Chapter XXII: And love lets the ghosts go
"Ghosts don't haunt us. That's not how it works. They're present among us because we won't let go of them." ~ Sue Grafton
When Hotch opened his eyes the next morning everything was just like the moment he closed them. Emily was sleeping, her head still on his chest, her breath tickling his skin. Her left arm over his abdomen was holding him softly in a way to reassure herself, even in her sleep, that he was still there. She hadn't moved. No bad dreams or anything. He didn't know if they had stopped or his presence made them not come. In any way he smiled. The thumb of his hand on her bare back started to caress lightly the smooth skin.
His eyes wandered around. Her bedroom was cosy with a window looking over to the Thames and the opposite bank. The sun hadn't risen yet but that didn't mean it was too early. The sun in England rised quite late in winter. Emily's alarm clock was on her nightstand, beside some books. It was 5.30. It was still early finally. He looked again through the window, over to a city that even in the dark held that mysterious and at the same time marvelous magnificence.
Hotch smiled again, a soft, side smile. He had to come to the other side of the world to finally wake up with the woman that he loved in his arms, the woman that he used to have every day just beside him. Life can be so ironic sometimes…
And then he noticed Sergio on the floor eyeing him. Last evening he hadn't even noticed him and the cat obviously ignored him. But he was looking at him with curiosity now. Who knew what he had in his mind.
Emily stirred by Hotch's side. She was waking up. He couldn't see her face. His hand moved up and down on her back. She dropped a kiss just above his heart and she turned to him her eyes still blur from the sleep.
"Good morning," he smiled.
"Hey…" she said sleepily, a smile forming on her own face.
He lifted his head and he gave a kiss on her lips. At that moment Hotch knew that was the way he wanted to wake up, her brown eyes to be the first he saw every day till his last. He was going to persuade her to come back to US, sooner or later.
"You slept well?" he asked casually, caressing her hair tangled by their activities the previous night.
"Someone managed to exhaust me," she laughed.
"That someone should be really happy," he teased kissing her shoulder.
"Are you?" insecurity in her eyes.
"Of course, I am, Emily.", he replied as it was the simplest truth on Earth and at that moment it was, "Being here, like this was all I've wanted for a too long time," he continued looking into her eyes, "You are the happiness that I thought I would never have."
He pulled her body completely on his. After they kissed, he held her face in his both hands and he said the words that were in his mouth since the moment she told him she was going to leave, since she left them, since that evening when they said their goodbyes in a restaurant on the other side of the Atlantic:
Emily's eyes darkened and she got that same thoughtful expression that she used to have too often when she came back from the dead. She stiffened and tried to move away from him.
He held her tightly. Once she had broken the physical contact, she would have gone back to the insecurities that still existed in her mind. He had to convince her now that they were naked in the same bed.
"Emily… I want this to last," he carried on.
"I don't know," she replied.
Hotch was getting worried. She hadn't overcome all her issues, yet. Something was holding her back, still preventing her from a life with him. He looked at her, question in his eyes.
"Now did I become Hotch again?" his pain could be heard in his voice.
"You don't know…"
"So enlighten me! I heard a lecture yesterday because I don't talk. So talk to me!" his pain turning into frustration, "Please…"
"You can't understand everything!" she replied sternly.
"I can't explain it…" she admitted and she tried to escape again from his hands.
He wasn't going to let her. He had started understanding what was going on in her head. Damn the ghosts from the past were never going to leave them alone. Doyle had asked her to marry him. They had found the ring. He had felt like a knife pricked him the moment Rossi had informed him about it. The only man that had wanted to spend his life with that incredible woman was a terrorist during a job. She hadn't loved that scumbag. She wasn't naïve. But 'That damn thing went so well that you strongly believe you have no luck on the good side!' another Gloria's phrase came into his mind. 'I know better than you how this is!' 'Exactly this doesn't make you an expert,' Emily's answer was. Now that he knew the other woman's story he could guess that 'this'. He could guess that her friend worried about something else. Emily didn't have any luck in love even before she went for Doyle. That's why Gloria insisted that she shouldn't have gone. Gloria had learnt the difference. She had learnt how it was to have someone to love her, her real self, to love that someone back and to have someone wanting to share his life with her real one. Even for short, she had learnt that difference. Emily hadn't. That's why she was pushing Emily to him from day one. That's why she gave him all those sympathetic looks every time Emily denied him. Emily actually strongly believed that she couldn't make it at all on the good side.
