(Changed the time line on this to put it about three months after s3 finale--and I blew up Hotch, making him slightly hearing impaired...enjoy)
It started out as any other normal day for Emily. She placed her coffee on the corner of her desk, spent a few minutes mindlessly flirting with Morgan, chattered easily with JJ and Garcia, laughing once again about the worst pickup artist—Brad, the real FBI agent. More than a year after the fact, and the incident was still the subject of many discussions between the three women.
What a joke.
The day rapidly deteriorated, ending with her, Hotch, and Rossi standing outside a large, run-down bungalow in the midst of down town St. Louis.
"You sure this is the place?" She asked, resigned. She didn't want to admit it, but something about the building just curled her stomach.
"St. Louis Missionaries shelter, temporary home to displaced women and children." The local police officer said, his tone remarkably unaffected. He'd been here before; it was nothing new. "Holds up to anywhere between sixty to one twenty at any given time. Might want to watch your step, ma'am."
"Great." Emily muttered. She hated being called ma'am. Made her feel older than her thirty-six years. And the man calling her ma'am—had to be a good half dozen years older than she. "So what are we hoping to find here?"
"There's a few kids, runaways mostly, who frequent the area down by the river. Odds are if you're guy hid the bodies, one of them has seen somethin'."
"A bunch of kids? Will they talk to us?" Hotch asked, putting himself directly beside Emily. This wasn't exactly the best area of the city, and statistically, a woman was just more vulnerable—even a law enforcement officer.
"A few. Trick is to go slow, don't spook them. And whatever you do, don't touch them. Mighty skittish." Officer Randall opened the door to the shelter then moved aside to let Emily pass first. Any other time she'd have appreciated his old-fashioned courtesy, but today she just wanted the day to end. "There's a few here we should talk to."
"Ok, how do we want to do this?" Hotch asked, looking out-of-place in his neatly pressed suit and his exactly tied tie. He fairly shouted government, and the residents were eyeing him suspiciously. Rossi was nearly as imposing, though he'd forgone the tie.
"Best if I do most of the talking, me and Agent Prentiss. Kids here are a little more open with women." Randall explained, leading the way to a large rec room. "There's a couple of offices we can use."
"Rossi, you go with Officer Randall." Hotch said. Since the New York case, and the resulting damage to his hearing, he'd found himself working alongside the dark-haired woman more and more. She just seemed more open to letting him deal with things in his own way. To not judging him, not constantly evaluating him. The one not counting on him, the one who still seemed to trust his judgment, his leadership. Even when he'd doubted it himself. He still had partial hearing in both ears, but it would never be completely the same. He'd just have to learn to function with it, and Prentiss seemed to be the one who understood that the best.
The three BAU agents followed the officer around the rec room, stopping only by a bank of offices in the back corner. Hotch had just entered the first office when a loud shout had them all turning.
"Aunt Emily!" A small dark-headed fury barreled into Emily from the side, sending her sprawling to the ground. Hotch and Rossi, as well as Officer Randall, reached for their weapons, shock and instinct immediately taking over.
Emily just sat on the floor, uncertain who was wrapped around her neck, though she had a sneaking suspicion. She managed to pull the child back slightly and looked down into eyes the same dark color as her own. "Cody?"
"I knew you'd find me, I knew you'd find me!" The twelve year old repeated, her face covered with tears and streaks of dirt.
"Cody, stop crying. Now." Emily ordered firmly, pulling the child back even further, taking in the ragged, too small clothes the girl wore.
"K, what took you so long?"
Hotch and Rossi were completely stumped at seeing their colleague sprawled on the floor with a child wrapped around her. Hotch knew very well that Emily didn't have any nieces, so to hear the child call her aunt completely perplexed him.
"Honey, why are you here? Why aren't you in California?" Emily asked, rising from the floor with a hand up from Rossi. "Where's your mother?"
"Don't know, don't give a damn. I was on my way to be with you." The kid shrugged a shoulder, the action so filled with false bravado that Hotch—and the other three people in the room—knew immediately that the kid was hiding something.
"Cody—how long have you been on your way to me?" Emily asked sharply. She leaned down, almost eye-to-eye with the kid.
"Don't know, since April I guess, what month is it?" The child asked, as the older woman turned green.
"It's August." Hotch said hoarsely, appalled that the girl had apparently been on the streets that long.
"Thanks, mister. So I've been making my way to Virginia for four months. Why? Didn't Aunt Elizabeth tell you?"
"My mother knew you were coming to me?" Emily asked, appalled.
"I called her. Told her I wanted to talk to you. She said you were away with your job and if I wanted to talk to you I could just come see you."
"Oh my god." Emily rubbed her eyes with one hand, clinging tightly to the child with the other. "But why? Why aren't you with your mother? I put you on a plane myself eight months ago."
"Mom's a bitch, Em. She didn't want me around, her or Rodney."
"Mom's boyfriend. Funny, she calls him that, he's at least fifty. Dude got grabby. I told my mom, she told me stop lying. If I didn't like how Rodney did things I could leave. So I split." The kid shrugged again, looking away from the adults staring at her. She almost didn't seem aware of the men's presence focusing only on Emily. "I called you, but you didn't answer, so I called Aunt Elizabeth. I had enough money for a bus ticket through the dessert. Been making tracks this way ever since. But I knew you'd eventually find me."
Her words rang with an unquestioned faith and trust and Emily visibly swallowed. "Have you spoken to your mother since you split?"
"Once, I called her to make sure it was DC where you were. She wouldn't tell me, said that finding you was my problem. Said you'd told her you didn't care, either, that I wasn't your problem."
"Oh, honey." Emily ignored her colleagues and wrapped the little girl in her arms and just held her. "I've spoken to your mother but she never told me you were gone. If she had I would have found you weeks ago!"
"So I can stay with you? I'm not going back to her, Emily. I'm not."
Emily didn't answer, merely looked at Hotch with a completely bewildered look in her eyes. What was she supposed to do now?
Hotch stared at the two dark-haired females. This was a turn he would never have expected. "Agent Prentiss, would you like to introduce us?"
"Agent Hotchner, Agent Rossi, this is my cousin, Cody Prentiss. Her father was my first cousin. Cody, this is Agent Hotchner and Rossi, they're my supervisors at the BAU."
The girl eyed them suspiciously, her fist tightening in the material of Prentiss's shirt.
"Her father was your cousin?" Rossi asked softly, catching on her distinction.
"He died and I went to live with my mom." The twelve year old seemed to know what he was asking. "Aunt Emily stayed with me until after the funeral."
"So you lived with your father where?" Hotch asked, moving closer to hear.
"DC. My mom left when I was like four. I hadn't seen her since, until after Daddy's funeral."
"Cody, I'm going to have to call your mother." Emily said, "Find out why she didn't tell me."
"No! I don't want to go back to her! Please, Emily, please, please. I'll be good! You won't even know I am there!"
"Calm down. You're not going anywhere. But I have to talk to her. Find out why. We'll work this out, I promise." Emily turned the girl to face her. "But right now, Agent Hotchner, Rossi, and I have a big job to do. I need you to promise me you'll stay right here until we're done. Then you and I will go back to my hotel and have a big, long talk. Ok?"
"Ok. I promise."