If anyone else asked Aaron Hotchner, he would decline the assignment. He's a federal agent, not a glorified babysitter, and he still has two boxes of case files he'd like to review before his transfer takes effect. But when a US Ambassador requests you by name, there really isn't a polite form of refusal; especially when that Ambassador is Elizabeth Prentiss. And Aaron is nothing if not polite. He takes the assignment.
Are you really planning on following me around all week? the girl asks. Emily Prentiss, daughter of the Ambassadors Prentiss. And nothing like Elizabeth, as far as Aaron can see. A shock of dark hair rises from the girl's head, teased to physics-defying heights. Her dark eyes peer at Aaron and his partner Frank from beneath thick kohl eyeliner, large and intense in the pale face. If anything, she reminds Aaron of that creepy little girl from The Addams Family.
That's the job, Aaron replies evenly, as he and Frank keep pace beside her on the Georgetown sidewalk. Until we find the source of the threats to the Ambassador, Agent Allen and I are assigned to you. That means we go where you go. No exceptions. Is that clear?
Her black lips quirk. I speak six languages fluently, Agent Hotchner, she replies tartly. English is one of them.
Frank chuckles, and Aaron shoots him a dark look. Ever-good natured, Frank ignores him. And you're a junior? At Yale? Frank asks, eyeing their charge curiously, as if trying to picture the girl on the New Haven campus.
Yes. Her tone is clipped now; Aaron guesses Emily's fielded these questions before. Both because of her appearance, and because she's accomplished as much as she has at nineteen. The file Aaron's been given says the girl tested above grade level upon returning to the states; as such, she finished high school at sixteen and moved on. Could you at least try to look a little less conspicuous? Emily asks with exasperation, pausing just in front of the doors to the coffee house.
The FBI's presence is a deterrent in itself, Aaron informs her, eyes scouting the area for any immediate threat. He sees none.
A deterrent to my social life, Emily mutters, folding her arms over the shiny black t-shirt she's wearing over ripped leggings. Aaron wonders if the 80's will ever die.
Your parents are concerned, Frank explains, almost apologetic.
Emily shrugs vaguely. I'm sure they are.
Aaron's brows knit together at the tone. You don't sound very sympathetic.
I know the risks, Emily assures him. Bad publicity can sink a political career.
Aaron frowns. That's what you think this is about? Bad publicity?
The girl rolls her eyes and turns, pushing through the doors of the coffee house. You really are naïve, aren't you? she says, apparently not expecting an answer.
And that's good, because Aaron doesn't have one.
# # #
He's the same reserved, disapproving, gun-toting fed that Emily remembers from their introduction some months ago. She discreetly studies the man from over her hand of cards while Agent Allen decides whether he's in or out. Hotchner is sitting on the jacquard sofa, bent over his paperwork, brow furrowed with concentration. The guy gives new meaning to the word stodgy. It's too bad, really, because he's actually a good-looking man. At least he would be, if a smile ever cracked his somber face. Emily's pretty sure her mother said that Hotchner was only twenty-six or twenty-seven, engaged as much to his work as his fiancée; that he's already been a prosecutor. Emily bets he enjoyed putting people away.
Agent Allen, on the other hand, seems pleasant enough; maybe content to let her go her own way, with a little wheedling or some well-timed tears. Not that Emily doesn't appreciate their service or dedication, but she never asked for her parents to be diplomats, damn it, and she certainly didn't ask to spend her spring break being stalked by the FBI.
Fine, Allen concedes, finally throwing a five into the pot sitting between them on the polished Chippendale table. But that's it. I want to see what you've got.
Emily smirks, spreading her full house across the table with a sweep of a black fingernailed hand. Read 'em and weep. The disgust on Allen's perpetually genial face is almost comical.
Okay, that's it, the agent says, shoving back from the table. Hotch, this kid's a shark.
Now, is that nice? Emily asks, feigning hurt as she pulls her winnings over to her side of the table.
Where'd you learn to play? Allen wants to know.
Emily shrugs. When I was eleven I spent three days in a hotel room in Monte Carlo. The cleaning staff taught me.
Must have been something, seeing all those places.
Yeah. All the insides of those hotel rooms. Another hand?
No, I'm broke, Allen says, standing and stretching. I'm going to make up the couch in the living room; maybe cry myself to sleep, he adds over his shoulder, as he heads off through the brownstone's archway.
Emily smiles, glances over at the remaining agent. The stodgy one. What about you, Agent Hotchner?
I have reports to finish, the man replies, dark head never lifting from his files.
Don't you ever take a break?
Intelligence and skill will only take you so far, Miss Prentiss; results take diligence, Hotchner informs her.
And you're all about the results?
I find them rewarding; yes. Hotchner finally looks up, brown eyes assessing beneath lowered brows. Are you interested in criminology?
I'm interested in justice, Emily replies, slipping from her chair and moving to stand beside one of the room's armchairs. Can I see what you're working on?
No. The response is terse and immediate, and Emily blinks back hurt, schooling her face in neutrality.
Protocol doesn't allow, and even if it did, there's nothing in these files a girl your age should have to see, Hotchner adds, as if to explain. As if he's protecting her. But the man's a few years too late.
I've seen plenty, Emily tells him. 'In politics, nothing is contemptible.'
Disraeli, Hotchner says, brow still furrowed.
Yes. She stares at him, surprised. But a second later, Hotchner's gaze drops back to his work.
You should try and get some rest, he advises. Agent Allen and I will be here should you need anything.
Thank you, Emily says automatically. And wonders why those words from one Agent Hotchner should be so comforting.
# # #
I assure you, everything's fine, Ambassador, Aaron says, glancing up from his cell phone as Miss Prentiss Emily appears in the doorway of the kitchen, eyes widening expectantly in the too-pale face. Would you like to speak with your daughter?
