Title: Teamwork
By: TT92
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: gen
Disclaimer: Yeah, don't own the show/characters. Sad.
A/N: Hello everyone. Be warned that this contains season two spoilers, especially from the season finale. I really wanted a story about how the team, especially Prentiss and Hotch, dealt with Strauss. This idea developed in my head, and I decided to go for it.

This story is a branch out for me. It's written in first person point of view, but the point of view will alternate between Prentiss and Hotch chapter by chapter. I will always make it clear though which person we are looking through.
Summary: What will happen to two agents as one is asked to harm another? Especially when that agent is facing dire consequences?


Chapter 1: Answers

POV: Prentiss

"Sometimes the questions are complicated, and the answers are simple." Theodor Geisel

"I put you in the BAU. I knew how badly you wanted it. Everyone did. You were never exactly shy about letting us know. But there were those who didn't think assigning you to the BAU was a good idea. They thought you were too reckless. I believed in you, however. It's time to pay back the faith I had. Your team is in trouble. They've lost sight of the big picture. I believe they are reckless and at times out of control. It's time for Agent Hotchner's career to come to an end. And if you want to stay in the BAU, Agent Prentiss, you're going to help me make that happen."

I don't know where it was in her whole speech that it suddenly became hard to breathe. Maybe it was when she told me that I didn't really earn my way into the BAU. Perhaps it was when she accused my team members of not doing their jobs correctly. But if it wasn't any of those moments that caused me to almost quit breathing, then it definitely was when she revealed that she wanted me to ruin Hotch's career. Somewhere in there though, I swore Erin Strauss began to invisibly suffocate me.

My brain was reeling from this avalanche of information. Answers to questions, some pondered and some not, had presented themselves uninvited. Now, I was filled with horrid feelings.

Shame flooded my insides as I realized how naïve I was. Why didn't I look into it more when Hotch and Gideon were confused about how I got in the department? Was I just so happy and excited that I didn't take the time to consider that maybe something strange was happening? Or too scared to consider that maybe I didn't earn it?

Reckless appeared to be Strauss's favorite word to describe my team. Anger pulsed through every vein in my body from those statements. How could this woman accuse my team members of being reckless? Out job is to catch criminals. We do so in the best way possible. Sometimes it's not pretty, sometimes there are mistakes. But reckless? What is Strauss playing at?

Then her final thoughts reentered my mind, and suddenly, all my anger and shame was replaced by fear, nervousness, and apprehension. I can't pick what is worst about it, considering she stated that she wants to take Hotch down, wants me to help her to do it, and was so desperate that she was willing to threaten me.

I want to run, run away from this room and the person in it. But I didn't want to quit running when I was away from this office, but until I was off this floor and out of this building. I didn't deserve to be here. I didn't deserve to go back to the BAU. Someone else had placed me here to harm those who had rightfully earned their spots.

I looked into Strauss's eyes. She was waiting eagerly for my reply to her horrifying request. Fear and dread were my companions as I started to gather my courage to say something, anything to give me more time.

"Agent Strauss," I began carefully. "I...-"

"Agent Prentiss, why don't you take a little bit of time to think about this?"

What? Her expression was soft, almost caring. It disgusted and confused me.

"Come back tomorrow morning with your answer. You're dismissed."

Strauss was firm this time. It was a command.

Once the shock of my escape wore off, I was able to habitually reply "Yes Ma'am". As I slowly got to the door, for some inexplicable reason, all I could think about were the other members of the BAU.

My mind first raced back to memories with Reid, his crazy facts and theories, physics magic and peas creating love among them. I wanted to smile, but the memory of him snapping at me erased that. Reid had changed and changed again. While he was no longer completely innocent, he now resembled much more the first Reid I met.

I then went to Morgan, the BAU protector. When I first met him, I thought he was only a guy with a lot of muscles. Now, I knew better. Morgan was brave and kind. The person who would do whatever he could for a victim, he had been among the first to accept me, even when I wasn't ready to accept him. Our friendship, while new and unexpected, had helped me immensely.

I jumped to JJ. Memories flooded me as I recalled the times we shared as being the two BAU women. Her confidence radiated on the news screen, and more than once it had aided us in capturing another unsub. While we don't spend much time together because of her position, I admire her for her strength and compassion. Our friendship was slowly blossoming.

My mind arrived at Garcia. I don't believe it's possible to have a bad memory with Garcia. Always ready with a comeback and information for us, Garcia brought light into the very dark hole that we sometimes found ourselves in. She had quickly welcomed me and been my friend.

Gideon, he had been one of the harder ones to win over. Quiet but passionate, Gideon was an unknown subject of his own kind. Little was revealed, and little was known about this experienced profiler. Surprisingly, he accepted me into the BAU, even though he knew about my shady entrance into the department. He started to trust me and what I could do. Now it felt like I had betrayed him.

And then, there was Hotch. Natural born leader was about the only way to describe him. However, Hotch had been the hardest to win over. Most confused about my arrival, it didn't help that he knew of my mother. There were times I had bitter feelings toward him because of his lack of trust. But, I had to remember that he did give me a chance to try the BAU. He also made it clear that if I didn't live up to the expectations that I would be taken out.

I was to the door handle when I stopped in realization. Time had flown since that night in Hotch's office. Days, weeks, months had passed, and yet, I was still here. Never was I supposed to be in the BAU, but I still was.

The weight of the decision I was facing finally hit me at full force. It felt I was back in school. Only this time, there was no teacher with a kind smile saying that there was no wrong answer.

A: Yes. I was in debt to Strauss. She was attempting to make me feel even more in debt to her by giving me more time. Also, my career was important to me. But was it important enough? Especially now that I knew the truth?

B: No. I couldn't help her. That would go against every code of ethics I possess. I learned from my mother; people who get mixed up in these sorts of things always get burned. Of course, it was my job I was putting on the line.

C: Both. I don't see this happening anytime soon. How could I say yes and really mean no? Or vice versa? It's just politics, all nasty, awful politics.

D: None of the above. I wish. Running seemed like the best way to accomplish this. Of course, I don't think I could run forever. Someone would hunt me down.

Teachers always said that two answers would seem totally off, and the other two would seem right. One was always more correct in the end. A or B? A or B? I turned to face Strauss again.

"I won't."

Did that just come out? Was I thinking it, or did I actually say it?

"Excuse me, agent?"

Okay, I actually said it. I took a deep breath. My eyes were on Strauss's face, but it wasn't what I was seeing. Visions flashed before my eyes, from one case to another, one memory to another, one team member to another.

"Agent Strauss, I'm ready to answer your request now. I won't help you."

Tension flooded the office. Her facial expression gave off the appearance that she was struggling to control her anger.

"Agent Prentiss, have you been listening to me?"

"Yes Ma'am."

"And you still say no?"

"Yes Ma'am."

"I'm very sorry to hear that. I think you'll regret that decision. You are passing up the opportunity to be safe."

I couldn't stop myself.

"Safe from what?"

Strauss heaved a sigh.

"Agent Hotchner is going down, and there's no guarantee that he's going to be the only one. Turmoil is coming to the BAU."


Chapter 2: Loss

POV: Hotch

"Loss is nothing else but change, and change is nature's delight." Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

"Hey, Hotch."

I looked up from my open file. Gideon was standing at my door.

"Hey, glad to see you're back."

Four days had passed since we had last spoken. To say Gideon was hurt by our last case was a severe understatement. His pain was still very evident.

"Yeah, I figured I'd stop by."

He was uncomfortable, apprehensive, and nervous. Something was not right.

"Sit down."

He obeyed.

"Any cases while I was gone?"

"No, but I'm glad you're here. We could really use you on this next case. Couples are being murdered in Annapolis..."

The look on his face stopped me. It was a grimace.

"Gideon, you ok?"

"Aaron, I need to talk to you. It's about my position in the BAU."

"What about it? Are you unhappy, or-"

"No, nothing like that. Aaron, I'm leaving the BAU. For good."

A bomb of silence exploded into my office. How many times the clock ticked before I spoke, I'm not sure.



"But, Gideon, you belong here. I mean, if it's about this last case, about your friend, take more time. It was a horrific thing, and you need time to grieve. You could get conseling or..."

I wasn't even fully aware of what exactly I was saying. The shock of what Gideon had announced caused me to ramble and talk abnormally fast. It felt like if I stated every single other option, Gideon would come to his senses and stay. He granted us both mercy by stopping me sooner rather than later.

"Hotch, I'm leaving the BAU. It's my time to go."

"Last time, you just took a break. If you need a few months, you can have them-"

"Aaron, this isn't like last time. Last time, I let you talk me back in."


"Let me finish. I let you talk me back in. Since then, it's been a disaster. My one sanctuary was lost. I let Frank get away, and because of that, because of my mistake, I lost a dear friend." Up until this point, Gideon had been very composed, but now, he broke. His face contorted with grief and tears. "Sarah was innocent Aaron. She was innocent, and Frank killed her because of me. I can't let my mistakes hurt anyone else. I'm leaving."

His tears seemed to rip apart more and more of my heart as more and more fell. Which was the lesser of two evils, trying to get him to stay or trying to accept that he would really... leave?

"Jason, it hasn't been a disaster. Think about how many successes we've had in the last two years." I soothed.

"Aaron, I can't come back. Not anymore. A job is only supposed to take time and effort from the employee. Mine's taken not only that, but my privacy, my friend..."

I was becoming more and more numb through the majority of this. Gideon no longer in the BAU? Why did that idea seem so foreign to me? Just two years earlier we had been going through this same process. Yet, this time it seemed to sting more.

Suddenly I had a clear flashback to my conversation with Strauss.

'Agent Gideon, in many ways, is damned by his profound knowledge of others. Which is why he shares so little of himself, yet he pours his heart into every case we handle.'

Had my words been this true? Was Gideon really so affected by others that he was being truly driven away from the one place where his talent was most needed?

"Aaron, you okay?"

It occurred to me that I must have been sitting in my thoughts for several moments. I felt my gaze return to Gideon.

"Fine. I'm just... I think you belong in the BAU."

That was surprisingly difficult to say. Gideon bored his eyes into me.

"I knew you would fight this."

"I'm sorry Jason, it's just-"

"You're worried about the future and how you'll get along. I understand Hotch. But don't worry. The BAU will go on. You'll still get the unsubs. Look at our team; they're the best in the world."

"That may be true, but Jason, you're a part of that team."

He closed his eyes. I knew he was tiring of my arguing, but I wanted to try just once more.

"Jason, how can you be so sure that you want to leave? This is really sudden. Have you thought it over enough?"

"Yes, I've thought about it a lot over the last couple days, and my decision is final."

"Then what happened?" Morgan asked tensely.

I was standing in the conference room, recanting my last conversation with Gideon to the rest of the team. Morgan was sitting upright with an angry look on his face. Reid appeared paralyzed in his chair with a blank look on his face while Prentiss was slouched, appearing as if the news was taking the energy out of her. Garcia and JJ were both wide-eyed, with almost fearful looks. All were just as shocked as I was, and I couldn't blame them.

"I told him okay, and he left."

"What? You let him leave?" Morgan asked.

"What else could I have done?" I retaliated.

"Try to get him to stay. Hotch, he can't just walk out on us like this."

By this time, Morgan had stood up and begun to pace. I sighed inwardly as the choler grew upon Morgan's face,

"Morgan, Gideon was firm in his decision. Nothing I would have said would have made a difference." I looked Morgan directly in the eye. "Morgan, I know you're angry-"

"You bet." Morgan spat out. His expression became slightly softer. "He belongs in the BAU, Hotch. This is where he needs to be ."

"I agree Morgan." That seemed to placate Morgan some towards me, but anger still remained.

"He could have given more warning. He could have said good-bye instead of running away. Doesn't he realize the pain and disruption this would cause us?" Morgan continued.

"Gideon knows. He knows that this was going to be hard on us, and I'm just as mad as you for him doing this. And yes," I cut Morgan's question off before he could say it, "I let him leave without expressing anger at him. Why? Because I wanted Gideon to leave in as much peace as possible. There was no changing his leaving, and I didn't want to yell good-bye in anger."

Calmed down enough from my explanation, Morgan sat back down next to Garcia. She put a hand on his back and tried to give him the comfort that only she knew how to convey to him. The kind of comfort people who are grieving needed.

In that moment, the loss of the greatest and wisest profiler I had ever known hit me. Gideon wasn't going to be back in his office next week so I could consult him. He wouldn't be here ready for our next case, putting in his invaluable knowledge. Pain consumed me, causing me to sink into the closest chair.

We all sat in our own, silent grief. Gideon had been everyone's mentor, almost parent-like figure. He had exposed strengths within each one of us and showed us how to use them effectively. He had taught us how to handle the dismal days of this job. It hurt even more to think that no more minds would be educated by this man. His knowledge and passion should have been shared with more minds and more souls. It was going to be the team's new challenge to overcome this loss.

As I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, I reflected on the five stages of grief. If they truly brought closure, then I was looking good. Stage four was at my door.

Stage one, a.k.a, denial and isolation had occurred long ago. It had been short-lived. For a few moments, I just wanted to believe that Gideon was merely playing a trick on me. He had to be kidding; it was nearly inconceivable that Gideon could actually leave. But, no, he was serious, and denial was useless. As for isolation, I had taken it when Gideon had left. Those few moments were precious in allowing the shock of this ordeal to wear off. Waiting until the moment I absolutely had to, I had dragged myself to the conference room to inform everyone. I then moved out of stage one.

Anger at Gideon for his actions had come off and on. It filled me most when I realized how hurt the rest of the team was. I had been lucky that Gideon had said good-bye to me. We had talked one last time. No one else had. All I could wonder was what the other members' last moments with Gideon had been like. Were they now regretting them because they had not realized how significant they would become? Why did Gideon have to leave in such haste? Why couldn't he have slowed down, allowed the others to be spared some pain? But, in the end, I had to remember that being angry at Gideon would solve nothing. It would prolong the suffering of others, and with that I tried to desert stage two.

Stage three was an interesting one, bargaining. I had never bargained with Gideon about him staying at the BAU. That wasn't the sort of thing that worked with Gideon. He would tell you his decisions, even explain them to you, but he would hardly ever change them for you. I knew that this choice was done. Besides, what could I offer him? This would never happen again? That's not possible in our line of work. No preventive measures could be taken. All I could offer was my hardest effort in catching future unsubs, but that promised nothing. Money and power was of little interest to Gideon, as it always had been. Bargaining was futile, thus almost skipping me from stage two to four, depression.

During this time, it is normal for a person to go through periods of sorrowfulness, numbness, and more anger. While all three existed within me, sadness clung most to my insides. Not only my mentor was gone, but my friend as well. Gideon's presence had always been one to assure and comfort me. I am certain that I would not be the profiler I am today without him.

The final stage was not here yet and would not be for a while yet. Acceptance would come someday. Someday, there would be a new profiler among us. Someday our pain would be hardly evident. Of course though, that day was not today. Today had its own goal, and that was simply to get through the rest of the day as easily as possible.

I looked around the table. Few had moved since I had explained what happened. Each was grieving in their own way at their own time.

"We have a case." I stated slowly, testing how the others would react. Everyone seemed to come back to life enough to lethargically start to grab at the files before them. My leadership intuition kicked in; we weren't ready for a case. "Wheels up at 9 tomorrow. Work on whatever you need to today."

Grateful and surprised looks passed between the rest of the team.

"Hotch, do you know when someone will... join the team?" JJ asked softly.

I shook my head. "I don't know when or who. We'll worry about that later."

Everyone else seemed to begin to communicate with their eyes. Deciding that I should go back to my office anyway, I got up and let them begin to discuss this event among themselves. Upon my arrival to my office, I began to pull out some of the necessary paperwork. Gideon had asked me one last favor, and that was to get most of this done for him. He said that he handed in his letter of resignation already, ensuring that I couldn't say no.

Form after form, file after file, the day wore on. As I emerged for the occasional break, I saw that the other members were all doing slightly better. By lunch all had returned to their desks to complete paperwork or other things. Reid and Morgan both wore glum, somewhat weary looks. While my glimpses of Garcia and JJ were few, they both displayed more sadness than anything. Prentiss was a bit different in the respect that her face showed more tenseness along with some despair. But, as long as everyone was able to carry on somewhat normally, my thoughts on the team were put to a limit.

Finally, I left work a bit early. The front door seemed even more warm and inviting today. Five seconds after I had stepped in and put down my keys, my legs were suddenly strangled by a giggling toddler.

"Hi!" Jack exclaimed.

"Hey buddy."

I scooped him up in my arms. His smile did miracles to my mood. Haley suddenly appeared from the kitchen.

"Hi honey." I greeted her with our customary kiss.

"Hey. You're home early. Everything okay?"

Either my mood was really, really obvious, or Haley had picked up one too many profiling tips from me because she asked that question too heavily. My eyes pleaded her to wait, wait for a little while. I wanted to numb my brain with the safe haven of my home before having to confront the challenge of the day. Luckily, she received my message and agreed to it.

"Hey, Jack, why don't we show Daddy the picture you drew today?"

For the next few hours, I was happily thrust into the wonderful world of fatherhood. All too soon, I found myself reading Jack his bedtime story, and as slowly as I could, I tucked him into bed. Haley appeared at my side as I lengthily shut Jack's door.

"So, how was your day?"

Once again, it was a simple question that was asked much more heavily than normal.


"Bad crime?"

"No. Gideon came in this morning and resigned."


I collapsed onto the couch in the living room. Haley sat down next to me, and her ears then became filled with the details of Gideon's exit. The expression on her face was mostly of shock.

"He left for good?" She asked at the end of my monologue. "No coming back?"

"No coming back."

She remained in her thoughts for a minute.

"Haley, you ok?"


She seemed dazed almost. Something wasn't right.

"Haley, you're not."

"I'm just…surprised."

Her voice was calm, and yet I began to tense up.

"Surprised at what?"

"That Gideon ran."

"It was a surprise to everyone."

"Not the fact that he did run. It's why he ran. It surprises me that this job can torture or hurt a person in so many ways."

Haley was acting scared now. She wasn't even looking me in the eye.

"It's a job that can wear down every part of you." I admitted.

"Is it a job you truly want?"

"Excuse me?"

"Do you truly want a job that carries this many risks? Risk of being shot, risk of your mind becoming tortured, risk of possibly losing yourself to criminals?"

"Yes Haley. We've been through this before. Everyday, I accept those risks. I know what the BAU does to some people, and Haley, if I ever think that something could happen, I will leave. I won't run, but if I think that it might become too much, I'll leave. I promise you won't lose me to an unsub."

"You can't promise that." She reminded me quietly.

"I can do my best."

I reached over, and grabbed her hand. She finally returned her eyes to mine. A few tears had possibly appeared in the last few minutes, but she was holding them back. Her fingers grasped back onto mine, and a moment later, she had put her arms around my neck.

"Can you promise me instead that you'll be careful?"

She removed her arms and awaited my answer.


Her fears and doubts had been successfully placated for now, but I wasn't so sure if mine were. Many times her worries had crossed my mind. Gideon had been driven away from this job by the job. There was no promise that I wouldn't become like that too. Most profilers had a hard time in life after this career. Was it truly worth it to stay in this job if even after you physcially leave the office, you never can mentally? Was Haley right in that it wasn't worth the risk? Was Gideon's suffering a indication or perhaps warning?

Answers to these questions were not likely to come tonight, and I didn't want Haley to see that I even had these questions, so for the rest of the night we tried to enjoy a few last peaceful, almost worry free moments together as we didn't know how long I would be away.

The morning came all too quickly. I suddenly found myself driving to my office. Packed for the most part, I was only in need of a few things, and then it would be off to Annapolis.

"Agent Hotchner, I need a word with you."

I looked up to see a person with whom my last encountar had been less than satisfactory. Agent Strauss was standing in my doorway.


Chapter 3: Fear

POV: Prentiss

"You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you." Eric Hoffer

Fear seized my body. My heart leapt up into my throat, and my chest constricted. Strauss was standing in Hotch's doorway.

