Author's Note: Another flashback story for Universe A. This is a New Year's story taking place a week after Making Spirits Bright. And it's really a totally unique situation so I felt it should be it's own fic. Though, if you haven't already, it would probably be helpful to read the other holiday fic first.

Though this is primarily more H/P building block, it also (for a change) has a decent appearance by the team as well. Hence the prompt, 'Everybody' Hates New Year's Eve.

This is also EPICALLY long, so, I hope you enjoy!

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Twitter: ffsienna27 – For story announcements, etc. If the alerts, (or the site), are down, this is a backup to find out what's going on for postings. There's also some random randomness that is my brain.

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Bonus Challenge #8 - Happy New Year!

Show: Grey's Anatomy

Title Challenge: In the Midnight Hour

Bonus Challenge #29 - The New Year's Redux!

Show: Everybody Hates Chris

Title Challenge: Everybody Hates New Year's Eve

A Kick, A Kiss and a Bag of Chips

Emily sighed as she looked out the side window of the SUV. The temperature had gone up the day before, and the snow flurries had turned to rain showers.

The little droplets were running in rivulets down the glass.

Through the blurry window, she could see that the sidewalks were full of people hurrying along with their brightly colored umbrellas. Everyone had some place to be.

Not her though.

Not really . . . Emily bit back another sigh . . . she was just headed back to the Boise Police Headquarters with the team's late dinner. Or more specifically, she and Morgan . . . he suddenly pounded on the horn and she shot him a dirty look . . . were on their way back to the Boise Police Headquarters with the team's late dinner.

It was nearly ten PM on New Year's Eve 2007, and they were working a serial abductor case out in Idaho.

Three women taken over the last week, and they were on top of the three women taken over the same week last month. So six women gone . . . six families going out of their minds . . . but no bodies had turned up yet. Which could be a good thing . . . maybe everyone was still alive and being held somewhere . . . or it could be a very bad thing.

Maybe everyone was still alive, being held somewhere . . . and being tortured and brutalized.

Clearly the very bad thing, would be the very worst thing . . . Emily thought with some disgust . . . but given the general quality of 'character' of their UNSUBs . . . they had none . . . the latter was sadly the more likely of the two possibilities.

Time would tell.

But time could take a while. Because really, it was just an impossible case. Right now they had next to nothing to go on. The women all had totally different jobs and totally different backgrounds. They lived in different neighborhoods, had different hair colors, different eye colors . . . different skin colors.

There were no commonalities that they could pinpoint.

Though that in and of itself was fairly unusual . . . most serials had a 'type' . . . in this instance it really only told them that he, (perhaps she, nothing could be ruled out yet) most likely committed abductions simply of convenience.

Somebody was alone so they snatched her.

But beyond that supposition, they had no real specifics on where these abductions were taking place. All of the victims had simply left their homes one morning . . . for work, school, shopping, it varied . . . and then never come home again. Sometimes they got to their intended destination.

Sometimes not.

Not that it mattered . . . not to the women anyway . . . because at some point during those very routine days, they had all been yanked out of their lives.

It was a mystery. One worthy of Agatha Christie.

But with no abduction locales, no dump sites to visit, and no autopsy photos to look at, there was little to profile.

Well . . . Emily reminded herself . . . there was the single white rose that had been left at each of the victim's homes a day later. But the lab had found nothing special about the flowers, nobody saw who was leaving them, and nobody knew where they'd been bought.

If they'd been bought.

They could just be from somebody's backyard.

So . . . Emily's jaw twitched . . . yeah, that was basically a dead end too. Hell, the roses could very easily just turn out to be a type of condolence card from a random member of the public.

Something completely innocuous.

So taking the roses out of the mix, at this point the only confirmed thread that they had tying the abductions together, was the fact that all of the women were taken during a full moon. And though ordinarily fixation on lunar cycles was a trait which would be very helpful in narrowing down their list of potential offenders, in this instance, it wasn't doing squat.

And that was because . . . again . . . the full moon connection was actually the ONLY thread that they had tying the abductions together! So with nothing else to go on, there were no suspect lists to pare down. And to add insult to injury, they'd figured out the moon thing before they'd even arrived.

Hell . . . she rolled her eyes . . . they could have just called in their non profile from VIRGINIA and saved some damn jet fuel!

All in all . . . Emily took a breath to calm down . . . it was just an incredibly frustrating case.

Even with Garcia's fingers running full speed ahead, the team was running out of ideas to chase down. And the detectives that had invited them in to help . . . the ones that had been overjoyed to see them three days ago . . . were now treating them like something found under a slimy rock.

Though their own department had no leads . . . not surprising given the minimal facts in evidence . . . these people had expected immediate . . . completely unrealistic . . . results. And when the team couldn't deliver . . . Emily's jaw twitched as Derek pounded on the horn again . . . well, this morning somebody had left a "feebs, thanks for nothing. You can take your shit and go home" note on the door to the main conference room that they were using.

Morgan had ripped it down and then Hotch had taken it away from him before Derek had shoved it down somebody's throat.

Hotch said he'd handle it.

And he had. He'd walked straight up to the lead detective . . . who had been standing in the middle of the homicide bullpen at the time . . . and dangled the note right in front of his nose. Then he'd coldly asked if their invitation to assist had been "officially" revoked. The response was a red faced, "no, no, of course not. That was just somebody blowing off steam."

