Author's Note: I bet you were all expecting my next new story would be a post ep for the premiere. Sorry to disappoint :) Though I am working on one, but FYI, it's JJ/Rossi, not H/P. And my shipper brain short circuited so I had to walk away from that canon world completely and go back to the once removed one I enjoy playing in more.

Instead of canon, this is what came to me a couple days ago. It's a standalone piece, unrelated to any of my other worlds, one chapter with a short epilogue. They are at a middling stage of their relationship, still figuring things out. Again, this one, like I think all of my recent new stories, is a bit sad, but if you stay with it, I do promise it will end well :)

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Prompt Set #7

Show: Star Trek - Enterprise

Title Challenge: Precious Cargo

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Things We Do for Love

Emily hadn't stopped fidgeting the entire meeting.

Hotch's eyes kept tracking over to watch her hands moving, her fingers were curling around her pen.

He could see the whites of her knuckles.

It was obvious that she wanted to go. That she needed to leave. But JJ was running down all of their potential cases . . . things to watch in the coming weeks . . . and Hotch had already been through these with her.

So he knew without a doubt . . . JJ wasn't even close to being done. They had at least another forty minutes.

He didn't see how the woman next to him was going to be able to sit here that long.

Suddenly Emily's leg started to bounce up and down in agitation, rubbing against his in the process. The fidgeting thing didn't affect him personally, but the leg thing was a little distracting. So he casually slid his hand down off the table and put it on her thigh, squeezing lightly.

Her leg immediately stopped jumping, but a slight shifting of his eyes showed the rising crimson on her cheeks as she dropped her head in embarrassment.

He felt a small dig of guilt. It was already quite obvious to him that something was bothering her, and now he'd upset her further. And maybe if he could leave his hand where it was it would help her calm down. She'd know that he was there if she needed him.

Maybe that would make her feel better.

But . . . unfortunately . . . Human Resources frowned upon male supervisors putting, let alone leaving, their hands below the waist of female subordinates. So he gently patted her leg before he pulled his digits back to a respectable distance.

Whatever was going on, he'd have to ask her about it after the meeting.

But unfortunately as soon as JJ wrapped . . . forty seven minutes later . . . Emily grabbed her things and bolted out of her chair. She'd cleared the room before Hotch had even called it.

His brow creased in concern . . . that wasn't like her at all. She'd been a little subdued the last few days but when he'd asked her if she was okay she just said she was a bit tired. At the time he'd let it go, but now it was clear that there was something more going on with her.

So after he'd dismissed the group, and the rest of the team had disbursed in their usual small groupings, Hotch went looking for his maybe girlfriend.

They hadn't quite worked out labels yet.

No luck finding her at her desk or the ladies room though. That was odd. It just wasn't like her to just disappear either. Not without a word to someone.

He was heading back towards the bullpen, ready to call her cell if she hadn't returned to her desk, when he suddenly remembered the small trio of conference rooms down the hall from Garcia's den.

They were so small that they were hardly ever used for meetings. Generally people tended to go to them only if they were looking to have a private conversation on their cell phones.

After checking the first two rooms without having any luck, Hotch opened the door for the third one and saw Emily's long brown hair whip around. She quickly brought her hand up to wipe her face.

His stomach clenched . . . she was crying.

Emily didn't cry.

Yes, she was emotional. That's what came from her great gift of empathy. And that was actually one of her most endearing qualities. For all of the horrors they saw, she never lost her humanity. That was a comfort to him. So much so that it shamed him thinking back to when she first started and he thought her detachment was somewhat cold. He didn't know then that she had to detach or she'd be unable to function.

And now that he knew her as well as he did, he knew that sometimes she got a little teary when she got emotional. But in his experience rarely was there actual crying.

Whatever this was, it was serious.

He stepped inside and shut the door behind him before he asked softly, "Emily, what's wrong?"

Emily sniffled as she wiped hand under her eye again, "nothing, I'm fine."

Shit . . . she tried to will the tears to stop running. After what happened in the meeting she knew that he'd come looking for her. But she was hoping to have pulled herself back together again before he found her. Crying was a weakness. One that she didn't like to have others see.

Even if it was Hotch doing the seeing.

