And Here Come We to Rest Awhile
people think only the weak surrender. But the opposite is true. You have to
have the fortitude to let everything go and fall into Love itself, without
expectations, without knowing whether the beloved will respond in kind or
not....The fire of love is the eye of the needle through
which every human being must pass sooner or later. Whoever misses the
opportunity remains unfulfilled."
~Vision Quest Tarot.
September 2013. Nairobi, Kenya.
Aaron awoke to Emily's mouth traveling across his chest, leaving deep kisses in its wake. His hand automatically went to her hair, which was still tousled from the previous night, slipping down the curve of her neck to appreciate the lines of her bare shoulder.
She hummed in approval, never stopping her mouth's trek across his skin, finally reaching his neck, where her teeth came out to play, lightly nipping the flesh still warm from sleep.
All in all, not a bad way to wake up, even on a day as heavy as this.
He turned his head slightly to check the bedside clock, and she read his mind, because she quietly said, "We've got time."
He merely grinned, pulling her closer, relishing the weight of her naked body against his. She dipped her head forward, giving a light kiss that melted into something deeper.
"Make me forget what's about to happen," she requested, her voice impossibly small in the darkness of the hotel room.
"Absolutely," he promised.
This time, she was crying long before she came, and he didn't have to ask why. Instead, he rolled over, pulling her on top of him again, letting her hips push out her tear-stained frustrations. No matter where his hands wandered, they kept a firm grip, as if they feared her body might drift away. Her own hands returned the sentiment, their weight an odd mixture of reassurance and desperation as she tried to drive away the familiar bitter taste of farewell.
Afterwards, he simply held her, lips pressed against her forehead as if they'd always been meant to rest there, his heartbeat fluttering against hers as the room echoed with only the sound of their breathing.
He fought the urge to tell her that he loved her. He felt it, and he knew that she felt it, too, but he feared that actually saying these things aloud would only increase the pain.
Taking a deep breath to calm her skittering tears, she admitted, "I wish we could stay like this just a little bit longer."
"I know." His fingertips were tracing designs across the smooth plane of her back. Cautiously, he ventured, "Perhaps we can—someday."
He could feel her smiling against his chest as she snuggled closer, "I'd like that."
He gave a hum of agreement. A beat of silence passed. Then, Emily spoke again, her body tensing with an odd nervous energy as her voice wavered with uncertainty, "I know….I know we both have lives to go back to—and you have Beth, and we've agreed that this is whatever it is, and we're not forcing things….but I have to…I—"
"I love you," he informed her, unable to hold back the words any longer. She sat up, big brown eyes watching him with utter surprise and relief. He reached up, gently tracing the outline of her face, "I've tried not to say it, because I didn't want to hurt you or upset you, but—but I've spent a lot of time regretting all the things I never did or said when it comes to you, and I don't want this to be another item on that list. I love you, Emily Prentiss. For all the things you are. I'm not saying that I'm going to abandon my life and move to London, or that I want you to do the same for me…but I am saying, for what it's worth, I love you, and because I love you, I only want you to be happy, even if that happiness doesn't include me. We can walk away from this, and we may never have a moment like this again, but I don't regret it now, and I won't regret it ever, no matter what happens between us."
She was crying again, but she was smiling now, which was a good sign.
"I want you to be happy, too," she spoke, her voice filled with relief. "And I don't—I don't want you to give up your life for me, either. I'm just…I'm just glad that we feel the same."
She kissed him fiercely, her tears slipping down her cheek and melding between their lips.
She pulled back, eyes dancing, "I love you, too."
He grinned, "I was wondering when you were going to say it back."
She laughed, leaning her forehead against his chest. He gently reached forward, tilting her chin upwards so that her eyes could meet his again. He wiped away the tears, "Now, let's think of a way to make you smile again."
She gave a positively wicked grin, and he couldn't help but laugh.
"What?" She feigned innocence.
"A billboard, Chief Prentiss. You're as easy to read as a flashing neon sign in Vegas." His hands wandered downwards to appreciate the taut muscles of her thighs, "And you'd give those showgirls a run for their money, too."
She hummed in appreciation, rolling over and pulling him with her as their mouths re-met, those aforementioned legs easily entwining with his.
