Author's Note: Another tale from Universe C.

These are all basically stand alone, but if you'd like to read the order of this side group of fics, they're on my profile. This actually takes place before "Drop a House On Her Aaron," but again, stand alones, so you wouldn't know it if not for the obvious calendar change that we're rolling back to Halloween. And I actually did already write a Halloween story for them, it took place a little earlier in the week. Hotch's run in with Dave :) but this came to me later, and it just fit really well with what had already been written. And what had happened in Universe A.

So this was supposed to be just a mindless bit of fluff . . . and then I wrote it. It didn't turn out so fluffy. It's not 'angst ridden,' or anything, and there is a fair amount of the bantering, but it does have a bit more ballast to it than was anticipated when I first started tapping away. More at the end there.

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Author & Story Forum, Bonus Challenge #11

Author: R.L. Stine

Story Title: Why I'm Not Afraid of Ghosts

I'm Okay, You're Okay . . . So What's Wrong?

"The Fog?"






"Okay, well how about The Sixth Sense?"

"Good movie, but still, no."

"All right, well then let's just go with a no brainer. Texas Chainsaw Massacre?"

"Sorry, but . . . no."

With a slight wrinkle in her brow and a purse to her lips, Emily pushed herself up from Hotch's chest. Ordinarily she wouldn't break off a good couch cuddle for anything short of a true bathroom emergency, but she really needed to look the man in the eyes to see if he was joking with her right now.

Because that last response was just RIDICULOUS!

"You can't be serious!" She sputtered in disbelief, "that movie is INSANE! When he's got the chainsaw and she's screaming bloody murder as she runs through the fields, how could that be a no?"

Good God, she might have finally found a defect in her perfect guy.

"I'm very sorry sweetheart," Hotch shook his head sadly as he looked up at her, "but screaming or no screaming, it's still a no. I just didn't find it frightening."

Though given the look on Emily's face . . . utterly appalled . . . he was almost (almost) wishing that he had. Because he had a feeling . . . based on twenty-five years of romantic involvement with the opposite sex . . . that this was about to become, 'a thing.'

And the evening had been going so well.

In honor of their first holiday together as a couple . . . even if it was just Halloween, it still counted as a holiday . . . Hotch had let Emily plan the entire weekend of activities. So after they'd done all of the family/Jack stuff . . . jack o'lantern carving, Great Pumpkin viewing, localized 'Emily's neighbors only' trick or treating, and the like . . . Jack had been tucked happily into bed still wearing his Superman costume, sans cape.

And after a reading of "The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat," he had passed out with a sleepy grin on his face.

So then Hotch had come downstairs to settle in on the couch with Emily, for an Emily chosen marathon of Halloween flicks. These were all movies that she had ranked as, quote, "creepy or frightening, or creepy/frightening." The problem was . . . and it was fast becoming clear that this was somehow a 'problem' . . . he hadn't found ANY of the movies in the proposed lineup, creepy/frightening, or any combination therein.

Not one.

Not even a little bit.

And that was clearly . . . he saw Emily's eyebrow begin to twitch . . . really upsetting his girlfriend.

Emphasis on the 'really.'

"I just don't understand you Aaron," Emily said with a frown as she pushed herself up further, and then back to her knees so she was straddling Hotch's thighs, "how could you not find that film upsetting?"

That was just . . . wrong. That was a SERIOUSLY F'd up movie!

"Emily!" Hotch tried to restrain the eye roll as he threw his arms up in exasperation, "Come on! I track REAL serial killers for a living! How upsetting am I honestly going to find a staged event with fake blood and manufactured screaming?"

All right . . . he winced slightly . . . might have just been a bit loud there with the protesting. And he really wasn't trying to be a total killjoy, but seriously, there was a limit. And he felt that simply going along with . . . in good humor mind you(!) . . . the Halloween film fest, had MORE than fulfilled his end of the relationship bargain here.

Seriously, where in the contract did it say that he actually had to be "TERRIFIED" of the damn movies too?