Blowing off steam her ass . . . Emily's fingers clenched up as she thought back to that morning . . . she'd known exactly which little prick had done it. Holverson. The obnoxious, sexist . . . racist . . . ASSHOLE that had been a thorn in their collective ass since they'd arrived.

As d'bags went, this guy really took the cake.

Among his other . . . numerous . . . character defects, Detective Holverson had a fondness for use of the N word in casual conversation. Of course not general conversation . . . he knew better than that . . . but he'd do it on the phone, on (presumably) personal calls, right under his breath. It was just barely loud enough that you could make it out, but not so loud that you could call him on it.

It was obviously a "skill" that he'd perfected over the years.

So if questioned, he could very easily . . . and very plausibly . . . say that they'd just misheard him. And that was a pretty serious allegation to put on somebody unless you could swear to it in an affidavit.

Which nobody could.

Regardless though, Derek was close to throwing the weasel down a flight of stairs. So there was that . . . that was fun . . . and then there was the thing with JJ.

From the moment of their arrival, Holverson had taken to calling her "sweetcheeks" when his superiors were out of earshot. And of course JJ wouldn't tell Hotch or Dave . . . they too were always "conveniently" out of the room when it happened . . . so the harassment had gone on for a full forty-eight hours before Emily herself had had enough of it.

"Sweetcheeks" was one allegation that she could sign an affidavit to!

And though her first instinct had been . . . and still was . . . to box Holverson's ruddy little pig ears until they were swollen up like Dumbo's, she knew that Hotch wouldn't approve.

Playing nice with the locals . . . even when the locals sucked rocks . . . was rule one.

So instead of going all Disney on the guy's ass, Emily had subtly dropped Hotch a dime when they were standing at the coffee machine together.

Hotch had . . . as expected . . . turned an unhealthy shade of purple at that news, and then he'd stormed in to see the captain. Since then the "sweetcheeks" had disappeared, but the under the breath epithets had increased.

The C word was being bandied about now as well. All in all, Emily was rating the Boise trip, for "hospitality" alone, as one of their worst yet.

And she was coming off a God damn CANNIBAL case!

But at least those LEOS down in Florida had been okay to work with. Really your colleagues . . . their support/their humor/their mud and blood approach to the job . . . were what allowed all of them to keep doing these cases.

It was what kept them sane.

But at present they were heading in the opposite direction of sanity.

Which led Emily to her present issues with . . . her agitated gaze shifted subtly across the front seat . . . her current partner, presently known within team circles as Supervisory Special Agent Douchebag.

Though he was still calling himself Morgan.

But seriously . . . she shot him another look . . . he'd been an absolute ASS to work with for the last three days! In the year plus that she'd known him, Emily had never seen the man in this foul a mood for this length of time.

And you couldn't just chalk it all up to Holverson and his little games.

Now granted, a tool like that would have obviously put Morgan in a 'mood' anyway . . . he was putting all of them in a mood . . . but that racist, misogynistic prick was just the icing on the shit cake. No, the real problem was, they weren't supposed to be working at all! They'd been on call through Christmas week, so they were supposed to be on break for New Year's. But unfortunately the case hadn't wrapped up yet . . . the women were still missing, the UNSUB was still uncaught . . . so they were still stuck in Boise.

Stuck and losing yet another holiday to the job . . . Emily was starting to lose count of all the ones that had slipped away. At least three that year alone.

And that wasn't even counting her birthday.

And of course nobody was happy about having their lousy three day scheduled year-end break taken away . . . everybody was pretty pissed about it actually . . . but this was their life. A life that they had chosen, so they sucked it up.


But Derek wasn't in the mood for sucking it up. He wasn't sucking it up at all. Because he'd actually had very specific New Year's plans this year.

And we weren't just talking about one of his holiday honey parties here.

No, as of yesterday afternoon he should have been flying in to New Orleans to meet up with his mother and his sisters. For the first time since he was a boy, they were all ringing in the New Year with his mother's entire extended family. Everybody was there.

Everybody but him.

He would be ringing in the New Year just like the rest of them . . . standing in the middle of a police precinct drinking a cold cup of bitter coffee.


And though Emily was of course sympathetic to Derek's situation . . . it really did suck, he'd been so excited . . . he wasn't exactly taking the whole thing with a level of 'graceful aplomb.' Instead he was being . . . well, quite frankly he was being a real DICK about it! He had absolutely no patience with anyone or anything. He was snappish and surly and short tempered even with the coffee maker. It was also why he was yelling and honking at anybody that dared to share the road with them that night.

Basically he was just making everybody's life miserable.

More so.

And if he didn't knock it off pretty soon . . . Emily shot him another scowl as he jerked the wheel into the HQ parking lot . . . he was going to be ringing in the New Year with a fat lip. Or maybe some Dumbo ears.

She harrumphed to herself as she unclicked the seatbelt.

Time would tell on that one too.


Time for Derek turned out to be one hour and . . . approximately . . . forty seven minutes later. That was the moment where Emily was standing with her arms crossed . . . and a smirk firmly planted on her face . . . as she watched Derek drop with a grunt into one of the conference room chairs. He was rubbing his shin and cursing like a long shore man. And that was because JJ had just kicked him, hard.

