“You don’t look good,” Aaron said walking into his wife’s office.
“Gee thanks,” she grumbled, taking a swig of her water bottle. If he hadn’t known her so well, Aaron would have missed her grimace. Her throat was still hurting.
“You’re a doctor, you should know that you’re sick,” he stated sitting down in the chair across from her desk.
“I’m a doctor so I know it’s a cold.”
“I can tell you’re running a fever from six feet away,” he told her flatly.
“Colds can cause fevers, Aaron.”
“Bethany told me she’s heard you coughing all morning,” he continued.
“Well Bethany should mind her business!” Norah shouted down the hall.
“Make me!” was faintly heard from Norah’s best friend and colleague.
“As much as I love seeing your face at the hospital, why are you here? I thought you were teaching at Georgetown today,” Norah asked, trying to change the subject.
“Nope, I was at Quantico today. And I came by because we had lunch plans, remember?”
“Wait I thought that was tomorrow?”
“It is tomorrow. You just didn’t sleep last night so you have no idea when it is. You’re sick Norah, let me drive you home.”
“But I have emails to answers and work to do.”
“You aren’t seeing patients today, any work you need to do can be accomplished from our home that has wifi and cough medicine.”
“Technically I have wifi and cough medicine here.”
Aaron let out a frustrated breath. He forgot how stubborn she was sometimes. Very rarely were her stubborn tendencies directed at him, but when they were he felt his patience with her wearing thin.
“Norah, you need to take care of yourself, okay?” he said. He didn’t snap at her, but his tone was sharp.
She looked up at him startled, but she nodded. An inscrutable look passed over her face, but before he could pinpoint it, she quickly closed her laptop and slid it into her backpack along with the rest of the work files she needed to deal with. Aaron held out her coat, so she could slip her arms into the sleeves. Even though they both knew she was capable, Aaron zipped up her coat and rubbed his hands up and down her arms.
“I’m sorry for being so harsh, but Norah, you are sick. Let me take care of you,” he pleaded quietly. Her shoulders remained tight but she nodded.
Together, they walked out of the ER and he opened the door to his car for her, making sure her bag was tucked in the backseat before getting in and starting the car himself. They were only ten minutes into their drive before Norah was fast asleep in the passenger seat. Aaron’s hand rested lightly on her thigh throughout the drive. Rarely did Norah get ill, this was only the second time in their six-year relationship he had ever seen her under the weather. She rarely got ill, but when she did it was a challenge to get her to respect what her body needed. Ironically, Norah was far more likely to take a day off for her mental health than her physical health. She was still fast asleep when the pair had rolled into their gravel driveway. As silently as he could, Aaron took their bags into the house, rousing their dogs. When he came back out to wake Norah up she was slowly getting out of the car, rubbing her bleary eyes.
“How was your nap?” he asked.
“I’m still sleepy,” she yawned.
“Why don’t we get you inside and into bed,” he told her. She nodded, all annoyance at her husband lost in her weary, sleep deprived state. Aaron his arm around her while she leaned her head onto him.
Aaron brought her upstairs to their bedroom and peeled the coat off of her and tossed it onto the chair next to the bed. Gently, he led her to the bed to sit down and removed her snow boots and socks, throwing the latter in the dirty clothes basket. Norah had begun to take off her jewelry and handed Aaron her necklace, one pair of earrings, watch, and bracelet to set on her dresser. She had a few cartilage piercings in her ears that were never removed, but she also never removed the second pair of earrings that always sat in her ears. They were a gift from her grandmother who had received them from her father. Norah had been close to her grandmother and was devastated when she passed away. While Aaron put away her jewelry, Norah had also let her hair out of the bun she wore to work, running her fingers along her scalp to massage the sore skin.
“I need to shower, too,” she mumbled, still half-asleep from her car nap. Aaron considered her sleepy state a blessing. If she were anymore awake, then he knew she would be putting up a fight.
