Out of Africa


"There must be a few times in life when you stand at a precipice of a decision. When you know there will forever be a Before and an After...I knew there would be no turning back if I designated this moment as my own Prime Meridian from which everything else would be measured."
~Justina Chen.

June 1992. Washington, D.C.

Agent Aaron Hotchner took a deep breath before heading up the steps of Ambassador Prentiss' brownstone. He'd been at this job for a few weeks now, and yet every day, he still felt a little moment of I can't believe this is my life.

He loved it, truly. The hours could be erratic and the days unexpectedly long, but he didn't mind (much). It was a temporary posting, doing security clearances on Ambassador Prentiss' staff, but it was his first command post, and he planned to prove himself capable of further command assignments—security clearance wasn't exactly glamorous, but the added detail of for an international diplomat gave it some measure of prestige. It certainly gave weight to a Bureau resume.

He was going to do more with his life, he knew it. He'd spent years climbing the ladder as a prosecutor, and when he transferred over to the "other side", the law that came before his previous place in the order, he'd had the slightly-unpleasant feeling of starting all over again. However, he was nothing if not an ambitious man—he knew his work ethic would take him far, but having a few nice cherries like this on his docket certainly helped to accelerate his rise.

And he was on the rise. Water-cooler gossip pegged him as one of the agents soon to be shipped out to the Seattle branch—to a better division, as part of a more elite team, with a greater chance for rising through the ranks—though he'd been smart enough to simply keep his head down and focus on his work. He'd learned to ignore suppositions until they became concrete facts long before joining the FBI, even before becoming a prosecutor. His father had taught him that, in the hardest and most unforgiving of ways.

He thought of his father a lot more often these days. He wasn't sure why. Perhaps it had to do with the new career—because once again, he was working like a man possessed to prove his father wrong in so many ways, to prove that he was more than that bitter man had predicted he would become.

Whatever the reason, he wished it would stop. He didn't like thinking of that man any more than was absolutely necessary.

He gave a curt nod of greeting to the security detail posted outside the front door—they were among the first to be vetted and re-approved by the Bureau, and luckily, they hadn't begrudged him for doing his job and asking some searching personal questions. In fact, they were pretty jovial, when compared to the usual stereotype of silent-but-always-seen-men-in-black.

The front door was unlocked—Elizabeth Prentiss had once quipped that with armed men at every entrance, there wasn't much need for a ten-dollar deadbolt. If anything, it would impede their ability to rush in and save her, were anything to go awry.

There was logic in her argument, but Aaron still thought that the Ambassador had spent too many years in relatively-sheltered European outposts. Of course, she'd also survived more inhospitable places in the Middle East and Asia, and her survival had made her self-assured in a way that could easily lead to a false sense of invincibility.

Obviously, he was smart enough never to voice these observations aloud, and especially not to Ambassador Prentiss herself.

His job was to make sure that her staff was filled with loyal people, who had no substance abuse or otherwise debilitating personal issues, people who would be suitable attachés for the Ambassador's next posting.

As per his usual schedule of events, he headed upstairs to the Ambassador's private office, where they would go over the list of clearances for the day, as well as follow up on any further questions or concerns that Aaron might have had over certain staffers.

He rounded the corner at the top of the staircase and was met with the solid force of a cardboard box full of old books, whose weight was further compacted by the human body behind it. He stumbled back slightly, but caught his balance.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!" The huge box shifted to the side, and a face appeared. Dark hair, dark eyes the size of saucers, pale skin—definitely Ambassador Prentiss' offspring. He'd heard, though not very often, that the Ambassador had a daughter, but he'd never seen so much as a photograph.

However, she looked like she belonged at some commune instead of the stately quarters of an American Ambassador. She had a nose ring (a hoop, no less), her hair was long and there were several braids that almost looked like dreadlocks from a distance, her face was devoid of makeup, and her wardrobe looked better suited to a camping trip than a state affair—cargo pants, a loose knit top, and moccasins. The earth-child persona was complete with hemp jewelry.

