So, I actually sort of forgot about this story that I started about 100 years ago. But some commenters got me thinking about it again, and I became convinced that I really should give it an ending. Apologies if it seems a bit rushed, but… an ending! Thanks again for reading and to those who have taken the time to comment.
Six Weeks Later
It was not a date. Emily had just finished her first week as the Unit Chief of a special team at the DC Interpol office that analyzed extreme political groups around the world. The goal was to anticipate, and prevent, politically motivated violence of all kinds. And though they had kept in contact almost daily via email, phone, and the occasional team outing, they had still planned this dinner for the two of them to 'catch up' and talk about her first week. Really though, he had stopped even trying to fool himself. He had acknowledged his feelings for her weeks ago.
He knew that Rossi knew. From the way JJ smirked every time he so much as said Emily's name, he figured that she knew as well. Garcia seemed to know everything about… well, everything, and didn't exactly have a poker face. What he didn't know is what Emily felt. And as his feelings grew stronger and harder to suppress every minute he was around her, he knew he was going to have to do something.
He'd realized that Rossi was right. She didn't need him to protect her or treat her like glass. She was resilient and strong. She didn't need anyone to help her get her life back, because she took it back all on her own. She was leading a prestigious team at Interpol, for heaven's sake.
So when they talked about grabbing dinner and she said she could do Friday or Saturday – whichever he preferred – he didn't choose Friday when Jack could have joined them. He chose Saturday, when Jessica and her new fiancé (thoroughly vetted by Hotch, of course) was taking Jack overnight to a waterpark out of town with his soon-to-be step-cousins. He did feel little guilty about that for Jack's sake – he would have loved to spend an evening with Emily. He didn't feel bad enough to regret his decision though. Plus, she had promised to go to Jack's soccer game on Sunday afternoon.
It's not a date. Repeating this to himself didn't seem to help. He changed several times. He didn't want to be too formal and freak her out. (Friends don't get dressed up to go eat with friends and talk about their new jobs.) But he didn't want to be too casual either. (What if she dressed up? It would be insulting to show up in jeans and a casual shirt.) He gave himself a metaphorical slap across the face, shut his closet door, and decided that tonight was the night he was going to do… something. If she told him she wasn't interested in him like that, they would get over it. He was confident they would be fine no matter what. They'd been through too much together. Their bond was solid and deep. At the core of their relationship was a deep respect, and that would certainly persevere over any potential embarrassment. At least he would know where he stood. And he would stop being so… 'ridiculous,' he thought, looking at the heap of rejected clothing piled on his bed. Yes, it would be painful and awkward for a while if he told her how he felt and she turned him down. But he simply couldn't go on like this.
When she opened her apartment door, he was at first relieved to see that he had landed on the right decision. Her burgundy shirt dress and heeled sandals seemed to go quite nicely with his gray pants and black polo. The second thing he noticed was that she looked beautiful. Then again, he had been noticing that every time he saw her of late.
She was sure that he must have noticed that she was acting strangely, yet she couldn't seem to force herself to relax. Or at least appear to be relaxed. She nearly jumped off the curb when their hands brushed as they walked toward the restaurant. It only got worse when the host sat them down at their table. She was babbling and avoiding eye contact. He was a well trained and very skilled profiler. There's no way he wouldn't notice.
She really wished she could recall exactly how this dinner had come about. They were out with the team, having a side conversation (which, of course, did not go unnoticed by Garcia and JJ). He congratulated her on her new job and told her he wanted to hear how her first week went. At some point later on, she mentioned she wanted to try the new restaurant around the corner from her apartment. And, somehow, they were here now checking in for their reservation.
If it was anyone but Hotch, she would be sure it was a date. It was the classic lead-up. Someone mentions they want to try this restaurant. Someone else says, yeah, they've heard about that place and it sounds interesting. They should check it out sometime. Are you free any day next week? And boom, it's a date.
Part of her wanted to wait until they had finished their meal before doing what she was about to do. At least then if she was horribly off-base, they wouldn't have to sit through a painfully awkward dinner. But she told herself that this was ridiculous. And Emily Prentiss was decidedly not a ridiculous person. So she decided to just come out with it, so to speak – though she did wait until the waitress brought them their glasses of wine. And so with a sip of wine for courage (a sip of wine that amounted to half the glass) she finally made eye contact with him across the table and asked, "Is this a date?"
The gulp of whine she had just downed had taken him aback, so it took an extra second for him to process what she'd said.
"Is this a date?"
OK then. He had been steeling himself all day. Trying to build his courage to be bold, make a move, do something. And here she was, just… coming out with it. OK then.
