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After, life continues

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This story is No. 5 in the series "Criminal Minds - Afterlife". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Non-crossover - continuation of Criminal Minds story "After, Life". Aaron and Amanda bring their lives together in the face of many obstacles.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Criminal MindsphoukaFR211022,6267104,87315 May 1215 May 12Yes

NOTE: This story is rated FR21 which is above your chosen filter level. You can set your preferred maximum rating using the drop-down list in the top right corner of every page.

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Chapter One

Disclaimer: Criminal Minds is the property of its production company and distributors. I am merely using it to exercise an idea. No profit will be made. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: I hadn't intended to write this, but I had a few requests for a follow up, and small vignettes and images bugged me, usually when I've been trying to get to sleep. When I started putting them down, they coalesced into a full story.

I created a character who had metaphorically died and almost literally gone through hell before being rescued by the BAU. Part of what I saw in her was a match for my favorite character, Aaron Hotchner. Don't get me wrong, I love all the characters, but I have a special place in my heart for Aaron.

I should mention that this story includes references to graphic violence, a lot of violence at the end, and, what I hope are, some sexy sex scenes.




Chapter One



Tired, stressed to the point of tears, and holding firmly to Heimdall's lead, Amanda Mason left the Congressional hearing room. Heimdall sensed her turmoil and pressed against her leg, making his 'harurrrrrr' comforting noise. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

I am in a safe place. No one here will hurt me. Besides which, there's FBI and Secret Service all over the place, she told herself.

Her reaction, she knew, was the stress of recounting what had happened to her in an effort to convince the Congressional committee of the necessity of funding a better nationwide tracking system for criminal modus operandi, signatures, and weapons use. Between that and the stress of being in a large building with crowds . . .

She took a deep breath, straightened her jacket, and when she looked up, she saw him.

“Agent Hotchner,” she greeted him.

There was enough room in the hallway for them to stand and converse without having to step aside.

“Hello, Ms. Mason.” He looked happy to see her.

“It's . . . it's very nice to see you again,” she said. Then she looked down at her dog, who groaned in a friendly manner. “This is Heimdall. He's my service dog. Penelope was such an enormous help. Once I found that my agoraphobia wasn't going away, she suggested a service animal. Heimdall makes it possible for me to get out and about.”

“I'm glad,” Aaron said.

He held his hand out for Heimdall to give a brief, whiskery sniff.

“Why . . . are you here?” she finally asked.

“I testified earlier today,” he answered, “before you were called. I thought I might wait until you were done and see how you were doing. I know that can't have been easy.”

“It wasn't,” she replied. “But it was worth it. The survivor who disappeared afterwards, Callie Hunter. Has there been any word of her?”

Aaron shook his head. “I'm afraid not. She has a history of drug use and prostitution. After the trauma she suffered, it would have been all too easy for her to disappear again. We have advisories out, so if she's picked up or arrested, the local police will know to contact us.”

“Thank you, Agent Hotchner,” she said. “I barely got to know her. I wanted so much to help, and then she was gone.”

“I know. It happens. And Ms. Mason?”

“Yes?”

“I'd like it if you'd call me Aaron.”

The smile that lit her face took even him by surprise. She'd had surgery, yes. She wore makeup to reduce the impact of the scars, yes. Still, it was a joy to see the corners of her eyes crinkle and her mouth lift in a genuine smile, unafraid and unhesitant.

“If you'll call me Amanda,” she answered.

He didn't smile, not exactly. She had the feeling that it was a rare expression on his face, saved for times when other people would laugh out loud or even spin in a circle out of joy. But his eyes had a telltale crinkle at the corners, genuine and gentle.

“I'd like that even more,” he said. “Would you be interested in getting some lunch? My treat, and I know where all the good restaurants are, around here.”

She glanced around the hallway. “Can you find one that doesn't have a lot of politicians?”

“Absolutely.”

He offered her his arm, and she took it, leading her service dog with the other hand. The dog looked up at her and then Aaron, panting as they went out into the late spring weather.

Out in the warm, open air, she held a little tighter to his arm, and then loosened her grip.

“I keep . . .” she tried to explain, giving him an apologetic smile.

“It's all right,” he told her. “If you need to slow down or change scenery, just tell me. I understand it's difficult for you to be out in the open like this.”

She looked away for a moment as they strolled, and then back up at him.

