Ok so I won't continue to be mean, here is the real ending a short little piece to make it all better again. If there's one thing that you should about me by now it's that I am a sucker for a happy ending. End of story. Nothing more to say.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed this piece and made it evolve from a little idea in a proper twelve chaptered story. I hope that you have enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
My author's note is the same as ever: I DO NOT own Criminal Minds, its plots or characters and all recognisable dialogues will be marked in italics. Also the title of this chapter is taken by the song of the same name by Chris De Burgh, so credit where's due.
"A girl in a red dress can do without introductions, but not without a body guard." Rona Jaffe.
She swung her car into a space in the parking lot, not failing to notice with some irony that it was the space she had always considered to be hers. She killed the engine and pulled the key from the ignition, holding it tightly for a moment. The feel of the serrated edge as it dug into the soft skin of her palm, strangely comforting. After a while she jolted herself with some difficulty from her trance like state and pulled down the visor, staring into the small vanity mirror mounted upon it.
She smoothed down a stray tendril of her hair, now grown out and used the tip of her thumb to remove the faint trace of lip stain which had blotted in the corner of her mouth. She was nervous, not about the professional aspect of her presence here, although this was the first time she would be expected to prove her worth as a freelance profiler among people who knew her. She was more nervous about being back here and facing those demons she had managed to run from for a year. She drew in a nervous breath and held it for a few seconds as she got slowly out of her car, locked it and proceeded towards the entrance of the Bureau.
She got into the elevator hitting the button for the fifth floor. She smiled at and greeted an older agent whose name escaped her but who recognised her and headed towards the reception desk. She did not recognise the young agent behind the desk but after giving her name and credentials she received a gratifying "ah so you're Agent Prentiss" which left her smiling as she pinned on her visitor's pass and headed back towards the elevator preparing to make the ascent to the twelfth floor and a life which seemed now to have been long dead.
"JJ I don't understand. Why does this case need the assistance of an outside agency?" She heard him say in his soothing quiet and yet unmistakably rattled voice as she stopped just around the corner from the entrance to the bull pen to listen.
"Come on Hotch you know how sensitive these cases are, you know Strauss almost had a breakdown last time." The blonde told him, seemingly prepared for this fight.
"But we have Morgan and his experience..." He sounded petulant.
"Yes but this case isn't just about bomb disposal, these guys are a very realistic threat and we need someone whose speciality is understanding terrorist cells, this isn't one we can do alone." Her voice seemed to be receding as the two agents made their way into the bull pen and to the team.
"Well who is it? Surely I should have been informed about the type of agency we're bringing in on this – been introduced?" He asked, pulling rank on her.
"It's not an agency and the only reason Strauss didn't ask for your clearance is because she thought you wouldn't mind using the skill of an old friend." JJ told him with a small smile as over her shoulder she saw the woman in question.
"Which friend? He asked bluntly.
"Me." Emily whispered and she needed no further introduction.
He turned towards her slowly as if the task was the greatest burden he could have suffered and when he did, she noticed how once again he had changed. His hair was slightly salt and peppered and his face seemed to be gaunter somehow that it had been the last time she had seen him. She wondered briefly if this further change had solely to do with her or whether there were other factors at play. He seemed lost for words and during his silence the rest of the team took their opportunity to reacquaint themselves with their friend.
She returned their enthusiasm with gusto but she kept her eyes fixed on him throughout the barrage of hugs and kisses she received (mostly from Penelope) and she realised that to say he was less than thrilled was an understatement He was shooting her looks which had they the power, would have killed her.
She broke away from her friends stepping closer to him and noticing that he took an instinctive step back. She couldn't say she was surprised, she had expected this but the coldness in his eyes hurt the most.
"Hello Hotch." She used his surname to keep this professional for the time being.
He was silent as he studied her, taking in her newly grown out brunette hair and the fact that she wore that red wraparound dress which had famously got the men here talking. She looked more like her old self but there were subtle changes. Her usually flat abdomen bore a slight curve and he did not stop to consider what that meant. He didn't know what he had expected- that the baby she had been carrying a year ago would miraculously disappear perhaps? But the thought that she had become a mother in her time away and that he wasn't the father of the child nor had been a part of its life did not appeal to him.
"What are you doing here?" He asked the question more vicious than he had intended it to be.
The maliciousness of the question took her breath away and she couldn't seem to formulate an answer.
Instead JJ handled the question as she would if she had been in a press conference. "Come on Hotch, Emily's expertise lies in counter-terrorism we need her here... For the case." She told him, ready to defend her friend.
"Yeah isn't it great Hotch? The old team back together again?" Garcia practically squealed.
He paused sucking in the pain Garcia's excitement caused him before replying. "No actually. It isn't." He told them all callously, grimacing at the combined shock of Garcia's gasp and Emily's hurt expression.
"Hotch..." Rossi spoke in a tone of warning.
"I'm sorry but I can't lie." He told them, turning his back and heading for his office.
She was stunned into motionless silence for a moment but then she snapped out it and powered towards him. "Hotch!" "Hotch!" She called after him a couple of times but when he failed to answer she resorted to taking this back to a more personal level.
"Aaron... Please wait." She begged.
He spun towards her quickly and as she watched him standing there, his nostrils flaring and his breathing heavy she realised why when all was said and done, he had been the one she had still be pining for after leaving Stephen.
"I'm sorry." She whispered.
"After a year that's all you have to say?" He asked and she could tell that he was still angry over her abandonment.
"What do you want me to say? That I made the wrong decision? Maybe it was wrong for you – because you didn't expect to be the one left behind – but newsflash – being someone's secret sucks. It sucks. I'm sorry you had to go through that but you only had to deal with it for one year. Try dealing with it for twenty two." She told him and she couldn't have cared less about the gasps she heard from the rest of the team.
