Author's Note: Thanks very much everybody for the feedback on the last chapter :) I am going to try to get some notes out after this post is up.

Continuing now with them arriving back at the Dragonfly. The night's not over yet, and we will have some twists coming ;)


The Deep Ocean

They got back to the Dragonfly just before 11:30 pm.

For a moment after Hotch turned the engine off, he and Emily stayed there sitting in the dark. He was listening to the silence, and thinking about the day, and dreading the moment that was coming next.

The moment when she let go of his hand.

She'd been clutching it, and stroking her finger along his palm, since they'd stopped in the woods. It was the longest he'd had physical contact with anyone, in over a year. The last time he was probably holding his wife in bed, and tonight Emily was just holding his hand in the car. But he'd had no idea how much that small act could mean. That touch. It was a life preserver.

And he was a drowning man.

And he was wondering what the hell he was going to do . . . how he was going to stay afloat . . . once she let go. And he knew she'd be letting go soon. Because soon it would become awkward, and they'd both feel strange. And then everything . . . this tiny glimpse of the world that had been lost to him . . . it would be ruined. He'd be all alone.

Again.

Then finally the moment came. The backs of his fingers were pressed against her mid-section, and he could feel the hardening of the muscles in her abdomen.

Tension filling her body.

She took a breath . . . so did he . . . and when she released hers, she abruptly let his hand go. But she didn't just let it go, she actually flung it away.

Like she was sick of him.

A stab of pain filled his chest. And before Hotch could even pull his hand back to his side of the car, Emily's seat belt was snapping back. Then she was climbing out of the sedan, and her door was slamming shut, and a pit had filled his stomach.

What the hell had just happened?

Feeling a terrible . . . and unexpected . . . wave of panic that Emily was upset with him, and apparently also running away from him(!), Hotch hurriedly unclicked his own belt. He could see in the rearview mirror that she was just clearing . . . at a good clip . . . the back side of the car next to them. If he didn't move fast . . . he grabbed the keys from the ignition . . . she'd reach the steps of the inn, before he'd even gotten as far as she had now.

So with that panic intensifying with each second passing, Hotch flung his door open.

It was time to start trying again.

"Prentiss," he was calling across the deserted parking lot even as he scrambled out, "please wait!"

Though he was unsure what her reaction would be to his request, to Hotch's undying relief, Emily actually froze at the sound of his voice. And though she was turned away with her head down and face hidden, he could still see her arms come up to wrap around herself.

It was a defensive move.

And that's how he took it. And he took it with another stab in his chest. But as he hurried up behind her, about to ask why she was so upset with him, that's when he noticed his breath in front of him.

It was a tiny puff of white.

In this part of the country, the night air was still cold in early Spring. And for a second he started to feel a tiny bit better about her stance.

Maybe she was just trying to warm up.

But his theory was shot to hell when her shoulders began to shake. And they were shaking just like they had been in the car.

When she'd had her breakdown.

Oh fuck . . . he suddenly realized with a wave of self-disgust at his own pathetic narcissism . . . she was crying. When she'd rushed out, he'd assumed that she was running away from him. But no, she was just trying to get to her room before she lost it again.

And now he felt like a complete tool for stopping her.

Hell, he WAS a complete tool for stopping her! That point was definitely not in dispute. But because he had already stopped her . . . and because she had chosen to hold his hand all the way back to the inn . . . as he stepped up behind her with his stomach now churning in sympathy, he decided to do something that he wouldn't ordinarily feel comfortable doing. Especially out in public.

Slip his arm around her shoulders.

Then he started them walking again. Neither of them spoke, and Emily kept her head down, and her arms wrapped tightly around herself.

But after a few more steps, another car length, he felt her body language shift. The tension drained. And then she was leaning against his side.

His eyes fell shut for a second.

Okay . . . he let out a tiny breath of relief . . . thank God. If for the first time in a year he attempted to make a real connection with another person, and he'd fucked it up that badly in the space of just a half an hour, he was pretty sure that would have been the LAST time he attempted that kind of connection again.

At least for a long while.

But as long as he had this small tether now linking him to Emily, he did hate to let it . . . her . . . go again. So he kept her tucked as close as he could, while they crossed through the rest of the parking lot, and slowly walked up the front steps of the inn.

Then they stopped.

And knowing that he couldn't be seen touching her like that inside . . . God only knew who they could run into . . . reluctantly, he dropped his arm down. Then he tipped his head to catch her eyes.

Fortunately . . . for the little vice on his chest . . . no tears.

"Are you okay?' He whispered with a light squeeze of her shoulder.

She nodded.

"Yeah," Emily swallowed, "just suddenly felt a little claustrophobic back there." Her eyes came up to lock on to his, "and I'm really hoping nobody else is up right now."

Right before she got out of the car, she'd felt an overwhelming wave of panic and dread. And with it came that cloying, sickening smell of death and terror that they'd encountered in the cellar.

It had all washed over her again.

She'd had to bolt or she would have lost it completely. And even though she had all of that trauma pushed down under lock and key again . . . Hotch being sweet and attentive had helped with that endeavor . . . she still didn't want to see anyone else before bed.

Not even the desk clerk.

"Right," Hotch sucked in a breath as Emily turned towards the door, "me too."

Unfortunately . . . as was pretty much evidenced by their entire day so far . . . luck was not really on their side. Because when Hotch pushed back the door, and followed Emily into the lobby, he saw a small crowd of people talking in the middle of the room.

And then they stopped talking.

And he knew instantly why those people were there. Because of the news. Because of them.

The FBI agents that had brought death to their little town.

And for a moment everyone was frozen in tableau, like a play that had been interrupted. Hotch's hands had clenched into fists, and he could feel the waves of anxiety rolling off of Emily at his side. They were both waiting for the bombardment of questions about what had happened out at that house in the woods.