"I'll give you a show," she purred.
"Careful. Don't want to burst another stitch."
She laughed at this, wrapping her arms around him.
"I hear it's bad luck," he informed her drolly.
"Bad luck, but a great memory," she corrected, nuzzling her nose against his own. Her breathing hitched when he suckled the skin on her neck, and her whole being sang with electricity.
And for the first time in decades, when the shuddering moment of release arrived, she didn't cry. She laughed.
May 2012. Quantico, Virginia.
There was a timid knock on his door, jolting Aaron Hotchner from his work. Confused, he spoke, "Come in."
Suddenly, he understood the timidity behind the knock—Emily Prentiss appeared, more apprehensive than he'd seen her in a very long time.
"I'm all packed up." Her hands flopped helplessly at her sides, quickly sneaking up to tuck themselves into her pockets.
He gave a curt nod, fighting back the urge to beg her to stay, to reconsider. Instead, he rose to his feet and closed the blinds overlooking the bullpen, motioning for Prentiss to have a seat.
At the simple act of closing the blinds, Emily's pulse began to thrum. What is he doing?
Her mind instantly went back to the previous weekend—at JJ's wedding, when he'd held her close as they danced together, quiet and gentle and almost-heartbroken. Everything that had been unsaid between them had finally been spoken without words, and she wondered if perhaps they'd finally actually cross that line.
Yeah, right, Emily—you think Aaron Hotchner is just gonna sweep you into his arms, declare his undying love for you, and kiss you like something out of an old black and white film? It is definitely time for you to leave the BAU, because you are obviously losing it.
"I think it goes without saying that I wish you well," he returned to his desk, sitting down quietly and glancing at the clock (Spencer had noticed the blinds, which was the signal to begin prepping the surprise farewell they'd planned for Emily—Penelope had already assured him that it would only take them five minutes to have everything ready).
She smiled warmly, nodding in agreement. He continued, "And I hope it goes without saying that I wish I could convince you to stay. You've been a vital part of this team, Prentiss. We'll have a hard time finding someone to measure up to the gap you'll leave behind."
She looked down at the floor, pressing her lips into a thin line for a moment and regaining her composure before answering, "That means a lot to me—especially coming from you. I know you had your doubts, in the beginning, and I…well, I'm glad, I guess."
"Glad that you proved me wrong?" He teased, arching his eyebrow.
She let out a laugh, more out of relief than humor, giving a slight shrug, "Well, I don't get to do it very often, so, yeah, I'll take my moments of superiority where I can get them."
They took a few minutes to discuss her open cases and to whom she'd assigned them, and in typical Prentiss fashion, she offered to consult via phone on any aspects of any case that might raise questions.
Once the general business was taken care of, Hotch glanced at the clock again, relieved to see that they'd fulfilled the necessary time for the surprise. He rose to his feet again, offering a handshake to Prentiss. "It's been an honor, Agent Prentiss."
Emily swallowed the inexplicable wave of disappointment (a handshake, really, after all these years, this is what it came down to, a quick, impersonal handshake?), returning the gesture with a forced smile. Hotch moved to the door, opening it again and gently ushering her back onto the landing.
Down below, the rest of the team was assembled, cupcakes and champagne ready to go, all wearing bravely brilliant smiles that seemed in direct opposition to their teary eyes.
She involuntarily clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from crying herself—and for the briefest of flashes, Aaron's hand went to the small of her back, as if to steady her.
"Oh, you didn't have to," she proclaimed, though her glowing expression belied her gratefulness.
"Of course we did," Hotch quietly countered. She beamed at him again before descending the stairs.
Penelope held up a cupcake, bedecked with berries and glittery sugar sprinkles, "Lemon polenta cupcakes. Your favorite."
"Oh," Emily set down the treat to fully embrace her friend.
Derek Morgan sidled up to her, giving her a light nudge as he admitted, "My plan was just to get a cake that said Thanks for abandoning us, Loser."
Emily rolled her eyes as she turned to hug him as well. He was lying, and they both knew it.
There were more hugs and we'll-miss-yous, followed by toasts and more cupcakes and more champagne, and soon it was drawing to an end.
Of course, there was another round of hugs, this one much sadder and quieter than the first.
