Epilogue: A Christmas of joy
"Christmas isn't a season. It's a feeling." ~ Edna Ferber
24th December 2012 – D.C., USA
"…Don't shoot me Santa Claus / I've been a clean living boy / I promise you, / did every little thing you asked me to / I can't believe the things I'm going through / Hey, Santa Claus / No one else around believes me / But the children on the block they tease me / I couldn't let them off that easy / They had it coming / So why can't you see? / I couldn't turn my cheek no longer / The sun is going down and Christmas is near / Just look the other way and I'll disappear forever. / Don't shoot me Santa Claus…"
"You know, singing this considering what we do is a little bit weird!" Hotch heard Emily laughing and talking to Gloria who was the one singing the song as he was putting the key in the lock of his house.
"Oh come on! Christmas have always place for some humour!"
"And think that sometimes I forget that you are British!" Emily teased her.
"British humour is a little bit underestimated around here, you know!"
"Maybe because only British laugh with it… Hey, Sergio!" Emily called the cat suddenly.
"I'm the one with the weird sense of joking but with the way this guy eyes the tree I don't really wanna know what he has in mind to do…" Gloria laughed.
Hotch laughed, too. It was Christmas Eve. He was returning from the shop with the last minute shopping for the dinner. He had Jack with him and the two women were left at home.
Emily had come from London for the holidays with Gloria. To tell the truth he was the one that proposed to bring her friend along. Gloria had refused, though, to stay at his house and she was staying at a hotel nearby. Emily and he needed 'some family' time as she had said laughing over the phone. Jack really liked her. The kids see the good in people more easily than the adults do finally. She was getting better, too. She was more relaxed, since the last time he had seen her.
Hotch was in so good mood those days, as well. It was the first Christmas after many years that he had so much joy in his home. He had even invited the team for Christmas dinner. The others couldn't hide their surprise no matter how hard they had tried, when he announced the invitation. All of them were going to come, apart from Blake who was spending the holidays with her husband somewhere overseas. For sure the rest of them didn't want to let him down the first time he did something like this. They didn't know that Emily had come and they didn't know about Emily and him, too. They had kept it for surprise. Only Dave had a smile glued on his face since the day Hotch had come back from England but mysteriously he hadn't said or tried to fish anything. But Blake's absence gave Hotch the opportunity to invite Strauss, too. She was at JJ's wedding and she had stayed by the team's side during the last cases, acknowledging the discreet way they had handled her problem. She appreciated Emily, too. She had agreed to pass by for a while. She was going to spend the rest of the night with her kids after they returned from her ex-husband's.
He opened the door for Jack to go first and he followed carrying the bags, leaving them on the kitchen stool and he started putting everything in its place.
"Hey! Welcome back little Jack!", Emily said happily to the kid who holding a bouquet of Christmas flowers ran to the sofa between the two women sitting, Gloria holding Sergio in her arms.
"Emmy, Ria, look what I got you!" Jack said giving them the flowers.
Jack climbed on Emily's lap, kissing her on the cheek. His son loved Emily. She knew her from before and he got used to have her around 'as daddy's special lady' those days really fast.
"Wow! Thank you, Jack! Someone really knows how to treat girls!" Gloria laughed and she tickled him a little and the little boy giggled.
"Our boy is a kind sir, that's why!" Emily stated smiling, giving the kid a kiss on the top of his head. "Let's get you a cookie and put them in a vase. Right?" she continued and the boy nodded.
She lifted him in her arms and they went towards the box with the freshly baked cookies on the dining table. The boy was trying to decide if he wanted a Christmas tree or a snowman cookie.
"Can't I have them both, Emmy?" he asked.
"Jack, he have to keep them for Santa," Hotch talked his son out of eating too much before dinner.
"But we leave only three for Santa!"
"Maybe this year you have to leave more," Gloria spoke and Hotch recognized that tone.
"Why?" his son asked.
"Let's just say that this year Santa is gonna need more energy," Gloria grinned looking at Emily and Hotch.
The little boy couldn't understand what she was meaning, but the adults in the room could definitely catch the subtext and they burst in laughs.
"Why?" the kid insisted innocently.
