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Without Stumbling as We Walk into Our Future's Wake

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The music was good, the beer flowing, and the shots went down smooth. Underground was crowded tonight but that wasn’t unusual for a Thursday. It was $2 High Life, $3 flavored martinis, and 10% college ID discount night. Luckily the place wasn’t crawling with coeds just yet…they usually arrived after midnight.

It was just after 10 and Sam Kassmeyer, along with his friends, took up a semi-circular booth near the stage. At 10:30 Ian Doyle’s band Marauder would be up for a one hour set. His on again, off-again girlfriend, Emily Prentiss, had been one of Sam’s best friends since college. She was already getting drunk in preparation.

“Chloe is such a fuckin cunt.” She mumbled as she drank more High Life. “I know they're going to do Portion for Foxes and she’s going to be all over Ian like a pair of cheap, slutty underwear.”

“Ladies shouldn’t use words like that.” Aaron Hotchner said.

“Who the hell said I was a lady? I fuckin hate her.”

“I thought you and Doyle were through.” Derek Morgan said. “You said it was for good this time.”

“We’re…I don’t know what the hell we are but he's damn sure not available for that tramp.”

“Ian doesn’t give a damn about her Peaches.” Penelope Garcia said as she sipped her fuzzy navel. “He's been crazy about you from the word go.”

“Crazy being the operative word.” Hotch mumbled.

“You don’t have to love someone to fall into bed with them.” Emily reasoned. “She keeps throwing it at him and soon he’ll get tired of deflecting. They could be doing it right now.”

“If he cheats on you he's a douche bag.” Hotch replied

“And we’re beating the shit out of him.” Morgan added.

“I didn’t sign up for my life to become an extended episode of Maury.” Emily rolled her eyes and then took a deep breath. “I hate drama…serenity now.”

She knew the time was coming for her and Ian. They had been on-again, off-again for almost five years. She had whiplash from how fast it could go from good to bad sometimes. Most of the time it was good.

But Ian was single-minded; his music and his band. Emily had other plans, dreams, and they didn’t fit together anymore like they did in the beginning. She wasn’t a needy college girl anymore. And there was nothing wrong with growing up and apart. So how come she couldn’t let go?

“Don’t let him do that to you.” Sam covered her hand with his as he scanned the crowd. With Emily and Ian there was always something. Emily Prentiss loved people to a fault. He had no idea how long she was going to hang onto this. She hated being called a quitter, even when she needed to be. “You're better than the likes of Chloe Donaghy and always have been.”

“Love sucks.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Beth Clemmons held up her stein. She’d been quiet up until that point. She didn’t want to stick her nose where it didn’t belong. Emily had been her acquaintance for four years; they weren't quite friends. And Beth was in a good relationship. The last thing she wanted to do was seem condescending. Emily was drunk and just venting.

“Hey now.” Hotch gave her a look.

“Not with you, Counselor.” She leaned to kiss his cheek. “I'm quite content, thank you very much. But love has sucked for all of us at one time or another.”

“Or 10 times.” Penelope replied.

They all nodded and kept drinking. Sam wasn’t quite in the mood to be out tonight but he didn’t want to turn down his friends’ millionth request. For a few months he was the man who wasn’t there. Work took up much of his time and Sam wasn’t a half-ass kind of guy. He worked for Capital Cares, a nonprofit organization that helped provide safe, educational, medical, and athletic alternatives for young poor people in DC.

It was a recession and money was tight but getting blood from a stone had recently become one of Sam Kassmeyer’s specialties. He slowly sipped his beer and people watched, glad for a night out even though he was exhausted. He also had a day off tomorrow. A three day weekend was just what the doctor ordered. Sam planned to spend it like he didn’t have a care in the world.

Maybe he would spend it thinking about the pretty blonde he’d kept an eye on most of the evening. She had curly hair and was chatting amiably with a guy up at the bar. That guy was a regular who Sam thought might be named Mark. But he’d never seen the girl before. She didn’t look like Mark’s type…she wasn’t a supermodel or a porn star.

“Does that look right to you guys?” Sam asked.

“What?” Derek turned away from his usual flirting with Garcia.

“I think something’s wrong with that woman.” he stood. “I think her date slipped something in her drink.”

“Are you sure?” Emily looked over. “Who are you talking about? What did you see?”

“First she was fine and now she looks a little loopy.”

“Well, well, Mr. Kassmeyer, you’ve been looking at her hard.”

“I just…” Sam sighed. He didn’t have time for this. “I need to go over there. He definitely slipped her something.”

“Sam!” Beth exclaimed even though he was already on the move. It took some maneuvering but she made her way out of the booth. “You can't go alone.”

She wondered why everyone wasn’t behind her as she finally caught up with Sam in the crowd. Upon closer inspection, Beth saw that something was definitely wrong. The difference between drunk, even three sheets in the wind, and drugged was obvious. You had to be looking for it to see it though.

The sad thing is so often people looked the other way. In college she had been taught to look for signs in herself and her friends. She also had to watch out in bars and at parties. Even the sweetest guy could be a predator in sheep’s clothing.

“What's going on here?” Sam put himself between the woman and Mark, who was inches from going in for the kill.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“I'm about to be your worst fuckin nightmare.”

Beth knew Sam was angry because he never dropped F bombs. The man rarely cursed; he found little use for foul language. In the four years she’d known him, even at his maddest, the worst Sam Kassmeyer spit out was the occasional shit or goddammit. And he always apologized afterwards. He must have been seeing red to say fuck about anything.

“Oh really?” Mark puffed out his chest looking ready to throw down.

“That’s my sister.” Beth said, trying to prevent this from becoming a bar brawl. “And this date is over.”

“That’s for Jessie to decide. I think she's old enough to make her own decisions.”

“She can barely stand you asshole.” Sam put one arm around her and the girl named Jessie practically passed out on him. “You're a creep and you're lucky I don’t kick your ass.”

“Dude, you're asking for trouble.” Mark moved closer to Sam.

“Tell it walking.” Now Beth was standing between the two men. Sam was still holding onto Jessie. At this point he was holding her up. “I'm serious…walk away. If I have to get a bouncer you're going to wish you did. And it’ll still be better than letting my boyfriend and his friends kick your ass.”

Mark thought about it for a minute and then turned and walked away. Beth grabbed the passing barmaid.

“Creepo in the blue shirt is putting something in women’s drinks. Please get him out of here.”

“I will thanks.”

Sam was trying to talk to Jessie but most of what she said wasn’t coherent. He wouldn’t even know her name if the jackass wouldn’t have told them.

“We need to get her out of here.” He looked at Beth. “She's in a bad way and someone could take advantage of her.”

“Take her outside, Sam. I’ll get the car keys from Aaron.”

Sam nodded; his arm still around her as he made his way to the front exit. He surely hoped no one thought it was him who did this. The sad part was that no one was paying them any mind. In just a few minutes, Jessie went from a vibrant young woman to a statistic and no one paid attention.

“I need the keys.” Beth came back to the table and held her palm out to Hotch. “We need to take that girl home.”

“How will I get home?” he asked as he gave them to her.

“I’ll take you.” Morgan replied.

“Is she OK?” Emily asked. “Do you know her?”

“I don’t know her.” Beth shook her head. “Sam definitely saw what he saw. That guy slipped something in her drink and she’s not OK. I’ll see you guys later.”

“Love you babe.” Hotch blew her a kiss.

“Love you too.”

They all said goodnight to Beth. She rushed out of the bar but didn’t see Sam. Then she followed the sound of vomiting to the alley.

“Is she alright?”

“I thought throwing up might help. If she got some of the junk out of her system then maybe she could talk to me.”

“Unfortunately GHB and other date rape drugs are fast acting. The guy usually gives a little too much so there’s no chance of the woman getting her wits about her smack in the middle of his crime.”

“Are you kidding me?” Sam’s blue eyes went wide. “Don’t tell me that Beth…that’s disgusting.”

“You think I don’t know that? C'mon, I got the keys to the truck.”

Sam took the girl’s face in his hands. Her eyes were glassy and he had no idea if she was even looking at him.

“What's your name? Can you tell me your name?”

She didn’t respond. Sam sighed and just put his arm around her as they left the alley to walk to the car.

“Wait, where did he park?” Sam asked.

“About three blocks away. Its Georgetown on a Thursday night so we still considered ourselves lucky.”

“I'm not sure she’ll make it three blocks. She’s barely conscious, Beth. What the hell did he give her?”

He tried but Sam found it difficult to stop his blood from boiling. How could a man drug a woman and force himself on her? It didn’t make sense to him. It hurt and made him angry. He wanted to punch things but his top priority was to get the girl who might be named Jessie someplace safe. His place was the only option he could think of.

“Wallet.” He said.

“Please don’t tell me that you lost your wallet.”

“No Beth.” Sam stopped walking. “I'm talking about Jessie’s wallet. She’s not carrying a purse with her but surely she has an I.D. and a set of keys or something. Come and check her pockets.”

“Oh yeah, that’s not going to look suspicious.” Beth turned and walked back toward them.

“The only thing I can think is to take her back to my place but she's going to wake up tomorrow freaked out. She might even think I hurt her.”

“Alright.” She reached into her jeans pocket and found her I.D. Her name was Jessica Ann Brooks and she had an address on 37th Street off K. That wasn’t too far from where they were right now. There were also two keys in her pocket on a Tardis shaped keychain.

“Her name is Jessie. I think it’s a better idea to take her to your place, Sam. I wouldn’t want a strange man in my personal space. I’ll stay with you guys. I can't promise that tomorrow won't be weird but I’ll be there to smooth it over as much as I can.”

“Yeah, you're probably right.” Sam nodded. “She's been through enough. I have no right to invade her personal space too. But,” he picked her up in his arms. “I’ll have to carry her to the car or we’re never going to make it there.”

“You're one of the good guys, Sam Kassmeyer. You really, really are.”

“There are those who say nice guys finish last.”

“I guess they just haven’t met you yet.”

Jessie wrapped her arms tighter around Sam, nuzzling against his neck. She might not be able to properly communicate with them but at least she wasn’t in a coma. He didn’t know what she’d been given or what kind of reaction she could have to it.

“We’re going to take care of you, Jessie.” He whispered. “I hope you know you're safe with me. I'm sorry that this happened tonight. I'm sure you came out just to have a good time.”

“Is she OK?” Beth asked as she looked back. They were finally on the same block as the truck.

“I hope so; she's holding on.”

***

She tried to open her eyes but her lids were heavy and the sun was bright. Jessie groaned, flopping over on her back. She had a headache, her body ached, and she had no idea what was going on. This wasn’t her bedroom…she was pretty sure about that. She was almost sure about that.

Jessie’s mind raced, actually it moved like a snail, as she tried to recall last night. She met up with Mark at Underground. He was OK but not really her type. It was their third date; she planned to tell him it wasn’t working at the end of the evening. Mark was handsome, successful, and funny.

Something about him still rubbed her the wrong way. She remembered drinking martinis and making conversation. Everything else was blurry. Jessie actually thought she remembered flying and floating as well but that didn’t make a lot of sense. She remembered the scent of rain and big, soft hands. Did she throw up last night?

Oh God, why was it so hard to remember? Maybe she just needed more sleep. Jessie wasn’t feeling like herself so she needed to stop trying to think. Whatever happened last night it would come back with more rest. Right now it was just bits and pieces; most were confusing and felt like a bad acid flashback.

000
“Who are you?” Jessie asked rubbing her eyes as a sweet-faced brunette put a big cup of coffee on the nightstand. This was definitely not her bedroom. She had no idea where she was or who this person was.

Her first thought, kidnapped by a crazed serial killer, didn’t make much sense. She hadn't been bound, gagged, or tortured. The bed she laid in was comfortable and Jessie was fully clothed in her outfit from last night. “Please, tell me what's going on. I don’t think I've been this confused in my life.”

“First, my name is Beth. Last night my friends and I were hanging out at Underground. We saw what we suspected was a date rape drug slipped in your drink. My friend Sam sprang into action and got you out of there. Now here comes the strange part…bear with me. I found your driver’s license in your pocket and considered taking you home.

“The only reason we didn’t is that Sam wasn’t going to leave you. You’d been drugged and even after vomiting you were barely conscious. I just felt if you woke after a bad night to a strange guy in your personal space it would freak you out. I'm sure this freaks you out anyway but we’re the good guys, I swear to you.” Beth smiled. “You should probably have some coffee and let all of this sink in.”

“I think I almost understand.” Jessie sat up and held her head. It wasn’t hurting as much anymore but she was dizzy and confused. Normally coherent thoughts had been replaced by a ball of gray dust. Taking a deep breath, she took the coffee cup. Jessie took her first sip after blowing on it.

To her surprise it tasted almost as she liked it. “That creep Mark slipped me a date rape drug. You and your friend Sam stepped in to prevent him from hurting me. Then you brought me here because it might be easier to wake up in a strange place than wake up at my home with a strange man because Sam wasn’t leaving me drugged and half-conscious. Is that close?”

“That’s it.” Beth nodded. “I bet you probably want to just bolt out of here. I get it, but I know the effect of these drugs. You're going to need to take it easy today.”

“Are you dressed for work?” Jessie asked.

“Yeah, but Sam is off today. He's not a creeper or anything, I swear to God.”

“Clearly not; he intervened on behalf of a woman he didn’t even know. My mind is still really fuzzy about what happened.”

“Drink the coffee. This is Sam’s room and you can relax in here as long as you’d like. I left a cloth and towel in the bathroom along with some sweats and a tee shirt. I wasn’t sure if we were the same size but I thought relaxing clothes would be alright. I have to go.”

“Go Beth, you’ve done enough. You’ve been a real lifesaver.” Jessie held out her hand. “I wish it would've been under better circumstances but it’s nice to meet you.”

“You too. Maybe we’ll see each other again.”

Beth smiled and left the room. Jessie just sat in bed and drank the big mug of coffee. Though she didn’t know Sam from anyone, she didn’t feel uncomfortable in his room. She was relaxing in a king-sized bed. There was a chest of drawers, entertainment center, desk, and two bookshelves.

There were two picture windows but Jessie didn’t even know if she was still in DC. Maybe the feeling of floating last night was actually riding in a car. Looking around more, Jessie smiled at the framed posters of The Empire Strikes Back, Vertigo, and 2001. There was also a Battlestar Galactica wall calendar, a Tom Petty concert poster, and a variety of action figures sitting around. On the nightstand by her coffee cup there was picture of a smiling woman holding a happy little boy.

Jessie thought it might be Sam’s girlfriend and his son. Upon closer inspection, the yellowing showed the picture was old. Maybe it was his mother. There were more pictures on the dresser and one on the desk where a laptop sat but she wasn’t sure she was ready to get out of bed to explore. Propping the pillows up behind her, Jessie did her best to relax and drink the coffee.

She needed to get the hell out of there. This wasn’t her home and Sam, hero or not, was a strange man right outside that door. She also needed to call Mark and tell him that if she ever saw him again his ass was grass. There was a knock on the door, which made her sit up. It was a little too fast though because she was dizzy again.

“Come in.”

A man stuck his head in. He had a sweet, friendly face but it looked serious and concerned.

“Jessie, is it alright if I come in?”

“I think it’s your room; you don’t have to ask.”

“I'm still going to ask.” He came in but left the door half open. “Did Beth talk to you?”

“Yeah.” she nodded. “I think I owe you one.”

“You don’t owe me anything.” Sam shook his head. “I'm just glad you're alright. How do you feel?”

“I feel woozy. I feel a little confused and my head hurts.”

“I'm going to make breakfast. Do you like pancakes?”

“You don’t have to do that.” she pushed the sheets back and tried to get out of the bed. Managing to get on her feet, Jessie felt victorious. But then she was falling back.

“Whoa, whoa,” Sam rushed to her side. “Are you alright?”

“I think so. Beth said I might have to take it easy today.”

“Yeah. I know this is weird and you probably just want to go home but please stay. Just have some breakfast, take a shower, and then I’ll take you home. I swear on a stack of Bibles that you're safe here.”

“This is the weirdest day of my life.” She said. “If you knew me then you would know that’s saying something.”

“Did you know that guy you were with last night?” Sam asked.

“His name was Mark Gregory. It was our third date but we weren't serious. In fact last night I planned to tell him thanks but no thanks.”

“Maybe he sensed that and decided to take matters into his own hands.”

Jessie shuddered just thinking about it. It was hard to imagine that something like that would ever happen to you. It happened to people you saw on the news. You were smarter, more vigilant and aware; you were never going to be someone’s victim. Except in the blink of an eye it could change.

“I appreciate your kindness, you have no idea. But I really just want to go home.”

“Of course.” Sam tried to smile. “I can take you.”

“I hate to put you out of your way.”

“You're not; I promise. You can finish your coffee, maybe freshen up in the bathroom, and we’ll be on our way.” Sam got up from the bed. He was walking toward the door when Jessie called his name.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“We’re in Alexandria. It shouldn’t take too long to get you back to Georgetown.”

“Thanks Sam.”

It was hard to smile but Jessie managed it anyway. The truth was that she was lucky as hell. Despite how crazy the world was and how often it was displayed that people just didn’t care about each other anymore, two strangers put themselves at risk to get her out of trouble last night. They took her home and made sure she was alright.

They didn’t ask for anything in return and didn’t take advantage of her. It was almost hard to believe. And as good a person as she tried to be in her life, she didn’t know if she could’ve done what they did. Thank you was never going to be enough. It wasn’t even going to scratch the surface of what she wanted to say to them.

***
The ride back to DC was relatively quiet and slightly uncomfortable. Sam drove Jessie in his Ford Mustang and The Eagles played on satellite radio. He found it hard not to sing along to I Can't Tell You Why but managed. When he glanced over at Jessie, she was just looking out the window. She never looked at him.

“I should probably tell you that I know your address.” He said. “I'm sure that’s uncomfortable and I'm so sorry but our first thought last night was to take you home.”

“Beth told me.” Jessie replied. “It’s not my address anyway; I moved almost a year ago. I think last night could’ve been even weirder if you took me back to the old place.”

“What? Oh my God, it would've turned into a bad Cameron Crowe film I think.” Sam laughed. “I don’t think there's very much we can do to make this easier.”

“I'm fine with the quiet, Sam.”

He took the hint and stopped talking. The radio was good company; Sam never minded solitude. He still looked at her from time to time just to make sure she was OK. Jessie looked confused and upset. He was sure she was still sick. Beth told him the drug left the system quickly but for some it could be days before the weird effects wore off. Once again Sam had to stop himself from getting angry about what almost happened to her.

“Where should I drop you?” he asked when they were in the capital. As usual traffic was an absolute nightmare.

“You can just take me back to Underground. My car isn’t parked very far from there.”

