Author's Note: This is just an H/P friendship piece. As far as canon goes, this takes place in early season three a couple weeks after the episode "7 Seconds," the one at the mall with the sicko aunt and uncle. Remember this is post Gideon leaving, pre Rossi arriving. They were all a bit of a mess at that time.
This is an offshoot piece of Girl Universe A. It reads as a standalone even if you haven't read Girl but if you want to place it in Girl, it takes place just after chapters 26-27 ("Days Like This" and "Pizza & Porno").
Prompt Set #6
Show: SpongeBob Squarepants
Title Challenge: Nightlight
Ladybug, Ladybug . . . Fly Away Home
Emily woke up miserable and her day went downhill from there.
It was her birthday. Her 39th birthday to be exact, and she was stuck in a cheap motel room in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. A few minutes earlier, as she sat alone in that crappy little room, she'd blown out the birthday candle in her single, lonely, Hostess cupcake. She'd thought that having a little pretend birthday cake would cheer her up, but in reality the whole act was so depressing that she had just turned away after she blew the flame out. So now she was sitting there flipping the channels, trying to find something to watch.
She didn't want to sleep. Sleeping meant dreaming. And dreaming meant nightmares.
They were out on the plains investigating a series of dump sites where they'd been finding the bodies of four and five year old boys that had been abducted months earlier. Most of the corpses had already been recovered before they arrived, but they'd found a fresh one last night so she'd had to attend the autopsy today. That had sucked big time.
He was five.
And there were two sets of parents in the waiting room trying to find out if he was their boy. They wouldn't know for days, they had to use DNA.
It was just a horrible case. And it was coming on the heels of the horrible case that they'd had a few weeks ago with the aunt and the uncle.
Actually she couldn't imagine a worse birthday.
She'd woken up alone, essentially in the middle of nowhere. The only people that had called to wish her happy birthday were her grandparents and her parents. Though her parents had called separately, her dad was traveling so it was actually a big day. So she had three calls instead of the usual two.
The only close friends she had were the team and they were all with her. But they weren't exactly in a position to go celebrating. The boys had been sweet though. Derek had smooth talked the waitress into convincing the chef to write happy birthday in chocolate chips on her pancakes. Reid did some little magic trick for her involving the salt and pepper shakers.
They all felt bad though, her cards and presents were at home. Nobody had realized they'd be away this long. And she told them it was fine, that she totally understood. And she did.
It still sucked though.
She'd been on the planet for thirty nine years and all she had to show for it were three birthday calls and three birthday hugs. The hugs were from JJ, Reid and Morgan. And then she also had one missed birthday voicemail from Garcia.
Emily hadn't even had a chance to call her back.
They'd all been so busy today that by the time Hotch called it, it was already nine o'clock. He'd stayed at the station a little longer. Yeah that was the other thing, Hotch had forgotten that it was her birthday. And that hurt her feelings a little bit. Which was stupid because obviously he had a lot of things on his mind. Much more important things. And he'd already left for the sheriff's office before the rest of them had breakfast, so he wasn't even there to see her special pancakes as a reminder. She sighed, it didn't matter.
When they were driving back to the motel the rest of the team had asked if she wanted to go out and get a beer. She would have loved one. But she knew they were exhausted so told them it was okay, they could go out when they got home.
And now she was sitting here by herself, watching what appeared to be the Powerpuff Girls, trying not to cry as she wondered how her life had become so pathetic.
Emily heard the knock at the door and looked over to check the time.
Forcing herself out of bed, she looked down and realized she wasn't really dressed for company.
Basically once your bra is off you're in for the night, and she didn't travel with a robe. So she yelled out, "one second," as she went over to dig her travel blanket out of her ready bag.
After she'd wrapped it around her shoulders like a cape, Emily went over to check the peephole.
Her brow wrinkled at she opened the door.
"Hey," she tipped her head "did something happen?"
God, please don't say she had to get dressed and go look at another dead child.
