A/N: It's been a while since this story has been updated, but here we go! It wasn't nominated for a Profiler's Choice award, but two of my other stories were: Perfect and Looking for Paradise. I don't know if the voting ballot is available but for those who nominated and voted for me, thank you. This story is actually coming to an end soon. Maybe about 2-3 more parts. My goal is to finish it and one or two other ones before the end of the year. Fingers crossed. Thanks to everyone for your continued interest and support!
Gibbs already had his cell phone out and was dialing a number. He started to walk out of the room as he began to speak, but the BAU team could hear his side of the conversation. "McGee, I'm sending you a tape. There's a face reflected in the control panel of an elevator. Yes, a reflection on a control panel. I need you to run facial recognition. I don't care how hard it might be. You've got an hour…" His face faded away as he continued to bark orders into his phone.
JJ was busying herself making a still copy of the image and the video itself to be emailed to NCIS. Morgan and Rossi were discussing next steps in hushed tones. Hotch had gone into the kitchen to find a bit of privacy. Emily watched her boss walk away and got up from her seat next to JJ to follow.
Hotch forced himself to take slow, deep breaths as he walked into Rossi's kitchen. He knew it would be a miracle if Gibbs' team could get a match from the reflection on the video, but the image was enough to trigger his own memories. He could see that hawk-like profile in sharp detail. The man had deep set, cold gray eyes and with deep bags underneath them. Close crop hair that seemed devoid of color. A thin mouth that could twist into a cruel sneer of disdain. If necessary, he could help fill in the features from memory now.
He spun over to the refrigerator and yanked the door open. He stared blankly into the interior, the light from within casting a harsh light on his features.
"You don't deserve her," Hotch heard the man say to him. "Any man who could pass over her for a cheap whore like Beth Clemmons, doesn't deserve someone as fine and wonderful as Emily. She's better off without you. You don't deserve her. Cheap trash, that's what you deserve."
Perhaps unnamed man was right. How could he have fallen for Beth when Emily was right in front of him for years? And now, it was because of him that Emily had been and still was in danger. Hotch knew whoever this mystery man was, he was obsessed with Prentiss and he will not stop until he was arrested or worse, he had her in his hands.
The open refrigerator door blocked him from Emily's view. She didn't see him swallow a sigh and his eyes squeeze tightly shut. He wasn't certain if he could control his newly realized emotions, frayed as they were by the last forty-eight hours, when he was so close and alone with her.
"Hotch?" Emily repeated when he didn't respond, merely remaining bent over, staring into the refrigerator. "Are you okay?"
He could hear her come closer to him and stop just inches from the opened refrigerator door. He could almost feel the heat from her body, smell her scent.
He nearly groaned hearing her say his name in that warm, concerned tone. He knew he would be lost if he looked into her eyes, beautiful brown eyes that a man could lose himself in. He briefly wondered what those eyes would look like, engulfed by passion, her body underneath his.
"I'm fine," he said gruffly. He snatched a bottle of water and slammed the door shut. Twisting off the cap of the bottle and taking a drink gave him an excuse not to look at her, but he could still feel her steady, sympathetic gaze. Hotch closed his eyes and licked some drops of water off his lips, wishing he could pour the cold liquid over his heated body. Slowly he regained control over his emotions and hormones and he opened his eyes and turned to her. Immediately, he felt his breath leave him. She was only a foot away from him, her worried eyes scanning his face.
Hotch felt the world tilt and shift beneath him. He inhaled deeply and smelled her sweet, warm scent. He could feel a smile wanting to curve the corners of his mouth and a lightness fill him. It was nothing like anything he felt before and he realized this was what it meant to be in love.
He snapped back to the present and realized Emily was even more worried as a line appeared between her brows. "What happened?"
"What do you mean?" he stared at her dumbly.
"You drifted off for a few seconds," she replied as she scrutinized his face. "Did you get another flash of memory? Did something come back to you?"
"Noooo," Hotch said slowly. He cleared his throat. "I just needed a moment from…everything."
