So this is my first entry in the Kavi Leighanna/sienna27 TV Prompt Challenge! For full details either check out the forum (link's in my profile) or shoot a PM to either one of us with questions!
NOT-SO DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY
PROMPT: Every Picture Tells a Story (Reba)
"I was thinking of having your father over for dinner next week."
Emily rolled her eyes as she put another dish in the dishwasher. Her team, her family, was out in the dining room, but between the phone and the end of dinner, Emily had willingly volunteered to clean up and put everything away. Dessert was out already anyway, and Hotch wouldn't mind playing host while she dealt with her mother. They'd just announced their relationship to the team and like Emily had predicted, they'd all nodded and moved on. Hotch had been expecting that they'd hidden things better, but when you worked with the best, you just assumed your private life was public knowledge.
"Mother, you hate Dad."
"I do not hate your father," Elizabeth responded, almost indignantly. "Just because we divorced doesn't mean I hate him, Emily."
Emily bit her lip against the sarcastic comment on the tip of her tongue. She'd never seen her parents get along since her mother had filed the divorce papers. "Are you looking for my approval?"
"It would be our weekly dinner."
This time, Emily's brow knit in confusion. "You're inviting Dad to our weekly dinner? What brought this on? Is he even back in the country?"
"He returned yesterday from the Middle East," Elizabeth replied, her tone almost scolding. "He asked about you."
"Mother, you don't have to mediate my conversations with Dad," Emily said, well aware she sounded confused.
"No, but if you're bringing Aaron I may need to do damage control. When was the last time you talked to him?"
She sighed, knowing she had to give her mother that. She hadn't told her father about her relationship with her supervisor, both because it was expensive to call the Middle East and because, to the extent of her knowledge, her father hadn't bothered learning about the brilliance of the internet. She hadn't gotten a response to any of her e-mails. "It's not like I didn't try."
She could almost hear her mother's eye roll on the other end of the line. "I'm going to call and see if he can make it."
Emily made quick work of agreeing indifferently, then saying goodbye to her mother and returning to the guests.
"Everything okay?" Hotch asked as she took a seat to his left.
"Mmhmm," Emily replied brightly. "You're going to meet my father next week."
Hotch gave her a half-pained smile. "Brilliant."
Emily was anxious, irritated and confused all at the same time. Why on earth did her mother have to go and dump everything over her head like this? How on earth had her mother managed to go and turn her understandings so completely upside down? Oh yeah. It had been simple.
Growing up, having her parents together was a very rare treat. Unfortunately, that treat, more often than not, turned into a war zone of epic proportions. So Emily wasn't exactly surprised when her mother filed for divorce. Yet, here, she was about to walk into dinner with both of her parents and her mother was more worried about what her father was going to say about Hotch than the fact that Emily couldn't remember either of them having a civil conversation in her presence.
But a lot had changed since then. Her parents had divorce, she'd moved back to the US with her father and finished her education. She'd met Hotch and their relationship had grown and blossomed after his almost-explosion and her three days in a religious compound.
"Em, it's going to be fine," Hotch said, running a hand down her arm and entwining their fingers.
She drew in a breath. There was irony in the fact that he was about to meet her father and he was reassuring her. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Oh, who was she kidding? With the Twilight Zone she was sure she was walking into, anything was supposedly possible. What almost floored her more was that her father was the one to open the door.
"Emma-Bear! Perfect. How are you sweetheart? And who is this young man with you?"
Emily bit the inside of her cheek. "Dad, this is Aaron Hotchner. Aaron, my dad Gary."
"Pleasure to meet you, sir," Hotch said calmly, shaking hands with the older man. "And I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say 'young' man."
"It's Gary, son, and I still have a few years on you." Then he turned back to the house. "Elizabeth! Did you know Emily was bringing a guest?"
"At least he didn't call you 'kiddo'," Emily murmured to Hotch's slightly stunned look. He squeezed her fingers.
"Of course I did, Gary. Aaron and Emily are dating."
"Is it serious?" Gary asked his daughter immediately, eyes solemn.
Emily rolled her eyes. "You make it sound like a disease," she quipped. "But yes. Very."
"By all means then! Come on in! I hear we have quite the feast in store, isn't that right Lizzie?"
