Mirror - vi (love)
we're in the endgame now. hopefully (hopefully) with this chapter the title of the fic will begin to make sense
Mirror vi (love)
Warnings; TW - mentions of past child abuse / grief&grieving
(verb) feel deep affection for
This is my warmth behind the Cold War
This is what I’m living for, forever coming home
400 Bones – Frightened Rabbit
Jack had nightmares. Hotch wasn’t surprised by the sound of his son waking up, heaving breaths as though the universe was collapsing around him, calling for a mother that would never answer him. Aaron felt his arms around his son were a poor substitute, a failure as he hushed the cries that broke his heart. When he sketched out the nightmare, a monster with a growling voice hunting him in the dark Aaron felt his fists clench, knowing that despite his defeat of the living monster, it had still left its mark. He rocked Jack until he fell asleep, brushing the hair from his brow the way Hayley had done and returned to his kitchen, the dishes from dinner still waiting to be unpacked.
Aaron felt weary, his bones seemed to ache with the effort of keeping him upright, keep his heart beating through its broken places as he slumped onto a dining room chair, put his head in his hands.
He was not enough, increasingly the thought chased itself through his mind, each cry of Jack’s, the longing in his eyes as he looked at videos of Hayley, the tinny distortion of her laugh through the television screen more parent than he could ever be. He felt the tears forming in his eyes as he remembered her, the way she gave her love so freely, poured it into every interaction with their son with no reservation.
He heard his father’s voice, louder than it had been in years, echoing around his head, telling him boys don’t cry, a raised fist in warning. He tried to force the picture from his mind, his only guide to fatherhood a glass of whiskey and a broken nose.
He had spent each night since Hayley’s funeral like this, alone in eerie silence, tense and alert for any sound of Jack stirring, the overwhelming need to be there, instantaneously whenever a gasp of fear passed his son’s lips. Each person who had shaken his hand at the funeral had commented, that Jack was too young, to have lost so much. Aaron agreed, solemn in his understanding that the worst of it had happened to Jack, the destruction so absolute it would block out the sun.
It had been five nights since the funeral, little sleep and nightmares for both parties as they existed, not lived in Aaron’s apartment, the discolored spot on the rug a mere fraction of the devastation wrought on both of them. He was falling, spiraling in his own grief, unable to reach his son, not yet able to verbalize the loss he was experiencing. The tears surprised him as they slipped his cheeks, hot and burning against his skin, a mark of his shame.
His phone rang at 1am, vibrating across the table. He saw Emily’s name on display and breathed the smallest sigh of relief.
“Hi, sorry did I wake you?” Her voice was soft, he could hear keys jingling in the background.
“No, I’m awake, did you just get back?”
“Yeah, and I wanted to call sooner I’m sorry” She said, as he heard the door creak open to her apartment.
“How was it?” He asked.
“We got him.” Emily said, a verbal shrug enough to convey the difficulty. “How are you?”
“Jack’s having nightmares” he said, surprised at his own candor in admitting it.
“I’m sorry” She said, and he heard sincerity in her tone. “That must make you feel powerless.”
He was brought up short by her statement. The words so simple, but so irrefutably true that he felt stunned, his breath catching in his throat as he realized the reality of it, an emotion he had been unable to name, familiar but foreign as he fought against an evil it was impossible to face.
“Do you want me to come over?” She asked, his silence putting her on edge.
“No… no” he said, as much to convince himself as her.
“Liar” She said, and he could hear the small smile in her voice. “I want to come over.”
“Okay” He agreed.
Emily stopped at a gas station on the way, changing into comfortable clothing and grabbing nothing but her wallet, keys and phone as she left her home. Wandering the aisles at random she picked out a few things and paid, her mind fixed only on the sound of his voice, the toneless, hopeless quality threaded through his words. It panicked her, hearing him in pain, reminded her of the hospital bed where he had croaked an apology, his penance for almost dying.
She knocked softly at his apartment door, partly hoping he would not answer, that he was asleep, had given in to rest as a necessity, rather than punishing himself by staying awake. She had heard the guilt in his voice in every conversation, lingering somewhere beneath the surface of his words, as though all of it, had somehow been his fault.
