Thank you to Cascadia Farm, Brent Emery, Jima and Wit S, for allowing the creative use of your gorgeous photographs.***
“I’m having a bad day,” Emily said, because she had promised, or implicitly promised, and Emily kept her promises. But it only made her day worse, having to admit her past could still reach her, from the grave, from the dark she’d consigned it to.
“Okay,” Hotch said, no censure in the response.
“Not okay,” she told him, willing her voice not to break.
He nodded. “Not right now. It will get better.”
She wanted to believe him. She did so often. Special Agent Aaron Hotchner was upstanding and blunt, the kind of man who said what he meant and meant what he said. She believed he believed he was telling her the truth. For the moment, that was the best she could manage. She admitted. “I would really like some ice cream. Mövenpick’s Cognac VSOP & Apple, to be precise, which you can’t even get in America.”
Hotch gave her the moment to breathe out her frustration over something that so clearly didn’t matter. She knew what he was doing, but it was working all the same. That was why
they did those things: because they worked. Softly, he said, “I take Jack out to Max’s sometimes when I get back. If you want to join, it would be on me.”
She almost refused as a course of habit, a lifetime of walking the fine line between professional friendship and something more. It had never been all that easy to tell which side of the line she fell on with this team, and had only gotten harder since she’d returned. She caught herself at the last minute and said, “I’d like that.”
Hotch gave her a tight, but real, smile, his expression subtly compassionate, supportive. She dredged up a smile in return.*
Emily liked helping Jack clean his face, liked the way he rolled out the syllables of her name and rolled his eyes at her in frustration. In a way it reminded her of Declan, before everything, only he had always complained, “Lau-ren,” and it had been hard not to correct him.
She tickled him when she was done, dragging his name out to two syllables, “Ja-ack.”
Hotch smiled indulgently at Jack’s shrieks, murmuring, “You’re going to have mint-chocolate chip all over you if you keep that up.”
Reluctantly, Emily let go of her captive, who immediately hid behind his father’s leg. She watched as Hotch ruffled Jack’s hair, let the visual combine with the taste of rum raisin still on her tongue. Hotch asked quietly, “You okay?”
She fought against the simple, “of course,” that was so instinctual. Instead, she gave him a bittersweet smile and told him honestly, “My day’s looking