He didn't need to be a profiler to know what a woman felt in Emily's place. But he wasn't going to play the profiler. He wasn't the profiler in his suit. At that moment, he was just a naked man in the same bed with the woman he had fallen in love with, in that same bed where he had proven to her how much precious she was to him and how much passion he had harbored for her.
He turned them abruptly so he was on top of her, leaving her no way to escape. She tried to push him lightly instinctively. He took her hands with his right and held them softly over head. His body over hers had the ability to take away her strength to protest. When two people are in love their bodies are like magnets, they can't fight each other.
"Emily, listen to me. We passed years together and I passed them with you, with Emily," he said with meaning calmly.
He wasn't going to bring up either Lauren's or Doyle's name up in that bed. The ghosts had no place there.
"I am not Hotch. I'm Aaron. And who is feeling this, Emily?" he continued, his free hand going up and down her side, noticing the goose bumps on her skin. "Who is feeling this, Emily?" he said louder due to her lack of response, his hand going to the v of her thighs. "Who, Emily?" he pressed his hand a little roughly.
"Me…" she managed to say as she held a breath.
"Right. You. 'E-mi-ly.' Say it," he ordered returning to his smooth tone.
"Emily…" she complied confused.
"And what's going on here is not just this," his palm travelling upwards. "Whose is this, Emily?" his hand rested on her heart tapping softly.
"Mine… Emily's," she corrected herself.
"Right. So does this Emily's heart love anyone?" he asked.
"You…" she said, her eyes watering, she was getting the message.
"Say my name."
"Well done," his other hand released hers and guided her left one on his heart. "And this may belongs to Aaron but it is Emily's and loves E-mi-ly," he held her face, "You don't need to explain anything to me. This is what you have to explain to yourself," he finished shifting himself from her, laying on his back beside her.
After a while she turned to her side, her hand turning his face towards hers. He put a kiss on her palm.
She kissed his lips pleadingly, climbing on him, straddling him. He let her be on top that time, his hands only making easier for her to forget, not only to give in to what was there between them, but finally to get absorbed into it completely. They said no words, no names. But they never broke eye contact. Their eyes made the point. He was Aaron in front of her. It was Emily's body moving over his. No one else was here, visible or invisible.
Only seconds before she succumbed, he spoke:
"Let go, Emily. Let go and I will catch you."
And she did and he caught her.
"Aren't you scared?" Emily whispered after some minutes.
"I am," he admitted, "But we went to hell and back too many times. You flew to the other side of the world and the whole universe brought us here, like this. We will make it," he stated still unsure about what her final decision would be.
They drifted to sleep for about half an hour. They had a shower and they got dressed. Hotch laughed examining his shirt.
"Nice! An American Unit Chief with missing buttons," Emily smiled.
"After meeting an Interpol Head too impatient…" he joked.
She laughed looking around to spot the missing little things. They were lucky and they found them.
"Give it to me," Emily offered.
"Emily, I'll pass from the hotel and I'll change."
"Let me take care of you, Aaron," she smiled.
He watched her shortly as she took the shirt from his hands and found a needle and a thread to stitch them again. Sergio was parading around them and he brushed on his leg. He tentatively scratched his neck and the cat purred without any sign of dislike or protest.
"He got to like you fast," Emily commented.
Maybe Sergio's investigation in the morning had an positive result, Hotch thought and he smiled. He went to make some coffee and he poured two cups. He found some biscuits in a cupboard and milk in the fridge and brought them on the coffee table the moment she was about to finish. That was the first casual moment in their story. She helped him put the shirt on. She buttoned the upper buttons and she brought her hands up and touched the sides of his face, tracing his smile.
"For what, sweetheart?" he said, the word rolling on his tongue like the most natural thing.
"For being alive," she simply replied.
He hugged her. They hadn't only faced their nightmares during that case. They had faced their worst fear of losing each other and they had witnessed the consequences…
"Ria's eyes when she told me finally what has happened… I don't know… She loved him, Aaron, and he loved her. And one day, one bullet and he just…"
He moved his hands soothingly up and down her back. Her friend had lived and in a way she still lived Emily's worst nightmare, his own. He had felt part of it with Haley's death but the pain of the loss was overcome by the guilt. He had felt it again in its full force, while he was waiting in that hospital to learn about Emily's condition, those minutes when JJ had come out and told the team that she had died. He had given the order in case of Emily's survival but those few minutes, till JJ had spoken to him privately, he hadn't known, if it was a lie or not…
"These things aren't supposed to happen but they do unfortunately," he said thoughtfully.
