|Everything Happens For a Reason
Author: sienna27 PM
Universe E: Story 1 of 2 - Spin off of "Falling in Love with a Girl." Late season 2, H/P fly to Texas for a parole hearing, something terrible happens on the trip; H/P friendship, no romance. Changed from T to M for language & imagery in later chaptersRated: Fiction M - English - Suspense/Horror - A. Hotchner/Hotch & E. Prentiss - Chapters: 12 - Words: 83,571 - Reviews: 143 - Favs: 35 - Follows: 58 - Updated: 08-07-12 - Published: 09-15-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6326512
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: Believe it or not, we're (almost) done! There will be an epilogue, but that's really transitioning them from this story to the next one (and this world will be continuing) so I figured it should go up by itself. This chapter will take things along pretty far though. This world will be very different when we're done here :)
Buckle up, rough stuff ahead!
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The Damnation Game
Hotch stumbled backwards. His fingers were digging deep into Emily's side as his gut clenched in revulsion, and something beyond fear. Something that he couldn't name.
JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!
It was the only real thought repeating in his head. Part curse . . . part prayer. That was the moment. And the moment had no conscious thought to it.
It was too visceral for that.
But once he took that first step back . . . once he allowed the unnamed to set his path . . . Hotch found himself moving them in the same direction. But again, there was no choice in that moment.
It was just what happened.
He was dragging the now weeping Emily along in a perverse synchronicity . . . they were limping one slow step backwards, for every stumbling step forward taken by the man (thing) in front of them.
And though Hotch felt like a monster for doing it . . . after all it was a monstrous thing to do . . . there was nothing in his life or his career, as fucked up as they had both been, to prepare him for this encounter. To prepare him for this . . . this . . . he swallowed down the bile rising in his throat . . . abomination.
That's what it was, an abomination.
A sin incarnate.
And as they took the fourth step . . . and the thing took the third . . . the shock began to fade.
Though the revulsion did not.
But when Hotch's higher brain functions finally began to take over once again, he knew that even if he had time to move past that revulsion and horror, that this choice that he had not made . . . was the only choice that they had. They weren't equipped to help this man. His injuries were beyond them. So he would only slow them down. His jaw clenched.
Which was why they were going to leave him to die.
He pressed his lips to Emily's ear.
"You have to run, the best you can. We have to go now."
He tried to keep his voice sound steady, in control . . . he failed.
"What?" Emily asked as her head snapped up. But he avoided her eyes. Even in shadows, there was judgment there.
And he had enough of that in spades.
"No, Hotch," Emily sniffled angrily, "we can't . . ." she shook her head vehemently, "we can't do that. We can't leave him. That would be . . . we just can't."
She wanted to say that it was wrong, but wrong wasn't the right word. There wasn't a right word. Not one to cover an act as monstrous as abandoning this poor man, to this hellish world.
If they did that . . . if they walked away . . . it was a road to damnation.
And that was a path that she did not wish to travel.
'Because there were things that they could do,' she thought as she sniffled again and nodded to herself, 'they could lead him out.'
They could do that much.
And maybe that, that . . . her thoughts stuttered . . . well, maybe that would make up for her flinging the skin of his face away like a piece of trash.
'Or maybe it wouldn't,' her conscience corrected sadly, 'maybe that one didn't have a tradeoff for belated acts of decency.'
Maybe it shouldn't.
Hearing the tears in Emily's voice . . . and feeling her steps dragging them to a halt as her nails dug into his arm . . . Hotch knew that her moral conflict here was much greater than his. But that was to be expected, he thought bitterly, because she was the kinder of the two. The more compassionate.
The one with the bigger heart.
But her goodness was going to get her killed. And Hotch wasn't going to allow that to happen. Not today, not ever if he could help it. But definitely not after all that they had been through just to get to this moment.
Just to survive this far.
Which meant that this departure now was solely on him. It wasn't going to be a joint decision to abandon this poor, brutalized, man.
It would be an executive one.