“Okay, do you need help?”
“Why, Mr. Hotchner are you trying to get some while your dear wife is ill?” she asked smirking slightly.
“I seem to remember “getting some” the other night. I’m positive I can control myself,” he stated flatly.
“You’re no fun to flirty with,” she sighed, while doing grabby hands at him, indicating he should help her up.
Aaron made sure she got into the shower safely before making her some tea downstairs and grabbing their humidifier from the closet. When he had returned with a couple extra blankets and her laptop, Norah was sitting on the edge of the tub coughing. It was a hacking cough and it made Aaron nervous to hear it coming from his normally healthy wife. Once Norah had caught her breath, she slid on a pair of shorts and one of Aaron’s sweatshirts.
“Do you need help with your hair?”
“I’m just going to towel dry in and put it in a bun,” she yawned.
“Why don’t you let me braid it?”
She leveled her gaze at him. “You know how to braid?”
He shrugged, not elaborating any further, so she wrung out as much water from her hair and handed her husband a hairbrush and a few hair ties before saddling the edge of the tub. Grabbing her brush and hair ties, he sat behind her, his legs bracketing her own. The juxtaposition of his slacks against her bare, tattooed legs was bright against the porcelain tub. Gingerly, he started brushing through her hair. This was something neither of them had ever done, previously. Based on the way that Norah sagged into his embrace, it was clear she was not opposed to this different type of intimacy. He would never admit that he learned how to braid while in his college’s theater group, and he doubted that Norah would ask. She let him have his secrets, preferring to let him tell her in his own time.
What really made their relationship so successful, was that Norah provided the space and freedom he needed. All she asked for in return was the stability and roots that she had been missing most of her adult life. One night, he overheard her speaking with her sister. The way she described him, still made his heart ache from the amount of fondness and faith she placed in him. It was right after they moved in together, before he even thought about leaving the Bureau.
“Yeah Meg, I know he travels a lot. The suitcases in my house have tripled since he and Jack moved in. What do you mean am I worried? Worried about what?” Norah asked confused. Aaron had just walked inside the house and emptied out his suitcase into the washer and started a load. As he exited the small laundry room, just off of the kitchen, he heard Norah in the living room on the phone.
Norah scoffed and said, “No I’m not worried about him cheating, jesus christ, Meg. Have a little more faith than that. I’m not bound to make that mistake twice.” There was another short paused. “Yeah, yeah, I know it wasn’t my fault that Peter cheated. Not my point. You don’t see what I see when he’s here. He’s never in work mode. The man has no personality at work, but when he’s here, with me and Jack, he’s a different person. Peter was all about adventure and adrenaline. Aaron is…his ideal date in curling up in the corner of the couch, wrapped around each other watching the Great British Bake Off. He’s…he’s solid. I don’t need declarations or his every waking presence. The last time he was away, they were in Vermont and he brought me back real and fancy maple syrup because he knows how much I like pancakes. Or how he just did my taxes without me even bringing it up. I’m not even positive I know how he got all my records, but he just sent me a text telling me he’d dropped them off with his accountant.
“Not to mention he is physically very sturdy. I could tackle that man and I don’t think he’d go down,” she said laughing. “Uh-huh. Oh I know. I know I found a good one.”
Thinking about that memory made him smile. Norah deserved someone who looked out for her and he did his best to be that person. It wasn’t like she didn’t do the same for him. Norah had a way about her that made him feel like he was being hugged while sitting in front of a warm fireplace. Despite her blunt personality and rapier wit, she was always aggressively accepting of him. He was well aware of their age difference. She was ten years his junior, which was not something either of them realized until well into their relationship. He was edging closer and closer to 50 while she was still in her late-30s. The only reason he found out was because he was updating his emergency contacts and needed her date of birth.
“Hey Norah, what’s your date of birth?” he called as he sat in their dining room table filling out the paperwork. Norah herself was puttering away on their porch with Jack.
