A beta release of "Beta Release"! Kind of. It's the second time I'm attempting posting this. Kind of. Know what? Just read it, kay?
PS: Years #5. Check the profile if you want the first ones. Just FYI though: Hotch married Em. They had kids. One of them is AJ. Good talk.
Anna-Joy – May 2036
PROMPT: Crossing Jordan - The Elephant in the Room
Emily Hotchner – nee Prentiss – loved Sundays.
Sundays were family days, days where she and her husband slaved all morning in the kitchen for the moment their children showed up at the door. And every week, they always did, loudly bickering over whatever they felt like. Jack and his wife Gabi would show up first, little Nicholas in tow, followed by Kate and Landon. Most of the time, Seth was with them. They'd have coffee, talk about their weeks and just as their stomachs started to growl angrily, Anna-Joy and Vaughan would show up arguing over whose fault it was that they were late.
Emily loved the consistency. More importantly, she loved that she still saw her kids and their growing families week after week after week.
But from the moment Emily's eyes popped open, she had a feeling this week was going to be different.
It wasn't that Aaron had to make a run for the market – the cherries were fresh, and Gabi still ate them like candy – and it wasn't the unseasonably warm weather. No, this was the maternal instinct that not everything was perfect in the lives of her babies.
Sure enough, just as Emily was settling down with the Sunday paper and her first cup of glorious caffeinated beverage, she heard the key in the lock. She knew it wouldn't be Aaron. He loved the farmer's market and as much as he'd gone for one thing, Emily had anticipated he wouldn't be back any time soon. So she set aside the paper and hoped to God her face was neutral.
Though she couldn't stop the slight surprise when she saw just which child had walked through the door.
Anna-Joy was her eldest biological child and her eldest daughter. She was everything Emily had been. Strong, diplomatic, dark-haired and dark-eyed. Penelope still called her Mini-Prentiss because the resemblance was so uncanny. Which meant that mother could read daughter like a book.
"Annie, what's wrong?" This was no time for happy greetings or small talk. This was panic central.
AJ ran a hand through her hair. "Is Dad around?"
"No. He's at the market."
"Good," AJ said on a sigh. "I don't…"
"Honey, what happened?" Emily asked again, standing now, coffee forgotten in the face of her daughter's obvious distress. "Did Vaughan-"
"No." And the answer was so forceful that thought Emily was not asking if Vaughan, AJ's long-time significant other, had hurt her, it quelled all parental fears of such happenings. "He's good. We're good. I just…"
She'd needed her mother. As much as AJ was a Daddy's Girl, there were more times than Emily could count that she'd been the big comfort in her daughter's life. Dad would go shoot the boys. Mom made her feel like they were the lowest scum of the earth and not worth her precious time or attention.
"Mom." It came out a whisper, just as Emily's hands landed on her shoulders. "Mom, I'm pregnant."
And considering the way AJ broke down in tears it certainly seemed like this wasn't the joyous news it should have been. So Emily held on while her daughter cried, rubbing a hand up and down her back as she tried to figure out why AJ was so upset. Sure, she was probably a little early when it came to her own life plan, but having a child now wouldn't cripple her or Vaughan. And Emily knew it wasn't financial. Vaughan was a Cliff – one of those Cliffs – and though Emily had met Tenley and her husband a handful of times, Emily didn't think they'd be cruel to their son.
She finally pulled back when AJ settled down. "I take it this is not a happy occasion."
AJ sniffled and rubbed at her eyes, the same way she'd done when she was a child. "I'm not ready."
Emily didn't believe that for a second. AJ loved deeply, unconditionally and family was extremely important in her life. Sure, maybe she wasn't established in her choice career – she'd gone on to graduate school – but it wasn't like she didn't have the support system to watch children while she worked or studied. Still, all of this, she was sure, was not what her daughter wanted to hear.
"What did Vaughan say?"
AJ blew out a breath. "He asked me to marry him."
Again, Emily withheld her initial reaction. This was exactly what she'd wanted for her daughter, but it seemed like AJ wasn't thinking along the same lines. So she sighed. "How about some tea and you can tell me all about it?"
AJ nodded and Emily guided her daughter to the couch. A few minutes later, she walked back to the living room with two mugs of tea. "Okay, Sweetheart," Emily said quietly. "Start from the beginning."
AJ looked down in absolute shock at the positive pregnancy test. She didn't think it was possible, not really. She was late, but she was almost constantly stressed. All of the work she did, all of the hours she put in, it wasn't necessarily surprising that she was late. Then she'd talked to Jessica, an old roommate, who had very tentatively suggested that AJ may be pregnant.
She hadn't anticipated a positive result.
The stick clattered to the sink as AJ felt her stomach heave. There hadn't been a single sign of pregnancy beyond being late for her period. No morning sickness – putting aside the disgustingly nauseous feeling she was currently experiencing – no cravings, nothing.
"Annie? You almost finished? I'm going to be late."
