CHAPTER 3

PROMPT: The Friendship Business (Saved by the Bell)

Emily Prentiss was used to doing very difficult things. She'd grown up as the only child of an Ambassador that moved around Europe and Russia. She'd been raised in more foreign countries than most children went to in a lifetime. But she'd also grown up largely alone. So alone, she'd been forced into a decision at fifteen she'd never expected to face. She'd stared down some of the worst criminals. Yet nothing seemed harder than her first few weeks at the Academy.

There had always been part of her that loved to teach, but the bigger part of her, upon getting into the FBI, had focused on the BAU. The minds, the cases, the everything. But now, she'd accomplished that. She'd been part of the most elite unit in the Bureau and that left her uniquely qualified for the courses she'd been assigned to teach.

But, as she discovered, there was a lot she hadn't anticipated.

She didn't know there was a cliquiness to being part of the Academy. She'd never thought, even for a moment, that being one of the key players on Hotch's team would actually leave her more alienated. Sure, she was a bit awkward by nature, not quite sure how to react to people in social situations, but what she was experiencing with the Academy was something totally different.

And it wasn't the "higher-ups". The management loved her, loved her credentials, loved the idea of having someone in close reach that could fill in on some of the language courses if they needed her, but her colleagues…Well, none of them were really all that forthcoming.

She dropped down into the leather of her chair after her last class of her third week with a hefty sigh. She had no plans, none whatsoever. It wasn't necessarily surprising. Even when she worked for the BAU, if they weren't off in some city that wasn't home, she mostly spent her Friday nights at home. With all of the travelling they did, and all of the work, Emily liked having the time at home, to herself, to decompress. The violence and the death… Well, that had been the reason she'd left, hadn't it?

She dropped her head into her hands with a soft groan. She'd been so excited about the new job. It gave her a chance to get away, to experience something that didn't involve so much death and when it did, she could address it clinically and without being looked at as some sort of… reptile for being able to compartmentalize and put it all aside for her own sanity. This was something different.

She felt like her students hated her. She felt like they looked down on her. She felt like they were barely listening to two words she said. At first, she'd chalked it up to the fact that it always took time to return to school in the fall, even for her, but this seemed above and beyond. And they were now three weeks in.

Emily had been damned good at being a BAU agent, so she knew the type of students that were in her classes. She saw the ones that didn't believe she could predict behaviour. She saw the keeners that seemed to want nothing more than to talk about what it was like to work with The Aaron Hotchner and The David Rossi. It was disconcerting and irritating because she had a lesson plan. But all they wanted to hear about were her actual cases where Dave or Hotch had done something particularly heroic.

She blew out a stream of air and lifted her head long enough to reach for her mailbox. It was the little envelope she found there that was surprising. It was addressed to her, and it was yellow, but even with the colour she couldn't find it in herself to associate it with happy at the moment. She opened it swiftly and easily, withdrawing the card that came with it.

And almost immediately burst into tears.

Because there, in childish handwriting, was a note from Jack Hotchner, wishing her well and telling her to bring a good teaching. She was just wiping the tear from her eye when the knock sounded on her door. Since it was open, she tried to do a better job at collecting herself before looking up.

And nearly burst into tears – again – at the familiar and friendly face. A face which almost immediately crumpled into concern.

"Emily? Is everything okay?"

She sucked in a deep breath and nodded, waving the card his way. "You have a fantastic son, Aaron."

He smiled, his work smile, but a smile nonetheless, and stepped fully into her office. "And that's what's making you cry?"

"No," she admitted, sighing, then sniffling. "It's… been a rough couple of weeks."

His brow wrinkled, just slight enough that she could recognize it as concern. After working so long, she had each of his micro-expressions down to a science. "Is everything okay?"

She played with the corner of the card for a moment, considering. Hotch was one of her closest friends, as odd as the concept was, but she didn't want him stepping in to fix this. This was her problem, and she was going to be the one to deal with it. But, she also knew Hotch. Telling him about the problem would trigger his hero complex, his inherent need to fix. And yet, he was her best friend. There was an odd sense of obligation to tell him.

