Author's Note: Now picking up from Emily's POV. And this starts with her at the wedding from a moment before we started with Hotch. You'll notice some symmetry to the style of this chapter as to Hotch's. There's a certain rhythm here.
And thank you everybody for so many lovely reviews and faves! Given the heaviness of the subject matter, I honestly didn't know how this would be received. So my expectations were quite low. I figured if a half dozen people liked it, that would be cool. But, I think we surpassed that count :)
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Prompt Set #18 (January)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Title Challenge: An Echo In The Bone
Grief can't be shared. Everyone carries it alone. His own burden, in his own way.
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh
What You Leave Behind
Though I know that he's trying not to be obvious, I can see him watching me from across the ballroom. He's surrounded by blue roses.
It doesn't matter what the papers on my dresser say, that's what he is. And that's what he'll remain. Our bond can't be broken by a court of law.
It will only be broken by death.
But of course . . . I breath out a soft sigh . . . it was a death that brought us to this place in our lives.
But we didn't separate because we didn't love each other anymore. We separated because it was just too painful to stay together.
No . . . I feel a stab of guilt as my brain corrects . . . no, that's not entirely true. That's smoothing over a rough edge.
And that rough edge is mine.
And as much as I want to, I need to not rewrite our history. I did things to Aaron . . . terrible things. And it's past time that I began to own them.
At least to myself.
So the truth of it . . . the rough edge . . . is that we separated because of me. Because it was too painful for me, to stay with him. Not because I didn't love him . . . I will always love him . . . but because he reminded me of our daughter. Of Gabby.
My teeth sink into my lip . . . our baby.
She's dead now.
Saying it . . . even to myself . . . still, even eleven months later, is like a knife twisting in my chest. My breath catches and my eyes burn as I hurriedly push back my chair.
I need to take a little walk.
As I begin to cut around the tables set up down in front, I furiously blink back the tears now attempting to pool. The tears are always with me. It's as if they're coming up from a bottomless well. But grief is just that.
A bottomless well.
You can't just one day dig down to the bottom and be done with it. You just keep falling and falling, praying for a soft landing to save you.
It doesn't come. Trust me.
So these are my days now. I cry at the drop of a hat.
Sometimes it's just because it's raining . . . or because I burned the toast. Really, anything can set it off. If I still cared what anyone thought of me, I might find it embarrassing. But I've moved far beyond such concerns. If I hadn't, I would surely have died of embarrassment by now.
After all . . . I think bitterly . . . I am the woman who's had no less than three total breakdowns in the local Whole Foods.
The last time they had to call JJ to come take me home.
But as I discretely wipe the corner of my eye, I do know that there has been some progression to my grief. If progression is even the right word. Really . . . my brow wrinkles . . . I don't know if it is.
It doesn't matter Emily.
The words come in his voice. All of my rational thoughts these days . . . the ones that cut through the bullshit . . . they come in his voice. Well, my memories of it.
It's what I have left of him.
So I make myself I refocus . . . my mind does tend to wander . . . as I go back to my original point. And my original point was, that saying those terrible words . . . saying that Gabby is dead . . . they no longer bring me to my knees.
It's a little victory . . . but I'll take it.
So my grief has moved beyond that initial stage where my body would turn to Jello, but it hasn't moved much farther. They say that it's a process, that time will begin to close the wound. That the tissue will then heal over.
And then I'll be left with just a scar.
But I don't see that. Not even a little. There's your life . . . the normal . . . and then there's the death. It causes an obstruction.
It makes a hole.
And you can't move through a hole. It blocks your way . . . so you can't move forward. You can't be normal.
Perhaps someday . . . if the universe is kinder than it has been in the past . . . I might find a way around the obstruction. I might find a new path.
But I'm really not holding my breath.
And I wish that I could point to some fault here . . . some specific villain in this tale of my dead child. Because then there would have been somebody to blame. Somebody to hate.
Some place to direct my rage at the universe.
