Author's Note: This is another offshoot (2 parts) of Falling in Love with a Girl, but as is the case with most of them, you can read this without having read the larger story. It's just Christmas Eve season 3.

As to Girl, this would be a missing scene taking place just before Hotch got the divorce papers (Chp 33) and he and Em had the big make out in the bathroom. Because that portion of Girl pretty much worked totally around canon episodes (and they didn't address Christmas on the show), I never did any holiday chapters for them back then. In retrospect I wish I had filled in some holiday pieces, but at the time I was just trying to keep the story rolling along and didn't really understand the epic world that it would eventually become :)

If I could think of some easy way to do it, I'd just go insert this into the Girl story at the proper point in time, but I think I'd have to move around like 97 chapters to do that and well, that's just not happening. Not today anyway. Perhaps someday while I'm watching something mindless on television I'll do it, but for now, it's just a standalone story.

So Christmas Eve, season 3, Dave's annual Christmas bash.

Prompt Set #13

Show: Girlfriends

Title: Merry Ex-Mas

Prompt Set #13

Show: Melrose Place

Title: Under the Mistletoe

Making Spirits Bright

Hotch leaned back against the wall, and with a weary sigh, looked around Dave's living room.

It was enormous. And it was open air into the kitchen, with a fireplace on one wall, a flat screen on another and three different seating areas around the room. There was also one wall made almost completely of glass (reinforced, bullet proof of course) which had French doors leading out to the patio.

Even given the lousy mood he was in, Hotch did acknowledge that it was a very "nice" living room. Nice house actually, at least what he'd seen of it over the past hour was very nice. But that was all he could vouch for because he'd never been there before that night.

The last time Hotch had been over to Dave's for a social occasion was nine years, two wives and three homes earlier. The place he'd had back then had been considerably smaller.

But of course he'd had three best sellers since then.

And Hotch knew that Dave had bought this current home after the last divorce. It was huge, 4700 square feet, two stories, professionally decorated all in dark colors, dark wood and expensive leather furniture.

It was all very macho . . . all very Dave.

And Dave was throwing his annual Christmas party. Hotch hadn't been to one of them in over a decade. He actually hadn't been invited to one in years, which was understandable given that he and Dave had lost touch for awhile after the older man had left the Unit.

Not a falling out really, just, you don't see people and they start to fade from your circle.

But . . . Hotch took a swig of his second beer . . . the circle was widening again.

Though Dave had had a rocky couple of weeks with the team when he first arrived back at the BAU, he'd smoothed things over since then. Morgan had been the last holdout but he'd seemed to have dropped his remaining reservations after the cannibal case down in Florida. Something had happened between the two men down there that seemed to bond them in a way that Hotch didn't quite understand.

But regardless, he was pleased that at least the awkwardness had passed. As he recalled it had taken much longer for Prentiss to really settle in.

Though . . . he felt a faint stab of guilt . . . perhaps that was just his perception because in her case HE had been the holdout. Fortunately though, he'd finally got his head completely out of his ass and things had gotten steadily better between them. Now they were good. Quite good really.

He actually couldn't imagine the team without her.

Speaking of the team . . . he looked around the room . . . because they were on call for the week, nobody could travel farther than a hundred mile radius from Quantico. So basically nobody could visit their families this year, which was why Dave had decided to throw the party on Christmas Eve rather than the usual Friday before.

He'd just wanted to ensure that everyone would have something to do.

And they were all was here tonight. Hotch could see them mingling in different parts of the room. Garcia had brought her new boyfriend, that tech Kevin that had helped them out after she was shot. Hotch thought the guy was a little strange but he didn't have to date him so he supposed his opinion really wasn't all that relevant.

Derek had brought his 'holiday honey' (his version of commitment was to date the same woman for the entire holiday season). And Reid was chatting up what appeared to be, from the dark hair and features, a younger member of the Rossi clan.

Because Dave couldn't get back to New York, most of his family was visiting him for Christmas week.

Hotch just hoped that the pretty young Rossi that Reid was talking to wasn't Teresa. She was due to enter a convent next month and Dave said she'd been "sowing some oats" before the trip. And if Dave caught Spencer assisting his niece with her "oat sowing" then they'd probably be down two team members come the new year.

Reid would be dead, and Rossi would be in county lockup awaiting his trial.

With a final shake of his head at that future imperfect, Hotch's eyes traveled over to JJ and Dave (fortunately) in the opposite corner of the room. Dave had his hand on JJ's back as he pointed to the painting on the wall. JJ was laughing at something he'd just said and Hotch rolled his eyes when he saw the look on Dave's face.

So not gonna happen Rossi.

Hotch blew out a huff of hot air as he looked over this room full of people laughing and smiling.

He wanted to go home.

Actually . . . he took another long swig of his beer . . . he hadn't wanted to come period. But the women hadn't really given him much choice in the matter. All week long his response to "see you at the party, Hotch?" was, "maybe."

Which of course meant no.

But then tonight first Garcia, then JJ, and finally Prentiss had shown up in his office. One after another they had "popped by" with happy smiles all dressed up in their party outfits . . . black skirts and festive sweaters, Garcia's complete with a battery operated flashing Rudolph . . . to remind him that everyone was leaving for Dave's Christmas party at five. And before they left, all three had dropped a little present (bribe) on his desk.

They were like the Three Wisemen sans the Myrrh . . . and the penises.

