Author's Note: The sequel to Everything Happens To A Reason. Got this opening done SO much more quickly than I had anticipated! But I was very wrapped up in this world the last few weeks, so this next portion of their lives was quite vivid in my head. And I wanted to get it down, not just the words, but the feel of it, the melancholy, while it was fresh. And then it was done!
So obviously the opening here will not be as 'ugly' as the last story wrapped. They're still quite messed up, which is manifesting in different ways, but nobody's trying to kill them right now. At least not in this chapter ;)
And unlike the first story, which was just friendship, this one is a romance and more of a relationship story than an event one. Though Hotch is still married right now, you'll see that's not going to last much longer.
This opens just over a month after we left them. I felt it was a good meaty gap to show the evolution of what's happened in these relationships. And I was going to do this chapter as one huge one, with three segments. Haley, Emily, and then Hotch. But then I realized, they each have a view point here that is very different theme'wise than the others. So I decided to switch it up.
This first one is just Haley, setting the stage for where things are now from her perspective. And then chapter two will be H/P together.
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Author Prompt Set #24 (August 2012)
Author: Stewart O'Nan
Title Challenge: The Good Wife
"I was beginning to believe that a very few times in your life, if you were lucky, you might meet someone who was exactly right for you. Not because he was perfect, or because you were, but because your combined flaws were arranged in a way that allowed two separate beings to hinge together." ― Lisa Kleypas, Blue-Eyed Devil
"There's nothing heroic about what I do. It's dirty work." -Trollhunter
The Good Wife
"Aaron? Aaron? Aaron!? Did you HEAR me?"
Aaron's head snapped up from his barely touched plate of food . . . his eyes were blank as they shot across the dining room table to lock onto his wife's. Haley's fingers tightened around the fork in her hand.
And then his voice came back sounding flat, and slightly confused. Like he didn't know what he was doing there.
"What did you say?"
Attempting to ignore the growing ache in her stomach, Haley repeated her question for a fourth time.
"I said," she spoke slowly, trying to keep any tone out of her voice, "Are you done eating? If you don't like the chicken, I can make you something else."
Though she kept putting food in front of him every morning and every night, his appetite had been practically non-existent since he'd returned home. But he didn't seem to be losing any weight . . . which was a little odd given how little food he seemed to be consuming . . . so she wasn't 'nagging' him about it just yet. In actuality, she was trying not to nag him about anything.
She was letting everything slide.
All of it, all of the little domestic back and forth, it seemed so small and petty right now. Because the man sitting across from her, wasn't the same man that she had married. He wasn't even the same man that she had been contemplating leaving for the last two months.
This man was a stranger.
Case in point, rather than acknowledging his complete distraction with some focused effort now at actual 'engagement' in conversation, instead she just watched as he slowly shook his head. And then he responded in the same distant tone, "no, no thank you. The chicken was fine." Then he pushed back his chair while adding softly.
"I'm going for a drive."
That was all he said. Not "goodbye," or "see you later," or "back by ten." Just, "I'm going for a drive."
It was a phrase that she had heard probably thirty or forty times over the last few weeks.
Almost every other night after dinner, and often in the wee hours of the morning . . . I'm going for a drive.
But he never told her where he went.
So she sat there, her fingers clenching into the beige tablecloth as he walked out without another word. Then she heard him grab his keys from the dish in the front hall . . . open the door . . . and pull it shut.
He was gone.
She pushed her own half empty plate back, and put her head down on the table.
This was their life now . . . strangers passing. It was like living with a border . . . or a teenager. He was quiet and detached. And though her husband had never been "chatty," even in the early years, now he didn't talk about anything with her. Ever.
She had started to miss the fighting.
At least then they were communicating . . . badly, but still, it was something. An acknowledgment that their marriage was still made up of two people, and not just her alone trying to make it be something that it wasn't.
And she had admittedly thought about saying something to try to get a rise out of him. But she didn't have it in her to pick a fight with him. He had been through far too much trauma for her to play games just for her own selfish purposes.
It would be petty . . . and cruel.
So though their most recent method of communication . . . arguing . . . was now shut down, and the 'loving and affectionate' portion of their interchange had faded some months ago, she was trying . . . somewhat pathetically . . . to keep their marriage limping along anyway. She wasn't quite sure why . . . habit maybe. Or maybe she just felt like a complete bitch even considering leaving him in the state that he was. Again, it would be cruelty.