He answered the door and Emily had to stop herself from reacting. He looked disheveled, his hair messy and his face unshaven, deep sunken eyes told the story of his exhaustion as he managed a weak smile in greeting.
“I brought ice cream” Emily said softly, knowing Jack was asleep somewhere in the house. “Coffee for me, mint chip for you… it was too late for Thai.”
He wrapped his arms around her without warning, his eyes closed as he pulled her into his embrace. She could feel his deep inhale as he breathed her in, seemed to consume her presence in his home, the lateness of the hour.
“Sorry” he said finally, pulling away as she reached to touch the stubble on his cheek. “Sorry… I”
“I missed you too” She said after a moment, walking softly into his kitchen, putting the ice cream in his freezer.
He listened to her talk, explaining the case, the desperate lengths the man would go to, fabricating love as though it were something that could be made, not found.
“You threatened him with a gun to his face?” Hotch asked.
“Mmm.” Emily replied, her lips wrapped around a spoon “He is vile.”
“Emily, you shouldn’t…” he started.
“I know. But I hated him more than most.” She said, putting the tub of ice cream on his coffee table.
“Why?” Hotch asked, watching as she thought through his words.
“He wanted to have someone, force it, as though it would fix everything, make it easier.” She said, the words coming out staccato. “It isn’t easier” she breathed finally.
He reached to grab her hand, feel the warmth of his palm as he realized the purpose of her visit. She was here to leave him. To tell him in so many words that his focus should be Jack, should only be Jack, and that resignation from the FBI and cessation of their relationship was the only meaningful path forward. He understood, the proceeding days having been filled with guilt for loving her, for feeling such affection in what should have been a time of sorrow. He understood.
“I’m not leaving” She said softly. “You, I mean” She clarified, threading her fingers through his. “But it’s harder now. Harder than it should be.”
“I’m sorry” he said.
“Aaron.” She said, waiting for him to meet her eyes “It wasn’t your fault.”
She reached and stroked his cheek, her fingers soft against the rough stubble she found there. Emily watched as his eyes glazed with tears, blinked quickly away as he pulled away from her, turned to shield his body from this weakness, on display in front of her.
“You don’t have to talk to me about it.” She said quietly. “I don’t expect you to, frankly. But… I still won’t watch you kill yourself Aaron.”
He flashed to the last time she had asked this of him, the way he had reacted with anger, as if all he had to lose was a title, as if there was nothing else that could be done. He felt his scars burn beneath the shirt as a shudder ran through his body.
She left with a soft kiss, her hands trailing through his hair as she told him she loved him, would call him in the morning, asked him to get some sleep.
The next morning Aaron showered and shaved, getting dressed properly for the first time. He called Jessica, who was happy to come over and sit with Jack, her own grief soothed by his presence. He left with no explanation, just that he had his phone, and would answer if she called. He knew where he was driving before he arrived there, the green grass bright against the morning sun.
He sat at her grave, the headstone still a plastic marker, the earth still fresh and smelling of roses.
“I don’t know what to do” he admitted to the open air. “You were right, I did choose the BAU over you and Jack. I know that. And I’m sorry. Sorry I never got to tell you that I’m sorry.”
He heaved a deep sigh as he rested his elbows on his knees.
“He’s going to be just like you, I know it. And that makes me happy, but it scares me, because I don’t know how to raise him. I don’t know what I’m doing” He felt himself rest his forehead in his hands.
“I don’t know if I can leave the BAU Hayley. I don’t know who I am without it. I think it… makes me better? Makes me a better person, a better father, to know I’m doing something good and pure and worthwhile… I think it’s better for him if I have that purpose?”
The ground smelled of flowers, soft scents carried on the breeze in the silence. The air was cool and crisp as he wondered, imagined Hayley’s reaction as though she were there, breathing the same air, able to clench her fists in fury at his words. But softness engulfed him, remembering the gentle hand on his shoulder, the encouragement and kindness she always showed him. Each time she let him in, after midnight or in the weak mornings, to see Jack, to bathe in his presence as a healing salve to wounds that seemed superficial in the aftermath.