"In case you've forgotten Aaron," Emily huffed as her irritation began to build, "I also track," she stabbed her fingers up in air quotes, "'real' serial killers for a living. But that's really not what we're talking about here. We're talking about the movie itself, not our jobs specifically. And the point of the movie, the point of any movie, is to make a connection with the person watching it. And generally if a movie strikes a chord, it's because the movie hits close to home. Which is why," her tone etched up a notch on the aggravation scale, "I can't understand how you, of ALL people, don't find a well-constructed film about serial killers, DISTURBING!"

And with that, Emily pushed herself back completely from Hotch's body and dropped to the opposite end of the couch. Her arms crossed angrily at her chest.

And then her nostrils began to flare.

She was suddenly, genuinely, pissed off at him. And yes on some level, she also knew that her level of irritation with him on this point was starting to become slightly disproportionate to the actual 'offense' committed.

Said offense being that they had a difference of personal opinion over a gritty slasher film from the 70s. And clearly the difference of opinion over an old horror movie should NOT be causing an actual relationship issue.

But it was.

But then their eyes locked . . . and slowly her teeth sunk into her lip. And as her defensive posture lessened slightly, she saw Hotch's expression soften as well.

And then he pushed himself up.

"Sweetheart," Hotch whispered as he slowly reached out to put his hand on Emily's knee, "could you please tell me what the real problem is here?"

Though he'd known that this disagreement was becoming a 'thing,' he hadn't realized just how BIG a thing it was, until a moment ago. That was when Emily had curled back into her own corner like a prizefighter.

That was the point where it had become painfully clear that he had NO idea what it was that they were actually talking about!

Not a FLIPPING clue!

Of course he knew that it had something to do with the movie . . . this PARTICULAR horror movie which he had watched originally as a teen, and then caught bits and pieces of through channel flipping over the years . . . but he also knew that wasn't really it. What was happening, was some 'woman brain thing' that was now GENUINELY scaring the crap out of him. He was having a Haley flashback.

And that wasn't good.

That wasn't good at all.

Emily's eyes slowly fell away from Hotch's confused ones, and down to where his strong fingers were pressing into her knee.

He seemed genuinely . . . and apologetically . . . baffled. It was obvious that he really didn't have the first clue as to why she was upset with him.

And of course, that was the problem.

'But is the problem what you're afraid it is?' she asked herself, 'Or are you reading too much into this?'

Her eyes snapped back up to his . . . she really didn't know. Because her fear . . . the fear that was manifesting now as a bluster of anger and frustration . . . was that he had been doing this job for so long, that he was starting to become jaded. That if that movie about a woman being hunted by chainsaw wielding cannibal . . . a movie that contained one of the most VISCERAL screams of terror that Emily had ever heard outside of her actual JOB . . . didn't so much as cause him to blink an eye, then something was wrong with him.

Had he been doing this work for too long? Was he starting to grow numb? Because if he was, then the wonderful man that he was now . . . the one that she'd so recently fallen in love with . . . might someday be lost to her.

Lost under a shell of indifference, and apathy.

And that's why she was so pissed . . . her eyes started to burn . . . because as much as she hated to see the pain that this work clearly caused him now, she hated more the thought that someday there would be no pain at all.

That someday he wouldn't care.

But then Hotch squeezed her knee. And when she looked up at him, she could see the worry in his eyes. "Sweetheart," he whispered again, "please tell me what we're talking about. Because I'm sorry, but I don't know why you're upset with me. And we can't move passed this if I don't know what's wrong."

And that's when she started to feel stupid.

Stupid and embarrassed.

Because as she listened to the emotion in his voice, and saw the concern on his face, it made her actually stop and think not about an old movie, but the actual man right in front of her. How kind and sweet he was. How loving.

And sensitive.

Her fingers reached out to touch his cheek . . . so sensitive that he let these cases break his heart time and again. Year after year. Because that's who he was. The dark hero.

The one with the broken soul.

And she was hurting him.