And also . . . people would judge her.
It wasn't a primary concern, but she couldn't deny that it wasn't one that had crossed her mind. Nobody wanted to be 'that' person.
The one that can't hack it when they got to the 'for worse' portion of the vows.
Not that that's what had happened, they had reached the 'for worse' portion the day Aaron started at that God forsaken unit. But outsiders didn't see things like that . . . the real complexities of a marriage. All they would see is the superficial, that he suffered a terrible trauma . . . and she cut and ran.
She would be the bitch . . . and he would be the victim.
And perhaps there would be a sliver of truth to that statement . . . or at least there would be if she left him right now . . . but truth was a subjective thing.
Everyone had their own.
And the truth . . . as Haley saw it . . . was that their marriage had been disintegrating for many years. Though she also knew that Aaron's truth . . . if he chose to open up again and discuss such things . . . would be that their problems didn't extend back that far. He'd probably just say that they'd been having problems since the holidays. That things hadn't gotten REALLY bad, until spring.
He would be wrong.
But regardless of the past . . . and whose truth was right . . . the present was at a standstill. Basically their entire relationship . . . such as it had become since his return . . . was now just her asking him a mindless series of questions. She would ask them over and over, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice, until he finally noticed that she was talking. And then he would turn to her with that blank expression . . . the thousand yard stare . . . and she could see it shift, see him for just a moment.
And then he would disappear.
His efforts to focus were limited to her presence in that exact moment in time. He would concentrate on her just long enough to process the words that she'd said, and to deliver the appropriate . . . or at least, 'on topic' . . . response.
Then he would drift off again.
And even if the depth of her feelings for him weren't what they once were . . . back in the early days when he was her everything, and all they had was the future . . . his behavior, his distance, was still a REPEATED kick in the gut.
Not that she felt that he was trying to hurt her, or even that he was really even aware that he WAS hurting her. Neither of those points were the issue at hand. The real problem . . . the essence of why she cried herself to sleep . . . was because he just didn't seem to care either way. He had just wandered off and left her.
And with every day that passed, it seemed less likely that he was coming back.
But still, she kept trying to reach him. With every question she asked, she would pray for SOME level of engagement. Some acknowledgement that he wanted to at least try, if not to make things like they were before . . . that ship had long sailed . . . but to at least regain SOME intimacy to their relationship.
But it never happened.
It had been four weeks and three days since his abduction . . . and he still hadn't come home. Not really. Most of him was still off somewhere else.
And he was hurting, and he was in pain, and she didn't know how to help him. But even worse than that . . . she knew that he didn't even want her to try.
He just wanted her to leave him alone.
But she couldn't do that. And that was because of Jack. Because she could see that with Jack at least, Aaron had been trying to reconnect. And that's why it was so obvious that he was not making the same effort for her. Because his behavior with their son demonstrated that he WAS capable of remembering his place in the family. Or at least that he HAD a family.
Or at least a son, if not a wife.
Not that he'd really gotten back to even his 'daddy' role yet. But again, he was trying. He was trying so hard.
So hard that it broke her heart.
He still hadn't been cleared for active duty, so he'd had almost four full weeks to work on becoming daddy again. And the first few days that he was back home, she would see him sitting down on the living room floor with Jack. Him still covered in bruises, and wounds that hadn't healed. His hands shaking as he helped their son stack up his blocks, and then the pain on his face when that sweet little boy would laugh and clap his hands as they fell to the ground.
And Aaron would try so hard to smile at his antics . . . to be happy in the joy on their son's face . . . but she'd see that the smile came with a price tag.
His eyes would start to water.
And that's when Haley's would too. And that was always the time when she stepped in, clapping her hands loudly about lunch or snacks, or just taking a walk. Anything to distract her family before the breakdown hit.
After a few days of that terrible, painful, awkwardness . . . Aaron stopped trying to play with their son. He stopped trying to be 'silly daddy' anymore.
Silly daddy had gone away.
But it was clear that Aaron . . . though he seemed to have given up on their marriage, at least from her perspective . . . was not going to give up on their son. So by the end of that first week, he'd regrouped. He found a new approach to 'quality time.'
One that seemed to be working for him so far.
