Drinks and Conversation

Disclaimer: Not, still not mine.

A/N: Well, here's the next one. A little late in the day but still on time. This one has a little more of a tag in it and at the same time, I'm foreshadowing things a little. What's funny is the fact that I had planned to have Emily and Hotch have this talk even before I saw the following ep and then when I saw it, I felt (after I picked up my jaw from the ground and stopped shrieking what?) kinda smug cause I had known a talk between Hotch and Morgan was needed - I just that I hadn't thought it'd go the way it did - did any of that make sense? I'm trying not to spoil anything for anyone so I apologize if it doesn't. Anyway, I hope you like; I want to thank pup for all her help and those of you who have taken the time to review. I'm hoping you guys are liking them; I plan on writing them at least until next week's ep cause I have a very clear way I want it to go, whether I go on beyond that will depend on you guys. So far, I'm getting very little feedback so I would really appreciate it if you'd let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

-------

The silence shrouded over the three occupants of the room like a warm, comfortable blanket. Sometimes, after a difficult case with an unfortunate but predictable end, there was nothing to say; sometimes just being in the company of people who knew what you were going through, who understood why you felt like you did was more than enough. Of course, the Scotch Emily and Rossi had brought in with them when they came to Hotch's office had helped to create and maintain the relaxed mood.

"You know," Rossi said thoughtfully some time later, finally breaking the silence, "as nice as it is to have our profiles proven right, sometimes having the unsubs do just as we say they would . . ." he trailed off with a sigh.

"Sucks," Emily finished for him. "Sometimes it really, really sucks."

"Yeah, I guess that's as good a word as any," Rossi agreed with a grin; not a word he would have chosen but then, Emily's vernacular was more relaxed and had more slang than Rossi's.

"Sucks," Hotch said musingly; one corner of his mouth minutely tilting up was the only sign of his amusement. "Interesting choice of words there, Emily." He only called her by her first name when they were alone and the fact that he did so then surprised Emily a little. Still, Rossi might very well be Hotch's closest friend and it made sense that Hotch felt comfortable enough in the older man's presence to let his guard down a little. Emily couldn't help but feel a little tingle of pleasure every time she heard him use her first name with such ease.

"Accurate, too," she said, nodding and grinning impudently at him. He could never resist her when she was being sassy and the corner of his mouth quirked up a little more. She grinned even wider in response before she raised her glass to take another sip of her Scotch. As she did so, she happened to glance at Rossi and noticed the peculiar way he was looking at her and Hotch. For a minute, she wondered if he was just speculating or if maybe Hotch had talked to him about the recent changes in their relationship. But then she decided that it really didn't matter because whatever it was, he wouldn't say anything. He liked and respected Hotch too much to do anything that could in any way hurt his career; she'd like to think he liked and respected her too but she knew that even if that wasn't the case, his loyalty to Hotch would prevent him from saying anything.

"If you say so," he replied dryly. The banter seemed to have lightened the mood a little so that the silence that followed, while still comfortable, was a little less somber.

"Well, kids," Rossi said, once again breaking the silence, some ten minutes later. "I think it's time I head on home. It's getting late and these old bones of mine don't do so well if I don't get eight hours a night."

"You need more beauty sleep than you did before, huh, Rossi?" Emily asked with a wide grin.

"Just you wait," Rossi said as he finished the last of his Scotch and stood up, "I want to see you look as good as I when you reach my age."

"And what age would that be?" Emily inquired innocently. It was a running joke in the team that Rossi guarded his age as aggressively as some women did.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Rossi asked instead of answering, grinning down at Emily.

"I would, I would," Emily assured him but he chuckled a little and shook his head. Emily let it go, knowing she wouldn't really get anything out of him.

"I'll leave the bottle here," Rossi said as he walked around the chair he'd been sitting on. "I'll know where it is next time it's needed."

"We'll keep it safe and sound for you," Emily told him as she leaned forward, picked it up and refilled her glass. "We'll guard it with our lives, we will," she added, raising her newly filled glass in a toast in Rossi's direction.

"Just don't finish it all tonight," Rossi warned her. "Tomorrow's a work day and you don't want to come in with a hang over."