Questions that neither of them had any intention of answering.

Also though, Hotch knew that he was about one stressor away from throwing someone through a wall. Seriously God help that dipshit Frenchman if he suddenly appeared in the lobby.

So in the hopes of avoiding a PR nightmare . . . and possible battery charges . . . Hotch grabbed Emily's forearm and started walking again.

He was trying to hustle them around the group, before anyone in the group opened their mouths to speak. But he was stopped almost immediately after he began moving, by a voice. Or more specifically by the sound of the voice.

There were tears in it.

"Did you get all of them? Is it safe?"

Feeling his fingers digging into Emily's jacket, slowly, Hotch turned back. His dark eyes immediately locked onto a pair of frightened blue ones staring up at him.

It was a girl. Probably in her mid-twenties, soft features. Pretty, dark hair . . . nice figure. He had case files filled with pictures of girls like her.

Most of them were dead now.

And this girl in front of him, this girl that could be in one of his files . . . that could be lying in the ground in that basement that he had just left . . . he could see that she was scared. And unlike the dead girls in the ground and in his folders, he could actually do something to comfort this one.

The others were all beyond him now.

So he pushed aside his own exhaustion, and his own anxiety and stress from the day. Then he slowly exhaled, and let go of Emily's arm.

He couldn't use her as a crutch.

"Yes," he nodded, with his eyes still locked onto the younger woman's, "it's safe. All of the perpetrators are either dead or in custody." Then his gaze shifted to take in the larger group. A baker's dozen of frightened souls.

And he was trying to abandon them in the lobby.

Christ.

"Agent Prentiss and I will be here for another day," he added quietly, trying to assuage his own guilt at his behavior, "but that's only to assist with some follow-up items. I assure you," he gave them all a hard look, "we are pursuing NO other suspects. This case is closed."

The tension on the faces in the crowd seemed to lessen with that pronouncement. And fortunately . . . miraculously . . . nobody else seemed to have any other questions.

So Hotch cleared his throat.

"Now," he gestured towards Emily and then the staircase, "we're going to our rooms, so I would suggest that you all do the same. It's late, and even if you're following the case, there won't be any more news conferences tonight."

Though Hotch would have expected that to be the clue for the group to break up, even after he suggested they go to bed, the crowd still stood there. Almost like sheep that had been abandoned by the shepherd. And Hotch didn't quite know what to do with them. They weren't his sheep.

He'd just stumbled over the flock in the lobby.

And he was about to just give in and ask if they had any other questions . . . though he REALLY did not want to do that . . . when finally the girl with the blue eyes looked back up at him. She gave him a little smile and a nod.

"Thank you Agent Hotchner. Thank you very much."

It was all she said. Then she broke away from the group, and began walking over to the stairs.

The others immediately followed.

As they walked way, he briefly wondered how it was that this young woman had become their de facto leader. Perhaps it was simply because she was the only one that had dared to speak to him.

And seeing her start up the staircase, he suddenly processed that she'd called him by name.

How the hell had she known his name?

But then he realized that in a town this size . . . a town that didn't even seem to have their own dedicated police officer . . . that his and Emily's names and occupation had probably become common knowledge the moment that they had signed the hotel register. Or perhaps even the morning they'd stopped into the diner.

There were obviously no shortage of town criers anywhere in Stars Hollow.

It was still disconcerting though. It always made him uncomfortable when people knew him and he didn't know them.

In his line of work, strangers couldn't be trusted.

With that thought in mind, Hotch watched the last of the crowd disappear up the staircase. He let out a weary sigh.

A second later he felt Emily's small hand on his back.

"You made them feel better." She murmured softly, "they'll sleep tonight, even if we won't."

Then she patted his back, and her hand fell away and she started over to the stairs.

His jaw began twisting again, because again he wanted to speak. To tell her the things he wanted to say in the car. Instead he took a breath . . . and followed after her.

Apparently she had become his shepherd.

They gave the other guests a minute or so to get upstairs and into their rooms. But once Hotch had heard what sounded like the last door close, he and Emily finally began to walk up.

But then hearing a slight hiss from his side, Hotch looked down to see Emily's face was twisted in pain.

His own mental distractions were forgotten as he reached out to touch her arm. And he was just about to ask her what was wrong, when he noticed how she was moving.

With her hand now resting low on her right side.

"Just a spasm," Emily murmured tightly to the question she knew Hotch was about to ask. "There was a lot of twisting getting out of that car, and the cold air got my muscles a bit tight." She bit down hard on her lip, pausing for a second to rub her back, "I just need to take a hot shower and some Motrin before bed."

That should fix it. It probably wouldn't even be this bad right now, if not for her time sitting out in the yard waiting for Hotch. The air had a definite chill to it even then.

It had settled in her bones.

With his hand still resting on her arm, Hotch looked down at Emily. Then he looked back up the lengthy of the staircase that they needed to climb.

There were at least twelve steps left.

And that was a lot of steps to navigate with a muscle spasm in your back. And knowing that they were completely alone . . . the night clerk was watching TV off in the back room off the lobby . . . Hotch decided to shuffle another step back into his old world.

To look after Emily not just because he wanted to keep strengthening that bond, but also because it was the right thing to do.

And for once . . . he moved his arm down and around her waist . . . the right thing didn't seem like penance for old sins. No, as he tucked her against his side, it was more like a reward for current suffering.

On both sides.

Still though, he waited a moment, waited for the line in her brow to even out, and for her teeth to stop digging into her lip. And once he was sure that the spasm had passed . . . confirmed by her little nod and a slow exhale . . . they started up the stairs again.

They'd only taken one more step before Emily unexpectedly tipped her head over, and rested it on his chest. She hadn't done that in months. Since that night at Smokey's.

The night he'd signed his divorce papers.

