"You can't keep doing this, you know."
SSA Aaron Hotchner looked up at the dark-haired, dark-eyed woman in his office doorway. He should have known she would be the one to call him on his little mood. They'd been dancing around their little quasi-relationship for how long now? How many times had she spooked him with how well she knew him when he wasn't sure he could say the same? "Doing what?"
"Don't play dumb, it's not attractive." Emily Prentiss looked down for a moment, crossing her arms under her breasts. Classic defensive and protective pose. She hated emotional confrontation. "You can't keep beating yourself up."
He let go of his pen, allowing it to roll off the blotter as his head dropped to his hands. He was well aware everyone else had gone home. They'd been racing this time, racing to catch their latest UNSUB before he could kill again. And he almost had. Hotch had missed it, missed the body language the inconsistencies... he hadn't been watching and they could have lost two people because of it.
He wasn't stupid enough to think that it was just that. He knew he was having a hard time lately and he could feel that she knew too. Things had been different with them since Kate, since the explosion, since she'd been locked away in a compound for three days. He didn't like it, not one bit. But he wasn't sure what he could do to change it. He'd learned early that Emily was a complex person and she hid things too well for him to see sometimes. He was already beating himself up over his lack of reaction to Cyrus. More so, he was upset that he was being so stubborn.
Their little quasi-relationship had been keeping him going since he and Haley had divorced. He'd been worried at first that their tryst on the plane en route to Milwaukee would ruin everything, but it had done virtually the opposite. Sure, things between them were strained, but she hadn't stopped. Well, more specifically, she'd never said 'no'. And that confused him. She had to know, even then, that he wasn't emotionally capable of a new relationship. Yet she offered herself to him time and time again, never said 'no' when he needed her, needed connection. She was coolly professional in the office, no different than she'd been before. Her first emotional response had been tiny, and he would have missed it had he not looked back on the New York case time and time again.
"Are you okay?"
Three simple words and they'd done nothing to him at the time. Then, he'd realized later that she had been seriously worried. It was something he hadn't considered before, hadn't even crossed his mind. They'd been spoken almost emotionlessly, nothing in the tone but that cool professionalism that made her burn all the hotter in his bed. She'd avoided him for weeks after that case, to give him time, she'd said as an excuse, though the surprise that showed in her eyes told him something had just changed between them. He'd realized later that there was so much more than that.
And so here they were, the last two in the bullpen, him struggling, her looking for affirmation that everything was, at least eventually, going to be alright.
"I missed it."
"It happens. And don't you dare say 'not to me'."
"You're profiling me."
"Someone has to."
She was angry, she was upset and he knew she was exhausted. He'd been there for a Cyrus nightmare or two. In fact, it was her nightmares that had him staying the night at her place for the first time. Just like his nightmares about Kate had done the same to her. He'd been confused by the happy leap his heart had taken when he realized she'd stayed the next morning.
"You can't save everyone."
"That's a clichéd line."
"But you of all people have to know it's true."
He looked up. She hadn't moved from the doorway, hadn't allowed her arms to drop to her sides. She stood there, protecting herself, arguing with him, knowing she was right. He sighed.
"You don't have to lose your hearing, you know."
Gosh, it was terrifying how quickly Emily could hit the nail on the head. Between knowing he needed to save everyone and his helplessness that he couldn't and the huge disadvantage he felt with his hearing loss, he wasn't sure how many secrets he had left. "I'm fine."
There was anger in her voice and he felt his stomach clench painfully. It twisted more when she turned to leave. "Emily..."
"No. I'm not going to do this. If you want to shut yourself off, fine, you have the right."
"I don't want to."
"It's not that simple."
Emily rolled her eyes. "Which part isn't that simple?" She ran the fingers of one hand through her hair with a sigh. "You don't have to answer that. I'm going home."
He sat in his office, hearing her bustle around, packing her things. She wasn't moving slowly either. He didn't watch her. His head stayed in his hands long after he heard the quiet sound of the bullpen door opening and closing. The hearing in his left ear had been trying to make up for the lack of hearing in his right and all...
Why had he closed off from her? She'd never hovered, never done anything to make him feel like anything less than who he'd always thought he was. In fact, she'd never done anything to even make him feel coddled. Every part of her body language standing in his doorway shouted caring and he knew how much it took for her to give into that. Especially with him. She'd been very careful, he knew, to limit herself in how much she showed she cared. He knew he'd done the same.