It was GREAT!

"Girl!" Morgan barked as he started rolling up his pant leg, "what the HELL is your problem!"

"Are you f'ing KIDDING me Derek!" JJ snapped back as she stomped over to pick up the TV remote off the stand, "you've been acting like a complete TOOL all day, and everybody's SICK of it! I know that you're pissed off that we're stuck here, but guess what," she spun around to face him, throwing her hands up in frustration, "we're ALL stuck here!" She angrily flicked on the on the TV, "and we don't need you lousing up what crappy little New Year's celebration we're planning on having, with all of your negative energy."

She pounded up another number on the dial.

"Now if I can find the stupid channel," her jaw twitched, "then we're going to watch whatever the hell passes as a 'ball drop' in the Mountain Zone. And after that," she hissed at him, "we're going to have a paper cup of the FLAT ginger ale that Spencer's getting for us out of the vending machine! And THEN we're going to eat some of the stale pretzels that Dave's getting for us out of the OTHER vending machine! Basically," she shot Derek a deadly look, "we're all going to pretend to be happy and enjoy each other's company for ten God damn minutes. And then we're going back to work. So," with a huff she went back to fiddling with the channels, "you can either sit there and be quiet during our little 'celebratory' window, or you can open your big yap again, and you'll be black and blued on both sides," she shot him another look.

"Your choice."

Emily watched at Derek's eyebrows knotted together in a furious scowl, but then a second later the tension in his jaw released slightly. He seemed to have come to a decision.

Most likely that he wanted to be able to walk again without a permanent limp.

Whatever it was . . . though Emily would place even money on the limp thing, JJ's boots were pretty pointy . . . he grunted as his eyes dropped to the shiny linoleum floor.

"I don't want pretzels," he grumbled, "I want potato chips."

"Fine," JJ huffed impatiently, "you can have potato chips. But you have to get off your butt and go get them yourself. Because Dave's bringing back pretzels, and if you call and tell him from three corridors away that you want something else besides what he's bringing, you know that he's likely to tell you to shove the something else up your ass."

At that, Derek grunted a reluctant agreement . . . Dave wasn't much for mincing words . . . before pushing himself up out of his chair, and then limping out of the room.

"Get me a Snickers too!" JJ called after him.

He yelled back something in a cranky tone. And though it was unintelligible, Emily knew . . . her lips twitched . . . JJ was getting her snickers.

And with all of that now addressed . . . Derek's bad attitude had been the last item to cross off of JJ's party list . . . Emily was starting to feel a bit more festive herself. So she checked the time.


Six minutes . . . she turned to slip out of the room . . . that should be enough time to go drag Hotch out of the hidey hole that he'd buried himself in a few hours earlier.

The hidey hole being a dank, rarely used, little interview room . . . rarely used because it had no two way mirror . . . that Hotch had discovered in the back of the station house by the boiler room door. The captain said he could use it if he wanted to, so Hotch had set up a little makeshift office down there.

Emily chewed her lip as she hurried through the bullpen . . . cutting himself off from the others even here. He spent too much time alone now.

Too much time in his own head.

Which was why . . . she cut out into the back corridor, snorting slightly as she saw Dave and Derek arguing about snack purchases while Spencer tried to scoop up seven cans of ginger ale off the floor . . . she wanted to make sure that he came back to join them for the countdown.

It would be good for him.

So as she turned to cross down yet another hallway . . . the boiler room was way in the back in the older part of the building . . . Emily took a breath.

This was definitely going to be an uphill effort.


Thirty seconds later Emily was knocking on the open door of the little interview room.

"Hey Hotch," she called out with as much cheer as she could muster in such a dreary place, "our pathetic little New Year's party is about to start."

Best not to even pose a question about whether or not he was attending. This way it was just an announcement.

Attendance was implied.

"Sorry?" Hotch blinked as he looked up from his notepad, "what was that Prentiss?"

"New Year's, midnight, pathetic party," Emily repeated as she stepped into the small room while jerking her thumb over her shoulder, "we're going to watch the countdown together. There's no ball out here, just fireworks. Still though," she gave him a little smile, "JJ's planning quite the raucous ten minute gathering. Flat ginger ale and stale snacks from the vending machines. It should be quite the social event."

Of course she knew that he didn't want to go. He generally didn't participate in social gatherings, raucous or otherwise. But he didn't always know what was best for him.

Now was one of those times.

"Oh, uh," Hotch's brow wrinkled as he looked towards the open door, down to his watch, and then back up to Emily, "well, um . . . no." He shook his head, "no, but thank you anyway."

That was nice that they were doing something though. Though it wasn't his fault, Hotch felt really badly that they'd all had their holiday ruined. Especially Derek.

Even if he had been a complete pain in the ass the last three days.

He'd just been so looking forward to that trip, which was why Hotch was cutting him slack on the bad attitude. As long as he kept doing his job . . . and didn't backtalk him personally . . . he could be a cranky son of a bitch for another day or so.

God knows that was Hotch's personal default position for most of the separation.

Just as Emily opened her mouth to make a counterargument, she heard the very faint sounds of a countdown chant begin from the other side of the building.

The bullpen had about thirty people in it . . . and sound did carry.

And for a moment she was torn, should she try to get back down before they hit zero, and then watch the fireworks with the rest of the team? Or should she just stay and hang out with Hotch for a few minutes?