I have a meeting in what? In five no, I can't. Please just remind her of the Marquart's invitation tonight.
Aaron frowns, watching as the eagerness in the girl's eyes fades, replaced by something more guarded as she reaches up into the cherry cabinets for a coffee cup. Sir, with all due respect, attending a public event under these circumstances isn't -
Prudent. Yes, I'm aware, the man says. But Elizabeth and I agree that neglecting our social obligations at this time would only suggest weakness. See that she gets there.
The man hangs up abruptly, and Aaron tamps down on his irritation, glances over at the girl, who's now helping herself to the coffee Frank brewed earlier. He had a meeting, Aaron explains, the excuse distasteful on his lips.
Emily shrugs, a little too casually, offers a wry smile as she pours. Not a big deal. If there's something really important going on, I just have their assistants pencil me in. Before Aaron can process that, she takes a sip of her coffee and chokes a little. She sets the cup down quickly, the back of her hand lifting delicately to her black lips. What the
Agent Allen made it. Too strong? Aaron inquires blandly.
No, the girl replies quickly to his challenge, and Aaron fights a smile as she scowls. Where is your better half, anyway? she asks, warily picking up the coffee cup again.
Aaron ignores the jibe. In the shower. This might be Emily Prentiss's place of residence when not in school, but Aaron doubts it's her home. He had plenty of time to study the brownstone while on patrol last night; the place might have come straight out of one of Haley's decorating magazines. Tastefully furnished and accented with antiques and art, the space says both refined and untouchable. Aaron can't imagine a child being comfortable here. The few pictures personalizing the rooms are formal portraits, a much younger Emily standing awkwardly with her formidable parents. Your father asked me to remind you of the Marquart event this evening.
No. Emily groans around her mug, her pained expression causing her funereal gear to appear almost appropriate. You're kidding, right?
I'm afraid not. If it's any consolation, Agent Allen and I will be accompanying you.
A dark look from the girl promises Aaron it isn't. And when Emily appears at the foot of the stairs that evening, Aaron feels in need of some consolation himself.
No, he says bluntly, with a frown for the leather corset and tiered, black lace skirt. The fishnet stockings and military boots aren't helping.
No, what? Emily asks, eyes sparking beneath the heavy-handed make-up. She obviously means to make a point, but she's not going to be fighting this battle on Aaron's time.
No to everything, Aaron replies, glancing at his wristwatch. Go change.
The girl stiffens. What?
Frank tries to smooth it over. It's unsafe for you to be quite so noticeable in a public venue, he explains.
Lose the make-up and find something suitable to wear, Aaron tells her, brows lifting as she folds her arms. Or do you need assistance?
She looks shocked, but Aaron doesn't blink. With a fulminating glare, she finally turns on her heel and slowly climbs the stairs, the measured dignity more worthy of royalty than the goth girl she appears. He's surprised when Frank shoots him a longsuffering look.
Nice; now you've hurt her feelings.
This is not the time to indulge self-expression, Allen. That clothing makes her a target. For their unknown perpetrator, and nearly everyone else as well, Aaron reminds himself. He refuses to feel guilty; he's here to perform his job to the best of his ability, and his job is keeping Emily Prentiss safe.
Frank shakes his head, still not liking it. You just don't tell a woman you don't like the way she's dressed.
Aaron frowns, straightening his tie so that it sits neatly beneath his well-cut jacket. Honestly, he hadn't thought of it that way. Even with her obvious intelligence, Emily still reads as a child, her outward rebellion an unanswered cry for attention. From what he's seen or rather hasn't of the Ambassadors Prentiss, Aaron hardly blames her. To have everything except the notice of those whom you admire most; well, that kind of neglect has made people do worse. Much worse. He checks his watch again, about to go upstairs to attempt amends, if not apologize, when he hears Frank mutter under his breath.
Well, I'll be damned.
Aaron glances up at the staircase and tries to mask his surprise. Per his instructions, Emily's washed off the cosmetics and changed, this time settling on a soft, floating silver dress that molds gently to her lithe curves. A sleek wave of dark hair brushes her shoulders as she studies the two agents, a tinge of apprehension causing her to appear younger than her nineteen years.
Is this to your satisfaction? she asks tightly, raising her eyes to Aaron's.
Miss Prentiss. He holds out his arm. May I have the honor?
# # #
She's uncomfortable. Aaron can tell. Without the make-up, it's much easier to gauge the girl's expressions. It's not the possible threat to her life, or the venue that seems to have her on edge. It's the people. Not that she isn't charming. On the contrary, Aaron's impressed with her poise, her easy conversation with those of her parents' social circle. But her smiles rarely reach her eyes, and when she finally steps toward her two escorts, Aaron's suspicions are confirmed.
Half an hour, and I'm leaving, she says sweetly, daring Aaron to contest her claim. He has no intention of doing so.
Fine. Just stay close.
I'm getting punch. She narrows her eyes at Frank as the agent takes a step forward. Do not follow me. And Frank doesn't; physically, anyway. But his gaze remains trained on the girl as she walks the eighteen or so feet to the refreshment tables.
You're staring, Allen, Aaron tells him.
Frank chuckles. Sorry. Just didn't expect her to clean up so well.
Aaron frowns. She's a child, and a confused one at that.
The other agent smiles, shrugs, unaffected by his partner's mood. I'm going to take the perimeter, he says, and heads off to walk the crowd surrounding the band and dance floor. Aaron rests one hand discreetly on his weapon and steps back, keeping an eye on Emily as she sips her drink.
I'm not surprised, a woman is saying behind him. All those countries filled with heathens, those primitive cultures; you'd never see me allowing my children in such places.
I heard they came home because of a scandal in Rome, another feminine voice puts in. Who knows what a young girl does set loose in a city like that, with no supervision whatsoever.
Well, no decent man will have a girl with that kind of reputation, Yale or no Yale.
