"We can leave life for tomorrow
Or grieve all that we thought we'd do
Or make each moment new" – If/Then
"A full time desk job?" Aaron Hotchner asked, slightly incredulous. He was sitting across a worn bar table from Emily Prentiss, and he was having a difficult time processing how wonderful he felt about that fact.
"Yeah." She sighed before she remembered that he knew that was one of her tells. "I had a bit of a… close call. About a month and a half ago. I'm fine, really, but I feel different. Clyde set up the transfer without putting up much of an argument. I guess he could feel it too."
He had to fight the instinct to reach out to her and make sure that she really was fine.
Before he could ask her anything about that close call, she continued, "I wanted to let you know right away because you might see my name now on some interagency memos and emails. Everything happened so quickly. And I know it's a bit… unexpected, so I wanted to try to talk to the team all together instead of having the conversation 6 times. That's why I asked you to keep this quiet. They don't know I'm coming back yet. Or that I am back, I guess I should say."
"That explains the cryptic emails. Well, everything else aside, let me just say that it's great to see you again and I'm very glad to have you back home."
She smiled at this. Back home. Not "back here" or "back in Washington." She knew how careful he was with words, and she felt a wave of affection for him for welcoming her home.
He continued, "If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine. But if you do want to talk about it, I'm here."
"I just… I don't know." She paused and bit down on her lip before continuing. "I had this sense, or this feeling like… that was it, you don't get another close call. I don't know what was different this time. Why it didn't happen when I actually did code. God knows how many times we've been shot at, nearly blown up, or, you know, actually shot or blown up. It's not to say I'm afraid. Just… weary, I guess. Maybe not even that."
"Do you think you'll be able to let it go?" he asked. "You were immersed in that job, every hour, every day."
"I was. And it will be a huge change. But maybe that's a good thing. I won't need to be attached to my phone every second of the day and night. I'll be able to go out with JJ and Penelope and actually have fun. Smile. Laugh." He smiled at that. "Get drunk!" she added with a laugh. She thought for a moment before going on.
"There have been so many periods of my life – years – where I couldn't do that. And that's OK. I've always made my own choices and I'm so grateful that I have. That I haven't let anything or anyone influence me in that way."
He gave her a searching look.
"Sometimes I think my mother thinks my entire career has been some long, drawn out form of rebellion, and she can't help but see that vision of me as a Senator or a CEO or a lawyer – no offense…" He couldn't help but smile again at that.
"You could've done anything." It wasn't phrased as a question, but she knew that it really was. She thought for a moment to truly consider what he was asking her.
"I don't regret the lives I didn't lead."
It nearly took his breath away, because that's what it really was, wasn't it? Some version of him is a US Attorney. A judge. A law school professor with three kids and a wife, and a big house in the suburbs. A divorced executive working for a beltway consultant firm. They suddenly felt very real to him, those lives he didn't lead.
But there they were, at a bar on F Street in Washington, a Unit Chief and an Interpol liaison, having Scotch, sitting across from each other after all the bullets and wounds and surgeries and losses and laughter and pain and miles and oceans and close calls. After so much.
"Well it will be nice to have a connection at Interpol that I might actually get some regular use out of now," he said with a smile.
"Ha! You'll have to plead your case before you get any big favors, buddy. I don't work for you anymore, you know." She laughed as she said it, but hearing those words spoken aloud seemed to shift something in them. They didn't work together anymore.
They were back in the same city. They were having drinks together. Any stranger who walked in and saw them would come to one conclusion. He realized that he had been staring at her for a beat too long and quickly picked up his drink to down the last sip.
"Refill?" she asked, rattling the half melted ice cubes in her own glass.
Before he could offer to go get them himself, she was up and off to the bar. He hoped he hadn't freaked her out, but figured if she was uncomfortable, she would have used their empty drinks as an excuse to pay the bill and leave. Instead though, she was going to get them another drink. And he was very happy about that. So happy that it sent him off into his own head thinking about why he was so happy about that. She was beautiful, of course. He could admit that now without feeling like he was thinking about his subordinate in a less than appropriate manner. She was funny. Extraordinarily smart. Brave. Kind. They just seemed to have a connection. And he no longer tried to mask that by calling it 'professional rapport.'
