Author's Note: Happy ending on tap, but there is a bit more angst first. Though not as much as there was initially and I shall explain that at the end.
And special thanks to Arc for just catching a typo in here that would have made me look like a jackass if anyone else had seen it. Truly. Jackass. So, thumbs up to the Queen of Oz! Long live the queen!
Emily stood back and looked over her living room.
It was a mess. She was supposed to have finished packing two days ago, but her heart just wasn't in it. She was afraid that she was making a terrible mistake.
One that she wouldn't be able to take back.
She was supposed to get married in two days. Married. And in Miami of all places. But her friends had a little money, and it was a nice place for them to take a few days off. Also, it was Spring so it wasn't too hot to enjoy the weather.
Either way, those were just incidental facts . . . the wedding had to be in Miami.
There was no other way to have the ceremony.
Mark had been transferred there three weeks ago as head of the DEA's local field operations. And given that they were in the midst of a huge trafficking case, there was just no way that he could take the time off to come back up to DC again.
She sighed . . . oh Mark. He was so good to her. And she did love him.
Well . . . she bit her lip . . . no . . . yes . . . yes, she nodded to herself . . . she did love him. She just didn't know if she loved him enough. Enough to drop her whole LIFE for him.
Because that's what was happening.
She was the tag-along bride.
And she also didn't know . . . in her heart . . . if they would really even be getting married, if not for his transfer. Of course she knew that they wouldn't be getting married NOW if not for that precipitating act, but she had started to wonder if they would have EVER gotten married if things had just run their natural course.
And that was a big question mark to have forty-eight hours before your wedding.
He'd received his orders one day last month, and he'd given her the ring the next night after he told her he was leaving. At first she'd thought that he was crazy. Really, they'd only been dating for a few months. But he told her to think about it. That he loved her, that she was 'the one' and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
And when someone says that to you . . . that you're his 'one' . . . then, well, you do have to give it some thought.
So she did.
A lot of thought. More than you probably should have had to when you receive a marriage proposal. That should be something that results in an instantaneous burst of joy . . . or regret. A yes . . . or a no.
But she'd approached it clinically.
The depth of her feelings for him were kind of secondary concern.
He might not have been 'the one' for her, but he was a nice guy. Funny, intelligent, and in law enforcement. He was a good man. Of that much she was sure. And she'd been looking for a good man for over thirty years. Since she was seven years old and Billy Dobbin passed her a note that he liked her, and then the next day at recess he'd smashed her in the face with a dodge ball.
That had pretty much summed up all of her dating adventures since.
So she knew just, how very hard it was to find a good man.
And there were also other considerations. She was forty two, forty-three in October. And that's pretty much the end of the road if you're a woman and you want to have a family. Sure, she had a few years left. But from here on out it would be harder . . . and more dangerous. And she wanted to have children. At least one. But she was afraid to do it completely on her own. Besides that though, she really wanted her child to have a real father.
Someone to call daddy.
And here was this nice, smart, funny man telling her that he loved her, and that he wanted to marry her.
So what was stopping her?
Well, there was her job . . . but Miami had a large field office. And she looked into it, and they did have a couple openings. One in White Collar. Night and day from her work now, but she'd decided that maybe it was time for a change anyway. The cases were taking a toll. There was only so much horror that you could absorb before your mind begins to physically recoil from it.
She was reaching that saturation point.
And the team had had so many close calls over the past few years. Eventually their luck would run out. And she didn't want to be there to see that day.
The day that they became five instead of six.
But even knowing both of those things, she also knew without a doubt that if she stayed in Washington, she would stay in the BAU until she either retired . . . or got killed on the job.
It was in her blood now.
Like it was in Rossi's or . . . Hotch's. Hotch.
A frown immediately creased her brow, then she shook her head . . . she wasn't thinking about him right now.
So she thought back to Mark. Mark and his proposal . . . the nice man offering her a way out. A way to a happy life. A normal life. So she'd said yes. Yes, she would marry him. And she put on his ring, and accepted the congratulations and started to plan the wedding.
It was small.
