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A Fine Line

Chapter Text

Chapter One

"What the hell was that?" Emily closed the door to Hotch's office behind her as quietly as she could, struggling to keep a lid on the rage that was tearing through her veins. Nobody in the bullpen needed to hear this discussion.

He barely glanced up, raising one eyebrow as he did so, in the way that way that was oh so Hotch, and only served to stoke the flames of her anger. "I don't know what you're talking about," He answered, shortly, "And please keep your voice down."

Affronted by his dismissive nature, but not surprised by it, Emily had to take a moment to maintain her composure, her professionalism. Compartmentalize, Emily. She was still holding the door handle, she realised, twisting the cool metal, as though it would keep her grounded, keep her calm.

Letting it go, Emily walked further into the room. She folded her arms across her chest, clenched her fists beneath them, and tried again.

"At the round table. You dismissed what I said about our Unsub being-"

"Part of a team. Yes, I did." He said, dark eyes meeting her own briefly, before he once again returned to his file, "Because there's no basis for your hypothesis."

"No basis?" Emily repeated, voice rising once again, "So you think this Unsub breaks in, kills these couples, cleans up and leaves messages in blood, scrawled across the walls, all within a half hour, and he does this all by himself?"

"You pulled it out of thin air, Prentiss. There had been no mention of a team up to this point-"

"That doesn't mean I'm wrong!" She countered.

"It doesn't mean you're right, either, and I'm not going to start this case off with a hunch - until there is more evidence, there's nothing to support your theory. You're reaching."

"And you're a misogynist," Emily yelled, stepping forwards and slamming her palms down onto his desk. "Dammit, Hotch, admit it; if one of the guys had come up with that idea, you wouldn't have dismissed it from them, would you? If Reid had suggested it, you'd have taken it on board, no question. You wouldn't have called Morgan or Rossi out in front of the whole team like that and embarassed them, the way you just did to me. I mean, what am I even doing here, if you don't trust my skills or my opinions?"

Hotch had to force his eyes to remain on hers, but he was intensely aware of the way her shirt fell, when she leaned over his desk that way. Intensely aware of how her chest was rapidly rising and falling, her breathing coming faster because of her anger. Suddenly, the thought of angering her further was rather appealing. Maybe I am a misogynist...

His resolve faltered, his eyes flitting down, just for an instant, taking in the view. God, he hated when she wore those low cut tops. Especially the red one she was wearing today. As well as her teasing worked to get Unsubs to talk, it apparently worked even better on her supervising Agent.

Giving up on his file entirely, Hotch dropped his pen and fixed Emily with a stare that burned. She almost flinched, but caught herself first. She wasn't going to be bullied by him, not this time. This time, she was going to stand up for herself and her skills as a profiler. There was a beat of silence. Hotch seemed to be calculating how to respond to her. Emily was torn between speaking her mind and waiting to hear what he was about to say. Then she saw his eyes flicker. Just for a second, but it was long enough. Instantly, her body betrayed her threefold, in response to his lustful gaze. Her breath hitched in her throat, warmth spread across her chest and up her neck, and her nipples hardened, straining against her shirt.

Hotch didn't miss that, either.

The silence had gone on for too long. The room had grown hot, the air between them thick with tension and anticipation, each wondering what the other would do next.

Emily knew she could turn around and leave, (in fact, that was exactly what she knew she should do) and that neither of them would ever acknowledge that this conversation had ever happened. They would go back to Hotch and Prentiss, back to sniping at each other across the round table and avoiding each other's eyes over dinner with the team. Back to missed glances on the jet and tensing up each time they accidentally brushed elbows or legs at a conference table.

Hotch knew this, too. He was almost willing her to leave. Mostly because the effort it took to keep his eyes from devouring her was almost too much for him, and the messages were starting to travel to different areas of his body. One in particular. But she wasn't leaving. Slowly, agonisingly slowly, Hotch watched as she straightened up. He couldn't help it, then, he was mesmerised by the shape of her nipples through that shirt. He wondered what they would taste like, and immediately reprimanded himself for the thought as his slacks grew ever so slightly tighter.

Emily was moving. Something had taken over her. A kind of calm confidence. His eyes were darker than she had ever seen them, and when they lingered on her chest, Emily knew she couldn't have walked out if she wanted to. And she didn't.

"Prentiss," He warned, as she neared him. Even as he spoke, though, he was pushing his chair away from the desk and turning it towards her. It was as though they were magnets; the pull of attraction too strong for either of them to fight. Emily was standing right in front of him, now, and it was impossible for him to look away from the magnificent shape of her breasts through her shirt, so close to his face, nipples straining, begging to be touched, pleading to be sucked.

The warning only spurred her on; there was something intensely hot about him using her professional name while he stared at her chest so unabashedly. Like he wanted to tear the shirt from her body. She wouldn't have complained, either. Not so long as he put those lips, which did so much talking and reprimanding and shit-talking, to some good use, for once. She stepped closer to him, could feel his breath warm her skin through her shirt. She wanted him to touch her, but his hands remained on the arms of the chair. He was waiting for permission.

She gave him all the permission he needed when she sank down onto his lap, straddling him, and lay her arms over his shoulders.

"Hotch," She purred, his eyes now level with her own. His lips were pressed into a thin line, as though he didn't trust himself to speak. "Are you going to help me with this?" She glanced down. His gaze didn't follow hers. He was looking at her face.

He had always known Emily was beautiful. Since she was eighteen years old, and he worked for her mother, the pale, dark haired girl had featured in his fantasies. For a long time, they were her only defining features. In recent years, her brown eyes pierced him, dared him to do unspeakable things. And now she had a voice, one he heard every day. A voice he ached to hear twist around his name in a helpless cry of passion.

His eyes, those steely eyes she knew so well were unreadable. All of the profiling skills in the world couldn't have told her what Hotch was thinking, but the growing pressure beneath her black trousers did exactly that.

Emily rolled her hips.

That broke his trance. Hotch moved so fast she flinched, rocking her hips back once again. His hands were at her waist now, holding her tightly. His eyes closed, only for a moment, as he enjoyed the feeling of her there. Emily dropped her head against his shoulder, hips slowly gyrating on his lap.

"Hotch," This time, it was almost a moan. Her hot breath on his neck and the desperate way she said his name was too much for him; what little self-control he had left vanished as the blood flow from his brain was redirected south. His eyes flashed open, taking in the sight of the beautiful woman on his lap, grinding down on him. He realised, as she rolled her hips over his aching, still-clothed manhood, that he hadn't even kissed her yet.

He tasted exactly like she had imagined he would. Like coffee, with a hint of mint in there somewhere. He didn't wait around to be asked, this time, his tongue pushing it's way authoritatively into her mouth. She accepted the kiss willingly, hands moving back to tangle in his dark hair. His own hands were moving from her waist to her back, pulling her closer to him, pressing her against him, feeling her nipples brush his chest. His hips bucked, involuntarily, and she moaned into his mouth.

"Emily," He growled, breaking the kiss for air. The way he said her name, her first name, made her weak. Made her dizzy. Made her forget where she was.

"Hotch, fuck me," She breathed into his mouth. His hands clenched, gripping her so tightly it was almost painful. He kissed his way down her neck, sucking her pulse point, marking her. Taking ownership.

They sprung apart at the knock on the door. Emily didn't turn around, afraid her lipstick would be smudged. Hotch turned his chair back towards the desk, hiding the obvious, bulging tent in his trousers.

"The car is downstairs to take us to the jet," JJ said, taking in the scene with curious eyes. Emily didn't turn; was she upset? JJ watched as her friend raised a hand to her face. Curiosity and concern creased her brow, but she didn't want to ask in front of Hotch.

"Thanks, JJ, we'll be right out." Hotch said, hoping she couldn't hear the way his breathing came quickly, the growl that hadn't quiet left his voice. His dick was still straining, painfully, in his slacks. He wanted to kick JJ out of his office, lock the door and do exactly what Emily had just asked him to do. Hearing it replay in his mind, Hotch knew he was in trouble.

JJ left, telling them the rest of the team would meet them downstairs.

More silence. The moment had passed, incredible as it had been, and was replaced now by the awkward aftermath. Each of them were replaying Emily's request in their minds. She was disgusted, he was impressed, and hard as a rock.

"Emily," Hotch began, but she cut him off.

"I'll see you on the jet," Emily made a beeline for the door before he could stop her, wondering how he was ever going to take her seriously after she had practically begged him to fuck her, in his office. After he had humiliated her. Ashamed as she was of her own actions, though, she couldn't deny the warmth and pressure between her legs, and how nice it would have been to have Hotch between them to relieve it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Emily ignored Hotch the whole way to the airport. Staring out of the car window at the sun slowly making it's way towards the horizon, she was pretending he wasn't there. All the while, she was reprimanding herself for being so stupid, so available, so easy. That hadn't been her style for a long time. When she was a teenager, into her early 20s, sure. Maybe even into her mid-to-late 20s, if she were completely honest with herself. She could recognise old behaviours in herself that hadn't reared their head in a long time. It was a thrill. He was her supervising agent. They'd been in his office, their coworkers and friends nearby. The chance of getting caught had always enticed her. JJ's knock on the door had sent electricity straight down to between her legs. She could have lost it right there on his lap. It, and all the rest of it; Hotch, her job, her team, her reputation. She felt the cold, as soon as they parted, but her breathing was still coming fast, her face and neck still flushed.

Chancing a glance at him, she saw that he, too, was staring out of the window. His hand was clenched into a fist on his lap, where Emily's eyes lingered for a moment too long, remembering the hardness of him against her thigh. All of the moisture left her mouth and she had to avert her eyes, feeling the flush that crept up her cheeks. Suddenly far too hot, she reached for the button to roll down her window, grateful for the evening breeze that drifted into the car, closing her eyes against the feeling.

You stupid cow. First rule of Fight Club. Just don't talk about it. It will go away.

It would be impossible for Hotch not to notice the way Emily ignored him, as he reached into his briefcase for the file he had previously abandoned in order to appreciate her body in all of it's perfectly toned glory. Thirty minutes ago, she was straddling him, grinding on him like he had paid her to do it, and now she was cold and distant and avoiding his gaze at all costs. Hotch couldn't say he blamed her. He had taken advantage. As her superior, he should know better. Hadn't they had a fraternisation lecture just last week? He'd heard it all. Stories of agents who lost their jobs over in office relationships. Even a few who had lost their lives, because they'd been too involved and invested in their partner and it got in the way of their work.

She's not in love with you, jackass, a voice in his head said, it was obviously just the heat of the moment, and now she regrets it. Best not to bring it up, or at least not talk about it until she brings it up.

They had both come to that conclusion simultaneously, though neither of them thought to share that with the other.

In the front of the car, JJ noticed the steely silence behind her. She glanced at Rossi, but he was driving and didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. Even if he had, he wouldn't have thought much of it. Hotch and Prentiss' showdowns were legendary, and it was commonplace for one or both of them to give the other the cold shoulder. That usually came after a case, though. Not before one. JJ was still thinking about the scene she had walked into earlier. Hotch had looked...flustered. Hotch never looked flustered. Hotch was the epitome of composure. She had seen Hotch face death, and worse, and never flinch. The expression he always wore was one of professional indifference. It took a lot to change that expression. She had never seen him flustered, almost dishevelled, as he had been earlier. And Emily hadn't even turned to look at her, which was even more unusual. JJ wondered, briefly, if she had done something to offend her best friend, but immediately before Emily had stormed into Hotch's office, she had been ranting to JJ about it.

"Who does he think he is, you know?" Emily demanded, not waiting for a reply from JJ, as she paced back and forth across the blonde's office, "I mean, he's just so condescending. He's always been a bit of an arsehole, but honestly, he's a fucking drill sergeant these days. And the worst of it; he wouldn't have shut me down so quickly if I had a fucking dick between my legs."

It wasn't the first of Emily's Hotch-rants she had heard, and JJ doubted very much that it would be the last, so she let Emily keep going, waiting for the moment when she would pause, anticipating a response from her friend. JJ knelt down, rifling through her go bag, checking she had everything. There were a few things she would have to buy when they landed in Utah, but for the most part, she was as prepared as ever.

"He doesn't trust me," Emily was saying, "He doesn't trust me because of Doyle, and now he's taking it out on me in front of the team. And, you know what, that's not fair, is it? It's unprofessional and it undermines my skills and what I've done to get here. He's going to be so fucking embarassed when it turns out we do have a team here, when more bodies start showing up because he can't check his goddamn ego."

"Are you finished?" JJ asked, softly, as Emily's rant finally died own. She had stopped pacing and was staring at the door, thumb to her lips as she chewed the nail."You need to let it go, Em. If you're right, you can tell him, 'I told you so', and be comfortable with the smugness that you got one over on Hotch. And, well, if you're wrong, and I'm not saying you are," She added, as Emily's gaze flickered towards her, "If you're wrong, you just don't speak about it again. One good thing; you'll never get an 'I told you so' from him."

"No, you know what," Emily said, her voice steely and set, "Fuck that."

She had stormed from JJ's office, and the next time JJ saw her, she wouldn't even look at her. Could her Hotch comment have bitten that sharply? Emily would have to be pretty sensitive to take it so to heart, but JJ made her mind up to ask her later, when they arrived at the hotel.

Emily was the first onto the jet, heading for the runway as soon as they parked the car. She didn't want to give Hotch any reason to stop her for conversation. As far as she was concerned, the less they spoke during this case, the better. Maintaining her distance, at least for a little while, was the only way Emily saw either of them being able to go back to their strictly professional relationship. Seating herself at a table, in the seat near to the window, she quickly pulled out the case file and pretended she was engrossed in the words.

As soon as he sat beside her, every nerve in her body stood to attention. The little hairs on her arm raised, she felt a pleasurable shudder race down her shoulder blades and couldn't help but inhale deeply when his cologne floated in her direction, letting the heady scent of it overwhelming her senses. Why had she sat beside the window? She was now trapped, with Hotch too close for comfort, and no way of moving away from him without it being suspicious.

Why, why, why? Why would he do that?

Crossing her legs beneath the table, Emily didn't even glance at her boss when her ankle accidentally brushed against his calf, but she felt his arm tense beside her, and reprimanded herself for being so careless. She was trying to get away from him, trying to sit as close to the wall of the jet as she could, without it being obvious that she was cringing away from his body beside her.

My god, girl, you're pathetic. Pull yourself together.

The flight was a long one, almost five hours, which would give them plenty of time to sit together and stew. When JJ settled into the seat opposite her, Emily wished she had sat on one of the single chairs, and when Reid sat beside JJ, she wanted the ground to swallow her whole. That kid didn't miss a trick.

Hotch cast a glance at the two agents sitting opposite them. Reid smiled as their eyes met, but otherwise seemed indifferent to his presence. JJ was on her phone, probably texting Will and checking in on the boys. He was glad of that. He had seen the question in JJ's eyes in his office earlier, was grateful she seemed to have dismissed it. He was sure she would question Emily later, but judging by the way Emily was shrinking away from him, leaning against the wall of the jet, so focused on her file that she hadn't even looked at him, Emily didn't want to talk about it. He only hoped she would be as silent with JJ as she seemed to want to be towards him.

"Alright, crime fighters," Garcia's voice came from the tablet Morgan was holding. "You'll be arriving in Utah at 11pm, so you'll be heading straight to the hotel. Tomorrow morning, the precinct will be expecting you, as are the crime scenes, and the coroner's office."

"Garcia I need you to-"

"Look into the couples to see if they've got any prior connections, already on it, sir. The info will be with you as soon as I've got it. Stay safe, my angels." Hotch thanked her, and Garcia was gone.

"Make sure you all get a good nights sleep, tonight," Hotch was saying, and Emily felt as though the comment were aimed towards her. Across the table, she noticed JJ's eyes flicker between the two of them, but her own eyes remained on the file, where they had been since she sat down. She had been staring at the same sentence since she opened the file, and not once had she actually read the words.

"Em?" JJ was talking to her, and from the way she and Reid were looking at her, she had repeated her name a few times.

"Sorry," Emily said, putting the file down on the table.

"Are you okay?" JJ asked, "You looked completely spaced out."

Reid was frowning at her, as were Morgan and Rossi, across the way. Emily wanted to roll her eyes, but she didn't. She shook her head.

"No, actually," She lied, "Got a bit of a headache. Can I squeeze past you?"

Her choice of words, directed at Hotch, and his eyes on her again, took her back to his office, back to his hands gripping her hips, squeezing her skin. She could see in his dark eyes that he was reliving the same moment. He stood up, stepped out of her way. As she stood up to get out of the seat, their bodies brushed. It was nothing, barely a touch, but it set her skin on fire.

Fuck, she thought, making her way towards the back of the plane, I'm in trouble.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

Emily braced herself against the counter, grateful for the curtain that separated the refreshments section of the plane from the rest of it. Closing her eyes, she tried to slow her breathing. Behind her eye lids, she could see the scene in Hotch's office so clearly.

She watched herself cross the floor, watched herself sink down onto his lap, saw the bliss on his face as she rolled her hips over his straining member, heard her own desperation as she gasped.

"Fuck me, Hotch."

The thought of what could have happened if JJ hadn't interrupted, the idea of him fulfilling her request, was playing out in her mind before she could stop it.

She saw him ravish her neck; wet, insistent kisses leaving bruises over her alabaster skin. She saw him lift her, sit her on the edge of his desk. Saw him unbuckling his belt, shoving down his trousers, as she stared at the huge bulge that was about to...


Her breath hitched in her throat. Eyes opening, she saw her own knuckles, white as bone, where she was gripping the counter so tightly. There was a heat between her legs again. The second time that day she had gotten all worked up, and been denied the release she was craving so desperately.

"Are you feeling alright?" Hotch asked, in a low tone so that nobody on the other side of the curtain would hear their conversation. The note of genuine concern in his voice made her groan, internally.

Emily had a choice to make. She could stick to what she had decided and Fight Club it out, or she could come clean and tell Hotch that she really needed to finish what they had started in his office. She decided to go somewhere in between.

Turning around and raising an eyebrow at him, she gave him a pointed look. "What do you think, Mr Profiler? Am I alright? You tell me, since you're such an expert on all things behaviour."

His expression changed from one of concern to one of mild annoyance. He glanced towards the curtain, behind which the rest of their team sat, blissfully ignorant of their tryst.

"Go on, Hotch," Emily insisted, annoyed now, not only by her own unsatisfied arousal, but by his apparent nonchalance. Forgetting her own resolve to 'Fight Club' it out, she was growing more and more irritated by Hotch's apparent inability to broach the subject. It didn't help that his mere proximity was having the sort of affect on her that meant she may need to change her underwear as soon as they landed, "See if you can figure out what's wrong. I'll give you a hint; it happened in your office."

"Alright, that's enough," Hotch practically growled, and suddenly his hand was a vice around her arm. His grip was tight enough to hurt as he steered her towards the restroom. Emily thought for a moment that she was going to get what she needed to badly, that he was finally going to make good and get her off, but when he closed the door behind them, he turned to her not with an expression of desperate lust, but with one of absolute fury.

"What are you trying to do, Prentiss?" He asked, his voice low but furious, "Get us both fired?"

Emily, however, wasn't listening. Couldn't hear a word of what he was saying. All she was aware of was how little space there was between them in the tiny cubible of the Jet's restroom. Her lower back was pressed against the sink, his against the door and yet she could still feel his breath on her face as he spoke to her. They weren't quite touching, but she could feel the heat from his skin, hear the brush of fabric as his suit jacket grazed her shirt. The scent of his cologue, always so subtle, was suddenly heady and overwhelming. It would take days for her to get the scent of him out of her head.

That damn shirt, Hotch thought.

Once more he was having to actively try and keep his eyes on hers. In his peripheral vision, he could see her chest move with each deep, steadying breath she took, and her tight shirt did little to cover the curves of her incredible breasts. The swell of her alabaster skin was bare before his eyes, and Hotch longed to see the rest of them. How many times had he dreamt of those breasts? He had caught himself on more than one occasional staring brazenly at Emily's chest. On the jet, at the Bureau, on assignment. Nights out with the team were the worst. Seeing her in work attire was one thing. Seeing her all dressed up was another thing entirely; more than once Hotch had found himself in club restrooms, trousers around his ankles, desperately tugging at himself to climax, all the while thinking of her, just so he could go back and face the team without a raging boner drawing their eyes.

If Emily had known the turmoil going on inside of Hotch's mind, she would have dropped to her knee's for him right there and then. She could see the cogs in his head turning, and the fact that he stoically didn't break eye contact with her once told her the effect she was having on him, again.

"No, I don't want to get either of us fired," she clarified, unnecessarily, turning away from him under the pretense of washing her hands. The reality was she couldn't stand him staring at her like that and not doing anything about it. He, too, appreciated the relief when she turned away. Though, presented now with her behind, his eyes were drawn to appreciate her figure as she bent slightly to wash her hands. It was a position he had imagined her in many times, though decidedly less clothed.

It wasn't quite a moan. More an exhale. But Emily heard it. Her eyes flitted up to the mirror in time to see Hotch drag his eyes away from her ass and immediately she felt a fresh, hot wave of wetness in her underwear.

"Oh, fuck this," Emily muttered, aloud. She bent further over the sink and sighed with vindicated satisfaction when her ass came into contact with the growing bulge in Hotch's pants. His hands were immediately on her hips, as though it were an involuntary movement, and the feeling of his fingers digging into her was as delicious as it was painful.

"Prentiss, we can't," Hotch was saying, though even as he spoke she could feel him begin to grind slowly against her. Even through their clothes, Emily could feel his growing hardness, and the feel of it nestled between her ass cheeks was intoxicating. "We shouldn't."

"No, we shouldn't, sir" Emily agreed with him, closing her eyes and moving her hips slowly, deliberately over his crotch. Hotch's hands tightened around her hips, gripping her so tightly that Emily was sure she would have bruises when she checked later. She was holding onto the sink, pushing back against him.

The angle was awkward, the lack of space less than ideal, but neither of them cared as Hotch rutted against her ass. Emily needed more, unable to angle herself well against him in the small space. She fought with the button of her trousers, undoing it to allow enough give for her to shove her hand into her drenched underwear as Hotch moved one hand from her hip to circle it around her waist, holding her ever more tightly against. Her clit had been screaming for attention for so long that it took barely a stroke before her legs were shaking and Hotch's hand was clamped over her mouth, muffling the desperate moan escaping her throat.

As she came against him, Hotch couldn't take it any longer. He felt the tightness as his balls clenched, and it was all he could do to growl her name into her ear, "Fuck, Prentiss," as he came, violently, into his boxers.

For a moment they remained like that. Hotch held her against him, one hand clamped over her mouth, the other wrapped tightly around her waist. Emily could feel him growing soft against her ass, as well as his hot breath against her ear. As her breathing slowed, Hotch's hand fell away from her mouth, trailing down her throat, across her chest. He, too, was trying to catch his breath. When he stepped away from her, Emily felt the cold seep back in. Her hand was still down her pants, and, where moments ago she had felt sexy and validated, now, she felt embarassed by her desperation. She hoped he wasn't looking at her as she withdrew her hand from her trousers, turning on the tap to wash her hands.

Hotch's hand reached from behind her and turned the tap off. Catching his eye in the mirror, Emily saw a darkness in his eyes. Where she had expected shame and anger, she saw only heat. Hotch took hold of her wrist, turning her around and Emily watched, unable to speak and barely able to breathe, as Hotch brought her fingers to his mouth. He didn't break eye contact as he sucked her fingers clean, tasting her. Emily had never seen anything so erotic and she knew the image would be one that haunted her on late, lonely nights.

"Wait a few minutes." Was all Hotch said before he disappeared out of the restroom. Emily waited longer than a few minutes. It took her longer than that just to get her breath back. Her underwear was a mess, but there was nothing to be done about that until they got to the hotel. Checking her hair and her lipstick in the mirror, Emily was satisfied that her appearance would give nothing away.

She was even more relieved, when she left the bathroom, to see Hotch sitting beside Rossi. He didn't even look up at her as she made her way back to her seat and returned to hiding behind her casefile. She didn't even see the exchange of confused expressions that passed between JJ and Spencer.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

The rest of the plane ride was uncomfortable to say the least. Not only was Emily sitting in her own wet underwear, but she had to fight the urge to look around at Hotch and check whether he was looking at her. Not that she even really needed to check. She could feel the burn of his eyes on the skin of her neck.

The reality of what they had done set in shortly after she returned from the restroom, and she could feel the redness in her cheeks as she remembered each moment, each feeling, each movement in vivid detail. Knowing she was going to have to face him when they got off the plane was unbearable, and all too soon, the fasten seat belt sign was flashing at them, and they were descending.

Hotch tried to keep his eyes off of her. He had never been very successful in that endeavour before, and he was even less so now, with the memory of her face in the mirror as she rubbed herself against him embossed onto the inside of his eyelids. Even when he looked away from her, she was all he could see. All he wanted to see. And he wanted to see more of her.

It was dark when they landed. Once again, they had to split up into two separate cars for the half-hour drive to the hotel. Emily purposefully dragged her feet, pretending to search for something in her bag. She wanted to watch which car Hotch got into, and then she would make a beeline for the other. Hotch, however, allowed the rest of them to climb into the first car, then moved to the second. Walking towards the first car, Emily saw that Rossi, Morgan, Spencer, JJ had already climbed in, and with the driver in the front, there was no room for her. Swiftly changing her course, Emily glared at Hotch.

"What are you doing?" She asked, under her breath, as she neared him. He stood, holding the door for her. His face was unreadable.

"We need to talk," He muttered, climbing into the car behind her and closing the door.

"We really don't." Emily protested, but she saw by the expression on his face that this was one of his many non-negotiables.

The only relief for Emily was that the screen between them and the driver was closed. She didn't want this conversation to be overheard by anybody, at all. She couldn't imagine what he wanted to say to her. She, for one, had absolutely no comment to make about what had conspired in the restroom aboard the jet. It was an event she was willing to let fade into their past. A memory she would take out, late at night, and relive. As she thought it, she felt fresh wetness down below.

"That can't happen again," Hotch was muttering. He wasn't looking at her now. He was staring straight ahead. This, if Emily remembered correctly, was similar to how their last conversation had begun. And, well, that hadn't exactly gone to Hotch's plan. For that reason, Emily remained silent. She wasn't about to make any promises that might end up being broken. Because, whether or not she had made her mind up to avoid him, Emily couldn't trust her willpower any more than she could trust his. "I can't take the risk."

"The implication being that I can?" She rounded on him, challenging him.

"Prentiss," He turned those eyes on her, and Emily could see a secret there. When he spoke, it was quieter than before, as though he didn't quite believe that the driver couldn't hear them. "I'm up for assistant director."

A multitude of emotions shot through Emily all at once. She felt impressed, proud and happy for him, all at once. Stronger than any of those emotions, however, was the sense of loss that had immediately settled between them. If Hotch became the FBI's assistant director, he would no longer be their team leader. He wouldn't be around everyday. She wouldn't see him everyday. She tried not to let all of those passing emotions show on her face, but couldn't stop the panic that flickered across her eyes.

He didn't need to be a profiler to judge her expression. It was a minute change; barely a flicker in her eyes, but Hotch saw it. She would miss him. She was happy for him, but she would miss him. He would miss her, too, truth be told. More than she would know.

"It's not finalised yet," He continued, "It's all still very under the table. There are two other candidates, but I haven't even been told who they are. But, if I'm successful, I was asked to recommend my successor. I recommended you, Prentiss. There's no one else for the job."

This time, Emily couldn't contain her expression. He saw, clear as day, the surprise and then the pride that lit her face from within, along with something like gratitude. Then her eyes darkened once more. She nodded, reluctantly.

"I get it," She admitted, still nodding. "This could screw everything up for the both of us."

He nodded, slowly, deliberately. He wanted to tell her that, without the external circumstances, he'd have her every which way. He wanted to tell her that his attraction to her went so far back, further back, even, than the very first time she'd walked into his office. Ever since the first time he'd seen her. She was back from Yale, he was working for her mother. They'd had barely a passing interaction. She, twenty-one and glowing, had bounded into the lounge, in tiny, denim shorts, a red university sweatshirt and her dark hair fastened in a high ponytail that swished, exuberantly, when she walked. Sometimes, that was how he still imagined her, when she featured in his dreams. He imagined her, twenty-one, all eyes and hair, light and airy, writhing beneath him in passionate bliss. He imagined holding that ponytail, pulling it hard, while he pounded into her from behind.

His mind had strayed, and he couldn't help the effect it was having on him. Suddenly a little lightheaded, he felt the tightness of his slacks once more. Closing his eyes, he turned his face away from Emily and ran a hand over his face. Think of anything else, you fucking idiot. But now that the image was in his head, and he could smell her perfume due to their closeness in the car, he couldn't get the image, so carefully crafted as it had been over the years, of Emily on all fours in front of him, as he fucked her, holding tight onto that fucking ponytail.

Emily saw the internal struggle he was going through. At first, she didn't understand. It was only when she glanced down and saw the outline of his straining cock through his trousers that she understood. She wanted to know what he was thinking about, what could get him so hard, but, even more than that, she wanted to see it.

He heard the rustle of fabric, and suddenly the smell of her perfume was even stronger. He couldn't quite believe it when he felt a hand on his trousers. He didn't protest, as Emily unzipped them, and took out his rapidly growing cock.

"The last time, I promise," She mumbled,into his ear, so close that her warm breath tickled his skin, "Just let me help you with this."

Hotch didn't have it in him to protest as he felt her hand begin to caress him, gentle at first. She was stroking him, softly. Without warning, she gripped the base of his cock tightly. His hips thrust, of their own accord, and the groan that escaped his lips was deep and animalistic.

"Prentiss," He growled.

Emily barely heard him, mesmerised as she was by the sight of his cock. How they had found themselves in this situation for the third time in one day, Emily didn't know, but nor was she about to question it. If it was to be the last time, she at least had something to visualise, when her fantasies of him visited her. He was hot and hard and thick in her hand, and Emily's clit throbbed, excited and neglected all at once. He was bigger than she had expected. It was so pretty. Plump and pink, the head straining, drops of precum forming. Emily's mouth watered as she worried him faster. He was groaning, his fist balled against his mouth, teeth digging into his finger. Emily worked him harder, faster.

"I know you like that, Hotch," Biting his ear, she heard his breath come faster, "Now, cum for me."

"Fuck," Hotch thought he had hit his peak when she said that, but as his balls tightened, he felt a warmth engulf his cock and couldn't keep his eyes closed any longer. The sight of Emily going down on him, the feel of his cock slamming into the back of her throat, the ability to run his hands through her hair and fuck her mouth, as his cock exploded deep into her throat, was all better than he ever could have imagined. He had to be fucking dreaming. "Prentiss!"

Emily loved the power she had over him in that moment. She always had. She loved the way he growled her name, loved the way he fisted his hands into her hair. He pounded into her throat, and Emily felt her gag reflex engage, but fought it off, feeling the heat as Hotch came, deep in her throat. She had to push him away and gasp for air. His cum splattered across her face and chest, hot and sticky and wet, and Emily took him in her mouth once more, sucking mercilessly, milking the last of his cum out of his cock.

When he was finished, and she could feel him slowly softening in her mouth, Emily sat up. Hotch was red, and sweating, and looking at her with an expression of disbelief and reverence.

"Fuck," Was all he said, before he reached into his pocket and handed her a handkerchief. "Clean yourself up."

He watched as another image he knew would feature in his dreams forever unfolded before his eyes. The sight of Emily wiping his cum off her face and chest was one he wasn't going to forget quickly. He could feel his cock twitch pathetically, spent, but aroused. She was quiet for a long moment, but when she handed him back the handkerchief, there was a smirk of satisfaction on her lips.

She met his eyes, and he saw a twinkle of something like smugness there. "It's bigger than I expected," She complimented him, cheekily. Hotch couldn't find the words to respond to what had just happened. He wiped himself down and tucked his cock away, zipping his trousers.

"It can't happen again, Prentiss," He told her, though he didn't know if he was telling her or himself.

Emily said nothing as she fixed her hair, but the smirk of satisfaction remained on her face until they arrived at the hotel. The car stopped and Hotch climbed out first, holding the door for her. This time, when she brushed against him, it was on purpose.

"Thanks for the recommendation, chief," She said, darkly, and she turned and walked into the hotel without looking back.




Chapter Text

Chapter Five

A few hours later found Hotch in his hotel room, pacing back and forth, unable to get the visual of Emily Prentiss wiping herself down after going down on him out of his mind. His throat was tight, and he yanked the tie from his neck, throwing it onto the bed, where it lay with his previously discarded blazer, and undoing the top few buttons of his shirt.

Even more infuriating than the fact that she wouldn't leave his mind was the memory of the satisfied smirk that settled on her lips after she'd swallowed him down. He groaned, aloud, as the feeling of her throat constricting around him came back. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Hotch dropped his head into his hands. He was supposed to be getting ready to go down for dinner with the team, but he knew he couldn't leave this room and face Emily while his cock was threatening to spring back to life imminently. He hadn't been so consistently aroused in so long. He wasn't as young as he had once been; it was as though Emily had given him a new lease of life. Or, at least, she had reminded him of a time when he was younger, less inhibited and more sexually unbridled.

Looking up, Hotch's eyes fell on the door that separated his from the bathroom. In that bathroom, there was a second door. And, on the other side of that door, Emily.