Aaron reminds himself that this is a job; personal feelings have no place here, no matter how justified. Responding to the scathing condemnation would demonstrate a lack of professionalism unbecoming of a federal agent. He swallows a flash of contempt for the Ambassador, knowingly sending his daughter off alone to face the wolves. If these are Emily Prentiss's friends, Aaron has to wonder about her enemies. He almost regrets not letting the girl come in her original dress. Catching Frank's eye across the dance floor, Aaron signals him, then makes his way over to Emily.
We're leaving, he says, restrained anger clipping his words.
What? she asks, eyes widening beneath ridiculously long lashes. Really?
Yes. Isn't that what you'd prefer?
This time the smile is genuine. Thought you'd never ask.
# # #
As soon as they're in the car, the girl's reaching into her pearl clutch. She pulls out her black lipstick, deftly running it over her lips. Aaron's brows draw together as he locates her in the rearview mirror.
Why do you do that?
Emily blinks. What?
She sheaths the lipstick, sitting back in her seat and crossing her legs. I'm not hiding.
Really? Isn't that what all the make-up and hair is about?
What are you, my therapist?
Not on this pay scale, Aaron mutters, ignoring Frank's snicker from the passenger seat.
Emily huffs, glances out the window. I like it; I think it's cool.
It intimidates people.
The girl rolls her eyes. Yeah, and your gun just screams friendly.
Aaron frowns. I'm friendly.
Oh, yeah, she says with a laugh. Okay.
# # #
When Emily walks into the family room, it seems almost normal to see Agent Hotchner working from his seat on the sofa. Even at eight past seven in the morning, his blankets are folded neatly on the seat of one of the armchairs, and he's dressed immaculately in his charcoal suit and tie. Emily wonders if he takes them off to sleep. If he sleeps. And she's starting to suspect he doesn't.
The man glances up briefly as she approaches, eyes moving from her made-up face to her leather jacket and jeans. I see we're back to business as usual, he drawls, returning to his case files.
Look who's talking. What are you working on? Emily asks, perching on the opposite end of the sofa and leaning slightly in his direction.
He eyes her speculatively. You're really that interested?
You seem to be. And anything capable of inspiring that kind of passion in a man as stoic as Hotchner has her intrigued.
I'm not showing you any pictures, he warns.
Okay, she says, making a concentrated effort not to mock his misguided efforts to shield her from his work. The sincerity must satisfy him, because he relents, setting down the file and leaning forward with his forearms on his knees.
It's called behavioral analysis, he says, clasping his hands together as he looks up at her. The FBI uses it in criminal profiling.
So psychology then? Emily asks. She's taken a few classes on the subject and enjoyed them immensely.
Behavioral science, yes, Hotchner confirms. We use it to identify the personality and characteristics of unknown subjects by analyzing the details of a crime.
Emily considers. What kinds of crimes?
Serial murders, rapes. Arson, Hotchner continues, watching her face as if trying to anticipate her reaction. But she only has one question.
Does it work?
Often enough to know empathy is our most valuable tool in apprehending these kinds of criminals.
Before Emily can respond, Agent Allen enters the room, shrugging on his suit jacket, his tie slung over his neck. Good morning. What's on the agenda today?
I have a lunch date, Emily replies, quickly rising from her seat on the couch and walking into the kitchen, only to find Hotchner's beat her to brewing the coffee. She hopes his is better than Allen's.
Lunch, or a date? Allen teases, as Emily snags a coffee cup from her mother's cupboards.
Both? Emily hazards with a shrug. Jimmy's not exactly the kind to put these things in a box.
Hotchner watches with a frown as Emily pours her morning caffeine. Who is he?
No one, Emily says, her heart skipping a literal beat at the question. He's just a guy, okay? I met him through a friend.
I'll need the location so Frank and I can spec it out.
Emily nods, sips tentatively at her coffee. It's good, warming her all the way to her stomach. And somehow she finds herself wishing that Hotchner would have other, more selfish reasons for wanting to know about Jimmy.
# # #
So these guys are feds? Jimmy slants the two agents at a neighboring table a look as he takes another drag off his cigarette. He and Emily are sitting out on the patio at Vido's, the remains of a calamari platter and two Coca Colas between them.
Emily nods ruefully. Don't they look like it? she asks, stubbing out her own cigarette in the ashtray. It's been a while since she's smoked, and she finds she's not as much of a fan.
They look like yuppies with guns, Jimmy says, a wave of bleach-streaked hair falling over his eyes.
Yeah, I know. Only days ago, Emily would've had to agree. But Agent Hotchner has given her a slightly different perspective on the matter. Even now, she can feel the man's intense stare on her, and she can't decide whether she's comforted or disconcerted. Maybe a combination of both. She wonders if Hotchner's peculiar brand of discernment has the same effect on his fiancée.
Can you get out tonight? Jimmy asks, eyeing her from beneath half-closed lids, a smirk curving the left side of his mouth.
What? Emily asks, surprised. Me and those two? Three might be company in some crowds, but four was just damn awkward no matter how you looked at it.
His palm smoothes over his mesh covered t-shirt. No, just you.
Emily laughs, a little nervously, as if Hotchner might somehow sense what they're discussing. They're federal agents, Jimmy. You don't just shake them.
Look, there's this thing tonight; you got a pen? Jimmy asks.
Sure, Emily replies, reaching down and grabbing her bag. She pulls out a skull and crossbones enameled pen and promptly hands it over. Jimmy pulls the napkin out from under his beer and scribbles on it. A moment later he pushes both the napkin and pen back to Emily's side of the table.
That's the address. It's gonna be a good time, he promises, as their server approaches the table.
Here's your check, she says cheerfully. Whenever you're ready, I'll be your cashier.
Oh, shit, Jimmy swears, as his hand moves over the pocket of his acid-washed jeans. My wallet's in my other pants. He smiles sheepishly. You mind, Em?
