PROMPT: I Love You... Soon (What I Like About You)

PROMPT: Suddenly Everything Has Changed (One Tree Hill)

Post-To Hell... And Back with subtle spoilers.

She was ignoring him and he knew exactly why.

Three weeks ago, Emily had kissed him.

Three weeks ago after laughing and joking with him on the couch of his apartment as he recovered from a bullet, that moment had happened, the one where they both knew the kiss was inevitable. And yet, it had taken him off guard. She'd stuttered, pulled away and apologized and damnit he'd said nothing! Nothing as she gathered her things and left. Nothing in the week following while he continued his recovery. Nothing. Now the one person that had gotten him through a whole lot of bad days in his life, including those first few weeks of recovery, was avoiding him at all costs.

Sure, she wasn't insubordinate. She did her job with the same drive and grace she always had, but there were no more fleeting touches. Not once did he catch her eye over the conference room table. The steaming cup of coffee he'd gotten rather used to being delivered to his desk didn't come. He missed more lunches than not now and he had no one to joke with about consults or just every day things. He hadn't realized how much he missed it when his wife left, but now that he didn't have it, he felt a little confused, and very much lost.

Because inexplicably, moments that had seemed like deep friendship between them became more. Fleeting emotions in her eyes were clearer in his mind than he'd ever seen them before and though he'd questioned those moments, he'd never looked back on them as anything other than a flicker. He'd spent long hours in his last week before his return to desk duty picturing those moments, going back though every point in their growing friendship to find where things had changed, to see if there was one moment that had been the stressor. But no matter how hard he looked, no matter how closely he scrutinized all of the major milestones in their growing whatever-it-was, he couldn't seem to find it.

And it was killing him.

He missed his best friend. He missed the one person who could convince him to jump off a cliff if she really put her mind to it. He missed Emily Prentiss and more than he'd ever thought he'd miss anyone. The worst part was that she was no more than thirty feet away from him for seventy-five percent of his days.

Their working relationship hadn't changed. They were still as strong together as they'd ever been. She could still read him like a book in the field and he could still tell when she was having a difficult time puzzling something out. He was still her work sounding board and she was still his empathy-meter. But all of that felt bittersweet when he didn't have all of her. When he couldn't show up at her apartment with some sort of take out and watch prime time cop shows. She got a kick out of pointing out errors and solving the cases long before the forty-five minute mark and he loved the look she got on her face when she was right.


That terrifying word.

He wasn't stupid enough to flat out state that he loved Emily. It had been three weeks since she'd opened the door to something more... and then slammed it in his face without telling him. It wasn't enough time for him to even absorb the possibility of the change, let alone allow his feelings to intensify enough to be able to say he loved her. But she'd still thrown the possibility out there and now, every time he looked at her, it was all he could think about.

It was easy to think that he could love her, that he could feel that deeply for her. They knew so much about each other, balanced faults with strengths and he knew whatever he was feeling now was strong enough in itself. He hadn't realized until the option had been put out there that things they did could easily have slid past the friend point into that 'significant other' zone. He didn't mind that idea one bit.

The thought had surprised him, taken him off guard. He hadn't expected to be that comfortable with what he'd originally thought was an epic shift in his relationship. But then he'd thought about it, added in his previous revelations that Emily Prentiss would be remarkably easy for him to love and that they'd already been mistaken for a couple before, and discovered that he was more than comfortable with the idea... He wanted it. Badly. Because he'd had a taste of his life without her and he didn't like it one bit.

He sighed as his eyes snapped back to the folders spread out in front of him. He'd been cleared for desk duty, and that plus Emily's cold shoulder had brought him into the office. All of the thoughts swirling in his head had left him with little time to actually get anything accomplished, so he wasn't surprised to find most of his agents gone when he raised her head. But there was still one light on in the bullpen and he'd looked up at that particular light more often than he could remember.

He knew it was her light.

The next thing he knew, he'd made up his mind and was in his doorway before he even registered he was moving. "Emily."

She looked up, even though he expected her to continue to ignore him.

"You should go home," he told her gently, even though his brain screamed at him to simply pull her against him. That wasn't the way they worked and he wasn't sure it would really be that effective.

"I will." She turned back to her laptop.

