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Stuck in the Mud

Chapter Text

Nutella, the chocolate labrador retriever, barked unexpectedly, startling Thomas and Anna. The dog sped across the floor, her nails clicking on the hardwood, and stood at attention at the cabin door.

“What is it, Ella?” A skinny blond boy asked, getting up from the comfortable plaid couch.

Another sharp bark brought his mother out of the kitchen. Her dark eyes narrowed as she took in the dog’s stance, “It’s probably another car stuck in the mud, Thomas. Go ahead and put on your rain gear.”

Anna pulled on her tall rubber boots and grabbed their emergency kit. Helping her son secure his raincoat, she donned hers, pulling the hood up to cover her long dark hair.

Opening the door, the previously muffled sound of the rainstorm roared in their ears. The dog trotted ahead, looking back to make sure they were following her. They followed Nutella for several yards, their boots squishing and sliding on the muddy forest floor, slowing down their momentum. The dog would circle back around them and issuing a sharp bark to keep them moving.

Noting they were heading towards the roadway, Anna sped up a bit with the assumption that someone was out there, spinning their wheels. As they came across the road, they could see where the flash flood had washed it away, leaving a jagged muddy cliff.

Thomas made it to the top of the road, hollering about a car, as the dog ran forward and down the side of the hill barking excitedly.

Finally arriving at the top, Anna saw a severely damaged car, overturned, and two men. One was unconscious, lying on the ground, and the other was staring at Ella as she danced around him in excitement. He raised his hand to wave to her and Thomas. Wiping the water from her face, Anna waved back. Rushing down the hill, Thomas ended up sliding on his bottom half way down.

Assessing the situation, she could see the standing man was injured, his right arm drawn up to his chest. The second man had a few cuts on his face but remained unconscious.

“I’m Spencer Reid. I can't get any signal on my cell phone. Do you have a way of contacting emergency services?

“Back at the cabin,” Thomas told him as Anna nodded in agreement.

The mother and child sprung into action, opening their emergency backpacks for supplies before they rummaged through the car trunk. Finally, finding what she needed to help the strangers, Anna started to roll the second man on to a large plastic tarp, then binding his legs with rope.

Confused at Anna’s actions, Spencer finally figured out that she found a way to get his partner to the cabin and out of the rain since they couldn’t carry him in the rough terrain. He helped bind the tarp around “Hotch” and secure it so he couldn’t roll out.

Spencer, wearing a sweater vest over a dress shirt and dress pants, was soaked through. He sloshed back to the car to grab duffel bags with his good arm.

“Thomas, can you carry the bags?” Anna asked her son, then turned to Spencer, “Can you help pull the rope?”

Nutella and Thomas trudged up the hill to the road leading to the cabin, as Anna and Spencer dragged the unconscious man behind them. Holding up one end of the tarp allowed them to keep the man’s upper body and head from touching the ground while his lower body was dragged over rocks, sticks, and underbrush. The trek back was slow as they tried to find the smoothest path.

~~CM~~

As they approached a traditional log cabin, Spencer’s head was swimming. He still could not believe the situation they were in. First, the car went flying off the road before flipping over as they hurtled downward. Now, a strange woman was helping him drag his unconscious boss into a cabin in the woods.

The little boy, Thomas was his name, ran ahead with the dog and opened the front door. He dropped the bags, disappeared in the house.

“Do you think you can carry his legs?” The woman asked Spencer as they approached the porch steps.

“Yes.”

They laid Hotch on the ground slowly, then she bent down and scooped him under the arms as Spencer lifted Hotch’s legs, groaning as the searing pain shot down his shoulder and into his arm. Counting three steps up, they placed him back on the ground so they could drag him into the cabin.

Once inside, the woman sprung into action. She stripped her boots and rain gear off, as her son approached with a first aid kit. “Grab extra blankets,” she said quietly as she accepted the white plastic box with a red plus sign on the lid, “then change into dry clothes.”

She pulled on the tarp until Hotch was situated in front of the fire, before dropping to her knees to unwrap him. Working methodically, she stripped him of his shoes and soggy socks. As she moved towards his clothing, Spencer bent down to remove Hotch's gun and backup piece. Noting the woman’s shock, he assured her, “It’s okay. We are FBI agents.”

Nodding briskly, she resumed undressing Hotch, leaving his unit chief in his underwear. The boy re-appeared with a light blanket and a heavy down comforter, and together they covered Hotch up.

“Do you have clothes?” She asked Spencer then ordered him away when he nodded, “get out of those wet clothes.”

Spencer picked up his go bag from the entryway and looked around. Thomas pointed him to a closed door, the bathroom. He dropped Hotch’s weapons in his bag, stowed his gun as well. Undressing quickly, he tried not to jostle his sprained arm. Dropping his clothes on the floor, he pulled his dry pants and tried to button his shirt one-handed. He debated shoving his wet clothes into his bag before noticing a clothesline above the bathtub. Struggling with just one arm, he draped his soaking outfit on the line sloppily.

Returning to the living room, he could see the woman murmuring as she dabbed Hotch's cuts with antiseptic as the boy chatted happily on a CB Radio.

“Ranger Sam wants to talk with you,” Thomas said holding out the wired microphone then ducking under the curling cord to join his mother.

Depressing the button on the side, Spencer spoke clearly, “This is SSA Reid with the FBI, I am requesting medical assistance for SSA Hotchner. He is unconscious, suffering from a head injury. We were in a car accident off of County Road 85. Do you need exact coordinates for our location?”

The ranger’s brisk voice came through, “What is the condition of Hotchner? Over.”

“Based on a cursory exam, a concussion. Over.”

“Pretty boy, are you okay?”

Sighing in relief at the sound of Morgan’s voice, Spencer answered, “Banged up a bit but Hotch is still out. Can you send an ambulance?”

“Negative,” the ranger’s voice was back, “Flash floods have taken out the main roads. We can try to get a chopper in the air when the storm breaks. Over.”

Hearing a groan from behind him, Spencer turned to see Hotch waking up, raising his hand towards his head. He dropped the mic and ran to Hotch’s side. The woman backed away, giving him room.

Hotch opened his eyes briefly, groaning again.

“Hotch, it’s okay. It’s me, Reid,” he patted him on the shoulder, “we were in a car accident but we are safe now.”

Reopening his eyes, Hotch tried to sit up, slurring, “I’m fine.”

“Hold on, hold on,” Spencer moved his hand to Hotch’s chest, pushing slightly, “Lay back.”

Morgan’s voice came through the CB and Thomas picked up the dangling mic, “This is Thomas. The man is waking up. Over.”

Spencer mumbled an apology as he lifted up Hotch's eyelids to look at his pupils, “how do you feel?”

“Dizzy,” Hotch's voice was shaky, “gonna vomit.”

The woman appeared at his side with a small lined trash can, “Help me roll him into a better position.”

Together, they pulled Hotch up and slid him until his back was braced against the couch. Spencer stepped back as his boss began to wretch into the trash can.

“Gross, he is puking. Over.” Thomas cheerfully announced over the radio.

Reaching for a box of tissues from the side table, the woman kept her tone soft as she wiped Hotch’s mouth and chin, “You’re okay. “

“Thomas, can you get Hotch a glass of water while I speak with Agent Morgan?” Spencer took the microphone, “Morgan, he has a nice goose egg on side of his head and classic symptoms of a concussion.”

“Okay, Pretty Boy. We will get to you as soon as storm breaks. Rangers have your location.”

From across the room, Hotch pushed the woman’s hand away, whispering, “the case,” then clearing his throat and his voice came out stronger, “the case?”

“Morgan, I think Hotch will be fine,” Spencer chuckled, “He wants to know the status of the case.”

“Unsub was at work; Rossi and the locals arrested him twenty minutes ago.”

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Pain, throbbing pain. Aaron lay absolutely still in hopes the pain would... not intensify. Great, he couldn’t form a complete thought. He was disoriented and his head hurt. In fact, his whole body hurt, from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet.

He remembered driving in the pouring rain with Spencer towards the unsub’s home when the road disappeared from beneath their car. He could remember the car pitching end over end before free falling. Falling for what seemed like for hours. Then nothing, he didn’t remember the impact or how he had gotten here.

Here, he questioned himself. They never made it to the unsub’s house so where was he?

Opening his eyes, he blinked to see through the fuzziness before he shut them again. Memories flashed through his head, Spencer assuring him that the unsub had been arrested, Morgan’s voice through a radio, and a woman handling him, her long wet hair dripping on him.

He opened his eyes again as a wave of dizziness caused his stomach to roll.

The dark-haired woman leaned into his line of sight, her features coming into focus. She held up a cup. He sipped at the cool water as she pressed the glass to his mouth. Tramping down the sensation to vomit, he tried to get his bearings. The woman’s sharp eyes caught him and she held up the trash can.

Aaron shook his head at her only to find himself clutching his head as his blinding pain coursed through. Throbbing, his brain seemed to want to escape from his skull. Her cold hands covered his then gently maneuvered him until he was lying on his side again. She brought the trash can close to his face and he vomited. She wiped his face with a wet cloth as he closed his eyes in embarrassment.

After several minutes of trying to get his stomach to settle with sheer will, he opened his eyes. He glanced around the room but he couldn’t see much from the floor. Watching the flames dance in the fireplace made his eyes hurt. He closed his eyes for just a moment, allowing them a reprieve from the brightness.

When he re-opened his eyes, he realized he must have slept for some time as his surroundings seemed different. No longer on the wood floor, he was on a couch, the scratchy material irritating his bare skin. Realizing he wasn’t wearing a shirt, Aaron’s hands moved down under the heavy blankets, sighing in relief when he realized his boxer briefs were on.

The click-clacking of fingers on a keyboard, papers rustling, and quiet breathing were the only sounds inside. Outside, the storm raged on, thumping rain on the roof and windows of the cabin. Glancing around, he noted the simple decorations; this was a comfortable home with sturdy mountain style log furniture.

The source of the breathing popped it’s head up. A beautiful chocolate lab sniffed him before standing up to place its head on his chest. Aaron pulled his arm free of the blanket to pet the dog’s head. He was rewarded with a quick lick to his hand.

“Mom, Nutella woke him up!” A child’s voice called out urgently, “Nutella, come. Come here.”

Aaron slowly scooted up on the couch, his head still throbbing, until he was sitting up. He noted a young boy of seven or eight, with blond curls, staring at him. Spencer appeared on the stairs, the woman following him close behind. They converged on him as he pulled the blanket higher, covering the scars on his chest.

“Hotch, this is Anna Laine and her son, Thomas. They rescued us,” Spencer introduced them, “This is SSA Aaron Hotchner.”

Anna, Thomas, he tried to commit their names to memory. Aaron closed his eyes, rubbing them with his hands. His concussion was definitely causing confusion.

“Thank you for your assistance, Anna and Thomas,” he said as the dog approached him again.

Thomas joined the dog, both sitting on the floor in front of the couch facing him, “this is Nutella. She is the one you should thank. She barked and told us you needed help.”

Dropping his hand to the dog’s head, Aaron patted her, “Thank you, Nutella.” He caught the eye of Anna, catching a fleeting smile. Suddenly, he remembered throwing up as this beautiful woman held him. His cheeks flamed red and he turned his attention to Thomas and his dog.

When he looked up again, Spencer was holding a t-shirt out for him. Aaron accepted it, pulling his arms through first and pulling it over his head.

“Thomas, come help me get Agent Hotchner some broth and medicine.”

“Call me Aaron, please,” he said to their retreating backs.

This time Spencer was holding his pants. Aaron threw the blankets to the side and lifted his legs, slipping into his pants. Half standing, he zipped and buttoned them. Sitting back down, he felt exhausted, as if he had run a marathon.

“Reid, how long was I asleep?” He muttered as he tried to stop his body from sweating with the exertion of putting his clothes on.

“Five hours,” Spencer sat down in the armchair, turning his body to face Aaron. He had moved stiffly, seemingly favoring his left side.

“Are you hurt?” Aaron asked the younger man in his agent in charge voice.

“I sprained my arm and my shoulder is sore,” Spencer flapped his left hand as if to wave off his injuries. “The storm caused flash floods, taking out several roads. We are stranded here until they can get a helicopter in the air.”

“I’m fine now, emergency evac isn’t necessary.” Aaron said, “The case?”

“Rogers is the unsub. They found trophies at his workplace. When the roads reopen, locals will search his house but Rossi got him to confess an hour ago. Morgan says it’s a slam dunk.” Spencer shifted in his seat, trying his hardest not to talk with his hands, “I’ll go call them on the radio and tell them to hold off on the rescue.”

Nodding, Aaron made a request, “can you have the team call Jack? Tell him we are stuck out here but I’m okay.”

“No problem, Hotch.”

Anna returned, a steaming mug in her hand, “a little chicken broth until we are sure your stomach can handle food.”

“Sorry about that,” he started to apologize about vomiting but she held up her hand to stop him.

“You were pretty bad off. I think you’ll be fine now,” she placed a bottle of ibuprofen on the coffee table. Thomas joined them with a plate of saltine crackers.

Aaron took the mug and sipped slowly. His stomach was settled within a few minutes. Anna and Aaron sat quietly, the fire crackling, as Spencer and Thomas chatted on the CB radio. The boy seemed to be friends with the various park rangers and was quickly getting to know Morgan.

Anna ushered Spencer into the kitchen to make him a bowl of soup. Aaron accepted crackers from Thomas. The boy handed him a cracker and then split one for himself and the dog. They repeated this until his mother entered the room; the boy’s face a perfect expression of innocence.

“No people food for Ella,” Anna admonished her son, fighting the smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She busied herself handing out pills to Spencer and Aaron, “This will help.”

~~CM~~

He’s so handsome, Anna thought as she watched Aaron dry swallow the pills and accept the glass of water, sipping slowly.

Aaron Hotchner had hair as dark hers and piercing brown eyes beneath brooding eyebrows. A strong jawline and high cheekbones, she sighed. His lips, God, his lips were just begging to be kissed. The cuts across his face didn’t detract from his good looks, in fact, it made him look a little badass. Anna recalled his scarred chest, he was a badass if he had survived whatever gave him those wounds.

He was fading fast though, having used up all his energy on dressing and sitting up. Anna couldn’t help but smile indulgently at him.

“All right, there, Aaron,” she took the glass from his hand, placing it on the table behind her. Anna cradled his head, one hand on the right side to avoid the huge bump and placed her other hand on his shoulder. He allowed her to lay him down and he was asleep before she could pull the blankets up over him.

Glancing over, she saw that Spencer still had his pills in hand, distracted by the scene before him. This FBI agent was good looking too but where Aaron Hotchner had classic good looks, this young man was beautiful. He could have been a model with his facial structure and long lean build. Her own experience with the FBI had made her expect all agents to be older white men on the doughy side. Shaking her head to dismiss her errant thoughts, she told Spencer to take his medicine and Thomas to eat his dinner.

After dinner, they retired to the loft upstairs. It was lined with bookcases and comfy seating including a bean bag chair and a rocking chair. As the night dragged on, Anna asked Thomas to grab his belongings and join her in her bedroom. “Spencer, you can sleep in Thomas’s room. I’ll keep an eye on Mr. Hotchner tonight.”

Anna went through the house, locking things down, turning off the power off all the appliances except for the furnace and fridge. She used the bathroom after everyone was asleep, then turned on a few LED flameless candles in case anyone needed to move through the house in the dark. After one last check on the sleeping man, she retired to her room, snuggling up with Thomas.

She got up every two hours to check on Aaron. During her second check, he was sitting up petting Ella again. “Do you need some water? More medicine for your headache?”

“Ah, no,” his voice hesitant, “I need to use the restroom.”

“No problem. I will help you to the door and then back to the couch. Dizziness is common with head injuries.”

Anna helped him into a standing position then waited to be sure he wouldn’t fall over. She was sure he did not want her help but he was too polite to object as she slipped her arm around his waist.

Aaron allowed her to help him back to the couch so she could ply him with pills and water. She thought he was doing better already, given the dazed look in his eye had been replaced with a focused gaze.

“Real food in the morning, okay?” She promised as she tucked him in again.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Aaron woke to the dog breathing on him, nudging his arm for attention. His head still throbbed but not as bad as the day before. He made the walk to the bathroom without staggering or dizziness therefore not requiring assistance from the beautiful woman, Anna.

He wondered about her. She was single and raising a child alone in a remote cabin. But her child seemed well adjusted and quite social. Hearing the floor creak, Aaron hustled to make it back to the couch before she emerged from her bedroom.

“Morning, how are you feeling?” Anna asked him as she let the dog out the back door.

“Fine,” he answered, then noting her skeptical look, he added, “My head is hurting a little less. No dizziness or nausea.”

“Good,” she tucked her long dark hair behind her ears, “come entertain me while I make breakfast.”

He followed her and sat down on a barstool at the kitchen counter as she gathered ingredients from the cabinets and fridge. She passed him the bottle of ibuprofen and a glass of water, staring silently until he swallowed a few pills.

Aaron glanced around the small kitchen. It had everything but a dishwasher, he noted out loud.

“I didn’t want to overtax the generator so we opted for a microwave instead of a dishwasher and deep freezer rather than a dryer.”

