By Kavi Leighanna
Of Mistletoe and Five-Year-Olds
Emily Prentiss was on a hunt. At least, a metaphorical one. The little five-year-old had gone missing, and while no one was particularly worried, per se, the last time he’d gone missing without a word, Hotch had almost lost it.
Stupid Foyet and his stupid vendetta ruining everyone’s stupid lives.
It was a mantra she’d gone through more times than she’s prefer to count since they’d found Haley’s broken, beaten and bloody body in the home she’d once shared with Hotch. Actually, before that even, when things started to go downhill after Foyet’s initial attack on Hotch. She’d stepped up then, and she’d done it again when Jack had been returned to his father.
Without his mother.
It was the worst of circumstances. It was still the worst of circumstances. It was Christmas, for Pete’s sake, a time for celebration and family. But it was difficult to celebrate family when one of your own was gone. Everyone had stepped up, though none more so than she had. She and Jack had grown close over the last couple of weeks. She’d been there for him no matter what, whether it was his nightmares or a simple concern for his father.
Now, it was JJ’s annual tree decorating party. They’d had one every year, and this year, she’d managed to con Dave into hosting it. His place had vaulted ceilings and JJ had picked out an appropriately massive tree. But it had come with a cost, and not in monetary value. Each of them had to bring a number of ornaments to try and fill the whole tree. Now, the tree was decorated with a piece of all of them and even Jack had offered a few choice selections.
“There you are!” she exclaimed as she scooped Jack up into her arms. The little boy laughed loudly as she set about tickling him. Finally, they both readjusted as she propped Jack on her hip.
“What are Pen and Derek doing?”
Emily’s brow wrinkled. “What do you mean?”
Jack pointed around the corner. “They’re over there.”
Emily peeked around the corner and just barely resisted the urge to gasp. Sure enough, Penelope Garcia and Derek Morgan were kissing under the mistletoe. “That’s kissing,” she explained. “When you get caught under mistletoe with someone else, you’re supposed to kiss.”
“That’s one option,” she agreed. “But you can kiss on the cheek.” She pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Or the nose.” Jack started to giggle as she suited actions to words. “Or like Pen and Derek.”
“Why are Pen and Derek kissing like that then?” Jack asked, curious as to why one option would be chosen over another.
Emily chuckled. “Honey, sometimes when people care about each other very much, they kiss each other on the lips like that.”
“But you and Daddy care about me lots and you don’t kiss me like that,” Jack protested.
“No, but JJ and Will kiss like that, right?”
“Oh,” Jack said. “So it’s when adults care about each other?”
Emily smiled. “Something like that. It’s a little bit complicated.”
Jack wrinkled his nose. “Doesn’t look complicated,” he said matter-of-factly. “It looks gross.”
Emily almost sighed in relief. So long as this little boy held onto that touch of innocence, he could think whatever he wanted about kissing. “Come on, honey. Let’s leave Pen and Derek alone, okay?”
It was later that night that Hotch caught her arm, asking her if he could speak with her in private. Concerned, she didn’t think twice about agreeing. They paused along the way for Hotch to pick up one of the gifts stashed under the tree. She looked at it curiously, then followed him through Dave’s large cavernous home. Finally, he opened a door for her. They stepped into a small, but comfortable sitting room and Hotch waved her to sit.
“Okay,” she joked, “now you have me worried.”
He offered her is version of a smile, the best one he’d been able to muster since Haley’s death and the one, she’d noticed, had really been for her and Jack alone. “I wanted to give you this without the rest of the team around,” he explained. “It’s as much a thank you for everything you’ve done as it is a Christmas present.”
Emily took the box from him, settling it in her lap and patting the couch beside her. She looked at it carefully, at the beautiful paper dotted with silver snowflakes. She couldn’t help but smile as she found a corner, sliding her finger under the tape.
“Jack picked out the paper,” he said softly and Emily told herself she was merely imagining the intimate tone. They only talked in those tones when Jack was asleep close by and that was merely to ensure the child got as much sleep as they could give him.
Gently, she removed the paper, setting it aside as she looked curiously at the plain white box. It was with a thrill of anticipation that she managed to break the tape with a nail and pull open the box. When she did, she gasped.
