Author's Note: This is part of my 'canon post ep series.' This one is for A Shade of Grey. So again, major spoilers.

If you're not a fan of Hotch/Prentiss as a couple, I promise you can read this and not vomit :) It's clearly very strong friendship, but you don't have to read anything more into it than that unless you have on your shipper glasses.

And Kavi, I'm sorry that our very fluffy prompts that were only supposed to make us write nice things, turned out this not at all fluffy story. Apparently if I'm in the right mood, I can mine angst out of anything!

Prompt Set #4

Show: Pushing Daisies

Title Challenge: Comfort Food

No Return

Hotch looked up as JJ came into his office.

His eyebrow began to twitch before she even opened her mouth. He could tell just from the look on her face.

It was going to be bad.

"What happened?"

JJ twisted her jaw, wishing that she didn't have to be the one to tell him this.

"I just got a call from the media liaison at the D.A.'s office up in Cherry Hill. There was an incident at the youth detention center. Danny Murphy beat a little girl in the rec room. He uh . . ." she swallowed, "he smashed her face into a table, there was a sharp edge, and . . ."

She paused for a moment as she saw Hotch wince. Then she took a breath and continued saying what needed to be said.

"The little girl permanently lost the vision in her right eye," JJ's jaw twitched before she added softly, "she's nine years old," then she shook her head, "anyway, they've decided that they're going to charge him as an adult on the assault and now . . . also the murder."

With his jaw clenched, Hotch's gaze dropped down to his desk . . . but he said nothing. And JJ stared at him for a moment, waiting for some response, but he appeared to have just . . . drifted away.

She bit the inside of her cheek, debating with herself whether she should say anything else. But then finally she decided to just leave him alone. So she turned to go . . . but just before she got to the door . . . Hotch whispered.

"Don't say anything to Prentiss. I'll tell her later."

This was going to be a blow and Hotch didn't want her finding out in the middle of the bullpen. She had spoken at Danny's evaluation hearing. She'd put in an appeal for counseling, telling the court it wasn't necessarily too late for him. His brain was still developing. With the right treatment, the right drugs, he might still have a shot.

He didn't really.

It was already too late for him. And Hotch had known even as Emily was asking him for permission to fly up, that it was a fool's errand. But sometimes he had to let her believe. He had to let her believe that she could maybe save just one of them. It was the only way that she could walk into the room with the next one.

They couldn't all be lost causes.

And she'd actually made some progress on this one. Enough to give her hope again. Because of her testimony, the D.A. had deferred making a final determination on Danny's status until he had completed his first ninety days of counseling. She'd been so pleased.

So much for that.

JJ chewed her lip nervously as she looked back at Hotch . . . she didn't want to tell him this one either.

"Uh," she cleared her throat, "actually Emily was with me when I got the call, so she already knows."

Hotch dropped his pen on the desk. Great . . . his eyes fell shut as he rubbed his hands down his face . . . just fucking great.

"Where is she?" He groaned into his palm.

"I'm not sure," JJ said as she took a step back into his office.

"Hotch I know she took a personal interest in this case but really, she didn't seem particularly shaken by the news."

JJ paused as her eyes went slightly out of focus.

"Though," she continued softly, "now that I say that, it was right after that she asked to postpone our meeting. She said she forgot she had to run an errand."

Damn it. Sometimes she thought she should take the damn behavioral classes just so she could read the rest of them as well as they could read each other. She hated always coming to the party five minutes late.

Still staring down at his desk, Hotch nodded.

"Okay," his eyes snapped up, "thanks JJ, I'll take care of it."

After a worried nod, JJ stepped out into the corridor and disappeared. Hotch stared at the empty doorway for a moment. And then he grabbed his cell phone off the desk and headed out to find Emily.

He knew where she was. He'd found her there many times before.

Too many times before.

This was the double-edged sword in having her be the main conduit between the team and the children they encountered in their cases. She could do so much more for them, reach them in ways that the rest of them couldn't.

But he knew it was taking too much from her.

These connections she had to make, with the abused, the disturbed . . . and the downright homicidal . . . they weren't the same connections as the ones that they had to make with the adult victims, and the adult offenders.

Because the children . . . no matter what they had done . . . they were still just children.

And their instinct, their job, was to protect them. To try to save them. But often they found these small minds were already beyond their reach. And he had been wondering more and more if maybe he should pull her off those interviews. He was also wondering, though it pained him to even think about it, if maybe he should pull her off the team. Because he was no longer sure that the end results were worth the damage she was suffering.

That she had already suffered.

It would set them back, there was no doubt about that, but he had to think of what was best for her. Sometimes it wasn't what was best for the victims. Sometimes it had to be what was best for his team. His family. He was responsible for them. The head of the tribe.

And you don't cannibalize your own.

/*/*/*/*/

On his way out of the building, Hotch made a quick stop at the vending machines on the first floor. He knew the code without looking, he'd punched it in enough times over the past couple years.

A-7

The small white bag dropped down the chute and he grabbed it. He slid it into his coat pocket before slipping on his sunglasses and biting back a sigh.

Then he headed out into the blinding sun.

/*/*/*/*/

He found her in the playground next to the school yard down the street. She was sitting on the swing set.

Just as he had known she would be.

