Author's Note: It's done! I have crossed another item off the incomplete list! Yay!

I wasn't expecting to get this finished up this weekend (it certainly wasn't on the immediate To Do list) but my brain shifted into the right state of mind to write it, so here we are!

I'll explain the origins of this story (and why it took so long to finish 3 chapters) at the end.

You'll probably need to read the other chapters to refresh your memory as to what was happening (I know I had to) and then I can tell you that this is picking up immediately from when the last one ended.

And warning: there is a topic of some sensitivity in here, but it's NOT a sexual assault or anything along those lines so you can safely read on knowing there are no illusions to anything like that


At Emily's pronouncement Hotch's brow wrinkled in concern and confusion . . . show him.

What could she need to show him?

As Emily saw the look on Hotch's face, she remembered that this wasn't a conversation to have in the doorway. So after she turned the deadbolt, she slipped her arm through his, and leaned her head on his shoulder as they walked over to the couch.

The confusion was still apparent to her as he sat down. And it was obvious that the longer she went without talking, the more worried he was getting. It wasn't that she was prolonging this on purpose, but she knew that it was going to be a lengthy conversation. They'd already had a long night and she wanted to get comfortable.

And that meant that she needed to get these damn boots off.

After she unzipped them, she put her hand on the couch to steady herself as she tugged first one and then the other down her leg, each dropped to the floor with a clatter.

Now her legs were completely bare up well past her knees. Even though her outfit had already been revealing, she felt even more exposed now . . . vulnerable . . . than she had before.

But as she turned back to the couch she saw that Hotch didn't seem to notice the now notable expanse of bare skin.

He was just staring down at the carpet.

Emily bit her lip as she climbed onto the couch and got up on her knees beside him. He made no move to look at her so she rubbed her hand down his arm.

God this truly did suck.

When he finally turned to her she saw the worry on his face was now tinged with fear. But she preempted him asking any questions. She knew that she had to plunge into all of it before she lost her nerve. So she took a breath, reached over and picked up his hand.

She placed it on the side of her breast.

Confused, and slightly flustered, he started to pull it back but Emily shook her head as she held it in place.

"No, Hotch, I need you to feel, press your fingers down, right there on the side."

She guided his hand, pressing it into the thin material. Of course he'd feel it more easily if she put his hand under her shirt . . . but that would be too much for him.

That would be too much for both of them.

Though she could see that he was still unsure of what was going on, Hotch did as she asked and pressed down. And she could tell the moment he felt it. His eyes widened and then a moment later filled with tears as his hand slid off her breast.

It came down her side to rest on her hip as he looked at her in anguish.

"What did the doctor say?"

His voice was choked. Of all the horrible scenarios that had been running through his head, this one had not come to him. This was the one for which he wasn't prepared.


Seeing his reaction, Emily's own tears started running again. But of course they'd been running for weeks.

"She said," her voice was husky, "that we'd need the biopsy results to know for sure, but that in her experience the size and placement was bad," she swallowed, "and with my family history, well, I don't know if you know but my mom had breast cancer when I was in college."

Hotch shook his head slowly as he tried to process all of these horrific new developments.

"No," his watery eyes slid away for a moment before they snapped back to hers, "no, I didn't know that."

That must have been after he'd done her security review. He definitely would have remembered her mother being sick when he was there.

"It's not well known," Emily continued crying, "but she had a mastectomy. And her mother died of breast cancer when I was seven, so," she reached up to wipe her hand across her face as she finished on a sob, "I think I'm pretty much screwed."

Hotch stared at her in horror.


All these weeks she'd been depressed and withdrawn because she thought she had cancer.

Feeling one of his own tears spill over, he wiped the corner of his eye. They stared at each other for a moment, both of them with their eyes watering, and then he tentatively reached for her.

He wasn't sure what she would do. If she would allow him to touch her as she had been since he found her in the bathroom, or if she would go back into that cold little shell she'd be living in these past few weeks.

Really, he didn't know if he could handle being shut out again . . . not after this news.

To his relief though, she didn't pull away. And in fact it was quite the opposite as she leaned into him, allowing him to pull her closer. So he did, he pulled her as close as he could until he had her in his lap and she slipped her arms around his neck and rested her head on his shoulder. He'd never held her like that before.

He'd never held her period really. But it felt right. Even after all these weeks of distance . . . it felt right.