Nutella scratched at the back door, demanding entry. Aaron began to stand but Anna waved him off, “I have to wipe her down anyway.”

The storm was still going strong outside and the dog was soaked to the bone. Aaron looked on as Nutella sat patiently, lifting each paw for Anna to wipe down with a towel. The first towel removed all the mud on the dog, the second towel dried the damp dark fur. Anna stepped back and held up the long towel like a shield as the dog shook the excess water from her coat.

“You use a generator to power the cabin?” Aaron asked, curious about living off the grid.

Anna scooped out dry dog food from the pantry and Nutella dove it like she was starving, “Yes, we have a generator, a propane tank, and solar panels. We get most of our energy from the panels which is surprising given the dense forest around our clearing. And we have a private well and a septic tank.” She flashed a cheeky grin at him, “if we didn’t have indoor plumbing then I wouldn’t be here.”

Aaron couldn’t help but smile back at her, “how long have you lived here?”

“Almost three years. It was hard to adjust from living in the city.” Anna filled him in on the downsides of living in the woods from lack of pizza delivery to limited communication, “I miss high-speed internet.”

Anna was plating breakfast when Spencer and Thomas appeared, both with bedraggled hair, their curls fighting gravity. After everyone was done eating, she dropped a kiss on the top of her son’s head, “Thomas, shower then school.”

The seven year old grumbled about having to bathe but rushed off when Spencer said he was interested in Thomas’s homeschooling assignments.

While Spencer checked in with the team through the CB radio, Aaron moved back to the couch. His head was throbbing again and the ibuprofen wasn’t doing much. He couldn’t get a read on Anna, she was a dichotomy, a puzzle. Highly educated, modern, and very comfortable in her skin but she was guarded. She shared non-pertinent personal information easily, giving the impression she was quite open.

She was homeschooling her son due to their living situation, not for religious objections. From the breakfast discussions, he knew she had her son socializing with other children every week in town. Thomas took science and art classes in town every Friday with the other kids.

Spencer interrupted his musings, reporting the storm had grown stronger overnight. They were stuck here, indefinitely.

~~CM~~

Anna kept reminding herself that everything was alright. The FBI agents were here about the murders in the next county over; in fact, their team had arrested the killer. Glancing over at the sleeping agent, she sighed. He was too sharp, reading her in the kitchen this morning. Recalling her studies in criminology, she knew more about profiling than the average citizen.

Spencer, well, he had been so concerned about his fellow agent's condition to have analyzed her. Now that he knew that Aaron would be okay, he allowed Thomas to capture his attention.

She threw dinner into the crockpot and cleaned up the kitchen. She checked on Aaron sleeping on the couch with Ella by his side, before heading to the loft.

Thomas was going through his workbooks as Spencer looked over his shoulder. This wasn't the life she wanted for her son but it was a life. A happy one. Smiling indulgently at him, she thought, one more year and we can start over, maybe in the suburbs near a major city. Maybe be even a house on a cul de sac.

Turning on the laptop, Anna connected through their slightly faster than molasses satellite signal and checked emails. Her editor had sent back her manuscript with edits, letting her know that they were in the final stages. She accepted some to the recommended changes and re-wrote a few sections while Thomas and Spencer finished up social studies, math, and practiced the spelling list.

Handing the computer over to Thomas, Anna laughed as he explained the computer-generated world of Minecraft to the FBI Agent.

“It’s like building with Legos. You have to build everything but you need to build your supplies first.” Thomas explained again when Spencer asked him why he needed more wood. Rolling her eyes, Anna walked away when the topic of respawning came up.

Aaron was awake downstairs and Ella had climbed on the couch with him. It was picture perfect, a gorgeous man and a beautiful dog, snuggling. It would make any woman melt, right?

Hearing her on the steps, Aaron stiffened and sent the dog off the couch. His hand crept up and scratched the back of his neck; a guilty sign if there ever was one.

“She’s a sneaky dog, isn’t she?”

Nodding sheepishly, he stood up and paused before uncomfortably asking if he could shower.

Grabbing extra towels from her bedroom, Anna pointed him to the bathroom. With the extra people in the house, their little water heater was going to be working overtime. She needed to ration hot water for showers, dishes, and laundry.

Aaron emerged from the bathroom in dress pants and button up shirt, looking quite dapper. Anna snuck an extra peek as he bent down to gather his dirty laundry. That man had a fine ass. Embarrassed by her thoughts, she decided to occupy herself with non-sexy thoughts. Lunch, yes, need to make lunches for everyone.

He appeared next to her a few minutes later, startling her, “can I help?”

Handing him the apples, Anna asked him to slice them as she cut the sandwiches in half, “I don’t know why I started cutting sandwiches into triangles but now I can’t stop.”

“I cut my son’s sandwiches that way. It’s a nice reminder of his mother,” Aaron’s voice was quiet.

“You’re a single parent, too?”

They talked for a few minutes about his four year old, Jack. He even pulled his phone from his pocket to show her a picture of an adorable boy with smiling eyes.

When Thomas and Spencer came down for lunch, Anna noted that Spencer seemed more formal when around Aaron. The young man wanted to impress his superior.

The conversation turned to the scheduling of laundry and showers. Anna handled the questions about the sulfur smelling water and air drying clothing, “Just be glad we really aren’t roughing it.”

“Reid and I can’t thank you enough for your hospitality,” Aaron said seriously, “I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened if you hadn’t rescued us.”

Spencer echoed his gratitude as Thomas hugged the dog, citing that she was the true hero in this situation.

~~CM~~

Watching Anna and Hotch interact was fascinating to Spencer. He had never seen his unit chief interested in a woman before. He had watched Hotch’s once happy marriage fall apart, then when Haley had been murdered, and he had watched as Hotch mourned. Now, he was concussed, suspicious, and attracted to this single mother. Watching Anna chatting easily with Hotch, Spencer noted that she was opposite to Haley in looks and personality.

Putting aside his assessment of Hotch, Spencer analyzed what he knew about Anna. She was a single mother, and if he had to guess, Thomas was adopted. They shared no physical characteristics, not hair color, skin tone, or shapes of their noses and eyes. She was the author of a series of children’s books. Yet, her own reading tastes were non-fiction or classic literature. She did well by her son, ensuring he had a solid education despite their isolation.

This begged the question, what is a driven, smart, and caring woman doing alone in the woods?

He observed as she set up a phone service through her satellite connection so Hotch could call his sister-in-law to talk to Jack. Why wouldn’t she have this service running all the time? Did she not have family or friends? As far as he could tell, Anna chatted with the park rangers through the radio or emailed with her publisher. No other outside communications.

Spencer grabbed another book off the shelves lining the loft. Skimming through The Historian, he put it back and debated between a collection of Kurt Vonnegut books or a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald. With Anna still on his mind, he recalled that she did go into town on a weekly basis. Thomas had told him about his friends so perhaps they weren’t as isolated as he had originally thought. He wondered what would happen after the storm ended and they returned home. Would Hotch ever talk to Anna again?

Dismissing the idea of re-reading Vonnegut’s books and not in the mood for nonfiction, Spencer returned to The Historian; his decision wasn’t at all based on the fact that it was the thickest book on Anna’s shelves.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Aaron found Anna simply fascinating. She had her own sense of style; fuzzy socks, slim jeans, and a flattering flannel shirt. He didn’t know they made flannels for a woman’s curves. Her face was free of makeup but somehow her eyes seemed to be highlighted, her dark eyelashes framed her mesmerizing brown eyes.

Her hairstyle was changing on the hour. She always started the morning with her long black hair down, swinging loose but halfway through cooking breakfast, she would pull it up into a messy bun with strands escaping in every direction. By afternoon, she would huff and smooth it into a high ponytail. When she was reading by the fire in the evening hours, her hair would be loose again, rippling in waves down her back.

Anna never stopped moving. Both he and Spencer had offered to help around the house but she waved them off. Although, she had accepted Spencer’s services as a school teacher, sending him upstairs with Thomas for most of the day. She confessed that she appreciated Spencer spending time with her son as he would normally be stir crazy after being locked indoors during a storm that lasted more than a day or two.

She kept trying to park Aaron on the couch or give him simple chores he could do while sitting down while she moved from task to task. Aaron could now brag that his sock matching skills were unparalleled.

She mopped the floors, cleaned the kitchen, and cooked around the clock. After devising a shower schedule, she tackled the laundry and hung it to dry on every space available in the small two bedroom cabin. Anna wiped the dog’s paws each time Nutella came in and swept the dog fur that had been shed all over the house.

When she wasn’t moving around the house, her fingers were flying over the keyboard as she wrote page after page, the words filling the laptop screen.

Spencer told him that she was an author but since he didn’t recognize her name; he didn’t think he had read any of her works. Later, Aaron was shocked to find out she wrote Jack’s favorite books under a pen name. He felt rather undignified when she reached over and closed his mouth after it hung open in surprise.

“Fireball, a Dragon’s Tale, is Jack’s favorite book. I can recite it from memory.”

Her eyes lit up, twinkling in the firelight, as Aaron shared his son’s experiences, “I’m so glad he likes it. When you write, you feel so disconnected from the reader. My editor sends me book reviews but honestly, I’d rather hear a kid’s take on the story.”

Over the last four days, they had spent quite a bit of time together. Growing closer as their conversations had become more personal.

Currently, Thomas was asleep in her bed and Spencer was in the loft reading the last of Anna’s books. The young genius had decimated her library since they had so much time on their hands.

Aaron thought he knew Anna pretty well at this point. She had told him that Thomas’s father was no longer in the picture. She was as honest with him as she could be without giving him much information. Based on his experience, he guessed that Thomas’s father was not a good person. This further explained why she had moved her son to the middle of nowhere and didn’t have much contact with the outside world.

He found himself confiding in her about raising Jack without a mother and how hard it was to be away from him, “he was almost an orphan. The car accident could have easily been fatal, or serious illness with having to be out in the elements if you hadn’t found us.”

Smiling serenely, she reached out and covered his hand with hers, “As Thomas keeps reminding us, it was all Ella.”

At the sound of her name, the dog jumped up on the couch between them, dropping her head into Anna’s lap. They lifted their joined hands and placed them on top of the dog.

“This has been surreal, almost like a vacation, being here in the middle of the forest, in a storm, with your little family,” Aaron confessed, rubbing his other hand over hers. In all honesty, he wanted to lean over the dog and kiss this intriguing woman but what was the point? They wouldn’t be able to start a relationship with half the country between them. And sex, God, he would love to have sex with her. Maybe she would be open to a one-off but it was not possible in the small cabin with Reid and Thomas.

“I love having you and Spencer here. You brightened up our lives,” Anna sighed sadly, ducking her head so her hair came loose to cover her face, “I wish you didn’t have to go.”

They sat, hand in hand, watching the flames dance.

~~CM~~

The storm had passed and while there were still many roads under construction, one of the back roads leading to Anna and Thomas’s cabin had been fixed. On day six, Derek Morgan hitched a ride with Ranger Sam to collect Spencer and Aaron.

Anna was sad to see them go, feeling like she missed an opportunity with Aaron. While she didn’t expect a whirlwind romance or a love affair, she still longed for his touch, his presence. And the worst part, she told herself, was that she didn’t think it was because it had been years since she had been with someone. Aaron Hotchner was special. Considerate, caring, loving, smart, and handsome. Everything you could ever wish for in a man.

“So, give me your address and I’ll send Jack an advanced copy of the new book. It should be printed next month.”

Aaron leaned against the kitchen counter, “and I will need your email address since you don’t have a phone number.”

She pulled out a pen and grabbed a piece of paper, tearing it neatly down the middle. She wrote out her email address and the new internet phone number she had set up so Aaron could call his son, “I’ve decided to keep the VOIP phone service. You can call me anytime.”

Passing the pen and papers, she watched as he folded her information carefully, tucking it away in his wallet. He jotted down his address, email, and phone and placed it into her hand, his large hand covered hers, “stay in touch.”

Blinking away tears, she smiled at him earnestly, “I think we are friends for life now, Aaron.”

Derek, the loud boisterous agent, joined them from scoping out the accident site, “Nutella has to be the smartest dog I’ve ever met. She led us straight there.” He scraped his muddy shoes on the mat, “after seeing the car, I am shocked you and Pretty Boy weren’t in serious condition.”

Aaron nodded, “we were very lucky.”

Using the interruption as an excuse to collect herself, Anna went outside to chat with Ranger Sam. Sadly, it didn’t work as she found herself turning away to wipe a stray tear.

Within an hour, Aaron and Spencer had their bags loaded in the park service SUV and they had already said their goodbyes to Thomas.

She gave Spencer a quick hug and turned to Aaron. He held her tight, turning the simple hug into a warm intimate embrace. She could have sworn that he caressed her hair with his lips. Breathing in his scent, Anna closed her eyes and tried to commit this moment to her memory.

They waved goodbye until the vehicle was out of sight, then Anna, Thomas, and Nutella tried to resume their normal lives.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Spencer and Aaron were reunited with their team in the small mountain town. For Aaron, it was a handshake from Dave and a pat on the arm from JJ; for Spencer, it was hugs and being fawned over as if he was a child by the entire team. Aaron could see his exasperation but then Spencer relaxed and seemed to enjoy it when they babied him.

Finishing up the case; the locals had the confession and the prosecutor was confident the unsub would plead guilty in court. The U.S. Park Service were going to handle extracting the car from the ravine and the FBI Office of Administration would handle the insurance paperwork. With everything tied up, there was no reason for the BAU team to remain in town.

The flight back to Virginia was joyous; everyone anxious to return home. The team shared their experiences in town and complained about the limited options and unappetizing meals while they were stuck in the motel. Spencer bragged about Anna’s cooking, living off the grid, and getting to know Thomas.

Once they arrived at the airstrip, they were greeted by not only Penelope Garcia but also JJ’s boyfriend and son, as well as Jessica and Jack. For Aaron, there was no avoiding hugs this time around.

Finally home, Aaron cuddled with Jack, trying to forget how close the boy came to losing his only living parent. He allowed the four year old to stay up much too late and when he had succumbed to exhaustion, Aaron kept Jack in his arms until morning.

Aaron sent Anna a heartfelt email thanking her for her kindness. He wished her and Thomas a wonderful day when he paused, unsure of how to sign off. Finally, he ended the email with just his name.

Jack was thrilled to have his Dad home and they spent hours playing and cuddling. They made Jack’s favorite meals and watched his favorite shows. Aaron still had a hard time letting Jack go at bedtime, allowing him to sleep with him for another night.

Before Aaron returned to work, he had Jack help him shop for Anna and Thomas. He knew that she would never accept monetary compensation for taking care of him and Spencer but she couldn’t refuse a personal gift. They ended up wandering around a department store and Jack couldn’t keep his hands to himself, touching everything. He kept rubbing and stroking a sweater in the women’s section as Aaron looked around for something that would suit Anna.

“Come on, Jack.”

“Daddy, this is so soft. Feel it,” Jack ordered, holding up the sleeve of a red cashmere sweater.

Aaron could see her in red, her skin luminous and eyes shining bright. Reaching out, he felt the luxurious material. This was not a sturdy sweater for warmth, this was a gift of extravagance, something she wouldn’t indulge in for herself, “It’s perfect, Jack.”

They ended up at two more stores to pick out a Lego set for Thomas and a large dog bone for Nutella before they were done.

Hoping to get the box shipped out from the FBI mailroom, Aaron ran into Spencer with thank you letters for the Laine family. The younger man asked Aaron to wait an additional day before shipping so he had time to gather a few workbooks for Thomas. When the team overheard the conversation, they all wanted to contribute. That day the entire BAU used their lunch hour to shop for additional gifts. Chocolates, books, toys, and dog treats were added until Aaron ended up sending two large boxes to Anna’s attention.

For days, every time an email alert pinged on his phone or a new message popped up on his laptop, Aaron sat up a little straighter, his breath stuttering in his chest. Three days after he had emailed her, Anna finally replied.

She had written a lengthy email about the town’s recovery from the floods, rebuilding of roads, numerous detours, and the removal of the rental car from the ditch. They had gone to watch the workers flip the car and then use a winch to pull it up the steep hill.

She said that she and Thomas missed them but it was poor Nutella that whined when she looked at the couch. The chocolate lab had stolen the blanket Aaron had used during his stay and now curled up with it each night. She ended her email with “Miss you, Anna.”

~~CM~~

Anna got a call on the CB radio; Ranger Natalie invited them to town for a post-storm celebration. Apparently, the town had unanimously nominated Anna to make her white chicken chili.

Spending time in town, socializing with friends would be good for both Thomas and her. Her little guy was still heartbroken over Spencer and Aaron’s departure.

He had so much turmoil in his short life and it bothered her that he was without a father figure. Logically, she knew that she was doing the best for him but in her heart, she knew what he was missing. While her own father had been gone from her life for as far back as she could remember, she did have Walter. Her mother’s chief of security had been with their family since she was sixteen and she couldn’t have asked for a better role model.

Feeling nostalgic and sad, Anna tried to busy herself. That was her cure-all, staying so busy that she didn’t have time to wallow.