He didn't have to separate part of himself when he was with her. He didn't need to shield her from the job or downplay the danger and darkness. She knew it. She knew him. And despite all the darkness that surrounded them, when he was around her like this, he felt so light. She had an innate ability to cast out darkness.
He didn't know how long he was wrapped up in his thoughts, but when he looked over to where Emily was standing at the bar waiting for the bartender, he saw a man on a stool a few feet away from her trying to chat her up. It was a little startling to him how quickly and how greatly that upset him. And it wasn't outrage that she wasn't being allowed to order drinks in peace. Though she didn't particularly look like she had any interest in talking to the man, she didn't look upset or nervous. So he wasn't worried about her being harassed. No, it was pure and simple jealousy.
He stood up and made his way over to the bar. He stood on her other side so that she would have to turn away from the man to listen to him. And he put his hand on the small of her back and said, "You didn't need to get up again. You got the first round."
Of course he knew what his behavior was saying. And he knew that she knew. They were profilers, after all. Everything about his actions was possessive. He was being possessive. Of her. But she didn't move away from him, or indicate that she was upset or even surprised by his behavior.
It was dark by the time they left the bar. He was relieved that things didn't become awkward. It was far from awkward, really. They split an appetizer and had two more drinks. They talked about apartment hunting and how the neighborhoods had changed since she'd been gone. They talked about the team (the ups and the downs), and Jack and Henry (growing like weeds). They talked about his breakup with Beth (not enough to build on to overcome the distance). They talked about things that had nothing to do with work – things that were not so heavy. They laughed.
He insisted on walking with her to her hotel a few blocks away.
"Well, this is me," she said as they stopped at the corner of the building. She turned to him, smiling, "I had a nice time tonight." He smiled and let a sigh of his own escape his lips.
What if I asked her out? This was the thought that he could not shake for the last hour. And really, how much of his life did he spend asking himself "what if?" about a million different things?
What if I asked her out? And then she said she had a nice time and she smiled at him. What if he just took a leap and stopped wondering "what if?"
"Would you maybe…" he paused to muster his courage. "Would you want to have dinner sometime? With me?"
So this was it, she thought. The signs were there and she saw them, but she was relieved to know that she was reading them correctly. "Dinner. Like a date?" she asked. They were both direct people, so she didn't feel uncomfortable making sure they were on the same page.
"Yes. Like a date."
He knew he was taking a risk. But throughout the night, he kept having flashes of what his life could be like. What his life would be like if he had Emily. What reason was there not to give it a try? He was certain that even if she said no, that it was a bad idea, he would not regret asking. She didn't regret the lives she didn't lead, even if they would have been easier; caused her less pain. It made him realize that he wouldn't regret trying – taking this leap. Even so, he felt that increase in pulse and slightly sick sensation that comes from tremendous nervousness as each millisecond ticked by as he waited for her answer.
She gave him a small smile, and then, to his surprise, she leaned up a kissed him. On the lips. Just for a few seconds. He was too stunned to respond before she pulled back, but he did manage to snap out of it in time to put his hands on her hips before she backed too far away. "Let's go to dinner," she said with a bright smile.
"Jack has a birthday party tomorrow night. I don't suppose you're free?"
"No one knows I'm here. I'm tied up most of the day, but I'm totally free after three."
"How about I meet you back here around three then? Maybe we could go for a walk first to get you reacquainted with the city; pick out some neighborhoods to look for apartments?"
She blinked, and tilted her head to the side. "Agent Hotchner leaving the office early?"
"Jack is leaving with his friend right from school. It's a Friday. I think I'm allowed to leave a little early every once in a while."
"OK then. I'll see you tomorrow."
As much as he wanted to experience kissing her again – and actually participate in it – he settled for leaning in for a hug. Feeling her in his arms, with her arms around him, was amazing. There were so many opportunities in this world for joy. It was something he forgot too often, but this moment with her had caused that realization to burst within him like oxygen rushing through his body from that first gulp of air after a long period of holding his breath.
He walked her over to the entrance of the hotel and opened the door for her.