Status: complete

All the Madness in the World


"Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together." - Eugene Ionesco


It’s amazing what the human body can endure. You spend your whole life believing these facts that doctors and scientists have proven: how long you can live without water, how many days the cancer leaves you with, the amount of strength a certain individual can have. But it’s like every day you hear about some tourist who got lost in some part of the world and survived 160 days with little water, or people given 6 months to live and still being alive 5 years later, or a mother finding the strength to lift a car off her kid’s legs.

If you’re lucky, enough dedication can make you the exception to every rule. The key is to have a purpose, to have determination: like seeing someone again or being there on your son’s graduation day or saving a life. Or not seeing the same horrific image every time you shut your eyes. Anyone can survive long enough if they’ve got a good reason.

I hadn’t slept in three days. Maybe an hour here or there, but nowhere close to normal. Coffee had become my saviour; my intake having at least tripled. My foot still hurt something fierce, twelve stitches and a bottle of Tylenol later. The thing about nightmares is that usually they go away. Maybe one night or even two, but they leave you; either that or they’re interspersed with other dreams, or just pure sleep. Or at least, this is what we tell ourselves. The thing is, we never really get over nightmares. They never really leave us.

No matter where I was trying to sleep, no matter how tired I was or how many lights I left on or how much calm music I’d listened to moments before, I could never stay asleep long enough. Or rather, I would never let myself go back to sleep after I woke up. Every time I closed my eyes, the same image crept up. The same nightmare, plaguing my subconscious mind, was incrementally turning me into a zombie.

You reach a certain point in sleeplessness when everything begins to warp. Every shadow moves like a monster, lights are too bright, darkness too whole; the walls expand and contract like lungs, but only when you’re not looking right at them. Everything feels like a rerun; an obtuse routine. But I took comfort in the knowledge that no matter how weird things seemed, this was reality and all would eventually revert back to normal. I could escape from reality. You cannot outrun a nightmare.

There was no doubt in my mind that my questionable state had been noticed. I’d lucked out in the absence of a case, but I knew it would only last so long. The team kept telling me I was working too late, coming in too early, and I was content to let them think that I actually went home for anything more than a shower. It was much easier to just live out of my go bag. There was always a free conference room somewhere in the building, so when the time became unacceptable for anyone save the janitors to still be there I would just take refuge there, making occasional trips to the kitchens to grab a coffee and a muffin or something. However, it was harder to hide from Hotch. He stayed abnormally late himself, so I had to time things right so he wouldn’t know he wasn’t the only one living at the office. The upside was I got a significant amount of work done. Despite the intermittent lolls of my head onto the surface of a report, I had increased my productivity at least 60%.

Who needs sleep when you’ve got caffeine and sugar and crime scene photos?

With a final pen stroke I closed the report, tossing it into the mountain of folders now overflowing my OUT box. The IN box was officially empty, which meant I had nothing left to do. No more excuses for being in the office. No reason not to be at home. I looked around aimlessly, tapping my pen on the desktop as I searched for something, anything to do. I rubbed my eyes hard, trying to force the sleep out of them, but decided another coffee would work better. Stretching out my limbs only reminded me how exhausted I was, but I just kept telling myself that caffeine was a band-aid for any bodily aches or drowsiness.

I spooned in an extra serving of sugar just for good measure, taking a big drink and resting my head against the cupboards. It was beautifully quiet, here. No phones were ringing at whatever hour it was. No incessant keyboard noises or mouse clicks or loud voices or vacuums. Just a few lone entities left in the building, scribbling away at last minute reports. For a moment, I believed in sleep. I could curl up on the floor right here, prop my head up on my sweater and have a real slumber; but I knew it was impossible.


I jerked around, trying to open my eyes wider but knowing that the leaden feeling keeping my eyes droopy couldn’t be snapped away. Hotch was eyeing me wearily, his jacket folded over his arm and a briefcase clenched in his right hand. I quickly downed the rest of my coffee, trying to wake myself up. With no team meetings and me not leaving the office, I’d barely seen him since the incident. I only took comfort in the knowledge that he was never far away for long. Usually just on the other side of his office door. But I missed him terribly, and the last thing I needed was for him to realize what I was forcing my body to do.

“I just finished the Markham’s report; it’ll be on your desk soon.” I also couldn’t mask the croaky-tone my voice had acquired.

