This is my story for the Candy Land Challenge on Chit Chat Author's Corner. Yes, it was supposed to be up five days ago but writer's block has been rather persistent...
My pairing: Hotch/Prentiss; My candy: a Kit Kat Bar (and my writer's block didn't even care that that is indeed my favorite candy...)
A bit THANK YOU to Tracia and Tonnie for the challenge! As always, it's been fun :)
Now, on to the story. Enjoy! (Despite the fact that it's the longest one-shot I've ever written...)
"Are you okay?"
"Mm..." came the reply.
When Hotch looked over he found Emily biting her lower lip with her eyes closed.
"No, you're not. You look like you're in pain."
"Hotch, we just crashed into a ditch and I hit my head. Give me a minute to take stock of the rest of my body, okay?"
Hotch nodded hastily and tried to get his own breathing under control. Then he stared out the windshield into the dark of the night.
And started to slowly shake his head.
"Was that really a coyote?"
"How can there be a coyote in the middle of the road?"
"This is North Dakota, Hotch. There are coyotes and deer and even one or two buffalo around. And if you take a deep breath right now you can even smell the skunk."
Hotch was slightly taken aback by Emily's tone.
He knew some about the wildlife in in the Midwest but he never expected to almost run into an American jackal. Especially not in the 10:12 pm darkness. If he had expected the animal deciding to cross the gravel right where they were driving he would have been prepared and reacted the way you were supposed to. Just keep the car straight instead of hitting the break full force and pulling the car to the side. And eventually ending up in the ditch.
This was not something they needed today.
Hotch and Emily had just gotten back from interviewing the first kidnapping victim's family. When they had arrived in North Dakota two days ago they had not expected the driving they would have to do to get all the information they needed to complete the profile. It was crazy. Nothing was close by and as pretty as the countryside was it was getting on their nerves.
So, Thursday night found both of them on the way from Harvey to Bismarck, where they had set up at the local police department. Detective Boehm had told them that part of the highway around Hurdsfield would be closed and that they should take gravel instead.
If he had told them to watch out for animals on the way as well it might have prevented them from ending up next to the road in a 45° angle.
And the bruise on Emily's head surrounded by a small smear of blood wouldn't have made an appearance either.
Hotch went against his nature and sent a silent prayer upwards as he turned the key in the engine and tried to restart the car. After the fourth try the squeaking of the transmission had become so unbearable that he admitted defeat.
"Let's get out of the car." Emily had finally raised her head and opened her eyes.
"Yeah, we probably should." He grabbed the door handle and started to push it open when he saw his partner trying to do the same to his right. He pulled her back immediately. "Hold on and stay put. I'll help you from outside."
Emily didn't even have time to object as he was already out of the car and on his way to her side. He pulled the door open with force until it hit the ground on the bottom side. That gave her just enough room to make it out of the vehicle.
She slowly unfastened her seatbelt and grabbed his hand as he helped her out of the SUV.
"We really are in the middle of nowhere..." Hotch was looking around as Emily was still holding on the to the car to keep her balance. She pulled out her cell phone and wasn't surprised at what she found.
"And we don't have any cell service. This just keeps getting better and better..." She sighed as the pushed the phone back in her pocket and shifted on her feet to get a tighter grip on the door. "What do we do?"
Since the SUV they had taken lacked a GPS, Hotch reached into the glove box and pulled a folded map out. He turned the overhead lights in the car on and scanned the paper that presented him with the shape of North Dakota.
"There's a town called Goodrich that's about two miles from here." He pulled himself out of the vehicle and eyed her varily. "How's your head?"
"Fuzzy. Not too bad though, I'm sure I could make it." She took a deep breath and pushed herself off the door. "Come on, let's get going. It's getting pretty cold."
He bent back down and started gathering their stuff from the front of the vehicle. There wasn't much, after all they had their cell phones and guns on them. He reached over to the driver's side, pulled the key and emerged from the car. As he slammed the door shut he turned to his right to where he had seen Emily heading a few seconds before.