"Thanks," she whispered.

And though he felt his eyes stinging in response to both her gratitude and her touch . . . the day had been too long, and his memories longer still . . . Hotch didn't answer her beyond a light tap to the hip. Just an acknowledgement that she'd spoken.

That was all.

Because it had been some months since they were this physically demonstrative with one another. He was just getting used to it again.

But really, more specifically . . . he conscience corrected . . . it had been some months since he was this demonstrative with her. That was what he was getting used to. Because for the last year, Emily had actually been fairly open and expressive with him. And over the last six months, her outward PHYSICAL affection for him had increased as well. So he wasn't getting used to her touching him, he was getting used to it being OKAY for her to touch him.

He was the one with the issues.

In every scenario, with every person in his life, he was always the one with the issues. And he was kind of tired of holding that role.

In fact, he was kind of tired of a lot of things in his life.

Most of those things though, he was trying not to think about right then. He was just trying to focus on getting them up to their rooms.

It was a bigger task than he would have expected.

Because by the time they got to the top of the staircase . . . a staircase which somehow seemed much steeper than it had the day before . . . Hotch couldn't deny that not only was he pulling Emily along, but he was feeling a drag in his own steps as well.

But of course that probably wasn't so unexpected.

He was getting old. And with the bumper cars in the front yard of Pearberry, and then the frantic efforts to extricate themselves from the wreck before Darren had finished them off, the day had been almost as physically exhausting, as it was mentally.

He too was going to need a hot shower and some Motrin before bed.

So even when they were off the stairs, and had started down the hall, they were both still moving pretty slowly. Fortunately nobody else was around to see them.

It certainly wasn't a very confidence inspiring view of the Bureau's 'elite.'

And when they finally turned the corner, and got to their rooms on the back side of the inn, Emily took a breath. Then she straightened up. And just like down in the car, Hotch knew that the time had come to let her go.

But this time he hesitated. He kept his arm looped around her waist.

He wanted to see what she would do.

What she did was tip her head back. She looked up at him, and he looked down at her . . . and the moment went on. They were having one of their conversations where they talked, though no words were spoken at all. He used to do that with his wife too.

Finally Emily's expression softened right before she leaned up to kiss his cheek.

"G'night."

Her words were a whisper against his skin.

Hotch closed his eyes for a moment to swallow down the lump forming in his throat.

"Yeah," he murmured back, "good night."

Then he let her go.

And he started to walk away, trying to find a way to keep his dignity intact in the process. So he focused his attention on pulling the key card from his pocket.

It was something that he needed to do, but it was also something that didn't require quite as much attention as he was letting it appear that it did.

Like he was going to use it to crack a safe or something.

But then he noticed that Emily was fumbling with her key card. She'd just pulled it out, and he saw her swipe it once . . . and the light stayed red. And seeing her jaw tighten, he turned back around completely.

Emily hated the cards, she missed real keys, but ordinarily it was a point of pride for her that she get the lock to work by herself. But he knew that this was definitely one night, where she wasn't in the mood for the aggravation. So he took the four steps back down the hall, and pulled the card out of her fingers. Then he ran it through again.

A split second later the lock turned green, and the door popped open with a click.

He slipped the card back into her hand.

"You just have to do it fast," he said softly.

The words were spoken while he was already turning to walk back over to his own room. When he got there he swiped his lock, and pushed the door open. He looked back to see Emily with her hand on the open doorjamb, just staring at him.

His jaw twisted. Still so many things on the tip of his tongue . . . he settled on the most obvious.

"You do know that I'm not going into my room, before you go into yours, right?"

Hearing Hotch's usual, dry, tone, Emily gave him a faint . . . soft . . . smile.

"I know. You'd never leave a lady out alone."

Then she raised her hand good night, and turned to slip inside her room.

Her fingers had already flipped the overhead light switch, before she'd completely stepped over the threshold.

With a soul weary sigh, she pushed the door shut, turned the lock and slid the deadbolt until it clicked. And she took those steps like she breathed . . . automatically. It was what she did at home, on the road, on vacation . . . everywhere she went. Once she was in a space that could be secured, the muscle memory kicked in.

And she locked the world out.

Some might see it as locking herself in . . . as though that were better . . . but really that spin on her actions would be disingenuous. The locks weren't about her, they were never about her, or her personal fears. The locks were always about the world.

And the need to keep it at bay.

Not that the world necessarily abided by those locks. Or those doors. It usually still followed her into her dreams. And tonight would be no different.

Actually . . . Emily's teeth started to grind together . . . tonight was probably going to be a God damn INVASION from the other side!

No, no, she thought with a shake of her head, she wasn't going to think about that yet. There would be plenty of time to wallow in the misery of the day, and the night, when she was staring blindly up at the ceiling, watching the three am shadows move across her hotel room.

So with the hope of at least temporarily clearing the day's trauma from her mind, Emily stood still for a moment, focusing her breaths and trying to find her center. It helped that the room she was attempting to decompress in, was so soothing.

The décor was soft and pretty.

And the décor, combined with the breathing technique, actually seemed to be working at first. Her anxiety level dropped a little, and the ball in her stomach eased up. But then she looked up, and her eyes caught on the elegant floral tapestry hanging on the far wall of the room.

It had a vein of pink thread winding through it.

Pink thread. Pink ribbons.

Pink bows.

SHIT!

With another shake of her head . . . though this one more violent than the first . . . Emily tried desperately to push off the terrible imagery that had begun to, again, flood her through mind.

But it was too late.

The animals, the little children, the torture devices . . . the pile of limbs sitting by the furnace. The look on Hotch's face when he was carrying that little boy down the stairs. All of it came back.

It was like drowning in hell.

Well, FUCK . . . Emily cursed as her eyes began to burn again . . . so much for decompressing.