"Don't worry," Emily said. "I won't."

"Well, I'm off," Rossi said and started walking towards the door. "Night, guys."

"Night, Rossi," Emily said before taking a sip of her drink.

"Night, Dave," Hotch called quietly from his chair behind his desk.

"We really couldn't have done anything," Rossi said suddenly from the doorway. "If we'd stayed behind," he added at the inquiring looks the other two agents threw his way, "with the cops. We really couldn't have done anything to change what happened. Those two guys were going to end up like they did whether we stayed behind or not." He looked straight at Hotch as he said that because despite the somewhat relaxed posture of the team leader, Rossi knew him well enough to know that that point was weighing on his mind.

"I know, Dave," Hotch nodded once. "I know." With a nod back, Rossi turned around and left. With his departure, silence descended once more over the room. It was still comfortable because Emily and Hotch had spent too much time alone together in the last few weeks for it to be anything else but there was a new, fine tension underneath it. It seemed Rossi's words had brought up something they had gone out of their way to avoid before.

"He's right," it was Emily's turn to break the silence some time later.

"I know," Hotch nodded again.

"Do you?" she asked and looked intently at him, as if searching for the truth in his eyes.

"Yes, I do," he confirmed.

"And you're not second guessing yourself?" she pressed. "Because there really was nothing else we could have done. Staying behind wouldn't have changed the outcome."

"I'm not second guessing myself, Emily," he told her gently. "Not at all." She looked into his eyes a few moments longer before she was satisfied he was telling her the truth.

"Then what is it?" she asked him. "Because I know something's troubling you. And don't bother to tell me it's not," she added when he opened his mouth to do just that. "I know there is. I know I promised not to nag you … but you promised not to shut me out."

"I'm not shutting you out," he protested and when she just looked at him, he sighed and gave in. It was kind of scary just how easily she'd learned how to manage him. He knew it was probably due in large part to her training as a behavioralist but it still gave him a jolt to realize that in only four years of working together and less than a month of closer personal interaction, she knew him better than Hailey had after close to twenty years together. But he guessed that was why he was there with her now while Hailey was . . . somewhere else.

"I'm just," he began, staring down into his drink. "I guess I'm just wondering whether I should be second guessing myself."

"Excuse me?" she titled her head to the side in confusion. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."

"I mean," he told her, looking straight at her, "would I have walked away two months ago? Or would I have stayed and tried to talk those cops down?"

"Don't Hotch," Emily shook her head. "Don't go there; don't do this to yourself," she urged him but he had already started and couldn't stop.

"Don't do what?" He asked her with a grim smile. "Don't wonder if Foyet's attack has taken more than just my son?" She opened her mouth to say something but wasn't sure of what to say and before she could figure it out, he was talking again. "We're cops, Em; our job is to find the bad guy, stop him and bring him to justice – and justice should mean bring him before a court of law. We are not jury and executioners; we don't determine if they're guilty and we definitely don't carry out their sentence. But today . . . today I walked away and let those cops do exactly that and here I am, not second guessing that decision. So, what does that say about where I am, who I am now when I'm not sure I'd have done the same two months ago?"

"Oh, Aaron," Emily said softly, shaking her head. "You do like to make life more complicated for yourself, don't you?" When he look almost offended at that, she shook her head again and added, "Would you have done the same two months ago? Maybe, maybe not; I don't know – I can't know. But more importantly, you don't know – you can't know because that was two months ago and this is now and what happened tonight happened now and not two months ago. You're the same person you were then – if a little worse for wear; who you are at your core hasn't changed. Yeah, you might have stayed and tried to talk them out of it two months ago but in the end, you would have still stepped aside because whatever they were going to do tonight had to be their choice; we were there at their invitation, it's their jurisdiction and you have always respected that. You wouldn't, you couldn't have forced them to do anything they didn't want to do. So, you gave in a little earlier this time around; there's nothing wrong with that. And if you hadn't noticed, Rossi and I walked away with you."

"I did notice," he told her. "And I have to wonder: why?"

"Because you're our leader," was the simple answer. "Because we trust your judgment and we agreed with you. And because I'd follow you just about anywhere."