This terror wasn't unfamiliar. All yesterday, I had been afraid of seeing Strauss, which was illogical on my part. She wasn't going to come into the BAU in broad daylight and ask Hotch to leave. Strauss also couldn't just have me fired. I hadn't done anything but reject her request. While the bureau is strict, they don't fire people for no particular reason. My brain kept telling me that it wasn't necessary for me to look over my shoulder everywhere I went, just to check if she was lurking in a corner somewhere, but fright still kept me doing it.

'Turmoil is coming to the BAU'; what does that mean? What can she do? What would she do? What will she do? Had she already been able to put her plan into action? The worst case scenario that came to mind was taking Hotch out of the BAU. Was she actually going to do it?

Strauss couldn't do that, not now. We just lost Gideon; we need Hotch. Taking him away would either tear the BAU to shreds or destroy it altogether.

Deciding that this time it would be okay to eavesdrop on their conversation, I made my way to the stairs. I just had to make it look like I was heading over to JJ's office, and as I pass innocently by Hotch's office, hopefully the sound of their voices will carry enough for me to hear.

My feet approached the stairs, causing my heartbeat to accelerate. Top of the stairs, my heart began to do a marathon. Strauss's voice could now slightly be heard, but no words were discernable.

"...official resignation papers..."

I wanted to hit myself over my ridiculous near panic attack. Agent Strauss is many things, and one is the department head. Of course she knew about Gideon's exit, and it was her job to validate resignations with the team leader. At least the shame I was feeling reminded me that I was saved from having a premature heart attack.

"Morning Emily."


"Good morning." Morgan replied with a little teasing smile at the bewildered look on my face.

I had subconsciously returned to my desk. Maybe I had never even gone to JJ's door. Morgan was standing before me, bag slung over his shoulder. Reid and JJ were stepping off the elevator together with their travel bags as well.

"You okay Prentiss?"

"Wha- Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." I stuttered like an idiot.

Strauss exited Hotch's office. He came out as well with his suitcase and nodded his head to say let's go. Morgan and I followed.

I was too lost in thought to really listen to the conversation between the others. The main question going through my mind was, does Hotch know? Does Hotch know that Strauss has vowed to end his career? Should I tell, warn, him? He certainly didn't look happy, but then again, none of us really did. Our moods were still somewhat down from Gideon's departure.

I was so lost in thought that I didn't even realize that we were in the parking garage instead of the tarmac.

"Hey, why aren't we using the jet?"

Everyone stared at me quizzically as we got in.

"Didn't you just hear JJ say that we're driving because Annapolis isn't far enough away for the jet?" Hotch asked as he hopped into the driver's seat.

"Um, no." I muttered. My cheeks became slightly red.

"You're having a rough morning Prentiss." Morgan said from the passenger front seat, the teasing smile returning to his face.

Putting on a forced smile, I internally kicked myself. Now was the time to focus on the case; Strauss would be dealt with later. I flipped open my case file to see a picture of a two people at their wedding day, and then a picture of them laying on the floor, bloodied and murdered.

"So, back to the case," Hotch commanded in his authoritative tone, "what do we know so far?"

"This guy kills young couples, shoots the husband, and stabs the wife. Most recent was last week, Peter and Wendy Meier. Only been married six months. The last couple was killed November of 2005, and the couple before that June 2004. That's a long time to wait between murders. It's like he's on a clock, every year and half, he releases his urge to kill." Morgan began.

"But his murders aren't the same." Reid explained. "While every time the wife is stabbed to death, the husband keeps changing. First time, there was only one knife wound on the husband, his upper arm. Next two murders, there was a knife wound on the upper arm, but there were also other knife wounds."

"According to the medical report though, they didn't cause the death on the second murder. There was just two cuts, the one on his arm, and one down his stomach. Both were to thin too cause anything but minor bleeding. The cause of death was still a gunshot wound to the head." JJ added. "I got the autopsy reports from the ME this morning for the last murder. There were a lot more incisions on the husband's body, and they were much more lethal. They still weren't the official COD though, that was the shot. However, if they had been left long enough, there's a possibility that the husband could have bled out. Overall, the only injuries that were similar to the other murders were the gunshot and the cut on the shoulder. "

"Cutting the shoulder could be a tactic he uses to bring the man down." Hotch theorized. "These murders take place inside the victims' homes. If he's sneaking in and doesn't want to get caught, the last thing he needs is a struggle. Probably sneaks up behind the husband, goes for his arm."

"Takes care of both his hands, one's on the arm that's been cut, other one's going to the wound by instinct. Smart unsub." Morgan commented.

"Which makes him all the more dangerous." Reid reminded him.

"How does he control the wife?" JJ asked. "Wouldn't she scream or do something if her husband was being attacked?"

"He probably held the gun to the husband's head and threatened to shoot if she screamed." Morgan stated.

"Probably did the same for the husband. Young newlyweds would be even more likely to comply, especially out of fear for one another." Reid injected to which Morgan and Hotch nodded.

"Then he most likely shot the husband and moved to the wife. She'd be in big enough shock; she wouldn't put up much of a fight." Morgan played out.

"He's escalating, isn't he? He changed from just shooting the husband to stabbing him as well, an increase in violence." I asked

"Maybe." Hotch said. "When we get there, Reid, you start on victimology. So far, local PD can't find a good connection between the victims. Morgan, you go to the last crime scene. See what you can get. JJ, you can start setting up and organizing the police efforts. Prentiss, you and I will talk to some of the people who knew the last victims. We'll see if anything unusual was going on in their life at the time."

"So, have we learned anything new yet?"


Hotch and I were sitting in the SUV after having interviewed Heather Brome, Wendy Meier's former boss. Before her, we had interviewed friends, family, Peter's boss, and coworkers of the couple, and the whole time I was zoning in and out. Any time we were alone I was tempted to talk to Hotch about Strauss. It would have been easy to ask or tell him what was going on. But would he believe me? Strauss would deny it if he asked. She could then easily use my eagerness to point the finger at her against me. That would make it easier for Strauss to find a way to kick me out like she threatened.

"What have we learned?" Hotch repeated.

"That as far as everyone is aware, Wendy, a realtor, and Peter, a plumber, Meier were a good-hearted young couple who were quite happy with their life. Not exactly the type to have known close contact with an unsub."

Hotch nodded and sighed. We had spent all day getting nowhere, which was causing us to be tired and frustrated.

"So, who's next?" I asked.

"I don't know. Who else could they have come into contact with?"

I shrugged.

"I'm going to call the others, see what they got. Maybe it'll give us a new angle." Hotch said, pulling out his phone.

He chatted for a few minutes as I viewed the scene outside me. In the absence of the case, I became fearful again. The future was looking more and more like a very daunting place as I considered more and more of the actions Strauss could take. Chills ran up and down my spine yet again. Thankfully, Hotch rescued me.

"We're gong back to the station." Hotch suddenly announced.


"We're going back to the station. Reid may have found a possible link between the victims, and if he's right,-

"It's Reid, he's right."

"IF," Hotch said forcefully, "if he is right, then we may have significantly increased our chances of finding this guy."

"Okay, Reid, what do you got?" Hotch immediately asked as we entered the conference room that the Annapolis PD had given to us to use.

"Well, I may have found a connection through their jobs, but it's a thin one. In the first couple, Randall and Mary Henderson, Mary was a receptionist at Century 21st Realty. The second couple, Trent and Sara Nadoin, Trent was an administrative assistant to the president of the local ERA Real Estate office. And in the most recent case-"

"Wendy Meier was a realtor." Hotch supplied, remembering our conversation with her boss.

"For Coldwell Banker Realty, yes." Reid finished.

"So this guy has a problem with realtors?"

This voice wasn't familiar. I turned to see an older, balding man standing in the doorway.

"Uh, Hotch, Prentiss, this is Annapolis Police Chief, Roger Gerfund." JJ introduced.

"Pleasure to meet you." Roger said as he shook our hands. "I can't tell you how much we appreciate this. We would have called sooner, but we weren't exactly sure if we really did have a serial killer or just a lot of coincidences."

"It's not a problem. It's a good thing you called." Hotch stated. "But, back to the case, Reid, is this some sort of vendetta against realtors?"

"Not likely. The connection I'm finding doesn't have to deal with the profession exactly. It's more to do with the companies. You see, Century 21, ERA Real Estate, and Coldwell Banker Realty are franchises, all owned by the same larger corporation, Realogy. While that's a really thin connection, it is possible that someone at Realogy might be able to come into contact with employees of other franchises."

"How did you know that?" Gerfund asked.

"I read it." Reid said with an innocently confused look. "They only formed a few years ago, and it was in the news."

"A better question would be who else would know that." Hotch stated.

"Someone who works at Realogy." I answered.

"So we're looking for an employee?" JJ asked.

"Possibly." Hotch turned to Reid. "Have you found any other connections in the victims?"

Reid shook his head.


We all turned our heads to see Morgan entering the room.

"What'd you get?" Hotch asked.

"Not a lot that we didn't already assume. As far as I can tell, our theory that he's first taking down the husband, and then moving onto the wife is supported by the evidence at the scene. In this last case, he ambushed the husband in the kitchen, killed him there, and the wife in the hallway leading from the kitchen. However, he moved the bodies to area right behind the front door."

"He did that on the last two cases as well." Reid added.

"Why would he?" Roger asked.

"So that anyone who walked in would see them." Morgan said.

"It worked." Roger said. "One of their friends went over to check on Wendy to see why she didn't come to work Monday morning. She got a pretty nasty shock when she opened the door. But what does it mean? Why is it important?"

"It means that the unsub wanted them found." Morgan said uneasily.

We all exchanged puzzled looks.

"JJ, has there been a story ran on this?" Hotch asked.

"No. There have been stories about each of the murders and tip lines for each one, but they never turned up anything, and no one ever called claiming responsibility." JJ replied, picking up on what we were all thinking.

"This guy would call claiming responsibility?" Roger asked.

"Mr. Gerfund, did you ever have a reliable witness or informant that came forward?" Hotch inquired, ignoring the other question.

"What? No, nobody ever came forward with anything. The only witnesses we really had were the people who found the couples. What are you guys hinting at?"

"Sir, can you get your men together? We're ready with the profile." Hotch stated quietly.

"We are looking for a white male, most likely between the ages of 35 and 55." Hotch began.

We were standing in front of a room of about twenty cops.

"He is a smart, quiet man who everyone will like but not know a lot about. He won't try to draw attention to himself. He's intelligent. He knows how to leave little evidence of himself at least three different crime scenes. So far, we have one hair that has no match in any DNA system."

"He probably doesn't have a large history of crime." I injected. "Maybe some small, normal things such as a speeding ticket, but nothing that would really make him stand out."

"At the crime scene, he most likely sneaks in the back door. He then kills the couple, and moves them to the front of the house so that they are found quickly. To do this, he also kills on Sunday nights. The couples will be expected at work Monday morning. When they don't show up, someone will come looking for them." Morgan explained.

"Excuse me," one of the cops spoke up, "but why is he murdering them?"

"Because he has to." Hotch said quietly.

"This isn't something that this man wants to do. This is something that he has to do." Reid said moving towards the middle of the room. "This is a need to him. About every year and half, he has to fulfill this need through a ritual of killing a young couple. He doesn't want to do this as much as has to. And his need is growing with every kill. He has now moved to stabbing the husband as well."

"How do you know?" A different cop asked.

"Usually a killer like this would be considered sadistic, and sadists like to take credit for what they did. They would call police tip lines, come forward as a witness or informant, or interact with the police somehow. This guy hasn't. He doesn't want people to know he did it, more out of shame than fear of being caught. He feels that this need is something that he can't control or stop." Reid stated. "Sadists also like to have contact with their victims if they don't have contact with the police or media, but he obviously can't because the victims are found the next day."

"Why does he stab the wife and shoot the husband?" A female cop asked.

"It's part of the fantasy. His need to kill is fueled by a fantasy that could be brought on by something he once experienced or that his mind simply desires. His fantasy consists of a young married couple, and he needs to fulfill the fantasy by shooting the husband and stabbing the wife." Hotch

"One other thing, because he is able to get into homes without causing a disturbance, look into men with jobs that may have some experience with homes such as construction, realty, architect, etc." Morgan said, giving our last little bit. "At his job, if you were to talk to his coworkers, they will be shocked by what he is. His coworkers view him as a quiet man, gentle almost. Most probably wouldn't believe you if you told them that he's a serial killer."

"One final note," JJ jumped in, "this story cannot be leaked. A news story will make his need to kill greater and could get people killed."

"Any more questions?" Hotch asked.

The only sound in the room was the scribbling of pens on paper.

"Okay. Thank you." Hotch concluded.

We all began to make movements as if to leave, but we were stopped.

"Excuse me, Agent Hotchner," Gerfund was following us, "may I talk to you in private?"

He joined us in the conference room.

"Why did you give the profile if you already think that he is associated with Realogy?"

"In case we're wrong. Right now, Realogy is our only lead, but that doesn't make it right." Hotch explained.

"But, it would fit, wouldn't it? I mean, you said someone with experience with realty, couldn't some guy at Realogy who fits the profile be the unsub?"

"Of course he could be, but there's also a good chance he's not there. Because of that, Morgan, Prentiss, and I are talking to Realogy, Reid, I want you to stay here and try to dig up any other possible connection between the victims. Call Garcia, have her help you. Where do we need to go?" Hotch commanded.

" Parsippany, New Jersey is the corporate headquarters and closest office that I know of." Reid answered.

" New Jersey? He's operating kind of from home, isn't he?" JJ asked.

"Maybe he's just trying to not get caught. Less likely to find him if he's not even living in the city. Quiet nature, no one would really ask him questions." Morgan speculated.

"No one probably even notices he left. He might leave work on Friday, still be on time Monday." Reid put in.

" Annapolis is close enough for him to drive or take some other form of transportation. He wouldn't need to fly, so security might not even be a problem." I considered.

"Either way, we should check it out. If we go to their corporate offices, they can tell us maybe what department we should even be looking in. For all we know, there might be very limited access to the information on the other employees. JJ, can you call Quantico, see if they can get the plane ready?" Hotch requested.

I leaned back on the surprisingly comfortable hotel bed. Hotch had called it a day for us because by the time the jet would be able to come, get us, and take us to Parsippany, New Jersey, it would be too late at night to do anything. It was unusually early for us when we were on a case, which only depressed me.

I was stuck in this hotel room until tomorrow morning. My only company was my head and the horrid knowledge it contained. Praying that I would maybe sleep better tonight than the previous one, I had gone through my nighttime routines unusually early as well. So far, no luck, causing my thoughts to return to Strauss.

What would I do if she tried to come into the BAU? Could I fight back in some cunning way that she never saw coming? Unfortunately, the only way I saw to fight Strauss was to play her nasty little game of dirty politics. No way was I falling into that death trap.

Still, my dread remained. She had said that Hotch might not be the only one to go down. I shuddered to think that Strauss might go after other people on my team just to take Hotch down. All of us, including Hotch, were innocent. Well, we at least didn't deserve to be taken out the BAU because of a crazy department head.

Heaving a sigh, I tried to consider my other options. Nothing came to mind that didn't involve telling someone what Strauss had asked me to do. Could I somehow subtly warn them? Doubtful. Maybe get Strauss into a trap where she has to admit it? Oh yeah, that's real likely…

I guess my worrying exhausted me into a fitful sleep. Pretty soon, ideas about getting rid of Strauss turned into vivid, disturbing nightmares. My rescue from them was the alarm clock blaring into my ear. Back to the case.

Four hours later, Hotch, Morgan, and I were stepping out of the elevator to talk to a member of the executive branch of Realogy.

"Mr. Carnell? I'm SSA Aaron Hotchner. These are agents Morgan and Prentiss…"

As we were shaking hands, I vowed to myself not to let my mind wander as much today. The case needed my attention, not Strauss.

"Good morning. I'm told that you all are here on a case?" He questioned.

"Yes, involving the murders of young couples." Hotch stated.

"That's terrible." He said quietly. "What do you need my help for?"

"Sir, we believe that a member of your corporation might possibly be involved in this."

"Involved… as in the murderer?" Carnell looked flabbergasted.

"Yes." Morgan affirmed.

"How? Why?"

"The victims all had some association with a franchise of Realogy. One of each of the couples was an employee of Coldwell Banker Realty, Century 21, or ERA." Morgan clarified.

"So, you think he could work… here?"

"Like we said, we think it's a possibility. But we're going to need your help to see if it is likely. Will you answer some questions for us?" Hotch asked.

Carnell nodded.

"Mr. Carnell, would anyone here have access to the records of employees of your franchises?" Hotch began.

"Yes, almost anyone in the Human Resources department. Usually, they just deal with our employees, but sometimes they have to deal with other franchises."

"Is there anyone specific who deals with those cases?" I asked.

"Not that I know of. The whole HR department splits cases."

"What kind of information is on the employee records?" Morgan questioned.

"The usual things, age, address, previous employment, etc."

"How about marital status?" I ventured.

"Well, it's an option of the employee when they're applying and filling out forms if they wish to mention it. Most married people do."

Hotch, Morgan and I all exchanged looks.

"How large is your HR department?" Hotch asked.

"About 250 workers here."

"Is there any other office closer to Annapolis?"


Carnell knew the conclusion we had silently reached.

"Sir, do you mind if we go talk to the head of Human Resources?"


Ten minutes later, we were sitting down with Christine Gamie, head of HR. We quickly explained the situation to her, getting a horrified reaction.

"Someone… in my department could have done something like this?" She looked just as shocked as Carnell.

"It's possible ma'am." Morgan quietly stated.

"How many men work here are between 35 and 55?" Hotch asked.

"A lot. If you give me a little bit of time, I could get you an exact list." She replied.

"This man is quiet, known by everyone really just by name. He does his work well, but not so well that he stands out." Hotch described.

"I can't… I can't think of anyone." She said sadly. "Are you sure? Are you sure that he's here?"

"Well, all the victims had connections to this corporation. A person in your HR department has availability to those files. They're close to realtors, or people who know enough about homes that they would be more able to learn how sneak in without being noticed. Also, this is the only connection for the victims." I explained.

"So, what do you want me to do?" She asked.

"Will you give us access to your employee records? That way we can narrow down the list according to the profile." Hotch asked.

She looked to Carnell, who nodded slightly.

"Thank you. We have a computer tech in Quantico. We can call her and help set up access."

Carnell and Gamie stepped aside as Garcia hacked into their system. A mere half hour later, we had her, Reid, and JJ on speaker phone with us.

"Okay, I count 87 contestants to be picked for the serial killer of the day." Garcia informed us.

The look on Carnell and Gamie's faces was an interesting one as they pondered Garcia's choice words.

"87?" Morgan repeated.

"Obviously, you picked a popular mold for the HR department."

"Isn't there any other way to narrow it down some more?" I asked.

"Well, there isn't a personality type listed here, so quiet, intelligent doesn't really help, and there's also no selection for serial killer, so without getting to know the men personally, no there's no way to narrow it down."

"Reid, have you found any other possible connections?" Hotch asked.

"No. These people have nothing else to do with each other." Reid answered through the phone.

"Okay. We'll send the jet over there. Looks like we'll be here for a little while longer. Garcia, can you send us the names of those men?"

"I'm not the FBI computer whiz for nothing."

"Thanks mama." Morgan answered.

Two clicks were emitted from the machine.

"So, what are we going to do Hotch? We can't just interview 87 men." Morgan pointed out.

"I know. We need a way of shortening the list."

Their chatter continued on. For some reason, I chose that exact moment to blank out. I felt tired, and random thoughts began to float through my head as their voices turned up and down with volume.

'Narrowing down the suspect list'… Gideon left… 'no guarantee'… 'not the only one to go down'… 'Prentiss'… Strauss's office… fear of someone else getting hurt… 'Prentiss!'…

Suddenly a thought so wonderful jumped into my head that I felt a great need to expel.

