So I'm trying this fandom again. I kind of love the idea of Hotch and Prentiss even if it's just them developing a close friendship. Their relationship is kind of intriguing, given how guarded they both are. I've been toying with ideas for a little while, and this ended up being what broke a massive case of writer's block. I'd love some constructive feedback about the characterizations.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Hotch sat down on the barstool and signaled for the bartender, quickly ordering a whisky on the rocks once he had the man's attention. He wasn't at the hotel bar, but at a smaller local pub just down the street. He wasn't trying to avoid his team precisely. After all, they'd all eaten together at this place the evening before so it was hardly the last place any one of them would look if they needed to find him. But he also didn't want to make it too easy. Besides the hotel bar was trendy, and far more open, the decor almost made it look sterile. This place was less posh, it wasn't a hole in the wall by any means, but it was cozy. The mahogany woodwork was easier to fade into then the stainless steel countertop the hotel bar boasted. And like he said, it was just a little bit off the beaten path for his team.
Hotch knew his team was great, and normally he had no problem unwinding with any or all of them, but at the moment he just wasn't in the mood for any kind of group decompression session. Didn't think he'd be able to bring himself to socialize with a bunch of people. Now, if one or two of them chose to find him, well, that was fine. Especially if it was the right one or two…
Hotch didn't play favourites with his team. Well, he tried not to at least; jury was still out on how successful he was. But some people's methods of unwinding after a case were more his style than others. Morgan usually hit the local clubs (or at the very least the dance floor of a crowded bar) and Hotch was very much not in the mood to get too close to a complete stranger, no matter how attractive looking they were in low light. Reid wasn't exactly a dancer either, but the young genius liked to talk. Not necessarily about the case, though that was sometimes the subject of conversation, but about anything and everything. Hotch certainly wasn't up for a discussion about the many strategies of Go, or post-war Russian literature or whether science fiction was more effectively able to tackle the important questions art was supposed to than other genres, any of which were fair game with Dr. Spencer Reid. Rossi on the other hand would have been perfectly content to sit and drink with him in silence. Unless of course the older man felt that his good friend Aaron needed to be psychoanalyzed, in which case Hotch'd be in for it. But the case being what it was, there wasn't much that needed analysis. Or rather, no analysis that would make him uncomfortable or irritated with Dave. No, of all his male compatriots, Hotch wouldn't have minded Dave's company.
Then there were the women on his team. Hotch knew Garcia unwound by looking at pictures of baby pandas or puppies in straw baskets surrounded by flowers. Anything bright and bubbly. And she tried to be bright and bubbly enough to distract the rest of them from their own funks a lot of the time. While Hotch appreciated the blond ray of sunshine that was their tech analyst most of the time, he wasn't in the mood for her particular brand of coping strategy that day. Besides, she was still back at Quantico, making her sudden appearance in this particular bar unlikely, though not impossible. Hotch'd learned over the years that Garcia was capable of many, many things. He tried not to think about it most of the time. J.J., on the other hand, he wouldn't have minded so much. They'd probably end up talking superficially about their kids. He trusted J.J. implicitly, knew that the team would be lost without her, and felt oddly protective of the blond woman, but when it came right down to it, he didn't really know all that much about her private life. She didn't offer anything, and he did his best not to pry. The danger in J.J. lurked in the fact that if she did end up at a bar, it was a fair bet she'd find herself at either the dart board or the pool table, and Hotch didn't feel like losing gracefully tonight. Which just left Prentiss. The newest agent on his team, though she'd been with them for years now, and he'd grown so used to her that he sometimes had trouble remembering what it'd been like before she came.
Even if she'd managed to slot herself into his team fairly well over the years, Prentiss was still the wildcard. It was hard to predict how she'd react sometimes, especially recently. He wasn't sure if it was because the work they did was finally starting to get to her, or if she was finally allowing herself to relax enough around the team that he was actually getting to see her true personality. Hotch grinned slightly to himself. When she'd first started with the team it was a pretty good bet what Prentiss'd have done if she'd happened into the bar and found him sitting there alone, turned on her heel and left before he noticed her. He supposed she may have been too well bred for that, or maybe even too concerned for his mental state. But if she had approached him he was sure their conversation would have been awkward in the extreme.
