PROMPT: The Always Goodbye (China Beach)

The first time she'd done it, it surprised him. She'd gone out of her way to come up to his office and say goodbye to him. There was no obligation to it, she'd done it out of the goodness of her heart and he recognized it for the kind gesture it was meant as. That didn't mean it wasn't surprising. She said goodbye to Reid and Morgan every night, even to JJ and Garcia, but rarely did she come up and say goodbye. It was out of her way, and he understood it as such.

It became a routine after that. She always came up to say goodbye and goodnight to him when she left, the same way she dropped by every morning to say good morning. He started looking forward to it, especially when his marriage was falling apart. It was human contact he craved and proved to him that he wasn't alone in the world. He had people who cared enough to do those little things like say 'good morning' or 'goodbye'.

He'd surprised himself at how terrified he was the first time her 'goodbye' meant more than 'good night'. He didn't like the idea of leaving. On the outside, it was impractical. She was damned good at her job and with his suspension-slash-transfer and Gideon's very abrupt departure, losing three of them would have been devastating to the team. That was the outside reason he'd gone to her condo to convince her to come on just one more case. It was important to him, and he knew it was important to her. This job... it gripped and held on for dear life and he knew it had gripped her the same way it held him.

She stopped saying 'goodbye' to him after that, but not for long. She'd always had the uncanny ability to tell when he was starting to slip and she was always there with something small, a cup of coffee, a sandwich, a goodbye, something that reminded him there were people who cared, things that tied him to reality instead of the terrible things they saw. She was the one that pushed him to visit his son. She was the one that encouraged him to fight for what he believed in. Right when he felt himself slipping away, she was always there, pulling him back.

Slowly, steadily, he found that he didn't like it when they said 'goodbye' at the end of the day. He started asking her little questions that kept her around that little bit longer. Slowly, he noticed that when he didn't have questions to ask, she found a way to dawdle, sticking around just for that little bit of personal time. To that end, he had no idea when he started really wanting her to stick around. All of a sudden, those 'goodbyes' turned into daily discussions at the end of the day where they shared good things, bad things, little things, anything.

Eventually, she dragged him out of the office to do that sort of thing and not just during the week either. Somehow, she'd managed to drag him to fairs, movies, even live shows. She managed to dig little things out of him like the fact that he had an afghan in his apartment that had been his mother's, the same one she'd wrap him in whenever he was sick. He'd seen every Star Wars ever created, and though he wasn't a fan of Star Trek, he'd seen every single movie they'd released too. And he'd actually laughed when she'd called him out on being a nerd.

Then she'd gone and done the unthinkable. She'd put in for a transfer. He was mind-boggled at the idea, at the thought of not having her in his life anymore. Sure, they did things outside of the office, but it wouldn't be the same. Who would come say 'goodbye' to him at the end of the day now? Morgan didn't do it, and JJ only did if she was around the bullpen. No one made a distinct point of coming to his office. And more than that, she hadn't said goodbye to him. He hadn't seen her in the office all day. Her letter had shown up on his desk without pomp or circumstance.

Which lead him to where he was now, standing in front of her door, his hand already doing the knocking for him. He couldn't let her go. He had to convince her to stay, to keep saying 'goodbye' to him.

"Hotch, hey."

These days, she wasn't shy about opening the door open for him. Still, this wasn't a subject he was willing to approach easily so he stayed on the other side of her door.

She cocked her head to the side. "Are you coming in?"

He reached into his breast pocket, pulling out the envelope her letter had come in.

"Oh," she said, blinking at the envelope. "Yeah."

"You're leaving."

She only nodded.

He didn't know what to ask next. Why seemed like a good choice, but there was so much more to 'why' than just why she was leaving. Had he done something? Had the team done something? Had this been building for a while and he'd just missed it? Yet it all seemed like too much to ask. He'd tried to figure out why it bothered him, why he hated that she was leaving, and couldn't come up with anything worth mentioning.

"Hey," she said, catching his attention. "I'm just leaving the BAU. I'm not leaving the Bureau, I'm not leaving Washington and I'm not leaving Quantico."

He wrinkled his brow. "Then where are you going?"

"I don't want to do this with you standing in the hallway, Hotch. Well, unless you're angry with me."

In some ways he was, there was no doubt about that, but he shook his head and finally stepped through her door. She wasn't packing, which made him feel a little better, but there were books and manuals spread across her coffee table. She came to stand beside him, her hands going to her hips in that way that meant she was annoyed, more with herself or a situation than anything else.

"For the new post," she said. "I have to brush up on all of my international statutes again. I've been out of the game too long."

"State Department?" He sure hoped not. She'd be bored to tears at the State Department and they both knew it. Sure, she had the connections to get it without really trying, but he doubted things had gotten bad enough at the Bureau. And she'd tried to leave once before.

This time, however, she chuckled. "God no. I'm staying with the Bureau, remember? This is better than the State Department."

Her eyes were sparkling and just for a moment, a split second, he thought of tossing all of his persuasive techniques to get her back with the BAU aside. But it was a fleeting moment.