Still though, for a moment he had no words to offer, no expressions of support or sympathy.

There was nothing he could think to say to make her feel better. He was too shell shocked himself, so without words he relied on actions.

He wrapped her up tightly in his arms, holding her close. And his already battered heart splintered just a little more as he felt the desperation of her fingers digging into his back.

She was terrified. She was terrified and she'd been all alone for weeks.

That was what he didn't understand . . . he tipped his head against hers as he shifted her closer . . . why had she ever thought that she needed to handle this on her own? Hadn't he made it clear how much he cared about her?

He ran his thumb along her bare thigh as he whispered sadly, "why didn't you tell me?"

Emily reluctantly loosened her grasp on his neck so she could turn her head. Then she murmured against his throat, "I found the lump one day in the shower and all I could think was that this couldn't be happening to me. I'd seen what it had done to my mother and I just couldn't imagine that I had now become her. So for a few days," she sniffled, "I tried to convince myself that it was nothing, a clogged pore, that I was overreacting. And then by the weekend I finally accepted that I was being incredibly stupid and I made my appointment. And I just . . . I just didn't want to talk about it before I saw the doctor. And there was the exam and the mammogram and the ultrasound and then after I knew for sure that there was something there, well . . . I don't know why I didn't say anything."

That last sentence was a lie. She knew exactly why she hadn't said anything. But . . . her eyes started to fill once more . . . she couldn't tell him why. It would make her look pathetic.

So she just moved on to the rest of the truth.

"I was just so depressed," she continued sadly, "and I didn't want to deal with it. I didn't want to think about it," she started to cry again, "and then I did start to think, and I wondered, 'what if they have to cut it off, what if I'm disfigured, what if nobody ever wants to . . . to . . ."

And she trailed off on a sob.

That again was the part of the answer that was a lie. She didn't want to tell Hotch that it wasn't just anybody . . . it was him.

It was him that she was worried about. That he would never want her. For months she'd been falling in love, waiting for the right time, the right moment to try to tell him how she felt.

And then in an instant, all of that evaporated. How could she tell a man that she loved him and then in the next breath tell him that she could be seriously ill and possibly had no future? And even if she did have a future, she was most likely going to be mutilated first and then stitched back together again like a rag doll.

How do you TELL someone that? How do you ask them to accept the burden of sharing that terrible journey with you? They weren't romantically involved. There was no covenant between them.

She was completely alone, and as far as she could see . . . that's the way she was going to stay.

Of course she knew that if the results were as expected that Hotch would eventually have to know because of work, but she wasn't thinking about the practical concerns yet.

Her heart was broken.

And that thought . . . that this illness, even if it didn't steal her life, had already stolen her future . . . had been feeding her depression. But as she thought back, she realized how cruel she'd been to him. How that . . . in the reverse . . . she would have been terribly hurt if he'd distanced himself from her as firmly as she had distanced herself from him.

Even though it was going to be embarrassing, the man deserved the full explanation for her behavior.

She looked up at him with watery eyes.

"Tonight," she started slowly, trying so hard to make him understand what she was thinking, "I was so tired of being sad. Of being depressed. And then I saw that the Violent Femmes were at The Black Cat so I decided to go out. I wanted to try to take my mind off things," she looked down sadly at the skimpy tank top, "and given that both my mother and my grandmother ended up losing their breasts I figured that this would be the last time I could wear something like this. So I should you know . . ."

'Show them off while I still had something to show off,' was the end of that thought.

But it seemed much too pathetic to say it out loud.

At her explanation, Hotch flinched as he thought back on his thoughts about the clothes she was wearing.

What an asshole he'd been, thinking those terrible things about her. He should have known better, he should have known that there was a good reason for what she was doing.

Though . . . his hand ran along the edge of the black leather as he thought miserably . . . he never would have guessed it was this.

He kissed her temple before whispering, "I'm so sorry Emily," he looked down at her, "did you get the results of the biopsy yet?"

She tipped her head slightly, "yes and no. The first biopsy was inconclusive. I have to go back in Monday afternoon so they can do a more invasive test."

Starting to feel a small spark of hope, Hotch said warily, "but maybe inconclusive means that there's nothing there."

To him, inconclusive seemed like it might turn out to be good news.

Emily wiped her hand across her face as she slowly shook her head, "I think inconclusive means that they just don't have proof yet."

