Author's Note: FINALLY, yes, the repost begins! Real Life did delay this a bit, but not too bad, I said sometime in June and it's barely the 4th. You all know I've been WAY tardier than four days!
If you're new here, this is the second story in the main Girl'verse. I'd really suggest going over and reading Falling in Love With a Girl first because this one picks up just three days after that one ends and we're walking into a new situation.
Now everyone that has already read Girl knows that in this story Emily is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. However, as I've said before this is NOT a sad, maudlin story. It's the same H/P you know from Girl, and I promise, SHE LIVES! As I tell people, if you start to get a little antsy about that (there are a few more dramatic chapters in here) you can always skip ahead to the third story, Life & Such, and you'll see that she's just fine :)
This story overall is about Hotch and Emily settling into full blown couplehood with her illness as a backdrop. Her cancer is not the focal point of this story, as in Girl, the focal point is their relationship. And here, rather than the initial bond forming and them falling in love, it's now them solidifying their commitment and building on their little family unit.
All that said, the opener is heavy on the illness, but we had to get up to speed on Em's situation and what needs to be done about said situation, and there wasn't really any way to do that without discussing it.
We're opening here with Hotch, it's early Tuesday morning. Two days post The Talk in the hospital.
Evidence of Things Not Seen
Hotch stared up at the ceiling of Emily's bedroom. Though he hadn't looked at the clock recently he knew that it had to be close to six.
He'd been awake since two fifty-three.
He'd had a horrible nightmare . . . the Great Falls one again . . . and he'd woken up with a jerk, terrified that Emily was already lost to him. But of course that was just his subconscious torturing him, because his girl was still sleeping safe and sound in his arms.
Though she had started to stir at his movement . . . and the last thing he wanted to do was disturb her rest . . . so he'd stifled his panic as much as possible as he began rubbing small circles on her back.
His hand only stilling once he was sure that she was fully out again.
With her diagnosis on Sunday . . . he took a breath . . . the brain tumor, all he could think about was what was best for her health. And she'd exerted herself tonight so he wanted to make sure that she had a solid night's sleep to keep up her strength.
The exertion had been for a good cause though . . . his expression softened as he thought back to earlier in the night . . . they'd made love for the first time.
Of course . . . his fingers stroked along the curve of her hip . . . making love to Emily was just as amazing as he'd imagined it would be. More so perhaps given their bitter reminder yet again of how very fragile life was.
So he had absolutely no regrets about waiting as long as they had. In fact even initially last night he'd tried to tell her that they should wait a couple more days until her bruises had healed and she wasn't so sore from her accident.
Seeing those horrible marks on her body made his stomach hurt.
At the time he'd made his plea to wait they'd been standing in the middle of her living room, having just finished reading over the doctor's literature on her biopsy. When he'd finished speaking Emily had taken his hand as she shook her head, a sad smile touching her lips. Then her eyes had started to well up as she told him that they had waited long enough, that she was as well today as she was going to be for some time, and that she wasn't going to waste any of her days putting off things that would make her happy. Then she'd kissed him before whispering against his lips that nothing in the world would make her happier than to be with him.
Though it broke his heart to consider even the possibility of her days running out before his, Hotch knew that she was right. If they now had a ticking clock, they needed to stop putting things aside and waiting for just the right time.
The time was now.
So he'd temporarily pushed aside all of his new-found fears as he simultaneously brushed aside the tears slipping down her beautiful face. Then he'd scooped her up off the living room carpet and carried her up to bed.
Even though Emily was insistent that she was okay, he was still as gentle as he could be. After everything that had already happened that weekend, he had been so afraid of hurting her.
The shadow had shown up on the MRI Sunday night. That was the MRI necessitated after her second fall in almost as many days. Her poor body was completely bruised and battered.
The shadow though . . . his jaw twitched . . . that wasn't a trauma that he could see, but it was the one that was doing all the damage. So that was the one that they needed to focus on. And by focus on, the doctor said that they were going to need to do a biopsy.
Through her nose.
That sounded absolutely horrible to Hotch, but he knew that the alternative was cracking open her skull. So by comparison this procedure was definitely the lesser of the two evils.