JJ bought him a new tie to wear for the holidays. As Christmas ties went it was very tasteful . . . black with tiny little green wreaths and Christmas tree on it. And given how slim his social calendar was these days, aka knowing that he had nowhere else to wear it, Hotch had slipped it on before he left the office.

To his amusement, Garcia's gift to him was a plate of red and green "Christmas" cookies in the shape of bats and pumpkins. She'd sheepishly explained that her Christmas cookie cutters had gone missing and she hadn't realized until she'd already mixed up the dough.

And Prentiss . . . Hotch snorted slightly as he thought back . . . she'd given him the twenty bucks she'd borrowed the day before. She'd even slapped a bow on it.

When he'd looked up at her in astonishment . . . not that he'd wanted or expected a present from her but seriously, paying him back money he was owed totally did NOT count as a gift . . . a huge grin had slid across her face.

"Just kidding, sir!" She'd exclaimed right before she'd stepped back out into the hall to get his actual present.

A bottle of Jameson's . . . that too had a bow on it.

As was often the case with Emily Prentiss he couldn't stop his lips from twitching as he looked between the crisp twenty dollar bill and the shiny green bottle. Then he'd rolled his eyes good naturedly as he looked up and huffed, "fine, I'll go."

She'd smirked as she told him that was good because if he hadn't said yes to her then they were sending Reid up dressed as an elf.

His lip had quirked up involuntarily at that image before he'd schooled his features, shooing her out of his office with the promise that he'd be there by seven.

They were making an effort for him . . . trying to cheer him up over the holidays . . . and it wasn't going to kill him to make an effort for them.

After all, he'd figured that it was only a few hours of his life so how bad could it be. But being around all of these people so festive and . . . he scowled slightly as he drained the rest of his bottle . . . happy, was doing nothing but make him even more depressed.

Two days earlier Haley had told him that she had no interest in counseling and that she'd been talking to a lawyer about having divorce papers drawn up.

It wasn't the first time the D word had come up, but it was the first time that it had been mentioned in the context of actual paperwork.

Obviously that . . . and missing opening presents Christmas morning with his three year old son . . . had pretty much marched his holiday spirit out to the end of the gangplank at gunpoint. And now this party tonight was shoving it off said plank and straight into the shark infested waters below.

Okay, he thought with a furrowing of his brow, he really wished he hadn't fallen asleep with that damn Johnny Depp movie on the television. His brain had been making odd pirate connotations all day.

He checked his watch.

All right, he either had to leave RIGHT now before he popped open a third beer. Or he had to stay another couple hours to make sure that any additional alcohol he consumed had dissipated from his system before he got behind the wheel.

Hearing the group off to his left start to sing jingle bells . . . as a round . . . Hotch decided that maybe he'd go get another beer while he made his decision as to whether he should have another drink.


Emily was sitting in one of the end chairs, eyeing Hotch worriedly from across the room . . . he looked miserable.

The poor thing. Maybe they shouldn't have been so pushy, maybe they should have just left him alone tonight to be all depressed and wallowy on his own.

But they'd thought this would be good for him. That getting him out of the house on Christmas Eve would cheer him up. She pouted . . . obviously they'd majorly miscalculated that one.

If anything he seemed worse here than he had been at work. But of course at work he at least had well, WORK to distract him. Here there were just a bunch of Dave's friends and family getting drunk on a variety of alcoholic beverages. Beverages which included three kinds of beer, an assortment of wine brought up from his private cellar, and the standard holiday favorite . . . rum spiked eggnog.

The eggnog smelled like it was about a 100 proof so she was sticking with the wine.

And though it was nice to meet some of Dave's family . . . her eyes shifted away from Hotch as she looked around the room trying picking them out the ones she had indeed met . . . not all of them were people that she'd wish to spend time with on any kind of regular basis.

For instance Dave's nephew . . . aka Antony Rossi the Third . . . had grabbed her ass ten minutes after she walked in the door.

SO not what she was expecting to happen at a private family oriented Christmas Eve gathering! And because of that there had been a millisecond of delay on her part before she'd recovered from her astonishment and turned around. When she'd seen the sleazy smirk and heard the "hey baby, want to open a package?" she'd seen red. Before she'd realized what she was doing . . . or who he was . . . she'd grabbed the little punk by his throat and slammed him against the wall.

Fortunately for Dave's carpets, before she'd done any more than that, Dave had suddenly appeared at her side to intercede pre-bloodletting.

Apparently he'd seen what had happened. And after he'd muttered an embarrassed apology and told her that he'd take care of it, he'd shot Antony a withering look before dragging his terrified nephew off in a discreet headlock.

The kid . . . twenty-nine going on fifteen it turned out . . . had come back over to apologize five minutes later.

His ear was bright red and he kept shooting a nervous glance over to "Uncle Dave" watching him from the kitchen.

Emily had accepted the apology for Dave's sake but she'd still been eying Antony warily since then. The guy hadn't appeared to be THAT drunk, just slightly buzzed. And if he was going out feeling women up . . . in his uncle's HOME . . . after just a couple of beers, she didn't even want to see what he'd be getting into after a six pack.

And that little encounter had kind of dampened her enjoyment for the evening, which totally sucked because she'd been genuinely looking forward to this party. It was the first time they'd all been together off duty since, well . . . ever.

Certainly since Dave had been there.

