Aaron Hotchner sits at his desk, uncharacteristically still.
Uncharacteristically, because he doesn't even have a file open in front of him. It's his blank blotter, with only his elbows for company. His head is in his hands and he's looking down at the dark leather blankly.
Jack asked about Emily last night.
It's not the first time, nor will it be the last, but Hotch is starting to wonder if his poor son is going to develop a complex. First Haley, now Emily. It's the last thing he wants, but he didn't really get a choice in the matter, either time. Haley had been in WITSEC. Emily hadn't let anyone help.
But damn it if it doesn't break his heart.
The knock at the door forces him into action and he's got a file open on his desk by the time JJ steps in. He's so glad she's back, and not just because the BAU has not been the same without her. Garcia tried, but no one could replace Jennifer Jareau. But more than that, he missed the friendship. He missed having someone who saw through what he was and still let him be. Like adult siblings. And then Emily… Well, he's glad for the familiar face and the happiness associated with her return. It lightens the load. It lightens him. He's always had a soft spot for JJ.
She doesn't look happy, and Hotch braces himself for children or dark-haired women. He's done the latter since Emily became more than an agent to him, and even more so as her relationship grew with Jack.
They aren't… together. Not in reality anyway. There are rules and all that. But he cares about Emily. More than cares. He still thinks about it in present tense. She's still alive, and much like when he stepped down from the Unit Chief job, they're going to find Doyle and restore Emily and then…
"Got a minute?"
JJ hands him a case file and he opens it, perusing the files. She's still holding a piece of paper and he knows JJ well enough to know that she's holding her trump card, just in case he says 'no'. They're all women. He's not quite sure what the connection is. Really, it just looks like a string of strangulations. There's an increased level of bruising on each of the three victims, but… It's almost textbook.
"The locals have nothing," she says when he finally raises her head. "The captain's called me three times."
He simply eyes the paper.
JJ takes a deep breath and that, more than anything, puts him on edge. Then she hands over the page. Pages, he realizes.
"Baltimore PD were called to an apartment. Obviously, there was a struggle. When they ran the prints, these popped."
Hotch knows he's white, knows he can't hide his reaction.
Because staring up at him, is Emily Prentiss.
"She's not supposed to be stateside." He actually has to force himself to flip past the fingerprint results to the glossy pictures beneath.
But they both know what it means. They both know that she's thinking about changing the game, hunting. She's had enough, enough hiding, enough running and even when JJ had suggested this, he'd known this would be the result. Emily's a fighter. She'd kept Doyle occupied for hours, given them time to find her, because the only way she would be able to have peace, alive or dead, would be through Ian Doyle's untimely – or timely, really – demise.
He finds himself wondering if maybe this is her way of saying it's over. He wonders if maybe she'll break pattern. Maybe, this time, she'll come to them. "Does the team know?"
JJ shakes her head. Hotch isn't surprised. They're the only two who are aware Emily's alive. "I've had her file tagged. The results didn't even go through Garcia."
He debates with himself for a full minute before his eyes lock on JJ's. The blond is looking at him with knowledge and sadness in her eyes. There's never been a doubt for either of them. It was always going to come down to this. And there's no doubt that it's going to hurt.
"Gather the team."
"Doyle's killing again."
The words stop the whole team dead. Before JJ and Hotch had entered, there'd been laughter, teasing, banter. Not the same level as before, because there's still a space empty in each of them that they all feel acutely, but there nonetheless. Three words and it's all out the window.
JJ brings the pictures up on the screen. "Three women have been strangled to death in DC, Virginia and Massachusetts."
It doesn't take a genius to see the resemblance.
"Lauren Marlborough, thirty-seven, Lauren Wright, thirty-five and Lauren Roe, thirty-eight."
"Lauren," Morgan says, voice void of emotion. "That's our link to Doyle?"
JJ looks to Hotch and they both know they're in for hell. Though they both also know that Emily's in for it worse. If they can find her.
When they find her. When she comes to them.
JJ clears the screen with a click of her remote. Another button brings up the demolished apartment. "Police answered a domestic disturbance call in Baltimore. This is what they found."
"Struggle," Rossi says. "Is he kidnapping them?"
"No," Hotch speaks up. "ME's report shows no signs of torture or long-term abuse."
"So he just goes in, strangles them, and gets out. Doesn't sound like our guy."
Hotch and JJ exchange another look. This time, Reid catches on.
"There's something you're not telling us."
JJ sighs. "The apartment is registered to Natalia Petrov. Russian native. According to INTERPOL she's been in the US for four months."
That's news, even to Hotch and his eyes narrow on JJ's. Emily's been in the US for four months. She's been dead six. It's a fast timetable and he now understands why JJ's so far on edge.
"Spit it out, JJ," Morgan encourages.
But Hotch knows JJ can't. She knows what the effect is going to be, knows the pain and betrayal they're going to feel. And he's used to guilt and blame. "Natalia Petrov is an alias," he says, standing and taking the remote from JJ's limp hands. "Baltimore PD ran the prints and got a match."
Emily's picture flashes on screen and he can feel the tempers rise.
"But Emily is dead."
The words are slow, teary and careful, from the technical analyst who has just joined them. He wishes it could be different, wishes nothing had changed. He wishes this was not a choice he'd had to make. So he does what he always does, and detaches himself. "Agent Prentiss was taken into protective custody at the hospital in Boston," he says, matter-of-factly, voice strong and stern. "She was shipped off to Europe for the duration of her recovery."
"Except she's not in Europe any more."
Hotch has never been so thankful for Rossi in his life. The man seems entirely unaffected by the new information. A niggling voice in Hotch's head wonders if maybe the man knew the entire time, but he can't break his mask to ask. Morgan is livid. Garcia's in shock. Reid… It's quite obvious Reid doesn't know what to think.
But he knows what to say, "She just abandoned us?"
"She didn't get a choice," JJ says. Her voice is passionate and when Hotch chances a glance her way, her eyes are glassy. "No one gave her the choice. Doyle didn't give her a choice."
Emily went rogue for her family. The slightest threat would have sent her underground. It did send her underground.
"You knew. You both knew." Morgan's voice is angry, betrayed, and those are the emotions Hotch had been expecting. Of course they'd come from Morgan, the same man who was so angry with Emily that she'd lie to her family. But Hotch knows that Emily knows Doyle best, and knew at that time that the only way she'd be able to save her family was to be as ruthless as Doyle. Looking at the gash in her abdomen in the hospital and the medical chart at the end of her bed, Hotch had known she'd hated every minute.
"We both knew," Hotch says, holding Morgan's eyes.
Awareness. Anger. Then, "How could you?"
"Easily." And Hotch isn't sure he's ever heard so much passionate anger in the voice of Jennifer Jareau. "To keep her safe."
Hotch knows those are the right words. Regardless of the fact that Emily's protective custody was as much about their safety as her own, he knows that making it about her is their best option in smoothing things over. Now is not the time for emotion. Now is the time for dealing with the situation. Now is the time to go after Emily.
To save her.
And because she's 'died' once, he knows that Morgan won't question her abilities. He won't tell them that Emily has always been able to take care of herself. In some ways, she's proven she hasn't. In others, she's proven she can't do anything else.
"Who knows is irrelevant. The fact that she's alive is," Rossi says, and the stare down is done. Morgan physically jolts, and his eyes fix on the ruined apartment on the screen. They're all thinking it. They all know what's coming.
What they don't know is where she's gone.
Emily Prentiss can be surprisingly resourceful.
She's followed the news, she knows all about the 'Laurens' and she knows exactly why the murders are happening. She knows the point is to draw her out. She's the profiler – and a beyond excellent one – but she lived with Ian Doyle for too long. He knows pieces of her. He knows enough pieces to know what buttons to press. As strong as she is, as good as she is, there were parts of Lauren Reynolds that are a part of her.
Well, and it doesn't take a genius to see the drive behind his victim choice.
In fact, in some cases, it's understated for a man like Ian Doyle. His last kills were flashy, ostentatious. They were a play for her eyes only. Only her eyes became their eyes and now she's 'dead'. Except she's not really and she knows she left more than enough evidence in 'Natalia's' apartment for JJ to connect the dots. JJ's wired to hear when something happens to her aliases. She knows the game and she knows between the blond and her once-Unit Chief, the significance of the whole stage won't be lost.
But at the same time, she refuses to give Declan up, whatever that means. She won't do it. She won't allow a child to be bred into what Ian was. What she chose to be for a time. She wants the kid to have a chance and now that she's actually seen the serial killers from the eyes of those who hunt them, she feels all of it with even more conviction. The fact that she literally cannot give Declan up is another story all together.
She knows better. She took precautions. Maybe she didn't take precautions in protecting herself, but she did a damn good job of protecting Doyle's son. She has no idea where the boy is. Young man now, she reasons, sipping tea in the lobby of the Waldof Astoria. New York is huge, and she had figured she could get lost here. At least for a little while. At least until she can go back to DC. Not that she's sure there's anything left there either.
Declan's not dead. Doyle's not gone. But Emily has no idea how to handle either of those things. She doesn't know where they are, Declan by choice, Doyle because he still has enough associates to be a thorn in her side. Enough of a thorn to piss her off too because she hates being a redhead and it's driving her nuts that he even knows the table leg through her abdomen didn't kill her. She doesn't like any of it and she sick of pretending.
Then again, that's why she's stateside.
She won't run anymore. She's not going to hide. She's going to find him, confront him and take him for everything he is. She's going to kill him. Period. He won't stop otherwise.
What she doesn't understand, no matter how many times she goes over it, is how the hell he managed to come to the conclusion that Declan was alive.
Logically, she knows, that maybe that's not true. Maybe he has no idea that his boy is safe. Well, she doesn't either because she's made a concerted effort to never wonder about it. She's never wanted to know. Okay, that's a lie. She's wanted to know she just refuses to be a threat to him. She's given Doyle all of the information she has. For all she knows, Declan is dead because she has no idea where he could be.
She glances up at the screen above the bar, silent, but there's news flashing on another death. A local one. Lauren Jackson. She raises an eyebrow, part of her impressed that he's tracked her this far, part of her settling in contentment. It's time to go home. It's time to bring the fight back to the people she knows will help her end it. Because after six months, she misses them with every piece of her soul. It won't be a happy reunion. They'll be upset, they'll be pissed, they'll be distrustful, but they'll be there because they're family. And never before has she realized how much that means.
She gathers her bags and leaves her teacup. It's time to move on in more ways than one. She's got a bunch of different dyes in her bag, stocked up because she figured sometime soon she'd have to make another change. She abhors the idea of going blonde though, so there's a part of her that's ever-so-glad Doyle's faster than she anticipated. Means she doesn't have to.
Instead, she pulls out a phone. She's got two; this one is a pay-as-you-go burner. The other is connected with everyone. She's kept it on her but off, paranoid of tracking, but needing the connection. This one though… she uses it to send one text message.
I'm coming home.
JJ shows Hotch the message seconds before he grabs his bag to head onto the plane. They both know what it means. She's bringing the fight to DC. She's bringing the fight to them. Ian Doyle will chase her as long as he has to now that he knows he hasn't defeated her. And that's a mindfuck in it's own right. How the hell did Doyle find her?
In some ways, he's grateful that he doesn't have to leave Quantico. He steps out with JJ, stopping on the breezeway. Morgan's lost in thought, and even Reid seems a little dazed. He's not surprised. He can't expect them to just be okay with the whole thing. They adjusted to her death, now they have to adjust to her life.
"Emily's coming here."
Morgan and Reid look up. Rossi, who must have heard his voice, comes out to lean against his doorframe.
"She's coming here?" It's Reid who speaks first, dazed and confused and there's a part of Hotch that knows this is going to be one of the hardest things they've ever faced. He's sure Emily knows it too.
"I thought she wanted to protect us." There's spite in Morgan's tone, but nobody calls him on it. He's allowed to feel hurt. He and Emily were close, had always been close, had developed the type of relationship where they told each other so much. And now, they all know Morgan feels like he has to start from scratch. JJ knows the instinctive need to protect family and knew long before Doyle that it was a piece of Emily. Hotch knows the darkness that she harbours, the darkness that allows her to shoot a piece of someone's ear off to send a message. Rossi knows all about dark pasts, about haunting cases and, Hotch knows, a good chunk of Emily's demons too. Morgan only knows honesty and Emily's betrayed that. Reid only knows abandonment and Emily's solidified that.
Not that Hotch truly believes she had much of a choice.
She'd taken on a certain amount of responsibility for the well-being of the team before she'd had to disappear and he knows that it was a maternal one. A stabilizing one. She had people relying on her, depending on her, looking to her. He doesn't fault her for ripping that away. Not now. In the beginning, when it still hurt, even for him, but not now.
"So what do we do?"
It seems, for a moment, the entire room takes a breath.
"We go over the profile, and wait for Emily."
It's taken her twenty-four hours to make it to Quantico.
She's done it deliberately. It takes a lot, sometimes, to be an agent, to remember that there are people following her. She's been out of it a while too, so it takes some conscious thought, some constant reminding. She took the train first, then rented a car, stopping in an out-of-the-way town to dye her hair back to the dark colour she's familiar with and donning a blond wig instead. Another train, another car – plus another stop to add colour contacts to the mix and drastically change her makeup down to almost nothing – and another train, then the Metro when she hit DC. She's been up all night, but as she parks her third rental car in the seldom-used visitor's parking on the Quantico campus, she can't help but feel the relaxing strings of relief.
There's a blond rushing for her, and it's a split second of genuine fear before she recognizes JJ. Then she's being hugged and hugging back and there's tears and affection and a whole lot of emotions Emily's not sure she's set on cataloguing at the moment. The only thing that matters is that she's missed them.
They pull back with sniffles, exchange a look, and then Emily's calling upon the nerves in her stomach to make it look like this is not where she wants to be, like she doesn't know her way around like the back of her hand. In reality, she knows all the nooks and crannies, but she isn't Emily Prentiss until she sets foot on the bullpen floor. Then she can let some of the act go. Then she can be her.
JJ ushers her through sign-in and onto the elevator before Emily tugs off the wig and finds her voice.
"How are they?"
JJ ponders for a moment, inadvertently aging with grief, fear, negative emotions Emily refuses to name. The blonde's been through a lot in the last year in her own right and she's put a lot of weight on her shoulders hiding Emily. It's been painful and it's been terrible and heartbreaking, but she finds the strength, as Emily watches, to shove all of that to the side. Then she says, "Some good. Some bad."
Emily knows which is which. Morgan's pissed as hell. Reid's… who knows. She's always known those two would be the worst if she had to return. And yes, there's a part of her that didn't expect to ever see any of them again.
Instead of voicing all that, however, she just sighs and there's the turn of a pout in her lower lip. "This is going to suck."
There's a flick of a smile in the corner of JJ's mouth and she knows it's because it's just an Emily thing to say. For a split second, she was never 'dead', there was no DOD or Ian Doyle, just two girlfriends, riding into work together. There is no female in the world Emily trusts more than Jennifer Jareau.
The ding of the elevator breaks the momentary feeling of bone-deep friendship and as Emily stares at the imprint on the glass doors she knows she's about to face one of the most heartbreaking and exhilarating moments in her life.
JJ looks back at her. "Don't tell me you're chickening out now."
Emily sucks in a deep breath, vulnerable. She won't lie and say she's not thinking about it. "Did I break them, Jayje?"
"No," JJ replies after a moment. "You didn't break them. Ian Doyle did."
As if Emily needs more incentive to hunt the bastard down.
They take the back steps to the conference room, which are really the front steps because they spit the women out at the front of the room. The team just stares for a moment because there's absolutely no theatrics. Emily just steps in with JJ and she's suddenly facing everyone she'd been sure she had to leave behind. She doesn't sit down right away and it's both because of the symbolism and because if she doesn't keep her knees locked, she's not going to say what she wants to. What she needs to.
Because they're all sitting there in front of her and while she knows she owes most of them individual explanations, there is a general one she can offer.
"I'm not going to apologize for leaving," she says slowly, carefully, "if only because I wouldn't change my decisions." She locks eyes with Morgan as she says, "I betrayed your trust. I fought something alone because I didn't see an alternative." She looks to Reid next. "You guys mean so much to me. I know it doesn't seem like it, I know it sure as hell didn't feel like it, but putting you on the line just wasn't an option." When she reaches Rossi's eyes he gives her a brief nod. It's his forgiveness and understanding and without realizing it, he's bolstered her courage as her eyes fall on Penelope.
"I owe you explanations and reasons and you all have questions, but right now, we don't have time. Right now, there's a boy at stake as much as my life."
"So he is after you." Morgan's voice is carefully modulated, carefully toned so he's not giving away a damn thing.
She drops her bag in her chair. She's not going to sit until she's invited. She's not going to take her place unless they want her to. It'll break her heart, but she knows they need to make the decisions. "The bodies were all found in cities where I've been staying."
It gives Hotch his opening. "Why are you here?"
"As opposed to Europe?" She shrugs, playing it off. "I had to come back. I couldn't hide, I couldn't run anymore. As long as he's alive and I'm alive I'm going to chase him."
"He lured you back here," Rossi says, nodding slowly, wondering if that meant Doyle knew. "Why?"
Emily folds her hands in front of her. "Doyle had a son. He was five when I was on the case. When they arrested Doyle, his son was already gone." She wasn't going to tell them what she felt for the boy. She wasn't going to tell them what he meant to her.
"Dead," JJ says.
"Well…" Emily offers a wry smile. "As dead as I was."
"You spirited him away."
Her smile leans towards genuine for the space of a blink at Penelope's fanciful phrasing. "I handed him and the woman who raised him off to an agent I'd never met before. I have no idea where he is."