Either way though . . . Hotch's eyes began to burn as he pressed his lips to her temple . . . he was absolutely terrified that he was going to lose her.
But . . . he tried to blink away the moisture as one tear slipped down his cheek . . . the biopsy had to be done, and it had to be done today. They still didn't know if the mass was malignant, and they wouldn't know that until they got a piece of it out to test.
And even if it wasn't . . . his thoughts stuttered for a moment . . . cancer . . . he wiped his hand across his face . . . it was already causing pressure on her brain so there was no doubt that radiation would be required.
Radiation was treatment though . . . he reminded himself . . . and they weren't on treatment yet. They still needed to get through the biopsy before he even started to think about what came after.
Though Hotch just wanted this thing out of her, Emily told him that she was actually grateful for having this forty eight hour delay between the MRI and the biopsy. Now she knew for sure that it was a tumor . . . that was one thing . . . and she was mentally preparing herself for the possibility of malignancy.
And cancer was another thing entirely.
Hotch was also trying to prepare himself for the C word. But whenever he thought about it too much he'd start to go into a blind panic. So he'd decided it was best to just keep the idea on the periphery and accept what came when it came.
The good news though . . . as far as the term applied to situations where there was a foreign invader in his girlfriend's brain . . . was that the mass was still quite small. And Emily's new neurologist . . . Dr. Hsu . . . had said that it was in a "good" location.
So whatever else was going on in there, she said those two things were factors in Emily's favor.
As was her otherwise general good health.
She was also young, strong, mentally stable and she had an emotional support system. So Dr. Hsu said that she was optimistic that this was a very "manageable" situation.
Hotch knew that was doctor talk for "it could be much worse" so he had to just keep telling himself all of the positives about this situation and not the negatives.
The biggest negative of course being that she could lose control of her mental faculties and he'd have to watch the woman he loved die a slow, painful death.
Not helpful Aaron . . . he berated himself . . . focus on the positives.
Okay . . . he took a breath . . . positives. Well, another positive was that they had access to excellent hospitals here in DC. But of course if they were told that the resident expert on whatever was wrong with her was halfway around the world, then Hotch had money put aside and insurance policies that he could cash out.
If it came down to flying Emily off to Sweden or Quebec or Australia to get her what she needed, then that's where they'd go. Cost was not going to be even a minuscule factor in her treatment. Whatever they said that she needed, she was getting it.
If it came down to just dollars and cents . . . his eyes began to burn again as he cradled her closer to his chest . . . then his girl would live forever.
Knowing that he was again allowing himself to think too much about a situation that still had so many unknowns . . . a new occupational hazard for him . . . Hotch blinked away this batch of tears as he swallowed over the lump forming in his throat. Then his gaze began to follow the shadows creeping across the room.
The sun was coming up, and that meant that they were going to have to get up soon too.
It was hard to believe but it was a work day. And for the first few hours of the day, he had to go into the office and pretend to focus on things that . . . at this moment . . . he really didn't give a shit about at all.
He knew that was horrible . . . their work was so important . . . but as soon as he'd heard that her biopsy had been scheduled for today he'd had that momentary flicker in his brain as he unconsciously took note of the fact that it was the middle of the work week. In essence . . . for just a split second . . . he had the chance to choose between the job that he loved and the woman that he adored.
There had been no contest.
That had been both a moment of relief and a moment of shame for him. Because he was left briefly wondering why he couldn't give up this job for Haley, but the second he'd found out that Emily was sick, he'd have gladly quit without a second thought if that's what she'd asked him to do.
He'd like to believe that he'd have had the same instinctive reaction if Haley had been struck ill, but . . . he felt a stab of shame . . . he honestly didn't know for sure what he would have done.
And that really bothered him.
It bothered him even though he knew it was a theoretical scenario that was now never going to even be posed. But unfortunately the fact that he'd barely slept for the past two nights had given him too many hours to fill, and all of that time was left for him to think about all of the what ifs in his life.
But he needed to stop doing that.
