Hi again, lovely people, I've decided to post the first chapter of my new fic a week earlier than I planned, mainly because I kinda need a push to keep going with the later chapters. There's a fair bit of angst on the way just so you know, as this will be quite different, at least mood wise to my fun-filled 'Sin to Win Weekend' fic. Anyway, I do hope you'll enjoy it. This story was inspired by Meredith Andrew's song "You're Not Alone" (and yes, I realise it's a song about her faith, but I think the words are beautiful nonetheless) so if you're keen, check it out on youtube.
Disclaimer: The characters from Criminal Minds are owned by CBS and its affiliates, no infringement is intended. Lyrics copyright of Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
You're not alone for I am here,
Let me wipe away your every fear
My love I've never left your side
I have seen you through the darkest night...
Emily knocked on Hotch's door.
"Enter." Hotch looked up at her as she walked in.
"Here's the last attachment for the Rafferty report." She placed the document on his desk.
"Thanks. You should have gone home with the others," he said, "it's late. The report could have waited till tomorrow."
"It's fine, I wanted to get it finished. I think you should take your own advice about going home, you look exhausted, Hotch." Her eyes took in the deeply drawn lines around his mouth and the dark shadows under his eyes. He looked like he had barely slept in days.
"I'm fine. I just have a couple of things left to do and I'm leaving too. See you tomorrow."
Emily nodded and turned to leave. At the doorway she turned back to have a last look at him, concerned about him. He looked so alone sitting hunched over at his desk, the gloom in the room kept away by the lone desk lamp. She felt her heart clenched in sudden sympathy. He really had no one that cared about him. Of course the team cared about him, he was part of their family, but even after all this time, he held himself slightly apart from them, never completely letting his guard down.
She knew it was because he was their Unit Chief and held himself responsible for everything that they did. He had to always be completely above reproach and could not appear to be fallible or vulnerable. She thought that as time went by he was smiling less and less. The frown on his brow was now more pronounced than it was in the past and she couldn't remember the last time he had actually laughed.
When Hotch emitted a heavy sigh and rubbed his forehead with his hand, Emily knew she had to do something.
"C'mon, Hotch, get up, you're coming with me." She walked up to him and grabbed his hand determinedly, pulling him up to a standing position.
"What?" Hotch looked confused. "What are you doing, Emily?" He stood unresisting as she grabbed his coat and helped him into it, probably too tired to even realise what she was doing.
"I'm going to take you to have something to eat, then drive you home. You need to get out of this place." She took his hand again and tugged him towards the door. When he didn't budge, she looked up at him.
He was shaking his head. "I can't, I really need to finish this report, there's so much I've still got left to do."
"Hotch, look at me. Look at me," she said insistently. When he finally met her eyes, his frown had drawn his brows low over his eyes.
"You've been here every night for the two weeks working late and I know you've been in on the weekends as well. You're about to burn out, Hotch, and I'm not going to stand around and do nothing."
He opened his mouth to protest but she stopped him, her voice soft, but still firm. "I know you've had to do a lot of work for Strauss but if you collapse from exhaustion that's not going to help anyone. So you're going to come with me now and no arguments, because I'm not going to accept any."
Hotch looked at her for a long moment, but to her surprise he didn't glare at her as she was half expecting. Nor did he say anything. Perhaps his usual defences were down due to his exhaustion. He finally sighed, looking resigned. "Just let me get my briefcase and we can go."
Emily wanted to stop him from bringing any work home, but she knew she had already won a small victory in getting him to leave the office so she kept quiet as he packed.
A few minutes later they were in her car heading north.
"Where are we going?"
She glanced over at his question and saw that he had leaned his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes. Her heart ached at the tension she could see on his face and his body and she wished she could somehow take all his worries away. She flicked her eyes back to the road, astounded at the thought. Where had that thought come from? She had always felt this affinity for him because she understood him. They were alike in many ways.