His dick twitched, eager and insistent. He adjusted his trousers, which were growing uncomfortably tight for the fourth time that day. Unbelievable as it was, Hotch couldn't help but be impressed, both with himself, and with Emily's ability to get him so hard up.

"Here are your cards," JJ had said, handing one to Emily, then the last to Hotch. "Rooms 203 and 204."

Hotch glanced at her, but Emily's eyes didn't even flicker towards him as she smiled at JJ and took the key-card from her with a quiet word of thanks.

"Dinner in half an hour?" Spencer suggested, as they all made their way into the lift. Hotch purposefully stood as far from Emily as he could. This happened to be further back in the lift than she was and, unfortunately, he could clearly see the back of her head, where her black hair shimmered in the light of the lift. He knew what her hair felt like, now. He knew how soft it was, what it smelt like, and how to twist his fingers through it while she went down on him.

"Hotch?" Rossi was talking to him, speaking in a tone that suggested he had repeated his name several times. They were all looking at him. His eyes scanned across them and found hers. Thar fucking smirk. It was infuriating. Her eyes twinkled with mischief, her lips curled, cheekily. "Italian?"

"Sure," he responded, absently. He didn't care where they went to eat, he just wanted to get out of this suddenly uncomfortably hot lift.

Now, he cared very much where they went to eat. He didn't want to go at all but, having agreed to it, he felt it would seem odd if he just didn't turn up. Even if he text Rossi with a message to say he wouldn't be comjng, there would be questions he couldn't answer. Rossi was always telling him he needed to be more social, he would try to convince him, then there would be more unnecessary excuses. It would be much simpler, if much more uncomfortable, to just go to dinner and subtly avoid Emily as best as he could.

Of course, as soon as he exited his hotel room, having hurriedly changed into a more casual shirt, blazer and jeans (which he fully expected to regret later), he heard the click of the door beside his and out came Emily. She didn't notice him at first, bscking out of her room and locking it behind her. She, too, had opted for casual jeans. Hotch very much doubted that his jeans made his arse look that good. The deep, blue fabric hugged the orbs of her ass so tightly, accentuating the curve of her hips and the definition of her muscles.

She jumped when she turned and saw him standing there, and Hotch had time to relocate his eyes to a more socially acceptable level. Even looking into her deep, brown eyes was erotic; he knew they were both remembering the last time they were alone together. As he looked at her, he saw the colour in her cheeks deepen. She looked almost shy, and he marvelled at how one woman could be so brazen and so timid all at once.

Say something, an insistent voice in his head demanded, say anything you idiot.

"You look nice," was the first thing that came to his mind, and he regretted it immediately. Never before had he commended on her appearance. He liked to maintain a sense of professionalism, and complimenting his female subordinate agents was tip-toeing on a line that he had never wanted to cross. Although, as he thought it, he realised that the line had been considered, crossed and disregarded hours ago.

The abashed expression didn't quite leave her face, but a sort of amused smile lifted the corners of her mouth. He liked that little smile, and found himself smiling back.

"Hotch," She said, stepping towards him.

He tensed, waiting, in both anticipation and apprehension, for her next move.

"We should go to dinner," she finished, and indicated that he was standing directly in her way. He stammered, moved aside, and fell in step beside her as they headed for the lift.

They travelled downstairs in silence, though Hotch could feel the tension in the lift grow thicker and thicker with each passing floor. He didn't know if she was feeling it too, though he expected (and, though he would never have admitted it, rather hoped) she was. Emily, however, made no sign that she was uncomfortable at all, occasionally throwing him a polite smile, but offering up no more communication. To his annoyance, Hotch found himself almost disappointed when they reached the ground floor. She was obviously taking her earlier statement seriously.

"The last time, I promise."

Her breathless, throaty voice speaking those words in his mind made his cock twitch in his jeans. He had known he would regret that fashion choice. Following her out of the lift did not help. Try as he might, he couldn't keep his eyes from straying down to her ass as she swayed towards the restaurant.

What was this woman doing to him? Before, his urges and desires had been strictly imaginary, and restricted to his bed or shower, or, at the very least, his private time. He would be lying to himself if he didn't admit the few times it had gotten too much for him at the office. There had been times when he'd had no choice but to lock his office door, while that delightful memory of a twenty-one year old Emily visited him. More often than not, she would morph before his eyes and before him stood the Emily Prentiss of the BAU. No longer as light and airy, but just as much of a temptres. That youthful innocent was gone, replaced by a knowing seductress, whose dark eyes followed him across rooms and whose lowcut tops haunted his sleepless nights and whose perfect, peachy arse he couldn't stop staring at as he followed her into the restaurant and towards their table.

Of course, when they arrived, the only two seats left were beside one another. He and Emily slipped into the spare seats wordlessly, neither of them making any sort of fuss. It just wouldn't do to cause any tension for the team. These people were more than a team; they were family, though Hotch would always be reluctant to admit it to any or them. He would gladly take a bullet for any of them, but the idea of admitting that aloud to any of them was more excruciating than the hypothetical bullet would be. And, much as he knew they all felt the same way, knowing what was happening between the two of them was sure to cause ripples, if not waves. What had happened, he corrected himself. Had. Had, had, had, has. It would not, could not, happen again. They both understood that now, and there was too much on the line for the both of them. Pleasurable as their encounters had been, aroused as they made him when he thought of them, they were not worth risking the careers they had both worked for years to build.

Much of dinner went by without any notable incidents. They didn't discuss the case. They never did when they sat down to dinner together. There was a sort of unspoken agreement between them all that they not talk about the gory details of any of their cases in public or over dinner. Nobody else wanted to hear that while they were eating, and nor did they. One meal a day where they could avoid discussing serial killers and dead bodies was the least they could give to each others. Not to mention, it would be quite unprofessional of them to discuss the inside outs of a federal case in such a public space.

Hotch zoned out of much of the conversation. He politely nodded along, but he wasn't listening to a word any of them were saying. He was too aware of Emily beside him, the heady scent of that same perfume she had worn in the car, and the way her arm kept brushing up against his own as they navigated their way through their meal. The more it happened, the more he began to think she was doing it on purpose. Testing the wtaers, the next time her arm brushed against his, he pushed back. Slightly, barely a movement, but he saw her eyes flicker towards him, up from her meal. He smirked to himself, unable to stop the curve of his lips. Catching the same smile on her face, Hotch quickly distracted himself with a gulp of his beer, pretending to be suddenly interested in the story JJ was telling about the boys.

"Did Jack ever go through a phase like that, Hotch?" She asked him, as the rest of them chuckled around the table. All but Emily.

Hotch, having missed the firat bit of the story, and therefore unable to answer honestly, regarded her amused expression and then smiled. "Don't worry," he gambled, "They grow out of it."

JJ looked satisfied with his answer and Hotch breathed an internal sigh of relief at having gotten off so lightly.

As soon as it was acceptable, which was about fifteen minutes after their desert plates had been taken away, Hotch stood up.

"I'm going to head to bed," he told them, "Don't be up too late, I expect we've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Emily knock back the final sip of her wine, then she followed him to her feet. "I'll head up with you, I'm absolutely beat."

No one made any comment, and nor would they, since they were all oblivious to anything having changed between the two of them, but Hotch felt his heart jump in his chest, fear momentarily choking him. But, of course, they barely noticed. Bidding them all goodnight, he and Emily made their way towards the lift. She walked beside him this time, and Hotch was grateful for that. After two beers, and a whole day of new experiences with her, he didn't trust his ability to keep his hands to himself.

As they walked away, neither of them noticed the way JJ's eyes flickered to them, ever so slightly creased with suspicion.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

The lift seemed to take forever to make it down to the ground floor. He and Emily stood, their reflections in the glass wall of the elevators making it impossible to ignore each other. Again, just like on the way down, Emily was quiet. She knew it was starting to drove Hotch crazy. At the same time, though, she didn't know exactly what to say or do. He was up for Director. She knew him well enough, and had known him long enough, to understand that Hotch was a man who lived for his career. He had paid for that with Hayley's life, all those years ago, and had never gotten over it. Now, Emily knew how much Hotch loved Jack. She had seen it on his face as he beat Foyet to death, as he spoke at his wife's funeral, and everytime before and since that he had spoken about his little boy. But he had never left the BAU. No matter the circumstances. Even after Hayley. He was still here. He was more married to the office than he ever had been to her. Yes, he had loved her. Emily didn't doubt it. But he hadn't loved her enough. Doing his job, catching the bad guys, making the world a safer place for his son, was the most important thing in his life. Emily knew he wouldn't jeopardize that for anything. And she wouldn't expect him to.

And, as for her, never before had she allowed a man to come between her and achieving her career goals. Happy as she was at the BAU, happy as they all were, there would come a point for them all where career progression was the only step that made sense. She didn't want to threaten her chances at becoming Unit Chief any more than he wanted to risk being made Director.

And yet she couldn't deny the way her body reacted when she saw him. When she remembered the feel of him. The taste. It was all she could do not to groan aloud as she remembered.

Right at that moment, the lift arrived. Dinging open before them, Hotch, ever the gentleman, gestured for her to go first. She strode into the lift and, as she did so, caught her heel on the carpet.

"Fuck," she muttered, bending over to adjust her shoe.

Three things happened simultaneously. Hotch crashed into her from behind, grabbed for her hips, and Emily gasped, the almost-groan she had supressed escaping her throat. If not for the arm that wrapped around her waist, she would have fallen and smacked her head on the floor.

"I'm sorry," they said, in unison. She was apologising for stopping in front of him without warning. He was apologising for grabbing hold of her.

He still had hold of her.

Emily had straightened up, and Hotch's arm had remained around her waist. The other hand still held onto her hip, hot against the sliver of skin that showed between her jeans and her shirt.

It was the first time that either of them noticed the mirrored back of the lift.

This was all too familiar. Only, there was much more room in this lift than there had been in the jet's restroom. There was silence yet again. Emily didn't move. She help Hotch's gaze in the mirror, barely breathing. Waiting, with baited breath, for him to let her go. Watching him, seeing the internal struggle in his eyes. He was hard against her ass. He knew she could feel it. Still, Emily didn't move. She didn't want to force his hands. No, she desperately wanted to force his hands. He'd had twice as much release as her today. He owed her one. But she didn't move.

"Hotch," she breathed, eyes glued to his in the mirrored surface. She watched his eyes close, slowly. He turned his head, burying his face in her hair, and Emily heard him inhale, deeply. The rise of his chest against her back was so intimate, Emily closed her eyes, enjoying the closeness of him. This was different to the jet, different to the car. Hotch's face was still buried in her hair when his hands started to move.

The hand around her waist moved slowly. So slowly. The tips of his fingers grazed her skin, barely fluttering, so light that she squirmed, his touch tickling her. She felt, more than heard, the chuckle that Hotch breathed into her hair. She felt a gush of excitement flood her underwear.

He was drawing patterns across her stomach, feeling her abs flex beneath his touch as she writhed, enjoying the light sensation of his fingers over her skin. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, his hand crept upwards, until it was entirely beneath her shirt. Up towards her ribs, where he once again stopped to draw patterns of swirls and waves.

He wouldn't ever tell her that he was writing his name across her skin.

"Hotch," his name was becoming a constant whine from her throat. He grunted, animalistically. Something about the way she breathed his name, so pleading and demanding at the same time, drove him crazy.

His hand stayed at her rips, barely grazing the bottom of her breast. Much as he ached to feel them, see them, suck them into his mouth and drive her as crazy as she was driving him, he knew that the torment of making her wait was worse for Emily. So while his right hand remained frozen at her ribs, his left began to move slowly downwards. She gasped when she realised what he was doing, and he thought he heard her breathe, "yes," desperately. His cock was straining, painfully, in his jeans, and he moved it slowly against her ass. Grinding against her was good. Being inside of her would be better. The thought made him growl into her hair, the scent and feel of her the only thing in the world he was aware of.

His fingers dipped beneath the belt of her jeans, and he felt the lace of her underwear. She whimpered, impatient and discontented, when his fingers didn't slide beneath the lace, but traced over it. He could feel her beneath it, smooth and soft and yielding.

Turning his face away from her hair, he caught her eyes in the mirror. They were dark and half-closed. Her skin was pale, making the flush of her cheeks even more wanted to watch her unravel.

Stroking her through her underwear, he could feel her wetness, sticky on the tips of his fingers.

"God, you're soaked," He muttered, more to himself than to Emily. She whimpered, though, in response, agreeing with him, unable to speak. In the mirror, he watched her bite her tongue as his fingers expertly found her clit, circling it once, twice, through the lace of her thong. "Shall I?"

She nodded, quickly and eagerly. Hotch had never been overly ambitious in the bedroom with Hayley. She was his childhood sweetheart. Their sex had been good, but safe, far from adventurous. With Emily, each encounter left him wanting more. He wanted to sink his fingers deep into her, wanted to feel her muscles tighten around him as she lost all control all over his hand. But, most of all, he wanted to make her beg for it.

Still swirling a finger around her clothed clit, he finally moved his other hand up, finally feeling the heavy weight of her breast in his hand. She wasn't wearing a bra this evening.

"Tease," he accused, enjoying the softness of her full breast, moving his hand up and feeling the stab of her erect nipples. He so wanted to taste them, but not as much as he wanted to make her beg. "What do you want?"

Emily could have lost it right there. She couldn't believe what he was saying to her. As one finger swirled around her bullet-hard nipple and the other teased her most sensitive button, Hotch's voice in her ear was asking her, "What do you want?"

He wants me to plead with him.

Pride flared inside her chest, but was quickly extinguished by a fresh gush of wetness that coated her. She wanted him there. She needed attention. Needed to be filled, by anything.

"You," she breathed.

"Hmm?" Hotch prompted, a smirk tracing across his face as she looked at him in the mirror.

"You, Hotch," she said, louder, "I want you. Please."

The please was all he wanted. Suddenly, swiftly, completely, his fingers were inside of her. She flinched at the sudden penetration, then the pleasure washed over her as he began his assault.

"Fuck, you're so wet," He was saying into her ear, while one hand moved frantically down below and the other pulled and tugged her sensitive nipples. Emily had never anticipated that Hotch would be one for dirty talk, but she gushed over his fingers each time he mumbled in her ear.

Staring at her in the mirror, Hotch didn't think he had ever seen anything as hot. She was fully clothed, yet the expression on her face as his fingers moved at bullet speed inside of her, the way she arched her back and pushed her tits into his hand, was too much for him. Hotch withdrew his hands, grabbed her arms and spun her around, slamming her back against the wall. He slammed her hands above her head with one hand, shoving the other back into her jeans, wanting her to stare into his eyes as she fell apart all over his fingers.

"Hotch," she pleaded, desperately. Her voice shook, and a tear leaked from one of her eyes.

Realising that from this angle, she could reach him, too, Emily grabbed for his cock, undoing his belt and releasing him from his denim prison. He groaned, uncontrolled, as she gripped him, matching the speed at which his hand moved inside of her. He flicked his thumb over her clit, and watched as her knees shook. Grinning to himself, he repeated the action. She was working him hard and fast, wanting to get him to the same place where she was. It didn't take long at all. Hotch had been ready to cum for her for hours. He could have cum for her immediately after she swallowed his second load of the day. She made him feel like a teenager again, with an endless wealth of spunk and energy, all thanks to her.

"Come on," he growled, his face close enough to hers that he could see the sweat that beaded in her hair line. Her lips shook, unable to form words, as he felt her walls tighten around his fingers, and his thumb worked quickly over her clit, "Yes, good girl, cum for me."

And she did. He felt the gush as she came over his hand. She let out a noise of pleasure he knew would haunt him, from deep inside her throat, and his cock exploded, shooting thick, white ropes across her stomach and her t-shirt, pleasure coarsing through his body as he watched her come apart all over his hand. He had never seen a more erotic sight than Emily's orgasm face.

They stood in silence for a moment. The encounter had taken less than a full elevator ride to floor 14, but it was as if time had slowed down for them. His hand was still inside of her; he could still feel the flex of her walls around him. He wondered if he would ever feel that glory on his cock.

"We should clean up," She whispered, not trusting her voice not to break if she spoke at a normal volume. But she didn't push him away.

Reluctantly, painfully, Hotch stepped away from her. The hand that withdrew from her jeans was soaked, her juices coating his entire hand.

As she watched, Hotch did one of the most erotic things Emily thought she had ever seen. He brought his hand to his lips and sucked her juices from his fingers, closing eyes as he enjoyed the taste of her. Emily's knees shook, her stomach tightening. Shit.

The doors dinged open not a moment later and Hotch hurriedly redid his belt and followed her out of the lift. Neither of them spoke. Hotch was hoping she would invite her into his bedroom, Emily was anticipating whether he would ask her to join him in his.

As they rounded the corner, they saw JJ unlocking her bedroom door.

"I'm exhausted," she told them, as they neared, "I followed you guys out but I must have just missed your lift."

Resigned to going to bed alone, Emily and Hotch both unlocked their doors as JJ said goodnight and disappeared into her own room. With one last glance over at him, Emily stepped into her bedroom and closed the door behind her, leaning against it and sliding a hand down into her jeans, ready to relive that elevator ride until the morning, and wishing Hotch had used more than just his fingers.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

Emily's night was far from restful. It was hot; the thin covers stuck to her damp skin. She had stripped down to nothing, but still felt as though she were on fire. At some point in the night (she thought maybe 3am) she got out of bed to open the windows, pulling on her discarded shirt but not bothering to fasten the buttons. Like many hotels, the windows were safety locked. They cracked open; it was barely two inches, but even then, she felt the benefit of the cool evening air seeping in through the gap.

The cool air grazed her skin like a welcome touch, and Emily closed her eyes in response. The city was surprisingly quiet, but Emily knew better than to believe that. Hotch wasn't the only thing keeping her awake. After considering it for a moment, Emily moved to where she had dropped her handbag. Rooting around with her hand, she found the cardboard box she was looking for and withdrew a cigarette and her lighter, and picked up the file she had dropped onto the side table.

The cigarette felt comfortable between her lips, but she waited until she was back at the window to light it. Perching on the window ledge, she thought of the reason they were here in Utah. The quiet streets below were deceptive; Emily couldn't help but wonder if they would have a new set of victims by morning. Flicking open the file, Emily read through everything she hadn't been able to focus on whilst on the plane. She had used the file to hide her face, had wanted to seem engrossed in it, but she hadn't actually read a word of it. Now, she buried herself in it, learning and relearning each aspect of the case.

The more she read, the more convinced she became that the unsub was actually a pair of unsubs. Hotch, she knew, was still unconvinced, but every additional piece of evidence only cemented her resolve. sign of forced could be easier to use a ruse to gain entry into the houses as part of a team, and easier to subdue two victims if the numbers were even.

...both victims were restrained, their wrists and ankles fastened together with cable ties...if there was only one unsub, it would have been difficult for them to control one victim while restraining the other. sign of head trauma or antemortem injuries...again, if they were both restrained (and this was a signature that occurred in each murder scene) then the only way to restrain both at the same time would be to subdue one of them first. There was no evidence of this.

By the time her cigarette had burnt to a stub and she had finished reading through the file, Emily was only more certain of her theory.

The challenge was going to be convincing Hotch.

Several hours later, after finally getting some sleep, Emily was ready to make her way down to breakfast. This time, when she exited her hotel room, she wasn't greeted by Hotch, but by JJ.

"Morning," The blonde smiled, "I thought we could walk down to breakfast together."

"Sure," Emily replied, returning the smile as she locked her door and they began making their way towards the elevator. "How did you sleep?"

"Fine, but I think the AC in my room is broken." JJ complained.

"Yeah, mine was off, too. I ended up having to crack the windows. Maybe it's the whole floor. I'll ask Hotch later."

Emily spoke without thinking, and even after she said it, she didn't think anything of the words that had left her lips. Of course, whenever she thought or spoke of Hotch, she remembered the feeling of his fingers working frantically inside of her, but JJ couldn't know that. JJ wasn't inside of her head. So, why was JJ looking at her like that?

They waited for the elevator in silence. JJ wasn't looking at her anymore, but Emily had seen enough confusion in the blue eyes she knew so well that it made her uneasy. When they stepped into the elevator, she didn't think she would be able to stomach her breakfast anymore.

"Oh, Jayje,will you just say it?" She asked, desperately, when the silence became too much.

JJ had been her best friend for almost a decade; the silence was loaded. Emily wanted all cards on the table, at least with JJ. Anything but the silence.

"Is there something going on between you and Hotch?" JJ blurted out. Emily stared at her friends reflection in the mirrored wall. She remembered standing here last night, staring at Hotch in the same mirror. And suddenly, even if she had wanted to, she couldn't lie to JJ.

"I don't know what's going on between us," She said, honestly, "So I guess something pretty much covers it."

JJ's face changed. It wasn't quite relief, but it was something close. Even if she didn't have the entire truth, her best friend wasn't keeping secrets. Emily could have lied to her face, but she didn't. For now, that was enough for JJ. She didn't need need to know what was going on between Hotch and Emily. They were adults, they were single. They could, as far as she was concerned, do what they wanted. As long as neither of them let it get in the way of their work, and JJ hoped she knew them both better than that, she didn't think it was any of her business. They were both still young, both smoking hot. It made a lot of sense, now that she thought about it. Still, curiosity got the better of her.

"I sense some juicy details," She smirked, and Emily blushed a deep rose, trying to conceal the embarrassed smile that spread, involuntarily, across her face. "Ah-ha, I'm right!"

"I am not getting into this right now," Emily laughed, stepping out of the elevator as they arrived at the ground floor. That ride had felt much longer last night. Not that she was complaining.

"You're right," JJ muttered, as they entered the dining room and made their way to the table, where the rest of the team were already digging into their breakfast, "We'll save that for a wine night."

Emily was saved from having to reply as they arrived at the table and took their seats. JJ got up to immediately get her breakfast, but Emily busied herself with pouring them both a cup of coffee. Two sugars and milk for JJ. She, herself, liked her coffee bitter and black.

"Tired, princess?" Morgan noted, as she spooned a second spoonful of coffee grounds into her cup. She had been in the profession long enough,that even the worst instant coffee didn't put her off.

"My room was sweltering; JJ said the same. What was yours like Hotch?" She asked. JJ had just arrived back at the table with a plate of toast and eggs, and a side dish of grapefruit for Emily. She thanked her and passed the coffee over the table.

"Mine was fine," Hotch muttered, in between spoonfuls of porridge, "But I still couldn't sleep."

Emily saw JJ cast a glance towards her, but didn't dare meet her eyes. Hotch didn't look at her, but Emily couldn't help but wonder if there was a subtle message in his comment, or if she was just treading too much into it. Perhaps telling JJ hadn't been one of her brightest ideas. The blonde hid her smile behind a sip of coffee, and Emily busied herself with the rest of her breakfast while Morgan, Reid and Rossi launched into a discussion about the day ahead of them.

Thankfully, Emily found herself with neither JJ nor Hotch that morning. Instead, she and Rossi headed to the morgue.

No matter how many times she walked into one of these places, Emily was never prepared for the smell. It seemed that the more vapor rub she used, the less it worked. It wasn't the smell of death; this was something different. She had walked into crime scenes before, she had seen desecrated corpses before, but the smell of a morgue and the sterile, stillness of it was something else entirely.

Rossi did most of the talking, for which she was grateful. The coroner led them into the room and Emily was confronted by four bodies lying on the cool, metal slabs. Another sight she would never get used to, no matter how many times she had seen it, or how many times in the future she would see the same sight. It was, she knew, easy to become desensitised to such sights. She had met agents who barely blinked at the sight of a dead body. Hotch. She had seen him stare at a murder victim. Sometimes, his eyes barely flickered. Sometimes, she worried about that.

She and Rossi followed the coroner to the body furthest away from them. Emily tried not to look at the faces of the deceased as she passed them. She would have to look at them, closely, soon enough. She had a strong stomach; she had always been strong enough for this. But, each time she had to stare into the face of a murder victim, she felt like she lost a little bit of her humanity.

The first body, the female victim from the first murders, was covered up to her neck. They all were. Emily didn't look away as the coroner moved the sheet down, revealing a deep, dark gash across the woman's pale throat. The wound was dry now, but Emily could still see where the unsub had sliced straight through muscle, fat and tendon, right the way down to the bone. The cut was deep.

"No hesitation marks," Rossi said, though he needn't have. Emily nodded, nonetheless.

"And with a wound like that, the unsub didn't have to be so vicious. Chances of survival after having your throat cut are next to none; he enjoyed it. That's why it's so violent." Emily had seen enough from this victim. The coroner covered her up and they moved on.

"His wounds are shallower," She commented, immediately upon seeing them. The channel that had been etched into the husband's throat hadn't ripped quite as deep. There were shallower cuts, still, running this way and that. Hesitation marks. "Here, the unsub seems to lose some of their confidence."

The second couple told the same story. Her wound was deep. It felt almost personal. The unsub had tried to inflict maximum damage. The husband's wound was definitely more confident than the first husband, but still, it was evident that whoever had taken the knife to his throat had done so with some hesitation.

"There's an absence of rage in the killing's of the husbands," Rossi was saying, "The unsub kills the wives with such savagery, but seems almost reluctant to turn the knife on the husbands."

Emily looked across at Rossi, raising an eyebrow, challenging, almost. Inside, a warm smugness was coursing through her chest, and she had to acknowledge that, given the circumstances, now was hardly the time for smugness. In fact, it was rather inappropriate. But, she couldn't wait to tell him.

"Yeah," Rossi agreed, without her having to say the words, "Hotch has some apologising to do."

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

Emily watched the muscle in Hotch's jaw jump as they spoke. His arms were folded tight across his chest, his feet positioned at 10 and 2, his eyes focusing entirely Dave as they explained what they had found. He looked like Hotch always did. Except for that muscle that was repeatedly pulsing. It began in the hollow of his cheek, where his bone were chiselled and travelled down to his jawline, where his stubble had started to come through. He hadn't looked at her once since they entered the office that the local police force had set up for them to work out of. JJ and Spence were still at the latest crime scene, though they had not long called to say they would be heading back soon. Morgan was nodding along with everything Dave was saying.

"And, going through the report again last night, there were several other things I picked up on that-"

"How do we know the unsub isn't simply taking all of his rage out on the wives because of rage he harbours for a maternal figure in his own life?" Hotch cut across her and Emily choked down her words, eyes growing wide with indignation as anger flared in her chest. She steadied herself, remaining quiet while he spoke, when what she desperately wanted to do was tell him to shut up and listen.

"There is always that possibility," Morgan agreed, "Maybe the wives were the targets all along. The husbands could just be collateral damage; in the way and needing to be taken out of the equation. It might have nothing to do with them at all."

"Then why are they dead?" Emily challenged him. Seeing Morgan's expression, the way his dark brow furrowed, she knew she had snapped at him. Knew it wasn't his fault she was mad. Knew she had to reign it in and be professional. "I just mean," she continued, more gently, "that we've seen cases like this before where only one spouse, the prime target, was murdered. If he didn't want to kill the husbands, he didn't have to. It feels, like Rossi said, like two killers. Not one unsub working alone."

She glanced at Hotch, who was staring down at the floor. She could practically hear the cogs turning inside his brain, trying to find another way to spin this so she wouldn't be right.

"And, as I was saying, while going through the report last night, there were several other things that only made me feel more strongly that we've got a team here."

"We think so, too," JJ announced, as she and Spence walked through the door.

"The message on the wall was angry, full of rage and violent," Reid explained, as he pinned several photographs up onto the board, "But the handwriting is hesitant. See where it trails off at the end? Where some letters have been started, but barely finished?"

"We think our couple is a male and a female. We think he's telling her what to write and she's following his orders." JJ explained.

"It would make sense," Rossi agreed with her, "If he's killing the wives, that correlates with the rage behind the messages they leave behind."

"And if he's forcing her to kill the husbands and write the messages, that explains why both show signs of hesitation." Emily was more grateful to Reid and JJ in that moment than she thought she ever had been before. Hotch still wasn't looking at her, but he was nodding.

Relief flooded through Emily, but with it came indignance. Some of the anger still remained, too. Only yesterday, he had told her he'd recommended her to lead the unit if he was promoted. Now he was questioning her judgement and second guessing her in front of the team, undermining each theory she came up with and cutting across her sentences. The rage she felt was familiar and, with a lurch, she remembered the scene in his office. It was with a sickening feeling in her stomach that Emily wondered if that was why Hotch was acting this way. Did he think that if he got her all riled up and angry again, then he could get into her pants? The thought was ludicrous and, yet, Emily couldn't help but wonder, as she looked at Hotch. Finally, his eyes found hers. They weren't angry or lustful, but they were full of a sort of curiosity. She almost wanted to ask him what the hell was going on, but the last time she'd done that, they hadn't gotten very far by the way of an answer.

Hotch was spared from having to respond to any of them with more than a nod when one of the officers came into the room. His face was grave; they all knew what he was going to say before the words had left his lips.

"We've had a third break in. Three dead." He said, to their surprise.


"One of our Ubsubs." Hotch said, with a solemn and low voice, as they looked down at the body.

The other two victims told the story they were familiar with; her would was deep and personal, her own shallow, even more hesitant this time.

"It took a long time for her to bleed out," They had been told by the paramedic, "The other woman was dead before she was."

JJ closed her eyes against the images, but they were already in her head. She pondered over the situation, and how their Unsub had ended up as one of their victims.

"What are you thinking?" Hotch asked, looking at her curiously.

"I'm thinking he lost patience with her. Clearly he's got a lot more anger than her and f she wasn't... performing as well as he had hoped, he could have gotten irritated one too many times and..." She gestured to the covered body on the floor between them.
Hotch was nodding. "I had the same theory. Lets take it back to the team and see what they think."

"Our dearly departed lady unsub is Miranda Lipa," Garcia's melodic voice omitted from the tablet in the middle of the table, "Here's the rub guys; she's squeaky clean. Married, mother of two, receptionist for a law firm downtown. I know I'm not a profiler, but there is nothing here that screams psychopathic killer to me, anyone else?"

Food wrappers littered the table. Emily sucked absently on the straw of her milkshake as Morgan spoke to the tablet.

"Baby girl did you say married? Do we think the second partner is the husband?" He put to the group.

"I knew you'd say that so I dug into him and he is also squeaky clean, aside from a couple of sneaky credit card bills that I get the feeling Mrs. Lipa didn't know anything about. And he has an alibi; he was at work all morning." Penelope always had the answers, before the questions had even entered any of their heads.

"Whoa, whoa, backtrack," JJ said, setting down her cup and leaning forwards, "Go back to the credit card bills. Why wouldn't she know about them?"

"Well, that is unless he was spending several nights a month with her at five star hotels, and in which case she was a very lucky woman. But if that had been the case, I don't think he'd be drowning in the kind of credit card debt that makes me squirm even though it's not my debt."

"So he was cheating on her," Emily pointed out, aloud, though she need not have. They were all thinking it.

"Yeah," Hotch replied, "And we need to find out who with. JJ, get him in here as soon as you can."

"On it."

As soon as you can ended up being several hours later and there wasn't much for the team to do in the meantime. When Mr Lipa entered the station, his eyes were glassy and there was a dazed expression on his face that Emily had seen enough times before to recognise it as shock. Behind him trailed two children. JJ looked at her and, in her friends eyes, Emily saw a reflection of her own sadness. She estimated that the little girl and boy could be no more than six and three, respectively. The blonde haired little boy was in his father's arms and holding tightly onto a stuffed blue bunny rabbit.

"Mr Lipa," Emily approached him, reaching out a hand to shake his. His grip was tight, but his hand shook a little. "We've got a room set up where we'd like to speak to you, please. This is SSA Jennifer Jareau, she can look after the children, if that's alright with you."

"Do you guys wanna come with me and find a snack?" JJ smiled down at the little girl, who regarded her for a moment and then took her hand. The little boy clung to his father, and stared at JJ with distrustful eyes.

"You know," JJ told him, "My son, Henry, he has blonde, floppy hair just like yours." She tried him with a second smile and, reluctantly, the little boy went into her arms and Emily watched JJ lead the children towards the station's kitchen.

"I'm so sorry for your loss, Mr Lipa," Emily commented, as she led him into the interview room, "Special Agent Hotchner will be with us in just a moment but I just wanted to offer my condolences."

She was watching him closely for a reaction. Genuine though her sympathy was, there was still a piece of her that judged him for being unfaithful to his wife. She had to remind herself that she was impartial. She didn't know the inside-outs of their marriage. But, having been cheated on before, she couldn't excuse it.

"Mr Lipa, thank you for coming in," Hotch repeated her action from earlier, shaking his hand, "I'm terribly sorry for your loss. Please, have a seat."

Hotch did most of the talking, while Emily watched Mr Lipa, waiting for him to trip up, waiting for him to lie. He didn't. He told his story plainly, and by the end of it, Emily didn't like the man at all. She felt for him, for the children, mostly, but she didn't like him.

"So, the woman you were involved with, is she also married?" Hotch pressed. His voice was impassive, but Emily could see the flat line that his lips pressed into after asking the question, and knew that he was just as incensed by the man in front of them as she was.

He nodded. "Michelle. Yeah, she is. But she's not happy, either-" He spoke quickly, as though he could sense their distaste and was trying to quell it.

"Why?" Emily pressed, not willing to let him explain himself any further. "Why isn't she happy?"

