The plane was delayed. But at least the team had a private waiting room to wait in until it was cleared for boarding. Perks of the job and having their own jet.
Hotch sat staring out the lone window at the California night sky, not paying attention to the conversation going on around him. He heard laughter, absently identifying it as Prentiss's—her laugh was distinctive, he heard a snort that could only be Morgan's, he heard JJ's sigh, and Reid's concerned question, but he didn't turn to look at his people. He just sat, watching the people just visible on the other side of the airport.
He had a lot to think about. He'd had that guy right there, could have ended that couple's ordeal with a few well-placed words, and he'd missed the signs. He'd have to live with that. Have to live with yet another mistake. At least this time, his mistake hadn't cost anyone else their lives. Not like Kate.
Thank God he'd not made any mistakes when Cyrus had Reid and Prentiss in that damned compound. He almost had, several times. Had almost forgotten everything he'd been trained in the heedless desire to rush in and get his people out.
He broke out of his self-reflection when Prentiss's feet suddenly landed on the couch next to his thigh. She was in the seat directly across from him, laughing at something Morgan said in the seat right next to hers. They were almost always laughing and teasing about something. He listened for a moment to the sound of her giggles, listening for an underlying sign of her mental state. It had only been a few weeks since that bastard had used her for a punching bag, yet she seemed utterly fine with it all. He wondered how she did it.
She could take it. He'd never, in his life, forget the sound of her voice saying those four words. Any more than he'd forget the sound of Reid's voice identifying him to Henkle as the one who should die.
He snuck a look at her out of the corner of his eye; just to check, he assured himself. He'd had a hard time not hovering over her, making sure she was perfectly ok. She was a strong, independent woman, and he would be the last one she'd want protecting her—or even worrying about her.
But every time he looked at her, he felt the insane urge to apologize. And he wasn't even sure what for, although he thought misjudging her might be a good place to start. His mind shot through several memories he had of her, since that first day in his office. The last one was of her limping out of a burning compound, fear on her face. Fear for her teammates instead of herself.
Dave had told him how she'd fought leaving the compound, how she'd been so focused on finding Reid, she'd balked at Morgan's order to get out.
He'd never forget her voice as she repeated Morgan and Reid's names that night. He'd stood watching her, afraid to touch her, afraid to speak to her, afraid of what would come out. It was the same way he'd felt when they'd found Reid in that graveyard. Then the boy had hugged him. She hugged the boy. Openly and freely expressing how she cared, right there for the world to see. It had made the news, that embrace. Her, Reid, Derek and Dave in the background. And him, standing in front, looking awkward and like he didn't belong. Like he was afraid to belong, especially with her. He'd been looking at her face with a strange longing he'd still yet to identify.
And she'd never said two words to him that night, other than to give her statement while en route to the hospital. Her face had been swollen, her words were awkward, her body was tight. She had barely looked at him. He'd provided no comfort to her that night. Had just sat back and watched as she sat on the back bench of the SUV between Dave and Derek, while he drove, with Reid in the front seat. She'd fallen asleep long before they even reached the hospital fifty-eight miles from that damned compound. She hadn't even wanted to go, but Dave had insisted she get x-rayed, and she listened to him. She'd just protested when he ordered her to go.
But Dave and Derek, on the other hand, they had power to persuade her to do what they wanted, in a way he'd never have, not as her supervisor. No, they were friends with this woman, and from that friendship they had caring and mutual respect. She respected them, they respected her. Hotch had no clue where he fit. Where he wanted to fit.
Her laughter brought him back out of his head and into the room with the team. It took him a moment to realize what they were talking about. Something about Reid developing a list of some sort…of things he'd never do again.
"Kiss a movie starlet in a pool." JJ crowed, and Hotch fought the urge to smile at the red that painted Reid's face.
"Wow. That's one I've not heard." Emily said snickering. "That's a pretty good one."
Hotch watched as she pulled a dollar bill out of a wad in her hand and placed it on a small table near Dave. What were they doing?
