Author's Note: Picking up the Sunday after the trip to Smokey's. This was in the original post, but this version ended up completely different, sorta :)

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Mid-January: Sunday Morning

Mr. Bubble's Big Day

Hotch knocked the dresser drawer shut with his leg, and then began pulling his t-shirt on as he walked over to the walk-in closet.

Though he was just now getting dressed, he'd been up for over an hour. Just before eight he'd had a call from Jordan. The Lincoln, Nebraska P.D. wanted him to review an urgent consult that they'd just emailed to her, so she had immediately forwarded it to him.

She'd finally . . . three months in . . . mostly gotten the hang of her (temporary) position.

The consult was on a series of recent rapes . . . the last of which had been reported just hours before they'd contacted Jordan. The most recent victim was in a coma, and with the level of violence escalating with each attack, they were afraid someone was about to get killed. And after reviewing the files, Hotch had to agree that it did appear 'homicide by blunt force trauma' was likely to be the next page . . . the next victim profile . . . to be added to their case file.

And though the detectives there had had some good ideas on a possible suspect pool to focus on, they'd been off in a few areas. Or at least it was Hotch's expert opinion that they were off in a few areas.

And it was his expert opinion that they were seeking.

So he'd written up an addendum to their conclusions about a possible factory worker . . . a deduction they'd made from a type of oil being found on the victims' skin . . . suggesting that they go back to victim number two to narrow the UNSUB pool even further. Hotch believed that the first attack had been primarily a misdirection, that the second attack . . . the one on Ms. Victoria Eames . . . had been the main outlet for the rapist's disturbed fantasies. And Hotch had come to that conclusion because, though Ms. Eames had suffered comparatively little facial trauma . . . unlike the others who had been beaten unconscious against their own headboards . . . thus far she'd been the one to suffer the most egregious of all the sexual violations. Every orifice had been brutalized. And not just brutalized by 'traditional' methods.

Objects had been used as well.

The photos were horrible.

But of course . . . Hotch bit back a sigh as he pulled his sneakers from the closet and dropped them by the door . . . the photos were always horrible. Every case, every victim . . . every time.

And though when he was looking at those photos down in the kitchen as he sipped his coffee, he'd been overcome with the desire to fly out to Nebraska and yank this new monster out from under the bed himself . . . he couldn't. He still had the team grounded. So though he'd wanted to conclude his findings with an offer to get on the jet . . . he didn't.

He was leaving the detectives to fend for themselves.

But he told himself that they'd be fine. That they'd had good ideas, good instincts . . . good forensics. He'd just redirected their efforts slightly. That's all.

They'd pick this UNSUB up in no time.

And as he buckled his belt, Hotch tried to push down the faint tickle of guilt dancing along his spine. That tickle was asking him if he was sure about that. And it was asking if he'd made his final decision not to go wheels up because he TRULY believed that their presence wasn't needed in Lincoln . . . or if it was just because he didn't want to leave Emily.

Really . . . his jaw twitched . . . if not for her being sick, would they be on their way to Nebraska this morning?

He didn't know.

Honestly. He wasn't sure. The arguments could be made . . . and accepted . . . for both decisions. But either way, he knew that things were reaching the point where these determinations should no longer be his alone.

He needed to begin consulting with Dave.

Because Dave could be objective where Hotch himself no longer could be. Which meant that it was now time for Phase Two in the plan that he and Emily had pulled together last month.

The Conversation with the team.

And really, keeping them grounded had only ever been intended to be a temporary measure. Just an in-between step. One to give him and Emily time to adjust to her situation, and work out a routine for her treatments.

That time had now passed.

Because they had adjusted to the situation, and they did have a routine, and it was becoming apparent to Hotch's conscience, that his personal desire to do what was best for Emily . . . his need to stay and take care of her . . . was beginning to (potentially) infringe upon what was best for their work.

Maybe.