The eyebrow went up as he crossed over to where she was standing by the closed window blinds. He stopped just in front of her as he continued in the same gentle tone, "Emily, I thought we were long past putting up barriers," he put his files down on the table next to hers before he turned back and caught her eyes, "it's painfully clear that something's upsetting you," he decided to state the obvious, "you're crying, and I don't like to see that, so please," he reached over and put his hand on her shoulder, rubbing it slightly as he continued, "tell me what's wrong," a faint smile touched his lips, "and then I can fix it."

He'd learned many things from his complicated relationship with the woman in front of him. One of them was that often a joke was the best way to communicate when there was something hard to say.

Though with that last statement he was only half kidding. If it was within his power, he would indeed fix it. Seeing her upset like this was personally upsetting for him as well.

Even through her tears Emily's lip quirked up slightly at that declaration. Though she knew he was intentionally trying to elicit a smile, she also knew that in Aaron Hotchner's mind, if she had a problem, as long as he was aware of it . . . then he could fix it.

It was just that simple. He was sweet like that. Well, once you got past the dour and cranky he was sweet like that. And he was right, she shouldn't have lied just now. They had moved past their respective protective barriers almost a year ago. They had become friends.

Then close friends.

And recently they had started to become something more. Something as yet undefined.

It began after New York, but their relationship really solidified after Colorado. Both of them almost dying within a month of one another had broken down the last of their walls. They had started moving towards genuine friendship simply by talking more on the plane. So many late nights spent sharing stories about their lives. And then they began taking breaks together. Then there were lunches and regularly partnering up on cases.

Now there was hand holding, late dinners alone, walks to her front door, off duty hugs goodnight and off duty hugs hello. But so far there had been no kissing on the mouth, no declarations and no hugs without purpose.

So they were sort of involved . . . but not really. If someone were to ask if she had a boyfriend she'd probably respond, 'I don't know.'

But as she remembered how far they'd come in just a year, and how much farther she'd like to go, she realized she needed to tell him what was wrong.

Though he was probably going to think it was stupid. Or maybe not stupid, he would never be so cruel as to be that dismissive. But perhaps he would say or do something that made it obvious to her that he thought she was being silly or overreacting. And if he said something like that then it was just going to make her feel ten times worse. Because then she'd know that whatever their relationship was . . . or wasn't . . . it wasn't going to go any further than it had.

And she definitely wasn't in any condition for a non-break up today with a man that she might be dating.

So she tried to stop crying as she looked up at him, "if I tell you, do you promise to just listen to what I have to say and not tell me I'm being silly or minimize the importance of what I'm upset about?"

Frown lines creased Hotch's mouth and his brow as he took another step towards her, sliding his hand from her shoulder over to the back of her neck. He waited a moment, waited until he had her complete attention, and then he said softly . . . but firmly, "Emily, I would hope that you'd know by now that I'd never trivialize your pain. If you're upset about something, no matter what it is, then that's important to me. That matters to me," his tone softened as gave her a sad smile, "if you're upset, I'm upset. Understood?"

As though he would ever simply dismiss her problems as inconsequential. He sighed . . . for as far as they'd come, he was the first to admit that they still had a ways to go. And this was a good example of an area where they still needed to do some to work.

Trust.

Not in the field of course. There they trusted each other with their lives. But exposing themselves, all of their weakness, their worries . . . that did not come easily. And neither of them were particularly trusting by nature.

Both with good reason.

Well, his was a good reason and he assumed Emily's was as well. They hadn't gotten far enough to discuss that much of their psychological traumas. Because really, for all of the information they pried out of the victims and the UNSUBS, sharing the hard stuff didn't come easily for either of them personally.

He gently rubbed her neck . . . and that needed to change.

At Hotch's words . . . and his soft caress of her neck . . . Emily couldn't help but give him a watery smile back. When he was being sweet it was almost impossible to shut him out. So she took a deep breath, pausing only a moment before she looked up at him and then said hesitantly.

"Daisy's sick."

And then she waited. For what she didn't know, something negative maybe. Maybe something that would belie his sweetness of a moment before.

But whatever it was . . . it didn't come. In fact it was quite the contrary as he frowned worriedly and asked with concern.