"But Doyle thinks you do." Hotch's voice is soft, keeping all accusation out of his tone. Not that he has any accusation left. Hadn't he sent Haley and Jack away for the same reason?
"Doyle asked me once if I would raise him. He wanted me to turn the boy into Valhalla, to take over the 'company' when Ian couldn't handle it anymore." This time, she looks between Hotch and JJ. "I told him I couldn't do that. I couldn't raise his son to be a monster."
"So you hid him."
"I hid him," Emily agrees. "So well that I don't know where he is."
"But someone does," Morgan says carefully. They can all tell he's not sure he should believe her. She doesn't blame him.
"Someone thinks I do. Doyle thinks I do," Emily replies. She's as open as she's ever been because she knows, this time, she can't hide. She can't screw up. She can't lose them.
"And Doyle knows you're alive." Everyone ignores the way Reid's voice cracks on the last word.
"You're sure you have no idea?" Hotch asks carefully. He's not used to treating her with kid gloves, but treating her with anything else right now would be unfair to the team. It would be unfair to him. Even he can't ask himself to be ruthless with her. He never really could.
"I dropped him off in Boston," she says carefully. "After that, he wasn't-" She swallows thickly, because this part is still painful. "He wasn't my responsibility." She looks at her feet to gather herself.
Everyone takes a moment.
"Why does he want the kid now?" Rossi asks. "He must have made other arrangements."
"Declan's his flesh and blood," Emily says carefully. "He would never trust something like his entire organization to anyone else."
"You think he ran things from prison."
In North Korea. When she'd thought he was in Russia. As if she didn't have enough to wrap her mind around. When the hell did she become such an emotional mess? "I think letting someone else take over, someone who wasn't blood, would offend him," she says carefully. "I think it would go against his tenets of loyalty."
"Like you did."
Her eyes snap to Penelope's, then away again, reminding herself that the woman has the right to be pissed. She has the right to be broken. She has the right to feel upside down and twisted and… But God, Emily feels it too.
"I can leave," she says quietly, staring at her hands. She's biting her nails, but then again, she's been doing it since she first found out Doyle escaped. "I would appreciate the help, and I wouldn't turn to anyone else, but I can do this on my own." She'd done it before. She could do it again. And this time, she would win. Then she could disappear and they'd never have to see her. She could give them that, even if it broke her.
"No." Penelope's voice is choked, but she's shaking her head vehemently when Emily looks up. "No. You can't leave."
And though Emily knows Penelope still won't trust her the same, that it'll still take time, she knows it's one bridge that she's started fixing. She sucks in a breath. "Doyle, the CIA… Those are the only lies I've told." Her voice is almost a whisper, but she's not sure she can make it any stronger. "I'm not proud of what I did. I'm not proud of what I had to do. But I have never lied to any of you."
Morgan packs up his files and they all know they need a break. They need time to re-group, to breathe. "I don't know if I believe you."
The mass exodus leaves Hotch, JJ and Rossi behind with Emily. She's okay with that. She loves Morgan, she loves Reid, she loves Penelope, but she's spent so much time protecting them all from various things that she knows she wouldn't be as open as she should if they'd stayed.
"What do you know?" Rossi asks, waving to the chair her bag is on.
Emily sits thankfully, because she recognizes the symbolism and the significance. "That he'd be a teenager now, in high school. I don't know if they would have split Louisa and Declan or not. I don't know what they would have thought was safe."
They're all going to have to be patient, but it's voice through a heavy sigh Hotch releases. This is so hard on all of them. "Where do we start, Emily? Where do we start looking for Declan?"
"I still have some connections. So does Clyde."
"He doesn't know you're alive," JJ tells her softly. In fact, the blond and the Unit Chief are the only ones beyond Emily's handler that knows. And one other higher-up that okay-ed the decision.
"Doesn't matter," Hotch says. "I'll make the call."
Rossi pauses. "How do you know he wants the boy? You said it yourself, you betrayed him."
Emily meets his eyes, tortured, pained. "I don't."
Hotch sits in his office after he gets off the phone with Clyde, quiet and contemplative. He'd dreamed of the day Emily returned. He always has, since the day she'd left. Because she takes some of the burden off of his shoulders. He doesn't have to hide around her because she just doesn't care. If he's going through problems, she worries, but her support is non-verbal. Her support is conditional, and the condition is all on him. He's missed that. Because now, when he has to work through something, he has to do it under scrutiny.
"I am sorry, you know. Even if I wouldn't say it in there."
He looks up, both shocked and unsurprised that Emily is standing in his doorway. Seeing her is going to take some getting used to. "I know."
"I didn't want to put any of you through this."
"You didn't think you were going to come back."
"No," she admits. "But you saw the remnants of my fight with Ian. Did you think I would come back?"
"No," he agrees. "But here you are."
She gives a humourless chuckle. "The miracles of science."
Or just plain miracles.
"Jack asked about you. He asks about you."
Emily swallows and steps into the room. "What did you tell him?"
"I couldn't. Not when I knew… he's six, Emily."
She nods. She and Hotch have been friends for a while and Jack has been a part of that. They don't get much off time and since their friendship has built, shifted and changed, and that crunched time means Jack has become a part of their friendship. Or had. Before she was 'killed'.
"I didn't want to break his heart."
Emily's breath was thin and shuddering. "I'm so sorry. I didn't-"
"I know." And he wouldn't have changed it. Not really. Having her alive is so much better than having her dead. "Have you thought about what happens when we catch Doyle?"
Not 'if'. 'When'. "We can't arrest him, Aaron."
He's not surprised to hear her say that.
"I can't let him live."
"I'm not asking someone to take a life."
Her eyes turn hard, unwavering. "They won't have to." Because the minute she gets the chance she will kill him. She'll put a bullet through Ian Doyle's brain and feel triumphant about it. And no one will judge her for killing that monster.
"And after that?"
"And after that, I don't know," she admits. "If I'm welcomed back, I'd like to."
"We've never filled your space." Not even with Seaver.
She offers him a smile with a touch of arrogance. "No one can replace me."
He lets his eyes soften, because he let her walk away once. "No. No one can."
She's not as shaken as she figured she'd be when she steps out of Hotch's office. The tug and pull in her gut is nothing new where he's concerned and the subtle pushing, the quiet indication that he's not letting her go does warm her a bit. She hasn't ruined everything. But she's ruined a lot.
She goes to Penelope first because if worst comes to worst, she's sure she can get Penelope on-side to help with Morgan.
"Listening to your message was the hardest thing I've ever done."
Penelope jolts from the records she's running, trying to figure out where the hell Declan could have disappeared to after Emily left him in Boston. "I'm not sorry I left it."
"I am sorry I didn't acknowledge it."
That makes Penelope turn around, meeting Emily's more than anguished gaze. She feels her eyes water. "We're a family."
"We are." Emily's not about to deny that. Not now.
"You could have come to us. We could have helped you."
"You couldn't have helped yourselves," Emily replied quietly. "Doyle's not a regular UNSUB, Garcia. He's a breed all his own."
"We've hunted people like him before."
"No, we haven't," Emily argues. It's true. There's nothing like Ian Doyle out there, nothing they've faced. Nothing this personal and this volatile. She sighs. "If I thought, even for an instant, that you guys wouldn't be hurt, that I could take that risk, I would have told you everything. Honey, you don't even carry a gun."
"I carry a Derek Morgan," Penelope replies.
"Garcia," the raven-haired woman starts quietly. "Do you know what he would have done to Derek to get to me?"
The quiet words bring tears to Penelope's eyes and Emily knows she doesn't have to tell her. She doesn't have to go through the motions, the emotions. Doesn't have to imagine it herself. Not that she's been able to avoid it.
"It took me thirty-four years to find family. Thirty-four years. I wasn't going to risk it. I won't risk it."
"You're risking it now."
Emily's smile is extremely self-deprecating. "Because knowing we have each other and the element of surprise works in our favour."
"And it didn't last time?"
"I wouldn't change it," she repeats, stronger. "If one of you died, if he got a hold of one of you, because of me? It wouldn't matter. I would never be able to forgive myself." She's wondering if maybe they can't either.
"You… We waited in the hospital," Penelope says, the tears leaking down her face. "We were waiting… and then JJ came out and she told us…" She sniffles. "Reid wanted to see you. He needed to see you. But JJ… JJ wouldn't let him in. He cried on her shoulder."
They'd all cried a little.
"I don't expect to be welcomed back," Emily reveals, deciding against telling her own story of sorrow and tears when she'd found out her slim choices. It wouldn't do any one any good now. "I don't expect all of you to forgive me, or even understand. Not really." She shrugs. "But I'm still going to ask for it."
"You think that little of us?"
Emily shakes her head. "I think the world of you. Of all of you. The team though… we hide our private lives, but we lean on each other when things get tough. And when things got tough I ran. It betrays trust. I knew that. I know that."
Penelope swallows, then stands. "But family forgives."
"Sometimes," Emily agrees. "In time."
"No," Penelope argues, shaking her head. "I'm still mad at you. Well, I'm mad at Hotch. And JJ. They should have told us they should have-"
"The more people who knew the more people who were at risk," Emily points out quietly.
Penelope waves her hand, flicking the rather important and highly relevant argument away like a bug. She's not used to the woman in front of her, not really, and she wants the real Emily Prentiss back. She's been through enough that optimism has to prevail and for it to do so, things need to start moving back to normal. And, to Penelope, that means forgiveness. It's a start. "The point is, I'm mad. But you're still kick-ass awesome Agent Emily Prentiss."
The tears sting Emily's eyes. "I've never been anything else. Not with you."
"I know," Penelope says with fake cheer. "You can't fake that kind of insecurity."
Emily laughs and blushes. "PG, you're the best."
And despite her anger, the betrayal she hasn't gotten over, Penelope grins. "Mmhmm, tell me something the world isn't already aware of."
Emily's eyes spark and go hard. "Actually, I can do that."
Her next confrontation is with Derek. His anger brews closer to the surface than anyone else's so she's not surprised when he seeks her out. She's taken a breath and a moment after recounting her years with Doyle to Penelope. It's hard work and emotionally draining because she hates what she became with the arms dealer, but if there's anyone she can trust with the information she knows it's Penelope.
"I trusted you."
Huh. Not that she's actually surprised that this is the tactic he chooses.
"And you turned your back."
"I did what I had to do."
"No you didn't!"
She's suddenly glad she decided that fresh air was a necessity and that one of the side entrances was better than a main one. There's an element of danger to her loneliness, but now Derek's there. Angry as hell, but there and they can have it out like they need to. They're both passionate people, and Emily knows this confrontation has to potential to get violent, let alone volatile.
"You… I shared everything with you. Honesty and loyalty, remember?" His words about his faith in her, his pride in being her partner, are lost in the lies and deception. She protected a kid with her life, except that she didn't actually die. How the hell is he supposed to wrap his mind around that?
Emily rolls her eyes because despite what he thinks she can match him, temper for temper. And she will, because she's going through her own mess of emotions and he's a convenient target. "Don't be such a hypocrite."
"You watch your step."
But she's not intimidated when he steps closer. Apparently he's forgetting that she knows him. She knows who he is and she's seen what he's capable of. "Chicago."
"That was in the past."
"So was this."
"And when it came up again?"
"I wasn't about to drag you guys through that pain. He wasn't your fight."
"And now he is."
"Now you've made him your fight. And because you've made him your fight, here I am." Because they aren't going to fight him alone. Because she deserves to kick his ass for 'killing' her in the first place. Because Declan deserves a life of choice, not one of crime. Not one where the poor kid doesn't know whom to trust.
Derek paces away. There's still angry tension in every line of his body, but Emily knows how to stick to her guns. She knows how to stand up for what she believes in.
"You should have told us."
"What was I supposed to say, Derek?" she asks helplessly. "Oh yeah, I know exactly who Ian Doyle is because I slept beside him, with him, for two years? Should I have told you that I essentially agreed to marry him? All for a mission? An op?"
She sees him wince and wonders, only for a split second, if she's made her point. Then his face hardens.
"Don't," she interrupts, if that's what it is, since he hasn't said anything. "Don't make this about the team. Don't make this about faith and loyalty because that belittles me as much as it belittles you."
"I thought I knew you."
"You did," she answers. She's not begging. She's straight, she's solid, she's Emily Prentiss. She knows it's knocking Derek off. "You've always known Emily Prentiss. You've never known Lauren Reynolds."
"They're the same person."
Emily shakes her head. "Deep cover like that… you create a new identity to protect yourself, physically and emotionally. I was good at it. I had a lifetime of on-the-job training. I knew exactly how to pad the telling parts of my life so no one knew a thing." She runs a hand through very disheveled hair. "I left the Agency because I couldn't stand the lies anymore. JTF-12 broke me, Derek."
He watches her for a moment, gauging her. But she's not begging, she's not even asking for forgiveness and he realizes she's not looking for it right now. She's not going to ask him for more than he's willing to give and it's so Emily that Derek feels his heart clench.
"Doyle was my last op." Her voice is soft as she meets his eyes again. "I was Lauren Reynolds for years. I fell in love with an arms dealer. It sucked. And whether you believe it or not, I wasn't going to let him come after you. I made a choice, Derek, a choice that I didn't actually have. Because Doyle told me it was either me or you. Either he'd kill me, or he'd kill each and every one of you until he finally got to me. But if he took me, you'd be safe. You'd all be safe."
Emily shrugs mostly because he's right. But it's also Bad Guy 101 for a reason: it works. "You forget, Derek. Years. I was closer to that man than his second in command. I know when he's serious, when he's joking, when he's bluffing. And he wasn't bluffing. You wouldn't even know what hit you."
He can tell she truly believes it. He's less inclined to agree, but his history in the BAU has taught him that what he believes in these instances is useless against what someone else does. Emily's perception is what matters because this is her life. Her tale. Her fear.
"Why not help us? Why not leave us clues?"
"Because he started killing families to get to me. We didn't have an escape plan, Derek. The team I was a part of… we hadn't seen each other in eight years. He wanted the BAU on the case, he wanted the BAU after him because then we were all exposed. Then we were all distracted."
He runs a hand over his very bald head. "None of this makes sense."
"Knowing Doyle, it's not supposed to," she replies. Then she sighs. "Look Derek, I'm sorry as hell that I had to do what I did. I'm even more sorry that Hotch and JJ knew. I put you all in a terrible position. That's on me. I get that. But understand this: given the same options again, I wouldn't hesitate to make the same decision. It kept you safe. All of you."
Safe he could get behind. He could understand being backed into that corner too. "I wish you'd come to us."
"I wish I'd felt like I could."
He knows she's not talking about mistrust. She's talking about love.
He reaches out for her, shocking her when he pulls her into a hug. She's so surprised that it takes her time to wrap her arms back around him. Once she has though, she clings for dear life and for the second time, her body is wracked with silent sobs.
"I don't know if I can trust you," he says when her sobs die down.
"I know," she responds wiping at her eyes with embarrassment. She's stronger than this. She's proven that. "Take your time. I'm not going anywhere."
It's a promise she's already vowed to keep.
But she does stay outside.
Hotch finds her there, half an hour later with red eyes and sorrow in every line on her face. He doesn't like how much this case has aged her without even trying. "How are you holding up?"
She offers him a tremulous smile. "I've been better."
Her eyes slide closed. She's sitting on a concrete wall and he's standing beside her. He can smell her when she leans forward to rest her forearms on her thighs. "Is this what it was like, with Foyet? And Haley?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "Foyet never put the team in danger."
"But he put your family in danger."
She's got him there.
"Did you ever resent my decision?"
"No," he tells her honestly. He understood the decision. Just like Haley had understood that she had to go into witness protection. It wasn't about liking it, it was about accepting and understanding a decision with no good alternatives.
"So it is like Foyet. Sending your family away."
"Except you're the one that walked."
She bobs her head in agreement. It was partially her choice. She wasn't sure there was another one she could have made. The same way, she's sure, Haley knew there wasn't another choice for her and Jack when she went in WITSEC. "It sucks."
He leans his head down, brushing against hers. She's there, real, alive and he's not sure he's felt something this good since he wrapped his arms around his son after finding Haley's lifeless body. "It wasn't easy. It's not easy."
She blows out a breath and he can hear the tears in her voice. She's not an emotional person, not usually, not when there's a job to do, but he's not willing to hold it against her. This is emotional upheaval at it's best and if any one knows it, he does. And if he can give her some reprieve, give her a moment, he'll do it, no questions asked.
At the end of the day, after all, he wants one thing and one thing only: Emily back in the fold. And Hotch is willing to do pretty much anything to make sure that happens. He's willing to do a lot just because it's Emily too. "Will and Henry are coming in. I'm going to go pick up Jack. We'll set up something in the conference room until Doyle's caught."
"Will it help?"
"You profiled him," he reminds her unnecessarily. "You tell me."
She raises her head, lifting her eyes. "I put them in danger."
He knows it's a redundant comment if only because they've been through the argument a million times. She won't listen, not really, and there's a part of her, he knows, that is aware it isn't her fault. Doyle wants revenge and she's the last person standing in his way. "We'll put something together in the conference room. You'll sleep there too."
It takes one look and she's snapping her mouth closed. He's not taking arguments on this and there is a piece of her that's glad. Jack's always been good for her, good for him, good for them and she's excited at the prospect despite how depressing it is. It shouldn't be like this. Doyle should be in prison, she should be living her life and her family should be safe. Yet they're fighting for her, whether they're mad at her or not and she's not sure she deserves it.
"This is your case, right?" she asks softly. They're close, close enough that she doesn't have to speak loud to be heard.