He would go to Jack when he was sleeping. Every night, hours after she put their son to bed, Aaron would go to the nursery. And he would sit there in the glider holding Jack as he slept. He never said anything . . . or at least she never heard him say anything when she listened at the door . . . he just sat there stroking Jack's hair and rubbing his back.
Sometimes he would start crying.
But he was getting better about that. The last two weeks when she'd watched them discretely through the crack in the door, her husband had seemed, not happy, but . . . at peace. So his connection with his child . . . though perhaps not quite what it once was when they could play blocks on the floor, and laugh together at cartoons . . . at least EXISTED.
It was more than she could say for his connection with her.
Since he'd come back from Louisiana . . . and this was again, coming up on five weeks now . . . he'd barely spoken to her, let alone touched her. And there was no 'midnight sleep cuddling' like he was doing with Jack.
She definitely would have known if there had been.
But it was kind of hard to cuddle with someone that had somehow managed to put a three foot gap between them, when the mattress was only five feet wide. And when he came to bed . . . which was always well after she did, clearly hoping that she'd already be asleep . . . he would roll over to the very edge of the mattress. His back would be to her.
It was obvious that he was trying to avoid ANY sort of physical contact.
And then when he left the house in the mornings for therapy or whatever . . . most of his schedule was a mystery to her . . . after he had his coffee, and ignored the toast and eggs, he would give her a perfunctory kiss goodbye before he left for half the day.
But these weren't like his old kisses goodbye . . . these were just on the cheek.
Before he'd always kissed her on the lips.
And of course there was never a kiss hello . . . not one since he'd been home. And she had known that that meant something. It had taken her a little while to work it out though . . . perhaps Aaron and all of his psych classes would have figured it out a bit faster . . . but all she had to draw on were her own instincts. And after a while she'd deduced, that the reason that he never kissed her hello, was because he was never happy to see her. And the afternoon that realization came to her, she locked herself in the bathroom.
Then she cried for an hour.
Because even when they were fighting, the 'kiss hello' had been maintained. But perhaps that was partly habit more than anything. After all they'd been doing the same routine for nearly twenty years, he walked in the door, he pressed his lips to hers . . . she pressed her lips to his.
They kissed hello.
That was just being married. But now that routine was broken.
And he was showing no interest in resurrecting it.
Not that she was sure that she wanted him to, but she just wanted to not be ignored. To not be an afterthought.
Or worse . . . no thought at all.
And in bed, as she lay there staring up at the ceiling, remembering their life before . . . back when she was happy and her husband adored her . . . sometimes she'd notice that Aaron's shoulders had begun to shake.
He was crying.
And she would feel her heart twist, and she'd reach for him . . . try to comfort him as a good wife should . . . but he'd bolt from the bed.
Before she could blink the tears from her eyes, he'd have disappeared into the bathroom. And when he came out he'd start pulling on his sweats and sneakers and murmur that he was "going for a drive." Then he'd take his gun from the safe . . . and walk out the door.
He wouldn't return until after dawn.
So needless to say, with that now being a 'normal' night for them, their sex life was pretty much non-existent. Six days after he got him, they tried to make love. That was the only night that he had kissed her, really kissed her, since before he'd gone away.
But the kissing started off somewhat desperate, sort of like he was, 'sharing his intentions.' But he just couldn't put his desires into words.
Or perhaps he just didn't want to.
Either way though, she had missed him, and not just emotionally . . . but physically too. By that point they hadn't made love in almost three weeks. So she closed her eyes and tried to pretend. She tried to pretend like things were back when he adored her.
But they weren't.
Even his kisses were wrong. As things moved along, they become gentler, less desperate, but there was no real affection . . . they felt perfunctory.
Like that was just a step in the process.
And even when they had reached the point where she was LITERALLY joined together with the man that she still called her husband, she felt absolutely no emotional connection with him. Her eyes had begun to burn as she realized that it was like he was just doing it because he felt as though he had to. Like it was on a chore list that he'd just found.
Take out the trash. Check.
Pick up the socks. Check.
Screw the wife. Check.
And she knew what a hard time he was having, how much he was hurting, so she tried so hard not to take it personally . . . but she did. Because she just couldn't imagine a more PERSONAL act, than the one that he clearly had no interest in engaging in, with her.
Still though they had continued on.