"It's just… an adjustment," she answered evasively. "It's a change."

"A change." The tone of his voice told her that he didn't believe her, that he knew she was hiding something.

Emily sighed, almost in exasperation. "The Academy's a little cliquey, okay?" she finally answered. "It's like starting at the BAU all over again, though this time it's not about trust is about the assumption that I think I'm better than everyone because my mother's an ambassador, because I come from your team, because I'm a profiler."

And that was the hole in the dam. He took a seat in front of her desk as she let it all out, as she vented about eating lunch in her office – alone – and the problems she was getting from her students. She ranted about how she felt like a leper, how annoying it was to walk through the hall and virtually have people avoid her. She rarely talked to any of her colleagues. She was in tears by the time she finished and she wiped at them in embarrassment.

"I'm sorry," she said when she managed to get it all under control. "I shouldn't have…"

"You should have," Hotch interrupted. There was fire in his eyes, but his face was outwardly concerned. Had he expected, even for a moment, that the Academy would be so discriminatory, he never would have encouraged her to take the job. He'd taught at the Academy, more than once, and Gideon had turned to teaching while recovering from PTSD. But this? This was unheard of. At least to him. "Even if you're not a member of my team anymore, I thought you knew we weren't going to just abandon you."

She almost winced. She hadn't meant to hold back from them, really. They'd been on a case for two weeks and, knowing the way cases worked, she'd refrained from contacting them. She didn't want to interrupt, not with problems that were nothing compared to whatever they were facing. "You guys were… away."

"Emily, how many times have we dealt with personal things while on a case?" he pointed out. He paused for a moment, then said, "Jack misses you. How about you come over for dinner?"

"Hotch, no. You guys just got home." Yesterday. "And I couldn't intrude." Didn't want to bring her depression on Jack. "Really, I'm going to be fine." She was going to go drown her depression in a tearjerker and a glass of wine.

But Hotch was already shaking his head. "It really wasn't a question."

Hotch kept an eye on her as she packed up her office, as they walked out together and as they drove to Jessica's house to retrieve his son. She looked exhausted, looked like there was a bit of a permanent frown in the corners of her mouth and he hated that she'd been battling this. He didn't like that look at all. But he had faith in his little six-year-old son. The boy had an uncanny ability of cheering up anyone he came into contact with. He was the light in Hotch's life and he was more than willing to share Jack's healing powers if it would fix the wrinkle in her brow.

When he pulled to a stop and put the car in park, he turned to her and cocked his head. "Come get him."

Emily shook her head. She still wasn't totally sure where she stood with Jessica. There was a part of her that felt that the woman looked at her like a homewrecker, looked at her as at least part of the reason her sister's marriage fell apart. Emily could understand that theory, knew that the BAU took up so much time that it probably wasn't far from the truth to say that the agents were married to their jobs. Plus, it was odd enough that Hotch was driving her home, let alone coming with Hotch to pick up Jack. The last thing she wanted was anyone getting the wrong idea.

So Hotch jogged up the lawn and seemed totally unsurprised when the door slammed open and his son came racing down the grass. Emily smiled at the picture of father and son, Jack obviously nattering on and on about his day and it didn't even look like the little body perched on his father's hip was taking a breath. Emily felt some of the stress lift, just watching his happy little face.

Hotch and Jessica exchanged words and Jack collected his backpack and then they were headed her way. Jack's eyes lit up when he caught sight of her in the window and he raced over to the car, trying with all his little might to open the back seat. Hotch was close on his heels however, and he helped Jack open the door.

"Em'ly!"

"Why hello Mr Jack," Emily replied with a smile there was no way she could hold in. It was no surprise that Hotch toted Jack as his sanity. It was difficult to feel depressed or upset with such a happy little boy.

Of course, he wasn't always happy. He was only six, and still kind of adjusting to the death of his mother. Emily had been around for some of the more violent tantrums. She knew Jack wasn't completely settled about his mother's death and she probably would have been terrified if he was, but most of the time, he was happy. And his happiness was contagious.

"Daddy! Is Em'ly coming for eats?"