“Are you sure you're alright to drive?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“But you…”

“Please, I'm fine Sam.” Jessie cut him off. “I'm not a little girl; I can take care of myself. What you did was very nice, and I thank you, but please just drop me at Underground.”

“Yeah.” he nodded, focusing on the road.

There was nothing left to say so he stayed quiet. They made it to Underground without Sam losing his temper. He hated to do that but DC traffic could tempt even the calmest individual into expletives and bird flipping. Turning on his blinkers, he pulled up in front of the bar. Georgetown always looked so different in the daytime. Summer was in bloom and the wealthy denizens doing their late morning errands mixed with the suits and the Gap hippies.

“Thanks for the ride.” She said, managing a smile.

“You're welcome.” Sam leaned over her and reached into his glove compartment. He pulled out a card. “If you need anything feel free to call me.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know but please take the card. My cell phone number was on the back.”

“OK.” Jessie put the card in her jeans pocket. “Goodbye, Sam.”

“Does it sound ridiculous if I say have a nice weekend?” he asked.

“A little bit, but thank you anyway.”

She got out of the car. He wanted to watch and see where she was going. Not to spy but to make sure she got there safely. Jessie seemed to want him to do anything but. So Sam again got the message and just left.

The whole situation was strange but it was over now. Sam knew he’d done the right thing. There weren't too many ways for it not to have been uncomfortable. At least he knew that Jessie was safe. Now he could go back home and start his three day weekend. When he planned it, Sam had no idea it was going to begin with such a bang.

***
“Is it really over?” Derek asked, double checking the measurement of the counter. There might be a slight gap and he hated that.

“Yeah.” Emily nodded.

She lit her clove after sipping her coffee. It had been a long night and then Morgan rang her bell at 8am. Normally she would've killed him but her late night shenanigans shouldn’t stop him from doing his job. Her neighbors were going to love this. Knowing she was pissing them off made her feel a little better about being up at the ass crack of dawn on a Saturday morning.

“Like really, really Emily?”

“It's over.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah...no; I don't know Derek. It was the right thing to do even if I feel like I have a gaping wound in the pit of my stomach. We weren't meant to be. Ian and I made great love and sometimes we were good together but…” Emily sighed. “We were on different paths and sometimes you have to get off the ride before you crash and burn.

“He said we’d be friends. I don’t see either of us planning to spend time together but we run in some of the same circles. I pray we never have those awkward moments some former couples have. Ian and I made a mutual decision; no one got dumped. I hope Chloe enjoys him.”

“Fuck that broad.” Morgan said.

“I'm sure Ian is doing that right now.” she deeply inhaled her clove. “I really didn’t want that visual. Dammit.”

“You’ve been dealing with that visual for a year and a half since she joined his band. I hope he knows Marauder is never going big time with her. She’s a middling singer and a lousy guitar player.”

“That’s why I've been dealing with that visual. I didn’t think she was in the band for her stellar musical abilities. I've got to let it go though. It’s over and I'm letting go.”

“Have you been having rebound sex?”

“God, it’s only been two weeks Morgan.”

“I repeat…have you been having rebound sex?”

“Maybe.” Emily nodded when she said it.

“Who?”

“Um…Coop and I got together. There was Sarah Danlin, then that cute bouncer over at Caligula, and a really hot threesome with Hotch and Glenda the Good Witch. I let him tape it.”

“Are you serious?” Derek looked at her.

“All except the last part. I could probably convince Hotch to go there, but Glenda…no way in hell.”

“I like Beth. She’s cute and she's good for Hotch.”

“She's great for Hotch. I'm just being bitter about everything I think. They’ve been together for almost four years; I should probably get to know her better. I see the inevitable proposal and lifetime of happiness coming.”

“There's nothing wrong with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a dog.” Morgan replied. “It’s not for everyone but has its benefits.”

“Don’t forget the minivan and the Crocs.”

“Oh fuck that, I’d rather poke my eyes out than go there.” he laughed. Then he scowled.

“What?”

“There's gonna be a fuckin gap. I measured this space four times and there's still gonna be a fuckin gap. How is that possible? Did the foundation on the whole damn building shift since the last time I was here?” Morgan lifted the black countertop onto the frosted fiberglass cabinets he installed the week before.

“As long as it’s not big enough for Sergio or a wine bottle to fall through I can live with it.”

“Well I hate it.”

“I know you do. It’s because you're a perfectionist. My kitchen is gonna kick a lot of ass when you're done. Too bad I only know how to cook Hamburger Helper, meatballs, and chicken breasts.”

“You make a perfect burger and fries.” Morgan replied. “I remember that.”

“Well that is true.” Emily nodded. “Morgan?”

“Hmm?”

“I get to be happy one day too, don’t I?”

“Of course you do. Emily you have an amazing job, great family and friends; so many people love you. You overcame a lot of bullshit to get where you are right now. Just take a step back and a deep breath. The good things are coming.”

Emily knew she needed to stop feeling sorry for herself. She did have it good and she knew it. The breakup hurt but it was also inevitable. It was time to write a new chapter of her story. Emily would be 30 in a few months and change was good. She could always use some good.

“I do have a date on Tuesday evening.”

“You’ve been holding out on me. Who is it?”

“I don’t want to say; I don’t want to jinx it. He’s not someone you know or someone from our circle. Its time for me to branch out and see what I can see. Maybe I will with this guy.”

“There's nothing wrong with experiencing everything life has to offer. This is our time and we need to grab life with both hands.”

“I'm a really good grabber.” Emily smiled. “So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”

***
“What did you say, Anderson?”

Sam looked up from the mountain of paperwork on his desk. It had been a long day and there were three more to go after this. Sometimes it felt like he was swimming upstream but Sam never stopped moving. This wasn’t the kind of business that you could take a breath in. All of the proposals for next year’s grants had deadlines in August and September. It might be the end of May but time flew when you were running around.

“There's someone out here to see you. I'm sorry; I know you said no interruptions but…”

“You interrupt anyway?” Sam smiled as he raised his eyebrow.

There was no point in biting Anderson’s head off. He was the assistant office manager, which was a very thankless job. All day he took people’s crap and had managed not to kill anyone yet. Sam had no intention of adding to the young man’s high blood pressure.

“Well she was insistent. She said she’d been trying to get in touch with you for over a week but you were so busy.”

“Who is it?” Sam asked. He’d returned all of his messages; he couldn’t imagine forgetting someone.

“Jessica Brooks.”

“Who did you just say?”

“Jessica Brooks. If you want me to send her away…”

“No,” Sam stood and nearly knocked over his chair. “No, I’ll see her. Its fine; its great Anderson.”

“OK.” He nodded and left the office.

Sam looked around but there was nowhere to check his look. For summer the whole office went casual so he was dressed in Levis and a blue Capital Cares polo shirt. He hoped his hair looked OK but there was no more time to think about it. There was a knock on the door; he told her to come in. Seeing Jessie again almost took his breath away.

She wore a denim miniskirt, red camisole, and red flats. Her blonde curls looked unruly while at the same time there wasn’t one out of place. There was minimal makeup on her face, just like the first night he saw her. Jessie didn’t need it; she was just beautiful. She was absolutely positively as beautiful as he remembered.

“Hi Sam.”

“Hello.”

“I hope it’s alright that I deceived that guy a little.”

“How so?” he asked.

“I haven’t been trying to get in touch with you for over a week. I’d been thinking about it but had no idea what to say.”

“Now you do?”

“No.” Jessie shook her head. “Do you want to grab some lunch?”

“Sure.”

Sam wasn’t even going to have lunch today; that’s how busy he was. He was going to make it up with a hearty, late dinner. But nothing would stop him from going out with Jessie Brooks. He tried and tried for three weeks but it was impossible to get her off his mind. Sam was sure he would never see her again. Here she was standing right in front of him. He really hoped there wasn’t a dumb look on his face.

“What are you in the mood for?” she asked.

“I'm a pretty simple, meat and potatoes kind of guy.”

“Well burgers and fries it is.”

When Jessie smiled it made Sam do the same. He came around the desk and they walked out of the office.

“Anderson, I'm taking a lunch break. Hold down the fort, OK?”

“You got it.” Anderson nodded. “Take a little extra time; you deserve it.”

Sam kept smiling as he and Jessie walked to the elevator together. He pushed the down button.

“Should I call you Jessie or Jessica?” he asked. “I don’t want to give you a nickname you don’t want.”

“Jessie is fine. My nana is the only person who ever called me Jessica. Well, my mother does when she’s angry.”

“My dad just called me Sam but I knew how much trouble I was in based on his tone.” They got onto the elevator. “I didn’t get into that much trouble growing up.”

“That makes one of us. I went through a bit of a wild child phase. Maybe I'm still in it.”

“Do you go to Underground a lot?” Sam asked. The elevator stopped in the lobby. They got off and walked out of the building. “I don’t remember seeing you there before. I'm not exactly a regular but I've been there a few times. My friend’s ex has a band and they play there a lot.”

“That night was only the second time I’d been there. I doubt I’ll go back. I'm out of the dating game for a while. I called Mark and told him that I knew what he did. Is the Georgetown Diner OK?”

“Its good.” He nodded. “What did Mark say?”

“He just denied it. He denied it so vehemently that he may as well just admitted it. Only a liar could be that defensive. Anyway, I told him to forget that he ever met me. The bastard said he already had.”

“He's a liar. You're not that easy to forget.”

Jessie looked at Sam but he was looking straight ahead as they walked. She slipped her arm in his, it just felt right. She couldn’t explain but Sam Kassmeyer hadn't left her mind since that morning he dropped her off. In her regular life there's a strong possibility that Jessie would've walked right past him.

He was average looking, with a sweet face and beautiful blue eyes. Maybe he was six feet tall but she usually liked them taller. It was Sam’s personality that pulled her in. He pulled her in in about an hour and still likely under the influence of whatever that creep put in her drink. Nothing about him was disingenuous and his kindness bordered on unreal.

Her dad would call Sam a throwback. Even though people weren't as good in those good old days they liked to reminisce about. Sam Kassmeyer probably wasn’t perfect either but there was something about him that Jessie couldn’t shake. She had to see him again, even if it was to convince herself that her memories of him were idealized.

“Can I ask you something, Sam?”

“Sure.”

“What's your worst habit?”

“Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Why would you ask me that?”

“Because I'm curious.” Jessie replied.

“Well um…I’ll have to think about it.”

“I’ll wait.”

They were quiet for the rest of the walk and seated quickly at the diner. It was only about five blocks from where he worked but he hadn't been there in the longest time. Washington DC was filled with amazing places to eat. Sam had sampled many over his 12 year stay in the nation’s capital. He thought about Jessie’s question while looking at the extensive menu. Who knew you could do so many different things to a cheeseburger.

“I'm a workaholic.” He said. “That’s probably my worst habit. I often forget to stop and smell the roses because I'm too busy working. My dad gets on me about it all the time but I can't help it. My work is quite fulfilling. I just have to remember it’s not everything.”

“You're a workaholic?” Jessie asked.

“Mmm hmm.” He nodded. “What's your worst habit.”

“No comment.”

“Wait, I didn’t know that answer was an option.”

“You didn’t ask.” She grinned.

“You’ve got such a pretty smile.” Sam covered his mouth. “I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

“Why, it was nice of you. Keep saying things like that and you'll see it a lot.”

“I wouldn’t mind that.”

When the server approached the table they both ordered burgers and fries. Sam wanted a chocolate milkshake. Jessie went for the root beer float.

“Wow, it’s been so long since I've had one.” She said. “I can't wait to take the first sip; it'll be like the ultimate nostalgia. A few days ago I heard this song on the radio I probably hadn't heard since I was a teenager. I couldn’t help but sing along.”

“What was it?” Sam asked.

When I See You Smile by this hair band…”

“Bad English.”

“Yeah.” she nodded. “You know it?”

“I heard it on the radio the other day too.”

“It’s a very small world.”

“Jessie, if your worst habit is off limits maybe you can tell me your third worst habit.”

“My third? You really want to know?”

“Give it to me.” Sam smiled. “I can handle it.”

“I used to be a chronic nail biter.” She said. “I'm not anymore but it’s a bad habit.”

“How did you overcome it? What did you replace it with?”

“No comment.” Jessie smiled.

“Ouch.” He put his hand over his heart. “You have no intention of making this easy, do you? Tell me something Jessie Brooks; tell me anything.”

“Anything?”

“Yes.”

“You're not that easy to forget either. In fact, it’s been next to impossible. How's that for anything?”

“Um…that’s good.” Sam nodded, smiling like an idiot as their drinks arrived.

***
“Would you think less of me if I put out on the first date?” Emily asked, pulling him into another passionate kiss. He tasted of red wine and she wanted to get drunk off of him.

“Would you think less of me if I turned you down?” Jason countered. He took a moment to tease her lips again before moving down to her neck. Damn, he really loved her skin. She seemed to know it because she was showing plenty tonight while still looking classy and beautiful.

“The thought of your being gay, however fleeting, would cross my mind.”

“I'm not gay, Emily.”

He laughed and she loved the sound of it. They’d known each other for almost a year and she wasn’t sure she’d ever heard him laugh. He smiled sometimes but laughing wasn’t really his thing. Right at that moment she wanted to find ways to make him do it again and again. The melodious sound gave her butterflies in her stomach. If she was turned on before she was really turned on now.

“I can tell.” She upped the ante and ran her hand over the bulge in his black slacks. There was laughter again, this time slightly nervous. Jason took her hand, caressing her fingers before holding it to his lips.

“You just went through a breakup.” He whispered, kissing her fingers. “I don’t want to have rebound sex. When we make love for the first time I want to be the only thing on your mind. You're certainly the only thing on mine. I want to get to know each other better, Emily.

“I want to make you smile and make you dinner again. I want to watch you recite an entire Woody Allen movie and have you do something that infuriates me but that I let you get away with anyway. I’m fond of you and I want something more than a romp. If you don’t, I surely understand. I can give you what you want, if you want it. But I think something more might be good for both of us.”

“If that’s just a line, Jason, I might be falling for it.”

“It’s not a line.” He shook his head before leaning in for another kiss.

Her lips were soft, her tongue demanding, and kissing her made him crazy. Jason was sure he could do it all night if she let him. But it was time to call it a night. If she didn’t leave now then he might not let her. He wanted to take the high road tonight, no matter how hard that was.

The truth of the matter was he was crazy about Emily Prentiss. He couldn’t say in love because he didn’t know it. One didn’t have to be a genius to know a lot was going on in the woman’s heart and head. She didn’t make a damn thing easy. But he wanted to try anyway. Jason couldn’t even remember the last time he wanted to try.

“So you just know what to say naturally?” Emily asked, running her fingers through his dark, thinning hair.

There was something about the man; she wasn’t sure what. In the beginning this was about a conquest. She knew Jason had a thing for her. Lots of people had a thing for her. Emily loved to flirt and play.

He bit the bait and they had some great exchanges. But Jason Gideon wasn’t like your average bear. He was brilliant and brooding…men like him were written in novels where the heroine ended up heartbroken in the end. Emily had been there, done that, and had the shot glass. She didn’t want to be hurt anymore. So why was she so drawn to him?

It was for completely different reasons than she was drawn to Ian. Sure she wanted to fuck him; she liked fucking. But here she was, horny as hell and still intrigued by the idea of waiting. Something told her that it would be worth it. Emily Prentiss hadn't gotten as far as she had by not listening to her gut.

“Its time to say goodnight.” Jason pulled away, holding back a groan as he did.

He stood from his couch, held out his hands, and pulled Emily up. She looked amazing in a purple dress that hugged all of her curves. Her hair was long and she’d curled it tonight. She smelled so feminine and beautiful. Jason closed his eyes as he held her close. God forgive him but he had to take a moment to think of how heavenly her naked skin would be. Holy hell this woman was too much.

“Goodnight.” Emily slid out of his embrace and walked to the door. She knew how to leave a man wanting more. His body language gave him away. He was ready to pounce like a ravenous panther. A gazelle with any sense took the hint and got the hell out of dodge. “Call me.”

“I will.” He nodded but didn’t move from his spot in front of the couch. The distance was good; his body temperature was slowly going down.

Smiling, she gave him a wave and walked out of the apartment. Outside the door she leaned on the wall. It had been a while since kissing and conversation got her so flustered. To think that a few hours ago she considered canceling on Jason. It had been a long day and not a good one.

In the end she thought a home cooked meal and a little attention was just what she needed. She’d been damn right. Walking down the stairs and outside into the warm night on DuPont Circle, Emily looked at her watch. It wasn’t too late, school night or not. One of her friends, most of them, had to be out and about. She needed a nightcap to come down from that high.

***
“Shit! Shit! Are you shitting…what the actual…this is ridiculous!”

“What’s the matter?” Hotch came out of the kitchen and looked at Beth. She was sitting on the floor surrounded by wood and paper.

“Two screwdrivers and a hammer; they claim that’s all you need. They forgot about the patience of Job and the strength of Samson. This is insane.”

“I offered to help you put together the bookshelf, babe. It’s for me after all.”

“Oh c'mon, Aaron, I'm a nearly 30 year old woman with a Masters degree. If I can't put together a damn bookcase what does that say about me?”

“Fair enough.” he nodded. “But if putting together a bookcase causes you to have a nervous breakdown I'm sensing a problem.”

“I swear this thing doesn’t have the proper screw holes.” Beth pointed at him. “And don’t you dare say anything sexual.”

“I wasn’t…” Hotch couldn’t hold back his smile and dimples. He probably was but it wasn’t as fun if he couldn’t make her smile. “Take a break.”

“I refuse to let this thing beat me. It’s an inanimate object.”

“Take a break.” He repeated holding out his hands. Hotch pulled Beth from the floor and gave her a kiss. “Let it win this round while you eat dinner. Then come back and show it who’s boss.”

“I love you.”

“I love you more.” he kissed her nose, putting his arm around her as they walked into the kitchen together.

“What are you cooking? It smells delicious.”

Beth grabbed some plates to set the table. It was just the two of them tonight. She didn’t know where Sam was but didn’t plan to ask too many questions. Hotch had a busy job working for the Justice Department. It wasn’t often they got this kind of time. Beth planned to enjoy every moment.

“I made some garlic butter shrimp in the skillet and then some angel hair pasta. David Rossi gave me the recipe. I'm sure it’s not as good as his though. He’s a great cook. His wife is my Boss. Do you remember that dinner party we went to at their house? He insisted on cooking everything.”

That dinner party had been a big deal. When Hotch was invited and asked to bring his lady friend, he knew he was going places in the DoJ. Erin Strauss didn’t just invite anyone to her home. Doors were opening for him in more ways than one.

“He's a fantastic cook. You're not too bad yourself though. I'm looking forward to this dinner.” She smiled. “Should I open the white wine?”

“That’s a good idea.”