He took a breath . . . he needed to just focus on Emily and what she needed right now. The rest of it was all just pointless worrying for worrying's sake.
And right now . . . he watched the sun begin to peek around the curtains . . . he needed to think about waking Emily up.
Her procedure wasn't until this afternoon, but she was insistent about going into work this morning. Of course he wanted her to stay home and rest, but again, she pointed out that she was as well as she was going to be for awhile and that she wasn't going to sit around the house by herself moping in the meantime.
Not when there were things to be done.
She was definitely dealing with this whole situation a hell of a lot better than he was. If it was up to him not only would she be staying home, but he'd have her secured in bubble wrap and locked up behind bullet proof glass.
Not that he felt that was a practical approach to dealing with life in general, but given that Emily's body was already attacking her from the inside, Hotch wanted to make damn sure that nothing attacked her from the outside. He'd even half heartedly made his bubble wrap joke to her as a way of not so subtly raising his worries about what could happen. She'd just given him a sad smile before she squeezed his hand and told him that she loved him and that it would be okay.
And that was the end of the discussion.
So they were both going in to work today but they still hadn't decided what they were going to tell the team. They of course wanted to wait until they had more news . . . cancer or no cancer was a big question mark . . . so there wouldn't be a sit down with them today.
They were going to discuss it further tonight.
Eventually of course they would have to know, at some point she was going to have to go on leave. Actually he would as well.
It's not like he wasn't going to be taking care of her.
As it was he was sure that he'd probably get some raised eyebrows simply for the time off he was taking this week. Emily hadn't been discharged until almost two yesterday so he'd called them both out for the whole day under the pretext of her needing a ride to the doctor after taking another spill over the weekend.
He hadn't yet decided what excuse he was going to use for leaving today.
Perhaps just the truth again, Emily had a follow up doctor's appointment, she couldn't drive on her pain medication and she needed a ride.
He sighed . . . yeah, the truth probably would be best. Because he really didn't want to lie to anyone if he didn't have to. Not only just on principle . . . these were his friends and colleagues after all . . . but also, you lie too much and you end up tripping yourself up.
That was especially a problem when you're lying to a group of behavioralists.
So regardless of what they decided to tell the team . . . short term and long term . . . it needed to be simple.
Well . . . Hotch leaned over to turn off the alarm before it started beeping . . . he and Emily could talk more about it later.
One thing at a time.
And right now . . . he yawned into his shoulder . . . all they had to do was get out of bed.
He leaned down to press his lips to her ear.
"Sweetheart, it's time to wake up."
Emily looked up from her pamphlet to see that there was flour on the tip of Hotch's nose. It was one of the few times in her life that she could recall him being even slightly disheveled.
"Everything going okay over there honey?" She asked with a slight twitch of her lip.
Hotch looked up from the griddle, a hint of a smile touching his lips as he wiped the back of his hand across his cheek.
"Yeah," his eyes crinkled slightly, "just a few more minutes and they'll be done."
She huffed to herself . . . and now he had flour on the side of his face too.
Emily slipped her phone off her belt to surreptitiously click a quick picture.
'Jack would enjoy that one,' she thought to herself as she gave Hotch a little smile.
"Okay, just let me know if you need me to do anything."
It was the third time she'd made this offer to him and just like the first two times he simply harrumphed at her and looked away.
Translation = Not happening.
And the thing that wasn't happening was that she wasn't allowed to help him make her pancakes. It was his grandmother's special recipe that he'd asked his mother to email him last night.
So while he was doing that . . . and insisting that she do absolutely nothing at all . . . Emily was sitting at the breakfast bar again reading over the literature her neurologist had given her before she left the hospital yesterday.
Though she tried to be discreet about it, she couldn't stop the occasional glance into the kitchen to see how things were progressing. For one thing, she always liked to watch Hotch cook, but for another . . . even though it was a work day and they needed to get going . . . he was putting himself through the ringer for her right now. And that was just so sweet.
There were dirty measuring cups on the counter, the hand mixer was in the sink, and he'd been in such a hurry when he first started that he'd dropped an egg on the floor.
Of course he'd refused to let her help him clean that up either.