He didn’t know how long he sat, contemplating the choice he had already made, the road he was so far down already he could not see the fork he chose. Dave’s feet were silent when he approached, a whisper on the grass.
“When are you going to tell her?” He asked.
“Tell her what?”
“That you’re coming back to the team, that fighting the bad guys is who you are.”
Aaron looked at the plastic marker, a headstone in black ink and paper.
“She already knows.” He said.
The team knew. They had all heard Foyet’s taunts through the phone, his gravel voice speaking aloud what none of them had seen, profilers blinded by the information presented. But knowing was not the same as seeing, and watching their boss; stoic and emotionless rush to Emily, brush a thumb across her blackened eye was stunning, all of them watching in silence as she gripped his hands to reassure him, placed a soft kiss on his palm. They turned as one to the team, both of them thrown back into the work as though it had not just happened, as though intimacy so brash and fleeting was ordinary, not spectacular.
Emily still had a yellowed bruise around her eye when she joined Penelope and JJ for dinner. She had expected it and admired their restraint in waiting as long as they did to begin asking questions.
“Can I have a glass of merlot before you start asking?” She said as she pulled her chair out at the restaurant. In answer Penelope wordlessly slid a glass of red wine towards her, and Emily laughed.
“What do you want to know?” She sighed, resigned to an evening of being grilled by her closest friends.
“When?” JJ asked, raising an eyebrow.
“After you were shot was the first time” Emily said cautiously inclining her head towards Penelope.
“Wait. Stop.” Penelope said, holding her hand up to JJ as she went to ask another question. “Hotch is the guy? The aggressive, made you feel alive, nothing will ever happen, there isn’t a future there guy?”
Emily nodded, taking a long swallow of her wine as she did so, anticipating the next question.
“Then again after New York. And Colorado, and then we went on a date, a few dates actually, and then… well we started dating” Emily shrugged.
“And now?” JJ asked softly.
“We’re still… together.” Emily said. “But… I don’t know. I feel guilty. He should be devoted wholly to Jack right now, and it’s like I’m taking time away from the most important thing.”
Emily sighed, the words spilling from her lips as though she was unable to stop them.
“Do you love him?” Penelope asked.
“Does he love you?”
Penelope shrugged. “Then it seems like he’s focusing on the important things. He can love and cherish more than one thing. He’s not taking pieces of his love for Jack and giving them to you. He does love and cherish you right?”
Emily thought of the flowers she found on her doorstep, delivered without a note, orange blossoms and avalanche lilies arriving in the early morning, a start to her day.
“He does” She agreed. Increasingly she heard the words loop around her head, a ghostly apparition. It should be you.
They talked more throughout dinner, Emily skillfully avoiding any questions of Hotch in bed, answering vaguely for any efforts to know what he was like outside of work. Somehow, she thought the Aaron she knew, the dry sense of humor, the hands he could not stop from touching her, were hers somehow. A secret she wanted to herself, guarded and protected.
She drove to his apartment after dinner. It was a routine they had established, late nights spent in his kitchen, Emily sacrificing sleep to spend a few precious hours in his presence, drinking coffee and talking in hushed tones. A kiss, grazed across her mouth, his hand stroking her arm. He smiled when he opened the door, it reached his eyes when he saw her, stepped aside to let her in, the coffee maker issuing its soft hum, her appearance expected.
It was late when it happened. A scream from the room Emily had never entered, followed by a wail of anguish so acute it shredded her insides. She watched as Aaron reacted like a gunshot, out of his chair and into the room as though it were actively ablaze. She felt awkward, sitting alone in his kitchen as she heard his voice, low and soothing from the room, a soft yellow light illuminating the hallway. She felt as though she were intruding, an uninvited guest, witnessing a horror so specific she could not tear her eyes away.
When he emerged from Jack’s bedroom his shoulders rounded and heavy, she wanted to run, leave him to grieve in private.
“I’m sorry” He said, his voice low. “He started therapy today, I should have expected…”
“Don’t.” Emily said, resisting the urge to reach out and touch him. “I should go.”
He grabbed her arm so quickly it startled her. “Please don’t”
“Hotch… he needs you” She said, trying to keep her tone even.