Though she felt a little guilty about it, she kind of wanted to just go to the party.

After all, it was her only New Year's celebration that year. But then as she looked back down to see Hotch . . . indifferent to the sounds of the celebrations across the building . . . scribbling notes on his notepad, her heart started to ache.

She couldn't leave him.

Not like this. Even if it was his choice, it just wasn't right for him to be all alone in this dank little room for the New Year's rollover. Just the thought of it made her sad.

Besides that though . . . a brighter thought occurred to her . . . maybe there was something that they could do down here that they couldn't do down there. One proper New Year's tradition from the world over.

The kiss.

They'd had one for Christmas . . . two for Christmas really . . . so what difference would one more peck make to their relationship?

None at all.

And this was one activity that she was fairly certain that she could persuade him to engage in . . . the Christmas kisses were no big deal at all . . . so she turned back to shut the door of the small room.

Now it really did feel like the six by six box that it was.

So when she heard the faint cacophony of 'Happy New Years!" floating through the closed door, she took a few steps further into the tiny space.

Then . . . with a soft sigh . . . she sat down on the edge of the rickety table.

"So," she smacked her lips, "it's 2008."

At that, Hotch looked up again. And she saw his eyes widen slightly when he realized just how close she was sitting in relation to his hand. But Emily didn't move away. With Hotch she'd always found that it was best to charge right in where angels feared to tread.

And angels were hardly the only creatures that were afraid of Aaron Hotchner.

Hotch tapped his pen against his note pad . . . what was she up to?

"Was there a point, to that announcement Prentiss," he asked drily, "or were you just looking to circumvent the more clichéd, 'Happy New Year'? Happy New Year by the way."

"Thanks, same to you. But my actual point, sir," Emily smirked as she crept over another inch closer to his pinky finger, "is that there is a tradition on New Year's Eve. The New Year's kiss. And given our," she cleared her throat, "recent history of upholding this season's most festive of holiday traditions, I was just wondering if, perhaps," she shrugged nonchalantly, "maybe, you might be interested in upholding one more."

Yes, she was being rather shameless with this one. But she figured coming straight in through the front door was the way to go.

He'd either say yes . . . or he'd say no.

She was betting on yes.

Hotch's eyebrow went straight up to his hairline.

"Are you asking me if I'd like to KISS you, Prentiss? Here," he spun his finger up in the air, "in the Boise Police Headquarters?"

Was she NUTS?

"Yes," Emily nodded, "yes I am. There are no windows, and the door's shut and locked so nobody's going to walk in on us. And even if they did, so what? It's New Year's Eve. All of the cool kids are getting a New Year's kiss. And really Hotch," she tapped her watch impatiently, "the clock's ticking on this offer. We're already like forty-five seconds into 2009. If we don't get on this, then it's just going to end up being a random, 'oh it's twelve something' kiss. And I really don't think it would be good luck then. It would just be kind of silly."

Timing was everything here. And as long as she had a perfectly nice looking guy, who had a perfectly fine set of lips, right here in the room, there was no reason that she shouldn't get one tradition in this year.

It was good luck!

Though he tried his best, Hotch couldn't stop the snort of laughter that slipped out at Emily's little speech. The woman was in a word . . . ridiculous.

But . . . he rolled his eyes good naturedly at her . . . in a good way.

And as he considered her request to exchange a New Year's kiss, he thought back to the week before. Exactly one week before they'd done the same thing with mistletoe . . . they'd actually done it twice with mistletoe . . . and the world hadn't come crashing down around them. And though this activity obviously wasn't something to make a habit of . . . he pushed his chair back . . . it was New Year's Eve and he had had a pretty shitty day.

Correction . . . three days.

So at the moment . . . his eyes locked with Emily's . . . taking twelve seconds out of his evening to kiss an attractive woman admittedly did seem like a pretty good idea to him. And if nothing else, there was the old adage that a New Year's kiss brought good luck, and really . . . he stood up . . . God knows he could use a batch of luck right now.

Maybe they'd actually solve the DAMN case!

"All right Prentiss," he hooked his finger towards her, "you win. On your feet. Let's get this thing done."

Emily chuckled as she stood up in front of him.

"Wow, way to make me sound like a hooker sir."

As UNromantic propositions went, that one about took the cake! Not that she and Hotch were engaging in "romantic" activities, but still, that was just bad!

Hotch's eyebrow went back up as he put his hand on her shoulder.

"Do you want to do this?" he tugged her a step closer, "or do you want to bust my chops? Because you can't do both."

"I guess," Emily sighed, "if I have to choose, I'll go with the kiss. But if we have time, I'm totally circling back around to the other thing."

"Duly noted," Hotch nodded absentmindedly, "now then, as you said," he started to lean in, "the clock is ticking here so shut up now."

Emily started to laugh again . . . but the chuckle was abruptly cut off as Hotch pressed his lips to hers for the third time in a week.

Right . . . she sobered up as her eyes fell shut . . . need to get this done!

And she was actually kind of glad that they'd had their warm up kisses the week before. Her lips began to tingle . . . they were really starting to get the hang of this!

It started off as a chaste kiss . . . initially Hotch felt that it was no different really than the one that they'd shared the week before on Dave's front porch. But then Emily put her hand on his chest and he put his free hand on her hip. It wasn't intended to be a 'move' or anything like that. He hadn't made a move on a woman besides Haley in twenty years.

