Author's Note: My muse has OCD this weekend. She's working, but she just won't stay on topic. Basically she keeps bouncing around to things that are just not on the To Do list. But, if I don't indulge her you know she could pack up her toys and go home. So, this was a story in my incomplete folder (it's been there for months) that suddenly my brain just had to finish up.

Originally this was supposed to be the third piece of the 'Drowning Man/Tether' series. But, that was based around what happened in Omnivore. And really, given everything that's happened since, I don't want to get into anything else based around Foyette. Though I could have definitely tailored this to follow 100, it would have just been too sad. So instead this story takes place early season 4, as a follow up to Minimal Loss.

Other stuff is coming maybe tonight. If not then tomorrow.

Prompt Set #7

Show: China Beach

Title Challenge: One Giant Leap

November 2008

Out of the Half Light

Four months.

It had been four months since the first time he had knocked on this door. After Colorado he'd come here to see if she was all right.

She wasn't.

So he stayed with her, and they talked. They talked for hours, and then the next day he went back again. And over those following weeks something strange happened. He had gone to Emily to help her through that dark time, but it turned out that she ended up helping him as well.

He found that she brought him . . . peace.

And now he couldn't imagine his life without her. Her touch, her scent, simply her presence . . . they brought him comfort in ways that nothing else could.

Even his son.

Jack was too little to share any of his worries. But Emily, though she appeared delicate, her slim shoulders had absorbed so many of his burdens.

And now he paced in front of her door. More than at any other point over these past several months he desperately needed to see her. To make sure that she was all right, that nothing had happened.

But he was hesitating for a moment because it was much later than he would usually visit. It was much later than was appropriate to be knocking on anyone's door. His watch said that it was almost two. And though of course he knew that she would already be in bed asleep, he finally decided that this was too important to wait until morning.

Hopefully she wouldn't mind the intrusion.

Decision made, he rapped urgently on her door, counted to five, and then did it again.

After almost a minute . . . just before he was about to raise his fist a third time . . . Hotch heard the lock sliding. And then the door swung back and he saw Emily's sleepy face appear.

"Hey," Emily's brow wrinkled in concern, "what's wrong?"

His appearance, though a surprise, was not truly unexpected.

He was always welcome.

Emily's voice was scratchy, and she looked so tired that Hotch felt a pang of guilt for waking her. But then he pushed that aside.

He'd live with the guilt . . . he had plenty of practice.

Seeing the fear in Hotch's eyes, and noting his continued silence, Emily bit her lip as she reached for him. Slipping his fingers into hers, she pulled him inside her apartment.

Once he was over the threshold, Hotch took a step closer to her. Their hands were still joined as he shut the door behind him and slid the lock again. Then he turned back to face her, the remorse clear on his face, the apology apparent in his voice.

"I'm sorry it's so late," he whispered as he pulled her into his arms, "but I needed to see you."

Once he had her wrapped up tight, his hands moved over her body, making sure that he could feel her, that she was okay.

That she was still there.

Concerned . . . and puzzled . . . Emily was slightly thrown for a moment. Not that she and Hotch hadn't become more demonstrative recently, they certainly had, but this was uncharacteristic behavior for him.

She was always the one that initiated any physical contact. And it always took him a second to adjust, to relax.

To let her in.

But still, as many times as he had stood there stiffly, trying to resist the desire to hug her back, she'd always gotten through to him. Eventually his arms would slide around her body, and he would cling to her as though he was afraid that she would float away.

It was clear to her that hard shell was becoming more difficult for him to maintain. She knew that he had lived in it . . . had existed solely because of it . . . for most of his days.

And as she thought about his previous behavior, she realized that she'd reversed their roles. She was the one standing stiffly.

It was unintentional, but that wouldn't do at all. So she quickly melded her body to his, sliding her arms around his waist as she rested her head on his chest. When he tipped his head down, that's when she whispered her second question.

"What happened?"

Hotch's response to Emily's second inquiry was to rub his hand slowly up and down her back.

But he said nothing.

