It was a close call. Too close.
It’s all she can think as she sits on a hospital gurney, waiting for her discharge papers, an ache in her arm where her skin had been stitched back together, the stark white bandage itching at her wrist.
The explosion had torn through the abandoned factory before they could predict it, and the unsub, who had been killed in the blast, was far more devolved than they had anticipated. Aaron had partnered them together for this case, something that hadn’t phased her until they were both trapped in a burning building, injured, with the rest of the team outside.
They were lucky that their injuries were minimal. A gash on her arm that had required a visit to the hospital, the EMTs unable to fix it themselves, a slight concussion and a twisted ankle. Aaron had a cut to his forehead that a simple bandage had been enough for and a blow to the chest that had left behind a bruise but, by some miracle, hadn’t cracked any ribs.
He’d already been discharged and was trying to find a nurse to rush the process through for her, able to pick up on her nervous energy as effortlessly as he always had. All she wanted was to get home, hug her kids and sleep in her own bed, something that hadn’t happened in a few days due to the urgency of the case, even though it was a local one.
The feeling in her chest she’d had since they got themselves out of the factory tightens, her lungs constricted as something she refused to call panic fills them. She’d always prided herself on her ability to compartmentalize, especially after a close call. She’d always been the first between her and Aaron to try to make light of a situation, to comment they’d both survived worse as she got the Tylenol out of the medicine cabinet to deal with a minor injury. Something that was often a by-product of their jobs. But she can’t bring herself to joke about it this time, the mere thought of it enough to make her stomach turn, bitter nausea climbing up her throat that she had to swallow down.
It was close. They both could have died. And where would that have left their children?
“Good news sweetheart,” Aaron says as he approaches the gurney she’s sitting on, a reassuring smile she can see right through on his face, “I can break you out of here.” She flashes him a tight smile and stands up, unable to cover her wince as her weight settles through her sore ankle. She’d switched to her sneakers at the behest of her husband, her usual heeled boots snuck away in her go-bag that he’d already taken from her. He clearly spots it, never one to miss anything about her since she came back from Paris, and he steps towards her, his hands twitching as he hesitates to reach out for her. “Do you need help?”
She hated being coddled, something he knew well. It was a fine line walked well, like a high-wire artist who was the best in his field. It always reminded her of when she was in labour with their daughter. Isla took her sweet time coming into the world, and Emily had struggled, the long labour tearing down all of her barriers, leaving her defenceless. Aaron had become them for her. He was the only person she’d ever trust to do it, and she still smiled even now, 18 months later, when she thought of him fighting off the team and her mother who had all tried to visit when she was still in the hospital, vulnerable and in pain, asking them to leave for her because she didn’t have the energy to do it herself.
She doesn’t miss the tight way he was holding himself, the tension in his shoulders as he stood before her, so she nods, knowing he needed this, to look after her, probably more than she needed it herself.
Aaron wraps his arm around her, his hand at her waist, and she leans into his side, returning the favour as her hand lands on his hip. They walk together towards the waiting area where she knew the team were. She smiles at them as they come into view, their relief palpable as they come into view.
They all stand up, asking questions over each other, and Aaron holds up a hand, his ability to control a space unparalleled, even with a white bandage on his forehead.
“We’re ok,” he says, his hand squeezing at her waist in silent support, a sign that he knew he wasn’t entirely telling the truth, “We’re just going to head home.”
“Why don’t we go for a drink?” Penelope suggests, a hopeful smile on her face, “I think we all deserve it after this one.”
The idea makes Emily’s chest tighter again, every minute she spent away from home threatening to choke her at this point, but she smiles instead, shaking her head slightly at her friend.
“Not this time, Pen,” she replies, grateful that her voice remains even, that it doesn’t shake, “I kind of just want to get home.”
“But,” Pen is cut off by an elbow to her ribs, JJ standing next to her and giving her a sharp look as their eyes meet, “Fair enough,” Penelope says, correcting herself as she smiles at the couple in front of her, “Give my gorgeous niece and nephew a hug from their Aunt Penny.”
Emily smiles genuinely this time, exchanging a brief, but grateful, smile with JJ too, before they say goodbye to the team, promising to check in the following day as they walk past them.