She set the table and Hotch served the meal as Beth poured the wine. They sat at the table holding hands. Damn, she couldn’t stop smiling. They’d been dating for almost four years. To some of her friends it was too long to go without a proposal and plan for the future.

But both Hotch and Beth were busy with work and life. They were together whenever they could be. They took vacations together, visited her parents in New Hampshire and his occasionally in Richmond, Virginia. They shared a life even if they still had separate residences and weren't married. And the separate residences were nearly nonexistent…Beth spent many nights there with him.

It amazed her that Sam rolled with the punches. They did their best not to make his best friend feel like the third wheel. It was important to them to have a life that included more than being together in a fantasy bubble. Tonight though, it was perfect.

“How is it?” Hotch asked.

“It’s great. This is just what I needed after wrestling with a set of bookshelves.”

“I’ll help after dessert.”

“There's going to be dessert too?” Beth smiled. “Not that you don’t do a lot of amazing things but its just Thursday. What's the occasion?”

“No occasion, I just wanted to do something nice for you. I don’t know if I do that enough and I don’t ever want you to think I take what we have for granted.”

“I don’t think that.”

“If you did I would understand. I work a lot.”

“So do I, Aaron. We both have demanding jobs even though we love them a lot.”

“I love you a lot.” Hotch replied. He leaned to kiss her, stroking Beth’s cheek.

“You taste like butter. It’s going to be hard not to kiss you all night.”

“I'm in no mood to stop you if you insist on using my body completely to your advantage.” His smile brought out his dimples again. “Oh damn, I forgot the freshly ground parmesan. Rossi said it would make the meal.”

“I’ll get it.” Beth stood from the chair. “Where is it?”

“I put it in the fridge in the butter section. I didn’t want it to be exposed to too much cold and get hard. Thanks sweetie.”

“Sure.”

She went over and opened the fridge. Pulling open the butter flap, Beth gasped. She peeked around the fridge at Hotch but he seemed to be into his dinner. She looked at what was behind the butter flap again and grabbed the box.

“Aaron?”

“Yeah?”

“Um…oh my God.”

He got up from the table and started walking into the kitchen. He was wearing that look; Beth always called it that look. It had no official name and that just made it funnier to him.

“Did you find the cheese?” he asked.

“What is this?” Beth asked, closing the refrigerator door and holding out the ring box.

“I don't know…let me see.” He gently took the box from her and opened it. “Oh wow, it’s gorgeous. I think it’s for you.”

“Aaron…”

He got down on one knee while his girlfriend stood there with her mouth open. Beth couldn’t speak but she did manage to cover her mouth with her hand.

“Elizabeth Clemmons, will you marry me?”

“Oh my God,” the words came out of her mouth breathlessly.

Hotch just sat there on one knee holding up the ring. He’d give her a chance to catch her breath and gather her thoughts. Four years in and he was pretty impressed that he could surprise her like this. Score one for Aaron Hotchner.

“Yes!” she exclaimed. “Yes, yes, absolutely yes!”

He popped up and Beth threw her arms around him. She loved him so much that words just weren't enough. From the moment they met, jogging in a park near DuPont Circle, she was smitten. It wasn’t hard to fall in love with him. He was smart, attractive, and swept her off her feet.

There was another side to Aaron Hotchner though. He wasn’t easy to get to know. He threw himself into his work at the Justice Department as a federal prosecutor. It wasn’t always easy for Beth to get him to open up about his past, including the death of his father when Hotch was a teenager.

But she held on. She knew that he loved her. He showed it in a million ways. He was worth all the work she put into the relationship. The fact that he was actually able to surprise her with this proved it.

“I love you so much.” Hotch held her tight to him. He could feel her heart beating just as fast as his own.

“I love you too.” Beth wiped her eyes.

“This is for you.” he took the ring out of the box and put it on the counter.

Beth’s hand was shaking as she held it out. Hotch slipped the ring on; it was a perfect fit. He’d been worried because as much as he wanted to ask Sam for help, Hotch went out on his own. He wanted to marry Beth and thought the least he could do was buy the ring that he knew would knock her off her feet.

“Wow, it’s so beautiful.”

“You really like it?” he asked.

“It’s amazing. You're amazing, Aaron.” she hugged him again. Beth never wanted to let go. This was everything she wanted and now it would finally be hers. She wanted to celebrate.

“Dinner’s getting cold.” Hotch whispered in her ear.

“It was really good too. And I'm hungry.”

“Let’s get back to it.”

“We can't hug and eat at the same time, can we?” Beth asked.

“I'm sure there's a way; I just haven’t figured it out yet.”

Smiling and holding hands, they went back to their meal. There was plenty of time to celebrate and plan how they wanted to spend the rest of their lives. Hotch took both plates to the microwave, warmed dinner, and rejoined Beth at the table. It was a good meal, he’d made it himself. Having Beth enjoy it meant the world to him.

***
“He wants to wait.”

“For what?” Jordan Todd asked.

“This is what I'm saying.”

“Maybe he's bad in bed and doesn’t want you to know.”

“No way.” Emily shook her head. “The way this man kisses…that’s impossible.”

“Did he kiss you with his cock? The two are not connected.”

“OK, well let’s say he's bad in bed. If he goes between my thighs with that tongue I'm not going to give a damn.”

“He's that good?” Penelope couldn’t help but giggle as she licked her hand and poured salt on it.

“This is what I'm saying.”

“You're saying a lot but not much.” Jennifer Jareau took the salt when it was handed to her.

“The date was something like that.” Emily replied. “Except that it wasn’t. It was almost like nothing I've ever experienced before. Oh shit, just drink ladies.”

The four women took down the tequila shots, licked the salt, and then sucked lemons. They all shook it off before having more beer. Tonight they were at Absinthe for another Friday night of fun. It had been a long week for them at their various jobs. Penelope worked for the FBI, JJ the Department of Justice, while Emily and Jordan worked for the State Department. They were busy all day long and their nights filled with adventures.

“When are you going to see him again?” JJ asked. The beer was almost done; it was time for another pitcher.

“He's taking me to the theater on Sunday evening. We’ll see the six o’clock show and then have a late dinner. I'm looking forward to it.”

“So you like him?” Penelope asked. She flagged the barmaid, handed off the pitcher, and got the nod.

“I do.” Emily nodded. “But I don’t need a relationship guys. I mean c'mon, been there done that and it wasn’t cool.”

“You had good times with Ian.” Jordan said. “All relationships end; it’s a fact of life.”

“Most don’t end with some ho waiting in the wings.”

“Jason and Ian aren’t anything alike though.” JJ said. “I thought that was the whole point of seeing him.”

“It was, but I surely didn’t expect him to want more than hot sex. God, I know this guy is going to be so good in bed. How long does he want me to wait?”

“All men can be corrupted.” Penelope said. “You put the Emily Prentiss juju on him and he’ll collapse like a deck of cards. It’s scientifically proven.”

“That’s what I thought. I wore the purple Calvin Klein number on Tuesday. I was hot; I was seriously hot. I think Jason is more than that.”

“You have to decide if you are.” Jordan said as the next pitcher of beer arrived. “Finally, I thought I was going to die of thirst.”

“You’ve never died of thirst.” The barmaid Bobbi threw back at her.

“You better believe it.” Jordan winked at her. “Let’s do another shot.”

“What’ll be?” Bobbi asked.

“Kamikaze.” Emily said. “I might be on a suicide mission.”

“Don’t be so overdramatic.” JJ poured four cups of beer. “Have some fun with this Em. One thing I can say is that you weren't having fun with Ian toward the end. If Jason Gideon is a real gentleman, enjoy the attention. Don’t you think you deserve it? You can have sex with anyone. This might be something good.”

Emily nodded, sipping her beer. She liked Jason; there was no point in denying it. It wasn’t love but love sucked any damn way. If a man wanted to woo her why would she deny him that?

Jason wanted romance; wining and dining. It wasn’t such a bad deal. Their first date had been amazing. He cooked for her. He bought expensive wine and played great music.

Conversation with him turned her on. She probably could’ve talked all night if the kissing hadn't begun. This was all his fault…he kissed her first. He started it and then wanted to make her wait. Here she was, waiting.

“Are we getting too old for this?” Emily asked as Bobbi came back with the shots. She slipped a piece of paper to Jordan and Emily knew where that was going to end.

“Probably.” JJ and Penelope replied as they took their shots.

“Some days I could probably say yes.” Jordan conceded. “Since I'm probably gonna be fuckin Bobbi tonight I’m gonna say no right now.”

They all laughed, holding up their shot glasses.

“What are we drinking to?” Jordan asked.

“Good things coming to those who wait.” JJ replied.

“And they better be damn good.” Emily said before she drank it down.

***
“You're wearing a suit on a Saturday.” Sam poked his head into Hotch’s bedroom. “What gives?”

“I have to go to the DOJ. I thought I would have the day off but something popped in one of my cases.”

“That’s good, but it sucks at the same time.”

“Pretty much.” Hotch nodded. “Where are you off to?”

“I'm running late actually. I'm going to pick up Jessie and we’re going to a lacrosse game.”

“Who's Jessie?”

“Jessie Brooks. We met...well…she’s the woman from Underground that night. Do you remember?”

It took a Hotch a minute but recognition dawned on his face. Sam wondered how someone could forget their best friend saving a girl who had been slipped a mickey but Hotch had a million things on his mind at any given moment.

“I didn’t know you two were seeing each other. You hadn't mentioned her since that weekend it happened.”

“We’ve seen each other a few times in the past month.” Sam replied. “I'm not really sure what it is yet. Maybe I’ll be able to tell you more when I come back.”

“Be careful Sam.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know...just be careful. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I can take care of myself.” Sam felt the need to say it. He was more sensitive than a lot of people and had been hurt in the past but he wasn’t a kid. He was a grown man and he walked into situations with his eyes opened.

“You're my best friend.” Hotch said. “If I want to be overprotective then I have a right. You don’t even know this woman.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes I'm serious.” Hotch nodded.

Sam laughed but it was mirthless. It shocked Hotch because he never heard a sound like that come out of his best friend.

“For God’s sake Aaron, you met Beth jogging in the park. She was a stranger to you, could’ve been a serial killer. But did I pull the ‘be careful’ card on you as if you were a dumb 10 year old? No, I encouraged you to talk to her and ask her out if that’s what you wanted. You know why, because friends support each other.”

“I support you.”

“Yeah, when I'm doing what you want me to do.”

“What does that even mean?” Hotch asked.

“I don’t want to be late. I'm getting out of here.”

“Hey Sam, wait! Don’t walk out like that; I want to talk to you.”

Sam ignored him, going down the hall and grabbing his keys from the bowl in the living room. He slammed the door when he left the condo and felt bad but to hell with it. He was pissed off and had every right to display it. Why was Sam always expected to be the one who rolled with the punches?

Everyone else could be mad, sad, emotional, or insane but not good old dependable Sam. Fuck that guy, and fuck Aaron Hotchner too. He was already late for picking up Jessie and getting on the road. Nothing else was going to ruin his day.

000
“Are you alright?” Jessie asked.

“Yes.” Sam nodded.

“I don’t think so.”

“What?”

“Look Sam, I know we don’t know each other that well yet but you're one of those people.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, glancing at her before looking back at the road.

“You're one of the good guys and I can feel it radiating off you like sunshine.” She smiled. “There's nothing wrong with a little extra sunshine in a girl’s life. But today you're really quiet and cloudy. If you wanted to reschedule that would've been OK.”

“I've been looking forward to this all week.”

“So what's going on? Your friend Hotch has called three times since we got on the road and you’ve rejected it every time.”

“We had a fight.” Sam admitted. God, it was like he could breathe easier just saying it. The truth was that he and Hotch had been friends since junior high, best friends since high school, and had never had a fight. Not that Sam remembered anyway.

“Do you want to get it off your chest? I'm a good listener and want to help if I can.”

“I'm a dependable guy. There's nothing wrong with that; I came by it honestly. But I think my friends have just gotten used to my being Mr. Dependable. We all lean on each other but they lean on me a lot.”

“That’s why they call you Mr. Dependable, figuratively speaking.”

“Yeah.” Sam nodded.

“You're starting to feel used?” Jessie asked.

“No, I just…Hotch said something and it pissed me off. When I told him that I was hanging out with you he told me to be careful. He insinuated that I should keep my wits about me because you're a stranger. That’s ridiculous. I'm a grown man, almost 30, so I really think I'm past the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ lecture.

“I was the one who encouraged him to step out of the box and talk to Beth. He used to see her all the time when he went running in the park. And he just tells me to be careful. It was as if Beth was fine because he chose her but you must be some con woman who’s going to ensnare me in her web and then destroy my credit. He should just support me like I've always supported him. I don’t mind being a supporting player but I guess it’s just too much to ask for some people.”

Jessie sighed as she took in all he’d said. Then she rubbed his arm.

“I’ll start by saying that I'm playing Switzerland in this because I've seen and experienced both sides. I always tell my friends to be careful when they meet new people, especially if it’s potentially romantic. It’s a shitty world out there sometimes, Sam. I nearly found that out the hard way. People pretend to be things they aren’t.

“They use, manipulate, and hurt people for their own purposes. We see it everyday. I'm not that person. You're going to get to know me better and maybe someday soon your friends will as well. Until then they’re looking out for you. It's love, it's not an insult.”

“So you think I was too harsh?” Sam asked.

“I don't know; I wasn’t there. And I would never belittle your feelings. Why did you feel like Hotch was treating you like a kid?”

“I'm the single friend.” He put his hand on his chest. “I'm the one who’s there no matter what. Maybe no one wants that to change. It’s been good for them all these years.”

“Ouch.”

“Are you alright?”

“It just sucks to feel that way. I hope for your sake that it’s not true. There’s an easy way to find out though.”

“How?”

“We just keep seeing each other.” Jessie replied smiling.

“I don’t want to do that to spite my friends. I want to do that because I like you.”

“You haven’t even kissed me yet.”

“Is that supposed to be a determinant to my liking you?” Sam asked.

“No,” Jessie shook her head. “But a girl definitely starts to wonder, Kassmeyer. I have no problem making the first move but I didn’t want to go where I wasn’t wanted.”

“You're wanted…” he whispered. “You're very wanted. Sometimes I'm a little slow.”

“It’s a hazard of the Y chromosome. But I like you anyway.”

“I didn’t mean slow as in dumb. I just meant that there's no need to rush. It’s never really been my thing. But just so you know, I’d kiss you right now if I could.”

“Don’t worry, you can as soon as we get to Richmond.” Jessie smiled. “Then I want you to call Hotch and smooth things over. He’s your best friend. From all you’ve said about him, I doubt he did anything to purposely hurt your feelings.”

“Yeah.” Sam nodded. He believed that even as he was losing his temper. That’s why he thought that kind of behavior was silly from the start. Still, he did worry sometimes that his friends didn’t want to change and didn’t want him to change either.

“Smile Sam…now.”

When she said that, he did it. He took her hand, holding it to his lips. Jessie laced her fingers through his and liked the way it felt. It had been a long time since she’d experienced these feelings. Jessie wasn’t going to put all of her eggs in one basket but it was hard not to be crazy about Sam Kassmeyer.

He was perfect. That scared her because no one was perfect. This was new and sweet and fun. They had time to iron out all of the issues, including friends. Jessie definitely wanted to kiss a lot before they had to deal with any of the rest of it.

***
“You're calling me? You thought that was a good idea right now?”

“I wanted to make sure you were alright.”

“Ask your damn girlfriend if she's alright.”

“I don’t know how many different ways I can tell you that Chloe isn’t my girlfriend. I didn’t want her when we were together and I don’t want her now.”

“Well what do you want with me, Ian?”

“Are you alright?” he asked.

Ian was talking through clenched teeth. The woman infuriated him. She made him want to punch holes in walls, and sometimes he had. But he loved her. He loved her the first time he laid eyes on her.

Ian pursued Emily with gusto like nothing before except his music. It wasn’t perfect but nothing ever was. Ian didn’t want to break up; he just wanted Emily to be happy. She didn’t sound happy on the other end of the phone.

“That shanty Irish twat is lucky I didn’t beat the hell out of her. But I'm a woman and don’t need to stoop to her level. If she's not with you then you need to tell her to stop spreading her lies on the street.”

“She's probably only spreading them to you. Chloe knows how to push your buttons.”

“Fuck her Ian, OK? I let her get to me, fine I was weak, but it won't ever happen again. I'm getting too old for this silly shit. I need to be with different people doing different things.”

“You seemed to have landed on your feet in that department.” Ian replied.

“Really; you're going there? I'm hanging up now.”

“I'm not trying to fight, baby. I just wanted…nevermind.”

“I have to go.”

Emily didn’t give him a chance to talk her out of hanging up. She put her cell phone on the kitchen counter and looked in her living room. Jason sat on her couch playing with Sergio. Her cat was usually the type who ran from people, or hissed at them. Right now he was sitting relaxed in Jason’s lap. He readily accepted the attention.

“I'm really sorry about this. Tonight was supposed to be nice.”

“It was nice.” Jason replied.

“I think I ruined it. I have that tendency sometimes, even when I have the best intentions.”

“While I wish you wouldn’t have let that woman get to you, I do understand what its like to have someone push all the wrong buttons.”

Emily sighed, coming to join him on the couch. Date #2 was supposed to be perfect. Jason got tickets to the theater…he took her to see Glengarry Glen Ross. It was one of his favorite plays.

Emily had never seen it, not even the movie version. She was a David Mamet fan though so looked forward to it. The plan was to see the show and have a late dinner when it was over at about 8:30. When they left the Foggy Bottom theater, all hell broke loose.

“Well, well, well, look who it is.”

Emily almost ignored the voice, they could’ve been talking to anyone, but she recognized the accent immediately. It was in her best interest to keep walking so she did. She also held Jason’s hand a little tighter.

“You hear me bitch. Emily Prentiss, you hear me talking to you.”

“Buzz off Chloe.” She turned in the direction of Chloe and her friends. Foggy Bottom was a bit upscale for the likes of them.

“It looks like you're doing alright since Ian dumped you. All dressed up and going to the theater. Aren’t you going to introduce us to your da?”

Her friends snickered and sneered. Emily balled her hand into a fist, taking a deep breath through her nose.

“You're such a waste of space, Chloe. I feel sorry for you. C’mon Jason, we need to go.”

“Ian doesn’t think I'm a waste of space.” Chloe replied as Emily walked away. “He happens to think I fit perfectly. He likes me underneath him, on top of him, and beside him.”

“You trolling little slut.” Emily went for her, breaking out of Jason’s grip and jumping in Chloe’s face. Chloe’s best friend, Amber Canardo, was right there. Amber was always ready to throw down. She’d been in many a bar fight in her day.

If Emily had to take them both she would. She was just that pissed off. “If Ian is satisfied with you then he was never good enough for me. You can stop pretending to be me now; you have what you want. Just stay the hell away from me.”

