Something of a character study, something of my take on the events of mid-S6/beginning of S7.
Categories: Criminal Minds Characters:
Aaron Hotchner, Emily Prentiss
Chapter 1 by Arsenic
AN: This is unbeta'ed. Written for my "grief" square for hc_bingo. For personal reasons I was not up to writing actual bereavement, so I chose a story where grief is woven into the underlying canon and represents the reason the fic exists at all.***
Aaron recognizes the knock. It’s been over six months since he last heard it and there’s nothing particularly unique about the sound, but even so, he knows who’s at his door. He takes a breath and goes to answer the summons. “Emily.”
She doesn’t smile. “Aaron.”
He stands back, allowing her inside. She hesitates a second, but then walks in, standing still as he closes the door behind her. He considers the line of her back through her shirt, his fingers thrumming with the urge to touch. He does not.
She turns to him, eyes dark, impossibly kind and lost. Aaron suspects his are similar. She asks, “Jack asleep?”
Aaron nods. “I told him you’d come to dinner some time this week. He said he has a lot to tell you.”
“Can’t wait to hear all the news.” She smiles, just a quirk of her lips. Then asks, “Should I not have come?”
He can’t stand her look of uncertainty, finds himself in front of her without even feeling himself move. The second his fingers touch her face he forgets all the reasons he has for not kissing her. Her hands find his hips, their lips coming together, and for a few seconds there is nothing between them but the way they fit.
Aaron tastes the salt before he feels the hitch of her torso and for a second, isn’t sure if the tears are his or hers. He says, “It’s over. We got you back.”
She smiles against his lips. She agrees so far as, “You got me back.”
There wasn’t anything between the two of them before Emily’s “death.” Or rather, anything between them had been shoved away, not spoken about, recognized because they were profilers and knew each other all too well. But at the time Emily fancied herself too damn old and at least smart enough not to be a replacement figure for a dead wife and mother, and Aaron, she knew, fancied himself too professional to sleep with a subordinate.
That had changed when he’d sat beside her in the ICU recovery room, his hands covering hers, reporting a terse, “You’re going to be all right,” that she knew was more for his sake than hers.
It had changed when he’d formulated a plan that involved the death of Emily Prentiss; not a cover, not a persona, not an ID created by someone like Garcia, made real only by machines and the fact that people saw what they wanted to see. No, this was her death, taking her away from everything that--everyone who--mattered.
It had changed when he’d said, “I can’t lose you,” his jaw barely moving, his gaze straight ahead.
She had reached up, trying to touch him, trying to feel him through the meds that took away pain, but also took away everything else. She had said, “This-- This is not getting to keep me.”
He’d looked at her then, looked at her, and said, “I can give you up to keep you alive. I can’t keep you if it means risking your loss. I can’t. Don’t ask me to.”
She hadn’t. And her silence, more than anything, her acquiesance to allowing herself to be lost because he asked it of her, needed it of her: that was what changed everything.
Aaron thinks that for all the times when Reid sees things nobody else can, there are at least twice as many times when he misses the forest for the trees. It is true, Aaron wasn’t the one to sit by his side as he cried for a loss that turned out to be less than half as permanent as Reid had been led to believe. On the other hand, it is true those tears were shed because of a decision Aaron made. And he doesn’t lie to himself, not about this: Emily agreed, but he is the one who decided.
He knows it’s just the last in a long line of concessions she has made to his demands, spoken or otherwise. Even so, this one was different, neither of them can deny. If she was there every moment he needed someone to be after Foyet’s attack, and if she left the moment he asked, that was one thing. And if she has helped him in any and every way with Jack since Haley’s murder, being there when he wants her, disappearing when he so much as hints at the need to be alone with his son, that is also something else.
Giving up the rest of the team, the one part of her life she has been able to hold onto—and that has been willing to grasp her tightly right back—is something more, something different, and Aaron well knows it’s time to stop being selfish, stop using the emptiness Haley left twice over to pretend he doesn’t see Emily for who she is. It is time, as Dave would no doubt say, to grow the fuck up.
Jack is unabashedly happy to see Emily, but then, Jack is in elementary school, and was told she had to go away for a long vacation. Still, it’s a nice change from the sluggish, infected wound Morgan represents, and the open, gushing ones so evident in Reid and Garcia. She thinks Rossi suspected. In any case, he has accepted her reappearance with gratitude and an equanimity which makes it easy to be around him, something she is not currently taking for granted.
She picks Jack up and rests him on her hip as he tells her all about his day, about the project he made in art and the fact that he got one hundred percent on his addition assignment. He is too big to be held like this anymore, but she can’t seem to let go, to give up the feel of tiny arms clutching at her neck and gold-blond hair tickling at her cheek.
She looks over to where Aaron is still in the kitchen, finishing dinner. There are bruises under his eyes, and his face is drawn tighter over bone than it should be. It is still the face of the man she loves, whether or not he always deserves it. Emily has found that emotions which run as deep as love rarely have anything to do with sense or propriety or just deserts. She smiles at him, mouths, “Hey.”
He smiles back, and she knows, somehow—not in a way she could verbalize or explain, but as surely as she knows anything—that he is smiling at her, not her with his son, not his son, but her. And she also knows, that as backward as it is, if he asked her to give this up again, give him up again, she could not do it, not after this.
When Aaron has put Jack to bed, he goes to find Emily. There is a patch of her skin still wet from her momentary interruption of bath time, in which she handed Aaron his phone. He laughs and swipes his thumb over the spot on her neck. “Sorry. He’s a menace with water, that one.”
“I’ve missed him,” she says, her eyes dancing. “I’ve missed—“
He waits out her silence until he is sure she won’t—can’t—say anymore. He says, “Yes,” and “I shouldn’t have—“ and “Emily, I’m sor—“
She shakes her head. “Don’t. There’s been more than enough politics and ghosts between us. I won’t make room for recriminations.”
He nods slowly, his hand moving to the back of her neck, pulling her in. He whispers, “Stay, tonight. Don’t go.” Please.
She laughs shortly. “I was staying whether you asked or not.”
He takes a breath. It doesn’t catch. “Good,” he tells her. “Good.”
She kisses the last of his approval away.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.