As appealing as his way of thinking was, her doctor had been very guarded in her assessment, and Emily herself knew that the odds were not in her favor. And she certainly couldn't allow herself to get her hopes up like that.

It would just make it that much harder when reality came crashing down on her head.

A thought came to him and Hotch furrowed his brow as he looked down at her in confusion, "why are you just having this biopsy on Monday? Clearly something's been wrong for at least a couple weeks."

God, she hadn't really been putting off treatment all this time had she?

Wait, Monday . . . his brow wrinkled . . . she told him that she had to have a root canal in the afternoon and that she would probably be out Tuesday. He thought she was going to the dentist and she was really going to have a cancer biopsy.

Jesus Christ.

She huffed humorlessly, "even when your doctor thinks you might have cancer you still have to wait your turn because there are a whole bunch of other people that might have cancer too. I didn't call right away and then each of the appointments take a few days to get set up. And all those days start to add up into weeks," she tipped her head, "it's been just over two weeks since I called the doctor so it's actually been going fairly quickly."

Though . . . she added to herself . . . fairly quickly feels like forever when you're waiting to find out if you're sick. Monday was actually going to be a surgery. Outpatient, but they had told her it would be a couple days recovery.

Still though, she'd just told Hotch that she'd only be out for a day and a half for that root canal. Which just goes to show how stupid she was being. If they had been called up for a case at all next week, she wouldn't have been field ready. And then she would have had to tell him in the office why she couldn't go.

That would have been a nightmare.

Hotch's eyes widened as she recapped the days . . . so she could have had cancer spreading through her body this whole time and she still wasn't getting any treatment.


Now that she'd finally bared her soul to him, Emily felt that knot in her stomach loosen. It was still there of course . . . that was fear . . . but it wasn't being compounded by guilt and loneliness.

Somebody else knew.

HE knew.

She wrapped her arms around his neck again, feeling the strength in his embrace. It was a safe place. It was a warm place . . . and she'd been so cold for weeks.

As they sat on the couch, Hotch slowly rubbed circles on her back. And as the numbness of the moment began to wear off, he started to hate himself for thinking the terrible things he'd been thinking.

For being so angry with her in the bar.

Yes, she was being reckless, but she wasn't . . . he winced . . . cruising, or any other cruel, uncharitable thing he'd thought. She was just frightened and confused and lonely.

And he couldn't even apologize for all the things that had been going through his head. It would hurt her so much to know that he'd had such thoughts. Then he realized that one thing that he could do though was apologize properly for what he'd actually done.

Following her.

He kissed her cheek, careful to avoid the bruising from where she'd been struck earlier, and then he whispered, "I have to say something," when she turned to look at him he continued softly, "even though it all turned out for the best tonight, I'm so sorry that I followed you without your permission. And that I . . ." he swallowed, "watched you in the club. That was wrong," his eyes slid down to her shoulder, seeing the marks there, "I did what I did for the right reasons but it was still wrong," he looked back up, "I should have handled things differently."

Just saying it out loud brought another wave of shame.

Halfway through Hotch's confession, Emily stiffened up. And when he was done she said slowly, "you watched me in the club."

It didn't even come out as a question . . . it was just reality smacking her across the face.

Though she'd of course known that he'd followed her to The Black Cat, with everything that had happened in the bathroom . . . and her being so relieved that he was there . . . the full implications of his presence hadn't really sunk in. She hadn't thought about what had come before that moment when she was attacked.

That he'd seen how she behaved with all of those men. Letting them touch her, grope her.

Oh God . . . her face started to burn in shame . . . she was so embarrassed!

Feeling her pulling away as the color rose in her cheeks, Hotch a fresh wave of shame and regret hit him. And he hastened to take the full blame for what had happened.

"Please don't be embarrassed Emily," he pleaded as he tugged her closer again, "you're an adult and I shouldn't have been watching you like that. As soon as I got there, I should have gone up to you and told you that I was there and that I wanted to talk. If I had," he turned his head away as his voice dropped, "well, then the rest of it wouldn't have happened . . . you wouldn't have been hurt."

And that was the bitch of it. It was his fault. If he had done the right thing . . . the honorable thing . . . then she wouldn't have been put into danger.

What it all came down to is that he should have trusted her.

He'd known her for three years, had been consciously falling in love with her for at least six months . . . and he should have trusted her. He should have trusted that there was a good reason for her outfit, for her behavior.