“God, some people are really touchy.” Amber rolled her eyes. “It'll be OK, Prentiss…you're not the first girl whose ever been dumped.”

Emily gave them the finger as she and Jason kept walking down the street. He could see the steam coming off her skin; she was seconds from detonation. It was best to tread carefully. Being blown to bits wasn’t on his list of things to do today.

“Maybe it'll just be better to call it a night.” He said.

“I might not be the best company anymore.”

“It’s alright, Emily. I’ll take you home now.”

Emily looked at him. She saw compassion in his brown eyes. She could tell that he wasn’t pleased to have his evening interrupted but there was more compassion than anything.

“I said it was alright earlier.” Jason said, taking her hand in his. “I truly meant it even if I didn’t quite feel it.”

“I'm sorry I let Chloe ruin our evening. She does know how to push my buttons.”

“Is she your ex’s girlfriend?” he asked.

“I have no idea.” Emily shrugged. “They're band mates and I always suspected…I don't know. Dammit.”

“What?”

“I was really looking forward to tonight. I wanted to spend this time with you; I wanted to see the play.”

“Did you like the play?”

“I loved it.” she managed a small smile.

“You were supposed to love dinner too.” Jason said.

“I'm so sorry. Are you hungry Jason, because I'm hungry?”

“There's something romantic about semi-formal dress for a casual meal.”

“Do you like pizza?” Emily asked.

“I do. It sounds perfect.”

When he smiled, she leaned to kiss him. The odds of her getting laid tonight were low. Jason wanted to wait. Even if he was in the mood to break his rule, the ex-boyfriend thing kind of killed it.

She couldn’t say she wasn’t on the rebound but Emily knew she didn’t want to be. Ian and Jason were two very different men. Being with Jason was nice. Feeling nice was nice. Emily knew if she let Ian, Chloe, or any of that crap ruin it then she was really ruining it herself.

“Do you want a say on toppings?” she asked.

“I either like it plain or with veggies. I can't eat pork at all.”

“Of course. You relax and I’ll order.”

She went to get up but Jason brought her back for another kiss. Yes, she was hungry but it was in more ways than one. They might be able to salvage this night after all.

***
“I acted like a jackass.” Sam said when he saw Hotch again late Monday night. His best friend handed him a beer.

The friends avoided each other over the weekend. Hotch stayed at Beth’s Adams-Morgan apartment. Sam left an apology voicemail on Saturday but this was the first time they were seeing each other face to face since their argument.

“No, I think I did. I meant it when I said be careful, mostly because I know that affairs of the heart can be tricky for even the best of us. But that in no way meant that I didn’t think you were intelligent or that you were deficient in any way. I’d feel better if I met Jessie though. I hope you don’t keep her from me because of my behavior.”

“Right now I'm still getting to know her, Aaron. I want and need to do that on my own. I invited her to Derek’s Fourth of July pool party. She had some other plans but will try to split her time. It’s no guarantee though. I don’t feel comfortable with her dissing her friends for me.”

“Do you really like her?” Hotch asked, folding his arms as he leaned on Sam’s doorframe.

“I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself and trip over my intentions.” Sam replied. “We’re still getting to know each other and we have our differences. She just…” he smiled. “I like her a lot.”

“It’s been a long time since I've seen you smile like that.”

“I really don’t want to think about Kate.”

“I wasn’t trying to go there, Sam. Look, I just want to apologize for hurting your feelings. You're my best friend and I want to be cheering the loudest when good things happen for you. This is a good thing.”

“Do you think everyone will be happy for me?” Sam asked.

“Absolutely.” Hotch nodded. “Just remember that the intense scrutiny she’ll face from the girls is because they love you and are sometimes controlling.” He smiled but then his face turned solemn. “What's wrong, Sam?”

“We’re all capable of irrational thought. Sometimes though there are kernels of truth in them.”

“O-K. I'm mostly with you so far.”

“I've been one way for a really long time, Aaron. I've been the single, dependable friend. I've been the port in a whole lot of storms. Being there for the people I love is really important to me. How will they feel when I'm maybe living my own life and can't be there for theirs?”

“It might take some getting used to.” Hotch replied. “Change is something that people always say they want but then struggle to adapt to. What I do know is how much we all love you. If Jessie makes you happy then we’re going to be happy for you.”

“OK.” Sam nodded.

“Are you OK?”

“I'm good. I really need to put the finishing touches on this grant proposal. Bringing work home is usually the last thing I want to do but I was so close to the finish line.”

“Well I’ll let you get to it. It’s just you and I for a couple of days. Beth is working on a big project so she’s going to have some late nights.”

“I know a little something about that.” Sam smiled.

Hotch did too, his dimples poking holes in his cheeks. He was glad he and his best friend had smoothed things over but some of Sam’s thoughts made him pause. They had all been the same for so long, since starting college and then spending their 20s as close friends. What would happen with 30 on the horizon for most of them? There were already little changes and resistance to them. Would they survive life’s inevitable shift as they walked further into adulthood?

***
“Emma!” Morgan held up his hand. “Gimme a high five!”

The short preteen jumped up to hit his palm.

“You were great out there tonight. What’s the name of the game?”

“Fun!” she exclaimed.

“That’s right.” Morgan grinned. “So I’ll see you next week.”

“Same bat time…”

“Same bat channel.”

“Thanks so much Derek.” Emma’s mother smiled. “I think this is the highlight of her week most of the time.”

“It’s not a problem, Lily. I’ll see you guys soon.”

“Most definitely. Bye Emily.”

“See you later Lily. Bye Emma.”

“Bye.”

Derek waved once more as the mother and daughter walked away. When he looked at his friend she was smiling.

“I love to see you smile.” He said.

“You're just so damn awesome. Why wouldn’t I smile?”

“I'm just a guy who loves what he does.”

“Derek, there are 24 hours in a day. Half of them you spend working for the FBI. I'm sure you manage to spend some of them eating and sleeping. Then you volunteer.”

“I love volunteering. Working with the kids keeps me young and fit. It keeps my blood pumping.”

Derek had been working with kids since he was one himself. In high school, after a few minor brushes with the law, he entered into a mentoring program. It fulfilled something in him that had been missing since his father died years before. As an All-American football player, Derek watched his NFL fantasy go up in smoke with a career-ending injury during his sophomore year of college.

Through his fraternity he turned to the only other fulfillment he knew, volunteering with kids. This time it was the Special Olympics. A decade later and he was still doing it. Right now he was coaching girl’s volleyball once a week.

He had 10 preteens with a variety of mental disabilities. They all loved Derek to pieces and he adored them. Penelope was usually his coaching partner but she was extra busy with work this week. Tonight Emily filled in; she needed something to get her blood pumping too.

“There are people lining up to keep your blood pumping.” Emily said collecting balls from around the gym.

“Aw c'mon, we can't do that for the rest of our lives. It has its moments but I'm starting to prefer my other outlets. I'm really getting into my cycling again and have been thinking about training for a triathlon with Hotch. You should come with me one of these Sunday mornings. I go really early; the world is barely awake.”

“The last bike I rode was a Huffy.” Emily replied.

“Just think about it.”

“I will.” She meant that. “Are we taking the nets down?”

“No, two games are scheduled for tomorrow. We’re third in our league right now. They go by a points system and not by wins. We’re just 9 points from second place.”

“Do the girls know?”

“I don’t want to tell them. I don’t want them thinking that winning is everything. Fun is the name of the game. At the season end party every team will get a trophy.”

“You're so into this.” Emily smiled.

“Of course I am; I love it. More important than that, the girls are having a blast. Just like Lily said, this is the highlight of Emma’s week. She gets to come here and be with her friends.

“She gets all sweaty and dirty. She doesn’t have to worry about being the kid who doesn’t know things when she's here. I'm proud to know I had just a little bit to do with that. Now, wasn’t I promised dinner?”

“Yes sir.”

“Are you in the mood for the diner?” Morgan asked.

“Always. What do we do with the balls?” Emily carried the bag over her shoulder.

“We’ll take them to the activities closet. I wish Penelope could’ve been here tonight to see the girls win. She brings glittered pom-poms, gluten free cupcakes, and always leads them in cheer songs. She’s even more into it than I am sometimes.”

“She's into you Derek Morgan…not to take anything away from the awesome power of girls volleyball.”

000
“Ian and Chloe aren’t a thing.” Derek said. They were sitting in a booth at the Georgetown Diner drinking milkshakes and waiting for their dinner.

“Why do people think I care what he chooses to do with his free time? We broke up and that means I don’t have to concern myself with his cock activities.”

“I get that. Doyle was never my favorite guy but I know how much you loved each other. Chloe lied to you, I know it hurt you, and I'm rectifying that hurt.”

“How do you even know?” Emily asked.

“I met up with Paul the night before last for some beers. It came up.”

“It just came up?” Emily asked smirking.

“Honestly, yes.” Morgan nodded. “Paul says they're about to fire her from the band. She doesn’t have what it takes.”

“I told Ian that two years ago.”

“Paul told me they picked her because she was hot and a nice face for the band. He knew her talent was middling but he really expected her to grow and learn. It just didn’t happen. Chloe gets more joy out of saying I'm in a band than in putting in the work.”

“Well more power to them. They're talented guys and deserve to make it.”

“Paul told me he called in practically every marker he had but he got Marauder a spot for this talent showcase that record companies attend. It’s on December 1st so that gives them almost six months to get the new girl ready.”

“They have another girl?” Emily asked.

“Her name is Seaver; I can't remember her first name. Paul’s getting her a fake I.D. so she can get into the bars. She’s only 17, just graduated from high school, plays guitar and drums, and is taking some time off before going to community college. He says they all agree she’s the one. Now they just have to get rid of you know who.”

“That sounds good.”

It seemed as if Emily’s friends talked more about Ian since the breakup than they ever did when the couple was together. She didn’t want to care about Ian’s band but she did. She probably always would. They were passionate about their music and deserved to get famous, even almost famous.

Emily just needed to separate in her mind wanting the best for Ian and wanting to be with him. They couldn’t be together...it wasn’t going to work. It might work with Jason if she stopped letting events in her ex’s life take a front seat in hers. They’d gone on Date #3, lunch at Equinox, on Tuesday afternoon. Emily smiled, laughed, and had grownup conversation.

Jason was so engaging. Even hours after they talked, she wanted to talk more. How could she be so drawn to that, to him, and still feel what she felt for Ian? She wanted to give up on the whole thing altogether. But love, even with the ups and downs, made her world a better place. Love triangles, however, just gave her migraines.

“Can I ask you something, Em?” Morgan brought her out of her thoughts.

“Absolutely.” She nodded; glad to focus on something other than Ian and Jason.

“Sam is your best male friend, right? I mean I know you love all of us but he's the one right? You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, he is. Did I ever tell you how we met? Freshman year we lived on a coed floor in Clark Hall. I was wasted, puking my guts out, and here was this sweet boy I barely knew helping me through the night. We’ve been stuck like glue ever since.”

“Has there ever been a time when you thought, maybe, it could be more than friendship?” Morgan asked.

“Nope.” Emily shook her head. “Sam is my hero but I never contemplated it once. I can't speak for him but he never said a word to me. The thing about your soul mate friend is that they know it all.

“They know the hopes, dreams, and deep dark secrets. I don't know about you but one of my greatest fears is having those things thrown back in my face by someone I love. It’s happened before. Love affairs are supposed to have mysteries and secrets…it’s a rule.”

“I knew it.” Morgan sighed.

“You knew what?”

“Nothing; I've just been thinking a lot recently.”

“You’ve been thinking about you and Penelope?” Emily asked.

“I love her, Em. But do I love her or am I in love with her? If I make the wrong decision I might lose the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But if I sit for too long and refuse to see, the same thing might happen. Just tell me what you think.”

“What I think about what?”

“What do you think about Penelope and I?”

“I think you're soul mates…everyone thinks that Derek. But I'm the last person you need to seek love advice from. The best I can say is follow your heart. Follow your head, your gut, and Penelope’s cues. Neither one of you are shy about things. If its there you'll know it.”

“I've known her for almost eight years. Shouldn’t I know already? And I don’t want to ruin what we have because it’s perfect.”

“Nothing is perfect.” Emily replied.

“She and I are pretty damn close.”

“I wish I could be more helpful. I love you both and want you to be happy. I know you're happy together but a romantic relationship can take the fun out of almost everything. Isn’t that sad to say?”

“I don’t believe that. Not if you do it right…no offense.”

“None taken, I guess.”

“Thanks for listening to me.” Morgan smiled.

“I'm always going to listen. That’s what friends are for.”

***
Jessie cracked open the cookie and pulled out the fortune. She gave the cookie to Sam; they'd never been her favorite.

“It says have faith in your course for the future.”

“That’s a good fortune.”

“It’s a vague fortune, Sam. They all are so they can apply to nearly anyone who cracks the cookie open.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you have some Deputy Downer tendencies?” Sam asked.

“No, not this week.” Jessie laughed as she shook her head.

Sam leaned over, giving her a kiss. Jessie wrapped her arms around him and deepened it. She wanted more but they were still getting to know each other. Jessie surely didn’t mind having sex while doing that. Sam seemed to have different ideas. She was going with the flow.

“Open your cookie.”

“Right.” Sam cracked the cookie, popping one of the pieces in his mouth. “It says mark your happiness with kisses.”

“No it doesn’t!”

“It does…look.”

Jessie took the slip of paper and read it. Then she moved closer to Sam on the floor. They had moved the coffee table out of the way and had a picnic Chinese dinner in the living room. It was a rainy Friday evening; Jessie brought over some movies for the perfect night in. So far it had been good.

“Well, who are we to deny our fortunes?” Jessie asked.

“I thought you said they were vague to apply to anyone who cracked the cookie.”

“I still believe that. Luckily,” she straddled him and watched his blue eyes widen. “I happen to think this one applies to us.”

“Jess…”

“Shh,” she took his breath away, literally, with her passionate kisses.

The way Sam moaned and trembled against her made Jessie do the same. She didn’t want to wait anymore; she wanted him. Jessie Brooks was the kind of woman who went after what she wanted. It seemed as if she and Sam had different experiences and were on different pages when it came to sex and relationships. It was no problem for her to flip around until she found something they could both agree on.

“I've got some strange news.” Jessie told him.

“Huh?”

The kissing was over for the moment but Sam’s brain was fuzzy. Only a few things were registering…woman, Jessie, kisses, fragrance, skin, straddle, oh my God. He wasn’t sure that anything else was going to get through for the next few minutes. Sam would try; he always listened to her, but couldn’t make any guarantees.

“The other day I got a second invitation to Derek Morgan’s pool party.”

“What? How?”

“It turns out that my best friend Desi…”

“Derek’s little sister is your best friend?” Sam asked.

“It’s news to me too, Kassmeyer. Desi and I went to Vassar together. She moved here after college to be closer to her big brother and to work for CNN. I started work on my Masters at American. Studying journalism and public affairs my mother assures me I’ll have all the qualifications to start a hip blog when I'm done.”

“You might change the world with that blog.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“I think I told you that I got my Bachelors and Masters at American.” Sam said. “They're both in special education.”

“I did know that.” Jessie nodded.

“And your best friend is my friend’s little sister?”

“It looks that way. So we’ll be together on July 4th. Desi said her brother always has the good booze…she's not missing this party. And you'll be there so I don’t want to miss it either.”

“Do you believe in signs?” Sam asked. He took her face in his hand, drawing it closer to his.

“Not really.” She shook her head.

“I do. Is it alright if I believe for the both of us?”

“Yeah.”

They kissed again, getting lost in the feel and taste of each other. Hotch and Beth were gone for the weekend; wine tasting and a bed and breakfast in Potomac, Maryland. That gave Sam and Jessie all the time in the world to just indulge. He smiled against her lips while he unbuttoned two buttons on her shirt. Then he was kissing her throat and collarbone.

“Mmm, Sam...”

“Damn.” He mumbled. “I don’t want to stop.”

“No one’s asking you to.” Jessie unbuttoned the rest of her shirt.

She shrugged it off her shoulders, down her arms, and onto the carpet. Now she just wore a lavender bra. A burst of freckles, courtesy of the summer sun, were all over Jessie’s chest. Sam wanted to experience each and every one of them. He ran his tongue over them and she gripped his shoulders.

“Should we…?” Sam’s lips were still on her collarbone when he asked.

“Yes!” Jessie exclaimed.

He laughed and looked at her. Jessie’s blue-green eyes sparkled when she smiled.

“I just want to make sure this is the right thing.”

“How could it ever be wrong?” she asked.

Jessie moved off his lap and lay back on the blanket. Sam couldn’t help but move over her, his tee shirt coming off half way. For a while they were content to kiss. Sam was a great kisser. He was passionate and tender, always made Jessie moan. She ran her hands down his strong back and over his ass, still wearing jeans.

“Lie back, Sam.”

“What?” he pulled away from her some.

“Lie back.”

Sam changed positions, lying back on the blanket. Jessie quickly got him out of his jeans. She left his boxer briefs on as she mouthed his erection. Laughing nervously, Sam arched his back.

“Jessie? Jess, you don’t have to…”

“Have to?” she stopped what she was doing to look at him. “Sam, I don’t have to; I want to. I want you and I'm so excited to get you out of your clothes.”

“I'm excited too.” he smiled.

“Good, now lie back.”

Sam did what she said and let Jessie have her way with him. So many of his male friends thought he was crazy because Sam always said blowjobs weren't his thing. What guy didn’t like a little special attention, they wondered. Every time Sam thought about it, he thought about his ex, Kate.

It was something she always did to him. In the beginning it was fun, frisky, and Sam enjoyed it. Toward the end it became a weapon Kate used to get what she wanted. It became so he couldn’t perform with her, even when she gave him that “special attention”.

Just thinking about her on him made him cringe. With Jessie tonight it was different. She was sexy, playful, and seemed to love what she was doing. Sam would say he loved it too…if he could speak coherently.

“Oh God, ohhh, Jess…”

He gripped her shoulder as she took him deep into her throat. It had been so long, so long since he’d been with a woman. Sam forgot what it felt like. He forgot the feeling of abandon, of lust and losing control. He forgot the sound and smell of sex. It was all coming back in a rush of euphoria that surely would've knocked him off his feet if he wasn’t already lying on the floor. How was it possible not to want to recreate this kind of moment over and over and over again, every second of everyday?

Jessie was a swallower and had been for all of her sexual life. It had its less than thrilling moments, but not with Sam. She’d been dying to get close to him and it was finally happening. It wasn’t fair to think about it like a game but it was similar. Jessie was the predator and Sam the prey.

It was a nice change of pace for her. She was tired of being chased by men; men that weren't worth her time. She was definitely tired of sleeping with a bunch of some ones who turned out to be no ones. With Sam everything was different so she hoped sex would be as well.