Hotch's eyes started to burn . . . but perhaps that was just as well. Because Emily was only here because he had chosen her for this trip. And then he had chosen to drive to Texas rather than to get on another plane.
So all of this . . . every monstrous moment . . . was on him.
And realizing then for the first time, that regardless of Emily's earlier absolution, that this was completely his fault, Hotch swallowed down the bile in his throat. And as he stood there with Emily pleading in his ear, he once more ran the light over the creature stumbling towards them.
He was naked and bruised, and bleeding in places beyond just where his face had been.
Bleeding in places that Hotch didn't even want to think about.
But still, with his jaw set, he made himself think about them. Made himself take it all in . . . the blood running down the man's legs, the oozing pink flesh hanging off the remnants of his face.
The places where the skin was rippled when it had slipped down slightly onto the neck.
And then back up again to the seams of thick, crooked black stitches . . . they were holding together what was left of the lips. And finally the sockets . . . they were showing what was left of the eyes. God only knew at what point he'd been blinded. It was a horror show like no other.
And it was his to own.
And once Hotch was sure that those images were burned into his mind . . . that they would never fade . . . he sent up one more hopeless prayer.
One for forgiveness that he knew would never come.
And then he took a breath . . . and he whispered to the man in front of them.
"I'm so sorry for what's happened to you sir," his voice cracked, "but we can't help you. We'll send people back."
And then he shifted his grip around Emily's waist . . . spun around as quickly as he could given their injuries . . . and started dragging her away.
Emily's head was twisting around, she was pulling against him, trying to turn back even as he half yanked her off the ground. The action caused a stab of pain between his shoulder blades.
He welcomed it.
"But Hotch we CAN'T!" She screamed, "We can't LEAVE him!"
The words were high and shrill . . . and then her voice broke completely. And hearing her heartbroken sobs, Hotch flinched as though he had been slapped.
The sobbing was cutting into him even more than the human wreck that they were leaving behind. Because that misery behind him wasn't his fault, but this misery happening now beside him, was.
His own tears started to pool.
"We have to, Emily," he said, his own voice breaking as he desperately kept trying to pull her along, "please understand that. Please. Of course I wish that we could help him too, but we just have too far to go. And we're in too bad a shape. You're going to bleed to death if I don't get you out of here. And I'm sorry, but I can't worry him too. And if we don't get out of here soon, then that's us. We'll be the ones butchered, blinded and stumbling forever in the dark. Don't you see that?" his voice wavered again, "Can't you please see that? For me, please try."
It wasn't that the other options were bad options . . . it's that there were no other options. This was the only one. The two of them lived . . . or they all died.
Again, there was no choice.
Emily was quiet for a moment . . . her body rigid against his side . . . and then she stopped struggling.
The fight just went away.
When she fell against him, he saw her nod and gasp out an "okay," as she wiped her hand across her face.
She was trying to stop crying.
Hotch knew then that she now saw things his way. He'd made his point.
And he hated himself for it.
Because even if that's what he had needed . . . for her to let the better angels go . . . he hated that he had taken that from her. That this world was making her like him.
Hotch's internal recriminations vanished as he froze in the middle of the tunnel.
The statue that Emily warned him about was beginning to appear out of the shadows. It was about ten paces ahead of them. And though she had told him what to expect, as they started walking again, he realized that her warning hadn't really done it justice.
This thing was nearly as horrifying as what they'd just run way from. The only difference being that at least this man, or really, these creatures . . . there were two heads . . . were already dead.
Small favors there.
And he was prepared to just scoot around the side, when Emily suddenly froze up again. Her hand clamped onto his, and the little hairs on his arm stood up.
Something was wrong.
"Wait!" Emily gasped as her watery eyes popped open wide, "Stop!" she continued in a near panic as her nails gouged into Hotch's wrist.
"Something's different." She hissed in a quieter tone while tugging him back a few steps, "but I don't know what it is."
After throwing a quick look behind him, Hotch began frantically running the beam over the corpse up ahead of them.