A dozen people on his side. Only eight on hers. Her parents and the team. Plus of course Will was coming with JJ. She really didn't have anyone else. Well, not anyone else that she cared enough about to want them there on such a big day.
So the wedding was on track, Mark was looking at houses down there, and she had applied for her transfer and given her notice at work.
Her last day had been Friday. And her eyes began to tear up as she thought back on it. Because this was the part about Hotch. The team had thrown her a party . . . but he wasn't there. He'd left JJ a voicemail telling her that he had a consult in West Virginia, and that he wouldn't be in at all that day.
Emily couldn't believe it. He hadn't come in to say goodbye to her. And beyond even that bewildering turn of events, he didn't call her, or send her an email, or even leave her a fucking STICKY note!
There was just this cold, impersonal, GLOWING, letter of reference sitting on the middle of her desk when she came in that day. He hadn't even addressed it to 'Prentiss.' Her full name had been typed out on the envelope.
And that was a slap. Because he always called her Prentiss. Always.
That was their thing.
It was like it didn't matter to him at all that she leaving. That she was no more important to him than any other employee that he was going to replace the next day. And that . . . she swallowed . . . it had hurt. It had hurt so much. So much that she'd cried in his office. Rossi found her sitting in his chair. And he just gave her a sad smile and told her that he was sorry. And she'd wiped her eyes and said that she was too.
She'd come home that night and drank a half a bottle of wine before calling Mark and telling him how excited she was about the wedding.
Perhaps if he also read behavior for a living, then he would known that for the lie that it was.
He didn't see it though, because she really had been so excited before. She had been excited about everything.
But then . . . Hotch didn't say goodbye. And now she wasn't excited about anything. She didn't know what to do with herself. She'd cried every day since. And she didn't want to pack, she didn't want to think about her new job, she didn't want to think about the wedding. She just wanted to think about why he didn't say goodbye. Why would he do that? After everything that they had been through, so many years, why would he be so mean to her?
And then she started to wonder why it was bothering her so much. Lots of people hadn't said goodbye to her. People that she'd worked with for just as many years, people that she'd been quite friendly with, they didn't show up to her party. And that bothered her a little bit . . . but nothing like him. Nothing like this gaping hole that she had in her gut whenever she thought about him.
A hole that she'd come to see was disproportionate to the offense that he had committed.
It was yesterday that she'd realized it wasn't just that he hadn't said goodbye. That was part of it, but mostly, it was the realization that she wasn't going to see him anymore.
They couldn't get coffee together. Or make fun of Reid's hair. He wasn't going to yell at her for moving the seat, or keep peppermints in his pocket for when she got hungry in the car. She had been so busy planning for the next thing that she hadn't stopped to think about what she was leaving behind.
And she didn't want to leave him . . . but she already had.
And today she'd finally realized that it was too late to go back. She'd made a commitment to Mark. She'd already quit her job. And beyond that, Hotch didn't care about her . . . not the way that she'd come to see that she cared about him. Because if he loved her and wanted her to stay, then he would have said something. Or done, something. But instead, he'd left her that God damn envelope with her name typed out.
She'd seen him do the same thing last month when one of the secretaries had left.
So how could she even consider going back there, knowing now how she felt about him, and knowing how very clear it was, that he didn't feel the same way about her?
It would be torture.
But still, even knowing that, she'd been almost frozen with indecision since she'd awoken that morning. She didn't want to leave . . . but she had to go.
So here she was now, staring at her half packed boxes, wondering how her life had come to this.
Suddenly Emily heard a knock, and her eyes shot towards the door. Then her jaw twisted slightly as she stood up with a sigh.
It was the super, she thought as she began walking down the hall. She'd told him that she'd drop off the keys today. And he wasn't going to be happy when she told him that she needed yet another day. She'd already called and pushed the movers back, and rescheduled her flight for tomorrow afternoon.
Indecision or not, things were already in motion . . . she had to go.
She pulled open the door and her eyes widened in surprise . . . Hotch. But before she could even process that he was standing there, she saw the blood . . . and the bruising on his face . . . and she freaked.
"OH MY GOD!" She yelled as she grabbed his arm "WHAT HAPPENED?! ARE YOU OKAY?!"