“Wow, wow, wow, wow.” He couldn’t stop murmuring the word as she kissed him. Tasting himself all over her, her tongue and her lips excited Sam. He pulled her closer and thrust his tongue deeper. It was amazing.

“You taste so good.” She whispered.

“Oh God, I want you so much.”

“Here I am.”

“I don’t…um, I don’t have…in the bedroom.” somewhere deep in the back of his mind Sam had put together a complete sentence. It just wasn’t making it to his mouth.

“So we go to the bedroom.” Jessie smiled.

“Are you sure?” he held her face in his hands and kissed her again.

She was sure. Sam Kassmeyer was not getting away tonight. They had the apartment all to themselves and Jessie knew what she wanted. He seemed nervous as he got up, pulled up his boxers, and took her hand. Nervous was OK, even if she wasn’t, but Jessie wasn’t going to let him get away.

“You're thinking too much.” she said.

They were in bed, finally naked together, and it was fabulous. Jessie wanted to kiss, touch, and play but the air was tense.

“I really like you.”

“Then this is a good thing.”

“Its just not…” Sam put some distance between them. It wasn’t a lot but it was enough. He needed to be who he was and she might not understand but he still had to be it. “I'm not sure we’re ready to take this step.”

“Are you a virgin?” Jessie asked. “You can't be a virgin Sam; you're like 30. Oh my God, not that there's anything wrong with that if you really are.”

“Obviously you think something’s wrong with it.”

“I don’t, I…” Jessie shook her head and sighed. It was hard to hold back her exasperation. They were just getting to the good part. A lot of the parts of him looked good. “What's wrong?”

“Sex is something I take seriously, Jessie. And maybe that’s old fashioned or corny or something but I am who I am. I can't be somebody else. Its not that I don’t want you, believe me this is so not about that. I just feel uncomfortable…we don’t know each other that well.”

“What do you think we need to know about each other to have sex? I'm asking this seriously because I don’t understand. Maybe it’s sad that I don’t,” she smirked. “I don't know, but I don’t. So maybe you can help me out.”

The air in the room was getting hard to breathe. Jessie got out of bed, grabbed a tee shirt from the drawer, and went over to open the window. The warm wind and the sound of steady rain calmed things a little. She sat on the windowsill and looked at Sam, who was now alone in his bed. She wanted to be there with him but wasn’t sure if she was wanted. It was better to say what needed to be said. Then Jessie could figure out where this was going.

“That’s my favorite tee shirt.” Sam said when he looked at her.

Jessie looked down and saw she was wearing a gray tee shirt that said “Damn the man, save the Empire”. It made her smile; Empire Records was one of her favorite guilty pleasures movies. It was one of those in the 90s where the soundtrack was better than the actual film. The whole cast of pretty teens with problems went on to be famous in one way or another.

She and some of her friends still joked about Sexy Rexy. It was the term they used for the guy in the bar who was just a little too old to think he could still bag a 20something girl. Mark Gregory was one of those guys and she’d actually gone out with him. What had she been thinking?

“Talk to me, Sam.” She replied.

“I'm not like a lot of guys and that’s OK; being different is OK. I was raised to believe in love and finding a soul mate and waiting if you have to wait. I've waited for a lot of things. I waited for Kate, she’s my ex-girlfriend, and for a good part of our relationship I thought she was the one. She wasn’t.” he shook his head.

“I guess I got over it but it made me even more determined to make sure the next person was the right person. I'm not saying that the next person has to be the one I marry and spend the rest of my life with. I don’t have those powers; I can't figure those things out on sight. But that’s why it’s so important to me to get to know someone. I like you a lot, Jessie.

“You're beautiful and smart and sassy and snarky…that’s a turn on. But if we sleep together tonight, for me, it means we’re taking this relationship to the next level. I have no problem doing that. I just think that you might not know what that means to me and we need to be on the same page. If we’re casual, then we’re casual.

“I'm not against dating. I actually really like dating. If we’re serious then we’re serious. The thing is I can't ask someone to make that kind of decision after six weeks. It’s not fair to you. So when we do make love we need to be on the same page. I don’t want to have casual sex; I just don’t.

“This might sound weird but I'm flattered that you want to have casual sex with me. It’s just not my thing. But please don’t feel like you have to tell me what I want to hear or pretend you're something you're not to make this right. The only way its right is if you're Jessie and I'm Sam and we click. That’s what’s wrong, though it really doesn't have to be wrong. That’s just the way it is.”

“Oh.” It was the first word Jessie said after a long silence. She understood exactly what Sam was saying. She couldn’t quite believe it but she understood it. Sam was some kind of woolly mammoth in a world where his species was extinct.

Was there anyone who still equated sex with love? And it was definitely rarer for a man to live by that philosophy. Jessie was speechless. She wanted to say things, wanted to assure him that it was OK and everything was OK, but the words weren't really coming. “Maybe I should just go.”

“I don’t want you to, but…”

“It’s probably for the best. This is a little awkward and I'm not that good with awkward. I’ll just get dressed and um, I’ll go Sam.”

“I should walk you out.” he went to get out of the bed but Jessie stopped him.

“It’s OK; I know the way. I’ll see you around?”

Sam didn’t know how to answer that. It was a stupid question but he didn’t want to get angry. They weren't on the same page; it wasn’t a crime. It had only been six weeks and better to know now than to get in even deeper and really get hurt. The passing urge to scream and then punch a hole in the wall would surely pass with a good night’s sleep. He turned away, didn’t want to see her leave.

Jessie slipped out of the tee shirt. She left it on the end of the bed as she gathered and quickly dressed in her underwear. Then she walked out of the room. In the living room Jessie probably dressed faster than she ever had in her life. As she was running out of that apartment she didn’t give a damn about the rain or anything else.

It wasn’t until she was behind the wheel of her car that she cried. She cried her eyes out and it hurt. It was a physical pain that no word could probably ever describe. Why had she walked away? Why didn’t she just stay and tell him that she understood?

He wanted too much and she didn’t have it to give. Jessie was young; wanted to be reckless and free. She wanted to have sex and drink and party and study when she wasn’t doing that. Except that for the past six weeks she’d been happier than she could really remember.

And she’d just walked away from it. She couldn’t go back…you can't go back. So she cried, she cried it out. Then Jessie got herself together, started her car, and got the hell out of Alexandria.

***
Those crazy nights, I do remember in my youth
I do recall those were the best times, most of all
In the heat with a blue jean girl
Burnin' love comes once in a lifetime
She found me singing by the rail road track
Took me home, we danced by moonlight
Those summer nights are callin', stone in love
Can't help myself, I'm fallin', stone in love

They picked the warehouse in Anacostia for the acoustics. They also picked it because it was someplace they'd never practiced and someone who didn’t need to know they were there would ever find out. 17 year old Ashley Seaver stood at the microphone and blew out the lyrics of Journey’s Stone in Love. She had a good voice. It was pure, could use some cigarettes and whiskey, but it was also strong. So far she’d sung Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, Chrissie Hynde, and Tina Turner. She was damn good.

Penelope was running around taking pictures. Paul had invited her to get some candid shots of the band in action. He said the time had come for them to do this. Being a bar band was awesome…some couldn’t even make it that far. Marauder had a good life on the DC corridor circuit and even to some of the bars in Southern Virginia and Northern Maryland.

The abundance of colleges and bars in the area made them locally famous. But everyone wanted more, deserved it for all the hard work they put in. The time might never come when they could quit their day jobs. But how would they know if they didn’t try.

Emily had come along, reluctantly, to help Penelope with her equipment. She’d done a good job as assistant but now was just enjoying the music and the vast amount of Mike’s Hard Strawberry Lemonade that was flowing. It was apparently Ashley’s favorite alcoholic beverage. Paul decided he would indulge her before introducing her to the harder stuff. She was a kid; he didn’t want to corrupt her. If she liked glorified wine coolers than so be it. Emily knew she did.

“Do you want me to take some of the shots of the band posing?” Penelope asked as the song ended.

“Paul won't even tell me if I'm in the band.” Ashley said, wiping off with a damp towel. It was humid today and though the warehouse was cool, singing made her sweat.

“We’ve still got some work to do.” he replied.

“Yeah, you could stand to tune that guitar a little.” Ian said smirking. “You were off on that solo.”

“That wasn’t the acoustics?” Paul asked.

“Mmm…no.” Ian shook his head.

Emily laughed and Paul playfully glared at her.

“Hey ornament, shut up.” He said.

“Fuck you Paul.” She laughed and gave him the finger. “I'm not an ornament anymore.”

“She’s still inspires.” Ian said, looking at his ex.

She looked good today; she always looked good. But when Emily was in jeans and a band tee shirt she was the most beautiful woman in the world. This is how he first saw her. This was how he fell in love with her. Maybe with Chloe gone they might have a second chance to get it right.

“How do you guys think she sounded?” Paul’s brother Kyle, who was the drummer, asked.

“She was awesome.” Penelope asked. “She's a little squeaky clean but still good.”

“What do you mean squeaky clean?” Ashley asked. She jumped down from the makeshift stage and headed over to the cooler. Emily handed her a bottle of lemonade.

“She means you sound ready for American Idol but maybe not a shitty dive bar in a college town.” Emily replied.

“What she said.” Garcia pointed to her friend.

“She’s got potential.” Paul said. “She's got way more than some people we know. We’re going to make the announcement soon.”

Emily looked at him as he spoke. She looked at the way he looked at Ashley. He was trying to get into her pants for sure. Who wouldn’t be? She was adorable and fresh faced and perky…she had a great body and a positive aura. This life might chew her up and spit her out.

Emily hoped she was stronger than she looked. She also hoped sex wasn’t contingent on getting in the band. The kid needed someone looking out for her. She didn’t need her band mates to pull a train on her. Chloe might’ve been an evil bitch but she wasn’t wet behind the ears. Looking over at Penelope, Emily could see she was thinking the same thing.

“Ian, can I talk to you for a minute?” she asked.

“Yeah.” he put his bass down on the ground and stepped off the stage. It surprised him when Emily took his hand. They hadn't really spoken since the incident with Chloe, and he didn’t want to call that a conversation. It surprised him when she showed up with Penelope this afternoon. It was a pleasant surprise but still a surprise. He let her walk him into a corner not really knowing what to expect. “What's up?”

“She’s 17 years old.”

“I wish she was a little older too but she has what it takes.”

“You know this life takes so much more than a voice and some talent with instruments. Why the hell is Paul looking at her like a dog looks at a pork chop?”

“Cuz he likes them young.”

“Ian…” she hit his chest trying not to smile. This wasn’t funny; this could be bad. Not only was she too young for the bars, she wasn’t even the legal age for sexual consent.

“It's gonna be OK. If Seaver is in, and there's still some conversation to be had about that, I got her back. I think she's young too. But this could be our chance babe. I don’t want to miss our chance.”

“I don’t want that either.” Emily was still holding his hand. Why was she holding his hand? “She's still a kid. When’s her 18th birthday?”

“It’s in January. That’s just a month after this band showcase Paul got us into. A record deal is practically unattainable. But it can get us some management.

“We’re not going to make some ridiculous leap to the big time…this isn’t a movie. But we can be something. We’ve worked hard for this; I've worked hard for this. I've worked so hard and I’ll be damned if I let Chloe Donaghy ruin the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“Believe me,” Emily slipped her hand out of his. “No one knows more than me how much this band means to you.”

“There were times when I was single minded.” He said. “Maybe I was that way all the time. But the band isn’t everything, babe. It’s not even close.”

“Ian…”

“Hey,” Kyle called out. “Stop making out and let’s get this stuff together. I'm starving.”

“Fuck off!” Ian shouted back.

“Stop.” Emily told him. “Go and get your stuff together. I probably need to get going anyway. I'm deluding myself like I don’t have work in the morning. I need to act my age and have Sundays in with my cat and some DVDs.”

“How old are you, 50?” Ian asked, a grin spreading across his handsome face. “Come out with us. C'mon, we’re going to Sugarfoot’s for dinner. It’ll be real, authentic soul food and drinks that are never watered down.”

“I don’t think so.” she shook her head.

“OK.”

Ian walked away while Emily stood there catching her breath. She finally made her way over to Penelope and helped her pack up the camera equipment.

“Are you alright?” Penelope asked.

“Mmm hmm, I'm fine.” Emily nodded.

“Are you sure?”

“That was about Ashley Seaver, Garcia, nothing more. I was looking out for the kid.”

“You don’t have to convince me, Peaches. Hey do you wanna go to Sugarfoot’s? Kyle invited us and it’s been forever since I've had some of their macaroni and cheese. I thought it might be fun. Unless you don’t want to be around Ian.”

“I don’t have a problem being around Ian.” Emily replied. “And it’s definitely been a long time since I've had their macaroni and cheese.” She looked over at Ian, who was talking to Paul. His eyes met hers and Emily looked away. “Yeah, OK.”

“Are you sure?”

“Its just dinner, Penelope; I'm sure.”

000
“Ian, I need to get ready for work.” Emily said as the glass shower door came open. “Ian, I'm serious. Ian!”

He walked into the stall naked, closed the door and moved his ex-girlfriend up against the cold, wet wall. When he bit her shoulder, Emily’s knees buckled. They’d had a good night out last night with his band and Penelope Garcia. Then they went back to her condo and had sex.

They had sex on the kitchen counter, on the couch, halfway up the stairs, and finally in Emily’s bed. Exhausted, all they could do was sleep. Now it was Monday morning and Ian was hungry again. He picked Emily up, thrusting inside her as she wrapped her legs around her.

“Ohhh, dammit, mmm, Ian…”

“Oh baby, you feel so good.”

Emily dug her fingers into his shoulders as he fucked her. Dammit to hell this was not supposed to be happening. He was her ex and they were both supposed to be moving on. This was something but it damn sure wasn’t moving on.

“Don’t stop, oh God don’t stop.”

“I love you, Em…I love you baby.”

She cried out as his fingers teased her clit. Emily hit her head on the shower wall but she didn’t exactly care. Ian smiled, kissing her gently as his other hand went back to protect her head. He wanted to fuck her, didn’t want to hurt her. None of this meant they were back together.

Ian knew Emily well; this probably meant she was going to push him further away. This could be the last time for them. It wasn’t that he wanted some last hurrah. He wanted Emily and had since the moment he saw her. But if he couldn’t have her he would make sure she remembered how good they could be when they both put in the effort.

No woman, not one, ever did to Ian what Emily Prentiss did. As he came, Ian groaned her name. He tried to stay on his feet as Emily held tight to him. He let her go, putting her back on unsteady legs as she still held on.

“I'm gonna be late for work.” she mumbled.

“It won't be the first time.” Ian grinned. He kissed her forehead. “Are you OK, babe?”

“I need to go.”

Emily extracted herself from Ian’s embrace and got out of the shower. He turned off the water as he watched her go. There was no point in standing there and pining. Ian got out of the shower, grabbed a towel from the bar, and walked into the bedroom. Emily was already in her underwear. She was looking through her closet.

Instead of watching her, Ian dried off. He threw the towel in the hamper and quickly dressed. There were a million words to say but none of them felt right. While she busied herself, Ian took a piece of stationery and wrote on it. Then he just left. It was for the best. He didn’t want to but didn’t want to make trouble either.

Emily was drying her hair when she realized that she was alone. It was half dry as she walked back into her bedroom and looked around. Ian was gone but her messy bed was evidence of what happened there last night. She saw the piece of stationery on the pillow, walking over and picking it up.

I love you. I will always love you. I'm trying to understand and even if I never do all I can do is love you enough to do it how you want to do it. Always, Ian.’ Emily folded the paper, stuck it in her nightstand drawer, and tried to get on with her day. All this and it was Monday too.

000
Jason Gideon held the elevator door for her and then held onto her before she slipped and fell on the floor.

“Are you alright?” he asked as he helped steady her and the doors closed.

“I think so. It’s still pouring outside. I'm thinking these were not the shoes to wear.”

“They're nice shoes.”

“Thanks.” Emily smiled but her face turned solemn again.

“How was your weekend, Emily?” Jason asked as she pressed the button for her floor.

“What?”

“How was your weekend?”

“It was boring actually; routine I guess.”

“That seems different for you.” Jason gave a little smile but it wasn’t returned.

“I definitely need to make some changes in my life.”

“Emily…”

The elevator stopped at her floor and she rushed off.

“Thank you Jason, have a nice day.”

He wanted to get off too, follow her to her office, and find out what was going on. But he didn’t want to be pushy. He and Emily had been on three dates but they weren't a couple. What he wanted and what was so were two different things. Getting involved with Emily Prentiss would likely be to his detriment.

Something was wrong though, and he wanted to help if he could. It wasn’t just about being close to her or getting something from her. He was concerned. Instead he just let the doors close and tried to get on with his day. Maybe he would have a chance later to talk to her.

***
“I say we just don’t get out of bed today.” Hotch whispered as he kissed her shoulder.

“Oh yeah right.” she giggled. Beth was tired, she liked the way that sounded, but it was time to start the new week.

“I'm serious. It should just be you and me; to hell with the rest of the world. To hell with work today.”

“Are you alright?” she turned in his arms and put the back of her hand on Hotch’s forehead. “It doesn’t feel like you have a temperature.”

“Beth…”

“It’s a nice thought, a really, really nice thought but the weekend is over. Its time to get real life started no matter how much we’d rather not.”

“I don’t have to go into work today.” Hotch sat up on his elbow. He rested his chin in the palm of his hand.

“Why not? Is everything alright?”

“Well yes and no. I talked to my boss last night. Two of my cases are about to get very active. She gave me tomorrow off, which is now today, and I also have next Monday off for the holiday. After that I could be knee deep in justice until sometime close to Halloween.”

“What?”

“Work is about to get really busy. I know I made some promises…”

“We were supposed to go away this summer, Aaron. Last year work got really, really busy.”

“I know and I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.”

“I haven’t been on vacation…” Beth sighed. “We haven’t been on a decent vacation in two years.”

“I know and I’d hoped that I would get to make that up to you but that’s not the case at the moment.”

“So you thought a three day weekend would fix that?” she asked.

He could see the look in her blue eyes. The question wasn’t rhetorical. Hotch worked a lot and his job didn’t have hours. He could be called to the office at any time for anything. The wheels of federal justice never stopped turning.

Most of the time he was swimming in a mountain of red tape, paperwork, and continuances. He hated that. Hotch loved the court room; he wanted to prosecute. He didn’t want to make deals with devils and put mileage on his car traveling as far as West Virginia sometimes to get statements and stories. But that was the job…it was the life of a federal prosecutor.

“I know a three day weekend won't fix it. I don’t know how to make it up to you and I want to apologize but I'm sorry sounds so hollow. I mean it but, God I don’t want to have to say it a million times for the rest of our lives. Not because I don’t mean it but because I don’t want to disappoint you.”