But in this part of the story, there is no villain. It was just . . . as they say . . . one of those things. No reason, no explanation. Not Aaron's fault, not mine. One night we put our baby to bed . . . and one morning she didn't wake up. That was it. SIDS, they said.
But then we told them what we did for a living . . . and then they raised their eyebrows. And then they asked if they could do the autopsy.
Just to make sure.
And as horrific as it was . . . as blinded as we were in our grief, initially almost too much to focus on those details . . . we realized that we had to make sure too. Because Aaron and I had made a lot of enemies over the years. Psychopaths and sociopaths, and monsters without labels. So many of them had taken note of our names.
So many of them had taken note of us.
And if one of them had been responsible, well . . . my jaw clenches . . . Aaron would have taken care of it. And that person would have died screaming.
And I would have been okay with that.
Because once the question was posed . . . could it be someone from your files Mrs. Hotchner . . . I wanted it to be murder. Suddenly I desperately needed a villain. Someone to punish . . . someone to blame.
Someone's heart to rip out.
I ended up picking Aaron's.
Not at first, and not on purpose of course. It was never a conscious choice. But so little of life is a conscious choice.
Mostly you're just along for the ride.
And this was not the ride that I had planned for myself. But nobody ever plans for her child to die. You can't. It is, an inconceivable notion.
Like gravity failing.
But then one day gravity does fail, and suddenly your world is upside down. And all you want is something to cling to.
So I clung to Aaron.
He was amazing, and I was hysterical and irrational. Daily, I cried myself to the point of exhaustion. And then I'd wake up and do it all over again. And on some days . . . on my very worst days . . . I went down an even darker path.
And on those days, I went just a little bit mad.
But he stayed with me even then, he stayed with me through all of it. He sent his son back to Haley full time, and he pushed aside his own grief . . . he shoved it down deep . . . and he stayed with me for almost every waking minute, of every God forsaken day.
But as much as I needed him to stay with me, I was also beyond consolation. Beyond any rational thought.
It was a state of confusion for both of us. And my distance . . . and my increasing inability to engage in the simplest of tasks . . . soon became a crippling state of being. And if it had been any other man . . . any lesser man . . . I would driven him away.
But not my sweet Aaron. He stayed.
He stayed as long as I let him.
And this is where I need to pause on my little walk around the room. I need to now take a breath. Because I know that in this chapter of the story, there is a villain. Not one from our files though.
The villain was me. But I didn't set out to destroy him.
To destroy us.
It just happened.
When I started to feel that disconnection beginning . . . our bond unraveling . . . I tried so hard to hold onto him. With our emotional connection splintering, physical affection was all that we had left. So we made love every night . . . but only with the lights out.
And I would cry the whole time.
And when it was over, he would wrap his body around mine. And then . . . still in total darkness . . . he would press his lips to my ear. And I would hear the tears in his voice as he pleaded with me to just try.
Just try to come back to him.
But I couldn't. And after a few weeks of that . . . a few weeks of my grief infecting us . . . we stopped making love too. It just became too awful. Too much of a perversion of our life before. And once we lost that connection.
We lost everything.
Bit by bit, I pushed him further and further away. My grief needed a focal point . . . but it had none.
So my brain made one up.
By the fourth week, every time I looked at him, I would flash on the day that Gabby died. And with that flash, I would remember it all . . . and I would hear that first moment again.
That agonizing, soul deadening, wail. It was the sound that Aaron made the morning he found our daughter's cold little body in her crib. Even now . . . with so much distance, and so much therapy . . . I still can't describe that sound. It was primal. Visceral.
It hurt my bones.
And it stopped my heart.
And even all of these months later, I'm still not sure if it's started beating again.
There isn't a word big enough to encompass the grief that one feels at the loss of a child. Devastation comes closest . . . but it's more than that. It's quite literally a piece of you that's cut . . . ripped . . . away. And then there's that hole there.
Because part of you is gone.
