Author: Karyl McLeod
Summary: One small step for man, one giant leap for Hotch/Garcia.
Author Notes: (This is the next installment of the Her Still Point/Love series. There will be at least one more. Previous installments can be found on the LJ Hotch/Garcia Community or at Her Still Point (part one) or Love (part two).
The Heart by Candlelight
by Karyl McLeod
The puppet bobbed up to lean into Jack Hotchner‘s face. “Hi. I’m Captain Waldo the Feeling Better Bunny. I just wanted to say thank you for coming to our kids circle!”
The little boy smiled sadly over at the puppet. He nodded a little, like he was mostly humoring it. “You’re welcome.”
The puppet turned its “head.” “Kinda hard talking about your mommy, though?”
“But now I hear you’re going to go on that great trip. Disney World. And Epcot. That’s real cool beans, huh?” the puppet asked. “Captain Waldo the Feeling Better Bunny wants you to have the best time ever.”
“I’ll try. But you’re not Captain Waldo the Feeling Better Bunny,” he said, very seriously.
“No. You’re just a puppet on Ms. Garcia’s hand.”
“Captain Waldo” “grasped” his felt chest then fell backwards into Penelope’s lap as she plunked down on the recreation room sofa beside Jack. “Can’t fool you, huh, junior g-man?”
His tiny hand gently patted her hand, still inside the puppet. “That’s okay. It was kinda obvious.”
She gave him a grin and a nudge. “Still, Disney World is gonna be way cool, huh?”
A faded smile perked up a moment on his lips. He nodded with a kind of grudging acceptance. “Yeah, it’ll be pretty neat.”
She lifted his chin a little so she could see his eyes. “But you feel guilty that your mom is gone and now you’re going to go have fun? Like it’s wrong to let yourself be happy?”
“Yeah.” He looked up at her with a sharp surprise that reminded Garcia a lot of his father. “How did you know?”
“Because I lost my mom when I was pretty young, too. But your mommy would want you to have lots of fun. And your daddy is really worried about you and he needs to hear that you had a great time. Like really having fun going on rides and seeing Mickey Mouse and eating cool stuff and laughing with your cousins. But you have to really have a good time and not just pretend you are. You think you could do that for Daddy?”
At that moment, J.J. slipped up behind them. She placed hands on the little boy’s shoulders. “Jack, I just set out the big oatmeal cookies and punch. You’d better go grab some before they’re all gone.”
He bounced another nod around toward J.J. “Okay,” he said, popping up to launch in one direction but then whirling around toward Garcia again.
“Ms. Garcia, you know what? My daddy asked me if I liked you and I said I think you’re funny and pretty and a nice kinda goofy. And I pretty much just like you a whole bunch,” Jack said, like straight out of nowhere.
The words made her smile with surprise. “Why, thank you. I pretty much just like you a whole bunch, too, Jack.”
He grinned big then whirled around again but looked back once to add, “My daddy likes you a whole bunch, too, he told me.” Then he raced toward the beckoning promise of cookies.
J.J. plunked down beside her. “Looks like you’ve passed the Jack test with flying colors.”
Garcia shrugged a little. “Grief sympatico, I guess. Plus I had four little stepbrothers.” She plucked the bunny puppet off her hand and tossed it into her purse. “You were right about Captain Waldo, though. He was a non-starter.”
She shrugged. “Jack’s a critical thinker, just like his dad. Speaking of whom, where is he?”
“Hotch and Reid had to go to Los Angeles for some consultation on a double homicide they thought might be a triple. Turns out the cases weren’t connected, so they landed about an hour ago. Hotch should be here soon.”
“So, why do you look so nervous?” J.J. asked, smiling with a question, as usual, in her eyes.
“When he comes back to my place,” Garcia said, her voice almost breaking, “He wants to have an important conversation.”
“You say that like you‘re worried about it.”
“An important conversation, J.J.. That doesn’t sound way ominous to you, Ms. Head Shrinker?”
“Why should it? Penelope, didn’t you hear what Jack just said?”
She shrugged. “I heard. Jack and I have a rapport. The three of us had some great times. Hotch waited until Jack was out of town and then he’s going to gently breaks things off with me ---”
“What reason do you have to think he’s breaking things off?”
“All kinds of reasons.”
“I only want to hear one.”
Garcia’s words failed again. Finally, she said, “It’s intuition, I think.”