Hotch didn't answer Emily's questions . . . he just looked at her for a moment. Though he had cleaned up his face, he'd just realized by her reaction that he'd forgotten to take off his dress shirt. The blood was dried now, but, it was considerable.
Not to mention the shadows that he was getting under his eyes.
Two nice shiners from the broken nose.
He knew that he needed to go to the hospital, but her flight was today . . . and he couldn't take the chance of missing her. Not now, not after he'd decided to try to get her back. And given the worry and concern she was demonstrating over his appearance . . . and the way she was clutching his arm . . . he was starting to feel a glimmer of hope. Because maybe that plan wasn't a pipe dream.
Maybe Rossi was right.
Maybe she really did love him.
And he just couldn't tear his eyes away from her face . . . she was so gorgeous. And for the last few days, he'd honestly been terrified that he'd never see her again.
But then he once again registered the increasing concern he could see on those beautiful features. And he realized that he needed to answer her questions. So he cleared his throat.
"I'm okay," he said softly, "I just had a little uh . . . accident, but I'm okay." He paused, "may I come in?"
Emily stared back at Hotch in astonishment . . . little accident. What the hell kind of accident could he have had? And it was clear that he wasn't 'okay.' In fact it was QUITE obvious that his nose was broken! What the hell was wrong with him? Why wasn't he at the hospital?!
Why was he at her door instead of in the emergency room?!
All of the questions raced through her mind . . . and then her brain stopped as her hand fell and her arm dropped back to her side. It had just finally registered that he was at her door. He was standing there RIGHT in front of her. She had just been thinking that she'd never see him again . . . and here he was.
'And what was she feeling?' She asked herself.
Joy . . . relief . . . anger. All in proportional amounts. Then joy started to assert itself, and it pushed anger aside.
That wasn't for right now.
Because as pissed off as she was about how he'd treated her, she was still THRILLED to see him! And God knew that she didn't want him to leave yet. But she was trying to preserve her pride, so she pushed down on the urge to throw her arms around his neck. Then she took a small breath . . . her expression softening slightly . . . and she stepped back to let him enter.
But she wasn't ready to look at him yet . . . to have those piercing eyes reading into her soul. Again, she was trying to preserve retain some dignity. So she focused on shutting the door and turning the locks. Then she stared down at the doorknob for a minute waiting for him to say something . . . and when he didn't, she finally turned to face him.
And he immediately looked away.
Hotch's eyes dropped away from Emily's to sweep over her apartment.
There was an awful lot of packing left. Especially for someone who was supposed to be starting a new life in a new city in twenty-four hours.
He could feel that glimmer get a little bit brighter.
And when he turned back to her, he could see that she was looking up at him in confusion and concern. But they'd known each other for many years, and he could read her well . . . so he also could see the anger. Anger which he knew was deserved.
He teeth sunk into his lip as his gut twisted with sadness.
His last chance.
Rossi was right, she was his last chance to be happy. So he was going to have to be honest with her. But beyond even that, he was going to have to bare his soul to her. Because if he had any chance of making her stay . . . or making her forget that new life that she'd been planning . . . then she had to understand one basic truth.
She was his everything.
So he decided to start at the end.
"I didn't say goodbye."
He saw the flinch that she tried to hide, and then she slowly shook her head.
"No . . . no, you didn't."
Her gaze dropped to the floor and when she looked back up, her eyes were filled with tears.
"Do you know how much that hurt me?"
Her tears were like daggers. But still Hotch took it in, unblinking, and then he shook his head.
"No," he whispered back, "I don't know. How much did it hurt?"
Emily eyes widened in surprise.
"What?" She asked incredulously.
Had he lost his mind?
"It's a simple question," Hotch continued softly as he took two steps forward, invading her space, "how much did it hurt?"
And then he saw her take one step back.
"I don't understand what's going on Hotch." Emily's voice was strained, confused, "you disappear on my last day, you don't say goodbye, you don't call. I hear nothing from you for a week. And now," her gaze hardened as she finally tapped into the anger, "you show up at my home, covered in blood with a broken nose and two black eyes." And then the volume of her voice went up a notch, "and you ask me if it hurt that you didn't say goodbye! God, what does that even MEAN!? What's WRONG with you!? Why are you acting like this!?"