"Oh," she looked abashed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to intrude." Emily began to back away from him, but she had only taken half a step when his hand shot out and he gently grasped her arm to stop her.
"Stay," he said in a soft voice. "I don't mean you. You could never intrude, Emily."
She paused in her steps and blinked at him in surprise. Hotch wasn't a demonstrative man in any way. He always seemed to prefer not being touched. Additionally, he had just called her 'Emily', something he had done probably only a dozen times since she's known him.
However, she didn't walk or pull away. She simply turned back to him and gazed curiously at him. Hotch dropped his hand reluctantly even though he felt the heat of embarrassment warm his skin. He fervently hoped she would not notice.
"It's just that I've realized I really don't want to be alone," he continued.
Emily smiled softly and nodded understandingly. "You've been through so much the last couple of days. It's overwhelming. I don't know how you're still standing."
"No more trying than what you went through with Doyle," he said in a warm voice, his eyes gazing into hers. "You showed such incredible strength. I've always wanted to tell you how proud and in awe of you I was on how you handled yourself during that time. I don't think anyone could have done better." Emotion laced his tone, coloring it with affection that could not be missed.
Emily blinked at him in stunned surprise. A touch, calling her by her first name and now this? Emily shook her head and laughed softly.
"What?" he asked in an amused tone, stupidly happy to hear her laugh.
"What have you done with the real Aaron Hotchner?"
"What do you mean by that?" he frowned. That wasn't what he was expecting.
"Hotch, it's difficult to get you to give any of us a compliment, let alone me," she replied honestly. There was no hint of reproach in her voice. Her tone was simply matter of fact. "I understand, it's just how you are. I don't take it personally," she assured him when she saw him open his mouth to protest.
Hotch was about to contradict her when it did occur to him that was how he treated her. And if he was honest with himself, he had been a complete jerk to her when she first joined the team and he never apologized for his behavior.
"You're right," he murmured. "Why you haven't told me to go take a flying leap before is a shock." He gave her a boyish grin. "I guess it's too late to say I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
He took a step closer to her and was pleased when she didn't back away. Emily was too confused by their conversation to even notice he had moved so close to her that she had only to take a step forward and she would be against his broad chest.
"Sorry for how I treated you when you first joined the team."
"Oh that," Emily murmured, her eyes dropping as she regarded the tips of her boots. "You weren't all that wrong. I didn't know about it, but Strauss did put me on your team to-"
"And as soon as you found out you resigned, sacrificing yourself to protect me," Hotch said quietly. "You're always doing that. Protecting us. Reid in Colorado. Me after Foyet attacked. Rossi with Carolyn. You're always there for each of us Emily, and the times you've needed us, needed me, I haven't been supportive. I'm sorry. More sorry that you can possibly imagine."
The regret in his voice made her look up. Her eyes widened in surprise as their dark gazes locked. Her lips parted slightly. She saw Hotch's eyes flicker towards them and as if drawn by a magnet, he slowly closed the distance between them.
"Well, this is a cozy."
The voice from the doorway caused Hotch and Emily to guiltily jump away from each other. Detective Kramer stood in the doorway of the kitchen, a shocked Rossi and an angry Gibbs flanking him.
"I came by to ask you a few more questions, Agent Hotchner." He spoke to Hotch, but the detective's eyes remained locked on Emily. "I don't believe we've met. Detective Tom Kramer, Metro PD, Miss…?"
"Special Agent Emily Prentiss," she replied in a professional tone. Her gaze flickered uncertainly when she saw a curious gleam appear in the detective's eye.
"You work with Agent Hotchner?"
"She's a member of my team," was Hotch's frigid answer.
"Ahh," Kramer noted in satisfaction. "How interesting."
Emily didn't like the detective's tone or his satisfied look. She shot Hotch and Gibbs sharp, inquiring looks, but neither man was forthcoming with an answer.
"What did you want to ask Agent Hotchner?" Rossi inquired, trying to bring things back to the purpose of the policeman's visit.
"I'd like Agent Hotchner to accompany me down to the police station," Detective Kramer replied. "It's been confirmed that the body in the car is Beth Clemmons."
