. He paused just outside the door to the conference room, pulling out his handkerchief and sneezed harshly into it. “Hdddscch! Hhhhnxxggchtch! Hhhhhmpfsh!” They seemed to take a lot out of him and his shoulders visibly sagged as he pocketed the handkerchief and stepped into the room. 


Rossi took one look at him and said what everyone was thinking. 


“You look like death warmed over. For the love of God, go back to the hotel and get some sleep.” Hotch tried to bristle but had very little fight in him. He was pale and feverish and clearly worn out.


“Seriously, before you infect someone else, go get some rest.” Morgan looked vaguely horrified. That seemed to do the trick. 


“I’ll drive him to the hotel and come back for you guys at 11:30. Sound good?” JJ asked. Rossi noted how tired she looked and shook his head. 


“We can fit five in one SUV. It’s tight but doable. Stay at the hotel. We’ll see you in the morning.” JJ flashed him a grateful look and followed Hotch out the door. Emily turned to Rossi and looked at him with a worried expression. 


“She doesn’t look so good either.”


“So far she just looks tired. Hopefully the extra rest helps keep her from coming down with this. We’ll keep an eye on both of them.” 


By the time they reached the car, both JJ and Hotch were chilled to the bone despite their protective layers. JJ didn’t hesitate to turn the heat on full blast and aim the vents at her suffering boss as soon as the air had warmed up. 


“How are you feeling?” She asked hesitantly, concerned he’d bite her head off. Surprisingly, he considered the question and answered honestly. 


“Terrible. Hhhhhtschoo!” A wretched sounding sneeze and nose blow emphasized his choice of words. JJ made a sympathetic sound but didn’t know how to respond. They reached the hotel and it felt like the longest walk ever from the elevator to their room. As soon as they were inside, JJ ushered Hotch into the restroom to change and get ready for bed. He came out after a few minutes looking even more tired than before and immediately crawled into bed. JJ got through the bathroom as quickly as she could and turned out the lights before climbing into bed as well. She stayed awake until Hotch’s raspy breathing evened out, letting her know he was asleep, and then laid awake as thoughts of the case and the things she’d have to face the next day, and whether or not Hotch would be better, and whether or not they were making progress with the UNSUB, swirled frantically in her mind. 


JJ finally drifted into an uneasy sleep around 11, but startled awake to her phone vibrating slightly at midnight. She quickly yanked it off the table, afraid the sound would wake her sleeping boss, and saw Rossi was asking to meet her in the lobby for a quick briefing with the team. Reluctantly, she pulled her aching body from the bed and put on some socks before stepping into the bright light of the hallway with her keycard, closing the door behind her. 


As soon as she got downstairs, Garcia shot Rossi a furious look and smacked his arm. 


“I told you she’d already be asleep. She’s running herself into the ground, Dave!”


Prentiss surveyed her with an anxious expression-unusual for the dark haired woman. 


“JJ, are you alright? You look so stressed and so tired.” Rossi held up his hand, clearly wanting the others to leave her alone. 


“She’s alright, she just woke up. Give her a break.” The look in his eyes said they’d be speaking privately later. “Anyway, we all know how sick Hotch was today. There’s a good chance he either stays home tomorrow, or isn’t much help if he comes in. We also have to be careful about infection risk. Stay on top of hand washing, sanitize your hands when in doubt, don’t share food or drinks, and get as much sleep as you can. We’re getting closer but it’s going to be a long few days.” Everyone nodded in agreement before heading off to bed, saying goodnight to each other as they went. JJ and Rossi stayed behind. 


“Hotch is alright. He’s been asleep since we got home.” JJ said, passing a hand over her face. For what reason, Rossi wasn’t sure. She looked weary to the bone. Deep shadows had taken up residence under her eyes, making that area of her face look almost bruised. The rest of her face was pale and she looked exhausted and unbelievably stressed at the same time. He wondered if she wasn’t getting enough sleep because of the case, or if she was too wound up to fall asleep. 


“Jennifer…we’re all tired, but you look exhausted. Are you alright?” JJ just shrugged. 


“I’m tired Rossi. But I’m okay. Are you alright?” The Italian raised an eyebrow at the deflection. He’d looked in a mirror recently and he looked far better than the young woman in front of him.


“Fine. Go back upstairs and get some sleep. We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.” 