"Now answer him," Hotch raised his eyebrow towards Gloria teasingly.
"He has more kids to visit this year, Jack," she laughed.
"And he is getting old…" it was Emily's turn to tease Hotch, letting Jack gently on the floor and approaching him.
"Old?" he asked her playfully.
She smiled giving him a short kiss on the lips, her palms went on his chest as he hugged her.
"Jack, what about we make a snowman for your guests in the evening? Only if your dad let us, though," Gloria asked.
"Can we Daddy? It's not too cold outside," the little boy asked pleadingly.
Hotch was never able to say no to his son when he was looking at him like that.
"Sure, Jack. Just try not to sweat too much. OK?" he answered.
"Thanks, Dad. Let's go, Ria!"
"He is going to surprise you with some snowballs at some point," Hotch warned Gloria who was buttoning her coat.
"Thanks for the tip. Not if I surprise you first," she winked to Jack bending to his height.
"You won't make it!" Jack smiled challengingly in the cutest way.
"We will see it, little Hotchner," she replied warmly offering her hand to him.
"Are you OK with…?" Hotch asked worried. A snow fight could be too intense for the woman's back.
"I'm as fine as I can be. For sure I'm OK for a snow fight. Don't worry," she answered appreciating his concern.
Gloria and Jack went outside. Hotch took advantage from the given privacy and kissed Emily passionately, his hand roaming her body up and down over her jeans and black blouse. He continued to her neck and by the time he was finished, he had her writhing and brushing against his body, out of breath, her eyes semi-closed, darkened with lust and her cheeks flushed. He smiled proudly.
"That was because I'm getting old," he teased.
"You, Aaron, you are only getting better," she replied, "But…", she gave him a Cheshire smile brushing her pelvis to his, gaining a groan, "They say that it takes a good woman…"
"It takes a woman who I love," he answered his hands going to her waist to stop any further movement. They had privacy but not for long.
She nested her head into his chest, her arms around his neck.
"Could you imagine it two months ago?" she spoke.
"What?" he knew what she meant but he wanted her to say it.
"That we are here, like this."
"Having you in my arms? Kissing you?" he answered landing his lips briefly on hers when she nodded, "No. But I am happy for the unpredictability of this life," resting his chin softly on the top of her head.
"It feels like home, Aaron…" Emily whispered.
"It is, sweetheart. It is."
A snowball landed on the glass of the window behind the closed curtain and giggles were heard from the yard.
"Or having a person that I didn't like at all at first playing with my son?" Emily started laughing again at his words, "No as well. But I am happy that I was wrong, though."
"Let's join them!" Emily offered happily tagging his hand.
He held her a bit.
"I didn't tell you before but London did good to you," Hotch spoke.
She smiled in understanding. She had felt the change in herself, that she had become her old self again.
"I guess having to adjust, the too much work and the fact that I had to take care of Ria and confront her once in a while shook me a lot," she admitted.
"Everything happens for a reason finally, Garcia is right," Hotch smiled kissing her tenderly, "Let's see now who surprised who finally."
They joined Jack and Gloria and after many snowballs and laughs, they made a very big snowman who was wearing a tie…!
The evening came. The house smelled freshly baked food. Hotch had finally that 'family feeling', that 'complete family feeling'. Emily had worn an A-line, red dress with some beige vintage patterns on it, finishing just above her knees. She had developed a liking for the vintage stuff after her residing in England. She had matched it with beige high heels and her hair was in loose curls. Hotch in his grey suit and dark blue shirt, without a tie though, was watching her, still unable to believe that this woman was his.
The bell rang and Jack rushed to open it revealing Rossi in a blue suit holding a box of chocolates and two large boxes wrapped in Christmas paper.
"Merry Christmas, Uncle Dave!"
"Hey! Merry Christmas, Jack!" Dave greeted back happily and he gave the one box to Jack, "And that's for you. The other one is for Henry."
"OK! Thank you, Uncle Dave!" the kid answered.
"That's my boy.", Dave laughed messing playfully the boy's hair and then he looked up at Hotch and Emily and he smiled, "I see that you brought from England something better than just tea, Aaron.", he hugged Emily fatherly, "Welcome back, kiddo!"
