Author's Note: It's a new story, number 60! And yes, I know some of you are waiting oh so patiently for updates on existing stories, and they are coming. Just not right this second ;)

This is another spinoff of Girl, Universe E. Before you start this, you should first go read chapters 1-20 of "Falling in Love with a Girl." This is H/P friendship only, NOT a romance.

Now this story picks up events immediately after Chapter 20 (A Bloody Mess) which was the one that covered the season two finale where Gideon's girlfriend was killed and Emily discovered that she was a plant in the unit. There are a few weeks between what happens in that episode, and what happens in the season opener when Hotch gets suspended, Gideon disappears completely, Emily quits and then Haley leaves. I was intrigued by the idea of a spinoff at that point in those in-between days. Because clearly for all of that to happen in the opener, then the true unraveling of those relationships happened in those missing days. So I'm taking those days where everything was on the brink, and spinning them off in a different direction. Here something terrible happens during the in-between that bonds Hotch and Emily in a way that they didn't bond in canon. And then season 3 is completely re-envisioned with their relationship being something else entirely.

Though I have plans for this universe overall, this story itself will not be that that long chapter wise. And it's just Hotch and Emily, not the full team, and though this is the Girl'verse, this is going to move to a more intense tale in a couple chapters. The reason this is going up now is because this is also going to be my main Halloween story this year, under the "scary story" entries. I've had the first couple of chapters written for awhile and I'll put up one a week so by the time we get to the upsetting stuff it'll be October.

So as this opens remember that Emily's looking for an exit strategy and Hotch's marriage has deteriorated to the point that his wife is about to leave him.


Story Title Forum - Prompt Set #2

Author: Elizabeth George

Title Challenge: A Moment on The Edge


"Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light."

- John Milton


Somewhere A Clock Is Ticking

Hotch pushed passed the furious Haley to storm into his den. A split-second later the crash of the door slamming shut filled the house.

Unfortunately though, that still wasn't the dominant noise he could hear . . . that would be his wife. And unfortunately his home office wasn't sound proof, because he could still hear his wife SCREAMING at him from the other side of the door. Her words were vicious and they were tiresome . . . and they were boring into his brain.

His eyes fell shut as he scrubbed his hands down his face . . . he was trying to block them out.

Jesus Christ. How the hell had this happened to them? They used to be happy. Of course they fought, everybody fought, but it wasn't like this . . . his eyes snapped open again as he shook his head . . . it was never like this.

They would calm down, apologize, kiss and make up. They hadn't kissed and made up in months.

He winced . . . they hadn't been happy in a long time.

Months really.

Now there was just this was almost endless barrage of hostility. Even when they weren't openly fighting there was a tension, the sense of constantly walking on eggshells. And the moment one shell cracked they were off and running again.

It was exhausting.

Of course the arguments weren't always as bad as this one tonight, but he'd recently noticed this cylindrical pattern and he didn't know how to break it. They went back and forth on the same topics without purpose or any end in sight.

She said that he wasn't home enough . . . he said he was doing his best.

She said to take out the garbage . . . he said to give him five minutes to take off his coat.

She said he should have called if he was going to be late . . . he said it was a little hard to do that when he was in the middle of interviewing a suspected serial killer.

She said that his son missed him . . . he said that was a low blow.

And tonight . . . for the first time . . . she said that she wanted him to transfer.

He said no.

He said no and now his wife was screaming words on the other side of that wooden door that even after eighteen years of marriage he didn't know that she knew.

It wasn't a pretty side of her.

But why should he transfer? Hotch's jaw twitched as he began to pace . . . he'd busted his ass to get this job. Why all of a sudden does he have to throw away everything that he'd worked so hard to get?

How can Haley not see how unfair that is to ask him to choose?

It's not like he wasn't trying to get home more. It's not like he didn't KNOW that he was missing time with his baby boy. And it's not like he didn't know that was time that he wouldn't get back.

He knew all those things. But he didn't dictate his schedule . . . the cases dictated his schedule.

Not to mention that lately they'd also had a hell of a lot of personal tragedy on the team too. Reid's abduction and the aftermath there, Gideon's girlfriend getting butchered and Jason being named the prime suspect. So yes, Hotch did allow that the last four or five months he had been pulled away from home quite a bit. Perhaps a bit more than usual. And yes, he also knew that since Jack was born it was harder for Haley now when he was away because she had to take care of their son all alone.