She stiffened despite herself. God, what was she going to tell Vaughan? "Um… Yeah."
She capped the stick and palmed it, holding it tight enough for her knuckles to go white. She opened the door with a tight smile and slipped by him. He caught her wrist, the one with the test.
She cursed herself for being so transparent. "Fine," she replied. "Great."
Vaughan narrowed his eyes. "AJ." He lifted her hand. "What's going on?"
"I'm fine, Vaughan. You're going to be late."
But that wasn't the type of person Vaughan was. Since embarking on his relationship with AJ, he'd made damned sure he always made time for her. It was important to him. She was important to him. So, with careful fingers, he pried her hand open and gasped.
Emily squeezed AJ's hands. "I take it he didn't react well?"
"Initially?"AJ shook her head. "He just… Went about his day."
"That's it?" It was shocking, even to Emily, to hear Vaughan acting that way. He'd doted on AJ, pushed her when he knew she could do better, comforted her when she needed it. Emily had been sure that despite the echelon of life Vaughan came from, he'd be excellent for her daughter.
"Kind of?" AJ replied. She dug into the pocket of her jeans and withdrew a ring.
Emily didn't need to ask what it was. "When did he give you that?"
"Last night. I found out I was pregnant on Thursday."
"What did he say?" Emily questioned gently.
AJ sniffled. "That we needed to do this right." She looked down at the ring as the tears started flowing again. "I told him 'no'."
There was a piece of Emily that was proud of AJ for having the strength to do that. Rejection was difficult, no matter how strongly you felt for the other person, and whether you knew the feelings were reciprocated or not. She cupped her daughter's face and wiped at the tears. "But he's still coming."
"I still love him, Mom," AJ whispered. "I just… I don't want to get married because I'm pregnant. I mean, he hasn't even told me how he feels about it."
And she was up and pacing.
"Does he want a baby? Can we have a baby? It was a shock and surprise to me, I can only imagine how it felt for him. And I don't want to just get married because I'm pregnant. Like… I really don't. I want to get married because this is something we both want. Because we love each other and we want to spend forever together.
"And I don't even know if I want a kid." She swallowed. "Abortion is still an option."
"Is it?" Emily asked gently. She'd kept the abortion she had from her children, not because she didn't want to teach them the dangers of unprotected sex, but because she wanted them to make that decision rather than being terrified. If they were ready, she hadn't wanted them to hold back. Looking at AJ, she wondered if this would be the moment she broke her silence.
AJ went to run a hand through her hair, then realized her hair was a messy bun. "No," she admitted. "Not because… I know it's an option. And maybe if I was in a different position I'd consider it. But this is a baby and I have the means to take care of it." She smiled wanly. "Even if I don't have the faith in myself."
"I want him to be a part of the child's life," AJ agreed almost immediately. "I've seen him with Nicky. He's going to make such a good father, Mom. So much better than his own. And I don't want to take that opportunity away from him. But that doesn't have to mean marriage."
"You're right," Emily reassured her daughter. She paused. "Have you talked to Vaughan about this?"
Emily simply raised an eyebrow. AJ was notoriously stubborn.
"He didn't listen to me," she elaborated. "I tried to explain that I wasn't sure I wanted a kid, that I wasn't sure I was ready for this, and that I definitely didn't want to pledge forever if we both didn't mean it."
"Would you mean it?"
That stopped AJ's pacing, if only for a moment. "Yes," she said finally. "I would mean forever." She came back to sit beside her mother, picking up her tea. "I can see it. Forever, I mean, and with Vaughan. I can see us married, having kids."
"Just not right now."
"Not in my vision, no."
To Emily, that was encouraging. It meant that AJ hadn't crossed off the possibility of altering her life plan and considering the circumstances, it made a mother happy. The last thing Emily wanted AJ to do was throw away love because of some plan she had in her head.
"You don't know if he would," Emily stated.
AJ nodded. "The way he asked? It certainly seems like he's doing it because his parents and their friends would frown upon a couple having a child out of wedlock." She looked to her mother, eyes pleading. "I don't want to do something just because someone else wants it."
"And you shouldn't." At least not like this. "Honey, if this isn't what you want…" Emily sighed, trying to find the right words to say what she wanted without upsetting her daughter. "I don't want you to give up something you love to spite someone else." She held up a hand when AJ went to reply. "Does this need to be your decision? Without question. But I think you're underestimating Vaughan, Sweetheart."
"You think I should have said yes."
"Well…" Emily wavered. "Yes and no. I think you made the right decision given the circumstances. I think you made an important decision. But you didn't ask the questions, Honey. You didn't ask him if he meant to marry you because you were pregnant. You didn't ask if this was merely to please his parents. You kept your mouth shut."
The door sprung open and both women turned to face the new arrival. Vaughan raced in, his eyes panicked. "Oh thank God."
Emily arched an eyebrow at her daughter.
"I may have… forgotten to tell him I was coming early?"