"They want to start a new unit," she finally said softly, not looking at him. "One tasked with our jobs on an international level. Cutting edge behavioural stuff." Her eyes met his. "They want me to run it, Hotch."

He'd always known she had real unit chief potential. It was why Strauss had been able to get to her like she had. It was why he'd had to hunt her down, take her on that one more case that had inevitably turned into many more. "I didn't know you'd applied."

"I didn't," she answered. "They came to me. Said that with my experience abroad, linguistics and behavioural background I was pretty much made for the job."

There was something else. There was always something else. He could tell by the look in her eyes. "You're not telling me something."

She moved, going to the coffee table and starting to close the books and manuals, piling the papers into the spine of whatever was around. It was a classic Emily avoidance technique and he recognized it for what it was. Setting the letter down on the nearby small table, he closed the distance between them quickly, expertly removing the books from her hands and leading her to sit on the couch. He wanted answers. "What aren't you telling me?"

She actually looked terrified. Nervous and terrified, and that worried him more than the idea that he'd done something that would cause her to take this new job. "It's nothing important."

He forced himself to tuck away his confusion, anger and the other emotions that had welled up when he'd realized she was actually, truly leaving. Putting her first wasn't difficult. "Obviously it is, Emily."

She took a deep breath and he braced himself for the blame. But there was none of that in her eyes when she looked up at him, saying softly, "If I'm not part of the BAU, there's no fraternization rule."

No fraternization... his brow knit as he tried to figure out what she meant. She huffed out a breath. "Are you really that blind, Hotch?"

His mind raced over the definition at the hurt in her tone. Fraternization was a romantic relationship between two agents that was frowned upon in the Bureau. It was considered especially serious when the relationship was between a supervisor and subordin- OH!

"Yeah," she said, looking away, folding her hands in her lap.

He'd seen the affection in her eyes before, a number of times before, but he hadn't thought much of it. It was the same thing with his own emotions towards her. They were close friends, there was no denying that and he'd really just kind of chalked it up to that deep, deep friendship. So what if he worried about her more than the rest of the team? What did it matter if he went out of his way to make sure she took good care of herself? It was the least he could do as payback for pulling him out of the depths of his despair. And really, he'd never said anything about her going into a raid or a takedown, even though his gut churned at the idea of her getting hurt, or worse.

Now they took on an entirely new identity. She'd given them both a way out. From a general, non-emotional perspective, it was a no lose, no obligation situation. Neither of them had to put their jobs on the line and if he rejected her, they wouldn't have to see each other every day. She wouldn't have to relive that kind of humiliation. Things wouldn't get awkward.

Yet, there was no doubt in his mind that he could easily love her. She would be an easy person to love, despite her own hang ups, and really, he knew most of those going in. She was whip smart, hilarious, sarcastic and there was no doubt that they had fun together. She could debate literature, television... And almost most importantly, he wouldn't have to explain to her the things he saw on the job. He wouldn't have to feel like he needed to hide his work from her because she already knew. Plus, she'd still be doing the same job, just on the international stage. She'd probably see some clinically interesting facts and figures as well as crimes.

He heard her sigh, saw her stand, and realized he'd been quiet too long. "Em..."

"No, it's okay. I get it. It was... stupid of me." She met his eyes with that stone poker face he absolutely abhorred. "I have a lot of reading to do. I start Monday."

It was a dismissal, he knew that, but he wasn't going to go down without a fight. It's why he'd come, after all, to fight her on her leaving his life. He huffed. "I'm not going to lie and say that this is too good to be true. I didn't realize it."

"Yeah well, it doesn't matter now."


His voice startled her into looking back at him. "What?"

He stood. "It matters, Emily and if you'd give me a few minutes I'd be able to explain."

"There's nothing to explain," she said with a sigh, shoulders slumping. "I get it."

"No. No you don't," he argued. He needed to risk this, he knew that. "The first thing I thought of when I saw your letter was that you wouldn't be saying 'goodbye' at night when you left. And that... I came here to fight you on your transfer. I still want to fight you because I need you in the office. I need you by my side when we go on cases, when things get rough."

She blinked. "You came here to fight..."

He smiled softly, stepping closer to her, taking her hands. "Are you really that blind, Emily?"

"No," she responded immediately. "That's why... I thought... But then..."

He found it adorable when she was so confused that she couldn't put a full sentence together. His thumb stroked over her hand. "I can see myself falling in love with you. Easily. I just... I never saw it as something that could really happen."

Hope crept into her eyes. "But now I'm not your subordinate. There's nothing standing between us."

"There's nothing standing between us," he agreed.

She bit her lip as she closed the last bit of space between them, tilting her head up. He leaned down, stopping inches from her. She chuckled, closing the distance between them and pressing her mouth to his. One hand came up to the back of her neck as she threaded the fingers of their other hands together. Eventually, they pulled back and he tucked her hair delicately behind her ear.

"Does this mean you'll still come day goodbye?"

She smiled. "I'll always say goodbye, Aaron."

So, mysticlake pointed out that I've written over 100 stories for this site. I hadn't realized that! New goal: write 100 CM fics. Who's on board for that one?

Alright, check another prompt off my list!