And he felt badly about that . . . he really did. But on the flip side though . . . and he felt a little sexist for even thinking it . . . he would have thought that the baby would help fill her time. That now she WOULDN'T be so resentful of his traveling. What did she do with her days before Jack was born? She hadn't worked full time since they'd gotten married and it's not like he'd ever been a nine to fiver.

The USAO, SWAT and the BAU had all been jobs requiring his full attention.

Okay . . . he paced around the room . . . the BAU often required more than his full attention. But he'd been working there for nearly a decade and Jack was still in diapers so this position he was in was not "new" to her. Haley knew where he was working when she first said that she wanted to have a baby, and that's where he'd been working when he'd finally agreed to have a baby. And when that decision was made there definitely had been NO discussion about his career or any concerns that she may have had about how it was going to impact an expanded family.

'So why was his job NOW suddenly such a problem for her?' He thought with a burst of anger. And if it had been a problem before why the hell hadn't she said something before they had the baby?

Realizing the implications of what he'd just said . . . that somehow he regretted his son's birth . . . Hotch stopped pacing as he felt a stab of guilt. Of course he didn't regret Jack's birth. And . . . he rolled his eyes . . . "getting his wife off his back" certainly wasn't the reason he'd finally agreed to start a family. They did wait a long time . . . a very long time . . . but it's not as though Haley had to wear him down.

Well . . . Hotch bit his lip as he really thought about the answer there . . . not really. It was just that it had taken awhile for him to become comfortable with the idea of children. His upbringing had not been a happy one. And with all of the terrible things he saw at work, he knew that his home life was not an aberration.

Both nature and nurture created a multitude of horrible creatures that went bump in the night.

And the thought of bringing a child into this twisted, fucked up world terrified him. But he loved his boy . . . he felt a stab of pain as he heard Haley starting to cry before she moved away from the door . . . he loved his family.

He just needed to figure out a way to get them through whatever the hell it was they were going through right now. Tonight's battle royale had been precipitated by his announcement that he had to leave town in the morning and he wouldn't be back until at least Friday. That's when Haley told him that he needed to transfer.

And that's when he told her no.

Which brought him to now.

His wife was now off crying in their bedroom, while he tried to refocus on work. Specifically a parole hearing down in Texas that he needed to attend.

It was a hearing that Gideon was going to cover . . . it was his case originally . . . but obviously . . . even if he hadn't been on leave . . . he was in no condition to be handling something like this. Still though . . . Hotch sighed as he tried to fully shift his attention away from his personal issues and onto his work ones . . . somebody on the team needed to attend this hearing.

There was no way that they could let this one back on the street.

So that really just left him or Morgan to speak. Reid was still too twitchy to be going anywhere, JJ wasn't a profiler and Prentiss, well . . . Hotch leaned down to unlock his desk . . . Prentiss was the reason that Hotch needed to take this one instead of Morgan.

She was coming with him.

Hotch's brow darkened as he pulled out the case file and began to skim over the details of Cabrini's killing spree . . . nothing new there. He'd been incarcerated for thirteen years, and this was the third time that he'd been up for parole.

Gideon had shut it down every other time.

Hotch sighed as he sat down at his desk . . . and now that job had fallen to him.

Him and Prentiss.

He picked up his cell phone . . . she was coming with him because this would be a good training exercise for her. At some point everyone had to speak in front of a parole board and explain exactly what made these people tick and why in God's name they should never be released back into society.

And though Emily had been with them for close to eight months, she was still the newest member of the team and Hotch knew that he needed to start helping her fill in some of the gaps in her experience. Ordinarily this was something that he would have been more aggressive about at an earlier date. But with the awkwardness of her beginning, Reid's abduction and subsequent PTSD and drug problem, and now most recently everything that had happened with Gideon, somehow time had just gotten away from him.

Something else had always taken priority.

But now summer was fast approaching and he hadn't yet brought Prentiss to a parole hearing, let her lead a class at the Academy or even take point on a custodial interview.

God . . . he paused to shake his head in disgust before hitting the green button . . . he really was dropping the ball with her. She had so much potential. Really, with her gift with children and her ability to connect emotionally with the victims, he knew that the potential there wasn't only to be good, but to be great.

And he was wasting that greatness.

So as his finger dropped down to hit send, he put all of his home life issues out of his head for a moment.

Time to work.

