Tara Lewis had been curious about Emily Prentiss almost from the moment they had met. Prentiss’ reputation preceded her and Tara felt a spark when she shook the other woman’s hand. She was genuinely sorry to see Emily return to London after the case was over, though she couldn’t quite understand why this woman she had met only once had captured her attention so. When Emily rejoined the BAU and became the Unit Chief after Hotch’s departure the following year, the spark that Tara had felt when she had met Emily could no longer be ignored as it threatened to turn into a full flame.
Emily was exactly how Tara remembered her from their first meeting, warm and funny and soon Tara found the new Unit Chief occupying her thoughts more often than was appropriate. She would never have dared to act on the thoughts that occupied her mind, even if Prentiss hadn’t been her boss. Tara had heard stories of Emily’s escapades back in the day when the team had been younger and wilder, stories in which both men and women had played a part, which didn’t exactly help the strange knot that formed in Tara’s stomach when Emily was around. A simple smile or a touch of Emily’s hand to her shoulder was enough to make Tara lose her train of thought, a fact that unnerved the normally cool and collected woman. It was enough to drive her mad, but Tara just smiled and kept her thoughts to herself, only allowing herself to indulge in them when she was alone in the middle of the night. Tara wasn’t stupid, she knew that her late night fantasies about Emily were just that and nothing more, and she was content to let them stay that way until she inevitably got over whatever that unnamed feeling was called. Or at least, she would have been content to let those fantasies stay just fantasies had it not been for one fateful night…
The team had all gone out for drinks after a case. Reid was away tending to his ailing mother, JJ and Stephen tapped out early to go home to their families, Garcia and Alvez seemed more interested in pretending to take no notice of one another when they were both clearly doing the exact opposite than anything else, and Rossi had disappeared halfway through the night without any explanation other than he was leaving. That meant that Tara and Emily were the lone survivors once Luke and Penelope had gotten sick of each other and gone home, and though Emily appeared to be in good spirits, she was subdued enough that Tara picked up on it and by her third beer, she was just tipsy enough to bring it up, boss or not.
“So what’s up?” Tara asked. “You okay?”
“What?” Emily said, laughing a little. “What do you mean?”
“You’re quiet.” Tara said. “Which is weird for you, I’ve worked with you every day for the last six months and you’re never this quiet. You wanna talk about it?”
“As a psychologist?” Emily asked. “Or as a friend?”
Tara shrugged. “Technically I could do either.” She said. “But let’s go with the friend angle.”
“It’s really nothing.” Emily said as she flashed a sheepish smile at the other woman. “I uh, I ended things with Mark this week.”
“Mark.” Tara echoed. “Right! The London boyfriend! I’m sorry to hear that, Em. I thought things were good?”
Emily shook her head. “It’s not that things weren’t good.” She said. “They just didn’t feel right anymore.”
“Ah.” Tara said, taking a sip of her beer. “Been there, done that, returned the ring. Doesn’t mean it sucks any less though.”
“Yeah.” Emily chuckled. “You’re telling me. I don’t know, I think I always kind of knew when I took the job that it wasn’t gonna last, I just wasn’t brave enough to end it.”
“It can be scary.” Tara said. “Especially with what we do for a living? We know what kind of people are out there so when you meet someone decent your first instinct is to latch on and not let go!”
Emily threw her head back and laughed. “Right?!” She said. “Or if you’re like me, you get paranoid and self-sabotage because everyone is a potential unsub.”
“Oh god.” Tara said, laughing too. “Let’s not go there. Seriously though, forget Mark. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, I’m sure you’ll find someone great soon.”
“Thanks.” Emily said. “But uh, have you met me?”
“Uh yeah?” Tara said. “Why do you think I said it?”
“Come on.” Emily said. “I’m a huge dork! I’m always putting my foot in my mouth-“
“You’re smart, funny.” Tara interrupted. “Kind, and did I mention drop dead gorgeous?”
“Ugh, please.” Emily rolled her eyes but couldn’t manage to hide her smiled. “Have you seen yourself lately? If you’re still single, I’m in serious trouble.”
“I’m single by choice.” Tara said. “And considering how my last relationship ended, I think I’m good on men.”
“Men.” Emily said. “Maybe that’s the problem.”
“Oh, men are definitely the problem.” Tara said. “How anyone can say sexuality is a choice and still be attracted to men is beyond me.”
