[I saw three ships]
To: Wojelah
From: Amadi
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Threesome: Aaron Hotchner/David Rossi/Emily Prentiss
Title: Safe Place for the Pieces Scattered
Requested Element: I would love this to pick up in the current season, with no pre-established threesome, and navigate the way they evolve - character-focused rather than plot-driven would be just fine!
Warning: No standardized warnings apply
Notes: Occurs sometime after episode 7x06 "Epilogue" but in some tangential timeline that doesn't recognize canon after that episode.
Summary: After dancing around it for years, they've finally come home.

Emily was the first to speak, afterward. "If I'm dreaming, please don't wake me."

"Pinch me, then we'll know if you're dreaming," Dave suggested. He was propped on one arm, looking at her, looking at Aaron, tracing little patterns on her stomach, fingertips teasing up between her breasts and back down again.

"Other way around," Aaron shook his head a little. Sleep was lurking; he faked a chuckle to hide a yawn. "That made no sense."

"David Rossi, so help me, if you pinch me," Emily warned, batting at Dave's hand as it hovered, the threat of fingers closing around too-sensitive flesh potent enough to move her, a little, make her curl toward Aaron, seeking his protection. She was rewarded with an arm wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her tight against his side. "See, see what happens? You lose out on the good cuddling," she taunted, her head on Aaron's shoulder, a kiss brushed across his relaxed jaw. Emily had no idea if Dave even wanted cuddling, but the words were barely out of her mouth when his chest pressed against her back and there was a warm breath against that sensitive patch behind her ear.

"Dunno, this is pretty good from where I am." Dave threw an arm over her waist, his hand landed on Aaron, and that only reinforced his assessment.

"Same here," Aaron agreed. He kissed Emily's forehead. For all her protesting, she'd already closed her eyes, and her only response was a contented sigh.

They spent years in a weird game of bumper cars, traversing around one another, colliding in sloppy ways, careening away just as quickly. Sometimes they were all entangled in a snarl, more often than not failing to recognize what was happening until they were there, and forced to scrabble back to their own safe little corners as fast as they could, trying desperately to avoid leaving themselves too exposed for too long.

There was a strange sense of loneliness in the dance that they did, an isolation all the more striking by their proximity to one another, always there, just that much out of reach, like being suspended with feet just barely touching the ground.

It went on with Dave and Aaron the longest, of course. It had begun during Dave's first tenure in the BAU, in subtle, barely there ways. Nothing they had pursued, of course. Dave was married, wife two, then. Aaron had Haley. But they both felt a synergy, both chose to categorize it very carefully in a "friend and colleague" box even when they joked on occasion -- even Aaron -- that they spent more time with one another than with the women who waited for them at home. There was a gravitational pull. But it didn't, couldn't amount to anything, not then.

When Dave returned, things were so very different that at first he and Aaron seemed to barely know one another. But the pull was there, made manifest in supportive declarations and confrontational questioning. Like iron against iron, they were both made better by it, but neither had the tools to examine it all safely.

Emily was a different story, less a constant orbit and more bright sparks, moments where a "what if" lurked, just as often unbidden as intentional. Dave joked with her, talked with her about things that weren't work related, and trusted her about the things that were. He got inside her personal space, and she let him, never had any hesitation about letting him touch her shoulder, her arm, her hand. She told him all the stories she was able to tell and that he wanted to hear. When she came back and could tell more, he wanted to hear it all.

Dave took her to a fundraiser at the ballet, mostly because he forget to do something with the tickets and she was the only one he could imagine giving only an hour's notice. He failed to flirt with her all evening, even after a second glass of champagne. She wasn't sure if she was disappointed in that. But it was never a disappointment that he confided in her more than anyone, even Aaron, especially in the days when no one was burdening him with anything, his own load unbearable as it was. Dave confided in her about Aaron, especially in those days.

But Emily's "what if" moments with Aaron were almost all in her own mind, pure fantasy, she chided herself about it repeatedly. Aaron -- no, Hotch, always at that remove -- on her phone after hours was never personal. It was always a call from Quantico, some question about a witness, a report, something forgotten that he wanted to tie up before ending his own day. Hotch asking about her weekend was strictly a colleague's small talk, it was never really about him wanting to know how she spent her time or trying to understand her life. Even Hotch in her house was an esoteric, ephemeral thing, there for work, there for the birthday party she threw for JJ, there to inquire how she was settling back in after her months "away."

