Author's Note: MAJOR ANGST WARNING! Minor character deaths. I promise the team is safe.

This story is inspired by the prompt below and it is a spin-off of "Universe A". This will be "Universe B." If I spin off something again from the main story, that will be the alpha sequence I follow.

And if you're just discovering this story, and haven't read any of my other stuff, you should first go read chapters 1-51 of "Falling in Love with a Girl." This story picks up events immediately after Chapter 51 in that story. For all intents it is canon through the beginning of season 4, but the reason it is a 'spin-off' is because I needed here for them here to have the established warmth and camaraderie in their relationship that we don't necessarily "see" on screen.


Prompt Set #1

Show: Babylon 5

Title Challenge: A Race Through Dark Places


The Knock at the Door

Hotch stood in front of her door for almost ten minutes. He did not want to be the one to do this to her.

To break her heart.

But she had to be told in person, he didn't want her finding out from some stranger on the phone. Or worse, some talking head on the news.

So he took a breath . . . and finally . . . he rang the bell. Once . . . and then again. Then he stepped back.

And waited.

A minute later he heard shuffling from inside, and then the door opened. She was blinking, obviously still half asleep.

"Hotch?" Emily stared up at him fuzzily, "what's wrong?"

For a second he just looked at her, his gut churning, and then he took a step closer.

"Something's happened," he said softly, "I need to come in."

Emily felt a shot of adrenaline hit her system, clearing the sleep from her brain.

Those weren't good words to hear in the middle of the night. Really, those weren't good words to hear at any time of the day. And her brow was wrinkled in concern as she stepped back to let Hotch inside.

It didn't help that he didn't make eye contact as he brushed past her to head directly down to the living room. Then she watched as he bit his lip and his gaze fell to the floor.

Oh God, this was bad . . . her stomach started to clench up . . . this was going to be REALLY bad.

With a growing sense of dread filling her, Emily turned back to shut the door and turn the deadbolt.

It was three o'clock in the morning and her boss had just shown up at her door in his pajamas to tell her something, and now he won't look at her.

The horrific possibilities going through her mind were absolutely endless.

Hotch lifted his head, catching Emily's worried eyes as he debated asking her to sit down. Then he figured that she already knew that something terrible had happened, so he should just get it out. So he cleared his throat.

"Prentiss . . ."

But then she cut him off.

"Wait." Emily shook her head as she walked down the hall towards him. Then she stopped in front of him with her hand up.

"What you came to tell me is really bad, right?" She asked warily.

Hotch nodded slowly, but didn't say anything . . . this was her news, he'd go at her pace. He just wanted to make sure that she wasn't alone when she found out.

Emily stared at Hotch. She now had her confirmation that it was in fact, 'really bad.' Okay. Well, she'd had really bad news before.

How had she handled it?

She blinked.

"Do you want a drink?" Before he could answer, she nodded to herself, "you must want a drink because I want a drink just looking at you. And you already know this bad thing, so let's have a drink and then you'll tell me, okay?"

Hotch looked at her for a second before nodding again.

"Okay," he said slowly, "if that's what you want . . . then that's what we'll do."

He actually would love a drink, but he sure as hell wouldn't have asked her for one. And if she wanted to put this off a couple more minutes, that was very okay with him too. Because once he said it, he wouldn't be able to take it back.

That was it, her life as she now knew it . . . would be over.

More people should get the opportunity to have a drink before that moment happens.

Emily went over to the liquor cabinet and took down the Jameson's and two glasses. Then she went back to the kitchen and filled them with ice and whiskey before bringing everything . . . including the bottle . . . over to the coffee table.

There she down on the couch and patted the seat next to her.

Hotch took a breath before he moved over and sat down, taking the full glass Emily handed to him.

He tossed it back like it was a shot, and as he put the empty glass down on the table, she murmured.

"That bad, huh."

So she did the same, wincing as the liquor burned her throat. Then she put her glass back down next to his.

For a moment she stared at the ice as it melted and swirled with the brown droplets still in the glass. Then she took a breath and nodded as she looked up at him.

