Chapter 5: Aftermath
I am the babe who sleeps through the blast;
I am the sudden and quite unexpected twist;
I am your one true love who sleeps with someone else;
I am your nemesis.
Baby, I’m life:
Sweet life itself.
-David Gray, “Nemesis”
When Derek Morgan joined the rest of his team in the hotel’s small lobby, the group of highly observant, abnormally intelligent men and women (woman: Prentiss was absent) couldn’t help but notice the strange look on his handsome face. His brows were drawn together over chocolate eyes, and his jaw was tight.
“What’s wrong?” J.J. asked. “Where are Reid and Prentiss?”
He let out a strange, wheezing little chuckle. “Funny you should ask that…”
“No one’s gotten kidnapped again, have they?” Rossi asked with a lift of his uneven brows.
“Nooo, I don’t think so.”
“Spit it out, Morgan,” Hotch ordered testily.
Morgan ran a hand over the smooth dome of his skull and considered his next words carefully. “I went by the kid’s room first; he had company,” he told them. “He said he met someone at the vending machine last night.”
J.J.’s face transformed into a mask of surprise…accompanied by a trickle of suspicion. “And Emily?” she asked carefully.
“She didn’t answer her door at all,” Morgan confirmed.
Rossi blinked. “Wait. Are you implying…Prentiss and Reid?” he demanded, astounded.
Hotch was ominously silent.
“They were acting very strange yesterday,” J.J. said. “They wouldn’t really look at each other.”
“Except when Reid made those vague little jokes,” Morgan commented. “Then they were all, ‘oh, your obscure little references are so funny!’”
“Vague and obscure? Morgan, they were Monty Python references.”
“Ohh,” Rossi said, grinning, “I love Monty Python. I wish I’d been there.”
“This isn’t funny, Dave,” Hotch bit out at last. “If what Morgan suspects is true, we’re talking about a serious breach of FBI protocol here.”
“Ok, G-man, relax. Maybe we should talk to them before we jump to any conclusions?” the older agent suggested reasonably.
“I’ll go, um, find Emily,” J.J said, reaching for her phone and stepping away from the group.
“I should talk to Reid,” Morgan said.
“You’re the acting Unit Chief, Morgan,” Hotch reminded him. “It will be your responsibility to decide how to handle this situation officially.”
“If there even is a situation to handle,” Rossi said. “It isn’t outside the realm of possibility that Reid just got lucky last night. He’s not unattractive, and his magic act worked on that girl in Atlanta.”
Hotch offered his friend and colleague a stony glare before striding from the room. Morgan and Rossi watched him go, and the older man let out a little whistle. “Poor kid. Nothing like finding out the girl of your dreams is dreaming about someone else.”
Morgan’s face scrunched. Rossi’s ideas came out of left field sometimes. “Right,” he said, humoring him. “I’m gonna go call Reid.”
She found him in the small, little-used space the hotel laughingly called a “conference room.” There was only a folding table and a few chairs, but it had a really great view of the sprawling countryside with the Rockies in the distance. His expression was pained, and she approached him cautiously. She wasn’t completely sure why she’d sought him out, except J.J. had given her the heads up that, of all of them, Hotch had taken the news about her and Reid the strongest.
She stopped in front of him and held her breath, waiting for him to speak first. “Prentiss,” he greeted her coolly.
“Sir,” she replied in a similar tone.
His dark eyes searched her face for several long heartbeats. He seemed at a loss, a relatively new condition for him. “I’m just…taken aback,” he decided at last. “I don’t understand what…” He trailed off and turned away, shaking his head, hands on his hips.
She felt…shocked was too strong a word, but certainly surprised. Hotch rarely reacted this strongly to anything (except, maybe, that time Jordan lied to the victim’s family and he nearly burst a vein), but now he looked positively distraught. She cleared her throat. “It just happened; it’s not like we planned it.” Sort of true, sort of not.
He turned back, his mouth set in a grim, hard line. “But why Spencer? He’s…he’s…”
“He’s what?” she asked, anger flaring. “He’s young? He’s weird? He’s not you? Is that your real problem here, Hotch? You thought if I were going to sleep with anyone on this team, it would be you?”
He blinked. “I never said—”
“No, that’s just it. You never said anything! You and Haley were divorced nearly three years, and you never said or did anything. You can’t…it’s not fair…” She shook her head in wordless frustration; ruffled her bangs with a huff of breath.