There was really no way to be sure about Lincoln. And honestly . . . he took a breath . . . there was really no way to be sure that the L.P.D would have even ACCEPTED his offer to fly out. They could have said thanks for the notes, but we'll handle the rest of this ourselves.

It happened all the time.

So that was why his guilt was presently just a whisper, and not a holler. Because it's not like he'd turned down a request to fly out . . . that would have been an inexcusable breach of duty . . . he just hadn't VOLUNTEERED to go. But it was just the fact that he'd wanted to make the offer, and hadn't, that was causing the whisper. But he would deal with that.

And he would deal with it this week.

Once the others knew what was happening, Hotch would let them fly again. He and Emily would officially shift to temporary desk duty, while Rossi and Morgan took point on the road. It wasn't an ideal way to run things, but this was not an ideal situation. It was a very FUCKED up, situation. And this was the only way to make it work.

So that was the conversation for tonight . . . to tell Emily that it was time for them to pick a day.

And it needed to be a day this week.

But . . . he rolled his shoulders to shake off the encroaching tension over that discussion . . . he didn't need to get into any of that with her now. Now was just getting dressed and out the door.

They were taking Jack to the zoo. And as his son was at his mother's . . . Haley's cousins were visiting so Hotch had agreed to let Jack attend a Brooks family dinner last night . . . they still needed to go pick him up. And the zoo would be packed by noon, so they really needed to get a move on if they wanted to miss the worst of the crowds.

That was his thought as headed back into the bathroom to check on Emily . . . they needed to hurry up.

Though as he stepped through the doorway . . . before he could say anything . . . Emily's gaze caught his in the bathroom mirror.

She smiled.

"Nice shirt," she said with a wink before going back to fixing her blush.

Hotch's lips twitched slightly as he started to walk barefoot across the cold tile. The shirt he had pulled on, was one that he'd recently realized had become Emily's favorite of his.

The Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge concert tour of 1995.

A few weeks ago she'd found it in the back of his dresser drawer while they were packing up his old apartment. And though he wasn't quite sure what the appeal was of this particular shirt . . . a shirt he only vaguely remembered buying, and probably hadn't worn in a decade . . . it made her happy for some reason. She'd worn it to bed more than once, but she hadn't completely adopted it either.

Not like some of his others.

This one she kept slipping into the front of his dresser drawer. And sensing the hint there . . . that she'd like to see him start wearing it too . . . Hotch had begun trying to work it into the weekend rotation.

It was a bit of an adjustment for him.

It wasn't generally his style . . . he didn't usually wear clothes with 'words' on them . . . but again, she obviously liked the shirt and she clearly wanted him to wear it, so, he was wearing it.

These days anything that put a smile on her face, was reason enough for him to try something new. Hell, putting a smile on her face was reason enough for him to wear the shirt every damn day of the week, but the Stones just really didn't go with his work suits.

And certainly not his ties.

"So," he asked with a little smile while hopping up onto the vanity next to her, "what would you like for breakfast?"

Though he had brewed the coffee when he got up earlier, Hotch had ignored his growling stomach. He wanted to wait and eat with Emily.

Really, he pretty much wanted to do everything with Emily.

And though that was another manifestation of their newfound 'co-dependency,' he still didn't give a fuck. It was more time that they could spend together. And in the end, when things turned bad, that's what everybody always said that they'd wished they'd had.

More time.

Which was why they weren't missing a minute of it now. Later, when she was well again, they would reassess.

For now they'd stay attached at the hip.

"Um," Emily's nose wrinkled as she paused in fixing her eyeliner, "nothing too greasy or heavy. We have a lot of walking. How about just toast and peanut butter?" Her brow inched up slightly.

"S,okay?"

She hated to have her dietary concerns affect his . . . he needed more calories than she did . . . but things had started to not always sit well. And so the standard breakfast foods . . . like eggs for instance . . . tended to make her feel a bit queasy just thinking about them.

Peanut butter though . . . she nodded to herself . . . peanut butter should be safe.

