***Dear readers, This came into my head after "Route 66" and I had to write it out as a gift for those who have supported me through the ups and downs of In The Garden", which I have not abandoned, I swear, though I have been struggling with the next chapter. A new job and 4 weeks of training are making it hard to focus for long. Hope you enjoy this one. Thank you all for reading and reviewing!

Aaron had remained in the hospital for four days before he finally badgered the doctors into releasing him under the condition that he would not be alone for at least forty-eight hours after being discharged. Beth was still MIA in Milan, having not even returned David Rossi's call yet and being also unreachable to Aaron. In her absence, David had assured the hospital staff that he would take personal responsibility for Aaron, and of course Jack, and see to their every need until Aaron was well enough to be on his own again. What David didn't count on unfortunately was the resurfacing of an old UnSub. A case that had gone dormant almost eleven months ago suddenly had a fresh victim and within 30 minutes of the time Aaron was expecting to be released, David and the rest of the team, were boarding a jet to Portland, Oregon, leaving Aaron and Jack in the oh so capable hands of Ms. Penelope Garcia.

Penelope could of course work from anywhere so she was more than capable of assisting her team in the field while still playing Nurse Nightingale for their fearless leader. Aaron had balked at first, saying how he didn't want to inconvenience Garcia but Penelope's insistence, Jack's pleading for him to come home over the phone and Aaron's own agitation with being confined in the hospital had won him over to idea of Penelope taking charge of him.

Penelope had collected Aaron from the hospital, tucking him safely into his own SUV, feeling certain it would be more comfortable for him than a ride in her old girl. They had then stopped off at Jessica's, where Penelope went in and gathered up Jack and his things while Aaron rested. Jack came running out, all smiles, his coat only half on, calling "Daddy, Daddy", which made Aaron smile despite the discomfort he still felt. Jessica had insisted that she could keep Jack longer but Penelope had insisted on picking him up as soon as Aaron was free of the hospital. Knowing Jack, Penelope knew he wanted more than anything to be with his father. She also knew Aaron needed the comfort of being near his son.

Jack hopped into the SUV, talking a mile a minute to Aaron who was smiling ear to ear by the time Penelope climbed back into the driver's seat. The trio made one stop on the way home, driving through McDonald's for Jack's (and Penelope's) favorite treat for a special dinner. Aaron heard Penelope order but paid little attention as he knew he was still doomed to liquid dinner's for a few more days.

When they arrived at Aaron's home, Jack helped Penelope carry the Happy Meal boxes inside, while Penelope took Aaron's arm and guided him inside.

"Garcia, I know the doctor said I need to be in bed but…." Aaron began as they entered his home but his words stopped as they came into the living room and he realized there was no longer need to finish his sentence. Before him he saw that the couch had been set up with pillows and blankets to allow him to sit up comfortably, while still resting. A small table had been placed beside the couch, a pitcher of water and a glass sat on it beside a stack of magazines and 2 books he had been meaning to get around to reading for some time now.

"I thought you'd like to be in the middle of things, at least until Jack goes off to bed, so I stopped by on the way to the hospital and set up a few things to make you more comfy, boss man. I hope you don't mind me using my 'emergency key' in a non-emergency situation", Penelope said.

Aaron found it hard to say how much it meant to him, not only that she had gone to so much trouble, but that she had so clearly anticipated his desires and worked to meet them without him having to struggle to make her see his side. His voice was barely more than a whisper when he finally managed to say "That was very thoughtful, Penelope. Thank you."

Penelope had also moved the coffee table from in front of the couch, leaving a large space between it and the entertainment center. Aaron didn't immediately understand this, until Jack came bounding into the room carrying his spiderman comforter and the two pillows from his bed.

"I got the blanket for our picnic, Aunt Penny." Jack said, struggling to carry everything into the room.

"Awesome, let me take that little man. I'll spread the blanket out. Why don't go pick a movie for us to enjoy while we eat. I rented a few, they're on the table by the door." Penelope told him.

"Cool!" Jack exclaimed as he sprinted from the room.

Aaron couldn't help but smile at his son's delight. He had settled into the place Penelope had created for him and was now watching her work to spread out the blanket and arranges their Happy Meals and juice boxes in true picnic fashion. He loved watching how easily Penelope related to Jack. It wasn't as though this was their first interaction of course. Penelope had been there for Jack and Aaron so much since Hailey's death that he had lost count of the ways she had helped them.

When Jack returned Penelope loaded Monster's University, which she had rented knowing full well it would be the very first movie Jack would insist on watching, into the DVD player and settled done on the floor with Jack. Aaron watched as she placed Jack's pillow behind her and leaned back against the couch he was settled on. Jack of course mimicked her perfectly, settling the pillow behind his back and he settled in beside her. As the DVD began Penelope reached up and handed Aaron a drink cup she had bought with the Happy Meals.

"What's this?" Aaron asked

"Thought you deserved a treat, after all that horrible hospital food, well, horrible hospital broth and jello really but you know what I mean" she explained.

Tentatively Aaron took a sip on the straw. "Strawberry?" he asked, laughing at the flavor of milkshake Penelope had chosen for him. "How did you know?"