“When was the last time you slept?” He asked, fully taking in my drained appearance and no doubt beginning to put two and two together. I shrugged, turning away and trying to make room in the dishwasher for my mug.

“I’m still waiting on the autopsy to be faxed over and then I can add it to—”

“It’s time to go home.” He interrupted, motioning for me to follow him. And all of the thoughts that plagued me before and after the cell, they flooded back to me. I had almost lost him to death, but now I was losing him to—what? The cell had erased all animosity between us, but it was like afterwards there just hadn’t been time to sort anything else out. I didn’t know where we stood, what we were doing, if he even wanted to be with me at all anymore.

“I’ve—I’ve still got some work to do.” I lied. If there was one thing I knew I couldn’t handle at the moment, it was going home to an empty house and trying to face the nightmares on my own.

“Natasha, it’s three in the morning, so it’s now Saturday. You’re off the clock.” At this I scrunched my eyebrows together, looking down at my watch. I knew it was early, but I had no idea we were already into the weekend. Even less reason for me to be avoiding my house. “You need to go home, that’s an order.”

I hated when he pulled rank. I had no choice but to obey, begrudgingly going to my desk and gathering my things before following him into the parking lot. I meant to get into my car but he insisted I wasn’t fit to drive and coerced me into the passenger’s seat of his vehicle. I managed some joke about a breathalyzer test. My head found comfort against the cold window as I pulled my sweater tightly around my body. It wasn’t until we’d been driving for a while that I realized we’d passed the turn for my place. When I brought it up he simply stated that we weren’t going there. He was taking the route to his house.

I could have protested, but my apartment was the last place I wanted to be. I just had to be sure not to sleep, because the nightmares always ended in me screaming. I managed for this long; another few hours couldn’t be too difficult. It was a routine walk up the driveway, through the door and up the stairs. I piled my things onto one of the night side tables; muttering a thanks when he tossed me a familiar set of his clothing. The first time I’d worn them, he’d just prevented me from being kidnapped. It felt so far away. This time I settled on just the shirt, peeling off the rest of my clothing before slipping it over my head.

From my bag I pulled out a book, climbing onto the bed and settling in as I flipped to the bookmarked page and turned on the lamp. He peeled back the covers and got in beside me after turning out the lights. I could feel him watching me, but I knew what he was going to ask and I didn’t know how to bring it up without sounding stupid.

“Tash, how long has it been?” He asked quietly, in that same calm voice that could coerce the devil to pray. He was the voice you wanted to hear in the middle of an emergency promising everything would be alright. He was the pre-recorded message you wanted to alert you to exit the building in an orderly fashion. He belonged behind every microphone and police hotline and instruction tape and audiobook.

“A while.” Why was it so hard to lie to him?

“What’s been keeping you up?” He lay propped up on his pillow, arms resting on his stomach as he surveyed me. I sighed, putting the book away and staring at my thumbs. I figured, he’d already seen me at my most bruised and bloody, my most teary-eyed; what more would he have left to be scared off by?

“Ever since the whole…cell thing, I’ve been having nightmares again.” I forced out.

“Every night?”

“Not exactly…” It only took a moment for it to sink in, and he sat up.

“You haven’t gone home at all, have you?” My silence might as well have been a confession. He sighed, tilting my head up so I was looking at him. “It’s over, Natasha. We all made it out, we’re safe.”

“You don’t understand…” I began.

“Then help me.” He pushed, waiting patiently as I summoned the courage.

“Every….every time I fall asleep I see the same thing…Just that wall closing and you and Spence on the other side. But in the dream Ares is there with me, and I can’t save either of you. I can’t get to you. And you can’t get to me.”

The tears were coming on full-force, and even as he took me into his arms there was no stopping them. Because they weren’t just because of the nightmare, they were for everything. For the fights and the worry and the distance and the loneliness and the exhaustion and the job and all things in between. He let me cry until there was nothing left to expunge; and then he lay me down beside him, his chest pressed to my back, and wrapped an arm around my middle. He placed a kiss on my neck and promised me he wasn’t going anywhere, that he would be here when I needed him. All I could do was curl up close, melting into him as much as I could, and gripping his hand tightly.

