A/N: Something that wouldn't leave me alone until I'd written in. I hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: If I owned it, AJ Cook would be coming back. Wait…what? Does that mean…? Hold on, I'll check…Oh. Nope. Still not mine. Heck, really thought I had it that time.
He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it
As soon as Dave removed himself from the office, his second scotch downed and the false plea that he had paperwork to finish appearing on his lips, Aaron slipped the grief assessment reports into his briefcase and took off before Strauss could find him and ask awkward questions. He risked a glance at Dave's office as he almost jogged down the stairs, but the older man's blinds were closed, as they had been ever since they'd got back from Boston.
Aaron didn't blame Dave for wanting to get out of the assessment as quickly as he could; it was insulting, in a way, to suggest that any of these people, who had proved themselves too many times to count, might become dangerously undone by the death of a friend and colleague. But then, as patronising as the assessments could be, they could also be frightening, and he knew that all four of his interviewees today had been scared of the way they were feeling. Hell, he was scared of the way he was feeling and he knew the truth. Not for the first time, Aaron wished that JJ hadn't told him, and left him to feel his way in the dark in the same way as the rest of them. She'd said that someone on the team needed to know, that he was the obvious choice because he was in charge and he could keep a secret. He'd seen the truth in her eyes though, even as she told him the official reason; she was afraid of what he'd do if he thought that he'd lost someone else, after Gideon, after Elle. After Hayley. She was trying to spare him the grief. Typical JJ. He appreciated her thoughtfulness, more than he'd ever be able to tell her, but the burden she had left him with was becoming heavier by the day and today it had almost been unbearable.
He'd scheduled Morgan first, because he knew that the younger man was still angry. Anger was something that he knew, and he thought it would be easier to deal with. What he hadn't anticipated was quite how much of that anger was concentrated inwards; he'd expected the discussion about Ian Doyle, the man who had robbed Morgan of his friend and partner, but hadn't anticipated also ending up with someone who was fighting to stop the tears from overwhelming him. He should have known really; the man had always been in touch with his emotions, something that Aaron sometimes envied him. Garcia, he'd expected tears from, and he even knew how he'd deal with them if they did come, but coming from Morgan, he had nothing.
And it only got more difficult after that.
Garcia didn't cry, not like he expected her to anyway, but she was in denial. She refused to talk about Prentiss being dead. In a way, talking about Prentiss as though she was still alive with a member of the team was almost a relief, if it wasn't for Garcia's careful use of the past tense and the way that her breath would sometimes hitch and she'd have to take a moment. Aaron had always promised himself that he would never allow Garcia to become tainted by the occasional horror that was life in the BAU but here he was, lying to her face and letting her think that the only thing she ever told him she was scared of – that one day, one of the team might not come home – had happened.
And then there was Reid. The young man had been acting strangely for weeks before Prentiss had begun to, but they'd all forgotten it in the interim as the truth of Emily's past had come to light. It was the resignation about the way Reid had sat and spoken that worried him the most, even going as far as to say that maybe Gideon was right. That wasn't supposed to happen; Reid had always been resilient, more resilient than he knew he was anyway, but Prentiss – sometimes the only team member who could keep up with the pace his brilliant mind set – had been special to him in a way that few people were ever allowed to be. Reid was not as expert as Morgan at holding back his tears and when Aaron had excused himself for a brief bathroom break during Reid's review, it had been to battle himself into submission and remind himself that no matter how much people were hurting, he had to keep the secret. He had to. For her sake.
Scheduling Dave last had seemed like a good idea when he did it. The older man could be counted on to have done his thinking and arrived at something resembling peace. He wouldn't ask questions that Aaron had no answers to. He knew that no amount of questions could change what had happened. Dave's quiet, dignified tears in the waiting room at the hospital were the first that Aaron had ever seen from him and he should have realised then that things wouldn't be so simple. Dave had never, by his own admission, been good at letting people in, and Aaron knew he should count himself and the rest of the team lucky that Dave had let himself become so invested in them over the years. He was a great ally to have. But then despite that fierce loyalty, he'd been unable to do anything to help her and it was hurting him terribly. He'd looked vulnerable.
And then of course, if the day hadn't been painful enough, Morgan had asked him a question that he really didn't know the answer to – Where do you go? It had been bugging him all day, in the moments between interviews when he had a brief moment to himself. Where did he go? Once upon a time, it would have been Hayley; Hayley, the only person in his life who knew him properly and who still ended up leaving because she couldn't understand him. He missed Hayley, but even more so in the few short weeks since they lost Prentiss. She'd know what to say.