"Just promise me you'll try to stay safe."
"You too, sweetheart. You too," he breathed.
They had to. Otherwise they were lost. The one left behind would be as lost as the one gone… He kissed her softly and they sat to have the simple breakfast available.
"I should have seen it. I am a profiler, aren't I? The Ria I knew wouldn't have hang on to him like that, if he had just left her. I just didn't want to think that…"
"Emily, you had other things to worry about your friend. And she had her reasons, not to tell you," he replied touching her hand.
He could understand why the other woman hadn't said anything. It wasn't only that she didn't want Emily to feel sorry for her. In a way it was her way of coping but he knew that it didn't work.
"Sometimes she is more like you than you think," Emily stated sensing his understanding.
"I know. She is just easier in simple conversation than I am," Hotch joked and Emily smiled.
"He was actually her boss, you know. He was separated for ages but his ex was dragging him around for two years without signing the divorce, for which Gloria wasn't the reason by the way. Normally here they are less strict with these types of issues. They stuck to the fact that his divorce papers weren't finalized. But the real thing behind was that she was too good. He was too good. But they didn't have many friends around. Some others wanted them out of the picture, they were in someone's way. I had pulled every string to get Declan safe. Someone asked for the favor back. I was too worried with my career..." she told him the real story after some moments.
"Emily, what is passed is passed," he comforted her, "You didn't cause anything."
"Back then I had said that I would never fall for a colleague. But never say never, eh?" Emily admitted.
"No one understands us more than the people that know what we are facing, Emily," he said quietly.
She closed her eyes affirmatively.
They went to the Interpol Office. Hotch gave his statement, arranged an additional lecture since he would finally stay for a little bit longer, news that fortunately Jack didn't take hard. Jessica was going to take him to his grandparents anyway. While he was walking back to Emily's office he noticed her talking with Gloria outside the room that they used to work. Emily left before he reached them.
"At least I got out of the doghouse," he heard the younger agent murmuring.
He was certain that Emily was too worried with her putting herself in the harm's way two times and she had given her another lecture like his, too. And for sure that woman had confronted her instead of admitting her pain.
"Hey! Good afternoon, Hotch!" Gloria greeted him when she noticed him.
"Good afternoon," he greeted back.
"I just made some tea. Do you want a cup?" she offered getting into the room.
"Sure," he accepted the invitation getting a cup from the drawer below the boiler. "I thought you would have taken some days off," he said sitting down as she filled it from the teapot.
"I'm not wandering around. I'm just going from one chair to another. I'm OK," she replied.
She wasn't that OK judging from her wincing when she sat down but she would never admit that.
"Emily wanted to just be able to help," he spoke calmly.
"I told her from the start and far too many times that 'this' isn't her fault.", her finger pointing up and down towards her, "I didn't want her to do anything out of guilt, Hotch," she reasoned with him and he could say that she was still insecure with what he was thinking of her.
"I'm certain about that," he answered reassuringly.
"It was never her fault in fact. Once the story was to start, he… it happened," she sighed, "At least they had to respect his memory. I just didn't want to clarify… I…"
"Saying it would have made it too real again," he said.
The woman in front of him had tried to cope by hiding, hiding behind aliases and operations. Now she had lost that ability. She had surpassed the limit of them. Her age and her injury couldn't let her do it again. She had to settle down with her real identity, in her real life. She didn't want to remember what she had lost from it.
"Remind me what you do for a living. Profiling eh?" she smiled ironically taking a sip from the cup. "An agent beating herself up over a ghost. Too dramatic, isn't it?"
"You needed to hang on something and for our people's type, this something is the job," he comforted her, "But he wouldn't want you to destroy yourself."
She turned towards the window, maybe to hide the water in her eyes. He wondered if she had ever actually cried. Judging from himself, he had cried only over Haley's dead body, never again.
"Richie… Richard once said to me that this life is too short to carry things for too long…" she whispered.
Probably the man had said that phrase at a happy moment. The 'thing' to carry was something good and that 'thing' to carry ended up to be his death. Hotch never knew him but he was feeling too sorry for this. He had seen enough losses, agents, cops, Haley… He had his share of knowledge about these unfortunate events and this type of ghosts, as well…
"He sounds like a sensible man."
"He proved the first part…" she replied simply raising her eyebrows looking again to her cup.
Hotch had to do something more for her. He owed it to her. He had to give at least one advice, the advice that his experience, those years and these last days, had given him and maybe it was the only thing he was absolutely sure about.