What he found was her standing unsteadily with her head in both hands, eyes closed.
"Are you sure you're alright?" He asked as he slowly approached her. "Cause you don't look it at all."
"Yeah, I'm good." She turned her head to look at him but soon realized that the movement made the world around her spin out of control.
"Wanna try that again? Come on, let's get back to the car." He put his hands on her shoulders and gently made her turn in the direction of the SUV.
If she was honest, she didn't wanna move one step but she also didn't wanna risk ending up as another coyote's dinner. Plus, it smelled like skunk out here.
"Hotch, we need to get to the next town. We can't spend the night out here."
"I'm not planning to. But why don't we sit down until your head doesn't feel like a rollercoaster on state fair anymore? Come on."
He nudged her towards the vehicle and used the remote control in his car key to unlock it from a few feet away. As soon as they had made it back he left her to hold on to the hood and went to explore the insides of the car.
"Alright, let's see what we got here. There's some water... and gum... and... a bag of sunflower seeds? Did you leave those in here?"
"No," came her weak reply as he watched her make her way to the driver's side and lower herself to sit on the ground and lean against the door.
He followed her and stared at her crouched form on the grassy ground.
"Come down and have a seat. It's not exactly five-star-hotel but it accommodates the star gazing."
It took him another few seconds of inner debate before he sank down next to her.
"Here you go."
Emily accepted the bottle of aspirin, the water and the Kit Kat Bar from him with a grateful smile spread all over her face.
"Oh man, thank you so much. They're my favorite."
She turned to her left to looked at him and smirked. "Of course you do."
She tore the wrapper open and generously handed him half of the chocolate bar. When he took it from her she leant her head back and starting munching on her piece.
"Don't you wanna try the painkillers first?"
"You're supposed to eat before swallowing pills, right?"
He nodded although she wasn't even looking at him. Instead, she was relishing the taste of her already half-eaten treat.
After minutes of comfortable silence he glanced over to his right to see her still looking up at the sky. He was just about to open his mouth to speak when she beat him to it.
"Sometimes I make myself believe that airplanes are actually shooting stars and that I have a wish whenever I see one."
He followed her gaze and saw a steady and two blinking lights sail across the night sky towards the west.
"And what would you wish for right now?"
She followed the path of the plane with her eyes a bit longer before letting out a deep sigh.
"That we find those kids."
"Before or after it's too late?"
Hotch wasn't surprised by her blunt question. Emily never sugarcoated anything and they both knew the odds of finding the teenagers alive.
"I don't know," he admitted.
She nodded as she slowly unscrewed and removed the caps of both the bottle of water and the medication and swallowed a pill. She then set both items on the ground next to her and resumed the stargazing.
"Are you ok?" Hotch drew her attention back to the real world.
Huh, good point.
Emily sighed as she fixated on neatly folding the red candy wrapper she had picked back up from the grass next to her.
"Did you see that woman's face?" she asked hesitantly.
"Yeah. I think it'll be burned into my mind for a long time."
Hotch looked at her intently until she came up with the courage to give reason to her statement.
"Cause I don't think I've ever seen anybody this upset and lost ever before. And we haven't even confirmed her worst fear yet. So the way it looks now we might even make it worse for her."
Hotch took a moment to take her words in and mull them over in his head before he spoke again.
"Why is this one bothering you so much? I mean, don't get me wrong, I understand you feeling like this. But what's so different this time?"
Emily finally turned to face him directly.
"I overheard JJ talking to Will before you and I left the station earlier. I'm not sure if hearing about Henry's playdate or his temper tantrum at lunch made things better or worse for her. I don't wanna question her objectivity. You know I never would and we both know there's no reason to when it comes to her. But looking into Mrs. Henderson's eyes and seeling the pure devastation and almost complete loss of hope in them made me realize that as much as I would love to be a mother I don't think I could do it. I don't htink I would possess the strength that it takes to keep my calm and be professional enough to talk to parents on kidnapping or murder cases knowing what dangers the world holds for my toddler at home. Or teenager even. I'd have a constant phone line open to their nanny. Or would have quit a long time ago..."