So with her stomach once again churning with acid, and her heart once again aching with grief, she stepped away from the door and went over to turn on the TV.

Clearly the details of this case weren't going to fade just because she wanted them to fade. They were going to leave when THEY were God damn good and ready. And until they did . . . she started flipping channels on the remote . . . she needed some kind of a distraction. One of her nature shows.

That was her coping mechanism learned from Hotch.

And fortunately The Dragonfly had cable, so it only took her a few minutes to find the National Geographic channel. It was on a commercial when she clicked over, so while Emily waited for literally ANYTHING to come on that would help to sideline her brain, she began to slowly . . . and somewhat painfully . . . twist around to get her shirt pulled off.

Just as she slipped the torn, dirty, pine needle encrusted shirt over her head, the sounds of whale calls filled the room.

Oh good . . . she thought with a sigh . . . they were running something about the ocean.

Those were her favorite.

Feeling a bit of hope then that the whales would do their usual zen trick . . . or at the very least help her fall asleep before four am . . . she turned to fling her shirt her across the room.

Though she was aiming to toss it into the trash bucket . . . it wasn't worth salvaging . . . her aim was off by about a foot. And that was unusually bad 'shooting' for her. But she was blaming it on exhaustion . . . and the muscles that she'd 'overstretched' in her shoulder and side.

That was the last time she hoped to have to contort herself through a sliver of an open car door. At least at the time her body had been surging with adrenaline . . . though it had still hurt like a bitch . . . but now that the day was wrapping, not only was she mentally wiped, but her muscles were also starting to lock up on her.

Hence the spasm when she was walking up the stairs.

Christ . . . she thought with a slow roll of her neck . . . she really did need to find some Motrin. And she also needed to take that hot shower. And she REALLY needed to find something to eat!

But she didn't know what the hell to do first.

She decided to just keep pulling off her clothes in the hopes that the next decision would work itself out.

Sowith another wince she twisted her shoulders to slip off first one bra strap . . . and then the other. Funny . . . she thought while slipping the cups around so she could undo the hooks . . . how things you ordinarily do without even thinking, can suddenly become so very painful.

Like her job for instance.

Most days she got through it with a diet of repression, a shake of dark humor, and a dash of denial. But then there were days like today when the horror was all so bloody and visceral. And there was no repression, and there was no humor. The bra dropped to the floor.

There was only pain.

Her fingers moved up to glide over a dark bruise on her left breast . . . and not just the physical kind. There would be mental scars from this one. She was sure of it.

There was no way around that happening.

And all Emily wanted to do was get a brain wash to wipe the last thirty-six . . . horrific . . . hours, out of her mind. But with no white rabbits or magic potions to take, all that was left was the old standby, 'sucking it up.'

Right . . . she sighed . . . suck it up.

So she powered through, watching the whales swim while she continued with the unusually lengthy process of undressing.

Next off was her holster. She put it, and her gun within, down on the bed. And then while she tried to focus in on the soothing tones of the British narrator discussing baby belugas, Emily unbuckled her belt, and unzipped her pants.

A few seconds later, those items . . . plus her underwear . . . joined the mini-pile of clothes being strewn haphazardly across her hotel room. Nothing she was tossing was hitting her intended target. And though ordinarily she tried to be a little neater about that crap . . . she didn't want anybody busting in thinking she was a slob . . . at the moment she just didn't give a shit.

She'd get it all in the morning.

And once she was down to just her socks . . . and she took in the pine needles and dirt stuck to her legs and arms all the way up to her knees and elbows . . . as Emily had hoped, her next decision was made for her.

She needed to take the shower first.

And then after that she would scrounge up some pills. And then, oh . . . her eyes brightened slightly . . . she could swallow them down with those petit fours from Sookie. There were at least two left.

And that would be her 'something to eat.'

Now slightly distracted thinking about the little pastries that had tasted so good the night before, Emily started towards the bathroom.

As she went along, she was half hopping on one foot while trying to tug off the thick black knee socks she wore under her boots. They would be slippery on the tile, and so she wanted them off before she got to the bathroom door.

She didn't make the bathroom door.

With her muscles so tight, and her body just not as limber as it used to be . . . thirty-nine planetary rotations and counting . . . she lost her balance, and ended up tumbling down to the carpet in an undignified heap.

It was not a proud moment.

And though she fortunately missed . . . by literally a millimeter . . . cracking her head on the fine walnut dresser, as she fell, she did catch the back of her hand on the sharp corner that had just missed her temple.

A burst of pain exploded through the sensitive nerve endings.

FUCK ME!

Emily's jaw snapped shut as tears immediately sprung to her eyes.

Christ Emily . . . she thought with disgust . . . why do you always have to be such a clumsy IDIOT?!

The self-flagellation wasn't completely out of character, but ordinarily when it came to her general clumsiness . . . which was a bit of a running joke with everyone she'd EVER known . . . she did at least take that in better humor. At that moment though, she was too tired and sore and miserable to be a good sport about ANYTHING.

Most especially her own foibles.

So she lay there on the cornflower blue carpet, in a pathetic, naked, whimpering, lump. And she was down there for a good three or four minutes holding her throbbing hand to her chest, fighting back her tears, and cursing her shitty life.

The pain was quite real . . . she'd definitely hit a nerve cluster . . . but mostly she was just feeling sorry for herself. That was one thing that she didn't usually allow herself to do.

But tonight she decided to wallow.

Though she did try to at least keep the full on sobbing at bay. She'd done enough of that in the car, but at least back then though she'd had Hotch there with her.

Now she was all alone.

And with her eyes still puffy . . . she could feel them . . . and her face still sticky from the earlier tears . . . she could feel that too . . . she really didn't want to start all that crap up again.

Not right then anyway.

She was holding the flood back for the shower. That's where both the sound, and the evidence, would be washed away.