Though as she thought back, she remembered that even the earlier foreplay wasn't his usual. Usually he lingered from place to place, his hands and mouth going everywhere. And though she knew that was the alpha in him marking his territory, she'd always found it incredibly hot. Even after they'd begun fighting, on their better days, when they did make love, he still put the same zealousness into every coupling. Aaron had always been an excellent lover.
And she was going to miss that.
Hell . . . she bit her lip . . . she already did.
Because that night that they had tried to have 'relations' as couples do, his attention to the usual details was lacking. It was basically just a little here . . . a little there, and then him checking to make sure that she was ready for him to enter. That's when she had realized that sex was something on the chore sheet. When he'd assessed her nether regions like he would a bathtub full of water.
Just poking in his finger to see if it was ready.
It was humiliating.
That was the point where she'd accepted that there would be no great emotional reunion from the act. But still, humiliating or not, she hadn't wanted to stop. Some part of her still thought that maybe it would get better, that if they continued on, that maybe he would remember that the act was supposed to mean something more. And if nothing else, as she pushed down her sadness, and her grief, she told herself that she could just enjoy the pleasure of the process.
It had been too many weeks since pleasure had been a solo activity.
But then she screwed up.
When she'd felt that exquisite pressure beginning to build, she'd started to forget the life that she was now leading. That this wasn't making love with her husband . . . she was just having sex with the man who shared her name. And as she began to let herself go, she'd pulled him close and told him how much she missed him . . . and then she kissed one of the bright red scars on his chest.
One of the new ones.
And that was the end of that.
He'd immediately stopped moving, his entire body completely frozen, hovering on top of her. And though she tried to apologize . . . she really should have known better . . . he didn't even acknowledge that she'd spoken. After a few seconds of him taking slow breaths, he began moving once more. And though they did finish to climax . . . he didn't kiss her again.
He didn't even look at her again.
His jaw was tight and his eyes were somewhere over her shoulder . . . the act had ceased being anything even REMOTELY intimate. At that point it wasn't even just sex, it was simply completion of a biological imperative.
They'd simply gone too far to stop . . . they were now just completing 'a fuck.'
And eight strokes later . . . she was counting even as her orgasm built, and the tears pooled in her eyes . . . he came silently.
So did she.
They were still for a moment, breaths panting, joined together as they had been a thousand times before.
And then he rolled off her.
He was pulling on his clothes before she even processed what was happening. And as she clutched the sheet to her chest and began to sob, "Aaron, please," he was unlocking his gun and grabbing his sneakers.
And then he was gone.
He didn't come home until eight am.
They never spoke of what happened . . . and they hadn't made love again. Sometimes she wondered if they ever would. She wanted to, just one last time before it was all over. But she wanted it to be one last time like it used to be. And that was probably a foolish wish. Because making love to Aaron had only been as amazing as it was, because they loved each other . . . and they were happy.
And they weren't happy anymore.
She wasn't even sure if they loved each other anymore. Not like that anyway. At least it wasn't that way for her . . . and she very much doubted it was for him.
And that was because, though she never asked him where he went when he disappeared in the night, or where he had been spending his days between breakfast and whenever he came home . . . she had a theory. A theory that had formed after she'd begun to find lipstick on his shirts.
And once on his pants.
And though she didn't really believe that he'd actually begun an affair . . . at least not a sexual one, Aaron wasn't the type to go looking for another warm bed . . . still, she knew in her bones. She was being replaced.
That was the only person it could be. It was the only person he spoke to now, who could illicit ANY genuine emotional response from him. And that's how Haley would know it was her on the phone.
A phone that would ring at all hours.
As soon as he picked up, Aaron's tone would immediately soften and become more intimate. And as he started off to his den to shut the door behind him, Haley would feel a pain in her breast as she watched him walk away, remembering that he once spoke to her that way too.
Now he barely spoke to her at all.
And though part of her thought that there should be some bitterness or resentment over what was happening to her marriage . . . that she should at least hate this woman for coming between them . . . there was nothing like that. Though she felt pain and regret . . . and yes, jealousy too . . . it wasn't really Emily that was coming between them. She was just the last act in this play. The splintering of their relationship had begun years ago.
It was his job. That terrible job.
And his devotion to it.
The abduction . . . and the resulting bond that Haley knew Aaron now shared with Emily . . . it was almost incidental. If anything that horrible act had prolonged their marriage, rather than being the impetus to destroy it.
