Author's Note:

REPOST – If you're one of like the five people that read this story when I put it up this morning, this is the proper final version.

More Angst. This is a post ep for Conflicted.

Thanks to my special guest beta, Kavi, who assisted me in figuring out something here that didn't work.

Prompt Set #3

Show: The X-Files

Title Challenge: One Breath

Into the Black

Emily lined up the shots in front of her on the bar.


That's as many as the bartender would give her at once. She stared at them, watching the light spill through the amber liquid. Comparing the shade of brown with the one on her pants earlier. She'd knelt in a pool of blood. Not the first time. And it certainly wouldn't be the last.

She picked up the first shot, tossed it back, closing her eyes as the liquor burned her throat. She turned the little glass around in her fingers, feeling the smooth curves before she placed it upside down on the bar.

And then there were two.

She reached for the next one and a hand caught hers. She knew who it was just by the pattern of the lines on his skin. She'd stared down at those fingers countless times in countless conference rooms and police precincts across the country. They were long and slender and strong. And always slightly callused from target practice. She loved those fingers. She looked up to face the man they were attached to.

Hotch narrowed his gaze, "you shouldn't be here by yourself. It's not safe."

She looked away. "We caught the UNSUB."

As though there was just the one danger to be found in the world.

He looked at her for a moment and then sighed. . . he hated to see her like this. Then he looked around the crowded bar before sitting down on the stool next to her, brushing his shoulder against hers.

"Just walking across the room I saw three men exhibiting predatory behavior."

Emily bit her lip as she stared at their reflection in the mirror behind the bar.

"Then you must not have looked in the corner because there's a fourth one over there. We'll be back down here for him someday."

Hotch turned slightly as he flicked his eyes to the back of the room. How did he miss him? He was eyeing the women like he worked in a slaughterhouse. Hotch put his hand on the back of Emily's seat. Marking her as off limits. Then he shifted his gaze to the shots still sitting on the bar. Eyeing the one empty glass. At least she wasn't drunk. She had no business being out alone if she was drunk. He picked up the next shot in the row and threw it back. Then he placed his glass on top of hers. Staring at the two of them together, watching the droplets pool on the polished wood. He reached over and took her arm.

"We're leaving."

She turned to him, looked at him, into him, trying to read his thoughts. Sometimes she could . . . but not tonight. Then she swallowed as she looked back longingly at the last shot of whiskey. And she whispered.

"But I want another drink."

He stroked his fingers down her arm as he said softly, "I know you do. That's why we're leaving. We don't drown our sorrows." He slipped his hand into hers, "that's for cowards."

She stared at the shot and then nodded as she turned to face him.

"Where are going?"

He squeezed her hand, "for a walk." He led her through the crowd, tightening his grasp on her fingers as he saw sexual predator number two take note of her. Hotch's jaw twitched as he made eye contact. The other man immediately looked away.

There was more than one kind of predator in the world.

They cut through the college students by the entrance, breaking out into the warm night air. He kept hold of her hand as they walked down the sidewalk. They could have been any other couple out for a stroll. If not for the side arms clipped to their belts . . . and the absolute misery pouring off of their souls.

Hotch took them to the boardwalk, and then out to the breakers. Emily's heart lightened as she saw the water smashing against the rocks. He remembered. This was her favorite place to go. She'd only told him that once, a year ago.

And still he remembered.

Spotting a boulder from the distance, Hotch brought them to it. Then he dropped his jacket on the ground for her to sit on. They sat down, him on the sand, her on his jacket, and watched the tide roll in.

A few minutes later Emily looked over and saw that his eyes were glistening. She had been doing so well until then. But she could never bear to see him upset. He so rarely let the mask slip away . . . but when it did, he felt things so deeply, she sometimes felt she could be scalded just by his gaze.

Her eyes dropped down and she began unbuttoning her blouse. When it was open she moved over to kneel in front of him, catching his eyes as she ran her fingers along his jaw.

"Just one more time."

They always said that . . . just one more time. Then it was okay. Then it wasn't serious.

Then nobody could get hurt.