He stared at her for a moment . . . she looked sad. And that gave him a little dig in his gut because he knew that he was at least in part to blame for her mood.
So he took a deep breath as he shook his head slowly.
"No, nothing happened," he bit his lip, "I know it's late but I thought you'd still be up. Can I uh, come in for a second?"
Relieved that there were no more dead children, she gave him a little smile she stepped back to let him in, "sure."
She wanted to tell him the reason she was up was because she was afraid to close her eyes. She'd been having horrible nightmares since that damn case at the mall a few weeks ago. But, there was nothing he could do to help her with that so there was no point in telling him.
Walking past her into the room, Hotch noted the television was tuned to some children's cartoon, probably trying to find something mindless to cheer herself up. And then he noticed the little Hostess cupcake sitting on the bedside table. There was a single birthday candle lying next to it and the tip had been burned. His jaw twitched.
That little blackened wick filled him with sadness. She'd sat in this room and blown out her candle all by herself.
He wondered what she'd wished for.
As he stood staring down at the sad little birthday display, he felt like he should say something. An apology that this was now her life. That she'd come back for this. Sitting alone in low rent motel room eating a birthday cupcake by herself. But . . . his eyes dropped . . . she'd known that this was part of it.
Or at least he hoped that she had.
As he heard the locks on the door click shut again he turned back to face her. He tried to school his features, knowing she wouldn't want his pity. She was giving him an inquisitive look.
"So what's up?"
Hotch wasn't much for midnight pop-ins. Well, not unless he was pounding on your door yelling that you had to get dressed.
He looked at her for a moment and then his eyes crinkled slightly as he reached into the pocket of his suit jacket, pulling out a small white bag with red dots. He handed it to her.
"I'm sorry it's not wrapped but I didn't forget. I know today's your birthday."
Feeling her eyes begin to sting Emily smiled as she looked down at the plastic bag . . . he did remember. It was silly that it had been bothering her that she thought he forgot. Clearly there were so many other things that took precedence. He wouldn't have been expected to remember something as trivial as her birthday. But he had anyway.
She looked back up at him with a soft smile.
"Thank you, that was really nice of you. But you didn't have to do anything." She stared at him for a moment, the lines around his eyes were more pronounced than usual, and then her reverie was broken as he tipped his head down, "are you going to open it?"
Shaking her head slightly she looked back down to the bag, "oh yeah, of course."
Giving him a little smile she slipped the bag open and pulled out a piece of cardboard. Turning it over she saw a plastic ladybug attached to it. She had on a pretty dress and there was a smile painted on her face, and there was a little bow in her hair.
It was a nightlight.
He bought her a nightlight in the shape of a happy ladybug. Oh God. She was pretty sure she was going to start crying.
Hotch tipped his head down, "I um, thought that might come in handy. I know this is a really awful case," he took a breath, ". . . and we just had a really awful case."
He'd known how badly she'd been affected by what had happened at the mall. And he'd seen the lines around her eyes the last few weeks, she wasn't sleeping well. Hell, he wasn't sleeping well and he'd been doing this a hell of a lot longer than she had.
And now they had this other terrible case. He saw Jack's face on all these children. But it was affecting all of them. And he wouldn't wish this crap on anyone, at any time, but then he'd gone and sent her to a five year old's autopsy on her birthday.
God . . . he felt another pang of guilt . . . he couldn't even imagine what a schmuck she must have thought he was.
If he'd just remembered it was her birthday before he was doling out assignments that morning he of course never would have sent her. It wasn't until after he'd been looking at the calendar for something that he'd realized why Morgan had shot him a look when he told Emily to go to the ME's Office. At that point he'd felt like the biggest asshole on the planet. Happy freaking birthday go watch this kid get cut open.