"How sick?"

It was about her cat. That explained her behavior. Emily adored that cat. And she'd had it for years, at least since she was stationed in Chicago. He'd been over to her apartment more than a few times over the past six months and he'd seen how she interacted with that little tabby.

If something happened to it she'd be devastated.

As Emily heard the concern in his voice her last efforts at attempting to pull herself back together disappeared and she started to cry again, "she stopped eating and I brought her to the vet a couple days ago and . . . and . . ."

Her face contorted in pain and she bit her lip as she tried to hold in the sob.

Hotch gave her a moment before he gently prompted, "and what?"

The sob broke free as Emily brought her hand to her mouth, "and the vet called me this morning and said he might have to put her down. She has an obstruction in her bowel and she needs surgery but they aren't sure if that'll fix it."

Heartbroken, she looked up at him, "she's such a good kitty. She runs to see me when I get home and she sleeps on my bed and she sits with me when I'm sad. I've had her forever," her voice cracked, "I don't want to kill my cat Aaron."

That little fur ball had been her closest confidant for more than a decade. This wasn't fair. Daisy should have had at least another five or six good years, maybe even a little longer than that.

Emily just wasn't prepared to let her go yet.

As Emily put her hands up to her face, trying to hide her grief, Hotch's gut . . . already twisted in knots . . . clenched yet again.

So even though they were in the office, and even though the door was not locked, he closed the distance between them. As he pulled her to his chest he murmured against her hair, "well what about the surgery?"

She sniffled against his jacket, "it's really expensive and I don't think I can afford it."

Only with a pet was there literally a price tag on your love.

How much exactly were you willing to pay to keep your furry friends alive? Five hundred dollars? One thousand dollars? TEN thousand dollars?

What was the cutoff? When do you say to that trusting little soul that does nothing but love you unconditionally, "I'm sorry but I don't love you that much."

Hotch's brow furrowed as he rubbed her back, "how much is the surgery?"

If it was just a matter of money he could help her with that. Anything to take that heartbroken look from her face.

It was killing him.

Emily swallowed as she looked up at him, "five thousand dollars."

"FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!" Hotch exclaimed, "Jesus, that's more than I paid for my first car!"

Seeing Emily's jaw twitch as she immediately stiffened up and started to pull away from him, Hotch realized he'd just seriously fucked up.

Good Aaron, real good.

Before she could slip completely away, he pulled her back again, wrapping his arms tightly around her to keep her with him.

He had to fix this now. Fix it before he caused a real rift. He hadn't meant anything by it, but it was clear that she thought that he had.

Leaning down slightly he whispered against her ear, "I'm sorry, please don't be angry. I wasn't making any judgment, I was just surprised. I had no idea pets were so expensive."

His father hadn't liked dogs or cats, or anything really that made a mess or cost money to keep. Therefore Hotch had never had a pet growing up. So when Emily said the surgery was expensive he thought maybe seven or eight hundred dollars.

NOT five thousand.

Hearing the sincerity in his voice Emily relaxed again and released the clench in her jaw. For a moment she was convinced that he was doing exactly what she couldn't do . . . putting a price tag on Daisy. She wasn't ready to do that.

Not yet.

So she nodded, drying her tears on his jacket, "everything's expensive if they get sick. It's like if you were a person and didn't have health insurance," she added bitterly, "but of course if you can't afford to pay the hospital bills the doctor doesn't kill grandma."

Hotch was quiet for a moment, just holding her, very much trying not to put his foot in his mouth again. Finally he decided on a neutral question.

"Do you have to decide today?"

The tears began to well up again as she nodded, "yeah, she's still not eating solid food and she's in pain so if they're going to do the surgery it has to be now," she swallowed, "I was going to ask if I could take some lost time this afternoon."

He patted her back, "of course, take whatever time you need," then he paused, hoping he was doing the right thing.

"How about I come with you?"

It didn't seem right to let her go by herself. If she was upset he wanted to be there for her. But at the lengthening pause he started thinking maybe he'd overstepped whatever expanding boundaries they were building. So he hastened to add awkwardly, "or maybe Garcia or JJ could go with you. If that would make you more comfortable I could give them the afternoon off too."

