Aaron locked his eyes onto Emily’s. They held so much pain, all of it was concealed. It was thoroughly obvious to him that she was continuing to hold back, but he was lost on what it was she was withholding.
Emily glanced up to Hotch’s eyes when she felt them locked on her. When she looked up she realized she was right. She didn’t look away as much as wanted to. To her this was a test to see how strong she was. To see if she could hold his gaze without breaking. Holding his eyes made it easier to see him analyzing him; it was clear in his eyes that he didn’t want to profile her but that he had to. He was her boss and he needed to make sure she could do her job. Besides that, they were good friends and he was unmistakably worried and concerned about her. Emily didn’t know exactly why this both comforted and guilted her but it did. The comfort came from being reminded that someone did care. The guilt came from knowing he had enough to stress to worry about, he didn’t need her to add more. She gave him a sad smile which he matched with his own. There was so much pain between the two of them. Continuing to watch him, Emily realized they both knew the other was holding back but neither one of them was addressing it. For a moment she considered doing just that but decided against it. Enough had been shared for one night, no need to drag more problems into it. Someday though, they’d talk more Emily didn’t doubt that. But for tonight, tonight a lot had been shared. There was nothing wrong with that though, it obviously had to be shared despite the pain of doing so. As Emily came to this conclusion she noted that Hotch had come to a realization of his own and she briefly wondered what it was.
Emily almost laughed as they continued to be absorbed in their thoughts while also wondering what the other was thinking. It was so typical of them not so share and not to ask the other despite their curiosity. The urge to laugh quickly left though as she awaited his reply and the silence grew louder. Emily was unnerved by the fact he was taking so long to answer. That meant one of two things, that it was either A. hard for him to relate or B. he was struggling to admit it to her. Emily’s heart-rate picked up in anticipation and her thoughts began whirling. His gaze never lefts hers and her glossy gaze never left his; it was almost their way of saying they were in this together. Emily listened intently to what he was saying knowing this was incredibly difficult and rare for Hotch. For a moment she felt honored to be privileged enough to hear him but when she thought about the circumstances as to why he was telling her she felt a twinge of regret. To her it was almost as if she had forced him. “Hotch,” Emily began her reply accompanied with a gentle squeeze of his hand, “You didn’t make him do anything. You didn’t kill those people,” Emily said emphasizing her words. She had never really seen Hotch doubt himself and though it was a good indicator he was human it unnerved her. Well no, it comforted and worried her at the same time. “Foyet chose to harm them, and unfortunately there was nothing we could’ve done without ruining our own reputation.” Normally Emily wouldn’t have added the reputation part but this time she did because of the deal Hotch could have made. Then instead of saying more Emily decided to let actions speak louder than words as she reached for his other hand. “You did all that you could,” Emily said slowly gripping his hands and making sure he kept his eyes locked on hers. Hotch’s words then caught up to her. We’re the ones who catch them. We aren’t them.” The tears Emily had managed to fight out this long suddenly sprang forward and trickled out. She dropped his hands and frantically tried to wipe them away. Thankfully they were small tears, but she still couldn’t get them to stop as images flashed in her mind. “You’re wrong,” Emily said barely above a tearful whisper. Giving one final wipe to her eyes, she met his obviously worried gaze. She wanted to admit this with some amount of dignity and she also wanted to see his reaction. “You guys might not be them but that doesn’t apply to me. I am one.” Emily held up a hand to silence him when she saw he was about to interrupt to tell her otherwise. “Please, let me finish,” she said evenly but her eyes were pleading. “Hotch, I helped Ian get weapons. I helped him kill innocent people and I did it myself. That makes me one of them and please don’t say it was the job. It wasn’t just that and even if it was it doesn’t excuse me killing innocent people.” Emily watched for his reaction, almost afraid to see it. She needed to be honest with him and finally admit that but she feared it would change their relationship and his perspective on her. Emily titled her head at Hotch’s next words trying to understand what he was saying. “I’m sorry Hotch,” Emily said licking her lips and shifting her gaze slightly, “I don’t think I know what you mean.” Of course Emily had a pretty good idea but she wanted to confirm it. Not only that, a part of her needed to hear it as well and not to mention she was intrigued that Hotch had brought Declan up again. In fact, she found all of statements to be interesting and she wanted him to elaborate. Emily had to admit it to herself, the fact he said all of that touched her but the words that gave her the most comfort were “but if you consider it in more depth, you may realize that your experience are what keep you from changing in that way.”
