IN ANOTHER LIFETIME

PROMPT: More Than This (Without a Trace)

Post-Ep: Reckoner (503)

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Hotch sighs as he watches Emily work in the bullpen. It's been almost a week since… Well, he's honestly not sure what it was. Part of him is sure he and Emily broke up, ended their relationship, but the thought twists his stomach too painfully for him to accept it as truth. What he does know is that she's been haunting the place. She does her work and to the caliber he's come to admire and respect, but there's nothing left in her anymore.

And he can't help but think that it's his fault.

He's good at the blame game. He's used to it, done it so often. He takes responsibility because that's what's ingrained in him. Everything is his fault, even by the most tenuous connection. There's no tenuous connection in his blame this time. It falls squarely on his shoulders, where it should be. Because though he hadn't lied to Emily when he'd told her that he did love Haley, he was truthful when saying that was a different time. He was a different man.

When he'd arrived home from Emily's, his heart and chest burning, his head aching painfully, Dave's words rang strongly in his head. He didn't want to give up those pure things in his life. He didn't want to simply sit there and accept that he and Emily were another one of his relationships doomed to fail. To a certain extent, he'd understood why Haley walked away. Emily, on the other hand, was so much different. She displays a different strength than Haley did, one borne of dark places and monsters no one dreams of.

There are times he knows she's just as broken as he is. There are cases where there's no fire, no light in her eyes. Emily is a passionate woman, a trait that is usually extremely helpful on the job. Passion breeds determination, perseverance, qualities she's needed in this unit since the day she arrived. He admires that drive in her, knows it's one of her more attractive traits. Which is partially why he's surprised that Haley can break her.

Some parts of him curse his ex-wife, damn her to the darkest pits of hell for what she's put him through. More than that, he doesn't know how to explain to Emily that though part of him will be tied to Haley for the rest of his life, she's not the woman who makes him realize that despite the psychopath watching his every move, he has a reason to get up in the morning. He needs her to remind him that they'll get Foyet, that he will have his son back, because she's the only one he'll believe. She's the only one who truly knows the depths of his pain.

But he's not selfish about it. Not at all. It's not just because she makes him feel better, reminds him that there are good and beautiful things in the world. On the contrary, he enjoys her company. She has a dry wit that never ceases to amaze him, and always seems to find the right words to make him laugh. Her big, dark eyes can be the clearest windows to her mind and heart, and deep, unending pools that he knows he's gotten lost in time and time again. She's a drug to his senses, a balm to his spirit and he knows from watching her for a week that she needs him just as badly as he needs her.

Still, after a week, he's not sure he can rebuild things. He's still not sure if he can convince her that she's what he wants, that she may think his ex-wife is the one he will always pine for, but it's the farthest thing from the truth. Haley is in his past, safe and sound, a learning experience in compromise and sacrifice. He doesn't know how to make Emily see that he can't live his life without her. Not as a full human anyway.

But, he realizes as his face hardens, watching her methodically and routinely go about her paperwork, this time he's going to fight.

Giving up is not an option. She's his only option.


It's been a week. A full week and as Emily drags herself up the stairs to her apartment, she has to admit surprise in finding him leaning against her doorframe. She vaguely remembers him leaving, but only somewhere in the blur of the last week.

She doesn't regret telling him to leave. She knows, for both of them, that it was the best thing. They both needed time to think, to reconsider, to reevaluate. She's not sure she's actually ready. She's not sure she's willing to let him go, but she's not sure he's worth holding onto either. She won't play second best, not anymore, not after doing it for so long. She's not sure he can convince her otherwise. Though, from the fact that he's standing there expectantly, she knows he's going to try.

"Have you been pulling a lot of late nights?"

She's not sure if that's an innocent question or a rhetorical one, so she shrugs as she finds her key and slips it in the lock. Much to her surprise, he doesn't simply follow her in, but waits outside. She turns, the question on her face and he looks serious and sincere. Her eyes catch on a flash of white and yellow, a single daffodil. They're her favourite, he's well aware of that. Then her eyes meet his again.

"May I come in?" he asks, unsure, uncertain, both traits rare but endearing with him, in a wrinkled suit, holding a daffodil. He's giving her an out, a chance to end this without a fight if that's what she wants.

She sighs. "I don't know," she admits honestly.

He nods, twisting the flower stem in his hand. "I can go."

But she's not sure he's going to come back if he does. They're on such shaky uncertain ground right now, awkward for the first time since she asked him out for their very first date. Which makes her consider, the door still open between them the only thing keeping him at her apartment. He's let her have plenty of the control in this relationship, both of them cautious, aware of the pasts that hang between them. He's always been accepting of her trust issues, of how much work it takes to make her open up.