Despite his words I wanted to stay awake; I didn’t want to go back to that god-awful room for even a second. But sleep was hammering my system, and it was impossible to resist it any more. How could I resist sleep when I had such warmth, comfort and safety? It was a fruitless task…Sleep would be so sweet…


There was a deep rooted fear within me propelling my heart into a frenzy as I sprung up screaming. Aaron was beside me immediately as a tremble took over my body. There was a cold sweat on my forehead that I feverishly tried to wipe away as he rushed to calm me down. It was just a dream, he promised, it wasn’t real.

I tried to explain to him that it had been different this time; that I had realized I was in a dream but couldn’t escape, although I couldn’t tell how much of what I was saying was coherent. All I knew was that it was much easier for me to lay back down when his arms were around me, when his hands held mine, when his lips met my forehead. He stayed awake until I slipped from consciousness once more, but this time there was no nightmare. No fabricated prison made in the image of reality. No macabre horrors awaiting my return, hiding in the depths of my slumber.

And for what felt like the first time in years, I slept. A real, true sleep that did what slumber was meant to. It renewed me and left me with the most pleasant feeling. When I awoke the next morning it lingered in my system like a fresh dream, or the gentle spread of a cool drink on a hot summer’s day. The sun was beating in through the windows and warming the sheets—and, by extension, my body—as it cast its brightness around the room. A brightness that no nightmare could overthrow.

Turning in the bed I found it was empty. It made me nervous at first, but I stifled the negative emotions and enjoyed the luxury of waking up slowly. I remembered waking up in the night but not again after that. My eyes caught the time on the clock and grew wide. I’d managed to sleep in ‘til 1:15—a feat I hadn’t pulled off since my adolescence. Pushing myself up, I knew it would be ridiculous to stay in bed any longer. I tugged the bottom of the borrowed shirt down so that it covered me properly as I strung my hair up in a ponytail. For a moment my hand dragged across the mark on my neck, the sharpness fading with each passing day.

The house was quiet, quiet like the breath between words. My fingers trailed along the varnished grain of the wooden banister as I made my way downstairs, each room in this house serving as a timeline for how far I’d come in a short time. The living room where I contemplated my almost-kidnapping. The kitchen where I made pancakes with Jack, and later his bedroom where I tucked him in. Hotch’s bedroom, where he saved me from my own mind. My knight in a black suit and shiny badge.

Hotch was sitting at the kitchen table with his back to me, working as he always was. My feet were silent on the carpeted floor and made only quiet pat-pats when the floor changed to tile. I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around his neck, mumbling a good morning. He laughed, the action vibrating into me.

“I think you mean good afternoon.” He teased. I groaned but turned his head to meet our lips before closing the case file.

“It’s the weekend, you’re officially off the clock.” I teased right back, keeping a firm hold on him and resting my head against his.

“Well if someone was up earlier I might have been doing something else.”

“Sure you would, Bossman.” As if he did anything other than paperwork. I straightened up, stretching properly and going to make myself a coffee. “We should do something fun next weekend.”


“Oh right,” I turned, empty mug in hand as I gave him a sad look. “I forgot, you don’t know what that word means.”

“Thanks.” He said sarcastically as I poured the coffee in, a dark contrast to the white mug. “What did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know…maybe a barbeque or something. We could invite the team and maybe…” I trailed off, unsure as to whether or not I wanted to open up that topic for discussion.

“What?” He asked, tearing his focus away from the papers and giving it to me. I mixed in a teaspoon of cream, the spoon clanging against the sides of the mug as I tried to force the words out of my mouth. When my back was to him I measured out the sugar and managed to speak.

“Maybe you could bring Jack and...your brother and Jessica. I mean, if you want.” I rushed the last part, losing confidence in what I was asking with every word I said. “I get it if you don’t want to or if it would be weird or uncomfortable or—”

“Natasha.” He cut me off, standing as I took a moment before turning to face him. “I think it’d be nice.”

“Really?” I did a horrible job at containing my surprise as he smiled and came up to me, hands resting on my waist. He nodded before bringing his lips to mine and I tried to fight back the stupid smile on my face. “I guess I’ll call the team and start planning.”

“You know,” He began as I walked away, catching hold of my free hand before I could get too far away. “We can talk about things like that. It’s not off limits.”

“Duly noted.” I smiled, squeezing his hand before releasing it. Neither of us had to explicitly say Hailey’s name to know what we were referring to. We hadn’t ever touched that subject, but I knew that sooner or later the topic would come up. It was just nice to know that when it did, it would be okay.