Disclaimers: All the Criminal Minds characters belong to CBS and whoever that makes the series… I can't be expected to keep track of all the people who makes the shows I watch, can I?
Spoilers: Minimal Loss - Be careful if you haven't watched the episode yet...
Notes: Phew, haven't put out a story so quickly after an episode is aired for a long time! I thank God that CTV plays Criminal Minds on Tuesday… it's one less day for me to wait for this episode… you know, the last time I was so excited about an episode… was… when Elle was still in the picture for sure… maybe Machismo? Man, that was one killer episode…
Gotta thank my mom for it, really, because I practically gave up on Criminal Minds since Elle "quit", and then, when Gideon left too, I just stopped watching altogether… but my ma turned into a regular viewer after I stopped watching (she never watched when I was following it avidly)… and I somehow got sucked into it again…
Anyway, the point is… I've been away from CM for a while… so hopefully I still have the show's rhythm and interaction down… Not really decided for a ship - yet, but I'm leaning towards Emily and Hotch because… well, this episode is fairly convincing… for shippers :)
Just one more note before I shut up and get on with the story... if you are looking for some serious shippiness, you won't find it here... I just don't get the vibe that Hotch and Emily are ready for the next step yet...
"Okay, listen up," Hotch stood at the end of the debriefing. "It's been a long few days. Go home and rest. There is no need to rush back here tomorrow morning. The paperwork can wait."
He looked around the room, making eye contact with each member of his team. Six pair of eyes looked back at him, each with varying degree of weariness.
Rossi's were firm, solid and supportive, the veteran who had seen it all. Morgan looked distraught, bearing the weight of how close they were to losing one (or two) of their own on his shoulders. Garcia and JJ were sitting together, their eyes tired and without their usual sparks. Reid's, as expected, still held the lingering guilt and self-doubt, though in lesser degree than when he first reunited with his team.
Then, his eyes met hers. Her brown eyes held his and for a moment, he lost all sense of the people around him. The eyes that had almost been swollen shut still held the determination and fight. She had refused to back down, continually putting herself in harm's way because she believed that was the right thing to do.
Eventually, she blinked and looked down at her hands, calling him back to the present and the agents still in the room. Clearing his throat, he gathered the files in front of him, "That's it, people. Get out of here and don't come back until you're fully rested, physically and mentally."
He watched her leave, her pace slow since she was favouring her left knee.
"Well, your bit about the paperwork certainly quelled any protests about being sent home," Rossi said from behind him, almost making him jumps. As usual, his tone was soft, assuring. "How are you doing, Hotch?"
Hotch rubbed his forehead tiredly. Thoughts were jumbled up in his head like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle, but one in particular stood out, "She almost died in there. How could we have sent her in not fully realizing the danger?"
Almost belatedly, he realized what he had said, how he had allowed his thought to centered entirely on one brown-eyed agent who had the power the control his every mood. Weakly, he muttered, "They weren't supposed to be in danger because someone at the State Attorney General's office was screwing with us."
He could see from the corner of his eyes Rossi's nod. Both were quiet for a long moment. Hotch clamped his mouth shut. He wasn't foolish enough to think Rossi would miss his slip of tongue. However, he hoped the older agent would let it slide.
"There are things we simply can't control," Rossi finally said, breaking the silence. "You know that."
Hotch nodded. Yes, he did know, but that didn't help the helplessness he felt when he heard the beatings, nor the overwhelming need to throw protocol out the window and march up to kill the bastard.
Emily Prentiss made him want to control the uncontrollable, because he needed to know she was safe.
"You need to talk to her."
Hotch looked up sharply at Rossi's words, but the older agent was already moving out of the conference room.
You need to talk to her, Rossi had said. He knew that, also, but what should be do? There were too much at stake, too many people involved.
Sighing wearily, he moved down the hall toward his office, his sanctuary. Ever since his divorce, he had dreaded going home. It was too quiet, too impersonal. He missed Haley despite their arguments; he missed Jack more than anything; and more importantly he missed having a home to go back to.
Yet, the dull ache in his head was too distracting for him to ignore. He knew a full blown headache was on its way, and he needed to heed to his own advice, to rest before he was too exhausted to function properly.
Still, he managed to spend another fifteen minutes sorting out files on his desk to delay the inevitable. When and only when he had run out of excuses, he stepped out of his office to make his way home.
He came to a dead stop when she spotted the lone occupant in the bullpen.
"Did you not hear me about going home and resting, Agent Prentiss?"
He watched her intently, looking at her form and trying to read into her body language.
He knew she shouldn't be here. She needed to be at home, resting. He also knew she would push herself to come back, even before she was absolutely ready. That would be the one thing Hotch would not allow.
The last time he had failed to stand firm by that rule, he had lost one of his own.
He wasn't going to survive losing Emily Prentiss.