"Merry Christmas, Dave.", she returned the hug.
"It was about time. Congratulations.", Rossi said to Hotch, hugging him too.
"You don't seem surprised, Dave.", Hotch spoke. It was time to fish how Dave seemed to know what had happened during all that time.
"Let's say that I had some 'indizi'.", Rossi smiled mischievously looking at Emily who understood the word.
But Hotch felt proud that, after so many years working with the man, he had learnt very few Italian words. 'Indizi' meant 'clues'. He didn't know however why his friend spoke in Italian.
"Ciao amico! Buon Natale!" (Hello friend! Merry Christmas!) Gloria appeared from the still open door and came near them.
Under her black coat, she was wearing a loose, black, silk, knee-long dress with straps and witha pttern of dark red, velvet roses, tightened on her waist with a ribbon the same dark red colour as her ballerina shoes and a black, knitted bolero covered her shoulders and back.
"Wow! Gloria! Che sorpresa! Tu non mi hai ditto! Comme stai, stella mia?" (Gloria! What a surprise! You haven't told me! How are you, my star?) Dave got excited and hugged the younger woman kissing her on the cheeks.
Hotch was quite surprised and Emily beside him was, also, watching their friends with amusement.
"Bene-bene! Come è il mio ragazzo amante?" (Well Well! How is my lover boy?) Gloria laughed.
"Sono felice di revedere i tuoi occhi belli!" (I am happy to see your beautiful eyes again!) he replied caressing the woman's cheeks with his thumps.
"Sempre lo stesso Dave! Che carino!" (Always the same Dave! How lovely!) she tapped Rossi on the chest.
"Hey! English please!", Hotch said smiling. OK… Definitely Dave knew that woman a lot better than he had said.
"Why? You are the only one who doesn't understand!" Gloria frowned at him in a funny way.
"E 'solo curioso, piccola mia!" (He's just curious, sweetheart! -my little one literally) Dave laughed.
Hotch guessed that he had just called him curious. He noticed that Dave still had his hand around Gloria's waist. His friend and the women were a great story. He could safely stop writing about serial killers and start writing about love adventures.
"Non hanno bisogno di sapere tutto, Hotchner!" (You don't need to know everything, Hotchner!) Gloria said to him mockingly.
"Oh yeah, Ria is right about this, Aaron!", Emily laughed with his expression that showed that he hadn't understood a single word except his name, "You don't need to know everything!"
"Esattamente!" David agreed accentuating his Italian pronunciation. "Exactly for those who don't understand the poetic language di amore (of love)!", he winked playfully to Hotch.
Hotch laughed. For sure he didn't need to know, he thought, but he would find out…
Garcia and Morgan were the third to come. Garcia in a bright green dress with red beads hanging from her neck and Christmas tree earrings ran to Emily enthusiastically, squeezing her with the bags still in her hands.
"My Gum-drop back from the English grounds!"
"Some English back to America!" Emily laughed holding her.
"We missed you so-so much!" Pen squeezed her again.
"Me too, PG!"
"Hotch you had us quite the surprise," Morgan said as he hugged Emily warmly, "Merry Christmas, Princess."
"Merry Christmas," Emily replied smiling.
"Back here eh? They don't have partners like me in Britain, do they?" Morgan told with pretending arrogance.
"You never change, do you?" Emily hit him lightly on the shoulder.
"Oh! British Glory!" Garcia hugged Gloria too.
"Hey, Pen!" Gloria returned the hug. "And you are Derek if I remember correctly," she offered her hand.
"A woman forgetting your name?" Rossi teased Morgan, instinctively getting closer Gloria as she had a such handsome and younger than him man in front of her. OK… This was getting even more interesting…
"Sorry, we met too briefly. I mainly remember you as Pen's Chocolate Thunder!" Gloria laughed.
"I answer to that too! But it is Derek, yeah. " Morgan smiled ignoring Rossi and accepted her hand, "Merry Christmas, Gloria!"
"You should have called me the moment you landed, you know," Garcia said to Emily.
"Hm... It wasn't the only surprise, guys," Emily spoke her hand going to Hotch's and he was touched that she was the one that took the initiative to announce their relationship.