She knew that she didn't belong here, and it showed. Her posture and physical nuances screamed in apology for her presence, as if she were trying to shrink herself, trying to disappear as quickly and quietly as possible.

"It's alright," he assured her. He couldn't stop himself for reaching for the box, "Here, let me help—"

"Oh, no, it's fine—I'm sure you've got more important things—"


She stopped at this, took a moment to size him up. He realized with a slight pang that her expression contained a sheen of curious incredulity—apparently, her mother's staff didn't offer to help her very often.

"It's heavy," she warned.

"I know. I felt it."

She laughed at this, quick and unexpected, then just as quickly silenced her self, giving a furtive glance over her shoulder towards her mother's study. Then she deposited the box into his open arms.

"Lemme grab another one," she stepped back inside the doorway of a room that Aaron had never been in before. She quickly reappeared, a smaller but equally filled box of books in tow.

"You must be the FBI guy," she flashed a small, almost-apologetic smile over her shoulder before descending the stairs. She was trying to be polite, but her body language informed him that she thought her own conversation was an unwelcome intrusion to him.

"You must be the daughter," he returned, keeping his tone light, easy-going. He wanted her to realize that she was neither unwelcome nor an intrusion.

"Ah, yes." Another unreadable expression as she opened to front door. "The daughter. I'm sure you've heard way too much about me—or perhaps, nothing at all. My mother seems incapable of any response other than over-disclosure or complete denial."

She gave another sheepishly regretful smile, "Sorry. Too much, I know."

He simply smiled back. He didn't know what else to do. He followed her to a small car parked by the sidewalk. She set her own box down and popped the trunk before turning to take the box from his hands.

"Thank you." She seemed unsure of what else to say.

"You're welcome." He was equally at loss. He took a moment to study the contents of her trunk—several more boxes, mainly books, a few odd knick-knacks.

She noticed his gaze, gave a slight gesture towards the boxes. "Since the Ambassador's leaving again soon, I thought I'd get everything I wanted out of here. She doesn't like leaving things—she prefers to have everything boxed and stored before she goes off."

"So, you have a place in the city?" He couldn't deny his curiosity—in the very few times that he'd thought or heard about the Ambassador's daughter, he'd never imagined she'd be this person.

"For now," she lifted the other box into the trunk. "But I'm heading to Yale in the fall."

"What area of study?"

"I'm not sure yet." She slammed the trunk and turned to him, her expression informing him that she realized how ridiculous it was to attend Yale without any clue as to what she actually wanted to major in.

"Well, you've got four years to figure it out," he offered in a playful tone, as they made their way back inside.

Something in her expression told him that she didn't think that four years would be enough time.

However, she simply gave another smile—bright, grateful, unmarked by her usual expression of apology—when they reached the top of the stair case once more. "Thank you…."

"Aaron." He supplied.

"Emily." She offered a solid, firm hand shake. "Thanks again. And good luck with my mother."

"Good luck with Yale." He smiled, nodded, and made his way to the Ambassador's office.

He quickly realized that he was glad that Elizabeth Prentiss never talked about her daughter. Because the woman didn't have many kind things to say whenever she did.

"So you met Emily." There was almost a note of regret in her tone. "You saw that ghastly ring in her nose? I'm certain she did it simply to upset me. She's always had a talent for that. Though, I suppose this hippie-commune-feminista transformation is less unnerving than her last reincarnation—goth, if you can imagine. That was always a fun thing to explain at dinner parties."

It was hard to imagine that sunny-smiled and regretful-eyed young woman decked in black and metal spikes, but in a way, it suddenly made sense. Emily Prentiss was trying to find her place in the world—a long and arduous battle, if her expression regarding his comment about "figuring it out" was any indication. It certainly couldn't be easy, living in the shadow of a powerhouse mother.

For a brief moment, Aaron Hotchner hoped that this young woman would succeed in life, in whatever place she finally found for herself. And he hoped that perhaps someday she could inhabit a room without ever apologizing for it.