No, she says, of course not, and reaches for her purse.
# # #
Emily senses the disapproval right away, before Agent Allen even opens the door of the car for her so Agent Hotchner can drive them home. And she ought to; Emily's somewhat of an expert on disapproval, having endured it on a daily basis for most of her existence.
Unexpectedly, it's Allen who breaks the tense silence in the vehicle, glancing back at Emily with consternation. If you don't mind my saying, Miss Prentiss, any man worth his salt doesn't let a lady pay.
It's not what you think, Emily explains. He forgot his wallet.
Hotchner nods. Right.
The single syllable has Emily stiffening. Sorry, do you have something you'd like to say, Agent Hotchner?
It's none of my business, the man replies evenly.
No, it's not, Emily agrees.
But if it were, I'd tell you that you should be more selective when choosing your friends.
In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a child, Emily points out, wondering why the damn man won't see it already. I'm a year past the age of majority here in DC.
You stop being a child when your opinion of yourself means more to you than others'.
Emily blinks; unable to believe the agent is speaking to her like this. What does that mean?
You don't smoke.
What? How do you know? she demands.
Your fingers aren't stained, Hotchner reports grimly, eyes finding hers in the rearview mirror. You don't have nicotine withdrawal, and your clothes don't smell of smoke. You smoked because your friend smoked, and because you were afraid you'd be judged if you didn't. You're quick to adapt to the habits of others, because you haven't yet found a place you feel you truly belong.
It takes Emily a minute to swallow around the lump in her throat. The car is dead silent as it pulls up beside the brownstone; Hotchner's said his piece, and Allen apparently wants no part of this. Wow, she says finally, desperate to keep her composure in the wake of his scrutiny. You know, maybe this profiling of yours works on criminals, but it doesn't work on me. You don't know the first thing about me, Agent Hotchner, and I'm pretty confident you never will.
She swings open the door before Hotchner even switches the engine off, and heads up to the house. If she can just make it in the door intact, maybe the tears will never fall at all.
# # #
Emily's never been a crier. She doesn't like to cry. Even as a little girl, when she skinned her knee or was teased, she'd known that tears weren't an option. Not for a Prentiss. Yet in the course of just a few days, Agent Hotchner's brought her as close as anyone has in years. She presses her palms briefly against her stinging eyes, then immediately pulls them away, not wanting to smear her eyeliner. With a frustrated sigh, she continues to pace her childhood room, the way she's been doing off and on for hours since she and the agents returned home.
The week has been a complete disaster, she thinks, her fingers curling and uncurling into fists. She's worked her ass off to get where she is; she finished high school two years early with honors, was accepted into Yale entirely on her own merit. Even received scholarships, damn it. She's a regular overachiever. She doesn't lie not much, anyway, she doesn't steal, and she's careful with other people's feelings. And when she's wrong, she at least tries to admit it. All things considered, she's done everything right. And where have all her efforts left her? Right back where she's always been; totally and utterly alone.
It's gonna be a good time.
Well, she deserves a good time, doesn't she? She certainly deserves more than this. Making a split second decision, Emily snatches her purse from her dresser, then cracks open her bedroom door and listens. Hearing the nearby murmur of Hotchner's and Allen's voices, she quickly slips across the hall and into the bathroom, the lock clicking into place with a certain finality. She checks herself briefly in the mirror, tousling her hair and swiping away any smeared mascara. Then comes the hard part.
Emily opens the casement window over the tub, peering down through the darkness at the trellis leading to the ground. She's done this before, but she was younger then, and she hopes the old wood will still hold her weight.
Only one way to find out, she mutters, slinging her purse over her shoulder and hoisting a leg over the sill. She eases herself onto the structure's frame, careful to distribute her weight evenly across the narrow slats of wood. Biting her lip, she descends foot by foot, the trellis only cracking once beneath her leather boot. Fortunately, she's able to catch herself before falling the remaining eight feet to the ground, and by the time her feet touch grass, she's grinning like a loon. This? Is going to be so worth it.
# # #
It's awfully quiet up there, Frank observes, glancing over at Aaron.
Aaron sighs. She's angry. He's been reading the same paragraph for what seems like an hour now, and he still can't make sense of it. It wasn't his intention to hurt the girl's feelings. On the contrary, he'd been trying to point out her insecurities were unwarranted. Maybe Haley's right about his observations sometimes lacking sensitivity.
Angry? Frank snorts. She hasn't said a word all afternoon, and tonight isn't looking much better; she's been locked in the bathroom for twenty minutes now.
Aaron tosses the document he's holding onto the table. Are you married, Agent Allen?
You know I am.
How long does your wife usually stay angry with you?
Frank shrugs. I don't know; what time is it now?
Aaron huffs in amusement and pushes to his feet. I'll go check on her. Maybe the calamari was bad.
It looked good to me, Aaron hears the other agent mutter, as Aaron starts up the stairs. He hovers at the bathroom door, deliberating, but then decides hovering is just a little more creepy and awkward than any conversation that might ensue.
Miss Prentiss? Aaron raises his voice to be heard through the door. There's no answer. Aaron frowns and knocks. Miss Prentiss? Aaron tries the door, but it's locked, and a familiar foreboding settles in his gut. Open the door; Emily? Allen! Aaron shouts, pulling his weapon and taking a solid kick at the door. It swings open on an empty bathroom.
Hotch? To his credit, Frank sounds only slightly breathless after pounding his way upstairs. Where is she? he asks, gazing on the vacant bathroom with disbelief.
Aaron stares at the open window above the tub, leans over and stares downward, just making out the broken trellis in the dim light. His mouth presses into a forbidding line. Let's start with where she's not.