“You can say that again.” Emily said. “God, for once I feel lucky that I swing both ways.”
Tara quirked an eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”
“Don’t get me wrong.” Emily said quickly. “I’m not ashamed of who I am, but you know, growing up Catholic, you’re not really looked upon favorably…”
“Trust me, I get it.” Tara said. “My dad is a good guy, but he’s old school and he’s big on the Bible so bringing my college girlfriend home to meet him the thanksgiving after mom died? Not the best idea.”
Emily smiled. “Well then.” She said. “I guess you and I have a lot more in common that I thought.”
For two more drinks and another hour, their conversation went on in this way until the two women were joking in a way that struck Tara as almost flirtatious, though she’d had just enough to to drink that she couldn’t bring herself to care about the blatant signals she was sending out and judging by the way Emily touched Tara’s hand as she suggested they go grab tacos from the new Filipino-Mexican fusion place down the street and go to her place, the other woman didn’t seem to mind either. When the cab they took back to Emily’s apartment made a sharp turn that pushed them too close to each other to be appropriate and Emily’s hand lingered on Tara’s thigh for a moment too long before she moved away, it told Tara all she needed to know about what the other woman was thinking and where her night was about to go.
When the door closed behind them, Tara had expected aggression, urgency, the eruption of months of feeling the way she felt coupled with the knowledge that, if only for one night, Emily reciprocated those feelings. Instead, there was a pause as Emily moved towards her cautiously, as if she were afraid of doing something wrong. She was so close that if Tara inhaled, she would breathe in the scent of lavender and oats, usually too subtle for others to notice but which Tara found intoxicating. Emily took Tara’s hand in hers, stroking the knuckles gently with her thumb and looked up at her, cheeks blazing.
“We don’t have to.” She said in a low tone. “This doesn’t have to go any further if you don’t want it to.”
Tara took a shaky breath, her eyes zeroing in on Emily’s mouth. “I want it to.”
Then Emily’s mouth was on hers and every emotion that Tara Lewis had ever felt for this woman boiled over.
Afterwards, Tara laid beside Emily in bed with nothing but a sheet between them and though Tara couldn’t take her eyes off the gorgeous brunette who seemed to glow in the dimly lit room, she also couldn’t help but wonder if she had made a mistake. This woman was her boss, they had to remain professional at the BAU at all times, and Tara didn’t know if she would ever be able to get the memory of the way Emily Prentiss tasted out of her head. The way Emily looked when she came would forever be burned in Tara’s brain, and the knowledge might not have bothered Tara if what she had felt for Emily had merely been an itch that needed scratched, but the way they had touched each other had done nothing to quell the fire inside of her and now Tara had to live with the knowledge that being with Emily was every bit as heavenly as she had thought it would be, and it was the one thing Tara knew she could never have. Her reverie was interrupted by Emily reaching over to brush a stray curl out of her face.
“Tara?” She asked with a note of concern. “You okay?”
Tara forced a smile. “I’m fine.”
“You sure?” Emily said. “Do you need anything? Water? I think I have some leftover pizza…”
“I’m okay.” Tara laughed. “Thank you.”
Emily bit her lip. “This isn’t going to make things weird between us.” She said. “Is it?”
“No.” Tara said. “Trust me, as good as it was, I have no illusions about this. I know it can’t happen again.”
“Right.” Emily said. “And we can’t let how we feel affect our work, no matter how badly we may want to.”
Tara nodded. “Understood.”
Emily paused, staring at Tara for so long that Tara felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up as a deep blush crept across her cheeks, feeling every bit as naked as she actually was until Emily smiled and slid her leg between both of Tara’s.
“It really was good.” She said. “Wasn’t it?”
“The best I’ve had in a long time.” Tara agreed.
“Well since we have to go back to work tomorrow and pretend that nothing happened…” Emily said, leaning forward so her lips grazed Tara’s neck. “Would you be opposed to making the most of tonight?”
“Is this your way of saying you’re ready for round two?” Tara said teasingly. “Or are you telling me I didn’t satisfy the first time around?”
“Oh trust me.” Emily said, her eyebrows arching. “You satisfied. More than once, I might add.”
“You weren’t too shabby yourself.” Tara said. “We’ve got six hours til sunrise, that gonna be enough time?”
“I’ll make it enough.” Emily said as her fingers grazed Tara’s thigh. “But I call first dibs.”
