Author's Note: I'm finally getting some of my outstanding stuff wrapped up. This originally went up in early November and I thought it would be tied off a day or so later. That didn't happen. My brain is a mystery even to me so I can't say what it will decide to work on next. But at least now I can cross this one off the list :)
Prompt Set #8
Title Challenge: Do You Regret What We Did?
More Than This
Emily lay on her side watching the light spill through the crack of the bathroom door onto the glossy hardwood floor. She heard the toilet flush and then the water run and a second later the stream of light was cutting across the room.
Her gaze slowly ran up and over Hotch's naked body before her eyes caught with his. He stared at her for a moment and she saw his eyes glistening again just before he snapped the bathroom light off.
Now the only illumination came through the open door to the hallway and the slits in the blinds. But it was enough for her to still see him clearly as he crossed the room and back to the bed. She raised the blankets up for him and he climbed in, pulling her close as he settled back against the pillows.
"Are you okay?" Hotch whispered as he rubbed his thumb slowly along her bare hip.
He really hoped that she wasn't regretting what they'd done. For all the emotions that he was experiencing at that moment . . . regret wasn't one of them.
The predominant feeling for him was loss. Loss of his mother, loss of the last connection to his father, the loss of having someplace he could always call home.
And then of course there was the loss of Emily.
As soon as it was over . . . even though her naked body was still wrapped around him . . . he'd already started to miss her terribly. Being with her gave him something . . . someone . . . to focus on besides himself and the blinding grief that was pressing against his heart. For just that brief time with her he wasn't sad, he wasn't lonely.
He wasn't alone.
And all he could think as he looked at her from the doorway was that he wanted to keep her with him all the time. But he couldn't use her that way. If he wasn't in a place that he could offer her more than just his body, then asking her to regularly share his bed would be wrong.
So if this was the only time that they'd be together . . . he kissed her cheek . . . he just wanted to keep her near him for as long as possible.
Emily shifted closer, tangling their legs together as she nodded, "yes," she kissed his shoulder as her fingers splayed possessively across his flat stomach, "I'm very good."
No matter what else happened, she was going to remember that tonight . . . for just a little while . . . he was completely hers. Because even though it came from a place of solace and grief . . . or perhaps because it did . . . making love to him had forged a connection that she couldn't remember ever feeling with someone before.
Maybe it was because they both were so damaged that they fit together so well. And it wasn't until it was over that she started to feel the melancholy settle back into her heart.
Just one night.
This one night was quite possibly all she was ever going to have with him . . . her fingers gently caressed his stomach . . . and it just wasn't fair.
Why did everything have to be so hard? Why couldn't they meet and fall in love like regular people?
Her eyes started to sting . . . why did they have to be so fucked up?
If they were normal people then they could do this all the time. Not only have sex, but just be there for each other. Provide comfort and a safe harbor when the other was in pain and needed love and support.
And with the lives they led . . . the things they saw . . . the need for a safe harbor was certainly an occurrence that came up more often than it did for most people.
Ironic that 'regular' people had normal loving relationships with supportive partners . . . she thought bitterly . . . and people like them, people who were screwed up and led lonely, solitary lives immersed in the darkest waters of humanity . . . were denied them.
How is that fair? How is that not a cosmic joke?
With the exception of JJ, none of them could find anyone that understood their work, nobody that wanted to stick around and deal with the misery they saw every day.
Not that Emily was still looking for that understanding. She'd already found the man she wanted to spend her days with . . . she just couldn't be with him.
Trying to head off the tears that she could feel building, Emily buried her face in the curve of Hotch's neck. She knew that if she cried now that he would never forgive himself. He'd think that he'd hurt her, that he'd used her. He would never believe that her sadness was about the life that they couldn't lead.
Not the life that they led.
As his foot rubbed along her calf, Emily suddenly realized that she was still wearing her thick wool socks. They were ugly and grey and she'd pulled them on just before she left the house.
That realization was enough to push the tears away, and with an embarrassed huff she whispered against his throat, "I forgot to take my socks off."
"Actually," Hotch said softly, "I left them on deliberately. I didn't want you to get cold."
Tears sprang to Emily's eyes as she kissed his throat before whispering back, "thanks, that was sweet."
And the cosmos has another laugh at her expense.
They were quiet for a moment and then Hotch swallowed over the lump forming in his throat. He'd told her they would talk afterwards, so it was time to talk.
"I wish I could you offer you more Emily," he said with bitter regret as he fixed the blankets around her shoulder, "but this is all I have to give you right now," he swallowed again, "if you want, maybe in a few weeks we can talk again. I just . . . I don't want to promise you something now that I can't deliver later."
