Timeline: Post 4x03, Minimal Loss
A/N: Hi. Very new to this fandom, but not to fanfic. Started catching up on this show not long ago, and immediately fell in love with this pairing. I mean, immediately. As I'm by no means an expert and am still learning the characters, feel free to critique any major gaffes in characterization.
Summary: He was certain that, under these circumstances, remaining objective would render him completely inhuman.
The mirror never lies.
And that was the ugly truth that Emily Prentiss had to force herself to come to terms with. Despite the hollow murmurs her mind conceived to tell her otherwise, the woman staring back at her from the mirror over her bathroom sink was unmistakably and irrevocably her.
Gingerly she lifted a hand, drawing her fingertips just lightly along the outline of the still-forming bruise on her face. The splotchy purple hue rimmed her eye and seeped downward along her cheek. It seemed to be growing larger by the moment, and Emily couldn't help but shudder at what she might wake up to find in the morning – given she managed to find sleep at all tonight, that is.
Again she shuddered, despising the feeling with everything in her. Before, she'd been driven by the burst of adrenaline in her veins. She'd been able to look Cyrus in the eye; she'd been able to speak to Hotch and the team in a confidence-laden voice, asserting her strength of will and body, assuring them that they didn't need to come in and save her. She could take it, and she had, refusing to back down, her actions fueled by that pure adrenaline. That burst of power had had kept her on her feet until Cyrus had finally taken her down, leaving her battered and dazed on the dusty ground below.
But if her reflection bore the same resilience she'd felt earlier, it was completely buried beneath the shadows of all that Emily despised. Weakness. Brokenness. Emptiness. Strength had faded, only to be replaced by the bruises and cuts and scrapes of one who'd been broken, one who hadn't been able to fight back. It disgusted her.
In her mind, though, there had been no other choice. She wasn't about to let Reid take the punishment. Given another chance, Emily was certain she would've done everything the same. It was the aftermath, however, that she feared. She knew it would be perfectly understandable for her to take a few days from work, but that wasn't Emily. She didn't need the time off; tomorrow morning, she would be there along with JJ and Morgan and the rest of the team.
She was already dreading the looks of pity interspersed with an avoidance of eye contact, the occasional questions about her well-being which Emily would deftly answer with a rehearsed I'm fine. She knew the feeling of needing to prove herself would surface again; she'd need to prove that she was fine, that she was strong, that she wasn't broken. And she would go out of her way to prove that again, to her teammates as well as to herself. That would bring her peace of mind once more, something she was currently without.
As if she needed another reminder, her lack of that was made humiliatingly apparent as she felt her entire body jump and tense as a sudden, unexpected noise reached her ears. It took her a second or two to recognize it for what it was – a soft knock at her door. But even as she realized it, it took a fair amount of deliberate coaching from the rational part of her mind before Emily could say she'd fully regained control of her body – her pounding heart, her rushed breathing, the slight tremble in her hands.
She hated feeling so jumpy.
Exhaling deeply, Emily steeled herself for just a moment before slowly making her way out of the bathroom and down the stairs, knowing that with her moment of hesitation, there was a better than good chance that her visitor had merely assumed she was not home – and really, Emily couldn't say she hadn't hoped for that. But with a quick glance through the peephole, she knew that no amount of hesitation on her part would be enough to drive him away.
She knew her visitor could be a very patient man, after all.
Even so, for the briefest moment, Emily considered not opening the door. What good would it do for him to see her right now, as she was? She'd kept her distance from him – or maybe he was keeping distance from her; Emily wasn't entirely sure – for the duration of the flight home, and as soon as they'd disembarked, she'd quickly made her exit. For once, the paperwork could wait – she'd needed to get out of there, as much as she hated to admit it to herself.
Pushing those thoughts from her mind, Emily threw caution to the wind and quickly pulled the door open to greet her visitor. She didn't bother forcing a smile, knowing she wouldn't get one in return – she was certain she could count on one hand the number of times she'd seen a smile grace his lips.
The thought crossed her mind too quickly to push it back – she wished he would smile more. She cleared her throat, all too aware of the intensity with which his eyes studied her. His face, as usual, appeared unreadable – though she would swear that as she opened the door, there had been something that had flashed through his eyes at her appearance. What that was, though, Emily couldn't be sure.
He held her eyes, his voice quiet as he politely made the same request that he'd made a year before, albeit under very different circumstances. "Can I come in?"