Though her questions were valid ones . . . his behavior was insane . . . she did have a small theory, a faint idea, that would explain why he would act so crazy. Her stomach began to church as she took another step back . . . but it couldn't be true.
She refused to allow for even the possibility that it was true.
Seeing Emily was about to back until the wall, he took another step forwards . . . and she took another step back. And she was trapped. But her gaze had fallen to the floor . . . she wouldn't look up. So he cupped her jaw with his palm, forcing her to look at him.
But then seeing the pain on her face, and the moisture in her eyes, his own eyes began to burn.
He hated that he was upsetting her, but he needed to make her understand. So he moved closer, whispering softly, "would you like to know how much it hurt me when you left?"
Eyes wide with panic and fear, Emily swallowed over the lump in her throat.
Maybe her foolish little theory was true. But she was terrified of the answer to that question . . . for so many reasons. And so she couldn't make her voice work. But eventually she was able to nod.
The word was barely audible.
Hotch stared down for a moment, summoning up his courage to make the biggest leap of his life. And when he finally spoke, his voice was like sandpaper.
"When you left," he whispered, "I felt like someone had cut out my heart. And now there's a gaping hole there . . . and I don't know what to do about that." He stroked his thumb along her cheek, "can you help me fix that Emily?"
Emily's eyes burned as her teeth sank into her lip . . . he called her Emily. That was even better than Prentiss. And as she stared at him, the truth of what he was saying finally came to her . . . it warmed her soul.
She began to reach for him . . . but then she remembered.
Her stomach dropped . . . how could she do this?
And the tears began to pool as she murmured back, "no, it's too late."
Hotch just missed her, that was all. He cared about her, and he missed her . . . but he'd never told her any of this before. And she'd made a commitment to Mark. And she couldn't break that and stay just because Hotch was having second thoughts about her leaving. No matter how she felt about him personally, she couldn't toss aside all of her recent decisions about her life, just for his 'second thoughts.' She owed Mark more than that . . . she owed herself more than that.
It would be a mistake.
Hotch's stomach flipped as his face fell . . . no, no it can't be too late! Rossi said that if he caught her before she took her vows, then it would be okay!
Why wasn't it okay?!
His hand fell away from her face, and his voice cracked, "why is it too late Emily?"
"Because I'm getting married."
The words came back immediately . . . but they came from far away.
And with pain now seeping into his voice, Hotch asked softly, "do you love him?"
Her eyes locked on to his . . . and then blinked away the tears pooling.
"Yes," she murmured, her eyes dropping to his chest, "I do."
But Hotch didn't believe her . . . not one little bit. And he didn't think that it was his own . . . desperate . . . wishful thinking either.
So he reached out and placed his hand back under her jaw. Then he gently tipped her head back until she was looking at him again.
"Say it to my face."
The desperation was clear in his voice . . . but he didn't care. All that mattered was that she was lying. And when he saw her look at him for two beats . . . and then drop her eyes back down to the floor, he had his confirmation. And that vise that she'd just placed around his heart, started to lessen ever so slightly.
He was halfway there. Now he just had to convince her to stay with him.
So he swallowed hard before leaning over to whisper in her ear.
"I love you Emily." And feeling her stiffen up, he paused for a second before continuing.
"Actually," his thumb stroked along her cheek, "love isn't a big enough word for it. That's why I couldn't say goodbye. And I'm so sorry that I hurt you, it was selfish, and cruel, but I just couldn't bear the thought of you leaving me." He pressed a kiss to her cheek, whispering against her skin.
"I adore you."
One of the tears finally slid down Emily's cheek . . . Hotch wiped it away. But then another fell and another, and she knew that there were too many to hold back. Because what he'd said so much more than she could have hoped for! And that wasn't just second thoughts! That was REAL! That was like her!
That was a future!
She sucked in a shallow breath, trying to hold back the tears.
"Why didn't you tell me all of this before?" She sniffled.
Feeling a wave of shame at her question, Hotch's gaze dropped down.