So once her hand had stopped throbbing, she wiped away the few stray tears that had slipped down her cheeks. Then she took a slow breath.

And then another.

And once she'd felt a level of rationality had been reached again, she twisted around and reached down to yank the cursed sock off her foot. Cursed because it was the reason she'd ended up on the carpet.

She whipped it angrily across the room.

Then she realized she'd flung it as though it wasn't an inanimate object, but a sentient one actually incapable of committing personal offense. Yeah . . . she rolled her eyes . . . okay, perhaps rationality was a relative thing. The logical thinking portion of her brain was clearly in for the night. But at least nobody else was there to see her take out her anger on a sock.

That was about as embarrassing as, well . . . she bit her lip . . . all the rest of her behavior over the last five minutes.

But not wanting to dwell on her mini mental breakdown . . . it wouldn't help anything . . . Emily took another breath and pushed herself up to her knees.

And then all fours.

Naked, dirty, and on all fours . . . she rolled her eyes again . . . yeah she'd definitely left her dignity at the door. But she decided she just didn't give a fuck about that either. As long as nobody was there to witness her humiliation, she was just going to file it away.

The Humiliation Box was regularly overflowing as it was.

So with a wince, she shuffled forward an inch on her hands and knees. And using the corner of the cedar chest that had left the throbbing red mark on her hand, she slowly pulled herself back to her feet.

For a moment she stood there, taking those slow, deep breaths again. Then she turned her head, and caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror just through the doorway.

Her hair was a mess, her body hunched and bruised, her face flush, and her eyes bloodshot. And seeing what a pathetic mess she was . . . she suddenly felt very old.

And alone.

Very, very alone.

Christ.

Feeling another depressive wave lapping at her self-control, Emily tried to push those NEW negative thoughts back from wherever the hell they'd just risen up from.

Just go get in the damn shower Em!

Right . . . she staggered into the bathroom like a marathon runner at the end of the race . . . shower.

She just had to make sure not to slip on the soap.

*/*/*/*/*

Thirty plus minutes later, Emily reemerged from the bathroom wrapped up in an oversized, sunshine yellow bath towel. Her hair was now freshly washed and blown dry, and for the first time in almost twelve hours, she was clean and warm.

She was also notably less stiff . . . though only marginally less depressed . . . than when she'd gone into the bathroom.

The hot water had worked well on her sore muscles . . . most of them anyway, she still had a hell of a knot in her shoulder . . . but unfortunately letting her brain go to mush hadn't worked well on her mental state.

There were no belugas in the bathroom, so there was nothing to think about really, except for her day. But the day had already been running on a continuous loop in her mind anyway. So basically the only notable improvement to her circumstances, had been the shower itself, and the physical benefits that came with it.

That would have to be enough for now.

So with the sounds of a new documentary filling the room . . . the whales had given way to polar bears . . . she went over to the dresser. There she opened the box of pastries from the night before.

Oh, three left.

More than she'd thought.

She closed her eyes and sniffed . . . mmm, chocolate. The smell . . . surprisingly . . . actually did make her feel a little better. Must be some Pavlovian thing. So she opened her eyes and reached in the box.

She popped one little white square into her mouth, and slowly chewed and swallowed, letting the smooth chocolaty taste spread across her tongue, and hit all of her taste buds.

It was a damn good pastry.

And again, it made her feel a little better, like when she was smelling it. It wasn't an endorphin release really. For one thing the morsel hadn't actually hit her system yet, and for another she hadn't ingested enough for endorphins to really be a conversation point anyway. If you even GOT endorphins from chocolate. Hell, she couldn't remember.

But anyway . . . she refocused as she swallowed . . . perhaps it was just the memory of the last time that she'd had one of these little pastries, that was helping. She'd been over in Hotch's room then.

He was scolding her about getting chocolate on the bed.

Her eyes crinkled slightly . . . he was so funny sometimes. And maybe, if she could find some clothes to put on, she'd go knock on his door.

See if he wanted to split the rest of the petit fours with her.

After all . . . she reached for one of the water bottles on the dresser . . . he had to be starving too. Neither of them had eaten anything since Luke's that afternoon. And the idea of going over to see him now . . . just to see him period . . . actually cheered her up a bit more. So after she'd taken her drink, Emily dropped her damp body towel to the floor.

Then she walked over and started digging into her ready bag.

God only knew though what she was going to wear. She wasn't even sure she had any clothes to wear to BED, let alone to go out in the hallway, and 'visiting.' The problem was that last night's bedclothes were gross and smelly. She'd had a horrifically vivid nightmare about those dead animals in the freezer, and ended up sweating through both her nightshirt, and her pajama pants.

At four am she'd woken up and stripped out of everything but her underpants.

And then she forgot about the sweaty clothes, and left them in a tangled pile next to the bed. She'd remembered that in the shower. If she'd thought about it when she woke up, she would have at least rinsed out the nightshirt in the shower she'd taken that morning. But she hadn't thought about it then, and there was no way that she was putting those gross things back on now.

She'd just gotten all of her dirty clothes off.

But unfortunately . . . after digging for more than a minute, and dumping most of her bag on the floor, Emily realized that she had no other clean pajama pants or t-shirts with her. They were only supposed to be gone for a day, and her ready bag had been a little light when she left, having just come back from another out of town case.

And apparently . . . she stifled a grown when she got to the bottom of the bag . . . when she'd dumped her dirty laundry from that trip, she'd forgotten to replace the stuff that she'd pulled out.

Crap.

And then Emily heard a knock on the door.

Her nose wrinkled as she looked down at her state of undress (no dress, she was completely naked) while cursing the fact that that she had no robe to pull on either. Given how little space there was in the ready bag, she only packed it maybe twice a year. Basically only if it was the dead of winter and she knew that they'd be going somewhere with temps in the sub-arctic range.