For everything.

Even if she had been reckless, it wasn't because she was trying to hurt herself. It was because she was being mentally tortured and not thinking clearly.

So if either of them should carry any embarrassment or shame over their behavior that night, it was him, not her.

At his words, Emily felt her own embarrassment start to fade. She looked at him . . . looked at the pain and remorse on his face . . . and though part of her brain, the independent feminist part perhaps . . . told her that she should be angry with him, she wasn't.

How could she be angry given what had happened in the bathroom?

So though she wasn't mad at him, as she actually considered the words he'd spoken, Emily began to feel a little hurt. And her eyes were moist as she looked at him, "I wish you had come to me. I would have been angry but . . ."

And she trailed off. She wasn't entirely sure what she would have done. Would she have been so pissed that she'd gone off with some other guy just out of spite?

She didn't think so . . . she didn't think that she was that small or that stupid. But on its face, she knew that she would have been furious if she'd seen him watching her in the bar like she was some UNSUB under surveillance. And she already was making poor choices tonight so who knows what she would have done. Because sometimes you do things when you're angry that you regret later.

Of course . . . she added bitterly to herself . . . sometimes you do things when you're frightened that you regret later too.

But as she went back to what Hotch had done, and her own state of mind these past few weeks, she also knew that her response could have gone completely the other way. She'd been feeling so alone, and so frightened, that she might have seen his actions tonight for what she knew they really were.

Not possessive and controlling . . . but as the desperate last ditch efforts of a man who cared about her. That what he'd done tonight was the only option she'd left available to him.

And looking at him now, his eyes downcast with shame and regret, she saw no reason to hold on to anymore of the negativity.

In the end all that mattered was that he had meant well . . . and that he had saved her.

She ran her fingers along his jaw, waiting until he looked up before she said softly, "it's okay, I'm not upset with you."

His expression lifted slightly, "are you sure?"

He was worried that her forgiveness was coming too fast, it's harder to let go of hurt than simple anger.

Emily nodded, "yes," she sighed, "I don't want to be angry with you," then her eyes started watering again as her voice got husky, "I can't afford to be angry with you. I need you."

"You have me," he picked up her hand and kissed it, "you have me no matter what," his voice caught,
"so if you want to stay mad, stay mad Emily."

She wrapped her arms around his neck, and then turned her head, whispering in his ear, "my clock might be ticking, so I'm not going to waste even a minute of my time left on the planet . . . whether it's four years or forty . . . being angry about things that don't matter," she kissed his cheek, "you said you were sorry, and that's enough."

His own tears threatened to spill over again as he hugged her tightly, "thank you," and then he leaned back to look at her, "and you're going to be just fine so no more talk about four years," his face contorted in pain, "I say you have at least fifty more years. You'll outlive me by decades."

Feeling a horrible stab of pain in her chest, Emily shook her head violently, "don't say that! I don't want to think about decades without you."

What a horrible existence that would be . . . she tucked her body against his again . . . she'd missed him terribly just these past three weeks.

Emily's words unexpectedly gave Hotch's heart a jolt. She didn't want to think about decades without him. Of course he didn't want to think about decades without her either. But that was because he loved her.

Did she maybe feel the same way?

Hotch slowly rubbed his hand down her back, his eyes staring sightless across the room before they dropped back down to the coffee table in front of them.

How much should he say right now? How much would she want to hear?

As he started to consider the questions, he thought of her spiraling depression these past few weeks . . . how far away she'd drifted from him.

And then he flashed on her taking his hand and putting it on her breast. She hadn't just told him that she might be sick . . . she'd needed to show him.

His eyes widened slightly as the light slowly started to dawn.

He realized that she'd told him the way that she had because she wanted him to REALLY get it. To feel it. That was the irrefutable proof . . . she had a lump in her breast . . . and she wanted that fact right in his face where he couldn't look away.

And as horrible as that reality was, his heart began to swell . . . that was why she hadn't told him before. Because she really did feel the same way about him that he did about her! But she was afraid that he would reject her because of the surgery. That he wouldn't want her if she was . . . disfigured.

His brain instantly rejected the word . . . no matter what happened, it was not a word that he would ever associate with the woman in his arms.

But he knew her.

He knew her better than anyone. And even with the recent distance, now knowing her family history, he suddenly knew exactly what had been going through her mind these past couple weeks. Both her mother and her grandmother had mastectomies and she was convinced that in very short order she'd be losing her breast too.