“I knew what I was getting into.” She whispered, taking his face in her hands.

“What?”

“I knew what I was getting into. You're a workaholic, and even if you weren't by nature your job demands it. I hate it but if I'm going to spend the rest of my life with you I better straighten my back and get ready for some missed vacations and makeup three day weekends.”

“I really don’t like the way you said if.” Hotch said.

“What?”

“You said if. You said it as if you might change your mind. Please don’t change your mind.”

“I'm not changing my mind, Aaron. When, OK?” Beth laughed. “When I spend the rest of my life with you. Are you happy now?”

“No, I'm not happy. I’m not happy because I let you down.”

“No you didn’t. OK, you did. You did let me down. What are we going to do about it?”

“We’re going to get married at the Chevy Chase Club.”

“Are you serious? Oh my God, are you serious?”

“I'm absolutely serious.” He nodded.

“Aaron, it’s too much. It’s the most beautiful country club for 50 miles.”

“You know what, I love you. I adore you Beth and want to make you happier than any man could dream of making any woman. But the reality is that I’ll probably disappoint you. I’ll want to remember important things and forget them.

“I’ll let you down. I’ll work too much. I’ll make you think about throwing in the towel. So before all of that can happen I want to give you the wedding of your dreams. And the Chevy Chase Club is the wedding of your dreams.”

“My parents can't afford that.” Beth replied. “Dreams steeped in a little reality are OK.”

“No, not when we’re talking about one of the happiest days of your life. It’s going to be one of the happiest days of our lives. The money isn’t a problem; my mother asked me what I wanted for my wedding. I told her I wanted it to be everything you ever imagined. Then she asked for your mother’s number and I was promptly shooed away.”

“Oh my God, I was shooed away when I called my mother on Friday. She said she loved me but was in the middle of something that couldn’t be interrupted.”

“Should we be afraid?” Hotch asked.

“Probably.” Beth nodded and laughed. “I love you, Aaron. I love you and we’ll get through all the times I think about throwing in the towel. I'm going to take vows and I'm going to mean them. So you better be prepared to be with me forever and ever and ever and ever.”

“I think I can handle it.”

“But…”

“Oh God, there's a but.”

“Yes.” She playfully slapped his chest. “I can't do all the work. You have to put in work and sometimes you're going to have to tell your job that this time your wife comes first. One week, every year, we go on vacation. And for another week I don’t want you anywhere near the office. They can survive without you. I may not get my summer this year but it will never happen again.”

“It'll never happen again.” Hotch shook his head. Then he hugged Beth tight. “I'm working my way up baby. When I'm a somebody, and Erin Strauss believes I'm going to be a somebody, there will be guys who are like me now who I delegate to. Just hold onto me, OK?”

“I'm not letting go.”

“And you’ll play hooky with me today?” he was nibbling on her earlobe. Beth had sensitive earlobes. She could never resist when he went there.

“I can't.” she groaned.

“No, no, no,” he held her tighter. “You mean you can.”

“No, really, I can't.” Beth kissed him. “The latest I can go in is 10. I've got meetings all this afternoon about summer at the National Gallery. This is going to be a big deal…it’s a big day for me.”

Beth worked in the Program Director’s Office for the National Gallery of Art. Hotch wasn’t the only one with a busy, time-consuming job. She loved what she did though and even when it sucked away all of her energy it didn’t feel like work. Beth was living her dream.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to jinx it. We can't talk about it; we can't talk about it until tonight.”

“OK, so you don’t want to talk…” Hotch moved her onto her back, spread her thighs, and settled his body between them. “Whatever will we do?”

“Gee, I don’t know Counselor. But I'm definitely willing to make things up as we go along. How does that sound to you?”

Hotch just grinned. He grinned and those beautiful dimples came out to play. Then he slid his body under the covers and made Beth’s dimples do the same.

***
“She left?”

“Yeah.” Sam nodded.

“She seriously just got up and left?”

“Yeah.”

Sam finished his High Life, put it on the bar, and a new one was there within minutes. He picked it up and kept drinking.

“OK, wait, one minute you're hot and heavy and the next she’s leaving? What aren’t you telling me?”

“I told her the truth and she walked out on me. I don’t know why I'm so shocked but…”

“You're hurt, Sam.”

“I'm really hurt.”

“What's the truth anyway?” Emily asked. “What did you tell her that made her walk out?”

“That’s not my fault!” he exclaimed.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. But you said that you told the truth and she left. I don’t know Jessie Brooks at all but if I'm with a guy I like and we’re naked its gonna take a hell of a lot to get me to walk out. I'm talking STDs, baby mama sexting, or murder conviction type of things. Everything is negotiable. So what was the truth, Sam?”

Sam sighed and drank his beer. He didn’t want to talk about it but he had to. He felt as if he was going to explode; this had to come out. Hotch wasn’t the person to talk to. Sam knew his best friend was being supportive. It also seemed as if he was waiting for the other shoe to drop with Jessie. So he turned to Emily.

“I'm not interested in casual sex. I'm not really interested in casual dating but it’s no crime. Anyway, the next person I sleep with I want to love her. I want her to love me and I want us to be in a committed relationship.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t say it like that, Em. You're saying it like my telling the truth was wrong. No matter how much I wanted Jessie, and I wanted her so much I thought I would explode, it was better to be upfront.”

“Think about it from her perspective though.” Emily replied.

Her empty beer was replaced quickly as well. This bar was one of her favorite places in the world. Emily Prentiss had been coming to Mickey’s since high school. Back then she had a fake I.D. to get into everywhere. Mike knew a fake I.D. when he saw it.

He served her anyway, knew he could keep an eye on her, and never let her get wasted. Two weeks after meeting Sam she took him there. It was her safe place, as if a bar could be such a thing, and now it was their safe place together. Once in a while they brought the whole gang there to drink and relax but usually it was just the two of them. It was better that way.

“It’s not hard for a woman to get laid, Sam. Men want ass, women want ass; everyone wants ass. So you meet someone cool, have drinks, dinner, whatever, and then it’s on. Its not rocket science. But once in a blue moon you meet a guy and he's different.

“That’s what draws you to him. That doesn’t change the chemicals. That doesn’t change who you are. You mentioned love and that’s scary. She likes you, it’s clear, but she doesn't know if she loves you. And having to make a split second decision about it on someone you’ve known six weeks, wonderful or not, would scare the hell out of anyone.”

“I didn’t ask her to do that.” Sam replied.

“Not in so many words.”

“Not at all, Em. I didn’t ask her to do that.”

“You were naked, ready, hot, and then you said you equated sex with love. What was she supposed to think? There were two options…1) I love you and need to know you love me too, or 2) I don’t love you so this can't happen.”

“I don’t want her thinking that.”

“So fix it.” Emily said.

“I doubt Jessie ever wants to speak to me again.”

“Then she's a fool, and even though I don't know her I doubt that from all you’ve told me. It was a misunderstanding, Sam; shit happens. Don’t turn it into a bad rom-com…you are so much better than that.”

“That is the last thing I want.” Sam shook his head.

“So call her.”

“What should I say?”

“You're a super smart man so I'm not going to put thoughts in your head or words in your mouth. You started with the truth so keep going.”

“I might see her on July 4th, unless she decided not to come to Derek’s pool party after all.”

“Why would she after your almost falling out?” Emily asked.

“It turns out that Derek’s little sister is Jessie’s best friend.”

“Desi? Wow, it’s a small world.”

“Yeah.” Sam nodded. “Thanks for listening to me tonight. I'm not sure what I'm going to do but leaving it hanging there doesn’t sit well with me.”

“It shouldn’t. Closure, even when it’s painful, is necessary to move on. God,” Emily laughed. “I know Ian walked out so many times and I walked out too. In the end we had to make a decision, talk about it, and deal with it.”

“And now it’s over.”

“It's over.”

“I know that tone.” Sam said.

“What tone?”

“Oh c'mon, I've known you for a long time Emily. That tone means its not over.”

“We slept together.” Emily replied.

“When?”

He said it in his tone. Sam never judged or looked down on the people he cared about. He just listened and tried to help even when it was hard. Emily knew that Sam wasn’t overly fond of Ian; surely he had his reasons. But if Emily decided to take the rocker back and make it work, Sam would do his best to be there for her. That’s why she loved him so much.

“Sunday,” Emily shook her head and sighed. “It was stupid to even go to the damn band rehearsal but I was helping Penelope with her photo equipment. Then Paul and the guys took us to Sugarfoot’s to thank us for our help.”

“Didn’t we have the conversation about sex and food?” Sam asked. “Four star restaurants only.”

“I know right?” Emily laughed. She laughed a little bit more, leaning her forehead on Sam’s shoulder. It was impossible not to sigh when he rubbed the nape of her neck. “I'm fuckin hopeless.”

“You are not, and never have been, hopeless.”

“Really?” she sat up and looked at him. “So why the hell did I have sex with my ex that I barely enjoyed when I knew our relationship was so past over? OK, asterisk…that last time in the shower was awesome. It wasn’t worth how I feel though. And now, no matter what he says, I gave Ian hope. It also ruined things with Jason.”

“I usually don’t say things like this but what Jason Gideon doesn’t know won't hurt your relationship.”

“Oh my God, Sam Kassmeyer, are you suggesting I lie to Jason?”

“It’s a lie of omission, yes. And yes I am. Its over with Ian and you know that. If you don’t want to continue with Jason then don’t but don’t sabotage it. Just move on.”

“I'm good at sabotaging things.” Emily said.

“You're amazing.” Sam took her hand. “If I have to tell you everyday then I will. You’ve made mistakes, we’ve all done that, but you deserve peace and happiness too. If you think you can have that happiness with Jason then hold onto him with both hands.”

“There's something about him. I can't help but be drawn to him.”

“Then take your time and do your best to get it right?” he smiled. “I have faith in you.”

“That’s why I love you.” Emily smiled too. “Are you sure we can't get drunk?”

“This will be our last beer. We have work in the morning.”

“I know, I know. Have I mentioned that being a grown sometimes sucks?”

“You have, a few times…and I concur.”

***
He tried to avoid it for an hour but it wouldn’t leave him alone. There was plenty of work to do but his mind wouldn’t focus on it. If there was one thing Jason Gideon always was it was focused. Of course he was focused now but it had little to do with the Department of State.

He sighed, he paced, read, and returned phone calls but nothing worked. So Jason picked up the phone and called her. For intra-office calls it was just the pound sign and the person’s last four digits. Listening to it ring he wasn’t sure what he was going to say. That too was unlike him.

“Good morning, Agent Gideon.” Her voice sounded seductive when she answered.

“I haven’t been that man in a long time I'm afraid.”

“Once an agent, always an agent. Anyway, calling you that is sexy.”

“These phones are tapped, Emily.” Jason said. “I'm sure of that.”

“I’ll be good, I promise. I’ll be very good, Agent Gideon.”

“I'm calling because…” he cleared his throat. The woman would be the death of him. It was probably a good idea to get out now. Who was he kidding, Jason wasn’t going anywhere. “I was worried about you. I didn’t want to push; I didn’t think it was a good idea. When I saw you last I knew that something was wrong.”

“I'm fine. I know I probably say that a lot and don’t mean it but I mean it. Last night my best friend and I had a heart to heart talk. I feel so much better now. There was a lot going on.”

“I'm glad you're better. I worry about you sometimes. I try not to; I know you can take care of yourself…”

“You want to rescue me.” Emily said. “That’s not always a fault.”

“No, I just want to be with you. But you already knew that.”

“Jason, do you have the patience of Job?”

“When something is worth it, yes.” He laughed a bit. “Are you going to your parents’ barbecue on Sunday? Your stepmother invited me yesterday.”

“I miss your voice.”

“You're listening to it right now.”

“I wouldn’t mind listening some more.” Emily replied. “We should have dinner on Friday night. I can pull some strings and get us a reservation someplace good. I bet I can even do it without using my parents’ names.”

“Yes.”

“Say that again.”

“Yes.” Jason repeated.

“I like the way you say that. I’ll have to give you more opportunities to do so in the future.”

“I thought you were being good.”

“This is me being good.” Emily said. “Would you like me to be naughty, Agent Gideon?”

“Katya…”

Emily shivered when she heard the pet name. Jason had only known her for a few months when he started using it. She asked him why he called her that on more than one occasion, on more than ten. He always said just because. Usually that would drive Emily nuts but with this she let it slide. When a man gives you a beautiful pet name you eat it up. At least that’s what she planned to do.

“Join me for my smoke break. We’ll chat some more.”

“I can do that.” Jason nodded.

“Yes you can…but will you?”

“I will.”

“Meet me downstairs in about 10 minutes.”

“Alright.”

“And thank you, Jason. Thank you for being concerned, caring, and for just being you.”

“I don’t know who else to be.” He replied.

“That makes me the lucky one, you know. I’ll see you in 10 minutes, Agent Gideon.”

“Yes ma'am. Bye.”

He could imagine Emily cringed at being called ma'am and smiled about that. She was a special woman; Jason wanted to be a part of her life. He wanted to be friends, he wanted to be lovers. He wanted to share her world. Taking his time wasn’t a bad thing but having no idea about success or failure was a bit daunting.

Then Jason would look into Emily’s eyes and cared about nothing else but a few more moments of her time. It had been so long, forever, since he felt anything remotely resembling this. Sometimes he thought he would never feel it again. Smiling to himself, Jason got up and left his office. He needed to keep his hands inside the ride until it came to a full and complete stop.

***
“Morgan!” Emily squealed as Derek scooped her up in his arms. “Derek, oh my God, don’t!”

“You know what's about to happen, don’t you woman?”

“C'mon Derek, I'm begging you.”

“I'm gonna do it.” he grinned. “I'm so gonna do it.”

“No!”

“Cannonball!”

Derek ran and jumped into the pool, Emily in his arms. She was screaming the entire time. As his head bobbed above the surface of the water, he was still grinning.

“I hope you got that, Reid.”

“I got it.” Spencer smiled.

“Spielberg, you're dead.” Emily came above the surface too. “You're dead slow.”

The smile disappeared from the teenager’s face.

“Don’t believe her kid; deep down she's a softie.”

“Watch your back.” Emily said, pointing at him and then making a slash motion across her throat.

“My big brother, making pretty girls hate him since 1981.”

“Des!”

Derek went to climb out of the pool but Emily yanked him back and climbed out first. She stood in front of Desi and Jessie, dripping wet and smirking.

“Hey Des.” She gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Hey Em. This is my best friend, Jessie Brooks.”

“Nice to meet you.” Emily shook her hand, pretending not to know who she was. She wondered if Sam had called her. Jessie showing up with Desi was nearly her answer.

“You too.” Jessie smiled. “I love your swimsuit.”

“I was going for patriotic chic.”

Emily wore an American flag string bikini. When it was dry she looked like a supermodel, wet she looked naughty. Emily was up for it either way.

“You're putting more sunscreen on me.” she glared at Morgan getting out of the pool before walking away.

“That’s not punishment. Spencer will do it…he could use the excitement.”

She gave him the finger but was laughing. Derek focused his attention on his little sister.

“If you get me wet I’ll tell mom exactly what happened to her favorite lighthouse. I’ll do the same if you get our baby cousin killed.” Desi said.

“Ouch. I'm almost 30 and I know she’d tear me up for sure. Spencer is safe; I'm gonna get him laid. He didn’t come stay with me just to stick his face behind a lense.”

18 year old Spencer came to stay with Derek after finishing his first PhD. He was a genius and everyone treated him like he was different, even special. His favorite cousin never did, which is exactly why he was Spencer’s favorite cousin. He didn’t know what he was going to do with the rest of his life but was sure Derek could help him finally have some fun.

“Mmm hmm.” Desi laughed as her brother gave her a kiss. “You remember Jessie right?”

“Of course I remember her. You’re looking good.”

“Don’t flirt with my best friend.”

“Tell your best friend not to be so damn adorable then.” He grinned at Jessie.

“Is Sam Kassmeyer here?” Jessie asked.

“He was manning the grill for a while but now…” Derek looked around. “I have no clue. Wait a minute…are you the Jessie Brooks? Well, well, well; go Kassmeyer.”

“I don’t even want to know.” Jessie rolled her eyes. “I’ll find him I guess.”

“I want you both to just relax and have fun. Eat, drink, and be merry. No drunken swimming so enjoy the pool before the spirits. Also Des, if any guy hits on you I'm punching him in the stomach.”

“You are not allowed to cramp my style, Derek.”

“That’s my job.” Derek smiled as he pinched her cheek. His sister was five years younger than him; he’d always taken care of her. “Go forth and party, ladies.”

He walked across the lawn into the thick of the party as Desi and Jessie still stood by the pool.

“I'm sure he doesn’t want to talk to me.” Jessie said. She spotted Sam chatting with some guys playing cards at a table.

“You won't know if you don’t try.” Desi said. “Don’t be that way, Jess; you fear nothing.”

“I'm the one who walked out on him.” she sighed. “He bore his soul, was honest about his feelings, and I walked out on him. I probably don’t deserve a second chance.”

“You're going to ask for one anyway.”

“I don’t think so, Desi.” Jessie shook her head.

“I've never known you to puss out on anything.” Desi said. “It seems dumb to start on something you really want. You said you really want a good guy. Ask around this party…Sam Kassmeyer is one of the goodest.”

“Oh my God, goodest is so not a word.”

“I know but I made you smile. I win, you lose, now talk to him.”

“I will before the day is over. I will.”

“Well I'm going to get my drink on. The deck will be home base, OK?”

“OK.” Jessie nodded and watched her best friend walk away. She already saw the tall black man hanging out near the grill. She knew Desi’s type when she saw him. Her best friend would be getting very friendly with that hottie before the night was over.

“Hey.”

Jessie jumped a bit but turned when she heard the voice. They hadn't talked in over a week but it was hard to forget Sam’s voice. She turned to look at him.

“Hey Sam.”

“Would you like a beer?” he handed her a Miller High Life. “I wanted to open it in front of you.”

“You're a gentleman. I was such a jerk to you and I'm really sorry. You're the last person who deserved that. I have my moments but I'm not usually just an outright jerk.”

“You were just…” Sam sighed. “I don’t want to put words in your mouth.”

“Please speak your mind.”

“Why don’t you speak your mind, Jessie? I think I've said enough.”

“I freaked out, plain and simple. I like you Sam; I like you a lot. I was looking forward to getting naked with you.” she smiled. “It wasn’t going to be another notch in my belt but I can't say it was going to be love either. I haven’t known you that long and those feelings…I don’t even know if I can feel that way about anyone. That’s probably something you'll learn more about as we get to know each other better. So I didn’t want to stick around and do what I sometimes do.”

“What do you sometimes do?” Sam asked.

“I screw up royally. You're the first guy in a long time that I've even liked. I don’t want to stop seeing you.”