Tara sucked in a sharp breath when Emily started kissing down her abdomen and settled in the space between her thighs.
“That’s fine by me.” She said. “No complaints here.”
As it turned out, that would not be the last time that the two of them fell into bed together. In fact, after Reid was framed for murder and arrested, Tara found herself spending more time in Emily’s bed than she did her own. And try as Emily might to explain their secret meetings away as a stress relief or a need for comfort, Tara knew the truth and became increasingly frustrated by Emily’s inability to call their situation what it was, a fact that at least one member of the team picked up on and called Tara out on after one particularly intense night ended in an early morning argument right before they had to go into work.
“Lewis, you’re sleepwalking!” Luke Alvez ribbed. “What’s the matter with you, no sleep?”
Tara rolled her eyes. “You could say that.”
“Oh, I get it.” Luke said with a grin. “You’re doing the walk of shame, aren’t ya? Anyone I know?”
“No!” Tara said a little too quickly. “Shut up!”
“It is!” Luke said, his grin widening. “Alright, come on, who is it, huh? Someone on the team?”
“Luke.” Tara sighed. “I’m asking you as a friend and as a coworker who respects you to please drop it.”
“Oh Tara, come on!” Luke said. “Is it Rossi? I mean, no judgment if it is, if I swung that way…”
“Oh my god!” Tara hissed. “It’s not Rossi, okay?”
“Alright.” Luke said. “Then who?”
Tara opened her mouth to lie, to deny that it was anyone on their team or even anyone that Luke knew when she caught sight of Emily walking to her office, the hickies that Tara had placed all over her body artfully hidden with a combination of makeup and fabric, but Tara knew exactly where to look. Her eyes must have lingered a second too long because when she turned back to Alvez, he was slack-jawed.
“Prentiss?!” He whispered. “Seriously? You’re banging the Unit Chief? Do you know how much trouble you guys could get into if the wrong person found out?”
“Yes, I do know.” She said. “Which is why as far as you or anyone else is concerned, nothing is going on!”
“It’s an abuse of power, Lewis!” He said. “You don’t find it a little gross that the person who has the power to end your career wants to sleep with you?”
“It’s not like that!” Tara said defensively. “It- look, not once has Prentiss made me do anything that I didn’t want to do and if anyone keeps coming back around for more, it’s me, not her.”
“Oh, I see.” Luke said. “This isn’t just some messed up quid pro quo, you actually feel something for her.”
“Yeah.” She said quietly. “And trust me, it’s a point of contention between us. Prentiss has had one foot out the door since the first time it happened. I honestly don’t know why she keeps it up.”
Luke shrugged. “Well, is it possible that she feels something more for you too?”
“Luke, come on.” She said. “Emily could have anyone she wants, why would she waste her time with me?”
“Sounds to me like she already is.” He said. “Not that I don’t think you’re great, but using your own line of thinking, if Prentiss could get whoever she wants and she chooses to spend her time with you…”
“Don’t.” She shook her head. “I can’t. If I think too hard, I’ll start to get my hopes up, if I do that, I’ll break my own heart. The narrative that this is just sex is safer for the both of us, whether it’s true or not.”
“Okay.” Luke said. “But just for the record, not that you asked for my advice, I think you should tell her how you feel. It can’t be worse than what’s happening now.”
Tara looked back over at Prentiss, who had stopped to talk to Anderson just outside her office. If Emily was still upset about their argument earlier she didn’t show it, but Tara also knew that the Unit Chief was a master at compartmentalization and would never tip her hand at work. She sighed and shook her head.
“No.” She said. “Trust me, it’s better this way. For all of us.”
A few weeks later those words would come back to haunt Tara after another long day at the BAU turned into a long night. The entire team had been working long hours, none more than Emily and though she tried not to show her weariness in front of the team, Tara knew her and knew that Emily was fast approaching her breaking point. One night, Tara was getting ready to head out and go home for the night when she caught a glimpse of Prentiss in her office, her shoulders were shaking and her face was in her hands. Tara stopped and rapped gently on the door frame with her knuckles, her brows knit together.
“Prentiss, everything okay?” She asked.
Emily’s head shot up and she quickly wiped her eyes, not meeting Tara’s gaze.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Emily said. “Moment of weakness.”
