To Parry or To Feint

Chapter One

Emily Prentiss was tired, but not the physical kind of tired associated with strenuous activity. At this point, she would have much preferred the fatigue that came from overuse of her various muscles. But that was not to be the case this time. No, instead, her soul was tired. And from experience, she knew this kind of lethargy was much more exhaustive.

The entire team was running on fumes…and frayed tempers. Not a day had gone by that they hadn't dealt with a harsh word, a cross look, and worse, the not-so-infrequent temper tantrums. And for perhaps the millionth time, she wondered exactly how much longer any of them could withstand the pressure.

None more so than Aaron Hotchner.

Sighing as she glanced upstairs toward Hotchner's office, she shook her head as she noted the fluorescent light still shining through the plate glass. Glancing at her watch, she frowned in surprise as she realized it was after nine. Damn!

Tilting her head back up as she stared at the bright light on the landing, she asked herself what her options were. Did she intercede and try and entice him out of his self-imposed prison or should she leave him to his misery? On several occasions over the last several weeks, she'd tried, continuously, to roust him from the strict confines of his office. Shaking her head at the memories, she asked herself what good it had done her. When he hadn't coolly rebuffed her, he'd been outright antagonistic, both emotions that Aaron Hotchner apparently majored in at college.

But what could she do? She supposed she was a sucker for hard, complicated men in crisis. Ergo her current dilemma. And her apparent choice.

Squaring her shoulders as she made her way toward the staircase, Emily racked her brain for a method to help her complex boss release some of the tension he carried around like a second skin. She knew which method she'd like to use, but throwing herself at the man sounded so clichéd, and she prided herself on her imagination. Therefore, she'd need to employ a second method.

Now, if only she could think what that could be.

Biting her lip as she slowly climbed the shallow steps, her mind recalled the few brief years he'd worked within her mother's details. Surely she could mine those memories for a clue into his past, couldn't she? There was something…a hobby, a pastime she'd seen him immersed in. The memory hovered just on the fringes of her mind, alternately tantalizing and frustrating her. If only she could grasp it!

Suddenly halting in her ascent, Emily snapped her fingers in victory, a wide grin spreading across her face. Fencing! Hotch enjoyed fencing…or at least he had several years ago. Ha! At least now she had an approach, a way to perhaps redirect his attention if only for a few stolen moments. And maybe, just maybe, she could help him relieve some of the frustration that the last few weeks had built up inside the man…before he exploded.

Picking up the pace now that she had a plan forming in her mind, she rapidly climbed the rest of the stairs. Halting just outside his door, she spared a moment for a cursory knock before pushing the door open. While she wasn't going to barge her way in unannounced, she also wasn't planning on giving him the option of avoiding her.

Glancing up from his stacks of paperwork as he heard the slide of his door, Hotch frowned. "Prentiss," he greeted, inclining his head slightly as he took in the raven-haired agent hovering inside his doorway, "Thought you'd gotten out of here."

"Had some reports to finish up," she shrugged, making up an excuse for her presence. If he knew that she'd simply been shuffling papers around her desk in an effort to stay close to him, he'd be furious. Aaron Hotchner did not tolerate being "handled", and she had successfully managed to keep him from realizing that she had been doing that very thing for weeks.

"Is there something I can do for you?" he asked, lifting a dark eyebrow in inquiry as she slid into his office.

Taking in his furrowed brow and signs of fatigue settling around his lips, Emily knew that she had arrived at her plan at just the right time. "No," she murmured, moving toward the couch where he'd slung his suit jacket. Running her fingers over the soft fabric as she picked it up, she turned to face him squarely as she announced bluntly, "I'm kidnapping you."

"Pardon me?" Hotch asked, shifting back in his desk chair to gaze at her with surprised eyes. Emily Prentiss had always been an enigma to him, and his over-crowded mind wasn't sure if had truly heard what he thought she had said.

Taking a moment to savor his shock, Emily grinned. "Come on, Hotch. No questions," she said, extending his jacket towards him with a slight wave. Raising her eyebrow, she gently commanded, "Put on your coat and let's go."

"Prentiss," he murmured, lowering his eyes back to his desk, hoping to remind himself of the necessity of his current endeavors, "I've got a lot of work here to take care of before shifting things over to Morgan. So, if this isn't important, I'd prefer you to leave me to it."

Avoidance thy name is Aaron Hotchner, Emily thought to herself with a frown. But no matter what his excuse might appear to be, she wasn't going to allow him to escape so easily this time. She had come to realize that he was quite accustomed to being able to summarily dismiss her. In fact, he was entirely too comfortable with that ability. But not tonight.

Grimly, she stared at him, dropping her hands to her hips as she bunched the jacket in a fist. "Hotch, everything on that desk is still going to be here in the morning. Trust me when I tell you, Morgan is out living his last night of freedom up to his maximum potential before his temporary…what did he call it? Oh yes, before his prison sentence serving the evil that is Director Strauss begins."

Snorting as he stared down at the file on his desk, Hotch offered a rare half-smile, shaking his head at the thought. "Sounds like Morgan."

"Yes," Emily nodded, taking advantage of the small break in his well-defined shields. "So come with me and take some time for yourself."

Licking his lips, he slowly raised his gaze to meet hers. As much as he wanted to take advantage of the lifeline that he could feel her offering, Hotch was almost afraid to reach out and take it, not wanting to subject her to his current mood. "Emily," he said regretfully, "I'm not much company right now."

No news there. "You don't need to be for what I've got planned. Come on, Hotch. Put your coat on and let's get out of here," she urged, holding his coat out and shaking it slightly.

And when she saw him nod and push back his chair, she knew at that moment that she had been successful in her mission. Schooling her face into her normal staid, poised expression, she just waited for him to step in her direction.

"I hope you know what you're getting yourself into here, Emily," he finally said, surrendering as he took the coat from her extended hand.