With a start, Aaron realised that whilst he had driven to Jessica's house, he couldn't remember most of the journey. Assuming that he had caused no accidents and chastising himself for being so careless, he half leapt from the car in his eagerness to see Jack. Evenings at home were a rare amenity to be cherished. He let himself in with the key Jessica had cut for him and called out even before the door was closed.
"Hello? It's me."
A bolt of lightning barrelled towards him from the living room and he barely had time to brace himself before Jack has leapt into his arms, babbling excitedly.
"Hi Daddy! Guess what?"
"There's a play at school and Miss Palmer wants me to be the rabbit and-"
"Jack," Jessica smiled, appearing suddenly in the kitchen door, "Give Daddy a chance to get in the door!"
"But he is in the door," Jack pointed out, gesturing to the closed front door behind his father.
"He's got you there, Jess," Aaron smiled briefly, reaching up his spare hand to stroke Jack's hair back from his forehead, "I think someone needs a haircut."
"I already scheduled him one for Thursday," Jessica smiled, "Assuming that you'll be out of town by then. If not we can reschedule."
"Thanks, Jess. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Daddy!" Jack demanded, wriggling in his father's arms, "Do you wanna hear about the play or not?"
"I sure do, buddy. You can tell me all about it in the car. Go and get your shoes on."
The little boy bolted into the lounge as soon as he was put down, and Aaron instinctively straightened his tie. Then, having second thoughts, he unknotted it and tucked it into his pocket, releasing the top button of his shirt at the same time. Jessica watched sympathetically.
"How did those assessments go today? Everyone coping?"
"As well as can be expected," he nodded, unhooking Jack's backpack from the peg next to the door, "I think they're all just glad Strauss didn't do them."
"Fair enough," she crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe, "And how are you doing? You haven't really spoken about it."
"I'm OK," he said, wincing inwardly as he heard how not-OK he sounded, "It's just been a tough couple of weeks."
"Yeah. You know, if you ever want to talk, Aaron, I'm here. You know that, don't you?"
It was a conversation they had held many times over the year since Hayley's death, and it was an offer that both of them knew he was unlikely to take her up on. Jessica, as much as he counted her as family, didn't deserve the burden of his issues to carry. She already cared for his son. She didn't need anything else of his to weigh her down.
Luckily, Jack chose that moment to charge back into the hall. Aaron swept him up before he could do any damage.
"Say bye to Auntie Jess."
"Bye!" Jack waved, leaning towards her for the customary kiss on the cheek. She smiled, kissing him and squeezing Aaron's shoulder, just like she always did.
"See you tomorrow, baby."
-THE SILENT LANGUAGE OF GRIEF-
One very messy pizza making session and bath time later, Jack was tucked up in bed and Aaron was sat on his bed writing up the grief assessments to give to Strauss as soon as possible. He needed to get them out of the way, to stop trying to condense the things his team were feeling into words that somehow didn't feel like enough. Jack had provided a welcome distraction for a few hours, as he always did, allowing his father no time to dwell on things that didn't resolve around pepperoni pizza or cleaning up the mess that could be created with pepperoni pizza. Aaron always tried to be upbeat when he was with Jack, figuring that the little boy would only completely adjust to the life he had now if he could see his father doing the same thing. So it had troubled him slightly tonight when he had been stood waiting for the pizza to finish off in the oven, thinking about Italy and wondering if that would be where Emily ended up, and he had looked up to catch Jack watching him curiously. His son, as with all small children, wasn't capable of hiding what he was thinking; he wore his heart on his sleeve, so the unreadable look on his face as he watched his father had troubled Aaron a great deal. He hoped that Jack wasn't picking up on the fact that something was wrong. He'd have to try harder to not let his thoughts wander.
With a sigh, Aaron reached across to the nightstand and took a sip of the scotch that he had placed there to help him get through the reports. He had finished Morgan's and Garcia's, and needed a few moments to brace himself for Reid's and Rossi's. It seemed like a further betrayal to them all, immortalising some very personal thoughts on paper for Strauss and some bureaucrats to read and analyse. He was having a hard time wording it to give them the most dignity possible.
"Hey buddy. What are you doing up?"
Jack was stood in the door of his room, hair stuck up on one side where he had been laying on it, and teddy bear clamped firmly under one arm.