She sighs as she settles into their car, and Aaron does the same, his head briefly resting on the headrest as he looks over at his wife. She was purposely looking out of the window, her thumbnail in between her teeth. He reaches over and squeezes her knee, and she looks at him, smiles at him in a way that she can no longer hide the shake from, and he returns it.
“Come on sweetheart,” he says, squeezing her knee again before withdrawing his hand and starting the engine of the car, “Let's go home.”
It was a close call, and he wondered how many of them they had left.
Aaron is grateful that Isla is too young to understand, that she doesn’t think much of the bandages both of her parents have on them. Her reaction a quick frown that Emily always said was all him, and a kiss to each of their foreheads to fix their injuries, something Emily always did for her and for Jack.
Jack, however, does understand. Withdrawing into himself throughout the evening as he watches his parents wince at certain movements until he asks to go to bed. They let him go without comment, knowing he was exactly like his father, that he needed to work over things in his head by himself before he discussed them.
Emily groans as she stands from the couch, Isla babbling at her in sentences only they really understood, her fists tight in her mother’s shirt. Emily had barely let Isla go since they’d got home, even eating a couple of slices of the pizza they’d ordered for dinner with the toddler in her lap. Jack had stayed close to Emily too until he’d gone up to his room, something about her presence as comforting to Aaron’s children as it was to him.
“I’m going to try and get her down,” Emily says, her eyes tired as they meet his. Isla rests her head on her shoulder, rubbing her eyes as she always did when she was tired. “Would you go check on Jack?” She asks, casting a glance up the stairs, “And then maybe we could go to bed.”
Aaron nods, closing the gap between them as he leans forward to kiss her cheek, “Meet you in our room?” he asks, and she nods in response. He turns his attention to Isla, cupping the back of his daughter's head as he kisses her forehead, “Goodnight, princess.”
“Come on sweet girl,” Emily says as she walks past him, her lips against their daughter’s skin, “Let’s get you to sleep.”
“Mama’s bed?” Isla asks when she’s halfway up the stairs, and Emily holds her closer, pulling the toddler further up her hip, ignoring the ache in her arm.
“Ok, baby, Mama’s bed.”
Aaron takes a moment to himself before he heads upstairs, the weight of the day settling on his shoulders, making them heavy. He sees the light under his son’s door, indicating he was still awake, and he knocks, waiting before Jack speaks before walking in.
“Hey buddy,” Aaron says, smiling at his son as he walks across the room, sitting on the edge of the bed, “How are you doing?”
Jack looks at him, placing his handheld game down on the bed, the 9-year-old looking down at the covers over his lap.
“I’m fine,” he answers too quickly, in a way that was so Emily it makes Aaron smile.
“You both got hurt,” he says, cutting over Aaron’s follow-up question, “And Mom is sad.”
Even though it had been close to a year since Jack started calling Emily ‘Mom,’ it still warmed something inside Aaron’s chest, making love spread through him in a way he would have once thought was impossible. He knew it was the same for Emily. She’d always been careful to not overstep, to not make it seem like she was taking Haley’s place, but she was Jack’s mother. She loved him, cared for him, in the exact same way she did for Isla, and Aaron still remembered the awed look on her face when Jack nervously asked her if he could start calling her mom.
Aaron wasn’t sure what he believed in, his catholic upbringing leaving him with a complicated opinion on life after death, but he knew if there was something, whatever it was, Haley was happy for them. His promise to raise Jack in a loving home fulfilled beyond what he thought would be possible as he listened to the first woman he had loved say her last words.
“She’s just tired, Jack, she’s ok,” Aaron says, purposely playing down the emotions he had seen thrumming through his wife all evening, her body practically vibrating with it. Jack might be mature for his age, an unfortunate side effect of what he’d experienced so young, but they still tried to protect him where they could, “We’re both ok.”
Jack still frowns, “Are you sure?”
“I promise,” Aaron says, opening his arms up for a hug that he gratefully returns, “Now try and get some sleep, ok buddy?” he says, kissing the top of his son’s head as he pulls back, smiling at him as their eyes meet, “I’m sure I can talk Mom into going out for breakfast tomorrow.”