Plus with Garcia's shooting late last month they'd had a little something extra to be thankful for that Christmas. But now . . . she drained the rest of the wine from her glass (number two) . . . she kind of wanted to go home. After the first twenty minutes of team bonding, everyone had kind of scattered around the room and she was starting to sort of feel like she was there by herself.

Which she supposed she technically was.

After all, she didn't have a date, though Derek and Garcia had each brought one. So yeah, okay, she was definitely there all by herself, and now she was feeling way more depressed than she had been five minutes ago. Maybe it would be best if she left now before she got totally bummed out.

Then she looked down at her watch and pouted as she saw that it was barely eight.

Well, it would probably be a little pathetic to go home THIS early. Christ, she'd had a later bedtime when she was nine!

Okay . . . she blew out a puff of air as she started to head for the bar set up in the connecting kitchen . . . one more glass of wine should kill another forty minutes.


Hotch was staring into the beverage refrigerator looking for another bottle of Guinness when he suddenly smelled Emily's perfume. He turned his head to see her standing behind him.

"Hey," she gave him a little smile as she held out her glass, "care to help a girl get a refill?"

Of course she could have got it herself, but given that she was starting to get a bit of the holiday blues, a little human contact was definitely in order.

His expression softening slightly, Hotch took the glass from her hand.

"Sure, what are you drinking?"

"Allegrini," Emily stood on her tiptoes to look over his shoulder to see the assortment of bottles Dave had out on the marble counter, "but I don't see it anymore." She frowned, "shoot, I guess I'll have to drink something else."

Damn, that was a good bottle. And she hated to start mixing drinks, even if it was just wine and wine. She bit her lip . . . maybe that was the sign that it really was time to go home.

Seeing the disappointment on Prentiss' face, Hotch shifted his gaze over her shoulder as he tried to spot Dave in the adjacent room. There had to be more of this stuff around here somewhere.

The guy had a full wine cellar for Christ's sake! How could he just have the one bottle?

It took him a second to find their host . . . still off in the corner talking to JJ . . . but then Hotch waved, catching Dave's eyes before he simultaneously pointed to Emily with one hand and held up her empty wine glass with the other.

Dave responded by holding up his cell phone. So Hotch pulled out his own phone and watched as a second later a text message popped up.

'Wine cellar's off the back hall, 3rd door on L. Help yourself to whatever.'

Hotch nodded back to Dave before he turned to Emily.

"We're going for a walk."

Getting her the drink she wanted made him feel useful. So . . . he put her dirty glass back on the counter . . . assisting her had a more selfish benefit beyond simply making her happy.

When Hotch held his arm out towards the door, Emily just stared at him for a moment.

She hadn't actually expected for him to care about her choice of beverage. And here she had just decided that she should probably go home.

For a second she debated whether or not she really wanted to stay any longer. But then she figured that if Hotch was willing to go out of his way to get her another glass of the wine that she wanted, then why would she be cranky and leave anyway?

After all, it was Christmas Eve, she should try to make the best of things. So after giving Hotch a little smile, she turned to start cutting back through the living room. Now she just needed to find that wine cellar Dave had pointed out earlier in the night.

It was down off the back hallway.

Hotch followed closely behind Prentiss as they skirted around the small groups of people talking at the party. Then she stopped suddenly . . . he had to put his hand on her back to keep from walking into her.

"What is it?" Hotch whispered into her ear as he stepped up.

There wasn't any obvious impediment to her forward momentum.

"I uh," she shook her head, "nothing." Then she moved back slightly, pressing herself against his side.

Though she knew that Hotch wasn't generally a fan of sharing his personal space with the rest of the inhabitants of the planet, Emily wasn't too concerned about that at the moment. Because she'd just spotted somebody else at Dave's party that she knew.

And it was somebody that she REALLY did not wish to see.

Agent Danny Brooks.

She'd dated Danny for about three weeks. Things had been going along pretty well. Seemed like a nice guy, he was cute and kind of funny. He worked major narcotics cases and they'd met in the cafeteria one day when she was getting a bagel. They had a few lunches, then a few dinners, and finally . . . at the end of week three . . . she'd decided to invite him over for an "after dinner drink."

And then things had gone down a very bad road. She'd ended up ordering him out of her house.

He was naked at the time.

Before it all went to shit, things . . . as they had been since they'd met . . . had been going along pretty well. It turned out he wasn't super skilled in the love making department, but he had been making an effort with the foreplay, and that was more than a lot of guys did. And then as he was moving along doing his stuff, all of a sudden he'd started asking her about her cases. And had she ever kept any photographs. And did she have any in the house.

This was AS he was sucking on her nipple!

She'd shoved him off, grabbed the sheet to cover up and screamed at him to get the hell out. He was pretty stunned and tried to backpedal that he was just "making conversation."

Making conversation.

Making SERIAL KILLER conversation, again AS he was sucking on her nipple!

For some reason that just made it even worse. That he'd try to rationalize it as no big deal. She'd been totally freaked out by the whole experience.

That was three months ago and she hadn't seen Danny since she'd thrown his clothes in his face after she'd pushed him out of her apartment.

It was of course SO her life that he would be here tonight at Dave's party. But at least half of the forty or so guests here tonight were from the Bureau. And Danny seemed like a really good guy so WHY would Dave have reason to believe that he had creepy sexual predilections!?