And, just as she had a year ago, Emily stepped to the side, allowing him entry without hesitance. Hotch stepped quickly past her, the scent of him lingering just as Emily inhaled deeply, and suddenly she found herself inexplicably dizzy. She closed the door and rested her back against it, seeking out some kind of stability for her nerves. She didn't bother to question him; Emily knew full well why he had appeared at her door at – she squinted at the clock on the far wall – a quarter to midnight.
He faced her, quickly cementing his reasons for being there. "I didn't get a chance to check in with you after the plane landed," he said, eyeing Emily carefully. Her eyes were guarded – that was expected, with or without the ordeal she'd faced. She was much like him in so many respects, one being the reluctance with which Emily allowed emotion to show on her face, in her eyes. "As soon as we arrived, I was pulled immediately back into the office – paperwork, all that." He paused. "You were gone by the time I'd finished."
"Yeah," Emily replied, her voice rather coarse even to her own ears. She swallowed hard, wincing slightly – unwilling to cave even for a Tylenol, her entire body seemed to alternate between burning and aching, and then sometimes both at the same time. Crossing her arms over her chest, she was suddenly all too aware of her current state of undress – a pair of fleece pants and a navy camisole. Still slightly damp from the shower she'd taken just as soon as she'd come home, her dark locks twirled lightly as they framed her face and fell around her shoulders.
And Hotch was eyeing her, almost in a way that left her feeling very under a microscope. It was typical of him; typical of all of them as profilers, really. But Emily couldn't deny that to have it done in her own home like this was rather disconcerting. Clearing her throat again, she fought back the sudden burst of nerves that had overtaken her. "I, uh, I really just wanted to get out of there tonight," she continued, offering a hopefully nonchalant shrug. "Been a long couple of days…"
Hotch nodded slowly, and immediately Emily knew she was fooling no one. He shuffled his feet, taking a step closer to her. The light was low, but not much was needed to see the dark contusion on Emily's cheek. Suddenly, he felt the guilt bubbling up inside him again – deep within his mind, he knew it was irrational, but he couldn't quite fight off the sinking feeling that he'd put her in that situation and then did nothing to help her.
He was quite adept at taking the blame, but for some reason, there was something about this particular situation that ate at him like very little else ever had. He still couldn't define the rush of emotion that poured over him as he watched Emily rush out of the fiery compound behind her, a slight limp in her step and dried blood still dotting her face, her blouse.
He'd wanted to embrace her.
And he couldn't deny feeling an odd fire in his stomach as he'd stood back, watching her embrace Reid.
The last thing he would do, however, was call it jealousy. Emily – Prentiss, he corrected himself – was a subordinate, just as the rest of the team. Averting his gaze downward for the briefest moment, he tried to convince himself that, were it JJ or Garcia, he would've been by to check on them as well. "I'd wanted to make sure you were alright," Hotch murmured, his voice much more steady than he suddenly felt. Where was his objectivity?
Summoning up the strength he relied so dearly upon during those long, particularly gruesome cases with seemingly no end in sight, he met her eyes again as he continued. "You went through a lot back there, and if you need a few days to sort it all out, you should feel free to take them."
She'd known the suggestion was coming. Emily also knew that, if Hotch was even just half as good as she knew he was, he already knew that she had no intentions of taking any time off. She'd already fought that battle in her head and wasn't about to go through it again. "I'm fine, Hotch," she sighed, offering a half smile that did very little to convince the master profiler before her. "Really."
Hotch wasn't fast enough to hide the look of incredulity that flashed through his eyes. In essence, she was shrugging off as nothing the actions, the torment that'd had Hotch clenching his fists and biting at the inside of his cheek in fury. Screw objectivity; he'd wanted to rip Cyrus to pieces.
He took a step closer to her, only missing her quick intake of air due to his being lost in his thoughts. "Prentiss, if you need the time, take it," he suggested again, despite knowing that it was a futile request. "No one would think any less of you for it." He knew that to be true – he'd stood right there, listening with Rossi and Morgan; there was no way their opinion of her would be damaged for taking some time off after what she'd been through. The need to articulate this to her was strong, but the words themselves failed somewhere along the way. "What happened to you…" He trailed off, lacking the words.