But a move is exactly what it ended up being.

And as he pulled Emily incrementally closer, Hotch's other hand slid down from her shoulder to her back. Her palm flattened against his chest. And then she did something that he wasn't expecting.

She sighed.

It was a happy sigh. And feeling her there so soft and warm in front of him . . . he suddenly felt happy too. No pressure, no stress, no Detective Holverson to toss out 4th story a window, no missing women to find . . . and most importantly . . . his fingers curled into the back of Emily's suit jacket . . . no marriage in tatters. He was just happy.

It was a very unexpected feeling. But not as unexpected as the next thing that happened.

He deepened the kiss.

It wasn't so much a conscious decision . . . it was just something that suddenly was. Mouths were open, breathing was labored . . . and even if there were no tongues involved . . . spittle was most definitely being exchanged.

And this chaste little New Year's peck, started becoming not at all chaste and not at all peckish. He'd pulled Emily's body almost flush against his. She was so close in fact, that her palms were no longer flat . . . but instead she was clenching his dress shirt in her fingers. And then she sighed again . . . again it was a happy sigh . . . but this one sounded a bit more like a moan.

And that one hit him right in the gut.

That was the point where some little part of his brain tried to tell him that he should stop, but he ignored it. He was happy.

And he wanted to stay happy just a little while longer.

So he kept going, ignoring the dingy setting of the moment, and the knowledge that the team . . . and half of the Boise PD . . . were technically just a stone's throw away. He was too busy with other things. Like getting to know Emily Prentiss . . . she moaned again . . . in way that he had NEVER intended to get to know Emily Prentiss!

And he was having a VERY good time while he was doing it!

But then his lungs started screaming at him, and he finally pulled away with a gasp. And with that loss of connection . . . that connection that had been bringing him that shred of happiness . . . he started to come back to himself. To realize what he was doing.

What he had done.

Stood in a tiny, dirty little police interview room in the middle of Boise, Idaho, and sucked the face of one of his agents like he was giving her reverse mouth to mouth.

God . . . he thought with a wave of disgust . . . what the HELL was wrong with him?

"I'm sorry," he huffed apologetically while trying to catch his breath, "that wasn't . . . that's to say I didn't mean to . . ."

That was NOT the kiss that they had planned! That kiss was just . . . INAPPROPRIATE! On EVERY level! Not only was he Emily's boss . . . but he was married for God's sakes!

Okay, separated, but still . . . he clenched his fist . . . that was not okay.

"Hey," Emily was trying to catch her breath, but she found enough oxygen in her lungs to lean up and silence Hotch's sorries with one more quick buss.

"No apologizing," she murmured breathlessly against his lips. Then she pulled back, "it's New Year's Eve. You don't apologize for New Year's Eve kisses," her lip quirked up in a faint smirk, "especially New Year's Eve kisses that were as good as that one."

That was an AMAZING kiss! Way better than their earlier ones.

But really she was just a shocked as he obviously was that things had taken that intense . . . Emily started to get a little butterfly fluttering in her stomach . . . passionate, turn.

'Okay Em,' her brain chastised, 'snap out of it! That was Hotch! You were kissing HOTCH! Just . . . settle.

Right . . . she took a breath . . . settle.

Once she'd gotten her surging hormones back in check . . . it had just been a long time since she'd had a kiss that good, that was all . . . Emily took note of the tension in the body in front of her. And she realized then that she now needed to deal with Hotch.

Or more specifically, Hotch's brain.

Emily knew that she needed to make this kiss as not a big deal for his brain, as she just had for hers. Because if she didn't, then Hotch wouldn't be able to look her in the eye for a month.

If not longer.

The man clearly had his rules about interpersonal interactions, and . . . still trying to suck in fresh oxygen, Emily absentmindedly reached up to wipe the smear of cherry red lip gloss from his mouth . . . she was quite sure that a kiss like THAT was not allowed.

Granted, really no kissing was allowed.

But they'd sort of made a little exception to the rule this week. Just for the traditional holiday stuff. It was no biggie. Not at all.

Or at least it hadn't been.

But now she could see the uncomfortable shifting in his body language, the grinding of his jaw and the way his eyes were staring intently at an invisible spot on the floor.

Oh yeah . . . she started chewing her lip worriedly . . . he was starting to seriously freak out.


So in an effort to head things off before he reached full meltdown stage, Emily did the first thing that popped into her head. She reinvaded his space. Then she pulled him down slightly so she could lean up to wrap her arms around his neck.

Hugging wasn't routine for them . . . certainly not in this type of setting . . . but this was a very personal matter to resolve. So it required a very personal discussion.

The up close kind.

"Stop it," she whispered in his ear, "just stop. Stop thinking. Stop telling yourself that was bad and that you did something wrong. You didn't do anything wrong. We, didn't do anything wrong. All we did was have a nice kiss to ring in the new year. And yes," she closed her eyes, "maybe it was a bit more 'involved' than we'd planned for it to be, but that's okay. It's been a lousy few days, and we've been really stressed out. That was just . . . a release. That's all it was, just . . ." her voice started to fade, "a nice release."