Feeling the waves of tension now rolling off of Emily (he absentmindedly noticed that when he was worried about her he always started thinking of her as "Emily" rather than "Prentiss"), Hotch's brow darkened as he looked around the room.

He was trying to find the source of her unease. Finally he spotted a familiar face just ahead and off to the left.

Special Agent Daniel J. Brooks.

As Hotch recalled, Prentiss had been seeing him a little earlier in the year. Though had no idea what had happened there, he had noticed that Brooks completely dropped off the radar awhile ago.

And given that he was located in the one area of the room that Emily was most studiously NOT looking, Hotch deduced that it must have been an unpleasant breakup.

Well . . . he subtly moved her over to his other side . . . at present Hotch was extremely sympathetic to the angst and drama behind the unpleasant breakup (though he was still working on the MAKEUP portion of the relationship overhaul) so if she didn't want to see this guy . . . he involuntarily shot a glare over to the two men talking in front of the sofa . . . she didn't have to see this guy.

To shield her from view, Hotch put his hand on the back of Emily's neck as she ducked down and he guided her out of the room. Once they were in the quiet area of the back hall his hand slipped down slightly to the center of her back.

"Do you want to talk about it?" He asked softly as they continued down the hall.

They didn't generally have that kind of relationship, the 'talk about their personal life' kind, but she was clearly unsettled seeing this guy again. And contrary to some people's opinions, Hotch wasn't socially awkward.

He wasn't Reid.

Just because he CHOSE not to engage in personal chitchat with his coworkers didn't mean he was incapable of doing so.

Emily snapped her head up, "uh, no, not really but um," she bit her lip, "do you think that there's some way that you can back channel to get him in for a psych review?"

Okay . . . she blinked . . . she wasn't quite sure where THAT came from! But when she and Hotch were alone together he had a way of putting her at ease. And then she ended up sometimes saying things that she totally had not intended to say.

Like THAT for instance!

Hotch froze, his hand falling off Emily's back as she kept moving. But he reached out, catching her fingers before she walked away.

When she turned back to look at him he stammered, "what . . . what happened?"

She wouldn't randomly ask him to get a psych evaluation run on an ex-boyfriend unless there was something seriously wrong with him!

Emily's gaze slid over Hotch's shoulder back towards the living room as she wrapped her arms around her stomach.

"Uh, you know what, uh," she started to feel her face getting warm, "let's just forget it."

Given that the request had slipped out her mouth completely by accident she really didn't see any point in pushing it. Because she SERIOUSLY didn't want to have to tell Hotch a NIPPLE sucking story! Definitely not now! On Christmas Eve!

At her evasiveness, Hotch felt a cold stab of fear in his belly. Then he took a step closer to her, his voice gentle as he asked, "did he hurt you?"

The body language she was displaying right now was seriously scaring the crap out of him!

Emily's brow darkened slightly as she quickly shook her head.

"No, no it wasn't like that. He didn't do anything like that."

Great, now he thinks she was ASSAULTED! And to clear up that misconception now she was going to HAVE to tell Hotch a nipple sucking story on Christmas Eve!

Damn it!

But she could see that her assurances hadn't done anything to alleviate the tension in his jaw. Which meant that he was going to be obsessing about this until she told him what had actually happened.

Her jaw twitched once before her irritation faded and she sighed, "if I tell you what happened, do you promise that you won't say anything to anyone?"

Yes, it was embarrassing but there really wasn't any way out of it now. And her subconscious must have had a reason that it made her blurt the damn request out to begin with. She'd known many freaky people over the years . . . both before and after her extensive psych training explained why they were the way they were . . . and just because you were a freak in the bedroom, that didn't necessarily mean that you were mentally unbalanced.

And she didn't REALLY think that Danny was genuinely unbalanced.

The bottom-line was . . . and this was probably her subconscious' issue . . . she probably would feel a little better about him walking around with a badge and loaded firearms if she had another professional's assurance that he was indeed just strangely wired and not actually a potential UNSUB.

Hotch ground his teeth together . . . he really didn't want to make that promise until he'd heard what the hell it was this guy had done. But as he saw the look Emily was giving him he knew that he wasn't going to get another word out of her unless he agreed to keep the particulars to himself. So he jerked his head.

"Yes, I promise. Now please Prentiss," he practically begged, "tell me what happened."

Just then they heard a glass shatter from the party going on behind them. And that's when Hotch realized that they were standing in the middle of the hallway.

An echoey hallway where absolutely anybody . . . Brooks included . . . could come along and hear what they were talking about.

He started moving forward again.

"Come on," he tipped his head, "let's go somewhere a little more private."

They were on their way to the wine cellar anyway. And you couldn't get much more private than a cold damp hole in the ground.

"Right," Emily nodded as she followed after him, "that's probably a good idea."

God knew with her luck, that she'd turn around to find half the team standing there listening to her embarrassing little tale about what HORRIFICALLY bad taste she had in men.

Though in her defense, Brooks was here at Dave's party so clearly he passed pretty well for "normal." And hey . . . she started feeling a little better . . . if Dave didn't think he was an UNSUB either, then that was another point in favor of her making the right assessment.

Of course . . . another thought came to her . . . it was unlikely that Dave was intimately acquainted with Danny's sexual habits, and she too had thought he was normal before that night.

Okay so . . . scratch that one.