Emily waved a dismissive hand. "I'm fine, Hotch," she repeated, continuing with what would've been indifference if she'd fully believed what she was saying. "It's nothing that won't heal with time." And, true, the scars would heal; the lingering aches would fade. But it was the memories that she feared; the memories that would eagerly manifest themselves in nightmares.
She'd always been prone to nightmares.
But before she could linger on the truth of that, Hotch had suddenly closed the rest of the distance between them. Startled, Emily tensed instinctively, though she managed to summon at least enough strength of will to relax…at least until from the corner of her eye she saw Hotch slowly lift his right hand.
He held her eyes, conveying his intent before the request had even left his lips. "May I?"
Even in the relative silence of the night, Emily's ears struggled to perceive the mere whisper of his voice. His sudden tenderness caught her completely by surprise. She couldn't remember ever seeing such a deep warmth in his eyes before, at least not directed to her. It was there during the few times she'd heard him speak of his son, but it had never been directed to her before, and suddenly, she was fighting the urge to simply melt to the ground below. As it was, she could barely do more than nod as she wondered why, why he was suddenly affecting her so deeply.
Gingerly he cupped her cheek, watching her eyes carefully for any trace of discomfort – he found none. "I'm sorry I stood by and let this happen to you," he breathed, the softness of her skin unlike anything he'd ever felt before.
Again she needed to express that he had nothing to apologize for, but whatever words she'd formulated in her mind seemed to disappear before they reached her tongue. Her breath caught as his thumb gently – so gently – traced the outline of her bruise, and if she were perfectly honest with herself, Emily wasn't sure if it was from the ache that still radiated from it, or if it was from something different entirely; something she wasn't about to let herself acknowledge.
She wasn't going to linger on the idea that his touch had just set off a shower of sparks inside of her; nor was she even going to consider that he was the reason for the sudden fluttering in her stomach. He was more than just a colleague – he was her superior, and he wasn't supposed to put butterflies in her stomach – especially not when Emily Prentiss didn't get butterflies anyway.
Hotch's brow furrowed slightly; her reaction hadn't gone unseen by him. "That hurt?" he breathed, concern for her etched upon his face. The sight of it brought a sickening heat to Emily's cheeks – showing pain or discomfort was a sign of weakness, a sign that the job had become too much for her.
But lie to him she could not. She swallowed hard, ignoring the rapid beat of her heart. "It's – it's tender," she admitted finally, the words scratching harshly at her throat. "Hotch, I –"
Hotch shook his head, offering a rare quirk of his lips. It was only fleeting, would've been missed by anyone with lesser skills of perception, but it was enough to stop Emily in her tracks. "What you did was – it was commendable, Prentiss," he said softly, his gaze never leaving hers. He'd never been quite so close to her; had never really fallen under the spell of her deep, dark eyes. And now he was feeling it completely, all but losing himself in the dark orbs.
As best as she could with his hand still at her cheek, Emily shook her head. "I could tell Reid was about to do the same thing."
"But you didn't let him. You stepped up." What he really wanted to say was how incredibly stupid it had been, despite the fact that he knew he would've done the same thing. But somehow, the usual rules didn't seem to apply to her. She was different, and the very fact that he felt that way should've thrown up a thousand red flags. "And I – I'm incredibly sorry that you were forced into that position at all."
Emily gave a half-shrug. "It could've been a lot worse," she said quietly, and to her dismay, she quickly found herself falling victim to the look in his eyes, the hypnotic stroke of his thumb at her cheek.
It was a nothing statement to her – a truth that could be applied to just about any case they'd ever worked. But clearly, Hotch didn't see it as such – Emily could tell from the way his eyes darkened, almost imperceptibly, but with only mere inches between them, she could see it clearly.
Her words were nothing but the truth – it could've been worse. Her injuries could've left her in the hospital for days or worse – Hotch refused to think of the worst that could've happened. She was right in what she'd said, but he hadn't been so convinced of that before.
It had easily been the hardest thing he'd ever had to do, just to stand by and listen to Emily suffering. The first blow, the first whimper of pain, the first cry…they'd hit him like a brick wall, stealing his breath and leaving him barely standing on his feet. He'd never felt so entirely helpless in his life. And he could still hear her; it was almost as though it was a recording on an endless loop in his head – it wouldn't stop, wouldn't leave him alone. And he already feared what he would hear and see when he would finally lay down and try to find sleep.
She could've died, just a short time after he himself had gotten a second chance at life, a second chance to make everything right. It was alarming, just another warning sign that he ignored – the fact that nearly losing her had affected him more than nearly having his own life taken by the bomb in his SUV.