He didn't want to tell her. It would only upset her, and he couldn't bear to bring back those horrible memories for her. He'd had a nightmare. They were back at the compound, and he was again . . . for the thousandth time in his dreams . . . listening to her beating.

That moment of complete and utter impotence was a special torture that came to him time and again.

But unlike all of the other versions where he woke up in a cold sweat, this time Cyrus didn't stop. This time they got to her too late.

And Hotch burst through those doors to find her bloodied, broken body on the ground. Her beautiful face unrecognizable. He had failed her.

He had lost her.

It was reality and conjecture merged in his mind. And the resulting images and sensations were so real that when he woke, he was no longer sure which was the reality. So he'd rushed over to make sure that she was really okay.

And thank God . . . he sighed against her hair . . . she was.

Emily waited a moment longer, trying to see if he would open up to her. But then she bit down on her lip . . . no, no of course not.

Sometimes he would tell her things. But more often than not, he just sat quietly and listened while she talked.

Their time together was something she cherished. And it did seem to help him as well, so she hadn't been pushing him too much.

He would come to her at his own pace.

And even if he wouldn't say the words now, he was at least finally showing her that he needed her.

That was a huge step for him. So of course she couldn't let him go home, this thread could snap.

But she was exhausted.

It was after two, and they'd been away for the past six days on a horrendous serial. Eight women found beaten to death. The brutality was unbelievable.

And as she flinched remembering their mutilated bodies, and the blood saturated brown hair, she suddenly knew what had driven him to her home tonight.

Oh Aaron . . . her eyes stung . . . what am I going to do with you?

She pulled back slightly to see his face. And when his worried gaze snapped down to hers, she gave him a sad smile, "come on, Goldilocks," she whispered, "you can sleep in my bed."

His eyes widened slightly before he stammered, "uh, I . . . I don't . . ."

But she cut him off, "it's okay," then she tugged on his hand as she winked, "I'm too tired to jump your bones tonight."

A shadow of a smile touched his lips. And then he paused for a second before he nodded slowly, "okay," he said softly, "I guess," his eyes shifted over to the staircase, "I guess that would be okay."

Really, he just wanted to keep her with him. And this was probably the only way he could do that. It was obvious that she was too tired to stay up and talk.

So he would lie down with her and watch her sleep. That would be okay too.

She reached up to pat his cheek before she tugged on his hand again and led him up the stairs. The higher they climbed the more she could feel the reticence in his steps, so she tightened her grip on his fingers.

Too late to turn back now.

Hotch was biting his lip as they stepped onto the landing. He hadn't been upstairs before.

It felt strange.

Suddenly he was worried that he was making a mistake. And he'd already too many mistakes this year.

He couldn't afford to make another.

So he tried to slow his steps further, but Emily squeezed his hand and tugged him again.

And he knew then . . . she wasn't going to let him leave.

They stepped into her room and he took note of the scent of lavender. And then he saw the rumpled blankets pushed back, and again he worried that this was a mistake.

He stopped just inside the door.

Emily knew that he had to take the last few steps himself, so she let go of his hand and walked over to climb back into bed. Then she patted the space next to her as she gave him an encouraging smile, "come on, you need to get some sleep."

A part of her felt like she was coaxing a skittish animal to come feed from her hand. Too sudden a movement and he would run away.

Grinding his jaw, Hotch stared at her for a moment . . . a weight was pressing on his chest. And then that image of her broken body came back to him again.

His decision was made.

He kicked off his sneakers, dropped his jacket on the chair by the vanity and went around to the other side of the bed.

After he lay down, he was shocked that after she turned off the lamp, she rolled over and put her head on his chest and wrapped her arm around his stomach. Then she murmured against his t-shirt, "I'm a cuddler. So I can guarantee you that we're going to wake up in this position. So rather than it being awkward when that happens tomorrow morning, let's just get it over with now."

She had no idea how he was going to respond to this pronouncement. He could very well bolt out the door.

But she was just being practical. If he woke up in an hour and they were in this position he'd probably shimmy himself off the mattress.