When Emily got to Hotch, she stopped for just a moment, unsure of how to approach. But he quickly answered the unspoken question by moving forward, wrapping her into a fierce hug. She felt the press of his fingers into her back, the weight of his chest against hers, and she involuntarily closed her eyes, mentally capturing every sensation for her memories (this was the goodbye they were meant to have, not some cold and quick handshake).
He held her longer than he should have, but he found himself unable to let go. He'd spend the last hour watching Emily Prentiss hold herself together with her usual ramrod self-control, and the whole time, he'd fought back to the urge to hold her, to shelter her from all the things swirling around in those big doe eyes of hers.
More importantly, he felt her returning the embrace—clinging to him like a drowning woman on a lifeline, in a way that let him feel every wish in every muscle of her body, which screamed for this to all be a nightmare. She felt as if she were about to crumble, and part of him wished that she would, just so that he could continue to hold her until she pieced herself back together again.
But he knew that Emily Prentiss was too strong to crumble, and that she needed to leave, no matter how much she didn't want to. So he finally let go, stepping back to give a small, curt nod.
"Take care, Agent Prentiss," he whispered.
"You, too, sir," she murmured back. Then with a tear-filled smile, she grabbed her box of personal belongings and left the bullpen. As the glass doors closed behind her, she turned around one last time, looking so impossibly tiny and so achingly alone that Aaron Hotchner felt a piece of his heart breaking.
The little lonely girl in the window. He wasn't sure why his mind conjured up that phrase to describe this woman, but with stunning clarity, he realized that on some level, he'd always seen her as such.
She was that girl, but she was also more—strong, resilient, daring, compassionate…the list of all the things that made up Emily Prentiss could go on for ages, he knew. But for now, he knew that he'd be haunted by the face that stared back at him.
The little lonely girl in the window, pleading to be taken down and taken home.
September 2013. Nairobi, Kenya.
Aaron saw that same little lonely girl before him again as they stood at the gate, waiting to board. In true Emily fashion, she was bravely trying to mask her feelings, but those eyes never lied.
She'd already said her goodbyes to Dave and Spencer, who had graciously turned their backs to the couple, pretending to be engrossed with the incoming and outgoing flights.
Now it was just them, again. Their morning between the sheets had ended on a high note (literally, making Hotch thankful that their other task force members had left the day before, leaving the rooms on either side of theirs vacant), but during the course of breakfast and the long, quiet ride to the airport, the sadness had slowly sunk back into Emily's bones, and he could feel its heaviness permeating the air around them.
"You'll…you'll let me know that you made it home safely?" He asked, voice lined with tenderness.
"Of course," she smiled. "And you'll do the same?"
He nodded, forcing a smile as well.
There was a beat of silence as the air filled with a thousand things that were felt but never said.
"You're going to be OK," he told her. "You…you always are. You're Emily."
"I know," she gave a small, sad smile. "And I know you are, too. I just…I just don't know how to hold on and let go at the same time."
"Me, either," he admitted. He offered his hand, which she took with an almost-shyness that was enchanting.
"Don't wait for me," she warned, blinking back tears. "Beth—she loves you, Hotch. And…she's good, for you, and for Jack. She's the kind of person you need in your life."
He looked down, "Perhaps you are, too. In different ways."
She gave his hand a grateful squeeze.
The flight attendant began the boarding call.
"We're saying goodbye," she tugged at his hand gently, making him look up at her again. Her smile was wobbly as she commanded, "Kiss me the way I'm meant to be kissed."
So he did. He ignored the swirling crowds of people, ignored the tears in both their eyes, ignored the looming farewell. He let his fingertips worship the curve of her jaw and the line of her neck as his tongue gently wrote his unspoken words against her own tongue. She leaned forward, chest pressing against his as she exhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the force of hers.
She was returning his soul, he realized. She was returning the pieces of his heart that she'd taken from him, slowly and surely over the course of the past week. But what she didn't realize that there were some pieces that she'd taken long before that—pieces that remained behind, within her, pieces that he'd never let her give back, no matter how the years changed them. He didn't tell her about those pieces. Instead, he let them quietly continue their slow and winding growth, content in their lot.