"But can you trump that?" Morgan smirked, ruffling Emily's hair with pure affection. Hotch watched them a moment, wondering at the extreme sense of comfort between the two. Morgan wasn't even that relaxed with Garcia. And he rarely touched anyone that freely—except Emily. But Hotch didn't think there was anything sexual between them.
"Um…" Emily smiled then, a wicked little expression that caught Hotch's attention immediately, though she was definitely not looking at him. "Let some drunken friends lead you into a Barcelona tattoo parlor?"
The room went silent. Then JJ snorted, Dave hmmed, and Morgan jerked to face her more fully. Morgan's words were incredulous as he asked. "You have a tattoo?"
JJ snickered. "That's not all she has."
"Yes. I have a tattoo. And Jayje—could you possibly not reveal all my secrets this round?" Emily sat back in her seat with a self-satisfied smirk on her face. Hotch watched as Dave, Reid, and Derek all added dollar bills to the pile. It was a tidy little sum, and Hotch saw several tens and even a twenty. What were they doing? He watched a moment, before determining it was some sort of truth or dare type game—for money.
And Dave was encouraging it. In fact, he was the one that asked the question that was on Hotch's—and probably all the men's minds—"What is it?"
Emily smiled, a devilish expression that Hotch didn't expect. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
Hotch would. The idea of a tattoo somewhere on Emily Prentiss's body was so incongruous it was utterly fascinating, and completely alluring. And completely contradictory to what he'd always thought of her. But what part of her body had she bared to some stranger in order to go through the act of getting body art? He tried to resist running an eye down her athletic and trim frame, speculating. Trying to recall how much of her he had actually seen in the time since she'd joined the unit.
Not much, just creamy shoulders and long, silky arms. Nice legs from the knees down on the few occasions she'd worn a skirt to the office, mostly on the few trial dates she'd had to attend. She'd always looked lovely, and not the type to have a tattoo somewhere on that skin. He sat thinking, trying to profile a possible piece.
It would have to be something symbolic and something intelligent, but something elegant.
Derek was persistent. "So, come on, Em, where is it?"
Emily leaned forward, her body nearly touching Derek's. Hotch felt anger twist his gut so suddenly he nearly doubled over. What was she doing? Why was she teasing the man? "Derek, my love. It is someplace you will never, ever see."
She patted his cheek and sat back in her chair, amidst the rest of the team's laughter.
"Tattooing is one of the most ancient arts in the world." Reid said. "I had a friend in college who tried to get me to get one for my sixteenth birthday, but I chickened out. I didn't like the idea of pigmented ink under my skin. Did it hurt very badly?"
"It wasn't pleasant. But thankfully, if you have enough alcohol in your system, it kind of numbs it." Emily said. "Sure was a surprise when I woke up the next morning and saw it in the mirror."
JJ just kept snickering. "That was the tattoo right? Not the…"
"Jennifer Janine Jareau…" Emily said warningly, as the guys all shared a look. "Some things they just don't need to know."
JJ just kept snickering.
"Ok. Emily, if you won't tell us where it is, at least tell us what it is." Dave said. "You've gotten us all curious. And if we can't guess than you'll win."
He nodded at the pile of money before pulling a bill from his wallet. Hotch's browse rose upon seeing the hundred Dave threw on the table.
"Ok, Dave, you guess first." Emily smirked.
"Ok then. Something classy, I'll bet." Dave started. "How old where you when you got it?"
"Four years ago, Dave. So I wasn't that young. Come on, give it a try." Emily kicked her feet slightly, sending the bench Hotch sat on shaking a bit. "You only get one shot."
"Hmmm. A rose." Dave said. "You do like roses."
"Yes, I do. But it's not a rose." Emily said, "Lay the money down."
"And how do we know you're not lying?" Derek challenged.
"She's not." JJ said.
"So you've seen it." Dave said.
"Yes, we have shared a hotel room before." JJ said, still snickering.