# # #
This? Was so not worth it. Emily's been kicking herself for the last hour and a half. The warehouse is loud, filled with ear-numbing thrash and sweaty mosh pits, and drunken, shirtless goons everywhere. Why had she thought this or Jimmy could interest her? Her jaw tightens as she watches the band jump around at the back of the building. No, her interests lie somewhere else entirely, and how stupid is it for a girl like her to have a crush on someone as uptight and stuffy, as unavailable, as Agent Aaron Hotchner? Besides, the man sees her as some annoying kid; he doesn't even like her, for crying out loud. Maybe Hotchner was right to question her judgment.
Someone bumps into Emily's shoulder for what must be the thousandth time, and she turns to glare at the culprit. Only this time, it's Jimmy. He grins at her, flushed with heat and alcohol.
You look hot, he shouts.
It's pretty warm, she replies loudly.
No! he shouts back. I mean you look hot. He leers at her, just in case she hasn't gotten the message.
Thanks. And that there is exactly why Emily doesn't socialize. But Jimmy seems oblivious to her disinterest.
I know the band; you wanna go backstage?
Emily frowns. There is no stage.
Behind the curtain, then, he shouts, nodding toward the banner hanging behind the band. Emily squints in that direction, skeptical, and Jimmy shakes his head, grabs her hand and starts tugging her through the crowd. Come on.
Emily sighs, following reluctantly. Glancing backward, she notices a shift in the movement of the crowd behind them, mosh pits dispersing and bodies suddenly crushing forward. And then there are the lights flashing from the doors.
Jimmy? Emily yells, looking nervously over her shoulder at the oncoming throng. Something's wrong.
Shit, she hears him say, even above the growing din. It's the police.
Just before he drops her hand and disappears.
# # #
You have any idea where she went? Frank asks from the passenger seat, as if Aaron is suddenly the expert on wayward teenage girls. As if they haven't just called every local friend in Emily's file.
No, but I will, Aaron promises, flipping open his cell phone and dialing even as he makes a right turn through the livelier part of town. Chiu. I need you to check a cell phone number for me; see if it's on and if you can triangulate the location for me. Aaron recites the number, holds as Chiu does her magic.
You want to be over by the docks, sir, about a hundred feet from West Street.
We are by the docks, Aaron snaps, frustrated with Emily and himself. If only he'd gone upstairs to discuss things sooner, she might not have been so reckless. No telling what kind of trouble the girl might -
Hotch, Frank says abruptly, Look. The other agent nods at the multiple squad cars pulled around the doors of a warehouse just ahead, and the surrounding swarm of people making a mass exodus. The place appears to be in chaos.
Thanks, Chiu. Aaron snaps the phone shut and brakes, slamming the car into Park before jumping out. Pull around back, he yells back to his stunned colleague, running for the doors. I'll find her.
# # #
Emily's been knocked down twice. The rush of panicking partiers, the fights breaking out among some of the rowdier participants and the police, the shouting it's all white noise, disorienting, and each time she's sent careening in a different direction, she loses sight of any possible exit. It suddenly occurs to her she might be trampled to death should she lose her balance again, and the thought sickens her. No more has it crossed her mind then someone slams into her from behind, and she feels herself falling forward. She braces herself for the pain of flesh hitting concrete, but a hand around her upper arm steadies her, pulls her back to her feet.
Miss Prentiss. It's Agent Hotchner, serious and stoic as ever. Emily's knees nearly give out with relief; she's shaky at best. Are you alright? he asks, voice low and urgent.
I've been better, she admits.
She must imagine the brief smile that curves his mouth, because the next moment the agent's all grim focus as he pulls her into his side, using his body to shield her from further impact. Let's get out of here.
# # #
If Emily thought the ride home from Vido's was awkward, the ride home from this evening's misadventure is nothing less than excruciating. Allen drives, and Hotchner makes some brusque inquiries about a scratch on her cheek, but other than that, nothing is said. It's the first time that an actual lack of recrimination has Emily swimming with guilt.
She waits for Hotchner to open the car door for her, meekly seeking permission before exiting. Not that it in any way mitigates her disgrace. No, she's taken by the hand and led into the house, then promptly sent upstairs like a child, with instructions to shower and get ready for bed. For once, there's no urge to argue. Hotchner's even commands are somehow comforting after the night's calamity, and Emily surrenders to the hot water, letting it rush over her tired body and wash away the grime from the warehouse floor. Her stupor is such that she's startled when she pads into her bedroom and finds the dark-haired agent pacing her room, much like Emily herself had earlier. His jacket's been discarded, his tie loosened, and if his uncharacteristic state of dress is anything to go by, Emily thinks this is going to be very bad, indeed.
# # #
What you did tonight was incredibly foolish, Aaron says sternly, his resolve hardening as he takes in her damp, tousled hair, the angry scratch welting her fair cheek. Her slim legs flash beneath the oversized t-shirt as she backs her way into the other side of the room, her brown eyes wide and apprehensive. Emily Prentiss might be brighter than most maybe too bright but she's lucky to have survived the night unscathed. At least until now.
I know, she says, lifting her hands in supplication. But I don't think there'll be any problems. No one saw us.
Who may or may not have seen us is not my concern, Aaron tells her, brows drawing together. Does she really think that's what's at stake here? His own neck? Apparently so, because she looks confused and a little lost, and Aaron tries again. Would you like me to recite the list of dangerous feats you were compelled to attempt tonight?
Uh, well, no, thank you. That won't be necessary, she replies, picking up a pillow and hugging it to her midsection. Hello Kitty, Aaron notices, filing the information away for later. That one he couldn't have profiled.
Please, allow me, Aaron offers, pretending not to have heard her. First of all, you climbed out a second story window and down a rose trellis which I suspect we'll find is rotting and in desperate need of repair. Secondly, he continues, satisfied by her rather obvious wince. You ditched your security detail and proceeded to make your way to an undisclosed location, where thirdly, you engaged in trespassing and unlawful assembly and virtually put yourself at the center of a riot. Am I leaving anything out? he inquires politely.