"Three words Emily. That was all I was worth?" He asked, hurt.
"I didn't know what else to say and you know what Aaron – don't preach, her name was only one. If you had just been honest none of this would have happened." She told him, realising that that was what it boiled down to. The blow felt like a slap in the face but he recovered quickly.
"Honesty? I see... So what you just decided that we wouldn't work then went home to your husband to live your blissful life and raise your child?" He spat the question out.
"You know? I've said it before and I'll say it again – for a profiler you don't see so well." She told him raising her hand and showing him that she was no longer married.
"You're divorced?" He sounded surprised almost as if he had just accepted the fact that Stephen was the winner of this coveted prize.
"Yep, I took that step and you know? It was scary as Hell – coming back here with nowhere to live and no job and being pregnant but I did it because I realised that for once in my life I had to put myself first." She told him.
"You're not with Stephen anymore?" He asked again.
"That's what I just said wasn't it? I had to be brave the way you should have been." Her tone was sad and wistful.
"What about the baby?" The question was whispered but it still elicited murmurings of shock from the others.
"A little girl. Lily. Do you want to see a picture?" She asked going to her purse and reaching for her phone.
He nodded curtly as she passed him the phone and he was presented with pictures of a toddler with rosy cheeks and dark hair, a little girl who looked exactly like her mother.
"She's beautiful." He murmured and the others agreed.
"Where is she?" He asked softly.
"With my mother." She spoke quietly.
She tucked the phone away after the team had had sufficient time to fuss over her daughter's picture and she looked back at him with a half smile.
"So how've you been?" He asked and she let out the tense breath she had been holding in.
"Good. I've been good and you?" It seemed slightly forced but at least it was conversation.
"Reeling, lonely, ashamed, stressed... You name it, I've felt it."
She looked away then, feeling a slight prickling of tears.
"I am sorry, you understand that don't you?"
"I don't want to, but I know what it means to be sorry better than anybody." He told her keeping his voice low so that only she could hear.
"Thank you." She whispered.
"So did you really come here just to work?" He asked with a wry smile.
"Well I had hoped that we could try to reconcile. I hate being in this state and feeling like I have to avoid you." She told him admitting her true intentions. Of course when JJ had called her she had relished the opportunity to work with the best in the Bureau again, but she had also been interested in what she could gain personally from this experience.
"I still mean what I said back then Emily." He assured her and as she looked at him she felt the others fade into the background. It felt like it was only them. No one else seemed to matter.
"You know it's funny. It's been a year since I left Stephen and I thought I would still miss him, but soon after I left I realised that the loneliness I was feeling wasn't because I missed my husband... but rather because I missed you."
"Why has it taken you so long to tell me?"
"I was afraid if I came back with a baby in tow and laid my heart on the line again you wouldn't want me anymore, you wouldn't love me. I couldn't risk it again." She told him honestly, feeling like her soul was bared.
"Of course I do, whatever gave you the idea that I wouldn't?" He smiled, touching his hand to her face.
"I made the wrong choice." She told him ashamedly.
"Didn't we both?" He murmured his hand going to her waist.
"I don't want to make the wrong choice again." She whispered.
"So don't." He replied, his thumb brushing her lips as he disregarded the others in the room.
"What if I told you the real reason I was here was because I realised something pretty important..."
"What did you realise?" He sounded hopeful, he wondered if that was over optimistic.
She leant in close to him, her breath tickling at the shell of his ear. "I'm still in love with you Aaron."
"You are?" He asked a smile breaking out across his face.
"Mmm hmm." She murmured the sounded buzzing on his cheek as she hummed a kiss there.
"I'm still in love with you too." He told her, not hesitating but laughing self consciously. He pulled away and stared at her smiling face.
After taking a moment's pause for thought he decided that he had to go for it. There wasn't going to be another opportunity like this one again. If he messed it up now he knew he would lose her for good.
He grabbed her firmly, his hands splaying on her back as he pulled her close, their bodies melding into one. His hands slid into her hair and his lips touched hers tentatively at first. When he felt her respond he pressed his lips more firmly against hers silently begging for her to kiss him back. She did, returning his insistent caresses and using her hot tongue to probe his mouth, reacquainting herself with that familiar and endless cavern. He mumbled against her mouth a little and linked his arms around her lower back as he felt her leg entwine with his and her kisses become more feverish. It was as if this woman in red had literally become a part of him, they were inseparable and had been for twenty three years now and he knew that this was the only thing that made sense – being with her, exactly like this.
She pulled away after an indefinable amount of time and rested her forehead against his. Although it was difficult to focus on her in this close proximity he could tell she was smiling, happy at last.
"Listen Emily... you used three words before and now I have three new ones..." He told her, pausing for a moment to gauge her reaction.
"Oh?" She murmured restlessly, wanting nothing more than to get out here, go home and have his arms wrapped around her.
"Let's start over." He murmured.
She said nothing, instead choosing to respond with another fervent kiss. As her body pressed close to his and he held her tightly, he realised that although the road hadn't been easy and although it had taken a long time, their love had stood the test of time and they had finally found their happily ever after in the one place they had never expected it could be. With each other...
Ok so this really is the end. How's that for a happily ever after? I just couldn't do it, leave you hanging like that it didn't sit right with me that they weren't together but as I said I wanted them to do it right. Sorry it feels a little fluffier but I was in a good mood...
I hope you liked it and will feel free to let me know what you thought, your reviews have been the inspiration for this piece and I really appreciate each and every single one of them.
Thank you so, so much for reading it means the world to me.
Hopefully I caught all the edits if not forgive me.
Look out for an update on To Come Home soon, I promise I'll be faithful to it from now on ;-)
Love you all