Out of Africa

The Night and the Moment

"I want to leave goosebumps everywhere I have not yet kissed
and spend the night trying to read them like Braille."
~Tyler Knott Gregson.

Downtown Nairobi.

Emily Prentiss stopped, taking a moment to rub her tired eyes before resuming her trek down the street—the forensic teams had set up a tent next to the van, where most of the materials were now waiting transport back to the CID labs.

She'd gone up the stairs on crutches (despite Aaron's opposition), feeling that she needed to see the scene herself. Now, her weary arms and aching muscles regretted that decision.

"How're you feeling?" Rowena Lewis was at the van, putting away more items of evidence.

"Better," Emily forced a smile. She motioned to her dress. "And thank you again for…everything."

Roe grinned, "I thought you'd like it. It looks good on you—and I don't think I'm the only one who noticed."

Emily laughed, but didn't respond.

The other brunette shrugged, "Fine, have your secrets. But know that I know. Mouths aren't the only things that talk."

She wagged her eyebrows suggestively at the last comment, eliciting another laugh from her friend.

"Maybe one day, I'll tell you all the dirty details," Emily teased her. "When we're old and gray and need to remember our glory days."

Rowena gave a sad shake of her head, rolling her eyes melodramatically at the thought. Suddenly, her face lit up, "Speak of the devil."

Emily sensed Hotch's presence long before he actually spoke, "It looks like the scene's being wrapped now. They'll do a quick clean-up, and then head back to CID."

Emily nodded. Roe just watched him with a grin that bordered on psychotic.

"Well, I guess I better get up there, make sure we've got everything," Rowena glanced around. "Keep an eye on the van, will ya?"

Aaron gave a small smile as he watched her walk away. "She knows, doesn't she?"

Emily didn't answer, but she did that thing where she held her breath before releasing it in a sigh—one of her tells, the one he'd told her about the night of JJ's wedding.

"Is that a problem for you?" He asked, turning his attention back to her.

"No. You?"

He shook his head. The hitch of her shoulders went down slightly, and he knew that she was relieved at his answer.

"How are your arms?" He gave a nod, indicating her posture which currently spoke of her discomfort.

"I over-did it," she admitted.

He didn't say I told you so (though he had told her that going up three flights of stairs on crutches would have repercussions). Instead, he moved closer, "Here."

"What are you going to do?" She asked, curiosity instantly piqued.

He didn't answer, but merely guided her so that her back was against the van, "Lean back."

She did as she was told, allowing her weight to settle against the vehicle, and he quietly moved her crutches out of the way. Her skin was already beginning to tingle in anticipation, still unsure of what exactly was happening but willing to play this new game to the teeth.

His hands went to her hips, taking a moment to appreciate the outline of her curves as they moved upwards, finally reaching the sore muscles of her arms and chest. He began massaging the aching muscles (which only made other things ache in turn, though their aching was much more delightful), his brow furrowing in adorable concentration as his fingers continued their circular probing.

The problem was that his hands were staying exactly where they were supposed to be—and not where Emily wanted them at all. Still, she found herself almost sinking into his grip, letting each roll of his thumbs move her entire body as warmth and sparks rippled across her skin.

"That feels amazing," she murmured, dipping her forehead so that it rested against his, though her ears still strained for the slightest sound—they both knew that if anyone came out of the building, they'd move apart at the speed of light, but for now, there wasn't any harm in testing the limits a little.

"Good." She could hear the smile in his voice. "I want you back in top form for later."

She grinned, too, then pushed herself past a boundary that still made her stomach tremble with fear as she admitted, "If you really want to make me feel better, then all you have to do is say the first three words of that statement."

"I want you." No hesitation, no teasing. Pure, direct, honest. Quintessential Hotch.

Her chest tightened as her lungs collapsed with emotion (and she knew that she was in trouble deep). Her eyes flew open again, meeting his with a surprised intensity that shattered like a lightbulb inside her brain.

Aaron felt the power of those eyes blow over him like a shockwave, and the man who'd built a career on keeping tight lip and tight rein over his emotions suddenly couldn't stop himself, "I've wanted you longer that you know—longer than I should have, longer than was proper. And nothing you've ever done has ever changed that."