She'd taken his breath away many times over the past few days, in the worst and best of ways, from the moment he'd thought he'd truly lost her after hearing the gunshot, to the times that he knew he'd truly found her, as they lost themselves in a world of sheets and sighs and fiery skin. She was trying to return it to him, but the funny thing was that she didn't realize that he'd always given it freely, without any desire to have it back at all.
Still, he accepted this token, understanding that this was a necessary part of Emily Prentiss' farewell, that she needed to feel as if she hadn't wrecked his life. She was trying to give them both closure, to reassure herself that whatever she'd done over the last week was somehow balanced and returned to a healthier state, and he would never deny her that.
He held her for a little longer, much like the last time they'd said goodbye, and then finally pulled away, "Take care, Emily."
Tears filled her eyes again as she realized they were reliving their last farewell. Still, she gave her lines, "You, too, Aaron."
No more titles, no more hiding behind the things they used to be. It felt wonderful, and heartbreaking, all at the same time. They'd become something more, which in turn had made it all the harder to bear walking away.
She cupped the side of his face, rising up on the balls of her feet for one last kiss, chaste but sorrowful, a seal upon the scrolls of their mutual history, a marker of the moment and its end.
He offered one last smile as he went to join the line of passengers waiting to board.
Upon seeing Hotch join them (and realizing it was safe to look in that direction again), Spencer Reid broke from the line to rush back to Emily, engulfing her in a hug that was so forceful that she lost her balance—thankfully Spencer held her steady.
"I miss you already," he confessed, his voice thick with emotion.
"Me, too," she felt her own cheeks grow hot under a new onslaught of tears.
He wiped his own eyes as he returned to the line. David Rossi didn't move, but he placed his fingertips to his lips, blowing a kiss her way. She returned the gesture, smiling through the sadness.
So long, gattina, he mouthed.
She shook her head, still smiling at the familiar moniker.
Aaron spared on last glance over his shoulder, and the agony in his eyes broke her heart.
He forced a smile, which she returned, her hand fluttering to her heart.
That small, involuntary gesture told Aaron Hotchner everything he ever wanted to know, and the knowledge warmed his soul—whether she knew it or not, Emily Prentiss had left behind pieces of her heart within him, pieces that could never be retrieved or replaced. He smiled softly, silently promising that he'd keep them well and safe, giving them plenty of space to grow within his own heart, nurturing them with the warm memories of their time in Africa.
Now Aaron Hotchner was by no means a fatalist. But somehow, he knew that he was exactly where he was meant to be—and whatever had happened between him and Emily Prentiss, hidden half a world away from their usual lives, was exactly as it should have been, exactly as it was meant to be all along, part of a trajectory that had been set decades ago on that second-floor landing in Elizabeth Prentiss' brownstone, a predestined part of both their lives.
He couldn't ask for more than that, truly.
"So," Dave set his hands on the armrests in a decidedly self-satisfied fashion. "Did you enjoy your extra day of…discovery?"
Hotch looked at him in utter surprise, his mind quickly putting together the meaning behind his friend's words, "Did you…how?"
This earned him a smug smile and a nonchalant shrug, "I might have called Penelope. She might have made sure that our intended flight was suddenly too full to accommodate us."
"That's as close to confirmation as you'll ever get from me." Dave informed him, turning back to the window with a theatrical air of nonchalance. Then, he added quietly, "And just so you know, I didn't tell her the full story—I just told her that we wanted to spend more time with Emily. What happens in Nairobi stays in Nairobi…unless, of course, you two kids decide to make it something more."
Aaron knew he should be upset over his friend's meddling actions. Instead, he found himself laughing.
With a smile of his own, Dave Rossi watched out the small plane window as the ground beneath them slipped away, the sky becoming clearer and more expansive as they climbed heavenward.
His mind replayed the same thought that had appeared when they'd first landed in Nairobi—Erin would have loved this place. And despite her rigid rule-follower mentality, she would have also been the one trying to find some kind of way for them to stay a day or two past the case, just so that she could go explore.
He missed that, her surprisingly adventurous nature, which had been hidden beneath her professional demeanor (and even, for a time, beneath a thick layer of alcohol). He missed her—and he felt a measure of relief at the realization that even though he still missed her, it didn't quite hurt as deeply as it used to, and the usual crippling sense of guilt had lessened its accompaniment to her memory.
