Oh. Hi.

So, this serves two purposes. For one, it's the third and final part of my "Recovery Series". Which, funny enough, wasn't supposed to be a series, but turned into one because, really, this.

Second, this is my annual Christmas self-challenge fic. I think this is my sixth. Could be my seventh. Either way, a couple of years ago I challenged myself to write a fic where I posted a chapter once a day, every day, until Christmas Day. That's the theory here. Some of you know this 'cause you've read His Christmas Wish for example, or For the Better.

That being said, I'm not always on the ball. Sometimes you guy'll get two chapters in a day because I've fallen behind. We all know this is an insane time of year and I'm going to be marking for a couple of days in the middle of December, plus the usual Christmas-related celebrations. The goal, at the end of the day, is to have all 25 chapters posted by the 25th of December, I think I'm aiming for sometime before noon Eastern Standard Time. I don't think I've ever missed it since I started, so here's to hoping!

And here's to hoping you guys enjoy! There are some veiled references to Endgame and Rise, but I'm pretty sure as long as you're familiar with Doyle, you'll be okay.

To the fic!

Chapter 1

December 1, 2011

December first, unsurprisingly, is a day off for the BAU. With their return the previous night and Emily's stabbing, they deserve it. For Aaron though, day off means something entirely different with a seven-year-old. Especially one that seems to be Christmas obsessed. In fact, when Aaron steps out of his bedroom, he finds himself facing a living room that looks like Santa's workshop has exploded. He's not surprised, really. Jack's been talking about Christmas for weeks with anyone who will listen. Add that to his absurdly early rising hour and Aaron knows his son can get a lot done before he gets up.

"Hi Daddy!" Sure enough, Jack's managed to wrap himself in a bunch of garlands as he giggles on the floor.

Aaron pauses on his way to the kitchen, leaning down to ruffle his son's hair. "Morning, Jack."

"I'm a Christmas tree!"

He laughs, crouches down. "I see that."

Jack absolutely beams. "We're decorating, right, Daddy?"

"After breakfast," Aaron agrees.

"Can we have pancakes?" his little boy asks. "Can I help?"

"Not while you're a Christmas tree," Aaron replies, pushing himself up again. By the time Jack's untangled himself from the garland, coffee's percolating and he's got all of the fixings out to make pancakes. Jack drags over a chair and climbs up. From here until frying time, Aaron's just an observer. Jack's done this enough with him that he knows what to do and he gets fussy when Aaron contributes more than the final stir. So he watches his son, the way his tongue sticks out the side of his mouth.

Actually, that's a bit odd.

That's Jack's Face of Supreme Concentration. He doesn't need that much focus when he's making pancakes. He knows it pretty much by heart.


So there is something else. Aaron bites down on his smile. Sometimes he's afraid he doesn't know Jack at all. Moments like this, when he can tell there's something up with his boy and he's right, make it all better. "Yes Jack?"

"Does Em'ly celebrate Christmas?"

Well huh.

As if his son could read his mind.

But it is a segue and he's not going to give it up. Because while it's important that he makes sure Jack has an awesome Christmas, he's got other plans too. Plans that involve him and Emily and the relationship they've been avoiding long enough. She admitted without prompting Doyle was dead on the plane yesterday, so he knows she's ready to move forward. Or at least be coaxed in that general direction. "I think so."

There's a pause where Jack takes a moment to really pound more than mix the pancake batter. Then, "Daddy?"

He's stalling. His son is stalling. Wow. "Yes Jack?"

"Does Em'ly celebrate with her fam'ly?"

Aaron pauses. He actually doesn't have an answer to that. Sure, Emily and her mother aren't the best of friends, but that doesn't mean she doesn't celebrate. And he can't say he knows anything about her father. "I don't know."

Jack looks up, eyes shining, curious, hopeful. "Can we ask?"

He was planning to. "Sure."


"After breakfast," Aaron repeats.