"Hotch, about an undercover mission with Reid and JJ?"


Chapter 4: Change

POV: Hotch

"To change and to change for the better are two different things." German Proverb

"A what?"

"An undercover mission with Reid and JJ." Prentiss repeated excitedly.

I just stared at her. She had been acting strange the last few days, but this was something else.

"Emily, we can't guarantee that this guy will find them and pick them if we set them up as a couple." Morgan quietly told her.

"No, not as the possible victims, as informants. They could work here, in the HR department and try to find a guy that fits the profile." She was now talking very fast.

"That won't work."

It was the only thing I could say. This whole idea seemed crazy, if not impossible, to me. How would we pull this off? Reid and JJ were FBI agents; not HR workers. Besides, it would look suspicious. How many new employees follow other employees around enough to figure out if they are a serial killer? But, to my surprise, Prentiss not only seemed to guess all of my questions, but she seemed to have an answer for them.

"Yes, it could. JJ is a liaison; she's got more training that would be applicable to HR. And, Reid's a genius. Give him a few pointers, a few books on this sort of thing, and he'll figure it out. And, they don't have to do that much work. They would just have to make it believable. They know the profile. They would know what to look out for." Prentiss explained.

"This would take too long." I replied, astounded it took me this long to think of this obstacle. Her plan had minutely impressed me though because it was sounder than I thought it would be. But, it was still just too far out.

"How long is it going to take to interview 87 men?" She demanded. "We don't even know if that will work."

"You know, Hotch, maybe this isn't such a bad idea."

I think Morgan surprised both Prentiss and me with his statement.

"Morgan? How can you...?"

"Hotch, how hard would it be for Reid and JJ to pose as a couple working in the Human Resources department?"

"Why Reid and JJ? And why as a couple?"

"Because we've already walked through here. The other employees have seen our guns; someone will know that we're law enforcement. They'll know something's up if one of us comes here. And if they're a couple, then it wouldn't be odd for them to be seen together. They can talk, compare notes, discuss certain men to go after, whatever they need to." Morgan stopped for a moment before becoming very serious. "Hotch, you know that trying to pick one out of 87 will be hard. And you know what will most likely happen if we try to interview them."

Of course I knew. Most likely, we wouldn't be able to get him. Maybe shake him, but we probably wouldn't be able to get him from interviewing alone. The unsub was smart, possibly smart enough to be able to lie successfully. Most likely then, we'd have to drop the case and pick it up again when we had another murdered couple. If we were lucky, we'd get some sort of lead from that murder. If we were lucky.

Realizing that Prentiss's crazy idea might possibly save a couple, this plan now actually sounded... somewhat okay. But, some problems still remained.

"Mr. Carnell, Mrs. Gamie, how do you feel about this idea?" I asked.

"Agent Hotchner, an hour ago, you approached me and told me that I have a serial killer in my department. I will gladly help you get him out. I can help your agents make it more believable. I can get them into the department, or I can put them into position where they have more access to co-workers, whatever you need." Gamie responded.

"I have no problem with it as long as it doesn't cause that much of a disturbance." Mr. Carnell replied.

"If everything would go to plan, then the only disturbance would be an arrest." Morgan answered.

"Very well then." Mrs. Gamie replied.

"Excuse me, could you guys give us a few minutes to discuss this a bit more?" I asked.

They left. I turned to Morgan and Prentiss.

"Guys, can we give up two more team members? If we're called somewhere, we're down to three profilers." I reminded them.

"Can't we set up some sort of connection, so that if we need their help we can talk to Reid and JJ?" Prentiss pointed out. "I mean, they won't be working 24/7."

"If they're undercover they will." Morgan stated.

"That's another thing. They have to say yes." I said.

"Hotch, they will." Prentiss replied. "They'll want to at least try this."

I sighed. This plan still was very strange, but it now seemed possible. And it might just catch this killer.

"We'll talk to Reid and JJ. If they agree, we'll see if we can make it work. If not, we'll just have to start interviewing." I commanded pulling out my cell phone to tell Reid and JJ to meet us at the hotel instead.

I needn't have worried about them saying no. At first surprised at the idea, both did embrace it. Reid looked much more uncomfortable at the idea of being 'married' to JJ, but still gave his consent to do it. In two days, the FBI office in Newark, NJ had given us a house for them to live in, and Gamie had set up two positions for Reid and JJ to fill. Gamie had also tested Reid and JJ somewhat to see how they would fit in the Human Resources world, and both passed with flying colors. Surprisingly, this plan fit together almost seamlessly. Come Monday, Reid and JJ would become Henry and Dana Johnson, newly wed and newly employed.

We returned home Thursday afternoon. Reid and JJ had to pack for possibly weeks, and the rest of us returned home. It still marveled me how just a few days away from my family made me miss them so much.

The week finished out quietly. Late Friday afternoon, I stepped out of my office to find the team acting in what I could only call a strange good bye. Reid, Morgan and Prentiss were in the bullpen. Reid was grabbing some things from his desk, and judging by his redder than usual face and the other two's laughter, he was being teased for getting 'married'. I looked over to JJ's office to see her and Garcia doing about the same thing. Only, JJ handled the teasing in a joking manner as well.

I walked down to the bullpen. There was one last thing I had to give them so that they would be ready for this.

"Reid, I got something for you."


I pulled out a little golden band. Reid turned, if possible slightly redder. Morgan and Prentiss chuckled as Reid took the wedding ring.

"Til' death do you part." Morgan joked as Reid took the ring.

"More like til' catching a serial killer." Reid retorted.

"I was hoping for a little more in my marriage than that."

We all turned to see JJ and Garcia approaching us with small smiles. I reached again into my pocket to pull out the other, smaller wedding ring.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife."

I couldn't help but say it. I had even found myself struggling to not join Morgan and Prentiss in their taunting of Reid, but that I had to say. The rest of the team minus Reid, who merely chuckled, laughed heartily at that.

"Who would a thunk that Reid and JJ would be some of the first in our group to walk down the aisle?" Prentiss stated.

"Who would a thunk that they would walk down together?" Morgan burst out.

Laughter rang about, but then I had to change the mood to serious.

"Have you guys come up with a story?"

"A story?" JJ repeated.

"How did you guys meet, your first date, engagement, wedding. If we're going to pull this off, we have to cover everything." I reminded them.

"Don't worry Hotch. We'll come up with something. We'll make this work, won't we Reid?"


"He's already whipped." Morgan didn't exactly whisper. Reid gave him such an angry glare that Morgan quickly changed the subject. "How about pictures? Wedding photos, vacation, something like that."

I began to slightly panic inside. That had never occurred to me. If something this simple wasn't taken care of, would this work at all? But, it appeared that someone else had already covered it. Garcia was giving an evil giggle.

"What?" Morgan asked.


The laughter returned.

"I will pay you 20 bucks to see a picture of Reid and JJ's wedding day." Morgan requested.

"Garcia, if any of those pictures ever get out..."

"Don't worry Reid. I'll keep them in my secret, inaccessible files." Garcia nearly had new tears of laughter due to Reid's threat.

When he looked calm, she returned to Morgan.

"I'll give you a sneak peek for 25."


"I was just kidding!"

I don't know how long they went on giving JJ and Reid a hard time. My mind and eyes began to wander around the bullpen. They landed on Gideon's now vacant office.

We had been dealing with his absence remarkably well. Of course, only one case had come through, so much was yet to be done, but it was a start. Our team was changing and would be for some time. I didn't know how long I would have until the pressure of needing another member would be thrust upon me. It would be soon as now, Reid and JJ would be leaving for some time. How strange it was that in one week we had lost three members of our team.

Suddenly, everyone was making movements of getting ready to leave. We all had to say our official good-byes then. I decided to go first, giving the others more time together.

"You guys both know the profile?"

"Yes Hotch."

"You've both got the list of men to be looking out for?"

"Yes Hotch."

"You guys will-"

"Yes Hotch." JJ interrupted. "Hotch, we're ready. If anything comes up, hey, we're FBI agents. We'll make it."

JJ's words convinced me enough to say much more meaningful good bye than usual and walk into the elevator. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Garcia tackling JJ with a hug and Morgan sticking out his hand to Reid. The other teams were staring out their odd, more affectionate good-byes. I gave one last chuckle.

"Aaron, can I talk to you?"

It had been about a month since Reid and JJ had gone undercover. The farewells hadn't really been necessary. Almost everyday in the weeks that followed, we had some sort of contact with JJ, Reid or both. Garcia had given them a computer with a webcam, so that she could talk to them often which was helpful in case a background check was needed on their part, or some help was needed on our part.

The plan was working somewhat. Between the two of them, Reid and JJ had met and talked to most of the men within the first few weeks. The list was becoming shorter and shorter each day, but it still had thirty names. Thankfully, only a few more cases had come in, so the change in our team had not been felt too brutally.

"Yeah Haley?" I was reading the paper before I headed over to the BAU. As long as we didn't get a case, the morning was looking quiet, a treat.

"Aaron." She said forcefully. I looked up to see a very serious look on her face.

"Is everything all right?"

"Maybe. No, I mean, yes. Aaron, next week I scheduled a doctor's appointment."

"Are you okay?" She was starting to alarm me.

"I think I'm pregnant."

Silence engulfed out kitchen.


"Yes. I know it's a little soon after Jack, and we never really discussed-"

I went over to her and put my arms around her. She was surprised enough by this to stop her rambling.

"Haley, this is wonderful."

She seemed surprised by my happiness, like she had been expecting me to put up a fight or be scared.

"I'm excited too," She began when her voice returned, "but remember, it's not official, not yet. I've taken two tests, and both were positive. But, I'm just a little surprised. I mean we weren't trying. But everything's going to be so different if we have two kids."

"Haley, that's okay if we have two kids. We'll make it. We've been doing fine with Jack."

"That's true."

"Just don't worry. If we're pregnant again, then we're pregnant again."

"You're… you're right. Besides all I can do now is wait. And try not to drink alcohol."

"Oh, does this mean we're going to have to skip on the keggar we had planned this weekend?" I joked as I gathered my things.

"Honey, we're not in college anymore."

"Thank goodness. Bye." I kissed her on the cheek and held her a little longer and little closer than usual.

My mood lifted me all the way to the BAU. When I entered my office and saw a file on my desk, I felt like I didn't even care that we had a new case. Another baby seemed to make almost all the evil in the world disappear.

But today, the file waiting on my desk wasn't a new case. It was a notice from the bureau. They were going to look into the Tobias Hankel case, and I was requested for an interview at ten this morning.

"Good Morning Agent Hotchner."

"Good Morning." I tried to say mildly cheerily.

"Sit down please."

My interviewer was a middle aged man. He looked like a pleasant man, but I still felt uncomfortable about this situation.

"Excuse me, but may I ask why this case is being re-evaluated, or why I'm being interviewed about it?"

"I believe they are making sure that the BAU is doing okay."

"Why this case?"

"Excuse me?"

"Why is this case being evaluated?"

"I'm not for sure. I'm just under instruction to interview you about your involvement in this case."

The man looked sincere. I still felt uneasy, and this still felt fishy, but I had nothing to hide.

"Agent Hotchner, did you send out Agents Reid and Jareau to the home of Tobias Hankel?" He began.

"Yes, I ordered them to go to the house."

"What were they supposed to do?"

"Interview Tobias Hankel. He was a witness to a home invasion."

His eyebrows rose.

"It says here that the home invasion you are referencing never happened."

"Yes, but at that time we didn't know. He was the sole witness; no one could contradict him."

"I see. When were you informed of Agent Reid's disappearance?"

My stomach began to churn. Some of the excitement of the baby was rubbing off.

"We went to his home when we concluded that Hankel was the killer. When we arrived, Agent Reid and Hankel were gone." I said slowly.

The questioning continued. He had obviously not been familiar with the case because he began asking more and more questions about details. 'Why didn't you involve other teams?' 'How did you handle the recovery of Agent Reid?' It seemed to drag for hours, testing my patience. What he was after, I had no idea, but he finally seemed to come to his last question.

"Agent Hotchner, do you feel this case was handled properly?"

He was asking for an opinion. I had thought about this case and what had happened many times. The answer still wasn't easy.

"The case... was handled as best as it could have been. The events that took place were unfortunate, and the events that came after it were unfortunate. However, I believe that my team and I did our job in the best way possible."

"Very well. Thank you Agent Hotchner."

I walked out of there with an odd sensation in my stomach. Happiness at the fact that it was over and confusion at why it had ever occurred were blending together. But my arrival at my office coincided with the arrival of a case, so the investigation was almost forgotten.

Four more weeks went by. Three more criminals were behind bars. Two more investigations had been ordered. One was for Morgan about our case in Chicago, and the other for me again with our last case with Gideon.

"Hotch, what's going on man?"

Morgan sat down in my office. He had just returned from his interview, which I knew was going to hurt. He certainly looked like he had been mentally beaten.

"My guess is the BAU is under investigation."

I had told Morgan or Prentiss about the other evaluations only in passing. Figuring it was just a weird occurrence, I thought it would be best not to say that much about it, but now something was definitely up.


"They could just be making sure that we're coping from Gideon being gone."

"Have they ever done this before when a profiler's left?"

"No." I eventually admitted.

"Have you looked at a replacement?" Morgan asked after a minute.

"Somewhat. We've been getting along okay, and I want to choose the right person. And I Reid and JJ here so they can adjust along with everyone else."

Morgan nodded his head in approval of my idea. We both became consumed by our thoughts.

"I better get back. I still have some paperwork to do." Morgan finally stated a moment later. "Good luck with the replacement whenever you do work on it."

I was considering what project to do next when my phone rang.


"Agent Hotchner, can you please come down to my office?"

It was Strauss. My stomach began to twist unpleasantly again.

"Yes. I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Agent Hotchner, have you picked a replacement for Agent Gideon yet?"

No hellos or welcomes. She was dead serious and remembering my last encounters with her, I was ready to become defensive.

"Uh, no. I have not made a decision yet. Why?"

"Why are you waiting? The BAU can use another member."

"I feel that I do not want to make this decision quickly-"

"It has been almost two months."

"Replacing Agent Gideon is a very big job, one that shouldn't be taken lightly. I don't want to make a bad decision." My voice was growing louder.

"Ah, I see." Her tone angered me. It felt patronizing. "Do you feel you can handle this decision?"

"Excuse me?"

"Do you feel you have the ability to make this sort of decision?"

Anger boiled over me. No way did she dare try to insult me like that.

"Of course I feel I can make this decision. I am the team leader, and it is my job. It is my choice about how I conduct these matters, and I am choosing to take this process slowly."

"That choice may be taken away Agent Hotchner."

I stood in shock for a minute. If she was saying what I think she was saying...

"You're going to take away a right I have as team leader?"

"I'm saying that as department head, I might override your authority and place a new member on your team because you have not done so in adequate time."

"You can't-"

"Do not tell me what I can and cannot do Agent Hotchner!"

We were both standing and both yelling. I don't know who looked angrier, but I felt like it was me.

"If you do your job correctly, there will be no need for me to interfere, but mark my words Agent Hotchner, if I feel the need to, I will. You are dismissed."

I held my composure as I left her office, but once I was outside her door, I sighed. The BAU was under investigation. Strauss was attempting to interfere with my team. What was going to happen next?


Chapter 5: War

POV: Prentiss

It was no longer a secret. Even Reid and JJ had picked up on it from conversations with us. The BAU was in trouble.

Morgan had more or less replaced Gideon as Hotch's confident. The last few weeks almost gave the impression that Morgan had moved in to Hotch's office because he and Hotch were talking so often. All bets said that Strauss was their topic every time.

A war had been raging inside my head for weeks. What was I supposed to do now? I could tell Hotch about everything that had happened. But what good would it do? Strauss had a new plan, one without me. Whatever was going to happen now was going to happen. In the end I decided that all I could do was play an agonizing game of waiting.

Rumors began flying around claiming that Hotch and Strauss had clashed in her office. I panicked inwardly and hoped that they were simply rumors. However, on the day in question, Hotch had returned late in the afternoon looking dangerously irate and unwilling to elaborate why. Had they argued? And if so, what about?

I felt like I was walking in a minefield. Who knew when the next bomb would go off, or who would set it off? Torturously, the following days passed with little change, almost tempting me to relax a little. However, one afternoon changed that.

Strauss herself came down to the BAU and marched into Hotch's office. Morgan and I watched and waited in horror. Slowly, their voices became audible through the closed door. The louder they got, the more my stomach sank. Finally, Strauss exited the office. Hotch stormed out and over to us. He ordered us to get Garcia and meet him in the conference room.

"The team is going to be monitored." Hotch stated curtly upon our arrival.


"We're going to be watched by the Bureau. Someone will check over our work, make sure we're doing our jobs correctly." He explained with reluctance.

"Don't they do that already?" Garcia asked timidly.

"Randomly and routinely. This will be just about every move we make." Hotch stated grimly.

So this was her new idea. She was going to try to find something wrong with us and blame Hotch. I felt myself start to shake just a little from fear. She had invaded us. Strauss was attacking.

"Hotch, why?" Morgan demanded. He was angry as well as confused.

My reaction only intensified at this inquiry. I knew that answer, as little as I wanted to, I knew. And I was scared of someone knowing that I knew. Now was not the time to reveal what Strauss had asked of me.

"Strauss is trying to get me out of the BAU." Hotch replied calmly.

While Morgan and Garcia tensed up with shock, I calmed. He knew. Hotch knew. I wouldn't have to tell him, and I wasn't alone in this mess. For a moment I was tempted to even give a small smile, but the emotion of the room reminded me not to.

"How is monitoring what we're doing going to help her?" Garcia asked.

"Most likely, Strauss will eventually try to take her case to the director. She'll try to present certain cases as blunders, signs that I'm an inadequate leader. If she's monitoring us, there's a higher chance she'll find something useful." Hotch answered in a still far too calm manner.

"Damn. This all makes sense now." Morgan said quietly.


"When I was being interviewed, it was all about if you were a good team leader. 'Did Agent Hotchner do this?' 'Did Agent Hotchner do that?' I should have realized it." Morgan leaned forward with his face in his hands. Garcia put her arm around to Morgan and gave him a reassuring squeeze.

"Morgan, don't worry about it." Hotch assured him. "Even if you had figured out what was going on, I don't think you could have stopped this."

"Hotch, how long have you known? Why haven't you said anything before?" I asked quietly.

I was struggling to look like I didn't know anything. My thirst for information was hard to control, and I was afraid that my face was exposing that.

"Strauss confronted me in…May. And I guess I forgot. Other things, like Gideon, Reid and JJ going under cover, and cases, came up. It just got pushed out of my mind. I hadn't thought much about that meeting until all this started happening."

Silence greeted the conference room for the first time since our gathering had begun.

"I'm sorry, sir, but what did you want me here for?" Garcia asked quietly. "I'm not part of the team so this doesn't affect me."

"Not technically, but chances are someone will be looking a little bit more closely at what you're doing as well." Hotch replied.


"Because you've been known to be associated with us." Morgan answered. "Even the other teams know that we always call you instead of other techs."

"Strauss might think that you'll have dirt on us." Hotch added.

Garcia nodded. Her eyes widened a little more in fear.

"Don't worry about it." Morgan soothed. "Just don't go hacking into any naughty sites, and we'll make sure Strauss stays away from you."

Garcia gave small smile and chuckle as did the rest of us before Morgan turned serious again.

"So, what are we going to do?" Morgan asked.

"Put up with it." Hotch stated in a worn out fashion. "We can't do anything else."

We all looked to each other as if to find other choices written on our faces, but nothing appeared. It was our only option.

It was now a common sight for an unknown agent to come down to the bullpen. One of them came two or three times a day. Sometimes they asked us questions about what we were doing; other times, they just looked and left.

I thought we'd make it through it okay. Strauss couldn't keep it up forever, and she couldn't get much worse without hitting some obstacle soon. Our first case since the watching started disproved that theory.

"We can't go." Hotch said.