"Thanks," he said with a small smile. "I'm just not sure that's very smart on your part."

"Oh, I think that shows just how smart I really am," she assured him, grinning. He shook his head and returned the grin for a moment before he turned serious again. "What is it?"

"You and Rossi walked away with me," he repeated. "But Morgan didn't."

"Yeah, well," she shrugged. "You know Morgan; he's more stubborn than the rest of us – though, I think you can give him a run for his money if you set your mind to it."

"He's not sure I'm quite up to being back on the job, is he?" he asked her, ignoring the attempt at humor.

"He's . . . concerned," Emily admitted after a brief and silent debate. "He knows how hard this situation must be on you and he just wants to be sure you're dealing with it instead of burying yourself in work and ignoring it, that's all. He cares about you, Hotch – we all do. We just want to be sure you're doing okay."

"I am doing okay," he replied but at the pointed look she gave him, he added, "so, maybe I'm not quite up to okay but I am doing better – much better."

"I know," she smiled at him. "And I'm glad; it'll just take a while for Morgan to know it too and for him to stop . . ."

"Watching me like a hawk?" he finished for her and she grinned even as she nodded in agreement. "I just wished he'd talked to me instead of just following my every move," he sighed.

"He says he likes his job too much to do that," she informed him.

"What does that mean?" he frowned. "I wouldn't fire him just because he asked how I was doing. Not that I really could even if I wanted to."

"He knows that," she shrugged. "He's just being . . . cautious."

"Cautious?" he repeated.

"Uh huh," she nodded. "It's the same reason why neither JJ or Garcia or Reid have really talked about this with you."

"I thought they were just showing tact and discretion," he said, sounding a little surprised.

"Discretion and tact? From Garcia and Reid?" she asked, grinning. "No, they just didn't want their head bitten off, that's all."

"Am I really that foreboding?" he asked her, frowning in surprised displeasure. "I thought you guys knew you could come and talk to me about anything; I've always tried to make sure you knew that."

"We do know that," she hastened to reassure him. "We do – when it comes to our problems, personal or work related. But when it comes to your problems . . . especially if it comes to your private life? Well, let's just say that even Garcia can read the big 'No Trespassing' signs you have all around you."

"Doesn't seem to have done anything to discourage you or Dave," he argued.

"Of course not," she agreed happily. "Dave's Dave and I'm me," she informed him and had him look at her like she'd grown a second head.

"Dave's Dave and you're you?" he repeated, incredulously. "Prentiss, that must be just about the singularly most obvious and yet uninformative answer you've ever given me – actually, that anyone's ever given," he added. "Would you like to explain what that means?"

"You really don't know, do you?" she tilted her head and asked. When he just looked at her, waiting for her to continue, she grinned. "For such a good profiler, you can be extremely dense sometimes, can't you Aaron?" For some reason, she found that and even the fact that he'd called her 'Prentiss' extremely funny. She'd noticed in the last few days that he reverted to calling her by her last name whenever he was getting slightly irritated or simply befuddled by her. She thought it was his subtle and maybe even unconscious way of 'ordering' her to stop; not that it worked or even that he really wanted it to work. After all, the boss/subordinate aspect of their relationship had no place when they were alone – whether he called her 'Emily' or 'Prentiss'.

"Emily," he said in warning and she had to bite her lip to stop herself from chuckling. He used that tone when he wanted her to stop playing around and be serious; she was pretty sure it was the same tone he used with Jack when he wanted the four year old to settle down. Not that he was ever really irritated with her; she knew that if she wanted it, she could end up making him laugh – at least so far because she also knew that sooner or later they would irritate each other enough to have a confrontation. That was just the way relationships went.

"Okay, okay," she said, holding up a hand. "I'll tell you what I mean. First, you know that as team leader you're the Alpha of our little group, right?"

"I guess," he shrugged and grimaced slightly at the term. He didn't really like it as it brought to mind sides of his personality he'd done his very best to keep buried as deep as possible.

"I know you don't like that expression," she told him. "But, Aaron, you should really face the fact that you're Alpha to your toe nails." She understood why he didn't like it but she didn't agree. After all, who wanted to be with someone that was all bright and . . . pure? That would get pretty boring, pretty fast – at least for Emily it would. She wanted shadows and dark places, they were what made life interesting. Besides, someone that didn't have them wouldn't be able to deal with her own dark places.