September 2013. Nairobi, Kenya.

Although she certainly didn't mind having Aaron's hands on her body, Emily didn't let him help her as she made her way into the hotel lobby. First, she wanted to retrain her body to use crutches (again, because this certainly wasn't her first incident requiring those damn things). Second, despite the fact that most of the task force should be at the CID right now, there was still a chance that someone might see something, and they both knew the stakes were too high for that sort of thing.

"Almost there," he offered an encouraging smile as he moved ahead of her, opening the door to her hotel room.

Nerves had pushed Emily's stomach so far into her spine that she wasn't sure it existed anymore. Hotch looked equally nervous, and suddenly, she wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all—five minutes ago, they'd been swapping warm looks and making risqué quips, and now, they were two fumbling, fearful kids playing seven-minutes-in-heaven for the first time.

Aaron held the door open, finally allowing his hand to nest in the small of Emily's back as he guided her through the doorway. The past few minutes had been absolutely excruciating as he'd tried to shutter and hide his emotions and desires from the rest of the world as they traveled through the maze of lobbies, elevators, and hallways. If he didn't know any better, he'd swear that Rowena Lewis had chosen this dress for Emily based on how it would affect him—everything, from the way it cupped her breasts to the way it emphasized the curve of her hips, made him want nothing more than the chance to slip it off and greet the bare body that waited underneath.

Thankfully, waiting was done. The door closed behind them, and his hands immediately flew to the curve of her waist, slowly turning her to face him again.

She smiled, body humming with a nervous expectancy that sparked a flash of fear in his gut (had she changed her mind, was she regretting this already?).

He pulled her close, kissed her gently, trying to show her that he wasn't going to force her to do anything.

She stopped, taking a moment to pull back, her eyes locking onto his with an odd determination.

"Hotch. I was face-to-face with death less than twenty-four hours ago."

The expression in those dark eyes told her that he was well-aware of just how close he'd come to losing her again. Still, she tilted her face closer to his, closing her eyes as she whispered, "Kiss me the way the girl you almost lost again is meant to be kissed."

The last word was drowned out in a surge of motion—his hands swept upwards, one moving further up her spine to keep her steady as the other slipped to her neck, pulling her mouth into his again with an intensity that took her by surprise. Bodies clashed together with small exhales of relief. Crutches clattered to the floor on either side of her, completely forgotten and completely unnecessary, as long as he was holding her.

Her back hit the wall, but her mind barely registered it—her hands were too busy trying to find purchase on the fabric of his shirt, pulling him further into her as her tongue pushed deeper into his mouth. Nerves zapped and fizzled away as the pressure of Aaron's fingertips sent pinpoints of heat through her skin.

He held her head, tilting it back so that he could taste the warm skin on her neck, finally reaching that collarbone that had been calling to him ever since she'd put on that damn dress. Emily went still and quiet, her hands buried in his hair as her pulse hummed against his tongue. He moved upwards again, sucking the pulse point at the base of her jaw, feeling his own hardness growing as Emily gave a small gasp at the warmth of his mouth against her skin. That sound devolved into a deeper hum when his hands went lower, pulling up the edges of her skirt. Her own hands began wandering again as well—down the length of his spine, pulling him closer, down his arms, silently encouraging him to continue.

If Heaven were confined to the mere sensation of touch, Aaron Hotchner knew that it would feel exactly like the soft, warm skin of Emily Prentiss' hips. He moved further up, mapping out the indention of her waist, the outward curve of her ribcage, finally reaching the smooth and supple swells of her breasts.

The mere brush of his thumbs tracing the outline of her breasts sent lighting across Emily's skin. Her breathing hitched and for the briefest of flashes, she stopped her own exploration of Aaron's body. His lips were still at her neck—caught between the ministrations of his hands and his mouth, Emily was a woman on fire.