"No," Emily shook her head firmly, "I don't want them," she looked up at him with a sad smile, "I want you. I was just surprised at the offer. Thank you."

That wasn't something she was expecting. Hotch was a sweet, compassionate man, but . . . he was also a workaholic. She knew that was a contributory factor in his divorce.

A divorce which resulted in him working even more hours than he had before.

That was a slight concern to Emily when they first started moving from friends to something more. What if they became serious and then she discovered that despite all of his other wonderful qualities that he was simply incapable of living a normal life? Incapable of being able to walk away from his work if she needed him.

Which was why she'd been slightly thrown at his offer. Whatever their relationship was becoming she hadn't realized they'd reached a point where her problems were more important to him than the job.

She reached up to touch his face . . . but that realization made her very happy.

Hotch's eyes crinkled slightly at her touch, and at that moment he really wanted to kiss her. To see just how far those new boundaries of theirs had expanded. But as he started to lean in he then remembered that they were in an unlocked conference room.

Not only did HR frown on putting your hands on the thighs of female subordinates, but they also frowned on making out with said subordinates too. Not that he felt that office policies were relevant to what they did in their personal lives, they worked sometimes seventy hours a week.

Who the hell were people like them supposed to meet except other people like them who also worked the same seventy hours a week?

But activities outside the walls of the FBI and activities inside the walls of the FBI were two very different things. So instead of kissing her on the lips like he wanted to, he kissed her cheek and then tucked her head under his chin as he hugged her closely, "okay then, I'll go with you this afternoon."

She slowly inhaled and then exhaled as she reached up to wipe her face again, "thank you," she bit her lip, "I don't know if I can do this by myself."

As old as she was, this was the first time she'd ever had to make a decision like this. When she was little they traveled too much for pets. It wasn't until after she was out of school and the academy and settled into her first assignment in Indianapolis that she'd realized she was lonely. For all of her issues with her mother and the constant uprooting, the one thing Emily had never been growing up was alone.

Her parents, embassy staff, marines . . . there were constantly people around her.

And in college, and then later the Academy, she had roommates. It wasn't until she was out completely on her own in the world that she realized how much she missed simply having somebody in the house with her. Somebody to come home to.

But by then she was twenty six. And though she wasn't old in the grand scheme, at that age she was getting too old, and too set in her ways, to even consider getting a new roommate.

So she decided to get a pet. And after much deliberation . . . she settled on a cat.

Her eyes crinkled as she pictured her . . . Daisy May.

A sweet natured little grey tabby that Emily got at fifteen weeks from one of the guys at the Indianapolis field office. His daughter's cat had kittens and he was begging everyone in the unit to take one. It was the same week Emily had decided a cat was the way to go.

She saw it as a sign.

When she went to pick Daisy out the kittens were so cute that she almost took two. But given that she'd never even had a goldfish she figured two live mammals would be a bit more than maybe she could handle right off.

And in retrospect she was happy that she only took one. Her bond with Daisy was special because it was just the two of them for so many years. Men came and went, friends came and went, but Daisy was always there.

That cat had absorbed more tears over the years than her pillow. She was always there to greet her after a bad day. Always happy to see her even when it felt like she was alone in the world.

She clutched her fingers into Hotch's shirt . . . she really hoped whatever this was happening between them was the real deal. Because Daisy might just be a cat, but she was the one thing that had kept Emily grounded for years. She knew that she was always needed. That she was always loved.

And she didn't want to go back to a world where those two things were no longer true.

Hotch pulled her in tighter, tangling his fingers in her silky hair as he whispered, "you can do anything. But you don't have to do this by yourself Emily. You're not alone. Whatever else happens with us I want you to remember that," he kissed the top of her head, "I'll always be here if you need me."

That was a promise he was sure he could keep. Next to Dave, his friendship with Emily was the most important relationship in his life. Well, next to Jack of course. But Jack was simply a bright shining star in his dark world. And even if his boy was old enough to have real conversations Hotch would of course never burden him with his worries or his troubles. Not like he did with this woman in his arms.

He couldn't imagine his world now without her in it.

And feeling Emily's tears soaking through his shirt, his heart clenched a little more as he rubbed her back, "what time do you have go there?"