“I need you” He answered, pulling her lightly to his couch. She followed without further encouragement, sitting next to him as he pressed his palm against hers.
Hotch watched her face, the fear that crossed her features when she heard Jack’s scream. She had remained true to her word, had never pushed him to talk, never tried to break down the walls he had built strong and impenetrable.
“I feel like I’m failing” He said, the words slipping from his throat as though they had been perched there for months. He heard her exhale, long and slow. As though gates were opened, he could not stop himself from tossing more weight from his shoulders, the fears he had been suppressing for weeks finally allowed to erupt forth.
“I don’t know how to be a father” He admitted. “And I feel like I’m failing him.”
“You’re his hero” Emily said, her brows knitting together as she looked at him.
“But what kind of hero leaves his son, isn’t there to tuck him in every night, read him a story. I have no guide for this. My mother wrapped herself in southern graces and valium. My father took it out on us.”
Emily stilled. She had guessed, some deep inkling in the back of her brain knew this on some level, but she had never heard him talk about it.
“When I cried because I was afraid of something, he hit me until I stopped” Aaron sighed, his voice empty in the way that only old wounds could be. “And now my son is crying, because he is afraid, and I was never taught how to handle that. I know how to protect someone from being hurt, but I don’t know what to do once they are hurt. I used to stand in front of Sean, stand in front of Mother, and take it. But I can’t take this for him, I can’t reach in and pull the monsters out from his head, I can’t bring back Hayley, I can’t change the fact that I got her killed…”
“Aaron.” Emily said, squeezing his hand. “You did not get her killed. Foyet killed her, he was a psychopath and a maniac, and he went after you because you represented everything he couldn’t be - everything he sought to destroy, goodness in the world.”
“But it all comes to the same…” he started.
“No.” Emily cut him off, and her tone was sharp. “No, it doesn’t.”
Hotch felt short of breath. The marathon across his memories had stolen his strength. He expected her to make excuses, move to leave as she told him he needed to spend more time with his son. Instead, he felt her fingers tighten around his, a light squeeze as she pulled her hand into his lap.
“I can’t stop thinking about this Vonnegut quote” She said finally, the silence so thick in the air he could almost taste it.
“I couldn’t help wondering if that was what God had put me on the earth for – to find out how much a man could take without breaking” She quoted.
Aaron laughed despite himself. “Those were some of the first words you ever spoke to me” he mused.
“How on earth do you remember that?” She asked.
“You made quite an impression” he shrugged. “Still do” he added quietly.
Emily raised onto her knees on the couch, wrapped her arms around him as he slipped his around her waist.
“You are not your father” She whispered. “You love that kid more than anything else in this world. I know you do – I know he is the most important thing in your life, and you would do anything to protect him, to love him, to keep him safe. But it is not your fault what happened. And you beat the monster in the end, as he knew you would.”
He could have stayed like this forever, he thought, the scent of her hair engulfing him as Jack slept soundly down the hall, his mind quiet for the first time in weeks.
“Aaron…” Emily started, her voice trailing softly away. “Never mind.”
“What?” he asked, looking up at her.
“Does Jack… Does he know? About us I mean?” She asked.
He sat back on the couch, a low breath escaping him.
“No” He admitted. “And I wish he did. I wish I had at least told him before… it’s harder now.”
Emily nodded, expecting this answer but feeling the blow all the same, a punch to her stomach at the knowledge that whatever this was would have to live in the shadows, their love secret until the time came where Jack was ready to accept it. If he was ever ready. Again, the thought chased itself to oblivion in her mind, on constant loop as she drove to her home.
It should have been you.
He loved her more than he thought possible. She had been impossibly comforting, and he often marveled at her capacity for empathy. They stole moments outside of the office, conversations in carparks and his kitchen long after Jack had fallen asleep. She never pushed him for answers, and that made him give them to her willingly. She poured affection and love into the smallest gestures, coffee waiting on his desk, a new tie hidden in his go bag when he had one stained with oatmeal.
“Does he talk to her?” Emily asked, cup of coffee held in between her palms.
“He is scared of the cemetery” Aaron said.