Jack's quiet again while Aaron takes the bowl and gives it the final whisk. The seven-year-old waits until they're perfectly on the griddle before asking his next question.

"Does she like decorating?"

Aaron catches on quickly this time. "I think so." He knows so. The Christmases at the BAU are rarely without their decorations and Emily has always been in the thick of it.

"Would she like to decorate with us?"

He double checks that he's got a few minutes before he has to flip the pancakes, then turns to his son. "I don't know, Buddy. Emily got hurt."

Jack's eyes go wide, round and Aaron berates himself. "She's fine," he says, immediately scooping his son off the chair. Jack's arms wind tightly around his neck and Aaron knows he's not going to be able to get Jack to let go now. He's going to be antsy until he can see Emily, talk to her.

"Did she go to the doctor?"

"She did. The doctor sewed her up and gave her back."

A little bit of the tension leaks out of Jack's body and Aaron berates himself. If it was traumatic for him, for the team, what the hell did it feel like to Jack? His little boy's already lost so much.

"Daddy?" Jack begins on a whisper.

"Yeah, Buddy?"

"Will Em'ly come if I ask?"

In a heartbeat, but he's not sure he wants to let his son in on that little secret yet. But Jack's pushing himself away so he can see his father's face.

"Will Em'ly stay for Christmas?"

Aaron smiles. "You know what, Jack, I think that's a question we should ask her."

. . . . .

Emily doesn't do idle very well. She never has, really. As a child shipped from embassy to embassy there was always so much to explore in the new countries she lived in. As a teenager and young adult it was about doing as much as she could to avoid her mother. Then it was INTERPOL, Doyle the BAU…. She's used to crunching a bunch of things into a tiny time period.

So sitting around her house, when she knows the place is a mess and unable to do anything because of the eight stitches in her shoulder makes her very cranky. Extremely cranky, actually. She's supposed to wear the sling until the stitches come out and it's bulky and annoying. Plus, the medical tape over the piece of gauze covering the wound is itchy and tugging at her skin. She's utterly dreading attempting to wash her hair.

She hopes Derek took the chance to get a few licks in when he tackled the guy. That would make this slightly more worth it.

Though, she does recognize that her injury is something that needed to happen. The BAU isn't a place of sunshine and rainbows, and that's outside of the nightmares they experience with every case. It's dangerous, but there's something very different about intellectually going into a situation knowing you may not come out the other side and experiencing that danger first hand. Especially for Derek, since he's the one that was leaning over her as she bled out from a table leg to the stomach.

Which reminds her.

She's got her phone in her hand a few moments later, back on the couch and preparing to go in to find Derek's number when the thing rings in her hand. It makes her jump, jar the stitches and gasp. But it's Hotch's number, so she can't help the smile that blossoms. "Good morning."


And cue the best light in her life. "Jack!"

He giggles. This happy little boy that's already experienced so much darkness. The fact that he can still giggle, laugh, be happy, play, is a testament to oh so much. "Em'ly, we're decorating today."

She's not surprised. Jack's been talking about Christmas since Halloween, and Thanksgiving happened in the middle. "Yeah?"

"Uh huh," Jack answers, and she can almost see his little head bobbing in a nod. "Will you come?"




"Uh huh," Jack answers. "Daddy says you can come if you celebrate Christmas."

She does, usually. At least in some way. Usually the 24th and 25th are spent alone, but she's a fan of the season, in a general sense. "Oh."

"Will you come?"

Well. On a good day, she can't say no to Jack, let alone a bad one. And it's not like she was planning on decorating her own apartment. It's too depressing for her to go through all that work just for her and Sergio. "I don't know, Buddy."

"Is this 'cause you got hurt?"