"I couldn't sleep."
"Well that's too bad," Aaron smiled gently, "Want to hop up here with me for a while?"
Nodding fiercely, Jack took a running leap at the bed. Aaron managed to catch him before he landed on the papers spread out, and put him carefully on the pillow next to him.
"So why can't you sleep, buddy?"
"I don't know," Jack shrugged, gazing at the papers surrounding him, "What's all this, Daddy?"
"Just some work I have to do. Boring grown up stuff. You want a hug?"
As an answer, Jack climbed onto his lap and settled himself in the crook of one arm, gazing up at his father's face. Neither of them spoke for a moment, and then Jack said something Aaron never would have expected.
"Daddy, why are you sad?"
Why are you sad?
The last time he'd heard those words from his son had been the day Hayley died. That really wasn't something that he needed to think about right now. He forced a smile onto his face and stroked Jack's hair.
"I'm not sad, buddy. Why do you think that?"
Shrugging, Jack fiddled with the ear of his bear, "You are. That's not a real smile. It looks wrong."
Impressed with his son's perception even as he struggled to find something to say, Aaron gazed at the boy and wondered how much more like his mother he was going to become.
"Is it because your friend is gone?"
"How did you know-"
"You told Auntie Jess that your friend is gone. I heard you. Is that why you're sad?"
"Yeah," Aaron gave up trying to find something else to tell him. He'd only be able to keep Jack in the dark about work related issues for so long. He may as well start with this, "I am sad because my friend is gone."
"Did she go to heaven?"
"Yeah." And even though the lie still tasted bitter in his mouth, at least it was something Jack could half understand.
"Do you think she saw Mommy? In heaven?"
"I hope so," Aaron breathed, lowering his head to bury his face in Jack's hair. The innocence of the questions, after everything he had faced today with the team, were almost enough to undo him. Jack carried on, unaware of the effect he was having on his father.
"When Mommy went to heaven, you said it was a big boy thing to cry if I was sad. So why are you sad and not crying like a big boy?"
''Yeah Aaron," a little voice in his head bit sarcastically, "Why aren't you crying like a big boy?"
Jack pulled away when his father didn't answer, gazing suspiciously at the glisten of Aaron's eyes. He reached up gentle fingers and stroked his father's cheek, just as Aaron would do if the little boy was crying.
"Come on," he coaxed, doing an uncanny impression of his father, "Let all the bad things out, remember?"
The tears didn't come out in a flood, thankfully. They were slow, meandering, dignified even, and Jack kept up his mantra the whole time, chanting, "Let the bad things out," and wiping periodically at his father's face. Aaron was paralysed, unable to do anything except let the tears be squeezed out by the weight he was carrying. He always promised himself that he would never lose himself in front of Jack, but then he had also made it clear to the boy that it was alright to be sad and alright to cry, and how could he expect Jack to respect that if he thought his father was a hypocrite. And anyway, it had started now and there was nothing he could do; they were for Hayley, for whom he had cried before but not for a long time, and they were for his team who were suffering a pain that he had the magic bullet for but kept hidden, and they were for Prentiss who was completely alone in the world and unaware of how much she meant to people. And they were for himself as well, just a little; for the fact that if his team ever found out what he had kept from them, they might never talk to him again.
They didn't last long, and soon he felt well enough to look down at Jack and smile weakly. The little boy grinned back, evidently pleased with himself.
"Do you feel better now, Daddy?"
"Much better, buddy. Thank you for reminding me."
And it wasn't a lie. He did feel better – the situation hadn't improved, of course, but he felt like some of the pressure had been released. He felt a little lighter. He felt like he could go into work tomorrow and face his friends and not feel like he couldn't breathe.
Jack yawned widely, and Aaron took that as a signal that bedtime had snuck up on them both. He carried his already half asleep son through to his room and placed him gently on the bed, kissing his forehead tenderly as he pulled the covers over him.
"I love you, Daddy," Jack murmured.
"I love you too, buddy," he whispered, "Night, night."
Turning away from the bed, Aaron once again set the night light and turned off the switch at the wall. Leaning against the doorframe, he watched for a while as Jack settled down, a contended smile playing over the little boy's features as he pulled his teddy bear close. Wiping his face one more time, Aaron suddenly remembered Morgan's question.
Where do you go?
"Not far at all," he murmured, answering it out loud, "Not far at all."
Tears are the silent language of grief