~ Promise ~

Only them. Only they knew the truth. He and JJ. They knew she was alive. But, yet, Hotch felt miserable. Empty.

It was to protect her, he understood that. He swore that he would. That his team would. But the risk of being honest with them was too high. Doyle had gotten away, and the entire group knowing the coffin they saw go down, into the earth, was unoccupied, wouldn't be safe. That's why only he and JJ knew.

And he was angry. At himself. He didn't do his job. His job was to protect his team under any circumstances. He's the leader, the man the others rely on. But he failed. Maybe that was the reason he felt so miserable. Because it was his responsibility, and he failed.

Why, he wondered, did I tell Clyde I couldn't kill him? Yes, it was against his oath, the oath he made when he became a cop, an agent, and he never broke the rules, he always obeyed them; but it was worth it. She was worth it.

However, another part of his brain kept reminding him that it hadn't been his fault. She had decided not to tell them. Not to put them in danger. And who wouldn't be grateful for that? She chose the team, her family, over herself. He knew that she was willing to die if that action saved them. He would've done the same thing. And she almost did. No one could blame her for letting Doyle ran away; she was injured, she almost died. He just hoped she was alright.

He remembered, clearly, what JJ told him, assured him, "She'll be okay", and his response was just an "I know".

That had been four days ago, in the hospital, and now, he sat on his couch, a glass filled with scotch in his hand, and tears on his eyes. He didn't cry when JJ announced it, nor at the funeral. His eyes did get watery, but the tears never fell.

He had watched the team fall apart. Reid sob in JJ's arms. Garcia lean into Morgan, tears clouding their sight. Rossi sinking in his seat, Seaver beside him looking lost, not knowing what to do. And, still, he didn't shed a tear.

Now he did. He now realized she wasn't coming back. Not when Doyle was out there. If the man ever found out she was alive, he'd go after her again, this time to make her take him to his son. That's why the team couldn't know. What if he was watching them? At the funeral? If the team hadn't been kept in the dark, Doyle would've known.

Hotch sighed and placed his untouched drink on the table. He couldn't take away his sorrow with alcohol. If he did, then he'd have to drink every day. And that was not right. He couldn't just think about himself, about his needs. He had Jack. And he had a team to lead.

He was about to go upstairs and try to sleep, to forget anything related to her departure for a while, when he heard a knock on his door, and the buzz of his cell phone.

Since the mobile was nearer he quickly walked toward it and opened it to find a message from his ex-media liaison.

"You better answer the door", it read. Why would JJ text him when she could easily wait for him to open? , he asked himself as his hand closed around the knob and his eyes peeked through the peephole. He spotted the silhouette of a woman, her eyes seemed to be fixed on the floor, and she wore a fedora hat.

"JJ? What are you-" he said as he opened the door but he couldn't finish the sentence. The woman had lifted her head and instead of meeting the blue, with a little tint of gray, color that were the blonde's eyes, he met a dark brown, almost black, pair.

While he took in her tired appearance, the cut just above her lip, her slightly swollen nose, the white coat that protected her from the cold night, and the way she leaned forward a little, in pain, because of the stab she'd received a few days ago; she just stared back at him. Waiting for him to react. But he stood there, motionless, a million thoughts running through his mind.

"Hey" she said, taking the initiative. Her hand touched his arm lightly, bringing him back to reality.

Hotch blinked a couple of times, the little drops of water that had threatened to fall from his eyes retreating. "How- you- come in", he struggled with the words. What was he supposed to say when his mind seemed to have gone blank?

"Thanks" she responded and stepped through the threshold, taking off her hat and coat.

He awkwardly followed her to the couch he'd been sitting, not five minutes ago; sinking on the cushion next to her.

"I'm sure, you're wondering what I am doing here and…" she stopped and pulled on the sleeve of her blouse, nervously, "… I don't have much time so… " she paused again and took a deep breath "You're the only one, apart from JJ, that I can say goodbye to. That's why I am here. I also wanted to thank you, for finding me and-"

"You don't have to thank me" Hotch interrupted, "And, you don't need to say goodbye. You're not leaving forever"

Emily shook her head "No. I do have to thank you. I have to thank all of you. You never stopped searching, and I'm grateful. But I pulled you guys into my mess. That's why I didn't tell you what was happening. Because it was my problem to solve"

"Not anymore" he said and slowly moved his hand so it rested on top of hers.

"I know. I know you, and the team, will, well, deal with this. For me. But, you're wrong. I do have to say goodbye, because what if this never ends? What if he finds Declan? What if he discovers I'm alive? I won't ever come back" she replied and started to get agitated.

Hotch grabbed her shoulders gently and then lifted her chin so she was looking directly into his eyes. "Emily. I'll catch him. I promised to Clyde, that I'll save you. I did. But now, I swear, to you, that I'll catch him. I'll make sure he doesn't bother you again. You have my word"

Unexpectedly, in a very un-Hotch like manner, he pulled her into a tight hug.

With those words he'd promised to do what he'd denied to the British man. Kill Doyle. That was the only viable solution he could think of. Putting him back in jail wasn't safe. He could easily escape again. He had to finish him. Put a bullet between his eyes.

He felt the woman in his arms shake and tears stain his shirt so he started rubbing her back. Emily responded to the action by gripping his shirt like it was the only thing that kept her on Earth, and Hotch felt weird.

A rare sensation boiled up in his stomach, it was very similar to the butterflies you sensed when you were with the person you- Oh no.

No, no, no, no. I can't have feelings like that for her. Not now! he thought.

"Hotch?" her voice said, having felt him tense up. She leaned back and was surprised to see how close their faces were. She, suddenly, went nervous.

Aaron was no better. When their faces had came inches apart he had the urge to place his lips on hers. But he couldn't. She's leaving, you don't know where you are going to see her again, a voice in his head kept saying.

Emily's eyes seemed to be glued to her supervisor's mouth. She wanted to kiss those lips so badly. Emily! Get yourself together!, her brain yelled at her. It may be the last time I see him!, she responded. I don't care, brain said. Oh screw you.

And she moved forward, melting her lips with his.

She imagined it would be just a small peck; she didn't expect him to respond as eagerly as he was. His hands took a hold of her head and caressed her cheeks and hair, while tasting her soft and vanilla scented lips.

He was about to lay her down when his phone buzzed again, and not five seconds later, hers did too.

They, reluctantly, separated and picked up the phones.

It's time, both read. A message from JJ.

Emily quickly stood up and grabbed her things, checking her watch. "I have to go" she told him.

"I know" he replied as he accompanied her to the door, his hand on the small of her back.

She stopped before stepping out of his apartment and turned around. She wrapped an arm around his neck and kissed him once more.

"I'll miss-" she started saying against his lips.

"I will see you soon"

Emily smiled and leaned in to kiss his cheek. Her fingers ran through his hair a last time and then she was gone. The elevator doors rang when they closed.

"I promise"

Author's Note: Yes, I believe she'll come back. I actually have a season finale idea that revolves around Hotch and Prentiss.

And, yes, of course I cried while watching Lauren.

Hope you enjoyed.