Stars Hollow didn't qualify.

And she unfortunately hadn't seen any complimentary robes in the bathroom . . . which was kind of unusual given it was a 'nice' place . . . but regardless, it appeared she had nothing clean to pull on except for the full suit and tank top that she had to wear the next day.

Again, crap.

And hearing another knock, Emily yelled a "one second Hotch" . . . she knew it was Hotch . . . while scurrying back into the bathroom to grab the other oversized, fluffy yellow bath towel off the stack on the vanity.

That one was totally dry. And fortunately . . . she shook it out . . . it was big enough to wrap around her almost twice.

So once she was completely covered . . . well, breasts to ass anyway . . . she hurried back out of the bathroom. She was tucking the little terry cloth flap into the front of her towel toga, as she called out again, "coming, coming."

When she stepped up to the door, she shot a quick look over to her pistol on the bed before making a perfunctory check of the peephole.

As expected . . . she starting undoing the chain and turning the lock . . . Hotch.

Only he would be knocking this late.

"Hey," Emily's voice was slightly breathless when she opened the door, "I was going to come see you."

His hair was also slightly damp, and he was also barefoot . . . though she could see that he at least still had had some pajamas left in his bag.

He was wearing plaid flannel pants . . . with his gun in the waistband . . . and a white t-shirt. So he was clearly ready for bed. And . . . she gave a subtle sniff . . . he smelled pretty amazing.

Though she tried to push that latter fact from her mind.

Given that she was standing there basically naked, it wasn't a helpful factoid at the moment.

"Uhh . . ."

Hotch's ability to speak a full sentence was momentarily derailed when he took in the soft curves in front of him.

Whoa.

It had been a VERY long time since he'd seen a body like Emily's. And seeing the curves of that body, and the bare flesh that came with it, was an incredibly nice, and EXTREMELY unexpected gift after a particular horrendous day.

So though he knew that he needed to say something . . . he was vaguely aware Emily had spoken when she'd opened the door . . . instead he found his eyes lingering on the smooth skin where her breasts were peeking out above the not quite big enough towel.

This was skin that he had never seen before.

He didn't think the sun had seen it before either.

It was a shade lighter than the flesh an inch above it. And it was so smooth and pristine that he was wondering what it felt like. If it was as silky soft as it looked.

What the . . .

Hotch blinked.

Okay, how the hell had he gotten on to THAT road! That was a BAD road! One he needed to get off of IMMEDIATELY!

His eyes snapped back up to Emily's face . . . it was the only safe place to look.

"I can come back."

Though he was feeling a bit fuzzy headed . . . it was now midnight, his brain was already fried from the case, and he now had a gorgeous, naked, towel clad woman standing in front of him . . . Hotch was proud to say that his voice didn't waiver.

Much.

"No, no, it's fine." Emily answered with a tired smile as she tipped her head to invite him in, "come on."

She started walking back towards the bed while turning to say over her shoulder.

"I'm up. Like I said, I was actually going to come see you. I mean, um," she made an awkward gesture towards her empty duffel, "after I found some clothes."

God, it looked like a grenade went off in her room.

"Well," Hotch answered slowly while following Emily inside, "if you're sure." Then his eyebrow inched up slightly as he saw her walking away.

He was taking in her bare shoulders, and bare legs . . . and bare thighs . . . and above that was bare . . .

Okay . . . he blinked again to refocus . . . get it together Aaron. No more thinking about what else is bare under the towel.

Don't ogle.

As she sat down on the edge of the bed, Emily couldn't help but notice that Hotch's eyes kept bouncing between her legs and her breasts. And his gaze had that usual Hotch intensity and focus. So much so that she started to feel a little flush from the attention.

He'd never looked at her like that before.

And though she could see that he was trying not to stare, he was clearly having some difficulties finding a place to settle his eyes. And she realized then that just because Hotch had better self-control than most men, it didn't mean that he wasn't still a guy. A guy that was some months divorced from female companionship.

But as far as that went, she was also some months 'divorced' from male companionship too. So she didn't want things to be get weird between them now with her towel clad and him smelling good enough to eat.

And knowing that sometimes it was better to simply acknowledge the elephant . . . often that chased it away . . . as he turned back to lock the door, she called out softly.

"Sorry for the outfit. And before you ask, no," she crossed her legs at the ankle and smoothed down the towel where it was bunching slightly on her lap, "no I don't have a robe. And I don't seem to have a clean nightshirt either. That's what I was looking for when you knocked. But I'm feeling fairly confident that you didn't come over to 'ravish me,' so I'm okay talking in terry cloth if you're okay talking to me IN terry cloth. Though," Emily put her hand up to cover an aborted yawn, "if you did come over to ravish me, fair warning," she said with a sleepy smile. "You're going to be doing all the work."

There, hopefully a little joke would lower some of the tension from the room. It wasn't physical tension, it was sexual. Definitely, sexual.

And that was pretty unusual for them.

A faint smile passed over Hotch's lips as he walked over to sit down next to Emily on the bed.

And once again she'd helped to lessen the awkward of a moment simply by pointing out the awkward OF the moment. It was one of her special skills.

One of many.

And now he was feeling a bit less distracted by all the sexual images . . . and naked Emilys . . . that had been bouncing around in his brain. So with a sleepy huff, he followed along her train of thought.

"Well," he dropped down onto the mattress, "I think by definition ravishing is generally activity heavy on the 'ravisher,' so if that was my plan," his lip quirked up slightly, "I really should have expected that effort would be required, before I came over."

Actually ravishing had NOT been on his mind before he'd knocked on the door, but he couldn't deny that the idea had definitely popped into his head after he'd seen the towel.

And those 'peekaboo' breasts.