And then he didn't really see her much for the rest of the day. They were all going non-stop so he couldn't even do anything to make it up to her. But that night, after they got back to the motel, he'd done a search on his laptop to find the closest store. There was a Target about ten minutes away. He'd wandered around in there for almost a half an hour trying to decide what to get her. He didn't usually get the team presents for their birthdays. Well, if they were home he'd drop a gift card on his/her desk. Thirty bucks for Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. And if one of the girls put a card in front of him he'd sign it, but that was it.
He just wasn't good with casual presents.
The coffee shop gift cards were okay because they were practical. But he felt like real presents should be personal. But they didn't like to profile each other, so though he might be able to pick out just what someone needed, the other person might not want it.
But on this one he felt that what she needed was what he should get her. He'd just felt so awful about what he'd done that he had to do something to try and make it up to her. He thought this might help a little.
Gesturing over to the light in her hand he said, "and I did pick the lady bug on purpose. They had different ones but, uh," he gave her a sad smile, "I thought that one was the most cheerful."
Emily could feel the tears pooling in her eyes and she gave him a watery smile as she whispered, "thank you."
Knowing she'd had a long day, and not wanting to make her cry, he cleared his throat, "well, uh that was the only reason I came over so I'll just . . ."
He was interrupted by Emily.
"Would it make you terribly uncomfortable if I gave you a thank you hug?"
She knew he didn't hug. Hotch wasn't really a 'toucher,' but this was about the sweetest present anyone had ever given her. She just wanted to do something to say thank you.
His eyes crinkled slightly as he shrugged, "well, I guess it wouldn't make me terribly uncomfortable."
Emily's expression softened as she crossed over to him, leaning up to wrap her arms around his neck. She thought he'd just suffer through her demonstration of affection but, to her surprise . . . he hugged her back.
As he squeezed Emily tightly, Hotch turned his head to whisper in her ear, "I'm really sorry about sending you to the ME's Office. I didn't realize the date until after you left."
Pulling back slightly she gave him a sad smile, "it's okay. It was my turn. I wouldn't have wanted you to send someone else in my place. That wouldn't be fair to them."
It was a crap thing to have to watch on her birthday, but it was a crap thing to have to watch any day. And she certainly hadn't held any resentment towards him for sending her. It was her turn. And even if he had remembered earlier and tried to send Reid or Derek in her place she would have pointed out that it was her turn. You don't push the hard stuff off on your friends.
What kind of person did that?
Stepping back a bit he let her go as a faint smile touched his lips. He'd just felt a burst of admiration as he'd been reminded again that she really was a very impressive woman.
Hotch walked over to the door, unlocking it and then bending down to look at the keyhole. Turning his head, he looked at her over his shoulder.
"I don't like this lock, it's bent. Put a chair under the door for tonight," he stood up, "if we're still here tomorrow I want you to switch rooms."
She smiled softly, "yes, sir."
He was always worrying about them. But as she thought about the things they'd seen the past few days she remembered why he always worried. Her eyes dropped down as she felt a bit of the melancholy creep back.
Staring back at her standing there looking so sad and alone, Hotch decided to do something he wouldn't ordinarily do.
But it was her birthday. And she'd had probably the crappiest birthday on record, and now he was leaving her all alone with just a ladybug nightlight to chase away the demons.
So he stepped back over and placed a quick kiss on her cheek before squeezing her hand.
"Happy Birthday Prentiss."
Emily's eyes began to sting again at the unexpected show of affection from her normally stoic boss. She squeezed his hand back as she looked up and smiled at him.
"Thank you sir."
She knew she needed to let go of his hand but she held it for a beat longer as she summoned up her courage. Tipping her head back towards her nightstand she asked a little hesitantly.
"Um, would you like a piece of my birthday cupcake?"
It seemed kind of pathetic to ask someone to split your cupcake with you. But, he was being really nice, and her birthday wasn't quite over yet. Maybe she could salvage a couple of decent minutes.
Hotch could tell that took a lot from her to ask. So even though it was late, and even though he really shouldn't be hanging out in his female agents hotel rooms if they weren't working, he nodded.