He'd certainly never meant to make her feel unwelcome, suspicious as her arrival had been. And he'd done his best not to treat her unfairly, but he hadn't exactly tried to make her feel like a part of the team either. In a lot of ways circumstances had been conspiring against her. Between the situation with Reid, his own failing marriage and the reason the spot on the team had been open to begin with... And Strauss hadn't helped matters. But shortly before reaching an understanding with Erin Strauss, Hotch had reached one (of sorts) with Emily Prentiss. It happened about the time he'd shown up at her door and asked her to come with him on a case neither of them was supposed to be working anymore, to come back to the BAU. It was basically the defining moment of the relationship, and around when things between them had started to thaw a little. Even if he did feel like it was two steps forward, one step back with her most of the time. On the one hand, she'd been the one to help when he'd been having trouble with his ear a few years ago, she was so loyal to the BAU that she'd quit rather than play political games. But then when a close friend of hers was killed and she'd needed a little help it was like she'd expected him to refuse her simply because he could. And there were still days that, when it came right down to it, he wondered if Emily Prentiss really believed she was an integral part of the BAU. Part of that was his fault, but not all of it by any means. And he didn't know how to tell her she didn't have to worry, not without being patronizing.
He signaled to the bartender for another drink. And that was why Emily was the wildcard. Because if she walked in those doors he wasn't sure exactly what he'd get. It could be regular old friendly, cheerful Emily, who, even if she was a bit subdued about the case would come talk to him about god only knew what. Like with Reid, Hotch'd long ago given up trying to predict what Emily would talk about on a given day. Somehow he didn't think Emily's chatter would irritate him as much as Reid's may have at the moment though, even if both would undoubtedly be designed to ensure he wasn't alone with his thoughts. On the other hand, if she were to appear, he could also get slightly depressed Emily. Recently the cases had been hitting her pretty hard. He wouldn't be surprised if she just came in, sat next o him and ordered a drink in near silence. Or maybe she wouldn't wander into the bar at all. Chances were equally good that she and J.J. would kick back in one of their hotel rooms watching chick flicks, or that Emily head out on the town with Morgan. She'd done both before. But regardless of whether he got the woman he partnered with so well in the field, or the insecure woman who distrusted herself so much in his company that she reverted to calling him "sir" with enough bite that the meaning was unmistakable, Hotch admitted that of all his team, she would be one of the ones he'd prefer to walk in those doors.
The case'd been a rough one. This particular unsub had enjoyed kidnapping women and then, after keeping them chained up for three days and six hours (as it turned out the exact length of time as his brief engagement), shot them once in the chest. What had made catching him so very difficult had been the absolute lack of physical similarity between the victims, as was often expected in this type of crime. But in this case there'd been no commonalities, which meant that six women were killed before the local authorities even made the connection. It was Reid's geographical profile that'd finally led to the break in the case.
When Jonathan Stevens was led away in cuffs screaming obscenities at pretty much any woman in his line of sight Hotch'd heard J.J. let out a sigh of relief from behind him, watched as Prentiss had put a hand on her arm briefly, saw Morgan shake his head slightly as Reid merely stared off unseeing into the middle-distance. Rossi'd just met his eyes across the room and nodded once in resignation. They'd caught the bastard in the end. It hadn't been an easy case for any of them. There'd been three victims found after the BAU was assigned the case, a blond, a brunette and a redhead. Along with every other member of the BAU, he'd tried not to make the connection to the three females of his own team. Like every other member of law enforcement on the planet, Hotch always hated when the victims reminded him of someone he knew. Since the victims were almost always female he could only imagine what it was like for the female agents. As it was his only consolation (and it was a small one) was that their killer's one preference had made it impossible for a gangly young guy, a bald black man and a middle-aged Italian to show up at the morgue.
Thank goodness the madness was done for the moment. They'd all be flying back in the morning. The team had scattered almost immediately after leaving the station, which was why he didn't know where any of them were at the moment. He suspected some of them had paired off for the evening though. He mused a bit about the possible combinations, and felt a pang of regret that he'd decided to go the solitary route.
Then he heard the jangling bell of the door behind him. And he somehow knew it was a member of his team, though he couldn't say why. And it wasn't just any member of his team; it was the one he'd been secretly hoping would come and find him.
"Hey," he said softly as she slid into the stool beside him.
"Hey yourself," she replied, signaling for the bartender. "I'll have one of what he's having," Emily ordered softly.
"Two," Hotch confirmed when the bartender glanced his way.
"You started without me," Emily said when they had their drinks.
Hotch shrugged, "Guess you'll just have to catch up then."
"And exactly how many am I behind?" she asked.
He heard the slight admonition in her tone and almost smiled. "Why Prentiss, is that your subtle way of figuring out just how long I've been here drowning my sorrows?"
This time it was Emily's turn to shrug. "Wasn't aware it was subtle," she told him.