He felt an irrational burst of anger rise up . . . as though something like that would change his feelings for her!

But then a moment later the anger fled and he felt shame wash over him again . . . she was terrified that she might have a disease that could kill her. And she didn't know how he felt.

She didn't know that simply being shut out of her life had been breaking his heart.

No, all she knew for sure was that for weeks she'd been sitting in this apartment day after day all alone seeing whatever plans she had for her future . . . a future that she might have thought someday could have included him . . . fade away.

What hell that must have been. What an absolute hell.

He rubbed his hand gently down her back as he considered what she'd been going through. Tried to put himself in her place.

Then suddenly he knew in his bones that this was absolutely the right time to tell her everything. And as soon as he came to that decision, he ended up just blurting it out.

"I love you."

Emily's eyes widened in shock as she pulled back to look at him, "what?"

Was this some kind of pity announcement?

Seeing the look of disbelief on Emily face, Hotch felt a moment of uncertainty . . . but he kept plowing into it. He'd already jumped off the cliff.

There was no turning back now.

"I love you," he continued passionately, and then he began pouring out his heart to her. It was the only way he could think to convince her.

"I love your smile, I love your wit, I love your compassion and your kindness and your intelligence. I love that sparkle in your eyes when you get excited about something. I love that you have to steal a bite of my dinner even if we order the same meal, I love that you order a Big Mac and a large fry but insist on eating them with a small diet Coke, I love that you trust me enough to tell me your secrets, I love that you can always cheer me up when I'm having a bad day . . ." he took a breath, "I love YOU."

Then his eyes began to burn again as he continued, "I love all of those things Emily, because those things are what make you who you are. And, I would be so sad if they were gone . . ." his voice caught, "because that would mean that you were gone. But this," his fingers gently stroked the side of her breast, "if this were gone, I would be sad for you, but not," he shook his head firmly, "not for me."

There could be no question for her here. She had to know . . . this didn't matter.

All that mattered to him was that she lived.

Eyes wide, Emily stared up at him in shock . . . that was a lot to absorb in thirty seconds. But his words were slowly were sinking in, permeating the layers of grief and sadness that had been surrounding her heart.

It wasn't pity . . . he loved her.

He loved her, he knew that she might be sick . . . and he still wanted to be with her.

And when the reality of that finally hit, she burst into tears as her arms snaked around his neck, "I love you too!" she cried, "and I was so afraid that this meant the end of any possibilities of a future with you!"

Hotch's eyes watered as he clutched her to his chest, "Emily why would you think that I would abandon you? Even if I hadn't fallen in love with you, didn't you know that you're my best friend?" His voice cracked, "I would have taken care of you no matter what."

At his words the little ball of fear in Emily's stomach loosened just a bit more. Facing your mortality alone wasn't the same as facing it with someone who loved you. And of course if she'd been thinking clearly at all she should have known that if nothing else she should have told him earlier.

But she hadn't been thinking clearly since she'd felt the little marble that day in the shower.

She buried her face in his neck, breathing him in like an elixir.

He loved her.

He loved her and he said that he would stay with her no matter what. For the first time in weeks her depression wasn't a lead weight on her chest. She had a glimmer of a real future again.

One where she might get through this. Not only survive . . . but survive and be happy.

She leaned back to look at him, brushing the tears off her face as she did so.

He was hers.

As Emily stared at him with the bruise on her face, sniffling as she wiped the tears away, all Hotch could think was how beautiful she was. At that thought he was struck by a desperate need to kiss her.

So he did.

And it went on . . . and on as his fingers ran through her hair and her body hovered over his. And when he slowly pulled back, his eyes were watery but he tried to give her a little smile, "I'll go with you on Monday. Whatever happens, whatever they say," his fingers ghosted along the curved of her breast, "whatever they do, I'll be right there with you if you'll let me."

At that moment Emily was filled with a simultaneous burst of happiness and grief. Then she leaned up and pressed lips to his again. As she pulled away, she ran her fingers along his jaw and she nodded, "I'd like that, thank you," and she shifted around so she could rest her head on his shoulder again.

This was something that she could have had weeks ago, if only she hadn't been so scared to tell him.

She clutched him tightly as she felt a wave of grief rise up . . . so afraid that she could never have this with him.