Of course, she had always been one to stick her hand further into the flame, not pull back. She took his face in her hands and reclaimed his mouth with her own, pressing her body further into his hands, which melted and shifted again, going around her ribcage, slipping down her back to grab her ass, pulling her body firmly against his. She could feel Aaron's hardness, and her stomach fluttered in response, the sensation dropping deeper into the cavern of her hips, pushing heat and wetness into her thighs.

Aaron pulled back slightly when he felt her fingers pulling at the bottom of his shirt, allowing her better access to the row of buttons down the front. She gave a small smile at this action.

"Always could read me like a book, couldn't you, Hotchner?" Her voice was breathless, barely a whisper.

"You're more of a billboard right now," he admitted, and she laughed.

"I was afraid I'd been too subtle," she teased. She made sure her weight was steadily placed on her uninjured leg as she gently pushed away his hands. He acquiesced, but didn't step back, simply waiting on her next move. With a devilish smile, she hooked her thumbs into the top of her dress, pulling the elastic band down, past her chest, over her hips and onto the floor. She kept her eyes on him, watching his every reaction—the darkening of his eyes, the tightening of his hand into a fist, the light press of his lips (oh, yes, Aaron Hotchner wanted her very much right now, but he was restraining himself, waiting for her—a delicious and intoxicating realization, to be sure).

"How's that for a billboard?" She asked quietly, her eyes still twinkling mischievously.

"Perfect," he breathed, and never had a single word induced such a deep reaction within Emily Prentiss.

She noticed his eyes drifting lower, to the place that always drew attention—the now-pale ridge across her stomach, the mark of her resurrection, the remnants of Doyle's attack, the only physical scar that remained from that life-altering ordeal. She also had a tattoo, several inches above the mark, which curved under her left breast, but no matter how beautiful and vibrant the ink on her skin was, that scar always took center stage.

"Oh," she said quietly, her fingertips involuntarily flying to the spot, a gesture that was a mixture of self-protection and embarrassed apology. Aaron understood—baring your body was one thing, baring a physical scorecard of your past was another.

He reached forward again, gently moving her hands away and placing a reverent kiss upon the scar. He felt her exhale against his mouth, relieved at his reaction (he instinctively knew that Emily probably didn't bring home many men, for this very reason—scars like that bring questions, demand explanations, dig up memories that she didn't always want to relive).

He stood straight, easily removing his own shirt and tossing it aside. He simply opened his hands in a welcoming gesture, Remember, I have scars, too.

The smile returned to her eyes, though it was softer than the last one. She reached for him, pulling him back to her as her fingertips lightly breathed over the marks left by Foyet's blade.

"We match," she gave an almost-sheepish smile (I had forgotten that).

"Yeah," he tenderly brushed a wisp of hair from her face. "We match."

His mouth found hers again, and her hands slipped around his back, palms singing at the deliciousness of feeling his bare skin. She pulled him further in, pulling their naked chests together for the first time—an action that reignited the hunger building between them, adding heat to their seeking tongues, weight to their gypsy hands which roamed past scars and over new sites of sensation and fire.

Emily was leaning into him again, but Aaron began to realize that it was out of fatigue instead of pure desire—he felt a flash of consternation for not even thinking about her injured leg (though, in his defense, there were certainly more captivating things to consider at the time).

"You shouldn't be standing," he looped one arm around her back and hooked the other under her knees, easily sweeping her off her feet.

She made a small noise of surprise, which turned into a laugh. "I can walk—"

"But why would you want to, when I could carry you?" He asked in mock confusion.

She grinned again, "I see your point."

He set her on the edge of the bed, but her arms stayed around his neck, keeping his face just above hers so that she could pull him in for another languid kiss. Then she pulled back, biting her lip almost-regretfully, "I hate to rush the foreplay, but we are in the middle of a case—"

"I know," his voice was filled with regret as well—and Emily couldn't help but wonder just what this man would do, if given more time.

However, she dispelled the air of regret by grinning again, nuzzling her nose against his as her hands reached for his belt buckle, "You know, when you come back tonight, we'll have a lot more time to ourselves."

