Rating is for REAL swearing.

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Chapter 35

PROMPT: Karen McQuestion – A Scattered Life

The reunion when they all return to the BAU bullpen is almost ridiculous. Morgan wants to give Hotch shit for bailing, for knowing, while Garcia can't stop squealing and hugging. JJ looks utterly relieved as she holds her son to her chest and Declan races to Lousie the minute he catches sight of her. Jack is clinging to Emily, while Dave does exactly what Morgan is dying to.

At the end of the day thought, none of that matters. The relief is palpable, there's no question, but at the same time, the relief is real.

But this reality, for at least one of them, isn't pretty.

This reality isn't smooth sailing. It's not simply okay because they're all safe and they're all alive. It doesn't work that way. Morgan's still mad, Reid's still betrayed, Garcia's still unsure and Emily's still broken. Hotch still feels guilty, and Dave can see that none of it is okay. It won't be okay right away. These things take time.

She'll come back. Emily will. There's not a question in anyone's mind. Because fundamentally, they are family. Family fights, estrangements happen, maybe the odd banishment, but at the end of the day, a family works together. There's something missing when they're not all together, working seamlessly, as they've done for years.

Eventually, they start petering out.

Garcia bribes Morgan into a drink. Dave invites himself along. He has words for the younger agent about what can and can't be said to Hotch at this point. They don't need any more damage to the team right now.

JJ heads home with Will and Henry. She's going to cuddle and play with her son, then she's going to pass out for fourteen hours or more. They've been running on fumes for too long.

Reid doesn't offer where he's going, but he leaves shortly after JJ. Emily feels terrible, like things still aren't fixed with the genius, but now isn't the time. Things are still raw, and she's in no shape to be having deep conversations about her time as Lauren or her time in hiding. He's not ready for it either.

Dean takes Louise and Declan home. The boy hugs her tight, thanks her, and Emily promises herself that she's going to be a bigger part of his life again. She can't take him, her life is too unstable for that, but she's not going to let him sprout like a bean without something stable to hold onto. She takes a moment to talk quietly to Louise about therapy, and the two women agree that it's something they need to consider.

Jack hasn't let go of her since she returned and when Hotch says it's time to go home, the little boy outright pouts.

"Emily's coming too, right?"

Hotch looks up at her, the question in his eyes too. She doesn't have anywhere to live, and it's not like she has anywhere to stay. Her travel to DC was spur of the moment as it was, and she hasn't planned beyond this. Couldn't. Actually having to think about where she can sleep is more than just a hypothetical now and it's both terrifying and comforting.

He sees it all. It rushes through her eyes until she's left with confusion and overwhelmed exhaustion.

"Of course she is, buddy," he tells his son.

"And she's going to stay?" Jack looks up at his father, the man he still considers as the only one with all of the answers.

Hotch meets her eyes, holds them, puts his hand on his son's shoulder as he holds the other one out for her. "As long as she wants."

It's too fast, too soon, and she's much, much too broken, but she can't deny this is what she wants.

"Okay," she finally says quietly. "For now."

They head out together, all three of them, Jack chattering away and Emily can't help but feel like she's looking into the future. It's a distant one, there's no doubt about that, but it's a possibility, isn't it?

Her life is broken, scattered about continents and time periods unresolved, but she's Emily Prentiss. She's survived more and less and she's worked hard to be as good as she is.

Tomorrow is a new day, and maybe she can start that day with these two males. A little boy with bright eyes, and a man that's watching her with a softness she can't really remember seeing that often. At least not directed straight at her.

She can start putting her life back together, slowly and steadily.

And maybe someday she'll believe that she can handle all of this, that she deserves it.

Then Jack's stomach grumbles loudly and the boy offers them a sheepish smile. Emily laughs and it feels so good.

For now, today is a new beginning.

A beginning that starts with spaghetti.

And we're done!

Honestly, guys thanks so much for reading and especially for reviewing. It's meant a lot because I'm never kidding when I say Criminal Minds is like my home. I did a lot of writing here, and I have honestly missed it.

Good news though... I think I'm going to write a follow up. Or two. I have some ideas and I really like this style because it's really easy to just take fifteen minutes and get a scene out. Considering all the work I have to do in the coming months, the fifteen minute break idea is incredibly appealing. So we'll see. Hotch and Emily are still yelling at me in my head and Jack's pouting. Do you know how difficult it is to say 'no' to a pouting Jack? Ridiculous.

Thanks for coming along for this ride! I hope it was at least partially a satisfying one.