/*/*/*/*/*/

Emily put her third glass of diet Coke down on the coffee table before she herself dropped back down onto the couch. As she folded her pink pajama clad legs underneath her body, she looked back down at her laptop.

Since she'd arrived home from work two and a half hours ago she'd been researching the requirements for inter-agency transfers. She had to get the hell out of the Bureau.

And damn soon.

So far she'd been able to push Strauss off, but God knows how long the "I have absolutely nothing to say you to you, MA'AM" was going to fly.

The woman was getting very impatient.

When she'd pulled her into her office that night it was clear that she'd assumed that Emily would immediately fold, immediately begin feeding her information about Hotch and the unit. And when she didn't . . . when she balked . . . the witch had begun to hint that if Emily didn't come up with something soon that she was going to "disclose" her status to Hotch. In essence such a disclosure would not only destroy all trust that Hotch had in her now, but it would also ruin her career at the FBI completely.

Nobody would ever want her in their unit with a reputation as a mole. Basically Strauss was getting her coming and going . . . you ruin him or I ruin you.

Your choice.

Yeah well . . . Emily scowled as she bookmarked the entrance requirements for the NSA . . . she'd never much cared for multiple choice tests. She was an essay girl. And she was going to write her own way out of this one.

Suddenly flashing on Strauss' threats slithering through the phone line last week, Emily's stomach turned. God . . . she shuddered . . . hopefully she'd be out of there soon though. Because every time she thought of that horrible woman "outing her" to Hotch Emily wanted to throw up.

That woman had NO idea what it was like doing the work that they did, the awful things that they experienced and the bonds formed as a result of immersing themselves in a world that nobody should have to live in. As hard as it was . . . her heart ached as she thought of Reid and Gideon . . . as much as it cost them . . . they did it week in and week out, over and over again. And Strauss dismissed all of it like it was nothing.

Like their relationships were nothing.

It was almost enough to make Emily want to call in a favor from her father. Oh yeah . . . Emily snorted humorlessly as she started looking at the Foreign Service openings . . . Daddy would find a nice third world prison where they could dump the section chief off for the next thirty or forty years.

That would be wonderful.

The unexpected shrill of the house phone broke Emily's concentration, making her jump slightly as her hand slipped off the mouse.

It was almost ten . . . her brow wrinkled as she leaned over to check the caller ID . . . who'd be calling this time of night?

Hotch.

Her expression softened . . . of course, speak of the devil. Since that night when he found her crying in the bullpen, she always felt like he could hear the guilt in her voice. He'd been so nice to her, letting her dry her tears on his shoulder and now she felt like it was because he already knew her terrible secret and was just patiently waiting for her to admit it to him.

But she knew that was crazy, that was just paranoia talking.

Still though, she took a breath to steady her voice before picking up the phone.

Paranoia had its place when you lived in a world of profilers.

"Hey Hotch," she tried to sound casual as she shifted her leg around, "do we have a case?"

"Good evening Prentiss, and uh no, not really," Hotch started booting up his laptop, "though you and I will be flying out in the morning, it's not an active case. I need to go to Texas to appear before the parole board and I want you with me. It'll be a good experience. You know these hearings come up for us fairly often and down the road I'd like for you to be able to attend one on your own if need be."

Not that he was inclined to send Prentiss . . . or really any of them . . . off alone. But you know never know what's going to happen and he wanted her to have the confidence to handle a hearing if circumstances required it.

Emily's eyes began to burn . . . down the road. He wanted to bring her on a training exercise to teach her something that he thought she might find useful in the future.

Except that she had no future.

Not with the FBI anyway. And she so badly just wanted to blurt that out to him now. To unburden herself from this misplaced guilt. She wanted to tell him that he shouldn't waste his time with her, that he should be focusing his efforts on finding her replacement and insulating himself from Strauss.

But she just couldn't say the words. She didn't want to ruin the time she had left with the team.

The time she had left with him.

Her relationship with Hotch was so important to her. More important perhaps than she had realized. This horrific work that he devoted himself to, all the good that he did for people. And he did it for no credit, no glory . . . just because it was the right thing to do. He was an inspiration, a role model.

Next to her father, Hotch was probably the person she respected most in the world, and the thought of disappointing him made her feel sick. She just wanted to leave him on good note, that was really all she could salvage from awful situation. So she tried to cover over her sadness, falsely brightening her voice as she answered him.

