Disclaimers: I don't own Emily Prentiss or Aaron Hotchner, please please don't sue me o powers that be.

Rating: K- Completely harmless.

Spoilers: Up to 4.13

Genre: General/ Friendship

Shameless Plug: If you like the way I write Hotch- Prentiss friendship, go read my other story, "Lorelai and Other Aquatic Mammals."

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She'd been doing it for nearly thirty years, but Emily Prentiss had not yet figured out how to sleep properly on a plane. "Properly" being, by her standards, a) drool-free and b) without clothing marks on her cheeks or forehead. It looked like, this time, she had achieved neither objective.

Oh, well. At least she had managed what felt like an hour or so of sleep. With all the jurisdictions they had crossed, and the agencies that had had to be brought in, the paperwork had been a nightmare. The BAU had not managed to make it back to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth until 1 AM.

Hotch had pre-emptively ordered all of them not to report until the afternoon. He had even referred to it as "1300 hours" to emphasize his point. (Though Emily was sure he had never been in the military- pretty sure, at least.) Lucky JJ was probably snug in her bed right now, cuddling Will and maybe little Henry; and yet she would be there when they all dragged themselves in, bright and perky and ready to... Wait, Henry was about 4 months old now. Maybe JJ wouldn't be too perky.

Prentiss scanned around the plane from her relatively cozy vantage point in the corner arm chair. Reid, the sneaky little genius, had somehow managed to get to the couch first, and was looking way, way too comfortable for her…comfort. He had defeated her this time, but there would be a next. Oh yes.

Rossi and Jordan had snatched the one pair of seats where one could stretch one's legs. They were completely lost to the world of the waking. Rossi with a book splayed over his lap willy-nilly; Jordan with an iPod in her jacket pocket. And her head nestled on her seatmate's relatively un-pointy shoulder. Not a position that either of them would admit to while conscious, certainly. But Rossi, to Emily's great surprise, had really taken Jordan under his wing, especially after L.A.

Ha. She usually never was awake enough to glory in a victory like this, but a victory she had. Emily Prentiss had finally found a person who looked sillier sleeping than she did. Derek Morgan might be cool, smooth and confident during the day. However, no one ever looked graceful with legs crossed over the armrest, head squished in between the window and the back of the chair, arms all akimbo, and mouth partially open. How that particular position could be at all comfortable, she had no idea. But he looked very peaceful, and she began to envy him.

As her eyes adjusted to the relative darkness of the plane, she spotted something amiss. The pilot kindly had turned the lights off for their red-eye flight. Yet there was a reflected glow coming from the bow of the plane. (Was it a bow if it wasn't a boat? She was pretty sure it was.)

Prentiss slowly got up from her seat and made her way to the four-person table. Yes, that was a light, all right. Hotch's penlight, to be exact, as her scarily dutiful boss was scanning it over yet more paperwork.

Correction. Not paperwork. Photographs; photocopies of photographs, of very old photographs.

"Cathy Gray's parents."

Hotch's head darted up at the sound of her voice. He didn't look startled, exactly; Hotch was always too in control, too aware to ever be startled. Especially these days. The pain may have receded, the buzzing died down. The vigilance clearly hadn't.

"Prentiss. I thought you were sleeping."

"I was. I've never been great at sleeping on planes, though."

"Too much practice?"

"Exactly."

Hotch nodded his head toward the opposite seat, and Emily took it. They were silent for a moment, than she voiced what was on both of their minds.

" 'Don't tell them about your brothers.' "

" She might not have been talking about actual brothers."

" Does that make it better?"

"No."

"How long do you think it takes?"

The look in Hotch's eyes said he knew what she meant, but he was going to make her say it out loud.

"How long what takes?"

"To go down so deep that it's too hard to come back. To tell yourself over and over that this is what you deserve and what you like and what you are."

At that, Hotch broke her gaze and stared out the window. "To be Sylvia for so long that Cathy ceases to exist."

Suddenly, the precipice they were looking over frightened Emily, and she retreated.

"Hotch, Cathy's still in there, somewhere. She has to be."

"You're sure about that?"

"You couldn't have reached her with those photographs, otherwise."

He frowned.

"I didn't reach her. I badgered her. I threw her back into the only pattern she's known for 40 years, and she reacted."

"It was more than that. I saw her eyes when you showed her her parents. She remembers them. She remembers something, a life other than the hunt."

" If that's true, it disappeared just as quickly."

Hotch looked stricken, and Emily realized what the problem was.

"Hotch, you did not do that to her."

"No? You don't think I played into every last fear she had about the outside world. Showed her that what her captor was telling was absolutely correct. Sent her deeper down the rabbit hole."

"We had to find that little girl."

Hotch remained silent.

"Hotch, we could have questioned her for hours. And she would have sat there, reciting name, rank and serial number, for just as long."

"There could have been another way."

"Hotch, I would have pulled you back."

He looked, for a moment, genuinely surprised. Emily was briefly worried that she had overstepped. But she continued.

"I didn't need to. I won't need to. But I was right there with you, the whole time. Please, trust in me, I would have stopped it."

It was true. That side of Hotch? She did not relish seeing very often. There had been moments, in the box with Sylvia, which had, to be honest, scared her a little.

But she also knew something else: those moments scared him too.

He broke eye contact again, looking over the early morning lights of the countryside.

"I think we're over North Carolina now."

The quick-draw subject change. Emily knew the tactic well, as she had often used it herself.

"That big stretch of open country between Petersburg and Cary. I swear there's some sort of time vortex there."

"I take it you've taken the Carolinian."

"Oh yes."

A pause.

"Prentiss?"

"Yeah, Hotch?"

"Thank you."

They stared sleepily in unison into the early morning darkness.

fin