She shakes her head, lips pursed as if considering the possibility. Ah, no. No, I think that's it.
Aaron sighs, finally taking a seat on the edge of her four-poster bed. Why?
She closes her eyes briefly, chin tucked toward the pillow. I don't know.
I think you do. Aaron pauses. I apologize if my observations this afternoon caused you any distress. That wasn't my intent, Aaron tells her, watching her arms tighten around Kitty. She takes one small step toward him, then another, unconsciously drawing closer.
You won't understand, she says, with the resignation of someone twice her years.
She swallows. It's just I try, you know? I try to do the right things, be responsible, not be a burden, she says, looking everywhere but at Aaron. I study, and I go to school, but no matter what I do, I don't fit - I'm never going to be what people want me to be. Not my friends, not my parents, she says wearily. Not even you.
You can be anything you want to be, Emily, Aaron assures her, the girl's first name slipping out. She has a bright and curious mind, and it's saddening to see it stifled by the confines of her parents' careers, by the expectations of others. Aaron hadn't exactly been popular at her age, either, but he'd learned that there were more important things than the adulation of his peers; things like self-respect, confidence, purpose. Armed with these, there's no doubt in Aaron's mind that Emily Prentiss would be unstoppable.
What does it matter, she wants to know, if no matter how good I am, no matter how right I get it, no one ever notices?
He raises a brow. So putting yourself at risk is then acceptable?
A faint blush tinges her cheeks. It was dumb; I realize that, okay? Her mouth twists wryly. Rebellion doesn't mean much when no one's paying attention.
I am, Aaron says, and maybe it's inappropriate, and unprofessional, and not his problem to solve, but he joined the Bureau in hopes of making a difference, and he has a damn good chance of making one here.
Emily blinks, brow crinkling in way that has her looking ridiculously young. You're what?
Paying attention, he clarifies, pleased that she's made her way closer to him. That intimates trust, which means the discipline he has in mind will be effective.
You're paid to pay attention, Emily reminds him.
Yes, Aaron agrees easily. But I'm not paid to do this, he says, reaching for her forearm and neatly pulling her over his lap in a single, fluid motion, the Hello Kitty pillow bouncing to the floor.
What - what are you doing? Emily asks, trying to push up on her hands, but Aaron's arm is already there around her waist. She sounds genuinely surprised.
Making your rebellion mean something, Aaron informs her. You wanted attention, I believe you're worthy of it. I think you're capable of making great contributions.
You're welcome. But with capability comes responsibility, Emily, and your actions tonight were beyond irresponsible.
# # #
Emily cringes at the mild censure, wishing the man would just shout, or yell, anything other than being so damn reasonable. She immediately changes her mind when she feels him push her sleep shirt to the small of her back, and the palm of his hand smacks sharply against the seat of her panties.
Ow! she complains, a rush of heat flooding her face as he delivers another brisk spank, and then another, settling into a leisurely cadence that has her squirming. This is surreal. First he claims to believe in her, and now he's spanking her? Ah! Agent Hotchner, this is completely unnecessary! Not to mention mortifying. But she'll be damned if she's going to give him the satisfaction of making her plead like a child; even if he's determined to treat her like one.
I disagree, the man replies. Maybe you'll remember this the next time you're tempted to indulge in such ill-advised behavior.
Emily grimaces. Let's not and say we did, she counters tightly, her hands fisting in the bedspread to ensure she won't be tempted to reach back just to save her ass.
To her amazement, Hotchner chuckles. I thought you were fond of justice.
Yes; for others, she snaps, and is rewarded with another volley of crisp smacks to her posterior.
'The sword of justice has no scabbard,' Hotchner quotes unhelpfully. You're receiving exactly what you deserve, and I think you know it. But if you'd like to cry foul
If she can't take it, or can't accept it, he'll stop. All Emily has to do is speak up. Only the words stick in her throat, are swallowed ruthlessly down. She might be a lot of things, but she'll never be too much of a coward to face the consequences of her actions.
You suck, she grinds out, then bites back a yelp as a swat stings the sensitive skin where her panties are starting to ride up. What began as discomfort is becoming a slow, smoldering burn, and her feet start to kick in helpless response to the punishment.
So I've been told.
I think I hate you. God, how could she have ever thought she had a crush on him? His fiancée can have him.
I get that, too. Then, My time here is limited, Emily; my transfer to the Behavioral Analysis Unit was approved. Completely conversational, as if he isn't smacking her nearly bare behind.
Congratulations, she gasps, her breath stuttering against the mattress. She blinks furiously when her vision blurs; this has to be almost over. She can make it. Emily Prentiss is not a weakling.
Thank you. It's something I've wanted for a while now. But even when I've gone, I think it's important for you to know.
The words take a moment to penetrate her heat and pain-filled haze. Know what? she asks, her voice sounding strangely hoarse.
I see you.
# # #
Aaron feels her tense over his lap, and he tries to qualify. Despite the make-up, and your somewhat unique take on fashion, he says, gentling his smacks now. The skin peeking out from beneath her panties is bright pink, and he knows she's hurting in more ways than he can imagine. You don't have to try so hard, he tells her. You're not invisible, and what you do does matter. I see you.
He doesn't expect the burst of tears, but he isn't surprised, either. She slumps over his thighs, shoulders hitching, her face hidden in the curve of her arm. Aaron lands two last swats, hardly more than taps, and considers the point made. After all, this was something he meant to do for her, not to her. Releasing her waist, he discreetly lowers her t-shirt over her punished bottom and offers her back an awkward pat, giving her a minute to settle down.
We're all done here, Emily, he promises. And you did well; I know you won't make these same mistakes again.
