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Through the Looking Glass
"Old habits die hard, huh? You're still burning the midnight oil?"
Bent over his desk, head in his hands as his eyes raked over yet another of the seemingly endless bureaucratic forms he was responsible for, Aaron Hotchner barely suppressed his amusement at the gentle rebuke coloring her remark as he raised his head.
"Emily," he said deeply, once again reminded how good it felt to have her back as he gazed at her standing framed in his office doorway. "I haven't quite gotten used to hearing the sound of your voice again," he remarked with a chuckle, offering her a genuine smile. "Come in. And might I add that it's only six o'clock," he said, his lips twitching, as he gestured at the visitor's chair across from his desk.
"Thanks, but isn't this a school night?" Emily grinned as she walked in, dumping her briefcase on one of the two chairs before taking a seat in the other.
"Fall break. Jack's having a sleepover at a friend's house tonight," he explained easily. "I assume I can take it from the smile you're wearing that you've finished all of your recertifications for a full return to active duty," Aaron Hotchner commented, leaning back in his chair as her relieved eyes found his.
"I did," she said, presenting the necessary forms to him with a flourish and placing them precisely in the center of his desk. "Although, I'd like to once again state for the record that this was a massive waste of both mine and the Bureau's time," she said with a pointed look.
"Hey," Hotch replied as he shrugged. "According to all things Bureau related, you were dead. I'm surprised Strauss didn't push me into sending you back through the Academy," he snorted, only half-joking. Being left out of the proverbial loop wasn't something the Section Chief was particularly pleased about, but that decision had been well beyond both his and her pay grades.
"I guess you have a point," Emily admitted with a rueful chuckle as she watched Hotch flip through the paper clipped pages, his long fingers caressing the sharp corners as his eyes scanned the documents. "Please tell me that you have everything there," she pleaded, virtually vibrating in her seat. "This place's Hall of Records rivals anything Harry Potter's world has ever seen."
Smirking, Hotch raised an eyebrow at the woman in front of him. "Harry Potter?"
"Hey," Emily snorted, rolling her eyes, "I had some long lonely days to fill while I was away. J.K. Rowling picked up the tab for about a month."
"Better than Twilight, I suppose," Hotch murmured as his lips twitched, dropping his eyes back to the completed forms.
"Read those, too," Emily revealed, her cheeks reddening slightly at the confidence. "But," she said slowly, cocking her head as she peered at her Unit Chief, "Do I want to know why Aaron Hotchner is familiar with all things Stephenie Meyer? Tell the truth, Hotch...you're Team Edward, aren't you?"
Chuckling, Hotch rolled his eyes. "Don't get any funny ideas, Prentiss. I took Jessica's girls to see the last movie so she and her husband could have some downtime. I'm firmly planted on Team Jacob," he replied, tongue in cheek.
"Always for the underdog, huh? I should have known that. You were on my side, weren't you?"
"And look who took that round." Hotch nodded, scrawling his signature on the bottom of the last form. "I put my money on the right contender, didn't I?"
"I guess so," Emily murmured, looking away from him for a second as she tried to control the thoughts once again raging. For the past month, she had maintained a tenuous hold on those rampant emotions that threatened to escape at the most inopportune moments. And now that she was once again considering the ramifications of her actions, she found questioning those choices.
"Em..." Hotch frowned briefly, noting the distance he'd seen reflected in her eyes before she averted her face. "You okay?" he asked, concerned.
Shaking her head, Emily forced the smile back to her lips though it didn't quite reach her eyes this time. "I guess I'm still recovering, too. Sometimes, it doesn't feel like I won much at all, you know."
"You're alive," Hotch reminded her steadily, his dark eyes boring into hers. "That's a win, Emily."
"At what cost?" she asked faintly with a weak shrug of her shoulders. "My resurrection has fractured the team in more ways than one despite our little food fight the other night," she remarked, her smile widening briefly as she remembered the impromptu war that had erupted inside Rossi's kitchen a few evenings ago, that moment one of the few instances of levity since she'd returned to the unit. And it had been over all too quickly.