"He's...Ryan, he's been known to have one drink too many and..." He trailed off.

Fascinating, Emily pondered, how he was happy enough to sleep with the mans wife behind their spouses backs, but he couldn't bad mouth him to law enforcement.

"And?" Hotch prompted him.

"And, he's hit her a couple of times."

Emily and Hotch exchanged a look. She was on her feet and immediately exiting the room, pulling her phone out of her pocket.

"Garcia?" She spoke into the phone, cutting across the blonde's usual cheery greeting, "I need you to find somebody for me."

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

"He's going after his wife," Hotch spoke calmly to the congregation. Here was a man who had done this a million times over, and though each situation was different, his steady demeanour was the same, time after time. Emily could feel the usual rush of adrenaline in her veins beginning already. She knew that in front of the officers that looked to them for guidance, she would seem as calm as Hotch. But, like every time before this one, she could feel her palms beginning to sweat. Absently, she picked at her fingernails as she listened to him speak.

That was her tell. They each had their own, and Emily knew them well by now, and noticed as each one began. They brought her comfort. JJ tugged at the ends of her sleeves. Morgan crossed his arms, but shifted his weight from one foot to the other every now and again. Rossi was quiet, but his eyes were never still. Reid was perched on the edge of a table, chewing the end of his pen. As for Hotch, his was more subtle. As his arms folded across his chest and his hands slipped beneath his forearms, Emily watched his fingers drum against his suit jacket. She counted. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. Always the same pattern. His rhythm. Perhaps, she thought, it calmed him as much as paying attention to the rest of them calmed her. She noticed it; whenever one of them was gone. And she hated it. It threw off her routine and it threw her off her game. But today, the whole team was here. Nothing went wrong when they were all here.

The house was everything she had suspected. Big, suburban, two relatively new cars parked right out front. Plus a third car; the one that had belonged to Miranda. Knowing what they would likely find inside, Emily and JJ made their way around back while Hotch and Rossi went in through the front door. Reid covered the front garden, Morgan the back, each of them flanked by a few of the local's, just in case he made it past the rest of the team. It wasn't likely, but it was possible.

Silently, Emily and JJ approached the back door. It was a routine they were familiar with, and they spoke with their eyes. JJ tried to door handle, with no luck, and Emily produced a pick from her back pocket. Holstering her gun, she crouched and went to work on the lock, JJ covering her back at all times. Hearing the click, she cracked the door open an inch and listened. She could definitely hear raised voices, but they were muffled and she couldn't make out what was being said. Standing up and stepping back, she nodded to JJ.

I've got your back.

JJ entered first, and they met Hotch and Rossi in the hallway. Now, they could hear what was being said.

"Did you think I wouldn't find out, Michelle?" Ryan's voice was tight with anger. He was shouting over Michelle's sobs. "How long were you going to keep fucking him? Huh? What about the kids? How do I explain to them that mommy is a goddamn whore?"

Again, their movements were silent. They followed Hotch's lead and he went first, entering the room with his gun stretched before him, but his voice was as calm as ever.

"Ryan Foulder," Emily heard him speak, but didn't look at him as she entered the room behind him. The four of them immediately spread out, slowly but surely surrounding Ryan and Michelle, who was kneeling on the rug in the middle of the lounge.

Emily chanced a glance at her and, just like Andrew Lipa, she was conflicted. Nobody deserved to endure the fear that Emily could see etched onto her face in the tear tracks that raced down her cheeks. But there was pain in Ryan's eyes, as well as anger. Then, Emily remembered his abusive past, and her sympathy for him evaporated.

"Ryan, put down the knife and come with us," Hotch told him. "Put it down, come with us and this all goes away, okay?"

Like all unsubs, when surrounded by the feds, Ryan now looked a little like an animal stuck in headlights. He was caught, he knew it. This was the moment. This was why Emily's palms sweated, why JJ picked her sleeves, why Morgan was so shifty, why Spence bit his pen lid, why Rossi's eyes flickered constantly and why Hotch tapped.

Fight or flight.

But, Emily knew, there was a third option. Surrender. God, please, surrender. Her finger was poised over the trigger, but Emily didn't want to pull it. She never wanted to pull it.

Well, that wasn't entirely true. There had been times when she'd had to restrain herself. Foyet, Doyle, Hastings. But they were different. They were personal. This wasn't. This was business.

"Stay back," Ryan did what she had seen unsubs do a thousand times over. Fight. He gripped Michelle's red hair tightly and roughly and yanked her to her feet. Emily felt the scream ricochet against her eardrums and grit her teeth against the sound, knowing the pain of that motion, feeling it in the roots of her scalp.

"Let her go, Ryan," Hotch tried again, but Ryan only pressed the knife to her throat. It was red with blood, and Emily's eyes raked over Michelle's form. She saw no blood on the woman. Looking at the knife again, the different shades of red along the blade told the story. That wasn't Michelle's blood. It was Miranda's. Miranda's, and the third couple's, blood.

"I know what she did, Ryan," Emily tried, and his eyes moved to her, "I know she betrayed you. She hurt you. She broke your trust. And your heart."

His hand was starting to shake. Catching sight of a family picture on the mantle behind him, Emily carried on. Hotch cast a glance at her, but didn't interrupt this time.

"She...she was with him," Ryan spat, pressing the knife closer to Michelle's neck. Emily saw pearls of fresh, red blood begin to bead there and took a cautionary step towards him.

"I know," She nodded, speaking softly, "And she deserves to be punished. But, you know who doesn't deserve to be punished? Your two beautiful little boys. Don't take both of their parents away."

Something in Ryan's eyes changed for a moment. They softened around the edges. The arm holding Michelle against him slackened and the hand holding the knife fell. With a sob, Michelle launched herself across the room towards Emily.

"No-" The collective shout of the team was drowned by a yowl of anger from Ryan, followed by the blast of a shot being fired. Emily barely heard any of it as she caught Michelle in her arms, and immediately felt a searing pain tear across her arm.

She hated hospitals. Everybody hated hospitals, she knew. But Emily really hated hospitals. There was that sterile smell again. The smell they used to cover sickness and death and disease. It was, in many ways, worse, because everybody knew what it was used for. Having been here for three hours, Emily was ready to leave. Her arm was bandaged, she'd had her shots and been checked over by two doctors, both of whom had given her the O-K.

"Yeah, been there, done it all." She had told one of them, when he had remarked that it was surprising that she didn't appear to be suffering from shock. "Takes a lot more than this to shock me. Believe me, I've lived through worse."

It was irritating, at Emily's age, to know that she couldn't even leave a hospital by herself. Hotch had left orders that Emily was not to be released until one of them could be there to collect her. Emily had been in too much pain at the time to protest, but now she was all sewn up, felt perfectly fine and felt her annoyance was justified.

And she couldn't stop thinking about Ryan and Michelle. Once upon a time, they must have been happy. If only for a short window, at the very beginning, there must have been a time before he was abusive, before she cheated on him, before their two little boys were born, when they were in love. In love enough to get married and decide to bring life into the world together. Wasn't that how it was supposed to work?

As she sat and waited to be picked up, Emily thought about all the people in relationships that made them unhappy, for whatever reason. And all of the people who ought to be together, but weren't, or couldn't, for whatever reason.

Of course, the question had enterred her head; was that what she and Hotch were doing? She had swatted the thought away as quickly as it had appeared. She wasn't in love with Hotch. In lust, certainly. And, never one to shy away from her own charms, Emily wasn't afraid to assume that Hotch felt the same way about her. But sexual desire wasn't the same as wanting to spend the rest of your life with somebody. Honestly, when she thought about spending the rest of her life with Hotch, and it was a fleeting thought that left her as swiftly as it had arrived, it was nothing but terrifying.

She was in the middle of this contemplation when the knock came at her hospital door. Of course.

"Ready?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.

Sweeping up her jacket and discarded vest, Emily frowned at him as she stood up. "It's about time. You didn't have to come and pick me up, you know. I got grazed by a knife, I didn't get shot."

"Last time we sent you to a hospital, you flatlined on the table," Hotch reminded her, strolling beside her towards the exit of the hospital. "Forgive me for taking precautions."

She was about to respond with a snarky comment, but the expression on Hotch's face stopped her in her tracks. He wasn't making a joke, as she had thought. He was deadly serious. Her words caught in her throat and Emily floundered for a moment, not knowing hot to respond to that statement. He wasn't wrong, after all. The rest of the team had all expressed their feelings about her 'death'. All except him. He had been the architect of it, after all, along with Jayje. Embarassed, Emily realised she had never stopped to consider his feelings on the matter.

"We've never talked about that," She told him, quietly. The silence was his response. He clearly didn't want to change that fact right now.

The atmosphere contrasted so strongly with the last time they were in a car together that Emily almost giggled out of nerves. Her bandaged arm was beginning to twinge and she pulled out the pack of painkillers the doctor had given her.

"Hey, 'alcohol to be consumed in moderation'," She celebrated, grateful that she would at least be able to have a nightcap to send her to sleep tonight. Even if it wasn't the usual copious amounts of alcohol they usually drank after a case, to keep the nightmares at bay, and send them all into a dark, dreamless sleep, it was better than having to go to bed sober; something she had also experienced many a time.

"Ryan?" She asked, after a short silence, apprehensive of the answer.

Hotch's grip on the steering wheel tightened. That was all the answer she needed and Emily returned her gaze to the road.

They drove the rest of the way in silence. Maybe there would be nightmares, after all.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

There were a lot of occasions when Emily had been grateful for her team. Tonight was no exception. As they gathered around their table in the bar, having had a delicious lunch in one of the restaurants in town (courtesy of Rossi's latest book tour, of course), she could almost forget the day they were leaving behind. It was always like this.

That, she thought, was why Hotch never protested to them having one too many drinks the night they ended a case. It was a stress-reliever and a release for them all. They needed their downtime; their time to have fun together and to just be a family. Not a family having to watch each other's backs all of the time. Just a family who could buy a round of drinks, give a toast to Emily always being the one who got injured, play a guessing game of how much money Rossi's latest book had made and, of course-

"Truth or dare?" JJ was pointing a finger across the table at Morgan. Her eyes were slightly misty, but her hand was steady. Emily, who was trying to make her cider last longer than she'd ever had a drink last before, was definitely the most sober one at the table. She thought she might retire to her room soon, maybe find something on TV to watch and lull her to sleep. It was nice to spend time with them, but being the only sober one was always a buzzkill.

"Alright, blondie," Morgan responded, never one to shy away from a challenge, "I'll take the challenge. Dare."

JJ cast a glance around the bar, her face tight with concentration as she looked for her target.

"I dare you to go and get her number," JJ was pointing at a young blonde across the bar. She was surrounded by friends, and sporting a Birthday Girl badge. Morgan rolled his eyes and took a swig of his beer. Nudging Reid in the side, he gestured towards the girls .

"Watch and learn, brainbox," He practically swaggered over to the girls and, sure enough, upon his return, he threw the number down into the middle of the table.

"Piece of cake," He proclaimed. JJ looked more disappointed than she did impressed, and cast a disapproving glance at Emily, who could only laugh in response.

"Hey, usually, I'm with you on this," She held her hands up, "But tonight, you encouraged the whoring, so I'm not engaging in any judgemental eye rolling." Besides, she thought, catching Hotch's eye across the table, I'm hardly innocent myself.

"Your turn, old timer," Morgan told Rossi, who looked affronted by the nickname.

"Old timer? Call me when you're my age; I don't have to go asking for numbers, kid. They come to me." There was a round of whooping around the table which calmed only when Morgan raised his voice slightly.

"Alright, alright." Morgan looked Rossi square in the face, "Truth or Dare."

Knowing what they were going to ask, Rossi figured he was safe enough this round. "Go on, then. Truth."

"You know what we want to know, Dave," Hotch commented, smirking over the top of his beer. Emily liked to see that expression on his face. It was relaxed; the smile lines around his eyes showed up and his whole demeanour shifted. He seemed younger, less weighed down. She liked that.

"Just tell us how many digits," JJ prompted, leaning in eagerly.

"Let's just say I'm looking into buying a condo on South Beach," He responded, tipping his glass of whiskey in her direction.

"Don't you already have a condo in Cali?" Morgan asked, incredulously.

"See, in all my years," Rossi continued, "I've never been able to decide which coast I like best. So, I figure, why choose when I can have both?"

There was no whooping this time. Just respectful silence and nodding. Then JJ stood up.

"I'm going to order another round on you, then," She said, clapping her hands down on Rossi's shoulders.

"None for me, Jayje," Emily called after her, as the blonde disappeared into the crowd. "Painkillers." She said, by way of explanation, as Morgan's face fell as he groaned, disappointed.

"Ah, but you're the life of the party, princess."

"Well, I'm afraid your party's going to have to go on life support tonight you guys," She jested. Again, she saw the effect of the joke ripple around the table as their faces shifted in the same way Hotch's had done at the hospital. "Oh, come on, guys, it's a joke."

"It's not so funny when you've lived it," Reid mumbled, suddenly very interested in the stem of his wine glass.

Emily was momentarily stunned, as she looked around at them. For almost a year, she had been back, and none of them had ever spoken of it. With the exception of Reid's outbursts towards JJ just after she'd gotten back, everybody had taken it in their stride. Or so she had thought.

"I did live it, Reid," She said, shortly, "Remember?"

His face said that he did remember. They all remembered, very well.

JJ returned, holding a tray of drinks, and the smile on her face fell away when she happened upon their uncomfortable silence. Casting a look around the table, taking in each expression, she set the tray down and slid back into her seat. Still the drunkest one there, and unable to whisper at the best of times, she leaned into Emily and stage-whispered.

"What did I miss?"

"Nothing, blondie," Morgan interrupted, "I believe it's Rossi's turn."

"Right. Hotch," Rossi continued, attempting to smooth over the awkward moment, as JJ handed out the drinks, including the pint of cider Emily had asked her not to get.

"I didn't hear you," She explained, when Emily pointed this out. "Loud music, loud bar, quiet little Emily voice." She explained, speaking in a high pitch and holding her finger and thumb an inch apart to, Emily supposed, demonstrate what that would look like if it were a hand gesture.

Reid had finished his first glass of wine, presumably out of awkwardness, which Emily hated, and reached for his second glass quickly. As he reached for it, he sent it flying across the table. Red wine splattered over the tablecloth.

"Nice one, pipe cleaner," Morgan proclaimed, standing up quickly as the liquid flowed towards him.

"I got it, I got it," JJ produced some napkins from the tray she had brought over and started mopping up, with Rossi's help. Emily was fussing with the wine that had splattered her top, and when she looked up, Reid had disappeared into the crowd, heading back towards the bar.

Catching Hotch's eye across the table, she noticed the minute nod, and stood up to follow the youngest member of the team.

"I thought we'd been through all of this," She told him, rubbing a comforting hand up his back when she found him at the bar, "I thought we were good."

"We are good, we're great," He told her, in that quiet voice she knew so well. Still, he didn't look at her.

"I've told you before, Reid," She said, "I'm sorry. We handled it the best way we could at the time; Hotch and JJ had to think on their feet. If they hadn't..." She hesitated over her words. The truth was sometimes the most difficult thing to admit. "If they hadn't, you might have been burying me for real."

"I know," He said, handing his credit card across the bar as the barman placed a fresh glass of red in front of him, "I know all of this. But that doesn't take any of it away. It doesn't take away the months of missing you, the nights of crying to JJ, the trips I took to your grave and all of the flowers I left there for you. I spoke to your headstone, Emily," He had told her all of this before, but Emily nodded, recognising his need to share it now, "It doesn't take away the fear that, one day, it might be real. One day, you might not come back."

Emily was quiet for a long moment, her hand still softly stroking his back, before she pulled him into a hug. His arms tightened around her and Emily felt her ribs complain, but she didn't tell him. She let him hug her, long and hard, and when he let her go, she made him look her in the eyes.

"That's the job," She told him. It was a line she'd said many times before, and it still held all of the weight it had the first time someone had said it to her. "It's no different to all of the times we've thought we could lose you. I hate it when we're out in the field and I worry about you guys more than I worry about our victims, but that's the job and that's family. But you have to know that, if I do go away again, it won't be because of some elaborate scheme we've had to put in place. I'll never leave you for good."

Reid was nodding, and Emily saw acceptance in his eyes. He was, for now, reassured.

"I mean, you know, until I really do leave you for good," She lolled her head to the side and stuck out her tongue. That elicited a smile, and almost a laugh, from the younger agent. "Now, stop ruining our night. Drink your wine, and lets go find out what Rossi has planned for Hotch."

Arriving back at the table, they found the wine mopped up, Morgan pleading with Hotch. JJ looked slightly confused, like she didn't know how she ought to be responding.

"Come on, man," Morgan was saying, "You chose Truth; now you gotta do it, or accept the forfeit."

"Whoa, whoa, what did we miss?" Emily asked, as she slid back into her seat. Her first glass of cider was now miraculously empty; she supposed that was JJ's roundabout way of apologising for buying her an extra drink, and suppressed a short laugh as she pulled the second large glass to her lips.

"Hotch chose Truth, so I simply asked if there are any special ladies in his life at the moment that he's keeping mum about."

Emily nearly choked. Quick as a flash, even in her inebriated state, JJ's hand shot out and whacked her on the back, probably a little harder than she needed to, but it did the trick.

"Thanks," She muttered to JJ, "Sorry. Wrong tube."

Profilers. You're sitting at a table full of profilers. Don't look at Hotch. Do not look at Hotch. JJ stop looking at me. JJ stop looking at me. Jennifer Jareau, I swear to god-

"Not since Haley," Hotch responded, shortly. He raised his beer to his lips and, on that note, was finished with his truth telling.

Emily didn't know what to feel. She saw JJ cast a glance between the two of them, finally looking away from Emily, but she checked the expression on her own face; it didn't flicker. She shared the look of absent curiosity that graced Morgan and Reid's faces. Even Rossi seemed satisfied with the answer.

It bothered her. Emily hated that it did. She knew why he'd given that answer, or at least, she thought she did. But it bothered her. If not for the giant glass of cider sitting in front of her, and the entire team of profilers sitting around her, Emily would have excused herself to bed. She no longer wanted to sit at this table. Even though she knew he had to give that answer, even though she kept telling herself there was nothing more than lust between them, it bothered her.

"Your turn, boss," Morgan told Hotch, "Reid or Princess, who you going to pick on?"

The last thing Emily expected was for Hotch to choose her. So, when he looked directly at her, her eyes narrowed in warning.

Don't you-

"Prentiss," He said. levelly, "Truth or dare."

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

She felt five pairs of eyes on her and, in that moment, she hated him. Hated him for putting her in this position, hated him for staring at her like that. Hated him for the way it made her heart pound and her underwear dampen. Either way, she was choosing dare. By playing with him, by letting him play with her like this, she was choosing dare. She was daring him to finish what he had started, and he was daring her to be brave enough to take him on. Choosing dare would be the easy way out of this, for the both of them. He started it; she wasn't going to let him take the easy way out. If he wanted to play games, she would win them every time. He needed to learn that early on.

Barely missing a beat, Emily responded in kind, "Truth."

The rest of them were looking between the two, interested, bemused, but not suspicious. Only JJ knew anything was up. And Hotch didn't know JJ knew. And suddenly, there was an entirely new layer to their little problem that Emily hadn't even considered.

"Same question, then," He said, smirking, "Anybody special in your life?"

What an ass. She wanted to say, hell no, just to rub it in his face. Hotch had very clearly had one too many beers if he thought this was funny. It wasn't. She wasn't smirking back at him and trying not to get caught up in the laughter that rippled around the table. Their flirting was nothing new; Emily flirted with everybody. To the others, this was standard night out behaviour. JJ,who knew much more than the rest of them, was glancing between the two of them and looking like she'd just walked in on her parents humping. Emily hadn't dropped Aaron's gaze the whole time.

"You wouldn't know him," She responded, raising her glass to her lips to punctuate her sentence.

"Oh, damn, princess," Morgan exhaled, heavily, "You've been holding out on us."

"I don't kiss and tell," She smirked over at him, and from beside her, JJ let out one blast of laughter.

"Ha!" Her smile was fixed in place, but the eyes that met Emily's were panicked and apologetic all at once. Emily shook her head, minutely, but it was too late. From across the table, she saw Hotch take it all in. Shit. JJ, you're dead. I'm dead. Reid's really gonna hate it if we're both dead.

"And, on that note," She announced, taking the final swig of her cider, "I'm going to bed. Don't be up too late," JJ wrapped her arms around her middle to cuddle her, and Emily pressed a kiss to her blonde crown, "Make sure these two get to bed safely," She said as she hugged Rossi, indicating JJ and Reid, who she kissed on the cheek. "And, Morgan, don't take that girl to bed," she pointed towards the number on the table, which was now soaked and stained with red wine. "You'll end up with herpes or something just as unpleasant."

"Not my first rodeo, princess," Morgan announced, and from his pocket, be produced several condoms. "Ribbed, for her pleasure."

"You're a pig," She told him, affectionately, as she blew a loving kiss across the table. Morgan caught it and pressed it to his heart, where he drew a cross.

"You wound me." He joked, with a grin.

"Night, Hotch," She said, reluctantly. It would have seemed stranger if she hadn't bid him goodnight, so she did. He nodded in her direction, muttered something about "sleep well" and then she was walking out of the bar.

"Take your meds," She heard, from behind her, and smiled to herself. He did care.

The ride up to their floor was very different to her ride the evening before, but when she collapsed into her bed, naked but for an oversized t-shirt, Emily didn't even get a chance to lament her lack of intimacy today. Her eyes were closed before her head even hit the pillow.

Her sleep wasn't dreamless, but it was dark. She was walking, looking for something. What, she didn't know. All she knew was she hadn't found it yet. It was important. Where had she left it? Stretching her hands out in front of her, she tried to feel her way through the darkness. Every time she took a step, she thought she was going to hit something, but she never did. She walked, endlessly, through the dark silence. Then she heard the knocking. Where was it coming from? Her left? Her right? Her door?

Her door?

"Emily," the voice that accompanied the knocking finally brought her out of her sleep and Emily threw back her duvet, making her way to her bedroom door. She knew it was Hotch, but she peered through the peephole anyway. His tie was discarded, hanging out of his breast pocket, and his white shirt was open by three buttons and stained with what she could only suppose was Reid's red wine and his beer. He was leaning against her door frame with one arm, the other thrust deep into his trouser pocket. His hair was dishevelled. It was like James Bond had turned up at her hotel room door.

Emily had the fleeting, wild concern that she ought to check her appearance in the mirror, but she rolled her eyes internally at the thought, which made her feel like a flirty teenager, and unlocked the door.

"Hotch, do you know that it's," She leaned backwards to check the clock on the bedside table, hidden from view as it was, by the corner, "2:33am?"

"I didn't mean it," He said, mumbling more than speaking, so Emily had to ask him to repeat what he had said. "I didn't mean it," He said, loudly, "You are special. And you are in my life."

She couldn't help the smile that spread across her face. Amused as she was, she also thought it incredibly sweet that, in his inebriated state, Hotch had though it necessary to clarify this with her. At half past two in the morning. She supposed that, come the morning, the moment would have passed. Sober, Agent Hotchner would never confront her like this and speak so candidly. She wondered just how many beers he'd had, if he was only just coming upstairs to bed. She'd left them a little over two hours ago.

"I don't know what to say," She said, truthfully, still standing beside the door. Her legs were cold and she was suddenly aware of her state of undress. Crossing her legs, awkwardly, she waited to see if Hotch had anything else to say, or if he would disappear to his room, and leave this conversation as one they need never speak of again.

He did look as though he might speak, for a moment. His lips moved, pouted, almost, and then he leaned in. Panic flared inside of Emily. But he wasn't trying to kiss her. Instead, he lunged into her hotel room, tore open the bathroom door and, a moment later, Emily heard the retching and grimaced.

James Bond never vomited in his dates bathrooms.

When he emerged from the bathroom, it was to find Emily sitting on the edge of her bed. She'd located one of the hotel's fluffy towels in the wardrobe and had tied it tight around herself. It was still too warm in her hotel room, but, and perhaps it was silly given their recent history, she was uncomfortable being so undressed around him.

"Sorry about that," He told her, indicating the bathroom behind him. She shook her head and held out the glass of water she had poured for him. He swallowed it down, gratefully, and sat beside her on the bed, maintaining enough distance, she supposed, so as not to offend her with vomit breath.

Truthfully, all she could smell was all of the alcohol he had consumed that evening. Even on their wildest nights, though, Emily had never seen Hotch throw up.

"Feel better?" She asked, and he nodded, a tiny little nod, "That was kind of gross."

Wiping a hand over his face and through his mussed up hair, Emily could tell he was embarrassed. He began apologising again, but when he looked up at her, she had a fist pressed against her teeth to keep from laughing. As soon as she saw he shocked expression on his face, she couldn't hold it anymore and burst into raucous laughter. When she calmed down, and wiped away the tears that had sprung to the corners of her eyes, Hotch had the slightest smile on his face.

"You sound like a sorority girl when you throw up," She teased, and proceeded to mimic the noise he had made. It wasn't pretty, but it was funny, and it sent her right back into the giggles. James Bond certainly never blushed the way Hotch did in that moment, burning pink right up to the tips of his ears.

"Lemme alone," He mumbled, looking down at his hands, which were holding the now empty glass of water, though he was smiling.

"You've got to get some sleep, or you'll be grouchy in the morning," She told him, taking the glass from him and crossing the room to set it down on the dresser.

For a moment, Hotch didn't move. He was staring at her floor, elbows resting on his knees, and Emily worried for a moment that he was going to be sick again, this time all over her carpet. And how would she explain that? Because, of course, they couldn't tell them it was Hotch. She would have to take the heat for it, and Morgan would have an absolute field day with the information. She'd never live it down.

He wasn't sick, though. He just couldn't look at her for what he needed to say next.

"It wasn't just Reid, you know," He said, so quietly that she almost missed it. Confused, she didn't prompt him. She waited for him to speak again, knowing he might not. Leaning against the wall, she waited.

"Who missed you, I mean." He carried on, finally. Slowly. There was a sincerity in his voice that made her want to weep. "I knew you were alive. I think that was worse. Knowing you were out there and not being able to see you...hear your voice."

Emily wondered if, come the morning, Hotch would be happy knowing he had confessed all of this to her. Her heart was pounding in her chest again, for an entirely different reason than earlier in the evening.

"You were always just...around." He continued, turning to look at her. His face was bright, and he was almost smiling, as though reminiscing on an old memory. "Way back to when I worked for your mother and you were this...beautiful, sexy little college girl who bounced her way around the estate without a care in the world. You didn't even look at me, back then. Then, years later, there you are, in my office. Still gorgeous and smart and so intelligent. And then you were just...gone."

His train of thought seemed to leave him again, but Emily was still trying to sort her way through his statements. She didn't even know he remembered her from that Summer. You didn't even look at me. If only he knew, she thought, sardonically. She certainly remembered him; back then, he had been the tall, dark Agent that was out of her reach. He had made her feel like a child. Her crush had been nothing more than a school girl crush; the kind that never could, or would, be reciprocated. Or so she had thought. That was why she bounded around the estate, clad in outfits that Mother greatly disapproved of. To get his attention. She had succeeded, it appeared. What might have happened, she wondered, if either of them had the courage to act on their impulses back then?

Nothing, she reminded herself. He was with Haley back then.

"It was...not being able to see you and talk to you, not knowing if you were alright. We kept tabs but we weren't allowed to know too much. I...dammit, I missed you, Emily."

He was on his feet in an instant. All signs of his drunkenness was gone, as he neared her. He slammed his hands into the wall either side of her head, and Emily gasped, a bolt of excitement, and a lick of fear, coursing through her.

"I wanted to kill him," Hotch growled, so deeply that she could feel the rumble in his chest, that's how closely he stood to her. "I wanted to strangle the life out of him so you could come home. I wished him dead a million times over. But I didn't just want him dead. I wanted to do it myself."

The venom in his voice, the anger in his eyes, scared her. She knew he was telling the truth. She had been there; she had wanted Doyle dead, too. But the expression on Hotch's face was one she had only seen once before. When he was beating the life out of Foyet on his own dining room floor. It was terrifying to see that look on his face again. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. Up close, she could see the glazed look in his eyes. Come the morning, she wondered if he would even remember this episode. His lips hovered over hers and Emily could feel his breath tickle her skin. That wasn't how she had wanted this to go.

"Hotch," She whispered, calmly, as his lips drew dangerously close to her own, "We can't. You're drunk."

"I know," He admitted. "I know, but I wish I wasn't." He chuckled darkly, and the anger subsided as quickly as it had appeared, misty brown eyes boring into her own, "Or, if I'm wishing for things, maybe I wish you were."

She smiled, blushing, and put a hand on his chest. Feeling the wall of muscle beneath her hand, it took much more willpower than she had expected to press against his chest, rather than pulling him towards her, as she really wanted to do. He stepped away from her, thrusting his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers. He was the one who looked like the child, now. Like one who's been scolded by his teacher.

"I missed you, too."

He caught her eyes again, held them for longer, this time. There was a lot that passed between them in that moment. None of it passed their lips, none of it was spoken aloud. Their eyes spoke for them. Emily felt like she saw more of Aaron in that moment than she had in all of the years she had known him, and suddenly, the lump was back in her throat. Nodding, he turned and sat down on the bed.

"I'm sorry for being an ass."

Emily laughed out loud, amazed and impressed at the same time. "Words I never thought I would hear you say." She admitted, moving to sit beside him on the bed once more. "What brought the apology on?" She had a sneaking suspicion that she already knew, but she asked anyway.

"Rossi told me I had to apologise." Hotch confessed, and Emily found herself smiling even wider. There was that little boy, again. The one whose teacher kept telling him off. "He said I don't give you enough credit sometimes."

"He's right."

"I nominated you to run the team, Emily," He told her, and she noted that it was the first time he'd used her first name in as long as she could remember, that his voice was steady and strong, and not at all the voice of a drunk man, though that was undoubtedly what Hotch was at this moment in time. "You really think I don't trust you?"

"I think sometimes you don't want me to be right." She told him, and he pondered over her words for a moment. Emily had expected him to shut her down, so watching him consider her words was a new experience for her.

"You're better at the job than I was at your age," He finally declared. She was speechless. "I think sometimes that bothers me." He gave her a look that was almost sheepish, as though he expected her to yell at him, or kick him out. "Is that okay?"

"No," She told him, honestly, nudging his shoulder with her own, "But we can work on it."

That, apparently, was enough of a promise for Hotch, because he subsided into silence. When Emily glanced at the clock again, she saw that it was getting on for 3am, and groaned loudly.

"Now we're both going to be grumpy in the morning," She scolded him, mockingly. "Either lie down, or go to your own bed, whichever, I don't care, as long as you let me sleep."

Hotch looked at her like he couldn't believe what she was saying, but she was standing up and untying the belt of her robe. He averted his eyes in a moment of panic before he remembered she was wearing a long t-shirt. As she pulled back the covers, she looked at him, eyebrows raised.

"Well?" She asked, "Which is it?"

"Can I stay?" He asked, sincerely unable to tell whether or not she was joking. In his eyes, she could still see the pain she had caused when she had gone away. It was that pain that made her nod, that pain that had made her say it in the first place. That pain that told her, whatever was going on between them, it needed to end as soon as they were back at Quantico. Because she couldn't inflict that pain on him again, and, with Emily, it was always just around the corner.

She climbed into bed and tried not to watch as Hotch stripped down to his boxers. She didn't like to point out that his bed, and his pyjamas, were less than ten feet away, and through only two very thin doors. When she felt the bed dip with his weight, she had to try and maintain her steady breathing. He kept his distance, but knowing he was there was enough.

"Goodnight, Emily," He spoke, softly, through the darkness.

"Goodnight, Hotch."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

It was the headache that woke him. The familiar, dull, repetitive thud of a hangover headache, across his forehead and behind his ears, drumming against his brain and stirring him from his dreamless slumber. The taste of all the alcohol he had recklessly consumed was still all over his mouth. With a groan, he stretched his arms out wide, then wrapped them around the form beside him, pulling her closer and closing his eyes again, tempted to try for another hours sleep. As he pulled her close, she sighed, content and still fast asleep.

Hotch froze.

He knew that sigh. He knew that scent. Shampoo. Her shampoo.

In a beat, it all came back to him. The game, the drinks, the conversation with Dave. It had been Dave who'd told them all to go to bed, and they had listened. Hotch, however, had found himself pacing back and forth across his hotel room. He had to tell her, he had to. Dave had told him to.

"You know, Aaron," Dave said, when they were alone at the table. JJ was up dancing with Reid, who looked both sincerely uncomfortable and as though all of his Christmases had come at once. Morgan had retired earlier, with the pretty blonde whose number JJ had made him get. Dave wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer, possibly a little too close for comfort, but given their inebriated state, neither of them minded. "You give Emily too much of a hard time. She's a bright girl. Brighter than I was at her age. Better profiler too. Intelligent e bello. And you're too tough on her sometimes."

Hotch wasn't about to argue, because he knew Dave was right. He was lingering on the bello part of Dave's short speech. Beautiful.

"Yes, she is," Hotch agreed, nodding, "Better profiler than me, I mean." He covered, too quickly.

