Title: Inside
Criminal Minds
Genre: Hurt/Comfort/Drama
Emily's sick.


The fever creeps up on her, the only signs being the light head that she attributes to the lack of sleep, and the sniffling that she'd thought was the result of the air conditioning being turned up too high. She wakes up sweating, vaguely aware of the fact that her bed sheets are soaked to the point of being soiled. It's not unusual for her to get sick– the stress does a number on her immune system. Normally, she tries to work through it, tries to go through the motions.

The light from outside blinds her eyes, so she pulls the black-out curtains shut with a single jerking movement. The alarm clock tells her that it's past ten a.m, which means she is officially late for work. She tries to remember if she'd heard the alarm go off, or if she'd heard her phone ring, but her dreams had been chaotic, almost like a drug trip, and now she can feel the flush that's hitting her from head to toe, she attributes it to the fever.

Her head is heavy now, and her hands are shaking.

She sits back down on the bed, eyes fixed on the dark red fabric beneath, in lieu of anything else. Appearances are very important to Emily Prentiss – the sheets are color-coordinated; maroon fitted sheets, dark blue top sheet, light blue pillowcases. The curtains that she'd just closed are red, and the walls are blue, and it is a pain in the ass when she spills something in bed, because it means she has to swap everything.

She tells herself that it's just another facet of keeping things compartmentalized. A mess on the inside, maybe, but the picture of perfection on the outside. She'd grown up with half a dozen different varieties of house-staff, and even after moving out and going to college, her hospital corners aren't worth a damn. That's what fitted sheets are for, though, and she sinks back into the pillows, curling the dark blue top sheet towards her chest. She's cold – freezing, actually – but part of her is aware enough to know that bundling up is the last thing she needs to do right now.

She should call in; tell Hotch that she isn't coming in today, lest he decide that her absence is some national disaster, and starts sending out search parties. It's not a particularly funny joke, because the last time someone had been late for work, it's because he was being stabbed by a sociopath.

The sight of his blood on the carpet, the fear she'd felt…the memory of that doesn't help her already swirling thoughts. The bile rises in her stomach, and the colors are flashing in her eyes, and she swats out at the loud noise that penetrates her maddening silence. It's too late that she realizes that the noise had actually been her phone, and she tries to reach out, to pick it up, and to call back whoever had been trying to ring her, but motor control has gone the same way as cognitive function. The tiniest sliver of her mind that is still functioning remembers that Hotch has a key, so if – when – someone does come looking, she won't have to talk to her landlord about replacing the door hinges.

The passage of time seems to twist, like some kind of Technicolor Moebius strip. It could be minutes or hours or years later when something finally jerks her free of her reverie – the sound of footsteps on the stairs. They're soft, but her stairs have creaked ever since she'd moved in, and it's not something that can be fixed by trying to walk quietly.

'Emily?' His voice breaks through the haze, like a bullet shattering glass. She's vaguely aware of him holstering his weapon, because Foyet has made him a little more vigilant. His hand feels cold as he presses it against her forehead. 'You're running a fever.' He pulls his hand away, and she moans at the withdrawal. Moments later, he's back with a thermometer – she thinks it had been in her bathroom, and she wonders if he'd profiled that, or if he'd just searched around until he found one.

'T'sit?' she asks, trying to say "what is it," only her words are muffled by the pillow. He seems to understand anyway, saying:

'101,' he tells her, 'But you've been sleeping.'

She relaxes slightly, because while it's not a cakewalk, she isn't dying either, even if the hallucinations are a bitch. She tries to sit up, only to feel him pushing her back down. Gently, but forcefully.

'Lay down,' he whispers, and his voice is almost a remedy in itself; smooth, rich. Through blurry eyes, she sees he's wearing the red and blue striped tie, and she imagines it flush against her bed sheets, because she's not the only one that relies heavily on appearances.

There's a cool cloth against her forehead then, a cup of water pressed into her hand. She sits up to drink the water, because she's not quite at the point of letting him give it to her in tiny, slow sips, but she doesn't want to choke, either. Once she's quelled some of the dehydration, he passes over two Advil, which she manages to swallow without help.

'You were sneezing yesterday,' he says, his voice sounding so much clearer now. 'You might have the flu.'

She's not entirely sure what to say to that, so she settles on, 'Okay.' Despite the water, her throat feels dry.

'Get some sleep.' His hand brushes against her cheek, and even though she's half-way to delirious, she's struck by the difference in him – the kindness, the care that's hiding behind his stoic exterior. Appearances.

Inside. Color. Light. Darkness. Time. Fever.