"Go on," he said with a nod. She knew he wasn't really agreeing with her just trying to get her to move on.

"So," she continued. "You're the alpha and JJ is sort of your beta . . ."

"JJ?" he interrupted her. "As beta? Really? Why not Morgan or Rossi?" Though he didn't buy into her theory, he couldn't help but be intrigued by it.

"Because Morgan and Rossi have other roles," she told him in a 'that's obvious' tone of voice. "And JJ's the one you choose cases with, the spoke person . . . she's you're go-to girl."

"Okay, that makes some sense," he agreed.

"Of course it does," she said loftily before she continued. "Then we have Reid, who's the omega." She nodded when he made a face. "I know, I know. I'm sure he wouldn't like it and it's not really a perfect fit but for my purposes it works well enough."

"I guess so," he nodded.

"Next," she added, "we have Garcia. I think of her as a lone wolf, the slightly odd one that for all her differences fits in perfectly with our group; the one that chose to join something quite out of her sphere of knowledge, stayed and chose to follow the same hierarchy."

"That's . . . an interesting take on our technical analyst," Hotch said.

"Unlike Reid," Emily replied with a grin. "I'm sure it's one she'd love."

"Probably," Hotch granted. "So, who's next?" he asked, now more than intrigued by her theory.

"Rossi," she answered. "He's the old Alpha who chose to wonder off to parts unknown and when he got tired of that, he came back to the fold. But he knew that time had gone on, that things had changed and he wouldn't be coming back as Alpha but rather as a subordinate. He was the one that put the BAU together and he led it for a number of years so he had nothing to prove, to himself, us or anyone else; he had no problem with no longer being in charge – he'd already been there, done that and gotten the t-shirt. He's happy doing the work he likes without the responsibility of being in charge of it all; he's satisfied with being the wise, old one that gives advice when needed - especially as you really don't order him around."

"Actually," Hotch corrected, "I'd say he's especially happy because he feels he can give advice whether one asks him for it or not."

"True," Emily grinned. "He probably feels it's his duty as the wise, old one."

"So, when you said that Dave's Dave you meant," he prompted her.

"I meant," she repeated, "that, unlike JJ, Reid or Garcia who would never dream of initiating a personal, sensitive conversation with you because they wouldn't feel it's their place – well, except for JJ; she would talk to you about it if she felt you needed it and no one else was doing it. Dave, on the other hand, wouldn't have any qualms about stepping in and giving you a talking to or telling you to snap out of it whenever he thought you needed it. After all, you might be the leader now but he was your mentor, the one that taught you the ropes; he's always going to feel he has the right to 'advise' you – on anything he feels you need advice on."

"That sounds like Dave," Hotch snorted.

"Of course," Emily added, "he's also an Alpha, been where you are and he knows you, so he knows when to leave you alone, when to give you space and just let you know that he trusts you."

"That does make a lot of sense," he admitted and she sniffed.

"Of course it does," she said in the same 'that's obvious' tone from before. "I'm not just a pretty face, you know? And I've actually thought about this quite a bit."

"Really?" he asked, looking very curious.

"Yes," she nodded and then added, sheepishly, "I have a thing for paranormal stories and the nature of alphas and wolf packs is a popular subject. And I couldn't help but see the similarities."

"A thing for paranormal stories?" Hotch asked. "Shouldn't that be 'a thing for paranormal romances?" He teased her, his lips twitching.

"So, I like the odd romance book here and there," she admitted because she knew he'd seen the books at her place and denying it would just make it sound like there was something wrong with reading romance books when there wasn't. "So what? There's nothing wrong with it."

"I never said there was," he agreed but his lips kept twitching and before long he was actually chuckling.

"Oh, shut up," she said. When he didn't, she added, "Or I won't continue and you'll never know what I think Morgan's place in the team is." She threw in a small pout to make him stop, though she was glad the discussion had lightened his mood and dispelled the heavy thoughts he'd been contemplating before.