"Because I have so many . . . faults. Problems. And I was terrified of hurting you, and I thought," he swallowed, "that maybe you'd be better off without me. But," his voice broke as he lifted his eyes back to hers, "I had no idea how much you'd become a part of me. My reason for coming in every day. And when you left, I didn't . . . I didn't . . ."
His voice faded away as his own tears started to pool.
He couldn't finish that sentence.
As Emily saw the glistening in Hotch's eyes she finally leaned up and pressed her lips to his.
It was just a soft kiss . . . gentle. Forgiving. And when she pulled back, a faint smile touched her lips. Then she reached up to do what she'd wanted to do when she'd first seen him at the door . . . throw her arms around his neck.
Then she pulled him close and whispered in his ear.
"I love you too."
She loved Mark, she did, but she knew now . . . her feelings for the man that she was supposed to marry, were nothing compared to the ones that she had for the man in front of her. Mark had been gone for three weeks, and she'd only missed him in an abstract way. In contrast, she'd been away from Hotch for just six days . . . and she'd cried every day that they'd been apart. She'd been heartbroken.
Terrified that she would never see him again.
And feeling the strength of his embrace as his arms tightened around her, that's what finally broke down her walls completely.
He came for her! He came to get her back, and now for the first time, she was in his arms.
The tears ran like a river as she buried her face in his neck.
"I've missed you so much!" She sobbed, "And it's only been a week!" Then she sniffled, "I wasn't even gone yet and I didn't know what I was going to do without you." She leaned back, wiping her face as she gave him a watery smile, "all I could think was, how was I ever going to get through the next fifty years of my life, without seeing you scowl at me about something."
As he looked down at Emily crying happy tears, for the first time in months, Hotch felt a spark of true joy. And as he wiped her face with the tip of his fingers, he bit down hard on his lip, trying not to smile. But despite his best efforts . . . the dimples appeared.
Emily's eyes crinkled as she ran her fingers over them.
"You're so cute when you smile. I wish you'd do it more often."
His expression twisted slightly at that, sadness suddenly shadowing his features.
"I don't usually have much to smile about Emily," he pointed out softly.
He was also just discovering how much he liked saying her name. He never allowed himself to say it before.
It would have been too hard to maintain the distance.
Emily's features softened as she stroked her fingers along his jaw.
"I promise you, I'll change that."
And then again, she leaned up to press her lips to his. This kiss was more insistent than the last, and she found herself opening her mouth, running her tongue along until it met his.
She could taste him.
And as the kiss deepened further, Hotch moved his head . . . and ended up bumping his nose into Emily's face.
He jerked back, moaning in pain.
And then still cringing, he brought his hand to his face . . . idiot.
Emily winced in sympathy as she reached up to lightly press her fingertips against his cheek.
"Oh honey," she caressed his jaw, "we really need to get your pretty face fixed."
She'd almost forgotten that he'd broken his nose.
Enjoying the "honey" and ignoring the "pretty face," Hotch closed his eyes and nodded.
"Yeah," he huffed out a tight breath, "I think maybe we should do that. Because I'm pretty sure that if I wait any longer, that they're going to have to break it again."
Horrified at the imagery now flashing in her head, Emily hand fell from his face as she immediately started pushing him back towards the door.
"Okay," she bit her lip as she hurried around him, "we are SO definitely going to the hospital right now."
Then she ran over and grabbed her bag off the chair before snatching her keys from the counter. Then she went back to collect Hotch. But he was just staring down at her . . . and he looked nervous.
She tipped her head as her brow wrinkled quizzically.
"This means that you're staying," he asked worriedly, "right?"
Though he was pretty sure, pretty sure wasn't good enough.
But then she gave him a soft smile as she slipped the ring off of her finger. And as the last bit of pressure from that vise lifted, she turned to place it on the sideboard. Then she wrapped her arms around his torso and put her head on his chest.
"Yes," whispered, while squeezing him tightly, "this means that I'm staying."
Though this also meant that she was going to have to make a terrible phone call later tonight. One that she was absolutely dreading. Mark was such a good guy. He didn't deserve to be treated like this.
And he had NO idea that it was coming!
