"They ruled it a good shoot."

Hotch looked up at the woman in the doorway, her dark hair curled in the way that made her look so much more vulnerable than she'd proven herself to be. He cracked a small smile. "Of course they did. It was a good shoot."

She blew out a breath. "I still killed a man."

He had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. In the three weeks since they'd been back from Columbus, Ohio, the topic of the shooting of Henry Cademon had come up time and time again. He'd patiently talked Emily through every variation, but he was starting to both get seriously concerned about her state of mind and her emotional well-being. Not to mention how sick he was of having this conversation. "Emily-"

"I know. I do." She managed a smile. "I still don't like it."

"You're human, you're not supposed to like it."

"So you keep telling me. I just wanted to let you know that I'm clear to carry again."

He smiled his thanks as she went back to her desk. Hotch dropped his pen to his file with a sigh, his forehead landing in his palms. He'd known anything with Emily was going to be an uphill battle. He'd always known that, but this… he wasn't sure he was prepared for this. All hours phone calls he could deal with, more because they were about her nightmares than anything else, but one thing he'd never realized was how incredibly self-deprecating the woman could be. While he knew she wasn't the glass-half-full kind of person like Garcia was or the generally smiling JJ, he'd never expected the level of cynicism he'd been getting out of her for the last three weeks.

Hotch knew Derek was still watching Emily carefully. He knew that the younger man was still worried about his best friend. What he was happy to see was that Emily and Reid seemed to be patching the rift between them. Whether it was because Reid had seen Emily struggling through the Ohio case or from something they'd talked about at a later date, Hotch had no idea, but he didn't much care either, so long as they were patching things up. Garcia almost hovered, just under the radar that he didn't think Emily noticed. JJ checked on her periodically, though Hotch had the vague idea that she was probably doing it through Dave too. They were all keeping a close eye on her. As if she would shatter any minute.

But Emily had proven in the last couple of weeks that shattering wasn't something she did without provocation. She was trying to move on past it all, trying to focus on something other than Cyrus and Cademon. She was trying to focus on moving forward. But he knew, in the wee hours of the morning, there was nothing she could do to protect herself. There was nothing she could do about the nightmares that still plagued her. He'd lost hours of sleep over those nightmares.

And yet, he wouldn't give it up. He wanted to be there for her, he wanted to be by her side, wanted to help her through this tough time. Because he'd learned in Columbus that Emily was more important to him than a colleague. The way he'd hovered, the way he'd felt when she curled into him after nightmares… it wasn't just a boss hoping for the best for his colleague. He cared about her and about the type of person she was. The last thing he wanted was for her to doubt herself in the field. She'd turned out to be one of the best agents he'd had the privilege to work with. Losing her would be a blow to the BAU, so he'd do everything to make sure that she adjusted okay to everything now.

And then he'd make a few other adjustments to her life. It helped that she already relied on him when the nightmares came. Instead of dialling Derek, she called him and he sat up with her until she fell asleep again. He didn't feel comfortable simply suggesting they share a bed like they had after some of her nightmares in Columbus. He didn't want to add his feelings on top of her nightmares.

Hotch sighed as he looked over her psych evaluation. She'd passed with flying colours, apparently not exhibiting any signs of anything to worry about. Hotch knew better and he knew that Derek knew better. Heck, even Reid knew Emily wasn't her usual self. He didn't fault her and neither did the rest of the team, but it was something new for all of them to finally see the woman struggle.

"Hey Hotch?"

He looked up to see JJ in the doorway. He'd been dreading this part of the day. He and JJ had met the night before to discuss a call that had come to him from higher ups in the Bureau. "JJ."

"Everyone's waiting for you."

Hotch sighed as he pushed himself up from his chair. He was glad Emily could carry again and that was the only way he was even thinking about going back into rotation. He didn't like the idea of having a team without one of its members, regardless of how much she was struggling. He took his seat between Emily and Dave, watching JJ waddle around the table to the front of the room.

"We've been specially called in to work a case in Washington DC. There's a serial blackmailer," JJ said, pointing the remote at the television at the front of the room, bringing up pictures of a few typed notes.

"His secret?" Derek asked, glancing up from the file he was simultaneously reading with pictures of the real things. "What kind of a secret. And how do we know these threats are anything?"

JJ tossed the morning paper on the table. Sure enough, the front page was about the Congressman accepting bribes from various corporations to ensure they received high-level government contracts. "And, according to the notes, that's only the beginning."

"Do I want to ask?" Dave asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Congressman Josh Infantry from Texas paid the requested amount in his blackmail letter. His improprieties involving prostitutes still came out," JJ said. "Congresswoman Brennan Woods' teenaged pregnancy and abortion came out last week."

Dave whistled. "She was instrumental in the pro-life debate."

"You know, part of me hates that the politicians get so much focus," Emily said conversationally. "Why are they calling us in?"

"A couple of higher ups in the Bureau want us to work a gala coming up at the end of the week. These aren't the only three congress representatives who have been threatened. They're taking these threats seriously. The last one Congressman Infantry received threatened his life and the life of his family. I don't think I need to tell you how important this case is to everyone's bosses," Hotch spoke up, meeting the eyes of every person in the room. Emily's eyes were far away when he finally reached her. "Emily?"

"Is this the United Way Gala on Friday night?"

JJ looked down at her notes then back up in surprise. "It is."

"And I'd just convinced my mother it wasn't important that I be there," she murmured, rubbing a hand over her forehead. "Did she call us in?"

"I doubt it," Hotch said, trying to be reassuring. "You don't have to do this."

"But I will," she replied. "I have to."

"No you don't," he repeated. "You can work the case with JJ and Garcia from here."

She was shaking her head before he finished. "Not a chance. This just means I have to go shopping."

Hotch made a mental not to pull her aside later, when the rest of the team wasn't around. It was hard enough for her to appear weak in front of him, to start opening up to him. There was no way she was going to talk honestly with him when the team was right there. "For now let's work the case from here. What do we know?"

"We need to know what these people had in common besides their jobs," Derek spoke up. "The scandals?"

"Is there victimology in three separate scandals? One sexual, one monetary, one social," Dave replied. "Can we honestly say that this is the same guy?"

"We need more information," Hotch agreed.

"Too bad. I'm not a big fan of political extravaganzas," Dave quipped.

"You're preaching to the choir," Emily nodded as she stood, closing her file. "I've been to one too many in my life."

"Let's get everything packed up and head to Washington. I'd like to see the crime scene before we start to worry about our attendance at this gala," Hotch interrupted. "Be ready in an hour."

I wasn't going to do this. Really. I wasn't going to do this. But I did. 'Cause the idea came to me and as many of you well know, I'm a slave to my ideas. We'll see how this goes. I'm in the process of trying to iron out all of the details with this case.

Technically, this follows Dark of Night. It'll be another case-centered fic, but I'm hoping to throw in a little bit more of the romantic side of this Hotch/Prentiss relationship I just started touching on in Dark of Night. Because apparently I can't help but make Emily the victim. But I think I've positioned her to play a much stronger victim in this baby.

Let me know what you think of the first chapter please? I'm not sure when the second's going to be up, but I'm going to try for shortly!