And that still wouldn't be enough, his mind retorted, but he kept the thought to himself. Jesus, he hadn't even had sex with the woman yet and he already knew that he wanted to do it again. He reminded himself to focus on the present—the very wonderful present. Emily Prentiss was sitting in front of him, simmering eyes and (very naked) flushed skin, her hands making quick work of the button and zipper of his pants, pushing the fabric off his hips.

She bit the inside of her lip and gave a devilish smile when she saw his cock, which she then studiously ignored, taking the time to kiss the little white scars on his abdomen instead—little fluttering kisses that only teased, touches that would feel heavenly elsewhere but only prolonged his torture (but what a wonderful torture it was).

The only problem was that at this angle, he couldn't touch her—not really, not the way he wanted to. Emily sensed this, her legs opening so that her calf muscles could wrap around his, her hands still teasing and seeking down the length of his legs as her mouth slowly traveled further down.

Aaron Hotchner had no doubt that Emily's mouth would be lovely, but it wasn't what he wanted or needed at that particular moment—his hands cupped her face, turning up towards his again.

The look in Aaron's dark eyes stopped Emily's heart. It wasn't the first time a man had ever looked at her like that—but, god, had she ever wished so much for any other man to look at her with that intoxicating mixture of lust and adoration? And had she ever waited so many years for any other man, like she had for him?

The reality of the moment landed like an atom bomb in her gut, and suddenly, more than ever, the realization of this will change everything filtered rapid-fire through every fiber of her being.

And she welcomed the change. With open arms.

For so long now, she'd wanted things to change between them—though, in a million years, she never thought it would happen, and certainly not like this, but no one can chart their life's path, you simply had to do what you could and hope that the rest would work out, somehow.

Right now, the rest was working out quite beautifully. Aaron's steady hands were slowly pushing her back, his eyes never leaving hers as he moved forward, the heat of his body radiating against her skin in the most delicious of ways. She slipped further across the bed, legs already open and wanting as her hands reached for him again, testing the taut lines of his shoulders, pressing into his skin to communicate the urgency building through every vein in her body.

Despite his agreement that they didn't have much time, Aaron Hotchner was still moving much too slowly for Emily's taste. He stretched out beside her, rolling to place a chaste kiss on her shoulder. She gave a small huff, and he grinned, but didn't comment. He looked so adorable when he was being wicked that Emily couldn't help but laugh, her hands skimming through his hair before going to explore the expanse of his back and shoulders.

The humor disappeared when his mouth traveled lower, tongue circling a taut nipple before covering it with his hot, wet mouth. Heat bolted through Emily's core and she gave a gasp, a shuttering breath that rippled down her spine.

Aaron stopped, looking up quizzically, "Did you just…"

"Yeah," she gave a breathless smile. "I'm very…responsive, I guess. I mean, I don't always, but it's you, and…"

She didn't finish her statement, but rather devolved into another almost-embarrassed smile. She didn't have to explain. Aaron understood—after all, most of the wonderful sensations rippling through his own body had a direct correlation to the fact that is was Emily with him, Emily's hands and Emily's mouth and Emily's eyes and Emily's heavy breathing, Emily's skin and Emily's body and Emily's soul, right here with him.

He simply smiled and returned his attention to the smooth plane between her breasts. He explored further, taking a moment to inspect the tattoo that curved underneath her left breast—he'd noticed it earlier, but this new angle afforded a better view. It was a phoenix, smoke curling off its wings to create the words Dum Spiro Spero. He didn't know exactly what it meant, but he knew it was her way of commemorating her survival against Doyle, permanently changing the landscape of her body on her own terms, instead of letting the scar below it take all of the attention.

He wanted to ask what it meant, but he decided to wait until later. Now was not the time to remember past loss and pain. He gently tested his teeth against the soft, pale underside of her breast, and her fingers dug into his back encouragingly as she arched into his mouth's embrace. The smell of the hospital still clung to her skin, sickness and sterility and death and fear and everything else they'd overcome, and yet here she was, moving and breathing and wildly, beautifully, exquisitely alive. The wonder of that small miracle nearly took his breath away.