So Hotch did mention it. Emily had wondered. She's very aware of what Jack's been through and what losing her, even for six months, meant. There's a part of her that hates that she's added to it for any length of time. The guilt creeps up her spine and settles in the back of her brain. She can't help but wonder if Jack's push to have her there, to help decorate despite the fact that Hotch has mentioned she really can't, is perpetuated by the fact that she's hurt. Reid rode in the ambulance with her. Derek drove her to the precinct before the airstrip. But what about Jack?

"I won't be much help," she says carefully.

"S'okay!" jack says immediately, excitement back in his voice and maybe a tinge of childhood desperation. "It's Christmastime!"

His excitement is infectious and she finds herself chuckling. Then she hears a shuffling of the phone and Jack calling for his father, telling him he has to convince her. He has to.


"Hotch." Why the hell is her voice breathless? It's not like she has to hide the feelings that rise up in her stomach.

"He really wants you here." There's a pause, but it's charged, so Emily waits the few seconds for him to say, "So do I."

Her heart flips. "Is he okay?"

"He's… okay," Hotch agrees. It's not perfect though and she knows it. So when he goes on to tell her that it couldn't hurt to at least have her come by, she's got agreement on the tip of her tongue, despite the fact that something is telling her there's more to it. There's definitely more to it and this time it's not about the fact that she's exhausted or barely tethered to her sanity. It's something warm.

"Okay," she says finally. "Give me an hour."

. . . . .

He's seconds from calling her when the knock sounds on the door. It's been longer than an hour and he's tried to be cool about it - as cool as Aaron Hotchner can be anyway - but this is Emily. He can't help but be a little nervous when she takes longer than an hour, even with the knowledge that she's got stitches and a sling and that can't make a morning routine easy.

Jack races by him. They've been putting off decorating, and Aaron's shocked, but Jack's been absolutely adamant that they don't start without Emily. It's kind of odd in some ways because he and Jack have decorated without her for three years, but suddenly his son is absolutely refusing to start a tradition without Emily's presence.


Aaron's kind of glad the injury's in Emily's shoulder because Jack immediately wraps himself around her hips. It's the highest his little boy can reach, but Emily just smiles softly, affectionately. "Hey Jack."

"Daddy was getting worried."

Aaron lets her see it, just slightly, grateful when she offers him a rueful smile.

"It's very hard to wash your hair single handedly."

Which explains the wet ropes he can see trailing over the red peacoat she's got on. "Did you walk?"

"Yeah," she admits because there's no hiding the pink of her nose or cheeks. She's managed to get a hat on her head, but otherwise, her winter wear is minimal. He doesn't berate her because it's not that cold out. Chilly, really, but she'll survive this walk without the necessary winter accessories. "Decided I didn't want to brave the roads with only one hand."

He's glad. Really glad. And why hadn't he thought about that before? "We could have picked you up."

She smiles. "No. It was a good walk."

Jack's still clinging to her hips, looking up at her, his chin resting on her pelvis. She looks down as her hand cards through his hair. Aaron's struck with just how affectionate and careful she's being with Jack. She's never treated the seven-year-old with anything less than her utter adoration but it's the first time it's really hit Aaron that in some ways, she considers Jack hers. Or at least subconsciously treats him like he is.

"Ready to decorate?" she asks him and Jack's face lights up.

"I've been waiting forever!"

Aaron has no idea where his son's streak of utter dramatics comes from, but he laughs with Emily as Jack scampers back to the piles of decorations in the living room. He takes the time to help her with her coat, sliding it off her shoulders. His brow wrinkles because she's wearing a dress shirt with her jeans and she offers him a rueful smile.

"Best thing I could put on," she offers. She shocks them both when her hand comes up to brush his cheek. "I was careful."

He separates himself from her because that intimate touch is too much this early in his plans and she's hurt. The things he wants to do with that gentle brush are impossible with an injured shoulder. She looks just as shaken at the ease with which she touched him and he offers her a smile. The last thing he wants is to make her jumpy when this is for his son. Still, he can't help taking her in, top to bottom. The red blouse contrasts sharply with the white and black of the sling and it's too late to think about it because Jack's wandering back over, his eyes fixed on it.