“For the emergency contact form?” she called back.
“July fifteenth nineteen-eight-two,” she replied. He choked a little.
“Did you say eighty-two?” he asked.
She walked in brushing the goat’s hay off her pants. In the distance, he could hear Jack talking to the chickens in their coop out in the back. “Yeah, why?”
“I…I guess I never really realized how much younger you were than me,” he said tried to swallow the weird feeling that was rising in his throat.
“You’re what? Forty-eight?” she asked confused.
“Almost fourty-nine,” he replied.
“You’re in your thirties,” he replied. She looked over at him flatly.
“Oh yeah for another like three months,” she scoffed.
“Norah,” he pressed.
“Aaron,” she parroted walking up to him. “What the problem? Tons of relationships have age gaps. I didn’t meet you until I was 37, it’s not exactly like you’re a cradle robber.”
“I was 45,” he replied.
“Yeah, babe, I’m a doctor. I can do basic math.”
“You could have settled down with someone—” he started before Norah cut him off.
“If you say ‘younger’ or someone who still had more ‘life’ in them, I will castrate you and feed you to the goats,” she replied. “Don’t remove my agency from this decision, Aaron. I am an adult woman who has lived just as much life and trauma as you. I’m not settling down with an octogenarian. I’m living life with one of my best friends, the most handsome and grumpy man I know.”
While she spoke she eased her way onto his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I don’t want you to miss out on life,” he whispered.
“Whatever life you had in mind for me is not as good as what I have right now. I’m not a wilting flower. I know what I want, and I get it,” she said achingly close to his lips.
“Yeah?” he asked breathlessly.
“Mm-hmm. And what do you want right now?”
He hesitated, he really should finish the emergency contact paperwork, but that would be there later and Jack was heading to Finn’s house after he finished with the chickens. They had as much time as ever, so he replied. “You.”
“Good,” she nodded, pressing a soft kiss against his lip. “I want you too. See Jack off to Finn’s and then if you find me, maybe you’ll get a reward.”
The last part was whispered against his ear, before she stood and headed upstairs. He stared down at the paperwork in front of him and almost didn’t hear Jack walk in.
“Bye dad! See you later!”
He managed a distracted, “Bye, son,” before sprinting upstairs and finding a shirtless Norah fiddling with her bra.
Before she could turn around, he wrapped his arms around her and planted his lips at the juxtaposition of her neck and shoulder. She laughed warmly and arched into his touch. “Touch me, Aaron.”
Doing as told, he reached down and ran his hands across her, feeling the wetness. She turned around and grabbed his face firmly between her hands forcing him to look her in the eye.
“You do that. I only want you. I couldn’t give a shit about your age or profession or whatever else you get insecure about sometimes. You are what makes me happy and you need to trust me to be upfront about that.”
“I do, I do trust you,” he said. The fierce look in her eyes soften and she kissed him.
“I’m glad. I guess you get that reward now.”
It was a good reward.
Before him, Norah yawned and thankfully he was almost done. Once the last braid had been tied off, he helped her up and went to tuck her into bed. Once he was positive, she was comfortable (and not going to escape), he turned to leave. He felt Norah grab his hand and she said,
“Stay with me.”
“Absolutely,” he replied. With a practiced ease, he took off his slacks and dress shirt, laying them against the bench at the end of their bed before sliding next to Norah. She pillowed her head against his chest and asked,
“You were right. I feel shitty.”
“Take a nap, you’ll feel better.”
“I feel wide awake, though,” she yawned. “Even though I did just yawn.”
“Want to put on some music?” Aaron asked quietly drawing light patterns across her shoulder.
“Not really, can you just tell me about your day or something?” she asked softly snuggling closer to him.
“No problem,” he said hoarsely. Norah always did manage to find ways to make him acknowledge that every so often he did have a bit of a soft and gooey inside.