Slowly, he stepped down towards her, his hand aching at his side to reach out and brush against her bruises. It was almost impossible to practice restraint around Emily Prentiss, Hotch had discovered early on.
She stood, but she still wouldn't look at him, so he tried again, "You need to go home and rest, Emily."
Finally, she looked up, and shrugged weakly. She hadn't said a word, but her message was clear – she didn't want to be alone. Understandably, she did not want to be alone when she had just cheated death once again.
He held her gaze then, refusing to back down this time. Specks of hurt and self-doubt still lurked in her brown orbs. He schooled himself not to flinch.
A whole conversation took place with neither of them saying a word.
You shouldn't be here until you've recovered.
I am fine.
You need to go home. It's been a long few days.
You're still here.
Yes, but I'm not the one who was held hostage inside a cult and beaten up.
You know very well why I don't want to go.
He knew pulling rank on Emily Prentiss would be useless. It would only irate her more. He cleared his throat, and with as much authority as he could muster, decreed quietly, "You are coming with me. I'm driving."
She was stubborn, however, and held her ground, refusing to move from her spot beside her desk.
He reached out to take her arm, and she flinched. He stepped back involuntarily. Her rejection – may it be involuntary – stung like a slap to his face.
"Come on. Let's go," he said, schooling his arms to stay by his side.
He waited, until she took the first step, and walked meekly towards the exit, like a sacrificial lamb walking towards its slaughter.
He reached the car first and unlocked the passenger door for her to get in. This time, when she brushed past him, she hadn't flinched, and he let out a sigh of relief.
The ride to her apartment was done without conversations. Neither of them knew what to say, and neither was bothered by the silence that hung between them.
Once he was parked in her visitor's spot, he killed the ignition and studied her.
She made no moves to get out of the car. Instead, she leaned back against the head rest and closed her eyes. Silently, Hotch mirrored her pose.
"I'm fine, you know. I am not going to break," she claimed softly after a long moment.
"Yea, I know. You can take it," he spat out bitterly. Surely, the rouging up had done only that – it had roughened her edges, but had not done much damage otherwise. She would need time, to recover, to school herself not to flinch when someone touched her, to remain calm when going undercover. Eventually, she would be fine.
He, on the other hand, he was not so sure. The sound of the beating she suffered would be playing in his head for a long while to come.
"I will be fine," she insisted once again.
"Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?" he asked.
"Don't profile me," she said testily. Deftly, she released the seatbelt and moved to open the door.
His hand shot out to grab hers, and he winced at her flinch. Still, he refused to let go.
"I know you think you are ready. I hope to God that you really are ready, because trust me, Emily, I have seen what these types of situation can do to an agent and to a profiler. Trust me, I know."
Hotch could feel his pulse quickened, the deep emotions that he had tried to keep guarded moving trying to break free.
"Do you think it's easy for us to sit on the outside, not knowing what was happening to you or Reid? Do you know how hard it was for us to not rush in and the rules be damned? You were in there, Emily, being beaten because one freaking reporter could not wait to dish out the juicy detail, and I was out there couldn't do a thing about. So excuse me for wanting to make sure you are safe and fine."
He didn't realize he had yelled, but the wide-eye expression on Emily's face told him that he had startled her. For a man who prided himself on his ability to keep his emotions in check, he certainly had nothing to be proud of tonight.
Slowly, almost reluctantly, he released his grip on her arm, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled."
"It's okay," her soft voice came, and she shook her head. "No, it's not okay. I'm not okay."
He could see the tears gathered in her eyes then, the moisture pooling when the stress of the past few days finally caught up to her. "I'm not okay, and I don't know if I will be."
"You did well, Emily."
"Yea?" she looked up to him. "I lied to a woman, Hotch. I used her and told her that it was all to save her daughter, that it would be a second chance to protect her daughter from the devil. But at the end? She died. Jessica died there with him and she had to watch her own daughter blow herself up because she listened to me."
She was sobbing now, the tears she had tried to hard to contain breaking free and running down her cheeks.
Hesitantly and awkwardly, he reached over. His hands hovered above her shoulder. He wasn't sure if she would welcome his touch and his comfort after his earlier outburst, but he wanted to protect her.
She made the choice for him, however, because she had reached over and buried her head into the crook of his neck. Her tears were soaking through his dress shirt, but he didn't care. His arms closed around her shaking body, and he held on for dear life.
Emily Prentiss was safe. She may be bruised and an emotional wreck, but she was safe, warm and alive in his arms.
Her sobs quieted down, and almost shyly, she drew back to look into his eyes.
There were many things he wanted to say to her, many feelings to express, but no voice came. He tugged at her arms and drew her back into his embrace, and she went willingly, settling herself close to his heart.
He still could not control the uncontrollable, but at the moment, when she was nestled nicely in his arms, he could fool himself to think that all would be well.
Maybe he was enough to keep her safe, after all.