"Yeah," Hotch's lip quirked up slightly, "that sounds good. But maybe you could eat a hard-boiled egg too? We can toss the yolk if you think it might bother you. I'm just thinking that you could probably use a little extra protein to keep up your energy today, right?"

Her diet, in terms of EXACTLY what she ingested every day, was starting to become a point of keen interest for him. In the past he would joke with her about how much she ate. But over the last couple of weeks, her legendary appetite had started to taper off a bit. Not completely, she was certainly still eating, and she was eating without any prodding from him. But given her nausea was increasing with each treatment . . . as they'd been told from the beginning, the effects were cumulative . . . they were becoming more mindful of her diet. But as long as she was still regularly putting solid food in her mouth . . . and keeping most of it down . . . he wasn't too worried on this point.

Not yet anyway.

Though as he saw a faintly melancholy smile touch Emily's lips, he knew that her concerns on this point, were a bit stronger than his.

"Yeah," Emily sighed as her hands fell to the countertop, "you're right. I probably could use the extra protein today."

It was a silly thing to let bother her, but just the fact that she actually did NEED the protein simply to take a walk around the zoo, was a bit depressing. Not like 'curl up in a ball and sob' depressing, but still . . . she dropped the eyeliner into the makeup tray . . . enough to put a slight ache in her stomach. She was only forty for Christ's sake.

This crap wasn't supposed to happen when you're forty.

Seeing the unexpected shift in Emily's eyes, the little sparkle extinguish, Hotch felt a stab of pain in his chest.

He slid off the black slate counter, and down to the tile floor. Then he stepped behind her.

"What's wrong sweetheart?" he asked softly as their nearly matching, dark brown eyes made contact in the mirror, "what's making you sad?"

For a moment Emily just stared up at Hotch . . . and then her eyes began to water. A second later, her gaze fell to the counter and off to the side.

He followed it along.

Both landed on the array of multicolored pills and supplements lined up neatly along the far corner . . . that was the cancer wing of their home.

'Oh Emily,' he thought with a wince. And feeling another stab of pain that this illness was beginning to wear on her so soon, Hotch slipped his arms around her waist.

"We have a sixty year agreement," he continued pointedly while pulling her back against chest, "and you should know, those sixty years have a binding, non-negotiable clause. You're not going anywhere, and neither am I. That's why we have those bottles."

Feeling Hotch's hand slide into her robe right before his fingers pressed against her bare stomach, Emily's watery eyes snapped back up to his.

His expression was soft, but his jaw was set.

He was calling her out.

So she blinked away the moisture in her eyes, and then looked back down at the pills again . . . this time trying to see them as he did. And then she bit her lip.

Aaron saw this lineup of bottles, not as the proof that she was sick . . . but as the proof that she would get well. It was a better, more hopeful, way to see things.

A way that she needed to start seeing them too.

And that also meant . . . she took a shallow breath . . . she should be taking the same approach to these now needed adjustments in her diet. The peanut butter, and the egg whites, and the little packages of dried berries and nuts that Hotch now slipped her for snacks, those were all things that would help to keep her well.

To keep her strong.

And she needed to keep that straight in her head. Otherwise, as the bad days encroached . . . and she knew they were coming, it was inevitable . . . she was going to find her mindset beginning to shift incrementally. Each little setback and adjustment to her world, would begin to weigh like another stone pressing down on her chest. And beating this shitty disease was all about keeping a good attitude. And having good doctors.

And of course . . . she took a deep breath as Hotch's fingers caressed her stomach . . . him.

Hotch was going to be what kept her head on straight when things started to get bad. So when she looked up at him again, her previously subdued reflection was now giving him a bright . . . no longer watery . . . smile.

She turned around, her silk robe slipping open as his arm fell away from her body. Then she leaned up to slide her hands along his chest.

He was wearing the t-shirt. The one that made her so happy.

The one that proved that they were meant to be.

"You're right," she whispered with a soft smile, "those sixty years are binding and non-negotiable. I'm sorry that I forgot for a minute."