"I'm sorry Aaron," she whispered while inching forward to climb back into his lap, "I shouldn't have gotten so upset. It was a stupid thing."

Hotch's brow wrinkled.

"But sweetheart," he pointed out while pulling Emily back to his chest, "I still don't understand why it was that you got so upset. Would you please tell me what the problem is? Maybe I can do something," he brushed her hair back behind her ear, "you know, so it doesn't happen again."

And this part was always the scariest. When the fight was over . . . and he STILL had no idea what the fight was about!

This was his most terrifying Halloween in years.

"No," Emily shook her head as she gave Hotch a sad smile, "no, telling you isn't going to help anything." She pushed him back so she could lay her head back on his chest. "It'll just make it worse," she whispered, "you'll get upset with me for thinking the stupid things that I thought. And," her voice started to thicken, "I have no defense for them. Nothing really except to say that I think I was worried that maybe we've been too happy. That there was another shoe that needed to drop. But I was just being foolish," she sniffled as her eyes starting to sting again, "and unkind. And I'm very sorry," she murmured against his throat, "and I'll try not to let that happen again."

She wanted to promise that it wouldn't happen again . . . but she couldn't. It was impossible to control the paths that your brain wandered down. All she could do was remember this moment. A moment of regret and genuine embarrassment. It was a reminder that there are so many ways to ruin things.

And unfounded anger and suspicion were surefire ways to run a relationship right into the ground.

Hotch stared up at the ceiling for a moment, his fingers tapping a gentle rhythm on Emily's back. And though he knew, from years of experience, that this was probably a good point to just let it go. To just forget it happened and move on with their night, he couldn't.

He just needed to clarify one point first. It would help him.

A lot.

"Um, don't get upset, okay. But," Hotch winced slightly, "is this because of your, period?"

She'd gotten it Tuesday. And she still hadn't given him a green light on reengagement of 'physical activities,' so he knew that it hadn't left town yet. And if she was going to go a little well, 'bat shit crazy' once a month that was fine. He could live with that.

He just wanted a fighting chance!

Hearing the slight quiver of fear in Hotch's voice, Emily had to bite down on her lip to keep from laughing.

Put the man in the room with a serial killer and he doesn't even blink, put him in the position of having to ask a woman if her period is making her act like a psycho bitch, and suddenly he develops the stammer of a sixteen year old boy.

Good God did she adore him!

And given the no muss, no fuss hormonal regulation of her birth control pills, her period had pretty much left the building about twelve hours ago. She was actually planning on surprising Hotch tonight with some total nakedness when he came to bed. But sure . . . she snorted to herself . . . let's blame it on her period. It was far better than the truth.

That she was just an emotionally insecure nut job.

So she tipped her head back slightly to give him a somewhat calculated . . . slightly sheepish . . . smile.

"Well . . . maybe."

And he gave such an immense sigh of relief, that Emily almost lost it. He had clearly been putting ALL of his eggs in that basket!

Poor bastard.

"Okay," Hotch's eyes crinkled in relief as he kissed Emily's temple, "okay, just checking. So um, how about we skip the gore'fest and go with a lineup of sappy romantic comedies instead?"

If there was a possibility that she was going to be running hot and cold with him for the rest of the weekend, he'd rather not give her any additional tips on maiming and dismemberment.

She got enough of those at work.

"Sure," Emily smiled against Hotch's throat, "we can do that." Then she tipped her head back.

"How about anything with Tom Hanks?"


Emily smiled sweetly, "well then you better put some shoes on hon, because I don't actually own any romantic comedies with Tom Hanks. You're going to have to run to the video store."

"Of course," Hotch rolled his eyes, "should have known there was a catch."

"Just a tiny one," Emily dismissed as she reached over Hotch to snag a pen off the coffee table.

Really, the Tom Hanks comedies were the only ones that she genuinely enjoyed. Okay, yeah, there was one Sandra Bullock one too. That 'Sleeping' one.

But she didn't own that movie either.