And even today, as I stand in this room crowded with people, there's an emptiness that consumes me. All I'm left with is this agonizing pain, of not only of the loss . . . but the process.
And I can no longer differentiate between the pains of the two.
Because though the death was a tragedy, the process is what really destroyed my family. I pushed Aaron away because I loved him . . . and I could no longer stand the sight of him. He was a continuous reminder of the worst day of my life. So he needed to leave, because I was terrified that if he stayed . . . I would grow to despise him.
And my love for him was all that I had left.
So . . . for my sake . . . he had to go.
But I think even worse than that, worse than what I did to Aaron . . . was what I did to his son. To Jack. I sent him away too.
And that . . . my eyes begin to burn again . . . that was monstrous.
After Aaron and I got married, we had shared custody with Haley and her husband. And for three years I'd loved that little boy like he was my own flesh and blood. And he loved me just the same. I was Mommy Emily.
I loved being Memily. I loved baking cookies, and putting a part in his hair and teaching him to tie his shoes. Giving him baths.
Every moment with him . . . for me . . . was the best part of being a mom. He was the reason that we had Gabby. Because I wanted another Jack.
I wanted another one just like him.
But then it all went wrong. Because once I lost one child, I became obsessed with the thought of losing another.
Of losing Jack.
And that, that was truly more than I could bear. So I cut out what out was left of my heart.
I cut it out before it was ripped away.
One morning in June I got up early and I made Aaron and Jack breakfast. And when Aaron came down to see the piles of French toast and eggs on the table, he was so pleased. So happy that I was up. That I was out of bed.
That I was doing . . . something.
So I let him kiss me and I let him hug me, and then just before I thought I would lose it, I patted his back . . . and I told him to go eat his eggs.
That they were going to get cold.
And he did. And he did it with a smile because I fussed over him, and I fussed over Jack and I tried to make things normal again.
Just one last time.
And when breakfast was done, Aaron took Jack to pre-school, and while he was gone I packed their bags. So when Aaron returned and sat back down at the glistening kitchen table, he asked if there was any coffee left. That's when I asked him to leave.
To leave and to take his boy with him.
And I told him that . . . I said those terrible words . . . just as I placed the separation papers in front of him. My devoted husband. The man who had spent months taking care of me.
He began to cry.
It was the first time that I'd seen his tears since that morning. That morning I ran in to find him clutching our dead baby in his arms.
And seeing him cry that way again . . . seeing how I was destroying what was left of him . . . I wanted to take it back.
But I didn't.
Even as the tears began to stream down my own face . . . even as I began to sob . . . I was unyielding. They had to go.
And they weren't to come back.
I was so blinded by my own grief, that I couldn't fully process theirs. Aaron had lost a daughter, and Jack had lost a sister.
He was so little, and he so loved being a big brother.
But all of that was beyond me. I was selfish and I was cruel and . . . I was a little bit mad.
But I didn't know it at the time.
And though these are not new events, my stomach twists and churns as I think back at how very unwell I was back then. Therapy . . . and time . . . has at least brought back my sanity. I suppose that is progress as well. But I still can't believe that I did that to them.
And I still don't know how to make it right.
So as I stand by this gift table, knowing that Aaron is just a few feet away, I want to go over and tell him that I'm so sorry. That I wasn't well, but I'm better now. And I still adore him . . . and I still adore Jack.
And if it's okay with them . . . I'd like for them to come home.
All of these words are racing through my brain . . . it's like wildfire . . . but then I remind myself for the hundredth time, Aaron must hate me now.
How could he not?
Our baby died and I abandoned him because I was weak. My mind snapped. We were a team . . . partners long before we took our vows . . . and I should have been there for him like he was there for me.
But I wasn't.
And my eyes begin to tear up as I again remind myself . . . he's too good for me. I used to think that quite often when we first started seeing each other, when he first told me that he loved me.
I would think to myself, 'I don't deserve somebody as wonderful as he is. Somebody who's this good to me.'