Honesty was the most important thing right now. This was the moment that would set the course for how they behaved with one another from now on. And the worst thing would be if they went forward on different pages, if they were reading from different scripts.
Then the possibilities for a future together, their friendship, and most likely their working relationship as well, would all be ruined.
"I understand Aaron," Emily's hand moved up to rest over his heart, "I do. It's okay, you don't have to feel guilty. But please," she looked up at him, "please just let me help you get through these next few days. I don't know exactly the pain you're feeling, but I know what it's like to lose someone. And I just don't want you to be alone." Her eyes started to sting as her voice got husky, "not when you don't have to be. And then, after . . . well, afterwards we'll go back to what it was before," she swallowed, "we'll just pretend like it didn't happen."
Though that was always the plan, she was thinking now it might be easier said than done.
Momentarily moving past her kind offer, Hotch frowned at her, "whatever else happens Emily, I don't want to pretend like it didn't happen."
That would be acting like he was ashamed of her, of what they'd done. He stroked his fingers along her soft skin . . . and he most definitely wasn't ashamed of anything.
In fact it was exactly the opposite. He felt blessed that she would be with him. And it was his fervent hope that he could get his shit together so that a little further down the road he'd be able to give her more, give her everything that she deserved.
For now though . . . he leaned over to grab his undershirt from the end of the bed . . . he'd just love her the best he could in this little bubble of time they had together.
As Hotch slipped his t-shirt over her head, Emily felt an unexpected flood of happiness in her heart. Just like what he did with the socks, he was showing her that he wanted to take care of her.
That the feelings were there.
And that gave her hope.
After he helped Emily cover up, Hotch reached under the covers to find his boxers.
As he pulled them on Emily pushed herself up against the headboard. "So Aaron," her voice was soft as she brushed her fingers through his hair, "will you let me help you with the arrangements?" He turned to look at her and she cupped his jaw with her palm, "I can stay with you through the funeral, and then," she gave him a sad smile, "and then I'll go home."
His eyes began to water and he looked away. When he looked back he nodded slowly, "if you wouldn't mind staying, that would be," his voice cracked, "nice."
What an inadequate word to cover somebody selflessly offering to help you through the worst days of your life.
Seeing that his grief was about to spill over again, Emily bit her lip as she reached for him, "come here hon."
Seconds after he had laid his head on her stomach, Emily felt the warmth of his tears through the cotton covering her skin. There were no sobs this time, just tears.
She wasn't sure if he would ever allow himself to let go again the way he did earlier.
Still though, she did what she could to offer him comfort. She ran her fingers through his hair as she murmured over and over, "I'm right here Aaron, I'm here and I won't leave you."
Thank God he had agreed to let her stay and help him because she couldn't imagine going home and leave him like this. But at least now she could help him through the worst of it. And as he took a gasping breath she knew the wave was again passing.
She shifted so she could lie down again and he moved up to put his head on her shoulder. Their fingers laced together across her stomach and then Hotch whispered, "thank you," and he closed his eyes.
A few minutes later Emily heard his respirations coming evenly and she knew that he'd fallen asleep. She tipped her head over to rest against his and then spent the next hour watching the grey light slowly spreading across the room.
Morning had come.
Emily stayed with Hotch until the following Tuesday.
When they awoke Friday morning she called Dave and told him what had happened. At her request he had the team taken off rotation for a week, and her and Hotch specifically put on leave until Wednesday. Then she made Hotch toast and scrambled eggs, forcing him to clean his plate before they went to the funeral home and she helped him pick out a casket.
And then the next day she helped him pick out an outfit for his mother, and the day after that she helped him pick out a tie for the funeral. It was draining for her, but she was trying to make it easier for him. And she seemed to be helping him so she put aside her own difficulties and focused only on his needs.
She held his hand everywhere they went, she made him eat at least two meals a day, she answered his phone, laid out his clothes, and interceded when she knew that he was too tired to accept one more expression of sympathy.
For just those few days, she took on the role not only of his lover . . . but also his wife.
If not for the circumstances she would have welcomed the title.
Haley gave Emily a funny look when she saw her standing next to Hotch in the receiving line at the wake. But Emily wasn't in the mood for any judgments so she gave Hotch's ex a defiant look back.
Haley had left him . . . she was no longer entitled to have an opinion.
The others, the team . . . even Strauss . . . nobody else seemed to think Emily's presence at Hotch's side was unusual. Though he didn't cry once in front of anyone but Emily, it was clear that he was devastated and that he needed someone to lean on.