Because he did care, deeply. He wasn't just attracted to her, though he knew that was what was behind their joining of the Mile High Club somewhere over the north-eastern part of the country. Attraction had started their 'thing', but it had morphed and changed into something else entirely. They gravitated towards each other time and time again, absently and specifically choosing when to step away and when to sit close. They were dancing and he knew she was simply following his lead.
Which meant he needed to make a decision and he needed to make it fast. He couldn't keep tugging her along, couldn't keep using her for whatever he needed, whenever he needed it. Emily, he knew, deserved better. Much better. So he had to decide whether he was good enough for her to hold onto or whether he needed to let her go. His head argued to let her go, to let her find someone who would and could cater to her every whim. He was so damaged, emotionally, physically, and she deserved someone who could sweep her off her feet and give her everything. But he was selfish too. He needed her. He needed her smile, her vanilla and lavender scent, her strong intelligence, her quick wit... he needed her beautiful curves, her soft hair, her voice in his good ear as he brought them both closer and closer to the edge of that glorious pleasure.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd packed his things so quickly, nor the last time he broke so many speeding laws. He knew what he should do, but it was totally different than what he wanted to do. And for once in his goddamned life, he was going to do what he wanted. Even if what he wanted had gotten them into this situation to begin with.
She looked suitably annoyed when she opened the door to his pounding, but that annoyance changed subtly to surprise and wariness when she realized it was him. "Hi."
"Why don't I have to answer?"
"You're not making any sense."
"You asked me why it wasn't simple, then told me I didn't have to answer. Why not?"
"I'm your colleague and your..." Her hand floated through the air looking for the right word. "Friend with benefits. You don't owe me anything."
He was in uncharted waters. He'd been the one in denial the longest, he knew that, and here he was, trying to convey to her that he needed her oh so much and he couldn't seem to find the words. He took a step closer, crossing the threshold into her apartment. She didn't step back. "But you worry."
"So does Garcia. So does Morgan."
He was shaking his head at her before she was half way through the sentence. "That's not what I mean."
It was one of the few things he'd gotten out of her. Emily Prentiss had learned how to hide probably before she learned algebra. He was good. She was better. Most of the time, anyway. Sometimes, the worry and the caring couldn't be hidden. Concern flowed out of her, like when they were pulling the Angel Maker's coffin from the ground. Like in that New York hospital. He stepped closer again, his body heating when, again, she didn't step back.
"What do you mean?" Her voice had dropped to a whisper.
Hotch ran his hand down her arm, his eyes fixed on her shoulder. "Its showing."
"That you care." Emily stiffened under his hands and he almost cursed himself. "What if I want to give you an answer?"
The look on her face told her she thought she was definitely still dreaming. Hotch reached out for the door, closing it behind him. "I want it to be that simple."
"Want what to be that simple?"
His hand had linked with hers though neither had moved even marginally closer. "I want to share things with you."
She blew out a breath. "Okay..."
"I want it to be as simple as opening my mouth, but I can't." He was treading on shaky ground. They both were.
She knew the answer to that question. He knew she did. And he knew she wanted him to say it, to admit that Haley had burned him and he wasn't sure about trusting someone else with so much of himself again. But hadn't he done that already? Hadn't she pried a heck of a lot out of him with only a few touches and some well-placed words?
"I wanted to save them. I was so focused on that. I couldn't see that our UNSUB was standing right in front of me."
"It happens. Even to you."
She blew out a breath. "What's wrong?"
"This isn't the first mistake we've made. I've made," he answered, his thumb gently stroking the back of her hand. "Our profile was wrong in New York and Kate died. Cyrus held you hostage for three days, beating you and-" His breath hitched an caught.
Finally, she moved, stepping so her front just brushed his, leaning her head forward as he leaned down and their foreheads touched. "It's not a bad thing to care."
His other arm came up to wrap around her back. "What if I care too much?"
She shrugged. "Then I guess we're in the same boat."
He could accept that. Something in his gut was telling him that someday Emily Prentiss would know everything about him. She would know every bit of his life. She would know how to pre-empt these feelings of uselessness, of helplessness. And maybe someday he'd be able to tell her how much he appreciated that, how much he needed that.
How much he needed her.