But then one day I told him that . . . I said the words out loud . . . and he got so angry with me.
He said that I wasn't to say that again. That I wasn't even to think it. That I deserved so much more . . . that I was worth so much more . . . than I ever gave myself credit. I thought a lot about those words, about what he'd said.
And how angry he'd been when he'd said them.
And one day I finally accepted that maybe he was right. Maybe I did deserve someone that loved me like that.
Loved me like he did.
That was the day that I asked him to marry me. He didn't answer right away, instead he just smiled and kissed me. Then he went over to his desk and pulled a ring box out of his drawer. He turned back with a dimple . . . and a diamond. That's when he confessed that he'd been wanting to ask me for a month.
But he'd been waiting for me to be ready.
It's silly, but some days I wish that he had waited a little longer to pull out that ring. Because maybe if our early days had gone differently, then our later days would have as well. Maybe I wouldn't have gotten pregnant just after our second anniversary.
Maybe Gabby wouldn't have died just after our third.
My therapist says that I need to stop thinking that way, that it's an endless road of whatifs. And I know that she's right.
But I still do it nonetheless.
Not in an effort to drive myself completely around the bend . . . madness is not a road that I wish to travel again . . . but it's because I do so desperately want my family back.
As much of it as I can salvage.
And thinking over my past . . . thinking over the whatifs, all the roads that we didn't take . . . is how I came to see, Aaron was wrong from the beginning. I didn't deserve him.
I never did.
For a while I fooled myself. During the easy years of our marriage. The settling in. I was a good wife. I cooked half of our meals, I did half of our errands, I kept a nice a house, I took care of him when he was sick. I listened to his problems.
We made love all the time.
I did all of the stuff that you're supposed to do. And Aaron did all of the stuff that he was supposed to do.
He even gave me a baby.
But then our baby died. And I fell apart.
And he didn't.
He kept going. He kept up his end of the bargain . . . the 'for worse.' He was a good husband right up to the end.
Right up to the day he moved out.
Of course I know that his heart was . . . is . . . as shattered as mine. But unlike me . . . he dealt with it. He functioned.
He was strong.
And he deserves a wife that's strong. One who is still capable of showing kindness and compassion, even when her world is falling apart.
But that's not me.
And that's why he deserves a better wife. That's why he should go on without me.
But I don't want him to.
I want him back. Because this life that I'm now living without him . . . it's not living at all. When I'm not working, all I do is walk around in our old house.
And I remember.
That's all I do . . . I remember. Aaron. Jack.
I remember their faces, their voices, their laughter. Our house was filled with laughter. We were so happy.
I don't know how to be happy anymore. Not without them.
So I try to bring them back with my memories.
And sometimes, if it's dark and quiet, if I close my eyes I can almost hear the sound of Aaron's footsteps, of Jack's cartoons.
Of Gabby's cry.
I live in a world of ghosts.
And unless I'm willing to let go of life completely . . . to simply have an accident while cleaning my gun, a gun that they just gave back to me in November . . . then I need to leave that house, and leave that world.
I need to come back to the land of the living.
And my way back is Aaron. If he can forgive me, if I can somehow make things right . . . then maybe I might find happiness again.
A little of it anyway.
My thoughts are interrupted by Will's friend. Ryan. He's just put his arm around my shoulder . . . and I've just slipped it off.
I know that he means well . . . he just asked me if I was all right, if he could get me anything . . . but I don't let men touch me that way. I'm married.
So after a few words of reassurance, I send him on his way with a half-hearted smile . . . the only kind I can make . . . and the promise that I'm fine. Just a little tired from the busy day. He knows that I'm lying . . . he knows my history, that my child died less than a year ago . . . but he's a kind man. So he lets me lie. He just pats my arm.
And walks away.
As I turn back, my gaze catches Aaron's over in the shadows. And though I wasn't planning on approaching him tonight . . . he's so close. He's right there.