He missed the knowing look in Dave's eyes, but the older profiler said nothing. He wasn't about to interfere in anything that may or may not be going on between the two younger agents. They were adults, although sometimes Emily didn't act like it, when she got involved in Morgan and Reid's pranks, or she and JJ fell about giggling like school girls. Maybe Hotch could do with a little of that lightness.

"Tell her," Dave insisted. "Especially this time. You owe her an apology. She was right, after all. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant, that woman."

"Brilliant," Hotch was nodding, though he had stopped listening, his mind racing backwards in time, to the elevator. "Just, brilliant."

He didn't need Dave to tell him she was beautiful. He could see it for himself.

The painted red tips of her fingers grazed his shoulder; her bandaged arm was laid across his chest. The pale of her skin contrasted against his own naturally olive complexion, interrupted only by the bandage wrapped tightly around her upper arm. Her dark hair splayed across his back and over his hand, which he had at some point in the night wrapped around her shoulders. Now, he lifted his hand, gently so as not to disturb her, and let the strands of her hair fall through his fingertips, watching as it shone in the glint of the early morning sun and not quite believing he was living in this moment. The scent of it grew stronger as he disturbed her hair. Vanilla. A scent he had come to associate with her. And, like her, it was warm and comforting and sweet.

At some point in the night, probably due to the lack of AC, they had kicked off the covers. Where his arm had ended up behind her back, Emily had wrapped her leg across his waist, pulling them closer still. Hotch wondered which action had happened first. Which of them had needed the closeness in the night, when they both put on such a front of independence in the daylight?

Emily had retained her modesty; the tshirt she was wearing hadn't ridden up too high, although, now, as she shifted, Hotch saw the fabric creep higher still. Slowly stirring, Emily moved. Hotch couldn't not watch as her leg moved down, pressing onto his boxers.

Thank god for hangovers. His body was slow to respond this morning, debilitated as he was by his alcohol consumption from the night before, and, although he felt the stirrings of excitement, as long as Emily stayed still, he thought he could control it. Breathe through it. Make it go away.

Of course, the moment he thought that, every moment they had shared was suddenly flashing through his brain. From the inciting incident in his office, to the dangerous game on the plane, to the way she looked at him from the floor of the car, to the expression on her face as she fell apart over his fingers.

Now, he really had a problem.

It was hardly his fault, he mused, as his erection grew steadily harder. He had woken to find himself in bed with a beautiful, half naked woman. It was a natural response. As long as he could calm down before she woke up, they'd be fine. They could go back to normal, and she need never know. If she woke up now, she would think he was a pervert. She hadn't invited him into her bed for sex. She probably thought he was going to choke on his own tongue in the night. How had he managed to find himself in this situation?

Hotch had always prided himself on his sense of decorum and professionalism. He was professional to a fault, and sometimes to the detriment of his relationships, romantic and platonic. That, however, appeared to have been thrown out of the window over the past couple of days, he thought. She had an affect on him that neither of them could control, and it was the last thing either of them needed to be dealing with while promotions glared at them from the not-so-distant future.

Maybe I should wake her, he thought. That way, she wouldn't think he was some sort of night time pervert, if she woke up to a surprise boner. It would be the first thing she saw, too, given the angle of her head on his chest. What a wake up call that would be.

Discreetly, slowly, silently, Hotch tried to shift himself away from her. No good. Still deep in her slumber, Emily only wrapped her leg tighter around his. This movement finally drew the shirt up high enough that Hotch could just see the rounded orbs of her ass. That didn't help his case at all. Closing his eyes, Hotch raked his free hand (the one not tangled in Emily's hair) down his face. His beard was starting to grow out and would need to be dealt with before the left the hotel today. That, right now, was the least of his problems.

As he considered his options, however, Emily stretched. Her arm stretched out across his chest, then her hand came to rest back on his chest. She was still for a moment, and the next instant, she was tensed like a cat. Hotch didn't say anything. He could feel the stress in her muscles. She was awake, and she was confused. Silently, he gave her the moment to process, to remember, and felt her relax slightly as she turned her head to look at him.

"Good morning?" He asked, uncertainly.

Emily opened her mouth to speak, but was spared the job of doing so when a loud knock came at her bedroom door. They each sprang from the bed like bullets from one of their guns. For a second, they stood, staring at each other, before either of their brains kicked into gear and figured out the next move. Then Hotch was grabbing his clothes from the floor, Emily threw his suit jacket across the room at him, and he disappeared. Into the shared bathroom, and out of the door on the other side, which led to his own hotel room.

It all happened very quickly and, still not fully recovered from the shock of how she had woken up, Emily felt extremely disoriented as she moved to open the door.

"Coffee," JJ groaned, crossing the threshold before Emily had the chance to speak. Rolling her eyes (she was getting a little sick and tired of people not waiting for permission to enter her room), Emily closed the door behind her friend.

"Good morning to you too, Cheeto-breath." Emily greeted, directing JJ towards the kettle and refreshments provided by the hotel. "Make two, while I go and put some clothes on?"

Hotch's door was firmly closed when Emily entered the bathroom, her attire for the day bundled in her arms. That, she thought to herself, was too close of a call. Even JJ, who had a vague idea of something going on between Emily and their boss, would have freaked out, had she walked in on the scene she had interrupted. Emily, herself, was freaking out about it. Setting aside the immediate panic that had gripped her when she woke up and momentarily forgot who she was laying in bed with, the experience had been a rather comfortable one. She vaguely remembered, at some point in the night, rolling over and cuddling up to Hotch. He had gotten rid of the covers, obviously far too warm and, despite the lack of AC, her under-dressed state had left Emily shivering. Hotch was warm, being closer to him made sense. Science.

Her shower was a quick one. Emily kept her hair dry because the thought of having to go through the process of drying it this morning was almost more than she could bear. Instead, once she had climbed out of the shower and dressed, she brushed her hair up into a pony tail. It had curled in the night, but not entirely, so it was a dark, wild mixture of loose waves and bouncy curls, but it was good enough for the plane ride back to Quantico. She couldn't be bothered with make up, either, so that idea was discarded as quickly as it entered her head, and she resigned to do her face on the plane. Or maybe she would sneak into Penelope's den and do it there, whilst hiding from Hotch.

"I hope that coffee's strong, Jayje," Emily announced, as she exited the bathroom and threw her towel and pyjama tshirt onto the bed, "Because I need it."

"Yeah, I'll bet you do." The response confused her and Emily turned to look at JJ.

JJ wasn't at the kettle; the coffee was made and steaming away on the bedside table. The younger agent was standing beside the bed, somewhat near to where Emily remembered picking up Hotch's suit jacket and throwing it to him. She was holding something in her hands. A piece of fabric. A red piece of fabric.

"Oh, fuck."

"Yeah, I guessed as much," JJ said, with an amused and satisfied grin, as she held up Hotch's tie.


Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

The tie in JJ's hand was undeniable, and though a thousand explanations raced through Emily's brain, the expression on her friends face said she had already made her mind up about what had conspired here last night. Her grin was utterly mortifying, and Emily stumbled over trying to find the words to explain the situation. She smiled, awkwardly, and pointed to the tie.

"I can explain that," Emily tried to laugh, but it came out as more of an awkward whimper, "That is...absolutely not what it looks like."

"Oh?" JJ prompted, raising her perfectly shaped eyebrows and glancing from Emily to the tie with an expression of mock confusion on her pretty face, "So it's not the tie Hotch was wearing last night?"

Emily's mouth moved, but for a moment, words failed her. "No, okay, yes, it is that." She admitted, crossing the room to JJ and trying to snatch the tie out of the younger agents hand. JJ bounded away from her with a laugh, holding the tie out of reach, "But it's not what you're thinking."

"And, what am I thinking?" JJ challenged, clearly highly amused by the entire situation and greatly enjoying Emily's discomfort.

"You're thinking Hotch spent the night here."

"Which he didn't?" She looked sceptical and unconvinced, and Emily found she couldn't lie.

"Well, no, technically he did but you also think that we slept together which...again, I can't deny because I guess we kinda did but-"

"But?" JJ prompted, eagerly.

"But there was no exchanging of bodily fluids, nobody got...entirely naked. I didn't even kiss him!" Emily said, hands splayed out in front of her as though to demonstrate her innocence. "He was completely hammered, Jayje. Do you really think I'd do that to Hotch?"

JJ's eyes were narrowed, the ghost of a smile still hovering over her lips. "So you just...slept?"

"Yes!" Emily insisted, desperately. "We talked and we slept."

"In the same bed as our boss?"

"JJ, as my best friend," Emily pleaded, putting her hands together in front of her face, so it almost looked like a prayer, "I am asking you to let this go."

The blonde regarded her for a moment, looked once more between Emily and the tie in her hand, glanced towards the bed, where the sheets were still hopelessly rumpled, and then held out the offending garment for Emily to take.

"And, as your best friend," JJ continued, holding fast onto the tie when Emily tried to take it from her, "I retain all mocking rights."

It was Emily's turn to roll her eyes, but JJ finally released the tie. Putting her hands on her hips, she shook her head in disbelief, processing the information.

"I just can't believe you two," She said, and her eyes twinkled with mischief. "Hey, so did you spoon?"

"JJ, drop it!"

Emily couldn't get through her coffee without JJ asking question after question, and each of them she refused to answer.

"Not here, not now, Jayje, please," She begged, after the fifth one. Or was it the sixth?

"Fine," JJ held up a hand in surrender, the other firmly grasping the coffee cup in her hand. She seemed to have forgotten her hangover in the midst of the exciting revelation she had walked into. "But when we get back, you and I are going to go and get some cocktails, and you are going to tell me everything."

"Fine," Emily reluctantly agreed, packing the last items into her go-bag, including Hotch's tie. Flashes from the elevator came back to her. Maybe not everything. "Ready to head down?"

"Sure," JJ agreed,"Let me grab my bag."

Emily followed JJ into the corridor, set her bag down on the floor and turned to lock her door as the blonde disappeared inside her own room, further down the corridor, to collect her things.


"Jesus christ, Hotch," Emily cursed, near jumping out of her skin, having not heard him emerge from his room. "Are you doing this on purpose?"

He looked affronted, and much more put together than he had the last time she'd seen him; running, half-naked, from her bed. "Doing what?"

"Every time I step out of my room, you're there. It's like you're listening."

She was joking, but he looked sincerely offended for the moment, like he couldn't believe she would think that of him. Emily was spared explaining the joke when JJ came back out of her room. She stopped dead on the threshold, taking in the sight of them both there, and looked from Emily, to their boss, and back again.

"Morning, Hotch," She greeted, turning to lock her own door. With her back turned to them, so neither could see the smirk on her face, she brazenly asked, "Sleep well?"

Hotch's eyes shot towards Emily, who merely shrugged, and hoped it was convincing enough to throw him off. He floundered for only a moment before replying.

"I slept fine. And yourself?"

"Like a baby," JJ turned back to face them, with a swish of long, blonde hair, and an impassive smile pasted onto her face. Hotch nodded, then set towards the elevator. As soon as Hotch's back was turned, Emily caught JJ's eyes and gave her a look that was borderline murderous. She shook her head, communicating silently with her best friend, through eye contact alone. Still, JJ understood.

JJ, I swear to god-

JJ raised her eyebrows, innocently. The expression clearly said; Alright, alright, I'll leave it alone.

Emily wasn't convinced.

Breakfast was a quiet affair. JJ's hangover had come back full force, so she was pounding cups of coffee and eating what Emily could only describe as a platter of fruit, 'to get the fluids back into her system.' Hotch was nursing a mug of coffee that couldn't have been blacker if he had tried; clearly he, too, was suffering this morning. Rossi had the paper and was reading it, reminding Emily of her own father when she was younger, who would catch up on politics over their 'family breakfast' though, contrasting with her father, Emily hadn't seen Dave's eyes move once, and she could have sworn his head was lolling a little. Reid wasn't eating, though Morgan kept taunting him with his own plate, piled high with all the fixings of a proper cooked breakfast.

Emily, who was the only one not suffering from any form of hangover, felt almost left out. Her arm was fine this morning, if a little stiff; the bandage would be off no later than tomorrow. As she dug into her oatmeal, she supposed she should feel smug. When Reid had to excuse himself from the table, after turning an unpleasant shade of green when Morgan spoon a spoonful of beans and egg into his own mouth, Emily found she was a little bit smug, after all.

"So, this is what the hangovers look like from the outside, huh?" She taunted, glancing around the table at the rest of them.

"Don't act like Miss High-and-Mighty," Morgan scolded, playfully, "You've had your fair share."

"Yeah, remember Vegas, when she nearly tore my arm off?" JJ reminded them, and Emily rolled her eyes.

"Morgan had been going at that slot machine for a half hour, and all the coffee in the world wouldn't make the pounding in my head go away!" She defended.

"And the time you fell asleep in my hot tub?" Dave challenged.

"You know whiskey makes me sleepy!" Emily insisted, hotly.

"What about the time you vomited the whole way back to Quantico on the jet?" Hotch piped up. Emily caught his eye and raised her eyebrows.

"You wanna talk vomiting?" She challenged, and he had the decency to look a little sheepish, though there was a smirk on his face. She was getting used to that smirk, and to the softer side of him. She was really starting to like it.

"Speaking of vomit," JJ pushed her plate of fruit away, into the middle of the table, as Spencer rejoined them. His complexion had improved, all but his face, which was still a little pink.

"I think, on that note, we'd better hit the ground running," Hotch announced, "Everybody ready to make a move?"

There was a muttering of general consensus around the table and as they rose to leave, Emily saw Hotch leave the tip.

They rode back to the airport in much the same way they had driven to the hotel. The only exception was that Hotch and Emily had Reid in their car. He was practically hanging out of the window, head lolling out of it as he appreciated the cool air. Emily, therefore, sat in the middle, and Hotch on her other side. With the kid in the car, they couldn't talk about the night before, but Emily knew they would have to at some point. She wondered how much of it Hotch actually remembered. Regardless of what he remembered from last night, he had woken up in her bed. Neither of them could act as though that had never happened. She would have to tell him about JJ, too, and find a way to give him back his tie. She wondered if he had even noticed it was missing.

"When we get back to Quantico, I'm going to need you all to do your write ups," Emily didn't know why he was saying this; they all knew the post-case drill. They'd been doing it for years. When the car turned a corner and they were forced closer together by the momentum, she understood; he was distracting himself. She couldn't blame him. Try as she might, she couldn't get the image of Hotch, almost naked, in her bed, out of her head. Of all of the things they'd gotten away with over the duration of this case, that had been the most intimate. Waking up, like that, with him, had crossed a line. JJ was right.

"You got it," She agreed, looking straight out of the front window, rather than at him.

"Did you hear that, Reid?" Hotch leaned over her slightly, and Emily sat back, trying not to breath him in too deeply, and wishing he didn't have the effect on her that he did.

Reid, however, wasn't listening. Hotch looked concerned and Emily chanced a glance over at the boy genies. He had, once again, gone that unnatural shade of green.

"Reid?" Hotch said, warily, "Are you alright?"

"Reid?" Emily pressed.

He turned to them, tried to speak, and, at the same time, they shouted, "Reid, no, no-"

It was too late. When he was finished retching, Emily was glaring at him like she never had before, shocked and appalled in equal measure. Reid looked sheepish and Hotch was trying not to laugh, though the situation as a whole was fairly hysterical.

"I am never sitting in the middle again," Emily howled, then pointed an accusing finger at the younger agent, "And you," She glared, struggling to find the words, "Are never drinking again. Ever!"

"I'm sorry, Emily!"

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

JJ, Morgan and Dave stared at her as she boarded the plane. Morgan, who was the closest to the door, rapidly took a few steps backwards as she came aboard, clearly anticipating a stench. Her hands were outstretched, her trousers and shoes covered in the mess. Behind her, Hotch was carrying both of their go-bags.

"I thought you said you weren't hungover?" Morgan asked, looking at her with a expression caught somewhere between amusement and disgust.

Angry, uncomfortable and embarrassed, Emily glared back at him.

"I'm not," She insisted, shortly. "This is not mine. Even at the ripe old age of thirty, Dr Reid can't hold his damn liquor. He is never allowed to drink, ever again. Ever, ever, ever again. Does everybody hear me? I am putting my foot down."

Her voice had risen to a hysterical level. JJ nodded, quickly. Rossi was hiding behind his book, covering the smirk that was trying to evolve into a laugh. As Reid climbed into the cabin behind her, Morgan taunted him.

"You made mom maaaaad," He grinned, drawing out the vowel. It was only when Emily glare turned into a furious expression of shock, her mouth open in a wide 'o', that the smile swiftly fell from his face and Morgan slid into his seat, his back to her.

"Mom?" She mouthed, soundlessly, at JJ, who could only give her an apologetic shake of the head. Clearing her throat, she asked, "Jayje, do you have anything I can change into?"

"Sorry," She replied, with another shake of the head. "Nothing clean." 

"Yeah, me either," Emily complained, "I'm going to have to put yesterdays jeans back on."

"I've -uh, I've got a pair of sweats," Hotch's voice came from behind her. "I didn't wear them," He didn't have to explain why. They both knew why. Even JJ knew why, "You can borrow them, if you want." 

Given the current state of her attire, Emily was in no position to rebuff his offer, and she was actually grateful for it, so while Reid sheepishly settled himself into a chair and buried his head beneath a blanket, the two of them set off towards the back of the plane, Hotch still carrying the bags, and JJ giving Emily a pointed look as they passed.

Covered in vomit as she was, Emily was hardly in a sexy mood, so she rolled her eyes at the blonde and ignored the smirk that passed JJ's lips.

"Give the kid a break," Hotch told her, as they disappeared behind the curtain that split the plane, "It's not often he lets his hair down."

"Oh, run in the family, does it?" She mocked, still annoyed. Hotch raised an eyebrow, amused, and tilted his head in agreement.

"Fair enough, I'm not one to talk, but we weren't wrong; you have had a couple of slip ups yourself. This is one of Reid's that we'll laugh about sooner or later."

"Later," She hissed, as Hotch set down the go bags and began to dig around inside his own, "Much later."

The sweats he produced were grey, and for a moment, Emily was almost disappointed she hadn't seen him in them last night. She recognised them, though, from training sessions and, most recently, from when he had been training for his triathalon.

"Thanks," She said, her voice softer now, as she took them from him. She glanced towards the rest of them, then back at Hotch, catching his eyes. Tilting her head, she tried to speak, but he interrupted.

"Later," He promised, nodding, and left her to head back to the others.

"Later," She agreed, aloud, to nobody.

"Wit woo," JJ whistled, when she emerged from the bathroom wearing Hotch's sweats and a clean, though very creased, t-shirt she had found at the bottom of her go bag, and just her socks. Rolling her eyes, she flopped into the seat beside the blonde and lay her head on JJ's shoulder. "Sleepy?"

Emily slapped JJ's arm lightly, in response to the leading question. JJ chuckled, low in her throat, and returned to hte book she had been reading, leaning her head against Emily's.

"Thanks," She repeated, to Hotch, who was sitting opposite them. He nodded, and said nothing. Reid, beside him, was fast asleep. "Poor kid. Was I too harsh?"

"Maybe a little," Morgan perked up, from the seat across the aisle.

"You don't get a vote," She spoke sharply, and it was Morgan's turn to look wounded. "Mom."

The rest of them burst into laughter, including Hotch. Beneath the table, Emily kicked him.

"Hey," She said, "If I'm mom, what do you think they call you?"

Hotch's face fell as the realisation dawned on him, and he looked, questioningly, between JJ and Morgan, both of whom avoided his gaze pointedly.

"For the record," JJ piped up, after a moment of silence, "I have never referred to you as mom."

"Good," Emily noted, "Because that would be really weird."

Emily tried to ignore the stares as they entered the bullpen. Used to seeing professional Agent Prentiss, the sight of her in sweats (which were obviously many sizes too big anyway) instead of her usual black pant suits or skirts, drew curious and confused glances from most people in the room. JJ was trying not to look amused by it; Morgan, on the other hand, made no show of hiding how funny he was finding the situation. Reid headed straight to the coffee, not entirely sure whether Emily had forgiven him and therefore unwilling to engage in the situation at all, while Hotch followed the other three down the aisle of desks and then headed up towards his office.

"Casual Mondays," He clapped Anderson on the back as they passed him. He looked twice as confused as he had in the first place.

"Thank you," Emily rolled her eyes at him, dumping her bags on her desk. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going down to the locker room, where I do actually, thankfully, have a change of clothes."

She disappeared from the room as quickly as they had arrived and, this time, it wasn't just the other agents who watched her. Morgan was smirking when he turned back to his desk and happened to chance a glance up towards Hotch's office. Their chief was standing in his doorway, hands thrust deep in his pockets. At first, Morgan thought Hotch was looking at him, but when Hotch didn't react to his raised eyebrows, Morgan turned, following Hotch's eye line straight out of the door.

"They told me I'd find you down here," Penelope's voice was exactly what Emily needed to hear right now, and the grin on her face as the blonde rounded the corner was genuine. She was pulled into a tight hug, engulfed by the sweet scent of her friends perfume, and closed her eyes, content for the moment to relax with the only friend who hadn't either seen her covered in puke or interrogated her about last night. Yet. "They also told me about the sweats," She said, letting go of Emily and taking her appearance in with her bespectacled eyes. Shaking her head, she sat down on one of the benches. "Emily Prentiss, it's a good job you look good in everything, let me tell you that, because Hotch's grey sweats are barely flattering on him."

Letting out a laugh, Emily opened her locker and hid the smirk that graced her features inside of it as she rooted around for a change of clothes. It just wouldn't do to tell Garcia just how much she disagreed with that statement; and she disagreed wholeheartedly.

"Speaking of Hotch," She tensed, praying JJ hadn't already mentioned it to her, "Did he behave himself while you were away?"

Depends what you mean by behave.

"What do you mean?" Emily feigned innocence, as she pulled a pair of jeans and black jumper out of the locker. She quickly changed, aware that Penelope had seen her in worse states of undress than just her underwear on several drunken girls nights out, and stowed Hotch's sweats back into her bag. She'd only worn them for a few hours, but still thought it would be best if she took them home to wash before handing them back to him.

"I mean was he an ass or did he apologise?" Penelope pressed, "You were right about your theory, after all. He completely shut you down before you left, and then you were right. That must have tasted absolutely delectable. I wish I'd been there to see his face. You know I love the boss man with my whole heart, but sometimes I do love to see that ego quenched just a little bit."

"Oh, that," Emily shrugged, "Yeah, he apologised."

"Who apologised?" JJ appeared from behind the lockers, carrying a large mug of coffee, having just entered the room. She had clearly been directed down here by one of the boys and as she and Garcia hugged, Emily tried to explain quickly and briefly, wanting to be very done with this conversation and get back to work as soon as possible.

"Oh, just Hotch, about the unsubs," She was trying to brush it off, as she dug around in her make up bag for the basics she needed to apply to her face to look somewhat presentable.

"He did?" JJ queried, "At dinner? I didn't hear."

"No," It took everything inside of Emily not to reply through gritted teeth. Come on, JJ. "Not at dinner. After dinner. Last night."

The pointed look she wanted to give JJ would not have gotten by without Penelope spotting it and demanding to know what they were keeping from her, so Emily hoped there was enough meaning in her tone that JJ would catch on without digging any deeper. Apparently, she got the hint, because she and Garcia started talking about the boys instead, and how much JJ had missed them.

"That's what I came down to tell you," She directed at Emily, "Hotch said since there have been no cases called in yet we can go home for a few hours. He said he's staying here and if anything comes up, he'll call us."

"That's great," Emily sighed, relieved. She wanted to find a medic and get her bandage seen to, and then head home. Even if it was only for a few hours; a few hours of sleep, alone, in her own bed, was definitely a must right now.

Then there was the 'later' that Hotch had promised her. The conversation she knew they were going to have to have because, though it felt to her like it couldn't possibly have been only a few hours ago, they had spent the night together. Perhaps not in every sense of the phrase, but they both knew that the only reason for that was that Emily still had her wits about her. Remembering the low chuckle Hotch had given when she'd told him they couldn't, Emily almost shared his sentiment.

"If I'm wishing for things, maybe I wish you were."

She knew exactly how things would have gone if they were both drunk and, given the way things had abruptly ended this morning, she doubted either of them would feel very good about it right now. As it was, however, Emily could think back on their last few days and, instead of feeling confused and worried, she just felt smug and like they shared a naughty secret. And, perhaps, just a tiny bit confused about it all. Maybe.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

Once her report was written, Emily was ready to leave the office. She hadn't seen Hotch since they'd gotten back; the door to his office had been closed since she'd come back up from the locker room. JJ and Morgan had left as fast as they could; JJ to see the boys, Morgan because he said he hadn't slept much the night before. Emily had been forced to resist rolling her eyes at the statement, and at the stupidly proud expresion on her friend's face. JJ, however, had pulled a face that demonstrated both of their disapproval quite well. Reid had stuck around for about half an hour to write his report, then bid her good evening. That, she felt, was a little premature given the fact that it was early afternoon and they had plenty of time to be called back into the office for a new case. It had been known to happen. Many times. Garcia was about somewhere, but she had already said goodbye to them all earlier. That left Hotch.

Emily sat at her desk for a long while after she had finished writing up her report. Picking at her fingernails and chewing her cheek, she stared at that door to Hotch's office. His blinds were drawn, but he hadn't gone home. He wouldn't go home, she knew. Jack was with Jessica. That was the responsibility that fell on his shoulders; he couldn't go home, as team leader. He could give the rest of them permission, but he was chained to his desk, metaphorically. And, Emily thought, mentally.

The word workaholic sprang to mind. Though, she thought, she couldn't accuse him with too much disdain since she was fairly certain that there were many who would describe her as a workaholic, too. Funny, how they'd both rather be here than at home with their thoughts.

Picking up the file from her desk, she made her way up to his office and knocked on the door. No reply. Perhaps he had gone home, and she'd not noticed. Perhaps he'd gone home while she was downstairs changing. Intending to leave the file on his desk, Emily reached for the handle and stepped into the dark office. She was halfway to the desk when she noticed the figure sitting on the couch, and she gasped in surprise, holding the file to her chest as her heart raced in her chest.

Hotch was asleep. There was a yellow case file at his feet, where it had clearly slipped from his grasp, and his head, leaning on the palm of his hand, was lolling. He was snoring, softly, and, once over her initial shock, Emily smiled at the sound. It was rare that she saw him this peaceful and, well, she hadn't been able to take it in this morning, after all. Continuing on her route to his desk, Emily set down the file she had printed off, and turned to look at him. Leaning back against his desk, she regarded her sleeping boss with curious eyes.

The man barely had room for his son in his life. It was a painful truth that she knew he grappled with (although he'd never said as much outloud; he hadn't had to). What made her think he had room for her? The question hit her like a bullet - and she could make that comparison, because she knew what a bullet felt like. Shaking her head, Emily had to remind herself that she didn't want him to make room for her. They weren't an us. They weren't going to be an us. The idea was laughable. And impossible.

But she still wished JJ hadn't disturbed them up this morning.

With a sigh, she pushed away from the desk and walked towards Hotch, inending to wake him up and tell him to go home, if only because sleeping like that was going to give him a horrible crick in his neck, which would put him into a foul mood. Stooping to pick up the file, she moved to set it on the desk beside her own, barely glancing at it. She vaguely recognised it as one JJ had mentioned a few days ago, one that had come up through ViCAP, but the local police hadn't called them in so they'd had no ground to investigate.

Emily didn't even hear him move; she felt his breath on her neck before anything else.

"I hope you're not snooping around my office, Agent Prentiss," His voice was little more than a growl in her ear, and Emily had to fight the urge to close her eyes blissfully at the sound. Her heart was racing again, and not just out of fear, though that was definitely a factor.

"I would never," She replied, slowly turning to face him, "You know me better than that. I'm the epitome of professional."

"As am I," He agreed, brown eyes roaming over her face and landing on her lips. Mouth suddenly very dry, Emily ran her tongue across her lips. She thought she saw him swallow, in response. A small smiled graced her lips, and Emily found herself enjoying the effect she had on him. Not that he didn't have an effect on her, too.

"I thought I ought to apologise for last night," His words were professional enough, but the low tone of them, and the way his eyes were still lingering on her lips before travelling up to bore into her own, presented an entirely different front.

"Oh?" Was all Emily could manage, trying as she was to keep her head.

"Yes," He nodded, bringing his face ever closer to hers.

"Which part are you apologising for?" Emily prompted, almost teasing him. She was looking for a correct answer here, and there definitely was one. He had to know what she wanted to hear.

"For being too drunk to do this," And then his lips were crashing down against hers. It was a deep and fast and breathless kiss, and Emily gripped his arms, scrunching his suit jacket in her palms, while his hands were on her hips, pulling her to him and gripping her tightly.

This,she recalled, was just about where they had left off a few days ago. Or, close enough.

There were so many reasons to stop it. Jack, his position, his potential promotion, the fact that fraternisation inside of the FBI was looked down upon, if not strictly forbidden, the fact that Emily was fairly certain she had left the door open behind her. And, yet, Hotch kissing her was too delicious, she couldn't have torn herself away from him if she wanted to.

His hands were under her arms all of a sudden, and he was lifting her. She felt the ground disappear for a moment, and then she was sitting on the edge of his desk. It was exactly the sort of masculine display she would expect of Hotch, and Emily had no problem with it at all. Much to the contrary; she grinned as she broke the kiss for air, breathing hard against his chest as his hands travelled up her back and pulled her ever closer.

They travelled further up her back, running down her arms, and back up again. One circled her throat, and Emily tilted back her head, giving him access, letting him take control. The hand around her throat tightened and Emily chuckled.

"I didn't have you pegged for a choking kinda guy," She teased.

Hotch didn't reply. The hand around her throat was tightening. It was uncomfortable now and she tried to cough. Putting a hand on his chest, she tried to push him away.

"Hotch?" One hand on his chest, the other grappling with the hand around her throat, Emily didn't understand why he was doing this to her. Then he had both hands around her neck, and she was lying down on the desk, and he was baring down on her. She didn't remember moving and yet he was kneeling over her, his face bearing an expression she had seen only a handful of times. His face was red, his teeth bared, hair flopping down into his eyes.

She couldn't breathe. He was going to kill her. Hotch was going to choke the life out of her in the heart of the FBI.

And, then, suddenly, he wasn't Hotch anymore.

"Ian!"" Emily sprung up suddenly, her sheets sticking to her moist skin, hair wet with sweat and clinging to her neck, her own hand reaching for her neck as though to drag his fingers away from it. She found no hand there, just her own throat, and rested her hand on her collarbones, feeling her pulse pound beneath her skin.

Sergio, scared awake by her shout, had leapt to his feet beside her. His tail was standing up and he was regarding her with huge, worried eyes, tail swishing behind him anxiously. Heart pounding in her chest, Emily reached out a shaking hand to gently stroke him.

"It's okay," She spoke softly, to the cat, and to herself, "I'm fine. We're fine. I'm sorry." She pressed a kiss between his ears, but Sergio wasn't going to settle back down now. He leapt down from the bed, clearly unhappy with her for waking them both up, and pounced off towards the kitchen. Seconds later, she heard him lapping at his water. An excellent idea.

Climbing shakily out of bed, Emily made her own way through to the kitchen and, with hands that were still trembling a little, poured her own drink from the water dispenser in the fridge. She glanced towards her desk, and felt better, knowing her gun was safely stowed away in there. She could protect herself. And, more importantly, Ian was gone. She'd seen him die; she had watched Chloe Donaghy put a bullet in him, had witnessed his last words to his son. Ian was no threat to anybody anymore, least of all her. She didn't need protection from him. But he would love to know she was still suffering from his abuse.

Now angry as well as spooked, Emily hated imagining the smug smile that would adorn his face if he could know she was still having nightmares about him. The four leaf clover he had burned into her skin was gone (surgically removed with a graft and a hefty chunk of the FBI's money during her time in Paris) and although the scar on her torso remained, Emily had really thought those wounds had begun to heal. She thought she was done thinking about him and them and done with looking over her shoulder, waiting for him to come back for her. It was clear, however, that the scars he had burned into her mind were far from gone. He had hunted her then. Now, he was haunting her.

But, why now? Why, after these long months? Because of Hotch? She expected Reid would have some sort of long-winded but accurate explanation of why her subconscious was trying to scare her but Emily didn't have to be the boy genius to psychoanalyse herself.

"I'm scared of being hurt, again," She spoke, aloud, to the room, with only Sergio to hear and he didn't even glance up at her from where he had settled atop the shoe rack. His tail swished, at the sound of her voice, but other than that, he was motionless, relaxed once more. Emily almost wished he would come back to bed. She'd never been a cat person before Sergio. Now, it seemed, he was occasionally her greatest ally, on nights such as tonight, when she scared herself out of sexy dreams and into nightmares.

It was early, not late. Early enough that she could be awake and stay awake; weak sunlight was trying to break through the early morning darkness on the horizon and Emily knew there was no point getting back into bed. She wouldn't be able to fall back asleep. Instead, she resolved to get ready for work and hit the gym before she had to be in the office. It was the only place where she could work off her anxiety, lately, and she needed to do something to get rid of her pent up energy. Now coiled like a spring, unwinding at the gym would be what was best for her, and anybody she would come into contact with throughout the way.