Morgan and I were organizing some last minute files in the conference room before heading out to Los Angeles for a strangler case when he informed us.

"What do you mean?"

"Strauss just told me that she has to decide if we should even go." Hotch sighed and sat down.

"She's keeping us from cases?" I repeated, stunned.

Hotch nodded wearily.

"Hotch she can't do this!" Morgan exclaimed.

"She already has Morgan." Hotch stated glumly.

"We gotta do something!" Morgan yelled.

"Like what Morgan? Whine about it? Say it's wrong? Do you think she really cares?" Hotch had stood up and was shouting as well.

Morgan and I were both stunned by Hotch's words. We sat in taken aback silence for a moment before Hotch continued.

"Do you want me to just resign to make it all the more easier for her?"

"Hotch, no!" I shot out quickly.

His words seemed to have shocked Morgan into silence, and I was almost alarmed enough to remain quiet as well. Hotch was almost breaking; an enemy had gotten to him. This was supposed to be impossible.

"You need to be here, Hotch. She's trying to get to you, and she's doing a pretty good job. Don't let her. She's not worth it. She'll never be able to prove that you're a bad team leader, or that you should be let go." I continued, hoping for a positive reaction from Hotch, who still looked cross.

He finally sank back down into his chair and let out a great heave. Several dark bags had appeared beneath his eyes, scars from his recent confrontations.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be so rude. You're right Prentiss. She's getting to me. I'm just… hoping she can't prove that I should leave."

I looked from Morgan to Hotch. Dread gripped me as I realized the full extent of Strauss.

We were being watched. It was possible that we might not be able to go on cases. She was even possibly destroying Hotch, and his confidence in himself. Our team was deteriorating. Strauss had lived up to her words. The BAU was in turmoil.

No longer could I sit back. Strauss had called a war, and I was ready to fight.

To win this war, I needed a battle plan. Hotch was being attacked through pressure. Somehow, some way, I had to relieve that. It had become my duty. Options and ideas flew through my head, but only one would work. The plan I hated most. The only obstacle was the fact that I had to lose a battle to myself, a battle of my ethics. Lose the battle, win the war.

I tried to prepare myself, but it was no use. Already I knew what must be said, and I knew what must be done. It was of no use to avoid the inevitable.

My heart was the battle drum as I marched to her office. Arriving all too quickly, my stomach started to want to mutiny, and my brain was screaming to run. Swallowing hard, I ignored them. The good of the team was the commander of my army of one now.

"Come in." was the reply to my knock, squashing my hope that she wasn't there.

"Ah, Agent Prentiss." She had looked up only long enough to identify me.

"Agent Strauss."

"What are you here for?"

The words tasted horrible before I even said them.

"I wanted to talk to you."

She raised her head to meet my eyes.


"The BAU."

Her badly suppressed level of happiness at that statement matched my level of hidden repulsion.

"Sit down please. What exactly do you wish to discuss?"

"I came here to ask you a question."


Her glee seemed to be growing slightly, even though she still tried to give the appearance of surprise.

"Yes. I would like to ask you about your offer, and if it was still available."

"I believe I asked you about that almost two months ago. You refused."

"I did then. I wish to help you now though."

"Why is that?"

I took a deep breath and hoped that I could make this work.

"Because I now see that refusing your offer was a foolish decision on my part."

I tried to make it sound believable, but how can something be believable if the person saying it doesn't even believe it?

"Really? And why should I accept your offer? Something changed your mind, but why should mine be changed?" She asked.

Nearly choking on the words, I forced them out, praying that my mother's diplomatic genes passed onto me.

"Agent Strauss, my access will be more valuable than that of another agent who pops in every now and then. I work with Agent Hotchner. And, I now realize that I was foolish to not realize how I should have chosen to help you."

Did I just say that? How could I have said such an atrocity? Had I in a few short minutes become a master of deception enough to deceive not only Strauss but myself? It was I who had sworn that the words I had just uttered would never pass my lips. Was I turning into an unrecognizable monster?

Strauss took her time in considering her decision. She seemed to enjoy seeing me in wait in pain for her answer. Hours must have passed before she spoke again.

"Agent Prentiss, I will accept your offer of help."

I sighed. Relief coursed through my body.

"Will you quit monitoring us?" I asked timidly.

What a waste it would be if I had betrayed myself for nothing.

"I'll stop." She said testily causing my relief to slowly be replaced by uneasiness. "Onto other matters…"

I knew it was coming, her true request. She would want me to sabotage something probably, screw up a case and make it look like Hotch. Unluckily for her, that was never going to happen. If I was able to fool her into thinking I was on her side, how much harder would it be to fool her into thinking I was actually helping her? It's not like I had never seen it; my mother and her colleagues had done it lots of times.

"I would like you to provide me with some information about Agent Hotchner."

The air froze for a split second. I heard her wrong; she didn't just ask that.

"Excuse me?"

"I have some questions about Agent Hotchner that I would like you to answer."

"Don't… don't you have other agents who have been working on that?"

"Those agents who have been monitoring the BAU aren't able to tell me as much. You said your access was better, Agent Prentiss. You'll know more."

I had to run, but I was stuck. This wasn't right; she wasn't supposed to ask me this. Did I have the ability to bluff my way out of this?

"Agent Prentiss?"

Not likely. She knew she had caught me off guard. She knew I was trapped, and she was using it.

The room suddenly felt like it had transformed into a prison, and I, the prisoner, was there for torture. A long gory torture.

After that afternoon, I had a lot of sympathy for Hotch and Morgan and what their interviews must have felt like. Strauss wanted to know everything about every case I had worked on, but we mercifully only had time for a few. What some of the details meant, I do not know. All I cared was about getting out, and escaping to the sanctuary of my desk.

When I was released, I was at first relieved. But as my eyes fell upon the sight of the BAU, I quickly became miserable. I, Emily Prentiss, was a traitor.

It felt wrong to be in the bullpen. In the past weeks, I had come to terms with the fact that I was never supposed to be in the BAU, but now was a whole other story. I had gone against the team. What did it matter that I didn't want to do it? What did it matter that I regretted having to? What did it matter that I saw no other alternative to fight Strauss? I had still done it.

Everything about me felt dirty and tainted. I was trying to convince myself that I had done this for the team, and never did I want to do this or mean harm to anyone. I had sided with Strauss only to relieve the pressure on my team, but what if this did backfire? This plan had been so risky; it didn't even work. I couldn't lie as easily about what we had done, especially since she knew enough that she would be able to see a lie. What had I done?

I had been so stupid; I thought I could just waltz in there and tell Strauss I would help her. She was supposed to be happy that I would do it, lift some of the pressure off the team, and then let me go. What would my miscalculation cause?

Of the plethora of horrid emotions making their home in the pit of my stomach, one stood out. One that shouldn't have been there. Relief. Why? Why now? I wasn't supposed to be relieved from this. Guilty, ashamed, scared, anything like that, but not relieved. And yet, I knew where this relief came from. Such a sick, sick corner of my mind. A little part of my brain was saying that now if anything happened to Hotch, I might be okay. I might still be in the BAU.

That idea caused me to stop where I was. It was proof of my betrayal and of the metamorphosis I was going through. I was becoming a monster, something that I even hated. The pain of the change made me want to puke, cry, kick, scream, anything to relieve this hurting. I wanted to run from my body and leave it here. Just as long as I never had to return.

I sat down in my desk beside Morgan. He still looked unhappy, making me wonder how things had gone with Hotch after I left. Hotch was losing confidence in himself. It was scary; I never thought someone could shake Hotch that much. He had seemed like a pillar of strength, adamant in his decisions. Now, he was questioning himself and his abilities.

What was I going to do now? Strauss would be expecting more information. What would I say? How long could I keep this charade up? Surely Strauss would need some time before going to the director, but was now the time to warn Hotch? Could he handle it? Would it be too much of a blow after what she's already done to him?

I sighed into my hands. The urge to run had only intensified since I was outside Strauss's door. I was free from her, but not from the anger I felt at myself. How many times had I sworn I would not get involved in politics? When I was little, I vowed never to be my mother. She had played these games, and I had seen people get burned from them. There was only one person who I wanted to see burned, and that was Strauss. How would have to be determined later.

Not wanting to think about more plans, I buried myself in paperwork but not for long as something else caught my attention.

Strauss was walking down to Hotch's office again. My blood turned cold, and my heart might have stopped. Morgan looked up concerned. He was scared, and I was nervous. She promised she'd quit. She had promised. What was she going to do now?

The next few minutes were agony as we listened to their conversation. My heart plummeted when I realized that it wasn't an average conversation. It was a battle in full swing. Information was limited as the shouting came out muffled through Hotch's closed door. Suddenly, the barrier burst open to reveal an enraged Strauss attempting to leave the office with Hotch following her.

"Why can't we go to Los Angeles?"

"I already told you, Agent Hotchner. I feel the Bureau should not allow your team to go to Los Angeles because you are not adequate enough."

"Adequate enough? We are the most elite profiling team in the world! Is that not adequate enough?"

"You have lost three agents. Your team is severely understaffed."

Strauss was obviously trying to maintain her air of professionalism, but that was slowly fading.

"Agent Gideon retired, and Agents Reid and Jareau are on an undercover mission for us."

"Lot of good that's been doing. They've been under for what, two months? What do you have to show for it? They have not gotten the guy yet have they?"

Strauss had become almost hysterical by the time she had taken a cheap shot at Hotch with that remark. The whole bullpen stopped moving. No one could believe Strauss had said that. Hotch's anger at that statement was immense enough that it was almost tangible.

"You want us to catch the guy? Fine! Pressure will bring him out. By ten o'clock tonight, a news report on this story will be running on every major station. In the next few days we'll have him in custody."

Morgan and I exchanged looks. Airing a report would possibly put all the work of the last few months in jeopardy. Hotch was being almost irrational.

Strauss stalked away from his office. I sat in stunned silence. She had lied to me. Strauss had said she would quit interfering with the BAU if I helped her. I had sat in front of her desk, trying to stare at anything but the vile woman in front of me for what felt like years. The whole time was wasted now when she had betrayed me, and stressed Hotch to the point of a rash decision.

I swore I could feel Strauss doing a victory dance.


Chapter 6: Anger

POV: Hotch

"How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the cases of it." Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

I gazed down to Morgan and Prentiss in the bullpen. They seemed shocked at what had just happened, but pure fury kicked that out of my mind.

"Morgan, Prentiss! Conference room, five minutes!" I ordered.

I didn't care how sharp or mean I sounded today. My new goal was to prove to Strauss that my team was the best. She wasn't going to defeat me; I wouldn't let her.

I whipped out my cell phone and began dialing as I headed toward my office.


"JJ, I need you to leave now."


"JJ, leave now. Get Reid as well."

"Hotch, what's going on?" She sounded scared and confused at my tone of voice. A little part of me was starting to feel bad about being so commanding, but I figured I'd deal with that later.

"Just call me back when you and Reid can."

I hung up, fuming at the slowness of this. It was already 3:30 p.m. We'd have to hurry to make it by six. If we didn't, we'd have to wait for the ten o'clock news.

When I arrived in the conference room, Morgan and Prentiss were there with the same worried looks on their faces.

"Garcia's coming over with a list of the men JJ and Reid narrowed it down to." Morgan said quietly.


"Hotch, don't do this. They have it down to about ten guys, we don't need to-"

"Morgan, don't try to take my job." I replied through gritted teeth.

"Hotch, this isn't about your job. This is about putting an innocent couple in unnecessary danger." Morgan sounded truly wounded by my words.

"If we run the news story, his need will escalate. He's going to try to kill again." Prentiss reminded me.

"Don't you think that I know that already?"

"Yes sir, but-" Prentiss looked stung at my words.

"How many men are there, ten? We'll stake out their homes, watch them over the next few days."

"And if that doesn't work?" Morgan asked, looking like he didn't know whether he would get a reprimand or an answer.

I was trying to assure myself of the plan, but Morgan's question had a lot of validity. It was risky; there was a good chance it wouldn't work. However, it was the quickest way to go, and even if we didn't get him from surveillance, he'd be more apt to make a mistake from the pressure. Either way we'd get something. Something that would help take that look off of Strauss's face.

Garcia then walked into the conference room with one of her many laptops, saving me from having to state this to Morgan and Prentiss.

"What do you need sir?"

"How many men are JJ and Reid down to?"

I saw her eyes widen at my sharper than usual tone.

"Uh, nine sir."

"What do you have on them?"

"Excuse me?"

"What information?" I said, not trying to control my temporary lack of patience.

"Nothing, nothing incriminating." She stammered.

"Fine, we'll watch them all."

My cell phone began ringing. I saw Garcia look from Morgan to Prentiss, confused.


"Hotch, we're leaving now."

"What's going on?"

Reid and JJ were on speaker phone in what sounded like a car.

"We're running a story tonight."

"On our case?"


"Hotch, why? That will only-"

"Reid, I know. That will bring him out. That's what we're trying to do. If we bring him out, we'll get more information." I explained, struggling again to hide as much of my anger and frustration as possible. "JJ, I need you to create the story to run. Get it out to the local news stations and the Annapolis stations. We're coming down there. We're going to be staking out the homes of the nine men still on the list."

"Yes sir."

"Wheels up in thirty minutes." I ordered as I hung up.

Once on the plane, I sat back and tried to let go of the tension that had consumed me in the last few days. Haley had been noticing something was wrong, but I didn't need to worry her. Not now, and not with the possibility of losing my job.

I had never thought Strauss would be allowed to get away with such things. Almost everyone in our department had to know about all the things she had done by now. But, what could they say? What could the do? Strauss was their boss as well, and standing up to her was looking more like a dangerous thing with each passing day.

I could hear soft voices coming from the front half of the plane. My team was talking about me; I didn't blame them. The things I had said and done were unjustly mean, but I would worry about seeking their forgiveness later. Probably when Strauss had quit messing with our team. Hopefully that was soon.

The rest of the plane ride I passed by thinking of ways to stop Strauss, but nothing came to mind. I knew that getting this guy would certainly help us, so I decided to put my fullest efforts into it.

I was standing in the Parsippany police station, putting the finishing touches on our plan.

Reid and JJ had met us there, and while everyone had been happy to see them again, I quickly put an end to their reunion. They had been organized into teams, given their guy and headed out. I was now working with Anita Walshloger, the Parsippany police chief.

"Okay, so from us we have Morgan and Prentiss, in one car, and Reid and JJ in another car. They already left. I'll go by myself in a different car." I stated. "Can you give us six more teams to watch the other men?"

"Yeah, I can arrange for that. Can you give me a half hour?"

I looked my watch, 6:00 p.m. It was getting short on time, but I nodded.

I looked around and saw a television close by. The words carried over enough for me to hear them.

"In other news, there is a report of a serial killer affecting the Annapolis area. This man goes after young couples in that area, but he is believed to be from Parsippany. Authorities are saying that he has been doing this for at least three years now. FBI agents have been assisting local authorities with this case, and anyone with information is urged to call them at the number on the screen."

The news was out, and the pressure was on. Our plan had begun.

"Okay, tonight, what we're looking for is this man leaving his home not to long after you get there, and coming back very late at night. There is a possibility that he will not strike tonight, but it is very likely that he will in the next few days." I explained to the cops in front of me. "Any questions?"

Thankfully they had none. I nodded to Garcia. She had come along so that she would be more ready to provide with us as much information as possible about these men.

"Our analyst has the files ready. If you have any questions, or notice something, call her or one of our agents, and they'll help you." I ordered.

I drove for about ten minutes before settling for a few houses down from 830 10th Avenue, home of Rick Stranford. He was 47, and according to the notes provided by Reid, fit the profile well, but Reid still had had little contact with him.

While I usually hated just sitting around waiting, tonight I welcomed it. I was ready to pass the time venting my anger about Strauss, even if it was just to myself.

I still couldn't believe how desperately she wanted me out of the BAU. I had never angered her before; she just one day called me down to her office and said that she considered me a bad leader. What had changed her?

Not letting us go on a case was low, even for Strauss. We could put up with the investigations, and even the monitoring, but stopping us altogether? What was she going to say, we weren't doing our jobs because of me?

What was Strauss even going to do? Go to the director? Could she prove I was a bad leader? I gulped. Now that I had been forced to think about it, I realized that there were lots of things she could use against me. Sometimes even I couldn't stick to the rules, but I hadn't ever done anything to bad, had I? What if the director sided with her?

I had to stop myself from those thoughts. There was no evidence that she was even going to approach the director.

It then dawned on me that she would probably use this running to Parsippany as another black mark against me. She hadn't stopped me, and I was sure that she knew. Catching this guy became all that more important to me, but the night was quiet. Finally, at seven, I called it off I told the others to meet up at the police station

"So, anyone get anything?"

Four sleepy heads shook no.

"Our guy seemed normal. Only came out to put the trash out." Morgan said.

"Same here." Reid said. He had already gone through a cup of coffee, and was well through his second.

"Okay. It didn't seem likely he would be ready to strike last night."

"You think he will tonight?" JJ asked.

"Probably. He won't be able to wait long before striking again."

We were all quiet for a few minutes.

"Morgan, Prentiss, you guys can go to the hotel. Garcia got us rooms, and she's already there. JJ, Reid, I hate to ask this, but can you guys try to go back to Realogy today? I know you've been up all night, but maybe we can try to narrow down the list some more."

I must have been really harsh yesterday because everyone looked surprise at the care I had used in my last statement. I didn't have the energy to put too much thought to this though. All that mattered was that Reid and JJ nodded.

"You owe us for coffee though." JJ said as she and Reid headed back to their house to change clothes.

The rest of us headed back to the hotel. Once inside my room, I collapsed onto my bed and fell into a heavy sleep.

I woke up around four. We got ready and headed back to the station to ready the other teams. JJ and Reid met us there again, but they were nearly falling over from exhaustion.

"Hotch, I don't think we can do it tonight." Reid yawned. "I got a few more notes for you, but that's it."

"Me too." JJ said, blinking her eyes often.

"Okay, we'll get another team to cover for you guys. Go home, get some rest."

They staggered out. A half hour later, we were back at our positions.

The night passed very similarly to the one before. Everything was quiet until my phone rang very close to eleven.


"Hotch, something's up." Garcia quickly responded with apparent agitation.

"What's wrong Garcia?"

"It's Reid and JJ."

"Are they okay?" I asked.

"I'm… I'm not sure." Garcia's voice seemed to tremble just a bit. "One of the cops patrolling in the area called and told me that there was a car at their house."


"The local cops know that that house is Reid and JJ's. And they also know that Reid and JJ are using an SUV that belongs to the police station. The car that I told you about, yeah, it's not theirs."

"Have you tried calling Reid and JJ?" I asked, her apprehension starting to pass onto me.

"I just tried calling JJ, and she didn't answer."

"Are you sure she's not doing something else, Garcia?"

"I called her cell, Reid's cell, their home phone, everything. I can't get a hold of them Hotch."

Garcia's anxiety was becoming more and more evident as she continued to speak. Now I thought she was almost on the brink of crying.

"Okay, calm down, I'll try calling them. Don't worry."

We hung up, and I tried Reid's cell. Nothing. As I tried calling JJ, I moved the car into drive. I figured that if Rick Stranford was our guy, he would have left by now. JJ's cell also didn't pick up. Next I dialed Morgan and Prentiss.


"How close are you guys to Reid and JJ's house?"

"A couple blocks I think. Why?"

"Meet me there."

Garcia had been right. Something was wrong.

When I arrived, Morgan and Prentiss hopped out and met me.

"Hotch, what's going on?" Morgan asked.

"They're not answering their cells or their home phone."

"Could they be at the police station?" Prentiss theorized.

"Garcia's there. She's the one who tried calling first." I explained, allowing the alarm I was feeling to seep into my voice.

"Hotch, are you thinking it's our guy?" Morgan asked catching

"Reid and JJ are a young couple. They work at the HR department of Realogy. So does this guy. I'm sure he knew they were married. They were perfect victims. He could have easily looked up where they lived." I stated, seeing the pieces fall even more into place.