He's right in front of me.
And I miss him . . . my tears begin to churn up from the well . . . I miss him so much.
So when he tries to walk away . . . to gesture that he's leaving . . . I feel a little tug in my chest.
A string that he's pulling.
And I find myself starting to walk over . . . though I don't know what to say. There are no words to make right the things that I've done.
But still, as I approach him I find myself wondering, if I ask him to take my hand . . . if I ask him to pull me out of this world of shadows that I live in . . . would he do that?
Would he save me again?
I don't know.
I don't even know if it's right to ask.
I thought of asking Rossi to come to the house, to ask him how Aaron was doing, if he was moving on with someone else.
Or if maybe he'd like to come back to me.
Over the last few months I've picked up the phone a half dozen times . . . but I always put it down again. Though I'm now living outside their daily circle, I know how close they've become.
After all, when I abandoned him, Dave was the only confidante that Aaron had left. So it's not right to ask Dave to break a confidence. To speak behind his friend's back. I've taken enough from Aaron.
I won't take Dave too.
So now . . . after five long months of being apart . . . I find myself standing in front of my husband again. And I have no idea how he feels about that. But I have a feeling that he's not pleased.
Because he won't look up.
He won't look at me. And that hurts . . . my chest begins to ache . . . it hurts so much that I begin to cry again.
How can I ask for forgiveness from a man who can't even look me in the eyes?
The question is one with no answer. But then slowly, I see him begin to drag his gaze up from the ground.
My skin burns as it moves across my body.
And then . . . finally . . . he's looking me in the face. When I see that his eyes are watering, that ache in my chest is tenfold.
I want to kiss him.
I want to try to make it better.
I do nothing.
I destroyed our past . . . our future is up to him. But when asks me if he needs to go, I'm so proud that I can say no.
I can say no because I'm better now.
But then that pride is wounded by his next question. He asks me if I want him to go. Doesn't he understand? I never wanted him to go.
It was never a choice.
So I shake my head again as a fresh batch of tears runs down my face. And I know then . . . though it was not the plan for tonight . . . that I need to tell him that I'm better. And I need to tell him that I'm sorry. And I need to beg his forgiveness for the terrible things that I've done.
It's not just for me . . . it's for him too. He deserves to know the truth.
That I pushed him away because I loved him.
And because I was as crazy as a fucking loon.
Then maybe . . . if that goes well, if he doesn't walk out the door . . . then I can tell him that I love him. And that all I want from the world, is for him to come home again.
That was my Christmas wish.
All of these words are dancing on the tip of my tongue . . . but my voice is caught in my throat.
I can't speak.
He just looks so handsome . . . I bite my lip . . . and so sad. And he's still so much mine that I think I could burst.
Before I can stop myself . . . to think about what I'm doing, how he might not appreciate it . . . I reach out to touch him. My heart's pounding in my chest.
I just want to see if his is as well.
And I can see Aaron's breath catch as my fingers spread over his heart. I know that there are two holes there. One from Gabby.
And one from me.
Mine is smaller of course . . . Gabby's is gaping . . . but I know the damage that I've done.
And it's severe.
But that smaller hole . . . I feel the steady gallop beneath my palm . . . if he'd let me, I think that one could perhaps be fixed. And I'm trying to fix it.
I just don't have the words yet.
So we end up standing there in silence. It goes on . . . but to my surprise, it's not awkward.
It's simply us.
And I'm just so pleased to be near him again. Pleased that he's letting me touch him.
Pleased that he hasn't told me to go hell.
And I'm just about to ask if I can move my hand from his chest and up to his cheek . . . I want to touch his skin . . . when suddenly the DJ is calling me back to the wedding.
Back to the world.
God DAMN it!
My whole body tenses up . . . I don't want to go. This is my moment. This is my moment to say that I'm sorry. To start making it right again. But then I remember . . . this isn't my night.