“In other words, it’s your imagination. This relationship is important. You feel vulnerable. That’s normal. But you have to keep in mind it’s just your own self-doubt talking. It’s not reality. The first time he kissed you, you said it was so hot he practically welded your teeth together.”
Garcia nodded and shrugged. “But there wasn’t any tongue,” she whispered in reply.
“Penelope!” J.J. said, shaking her head.
“Okay, the truth is I’m never the needy one, Jaje. I’m the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. Here I am now, drifting along in his tides, at the mercy of whichever way Hotch decides to steer the ship.”
“Well, at least we navigated our way through that clumsy nautical metaphor,” J.J. said.
“You know what I mean! This isn’t like anything I’ve ever gone through. Every time we’re together, it’s really so right …” Garcia sighed deeply. The way her eyes stung, she knew she was near the point of tears. Her voice tightened down to a dry whisper, “It’s going to kill me when it ends, J.J. I’m not joking. I mean, really.”
J.J. reached over for the bunny puppet and stuck it on her hand. “Captain Waldo says, now hear this, Penelope. Your ship has barely left port!”
“I thought we were done with the nautical metaphors,” Garcia said, tossing J.J. a broken grin before she grabbed Captain Waldo off her hand. She tossed the puppet into the last box and closed it.
“You know what I mean.”
“Here’s what I mean. It will end, Jaje,” Garcia said, softly. “Everything ends. Even if it’s not tonight. Even if he doesn’t break things off when he gets here. And the longer it goes on, the bigger the agony will be when it does. Then I’ll have to see him every day and it’ll -- “
“Penelope,” J.J. said, leaning down to look up in her eyes. “Nothing needs to end. But when you sustain that big a loss so young, you develop distancing mechanisms to protect yourself from other losses. You do this volunteer work. You know how it is.”
“Of course I know. I see what I’m doing. I just wish I could find a reason to think otherwise.”
“Then use Hotch for a reason. You’re not a profiler, you’re one step removed, but you know what they go through. You’ve been everywhere Hotch has been and you can still see the good in people he can‘t see anymore. Penelope, you may be all that stands between him and what happened to Gideon.”
Garcia withdrew from the dark side a little. “I wish I could believe I could help him that much.”
“You can.” J.J. paused for a moment.
Penelope shook her head. She rubbed at her forehead, trying to discern what to do. “I know, I’ll beg off tonight. I’ll tell him I don’t feel well or something. That way, if he does break things off, it’ll be in the morning. It won’t hurt so terribly if I’m not alone … at least, until I get home. But I’ll have a while for it to sink in.”
“If you’re going to tell him something, tell him these doubts you’re having. He may be able to dismiss them right away.”
“Oh, my God, I couldn’t!” Garcia said sharply. “I’d look like a big, needy wuss. Even if I am one, I don’t want to look like one.”
“Then would you let me tell Hotch?” J.J. asked.
“Jaje -- !” Garcia said.
“Tell me what?” Hotch interrupted, as he came around the corner.
Garcia’s heart nearly stopped at the voice. She stood up. “Nothing,” she said quickly.
“All right,” he said, then looking toward J.J. “Thanks for coming all this way to help Penelope.”
“My pleasure,” J.J. said, shooting a meaningful glance toward Penelope.
“Daddy!” another voice flew out of the distance before its owner latched onto his father’s leg.
“Hey, buddy,” Hotch said, his finger’s riffling through the child’s hair. “Did you like the children’s circle?”
He nodded. “Ms. Garcia was fun. She talked with a puppet on her hand. She made me laugh.”
“Did she?” he asked, bending his lips into a soft smile for Penelope. “Well, your aunt and cousins are all in the RV waiting for you. Disney World time.”
“Cool!” Jack said, and shot in the direction of the door.
Garcia felt his fingers touch the inside of her hand before taking hold of it. He smiled at her then nodded in the direction Jack had done. “Walk with me?”
“Sure,” Penelope said, glancing tentatively over at J.J. “You going home?”
“Eventually,” she said, grinning with a purpose. “But I’m going that way, so I’ll walk with you too.”
They were almost to the RV where various Hotchner-related tiny relatives were milling. They were being semi-supervised by a couple of adults whose faces she vaguely recognized from Haley‘s funeral. The RV group had driven to the Surviving Survival meeting solely for the purpose of picking up Jack. But as Garcia and he reached the circle, Hotch let go of her hand. “You should wait here,” he said softly, then continued the rest of the journey to the RV with Jack.