She knew that he was reassuring her about her decision to cover up Wasaki's death—during their time at the hospital, and even on the ride over to the crime scene, she'd found herself offering explanations (as if Aaron Hotchner didn't understand the situation, of all people), offering reasons for her morally ambiguous behavior, because she somehow felt that she was slowly becoming unworthy of him (and to make it worse, she knew that he felt her hesitancy, too). She knew it was a fault of hers, the innate ability to find reasons for why no one should ever be burdened with loving her, a means of protecting herself from further rejection, and yet knowing of the fault didn't stop her from still enacting it.

She simply blinked, "You don't know everything I've done."

"I know who you are. That's what matters," he assured her. This brought a smile back to her face, and he kissed her, sweetly and softly, sealing the decree.

"Pretty cocky statement, Hotchner," her eyes were twinkling mischievously again.

"Are you saying it's wrong?"

"No. I'm just saying there are certain aspects of me that you don't know at all."

"And what might those be?"

"You'll find out soon enough."

The Plaza Hotel. Nairobi, Kenya.

Those five words echoed and rippled across Aaron Hotchner's brain for hours, as they wrapped up the crime scene, as they drove back to CID for one last briefing, as they returned to the hotel, as he waited in his own room, anxiously tapping her room key card against his open palm as he checked the clock again and again.

He would have to point out the mistruth in her statement—this certainly was not soon enough.

He had to laugh at himself, acting like an impatient teenager over a woman he'd known for years, when they were both closer to fifty than thirty, his hands trembling as if he hadn't survived some of the most intense situations a human being could encounter without batting an eye.

But it wasn't nerves that made his hands shake. No, it was something much more dangerous.

Need. Yes, if he was honest, he suddenly saw this pursuit of Emily Prentiss as a need, much past the point of want. He needed to know what was between them, needed to explore it with crashing blood and burning lips and wandering hands, needed to feel her hips between the parentheses of his hands again, to feel the pulse thrumming in her neck against his tongue again, even to hold her as she cried again—but for once, it wasn't because he needed to unravel a mystery, but rather simply become deeper entrenched in it. Emily was the one thing he never wanted to truly solve, because in the end, he understood that she had not given him permission to solve her (yes, she'd invited him in, had shared her bed and so many secrets, but there were still parts that were hers to keep, hers to give to another, to someone who could be for her all the things that Aaron could not). He respected that, and even relished the realization that his only task was to find more things to become enamored with—an easy task indeed.

He looked at the clock again. Surely everyone else was dead asleep by now.

He went, quietly and quickly, glancing around more out of habit than actual concern. He opened the door—there was movement, Emily sitting up suddenly, as if she'd simply been lying in bed waiting for him.

What a wonderful thought.

"Finally," she gave a breathless smile.

He didn't reply, instead heading straight towards her. She rose, unsteadily, and his hands quickly reached out to keep her upright, pulling her into him as their mouths rejoined with joyous force.

Then, Emily pulled back, her eyes dancing with some devilish scheme (and oh, he knew he'd give anything to be a part of whatever made her eyes gleam like lightning at midnight).

"I think we can both agree that after tomorrow, this case will be closed," her voice was full of feigned seriousness.

"Yes, I think so."

Her wicked grin returned, "Then tonight's the last night that I'm your superior officer."

And suddenly he was grinning, too, "And you plan on taking full advantage of your position?"

She gave a theatrically nonchalant shrug, "I spent seven years taking orders from you. I think you can survive a single night."

He couldn't argue with that logic (more importantly, he didn't want to).

She pushed him back gently, sitting on the edge of the bed again. "Take off your clothes, Agent Hotchner."

Emily Prentiss wasn't really surprised by how well Aaron Hotchner followed orders—especially not when they both knew he was definitely being rewarded for his good behavior. Still, it didn't lessen the absolutely seductive sizzle of power that came from knowing she had full control. But it was more than just a power play—she had a point to prove.

Hotch hadn't been the only one replaying previous conversations in his head—most of the evening, Emily's mind had ran over Aaron's words again and again, like a penitent counting off beads on a rosary.