"You're one of us," he says in response. He's passionate and convinced of that. He won't let it go. She's theirs. Period. And whether the case is local or not, it's enough for them to push, for them to stick their noses in, for them to fight for the case and the permission to work it. It's their right, after all, to protect their own.
She blushes and tears and she hates how emotional this whole situation is making her. Where the hell are her damn boxes?
She's not sure which one of them is more surprised when his hand comes up to cup her cheek.
"There's no fighting me on this."
"I wasn't really planning on it," she admits in a voice just above a whisper. She wouldn't have come back if she wanted to fight him.
His thumb brushes against the purple circle under her eye. Her tears have washed away carefully applied concealer and she looks exhausted. Tired, and sad and he needs determination and passion with her. This time they're fighting for her and he needs her to believe in that. She can't when she's this down. "The couch in my office is pretty comfortable."
"Hotch, I'm not taking a nap."
"You are," he says, "because right now you're useless to any of us."
"Way to make a girl feel good."
He offers her a small smile. "I need you at one hundred percent," he offers in a whisper. "I need you, and that means you need to be on your toes."
"I've been on my toes for so long."
"I know," he promises. "Lay down. We've got some leg work to do yet anyway."
She slides off the wall and down the front of him, leaning into him. He's shocked at how vulnerable she is and his arm comes around her half out of reflex. She's thinner than he remembers and he doesn't like it one bit. He makes a mental note to order her favourite for dinner.
"I gave Garcia something to work with."
"Good. Then you've done all you need to do right now."
He doesn't care what it looks like when he steps into the bullpen with Emily half asleep on his shoulder. Hard-ass Hotchner or not, she's suffering and he's never been one to be okay with suffering. Not someone else's anyway and he ignores the various looks from his team and the various support agents around the room as he ushers her into his office. When he comes out, his face is hard again.
The softness from moments ago, watching her fight sleep, is gone. He's an agent, and an agent that's going to find Doyle and destroy him. He knows Emily won't live as long as Doyle does, and while he'd never ask his team to take someone's life, he and Emily have walked some dark roads. They know that sometimes, it's necessary. And as he turns his head to meet Dave's eyes, he knows the older man knows the same.
When this is over, Doyle will be dead.
Emily is surprised to find Spencer sitting vigil when she wakes up.
"I didn't get to do it in the hospital."
His voice is a strained whisper that clenches her chest. She swallows thickly and waits, even as she pushes herself up and turns to face him.
His eyes hold so much pain when he looks up at her. "You left."
Protective custody or not, it means nothing to this man. He's suffered so much abandonment, that whether or not it was for his good or hers, it still feels like abandonment. It still feels like someone he loves walking away from him.
She knows she has to take a different path. "There's nothing you could have done."
"We could have caught him."
"He'd been caught once before," she points out softly. "There's no guarantee this would be any different."
Awareness sparks in Spencer's gaze, an awareness she doesn't like. "You're going to kill him."
In so many ways, she wonders if he's still a child. She wonders if maybe she just sees him like that. Whatever the reason may be, she's pretty sure he won't understand the drive and motivation. He's a do-gooder. He doesn't take well to violence and hell, if he didn't have to, he wouldn't be carrying a gun. He's like Garcia like that.
Not that she, even for a second, considered asking him to put a bullet in Doyle's skull. She'd never ask that of him.
"It's crossed my mind."
"You're going to."
She searches his face. "Would you blame me?"
There's a beat. Then, "No."
That shocks her.
"I think I would have killed Tobias Henkle."
She chuckles, because she seriously, seriously doubts it, but the sentiment is true and genuine. "You won't have to kill Doyle, Reid."
"Because you will."
"Or Hotch." Because she's damn well not stupid and knows that he can be just as dark and ruthless as she can. They can both play by Doyle's rules and they're willing to for this. She's got enough JTF and CIA in her and she's pretty sure Hotch has his own base knowledge to pull from. It wouldn't surprise her anyway.
Spencer shakes his head. "He deserves to suffer."
They're going to agree to disagree, Emily knows this, but she puts up the argument, hoping they'll get to the bottom of things. She wants the air cleared with Spencer because she wants to feel like she can worry about him again. He's already rubbed his left temple three times since she opened her eyes, but she won't ask about the migraines until she's sure he's willing to tell her about them.
"He broke out once," she reminds him. "Out of North Korea."
"So we put him here." But there's doubt in his voice and it's loud. He knows that's not an option. Part of her hates that he knows.
So she cuts to the chase. "I can't be on the run my whole life."
"But you're so good at it."
She takes the jibe in stride. She's never given him an inch so she certainly doesn't expect pity in return. She and Derek may banter and poke like siblings, but she and Spencer fight like them. "Whether you believe me or not, I'm here. And I'm staying."
"I don't want you here."
And somewhere along the line she's become English royalty, she thinks sarcastically, but she won't tell him that he's fiddling with his sleeve, that his toes are tapping. He's a terrible liar that way. "This is home."
"Then why'd you run?"
"Because he would have killed you. I believe that. There's no doubt in my mind."
"And that's enough?"
"Come on Spencer." She's getting fed up. This is getting childish and repetitive, but she understands the need for each of them to question her. They should all get the chance, she knows that, but she's starting to wonder if it would have been easier to just kill all the birds with one stone. "I wouldn't change that decision for the world." Because it kept them safe and that was all she'd wanted.
He opens his mouth, but she pushes on.
"He'd tracked you. Watched you. Knew about riding the Metro. Knew about the busker you throw money to when you get off at Dupont Circle. He knew your routines, knew your route and knew that I would give up anything to keep you guys safe. He played on that. So I played dirty too."
"You shot off a man's ear."
Her eyes go dark, hard, and the way Spencer recoils she knows they're the eyes of the agent she'd once been. It had taken her years to shed that armour, to open herself up again. She had. To these people. And now they were crucifying her. "I'd do it again."
"Because Doyle doesn't respond well to weakness."
"That too," she admits. "And because it was the best way to keep him away from you. If he knew I was fighting like him, he wouldn't focus on you. He would know I'd walked away."
Because Doyle would believe that they wouldn't take her back. Some things are unforgivable and quite obviously, Doyle believed the darkness that resides within her is one of those things.
"You were the bait. The lure."
"I was." And she would be again. "And I kept him talking."
"You gave us time."
She shrugged because she didn't want that credit. "You were my priority."
He knows it's not him specifically but the sentiment can't be ignored. "Would do you it again?"
"In a heartbeat." She leans forward. "I love you guys. I care about you guys. I will not see anything happen to you. Do you understand that?"
"Mostly." He does. He doesn't like it. He doesn't like that she hid, that she walked away.
Their eyes lock, his vulnerable and mistrusting, hers sad, pained.
"Do you know what it felt like when I woke up and knew I had to walk away?"
The tears come fast and hard and he's leaning into her. She doesn't mind because she's crying too. She's never had to make a harder decision in her life. She never wants to make one like that again.
They're broken. But they can be fixed and she knows as she hugs Spencer to her, that, at least when it comes to the two of them, they've started.
When Jack comes bursting into Hotch's office – she's gone into virtual hiding and it's a coward's way out but she's not sure with everything she can face the team just yet – he makes a beeline for her. She wraps him up tight, breathing him in and she feels some of the pressure lessen. Some of the deadness recedes because it's Jack. He's young and he's innocent and he doesn't have to deal with any of this.
"Hi," he says softly. Then, "I missed you."
"I missed you too," she promises. She won't cry this time, she swears it. But it's going to be an emotional conversation. "Did Daddy tell you I had to go visit the angels?" She wants to get this done and over with. She wants to make sure Jack knows that she wants to be here; the last thing she wants to do is abandon him.
"No," Jack says, shaking his little head and she's a little surprised at the breech in protocol. Of course, he's still only seven and it's a lot for a kid to take in, let alone understand. "Just that you had to go away. Why did you have to go away?"
Emily pauses. Thinks. "Remember when you and your mom had to go away?"
"Because Daddy wanted us to be safe. Even though he didn't want us to go."
"Did Daddy do the same for you?"
"No," Emily says, running her hand along his back. "Not just Daddy, and it wasn't just to keep me safe. It was to keep you safe too."
"But Daddy keeps everyone safe. You keep everyone safe."
"Not this time." And it hurts like hell to admit that. "I have someone following me," she explains. "And he's not a good person Jack."
"Yeah, like George. His name's Ian."
"What did you do to him?"
"I put him in jail. Now he doesn't like me that much." She knows it's the wrinkle in her nose that sends Jack into a fit of giggles. He's too young to understand the gravity of revenge and the passion behind it, even if he understands the concept. She doesn't really want him to know either. Teach him love, Haley had said, and since being gifted with the opportunity to play a role in his life, it's the only thing Emily's allowed herself to do. This blackness wasn't supposed to touch him.
"Daddy made me bring my blankets. Are we having a sleepover?"
"In a way," she replies. "Your Daddy's worried something might happen to you."
"Because Ian might come visit?"
It's a good enough response and she nods. "So you're going to stay here."
"Are you going to be here?"
He doesn't want her to disappear again and it doesn't take a genius to see that. Hell, he didn't even have to ask. His little fist is white-knuckled in her shirt. She'll be surprised if he's willing to let her out of her sight, at least for a little while. "I'll be here. With you."
"Can I sleep with you?"
She chuckles and cuddles him close, wiggling her fingers to make him squeal and giggle. "We'll see, okay?"
The giggling stops and he looks up at her through somber eyes. His father's eyes. "You won't go away again, will you Emily?"
She brushes a hand through his hair. "I hope not." She won't promise him because she knows if they can't kill Doyle, she'll have to go under again. It's not safe for her to be there, to be around them with Doyle running about. She won't promise, but she'll do everything in her power to make it true.
"I didn't like it when you were gone," he says in a small voice. His hand is still clenched in her shirt, but the other one is fiddling with the zipper on his jacket. He's shy and nervous and Emily isn't sure how she feels about that. "Daddy was sad when you were gone."
As if she needed the harsh lesson on the thin line between protection and hurt. She'd protected them, but she'd hurt them too. She'd forced them to grieve.
"I'm sorry," she says. "I didn't mean to make your daddy sad." She forces herself to swallow. "I'm sorry I made everyone sad."
He pats her cheek. "S'okay. You're here. You're okay."
The absolution of a seven-year-old has never felt so sweet. It's the first form of absolute forgiveness she's received without questions. It's just there. It lightens her heart. It's exactly what she needed.
She looks up at the door for the first time to find Hotch hovering. He's done that before, when Emily's having a serious conversation with the little boy in her lap, but there's never been That Look. She's not even sure what it is, but she knows it's there.
This is what she wants, she realizes with startling clarity. This man, this boy, this family. She wants her life back, the one she had before Doyle went and escaped. Before he blew her dreams to bits. She sees his eyes harden to steel and knows they're thinking the same thing.
They will have this.
Doyle is finished.
And it starts now.
There's nothing tentative about the woman who steps into the conference room behind Hotch. They've left the boys under Will's watchful eye in Hotch's office because they're going to figure out how to finish this. They're going to do it here, now, whether the team wants her in on it or not. They're going to find Declan. They're going to find Doyle.
There is a part of her that sees this as a daunting task. She's looking at the room, at the profile, at the victims and knows this is nothing like the things they usually face. First the families, now 'Laurens' and if anyone would know Doyle's a bit of a chameleon it's her. He'll do what he needs to do to smoke out his prey.
She's just damned lucky he didn't come after the team.
She doesn't realize she said it aloud until the whole room falls silent. She clears her throat.
"Doyle wanted me. He threatened you to get to me, to make me walk away. To kill me. So why kill these women? Why kill Laurens? Why not you guys?"
It's an interesting question and an even more interesting reflection and she can see by the startled look she gets from Reid it's an avenue they haven't explored.
"He attacked families because I took his, right?" She forces herself not to go green at the idea. A decision made so long ago led her here, with these people, putting them in danger she never could have foreseen. But guilt has never been easy for Emily. "So why Lauren now?"
There's a handful of beats before JJ speaks. "What if it's not about you? What if it's about us?" It doesn't explain how he's killed in every city Emily's been in but it's a new perspective.
"Because we can find the kid?" Morgan asks.
"He thinks we know," Dave says, his voice slow. It always is when he's puzzled through something, when he's come to some sort of epic conclusion on how the world works. "He thinks we know where his son is." His gaze goes to Emily. "He thinks you told us."
"Again, why not come directly for us?" Hotch asks. It still doesn't quite fit. Nothing fits. Doyle doesn't fit. "Why not just…" The thought trails off and he knows they're all thinking of the myriad of things Doyle's probably capable of. The evidence is right there in the room, a family bound by darkness torn apart.
Emily's rubbing at her chest, just above her left breast. "He wants you to feel it."
All eyes are on her, watching, waiting.
"He wants you to know what it's like to be tortured with the unknown, to feel responsible. He knows you will. He knows you'll feel guilty for the families of those women. He knows you feel responsible for the families he's already killed. He knows the strength of mental torture because he's suffered it."
"And now we're suffering," Morgan nods slowly. "Because we should have had him. Because we don't."
"And because he's still suffering," Emily agrees, her eyes glazed over as her mind processes. "Because he doesn't know where Declan is." She looks to Hotch, to JJ. "Because you didn't know where I was."
"Which brings us full circle." Dave's watching her now close enough to make her self-conscious. Her hand falls. "How did he find you?"
Her hand rests on her stomach now, just above her hip. She can't feel the heat of her own skin through the scar tissue. "I was careful," she promises. "I came back to the States to find him, not to lead him to me. If he knows I'm here, I've lost the element of surprise."
Hotch shakes his head. "We're assuming he knows," he points out. "If he's after us and what he thinks we know, Emily may not be a factor."
And if she's not a factor, maybe Declan's in more trouble than they thought.
Penelope enters then, looking worn down and more than a little sad. "Nothing," she says, her eyes on Emily. "Not even with what you gave me. Whoever has him is hiding him. Well."
And for that to come out of Penelope's mouth, it's better than just 'well'. It's more like phenomenal. All eyes go to Emily, then to Hotch because while he's the Unit Chief, and by seniority Dave's second in command, there's no doubt that right now, she's running the show.
She looks it too, whether she realizes it or not. Her eyes are hard, her spine straight, and every line of her screams 'don't mess with me'. It's a marked change because right there, at the front of the conference room is an alpha female, set and ready to protect not only her cubs, but her family and they've already seen the lengths she'll go to in order to see them safe.
The realization hits Morgan like a slap to the head. This is the woman he's always known. Right there. Looking to all the world like she could take on anything and beat it on the other side. He surprises himself when he realizes that's never been a question. As angry as he is at her, as much as she's hurt him, hurt them, she will walk out of this. She will see them all safe and it won't matter what it takes. It doesn't matter.
He's not quite sure that's enough to spark forgiveness. He's not quite sure he's ready for that and the resulting implications. But the disgusting churning he's felt in his stomach and the tightness in his chest releases under the realization. At the base, she's exactly the same. She's passionate, protective, take-no-prisoners Agent Emily Prentiss and maybe Doyle's played a hand in making her that way, the same way his past has built him to who he is, but she's never looked at him like he is his past. She's looked at him like this is what his past has made him.
Maybe it's time for him to afford her the same courtesy.
It all happens in a blink, his entire inner monologue, and then he's watching Emily and Hotch exchange a glance like they did before Doyle. Before everything went to hell.
"I think I have to make a call." There's a mildness to her voice that hasn't been there since she stepped in front of them.
Hotch's face is sober, but clear of worry lines. It's a shock to them all. "I think I do too."
She makes the call to the CIA with Jack in her lap. He wants to be there, and she wants him there so she's not too concerned with it. He's colouring anyway and keeping his crayons to his own legal pad. She's got another one there, trying to track down the agents that were involved in Declan's move. She's made notes on it, but it's a little scrambled.
"I can ask some questions," Kate Carter is saying to her. "But I don't know."
They're actually being careful not to use names. She's on a BAU phone because she's still refusing to turn hers on. She doesn't want that burden. Not yet.
She and Kate go way back. They'd worked together before JTF-12, when Emily was attached to the CIA, and liked each other well enough. Their contact since, however, has been vague and Emily knows she's asking a big favour. Kate knows it too. She wasn't involved in JTF-12, but there is the potential that by contacting her, Emily's putting the other woman in danger.
"I'd appreciate you asking," she says carefully. "It's important."
"You wouldn't be calling me if it wasn't."
They've never asked favours of each other. Ever. Kate is one of Emily's first true friends, one that's stuck, and neither of them have been willing to exploit that friendship. There's too much exploitation in Emily's background for her to feel comfortable with it.
This is one of those pesky exceptions.
Emily wants Declan alive. That's the basics of it. She wants to find the boy and keep him safe. She is acutely aware of what Declan means to Doyle and yes, there is an element of using the boy to draw him out, but at the end of the day, Declan is what matters. His safety, his security, his quality of life. And that's why, though she's never asked it of Kate before, she's asking now.
The same way Hotch is digging into his contacts at WITSEC.
They're going to find Declan because it's what they do and because they know how to go about it.
Jack shifts in her lap and Emily looks over to find a happy picture on the yellow paper. Jack's only drawn happy things and she's wondered before if that's his coping mechanism. He draws happy so that he's not so sad. He looks up at her and she smiles back, nodding at his picture.
"It's nice, sweetheart," she murmurs, moving the phone away from her mouth. Then it's back. "I appreciate this. Really. More than you know."
"Yeah. I'll let you know what I can dig up." Then there's a slight shifting. "Hey, your birthday's coming up, isn't it?"
Her birthday's in October, but with Kate, nothing's ever simple.
"I'll put your present in the mail, kay?"