They found the wine cellar without any problem, and as they walked down the steps Emily forgot for a moment the story she had to tell Hotch. She was just caught by surprise by what she was seeing.

It wasn't at all what she'd been expecting.

The cellar was well lit, done over in a light Tuscan style with the wine racks built into the walls. Dave even had a tasting area set up by the little mini kitchen. After the macho d├ęcor upstairs she'd been expecting something more gothic beneath the earth. Heavy beams and dark stone, but this was really nice.

Once they were at the bottom of the stairs Hotch stopped and turned to look at the woman behind him.

"Okay, tell me what happened."

He could see that Emily looked uncomfortable and for a second he thought she wasn't going to tell him the story. But then she took a breath and cleared her throat before she began to very succinctly recap the upsetting portion of her last evening with Agent Brooks.

It didn't take long. And when she got to the point where Brooks started asking about pictures, Hotch's brow darkened. And then he took note of the faint flush to Emily's cheeks and he felt his chest tighten that she'd been so vulnerable with someone like that.

It didn't matter what he did for them on the job, he couldn't protect them twenty-four hours a day.

When she stopped, he took a breath as he looked over at her.

"Did he ever do anything else," he asked softly, "before or after that night, that had disturbed you?"

"No," she bit her lip as she slowly shook her head, "we've had no contact since then and nothing beforehand raised any red flags. Really Hotch," her nose wrinkled in disgust, "do you think I'd be involved with someone like that?"

Yes, she'd dated some borderline deviants in her younger days but she certainly didn't STAY with them once she KNEW they were borderline deviants!

His expression softened.

"No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I just meant," he rubbed his hand across his mouth, "did anything in retrospect seem odd or inappropriate about his interest in our work? Or was that moment an anomaly for the relationship?"

He was looking for something that showed a psychopathic psychology. Some indication that the front Brooks was projecting to the world, was false.

For a second Emily's eyes went slightly out of focus. She was thinking back.

"No," she answered slowly, "there was nothing."

Of course she knew exactly where Hotch was going with this. And she'd already done a complete run down of Danny's behavior as she'd scrubbed herself raw in the shower that night.

There was nothing there.

"Well then," Hotch leaned back against the stucco wall, "though I agree that Agent Brooks is definitely in need of some in-depth counseling, without any additional evidence of inappropriate behavior I'm not inclined to believe that he poses a threat to anyone. But I'll flag him for a psychological review and I'll craft a specific series of questions to be worked into the routine rundown."

That should be enough to determine whether Brooks' disturbing sexual fantasies were just that, sexual fantasies . . . perhaps brought on by some childhood trauma . . . or indicative of a truly disturbed mind. At the very least after the review Hotch would know whether Brooks needed additional monitoring.

Emily gave him a soft smile, "thanks Hotch."

Hotch tipped his head.

"Consider it an extra Christmas present."

All he'd given her that afternoon was a Starbucks card, at least this gift was a bit more personal.

She snorted, "ah yes, what to get the girl who has everything. An involuntary psych exam for her freakazoid ex-boyfriend."

Seeing Hotch's lips twitch slightly, she smiled over at him.

Yeah, she knew freakazoid would get him. It certainly wasn't in the manual. And telling that story might have been a little embarrassing for her, but at least she seemed to have distracted him from his earlier melancholy.

And God knew she'd made an ass out of herself for much less worthy causes in the past.

So with a faint crinkling of her eyes, she tipped her head over to the rows of bottles lining the walls around them.



When they got back upstairs with Emily's bottle of Allegrini tucked under Hotch's jacket, they realized that at least another dozen people had arrived since they'd left. Which meant that the party was starting to spill into other parts of the downstairs.

The kitchen, the living room and the media room were all noisy and lousy with ugly Christmas ties and sweaters.

And one glance over to Hotch confirmed Emily's assumption that he had no desire to go mix. So she put her hand on his bicep.

"Let's go upstairs," she tipped her head in the other direction, "Dave gave JJ and me a little tour when we got here. He has a library up there. It'll be quiet."

Though she wasn't ordinarily a proponent of nosing around other people's homes when she was invited over for a party, she had actually been shown upstairs earlier in the evening. And it's not like she and Hotch were sneaking off to have sex on the coats on the bed, they just wanted someplace quiet to have a drink.

Hotch looked around at the people that had spilled into the back hallway. A back hallway that had been empty when they'd gone downstairs fifteen minutes earlier.

Dave's parties had once been notorious around the Bureau, and given the increasing noise level . . . due to increasing alcohol consumption . . . this one was shaping up to make the list.

For a moment Hotch stood there biting his lip and then he shrugged, "okay."

Really it was either that or go home. And though that had been his main desire a half hour ago, now that they'd gone to all the trouble to find Emily's bottle of wine . . . and their unconventional bonding experience with her unpleasant sexual encounter . . . he felt like he least owed her a drink.

So after a quick stop in the kitchen to grab a couple of clean wineglasses, he followed Emily up the back staircase.

When they arrived on the second floor he stopped and stared at what he saw in front of him. He actually almost whistled he was so impressed. Then he saw Emily grinning at him.

"I know, aren't they cool?"

Running along the length of the upstairs wall, Dave had a museum quality display of handguns and rifles dating all the way back to a Revolutionary War musket.

Hotch reached out to touch what appeared to be an original Colt .45 Peacemaker.

It was beautiful.