"Anna-Joy." Emily was rather proud that that maternal tone of voice had her daughter wincing. "I'm going to refill this tea." And she ignored the fact that the mugs were still essentially full. She shot her daughter a look that told her to fix things. Pronto.
. . . . .
Neither Vaughan, nor AJ said anything as Vaughan came around the couch. They stood there for a few moments, just watching each other. Finally, AJ sighed.
"Sit?" she asked. She followed when he did. She took a deep breath and picked up one of his hands. "Can you hear me out? Seriously?"
"When do I not take you seriously?" he inquired, the anxiousness obvious in his voice. "Of course."
"When I found out I was pregnant… God, Vaughan, I'm scared. I'm terrified. Mostly because I don't know how you feel. You never once said you were happy about it, that you wanted this."
He raised his hand and though AJ rolled her eyes, she smiled. "It's not my decision, Annie."
"See? That's where you're so incredibly wrong," she said quietly. "I… I want you to have a part in this. I need you to be a part of this. This is a child, Vaughan. It's not like getting a puppy. This is a real life that we have to consider and we can't make any rash decisions."
"Marriage," she said quietly.
"You think that's a rash decision?"
"I don't know what to think," AJ exploded. "I tell you I'm pregnant and you do nothing more than go about your day. We don't talk about it, you don't tell me how you feel about it, how am I supposed to know what you want to do if you won't tell me?"
Vaughan opened his mouth, but AJ was on a role.
"And you cannot tell me a couple of nights later that you want to marry me because of a baby. That we needed to get married for the baby."
"We need to get married because I love you," he said jumping in despite the fact that she'd told him to listen. He tugged her down again. "I've been thinking about it a while, I just…"
When he didn't continue, AJ squeezed his hand.
"A baby speeds up my timetable. And yeah, maybe I'm a little traditional in thinking that we should be married before having a baby. A part of that is probably because of my parents- What?"
AJ was shaking her head, smiling gently. "It's… My mom was right."
"You… you want to marry me?"
"Yeah," Vaughan said. "Of course I do. Did I want to wait? Yes. It's early in our lives. But I want to marry you, I've thought about marrying you for a while."
AJ ran the fingers of her free hand over the veins in his. She repeated the words she'd already shared with her mother. "I can see forever with you."
"Just not right now."
She sighed. "Well, not necessarily. I just… I thought you wanted to marry me to make things okay, so the friends of your parents didn't… frown on us."
"No," he said. "AJ, I love you. I really, really do." He looked down at their hands, then back up again. "And I'm terrified too. I… I figured we'd have a few years. More than that. We… God, AJ you know my reputation. Maybe it's in the past but… This is all super fast, even for me. But I don't want you to doubt me, to doubt us."
"Vaughan?" she asked softly, after taking a moment to absorb his words. "Do you want this baby?"
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "What if… What if I'm an absolutely terrible father?" What if I turn out like my dad? What if my kids start resenting me?"
"I won't let you get a big head. Or force our kids to do something they don't want to do," she said. "We have the capabilities, Vaughan. Mostly."
"I…" He paused. "I'm still not comfortable with it but… the idea is growing on me. I mean… a child Annie. A kid." He shook his head. "I don't think I would know how to deal if you decided…" He couldn't even bring himself to say it.
AJ swallowed. "And?"
Vaughan reached for the ring AJ had set on the table when he'd walked in. "I still want to marry you. Truly want to marry you. I know… it's early in our lives. I get that. I see that. I know you're still finishing up your degree and I know you want to go to law school. It's going to be hard. Really, really hard. But I think we can do it."
There had never been a challenge AJ hadn't face head on. There had never been something she couldn't accomplish when she put her mind to it. Not a thing in the entirety of the world.
"I don't want to get married before the baby is born," she whispered. "I just… I want to make sure it's what we want." Still, she sighed and let out a laugh that was more a release of tension than amusement. "I feel like this is all screwed up."
"Yeah," Vaughan agreed. "Me too. But…"
She looked at him, surprisingly shy. "We still have each other?"
Vaughan grinned outright, the grin that melted knees at fifty paces. "We still have each other."
AJ nodded. "Good. Good."
And they were.
Oh. Heh. Hello there. Um... Again.
Entertainingly enough, I'm doing exactly what I promised myself I wouldn't do, and that's continue this series. But honestly, it's become a nice little escape from everything else I'm writing these days. Maybe not this particular scene and this particular chapter, but the universe as a whole. So to me, this is… cathartic. In so many ways.
So, review if something strikes your fancy. Or doesn't. Whichever. Though honestly? If you did do a read, just say something nice. Not even about the story just... something happy. Kay? Just if you're feeling nice. 'Cause cheering people up is good. And because I'm writing this for me, I don't necessarily need the nice words about what's written. Tell me a cute story about a kitten. Because I found something out today I'm not too pleased with, so the pick-me-up would be a nice thing.
Well, so would a review for the story, but in all serious kinds of honesty, I'm not picky.