"Profilers aren't the only ones who pay attention, Boss Man" Penelope teased.

The previews ended and the movie began, Jack's eyes were absolutely glued to screen, devouring his chicken nuggets and apple slices without so much as a glance at them. Aaron on the other hand found it nearly impossible to take his eyes off Penelope. He finished his milkshake and settled back on the pillows she had arranged for him, admiring the creamy ivory skin of Penelope's neck and the gracefully slope of her shoulders where her soft blonde curls lay. His fingers itched to touch them; knowing they couldn't possibly feel as soft as they looked to him.

Something funny happened on the screen, though Aaron hadn't the slightest idea what. Both Penelope and Jack burst out laughing in unison. Aaron loved the sound of her laughter, mingled with Jack's as they enjoyed the show and each other. He settled deeper onto the pillows, his eyes growing heavy. He drifted off before the movie was even half over.


At one particularly funny part of the movie, when Jack was laughing so hysterically that she couldn't help but get caught up in his laughter herself, Penelope looked up, knowing that Jack's joy would bring the smile she so truly loved to Aaron lips. She didn't want to miss a second of his face lit by that broad grin, the one that only seemed to come easily around Jack. Sadly, there was no smile this time however. Penelope realized that despite the noise of the movie and Jack's enthusiasm, sleep had overtaken Aaron. But Bette, just maybe, that was better than getting to enjoy one of his all too infrequent smiles...

Penelope had never known the pleasure of watching Aaron sleep before; though she had spent many nights in his home. Most of those nights Aaron had been away on a case, Jessica had for one reason or another been unable to see to Jack and so it had fallen to Penelope to be here for Jack. Those times when Aaron had been at home while Penelope stayed here had all been in the weeks immediately following Hailey's death. During that time, Aaron had been mostly unable to sleep and if he ever slept at all, it must have been at moments when Penelope had not been there to witness it. Penelope would most certainly have remembered if she had ever seen his beautiful face looking this relaxed.

"If only I could think of a way to take the stress off of him so that he could always look this contented", Penelope thought. "on second thought, if he always looks the relaxed and handsome, I really will have trouble keeping my mind on business around him, even more so than I do now." Penelope laughed to herself

"That wasn't' a funny part, Aunt Penny" , Jack's sweet voice said, interrupting her thoughts.

"Oh, sorry little man, my mind was somewhere else"


Aaron awoke to the same sound to which he had fallen asleep, though somehow it seemed farther away now. Jack was laughing and Penelope was laughing right alone with him. And water was running somewhere...

Aaron rubbed his eyes and moved to sit up. The water was running in Jack's bathroom. From the snipits of conversation he could make out he gathered that Penelope was helping Jack brush his teeth before bed. Aaron wondered exactly how long he'd been asleep. The water stopped and Aaron could hear them approaching him from the hall.

"Silly Daddy, you woke up just in time to go to bed" Jack teased as he came to sit beside hime on the couch.

"I guess I did, Little Man. Sorry that I haven't been much fun since I've been home" Aaron apologized.

"That's ok Daddy. I'm just glad your home beside aunt Penny and me had lots of fun."

"You did?" Aaron asked.

"Yeah, the movie was awesome! and then we made a present for you but it ain't dry yet Daddy so you can't have it til tomorrow" Jack told him matter-of-factly.

Aaron said "ok" as Jack went on. "I took my bath Daddy. Aunt Penny said I could keep my underwear on, cause she's a girl and i didn't want her to see my 'down there' things, but i washed every place else though. promise."

Penelope winked at Aaron over Jack's shoulder and it was all Aaron could do to keep from laughing, though the serious look on Jack's face helped him to restrain himself.

"Do you feel good enough for a bedtime story, Daddy?" Jack asked. "You don't have to read it. Aunt Penny said she would read it but you could sit with us and then she could read it to both of us."

"I'd like that, Jack. What book did you pick out?" Aaron asked, motioning toward the book in Penelope's hand.

"Its called, 'The Tales of Peter Rabbit'. Aunt Penny says its classical", Jack told him.

"I said its a classic, Little Man", Penelope corrected him gently. Jack smiled up at her as he settled into the crook of her arm. Penelope opened the book and began to read. "Once upon a time there were four little rabbits and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton Tail and Peter..."


"...he was so tired that he flopped down on the nice soft sand on the floor of the rabbit-hole and shut his eyes" Penelope read.

"I don't think Peter Rabbit is the only one who is tired", Aaron said, interuppting her. He motioned toward Jack, who was now fast asleep beside Penelope.

"Its been a long day for him" Penelope said.

Aaron nodded, "Its been a long week".

"True. Are you hungry?" Penelope asked.

"A little" Aaron admitted.

"Jack and I made a pot of soup. Its simmering in the kitchen. Let me get him settled into bed and I'll bring you some", Penelope told him, as she gathered Jack up in her arms and headed off toward the little boy's bedroom.

When Penelope returned she set a folding table in front of Aaron a placed a bowl of soup down on it.