I've wanted you longer that you know—longer than I should have, longer than was proper. It was the greatest gift he could have given her, assuring her that this dance between them had been long and slow and always, always mutual, not just the delusions of her own love-starved mind. And now that she had been given this gift of assurance, she wanted nothing more than to return it—to let him know that she'd always felt the same, for almost as long (if not longer) than he had. And while there was certainly great fun in having Aaron Hotchner at her mercy, her true motive was to prove to him that she wasn't passively accepting his attentions and affections, but that she wanted him with equal force and ardor.

So far, her message seemed to be getting through.

Aaron was currently lying down, arms outstretched (he'd been ordered not to move them, and Emily had more than once bemoaned the hotel bed's lack of posts, which would have been on-so-helpful in this task), grinning at her in a mixture of playful curiosity and amused adoration—a winning combination that made her stomach flip-flop with giddy desire.

"Now," she carefully sat next to him, close enough to feel the warmth of his body but far enough not to actually touch. "I think it's only fair that I should repay the favor from earlier—you made my poor arms feel so much better, and I didn't get the chance to say a proper thank you."

His grin widened as he pushed his luck further, nodding at her still-clothed body, "If you're worried about fairness, you could even the playing field a little."

"I'm the one in charge here, remember?"

"Yes, but a good leader always knows when to take suggestions."

She couldn't argue with that. Instead, she easily removed the dress, giving him a look of feigned disapproval as she tossed it aside, "You're real proud of yourself for thinking up that one, aren't you, Hotchner?"

He merely grinned in response, and she couldn't stop herself from leaning forward to recapture his mouth with her own. She couldn't remember the last time that a man had made her so ridiculously giddy, so eager for a simple kiss, so easily undone by a mere glance or the slightest suggestion of a touch.

Trouble, trouble, you're in trouble, Emily Prentiss, the voice in her head sing-songed. She knew it was true, and she found that she didn't care as much as she probably should. At least not right now.

"Don't move," she reminded him in a whisper, taking another second to simply let their noses touch, eyes locked onto one another and glimmering with anticipation.

"Yes, ma'am," he returned sweetly, and by his wicked grin, she realized that he wouldn't follow orders nearly as long or as well as she'd first predicted. Oh, he wore the face of a choirboy, but his eyes danced like the devil's fire.

But for now, he was playing by the rules, and for now, she'd make the most of his compliance.

Allowing her injured leg time to adjust to the new position, she gingerly straddled him, making sure that she didn't actually sit on his torso—again, he could feel the warmth of her thighs, but was the denied the softness of their touch (and silently, she was thankful for her long legs, which gave her this cruel advantage). Her hands gently cupped his neck, fingers slowly working their way down and out across the lines of his shoulders and biceps.

Aaron had to remind himself to breathe—Emily's hands were going in opposite directions, bringing her chest closer to him, and it took every ounce of self-control not to lift his head and nip the smooth flesh pushing over the top of her bra cup. Ever the consummate actress, she pretended not to notice how close her breasts were to his face, instead focusing her gaze on his arm as she feigned concern for his muscles.

"You're very tense, Agent Hotchner," she informed him (as if she didn't know the reason).

"I can't imagine why," he returned easily, his tone edged with sarcasm. She grinned in response, merely giving a playful quirk of her eyebrow.

"You should relax. We're just getting started."

He hummed in delight at the thought. She shifted, her skin just a breath away from his mouth, quietly whispering, "Just breathe. Relax, and breathe."

She'd only moved closer to tempt him, to test just how well he was going to follow orders, and yet, Aaron saw his chance for a little revenge. He did as she suggested—breathing a deep, warm breath from his mouth, which rippled across her skin. He saw the goosebumps left in its wake, but instead of feeling satisfaction, he only felt more desire.

Emily bit her lip as she forgot her own advice about breathing, her body feeling instantly chilled without his touch. She recovered, slowly tracing her fingers back up his arms, sitting back slightly. Then she shifted herself further down, turning her hands' attentions to his chest as she slowly allowed herself to settle against his body.

A tremor ran down Aaron's spine at the warm weight of Emily's thighs finally gracing his skin. She was still wearing panties, but he could feel the dampness of her center pressing into his stomach, and his mind instantly flashed to how wonderful it would feel to slip into that wet, hot core (with his finger, his tongue, his cock, god, he promised himself he'd try it all the second that she allowed him to move).

