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The Pursuit of Happiness
Happiness...genuine happiness…was a rare commodity in a world rife with struggle.
She'd learned this lesson at an early age. Experiencing those moments of true bliss often was an unexpected delight that could never be explained. It could come in many different forms... in the feel of a puppy's wet nose nestled against her neck, in the sound of a baby's deep belly chuckle when fingers found that one sweet spot on a bare belly, in the taste of that first bite of her Nanna's banana cream pie...endless places, but often, they remained hidden until she stumbled blindly across them.
Like an unsub, true joy was evasive. It could slip through her fingers before she even realized the treasure she held.
She should know. She had lost it too many times to count.
Staring at her half empty glass of wine, she glanced around the dim bar, seemingly happy couples surrounding her. Everyone had someone.
Except for her.
She was alone.
Closing her eyes for a moment, she acknowledged that it was partly by choice. Since returning to DC, her friends had tried to reconnect with her, to guide her back into their family with the intensity often reserved for missionary recruits. But, she'd resisted. She didn't deserve their forgiveness...and she had definitely done nothing to earn it.
Oh, she'd tried to force herself past the cold numbness that pervaded her body every hour of the day, accepting their hugs stiffly, tightly smiling when they attempted to coax her from the protective shell she had wrapped around herself as a shield. Some days, she was even half convinced that she was slowly returning to normal.
Or whatever normal was in this day and age.
Of course, she was also a pro at lying to herself.
Every day, without fail, she began her day by reminding herself that Doyle was dead. That she was safe. And then, she'd stumble into her bathroom and look in the mirror.
Lifting a hand, she unconsciously touched his brand and recognized the truth for what it was. While he might be dead, Ian wasn't gone. He'd never be gone.
He was a part of her, in more ways than could be seen on the surface.
Reaching for her wine glass, she drained it quickly, the sweet liquid rolling down her throat smoothly. Probably not her best therapy choice, but it would do in a pinch.
"Mind if I join you?" a deeply familiar voice asked from her left.
Tensing as she recognized the voice's owner, Emily forced herself to look up from her now empty wineglass. "Hotch," she said softly, the simple name almost catching on her tongue. "What are you doing here?" she asked, looking around for any of her other colleagues.
"Don't worry." Hotch shook his dark head as he slid into the booth across from her. "I'm here alone."
"I'm that obvious?" Emily asked uneasily, shifting uncomfortably in her chair.
"Emily," Hotch said softly, "We're profilers. There isn't much you're going to be able to hide from me. Not when you're this raw. And you're forgetting, I've been there."
Shifting awkwardly under his penetrating gaze, she averted her eyes, motioning to the waitress for a refill as she said, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Aaron waited for her to return her eyes to him and merely stared at her. "Your Doyle was my Foyet, Emily. Don't pretend not to see the connection," he ordered flatly. "Pleading ignorance isn't going to help you adjust. Pretending that you're fine isn't going to help you heal. You have to deal with what happened to you."
"I killed him," Emily said lightly, relieved when the waitress slid a new filled glass in front of her. "Case closed," she said, smiling tightly across the table at her Unit Chief.
"The Bureau isn't going to allow you to return until you can pass a psych eval, Emily," Hotch informed her grimly.
Emily nodded, toying with the stem of her glass with nervous fingers. "I know. I have it scheduled for next week."
"I know, too. I'm giving it. And right now, I can already tell you that you'll fail," Hotch replied softly, his tone even but honest.
Eyes widening as she absorbed his words, Emily stiffened. "What?"
"I can't let you back on the team like this, Emily," Hotch informed her regretfully, his hand resting on the edge of the table. "You'd be a danger to yourself and your teammates."
"Aaron, you can't do that!" Emily whispered frantically, shaking her head as she leaned forward. "The thought of returning to work has been the only thing keeping me sane and..."
"Are you hearing yourself?" Hotch asked gently, keeping his voice pitched low. "You're sitting here telling me that you want to come back to work in order to avoid dealing with your feelings."
"I didn't say that," Emily retorted, frowning as she pushed her hair off of her cheek.
"Didn't you?" Hotch parried, raising an eyebrow as he watched her cheeks fill with color.
"It's what you did," Emily hissed. "And none of us stopped you...criticized you...We supported you."
"And in hindsight, letting you all support me that way was a mistake. One that I won't make with you. You can't use the job as an excuse not to deal with your own emotions. I've made that error, Emily. Trust me, it doesn't work out well for anybody concerned. It will only prolong the agony."
"And you know this because you're such a happy, well-adjusted open person?" Emily snapped sarcastically, reaching up a hand to tuck a strand of her dark hair behind her ear. "Take a look in the mirror, Hotch. You define the word private. Can't you respect that in somebody else?"
"Not when it risks your safety," Hotch stated unapologetically. "We almost lost you, Emily. Twice. Once to Doyle's attack and once when you went on the run. Nobody is anxious to repeat the experience."
Closing her eyes when she felt tears stinging, Emily fought for control. Damn him! Damn him for this ambush! "What do you want from me, Hotch?" she asked through barely moving lips, her stiff shoulders forecasting her mood. "You want me to bear my soul? Tell you all about my suffering? Tell you how I still wake up at night screaming? Is that what you want to hear from me?" she asked bitterly, scrubbing her fingers over her now damp cheeks, tears escaping her closed lids.