"Alright, girl. I've seen you in a bikini. A very small bikini. So that only leaves a very few places where it could be." Derek said, eying her. "Unless you don't have one at all."
Hotch's own eyes narrowed at what he was implying. Was she tattooed across the ass? That definitely wasn't the Emily Prentiss he knew.
"Oh, I have one." Emily said. "In fact, I have…two. Sort of."
"Two?" Derek asked, brows rising. "Were you drunk for them both?"
"Yes. But I didn't get them on the same day." Emily admitted. "And the second one came from Prague."
"So on your never list it probably says something like…don't go to foreign countries and get drunk because you might run out of non-tattooed skin?" Reid said.
"You're catching on to this 'never list'." Emily said with approval. "You want to guess?"
"A unicorn. And a fairy. You like the romantic." Reid said, promptly. "Am I right?"
"I considered both, but that's not what they are." Emily admitted. Everyone watched while Reid laid out a twenty dollar bill on the pile.
Morgan smirked, a cocky expression on his face. Hotch watched as he pulled out three twenties from his wallet, soon leaving it empty. "Ok. One twenty for each tattoo, and another for the location."
Emily leaned in again, Hotch's stomach tightened in anger again. "Go for it, big guy. Fancy profiler. See if you can figure it out."
"On the ass, and butterflies both." Morgan said, confidently.
Emily laughed aloud before snatching the twenties from his hand and lying them on the table. "Wrong on all three counts."
Morgan's eyes widened and he manfully tried to keep them from dropping to stare at her body. "You shittin' me? JJ?"
"Nope. She's telling the truth. Tattoos are not on her ass." The blonde kept smirking. "I guess that's everybody, unless Hotch wants to try?"
"I'm afraid I am broke…and clueless. The fact that you have tattoos is entirely surprising." Hotch admitted, drawing her attention to him. She smirked and he knew she liked that she remained something of a mystery—to them all apparently.
"That's ok. Nobody will guess, anyway. JJ—how much did I get?" Emily pulled her feet off the bench and straightened. The blonde gathered the money and began counting.
"Well, because everybody guessed everyone else's, that added all the money to the pot. With Dave's last one hundred, and Morgan's sixty, that totals…eight hundred forty-six dollars for you." JJ handed the money to Emily with a smirk. "So what are you going to do with it? Get another tattoo?"
"No. But remember that magazine I showed you? That set of rings I wanted? Right in at a grand for all seven." Emily was practically crowing.
"The belly button rings?" JJ asked, enthusiastically. "Neiman Marcus? Awesome."
"Belly button rings?" Reid squeaked, looking at Emily in shock. Hotch silently echoed the sentiment.
"Well, yeah." Emily shrugged. "I had my belly button pierced in France six years ago on a dare."
"Ok, that she's telling the truth about." Morgan said, with a laugh. "I've seen it with my own two eyes. But woman, what are the tattoos, I'm dying to know."
"Bow and arrow." Emily said. Her hand quickly touched her low lower abdomen once on each side. Hotch's years of experience in a courtroom kept his eyes from widening in surprise. The body art would have to be very low to be covered by a bikini. She'd bared a lot when she'd gotten the pieces. It wasn't like her at all, and it intrigued him. Made him wonder what else she'd done.
"What?" Dave asked, surprise in his own voice.
Hotch's mind played over the symbolism of a bow and arrow. Once he thought about it, the choice didn't surprise him—and suited her well. "Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. She was emblemized by a bow and arrow. She protected and provided for the weaker ones, including women, children, and slaves."
Emily looked at him, hesitantly and surprised. "Wow, Hotch, no one else has ever guessed before. Maybe you should win the money."
"No. It's yours, after all. I wasn't even playing the game." Hotch told her. "Go buy your belly button rings."
Hotch suddenly really wanted to see them. On her.
And nothing else.
Underestimating Emily Prentiss was something he'd put at the very top of his 'Never Do Again' List.