Her breathless grin informed him that she'd noticed his reaction and read his mind as well—she continued massaging the muscles of his chest, her back arching as she pushed herself further down, closer to exactly where he wanted her, still teasing and taunting (so close…and yet you can't move to do anything about it, what a shame).

Emily's palms quietly committed the ridges of scars across his abdomen to memory, but she didn't pay special attention to them—she knew, from personal experience, that there were times for scars to be revered and times for them to be forgotten, and right now, her focus and affection needed to be directed at everything else besides Aaron Hotchner's permanent reminders of his past. Instead, she moved again, away from her current position so that she could travel further downward, to his hard and wanting cock—she momentarily considered ignoring it completely, but then decided that he had been very obedient so far and therefor deserved some small reward for his compliance.

Aaron regretted the loss of Emily's warm thighs against his skin, but when he glanced down and saw the devious look in her eyes, he knew that what came next would be far more satisfying.

She scooped her hair over one shoulder, her dark eyes locked onto his as she leaned forward, slowly taking him in her mouth. He closed his eyes, releasing a soft sigh at the wet heat around his cock.

Emily felt a shiver race down her spine at the light breath that escaped Aaron's lungs—in all her imaginings of what it would be like to have sex with Aaron Hotchner, she'd never imagined that sound, and gods, what she would give to be able to always incite such a sound from this man, just to be able to hear it a thousand times more, in a hundred different situations. The saddening realization that her wish wasn't even a remote possibility hit like a tidal wave against her chest, but she pushed those feelings back into their little boxes to be sorted later on (she'd always been a good compartmentalizer, wasn't that the first thing the other BAU members had noticed about her?) and focused on the moment—the way she could feel Aaron's hands tightening around the sheets as he fought the urge to reach down and touch her and run his fingers through her hair, the set of his muscles that said he was holding his breath again, the taste of him, the warmth of his hips beneath her fingertips and the shimmering sparks that his mere breathing stirred in her own body.

Like every other aspect of this exercise, Emily wasn't relieving any tension, only building it—she withdrew from his cock with a wicked grin, returning her attention to massaging his legs as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Aaron let out a frustrated chuckle.

"Something amusing, Hotchner?"

"Not particularly."

"Are you saying that you're not enjoying this?" She leaned forward breathily, steadying herself on his upper thighs and enhancing the view of her breasts with a cruel sense of calculation.

"I'm enjoying that you're enjoying this," he answered diplomatically.

"Good answer," she gave another wicked grin. Then she feigned a clinical sense of curiosity, "You know, after all the years I've seen you in action, I have to admit, I didn't think you'd be so good at kissing your superior's ass."

"Truth be told, I'd much rather bite it."

She flashed a knowing smirk over her shoulder as she turned around—ostensibly to focus her attention of his calves and feet, though her position definitely gave him a tantalizing view of her aforementioned asset.

"You know, in all the years I've known you, I didn't think you could be so cruel," he admitted playfully, looking up at the ceiling in anguish.

"I told you—there are parts of me that you don't know at all."

"Oh, I'm learning." He assured her.

She sat back, still turned away from him, her hands reaching behind her to unsnap her bra and toss it aside, just as carelessly as she'd done the dress (which was now his favorite article of clothing she'd ever worn). Then she moved to the edge of the bed, gingerly pushing herself onto her feet as she turned back to him, "Sit up."

He did, moving to the edge of the bed as well. She rested her hands on his shoulders, steadying herself (damn leg, the things they could do, if she wasn't a fucking invalid), and perhaps taking a moment to appreciate the lines of his shoulders.

"Please remove my underwear," she kept her tone neutral, nonchalant, as if it was the most mundane request in the world.

His hands eagerly went for her hips, but her voice stopped him, "You can't touch anything else. Just the fabric."

He gave another light chuckle—of course, he'd be granted no relief, not even the simple satisfaction of touching her skin, which was already glowing with excitement, singing a siren song to his fingertips.

Still, he played the game, knowing that in the end, Emily Prentiss would make every single second of torture worth the sweet reward—despite this newfound side of her personality, he knew that she was still a fair soul at heart.