Her only response is a watery snort, but Aaron finds it encouraging all the same. Ignoring her protests, he carefully helps her up so that she ends up pressed against his side, her tear-damp face hidden against his dress shirt. He allows his hand to smooth over her towel-dried hair before lifting her chin, his thumb lightly tracing the scrape on her cheek.
I didn't cry, she warns with a sniffle, pulling from his grasp and bumping her forehead against Aaron again.
Of course you didn't. Sometimes, what you pretend not to see, is just as important as what you do.
I'm sorry, Emily finally mumbles against his shoulder, all contrition. Are you still mad?
Aaron lifts a brow. Do you still hate me?
A little, she admits, gingerly sitting up and brushing away any remaining evidence of grief.
Aaron's mouth quirks at the candid response. Me, too. What you did tonight was reckless. We have no way of knowing how serious this threat against the Ambassadors is, or if you're a secondary target. Until we have more information, Agent Allen and I will be your constant companions, he reiterates with a pointed glance. You do speak six languages fluently, Miss Prentiss; I expect English is one of them?
Funny, the girl says, with a roll of her tear-swollen eyes. A moment later her brow furrows, and she casts Aaron a reluctant glance. Thanks for coming to get me tonight. I know it can't have been a fun way to spend your evening.
On the contrary; I haven't tracked a fugitive in days.
Do you know Jimmy split as soon as the police showed up? Emily asks, faintly incredulous. He just left me there.
That is shocking, Aaron concedes blandly.
And that's not even the worst part, she says, now piqued. He still owes me twenty bucks.
If you learned something this evening, I'd consider it money well spent, Aaron advises, patting her knee. We're all tired, and you've had more than enough excitement tonight. Why don't you try to get some sleep?
# # #
As much as she'd like to deny it, Emily's exhausted; her scratched cheek aches and her ass is burning, and just now she's not up to arguing with any of Agent Hotchner's directives. She turns and crawls up on her bed, somehow finding her way between the monogrammed sheets. When she looks up again, Hotchner's leaning to pick something up from the floor.
Here, he says, handing her the Hello Kitty pillow without a single hint of teasing or ridicule.
Thank you, she murmurs, setting it beside her as he turns to switch off the lamp on her night table. The room is dim now, the only light from the adjoining hallway. The man hesitates a moment, and Emily wonders if he's going to say something. Instead, he steps closer and tucks the comforter more securely around her before making his way to the door.
Agent Hotchner? Emily blurts, surprised when her words bring him to a halt. He half-turns in the open doorway.
Yes, Miss Prentiss?
She wishes she could see his face, his expression. Even his frown. Why this job? she asks.
Your parents requested me.
Emily snorts softly, regarding his silhouette through heavy eyes. I know that. I mean, why the FBI?
I saw an opportunity to use my skills to help people. She imagines the man's brow creases. It's a place I can make a difference.
It must be nice to be useful, she muses.
I find you very useful, Hotchner says. And bright. Even pleasant, when you make the effort.
Whoa, she tells him, closing her eyes. Let's not get carried away.
A quiet chuff reaches her ears. You're probably right.
Emily wonders if he knows how to fix a trellis.
# # #
You've got to be kidding me, Emily says, with a disbelieving glance for the splayed cards, as Agent Hotchner once more pulls the contents of the pot to his side of the table.
I told you he doesn't play well with others, Agent Allen remarks, counting and recounting the small pile of change he has left. Emily's inclined to agree, still unsettled by this morning's conversation.
Good morning. Agent Hotchner glances up from pouring his coffee. Where's your - The man gestures to her face.
Emily shrugs, grabbing her own cup. Hardly seemed a point, since you've already seen everything. She's referring to his claim the night before, but cringes as she recognizes the double-entendre.
Not everything, he replies evenly, obviously thinking along similar lines. Although should the lesson need repeating, you can expect that will change.
Re it won't, Emily splutters, fingers suddenly fumbling their grip on her mug. It clatters unsteadily against the counter. Need repeating, I mean. Ever. The thought of his fingers on the waistband of her panties has her flushing with confused shame and yearning. She's wondering if anyone's ever actually fainted from embarrassment when Hotchner deftly removes the cup from her hand, pouring her coffee himself.
I'm happy to hear that. And she has no proof, damn it, but she could swear the man's amused.
All things considered, her suspicions are entirely warranted. Are you cheating, Agent Hotchner?
His dark eyes flick up to hers from across the mahogany table. Are you questioning my integrity, Miss Prentiss?
I'm questioning your poker skills, she says dryly.
An almost smug expression comes over Hotchner's face as he smartly flips through a stack of ones. A wise gambler never shares his secrets.
Okay; those kinds of comments are what got you banned from Poker Night, Agent Allen reminds him, leaning back in his chair. Hotchner shoots him a knowing look before turning his gaze on Emily.
You have a tell. More than one, actually.
I do not. She's been playing this game for a long time; she would know if she had a tell.
Hotchner sets aside his money and leans forward on his forearms, fingers steepled. You've had a flush and a full house, and both times you held your breath whenever you raised.
Possible. The promise of winning any contest against the man would make it difficult to maintain her typical composure. Okay, but this time I didn't have anything; no way you knew I was bluffing.
Every time you lie, you squirm in your seat, he says, and this time the amusement is obvious.
Every time she - Every time she lies to him. Her face grows hot. No, I don't, she denies, and immediately feels herself shift in her chair. Allen laughs, and even Hotchner fails to stifle a grin.
Profiling has applications outside criminology. Damn federal agent.
Next time she's cleaning him out.
# # #
Once he hears Emily's footsteps on the stairs, Aaron releases the chuckle he's been holding in and starts counting his winnings. It takes him a few minutes to realize Frank's no longer laughing. Instead, he's staring off in the direction Emily disappeared, his gaze oddly troubled.
What? I'll give the money back, Aaron promises, nimble fingers still assessing a tower of coins. Maybe even yours, too.