So she stepped back a little. She just stood there, J.J. watching from a distance.
Okay, so he didn’t want to explain her to his ex-in-laws. But it had been a year since his ex-wife’s death and even then, she’d been the ex-wife. Maybe he’s embarrassed, she thought. “Here’s my weird, kooky kinda girlfriend.” And really, what was there to explain?
Did it matter? It made Hotch more comfortable. If she wasn’t feeling in the grip of an anxiety attack, she wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But rather than just standing there, looking like a last player picked in a grade school volleyball match, she turned and made her own way back to her courtyard gate. He would know where to find her.
She unlocked her door and pushed it open. Just the scent of her home made her feel warm with the promise of a comfortable place to hide. But when she looked back toward Hotch, she lost all hope of comfort.
J.J. and Hotch stood in the center of the walkway between the RV and her courtyard. They spoke intently. Hotch’s expression darkened with concern. He and J.J. looked in concert toward her.
Garcia pushed her door open and shut it decisively. She locked it, with the deadbolt. She leaned against the door and let out a deep sigh of relief.
Knowing he had spoken with J.J., there was no way in hell she was going to talk to him tonight.
Anything that harmed Hotch hurt her even more. She could only hope this wouldn’t hurt him. But it wasn’t in her to face what she felt sure he was about to say, to say nothing of his reaction to what J.J. had told him.
She pulled out her cellphone and pushed his number but the ringing on the other end was louder through her door. It was followed by an insistent knock.
She drew a deep breath and opened the door enough to see his eyes. She couldn’t look into them but she could see them.
“Please, I’m really feeling strange and weird and confused,” she said without breathing. “I know I sound like a high school kid or something, but I need time. Can we just please talk tomorrow?”
“No, Aaron, don’t. I can’t do this right now.”
“Okay,” Hotch said, sighing himself. “But we are talking tomorrow.”
“In the morning,” he said, his voice tighter than she’d ever heard it.
She nodded and closed the door again.
Somehow, she found her way to the bedroom and, for the first time in her sad and sucky little life, truly cried herself to sleep.
She skulked around the halls for easily a half hour. He wasn’t anywhere he usually was. He wasn’t in his office, she was reasonably sure. Her last stop became Reid’s desk.
“Is he here?” Garcia asked, as she slipped up beside him.
Reid squinted over at her, as if trying to see her correctly. “Is who here?”
“Hotch, dummy. Bet that’s the first time anyone’s ever called you that.”
“You would be surprised.” He sipped at something in a cup while his brow furrowed in thought. “To answer your question, I haven’t seen him.”
“Okay, I’ll be in my office. But you haven’t seen me either, okay?”
He shrugged. “Sure. Oh, you have a delivery in your office. Flowers or something.”
“Thanks,” she said, then stepped back to add. “Please don’t tell Hotch where I am.”
Reid sipped from his cup again. “How could I when I haven’t seen you?”
The computer room door stood open. This didn’t immediately concern her since Reid had mentioned a delivery. Through the opening, she could see a bouquet of red and coral tea roses nested among baby fern inside a crystal vase. They made her smile as much as they made her ache. She moved toward them.
A card was attached. I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out.
The card felt soft between her fingers. Her eyes moistened rereading the words.
“Reid helped me with the verse,” a voice said behind her. “It’s Old Testament, but it said best what I most needed to say.”
She shut her eyes in realization. She slowly turned around to find Hotch removing his suit jacket and carefully placing it on a chair.
“Hotch, I’m --”
“In the couple of tentative times we’ve had together,” he said quickly, stopping her words, “There hasn’t been enough … enough quiet time … or enough privacy … because of Jack … “
“I know that. Last night -- ”
“Last night,” Hotch said quickly, cutting her off again, “I meant to be different. For all kinds of reasons, for Jack’s sake, for my sake, for the sake of our team, there were things I had to say to you.”
She swallowed hard. She tried to breathe. Here it comes, she thought. “What things?”
He started walking toward her. “When J.J. told me last night what you were afraid of … I couldn’t understand how you could doubt what I’m feeling -- ”
She laughed a little, about to ease the tension with a joke, but then she hesitated at the sight of tears collecting in his eyes. Instead she whispered, “I never doubted you. I just doubted myself.”
