Snow falls gently outside, coating the world in a soft white blanket. Inside, Hotch flicks through the report he was supposed to be reading. Why did Strauss have to pick today of all days.
He scrubs a hand across his face as he sighs, staring blankly off into space. He was supposed to be spending the evening with his son; instead he was here, in the office, finishing reports that, by all rights, should have been filled out by Strauss.
Strauss - the woman who was determined to make his life a living hell.
Damn her, and damn her reports, he thinks, hastily scribbling his name at the bottom of the sheet. He moves it to the second, smaller pile on his neatly organized desk. The first, much larger pile, he didn't even want to look at, knowing it would only serve to make him more unhappy and annoyed. If that were possible.
Heaving another sigh, he takes a break, shaking the cramps out of his hand. His eyes automatically seek out the picture of his son, on the corner of his desk. Jack, much to his dismay, was spending the evening with his cousins. Hotch knew from previous years that Jessica would place on a family movie, entertaining the kids until it was time to countdown.
This year it was supposed to be different. Jack had informed his father that, now he was 6-years-old, he was a 'big boy who could stay up and count down just like his daddy, uncles and aunts.' He remembers that conversation very well.
"What about your cousins?" Hotch had asked.
"I see them all the time, Daddy," his son replied. "I want to spend some time with you." Hotch had been so surprised that he hadn't the heart to say no.
"Well, what did you want to do?" Jack thought for a moment.
"A party," he decided. "With balloons and streamers and cake that Aunt JJ makes."
"Is anyone else going to be coming to this party?" Hotch asked, amused. Jack nodded his head emphatically.
"Aunt JJ, Aunt Em'ly, Aunt Pen, Uncle Morgan, Uncle Reid and Uncle Dave."
"What about Henry?" Jack scrunched up his face. Henry was only a couple of years younger than Jack, but in the elder boy's eyes he was still a baby.
"Okay," he said finally.
Unfortunately, only a merely couple of hours later, Hotch had had to pull the plug on going to the end-of-year party. Jack had been fished off to his aunt's and Hotch had been called into the office, a decision both of them despised.
A knock at the door interrupts his internal musings. No one else was here, were they? He didn't think so.
"Come in," he calls anyway. "Garcia," he says, surprised to see the red-headed woman.
"Hi, sir," she says, equally surprised. "What are you doing here? Not that you're not allowed here, just that I thought you were spending the evening with Jack," she rushes on, stepping further inside.
"That was the plan," he sighs. "Chief Strauss called me into her office. She wants this paper work completed by the end of the year. I think she just wants to keep me away from the fun." A sliver of bitterness seeps into his otherwise emotionless tone. Garcia mentally glares at their Ice Queen of a leader.
"Want me to send her some nasty bugs? I'm sure I can find a way to never trace it back to either of us." Garcia's mind reels with all the ways she can take revenge on Strauss.
"That won't be quite necessary," he replies dryly. She pouts but bounces back quickly.
"Well, is there anything I can do?"
"Not at the moment." He pauses. "I just wish I could spend the night with Jack," he bursts out. "Do you know what he said to me when we first began to organize the night? That his wish would be to spend more time with me. And here I am disappointing my own son by being at work."
Hotch drops his head back into his hands, hiding his face from view. There was just something about Garcia that made her easy to talk to. If Hotch had been looking up, he would have recognized the look that had flashed across the flamboyant woman's face. Fortunately for her, he wasn't.
"I'll tell everyone you won't be making it to JJ's for the end-of-year party," she says, keeping her voice calm and even.
"Okay. And Garcia?" he says, lifting his head up. "I'm sorry." She flaps a hand.
"Don't worry about it, sir. You just finish up these reports." With a twirl of her skirts, she is gone, leaving Hotch alone to his thoughts.
With a flourish, Hotch signs the last of the reports. Now, hopefully Strauss would have nothing to complain about. He snorts out loud. That woman always had something to complain about. Leaning back in his chair, his jaw drops as he catches a sight of the clock on the wall. 11:42 pm. So much for the New Year's Eve party. His cell rings, and he answers without looking at the caller ID, expecting it to be their resident dictator. It wasn't.
"Daddy?" a small voice asks.
"Jack?" Hotch is confused. "What are you doing on the phone, buddy?"
"Are you almost finished the papers that mean ol' Strauss made you finish?" he asks.
"Jack, don't call Chief Strauss old and mean," he admonishes but he doesn't try to hide the small smile. "And yes, buddy. Why? Does Aunt Jessica want me to pick you up?"
"Come downstairs, Daddy," the young Hotchner answers instead.
"Downstairs, Daddy." With a click the line drops dead. Curious, Hotch walks to the window that allows him to see down into the bullpen. Nothing.
Stepping outside, he calls, "Jack?" No answer. "Where are you, buddy."
"Downstairs," his voice floats from the proximity of Emily's desk.
As soon as Hotch's foot hits the bottom step, the lights flicker on, momentarily blinding him.
"Surprise!" various voices shout. Small arms entwine around his legs.
"Surprise, Daddy," Jack says with a wide grin, revealing the new gap of a missing tooth.
"What's all this?"
"Well, since you couldn't make it to the party, we decided to bring the party to you," JJ informs him.
"Yeah. It wouldn't be a New Year's without you, man," Morgan says, whilst Emily, Reid and Rossi all nod. Hotch's gaze falls upon the tech goddess.
"I take it this was all your doing?"
"Not mine. I merely ask Jack what he thought. The rest was his idea. Including the cake JJ made." She gestures to the white chocolate and strawberry cake on the desk.
The eldest Hotchner kneels down to his son's level.
"Thank you, buddy. You didn't have to do this, you know."
"I know, but you can't spend the last day of the year all alone. Aunt Pen says this can be my New Year's resaru-, restalu-"
"Yeah. Whatever that means. So that I can spend time with you." His face drops. "Do you want to spend time with me, Daddy."
"Of course. Always. I love you, you know that?"
"Uh huh, and I love you." Both Hotchners grin widely.
"Two minutes 'til midnight," Reid informs them, checking his watch closely.
"Party poppers everyone," Emily calls as she and JJ pass out sparklers and poppers.
Everyone readies their poppers.
Sparklers are lit.
"One," Jack shouts.
"HAPPY NEW YEAR," they all yell, popping poppers and waving sparklers.
Outside, fireworks erupt, painting the freshly fallen snow a rainbow of colors. What a happy new year it is indeed.