Author's Note: Part of my canon Post Ep series. This one is for Omnivore so spoilers. Come at this as straight canon built solely from what we've seen onscreen.

And there's a certain freestyle rhythm to this story. It's all told from Hotch's POV. As you can tell from the title, angsty.


Prompt Set #6

Show: China Beach

Title Challenge: One Small Step


A Drowning Man

Hotch paced outside of her door, wondering what he was doing there. Wondering why he had come. He hadn't been to her home in over a year. More than eighteen months actually. That day he came to get her back. And now he was here again.

But this time with no clear purpose.

He hadn't been able to sleep so he went for a drive and then suddenly he was in front of her building. But he shouldn't be here. Because he didn't burden other people with his problems. They were his problems. And he needed to deal with them on his own.

Suddenly he stopped pacing. Then he turned and stared at that red door for a moment, feeling an ache in his chest as his eyes began to burn.

He didn't want to leave.

He didn't want to leave because she made him feel better. Just having her near him made him feel better, and he didn't know why. It was gradual, but since that day so long ago when he had first come here to get her, things had changed. He'd slowly come to rely on her.

To need her in ways that he never had before.

And he wanted to knock on the door, to see her, to talk to her . . . for just a minute. Because he needed her to tell him that he didn't do anything wrong. That it wasn't his fault that all of those people were dead. Dave had tried to tell him that. And he had tried to tell himself that. But he still didn't believe it. But for some reason he thought, that maybe if she said it, then it would be true.

Because she had become his touchstone. His center of gravity.

His Prentiss.

That last thought finally broke his indecision and he knocked. Just two quick raps on the door. It was late, if she was sleeping he didn't want to wake her. And for a moment there was nothing, and he felt a stab of disappointment. But it was after midnight.

It was stupid to think that she would be up.

Just as he was about to turn away, the door suddenly opened and there she was standing in front of him. Though he was afraid that she might be angry at the intrusion, all he saw was a momentary splash of surprise on her face. And then her eyes softened as she smiled and stepped back, telling him that she was just making some cocoa.

Would he like a cup?

His teeth sunk down into his lip he stared at her for a moment . . . it was like she was expecting him. And then he nodded, stammering a bit as he said yes, thank you. That would be nice.

Her eyes crinkled ever slightly before she turned and walked back down the hall. He waited until she disappeared into the kitchen before he crossed over her threshold. And with that single step . . . he fell back into her world.

It was like going down the rabbit hole.

He paused for a moment just inside the door, closing his eyes as he slowly inhaled, filling his lungs with the air around him. It smelled like cinnamon and vanilla . . . and something indefinable. Something that was uniquely her. It was like being surrounded by her.

And he felt some of his tension begin to leak away.

With a slow exhale, he turned back around to close the door and slide the dead bolt. He had told them all to be careful. Check their locks, check their windows . . . keep their guard up. Foyet probably wouldn't come after them.

But he could.

He could very easily.

And that thought was enough to drive Hotch out of his home tonight. Enough to drive him to hers.

Sensing movement, he looked up to see Emily standing a few feet away and holding the tea kettle. She was telling him it would just be a minute. And she was asking him if he wanted to go sit down on the couch.

And he bit his lip again and nodded once more.

He had wanted to come here so many times before. And now he was here, standing in her home, and she was making him cocoa.

It didn't seem real.

But real or not, he did as she asked and continued down to her living room. There was music coming out of the stereo. He remembered that the last time he was there that there had been music playing as well. But she'd been irritated by his arrival and had shut it off immediately.

But this time she left it on.

Tilting his head slightly, he listened for a moment. He knew this song. It was U2.

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.

His lip quirked up humorlessly . . . and irony takes a bow.

Slowly he continued over and sat down on her couch. Then he looked around the room. He hadn't come this far into her home before.

Her place was nice.

It was warm and inviting . . . much like Emily herself. Hearing her coming down the hall, he turned slightly to see her walk by him. Then she placed the mugs on the table, telling him that they were still a little too hot to drink. After that she walked around the table and sat down on the couch. She sat down right next to him.

Her arm brushed against his when she pulled her feet up under her.

Feeling a faint warmth in his chest Hotch leaned back, relishing that slight bit of contact. It was something he sought out now. It was something that brought him joy. Just the sensation of her sleeve touching his. It was such a little thing.

But it wasn't.

Because in the past, they had kept to their own corners, defenses up, walls built around them. But now . . . all of those walls had crumbled. Their defenses were down.

Their worlds overlapped.

With her now sitting right next to him, feeling the warmth radiating from her body, smelling the fading scent of her perfume, he felt a little more of the tension seep away. She hadn't initiated any conversation, so he didn't either. He didn't want to talk yet.

