Out of Africa

The Wise and the Lovely

"I will miss you always, even in the moments when you are right beside me.
Time apart has planted a longing inside me and I do not think it is a weed that will ever stop growing.
It will always live there, but my god
it grows the most spectacular flowers."
~Tyler Knott Gregson.

February 2014. London, England.

Time passed quickly, their lives marching onward in different directions. There were the occasional work-related emails, requests for help on a particular case, which were all handled with decorum and professionalism. There were a few personal emails as well, gentle questions about their respective lives (she asked about Beth and Jack, he asked if she'd met anyone interesting, and both understood that there was no malice or sorrow in the questions, just genuine curiosity and the best of wishes). Sometimes they commiserated over the unpleasant aspects of being the one in charge, parts of their day jobs that they couldn't complain about in professional correspondence. They didn't talk about what happened in Nairobi. They didn't have to.

Still, she found herself surprised when her cell phone rang and Hotch's name appeared on her screen.

Reverting to her old habits, she answered, "This is Prentiss."

"Emily," his voice was relieved, yet still tinged with urgency.

He wouldn't call her that unless he'd been rattled—it had to take something huge to break his usual professional veneer.

"Hotch, what's wrong?"

"There's a situation—JJ's missing."

"Debrief me on the plane. I'm on my way."

Washington, D.C.

She hit the ground running, and there was no time for any proper greeting between her and Aaron—at least not the kind she'd wanted. They moved smoothly into their respective working roles, both remembering how easily their camaraderie had always been in the field.

And just like old times, she had his back as they entered Cramer Industries, looking for JJ and her captors. Worry overpowered nostalgia, and there wasn't time to relish this small moment of what-used-to-be.

Thankfully, the case ended with all of the team happily toasting JJ's safe return, the room filled with love and warmth and gratitude.

"Emily, how much longer do we have you?" Aaron turned to her.

She glanced at her watch, giving a slight look of dismay, "Um…six hours."

He gave a slight smile of regret. She understood the meaning, and her own heart gave a slight flutter at the unspoken message.

So he really hasn't forgotten. That certainly made her next plan much easier to enact.

Of course, being in a bar full of (slowly becoming tipsy) profilers wasn't the best place for such things, so Emily waited for the right moment—they'd all drifted to a table in the corner, and Hotch had risen to his feet, since it was his turn to buy a round. She got up as well, gently patting Garcia's shoulder as she moved around her seated friend, "I'll help you carry 'em back."

He nodded, sharing a smile with her. Everyone else saw the smile, but no one else understood what lay beneath, and the mere realization of her secret knowledge made Emily's stomach flutter in the most delicious of ways.

After Aaron ordered the drinks, they simply stood side by side, elbows leaning on the bar as they watched the bartender mix drinks with an ease the bespoke years of practice.

"I wasn't sure…." He began, stopped, tried again. "I know we agreed to not pretend as if it never happened, but I'm still not sure just how familiar you want to be, now. In the field, I mean."

"I think we found a good balance today," she gave a small nod of approval. "I don't think anyone would suspect anything had changed between us—we've always worked well together, Hotch, and I wouldn't want to change that for the world."

He nodded in agreement, looking down at his hands as he quietly asked, "And out of the field? How do you want to handle that?"

She leaned in a little closer—close enough for the whisper of a touch, but still distant enough that if any of the BAU was watching, they wouldn't suspect anything out of the ordinary. "Well, I would have been much happier if you'd taken me aside and kissed me, after all the action was over."

He looked up at her, a mixture of amusement and relief etched in his handsome features. "I didn't want to cross any lines, Chief."

"Well, for future reference—cross whatever you want." She arched her brow suggestively, scooping up the drinks that had been placed in front of her. She'd be lying if she said that she didn't add just a little more swing to her hips as she moved back to the table.

It was another half-hour before Aaron sidled up to her again, his hand lightly tapping the small of her back—two taps, followed by the light sensation of all five fingertips pressing gently into her skin (meet me in five minutes). She gave a light nod, still pretending to be intently focused on Morgan's story, which was currently enthralling the rest of the team. She glanced over, eyes silently asking Where?, and he jerked his chin in the direction of the neon sign which pointed the way to the restrooms—and a back exit.

Four minutes later, Aaron glanced down at his phone, face lined with dismay.

"I've got a missed call from Jessica," he announced, moving towards the front door, ostensibly to go outside and escape the loud noise of the bar. "I need to call her back, make sure everything's OK with Jack."

His hand lightly brushed against her hip—an absolute accident to anyone else, but a definite signal to her.

Pulse thrumming with the thrill of the chase, Emily Prentiss counted down her final minute in exquisite agony. Then she headed down the hall, supposedly to use the restroom, glancing around quickly before exiting into the back parking lot.