Still feeling the desperation in Emily's embrace, Hotch rubbed his hand soothingly up and down her back as the words of comfort that were lost to him earlier finally arrived.

"It'll be okay," he whispered, "even if the results are positive, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to have the same surgery as your mother. You know how far they've come with treatment in the past twenty years. There's so much they can do now."

All the while he was talking, trying to reassure her, he was trying to push away his own terror. Though he was speaking the truth to her, he also knew that most cancer treatments were brutal. If she was sick this was going to be a hard road.

Feeling her arms loosen slightly, Hotch leaned back, kissing her before he brushed her hair back off her face . . . she was so pretty, he hated to see her covered up.

Emily sniffled as she looked up at Hotch, and he gave her a sad smile as he said softly, "I want you to remember what I said. I love you. And no matter what happens," his voice caught, "I'm not going anywhere, okay?"

She nodded, wiping her hand under her eye, "okay."

As he ran his hand along her arm he felt the goose bumps there and he patted her arm, "you're cold," he sighed, "and you've had a long night. You need sleep."

Though he absolutely hated the thought of leaving her, he wasn't going to be so presumptuous as to assume he was staying over tonight.

Feeling a chill more at his words than the air temperature, Emily shook her head as she asked worriedly, "you're not leaving though, right? Doesn't Haley have Jack?"

Even if she hadn't been able to engage much with him, she hadn't been living in a bubble. Her ears had been working just fine, and she'd heard him tell Rossi about Haley's trip to her mother's two days ago. So if he didn't need to leave to be with his son then she couldn't see any reason on the planet why he needed to be going anywhere.

A faint smile touched Hotch's lips, "she does. So of course I'll stay if you want me to stay," at her vehement nod, he shifted forward on the couch, "okay, then I'll go grab my bag and you should put some . . ." he coughed slightly, "something warm on."

He'd almost said she should go put some clothes on. Christ that would have been an unfortunate choice of words.

Emily nodded slowly. As much as she hated the idea of separating from him for even a little while . . . there had been so much separation already . . . she knew that he was right. She was getting cold, and she certainly wouldn't be wearing this outfit to bed.

Also . . . her eyes dropped down to the skirt and tank top she was wearing . . . after what happened in the bathroom these clothes were making her feel dirty.

She probably wouldn't wear them again.

Using Hotch's knee for leverage, Emily pushed herself to her feet before she looked back down at him. He slowly rose up beside her, his eyes running over the previously invisible finger impressions on her thigh and then up and along the darker bruises on her arm and her face.

Seeing them so starkly against her pale skin, he felt another burst of rage which he quickly tamped down . . . it would only upset her . . . before he said softly, "before you change we should take those pictures," he gently cupped her jaw as he focused his attention on her face, "does your eye hurt?"

They needed to put some ice on it. Actually he should have done that as soon as they walked in the house but clearly there had been more pressing concerns.

For a moment Emily considered lying so he wouldn't get angry again. But then she realized that there had been enough secrets already.

Lying . . . even with good intentions . . . would just build up another wall.

So she nodded as she said softly, "yeah, actually, it's been throbbing. I should take some Tylenol before bed," her brow wrinkled slightly, "does it look bad?"

Probably the only thing to be grateful for about this whole was that it had happened on a Friday night. So even if the bruising was still there on Monday, the swelling should at least be gone.

He winced slightly, "well, it doesn't look 'good' but I think you were a little more banged up out in Milwaukee."

That was the only injury he could think to directly compare it too, but actually the bruising looked very painful.

Emily huffed humorlessly as she rolled her eyes, "great, so I don't look as bad as I did when I got smashed in the face with a two by four."

His eyes crinkled slightly as he pulled her into a hug, "you don't look bad," he whispered into her ear, "you look like a beautiful woman with a small bruise on her face. We'll ice it and that will take down the swelling, and I'm sure once you put on some makeup nobody else will even know that it's there."

Of course he would know, and every time he saw it he'd want to pound that guy's face into the wall again. But Hotch also knew that he was really going to have to deal with his anger more constructively, because if she was sick, him acting like a Neanderthal wasn't going to help anything.

He rubbed his hand along her back, "do you have a camera?"

All he had with him was the one on his phone and that was Bureau property. At present this was a private matter and he wanted no evidence of it on FBI hardware.

She nodded against his chest, "yeah," she lifted her head, "yeah, in my room."