"Why here though? Why didn't he go to Annapolis?" Morgan asked.

"Because of the news report." Prentiss answered.

"We said he was killing in Annapolis. He didn't want to get caught, especially now with the added pressure of the news report so he changed." I supplemented.

"But why didn't one of the other cops say something?" Prentiss demanded.

"We told them to look for a guy who was returning late at night. It's only eleven." I pointed out.

The more and more this added up, the angrier I became with myself. Reid and JJ were in danger because of me. I had let my fury control me, and they were paying for it. Why didn't I realize this could happen?

"So, what are we going to do?" Prentiss inquired.

A muffled yell came from inside. Morgan readied himself to kick down the door, but I stopped him.

"He's desperate. Spook him, and he might do something dangerous. We'll sneak in and corner him. Prentiss call back up." I commanded as I fished out a copy of their house key.

A minute later, we stealthily entered the town house. JJ's voice was the only audible thing. It was scared and nervous.

"You don't need to do this. No one is forcing you to."

"No, I have to. I have to do this."

The other voice belonged to a woman as well. We exchanged puzzled looks. While it was possible that the unsub could have been a woman, it was highly unlikely. We edged up the stairs to where the voices were originating.

"No, you don't have to." JJ soothed.

I wondered why JJ wasn't a profiler. Even we could tell that she was convincing the woman stop, maybe even enough to get her to back down completely.

We approached what I assumed to be JJ's bedroom. I edged up the closest to the door frame. All I could safely see was a bit of JJ's blonde hair.

"Just give me the gun, and we'll talk this out. No one is going to hurt you."

The atmosphere changed in a nanosecond. JJ must have stepped toward the woman.

"No, no you're wrong! I was warned about this!" The woman's voice filled with rage.

"It's okay, it's okay!" JJ was panicking.

I took my chance. Gun drawn, I entered the room.

Two noises came at the same time, one from my hands, one from across the room. The next moment, I was on the floor. My leg had given out from a biting pain that had entered it, a pain I had felt only once before.

I stared down at my thigh as my teeth gritted in pain. Two holes had been formed, an exit and entry wound from the bullet that had just pierced my leg.

I had only been shot once before. It was still when I was in the Seattle field office, and then it was only a shoulder wound. This would be a bit more handicapping, but I was lucky. The woman must have been aiming the gun at JJ, ready to shoot when I entered. She was probably so surprised by me that she moved the gun but ended up shooting almost randomly.

"Hotch, Hotch! You okay?" Morgan asked, kneeling beside me.

I looked up to see Prentiss restraining the woman but sitting her up. She wasn't struggling much because my bullet had grazed her upper shoulder. Nothing more than a small flesh wound; she'd be fine.

"Yeah, I'm going to be fine. I don't think it got my bone, just hurts like hell." I replied with my still teeth clenched in pain.


JJ had momentarily disappeared, but she returned with some towels. I grabbed two of them and began applying pressure to the wounds. Morgan was on his cell, calling for an ambulance.

"She's clean!" Prentiss yelled.

"Nothing else on her? No other weapons?" Morgan asked flipping his phone shut.

Prentiss shook her head.

Morgan and JJ started talking and moving, but I was drifting off. I just wanted to find a nice place to go to sleep for a little while. We had gotten the unsub. All was well. My part was done.

I could hear more yells, but they were further away. They didn't matter; I didn't care. Haley and Jack entered my mind. Haley would be shook up by this. Maybe she'll...-

Massive pain interrupted my little world. At first I thought I had been shot again, and the bullet had gone through my head, but then I realized I had only heard another gun shot. What had happened? What was going on?

Now very alert, I looked in surprise to Prentiss. She stared back in shock, still holding the woman. Morgan and JJ were gone. It felt as if the loudness of the shot had made the rest of the world go quiet. What seemed like hours later, Morgan and JJ started speaking again.

"We need another ambulance!"

Morgan's voice was panic filled and oddly for Morgan, scared. It chilled me to the bone to hear it. JJ's voice could also be heard, but it took me a few minutes to make out her words. Her voice was calm, soothing, but also urgent and gently commanding. When I could understand her repeating words, my fear intensified beyond previously known boundaries.

"Come on Reid, stay with me. Stay awake."


Chapter 7: Numb

POV: Prentiss

"Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it." J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I sat frozen in fear. All I wanted to do was find out what had happened with Morgan and JJ, but I still had to restrain the woman, even though she wasn't struggling. Hotch now seemed alert, after almost passing out. Finally, a shout came out.

"Parsippany Police Department!"

I could hear lots of people moving downstairs.

"It's all clear!" I yelled, wishing they'd hurry up. "We're up here!"

Two men came into the room. One checked Hotch as another hurried over to me.

"The ambulance is still a few minutes out." The one over by Hotch said.

"Right, just keep her restrained." I ordered to the other cop nearly running out of the room.

I ran down the hall where I saw another door. It was open slightly, revealing only JJ's kneeling body. When I entered, the sight glued me to my spot.

In the corner was the body of a man with a bullet hole in his head, eyes wide and now permanently frozen. Closer to the door were JJ and Morgan leaning over Reid who was on the floor. His stomach was covered by what appeared to be two bloodstained towels that JJ was holding down. The floor between the three was also covered in blood.

Reid's face seemed to grow whiter as the puddle grew larger. JJ's eyes and face revealed pure panic while her voice was calm, urging Reid to keep his eyes open. Morgan, who was sitting more towards Reid's head, looked frightened and sounded like it.

"Come on, Reid," Morgan urged, "the cops just got here. The ambulance will be here soon. Just stay awake."

Reid, his breath becoming shorter and harsher, nodded his head slowly before shutting his eyes.

"Reid!" JJ almost yelled.

He snapped them open again, looking intently at JJ. It looked like it was pain just to stay awake. She removed one her hands from his abdomen to grasp Reid's hand in a reassuring way.

"Come on, stay with me." She repeated much more softly and consolingly.

Morgan looked at me, and his eyes screaming. I knew what he was thinking. He wanted to tell Reid it was okay to close his eyes, close them and escape the pain. It would be a lie for me to say I didn't agree with him. But Morgan and I both knew the only thing we could tell him was to stay awake, any way possible.

"Come on Reid, tell us something, anything." Morgan commanded.

"Reid, tell us some statistics!" I yelled.

It took me a moment to realize that I had become unglued. In the shock at what I had seen, I hadn't even tried to think of something. The words just seemed to tumble out of my mouth. Both JJ and Morgan looked surprised at what I had asked, but forgot it when Reid started speaking.

"Only… only 33 agents of the FBI…" He began quietly and with what appeared great difficultly.

"Only 33 agents what Reid?" I asked as I kneeled down beside JJ. I noticed that there was a slash across Reid's upper arm.

"Only 33 FBI agents were… killed in action… in 71 years." He answered.

We all exchanged concerned looks. Reid's eyes closed again.

"Reid, no! Stay awake!" JJ ordered.

"Reid, the ambulance is only a few minutes out, you can make it." I stated.

Reid's eyes fluttered open a little. They were begging us again, agonizingly imploring us to let him shut them.

"Reid, tell us something else. Hey, you never told me how your date with JJ went, come on man, tell me about that." Morgan tried, his voice pleading, nearly trembling.

The first thought that popped into my head after Morgan said that was 'JJ and Reid went on a date?'. However, it disappeared when Reid closed his eyes again. Our protests started up, but it was to no avail. A moment later his body went limp.

Everything in my world stopped. The other numerous sounds were muffled, maybe even nonexistent. My vision became unfocused except for the sight of Reid. Nothing else mattered; there was nothing else to be seen.

Here was the result of my plan, my idea; Reid, lying on the floor, covered in his own blood, fighting to stay alive. I had thought that days ago I been in pain when I had betrayed the team. But that… that didn't compare to now. This was pure agony. I was drowning in my own guilt. I could feel it compressing my lungs, cutting off my air supply as it constricted my throat. Misery engulfed me, surely I wouldn't be able to endure this-

I took a shaky breath. My body had forced me to take the breath, even though I thought I wouldn't be able to. It caused my brain to tune back into the rest of the world slightly. Instead, I blocked out the pain, fearing it would destroy me now.

Because of that, I suddenly felt unable to continue to look at the effect of my actions. I turned my face up and saw the ever calm, collected face of Jennifer Jareau stained with silent tears. Morgan looked crushed and unable to peer away from Reid's pale, still face. He too was clenching one of Reid's hands; it almost appeared that he was trying to give Reid more strength, strength that he would desperately need. They, and their pain, were all I could see now. For only a moment, we sat together in an unspoken hell. It was broken with the arrival of the paramedics.

Quickly JJ and I were pushed to one wall and Morgan the opposite. The paramedics pulled away the towels, and I saw two long, jagged cuts going up and down the left side of Reid's stomach. I glanced over to the corner to see a bloody knife lying beside the man. The urge to vomit, which I had become far too familiar with by now, returned.

JJ then completely broke down into sobs. She looked down to her hands and shirt, only to see them were covered in blood. I put my arms around her shoulders and could only feel the wails shake her entire body. We watched as the paramedics quickly tore away what was left of Reid's shirt.

Morgan was giving one of the three paramedics information about Reid as the others bandaged Reid's stomach. Finally they seemed to think they were ready to take him to the hospital. At his insistence, Morgan helped them lift Reid onto a stretcher. Moments later, Morgan, JJ and I watched as he was wheeled out of the room and down the stairs.

We stood in an unmoving silence for a minute.

"I'm going to tell Hotch." Morgan stated, his voice raw.

He took off. I looked over to JJ, who had quit crying now but was very white in the face. She looked exhausted but determined to stay awake. Gently guiding her, we exited the room.

We continued down the hall, but after that, I lost track of what was really going on. People were moving, saying things, maybe talking to us, but I was numb and unaware. JJ and I were waiting in the foyer when Hotch was wheeled out of the house. Morgan then joined us as we went over to a police car to be escorted to the hospital.

When we got there, the emergency room seemed awfully busy for it being after midnight. Patients, nurses and doctors seemed to be running all over the place.

"JJ, Emily," Morgan began, "I'll talk to the nurse. You guys wait, okay?"

He directed this last part at JJ. As the ride had continued, she had become more and more anxious. Concern was the only emotion she was showing. However, she agreed, and we moved over to the uncomfortable chairs in the only empty corner of the waiting room. JJ plopped down in hers, lost in her own world.

My eyes were on Morgan as he talked to the nurse, but my mind, which had temporarily turned back on, was else where, replaying the events of the last few days again and again. Temporarily, my mind had reopened, and some of my emotions were showing themselves. Was it possible feel this many horrible things at once and not explode? What was stronger out of anger, guilt, sadness, fear…

JJ jerked her head up. She was looking expectant as Morgan walked back over to us, his face contorted in anger.

"They won't tell me anything." He stated shortly.


"Why not?"

"We're not family." He answered sadly.

"We're his co-workers! We're FBI agents!" JJ said angrily.

"I know, but Reid's emergency contact is Hotch." Morgan explained gently.

"A lot of good that will do." JJ remarked cynically.

Morgan nodded and sank down into a chair across from us.

"Did you ask about Hotch?" I inquired.

"I asked, but she didn't tell me anything. No surprise." Morgan replied. "But, he'll be okay. Hotch and Reid, they're both going to be okay." Morgan corrected.

The last part came out more like a hope than statement. I desired with my entire being that Morgan was right. Reid had to be okay. My body began to shudder at the idea if he wasn't...

Morgan jerked his head ever so slightly. While it distracted me from the horrid 'What if...?' game, I was confused about what he was doing. I looked over to JJ. She seemed oblivious as she was staring at the floor, upset from the lack of news. He was speaking to me.


He nodded to JJ's hands. The blood had dried and now didn't seem as menacing, but it was still just as sickening to see.

"JJ, why don't we go clean-"

"We need call Haley. She needs to know." JJ remarked as she lifted her head some.

"Wha- oh. Yeah." I said dumbly.

"JJ, why don't you go clean yourself up? I'll call Haley." Morgan took over.

"What? No. I'm staying here in case something happens." She was adamant.

"JJ, we'll just be in the bathroom." I reminded her.

JJ just shook her head. She then turned away from us to stare at the wall. I looked over to Morgan, pleading 'Help!' with my eyes. He responded by standing up and taking out his cell phone. After moving far enough away that I would have to strain my ears to hear him properly, he began to hit some buttons.


I gave him a confused look, but his expression stated 'Hold on.'

"Yes, this is Morgan… Haley, we went on a raid tonight… Hotch was shot in the thigh on the raid, but he's going to be okay. It was just a flesh wound… No, I'm afraid I don't know… We're at Parsippany General in Parsippany, New Jersey… Okay, Bye."

He turned back to me.

"She's coming down." He mouthed more than said.

I nodded. He started dialing again.

"Penelope? ... I need you to come down to Parsippany General… Something, something happened tonight… Just come quickly, okay? ... Bye."

Morgan's voice sounded constricted as he made this call. He flipped his phone shut. JJ still seemed to be shutting out the world, so we returned to our silent wait.

Minutes must have passed before the doors opened and Garcia came through. She spotted us immediately and rushed over. However, she stopped at the sight of JJ's hands and blouse.

Morgan hurried over to her. They whispered to each other, and then Garcia suddenly came over and wrapped JJ in her arms. Sadly, I saw that the tears had returned to JJ's face. Garcia flashed me a small, quick smile of hello as she pulled her arms away from JJ.

"JJ, come on sweetie, let's go clean you up." Garcia sweetly said.

Whether JJ actually did get up on free will or Garcia made her, I'm not for sure. All I know is JJ and Garcia's special bond was the one thing that finally convinced JJ.

"What happened?" I immediately asked Morgan.

After we had entered the room, Hotch had fallen down from the shot. Morgan and JJ waited until I had gotten the suspect restrained before rushing to help Hotch. I knew something was wrong when I searched the woman and there was no knife to be found. They had run out, JJ grabbing Hotch's gun. The next few moments were still a mystery though.

"We ran into the other room. He must have known something was wrong when he heard the gun shots. When we got there, the cuts... the cuts were already there." Morgan explained sadly. "He was holding Reid up on his knees, his hand over Reid's mouth, and his knife was on Reid's neck. JJ and I ordered him to release Reid. He wouldn't. He threatened to stab Reid again if we tried something. When we wouldn't let up, he moved the knife away from Reid's neck, he was probably going to do it again, and JJ took the shot."

"She's taking this really hard." I remarked after a minute of soaking that knowledge in.

"JJ? Well, they've just been under cover, living as a married couple for two months. If that doesn't make two people close, I don't know what does." Morgan replied slowly.


We looked up to see Garcia coming out of the bathroom.


"Can you see if the gift shop is open or something? JJ needs a different shirt, her other one…" Garcia trailed off.

"Of course." I choked out.

I went off down one of the numerous hallways. My mind wasn't following the signs though. It was telling me, reminding me, of what I had done. How many people I had hurt. The faces of my team began flashing across my eyes.

Suddenly, the images changed to Hotch yelling at us, his anger great; Morgan being summoned to that interview, forced to relive his past; Garcia's and the look of fright upon her face which had occurred so often lately; JJ at the house and in the waiting room, broken and scared; and finally Reid, bleeding, fighting for his life, being rushed to the hospital...

It's because of you. It's all because of what you did.

"I know!" I uttered angrily.

"What ma'am?"

I had arrived at the gift shop/pharmacy. A fairly young man was standing by the shelf that he was stocking up. Apparently I had been trying to silence the voice in my head by speaking aloud.

"Uh, is the gift shop still open?" I asked, hoping to cover my outburst.

"No. But the pharmacy is open 24 hours. What do you need?" He replied kindly

"A shirt for my friend. She… Her other one got really… dirty." I finally stated.

The man must have been working here for a long time. He considered my answer for a moment before pulling out a ring of keys.

"We can open it quick." He said.

Ten minutes later, I had found my way back to the waiting room. Morgan was still alone in the corner of the waiting room. I went straight for the bathroom.

I peeked in. Compared to the hustle and bustle of the previous room, the bathroom was a quiet sanctuary. JJ was leaning over a sink; it was difficult to tell if the tears on her face were new or not. Garcia was gently rubbing her back. Thankfully, the blood was now mostly gone from her hands.

"JJ?" I said approaching her.

She seemed aware of my presence but didn't look up. I touched her shoulder gently.

"JJ? I, uh, got a shirt for you."

She looked up to me and then down to my hands. Slowly, she grabbed it and went into a stall. Garcia let out a sigh before turning to me.

"Reid was stabbed?" She whispered so quietly that at first I thought she had merely mouthed it.

I nodded.

"And Hotch?"

"Shot in the thigh." I whispered back. "He'll be fine."

JJ exited the stall and returned to the sink to wash off the remaining blood. We stood in silence for a minute.

"JJ, you went on a date with Reid?"

The question shot out of my mouth before I could stop it. Garcia looked up in horror, obviously wondering what on Earth possessed me to ask that at this time. However, the next sound changed her look greatly.

JJ laughed. It was a small but genuine laugh. Life suddenly seemed fill her face and eyes again as she turned to me.

"It was a long time ago. Gideon… Gideon gave Reid tickets to a Redskins game." She said wiping some of the not yet dried tears off her face. "It was just a little date. It was fine, but we didn't feel comfortable enough with each other to continue." She gave another laugh. "We had more fun keeping it a secret than the actual date. Reid…" She seemed to struggle to say his name. "Reid and I were joking about it the other night."

The tears looked like they might return, and I started to regret my question again.

"Emily, Reid… he told me the profile a hundred times, but was this right? Did everything work?" JJ asked, her eyes wide. "Or did we screw up?"

I hadn't thought about the case, the unsubs or anything really BAU related in what felt like hours. It suddenly came back to me; the man with the knife, the woman with the gun, Reid's shoulder slashed, the woman being forced to do it…

"Did you recognize the man?" I responded.

"Yes. He works at Realogy in the HR department. The woman, she's a realtor, with Realogy."

The pieces fit together.

"They were a team. The male was probably the dominant personality. He probably forced the woman into it. She helped him get into the house and control the wife. We had the profile right. We just hadn't expected a team. There was no prior evidence to suggest it." I answered.

"So, we were pretty much right?" JJ stated more than asked. "The profile was right?"

"Yeah." I replied sadly, knowing what JJ was thinking; if we were right, how did this happen?

"Morgan's probably getting worried." Garcia suddenly stated, probably trying to get us off the morbid subject. "Let's go back."

The following hours were passed in soundless agony. Afraid of any more outbursts, I stalled the feelings just beneath the surface of my mind. Thankfully, I found that waiting could delay these emotions. I was determined to keep only two things on my mind, Reid and Hotch.

Finally, at about 3:30, a new voice emerged.

"Morgan? Emily?"

We snapped out of group doze to see Haley standing before us. Jack, still in his pajamas, was asleep with his head on her shoulder.

"Haley." Morgan stood up and went over to her.

"What's going on?" She asked, obviously nervous.

"We don't know. The hospital won't tell us anything…" Morgan led her over to the front desk.

We watched as she talked to a nurse, who led her down a hall. Morgan came back over to us.

"Nurse said Hotch was okay."

We all breathed a sigh of relief before returning to the waiting game. Another half hour passed before the Hotchners came out from a closed ward. Hotch was hobbling on a pair of crutches. Morgan immediately went over to assist him as the rest of us tried to find a good spot for him to sit down. After some awkward movements, Hotch was settled down into a chair with the rest of us.

"How you doing Hotch?" Morgan asked.

"Fine. They gave me something for the pain, I'll be fine. I'll have to be on the crutches for a few weeks, though. The bullet went straight through, just hit some muscle." He replied. "How's Reid?"

"We don't know." JJ replied.

"They won't tell us anything. They need to talk to you first." I explained when Hotch began to retort.

He nodded and began to get up. Everyone began to protest.

"Sit down Hotch!"

"Stay there!"