"Okay, you can tell me now."

Hotch took his own breath before slowly rubbing his hands together.

"I got a call from Strauss about forty minutes ago. The section chiefs are automatically notified when there's a major terrorist attack. In this instance, suspected. But also in this instance there was more . . ." he swallowed, "because there are also major diplomatic implications."

He hoped that might give her a clue, prepare her, because he didn't want to just blurt it out before she was ready. But he could see that she was still staring at him without any comprehension.

She didn't understand yet.

So he reached over and picked up her hand.

"Prentiss," he continued softly, "there was a plane crash . . . in Egypt."

His stomach turned as he saw her eyes widening in horror . . . she didn't know before, but she knew now. So he just got the rest out as quickly as possible.

As though it would somehow hurt less that way.

"I'm so sorry," he shook his head sadly, "but there were no survivors."

Emily doubled over, gasping.

OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD

Feeling a wave of pain and empathy for her, Hotch immediately started rubbing Emily's back as she tried to catch her breath. He felt utterly helpless. He just wanted to say something or do something to help her.

But he was drawing a complete blank.

Even with the hundreds of death notifications that he'd given over the years, it still gave him absolutely no preparation for dealing with one this close to home. And when she lifted her head to look at him, and he saw the raw misery on her face, his heart ached for her.

"Are they sure," her voice broke, "no survivors?"

Maybe there was still a chance. Maybe they were okay!

Hotch nodded before he said quietly, "they're sure."

Then he paused, not sure if this was the time to tell her the rest. But then he decided if it was him, that he'd want to know. So he ran his thumb along her hand as he whispered, "there was an explosion shortly after takeoff. They went in over the Indian Ocean."

The first tears starting running down Emily's face as she asked hoarsely, "so no bodies?"

He looked down, then dragged his eyes back up to hers . . . if she had to hear it, then he needed to not be a coward about saying it.

"There are bodies. The pilots were still in contact with the tower when they disappeared off radar. And there were a number of boats in the area, so the response was pretty quick." He cleared his throat, "they've recovered about half so far but, uh . . ."

Emily's face crumpled as she finished the sentence that he couldn't.

"But they won't be identified without DNA and dental records."

At his slow nod she finally started to cry.

For a moment, he just squeezed her hand tightly, not sure what to do. But then she moaned . . . it was an awful sound . . . and his choice was clear.

He wrapped his arm around her body, and pulled her over to his chest.

But as her sobs got more violent, his own eyes began to burn in sympathy . . . and after only a split second's hesitation . . . he reached over and pulled her into his lap.

Her fingers clutched his t-shirt in vice grip. Then she buried her face in his neck as he felt her hot tears start to fall against his skin.

And as he wrapped her up in his arms, he wanted so badly to tell that it would be okay . . . but it wouldn't be okay. Both of her parents were dead.

It would never be okay again.

So he just held her close, rubbed her back, and let her cry.

At least five minutes passed before she started sucking in heaving breaths, and Hotch knew that she was trying to get her emotions back under control. And he was relieved to feel, that for the moment at least, the sobs were passing.

He'd been worried that she was going to make herself sick.

Emily finally . . . temporarily . . . exhausted her supply of tears. Then she tucked her head under Hotch's chin, taking deep breaths as she tried to calm down. Some part of her brain knew that sitting in his lap . . . even given their complicated history . . . was a bit unusual.

But she couldn't make herself care about it beyond the idea that it was simply a fact. But it was an unimportant fact. Because she was an orphan now.

She reached up to wipe her hand across her face as she said the word to herself again.

Orphan.

She thought somehow that was just a word for little kids. Guess not. Because she was thirty-nine, and that was the only word that would come to her. She sniffled then, which made her realize that her nose was running.

On Hotch.

So using his chest as leverage, she pushed herself back. Then she wiped her hand across her face as she hiccuped.

"I'm sorry," she murmured as she looked up at him, "my nose is running on your shirt."

Hotch just looked at her for a second before he gave her a sad smile. Then he pulled her back against his chest.

"It's okay," he whispered as he patted her back, "doesn't matter."

