Just a short… something, because I keep listening to the If/Then soundtrack and thinking of Emily and Hotch.

If you knew that your laughter would not last forever

But you knew while it did, you would breathe it like air

Would you let him make you love him?

Would you dare?

- If/Then

It was her very first operation since she had moved back to the States to lead a task force to combat human trafficking. It had never occurred to him how dangerous it could be. It should have. These monsters would do anything to protect their money supply and clearly placed no value whatsoever on human life. They were indiscriminate killers. Even so, he was surprised when he got the call.

It wasn't a surprise to get a call from Emily. Since she had moved back, they had worked their way up to nearly daily conversations. It started with the two of them commiserating about being a Unit Chief – a job that required one to be the no-fun, killjoy in the office. Part of the team, but always a step removed from the group. And so, they seemed to have formed their own little group. Well, if two people could be considered a group. Texts and phone calls evolved into happy hours and ungodly early breakfasts bemoaning the drudgery of budget justifications and waste-of-time reports to those higher up the food chain.

Maybe it was part of the whole "one step removed" thing, but he didn't think he'd really appreciated before how funny Emily was. She had a gift for dropping irreverent, hilarious one-liners. Before he started regularly spending time with her, he couldn't remember the last time he had a real, out-of-control, stomach muscles straining, eyes-tearing-up laugh.

He couldn't deny that there were moments, as she listened to him unload about the job (and actually understood), and made him laugh, that he let his thoughts get away from him. She was talented, intelligent, funny, kind, and gorgeous. So yes, there were moments where he looked at her for a little too long, or a little too intensely. If she noticed, she didn't call him out on it. There were moments where he thought about what it might be like to kiss her.

But he never did. He told himself that it wasn't worth risking their friendship, which he valued tremendously. If she didn't have those kinds of feelings for him, things would get awkward. Even if she turned him down gently, even if she promised they would always be friends, he couldn't risk that the awkwardness would cause her to withdraw. That's what he told himself.

He tried to drown out the tiny voice in his head that said the real reason he didn't take a leap is that he knew – he knew – that it would be perfect. It was a dream. They were perfect for each other. No one could make him laugh, but Emily did. She had been misunderstood and cast aside too often in her life, but he adored her. They made sense. The vision of them together was so easy to see, so tantalizing that it made him ache. But he held back. He held back because he knew that having that and then losing it would break him for good. Better to have a stable life and a good friend than to have a taste of that kind of happiness and lose it. Because he always lost, in the end. He would fail her in some way, or she would leave, or one of them would be in the wrong place at the wrong time during a takedown.

When he saw her name light up on his phone, he assumed she was calling about their happy hour plans that evening.

"Emily, hi."

"Hey, Hotch." Something in her tone caused him to stand up a little straighter.

"Everything OK?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm… I'm at GW Hospital, actually."

"Hospital? Emily, what happened?" He was fully pacing by the time she finished the word 'hospital.'

"We got a tip, and had to jump on it. Long story short, it was a bit of a mess. I have a couple of cracked ribs. But we rescued 10 girls."

"Are you sure you're OK?"

"I'm fine." He had no doubt that she was rolling her eyes on the other end of the line.

"I'm sorry, but you are a known liar when it comes to admitting you're hurt." He heard a quick burst of laughter, and then a groan.

"Ugh, don't make me laugh."

"That, I can easily do. I was at a meeting at the Hoover building, so I'm close. Are you in the ER?"

"Hotch, you don't have to come here. I just didn't want you to worry when I was late for happy hour."

"First of all, you're not going directly to a bar from the hospital where you were diagnosed with broken bones. Second of all, I'm coming to help you home whether you like it or not."

She huffed. "OK, OK. I'm in room… let's see… 8 in the ER. I'm just waiting on a prescription and then the doctor said I could leave."

"I'm on my way." He hung up before she tried to argue with him.

When she saw the look on Hotch's face as he entered her room, she preemptively put up a hand and said, "I'm fine. Just some superficial scrapes. It's nothing. Just the ribs, really."

"My god, you are such a liar," he said, shaking his head.

"Well if you think I really am badly injured, you're a terrible person for yelling at an invalid."

He crossed the room and sat down next to her on the hospital bed.

"Let me see you," he said, gently putting his hand on her shoulder to turn her toward him. She had a bandage around most of her forearm, and a scrape across her cheek.

"I'm fine. Really. I got the all clear to go just a minute before you got here. Prescriptions are in my little souvenir swag bag."

"Did you take a pain pill yet?"

"Not yet."

"Have you ever just gone along with what doctors tell you to do?"

"I'll follow the instructions on these discharge papers to the letter if you take me to a bar right now."

The stern look he was trying to give her disappeared in a flash and he couldn't stifle his laughter.

Looking back, he couldn't recall affirmatively making the decision. All he knew was that he laughed, Emily smiled, and then he was kissing her. His hand slid down her arm and he threaded his fingers with hers. The kiss lasted only a few seconds before he pulled back slightly. He gave her a shy smile, unable to really process what he'd just done. But before he had time to really think about it, he felt her squeeze his hand, and then she leaned in to kiss him again. She felt as perfect against him as he knew she would. The kiss went on for longer than he could keep track.

When they finally broke apart, he rested his forehead against hers and said quietly, "How about if I pick up a bottle of that Meritage you like and I won't say anything if you have a glass or two at home?"

She pulled back and nodded her head, a grin spreading across her face.

Hours later, as he sat on her couch, her head resting on his leg as she lay on the couch half dozing off, and half watching the end of an old movie they found on cable, he knew that it was right. He wanted everything with her.

And yes, in the end he was bound to lose her. Maybe in a month due to an accident. Maybe in a year because she left again. Maybe he'd get forty years before time itself made them part. But even so - knowing that he would, inevitably, lose her - he was determined to hold her while he had her.