"I have to find out what's going on with Reid." He replied, still struggling against his crutches, Morgan, and Haley, each with a hand on one of his shoulders.

"Hotch, just give me your badge." Morgan finally commanded. Hotch fished it out and handed it over. Morgan took off.

"Aaron, we should-"

"Haley, I'm not going home." Hotch replied stubbornly.

"Hotch, you were just shot." Garcia reminded him quietly.

"Reid is my agent. I'm staying." He reaffirmed.

Haley gave an exasperated sigh. Morgan then came over with the nurse.

"Agent Hotchner?"


"Agent Reid is in surgery."

The tension that we had all been experiencing relented, just for a moment. We all took that moment to relish this, but we quickly had to return back to the hospital waiting room.

"Is he okay? Is he stable?" Hotch questioned.

"All I know is he's in surgery. When I get more information, I'll tell you more." She replied before heading back to the desk.

Reid was alive. Surgery meant that he was alive and that the doctors were working on him, but he still wasn't in the clear. Remembering that, the numbness of waiting settled back in.

The minutes began to feel like hours, seconds like minutes. Every time there was some sort of movement from the nurses, we all looked up expectantly. Every time, they went to some other group or person.

Around 6:30, Hotch and I were the only ones mostly awake. JJ, Garcia, and Morgan, while not completely asleep, were in very heavy dozes while Haley and Jack were out cold. Jack was now sitting slumped against Hotch in his lap. Hotch was almost absent-mindedly rubbing his back, staring into space.

I got up cautiously, attempting not to disturb anyone as I made my way over to the chair next to Hotch.

"Hotch." I whispered.

He broke out of his trance and turned to face me, moving just as carefully to not disrupt Jack.


"Are you sure you don't want to leave? We'll be okay, Hotch." I was attempting one more time. None of us had been okay with him being here, but the others felt it futile to try to persuade him.

"Prentiss, Reid-"

"Yes, he's your agent, but let us take care of this Hotch. We can handle it." I tried.

Hotch seemed to consider this a moment before sighing. He then continued on in a weary manner.

"You sound just like Haley. You heard us squabble I suppose."

Hotch and Haley were sitting farther apart from us so that they could have more room. Shortly after we had gotten the news about Reid, Hotch and Haley had had a noticeable heated discussion. Tactfully, we looked away until it had ended, but it had shaken me. They couldn't be having marital troubles, not now. Even after it ended and Haley had gone to sleep, I still felt uneasy.

"Don't worry about it." Hotch replied, guessing my thoughts. "Haley… sometimes she just gets uneasy about our job, and then the mood swings don't help any."

His last statement made my heart stop. She couldn't be… not now…

"Mood swings?"

"Oh, I suppose I forgot to tell you guys with what's been going on." Hotch began, causing my stomach to prickle uncomfortably. "Haley's pregnant. She's due in March."

"Con…Congratulations." I finally managed, along with what was supposed to be cheery smile.

That little bit of information opened the floodgate, and my put off feelings came poring in. I wanted an escape, but numbness could no longer fulfill it. Nothing was going to save me from the anguish that was inside me.

I had wanted to run from Strauss's office. I wanted to run from the BAU. I wanted to run away from everything many times in the last several weeks. Every time I had stayed, not by will but because I knew I had to.

But this… and what it meant… I couldn't stay. Not this time.

I ran.


Chapter 8: Truth

POV: Hotch

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple." Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895, Act I

"Prentiss, Prentiss!" I tried to say as loud as was appropriate.

She had just run out of the emergency room without an explanation, where to, I have no idea.

Jack then began to move his head slightly, causing me to quit squirming. I saw that he wasn't the only one stirring.

"Hotch? Everything okay?" JJ asked.

"Yeah, go back to sleep-"

"Agent Hotchner?"

We both turned to see an older man, still in an operating uniform, coming towards us. I shook Haley awake before I put Jack in her lap and hurried over to the doctor as fast as the crutches would allow. In the corner of my eye I could see JJ shaking the others awake.

"Yes Sir?" I asked, approaching him a distance from the others.

"You're Agent Hotchner?" He clarified.


"Hi, my name is Dr. John Zeiderman." He said. "I was the doctor in charge of the surgery for Agent Reid."

He stuck his hand out but pulled it back when he saw the crutches.

"Bad night I see."

"How is Reid?" I asked, almost completely ignoring his other statement.

"He's going to be fine."

My body sagged in relief.

"The surgery went very well. We just got finished. Both of the wounds penetrated very deeply; he was bleeding internally in several organs, and in the process, lost a large amount of blood."

"He's okay though?" I questioned again, his diagnosis proving to be more than unsettling to me.

"Yes. We repaired the damage as best as we could. He's going to be in the hospital for at least a few days, and he's going to have a good amount of pain for a while, but in the long run, he should heal nicely."

By then, exhaustion had replaced all the tension that I had been feeling, and I was finding it harder and harder to concentrate.

"When can we see him?"

"He's still in recovery. It'll be about another hour or two before he'll be moved to a room."

I nodded, feeling a little dispirited.

"If you wish, you and your other agents can be moved to a different waiting room, one that's closer to where Agent Reid's room will be."

"Yes, all right."

I didn't even really know what I was saying. Reid was okay. That's all I could think about. Guilt still forced itself upon me, but it all suddenly became so much more bearable.

"Okay, I'll ask a nurse to escort you. It might be a few minutes."

He walked off, and I returned to the others who were waiting anxiously.

"He's okay. The surgery's over."

A unanimous breath of relief was let out.

"Can we see him?" JJ asked excitedly.


Every face began to look crestfallen.

"Not yet. He's still in recovery. But we can when he comes out in another hour or two. We're going to go to a different waiting room. We'll be closer." I explained.

Everyone's mood lifted again. A nurse came over to us.

"If you will all follow me."

The new waiting room was very different compared to the emergency room. It was very quiet, and everything felt much more inviting. I collapsed down into a chair, trying hard to ignore the pain that was starting to multiply in leg and my head. Leaning back, I closed my eyes, feeling grateful that a burden had been lifted off of me. Reid was okay; that was all I needed to know for now.


I reopened my eyes to see Morgan standing right in front of me.

"Where's Prentiss?"

I had completely forgotten Prentiss's abrupt exit. What had happened? Where had she gone?

"I don't know. She came over and started asking me if I wanted to leave, and then we started talking. Suddenly she just got up and left." I replied.

"She didn't say where she was going, or what she was going to do?" Morgan asked, surprised at my answer.

I shook my head tiredly. Morgan looked confused.

"That doesn't sound like her."

"I know. But she must have had a good reason for leaving." I replied.

Morgan nodded, and, seeing that I was almost passing out, left me. I shut my eyes and closed off the rest of the world.

Someone was shaking me. It was Haley.

"Aaron? You fell asleep."

"What time is it?" I asked groggily.

"About 8. The nurse just came back. She said that they're moving Reid to his room now."

Suddenly I remembered everything. For a few blissful minutes, I was in another world where nothing seemed to matter.


This was a different voice. Morgan, Garcia, and JJ were all standing in front of me.

"Hotch, we were talking. You need to go home and get some sleep." Morgan began.

"I've got to see Reid-"

"Which is why we want you to go first." JJ finished. "We'll stay with him. Just say hi, and then go home. We'll be okay."

I looked to each of them, realizing that I really had no say in this matter. But for once, it wasn't too bad not being in charge.


They all relaxed, apparently expecting a bigger fight.


A young nurse appeared behind us. Slowly I got up.

"If you'll follow me."

The walk was luckily short as the nurse only led us down one hallway. When she arrived to a room, she opened the door, and I entered.

Reid was the only occupant in the small room. An IV was attached his right hand along with two ID bracelets around his wrist. A different IV carried blood to his body through his left arm, and I could see wires coming from underneath his hospital gown and leading to the heart monitor. The covers were pulled up past his waist, and he was sleeping.

Another nurse was standing beside his bed and writing down something on a chart. When she saw me, she gently shook Reid's shoulder.

"Sir, someone's here to see you."

Reid blearily opened his eyes and looked around. Finally they settled on me.

"Hey Hotch."

His voice was quiet, raspy and exhaustion filled. He turned his head towards me, but he seemed unable to move his torso. I limped forward on my crutches.

"Hey Reid. How are you feeling?"

"Fine. I'm just really tired." He replied. "Where are the others?"

"Just outside the door. I'm not going to stay for long." I replied sadly.

While I knew that Reid was going to be okay, I wanted to stay. Some irrational part of seemed to think that if I left he might not be, but I knew I couldn't stay.

"I'm going to go home, but I'll be back as soon as I can."

Reid nodded. "What happened to you?"

"Nothing, I'm fine. I took a little shot to the leg, but I'll be fine. It's you we were worried about."

Reid turned a little red with embarrassment, but then he got serious.

"I heard the doctors talking. They said I had surgery. Did everything go okay?" He asked.

"Yeah. You're going to be fine. They said that you had some pretty major internal bleeding, but you're gonna be okay."

As I was saying this, Reid had raised his hand slightly and gingerly touched the injured section of his torso, giving an expression of pain when he made contact. I gave a grimace as well, wishing that he didn't have to go through this.

A somewhat awkward silence in which the only sounds to be heard were the beeping of the machines and the departure of the nurse could be heard.

"His name is Nick Weiman."


"The unsub. He's Nick Weiman. He works in the HR department and he's 45." Reid replied.

I finally realized that Reid was talking about the case, something that I hadn't thought about in hours. Morgan had told me everything that had happened after I had been shot, but I didn't want to think about it now.

"Reid, you're in the hospital. You're on sick leave. Don't think about work."

"He was one of the men we were watching. Usually he was very shy, but sometimes he would open up. I was talking to him yesterday. He saw me yawning and asked if I had had a late night with… Dana." Reid said with a small laugh.

It was one the absurdist things to hear, but it delighted me. It delighted me just to hear Reid laugh, to know that he was going to be okay. I laughed along with Reid. Looking back towards the door, I could see JJ anxiously waiting through the window.

"She really wants to see you."


"Yeah." Exhaustion was catching up with me, and I wouldn't be able to hold out much longer, and with great dread I continued. "I'm going to go, but I promise I'll be back later."

"Hotch, it's okay. I'll be fine." Reid replied sounding tired but firm.

"You sure?"

He shook his head yes.

"Get some rest then, okay?"

I was about to give his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, but seeing the other bandage over his upper right arm, I decided against it. Instead, I retreated to the group outside the door.

JJ barely waited for me to leave before entering herself. The others followed closely behind. Smiling, I turned and followed Haley out.

For the three hours home and for almost five hours after, I was dead to the world. When I woke up, Haley was beginning to make dinner.

"Hey, you're awake." She said happily as I came down to the kitchen. "How are you feeling?"

"Good, a lot better now." I replied giving her a little peck on the cheek. "Has anyone called?"

"About Reid? No."

"Okay. Well, I'm going to go to the BAU."

Haley turned around.

"Aaron, we just got home from the hospital. Don't be thinking about going back to work."

"I'm not. I just need to pick up some forms, but I'll bring them home."

She didn't believe me.

"Haley, what time will dinner be ready?"

"About 6." She replied testily.

"Okay, I promise you I'll be back in time to enjoy a quiet dinner with you and Jack." I bargained.

"You promise?"


"Are you sure you can drive?"

"Haley, she got me in my left thigh. I push the pedals with my right leg."

She sighed but gave in. I gave her another little peck on the cheek before heading out.

I arrived to find the bullpen mildly full of activity. It was late afternoon, and most people had either gone home or were on a case somewhere.

My office was exactly the way I left it. I couldn't believe that I had been standing here only 48 hours ago. So much had happened, it seemed impossible. After grabbing what I needed, I made my way towards the elevator, but seeing a person in the bullpen stopped me.

"Prentiss!" I called.

She looked up in utmost surprise, obviously not expecting anyone from the team to come back to the BAU. However, finding Emily here wasn't the biggest surprise for me. Tears were, or had been, streaming down her face.

"Hotch?" She asked weakly.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, trying to make my way over to the stairs.

She leapt up and came up the stairs to meet me instead. Suddenly, she seemed to become aware of what was on her face. Trying to wipe the tears away, she looked away, but it was no use.

"Prentiss, why don't we go talk in my office?"

She looked reluctant but followed me all the same.

I was nervous about what she was going to tell me. She hadn't been on this job long, but I knew that she was the kind of person who didn't break down at what she saw, who didn't cry often. What had caused her to do so now?

"Prentiss, what are you doing here?" I asked again as we sat down.

"I… I didn't know where else to go." She sounded like she had a cold. "I didn't want to be home alone, so I came here. Besides, I'm… never mind."

She was distracted and unable to look me in the eye. My nervousness intensified.

"Prentiss, why did you leave?" I tried cautiously.

"I couldn't… I couldn't take it." She replied quietly.

"Take what?"

She finally looked up. Fresh tears were streaming down her face.

"Hotch, it's time you learned the truth."

Her voice was painfully small and frightened. I began to panic slightly.

"You were right from the beginning Hotch. There was something strange about my appearance to the BAU. Strauss planted me."

My insides froze. Strauss had been plotting against me that long? How big was her scheme? However, my questions were put on hold as Prentiss continued her story.

"She told me in May. She said that I needed to repay her, and to do that, I would have to help her get rid of you." Prentiss's voice was getting slightly stronger now.

"What did you say?"


My insides had been momentarily warmed by Prentiss's loyalty but quickly refroze at the situation we were in. That didn't add up. Prentiss was awfully calm about how she said that.

"Did she threaten you or do something?" I asked cautiously.

"She said that if I didn't help her, she would end my career." Prentiss replied, still surprisingly calm.

"She can't do that. At the very least, she needs a good reason." I immediately stated.

"That's what I've been hoping."

My respect for Prentiss and her strength grew immensely.

"Anyway, after I told her no, she said that turmoil was coming to the BAU, and that you might not be the only person to go down." She paused for a moment "Gideon left a couple days after that, and then we went to Annapolis." The tears now seemed to increase. "Strauss was how I got the idea for the undercover mission."

"You mean…?"

"Strauss wanted to use me as her own undercover mission. Why wouldn't it work with Reid and JJ? And the plan worked even better because it got Reid and JJ out of the BAU."

"And out of possible harm from Strauss." I concluded

Prentiss nodded.

"Then, everything began to change."

"The interviews, monitoring…" I added.

"and we began to get put under so much pressure."

Embarrassment came knocking at my door from that. I had a lot of making up to do. However, Prentiss's skip from letting a few tears fall down her cheeks to almost completely bawling made me forget about that.

"Hotch, I'm sorry. I never meant to betray you, and I never meant to hurt you. I never meant any of it."

"Prentiss, it's okay." I soothed.

"No, it's not." She almost yelled. "What I did…"

"Prentiss, what happened?" I asked apprehensively.

"I… I went back to Strauss, and I told her I would help her."

The air was very possibly sucked out of the room.


"I told her I would help her." Prentiss repeated. "I never meant it. I thought that if she knew she had me, then she would let the pressure up on you. Quit the monitoring, let us go on cases, quit the interviews, all of it. She wouldn't need those if she had me. Hotch, I swear, I never meant it. I just wanted her to get off our backs for a little bit; she could pressure me instead and give us some more time to figure something out."

I nodded, still too dumbfounded to speak.

"She promised me that she would quit the monitoring. But she still went to your office and told you that we couldn't go on the case. It's all my fault Hotch. It's all my fault that Reid was stabbed."

"What? That wasn't-"

"Yes, it was." She reaffirmed. "Hotch, if I had never thought of the undercover mission, Reid would never have been in a position to be stabbed."

"You didn't betray me or the team, and you are not responsible for what happened to Reid."

She looked down in what appeared to be shame. Tears dripped down to her lap, and I searched around on my desk for a box of Kleenexes.

"Hotch, I helped Strauss. When I told her I would help her, I thought she would ask me to hurt one of our cases and blame you. But… she didn't. She asked me questions about you."

"What about?" I asked, even though the question seemed quite unimportant in the scheme of things. "My past mistakes, my other blunders?"

"Not exactly."

I jerked my head up. Strauss once again wasn't adding up.

"She asked me more about you in general. What I knew about you from in the time I had been working here." Prentiss explained, looking confused about what it all meant.

My brain suddenly began whirring, and a realization hit me.

"Prentiss, when did you talk to her?" I questioned softly.

"Right after you told us we couldn't go to LA."

Right before I ordered a disastrous stakeout. My mind went into an overdrive of a memory with Gideon, something that he told every team member before he left.

'Deadliest weapon we have is a thorough and accurate profile.'

That's what she wanted Prentiss for. Prentiss was to get my profile so that Strauss could use it against me. The words that Strauss had used, they had been the exact catalyst needed to push me into making that call. Surely that wasn't coincidental.

Guilt washed over me. I had played into Strauss's trap. She got me. This was going to be hard to try to justify. Who would truly believe me or care what I have to say? An agent had been taken down by a foolish move. That's all anyone would see. Strauss had been careful to cover her tracks; none of this could really be pinned on her. Prentiss, however much she truly hadn't wanted to, had consented. Strauss had pushed me, but I made the decision. She was one smart…

I then realized that I wasn't the only one who had figured out her plan.

"Hotch, she…? She used me to…? Oh, I'm sorry Hotch. I'm so sorry. I could have hurt so many people. I could have hurt your family, I could have gotten any of us killed…" She started ranting.

Even though there was a multitude of words coming out of her mouth that I could have concentrated on, I chose instead a set of words that she told me a long time ago.

'I think politics makes people distrustful. I think it makes them hate themselves. I think it tears families apart and damages people.'

Her words had come true. She no longer trusted herself or her decisions, and at the moment, Prentiss sure wasn't pleased with her self. It made sense now why she had run after I told her that Haley was pregnant; the idea that she could have hurt my family to the point of an unborn child must have been too unsettling. Damages people, the team…

"Hotch, she's coming back tonight, I have to tell her I'm not going to help her. I can't let something else happen. I can't let someone else get hurt." She said incredibly fast.

She had almost made it to the door before I stopped her. The shock of the last ten minutes had severely slowed down my reflexes.

"Emily, listen to me."

The mood in the room changed. She stood frozen at the door. I had never called her Emily before, and she didn't know what to expect.

"You did not cause this, any of this. Strauss is the person behind this, not you. Do not beat yourself up."

"Hotch, how can you say that? What I did-"

"Was in many ways, admirable."

She looked like I had hit her over the head with a club.


"You tried to protect the team on two occasions. You were loyal to us, even when you were threatened with your career."

"Hotch, you can't condone what I did." She replied quietly, looking at the floor.

"I'm not happy with how some things turned out," I admitted sourly, "but I am pleased, very pleased, with the intentions that you had."

Prentiss looked up for just a moment before returning her gaze back to the floor.

"Prentiss, what's happened in the last two days? Have you had any contact with Strauss?"

She shook her head no.

"Strauss has been in San Diego for a conference for the last two days. She left the same night we put out the news story."

"And she's coming back tonight?"

Prentiss nodded.

"And that's why you were here?" I asked, the final piece coming together.

She nodded again.

"I wanted to tell her what happened in Parsippany, even though she probably knows already." Prentiss replied. "She should be back soon. I've got to tell her that I won't help her anymore."

She headed towards the door again.

"Prentiss, wait!"

"Yes sir?"

"Prentiss, even if you quit helping her, Strauss is going to come after me."

"I know." She replied quietly.

"So why don't we use what we have?" I asked.

"Excuse me?"

"Prentiss, you are the closest link we have to Strauss and what she's going to do."

"Sir, you want me to be your informant?" She asked almost wryly.

"Um, I suppose." A part of me gave a tiny chuckle inside my brain at the irony of the situation. Prentiss had the expression that somewhere inside, a bit of her was giving a small smile. "Could you try to find out why she is coming after me, or what she's going to do next? I'm going to need all the help I can get to deal with her."

She seemed to consider this very carefully. I knew that asking her to play even more politics was in some ways almost cruel, but right now it seemed like the smartest option.