And really . . . she rubbed her cheek on his t-shirt . . . whether or not he'd ever admit it . . . he desperately needed the physical contact.

He was too isolated . . . too alone.

His bond with his son, and his friendships with her and Dave . . . those were the only real relationships he had. He kept the rest of the team . . . the world . . . at arm's length. And he couldn't go on like that.

He couldn't survive like that.

And she was far too invested in him . . . far too attached to him . . . to sit back and watch him self destruct.

For a moment Hotch lay there terrified, his muscles frozen stiff. He was telling himself all the reasons he needed to get up. The reasons this wasn't right.

But then he felt Emily's hand rub his stomach and his eyes began to burn.

He didn't want to get up. He wanted to stay right there with her.

And as he ran through all of those reasons again, he dismissed them one by one with a single thought.

'I don't want to be alone anymore.'

His soul was tired.

So he slowly lifted his arm and wrapped it around her shoulders.

It felt good.

It felt right.

So he decided to take another step.

"I . . . I had a bad dream."

The words came tentatively out of the dark. For a moment there was utter silence. It was so quiet in the room that Hotch's hopes suddenly fell off that precipice, and then shattered on the rocks below.

She'd fallen back to sleep!

But then . . . just as the tears began to pool in his eyes . . . he heard her gentle voice come back, "I know," her voice wavered, "I know you did honey," she rolled over and buried her face in his neck, "but it's all over now."

As Hotch felt the warmth of her tears on his neck, his own spilled over. But they weren't just tears of sadness, he was also filled with hope.

This was a place he could come to, a place where he could be himself. That wasn't something he'd ever had before.

Even with Haley.

Feeling the last of his fears and reservations fade into the mist, Hotch rolled Emily beneath him. As she looked up at him, wide eyed, he brushed the tears off her face. And then his expression softened as she did the same for him.

"Thank you for opening your door," he whispered before he leaned down to kiss her.

It was just a soft kiss. He wasn't asking for anything more from her tonight than what she'd already given him. But still, when he pulled away, Emily's eyes were shining again. She put her hands on either side of his face, and pulled him down so she could kiss him once more.

When she pulled back, his lip quirked up and she winked at him. He huffed slightly as she pulled his head down to her breast.

As he closed his eyes, Hotch felt her fingers running through his hair. The room was quiet for a moment, and then her words floated down softly.

"Thank you for knocking."

He smiled.

A/N 2: So you can see, a version of this done around season 5 would have just been too melancholy to even pull this into the 'bittersweet' category. This one could at least end hopeful. I thought this version of them actually fell well into canon. I like my 'regular' versions of them, but I know I have added more of a willingness on Hotch's part to reach out to Emily than we saw onscreen in season 4. So taking the 'onscreen' Hotch, and NOT softening him, I decided that after everything that had happened, he would be JUST this uncomfortable with truly sharing himself with anyone.

Side note on the personal satisfaction level, I have just crossed off all prompts under challenge #7 :)

Big Ass Prompt Announcement: I'm so happy, there are TONS of people playing with the Christmas and AU prompts! So in an effort to keep the momentum going in both threads, I've put up a new AU challenge IDEA, but related to writing a Christmas story using one of the prompts. So you can check that out on the forum. And PLEASE, if you borrow a prompt, don't forget to add your story to the forum once you post it! Otherwise Kavi and I won't know it exists and it won't get added to the community :) Plus a lot of people are looking on the forums now to see what stories people are writing so you can get more publicity too. Especially if you're new ;)

On a related note, though I haven't mentioned this to Kavi yet (waves to Kavi up north!) I'm thinking maybe I'll create a 'spinoff' community to tuck all of our AU stories. Initially our group was just H/P or JJ/R, but the AU ideas have expanded into many other pairings. And we have a good little chunk of them now, and they are very different kinds of stories than traditional CM, so I think putting them in their own section might be a good way to go. K – let me know what you think ;)

Remember kids, a little feedback goes a long way towards feeding the muse :)