“That’s not the only way he can talk to her” Emily replied. “You could have something, the two of you, like a photo or a candle or something. A way for him to share his feelings with her?” She suggested.
When he told Jack about the candle, he took to it immediately. Lighting it and staring intently at the photo of Hayley, smiling bright and holding him, the way she would want to be remembered, Aaron listened as his son unburdened himself, told his mother how much he missed her, and how sometimes it was hard to keep the sad feelings in.
Jack slept through the night for the first time after that. His therapist gave good progress reports as he enjoyed play therapy, afternoons spent with the kind woman with huge glasses who let him draw and shout and play and encouraged him to make mess. After a session Aaron asked to speak with her, Jack still absorbed in his crayon drawing.
“I have a partner” he said bluntly, not knowing how else to phrase it.
“I know” She replied, looking at him. “Jack told me.”
Aaron felt his brows knit together, confusion flooding his senses. Had Jack seen them? Was he sneaking out of bed to spy on him and Emily, their voices not as low as they had pitched. Had it set him back in grieving? The idea that his father might be replacing his mother, with a woman he did not know.
“He said Hayley told him” She said gently, placing a hand on Aaron’s forearm. “Take it slow. He says all the time he likes it when you’re happy. He will be fine, just take it slow”
Driving home Aaron broached the subject with Jack, nerves pooling in his belly, oily and hot.
“Hey Bud, do you remember Emily?”
“Yep!” He said brightly from the backseat “She has dark hair an’ she works with you an’ she is your very good friend, like your bestest friend.”
“Who told you that?” he asked.
“Mommy” he said with a small sigh. “It was when we were on holiday ‘fore she went away. She said that even though you loved me, an’ she loved me, that it was otay for you to love someone else – and that one day I might meet her.”
Aaron felt his chest tighten; oxygen hard to inhale as he pulled the car over to the shoulder.
“Jack.” He said, turning in his seat. “You know that no matter what I love you more than anything else in the world.”
“I know daddy. Mommy n Aunty Jess said that too” He said, giving him a wide grin. “Is Em’ly really your bestest friend?”
“Yes buddy. She is. Would you like to meet her someday?”
Jack shrugged, suddenly shy.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to meet her if you don’t want to” Aaron reassured quickly.
Jack shrugged again, his cheeks glowing a little pink. “Is she nice?”
“I think she is” Aaron said quietly.
Jack nodded slowly. “Today?”
“No, not today, but maybe one day soon we can go out and get pancakes with her?” he said.
Jacks’ eyes brightened immediately, his nod becoming vigorous and excited.
“Okay” Aaron said, leaning awkwardly into the backseat to kiss his son’s brow. “I love you.”
“I love you too daddy” Jack said.
“I want you to meet Jack.”
Emily froze. Her whole body flooded with ice at the words, as though he had threatened her. She cleared her throat, twice.
“If you want to” Aaron said quickly, watching the way her whole body reacted, as though an electric current had run through her spine.
“Does he… I mean… Are you” She stuttered, her voice low as she tried to keep her hands steady, placed her palms flat on his kitchen benchtop.
“He knows” Aaron said.
“Did you tell him?”
“Actually…” he started “Hayley did.”
The ice in her stomach turned to lead, a ghostly whisper now a shout as she ran it over in her mind. Hayley would have blamed her, surely. Anything she would have told her son about Emily would have been laced with resentment, enough that Jack would know enough, to wish that it had of been her too.
“Hey” He said softly, reaching to cover her hand with his own “it’s okay – you don’t have to, it’s just… he’s ready, if you are.”
Emily let out a long slow breath, trying to steady her nerves, quiet her mind as she considered this. It was the logical next step. A threshold to be crossed, a box to check. But it felt impossible, a gap too wide, the fear to all consuming. She had grown comfortable, hidden away these months, small touches and stolen moments between them enough to sustain her.
She loved him more than she thought was possible, and it terrified her. He filled her with such air she felt like she was floating in his presence, the merest prick enough for her to tumble to the ground. Each brush of his knuckles across her cheek was love personified. He cooked for her, meals refrigerated and waiting to be reheated when she arrived late in the evening. He kept her favorite ice cream in his freezer, knew how she liked her coffee. He seemed to know what she needed before she did – slipping an arm around her shoulder, silencing her worries with a kiss before she could voice them.