"Are you charging him?" Gibbs inquired.
Kramer hesitated, causing everyone to give him a curious look. "I should be," Kramer replied slowly. "There's enough evidence for a damn good case."
"I'm sensing a 'but' there," Rossi put in when the detective hesitated.
Kramer's eyes flicked back to Emily. "Any other detective worth his salt would be booking you right now, but…" Again, he hesitated.
"Your gut is telling you something isn't right," Gibbs grunted out.
Kramer nodded. "I can't believe you'd be that messy about the security footage." He sighed. "But I have to take you in at least for more questions. Metro is looking at this one closely because of the FBI connection. You know, there are a couple of folks in the department who'd like to see you go down for this. They feel the last couple of cases the BAU have helped out on, your folks have taken a bit of a high and mighty attitude. They'd love to see you to go down for it." He sighed again. "I'm not someone who likes these agency wars. I just want to get the job done. But, I've got to take you in at least for further questioning."
"We've made some progress in finding Beth's killer," Rossi interjected. He gave a rundown of the progress they've made.
To his credit, Kramer listened to them and appeared to believe everything Rossi was telling him. Several times, his eyes flicked over towards Emily, gazing at her meditatively.
"So there was another woman involved." Karmer wasn't asking a question.
"Only in Beth Clemmons sick mind," Gibbs responded smoothly. He shot Hotch a pointed look, his earlier warnings about dragging Emily needlessly into a mess of an investigation clear in that one look. "And due to her jealousy, she's brought in another sicko who's become obsessed with Agent Prentiss."
"I'll need to see the footage and the photos," Kramer replied. "You've also broken the chain of evidence and I can't use any of it."
"The photos no, but we only took copies of the surveillance footage from the apartment building," Rossi noted. "That should still be okay and give you enough to justify investigating that line and take the focus off of Hotch."
Kramer shook his head slowly. "Maybe tomorrow, but my CO is expecting me to bring in Agent Hotchner, now." He held up a hand to forestall Rossi and Emily's protests. "I think I can hold off charges, but I'm going to look like I'm colluding with the FBI if I don't and this case will be re-assigned. Perhaps to someone who isn't as willing to listen to this theory."
"It's not a theory," Emily said stubbornly. "Hotch was set up first by that crazy woman and now by this stalker I didn't even know I had."
"Exactly," Kramer replied promptly. "A trained FBI agent was unaware she had been followed and watched for how many weeks? Does this man actually exist? You even admit all you have is some grainy footage of a man in an elevator carrying a rug. Profilers might deal in assumptions and conjectures, Agent Prentiss, but to make a criminal case, you need actual evidence that points to someone and the only person that evidence is pointing to now is your boss, Agent Hotchner. Until we get an ID on this mystery man, the number one suspect is the Agent."
Rossi and Prentiss fumed at this but Hotch simply nodded. "He's right," he said in a low, comforting voice. Unconsciously, he put a hand on Emily's shoulder, feeling the tense anger in her body. His touch caused her to relax marginally and she turned to look at Hotch. He smiled gently at her. "Look, I'll talk to Kramer's supervisor. Even if I am sidelined at the police station, the rest of you need to carry on and find this man stalking Emily."
"Isn't Burbank your CO?" Gibbs asked the detective who nodded. "I'm coming with you. I know him and might be able to get him to at least give us a little bit of time to follow this line of investigation."
"We'll find this guy, Hotch," Rossi promised Aaron.
Hotch nodded and as he passed his old friend, he dropped his voice. "Make sure Emily isn't left or allowed to go anywhere alone. We know now who his real target is."
Rossi silently nodded his agreement.
Hotch turned back once to look at Emily who wore an expression that was a mixture of confusion, frustration and anger on her face. He gave her a reassuring smile. "I'll be okay. Just make sure you find this guy soon."
"We will, Hotch," Prentiss replied. She was still confused as to what had happened prior to Kramer's interruption. She pushed those thoughts aside knowing she had to focus on the investigation. Not only did Hotch's life depend on it, but hers could as well.