Though the words coming out of Emily's mouth seemed very calm and rational to her . . . they seemed like they should have been reaching him . . . they weren't. And the reason that she knew that they weren't, was because his arms were still at his sides. There wasn't even a half-hearted pat to the back.

That's all she was really looking for.

But it had been at least a half minute, and she was just standing there with her arms around him as he stood there completely stiff and completely awkward.

Her face was began to get hot . . . this was getting very embarrassing.

But not only that, but it also meant that this moment, this little kiss that was supposed to just be good luck, a fun and lighthearted diversion after a few crappy days, was going to cause a real problem for them.


Still though . . . her eyes began to sting as she thought about what a mess she'd made of things . . . she'd give it one more shot before she pulled away.

Time to go for broke.

"Come on Hotch," her voice started to thicken as she dug her fingertips into his shoulder, "please don't do this to me. It was just a nice, harmless kiss," the tears started to pool, "that's all."

His continued lack of reaction . . . or response . . . was now putting her right over the edge.

All of the good kiss feelings . . . all of those wonderful endorphins . . . they were fading away. They were being replaced by the bad hormones.

Adrenaline and cortisol.

They were racing through her body, making her anxious, embarrassed . . . frightened. A pit was forming in her stomach. This kiss tonight had been a colossal mistake.

One that she'd give anything to take back.

And just as she began to pull away from Hotch . . . she was planning on a quick cry in the ladies room before she slunk back to the other conference room to get her case file . . . he pulled her back to his chest. Then . . . to Emily's EVERLASTING relief . . . she finally felt his arms come up, right before he pulled her into a gentle embrace.

"It was very nice," Hotch whispered as he rubbed her back, "And I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you upset. I was just thinking about what you'd said. And you're absolutely right, it was just a stress release. That's all," then he paused for a moment before giving her a tight squeeze. "And I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ruin it."

And just like that . . . with that firm embrace . . . all of Emily's bad feelings rolled away again.

And all of the good ones came roaring back.

Her relationship with Hotch was sometimes confusing. It wasn't a friendship . . . not traditionally anyway . . . but he was more than just her colleague, and more than just her chief, and over these past few month she'd noticed . . . her eyes fell shut for a moment . . . that when she was sad or lonely, a little part of her would start to respond to him in a way that reminded her that he wasn't just "Hotch." He was a man.

A very attractive one.

Not that she really "wanted" Hotch. Not at all. She just wanted somebody . . . and Hotch was a somebody. A handsome and kind somebody, who gave really good hugs. And . . . she'd just discovered . . . really good kisses. And with their respective lonely holidays, she'd been spending a bit more personal time with him than usual. And personal time Hotch was different . . . softer . . . than work time Hotch.

That was what was causing her brain the little bit of confusion.

But . . . she leaned back to give him a watery smile . . . the need for a somebody with dark hair and elusive dimples, was just a passing fancy. Not a serious one.

It was never a serious one with Hotch.

"You didn't ruin it," she sniffled, "you almost ruined it. So the next time you're 'thinking' about something really important, can you please just TELL me that you're thinking? And then that way," she started wiping the leaky corner of her left eye, "I won't have a nervous breakdown."

"Okay," Hotch's mouth curved in a sad smile. Then he reached up to wipe a little smear of mascara from under Emily's other eye, "I promise not to give you a nervous breakdown again."

"Hmph," Emily harrumphed as Hotch took over fixing her face, "fat chance of that one." And seeing his eyes crinkle slightly at that, she put her hand back on his chest.

"We're okay though," she asked seriously, "right?"

Because she didn't know what she'd do if they weren't.

"Yeah," Hotch's hands slid down to cup Emily's jaw, "we're okay." And though he knew that he shouldn't, he leaned in to press one more quick peck to her still swollen lips.

As he pulled back he gave her a little smile . . . and she gave him a brilliant one in return.

And that's why he'd kissed her again. He needed that smile from her. He needed her to be happy.

Because he couldn't be.

And now he needed to go back to keeping his hands to himself.

"Okay then," Emily happily patted his chest, "good." Then she sniffled once more as she looked up at him expectantly, "so is my face presentable again?"

Hotch's lip curled up slightly.

"I guess that depends on what you want to do with it," he answered with a faint smirk. Then he huffed as she swatted him in the chest.

"Very funny sir," she grunted, "now do I look like I've been all weepy, or do I look okay?

Hotch looked down at her for a moment, then his expression softened.

"You look just fine Prentiss."

She always looked fine . . . she always looked beautiful. Even when the mascara started to smear around her eyes, she was still pretty. But of course he would never tell her that.

Funny he could kiss the woman, but not tell her that he thought she was attractive. And he didn't mean tell her that she was attractive in a 'come on' kind of way. Just as a general fact of life kind of way.

She was beautiful.

But . . . he stepped back slightly so she could move around the table . . . she was never going to hear that from him.

And as he dropped down into his chair again, Emily started out the door with the promise of bringing him back a cup of the flat ginger ale and a napkin full of stale pretzels. His eyes crinkled slightly at the offer.

Of course that was the moment where she turned back to ask him if he wanted anything else.

"Just for you to have a good year, Prentiss." He said softly. And she smiled.

"You too sir."

And she turned away from again. As she disappeared out into the corridor, he stared at the open space for a moment. Then he called out.

"Oh, and Prentiss?"