JJ entered the hotel room as quietly as she could, but Hotch was a light sleeper and she  could see the outline of his muscular form lift off the pillow and sit half upright in the darkness as she made her way back to the bed. 


“JJ? Are you okay?” He coughed hard into his elbow immediately after asking the question. She nodded, realized he might not have seen the nod and answered verbally once he’d finished coughing.” 


“I’m fine Hotch. Rossi just gave me an update in the lobby. He said if you need to stay here tomorrow we can manage without you, it might even be best due to contagion risk for the rest of the team. We’ll see how you’re feeling in the morning.” 


She could see how guilty her boss felt even in the dark, and could hear it in his hoarse, congested voice when he spoke. 


“I’m sorry JJ. I’m letting all of you down-“ 

She reached over and squeezed his shoulder. 


“Everyone gets sick Hotch. The team is fine, you just have to take care of yourself. Now go back to sleep, it’s after midnight.”


She laid awake long after his raspy breathing evened out, worrying about the case and her husband and her son and her sick boss. The world felt out of control and it made it almost impossible to sleep. By 4:30, she realized she wasn’t going to get any sort of reasonable amount of sleep, so she got up and got through the bathroom, skipping the blow dryer and pulling her hair into a wet bun to avoid waking Hotch. She desperately wanted coffee, but waited until five when his alarm went off and he stood mechanically to take a shower. 


When she came back in the room, Hotch was still in the shower. She could hear him coughing through the thin door and frowned. He certainly didn’t sound any better. JJ placed the cup of tea she’d brought him on his nightstand and settled into the chair to wait for him. The man came out dressed for work, but one look at his face told her he shouldn’t be out of bed. 


“Hotch….please stay here today.” She said in a soft tone. He shook his head, bracing himself against the doorframe as the congestion shifted and made him sneeze.


“Aaaatschoo! Hhhmfschoo! Hhhhgtschoo! I can’t. The team needs me.”


“The team needs you functional.” JJ corrected him gently, taking in his exhausted posture and the weariness in his eyes. She doubted he could think straight at the moment given the fatigue and the congestion. “Stay here today. Chances are we’ll need you more tomorrow.” That looked like it was swaying him for a moment but then he doubled down. 


“It’s going to put more on Rossi and on you. I can’t do that to you.”


“I can handle it, and you know Rossi is calm under pressure.” This time Hotch’s eyes flashed with anger. 


“I am the unit chief. I know my limits and I can work. We need to meet the team.” He coughed again following the pronouncement and JJ passed him the tea wordlessly, trying to keep her hand from shaking. He took a sip, expecting coffee, and a strange look passed over his expression when the tea hit his palette. JJ automatically took a step back, expecting more anger, but Hotch put his stoic expression back on and said nothing as they walked out the door. 


He was smart enough not to try to drive the SUV, instead taking shotgun next to Rossi while Emily and JJ slid into the backseat. Rossi kept his voice low as he addressed the younger agent. 


“You should have stayed in bed, Aaron. You’re foggy and you know it.” Hotch sighed. His head felt filled with cotton and he didn’t know how much help he’d be today, but at least he was there and trying instead of being lazy and staying in bed all day. 


Prentiss shot an anxious look at JJ on the way over. She knew her friend well, and JJ was not acting like herself. She wasn’t throwing quippy lines around to counteract rude media and police officers, she was just taking everything and internalizing it. 


In the other car, there was a very open discussion about how Hotch should not be working. 


“He’s contagious!” Reid squeaked, though he calmed down enough to add “Though we were already exposed before he started showing symptoms.” Garcia piped up from her seat, too. 


“He looks terrible and JJ looks so tired. I wonder if she’s been up at night taking care of him.”


“Wouldn’t surprise me.” Morgan said. 


They reached the station first and got to work right away when they were greeted with the news another girl had gone missing. There was very little hope of finding her alive but if they could find the UNSUB they could stop him from taking anyone else. Rossi and the others pulled up minutes later. JJ visibly paled at the news and seemed to steel herself before walking inside. Hotch took a seat at his desk and got to work as best as he could, and Rossi and Prentiss joined the other profilers. 


The morning passed quickly, but by one it was clear Hotch wasn’t going to last the day. JJ had been doing what she could, plying him with tissues and medication, water, and the occasional something to eat whenever she could get away from the deluge of phone calls, emails, and personal visits from officers, but it wasn’t enough. He was fading fast. 