He smirked. "Well, you can rest easy, this is only number three," he told her holding up the glass of whiskey the bartender had handed him seconds before. "Besides, I've been here almost an hour and have no intention of driving anywhere."
"Excellent, because I have no intention of driving you to the hospital to get your stomach pumped," she told him.
"Prentiss, even when I was in college I was hardly the type to drink myself to near-death." No, even in his early twenties Aaron Hotchner had been far too straight-laced for that. He'd always had too much control to ever really let himself go, especially having seen first-hand what could happen when too much alcohol was involved. It'd taken him years before he'd trusted himself enough to allow himself a few drinks to unwind. Even now it was something he rarely indulged in. Still couldn't quite relax and let loose, no matter how much he wanted to sometimes. But like he'd said, the case had hit a little too close to home, making a couple of glasses of whiskey a welcome way of muting the voices in his head. Seeing the woman at his side helped, provided a kind of almost relief. At least he could be sure she was safe. And in spite of the day they'd both had, she was certainly easy on the eyes.
At the moment she was frowning, preoccupied with something. He tried to remember what exactly he'd said that would cause her to look like that.
"Of the two of us I guess I'm the more likely to rebel," she told him. After pausing to take a drink she continued, "I may have had a bit of wild streak in college, even if I've grown out of it over time."
"I think I'd have liked to meet you in college Special Agent Prentiss," he told her, softening the use of her title with a smile. "And not because I was working security for your family. Maybe even see a bit of that reckless side your file mentions." If he was honest he just wanted to know a bit more about Emily, and not just about her college years.
But he wasn't sure she was comfortable telling him yet. Her head whipped around in reaction to his teasing, her expression scandalized. "It does not say that in my file!" she exclaimed.
He smiled slightly again, "Not in so many words, but reading between the lines…" he trailed off as she put her head in her hands. "Don't worry about it Prentiss," Hotch told her easily, trying to ease her embarrassment. "Besides, according anybody who's actually worked with you, you're a good agent. I was talking to Agent Fielding out in the Chicago offices last week; he wanted to know what the chances were of you transferring back out that way."
"Good old Matt," she mused, her blush fading. "What'd you tell him?" Emily asked, taking a drink of her whiskey.
"That it'd be up to you of course, but anyone trying to steal a member of my team'd have to go through me first. And after that I'd sic Dave on him," Hotch deadpanned.
Emily smirked. "That'd teach him." She finished her drink, signaling for another from the bartender. When Hotch looked slightly concerned, she shrugged, "Thought I was supposed to be catching up."
Hotch sighed. "So, how'd you know where to find me?"
"What makes you think I was looking?" she shot back. "If this is your idea of a good hiding spot Jack must beat you at hide and seek each and every time."
"He does anyway," Hotch murmured, smiling briefly at the thought of his son. "And you're right. I wasn't exactly hiding, just making sure I was ever so slightly off the beaten path."
"Yeah, I wasn't in the mood for clubbing with Morgan either," she admitted, knowing exactly what he meant. "I think he managed to snare Reid though. J.J. was calling Will when I left the hotel and I have no idea where Rossi ended up."
"While you ended up alone at the neighbourhood bar," Hotch concluded.
"I'm not alone." He looked at her and waited for her to continue. "Drinking alone isn't healthy," she added softly, meeting his eyes.
He nodded; he'd figured as much. "Far better with another person," he agreed readily.
They both lapsed into silence.
After a few minutes he broke it again, "So that was some case, huh?"
Emily laughed mirthlessly. "That's an understatement. Hotch, this case sucked."
He almost laughed with her. She was always such an intriguing mix of bluntness and tact. "Yeah, yeah it did," he agreed softly. And it was why they were both sitting at the bar drinking. If anything she had a better excuse. He wasn't the one who had something in common with the victims time and time again. Suddenly he turned to her, "Hey, are you okay about everything? I mean just because of… well, with…" he floundered for the words, not wanting her to think he was questioning her abilities, something she still did even now.
Buts he seemed to understand, breaking in on his rambling, saving him. "I'll be fine Hotch," she assured him quickly. Almost too quickly. "At least I wasn't comparing myself to the victims this time."
He wanted to press the point, but didn't. Despite his (somewhat) feeble attempts, they weren't that comfortable with each other. Not yet. They still walked on eggshells around each other a little bit; both of them had too many walls, to many rules to ever truly let go and relax. They were a lot alike in a lot of ways. And Hotch couldn't help wondering what their working relationship would have been like if they'd met under slightly more neutral circumstances. He wanted to comfort her, but wasn't quite sure how, or even whether it'd be appreciated or appropriate. Sure, they'd gotten closer, he owed her a lot for what she'd done for him after Foyet had happened, but they still weren't exactly easy with each other, especially when it came to things like this.