Twenty minutes later found her in her in a sports bra and gym leggings, headphones fixed tightly in her ears, beating on a punchbag like it had Ian Doyle's face. She imagined knocking his teeth out with a roundhouse kick, imagined smashing open his brow with a punch, imagined blood seeping from a split lip...

The hand on her shoulder startled her and, had it been anybody but Morgan, they'd have been left with the broken nose she had intended for Doyle. Morgan, though, leaned easily out of the way and caught her arm before she lost her balance, steadying her. The expression on his face was concern and Emily had to steady herself for an onslaught of questions before she took out her headphones.

"Sorry," She said, shortly, "Too into the routine."

"Emily," Derek pointed out, tilting his head towards the window, "It's not even 6am yet."

"I know," She assured him, wandering over to her gym bag and shoving her now tangled headphones into the depths of it while grabbing her water bottle. She made a show of gulping from the bottle, giving herself a chance to think up an answer to the question she knew was coming.

"So, why are you here?" It was a valid question, but Emily pretended to shrug, nonchalantly, and gestured to him.

"You're here."

"I'm always here this early, Emily. How else do you expect me to keep up the chocolate xylophone?" He was smiling now, and Emily returned it, wearily. The smile faded from his face, though the corners of his mouth remained upturned, and his eyes softened. "For real, I never see you here this early; you're a night owl, not an early morning person. You're knocking down a coffee and a Xanax at seven, and I never even get a smile before 8. So, seriously, princess. What's going on with you?"

She considered telling him, really she did. Not about Hotch, maybe, but about the rest of it. About Doyle. But, when she opened her mouth, her shoulders shrugged of their own accord, and the voice that spoke was one that sounded much more cavalier than she felt.

"I guess this last case just messed with my body clock, that's all. I promise, I'll be back to snarling you tomorrow morning, okay?"

Derek didn't look convinced, but as she stalked off to the showers, Emily was grateful that he didn't push it any further.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

Though he wouldn't tell anybody, Hotch hadn't slept well, either. Jessica still had Jack; he was going to pick him up this evening, and the flat being so quiet and empty was too familiar, too similar to the days when Jack and Haley had been in WITSEC. Quiet as the apartment was, Hotch didn't feel as though he were alone. When he reached into his go-bag to take out his laundry, and found the joggers missing, and remembered the past few days so vividly it were as though he was reliving it, he had to push the thoughts away.

Slip ups. They'd both slipped up. Several times. How it had happened, how it had come to this, Hotch didn't know. For the best part of six years, they'd managed to work together professionally. There had been...moments. Moments that had meant very little at the time, but which now flashed through his mind as though they were foreshadowing the very events that had occurred over the last couple of days.

The first time she had walked into his office, for example.

"Hi," At first, when she'd smiled at him, from the doorway of his office, carrying her little box of things, he hadn't recognised her. He had registered that there was a beautiful woman standing there, but recognition had come a moment later. "I'm Agent Emily Prentiss." His eyes widened, and Aaron had to check himself as he responded to her, holding out his hand.

"Oh, you're Ambassador Prentiss' daughter," He nodded, "I did security clearances for your mother's staff; it was one of my first commands. I believe you were off to Brown at the time." He knew very well that it wasn't Brown. She was a Yale girl. How could he forget, when she'd pranced around for the entire summer in those sweatshirts?

"Actually, it was Yale," She corrected him, and he pretended to acknowledge his mistake. "I've been in the Bureau almost ten years now."

"Don't tell me that," He attempted a joke, "Has it been that long?" She looked well. Ten years in the Bureau looked as though they had been kind to her; if he looked for long enough, which he was trying not to, she still looked like the nineteen year old she had once been. The one that did things to him he had never admitted aloud. The one who had been haunting his dreams ever since.

"Apparently, sir," She smiled back, "But I work mostly in the Midwest; St. Louis, Chicago."

"Good," He was beginning to wonder how she had found her way into his office; on her mother's behalf, perhaps? "Your parents well?" He asked, hoping to prompt her.

"Yeah, yeah. They're great." Apparently not. She was looking at him with those impossibly large brown eyes, as though expecting something from him. What that may be, Hotch had no idea.

"Excellent," He nodded again, then paused, before asking the question, "What can I do for you?"

"Well," She indicated the box in her hands, "I guess I was hoping you could tell me where to put my stuff. I'm supposed to start here the BAU."

He hadn't approved that. Hadn't even known she was working for the Bureau. And, had he known, he absolutely would not have approved the transfer; both professionally and personally, he didn't need a ghost from his past haunting him. And he had told her as much; of course, later it became apparent that the fault was his, having missed the memo, but the look of embarrassment and confusion on her face was one he hadn't quickly forgotten.

Over the next couple of months, he had watched her. He had admired her, from a distance. She had striven to prove herself, and had exceeded all expectations he ever would have had for her, which was why, Hotch had reasoned to himself, he had given her such a hard time. He could see, from the very beginning, what she was capable of. Truthfully, even back then, he'd seen potential in her that he himself had never amounted to. It was intimidating and fascinating all at once. And, much as he liked her, he couldn't find it in him to trust her. After all, he knew her mother, and he had Strauss breathing down his neck. He couldn't trust anybody back then.

He felt a lot of emotions towards Emily during those first few months, many of which reignited the fire he held for her that had diminished over the intervening years. The first time she really impressed him, though, outside of the field, he had called her into his office. Strauss had her own agenda; she was pushing, pushing him, pushing the team.

"This team can't function if I don't trust the people on it," Hotch had told Emily, who looked bewildered and confused, and as he continued to speak, he watched her eyes narrow, her lips pressed into a straight line.

"Sir, if I touched a nerve out there today," She said, in reference to her questioning him in front of the rest of the team, "I'm sorry," She shook her head, minutely, "But I don't deserve this."

"You mysteriously show up at the BAE after one of my team members was involved in a questionable shooting. You've done good work," He was almost accusing her now, and he could see dislike creeping into her eyes. Good. She should dislike him. It would make this a lot easier. "But I will not put up with a political agenda."

He hit a nerve there, and he saw it immediately in her eyes.

"My mother is a career politician," She stated, "You worked with her." It was almost an accusation, "Did you like her?"

No, was the truthful answer, and, honestly, Hotch didn't think Emily liked her very much, either. The interactions he had seen between Ambassador Prentiss and her daughter had been less than warm; in fact, interactions with her mother were the only time Aaron had seen Emily for the child she'd still been in many ways, during that long summer he had worked for her. "She's an impressive woman."

It was as evasive answer, and Emily saw right through it.

"Well, I think politics makes people distrustful. I think it makes them hate themselves. I think it tears families apart and damages people," In her voice, he heard trauma he knew nothing about. Each of his team members had a past, that much he knew, but there was only so much you could read about a person in a file. He felt guilty, as she continued to speak, her eyes locked on his, the hurt there evident and genuine. "So, if there's nothing else. I would like to get back out onto the street and find out who's killing these women. Sir." It had killed him, the way she spat that last syllable at him. But, again, Hotch thought it would be better if she hated him. Selfishly, he pretended it would make their lives easier. Truthfully, the only person he was making it easy for was himself.

Months later, when JJ had questioned how Emily had acclimatised so quickly to their line of work, when he had walked in on that conversation, he, too had been curious.

"You came off of a desk job," JJ had almost accused her, shaken as she was from her experience with Hankel's dogs, "Now suddenly you're in the field surrounded by mutilated bodies don't even flinch."

Emily, Hotch had noted, hesitated. "She's right," He interrupted, and she turned to face him, words lingering on her plump, painted lips. She looked up at him through her eyelashes and there was a flicker of something before her walls went back up.

"I guess, maybe, I compartmentalise better than most people."

Again, Hotch was forced to recognise that there was more to this woman than he knew. He didn't know her at all. He remembered her, he had a connection with her. But, in reality, outside of the BAU, she was a stranger to him.

Time and time again, Emily had proven herself to him. And, the final straw, the point at which Hotch knew she was entirely indispensable, came, again, several months later, when he realised she had been protecting him, all of them, from Erin. He'd gone to her apartment, and the shock on her face when she opened the door and saw him standing there told him that she'd meant it when she handed in her badge and her gun. She was leaving. And she just had to be wearing red, didn't she.
He'd almost laid it all on the table right there. And when she asked him, "Can I ask - why are you really here?" He'd tried to put it into words without telling her.

"I think Strauss came to you and asked for dirt on me." And you didn't give it to her. Because you're better than that, loyal and good. Better than her. Better than me. He'd rambled, he'd all but confessed everything to her. Elle, Reid. When he was finished, she could only shake her head.

"I told you," She almost whispered, her voice thick with emotion, "I hate politics."

"Come to Milwaukee." The expression on her face was still hesitation. "I'll make you a deal," He tried, desperately, profiling the profiler, "If your bag isn't here, packed, I won't bug you anymore. Ifit is, I want you on that plane with me. One more case."

Emily was almost smiling now, clearly amused by hoe well he seemed to know her. "I already turned in my badge and gun," She tried, helplessly.

Hotch had smirked at her, and she'd smiled back. "That's just hardware."

Their relationship, from then on out, had improved immensely. The team was more efficient, happier, smoother. His trust in her was concrete. So much so, that he let her put herself in situations he hated. That day, when he asked her to go to Milwaukee with him, she'd gone into that house without a vest, and he'd let her. She'd almost died. And he'd let her.

He, too, had send her into Liberty Ranch.

"I can take it," She'd said, into his earpiece, as Benjamin Cyrus beat her, "I can take it." It had killed him, listening to that. He'd torn the headphones from his ears like a coward, not because it hurt him to hear Cyrus beat her, but because it hurt him to hear her insist she could take it. That desperation to prove herself, to get the job done, part of that was his fault. And he hated himself for it.

And then there was Doyle.

He had failed her, finally. All of the times he'd put her in danger. There was bound to be one. There was no consolation for him; even the fact that she had gone it alone didn't sooth his conscience. It was their job to profile. He knew her well enough to know that she would rather go it alone than put any of them in danger because of her. Emily Prentiss was a friend first, an Agent second. Unfortunately, working as closely with the same team as they did, it eventually became impossible to segregate the personal and the professional. Emily's compartmentalisation was over. It had failed. And she paid the ultimate price for it.

There was only one moment of relief in Hotch's life greater than when the Doctor told him Emily had puled through, and that was finding Jack after Foyet had murdered Haley. But, knowing she was alive, but that he had to let her go, had torn Hotch apart. It had torn the whole team apart. That was why he'd gone abroad. He couldn't stand being there without her; truthfully, he knew, none of them could. And he couldn't lie to their faces every day.

And, he pondered, sitting down on the edge of his bed, where did that leave them now?

They had been through so much together. And not just the two of them, but the whole team. The job had taken so much from each of them; literally and figuratively, physically and emotionally. Each of them bore the scars to prove it. But they never let the Unsub win. At least, that was what they told themselves.

Hotch had come to realise, though, slowly, during his years both as a profiler and as Unit Chief for the BAU, that there came a point when, even behind bars, even if they were shot dead, the Unsubs were still winning. If he, and Emily, and JJ, and Penelope, Morgan, Rossi, and anybody else they came into contact with, if they let their jobs get in the way of their lives, then the Unsub still won.

His job had always been his life. He couldn't, and wouldn't, turn his back on it, not now or ever. But sometimes, just sometimes, Hotch wondered what his life would look like when he was old and grey and looking back on it.

He was still thinking about it the next morning when he made his way into the BAU. Thankfully, he was in early, and the bullpen was empty, so he didn't have to meet anybody. That gave him time to set aside the thoughts that had given him a sleepless night, and all of the memories that had come flooding back to him suddenly, all of the moments. He headed straight for his office where he set down his briefcase and picked up the travel mug from his desk.

Normally, Hotch didn't do coffee this early, but today, it was more of a necessity than a luxury. He was standing there, spooning the splenda into his mug, when Emily came through the doors. She didn't notice him as she passed, and Hotch didn't greet her immediately, surprised as he was by her sudden appearance so early in the morning. That, he realised almost immediately, was an error. She headed straight for her desk, too, where she dumped what looked like a gym bag beneath it and then turned, presumably to make her own cup of coffee.

"Shit," She flinched as she spotted him, having believed herself to be alone in the office. The look she gave him could have killed. "I thought I told you not to do that."

"Sorry," He couldn't help the smirk that twitched at the corner of his mouth. "Coffee?"

"You don't make people coffee," Emily commented, as she strut over to the side, "People make you coffee. You're the boss, remember?"

"Emily," He sighed, stirring his own coffee, impatient with her petulant response, "Would you like a coffee, or not?"

Folding her arms across her chest and leaning against the side, Emily nodded. She watched, carefully, as Hotch busied himself with her drink, and raised an eyebrow as he dunked two levelled off spoons of sugar into her mug and sloshed in just a dash of milk.

"How'd you know I didn't want it black today?" She asked, curiously, as he handed it to her.

"You never have it black once you've been to the gym," He told her, "You're awake enough from the shower, and you also have sugar, instead of splenda, after the gym, too, because you don't feel so bad about the calories."

Now, if Emily was a high school girl, she would have made a big deal about this revelation; Hotch had been paying attention. Clearly, at some point, either they'd had a conversation, or he'd overheard a conversation between her and someone else (with the second scenario being the far more likely) and he stored away that information in his little mind cave for later usage. Were she a high school student, Emily might have found this sweet, or even an indication that the Unit Chief was harbouring a little crush, because who remembers such intricate details about a person, right? As it were, Emily was not a high school student, nor was she about to act like one, so she merely nodded as she took the coffee cup, muttering a quiet "thanks," to Hotch, her eyes flitting up to give him a small smile, rather than expressing her amazement and her affection at him having remembered such a detail about her.

After all, it was just a cup of coffee.

"So," She commented, as they wandered through the bullpen towards her desk, "Should we talk about it?"

She didn't have to name the it she was talking about; they both knew. Hotch nodded, "Absolutely," He said, "But not now."

Emily couldn't have agreed more; she didn't want to start her day with that conversation any more than he did. But, it was reassuring to know that they could be around each other without things being weird.

Well, Emily thought, as Hotch departed for his office and she slid into her chair and set her coffee down on her desk, not too weird anyway. She sipped at her coffee, and thought it just might be the best cup she'd had in a long time.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

As soon as they entered the conference room that day, they knew it was going to be a bad case. Penelope, their resident ray of sunshine, who tried to put a smile on her face even when the most horrific cases came their way, was not smiling today. She tried, when they filed in, to greet them in her usual, cheery way, but something about it fell short of her usual cheer.

"Good morning, my guys and girls," She greeted them, as they gathered around the table. As much as Emily had known how much JJ had disliked this aspect of her job, back when she was media liaison, she sometimes thought JJ had been much more emotionally equipped to handle it than Penelope was. Every time she delivered a case to them, Emily thought she could see a little bit of her friend's sparkle fade, though it always returned, usually upon the purchase of a colourful trinket with which she could decorate her electronic cave. "You, my crime fighters, are heading to rural Georgia, to a tiny little town that goes by the name of Toccoa. And when I say it's a tiny town, I mean it. Their population following the 2010 census was eight and a half thousand, and it's been dropping slowly since then."

"And, why are we heading there?" Rossi prompted, pulling one of the files from the middle of the table towards him. Following his lead, the rest of the team reached for their packs.

"Right," Facing them, instead of the screen, having already seen whatever horrific visuals she was about to present to them, Garcia pointed the remote behind her head, "That's why."

"Oh, my god," JJ hissed.

Emily had never had a good relationship with religion, and she would never speak for someone else's beliefs, but she was pretty sure God had absolutely nothing to do with what they were all seeing on the screen.

"This is Thalia Yates. She is eight years old," Garcia explained, in a voice thick with sadness, "She went missing yesterday afternoon. This morning, a jogger happened upon her body. She was...dumped, and I use that word literally, because I'm no profiler but there was no remorse in the way she was left there, on a popular and heavily trafficked hiker's trail. There was evidence of blunt force trauma to her head and," Garcia clicked the remote.

"A pentagram carved into her forehead," Emily closed her eyes, just for a moment. And then she had to shut it out. The part of her that wanted to week for the little girl and her parents. She quieted it; it had to go away, just for a little while, just until the case was done. She had to keep a level head long enough to catch whoever had done this to her, and then she would weep, in private and away from her team. They all would.

"I'm sorry, but that's not even the worst of it." Penelope continued, almost timidly.

A third click of the remote.

"Two more bodies were discovered in shallow graves nearby. They were in varying states of decomposition, but I can tell you they've been there longer than Thalia. These two earlier victims have yet to be identified."

"He took Thalia yesterday, and disposed of her body this morning," Hotch said, standing up, "I don't need to outline to you the time constraints we're under here, so wheels up immediately."

Their hour and a half flight felt much longer. They poured over their files for the most part in silence. Funny, Emily thought, how she had never been able to hear the seconds tick by on her watch before, but as she sat on the plane, it was as loud as if it had been a grandfather clock chiming through the cabin of the jet. Beside her, JJ was biting her nails. Emily understood the anxiety that drove her to such an action. Each case that passed their way concerning kids was so much harder for JJ now that she was a mother. Irritated by the noise, and concerned for her friend, Emily took JJ's hand, pulling it gently away from her teeth, and shook her head when JJ looked up at her.

"You'll make them bleed," Emily told her, softly, with the voice of experience. JJ tried to smile, clutching Emily's hand back tightly, though it didn't quite reach her eyes.

"With the population of this town being so small," Rossi was saying, "They're going to be closed off about outsiders. They're not going to take too kindly to our coming in and taking charge of the investigation."

"No, they're not, I agree," Hotch stated, glancing across at him, "And as much as I want to disregard that in favour of finding whoever is taking these little girls, the locals are going to be our best shot at finding this guy. JJ, Prentiss, I want you to set up at the precinct. Morgan, Dave, head to the dumpsite and see what you can get from there. Reid, you're with me."

As soon as they entered the police station, the coolness Rossi had told them about washed over the girls like an icy wave. Each pair of eyes that found them was equal parts curious and dismissive. Emily, however, had been raised in rooms like this. Her mother had presided over many a room where sat not a single friendly soul. Even in her first couple of years at the Bureau, Emily had dealt with a lot of mistrust and dislike, mostly from male colleagues. She could taste the misogyny like blood in the air. However, she had also walked through all of that, like treading on hot coals, and that was what she planned to do today. Glancing at JJ, she saw the same resolve in her friend's eyes.

"Agents, welcome," The first friendly face they saw extended his hand, and Emily took it, giving him a firm handshake, "Thank you for coming. We appreciate it," His eyes scanned behind their heads, at the scene they had just walked into, and he sighed, heavily, "Or, at least, I appreciate it." His voice dropped to a low whisper, "We are in way over our heads here."

"Well, we're here to do our best and our best usually gets the job done. You must be Chief Garrett?" Emily ascertained, and he nodded.

"I am. James Garrett. Although, the chief part is a pretty recent promotion, I'm not quite used to that part yet," He had a childlike manner about him, a boyish charm that put Emily at ease.

"Supervisory Special Agents Prentiss and Jareau," She introduced them, indicating JJ, "Out Unit Chief, Agent Hotchner has headed straight for the ME's office with another member of our team but we understand that the witness who found Thalia's body is still here, ready to talk to us?"

"Well, actually, I told Jack to go home for a couple of hours. You know, take a shower, grab some food. The guys had a real shock today," Garret told them, "He was a mess when he had to call it in. Stayed with her until my guys got there."

"We understand," JJ said, "But we are going to need to speak with him, and given the speed at which the Unsub - uh, that is, the Unknown Subject - seems to be working, it's really the sooner, the better."

Garrett was nodding, emphatically. "Yeah, sure. I'll give him a call, have him here as soon as possible."

The girls thanked him, and Garrett asked one of his deputies to show them to the office where they could set up. JJ set about pinning what little evidence they had up onto the board while Emily continued to pour over the file. She hoped the boys were doing better, because until their witness got here, they had nothing to go off of. She told JJ as much as she threw the file down onto the desk, frustrated.

"Hey," JJ raised an eyebrow, sitting down opposite Emily as the brunette raked her hands through her hair, "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," It was mostly true. With the exception of being frustrated about the case and exhausted by her lack of restful sleep the past couple of nights, she was fine. "Yeah, just not sleeping well."

She could see the taunt on JJ's lips, but the blonde knew better. Teasing, she knew, would come later, unless she put a stop to it.

"And not for the reason you think," Emily cut in, before JJ had the chance to comment, "That's done with. That was a one time," Four time. "Utah-" And Hotch's office. "-kinda thing that wasn't really a thing. I'm just having...bad dreams." She faded into a daydream as she spoke the last words, staring out of the window, recalling how Hotch's face had morphed into Ian's before her eyes and wondering at the significance behind it all, or if she were just running away from her own happiness again. It wouldn't be the first time.

"Hey," She only realised she'd been biting her fingers when JJ's hand came up to gently pull her hand from her mouth, "You'll make them bleed." The blonde told her, warmly.

Emily squeezed JJ's hand, gratefully, giving her a tired smile.

"So, what about Garrett, huh?" JJ commented, as she released Emily's hand and sat back in her seat. That mischevious smile was back in place. Emily was pulling the file back to her, raking her eyes over the details once more befire their witness arrived.

"What about him?" She asked, absently.

"He's pretty young for a chief," JJ said, leadingly. Emily barely heard her, but she agreed, anyway, as she jotted down a few extra notes on the paper. "And cute. Obviously driven. Seems just your type, don't you think?"

"What?" Emily looked up at her, confusion furrowing her brow, "What is with sudden your fascination with my love life?"

"I'm just saying," The blonde shrugged, standing up to resume pinning up the crime scene photos, "If the Hotch thing isn't going anywhere..."

Emily shook her head, "Jayje," She said, wearily, "Now is so not the time."

This had always been Hotch's least favourite part of the job. When kids were involved, it was even worse. As he regarded Spencer, he thought that perhaps he ought to have brought Dave or Morgan, instead, and let Reid go to the crime scene. The kid didn't have to see so much of this stuff. In the same breath, though, he knew that, professionally, Reid had the best eye for detail. He might see something that any of the others could miss. Hotch always had to weigh up his options when it came to his team; who needed to be protected, even a little, and who needed to be pushed. He had to weigh up his options between protecting Reid, and being professional. More often than not, Hotch's professional side won out. That, he knew, was a good thing. He just wondered, more and more often, lately, if he was asking too much of his team.

The child in front of them looked almost peaceful. Hotch would have sworn she was sleeping if her skin hadn't already taken on the almost translucent, grey quality of the recently deceased. Her lips were slowly turning blue, and Hotch had to suppress a shiver that threatened to climb his spine. Her eyes were closed, those blue-tinged lips slightly parted. If not for her colouration, she looked restful. The scalded, red pentagram across her forehead was the only indication of the horror that had befallen her.

"We were told the COD was blunt force trauma?" Reid asked.

"Yes, agent," The ME nodded, indicating the top of Thalia's head. Her hair was dark, black as Emily's, so it was difficult to see, but once the ME pointed it out, Hotch could see where her hair had matted thick with congealed blood. "My best guess," The ME was telling them, "Would be some form of elongated tool. A bat, maybe. Even a sturdy tree branch. Whoever did this to her hit her hard, twice. Her neck was broken by the force of it."

"And the symbol?" Hotch gestured to the child's forehead, though he needn't have.

"Unfortunately," She gave a heavy sigh, "Unfortunately, Agent, I believe that was carved antemortem. He cut her while she was still alive. He cut them all while they were still alive."

Casting a glance towards the next body, Hotch questioned the ME. "Alexa March?" The girl whose name they had received on their decent into Georgia.

The ME nodded. This girl had blonde hair. It was muddied, and bloodied, but it was blonde. Her skin was sallower than Thalia's, pulled tighter across her cheeks.
"How long do you think she was out there?" Reid asked, looking down at the child's face with pained eyes. Hotch wished he would look away.

"A month, maybe. No longer. T he third body, the one we've not been able to identify yet, she's been out there the longest. Maybe six months? She's in bad shape. We're pulling dental records, trying to find and notify the parents."

"We can narrow that down for you," Hotch said, turning to Reid. "Call Garcia. Have her pull records of any missing children in the area from roughly six months ago. We know he doesn't keep them from very long, so she should't go back too far."

Reid disappeared out of the swinging doors pulling his phone out of the pocket of his FBI windbreaker as he went. Once he was gone, Hotch turned to the ME.

"Was there any sign of sexual assault?" It was the question he hated having to ask the most, but when it involved children, it made his blood burn in his veins. Relief flooded him when the ME shook her head.

"None, on any of the victims," She heaved another heavy sigh, looking down at Alexa's little, pale face. "Small mercies."

"You see what I see, Rossi," Morgan was saying, gesturing with wide arms to the section of path and woods that had been cordoned off by the police tape, "This area, this path, it's wide open. It's heavily trafficked, especially at this time of the year. There's a 6 mile race that gets run every Winter. Whole town gets involved. So he's not worried about being caught, clearly. But, why take the risk? Why here? Why not somewhere more secluded, a dumpsite less likely to be discovered?"

Rossi didn't have the answers, only theories. He had been wondering the same questions as Morgan. Wandering off the path, slightly, to where Thalia's body had been discovered, Rossi looked around at the undisturbed ground near the dumpsite.

"The other two bodies they found," Rossi pointed out, "They were buried. In shallow graves, and further into the woods, but they were buried. Thalia wasn't."

"Maybe somebody disturbed him while he was getting rid of the body," Morgan shrugged, "He got spooked, dropped her, ran away before he had the chance to bury her in accordance with is ritual."

"That would be my guess, too," Rossi was nodding, "But it makes me worry. Now that his dumpsite has been disturbed, he might change it."

"All depends on his reason for choosing here," Morgan continued Rossi's train of thought aloud, "If it's random, he'll have no problem finding somewhere new. If it holds some significance for him, then he's got a problem."

It was at that moment that they heard commotion coming from the road. Cadaver dogs. Following the discovery of the second and third body, Hotch had ordered them to bring the dogs. Just to be sure. As they neared, however, Rossi felt a familiar sinking in his stomach. The dog's noses were pressed to the floor in concentration. The whimpering started almost at once. Then the barking. He and Morgan watched as, one after the other, the dogs paused and barked, spun and barked again. And again, and again.

"They're overwhelmed," Morgan said, "And we're about to have a lot more than three bodies."

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

Emily could only hear one side of the conversation, but she knew it was bad news. Even if she hadn't been able to hear it, she could read JJ's expression easily. As the blonde hung up the phone and turned to face her, Emily raised her eyebrows, questioningly, though she needn't have.

"They've found four more bodies," JJ's voice was thick as she put the phone back into her pocket. She coughed, once, twice, clearing her throat, as she rejoined Emily on the sofa. "There are more. They're still digging."

Emily tried, but words failed her. There were so many lessons you learned doing this job, but that was one of the first; on the worst days, there were no words. There was nothing she could say that would comfort JJ, who she knew was picturing the bodies of the little girls they'd pulled out of the ground. Soon, Emily thought, looking up at their evidence board, she wouldn't have to imagine; they'd been pilled up there, a piece of evidence, the only hope of making sure they were the last bodies they found. JJ ran a hand over her face and through her hair, her Citrine ring glinting on her finger. Henry's birthstone. Emily wondered, not for the first time, how much more difficult this job would be if she had a family at home she had to take it all home to.

"Agents," Garrett appeared at the door, "He's here."

"Mr Allison?" Emily greeted him, with a smile, as she and JJ both got to her feet as the man entered behind Garrett. Holding out her hand, Emily shook his. The chief met her eyes briefly, gave a short nod, and retreated, closing the door to the office behind him.

"Yeah," He nodded, his glasses sliding a fraction down his nose as he did so. He pushed them back onto his face, roughly, "Yeah, I'm Jack."

"Thanks for coming in. I'm Agent Prentiss, this is Agent Jareau." JJ stepped up to shake his hand, then gestured to the sofa.

"Please," She said, gently, "Have a seat."

As JJ pulled up two chairs for them, Emily watched Allison sit down. He was a slight man, but given that they knew he was a runner, that was to be expected. If she didn't already have all of his information, as provided by Garrett, she would have guessed that he was in his mid-forties, easily approaching fifty. It was hard to believe that the man sitting in front of her was only thirty-six years old.

"Mr Garrett," JJ began, "We need to ask you a few questions about the scene you discovered this morning."

"About...about the little girl?" His voice cracked, and Emily's heart went out to him. He was nodding again, and starting to remind Emily of those bobble-head dolls she occasionally saw in people's cars. "Of course. I was on my run," He started, before either of them had a chance to pose the question. He spoke quickly,as though the faster he got through his story, the less he would feel it. That never worked, Emily knew that all too well. "I always run in the Currahee Challenge-" He obviously saw the question on JJ's lips because he managed to elaborate before he was asked, "The annual six mile race along the Colonel Sink Trail. You know, "three miles up, three miles down." It's rough, but it's tradition. I do it every year." He was shaking his head now, not nodding anymore. His eyes had taken on a vacant quality. He wasn't with them anymore, he was back on that trail. "Been running that trail for twenty years. Never came across anything like that before."

Emily met JJ's eyes. The moment passed in silence, and they let it. It was a lot, even for them. Truthfully, it ever stopped being a lot. They could acclimatise, desensitise, compartmentalise, but there would always be a case that dug deeper than the rest, one that unsettled the ground on which they built their practice, opened old wounds and tore fresh ones. For witnesses, oftentimes it was their first wound. And the first was always the one that cut the deepest. Emily could see the trauma in Jack Allison's eyes. It was the same trauma she had seen in the mirror a thousand times over. She cleared her throat, softly.

"Mr Allison, I need you to take yourself back to moments before you came across Thalia's body," She pressed, gently, "I know you gave a statement to Chief Garrett, but, having had time to reflect on it, it's possible that you missed something. Anything at all. Something you saw, heard, even smelled. Anything can be helpful to us."

Jack's face darkened with concentration and Emily could practically see the thoughts flying around his head. She watched as they flit across his eyes.

"Please, Mr Allison," She reassured him, "Anything at all. There may be something you think is entirely inconsequential. Sometimes it's the smallest details that can make the biggest difference."

"I remember, I was running. I was feeling good, so I was pushing myself. The trek up the hill, it's torture, but when you're on your way down, sometimes that's even worse because your legs just want to go, you know." He paused fora moment. Emily saw his eyes flicker, watched him run his tongue over dry lips. Heard the rattle of his breath in his chest. She felt for him, she really did. "It was muddy. I must have hit a patch of it. I fell, twisted my ankle. When I was getting up, I'd dropped my water bottle, thrown it, really, into the bushes. I went to get it and...and she was just...lying there."

His voice stuttered to a stop. His bottom lip shook. His eyes moved, met Emily's, moved away again. Neither Emily nor JJ pushed this time. There was no need to. He swallowed, heavily,and then continued. His voice was quieter, thicker.

"I saw someone," He said, "I told Garrett this." The girls nodded, this was in their file. "I called out to him. He didn't turn around, so I didn't see his face and the woods were too dim to make much out. But he didn't come when I called and I couldn't...I couldn't leave her there. So I called the police and I let him go. I let him go."

"Thank you, Mr Allison," Emily shook his hand, bringing their meeting to an end. "Please, if there's anything else, please get in touch."

They stood, shaking his hand again.

"Mr Allison," JJ said, as he began to leave, "There are people I can put you in touch with. People who can help you process what you saw this morning."

Allison regarded her a moment, quiet and thoughtful. Then he shook his head.

"Thank you, but no." And, a moment later, he was gone.

"So," JJ turned back to Emily as she closed the door, "We have a sum-total of...nothing?"

"Looks that way," Emily sighed as she fell back into one of the chairs. She held her head in her hands for a moment. "I feel like we're getting nowhere."

"Seven bodies," Morgan announced, as he entered the room. The girls started, turning to look at him. He was angry, they could see that in his face. Beneath the surface, he was seething. He sat on the sofa beside JJ, head in his hands, and neither of them spoke to him. His wounds were obviously open and bleeding. "Seven little girls we found, out there in the woods. Youngest can't have been more than five years old."

JJ could see Rossi outside, talking to Garrett. She wondered what he and Morgan had found, what he was consulting Garrett on. Beside her, Derek still had his head in his hands. Absently, she didn't notice she was fiddling with the ring on her finger until Derek's hand shot out and grasped hers, gently.

"Stop, please," He mumbled.

She stopped, still looking at Rossi, when, behind him, Hotch and Reid enterred the police station. Hotch clapped Rossi on the back as he and Reid passed, and then the three of them were enterring the room.

"We've got Penelope looking up any cases of missing girls over the past couple of years, in Toccoa and any surrounding towns that are within driving distance." His face was solemn. The expression on his face was one they had all seen a thousand times. Hotch's walls went up at times like this. He was a father. Like JJ, anything involving kids. It got to him. "There was no sign of sexual assault at the ME's office. She did say that the Unsub carved the symbol into the girl's foreheads before he killed them."

"Oh, god," JJ sighed, "Those poor little girls."

"The question is why?" Emily pressed, "The symbol is the most significant thing here. The dumpsite, sure. The pile up of bodies, of course. But the symbol. If we can identify that, then we can get him."

"The pentagram comes traditionally from Christianity. Each of the five points stood for the five wounds received by Jesus during his cricifixion; the nails in both of his hands and feet, and the spear wound in his side. Contrastingly, in modern culture, the pentagram is used in many contexts. The Hollywood Walk of Fame, as one example. Thirdly, in Wiccan culture, the pentagram is used to bring together all five elements." Reid reeled off.