“Hhhhgschoo! Hhhhnfshoo! Hhhtschoo!” He sneezed hard into his handkerchief as JJ entered the room, blowing his nose before lowering the cloth to reveal bright red nostrils. The sneezing made him cough and the coughing made him tired and it took him a full two minutes to notice her standing there. As soon as he made eye contact, JJ made her decision. 


“Hotch, I’m taking you back to the hotel. You’re no use to anyone like this.” To her surprise, he nodded. 


“Let me get my things together.” His voice was unbelievably congested and hoarse. She found Rossi, told him she’d be back in thirty minutes and where she was going, and then walked out the door of the station. Rossi sighed as he watched her go. He wished he could spare her too so she could get some sleep but he couldn’t. They needed all hands for this case. 


The drive back to the hotel was silent, aside from the familiar sounds of Hotch’s coughing and soft sniffles. She wanted to follow him up to the hotel room, make sure he got settled and took medication and drank fluids before sleeping, but all she could do was say “I hope you feel better Hotch. Get some rest.” Before driving away as soon as he’d made it through the doors. 


They were reaching the point in the case where they were becoming overworked. Long nights and early mornings were beginning to take their toll on everyone, not to mention the pressure to produce results. Morgan slammed a case report shut with a string of swear words as he once again failed to make the connection between Amber Mills, their most recent victim, and Hannah Carter or Eleanor Wright. The ties between Amber, Patty, and Anna were that they’d all gone to the same school but Hannah and Eleanor had been homeschooled and were outliers. Reid was pacing as he rewrote the geographic profile over and over, trying to make sense of it. Garcia was doing her best to keep track of all the information and find new leads but this case felt like it led to one dead end after the other. Prentiss had gone back to interview the Carters and the Cartwrights, desperately trying to find the link. That left Rossi and JJ, who were trying to keep morale up, stay up to date on every bit of information, and JJ alone was fielding calls from the media, desperate family members, and in person harassment from angry members of the police force. 


Rossi was unaware of just how much trouble the chief of police was giving JJ until he happened to be looking for her in the conference room she was camped out in that night. It was just after seven and he wanted to make sure she’d eaten something. Before he’d gotten halfway down the hall, he heard shouting that showed no sign of stopping. 


“Why do I have no new information on my desk? What are you people doing? Are you useless? Do you even have a job or are you just here to answer the phone and look pretty?” Rossi forced himself to act calmer than he felt as he walked in the door, drawing himself up to his full height. 


“You sir, need to leave this room immediately.” The man visibly deflated as he realized what he said and started to apologize but Rossi cut him off. “Get out, now.” As soon as they were alone he turned to look JJ over. Her eyes were dry-a good sign. She wasn’t shaking. She just looked beaten down and utterly defeated. 


“What did you need me for, Rossi?” She asked, knowing that was probably why he’d come down the hall. He was taken aback by her tone. It sounded hollow and like she was ready to say enough. 


“JJ, I-“


“I’m fine Rossi. Let’s just get back to work, okay?”


He left without a word as she was clearly shut down and not going to talk to him, but he was more worried about her now than before. 


Knowing the team was at a struggling point in the case, and knowing no breakthrough would likely be made until the morning, Rossi called it a night at 11pm. The drive home was quiet, everyone frustrated and exhausted and not in the mood to discuss the lack of progress. When they reached the hotel JJ told Rossi and Prentiss goodnight before heading upstairs. She entered the hotel room and closed the door without turning on the light, leaning against it for a moment with her eyes shut as she momentarily forgot about Hotch’s presence and began to come undone. The light flicked on a moment later and she jumped, turning away as she tried to brush away her tears. Hotch’s voice was rough and congested but filled with compassion as he spoke, the bedcovers rustling as he sat up in bed. 


“Jennifer? Is everything alright?”


“Fine, fine. Something’s in my eye, just give me a moment-“ He must have heard her voice shaking, or the way it was about to break, because she heard the creak of the bed springs and then footsteps, and then a too-warm hand was on her shoulder. 


“JJ.” She took a deep, shaky breath and managed to collect herself. He could feel her trembling under his hand but she didn’t fall apart. 