"Okay," his jaw hardened as he thought about what needed to be done, "I'll get my stuff and then we'll take the pictures," feeling her tense up, his expression softened again as he tucked her hair behind her ear, "I'll put them in an envelope and I'll lock them up in my safe. Nobody should ever have to see them. They're just an insurance policy."

Her eyes dropped down to her revealing outfit . . . she really didn't want to have photographic evidence of her stupidity. Of how close she'd come to being raped and beaten on a bathroom floor.

But then she remembered that the insurance was more for Hotch than her.

A court would care little about the damage she had inflicted . . . she picked up Hotch's left hand, stroking her fingers over the battered knuckles . . . it was the damage that Hotch had inflicted that needed to have an explanation.

Her head snapped back up again and she nodded firmly, "okay, I'll get the camera and I'll wait for you."

Hotch saw the shift in her stance and leaned down to press a kiss to her forehead.

"Thank you," he murmured against her skin.

He knew that this was hard for her, but he really thought it needed to be done. Just in case they showed up on a video camera in or around the club, and people like themselves came knocking on the door. If that happened, Hotch wanted it to be immediately clear what that piece of shit had done to her.

Especially if she was sick, he wasn't going to let her go through any more stress over this incident than was necessary.

Feeling the tears hovering again, Emily patted Hotch's chest as she whispered, "go get your bag," then she looked up at him, "and hurry back."

His expression softened before he leaned down and kissed her.

"I'll only be five minutes," he said softly as he squeezed her fingers. Then he stepped passed her, picked up her keys from the kitchen counter, and walked out the door.

She heard the lock click a moment later and she stared at the floor for a moment.

The tears started to pool but she blinked them away . . . she didn't want tonight to be like every other night for the past seventeen days. Her crying alone in her apartment. Hotch would be back soon . . . she shook her head as she started towards the stairs . . . and she didn't want him to find her that way.

It would make him sad.

So for his sake, she pushed those tears away, took a breath . . . and went up to find her camera.


Hotch let himself back into Emily's apartment seven minutes after he'd walked out.

"Emily," he called out softly as he locked the door again, "I'm back."

Hearing nothing in response, Hotch realized that she'd already gone upstairs. So he dropped the keys on the counter where he'd found them and walked over to her staircase.

His jaw twitched as he looked up to the second floor landing . . . this was new. Going upstairs, sleeping in her bed, these things were all new. And he gave himself a moment to adjust to them before he took a breath and slowly let it out.


He started up the staircase, calling out again, "Emily, I'm back," he stepped onto the landing, "where are you?"

Having never been upstairs before he didn't know where her room was. But then he heard her call out from the end of the hall, "down here," and Hotch followed along to the last door on the right side. He saw the camera sitting on the bed, and was about to walk inside when he saw Emily staring at herself in the full length mirror.

"Hey," he said softly as he put his bag on the floor inside the door, "what are you doing?"

Emily turned to look at him over her shoulder, "trying to picture what I'd look like with one breast," she answered in the same tone.

Her answer was honest, but still she regretted it the moment the words passed her lips. It was too soon to throw that stark a reality into his face. Her condition . . . or potential condition . . . was still new to him. And she'd seen the flash of pain on his face right before he stepped into the room.

She should have realized that would upset him.

Hotch walked up behind Emily, wrapping his arms around her body as he pulled her against his chest.

"Shhh," he whispered against her hair, "you don't know what's going to happen so you shouldn't torture yourself with the what ifs, okay?"

As supportive as he was trying to be, mentally he was still adjusting to this situation himself. Though he would stay with her no matter the outcome, these scenarios were something he was still trying to process. And that wasn't one he wanted to imagine unless he absolutely had to.

Her hands moved up to cover his as she tried to give him a smile in the mirror . . . but she couldn't quite manage it.

So instead she squeezed his fingers.

"You're right. It's just that I um," she shook her head slightly as her gaze fell, "well I've spent the last couple weeks doing nothing but thinking about the bad stuff, how much my mom suffered and what she went through," her eyes locked with his as she finished on a whisper, "and I don't want to do that anymore."

Now that she knew how he felt, to continue to wallow in her own misery was wrong. She wasn't alone anymore, she had somebody who loved her, who was going to support her and stay with her.

To waste that opportunity seemed somehow . . . blasphemous.