The last article of clothing between them slipped away like the last soft breath before the plunge, and Emily felt her core tighten with urgency and need. She wanted—no, needed—to take him then and there, to lose herself in the movements on her own hips and the sound of her name on his lips and the feeling of his hands on her skin. But Aaron Hotchner wasn't the only one taking a lesson in patience—she pushed her own desire back with a silent promise that soon, she'd have all that she wanted and more.

"Lay back down," she withdrew her hands from his shoulders, standing for a moment on her own as she watched him obey. It wasn't his obedience that really got her, but rather the reasons she saw behind it—he trusted her, and he wanted to make her happy. There weren't many people who shared a mutual sense of trust with Emily Prentiss, and there were even fewer invested in her happiness—as usual, Aaron Hotchner was an exception to every rule.

I've wanted you longer that you know—longer than I should have, longer than was proper.

"I've been thinking about what you said, earlier—what you said about how long you've wanted me," she clarified, slowly lowering herself back onto the bed and moving closer.

He sat up on his elbows, suddenly serious and alert. So very Hotch that she couldn't stop her heart from swelling in her chest.

She moved forward, straddling him again, this time exactly where he wanted, gently pressing her hand into his chest to make him lay down again.

"Have I proven just how mutual that feeling has been?" She asked, her voice a velvety purr lined with true concern. She guided him inside of her, her breath hitching as her core tightened in delight, "Do you—do you understand that it's almost always been that way?"

Leave it to Emily Prentiss to combine a moment of physical release with a mind-blowing emotional affirmation. Aaron took a deep breath, trying to steady his muddled thoughts as Emily slowly began to move on top of him, each roll of her hips a punctuation to a question, "Do you? Do you know that I feel the same? That I—"

She stopped herself before those last two fateful words tumbled out of her mouth. Yes, this was a moment of heated passion and heightened emotions, but she couldn't throw such a weighty declaration on the table, not now, not like this, not when there was nothing they could do about it, not when it would only muddy the already-darkened waters and tangle the already-snarled web between them.

But her mind still repeated the refrain.

Do you? Do you know that I feel the same? That I love you?

Even though the words never left Emily's lips, Aaron immediately understood the meaning behind her sudden silence—at least he hoped that he did, that the words she didn't utter were the same as the ones coursing through his own mind at this very moment. However, he kept silent as well, once again reminding himself that he could only enter Emily's world as far as she allowed him—he wouldn't press, wouldn't take a wrecking ball to her carefully crafted defenses with hapless words of love and devotion, wouldn't make things any harder than they already were.

Instead, his hands reached for her, to give her some kind of physical assurance—however, her hands were at his biceps again, pinning his arms back down to the mattress.

She was smiling again, breathlessly teasing, "I didn't say that you could touch me yet."

"I thought my torture was over," he bemoaned his fate.

"This isn't enough for you?" She gave another suggestive roll of her hips, sending a ripple of pleasure through his entire being.

"Not nearly enough," he informed her.

She arched her eyebrow as she tauntingly challenged, "Well, why don't you do something about it?"

The words had barely left Emily's mouth when the room began to spin, abruptly ending with her on her back and Aaron on top of her, hand cupping her neck as his tongue and teeth connected with hers in a hungry ferocity that snapped the breath out of her lungs. His hands were moving, rediscovering and reappreciating her body, pulling her hips back to his as he slid inside her again. Her pulse skyrocketed and when their mouths drew apart, she could hear her own loud, ragged breaths as her hands returned his caresses, remapping the lines of his face, his neck, his shoulders, his back, pulling his chest closer to hers as her legs wrapped around his hips.

Her bullet wound was screeching in pain, but the other feelings shooting through her veins won the battle of wills—besides, what woman on earth would even want Aaron Hotchner to stop, when he was taking her with such determined passion?

His mouth was on her neck now, and the room was going blurry—not from adrenaline, but tears, and she knew that she was close to climax. She closed her eyes, willing away those damned tears and recapturing his mouth with renewed fervor. He might have her on her back, but she could still prove that she definitely wasn't defeated.

The searing intensity behind Emily's kiss short-circuited Aaron's brain for a full beat—even when their lips parted, her hands clutched his face, keeping him as close as possible. He could feel the muscles in her thighs tightening around him, could hear the mews and pants slipping off her lips, could see the flushed sheen of her skin, and for the briefest of eternities, he wished that this moment and all its sensations could simply last forever. Then he realized (as almost always with Emily), each moment was greater than the last, and staying frozen in one wasn't nearly enough when there was so much more to see and explore.