"Sorry, sorry," he said, putting up a hand and trying to control his mirth. "I'll stop . . . see, I've stopped already," he added; this time it was him that bit his lips to contain his laughter. "So, what's Morgan's role in the team?" he asked as he shifted back on his chair; he was no longer laughing but his eyes still showed his amusement. She was happy to see that his glass was now on his desk and he didn't seem interested in drinking anymore. It wasn't like he had a drinking problem, far from it; still, she liked the idea that conversation with her was better at relaxing him than a drink.

"You said something about him being a beta?" he prompted her.

"Yes," she nodded and leaned forward to put down her own glass; two glasses was her limit. "I did say that but he's more than that: he's the alpha in training. He's the one you're training to take your place, the heir apparent as it were. I guess you could say he's to you what you were to Rossi. And you're both aware of that, even if only subconsciously – just like you're both aware that of all of us, he's the only one that can really challenge your authority. That's why he's never done it." At that remark, Hotch's eyebrow went up. Morgan had never challenged him? Really? And here he'd been thinking they were both on the same team – apparently not.

"I mean a serious challenge, Hotch," Emily explained, knowing exactly what the raised eyebrow meant and not needing him to explain it. "He might not always agree with you and he might not have any problems with letting you know he doesn't agree but when it comes down to it, he's always followed your orders, always done as you've asked – he's never disobeyed you, whether he agreed with you or not. And I think that's the real reason why he hasn't come and talked to you about any of this," she added. "I'm pretty sure that in his mind he sees that as a real challenge, like he's challenging your fitness to do your work and that is something he would never do. He respects and admires you too much to do that so, he talks to Rossi about his concerns and he watches you like a hawk while he waits for you to be okay."

"I would never have thought of it like that," he admitted after a few moments of contemplation.

"I know," she nodded. "And I'm sure you haven't thought that as hard as it was for all of us to see you in that hospital bed, in some ways, I think it was probably harder for Morgan."

"Harder for Morgan?" Hotch repeated, curious and somewhat incredulous.

"In some ways," she repeated because as hard as she thought it had been on Morgan, she was pretty sure it hadn't been harder on him than it had been on her – and it had definitely not been harder on Morgan than it had been on Hotch himself. "I'm not saying it was harder on him than on you but you got to remember that his dad died when he was a child and . . . well, you know what happened with his next male role model."

"Yes, I know all that," he nodded, wondering where she could possibly be going now.

"Well, both of those things meant that he basically grew up without a positive male role model," she explained. "And with trust issues, but then he came to the BAU and he met you and Gideon and he once again had positive role models. But then Gideon left and I'm sure he again felt abandoned and betrayed." When his eyes widened in surprise, she shrugged and said, "Gideon left all of us, Hotch, and Morgan might not have said anything, but Reid wasn't the only one really hurt by it."

"You know, you're right," Hotch said slowly. "I've never thought of it before but you're right." And she was; Hotch himself had had too much going on at the time to wonder for too long how Gideon's absence was affecting the team - not if they'd been acting normal.

"Of course, I'm right," Emily nodded. "I didn't know him long so it wasn't that hard for me and while Garcia and JJ missed him, they never really looked up to him as a sort of father figure, so it wasn't that hard on them. But Reid and Morgan, on the other hand . . ."

"I knew Reid had a hard time of it," Hotch said slowly, thinking back on that time. "But it didn't really seem to have had much of an effect on Morgan." He trailed off as he remembered Morgan's comment on the plane coming back from Milwaukee about how he hadn't thought it possible but how it seemed they would be fine without Gideon.

"Morgan's not the kind to wear his heart on his sleeve," she told him. "He wouldn't want anyone to know he was hurting but I'm pretty sure he was."

"Pretty sure?" he asked.

"Yeah, well, it's not like he talked to me about any of this," she shrugged. "A lot of this is . . . well, guess work but it makes sense."

"Yes, it does," he agreed.

"Yeah, but while Gideon left, repeating the pattern he's known all his life," she continued. "You've stayed; through thick and thin, you've stayed. You're the only male role model that has stuck with him, Hotch. Can you imagine what that must mean to him? Even if he never says anything about it? However much he may disagree with you on occasion, he probably respects you more than he's ever respected anyone in his life and he looks up to you. He also thinks you're indestructible, that nothing can really get you down. So, seeing you in that hospital bed and seeing you try to deal with the aftermath must have been a real shock."