Emily holds out her hand as she crouches down carefully. Jack's eyes stay fixed on the sling as she does, like he's transfixed with how close it could have been. Aaron knows Jack's not quite old enough to think that dark but it's all he can see.

"Are you okay, Em'ly?" Jack asks in a small voice.

She leans forward, kissing his forehead like she's done so many times in the past. "The doctors put me back together again," she promises. "Like Humpty Dumpty."

That gets a giggle, but Jack's still keeping his distance. He can't really jar her shoulder when she's standing, but he seems all too aware of the pain he can cause if he's not careful now that she's at eye level.

Aaron watches Emily's maternal instincts take control, watches her shift slightly and tug Jack against her good side. Aaron watches as Jack curls right into her side, wrapping his arms tightly around her neck. She hugs back, as tightly as one arm will let her, trying to convey to Jack that she's got all of her strength, she's just got a bit of a boo-boo. Yeah, a stab wound is a little more violent than just a 'boo-boo', but even Aaron knows that's information they can keep from Jack.

He steps towards them, running his hand over his son's head, ignoring the serious domesticity of both of them comforting his little boy. "See Jack? Emily's just fine."

And thank God.

. . . . .

Jack's having a blast.

Despite that moment when she first walked in the door, her injury has gone almost entirely unacknowledged. Well, they all know it's there but it's not something that they're actually talking about. She does a lot of holding as they create a virtual winter wonderland in the Hotchner living room. Or a Christmas shop anyway.

Jack's got surprisingly good taste for a seven-year-old. He's very careful and meticulous about going overboard on the garlands or the window stickies Emily's never seen before. They're vinyl and stick quite effectively to the cold glass. She can do that one-handed, and she's pretty good at keeping her balance on a chair while she and Hotch hang things from the windows, the walls, the ceilings.

They eat a late lunch with laughter and then Jack's dragging her to the couch and Rudolph's playing on the screen and though she hates the movie – one of the most overdone things, she thinks – she likes the way Jack curls against her good side as Hotch supports her other until his son passes out.

And Hotch doesn't let the moment just go.

"He asked if you'd stay for Christmas."

It does startle her. She knows they're moving forward, moving towards something that could be so great and she knows she's getting to the point where she can feel ready. Admitting Doyle's dead without prompting is an important first step, so is the fact that it's not Doyle she saw in her nightmares last night.

"That's a while away," she says quietly. She can feel that this is it. This is the moment where she has to decide how ready she is, if she has to ask for more time.

He runs a hand down her arm to her elbow, the one encased in the sling and she bites down hard on the responding shiver. If this is just anticipation of what they can be, what the hell is it going to be like when there's knowledge? "I think it's a good idea."

Her head turns slowly, away from Rudolph and towards him, seeing the intent there. "I don't know."

"You've got twenty-four days to think about it."

And she knows, knows he's not just talking about Christmas. This time, the shiver comes because she's not paying attention. He's telling her she's got twenty-four days, and he's going to be doing everything in his power to convince her before then. The idea thrills her, in both good and bad ways as heat wars with fear in her stomach.

He's put a time limit on this.

He's done waiting.

He thinks she's ready.

And he's thrown down the gauntlet.

Is it bad that she finds it hot?

"Twenty-four days," she whispers.

Then, says the confident part of her, the romantic part that believes in fate and karma, she'll be his.

Don't usually do this, 'cause I left you guys a novel at the top, but I have to say this was a weird chapter to write. The last two stories stopped at every scene, even if two scenes took place one right after the other. But this one is about days, so I'm posting the entire day in one chapter. It's so weird.

And it's weird because I feel like I just kind of threw them into this head first. Well, Emily anyway. Everything's out there now. Though admittedly, I do think Jack would have a miniature panic attack of his own upon hearing about Emily so… yay? Maybe. Heh.

Let me know what you think! Feedback is always appreciated.