She hiccupped, "at three. I have to decide by three."

God she wished somebody else could make this decision for her.

Feeling the sadness pouring off of her Hotch knew that she wasn't in any condition to sit at her desk and try to focus on paperwork today. Tilting his wrist slightly he checked his watch.

11:47

Okay . . . he did a mental review of his calendar . . . nothing urgent. Mostly just routine reviews and catching up on administrative paperwork. Things had been quiet this week, none of the cases JJ had flagged had yet risen high enough to warrant mobilization. Most of them would just get assigned an agent to follow up regularly with the local LEO in charge of the case. To ask if he or she had any questions about the profile they'd sent, or to see if they could offer any more assistance from afar.

So basically that was all he needed to do today. Divvy up assignments. There were only about a dozen or so potential cases that JJ had reviewed in the meeting so that wouldn't take too long. They were all fresh in his head so maybe just an hour to skim the files again and decide who would be best suited for what.

Not all of them would be going to his team. Some would be passed along to B and C. Good groups both of them but they weren't as good as his people.

Nobody was as good as his people.

Reid was phenomenal at what he did but he was still young. He was still learning. But Hotch knew that Emily, Derek and Dave should all be running their own units. Dave once had. They only stayed with him now because they believed in the work. But the point was that they were capable of so much more. So Hotch decided today would be a good day to let Emily spread her wings a little. Prepare for the future when she would be running her own crew.

He leaned back slightly to look down at her.

"Before we go, do you want to help me do something?"

She sniffled, "what?"

"Review cases and decide what should be assigned to the other teams and what we should keep for ourselves."

Her eyes crinkled slightly as she tried to blink away the tears, "sure, I'd like that."

Moments like this were why she'd originally even entertained the possibility of a serious relationship with this man. Emily Prentiss was not a woman who fished off the company pier. She didn't date coworkers, and she sure as hell didn't get involved with superiors.

But Hotch was . . . different.

He was really unlike anyone else she knew. His kindness, his intensity, his compassion and his righteous anger. That constantly swirling mixture of coldness and warmth. Nobody else could pull it off. It could be off putting to people who didn't know him. But once you did know him, you pledged your undying loyalty to him. And once he pulled you into his life, you knew that he would do anything for you.

And right now what he was doing was offering her a distraction. A way to keep her mind occupied until it was time to go. For this offering she was grateful because she really didn't think proofing the report she wrote yesterday on last week's spree killing in Tulsa was going to do it.

Hotch gave her a faint smile, "good," he cupped her cheek with his hand, "now you go wash your face and then come up to my office. You can work in there today. And then," he slipped his hand down to squeeze her fingers, "when we're done with those files, we'll go to lunch and maybe take a walk. Aside from these assignments I don't have anything on my schedule this afternoon that can't wait until tomorrow," his eyes softened as he gave her a knowing look, "so don't worry about coming back today."

He knew her, and he knew that if he was coming back to the office, no matter how upset she was when they left the vet, she'd feel obligated to come back with him. He didn't want that. If she needed to deal with this then that's what they were going to deal with.

It was time he started putting something ahead of his work. He'd already lost his family to the job. If he wasn't careful he'd blow any potential this relationship with Emily had. And then he'd end up alone with nothing but his case files to keep him warm at night.

Emily wanted so badly to kiss him right then. But she knew that when he'd leaned in to kiss her before that he'd stopped because of where they were. And really, if somebody walked in and caught them in a clinch right now that would be bad.

Worse for him than her though. He was technically the one with all the power in their relationship.

Though as she stared into the burning intensity of his gaze, she knew that wasn't true. Given the concern and emotion she could see there, she knew that she had as much power to hurt him as he did to hurt her.

This unmasking of his true feelings for her was a development she wasn't expecting today.

She reached up, running her thumb along the curve of his lips as she asked in a husky voice, "will you come home with me afterwards? I don't want to be myself."

It was almost a foregone conclusion that Daisy would have to be put down. If there was no way to make her better then it would be selfish to allow her to suffer. But Emily didn't want to go home alone after it was done.

Not to an empty house.