"Dinner," Hotch said with a chuckle that was very relaxed. He liked days like this, days where Emily and Jack were making noise in his apartment. It felt like home in so many ways and it was so important to him that Jack have influences like Emily in his life. With the death of her father when she was young and how close Emily had been to her dad, she was integral in helping Jack get through Haley's murder.

Jack turned his little eyes to Emily and she caught the adorable dark eyes in the rearview mirror. "Are you Em'ly?"

"Am I staying for dinner?" Emily inquired innocently. "Well, your dad invited me, but only if you want me to."

"Daddy! Em'ly's staying for dinner! Does that mean you can watch Buzz and Woody with me?" Jack asked.

Hotch shot Emily a sympathetic look. Jack's obsession with Toy Story had started when Jessica had taken him to see the third instalment of the series and the six-year-old hadn't let up. Hotch had seen the movie almost enough to say it line for line. Emily had also seen it more times than she really wanted to count, but she shot a smile over her shoulder at Jack.

"I think I can do that," she allowed, glad that Jack was too innocent to see the pain in her gaze.

"Yay!"

And how was she supposed to battle with that? Emily sighed, relaxing into her seat and shooting a small smile at Hotch when he looked over. The last three weeks were fading with the smile of a good friend and his smiling son. The weight on her shoulders lifted slightly and she closed her eyes as she settled into the seat.

Three hours later, she was in a similar pose on Hotch's couch, now fed and with Jack cuddled on her lap. Toy Story 2 had just finished on the television and Emily was glad to feel Jack inhaling and exhaling rhythmically against her. Her arms were wrapped around him, cuddling him tight and, if she was honest, it was the best she'd felt since she left the BAU.

"He's good like that."

She looked up to see Hotch holding the glass of water he'd offered her when the credits of the movie started rolling. She accepted it with the hand not supporting Jack's body. She wasn't surprised Hotch could tell that Jack had made her feel even just that little bit lighter. Heck, the whole night had.

She shifted with Jack and offered him a smile. "Thanks for letting me in on your cure-all," she replied, her smile softening as she looked down at Jack's dark head. "I needed it."

"It'll get better," he said, though there was something in his voice that didn't sound sure.

Emily swallowed. "And if it's not?"

Hotch reached over, squeezing the arm wrapped around Jack. "You always have us."

She snuggled Jack just a little bit closer. Hotch wasn't much for reaching out, but when he did, he always did it with the utmost sincerity. She had no doubt that if she ever needed someone, needed a place, needed human contact, she could call him and he would be there. She offered him a smile that said more than words could. Then she turned her gaze back to Jack, brushing a hand over his head.

"I should probably get going," she said quietly. She watched him stand and helped him shift the sleeping boy into his father's arms. She gathered her things as Hotch tucked Jack into bed and he smiled at her when he returned.

She reached out and squeezed his arm. "Thank you. For tonight."

"No thank you necessary," he replied as her hand lingered, then fell away. "I'm just glad we could help."

Emily smiled as he held the door open for her and slipped out. He called her back, just before she hit the front door. She looked up quizzically.

"Jack wants to go to the zoo tomorrow," he told her. "Come with us."

She shook her head. "I don't want to cut into the little time you have with him."

"You're not cutting into my time, Emily. I'm inviting you."

The smile she shot him was wide and bright, both wider and brighter than any smile she'd offered him that night. "I'd like that."

"Good," he said, then he smiled. "Goodnight Emily."

Emily echoed his smile. "Goodnight Hotch."

She all but skipped down his front stairs. Suddenly, her weekend, her week, her month, was looking up. All because of a little boy and the hidden depths in his father.


I don't think we're going to see the day at the zoo. We'll see. But probably not. Having said that, with my muse, anything is possible. It's been on crack recently and going all haywire. One minute, I'm writing Criminal Minds, the next, it's NCIS LA. I think my muse needs to go to rehab but the convincing part's been difficult.

Good news though! For those of you who are following Memoir, we're just putting the finishing touches on the chapter and then it'll be up. So look for it in the next week!

Reviews are love. But you guys know that.