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The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
She'd had that lingering cough for a month.
He knew. He'd been counting. In point of fact, it had been exactly thirty-seven days. Thirty-seven long, worry filled days.
And still, she'd refused to concede defeat. She was tough. But she wasn't immortal. And he was growing more concerned daily.
In the past week, she'd slowed down drastically. Her normally purposeful stride had waned until, now, each footstep seemed to be an effort for her. Her usual perfect alabaster complexion looked sallow. And he cringed every time he thought about the darkening bags under her weakened eyes.
She needed to rest, but back to back cases had kept them on the road. He knew he could have ordered her to stay behind, but, honestly, at least on a case he figured that he could watch her more carefully.
Each member of the team had tried talking to her, but she'd waved each of them off with a careless wave and a roll of her dark eyes. Evidently, Prentiss' didn't get sick. Ever.
She'd still been as convicted on that particular principle as ever, even after he caught her outside the local police station they'd been working at when she'd weaved on her feet, almost landing in a remarkably thorny rose bush.
He'd voiced his request that she see a physician again on the plane ride home that evening. And, of course, she'd predictably resisted. So, then, as the chief of the unit and a highly concerned friend, he'd been forced to do the deplorable in Emily's eyes.
He'd made his concerned request into an unassailable order, his flashing eyes daring her to argue.
Waiting with her as their other teammates deplaned, Hotch met Emily's blistering gaze squarely. "Why?" she asked, her voice harsh in the now empty plane. "Why can't you just let it go? I did my job as well as I ever do, didn't I, Hotch?"
Opting for the easy answer, Hotch tilted his head as his eyes perused her worn expression. "You're dragging, Prentiss. And when one member of this team drags, it slows us all down."
"That's garbage, and you know it," Emily bit out, her fingers clenching and unclenching. "Or are you conveniently forgetting that it was my interrogation of the witness that broke the case open for all of us?"
"I haven't forgotten anything. But your memory must be slipping, Prentiss. Last I checked, I still led this team. And I'm telling you that until you see a doctor, you're benched," Hotch replied evenly, crossing his arms over his chest as he stared across the small airplane table.
Face tightening, Emily gripped the armrests of her seat. "So, you're effectively bullying me into a doctor's office?"
"If that's your interpretation," Hotch shrugged. "I call it looking after a colleague."
"I call it pulling rank," Emily snapped, narrowing her eyes as she shook her head at the man that had quickly been reclassified as a bully. "So beneath you, Hotch."
Shrugging easily, Hotch replied, "Somehow I think I'll manage to live with myself. Especially since you nearly passed out today."
"I lost my balance," Emily blithely responded, cocking her head to the side as she ignored the sudden urge to cough once again. "It happens."
"Not to you," Hotch declared flatly, rising from his seat and draping his go bag over his shoulder. Reaching for hers quickly, he slipped it out from underneath her hand.
"Now what are you doing?" Emily asked impatiently as she stood up slowly, watching Hotch easily sling the black case over his arm.
"Escorting you," he answered tersely, stepping aside so that she could precede him down the narrow aisle of the jet.
"Escorting me where?" Emily groaned, moving slowly toward the exit, her legs protesting the simple effort.
"To the doctor. There's a twenty-four hour emergency care facility just blocks from my brownstone. We can be in and out in a couple of hours," Hotch explained, reaching for her arm as she progressed down the folding metal steps toward the ground.
She'd never admit it under pain of death, but Emily was relieved to feel his solid grip surrounding her forearm as black spots danced in front of her eyes as she descended toward level ground. Damn, when had things gotten so bad? She'd been under the weather this morning...hell, the past several mornings…but nothing this pronounced. "Fine," Emily grumbled as she tried to swallow, "but, you're driving."
"You won't get any argument on that from me," Hotch nodded, guiding her to his parked SUV.
Three and a half hours later, Hotch guided a groggy Emily up the flagstone path toward his brownstone. Clamping down on his agitation, he shook his head again as he heard Emily grumble behind him, her agitated voice filled with as much anger as hoarseness.
"For the fourth time, Prentiss, you heard the doctor. It's either my guest bedroom or the hospital," Hotch said over his shoulder, keeping a watchful eye on the slender woman as she leaned her shoulder against the brick of his building. "Which would you prefer?"
"This is ridiculous," Emily retorted, her voice still raspy from the breathing treatment those so-called medical professionals had forced on her. "It's a cold, Hotch."
"No," Hotch returned patiently, efficiently unlocking the door and flipping on his porch light in one smooth motion, illuminating them both in a warm golden glow, "It's walking pneumonia and it can be extremely dangerous."
"Can be," Emily pointed out with the skill of a seasoned defense attorney, "Not is. And I don't think it's in your job description to play nursemaid to a vaguely ill colleague, Hotch."
"First, there's nothing vague about this illness," Hotch began, reaching out to tug her by the arm into the foyer of his home. "I was standing right beside you when the doctor showed us your x-rays. Second, I've already explained three times that it's no problem. Jack's away at camp for the next week. You'll be able to spend the entire weekend recuperating under my watchful eye."
"You mean your autocratic authority," Emily snorted, covering her mouth as she coughed weakly, trying to keep her breaths shallow. Damn, when had her chest began to hurt so badly?
Maybe Aaron Hotchner was right after all, she thought as she pressed a hand to her neck. Maybe she might need to take a moment to recover. She just never thought she'd be doing her recovering in his home.