In the bullpen there was no difference to him, but he would seek her out, more than once in a day to tell her he loved her, hear her say it back. He let her stand in his office and scream, pacing back and forth as she ranted, her cheeks growing flushed as he listened, allowed her space to be irrational, silence to talk herself out of it.
“You didn’t know she knew” Aaron said quietly.
“I did…” Emily replied, chewing her lip as she studied his features. “We… uh, well she… talked in the hospital, after you were attacked.”
She watched his pupils, the tightening of the skin around his eyes as shock settled beneath his features, the twitch of his jaw, the slightest clench.
“You never told me” He said slowly, trepidation in each syllable. “What did she say.”
“It doesn’t matter” Emily said quickly.
“That bad?” Aaron replied, raising his eyebrow.
“What? No” Emily stuttered, fear rising at the prospect of having this conversation.
“You don’t have to tell me.” He said. “But… I was married to her, and I know she let her temper get the best of her, and she said things to deliberately hurt people. She never meant them, but she always aimed for the soft spots.”
Emily looked at him, they had not discussed his relationship with Hayley since the early days of their divorce, it seemed inappropriate once they started dating, for Emily to hold any opinion of his ex-wife, so she never voiced them out loud.
“I’m sure what she said to you was awful” Aaron said gently.
“She said it should be me. Because I loved you enough to die for you” Emily said quietly. She heard as Aaron sucked air between his teeth, watched as he rubbed his hand across his jaw.
“I’m sorry” He said finally.
“It doesn’t matter” Emily said.
“It does. Because I know she didn’t feel that way” Aaron replied. “You know she knew about us because I told her?”
“No, I didn’t know.”
“It was after Matthew” He said, clearing his throat at the memory. “I told her that I had ruined it, and Hayley told me to stick with it. Not to give up, because… well, you reminded her of me.”
Emily felt a burst of sunlight in her chest. A ray of hope, bright and blinding flooded her senses, warmed her fingers, loosened the knot in her throat.
“She knew me, better than almost anybody. She knew if I loved someone… they must be something special” He finished, staring at his coffee. “I don’t know if that helps, but she would have apologized Em, I know that.”
Emily nodded, her throat feeling tighter than before.
“What did you have in mind?” She said finally, clearing her throat again.
“Pancakes? This weekend if you’re up for it.” He said, offering her a smile. “I mean it, if you aren’t ready, or don’t want to…”
“I want to” she said quickly, “I want to.”
Emily liked blueberries. She knew the names of all the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and she really liked cats. That was enough for Jack to become completely entranced with her. He asked her as many questions as he could think of, including if she was his daddy’s best friend. He wondered why her cheeks got all pink when she said she was. He had two hot chocolates and a stack of pancakes he couldn’t count quick enough, and even though it was gross, he liked the way his daddy smiled when he kissed her cheek. When they left, she didn’t ask him for a hug (sometimes grown-ups insisted on hugs, and Jack didn’t like that very much) but instead gave him a wave and a toothy grin. She was very pretty, and he liked the way her cheeks dimpled when she smiled.
Emily let out the breath she did not realize she had been holding when she returned to her car. Nerves had plagued her all day, uncharacteristic in their intensity as she wondered about Jack. This was monumentally important, he had to like her, or at least, tolerate her presence if this relationship was going to continue, and she knew that if he didn’t, it was the end of her and Aaron.
What she hadn’t expected was to be so enamored by the boy – intelligent and funny, he was friendly and polite, well behaved in a way that reminded her so much of Hotch she found it hard to stop herself from grinning. She happily submitted to his questioning, blushing only when he asked her, his voice dropped conspiratorially low, whether she was his dad’s best friend. She watched the flush crawl on Hotch’s neck as she answered in the affirmative.