His left hand slipped further down, past the scar, to the delicious warmth of her thighs, which she opened easily with another light sigh of relief (another tattoo, on the inside of her right thigh—smaller, yet more surprising, another question for later). His fingertips brushed against her opening, his cock giving a twitch of anticipation at the wetness he found there. He traced his way around the folds of her labia, finally arriving at her clit. She jumped at the contact, giving another small gasp.

That sound—so tiny, light as air yet dark as night. He decided that it was the most intoxicating sound in the world, and he'd never tire of hearing her make it.

Emily Prentiss wanted to kick herself for getting shot. Her bum leg kept her from being as physically involved as she would normally be—gods, by now, she would have used that leg to roll Aaron over, could have already taken him inside of her, could have already ended the cruel teasing game that he was playing. She loved foreplay as much as the next person, but she'd already spent years waiting on this man (he'd made her come by kissing her skin, didn't he realize that she didn't need any further help in that department?).

She wasn't the type of girl to restrain herself to passive engagement. She reached for him, bringing his face back to hers to give a frustrated kiss, her one good leg wrapping around him, pulling his body closer to her.

He laughed at her impatience, "I know we're in the middle of a case, but we do have some time—"

"Then spend it where you're supposed to be," she purred, slowly opening her legs wider, pulling him closer (inside of me).

Fuck. Who could argue with logic like that?

Aaron had a sudden flash of hindsight, "Shit. Protection."

"Don't worry about it."

"You're on the pill?"

"Don't worry about it."

That wasn't an answer, but again, he decided to ask questions later. He traced the outline of her taut thigh, kissing the inside of her knee before placing his shoulder against her leg. He left her bandaged leg alone, fearing the strain would burst a stitch or otherwise further the injury. He took a second to look at her—she was barely breathing, almost holding her breath, dark eyes watching him with equal curiosity and alertness.

Emily exhaled in relief when he finally entered, though that relief was quickly replaced with a hunger which grew like the waves building on the shore. He wasn't particularly large in girth, but he made up for it in length, hitting places that made her nerves light up like a pinball machine. Their current position didn't allow her to kiss him, but oh, if she could, she'd kiss that man for every delicious roll of his hips, for every movement that built the fire flooding her veins. Her hands were hapless sparrows flitting across his shoulders, cupping the curve of his jaw, slipping back down to caress the muscles of his arms, encouraging him with grasps and squeezes.

Aaron could feel her core tightening around him, a delicious friction that sparked every nerve in his body—she was close to the edge again, and this time, he wanted an even closer ring-side seat. He watched, waited, listened to the little huffs and pants telling him just how close she was, and when he knew that she was about to fall to pieces, he moved quickly, pushing her leg off his shoulder, slipping his arms under her as he sat back, pulling her into a sitting position as he guided her hips, pushing back inside of her pulsing channel as their chests collided.

She didn't make a sound—a mere gasp as her hands scrabbled against his shoulders and neck, pulling his mouth to hers. She sighed, one long, deep breath that pushed from her lungs into his, and for a moment, Aaron thought he might never breathe again. He felt her entire body shuddering around him, and he decided that if this was truly his last breath, he certainly wouldn't regret it.

There were tears in her eyes, and he couldn't understand why.

"Don't," she seemed to read the question in his expression. She resumed the roll of her hips, keeping his body as close to hers as she could. "It just happens. Nothing's wrong."

She soon made him forget such things—he forgot everything except the ripple of her skin against his, the sound of her sighs and the weight of her hips in his hands as each movement, each push brought him closer to his own release.

The heavy tension was coiling in Emily's hips again but her bullet wound was screaming in protest at her current position, which had both legs firmly wrapped around Aaron's torso.

"I've got—I need—my leg," she fumbled for explanation, leaning back to untangle her limbs. "I'm sorry—"

"It's OK," he assured her, easily shifting so that she could lay back, injured leg resting at a more comfortable angle. He stayed on his knees, pulling her hips back to his, "How about this?"

