In Reality

Samuel Singleton -Because I Love You Gift Certificate

She's glad it doesn't happen because of a case.

In their line of work, it's usually a given, usually normal, and it's not surprising. Reaffirmation is a big part of their jobs and their lives. But that isn't the foundation for a strong relationship. It isn't a foundation for anything positive or productive. It's temporary, momentary and she's glad, considering what they have now, that that isn't what starts it.

It doesn't happen out of personal tragedy.

Once again, she feels like that's a good thing. Largely, she recognizes that it's the same as case work, the same reaffirmation, the same need for something happy and tangible, if only momentary. People are tangible. Emotions are not. And that's why she's glad. The fact that it means nothing bad has happened, that there is no pain to endure goes far in helping her feel glad.

It doesn't happen because of a tradition.

There's no 'kiss me, I'm Irish', no mistletoe, no pity date on Valentine's and no midnight kiss on New Years' Eve. They're not that cliché and she's pretty sure he doesn't believe in most of them anymore. Which is okay, because when it does happen, she knows it's real, knows there's no excuses and that in itself is a heady feeling.

"You're thinking too hard."

She smiles and tilts her head back to accept his kiss. She's sitting on his couch – shifted under the window because of the massive Christmas tree – watching the snow fall. It's long after the holiday festivities, it's long after even the smallest of children is tucked safely in bed. He brushes her shoulder and she shifts so he can slip in behind her.

"Am not," she replies when they're settled, eyes back on the falling white. "Just… remembering."

"Remembering what?"

She knows what this is. They play this game a lot. He loves to see how her brain works, loves to play in her head. She's okay with it, only because she's taken it upon herself to outsmart him. She's pretty sure when it comes to the score, they're tied.


He hums against her back and she smiles. "Which 'us'."

"The you and me, 'us'," she replies, the smile obvious in her voice. She's going to make him guess. She wants to make him guess. Because as much as this game is about getting into her head and outsmarting him, it's about getting into his head too.

"As opposed to you and me?"

She rolls her eyes. If she told anyone this is what he's like away from the office, she's pretty sure she'd get a bunch of incredulous stares. "You're incorrigible."

"And you're warm."

His hands slips under the edge of her shirt to lie flat on her stomach and her muscles quiver. She knows exactly what he's going for, so she rests her hand over his, the fabric of her shirt between them. His fingers still immediately and she knows they're both just taking in the moment.

Things are different now. Now there's more laughter. There's more time away from the office. There are more smiles, more days off, more vacations, and more time just spent like this. It's surprising how much can change over time and they both know that there is more to this than most people think. People see them as the couple that would never be; an anomaly. But they know differently. They know there's more to them. Their relationship is as much about what they create together as it is about who they are apart.

They've never lost themselves in this. Sometimes it's scary. Most of the time, it's beautiful.

"I should thank you," she says after a quiet moment.

"For what?"

She pauses now. She wants to get the words exactly right, not only because of what they're going to mean, but because of what she wants them to mean.

After all, Christmas has never been her favourite. In fact, she hates it. But it's hard to hate a holiday with a chipper six-year-old hell bent on including her in every single tradition. Because she doesn't have any. Christmas has always been a very formal affair to her. Formal parties, pretty dresses, and superficial small talk. She can remember awkward moments under the mistletoe and careful, meticulous planning and decorating.

This Christmas has been the exact opposite.

The tree that's lighting up the room has mismatched ornaments. There's no theme in sight amongst the copious amounts of garland and lights. It looks like a cozy, happy home, something she hasn't failed to tell him time and time again. She knows it means a lot. Even after a year of being a single parent, she knows he worries. He doesn't have to, but it's kind of endearing that he does.

"For giving me Christmas," she says finally.

His thumb circles on her skin though he says nothing in reply. He doesn't really have to. They've had this argument a million times. She likes him – loves him – because of exactly who he is, exactly what he's fought for, what he's overcome because of what he's lost. He thinks he's too broken and damaged to give her what she needs. He's making assumptions in saying so and they've come to an impasse where there's an unspoken agreement to disagree. So she knows his response would be a disagreement and is glad they're not going to have the argument again.

"This is one of my better ones," he says finally, sliding one of his hands out from beneath her shirt to brush her hair off of her shoulder. He presses a butterfly kiss to her neck and she smiles, wide and bright. It never ceases to amaze her than a man that is such a hardass on the job is this tender away from it. When they're on the job, he treats her like any other agent. When they're off the job, she's porcelain and glass. She'd find it funny if it weren't so mind-boggling.

Then, he's clearing his throat with surprising awkwardness and she turns to look at him in curious confusion.

"There's one more thing."

He's out from behind her before she can so much ask any of the questions that statement evokes. She settles on pouting instead missing his warmth as he heads to the Christmas tree. From the branches, he pulls a small box.

She sighs as he brings the box over. "You're not supposed to spoil me like this."

They've already both gone overboard, for each other, and for Jack so the extra gift both makes her giddy and guilty.

"It's not a big deal," he tells her as he settles in behind her again. "Open it."

The lid isn't sealed, and the gift isn't wrapped, so Emily lifts the lid and curiously lifts out the paper inside.

This entitles Miss Emily Prentiss to a weekend vacation at a moment's notice.

She's shocked by the words. He isn't one to take impromptu vacations because – as he likes to believe – he never gets stressed enough to need them. And especially not for forty-eight hours. She glances up at him, her surprise obvious, then back at the page and it's 'fine print'.

No cell phones. No work files. No e-mails.

It's asking a lot of him. He's made plenty of shifts to accommodate the single father status, but this is beyond the steps he's already taken to get out of work every once in a while. This is completely separating himself from the office, stepping away from the murder and mayhem they constantly experience. She's not sure she's capable of it, but the gesture doesn't go unnoticed. She swallows thickly as she turns her head up to look at him.


He swallows too and she feels her eyes widening despite the fact that she barely has an inkling of the bomb he's about to drop.

"Because I love you."

Her heart patters to a metaphorical stop in her chest as she stares at him, mouth slightly agape. He's said it. Actually said it; three words she never in a million years thought she'd hear from him first. He's so adorably nervous, but she can't get past her absolute certainty that she's dreaming.

"What?" she whispers in hope and in awe.

"I love you," he says again.

And she knows she's living every trite romantic phrase in the book. Her heart is soaring into the clouds as she continues to stare at him like he's grown an extra head. He loves her. And he actually said it. She's not totally sure which way's up and which is down.

"Oh my God." It's not the three words he's looking for, and she knows that, but she's still pleasantly shocked and surprised that the words came out of his mouth first. "Oh my God."

He wants to take it as a good sign, as a reciprocation of his feelings but there's an uncomfortable twisting in his gut that lets him know he's not sure of it. Still, when she twists around to kiss him soundly, he responds and wraps her up tight in his arms.

"I love you too," she finally says as she pulls away. His heart settles into place and he lets a smile he saves just for her sprout over his face. She's grinning, eyes shining, and he can't stop himself from thinking of princes, princesses, castles and happily-ever-afters. Though he will never, ever admit to it.

"God, Aaron, I love you too."

And that's how it really happens.

I guess this could be seen as OOC. But since we're putting Hotch in a situation with Em we've never seen and aren't likely to see, I feel comfortable arguing that it may not be. Though I probably took a few creative licenses when it comes to how cavity inducing this while scene feels.

Before I sign off on this one, I do truly want to thank those of you who read this. I know I've been terrible for updating, but I can't put into words how nice it is to come back to my proverbial home and still have people willing not only to read, but to be so extremely patient in waiting for updates. I do apologize that it took me so long, and I hope you enjoyed every second of this.