Just before his fingers made contact, he curled them back. It had just occurred to him that perhaps Dave didn't like them to be handled.

"I did the same thing," he heard Emily say. And when he turned to look at her she gave him a soft smile, "but I went for the Marlin rifle."

Seeing his look of confusion she pointed further down the wall, "it was one of Annie Oakley's favorites."

His lip quirked up as he walked over to take a look.

"It's nice," he raised his eyebrow as he looked back at Emily, "it's not HERS is it?'

Hotch knew Dave had made a considerable amount of money off his book sales, and the vintage gun collection didn't surprise him, but he didn't think Rossi was actually rounding up famous guns of the Wild West.

Emily's fingers ghosted over the outline of the rifle as she shook her head. "No," she said softly, "it's not hers. But she had one just like this."

Though Emily's female heroes ran the gamut, she really was a big fan of Annie Oakley's. Not that she'd performed any particular courageous act, but just the whole way she'd lived her life. Showing the world that women could beat men at their own games, that sex was not indicative of ability.

She'd broken down barriers like nobody before her ever had. And that was something to truly admire.

Emily scowled as she thought of what passed for role models for young girls these days . . . a bunch of spoiled, whorish, shallow celebutantes that contributed nothing to the world but an increased need for shots of penicillin after they passed through town.

"Prentiss, you okay?"

Hotch's brow wrinkled slightly . . . she had a funny look on her face.

At Hotch's question, Emily turned and looked at him.

"What?" She smiled, "oh yeah, sorry, my mind wandered for a second." Then she spun around and pointed, "down here," she started walking as she continued talking.

"Dave said there were five bedrooms up here when he moved in but he converted two of them into a library slash study." She turned the knob to enter the room she'd only poked her head into earlier in the night. Then she looked back at Hotch with a little smile.

"Here we go."


They settled into the small library with Emily's bottle of wine and the two glasses she'd purloined from the cabinet before they'd come upstairs. And then Emily realized that she'd forgotten to get a corkscrew when she got the glasses so she watched with no small amount of amusement as Hotch uncorked the bottle using only his pocket knife and a steady stream of obscenities muttered under his breath.

Finally it popped out . . . in two pieces . . . and she grinned at him across the small leather sofa, "well done, sir!"

Hotch's lips twitched slightly as he filled the glasses sitting on the small coffee table in front of them, "yes, well, as I believe I've mentioned before, I was a Boy Scout."

"Yes," Emily chuckled as she kicked her heels off and pulled her feet up under her, "I do recall you mentioning that the night you showed up at my house selling door to door pizzas. But I just hadn't realized that Boy Scouts gave out badges for creative opening of liquor bottles."

Hotch raised his eyebrow in disapproval as he handed her one of the half full glasses he'd just poured, "it's a private society Prentiss, I really can't get into it."

Her eyes crinkled as she took the glass from his hand, "I see, well perhaps someday Dan Brown will write a book about them and I'll get the full story."

Emily had started to notice that Hotch could occasionally be quite funny when he was in the right mood. Of course getting him to that right mood meant getting him out of whatever unpleasant mood he was most likely to be found in.

Essentially the Funny Hotch was a fleeting phenomenon that came and went almost before you knew something special had happened. Like a comet.

Or a seeing a forty year old hooker with all of her own teeth.

Hotch smirked at Emily's joke, "dare to dream Prentiss."

All right. And seeing her start to chuckle, he took a sip of the fruity red wine. Now he was starting to feel a bit better about his decision to stay a little longer at the party. Some of that crushing depression he'd been feeling for the past few days had started to lift. Not completely of course, but he didn't feel quite so miserable. And he knew that was Emily's doing.

Prentiss was . . . he thought back to the night Garcia was shot . . . well, Prentiss was often a comforting distraction from his problems. He wasn't sure exactly why that was though.

Perhaps . . . his eyes crinkled as she started talking about the fox and hounds painting Dave had on the opposite wall . . . because she so often disarmed him with a joke or one of her ridiculous remarks. And then before he knew it he'd be biting his lip to keep from laughing at something she'd said. And as she then made some baffling correlation between the painting and the bust size of the woman Derek had brought to the party, Hotch had to call on his considerable reserves of self control to keep from snorting the wine out of his nose.

All things considered he realized while leaning back against the fine Corinthian leather, this evening was certainly going better than he'd thought it would when he'd reluctantly agreed to the guilt soaked invitation.

And as they sat there alone together they had one drink, and then another, and then another, talking about things of absolutely no consequence. The weather, office gossip, garish holiday displays in store windows.

Emily's profound dislike of the new Frosty cartoon.

Mostly Hotch just followed along as Prentiss drifted from one topic to another. She did about 80% of the talking, but as the level of wine in the bottle dwindled ever lower he started getting slightly more loquacious.

And then he noticed that after he said something about morbid obesity rates for department store santas that Emily actually did snort wine out of her nose.

Her self control wasn't quite as rigid as his.

And then she started giggling hysterically as she tried unsuccessfully to wipe off her red cashmere sweater. He felt a little badly about the sweater . . . his Y chromosome had to admit she looked VERY nice in it . . . but as he looked over at her fruitless efforts, his mouth started to quiver and then he put his hand up to cover his own chuckle.

Things like this . . . she muttered a good natured profanity as she gave up on cleaning her ruined cashmere . . . were exactly what allowed him to forget his problems for a little while. Her lighter spirit could blow the darkness from the room.