His breath coming in short, sharp gasps. Part of it was the pain of exerting himself. But he was also actually feeling a moment of genuine panic. He wasn't sure if he was up for a physical confrontation.
His muscles were still throbbing . . . he wasn't sure how much strength was there.
Perhaps not enough to protect them.
"What is it Prentiss?" He snapped, "what's different?"
Though he hated that he was yelling at her, it couldn't be helped. He was too wound up. And Christ knows that he didn't want to run into a trap, but they also couldn't stand still either! Not only were they sitting ducks, but they still had that nightmare stumbling up behind them.
And Hotch wasn't sure if he could abandon that man twice.
"Um, I . . . um," Emily stammered in uncertainty, the pressure of the moment . . . of not fucking this up . . . was nearly paralyzing.
The knife in her hand was up, her heart was pounding and her eyes were straining . . . they were bouncing everywhere that the light went.
Over and over Hotch ran it up and down, all the crevices . . . but still . . . her teeth ground together . . . she couldn't figure out what it was that was different! But it was SOMETHING! Something that her subconscious had noticed a minute before. And she knew that whatever it was, that she had to find it before they took another step.
Because it was something bad.
Her heart skipped a beat. She'd found it! Or more specifically . . . her arm started coming up . . . she remembered what it was before.
And the change was going to be what killed them.
So before she'd even made a conscious choice . . . the knife was flying out of her hand.
It went spinning up the length of the shaft . . . it traveled almost twelve feet . . . and then it imbedded into the chest of the corpse.
Except it wasn't a corpse. Not all of it.
And that's why it screamed.
But Emily didn't stop to let herself process that yelp of pain . . . the pitch to it . . . she was already shaking Hotch off, running forward as she screamed herself, "IT'S HIM! IT'S THE UNSUB!"
The rifle was coming off her shoulder even as the grotesque sculpture was tumbling down.
It fell in a heap.
Decayed body parts splintered off, throwing up a waft of odor so foul that Emily felt the vomit rise in her throat. She was choking it back down as Hotch's hand clamped around her arm again.
"What the FUCK!"
His voice was a mixture of confusion and terror. He had the Sig trained in on what was left of the creature that was both dead . . . his jaw clenched . . . and horrifyingly alive.
The legs were twitching.
"The head was wrong," Emily triumphantly explained while knocking aside the excess body parts with the muzzle of the rifle, "The thing I saw before was a rotting man and dog, but it only had one head. This one had two. The second one, the bear is new. The bear's a mask, and he was hiding his body behind the decayed pieces. And you see," her boot stomped down on a hatchet clutched in the dying man's hand, "he's got a weapon! It's the UN . . . SUB."
The last word got caught in her throat.
Oh. Oh no. Oh, God no.
And then she heard Hotch's quiet curse from her side . . . and she wanted to throw up.
Because she'd been wrong.
It wasn't the UNSUB . . . it couldn't be. And she knew that because she'd just pushed aside the last hunk of rotting flesh, and what was now visible in the light . . . her eyes started to water . . . was cleavage. Cleavage soaked in fresh blood. Cleavage that had a six inch bowie knife sticking out of it.
It was a woman's chest.
And they were being hunted by a man.
It was a misdirection . . . her breath caught . . . just like out on the road.
Just as that realization came to her . . . that they'd fallen into a trap . . . the flashlight suddenly went flying.
And Hotch along with it.
All thoughts of her grief and guilt over killing this woman (whoever she was) vanished, as Emily spun around in the dark.
She was screaming Hotch's name. Trying to follow both him, and the precious light, as she stumbled over the dead body, and the pile of dismembered limbs now tripping her in the dark.
It took a second . . . a panicked, terror filled second . . . but then she saw that the flashlight had flown back down the tunnel from where they'd already come. It had gone at least fifteen feet, landing with the beam going the other way. The light was flickering. She bit into her lip.
The batteries must have loosened.