“Thomas! There is a party in town tomorrow,” she called out. Upstairs, his feet hitting the floor let her know he had heard her. Thomas trampled down the stairs, Ella on his heels, both of them excited.

This was a good thing, she thought. She had her hands full making two large pots of chili. No time to dwell on those FBI agents. God, she was so lonely that she was projecting her longing on Aaron but then, she thought, he had taken her hand. He had been the one to turn their hug into an embrace.

His email had been nice and sweet, giving her nothing to read into. Anna had been proud of herself for her carefully crafted reply of polite friendship. In no way did she share how she desperately missed him, how much she wanted to sex him up. Embarrassed by her own thoughts, Anna got back to cooking.

The next day, they headed into town early, unsure of how many routes they would need to take since many of the roads were still in disrepair.

Within moments of arriving, Thomas quickly disappeared with his friends. Anna caught up with everyone in town. She helped set up tables and lay out the food. She mingled and gossiped about the storm and having the FBI in town to solve the murders. One of the park rangers shared that two of the FBI agents had stayed at her cabin and within a minute, Anna was surrounded by townspeople demanding more information. They were disappointed to hear the guns were put away that first day and the agents were polite house guests.

The party was fun, locals jamming together in the corners of the room as kids ran through in an intricate game of tag mixed with hide and seek. There was plenty of food and drink, and Anna found herself enjoying the comradery.

As the evening winded down, she was helping break down tables and chairs when Charlie, the mailman, stopped her.

“I have two large boxes for you,” he said as he stacked the chairs she had just folded.

Shaking her head, Anna couldn’t figure out what the boxes were as her latest book was still at the printers.

“I’ll walk you guys out and put them in your truck,” Charlie told her.

Two brown boxes were addressed to her with the return label from the FBI, Quantico Campus.

Thomas was vibrating in excitement the entire ride home, his curiosity peaked.

At the house, Anna had to yell at Thomas not to run with scissors before they sat down on the floor with Nutella to open the boxes.

Inside the first box, a giant dog bone sat at the top, wrapped in a big red bow. Thomas giggled as the dog’s tail wagged so hard Nutella’s entire body moved back and forth. She huffed happily as she accepted the bone from Anna. There were also dog biscuits and chew toys for her but she was focused on gnawing on the bone.

Further down, Thomas found a handful of shark-themed gifts: slippers, stickers, gummy candies, and a book. He kicked his shoes off and thrust his feet into the shark mouths, laughing hysterically as he stomped around the house.

“Look, Mom! The sharks ate my feet.”

Smiling at her son, Anna kept going through the box. There were new workbooks, chapter books, and a Lego set. The note from Spencer was read out loud by Thomas with a little help from her with the big words.

The next box had pajamas, onesies really, for each of them. For Thomas, a pair of Superman pajamas with a red cape while Anna had been given rubber ducky pajamas. Slippers were included for her as well, in the shape of bear claws.

“You have to wear your furry slippers, Mom,” Thomas ordered her as he tugged at her black boots.

After she was appropriately dressed in her bear feet slippers, Thomas returned to check the remainder of the gifts. There were luxurious lotions, a box of chocolates, several novels, and a cashmere sweater. Anna hugged the red v-neck sweater to her chest and rubbed it against her cheek. It was simply exquisite.

Thomas hollered again as he reached the final item at the bottom of the box, a large remote truck with off-road wheels, perfect for the rough forest terrain.

There were notes from the entire FBI team thanking them for taking care of Aaron and Spencer but to Anna, the handwritten letter from Aaron was the best gift she could ever hope for.

~~CM~~

“Dear Anna,

The six days together, one of which I was mostly unconscious, allowed me an opportunity to find a true friend in you. I am grateful to have had this time together. Without the accident, our paths may have not crossed and I wouldn’t have known what I would have missed. That idea humbles me because I am in awe of you and all you have achieved.

The chance to truly get to know you and Thomas has been a gift. Your kindness is appreciated, and cannot be repaid. Please consider these small tokens of our affection and not as a measurement of our gratitude.

I have told Jack many stories of our time together and Nutella’s antics. He does not believe me when I tell him that you wrote Fireball. I think he believes that authors are mythical creatures while dragons are real flesh and blood animals. I am learning that four year old logic is different than regular logic. Jack would like Thomas to know that he thinks are sharks are cool and they have tons of teeth.

I miss many things about your family in the cozy cabin, from your amazing boy to your sneaky dog, but mostly I miss you.

I miss sitting next to you in front of the fire. It was soothing, being able to relax and talk before sleeping. I think it was your presence that made each day brighter and each night’s sleep more peaceful.

I am going to end this letter now as I have become quite maudlin.

Yours,
Aaron”

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

In the three months since Aaron had returned home, he had stayed in touch with Anna through emails and phone calls. The emails were short and sweet, sent every few days. But the phone calls were what Aaron lived for. They quickly became a nightly event, whether he was home or on the road. Even Jack and Thomas were chatting on the phone, their conversation centered mostly about Nutella, the chocolate lab. The only downside of this relationship was Jack constantly pestering Aaron for a dog.

Anna had sent Jack her latest book along with several framed illustrations from the series featuring Fireball, the dragon. Aaron happily hung the frames on the wall to Jack’s specifications.

His life was enriched by a woman across the country and he felt as if he had himself back. After all the loss and pain surrounding his divorce then the tragedy of Haley’s murder, Aaron had been lost. He allowed being a father and FBI agent to consume him.

Now, he was slowly coming back to being a whole person. He even spent more downtime with the team, specifically Spencer. Their ordeal had lessened the formality of their relationship.

Jess, his sister in law, had been encouraging him to get out more but instead of having her remain at home with Jack. Aaron ensured more family activities with the team, inviting Jess along with them. He had gotten to know JJ’s boyfriend, Will, better, and Jack adored baby Henry. Derek had felt comfortable enough to bring his new girlfriend while Penelope brought Dave as her “stand in platonic date so I am not violating the outdated fraternization rules.”

“And Spencer, he’s not seeing anyone?” Anna asked Aaron as he brought her up to speed on the latest.

“No, he’s not much of dater from what I can tell.”

“And you? Are you a dater?”

Aaron could hear the humor in her voice, “you are smirking, aren’t you?”

“Maybe.”

“I’m not a dater. I prefer serious committed relationships,” he couldn’t help but smile, “you?”

“I was a dater before and now I am a hermit.”

Despite wondering if he should press his luck, Aaron decided to be bold, “Any plans of changing your status?”

Anna laughed, “Are you asking me if I am interested in a relationship or if I am planning on moving out of the woods?”

“Yes,” Aaron laid back on his bed, plumping the pillows to support his back, “yes, to both.”

“I was planning on moving next year, back to a city. Get Thomas enrolled in a good school, order takeout, watch cat videos on YouTube,” she sighed, “I would love to be in a relationship but I don’t know if that is feasible from here.”

“Perhaps you are overthinking it, I think we may already be in a relationship,” he spoke quietly as if he was scared of spooking her.

“I’m afraid you might be right,” her voice was soft but happy.

~~CM~~

Anna was overwhelmed. She had always prided herself on taking the best path for Thomas. Now she was wondering if the path that led to Aaron. Could it be the best path for both her and her child?

Aaron was a decent moral man. In the last few months, she had gotten to know him quite well. He was a good father; putting his son’s happiness and well being first. He was committed to justice and had strong views of right and wrong. Considering he really didn’t see shades of gray, she wondered if he could ever see that the decisions she had made were the best and safest choice for Thomas despite the illegality of her actions.

She wished she could talk to Walter. He would know what to do but there was a reason for his strict no contact rule. Not until she assumed yet another identity could she venture out of the safe haven of her mountain community and even then, she knew he would be displeased if she reached out to him.

Locking down the cabin and turning off all the unnecessary appliances, Anna padded up the stairs quietly to watch Thomas sleep. Nutella lifted her head off of Thomas’ feet to give her a curious look. Her son’s face was angelic, his soft curls laying across his forehead. Thomas was laying on his back, his arms flung above his head. Anna wondered if he remembered being on the run, his original name, his father.

Anna didn’t want to make the same mistakes, placing her trust in another FBI agent but her gut told her that Aaron was different. That he would be able to help. Even if it meant that they would never have a chance at a romantic relationship, she knew he would do whatever it takes to help Thomas.

~~CM~~

“Aaron, thank you for respecting the fact I never want to discuss my past.” Anna’s voice broke as she spoke while holding back tears.

“Anna?”

“I would like to tell you everything and ask for your help. Your professional help.”

Standing up, Aaron began to pace. This was worse than he anticipated. He had assumed Anna was in an abusive relationship, in hiding from her ex but now she was asking for professional help. The silence between them grew as Aaron considered what she wasn’t saying.

She broke through his thoughts, “Aaron, I promise to tell you everything. I don’t want to hide anymore.”

“I cannot do anything illegal. If there has been a crime…”

“I followed the system but others did not,” Anna interrupted him.

“I’m listening.”

“Before I disclose anything, I would like you to meet someone,” her tone changed, from emotional to serious. “If he believes you can be of assistance then I will tell you everything.”

Miffed at the implication that he can’t be trusted, Aaron lashed out, “being an FBI agent isn’t enough to earn your trust?”

“No, because you are not the first FBI agent I have trusted. I blame the last one for my current situation,” Anna paused, “Aaron, I trusted freely and it put Thomas in danger. I am not making that same mistake. Not when it comes to the safety of my child.”

Sitting down, he ran his free hand through his short dark hair, “Okay. Who do you want me to meet?”

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Aaron called the number that Anna provided and asked for Walter. After stating that he was calling in regards to a mutual friend, the man suggested they meet in a public place.

Feeling an odd sense of deja vu, Aaron shook the hand of the older man at the coffee shop, “Thank you for meeting me.”

Walter gestured to the chair across from him, “Aaron Hotchner, I certainly didn’t expect you.”

The deep baritone voice brought back a memory over a decade old, Aaron smiled, “Walter Lambert, you worked for Ambassador Prentiss.”

“That’s right,” the retired secret service agent leveled a steely glare at him, “Now, I want to know how you know our mutual friend.”

Recalling his first post as an FBI agent, Aaron had modeled his own ‘Hotch Glare’ after Walter’s legendary glare. He wasn’t a green probie agent anymore so he didn’t squirm under Walter’s stern gaze. “Several months ago, one of my agents and I were in a serious car accident, our mutual friend rescued us.”

After explaining the story and Anna’s request for help, Aaron noted that Walter relaxed his posture.

“I would like you to look into an FBI agent.”

Aaron met Walter’s eyes, returning his focused stare, “you are making a serious accusation.”

“It’s justified,” the older man said dismissively before he stood up, “look into Gordon Olson.”

Driving back to the office, Aaron’s mind was racing, running scenario after scenario. He knew of the deceased unit chief of organized crime out of the Boston office; the man had been a contemporary of Dave’s. He had committed suicide about four years prior.

Perhaps it wasn’t a suicide. Aaron had to find a way to investigate without arousing suspicion.

He pulled a few cold cases and cross-referenced them with a BAU case with a hired gun for a connected family. He pulled Dave in under the guise of tying the assassin to other cases.

“Dave, these reports were all signed off by Gordon Olson. Almost all of the files are incomplete or just plain shoddy.”
Making himself comfortable, Dave leaned back on Aaron’s couch and crossed his legs, “Olson was known for cutting corners. There was something off about that guy.”

“Hmm, I’ll have Penelope cross reference the case files and see if anything comes up.”

Aaron changed topics, playing nonchalant, trying to convince his friend to help coach Jack’s soccer team.

~~CM~~

Their phone conversations were stilted and emails even shorter than usual. Anna began to regret saying anything to Aaron. She decided that with or without his help, it was time to get back to the real world. She could live with never being herself again as long as Thomas was happy.

New identities and another town; it was time to begin another life.

Anna sat her son down to discuss starting over, “Buddy, what do you remember before we moved here?”

His blue eyes widened and his mouth formed the cutest pout, “we have to get new names again?”

“You do remember,” she groaned, “do you know why we had to move away and get new names?”

Thomas’ feet thumped against the chair, tapping out an uneven rhythm, “cause my dad is a bad guy. He hurts people.“

Nodding her head, Anna reached out and took his hand. Rubbing her fingers across the soft skin on the back his hand, she touched her forehead to his, “yes. I think we should move again and get new names. I am sorry.”

He thumped his feet again, “Can we live near Aaron? Nutella misses him and Jack wants to meet her.”

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” She smiled at her sweet boy, “let me figure out what we need to do but I can’t make any promises, okay?”

Later that night the call with Aaron took a different turn. He must have learned something big because his tone was filled with guilt.

“I’m sorry I doubted you,” he said, “may I come out to discuss this with you in person? Take an official deposition?”

A sob escaped but Anna covered the mouthpiece so he couldn’t hear her, “Yes, please.”

Aaron sighed heavily, “I didn’t mean to make you cry, Anna.”

“You heard that, huh?”

“Yes. I am making travel arrangements, I should be there tomorrow afternoon.”

Through her tears, Anna smiled, “that will be wonderful.”

~~CM~~

Aaron set up another meeting with Walter; this time he had a thick file in his hands. They sat down together and Aaron pushed the folder across the table, “The Assistant Director of the FBI has enough evidence to not only prove that Olson was dirty and he may have been murdered. He also has copies of the evidence Olson tried to destroy prior to his death. I believe there is enough to put Ian Doyle away for life.”

Visibly relieved, Walter’s hands shook as they opened the case file, “I want my girl back, Aaron. No matter what it takes. I even considered killing the son of a bitch with my bare hands so she could live free.”

“We will handle this legally,” Aaron locked eyes with Walter, “I am flying out later today to get her statement then I will work with a personal friend in the US Attorney’s office to get this handled discreetly until Doyle is officially charged.”

Aaron continued, “you may keep this file. I have given copies of everything to various people so you can be sure this cannot be buried again. Doyle will not be a free man for much longer.”

As he began to step away, Walter paused, his eyes bright. “Please tell our mutual friends that I miss them a great deal.”

Aaron’s flight was on time and he was so fixated on the case files in front of him that he didn’t notice the passengers around him. He recalled the flight attendant asking if he wanted a drink but he couldn’t remember if he had answered him as he memorized everything about Ian Doyle.

A former IRA captain, Doyle had moved to Boston and began running several businesses ranging from legal to illegal, laundromats to gun running. His main legitimate business seemed to be an Irish bar in the neighborhood known as Southie. It appeared that he had both local police and a few FBI agents in his pocket, ensuring he was never charged with a crime. He may have paid off people in the court system but given that he had never been arrested, Aaron couldn’t detect a pattern to identify anyone specifically.

Based on victimology and choice of weapon, Doyle killed with impunity. He favored beating his victims before killing them with a single shot to the head. His crew also favored beatings but they tended to riddle a body with bullets. All of the victims’ bodies were left in the open, a clear sign to the neighborhood: Don’t mess with Doyle.

Aaron had Penelope research anything in the media related to Doyle; she found one item that interested him, a local newspaper article about a theater opening. The photo was blurry and the woman Doyle was escorting into a theater had her face turned away but the profile was all Anna. The caption didn’t list a name but he knew that if it had, it wouldn’t have said Anna Laine.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Aaron could admit to himself that he was nervous as he drove to Anna’s cabin. His nerves had nothing to do with the road that had washed out beneath him and Reid during the last trip.

He was still upset with himself for doubting her, for distrusting her, for not considering there may have been circumstances that forced her hand into something not on the up and up. He shook his head at the fact that he couldn’t use the word illegal when thinking of Anna and this situation.

Anna, Thomas, and Nutella were standing in front of the cabin when he pulled up. He barely had the door open before the dog was in his arms, barking excitedly. If his team could see him now, hugging a dog while telling her that he missed her.

Thomas was reduced to giggles as he tried to pull the chocolate lab away from Aaron. The seven year old wrapped his skinny arms around Aaron’s waist and the normally stoic man held him close, ruffling the boy’s hair as they hugged.

Nutella danced around Aaron, circling his legs as he walked towards Anna. She looked beautiful, her eyes shining with unshed tears. Aaron reached out, pulling her towards him as he closed the distance until their noses almost touched. “Hi,” he swept his lips across her cheek lightly as he hugged her tight.

“Glad you are here,” Anna whispered as they pulled apart.

“I made it without wrecking the car,” he joked as he followed Thomas into the cabin.

They spent the afternoon catching up. Aaron was happy to help with dinner, showing Thomas how to get perfect grill marks on the chicken. He shared Walter’s well wishes with both of them as Anna blinked away tears of joy.

When Thomas was finally in bed, Aaron asked Anna join him at the dining table to take her full statement. “I want you to know that I have secured immunity for you from federal prosecution. There will be no repercussions from your statement however you will be asked to testify in court.”

Anna gave a curt nod, “I want protection for Thomas and I. That is not negotiable.”

“Yes, that is part of this deal but I hope that once the case concludes and he is in prison, I hope that you will consider...” Aaron trailed off, unsure of how to ask Anna to move in with him. They weren’t even in a relationship.

She smiled and reached out her hands, cupping his face, “wild horses couldn’t keep me away from you. I just need Thomas to be safe and I want that son of a bitch behind bars.”