Even though Emily had broken down for a few minutes not long ago, a sense of calm was, once again, finding its way to her. Somehow Emily knew that this calmness she kept getting was, without a doubt, coming from Hotch. There was something about him that just grounded her, especially now. Had she been with anyone else there’d be tears, yelling, and closing up-no way they would’ve gotten this far in the conversation. With Hotch though, it was entirely different which was soothing to her and showed how close they really were. It made her want to do more for him. He had clearly displayed his discomfort at how the conversation as effecting her and he kept insisting for her to take time off, to think about things-basically offering his best advice, support, and understanding. It was how their friendship was but a lot of time, especially now, she felt like she was taking and not giving. Emily nodded in agreement to his words as stopped her thoughts and focused on what he was saying. “You’re right and I know that but…it’s hard to remember that and I’m a perfectionist,” Emily laughed at the end. It was true she was a perfectionist and virtually everyone knew that but how she said it was meant to be lighthearted. She didn’t feel the need to explain that even if he said it was okay for her to be unprofessional that she thought otherwise, she figured he had a good idea about her and could figure that much-hence why he said that. “But yes you’re right, we are a family and we’ll get through it together.” Emily gave him a warm smile and found herself gently holding the hand that was still on his desk. For once he didn’t seem to mind and Emily took that as a good sign. “Please don’t be sorry,” Emily said almost a little too quickly. “You didn’t make me frustrated and honestly I think I needed the pushing. You seem to be the only person willing to do that…everyone else seems afraid to.” Emily smiled and shrugged at the end deciding to end on another light note in hopes of him not picking up on how much she appreciated and needed him to push her. Emily looked at his face again and could see doubt, anxiousness, and a small trace of torment on his face and that was all Emily needed to conclude that he was trying to analyze her. He had to make sure she was okay and at the moment he didn’t seem to buy it, not tha she could blame him. “Hotch, I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.” Emily smiled. She was lying and sense of denial was setting in. She doubted she’d ever be the same person ever again but she didn’t need or want him to make it his problem. She would handle it on her own and it’d be okay. Around the team and him she’d appear okay and in time she would be fine. She was about to mentally hold herself to this commitment when Hotch started speaking and as she listened she instantly knew she couldn’t do that. “The rest of us get emotionally involved and you allow it, you deserve the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re our boss or not, you’re allowed to as well. Now I know you don’t want to because you are the leader but I’m just saying we wouldn’t think of you differently.” Emily explained before he could say contradict her otherwise. “I do understand that though…” Emily nodded and sighed, “It’s a scary position to be in. To constantly be afraid of your emotions taking over…I understand,” Emily said holding his gaze. Emily heaved another sigh and thought for a moment. “Can’t we do something about our situation?” She asked, in terms of them both blocking out their feelings. “A deal of some sort? Or you know, at least something.” Emily fidgeted around with her free hand and licked her lips nervously debating if she really should admit what she was about to. “I don’t like to see you like this and you don’t deserve to handle everything alone when you don’t have to.” It seemed like they had somehow returned to a topic from way earlier.
Emily listened to him speak and she nodded in agreement as she let the words sink in before replying. She understood what he was saying and agreed with him. “I just…I guess I wish it were different. That we didn’t have to compensate for what we failed to do before. I wish we would just acknowledge our problems before they end up hurting everyone.” Emily’s voice quieted at the end. She still felt guilty about what she had done to the team and looking back up at Hotch she wondered how he felt. How did he and JJ deal with keeping her secret? She could only imagine, as she was too afraid to know the answer.
“Thank you,” Emily said wholeheartedly, “for everything you’ve done for me during this conversation. I certainly hadn’t planed for it to be this way but it’s appreciated.” Emily smiled, she was a lot calmer now but she felt a little weak. As her emotions caught up with her, her energy began to drain. She still hated feeling this weak and defeated.”I hate the frustrated though and I hate the doubts. I feel so…” Emily stopped and shook her head. There was no way she could admit half the things she felt when she got like this. Instead she moved on. “There’s a lot to think about but I will. I promise and I’ll be patient.” Emily nodded. It went without saying at this point that she could go to him for anything and in due time the team as well. Emily smiled at him again not able to find words that would express her gratitude towards the amount of faith he had in her. The fact he believed in her was reassuring and encouraging.