"Morgan doesn't think I'm indestructible," Hotch argued. "After Gideon left, he's the one that asked me what was wrong; he was the first person I told that Hailey had left. And he was there when I almost got blown up in New York. I'm hardly indestructible, for God's sake and Morgan knows that."

"He knows that intellectually but emotionally . . ." she trailed off and shook her head. "I mean, it's not like you go out of your way to dispel that kind of thinking, is it? Yes, those things did slow you down some but they didn't stop you; you went right back to work almost straight away, didn't you? What's more, you didn't really change as a consequence of those things, I mean you became more driven and stern but . . . I don't know, I guess if anything, you just became more Hotch-like then but now . . . well, there's been more than a couple of times where you haven't really acted as yourself, hasn't there?"

"I guess that's true," he said slowly.

"He cares about you, Hotch, and he sees you're struggling," she told him, "that's why he's worried and watching you but given who each of you are and your positions, he's just not able to talk to you directly about it. Plus, we can't forget the fact that, like you, he just doesn't talk about emotional things. He's a great friend and can be very sensitive but when it comes to talking about his emotional issues, he clams up as fast and tight as you do."

"Okay," he nodded. "I have to agree, that analysis isn't completely off the wall."

"Of course it's not," she scoffed and sat back with a self-satisfied air.

"What about you, though?" he asked. "You say you're you, what does that mean?"

"Well, I'm a woman," she shrugged and he rolled his eyes.

"Okay, so that's the second most un-helpful, obvious answer you've ever given me," he told her dryly.

"What I mean is," she said patiently, "that I'm the female alpha of the group. I'm the one the others come to for advice when they don't want or feel they can't come to you for whatever reason; I'm the one that . . . nurtures, I guess you'd call it. So, while you intimidate the others with your 'status'," she gave the word emphasis and had him rolling his eyes again, "you don't really intimidate me. I know you're my boss and I respect you as such and you know I'll always follow your orders but that doesn't mean I have any trouble telling you what I really think – or questioning you if I think it's needed. Unlike Garcia, JJ, Reid and even Morgan, I've never felt uncomfortable or unable to broach any subject with you."

"That's certainly true," he nodded. "You've never been shy about letting me know just what you think."

"Well," she said thoughtfully, "now that I think about it, there was a short period there after you had questioned me about whether or not I went to the Congresswoman and told her about our case when I did try to be more careful about what I said around you."

"That didn't last long, did it?" he asked, grinning.

"Not too long, nope," she answered grinning. She knew without having to ask that he too was remembering the trip to Milwaukee; the fact that she'd quit rather than betray him and the team and the fact that he'd gone to bring her back had been the turning point in their relationship. Whatever small inhibitions she might have felt in talking to him before that had vanish after that case.

"So, you're the female alpha, huh?" he asked her.

"You don't agree?" she raised an eyebrow in question.

"No, no," he shook his head. "I can see it," he admitted even as he thought about the implications of him being the alpha and her being the female alpha and how that made them a couple of sorts; but it really wasn't the time to get into that, so he focused on something else. "But I thought we didn't profile the team."

"Yeah, yeah," she waved her hand. "You know we all do it even when we say we don't; how can we not? It's an occupational hazard. I bet you have a file in your head with a profile for each one of us too."

"I plead the fifth," he said in lieu of an answer.

"That's as good as admitting it, you know," she told him.

"No, it's not," he denied. "It's taking the fifth; which means you can't infer anything from it."

"Yeah, right," she snorted and he grinned at her.

"So, do you think Morgan is ready to lead a team?" Hotch asked suddenly and had her looking at him in surprise.

"Where the heck did that come from?" She wondered.

"Nowhere specific," he shrugged. "Just wondering what you thought about it."

"I haven't really thought about it," she answered. "I mean, he's a natural born leader so he'd be great at it. But is he ready?" she repeated. "I don't know. Maybe. But didn't he pass when they offered him the job in New York?"

"Yes, he did."