He was waiting, and he actually laughed when she appeared, aware of how ridiculous they'd become.

"A missed call?" She arched her brow incredulously. "And I thought I was the super-secret agent—but look at you, Mr. Hiding-in-Plain-Sight."

He grinned in agreement, but his only reply was one hand in her hair and the other on her hip as he pulled her mouth into his.

Gods, Emily had forgotten how the simplest of his touches could short-circuit her brain. She let out a long, grateful breath whenever their lips finally retreated, "Finally."

"Finally," he agreed in a whisper, keeping his forehead tilted against hers.

"I wasn't sure you still—earlier, Morgan said something about Beth, and I know you're still together, and I wasn't sure if that meant—"

"I didn't tell her," he admitted. She looked up at him with questioning eyes, so he clarified, "I wanted to, but…I never felt like it was entirely mine to tell."

"You don't have to protect me, Hotch. I'm a big girl."

"That's not what I meant," he corrected gently, the pad of his thumb lovingly tracing the outline of her cheek. "This is the only thing we have that's just ours, and I wasn't sure…I don't know if I'm ready to share that with anyone else. I'm not sure I'll ever be ready."

She bit her lip, swallowing as she nodded in understanding. Still, she said, "You need to tell her, Aaron."

"She already knows. She may not know the facts of it all, but she senses it. She's…drifting."

"And do you want to bring her back?" Emily asked quietly, unable to stop the quiver in her stomach.

"I don't think I deserve to," he admitted, his voice just as hushed as hers.

"I'm sorry," she rubbed his side affectionately.

"I'm not." He kissed her again. "At least not about this part of it."

He didn't tell her about the guilt and confusion that had gripped him in the months since his return from Nairobi, didn't tell her that he couldn't possibly keep holding onto Beth when he couldn't let go of Emily, didn't confess that even despite the fallout, it had been worth it. He'd made a promise to himself never to burden this woman with all the things that neither one of them could change or control, and he'd keep it if it killed him.

Emily sensed the undercurrent of his thoughts, because her dark eyes studied him for a beat—then she simply shifted back slightly, as if silently conceding not to push the matter further. Like Aaron, she'd made herself promises, too, and one of those was not to push this man when he chose not to share parts of his life with her—after all, she had no right, no claim to it, no matter how much she wished that she did.

So instead, she changed the subject.

"I lied," she admitted with a gleeful grin. "I said had six hours—but I had eight. The last two were just for you."

He looked down at her, this woman glowing in breathless anticipation, and he couldn't help but share her smile.

"Well then, we should definitely make the most of it."

"My thoughts exactly, Hotchner."

"Great minds, Prentiss." Then he glanced around, "We should get back, before they start to notice."

She nodded, slipping back towards the door.

"Jack's staying a friend's house tonight." The sound of his voice caused her to turn around again.

"Are—are you sure?" She suddenly seemed hesitant—the idea of being at his house seemed…wrong, almost.

"Of course," he offered another reassuring smile. It deepened into something much more wicked, "Besides, my bed has posts."

Emily Prentiss actually blushed. She gave one last shining-eyed grin over her shoulder as she went back inside.

Great minds, indeed.

If Olympic medals were given in such events, Emily Prentiss and Aaron Hotchner would have won gold for their ability to act as neutral and nonchalant as ever while they watched the clock and whiled away the hours with their friends.

But the celebration finally ended and the drinks were paid for, and everyone filed out the door, giving one last round of hugs and well-wishes.

Derek Morgan opened the door to his truck, suddenly turning back to them, raising his voice so that it carried across the parking lot, "Emily, how are you getting back to the airport?"

"Hotch is taking me," she supplied, giving a nod in Aaron's direction.

Morgan nodded, waving one last time, "Be safe, darling."

"You, too." She was smiling again, happy and sad at the same time.

In true Spencer fashion, Reid raced over for one more hug and few more murmured words of reassurance.

Hotch waited, smiling gently at the scene, then Emily rejoined him, both trying to hide their grins as they kept their bodies at a respectful distance.

"You kids have fun," Rossi called out, wagging his eyebrows suggestively. Aaron shot him a dark look, but Emily simply burst into laughter.

Aaron went around to open the passenger door for her, and she flashed a smile over her shoulder. Her eyes watched him as he traveled around the car again, and they shared the same secret smile that they'd exchanged in the bar.

David Rossi watched Hotch's car disappear into the night, smiling softly to himself as he shook his head.

Yes, one day they'd definitely thank him for his meddling ways.

Tourguide Rossi, for the win.

"Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely."
~Edna St. Vincent Millay.

~Le Fin.

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