“Then let me be clear,” he said firmly, taking a moment to compose himself. “I had to become a man at 16 and you know the rest of my story. Your warmth sustains me, Penelope. Your light guides me through very dark places. You are what is good and kind and beautiful in my world and I need all of that in more ways than I could ever hope to tell you. I need to see the good in people through your eyes.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said softly, her voice full of tears. “I guess that’s one of the benefits of being a female Peter Pan.”
“First, you’re an entirely grown woman. Secondly, there’s no need to call me sir when we’re in here alone.”
“Or maybe I can call you sir … especially when we’re alone,” she said, smiling suggestively.
“Speaking of being alone,” he said, flipping her a little smile. He shut and locked the door then moved to her side.
“Yes?” she asked.
He softly touched a hand to her face. The hand he touched to her face became the fingers he combed into her hair and curved around her head. He drew her toward him. “Every time I touch you, in whatever small way, I desperately need to do it again. I need to. No matter where we are, even in a crowd. The desire is such that I’m going to break a personal rule. Because I also need to prove something to you.”
“You don’t need to prove anything –”
“Yes, I do. You know, they say quiet men smolder and it’s true. It takes a while for the heat to rise to the surface, but when it does …”
Suddenly, his arms reached around her, pulling her into a kiss. His lips pressed over hers as he leaned her against the wall behind her, as if to make their contact complete. His tongue probed through her teeth and coiled voraciously around her tongue, as though to convey a point.
Penelope melted into him and Hotch melted over her. His hands ran hungrily down over her body, then up again to linger suggestively close to her breasts.
There was a knock at the door.
“Goddamn it,” Hotch said, as they broke apart. He gulped air enough to manage words. “Wonderful timing.”
“Whoever it is, I may hurt them badly,” Penelope said, struggling for her own breaths. “I’ll get it. It’s probably for me.”
She checked her clothes for anything embarrassing, then snatched open the door to find Reid behind it.
Reid put up both his hands in surrender. “Don’t kill the messenger. Hotch is needed in a budget meeting.”
Hotch rubbed at his forehead. “God, it’s the first week of the month. I completely forgot.”
“At least it’s not a case,” Garcia said, sighing relief. Then she looked over at Reid, waving at him the little florist card in her hand. “I thought you hadn’t seen Hotch, Poindexter.”
Reid smiled inscrutably at the question. “Actually, I haven’t seen either one of you, have I?” he asked then turned and walked away.
She shut the door a little. She plucked from her cleavage a handkerchief. She dabbed the handkerchief flirtatiously across her tongue for the task at hand. “A little clean-up work is in order,” she said, using the handkerchief to dab at the remnants of her lipstick smeared over Hotch’s lower face. When she was done, she quickly pecked at his lips and reached for his hand, folding the handkerchief up in his fingers. “Hurry back, Special Agent Hotness. You get my drift?”
“I definitely do,” he said, smiling. He slipped her handkerchief into his pocket. “And I promise I’ll try.”
“As the little Jedi Master said, do or do not, baby, there is no try. And, if I get called on the com, as I usually do, I promise I’m going to make it very hard … To stay away, I mean.”
“Penelope, please don’t do anything too … you know,” he said, clearly unable to suppress a smile twitching at his lips. “I’m going to be sitting in a room with Dave Rossi and Erin Strauss.”
“Who, me?” Garcia said. “Princess of Propriety? Perish the thought!”
He laughed, as if happily unable to resist the urge. He reached for his suit coat and pulled it back on. “I have a feeling I’m in a lot of trouble.”
“Don’t drop the quarter, baby, if you don’t want the ride,” she said, moistening her lips before she smiled.
“Oh, I want the ride. And I’ll be back,” he said, so quietly only they would hear, “As soon as humanly possible … if not before.”
Hotch walked into his office to find a bored-looking Rossi sitting at the business end of Hotch’s desk beside an even more bored-looking Erin Strauss. Between them, set the object of Hotch’s greatest concern – his computer monitor, facing only him, but then he was facing them and there was no telling what would happen. As much as it scared him, it also made him smile.
“Sorry I’m late,” Hotch said, slipping into his desk chair. “The BAU budgeting docs for the bureau’s flag committee have been drawn up with a special reference to client expenditure, as you wanted, Director Strauss. Short of mind-reading, we might profile the flag committee to see what we can forecast in terms of budget.”
“I had hoped we’d have numbers available. Budget is tighter than usual, as can be expected. I have just learned that the budget flag chair is out, since we’re down to vital staff,” Strauss said. “However, I suspect that your Technical Analyst could pull up some data to give us a general estimate.”