Jack rolls his eyes at her, another thing he’d picked up from Emily, and lays down in his bed, “Dad, she’ll talk you into it.”
Aaron laughs, the sound pulling at his sore ribs, and he knows he can’t argue with that, and he nods at his son. He says goodnight, kissing Jack’s forehead again, and gently closes the door behind him.
Aaron walks past the nursery, knowing he won’t find either his wife or his daughter in there, and straight into the master bedroom. He finds Emily pacing the room with Isla fast asleep in her arms. Usually, the sight of it would make him smile. How Isla had her head on her mother’s shoulder, her wild hair blending into Emily’s. The little girl had been born with a head full of it, enough that the midwife had jokingly said it explained Emily’s heartburn. It was the exact same shade that had always somehow amplified his wife’s beauty, one of the many things she had passed on to their daughter.
On a normal day, or as normal as things got in the Hotchner household, he’d stand back and watch as his wife would walk around with their little girl with ease. The feeling of love, and home flowing off of them as Emily spoke to Isla in English and French, determined their daughter would be bi-lingual from the start, her lips against the toddler's forehead as she drifted to sleep. But there's a tension this time that he cannot ignore. A stiffness to Emily’s posture that he knows is only partially to do with her injury to her ankle, desperation to how she rubs circles on their already sleeping daughter’s back, something that was more about soothing her now than Isla.
His eyes drift to the bandage on Emily’s arm, and he knows it must be hurting her to hold Isla like this, so he walks towards them, his arms already outstretched.
“I can take her, sweetheart,” he says, not missing how Emily holds the little girl even tighter, “You get ready for bed.”
“It’s fine,” Emily says, her voice tight, “I’ve got her.”
“I said I’ve got her,” Emily snaps, immediately closing her eyes and breathing out deeply through her nose, shaking her head at herself before she reopens her eyes to look at him, “Please, Aaron. I…”
She drifts off, unsure of what to say, how to explain the turmoil she was feeling. Aaron simply nods at her, endlessly understanding in a way she hates in this moment, wanting nothing more than for him to take the bait, to argue with her so she can feel something other than the grief her lungs were stuffed full with.
“Ok,” he says, his hand on Emily’s lower back, guiding her towards the bed, “At least sit down for me though.”
Emily nods, following his lead and walks the short distance to the bed. She sits down, grateful when Isla stays asleep and simply cuddles in further to her. She can’t help but kiss her daughter’s head, taking in the scent of her hair, breathing her in to try and stop herself from playing the day over and over in her head again.
Aaron waits her out, his hand still on his wife’s back, running his hand up and down her spine, his palm warm through her thin shirt. He isn’t sure how much time has passed when she speaks, the only sound in the room is their daughter’s soft breathing, a sound close to a snore Emily refused to admit Isla had picked up from her.
“We both could have died today,” Emily says softly, her voice almost emotionless, she looks at him, her eyes shining as she stops him from trying to comfort her, “And don’t say we couldn’t have, we both know how close it was.”
Aaron nods at her, pulling her even closer, careful not to disturb the toddler still fast asleep in her mother’s arms.
“It wasn’t the first time, sweetheart,” He says, knowing it wasn’t helpful, or comforting, but simply the truth. They’d had more close calls than most people had, and he knew he wasn’t alone in wondering when that luck would run out.
“I…think it should be the last time,” she replies, and he freezes, shifting to put some space between them so he can look at her properly.
“All I could think about when we got out was that if we’d died…” her voice cracks and she shakes her head at herself, “If we had the kids wouldn’t have any parents anymore,” her lower lip trembles, and he thinks she’s never been more herself. Thinking about her own mortality through the lens of someone else, the impact on their children her biggest concern, “They’d be loved, I know that,” she says, looking down at Isla, kissing her dark hair, “The team and Jess and, fuck, even my mother would make sure that they were loved. But they wouldn’t have us. And I don’t think we can continue to put that at risk.”
“You think one of us should quit?” He asks, not surprised by her suggestion. It was something they’d talked about when she was pregnant, and when Isla was a newborn, but only ever in hypotheticals. Something they would do one day when the time was right.
Aaron agreed with his wife, that the time may have come.
