OKAY! For those of you following Chris' Tale, you guys kind of knew this was coming. I've been having problems with Chris' thing so I've vaguely moved on. And by that I mean I've been picking away at this one for a while, just in bits and pieces. I think it'll have 15 or 16 chapters when it's done, but I'm not totally sure.

So, fans of this series know how this works. This is AJ's. I've been picking away at it. It's in the same writing style as the Recovery series, so we're looking at short chapters that only cover bits and pieces. It's 2 weeks out of time.

Like this, for example. This is AJ's Tale. Refresher course: Anna-Joy Hotchner, born in 2013, is the oldest biological child of Emily Prentiss & Aaron Hotchner. The last two characters you should be intimately familiar with. Or mostly. And probably the first one too, 'cause AJ's been around a lot. I shouldn't have favourites, but I'm pretty sure she's mine. For the record:

Hotchners: Em married Hotch. A million years ago in this universe. Considering this isn't a Hotchner family story, I'm going to kind of leave it at that in terms of what the family's gone through. They have 3 kids and Jack. In chronological order: Jack, AJ, Kate, Seth.

Reids: JJ and, well Reid. Spencer. Three kids, in chronological order, Calleigh, Nate, Eric. Same as above holds true. The family stuff is irrelevant to you at this point because it's not a story that's going to be heavily Reid involved.

Garcia-Morgans: Penelope and Derek. Two kids, Gabi (who married Jack after essentially being in love with him her whole life) and then this guy, Chris. This is a Garcia-Morgan story, but I'm going to leave the rest up to you guys to piece together. That's half the fun, to see if I can make sense of everyone without you guys getting too confused.

Otherwise, check the profile page. All of the stories in the series are listed in chronological order with links so you don't have to go searching through to find them. For the record, and fair warning if you've never read them before, there are errors, but this series is REALLY long and I'm not going back to fix them right now. I know they're there, I promise!

. . . . .

Chapter 1 – Monday (Part I)

"Mom… Mom, I don't think I can do this anymore."

A handful of words from her eldest daughter and Emily's radar's on full alert. When AJ had called in a panic half an hour ago – tears and all – Emily had assumed the emotional upheaval was just AJ's way of handling overwhelming emotion. Her daughter internalizes, she always has, and then she explodes. So Emily had figured that it wouldn't take more than forty-five minutes to calm her down, reassure her and send her on her way. An hour, tops, if things were getting really out of hand.

But this?

Never in a million years would she have expected this.

Because the tremor in AJ's voice is one of defeat. She's been pushed to her limit and though the whole family has known she's been breaking for a while, the absolute desolation in her daughter's tone makes her think that maybe they should have been watching more carefully.

"Honey," Emily says, careful and aware there are delicate eggshells here. "Where's Vaughan."

"At work."

Shocker. The poor boy's working too much. She of all people understands family pressure, but sometimes the Cliffs are just ridiculous. Well, most of them. Emily does genuinely like Vaughan's mother, Tenley. But the woman would never stand up to her husband. So while Vaughan is off playing dutiful son – a role everyone in the BAU family knows he hates – AJ's left at home to play mom and domestic goddess. Emily knows she's behind on her classes because two infants are difficult to handle. She had a hard time with AJ when she was first born, but to have two?

"Have you called him?"

"Mom, there's no point. He can't come home."

Won't, but Emily's not going to say that. The idea that AJ doesn't blame Vaughan, that she doesn't resent him or hate him for how much he is working is also a point. Her daughter's always been very good at putting blame where it should be rather than the easy place.

"Mom." AJ's voice breaks, shatters really. A sob floats over the line.

Emily knows what this is. She knows this is The Breakdown, the one they've almost been anticipating for weeks, though hoped against. She heads out of the bedroom and into the office where Aaron's pouring over some report. Or maybe a paper. God, she stopped paying attention, but that's irrelevant.

"We're in the car, Honey," she says, glad when Aaron just stands. There are questions in his eyes, but he doesn't ask any of them, just ushers her down the stairs. She's never been happier for the mild April weather as she slips on flats. They don't need coats, so they rush to the car, Aaron taking the time to lock up behind them.

"Annie, we're getting in the car right now. We'll be there in twenty minutes. Do you hear me?"

"In the car. Twenty minutes." It's a code they developed when Jack started heading out at all hours, a way to ensure that they're not only heard but understood, especially when the elder children were in charge of the younger ones for a night. None of their children ever complained, but it was the best way to ensure things penetrated and stuck.

She knows Aaron's panicking beside her as he starts the car, but his face is blank. Her voice is that steely calm he hates because he knows the other emotions underneath. Almost thirty years of marriage and he knows what goes on in her head. He glances over at her when she hangs up.

"AJ's," she tells him softly. "This is it, Aaron."

Ah. The panic attack. The breakdown. She sees the realization speed across his face. He knows what's going on, what they're going to face. And he hates it as much as she does.

Emily's already got her key out when they pull into the driveway of their daughter's Georgetown home. It looks as well kept as ever, and even the first floor looks okay. She climbs the stairs, two at a time, Aaron right behind her. He stops at the boys' room, checks inside and smiles when one of them squeals at Grandpa. She nods. He'll watch the boys. She's got AJ.

She finds her daughter curled in a ball on the bed, looking at the tree that blows just outside her window. Emily doesn't hesitate to climb up with her daughter. AJ flips over immediately and curls in, like she'd done when she was a child.

"Mom…"

The sobs come in earnest then, and Emily runs a hand through her hair to quiet her, sooth her. When she's done, Emily slides her fingers under AJ's chin.

"We're going to the cabin," she says, in the tone of voice that commands rather than cajoles. "We're going for a week, maybe two. But we're going AJ. You can't keep doing this."

AJ shakes her head. "I can't-"

"Vaughan will take care of the boys. Kate's on March Break. Gabi and Jack'll pitch in and your father and I can be here most days to look after them. If we can't, we have a whole family to choose from, Annie." She cups her daughter's face. "Sweetheart, you're breaking."

Shattering.

The sobs come again. "It wasn't supposed to be like this," AJ manages between body-shaking sobs. "We were supposed to be happy."

"It's not always that easy," Emily says. She's always raised her children on the premise that nothing is perfect. No one is perfect. Happiness is up to each individual and no one else. Relationships take work, sometimes hard work. Emily knows AJ is aware of all this.

"We're supposed to be getting married Mom. Married. We have a family. This is beyond 'not easy'. This is brutal." There's a hiccup. "I love him, Mom, so much but-"

Emily shushes her daughter gently. "We're on our way, sweetheart. We're on our way."


I have some continuity issues with this later, I think, so I'm still smoothing out some things, but here's 1! Let me know what you think, yeah?