"Okay, so maybe our guy is a profound Christian, symbolically recreating the crucifixion?" JJ shot out.

"If you're gonna recreate a crucifixion," Morgan said, "I hate to say it, but you just perform the crucifixion. This guy is more subtle than that."

"Elements. We found the girls in the woods, right? In the dirt. The earth." Emily suggested, walking towards the board. She studied the pictures. It was fine to run with that theory, but if they couldn't put the pieces together, they'd only make their job harder, and travel further from the truth, further from catching the Unsub.

"Seven bodies," Morgan said, again.

"We know," JJ snapped.

There was a long moment of silence. It pressed on each of them. This was the point in the investigation, Emily knew, where it looked hopeless. Where they felt helpless. They had to take this moment. It stretched out, long and painful. And then, they sprung into action.

"I want to take Allison to the crime scene," Emily told Hotch, "See if there's anything there that triggers his memory."

"Of course, you and JJ head there now." Hotch nodded, "Rossi, you and I are going to talk to the parents of the girls we've identified." His phone rang and he took it out of his pocket, putting it on speaker. "You're on speaker, Garcia, we're all here."

"So, Thalia is from Toccoa, so is Alexa, but from what I could find about the other victims, they weren't. Dental records from our third victim match those of seven year old Meredith Thatcher, her parents filed her missing persons report roughly six months ago, the case ran dry pretty quickly. She's from Winder, Georgia. The information you sent me about the bodies, I'm still working through but I can tell you that one of them is Orla Canon. She went missing from Sugar Hill, a year and a half ago. She was just six."

"Thanks, Garcia." Hotch hung up. Turning to Reid and Morgan, he set them into action, "Morgan, Reid, start putting together a geographic profile based on what Garcia's found. This guy has a wide comfort zone, but hopefully it will still tell us something about where he's comfortable hunting."

Emily and JJ picked Allison up on their way back to the dumpsite.

"We appreciate you coming with us," JJ told him, "We understand you've been through a lot this morning, but we think that taking you back might shed some more light. Anything that you can give us will help."

"Of course," He agreed, "Although I don't know what more I could tell you."

The crime scene was quiet when they arrived. The dogs were gone, the ground disturbed in so many places. The yellow tape was still up, and would remain so until the case was closed. There was one police officer standing guard, and Emily and JJ showed him their badges before he would let them cross the line.

"My god," Allison exclaimed, as they neared the freshly turned earth. "How many bodies?"

JJ and Emily exchanged a glance between themselves before Emily spoke.

"Seven, following the three that were discovered this morning. Ten, altogether." Allison was shaking his head, a hand pressed to his forehead. He stared around at the ground, his eyes flitting from one patch of disturbed ground to another.

"No, no, no. So many." He was muttering, under his breath.

JJ's phone and as she lifted it to her ear, she glanced between Emily and Allison and then walked away, back to where the police officer was guarding the tape. Emily's hands were in her pockets as she turned, and a breeze drifted through the clearing. It was a rather warm day, but the wind that swept through had a chill and, beneath her windbreaker, Emily shivered.

"So many," Allison repeated, under his breath.

"Is this bringing anything at all back, Mr Allison?" Emily asked, desperately, though she could tell by the expression on his face that Allison was too overwhelmed by the evidence of the shallow graves to concentrate right now. She didn't press, as his eyes continued to flash across the earth. He looked...angry. She could understand that. Who wouldn't be angry, having been confronted by such a horrific reality.

Frowning, Emily glanced around. The breeze was stronger now, and it disturbed her hair.

"Mr Allison, could you show me where you fell, please?" She asked, withdrawing her hands from her pockets. He didn't register her voice. "Mr Allison?"

"Hm? Oh, of course," He began to walk away from the path, further into the woods. "There's another path, lower down, here. The route of the run goes down this way."

Through the small patch of trees, crunching on the dry leaves as they went, they came upon the path he was talking about. Emily glanced around. This path was even more secluded than the one above it. She expected they joined, at some point. As they stood there, she felt water on her face.

"It's raining." She muttered, quietly, bringing a hand up to wipe the rain from her cheek. Then, glancing around again, eyes raking over the dry leaves they had crushed on their short walk, Emily realised what had been bothering her. Before she could move, however, she felt a sudden pain crack across the back of her head, and her world went black.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

"What the hell do you mean, she's gone?" Hotch demanded, practically screaming at JJ through the phone. From the driving seat, Rossi's alarmed face shot around, trying to catch his eye. Hotch couldn't look at him, too afraid of what Rossi might see on his face.

JJ had the phone pressed between her ear and her shoulder, her gun thrust out in front of her as she frantically stared around the clearing. She had followed Emily's boot prints through the mud and leaves, and the clearing was empty, nothing but the wind to disturb the leaves now. "She's gone, Hotch." JJ said, desperately. "Spence phoned me, about the geographic profile. I came back to tell her and she's just...gone. Allison, too." Spotting something, JJ knelt. On the dried leaves in front of her, clear as day, there was a spatter of blood. It was tiny, barely anything, but it was there. "Hotch, there's blood. Not a lot, but it's here."

"He blitz attacked her," Hotch assumed, dropping his head into his hand, "It's the only way he would have been able to get the upper hand over her," He said, angrily, as Rossi turned the car around in the middle of the road. "You're sure she's gone?"

"Hotch," JJ said, insistently, "The officer posted here has been looking with me, there's no sign of her. Maybe Allison had a car hidden nearby? There's a road down beneath the dumpsite. From the looks of the leaves, this is definitely the way they came, but then there's nothing."

Hotch pressed his fist into his forehead, eyebrows furrowing deeply, as he tried to maintain composure. He paused a moment, thoughts racing through his brain. Fear seeped in, and he tried to push it aside, trying not to get distracted. "Hotch?" JJ's voice pulled him back to reality.

"JJ, get back to the precinct. We need to regroup, and quickly. I'll have Garrett send more officers to the dumpsite, see if they can find anything."

"I'm on my way." The line went dead.

Her gun was gone. Somehow, besides the pain, that was the first realisation that came to Emily when she regained consciousness. There was a thumping behind her right ear, and an incessant buzzing in her eardrum. Her left shoulder was numb, and it took her a moment to realise she was lying on it. That was how she knew her gun was gone; it would be digging into her hip if it was still there, but other than her numb shoulder, the floor on which she lay was relatively comfortable. Her badge was probably gone, too, because she couldn't feel the outline of it in her back pocket. It made sense, she thought, to get rid of the credentials when you killed a federal officer. He was probably going to destroy them. She hoped Hotch would find them, before that happened. It was wet, too, where she lay on the ground. Somewhere nearby, there was a dripping. It was constant and infuriatingly consistent. like a metronome she couldn't stop.

The next thing that registered with her was how badly it stank. A foul, filthy smell. Like the inside of a trash can. She couldn't see. There was pressure over her eyes. Blindfolded. Of course. The thumping pain in the back of her head was spreading, slowly, and each time she moved, the pain surged and Emily moaned in discomfort. Nausea began to creep in. Her hand were bound behind her back and when she tried to sit up, she discovered that her ankles were, too. Pushing herself, with much difficulty, to sit up, Emily felt a wave of nausea wash over her, and had to pause a moment, her head pressed against her knees, before it settled down. Once the urge to vomit receded, Emily felt around for the knot around her wrist. He'd tied it high, so that she couldn't reach it, and had wound rope between her fingers, where it rubbed uncomfortably and separated her fingers so she couldn't get a grasp on anything, anyway. He was smart. Emily pulled, twisted, did everything she could to try and get some slack in the rope, to no avail. Giving up on the rope for now, Emily tilted her head down towards her knees, trying to use her jeans to push the blindfold off of her face. It was a scarf, she decided, as the thin material shifted. The thumping in her head grew stronger as she tilted her head, but she tried to ignore it. The blindfold slid off easily in the end, but it made no difference. Wherever she was, it was dark. Blackness still pressed against her eyes, even once the blindfold was removed. The stench seemed to have grown stronger now, and Emily fought the nausea again. Even as she gazed around at the blackness, Emily felt a wave of exhaustion pass over her. Somewhat aware that she likely had a concussion, she fought to keep her eyes open. Even as she did, Emily felt the drowsiness fight it's way in until she couldn't stop it, and her head fell forwards onto her knees. The blackness swallowed her once more.

"Allison is our Unsub?" Morgan demanded, angrily, as Hotch, JJ and Rossi arrived back at the station simultaneously. Spencer had his back to them, didn't even turn away from the board as the three of them entered the office. He was staring at the board, at their evidence. Emily's face was already up on the board, Hotch noticed, and he suddenly couldn't look at it. It was the same one as her I.D badge, the one he saw everyday and in every file she had ever handed him. It was the same one they'd put up when she went after Doyle. Right now, Hotch couldn't look at it.

"I never would have suspected Jack," Garrett said, entering the room. "You've got the wrong guy," He insisted, "The guy teaches kids at the school. He runs the charity race every year, donates all of the money he raises to the hospital. He's a model citizen, he's a good guy."

"Your good guy has our friend and has potentially murdered seven young girls," JJ spat at him, and Hotch shot her a look. Reluctantly, JJ quieted, but Hotch saw her clench her fists, tight.

"Why does he donate that money to the hospital?" Rossi asked, having picked up on the comment. His hands were thrust deep into his pockets and though Hotch knew he was as worried as the rest of them, his face displayed a surprising calm. "Out of the goodness of his heart?"

Garrett hesitated a moment, fumbling for his words.

"Chief Garrett,we need your help," Hotch pressed, "Anything you don't tell us is an obstruction of justice and assists in the endangerment of a federal agent."

It wasn't a quite a threat, but Garrett raked a hand through his hair, glancing, helplessly, around at the rest of them. He found no sympathetic eyes. "Jack had a daughter. Tyla. Brightest little girl you ever met. All blonde hair and blue eyes," Garrett was smiling, fondly, "He taught my kids, you know, Jack, I mean. That's how I know him. Know him pretty well. Knew Tyla, too. Her mom, she died when Tyla was a tiny baby. Cancer." The smile had fallen from his face, and he wasn't looking at any of them anymore. His eyes were fixed on a spot on the floor. "Jack was driving the night she died. It was along the trail he runs. It was a lot of loss for him, his wife and his little girl, so quickly."

"She died on impact?" Morgan asked, quietly, from where he sat at the long table.

Garrett was shaking his head. "No," He said, in a voice so quiet it was almost a whisper, "That would have been better. She was alive when I got there. I was an officer then, one of the first responders. She was in Jack's arms. Tiny. Broken. There was blood everywhere. All over the car, the road, Jack...Tyla. She was brain dead before we got to the hospital. Blood loss. Jack had to make the decision to turn off the machines. They let him sit with her all night. Held her hand and spoke to her all night. He turned the machine off the next morning. Nearly killed him."

They were quiet a moment.

"That's why he gives the money to the hospital." Garrett finished.

There was silence as they each took the information in. The tension in the room had grown with every word of Garrett's story. The hairs on JJ's arms stood on end as Hotch rounded on the chief.

"You didn't care to share this information?" He demanded. Garrett took a step back as the taller man towered over him. Rossi had to reach out a hand, which he placed on Hotch's shoulder. It was a gentle gesture, but the hand was strong and insistent. Beneath his hand, Rossi felt Hotch's muscles bunched and tense beneath his jacket.

"He reported the body," Garrett defended himself, hotly, "Why would he turn himself in?"

"Tyla," Morgan interrupted,"Was she about six years old?"

Garrett nodded, solemnly, and Morgan sighed, deeply. "Substitutes. So, why would he turn himself in?"

"Guilt?" Rossi suggested, but JJ was shaking her head.

"The guy he said he saw there," JJ told Hotch,neck snapping around, eyes boring into their team leader. He nodded, simply.

"You need to get another team out there, quickly." Hotch told Garrett, "There's a body we've not found yet. Reid?"

"I'm working on it," The younger agent said, as he pulled his phone out of his pocket to dial Garcia's number. Rossi saw the question in Garrett's eyes and, angry as he was, took pity on the chief to offer an explanation.

"We need to find them. The kid's going to find out if he has any property nearby, anywhere he might be keeping Agent Prentiss."

"If she dies" Hotch told Garrett, with eyes that flashed with anger, "If she dies, I'll have your badge."

"You need a minute, Hotch," Rossi told him, gently. Hotch didn't want to take a minute, but he knew the older agent was right. With one last dark glare at Garrett, he strode from the room to the nearby deserted kitchenette. He needed the quiet because he could practically feel the seconds counting down, with each beat of the blood in his veins. Like the ticking of a clock. Like a metronome he couldn't stop. Emily would trust them to come for her, but he couldn't do that until he had a level head with which to think and, right now, he didn't have that. He had put her in danger, again. He knew what the rest of them would say, even Emily, if he expressed that feeling to them. They were here to do a job, and their job was dangerous. Their job came with risks. He hadn't known, it wasn't his fault. It didn't matter. He should have known. Emily, though, was resilient, and he was trying to hold onto that.

"Please, tell me you haven't been here for the past four days." It had been an awful case. They'd dealt with not one, but two serial killers, each trying to out-do the other. But, seeing her sitting on the sofa in his office, he opted for the comment that was almost a joke. She had that affect on him. He wanted to get home, he wanted to see Haley. Emily Prentiss was the last thing he had expected to be confronted with this evening.

She shook your head, and he didn't miss how the lights of his office glinted off of the sheet of her dark hair. "I heard you were coming back tonight."

That gave him paused, and he looked at her, confused. "Heard? How could you have heard a thing like that?" Later, he would learn exactly how she had learned that information; Strauss. Forcing her into his pocket. Strauss could never have known how, years down the line, Hotch would be so grateful for what she had done. At the time, Emily had avoided the question altogether and, instead, presented him with a file.

"I appreciate your interest, Agent, but profiling is a specialty," He had told her, perhaps a little too harshly, "We can't let anyone who wants to just give it a whirl."

"The I-80 killer? Co-eds in Indiana?" She ignored him, indicating the file he was holding. Hotch had read it on the plane already, and he told her as much when she pressed him. "They aren't blitz attacks," She said, confidently. It was a conclusion he himself had already come to, and he was about to tell her so, but she was still talking. "This guy is organised. He's a white male, early 30s, and a smooth talker because, even after eleven victims, he can still convince educated women who know there's a predator out there to get into his car."

Hotch was impressed, though he didn't let it show on his face, and he had never admitted it to her since. She knew, though, she had to. It was getting more and more difficult for him to send her away. She was going to end up on his team, he knew. He was going to have to see her everyday. And, everyday, he'd imagine her with that fucking ponytail. "How would you advise the police?" He questioned. Come on, he thought, selfishly, trip up.

Of course, she didn't.

"I would stake out the Ranch House, a club night in Gary," She told him, smoothly, as though she had anticipated the question which, he thought, she probably had. "They have a very popular ladies night. Look closely, you'll see that eight out of the eleven victims went missing on a Friday morning, so something gets this creep's motor running on Thursdays." She paused, looking up at him. He saw the passion and urgency in her eyes, the desperate need for him to believe her. She shook her head, sighed heavily. "This isn't a whirl, Agent Hotchner," She told him, and he unashamedly watched as her lips curled around his name, "I don't know how the paperwork for screwed up, or maybe you believe my parents pulled some strings, which they didn't, by the way. There was a sharpness to her tone when she said that, which was easy enough to profile, "I belong in this unit. And all I'm asking you the chance to show you that."

He had stared at her a moment, while she looked up at him with those impossibly dark pools, almost pleading for him to believe her. His professionalism and his personal agenda were having a battle in his mind. He couldn't deny her talent. Profiling could be taught, to an extent. She had a natural talent, that much was obvious, and that much couldn't be taught. She was good; intimidatingly good, at her young age and level of experience. She was right. She belonged in the BAU. Much to his dismay.

Resilient. Strong. Stubborn. She would be okay. She was stronger than all of them. Hotch still couldn't quiet his mind. The more he thought of her, the worst it got. This was why there were rules. Rules that sought to prevent agents from developing relationships that led to this emotional turmoil. He was personally invested now. They all were, in truth, and though he had always worried a little more about Emily, he'd never felt it so intensely before. His anger was only mounting, not subsiding. Anger with Garrett, for not giving them all of the information. Anger with Emily, for straying with Allison. Anger with JJ. JJ had lost her. JJ should have been with her.

JJ chose exactly the wrong time to walk out of the office and into his line offire.

"Hotch, what's next?" She asked, approaching him. She could visibly see the tension, his brow was furrowed deeply, and his eyes were harsh when they met her own.

"Why did you split up?" He had rounded on her before he could help himself and saw the shock in JJ's face as her jaw dropped. "I send you out in pairs to keep you safe; so that things like this don't happen. We're a team. She was your partner. So, what happened? Why did you split up?"

JJ gaped at him, her mouth opening, but words failed her momentarily. Hotch watched, guilt surging in his chest, as he saw her eyes well up. JJ shook her head. She knew he was worried, they all were. But she shook her head because she could hear it in his voice, the pain and worry this was inflicting on him. "I don't need you to accuse me right now, Hotch," She told him, "I feel bad enough already." Swallowing, JJ was unable to meet her boss' eyes for a moment. Then she did, and he saw steel there. "But this isn't my fault. This isn't Emily's fault. Isn't that what you always tell us?"

Hotch was shaking his head now, too. "No, no, it's not." He backtracked, "It's the Unsub's fault. JJ, I'm sorry."

"Right," JJ said, shortly, inhaling deeply and brushing the tears away from her eyes, annoyed by their presence and by his accusation. "I know you're stressed right now," She pressed, looking into his eyes and hoping he could see everything she wasn't saying, "More stressed than the rest of us are, but Emily needs you to keep your head in this."

Hotch saw it all in her eyes. He had suspected, obviously, but now he knew. How much JJ knew, he was unsure, but he was certain that Emily had told her some of what had gone on between them. But JJ's eyes weren't accusing, they were compassionate, reassuring. More than he deserved, after laying into her.

"You sound like my boss," He attempted a joke, halfheartedly.

"Yeah?" JJ answered back, without hesitation, "Good, at least one of us does, because two minutes ago you weren't acting like mine."

She was right. Any other time, Hotch would have stepped on her attitude, but she was right and he deserved it. He nodded, and she returned the gesture.

"You good?" She asked.

"I'm good."

"Good." JJ inhaled, deeply. "We'll get your girl back, you know."

Something in Hotch's chest surged at JJ's comment, but he hushed it, not acknowledging it aloud.

"We will," Was all he said, though he couldn't help but remember the last time they'd lost her, and how that had gone down.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

Emily couldn't see him, but she could hear him. He was sloshing through water nearby. Water. That was good. She had figured out where she was; somewhere linked up to the town's sewage system. It was the only was she could justify it smelling so awful and being so dark at the same time. They were underground, of that much she was certain. She only knew because of the pressed on her eardrums, and, even then, she didn't know how she knew. The pain in her arm was back, from the knife wound but the headache had subsided, somewhat, though she still felt tired. But the intense silence was worsening the buzzing in her ear. The high pitched noise was almost more annoying than the ropes wrapped tightly around her wrist, which were beginning to chafe. She could already feel that they had broken the tender skin between her a few of her fingers. Even twitching her hands hurt, but she hadn't stopped trying to get out of them, and she slowly felt the rope giving way, becoming looser. It was taking too long, though.

When he neared, she stilled.

"I didn't want to do this, you know," He told her, quietly. Emily said nothing, but listened intently as his voice shattered the stillness. "I didn't want to hurt you. I almost liked you. But I couldn't hurt her. She was too much like her. And I know what I need now. The little ones, they're not enough. It has to be you, instead. With you, it will work."

Emily had no idea what he was talking about. She had no idea who he was talking about. His words were jumbled, even as he spoke them, and Emily could barely put them together in her head, she was so disoriented by the blackness and the now dull ache in behind her ear. Who was the 'her' he was talking about? Or was there more than one?

"Tonight," He was nodding, "It will have to be. Still a full moon. Meant to be, you see," He was rambling, but she caught most of it this time, "Meant to find you. Meant to be you."

Allison. Definitely his voice. How had they missed this? She should have known, she should have seen it.

"JJ," She mumbled, suddenly fearful, her voice coming out quiet, "JJ?"

"There's no one else here, Agent Prentiss," He told her. "No one but you and I."

She strained, trying desperately to form a coherent sentence. "D'you hurt JJ?"

There was quiet in the darkness, and Emily felt her stomach drop. She couldn't breathe for a moment, fear gripping her like a steel hand around her windpipe.

"No," The hand released her and Emily gasped, sucking gratefully at the air, "I couldn't. The eyes. Looks too much like her."

Groggy as she was, Emily was adding to their profile in her head. Her. Too much like her. Who?

"Who?" She breathed, "Too much like who?"

Again, silence. She could sense his eyes on her. He hadn't bothered to put the blindfold back on, she noted. That had probably been a precaution for if she woke up before he got her down here. Now, in the dark and the damp, it was pointless, useless. He didn't need it. And, besides, she knew who he was, anyway. He had no intentions of letting her get out of here alive.

"Tyla," He finally spoke, gently. "My Tyla."

Emily could tell from the tender way he spoke her voice that Tyla was his child. His daughter. It was slowly beginning to make sense to her, and if she hadn't been so out of it, Emily would have gotten there a lot faster.

"She was about six, right?" Emily was putting it altogether in her head, "That's why you took those little girls. They're substitutes for her. Did you kill her the same way you killed them?"

A hand shot out in the darkness and, with a roar of rage, he smacked her across the face. Arms and legs tied, Emily couldn't stop herself from falling, and the pain on her cheek was followed by more pain as her forehead smacked off the concrete of the floor. Whiteness, like fireworks, exploded behind her eyelids and Emily felt a warmth begin to seep down her face. Blood.

"Don't you dare," Allison was angry now, and closer than he had been. He reached for her in the dark, his hands finding her arms, and pulled her to her feet, where she balanced precariously, ankles still bound. "Don't you dare," He shoved her backwards, and Emily shrieked as her head was slammed against a smooth wall, and slid, helplessly, back to her knees. "I would never." As quickly as it had come, his anger subsided. He was crouching right in front of her now, so close that Emily could feel the warmth of his breath as his anger turned to sobs. "She was my baby. All I had left of my Olivia. I would never hurt her. What kind of a father do you think I am?"

Emily stayed very quiet. There were tears pooling in her own eyes, as she felt the blood run down her face. She closed her eyes tight against it, but it avoided her eyes altogether, travelling smoothly past her eyebrow and down the outside of her cheek. It was a steady flow of blood, but Emily knew that head wounds always looked worse than they were. There was always more blood than cut. The blunt force to the back of her head, however, in such quick succession to the last blow, was dangerous, and even in the dark, Emily felt the dizziness set in. She kept her lips pressed tight together, tears of pain seeping out of the corners of her eyes, for fear of angering him again. Without her gun, with her hands tied behind her back and her ankles locked together, there was nothing she could do to defend herself. There was nothing Emily hated so much as feeling helpless.

"I asked you a question," His voice was low, deep, slow. The sudden calmness made Emily wary and she swallowed, deeply, before she spoke. When she did finally speak, her voice came out in a rasp.

"I'm sorry," She said, wanting to appease his anger, protect herself for the time being, "I didn't know. I'm sorry for your loss."

"You are?" He sounded genuinely surprised, and regardless of what she knew, Emily was sorry. Too often, she came across this same story. Parents without children who lost their minds. She was sorry, and she told him so.

"You've done...terrible things, Jack," She started, slowly, "I think we both know that. You know what you've done isn't right. But, yes, I am sorry that you lost Tyla. Nobody deserves that."

Again, the silence. Emily tensed, pulling her knees up to her chest, anticipating a blow that didn't come.

"Terrible things," Jack agreed, through the darkness. "Terrible. But, after tonight, there won't be any more terrible things," He was rambling again, "After tonight, everything will be better. Just one more. You'll be my last. And then it will be better."

"How?" She asked, unable to help herself, "How will it be better after you kill me, Jack?"

"Because I'll have my Tyla back."

He was insane. Emily could hear it now. She thought back to the man she had met that morning, with his distant eyes and his perfect story of how he'd stumbled onto Thalia's body. What was it he had been saying, when she and JJ took him back to the site?

"So many," That was what he'd said, when he saw how many bodies they'd found. "So many."

"How many were there, Jack?" She asked. The way Emily saw it, he didn't expect her to make it out of this alive. So, he had nothing to lose.

"Twelve," He answered her, immediately.

Twelve. Emily closed her eyes, dropped her head. He'd killed twelve little girls. She took a moment, for the girls they hadn't been able to save. Thalia, Alexa, Meredith, and the nine other little girls whose names she didn't know. She shook her head in the dark.

"Jack," She tried to reason with him, knowing that in his mental state, it was probably pointless, but feeling the desperate need to try, anyway, "Jack, you can't bring her back. I'm so sorry, but you can't. Tyla's gone. She wouldn't have wanted you to do this.

"You don't know!" He was yelling again, and Emily shrunk back against the wall, anticipating violence. She heard a smack, but didn't feel anything, and deduced from Jack's swearing that he had punched the wall. "You don't know what you're talking about," He spat at her, "I know! I've seen it. I've learned. I taught myself how to do it, and I'm going to bring her back. I just need the right offering. That's where you come into it. But you've got until midnight, when the full moon rises."

Emily heard him splash away, and when she was sure he was gone, she exhaled.

His footsteps were receeding now, slowly. Emily didn't know where he was going. They would know now, that it was him. They would know he had her. How long had she been down here? It was easy to loose track of time in the dark, and she didn't know how long she had been unconscious for. If JJ had gotten back to them...if. If Allison had been telling the truth about not hurting her. He had. She really thought he had. The emotion in his voice, when he spoke about his daughter. He wouldn't have hurt JJ. Would he?

It hurt to think. Her head was still bleeding, and she felt it drip from her chin onto her chest as she sat there. Even if they didn't find her, she might well be dead before they got to her at this rate. Head wounds bleed a lot. Hotch would find her. He would. He wouldn't let them sleep until they found her. They wouldn't want to sleep until they found her. But she was tired, and it hurt too much to think.

"Hey, I'm sorry, I thought you said 10:30."

"I did, for you."

She knew she was in for it, when he said that. Reluctantly, she took the seat opposite him. From a glance, she could see what he was reading. She caught her name.

"I received Dr Merrill's evaluation and I just wanted to review it with you."

Uncomfortable now, and slightly annoyed at his having drawn her here under false pretenses, Emily bristled and cast her eyes about the jet. "Here?"

Things between them had been difference since she'd gotten back. She had seen it in his eyes, when she had walked into the conference room, when she'd seen him for the first time in seven months. He was unshaven, rough. He looked like he hadn't slept in weeks. They all did. By comparison, she knew she looked like she'd just come back from a weekend at the spa. She'd been lonely, but they'd been through hell. Morgan was looking at her like he didn't recognise her. Penelope was gaping. Rossi's face was impassive, but she thought she could detect the lingering of a smile at the corners of his mouth. Emily's eyes past swiftly over Reid, because she couldn't stand to see the hurt she knew she would find there.

JJ looked like she could cry with relief, at no longer having to keep the secret. But Hotch. Hotch was looking at her like he had so long ago. Like she was someone to be suspicious of. Someone not to be trusted. Someone he thought he had known, who turned out to be someone entirely different.

And here he was, bringing up her psych eval.

"I get tired of being profiled through my office window," He told her, attempting a joke, but Emily wasn't about to take that bait. It was difficult enough, being here, alone, with him. Things were too stiff, too awkward, too different, Before Doyle, they'd been in a good place. A great place. Lauren Reynolds had shattered that.

"What is there to discuss?" Emily asked, unwilling to be profiled by her boss, shutting down any cooperation he thought she might give him. "She gave me a clean bill of health."

Hotch's eyes bored into hers. She knew better than to try to fool profilers, but that didn't mean she had to make it easy for him. She looked back, her own eyes blank, unassuming. She wasn't about to give him any reason to take her out of the field again. Hotch, recognising the walls that were going up, the stubbornness that he was fighting against. He glanced back at the file, reading the words in front of him.

"Patient shows no hesitation tackling difficult goals as part of reintegrating into her life." Emily was nodding. These were exactly the words she had wanted the psyche to write, or, at least, words to this effect. She had been very particular about the language she used, when talking to the doctor. But Hotch was still talking. "She has reached out to her mother."

His eyes found hers and, for the first time, Emily felt the need to defend herself. "I'm going to!" She insisted, knowing he could see through the lie as easily as she could tell it.

"And has started a romantic relationship with a man named Sergio." Was that a smile playing at the corner of his lips? Emily would have sworn it was.

But, for that, she didn't have an answer. She tilted her head, looking for one, and licked her lip, in the way she did when she was thinking, but there was nothing to be said. He didn't wait for her to speak, either.

"Now, I don't care if you lie to your therapist," He was saying, "All I care about is how your behaviour affects your job."

And there it was. No, I care about you. No, you've been through a lot. All Hotch, all business. Just how he had been with her way back when, before they'd earned each other's trust. Before he knew her. He didn't know her anymore. That was how he felt, and there was nothing Emily could do about that. Regardless she was not about to let him accuse her of not doing her job.

"I don't think it has," She defended, passionately.

"You've been overcompensating," He accused, evenly.

Knowing he was right, but refusing to die on this hill, Emily rolled her eyes, shaking her hair out of her face. "How have I-"

Hotch, obviously, had come armed.

"You rushed to repair your relationship with Morgan." Strike one. "You've become an emotional sounding board for Reid and Rossi." Strike two.

"That's being a good friend." Even as she said it, she knew, they both knew, that it was more than that. She hated that he could call her out like this.

"You offered me parenting advice." Strike three. And you're out.

She sucked in a breath, knowing the game was over.

"Okay," She admitted, reluctantly. "Maybe I have been working a little bit harder to regain people's trust," Including yours. "Is that such a bad thing?"

Hotch was shaking his head and, this time, when he spoke, it was softer, calmer, kinder. "No," He said, simply, "It only is if you use it to avoid dealing with what you went through."

Emily looked at him a moment and, for the first time, behind those distrustful eyes, she saw concern.

"But I'm not," She tried to reassure him. "I chose to come back here. Why?" She asked, before he could, anticipating his next question. "Because I care about the people I work with? Yes. But also because it's clean," She insisted, willing him to understand, to feel how much she meant it. "I know who the good guys and the bad guys are. I don't have to worry about...screwing someone over to make a case."

He understood. He was all softness now. It was unnerving to see, but reassuring at the same time. "Okay," He said, gently, letting her be. "I want you to make a deal with me. You're going to go weeks, months, even, feeling fine." He was, she knew, speaking from experience. "And then you're going to have a bad day."

He was earnest, his eyes imploring. She wanted to reassure him, but she knew he was right.

"Just let me know when you do."

The seriousness had dissolved a moment later, with the quip about Sergio, but Emily had felt the weight of that promise she made to him for days after.

Clinging to that, the softness of him, the depths of those eyes, the lengths she knew he would go to for them, for the team, for her. That was what would get her through, she knew. Even stronger than all of her pains, her gunshot wound, the blunt force to the back of her head, the wound on her forehead, her bruised and bleeding hands, even stronger than all of that, was the knowledge that they were coming for her. In the dark. Waving flashlights and calling her name. They would find her. He would find her. It was all she had to cling to. It was enough.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One

There was a button, once. Penelope had mentioned it, he was certain. It was set to count down a minute and, each time it was pushed, the minute would reset. It was some online website, Penelope had said that millions of people pushed this button, that they only had one push and once it was used up, that was it. All they could do was sit, and wait, and watch other people use their pushes, while the clock continued to count down, reset, and count down again.

That was how he felt right now. Watching the clock, each time it hit the twelve, Hotch felt the minute start all over again. He just didn't know how many of those minutes Emily had left, or which would be her last. He hadn't asked Penelope what happened when the clock finally reached zero. Nobody had spoken for a while, but even when they did, he hardly heard them. All he could hear was the ticking of that damned clock. Tick, tock. Counting down Emily's life, to the second.

Her picture was up on their evidence board. Hotch hated that. They all did. JJ sat with her back to it, unable to look. Reid kept glancing at it, and Hotch knew he was thinking about the last time Emily's face was up there. Last time, they had lost her. Reid had lost her for good, or so Hotch had let him believe. The kid had never really forgiven them for that, Hotch thought, and truthfully he couldn't blame him. If someone had let him believe she was dead, for seven months, he didn't think he'd ever be able to let that go. The accusation and anger had died away, but the truth had never been the same ever since. Now, watching Reid's eyes flicker from the page he was staring at, to the picture of Emily, the same one from her I.D badge, Hotch felt the air growing thin around him. Tick, tock.

"It's getting dark," Morgan told them, though he needn't have. They could all see. The windows were growing dim, the light fading faster than they had ever noticed was possible. The glow of streetlights began to illuminate the glass.

The body of their witness had been found several hours before. A black man, bald, just as Allison had said. Well built, healthy, dressed for a run. He had been found about half a mile from the dumpsite. Blunt force trauma to the head.

"Allison wanted us to think he was our unsub," JJ muttered, indicating the picture that sat on the table, of their latest victim. His name was Layton Cole. He was only twenty-four years old. "He set it all up perfectly."