He closed his eyes. How was he supposed to go about this? He'd never been confronted with the problem of telling his subordinate and best friend that there was the distinct possibility that he could be almost head-over-heels for her. And he couldn't make any grand gestures, like trying out for a play. He'd already screwed up with her once. And he missed her on top of it all. He opened his eyes with a sigh.

"Emily," he tried again, this time reaching out to rest his hand on her shoulder. "Let's go home."

She turned in her chair, dislodging his hand. She was chewing her lip, a move he recognized was from nerves. Her face was the same uncertain mask that had twisted her features after she'd kissed him. He held out his hand, hoping with everything that she'd take it. He wanted it so bad his chest expanded painfully. She reached out, then pulled her hand back, but he'd already seen that flare of hop in her eyes. He hadn't realized how easy it was to read her these days.

And he knew it was his turn to go out on a limb for her, fear, uncertainty and the Bureau be damned. She was too precious and too important to let slip through his fingers because of his own cowardice.

His lips quirked up in a gentle smile. "We'll order Italian, curl up on the couch, put in The Notebook and I promise not to mock you when you cry," he cajoled. He was very much aware her guilty pleasure was those overly-sappy make-you-cry romances. He wasn't about to tell her he thought they were beautiful stories that reminded him of the goodness in the world.

Hope warred with trepidation on her face. Her lip stayed caught in between her teeth. He'd never realized how endearing and sexy the move was. "Hotch… I can't…"

He stepped closer, putting his hand under her chin as her head dropped. For the first time, he allowed his revelations and his awe at said revelations to show in his eyes, open to her like he'd never been to anyone else. "Come home with me, Emily."

Her eyes cleared completely, whether at his words or because, if even for a moment, he was completely bared to her. She nodded. "I need to pack up."

"Me too," he agreed, elation making his heart threaten to burst in his chest. His hand came up, delicately stroking over the soft skin of her cheek as he revelled in the feeling of being able to mean the intimate caress like he wanted to.

Emily leaned into his hand. "Five minutes?"

He could do it in two. He wanted her in his arms, so much that his pulse had picked up as he mentally planned out the night. He wanted her laughter, her warmth. He wanted to cuddle under the afghan on the back of his couch. Because though he maintained the façade of the SSIAC, the Agent Hotchner costume, underneath the suit he was the vulnerable boy that had been abused as a child, and broken by a divorce. She didn't make him feel that way.

"Five minutes," he agreed.

Tonight, he wasn't going to take any of his work home. Tonight, he was going to focus on Emily and on everything she meant to him, on everything he'd almost thrown away without even realizing it. Suddenly, he was glad she'd kissed him three weeks ago. It opened a whole new life to him, a new path that didn't have dark, lonely nights. Instead, it had laughter, it had bobble head animal collected from around the world. It had pictures, smiles, corny movies and nights cuddled under blankets.

So it did take him less than five minutes to get himself ready to leave and he waited patiently by her desk as she finished packing her own things. Then he took her hand, knowing security cameras existed, but not particularly caring as they made their way out of the heavy glass doors of the BAU and to the elevator. The doors slid open without a sound and they both boarded the empty car. He pulled her close to his side, needing her there, needing to remind himself that maybe, just maybe, he'd done something right for a change.

Emily just sighed, relaxing against him and allowing her head to drop to his shoulder. He closed his eyes, taking in her scent and the comfort it brought with it. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment.

She looked up at him in confusion as the doors opened again. They separated for the walk to the front desk where they signed themselves out. Once they were outside, he took her hand again.

"For what?" she finally said.

"For not doing this sooner. For not realizing things were changing," he replied

He actually heard her swallow and there was no way he could miss her hand trying to pull out of his. "Hotch, look, it's not a big deal. It happened, it's over."

His brow wrinkled. How could she be misinterpreting him now after everything he'd shown her? So, it was between two rows of cars in the Quantico parking lot that he pulled her to him, his arm wrapping solidly around her lower back, the other one sliding inwards, under her curtain of hair to cup the back of her skull in his palm. "It's not over," he told her solidly, convincingly, his mouth close enough that he knew she could feel his mouth forming the words as he said them. Then his lips met hers and though Hotch wasn't one for clichés, he couldn't help but think it wasn't over at all.

It had just begun.