Emily nods, “Or just find something else. I don’t think either of us is capable of just…sitting around,” she says, a small smile forming on her face, “But maybe something with a team that doesn’t go out in the field, or teaching at the academy,” her smile turns sad, “Maybe I could finally get that desk job my official files say I had before the BAU.”
“You’d be bored,” he says, reaching out to tuck some of her hair behind her ear, “I could move on from the BAU, I don’t think anyone could say I haven’t done my time.”
She turns her head to kiss his palm, “Maybe,” she says, biting her lower lip, “Whatever we decide will be difficult, the team won’t like it,” she laughs humourlessly, “But we have to do what’s right for us, for our family,” her smile slips away, “Jack barely remembers Haley, Aaron, and he was four when she died-”
“And I’m not saying that to be cruel, baby,” she says quickly, her eyes searching his, “But it’s true. He remembers tiny bits and pieces, but most of what he knows is what you’ve told him. He didn’t deserve to lose her, and he wouldn’t deserve to lose us,” a tear finally escapes her lashline, and he wipes it away, “And Isla is so much younger, she wouldn’t remember us at all.”
Aaron closes his eyes and nods. She was right, and he didn’t want to argue with her, there was no need to when they were on the same page about this.
“We’ll figure it out, sweetheart,” he promises, leaning his forehead briefly against hers, “But not now,” he pulls back and smiles reassuringly at her, “Right now we’ll get this one to bed,” he says, his hand over Emily’s on Isla’s back, “Then go to bed ourselves, and we’ll revisit the rest in the morning. Figure out where we go from here.”
Emily nods, “Ok,” she says, the tightness in her chest easing for the first time since they’d stepped out of the factory, “Let's do that,” she looks down at Isla before looking back at her husband, “Can she stay in here tonight?”
Aaron smiles at the pair of them and playfully rolls his eyes. They’d been almost inseparable since Isla’s birth, and it meant getting the toddler to sleep in her own room was tricky at times. He knew the moment they transitioned her to a normal bed they’d wake up to find her in their bed with them, the bars of her crib no longer keeping her in place. He can’t deny Emily anything, he never had been able to.
“Just tonight,” he says, and he knows he’s made the right call when Emily beams at him.
Emily groans as she wakes up, a hand at her shoulder shaking her awake the only light in the room filtering in from the slightly open bedroom door. She barely has the chance to think about how she was sure she’d closed it, when she hears her son, his voice shaking as he gets her attention.
“Jack?” She says, flicking on the lamp on her nightstand, her heart clenching as she looks at him. His pyjamas were askew, and his hair a mess, tears in his eyes and on his cheeks, “What’s wrong, sweetie?”
He sniffs, wiping at his cheek with the sleeve of his pyjama shirt, “I had a nightmare.”
Emily sighs sadly, knowing it wasn’t a coincidence that he’d had a nightmare tonight, that it was likely fueled by what he understood of their jobs, what the injuries they had come home with meant.
“Oh Jack,” she says, sitting up a little and reaching out for him, “Want to sleep in here with us?”
He nods enthusiastically, and she casts a glance behind her, the sight of Isla fast asleep on Aaron’s chest, his hand securing her in place even in his slumber, enough to make her smile. She shifts back to them, her back pressing up against Aaron’s side, leaving enough room for Jack to slide in under the covers. He curls into her embrace, his fists tight in the back of her t-shirt, and she kisses his forehead. She wonders what he’s seen, what his subconscious had taunted him with, mixing the reality of what he had experienced when he was smaller with what he now understood.
“You’re ok, sweet boy,” she says, rubbing her hand up and down his back, “I’m right here.”
She feels as he relaxes in her arms, sleep slowly overtaking him again as the safety of her embrace washes over him.
“Love you, Momma,” he mutters, his words slurring together as he gives into the pull of sleep, and it makes tears press at the back of her eyes.
“I love you too, Jack,” she replies, even though he’s asleep.
Emily closes her eyes and lets herself feel the warmth of her family around her. Her son in her arms, her husband pressed up against her back. Her little girl's soft snores filling the room.
Things were about to change, they had to, and she knew she and Aaron had some difficult conversations ahead. But it was worth it, to protect this - the most precious thing she’d ever had.