~~CM~~

Watching Aaron transform from potential boyfriend into a professional FBI agent intrigued Anna. He pulled out a recording device and set it on the table between them.

Transcript of recording, starting with SSA Hotchner stating his name, the date and time of the recording, his face expressionless. He introduced Anna Laine, asking that she tell her story in her own words, truthfully. 


My real name is Emily Prentiss. Five years ago, I was a recent college graduate, off for the summer before returning to Boston College for my Master’s in Criminal and Social Justice. I joined friends at a bar in Southie, that’s when I met Ian Doyle. He swept me off my feet. I thought he owned the bar and the rough types that hung around him were bouncers.

We dated for three months before he told me about his two year old son, Declan. After I met that sweet little boy, our relationship grew from casual to serious.

I was going to school during the day, and researching during the evening hours so Ian and I didn’t get that much time together. He asked me to move into his place and I accepted.

Over the next two months, it was a fairy tale romance. He spoiled me with gifts and fancy dinners. I loved Declan as if he was my own child. I still spent a lot of time at school but when I was home, I never had to lift a finger. Ian had staff taking care of the house, the cooking, the cleaning. All I had to do was be devoted to him and Dec.

As time went on, I started to notice some odd behavior from Ian regarding his phone calls and his meetings. He bought several customized Range Rovers for himself, the nanny, and me. I realized his bouncers were actually security guards and they watched over us day in and day out. I didn’t think the bar was bringing in that kind of money so I asked him. Ian was evasive but finally said he was actually quite wealthy, ‘family money’ he said.

When Declan turned three, Ian hosted a large birthday party at his house. It was bizarre, some of the guests were armed, others seemed nervous. Security had been doubled.

I kept telling myself that I was transferring what I was researching for my thesis on organized crime to Ian. I didn’t want to believe it.

I began to notice that Ian was harsh to Declan, more than a typical strict parent. He expected perfect behavior, perfect posture, clear speech, and he mocked him for his little lisp. I told him that he expected too much of a three year old but Ian dismissed my concerns. 


The recording muffled, a sob could be heard. 


One day I came home early from classes, my advisor was ill. I heard noises in the garage and I saw Ian holding Declan’s hand. Declan had tears running down his face but he wasn’t making a sound. I walked in further and two of the bodyguards were beating a man. He was on the floor, unconscious, and they just kept beating and kicking him. Ian told Declan “this is what happens when you steal from a Doyle.”

I walked all the way in and picked up Declan and carried him away. Later that night, I confronted Ian but he slapped me and told me to stay out of his business. I wanted to leave, to break up with Ian and move out but I couldn’t leave Declan behind.

The next day, I called my mother’s chief of security, Walter Lambert. I told him everything and he reached out to the FBI. We were assigned to SSA Gordon Olson. He took my statement and told me to hang tight. He wanted me to report names of anyone Ian met with and keep track of Ian’s comings and goings.

I kept Declan with me after that. Taking him to my classes or meetings with my advisor. I tried to limit contact between him and his father. I tried to pretend everything was alright with Ian. He still expected perfect behavior from Declan at the dinner table and he would quiz him on his numbers or words.

Then, on March 3rd, I had a doctor's appointment; I didn’t want to drag Declan with me. I made sure the nanny would keep him out of the house but when I came home, I found, aaah...


The sounds of sobbing and murmuring could be heard. After a few minutes, she resumed speaking.


I came home to find Declan and Ian in the garage. Ian was showing Declan how to load a handgun and he was about to have him shoot a man on the ground. I stopped him and Ian slapped me again. This time I fought back. We fought for several minutes. He broke my wrist and told me not to interfere in raising his son. I grabbed Declan and ran for the house as a gunshot rang out.

Ian came after me, taking my phone and making it clear that I either could accept his world or I could join the dead man in the garage. With or without me, he was going to raise his son as a warrior. I pleaded with him, reminded him of Declan’s innocence but he was beyond insane. He apologized for hurting me, he even wrapped up my wrist before kissing my head. He helped tuck in Declan into bed before he said he had to go out and deal with clean up. Like it was a glass of spilled milk. I think I was more terrified by his calm demeanor than I was when he was violent in the garage.

I waited until Ian was gone for about thirty minutes before I took Declan and drove through the night to my mother’s house in Virginia. Walter took us to the emergency room and called SSA Olson.

A few hours later, Olson called back. He said he personally swept the garage but there was no evidence of blood or anything else. The next day, Olson moved us to a safe house in Edgewater, Maryland. He told us to go radio silent, I couldn’t contact Walter. Over the next few days, I gave several depositions to him directly.

On March 8th, SSA Gordon Olson escorted Ian Doyle into the safe house. He laughed at me as I tried to block him and Ian from reaching Declan.

Ian was furious, screaming at me for taking his son.

I pushed Declan behind me into the kitchen and Ian kept yelling at Declan to come to him, that he was a betraying his father. Olson tried to grab my arms but I tazed him in the stomach. He went down and I told Declan to run and he slipped out the sliding glass door.

Ian took the taser from my hand and punched me in the face. I went down but I kicked him in the face when he bent down over me. I think I broke his nose. We wrestled for a minute until he got the upper hand. He broke a chair over my back and kept beating me with the leg of it until he heard sirens. Ian simply stood up, brushed off his suit, and walked out the front door.

Olson got up and told me to keep my mouth shut or he would kill me in front of Declan before he returned him to father. I promised to keep quiet.

He went next door and grabbed Declan from the neighbors. He allowed me to take him with me in the ambulance as he handled the police. I heard him tell them I was a criminal informant for the FBI and to keep all the details of this situation quiet for my safety.

At the hospital, I was admitted and placed under protective custody; no contact with the outside world. It was hours before I had my chance, one of the nurses had a cordless desk phone with her. I asked her to take Declan to the bathroom while I called Walter.

I told him Olson was working for Ian. Six hours later, Walter snuck us out of the hospital, he said we had to run. He would keep my mother safe but I had to take Declan and go. He handed me a bag with cash, pre-paid credit cards, and a burner phone. He had a minivan waiting for me in the parking garage.

Walter told me to book flight and train reservations to various states in our names and come up with aliases in hopes that it would throw Ian and Olson off our tracks. He said to change hotels often, ditch the car, take buses and taxis, and change our appearances. It was like a scene from a movie.

He said to turn the burner phone on every few days for a few minutes, he would text me a safeword when it was safe to call him back.

We ran, Declan and I. We slept in the van the first night then I left it at a mall parking lot. We took taxis and changed hotels often. Took the train to Pittsburgh then flew to Atlanta.

Declan was terrified, he didn’t cry or complain. He just clung to me and did as I asked automatically. He didn’t care that I dyed his hair darker or that I made him wear a hat. If we were at a hotel, he watched tv quietly, if we were driving, he just stared out the window. I had gotten him coloring books and crayons but I couldn’t get him to color. He just stayed close to me, no matter what. Even if I needed to go to the bathroom or shower, he just sat on the floor and waited, quietly. He was so quiet.

A whimper escaped, then the clearing of a throat was heard. Her voice returned to normal as she resumed speaking.

I checked the phone every third day for about 5 minutes, desperately waiting for text messages.

Finally, after two weeks, a text message arrived with the safeword. I called Walter from the burner. He said Olson was dead. When he looked into it, the Boston Police and the FBI had declared it a suicide.

Walter reached out to his old friends in the bureau, they found no record of my depositions, no evidence, and no case pending against Ian Doyle.

He said this was it, that I could never contact him until Ian Doyle was behind bars or dead. He would have my mother accept a position out of the country and keep her safe.

Walter gave me access to a bank account and the names of several forgers. He said to crisscross the country before settling down. He warned me not to get in touch again.

That was four years ago.


The recording ended with SSA Hotchner asking if Emily Prentiss had been truthful in her statement. She answered yes and they both acknowledged the date and time.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Anna, no Emily, Aaron shook his head, was overwrought. She had kept it together, only crying a few times during the statement. Now she sat at the table, staring blankly ahead.

Every doubt he had about her was wrong. She didn’t take the easy path. She had fought hard for justice and someone who had taken an oath of fidelity, integrity, and bravery had betrayed her. She had done right by her son, never mind they didn’t share blood or legal status.

Aaron stood and coaxed her to join him on the couch, guiding her body until they were sitting together as they use to four months ago. Side by side, he reached out and took her ice cold hands into his, “Anna, or would you prefer it if I called you Emily?”

She shivered as he said her given name, the corners of her mouth upturned into a small smile, but she shook her head at him, “until we are safe, it’s better if you continue calling me Anna.”

“Anna, I am sorry I doubted you,” he confessed, “I was distrustful and I hurt you.”

Closing her eyes for a moment before squeezing his hand, “Aaron, your job is to uphold the law. It’s a trait I admire and respect. I wouldn’t want you any other way.”

Not allowing his nerves to show, Aaron asked, “do you still want me, Sweetheart?”

Cradling his face, she kissed him, “Yes.” Another kiss, “I.” Another kiss, “Do.”

He returned her soft kisses, slowly deepening them until he was mapping out her mouth with his tongue. Her whimpers had him throbbing as the intensity of their kisses increased. In a bold move that surprised him, he scooped her up off the couch and carried her determinedly to her bedroom.

Their lovemaking was slow and intense, their eyes burning into each other’s. Aaron could hardly believe how lovely she was in his arms. Angelic with her pale ivory skin and dark hair spread out on the pillow like a halo. He couldn’t believe he was aroused again, feeling like a young man. The second time was electrifying, making him buzz with energy afterward. She asked him to shut down the house as she slipped into a deep exhausted sleep.

After tucking her in, Aaron padded out to the main living area, checking the locks and turning off appliances. He stopped in the kitchen for a glass of water, enjoying the crisp cold liquid but still grimacing at the taste.

He wanted her with him, in Virginia, with him and Jack. He wanted Thomas, well, Declan, to be his; to be brothers with Jack. He wanted Jack to meet her, the woman who wove intricate enchanting stories.

Only one man stood in the way of making Aaron’s dreams come true.

~~CM~~

Anna didn’t mind getting up in the mornings but today was different. She was snuggled against the warm body of Aaron Hotchner. The night they had together was wonderful, Anna thought as she traced patterns on the arm that was wrapped around her. He murmured sleepily and pulled her even closer. His breath was warm on her neck, “mmm,” he rumbled.

“French toast or pancakes?” She asked but he had already fallen back asleep.

Getting up, Anna moved through her morning routine including letting the dog out before starting breakfast.

Aaron appeared as she plated the french toast and sausage links. She slapped his hand away as he tried to sneak a link and set Nutella upstairs to wake Thomas.

“How much does Thomas know or remember?”

“He says he remembers his father being a bad guy and he knows he wasn't always Thomas and we moved a lot,” Anna smiled, “he suggested we move near you and Jack if we had to change identities again.”

With both his dimples on display, Aaron wrapped his arms around Anna, “I would want you both to move in, not just live nearby.”

Thomas appeared in the kitchen, his curls tangled, “Hi Aaron!”

They spent the morning hiking together with Nutella, keeping the conversation light around the seven year old. They ended up at a mountain stream and the dog jumped in, splashing happily. Thomas removed his shoes and rolled up his pant legs so he could wade in up to his ankles.

Filling Anna in on the case, Aaron leaned against a tree as he watched Thomas look for guppies in the shallow water, “it turns out my looking into cold cases flagged the Assistant Director. He had a case ready against Olson when he died. The entire organized crime unit from Olson’s time has been terminated. He does not take corruption lightly.”

“I am relieved to hear that,” she took off her jacket and set it on the forest floor ground before sitting down on it.

“Do you believe in destiny or fate as Penelope would call it?” Aaron asked rhetorically, “I met Walter over ten years ago when I ran security checks for your mother.”

“What a small world. He’s very important to me, I miss him,” she chuckled, “I even miss my mother.”

Nodding knowingly, Aaron replied, “she was a formidable woman. Perhaps time has softened her.”

This set Anna off in a fit of giggles, “Aaron, she told Walter to hire a hitman with my trust fund, she said if I didn’t have the decency to spend it on houses, horses, or fashion, then it may as well go towards making the world a better place.”

Aaron found himself on the ground, sharing her tiny jacket, laughing about the Ambassador and her odd sense of propriety and justice.

Along the hike back to the cabin, Anna answered his questions about becoming a children’s author, “I wanted to be a crime writer, true crime, so I thought my master’s in Criminology would help.”

“After everything we went through, I found I couldn’t write about crime.” Ruffling Thomas’ hair, she continued, “Thomas loved a good bedtime story. The tale of Fireball, the dragon, grew more elaborate each night and every single time I sat at the computer to write, I found myself recounting Fireball’s story.”

Thomas grew distraught as Aaron prepared to leave. He grew quiet and no amount of attention from Aaron, Anna, Nutella seemed to get through his funk.

His shoulders slumped and he hung his head when Aaron dropped his packed go bag by the door. Anna cuddled her boy but she hesitated in promising him that it would be okay, that Aaron would fix everything so they could be safe. While she had complete faith in Aaron, her faith in the system was still shaken.

As he headed out, Aaron hugged Thomas tightly. When the boy teared up, the tall stoic FBI agent dropped to his knees and gently wiped away a tear, “I will still call you and send you packages. I promise Thomas.”

Then Aaron repeated the scene with Anna, wiping her tears, “Oh Angel,” his lips caressed the shell of her ear as he whispered, “he will be arrested within a month, tops.”

“I’m going to miss you.”

“You won’t have time to miss me. I will be sending you home listings to review each day.”

Puzzled, Anna wrinkled her nose at him.

“You can't expect my apartment to hold four people and a large dog,” he stated as he climbed into the car.

Aaron drove away, waving to them until they disappeared in his rearview mirror.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Thomas was sadder than the last time Aaron had left and Anna still couldn’t promise him the life they both wanted. Between spending more time in town to signing up for horseback riding lessons, she tried to keep both of them busy as they waited for word. Time seemed to be moving backward.

In front of her son, Anna was patient and calm but after he was in bed, she was pacing and picking at her fingernails until they were ragged and bleeding. Aaron still called her each evening but refused to talk about Ian. He said he didn't want to compromise the case. Instead, he peppered her with questions about her childhood, growing up in various countries, favorite foods, and opinions on house styles: Modern, Farm, Traditional, Colonial, etc.

He emailed every few days, with anecdotes from Jack or Spencer, always including a picture of yet another home style. They had covered Spanish, Victorian, Craftsman homes so far. She mentioned she liked the Colonial style and he narrowed in on the styles within that category. Who knew there were so many sub styles?

Spencer and Penelope sent Thomas a package filled with books on horses (as horses had now overtaken sharks as his favorite animal) and a foam Minecraft sword. Penelope also included instructions on how to set up his own Minecraft server, offering to help him build out his virtual world.

“She has a big heart.” Aaron assured her, “Penelope already loves Thomas, just like she loves Jack and Henry.”

“Tell me about Henry, he gets along with Jack?”

Aaron recounted how Jack wanted to be a big brother to Henry and she told him she understood, the only child of only children, wishing for a sibling or a cousin.

“So, you imagined a houseful of kids?” He asked lightly.

Remembering her childhood fantasy, Anna shared it with him, “I thought I would be a cop, tackling bad guys and I would come home to a house full of kids. So many kids that each bedroom had two sets of bunk beds.”

Laughing, Aaron asked her if she had ever read the book, Cheaper by the Dozen, as a child.

~~CM~~

Three weeks had gone by in the blink of an eye for Aaron. He had met with the Assistant Director of the FBI several times; building a case with numerous depositions and cataloging evidence. Then together, they briefed the FBI Director and the United States Attorney General. Aaron worked hard to maintain a professional facade in front of the director, but he really wanted to tease his old law school roommate, now a distinguished Assistant Attorney General.

He hadn’t seen Peter Vanderpool since Haley’s funeral and he was pleased when Peter asked him to remain behind, to catch up over lunch. They enjoyed a casual meal in his office, before devolving into reminiscing about late night study sessions and mind-numbing contract law classes.

Playing with Jack and evening phone calls to Anna were the highlights of his day. He kept trying to get to know her better, this woman who captured his heart. He knew he loved her, was in love with her. His free time was spent looking at real estate listings online, trying to imagine her and Thomas living with Jack and him. He knew Jack would adore Nutella.

Aaron and Jack hit the local big box store picking out a few items for Anna and Thomas. Jack had been collecting his drawings for the last month to send them. Now, the four year old wanted to get Thomas the “bestest” present in the world, something he had at preschool, Moon Sand. Aaron didn’t want to know how the sand worked, he simply accepted that this stuff was pure magic because it was so easy to clean up.

For Anna, Aaron picked out a few chocolate bars, a bag of his favorite coffee beans, and a funny mug that combined her love of language and caffeine, “The EFFECT of caffeine can AFFECT my mood.” On the way out, he grabbed a local real estate listing magazine from the dispensers in the front of the store.

After sending off the box of goodies, Aaron called his team together. It was time to tell them what all the secret meetings were about.

They gathered in the conference room, Morgan and Penelope exchanging inappropriate innuendo, while JJ, Spencer, and Dave looked on in fascination. Aaron took the time to put the case on the large monitor while they settled down.