"This smells delicious, Penelope but I wish you hadn't gone to so much trouble over me" Aaron said.

Penelope laughed; the sound of it warmed Aaron even more that than the soup. "Egg drop soup is the easiest receipe on earth, Aaron. Besides, Jack loved learning to make it. I sat him up on the counter so he could watch as I added the eggs. Oh man, the look on his face was priceless. And by the way, this soup is full of protein which, you need right now. Anyway my mother always made this for us when we were sick growing up. I know, a white woman, married to a mexican man, making chinese soup for her kids, crazy right? Lets just say I had an interesting childhood."

Aaron laughed as he took a spoon of the delicous broth. "Wow, if this really is easy, you'll have to teach me how to make it. My kitchen skills are limited and I think even Jack is growing tired of macaroni and cheese" Aaron told her.

"I'd be glad to. And I have a few other simple receipes Jack might like that I could show you too" Penelope said.

When Aaron had drained the bowl of soup Penelope offered him more.

"Maybe in a while" he said. "But first I was wondering if you would sit with me for a bit. I have some things on my mind and I kind of wanted to talk through them with you, if you don't mind" Aaron explained.

'If I don't mind? Oh Aaron, if only you knew how much I would give to just sit here and talk with you all night long', Penelope thought to herself. Taking a breath she said, "of course I don't mind Aaron, I would hope by now you know I'm always here if you need someone to talk to."

For the second time in 20 minutes, Aaron turned that incredible smile on her, it was all Penelope could do not to swoon. Fighting to control het heartbeat, she asked, "So, What's on your mind? besides the obvious, scar tissue, internal bleeding, emergency surgery, almost dying thing, I mean."

"What do you know about near-death experiences?" he asked.

"Do you mean like the whole go-toward-the-light tunnel, visited by your dead loved ones, experiences people talk about?" she asked.

"I guess so, yeah" Aaron said.

"Well, I got shot but I don't think I was ever really close enough to dying for anything like that. At least I don't remember anything like that. But, I volunteer with victims and lots of survivors tell stories like that" she told him.

"Do you believe them?" he asked.

"I believe that they believe what they are saying. Is that the same thing?"

"Maybe." Aaron said.

"Did something like that happen to you?" she asked.

"I talked to Hailey", Aaron whispered.

"Aaron..." Penelope began but Aaron raised his hand to stop her.

"I didn't dream it, Penelope. I saw her and I talked with her." Aaron said

"Its not that I doubt the possibility Aaron, I know there is more to this life than just what we experience here. The part I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around at the moment is how firmly straight laced, suit and tie wearing, black and white seeing, Aaron Hotchner believes it" Penelope explained.

"I suppose it might be easy for some to explain it away as my subconscious mind manifesting images in an attempt to deal with trauma, residual grief, and unresolved emotions surrounding Hailey's murder. At first, I tried to explain it to myself that way but the more I replayed it in my mind, the more I could see the things Hailey said to me was not the things I would have said to me. Does that make any sense?" Aaron asked.

"You mean the message sounded like Hailey?" Penelope asked.

"I mean, the message as you put it, sounded like what Hailey would say as an observer to the events in our lives since her death. It sounded like conclusions that would be drawn based on factual evidence not on emotion. My subconscious however, would know my feelings and try to prompt me based on those feelings, right?"

Penelope nodded, following along with his train of thought.

Aaron continued, " so, if there is something I want, something I've been dreaming of having for quite some time now but, fear has kept me from voicing this desire to anyone, my subconscious would still have that information and since Hailey spoke nothing of it..."

"Because you haven't talked to anyone or done anything about it, as an observer she wouldn't have known. So you believe that proves your encounter with her was real." Penelope concluded.

"Yes, it makes sense, doesn't it?" Aaron asked."I mean why else would her message have been so contradictory; encouraging me towards Beth in one breath but in the very next breath telling me that happiness is a choice and that I need to get out of my head and lead with me heart because my heart knows what it wants. My subconscious mind would know Beth isn't the woman my hearts been stuck on..."

"Wait just a minute Aaron Hotchner! are you saying you've been harboring some crush on a secret, fantasy woman for all this time, and you haven't breathed a word of it to anyone?!" Penelope demanded.

" I...um...well, I..."Aaron stuttered.

"Oh, Aaron love, life is short but it can feel like an eternity when you're with the wrong person. Trust me, I know whereof I speak, ok? So if your heart is all warm and fuzzy over some special, secret someone and you believe, even for a second that her heart might be even the slightest bit fuzzy over you in return, well then you just have to listen to your heart and go for it" Penelope told him.

Turning towards her Aaron asked, " Are you really sure I should, Penelope?"

"Absolutely! 300% percent sure Aaron. You should go for it. " she assured him though Penelope's heart was quietly breaking as she encouraged her secret crush to find happiness in the arms of some unknown women.

"Well, seeing as you feel so strongly about, I guess there's no time like the present..." Aaron said, as he brought his hand up, threading his fingers though her soft blonde curls, as he cupped the back of her neck. Drawing her towards him, Aaron registered the surprise in Penelope's eyes a moment before he captured her mouth with his own.