Hotch's eyes crinkled slightly as he leaned down to press a kiss to her lips.

"It's okay," he whispered as his lips moved along from her mouth to the curve of her jaw, "I forgive you." And with that action she wrapped her arms around his neck, and his hands slid back under her now open robe.

Then his kisses continued down further still . . . he began to nibble on her neck. And she sighed while angling slightly to give him better access.

Where ever his lips wanted to go, she always adjusted to give him better access.

But then his fingers also started to wander, and as one began to gently caress her right breast, Emily's general contentment, turned to amusement. She grinned against his shoulder.

"We don't have time," she breathed softly.

"Sure we do," Hotch murmured through his kisses, "we just have to put the quick," he nipped a little mark on her collarbone, "into 'quickie.'"

Emily chuckled.

"I admire your stamina honey," she had to bite back a moan as he tweaked her nipple, "but we haven't even had breakfast yet."

"Peanut butter and toast Emily," Hotch whispered in her ear as his left hand slid off her hip and dipped down beneath her cotton underwear, "we can eat it in the car."

"Ohhh," Emily's breath caught as Hotch suddenly cupped her. His touch was firm, and possessive . . . and all of her arguments against this activity, immediately became downright ridiculous.

"Right," she slowly exhaled, "that is such an excellent point."

And she let him expand upon his excellent point for a few minutes longer. And then after she'd gasped against his shoulder, she leaned back slightly to give him a breathless grin.

"All right," she panted while fumbling for his belt, "I want these pants off," she undid the loop, "and us up on this counter giving Mr. Bubble over there a thrill, by the time I count to ten."

She was probably going to need an extra spoonful of peanut butter, but that was all right.

They'd just start buying in bulk.

Hotch burst out laughing.

"Yes, ma'am!" he chuckled as he let go of her hips and started to strip.

"No!" Emily caught Hotch's hand just as he started to pull off his t-shirt, "leave it on." Then she gave him a soft smile, "please. I like it."

Though he might think that she was a little bit nuts for asking him to take his pants off but leave his shirt on . . . and she could tell from his amused brow wrinkle that was the general ballpark of his feelings about her request . . . that was okay. He'd always thought that she was a little bit nuts.

So what was another pistachio for the bowl?

Hotch's hand fell away from his shirt to catch Emily's fingers instead. And seeing the sparkle had returned to her eyes, and knowing he would do anything she asked . . . anything that would keep it there . . . he smiled while leaning in to press another kiss to her mouth.

"As you wish sweetheart," he murmured softly, "as you wish."

Then he pulled back, his eyebrows waggling as he started to hurriedly unzip his pants.

"Now let's give Mr. Bubble that thrill!"


A/N 2: The rewrite here sort of meandered a bit off the original blueprint. But that's because I didn't really know how to write a story when I first wrote this :) What was missing there were these thoughts from Hotch on his judgment getting compromised and that it was time to tell the team. That was something that I think was needed. Also, they didn't fool around in the bathroom, but I'd always had her in that robe and it just seemed a waste for Hotch to not cop at least a feel. And then off he went! I actually sliced out almost entirely the dialogue/actions of the original and wrote something different. But oddly enough, the purpose of the chapter, where Emily first starts to falter in her confidence, and Hotch setting her back on course with the purpose of the pills, is exactly the same. Funny how that can go.

Can't believe we're already on chapter 21, and we're not close to done yet! But if you didn't read the first version, this story is in large part built around, 'day in the life' type chapters, so though they have a bit more heft to them this time around, ultimately there will still be a lot of little pop-ins with them as we go along.

And you can see we're on the verge of the team conversation. Though it will be this same week in their world, it's only Sunday morning, and there are a couple chapters to go up first (I think just two, haven't checked yet) and then that big milestone will be crossed off their list.

I have no idea what's going up next in terms of story posts. After three solid weeks of lengthy new chapters, my muse suddenly got twitchy again. I'm just bouncing around, seeing what I can build onto.

Thanks for the feedback though ;)