"I thought it would be more comfortable to talk here than at the office," he'd said, in his quiet, calm voice, proffering up a boxed slice of cake and takeaway cup of herbal tea from the bakery down the block. She was still pretty sure that it was the least comfortable talk she'd ever had with him. (And that included the belated discussion about their preferred safer sex practices that they had naked and sweaty and pressing their luck because Jack was due home from his sleepover any minute.)

After Dave taught the team to make carbonara, at-home socializing became a thing they did. Movie nights at Morgan's, darts in J.J.'s basement, ice cream sundaes at Garcia's. The frost that lingered in some of their relationships thawed and anyone who assessed the situation (and of course Hotch did) saw that it was a good thing for everyone, personally and professionally.

There wasn't always 100% attendance; Reid begged out of darts, which were outside of his skillset by a long margin. (Predictably, there was teasing.) Garcia skipped the scary movies, what she had to see at work was all the nightmare fuel she really needed in her life, thank everyone very much, but no. (Morgan offered to protect her from the big bads, but she still demurred.) Rossi begged out of several gatherings in a row after Carolyn died, and that, they all left alone. Hotch was hit or miss on the socializing thing overall, but they all understood and respected that his first priority on a free evening was spending time with Jack. He did show up a few times though. Dave returned after a few months away, and if his laugh didn't come so easily as it once had, only Emily really noticed, but only she knew what he'd allowed himself to hope for.

(She would ask about those hopes later, confused when Dave admitted just how long he'd harbored thoughts about her and Aaron. His answer was simple, but sad. "Loneliness," and the word itself from his mouth broke apart a hollow space in Emily's chest, "breeds pragmatism. Long as it'd been, Carolyn was more of a possibility.")

As he closed a morning briefing, Hotch announced, rather unexpectedly, that he'd bought a new house. He invited the team for a weekend barbeque, work permitting. No one really expected that they'd all stay late into the night, talk flowing easily under the stars, their unit chief as relaxed and gregarious as they'd ever seen him. Morgan offered that triathloning was good for Hotch's personality. Reid launched into a lecture about the research about exercise's effect on brain chemistry and didn't stop until Hotch shoved a cupcake into his hand and ordered him to eat it.

J.J. and Will were the first to leave, Garcia and Kevin next only because Kevin had fallen asleep on a chaise. Emily and Dave both lingered and insisted on helping with clean up, waving off Aaron's objections. Once the kitchen was sorted, coffee and tea were easy, the three of them arrayed on the oversized sofa together, Emily in the middle, slumped low and comfortable as they talked about everything and nothing for another couple of hours.

The next barbeque it happened again, and at the lasagna night at Dave's after that. Emily had everyone in for takeout Szechuan and Scrabble and it was Aaron who gathered up containers and sorted out the ones for recycling, Dave on his hands and knees finding a lost tile under the sofa, and Emily thanking them with decaf for Dave, the tea Aaron liked and a secret stash of almond cookies.

A long holiday weekend provided a chance to make it intentional; everyone else had plans, even Jack was going somewhere, on a trip with his Brooks cousins. Dave invited Aaron and Emily to dinner. The lingering conversation felt natural, as did they way they moved through Dave's space, putting things away, putting the kettle on. It happened again soon after, at Aaron's, Jack there and a welcome addition to dinner, the conversation afterward quiet as he slept.

They stopped trying to find excuses or reasons. There were just invitations, almost always accepted.

They would claim that they don't know exactly how the topic of their relationship came up, who crossed into the territory they all refused to touch but ached to acknowledge, unconventional, outré, yet secretly desired as it happened to be.

That really wasn't important. Some things they didn't really need to talk about or dissect or memorialize. All things that led them on their overlapped and ultimately joined paths, they just were. They never needed to let the names Foyet or Doyle escape their lips. They didn't fixate on the scars they left behind. They don't think about Matthew, Haley or Carolyn (or the tiny boy who lived only minutes). They don't look too deeply into the chasms left by losses. Together, Commack, Boston, Canada, Colorado, all fade away.

Words were spoken, certainly. Dave was a master of crafting with them, even beyond his books and his eloquent profiles, Aaron a master at using them to build facades. Emily was more economical, speaking as needed, straightforwardly. It wasn't any one of them alone whose wordcraft prompted them, nudged them along, tentative and hesitant. It was the words they spoke together, careful and true, that unleashed boldness and need, on Aaron's bed.

And that was just the beginning.