Chapter 25

December 25, 2011

PROMPT: Dr. Kildare – An Exchange of Gifts

Jack wakes really early. But he knows the rules and Daddy told him last night when they got home that if he woke up too early, he had to play in his room until someone comes to get him. He's excited though. Really excited.

It's finally Christmas!

Which means there's one other thing he needs to accomplish before he can say it's a good one. One last tradition.

On well-practiced tiptoe, he makes his way out of his room. Daddy's door is open just a little, but Jack knows better than to touch it. He did once and Daddy freaked out, so he's not going to tempt fate. He's breaking a rule as it is to be out of his room, but he can't help it. He wants to see if Santa made it.

Like always, since Jack can remember anyway, the lights on the tree are on. It's how Santa manages to find them, Jack knows. He bypasses the tree though, because if there are any presents from Santa, they're wrapped - he's okay with that because unwrapping is the best part - but his stocking on the other hand... His stocking is always out in the open.

And it is again, against the corner of the couch with Daddy's and a third one. One Jack's never seen before. So Jack climbs on the couch. They've never had a third stocking before. He's pretty sure it's not for Mommy because they talked to Mommy last night at the memory garden. He liked that. It was pretty, even though it looked like it made a lot of people sad.

There's no name on it, but Jack's pretty sure there's girl stuff in there. His brow wrinkles. He knows Emily said she'd celebrate with them, but he didn't think she'd be there for the morning. No one's ever there in the morning. But when Jack looks at the door, her shoes are there. He takes a moment, like Daddy taught him when he's going to have a tantrum and he can't control himself, to figure out if something's wrong. It doesn't feel right, really, but it doesn't really feel wrong either. He likes Emily. He loves Emily. And it was ver hard for him when she was gone. He missed her. But this is also something he and Daddy have always done alone since George took Mommy away. That's the part Jack's not so sure about.

He also remembers the talk he and Emily had about how she and Daddy have been kissing and what that means for staying. Jack knows he'd be happy if Emily stayed forever. He'd like that a lot. Emily's fun and funny and Daddy's both funner and funnier when she's around. He doesn't look so heavy or sad. It's not so hard for him. And Jack doesn't miss Mommy so much because Emily loves him. Jack knows that.

He feels a smile crack across his face.

Emily is really staying.

Emily is here for Christmas.

All of Christmas.

Smart boy that he is, he knows that since Emily is not on the couch, there's only one other place she can be. He can't help himself. He has to check.

He tiptoes back down the hall to Daddy's room and nudges the door open as slow as possible. But there's a squeak, one Jack knows is there and he doesn't manage to stop the door before it hits that point. He winces.


He woke Daddy. He pouts to himself, but steps inside anyway.

"Everything okay, Buddy?"

"Uh huh," Jack answers in a whisper. He tiptoes to Daddy's bed. "Daddy, I broke the rules."

Daddy chuckles a little and opens his eyes. "You always do."

Jack bites his lip. "Daddy, why is Em'ly not on the couch. She has a stocking and her shoes are at the door like yours..."

"She's on the other side of the bed." There's something weird on Daddy's half-asleep face, but Jack's too little to understand what it is. Instead, he chews his bottom lip.

Daddy sighs and sits up. "Come on, Jack."

Jack smiles, wide and bright. He scrambles up on the bed and sees Emily's head. He climbs over Daddy and crawls under the covers.

"There's a little Christmas elf in bed," he hears Emily mumble into the pillow.

He giggles. He can't help it. "I'm not an elf."

"No," Daddy says, "but if you want to stay you have to lay down and be quiet, okay? The rules were nothing before eight o'clock."

"What time is it?" Emily asks.

"Six," Daddy groans. Emily does too.

"Six is way too early to be excited for Christmas, sweetie," Emily tells him, curling her arm around him like she does when they cuddle on the couch. Jack settles in against her, feels Daddy on his other side and smiles wider. He's wiggling in excitement.

"You're staying for Christmas," he whispers, laying his head down on the pillow beside Emily.

Her eyes blink open. "Of course," she says. "I said I would."

"But...all of it."

Emily's eyes drift closed again. She looks kind of like he does when he can't stop falling asleep. There's something on her face too as she looks over Jack to Daddy. "Yeah," she says and Jack just knows there's some sort of adult conversation happening he can't figure out. But then Emily's smiling at him and kissing his forehead. "All of it."

. . . . .

When Aaron wakes the second time, Jack and Emily are still curled up beside him. He hadn't expected his son to come in at six in the morning asking him about Emily, but he also doesn't really have the heart to wake them either. Instead he rolls over. They've slept in, not that there's a schedule on Christmas. He's just surprised that Jack hasn't woken and it's almost nine.

Aaron takes advantage though. He has an idea. They don't have to open stockings in the living room this year.