Now, fortunately though, those baser sexual instincts were being pushed away. Well, it was mostly fortunate. He obviously didn't want to start 'objectifying' Emily. That would clearly not be good for any aspect of their relationship, working or personal. But he couldn't deny that seeing her standing there in the towel, had been the first time in hours that he hadn't felt like COMPLETE shit.

But now that feeling was coming back again.

Though as he heard Emily's soft chuckle at his response, surprisingly Hotch felt a little of that sadness push away. It had been such a terrible day . . . he bit his lip . . . it was so nice to hear her laugh. When they first walked into that basement, he wasn't sure if she'd ever laugh again.

Him either.

The jury was still out on him. But when Emily turned then to look at him, suddenly all of the other thoughts he'd been having were wiped from his mind. And that's because when she moved, the flap where her towel was wrapped on her leg, fell open.

A large bruise appeared.

It was ugly and dark and purple, and started about an inch above her left knee . . . it ended somewhere up under the fluffy towel.

And for some ridiculous reason, he found himself beginning to reach out . . . he was going to brush the towel back to see where it ended, and how bad it was.

To see if he could do something to make it better.

But then he realized how inappropriate that would be. He had no right to touch her that way. No right to touch her at all. And certainly not while she was dressed the way that she was.

He would be taking advantage.

His fist curled back to his side.

"Uh," his eyes snapped back up to Emily's face, "does that hurt?" He asked softly with a gesture towards her leg.

Not that he was quite sure what he could do even if it did, but for some reason he just needed to know.

Emily's eyes dropped down to where Hotch was pointing.

"Yeah, but not too bad," she murmured back, "I think I did that on a rock. The ones you can't see right now are way worse." Then she shook her head, "my hips just did not want to slide through that little space."

Emily' gaze shifted back up, and seeing Hotch watching her intently, her eyes locked onto his for a moment. Then she reached out. The tip of her index finger ghosted along the faint swelling visible on his cheekbone.

It had been worrying her all night.

"How's this?" she asked with undisguised concern, "you're sure you don't have any blurriness on that side, right?"

Over the six hours they'd been at the scene, there had been multiple ambulances called to the house. One of them specifically had shown up just to check them. The EMTs had looked them both over, and once it was confirmed nothing was broken . . . and neither of them had smacked their heads on anything . . . they'd cleaned out their cuts and put a few butterflies on the larger of their lacerations.

Though Emily could see that Hotch . . . like she . . . had obviously taken off the bandages when he'd showered. But regardless of the EMTs assessment, she still didn't like the looks of this particular cut.

It was too close to his eye.

Hotch's expression softened at the worry in Emily's tone.

"I think it's okay," he whispered as her hand fell away. "But thanks." Then he cleared his throat. "I um," he scrubbed his hands down his thighs, "I didn't come over to talk about me though. I wanted to know if you'd like me to get you some food. I was going to break into the kitchen, see what they had in the fridge. You figure a place like this must have some decent leftovers. I'll just give Lorelai some money tomorrow."

"Oh yeah," Emily's expression brightened slightly and a nod came with it, "please. Anything you can find would be good. All I have are the leftover petit fours from last night, but there were only a couple left." Then her brow rose, and she pointed over to the dresser.

"If you want one, they're up there."

Hotch's eyes followed along where Emily was pointing, but he was already shaking his head.

"No, that's okay, thanks. I can wait a bit longer."

Then his gaze shifted back to Emily herself. His eyes were roaming again, though that time it was more clinical, and less lustful. Now he was taking in the scratches and black and blues she'd picked up from Darren's attack.

He was just worried about her.

Either way though, when he saw the blush forming on her cheeks . . . and realized he was staring again . . . he murmured a "sorry," and pulled his eyes away and down to the carpet.

That's when he finally asked the question.

"How are you feeling?"

That was why he'd come over to see her before he went downstairs. He could have just brought her some food, but he'd felt this pull to go check on her first. Because like she'd said earlier, this world, these cases, they were poison. So maybe they should start trying to spit some of it out.

Just a little bit at time

Emily bit her lip, her eyes locked onto Hotch's fingers. They were resting on his thigh. She wanted to take them into her lap again. But somehow . . . with her wearing the towel . . . it seemed like that would be too sexual. After all she was basically naked. And she'd be naked with his hand in her lap.

Yeah . . . she caught a shallow breath . . . that would definitely take them down a new path.

So she shifted her gaze down to the carpet.

"Um," she murmured back, with a faint shrug, "I don't know. I'm a little better I guess. Full disclosure, I cried in the shower. And I tripped and fell before that, and then I sat on the floor feeling sorry for myself, and hating my life, for more time than I'm proud to admit. But," she cleared her throat, "I keep trying to remind myself, that at least we got the UNSUBs, and saved that little boy. And that's the best we're going to get here, so I need to accept that. So, um," her fingers twisted in the edge of the towel, "yeah, I guess I'm um, doing okay.

She wasn't really. But they always pretended that they were. It was how they coped. And Hotch was the king of emotional repression, so Emily was somewhat surprised when he lifted his head, and she looked over to see that his eyes were red.

Then he reached out to cup her cheek.

"I'm sorry that this was such a terrible case," he whispered, "and I'm sorry that you had the heavier load almost every step of the way. I've gone over it in my mind, and I wish so much that I could have helped more. But I'm not quite sure what I could have done differently, but it feels like there should have been something. I let you down," his voice caught, "and I hope you can forgive me for that."

This had been one of the things he'd wanted to tell her in the car, and in the hall. That he knew that he'd failed her miserably.

And how terrible he felt about that.

Hearing Hotch's voice crack, tears immediately flooded Emily's eyes . . . and yet again he had found a way to slice right through whatever defenses she had put up to protect herself.

All defenses were always useless with him.

And feeling one of those new tears spill over and run down her cheek, she started to reach up to wipe her face. But Hotch caught the bit of moisture with his thumb.