So my fingers curl back and my arm falls to my side. It hangs there limply. But then suddenly I feel a wave of panic and despair. It's that loss of connection. And I know that I can't let him go again.
And I'm so pleading with him to stay . . . and I'm asking him not just to stay for the party, but to stay for me.
I want to see if he will. I want to see if I still matter.
I just want to see what he'll say.
And when he says all right . . . when I realize that I do still matter, he does still care . . . I feel those waves of panic and despair roll back. And again, I want to kiss him.
Instead I reach up to straighten his tie.
It's crooked. As much as he's practiced over the years, Aaron still can't make the bow correctly. So I fix it.
Because that's what good wives do.
And then I step back . . . and before I know it . . . words have slipped from my mouth. I'm saying how handsome he looks in his tux. Of course it's true. But of all the things that I wanted to say to him tonight . . . that wasn't on the list.
The flush of embarrassment immediately begins to rise on my cheeks. My face is getting hot.
Apparently I am still capable of humiliating myself.
But then I quickly turn away, because fortunately . . . I begin moving across the cavernous room . . . I'm needed down front. Duty calls.
Duty ends up taking twenty more minutes of my life.
It was the cutting of the cake. We all needed to stand around looking happy and excited.
I don't know how well I fared.
I haven't been happy or excited for just over a year now. But regardless, these are not concerns that truly interest me. They are just the trivialities of life . . . they don't matter at all. All I'm trying to do tonight is not embarrass JJ. And on that one small point . . . at least, for this activity . . . I know that I am successful.
So as soon as I can break away from the happy group, I go searching again for my better half.
It was once just a lighthearted term of endearment. For most people it still is. But for me, now those are words have come to mean so much more than I ever thought that they could.
Aaron is the best of me.
The pieces of myself that are missing, I think I could find them again with his help. If he'll help me.
If he wants to.
Either way, I find him in the back by the door. I can see that there's a glass sitting on the carpet by his chair. I know from the color of the liquid . . . and our history together . . . that the glass contains Sam Adams.
It's half empty.
I pray that's not a harbinger for the rest of the night.
As I walk up, he raises his head, and our eyes lock. I can see the question there . . . why did I ask him to stay? But he doesn't speak it aloud.
When I stop in front of him, I find that my head tips ever so slightly. And then I start to reach out . . . but then just as quickly . . . I pull my fingers back.
"May I touch your cheek?" I ask softly.
Touching him used to be a right . . . now it would be a privilege.
Aaron stares up at me for a moment . . . I can see the moisture pooling in his eyes . . . and then he nods.
"Yes . . . yes, of course you can."
His voice is hoarse . . . I can hear the lump.
It gives me hope.
So I pull off my glove, and then I reach down, and with the pad of my index finger, I slowly caress his cheek. I can feel the rough skin, the faint stubble.
And all of the memories that come along with it.
Before I can stop myself, I slide my hand around to cup his jaw.
He turns his cheek into my palm.
In that moment of contact, I feel something stirring. Something that I haven't felt in a very long time.
True happiness. It's just a little tickle . . . but it feels like nirvana. And it's all because of him. Because I can see.
He misses me too.
And I want to leave my hand there . . . I want to maintain this connection, this tiny thread of our bond . . . but we need to talk.
And this is not the place for the conversation that we need to have.
"Would you take a walk with me?" I whisper as my thumb strokes along his cheek.
At that I can see him wince, and I'm wondering if he's remembering that morning of our breakfast.
That day I pulled the rug out from under him.
My eyes begin to water as I crouch down in front of him . . . so much damage I've done.
"Please," I whisper, my voice catching as my free hand falls to his knee, "please Aaron. I want . . ."
And then I stop. This isn't about me. It's about him.
So I start again.
"If it's okay with you," my correction comes as my fingertips press lightly into his thigh, "I'd like to take a walk." A tear slides down my cheek, "would that be all right?"