"Perfect," she decreed. She gave another sigh as he slipped inside of her again, "Oh, yes, perfect."

Although her hips were lifted, Aaron's hands kept her steady and the muscles in her thigh weren't strained as much—though to be honest, this position's best feature was the view. Her back was on the mattress, giving Emily a full glimpse of Aaron's body in action (a detail that only added heat to the sensations created by each movement). She watched his face, the look of concentration that she'd seen a thousand times over the years taking a completely different hue in this setting—but still so many parts of it that were Hotch, the man he was and had always been, at least to her.

She'd lied, when she had told him that she couldn't get used to seeing him like this. This had always been there, but she'd tried to push it away, to pretend she couldn't see, because her willful blindness would keep her from imagining things, things that she shouldn't have imagined in regards to her boss and her team member.

But he was just Aaron now. He was Aaron and there was still so much of Hotch that remained—the pieces that she'd admired, and yes, even loved, over the years.

Loved. Jesus, she'd just mentally admitted to loving this man.

The tidal wave growing between her hips pressed through her ribs, over her lungs and her wildly-beating heart, out of her mouth in another deep sigh, receding and rippling through her muscles again. She closed her eyes so tightly that she saw stars—there was another sound, Aaron's own low moan as she felt him come, his fingers pressing so deeply into her flesh that she felt him touch her bones.

He gently set her hips back on the bed, collapsing beside her, shoulders pressed together as they both regained their breaths.

"Why do you cry?" He asked, keeping his tone devoid of judgment.

"I don't know," she answered truthfully, opening her eyes to stare at the ceiling—even as she did, she could feel the tears slipping from the corners of her eyes, trailing down her face, into her hair. "I always have—well not always, but after…pretty much since college, I have."

He knew what she didn't stay—the silence that filled the space after the word after.

After Rome. After the abortion. After being branded and bullied from the Church. He felt a swell of anger in his heart for the supposed man-of-god who could so cruelly turn away a fifteen year old girl in such desperate need of love and forgiveness.

"I don't think it's for all the fucked up reasons you're imagining," her wry tone tore him from his thoughts. She was rolling onto her side, propping herself up on one elbow so that she could smile into his face. "It's not…guilt, or shame, or sadness, or anything like that at all. It's relief, more than anything. Usually has more of an unwanted effect on my partner than it does me. Guys don't tend to like girls that cry during sex."

He simply smiled, reaching up to wipe away the liquid trail across her cheek. He didn't ask questions, didn't profile her actions—instead, he changed the subject, his finger slipping down the line of her neck, under the shadow of her left breast, "And what does this one mean?"

"Ah," she shifted slightly, lifting up her boob so that he could see the tattoo better. "Dum spiro spero—While I breathe, I hope."

"Fitting," he smiled softly.

"I thought so," she shared his grin. "And the phoenix is self-explanatory, I guess—"

"Absolutely. You know, Garcia and I have a joke about you—on a scale of one to ten, other people's eight is your three."

She laughed, though she still pretended to be offended, "You and Penelope have inside jokes? Since when?"

"Since always."

"I never knew."

"Well, that's because they're inside jokes, Emily." His eyes were twinkling now, and she felt her whole body melt with simple happiness at his easy playfulness—unreserved and carefree Hotch was a rare sight indeed, but certainly a wonderful one.

She rolled her eyes but didn't (couldn't) argue.

He sat up, hand slipping further downward, tone laced with knowing playfulness, "There's another interesting piece of art—"

She laughed, opening her leg so that he could see the tattoo on her inner thigh again. "Oh, yes—I forget about that one, sometimes."

He leaned in closer, pretending to scrutinize the ink, though he also took the time to nip at the soft skin below it.

"Bona fiscalia," he read it aloud, then looked back up at her for a translation.

A mona lisa smile. "Public property."

He eyed its location again—less than two inches below the inner joint of her hip.

She laughed, "I'll admit that this one was mainly to shock my mother—my first tattoo, actually. She was thrilled, as I am sure you can imagine."