“This is Ian Doyle, he has been running an organized crime family in Boston for ten years. It looked like the OC Section Chief, Gordon Olson, was corrupt and shut down any investigations until he was murdered four years ago,” Aaron gave them the background of a former IRA captain turned mob boss with at least five murders by his own hand including the mother of his child. His crew could be tied to a dozen other murders. “This is not a BAU case but I am heavily involved. The lead witness is Anna Laine.”

A stunned hush fell over the team except for Spencer, who nodded at Aaron as if he had known what was going on all along.
“In two days, the arrest and extradition warrant for Ian Doyle and his top men will be issued. The assistant director doesn’t want them held in Boston so we are trying to extradite them here to Quantico. Before then, I would like to send someone to protect Anna and her son. I believe my involvement in researching this case and travels to visit her may have inadvertently put her in danger. The AD and I are thinking of moving her to a secure location with a trusted guard.” Aaron glanced around the room, noting Spencer’s non-verbal acceptance of the assignment.

“I’ll go with Pretty Boy,” Morgan volunteered, throwing his arm around Spencer’s shoulders.

Nodding at them, Aaron looked to Penelope, “Can you set up a safe house within two hours from here without using anything that will tie back to the FBI?”

At that moment, Aaron realized why people use the phrase ‘if looks could kill’ as his tech analyst leveled her bespectacled eyes at him. Throwing his hands up in surrender, he apologized.

~~CM~~

Anna’s head was spinning. She had to pack up her child, her dog, and her home to move to the D.C. area. Aaron had stated he didn’t want to even consider using the U.S. Marshals Service, he only trusted his team to keep her safe. He also felt that they should limit their contact until the trial began.

As much as she would miss him, Anna was pleased that they were moving forward. The sooner Ian was behind bars, the sooner she could resume her life, not as a facsimile of her former self. Plus they got to have Spencer with them again, something that would thrill Thomas.

Anna explained the plan again to Thomas and then reviewed it over and over until he threw his hands up in frustration, “Mom, I got it. We are meeting Spencer and Derek in Denver. We will spend the night at a hotel there then fly to Washington D.C. then stay at a secret house.”

Smirking at him, she asked cheekily, “And if someone asks?”

“We are going to Disney for a vacation. In Florida.”

Heading to town, Anna put her mail on hold, letting Charlie know that they were taking a vacation. She knew within the hour, the entire population of their little town would know that Anna and Thomas Laine were going to Disney World in Orlando.

Thomas was not pleased that they were not going to Disney World but she promised him a real trip to Disney when the trial was over and they were finally safe.

He packed all of his toys and books, neglecting his clothes so Anna had to get creative. She repacked everything efficiently and made him leave his books behind. They were only bringing one suitcase and one backpack each.

The next day, Thomas and Nutella, as well as some of their material possessions, were loaded into Charlie’s mail truck for the drive to the city. She checked the cabin one more time, ensuring everything was shut down and locked up. Standing before her home for the last three years, Anna wiped away a happy tear.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Explaining that their flight wasn’t until the next morning, Anna asked Charlie to drop them off at a hotel near the airport. Waving goodbye was bittersweet; she wondered if she would ever see him again.

In the hotel lobby, Anna spotted the two FBI agents. Derek was flirting with the young lady at the front desk as Spencer leaned against the wall, rolling his eyes at his partner.

“Spencer!” Thomas shouted as he rushed across the lobby.

The tall thin man turned, smiling, as Thomas wrapped his arms around his legs.

Nutella let out a happy bark and spun in circles around them until Spencer pet her.

“Nice to see you again,” Derek told Anna, shaking her hand.

Thomas loved the hotel room, running from the mini fridge to the room safe before exploring Spencer and Derek’s adjoining room. Within the first twenty minutes, he had bounced on all four beds, ordered room service, and locked his beloved shark toy in the safe.

Anna watched Thomas flit from room to room, chattering away to Spencer. Derek commandeered the large tv, flipping channels, as he fondly watched the two messy haired guys.

She didn’t know what to do with herself. Unpacking was pointless since they were leaving first thing in the morning. She certainly wasn’t in the right state of mind to write. She use to be able to compartmentalize all of her thoughts about Ian Doyle but now just knowing that he was about to be served with an arrest warrant made it difficult to shove those feelings down.

Ian Doyle, she thought to herself, she thought she had loved him. Maybe she had but she was sure that he never loved her or his son. Not in a true sense of the word. Perhaps it was his upbringing, or the war back in Ireland, or his choice to continue leading a life filled with violence; no matter the reason, he did not know what love was.

Her anger at him wasn’t about his violent acts towards others, towards her. No, her anger was rooted in his view of his child. His son wasn’t an individual in Ian’s eyes but rather as an extension of himself.

Had it not been for Declan, no Thomas, she corrected herself, she would have walked away after the first time she saw the dark side of Ian.

She knew it was wrong to compare lovers but she could admit to herself that each moment with Aaron had been filled with love, tenderness, and desire. With Ian, it had been lust and a young girl’s idea of romance. Aaron made her feel like she was more than arm candy, more than a sex toy, he treated her like a real person. He respected her and truly cherished her. It was a bonus that he was sexy.

“Are you okay?”

Derek’s voice broke through her thoughts and she nodded, “just thinking.”

He flashed her a quick smirk, “thinking of Hotch?” Her flushed cheeks provided him with the answer, “He’s a good guy, you know.”

Derek went on to brag about his unit chief, how he led the team and how he always had their backs. Running his large hand over his shaved head, he leaned forward, “He’s been hurt. This job cost him his marriage, and then his ex, well,”

Holding up her hand to stop him, Anna said, “He told me about Haley and Foyet.” Noting the surprise on Derek’s face, she continued, “and I told him everything from my past. We are both walking into this relationship with open eyes.”

“Good. Given both your histories, I am glad you are being honest with each other.”

Smiling sadly, Anna shrugged, “there is no point in pursuing a relationship with another person if you can’t be honest about where you’ve been and where you want to go.”

~~CM~~

Thomas’ quiet breathing and the hum of the air conditioner drowned out her thoughts, pulling her into an uneasy sleep. Turbulent dreams left her groggy as the alarm went off in the morning; she silenced it before it could wake up Thomas.

Debating if she could leave her son alone in the room so she could walk Nutella, her waffling ended when she heard a quiet knock on the adjoining door. Derek offered to take Nutella for a short run while the rest of them got ready.

Showering quickly, Anna dressed and woke Thomas as room service arrived with breakfast for four. Spencer stumbled into the room, half asleep and in pajamas, reaching for the coffee pot as Derek returned with a very tired but happy dog.

After breakfast, Thomas rolled the room service cart into the hallway, giggling as everyone watched him affectionately.
The group finished getting ready before packing their bags. Anna was curious as she watched Derek grab one shoe from under the bed, three different shirts from the top of the dresser, and socks from the bathroom. He stuffed everything into a duffel bag and still missed half his toiletries scattered around the hotel room.

“But he didn’t even wear half those clothes,” Anna commented to Spencer.

“He tried them on and changed his mind.” He shrugged, “at least you don’t have to spend hours on a stakeout with him. He can trash a car in under twenty minutes.”

At the airport, Derek worked his magic on the ticketing desk and not only was Nutella allowed in the main cabin, they didn’t have to check their luggage.

Once they were settled in their seats with extra legroom, Spencer handed Thomas a shark encyclopedia from his messenger bag. Anna smiled at Spencer’s thoughtfulness but began to regret ever meeting Spencer as Thomas recounted shark facts for the entirety of the flight to the east coast. A dull headache pounded behind her eyes as Derek asked Thomas questions and dubbing him with a new nickname every twenty minutes. Thomas glowed as he was called The Shark Doctor, Mini-Spencer, Spencer Jr., and Kid Junior.

As the plane began to descend, Anna took a deep breath and held it for several seconds. As she breathed out, she nodded her head and gave herself an internal pep talk, ‘This is it! Time to face your past and claim your future. You will be Emily Prentiss again!’

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

The arrest warrant was issued for Ian Doyle. However, instead of sending the Boston Police Department or the local FBI office into arresting him, the assistant US Attorney General, Peter Vanderpool, ordered that Doyle be taken in by the US Marshals and be placed in protective custody in federal prison. Four of Doyle’s top soldiers were also arrested however they were held in local Boston city jails awaiting a hearing.

Within 12 hours, Doyle’s lawyer had his client released on his own recognizance. Unlike their boss, Doyle’s men were held without bond.

Aaron knew that Peter wouldn’t try to hold Doyle without bond as it would have sent the man into a rage that would cost lives as the former IRA captain would have hunted down anyone who dared to go against him. Additionally, keeping his men in jail would create dissension in the ranks, Aaron approved of Peter’s methods.

With Spencer and Derek gone to escort Anna and Thomas to D.C., Aaron placed his team on ‘stand down.’ He dug into the cold case files with Garcia and JJ. Dave managed to get vacation time, despite Aaron not seeing a leave request form. Shaking his head, Aaron thought Dave had the entire FBI bureaucracy down to a science.

He was enjoying being on stand down, working regular hours even if it was just for a few days. Going home early enough to spend quality time with Jack was worth it.

Aaron was curious as to how the cross country trip with two FBI agents was going for Thomas and Anna. It occurred to him that Anna was probably considering the two grown men to be additional children. He recalled Morgan's propensity to make messes while Spencer had a childlike fascination with most things.

He was still laughing to himself when he walked into his apartment.

“What has you smiling?” Jess asked as he scooped Jack up into a bear hug.

“I was thinking of Spencer whining about germs and lack of proper sanitation in airplanes while Derek stuffs the seat pocket with wrappers as he snacks nonstop for the four-hour flight.”

Jess matched his smile, “those men are such opposites, aren’t they? You think they are driving Anna mad?”

“Yeah,” Aaron excused himself to change out of his suit, “I’ll be right back to help with dinner.”

Jack trailed his father into the master bedroom, filling him in on his day. Aaron listened attentively and shared his previously unknown opinion on the best colors for feathers as he put on sweatpants and a t-shirt.

“But Dad, did you know that you can make colors change into other colors by coloring hard or soft? Aunt Jess showed me. And I can color something green and then get a lighter green and not push so hard and then I can color yellow and push hard but not too hard so the pencil breaks and then I can do another yellow color. It’s called ombre. Wanna see?”

Aaron looked through Jack’s sketchbook and agreed to try it himself after dinner.

“You can do red into black. No, black into blue.” Jack looked to his aunt for approval, “yeah, you can do black into blue. I’m gonna do the opposite, blue into black.”

With Jack preoccupied with setting up his color pencils, Jess pestered Aaron with questions about Anna.

“I’m not nervous,” Aaron shrugged as he pulled ingredients from the fridge, “at least not about seeing her. I am anxious about the whole process. It just takes so long. There are evidentiary hearings, then months of getting the case prepared, then the jury selection. Who knows how long a trial like this will go on. All this while Anna and Thomas are in a safe house with no contact.”

Jess set the pan on the stove, drizzling it with olive oil, “you are going to miss her.”

Sighing sadly, Aaron nodded, “I’m going to miss her.”

~~CM~~

Peter called Aaron with an update. Pretrial motions were presented to a federal judge and he declared that Ian Doyle had the right to face his accuser in person; calling for the lead witness to appear at the evidentiary hearing. Emily Prentiss was to resurface much sooner than expected.

Hanging up the phone, Aaron sent off a text message to Derek asking him to bring Anna and Thomas directly to the Quantico campus.

Scrapping plans to keep Anna and Thomas in the safe house, Aaron decided to put Anna in custody as a federal witness and hold her in a local secured hotel with JJ and Dave as protection while Declan, no Thomas, stayed with Hotch and Jack under Derek and Spencer’s protection.

Closed his eyes as he imagined how difficult this would be for her. Not only did she have to face Ian Doyle so soon, she also had to be separated from her child for a few days. He debated calling Walter and filling him in on the situation but protocol dictated that he leave the witnesses alone. Not that he had done a very good job with Anna, he reminded himself.

Aaron quickly locked up his office and headed home to prepare Jack and Jess for their house guests.

Unimpressed with his plan, Jess surveyed the small two bedroom apartment with her hands on her hips, “there is no way you can have three adults, two children, and a dog fit in here.”

“The couch is pretty comfortable and I have sleeping bags,” Aaron replied as he looked around, “I can’t put Thomas in a safe house without his mother.”

“I get it but I can’t imagine Derek or Spencer in sleeping bags,” Jess kissed the top of Jack’s head and Aaron’s cheek as she headed for the door, “I’ll bring extra bedding tomorrow.”

Turning to Jack, Aaron asked his son if he knew what was going on.

“No, Daddy.”

“Tomorrow, we will have Thomas and Nutella come stay with us.”

Jumping up and down in excitement, Jack rattled off so many questions that Aaron could barely keep up. Despite assuring Jack that Nutella would come with everything she needs including her own food bowl, he agreed to take Jack to the pet store after dinner.

Aaron placed a forty-pound bag of Nutella’s dog food brand in the shopping cart, he allowed Jack to lead him to the aisle filled with treats and bones.

“But Daddy, she needs a dog bed to sleep in.”

“Buddy, she can sleep on the carpet,” Aaron said halfheartedly; he knew Nutella would be sleeping on one of their beds or on the couch but in the end, he was shoving a large red dog bed in his trunk along with more toys than Nutella would ever need.

As he tucked Jack in that night, he found himself reassuring him, “Of course Thomas will like you. He can’t wait to meet you after all those phone calls.”

“But what if he doesn’t want me to pet Nutella? She is his dog.”

Hugging his son closer to him, Aaron settled down on the bed with Jack, “I don’t think he will mind.”

“What if he doesn’t want to play with me? What if he says I am a baby? Sam’s brother says he doesn’t want to play baby games with babies.”

Since Jack wasn’t looking up at him, Aaron allowed himself another eye roll at Sam’s older brother, James. The preschool stories of Sam and his older brother were a common feature when Jack told him about his day. “Jack, not everyone is like James. I am sure you and Thomas will find plenty in common. You both love Spider-Man and you both like sharks, right?”

After several rounds of questioning, Jack relaxed enough for a bedtime story. Aaron grabbed Anna’s latest book and started chapter six.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

As they pulled the black SUV into the FBI parking garage, Anna knew her time in hiding was officially over. Derek had filled her in on the next steps but she still couldn’t believe it. She had to be away from Thomas. Granted he would be with Aaron and Jack, with Spencer and Derek watching over him, but somehow it didn’t seem to be safe enough without her by his side. Since the day four years ago when they went on the run, Anna always had Thomas in her sights.

Derek opened the windows half way and assured her that they wouldn’t leave Nutella in the car for too long, “15 minutes tops. The weather is nice and cool. She will be fine.”

Spencer escorted them upstairs to the conference room where they were beset upon by a brightly dressed blonde who was clapping her hands and vibrating with excitement, “Boy Genius, step aside and let me meet my little Minecraft Muffin, Thomas.”

Derek pouted as she ignored him, focusing all her attention on the young boy. After a minute of chatting, Thomas noticed Aaron and ran into his arms. Anna blinked away tears as Aaron hoisted Thomas up, hugging him while murmuring how much he had missed him.

As she crossed through the conference room door, Anna only had eyes for Aaron. He placed Thomas back on the floor and stepped up into her personal space, taking both her hands into his. Sheer willpower kept her from tugging him forward into a deep kiss. Instead, she smiled and nodded at him as if they were colleagues.

A smartly dressed blond broke through the haze, reaching out her hand, “Anna, I am Jennifer Jareau. Please call me JJ.”

Anna spoke as they shook hands, “Oh, I’ve heard so much about you and your family from Aaron.”

JJ introduced her to David Rossi. There were more handshakes before they sat down at the round table.

Thomas opted to sit in Aaron’s lap and lean across Anna to chat with Penelope. After reviewing the procedures for the trial with Anna, the group discussed Thomas’ stay with the Hotchners’.

“Wait, Mom isn’t staying with me?” Thomas’ blue eyes widened as he looked around the room. Scampering off of Aaron, he climbed into Anna’s arms and buried his head in her chest. The BAU team left the room quietly, leaving mother and child to talk.

“Oh sweetheart, I am going to miss you,” she dropped a kiss into his curls, “you will have fun with Aaron and you’ll finally meet Jack.”

Sniffling, he rubbed his face against her shirt, “but I don’t want to go without you.”

“Thomas, this is important. I wouldn’t leave you if it wasn’t,” Anna hugged him closer. He nodded, still crying. “Can you give Nutella hugs for me? I will miss her so much.”

A few minutes later, she watched as her son walked away from her. Excusing herself, she bolted into the bathroom, barely closing the stall door before sobs escaped. After calming down, she washed her face and gratefully accepted the paper towel from JJ, who was standing by the sink quietly.

“Come on, Anna. Let’s get you to the hotel. You could use a good night’s sleep.” JJ led her to the garage where David Rossi was loading her luggage into another large black SUV.

~~CM~~

Aaron held Thomas’s hand as they walked to the parking garage. Derek and Spencer following close behind. Nutella recognized Aaron and began to whine. Opening the car door, Aaron found his arms full of the chocolate labrador.