"The office is better," Emily says, keeping her tone careful. They're both a little paranoid, it seems because now they're not even using locations. The number can be traced on her end – she's not really one hundred percent sure on Kate's – but that's why she chose the BAU phone. Even if they can trace it back to the FBI, they can't trace it back to her.
"Definitely. I think you're really going to love it."
Emily's chuckling a little as she hangs up and Jack looks up curiously. She shakes her head, but her eyes are sparkling and she wonders, the way his light up in response, if he's just reacting to the lack of sadness in her. She hitches him up slightly on her thigh and looks to the door. Hotch is coming for them, and she wonders if it's creepy that she chose that instant to look up.
"I've got a friend coming in." For him, it's not as safe to conduct business on the phone. "I'm not sure he can help."
She shrugs. "I'm not sure mine can either."
After so many years they both know Declan could be anywhere. Hell, she could have been anywhere, especially if she's kept her 'agent ways', watching over her shoulder, reacting to being watched. It had taken her the better part of two years to stop watching over her shoulder.
"Can I help?"
They both smile at Jack's little question and Emily squeezes his middle. "You are helping," she tells him.
His little brow furrows. "Like when Daddy's upset and he just hugs me?" He looks to his father. "You always say that helps."
She skims her fingers up Jack's ribs, just to hear him giggle. "Exactly like that." She meets Hotch's eyes and knows they're both wondering if this is just a moment out of time. If maybe this is a false sense of security. It's a tough pill to swallow with Jack squirming in her lap. She tilts her head, and a ghost of a smile touches his lips.
Yeah, they deserve it.
The package Kate sends is a phone and it doesn't take a genius to understand what's going on. It's encrypted and she's not actually surprised. She's almost totally sure Kate can get her hands on things Emily's only dreamed of. It's not as scary as it should be.
This does not leave your sight. I'll call.
It's quick, it's simple and the package was couriered to Hotch even though its destination is her hands. He doesn't have to ask when it comes in, just signs the paper while she puzzles over the pictures in the conference room. She's been shuffled between that and his office because they have blinds that close, ways to block out people who just don't know. The BAU's in virtual lock down and there's a part of Emily that is surprised she hasn't seen the Section Chief. Someone must be concerned about what the BAU is hiding.
He doesn't ask when he brings the phone to her, just holds it and the note out. She smiles when she takes it because the scolding and the short note is totally Kate.
Her brain feels scrambled, like it's jumping all over the place. She still hasn't had a solid conversation with any of her team members and Hotch is almost hovering. Between that and the way Jack's all but clinging to her, it's been a trying few hours. It does scare her that this is only the beginning. There's so much at stake now, and it's more than last time. She learned her lesson and she's not walking away, but that doesn't take away the temptation of it. Because if she walks away, they're still safe.
At the same time, she's not sure she has the strength to do it by herself anymore.
Healing by herself was hard. Walking away from JJ in Paris was harder. Walking away from them now would be impossible.
"You look like you could use a week's vacation."
Emily snorts as she sets the phone aside, barely resisting the urge to drop her head to the table but unable to resist the weight of her eyelids. "I feel like it."
Hotch looks out to the bullpen to see Jack curled in JJ's arms. He's not surprised. JJ's mothering instinct is inherent and unstoppable. Henry is cuddled in his father's safe embrace. Will looks nervous, but his body is relaxed for the little boy. "Jack looks like he's about to go down."
"Jack never naps," she murmurs.
"He might make an exception this time."
When her eyes open and meet his, they're suspicious. "Are you bribing me with Jack Cuddles?"
It feels normal for him to smile. "Maybe."
"Well," and there's so much weariness in her voice, "you're doing a good job."
He runs his hand over her hair unconsciously and she leans back. They've never really been tactile people, and he's not above admitting that part of it is the reassurance. He likes knowing she's there, knowing she's close but there's still an element of unreality to the whole situation. "You could use it."
They all could use it. The team's strained, partially because she's actually here. They're battling their own emotional demons and battling Doyle and it's a bad mix. Half an hour ago Dave pulled him aside and suggested a free session, a chance for everyone to air their grievances. He suggested they do it without Emily.
So this is a bonus, really. Jack's tired and clingy, so it won't take much to get him to lay down if Emily's with him. Emily needs the sleep, or at least the rest. She just looks tired and he knows she probably hasn't slept well in months. Plus, it keeps her away from everything for the time being. He doesn't want to bench her, and doesn't want to make it look like he's manipulating anything, but it'll be better for the team if she's not around to get upset.
"Yeah," she finally admits. "Yeah I could."
She takes the phone with her after Hotch does a quick visual sweep to make sure the agents in the bullpen are ones they trust. Then she's heading to his office, the only other place in the Bureau she's been since she arrived.
"Hey Jack," she calls on the way, and his little head pops up from JJ's shoulder. "Come lay down with me."
He's off JJ's lap in a second and all but racing up the stairs. Both Hotch and Emily pause as he slams into her leg then they're moving again, as a unit. Hotch comes back out ten minutes later and tips his head to the conference room. He's going to test out Dave's advice.
"Normally, I wouldn't do this, but the last twenty-four hours have not been easy," Hotch says when they're gathered around the table. "We're not here to discuss the case, we're here to discuss what's going on. There are things we all need to say about Emily's return and everything associated with it." He looks to each of his colleagues in turn. "This is the time to air those grievances. We need to get them out so we know what we're dealing with."
"It's hard." No one's surprised that Penelope's the first to speak. She's the least-profiler of all of them and wears her emotions and, as Dave had once said, her individuality on her sleeve. "She… we buried her. And you…" She looks between Hotch and JJ. "You knew."
She clears her throat and looks down. She's always been nervous with this kind of thing because they're her family, but they internalize oh-so-much. She's not comfortable with that so it's easy for her to share, but they don't look any different. They don't even look like they're absorbing her words and that, the lack of reaction, gives her no indication of what any of them are thinking.
"I mean, yeah, I understand the danger of it," she goes on, aware that she'll be bordering on blabbering in a minute. "And I understand how important it is that she be okay, that she be safe because, hello, there's nothing I want more but… we grieved for her. We buried her. We tried to move on without her. And we didn't have to."
"There was never any guarantee of that," Dave says, his voice contemplative. "We may never find Doyle. This could be a whole mess and disaster." They don't believe it. No one believes it because it's become very obvious that Emily doesn't believe it. She's stubborn. But it doesn't negate the point.
"She would have been safe with us."
Hotch is a little surprised at how small Reid sounds. He's been through a lot, and Hotch doesn't want to dismiss that, nor the abandonment issues and he knows the role Emily's played in boosting his self-esteem. It's still odd considering how they started. Then again, the fact that she's so integral to helping him define his identity comes from how they started.
"We wouldn't have said anything." His eyes, much like Penelope's, dart between Hotch and JJ. "You could have trusted us."
What's funny about the whole situation is that the team knows, logically, that there was no other choice. They understand that the decisions that were made were made for safety, not just Emily's safety, but also their own. They know the logic in the fewest people knowing. It doesn't stop the hurt or the betrayal.
"She could have told us." Despite the fact that Emily took him to task about hiding the past, Morgan's still hung up on that. Still stung. Of course, he knew it was going to be something big. She'd told him, more than once, that because she cared, because they were friends, she was asking him to leave the question alone. She was asking him not to put her into a corner, to lie to him. He's found himself wondering if there's a contract, something that says she can't say what her involvement was or what that involvement entailed.
"I think she knew." JJ's voice is soft and she's looking at her hands in her lap. "I think she knew we'd be in danger long before we did. I think she pushed us all away because she knew she'd have to do things she didn't like. Things that we wouldn't approve of." Her eyes come up and once again there's steel in them, like this is not the first time she's thought the things she's saying. Like she believes them. "I think she knew this would kill her."
"So what? She was saving us?" Morgan queries his face still a storm of anger.
JJ shakes her head. "I think she had to do it to get into the mind space." Then she sighs. "The taking of a life is a big deal. We all saw how she reacted to shooting the teenager in New York. She's not the type to take a life. She hates it. But Doyle… she doesn't see an alternative. She didn't. And I don't think she wanted that on any one's conscience but her own."
She still doesn't, but one look around the table and they know what the endgame is this time. They're going to do this, and they're going to do it for Emily. Because they may be mad as hell, but she's one of their own. They may be mad, but she's their sister, their colleague, their friend. Someone they trust when they go through that door, guns drawn. And she's never let them down before.
"Is she coming back?"
It's Reid that asks the question, but from the way the air is sucked out of the room it's obviously on everybody's mind.
"I don't know," Hotch says honestly.
"Did you… deliberately not replace her?" Dave asks carefully,
Hotch shakes his head slightly. "She's only been gone six months." Between grieving time and then Seaver's departure and JJ's return… It had never felt right to start looking for someone new. He looks to Morgan. "Do you want her back?"
The question is more for all of them, but he knows it's going to come down to Morgan and Reid. They're the ones, it seems, that have had the hardest time with this. Dave doesn't seem settled, but he doesn't seem confrontational either so that's one for Emily. But the two men across the table from him… They haven't made peace with it. Not that he expected it to in a short span of time.
"I don't know, Hotch," Morgan answers.
The Unit Chief nods. Once. "The decision doesn't have to be made in the near future." It has to be made by the time they put a bullet in Doyle's skull. Or slightly thereafter. Then he swallows. "She may not even want to come back."
It's a comfort to see them all go a little pale, a little green. Good. There's hope. Because he's dead set on her coming back to the fold, on giving her a place to go, a place to stay, a place to rebuild her life. He wants to make sure she sees no lasting damage from the decision she'd been forced to make even if a lot of scar tissue seals the wounds.
"Would she just walk away? Again?" Reid doesn't want to believe it. As upset as he is, as much as Emily will have to earn his trust again, will have to prove that leaving, 'dying', was just a fluke, he is glad she's back. He feels better that she's in the building. He'll feel even better the first time she starts to mother him. He was angry once, but he's grown to appreciate her strength and tenacity.
"She'd do what's best for everyone."
The words are terrifyingly final, but not exactly a surprise. And maybe that's the point. She'd walk away from the BAU, from her family, from people she loved, if it was asked of her, if they didn't want her. It would be what was best. It would be what they wanted. But if they want her, if they want to keep her, she'll be there. There's no doubt in Hotch's mind that if they choose to readmit her to the fold, she'll never leave it.
He finds himself reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. Now he knows why he hadn't thought this would be a good idea. It's a good idea for the team, but it's giving him a nasty headache because this is Emily they're talking about. He doesn't want to give her up now that she's here, now that she's back and now that she knows that what's between them is something different. He wants to explore that 'different'. He wants a chance and if her reaction to him is any indication, she wants that too.
"Hotch and I never meant to hurt you guys," JJ says, bringing attention to her. "We never wanted you to believe you were untrustworthy or that she wasn't safe in your knowledge. We were asked to keep this extremely quiet." She blows out a breath. "At the time I didn't understand it. But… add a fourteen-year-old boy into the mix and things change."
"Right they do."
Hotch glances up and feels relief sweep through him. Marshall Dean Bracket strides over to shake the Unit Chief's hand before looking at the room. "Did some digging, like you asked," he says, rocking back on his heels. "Might have somethin' for you."
His accent is deep and southern, but his face is as stoic as Hotch's. Introductions are swift because there's something else at stake.
"What do you have?"
"We may have the boy."
"They shipped him out of Boston immediately," Kate's telling Emily, a parallel conversation to what's going on in the conference room. She's supposed to be resting, and she was – Jack's still asleep even – before Kate's call came in. "Bounced him and Louisa around and even up into Canada for a bit. Creating a convoluted trail."
One that Kate still found, so Emily's not quite sure how she feels about that.
"One C. Rowan has him now. Solid agent. Not a blemish. He's had the file for the last four years."
That's a long time for CIA. They switch agents so quickly so they can't be tracked or traced.
"He's in the field right now. Looks like South America. I can track him down."
Usually, she sure as hell wouldn't ask. If the agent's in a foreign country, Doyle's not likely to track him down. But then again, maybe if she has Declan, he comes complete with a bargaining chip.
"I need him."
They're not talking about Rowan.
"How deep are you in this."
"Waist deep. Further. Want to see the scar?"
"No," Kate laughs. "I went to the funeral."
Emily doesn't know what to say.
"Formal, stately affair. Nice. Should have been there."
"Too dangerous," Emily replies easily. "Couldn't risk it."
"Yeah." It's said on a breath of air that sounds tired. "I'll get Rowan on the line. See if I can figure out where the file is. Rowan's known for keeping the files in his head and destroying paper and electronic copies. There won't be a hint that he's on the case."
"And the guy before him?"
"Dead," Kate says with finality. "LOD two years ago. Drug bust went bad."
"We all are." Then Kate pauses. "You're safe?"
They didn't cover it last time but this is an encrypted phone. "I'm safe. I'm surrounded by Bureau agents."
"I can find you a safe house."
"No." Emily's shaking her head even as the word comes out. "It ends now."
"Okay." Because Kate understands needing to fight her own demons. "Stay tuned."
"After Boston came Chicago, then Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Detroit, even Washington for a time. They bounced them up to Vancouver, Canada, then across to some town in Prince Edward Island. New York… The list is endless."
"And now?" Hotch knows he'll never be able to repay Dean for this, but he's not even sure the man understands the urgency here.
The Marshall offers a careless shrug that they all know is very much not. "He's in DC."
"Seriously?" Morgan asks. "The kid's here?"
"Kid and housekeeper. Tracked 'em down for you."
Hotch doesn't like that it's that easy. He isn't sure he trusts the info. He trusts Dean though. They were in SWAT together, had each other's backs. Another brotherhood forged in the flames of danger and death. And Dean's father had been a Marshall first. That was how Dean had found the boy.
"'Fact, got 'em moved. Still in DC, just… moved."
"For now," Dean agrees. "Best for 'em."
There's a part of all of them that agrees. There's a bigger part that knows there's more lives at stake now.
"Yes." Hotch's voice is strong. "Get them here. Take Dave and Morgan." His eyes look up into his friends, betting this on long-time friendship. "No one knows, Dean. Get that kid and the housekeeper here so no one knows they're even gone."
"Roger that Hotch."
It doesn't stop his stomach from flipping as he watches them walk out the door. There's a part of him that wonders if maybe he's just sent his friend and two of his agents to their death. Emily's just stepping out of his office as Morgan, Dave and Dean head to the doors, and her brow furrows.
"Did you find him?"
There's something in her voice that he doesn't like. Doesn't like at all. And that's beyond how he feels about how exposed she is in the bullpen.
"Marshalls have him."
Her brow wrinkles further. She doesn't like this. She doesn't like this one bit. How was it so easy for the Marshalls when it's obviously not so easy for the CIA?
Hotch sees the phone in her hand and his gut churns. "Did you find something?"
"No." And that's the point, isn't it? Her friend hasn't found anything concrete, she's still asking questions.
A stone settles in his stomach, filled with dread. They have to play it safe. They can't lose anyone else. But they can't lose the boy either. His trust of Dean isn't in question. His trust of his coworkers is. The Marshalls, in Hotch's experience, aren't always the best at what they do. Hadn't Foyet found Haley?
"Hold off," he decides finally. They can rescue the kid from Doyle. He doesn't want to kill his team in the process. It doesn't work like that. He's not going to put his team in that kind of trouble.
"We can get him."
"It's dangerous," Emily says. Well isn't that a stupid statement and the incredulous look on Morgan's face says the same thing. She waves her head dismissively. "This is… Doyle."
Hotch vaguely wonders if Morgan can see the tension in her body, the worry that's there. She doesn't want to put anyone else in needless danger.
"It takes time to confirm it."
Hotch is on edge because he knows either way someone's going to be mad at him. But he's inclined to take Emily's side not because she's Emily but because she knows Doyle and he knows the Marshalls and nothing is foolproof. But confirmation from a clandestine organization can only be a good thing. And whoever is on the other end of Emily's encrypted phone is a friend. He meets Morgan's eyes deliberately. "We'll take the time."
"Your handler's dirty."
The three words freeze Emily's stomach. That's how Doyle's known she was alive. That's why she never liked her handler to begin with. That's why she's always kept some pieces of her routines and daily movements from the one person who is supposed to know where she is.
"She wanted the case. Badly. Badly enough that some of the rumours say she's the one who injured the initial agent that was supposed to be yours."
Emily drops her head into her hand as she listens to Kate. This is going to hell in a hand basket because no one is supposed to know. Four people knew. And one of them was dirty.
"What does that mean?"
"It means you were compromised the minute you landed in the States," Kate answers, her voice hard. "It means the second I track the bitch down I'm going to do more than make her regret sleeping with Doyle."
"Are you being literal?"
"Don't know. Could be. Shit."
Yeah, those are Emily's thoughts too. "How deep does it go?"
"Just that you're here," Kate replies. "Just that you're stateside, from what I can gather. And since Doyle already knew you hid Declan, well…"
Doesn't take a genius to put the rest together.
Emily releases a breath. "Could she have compromised Declan? Could she have compromised the Marshalls?"
"It's a possibility. Rowan's solid, but he's in South America."
It explains why Emily really didn't like the idea of Morgan, Dave and Hotch's Marshall buddy heading to the safe house.
"What are the chances?"
"Not as low as I'd like, considering." Risky things are part of the job. Recklessness is another story. "You know where he is?"
"Hotch has a buddy in the Marshalls. They found him."
"They'd have kept better records."
"Think they've been hacked?"
Kate blows out a breath and Emily knows she's going to hate what comes out of her mouth next. "I don't know what to believe."
Emily heads to Penelope the minute she's off the phone. This is too important for her to risk. "Garcia?"
"Locked, loaded and ready. What's up?"
"Can you trace a hacker?"