"Boss-man and Gum-drop are you…?"
They both nodded. And Garcia hugged excited both of them at the same time gaining a stunned look from Hotch.
"Finally my furry friends together!"
"Hotch, you just gained the best girl in the world, so be careful!" Morgan warned brotherly, patting him on the back, once Garcia's tight hug ended.
"I am," Hotch replied with a happy smile on his face.
The bell rang again. They were JJ, Will and Henry, followed by Strauss and Reid. Reid had come alone. No one had met his girlfriend yet and that was strange, but Hotch was guessing that he was just hiding her from the over-protective, big and too chatty family of them. They saw Emily and Hotch with their hands intertwined and all of them smiled. JJ hugged Emily warmly.
"I'm so happy for you. We are going to have you back around here, aren't we?" JJ said, touched to see her best friend again and to learn so good news. Emily was too.
"Oh yeah! Scrabble is never enough, is it?" she agreed.
The rest exchanged wishes, hugs, congratulations and introductions. Jack went with Henry to open the presents and play together.
"It's good to see you again, Emily," Strauss said.
"The same, chief Strauss," Emily greeted back.
"Oh just Erin, please, and congratulations to both of you," she smiled and then she noticed the eye-catching, red-haired beside David.
His hand had sneaked again around Gloria's waist. Hotch's friend had too much the tendency to touch the woman and she was leaning into it and that didn't go unnoticed by Strauss. She excused herself and went near them and Rossi's hand returned by his side. Strauss introduced herself with the aim to learn the younger woman's identity.
"Am I missing episodes?" Emily laughed watching Erin.
"In this case we are missing the same ones," Aaron replied thoughtfully.
"Rossi and Strauss? Not a chance. It's just Rossi being Rossi."
"I hope so," Hotch murmured.
JJ and Garcia came to them.
"You don't escape this time, girl!" JJ laughed.
"You are gonna give us all the details about how you hooked up with our Hot-stuff Sir!" Garcia pressed and then she realized what she had just said in front of her boss, "Sorry, Hot-stuff Sir! Ehh… Sorry, Sir!" Penelope turned red.
"No problem, Penelope." he laughed, as the girls stole Emily from his side.
Hotch knew that their real start was too dark for the time but they had enough good moments the days he had stayed after the end of the case, even over the phone and Skype, for Emily to narrate during her friends' interrogation.
After some chatting and catching up, during which Hotch talked with Will about their sons, the girls with Gloria and Reid laughed a lot and Strauss after having cornered Rossi talked with Morgan about some cases, they sat at the table for the dinner. They were seated just like a family, with all the funny stuff that families have, one of which was Garcia, Strauss, David and Gloria sitting side by side. Strauss wasn't comfortable with Garcia's too open flirting with Morgan, next to her. Rossi was obviously not too comfortable having to be beside Erin and avoiding to get close to Ria, who was the only one at ease ignoring the from-time-to-time investigative stares from the older woman and keeping a normal distance from the man beside her.
"You know, Christmas dinners and lunches are quite common around the world combined with multiple traditions and stories. What is very interesting is that, even if we normally eat turkey during Christmas, mainly because of the American culture spreading, in many countries they used to eat other types of food or they accompany the turkey with other various side-dishes. For example in…" Reid started once they began eating.
"Hey pretty boy!" Morgan interrupted him before he analyzed worldwide traditions, "Can we eat this dinner without a cultural lesson?"
"Don't bother, Reid. You'll tell me later. I missed my alive encyclopedia," Emily joked touching the disappointed genius's hand.
Hotch, that could never imagine that Reid's random talking about facts could actually be missed, smiled putting some pie in his son's plate.
"I missed you, too," Spencer admitted quietly.
"We have many things to talk about, don't we?" Emily smiled warmly and Reid nodded. Something had started bothering the younger member of his team during the last month.
"So how is London, Emily?" Will spoke.
"Nice and cloudy," Emily replied, "Regular stuff and too much paperwork. But I found some old friends," she continued looking over to Ria.
"And not only!" JJ laughed raising her eyebrows playfully.