Despite his preference to drive, Aaron climbed into the backseat with Thomas and Nutella, leaving Derek to drive and Spencer in the passenger seat.

Within two minutes of arriving at his apartment, Jack was in love with the brown lab.

Remembering the rules, he reached out his tiny hand for the dog to smell, “Hi Nutella. I’m Jack.” Nutella licked Jack’s hand and he patted her head.

With dog friendship achieved, he greeted Thomas, “I like your dog. Can we take her on a walk? Can I teach her to roll over? Maybe then I’mma give her a dog bone. Do you think she likes biscuits better than bones? Can she fetch? I can teach her to fetch.”

Aaron directed Spencer and Derek to stay in his master bedroom, “if you don’t mind sharing,” citing that the boys would sleep in the living room with Nutella while he took Jack’s bed. His subordinates exchanged glances, nodding a bit eagerly.

Rolling his eyes at their backs as they slinked off to the bedroom, Aaron knew he would need to address their not-so-platonic relationship soon.

He asked the boys if they wanted to build a blanket fort. Cheering, the boys ran through the apartment grabbing sheets and blankets. Spencer helped them to turn the dining room into a fort large enough for two boys and a dog. With a few pieces of twine, he rigged a sheet to the light fixture giving the room a tent-like feel.

The boys worked well together. Jack was enamored with Thomas; hanging on the older boy’s every word. With the fort complete, they needed to add toys. Thomas brought his out of his backpack as Jack ran back and forth to his room to collect his. They set up the sleeping bags and couch cushions before dragging Nutella’s new dog bed into their tent.

After a quick snack, Aaron and Jack guided Thomas and Spencer to the dog park down the road while Derek headed to the grocery store. Thrilled with meeting so many dogs, Jack was hyper trying to pet them all. Spencer was certainly trying but Aaron saw that the Reid Effect was back in full effect when it came to dogs he didn’t know. The young genius’ comfort was limited to Nutella and Derek’s dog, Clooney.

“Hotch, are you okay with Derek and I starting a romantic relationship?” Spencer asked nervously, tugging at the strap of his messenger bag.

Aaron had to hand it to him, the younger man was a genius. He didn’t have to address the issue, Spencer was mature enough bring it to him.

“You are both adults, Spencer. You can date whomever you choose but don’t let it affect you on the job. There is a reason for non-fraternization policies. You need to remain objective in dangerous situations and if you are emotionally compromised, well,” Aaron trailed off, “I’m compromised right now and Anna is just a witness.”

Spencer nodded understandingly.

Make your own pizza night was a hit with everyone, Aaron thanked Derek as they cleaned the kitchen up. Simply raising his eyebrows, Derek didn’t respond. When he returned from taking out the trash, Derek finally asked him, “What? No shovel talk? No lecture on hurting Pretty Boy?”

Flashing a dimple, Aaron said, “You are both adults in a consensual relationship. No one is taking advantage of the other. Who am I to say anything?”

~~CM~~

Another hotel with adjoining rooms but this time, Anna had an FBI agent for a roommate, Aaron’s employee and friend, JJ. David Rossi took the room next to them and promptly said his good nights. JJ unpacked her bag and changed out of her skirt suit as Anna ordered them dinner from room service, chicken caesar salads.

Settling into the full bed closest to the door, JJ called her boyfriend as Anna went to change. When she returned, JJ was still on the phone reciting a book to her son. Their conversation flowed easily, talking about their sons and children’s books as they ate their dinners.

As the evening drew to a close, Anna’s anxiety rose. Being away from Thomas was difficult enough but it was the idea of facing Ian Doyle in court the next morning that made her feel awful. Tightness in her chest and her body temp rose, Anna pulled her shirt away from her body trying to find relief.

Swiftly changing the subject, JJ asked Ann about her relationship with Aaron, calling him Hotch.

“I noticed that everyone except for David calls him Hotch.”

“No one calls him Aaron except for Dave and he was his boss for years,” JJ explained, “he has very formal relationships with everyone except for Dave. Well, he has been different with Spencer since the accident.”

Feeling a little guilty, Anna divulged, “Well, he sure thinks of all of you like family.”

“So he talks about us?”

Grinning Anna said, “I know all about Henry and Will. I know about Spencer’s mother, Derek’s family, David’s many wives. But I have to admit now that I have met Penelope, I don’t believe any of the stories he told me about her past. She’s just too bright and cheerful.”

JJ laughed, “she really was the Black Queen.”

Sliding lower under the covers, Anna relaxed into the soft sheets as she continued chatting with JJ until her eyelids drooped and she fell asleep.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

~~CM~~

Anna showered quickly; blow-drying her hair straight, something she hadn’t done in years. She dressed in her only pantsuit. Keeping her makeup minimal, she looked at herself in the mirror. Long gone was her wavy hair and flannel shirts. Long gone was her anonymity.

“Dressing simply is good for court,” JJ told her as they joined David, ‘Please call me Dave’ in the hallway. He guided her into the elevator and stayed close the entire way to the SUV with black tinted windows.

At the courthouse, she was escorted into a small conference room to meet with the Assistant Attorney General, Peter Vanderpool. Going over what to expect from the day’s proceedings, he advised her to answer questions simply. “Avoid embellishments, stick to yes, no, specific dates.”

Anna nodded at him, “after hearing my testimony, do you think the judge will remand Ian until the trial?”

Shaking his head, Peter said, “I doubt it.”

“Ian is going to be livid. I won’t be safe whether he’s behind bars or not.”

Peter patted her shoulder, “that’s why we ordered protective custody for you. I am glad that Aaron thought to separate you and Declan. Speak of the devil...”

Dressed in a black suit with a dark patterned tie, Aaron stepped into the conference room. Her desire and longing were matched in his eyes but his posture reminded her to remain professional. He shook Peter’s hand, then turn to her, “Thomas is doing well. He and Jack made pizza and slept in a blanket fort,” he informed her, gesturing to the open chairs.

Peter excused himself as Aaron continued telling Anna about her son, “he misses you.”

She nodded gratefully, “we’ve never been apart before.”

“Did Peter explain the pretrial motions for today?”

Nodding again, Anna sat up straight, “this is just a motion for the defense to try to dismiss me as a witness and the judge will make a final decision on the evidence.”

The bailiff notified Dave that it was time to begin. The three FBI agents escorted Anna into the courtroom and they all sat together behind Peter.

A few minutes later, Ian Doyle walked past them with his lawyer, his eyes staring ahead to the defense table.

Sucking in gulps of air, Anna stared at the floor rather than at her former lover. She heard the judge enter the courtroom and each attorney presented their motion. It seemed like hours before her given name was called.

“Emily Prentiss, please come up to the witness stand.”

Hearing her name, Ian’s head jerked around and his mouth gaped open as he watched her walk out of the gally and towards the witness stand. As she locked eyes with him, Ian turned and leaped from his seat, punching the bailiff in the face. Grabbing the man’s service weapon, Ian smashed it into his lawyer’s face before rushing forward towards Anna.

Anna could hear Aaron’s steel voice cutting through the screams of the galley, “Drop the weapon, Doyle.”

Ian continued forward, leveling the gun at her face, his own face twisted into a grimace, “You. Took. My. Son.”

“Drop it now,” Aaron ordered.

Rather than comply, Ian jumped forward, wrapping his arms around Anna, the pistol shoving into her stomach painfully.

Wrestling for the gun, the screams around them seemed to dim, they fell to the ground. Terrified, Anna kept batting away at Ian’s arms while trying to twist out of his hold.

Her senses dulled as the sound of a single gunshot echoed through the courtroom. Her hearing blocked, her vision dimmed; she felt wetness between their bodies, seeping through their clothes onto skin. She tried to pull away but Ian’s arms tightened around her.

A moment later, Ian groaned and rolled away from her. She felt as if her torso was on fire but quickly realized she wasn’t the one bleeding.

Anna stayed on the ground, staring at Ian, as Aaron’s form blurred between them. He was disarming Ian before he turned, checking on her.

My boy,” Ian whispered, his voice ragged, “Declan.”

Anna honestly didn’t know what she was doing as she struggled out of Aaron’s hold and scrambled up on her knees beside Ian. She held his face in her hands, holding his gaze, “Declan is safe. He is safe and loved.”

Hoarsely, Ian slurred, “Raising warriors. Declan.”

“He’s safe, Ian. I kept him safe,” Anna told him as he died.

~~CM~~

Aaron struggled to pull Anna away from Ian Doyle’s body as JJ directed the paramedics to him. Covering her hands with his, he was able to ease her grip on Doyle’s face. She flailed for a moment before crashing into his chest, sobbing.

“Angel,” he whispered, walking them backward until they were in the galley. He sat down heavily and held her close, “it’s not your fault.”

“I wanted him to go to prison, Aaron. I never wanted this,” she cried, soaking his dress shirt with her tears and Ian’s blood.

The courtroom was besieged by local police interviewing everyone from the stenographer to the members of the audience. The Assistant Director of the FBI entered the room and took control of the scene. He ordered the witness statements, transcripts, and security tapes to be sent to the US Attorney General.

Anna recounted the incident four times with four different people, a uniformed officer, a detective, an FBI agent, and then a different Assistant Attorney General.

Finally, they dismissed her, and she sat in the galley with JJ as she waited for Aaron. They sat quietly as people rushed around them. Anna watched in horror as Aaron was placed on leave pending an investigation.

A gentle squeeze from JJ’s hand calmed her, “this is a high profile case and he is involved with the lead witness. They have to do this by the book. He’ll be back in less than a week.”

Aaron escorted her from the courthouse, leading her to his SUV. Once they were alone in the vehicle, she turned and apologized, “I’m sorry that you were suspended. That wasn’t fair to you.” He began to interrupt but she held up her hand, “and I wish to thank you for saving…”

“You saved yourself.” Leaning across the front seat, he kissed her, brushing her hair away from her face, “come home with me?”

“Can we stop by the hotel? I need to change,” she gestured at her blood-soaked across her shirt. “And maybe you can borrow a shirt of Dave’s. He’s in the room next to mine.”

“I have my go bag in the trunk.”

Ignoring the curious glances, they crossed the lobby and took the elevator to her floor. Aaron made quick work of changing his clothes as she washed up in the bathroom.

Anna looked at herself in the mirror, smears of blood on her face; crusty dried blood. The blood of Ian Doyle. Her lover and Thomas’ father. He was gone. He had tried to kill her but she had fought back and now he was dead.

She scrubbed away at her hands and face, seeing blood remain on across her forehead, her white dress shirt, her inner arm. She stripped, dropping her clothes onto the tiny bathroom floor and stumbled into the shower. Sobbing again, she didn’t even note the temperature of the cold water raining down on her.

She startled when a hand reached in and turned the knob, the water warming up immediately. Aaron’s soothing voice brought her back to the present. She lathered her body with soap, running a little conditioner through wet hair.

A few minutes later, she opened the shower curtain and Aaron stood with a large towel outstretched in his hands. He wrapped her up then sat her on the closed toilet seat. He grabbed a smaller towel and began squeezing the excess water from her hair. Gently he combed her hair and then wrapped it in a towel. Aaron handed her a plain terry cloth bathrobe and she stood, slipping her arms in.

He dropped a kiss on her forehead and she reached up and embraced him tightly, both of them whispering “I love you,” at the same time.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

As Aaron drove her to his apartment, Anna used his phone to call her mother. Listening to her identify herself as Emily gave him a thrill. She could now reclaim her life. As the conversation progressed, it appeared her mother was crying and Walter took over the call.

“Yes. I am with him now. Yes, tomorrow sounds perfect. I don’t know.” She turned to him, “Aaron, can we meet them tomorrow?”

They arranged a reunion for the next day as they pulled up in front of his building. He led her upstairs, rushing as she was on his heels. Finally, she had Thomas in her arms. Feeling left out, Nutella wrapped her body around Emily’s legs. Derek, Spencer, Jack, stood to the side with Aaron watching the private moment.

Hugging his son, Aaron nodded at his agents, “I don’t think they are out of danger yet.”

“Agreed,” Derek stated, “Pen is monitoring his people and we have posted uniforms outside.”

Spencer nodded along, “And we were invited to sleep in the blanket fort tonight so you and Anna can have the bed.”

Derek shoved Spencer, whispering harshly, “Pretty Boy, don’t make assumptions!”

Anna turned, smiling, and asked Thomas to introduce her to Jack.

Her son rolled his eyes at her, “Mom, this is Jack.”

Crouching down, Anna shook Jack’s hand, “Nice to meet you.”

“Thomas says that you let him help you with ideas for Fireball,” Jack asked timidly, glancing at her from under his eyelashes.

“I do and I am always looking for more ideas. Do you have any ideas about Fireball’s next adventure?”

Aaron watched mooney-eyed as Jack warmed up to Anna, chattering away about his favorite character. She was a natural with him.

“I guess you weren’t making assumptions,” Derek bumped shoulders with Spencer, letting their boss hear him.

~~CM~~

Anna appreciated the time alone with her son. Aaron sent Spencer and Derek to the grocery store while he and Jack took Nutella for a walk.

With Thomas on the couch, she sat down beside him and took his hand, “I have some sad news.”

Thomas shrugged, “my dad is in jail?”

“I’m afraid he’s dead,” she paused, waiting for the information to sink in, “he’s gone, Thomas.”

“Are you sure?”

Giving his hand a small squeeze, she brushed her fingers through his hair, “Yes, I was with him when he died. He asked about you. I told him you were doing well. He loved you.”

Yanking his hand away, Thomas jumped up and yelled, “Bad guys can’t love people. They are bad.”

Speaking softly, Anna reached out for him, “Your dad did bad things. He made bad choices but he is a person and people make mistakes. He loved you in his own way. He couldn’t keep you safe but he loved you.”

Climbing into her lap, he tucked his head under her chin, allowing her to rock him quietly, “can I be sad?”

“I’m sad,” Anna confessed, “I am very sad.”

It was another hour before Aaron popped his head through the door, checking if they could come in. Thomas dragged Jack and Nutella into the tent to play, pretending everything was fine. Taking advantage of the time alone, Anna kissed Aaron and held on tight.

When her shaking subsided, Aaron offered her a look around the apartment, “how about a tour?”

Ending up in the master bedroom, she noted the warmth of the room. The large bed took up most of the space, leaving little room for the dresser, nightstand, and armchair. The bedspread, pillows, rug, and curtains worked well together without being matchy-matchy. Arching her eyebrow, Anna nodded towards the decor.

“It was Jess. She said my style was very ‘College Dorm’ room,” he made air quotes.

Glad he wasn’t holding on to his dead ex-wife's’ bedroom set, Anna relaxed a bit. They sat together on the end of the bed holding hands.

“It’s not safe yet,” Aaron cautioned her, “we may still need to put you and Thomas in a safe house.”

She gave a jerky nod and squeezed his hand, “maybe we should hold off of my mom and Walter’s visit.”

“I’ll find us a neutral location.” He promised, “do you want me to let them know to continue calling you ‘Anna’?”

A strangled sob escaped and she covered her mouth, tucking her head in against his firm chest, “just until we are safe.”

After the agents returned from the grocery store, Spencer and Anna took over his small kitchen, making comfort food for the group.

Aaron had time to talk to Walter as Derek followed up with the rest of the team. Walter offered to escort the Ambassador to the meeting at yet undisclosed location using his training to elude any kind of tail that Doyle may have put on them. While the older gentleman was pleased with the news of Doyle’s death, he agreed with Aaron that Anna needed to remain in protective custody.

Derek and Spencer offered to take over for the rest of the evening, an intense game of hide and seek with the boys and dog, a quick walk around the block, diffusing a fight over bath versus showers then Jack’s bath, Thomas’s shower, and Derek was officially exhausted. Spencer cheekily suggested he up his workout routine.

Anna bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud as the sounds of Derek’s snores filled the blanket fort. Giving in to exhaustion, she happily followed Aaron to his bedroom. He held her close, running his fingers in her hair.

When sleep finally claimed her, Ian’s face, the muffled gunshot, and blood filled her dreams. Gasping for breath, Anna pulled herself out of Aaron’s arms and scrambled off the bed. She huddled in the corner of the room sobbing silently.

“Anna, it was just a bad dream,” Aaron called from the bed. He slipped out of the covers and joined her on the floor.

“But it wasn’t a bad dream. I killed him. All those years, I wanted to kill him and reclaim my life. I was terrified of losing Declan so I ran like a coward. And all that was for nothing, I ended up killing him anyway,” as another sob escaped, she covered her face with her hands, “I killed my son’s father.”

Aaron pulled her into his arms despite her resistance. He kept murmuring reassurances until she had cried herself to sleep. Debating carrying her back to bed or remaining on the floor, Aaron decided to brave the short walk back to the bed. Rearranging Anna in his arms, he lifted her up as he pushed himself up on his knees. Luckily for his back, she woke up and stumbled back to the bed.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

In the middle of the night, Aaron heard creaking in the hallway. Half asleep, his hand was already moving toward the nightstand when he heard Jack sleepily call out for him. Sitting up, he noted both boys were in the doorway, waiting for permission to enter. “What’s wrong?” He asked them quietly.