Only Emily would be worried about such thing right now.

Then he felt her fist her hands in his t-shirt again as she murmured a pitiable, "thanks."

He tightened his hold around her body . . . she sounded so broken that he didn't know what to do. Or what to say.

He had nothing.

Emily closed her eyes as she tucked her face against the curve of Hotch's neck. She didn't want to get up. She wanted to stay right there on the couch wrapped up in Hotch's arms, as long as he would stay with her. Because eventually she knew that she was going to have to walk out her front door, and she was going to have to handle this nightmare all by herself.

And she was trying to put that moment off as long as possible.

She didn't have any brothers or sisters . . . and because they traveled so much . . . they'd never been close to her parents' siblings, or her cousins. So it was just her now. She didn't have anyone anymore.

Not even anyone to fight with.

God what she wouldn't give for another fight with her mother!

As another tear ran down her face, Emily murmured sadly against Hotch's chest.

"I'm all alone now."

Hotch tucked a strand of hair back behind Emily's ear as he whispered, "you're not alone. I know that we're not your real family, but you have us Prentiss."

Then he winced as he corrected himself while tightening his embrace.

"Emily."

He knew he needed to stop calling her Prentiss all the time. She was the only one that he never called by her first name. Originally he thought that it was just out of habit . . . which was part of it . . . but later he realized that he did it to keep her at arm's length. And then once he was divorced . . . and realized that he was developing a more personal attachment for her . . . he did it on purpose.

Trying to maintain the distance that was no longer there.

But now was not the time for his neuroses. The poor thing thought that was all alone in the world. And it wasn't going to help convince her that she wasn't, if he couldn't even call her by her given name. So he said it again against her hair as he rubbed his hand down back.

"Emily, I promise whatever you need, okay?"

She nodded against his chest.

"Thanks," then she sighed, "I want to go get them. I want to bring them home."

Without a doubt she knew that was what they would do for her. It was what was right.

You take care of your own.

At Emily's announcement, Hotch froze for a second while trying to think of a delicate way to say he needed to say.

There wasn't one.

"You know, uh," he said haltingly, "they're not sure yet that they have their bodies. Not everyone's been recovered."

'And not everyone will be recovered,' he added to himself. But he couldn't bear to say that aloud.

What little focus was driving her right now, was the recovery of her parents' remains. And he'd already taken enough from her tonight.

He wouldn't take that too.

But then he felt her nod again.

"I know, but I want to go. Because if they do have them it's going to take weeks to get them home from there. I assume we have jurisdiction?"

"Yeah," he nodded, "it was a diplomatic flight, all American passengers and crew. Strauss told me that we're sending a team out with the NTSB. There's still a possibility it was mechanical failure or just an accident. But given their mission, and where they were, our people are going to investigate in case it's a crime scene."

Of course it was a crime scene. Everyone knew the odds of this simply being unbelievably tragic coincidence were less than nil.

Emily nestled in closer to Hotch as she said quietly, "okay then, if I'm there to give a sample, and bring their, their," she stumbled over the word, "dental records, then it should go more quickly. Plus maybe if our people know who I am, my parents will get a little consideration. There were three congressman and two senators traveling with them. As VIPs go, my parents, on that flight anyway, aren't going to take the top priority."

Hotch frowned, "Emily you know that doesn't make a difference to the investigators."

She wiped her hand across her face again, "no, I know it doesn't make a difference to them. But there's going to be a lot of pressure from other places, and really Hotch," her voice cracked again, "I just want to bring my mom and dad home."

It was the only thing she could focus on right now . . . getting them back.

"Okay," he ran his hand consolingly down her arm, "okay, whatever you want to do. We'll fly out in the morning."

She wrinkled her brow as she shook her head, "that's a long trip Hotch, I can go by myself. I don't want to be a bother."

As much as she wanted him to come, accompanying her on this awful trip was too much to ask of anyone.

Hotch frowned at Emily's choice of words . . . a bother. God, he really had done a terrible job in showing her how much he valued their relationship. He'd thought that he was getting better . . . he had been making a real effort to strengthen their friendship . . . but clearly there was work still to be done.