“I’m fine.” JJ said resolutely, turning around abruptly. Hotch looked her over, noting the exhaustion and worry lines and tension in her posture but let the subject drop. “How are you feeling?” The unit chief sat back down on the edge of the bed to give her the height advantage as they talked, and hoped she’d also sit. She remained standing. 


“Better. I think the fever’s down, and I’m coughing less. I should be fine to work tomorrow.” 


“Good. I’m glad to hear that.” JJ said, her expression almost distant as she began making sure everything was in order for the next day. 


“JJ, are you sure you’re alright?” He asked, noting that she seemed far more anxious than usual. 


“I’m okay. I just need some sleep.” She grabbed her clothes and headed into the bathroom. He laid down but left the light on, wanting to give her the option to talk if she needed to. She set her alarm for the next morning and wrote something down in a file that she replaced in her bag before looking at her boss. “Do you need anything?” He rolled over and shook his head no. Without a word she climbed into bed and turned off the light. He wanted to stay awake until she fell asleep, but her breathing stayed quick and irregular and he was sick and still exhausted…


Morning came too quickly for JJ’s liking. She woke up with a pounding headache, stiff muscles and the beginnings of a sore throat-the cold dry air was starting to get to her. She popped a few ibuprofen with her morning coffee before heading to the lobby with Hotch in tow. He was congested and still under the weather, but significantly better than the day before. It was clear he was back to being Hotch, much to everyone’s relief. 


They hit the ground running once they reached the police station and by midday they had a lead on their UNSUB. Hotch had figured out the connection between the two latest victims and the first three, and that was all they needed to deliver a profile and tie everything together. By 6pm, they were gearing up for a raid. Rossi pulled Hotch aside as the team was getting ready. 


“You know you can’t go in with us, right?” Hotch’s eyes narrowed. The Italian kept talking, holding his ground. “One cough or sneeze and our cover is blown to hell. We have one chance at getting this guy before he grabs another girl, and we’ve got plenty of bodies covering us. Let us do what you’ve trained us to do.” Hotch nodded reluctantly. 


“You radio me the minute it’s clear.” He said, voice hoarse with something besides a cold. Rossi nodded. With that, they began loading up. 


The takedown was seamless, but the UNSUB’s residence was large. Even with the help of the analysts in the police department, it was going to be a long night of processing the scene. It was a cabin like structure, two stories, poorly heated and maintained. Even with their extra layers of warmth on, it was miserable for everyone. 


JJ was on the second floor in what seemed to be a second bedroom. The first window had a fist sized hole in it and the second was missing an entire pane-it felt like her clothes were doing nothing against the cold. Her nose was beginning to run and she’d started to develop a tickle in her throat-it was a relief to be in the room by herself and to be able to cough without anyone hearing. Or at least, so she thought. 


“Was that you coughing?”


JJ looked up from the crook of her elbow as she coughed and saw Prentiss standing there. As soon as the tickle passed she cleared her throat and lowered the elbow, forcing a smile. 


“Yeah, it’s the cold. My throat is tickling.” Prentiss looked horrified upon seeing JJ’s face. 


“JJ, your nose and cheeks are bright red, you look frozen!” JJ shook her head and sniffed quietly, praying she wouldn’t sneeze in front of Prentiss. 


“I’m alright. How many more rooms up here?”


“This is the last one. I’ll help you with this one, you’ve got to get out of here.”


Between the two of them, the room went fairly quickly. Prentiss noted the cold didn’t seem to be affecting her nearly the way it was affecting JJ. When they went downstairs, it was a little warmer, but not by much. Rossi was in the middle of an argument with Hotch, who actually almost looked better than JJ. 


“You’re sick, you’re freezing and you need to warm up. At least go sit in a warm SUV-damn it.” He caught sight of JJ and his priorities shifted. His eyes immediately went to Prentiss. 


“She was in a room with one missing window pane and a hole in another. We got done as fast as we could.” 


JJ opened her mouth to speak and her expression collapsed. She knuckled into her fist with a “hhnxcgt! Hhhhxngt!” Rossi put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it tightly, then turned back to Hotch.  


“Okay, here’s what’s going to happen. Aaron, you are taking JJ back to the hotel. JJ, I have had enough. You are exhausted and working yourself to the bone and it stops now.” JJ closed her eyes, fighting tears, but nodded. Hotch didn’t say a word, knowing JJ needed him more than the case did. They got into the car and he turned the heat on full blast, aiming the vents at JJ. He noted she turned two back towards him, but kept two facing towards herself. She was shaking badly-she must have really been freezing. 