As far as they could all tell, she was just being a good friend.
Though Dave and Derek both gave her a look when they realized that she stayed with Hotch at the grave after even his brother had left.
She knew that they thought they had figured out what was going on . . . but they didn't know anything.
So that Tuesday morning they buried his mother, that Tuesday afternoon Emily helped him host the reception at his apartment, and that Tuesday night she shared his bed for the last time.
Wednesday night she walked into her own bedroom alone.
The weeks passed, and as was to be expected, Hotch was even more somber and subdued than he had been in the past. Everyone was worried about him, Emily most of all. But she was doing her best to shake off their time together and not to hover over him in front of the others.
Or at least not to hover any more than JJ or Garcia were doing. It was harder for her though because she could see that he was hurting, but she was no longer capable of offering him the comfort that she had in those first few days.
Once a week she invited him over for dinner . . . just to make sure he didn't spend too much time alone. And he would come and he would talk about Jack, or about work . . . anything but how he was feeling.
Discussion about one feeling would lead to a discussion about all the others.
Then after dinner they would sit on the couch and she'd put her head on his shoulder as they listened to music.
She'd put on a mix from her iTunes, something soft that she thought would soothe him.
He was quiet then . . . but he always held her hand tightly, clutching it on his lap.
And in those quiet moments, a part of her would selfishly hope that he would turn to her and whisper that he was ready to talk again. But that day didn't come.
And as January moved into February, she started to accept that maybe it never would.
Then one day Emily came into the office early to find a single red rose on her desk with a white envelope lying underneath.
As she looked around she saw that the bullpen was still empty, but there were lights burning in Hotch's office.
Trying to quell her nerves, Emily put down her things, and then slit open the seal on the envelope and slipped the card out. Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw the message . . . Happy Valentine's Day.
She had forgotten.
Slowly she opened the card, swallowing as she began to read over the words inside.
If you still want to, I think I'm ready to try. But if you're not ready, or if you've changed your mind, please know how grateful I am for all that you've done for me.
Your friendship is a gift.
Happy Valentine's Day Emily.
Her fingers began to tremble as she read his message a second time . . . then she felt a burst of joy in her heart.
He wanted to try.
Emily lifted her watery eyes to his office again, and this time she saw him watching her from the doorway. She could see the worry on his face so she flashed him a brilliant smile to reassure him that they were on the same page.
She had not changed her mind.
Feeling a flood of relief that it wasn't too late . . . that he hadn't waited too long . . . Hotch eyes crinkled as he called down to Emily.
"I bought you a jelly donut."
At her laugh, he winked and turned to go spread her breakfast out on his coffee table.
Coffee and jelly donuts . . . he opened the white wax paper bag . . . it wasn't champagne and caviar, but he didn't think that she'd mind.
Feeling her heart racing, Emily stared at the open doorway for a second . . . a new life was starting today. The one they'd never been able to lead before. The one they'd only danced around when his mother died.
Now it was for real.
She picked up her rose and taking a deep breath, ran up the stairs and into his office.
The door slammed shut behind her.
A/N 2: Clearly a very unconventional Valentine's Day story. But initially when I wrote the first part, putting it in winter, I was thinking that I'd do their closing scene at Christmas or New Year's. But then things happened and I didn't get back to this as quickly as I'd planned so I decided Valentine's worked just as well for the end of a winter's tale. I also had thought this was overall a melancholy story and I had thought about ending it ambiguously . . . just to try something new . . . but then I decided that the plot overall was a unique enough approach (for me) to getting them together that I didn't need to go the unhappy route as well.
I do plan on getting up another Girl and the end of Finding a Tree probably tomorrow. Monday's a holiday for me so I'm considering that still 'the weekend.' I was planning on getting at least Tree up today, but my brain started running away with this and it just came together faster than either of the other two. I'm just really pleased I got some resolution on something that's been sitting. And I've been making progress this week on the conclusion of Three Mountains! Don't ask when it's going up because I don't know :) but it's moving along and that's more than it was doing before.
Prompts Announcement: We put up new February prompts today and a few days ago I put up a new thread which will allow you to request stories you would like to see written. So you can request stuff, and hopefully we'll get some participants and authors will have a place to get ideas if they're looking for them. All of that is more clearly explained on the Forum Thread called, aptly enough, Story Ideas/Story Requests :) Unfortunately there's no main bulletin board we can announce things so if you want to spread the word that this is not just for H/P or even any pairing. We're taking all comers ;)
Anyway, hopefully you liked this one. And I got it up just under the wire for Valentine's Day in this part of the world!