Jack clambered up into his lap, “Uncle Derek won’t stop snoring.”

“And Spencer talks in his sleep,” Thomas added.

“Alright, climb in,” Aaron lifted the blankets and the boys wedged into the middle of the bed. Anna threw her arm over Declan, patting Jack’s hair gently, before taking Aaron’s hand.

Despite the tight quarters and catching Jack’s elbow to the face, Aaron was thrilled when he woke in the morning. His family was a little broken but they were together.

Standing in his kitchen, Derek was making pancakes, having already prepared a large platter full crispy bacon. Shaking his head, Aaron saw that he was shirtless, again. It was as if Derek Morgan was allergic to shirts.

“Hey Hotch, Penelope has two safe houses, a secure coffee shop, or the conference rooms at the State Department that we can use for today’s meeting.”

“The State Department makes more sense. It will look like the Ambassador is going in for a meeting,” Aaron answered, pouring coffee for himself and topping off Derek’s mug, “thanks for making breakfast.”

Anna joined them in the kitchen and gave him a peck on the cheek as Derek guffawed at them. Ignoring him, she plated breakfast for herself and Aaron, sitting down at the counter.

The boys woke soon after and almost finished off the pancakes until Derek said, “Hold on, young’uns. Let’s make a plate for Spencer then you have the rest.”

“Aaron, how about you and I take Nutella on her morning walk while the boys wake Spencer?” Anna suggested.

Patting the dog on the head, Derek told them that he had already taken her for a two mile run.

JJ and Dave met them at a coffee shop halfway between the apartment and the State Department offices. Anna watched in horror as JJ slammed a rather large cup of coffee before getting a refill. The group left Aaron’s SUV at the coffee shop, opting to travel together in Dave’s identical black vehicle.

After multiple security checks, they were escorted to a private office with JJ, Dave, and Aaron standing guard at the door. The sounds of sobbing could be heard through the thick door. Eventually, Walter stepped out, his eye red-rimmed, and shook Aaron’s hand.

Using her ringing phone as a reason to step away, JJ answered and gestured for Dave to follow her.

“Aaron, you brought our girl home.”

“She saved herself and Thomas but I am happy that I was able to lend a hand.” Despite having known Walter for years and their recent meetings, Aaron felt uncomfortable. As if he was meeting her father and declaring his intentions to marry his daughter. While the man was not Anna’s father, he was the closest thing to one in her life.

“Hotch!” JJ called out, jogging towards them with Dave hot on her heels, “Hotch, that was the Boston City Jail. Two of Doyle’s men were found dead in their cells this morning. The third has requested protection in exchange for turning state’s witness.”

“Unbelievable,” his own phone began vibrating in his pocket. It was Pete confirming what JJ had just told him. “Are you sure?” Aaron asked.

“I took his statement myself, Aaron. She’s safe, so is her son.”

His legs shook and he gripped the phone tighter, “And their identities?”

“Of course, just have them decide on names and I will have new birth certificates and passports created,” Pete promised, “but if they want to go back to their real names, there is no longer any threat to them.”

~~CM~~

Anna could not believe how much she missed her mother until they were clinging to each other, tears flowing freely. Walter had escaped the emotional reunion after five minutes, dropping a kiss on the top of her head as if she were a child before he fled the room.

“Emily, I can’t believe it’s been so long,” Elizabeth Prentiss told her daughter, “don’t shake your head at me, Emily Anne Prentiss. I can’t call you Anna. At least not here, not when we are alone.” She hugged her tight again then dabbed at both their faces with tissues, “Walter said you were living in the woods like a pioneer woman.”

“Mother,” she tried to mutter with disdain but she couldn’t pull it off, “the only limitations in the cabin were a lack of a dishwasher and high-speed internet.”

“Sounds terrible. And your boy, Thomas. How is he doing?”

They caught up at lightning speed, Elizabeth’s hands constantly smoothing her daughter’s hair or caressing her cheek.

“Ambassador, SSA Aaron Hotchner,” Walter interrupted them as he entered the room with Aaron following close behind.

“Ambassador Prentiss, it is nice to see you again,” Aaron shook hands with her mother as Anna looked on. His eyes were shining, he must have news, she thought. Yes, he had news, his mouth was tight as he kept himself from smiling when he noticed her staring.

“Aaron?” She asked but he looked to Walter for permission instead of meeting her eye. Crossing the room, she tugged his arm and turned him around to face her.

“Two of Doyle’s men were murdered in prison. His second in command has agreed to testify against the remaining members in exchange for protection. You are safe,” he fought to keep his hands down but she had no compulsion to be shy in front of her mother and Walter.

Throwing herself at him, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him on the lips. He held her up, deepening their kiss, her feet leaving the ground.

At the sound of her mother clearing her throat, Aaron lowered her back to the ground but he kept his arm around her waist, turning to face the Ambassador and Walter.

“I see that you left out a little part of your story, Emily,” Elizabeth nodded towards Aaron.

“Oh my,” she laughed as she clapped her hands together, “I can be Emily again.”

With a decisive nod, Elizabeth declared that it was time for her to reclaim her life, offering to help her find home appropriate for their social standing and finally joining the country club.

Walter stayed out of the Ambassadors’ line of sight, rolling his eyes at them. Eventually, she allowed them to leave, demanding to be kept up to date on her daughter’s situation and frequent visits.

~~CM~~

After returning to the coffee shop to get his SUV, Aaron sent Dave and JJ back to work with the intention of taking his Emily home. Emily, he loved saying her name in his head. As soon as they were alone, he boxed her in against the car, leaning in, whispering her name in reverence, “Emily, Emily, Emily.” He lost himself in kissing her mouth, cheeks, and neck.

Her eyes sparkled mischievously and after a quick glance around the parking lot behind the building, she tugged him into the back of the SUV with tinted windows. Their lovemaking had always been on the romantic side with actual lovemaking. This was nothing of the sort. She was laughing and playful as she tugged at his belt, straddling him. He felt boyishly naughty as he indulged in his teenage fantasy of having sex in the backseat of a car. They were well sated when they finally arrived at the apartment.

At home, Emily hugged both boys tight before allowing herself to be dragged into Jack’s room to play. Aaron filled in Derek and Spencer on the situation. Confident that her security threat was negligible, the agents packed up their go bags and headed back to the office to finish out the day.

With Aaron still on official leave for the shooting of Ian Doyle, he had the rest of the week to spend with his family. He simply could not recall a time when he didn’t mind being on suspension.

The remainder of the day was filled with a long walk to the park with Nutella and cooking dinner with Emily. Chopping and stirring in the small apartment sized kitchen reminded him of their time in the cabin. After dinner, he took his time with Jack’s bath to give mother and son to discuss the latest happenings including if they wanted to go back to their given names.

As they kissed the boys good night, Emily gave him a small smile letting him know that all was right with the world.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Emily and Aaron cleaned up the kitchen as the boys chatted quietly in the blanket fort. Emily paused as she passed the dining room and gestured for Aaron to join her, holding her finger to her lips to keep him silent.

Inside the tent, Jack had asked Thomas why he was sad, and Emily wanted to hear her son’s reply.

“My dad is dead and I have to pick a new name.”

“My mommy is in heaven. A bad guy killed her,” Jack told the older boy.

“My dad was a bad guy,” Thomas confessed, his voice shaking.

“My daddy is a good guy and I will share him with you.”

“Yeah,” Thomas mumbled, “thanks for sharing your Dad. He’s nice.”

Wiping away her tears, Emily heard rustling in the tent. Jack was comforting Thomas.

“You hafta pick a name. When Mommy and I were hiding from bad guys, she called me, Jay.”

Thomas sniffled, “My name was Declan. My mom says I can stay Thomas or be Declan again. Her name isn’t Anna anymore, she is Emily now.”

“Declan is a cool name. But Thomas is cool too.”

Aaron kissed her temple as the boys segued into a less serious topic and led her to his bedroom. They sat on the end of the bed, and she leaned into him, breathing deeply.

“You have a great boy, Aaron. He is so compassionate and mature,” Emily snuggled in deeper, rubbing her face against his soft cotton t-shirt.

“We have great boys,” he said tilting her face up to see her eyes, “and we will get through this, together.”

While it was still early, Emily was emotionally drained. Aaron suggested they cuddle in bed and watch a movie. Moving around his bedroom as she changed into her pajamas felt comfortable like this was her home. In a way it was, she thought.
Aaron padded out of the bathroom in his bare feet; it seemed more intimate than anything they had done. He was baring his soul to her, sharing his home, his family, his love and affection. He invited her into his life and his home. Seeing his naked feet, Emily couldn’t help but smile; yes, this was home.

~~CM~~

The next morning, Aaron hopped out of bed for a quick run with Nutella while Emily made french toast. He truly enjoyed having a companion on his run. After breakfast, he tried to negotiate with the boys on taking down the blanket fort in the dining room.

Emily mocked his skills and subtly suggested they move the fort into Jack’s room as that could be their new base, “After all, secret agent dog training needs to be done privately.”

She bit back a grin as Aaron watched the boys rushed towards Jack’s room with their belongings.

The remainder of the day was filled to light chores, from vacuuming to folding laundry. Aaron checked in on his team but they were on stand down until he was reinstated. Dave had decided to take “sick time,” while the rest of the profilers were reviewing consults. Penelope was working on server maintenance. Feeling a little smug, he decided not to check in with his section chief. She could call him with an update if she wanted.

During lunch, Thomas looked pensive despite the pudding cups. Aaron glanced at Emily and saw that she had noticed, “Hey buddy, are you okay?”

Jack answered for the older boy, “he doesn’t know what to do with about his name.”

“I want to be Declan again but I don’t want to lose Thomas,” He shrugged, “I like Declan and Thomas and I don’t like John.”

“Where did John come from?” Aaron asked, trying to recall if it had been mentioned before.

“He was Declan John Doyle when he was born,” Emily reached across the table to pat his hand, “You could keep both Thomas and Declan and use one as your middle name.”

“Thomas Declan or Declan Thomas,” Aaron tested out both and looked to the boys for their reaction.

“I like Declan Thomas,” he said as Jack bopped his head up and down in agreement.

“Why don’t we try it out and see if you like it,” Emily suggested, “and I would still get to middle name you when you are in trouble.”

After lunch, Jack climbed into Emily’s lap with a Fireball Dragon book in his hand. They read together and the little boy provided a running commentary.

Across the room, Aaron had Declan, making a point to call him by his new/old name, reviewing furniture websites with him, trying to find a solution for the boys’ bedroom. They went back and forth around Jack’s small room with a tape measure and determined the ceilings were not tall enough for bunk beds. Back on the computer for decorating ideas, Declan liked the idea of splitting the room in half but Aaron wasn’t convinced.

“You wouldn’t have any floor space to play,” he pulled up another design, “What if we put the beds in an L shape along the wall. We can move the dresser into the closet and you will have space to play or set up a Lego table.”

Declan ran back to Jack’s room to look, his eyes narrowed as he tried to imagine the space. He returned to the living room with a bright gleam in his eyes, “We can fit both the dresser and the bookcase in the closet and just hang our nice clothes higher.”

Aaron hugged him, “Good plan, Declan.”

~~CM~~

Aaron noticed that Emily was delaying bedtime. There was nothing left to clean in the small apartment and she had already organized his books by subject then author after the boys went to bed.

She sat on the couch, not really watch tv, “are you up for another episode? You can go to bed if you want; I am not ready to wind down yet.”

“Emily, nightmares are hard but I am here. I will be there for you if you have another one,” Aaron took the remote from her hand, “you need to sleep.”

She nodded in agreement but her eyes told him that she had no plans to sleep.

“I’ve been there. I didn’t sleep much after I was attacked and Haley and Jack went into witness protection. Just an hour or two at most. I didn’t have bad nightmares then, but after losing Haley and after I killed Foyet, well, it wasn’t good. I had to be strong for Jack but every time I closed my eyes, I would see Foyet going after Jack, opening the trunk to find him. Or I would go to find Jack and he wouldn’t be there,” Aaron confessed, his hands clenching into fists, knuckles white, “Sometimes, Haley would be alive, her eyes. She would be alive and Jack wouldn’t.”

Emily wrapped her arms around Aaron, tucking her face into his neck, weeping silently.

“Dave made me go to therapy. They prescribed sleeping pills but I was too afraid to take them. To be asleep, in case Jack needed me.”

She nodded and pulled back to see his face, “I don’t want to take pills. But I am terrified to sleep. It’s all so vivid. Ian is there, his eyes so intense, hurt. He isn’t angry in my dreams. He is devastated. I took his son and I killed him.”

They leaned back on the couch, holding each other in silence; neither offering platitudes.

Aaron didn’t know how long they sat but the tv screen flickered. A message popped up on the screen, asking if they were still watching.

Sniffling, Emily pulled herself free from their embrace, “let’s go to bed. I will look for a therapist tomorrow. And a therapist for Declan as well.”

Turning off the tv, Aaron stood up and reached his hand out to Emily.

~~CM~~

After another careful review of the Doyle crime syndicate proved the threats to Declan and her were gone, Emily wanted out of the apartment. Even if it meant dinner with her mother.

Aaron had spent quite a bit of time on the phone throughout the day. He was friendly as he discussed the case with JJ, curt but professional in talking with his supervisor, he was jovial and boyish with Pete, the attorney general, and stiff as he talked with Walter.

Emily couldn’t hold back her smirk; Aaron was nervous around Walter. This made him even more endearing.

The newly blended family ended up at the Prentiss home for dinner. As they arrived, her son held out his hand as he introduced himself, “Hello Ambassador Prentiss, my name is Declan Thomas Prentiss.”

Her mother smiled openly and crouched down to Declan’s eye level, “Hello Declan, I’m your grandmother. You may call me Nana.” They shook hands and then as if she was unable to help herself, she carded her hand through Declan’s curls before hugging him, “Did Emily tell you that my father’s name was Thomas?”

Elizabeth turned to face Jack, “and you must be Jack.”

Jack glanced up at his father for reassurance, “Nice to meet you, Ambassador.”

“None of that now,” Elizabeth hugged the younger boy, “you can also call me Nana.”

Dinner was a success, as in, her mother irritated her only four times; the largest disagreement was when they discussed housing. Emily wasn’t keen on moving into the most elite neighborhood. Walter, God she had missed him, put his arm around her mother and said, “they will make the best decision for their family, Elizabeth.”

The Ambassador turned to assess Aaron then turned her gaze on the boys playing in the next room. Aaron listed off some of the neighborhoods he had been looking at and with the mention of a “proper” school, she approved of him and their relationship with a curt nod, “Good.”

Later, in bed together, Emily straddled Aaron, pinning him down, “how did you do that?”

“Did you forget I worked for your mother in the past? I know how to handle her,” he smirked as he flawlessly flipped them so she was beneath him, “Now, Walter. I can admit, he intimidates me.”

Emily squirmed and tugged at his shoulders then waist trying to regain control. He tightened his hold as he dipped down for a kiss. Wrapping her legs around his, she began to turn them over when the kiss grew heated. As her hands made their way to his dark thick hair, she forgot all about getting the upper hand.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

Emily came from a family where feelings were kept hidden or suppressed. As she sat in the waiting room, she wondered if therapy was going to be worse than the nightmares. What if they ask about her mother, she wondered then she answered herself, of course, they are going to ask about her mother.

Aaron had called his therapist and asked for a recommendation. She heard him talking about PTSD when he asked for one that worked with victims of violent crimes. She wanted to roll her eyes, she wasn’t a victim but then she replayed her relationship with Ian Doyle from the beginning. Muttering to herself, she said, “I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.”

Her appointment was set for the next day, Emily wasn’t sure how he had managed that. With her squared away, Aaron called Jack’s old therapist and asked if could fit Declan in. Emily bit her lip so she wouldn’t laugh at Aaron as he couldn’t get an appointment for a week, his mouth almost forming a pout.

Her musings were interrupted by her name being called. She looked up to see an older woman with short spiky hair and combat boots.

“Emily? Wonderful, I’m Veronica.” She held her hand out and they shook, “come on back.”

Forty-five minutes later, Emily found herself walking back to the coffee shop where Aaron and the boys were waiting.

“Mom? Are you okay? I missed you.” Still not used to being apart from his mother, Declan wrapped his arms tightly around her.

After hugging him back, Emily hugged Jack as well, “I’m okay. We talked about how I am feeling and she had some good ideas about what to do when I don’t know how to handle my feelings or when I can’t sleep.”

Aaron tipped his head towards the counter, silently asking if she wanted a drink.

“Chai? Please,” Emily asked as he nodded and walked away.

She sat down with the boys in armchairs in the corner of the shop. Jack clambered up into her lap as Declan sat beside her leg on the floor.

“Did you color? Did you play with toys?” Jack asked, “I got to color with my doctor. He was nice but he asked a lot of questions but he never got mad if I said I don’t know.”

“I didn’t get to color but she said that coloring or painting helps. Maybe we can color together when we aren’t feeling good,” Emily could help but run her fingers through Jack’s silky hair.

Lost in thought, Declan sipped his drink, absently.

“Are you okay, Declan?”