Aaron sat for a while in the silence, his gaze remaining steady. Even moreso than a moment ago he could see the difficulty Prentiss was having, but she was keeping her eyes locked on his regardless. He didn’t know if it was so she could prove to herself that she could do it, or if it was to show him that she was making an effort to improve her attitude given her frustration, but Hotch decided to take it as a good sign. It wasn’t an abnormal thing for her to keep eye contact during a conversation, but with one as tense and uncomfortable as this had been, it truly did say a lot about how hard she was trying. For a brief moment a flash of realization flashed over Emily’s face, and once again, she seemed to be debating something. He remained silent, giving her the opportunity to address her thoughts if she felt the need, but she didn’t. It honestly didn’t surprise him. How many times during this conversation had he addressed the fact that none of them liked to share unless they really wanted to or it was absolutely necessary? Well, he’d beaten it over the head several times, to put it mildly. He was guilty of the same thing. There was so much that he’d noticed and was processing internally that he hadn’t even considered sharing, not to mention the things that he had considered sharing. It was a neverending circle. Unless someone decided to share something that wasn’t necessary, everyone would continue to hold back. Once one person did, it was sure to snowball. Everyone would learn to be more open with their feelings. There was always a debate internally if he should be the one to make the first move. He was the leader of the team, and he always felt a certain responsibility to take the initiative. Of course, in all the years he’d worked in the BAU, especially in the past few years where things had been incredibly difficult and secretive in his personal life, nothing had happened yet. He had yet to really open up, although he had to admit this conversation was making him seriously consider spilling all of his thoughts. Something stopped him, though. Maybe it was the fact that all of them were already carrying so much baggage. That was probably the reason none of them shared. It truly was just a problem that wouldn’t go away unless someone acted, he thought, sighing. All of them were to reserved and stubborn for that to happen anytime soon, but only time would tell if it ever would. It was particularly interesting to Aaron that he was sharing as much as he was with Prentiss. It wasn’t odd by any means, but most of his thoughts and fears were shared with Dave and no one else. Part of that was due to the fact that no one really pushed, and she was now. The rest were things that he hadn’t shared with anyone yet. Things he wasn’t sure if he would ever share. There was some small voice in the back of his mind that suggested that maybe, due to the level of comfort this conversation had reached, he should share some of it with Emily. Although this may have been a good idea, there were still so many doubts. She was struggling immensely, and it all came back to adding more stress. There was so much hypocrisy in that thought it almost made him speak up then and there, but there was still something stopping him. What exactly was there to share? What was relevant? There were more pressing problems than his welfare right now, weren’t there? As much as she wanted to deny the fact and avoid it, the conversation had centered mostly on Prentiss. Should he draw some of that to himself to make her more comfortable, or did he force her into the fire so to speak, and continue avoiding the topic of himself and his feelings whenever they arose? Hotch took a small breath, and exhaled, shaking his head almost imperceptibly. Right now he just needed to let things unfold. There would be plenty of time for figuring out his own thoughts later on.