It's such a simple request, but my heart is pounding in my chest. I don't know what I'll do if he says no. And I can see from the grinding of his teeth as he looks up at me with those sad eyes, that he's really considering the request.
He's considering whether or not I'm going to hurt him again.
Finally he seems to come to a decision . . . his jaw tightens and he looks away. Looks past me and over my shoulder. And though he doesn't say anything, I can see the slight shake of his head. He's still just talking to himself, but it's clear . . . the answer to my request is no.
Though it shouldn't have surprised me . . . he owes me nothing . . . it does.
And the pain is excruciating.
My palm immediately falls from his cheek as I pull my other hand off of his knee.
Clearly I've asked too much, I've pushed him too far for one evening. So as I begin to stand, I busy myself by pulling on my glove as I hurriedly take the question back.
The question that shouldn't have been asked.
And then as I'm straightening the fingers of my glove . . . I'm trying to seem cool and collected . . . my voice cracks.
It happens as I start to apologize for having bothered him.
I get no further than the sorry . . . the tears are now spilling over again, I had too much riding on this simple request . . . when suddenly I feel Aaron's hand on my hip. Before I can process the sensation, it's been far too long . . . he's standing in front of me.
I can feel his warm breath on my face. It smells of winter ale.
"I didn't say no," he whispers as his fingertips wipe the tears from my face.
My hand wants to fall to the one resting on my hip.
Instead I curl it into a fist.
"You didn't say yes, either," I counter with a somewhat pathetic sniffle. I'm trying to get my emotions under control. I'm trying to stop crying.
I'm failing miserably at both.
But then I feel Aaron's hand slide up from my hip. It's now curled around my side.
The warmth of his fingers is pressing through the cold silk.
"Do you have a coat?" he asks softly.
Though the question should have been self-explanatory, my brain is suddenly working through molasses. Aaron's grip has tightened around my side . . . his hold is firm and possessive . . . and I can't think straight.
So feeling slightly hypnotized by these feelings that he's stirring up . . . I wonder if he realizes the effect he has on me . . . I slowly shake my head.
"No," I murmur, "no coat. I forgot it at the church."
Wait . . . I try to focus . . . why do I need my coat? Does that mean that we're going for a walk after all?
Has he changed his mind?
The questions begin to bounce through my brain . . . but before any of them are asked . . . Aaron lets me go. Then he's walking away.
My fingers curl as I start to panic.
But then I realize that he's just going over to the coat check. That's where he pulls a ticket from his pocket.
It slides across the counter under the tip of his index finger.
A few seconds later, the little redhead hands him his best wool. After he slings it over his arm, he digs two ones out of his wallet and places them on the now bare ledge.
I see the money disappear as he walks back to where I'm standing. It's just five steps from there to here, but it seemed so far when he walked away. But as he's coming back, I can see him looking at me now with those same sad eyes that he had earlier. The question has returned to them.
He's wondering if I'm going to hurt him.
I want to say no, that I just want to tell him that I'm sorry . . . but why should he believe me?
I've screwed him before.
And that trust that was once so implicit . . . that was the cornerstone of our marriage . . . now needs to be earned again. So instead of attempting to make a promise that he won't believe, I reach out and place my hand back on his chest. Again, my fingers spread out to cover his heart.
Actions are better.
It takes a moment, but finally my actions seem to do as intended. His expression shifts . . . the fear leaves his eyes . . . and he reaches around me to place the coat over my shoulders.
One tiny victory.
The feel of the coat brings up memories of years before. Happy years. The sensations that fill me are warm and familiar . . . plus the wool smells like him.
And wanting to breathe him in while I can . . . I feel like Cinderella with a ticking clock, time's going to run out too soon . . . I turn my head slightly to rub my cheek against the collar.
The action makes him smile.
It's a sad smile . . . but I know that it's a real one. And I feel that little tickle coming back again.
"Are you ready?"
His voice is soft and quiet, and my eyes crinkle slightly as I nod and whisper back.
"If you are."