As soon as she'd made a move to get the paper towel he'd caught her hand, kissed her cheek and guided her back to the chair. Then he'd told her to sit tight and he'd take care of everything. She'd rolled her eyes good naturedly but had still acquiesced without argument.
She knew that he really needed to do this for her.
This afternoon they were going in for her biopsy and she knew that he was terrified of the outcome. Of course she was too, but he was a Type A, alpha dog, control freak who had just been plunged into a situation completely beyond his control or expertise.
In that respect her diagnosis was probably even harder for him to accept than it was for her. So he was trying . . . in his sweet inimitable Hotch way . . . to find some way to cope with this hell that they'd been plunged into.
Which was how they had arrived at these special pancakes.
Even though he couldn't tell her that she was just fine, that the tumor was benign and that there was no cancer . . . he could do this.
It was something special . . . something tangible . . . her eyes started to get moist as she watched him across the room . . . it was a way for him to show her how important she was to him.
Not that she had any doubts at all about his feelings for her . . . long before he'd actually said the words she'd known that he loved her . . . but over the last two days especially she was starting to understand just how much he loved her.
Though they had yet to take any vows promising to stay together through sickness and in health, he clearly was approaching this situation as though they had. He'd been her Siamese twin since he'd arrived in her hospital room two days ago.
Yesterday she'd woken up in the hospital bed with him curled around her like a pretzel. And then this morning, they were back in her bed again and . . . a little smile touched her lips . . . their bare legs were tangled together. She'd been sore both from her two falls and from making love . . . it had been a long time . . . but that hadn't diminished her happiness at finally being with him.
Of course that happiness had been notably tempered by her diagnosis and the fear of what the additional tests would show. It really had been a hell of a week so far.
Though she'd suspected that the tumor was a distinct possibility, but nothing really prepared you for the reality of hearing the words spoken aloud by a person who five minutes earlier had been a complete stranger. And now this person was telling you that she wanted to poke something up your nose and take out a piece of your brain. Well, perhaps not exactly her brain . . . but damn close enough.
Surreal didn't even begin to cover it.
But Hotch had been just unbelievable through the whole thing. When the shock of her diagnosis had worn off and she'd started to shut down and disengage from the conversation . . . at the ten minute mark she was just trying to keep from bursting into tears . . . he'd simply squeezed her hand and finished asking all of the questions that needed to be asked.
Then after the doctor finally left them, he'd climbed up into the bed with her again and held her while she cried. And over and over he told her that he loved her and that everything was going to be all right. That the doctor said that she had a lot of things in her favor and that she just had to keep a positive attitude. That they both knew that the only way to get through the hard stuff was simply to believe that you could.
And then he said that she was the strongest person that he knew and that she would beat this.
As he'd whispered those words of love and encouragement to her over and over again, she started to once more get those little snippets from her earlier dream back.
They were pictures from a happily ever after future that she wanted so badly that she could taste it.
Slowly her tears had begun to taper off and then they disappeared completely. And again when she fell asleep in his arms, she saw that perfect little baby with the perfect little dimples just like his daddy.
And that dream was all thanks to him.
He'd been her rock, completely unflappable Hotch face firmly intact.
But then early yesterday she'd been in the hospital bathroom brushing her teeth when she'd heard him call Dave from the other room. Hotch told him that the team was off rotation through at least early January. That they were backed up on consults and he wanted to start the new year fresh. And then he'd added on . . . almost like an afterthought . . . oh, by the way, Emily tripped again on the damn boots, this time she'd ended up needing stitches in her forehead and that she couldn't drive on her pain medicine so he was giving her a ride to the doctor for a follow-up.
Neither of them would be in that day.
His voice hadn't wavered once through the whole thing. And she'd stood in the bathroom doorway watching him as he told Dave he'd give her his best right before he'd hung up the phone.
When he looked up their eyes had caught and she could see the tears glistening.
Her heart began to ache as her own eyes had started to water . . . his unflappable Hotch face had slipped and she could see that he was in terrible pain.
Pain that he'd been hiding to stay strong for her.