“Hngxt! Hnxgt! Hnxgt!” Three more nearly silent stifles came from the passenger seat, followed by a runny sounding sniffle. Hotch shot a sympathetic look over to JJ. He wished he had a clean handkerchief to offer her. 


“There might be tissues in the glove box.” He finally broke the silence when she sniffed again. Though she found them, she looked mortified rather than relieved and turned as far as possible from him in the seat, blowing as quietly as she possibly could but not putting the tissues away as the tickle remained present. Now the warm air was tickling her throat and she found herself needing to cough again. It came out sounding a little heavier than before-still dry, but clearly she’d coughed enough upstairs that her throat was irritated. 


Hotch gripped the wheel tightly. He hated that he’d given her his cold. It was clear she didn’t want to talk and they had a long drive back to the hotel, so he focused on keeping his own symptoms under control as the warmth of the car made his own nose run. He finally couldn’t fight the urge to sneeze any more and, realizing he’d be dealing with a full on sneezing fit, he pulled to the side of the road. Sure enough, he found himself doubling over, unable to stop sneezing as the warmth of the car finally pushed the niggling itch he’d been dealing with off and on all day over the edge. 


“Hhhhtschoo! Hhhngschoo! Hhhhnschoo!…hhhnschoo! Hhhmpffshoo! Hhhtschoo!…” After the six sneeze, he looked up blearily to a tap on his shoulder and saw JJ holding out more tissues from the glove box, looking anxious. He took them and blew his nose hard, halting the fit in its tracks, then took a minute to recover with his head against the back of the seat. 


“Are you alright Hotch?” She asked, and he was relieved to hear she sounded like herself when she asked the question. He nodded. 


“I’m fine. It’s the warm air after being in the cold so long. I just needed a minute.” He put the car back in drive and they continued on their way. Other than being tired, Hotch felt decent. His head ached a bit, and his body held onto some lingering soreness, but he overall felt alright. When JJ sneezed again, followed by another round of coughing, his stomach contracted. 


“Hhngxt! Hhhxcht! Hhhnxcgt! Hhhnxcht! Hhhxchtoo!” 


“I’m sorry I gave you my cold.” He said, thinking she’d brush it off and say it was fine. She shook her head.  


“You didn’t. I’m just chilled. I’ll be fine when I warm up.” Hotch raised an eyebrow but didn’t say a word. He couldn’t tell if she was denying she was sick for his sake, or if she genuinely thought she wasn’t sick. Whatever the case, he was eager for her to warm up. They were nearly to the hotel and she was still shaking from the cold, though Hotch had warmed up quickly. It was a relief to pull into the parking lot and head inside. 


Hotch unlocked the door to their room and held it open for JJ. She stepped inside and immediately looked overwhelmed, like she didn’t know what to do first. Then she took off her jacket and gloves, strode to the table and opened her computer to prepare a press release. Even from across the room, Hotch could see the chills intensifying once the jacket was off. He took a seat across from her and she looked up, surprised. 


“JJ, you’re shivering. Why don’t you go take a warm shower or something? The press release can wait.” JJ blushed fiercely at his suggestion but nodded. She was freezing and the urge to sneeze was ever present and her head was killing her and everything ached…God she just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep for a week. Hotch stood as she did and said he was going to run out to try to find something to eat. “Would you like anything?” He’d expected her to be hungry, considering she hadn’t eaten all day, but she looked slightly disgusted at the thought of food and shook her head. 


“I’m fine Hotch. Thank you.” 


The shower felt good, and she was finally able to get the shivering under control, but that feeling of being chilled to the bone just wouldn’t leave-even after using the blow dryer on her hair longer than necessary. She took two more ibuprofen with some water and then changed into her last clean pair of sweats and was settled in at the computer when Hotch returned. He’d brought her a small container of soup and a to go cup of tea despite her saying no to anything. She was grateful for the tea, and took a few bites of soup before closing it and setting it in the fridge for later. 


Due to the size of the table, Hotch sat at the bed so he wouldn’t crowd her while he ate. It worried him that she had no appetite. She looked pale and run down, and he was concerned about her overall well being. He caught her rubbing her temples more than once as she wrote the report, as if she had a headache, and was relieved when she finally shut the computer and pushed the chair away from the table. 