He forced himself not to analyze the action. The lost and searching girl who got that tattoo was not the grounded and certain woman who lay before him now, unapologetic in her past and content with her present.

"I had a fiancé who wanted me to get rid of it," she gave a slight moue of distaste as she remembered.

"It's part of who you are," he returned, without judgment or patronization.

She smiled, the same breathless, grateful smile from earlier, the one that melted away the years and brought back that young woman he'd met in the Ambassador's brownstone over two decades ago.

"It is," she agreed warmly. During her time at the BAU, she'd often thought that dating a profiler would be absolute hell, having someone constantly analyzing her every thought and move, but she realized that perhaps it was a point in Aaron's favor—he empathized, he understood her current actions based on the parts of her past that he did know, and he never offered judgment on any of it. Simple acceptance of her behavior—a long sought and deeply desired trait that had been missing from so many other relationships in her life.

Aaron was having similar thoughts, because suddenly, he quietly asked, "Why didn't we do this sooner?"

She burst into laughter, "I honestly don't know."

"What's so funny?"

"I don't know," the answer only made her laugh harder.

He returned to her side, kissed her grinning mouth with his own, pulled their bodies flush against one another.

She gave a small hum of satisfaction at the warmth, closing her eyes and burying her face into the curve of his neck, inhaling his scent.

He placed a small kiss on the curve of her shoulder. "I have to go soon."

"I know." She returned the kiss on his neck.

His mind was slowly returning to the world of the case. "Shir-Del and Whitting know. Easter told them—they'd already figured it out on their own, they cornered him and told him what they knew. He had no choice but to bring them in."

"I never thought I'd see the day when you were defending Clyde Easter," she looked at him in surprise, though a smile danced at the corner of her eyes. Then she simply patted his chest, "I trust Clyde's judgment, just like I trust yours. Don't worry about it."

That last line reminded him of yet another question he'd filed away, "Earlier, when I asked about protection. You said don't worry about it. What…what exactly did you mean by that?"

After all the other personal discussions, this was the moment she pulled away. She rolled onto her back, focusing on the ceiling again, avoiding eye contact. Her voice was flat, but it still carried the tremor of emotion beneath the surface.

"I had a tubal litigation, about ten years ago—right before JTF-12." She blinked quickly, her large expressive eyes filled with conflicting emotions. "I knew I couldn't be a mother if I took that job—not the one I wanted to be, anyways—and I knew I wanted that job more than anything. And after…after Easter set me up with Doyle, I was glad I'd done it. I couldn't play the part, if I'd spent the whole time fearing that I'd get pregnant again—pregnant with some…horrible man's baby."

Aaron felt his chest contract with sorrow. "I'm sorry, Emily. I didn't mean to bring all this up—"

"I know," she said quickly, glancing at him with a smile of false cheerfulness. "And I know, I didn't have to answer your questions—but I just…I've never liked keeping secrets from you. I want you to know me, I guess."

He caressed the side of her face, "And I want to know you. Every part of you. And I want you to know me, just the same."

He sealed the declaration with a languid kiss, the kind that made Emily's toes curl with bubbly happiness.

Aaron's phone buzzed.

"Shit," he sat up.

"It's probably important," she sat up as well, sliding her long torso over the edge of the bed to retrieve his pants.

He gave a small sound of appreciation for the view.

"Down, boy," she commanded playfully, pulling his phone out of his pants pocket and handing it to him. "You've got to go back to work."

He made an absolutely pitiful face at the pronouncement, but quickly resumed his usual air of all-business as he answered his phone, "Hotchner."

"Hotch, sorry to both you." It was Dave, and he truly did sound remorseful (a rare occurrence, indeed). "We've got a new development."

"What if all we have ever wanted isn't hiding in some secret and faraway dream
but inside of us now as we breathe one another and find home in the way
our arms always seem to fit perfectly around the spaces between us?
What if we are the answer and love was the question?
What if all this time it was us you were supposed to find?"
~Tyler Knott Gregson.

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