“How do you feel about waiting?”

“Waiting for what?” Jessie sipped her beer.

“I'm talking about waiting for sex. No pressure Jess, but I think we feel the same about each other. Maybe if we keep seeing each other the feelings will grow as our time together does. Please don’t assume I'm not attracted to you. I just…”

“You have morals and standards.” She finished his sentence. “I happen to think that’s a good thing. What about baseball metaphors though? Can we talk about baseball metaphors?”

“We’ll talk about whatever you want over dinner.” He said. “I hope this doesn’t become the elephant in the room though. We’re both so much more than that.”

“And you don’t hate me?”

“That’s impossible.” He shook his head. “I adore you and I want to be with you. That’s why I told you the truth. It wasn't easy, or comfortable, and it led to a separation I didn’t like. But I did it because when you care about someone you want them to know you.”

“You're…”

“What?” Sam leaned closer to her and smiled.

Jessie smiled too and gave him a kiss. Sam was different, she liked that about him. The truth was that she didn’t mind waiting, at least not with him, because there was so much more to do than have sex. With so many guys she’d dated, and the occasional boyfriend or two, that was all they had. Jessie could have more with Sam…she could feel it.

The feeling was new to her, and it could be scary and confusing. She was 25 years old. In no way, shape, or form was she ready to settle down and be boring. She wanted to live, party, and have as much fun as possible. Being with Sam was fun.

And though he was definitely tamer than many guys she’d been with, there was something in Jessie that wanted to bring him out of his shell. He could be the yin to her yang and vice-versa. Just thinking about being with him again made her feel good. She didn’t want to give up that feeling. All of the other ones were secondary.

“Is Beth here?” Jessie asked. “I haven’t seen her since that awkward Friday morning.”

“Oh sure, she's here.” Sam smiled as he took her hand. “C'mon, I'm sure she’d love to see you again. Do you want to meet Aaron too?”

“Your best friend Aaron?”

“Yes. He and Beth just got engaged. He’s been looking forward to meeting you but knew I would take my time before I introduced you to my friends. In a group they can be a little overwhelming.”

“Mine are the same way.” Jessie replied. “I think almost everyone’s are. I would love to meet Aaron.”

“Great.” Sam couldn’t wipe the full watt grin off his face as he and Jessie walked across the vast lawn together.

He was hoping the time would come where he could introduce her to his friends. While still doing his best to make sure not to push too far ahead, Sam felt like it was time for this. They were all connected anyway with Jessie being Derek’s little sister’s best friend. It was a small world and just because they all knew of each other didn’t mean they were all suddenly hanging out.

Sam definitely wanted his alone time with Jessie as their relationship grew. Sometimes his friends could take all the oxygen out of the room. So they would get the introductions over with, party tonight, and Sam would see how Jessie felt about going back into a little bubble. From the smile on her face he thought she might like that a lot.

***
Emily used her keys to open the apartment door. She grabbed the two boxes and shoebox, having to use her foot to close the door behind her. The apartment was semi-dark and quiet but that didn’t mean anything. Ian often kept vampire-like hours.

“Hello? Is anyone here? Ian?”

He could’ve been at band rehearsal or at the bar where he worked. Emily sighed, putting the boxes down beside the couch. Popping back up she nearly came face to face with Ian. She stumbled back, covering her mouth but the scream came anyway.

“I didn’t mean to scare you.” he mumbled, smoothing back his growing hair. It was usually cut close but this summer it had been growing more than Ian liked. He’d been too busy working and rocking to make it the barber shop.

“Well I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“It’s cool.” He yawned. “What's up?”

Ian walked from the living room to the kitchen. He didn’t seem to give a damn about what he was wearing, or not wearing as the case was. He was barefoot, shirtless, and his jeans were undone. He’d clearly been asleep…or doing something else in the bedroom.

“Are you alone?” Emily asked.

Like the scream before it, the question was involuntary. Why couldn’t she stop caring? They weren't together anymore; Ian didn’t have to report to her. He didn’t even like doing it when they were together. And despite all the horrible fantasies that went through her mind about rock groupies and Chloe Donaghy, she knew Ian had been faithful. He could be faithful to a fault if that made any sense. Emily knew it wasn’t just his woman that he was faithful to.

“Nah.” He opened the fridge, grabbing two beers and a bottle of water. He handed her a beer. “I got two teenage boys and a Bengal tiger in the bedroom but they're on strict orders to shut the fuck up.”

“You're not funny.”

“And yet you're smiling.”

“Zip your pants, hot stuff.”

Ian smirked but did as she asked. Then he opened his beer and took a healthy drink.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I wanted to bring your stuff. I mean it’s probably not all important or anything but there were some notebooks and tee shirts and that sort of thing. I just wanted to bring your stuff, Ian.”

“Yeah.” he nodded. “Thanks for that.”

The silence between them was awkward and Emily wanted to just get the hell out of there. A part of her wanted to stay too but she didn’t know why. It was over. It was better for everyone that way. Just because you loved someone once didn’t mean you'd be together forever. Happy endings only happened in fairy tales.

“Answer something for me, Emily Prentiss.” he said.

“What's that?” she opened and drank her beer too.

“Will there ever be a universe where we get a happy ending?”

“You think we've been together in other universes?” Emily asked.

“Maybe.” Ian shrugged that noncommittal shrug he knew drove her crazy sometimes.

“Well it'd be a damn shame if we were and still hadn't managed to get it right. I guess there's always the next one.”

“I'm being serious.” He said.

“So am I. I love you Ian. I love you as a man, a musician, a philosopher, and a sex-crazed maniac. But we’re not right for each other. We’re right for a little while and it has its good moments but then…”

“You're not who I thought you were.”

“Are you saying that to hurt me?”

“No.” he shook his head. “I think in the end any couple can say that to each other. If you're together long enough, people change. It’s the nature of the beast. You were one way when we met and you're different now. I think sometimes that scares the hell out of you and maybe you were holding on to me because you feared the change.”

“I was holding onto you because I love you.”

“Then who’s the old guy you're seeing?”

“Aw Ian c'mon, don’t do that.” Emily rolled her eyes.

“Don’t do what?” his tone was almost exasperated. “I can't ask you questions anymore? I thought we were going to be friends. I'm not trying to make trouble.” He sighed. “I just want to know. I don’t want to hear about you from other people. I want to hear about you from you.”

“His name is Jason. He's…a good friend.”

Emily didn’t want to talk about Jason with him. It wasn’t personal but Ian was her past and Jason her present, possibly her future. Mixing the two chemicals might lead to an explosion. Emily had enough to deal with.

“Is he smart?”

“Of course he's smart. He's well read and well traveled. His personality is a lot different than mine and I find that appealing. It doesn’t have anything to do with us breaking up.”

“I know that.” Ian nodded. “Does he care about you?”

“Jason?”

“Yeah.”

“Yes he does. Do you really want to talk about this?”

“No. I just…Ashley’s not joining the band and we’re at a crossroads. I think we should go on as a threesome. Kyle leans toward agreeing with me. Paul wants a female lead, mostly so he can get ass and because then I can't be the lead singer and get more attention than he does. It’s ridiculous that we’re nobodies and can't keep our egos in check.”

“Have you ever considered going solo?” Emily asked.

“I've put a lot of thought into that. I'm 30 years old, Emily. How much longer can I hold onto this pipe dream? Something has to happen in December or I have to move on.”

“You’ve sacrificed so much for the music.”

“Tell me about it.”

“You and Kyle just have to keep it real with Paul. A threesome is the best way. If he doesn’t like you being the lead you guys can split duties. He's got a decent voice too”

“See why I need you around…you're the voice of reason.”

“I am rarely the voice of reason.” She smiled. “And I'm not going anywhere. Well actually, I need to go home right now but I'm not leaving the country or anything.”

“OK.”

Emily finished her beer and put the bottle on the counter. Then she pulled her keys from her pocket. She took both of his off, putting them beside the bottle.

“There are still two guitars at my place. Call me and we’ll work out a time for you to come pick them up.”

“I will. I’ll see you around, Emily Prentiss.”

“Yeah.” she nodded and walked out of the apartment.

She wasn’t walking out of his life. Just because they weren't together didn’t mean they couldn’t have their own happy endings. Emily hated the word happy anyway. It meant something different to everyone and could also be used against them. She preferred content and many things made her content.

Baths made her content. Drinks with the girls made her content. Movie night with Sergio made her content. Life wasn’t supposed to be composed of this one big ‘happily ever after’. If you were lucky there were many, many things that gave you joy and contentment.

It was over with Ian but that didn’t mean Emily would jump into something immediately with Jason. Not jumping into something at all with Jason didn’t mean they couldn’t have something good anyway. She was thinking too much…it was time to stop. If she was lucky there was a long time left to live. Maybe true contentment was to stop chasing whatever the hell you thought you were chasing and slow down enough to enjoy all the little things life had to offer.

***
“C'mon, I want to know if you guys set a date yet.” Penelope smiled as her vegetarian home fries were served.

She and Morgan had gone on a double date with Spencer and Ashley Seaver. The teens went to American University for a showing of the Star Trek reboot movie. It was about the 200th time Penelope had seen the movie, but it was always better on the big screen. To give the kids a little privacy afterward, she and Derek invited Hotch and Beth to meet them at the Georgetown Diner.

“Yes and no.” Beth replied. “We definitely know it’s going to be next September but we haven’t settled on a date yet. We’ll have to figure it out soon though; the Chevy Chase Club gets flooded with weekend weddings from March through October.”

“The Chevy Chase Club?” Morgan put ketchup on his burger. “That’s the serious big time. A wedding of that caliber is no joke.”

“My mother wants Beth to have her dream wedding.” Hotch smiled. “So do I as a matter of fact. She told me money doesn’t matter.”

“Must be nice.” Derek said after whistling.

“Oh my God, that’s so romantic.” Penelope smiled. “It’s going to be absolutely beautiful.”

“What about you two?” Beth asked.

“What about us?” Penelope asked. She put pepper on her potatoes.

“Well Aaron and I have been together for four years. You guys have been together for twice that. I know that marriage isn’t the big brass ring for everyone. I’d never judge, honestly, but it’s never once crossed your minds?”

“What's never crossed our minds?” Derek asked.

“Shug, I think they're asking us when we’re getting married.”

“What?” Morgan looked at Hotch. “Are you asking us that?”

“I'm not asking you anything.” Hotch replied. “Beth, sweetie, we probably shouldn’t…”

“I'm so sorry.” Beth looked a little mortified. “It’s really none of my business and I apologize. I'm sure people tell you guys all the time that you're perfect for each other.”

“Not all the time.” Derek said.

“Pretty close to all the time though.” Penelope said. “Not everyone is all about commitment. Sometimes people are afraid of something, even if everyone else thinks its perfect for them.”

“Sometimes people don’t want to ruin the best thing that ever happened to them.” Derek said.

“Marriage ruins things?” Hotch asked.

“It’s not for everyone…that’s what he's saying.” Penelope said.

“That’s what I'm saying.” Derek pointed to Penelope.

“Well I still think you guys are meant to be.” Beth tasted her chicken sandwich. “You do it anyway you want, just be happy together.”

“Yeah.” Morgan smiled.

Hotch looked at him and he looked at Hotch. He wanted to tell Beth that his friends weren't together but the truth was he wasn’t quite sure. No one was really sure. Morgan and Garcia were an enigma. Now he saw that they might be just as enigmatic to each other as they were to everyone around them. Hopefully Beth hadn't just opened a Pandora’s Box. The table got very quiet and they all just ate.

“Look, its not like I hate marriage or anything.” Penelope blurted out.

“Oh Penelope,” Beth said. “I wasn’t saying…”

“I love weddings.” Penelope talked over her. “I love parties and happy people and definitely champagne and dancing. It’s just that my parents…”

“Hey, baby girl…” Derek caressed her face. “You don’t have to explain yourself. Beth wasn’t trying to say you were anti-marriage.”

“But I'm not Derek, I just…”

“Stop.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “Stop, it’s all good. Everyone doesn’t have to have the same dream. Our dream is different from Hotch and Beth’s, whose is different from Sam, Emily, or JJ’s. It’s all good.”

“OK.” Penelope frowned for a moment.

“It’s not OK until my favorite girl smiles.” He was still holding her close.

She tried to smile but didn’t quite get there. Then Morgan kissed her cheek and the smile was real. She leaned her head on his shoulder as his arm rested around hers.

“I swear I'm never going to bring it up again.” Beth said. “Penelope, I am so sorry. You know I would never do anything to upset you.”

“I totally know.” The usually peppy blonde reached for Beth’s hands. “I want you and Hotch to have the happiest life ever. This marriage is going to be so fantastic and we’re all happy for you. Aren’t we Derek?”

“Yes.” He smiled too. “The Chevy Chase Club doesn’t even know the meaning of the word party until they host the Hotchner-Clemmons celebration.”

“We could be banned for life after that.” Hotch smiled and his dimples showed.

“I'm not quite the country club type anyway.” Penelope went back to her home fries.

She kept glancing over at Derek but he was constantly checking on Spencer and Ashley across the diner. What Beth said was true, they had been together forever. But what did together mean? Penelope knew what forever was and she knew the hard way that nothing lasted that long. She loved Derek Morgan with all of her heart, never wanted to lose what they had. Usually Penelope could care less about definitions or what everyone else thought but now she was wondering just what all of this was. She squeezed Morgan’s shoulder and he smiled at her.

“Gimme some of those home fries and I’ll give you some burger.”

“Eww, Derek Morgan, I don’t eat red meat.”

“Woman, what am I going to do with you? Man cannot live on broccoli alone.”

“I'm not a man and I eat more than broccoli.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “You eat like a nineteen year old boy.”

Hotch and Beth laughed with them as they all enjoyed their meal. She was glad she hadn't ruined the evening with her talk of marriage and relationships. Penelope and Derek could do it anyway they wanted; everyone didn’t have to be like she and Aaron. She thought they had a great relationship and that’s all that mattered.

From now on though Beth would keep her mouth shut. While they were wonderful to her, this group was Aaron’s friends. She never wanted to be ‘the girlfriend’ so she did her best to be amiable and friendly. It wasn’t her business to know about the inner workings of someone else’s relationship. As long as Derek and Penelope were happy then it was all good.

***
Talking to myself and feeling old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothing ever seems to fit
Hangin around, nothing to do but frown
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down

“It’s Thursday.” Jason said, pulling her closer and kissing her temple.

“And this is why I'm not down.” Emily replied. “It’s raining though.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind the walk? It’s probably two miles.”

“I'm the one who suggested it Jason.”

“I know but…”

“I really don’t mind the walk.” Emily shook her head.

“OK.” He nodded and they kept going.

They went to Mickey’s for dinner and drinks tonight. Dinner wasn’t quite one of the bar’s specialties but Emily and Jason didn’t mind burgers, fries, and beer. They just talked, laughed, and sang along to the 70s songs on the jukebox. It was one of her special places and she wanted to introduce him to it. Emily loved introducing him to it. She let him into one of her many doors. It was a big step.

Jason seemed to enjoy himself as much as she did. Now they were walking back to his apartment from the bar. It wasn’t pouring but the rain fell at a steady pace. It didn’t matter to her. They were safe and dry under Jason’s big umbrella. His arm was around her waist and Emily seemed content. She sang a few more lines of the classic Carpenters song before she looked at him.

“Sing with me.”

“Oh no,” Jason laughed. “I don’t think I'm going to do that.”

“I know for a fact you have a beautiful singing voice.”

“I don’t usually display it on busy DC streets.”

“No one is paying us any mind.” She replied looking around. “What are you afraid of?”

“Truthfully? I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of you.”

“Too late.” Emily laughed. She laughed even more when he squeezed her.

She stopped walking, right there in the middle of a busy DC street and kissed him. Public displays of affection weren't usually her thing but a kiss was a kiss. Emily just felt it down deep in her bones; she needed to kiss him. She needed to be close and inhale the scent of summer rain and Drakkar Noir. She needed to feel Jason’s arm tighten around her and his lips on hers.

The man was an amazing kisser; always left her breathless. Emily could think of a million ways she wanted to get breathless with him. So far they’d remained chaste. She had gotten more from her ex than her current. Well, she couldn’t quite call Jason her current.

She had no idea what they were. Emily had never been much of a dater. She’d either had some dude she was fucking or she was with Ian. Growing up she’d been too busy to have relationships. There were so many party hookups and drunken sexcapades in between all the work she did to make her parents think she was perfect. So close to thirty she had no idea how she’d kept this act up since she was about 13.

“You're thinking about something.” Jason said as they were walking again.

“I'm always thinking about something.”

“Do you want to share?”

“Are you my boyfriend?” she countered his question with her own.

“Didn’t you just get rid of one of those?”

“Mmm hmm,” she nodded.

“And you want another one already?”

“I don’t want another. I want you, Jason.”

“I think it might be better for both of us if we avoid definitions and putting things in boxes.” His arm moved from around her waist but he slipped his hand in hers. “We’re adults…we can call it whatever we want.”

“So what do you call it?” Emily asked.

“I don't know. I'm crazy about you; maybe I'm just crazy.”

“I like you a lot.”

“A woman usually says that before she says but. Not that I know much about women.”

“At your age you better know something.”

“Ouch.” Jason put his hand over his heart, laughing some. “No jabs at my age, young lady.”

“Yes sir.” She smiled. “There is no but by the way, I just like you a lot.”

“Ditto.” He held her hands to his lips. “I won't rush you because I know there are still things you need to work through. Just know that if and when you're ready to be with me, here I am.”

“I am with you, Jason.”

“OK.”

He didn’t say anything for a while. They walked hand and hand, listening to the rain dance on the ground and across the umbrella. There was the noise of people chattering as they went by as well. Cabs and cars moved past them, making music across the wet asphalt. Jason gave her another kiss on the cheek.

“What was that for?” Emily asked.

“I decided just now that I don’t need a reason.”

“Did you?” she looked at him.

“Yes.” He nodded.

“I like that. I don’t think I need a reason either. We’re going to have a sleepover tonight.”

“Katya…”

“Don’t you dare reject me.” she glanced at him but quickly looked straight ahead again.

“I don’t know if that’s possible.”

“It’s time.”

“I didn’t know there was a time limit.” Jason replied.

“I can be a bit impatient.”

“No.” he shook his head and actually grinned. “I never got that from you at all; not once.”

“Haha.” Emily poked him. “I want you. I want all of you. I can admit to being a greedy woman sometimes but why pretend we’re not attracted to each other.”

“I'm not pretending. I just want to make sure that this isn’t some one-night stand.”

“It’s nothing like that Jason.”

He didn’t want to tell her that once they went to bed together it was going to be even harder to let her go. Jason couldn’t help but feel that his time with Emily was limited. He hated that feeling. He wanted to hope against hope that they could make something work.