“How are you feeling?” He asked.




“Is there another word in your vocabulary?” His voice held a touch of humor but JJ didn’t smile. “Bad joke, I’m sorry.” It wasn’t often that her boss apologized and JJ was about to look over at him when the need to sneeze overtook her. She bent forward, doubling over into a tissue she’d plucked from the box on the bedside table. 




It was breathy and airy, but the cough that followed was starting to sound painful. A glance at Hotch’s face showed guilt, worry, and something else she couldn’t quite place. 


“Bless you.” To his credit, he didn’t push and ask if she was feeling alright. She swiped at her nose and nodded her thanks, throwing the tissue away and sanitizing her hands before leaning back in the chair, looking tired. 


“How are you? You were down for the count yesterday.” She finally broke the silence with an inquiry about his health. Considering he’d been pushing her about hers, and probably would continue to do so, he answered without a fight.   


“I’m tired, but I feel better. It’s mostly just the lingering congestion and fatigue, plus some coughing to contend with.” He was about to say he hoped she got off as mildly as he did but he caught himself. She nodded slowly. 


“I’m glad you’re on the mend. I was worried.”  He took the opportunity and pushed a little. 


“You still look worried JJ. I haven’t seen your shoulders relax or jaw unclench since before the plane took off.” She shot him a warning look then sighed deeply.


“I know.” When she didn’t go on, he didn’t press her. A text lit up his phone and he glanced at it. 


“They’re on their way back but Rossi said not to wait up. We’ll do the press conference tomorrow around 11 and fly out by 1.” 


JJ nodded and stood wearily, wincing as she did so. Hotch watched as she climbed into bed and turned off the light without a word, then headed downstairs to wait. JJ didn’t say a word as he left and he suspected she was grateful to have a bit of time to herself. 


Hotch waited in the lobby until the rest of the team walked in, having picked up Garcia at the station. Everyone seemed in good spirits and relatively high energy, despite the long day and the long week and the miserable weather. Rossi didn’t look surprised to see Hotch sitting up in a chair. 


“How’d it go?” The unit chief asked, voice still lower and huskier than normal but significantly healthier sounding than it had been the day prior. 


“We finished up about forty minutes after you left and stopped for dinner on the way back. The officers are wrapping everything up now. How are you feeling?”


“I’m alright. Better than before.” Hotch answered, noting Reid looked antsy. 


“Good to have you back, Boss man.” Morgan said, clapping him on the shoulder. Hotch briefed them all on the plan for the next day and then Reid, Garcia and Morgan headed upstairs. Prentiss and Rossi stuck around. 


“How’s JJ?” Prentiss asked. She looked tired too, but nothing like the media liaison had. Hotch took a beat before answering, trying to figure out the best way to respond. 


“She’s exhausted and I think she’s coming down with what I had-or I guess have-but she’s refusing to admit it.” The two profilers nodded. They’d suspected that was the case. 


“Keep an eye on her and let us know if there’s anything either of you need.” That made Hotch want to snap that he wasn’t an invalid but he bit his tongue, nodded, and bit a hasty retreat back to his room. If JJ was awake, she didn’t let on. He was eager to get some sleep and really try to put the cold behind him, so he turned in as well and fell asleep listening to the sound of her breathing. 


JJ woke up with the desperate urge to sneeze, and no time to get out of bed. All she could do was sit up and clamp a tissue over her tickling nose before doing her best to stifle a fit of increasingly desperate sneezes. 


“Hhngxt! Hhhnxcht! Hhhnxghtuh! Hhhxchiew! Hhhnxchtiew! Hhhnghtiew!” The fit didn’t seem to want to end and she blew her nose softly, trying to get a reprieve, before grabbing another tissue as it continued. She felt the bed shift and then Hotch’s hand was on her shoulder and his sleepy voice was in her ear. 


“Stop holding them back, you’re going to hurt yourself.” 


“Aapshiew! Hhtschiew! Hhhngschiew!!” The next three sneezes burst out of her and couldn’t have been stifled even if she’d wanted them too. They were immediately followed by a fit of chesty coughs that made her chest ache. Hotch’s hand shifted from her shoulder to her back and rubbed gentle circles between her shoulder blades until she caught her breath as he drew himself into a sitting position beside her. 


