The month that followed created a series of lasting memories for Emily Prentiss, some seemed inconsequential at the time, others life-changing, but they all stayed with her nevertheless.
The first of these was Rick's funeral. As the sun rose over London, pulling the new day unwillingly with it, Prentiss was already awake, sitting on her usual perch on the edge of her bed, staring out at the skyline. She watched as the reflections in the windows of the tall buildings changed from a warm orange to a bright white, and for the first time, she realised she would miss the view. She got ready slowly, as if she could delay what was going to happen that afternoon, but despite her efforts, twelve o'clock rolled on. The thought of going home to Hotch in a few weeks was all that was getting her through as she pulled on her black dress, shoes, and coat, and left the apartment.
She stood at the back of the church when she arrived, catching a cold breeze from the open doors. The room was packed with family, friends, and colleagues and she didn't want to intrude. But after a few moments, Mark caught sight of her and waved her over to sit next to him and Rick's family.
"How are you doing?" he asked as she sat down beside him.
"Okay," she said. "You?"
"I'm okay," he said, and she was glad to see that he seemed to mean it. "Did you find what you were looking for?"
Prentiss smiled. "Yeah, I did. I'm moving back to Virginia in a few weeks."
"Glad to hear it."
The funeral went as well as could be expected, and soon Prentiss was standing in front of the church, expressing her condolences to Rick's family and bidding Mark one final goodbye.
"Thanks for coming," he said.
"Wouldn't have missed it," she said, hugging him tightly. Even though she knew beyond all doubt that she was making the right decision to leave, she couldn't help the stab of regret she felt as she stepped back from Mark for the last time. "Are you sure you're going to be okay?"
"Don't you worry about me," he said with a small smile. "I'm going to be fine, and you... you're going to be amazing." She said goodbye to the few familiar faces, mostly cops, and made her way through the quiet crowd towards the centre of the city.
A week later, Prentiss worked her last day as Chief of Interpol, the apartment was sold to a couple from Belgravia, and Garcia would be arriving in Heathrow airport any minute. Prentiss stood patiently at the Arrivals gate, her mind wandering back to her last experience in this airport and keeping her very much entertained as she waited. A few minutes later, Garcia arrived in a flurry of excitement and luggage. As they made their way back to the flat, Garcia filled her in on what seemed to have been a very eventful few weeks, which included a high-security jail break, thirteen escaped serial killers, and Hotch being framed for attempted terrorism.
That night as Garcia was taking a shower, Prentiss called Hotch.
"You were arrested by the DOJ?" she asked, as soon as he answered the call.
"And now there are thirteen serial killers on the loose and a target on your back?"
"And you didn't think to tell me?"
"You have enough going on right now," he said. "And besides, there wasn't anything you could have done." Prentiss was about to voice her frustration when Hotch spoke again. "I'm really glad you're coming back soon, and not just because I don't want to go another day without you." She smiled and her annoyance melted away. "We're really going to need you here."
"Just six more days," she said.
"Six days too many."
"Listen, I gotta go, Garcia's coming. I'll speak to you soon."
"Okay," he said. "I love you."
"I love you too," she said, without so much as a second thought, a warm glow in her chest at the sound of the words. "Bye."
"Who was that?" Garcia asked as she entered the kitchen with a towel twisted around her head.
"Nobody," she said, but Garcia's eyes narrows slightly and she smirked.
"Nobody my ass." But she didn't press the topic anymore, and the next five days passed in a blur of good food, wine, and old stories.
The day after Garcia flew back to Quantico, Prentiss locked the door of her apartment for the final time, handed the keys to her neighbour, and headed for the airport, smiling the entire way.
Prentiss sneaked into the BAU on Monday evening while Hotch had the rest of the team occupied in the Briefing Room. He had even roped Morgan in to joining them. She had been looking forward to her reunion with the team since the moment Cruz had accepted her terms and reemployed her at the Bureau. Keeping her excitement hidden from Garcia for a solid week had been one of the most difficult things she had ever done, and that was certainly saying something. She stood out of sight and listened to Hotch's deep voice as he addressed her friends.
"We all know how serious this situation is, and we're going to need all the best people working with us to re-profile and recapture each of these thirteen escapees. That's why we've got a new team member joining us." Prentiss heard a ripple of muttered interest from the group. "I'm sure you'll all join me in welcoming her with open arms. I think you're going to like her." With that, Prentiss stepped inside the Briefing Room.
"It's you!" Garcia exclaimed. "You're back!" The rest of the team turned in their seats to look at her, their eyes wide, smiles even wider, and Prentiss stared around at their wonderful, familiar faces, but a second later her expression grew dry.
"You all knew, didn't you?" she asked. Suddenly they all looked a little shifty. "Seriously? I wanted it to be a surprise!" She scanned their faces until she landed on an apologetic-looking Rossi.
"I may have let something slip to Garcia..." he said.
"And I may have told Morgan," Garcia said, sheepishly.
"But I only told Reid," Morgan said. "And Savannah, but she's my wife so that doesn't count."
"I didn't tell anyone," said Reid, not quite meeting her eye. "Except JJ," he added.