And this was obviously the time to do it.

"Hey," his fingers ghosted down her arm, "you're never a bother. Never. But if you'd feel more comfortable, I can send Morgan or Dave with you. Because really Emily," he squeezed her wrist, "I'm not sending you halfway around the world to deal with this all alone. So you pick one of us, okay?"

He was relieved that he remembered to call her Emily that time too. Maybe it wouldn't be so hard to break the habit.

At Hotch's offer, Emily pushed herself back again so that she could see his face . . . it was resolute . . . so she gave him a watery smile.

"In that case, I would like it if you were the one that came with me. I mean," she tipped her head, "if you're really sure that you can take the time."

This was going to be a lot of time. Especially for a man that worked through holidays.

"Of course," Hotch's eyes crinkled slightly as he nodded again, "Dave can hold down the fort until I get back."

His job was so often about taking care of the dead, and right now he needed to focus on the living.

Focus on Emily.

With one decision now made . . . one of only a thousand that were lined up in front of her . . . Emily took a breath before shifting to put her head back onto Hotch's shoulder again. For a moment she was quiet, then she whispered.

"I just talked to them last week. I wanted to let them know that I had started back to work and had been cleared for regular duty." She sniffled, "you know, I'd called them right after Colorado to tell them that I was okay. Fortunately they hadn't identified the agents being held so they didn't know anything until it was over."

It's a good thing. Her father probably would have stormed the compound.

"Yeah," Hotch rubbed her back, "that's why I didn't call your mother. It was a gamble, but I figured as long as your name wasn't out then there was no point in making her worry."

He still felt that he'd made the right call there, but now he kind of wished that he'd spoken to her. He liked the ambassador. It would have been nice to talk to her one more time . . . even if it hadn't been under the best of circumstances. He tipped his head over to rest against Emily's.

God they were having a terrible year.

Emily closed her eyes and took a deep breath . . . usually Hotch's scent made her feel better. Like things would be okay. But now, she just felt empty. He still made her feel safe . . . more so than usual being wrapped up so close . . . but she knew that things wouldn't be okay.

Even Hotch couldn't fix this one for her.

Feeling the tears starting to well up again, Emily tried to distract herself. So, swallowing over the lump in her throat, she asked softly, "was it on the radio when you came over?"

"Not yet," Hotch responded with a faint shake of his head, "but if it hasn't broken by now, it will be soon. It's the middle of the night here, but it's mid morning there. And apparently it happened a couple of hours ago."

"The remote's on the end table," Emily murmured with a slight gesture of her chin.

Hotch picked up his head to look over before reaching his arm out to grab the silver device. Then he looked down at Emily with a worried brow.

"Are you really sure that you want to see? Because you know what this is like. If they have footage of them going in, they're going to run it over and over. And if they don't know what's going on, then they're going to have all kinds of experts rotating through to speculate about what happened . . . and what they would have gone through," he bit his lip as he looked at her sadly, "it's going to hurt you."

This was a bad idea. He knew in his soul that it was a bad idea.

Emily stared into Hotch's eyes for almost minute . . . you could get lost in the black. Then she blinked and put her head back on his chest.

"Just for a little bit," Her eyes started to sting again, "I know that you're probably right, but I just need to make it real. And if the rest of the world knows too, then it's real. It's not just us sitting in the dark."

Hotch looked down at her swollen, still watery, eyes. He really didn't think that she should put herself through this.

But if she wanted to . . . he couldn't see how he could stop her. And maybe it would be best to do it now when the networks don't have much to run. Then he'd just keep her away from the television for, well, six or seven months.

Probably not practical, but he just wanted to protect her. He hadn't been able to do that in Colorado. And now tonight, he had to come here and break her heart. This was the worst day of her life, and she would always remember that he was the one that told her. He just felt like this was ONE thing that he could make better for her.

That he could control.

But . . . her eyes snapped back up to his . . . he couldn't control this either. This was her decision to make, and she'd made it. So he nodded . . . giving her a ghost of a smile . . . before he hit the button.