A second later Emily popped back around the corner.


"I'd also like a bag of chips too please," his eyes crinkled slightly, "you know, in addition to you having a nice year."

Best to suck up or she wouldn't get him his snack!

Emily chuckled, "always a smooth talker sir. But yes, I can do that." Then her brow wrinkled as she checked the time on her watch, "hopefully there are still some in the machine though. There were a lot of people looking for 'party' snacks. Eh," she looked up at him with a shrug, "you know what? Worst case, I'll just take Morgan's."

He was already half maimed, it would be like taking candy from a baby.

Or potato chips from a federal agent.

Hotch nodded.

"Please do," he said seriously.

"Okay," Emily's lip quirked up, "back in a flash."

And she disappeared again, and again Hotch stared at the doorway. Though this time, his thoughts were traveling down a different path than before when he was just thinking of his empty stomach.

Now he was again thinking about that kiss.

And though he agreed with Emily's explanation . . . it was simply a stress release, nothing more . . . he couldn't help but consider how easily he'd fallen into that situation with her. Like it was no big deal.

Like he didn't still have a wedding ring on his finger.

And though he didn't consider the kiss as cheating . . . it was a holiday kiss, not an affair . . . he couldn't help but think that intellectually . . . given how passionate the kiss was . . . that it should have felt like cheating.

But it didn't feel that way at all.

And he didn't know what that meant. Was he . . . on some level . . . beginning to accept that Haley wasn't coming back? And what if that was really true?

What was he going to do next?

Oh Christ . . . his gut began to ache as he scrubbed his hands down his face . . . what the HELL was he going to do if she didn't come back?


His head snapped up.


"Hey," he cleared his throat, "what's up?"

Dave's eyes crinkled slightly as he stepped through the doorway. "What do you think? I'm here to wish you a Happy New Year," then he paused for a moment, "are you okay?"

He didn't look okay . . . he looked like he was having a panic attack of some kind.

Subdued Hotch version of course.

"What?" Hotch stared up at Dave for a second, cursing the fact that his mask had slipped. But then he nodded, "oh, yeah, I'm fine. Just the ah," he waved his hand over his stack of files and notepads, "the case you know. Just thinking about the case."

That's what he SHOULD have been doing anyway. He could come up with a Plan Z to get Haley back later. Like when they were on the jet.

AFTER they'd solved the damn case!

With that thought, Hotch's brain snapped back to current events . . . and his social skills came with it.

Dave had just wished him a happy new year. A reciprocal response was required.

He tipped his head.

"Oh, and happy New Year to you too Dave," a faint smile ghosted over Hotch's lips, "how's 2009 treating you so far?"

There was no doubt that Dave hadn't gotten his own New Year's kiss. Hotch was pretty sure that Dave hadn't missed one since puberty.

Possibly earlier.

Dave smirked, "got a pretty good kiss from JJ," then he chuckled, "and one from Reid too. On the cheek of course. And how about you?" He pointed to the paperwork on the desk, "have you been in here all by yourself?"

God, he hoped not. But all signs did point to yes.

"Uh . . ." for a second Hotch was at a loss, trying to decide if he should mention Emily's presence or not.

Then he realized that she'd be back any minute . . . with his snack . . . so it would be better not to be evasive.

"No actually," he shook his head, "Prentiss was here. She just went to get some ginger ale."

"Ah," Dave rocked back on his heels, "I see," then he paused for a beat, "so," his lip quirked up, "did you also get a little New Year's 'smooch?'"

Unlikely. Though he sure as hell needed one . . . he actually needed to get laid . . . Hotch was the most married . . . on the verge of divorce . . . man Dave had ever met.

The Pope got more action than he did!

Before Hotch could do more than open his mouth to lie like a rug, Emily had breezed through the doorway.

"Yeah Dave, you got us," she said drily as she leaned over to place their snacks on the banged up table, "at the stroke of midnight I snuck off from the group so I could have my way with the boss. Being in potato country makes me hot."

Rossi could smell a fake out from a mile away . . . the man was like a deception bloodhound . . . so the straight up truth was their only defense. Because honestly . . . Emily turned to hand Hotch his ginger ale with a wink . . . the truth was so ridiculous, nobody would believe it as anything but a lie.

And thank God for that.

Because if Rossi . . . or Derek . . . EVER found out that they'd been engaging in a little 'holiday bussing,' they'd never hear the end of it.

And as she turned back to Rossi with a pretzel stick in her hand, Emily saw his mouth quiver . . . and then he snorted.

"Oh Prentiss," he chuckled, "you are a pip."

And he'd been wondering where she'd gone off too. But when she wasn't in the room with Hotch, he'd just assumed she'd gone out for some air or something.

That was good though. At least Hotch hadn't been all alone at the stroke of midnight.

Still too bad he hadn't gone laid though.

Emily smiled sweetly at Dave, but added nothing else to the conversation. Anything more and she could screw this up. And she knew Hotch had a poker face etched out of granite, so no worries there.

They just needed Rossi to leave before SHE put her foot in it!

"Okay kids," Dave put one hand up in a wave as he pulled a stick of gum from his pocket with the other, "I'm going back to stare at Reid's geographic overlays again. I was thinking there might be something there with the childhood neighborhoods."

Christ he hoped so. Of course he wanted to get those women back safe and sound. That was the main goal here. But also . . . seriously . . . he just wanted to go home.