"And I had to tell Will, obviously," JJ said. "But other than that, we were very discreet."
Prentiss couldn't wipe the grin from her face as she looked around at her family, just as she remembered them, as if the last four years had been one long and unhappy dream.
"I know it's only been a couple of weeks, but you have no idea how much I've missed you guys," she said, and they all rose to wrap her in a many-armed hug. She couldn't remember ever feeling so compressed or so happy.
After the group dispersed slightly, Hotch approached her, still keeping a professional distance that told her he hadn't made their relationship public yet.
"Do you want to go to dinner tonight?" he asked quietly.
"I'd love to," she said.
"That's a great idea," Reid said, appearing next to Prentiss. "Hey, guys, you want to go out to dinner?" The rest of the team voiced their approval and collected their belongings, and before they knew it, Hotch and Prentiss's date had turned into a full-scale event. They returned to the same restaurant where they had eaten several weeks before, this time with Morgan in tow. Hotch and Prentiss ended up a few seats apart, separated by Reid and JJ, and they would occasionally catch each other's eye across the table, brief glances and stolen smiles that told Prentiss that he was just as impatient to get her alone as she was. Just as they ordered dessert, Hotch rose from his seat and walked behind Prentiss, leaning down to whisper quietly to her.
"Can I speak to you?" She rose from her seat and followed him away from the table and towards a quiet corner by the door. She felt JJ's curious gaze on her as she left, but everyone else seemed oblivious.
"I don't think we're going to get a lot of privacy tonight," he said.
"It doesn't seem like it," she laughed. She noticed Hotch seemed a little nervous as he stood before her, but he took a breath and seemed to steady himself.
"I told you once that I didn't want to go another day without you by my side," he said, "I know this might seem fast, but to me it's the only thing in the world that makes perfect sense." Prentiss's eyes widened and her heart began to hammer as she figured out where this was going. Before he could continue, there were footsteps behind them and Rossi passed them by to fetch something from his jacket.
"Agents," he said with a curt nod and a smirk.
"Dave," Hotch said, waiting anxiously for Rossi to be out of earshot. He glanced over his shoulder, and when he was sure they couldn't be seen, he took her hands.
"If I ask you to marry me, will you say yes?"
"Yes," she said, a great wave of joy rising up within her. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, feeling him smile against her lips as he pulled her in close.
"Agents," came Rossi's voice as he walked back past them again, his smirk even wider.
Emily Prentiss stepped out of the restaurant and into the cool night air, followed by her six teammates. She thought back to the last time she had stood on this spot and the weight that had been lurking inside of her, dragging her down. Now she felt a curious mix of calm and excitement. She felt at peace for the first time in decades because she knew she was safely back where she belonged, and she couldn't wait to see what the future would hold. It was no longer a frightening abyss of the unknown, it was a place of endless possibilities, and she knew she could handle every single one of them as long as she had Hotch by her sides and her friends at her back.
Prentiss stepped out to the side of the road to look for a taxi, but there were none in sight. She heard a gasp and turned to see Hotch just behind her, down on one knee on the sidewalk, a blue velvet box in his hand. Garcia squealed with excitement, JJ and Reid gasped aloud, Morgan's mouth fell open, and Rossi just grinned as they watched the scene unfold.
"Emily Prentiss," said Hotch. "I have known you for ten years, and loved you for most of that time. I made the unforgivable mistake of not telling you how I felt sooner, but I'll be damned if I make that mistake again. I want to spend every possible moment of the rest of my life with you. Will you do me the great honour of being my wife?"
"Yes," she said, for the second time in the space of an hour. Hotch rose and kissed her, and their friends erupted into applause and cheering. They all crowded around the couple, admiring the engagement ring, congratulating them both, and demanding to know how all of this had come about.
"Looks like you guys got your surprise after all," Prentiss laughed.
"I'll say!" said JJ. "Come on, I want to hear everything!"
"That's a hell of a story," Rossi said, guiding the group towards the bar next door and flashing a wink back at Prentiss and Hotch. "And I happened to have a front row seat to the entire thing." Prentiss and Hotch let Rossi distract the rest of the team with a no doubt very embellished version of events, while they furtively crept into a cab and headed for Hotch's house, finally alone.
The next morning, Prentiss woke up before her alarm clock and lay with her eyes closed, taking a slow breath and waiting for the knot in her stomach to return like a punch in the gut, just like it did every morning. But this time it didn't come. Instead she became aware of an unfamiliar weight on her left ring finger, and opened her eyes to see a sparkling diamond glittering in the Virginia sun that was filtering in through the curtains. She heard Hotch move beside her and felt an arm pull her close. He pressed a kiss to her bare shoulder and she turned to look at him, as if to confirm that this wasn't all a dream. He was looking down at her with warmth in his brown eyes, studying her face with a look of absolute contentment as he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
"This is never going to get old," she whispered, looking up at him.
"What?" he asked.
"Waking up next to you."
She lay her head down on his chest and smiled, feeling for the first time in her life that she was exactly where she was supposed to be, and nothing in the world was going to drag her away.