Emily Prentiss sat outside the court room, running her fingers along the envelope in her hand. A week ago, she'd been served. Well, more appropriately, she'd been called as a witness in Hotch's custody battle for his son.
She wasn't paying attention to anything around her beyond the envelope in her hand and what she was about to do. If there was one thing Emily was sure of, it was that Hotch loved his son. She didn't want to get bogged down with how terrible Haley was being in trying to file for sole custody and, quite frankly, it didn't matter in the long run. She knew exactly what she had to do when she got up on that stand, and that was explain to the court, to the judge, the kind of man Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner was.
Emily was one of the lucky few who had accidentally gotten to spend time with both Hotch and Hotch Jr. Since his divorce had come down the pipe, Hotch had been spending more and more time with the team – sometimes not without a little bit of cajoling, or poking and prodding by her and Dave alike – and so it didn't actually come as a surprise that she'd accidentally left her jacket at his place after one of said little get-togethers. Jack had been there when she'd come to pick it up and both had fallen in love. She knew Hotch didn't get to see the little boy as much as he'd like but she'd had the opportunity to see father and son in action. Needless to say, it was a sight to behold. And, much to her surprise, a sight she'd had the opportunity to see repeated a few more times since then.
Emily looked up at the bailiff. Ah, her turn now. She took a deep breath and straightened her court-appropriate jacket. Her pumps clicked on the floor as she made her way into the courtroom, head held high. If Haley thought she was going to be the one to break, the one to tell the court that Hotch was a terrible taskmaster, she was about to get a surprise. Emily would bet it would be an unwelcome one.
"State and spell your name for the record."
"Emily Prentiss. P-r-e-n-t-i-s-s." She waited to be sworn in, then took a seat, meeting the eyes of Haley's lawyer.
"Miss Prentiss, may I call you Emily?"
She kept her face a cool mask. "Agent Prentiss is fine."
She caught the edges of Hotch's lips turn up in a little bit of a smile from his seat. Yeah, she wasn't going to give anyone an easy time.
But Haley's lawyer recovered quickly. "Agent Prentiss. What is your relationship with Agent Hotchner?"
"Colleague," Emily answered briskly.
"Have you ever spent time outside of work with Agent Hotchner."
"Yes." She never thought she'd be thankful for her political training. Truthful answers, but no explanations unless asked. That was the name of the game, and the norm in her life. Not to mention the number of times she'd been cross-examined for a case. She knew the drill and could spot tricks almost faster than the lawyers could come up with them. "We are also friends, if that's the angle you're looking for counsellor."
"What kind of boss is Agent Hotchner?"
Emily resisted the urge to roll her eyes. This was mundane. She wanted something to play with. "What do you mean?"
"Is he a tyrant, is he lenient."
She found herself crossing her arms about her torso and grasping the opposite sides of her suit jacket. Stupid coping mechanisms. "He expects nothing from his agents other than what he expects of himself," she replied. "He is a good boss."
The lawyer cocked his head to the side. "But that wasn't how you started out."
Emily didn't say anything. It was a statement, not a question.
"Isn't that right?"
"That's correct." Why wasn't Hotch's lawyer jumping in? What relevance did all of this have on what kind of father Hotch would be? Correction, her mind told her, The father that Hotch is.
"He accused me of being there for political reasons, to advance my career and nothing more," Emily replied.
"And what was he like then?"
"Cold. Distant…" She'd opened her mouth to continue, but the lawyer cut her off.
"And is it true that Agent Hotchner is usually like that on the job?"
"I'd go with stoic," Emily replied.
"Emotionless," the lawyer offered.
"Well, it's not like our job really has room for emotion," she pointed out, irritated.
"Right," the lawyer smirked, interrupting before Emily could qualify that with the fact that in their line of work, emotion often got you killed. "Is it true that Agent Hotchner spends a lot of time at the office?"
"Just a 'yes' or 'no' will suffice, Agent Prentiss."