"Yes sir." She finally agreed before stepping out of my office.

I was waiting in my office. Prentiss didn't know how long it would take, but she had promised to come right back after talking to Strauss.

Haley had not been happy when I called to say I wouldn't make it home for supper. She kept reminding me I was on sick leave, and how my leg would never heal if I kept up like this.

It seemed so funny how the one thing hardly on my mind was my leg. Prentiss's confession had shocked me so much. Strauss had had a vendetta against me for months now. She had used my own profession against me, and because of that, Reid was now a patient of Parsippany General Hospital. Chills ran up and down my spine; what wouldn't this woman do?

While I was waiting, I was working on the one thing I had meant to grab and leave with, incident reports. I had almost finished all of the necessary paperwork when Prentiss returned, her face white and voice trembling.

"Sir… we're, we're too late."


"Strauss has already planned a meeting with the director."


Chapter 9: Choices

POV: Prentiss

"The difference between a good man and a bad man is the choice of the cause." William James.

"She what?" Hotch asked, his voice almost hollow.

"She planned a meeting with the director. Tomorrow morning at nine." I repeated.

Hotch's eyes widened when he realized exactly what I meant. Dread filled every corner of the office. I still couldn't believe it. No matter what I did, Strauss was always ahead of me. All I had wanted was more time when I had said I would help her, and now that it was cut off, the situation felt almost completely hopeless.

"She said that she is going to go to the director and present her case to him." I recanted, wishing that this memory would go away forever.

Silence entered the office as I let Hotch soak this in. I figured enough bombs had been dropped on him, or at least, for now.

"Did she say why? Why she's going after me?" Hotch clarified, sounding almost unable to truly concentrate on what was happening.

Strauss had given me an answer to that question; actually she had said a lot more than that. After I had entered, she quickly told me everything that was going to happen tomorrow. I hadn't even been able to tell her I wouldn't help her. In shock at what she had told me, I had only been able to inquire about this just barely before I walked out the door.

"I asked her, but all she said was her same garbage, like you're a bad leader, that this was necessary for the BAU." I replied, emphasizing my own personal disgust at this.

Hotch looked annoyed as well at the mention of these lies, but worry continued to grip his face.

"She can't prove that you're a bad leader. I won't let her, and I won't help her." I declared, the words rushing out of my mouth before I could stop them.

"Help her? What?"

The only part of my most recent encounter with Strauss I had left out was her request, one very similar to her previous ones.

"She wants me to come to the meeting to give… testimony." I spat the awful word out.

"Like examples of how I'm a bad leader?" Hotch asked, his voice still void of real emotion.

I nodded before continuing.

"But Hotch, don't worry. I won't help her. If she asks me anything, I will tell them that you are a great leader, you do your job fantastically…"

While I was ranting about how I was going to help Hotch, his face, which had been blank because of shock, began to fall. Suddenly, he looked downright depressed.

"Prentiss, stop."

"I'm…sorry sir." I replied, confused at his expression.

"Prentiss…" His voice sounded heavy, calmed, and decided. "Don't.


"Don't support me. Support Strauss."

Many sunlit days may have passed before I found the ability to speak again. Hotch wasn't making sense at all. Strauss was wrong; we needed Hotch in the BAU.

"Excuse me, Sir?"

"Prentiss, do you truly think I am a good leader?" He asked, his voice just as composed.

"I… uh…" What did a question like that mean in a situation like this?

"Do you Prentiss?"

"Yes sir. You are a great leader, but-"

"Then listen to me. Don't support me. Support Strauss."

"Hotch, what are you talking about? If I support Strauss, you'll get kicked out of the BAU."

"I know."

How could he be so calm? He couldn't be okay with this. This was Aaron Hotchner, known for his ability to profile the foulest of humankind. The BAU was where he was supposed to be; he couldn't be taken out.

"Hotch, why do you-"

"Prentiss, like you said, it's too late." He explained. "Strauss has made her decision."

"But she's not the director. She has to convince him." I pointed out.

"You think she won't?"

"Hotch, I don't think anyone can."

"Your words are kind, but, unfortunately, almost useless in this situation. While I found out that Erin Strauss was capable of a lot more than I used to think, I know her well enough. It wouldn't surprise me if she has a couple back up plans. She's going to be prepared in case you don't help her, especially if she has been planning the last two months without you. She feels that she has enough to convince the director that I need to be taken out, with or without you. She's made it so she can't lose."

"So you want me to lie? Say that you're something you're not?" I asked with a note of hysteria.

"Prentiss, if you go don't against me, Strauss will only come after you next. She will get you out of here right after I'm gone. It's not worth it."

"Hotch you can't be serious."

How could I say this? Hotch was almost always solemn, and today was no exception. Lines seemed to be multiplying on his face the longer we spoke. He face was set in stone, as was his still cool, collected voice.

"It wouldn't be worth it to stay." I added.

Hotch's face finally showed a flicker of emotion. I think he was happy at what I was saying, but his features were still too contorted to tell. However, when he spoke again, his voice was just as even as it had been a few minutes earlier.

"You said that you were never supposed to be in the BAU?"

"Strauss planted me." I confirmed.

"Prentiss, you deserve to be here, and you shouldn't leave. You're a profiler now, and one that the world needs. I want you to stay, regardless of my situation."

His gratifying words held off my refute for a minute.

"Hotch, the world needs you more."

"It's too late for that. Prentiss, if you support me, our team will be down to Morgan, Reid, JJ and Garcia. They'd have to break in three profilers. They don't need that."

"Hotch, how are you so calm? I mean you can't be okay with this."

"I'm not. I don't want to leave the BAU, and I wish…" Now his emotion came through, and sadness and hurt overtook his eyes. "I wish I didn't have to. But, chances are, twenty four hours from now, I won't be in it any longer. I'm angry at Strauss, angry that she decided to do this. I want to stay; this is the job I love. But, right now, I don't see a lot of other choice, and… I'll be angry later."

"So, you want me to kick you out? You have a family Hotch, and a baby on the way." I asked now much more hysterically.

"Prentiss, I understand that this is a difficult position to be in."

"Do you Hotch? Have you ever been asked to condemn someone?"

I knew he was getting annoyed at my resistance, but this was absurd. I couldn't kick out the greatest agent in the BAU, even if the department head and the profiler himself were asking me to.

"Prentiss, I don't want you to get into any trouble. If I can't stay, you should." He replied.

"Hotch, no! I am not sending you away!" I yelled.

"Agent Prentiss, as of right now, I am still your leader, and as your leader, I command you to agree with Strauss. Is that clear?"

He had stood up and was almost shouting at me as well. I was taken aback at how commanding his voice had become.

I was at a crossroads. Either I chose to follow Hotch and do what he said, or go against him. Hotch being so decided meant that he had accepted, or was accepting, this already. How could he? How could he stand there and say the final battle was lost before it had even begun? I wanted to scream, yell, holler, do anything to let the world know that accepting this was a mistake. There had to be another method, another way.

I was cross at Hotch, Strauss, and the whole world in general. How could this be asked of me? How could I be asked to convict an innocent man?

Seconds ticked by as the two halves of my brain argued each other. My FBI fundamentals were telling me that if my leader had made this decision, it would be in my best interest to make this decision as well. However, my conscience was screeching to not do it. No alternatives were entering my mind. There was no way out. Choking on the words, I barely even whispered them.

"Yes sir."

Hotch's reaction was mixed. He looked like he couldn't decide whether or not to be pleased that I was agreeing or to be upset over what would happen.

"Any other orders?" I asked to end the awkward silence that had settled after my agreement.

"Go home. Get some sleep." He replied almost instantly, as if knowing my question ahead of time.

"I can't, not anymore."

I was wired and sad about it. Now I wouldn't be able to sleep off the gut-wrenching, conscience killing feelings I was experiencing. Hotch seemed to know what I was thinking.

"Then go see Reid."

Suddenly I felt myself being reminded of that blame. How could I face the others knowing that not only did I put Reid in the hospital but that I would betray them tomorrow? That tomorrow I would pull the light the fuse to the final blow?

"Sir, I-"

"Prentiss, you said I am still your leader. Listen to my orders. Go see him, the others. What happens tomorrow will happen tomorrow. Forget about it until then." He instructed.

I stared at Hotch in confusion. But, maybe he was right. All I wanted to do right now was forget about everything that had occurred in Strauss's office.

"Yes sir."

Somehow the drive felt good. Everything seemed to exit my mind, giving me peace for a while. That started to change the closer I got to Parsippany, the closer I got to Reid, and what I still felt I had caused.

As I entered the hospital doors, my legs started to wobble a little bit. All the emotions I had been feeling only last night rushed back to me, and with the added weight of the evening, I thought I might just crash through the floor. Now, even going home felt like an escape compared to this distressing sensation.

I approached the desk, hoping that they would turn me away, and I could go home. The nurse cheerfully told me that because Reid had been pretty much sleeping most of the day, they had let him have visitors a little longer. With that information, I found my way to his room.

Even though it was about 9:30 at night, I could see Morgan and Garcia through the little window, sitting on one side of Reid's bed. JJ appeared to be sitting on the other side, her hand entwined with Reid's unashamedly. Reid was awake, his bed in a sitting position. Machines and IVs surrounded his bed, making me feel even more uncomfortable. They were all laughing and talking, almost like they weren't in a hospital. Hesitantly, I pushed the door open.

Everyone seemed to have a moment of shock due to my sudden appearance, but recovered quickly, even though their eyes still seemed to be asking the same questions. Where were you? What happened?

"Emily, hi!"

"You're here!"

"Hey guys." I replied weakly.

I walked right over to Reid, and gave him a strange, incredibly awkward more-than-handshake-but-not-quite-hug embrace. There was some scuffling around, and I saw another chair had been placed beside Garcia.

"How are you feeling?" I asked before taking my place.

"Fine." Reid replied with a smile. It seemed like he had been asked that a lot today. "Just a little sore."

"Good." I relaxed some, but the guilt was still crushing me.

"But think about it Reid," Morgan began. "You're going to have some pretty cool scars. And chicks dig those."

"How would you know?" Garcia asked somewhat jealously while JJ and Reid laughed.

"I've got a few of my own." Morgan replied pulling up his shirt to reveal a small scar on his abdomen. Garcia's eyes looked to be about ready to pop out of her head. "Chicks love it when you can prove you're in the FBI."

It was impossible not to laugh at that. While it maybe wasn't the nicest joke in light of recent events, it relaxed me even more.

"You're just in time Emily." Garcia said as I took my seat. "We just convinced Reid and JJ to tell us about their wonderful last two months."

JJ and Reid living together had been a huge discussion and gossip topic for the last two months, especially for Garcia. Not knowing with Reid and JJ here must have been bugging her for hours.

"I don't get what you guys want to know so bad. I mean, we lived together as two FBI agents undercover. Nothing happened." JJ exclaimed, causing Morgan, Garcia and I to laugh, and Reid to turn red. "What about you Emily? Do you really want to know?"

In that moment, I realized why Hotch had suggested I come here. Here, no one knew what I had done, why I had done it, or what I was going to do. Here, I could enjoy some more time to be carefree and silly with friends. Tonight, I could just hang out with them, even if we did sound like little, twelve year old girls gossiping at lunch. Tomorrow would be different, tomorrow's impact would be profound. Tonight's didn't have to be.

"Yeah, I'd love to hear some stories."

Garcia and Morgan had smiles of triumph as JJ's face sank somewhat.

"What JJ, got something to hide?" Morgan asked.

"No. I'll just warn you now, if you're looking for a scandalous story, this isn't it. What do you want to know?" She replied.

"Did you guys kiss?" Morgan asked mercilessly with a teasing smile.

Garcia and I howled with laughter as Reid and JJ each turned red.

"Well?" Morgan asked impatiently.

"We… we had to make it look convincing." Reid explained.

"All right, my man!" Morgan exclaimed.

"It was only twice, both on the cheek." Reid quickly added, almost as if he had made a mistake.

"And JJ?" Morgan questioned ruthlessly.


"How was it?"

Reid had become a tomato, and Garcia and I were still sniggering.

"Short. They were just little pecks on the cheek." JJ retaliated indignantly.

"Sure, sure they were." Morgan teased.

"There were witnesses! That's the only time we had to do it."

"Wait, you guys only kissed each other on the cheek twice?" Garcia repeated.


"You guys were supposed to be married. Young married couples kiss way more than that." Garcia explained.

"It was convincing. No one figured it out." Reid pointed out.

"But two pecks? Come on!" I joined in.

"That's all that Reid… kissed me." JJ finally confessed.

"How often did you kiss him?" Morgan asked, his smile getting excited.

JJ just turned redder still and played with the cup of coffee in her hand. Reid couldn't really turn any redder, so he just looked away. Morgan let out a wolf whistle at their response and Garcia and I giggled even more.

"How about we move away from questions of a sexual nature?" Reid suggested.

"Okay, okay. How did you guys make it look convincing when you were at Realogy?" Garcia asked. "What did you have to do that wasn't "sexual"?"

Reid and JJ looked to each other and seemed to communicate in their own language before answering.

"We just… I don't know. It really wasn't that hard." JJ stated.

"We didn't see each other much during the day and when just had to act like friends. Other than that, we just lived in the same house." Reid explained.

"And before you ask Morgan," JJ cut him off, "that was fine. There was only one thing that I didn't like about this whole thing, and it had nothing to do with Reid or me."


"Working in Human Resources. Promise me that under any circumstances, you guys will never let me work in HR again." JJ announced.

"Same here." Reid agreed.

"Aw, did you guys have it a little rough trying to fix little squabbles and hire people?" Morgan taunted.

"Morgan, you work in a HR department for two months, and see how you like it." JJ responded, smiling though. "I can't wait to go home." She continued. "It'll be nice to go back to regular life."

I forced myself not to think about what was happening back there.

"Must have really been bad if you'd rather catch serial killers." Garcia joked, effectively pushing my thoughts of tomorrow out of my mind.

For the next half hour or so, the conversation continued, moving away from Reid and JJ and just towards life in general. Had we had a deck of cards, it might have felt like a plane ride back home, that is, until a nurse came and ordered that Reid had to go to sleep. Garcia and Morgan left then, having gotten little sleep in the past twenty four hours. Feeling awkwardness suddenly settle in, I excused myself to the bathroom.

The pressure of what I had to do tomorrow came back. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. But I had to. Why did Hotch think it was my only option?

Because it is, the voice of reason responded. Strauss has ensured that she cannot lose. It's useless to fight her. Hotch doesn't want you to try and lose. That's why you said yes. You have to.

These thoughts joined me and continued to fight each other as I headed back to the room. I didn't know why I was even staying; Reid would soon be asleep, and JJ probably as well. Maybe I was just running, feeling like if I stayed here until nine tomorrow, nothing would happen.

The same question that Strauss had asked me months ago still had not been answered. D had been run. I had done that. Nothing had really changed; I had stopped myself from exploding and that was about it. I had also done C: Both. I had told Strauss I would help her, do whatever she asked even though I hadn't meant it; I hadn't betrayed the team then. I would tomorrow though. Tomorrow, I would make A my final choice, even if I didn't mean it.

I approached the door to Reid's room again. This time, I could see JJ and Reid talking through the window. For a few minutes, I watched, hoping that one of them didn't see me.

I didn't care what JJ and Reid insisted. Morgan had been right. Two months undercover can make people close and had done so largely in their case. Reid and JJ seemed to have their own unique understanding of each other, and their comfort with each other was immense. Finally, Reid closed his eyes. JJ almost lovingly brushed some hair out of face.

I finally reentered.

"Hey." JJ whispered.


I grabbed one of the chairs from the other side of the room and moved it next to her.

"Just fell asleep." She commented.

Sure enough, Reid's slow breathing had begun to fill the room, other than the machines whirring behind him. JJ and I sat in silence for a moment. My mind was racing, the ideas of tomorrow scaring me…

"Emily, you ok?"

JJ must have picked up on it. I had been looking at the wall, but now I turned to her.

"Yeah, I'm fine." Even the most gullible person in the world wouldn't believe me.

"Emily, what's going on?" She asked again, scooting closer to me.

"It's… I… I have to do something, something that I don't want to do. I guess I'm upset about it. I know it's wrong, but someone told me that I have to." I began.

"What?" My description had been incredibly vague, but how else could I truly phrase this?

"JJ, it's nothing."

"Emily, 'nothing' wouldn't have you this upset." JJ stated. "Just talk to me. You don't have to go into that much description, just enough for me to understand the situation."

I considered her offer. Even though the fate of the dilemma I was facing was pretty much decided, what could someone else's opinion hurt?

So I began my story. Through very ambiguous details, I got the gist across to her. I was amazed at JJ's ability to understand me. JJ was very patient with me, and I was incredibly grateful.

Our conversation continued on for some time. Finally, a silence settled between us as JJ seemed to be mulling over the situation I had told her about.

"JJ, you okay?"

"Emily," She began very thoughtfully, "I know you've been saying a lot that you have to go along with this situation, but I think that you do have a choice." She stated quietly.


"And," she cut me off, "I think you've already made it."

I wanted to laugh at that. I didn't have a choice. JJ must have thought that this was a little spat between some of my friends or something and it had no real relevance. But, then a little voice came through; what if she was right?

I had forgotten that I still had a choice. I could still decide what I was going to do. It didn't really matter that one part of my brain was screaming that this would be going against my superior. I still gave the final verdict.

Of course, the final question remained; what should I decide?

The idea of going against Hotch and saying no to Strauss was appealing and nerve wracking. Hotch had warned me against it. Last time I had tried things on my own, well, the result was in the room with me. What if I screwed up again? And with so much at stake, would it be worth it to against Hotch?

But overall I wanted to say no to Strauss. The idea of sending Hotch away tore away at my insides. It would be very possible that I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I did that. Besides, who would it aide? Strauss? What about all the other victims out there that would need saving? What about Hotch's family? What about the team?

However, Hotch had ordered me to do it. He would know better than me. I had seen it in his office, his voice of reason had taken over. It was the one thing that had kept him going. It had been his decision maker. And how many times had that failed? He had said it was the only way to go. Maybe it was.

Of course, Hotch could be wrong. Rarely had I seen this, but maybe this time it would be better to go against him. Maybe I could save his position. What would it hurt if I at least tried to convince the director?

Well, it could hurt. Strauss was still involved. She wouldn't quit, especially if she won anyway. And, as much as I wanted to deny it, I was still just a little bit scared to put my job on the line. Eons ago, even though in reality it was only months, I had wanted this job. I had gotten this job, and I was so thrilled. Even though in the last few months a part of me had started to despise this job, a part of me still was thrilled that I had gotten it in the first place. And that part of me was still a little scared to stand up to Strauss.

My head was spinning from the confusion of the all. I was angry again, mostly at Strauss and the fact that she had made me do this. I was back to Strauss's office. It was still between A: Yes or B: No. What to do? I had one shot at this and at least one person's career was on the line. The pressure was pressing down on me again, and my mind went into an overdrive of insults and remarks about Agent Erin Strauss.

Those moments made me realize that this anger wasn't going to stop Strauss. Only one thing would end Strauss's vendetta against Hotch; the director's decision at tomorrow morning's meeting. And I had the power to influence it, not because I wanted it, but I had it. It had now become my responsibility.

I don't know how long JJ and I sat in silence together. She must have been exhausted, but she stayed up. All the time, she probably knew I was making my decision. Before I left, I gave her a small hug, my way of thanks for her help. JJ had made it clear to me what I had to do. She had given me the answer I had needed. Because of it, my choice had been made.


Chapter 10: FBI

POV: Hotch

I sat in my office. The night had been terrible. Trying to look and be happy at home was difficult, especially when I knew what was coming today. Haley knew something was wrong, but she didn't push it. She must have figured I would be too tired after the night before to discuss it.

Eight years. That's how long I had been in the BAU. They were years with their own challenges and their own triumphs, but this was where I felt I as doing something good in the world. This was where I wanted to be. Catching criminals, watching them leave the streets, saving someone's life was a rush that I now believed couldn't be replaced by any other job.