He was sunlight personified, kindness and warmth and joy as he giggled quietly over his breakfast, the stack taller than he was as he clumsily cut into it. Emily was shocked to watch Hotch let him make a mess, enjoy himself, gently guide him towards using his manners. He was relaxed in his presence, comfortable and happy as he ruffled his son’s hair, lifted him easily onto his shoulders. She found the visual comforting, his happiness and love so boldly on display.
The second time, Jack invited her over to watch Jurassic Park. It was a Sunday afternoon, crisp and cold and Jack easily snuggled against his father, buried his face in his chest when velociraptors came on screen, scooched closer to the television at the sight of the brontosaurus. She stayed for dinner, Jack having mac and cheese as Aaron cooked another pasta for them both, easily navigating the kitchen with his son darting between his legs, his energy limitless and infectious.
From then on, Emily came over earlier in the evenings, sometimes sharing dinner, sometimes waving a hello to Jack before Aaron put him to bed, Jack always wanting an extra hug from his father, something he was happy to give. He would pour them a glass of wine, sit with her and talk, watch a movie, or sit and do paperwork together. Emily was struck by how sickeningly domestic it was, and more shocked at how easy she found it, slotting into their lives as though she was a puzzle piece, missing but designed to fit. She called him ‘kid’ and ruffled his hair, he called her ‘Emmy’ and wanted to hug her hello.
Penelope huddled next to her on the plane, desperate for warmth, leeching body heat from Emily.
“Frozen wasteland” She murmured, tucking her hands further under her arms.
“You’re going to complain the whole case, aren’t you?” Emily said lightly, tucking the blanket around her knees.
“Yes ladybug, I am” Penelope said defiantly, tucking herself closer to Emily.
Aaron looked up from his paperwork, a smile on his lips as he saw her, wrapping an arm around Penelope to share the warm blanket, the plane already cold the further north they travelled, crossing freezing lakes to reach Alaska.
“I know some good priests” Dave said mildly, not looking up from his book. He swallowed hard, looking at his friend with a mixture of shock and derision.
“I know that look, I made my divorce attorney rich because of that look” he said, still not looking up from his paperback. Aaron let his eyes cast the plane, dropping his voice low.
“We haven’t talked about it” he said, honestly and quietly.
“But you’ve thought about it” Dave said, setting his book down to fix him with an amused stare.
Aaron shrugged, noncommittal.
“You can use my house for the ceremony if you’d like.”
“Offer is there” he said, raising his eyebrows as he watched Aaron’s gaze drift back to her, the gentle peace that seemed to settle behind his eyes.
In truth, the team talked about it more than they realized. Casual mentions here and there of things they had seen, his hand on the small of her back, a long lingering glance between them on a case. The hushed conversation in the corner of a husked-out laundromat. Emily laughing, Hotch stern until she kissed him, slipped her palm in his and smiled. Emily with a beer and her hand on his hip, talking to Mick Rawson, the way his palm seemed to tighten on her skin.
He still berated her over paperwork, she still argued with his theories, neither of them willing to give an inch until it was earned. They worked together like a seamless unit, one incredibly powerful profiler, only a look passing between them to convey the others thoughts. They all managed to forget most of the time that they were a couple, their interactions like bolts of lightning, blink and you would miss them.
Alaska was brutal in its cold and its case work. Daylight was a scarce commodity as they tried to stop their teeth chattering, talking to locals with hands pressed deep in pockets, feet shuffling for the warmth. The cabin was warm, lit by several fires as they gathered, regrouped by the dying firelight to establish a strategy for the next days work.
“Looks like we’ll have to double up” Hotch said at the revelation there were four rooms for seven team members.
“Easier for some” Dave said, standing to claim a single room, citing age and a rumbling snore as his reason for not needing a roommate. Penelope laid a hand on Morgan’s forearm, smirking her way through a dibs before explaining she would need at least another nine hours with her equipment, compiling and coding made more difficult in this remote location.
“So, there’s a double and a room with two singles” Reid said, standing as he grabbed his bag. “JJ are you and Emily comfortable sharing a bed – ow!” He cried; Morgan having slapped him upside the head.
“Use your brain pretty boy” he said, rolling his eyes as he ascended the stairs.
“… oh. Right. Sorry” He said, smiling guilty at Emily.