She'd crossed the room to tuck her head under his chin, and he had wrapped himself around her, his voice cracking as he whispered that he was "all in, no matter what happens." Then he'd sniffed, wiped his face and told her that when they got home he wanted to make her pancakes. Was that okay?
She had smiled into his chest as she told him that was just fine with her.
And as she looked over at him now with the flour smeared on his face, and his tie flipped back over his shoulder, she felt a burst of love for him.
Though she was of course distressed about her diagnosis, overall she felt that she was handling things pretty well. Or at least as well as could be expected under the circumstances, she'd cried but she hadn't gone completely hysterical. But the lack of hysteria was due to this man's continuous physical presence.
He hadn't left her side once.
And if she hadn't had him with her over the past few days then she'd most likely be a total basket case right now. Scratch that . . . there was no doubt . . . without him she would ABSOLUTELY be a total basket case right now.
But with him as her touchstone . . . that physical reminder of the happily ever after plans that she had for the future . . . it hadn't taken long for her to successfully push "Panic" into the box marked "Unproductive Emotions."
It served no purpose.
The bottom line was that they were together last week, they were together now and they would stay together for the foreseeable future. Her diagnosis didn't change that fact.
They were in love.
And if this tumor was malignant, if she did have . . . she swallowed . . . cancer, well that wasn't going to change anything either. People all over the world lived with cancer every day. They fought it and they beat it and they were still were able to mine joy out of life in the process. And if God forbid that was her diagnosis, then that would be her attitude as well.
Their attitude . . . she corrected as she thought back on Hotch's words.
Well, she was too. They would simply live their lives as they had been before. Granted they were under a great deal more stress now, but this situation had given her an even greater appreciation for how lucky she was to have fallen for such a wonderful man.
His love was not something that she would ever take for granted.
"Honey, I don't want to tell the team," she suddenly blurted out.
The utterance came as a surprise to her as well as him. They hadn't decided yet what they were going to tell anyone . . . they were going to discuss it tonight . . . but suddenly she just knew.
She didn't want to tell them anything.
Hotch was just sliding their breakfast off the griddle and onto the plate, and he paused with one chocolate chip pancake half out of the cast iron to look up at her quizzically.
"I didn't think that we were planning on doing it today. Didn't you want to figure out your treatment and then we could talk about a time table on bringing them into the fold?"
That was his recollection of what she'd said.
Emily had been nodding her head at his response and then she cut in.
"Yes, you're right that's what I was hoping to do about the bigger uh . . ." she stumbled for a word, "situation. But I don't want to tell them about us yet either. We're going to be keeping something bad from them, and well," she took a breath, "for now, I'd like to have something good that's just ours too. It kind of evens the scales." She tipped her head to the side.
"Does that make sense?"
Though their relationship was going to eventually have to come out, for now . . . to her . . . it seemed like a karmic evening of the scales to keep it as just theirs alone.
Hotch's eyes crinkled as he looked back at her . . . he loved following along the winding path of Emily reasoning.
"It does to me sweetheart," he said softly, "we'll wait on all of it until you're ready."
Seeing her relieved smile, Hotch moved quickly to distract her from these heavy thoughts by focusing on more mundane matters.
"So," he said brightly while slipping the dangling flapjack onto the plate, "are you ready to try Grandma Charlotte's World Famous Chocolate Chip Pancakes?"
Grandma Charlotte was his mother's mother, and this was his favorite breakfast when he was a boy and his parents would send him to visit his grandparents in South Carolina.
They did that when his father's depression would creep up and the drinking began to get bad.
And though he'd eaten countless plates of these pancakes when he was a child, Hotch had actually never before made them himself. Haley wasn't a big fan of pancakes, so he'd never had occasion to make them for his ex-wife. Which was why he'd really wanted to make them today for Emily.
They were something special in his family, and they were for Emily alone.
But of course she was his family now too.
Emily looked down at the platter of perfectly shaped silver dollar pancakes, and then back up to see Hotch looking at her expectantly.
She smiled at him as she leaned over the counter top to wipe the flour from the tip of his nose. Then she gave him a kiss, shaking her head as she pulled back with a pat to his cheek.