He opened his mouth, but what came out wasn't what he'd expected.
The use of her first name sent a shiver along the length of her spine, one that Emily couldn't have fought back if she'd tried. She was mesmerized by him; there was no other word for it. Her cheek remained cradled by his palm, but his thumb no longer followed solely the outline of her bruise; the small circles he traced along her skin were just as soothing as they were agitating. It lulled her dearly, but at the same time, it seemed to ratchet up every sense that had managed to tune itself in to Aaron Hotchner.
Her heart was pounding out a maddening rhythm against her ribcage, so fiercely that she feared that it might give out at any moment. She breathed in deeply, hoping to steady herself but instead only finding herself overwhelmed by the scent of him, so strong, masculine. In the length of time he'd been in her apartment, he'd transitioned from her boss to a man that she inexplicably held dangerous feelings for.
And that frightened her – it was completely out of her control.
He wasn't sure why he still cupped her cheek. All he knew was that, inexplicably, he was unable to pull away. It was almost as if the connection had become necessary – necessary for what, though, that was another ambiguity. Perhaps it was to reassure himself that she was standing in front of him, vulnerable yet immensely strong, beautiful even with the contusions and healing lacerations that dotted her pristine skin.
And again surfaced the fear that just wouldn't be silenced. "He could've killed you."
"But he didn't." Why was it that her voice sounded so much surer than his had?
"No." And thank God for that. It hit him like a bolt from the blue just how integral she had become to his everyday life. Unconsciously he'd kept his distance from her at work, making sure she remained Prentiss rather than Emily. Attachment was a liability, and that was a lesson he'd learned one too many times for his liking.
But now, as he stood before her, it seemed that even knowing that had done him no good – all he could think about right now was how much more he would dread each day if he didn't have her eyes, her smile, her soft laugh to look forward to.
He'd told himself this was a professional visit; a colleague checking up on an injured fellow colleague. It happened all the time.
But there was nothing objective about this visit, about the case as a whole. It had taken a sudden turn away from objective the moment that Hotch had first heard her crying out in pain; the moment that he'd nearly tossed all that he knew about hostage negotiation to the side in favor of rushing in to save her. And, if not for Rossi and Morgan, Hotch wasn't sure he would've thought twice about it.
And now as he stood before her, the proximity between them almost intimate, even he couldn't deny that at that moment, there existed not a single objective bone in his body. She was Emily, and he was Aaron, no formalities, no titles, no ranks. And normally, that would've been enough to set off the alarms in his head. If they were sounding at all now, Hotch was completely deaf to them. Or maybe, just maybe, he didn't want to hear them.
"And I need to know that I can be human."
Those words he had put from his mind at the time, but now, nearly a year later, they hit him square in the chest. Haley would say he'd chosen the BAU over her, over his own son. He'd kept his distance from any kind of emotional attachment, making work his life. He felt, but he'd all but forgotten what it meant to feel. Suddenly, Emily's words from a year before came to him in high-definition clarity, and, if there was a chance that he wasn't there already, Hotch was certain that, under these circumstances, remaining objective would render him completely inhuman.
And that fear was so overwhelming that Hotch couldn't help but throw all trace of objectivity by the wayside.
She was vulnerable, beautiful, and in that moment, all he wanted to do was kiss her.
And, hesitating for but a moment, that was exactly what he did.
Their lips came together softly, gingerly at first, and while Emily had succumbed to the shock at first, she was quickly responding to him, her lips meshing with his in a dance that seemed as though meant for them. The voice in the back of his head was screaming at him – this is wrong, forbidden, she's your subordinate! But in that moment, Emily's response to him rang much louder than any internal reprimand. She tasted addictively sweet, a mix of flavors Hotch could only describe as Emily. He never wanted to separate from her.
And if the way her hands found his chest and clutched tightly to him was any indication, the feeling was overwhelmingly mutual. Her hands fisted in the material of his dress shirt, pulling him closer to her, ever closer. Her back to the door, his body pressed against hers, and Emily quickly found herself completely overwhelmed by him. His scent, his taste, the growing urgency of their lips. For the first time since she'd been home, her mind had completely left the events from Colorado behind. Her heart was pounding erratically, her head was spinning dizzily, but for once, it thankfully wasn't because of the torment she'd so far been unable to compartmentalize.