A quick flash of amusement flashed over Emily’s face as Aaron watched her. He could only guess what had caused it, but it probably had to do with the silence, the fact that the two of them were trying to guess each others thoughts while avoiding talking about what was going on. Even though it was a problem that both of them had to find a way to deal with, he found the fact that there was at least some humor involved a sign of even a minimal amount of progress. He knew it was only a matter of time before things became serious again, but progress was progress. Almost immediately that proved to be true, and an air of something that almost seemed like panic settled around her as his words settled in. More silence followed, but it had reached a point where the silence was almost a peaceful thing. For the most part the tension was gone, or maybe he’d become so used to it over the past few minutes that it wasn’t as noticeable. “Didn’t I?” he replied, glancing down for a split second. “I was offered a simple deal, a way to save lives, and I didn’t take it. It had nothing to do with anyone’s reputation but my own. Chaunessy got away with it until he died. But that’s the past. So is what happened with you,” Aaron said pausing as she held up her hand to speak. It was obvious this was something she earnestly believed, and there may have been truth to it, a lot of truth. He took a deep breath and, summoning the most comforting words he could, spoke. “Alright, you did help him. It was for the job, despite what you may believe. Undercover jobs are incredibly difficult. They require sacrifice. Moral, emotional, physical…. whatever type of sacrifice it is, it has to be made to get the job done. Like I said, though, Emily. It’s in the past. You can’t let it affect you now like this. I know it’s difficult, but I know you can do it. I know you can move past this. It will take time, and it probably won’t be easy, but you will be able to. We all do things we’re not proud of, but if anything is justifiable in terms of sacrifice, that should be.” Aaron paused, gauging her reaction before speaking again. “Don’t apologize. You don’t have any reason to. I understand how you feel, and as much truth as there may be just… consider what I said,” he suggested, and watched her shift in her seat. Once again, he found himself wondering what Emily was thinking, but before he could wonder too much, she had asked her next question. “I assume you want me to elaborate on what I said about Declan and beyond?” he asked, not really waiting for an answer before choosing his words. He had addressed the rest of what she had said to that point. Something told him she simply wanted confirmation about what he meant, but that wasn’t too surprising since he hadn’t elaborated much at all. “Well… with Declan, he knew you from before the traumatic events began. Although he was young, he may associate you more with those memories than the more recent ones. I think the best way you can help him move past all the difficulties he may be having with adjusting to living with you, and not knowing you the same way he did before, as well as the death of his father, as much as he may or may not remember him. Even if he isn’t manifesting it right now, there’s some level of emotional trauma. He knows you’re struggling, too. I think because of the fact that the two of you are both adjusting to changes, you should check up on him more often than you may normally, even if you think you’re bothering him. Some children are more vocal about their feelings than others, but those who have been through as much change lately as Declan has are less likely to openly share unless they’re asked.” Aaron said, hoping it made sense. He wasn’t sure it had. The thoughts had simply come, and he’d spoken. “As for the ‘experiences’ comment, that can be summed up with what I said before,” he continued. “We learn from the past. We choose how we allow it to affect who we become,” he finished simply.
It seemed for the moment that Prentiss had stopped crying. He couldn’t be sure, but Aaron thought she seemed more calm than she had for several minutes, though he didn’t know what had caused the change. He wasn’t going to let down his guard, just in case. The conversation they’d been having had been so erratic that he didn’t have any idea where it would head next. “Being a perfectionist isn’t a bad thing, although it can make things difficult. Knowing you, I’m sure it’s something you could work to your advantage, considering the amount of dedication you seem to have toward whatever tasks you set your mind to,” Aaron replied, knowing she was joking, but also knowing that behind most joking comments there was some truth and even fear. “Sometimes I think people are too kind. They take consideration of feelings too far, and by that, cause more problems than are solved.” He continued, his tone more thoughtful than anything else. As the two of them continued exchanging comments, when she mentioned the proposal of a deal. “Alright, a deal then,” he nodded. “To start, since neither of us talk to anyone, we’ll talk to each other. Anything we talk about remains confidential, and we can both feel free to discuss whatever we need to. Also, I’ll do my best to not bottle up my feelings, or handle things alone, and you’ll do the same. Even if you’re not quite to the degree I am at hiding feelings, I know you do,”
“No one can blame you for wishing that was different, Emily,” Aaron replied, shaking his head. “It is frustrating. It’s something that will take time to change, if it ever does. If it doesn’t? We adapt. We find another way to solve the problems. The first step is realizing the issue is there,” he pointed out. “From there solutions can be discussed, and the problem can be worked through,” he shrugged.
“It’s my pleasure to help where I can. I understand you’ve been having a hard time, everyone’s realized it. It helps to know exactly what the problems you see as the most difficult are, because, as has been pointed out several times during this conversation, no one can go through challenges alone. It can take a lot to realize that, but it’s true,” Aaron sighed, as one more question popped into his head. It was one he’d wondered about for a while now, but there had never been an appropriate time to ask. He wasn’t even sure now was, or why he was so compelled to ask, but he was. “Prentiss,” he began, “the day we rescued Declan, there has been one question that’s stuck with me since. You don’t have to answer, but I’m curious. If it had come down to it, in order to save Declan, would you have taken the shot?”