Again, she just couldn't leave him the way he was.
She just pictured him sitting in the living room, alone in the dark, staring off into space. And every time that image came to her, she would push down her own unhappiness, and her own despair, and she would tell herself once more.
It's not time.
You need to stay a little longer.
Of course Aaron never told her why he stared into the dark. What it was he was seeing, or what it was that had happened up on that mountain. In the hospital he had shared . . . when she pushed . . . only the very basic of facts about that terrible day.
A wrong turn, a down tree, a capture . . . and an escape.
But even then, she'd known that was the Disney version. The REAL version, or at least much larger chunks of it, she learned from the news coverage. The excavation of those tunnels, those piles of tortured and mutilated bodies . . . those poor butchered people that they'd brought out alive. It had been the top story for the entire week that she was home alone with Jack. And she watched all of it. Every segment she could find.
And she cried.
She cried for those people, and she cried for her husband . . . and she cried for Emily. Not just for the physical and emotional trauma that they had suffered on that trip, but because her husband and that nice woman she'd once laughed with in a bar, they had CHOSEN to live in that world. That terrible world of death and torture and brutality, it was their life . . . and she would never understand why. But some small part of her was starting to see a way out of her own misery. That it was likely . . . given his behavior so far . . . that Aaron would continue to gravitate towards Emily. Perhaps someday he might even fall in love with her . . . or maybe not. Maybe they would only ever be friends. Or whatever they were now.
Haley didn't much care either way about the nature of their relationship. Truly. All she cared about was Aaron finding someone else to sit with him in the dark.
And then she could go.
And she could go with a clean conscience.
It would still hurt, and she would still be jealous of this woman that was already taking her place . . . and maybe she'd even be angry too. Angry that even in their best days, that Aaron had never trusted her with his secrets.
Or his tears.
But she told herself that all of that would be preferable to the world that she lived in now. One where she was miserable and alone . . . even with her husband lying right beside her.
And as Haley took a breath and lifted her head from the table, she knew that eventually things were going to change. Whether she made the choice, or she let Aaron do it . . . their marriage was going to end.
It was simply a matter of time.
A/N 2: I really liked being able to put in a whole chapter on Haley. Probably the only one she'll get here all her own. But I thought she was the perfect person to convey events to this point. Objectively seeing Hotch's behavior. And to show how terrible their home life has become. Because as she'd said, Hotch probably wouldn't even see it that way. Not how it really is. He's just isolated his worlds, and is dealing with his own shit the best he can. He's not seeing how he's hurting her. And I never hated Haley. I've said this in Girl proper, she got the raw end from the writers. And that was the writer's strike that year they broke up so I'm sure that was part of it. Her leaving 'out of the blue' wasn't so out of the blue. But that season they stopped focusing on their home life as a key element of the show, so Haley didn't get any sympathy from anyone. It was just like 'she's being a bitch busting his chops and then she walks out.' But she wasn't a bad person. She never kept Jack from him even in canon, so here I thought would be a place to let her 'better character' shine through. And obviously somebody like Hotch wouldn't have fallen (and stayed) in love with this woman if she didn't have something going for her besides a pretty face. So here she's the dutiful wife, trying to hold together something that she no longer wants, that's killing her as it completely implodes around her. And she's doing it for him, because she still cares and doesn't want to leave him until she's sure that he'll be all right.
Also with this turn of events, I just really enjoyed digging into the raw pain of intimacy becoming a chore, and then his fucked up psyche, pushing it even lower than that. It's a relationship disintegration I would never write for Hotch and Emily (or I can't envision a storyline for them that it would be) but seemed very 'real' to the situation.
Lastly, I had the damndest time trying to settle on a title here. Because this will be a long story, with different arcs to it, and I needed something that would bridge all of that out of that terrible ugliness we just left in the other story. But then once I thought of this one 'emerald cities & yellow brick roads' because it evoked everything I'm trying to do. Get back home again, get to the shining city, and all of the work it's going to take to get there. So just in case you thought it was a little esoteric, it does have a purpose :)
I am also done with the next chapter, all H/P, but I am TRYING to focus on getting a couple other things updated first. So I'll probably hold that one until next weekend. Or at least later in the week. We'll see how the muse feels about switching gears.
Thank you everyone for all the reviews on Reason, and for anyone following along with them here now :)