A faint smile touched Hotch's lips as he nodded, "good," he leaned down to nuzzle her neck as he whispered again, "that's really good."

They stood there for another minute with him holding her before one of his hands slid down to her hip.

"We should do the pictures now," he said gently, "and then I'll get you some ice for your eye and we can go to bed."

He was really dreading taking these pictures. That had been his fear earlier in the night, that she looked like one of the before photos in his case files. And now here he was taking the afters.

The only difference was he'd be keeping these images of her bruised body in a safe rather than a manila file folder.

After Hotch mentioned bed Emily stared at the carpet for a moment, and then she turned around in his arms. She looked up at him as he stared down at her, then he shook his head slightly before he kissed her forehead.

"Not tonight," he said softly as he pulled back to look at her.

Seeing the flash of disappointment that she tried to hide from him, Hotch stroked the back of his hand down her cheek.

"Tomorrow," he whispered as he caressed her skin and her lids fell shut, "too much has happened tonight." He rubbed his other hand down her side, "so I think we should wait."

Her eyes opened again and he gave her a little smile, "after all, we have time, right?"

That was his concern in making love tonight. That it would be thought of in her mind . . . or in his . . . as a desperate act of coupling. That they would be acting out of the fear that she was sick . . . he pushed down the panic that tried to rise up at the thought . . . that she could die, and that they had to do this now because otherwise they couldn't do it at all. It was the wrong way to live their lives.

And he wouldn't destroy a moment as wonderful and important as the first time they made love, by behaving as though it was a talisman to cheat death.

Emily continued to stare up at him . . . for weeks when she thought about her future she'd seen nothing but darkness. But now once again there was a light there. It was perhaps a little dimmer than it had been before, but that was the uncertainty about her test results. It wasn't an uncertainty about him. Because regardless of the results, she had years left . . . four or forty, didn't matter . . . because they were going to be good years.

She was going to be happy.

When that realization came to her, for the first time in nearly a month she smiled for real, with genuine happiness and joy before she leaned up and kissed him. Then she put her head back on his chest and whispered back.

"You're right," she sighed as he hugged her tightly, "we have time."


Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love . . . time is eternity.

~Henry Van Dyke

A/N 2: I started this last October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month here (perhaps elsewhere as well). And the campaign was everywhere! It was totally saturating my brain and as soon as I saw the 'high risk behavior' prompt and got the idea for Emily to be hiding a secret from everyone that would cause that degree of depression, I just knew that was the secret. I didn't WANT to write another Emily "maybe" cancer story because I already have the giant cancer story, but you can't help how your brain goes. And also, Kate Jackson, who plays Emily's mom, did have breast cancer so it just all fell together in my mind.

So this was all done in my head, the first two chapters were up, and the draft for the conclusion was like ¾ done on the page, and then, RIGHT after I posted chapter 2, I mean like the NEXT day, I had my own health scare and this story suddenly completely freaked me out! And that's why it got dropped. At first I couldn't even look at it and then when I knew things were okay (in case you're wondering, I'm fine) I kept trying to go back to it again but mentally, it just wasn't happening. And I don't have cancer of any kind (knock wood that sentence shall remain true for the rest of my days on the planet) but I had to have tests done for my situation and things sort of dragged for follow up and I just wanted nothing to do with this world until I knew everything was completely fine. And I guess I needed a little distance as well because I've looked at it a half a dozen times since the new year and just felt that same sickening feeling of real life fear smashing into fake life drama. Then suddenly this weekend (as I was working on 2 totally unrelated stories) I just had to open this up again. My brain was as insistent as it had been when the idea first came to me last fall. And finally we're finished :) So sorry it took so long, but now you see that sometimes there are good RL reasons why stories just don't get done. I'm just glad that I was able to come back to it again! For awhile I was worried that it was just going to sit there forever.

There won't be any epilogues here. You can decide for yourself what happens next. Like I said, I already told a cancer story (and will be telling it again) and I wanted this to be quite different so I'm leaving it open ended. They aren't exactly the same people, they don't have the same relationship of already being involved so even in my own mind, just writing this chapter, I didn't sense any real overlap with any scenes in The Hours. Though of course the principle of focusing on the good as you deal with the bad is the same, I tried to be cognizant of language in the other story and not rip off my own stuff ;)

I know it ends ambiguously but I also think it ends on a very positive note, and hopefully you agree :)