He doesn't answer my question directly . . . perhaps he can't . . . instead he rocks back slightly on his heels as his teeth dig into his lip.
"May I . . . may I hold your hand?"
This time the hesitation is clear in his words . . . they bring a fresh burn to my eyes.
I put that hesitation there.
"Yes," I hold it up in front of him as I blink away the tears, "if you want to."
He stares at it for a moment . . . and then shakes his head.
"No," he swallows, "the other one."
My brow wrinkles slightly in confusion, but still . . . I bite my lip . . . whatever he wants. So I drop my right hand back to my side . . . and I lift my left hand up between us.
This time when he stares at it, I can see that his eyes are starting to water. It makes my heart hurt. Just as I'm about to ask him what it is that's upsetting him so much . . . I know that this an emotional moment for both us, but this seem to be something specific . . . he's taken my fingers into his.
It feels nice.
And then he's running his thumb along the smooth fabric of my glove. He's focused in on my ring finger . . . trying to feel under the cloth. And suddenly I know what he's doing. I know why his eyes are watering.
And for the first time in a long time . . . I know how to make it better.
I reach up with my free hand to touch his cheek, and when his startled gaze snaps up to mine, I give him a watery smile.
"It's there," I whisper, "it's always there. I've never taken it off."
My wedding band.
That's what he was looking for . . . that's what he was trying to feel.
And when I tell him that I'm wearing my ring . . . as I can see that he's wearing his . . . his whole spirit seems transformed. The fear leaves his eyes, and his posture straightens. Then his lips curve into a faint . . . soft . . . smile.
This one is not sad.
And seeing that smile on his face . . . and knowing that I put it there . . . I, for the first time in a long time, feel happy too.
And though my eyes are misty, I can feel the corner of my mouth turn up.
"Can we go for that walk now?" I ask softly as I wipe my hand across my cheek.
Aaron's gaze follows my gloved fingers as he nods slowly in response.
"Yes . . . yes we can."
Then his larger hand is again covering over my smaller one, and our fingers are tangled together. And though I'd like to take off my glove . . . to feel his warm skin pressed against mine . . . I know that it's cold outside.
So for now . . . I feel Aaron's hand tighten around mine . . . my gloves have to stay on.
And with my fingers now firmly in his grasp . . . if he'd let me I could hold onto him forever . . . Aaron turns and starts leading me over to the door. Again, I have to blink away the tears. Because something has just occurred to me.
I'm about to go for a walk with my husband.
I never thought I would do that again.
But as I take a deep breath and follow Aaron out into the hall, I know that the hard part has not yet begun. Now I have to figure out how to say that I'm sorry for everything that I've done. For hurting his son. For destroying our home and ending our marriage.
For breaking his heart.
So many things . . . so much to say.
I don't know where to begin.
A/N 2: There you go. Emily's version of their world. Though she doesn't mention it here, I viewed her grief (and that darkness that came with it) as being a result of the post-partum hormones. If you note the timing here, the baby was only a few months old, so Emily wasn't yet in an emotionally "stable" place where her mind could process that loss. But I didn't think in this chapter, that it was right for her to accept that truth to herself, that it really wasn't her fault, because she hasn't reached that level yet where she can let her guilt go. She's still processing what she did. And she has some things that she needs to say first.
And though I've never lost a child (and positive thoughts to the universe that I never will) some of you might recall that I had a nephew die a few years ago. I've mentioned it in the context of Horses I believe. He was 17 and it was my brother's son. And though that death actually did seem to bring my brother and his wife closer to together, their eyes are still wrong. Even six years later if they smile or laugh (and they didn't do that for a long time) there's still something missing. They just don't seem capable of being happy like they were before. So though I know that grief is supposed to be process where eventually things get better, and usually it is, I don't think that those rules apply to the death of your child. So that's what this story is about. Finding a way to move forward again.
Next one will be Hotch. And that's going to be in about a week. I want to poke a few other stories first.