And though Emily desperately wanted to get to the flashlight before it went completely out . . . before they were plunged into total darkness . . . she needed to get to Hotch first. She needed to help him.
And even though she couldn't actually see him . . . she could see nothing but the shimmering light that was MUCH too far away . . . she could hear the scuffle even as she was tripping in the inky blackness in her section of the shaft.
Just ahead of her . . . half the distance of the flashlight . . . there was grunting and cursing . . . and the pounding of bone and flesh. They were beating the shit out of each other.
And then there was a shot.
Emily froze, screaming Hotch's name again as she aimed the rifle into the darkness where she'd seen the muzzle fire.
For a moment there was no response, no sounds at all . . . nothing but her own panicky breath. And in that moment Emily's grief and terror came roaring back.
Hotch was dead . . . she was alone. Alone in the dark with the UNSUB.
She was going to go insane.
But then she heard a ragged gasp for air . . . and then a raspy voice.
"I'm here Prentiss."
"Oh thank God," she cried out while again stumbling forward, now heading towards the sound of his voice, and the ragged wheezing of his breath.
Five . . . six . . . seven paces . . . and then she felt his hand touch her leg.
She dropped down to her knees, the rifle falling to the ground as she reached out like a blind woman.
It was still black where they were.
"Are you hurt?"
The tears were back in her voice. Stress and exhaustion were destroying whatever emotional control she had left.
She just hoped that eventually she could get it back.
"Yes," Hotch slowly exhaled, biting back a moan as he caught Emily's hand, "but I think I'll live. Now quickly," he squeezed her fingers with the hand not holding the pistol, "go get the flashlight. Stay to the left and up against the wall."
Though he knew the attacker was down . . . he could feel the blood pool on what was clearly the right side of his chest . . . Hotch doubted that he was dead yet.
They just weren't having that kind of luck.
"Right," Emily sucked in a breath as she dropped Hotch's hand to grab the rifle again, "the flashlight. Okay."
So with Hotch's help she slowly pushed herself back to her feet. Just because it was a fresh emergency didn't mean that her body had miraculously healed itself.
Adrenaline was still doing most of the walking.
But with Hotch's arm guiding her up and then around the UNSUB, Emily was able to scramble past them to go down and grab the flashlight.
Next to their lives, that light was the most precious commodity that they had.
And after she picked it up, she spun around, slightly unsteady on her feet as she shone the flickering beam back down the tunnel. She shook it slightly until the light stopped shaking.
But seeing Hotch's arm come up to shield his eyes at the full brightness, she quickly shifted the beam down fully to the body on the ground.
She started walking back towards him.
"Is it him?" she asked anxiously, "is he dead?" And then her eyes widened as she saw for the first time, the fresh blood soaking through Hotch's t-shirt.
He'd been cut.
There was a slash through his t-shirt on his left side, right by his abdomen. And there were bright red marks forming on his neck. It looked like the UNSUB had been trying to crush his larynx.
That explained the raspy voice.
But a full assessment of his new injuries . . . and whether the two of them were now even capable of CRAWLING out of the shaft . . . had to wait for a moment. At least until she knew for sure that this was the UNSUB, and that he was out of the game.
So she watched as Hotch looked the body over with that steely eyed assessment of his.
"Yeah," he responded with a sharp nod, "it's him. Look at the features. He's the right age, and he's the spitting image of Lonnie plus twenty years and those streaks of grey."
Now that identity had been established, Hotch picked up the hunting knife that had been used to cut him . . . Emily could see the blood . . . then he winced slightly as he tossed it over towards her feet.
She quickly picked it up and tucked it into the outer pouch of the leather bag.
God knows that they couldn't leave any weapons lying around. But also, they might need it for something later.
Again, it was a long walk out.
Then she watched as Hotch . . . using the wall of the shaft for leverage . . . slowly pushed himself up to his knees. Her Sig was still in his left hand.
"Ready?" he asked softly.