"Is Kevin the sweetest man on earth?"
Emily smiles slightly and takes that as the affirmative. "I need you to look into Quinn Tieriny."
Penelope's brow wrinkles. She recognizes the name because JJ gave her access to Emily's files. "Your handler?"
"I have a friend who says she's dirty. I want to know what she's been into. If she could have found Declan. If she could have given up his position." Once she has the information, she's going for Hotch. She knows it.
Penelope hums as she brings up the information. "Quinn Tieriny… Parents of Irish decent. Rumours Daddy was tied to the IRA, but nothing proven…"
It does explain why she'd shacked up with Doyle.
"Joined up right out of school. Impressive scores, impressive grades… Never had Declan's file."
"Did she have contact with Marshalls?" Because if Hotch could have a buddy that knew the ins and outs, there was no doubt Quinn Tieriny could too.
"A couple of relocations of high ranking mob members. Witness protection. Literally." Penelope's eyes fly to hers. "This isn't good, is it?"
Emily doesn't have to say a word.
"Um… There's no record of a previous tie to Doyle or any of his cohorts. Not that I can find anyway."
"Keep digging," Emily says softly. "You'll find it."
The faith in her abilities does have Penelope glowing a bit. "You got it."
She's back on the phone with Kate before the door closes to Penelope's lair. "How deep is she?"
"In Doyle? I can't find any clues."
Which means deep. Really deep. As deep as Emily once was.
"What about the Marshalls?"
"She's been on half a dozen missions requiring WITSEC. It's in her file." Kate's got the clearance. Kate's got miles of clearance. "Assume the Marshalls are compromised."
It's the safest thing to do, but Emily doesn't like it. She doesn't like it at all. "Do a run on Dean Bracket?"
She hates the idea that she can't even trust that. She abhors the idea of having to tell Hotch that his friend can't be here. This is worse than she's ever faced. Doyle's driving wedges where there shouldn't be wedges. He's driving stakes into their trust, splintering them, dividing them and she knows it's a smart tactic. She also knows it could have dire effects on her team, her family. That's the part that's unacceptable.
"Clean." But the tone of Kate's voice is still warning.
Then she's back in the bullpen and she's definitely not blind enough to miss the relief light it Hotch's eyes. But she can also see the weariness and the wariness. He knows something's up. He moves for her swiftly, grasping her upper arm to tug her into the conference room. She runs a hand through her hair as he closes the door.
"My handler's in bed with Doyle."
He doesn't even bat an eyelash, but there's a shift in his eyes and his gaze. He knows how bad this is. "Dean's clean."
"I know but…" They can't risk it. They shouldn't risk it.
"We have to risk it."
That has gone through her head too. If they want Declan and knowing that Emily's been compromised and, potentially, so has WITSEC, they're going to have to take the risk. So she doesn't stop him when he heads for the door and calls Dean up. Hotch moves to her side as Dean steps in, his hand ghosting down the back of her arm. He doesn't introduce them. He leaves that decision to Emily.
"Declan's been compromised," she said as her spine straightens.
"Not by my people."
Dammit! She doesn't care who compromised him, the point is he's in danger. "He needs to be moved. Now. Silently."
Emily doesn't acknowledge Hotch's interruption, but it's true. She figures that says enough.
"I can do that." His eyes are fixed on Emily. "He's safe."
"Not right now," she replies. "When I can see him, when I can put my hands on him, then he'll be safe."
At least for a while.
Emily is impressed with Dean when he brings Declan and Louise into the BAU without a glitch. She's beyond impressed. And she starts to wonder.
"Tieriny is missing."
Emily looks up at Dave from Hotch's desk. She's been worried sick and now she's not even sure she can face them. It's been eight years. Eight long years. She's not even sure Declan will remember her. Louise may resent her. She's had enough of that right now.
"How do you know?"
He gives her an indulgent smile. "You're not the only one with connections in the CIA, Em."
The nickname sends a warm tingle down her spine, nothing like Hotch's slightest touch, but the friendship it communicates makes her feel a little better. Even if Louise resents her for forcing her to make the decision, Dave doesn't. Maybe karma's not so bad after all.
"Long enough that she shouldn't know we have the boy."
Her blood settles, but not by much. God, this case alone is going to put her on blood pressure pills for the rest of her life. "Shouldn't?"
"You know the Agency."
He slides into a chair in front of Hotch's desk. "This is a helluva shit storm, Em."
"You think I wanted this?" She sends him an irritated glare. She's exhausted, emotionally, physically, everything and this is the last thing she needs. Condemnation.
He holds up his hands. "Hey."
"I don't like it," she goes on. "I hate it. I wish it would go away. Yesterday. Last week. If I'd known…"
"Hindsight." He pauses as she wipes at her eyes. "We haven't had the chance to talk."
"Is this going to be another one of those mentor moments?"
He tugs on the sleeves of his shirt with an arched eyebrow, telling her that the daggers in her tone are unwelcome and unnecessary. He's not here to condemn her. He doesn't want to. It's hard to make the decisions she's made. It's very hard and he knows that. Being haunted…
Her voice is soft and he simply nods. "It's a stressful time."
She barks out a laugh. "That's an understatement. You're the only one who didn't hate me on sight."
"They don't hate you."
She rolls her eyes.
Dave leans forward, and despite teasing him about it, she's kind of glad he's about to play the mentor. He has a way of telling her things without making her feel like she's six. And maybe she needs the advice.
"You made an impossible decision," he tells her. "An utterly impossible decision that you knew was going to hurt people. You knew it was going to tear at people. But you also knew that you didn't have another choice. I understand that and somewhere in their hearts, the team understands that too."
"They still hate me."
"They've never been in that situation," he points out. "They've never done something they've regretted so much, or done something so vitally important and yet so dirty."
She knows he's not talking about her, per se, but the decisions she had to make to get to this point. Sleeping with Doyle, accepting his ring, playing his lover… It tore at her. She did love him, because he wasn't always the warrior. He wasn't always Valhalla. And a piece of her had fallen and fallen hard. But the agent part of her had known he was a dangerous man, a terrible man, a man willing to sacrifice innocents for his ideology, for the game he played. God, she hated the games. But he had also been a father. He'd been a loving man. He'd been a passionate man.
"Do I hate that you had to go under? Yeah. And I'm pissed of that Hotch and JJ felt like they had to hide you. I feel betrayed. But I also know that decisions we make can't always be rationalized by everyone else. We can't have everything and they've been sheltered from a lot of terrible things."
They'd also experienced terrible things. Emily wasn't discounting that, and she knew Dave wouldn't either. But sometimes, decisions didn't make sense. Sometimes, as someone on the outside, it was impossible to rationalize the decisions that needed to be made.
"So it's just that easy?"
Dave snorts. "Nothing worth it's ever easy."
He smiles. "Everything's going to be fine, Kiddo."
"I hate it when you call me that." She wrinkles her nose.
He doesn't acknowledge her distaste. "I don't hate you. I recognize that you and Hotch and JJ made very difficult decisions, decisions I would never want to make. There are so many people to blame if I was feeling particularly judgmental. Which I don't. So drop it."
And that's why she likes Dave so much. He's short, to the point, almost snappy, but he gets to the point and he makes her feel better about the whole thing. Her mouth curves up and his follows. They're okay, more okay than the rest of them that didn't know. He never judged her for her past in Rome and he's not judging her for this now. She should have known, really, but it's been, well, stressful.
"Are you going to see them?"
"Yeah," she says immediately, even though her entire face falls. She's so nervous about this, so worried. She doesn't want to face them, but they deserve that much. They've been on the run for almost a decade. They deserve this closure as much as she does. She owes them that kind of closure. "Eventually."
"Might be best to treat it like a Band-Aid."
She chuckles slightly. "Just rip it off?"
He offers a shrug that looks too easy. "I think by now we both know confronting our pasts are anything but easy."
"I'll get there."
"I know you will."
She can't tell how she feels about how much that reassurance makes her feel. His faith in her, it feels, is unfounded. She hid from them, she betrayed them. But there isn't an ounce of pity or judgment in his gaze. He doesn't care, per se. He pushes himself up with another slight smile before heading for the door.
It means a lot of different things, she's thanking him for a lot of different things, and all he offers is a broad David Rossi grin.
Louise hasn't changed much. Her hair's greyer and she's got lines she probably wouldn't have had if fate hadn't brought her to Doyle, then Declan, then Emily herself, but she still looks… matronly. She carries it well, all of that worry. It doesn't make Emily feel better about the whole thing but there is a part of it that makes things less painful.
Declan… He's still very blond, still very blue-eyed. Emily had wondered over the years, in an abstract way, if his hair would darken. Most blond babies do. Apparently it didn't carry over to the boy. He's almost a man and he's tall and gangly of an awkward preteen. He reminds her a little of Reid, actually and he looks almost through her.
Louise is the one that speaks first. "Lauren."
"Emily," the agent replies quietly. They never dealt with the formalities when Emily put them under. There wasn't time and Emily didn't want to risk it. Risk them. Any of them. "Emily Prentiss."
Louise nods slowly. "Where is he?"
This is the painful part and Emily swallows it. "I don't know."
Silence falls over them, and she wants Hotch there so bad. It sends a bit of jolt through her because she doesn't need anyone, but even the slightest thought of having Hotch beside her, his heat at her shoulder doesn't help the nerves doing somersaults in her stomach. Is it pathetic how much she wants him there when she's a perfectly independent woman who has faced serial killers?
She decides to put that aside just as Declan decides to speak.
"My father wants me."
The tired part of Emily wants to tell him 'of course, duh', but she knows it's so much more complicated than that. The whole situation is fucked up beyond epic proportions and she knows there isn't a single person who knows the best way out of this. People are going to die, people who aren't Ian Doyle. People already have in the name of this boy and 'Lauren Reynolds'. "He does."
"He wants you."
"He may think I'm dead." She's not going to pull punches. Not now, and she's honestly not sure how much Tieriny has told Doyle. Quite obviously Louise has been keeping Declan up to date as to his father's dealings. She wonders briefly if Louise was aware of the North Korean prison, but decides it's not worth it to ask. She doesn't want to know the answer.
"I thought, when you 'shot' us, we'd be leading a different life."
The woman doesn't mean different as in freedom. She'd known walking into this that they'd never truly be free, even if the then-little boy didn't. There were things about their lives no one could know, for their own safety if nothing else. By different, Louise is talking about freedom from Doyle. Much like Emily she was under the mistaken belief that everything was safe.
"So did I." She can't offer them more than that, and instead, folds her arms. "The FBI is working on it. The CIA is working on it. There are local police forces across New England working on it. We'll find him."
"How are you so sure?"
Louise is scared, and she has a right to be. In her position, with this teenager in her care, Emily would undoubtably be the same. Hell, if Doyle even hints at taking Jack she might shoot him on sight. Period. Not that it would be any different but… She can be a mama bear and she admires that in Louise. It's why she was so insistent that the two travel together, and why she got her way. Declan needed stability. Emily needed someone she could trust to raise the boy and let him make his own decisions.
So, Emily gives her honesty. "Because I can't doubt it."
She can't doubt her team, she can't doubt that they'll find him because there's so much of a risk. There's so much at stake if they can't find Doyle anywhere and it's a risk Emily's not willing to take, let alone think about. She can't doubt her team because she needs them to trust her. She can't doubt that they'll find Doyle because he's the one thing standing between her and her future. She can't doubt it because it's a roadblock she's not willing to tolerate. She hated moving around as a child, and, as an adult on the run from a ruthless arms dealer, Emily can't say she likes the notion any better.
Louise nods as if she understands. She doesn't completely, but she does enough to understand why Emily's fighting the battle she is.
"What if I want to see my dad?"
The question doesn't startle Emily as much as it perhaps should. Instead, she meets Declan's eyes. She's always hated the lying, she's hated the hiding, she's hated that she hasn't been able to watch this boy grow up. She'd loved him, in a lot of ways, and she feels more than slightly depressed that she hasn't been able to raise him.
"We can get the information out," she says. "We can make sure he can find you."
"He won't kill you." And Emily firmly believes that. As much as he was Valhalla, there was enough difference for her to create a distinction between that identity and Ian Doyle's. They've blurred now, but Ian was a kind, gentle father. One that obviously loved his boy. "He'll… groom you."
To take over. There's not a doubt in any of their minds. Declan would become Valhalla, or whatever nickname came up next.
There's a spark in the boy's eyes that tells her he knows exactly what she means. He's torn, she can tell. Louise has done something right because it's painfully obvious that while this is his father it's also the rest of his life. It's a life of crime he'd be trained for – putting aside the fact that even Emily's not sure Doyle still has all of his faculties now that he's out and murdering – but she knows he's been living a life of abandonment. Constantly moving, constantly on the run, Louise as his only family… As much as Emily trusts the woman with his well-being, she's not biologically his and she can't blame him for wanting the real thing.
Absently, she wonders if there's enough therapy in the world to help him once Doyle's gone.
"If I don't want to go?"
"Declan," she says softly, because she doesn't know him by any other name. "Don't ask me that."
But the knowledge is there in his eyes and he glances away.
"And after it's up to you," Emily answers Louise. "It's all up to you."
And even she knows that's a pretty tempting thought.
JJ's the next one who comes through Hotch's office and considering how many people Emily's dealt with since arriving at the BAU she really should have realized the blond would be next.
"How'd it go?"
Three words with too many meanings and she offers JJ a bit of a look. The blond grins. And Emily sighs. "Where do you want me to start?"
"You make a good point," JJ says on a sigh and slid on to Hotch's couch. Emily is already there, trying to relax. Trying. God, Emily thought, this sucks. It all sucks. Her life sucks.
"I put them in this situation, Jayje. I… I asked them to run away. I promised them they'd always be safe." She drops her head back. "They're not safe. I don't know when the last time they…"
"Hey." JJ reaches over, rests a hand against Emily's elbow. "They will be safe again."
"You don't know that. I don't know that. No one can know that."
JJ pauses. "Em, are you ready for this?"
She considers the question carefully. Emily knows that despite the things JJ's seen and gone through, her life was still unicorns and rainbows compared to Emily's. She knows she doesn't mean it in a derogatory sense, nor to belittle the woman JJ is, but it is a relevant point in considering her answer. Because Emily's not sure JJ fully realizes what Doyle means, and the lengths to which Emily is willing to go to get rid of the man that's haunted her psyche for eight years.
More importantly, there's a lot of 'this' Emily's not ready for. She's not ready to face the prospect of the team abandoning her. She's not ready to face the ostracism she's sure is still coming, despite her work in apologizing. She's not sure she's even ready to consider the possibility of having to shoot a man in front of his son. She's not sure she's ready to kill, even though she knows she has to.
But she is sure of one thing: "I'm ready to take my life back."
Whatever that means, Emily will figure out in time. For now, it has to be enough.
JJ leans her arm against the back of the couch. "You know, I didn't want you to have to come back."
Emily doesn't start. She's been through too much in the last little while to do more than merely blink.
"You… You deserve a real life and I thought, just for a minute, that maybe this would be it." She snorts to herself. "Beyond the secret identity thing, of course."
Emily chuffs out something like a laugh. "I was never going to have a real life on the run, Jayje."
"Will you have a real life when this is over?"
Emily lets her eyes wander to the window. Beyond is the team, Hotch and Jack, everything she wants worse than she's ever wanted belonging. "I hope so."
"Maybe." But even Emily knows there's a bright blush on her face. "I can't think that far ahead."
"Yeah, you can," JJ says with a smile. "You always can. Because that kind of want is exactly what pushes you to do what you need to do."
"And what's that?" Emily whispers. She's not sure she wants to hear what JJ says next. She can't get away from the protective instinct, the maternal one that hopes JJ stays as close to innocent as Emily can keep her. She's already seen, done and been through too much.
There's steel in blue eyes Emily knows so well and while she's a little surprised, she can't say she's entirely shocked. JJ's got a spine of steel when she needs it. "You don't have to be a part of that."
"Em, you're deluding yourself if you think any one of us isn't willing to take the shot. You're insane if you think we all don't want him to pay. We want him to do more than that. We want him to suffer, like we've suffered, like you've suffered. We're all going to be a part of it. We stand at your side, thick and thin. Morgan too."
Emily's known for five years that this is her family, this is where she needs to be. JJ's just put that feeling into words and it brings tears to Emily's eyes. It sparks tears in JJ's and as the women move towards each other for the oncoming breakdown, Emily can't help but think there isn't a damn thing Doyle can do to keep this from her. Not any more.
She's not going to ask for it back. She's not going to hope Doyle's just going to go away. She's going to take it back, with deadly force if she has to. Doyle will never be a problem again.
She wakes slowly because there's a hand stroking against her hair. It's soothing and so nice against her head and it is close enough to try and lull her back to sleep. She thinks about it too, but there's a serious curiosity in her. She wants to know who it is, despite who she hopes.
"You've never faked sleep well."
That's not true. Totally not true. She faked sleep very well once, she's just been out of the habit and so used to being exhausted that passing out is a surprisingly, if dangerous, regular occurrence. "Everything okay?"
"Everyone's still alive," he says, his hand still brushing through her hair. Hotch likes the feeling of it against his fingers, hell, he likes the feeling of her under his fingers because he's missed her. He can't stop his continuous need to reassure himself that she's in front of him, alive, in once piece and back.
"I didn't anticipate all of this going to such hell."
"No one did." It was never supposed to. They were supposed to find Doyle without her, neutralize the threat, make her safe, then bring her home. And he can't even blame her really. In her shoes, he'd definitely hunt for the man who ruined his life. Was ruining her life. Is ruining her life.
Add to that the threat to the team? How could he fault her for making a decision he would have too?