Hotch swallowed hard. “Yes, Ma’am,” he said, and then tapped his hotkey for Garcia. Suddenly, that term took on a whole new meaning.
“Garcia,” Hotch said through a mile of dry throat, “Director Strauss requests that you pull up a general estimate from the budget chair’s files? It’s a public database.”
“Simple enough,” Garcia said, her smile and wink aimed at Hotch through the camera. She looked away for several seconds to bang at some keys. Then she hit some more. “Over to your handheld, Ma’am.”
“Thank you, Ms. Garcia,” Strauss said.
But Garcia smiled knowingly at the man on the other side of the monitor and Hotch, happily resigned to helplessness, could only watch her. She picked up her big pink pencil then passed the vaguely phallic eraser over her lips. Her tongued flickered around the eraser until her teeth sunk gently into it and pulled it off the pencil. With one finger, she pressed the moist eraser into her cleavage. And Hotch felt like he had swallowed a ton of molten steel from the way he was burning.
Strauss still stared at her handheld. Finally, she said, “These are entirely random figures. The restraint on InterIntel trade figures haven’t been added in at all.”
“That’s all that was on the database, Ma’am,” Garcia said, then mouthing to Hotch, Ooooh, restraints.
“I’m sure it was, Ms. Garcia,” Erin said, in her fully officious tone. “I’ll have to check with the organized crime sub-bureau to see if they have anything from them. I’ll be back as soon as possible,” she said and left Hotch’s office.
Hotch pulled at his collar and drew a deep breath, one hand sneaking up to sweep away a mist of perspiration from his brow.
Rossi’s face wore a suspicious half-smile. “You okay, Hotch?”
“You don’t look so fine,” the other man replied.
“Sir,” Garcia said with special emphasis, “you have a personal call on line seven.”
Hotch cleared his throat and tried with all he had to appear professional. “A moment please, Dave,” Hotch said then picked up the handset to the line. “Yes?”
“I wonder if I can make you do it at work,” her voice whispered like a breeze in his ear, low enough that only he would hear.
“Definitely against protocol,” he replied, still intently professional.
“But so much fun because of it,” she whispered on. “Bet I can. Bet I can make you do it at work. That’s only after I make you squirm in your chair a while, oh cool and collected one.”
“Too late,” Hotch said, casting a vaguely chastising glance at Garcia while he watched her slip her tongue across her deep red lips to moisten them.
He made himself look away from the screen. “Thank you for that information,” he said. “I need to go now.”
“You need to come now. To my office, I mean. In my office, I mean.”
He cleared his throat. He found himself staring back at the screen. “Rossi and I are still going over important budget files.”
“But we don’t have a case.”
“These are budget regulatory matters.”
“But we don’t have a case.”
“Penelope,” he said. “I need to do this.”
“Aaron,” she responded, moistening her lips with her tongue. “You need to do something else even more.”
He shut his eyes, unable to suppress the smile that rose to his lips. He shook his head. “You’re making things … difficult.”
“I want to make things impossible …” she said, licking her teeth this time to present a sparkling smile. She unbuttoned two fastenings, to reveal more cleavage. “Everything but one thing, I mean.”
“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” Strauss said, reentering the door. “I’m afraid I was overly optimistic about the data that would be available. I’m afraid we’ll have to delay this meeting until next week when I am back from Cleveland.”
“Yes, Ma’am, thank you,” Hotch said.
“Later, Erin,” Rossi called over, still laughing to himself as he studied Hotch. “Anyway, Hotch has plans.”
After Strauss had left, Hotch squinted a little in reply. “I do?”
“Yes, you do,” Rossi said emphatically. “You need to get off … your mind whatever Ms. Garcia has placed there. Live a little and lock the tech door for an hour or so. I’ll cover for you both.”
“It’s against -- “
“The rules. I know. I wrote them. So is eating at our desks and surfing the net. But we do it anyway because we live here. I give you absolution, my son. You go do this or you won’t be able to function at all at the rate Garcia is going.”
Hotch knew he had blushed more than a little. He smiled in honest relief. “Thank you. Very, very much.”
“No problem. Oh, and give Penelope my compliments. I don’t think you’ve broken a sweat at the office since your first day on the job.” Rossi laughed to himself. “You can also tell her I said you’re welcome.”