He tucked his sunglasses into his jacket as he went over and sat down beside her. He always took the blue swing, she always took the red one.

That was their thing.

Emily didn't look at Hotch. She just dragged the tip of her boot around in the dirt beneath her. Making a square, then a circle. A house, and a sun.

A home.

She stared at the images for a moment, then wiped her heel over the patterns in the earth.

She cleared her throat.

"You didn't have to come. I'm okay."

It was a lie. And they both knew it. That's when she heard a rustling, and then her eyes crinkled slightly as a red gummy bear appeared in front of her. She took her hand off the chain, accepting the small piece of candy from his fingers.

She held it, feeling the slight squish as she rolled it between her index finger and her thumb. This was their ritual. Odd though it was. But it had started long ago, during the case at the mall. They were interrogating the uncle together. It was taking everything from both of them.

And then came the aunt.

And afterward, before he left to go see his son, he had come to see her. And with him he had brought a bag of gummy bears. He said it was the only thing that he could find. And he sat with her on the back steps of that shopping mall, and he handed her a bear. Then he told her that they wouldn't all be that bad. But if she wanted to walk away now, he understood. And she had looked over, and seen the pain in his eyes, and the grief etched on his face, and she had known that he was past the point of walking away. So she'd looked down at her red gummy bear.

An offering.

An offering not of peace . . . but of comfort. She'd popped the bear in her mouth, chewing it slowly before she turned to him with a sad smile.

"I'll stay a little longer."

He'd nodded, and then looked away. And they sat on those steps, and finished that small bag of gummy bears. Then he had gone off to see his son . . . and she had gone off to find a beer.

Since then it had become a ritual. One that they went through after the worst of their cases. A tangible reminder that they were in this together. That as awful as these things were, as terrible as this job, they weren't going through it alone.

The funny thing was, neither of them liked gummy bears. They were too old for them.

It was a child's candy.

Emily's gaze shifted across the playground and the schoolyard next door.

Soon the bell would ring, and this place would be filled with children. Laughing, playing, just being kids. But all of them would grow up too quickly, some faster than others. And eventually, most of them would be touched by tragedy. Some of them would move past it.

Some of them wouldn't.

With a faint sigh, her gaze shifted back to Hotch. Both of them had grown up too quickly. They had both been touched by tragedy . . . and neither of them had moved past it. It was why they did what they did. And she knew by his continued silence, that today was the day that he was going to ask the questions once again.

Have you had enough? Do you want to walk away?

But what he didn't know was, she stayed now for him. She'd had enough that first day. That first interrogation. But she stayed because he had to. If she left, who would sit on the swings and eat gummy bears with him?

He would be alone.

She placed the bear into her mouth, grinding it slowly between her teeth. Too sweet. Always . . . too sweet.

Then she reached over and took his hand. His fingers were sticky from the candy.

She squeezed them.

"I know that you're worried," she whispered, "I know that you think it's time." He looked over at her and she gave him a watery smile, "but we're past time. This is just what it is." her voice cracked, "and I'm not leaving."

Hotch stared at Emily for a moment. And seeing the resolution there, his eyes began to burn.

"Emily . . ." the moisture in his eyes began to pool, "I didn't want this for you."

She nodded, "I know . . ." then she looked away as she repeated softly, "I know. But you didn't make the choice. The choice was made long ago."

They both looked up as the shrill ring of the school bell, shattered the calm around them. The children would be coming soon.

He sighed.

"We should go," he murmured while blinking the moisture from his eyes.

"No," Emily shook her head, "not yet." His eyes snapped over to hers and her expression softened as she squeezed his hand again.

"There are bears to eat."

He stared at her for a moment, and then nodded slowly.

"Right," he swallowed the lump in his throat, "there are bears to eat."

He let go of her fingers then and reached into the bag to pull out another gummy. A yellow one. And he placed it into her outstretched hand. He stared at it for a moment, then he looked up and gave her a sad smile.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

Emily's eyes crinkled as she nodded. Then she looked down at the dirt.

"Me too."

A/N 2: All kinds of subliminal stuff going on here for the shippers. Hopefully that was clear :) If not, please do drop me a line if you have any questions.

And again, this one came about because of the acting of PB and TG in a particular scene. At the end, when they get the autopsy report on the little brother and Hotch says Prentiss needs to see it. And then Emily has to go in and tell the parents their son is a monster. She was quite emotional and he looked really upset as was staring at her and then he dropped his head to his chest. And I saw that and I thought 'damn I have to write something for that!' And this is what I came up with.

I thought it worked within canon. Straight canon, Emily almost always is the one that has to go put her heart on her sleeve and make a connection with whatever broken little children they come across. And those interrogation scenes in the mall (the ep is Seven Seconds) are brutal to watch. And that was also, for many people the first time they saw potential in the H/P. They worked well together and it would make sense that some discussion happened after that day. I had a completely different discussion between them in Girl but apparently my imagination is not limited :)

The next post ep I'm working on is for The Big Wheel. Have no idea when that will be done though.

Total aside, I wrote this then had a hankering for some gummy bears. I got a bag, ate like 2 of them. They are too sweet. And I am too old for them. I think once your age is in double digits the appeal of food that is DESIGNED to get stuck in your teeth, begins to fade.

Regardless of whether you are pro/con in the gummy bear camp, please let me know if you like the story :)