Emily hasn't moved. She hasn't even tried. His hand feels too good on her head, too soothing and she's had a bad couple of days. A really bad couple of days. For now she's not going to analyze the comfort he's giving, nor the simple way she's taking it. She needs it. "What's next?"
"We're working on locating Doyle. JJ's trying to figure out what we can release to the media in terms of Declan and Louise to see if we can smoke him out. What do you know about Declan's mother?"
"Maybe she can help."
"I assumed she was dead," Emily admits. "Honestly, I'm not sure I cared."
Hotch pauses. He has questions about her life with Doyle, honest questions that he needs answered, not for the case, but for himself. "About Declan?"
"About who Doyle had slept with in the past," she replies. Her eyes have fluttered shut again under his caress, or maybe so she doesn't have to look at him. "I didn't want to know."
"You already knew who they were."
"In pictures," she admits. "As files. It's why they chose me. It's why I fit."
Hotch finds himself wondering if it was different for JTF-12 than it is for them, if they had the same reservations about sending one of their own into the field, into Ian Doyle's arms. Hotch hates it. He hates putting his team members on the line, even if he knows it's going to get results. The idea of throwing Emily to the wolves, undercover and everything, breaks his heart. "Did you love him?"
Emily knows the words have just flown out. Un-Hotch-like, maybe, but she doesn't draw attention to it. There's an undertone in his voice that tells her, her answer is an important one, so she's not going to belittle the question by asking why he wants to know. She has her own hopes on that one. "I did. I loved Ian."
The distinct use of his first name isn't lost on Hotch.
"Doyle is everything we've seen," she says, her hand coming up to grasp his. She needs a different kind of comfort now, not one that's centered on his caress, but simply on ensuring he won't walk away. "He's ruthless, he's… mean. He's uncaring and brutal. He's everything I had to be when I chased after him the first time. Ian… Ian had a son that he loved more than anything else. Declan was what mattered to him and you could see it." Her eyes opened, locked on his. "He loved me too. I believe that, and not because I have to. I think he wanted to. He wasn't fighting for the sake of fighting, Hotch. He was fighting for a cause he truly believed in. I can understand that."
"The IRA is not just a cause."
"I know that too. I'm not saying it was right. I'm saying he believed in it, the same way we believe in the oath we swore when we became a part of the Bureau. Just because he didn't believe in the right thing doesn't mean he didn't believe."
"You accepted that?"
"Of course not," she replies. Her other hand wraps around their joined ones. "My mission was Doyle. Ian was secondary."
It's a lot of double lives, enough to disturb Hotch. He's almost always played straight and narrow. Sure, he's got a dual personality when it comes to Hotch and Daddy, but otherwise… Emily had literally played different people. She'd believed in different people.
"I loved him, Hotch. I couldn't not. I couldn't not love his boy. But I could ensure that I wasn't dragged in deeper than I can handle." She sucks in a breath. "I didn't expect Doyle to get out. I didn't expect him to ever be able to come back to civilization."
"Did you kill for him?"
"I provided him with access to weapons. I provided him with the power to do so."
"Kill for him?" She ponders this for a moment, more because she wants to make sure she gives the truth. "No. Not for him. For me. For my cover. Because my cover would have. Not for Doyle." She pauses though, because the answer would not have been the same had the situation be different. "I have killed for myself. I have killed for you."
He knows the 'you' is not specific. They've all killed for the job, to save each other. It comes with the territory. "How far would you go?"
She shakes her head. "It doesn't work like that and we both know it. We love deeply, Hotch and when you go that deep, there's so much at stake. For Jack, for Henry, for Declan? I don't think there's a thing I wouldn't do."
"For me?" He knows without a doubt that she loves his son. She adores his little boy – not that he can blame her because, well, he's Jack – so he's not surprised she'd risk anything and everything for him. Now, she's chewing her lip as she considers his question and he can't seem to stop the heavy thumping his heart picks up.
"There isn't much I wouldn't do for you."
His hand grips hers tighter and she squeezes back. It's the closest to an admission either of them have gotten and he knows he's lucky. He knows it's not the time, either, though. Still, he leans in, presses his lips to her forehead. "Try and get some more sleep."
"Have you guys?" she asks even as her eyes fall closed.
"Here and there. We've caught winks," he reassures her. "We're taking turns on the couches mostly." He slips his hand from hers to brush it over her hair again. "Sleep. When things come down, we'll need you."
He needs her already. She needs him. But they can't be anything while Doyle's still around and they both know it. To most of the world, she's still dead.
"He'll find Declan," she says softly, her voice drifting as she does. "It'll just take time."
Time. Well, he hopes they don't have much of it. He wants Doyle gone. He wants to keep Emily. There's no questioning of the results or the life he will have to take. He's done it before. He beat Foyet to death. There is nothing Aaron Hotchner won't do for his family.
Killing Doyle, he thinks as she drifts off again, will be a pleasure.
Declan's hit it off with Jack and it's both utterly adorable and incredibly heartbreaking. Two boys that are, in some senses, hers, sitting together, heads bent over someone's laptop. They could be brothers if it weren't for Declan's albino looks.
Two boys that have been through too much for such a young age.
As she watches them she finds herself wondering if shooting Doyle is truly the right answer. Is it a choice she can honestly make, to take a father so violently away from his son? It's a decision she's no longer sure she can make and that comes as more than a bit of a shock. Doyle will continue to haunt her, of that she's completely sure, so how is she supposed to balance her need for a normal life with Declan's? Not that she truly believes Declan can have a normal life with Doyle.
Declan's had a fairly normal life. He's been attending a private school, doing well, adjusting, making friends… They've finally managed to find a place where both Louise and Declan fit in. It's a miracle. And they've torn it all away again. She knows it's not that easy, hell, she's been living that life, but she can't help but wish it didn't have to come to that. She can't help but think maybe, if his father had been a different man, that he would be hers.
A hand rests on her shoulder and she turns into it, brushing her chin against warm skin. "We've got something."
Four words and her heart's racing a mile a minute. She can't help the yearning she feels, can't help but wish Declan was hers and despite having missed almost ten years of his life she doesn't want to give him up again.
"We found Doyle," Hotch continues, voice low for her ears. "He's holed up in an apartment in Georgetown."
"Georgetown?" She can't decide if she's surprised he found an apartment in Georgetown or if she's a little impressed he tracked her here so quickly.
"The apartment's registered to Kerri Cagney, your handler's aunt."
Emily's eyes flutter closed of their own will. "How long do you think they've known?"
"As soon as Tieriny caught your case." He hadn't chosen the agent that would watch over her. Now, he's beyond regretting it. He should have kept her safe. Safer. He should have been there for her. Hell, he should have gone with her. But hindsight is always twenty-twenty and of no help to them now. Now they're here.
Now they're starting to the fight to keep her.
And keep her they will, even if he has to bully, bribe and generally strong arm the entire team into agreeing. She will be back in the fold, back in his life, back in his son's life and he knows he's not going to just take it for granted this time. Next time, he could really lose her when he hasn't even had her. He's not risking it.
So to 'not risk it', he needs to be able to have it. That's why he's fighting. That's why he's here. That's why he's working his ass off to find Doyle. He wants to bring her home and he wants it almost more than his own son's happiness. Jack thinks his dad his happier when Emily's around. Hotch knows Jack's happier when Emily's around. So for the two people he cares for most in this world, this will end.
"Do we have the element of surprise?"
"Right now." Local PD is chomping at the bit. They want the collar; they want the glory. They have no idea what they're up against. If Doyle gets even a whiff of police, he'll be on the run and in hiding faster than they can keep track of him.
Hotch knows that his team wants more than that. They want more than Doyle in handcuffs, more than a life-long jail sentence. They want his head on a pike to be displayed to the world. This is what happens when you fuck with the BAU. Don't forget it. Strong message, even if the imagery is gory. He snorts in his head. They live gory.
He's surprised, when he manages to focus back on her, to find her afraid. She's chewing the inside of her lip – and he refuses to admit even to himself that he watches her close enough to know that – and he knows that if he wasn't still touching her, she'd be chewing on her nails too. He wonders if he's the only thing tethering her to the moment.
Emily, admittedly, just wants to stop playing this game. She wants to live dammit and she wants Doyle in a cage, dead, just out of her hair and away from Declan. Her heart breaks a little at the thought because she knows it's wrong to tear a son from his father, but she can't let Doyle have Declan. She cannot.
Doesn't mean she doesn't know it sucks. She can't help huffing out a breath. Even six hours ago she wouldn't hesitate to say she's ready to shoot Doyle. Now, looking at the boy who she knows is going to lose a father, she's not sure she can do it.
He squeezes her shoulder and she relaxes. He knows. Despite the fact that this is Doyle, that he is, for all intents and purposes, evil, taking a life is never easy business. And Hotch can't imagine what it feels like to look that man's son in the face knowing she has to kill him.
Emily leans back against him and feels her body relax just a little bit more. When this is done and everything's out of the way, they're going to go to dinner. They're going to embrace the light in their lives for a change. There's too much darkness, too many hidden corridors and she's regretting not sharing them all. And not sharing them all with him.
She turns and his hand falls to her hip of its own accord. They're so close, close enough that it wouldn't take much effort for her to tuck her head beneath his chin. She's also close enough to kiss him but she's aware enough to know that it's not what she wants. It's unfair to both of them to share such a milestone when they're in this. And, fundamentally, despite the fact that he's being surprisingly open as he stands there staring at her, they're not ready.
He's the one that readjusts. He steps closer, his other arm sliding around her back. The hand on her hip rises to cup her head and tuck it into his neck. Her arms slide beneath the suit jacket that's been on and off throughout the course of who knows how many hours. She feels his breath on her hair, ghosting over her ear and she sighs into his shoulder. This feels too right.
Then the phone rings.
"You want this to end, Emily Prentiss, you bring my son to College Park Airport. You bring him alive, and we'll make a trade."
"A trade?" Her hands are shaking. He's jumped to the chance the minute he got her on the line. He's not wasting time.
"You bring me my son and I'll give her back."
Emily's eyes slam closed when she hears the whimper and she knows he's got another one. He's got another young woman that doesn't deserve to die because of her, because of Declan. "Don't touch her."
He chuckles, and it's dark. Emily's vengeance comes back with a whoosh and she no longer gives a crap about whether she has to put a bullet through his brain.
"I mean it, Ian." Her voice is hard, cutting, and Reid jumps. They're all in the room with her because they wouldn't have it any other way.
"This one has a son too," Doyle says conversationally. "Five, right Lauren?"
"One mark on her and a bullet to the skull will be the least of your worries." The words are whip fast and sharp.
"You think you're capable?"
"I think you can push me to be." It might be a compliment. It might be an insult.
There's a pause. Then, "I think I'll brand her."
Emily knows that pain. She knows the heat, the searing of her flesh. She lives with it every day, and her hand brushes against her chest without her conscious permission. "She's not me, Ian. She'll never replace me, no matter how much you torture her."
"But Quinn's having such a good time."
There's insanity in his voice, and it startles Emily more than she'd like to admit. Doyle's never been truly insane. Misguided, maybe; unfortunately believing in the wrong side of a long-fought battle, but not insane. He sounds it now. "And it still doesn't satisfy you, does it?"
The words come out without conscious permission, but the way he doesn't have a snappy response tells her she's managed to find a nerve. She forces herself to sit slowly when her knees start to collapse. He loved her. Really and truly loved her. She's known that, but she's managed to bury it, forget it. It's staring her in the face now, mocking her.
"You want me, Ian," she says, deliberately looking at the table. She refuses to look up. She won't risk it. She doesn't want to see the looks on their faces when the next words come out of her mouth. "Let her go. Let her go home." She sucks in a deep breath. "You let her go, Ian, in once piece, and you can have us both."
Reid squawks, Morgan's livid, Garcia's already crying and JJ's trying to keep it together. Only Hotch seems set and settled, his face impassive, but she knows better than to think he's just going to stay behind. They're all going to be behind her, every step of the way, and that faith is what has her making this promise. Even if Doyle threatens the entirety of the free world, promises to kidnap every child on earth, she's surprised at her own conviction that they won't abandon her again. They'll come after her, whether they're outnumbered, or the cavalry.
"You think I want you both?" he spits over the phone.
"I think you want to finish what you started," she says, trying to keep her voice strong. "I think it irks you that I'm still breathing when I should have died on that table."
Garcia winces even as she keeps typing. Emily sees it out of the corner of her eye.
"I killed you." It's growled over the line. The phone will be in a garbage can far away from Tieriny and Doyle by the time they get to it, but Garcia's working on it anyway.
Emily meets Hotch's gaze aware and angry. "You made me stronger."
It's the right thing to say because despite how much he loved her once, he wants to break her. She finds herself vaguely wondering if she broke him.
"An hour. Bring my boy and maybe you'll get her."
He hangs up before she can snap back at him and her eyes are dead when they look up. She knows what she has to do and from the look on his face, so does Hotch. They don't like it. Neither of them wants to like it. Both of them understand it's not about liking. It's about necessity.
She fixes her eyes on Hotch because he's the only one giving her support and she can understand that. They just got her back. But this is something she knows she needs to do. "I need to talk to Declan."
She needs to test the waters, to figure out where the boy stands. She's not putting him in a situation he doesn't want and isn't ready for. That's not fair to anyone.
No one follows her when she heads out of the room.
"Are you nuts?"
Hotch isn't surprised that Morgan is the first to explode. For all of his cool calm, the man is the most volatile member of the team. This isn't the first time Hotch has seen his agent explode.
"You can't just let her walk into this."
Hotch doesn't say anything because he's not sure what there is to say. It's not about letting her do anything. It's about knowing what has to be done, what she has to do, and letting her work it out. They can't protect her by wrapping her in bubble wrap and cotton. Emily Prentiss isn't a delicate flower and while there are times he wonders if he'd like to treat her like one, she'd throttle him first.
But Morgan's looking at him like he's grown an extra head so he says, "It's not my decision."
"Like hell it isn't!"
"Derek!" Penelope steps in. There's surprise in her voice, like she has no idea her chocolate Adonis can be so insubordinate when she knows he has the utmost respect for Hotch.
"Order her not to go."
"She's not an agent," JJ speaks up, though there's resignation in her voice. "She's not technically under his command."
The entire room knows she'll use it. Regardless of what she feels for Hotch, she's got a different set of priorities on her mind. Getting her life back comes first. Without it, the rest doesn't matter. And she wants to give Declan a chance to live his life too. He deserves it. They all deserve it.
"Garcia, get me everything you can on Quinn Tieriny and College Park Airport," Hotch orders quietly. His eyes are level and serious. "Everything."
She nods. "One everything for the Boss Man coming right up."
"We need a Plan B," Rossi says from his chair. He's been sitting calmly too though Hotch isn't surprised. The man's seen so much in terms of scenarios that have gone right and those that have gone wrong to panic about something like this. He knows that sometimes, no matter how much you care, you have to put your agents on the line.
"How paranoid is Doyle?" JJ inquires.
"I think the better question is how paranoid is Tieriny," Rossi responds. "Doyle may be willing to overlook security for Emily and Declan."
"CIA? She's paranoid," JJ offers. Hell, she went a bit crazy and she was just the State Department.
"What will Doyle do to Tieriny when this is all over?" Reid pipes up. This question is probably the most relevant, because if Doyle is going to kill Tieriny, if she's a loose thread, then she doesn't matter.
"He's still in love with Emily, with Lauren, we saw that. He's obsessed with it," Rossi offers. "Even if Tieriny thinks he loves her, we know and we just experienced how much he doesn't."
"She's a variable," Hotch points out in his low murmur. It doesn't fool any of them. He's arguably the one that's most involved. They haven't missed how closely he's watching Emily, how often he's beside her. He's better at hiding his behaviour, but he's not a saint and he's been showing how much he cares, whether he realizes it or not. "She's an important variable."
Morgan's still blinking in shock, unable to comprehend that they're even discussing this. It's insane. It's putting Emily, the agent they just got back regardless of how angry he was about the whole thing, back into the line of fire that almost got her killed. Doyle 'killed' her once and Morgan knows they're all aware he wouldn't hesitate to do it again. "There's another way."
"That we can come up with in an hour?" JJ shoots back. God, that's barely enough time to come up with a suitable alternative, let alone implement the plan. They're used to thinking fast, adapting, but this is adaptation with a personal threat. And a fourteen-year-old boy.
Morgan shakes his head. "There has to be."
"We all wish there was," Hotch says and even Morgan knows that the calm evenness of the Unit Chief's voice is a clue. Hotch is going to send her out there and protect her. Morgan knows it's something he can't do.
He heads for the door. Maybe if he can't convince Hotch, he can guilt Emily.
Emily goes to the bathroom first.
She can't believe what she's facing. She hates what she's facing. Declan's only fourteen and she's about to ask him to put his damn life on the line. She knows Doyle won't kill his son, she knows that the boy's life will not be in danger, at least not physically. Declan's already spoke about how much he does not want to turn into his father, but while Emily's glad for that, she's more than a little concerned about what this decision will force him to do.
And all she wanted was for him to have a chance at a normal life.
She splashes cold water on her face as she tries to sigh. It beyond sucks. She has to go back out there and she has to walk a boy into what could be the worst decision she's ever made. Because she lost her temper.
Sure, she's kind of glad she did. She wants this done and she knows she should. It's her life and she wants control and she can't have it while Doyle's out harassing her. Once this is over, she can come back, she can live, she can love. And maybe the latter's driving her a bit more than it should because she can't help how it sticks.