God, could she even break off an engagement over the phone?! Would she have to go down there? She didn't want to go down there.
That would be even worse!
Though maybe Hotch could . . . no! When you go to break up with your fiancé you can't bring along the man that you're leaving him for as moral support. That was just . . . tacky. Plus, they both carried guns. Oh Christ, that would just be bad all around.
All right then . . . she swallowed . . . phone call it was.
With that decision, she also made a mental note to pick up another bottle of wine on the way home from the hospital.
She was going to need it.
And then Hotch rubbed her neck, and she remembered something else. She tipped her head back, looking up at him with her brow wrinkled in concern.
"I think I might need to transfer."
Seeing his brow furrow slightly, she shook her head, "or I don't know, maybe just a leave of absence would be enough. Hotch really though," she bit her lip, "I need some kind of break from the cases before the cases start to break me. And I'm getting close." Her jaw twitched, "honestly, that was part of the reason that the move and the transfer were so appealing. It was getting too hard."
Hotch looked down at her for a second and then pulled her back against his chest. He kissed the top of her head.
"I understand," he whispered, "Believe me, I understand. So whatever you want to do sweetheart, it's fine with me. You can take a few weeks and then decide if you want to try another unit." Then he sighed in relief, "I'm just so happy that you're staying."
Even if they couldn't work together anymore, he could make do as long as he could go home to her at the end of the day. Because he very much intended to get his own ring on her finger within the next couple of months. Some people might think that was soon, but he'd been in love with her for almost two years.
As far as he was concerned, that was a long enough engagement.
And then, even if she was out of the unit, they could still commute together, and have coffee and lunch during the day. That was more time together than most couples got.
So yeah . . . he felt a faint bit of warmth in his stomach . . . he could make do with that just fine.
They were quiet for a moment and then he smiled into her hair.
"Maybe I could take some time off too. We could go on vacation."
Emily leaned back in excitement.
"You've never taken a vacation before!"
Not once in all the years that she'd known him, had he taken more than a long weekend. And even those were few and far between.
Hotch stared down at Emily in wonder.
"I know." He huffed, "I can't believe I just said that out loud."
It had been YEARS since he'd taken a real vacation. But it was time to make some changes in his life, past time really. He needed to give this relationship a real chance to succeed, and that meant that he needed to make spending time with Emily a priority. Because God knew that they'd already wasted too many days already.
It was time to start taking some of them back.
"Come on," Emily chuckled, then sobering slightly as she patted his back, "we need to get to the hospital. We can discuss where to go while we sit in the waiting room for the next two hours."
They started down the hall with Hotch's arm around her shoulders, and then a thought came to Emily. And with her nose wrinkling slightly, she looked up at him in confusion.
"How did you break your nose? You said you had an accident."
Hotch paused just as his hand fell to the doorknob.
"Well," he hedged slightly, "it wasn't so much an 'accident' as Rossi sucker punched me in the conference room."
Emily's eyes popped as she looked up at him in horror.
"Dave broke your nose on PURPOSE!?"
Hotch nodded and then gave her a little smile before finally turning the doorknob.
"He did," he added as they stepped into the outside hall, "and remind me to thank him for it later."
A/N 2: The additional angst: When the dark and twisty part of my brain was writing the Emily portion some other stuff was added in. But I did fix that version and gave them a happily ever after. But then yesterday, I was in considerably lighter spirits and decided to give them a nice clean, fluffier ending. This one. Which is why I didn't post it last night. I figured this would be the more crowd pleasing one :) But I probably will post the other ending at some point, as I said, they also get a happy ending there but it's a rougher path. I just hate to scrap the whole damn thing when I did put effort into it. So at some point I'll probably put up Ending B.
Beyond that, I'm considering doing an epilogue. So for those two reasons, I am not changing the status of this to "Complete" quite yet. Though, I do consider the story, for all intents, 'done' and will now be moving my attentions to getting Hotch and Emily out of that warehouse with all of their limbs attached. Kavi and I will have new prompts this weekend and it would be nice if I didn't have participles dangling all over the map.
So what do you think folks? Satisfactory? There was a lot of pressure on getting part 2 right because part 1 did seem to strike a nerve :)