“Emily,” he began hesitantly, “you know I respect you. I was hard on you when you first joined the team, but over time I came to appreciate your abilities as a profiler and an agent. Any sort of…relationship…outside of that is completely inappropriate, especially given my former position as Unit Chief.”
She fidgeted, feeling foolish. “See, that’s just it. I wasn’t looking for something so…serious…but you’ve only got two speeds: distant, wary respect or full-on, committed relationship.”
He cleared his throat. Adjusted his cuffs. “That’s not true,” he said at last.
She rolled her eyes. “Please. You were married to your high school sweetheart for twenty years.”
He winced, and she wished she could quit bringing Haley into the conversation. His late wife’s memory was obviously still painful to him; as well it should be; and Emily felt like she was punishing him. “I’m sorry, Aaron,” she murmured. “I never meant—”
“There are a great many things none of us ever meant, Emily,” he replied quietly.
“What is this really about?” she asked him, setting her jaw and crossing her arms over her chest. “Are you going to give him this same lecture? Honestly, Hotch, is this because it was him, or because it was me?”
“He’s been on my team longer, but you’re…” Tricky area here. “Your judgment should be better,” he finally decided.
“I’m old enough to know better, you mean?”
“I just expected more from you.”
She stepped back, stunned. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting a little bit?”
He sighed. Frowned. Refused to meet her angry gaze. “I just don’t want your career jeopardized. You’re too good at what you do; you’re too important to this team.”
“I can take care of myself, thanks.” She turned away, fury etched in the tense line of her back. “So what’s going to happen now?” she asked.
“That’s up to Morgan,” he said, looking past her out the window. “He’s Unit Chief now.”
“That’s not…I meant…” She trailed off, giving up. Finally, “What would you do in his place?” she asked as she turned back.
He turned his piercing dark gaze onto her grim face. Barely, he relented. “So far this…whatever it is…between you and Reid hasn’t affected your ability to do your jobs. As long as nothing changed in that regard, I would simply warn you to be careful.”
Her eyes slid away from his. She tried to clear the lump from her suddenly thick throat. “I…are we…” She shook her head impatiently. “Even though I think you’re being ridiculous…I need to know, Aaron: are we still ok?”
He rubbed his forehead with a weary hand. Maybe she was right: maybe he was overreacting. He told her he respected her, and he’d meant it, so why was he treating her now like she’d committed some heinous crime? Why was seeking a bit of comfort in their bleak, often bitter world so terrible? “You’re an adult, Emily,” he said at last. “So is Reid, though we often forget or overlook that. This job makes inhuman demands on all of us; maybe you and J.J. more than anyone since so many of the victims we see resemble the two of you so closely. J.J. found happiness in a way none of us expected. Perhaps, as unorthodox as it may be, you’ve found yours.”
She took a breath; held it; opened her mouth to reply.
“I do want you to be happy, Prentiss,” he assured her gently.
“Thank you, sir,” she whispered. They were slowly, hesitantly, melting back into their accustomed rolls: he had switched from “Emily” back to the more standard “Prentiss;” she reverted to the much-safer “sir.” Before the old formality could completely reassert itself, she reached out to lay a careful hand on his arm. “Maybe in another life, my happiness is you.”
He glanced, startled, down at her long fingers against his sleeve, then back up into her ochre eyes. He considered a moment before some of the more deeply furrowed lines smoothed and his face eased into a wavering, uncertain little smile. “That’s a strangely comforting thought,” he agreed.
She gave his arm a squeeze, and her smile was a bright, lingering after-effect across his vision as she turned to walk away. He watched her go, thinking wistfully of what might have been. Twenty years was a long time, but it wasn’t a lifetime. Right now he had to concentrate on Jack, on being the best father he could to his scared, confused little boy, but maybe it was also time to start healing the rents in his own heart.
Speaking of things coming out of left field...
I don't want it implied that Prentiss is wishing she could jump out of Reid's bed and into Hotch's. That isn't what's happening here at all; Hotch is busy raising Jack and still reeling from Haley's death; Emily really does care for Reid and isn't just using him as a...sort of...rebound, so this chapter isn't for the purpose of establishing a "could have been" relationship for Em or for Hotch. It's more for exploring some personal issues they both might have. Maybe y'all got all of that just from the reading, but maybe not. :)
For those of you who were expecting the "conversation" that was semi-promised at the end of the last chapter, I'm sorry. The story originally ended with Spencer's line about needing to talk, and I never intended (or wanted) to write their conversation. I figure J.J. helped get me out of it by calling Emily to tell her Hotch was on the warpath. :)