Feeling a tingle run through his body at her touch, Hotch nodded slowly, "of course. Whatever you need me to do," he picked up their notepads and slipped his other arm around her waist before starting towards the door.

"Now come on, you go wash up while I get you a cup of tea."

Her gaze shifted over to him as she smiled just before he let her go at the door.

"Thank you."

/////////////

Hotch was glad he decided to have her work up in his office with him. Even keeping her as busy as he did, he could still see her eyes occasionally filling with tears. When he asked her if she was okay she'd smile and quickly brush them away as she nodded.

He was distracted enough worrying about her that he probably got less work done than she did. But eventually they got through all thirteen files. Hotch kept one each for Emily and himself and then called one of the admins up to pass the rest out to the assigned agents. Once Nancy was gone, Hotch started shutting down his computer. But then he glanced up to see Emily was just standing there staring at the floor.

His face softened as Hotch stopped what he was doing and bit the inside of his cheek.

Poor thing.

He walked around his desk and went over to rub his hands down her arms. When she looked up he gave her a little smile, "go get your bag Emily. We're leaving now."

She nodded slowly, "right."

But still she stood there for a moment. Because leaving for lunch was one step closer to leaving for the vet. One step closer to making a final decision about Daisy. Her stomach was in knots as she turned away from him and headed down to her desk.

Shaking his head, Hotch turned back to finish shutting down before he grabbed his bag and went over to see Dave.

Rossi looked up from his paperwork as Hotch knocked on his door, "what's up?"

Hotch took a step inside the older man's office, "Emily and I are going to lunch and then we have an, uh," he paused, "errand. We won't be back today."

Rossi had noticed Emily's odd behavior at the meeting, so he just nodded as he glanced past Hotch out to see the woman in question slowly packing her files down in the bullpen. His gaze came back up to Hotch's.

"Is she okay?"

Hotch shook his head, "no, not really." He was hoping to just leave it at that but at Dave's concerned look Hotch sighed, "her cat's sick. The vet said Emily's probably going to have to put her down today," Dave winced in sympathy and Hotch nodded, "exactly, that's why I'm going with her."

Having noticed the growing closeness between the two of them, Hotch's announcement didn't surprise Rossi. So he just nodded, "I'll hold down the fort."

With a grateful nod Hotch turned to leave, "thanks Dave. I'll see you in the morning."

Dave stood up, watching from his doorway as Hotch went down and collected Emily. His hand glided over her back as he took her bag off of her shoulder and they headed out.

Their personal relationship wasn't apparent unless you studied behavior as closely as their unit did. Though they were still too discreet for most of the bullpen to have picked up on what was going on, Dave had noticed the changes a few months ago. He watched as Hotch held the door for Emily, his hand falling to the small of her back as he stepped through behind her.

Rossi's eyes crinkled slightly. Whether or not Hotch realized it yet . . . Dave was pretty sure his old friend was in love.

With a sigh Rossi turned back to his desk.

Here's to hoping the second time's the charm.

/////////////

Not unsurprisingly, Emily didn't want to eat anything at lunch. But after finding out that she'd also skipped breakfast, Hotch was afraid that she'd make herself sick. So he did manage to get a half a bowl of chicken soup and another cup of tea into her.

It was comfort food but it didn't seem to be doing much for her.

With her so upset, Hotch didn't have much of an appetite either. But he forced down most of his turkey sandwich just to keep his own energy up.

If he was going to be taking care of her later he didn't want to be flagging.

After they ate they went for a walk around the park and then sat on a bench watching the children feed the ducks. At one point Emily turned to him and when he saw how sad she looked he followed through on his thought from that morning and he kissed her.

It brought a little smile to her face and as his arm tightened around her shoulders, she huddled into his side, rubbing his leg absentmindedly. At that moment Hotch at least knew that he did indeed have a girlfriend.

The maybe was gone.

Of course with the maybe gone, and his feelings for her now front and center, it so much harder to see her suffering. And when Emily started crying in the car on the way to the vet, that was when Hotch knew that she'd made her decision. He reached over and picked up her hand, squeezing her fingers.

God this sucked.

They arrived at the vet at 2:40. Hotch had his arm around Emily's waist as they walked up to the reception desk. He wasn't usually so demonstrative with her in public but she needed him right now. And besides, nobody here knew them in their professional world.