They were constantly driven to achieve their best and expected the best from everyone around them. They both had an extremely strong work ethic and never gave in to defeat in whatever task they undertook. They approached their work methodically and carefully, strategising every step of the way, constantly weighing the evidence and information before them and analysing the pros and cons of alternative methods and solutions. She knew many agents thought of Hotch as being cold and calculating. She knew better. He shut his emotions away so that he could be a more effective agent and to protect himself. They saw such terrible things every day that if they didn't have this mechanism they would never be able to function as human beings, much less respected members of the BAU.
She was aware enough though to realise that she had never felt such concern for him before.
She surfaced from her thoughts as his voice. Glancing quickly over she saw that his dark eyes were now focused on her.
"Oh, uh, I'm taking you to a really great Szechuan restaurant in Newington. I just discovered it last month and it's got really great food."
"Szechuan." He thought for a moment. "The food from that province is really spicy isn't it?"
"Yep, it's going to blow your socks off. So I hope you've got a spare pair somewhere in that briefcase of yours." She grinned at him, knowing she was making a silly joke, but wanting to try and lighten his mood.
He didn't smile but she noticed the tension in his face ease just a little, enough to give her hope.
"How did you know I like spicy food?" His eyes was still focused intently on her and she quickly turned her attention back to the road, wondering why his gaze was suddenly causing her nervous flutter in her stomach. It was Hotch for goodness sake, get a grip Emily.
"Well, you see, I'm a profiler at the BAU and part of our job is to..." She burst out in laughter at the exasperated look he flashed her. "I saw how much you enjoyed the chilli beef when we were in that Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. So I thought you'd like to try something a bit different." She flipped her left signal and took the turnoff towards Newington. "There's this really awesome chicken and peanut dish and this other one with tofu that you'll love."
"I'm not so much concerned with my taste buds as the effect of the chilli on my digestive system." He looked out of the side window at the buildings passing by.
"I'll tell them to dial the chilli down a notch." She spied the street she was after coming and up turned in. It was late so she was able to find a parking spot directly in front of the restaurant.
"You don't speak Mandarin, do you?" Hotch asked as they reached the door to the restaurant. He held the door open for her then followed her in.
"No, I'm learning though."
He looked at her, eyebrows raised. She had surprised him with this.
They were shown to a table for two and sat down while the waitress gave them both menus sporting well worn red covers.
"When do you even have the time or energy to learn another language?"
"You obviously don't know everything about me, Hotch," she said, giving him what she hoped was a mysterious look. She seemed to have discovered a sudden liking for teasing him.
He shook his head in resignation, his mouth hitching into a small smile. "Emily, I realised a long time ago that I would never know everything about you no matter how long we were friends."
She held her breath at his words. "Do you really consider me a friend, Hotch?"
He frowned at her question. "Of course I do, why won't I?"
She shrugged, wondering how she should answer his question. "Well, you keep all of us at arms' length all the time, Hotch. I don't think you've ever spoken to me about anything personal besides Jack."
"You know I don't like discussing personal issues at work." He took a sip of Chinese tea that the waitress had brought over.
"We're not always at work," she replied. "And even if we are, sharing personal things are what friends do, Hotch. You've never invited us to your place and it's been a long time since I've seen you even being relaxed with us."
He was silent for a while, obviously thinking, going by the slight frown on his forehead.
The waitress came to take their order and Hotch seemed happy to let her do the honours so she did.
"You're right, Emily. I have been keeping you at arms' length. I guess I just never considered it appropriate to treat you in a familiar manner. No matter how close we are as a team, I'm still the unit chief and there are certain responsibilities that come with that position." He was confirming her earlier deductions about his behaviour. "You have a point though, I can probably relax a bit."
"A bit?" she teased. "Hotch, I mean no offence, but if you are so wound up so tight at the moment that if I stuck a piece of charcoal up your nether region I would end up with a diamond. Seriously." She finished her tea and poured another cup, topping his up as well.
He gave her a mild look. "Seriously, that was an inappropriate comment to make to your superior."
"So write me up," she said challengingly. She couldn't seem to stop the cheeky retorts from firing out of her mouth.
"Insubordination. Hmm... I would never have expected that of you, Emily."
She felt a warmth in her chest at his use of her first name. He did that so rarely that she never failed to notice when he did. She noticed the glimmer of amusement in his eyes and just couldn't resist. "There is something else you could do if writing me up doesn't really grab you."