"Okay honey," she smiled sweetly at Hotch's slightly frowny face, "let me see your hand," she picked up his left arm, "and I'll make a list."

As Emily began to neatly print out her wish list on his palm, Hotch's faint bit of exasperation faded, as his lips started to twitch.

"Uh," he cleared his throat, "is there any particular reason that we couldn't just use a slip of paper for this task?"

"Yes," Emily answered matter of factly, "you're looking particularly hot tonight," she shot him a look, "it's the new haircut, plus, well, you," she leaned forward to smack a quick kiss to his lips, "and I don't want you getting hit on by any lonely hearts stalking the chick flick section of Blockbuster. And this," she held his palm up in front of him, "will indicate to the looky loos, that you are very much taken."

Hotch's eyes crinkled, "and that's because . . ."

This should be good.

"And that's because," Emily finished his sentence as she went back to her printing, "only a man totally in love, would allow his woman to write all over him."

Seriously, it was a Friday night. And she was sending him out alone . . . with no ring . . . looking frigging ADORABLE with his fitted t-shirt and mussed up hair, to the video store equivalent of a singles bar.

This was her method of tagging him before release back into the wild.

"Oh," Hotch grinned as he felt the pen pressing into his palm, "is that why I'm allowing this defilement? Because I'm crazy about you?"

It was always a joy to listen to Emily's brain in action.

"Yup," she shot him a wink, "you know it mister. Now then," she scribbled one last word before using his chest to push herself back to her earlier straddling position, "off you go. And if you happen to think to grab another bag of tortilla chips and jar of salsa while you're out," she smiled as Hotch pushed himself up to a sitting position, "well, that would be nice too."

Between the PMS and the period itself, she'd been running through the salsa and chips like they were well, salsa and chips.

They really were the pinnacles of her comparison pyramid.

Hotch's eyes crinkled as he stared into Emily's pretty brown eyes. Then his lip quirked up slightly as he leaned forward to press a kiss to her lips.

As he pulled back, his expression softened as he reached over to brush her hair back behind her ears.

"That's the three Tom Hanks movies scribbled on my palm, a bag of tortilla chips, and another jar of your favorite salsa," he recapped quietly. And at Emily's happy nod, Hotch leaned forward to whisper in her ear.

"As you wish."

And then he stood up.

Though as he started to walk away, he felt Emily's fingers tangle with his, pulling him back. He looked back down, and to his surprise he saw that her eyes were glistening.

"What is it?" He asked worriedly.

She smiled.

"I love you too."

A/N 2: Because this is another world where they came together months earlier than in the main universe, different issues will pop up at different times. So this is a version of them, if not less devoted, perhaps less 'secure.' A lot of stuff happened in Girl to really cement their bond before the Hours opened, so here they still need to work through some of those basics. And one of those basics, for Emily, is that she's missed something. That Hotch can't be as perfect (in the flawed Hotch way) as he seems. That this stupid little thing like not finding an upsetting movie, upsetting, (because seriously, that screaming is VERY upsetting) is masking this huge potential problem.

And if you read Girl proper, you'll see some similarities to Halloween events in that world. Again, these are simply different universes, (HP by string theory :)) where simply one thing went differently and they spun off to a new place. And the 'as you wish,' was in the other Universe C Halloween story as well, but I liked it here too, and I think it's because A) that could just be their thing in this world, and B) because of Emily's earlier bout of insecurity about their long term future, that with him saying it again as simply a given that whatever she wants, he just wants her to be happy because he loves her. And just her reaction to that (which wasn't shown in the other piece) it felt a bit more sad/sweet than it was earlier in the week. At least that's how I saw it, and I'm the one who wrote the damn line, so now you know why! :)

I like this world, but I don't want to get sucked into another super long epic tale of their relationship, (it would just be another thing that would take forever to update) so, we shall continue with these little one shots popping in on them from time to time. The next one will be Thanksgiving, and though I have started it, God knows when I'll get it put up :)

As always, thanks for all past and future feedback folks!