And even if they did, he didn't much care at the moment. With her shrinking into his side, appearances were the least of his concerns.

After a few minutes the vet came out and led them into a small office with just a leather couch and two matching chairs across from it. The material looked a little battered, and the walls were bare but for a coat of dark green paint.

Hotch sat down with Emily on the couch, putting his arm around her shoulders again as the vet sat down across from them. And then the man gently reviewed Emily's two options.

An expensive surgery that wasn't guaranteed to repair the damage caused by the blockage, or she'd have to put Daisy down this afternoon.

The moment the vet finished speaking, the tears began pouring down Emily's face again and she buried her face in Hotch's jacket. Hotch bit his lip as he looked over at the vet and the man quietly excused himself with a murmured.

"I'll just give you two a minute."

As soon as they were alone, Hotch looked down at Emily, his heart twisting at her brokenhearted cries. He knew what her decision was, he knew that she was preparing herself to say goodbye, but he couldn't bear to see her so upset.

So when the vet knocked a minute later and stepped back into the room, Hotch looked up him.

"We want to try the surgery."

Emily lifted her head, wiping her hand across her face as she shook her head, "no, Aaron, I can't afford it. Not if there's no guarantee that it's going to work."

And that was the bitter truth of it. Five thousand dollars. That was the price tag on her love. If she was sure that the surgery would work, things would be different. But she just didn't have five thousand dollars to . . . she swallowed . . . waste.

God . . . she was filled with shame . . . that was a horrible thought. That trying to save Daisy's life was simply a waste of money.

Hotch shook his head, "don't worry about the money. I'm paying for it. I make more money than you do and I don't spend it on anything but child support." As she started to shake her head he gave her a soft smile, "Emily let me do this for you, please. If you want . . . later, you can pay me back. But for now let's just not worry about that, okay?"

Emily stared at him for a moment. He was going to spend five thousand dollars on an experimental surgery . . . for her cat.

If that wasn't a declaration of something she didn't know what was.

She leaned up and kissed him. As she pulled back she gave him a watery smile, "thank you," then she turned to the vet and nodded, "if you really think it might work I would like to try the surgery."

The man smiled at both of them, "absolutely. I know I told you it's a long shot but sometimes they do pay off. Would you like to come in and see her before we prep her for the surgery?"

Using Hotch's knee to push herself up, Emily nodded, "please."

The two of them followed the vet out of the room and down the hall to another small room. The technician was already in there waiting with Daisy. Obviously they'd expected that Emily would want to see her regardless of whether she'd decided to go forward with the surgery or the euthanasia.

Emily's eyes started to well up as soon as she saw her kitty on the table. Daisy was wrapped up in the flowered blanket Emily had brought her in . . . it was from her bed. Emily had thought the smell would comfort her.

The technician discreetly stepped out and Hotch shut the door behind him, leaning back against it as he watched Emily from a few feet away. She was crying again, but he was at least comforted that the sobs had stopped.

She wasn't saying goodbye.

He could hear her murmuring to Daisy to be a good girl and she'd be back to get her later and she could go home and have treats. She looked up at Hotch biting her lip, "I wish I'd thought to stop at the house and get a treat for her," her voice cracked, "you know, just in case."

Hotch walked over and stood behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist before he leaned down to nuzzle her neck, "well you know it might be like people surgery, maybe she's not supposed to eat anything."

Keeping one hand on Daisy's head, Emily moved the other over to clutch Hotch's hands clasped at her waist, "well her treats aren't actually solid food, they're those little creams you put in your coffee," she leaned down to kiss the top of Daisy's head, "right baby, you like your treats?"

At the repeated use of a word that was in the cat's vocabulary, Daisy meowed once and Emily smiled as she looked over her shoulder at Hotch, "see, she knows."

His eyes crinkled as he rubbed Emily's stomach, "apparently she does. And Emily just keep a positive thought. She could very well be going home with you in a couple of days."

And even if she wasn't, at least Hotch would know that he'd done everything he could for Emily. And Emily wouldn't be tortured wondering if she should have tried to do more for her cat.