For a moment Hotch stared into the chocolate brown of her eyes. Then his gaze ran slowly down her face and the curve of her neck to the pale white skin that nobody else saw but him. He lifted his hand, gently running his fingers down the same path his eyes had just traveled. Then he slid his hand back up to slip away her shirt and the strap from her shoulder as he leaned in to capture her lips, whispering against them.

"Just one more time."

He moved her over to his jacket, laying her down so that her beautiful black hair spilled onto the white sand. His fingers moved to her zipper as hers moved to his. And a few moments later as he slid into her and she gasped, he pressed his lips to hers and he caught that breath. That one breath he'd lost earlier when that woman had bled out in front of them. He caught it back from Emily.


Sometimes you could snatch it back. And then he began to move, slowly rhythmically, the sounds of their coupling drowned out by the crashing of the waves. But he could hear her as she moaned and cried out his name. Aaron. And he called her Emily.

His sweet . . . beautiful . . . Emily.

Yesterday he'd called her Emily on the plane. But she was Prentiss there. Always Prentiss in that part of their lives. But he was starting to find that this part of their lives was bleeding over into that one. And he didn't know what to do about that. He increased the tempo of their lovemaking as he felt the warmth begin to build. And he slid his hand between them, ensuring that they would come together. Then he spilled into her and she gasped again, and he caught that breath too.

As he lay on top of her, looking down as she tried to catch her breath, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. And that last breath he caught, he gave back to her.

Sometimes it wasn't yours to take.

He pulled back slightly and ran the back of his hand down her cheek.

"Emily I . . ." he swallowed and tried again. "I . . ."

His voice faded away, and in that moment Emily could see everything he wanted to say . . . but couldn't. Neither of them could. It would make it so much harder. So she brushed his hair back from his forehead as she gave him a smile tinged with sadness.

"Did I ever tell you that I love your fingers?"

His brow wrinkled and she picked up his hand, bringing it to her lips, holding it there for a moment. Her eyes filling like the ocean as she debated how far out on this branch she was willing to go. And then she took a breath . . . just one . . . before she kissed the back of his knuckles.

She looked up, staring into the black of his eyes as she whispered, "I adore them."

Hotch swallowed, feeling his eyes begin to burn as he looked down at her, "really?"

Emily couldn't speak again but a tear spilled over. And then another, and another . . . he had his answer.

He stared at her. Burning her face into his mind. Then she pulled him down into a kiss, and he could taste her sorrow. When he pulled back she gave him a smile that broke his heart. He lay down upon her, nestling his head in the nape of her neck. They were silent for a moment as he lovingly ran his fingers over the curve of her hip.

She felt the warmth of his tears spill onto her skin before he spoke.

"I'll figure something out sweetheart . . . I promise."

As his breath caught, hers did too. For a moment they were lost together. Then they each took a shuddering gasp and she kissed the top of his head, as he pressed his lips to her throat.

One breath lost. One breath found. And for two lovers on the brink of despair, life begins again.

A/N 2: This is a one shot. I think adding anything to it would take away from it.

I know it was rather stark but I was struck by the acting of TG and PB in that scene with the woman bleeding out on the ground. They were both so genuinely distraught that the emotion there stuck with me and I was trying to keep this in that vein. If anything screamed for a follow-up it was that scene. And again, another wasted opportunity by TBTB to pull in some emotional ballast from the other members of the team. I like Reid, I really do, but it does seem like they're only ever interested in fully exploring his reactions to anything. The others have to be in the midst of their own 'very special episode' to get face time beyond the case itself. And Reid has had way more 'very special eps' than anyone else. Again, I like the character, I like Gubler quite a bit, but it's just an imbalance there that's somewhat frustrating when you do have people like Gibson, Brewster and Mantegna who have some serious chops, who can do a lot with very little, and they hardly ever let them loose. I thought they were so good in that scene and it would have been nice to get something with them later dealing with that woman's death (I'm sure she died). But alas, I suppose that's what the fic world is for.

Beyond my complaining about things I have no control over, I wrote their relationship here as I imagine it would be if it was actually going in canon. Because in canon, they are both always so intense and duty bound. And unlike in the fics where we can smooth over issues with a supervisor/subordinate relationship, in reality, such as it is, that would be an incredibly serious problem if they wanted to continue working together.

Please let me know what you think :)