Maybe that was why he was so invested in seeing Emily and Aaron together—he saw his own story retold, and he knew that despite its tragic end, it had been filled with so much goodness that he couldn't regret a single second of it. He wanted that for these two, for these people he loved, for these hearts that deserved so much and yet received so little. This would be his gift to them, if only they'd accept it.
Of course, he'd done as much as he could. He was, after all, just a tourguide—he could point out the signs and their meanings, but it was up to Hotch and Prentiss to decide what to do about them.
All in all, though, Tourguide Rossi felt that he'd done a helluva job, considering where they were five days ago and where they were now. He certainly wasn't a candidate for sainthood, but damned if he wasn't a miracle-worker sometimes.
"If you're gonna toss somebody out of the escape hatch, now would be the time to do it," Hotch's dryly amused tone interrupted his thoughts.
Dave turned back to see the source of Aaron's amusement—Spencer Reid, already fast asleep across the aisle.
"Nah," the older man shifted with an air of nonchalance. "If I ever decide to blackmail you, I'll need Mr. Adorably Delicious's eidetic memory on my side."
"Please don't start calling him that around the office. I don't think I could handle it."
"Me, either. Really."
"And what makes you think he'd side with you?"
"Because I'd offer a better price, obviously."
"Reid doesn't care about money."
"Ah—but my money can buy rare and precious books, Agent Hotchner."
The two old friends simply laughed, shaking their heads as they settled in for the long flight home.
When Emily returned to her flat, she found an airmail package at her front door—she saw the return address belonging to a P. Garcia and she grinned, instantly knowing the contents.
She was not disappointed. Inside was a black t-shirt with Team Penemily bedazzled in rhinestones across the front—and it was accompanied by a photo of Penelope wearing her own matching shirt, which of course was neon pink. Her friend was wearing her usual brilliant grin and giving a thumbs up. On the back, she'd scrawled, Morgan wants to join the club…perhaps Team Penemorgan?
She laughed at the idea, quickly closing and locking the door behind her, making a mental note to take a photo of herself in the shirt, mimicking Penelope's pose, which she would send to her friend.
Her heart was filled with warmth and amusement as she discarded her shoes and rolled her suitcase into her bedroom. Sergio appeared, leaping onto the bed with a light feline chirp of greeting.
"Hey, Serge," she scooped him into her arms, nuzzling him. "I'm home."
Home. She'd said it, and she'd meant it.
On bare feet, she moved to the windows, opening the curtains to take in her view of the Thames. She'd expected to feel the lonely and depressed fallout from the loss of her friends and Aaron (she supposed he would be classified as a lover, but that still seemed an odd label, even after all that had happened), but surprisingly, it hadn't hit. Sure, she'd been upset at saying goodbye, and she'd shed a few more tears on the plane, but once she'd landed on British soil, she'd found herself feeling relieved, oddly balanced again.
She wandered back into the living room, punching the play button on her answering machine. A call from her mother, attempting to schedule a meet-up for her birthday next month.
Her birthday. She would be forty-three, and nowhere near where she'd imagined herself being, twenty years ago—back then, she'd envisioned herself with a husband and a family, happily saving for retirement and planning graduations and anniversaries and all the other details that went into a normal life.
She smiled as she realized how thankful she was that she wasn't that person. She never would have entered Interpol, never would have been tangled up with Ian Doyle, never would have been driven away by her need to protect Declan, never would have met Aaron Hotchner again, never would have been forced into hiding, never would have confronted her true feelings towards her superior, never would have returned and left again, never would have rejoined Aaron in the middle of Kenya, never would have taken the chance to plunge into a whirlwind romance, never would have made the memories that brought such a sweet, soft smile to her face.
God. Her life had been a strange, winding path, and though it was a continuing journey, for now, it had led her to here—out of Africa, to the place that now felt like home, on the other side of a strange and shining moment with a man she loved in a way that she would never love another, feeling a thousand years away from the sad little matchstick girl who'd left this same place just a week ago.
She was here. In this moment, in her life, in her own skin again, breathing easily.
Here was a wonderful place to be.
I am, where I ought to be."
~Karen Blixen, Out of Africa.