“Bless you, JJ. You caught my cold, didn’t you?” His voice was filled with guilt and so was his face as she made eye contact with him. She shrugged. 


“I’m alright. I’m sorry I woke you up.” Her voice was already hoarse and from the looks of it, talking hurt. 


“It’s okay. What can I do? Do you have a fever?” She rolled her head around, trying to assess how bad she felt. 


“I don’t think so. I…it’s just a cold Hotch. Don’t worry about me.” With that she stood and headed into the bathroom. He wondered what she was getting ready for as she grabbed her pantsuit and then realized they had the press conference scheduled for the afternoon. He sighed and started getting things ready to check out of the hotel. 


When JJ emerged from the bathroom she looked pale and tired underneath the makeup she’d put on, and her nose had a pink tint to it, but she could pass as healthy. She packed her things and headed to the lobby, coughing as she did so. The woman at the front desk gave her a look and JJ averted her eyes, sitting as far away from the desk as she could. Another person she’d managed to upset. 


Will had been so unhappy when she’d left again. He’d known it was her job and that she had to go, and he said he understood, but the slammed cabinets and angry silences said otherwise. He’d barely even kissed her goodbye. 


Morgan jerked her from her thoughts, appearing out of seemingly nowhere. She’d been so spaced out she hadn’t heard him approach, and jumped slightly when he spoke. He raised his hands in apology. 


“Good morning-didn’t mean to sneak up on you.” She shook her head to clear it and focused on looking as healthy and normal as possible. 


“Guess I zoned out. Is everyone else coming? We need to leave soon.” He gave her a look but nodded, clearly trying to decide if he should comment on the sound of her voice. When she sat up a little taller he let the matter drop. 


Before long the team had assembled and begun loading their bags into the SUV’s. The press conference would be held in the gym at the high school where the first two victims had attended, which was about halfway to the airport. The team would leave from there to fly back to Quantico.


Rossi nodded towards JJ as he and Hotch stowed their bags in the back. 


“How’s she doing?”


“Alright so far. I’m hoping she doesn’t get hit too badly.” Hotch said quietly. 


JJ was rapidly feeling worse as the day went on. The hot lights of camera crews who were broadcasting to the town’s news channel certainly didn’t help make her feel any better. She did her best to get through the prepared material, only pausing once to take a sip of water as a coughing fit threatened to break through her defenses. By the time they were on the road to the airport, she was feeling worse for the wear and ready to crawl into bed at home. They still had a roughly seven hour flight to get through, though, which she was not looking forward to. The congestion had settled in behind her eyes and the constant coughing was exhausting and she had one of the worst headaches she’d had in a long time…she was relieved when they pulled up at the tarmac and saw the jet waiting. 


Hotch frowned as JJ seemed to struggle with her bag as she carried it up the stairs, stowing it before choosing a seat at the table and flipping open the case file to try to finish the case notes on the flight home. He stayed standing as the rest of the team came in, keeping an eye on her. Reid made to take the couch and Morgan kicked the back of his leg, hard. The younger agent made a noise of confusion until he saw Morgan flick his eyes towards JJ, then made his way towards the bucket seats in the back without complaint. Rossi and Prentiss moved towards the back as well, and Garcia was happy to sit with Morgan and Reid. Hotch addressed the team before they took off. 


“It’s been a long case and we’re all exhausted, but you all did great work out there. Clearly JJ and I are both fighting something. Take precautions, get as much rest as you can, and if you come down with it as well, let me know and time off will be arranged.” With that he sat down across from JJ and lowered his voice. “JJ, you should rest. Why don’t you take the couch?” 


She shook her head, though her eyes darted towards it of their own accord and he could see how much she wanted to lay down. 


“I have to get through this paperwork before we land. Will…he’ll be unhappy if I bring work home.” Hotch nodded, pulling out his own case files and beginning to work through them. He couldn’t help but notice JJ was going through hers much more slowly than usual, almost as if she were struggling to stay focused-or to stay awake. He was about to say something when the plane took off. 