She could see Haley preening. If Hotch's lawyer didn't step up when he was questioning her, she was going to 'go rogue' and speak out of the society described turn. She'd play nice for now.
"What kind of man spends all of his free time looking at dead and decomposing bodies, Agent Prentiss?"
"One who is dedicated to his job," Emily replied, holding tightly to the edges of her suit jacket. It was really the only way she was able to keep her calm mask in place, even as her knuckles turned white.
"Right. And it's this job that ruined his marriage. So, I ask: how can a man so dedicated to his job be any sort of father to a three-year-old boy?"
Emily opened her mouth.
"No further questions, your honour."
Emily was boiling. She absolutely hated lawyers that didn't let her get a word in edgewise. She turned defiant eyes on Hotch's lawyer.
"Agent Prentiss, have you ever met Jack?"
"And what did you think?"
"That he was a very intelligent very perceptive child," Emily responded.
"Jack… Jack knows that there's something going on," she replied, looking down at the wood of the stand, remembering his innocent eyes when Hotch had left the room during a conversation with Haley. He'd told her Mommy and Daddy were always yelling at each other, but Daddy made sure he knew it wasn't his fault. It was Mommy and Daddy's problem. "He knows that Mr and Mrs Hotchner are fighting but he knows it's not his fault."
"He told you this?"
"Do you spend a lot of time with Jack?"
She shook her head. "No. The rare time Hotch gets to spend time with Jack… that's his time with his son. We all know that."
"'We all', Agent Prentiss?"
"The team," she clarified. "We all know how important Jack is to Hotch."
"And how important is that?"
She huffed out a breath. "I'm not sure I can explain it," she said honestly.
Emily closed her eyes, trying to get her bearings. "He watches videos of Jack from when he was younger when the cases get too bad. He calls Jack whenever he has to go away, and there's nothing worse than the look on his face when he tells Jack he has to cancel. He never hangs up without telling Jack that he loves him, more than anything in the world." She opened her eyes, fixing them on Hotch. "Despite his job, the way we always have to be on call, there is no one in the world Hotch loves more than his son. In my opinion, you'd not only be taking the light from Hotch's life by taking his son, but you'd be doing Jack a huge disservice by separating him from his father." She looked to the lawyer, unable to say her next words to Hotch's face. "Aaron Hotchner is one of a kind. FBI agent or not, there is no denying he adores his son. Any child would be lucky to have him as a father."
The judge nodded. "That will be all Agent Prentiss. Thank you."
Emily stepped down and walked out of the courtroom, unable to meet Hotch's eyes. She felt like she'd just bared her soul in a courtroom. But she did what she had to do because nothing in the world mattered as much to Aaron Hotchner as his son.
Her head shot up at the little voice. Jack sat on a bench outside the courtroom, where he hadn't been before Emily had stepped inside, sitting with a woman who could only be Haley's sister. "Hey Jack."
He cocked his little head to the side, a look that was so reminiscent of his father that Emily felt herself tearing up. "Why are you sad?"
"I'm not," she replied with a smile. She wasn't really, but the thought of this little boy, growing up without his father because his mother was bitter was something Emily couldn't fathom. She knew how important parents were to a child's life, to their time growing up. Jack deserved to have the opportunity to spend time with his father, to make decisions as to his parents on his own. She gave a polite smile to Haley's sister before crouching down in front of Jack. "I want you to make me a promise, okay?"
Jack looked confused, but nodded seriously.
"When your daddy comes out of those doors, no matter what he looks like, I want you to give him a really, really big hug, okay?"
The three-year-old nodded solemnly. Emily echoed his nod, then pushed herself to her feet. She'd done her job here. She could go home.
Emily sniffled as she popped another kernel of popcorn into her mouth. Her day had just screamed for a cry-worthy movie and she'd come home and popped one in without further ado. Now, tears pooling in her eyes, she sat curled up in the corner of her couch. She hadn't been able to stay to hear the end of the case. It wasn't her place to stay anyway. Hotch deliberately didn't bring his personal life into the office, so she'd play to the script and continue to keep it that way. She wasn't the only one who had been subpoenaed as a character witness, and since there had been no other member of the team there, Emily hadn't wanted to stay.