"Then maybe he doesn't feel he's ready," she pointed out. "Maybe he feels he should still stay on the team. And until he feels he's ready whatever I think about it is rather pointless, isn't it?"

"That's true," he granted. "But you must have an opinion," he pressed.

"I think he'll make a great team leader some day," she repeated. "He's a natural leader, has great instincts and has had you and Rossi and Gideon as role models, how can he not be good at it when he finally gets his chance?"

"Yes," Hotch nodded and added softly almost as if he was talking to himself, "he'd be a good team leader."

"Hotch, what is going on?" She asked, shifting forward on her chair. "And don't tell me nothing," she said almost the same words from earlier when he opened his mouth to do just that. "I know there's something besides Morgan and how you acted in this case that's bugging you."

"Nothing's bugging me, Emily," he denied.

"Aaron," she sighed. "Don't tell me there's nothing going on, I know better."

"I didn't say that," he argued. "I said nothing's bugging me because nothing is; I have heard some things that have got me thinking, I guess."

"What is it?" she prompted when he said nothing else.

"Nothing important," he began but the look she gave him made him sigh before he spoke. "Apparently, some of the higher ups have some of the same concerns as Morgan – they're not convinced I'm quite up to doing my job."

"What?!" she cried out, sitting up straight and moving to the edge of her seat. "What do you mean they don't think you're up to doing your job? You're great at your job!! You're perfect at it. Where do they get off even thinking such a thing? I'd like to see them do your job – I bet they wouldn't even last half a day! Strauss sure didn't know what she was doing . . . Strauss! I see her ugly paws all over this. I'm sure she's behind it. What are we going to do? We have to stop her . . ."

"Em . . . Emily . . . Emily!" He had being calling her name since about her second question but she was so worked up she didn't listen until he raised his voice enough to be heard. "Emily," he repeated when she finally quieted down and looked at him. "I appreciate your support – really, you don't know how much but there's nothing to do."

"But . . ." she started to protest but he held up a hand.

"No, Emily," he shook his head. "All I've heard are office rumors, water cooler kind of things; not really the kind of information you can act on."

"I guess," she said reluctantly. "But I still think you should at least think . . ."

"Emily, please," he said quietly. "I really appreciate the support but there's no problem so there's nothing to do. Everything will be fine."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," he nodded. She looked intently at him and though she wasn't really convinced she decided there was no point in pursuing the matter – at least not at that moment.

"Okay," she gave in. "But you'll let me know if anything changes, right?"

"You'll be the first one to know," he promised.

"Good," she nodded. She then rubbed her hands and pushed herself from the chair. "Now, what do you say we get out of here? It's late and I'm hungry. And don't say you have reports to fill out – you can do those tomorrow. Come on, let's go."

"Okay," he agreed and pushed back from the desk. "I'm kind of hungry too. I'll just take the reports and work on them later on."

"Aaron," she said in warning.

"What?" he asked as he started to get the folders he wanted to take home ready. "I'm leaving with you, aren't I?"

"Don't take more than two case files," she told him. "It's late already and we've had a long day; you should at least try and get to bed at a reasonable hour."

"Okay, okay," he gave in and put down the extra three he'd been thinking of taking. He knew from previous experience that even if he were to take the extra files, once Emily decided he shouldn't work anymore, he wouldn't be working any more. "I'll only take two. Happy?"

"Deliriously," she answered. "Now, hurry up. I'm really hungry. I think we should stop somewhere and pick something up. I really don't feel like cooking – or waiting for the food to cook."

"What would you like?" he asked as he picked up his suitcase and turned off his computer and the desk light. "We should call ahead so that we don't have a long wait."

"You're right," she agreed. "Italian sound good?"

"Sounds pretty good actually," he agreed as they walked out of his office. "Bertucci's?"

"Umm, yes," she nodded. "They make a terrific Chicken Parmesan and the Lasagna is out of this world too."

"I think I'm in the mood for pizza," he mused. "Yeah, a pizza sounds good."

"Okay," she said as she took out her phone while they waited for the elevator. "So, a sausage, pepperoni pizza for you?" he nodded and she started dialing. And with the prospect of an Italian dinner and great company, the long day and the difficult case was suddenly made much easier.