“You know,” Tara said, entering the Unit Chief’s office and shutting the door behind her. “You don’t have to be strong all of the time. This is a lot for anyone.”
“Is that your professional opinion, Dr. Lewis?” Emily asked dryly. “Or the opinion of the woman I’m sleeping with?”
The comment stung, and it must have shown on Tara’s face because Emily’s expression softened and she got up from her desk and grabbed Tara’s hand.
“I’m sorry.” Emily said. “That was uncalled for. You’ve been nothing but good to me, it’s just...this whole situation with Reid, I feel like I’m failing him!”
“Emily, you can talk to me.” Tara said. “Regardless of what we do behind closed doors, I care about you.”
“I care about you too.” Emily said. “And I feel guilty about that too. I’m the Unit Chief for Christ’s sake, and what we’re doing...it isn’t fair to you.”
“Nothing about this is fair.” Tara said. “But I’m still here, Emily! Lean on me.”
“We can’t keep doing this.” Emily whispered. “Sooner or later, it’s gonna blow up in our faces and whatever happens to me, you don’t deserve to have that- that scarlet letter on your professional record.”
“What?” Tara said. “Emily, I don’t care about any of that! You know that! If the world is going to judge me for falling in love with the wrong person, so be it!”
Emily’s eyes snapped to Tara’s and her mouth dropped open. “You uh,” She said, chuckling slightly. “You’re- you’re in love with me?”
Tara faltered. “I- I shouldn’t have said that.”
“But did you mean it?”
“Of course I meant it!” Tara snapped. “Emily, my god! You really didn’t know that?”
“Sleeping together doesn’t automatically equal love!” Emily exclaimed. “How long have you felt this way?”
“Honestly?” Tara said. “I’ve felt something for you since the first time we met.”
Emily sighed. “Tara…”
“I don’t know exactly when it turned into love.” Tara said, averting her eyes. “Just that it did.”
“Tara, I am so sorry.” Emily said. “If I had thought for one minute...I guess I was just being selfish.”
“We need to end this.” Tara said. “Don’t we?”
“I think we do.” Emily said. “If you want to go to Human Resources and file a complaint, I understand.”
Tara shook her head. “I’m just as responsible for this mess as you are.” She said. “I knew our relationship was inappropriate and I pursued you anyway.”
“I’m the one in a position of power.” Emily said. “I should have put a stop to it immediately.”
“Then I guess we both screwed up.” Tara said. “I’ll make sure to keep it professional from now on, but after we get Reid back, I think it would be best for both of us if I moved on to other things.”
“I’m sorry.” Emily said.
Tara smiled sadly. “Yeah.” She said. “Me too.”
The following weeks, both women were notably subdued. Tara and Emily avoided each other, only speaking when they had to and making sure they were never alone together. Everyone noticed it but no one said anything, and Tara felt like her chest was going to crack open. When they cleared Reid’s name and freed him from prison, Tara didn’t feel the relief she had expected knowing that she could quietly hand in her resignation and go back to interviewing convicted serial killers full time, all she felt was sadness. She loved the BAU and didn’t want to leave, but she couldn’t stay knowing that she could never be with the woman she had grown to love. The matter was taken out of her hands, however, when Scratch attacked again. Tara had nearly lost her own life, and when she awoke in the hospital, her mind was consumed with fear as she recalled how Scratch had drugged and abducted Emily. He was going to kill her, and Tara couldn’t do anything about it. As the rest of the team set to work to figure out their next move, Luke lingered by Tara’s bedside, seeing her devastated expression for what it was.
“Tara, we’re gonna find her.” He said. “We’re gonna get Scratch and bring Emily home.”
“I know.” She said. “You must think I’m pretty stupid.”
“I think you’re worried about the woman you love.” He said. “And given the circumstances, I get it.”
“We ended things.” Tara said. “Weeks ago.”
“I know.” Luke said. “I may be the new guy, but I’m not blind. You guys have both been moping around the office like a couple of lovesick teenagers.”
Tara laughed. “That bad, huh?”
“Yeah.” He said. “Look, regardless of how I feel about you hooking up with the boss, Emily has been just as miserable as you’ve been. I hope you know that.”
“Nah.” Tara said. “You didn’t see the look on her face when I slipped up and told her that I loved her. The regret...it told me everything I needed to know.”
“You sure it was regret about the relationship?” He asked. “Or was it regret that she’s not allowed to love you back openly?”