"Rossi, Gloria. You do know each other. So tell us: Was the 'crime' 'organized'?" Morgan asked with his hand towards Emily and Hotch looking at Dave and the Interpol agent.
Strauss turned curiously to the two persons beside her. She had learnt that they had met during one of Rossi's presentations in London but she hadn't figured out, too, how well they knew each other.
"Don't look at me!" Ria laughed, "I did call Dave before I followed the formal procedure but everything else was his decision," she pointed towards Rossi.
"Let's say that they weren't my ears that didn't let me go to London," Rossi admitted, "It was worth a try.", David smiled to Hotch and he could see a slender apology, not for bringing him and Emily together, but for what had happened over there. He had an idea from the files that something dark had taken place.
"For once, Dave, you intervening with my personal life was for good," Hotch gave a thankful smile to his friend. No need for him to worry. What had happened belonged to the past. "For the best.", he corrected himself holding Emily's hand who smiled shyly.
Everyone was looking at them with a knowing smile on their faces.
"Oooh! You are so cute together!" Garcia spoke leaning towards Morgan, "Just like me and my steaming hero!"
"We are not just cute Baby Girl! We are hot!" Morgan laughed.
"In any way, your trip to London, Aaron, had more than one good outcome," Strauss said trying to ignore what she had just heard and it should have been labeled as inappropriate.
"London has the tendency to bring people close, you know," Gloria spoke casually.
Hotch noticed, as Ria spoke, her raised eyebrow towards Strauss and her tilting towards Rossi in a way that could have been described provocative, if it wasn't so slight that all the others missed it except Strauss. But he didn't know if Ria was entertained with the other woman's insecurity and she was just fooling around a little or indeed she was trying to mark a territory. In the last case he was sure that Erin never held a chance. In any case, Dave coughed uncomfortably between the two women.
"Actually London is one for the top destinations for honey moons.", Reid said unaware of the situation he was saving.
"See? But you preferred the Caribbean!" JJ teased Will.
"You look good in a swimsuit, honey.", Will replied.
"Hey! We have children around!", Emily spoke.
"Anyway, Rossi. I don't you pay you the bet back. You cheated, man!" Morgan laughed confirming that the team always knew. For sure, they had guessed what was lying below the surface during all those years.
"I didn't cheat! I just offered some help!" Rossi protested.
"Dave, you offered some help from the one side, me from the other. Forget it. You aren't gonna get paid. Rely on your books," Gloria nudged David with her elbow.
"Sorry. Had you actually put a bet on us?" Hotch asked surprised.
"What? We are good at what we do!" Rossi winked and gave him the same answer that he had given him when Emily got back from Europe.
"Profilers, Aaron. Profilers." Emily smiled shaking her head.
The rest of the dinner was full of funny stories and regular conversations. Once finished, Hotch served himself a glass of wine and he approached David that had finally escaped Strauss, who had left, and he was watching Gloria talking and laughing with Reid, who had finally found a British to widen his knowledge about the English culture and to show off what he already knew.
"You do know her better than you have said." Hotch said.
"I did meet her long time ago. When was that? Six-seven years ago." David replied.
That put their meeting after what the younger agent had passed, Hotch thought.
"She stayed at the end of the presentation. I figured out that she was working in law enforcement. She told me she was Interpol. Her mother was Italian. We had things to talk about."
"Just that, eh?"
"You still think that I can't know a woman without her passing from my bed!" Rossi protested, finally turning towards Hotch.
"You made a whole FBI put fraternization rules, Dave," he stated.
"OK, OK," he laughed and gave up, "We went out for some dinners. She is beautiful, nice and talkative. Why not?"
"And you go for dinner with all of your fans that have those qualities.", Hotch joked.
"I have met too many agents here and overseas. Gloria is somehow different from the others," he said looking to the younger woman again.
"She was an undercover agent," Hotch enlightened him.
"I had my suspicions," Rossi replied, not surprised, "She had a habit of losing contact for long time and then she reappeared. And she had this hyperawareness all the time. With her risky tendencies, she put herself in great trouble," David continued concerned.
Hotch wondered about what Rossi was already aware of. Aaron wasn't intending to tell him what he knew. His friend could speak to him, if she wanted, but he had the feeling that she had already done it.