"Gloria, I learnt it myself the hard way. What makes us strong, sometimes, is letting go, not just those losses but everything that somehow put a scar on us," he said quietly referring not only to her loss but to everything that she had done that led her to almost die in an alley, to whatever she had thought on that ground.
"Yeah…" she rubbed her forehead.
"And at least you are starting to talk."
"Normally I don't. Maybe I finally gave in to your famous skills of making people spill their guts," she smiled bitterly.
"Profilers tend to have them," he said smiling his first ever attempt to lighten the mood.
"Tell me about that! Congratulations, by the way," her smiled turned warm.
"For what?" he asked confused.
"You and Emily," she replied layghing with his still puzzled expression.
How had she figured it out? Emily was too busy when she had come to the office. For sure she hadn't seen the woman before that time in the hallway and that wasn't the proper place to share those type of news.
"Come on, Hotch! Give me some credit. I'm a spy. I observe 'things'," she said, her left hand motioning around her neck. Emily had worn a scarf that morning and not in a loose way. She wanted to cover the fading bruises from the other night but also a hickey from the previous night, "Scarves don't do the full job. Emily should have put some makeup on it."
He smiled shyly.
"You are too shy with women, you know that, right? How come for a profiler?" she joked.
Hotch gave her a short glare. Her way of pulling his leg was never going to be something that he could get used to. She laughed.
"Sorry. You know all this talking and reading behavior are quite successful, British profilers have quite the stories with the ladies."
"And some other American ones," he said rising his eyebrows.
Rossi came into his head. He still hadn't clarified how well David knew the woman in front of him. Gloria understood what he had in mind.
"OK… I am not going to follow that," she laughed.
She was still laughing and smiling. It was another way of coping but it was a healthy one. She had people around to talk if she wanted to, too. She could move on and Hotch was glad.
That evening, Hotch and Emily returned to her apartment. Hotch got his things from the hotel. No need to stitch missing buttons anymore.
"I can't leave the place too soon. I have to arrange some things for a few months but I will come back," Emily announced to him out of the blue.
At that very moment Hotch was the happiest man on the planet. He hugged her pressing kisses on her temple.
"Now Emily Prentiss, you just made me the luckiest man on Earth," he said smiling warmly.
"You made your point, you know..."
He landed his lips on hers.
"I love you."
"I love you, too," she replied.
When breathing became a necessity, they pulled apart but remained hugged.
"And I'm not leaving Ria behind this time. And in this condition? Not a chance."
"We will try something," Hotch agreed. "Strauss is looking for someone, actually," he said chuckling.
"Do you want to put a professional spy around Strauss? It's going to be like you put a female James Bond around M for long! Which one of the two do you want thrown out of the window, Aaron? And be careful who you pick!" Emily laughed tapping him on the chest.
"I think… Strauss!" he laughed himself.
"Come on, admit it. You didn't like Ria at the start because she wasn't reserved around you," she stated playfully.
"Are you saying that I am a little obsessed with my authority?" he replied rising his eyebrow.
"No. I'm saying, Aaron, that you aren't used to people not backing off when you give them that famous 'Hotch's glare'," Emily smiled.
"You never did," he stated as a matter of fact.
"It's a trait that spies share maybe," she laughed.
"But I know one spy that has some 'traits' unique…" Hotch said kissing softly her neck.
"How unique?" she teased.
"I love them and she is the most beautiful one," he laughed unbuttoning Emily's shirt.
"As for the authority that you said," Emily laughed her hand sneaking on his tie, "You know, the first days I thought you were a control freak with a tie. But a very hot… ah… one," her breath caught in her throat when his mouth closed over the sensitive spot on her neck.
"Yeah? So let me prove that…" he whispered grinning and Emily melted in his touch.
And the previous night repeated itself, once or twice or more… But it was different. It had laughs and smiles. It wasn't love seared with scars, fears and regrets, anymore. It was finally love bound with happiness, like love is meant to be. But there is this problem: It is meant to be lived by complicated people in a complicated life.
In a small apartment somewhere in the suburbs, a phone rang. The celtic cross hit softly the coffee table as the woman reached for the device. Caller's country code: +1, USA.
"Hey… Yeah I'm alright. I'll be... Yeah… I have some time to talk…"
Outside of the window of a woman talking with someone that cared deeply, even if none of them had realized it, and of a couple snuggled giggling, it started to snow. A veil fell over London forcing the evil ghosts in the ground, and hiding the good ones because they were white, just like it was…
"London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London." ~ Peter Ackroyd