"Not quite," Rossi interrupted her, "There were holes in his story. Emily figured something out. Otherwise, why take her?"

"She's a federal agent," Morgan was pacing back and forth, anxious to be useful, "He knows he's not getting out of this."

"He might have made a run for it," JJ pointed out.

"If he has, Emily's already dead." Hotch practically spat at them. Again, the silence. Again, the tick, tock. Hotch, sick of it, charged across the room and tore the clock from the wall. The batteries clattered onto the table as he ripped them out and, finally, the ticking had stopped. His breathing was heavy, and his team were staring at him. Embarassed and angry with himself, Hotch stood up, pushing back his hair, which he knew had been displaced both by the late hour and his outburst. His blazer had been long discarded, his shirt sleeves unbuttoned and pushed up to his elbows. Regardless, he felt hot beneath their gazes.

"Excuse me," He muttered, and for the second time that day, he had to take himself away from his team.

The air outside was cold, harsh, even, against his skin, but Hotch welcomed it. It was sobering. The atmosphere in that room, the pressure he felt, the fear. It was too much, too familiar. Hotch couldn't help but feel likehe had been here before, with Haley. The helplessness was too much, an unwelcome feeling that made him sick to his stomach. Leaning against the brick wall of the police station, Hotch didn't know whether he wanted to scream or sleep. His mind had been working so hard that he was mentally exhausted but physically he felt he could run a marathon. He would, immediately, without question, enthusiasically, if he thought it would help him find Emily. Instead, he was stuck here, with no leads and, currently, no hope. And, most painfully, no Emily.

As he stood there, and contemplated over his incapacity to do anything, he felt the presence of another person. Looking up from the floor, he caught sight of a woman nearby. She was looking at him, but in the dark, Hotch couldn't make out her face and for half of a heartbeat, his breath stopped in his chest. Then she spoke, and his heart dropped again.

"I was wondering, can you help me?" She asked, in a voice that shook. For a moment, Hotch could set his own suffering aside. He straightened up and took a step towards her.

"Of course," He said, "Are you alright?"

"I, uh, are you a police officer?"

"I'm FBI," He reached for his badge, remembered his jacket was inside, and gestured to the police station, "We should really talk inside. It's warmer, I can get you a drink."

She stepped back at his suggestion, shaking her head. "I can't," Her voice was quiet now, anxiety in every syllable. "I shouldn't, I-"

"Please," Hotch tried to reassure her, "Whatever it is, we can help."

Reluctantly, the girl stepped towards him, into the light. She looked like she had been crying and she was writing her hands in front of her. Her fingernails were picked and bleeding and it hurt to see that, it only reminded him of her. Leading her inside, Hotch led the girl to a seat and walked towards the coffee station. JJ, having noticed this, joined him a moment later.

"Who's she?" She asked, softly. He shrugged, as he stirred the coffee.

"I don't know. She asked for help."

"Anything to do with Emily?"

"I don't know." He repeatedly, helplessly. They wandered over together and Hotch sat beside her, handing her the cup. In the light, he couild see her better. Her face, though red from crying, was youthful. Early 20s, he assessed, easily. Her hair was recently washed, her clothes clean and stylish. So not a runaway.

"Thanks," The blonde said, taking the cup from him. She didn't lift it to her lips. "I can help you," she mumbled, "The man, your investigation."

Hotch met JJ's eyes. He shouldn't be the one having this conversation, he kenw. He had a conflict of interest. He hated it, but they were the facts.

"I'll just go and get another agent who can speak to you with Agent Jareau, here," He said, attempting to stand, but the girls hand was suddenly wrapped around his wrist.

"If I don't say it now, I never will," Her eyes were wide and scared and, fearful of her silence, Hotch sat back down. The hand around his wrist did not let up. "I saw him. Must have been two years ago, now. My little girl, Martha, I'd taken her to the woods. We were hiking. She likes to find butterflies, so we take pictures. She was gone from my sight for barely a moment. Felt like I blinked and she was gone. I screamed her name for so long. I ran around those woods thinking my baby was gone forever. He had her," She nodded to the picture of Allison, one of many that had been posted up and around town, as well as sent to the local and statewide media stations. "He was holding her like a baby when I found them. She was six at the time. Too big to be held like that. I begged him to let her go and he looked at me. He was crying. He looked so confused, I thought he must be crazy. He let her go. He just sat there and cried, crying about someone called Tyla. His daughter, I figured. He seemed so broken. We aren't from here, we're from a couple of towns over. I never reported it, I felt too bad for the guy. But it was him. I know it was him."

She was crying by the end of her story. JJ had taken the seat beside her and was holding her hand, reassuringly.

"And Martha? She's-?" JJ prompted.

"At home. With my mom." The blonde, whose name Hotch still didn't know, replied. "She's fine. But all of those other little girls. If I'd reported it, they'd still be alive, right?" She looked at Hotch, eyes imploring. He didn't know if she wanted reassurance or confirmation of her guilt. "Right?"

"That doesn't matter now," Hotch told her, truthfully. "There's nothing we can do to help them, we can only give the families closure. But he has someone else now, a woman. Do you think you could help us? Tell us where you found him with Martha?"

"I've triangulated his comfort zone according to Miss Lynd's story," Reid was saying, not five minutes later. The triangle on the board was made out of red tape. It was big, but it was something.

"Let's go."

Even in her disoriented state, Emily knew that it was now or never. It was cold now, as well as wet, and she was shivering. Disoriented as she was, she knew that if she stood any chance at all, it was to make a move now, before Allison came back for her. The darkness was all encompassing, but she could feel that evening had come by the chill that licked at her skin. She was dizzy and injured and bound and if Allison came back before she could get away, Emily knew she didn't stand a chance. The binding around her hands and wrists was holding tight, digging into cuts that had already scraped their way into her skin, but her feet had become loose at some point. It was an effort, it took a long time and it hurt to twist them in such unnatural ways, but eventually, she freed one ankle and, quickly afterwards, the other. Shoving herself to her feet, Emily cringed away from the pain in her shoulder where the knife wound was. Her head rushed with blood, blind spots apppearing like fireworks behind her eyelids. Emily gave herself a moment, leaning against the cold wall, and breathed deeply.

Then she looked one way, the way Allison had gone, and the other. It made logical sense to move away from where Allison had gone. It seemed lighter this way anyway, didn't it? Or was that wishful thinking?

Either way, her feet began to move. Her badge and gun were still gone, but Emily wasn't about to stick around and start looking for them. It was too dark, too wet, too cold. Her hands were already bloodied and sore from the rope and the fear that Allison would return at any moment was mounting.

Emily walked, sloshing through the water, trying and failing to be quiet, until her shoes and socks were soaked through and her toes were frozen in her shoes. But it seemed to be getting lighter, she was sure?

The moon beckoned, as Emily used her hands to feel around a corner, and the tunnel opened up in a wide mouth, yawning up at the nights sky. Emily began to climb, and found the ground growing steeper as she made her way up. Her hands slipped, rope tearing, and she hissed at the pain that was like a thousand little papercuts on the skin between each of her fingers but she made it. Crawling out of the mouth of the huge pipe, Emily let herself collapse onto the grass. She couldn't stop, she knew, but she a moment.

Just one moment of air.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two

Her head was spinning. The grass beneath her, which had been so comfortingly cold only a few moments ago, was now freezing, hard and uncomfortable. Her arm throbbed, burned. Infection crossed her mind, absently, but she couldn't grab the thought before it flitted out of her mind, replaced by the dizziness that came and went sporadically.

You should get up. A voice in her head was telling her. For half a second, Emily hought it was Hotch's voice. It was Hotch's voice. Inside her head.

Emily. You should get up.

I can't.

You have to.

I'm going crazy. She thought, weakly. But, brain-Hotch was right, if she didn't move soon, either Allison was going to come back for her, or she was going to pass out right here on the grass, and probably never wake up. And, if she did wake up, it would be to the pain of Allison carving that pentagram into her forehead. Then she heard them. The voices. And she could see the light, coming through the trees. More than one voice, so, not Allison.

"Here," She tried to shout, but the word caught in her throat. Coughing, she tried again, louder this time. "Over here."

Painfully, she shoved herself to her knees, trying to see further, and cringing away from the way her arm burned. Her head spun, aching, and she groaned.

Then, splitting pain through her skull, and Emily cried out as she was yanked to her feet, Allison's hand tangled tightly in her hair. He clamped a hand over her mouth, but too late. She heard a shout, and then the lights were growing brighter and the voices louder. Allison was trying to drag her away, but she fought it. With bound and bloody hands and every ounce of strength that she had left, she fought him. The hand that was clamped over her mouth shifted and Emily sank her teeth into it, not giving herself time to think, as hot blood flooded into her mouth. Allison howled in pain and threw her from him. Emily fell to the hard ground with a smack, spitting the taste of him onto the grass, choking on it.

But it was enough. The lights were bright enough that Emily had to close her eyes against them, and she could finally hear what the voices were saying.

"Allison!" Morgan! That was Morgan. "Put down the weapon and get down on the ground! Now!"

His voice was strong, but Emily could hear it shake. Morgan's voice never shook like that. Morgan always kept it together. Her ears were pounding, now, and her head felt like it was going to split open. Definitely a concussion; the lights definitely hadn't helped. She tried to move, tried to sit up, and heard a rustle of fabric and too many yells to make out one voice. Again, the shooting pain through her skull, right into the roots of her hair, and she was being pulled to her feet. Still unable to open her eyes against the torches, Emily tried to turn her head away and felt something cold pressed against her throat.

"Emily, don't move." That was JJ.

Pained as she was, confused as she was, Emily felt her heart soar to hear their voices. They'd get her out of this. Even as the cool metal of the knife pressed against her skin, and Emily felt the first prickles of pain as tiny red dots of blood erupted out of her skin, she still believed they would get her out of this.

"I've got to. She's the last one!" Allison was shouting, now, and Emily could feel the heat from his hand as the blood dripped onto her forehead. "She's the last one, and then I'll have my baby girl back!"

"Nothing is going to bring Tyla back, Mr Allison," That was Reid's voice, scared and anxious, but holding steady, "I'm sorry, but that's the truth of it. She's not coming back and...and she wouldn't want you to do this. Think about her. Think about your wife. Neither of them would want this for you."

The knife at her throat moved, shaking, as Allison began to yell back at them.

"You don't know!" He screamed, and Emily's head pounded in protest, "You don't know what it's like! To not be able to hold your child, or your wife. To have everything you love taken away from you! You don't know, you'll never know-"

"I know," Hotch! From somewhere over to her left. Emily jerked her head in his direction, felt the slide of the knife against her throat and gasped against it. There was a moment of silence, of tension, and then Hotch spoke again. Emily felt the slow trickly of blood that had begun at her throat. It was a shallow cut, but it stung, and Emily held herself in place, too terrified to move. "I know what it's like. To have the thing you love taken away. To lose somebody. I know what that's like. But that doesn't change anything," Hotch was saying, "That doesn't change what they would have wanted for you, Mr Allison. And its not this. Is it?"

The hand at her throat was jerking amost violently now, as Emily felt sobs wrack Allison's body where he stood. The hand in her hair moved, released, and the tension in her head was relieved, but the hand at her throat remained.

"YOU DON'T KNOW!" He was yelling now, and Emily grimaced at the pain it caused her. Her head was ringing, her ears buzzing. It was so bad that even as he stood beside her, yelling like that, she felt as though she could barely hear him over everyhing that was going on inside of her head. She must have cried out, though she didn't realise it, because suddenly he was pulling her back, flush against him, and pressing the knife in closer.

"Stop!" She heard multiple voices yell, along with the rustle of the grass as they advanced slowly.

"No, you stop!" Allison countered, and the rustling stopped, abruptly. The torches were lower now, and Emily chanced a glance, though her vision was still blurred by her headache. She could just about make the outlines of her team members out. Hotch, front and centre, was further forwards than the rest of them and even with her impaired vision she could see the tension in his muscles. JJ, with her blonde hair tied up high on her head, was aiming her gun at Allison, though Emily knew he was using her as a human shield. Reid and Morgan were doing the same, all of them trying to get an angle Emily knew wasn't possible to find. "You stop!" Allison repeated.

Emily could hear the shake in his voice and knew this wasn't going their way. She couldn't do anything to help them, with the knife pressed to her neck and her hands bound as they were and even as she squinted at the team, she felt the blood from her neck pooling at her chest. If she made it out of this alive, which didn't look likely right now, she would have another scar to add to the collection, and one not so easily hidden as the others. Craning her neck backwards, Emily tried to turn away from the knife, managing to turn her head just a little to the left. Allison held her in place, a hand returning to her hair, and she yelped.

"STOP!" She heard Hotch yell, "Stop hurting her, Allison or I swear-"

His professionalism was all gone now. Beside him, JJ could see his hands shake as he held out the gun. He couldn't shoot, wouldn't shoot, but JJ didn't want to see what would happen if Allison hurt Emily. She'd seen it before, what Hotch could do to a man who hurt someone he loved. She thought that, perhaps, Hotch's hands were shaking not only out of fear for Emily, but out of fear for what he might do.

The shot that cracked the night, however, did not come from Hotch's gun. It came from Rossi's. Rossi, who had managed to sneak away from the group before being spotted by Allison, and had crept in from the trees that stretched to the left. Emily had seen him, upon turning her head, seen him raise his gun. She knew what was coming.

The shot split her head open, or at least, that was how it felt. It didn't hit her, of course; it hit Allison, in the arm holding the knife to her throat. He dropped it and Emily kicked it away. Reid surged forwards to pick it up, but Allison still had a hand curled through her black hair and, even as his arm bled onto the grass, he wasn't letting her go.

"You-you don't understand," He was crying now, sobs wracking his body. Emily could tell, though, that they weren't tears of pain, at least not physical pain. They were tears of grief. "This was my last chance. My last chance to bring my girl back."

The hand in Emily's hair eased, her scalp screaming with relief as the pressure subsided, and Emily felt Allison collapse to his knees behind her. She took a step, stumbled, and found herself lying on her side in the grass. Bloodied, exhausted and concuss, she couldn't take another step.

He was at her side then, pulling a pocket knife out and hacking at the ropes that bound her hands. She closed and opened her fists a few times, looking at them in confusion. They didn't hurt anymore, though she could see the blood, both dried and fresh, that seeped from the broken skin between her fingers. She felt strong arms around her, one across her back, one beneath her knees, and wrapped her arms around Hotch's neck as he lifted her as easily as though she weighed nothing at all. She was covered in blood, she knew. It was on her chest and her neck, it was smeared across her face from where she had bitten Allison, and it was dripping down her forehead from where he'd clung so tightly to her hair with the hand she had wounded. In her concuss state, she worried, momentarily, about how she must look; like some extra from a horror film. But Hotch didn't see any of that when he looked at her.

"I've got you," He mumbled into her ear, so only she could hear him, "Emily, You're safe, I've got you." But even as he said it, she was losing consciousness.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-three

Stitches. Lots of stitches. Stitches for her arm, stitches for her head, stitches for her throat. She was knocked out for all of it, thankfully. When she finally came around, though, and they told her, Emily thought she must look something like Frankenstein. When she said this, Reid corrected her immediately, as she had known he would, and she smiled.

"Actually, Frankenstein is the Dr. You look more like Frankenstein's monster-" Too late he realised what he had said, and only then because of the glares he was recieving from JJ and Morgan, who stood either side of him at the foot of her bed. "Sorry." He mumbled, meekly, but it made Emily laugh, and then wince.

"How are you feeling?" JJ moved to her side, one hand taking hold of Emily's and the other brushing damp hair back from her forehead. Emily tried to nod and felt the pull of the stitches at her throat, closed her eyes a moment to breathe, and then met the blonde's eyes.

"I'm okay." She said, though that was a bit of a stretch. "I'm alive."

JJ smiled a watery smile down at her, and nodded. Emily could tell she wanted to speak, but there was a lump in her throat that was stopping her. Emily squeezed her hand, though her own were bandaged and sore. The guilt in JJ's eyes was obvious, and unnecessary.

"Hey," She muttered, weakly, "I'm fine."

JJ gaped at her a moment, opening and closing her mouth like a fish out of water, trying to speak. She swallowed, heavily, glanced towards Morgan and Reid, who took the hint and took their leave as subtly as they could.

"We'll, uh, we'll go get some coffee."

"Bring me one?" Emily chanced. Morgan flashed her a toothy grin, the smile she loved so much, and shook his head.

"Sorry, princess. Dr's orders."

She pretended to pout, though part of her really would have loved cup of coffee right now. She was hooked up to an IV, she could see, which explained why she didn't feel dehydrated, but that didn't help with the dryness in her mouth.

JJ, still holding her hand, perched on the edge of the bed. Her eyes were brimming now, and Emily hated to see it. She wanted teasing, hungover JJ back. But this wasn't the time for teasing or for jokes.

"I shouldn't have left you," The blonde muttered, with a voice thick with tears, "I'm so sorry, Emily. If we'd stuck together this wouldn't have happened. This is just like Hankel all over again with Reid, I never should have-"

"Stop." Emily spoke in as assertive a voice as she could manage in her weakened state. "Jayje, you stop that right now. This is not your fault. None of it. Do you hear me?"

JJ wouldn't meet her eyes, trying to blink back the tears that threatened to spill over. Emily gripped the younger agent's hand tightly and, finally, JJ turned those brilliant blue eyes on her. Right now, full of tears, they shone like crystals.

Emily repeated herself, slowly, "Do you hear me?"

It was hesitant, but JJ nodded. She used her free hand to brush away the tear and wiped her nose on the back of it. Emily scrunched up her face.

"Ew, we're in a hospital, get a tissue," They shared a warm, gentle laugh and Emily ran a thumb over the back on JJ's hand. "I'm glad you're here."

She didn't ask, though she desperately wanted to, where he was. Wherever he was, it was obviously more important than being at her bedside, and that was fine. They put the job first. They always put the job first.

"He's finishing up with the local PD," JJ filled the silence with the answer to Emily's unspoken question, reading the room as well as she ever had, "And booking us all a couple more nights at the hotel while you recover."

Emily frowned and started to protest but JJ shut her down.

"It's done, Em," She said, "They've already called in another team for the next few days. Nobody's slept for 48 hours anyway, we're dead on our feet. Even Penelope got sent home from the office."

Emily frowned. They were always getting into trouble like this. Okay, not exactly like this, but it had been known to happen. Then they got back to work and got on with it.

"What's different this time?" JJ tilted her head, looking at Emily as though she ought to already know the answer to her question. Emily's head, however, was still a little foggy and, seeing her frown, JJ took pity on her.

"I think," She started, slowly, choosing her words carefully, "I think he got scared. Hotch. I think, for the first time in a long time, he was more scared than he knew how to deal with."

"Oh." Emily didn't know what else to say. JJ's tone wasn't accusatory. It was understanding and, somehow, that was worse. It was her fault, Emily's. The whole team were taking a 'few days' and it was her fault. She sighed, and the stitches in her throat pulled, uncomfortably.

"I'm sure he'll come and visit as soon as he's finished," JJ said, misinterpreting the sigh. She smiled and Emily returned it, weakly.

The nurse came in then, and saved Emily from responding. She withdrew the IV from Emily's arm, plastered over it and then Morgan and Spence reentered the room carrying not two, but four cups of hot, steaming coffee.

"Dr's orders." The nurse said, with a kind smile, as Spencer handed one of the cups to Emily. She beamed at them. The coffee was too hot to drink yet, but even just holding it in her hands felt good when she remembered the cold. Looking down at her bandaged hands, she frowned.

"Allison? Was he-"

"In custody." Derek finished for her. She nodded. That was good.

"He needs help," She told them, "He's sick. He's really, really sad and he's really sick. And he needs help."

"We know, princess," Derek's tone was understanding, soft, and she appreciated it. "He's gonna get that help."

They filled her in on the parts of the story she had missed out on, as well as telling her all about Miss Lynd and the contribution that had finally led them to her. As they recounted the story, Emily felt as though they were telling her all about somebody else's life. How could this be her life? How had she almost died a few hours ago, and now they were sitting around drinking coffee as though it hadn't happened?

Well, it had definitely happened. There was no denying that, and none of them were trying to, but Emily couldn't explain the feeling in her chest. It wasn't pain or discomfort. It was more like grief. She just didn't know what she was grieving for.

Hotch didn't come that night. Emily didn't ask to speak to him and even when JJ brought her phone back to her, she didn't text or call. There were no texts or calls from him, not that she had expected them. She didn't want to see him, she told herself. She was indifferent. The rest of them had all been by, with the exception of Rossi, who had flown back to Quantico because he had classes that needed to be taught, even if they weren't allowed to work a case for a couple of days. Emily hated falling asleep with that smell in her nose, the smell of sterility, and sleep didn't come for a long time.

The mattress was uncomfortable, but every time she shifted, she reminded herself how grateful she was that it was a mattress and not the cold, hard floor of a sewer, or the stone floor of an abandoned warehouse. She had laid down in much worse places than this slightly lumpy bed. Every noise was a comfort. Every time somebody walked past her room, nurses talking, the rolling of a cart. It was the silence she couldn't stand. Then there was only Emily and her breathing into the darkness.

Climbing out of the uncomfortable bed, she made her way to the door that a nurse had closed earlier. She'd looked in and seen Emily's form still in bed, assumed she was asleep and closed the door. Emily opened it, and light from the corridor flooded in. The hallway was deserted and Emily stood there a moment, in her pyjamas from the ready bag JJ had brought for her, and leaned against the doorway. God, she hated that smell.

"You're awake." His voice startled her. Stepping out of her room Emily turned to look down the corridor. He was there. Sitting in a chair, still in his suit.

"How long have you been there?" She asked him, frowning. "Visiting was over hours ago."

Sitting up straight and clearing his throat, Hotch gave a small shrug. "I may have flashed the badge. Told them you were under my protective custody."

"I don't need to be under your protective custody, Hotch," Emily told him, folding her arms, self conscious of the pattern of stitches dotted across her face and neck. "We caught the unsub."

He was nodding, his mouth stretched into a tight line. "Right."

Emily stood there a moment, on the deserted hospital corridor, and looked at him. His hair was rumpled and greasy, there were dark, purple circles beneath his eyes. His eyelids were red and puffy he'd been crying. His suit, usually so pressed and perfect, was as dishevelled as his hair.

"You look worse than I do." She told him, softly.

That got a smile, and when he looked back at her, he raised his eyebrows. "Clearly you haven't looked in a mirror. How come you're awake?"

"Oh," she gave a small shrug, "Reid gave me coffee."

She was glad of the smile he gave her then, and her own lips spread into one as she looked at him. There was a moment, a flicker of something, and then it fell from her face. Emily reached up to push her hair back, pulling it back from her face as though she was going to tie it up, then pulled it slowly over one shoulder.

"Uh, so are you going to sit there all night?" She asked, "You know, I have a whole room to myself."

"Inviting me to spend the night with you?" He joked, standing up and grabbing his coat from the chair beside him, "Because it went so well for us both last time."

Emily led him back into the room and climbed onto the bed, sitting cross-legged in the middle of it. "Yeah, well, unlucky for you, this time I've only got room for one."

Hotch chuckled, sinking into the visitors chair that sat beside her bed. And then, again, the silence. They both spoke at once.

"Hotch, I-"

"Emily, you should-"

Silence. Again. Em looked down at her sheets, picked at a loose thread and waited for him to speak.

"I couldn't do my job today." He said, simply. She nodded. JJ had already filled her in. "I was...abrupt and overbearing and-"

She was smirking and he paused, raising an eyebrow. "You're always abrupt and overbearing."

When he spoke again, his tone was softer, he really needed her to hear him.

"I was unprofessional."

The disappointment in his voice was so evident that Emily couldn't maintain eye contact. She dropped her eyes, lashes sending shadows down her bruised cheeks.

"I don't know what you want me to say-"

"Dammit, Emily," His hand smacked at the arm of the chair and Emily flinched at the sudden outburst. "Dammit, I don't want you to say anything, I just-I don't know where we go from here. I can' make me...I can't have you hurt again."

She was nodding again.

"So this," Looking up, she made a vague gesture between the two of them, "This is over. It has to be, right?"

Hotch brought a hand up to rest it over the lower part of his face, huffed out a breath and closed his eyes. Sitting in the chair, with the exhaustion of the past few days evident on his face, Emily though for the first time ever that he looked old. Not Rossi old, suave and sophisticated and silver fox-y. Old like, ancient old. Mentally old. Seen too much bad stuff, old. She'd seen that look before.

Gideon had that look, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Right before he left them all. Suddenly, for just a moment, a moment that changed everything, Emily felt like she was looking into a mirror.


Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Four

Emily hadn't had many jobs throughout her life. Moving as much as they did when she was a kid wasn't particularly conducive to building a well-rounded resume in her teen years. She also hadn't had to work. Hell, she wouldn't have to work now, but she chose to. Living on her mom's money had never been an option: even as a teenager, she'd only spent it to spite Elizabeth most of the time. Eventually, when she turned eighteen, she'd gone straight to Yale, visiting her mother only on the holidays and, once Yale was done, immediately into the Academy. So, Emily hadn't had many jobs throughout her life, but this one really had gotten under her skin.

Even before she started packing up her desk, Emily had known it was going to be a difficult job. As she packed photographs and memories into her little box, she felt as though she were packing up her entire life. The apartment had been packed for days, and hadn't taken up as much emotional energy as this was. Tickets from a comedy show she and Morgan had treated themselves to last minute, one weekend they miraculously had free. Trinkets Penelope had gifted to her after difficult cases, like the small red heart stress ball. She squeezed it, letting it expand in her hand, then put it to her nose. The strawberry scent was still there. Faint, but still there. There were so many coloured post-its that she couldn't count them. Notes she and JJ had passed back and forth, either during briefings, meetings or on the jet. JJ, she knew, also had a stash of them in her own desk. Emily glanced at a few, smiling down at her friends handwriting, before deciding she couldn't bring herself to throw any of them away, and then they all went into the box, too. The black box she pulled out of her desk and unfolded was the magnetic chessboard Spencer had bought for them when he grew sick of their pieces falling over during turbulence on the jet. Emily withdrew the king, walking to Spencer's desk and hiding it at the back of his top drawer. He would find it, one day, and smile, she hoped. Either that, or he would phone her and point out the illogical nature of the action; without a full chess set, she made the entire board redundant. And she would tell him that she couldn't bring herself to play chess with anyone else, anyway.

A small, square card. Embossed with a golden birthday cake and the words 'happy birthday'. Opening it, Emily traced the handwriting with her finger, feeling the deep indentation of the pen. She'd know his writing anywhere, after all these years, even if it wasn't signed.


Happy Birthday.

Love, Hotch.

Her brown eyes lingered a moment on the words before that, too, joined the other items in her box.

"You're really leaving?" Prepared as she had been for it, the hurt in Reid's voice sliced right through her heart and Emily closed her eyes, glad of a moment to compose herself, before turning to face him. The small photo frame now in her hands, a gift from Dave for the same birthday she'd received the card from Hotch, which she was certain was an antique, and which contained one of their rare team photographs, hurt as she clung to it tightly. "You're leaving us? Again?"

"Spence-" Emily didn't really have the words to comfort him, or any excuses to offer him. There weren't any. This was a decision she had made knowing the hurt it would cause, and knowing there was no other option for her. "I got an offer I couldn't refuse." She shrugged, helplessly.

It wasn't a lie, not really. She had received a call from Clyde Easter a few weeks ago. He was stepping away from running the London Interpol office and had recommended her for the job. When he'd first called through, Emily had rolled her eyes and laughed him off with a sarcastic comment. She was happy and home. This, the BAU, was where she was supposed to be. That was what she had told him. This was family. But, even then, there had been a part of her that nudged, squirmed, didn't quite fit. So much had changed. Everything was different now. Everything. And not just because of Doyle.

In Reid's eyes, Emily could read all of the confusion and pain that told her that her excuses weren't enough. Emily's heart tightened and she opened her mouth to speak, taking a step towards him just as the doors behind him swung open and the rest of the team filed in. Morgan's face was dark. Behind him, JJ couldn't bring herself to meet Emily's eyes. Penelope, she could see, had been crying; her cheeks were flushed and her eyes wet with as yet unshed tears. Rossi looked resigned, and heaved a great sigh when she caught his eye, like he had known this was coming for a while. He had a habit of being able to read those things about people, so Emily suspected the older agent had probably sensed her discomfort even before she had. Damn profilers. Hotch's eyes, as usual, were unreadable.

"You told them," Emily nodded, grateful and resentful at the same time. He nodded, sharply.

"I thought it would be easier..." Hotch trailed off, uncharacteristically and, Emily thought, potentially for the first time in his life, lost for words.

He was right, and she hated him a little bit for it. This was easier than having to break the news to them herself, spineless as that might be. Now, they knew. Now, it was out in the open.

"There's nothing we can say?" JJ tried, bu it was a weak attempt, feeble. JJ knew the answer before the question left her lips. Her blue eyes tracked over Emily's empty desk, glancing over the items in the box. When she looked away, sharply, Emily knew she had caught sight of their post-it correspondence. JJ tried a smile, but the sadness in her eyes was obvious, and her bottom lip shook ever so slightly. Emily tried for words, failed, had to swallow heavily as her throat tightened with emotion.

"I love you," She finally managed. She thought she saw Hotch's eyes flit towards her a moment, but she couldn't bring herself to meet them. "All of you. So much. We're a family. But I can't just...I can't fall back into my old life and pretend nothing happened. I've been trying, really. I've been looking for houses...I thought putting down roots would...but I can't. I feel like a puzzle piece that doesn't fit into the puzzle anymore. And I don't wanna ruin any of this by trying to force myself to fit. I don't want to ruin this by trying to force more out of it."

The speech was for them all, and it was the truth, but she and Hotch both knew that the last part - that was for him. The office was quiet. Reid impatiently wiped at his eyes, strode past her to his own desk and sat on his chair. The rest of them watched as he spun around in his chair, recognising that he had checked out of the conversation in an attempt to protect himself. Emily hated that more than anything. She was just another person leaving him behind.

"When do you leave?" Penelope asked, from beside Hotch. Her voice shook with the effort it took to ask the question. Emily inhaled, deeply, before she answered.

"Tomorrow night."

The answer fell heavily onto their ears. JJ closed her eyes a moment in disbelief. Derek, who still hadn't said a word, scoffed lightly. It had been cowardly, booking a flight so soon, not giving them any time to process, but, for her own sanity, Emily needed to get away.

"How about one more family dinner before you leave?" Rossi stepped forwards and putting his hands on her shoulders, smiling that fatherly smile at her. His eyes crinkled at the corner and made her feel safe and warm. "I'll make your favourite, my Emilia. Carabonara à la Rossi."

More grateful for him than she had ever been, Emily reached up to take his hands in hers and smiled back at him. "That sounds great." She breathed.

"I'm up for that," JJ nodded, putting her hands into her pockets and swinging back and forth on her heels. "Will'll have the boys."

"Definitely," Penelope piped up, elbowing Morgan in the ribs when he didn't immediately reply. He scowled down at her, then his gaze returned to Emily, head resting on Rossi's shoulder, and his brow softened. Sighing, he, too, nodded.

"Sure, princess."

"Reid?" Rossi prompted the younger agent, still swinging around in his chair. Reid made a nondescript hand gesture, but Morgan muttered that he would make sure Reid found his way here.

"That sounds great, Dave," Hotch agreed, passing them and heading straight up for his office, indicating that their impromptu meeting had come to an end. As the others dispersed, Emily caught Rossi's gaze.

"Thank you," She muttered, so that only he could hear. His smile grew wider and his hands moved from her shoulders to her cheeks, cupping her face in his hands.

"Qualsiasi cosa per te."

Anything for you.

Dinner was, as always, a cosy, comfortable affair. At first, there was a heaviness to the air, as the reality of why they were there rested heavily upon their consciences. But, as the wine flowed and Rossi presented the with course after course of deliciousness, they settled into their usual routine of anecdotes and laughter. In the week since what Emily had begun referring to as 'the incident', her wounds had cleaned up a little bit, most of the bruising had faded to a pale yellow and her stitches were slowly dissolving. The slice across her arm was basically healed, aside from a small red scab. Whenever she caught herself in the mirror, though, her eyes were still drawn to the angry pink track across her throat. The doctors had assured her it would fade, that it wasn't deep enough to scar, but that it would take time. She could use oils to help it, they had told her. As a field agent, Emily didn't mind it. It was almost cool, a battle scar, if that sort of thinking wasn't so dismissive of the ptsd that followed an incident like the one she had endured. Her new job, however, was a lot of desk work, a lot of signing other people's field work off, a lot of interacting with very important people. It was, she thought, a good job that England was renowned for terrible weather; she would definitely be sporting turtle necks for a couple of months.

The wine was devoured swiftly, as was the food Rossi presented them all with. True to his word, he had made her favourite and Emily ate it down, thinking how much she was going to miss it. Not just Rossi's excellent cooking, but the group of them all being together. The hardest part of it was knowing these gatherings would take place, she just wouldn't be in attendance. Much as she knew that was her own fault, it didn't make the reality any more pleasant.