So he was somewhat surprised when she was the one who continued the conversation.
"The last victim reminded me of J.J." she admitted softly.
He sighed, "The last three victims bore an uncanny resemblance to three women I couldn't imagine my job without," he told her.
She glanced at him, before making the connection, and then nodded, lapsing briefly into silence before breaking it again.
"How do you do it?" Prentiss asked him softly. "How do you do what we do? Especially after you've already lost so much. Most people would have transferred out before now."
Hotch sighed. He'd asked himself the same question more than once. "I'm not most people. For better or for worse I am the BAU. You learn to trust your team, I guess, depend on them when it matters. And I've been lucky there." He almost smiled at her then as he grabbed his whiskey, "Probably luckier than I deserve," he added as an afterthought.
Prentiss watched him for a moment, before picking up her own glass, "Nah, I think you've gotten exactly what you deserve." He looked at her and she sighed, "This team, your team is good in part because of the way you lead them, the way you run the BAU. We're your team Hotch, your personally hand-picked team, I might add. Well, most of us anyway," she added self-deprecatingly before taking a swig of her own drink with the appearance of nonchalance.
But a good behaviouralist is never fooled by appearances, even after three glasses of good Irish whiskey. A good behaviouralist also knew when the warmth spreading through his system was entirely due to alcohol. And even slightly fuzzy, Hotch knew this wasn't. It was because Emily Prentiss so rarely gave a direct compliment that it was something to be savoured. But she still looked sad. And he was so sick of his team looking sad. They'd all been looking like that lately, but especially her. Each passing case seemed to be hitting her harder and harder, and he was tired of ever-so-slightly-broken-Prentiss. He wanted to see her happy. Or at least give her a taste of the feeling her almost too candid comments sometimes gave him. So even though he knew that what he was going to say next wasn't a good idea, and he knew that it could also be blamed on the three glasses of whiskey, he knew that would just be an excuse. The plain truth of it was he was sick of the subtle self-deprecation and hints of self-doubt he sometimes saw behind her eyes. So he shrugged in fake-nonchalance himself. "Eh, sometimes relinquishing a little control can be a good thing," he told her. "Sometimes the things that happen without our complete consent end up being the most valuable of all." He waited for the double meaning to settle into her consciousness along with the alcohol.
If it'd been any other day, any other topic of conversation, any other person, the way her eyes widened and her breath hitched before she was able to school her features would have been far more comical. As it was, it was all just slightly amusing.
"Hotch," she whispered.
"Prentiss," he replied easily. Yes, he was now on the far side of tipsy, but he'd wanted her to know. "Like I said, it's important to be able to trust your team, the people you're partnered with out in the field. Especially on the bad ones, the cases like this."
The fact that he'd partnered her almost exclusively with himself on this case was not lost on either of them.
Prentiss found a small smile to shoot him then, "We're good together," she told him. Her grin widened ever so slightly when she saw the startled look on his face. "The team I mean, the BAU," she added her eyes sparkling slightly.
He felt his own eyes crinkle in amusement, though he held back on his own grin. "Of course, the team," he added with the appearance of (almost) perfect gravity. "You're right, we are good together." He paused, "You up for another?" he asked, gesturing to their now empty glasses.
Prentiss looked down at the ice in her own glass, pretending to consider the offer. "Why not?" she told him finally. "Apparently being a little out of control can be a good thing."
"Exactly," he replied, shooting her a real smile before signaling for the bartender.
"Besides, I still need to catch up," she added.
"This your wild side coming out?" he asked.
He almost laughed again as the bartender handed them their drinks and Emily immediately asked for another to even the score. "Hey Prentiss," he said as he watched her drink her whiskey.
"Thanks for not letting me drink alone," he told her.
She glanced at him, sending him a bright smile. "My pleasure."
He took a drink of his own, enjoying the way the whiskey was making everything seem slightly less crucial. He turned to face her when she spoke again, "Besides, my Dad always said whiskey was better with company."
"Long as the company's good," he agreed.
He watched as she smiled again, shifting slightly closer to him on her bar stool. As he caught a whiff of her perfume Hotch thanked whatever deity might have been listening for the presence of the woman next to him.
And while he'd never be one to advocate drinking oneself into oblivion, sometimes drinking just enough to weaken the walls you showed the world could be a good thing. Especially if it allowed for the admission of a friend.