"Ready," Emily said with a nod as she pointed the rifle at the UNSUB's head. And with that, Hotch slowly reached out and ripped open the ragged flannel shirt . . . the bullet had gone high on the right side of his chest.
Not exactly an area ripe for mortal injury. And given the amount of blood . . . minimal . . . most likely the only reason that the UNSUB was unconscious was because Hotch had followed up the bullet by slamming his head into the ground three or four times. The earth wasn't that hard though. It was just packed dirt.
So there was no way this guy was anywhere near dead.
Still though, even knowing what he was going to find, Hotch had to check. So with Emily still covering him, he pressed two fingers to the side of the UNSUB's neck, feeling for the carotid.
The whispered expletive came with a wince of pain that made Emily's own heart ache . . . he was still alive. And based on Hotch's expression as his fingers curled into a fist, his condition was nowhere near critical. Not surprising given where that bullet had gone.
The injury hardly looked any worse than hers.
Probably less . . . that looked like soft tissue only.
So that meant that he was going to wake up soon. But . . . her eyes started to sting . . . they couldn't let that happen.
They couldn't let him wake up.
Not if they wanted to get out of there alive. It was bad enough that she'd left the sons at the entrance. Maimed or not, she was still praying that act of mercy wasn't one that they were going to pay for later.
But this man . . . her eyes burned as she saw Hotch's hand scrub across his mouth . . . this man had to die. And he had to die not because he deserved to . . . though he clearly did . . . but because it was going to take them HOURS to climb out of this hole.
And they didn't have a shot in hell of making it out alive, if they left this man here behind them. He was down now . . . but these bastards kept getting back up again. Over and over. They had no cuffs. No rope. And had no guarantee that there weren't other disciples down here . . . other girls with hatchets in their hands . . . waiting back in the pit for new marching orders from Daddy. He was the medusa.
They had to cut off the head.
And they both knew it.
"I can do it," she whispered.
Hell, what was one more body for the day's count? At least this one was established evil. So maybe this would even out the dead girl up ahead of them in the tunnel. Who knows who the hell she was? A sister? Wife? A stockholmed victim?
Just a victim.
Didn't matter. Either way, that was two maimings and three deaths for her today . . . a new record. Lucky girl.
Emily's thoughts came with fresh tears that she tried to push away, and bitterness that she couldn't. But the bitterness didn't last . . . there was too much grief there. Too much guilt.
It just made everything hurt.
"No," Hotch shook his head, his hand falling from his face as his eyes snapped over to hers, "no, you won't. This is on me."
He put his hand out.
"Come over here."
Though the UNSUB was lying still, that pulse was strong . . . and it was steady. And he was still basically fit.
Which was more than could be said for either he or Emily at that point.
They had no strength for another fight. The next time one of them went down . . . they weren't getting up. Which meant that again they had reached a moment where the choice really was no choice at all.
This was what had to be done.
But Hotch waited until Emily had stepped around the UNSUB again . . . the father, he was just Lonnie with greasy silver streaks . . . and had moved behind him, before he took his breath. And as he felt her warm hand fell to his back, and the light fall steady onto the body, Hotch moved his finger over a half a millimeter.
There was no question this time as to whether or not God would forgive him.
And for that reason, he waited. Because he knew what was coming . . . possum was the family game. And if he had to do this, and he did, he was at least going to look the man in the eye when he did it.
It was all he had to salvage.
Nearly a minute passed, and then the lids fluttered . . . and the eyes popped open onto his. They were black and cold . . . and full of an insane fury. The arm started to come up.
One bullet . . . just one . . . went right into the center of the forehead. That was all that was needed. He would waste no more ammo.
Fortunately the blood was minimal, he had seen enough blood that day, but the eyes . . . dear God those eyes . . . they stayed open.
So Hotch got to stand there, watching as the life drained out of them. But he supposed that was punishment. God . . . or whoever the fuck was up there . . . shaking a finger.
See what you've done Aaron, you wanted to take a life . . . so watch it go. And know that you did that.
And you remember this moment too.