She closed her eyes.

"You didn't let me down, Hotch," she whispered, "you never have. So let that go. Just push those thoughts from your mind. I don't want you feeling badly about me. This case is bad enough by itself. You don't need to take on anymore crap."

Emily was quiet for a second, her hands twisting, before she came back again.

"Sometimes," her voice started to thicken, "I think it would be so much easier if you really were the hard ass that everybody thinks you are." She opened her eyes to give him a sad smile.

"Then you wouldn't make me cry."

Seeing Hotch's expression twist, and knowing he was about to apologize, Emily shook her head.

"Don't you dare say you're sorry." She said with a pat to his knee, "Just because it would be easier if you weren't a closet sweetie, it doesn't mean that it would be better. I like you just the way you are."

Hotch bit his lip.

"I like you just the way you are too," he whispered back, while trying to will the moisture pooling in his eyes.

Emily sniffled again as another tear ran down her cheek.

"I thought I drove you crazy?"

Hotch's brow wrinkled as he shook his head seriously.

"No. No, that's not true. Not really. You're just you, and you," he swallowed, "well, sometimes you do throw a curve into my day. But I've come to depend on that. You make me laugh." His watery gaze shifted back down to the floor. His voice dropped lower.

"Nobody else makes me laugh."

Realizing how hard it was for Hotch to share that with her, his real feelings, Emily wiped another tear off her cheek. Then she tipped her head over to rest it on his shoulder. And in the quiet of the room, she blinked away her tears and listened to his breathing. How it seemed to be in sync with hers.

She wondered if their hearts were beating the same rhythm too.

"Would you rub my shoulder for me?" She asked softly.

"Sorry?"

Hearing the faint bit of concern mixed with confusion coming from the man at her side . . . it was understandable given the circumstances . . . Emily reached over, slowly running her fingertips along Hotch's forearm.

The thick hairs tickled her skin.

"I pulled the muscle earlier," she continued as her fingers moved on to stroke along the back of his hand, "and then when I fell down, I aggravated it even more. The muscle's all hard, like a knot."

Hotch closed his eyes.

Though he was trying to listen to the words Emily was saying, mostly he was focusing all of his self-control on keeping his breath steady. It certainly wasn't the first time that she had touched him . . . she touched him fairly often . . . and all she was really doing was touching his arm. But the woman was doing something to him tonight. And he wasn't quite sure if it was her, or the towel, or her IN the towel, or if it was just all in his mind.

But if it was her, and her ALONE . . . and he was thinking that it might be . . . he wasn't quite sure whether she was doing it on purpose. But either way, whatever was happening, he knew that he was just along for the ride.

A dandelion in the breeze.

So once he was sure that his breath was under control . . . he didn't want Emily to know that her touch was having this bizarre effect on him . . . Hotch's downward gaze shifted between her fingers stroking his wrist, almost like she was taking his pulse, and the amount of thigh now exposed by her towel wrap.

It was about a quarter of an inch more than when he'd walked in the door.

That towel . . . though certainly not his only distraction at the moment . . . was going to get them both into big trouble. Figuratively and literally. It could so easily . . . in the most innocent of scenarios . . . fall off.

He bit his lip.

"We need to find you some clothes first."

Even if she was dressed, a shoulder rub was probably a bad idea. Hell, who was he kidding, given the strange attraction he was feeling at the moment, it was a TERRIBLE idea. But he'd always found it difficult to say no to Emily.

More and more recently.

And trying to say no to her after the day they'd had, when she was naked in a too short towel touching his wrist the way she was, well, he didn't stand a chance of holding his ground. Basically anything that she asked him right now, he'd probably say yes.

He just didn't want her to know that.

Emily's fingers pressed into Hotch's wrist, counting the beats, right before she leaned up to kiss his cheek.

"Thanks," she whispered.

Even as she saw the slight bit of pink hue spreading on his skin, she was twisting around to look over at her duffel bag.

"I really don't think I have any clothes though," she added in the same tone, "I've just got one clean pair of dress pants and nice shirt left. You know we were only supposed to be gone a day, and I didn't get a chance to do full repack after San Antonio." She looked back over at him.

"Do you have a t-shirt that I could borrow for bed?"

It wasn't the first time that she'd borrowed a shirt from one of the guys . . . a couple of months ago she'd slept in one of Reid's after he'd dropped a cup of coffee on her ready bag and soaked half her clothes . . . but this was the first time that she'd taken anything from Hotch.

It didn't feel weird to ask though.

If he was still married it would have . . . to Emily's mind wives/girlfriends held a partial say as to whether or not a man's t-shirts were allowed to adorn another woman's breasts. . . but given that Hotch was very much divorced now, his clothes were his alone to disburse as he saw fit.

At least that's how Emily saw it.

Either way, as Hotch nodded a slow affirmation to her inquiry, she knew that if the Sheriff asked them to stay beyond tomorrow, she was going to have to ask Lorelai where she could do a load of laundry tomorrow night. Otherwise she was going to be washing her underwear out in the sink.

And the thought of doing that was so sad and pathetic, it actually made her want to start crying again.

As Hotch moved to stand up, Emily's fingers fell off his wrist and back to her lap.

"I'll be right back."


A/N 2: As you can see now, there are shifts in their relationship in this story, that were never mentioned in Girl'proper. And hopefully the consensus will be that this was a more 'enjoyable' chapter, than the last one. Though anything really would have been :)

You'll also notice some metaphors, threads being woven in here, that I've used in other tales. I did that on purpose, I wasn't just being lazy :) Obviously they're all "my" interpretation of them, so how they see themselves from, again, my viewpoint, that travels from one world to the next. Just mentioning it in case anybody was like 'wait, didn't she use that metaphor before somewhere?' The answer is yes, I did :)

More for the weekend.