"That sounds good. How long will we be gone?"

Hotch looked over the flight options he'd just punched into Sidestep.

"Well," his brow scrunched as he figured out the timing, "at least a full day, but pack for two days though to be safe. The hearing is at nine am on Thursday so I figure we'll fly out late tomorrow morning and then we'll land at a decent hour local time. Keep in mind we're flying commercial so we can't prep on the plane like we usually do. So we'll do that tomorrow night which means that we need to leave the office around . . . hold on," he scrolled down the screen, "10:30. Then we can catch the 11:55 out of Dulles."

As Hotch had been speaking Emily's emotions had started getting the better of her. She knew that was she was overstressed and overtired, but all she could see right now was everything that was losing.

Things that she was never going to get back.

And when he stopped talking, she wiped the small bit of moisture from the corner of her eye as she nodded.

"Okay," she cleared her throat, "I'll be ready."

There was a pause before Hotch came back slowly, "you sound a little hoarse. Are you getting sick Prentiss?"

Not that he sounded that great himself . . . he had been arguing with Haley for the last forty five minutes . . . but it seemed unlikely that Prentiss had been in the midst of her own family drama when he called. And he had noticed that the last few days she'd been somewhat subdued and looking a little pale. If she was coming down with something he didn't want to drag her onto a commercial airplane . . . a breeding ground for disease . . . without good cause. It wasn't like they had a case. It was just an impromptu training exercise.

There would be others.

Jesus. . . Emily cursed to herself . . . how does he DO that? She couldn't even keep things from him when he was THREE towns away!

Again she tried to cover.

"It must be the pollen. Really sir, I feel," she cleared her throat again as she spoke firmly, "just fine. I'll be ready to go tomorrow, no problem."

"All right," Hotch's gaze fell to the floor as he tapped his fingers on his desk, "just checking."

There was silence for a moment as he tried to think if he had forgotten to tell her anything. No . . . he bit his lip . . . that was it.

"I'll see you in the morning. Have a good night Prentiss."

"Thanks Hotch," Emily said softly, "you too."

She sat there listening to the click, and then the buzzing in her ear before she realized that he was gone. With a shake of her head, she put the receiver back into the base, her eyes shifting back down to her notepad. She had carefully printed out the list of agencies to research for transfer requirements.

Half of them had lines through them.

Her gaze drifted to her open laptop and the Foreign Service listings she'd started reviewing right before Hotch had called.

Well . . . she sighed . . . her research was definitely done for the evening. She'd pick it up again at the hotel tomorrow night.

After she'd closed her computer and sat back against the couch, Emily's eyes began to water again.

'God, this sucked.'


A/N 2: When I was writing this section of their lives in Girl (over a year ago) I didn't give much thought to these in between days. The format of the story for season 2 was simply to cover a chapter per episode, and there were no episodes here. But as I thought about those days for this story all I could think was how awful that must have been for both Emily and Hotch, for totally different reasons. Those were the last days of his marriage and it was clear from the sliver of his home life they bothered to show in canon that they were fighting even when he was working. So I figure if it was so bad it was bleeding into work, home must have been World War Three. I saw the suspension as the eye of the hurricane and Haley's blissful "everything's fine now" attitude in Birth & Death as her fooling herself that the situation had been magically resolved. And I did like having the opportunity to flesh out the deterioration of the marriage. I touched on it in past tense in main Girl, but that's not a story about Hotch and Haley, it's about Hotch and Emily, so I wasn't going to make that a focus there. And then Emily, having to keep going into work every day and pretend things were normal, knowing what she knew about her own status and what Strauss was trying to do to Hotch and the unit, the guilt and the tension must have been eating away at her. So that's why we opened here. For the rest of this story to work the opening needed to set the stage for where they are in both their personal and professional lives right now, they're a mess. And now they're off to Texas. And things are not going to go well for them down there. I really liked hitting H/P's relationship at this point because it's totally unique for me writing from season 2. They definitely aren't in love, they aren't even really friends yet, their unique bond in Girl really begins to solidify with Emily quitting and Hotch dragging her back.

Another chapter here sometime next week.

Updates before the weekend on Aaron & Emily & To Rossi's House. Updates OVER the weekend on The Hours and Fracture, and possibly one other item. The muses are being cooperative (knock wood) so I'm continuing to try to keep as many balls in the air as possible.

FYI: Lots of new prompts in both forums