"Silly man, when am I not hungry?"
Seeing one of his dimples slide out Emily winked back before she picked up her fork.
Yep . . . she watched him slide half of the pancakes onto her plate . . . as long as she had him with her, then all the rest of it would fall into place.
A/N (this is a long one):
And we're up and running AGAIN! This chapter was transitional, necessary to move things forward and set the tone for this segment of their lives. If you read this story the first time around you might occasionally glimpse the skeleton of those original chapters in what's going up now. But for the most part, even the scenes that have been covered before have been majorly fleshed out and have so much padding on them that you have to kind of squint to see what was there originally. Those of you who discovered me much later will perhaps find it amusing that my main "complaint" from my original readers was that my chapters were too short :) Given that I now regularly top out at 8 or 9k words per chapter, clearly I've at least conquered that short coming ;)
Unlike with the original posting of this story, before I started working on the "redux" I gave myself a little crash course on brain tumors, biopsies and methods of treatment. Granted my ninety minutes of intensive Reid'esque focus on this topic hasn't perhaps left me qualified to get a passing MCAS score, but I did at least feel confident enough to move forward again with posting this story. I have much knowledge of real cancer, but not this particular type, and God willing that's how it shall remain. So for all of my general efforts at making Fake Life as real as possible, here we're fudging a bit more than I usually do. As I said in the beginning (as in the beginning of time) this is "soap opera cancer" as in you must suspend some medical disbelief for the few spots where I brush over her illness more directly (which I avoid doing too often). The reality is that in all likelihood Emily would have to have a major brain surgery to resect the tumor before they moved on to additional treatments. But remember that when I originally wrote this story, I had NO idea that I was actually becoming a "writer" and that this was going to be a 'real' world that all of you nice people actually enjoy visiting with me. And I didn't want to lose the focus of that original story, which (rough spots and all) I thought came out pretty well given that I didn't have the first clue what the hell I was doing back then.
And the focus of that original Hours, which we all liked, was simply them living their lives as a regular couple with her illness as a backdrop. And in that version, they did keep things from the team for awhile. But on the repost if I'd gone through all of the grueling trauma of actual real life treatment that would have made the cancer the focal point of the story, and that would have made this a totally different tale. It also would have been impossible to keep things from their colleagues so I would have lost like a half dozen chapters completely. So instead I fudged around the medical facts here. Yes, it's true that you can actually have a brain biopsy done through your nose, BUT, obviously they can only get to certain locations from that approach. And from what I could find, those types of brain tumors are generally more serious (as beyond just the norm of having a tumor in your head), often have a higher mortality rate, and traditionally are found in populations of different ethnic descents than Emily. Yes, I really did do more than just go to wickipedia! So regardless of those points of inconsistency, for purposes of our little Fake Life story, I decided that this is the type of biopsy I'd give her so that we can quickly get her diagnosed through an out patient process and they can move on to treatment.
Credit to Arc for reminding me of the nose biopsy as a means around the full blown brain surgery. I was getting depressed thinking about points I had to fix here and I was convinced I'd have to write this whole upsetting subplot with actual surgery and real complications following up the real surgery (4 weeks at least would have had to been devoted to recuperation) to give the story a bit more depth than it had the first time. But this way works better, it still adds in a note of realism (to a degree) that wasn't fleshed out in the first version, and is honestly less depressing overall than going the other route.
And again, given that I'm not making her illness a front and center plot point, we're going to skip ahead a little so we won't be with them at her initial doctors' appointments. It's still only mid-December, so we'll pick up with them in about a week and then go forward with them regularly from there. I'm trying to get a couple of other things up beforehand but I'll aim to get up a chapter a week here. More often if possible but as you know, I am juggling a lot of stories and I try to keep a couple of balls in the air at a time or they all fall down and I only have one thing going.
Finally, yes, I have started actually typing up the next Fracture. It won't be the next post, but it is starting to come together.
Hopefully I've made some of you happy getting this up again, and I still haven't finished all of my thank yous from the final Girl chapter, but I thought you'd probably prefer I get this up first and get back to you tomorrow :)