She became quiet, and suddenly he felt her shudder around him, the clench of her core around his cock sending white lights across his brain as her fingernails dug into his shoulder blades, holding on for dear life.

The tears didn't surprise him this time, and he knew that she was relieved when he didn't point them out. Instead, he kissed her, deeply, searchingly, cataloguing every way that she returned from her climatic high—the renewed roll of her hips, the steadying of her breath, the retightening of her thighs around him, the lazily seductive scroll of her fingertips down his spine that sent flames across his skin.

Emily could feel Aaron's orgasm building, could feel the tautness in his chest and the heat behind each push, and she found herself fumbling, fingers running through his hair, mouth tasting his neck, her whole body silently pleading Let go, just let go, let me make you happy and let go….

He buried his face in her neck as he came, and she held him so tightly that she felt as if she would shatter, her own body rippling with a second orgasm as his drifted away.

With a heavy sigh, he collapsed next to her.

"Well," she regained her breath with a grin, gaze still focused on the ceiling. "You've definitely proven yourself as a take-charge kind of man."

He laughed, turning his head to look at her. He couldn't stop himself from self-consciously asking, "That's what you wanted, wasn't it?"

She rolled onto her side with a warm smile, nuzzling his shoulder, "I want you—doesn't matter how."

Her grin broadened as she sat up, "But I will admit…it's pretty wonderful, seeing that fiery side come out to play. You always stayed pretty calm when you were in team-leader mode, but there were one or two times that you did get a little worked up, and…and it always made me wonder."

Aaron shared her grin. He hadn't lied about wanting her for longer than was proper—there had been times, in the field or in the office or even unwinding with a beer at some bar after a case, that she'd said or done things that had made his mind think of what she might be like outside of their rigid settings, in places and situations that were entirely improper. It was both comforting and arousing to think that she'd had those same thoughts, too.

"And what do you think, now that you have the answer?" He arched his brow in playful questioning.

"I think I quite enjoy pushing your buttons," she decided, leaning over to kiss him again. He hummed in amusement, the sound vibrating into her own lungs.

He sat up, too, his hand slipping downward, between her legs, fingers easily finding her clit.

"Well, one good push deserves another," he teased, feeling a prick of devious delight as Emily gasped, forehead immediately moving forward to press against his own.

She gave him a light cuff on the arm, "Play fair."

"Oh, but I did play fair, Chief Prentiss. I did everything I was told—"

"Until the end—"

"That was an implied command, which I also followed—"

"I suppose I can't argue with that," the corners of her mouth quirked into a wry grin.

"Which means it's your turn to play fair," he cupped her cheek with his hand, drawing her mouth back to his. She gave a small moan, the kind that sent ripples of heat across his skin, and he could feel her smiling even when her tongue was too busy caressing his.

"I suppose I can't argue with that, either," she returned warmly.

"You can't and you shouldn't. There are more engaging ways to spend the time," he assured her.

She sat back, dark eyes dancing as she purred, "Then let the games begin."

"Stay." Those words broke the stillness of the hotel room with a quiet certainty that stopped Aaron Hotchner in his tracks.

He sat back on the edge of the bed, turning to look at the simmering-skinned woman sprawling face-down across the mattress. Her hair was flipped to the side, but a few damp tendrils clung to the nape of her neck, testifying just how many limits they'd pushed over the last few hours.

"You know I have to leave," his hand automatically reached out to trace the curve of her spine.

"Just not yet," she rolled onto her side so that she could fully look at him. "Let's…let's take a few minutes to reset—just don't walk out like this."

Emily Prentiss hated how weak she sounded, though she had some measure of relief in knowing that of all people, Aaron Hotchner understood her strength—still, she found herself trying to explain, "I'm not…I'm not a needy or clingy woman, Hotch, I think you know that. But I do want…closure, of some kind. I just don't want this to end with you getting dressed and skulking into the shadows like some random hook-up."

He couldn't stop the incredulous smile spreading across his face, "Skulking into the shadows? And I thought Rossi was the literary dramatic among us."