"We'll Skype you in!" Penelope suggested, when Emily voiced this to her and JJ. It fell out of her mouth so quickly that Emily thought she must have thought about it before she ever brought it up. They were sitting at the edge of Rossi's pool, feet dangling in the cool water, heels discarded nearby. Over on the decking, there was raucous laughter and the sound of Spencer trying to have his voice heard over it, but Emily couldn't make out exactly what was being said. Smiling at her blonde, bespectacled friend, she nodded.

"That sounds great. I'll just have to make do with Italian take out, instead of Rossi's incredible menu."

"Isn't it about time you learned to cook?" JJ told her, with a chuckle as she put her beer bottle to her lips.

"Says the girl who burns soup." Penelope jumped in, making Emily laugh and JJ splutter on her beverage.

"I've survived this long on take-out, room service and restaurants," Emily pointed out, "I think I'll be able to handle London. I know British food is, stereotypically, terrible, but they have take-out, just like we do. And their chocolate is the best." England had been one of Elizabeth's longer posts when Emily was a child, second only to Italy. As a result, London wasn't completely unfamiliar to her, which was making the move a little easier. It had never been difficult for Emily to up and move: it was all she knew, really. Throughout her childhood, she'd grown used to night flights and temporary accommodations and waking up of a morning to find furniture that didn't belong to them once again covered in plastic, staff packing up their belongings and her mother rushing her to get ready for a flight Emily didn't know they had to make. But this time, it was different. There was no post, no Elizabeth, no choices beyond her control. She had done this. This time, she was choosing to leave, choosing to leave behind the only real family she'd ever had. She was running away. JJ and Penelope were still talking about chocolate as all of this raced through her mind, but another round of laughter from the guys drew Emily's eyes and they landed on Hotch.

He had one hand thrust into the pocket of his dark jeans, the other wrapped around a bottle of beer, and seemed to be highly amused by something Morgan had said. Emily's breath caught in her throat for a moment, as she gazed at him over her shoulder, at the sight of that smile. Then, his eyes landed on hers and she couldn't help the magnetic smile that spread across her face in response. As she did, though, his lips fell back into a straight line and he averted his gaze. The swelling of her heart in her chest stopped, replaced by a cold feeling of rejection, and she turned back to JJ and Penelope to find them both looking at her, curiously.

"What was that about?" JJ asked, concerned and loose lipped thanks to the copious amount of wine she had consumed at dinner.

"Yes, what was that about, Emily?" Penelope pushed, incredulously. "Why do I feel like I'm out of the loop? Like, here there's a loop," Penelope drew a circle in the air, "And I'm not in it. I'm over here somewhere," She was waving a hand behind her head now, "And you two are in the loop together and I'm not and I would very much like to be in the loop, please. Like, now."

"Okay, I know we're outdoors, but, please, indoor voices, Penelope," Emily gestured with her hand to lower the volume while JJ unceremoniously clamped a hand over Penelope's mouth. "I will tell you, but you have to promise me you won't freak out. At least, not right here and now, okay?"

And then, it was all spilling out of her mouth, as though she had been holding it back forever, which it felt like she has. There was a coiled spring of tension in her stomach that had everything to do with her Unit Chief...former unit chief, and with every word, the spring loosened a little. Once she started talking, she found she couldn't stop it. She told them everything. His office, the plane, the elevator. Everything. Everything except all of the wonderful things Hotch had said to her that night in her hotel room. Everything else was physical but that. His words, those emotions. It would feel like betraying him to tell them that. Those words were just for her, for them. She could tell JJ and Penelope about every time he had touched her body, but when she opened her mouth to explain their conversation the night he'd showed up at her hotel room door, the words stuck like toffee in her throat. That felt like betrayal, somehow. He had said so little, but it had meant so much. JJ and Penelope didn't need to hear any of that.

"So, what now?" JJ asked, when she was finished. Throughout the story, both she and Penelope had leaned in, and Emily didn't think either of them had noticed. JJ, who had known bits and pieces already, looked shocked, having not realised the extent of all that had happened between her best friend and boss. Penelope looked absolutely catatonic. She stared at Emily, wide-eyed with amazement.

"I mean, I always knew you guys had chemistry," She said, finally, impressed, "But jeez, Em."

Emily scoffed aloud and put her beer bottle to her lips. Taking a long swig, her eyes wandered, once again, to the deck. This time, she found Hotch's eyes already on her and he held her gaze as she swallowed her beer, which was suddenly tasteless on her tongue.

"Chemistry," She repeated, before ripping her eyes away fro his, "Right."

"You didn't answer my question," JJ pointed out, having wrapped her head round all that Emily had told them.

"I know."

Penelope loudly and suddenly announced that she had to pee. They watched, amused, as she ran back towards the house, both smiling to themselves. Sometimes it was glorious just to witness Penelope being Penelope. Emily turned back to the bottle in her hands, kicking her feet slowly in the cool water of the pool, and began peeling at the label of the bottle; the smile was still on her face, but the sadness had returned.

"I'm really gonna miss you."

Emily couldn't bring her eyes up from the bottle when JJ spoke. Her voice was thick, like it had been in the hospital, like she had something caught in her throat. Suddenly, breathing was difficult.

"Don't do that," Emily spoke down to her lap, "You have to wish me well, or I'm not going to be able to go. You're my person, Jayje, you have to tell me it's okay to go. And we'll get to play Scrabble online, again."

"I wanna play real scrabble." Now, Emily could hear the tears. She looked up and met blue eyes, brimming over. Shuffling around the corner of the pool, Emily wrapped an arm around the blonde's shoulders and JJ's head cae down to rest on Emily's. JJ sniffed, then breathed deeply, thinking about how much she would miss the smell of Emily's perfume that she had grown so accustomed to over the years. She'd missed it so much in the seven months Emily was in WITSEC, and now she would have to miss it again.

Emily closed her eyes as her own tears threatened, turning her head and kissing JJ's blonde crown, a stray tear managing to leak out of the corner of her eyes.

"I'm really going to miss you, Cheeto-breath."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Five

She had known saying goodbye was going to be hard, one of the hardest things she'd ever had to face, but she hadn't expected to find herself sobbing in Rossi's bathroom. The reality of leaving them all had hit her when she had hugged JJ and realised she didn't know how long it would be until she could do that again in person. It was probably the wine (Emily was usually much better at keeping her emotions in check) but it had all come pouring out as soon as she'd excused herself to the bathroom. Now, her face was blotchy and her mascara ruined. She managed to clean up most of the damage and reapply her make-up with the reserves she'd put into her bag, but with a group of profilers downstairs, there was no avoiding the reality that she had been crying. Straightening her black dress down, Emily opened the bathroom door.

"How long have you been sitting there?" She asked, when she stepped out of the bathroom to find Morgan sitting at the top of the stairs, waiting for her. He was apparently deeply engrossed in reading whatever information the label of his beer offered because he didn't look away from it when she spoke. Like her, he was peeling the label away, littering Rossi's carpet with it.

"He won't think you for that," Emily grabbed her beer from the side table where she had set it down, swiping at the ring mark it left behind and, pulling a face, hoped Rossi wouldn't notice. She wandered over to where Morgan sat, the carpet warm and soft beneath her bare feet (her heels were still out by the pool somewhere). Sitting down beside him, her shoulder pressed against his, Emily nudged him.

"Hey, talk to me."

He was silent a moment, before he heaved a sigh and turned to look at her. In his huge, brown eyes, Emily saw sadness and she hated herself for it.

"I'm so proud of you, you know," He'd said that before. She'd heard it somewhere before, but she couldn't place it. "I'm proud. You're going off to this big shot job, you're gonna be calling the shots, hell you're gonna have a higher position than Hotch. You're gonna be making waves, Princess, I know it. I just wish we didn't have to lose you for you to do it."

It was Emily's job to rest her head on someone's shoulder and she laced her arm through his, feeling the familiar contour of his muscles beneath his shirt. His hand came up to tangle in her hair, holding her there, and Emily closed her eyes, content to stay a while in this moment, soaking him up and breathing him in.

"I love you, Derek." She told him, softly. He chuckled, low in his chest. She felt the rumble and could see the melancholy smile on his face in her mindseye.

"Yeah, I love you too."

"You're going to come visit me, right?" Emily asked, sitting up and looking at him.

"Princess, you better believe Penelope's already looked up the flights.

Emily grinned. That definitely sounded like their Garcia. "Good."

"I just gotta know, why now?" His voice was soft, but insistent, and Emily could hear the hurt in it. "What's been going on with you? Something's different, something's been up with you. Like, last week? You can't fool me; Emily Prentiss does not box at 6am."

She smiled now, just a little, at that comment, and at how well he knew her. Thinking about her answer a moment, she inhaled deeply before answering.

"Honestly? I've been thinking about it since I got back." The hurt didn't fade from his eyes. If anything, it only grew stronger, but Emily wasn't going to start lying to him again now. "I've told you. It's not anything any of you did. It's just circumstances. Life moves forward and sometime...good things come to an end."

"You know this will always be home, right? Always." His arms were around her in an instant and Emily held on tight. Somewhere along the way, Derek Morgan had become her best friend. JJ was her person, but Derek had saved her life on too many occasions to help and was a bond not even distance would ever break and Emily clung to that as tightly as she clung to him.

"Promise me you'll take care of yourself, Bella. You'll keep up to date with your firearms training and you'll eat well, eat a vegetable and drink some water every now and then. These Brits,you know, they're well known for their fondness of alcohol." Rossi's hands were on her cheeks again and Emily couldn't help but notice the irony of his words as she smelled the alcohol on his breath. She didn't mind it, though, it was oddly comforting, and she expected she smelled just the same. The evening was dwindling and, as he usually did, Rossi had changed the music to something slower and calmer. It had gone from jovial and bouncy to something much more sombre and Emily could hear Vera Lynne's voice crooning out from the record player as they stood on the dec.

"I promise," Emily nodded, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him into a hug. Rossi held her tightly and Emily felt her eyes prickle, again. Rossi began to sway and one of his hands moved from her back to grasp her hand. He stretched their arms out and, with a palm on the small of her back, began to lead her in a dance. It was uncomplicated; they barely swayed on the spot. Rossi's beard was a little scratchy on her cheek, but Emily didn't mind. It was nice, to be held like this, and feel so loved and safe. Rossi was, in many ways, the father she had been deprived of for so long. Her heart ached when she imagined having to leave him behind.

"We'll meet again," He crooned, softly in her ear, in time with Vera Lynn, "Don't know where, don't know when..."

Pressing her face into his shoulder as they danced, Emily hoped her mascara tears didn't mess up his shirt.

"We'll meet again, some sunny day."

Emily had to go looking for Spencer. After a very tearful hug with Penelope, she announced that she and Morgan were getting a cab and Morgan said he'd promise Reid he would get him home.

"I haven't seen him for a while," JJ frowned around at them all.

"I'll find him, give me five minutes," Emily said, standing up from where she sat beside the blonde on the sofa.

"The cab's already been called," Hotch replied, shortly. Emily started, gancing at him.

"Alright, then at least let me go get him."

She found him by the pool, along with her discarded shoes.

"Hey, everyones been wondering where you got to. We've all been in the lounge."

He glanced at her when she spoke, and then went right back to staring at the water. His hands were tucked deep into his pockets, his shoulders slumped and Emily thought, for the first time in a long time, about how young he looked.

"You said you wouldn't leave again."

It was almost too quiet for her to hear him speak and, frowning, she moved closer to the younger agent until she stood beside him at the pool's edge.


"Last week. The cast in Utah, in the bar. You said you wouldn't leave again."

Emily sighed, deeply. Could that case really have only been a week ago?

"And in the interceding week, I was kidnapped, got a concussion, became Frankenstein's monster, had to get twenty-three stitches and almost died, Reid." She was trying to be lighthearted, but there was no wrankling any humour out of Spencer right now. Sighing again, Emily tried a different tactic. "You have an eidetic memory Reid, but I remember what I said. We both know I never said I wouldn't leave. I told you if I ever went away again, it wouldn't be because of some secret plan. I said I'd never leave you for good, and that's not a promise I intend to break. This isn't like last time, you know?"

Spencer didn't reply. Running a hand over her face, Emily put them to her waist and cocked her hip.

"Spencer Reid," She said sternly, and, like a reprimanded child, he looked at her. "I told you last time that this gave me an ulcer. If I get another one right before I start my new job, I'm blaming you."

That made the corner of his lips quirk.

"Ah - that's a smile! I got you, I'm off the hook!" She pointed at him, grinning. It was reluctant, but his quirked lips slowly spread into a smile. His eyes, though, were still sad.

"You can come visit me in London," She told him, walking towards him and linking her arm through his, steering him back towards the house. In her other hands, her heels dangled at her side. "We can play chess online. Garcia has fancy plans to Skype me into family dinners. It's going to be weird for a while, but you're more adaptable than you think, Spence. You'll get used to it. And I'm not leaving you, not really." She stopped them, turning to face him. Her face was serious now, urging him to understand. "You know that, right? I'm always just at the end of the phone."

Suddenly, he pulled her into a hug. She knew she was his Rossi right now; tall as he was, Spencer's head was buried in the crook of her neck and Emily wrapped her arms tightly around his back.

"And, as for the time difference," She mumbled into his shoulder, "Hell, this job ruined my sleep schedule anyway and you guys will be up all hours of the night. So, don't hesitate if you need me, okay?"

She felt him nod into her shoulder, but needed him to understand how much she meant this, so she pushed him away, holding onto his arms and forcing him to look at her. Emily was an old child; she didn't have any brothers and sisters, at least not by blood, but she thought this was what it must feel like to have a baby brother she needed to take care of. Spencer had turned her into a big sister, and she would always love him for that. "I mean it, Spence," She reinforced, "Anything. I don't want to have to hear things through Morgan, JJ or Penelope, do you hear? Or I'll have to kick your ass."

He nodded again, smiling, his face red, his eyes blinking rapidly. Linking her arm through his once more, Emily led him back through into the house to where everyone else was waiting in the foyer.

Derek pulled her into a bear hug, lifting her off the ground for a moment, before pulling away and pressing a kiss to her forehead. "I wanna know as soon as you land, okay?" She could only nod, worried that her emotions would get the best of her.

"Me, too," Penelope embraced her. She was already crying, unashamedly, and that made tears spring to Emily's eyes. "I love you, Emily Prentiss. I love you and I'm going to miss you like crazy. Sergio is going to miss you like crazy."

Emily hadn't even thought about the cat, but that brought a fresh wave of emotion to her.

"Bye, Emily." Spencer said, simply, and he hugged her tightly, once more. When he let her go, he disappeard out of the door without looking back at her, and Emily's heart ached in her chest. As she watched them drive away, Penelope waving frantically out of the window, another car pulled up and JJ appeared in the doorway behind her.

"That's my ride," She said, opening her arms. Emily went into them, willingly, and let JJ hold her a moment, smelling the familiar vanilla of her friends shampoo. When JJ finally let her go, there were tear tracks down both of their faces. "Have a safe flight. Call me, okay? I love you."

"I love you, too, Jayje." Emily replied. JJ still had hold of her hand when she stepped away and Emily felt the loss as JJ's fingertips slipped away from her own. Wrapping her arms around herself, she watched the blonde run to the car, as unable to look back as Spencer had been. JJ couldn't wave, like Penelope had, but she pressed a hand against the car window. Emily waved, though. She waved until she couldn't see the car anymore.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Six

A guy and a girl can be just friends, but at one point or another, they will fall for each other... maybe temporarily, maybe at the wrong time, maybe too late, or maybe forever. -Dave Matthews

For a long moment after the lights of JJ and Will's car had turned around the corner, Emily stood there and stared at the place where it had disappeared. That was it. The last time she would see her team for who knew how long. It had been a balmy, warm evening but as she stood there on her own, a breeze disturbed the skirt of her black dress and the chill crept into her chest. Wrapping her arms around herself for warmth, Emily started when she felt gentle hands lay her own black, military style coat across her shoulders.

"You look cold," Hotch's voice rumbled in her ear. "I ordered a cab, I thought we might as well share, seeing as how we're heading in the same direction."

Turning her head to look at him over her shoulder, Hotch's eyes were infinite pools of darkness. Emily's eyes flickered down and settled for a moment on his lips. She remembered the feel of them, as he kissed her, soft but insistent. He had tasted like coffee. She knew he wouldn't taste like coffee right now. Suddenly, her own mouth felt very dry.

"Emily?" His voice pulled her out of her reverie and Emily realised she had turned to face him. Her long black coat hung from her shoulders like a cloak, much longer than her dress and therefore much more protective against the cold. She couldn't feel the cold anymore, but Emily didn't think that had anything at all to do with the extra layer. Hotch hadn't stepped back, she realised, when she had turned to face him. She could feel the warmth of his breath on her face, and as she looked at him, she noticed one shocking white eyelash against the black, and smiled.

"Yeah, sure," She agreed, sliding her arms into the sleeves of her coat and pulling her hair out of the collar where it was tucked in. Her hands slipped into her pockets out of habit and she stepped to the side of him. "Let me just go and say goodbye to Dave."

Inside, Emily paused and breathed deeply. The familiar smell of the Rossi mansion, as they had dubbed it, with it's solid oak wooden floors and banisters, accented by the warming scent of Rossi's cooking that always permeated the air, felt like home. Together, the team had spent so many evenings here. If there was an epicentre, a homing base, for the BAU, it was here. This was where they congregated to celebrate, to mourn, to recouperate. No matter what, this was where they always made their way back to. Emily's heels clicked against the wooden floor as she made her way through the foyer and into the kitchen. Rossi was loading the dishwasher. Leaning on her forearms against the counter, Emily watched him a moment before she spoke.

"I wish you'd let me help," She had offered, but he had waved it away, like he always did. Turning to smile at her, he finished loading the last few plates before straightening up. The dishwasher hummed to life behind him.

"Never, bambina," He said, wiping his hands down on a kitchen towel, "And especially not on a night when you're the guest of honour."

Leaning her palms against the counter, Emily pushed herself to stand straight and cast a glance around the room. She could see them, in her minds eye, the many times the team had gathered around this counter, or that dining table.

"There will be more happy times," Rossi could read each and every one of them like a book. She rolled her eyes in his direction and he chuckled, low in his chest. "I know, I know. But you're too easy to profile."

"It's just..."

Rossi's brow furrowed as she trailed off. "Just, what, tesoro?"


Emily's eyes glassed over at the term of endearment, filling with tears she had thought were spent for the evening. Rossi always reminded her of time spent in Italy and, sometimes, when she was around him, Emily felt like that lost little girl all over again. She shook her head, trying to hold back the tears, and bit her lip.

"Am I making a mistake?" She wanted to tell him everything. Not the everything she had told JJ and Penelope but...the other stuff. She wanted to tell him how her heart beat harder in her chest every time Aaron looked at her. She wanted to tell him all of the lovely things he'd said to her that night, and how she felt like she'd seen a vulnerable side to Hotch that nobody else got to see. She wanted him to tell her 'stay.' Somebody had to tell her to stay.

"I think there's only one person who can answer that question, Emily. There's only one person who knows what's best." Looking at her, he heaved a sigh that shook his shoulders. "But I don't believe you'd be going if you didn't think it was necessary."

"I'm just really going to miss you."

He crossed the room quickly and held her close, mumbling softly to her in Italian.

"Non piangere, piccolo." Don't cry, little one. That only made the tears fall harder. Clinging to him felt like she could cling onto this part of her life, for just a moment longer. But then he let her go, and the moment was gone, and Emily knew she had to turn around and walk away, or she never would. "Come and visit us soon, yes?"

Nodding, Emily brushed at the few remaining tears lingering on her eyelashes. Rossi pressed a kiss to her forehead, turned her manually around and gave her a gentle shove towards the door. "Enjoy the rest of your evening."

Already at the door by the time his words had sunken in, Emily stopped herself, holding onto the door frame, and turned to look at him, eyes narrowed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Rossi, however, was already turning away, though Emily thought she could see the ghost of a smile in the way his cheeks moved.

Outside, Emily found Hotch waiting at the bottom of the steps. The taxi, it's engine running smoothly, was waiting at the end of the drive way and, wordlessly, Emily closed Rossi's front door behind her and followed Hotch to the car.

Catching sight of her tearful face, he frowned. "You alright?"

She nodded, and wiped at her cheeks. Ever the gentleman, Hotch pulled the door of the backseat open for her but Emily paused a moment, turning to glance back at the house, taking it all in one last time, before she moved to climb into the cab. As she did, she and Hotch exchanged a look and Emily saw a fraction of her own sadness mirrored in the small smile he gave her before he closed the door behind her. A moment later, he was sitting in the seat beside her and giving her address to the driver.

"Did you, uh, did you have a nice evening?" The question was almost awkward. Hotch was the only one she hadn't really spoken to that evening. At dinner, they'd been sat diagonally across from one another, opposite JJ and Derek, respectively, and had both taken part in the general chit chat that they all engaged with. But she hadn't sought him out. She had sought out every other member of the team, and he had to have noticed that. Glancing at him, Emily saw that he wasn't looking at her, but straight ahead, at whatever view he could see past the drivers headrest.

"I was going to come and talk to you-" She started, unsure of whether she was telling the truth or not, but Hotch cut her off, turning his head away from the road to look at her. He was still smiling, and it looked fixed and fake.

"We don't have to do this, Prentiss." The return to addressing her by her surname did not go unnoticed and it wounded her. She was silent a moment, debating over how to respond to that statement.

"Yes, we do," She said, finally.

"No, we-"

"Yes, we do, Hotch." She was raising her voice now, whether as a product of her mildly drunken state or the annoyance she was starting to feel towards him. She didn't notice the way the drivers eyes flickered to his rear view mirror, but Hotch did.

"You don't need to shout at me." Hotch held the bridge of his nose. She hated when he did that. There was something so condescending about that. Scowling at him, Emily shook her head.

"You're not my boss, anymore, Hotch, remember? I quit. So I can shout at you all I please." With a gesture of disbelief, Hotch turned back to the window. Clearly, when he said they didn't need to talk about it, he meant that he didn't want to talk about it. That stung, but Emily wasn't about to tell him that. Instead, she lowered her tone and rolled her eyes. The car was pulling to a stop and Emily didn't want to spend a moment longer in his presence. "You know what, fine. If you want to be a child about this, be one. If this is how you want to leave things between us then I- Goodbye, Hotch, it's been really nice knowing you."

Knowing he couldn't leave it like this, torn between wanting to let her walk out of his life and wanting to beg her to stay, Hotch pressed his palms into his eyes, frustrated by them both.

"Prentiss-" He tried to halt her, but she was up and out of the car before her name was completely off his lips. Growling to himself, Hotch flung open the door on his side of the car and climbed out. "Emily!" He raised his voice this time. It carried across the street, several passers by glancing around to see where it had come from. Hotch glanced, too, acknowledging them. Emily had paused on the stairs to her apartment building and, sighing, Hotch reached into the pocket of his coat, pulled out his wallet and handed two $20 notes to the driver. "Keep the change." He mumbled, knowing he had massively overpaid, before making his way around the car in a jog towards where Emily stood.

Her arms were folded across her chest, her face the picture of thunder. Pursed lips threatened him with silence, and, exasperated, Hotch gestured to the street and to the passers by who were dawdling; trying, and failing, to look as though they weren't listening into their conversation. "Do you want to do this out here?"

For a moment, he thought she might say she did, just to spite him, and Emily would be lying to say it didn't cross her mind. She had every right, too, to leave him standing there on her steps. All she needed was for it to rain on him, and then she'd be satisfied. Angry as she was with him, though, they did need to talk. With a petulant huff, she turned on her heels and finished her ascent up the stairs and, though she didn't hold any doors open for him on the way, she didn't object when he followed her inside, into the elevator and into her apartment.

It wasn't much different to the last time he had been here. Emily Prentiss always seemed to be moving in or out of somewhere. The boxes piled high against the wall could be waiting to be unpacked. Knowing that, instead, they were waiting to be shipped off to London, Hotch frowned at them, as though they had offended him. Emily threw her purse down onto the counter, where it skidded across the empty, gleaming top, stopping just short of the hob that Hotch doubted had ever been used. He watched as she kicked off her shoes, leaving them lying haphazardly against the wall. The long, black military jacket was the next thing to go. She threw it across the back of the couch before turning to face him, one hand leaning against the coat, the other perched on her hip.

"Well?" She asked. "Go on, then. Talk."

"You're the one who-"

"No, Hotch, stop." Holding up her hands, Emily decided she'd had enough. Walking past him, she headed for the fridge. Watching as she pulled out a bottle of white wine, Hotch let her speak, uninterrupted, as she poured "I said I wanted to talk, you cut me off. I say fine, we don't have to talk, you rush out of the taxi and follow me up to my apartment." Slamming the bottle of wine down onto the counter just a little too hard, Emily picked up her glass and put it to her lips. "So, you clearly have something to say. Go ahead, say it."

Her tone, her attitude, the way she was staring at him with angry, accusing eyes, it all made his blood boil. Try as he might, Hotch never could keep a level head around her. Once again, he held the bridge of his nose, trying to keep himself from exploding at her.

"Will you stop doing tha-"

"Dammit, Emily," He muttered, before slamming his fist against the marble of her counter top. Emily jumped, the wine in her hand sloshing over the edge of her glass and down the front of her dress. "After everything, after all of it, you spent the entire night saying goodbye to everybody else and..." Every way he wanted to end that sentence felt pathetic. And you forgot about me? And you decided not to acknowledge me? And you left me out? "I just thought better of you. That's all. I thought we'd been through enough that you had a little more respect for me than you demonstrated tonight."

This wasn't how he'd wanted tonight to go. When Emily came to him, when she sat across from him in his office and told him she was leaving, and she was leaving immediately, Hotch had felt an unfamiliar, unpleasant jolt in his stomach. He hadn't told her she was making a mistake, he hadn't asked her to reconsider, he hadn't tried to convince her to stay. There were lines that were never supposed to be crossed and, Hotch knew, they had both crossed them with seemingly reckless abandon. But, more than that, he remembered. He remembered every word said that night in her hotel room. She didn't know that. She didn't know how much of it he had meant, how he couldn't look at her without wanting her. How painful it was for him to accept that he wouldn't see her everyday. None of that was for her ears; it wasn't his job to tell her what to do, and he wasn't about to guilt her into staying by professing his feelings. Hotchner's didn't do that sort of thing. Aaron didn't do that sort of thing. If she wanted to leave, it was her choice and he would grin and bear it for her. It didn't take the hurt away, and Emily could sense as much when he spoke to her, and at the very least, he deserved a goodbye.

"I'm not just anybody, Emily. I deserve a goodbye." He said, aloud. One simple, final admission. "You owe me a goodbye."

Emily stared, speechless, the wine glass in her hand caught somewhere between the counter and her lips, though apparently forgotten. She stared at him, her mouth slightly agape, and Hotch watched as she tried to form words. Nothing. Feeling rather ridiculous after his outburst, Hotch glanced around, helplessly, then turned and moved to sit on her sofa. Leaning his elbows on his knees, head in his hands, Hotch waited a moment, sighing heavily. Still, Emily said nothing. It took her a moment, a moment longer than he would have liked, but eventually, he heard the clink of a glass, the slosh of wine, followed by her padding softly across the kitchen floor. Her perfume washed over him like a wave as she passed him and sat beside him on the sofa. There were two glasses in her hands now, and she held one out to him.

"Take it," She said, when he hesitated. "I have a flight tomorrow and if you don't drink it, I'll drink it and then I'll hold you personally responsible for my 8 hours of hell."

Hotch took the glass then, and couldn't help but smile. All of her anger was gone. There was still an edge to her voice, but that was just Emily. He wouldn't recognise her without it. The wine was sweet, sweeter than he usually liked, but Hotch drank it. Having something to do, something to hold, made him feel better. The wine was gone in a few mouthfuls and he set it down on the coffee table that was, otherwise, entirely bare.

"You're right," She said, finally, swilling her own wine around in the glass. Then she, too, set it down on the table and turned entirely to face him. Fixing him with those giant, brown eyes, Emily inhaled deeply, nodding. Hotch thought she was nodding more to herself than she was to him. "You're right, I'm sorry. You deserved a goodbye. You deserve a goodbye." She held her hands out, palms up, helplessly, and shrugged. "I just don't know how to say goodbye to you, Hotch." The statement was followed by a small laugh of disbelief, and her hands moved to her hair, pushing it back from her face. She fiddled with the hem of her skirt, she twisted the rings around her fingers. Emily couldn't sit still as she spoke more candidly with Hotch than she thought she ever had with anybody. "I don't know how to process the fact that I'm not going to see you everyday. I'm not going to talk to you, or hear your voice. I don't to be okay with that. So, I couldn't do it. I spent the whole night looking at you, waiting for a moment, and there were plenty. But I just...can't. Because being around you, looking at you, seeing you look at me it makes me not want to go. And I have to go. So, it's not that you don't deserve a goodbye,'s that I can't say goodbye to you."

By the end of her small speech, Emily's throat was thick with emotion and Hotch was frowning. Then, his eyebrows lifted, he met her eyes, and they were both laughing. The absurdity of it all, the impossibility of their hideous timing, the absolute improbability of the two of them...they laughed until they cried, red in the face from the hysterical giggles that wracked them both, and Hotch was sure it was the wine that had tipped them over the edge for the evening.

"You know, we never did talk," She looked up at him through her lashes, all of her laughter slowly subsiding. " You said we would, that morning you made me coffee, but we didn't."

Nodding, his lips turned up at the corner, not quite a smile, more of a smirk, really. "We can talk about it, if that's what you want." He looked from his hands to her, finding her eyes half-closed, as she picked at her nails. Suddenly, he found his heart beating harder in his chest, blood beginning to pound in his ears. The air between them had changed, was charged. The next question he asked was low, suggestive, and once he said it aloud, he couldn't take it back. "Ithat what you want to do, Emily? To talk some more?"

Suddenly, nothing about this seemed very funny. Something about the way he said her name, the knowing, confident smirk on his lips, the understanding that after tonight, she didn't know when she would see him again, took hold of her. It was like that day in his office all over again. He was like a magnet, pulling her closer and in that instant, all of Emily's inhibitions abandoned her. She wasn't nervous anymore. The coiled apprehension in her stomach released, like a spring she hadn't realised was tightened around her stomach, and she breathed out, sharply, as she saw all of the playful teasing in Aaron's eyes turn to something darker.


He didn't taste like coffee this time. He tasted sweet, like wine and wasted time and sex. Hotch's hand came up to tangle in her hair and Emily was aware of only him. Everything else faded away as Hotch kissed her. This kiss wasn't a battle, like so many of their other interactions. For once, it was a union. The closeness of it, the sharing of breath and one endless moment during which the Earth might have stopped spinning, and Hotch didn't think he would even have noticed as he explored her mouth with his tongue. Heat rose in Emily's cheeks as she felt Hotch groan into her mouth, tasting his tongue with her own, the kiss deeper, longer than any they had previously shared.

There were no mirrors, no cars, no profilers in the next room to catch them doing something they shouldn't be. It was just the two of them, a fact that Emily was intensely aware of as she moved, stretching one leg over Hotch and straddling his lap, feeling the rise and fall of his chest against hers as she pressed herself against him, his need for her growing steadily as they kissed. His hands, his huge, strong hands, came to rest on the dip where her waist met her hips, but he didn't grip, he didn't bruise, not this time. Not yet. Emily shivered as she felt his thumb running over the sensitive skin there and, even through the material of her dress, the touch made her stomach muscles contract, as he brushed over a nerve. Gasping, Emily broke their kiss, breathing heavily and leaning her forehead against his. He was smiling now, really smiling and Emily took a moment to commit that smile to memory.

It didn't feel real. Every other time he'd touched her, it had been rushed, a race to the finish line, the endgame clearly in sight. This...this was different. Her hands came up to cup his face, feeling stubble that was already growing back prickle her fingers. He was breathing heavily, trying to catch his breath, just as she was. Her chest brushed his as Emily tried to steady her own erratic breathing and Hotch's eyes roamed from her own, down her body, as his hands travelled from her hips up, tracing the curvature of her spine, to her shoulders, and back down again, taking in every curve of her body, unable to believe his luck that this was finally going to happen.

When his eyes came back to meet hers, there was a question there, hidden in the depths of his dark eyes and in the deep lines that framed them. Emily moved her hands, one travelling up into his dark hair, the other tracing the curve of his jaw. Her thumb brushed, tentatively, over his lips and Hotch closed his eyes, catching her thumb between them, kissing it, his tongue tasting the salt of her skin for the first time. When he opened his eyes again, she was staring, wide eyed and breathing heavily, bottom lip caught between her teeth.

Then she was gone. The weight of her, the warmth of her, withdrawn from his body and Hotch groaned aloud and reached for her, wanting to pull her back to him. With a laugh, Emily's arm slipped out of his grip, replaced by a hand and fingers that laced effortlessly with his own. She looked at him then, really looked at him, and this time it was Hotch who wanted to commit this moment to his memory. There was a playful, mischevious sparkle in her eyes, and the hand that grasped his own held tight, as though she never wanted to let go. Her dark hair was tousled by his hands, the strap of her black dress hanging off of one shoulder. He should have ran. A long time ago, he should have run away. Because she was getting on a plane tomorrow, and he was in too deep and that...that was going to hurt like hell.

But she pulled, gently, on his arm, and Hotch got to his feet, towering over her for a moment, seeing no flicker of doubt in her eyes, before she turned and let him to her bedroom.