“If we don’t get her back, I’ll never know.” She said, looking down. When she looked back up at Luke, her eyes were shining with tears. “Find her, please.”
“We’re going to.” Luke said, squeezing Tara’s hand affectionately. “And then you’re gonna talk to her.”
Luke got up to leave and Tara watched him walk to the door. “Thank you.” She said.
He smiled. “Any time.”
It was a close call, but they did get Emily back and Scratch met his bloody end. The brass insisted that the entire team take six weeks of mandatory leave, and though Tara was relieved for the break to figure out what she was going to do next, she still had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She hadn’t talked to Emily, the brunette had been too emotional directly after the confrontation with Scratch, and their personal drama had been pushed to the side as they came together to pay their respects to Stephen Walker, their fallen agent. It was a few days into their leave when Tara heard a knock at her door. She had been staring blankly at the TV for hours, unable to focus on anything more complicated than reality cooking competitions and she knew she looked a mess, her hair tied back and her gray sweatpants stained with pizza sauce when she opened the front door to find Emily Prentiss standing on her front porch, still black and blue.
“Can I come in?” Emily asked. “I know I should have called first, but I wasn’t sure you’d want to talk to me and we really, really need to talk.”
Tara shrugged and let Emily in. The other woman followed her into the living room, where Tara sat on the arm of the couch and stared at her while Emily just stood there wringing her hands. She was just about to ask Emily what she wanted when the words came out.
“I’m stepping down as the Unit Chief.” Emily said. “I’ll still be part of the BAU, I just won’t be in charge of it. When we get back, JJ will assume the role as head of the unit. I don’t know if that changes your mind about leaving, but I wanted you to know that.”
“What?” Tara said. “Emily, you were born to lead, Hotch wanted you to have the job! Why-?”
“I made a mistake.” Emily said. “And before you tell me that it wasn’t just my fault, I need you to listen to me.”
Tara looked at her, her heart hammering in her chest as Emily took a deep breath. There were tears in the brunette’s eyes.
“I’m in love with you, Tara.” Emily said. “And I think I have been for a while, and I know I went about it the wrong way, but what I feel for you...I haven’t let anyone get this close to me in a long time, a-and if you don’t want anything to do with me anymore, that’s fine I just...I can’t deny what I feel for you anymore.”
Tara sat there, struck dumb by Emily’s words and she could see both the fear and the hope in the other woman’s eyes as she waited for a response.
“Please say something.” Emily said. “Even if it’s only get out and goodbye.”
Tara paused, then she flung herself at Emily, kissing her furiously. Lips parted to give way to tongues and tears streamed down both of their faces as they pulled each other closer, the flame that had sparked between them turning into a brilliant fire at last.
“I love you.” Tara murmured against her mouth. “I love you, from the moment we kissed, I knew I loved you.”
“I think I did too.” Emily said. “I was just too afraid to admit it. But I love you, I’ve always loved you.”
“So does this mean I get to call you my girlfriend now?” Tara asked.
“I guess it does.” Emily laughed. “It’ll be tricky with the fraternization rules, but I’ll pull a couple strings.”
“I’ll do whatever I have to do.” Tara said. “Transfer, quit, I don’t care. I just want you.”
“You don’t know how happy that makes me.” Emily said, pressing her forehead against Tara’s. “I’ve wanted to be able to do this for a really long time.”
“You should stay for dinner.” Tara said. “I’ll cook.”
“Yeah?” Emily said. She smiled and bit her lip, her cheeks were pink. “And uh, after dinner...do you think you’d be interested in some dessert?”
Tara chuckled. “Well,” She said. “I think that since we’re both adults, we could have dessert first.”
“Oh yeah?” Emily teased, nipping at Tara’s lower lip.
Tara leaned forward and caught Emily’s mouth with her own, smiling as she pulled away. She laced her fingers through Emily’s and stroked the back of her hand.
“Yeah.” She said.
They spent that night, and every other night for six weeks together, cultivating their relationship into something deeper than what they had had before. Both women found themselves falling further in love and after what it had taken for them together, they were both more than ready to experience every minute of a real relationship with each other. The difference when they returned to work was night and day, and though they hadn’t yet announced to the team that they were a couple, they received the team’s congratulations all the same. Things would never be the same in the BAU as they were before Scratch, but Tara and Emily had each other now, and that was enough.