And as he saw her face light up he was glad he'd said yes. He followed her back into the room and she went over to cut the cupcake, turning back over her shoulder as she said sheepishly.
"I um, lit the candle by myself," she huffed as she looked down at it, "I'm not sure if that counts."
She was fairly sure that it didn't. Which sucked. Because her wish was that things would get better. That on her next birthday she wouldn't be alone. Not that she thought birthday candles had magical powers, but, who's to say that they didn't?
Hotch looked at her for a second before taking a step past her to put the candle back in the cupcake. Then he picked up the packet of motel matches and lit the slightly charred wick again. It took a second, but the flame finally caught and he blew the match out, placing it on the metal base of the lamp for a moment until it cooled down.
Picking up the cupcake, he hit the light switch before turning to look at her. He could see her eyes were moist again but at least now he was fairly sure she wasn't sad. He flashed her a half a dimple.
"I'm not singing."
She laughed, "okay." Then she sobered but her eyes were still soft as she looked at him over the flickering flame. She said quietly, "thanks Hotch."
His lip quirked up and she smiled before taking a breath and blowing out her candle again. For a moment they were left in just the blue glow from the television and then Hotch leaned back to hit the lights.
Then he turned back to her as he said drolly.
"Unless your wish was for me to get brought up on charges of sexual harassment we really need to not get caught in your room with the lights out."
With a chuckle, Emily reached passed him to pick up the little plastic knife she'd saved from her takeout dinner . . . most people didn't realize it, but Hotch could be kind of funny sometimes.
Emily sat down on the bed, Hotch handed her a napkin and she balanced the cupcake on her knee as she cut it in half. Then she held up the napkin so he could take a piece.
Hotch took the slightly smaller wedge from her before leaning back against the wall. He looked down at her sitting on the bed, realizing he could now ask the question he'd been wondering about before.
"What did you wish for?"
Her eyes twinkled as she looked up at him, "if I tell you then my wish won't come true."
His mouth quivered slightly and then he tipped his head, "fair enough."
Emily smiled as she turned back to her little bit of cupcake. Her gaze flicked over to the alarm clock.
She got in just under the wire.
With a nod to herself she took a small bite of her pretend birthday cake. She could have popped the whole thing into her mouth but she wanted it to last for just a minute. She saw Hotch looking at her and she flashed him a small grin.
That was really sweet that he'd stayed though. Because stuff like this . . . bonding stuff . . . it generally made him a bit uncomfortable. But she was really more grateful than she could say that he'd moved passed that for her. Because she had a good feeling now. That maybe her wish would come true. That maybe things would get better.
That maybe she wouldn't be alone next year.
Then, seeing Hotch drop frosting onto his tie, she started to giggle. He shot her a mock scowl as she handed him another napkin to wipe it off. Then her lips twitched as she watched him cleaning himself up.
Even if the wish didn't come true, well, her birthday had ended on a pretty good note after all.
A/N 2: I've been in the midst of writing Emily's 40th birthday chapter in Girl and I got an idea for this flashback of her previous birthday. And I started to just kind of describe it in the scene and then as it was becoming more defined in my head I decided it would be a nice chapter to insert on its own for something we didn't see before.
Ladybug, ladybug, is a nursery rhyme. I'm not sure if that's a universal nursery rhyme but I know it's at least here and in the UK. It's from the middle ages, like 'ashes, ashes' and just like ashes, I had forgotten that ladybug was also kind of a sick, depressing rhyme to teach young children. I was trying to remember the rest of it beyond the opening line but I had to Google it.
Ladybug ladybug fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one and that's little Ann,
For she crept under the frying pan.
That's a terrible rhyme to teach children! Go home your kids are dead and your house is burned. But sadly, that tone worked for a bit of a melancholy, or as Kavi and I have termed them, 'bittersweet' story. The title sounds lighter than it is.
Feedback is good for the soul!