The boy huffed and broke off a piece of his cookie, “Can we talk later? When we are at home?”

“Yes, of course. Now, what did you do while I was at my appointment?”

“We went to a bookstore. They have your books, Mom. It’s so cool.”

“It was AWESOME!” Jack couldn’t help shouting but quickly realized he hadn’t used his indoor voice. He slapped his hands over his mouth.

Aaron joined them, a steaming cup of tea in his hands. He set it down in front of Emily and sat in the other armchair, “do you want to show her what you got?”

Declan opened the bag and showed his mom the books that Aaron had bought them.

Once they were home, Emily crouched down in front of Declan, “do you want to talk now?” His timid nod had her on edge, “do you want to talk in your room or my room?”

Shrugging, Declan looked around then said “your room.”

Emily excused them, Aaron patting her shoulder as she walked by.

Declan hopped up to climb on the bed and then sat cross-legged.

“Okay, buddy, we are alone. What is on your mind?”

“Um, we are supposed to keep Dad a secret. Did you tell? Are bad guys going to come after us? I don’t want to leave. I like Aaron and Jack.”

She froze for a minute, berating herself internally, “Declan, I am sorry. I thought you knew. We are safe.” Reaching out for her son, she cupped his face in her hands, “when your dad died, his men went to jail and they won’t get us.”

Seeing the relief in his face, she continued, “you are safe. We are safe. Yes, I talked about your dad to the therapist. It’s not a secret but it is private. Do you understand? I wouldn’t tell strangers or people we just met that your dad was a criminal or that we had to hide because that is private. You can tell your doctor though. I am not making any sense, am I?”

Declan nodded despite looking confused, scrunching his nose as he summed up Emily’s words, “we are safe but it’s kinda secret.”

Sighing, Emily was at a loss. She closed her eyes and tried to think of an explanation that would make sense to a child, “it’s like privacy. You don’t tell people when you go to the bathroom, right? But if you are having a problem going, you can tell me or the doctor.”

Great, now we are at the ‘rolling your eyes at your mother’ stage, Emily thought.

“I am not explaining this properly.”

Grumbling, Declan gnawed his thumbnail, “Um, it’s not a secret but it’s private?”

“Yes, you can talk about it with people you trust. Your safe people,” Emily felt relieved as her young son understood the concept despite her mangling the explanation.

“My safe people, you, Aaron, Jack, Spencer, and Derek,” Declan counted off on his fingers.

“Maybe your therapist, you haven’t met them but once you get to know them, they might be a safe person,” Emily hugged him tightly, “Declan, you are safe and you don’t have to keep secrets anymore.”

She sent Declan off to play before laying back on the bed. When Aaron popped in to check on her, she was groaning into a pillow placed over her face.

~~CM~~

After they put the kids to bed, Aaron asked Emily about her therapy session.

“We didn’t get into much. I gave her a basic bulleted list of my situation including how Ian died. She gave me the ‘talk’ about it being self-defense and not murder, I pretended to agree. We mostly talked about the nightmares and how to handle them. She had a few ideas for me to try,” Emily talked as she tucked herself into Aaron’s arms, ignoring how they tightened when she said the word murder. She knew he was going to say the same thing the therapist said and logically she knew she hadn’t murdered Ian but in her heart, in her stomach, in a corner of her mind, she knew her actions, not just her hands, resulted in his death.

“Em, it wasn’t murder. It wasn’t justifiable homicide, it was straight up self-defense.”

She huffed then groaned, hiding her face in her hands, “I know, I do know but I feel like it’s all my fault. I stole his child and he ended up dead.”

Aaron pulled her hands away and tilted her face upwards, “you saved Declan. You fought for justice and never gave up. He acted violently, he chose to grab the guard’s gun and he tried to kill you. You didn’t kill him, Emily. You fought for your life. You fought to stay alive and his choices are what killed him.”

Emily gave a short nod then a more generous nod, “I just want to be able to close my eyes and not see him, not see his eyes.”

“Let’s go to bed. I’ll dig the fan out of the closet for white noise,” Aaron held her hand as they walked to their bedroom, his thumb caressing her knuckles.

“The white noise should help. I think her anxiety solutions are silly but she said they would get me back in the here and now.”

Aaron threw her a smile before he entered the walk-in closet. He pulled out several large plastic tubs before reaching the oscillating fan.

Once the fan was set up, he shared the tips his therapist suggested, “it’s ridiculous, the tapping and counting methods but they grounded me.”

They moved through their bedtime routine before settling in bed. With Emily’s head resting on his chest, Aaron ran his fingers through her hair, “can you tell me about Nutella? How did you get her? And whose idea was it to name her after a chocolate spread that isn’t chocolatey?”

“First of all, it’s a hazelnut spread with a hint of cocoa. Just like it says on the label,” Emily scolded Aaron before delving into the story of crisscrossing the country and finding a woman with a shopping cart full of puppies in a grocery store parking lot.

They drifted to sleep with thoughts of a chocolate lab puppy chewing up everything she could reach.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

“Yes, I’m sure,” Aaron assured his sister in law, “she will love you.”

Hanging up the phone, he saw Emily looking at him with her big doe eyes, “and you will love her, I promise.”

“She’s your wife’s sister.”

“Ex-wife. And Jess knows all about you. She was encouraging of our relationship from the beginning, despite the distance,” when Aaron saw that he hadn’t convinced her, he hugged her, “it will be fine.”

Despite her grumbling, Emily couldn’t keep herself from relaxing a bit. Jack was beyond excited to introduce his Aunt to Declan, Emily, and Nutella. He bounced from room to room, the dog following him until she grew tired and parked herself in the middle of the hallway.

Moving into the kitchen, Aaron started preparing lunch. Emily finished setting up Declan on the computer and joined Aaron. Working together, they made a simple lunch of sandwiches and pasta salad, leaving the ingredients in large chunks so the boys could pick out what they didn’t like.

His phone rang, it was Pete. Aaron excused himself, taking the call in the master bedroom where Jack’s excited voice didn’t carry.

“I think the FBI has more red tape than the AG’s office,” Pete went through the case and decisions made by the higher-ups, “I think you will be reinstated today or tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Pete.”

A deep rumbling chuckle came across the phone line, “So, fill me in on your girl. Are you shacking up still?”

“I am going to marry her someday soon,” Aaron said seriously.

“Aw, dude! That’s great. Did they pick their new names for their new identities?” Pete asked, his tone denoting he was done kidding around.

“Emily is going to keep her original identity if you could get those reinstated. We will need documentation and birth certificate for Declan. His name will be Declan Thomas Prentiss.”

“This is for real, isn’t it?”

“I am overwhelmed by how deeply I have fallen for Emily. I feel it in my bones. With Haley, I truly wanted to marry her. I loved her. But it was a different love. Not more or less, just different. Does that make sense? I am a different person now, but I am sure about this,” Aaron ran his hand over the back of his neck, feeling oddly exposed as he talked to his old friend.

“How does that old saying go? ‘When you know, you know.’ I am glad you found each other,” Pete continued, “I will get the paperwork together for Declan, birth cert and social. I should have it in a few days.”

“I really do appreciate your help with this and,” Aaron paused, “and thanks for listening.”

“Anytime, Dude!”

~~CM~~

With Aaron still on the phone, Emil nervously let Jessica into the apartment. Jack zoomed into the room, crashing into his aunt’s legs. Both women said, “Jack!” at the same time, then broke into laughter; the tension broken.

“So nice to meet you!” Emily shook her hand and called Declan over for introductions.

“You can call me Aunt Jess,” she said to Declan.

“We have the same hair,” Declan held up one of his blond curls.

Jess smiled and shook her own blonde curls at him, “then we are sure to be friends.”

While the boys chattered to them, the women worked together to set the table and serve lunch. By the time Aaron joined them, they were quite comfortable with each other.

Jess filled them in on her job and dating life while Jack explained that he and Declan Thomas, the younger boy deeming it necessary to call him by both names, were going to share a room and be best friends. The extended family enjoyed lunch then the afternoon together before taking Nutella to the dog park.

Emily thought Jack’s description of his aunt around other dogs was pretty accurate. The other woman stood stiffly, her arms crossed to avoid accidentally touching other dogs. With a silent conversation conveyed through a quick glance at Aaron, Emily led Jess outside the fence where they could watch the boys and Nutella playing with the other dogs.

After a few minutes, Emily could feel Jess’ gaze on her; she turned to see Aaron’s ex-sister in law smiling.

“You are good for Aaron and Jack,” Jess said quietly as if her sister could hear her from beyond the grave.

“I have never met anyone like Aaron before,” Emily confessed, “I wonder if he is too good to be true.”

“He’s not perfect!” Jess laughed, “he’s too serious and rigid. He can be quite an ass when he’s upset.”

“No one is perfect,” Emily tucked her hair behind her ears, then gave up and pulled it up into a messy bun, “He’s honorable and gives his love unconditionally.”

Jess nodded, smiling, “he’s always been like that. He gives his all.”

“You’ve known him for a long time?”

“Since high school.”

“Oh my gosh, what was he like? Filled with teen angst, a rebel, a jock, a nerd?”

Linking their arms together, Jess told her that they were going to be good friends.

~~CM~~

Despite Jack’s reassurance, Declan was nervous to meet the therapist. Emily fretted over him, wringing her hands together while trying to sound positive.

“Why don’t we all go in? As a family then it can be just you and your mom or just you,” Aaron knelt down in front of Declan. “You don’t have to do this alone, buddy.”

“I’ll go with you and show you where all the cool toys are and Robert is super nice,” Jack added helpfully.

Robert’s office was large; a large couch and armchair along one wall. Short bookcases filled with books, toys, and puzzles, spanned the other walls. There was an open play area in the middle of the room. Despite its large size, the office seemed quite small with all of them crammed into the room.

After introductions, Jack tugged Declan towards a short table and pulled out a hidden drawer.
“Look at these, they are Wikki Stix,” Jack shoved colored bendy sticks into Declan’s hands, “you can make shapes or build things.”

The therapist smiled at the boys and pulled metal tin from the drawer, “and I have something new. Slime!” Robert turned towards Aaron and Emily, “don’t worry, it’s not sticky.”

The boys and Robert were playing at the table for several minutes before Robert asked Declan if he could be excused, “Do you mind if I step out of the room to talk to Aaron and Emily?”

Declan shrugged, “can Jack stay with me?”

“Yes, of course,” Robert pointed towards the door, “we’ll be right outside so come get us if you need anything.”

Aaron and Emily followed the therapist from the room, shutting the door behind them.

“Don’t worry, with the white noise machine they won’t be able to hear us unless we are shouting,” Robert said, “Aaron gave me some background on the phone. What can you tell me about Declan? Do you have anything you would like us to focus on right now?”

Emily explained how they were trying to help Declan understand their new situation and how they no longer needed to keep secrets, “I think he understands that we are safe now.”

Robert nodded, “it’s a good place to start.”

They returned to the room with Robert rejoining the boys at the play table. From the couch, Aaron and Emily watched as Robert engaged both boys in conversation. He described future sessions and assured Declan that he could have his mom or Aaron stay in the room with them.

“How about we play and talk every week?”

Bowing his head, Declan glanced at Emily and Aaron for encouragement before nodding at Robert.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Robert asked gently.

Declan bit his lip, then blurted out, “my dad was a bad guy but I don’t want to be a bad guy and I love my dad but he was so mean.”

A warning look from Robert and Aaron’s hand on her arm kept Emily in her seat.

Staring defiantly at Robert, Declan sniffed to keep his tears from flowing. Jack scooted over and hugged the larger boy, whispering, “you are not a bad guy.”

Robert nodded, his face serious, “that worries you, becoming a bad guy.”

Tears escaped and Declan let out a shuddering breath as Jack hugged him harder.

“Declan, you care about people, about doing the right thing. You are not going to become a bad guy.” Robert said quietly, handing Declan a tissue. He continued to speak quietly as Declan pulled himself together.

Aaron held Emily close as Robert talked to the boys about love, reassuring Declan that loving his father does not excuse his father’s behavior. At the close of the session, they had a standing weekly appointment.

The family of four were overwrought as they headed home for an evening of cuddling. Aaron pulled several blankets from the linen closet while Emily ordered pizza.

Soon they were all settled on the couch, Declan in Emily’s lap, Jack squished in between his father and Emily, as Mary Poppins began to play on the television screen.

~~CM~~

Chapter Text

~~CM~~

True to his word, Pete sent over Emily and Declan’s new identification documents. Aaron had a feeling that Pete rushed both the paperwork and his reinstatement. After weeks at home, Aaron was going back to work.

“I have to admit, this feels a bit bizarre,” Aaron told Emily as he knotted his tie into a four-in-hand knot.

She smoothed her hands over his shoulders then straightened his already straight tie, “For me as well.”

“I know you will be fine.”

“Babe, I will be fine and if I need anything I will call you or Jess.” Emily kissed the tip of his nose, “I have GPS on the phone, and I have my new Driver’s License and the forms have been updated at Jack’s school.”

Aaron left for work and Emily woke both boys up to get ready for the day. Herding them through washing up, dressing, and breakfast went smoothly. The commute to Jack’s school was simple enough but the parking lot was a nightmare. After circling the lot several times, they finally found a parking spot and headed inside.

Emily presented her ID to the front office and checked in Jack. The little boy hugged her and Declan before running down the hall to his class. They waved goodbye and waited to meet with the principal.

“Mrs. Voight, I’m Emily Prentiss, and this is my son, Declan. We just moved here and my partner, Aaron Hotchner, recommended this school.”

Over the next hour, Mrs. Voight reviewed the curriculum and gave them a tour of the school before suggesting placement tests to see which classes would be best for Declan. Once the tests were scheduled for the next day, they had the rest of the day free.

“Come on, Declan! We are going to hit the mall and the food court.”

“What’s a food court?” The blond boy asked.

Placing her arm around his shoulders, Emily promised him heaven in food form. Instead, Declan found heaven in the Lego store. He emptied his wallet of his meager savings to buy a kit he could share with Jack. Blinking away tears from how sweet her boy was, Emily sprung for a larger kit that complimented the one he chose.

For lunch, they had gyros, Chinese, and ice cream from three different restaurants in the food court. Declan was disappointed that his mother wouldn't let him order one item from each place. Her argument of “you’ve had sandwiches, tacos, and pizza before” didn’t seem to hold water.

They made their way back to the school to pick up Jack. After a quick snack, the boys were excitedly chatting as they began laying out the Lego pieces by size and color. Emily took this time to go through the real estate listings Aaron had left her. Shaking her head at the circled ones, she sent out a few texts including: “We don’t need a tennis court,” and “Zen Garden? Really?”

~~CM~~

“I am not living within five miles of my mother, Aaron.”

“But the house has a pool.” He flashed his dimples and batted his eyelashes.

Emily stepped away from her boyfriend and the computer, “and who is going to maintain the pool?”

Aaron reached out, catching her arm and tugging her back into his lap, “We can hire a pool cleaner. I wanna see you in a bikini.”

“Ahhh, the truth comes out,” she laughed quietly as not to wake the boys, “I know your motivation now.”

Eventually, they gave up on the home listings online and finished folding laundry together. Emily couldn’t help but rub the soft towel against her face, “dryers are the best invention.”

“Is Declan nervous about testing tomorrow?

“Nope, he is looking forward to school. He is nervous about lunch with my mother and Walter. He says he’s afraid of her and I quote ‘Nana makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong,’ That accurately describes my childhood.”

Aaron chuckled, tossing the matched socks back into the basket, “I was always more afraid of Walter than the Ambassador.”

The couple moved through the boys’ darkened bedroom and put the laundry away in silence. Nutella had other ideas and thumped her tail against Jack’s bed. Aaron bent down and pet her in hopes she would quiet down. Luckily, the boys slept deeply and didn’t notice their parents watching them for several minutes before retiring to their bedroom.

In the morning, Aaron kissed her so thoroughly that Emily felt dazed for several minutes after he had left for work. Feeling drunk, she danced around the tiny apartment kitchen whipping up breakfast for the boys. Grabbing the real estate listings, Emily ushered the boys out the door to school.

~~CM~~

“3rd grade!” Walter patted the chair next to him, “I want to hear all about it.”

In an upscale restaurant, Emily and Declan joined her mother and Walter for lunch. After demure kisses to the cheek, Emily sat beside the Ambassador and nodded at the server for wine. Despite missing her mother for years, she still needed a little fortitude to get through a simple meal.

Elizabeth Prentiss was pleased with the school chosen for Declan and approved the areas that Aaron had suggested for house buying. She moved on to the next topic, when will Emily resume her Master’s degree? “After all, Boston College has an online program.”

“Mother, I would like to get settled. I am still adjusting to being Emily again.”

The napkin dabbing at the corners of Elizabeth’s mouth let the table know she was displeased. Walter covered her other hand with his, “Our Emily is the most driven person I have ever met. She is her mother’s daughter. She is already an accomplished author.”

“Children’s Boo…” Elizabeth was interrupted by Walter’s glare, “Yes, I was pleased to learn you had kept busy despite living like a hippie.”

“What’s a hippie?” Declan asked innocently.

~~CM~~