Honestly, he didn't know what he would say.

So he just stared at the tendrils of steam rising from the creamy liquid in front of him. And he found himself wondering if this was a regular routine of hers. Did she always make a cup of hot chocolate after a bad case? Did that make her feel better?

Did it bring her comfort?

Maybe someday he would ask her those questions.

His gaze shifted away from the table over to her bare foot . . . it was brushing against his thigh. He wanted to reach down and touch it. Run his finger along its length, going from heel to toe, tracing the curves. He wanted to see if her skin was as soft as it looked. He wanted to see if she was ticklish.

He just wanted to see if she would let him touch her like that. But he had had decades of experience suppressing his own desires, keeping his control.

So he kept his hands to himself.

And then he noticed her toenails were painted red. He'd never even seen her toes before, it was a part of her kept hidden at work. And though there was nothing inherently personal about that particular part of the body, it still felt strangely intimate seeing her toes now. And he wanted to know, did she always wear red polish? Was that her favorite color?

Did she think it was pretty?

Someday he would like to ask her those questions too.

His gaze shifted again, slowly traveling up her body . . . she'd changed out of her suit.

The only other clothes he'd ever seen her in were t-shirts and fatigues. But now she was wearing her pajamas. They were pink flannel and they had little blue snowflakes on them. They were soft and feminine and cheerful. And for a moment, they made him happy. So very happy. And then in the next instant, he felt a wave of sadness and regret.

Because he realized then . . . as he sat here with her in silence and stared at those little blue snowflakes . . . that he could have come here before. She would have opened her door and invited him inside. And he could have sat on this couch with her, her in her snowflake pajamas, and they could have had cocoa. And they could have talked.

And she would have made him feel better.

He had wasted all of this time trying to handle these things by himself, these things that he was no longer capable of handling. And he needn't have. He needn't have been suffering. Because he saw now, that the reason she hadn't been surprised to see him, was because she'd been here waiting for him all this time. Waiting for him to come and ask for help. And he had been too stubborn. Too set in his ways.

Too used to being alone.

His eyes began to fill and he closed the lids tightly. Feeling the moisture seep under his lashes, he berated himself.

He was a pathetic fool.

After a moment Emily picked up his hand and began slowly massaging his fingers. He felt her working her way along, one digit at a time, gently rubbing the fine muscles and tracing patterns on his skin. His eyes opened . . . his gaze shifted down . . . and he felt another wave of sadness hit him as he saw his hand nestled in hers. The tears started to burn slow tracks down his face.

"I should have come here before." His voice was filled with despair.

She brought his hand to her lips and kissed the knuckles.

"You're here now," she whispered as she leaned over to rest her head on his shoulder, "and that's all that matters."


A/N 2: The tone of this one was, like a few other post eps I've done, inspired by TG's acting. I watched bits of the episode again before I wrote this and Hotch was just miserable, barely keeping it together almost all the way through. And he was so heartbroken after the thing with the bus, with his non-crying, crying scene with Rossi. There was also one quick shot with Prentiss, when they're pulling the glass out of Morgan's arm Hotch comes in, man on a verge, and PB shoots this blink and you miss it worried look over at him, before she goes back to NOT watching them dig glass out of Morgan's flesh. So broken Hotch and Emily in den mother mode, led to this.

There will be more to this but I'm not sure though if it'll all be within this one story or three different stories. I'm working of three different prompts so I have three different ideas. So basically this will either be a 3 chapter story or a trilogy. I'm leaning towards trilogy. Either way though, there will be a second 'version' of this story going up, but all from Emily's point of view.

Side note: Over in Girl Arcadya commented on my "obsession" with describing Emily's pajamas [though Arc also has a tendency to do it as well :)] so because of that, I rather specifically picked her pajamas as the focal point of his breakdown. However, after Arc brought that to my attention I realized I did do it fairly often, and I was doing it unconsciously so I thought there must be a reason. So because I'm fairly neurotic, I gave it some actual thought as to WHY I do tend to very particularly describe Em's pajamas when I don't necessarily do that with any other element of her wardrobe. And I think it's because pajamas are an indicator of a different side of your personality. Something personal. You have the part of you that you show the world. And you want to be taken seriously and be respected so you have to dress and act a certain way when you walk out your door in the morning. But your pajamas are something that only you and your loved ones will see. So maybe you like to wear cartoon characters, or sports teams, or something fluffy or pretty or lacy to bed. It's a different part of you that gets to express itself. So I came to see that the description of Em's pajamas is an element of character development. See Arc, there was a method to my madness!

As always folks, feedback is appreciated :)