How I had been so calm when Prentiss was in my office I don't know. Now I was mad. In fact, I was, at times, in a blinding rage. Why did I have to leave? What did I do? I didn't deserve this. I desperately wanted to rid myself of this force somehow, but my leg was still in the way. Had it not been, I probably would have been able to run a marathon from the excess energy that this rage had caused.

I sighed. My eyes traveled around my office again. So many memories were in this one place. The BAU had become a second home. Home is where the heart is, and this was no exception. Everyday I came here and put everything I had into it. Being evicted seemed to be my repayment for that.

I didn't know what Haley and I would do after this. With another baby on the way, I would have to find some other job soon. Maybe Strauss wouldn't have me kicked out of the FBI, just the BAU. We could go back to Seattle, or anywhere that we wanted to I guess. It was always possible to request a transfer. But, maybe it was time to get out of the FBI. If this was something that could happen in our office, why couldn't it happen in others?

Haley had been right; this job can torture you in so many ways. When she said that, though, she was referring to unidentified subjects eating away at yoru soul. However, it applied just as well to higher up FBI officials destroying your aspirations.

So far, the most difficult thing about me leaving seemed to be losing my team. Much had yet to be said and done. I hadn't taught them everything that I believed they needed to know yet.

I laughed wryly at myself. Just a few days ago, I had been thinking I would apologize for my snippy behavior after Strauss provoked me at a later time. Little did I know there wasn't going to be much for later.

It was eight-thirty. I didn't even know why I was at the BAU. It was Strauss, Prentiss, and the director that would meet in a half hour, not me. How long would it take? What was Strauss going to do? Prentiss had seemed really upset by what I had asked last night, but what good would it do to refute Strauss now? I was out. Strauss had lived up to her words.

The clock kept ticking slowly. It was taunting me, counting down to when it would happen. At 9:10, my phone rang, startling me.

"Aaron Hotchner."

"Agent Hotchner, can you please come down to my office?"

I knew that voice, and I had been scared of hearing it.

"Yes director."

I entered his office, thankful for the crutches as they were hiding my wobbly legs. No matter how much I had thought about in the last several hours, I was not ready, not for this.

Dane Wellete, the director of the Quantico field office, was sitting at his desk, writing something. Perhaps it had to do with me. Strauss was standing across from him, an irritated look on her face. I didn't see Prentiss, nor recalled seeing her on my way here.

"Good Morning sir."

"Ah, good morning Agent Hotchner." He looked up and saw my stance.

"Oh, sit down. I didn't realize you had been injured." He said kindly.

"Thank you sir."

I just want to say get this over. I'm leaving; we both know it. The fact that Strauss is here just makes it worse. She'll watch my world fall down. Just get it over with quickly, please.

"Well, Agent Hotchner, I have had a very interesting conversation with your department head, Agent Strauss, this morning."

Now her expression appeared slightly smug, sickening me.

"Really?" I said, turning my eyes away from her expression to the floor.

I tried to sound surprised so he wouldn't ask any strange questions.

"Yes. She claimed that your leadership was hurting the BAU. I decided that since this was about you, you ought to be here."

I turned my head up again. His voice didn't sound completely against me, but it didn't sound exactly for me either. At least it gave a tiny sliver of hope. My eyes found Strauss again, and I received a bout of glee at her face. She hadn't expected this. A hitch in the plan.

"Agent Strauss, would you like to proceed?" He asked her.

"Yes sir, thank you." She pronounced, suddenly seeming happy again. "As I was saying, I was going to present a few of Agent Hotchner's cases to you."

Here it came, the damning evidence.

"Last February, Agent Hotchner's team went on a case in Georgia. Agent Hotchner sent two of his agents to the house of the man behind their case, One of his agents was abducted and held hostage for three days due to his neglect."

Yes, I know. I screwed up. Why must you remind me?

"Agent Hotchner, is this true?" He asked.

"Yes sir."

Why deny or try to explain it again? I had done it so many times, and yet, here I sat, in the director's office with a terminal career.

"Go on, Agent Strauss."

"Last December, one of Hotchner's agents was arrested and then found to have a hidden criminal record, and yet, he was still in the FBI."

"You're accusation being…?" Wellette questioned.

I was thankful that for now he seemed to not be judgmental one way or the other.

"Agent Hotchner was not careful enough to look into his agent's backgrounds."

He nodded, prompting to unfortunately continue.

"More recently in May, a friend of one of his agents was killed, and the perpetrator who committed the murder should have been apprehended by his team months earlier. They had him cornered in a diner, and he was unarmed, but the man still managed to escape and kill again. Then his team did an investigation of their in May, even though it was against regulations because the prime suspect was their agent."

Please be quiet. Just please.

"And finally, a case that just ended yesterday, with the stabbing of one agent of Agent Hotchner's agents. He implemented an undercover investigation that went awry when the agents involved, who were supposed to be informants, became the would-be victims."

Just tell me, tell me I'm fired. Ask me to leave. End this agony.

I finally turned my face up. The expression on the director's face wasn't that of anger at my blunders, but more of confusion at something.

"Agent Hotchner also has been neglecting his responsibilities. In the recent months, I have felt the need to take over for parts of his job. One of his agents left two months ago, and he has yet to replace that position."

Well, at least I wouldn't have to do that. Who would do that for my position?

"In conclusion, you can see that Agent Hotchner is an ineffective leader. Many times his colleagues have had to suffer for his actions. From my standpoint, I believe that there is no other choice than to remove Agent Hotchner from his position immediately.

A deafening silence followed Strauss's speech. Even though she had spoken with great conviction, the director still did not seem completely convinced, or, he at least was showing very little emotion. Strauss was getting angry at this, and I was feeling just a little bit more hopeful.

"Do you deny anything about these cases?" Wellette asked quietly.

"No. I regret my mistakes in them, and I should have done a better job." I admitted slowly.

"Do you have anything to add, Agent Strauss, before you bring in your witness?" He inquired quietly.

"No, I think I'm ready." She replied, looking unsure about whether or not she truly was.

"Very well. Bring her in." The director ordered in the intercom.

The whole room waited anxiously until we could hear the click of the door behind us.

"Thank you for coming." The director greeted her.

"Good morning sir." Prentiss's voice seemed to be constricted somewhat but passable. I knew that she still didn't want to do this, but she at least agreed to it in the end.

"Director Wellette, this is Agent Emily Prentiss. She is an agent in the BAU, and I would like to ask her some questions." Strauss explained.

He nodded and gestured to the chair a few feet behind me. Craning my neck, I saw Prentiss take the seat, her body language giving off nerves and some possible reluctance.

"Agent Prentiss, how long have been in the BAU?" Strauss innocently began.

"About nine months."

"And Agent Hotchner has been your leader the entire time?"

Why is she delaying it? We all know what's coming.


Strauss continued to ask her more and more pointless questions, just facts about her career. The longer it went, the more my stomach sank. Finally, the big one came.

"Agent Prentiss, do you believe Agent Hotchner is a bad leader?"

The last bomb. Here it came.


The room froze. No one breathed; there was too much shock. She didn't just say that. She couldn't have. She said she would testify against me. And yet, I could still hear her answer ringing in my ears.

"Agent, Prentiss, do you understand the question? Do you think that Agent Hotchner is a bad leader?" Strauss asked, obviously shook up.

"I understood the question, and no, I do not believe that Agent Hotchner is a bad leader."

I finally was able to turn back to look at her. Her body matched her voice which was surprisingly calm. She wouldn't look at me, instead looking intently from the director to Strauss, who looked someone had thrown a bucket of cold water on her.

I couldn't believe it. She really had just defied Strauss and me. Prentiss had promised me she would support Strauss. While a huge part of me grateful beyond words, another part of me was depressed. Prentiss had just secured a one way ticket out of the BAU.

I then turned my head towards the director, wondering what his reaction would be. His face revealed confusion, but it still did go to either side of the story.

"Agent Prentiss, I will ask you one more time. Do you believe Agent Hotchner is an ineffective leader?" Strauss attempted once more.

I faced Prentiss once again. Her voice gave off more confidence this time, as if firmer now in her words.

"No, I don't."

Strauss looked flabbergasted. She must have been so sure that Prentiss would go along with it that she hadn't prepared in case she hadn't. Of course, Strauss never knew where her true loyalty laid.

"Agent Prentiss," Strauss growled more than anything, "we discussed this. Agent Hotchner is an ineffective leader."

"No he is not." Prentiss repeated once more.

"Director," Strauss tried, trying to sound innocent, "Agent Prentiss approached me days ago to assist me in taking out Agent Hotchner. She does agree with me."

"I don't! Agent Hotchner is a fantastic leader. He does a great job and-" Prentiss loudly exclaimed.

"Agent Prentiss, be quiet!" Strauss almost screamed over her.

"Agent Strauss! I will not have superiors talk to their agents like that!" The director ordered, standing up.

The whole ordeal was passing before my eyes. It felt like I was merely watching this, not possibly witnessing the fate of my career. Following whoever was speaking, my face felt like a volleyball, being tossed between Strauss and Prentiss, then the director, and back to Prentiss and Strauss again. My body and brain were otherwise numb, stuck in this state since Prentiss had said no.

"Sir, please, let me just-" Strauss endeavored once more.

"Actually, Agent Strauss, I would like to ask the questions." He replied.

An uncomfortable silence followed as the director took back his seat.

"Agent Prentiss, let me clarify, you will vouch for Agent Hotchner's actions?"

"Yes sir."

"Even the ones that were mistakes?"

"Yes sir."

"Agent Prentiss," he stated slowly and thoughtfully, "if you were in my position, what would you do?"

Every face was fixated on Emily as she considered her response.

"I would let him stay."

He seemed to truly consider this.

"Thank you, Agent Prentiss. You are dismissed. As are you, Agent Strauss. I need to speak with Agent Hotchner."

Emily stood up, looking truly frightened that Strauss, whose face was livid, would be leaving with her. I panicked inside; Strauss would have little mercy. Inside I was itching to follow them, just to make sure that Strauss didn't do anything.However, the little cough that the director gave to avert my gaze from their exit stopped those thoughts. Suddenly, I remembered what he was going to talk to me about.

I gulped. Too much had happened in the last five minutes for me to be ready for this. Prentiss had stood up for me, trying to give herself up for me. Strauss was going to attack her now. It was all too much too fast. But the director still was annoyingly unfazed by this. His tone however, was very solemn.

"Agent Hotchner, I'd like to discuss some things with you."

"Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity" F.B.I. Motto



POV: Prentiss

"The end is near." Lemony Snicket

"Now, what has happened in the BAU since then?" The middle-aged brunette agent asked.

"Excuse me?"

"What happened in the BAU after the meeting with the director?" She clarified.

To say that was a loaded question was an understatement. It seemed even vaguer in my current predicament, an inquiry into Strauss's actions against Hotch. Once again, I was the star witness.

Instinctually I tried to answer, but my mind blanking on me caused my tongue to get caught in my throat. A novel's worth of events had happened in the BAU in the last two months, so much that at times my mind felt clogged. And yet, I had no clue what to say.

Should I tell her about the rest of the day after I had been the director's office giving testimony against Strauss? That day felt like it was eons ago, but I will never forget that day. I will never forget how livid Strauss was when she forced me back to her office. Her threats and words will be burned in my memory as long as I live. But for some reason, it didn't seem right to say this.

Nor did it seem right to tell her how I will never forget the emotion I felt when I realized that it was all worth it. It was one of the moments that I was in Hotch's office after he was done with the director. I was dreading what he was going to say, but then he calmly told me that he hadn't been fired. I had never been told the exact details, but I didn't care. Hotch was staying, that's all that mattered.

For an incredibly long time, Hotch and I had stayed in his office, sometimes talking, sometimes not. It was a safe haven, a spot away from Strauss. We had made it over the biggest hurdle. Strauss had lost; we had won. But, as Hotch put it, one more battle had to be fought to win the war. By now, we both knew if Agent Strauss truly wanted something done, she would do it. I had become the next target, and her threat had shaken both of us to the bone.

However, before we could deal with that matter, it was about time to clue in the rest of the team on what was truly happening. Hours later, Reid, Morgan, Garcia, and JJ were all looking appalled at what had happened. As we were explaining, me mostly, I became worried that the others would become angry with me over my actions which is I had asked Hotch not to mention some of the finer details of what had happened in the director's office. I didn't feel worthy of what Hotch had called "a selfless act", one which he was incredibly grateful for. However, the team was amazed at my actions as well. They too were incredibly supportive and vowed to help me with Strauss as well.

All of these events were very appropriate to put into this inquiry, and yet, I was incredibly hesitant to say any of them. My mind pursued the time after that day instead.

The ensuing weeks were not easy. For the first time, I wished for cases so that we were not at Quantico, but they hardly came. Everyday I nervously tiptoed in the bullpen and constantly looked over my shoulder. It didn't matter how consciously aware I was that Strauss wouldn't be there; I still did it. Morgan and JJ almost always were nearby or with me. 'Strength in numbers' as Morgan described it.

Only three times did we see Strauss. Every time she was around on some other matter. No longer having contact with her, I was very ignorant, but Garcia helped us with that. She kept using her contacts and other office buddies to get information, as well as her specialty of computers. There was only one thing that she got that seemed to have great value to us.

Strauss ironically had been afraid of Hotch. Well, Hotch, and his power. She knew that he was a good agent, and he was going to go places. One of those places could have possibly been her position.

These were all facts were relevant to the inquiry, but instead my mind replayed last night's events.

I leaned back in my seat on the plane, closing my eyes. We were coming back from a stabbing case. Ironically, Reid's first back to work. While we were very happy to have him back, the situation was still very depresing because the victims were children.We had been fortunate to get a case a few days ago. It had become a dire need because the care we had had to put into every move had begun to grate on our nerves.

The unsub had been apprehended after we found his lair. Unfortunately, his hand held a knife which was placed against the neck of a 7 year old girl. A few very tense moments later, it was Reid who talked him down enough for me to wrestle the knife away and Morgan to tackle the man.

While acting as professional as usual on a case, the Reid and JJ were more or less snuggled up on the couch, and were asleep together. Morgan had taken to teasing them relentlessly when we were in Quantico, but tonight he knew better. Reid, while stony almost during the raid, had been pretty disturbed at getting so close to another blade in nefarious hands, and JJ had been the only one to relax him. While neither denied their relationship, and they had never confirmed it, we all knew. They were more than friends, and it looked like that wasn't about to change.

Morgan and Hotch were sitting in two chairs across from each other. In a couple weeks, we would for sure have our new agent as Hotch was down to two candidates. It was very quiet on the plane as the case had been hard on everyone. They were making some small, polite conversation, but I hardly took note of it, which was odd as I was trying to get myself to focus on it.

I wanted to think about anything but tomorrow. What would happen? What could be determined about Strauss's actions? Could I be considered guilty of something? My actions could be interpreted many ways; how would I be able to make sure that they wouldn't be taken the wrong way? Could I be taken out of the BAU?

Feeling fear cutting off the air in my throat, I stopped those thoughts and turned my complete attention to Hotch and Morgan's conversation.

"How's Haley doing?"

"Fine, a little tired, but everything's much smoother the second time. We went to the doctor a few days ago, and we found out the sex. It's going to be a girl."

"Really? That's great!"

I could hear Morgan's smile from across the plane. My own lips curled up in joy. Hotch deserved to be happy, and my only hope was that a little pink bundle of joy would help with that.

"Have you guys got a name yet?"

"Yeah. It was a lot easier this time too because there are less female serial killers, but we decided on Mackenzie Ann."

Mackenzie Ann Hotchner. That had such a nice ring to it. I don't know what Hotch was talking about with female serial killers, but it didn't matter. All I could feel was happiness for Hotch. Their conversation was interrupted by the ring of Morgan's cell phone.

"Hello?... Hey sweet cheeks, what's up?... You serious?... Who are these contacts?... Well if you're such a magician, I'd like to see you pull a rabbit out of a hat when we get back… Yes, I promise I'll tell them…. Okay, see you in a little bit."

He hung up, leaving me, and I'm pretty sure Hotch, quite confused.

"That was Garcia."

"I figured. Do I want to know what you two were talking about?" Hotch's voice was befuddled amusement.

"Yes, you do. She got some pretty good information. She wouldn't reveal her source, saying that a magician never reveals her secrets-"

"She sounds like Reid."

"Yeah, well anyway, the bureau has "persuaded" Strauss to retire."

My heart stopped. I couldn't believe it, even though my heart desperately wanted to.

"You're serious?"

"Yep. Next month, she'll be gone.

Hotch exhaled heavily.

"It's over." He said very quietly with a hint of delight.

Elation coursed throughout my body. My thoughts about tomorrow were suddenly much more optimistic. Strauss would be leaving; this had to help me, didn't it?

"Hey, we're landing." Morgan announced, cutting off my thoughts.

They began to scuffle around, gathering their things. Without warning, the bump of the wheels skidding on the landing strip disturbed the plane. I finally opened my eyes, still uneasy about tomorrow.

By the time I had grabbed a few of my files, Hotch had already exited. Seeing child victims always made him want to go home to see his family more quickly. Reid and JJ somehow had not yet moved.

"Yo, loverbirds, we're home." Morgan called over to them.

They opened their eyes slowly before finally getting up and collecting their belongings as well. Seeing that both were doing better than when we had left, Morgan was joking around with them. I was moving around slowly, hoping that maybe I could miss the inquiry if I stayed on the plane until tomorrow morning. My speed was so tortoise like that Reid and JJ left before I did.


Morgan was looking at me. His expression was one that people in our profession often; he was reading my mind.

"Yeah?" I tried to hide my apprehension, but it was pretty difficult.

"You worried about tomorrow?"

I nodded without looking at him.

"Did you hear me and Hotch talking?" He asked quietly, very serious.

"Yeah." I admitted.

"She's gone Prentiss. There are no more threats."

"Morgan, if the bureau made her leave, won't they make me leave?" I questioned.

"Well, if they do, then I'd quit in protest."

I almost broke my neck turning it up in shock so quickly.

"You'd what?"

"Prentiss, if they fire you, they're making a mistake. You didn't do anything wrong. She did, and if they can't figure that out, then I don't want to work for them either."

"Morgan, that's…" I couldn't figure out if stupid or sweet was better, so I choose a different route. "You don't think they will do something like that, do you?"

"I doubt it." Morgan replied. "Just tell them truth, tell them how you meant to help us, that you never meant it, and everything should work out. I gotta go, see you later. And, Prentiss, good luck."

So what did I want to be put into the inquiry of Strauss's actions? Well, I took Morgan's advice.

"Agent Strauss did not interfere with us after that." I stated after what must have been hours of waiting. "We learned last night of her retirement next month."

"And you've had no contact with her?" She clarified once again.

"Not, none at all."

"Very well, thank you Agent Prentiss." She stated, writing down one last note before shutting the file.

Not feeling like I was supposed to be done yet, I stayed in my chair.

"That's it?"

"Well, this will be reviewed by the HR department, but as Agent Strauss is retiring, I wouldn't be too fussed about it. Really, this is more of a formal thing." She said. Feeling brushed off, I finally stood up and walked towards the door zombie like.

"You work with Agent Hotchner?"

The return of her voice startled me.

"Come again?"

"Do you work with Agent Hotchner?" She repeated once more, with a mystified look on her face.

"Yes, I do."

"That must be a privilege." She started. "I interviewed him for his part of the inquiry, and he's quite a profiler."

"Yes, he is."

She jabbered on a bit, but my mind didn't really pay attention until the last part.

"His last comments were really interesting. I asked him about if he had even wanted to stay in the BAU after all of this. He just smiled and said 'This is where I want to be. I'm not leaving anytime soon.' "

I smiled, and even though I wouldn't have minded much talking more about Hotch's leadership abilities, I said goodbye and left. Now that this was over, our world had moved on, meaning that my paperwork was calling me back to my desk.