Hotch smirked a bit as he processed her words. If he was honest Emily reminded him of JJ before she had Henry. He remembered having this same conversation with her on several occasions when cases involving little kids had come up. Every single time JJ had asked Hotch how he could cope with what they saw on a daily basis.
"Did you ever try to think about it the other way around?"
When Emily directed a questioning eyebrow at him he continued.
"For JJ and I knowing that Henry and Jack are back home waiting for us makes things a whole lot easier. Sometimes it might even be the only thing that keeps us going. I've had cases like that and I guess this one is one for JJ."
He tried to assess Emily's thoughts as she waited for him to carry on with his explanation.
"Jack is sometimes the only one who can pick me up at the end of the day. He's like a combination of endorphins and comfort food. If I didn't have him I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have kept my sanity until today."
"So you call him whenever you fear for your composure?"
"No. I pay close attention to calming down before I talk to him. I don't wanna scare him. And we usually stick to certain times so that we both have time to talk. Why do you think I try to disappear everytime it's 6:30 pm in DC?" he said smiling her way.
"I always thought you were just very particular about your bathroom breaks," she said and received a slight punch at her left arm for that. It had them both laughing.
"Seriously though, Hotch. Thank you for sharing this with me. I really appreciate it."
She smiled at him softly and he returned the gesture.
"How's your head?"
She shook it slightly to evaluate the level of pain and dizziness and frowned when she found her surroundings spinning once again. Only this time at only a 45-degree-angle.
"It's better than ten minutes ago. So peachy I would say."
"Can you try to get-"
"I don't think we have to," Emily cut him off as he pointed over his shoulder at something in the distance. When he turned around he saw two bright headlights heading their way.
He quickly got to his feet and started waving his hands in the air. If her head wasn't killing her Emily would have told him that he looked like a lunatic just that moment.
They both noticed the car slowing down and finally coming to a stop a few feet short of their SUV. The driver got out and eyed both of them with differing levels of concern.
"You folks alright?"
Hotch shot a glance at Emily who was still leaning against the vehicle.
"Actually, we ran into the ditch to avoid running into a coyote and my partner hit her head. We tried calling Triple A but there's no cell phone reception out here. Would you mind giving us a ride to the next town?"
The driver eyed him with a surprised look.
"You swerved for a coyote? Man, you really should have just run it over, we got too freaking many around here anyways. But yeah, hop in, I'll take you along. Where were you headed?"
"Bismarck police department. We're with the FBI," Emily chimed in from her position on the ground.
"Well, lucky for you that's where I'm going. So let's take off." He didn't seem impressed by the mention of their job at all. "Anything you wanna grap out of your car?"
Hotch quickly made his way to the passenger side to gather whatever few items were left and returned to Emily's side. He bent down and took hold of her arm to help her stand.
"Thank you so much for this, we really appreciate it," he said half-heartedly as he was more concerned about guiding his partner towards the car.
"Meh, don't mention it. This is North Dakota, you're the third car I found in the ditch this week." He walked around to the driver's side and got in.
Hotch opened the backdoor for Emily but before he helped her inside got her attention by quietly clearing his throat.
"I'll make you a deal. When we get to Bismarck we take another SUV and I'll drive you to the hospital to get checked out..."
When Emily tried to object he quickly cut her off.
"... and in return I'll call Jack and have you talk to him. By the time you get to leave the ER it'll be breakfast time in DC anyways."
She wanted to protest but stopped when Hotch sent her a mischievous grin.
"Alright," she huffed but quickly changed her demeanor. "Thank you, Hotch."
And with that he shut the door and got into the passenger seat.
He knew that after Emily would get done talking to his son he would definitely have to take over for her.
Jack might just be what he needed tonight.
Whoever recognized a variation of a line out of a song may now ask for a cookie. It was "Airplanes" by BOB and I did not steal it but changed it around instead. It just fit.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed it and would be more than happy to hear from you!
Have an awesome weekend :)