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A Jury of One
"That isn't true," Hotch automatically denied, stepping forward when his son jerked away from the almost broken woman on the stairs. Squatting in front of his emotional little boy, Hotch said calmly, "We discussed this. Aunt Emily didn't actually go to heaven. She didn't die."
"Nuh uh!" Jack shook his head furiously. "She's in da gwaveyard with Mommy. We watched 'em bury da box Aun' Em'ly was in," he declared, his breath hitching. "She had the rock with her name on it and everything, Daddy! We seed it! We all did! You cried! Just like wiff mommy!" he charged, shooting Emily another withering look filled with pain as his little mind struggled to comprehend everything that had happened.
"I know," Aaron soothed, reaching to run his thumb along Jack's damp cheek, collecting his son as he reached back for Emily's shaking hand with the other. "I know what we saw, son. And it was a rotten, nasty trick that we had to pull. But we had to keep everyone safe. And letting everybody, even all your other aunts and uncles, think that she was really gone was the best thing."
"I don't believe you," Jack retorted, sniffling as he wiped his nose on the long sleeve of his shirt, pushing away from his father even as he kept one hand clutched in Hotch's shirt. "You saw mama, didn't ya?" he asked Emily, almost daring the woman to deny it.
"No, sweetie," Emily shook her head. "I didn't. I didn't go to heaven, baby," she tried to explain. In truth, she made a whirlwind trip into hell, but this wonderful child never needed to know about that. "I just went away for awhile. But, I swear to you," she said, desperately trying to interject some strength into her trembling voice, "I'm not leaving again."
Come hell or high water, she swore to herself that she'd keep her word this time to this confused child.
"Don't believe you!" Jack yelled at her. "You either!" he said angrily, looking at his dad. "You the most!" he said, his little hand connecting with Hotch's chest with a thud. "Cuz you knew da truff, Daddy! Didn't ya?" he cried.
"I did," Hotch nodded gravely, his heart breaking at the betrayal shining in his baby boy's eyes. This child that he was supposed to protect. Every choice he'd made, he'd make again, but the punishment for their crimes was going to be steep. "But one day, Jack," he said hoarsely, "You'll understand why we had to do this."
"No, I won't," Jack sobbed, shaking his head. "You shoulda brought mommy back wiff you," he said, tears pouring from his eyes as he turned to look at Emily.
Shattered, Emily swallowed. "I would if I could, Jack. But mommy is in heaven with the angels. She can't come back."
"You did, you meanie. I wish you was really dead and my mommy was here!" he screamed, turning sharply toward her as his father caught him around the waist. "Lemmee go!" he yelled at his dad.
"Lower your voice," Hotch ordered sternly, not letting go of his squirming son. "You are allowed to be as angry as you want, but you aren't allowed to say mean things... things you'll be sorry for later."
"Aaron," Emily said as shook her head as she wiped her own tears away. "Don't. He's allowed to feel that way. In his shoes, I would to," she defended the little boy she loved like her own, her eyes meeting Jack's.
"You hurted me," Jack blamed her, pointing his finger in accusation. "You boff did. On da inside where it really, really hurts. My mommy never hurted me like you," he whispered.
"I am so sorry, Jack," Emily said, tears burning her eyes. "You've got to believe that you are the very last person I'd ever want to hurt. And I know your daddy feels the same way."
"Sometimes adults have to make the best decision they can at the time that they are forced to make them, son. That's what Emily and I did," Hotch attempted to explain as he rested his palm on Jack's stiffened back.
"Growed ups suck and so do you! Both of ya," he spat, dodging past Emily to run up the stairs.
Wincing as a door slammed in the distance, Emily lifted horrified eyes to Aarons impassable face. "What have I done?" she whispered as a sob caught in her throat.
Sighing, Hotch grimaced at the misery on Emily's upturned face and bent to sit heavily on the step beside her, wrapping one strong arm around her slender shoulders and pulling her against him. "You did what you thought was best at the time," he answered gravely. "Wrong or right, it was necessary."
"He hates me," Emily breathed raggedly as her own emotions overwhelmed her."He hates everybody right now, sweetheart," Hotch murmured, pressing his lips to her temple. "We've both been convicted by a jury of one."
Thankful for Aaron's supportive embrace, Emily nodded against his shoulder. "So what do we do now?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder up the staircase, the steps seeming higher than she had remembered before.
"We do what every attorney does when he or she loses the first battle," Hotch said softly. "We appeal his decision and hope for a better outcome."
Inhaling a deep breath as Aaron's spicy clean scent comforted her, she nodded. "I wonder how many of those I get."
"As many as it takes," Hotch's deep voice reassured her. "He's five, Emily. We'll give him a few minutes to cool off and we'll try again. And we'll keep trying. Together."
"Together," she whispered, linking her fingers with his.
And as the muffled sound of Jack Hotchner's tears drifted down the stairs to torture them both, they clung to each other as the weight of his judgment bore upon them.
Sometimes there was no justice no matter what the reasonable defense might be.