“I got the letters you and your team members sent,” she told him. “Penelope told me that it's standard practice, but nobody's notes were routine. It meant a great deal to me.”

She didn't say that she reread them almost every day, his especially. Agent Hotchner's writing was formal, but there was a tone of warmth and sincere care to it she still felt after the hundredth reading.

Hotchner glanced at her, and then went back to scanning the world around them.

“It's very important to us that the people we work with, especially the survivors, know that they aren't forgotten once the case is over. You showed an amazing amount of resourcefulness and courage,” he told her. “It made an impression on all of us.”

“At the time,” she said softly, “I felt completely helpless, that nothing I did would matter, and that help would never come. I . . .”

And here she stopped talking, overcome. She and Hotchner continued walking down the broad avenue. Heimdall looked up and woofed softly.

When a group of tourists – mostly families with school age children – passed by, all of them noticed her. Most of them looked, realized they were staring, and looked away. A few of them just stared. Amanda shrank against him.

“It's more than just the agoraphobia, isn't it?” he asked.

She nodded.

“People see Heimdall, and I'm not obviously disabled, so they try to figure out what's wrong with me,” she answered. “The makeup I use is good, but the scars have a texture to them, and they're more obvious in daylight. Most people notice, or they see my hands. It's . . . hard to deal with. If they ask, I tell them I was in an accident. I just . . .”

“Most people would be horrified at what you've gone through,” Aaron said, putting a hand over hers. “And most people don't know how to respond. They want to show sympathy. They want to do something to put things right or change history so it wasn't so bad. It's perfectly normal to have difficulty responding to that.”

She relaxed.

“I'll get used to it,” she said. “I'll memorize answers and figure out ways to deflect them. It's just such a relief, when I get home. I can take off the makeup. I don't have to pretend that I'm normal, and I don't have to do this . . . this social dance of assurance and reassurance.”

“I think you'll find,” he told her, “that as you establish new social circles and people come to know you, they'll stop seeing the scars. They'll just see you.”

“Is that what you do?” she asked him after a moment, looking up at him.

It took him a moment to answer.

“I see the scars, Amanda. I'm aware of them, but they don't bother me. I've seen much, much worse. If anything, I remain aware of them so I remember that you need extra help to feel safe.”

She thought about this for a moment and nodded. “I wish I could tell you not to bother, Aaron. That I want to be treated like anyone else, but I'm aware – painfully aware – that I'm not.”

“I know it doesn't seem like it,” he told her, “but it isn't all bad. You've proven several times that you are a survivor, that given even the longest odds, you will make it through.”

She exhaled sharply, not quite a laugh, and then smiled, not quite sadly. They continued walking, past more tourists and business people, government employees and travelers.

It was a pleasant walk. There were some bad neighborhoods near the Capitol, but Aaron knew how to avoid them and still keep them away from the thickest traffic. He took the outside of the sidewalk, and she was aware of him, relaxed as he appeared to be, scanning every doorway, window, alley, and person for possible threats.

“Aaron, are you armed?” she asked.

“Any time I'm on duty and or outside the house,” he replied. “Because I'm a law enforcement officer, I'm expected to be able to deal with problems even when I'm not on duty. Does that bother you?”

“No,” she answered honestly. “It makes me feel better. You're not a bully. You don't have anything to prove. You're not going to do anything stupid.”

Heimdall made a grumbling, not quite howl of a sound.

“Should I be concerned?” Aaron asked, looking down at the dog.

Amanda smiled. “No, that just means he's happy. He likes it when I talk to people, especially when I'm not tense.”

During the walk, Aaron pointed out certain places and told her about them. He sounded like he was reading from a tourist pamphlet. She laughed.

“You're not very good at this, are you?” she asked.

To her surprise, he laughed as well.

“I . . . uh . . . I very rarely show anyone the sights,” he admitted. “The only times in the past have been my son's class during a field trip and my wife's family when they visited.”

His face suddenly went blank, and his gait changed. She looked up at him.

“Aaron, it's all right,” she said. “I looked up everything I could find about you and the others as soon as I had Internet access. I know it was your wife the Reaper killed, and I know you killed him. I'm sorry.”

A muscle twitched in his cheek. After a long moment of silent walking, he managed to speak.

“It's like what you said. People notice, and they want to know. It's . . . exhausting dealing with the explanations and the concern when all I want to do just . . . carry on, even if I'm limping. Even if I'm crippled.”