He's really glad he put together an extra stocking. He'd been surprised the previous night too that Emily had packed a stocking's worth of things for him too. Studiously, he hadn't looked as she'd packed it up, but now they all had a stocking to open. He knows his happiness is disproportionate, but he can't help it.

When Jack mentioned all of Christmas, there had been something entirely different in her gaze. It hadn't been one that said 'all of Christmas' and more one that lent truth to the real words she said:

'All of it'.

She'd be there for all of it.

That's the part that warms his heart. Because the look in her eyes wasn't just talking about all of Christmas at all. It was talking about more. She's talking about more.

He returns to the bedroom with two coffees, putting Emily's on the bedside table on 'her' side of the bed. By the time he makes it back with the stockings, Emily's awake and taking her first sip. Jack's blinking groggy eyes at him, but they clear instantly when he fixes them on the stockings.

"Christmas!" he yells and Emily barely gets two seconds to put her coffee on the end table before Jack's bouncing. She reaches out and snags his little boy by the waist, tumbling them both back into the sheets.

And he finds himself thinking of forever again.

He pastes a Jack appropriate glare on his face as his son giggles. "No bouncing, buddy. We're going to open our stockings in here today, okay?"

Jack settles at the word stocking but keeps giggling. When Aaron's back on the bed, Jack climbs into his lap to hug him, toppling two of the stockings in the process.

"Merry Christmas, Daddy."

Aaron squeezes him back. His little boy. His blessing. And then there's Emily, watching with watery eyes. She's his second chance. His next forever.

"Merry Christmas, Jack."

. . . . .

They move to the living room for the real presents, but Emily can't help reflecting on the fact that maybe her real present is right in front of her nose. Aaron's on the floor with Jack as they pull apart the wrapping and packaging of one of Jack's new toys. The room is littered with gifts, the majority of which are the little boy's. A spoiled, well-loved little boy. She laughs from the couch while they try and fight the toy out, even though her heart is lodges in her throat.

She's nervous.

Maybe even terrified.

She'd battled with what to give Aaron. It had hit her with surprising accuracy one night, but she's very nervous about it. It's a gift she's not sure she should give him. But she also knows it's too late now.

They're down to the last two presents.

Once Jack's toy is out of the box, Aaron returns to the couch with an overly dramatic sigh. She giggles to herself because Aaron Hotchner and 'overly dramatic' are not usually words she would think go together. But he's smiling at her and she smiles back.

"I'm happy," she tells him, absently reaching out to run a hand through his hair. It's sticking up at a million angles and is so far from Hotch that she's been smiling every time she sees it.

He's up again a second later though, bringing the two gifts back with him. Hers is deceptively heavy for something so small and Aaron smiles. Then they're sitting the, looking at each other.

"You first," he says softly.

She rips at the paper and lifts out another box. When she pops it open, there's a polished stone. She traces her finger over the word: faith. There's another one under that, then one under that. Hope, belief, love, four stones in all. Emily holds them in her hands, curiosity in her face.

"Garcia found them," Aaron admits. "You can put them wherever you want, but I gave them to you to remind you about going forward, about what we're going to build."

Emily grins, leaning over to press a kiss to her mouth. When she pulls back, she brushes her thumb over 'love'. "Thank you," she whispers, because though neither of them are quite ready to actually voice the sentiment, she hears him loud and clear.

It doesn't help her anxiety about her gift though.

Instead, her heart leaps back into her throat as he carefully unsticks the tape of his gift. Inside, she knows, is a pretty Christmas box. It's what's inside that counts.

He lifts the first piece of paper and opens it.

She closes her eyes. She knows what it says. By heart.

She wrote it.

She wrote all of this.

"Emily." The breathlessness of his voice has her relaxing marginally. He sounds like he's in awe.

"They're letters," she tells him unnecessarily. "Your letters."

"Letters you never sent."

"I wrote them while I was on the run mostly. The ones at the bottom are more recent. Some are from therapy," she says.


She's stunned him. Utterly stunned him.

When he looks up at her again, everything's in his eyes. All of it. The pain, the pressure, the guilt, the pleasure and emotions Emily's not sure she wants to name. It's a moot point though because she knows her face is saying the same thing.

Merry Christmas.

I love you.

25 chapters in 25 days and though it was a little touch-and-go there, it's done! Which is bittersweet, even I can admit.

To all of you who reviewed, I cannot put into words what this journey has been, not only here, but through the whole series. It started out as catharsis for me after watching "Lauren" and it turned into something I'd never anticipated. Thank you for your encouragement, your stories, and your kicks in the butt when I needed them most. It's the readers that make this whole thing worth it.

Happy holidays, and for those who celebrate, a very Merry Christmas indeed.