"Everyone is finding their balance, Emily. We all knew that would take longer for some than others," Hotch reminded the other woman softly, well aware that certain individuals under his command were having a harder time coping than others. He'd been tempted more than once to choke Spencer Reid and Derek Morgan for the shadows hovering in Emily's eyes on the occasions when they'd frozen her out.
"I know," she grimaced, swallowing hard as she felt the familiar stirrings of anxiety and panic in her chest. Damn it, she thought those little episodes would end when she returned home. No such luck. Now, it wasn't her life she feared for...but, rather that her life would never return to what she'd once considered normal. "I don't know what I really expected, Hotch."
"We've got to be patient," Hotch counseled softly, hating that hopelessness he saw shining in her eyes. Usually, she banked the emotion, hiding it under a layer of reserve, but tonight, it shone freely. "It is going to get better," he assured her.
Allowing the certainty in his voice to soothe her frayed nerves, Emily nodded. "Of course it will," she said, forcing an optimism she wasn't sure she felt into her tone. "Time heals all wounds, right?"
"I don't know about that," Hotch said kindly but firmly as he shrugged, "but, it definitely dulls the pain."
Their eyes collided for a charged moment, each remembering the ache of the last few months. Forcing his eyes back to the sheath of papers on his desk before he became completely lost in her darkened eyes, Hotch murmured, "Everything appears to be in order here, Prentiss. I think we can officially say you are back from the dead."
"That's a relief," Emily said with a satisfied nod, her shoulders relaxing slightly at his pronouncement. "Being a walking, talking corpse was beginning to grate on my nerves," she laughed.
"Glad we can help with that." Hotch grinned, collecting all the documents in his hand and tapping them against his desk. "I'll make sure to drop them off in Strauss' office before I leave. Can I do anything else for you?"
Collecting her bag and briefcase from the chair beside her, Emily shook her head. "Not unless you can help me convince Blockbuster that they aren't renting movies to a ghost," she chuckled. "I'm going to give that another try tonight."
"Sounds like fun," Hotch replied, half wishing he could watch that argument unfold as he rose from the desk and followed her to the door.
Pausing at the entryway, Emily turned to meet Hotch's eyes. "Thanks, Hotch," she said softly. "For everything."
"Try to get some rest, Emily," Hotch replied gently, his eyes settling on the dark circles beneath her eyes.
Seeing her slight nod, he watched as she walked down the hallway, her footsteps a little slower and heavier than he remembered them being months prior. Releasing his breath as she disappeared around the corner, he sighed. Closing his office door with a muffled click, he frowned as he saw an open book on the floor in front of his desk. Crossing the room he knelt to pick it up, he immediately recognizing Emily's precise handwriting.
Flipping through the pages quickly, he quickly realized that he held her journal. And if he read correctly, she'd began this particular volume one week after she'd reached Bethesda.
Put it away, Aaron. These are Emily's personal thoughts...they're private.
Pressing his lips together as his conscience tried to reason with him, he snapped the leather notebook closed, dropping it on the center of his desk.
Sitting down in one of the visitor's chairs, he stared at the innocent looking book in front of him, knowing it was anything but. Within its depths laid an insight into the woman that had just left his office...the woman that had consumed his thoughts for months.
His fingers itched to touch it. Jaw clenched, he struggled against the urge to reach for it.
Somewhere inside those handwritten pages might be the answers to the complicated questions you've been asking yourself, Aaron. This is the key to the lock in Emily's mind. Turn the fucking key!
Closing his eyes, Hotch attempted to ignore the nagging voice screaming from the depths of his psyche.
It was an invasion of her privacy. It was wrong. It was...
And leaning forward, Aaron Hotchner reached for the diary with a shaking hand.
A/N - Welcome to the next Hotch & Emily epic! Let us know your thoughts!