Being with her tonight in one of her favorite places was amazing for him. They talked, laughed, ate, and drank. She was a breath of fresh air and Jason Gideon could breathe again. What would happen if he lost that?

“We’ll have tea first, and talk some more.”

“I love talking to you.” Emily said. “Don’t think you're the only one who wants this but fears it won't happen.”

“I think it’s happening right now.” he squeezed her hand.

Emily never wanted the evening to end. She loved the rain and being close and spending time with Jason. How did she know if it would last forever or not? She was tired of spending so much time worrying about what was around the next hill or the next corner…this was now.

And now was pretty damn awesome. It had been so long since she enjoyed the pangs. It had been so long since she’d lusted after someone as she did for him. What a waste it would be not to enjoy it and indulge in it.

***
“I cannot believe you're doing my dishes.” Jessie couldn’t help but laugh as she sat on her kitchen counter drinking a Diet Coke.

“I can't believe you had almost two sinks full of dirty dishes.” Sam replied.

“Does it make you think less of me?” she reached over and gave him a poke.

“I'm silently judging you if that’s what you mean.”

He looked at her and they both laughed. Sam knew everyone wasn’t as neat as he was, but the messy kitchen was a bit of a surprise. It didn’t matter, he didn’t mind cleaning. Jessie didn’t seem to mind either. She sat on the counter, put on the radio, and kept him company.

The whole scene was rather domestic but he pushed that out of his mind. A month after the July Fourth celebration they were dating again. Sam was busy at work a lot but gave Jessie the majority of his free time. She was free to roam until late August when she returned to Georgetown University.

She was completing her Masters of Professional Studies in Journalism. The blog she started last year, Chronicles of a City Girl, was really coming into bloom as well. Sam didn’t know anything about that yet. That was probably good since he was currently starring in it.

“Hey Kassmeyer?”

“Yes Brooks?”

“Wanna be my boyfriend?” she asked.

“What was I before?” he countered.

“Oh, you were just some dude I was dating.” Jessie could hardly hold back her laughter.

“What do you think it was that took me over the line?”

“Well if you're gonna do my dishes you have to be my boyfriend. That’s the least I can do for the work you put in.”

“It seems like a fair tradeoff to me.” Sam smiled. “Yes, I wanna be your boyfriend.”

“Good.” She nodded and went back to sipping her Diet Coke.

“I was checking you out the night we almost met.” Sam said.

“What?”

“I’d been watching you from the moment you walked into the bar that night. I mean not stalking you or anything but I thought you were pretty and I was watching you. Even after you met up with that creep I was still watching you. It’s how I saw what I thought I saw.”

“So if you weren't eyeballing me this story might have a different ending?” Jessie asked.

“Yeah.” he nodded. “I don’t think we’re at the ending yet…we’re still beginning.”

“Well I appreciate you eyeballing me. It’s not just because you came to my rescue that night Sam, but because you're a really awesome, special guy.”

“You're an awesome special girl.”

She smiled, leaning over to give him a kiss. The truth was that she was crazy about Sam Kassmeyer. He was sweet, handsome, kind, funny, and had a strong moral fiber. He wasn’t like any guy she’d dated before. Jessie dated a lot of guys; some good and some not.

Sam was different from all of them. Sam was the kind of guy you read about in a book and didn’t believe existed. She still wasn’t sure he existed. He wasn’t perfect, but he was close. Or maybe he was just perfect for Jessie.

She surely still had her wild and crazy times out with friends. But there was something about being with Sam, just the two of them, which comforted her on the inside. Here they were doing dishes and she was having fun. Doing the dishes was not fun. It was why she had almost two sinks full.

“So what do boyfriends and girlfriends do for fun?” she asked.

“I can't imagine it’s much different than what we already do. In most relationships the girlfriend actually dries the dishes though.”

“Mmm, I might be a bad girlfriend then.”

“Rethinking your decision huh?” Sam smiled.

“No. I’ll just be a different girlfriend. I don’t know about those who came before me Sam Kassmeyer but I’ll be the one you never forget. One day you'll tell your children, oh my God I used to have this girlfriend who never did her dishes.” Jessie laughed.

“Do you think you might want children someday?” it was a risky question but the first one that popped into his mind.

“Yeah.” she nodded. “I like kids a lot. I'm surely not ready right now, not even close. But one day when I give up all this fine, cosmopolitan living for the suburbs I'm sure I will be. Of course I doubt I'm soccer mom material. That doesn’t mean I won't be a good one.”

“I wouldn’t mind a houseful.” Sam said.

“Do you have any siblings, Sam? Wow, that’s something we haven’t talked about much. What was your family life growing up like?”

“My mom died when I was seven. It was just my dad, my younger brother, and me. He never remarried. Sometimes I wish he would have; he's a wonderful man and deserved someone who could appreciate and enjoy his company. I think in the end he just never got over losing my mother. It was a big loss for all of us.”

“My dad died when I was 15. He was in a car accident; it was sudden. One minute he was there and the next he wasn’t. I don’t think I ever got over it either. You probably never do, you just have to move on.”

“Exactly.” Sam nodded. “My dad always told me that if I ever managed to find someone who made me feel complete, who made me feel like my mother made him feel, I needed to hold on and never let go.”

“We’re not talking about stalking again, are we?” Jessie asked laughing.

“No.” Sam laughed too and gave her another kiss. “Finding it isn’t as easy as romantic comedies have people believe. I don’t want to settle…I want to find what's perfect for me.”

“Nothing is perfect, Sam.”

“I know that. I didn’t say I wanted perfection, I said I wanted what’s perfect for me.”

“So tell me what's perfect for you.” Jessie said.

Sam looked at her and she was looking at him. He could see it in her blue-green eyes; she really wanted to know. It wasn’t as if Sam had no answer. He’d spent years thinking about true love.

There were times he wanted to give up on even believing in it. Other times he felt so close that he could reach out and touch it. He wanted his happy ending. Wasn’t that what life was all about?

“I don’t want you to think I'm silly.” He said.

“Hey, I would never think that. I mean it.” she smiled. “Just talk to me like you always do.”

“Well, the woman who’s perfect for me is bubbly. I don’t mean fake, insane happy, but just someone full of life and energy who’s ready for adventure. She’s smart, funny, and fun. I can be myself with her whether I'm happy, sad, angry, or anywhere in between. She shares some of my interests but also opens my eyes to things I might not even be thinking about.

“She gives me passionate butterflies even if we fight. I smile whenever I think about her. She’s my friend, my lover, and the person I can share all the aspects of myself with. She won't be scared away. She’s strong of mind, body, and spirit. She isn’t going to be perfect and that’s OK with her and with me. I love her anyway.”

“Do you really think someone can live up to those expectations?”

“They're not expectations, just hopes. Life is crazy and you have to adapt. It’s not the plan, just a working plan. I'm not asking you for instance,” Sam cleared his throat. “I'm not asking you to fit into some rigid box. I guess I should just say I’ll know the woman when I see her.”

“Someone might think you're perfect for doing a girl’s dishes.” Jessie said.

“Well that was easy.”

“I didn’t say I would; I just said someone might.”

“I understand.” He nodded. “Just don’t forget that I'm silently judging you.”

Jessie smiled, jumping down from the counter. She wrapped her arms around Sam from behind, kissing the center of his spine. When he trembled she couldn’t help but do it again. Her fingers crept across his spine.

“Your touch…” Sam whispered, biting his lip. He gripped the glass the glass in his hand tighter so that it wouldn’t slip and break.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing. I'm OK.”

“Are you sure?”

“Mmm hmm, I'm good. Are you going to help me dry or what?”

“Maybe.” Jessie said.

“Maybe?” he raised an eyebrow.

“Tell me how cute I am first.” Jessie laughed.

Sam turned around, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her. Jessie was sure she gasped when his mouth moved over hers. Her arms slipped around his neck, her hand moving across the nape and up through his sandy brown hair. Sam moaned into her mouth, deepening the kiss as he pulled her even closer. Who knew how long they stood in front of the sink kissing…time stood still and the earth stopped moving.

“Wow.” Jessie breathed when he freed her lips. “You must think I'm pretty cute, Sam Kassmeyer.”

“Yeah you are.” Sam pressed his forehead on hers.

Jessie kissed him again and Sam felt the electricity course through his bloodstream. He wanted her. He needed her and everything else be damned. He wasn’t sure he’d ever felt such an overwhelming feeling in his life. Did this mean it was perfect or that it was love?

Sam stopped asking himself that after Independence Day. He knew he wanted to be with Jessie. They could build something together just for them. They would take their time and enjoy every moment.

It might not fit into any of the parameters Sam drew for himself over the past 29 years. That was scary because he had a plan; Sam thought he had a plan. Still, this experience excited him. Jessie was a breath of fresh air in a good but sometimes humdrum life. Outside of the box never felt so refreshing.

“There's something else that boyfriends and girlfriends do.” Sam whispered, taking her face in his hands. Damn he loved her face.

“I knew it…you want to get twin tattoos.” Jessie replied. “I could be down with that, as long as I get to pick the design. What's your opinion on big cats?”

Sam smiled. He didn’t say anything else just took her hand in his and kissed it. Then he started walking out of the kitchen and toward the bedroom. Jessie went with him; she didn’t need the words. There were things she wanted to say but it was hard to find the right words.

It was more of a feeling and she knew Sam was feeling it too. Was it perfect? Jessie had no idea. If there was one thing she had little idea about, it was perfection. Still, it was something. It was something amazing and indulging in it was all she wanted lately.

“Someday,” Jessie pulled him down on the bed with her and took off her tee shirt. “I want to return to the twin tattoos conversation.”

“We will, I promise, as soon as you start drying the dishes.”

Sam quieted her cheeky response with a passionate kiss. They could talk later, they would talk later, but right now he wanted to make love. He wanted to feel; express himself through all of his senses. Starting with touch was the best thing Sam could think of. He wanted Jessie to touch him too. He knew from experience how awesome that was. They were boyfriend and girlfriend now…it was time.

***
“I'm so sorry I'm late.” Emily came walking over to the table where her friends were eating and drinking. She started passing out kisses like candy. “My meeting ran over and then it was raining and the cab was moving slower than I could’ve walked and…where are JJ and Jordan?”

“JJ wanted to stay home with Will. He's been sick and she's been so busy at work this was the one evening she could make it home at a decent hour to be with him.” Penelope replied. “Jordan was being forced to attend some society shindig with her parents. She was sure there were men they wanted to introduce her to there.”

“She told me she might tell them that she was fucking Bobbi just to see her mother fall out of a chair.” Derek said grinning.

“God, is this how it'll be now?” Emily asked. “A few of us will get together here and there until big events like weddings and baby showers and other adult things that will inevitably become what our lives are about over the next five years or so. Will we slowly drift apart until there's hardly anything left?”

“That’s not going to happen.” Hotch said. “We won't let that happen.”

“Life happens, Aaron.” Emily replied.

“What's the matter with you?” Sam asked.

“Nothing, I...” Emily sighed. “I'm fine, really. It’s just that I'm going to be thirty in a month; time is moving too fast. Summer is over and so is another year almost. I can barely keep up.”

“Tell me about it.” Derek said. “I'm gonna be in and out of town with work so this might be the last relaxing weekend I get for a while. Work is really going to take up much of my time.”

The waitress returned to the table and Emily ordered a Grey Goose martini, neat. She opened up the menu to see if she wanted dinner. She didn’t have much of an appetite but was sure she could manage something. She needed to eat anyway. There had been a lot of late nights lately; her diet had become atrocious. She didn’t want to start dropping pounds in that not good way that made her friends look at her like something was wrong.

“Speaking of time moving too fast,” Sam said. “You're going to be the first one to turn 30. How does it feel Emily Prentiss?”

“You're supposed to be my best friend.” She reached over and pinched him. “Thanks for bringing it up. You're next sailor…it'll be my early Christmas present.”

“Hotch is first.” Sam grinned.

“Oh shit yeah.” Emily smiled. “We’re gonna make you wear a big birthday hat and maybe go to like Chuck E. Cheese or something embarrassing like that.”

“I can't wait.” Hotch replied.

“Do you have plans Emily?” Beth asked.

As the waitress arrived with her drink Emily ordered the grilled chicken salad with spinach lettuce and honey mustard dressing. She handed back the menu before looking at Beth.

“I want to keep it low key really. Who wants to celebrate getting old? I mean maybe forty or something but this time I'm just doing movie night with the girls. Hey, you should come and maybe I’ll invite Jessie too. We’re probably gonna do scary movies because they're easier to create drinking games for even though I hate being afraid. Still, I need to get plastered. It might be the last time I can legitimately do that before growing up.”

“We might crash it.” Morgan said. “We’ll climb in the window and scare you guys.”

“I have a Taser gun.” Garcia said. “You of all people should know, Agent Morgan, that I am not afraid to use it.”

“Morgan being tased might make up for me turning 30.” Emily replied laughing. “Yes, this has to happen.”

“I'm very glad my future injury has managed to bring a smile to your face.”

“I love you too, Derek.” Emily kissed his cheek. “C'mon, tell me what's happening with you guys. I don’t want to hog the entire conversation. I don't know when we’re going to do this again. What’s new in everyone’s lives? Sam, are you still saving the world one underprivileged kid at a time?”

“Actually last week I got a job offer.” Sam said.

“You did?” Hotch looked at his best friend. “You didn’t say anything.”

“I'm still thinking about it. I got an offer to be the Assistant Director of the Hannibal House, which is an in-house facility for mentally challenged kids. It houses about 100 kids, ages 6 to 18 and split evenly down the gender line. It might be time to put this Masters degree in Special Education to some use. I could make some real change in the lives of kids who are often overlooked.”

“The Hannibal House is one of the best in-house facilities in the DC Corridor.” Beth said. “Our children’s museum has done many trips and programs with them. Sam, I think something like that would be a good job for you.”

“And it would be hands on too.” Penelope said. “Are you going to take it?”

“I don't know. I still have a week to think about it. It would be just as time consuming as the job I already have but its more responsibility, more money, and also more flexibility. Though when you’re working 60 hours a week what's flexibility.”

“I'm going to the Middle East.” Emily said.

“What!”

Emily didn’t expect to make such a splash but suddenly five pairs of eyes were on her and they all wanted an explanation.

“Its not forever.” It was the first thing she could think to say.

“Well how long is it?” Hotch asked.

“Six weeks. I'm going in early November as part of a convey working with The Girl Foundation. We’re going to push for education for girls in the Arab World. We’re working with Queen Rania of Jordan. I was chosen to go for my communications skills, my fluency in Arabic, and because this is an initiative close to my heart. I'm excited about doing something that could change the world.”

“The Middle East is a dangerous place right now.” Sam said.

“The Middle East is always a dangerous place.” Emily countered drinking her martini. “But so is Washington, DC. I can't let that stop me. I want to do something. I don’t want to do something to get my name in the paper or to be well known. I want to do something that fulfills me. This could fulfill me.”

“Did you tell Jason that you were going?” Penelope asked.

“He's happy for me. He’s going to miss me, and I’ll miss him, but he thinks this could be a good experience. I wasn’t even sure I was going to stay at the State Department; not every part of it is the most exciting place. We can't all be in Madame Secretary’s inner entourage. But diplomacy can be an amazing thing and I want to get my hands dirty while saving the world. I can't do that behind a desk.”

“It sounds awesome.” Beth said with a smile. “It could be dangerous, you're right, but what's life without some risk. I think this is great news Emily.”

All of her friends agreed but it was clear that her going so far away wasn’t that appealing to them. Still, six weeks wasn’t a lifetime. They were getting older now, getting into their careers or even changing them. The college days and their aftermath weren't going to last forever. The next decade would be about establishing themselves in this world.

They were adults now. They probably had been for some time but now they would have to act like it. That didn’t mean they had to give up fun. Things would just be different from now on. Change was complicated and sometimes scary. As long as they held onto what kept them together in the first place they would make it through this part.

Emily’s dinner arrived and she ate as everyone chatted. She was starving and it showed. Hotch told her to slow down more than once.

“I'm really hungry. For the past week and a half it’s been late meetings and conference calls planning this trip and this project. I've been eating like a sorority girl again. I need real food.”

“Salad is not real food.” Derek said grinning.

“Haha.” Emily gave him a friendly punch. “It’s a good start. I've been eating way too much late night Chinese and pizza. If you can believe it I had heartburn the other night. I complained to Jason that this was my body going downhill.”

“I bet he begged to differ.” Penelope said smiling.

“Lets just say that he showed me there are so many amazing things my body can still do.”

“Really Prentiss?” Hotch covered his ears. “Did you really have to go there?”

“Yes.” She nodded as she continued to eat. Then she flagged the waitress for another martini. “So what's up after this?”

“Derek and I are going to Absinthe to see Glitter Bomb do a late night set.” Penelope said. “You're welcome to come along; surely there will be lots of familiar faces there.”

“Ooh, tempting. Do you guys have plans?”

“Beth and I are heading home for a movie and some relaxing. I have to work tomorrow so…”

“They're working you to death Hotch.” Morgan said.

“It'll be worth it in the end.” He replied. “I think.”

“What about you Sam?” Emily asked. “C'mon, let me drag you out like the good old days. You know that Glitter Bomb puts on a helluva show.”

“I could probably go for that.” Sam smiled. He wasn’t going to see Jessie until tomorrow and he and Emily really hadn't spent enough time together lately. If she was going to go away in two months he wanted to make sure they got in enough best friend time before she was gone.

“Oh yay.” She clapped and ate more salad. “Will I have time to run home and change? One doesn’t go to Absinthe looking like they work in the Truman Building.”

“People will hit on you if you came to Absinthe in a burlap sack.” Morgan said. “But Glitter Bomb doesn’t go on until sometime between 10:30 and 11. There will be time for you to change.”

“And I’ll call Jordan too.” Emily said. “She might be able to meet us there. This is just the end of the week I need. I’ll be jumping right back in on Monday so I’ll party tonight and relax all weekend. I guess that’s one thing I get to do differently as an adult.”

“What's that?” Penelope asked.

“I don’t think relax even used to be in my vocabulary. I'm definitely starting to learn the benefits of it now.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Hotch held up his nearly empty beer bottle.

“You so do not relax, Aaron.” Beth said.

“I think about relaxing…I think about it a lot.”

That got more laughs at the table. Emily looked at her friends and couldn’t help but smile. There were faces missing tonight but she would make it her business to see them again in the near future. And tonight after some partying she was going to see if Jason was in the mood for a late night visitor. She’d really come to enjoy spending weekends with him.

This was developing into a relationship but they were still taking their time. There was no need to rush. So many things in life moved too fast. What Emily and Jason had and wanted to have didn’t need to be one of them. It should age as gracefully as she was planning to. Thirty didn’t know what was about to hit it.

***