Dave turned away with a roll of his eyes . . . Boise sucked.

Big time.

As Dave disappeared into the hallway, Emily turned back to Hotch with a pretzel in hand.

"How much do you love me right now, sir? She asked with a smirk.

Okay yes, she might have actually . . . technically . . . done exactly what she'd pretended to lie to Dave about just now. But . . . she popped the pretzel stick in her mouth . . . why quibble with the details?

Hotch rolled his eyes.

"Just eat your damn pretzels Prentiss."

Of course, she gets him into trouble . . . the kiss was her idea so he was going with a 60/40 blame ratio there . . . and then she wants praise for NOT tripping them up with Rossi.


Though . . . he gave her a subtle assessment out of the corner of his eye . . . she didn't seem fazed by his dismissal of her ridiculous request for praise. In fact . . . his brow wrinkled . . . she was smiling at him.


"What?" He asked suspiciously as he popped open his can of ginger ale.

"Just happy that you're grumping at me is all," Emily responded happily, "that means that we really are good."

If he was actually feeling awkward about what had happened, then he'd be polite and reserved. Like he had been when she first joined the Unit.

But Hotch being a cranky bastard, was the proof that everything was just fine.

No fallout from the kiss.

Hotch stared at Emily for a moment before his lips started to twitch. But he quickly covered the impending smile with a scowl as he pointed to her unopened can.

"Drink your damn ginger ale too, and then go figure out what the hell Rossi's trying to do with the map. I thought we already tried that yesterday."

If she wanted cranky as proof of normal, he could give her cranky!

"Yes sir." Emily said with a grin as she picked up her can, "anything you say sir."

The "sirs" were also a necessity of normality. And she could tell from the faint quivering of Hotch's mouth as he picked up his chips . . . snatched from Derek's weakened little grasp . . . that he knew it too.

Yeah . . . Emily eyed Hotch with a happy smile as leaned back against the wall . . . everything was going to be just fine in the land of Hotch and Prentiss. So now . . . she awkwardly cleared her throat . . . she just needed to steal some of those chips.

Her mouth twisted in a distasteful grimace.

These pretzels tasted like crap!

Hotch looked up at Emily's throat clearing . . . it was going on for awhile . . . and then his brow rose slightly in concern.

"Are you all right?"

She looked . . . odd.

"Yeah, just," Emily took a swig of ginger ale, "it's just um . . ."

Emily's voice faded as her eyes dropped down to the two bags of snacks on the desk. Hotch immediately followed her gaze. Then he rolled his eyes.

She didn't like her snack.

For the love of . . . he picked up the bag of chips.

"Just take them!"

God, the woman drove him NUTS!

"Thanks sir," Emily grinned as she took the Lays from him, "you're the best."

"Yeah, yeah," Hotch scowled as he pointed to the door, "just go."

Before she left, Emily leaned over to dump out half the chips on the napkin. Then she picked up her ginger ale again and started out the door.

Best to leave before she wore out her welcome.

"Happy New Year Hotch!" she called back over her shoulder.

Hotch's expression softened as he looked down at the little pile of chips that Emily had . . . evenly . . . shared with him.

At that point he could hear her boots clicking far down the hall.

"Happy New Year Prentiss."

The words were a whisper, but . . . he popped a chip into his mouth . . . he was pretty sure that she heard him anyway.

And sure enough.

"Wouldn't have killed you to say THANKS too!" She yelled back.

His mouth started to quiver . . . and then he began to laugh . . . and then he started to choke on his potato chip.

Good Christ . . . he sucked down a swig of ginger ale.

That woman was going to be the death of him!

A/N 2: There you go, closed out the holiday season with one more kiss. And I'd kind of debated the intensity of the kiss, you know given Hotch was still hoping for Haley resolution at that point in time, but the story wanted to be written the way it was written. And I saw their prior 'little smooches' setting a level of comfort between them on that point, that, if all the circumstances were right (stress, crankiness, holiday) that their hormones might just give in and go for broke. And provided I smoothed over any awkwardness as a result, I thought the kiss worked :) It was fun to write too. I hadn't written any 'physical affection' / kissing in a while.

Which reminds me. I actually had two New Year's prompts that spoke to me, so there's another story coming as well over the next week or so. The other one's mostly done (and NOT a Girl'verse fic) because it's basically just kind of a smut piece :) Honestly, it was a leftover scene I found from early Second Chances that never got used so repurposed for a New Year's in Vegas. That's why you never throw a scene away kids, you can always use it for something else!

It was also fun writing the team more generally in cranky sibling mode. Haven't had a chance to do that in a while either. But I'll have to dig out some prompts and see if I can do anything more in that area too. This the second scene I've written in Girl where JJ beats up Morgan, and that's always a good time :)

One other point, keep in mind these stories also lay groundwork for their relationship in Second Chances & Horses (you know anything that came before the starting point of those tales, happened to that version of them too) so I think this little entry in particular works well for Hotch being able to move on with Emily just a few months later. And visa versa with her occasional confusion about him. And some day, if the muse ever leaves me completely, I might go back and insert these offshoot stories into Girl as their own chapters. After all, it's what they would have been if I'd had the ideas at the time :)

Thanks in advance for any of all feedback (past, present and future)! :)