Author's Note: Hope you all enjoyed this little coda to "The Slave of Duty". Please let me know.
When the Nightmares Come
"Where's Jack?" she asked him tonelessly, leaning against the doorframe as she stared across the room at the dark man that she'd spent many a night fantasizing about over the last few months.
"Jack wanted to spend the night with his cousins," Hotch explained. "Jessica's house is as close to a sense of normalcy right now as he can get. I couldn't begrudge him that comfort, no matter how much I miss him."
"He'll get used to it just being the two of you in time, Hotch," Emily replied quietly, her face softening as she thought of Aaron's son. "He just needs time."
"We all do," Hotch nodded. "We're learning as we go. But my problems aren't why I'm here tonight, Emily," Hotch reminded her.
"I don't know what you're talking about Hotch," Emily replied quickly, straightening reflexively as she spoke. "I don't have any problems," she added.
"I beg to differ, Prentiss," Hotch retorted, his voice hardening as he remembered what Morgan had told him regarding the chance she had taken with their unsub. "What the hell were you thinking?" he asked quietly, measuring his words as he looked at her. "What if he'd gotten your gun away from you?"
"He didn't," Emily shrugged. Why did men always insist on going to the worst possible outcome in their minds?
"That's not the answer I'm looking for, Prentiss," he said sharply. "You realize that if I was still your Unit Chief, you'd be sitting on your desk until the end of time." Damn it, didn't she realize he'd never survive watching another woman he cared for die? That he'd never survive a second round of that kind of pain.
"Good thing for me that you're taking a break," Emily muttered. Shooting him an inquisitive look, she added, "It is still just a break , isn't it? I heard about Strauss' offer."
"There really are no secrets in this unit, are there?" Hotch asked, rolling his eyes.
"Evidently not. You're here, aren't you?" Emily growled, moving toward the black easy chair.
"Yes, I am," Hotch nodded seriously, "And I'm not leaving until you tell me what you were thinking."
"You never answered my question," Emily replied, trying to distract him. Discussing anything would be better than the conversation she could see without even looking that this man had in mind. "Did you accept Strauss' offer? Are you leaving the team?"
Staring at her for a long charged moment, Hotch finally shook his head. "No, I'm not," he said softly, allowing her a short reprieve. "Which means sooner or later you're going to answer for me for the incident this afternoon. Whether it's now or later is up to you, Prentiss."
"You already know why I reacted the way I did," Emily muttered, darting her eyes away from his. Talking about what had happened fifteen years ago was not how she had anticipated spending her evening when she'd finally returned home tonight. Quite the opposite. She'd had every intention of trying to drink those memories right out of her system.
"You never talk about it," Hotch murmured. "Not then, not now."
"I talked about it," Emily said with a soft bark of brittle laughter. "For all the good it did."
Surprised, Hotch lifted his head to gaze at her. "To whom, Emily? Who did you ever talk about it with?"
"Oh, mother hired a very proper therapist to try to talk to me. After a month of reliving the experience three times a week, I finally refused to see her anymore. It didn't help…the talking about it. It didn't change a blessed thing," Emily said bitterly, her fingers biting into the soft leather of her chair, marring its pristine appearance."
"It wasn't supposed to change anything, Em," Hotch corrected gently. "The therapy was supposed to help you deal with it."
Snorting derisively, Emily turned angry eyes toward the man on her sofa. "Deal with it?" she asked incredulously. "Tell me, Hotch, how exactly does one deal with being kidnapped for three days and forced to do things that I still can't bear thinking about without a bottle of wine running through my bloodstream? How does one handle being rescued only to be told that her tormentor, that human monster, was exempt from punishment. All because he had the good fortune to be a diplomat's son! How was anybody going to be able to help me deal with that?"
Clasping his hands between his knees, Hotch bowed his head as her question hung in the air around him. "I don't know, Emily," he said softly.
"Neither do I, Aaron," Emily replied, breathing heavily as some of the residual anger she held inside ebbed. Gazing across the gleaming surface of her polished coffee table at him, she asked, "Why are you really here, Aaron?"
Meeting her eyes with an honest gaze he replied bluntly, "Because now I guess it's my turn to hold you when the nightmares come."
"I never expected you to repay that particular debt, Aaron," Emily said, forcing herself to smile, grim though it was.
"I don't think of it that way," Hotch replied evenly. "But no matter what you say, I'm not leaving you here alone tonight."
Face tightening for a scant moment, Emily warned, "It won't be pretty."
"Fear and pain seldom is," Hotch replied, the depth of his understanding obvious.
Silent for a long moment, Emily finally nodded. Gratefully meeting his eyes, she could only form two words past her thickening throat. "Thank you."