When she'd walked out of his apartment, she'd told herself that he'd needed his space…time to think, time to regroup. She'd made it exactly ten paces before she'd halted in her tracks, some unexplainable, invisible string between her and his apartment drawing taut.
"Go, Prentiss! Move!" she told herself over and over again. "He doesn't want you. He doesn't want anyone right now!" But the intellectual conversation between her better angels and inner demons was suddenly halted as she turned on her heel and headed back toward his door. Stopping in front of it, she raised her hand, her every intention to rap lightly as the door abruptly opened, her name already a shout on his lips.
Gazing up into darkly turbulent eyes, she tilted her head. "I couldn't leave."
"I need you to stay," Hotch whispered back, opening the door wider as she slipped past his body to move back inside.
Closing the door and setting the alarm quickly, Hotch moved to follow her inside the recesses of his sparse apartment. "Can I get you a drink?" he asked hoarsely, already moving toward his liquor cabinet.
"I don't think either one of us exactly needs to start drinking right now, Hotch," Emily replied carefully, noting the nervous tapping of his hand against his thigh.
"Maybe not…but, it's been a long day and I need a scotch," Hotch retorted reaching for the bottle.
Moving to cover his hand quickly, Emily whispered, "Please don't. It won't solve anything. You've spent half the last four weeks in a stupor, Aaron. The other half you've spent submersed in those files on George Foyet. Don't do it, tonight. Or, at the very least, don't ask me to stay and watch it. Please."
Sighing, Hotch dropped his hand away from the bottle. "When I drink…it makes everything still…for just a little while, it stops hurting."
"But the pain always comes back, doesn't it?" Emily asked quietly.
"Yeah," he confessed hoarsely.
"So why bother with a temporary fix?" Emily offered quietly. "Face the pain, Aaron. Deal with it. I'll help you…but I'm not going to sit here like a good, docile little woman and say nothing while you slowly kill yourself. Has it occurred to you that if you do that, Foyet wins?"
"More than once, Emily," Hotch retorted harshly. "Why the fuck do you think I haven't put a gun to my head?"
"Hotch," Emily sighed, noticing the dark circles beneath his eyes, "You're exhausted."
"No shit, Prentiss. When you don't sleep for more than an hour at a time that tends to happen," Hotch growled roughly.
Ignoring his tone, Emily steadily asked, "Why? Why aren't you sleeping, Hotch?"
"You know, you don't do stupid very well," Hotch returned dryly.
"Not trying to be stupid here, Hotch. I'm trying to understand," Emily said calmly.
"What's to understand? A little over four weeks ago, an unsub walked into my apartment, waited for me, stuck a knife in my body nine times and decided he'd chat the entire time he did it. Kept me conscious to hear every one of his deluded thoughts. Then…as if that wasn't enough…he took my son from me. My son, Emily!" Hotch shouted. "He should have just slit my goddamned throat…but, no! That wasn't fucking painful enough. He knew exactly how to kill me. He stole the thing that mattered most!"
"He DIDN'T steal him, damn it, Aaron!" Emily finally yelled, finally tiring of the ongoing pity party the man had decided to drown himself in. "You got him out! You put Jack in a place where he'd be safe until we can find Foyet! Stop focusing on what you DON'T have and focus on what you DO!"
"And what the hell is it, Prentiss, that you THINK I have! Look around you! I'm fucking ALONE!" Hotch sneered.
"By your own goddamn choice, Aaron!" Emily shouted. Taking a step closer and staring into his eyes, she bit out, "I'M standing right here! I've been standing right here all along!"
"It's not the same, Em," Hotch replied, shaking his head as he turned away.
Taking a deep breath, Emily fought down the urge to scream. Instead, she tried to remain detached. "I realize Jack is the most important person in your life. I wouldn't think very much of you at all if he wasn't. Especially, considering the parents I had. But, before this happened, I thought you and I had something pretty special."
"We did…we do," Hotch murmured, shifting uncomfortably on his feet.
"Then, after four weeks of pushing me away, do you think you could at least TRY and let me in, just a little?"
"Emily," Hotch said slowly, "You and I…right now, it's just a stupid idea. We don't know if he's watching me. It's obvious that anybody I care or love too much is in danger."
"I'm not walking away, Aaron. You can throw me out of here, but I'm going to keep coming back," Emily told him softly.
"Do you know how incredibly idiotic that is?" Hotch snapped. "He's already taken Jack from me! God knows when I'll see my son again! Do you think I could still stay standing if he came after you, too?"
"You don't get a choice here, Aaron," Emily informed him solemnly. "I'm not going to walk away from you. Not then. Not now. Not ever," she clarified, enunciating every word.
Dropping his chin to his chest, he muttered, "Too damned stubborn for your own good."
"Only when there's something that matters to me. And you matter," Em said sincerely. "You matter, Aaron."
Closing his eyes, Aaron groaned, "I'm so tired, Emily."
Reaching for his arm with a soft hand, Emily guided him toward his bedroom with a soft, "Come on." Pushing him down on the side of the bed, she loosened his tie, pulling it off with one firm tug as he toed off his shoes. Nudging his muscular shoulder, she murmured, "Lie down, Aaron."
"You're staying?" he asked, hoping he didn't actually sound as needy as he did to his own ears.
Kicking off her heels, Emily slid into bed beside him, rolling to fit herself against his familiar body. Shaking her head against his neck, she whispered, "You are NOT alone. I'm not going to let you be alone anymore."
Clenching his jaw, Hotch screwed his eyes shut. Could he risk it? Could he risk her? But she, in typical Prentiss style, silenced his internal debate quickly.
"I'm worth the risk, Hotch," she told him, her voice washing over him in the darkness of his bedroom.
Pulling her closer, he nodded against her hair. "Yeah. Yeah, you are, Emily."