"But she isn't different only because of what she did. It's her, herself," Rossi carried on.
Hotch rose an eyebrow smiling. He was sure that many years had passed since he heard his old friend speaking about a woman with that tone in his voice. Rossi guessed his thought.
"When I first met her, the girl just needed someone to treat her like a lady, Aaron," he clarified and Hotch found himself wondering for one more time what that 'treatment' included, "But what can I say? I always find beautiful spies attractive! Don't you agree?" Rossi said motioning towards Emily.
"Sure. Just be careful," he warned more seriously after a while.
"I'm not planning on hurting her, Aaron," Rossi replied confused.
"I don't worry about Gloria, Dave. I'm talking about Strauss. We are analyzing criminal minds. We aren't playing in 'The Bold and The Beautiful'!"
Nice! His friend had already forgotten about the other woman. The last thing that Hotch wanted was a love triangle with his team inside. And if his friend came to choose, he could definitely say who he would go after. And the very last thing that Aaron wanted was a jealous Strauss going after them…
"What are the boys talking about?" Emily interrupted them before Hotch had a clear answer about what was going on.
"Just about spies," Rossi smiled, changing subject.
"Hey! Don't talk about spies when you have spies around!" she laughed, her hand sneaking around Hotch's back and he instinctively passed his around her shoulders.
"We should get used to it again, kiddo," Rossi laughed, watching how casual they were with each other.
"Oh! Believe me! You should get used to have two of us around in about four months time," Emily said.
David lifted his eyebrows in surprise.
"Oh yeah! Our British friend is coming with me to the Interpol liaison office here," Emily clarified.
"Good thing that the FBI doesn't hire people that aren't US citizens," Hotch joked.
"Good thing eh?" Gloria's voice came from behind him, "Sometimes you make exceptions…"
"You did actually give him a hard time, didn't you?" Rossi asked smiling.
"He thinks so," Gloria laughed, "He got saved because he had good recommendations. Otherwise…"
"You bet," Hotch challenged her funnily.
"Hey-hey! You had given me enough headache!" Emily burst in laughs with Rossi.
"Emmy! Can you help us please?" Jack called.
He and Henry were trying to put together a toy train and apparently they had some problem. Emily rushed to their side followed by Rossi who was always enjoying some play time with the kids. Gloria smiled to Jack's good manners.
"Your son is a wonderful kid, Hotch."
"Thanks," he replied proudly.
"I never got to say thank you, you know," Gloria turned serious, "For inviting me here. It's the best Christmas I've had for many years… It's an amazing family," she continued looking around to the happy faces.
"And you are more than welcomed."
Hotch was too grateful to the woman that, in that weird way that the events had happened, had showed him what he needed to know. And even if he had to face a soap opera with his 'ragazzo amante' friend, he could put up with it.
"To better days," he toasted raising his glass.
"To better days," she agreed raising hers. At least he had showed that to her, too.
The end of the night came with music. Reid had the boys hanging from his mouth. Sometimes it was useful to have someone with eidetic memory around kids. He had always stories to tell. Will was dancing with JJ. Derek was laughing with Garcia following the rhythm of the music. Gloria was leaning into Dave's hug while he was moving his hand up and down her back soothingly, as they danced.
Hotch had Emily in his arms. A song started to play and Hotch remembered the other time that they had danced with it. He had her in his arms that time too. But now he could lean to her ear and say what he couldn't back then:
"I love you, Emily."
And she could accompany her smile with that:
"I love you, Aaron."
"Cause in this life you must find something to live for / Cause when the darkness comes a callin' / You'll go back to where you were before / Cause this life is as / Fragile as a dream, and / Nothing's ever really / As it seems..."
And at that moment they both really did know that, after whatever had happened, they came to where they were before, side by side, in each other's arms and among their family. Back then, they had thought that that dance was an ending and that every ending is also a beginning. But during that new dance they had learnt that it had just seemed to be an ending and that…
"… There are many things that don't really end anyway, they just begin again in a new way… Many ends aren't really an ending; some things are never-ending." ~ C. JoyBell C.
~ THE END ~
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