Emily stared at Daisy for a moment and then she pulled her hand back as she turned around in Hotch's arms. As his arms slid around to the small of her back, she reached up and put her hands on both sides of his face, pulling him down into a kiss.

It started off innocently but after a moment she slipped her tongue past his lips and then moaned as Hotch did something amazing with his own mouth. A moment later she pulled back, her eyes glistening again, but this time with happy tears.

"I can't believe you're paying for this for her," she corrected softly, "for me."

He stared at her for a moment and then ran his index finger along her cheek as he whispered, "I don't like to see you sad."

It was the most he could admit to her right now. But hopefully more would come in time.

She leaned up and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing his jaw before she whispered back, "I don't like to see you sad either."

That was something that bothered her so much now. The heavy heart that he carried. The more time they spent together the more she wished that he would share some of his burden with her.

But . . . she pulled back, turning around again to pet Daisy . . . they'd definitely moved several steps forward today. And tomorrow they would go even further still.

They'd get there eventually.

Hotch turned as he heard the knock on the door, followed immediately by it opening and the vet stepping back inside, "I'm sorry, but we need to take Daisy down now."

Emily leaned over and gave Daisy one last kiss on her head before she stepped back against Hotch. Then she sniffed, "okay."

She and Hotch turned to go but suddenly he turned back, leaning down to pet Daisy on the head and whisper something in her ear. As he looked back at Emily she smiled at him as she sniffed again and wiped the corner of her eye, "what did you say?"

He slipped his arm around Emily's waist again, starting them towards the open door as he answered her matter of factly.

"I said your mom's really worried so you better be okay young lady."

A soft smile touched Emily's lips as her heart filled. She leaned her head against Hotch's chest as they walked down the hall to the waiting room. Finally she was secure in the knowledge that this relationship was indeed the real deal.

No matter what happened with Daisy . . . she squeezed Hotch's fingers . . . she wouldn't be alone anymore.

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A/N 2: Notice this time I had Hotch get her tea :) If I wrote one more story where they bonded over coffee I was going to have to kill myself. Unfortunately that element is sort of canon (from when JJ goes into labor - it's the first time we saw H/P off alone together doing that) which is why it's been hard to shake it off completely. So I just tried to be a bit more creative in the description of their initial bonding here.

Daisy May was named in honor of one of my sister's cats. Actually she was "Miss Daisy" but given my usage of "Miss Emily" in my other stories, I thought that might be a bit confusing. The original Daisy died a number of years ago but she was a little thing that fit the femininity of the name. I can see Emily with a pretty girl cat.

My cat suddenly got sick a couple years ago, urinary tract blockage. I almost had a nervous breakdown! He's just not allowed to die. I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to afford his treatment and that was only like $600. So I went to hand the receptionist my credit card to max out and my dad (who had brought us to the pet hospital because I don't have a car) stepped up and handed her his card instead. I tried to protest, and even though my dad, who was missing his football game, and has never really been a big fan of cats, just shook his head dismissively, "I got it." That's a good dad :)

Let's take a little trip back to "Inside the Fic Writer's Studio."

I think everyone who used this prompt thought of something completely different. That's why I enjoy the ongoing challenge, it brings different things to different people. Kavi picked this one and when I saw it I immediately thought cats. But I didn't have a specific story in mind to go with that cat thought. So I put the prompt aside a few months ago.

Then last week I started writing a new story. An Emily has a stalker story. It was supposed to be kind of a quickie, four or five chapters. The ORIGINAL opening of the stalker story was the opening scene of THIS story. The agitation in the meeting through the conference room where he finds her crying. But then the stalker story took a really ugly turn (I think it may now be part of the horror stories going up in October) so it needed a new, more ominous opening. So I rewrote the beginning, but I liked this opening too and I hated to throw it away. But I needed for Emily to have a new problem that would result in her running out of the room and him finding her crying. Literally as I was staring at the screen trying to think of a suitable issue . . . my cat meowed at me, I remembered the prompt, and hence a story was born :)

There is a short epilogue, already written, it might go up tomorrow. More likely Monday. I'd like to focus on getting a few other things up and running this weekend while I have some free time.

You all know, feedback feeds the muse!