Inside, was a beautifully carved jewellery box. The border of the lid swirled with ivy, while the in the middle was a delicately carved daffodil.
“Aaron...” she breathed. “This is...”
“Not even close to enough,” he interrupted, his hand coming to rest on her lower back as she bent over to inspect the box. “Emily, you are so special to us. To Jack and to me.”
“You didn’t have to do this,” she replied, lifting her head with glassy eyes. “If you boys are happy, that’s enough thanks for me.
His thumb stroked in circles on her back. “There is nothing in this world that can repay what you’ve given Jack and me, Emily.”
She resisted the urge to shiver at his touch. Instead, she shook her head in disbelief then smiled widely and kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”
If his smile was just a little bit brighter than she was used to, neither of the commented on it.
“We should think about heading back,” she finally said. “They’ll send out a search party.” If it had been anyone other than Hotch, they’d be fine, but these days the whole team was much too concerned about Hotch to let him wander away on his own for too long. And Emily didn’t want to think about their insinuations if they were both gone for an extended period of time.
They wandered back to the rest of the team, stopping off at Emily’s things so she could gently put down her favourite present. They were just about to step through the archway into the main room when Emily tugged on his arm, pulling him back.
“What is it?”
“I know you don’t trust that you’ll be able to love and teach your son to love,” she said quietly, her eyes still on the scene in front of him. “But I want you to take a good look at your son and tell me that isn’t a happy, loving boy with a baby in his lap.”
Hotch looked, blinked, and looked again. Sure enough, Jack sat on the couch, JJ calmly beside him and Penelope hovering over him. On his lap, sat Henry, the little boy laughing happily. Just then, his son looked up.
“Daddy! Look’it me! I’m holding Henry.”
“Yes you are,” Hotch agree, his mouth tilting up.
Then Jack’s face turned curious, his head tilting to the side. “’Mily?”
“’Member how you told me ‘bout mistletoe?”
“Yes...” Emily replied, her brows knitting together.
“Does that mean you and Daddy have to kiss like Pen and Derek?”
A pin could have dropped and shattered the silence that fell over the room. Derek and Penelope were beet red at being caught out. Emily knew without looking that Hotch was tense beside her. She didn’t know what to do with herself. “Jack, I think-“
Hotch’s hand on her shoulder stopped her, and she turned her head to look up at him. He’d stepped closer and Emily found herself shivering slightly at his proximity. “It is tradition.”
Oh. My. God.
That was all Emily could think as Hotch leaned down, pressing his mouth to hers gently. She hauled air in through her nose as her head tilted back slightly to accommodate their slight difference in height. One of his hands cupped the back of her head, while one of hers clutched his shirt. Eventually, he slowly pulled back and Emily opened bleary eyes to his eyes.
“Yes Jack?” she replied breathlessly, managing to get the will power to turn her head, even if she couldn’t make her hand unclench from his shirt.
His little face was scrunched up as he said, “I still think it’s gross.”
And just like that, the ice had been broken and the room roared to life again. JJ immediately began questioning Penelope as Will swooped in to rescue little Henry. Jack bounded over to Dave in his absent-minded five-year-old way to ask when they were opening presents and Derek was trying to hide behind Will to ensure JJ didn’t come after him next. Even though they’d been the center of attention almost five seconds ago, Emily and Hotch had fallen off the radar.
Hotch took advantage of the semi-privacy to bring his other hand up to her cheek. He was well aware that there were probably more appropriate kisses if they were going for friends, but he wasn’t. Not in the slightest, and not with this woman. This woman deserved an explanation since he hadn’t offered her much of a lead up. She looked confused, surprised and pleased all at once.
“Huh?” She forced her eyes and brain to focus on the moment now, and not the moment only seconds ago.
He seemed to consider her a moment before he said, “You’re wrong. I don’t need to learn how to love.”
“Oh?” she breathed as he leaned in again.
“Mmhmm,” he answered. “Because I’m pretty sure I’m already falling in love with you.”
This time when he kissed her, Emily all but threw both of her arms around his neck, thanking mistletoe and curious five-year-old children for probably making her Christmas.