When this is over, assuming they both survive, she's asking Hotch to dinner. Assuming he doesn't do it first. Because she knows that the way they've stuck together, the things they've talked about, the way they've touched speaks to feelings they've both been harbouring and are now not so afraid to show. It's surprising what pseudo-death can do to your thought patters, she thinks to herself. Before Doyle, she would have kept hiding, if only because he's her boss and it's frowned upon.
Now things are different. Now she could have lost him, lost them, lost everything and she wants to get it back. And more. She wants it more than anything. It's the only reason she's willing to put herself on the line.
She dries her face with a towel and hates the bags under her eyes. She hates how this has ragged on her, hates the weight she knows she's lost being on the run. She hates the whole situation and what she hates most is that she has no control. Doyle's just taken another choice out of her hand, forced her away from the element of surprise and shoved her from her own territory into his.
Derek's waiting for her outside the bathroom and she jumps because she's tense tired and still more than a little paranoid. She figures she's entitled with everything she's been through and she flashes a bit of a smile as she raises her hand to her heart.
"You scared me."
He searches her face and Emily hasn't the slightest idea of what he's looking for. "You have nothing to prove."
Ah. The team's taken her side. And Derek doesn't like it. "I know."
"Then what the hell, Em!"
She blinks in the face of that kind of emotion, but her face stays cool. She can't lose it or she will cave into what he's asking. The slightest change from that cool, composed mask and he'll have something to chip away at.
"It needs to be done."
"Not by you."
"Well, I guess we could just send Declan, but I figured it would be easier for everyone if I was in there with him."
"Damnit, we don't want you to die!"
"I never thought you did."
"But you're willing to put yourself on the line."
"Derek, we do it all the time," she says with more than a little bit of resignation. "Our job is to put ourselves on the line for our country, for the people we've sworn to protect."
"You're not an agent."
Well that stings, but she understands the jab. "Which is why I can make this decision." Her eyes flicker between his. "At the end of the day, it's my decision whether or not I'm going out there. We both know that you guys won't faze him. Not like I will. Not like Declan will. He's losing it, Derek. Psychotic break losing it. Declan and I together…"
Derek's gaze sharpened. "You're hoping he flashes back."
She can't deny it and they both know it. There is more than a part of her hoping that seeing her and Declan together will force Doyle back to the good days, the days before he knew she betrayed him. The days he was Ian. She's hoping it'll distract him enough, whether Tieriny's there or not, to buy her time. To buy them time.
"And if he doesn't?"
Her smile is tremulous. "You've saved me before."
Derek blows out a breath. "So much could go wrong."
"Yeah," she agrees because she's nowhere near that far in denial. Regardless, she sees it as a necessary risk.
Derek tries one more time. "You know we can find another way. We could've worked something out."
"Maybe." Because she doesn't believe it. "But what could have happened is irrelevant now."
It's about what could happen and how they can prevent the worst. She sucks in a breath.
"I want to pretend I don't know you're there," she tells him. "I don't want to know anything about what you guys are planning. Doyle can sense a lie, Tieriny even more so and I can't risk Declan, if he agrees."
She wants plausible deniability.
Derek sighs as he starts back down the hall. "I still don't like this,"
"You don't have to," she reminds him, falling into step. "If you did, I'd tell you to just kill me yourself."
She watches him put himself back together. "How about I drink you under the table when this is all over."
"Loser buys," she says with a wide grin. The more plans she has, the more she's going to fight.
He grins back, his arrogant grin that tells her he thinks he's the king of the world. "Deal."
Hotch finds her with seconds to spare. She's refused to wear a wire because it's too much of a risk but she knows that if there's anyone she can trust it's Hotch. It's a lot of faith for him to take in and understand, especially from a woman like Emily Prentiss.
She looks up when he steps into his office. She'd asked for a moment before she had to leave and they'd granted her the request without second thought. There's so much fear now, so much uncertainty, and the team is fraying, but there's nothing they can do. They have to hope they're prepared enough to go into this and bring everyone out alive. Everyone who matters anyway. Anything less than absolute faith will cost them someone's life.
And considering how badly Hotch is discovering he wants to keep Emily, any loss is unacceptable.
She turns to him with haunted eyes and he knows that whether she's ready or not is not the question. It's about how far she's willing to go and he finds himself closing the door and stepping towards her without his conscious permission. He finds a far away part of himself surprised when she reaches out and fists a hand in the lapel of his suit coat.
He breathes out quietly. It makes him feel better, knowing she recognizes how much of a risk this mission is. Her head falls forward to his chest and his hand comes up to splay over her lower back of it's own accord. It's a stark reminder that she's not wearing a vest and she won't be as she steps into a battle zone.
"Emily." It's a word breathed into her hair as his head bends to hers. It's too intimate, both for them and for the office but neither of them seems to feel the least bit uncomfortable.
"I said goodbye to Jack," she whispers, recalling the pain of the conversation. "God, Hotch, he doesn't understand."
He knows she doesn't expect him to. Jack's so young and he's already lost so much that all of these complications are lost on him. Hotch had hoped to keep his son innocent, despite the fact that he's already lost his mother, but it hasn't seemed to work that way. Haley, then Emily and with Hotch gone so much…
"You're not alone," he tells her. "You'll come back to him."
She lifts her head, though her hand stays in his coat. His stays against her back and when he realizes she's stepping closer he's not honestly sure if he's nudged her forward or if she's moved on her own accord. Either way, she looks comfortable and he can feel her heat and right now, he doesn't care about protocols or arms dealers, he cares about her.
"You have to come back."
She lets out what almost sounds like a whimper and then her entire body is pressed against his. They're hugging, holding and he threads his free hand through her hair without the conscious permission of his brain. Emily doesn't mind because she doesn't move, just tries to burrow in closer.
Eventually, he cups a hand under her chin to force her head back slightly. "When this is done, I'm taking you to dinner."
It's a bold statement, but he's done wasting time. And from the pleased shock that washes over her face, so is she.
"A good dinner. No fast food."
"No," he agrees, and swallows because despite the fact that he's now very sure she wants this, he's still nervous. "A date."
Her grin widens and he wonders if he's just given her something to really and truly hold onto. "A date."
He laughs because it's breathed almost in reverence.
"Can we go dancing?" Her eyes are sparkling and though the tension is still in each and every one of her muscles, he's glad to see she's excited at the prospect.
"If we survive this, Emily, we can do whatever you want."
"Oh," she breathes. But reality's come crashing back on them with his words. There is something they need to take care of. Something important. Something life-threatening.
But Hotch knows they've just given themselves something to hold onto, something to believe in, and he knows that sometimes regardless of how dangerous the situation is, knowing there's light on the other side is all you need. He's banking on that now, on giving her the opportunity to do something he's realized she wants as much as he does.
She pulls back then, and clears her throat. The agent is back, cold and aloof. "Everything ready?"
His own mask slips back. "Whenever you are." Derek's told them she doesn't want to know and he respects her wishes.
So Emily sucks in a deep and very audible breath. "Let's get Declan."
It's funny, Emily reflects as she drives the SUV towards the abandoned airfield, the way pasts return. She of all people knows how brutal it is, how terrible it can be, and yet, never in a million years would she have believed this would be her haunting.
"Is he going to kill you?"
She doesn't bother hiding her deep inhale at Declan's question. She debates, for a moment, lying to him, but she would rather he be prepared. "I don't know."
She glances over. He's white, pale, and she'd bet if he wasn't holding his hands so tightly in his lap he'd be shaking too. She can't fault him. She's been in these situations before, faced guns, terrorists, serial killers… He hasn't. She's made sure of that. "He might."
Declan breathes out heavily.
"Hey," she says, reaching out for his wrist. "You can still go back. I can drop you off right here. You can call Louise, she'll call the team-"
It's Emily's turn to release a heavy breath. "Declan, this isn't your fight." She wants him to know that he is under no obligation to be here. He's the reason she's fought so hard, the reason she held on to the mission just a little bit longer, yes, but when it comes down to it, it's about betrayal, revenge, anger, negative emotions that, despite everything she's been through, she doesn't want Declan to associate with his father. They won't be facing Ian, they'll be facing Doyle.
"I want to do this."
No, he really doesn't. She knows that, and he has to know she knows. She flips on the blinker and slides to the edge of the road, turning to him once the SUV is in park. "Listen to me," she says softly, reaching out for him. They may not have kept in direct contact, but the connection is still there and she can see it in those baby blues. "Declan, you have a choice. You do not need to do this."
He grips her hands, shifting those white knuckles to hers. "I remember him."
Emily waits. Doyle can suck it up if they're late because even with their lives hanging in the balance, Declan will always be more important.
"I didn't spend much time with him, did I?"
"No," Emily says cautiously. "He didn't want to put you in danger. He didn't want people to even know you existed."
"For my protection, right?" He chews his lip at Emily's nod. "So he loves me."
"Oh, Sweetheart," she says, squeezing his hands. "Your father always loved you. He still loves you."
"But he'll kill you."
"Love makes people do crazy things," she replies, unwilling to admit, even to herself, how trite that sounds right now. "Your father would be doing this if he didn't love you."
"But… he's evil."
Oh God. How was she supposed to explain this to him? It's so complicated, so complex, and when she adds the obvious spiral Doyle's in, she might as well classify it as insanity. "He believes in a cause that calls for illegal decisions," she tells him cautiously. "When this is all over, you can do your research, okay? Your father has worked for the Irish Republican Army. They're considered terrorists."
"I don't want to be a terrorist." His tears are back, his eyes long ago stained red.
"You can love your father and not love the cause, Declan. That's okay."
"But I don't know him," Declan explodes, his voice rising. "He's been in jail and I've been here and if he's in jail he's not who I remember."
She gives him a moment to compose himself again.
His next question would have knocked her back a step if she wasn't sitting. "Does he love you?"
It's so much more complicated than that. A child's love for a parent is different than what she experienced with Ian. Declan remembers his father, not everything his father truly is. He's never been exposed to that part of Doyle. "It's complicated," she finally says softly. "I know that's not what you want to hear Declan. I understand that it's frustrating when adults tell you that, but it truly is so complicated."
"Did you love him?"
"I love the father you remember," she finally settles on. "I love the man he was when he wasn't working." She adjusts her grip on his hands. "Your father feels betrayed." And the sting of what she had to do is remarkably fresh for the decade she's been living with it.
"Because you weren't who you said you were."
Right. He's smart. Heaven forbid if Jack grows up like this. "Because I handed him over to the authorities. That was my job."
"Just like…" He swallows. "Just like now." He already knows that the potential of his father's death is definitely there.
He sucks in a deep breath and nods. "Okay."
She searches his gaze. "Okay?"
"Let's go," he says and nods again. He's trying to convince himself.
"You're sure? We can call the team, Declan. You can go back to the BAU until this is all over."
There's a surprising amount of panic in his eyes, as if he knows her life is in more danger if he's not there. "No."
She doesn't like the discomfort that races through her. She understands why he has to come, why she has to bring him, but she doesn't have to like any of it. "Then let's go."
Emily's not surprised to see the airport completely deserted. It is truly abandoned, though in rather good shape for it, and the hangar in front of them as she pulls the SUV to a stop is so predictable it makes her brain hurt. She climbs out of the car and around to the front of the SUV, waiting until Declan is beside her. He reaches for her hand, clinging to it because he's so afraid and Emily takes the time to hug him close.
"No matter what happens," she whispers to him. "You always have a choice. Remember that."
She feels his hair move against her chin. He's nodding his agreement and she takes another moment, just in case, before pulling away. She doesn't force him to relinquish the grip he has on her hand as they make their way inside.
The voice is sharp and female and as Emily meets angry hazel eyes she recognizes she forces herself to stay cool. "Couldn't be helped. Where's Lauren?"
Temper blazes in Tieriny's eyes. "It's not my call."
The words startle Emily slightly. They assumed Doyle would be the alpha, but in four simple, angry words, Emily realizes that it's not the dominant-submissive they've assumed. Tieriny doesn't run her life by him, she's managed to fall so hard that she's not quite sure where to start getting up again. She wants, in some ways, what Emily has and she's discovered she's never going to get it.
That changes the battlefield a little.
But she doesn't push the advantage she's finally found herself with. There's nothing that says Tieriny won't put a bullet in her skull simply out of hatred. As if shooting Doyle in front of Declan isn't going to be traumatizing enough.
Lauren's not in the hangar, not that it surprises Emily. Doyle doesn't really need her. She's the bargaining chip, so he's left her where the team can find her. He is grinning though, his face shifting and brightening when he sees the boy clinging to Emily's hand.
"Isn't this sweet."
Emily's heart races at the Irish lilt because it's one of the things that has always affected her. Declan jumps beside her, his fear more than obvious.
"Of course he has," Emily replies quietly and without heat. There's no reason to egg the man on. This is, after all, his son and international arms dealer or not, it's a son he's had no contact with for almost ten years. She may not like Doyle, may think he's the scum of the earth, but she's always loved Ian and his son. "Ian, where's Lauren?"
"Safe," he answers, his eyes on Declan. She feels Declan's hand tighten on hers, sees him swallow out of the corner of her eye and finds herself pulling him a little closer as Doyle advances.
"That's not good enough," she shoots back. "We're here, Ian. Where's Lauren?"
Doyle stops and she sees a flash of approval in his eyes. Her inability to be docile has always been one of the reasons he admires her, loves her, whatever twisted emotion he's feeling now. Tieriny's faded into the shadows and though Emily doesn't like it all that much, she has to go with it. Tieriny's not the prize. Doyle is and that's where her attention has to stay.
"You have a phone."
"Yes." She has to let go of Declan's hand to reach it and it's easier to text with two hands anyway. Declan latches onto the FBI windbreaker she's wearing because she didn't bring much in the way of her own clothes and the weather at night is cold enough to require one. She finds herself scrambling to type in an address as Doyle rattles it off but feels herself sigh when it's gone even as she levels a glare at Doyle for deliberately making her rush through the message. It's up to the team now to rescue Lauren.
Which means she can focus on this. On the man in front of her and the boy beside her and Tieriny is so far from her mind she'll look back and find it scary. For now though, there's just her and Declan and Doyle. And she knows she can't let the boy go.
The minute Hotch gets the text he sends Morgan with Dean, JJ and Reid off to make sure Lauren is safe. He has another goal, another job, and there's no one he'd trust more in having his back than Rossi anyway. They peel off from the group, smoother than Hotch anticipated. With a look, their phones are on silent, not even vibrate, because the team cannot know.
They're going after Emily.
Garcia didn't blink when Hotch pulled her aside, telling her he wanted Emily tracked the entire time. He wanted to know where she was and he wanted those coordinates fed to his GPS and his phone.
He's got her back. He's not losing her again.
God, how many times has he thought that? If he doesn't save her, if they don't make it out alive, what's he going to do then? For now, he metaphorically shakes his head and focuses on what's happening now. He focuses now, they'll get to later.
And Hotch's dedication and focus has never been a weakness.
So he drives, Rossi silent beside him, because much like Garcia, Rossi understands what's at stake. In fact, Hotch would bet his badge and gun Rossi knows more than Garcia about what Hotch considers is on the line. It's not just a friend or colleague and a young boy walking into the line of fire, it's Emily and if anyone's noticed what the hell is going on between the Unit Chief and his subordinate, it's Rossi.
Hotch, much to his own surprise, doesn't care. Rossi jokes the rules on fraternization were written because of him and while Hotch doesn't believe it completely, he knows there's at least a grain of truth to those rumours. Rossi knows how to be discrete and he knows when to stick his head in. He also knows when to keep his nose out and from the silence in the car, Hotch knows right now, it's the latter.
He's grateful for it.
He's having a surprisingly difficult time getting into his headspace for this. He needs to think of Emily as an overly-qualified FBI agent, not some damsel being held hostage. She chose to go. They didn't have to follow, regardless of whether Hotch knows that the team wasn't going to just sit idly by.
No matter what Morgan felt was right.
The younger agent had continued to look less than impressed when he returned from his little fit. Or, as Hotch knew, from trying to convince Emily there was another way. But Emily is stubborn on a good day, and Hotch knew she wouldn't be looking for an alternative. The minute she walked into the BAU, he and Emily had both known it would come to a variation on this theme. How they got there was irrelevant, these places they occupy were always going to be their stands. How it ends is another matter entirely.
They'll make it. They have to make it. If not, a bullet to the brain will not be the only thing Ian Doyle gets for his trouble.
For his son.
Yeah, he's trying not to think about that.
Because he knows what it's like, being a single father with a job you don't tell your kids about. Of course, he's different from Doyle in a myriad of ways he recognizes, but that doesn't mean Hotch doesn't also see that he, Emily, Doyle and the BAU are not the only players in this game. There's Declan, the boy Emily has tried so hard to protect. The boy she would have happily given her life for if it meant he could be safe, happy and well-adjusted. Being in WITSEC that long is hard enough.
He wants Declan to be able to go back to his life, a new life, whatever the boy wants to call it, with the ability to adjust. He's going to have PTSD, and he's going to have trust issues, parental issues; he's going to be a therapists dream. But they can cushion that. They will cushion that. Emily already has and she will continue doing so. Hotch has seen her with Jack. He knows exactly what maternal instincts lie not-so-dormant in the woman he knows he's going to court.
He allows himself an internal snort at that picture.
And this is what he's talking about. He's got to get his head in the game. There are real lives at stake, lives that matter, lives that have a personal connection to him and his own well-being. He can't fail them.
He can't fail her.
They're in a standoff.
She and Doyle. They're standing across from each other, Emily's hand on Declan's shoulder. His hand is clenched in her windbreaker. She knows how this can go and, admittedly, without some sort of backup she's not sure she's prepared for the outcome. If she has to go down shooting, she knows Declan's going to be a casualty. He's going to get hurt, whether by accident or by a bullet. It's the one thing she's promised not to sacrifice.