Out with it.
"I… don't know." So much for being bold and decisive.
"Oh." She looked deflated, and he wanted to literally slap himself across the face for making her feel that way.
"No, I mean, I don't remember how we even decided to come here. It just sort of, came together."
"Right." She didn't look any less deflated. He wasn't doing very well. Time for a deep breath.
"I wish I would have asked you out. On a date."
She looked up at him with a cautious smile tugging at the corners of her lips. That was better.
He continued, "You asked me if this is a date. And, I guess my answer is, I don't know, but I want it to be." He was firmly staring down at his place setting by the end of that sentence. He may have summoned the courage to say his piece, but that didn't mean he felt comfortable or confident doing it.
He knew he was blushing profusely now, but he forced himself to bite the bullet and look up at her. Her smile was radiant, and no effort on his part could have suppressed the smile from lighting up his face.
"Well then," she said, picking up her wine glass and holding it toward him, "here's to our first date." It was a sentiment he happily toasted to as he touched his glass to hers.
Labeling their evening "A Date" did not seem to place any awkwardness on their conversations or behavior for the rest of the dinner. They talked as easily as ever, the only difference being the sly looks and smiles they couldn't seem to hold back.
They took their time walking back to her apartment.
"Do you want to come in for coffee?" she asked as they both lingered outside her apartment door. "Really, just coffee," she clarified as she saw 100 different emotions race across his face in the two seconds after she asked. "I don't want to screw this up by rushing anything, but it's early still and I've had a great time with you tonight." Now it was her turn to blush. "I mean, if you need to get home, maybe we – "
"No. No, I'd very much like to come in for some coffee."
An hour and a half later, they were each finishing their second cup of coffee, sitting on her couch and talking about how intense children's soccer leagues could be. Emily noticed a slight change in his demeanor. "Is something worrying you about Jack?"
"No. That's not…" He took a breath and continued, "I'm just going to lay this out there, Emily. I have no idea what I'm doing. How to date someone, I mean. I just… I have no idea what I'm doing. So, I'm just going to be straightforward, even though that's probably not how you're supposed to do this kind of thing. I have feelings for you. I… I really do. And truthfully, I think you could do a lot better than me. I have a young son, and, well, you know how it is with the BAU. But if you feel something for me too, I really want to give this a shot. So if you give me a chance and I screw something up or if I'm missing something, or whatever, please just talk to me, because I have no idea what I'm doing. As I said."
The moment he finished his outburst (he thought there was nothing else to call it), he began freaking out on several levels. He was sure he came on too strong, too fast, revealed too much, put too much pressure on her.
She had no idea what to say to that. She could try to assure him that he was much more of a catch than he thought he was. Or explain to him that his feelings were definitely not one-sided. Or tell him that she was not exactly adept in the romance department either. But she decided that she had babbled enough that night. They both had. And she knew another way to get her point across. So with one hand fisted in his shirt, and one wrapped around his shoulder, she pulled him to her and kissed him.
It only took a second for him to react. Her legs had been curled up under her on the couch, and she used this leverage to lean into him. He turned his body into hers as her hands snaked around the back of his neck. One hand on her hip, his other hand ran through her hair before gliding down her neck. That hand took a small detour to play along her collar bone before tracing back up her neck as they both slowed down and eventually broke apart for air. The kiss was exhilarating and passionate and left each of them wondering if the other was just a naturally talented kisser, or if they really did just fit that well together.
"Wow." He exhaled, their foreheads still touching.
"So, we're going to do this?" he asked, unable to keep the hopefulness out of his voice.
"We are," she replied with a smile.
They leaned back into the couch. She added, as he put an arm around her and pulled her against his chest, "I think we should just… use our instincts. We don't need to worry about the normal dating rules, because, well," she laughed, "we're not normal." She looked up at him and he smiled down at her, placing a soft kiss on her lips.
"No, we certainly are not."
Six Months Later
"So what do you have planned? Fancy dinner and ring with dessert? Midnight cruise on the Potomac?" Rossi asked, leaning on the jewelry case where Hotch had just picked out a ring and handed over his credit card.
"I don't know. I'm just going to use my instincts," Hotch responded.
Rossi spent several weeks gloating after Hotch and Emily came clean with the team about their relationship. And as much as he knew he'd have to put up with more of his friend's gloating when he asked him to help pick out an engagement ring, Hotch couldn't deny that the man had good taste in the finer things in life. And his instincts told him that Rossi would have a sense of what Emily would like.
His instincts did not fail him. Emily loved the ring. Almost, but not quite as much, as the proposal.