Just thinking, Frank says absently. That crush is going to be awfully hard to break.
The mild inquiry breaks the other agent from his reverie long enough to scoff. Come on, Hotch, give me some credit.
She's young; she'll get over it, Aaron says curtly, meaning to end the subject. For Emily to experience some transference would be only natural, but he's not about to humiliate her by speculating on her feelings with his colleague.
Maybe, Frank agrees, unintimidated by the brusque response. But I wasn't talking about her.
Aaron stiffens, brows pulling together over his narrowed eyes. We've been over this, Allen. She's a lonely kid.
Is she? Frank asks. Or is it just more convenient for you to think of her that way? Because I've never seen you act this way; not on the job and not around a woman. You keep saying she's a kid, but kids grow up, Hotch.
Yes, they do. But Emily won't. At least not for Aaron. I'm marrying Haley in four months, he reminds Frank grimly. But even if I weren't, Emily Prentiss would never be an option.
Why the hell not? Grace was a year younger than Emily when we met.
Because it would be taking advantage of her, Aaron maintains. Think about it, Allen; her parents are diplomats, moving from country to country throughout her formative years. It would compromise her ability to form stable, long-standing support systems. He grimaces. She doesn't form attachments easily, and I won't undermine the trust we've established by becoming just one more person with a use for her.
Jesus. Frank huffs, shakes his head. No offense, Hotch, but that's one fucked up sense of honor you've got there.
Aaron never gets the chance to reply. His cell phone rings, and Frank pushes back from the table.
I hope that's Garrett, Frank says, standing and heading for the kitchen. The sooner we're out of here, the better.
# # #
You should be in bed, Hotchner says, not even looking up from his seat on the sofa. Agent Allen's snores echo from the front room, and Emily pads closer, hovering at the furniture's overstuffed arm.
I want you to teach me, she says, as if it's the most natural thing in the world to announce at half past three in the morning.
Hotchner's head jerks up, his pen dropping to the scattered files on the coffee table. Teach you I'm sorry?
Profiling, Emily clarifies, wrapping her arms around her chest. Hotchner's fixed her with that penetrating gaze again, and suddenly she wishes she was wearing more than the oversized t-shirt she's so fond of.
Why? he asks.
She forces herself to meet that stare directly. I want to be able to do what you do.
He shifts slightly toward her, expression grave. I can't just teach you profiling, Miss Prentiss.
You don't think I can do it. She doesn't expect that to hurt, but it does. And Hotchner must be reading her again, because he's already shaking his head.
I didn't say that.
She lifts a brow, unconsciously mimicking the now familiar mannerism. So what is it, then?
Criminal profiling is best learned in the field, he tells her, dark eyes moving carefully over her face. And there are other things to consider.
Hotchner's mouth twists ruefully. Sometimes there are things about people you'd rather not know.
Emily hugs herself a little tighter. Not knowing doesn't keep you safe.
No. But it might let you sleep better at night, he contends. And somehow all the late-night hours, the pictures and reports, they make sense.
Do you have trouble sleeping, Agent Hotchner? Emily asks, maybe too softly, because he's staring at her again, as if maybe she's slipped out at some point in the night and has sent some stranger in her place.
Sometimes, he admits, and clears his throat. I received a call earlier. We've apprehended the individual responsible for the threats sent to your parents.
Oh. Emily's taken off guard, but only for a moment. She forces herself to keep eye contact with the man, her shoulders squared. This is a good thing; her parents are safe, she can return to school. The agents will return to their regular assignments. Everything will go back to normal. This is how life works; how her life works.
Hotchner continues. His name is Antone Romero; he was dismissed from his position at the Italian Embassy. Do you remember him? he asks.
Emily shakes her head, dark hair swinging at her shoulders. I recognize the name; I don't remember many of my parents' associates. She offers a small smile. So, does this mean you'll finally be able to get back to your real job?
Hotchner frowns. I always considered this a very real job.
Thank you. She swallows past the lump in her throat. I know the Ambassadors have always respected your dedication.
I'll always be available to them, should they need me.
It's a promise she vows to never make him keep.
# # #
That's all of them, Miss Prentiss, the driver says, shutting the trunk of the black Town Car idling in front of the brownstone. I'm at your service when you're ready.
Aaron watches Emily smile at the man before extending her hand to Frank. Agent Allen. It's been a pleasure taking your money. None of her goth make-up today; her hair is smooth and shiny in the morning sun, her clothes the unremarkable sweatshirt and jeans of a returning student. Maybe they've both come to a crossroads.
Frank shakes her hand warmly. The pleasure was all mine oh. He flushes as grapples for his cell phone, flips it open. I'm sorry; I have to take this, he tells her apologetically, before stepping away and putting the device to his ear. Hi, honey Yeah, I'll be home tonight
The girl smiles at the conversation, and Aaron moves closer, his tailored suit proving him the professional distance appropriate for these situations. He puts out his hand. Good luck in your endeavors, Miss Prentiss, he says.
You, too, she replies, taking his hand after a moment. I'm sure the BAU will be pleased to have you.
Aaron's lips press together. Miss Emily, he amends, seeing surprise flit over her careful face. But he needs to say it, and he hopes she'll understand. I know the timing here hasn't been ideal. But I hope you know I meant what I said; everything I said, he assures her, allowing his hand to keep hers. You should be very proud; we expect great things from you.
I'm going to find it, you know, she tells him, smiling when he must appear confused. That place I belong?
His mouth curves in a rare grin. Never doubted it, he confides, his fingers briefly squeezing hers before releasing. No, he doesn't doubt it all, he thinks moments later, watching as the girl climbs into the car and the vehicle slowly pulls away. Aaron has a plane to catch and a case to work. A new life to start. But something tells him he hasn't seen the last of Emily Prentiss.
And if that pleases him more than it should, this once he doesn't mind.