They both looked over as the blue glow slowly filled the room. Previously the only light was from the one over the kitchen sink.

Even under the circumstances, Hotch's eyes crinkled faintly when he realized that the last channel she'd been watching was Discovery.

Just like they'd discussed that night with the pizza.

But then his faint amusement immediately faded . . . replaced with a new wave of regret . . . when he realized that if she was watching that channel regularly, it meant that she was struggling. She was already struggling before tonight's terrible news.

So how the hell was she going to go on from this?

Knowing that there was no answer to this question . . . or at least no answer he wanted to accept . . . Hotch sighed as he punched in the channel code for CNN.

They'd get this done, and move on to all the rest of it later.

Emily's eyes widened as the images appeared on the screen. And there it was . . . the huge breaking news banner.

'Mid East Peace Envoy Explodes in Mid Air'

That, along with pictures of her parents and the other VIPs who had gone on the trip. It was real. Her heart twisted.

They were dead.

Before she had fully processed that realization, the crawl caught her eye.

. . . possible terrorist attack . . . exploded before impact . . . no possibility of survivors . . . bodies recovered charred beyond recognition . . .

Feeling a fresh stab of pain in her chest, Emily closed her eyes.

"That's enough," she whispered. And Hotch quickly snapped off the television. But it was too late, she could feel the wave pressing on her chest, as her eyes again filled with tears.

He'd been right, that was a bad idea.

The worst idea ever.

Hotch dropped the remote next to him on the cushion. The he shifted Emily in his arms and leaned back against the couch. Some part of him was thinking it should feel weird, or at least inappropriate, to have had her sitting in his lap for the last twenty minutes.

But it didn't. Not even a little.

They'd gone through a lot together that year, most of it bad. And next to Dave, Hotch realized that Emily was probably the only one that he ever felt like he could talk to about his life. That he trusted with his secrets. She'd seen him at his worst, and she never judged him or betrayed his trust. And he realized now, that's why hadn't hesitated to offer to go with her. She needed somebody, and he wanted to be there for her.

Because when he'd needed somebody, she'd been there for him.

And with that revelation, this time when she started to cry, he had something real to say as he rubbed her back. He promised her that she wasn't alone, and that he would stay with her, and that he would help her get through this. And after she cried herself to sleep in his arms, he leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

Those were promises he intended to keep.


A/N 2: As I said, I'm taking the prompt challenge as an opportunity to do some things that I can't/wouldn't do in my main 'verse. And I like Emily's parents, I have no intention of knocking them off in the main world. I don't know if I've ever said this before, but I picture Emily's dad as Bruce Boxleitner. And if you're familiar with Scarecrow and Mrs. King then you'll get why that is, and why it amuses me :)

The prompt gave me the idea, because there's really no darker place than that kind of grief. But I was intrigued by the idea of another precipitating act for them to 'accelerate their bonding.' And if one of them had a major tragedy befall them so quickly on the heels of what happened in New York and Colorado, then perhaps things between them would go differently because they would see life as being a bit shorter and more fragile. Perhaps. We'll see how things go with them here :)

And if anyone's been to Egypt and wants to shoot me a pm on restaurants or hotels where westerners congregate, that'd be much appreciated. Obviously they aren't sightseeing but they will have to eat, and I've said many times before, I like to keep my fake worlds as real as possible. I haven't decided on a city yet, but presumably Cairo because that would probably be the easiest/quickest to google basic facts.

I will be updating this at slower intervals than Girl but faster than & Such. Basically this is the Mama Bear of my three stories. And it isn't going to be super long. I already have the last scene pictured in my head. Now I just have to drive from A to J. And it probably will be J, nine or ten chapters total. I might finish it before the end of the month. I have the next sequence of events fairly clear in my head but I might get stuck on letter E or something.

Let me know if you like it. I know I'm all super angsty with my postings this weekend. If you're not a fan of all the angst, sorry :( I'm in a bit of a weird mood so, though the extra stories might be a bit heavy, you can take comfort that at least Girl will be quite light for a little while.