Emily actually watched her mother roll her eyes affectionately. Elsewise, she probably would have thought someone was playing tricks on her. Either way, she had to resist the urge to bring her fists up to her face to rub her eyes. This was too weird for her liking.
"You were the one that called my chef to tell him what to prepare for dinner," Elizabeth replied wryly, leading the way to the sitting room. "Drink, Em?"
"Just water, Mother," Emily answered, still very much stunned.
She saw him dart a glance at her out of the corner of his eye before ordering a rye and ginger. She wasn't about to stop him from drinking, she was just sure the night was going to only get weirder from here and she wanted to make sure she had a completely clear head.
"So tell me," Gary Prentiss said, settling onto the love seat across from Emily and Hotch, right beside Elizabeth. "How long have you been 'dating'?"
She'd just left the dinner table, taking the chance to freshen up and get a hold of herself. She'd been watching her parents volley back and forth like she and Hotch did and it was a disconcerting feeling, especially considering the only thing she could remember her parents doing was fighting. "Yes, Mother?"
"I have something to show you."
"Mother, don't you think-"
Years of conditioning had Emily responding to a command like she did when she was six. She followed her mother down the hall to her bedroom, the one place Emily had gone into rarely, and only if it was an absolute dire emergency. From the top drawer of her bedside table, Elizabeth extracted a photo album, then motioned Emily to the small couch in the corner. If Emily had expected a reminiscent walk down memory lane, it was most definitely not what she was about to get. Instead, Elizabeth flipped to the back of the book, the last picture. Emily recognized both people immediately.
"That's you and Dad," she said, voice almost awed.
Elizabeth nodded. "At the Burns' Christmas party in Texas."
"Just this last Christmas," Elizabeth said.
Emily took a closer look at the picture, pulling the album into her lap. There was the evidence, right in front of her. Her parents had their arms wrapped around each other with wide smiles. And her mother was right, the picture was very recent. Emily would almost go as far as to describe them as not only very comfortable with each other, but still in love with each other. "I don't..." Slowly, she started flipping through the rest of the book, periodically stopping while her mother rattled off the year and the event they were present at.
"Emily, your father and I didn't divorce because we didn't love each other."
Emily blinked. "You fought," she said. "Every day when you saw each other." She felt sixteen and trying to understand why her first boyfriend had broken up with her.
"We both worked in stressful environments," Elizabeth replied. "And we were always away from each other. It was as much because we were leading different lives as because we had issues to iron out. When you spend that much time apart, trying to put off the terrible things you want to discuss until you can do it face to face, fighting is inevitable."
Emily looked up into the same eyes she had, her own reflecting shock and confusion. "Then... Wow..."
"We've never hated each other," Elizabeth said.
Emily shook her head. "Mother, this is a lot to absorb..."
"Of course. Let's go back down to dinner. If we're away too much longer Aaron and Gary are bound to get into trouble."
It was later that night, after a silent car ride home – Hotch had known something was eating at her and Emily knew he was aware of her confusion and silence – when they were both cuddled in bed, that Emily finally looked up at him.
"My parents never hated each other."
Hotch nodded slowly. "I could tell."
She huffed out a breath as she rested her cheek over his heartbeat again. "They never hated each other, and yet I couldn't get them in a room together when I was a girl. Mother didn't come to my high school graduation."
"So you assumed that they couldn't stand each other," Hotch replied, his hand stroking her back. "It's normal."
"Do you know how many times I wished they weren't divorced?" Emily asked, pushing herself up and leaning on her arm. "Do you know how many times I wish I had a normal family?"
"Your parents were both ambassadors, Em. There was no way you were going to have a normal family," he responded.
"God," she harrumphed, dropping back to the bed and curling against him again. "Promise me something?"
"Anything," he answered immediately, his usual answer when they were having these serious conversations in bed.
"That if this doesn't work out you'll always tell the truth about why. I always thought my parents divorced because they hate each other. My life could have been so much easier if I'd known that definitely wasn't the case."
He tilted her chin up, making sure to meet her eyes as he always did when making a promise. "I promise."
She settled back down again her eyes closing as she listened to Hotch's breathing even out. Suddenly, just as she was about to drift off to sleep, she shot up.
"What is it?" Hotch asked immediately, his head clearing quickly.
"No wonder I couldn't play them against each other!"