She smiled, too, gently taking the teasing. He became serious again, "We don't know that this is the end, Emily."

She looked at him, eyes so wide and so full of conviction that he wanted nothing more than to hold her until the sadness disappeared from their depths.

"Hotch, the case is over. In the morning, we'll wrap up a few things, and you'll be on a plane by tomorrow night. This…this is it."

Who knew three simple words could break his heart so easily? Aaron felt the weight of that reality sink against his chest like a stone, and he suddenly understood Emily's desire for just a few more moments inside this little world they'd created.

So he dropped his clothes again, standing to offer her a hand, "Then let's make the most of it."

"You are the world's worst shampooer," Emily informed him flatly, reaching out to steady herself against the wall of the hotel shower.

"Well, you've—there's a lot of hair, Emily. And it's different, washing hair that isn't on your own head."

"Dude, you've got a kid—you should be used to this—"

"Jack's hair isn't as long as yours—nor as thick…or as unruly—"

"Never diss a girl's tresses, Hotchner."

He gave a slight chuckle, still trying to properly shampoo Emily's long locks—his concentration was adorable and his efforts were frustrating.

"You're cute," she wrapped her fingers around his wrists, gently disengaging his hands from her hair as she rolled onto the balls of her feet to kiss him. "You're hopeless, but you're still very, very cute."

"Hey," he pretended to be offended. "You've got shampoo in your hair—isn't that the desired result?"

"It's the application that leaves something to be desired." She gave a slight roll of her eyes, taking a step back so that she was directly under the stream of water. He followed her, keeping her steady on her one good leg, letting his hands rest of her hips as he simply let her finish her task, taking in the small nuances of sights that he never believed he would ever see. He waited until she was done before pulling her body against his, relishing the feel of slippery warm flesh melding with his own.

She was resting her head against his shoulder, quiet and still, and he knew that she was going somewhere sad and lonely. He gently took her hand in his, kissing the ridges of her knuckles as he huskily admitted, "I don't know how to do this."

"It's a shower, Hotch." Her voice was infused with incredulous teasing, but she still wasn't moving, and he knew that her face wouldn't match her playful tone.

"I'm not talking about the shower." He persisted, his tone low and gentle.

"I know." She suddenly seemed so small and frail, so unlike Prentiss.

"I'm not saying—I don't regret this," he quickly clarified, his mind searching for the best way to put things, without seeming unable to cope or making any further demands on Emily's emotions. "It's just…I don't know how I go back to pretending as if nothing has happened."

Now she looked up at him, her face an unreadable mixture of emotion, "Well—we don't have to pretend, do we? Couldn't we just…move forward?"

"Forward and apart?" God, that last part felt like a knife to his lungs.

"No," she took another hesitant breath, choosing her words with equal caution. "Just…forward. I don't know—we can't have anything close to a relationship, I know that, but…whenever we see each other again, let's not pretend as if this never happened. I don't think I could—this is as much as I can have, but I want to know that I had it. I want to be able to look at you and know that you remember, too—that it isn't just something I made up. I want to know that this was real, no matter how long it lasted."

"So, our relationship—as colleagues, friends, whatever—just continues," he surmised. "We don't try to make anything happen, but we don't pretend as if nothing has happened."

"Yes," she nodded, biting her lip. "I mean—if that's what you want."

He let go of her hand to place both of his around her face. He wanted to tell her that it wasn't what he wanted at all (he wanted more, more of her, more of them, more chances to be something deeper and truer to themselves), but he knew that he could never make this any harder for her than it already was.

Instead, he simply agreed, "I could never pretend as if this didn't happen, or that it wasn't real."

He placed a single kiss on her forehead before promising, "Never."

Emily was quiet as he was getting ready to slip out the door and back down the hall to his own room, but at least she was smiling again.

"See ya soon," he vowed, taking one last quick kiss.

"Soon," she echoed, the smile on her lips no longer reaching her eyes.

The rest of the world was still asleep, but Aaron knew that his mind wouldn't rest for a long time.

And when he finally did slip into slumber, he dreamed of a pale-skinned angel with saddest, darkest eyes he'd ever seen, gently whispering Stay.

"[I]f you want to leave, you can. I'll remember you though. I remember everyone that leaves."
~Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.