“You still wear your wedding ring,” she noted. “You loved her very much.”

He nodded. “I feel I should be honest with you, Amanda. Normally, I let people make assumptions, and I don't correct them unless I need to. I would have lost Haley anyways. We separated, and she filed for divorce. It would have been final a month after her death. As it was, I got to be the grieving husband, instead of the awkward ex-husband.”

“I'm so sorry.”

“So was I,” he answered.

They walked in silence until they reached the restaurant, an Italian cafe with a host who recognized Aaron and instantly seated the two of them. Aaron held the chair out for Amanda, who then signaled Heimdall to lay down at her feet. He'd deliberately given her a seat against one of the walls, with a clear view of the rest of the seating area and the patio outside. Then he took the seat next to hers, which left him with his back to one other table, something he only did if he was with other members of his team.

“Thank you,” Amanda said. “You really do know your stuff.”

“I do,” he confirmed. “And I want you to feel safe and unstressed.”

She smiled. “You know, yousound like an FBI agent, even when you're not on duty. Very factual. Very direct.”

“I've always been that way,” he admitted.

“And did you always know you were born to be in the FBI?” she asked, teasing a little.

“Well, for a little while, I tried acting-”

Amanda laughed, and then immediately caught herself. Aaron glanced slyly at her, gauging how she responded to his self-deprecating humor.

“And when that didn't work out, I went into law school,” he added.

“Really? I did not take you for a lawyer,” Amanda said. “At least not the corporate kind. You strike me as more the Atticus Finch type.”

“Actually,” he admitted, “I was a prosecutor, but I found after a few years, that I wanted to be more directly involved in stopping crime.”

Their talk ranged on, becoming more relaxed and comfortable as lunch progressed. Amanda knew more about the food on the menu than Aaron did, suggesting an antipasto and a bottle of wine that would complement the main course. The waiter attended her as if she were a duchess.

They discussed the likelihood of the database system getting funded. Aaron explained some of the intricate machinations that went on behind the scenes. Amanda pointed out tidbits of information from the murals and paintings around them. He told her about Rossi's amazing cooking skills, and she described the herb garden she was nurturing. She asked him about his son and watched as his face lit up. He had pictures in his wallet, which he showed her. She told him about museum and art programs he might take Jack to.

Then, as they dallied over a shared portion of tiramisu, his phone rang. He stopped mid-sentence and answered it.

“Hotchner.”

Amanda played with her fork, rearranging the remaining crumbs on the plate, while Aaron asked a few terse questions, and then ended the call.

“Amanda, that was Garcia,” he said. “I'm very sorry, but there's a case, and I'm needed.”

“Of course,” she said, looking up.

He signaled the waiter, who immediately brought the check.

“I'm very sorry,” he repeated. “I don't like leaving this abruptly, but-”

“Aaron,” Amanda interrupted him, “it's your job, right?”

“Yes.”

“And it's a case, kidnapping or murder or something else, right?” she asked.

“I can't go into specifics, but yes,” he answered, laying out cash for the bill and tip.

“Then don't apologize,” she said. “You're doing exactly the same thing that saved my life, saved it and restored it. Don't ever say you're sorry for that.”

He stopped just as he stood up, his hand on his jacket, his expression unreadable. And then, it changed to something full of longing and shaded with hope.

“Amanda, I'd like very much to see you again,” he said.

She smiled so widely, the scars on her cheeks stood out, even with the makeup. Taking his offered hand, she stood.

“I'd like that very much, Aaron,” she answered.

He pulled on his jacket.

“You'll be all right getting home?” he asked. “Do you need anything?”

She laughed, and then she took both his hands in hers.

“I'm fine, and I'll get home without any problem.”

She stood up on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. When she came down, she looked up at him.

“Now,” she said, “there's only one thing left for me to say to you.”

“What?” he asked, puzzled.

“Good hunting.”

For a moment, he stared at her in amazement. Then, he smiled, a grin that changed his entire face. He touched her cheek with his fingertips, and shook his head a bare fraction of an inch, disbelieving.

“Thank you. I'll call you as soon as I'm back.”

“I'll talk to you then.”

He strode out of the restaurant, hailing the first passing cab.

Amanda looked down at Heimdall, who groaned and stood up.

“Well, bud,” she said to him. “Why don't we head on home?”
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