Takeoff was fun for neither one of them, but it passed and Hotch didn’t sneeze this time, which he was grateful for. JJ moved her jaw several times until her ears popped, wincing as they did, before getting back to the task at hand. She was so tired that it was hard to focus, and the headache wasn’t helping, but she made her way through the stack in front of her in about two hours, sighing in relief as she signed the last page and tucked the files back into her bag. Hotch glanced up from his nearly finished paperwork as she readjusted her position in the booth, curling up like a cat before closing her eyes. 


“You should take the couch.” He suggested softly again, noting the fatigue present in every inch of her body. JJ shook her head. 


“I don’t want to move.” He let her be after that and went back to the paperwork, but looked up every so often to see how she was doing. It took about half an hour for her body to completely relax, and by the time he was finished with his last signature, she was fully asleep. He stood, grabbing a blanket and covering her small frame with it before settling back into his seat and closing his eyes. They still had four hours to go. With his eyes closed, he was aware that Morgan and Garcia were talking softly, Reid and Prentiss were playing a very quiet game of chess, and Rossi was occasionally interjecting something inaudible. It was a much quieter flight home than a normal afternoon flight, and he suspected a lot of that was out of respect for himself and for JJ. Whatever the reason behind a quiet flight, he was grateful for it. Though he usually didn’t drop his guard enough to sleep on a flight, today was an exception and he found himself drifting off and not fighting it. 


“JJ? Wake up. We’ll be landing soon.” Hotch’s voice woke her from her nap and she sat up slowly, definitely feeling sicker than when she’d gone to sleep. She didn’t even try to put on a brave face, just stayed curled in the blanket as a chill shook her body. Hotch reached across the table and laid the back of his hand on her forehead, knitting his eyebrows together as he did so. She might not have had a fever before but she certainly did now. 


“How long-“ She started to ask how long she’d been asleep but her voice caught and she had to cough instead, the spasms shaking her body and causing her to furrow her brow in pain. 


“You’ve been asleep for almost five hours. I take it you aren’t feeling any better.” Hotch stated as the coughing died down and JJ reluctantly took the blanket off her shoulders, folding it as they prepared to descend. 


“No.” He could tell admitting that was hard for her. They sat in silence as they descended and then touched down, JJ wincing again as her ears popped several times, an odd expression on her face the rest of the time. As soon as they were on the ground she grabbed a tissue from her pocket and sneezed into it. “Hhhgnshiew!” Hotch guessed she’d been holding that back from the relief that washed over her expression. 


“Bless you.” He said gently, and she just nodded her thanks. Clearly she was miserable, just as he had been, and the unit chief felt terrible for passing his cold on to her. 


Hotch shouldered JJ’s bag and his own as they disembarked, and she shot him a grateful look. Though it wasn’t even 9pm yet, it felt much later at night than it was and Hotch offered JJ a ride as he walked her to her vehicle. She thanked him but declined, as he’d suspected she would. 


“Thanks though Hotch. I’ll see you Thursday.” She turned to the side and coughed, shivering in the cold air. Hotch nodded. 


“If you need anything in the meantime, or if you aren’t feeling up to coming in Thursday, give me a call. Feel better Jennifer.”


She flashed him a tired smile before climbing in her car and starting the engine. Only after she’d actually put the car in reverse and pulled away did he walk to his own vehicle. Rossi was waiting for him. 


“I assume you offered to drive her home?”


“Of course.” Hotch said, slightly offended that the Italian might think otherwise. Rossi smirked. 


“She’s stubborn, just like you. Go get some sleep and hug Jack for me. I’ll see you Thursday.” 


With that, Hotch got in his car and headed home, ready to see his son after a very long, very stressful case. 

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This was amazing! Are you thinking of doing a follow-up? I could definitely see JJ trying to go to work still sick

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On 10/8/2023 at 1:30 PM, MIN said:

Ooohh! This was so good! 

Thank you so much! It means a lot to me! 

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On 10/9/2023 at 6:07 AM, silentdreamer789 said:


Thank you!!! Your support means the world. 

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On 10/11/2023 at 4:12 AM, sneezemeister said:

This was amazing! Are you thinking of doing a follow-up? I could definitely see JJ trying to go to work still sick

Thank you so much! I love that idea, I’ll get started on it! I have so many Hotch/JJ ideas haha. 

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On 10/16/2023 at 10:50 AM, 24Me said:

Thank you so much! I love that idea, I’ll get started on it! I have so many Hotch/JJ ideas haha. 

I'm looking forward to it! You write them very well.

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