“It’s fine Reid, if you’re more comfortable…”
“No! I wasn’t thinking. JJ do you mind sharing a room with me?”
“Not at all Spence, just as long as I get the first shower” she said, ruffling his hair.
The room was cozy, patchwork quilts adorned each surface, and it was heated to almost hot. Hotch grabbed her the minute the door shut behind them, his palms splaying wide on her ribs as she dropped her go bag with a thud on the floor. He felt her smile against his lips as he pushed her towards the bed, his hands seeking beneath her shirt, her skin warm against his palm.
“I need to take a shower” She murmured. “You need to take a shower.”
“Then let’s take a shower” He said, grinning as he lifted her shirt over her head.
He wanted to exist in this universe with her, alone and cocooned beneath the sheets, their skin warm and soft in a room adorned with soft firelight. They rode a gentle cresting wave together, his teeth grazing against her bottom lip as her breathing quickened, his hands slipping again beneath her shirt. She sought his pulse, tasted it against his throat as he skimmed her hips, traced the gentle curve of her spine.
The blankets were thick and heavy over them, firelight pantomimes across the walls as he nudged her shirt further upwards.
“The team is next door” She whispered, her back arching into him regardless as he buried his face in her neck, dragged his lips to her jaw.
“I don’t give a damn” He said with a smile, bringing his lips to hers as she wrapped a leg around his waist. He trailed a gentle knuckle down her cheek, tasted her bottom lip.
“Em?” he said, a soft whisper as he pulled her shirt higher, his thumb grazing the underside of her breast. “Do you ever think about the future?”
She stilled, pulling gently into the pillow to meet his eyes, her hand on his cheek.
“With you?” She asked, waiting for him to nod. “Yes”
He asked her no more questions, but slipped his own shirt from his back, pulling her to press into his chest, smiling again as he brought his lips to hers.
The furniture was merciless in its noises, the slightest movement causing a disproportionate creak or groan. When he slipped his hand between her thighs, she had to bite the groan in her throat.
“Everyone is going to know” She gasped, feeling his fingers trace the slick between her thighs, coat his fingerprints in it as he kept his touch light.
“Good” He said, nosing at the hollow of her jaw “Let them.”
He teased her until she was begging, her hips chasing his fingers as he tasted her, drew patterns in her skin and licked them clean, kissed the hollow of her hipbone as she turned her face into pillows, smelt her arousal hang in the air. He was just as tender when he brought his mouth to the apex of her thighs, a soft curl of his tongue against her clit, sealing his lips around it hot as a furnace. He took her close, close enough to cry out loudly when he stopped, raising himself over her like a tidal wave.
“I love you” He said, pressing himself inside her with a smooth rock of his hips, a hand on her thigh, the other on her jaw as he held her still, tasted the answer from her tongue, and felt her fall apart beneath him, her arms around his waist as her body responded, a blissful welcome intrusion that made him see stars.
He was halfway between sleep and awake when he heard it, her voice smoky with sleep as she wrapped his arms tighter around her, sunk fully into his embrace.
“I think you are my future.”
In the chaos of the morning, the team did not notice she was wearing his clothes.
The first time Jack asked her to read him a story goodnight Emily was honored. Plucking the thick carboard book from his shelf she settled in the small chair next to his bed, trying to imagine how Aaron looked, a giant hunched in tiny furniture. She did voices, made the characters come alive as she saw the shadow outside the door, Aaron, leaning against the doorframe, listening where he thought he was out of sight.
When she finished the story, she got up to leave, wishing Jack a sweet sleep.
“wait! Emmy!” he called.
“yeah kid.” She said, turning to smile at him from the doorway, Aaron in the hall with a soft smile.
“Can I have a kiss goodnight?”
“Sure” She said, crossing the room to lean and kiss his brow. She felt Aaron behind her, the same motion as he bent to kiss his son.
“Goodnight buddy” He whispered. “I love you.”
“I love you too daddy” he said, his eyes heavy with sleep.
As Aaron turned out the light.
“Emmy?” he said from the room, illuminated by the soft yellow glow of a nightlight.
Jack sighed, snuggling closer into his stuffed animal “I love you too.”
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