"I knew coming into this that it was too good to be true," he says suddenly, breaking into her thoughts, still standing on the other side of her doorway. "Why would a smart, talented woman like you stay with a broken man?"

She blinks. Because she loves him. He has to know that.

"A divorced father, married to a job he no longer has because he made a stupid mistake."

"Not taking that deal was never a mistake," she snaps forcefully, unable to allow him to go on without reasserting that.

He ignores her. "But you… you have your whole life, your whole career, and yet… we tried. Regardless of the battles and the barriers, we tried."

Emily dislikes the past tense he's speaking in. Just because she knows she shouldn't stay with him, just because she's not sure of anything but her own name at this point, doesn't mean her feelings had just up and disappeared. "You're no different than Dave or Derek," she points out. "Than me or JJ."

They're talking about two different things and she's aware of it, but the part of her that's completely head over heels in love with him doesn't want to mar their relationship by accepting that they'd both known it was a terrible idea.

He shakes his head. "I am. I've let this job, the chase, consume me."

"I've never thought that," she replies, surprised at the turn this conversation has taken. She expected to listen to arguments about staying together, expected to talk about his past and his ex-wife. Her words are fact, a simple statement that she knows says more. He's never neglected her because of the job. She knows too much about him, can read him too easily to let him get lost in the work. By this point, she's seen it all when it comes to the ups and downs of Aaron Hotchner.

She hears him take a deep breath, still standing outside her apartment. He's being stubborn about not entering until he's invited and she's not sure if it's adorable or annoying. "We're complicated," he says, "there's no arguing that."

Admittedly, she agrees, but she doesn't want to interrupt for fear he won't continue.

"Our relationship is… was…" he twists the daffodil between his hands uncomfortably, eyes fixated on it instead of her, and Emily realizes that he's not sure where they stand, "complicated. It always has been." He looks up. "But that didn't stop us."

Her breath catches, her heart clenching painfully.

"I can't tell you I didn't love Haley with everything in me," he says. "I can't lie to you. I won't lie to you. But I can tell you that she is safely in my past." He pauses and for a moment she thinks he's done. Then he speaks again, "I spent the better part of the week trying to figure out how I could convince you that I'm not looking for reconciliation with Haley. I couldn't come up with anything except words, and I'm not sure I have any that are truly good enough."

There's a burn in her eyes that forewarns tears.

His eyes go back to the daffodil. "If the notion of an 'Emma Schuller' has taught us anything, Emily, I would hope it's taught us to hold on with both hands, to never let go of things that are important, that matter. Do I wish I could change things that happened in my past, of course I do. Do I try and figure out where my marriage fell apart, yes. But that doesn't mean that every moment we were together you weren't the most important thing in my world, the purest part of my day."

The moisture is leaking over the corner of her eye and he still stands in the hall as he speaks, still separated from her. It tells her that he's trying, he's fighting, but the decision will ultimately be hers. Hotch looks up at her.

"It's not about the past and what could have been, Emily," he says with a determined passion that almost makes her shiver. "It's about the future and what could be."

She sniffles once, and then she's moving towards him, wrapping herself around him in her open doorway. His arms come around her, squeezing her to him, absorbing her warmth and she sobs into his neck. She's not even sure what she's crying about, who she's crying for or if she's just so overwhelmed that he's actually here, fighting for a future with her she was sure was non-existent. Eventually, her sobs die down and she pulls back enough to meet his eyes.

She sniffles again. "Those were pretty good words," she tells him softly and a hope flares so brightly in his eyes that she's sure she's going to start crying again.

A tremulous smile touches his lips. "Emily…"

"It will always bother me," she admits because he won't lie to her and it would be unfair to lie to him. "Haley… it's always going to feel like I'm competing with her."

"You're two completely different women," he says in awe, shaking his head slightly. "Two different parts of my life."

She can't help the little chuckle that escapes her. "Volume one and volume two."

His smile is soft as he pushes her hair back behind her ear. Then he cups her cheek. "I hope volume two is still a work in progress."

She chews her lip for a minute before stepping backwards into her apartment, pulling him with her until she can kick the door closed. His smile is bright, affectionate and he kisses her because it's the only thing to do.

Haley may always be his 'Emma Schuller', but she's his Emily Prentiss, willing to put aside 'what might have been', in favour of 'what could be'.


Finally!

First off, this is the first writing I've done in weeks. It kills me somewhere inside. See, my best friend made the mistake of taking me with her to pick up the new Sims expansion pack and, well, I'm addicted. Between that and the 4-paper-plus-take-home I'm working on in the next 2 weeks, I've made little time for writing. I have a callous on my pointer finger from the laptop touchpad people! That's how much Sims I've been playing!

If you enjoyed, please review and tell me why you did! If you didn't, please review and tell me why!