It was nearly impossible to resist.

Emily's slightly buzzed brain shifted gears as something caught her eye and she suddenly bounded up.

"Ooh," she exclaimed, "look there's mistletoe hanging in the corner!"

Hotch pushed himself up slightly to see what she was pointing at. Then he barked a laugh.

"Prentiss! That's a FERN!"

She frowned at it, "are you sure?" then she raised a saucy eyebrow as she looked back at him, "because it looks to me like it's mistletoe."

Yes, it was indeed a fern. But it's not like she was trying to get lucky or anything. It's just that it was Christmas Eve and they were having a nice time talking like regular people and the wine was now gone and they were a teensy bit buzzed and she kind of wanted to end the night on a good note.

And a mistletoe kiss with a really cute guy (who just happened to be her boss) was a good note.

Really, her holiday blues hadn't completely left her. She hadn't even had a date in over a month and she was feeling a little sad knowing that she was moving into yet another calendar year and she STILL didn't have anyone in her life.

And Hotch was separated, and she knew that he'd been having a way more depressing week than she had so she thought a kiss might cheer him up too. Yes, she knew that he was working on NOT being separated but still, it wouldn't be inappropriate for them to share a friendly little mistletoe kiss.

Or . . . she eyed the droopy plant hanging down in front of her . . . fern kiss, as the case may be.

Hotch stood up, eyeing Emily seriously as he walked over to where she was standing. Then he looked up at the fern hanging over them. And then he started counting back all the months since he'd last kissed a woman.


He hadn't kissed a woman since June. It had been that long since he'd so much as KISSED a woman, let alone did anything else. And he had to admit that was a point that was seriously beginning to chafe. Though he knew that with the separation that he was legally clear to act on any and all urges, he'd had no interest in doing so. Well, he did of course have interest, but he was trying to put his marriage back together and acting on those urges held no real appeal beyond physical gratification.

It would have felt like cheating on his wife.

But when he looked back at Prentiss with her tight red sweater and the rosy blush on her cheeks from the alcohol, rather than seeing her like he usually did . . . as simply one of his agents, mostly . . . he saw her as the beautiful woman that she really was.

Eh . . . he took a step closer to her . . . what the hell.

It was just a mistletoe kiss. Or . . . he eyed it again . . . a half dead fern kiss. Whatever he called it, it was a legitimate excuse to act on one harmless little urge.

And before he allowed himself to think about it anymore than that, he put his hand on Emily's shoulder and leaned down to plant a quick kiss on her lips.

Though the kiss turned out to perhaps not be quite so quick as he'd planned . . . the alcohol and six months of celibacy might have tacked an extra twelve or fifteen seconds on there . . . but it was still a fairly chaste one.

Certainly mouths stayed shut.

And after those twenty or thirty total seconds had passed, he pulled back and licked his lip. And a second later, when Emily's lashes fluttered open he squeezed her shoulder as his lip quirked up.

"If you ever tell this story to JJ or Garcia, make sure that the fern is indeed mistletoe and that this happened downstairs and not upstairs with us alone behind a closed door."

Though he stood by his assessment that there was nothing inherently "inappropriate" in a mistletoe kiss, it was best that the story at least include ACTUAL mistletoe and not a dead houseplant.

Emily laughed as she reached up to wipe the smudge of red gloss from his lips, "got it sir!"

That was a pretty good kiss! Certainly way better than she'd been expecting for a quickie little mistletoe one.

Hotch flashed her a dimple as he turned back to grab their empty glasses and the bottle off the small table. Then he tipped his head towards the door.

"After you."

That was nice. The kissing was nice. Though as he thought about the last woman that he'd kissed . . . Haley, so many seasons ago . . . he started to feel that wave of depression roll up again.

But he pushed it down.

He didn't want to ruin the moment. It was the first time in a long time that he'd done something so simplistically pleasant as kiss an attractive woman.

Even if the kiss didn't really mean anything, it was still a moment he wanted to hold onto a little longer.

After Emily grabbed her heels off the floor they stepped out of the library and started back down the hall. As they walked along Hotch shifted his eyes down to her. Part of him really wanted to ask her if she'd like to get something to eat. But they didn't really do that, hang out together. He didn't do that with anyone actually.

Basically he just worked and went home and worked some more.

And until the women had guilted him into attending the Christmas party, that had been his plan for today too. It was Christmas Eve and he'd been planning on doing nothing but work on case files.

They were in the car.

And now he didn't really want to flip through crime scene photos . . . he really didn't want to do that at all . . . but he was afraid that as soon as he was alone again that he'd fall right back into his routine. So maybe . . . he bit his lip as he looked over at Prentiss again . . . it wouldn't be so awful if he asked her if she wanted to get something to eat.

It would kill a few more hours and then he could go home and go to bed. And then tomorrow he'd get to see Jack. Not first thing in the morning, but he did have his son in the afternoon. So that was something to look forward to.

The trick now was to just keep his spirits from dragging again, to try to keep the focus on the good thing coming . . . Jack . . . as opposed to the bad things that had already happened . . . the disintegration of his family unit.

Just as he was about to open his mouth, Prentiss bumped his arm.

"Hey," she said softly, "you wouldn't want to stop and get a bite to eat would you? I know it's kind of late but um," she bit her lip, "well, I don't really have any plans until tomorrow night. Dinner at my folks."