Her phone buzzed across the table and she checked it. Text message. From Hotch. She crinkled her forehead at the address in the message, but there was no reason not to trust it. She weighed her options. If it was a case, Hotch would have mentioned it and it wasn't like this was the first time he'd asked her to come by. Well, more appropriately he'd shown up at her doorstep and she'd let him in before overdosing him on something. Usually it was old-school sitcoms. Her father had been a huge fan and shared that love with Emily. Of course, their last marathon had been JAG and he'd spent the entirety of it mocking the court process, but it made Emily laugh and it had taken care of his frustration, so she hadn't minded much.
Sliding into a pair of jeans, she went about the process of locking up her condo before climbing in her car and using her GPS to find the appropriate target. When she pulled into the parking lot, she found her eyebrows arching upwards. Why on earth was he at a Dairy Queen? He wasn't usually a big fan of ice cream. She climbed out of the car, searching him out in the windows and couldn't stop the way her face lit up. Jack sat across from his father, gesturing wildly with his spoon while Hotch tried to grasp it. She was just about to get back into her car, to leave them to their bonding moment, but Jack saw her first. Then his father turned and the smile on his face had her heart melting.
She sighed, resigning herself to having to spend time with Hotch and Jack. Not that she was particularly against it, but she'd said some things on that stand today that went beyond even their friendship and she hadn't had time to really deal with those things. For all intents and purposes, she was a slave to that smile he'd flashed her, and that, and that alone, was what propelled her feet through the door of Dairy Queen.
"Hiya Miss Em'ly!"
"Hey Jack," she replied, standing awkwardly at the end of their little booth table. Hotch sat across from Jack and Emily felt a little bit like an outsider.
"Sit," he requested. "Anywhere."
Emily couldn't help chuckling even as she slid into Hotch's side of the booth. She wasn't sure she knew Jack well enough to sit beside him. And the way he was talking with his spoon made her fear for her clothes. "I don't know how safe I am with Prince Jack waving around his sword there."
Jack unwittingly contorted his face into an exact replica of his father's when very confused. "I don't have a sword," he told her solemnly.
"What's that then?" Emily asked, nodding to his spoon.
Jack held it out for her. "Is my spoon! Silly Miss Em'ly!"
Emily laughed as he giggled and skilfully extracted the spoon from his hand. "Then maybe you should stop waving it around like one, hey?" she told him. She caught sight of his shirt and shot Hotch a raised eyebrow. Did the child eat any of his ice cream? Hotch just seemed to watch with a permanent smile on his face. More than anything, she wanted to ask him how court had gone, what the judges official decision was. Was this the last ice cream he was going to have with his son without Haley's permission? If it was, she most certainly didn't want to be infringing on his father-son time.
"I wanted to say thank you," Hotch said finally, as Jack dove back into his sundae. For a little kid, Emily had always been absolutely floored at how much he ate.
She cocked her head to the side in question.
"The judge ruled on a sort of joint custody," Hotch replied quietly, an eagle eye still on his son. "I get him for Thanksgiving, part of Christmas and March Break and dinner every Wednesday provided we're not on a case. When we are, I get dinner at my earliest convenience when I get back."
"That's great!" Emily exclaimed quietly. "I'm glad. But I'm not the only one you should thank."
His hand slid to her knee and she jumped. "You are the one that deserves the most thanks. The things you said up there… no one else said anything like it."
She shrugged, partially uncomfortable. "I know he's important to you and I didn't do anything but tell the truth," she said, turning her eyes to Jack. He was safe. Jack wouldn't be looking at her, trying to read her.
She looked back at him, unable to keep years of training from making her meet his gaze. He searched her face for a minute, eyes intense.
"You're right," he said finally. "There's no one else in this world that matters to me more than my son does." Then he did something that absolutely floored her. He leaned forward and pressed a slow kiss to her cheek. "But you come in a very close second," he whispered into her ear.