Emily's watery gaze slowly shifted up from the dead man on the ground. She blinked to try to clear the tears from her eyes.
He didn't deserve them.
But of course they weren't really for him, they were for what had to be done to him. And they were for what she could see was happening to Hotch. The rock hard tension in his jaw, the curling of his fist and the blackness in his eyes . . . he was retreating. Walling himself off once more. This time though it was for a different reason. It wasn't the cool detachment that he needed to do his work.
It was because his heart was broken.
It didn't matter that the death had been necessary for them to live, what mattered was that it had not been in the heat of combat . . . it was a cold act. A preemptive strike.
And there was no getting around that. He had stopped her from committing one out on the surface. And he had done that because it violated everything that they stood for her, everything that fought for . . . he had stopped her to save her soul.
So now it was time to return the favor.
Her hand slid down from his back, running briefly along his forearm until she'd reached his fingers.
They were still curled shut.
"Hotc . . . Aaron," she whispered, "please look at me."
For a moment his gaze remained steady on the body at his feet . . . the insects had begun to swarm. Then he blinked once, and his eyes snapped down hers. And in the glow from the flashlight, for a moment she could see the shift on his face . . . the agony briefly glimpsed behind that door.
And then he slammed it shut again.
His voice was hoarse as he took her arm. But she didn't let him pull her along. Not this time.
Instead she stood still, taking a moment to hook the strap of the rifle back over her shoulder.
She winced as she did it.
And then reached up with her good arm . . . her palm cupped around his dirty cheek.
A tear slipped down her cheek.
"What you did was right," she whispered, "and I won't let anyone say otherwise . . . even you."
And seeing Hotch's eyes widen in shock, she leaned in against his chest . . . and she hugged him.
It hurt, physically, it hurt. Her arm was throbbing and her muscles were again screaming from the fresh exertion and the fading adrenaline, but still . . . she put everything she had into it. Just waiting, waiting for him to hug her back.
If she didn't catch him now . . . he was going to keep falling.
And he was going to break.
Finally she felt his arm slip tentatively around her waist . . . and then the tentativeness was gone. And he was burying his face in her hair as his fingertips dug into her side.
Another tear ran down her face.
Feeling his chest hitch, she rubbed his back, and winced again . . . but she said nothing more. The words that she'd needed to share, had already been spoken. Now it was on him. He had to find a way to accept them.
And that was on him alone.
Hotch tried to blink away the hot tears pooling in his eyes. He had no idea how Emily had done it, but she'd said just the right thing to cut right through his defenses like a chainsaw.
She just might be better at this job than he was.
Today it seemed like it anyway. But once she'd cut him down, she propped him back up again. And though he wouldn't ordinarily ever allow anybody to see him so broken, this was not an ordinary day. And as his breath hitched and he felt one of those tears finally spill over, she hugged him tighter still. It was then that he began to understand a truth that had been staring him in the face since this woman had first stumbled into his life a decade ago.
Emily Prentiss wasn't just another member of his team. Or another person in his life.
She never had been.
She was something more. He didn't understand it, but he was starting to see that he needed to accept it.
Because she might be his only way out of this darkness.
This bond that they'd forged today . . . a bond born of blood and pain and true regret . . . it was something to hold onto. She . . . he squeezed her waist tighter, being careful to avoid pressure on her shoulder . . . was something to hold onto. And maybe if he did, he might get out of this hell with a little of himself left.
Without her he just might be lost for good.
And he wanted to say thank you, but the words wouldn't come. All he could get out was a choked, "I . . ." and then his throat closed.
But that was okay too. Because she just hushed him and patted his back, and then she whispered that he was a good man. One of the best she knew.
And that's when he began to cry.
He hadn't cried in a very long time . . . it hurt. But it felt good too. Like a cleansing.
Like something was being washed away.
As Hotch's tears spilled onto her shoulder, Emily rubbed her hand up and down his back, trying to offer comfort where there was none to be had. And a moment later, when he picked his head up to wipe his hand across his face, Emily tipped her head back slightly to look him in the eye.