Though she really didn't have a clue what Hotch was doing for Christmas, she kind of figured from his generally melancholy state all week that if he was seeing his son at all it was going to be for a fairly minimal amount of time.

For a second Hotch didn't say anything, as many times as it had happened it always kind of threw him when she seemed to read his mind. Then he looked down at her with a little smile.

"Sure, I'd like that."

As she beamed at him he couldn't help flashing a dimple in return. "Though," a thought occurred to him, "I think we have to stick around a little longer. A half a bottle of wine and two beers on an empty stomach probably would not be conducive to safe driving."

That little observation dampened the wattage of Emily's smile as her brow wrinkled slightly, "oh yeah, that's true."

She'd kind of forgotten about the driving part. But she really didn't want to stick around any longer. She and Hotch had finished off the bottle of wine, she'd gotten her mistletoe kiss, and by Emily's thinking, this part of the evening was over.

And she wanted it over now before something happened to mess it up. Again, she was going for a high note here.

Just as Hotch started towards the staircase a thought popped into her head.

"I saw a coffee shop not far from here. You know, just before we got to Dave's cul de sac, I think it said they had Christmas Eve hours. Maybe we could walk down there and get some coffee, by the time we got back we'd be all sobered up."

Hotch's looked down at her sympathetically, "it's kind of cold out you know. Plus," his eyes dropped down to her heels dangling off her fingers, "you don't really want to walk in those, do you?"

Though he appreciated the sentiment . . . a short brisk walk and a cup of coffee was probably just what he needed . . . with her uncharacteristically dressed in a skirt and heels, she wasn't really dressed for extended outdoor activities. But seeing the wrinkle of disappointment in her brow as she looked down at her outfit, he thought of a compromise.

"How about we take a walk around the block and see how that goes?"

Emily looked up at him with a little smile, "yeah," she patted his arm, "that sounds good. I think I just need twenty minutes and a little fresh air and I'll be fine."

And if she wasn't then she'd just sit outside until she was.

"Okay," Hotch's eyes crinkled slightly as they started down the staircase.

"A walk around the block it is."

A/N 2: I kept hitting points here where I could have ended it and then decided what the hell, I'd stay with them a little longer. So there will be a part two to tie off the evening.

Kavi and I have been tidying up the prompts forum and as I was looking over the ones I hadn't done yet I had this image of them having a mistletoe kiss under a droopy fern. And that of course it was all Emily's idea. I could have made it a total one shot stand alone but I liked the idea of putting it as part of the Girl'verse just because there would be some context for their warmer off screen relationship. Plus I figured Hotch had a pretty lousy Christmas that year and I thought he deserved a couple of hours of distraction from what was most likely a fairly crushing depression over spending the holidays without his wife and son. And after I looked over chapter 34 in Girl, (which takes place three weeks later with them actually making out in the bathroom), I saw there was nothing in either of their thoughts there that precluded them having had a harmless, completely UNromantic, "mistletoe" kiss around the holidays. Again, almost six months separated I figure Girl Hotch (with a couple drinks in him) would be able to rationalize such an action to himself as being a harmless diversion.

It was interesting popping back into their old days pre hot and heavy bathroom make out. Even though they were very fond of one another, back then they still had that slight barrier between them. I actually think this chapter adds something to Girl because there's more of their personal feelings for one another (and their respective life situations) than I'd been able to work into the canon episode chapters. This one definitely now would set up the circumstances that led to what happened when he got the divorce papers.

It's clear that Dave being successful author guy (riding around in a limo on his book tour) has to have money, serious money. And he doesn't spend it on clothes (!) so I decided that he'd have bought himself a nice house. That's what I'd do. If you had the money to buy just a perfect place and put in all the stuff you wanted, paid for up front with no debt or mortgage, why wouldn't you do that? And I definitely think he'd have a wine cellar, and I think he'd have a gun collection. That's my take on Dave, other people might have different takes but I think mine is "consistent" with what we know of him. And I know we've been to his house once but all we've ever seen of his home (I think) was that little snippet from his first episode. And that was so minimal I just kind of built on what we didn't see. It's not a mansion, just one of those really big houses you see in the new developments.

I gave Dave the big family in the chapter revolving around Garcia being shot. I thought this was a good place to let them make a little cameo. I have this idea for a larger offshoot story (spinning off The Hours) that would be JJ/Rossi so this was kind of a good place to start expanding some Girl background on Dave's life.

My brain totally went off on this unplanned, unexpected tangent and I didn't end up cleaning up any of the stuff I'd actually intended to get up this weekend. So funny I can write 10,000 words out of the blue on THIS, yet it's been like a month since I posted on Girl proper and that next chapter is barely a FIFTH the size of this one! Yeah, I don't get it either.

Sometime this week I'll get the rest of it up. I really would like to get the next regular Girl chapter tidied up for the next posting anywhere.

Prompt Announcement: Kavi and I are putting up a new forum sometime this week. It will be challenges related to authors and book/short story titles. First up: Stephen King! So if you're interested in new prompts, you'll be able to link to it off our profiles. Like the TV Prompt, we'll include a thread where people can suggest their own titles too.

As always, big thanks for all the feedback. I'm way behind on responses but I'm hoping to get back to everyone by the weekend :) And Friday is my birthday! I'll save you the next chapter of Fracture as a post for the big holiday that exists solely in my mind ;)