"And what's that?" His eyes narrowed slightly.
"Rope and corporal punishment come to mind." She unsuccessfully tried to smother her mischievous smile.
His mouth twitched and she almost cheered. "I'm not sure if I should be referring you to the staff psychologist or sign you up to a sexual harassment seminar."
"Trust me sir, if I were to sexually harass you, you'd know." Oh God, did she just say that? Emily felt her cheeks flame with embarrassment as Hotch focused on her with laser like intensity.
Mercifully their food arrived at that precise moment. The waitress served them rice and then left.
"So what did you order?"
Thank God he decided to ignore what had just escaped from her unruly mouth. She followed his cue.
"This one here's the chicken with peanuts and dried chillies, this one is the tofu with mince pork and this is the beef with sweet chilli." Emily scooped a little bit of each into his bowl of rice.
Hotch tried a bite of the chicken and she waited to see his reaction.
"That was really good. Spicy, but good. I really like the texture of the crunchy peanuts in it." He nodded approvingly as he tasted the tofu next.
"What do you think?" She scooped a couple of spoonfuls of the tofu onto her rice. It was her favourite so she decided to start with it.
"Not bad. I was a bit doubtful about the tofu to be honest, but it's good."
"It's my absolute favourite, I love the slippery tofu and the savoury spicy mince on top. I could eat it all the time."
"The beef is good too, but I think the chicken is more my thing."
They ate in silence for a few minutes.
Emily smiled when she saw how much Hotch was enjoying the food. "I told you it was going to be good."
"You're right. I hadn't actually realised how hungry I was until I started eating."
"You've been skipping meals a lot lately, huh?"
He didn't answer immediately. She waited patiently for him to take a sip of his tea.
"Work's been pretty busy," he replied at last.
"Is Chief Strauss ever coming back from leave? Because you can't keep going on like this, Hotch. You're carrying the workload of two people and something's going to give at some stage. I hope you'll forgive me for saying this, but if you really see me as a friend, you'll realise that I'm telling you this because I'm worried about you." Okay, that sounded way too personal. She quickly continued. "We all are. You're either going to make a mistake at work that might have serious consequences or your health's going to suffer. And when was the last time you spent some quality time with Jack?" She saw his shoulders tense and she was sorry that she was using the guilt card, but she needed to make him see what he was doing.
"You're not telling me what I don't already know, Emily. I just don't have any alternatives at the moment. We hadn't planned for Chief Strauss to take extra time off. If I had known I would have appointed Morgan to act as temporary Unit Chief at the start. I'm seeing the Assistant Director next week to discuss what to do in the medium term about Chief Strauss' absence."
Emily felt guilty when she saw the exhaustion in his face and eyes. "I'm sorry, Hotch, I shouldn't have been preaching to you. I didn't mean to sound patronising."
He shook his head. "You didn't. I know you're all worried about me, I'll be fine, I just need to get some sleep and hopefully everything will be sorted out soon."
She reached out and put her hand over his. "You know I'm here if you ever need to talk, or anything at all, right?"
"I know, thanks." His eyes dropped down to her hand resting on his and she quickly withdrew it, feeling embarrassed. She wasn't usually a touchy feely person, she couldn't be, growing up with the parents she had, so she had no idea what made her touch him a moment ago. Hotch's demeanour barely invited any concern, much less skin contact. Way to go with the inappropriate behaviour, Emily.
They finished the rest of their meal, alternating between comfortable silence and idle chit chat.
Some time later, Emily drew up in front of Hotch's apartment building.
"Thanks for dinner, I really enjoyed it." Hotch looked at her, face as inscrutable as always.
"You're welcome," she replied lightly. "I'm glad you had a good time."
There was an awkward pause as they stared at each other. Hotch finally cleared his throat. "I'll see you tomorrow then?"
"Yep, see you then." She watched as he got out of her car.
Before he closed the door he bent down. "Good night Emily."
"Good night." She gave him a little wave and put her car in gear. It was only when she drove off that she realised she had been holding her breath. What in the world was wrong with her?
I'd really like to hear your thoughts about this first chapter. What did you think?