"You kept my son from me."
"I kept him safe," she replies. She keeps her voice soft, no authority in it whatsoever. Whomever has control of the room, the conversation, she can't say she's totally sure. She's an even with Doyle in so many senses of the word. When they were together, he never treated her as a subordinate. She could take care of herself and she'd proven that time and time again. He got lucky with the table leg, they both know that. They could have kept fighting, kept going.
Then again, she's not sure it matters.
"You asked me once to do that," Emily says, picturing the scene so clearly. "You asked me to raise him. To keep him from the people who hate you."
Doyle remembers it too. Or Ian does, if she's going with the multiple personalities he's got in her head. "I asked you to raise him, not take him away!"
"He's safe." She doesn't bother to try and explain that Declan's safe because he wasn't close to Doyle, because everyone thought he was dead. She doesn't bother to mention that the boy's life is in the balance of the discussion right now, that there's a piece of Doyle that knows Declan can't go with him. There's a father in him that doesn't want to see his son hurt and Emily remembers that. But there's also the man who believes so passionately in a cause that he's willing to indoctrinate his own son into that violent, turbulent world.
"You are not his mother."
It stings. It shocks her that it does. "I know."
"You don't get to make those decisions." He's livid. It's in his eyes, in the heaving shoulders.
Emily barely flinches. She faced down Cyrus, serial killers, rapists and murderers. His anger barely makes her bat an eyelash.
There's a piece of her that knows it's because he wouldn't hit her.
Doyle would do many things and he's hit her before. She had the bruises and the blood loss to prove he's not above beating her. But that was when he thought she had his son. Declan is the only thing that sends Doyle into a reckless rampage of murder and mayhem, the only thing other than the cause he so passionately fights for. Here, it's not that simple. Here, he's confronted with his past in her and every line of her body. They had good times, loving times. She kept the ring, for God's sake.
She knows it's useless to tell him it wasn't her idea. The joint task force was in on it. They wanted the boy out of there before everything went down with the arrest and Emily had played a big role in that.
It kicked her in the ass and punched her in the face.
Doyle is the one decision she regrets. She didn't have a choice, but it's the one thing in her life she wished she'd done differently. And this, right here, is why. Neither of them give up. Neither of them surrender. And now, Declan's smack dab in the middle and her team's coming in as back up. They've had to go through so much.
"He's going to walk over here," Doyle says, snapping her from her inner monologue. "He's going to walk over here, and you're not going to move."
"The boy's not going anywhere."
Emily jumps at the voice, so does Declan beside her. Hotch is there, and who knows who else he's brought. Emily finds herself releasing a slight breath of relief. Backup is a good thing. Hotch is better.
The flash goes through Doyle's eyes. Recognition, maybe; something else, definitely. Maybe he sees the relief; maybe he sees how much the man means. Emily's never really been able to tell. Anger and jealousy are so closely related when it comes to Doyle.
Declan crowds closer and Emily alters her grip. She makes sure he can feel her, makes sure she's got him tightly in her grasp.
Silence falls for a moment. The standoff is back. At least until Emily hears Hotch release the safety.
"Agent Hotchner. Put down the gun."
Huh. Maybe it wasn't Hotch after all. Her heart starts beating faster again, the adrenaline racing through her blood. She's still got her back to Hotch but the scene in her head is one she's not fond of.
It involves the woman she'd thought at disappeared, the woman she'd forgotten about. Shit. CIA is never an agency to simply 'forget about'. She's probably got her gun to Hotch's head. Doyle's backup. So where's Hotch's then?
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Declan reaches across to grip her windbreaker in both fists now. His other one slides around her waist. He's holding her tightly, hugging her close, not letting go. She sure as hell doesn't want him to, but it looks like they're a little stuck. More than a little stuck.
She looks down at the preteen clutching her like a lifeline. His eyes are fearful, probably the guns more than facing his father. She doesn't want to let him go. She doesn't want to let him walk over there.
She's not sure she has a choice.
His eyes harden. There's acceptance in his gaze, there's a seriousness that should not be there and it's what she regrets the whole thing. He should be a child, not a bargaining chip. Not leverage.
The word comes out strong but quiet, and everyone in the room jumps.
That actually comes from Tieriny. And here Emily didn't think she had a stake in all of this. She's starting to change her mind and it's starting to make her thoughts race. What kind of stake does Tieriny have? Has she promised to raise Declan the way Doyle wants? Has she promised to squash everything Emily's worked so hard for out of the boy's system?
There is a part of her that wouldn't be surprised. She and Doyle have left more than scars on each other, and something less tangible and visible. It's going to take forever to erase Doyle from her life and her conscience. And even, probably, her heart.
Declan's eyes are shining because she's standing up, because she's not letting him get involved, because she's holding onto him as much as he's holding on to her.
Emily sucks in a breath. "You want your son," she says to Doyle, raising her gaze to his again. "But do you want him like this?"
The question is loud in the silence that follows.
"You're kidnapping him, Ian," she says quietly. "You're asking me to hand over a child to a fugitive. Is that the way you want to raise your son? On the run?" She doesn't even bother to give him a moment to respond. She's firmly in negotiation mode and she's damn well not going to stop. Not for this boy, not when she's fought so hard to keep him hidden. Not when she almost gave up her life.
"And what kind of resources do you have? I was there, Ian. I know exactly where the money is, I know exactly where it went and it's all frozen. We both know that. You've been hiding out in a dive of an apartment. We met at an abandoned airport that is falling apart. None of this is the right way to raise your son. You love him, Ian. You know I'm right."
She's hoping to God and whatever other deities are up there that Doyle's love for his son – and it's there – outweighs his greed for an heir. She's praying he'll let it go, let them go, let Declan grow up, live, choose.
Her hopes, dreams and prayers are shattered when his face stays hard.
"He is my son." Doyle looks to Declan. "Come here, Declan."
Declan looks up at her, pleading, hoping and her eyes slide closed.
"Go," comes Tieriny's voice. "Or I put a bullet in Agent Hotchner here."
Declan jumps, his body vibrating. And hate seems like such a mild term for what she feels about her handler, the man across from her and the entire situation. They're backing her into a corner she doesn't want to be in. She's being forced to do things she doesn't want to do.
But to do that she's going to have to release Declan.
She has to make sure he's out of the line of fire.
She reaches down, tilts his head up. Her eyes ask one simple question.
Do you trust me?
It shocks her how immediate his answer is. His hands slacken, just slightly, enough to separate from her. She takes comfort in the reluctance with which he does it. It speaks everything his nervous eyes aren't.
I trust you.
She can't do it though.
Her eyes slide closed as Declan pulls away completely, opening only when she hears his first step.
Then, she waits. She knows how this is going to go down and thought Doyle's eyes are fixed on her, ensuring that she doesn't make any sudden moves, she knows it's only a matter of time. It's his son for Pete's sake and she's under no delusions that Doyle will be able to keep his eyes on her when his boy is coming towards him for the first time in almost a decade.
Then it happens.
Doyle glances away, just for a split second, to check on Declan's progress, but it's enough of a distraction for Emily's gun to be at her eye level. Four guns at play, because Tieriny didn't take her gun or eyes away from Hotch. But they're even now, with a boy between them and Declan stops dead when he sees the weapon.
Emily's eyes are pained. This was what she didn't want Declan to see. She hadn't wanted this for the boy. "Don't make me do this."
"Making you? I've never made you do a damn thing," Ian snaps back.
"Ian." Her voice is soft, so very soft. She's got everyone's attention whether she knows it or not. "You're walking out of here in handcuffs or not at all." God, when had she switched mentalities? "Don't make me shoot you in front of him. Please." She doesn't want to break his childhood.
"I should have known you would betray me." His eyes dart to Declan, but she doesn't take the shot. She wonders if the man actually resents his son for what Emily's done. Maybe if she didn't love Declan as much, maybe if she hadn't loved him, Ian wouldn't have lost out on so many years. "I don't even know you."
"No," she agrees. "You have no idea who I am."
"Yet you're willing to stand for my boy."
"Of course I am," she says, like there's no one else in the room. Hotch and Tieriny aren't even on her radar. It's just her and Ian, Declan watching all with fearful eyes. He's too young to see this.
"My flesh and blood."
"Nature and nurture."
"You think you can raise me out of him?"
It's an odd phrase, but Emily doesn't hesitate to nod. She does think Declan, if given the choice, would not choose his father. "But I think he loves you."
She sees Ian, just for a moment, but the blue eyes flash with a million emotions. Regret, anger, love, it's all over in a blink and then… She can't reconcile the two men. She can't look at Doyle, and only see the brutal arms dealer. She sees the father, she sees the man, and it makes what he's forcing her to do all the more difficult. She can understand being miserable without family. Hell, she lived it for six months, she knows so much clearer than anyone else in the room, but that doesn't change Doyle's decisions or tactics.
"This is kidnapping," she says softly. "You're kidnapping your own son, Ian. Is that what you want?"
"I want my boy!"
She's ready. Her feet are planted, her hand on the trigger and she releases the safety with a quick flick. Her eyes are solid, her head clear. If this is what she has to do, then she's left with no choice.
Then, in a split second, it goes to hell.
It's a blur, but Emily's diving for Declan the moment she hears the snick of a zipline in the absolute silence of the hangar. Three shots ring out and though she wants to look with every piece of her being she knows better. Instead, she curls tighter around Declan, and he clings tighter to her. She doesn't want to look, doesn't want to see, doesn't want to know if these are Doyle's IRA buddies. Thuds, radios, she can hear people speaking through headsets seconds before a hand grasps her arm.
"Girl, we've really got to stop meeting like this."
And as Emily looks up at the woman above her, she wonders if maybe hell wasn't the right descriptor.
He's not sure he remembers another take down going to hell this fast.
The agents that swing to their rescue are short, swift and precise and it isn't until Hotch sees Emily look up from checking Declan that he realizes there's something else going on. SWAT, these agents were not.
Tieriny's down, knocked unconscious and as Hotch takes the room in he sees Doyle's blood. Emily's off to the side, where she knocked Declan, looking relatively unharmed. There's a body heading towards her, a woman, he can make out, who reaches for Emily's arm.
"Girl, we've really got to stop meeting like this."
There's a split second before awareness and recognition sparks in Emily's eyes. She accepts the hand as Hotch holsters his weapon. "What are you doing here?"
The woman straightens, hair as black as Emily's though three times as long tied into a neat ponytail. They're all wearing bulletproof vests, helmets, prepared for the worst, but the woman looks calm as she tucks her own handgun away.
"Someone had to save your ass."
Emily snorts, though there's friendship and relief in those dark eyes he's come to rely on so heavily. "I didn't need saving," she responds, ignoring the way the agents are fanning out, tracking down anyone else who could be within the maze. Hotch knows there's no one but them, but it doesn't matter. It's part of the job.
The woman adds her own incredulous snort to the conversation before turning to him. "Agent Hotchner. Kate Townsend. That's quite the technical analyst you work with."
Emily's friend. The secure phone. It all clicks in a blink.
Emily's amusement is all over her face as she watches the two of them gauge each other. Kate's her best friend. Hotch is… well, he's something more than just her boss and hopefully soon something more than just her friend. She just got another lease on life and she sure as hell isn't wasting it.
Emily helps Declan up, then pulls him to her, keeping him close. Hotch watches because there's something compelling about how protective she is of Doyle's son and because he is, admittedly, worried about both of them. For Declan, it's a lot to take in and Hotch takes comfort in the way Emily's cupped a hand to his head, keeping his gaze from the hole in his father's skull. And the other two soaking red into the man's shirt. They've seen too many children destroyed by those pictures.
"It's a pleasure," he finally acknowledges Kate as she comes towards him. Him and the agent she knocked out. God, he hopes Dave is safe.
"You know," Kate says as she secures the ties on the unconscious Tieriny, "When I got off the phone with your technical analyst I figured you for more of the knight in shining armour type."
Hotch actually snorts, because for the first time in a while he's lost control of his emotions. Glancing over at the woman who's still holding the boy close, he knows why. "She doesn't need protecting."
Kate smiles, and there's approval there in spades. "Not sure about that."
Right. Emily can hear them.
Kate just rolls her eyes. "Honey, you get into trouble like it's a triple fudge chocolate sundae with sprinkles and a jar of cherries."
"Drama queen." But she's so obviously laughing. And studiously avoiding looking at Doyle's dead body.
Hotch decides then and there that he likes Kate. He likes Kate a lot for what she brings out in Emily. Because yeah, she looks worn down, exhausted and even sad as she continues to hide Declan's face in her chest, but she's beautiful and so obviously playful. After what they've been through, it's water in the desert.
"I'll handle clean up," Kate says, interrupting his thoughts as she perches her hands on her hips. "It's our mess anyway."
It shouldn't be theirs. Legally. Ethically. Hotch sees the moment this registers in Emily's eyes. There's reluctance, but understanding. He isn't sure he wants the FBI to take credit for the arrest anyway. There's too much 'sketchy' involved in the whole thing. The rescue, okay, it was their case, but Doyle's death? The fact that there's an unconscious CIA agent not six steps from him? Yeah, he can do without that.
He reaches for Declan, for Emily, and though she looks uncomfortable with the idea of letting someone else take what is so rightfully hers, she comes. She knows better. They start out, leaving Kate and whatever agents she's got with her to deal with this. There won't be a report, there won't be any evidence. Ian Doyle will simply disappear, maybe with Quinn Tieriny. He's no expert in CIA protocol.
"Hey Kate." Emily pauses, looks back over her shoulder and Hotch can't help watching with interest. This woman is exhausted, tired and sick and God does he just wants to take her home.
Emily swallows convulsively, looking at Doyle's dead body. Her eyes are back on Kate's when she says, "Thanks."
It's the least she can say, the least she can do, for what's gone on in that hangar. Kate saved more than just Emily from shooting a man. She saved Hotch, saved Declan, and yes, even Emily herself. There's no doubt she and Hotch could have made it work, rescued themselves, but she's grateful for the help.
It's one less nightmare she'll have now.
And even Hotch knows that's worth everything.
The reunion when they all return to the BAU bullpen is almost ridiculous. Morgan wants to give Hotch shit for bailing, for knowing, while Garcia can't stop squealing and hugging. JJ looks utterly relieved as she holds her son to her chest and Declan races to Lousie the minute he catches sight of her. Jack is clinging to Emily, while Dave does exactly what Morgan is dying to.
At the end of the day thought, none of that matters. The relief is palpable, there's no question, but at the same time, the relief is real.
But this reality, for at least one of them, isn't pretty.
This reality isn't smooth sailing. It's not simply okay because they're all safe and they're all alive. It doesn't work that way. Morgan's still mad, Reid's still betrayed, Garcia's still unsure and Emily's still broken. Hotch still feels guilty, and Dave can see that none of it is okay. It won't be okay right away. These things take time.
She'll come back. Emily will. There's not a question in anyone's mind. Because fundamentally, they are family. Family fights, estrangements happen, maybe the odd banishment, but at the end of the day, a family works together. There's something missing when they're not all together, working seamlessly, as they've done for years.
Eventually, they start petering out.
Garcia bribes Morgan into a drink. Dave invites himself along. He has words for the younger agent about what can and can't be said to Hotch at this point. They don't need any more damage to the team right now.
JJ heads home with Will and Henry. She's going to cuddle and play with her son, then she's going to pass out for fourteen hours or more. They've been running on fumes for too long.
Reid doesn't offer where he's going, but he leaves shortly after JJ. Emily feels terrible, like things still aren't fixed with the genius, but now isn't the time. Things are still raw, and she's in no shape to be having deep conversations about her time as Lauren or her time in hiding. He's not ready for it either.
Dean takes Louise and Declan home. The boy hugs her tight, thanks her, and Emily promises herself that she's going to be a bigger part of his life again. She can't take him, her life is too unstable for that, but she's not going to let him sprout like a bean without something stable to hold onto. She takes a moment to talk quietly to Louise about therapy, and the two women agree that it's something they need to consider.
Jack hasn't let go of her since she returned and when Hotch says it's time to go home, the little boy outright pouts.
"Emily's coming too, right?"
Hotch looks up at her, the question in his eyes too. She doesn't have anywhere to live, and it's not like she has anywhere to stay. Her travel to DC was spur of the moment as it was, and she hasn't planned beyond this. Couldn't. Actually having to think about where she can sleep is more than just a hypothetical now and it's both terrifying and comforting.
He sees it all. It rushes through her eyes until she's left with confusion and overwhelmed exhaustion.
"Of course she is, buddy," he tells his son.
"And she's going to stay?" Jack looks up at his father, the man he still considers as the only one with all of the answers.
Hotch meets her eyes, holds them, puts his hand on his son's shoulder as he holds the other one out for her. "As long as she wants."
It's too fast, too soon, and she's much, much too broken, but she can't deny this is what she wants.
"Okay," she finally says quietly. "For now."
They head out together, all three of them, Jack chattering away and Emily can't help but feel like she's looking into the future. It's a distant one, there's no doubt about that, but it's a possibility, isn't it?
Her life is broken, scattered about continents and time periods unresolved, but she's Emily Prentiss. She's survived more and less and she's worked hard to be as good as she is.
Tomorrow is a new day, and maybe she can start that day with these two males. A little boy with bright eyes, and a man that's watching her with a softness she can't really remember seeing that often. At least not directed straight at her.
She can start putting her life back together, slowly and steadily.
And maybe someday she'll believe that she can handle all of this, that she deserves it.
Then Jack's stomach grumbles loudly and the boy offers them a sheepish smile. Emily laughs and it feels so good.
For now, today is a new beginning.
A beginning that starts with spaghetti.