"This is what we do Aaron," she said softly, finding his given name now rolling easily off her tongue, "we make hard choices, and sometimes people die. Sometimes bad people," her gaze shifted as her voice cracked, "sometimes innocent people." Her eyes snapped back, "but we'll get through this, somehow. But only if we stick together. I know that's hard for you. It's hard for me too. I don't, well, I don't like to talk to people about my problems. I don't like to need people. It makes me feel . . ."
She stopped for a moment to take a breath. And when she continued, there was a faint tremor in her voice.
"Weak. I feel weak. And I hate that more than anything. But, I accept that today is a day bigger than me. And I accept that, that," she swallowed, "well, that I need you. And I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is."
And then her lips curved in a faint smile . . . though there was nothing but grief in it.
"But you need me too. And you know it," her voice cracked, "so we're going to stick together," then she gave him another watery smile, though this one wasn't quite so hopeless, "we can be friends," she said with a sniffle, "real ones. Okay?"
Hotch nodded as he quickly sucked in a ragged breath.
And then he pressed his lips to Emily's forehead, and finally he was able to say what he couldn't say a moment before.
The words were murmured against her skin. And when he pulled back, she just reached up and touched his cheek again.
"It was me or you," she whispered, "and you took the harder road for both of us. So the thanks here is from me to you. And you remember that too."
Seeing his eyes widen, Emily nodded.
"I know, of course I know what you're going to take from here. Just like you know what I'm going to take from here. But we can take more than that," she dropped her hand down to cover his fingers.
They were resting on her hip.
"We can take this," she said as she wound them together, "right?"
When they got home, he was going to be all that she had. The only person in the world that would understand the things that they had endured here today . . . the choices that they had made.
The choices that had been made for them.
There was permanent damage done to both of them, of that she was sure. But that's all she was sure of. The rest of it was a black hole.
And she didn't want to get sucked in.
Hotch stared down at Emily for a moment, still blinking the remaining tears from his eyes.
"Right," he nodded again as pulled her back to his chest, "we can take this."
It wasn't going to wash away his sins, it wasn't even going to wash away his guilt. But it was something good, something pure . . . something that he didn't have before. A friend.
And that was a bit of light in the darkness. And that light might be enough to save him.
It might not . . . he kissed the top of her head.
But it was a place to start.
A/N 2: So here we are. Not out of the woods yet, not even back up IN the woods yet actually, but we'll address that on the last chapter. And I'd considered, and had briefly inserted, this conversation at the end, as something that they would have when they got outside. But all along, but from the beginning of the story, I was going to have Hotch kill this man. And he was going to kill him in cold blood. That was the crux. It had to be done, but what does doing that, doing all of these terrible things they've done, do to people like them? Basically good and decent people, who were put in a terrible situation, and things happened. And I couldn't have him put a bullet in this guy's head, and then have Emily let him stew about that for the next 2 to 3 hours as they dragged themselves out of that maze. He would have been completely, possibly irrevocably, fucked up by then. So this was her only shot to grab him before he was completely locked away in his little Hotch fortress.
So this world, and it is going to continue in at least one if not two more stories, will be much darker than the other ones. Because these you are the sum of your experiences, and their experiences here have given them heavier spirits. But, it's still them. And it's still Girl them. Just not so light. Not for a while anyway.
As to who the woman was. They might never know. But that doesn't really matter either. Emily killed her, and it wasn't the person that she was trying to kill. And she's not going to forget that.
So one more chapter here, and I'm really hoping (knock wood on the muse front) to get it up for next weekend and be done here. I've already written some of it, and I know how the rest of it goes, and fortunately the rest of it goes in narrative, which is SO much faster to write than live action and dialogue. But the epilogue will bridge them out of the mine shaft, and back in to the world again. Both figuratively, and literally. We'll tie up the loose ends.
Til' next time folks. Hope you're enjoying the ride :)