She broke from him only for a quick gasp of air and a murmur of his name – his first name – before their mouths meshed again, somehow even more urgently than before.
Hotch's hand at her cheek slipped slowly into her hair, feeling the softness of her dark curls between his fingers. Emily flinched only slightly, still feeling the slight burn of her scalp where Cyrus had gripped her by the hair, but she wasn't about to break the connection between their lips just because of that. Instead, she merely pulled him closer. Vaguely, just vaguely she thought she heard her name, but the soft moan she gave in response was perfectly audible to the both of them.
His free hand had landed at her hip, his touch wandering as the kiss intensified, their lips only parting for the necessary gulp of oxygen. Hotch thought he might die once his fingertips discovered the soft, warm skin of her abdomen – he couldn't ever remember feeling quite like this before. Even with Haley, it was different.
Emily gave a soft sigh as his fingers splayed against her skin, coaxing goosebumps and driving shivers along the length of her spine. Her stomach fluttered as his touch moved tentatively northward, nothing in her mind but an impenetrable fog of Aaron Hotchner.
Or so she'd thought. His touch grazed abruptly against her bottom rib, the one that Cyrus had bruised with a steel-toed boot, just enough to hit her with a sharp stab of nearly tear-inducing agony. She whimpered, immediately breaking the blessed connection of their lips, breaking the sparkle of magic that had infused itself into the air around them. Abruptly, the pain was crashing into her again, as though it had never really left.
She couldn't meet Hotch's eyes; she was afraid of the apology she might see there. And for a moment it was there, as he watched her grip her side and steady her breathing – he'd ignored his head and given in to what he wanted in the moment, and it had ended with her hurting – yet another of his actions to end that way.
And that only emphasized one thing to him – it had to have been a mistake. There was a reason the professionalism with her was so important, so necessary, and that was the truth he drilled silently into his mind as he set about quickly redoing the buttons on his dress shirt – he hadn't even realized she'd tugged them open. "Em – Prentiss," he said softly, once he was sure his eyes were once more passive.
He needn't have worried about that, though – she refused to meet his eyes. Her own were watering as she answered his query. "I'm fine – just bruised…"
Hotch bit roughly at the inside of his cheek – he hadn't even thought of the injuries she'd sustained, aside from the obvious, visible contusions. "My apologies," he murmured. "I never meant –"
"Don't," Emily interrupted, every fiber of her being struggling not to react to the professional tone his voice had once more adopted. He might've been able to retreat quickly, but she was still shaken, still affected. And it pained her to think that by the morning, they would both act as though this had never occurred, because the rules dictated that. Once more, he was her boss and she was his subordinate, roles which had been sacrificed for one blissful moment of human feeling.
She hated herself for still craving it, but what she didn't know was that, beneath the mask, Hotch still craved it as well. But beneath that mask it was well buried, for all she could perceive now was the same, detached expression he kept at work.
And Emily found it ironic that she found herself upset at not being able to do just the same, at least, not quite yet.
It was impossible to watch her any longer, her hair still tousled, lips freshly-kissed. And the look in her eyes as finally she met his once more – confusion, hurt, a myriad of other emotions she wouldn't fully be able to hide until she found herself sufficiently able to put what had happened in Colorado behind her.
He wanted to comfort her; wanted to take her back into his arms. And God, did he want to kiss those lips again.
But just as he'd known before, their jobs revolved around their objectivity. And objectivity told him absolutely not.
Without so much as a sigh, Hotch quickly covered the distance to the door once more; Emily moved automatically away. "I do apologize, Prentiss," he said quietly, his hand on the doorknob. It gave an almost sickening sound as he twisted it and pulled the door open. "You should take a few days off," he repeated, wishing she could know just how badly he was struggling to keep his walls from cracking – the walls which he'd very, very rarely let anyone inside. "It could be good for you." He paused, offering her a quick nod as she met his eyes – he thought briefly that he should wish her a goodnight, but in his head, after what had just transpired, it only sounded callous to him.
With nothing else he could offer, Hotch nodded once more, and then he was gone. The door closed behind him with a quiet click that bore such an unmistakable note of finality – something like this simply couldn't be allowed to happen again.
Before Emily, before tonight, Hotch was sure that wouldn't have been a problem.
But for the first time, the overwhelming need to feel human was strong enough to war with his adopted sense of objectivity.
And in the end, he was unsure which one would win out.