The Price We Pay
Disclaimer: I do not own either of these lovely characters. I be a poor poor library assistant with not a lot of money.
Rating: G. No cursing at all, except for one h-e-double-hockey-sticks.
Spoilers: Up to 4.03, "Minimal Loss"
Summary: The knight errant returns to the castle, to converse with the gentle fool. Hotch/Garcia post-ep, "Minimal Loss."
Note: This is a companion story to my earlier post-ep, "I Watched", and this will make much more sense if you read it first.
I'm gonna have to start putting LoJacks on every damn one of them.
She really needed to sue the FBI for false advertising, Garcia decided. They had told her that the pay would be good, the work interesting, the hours irregular but not unendurable.
What they had not told her was how many times she would have to sit beside her phone waiting for that call. That shrill ring which would signify whether one of her team was sitting, bruised but unbroken, on a plane back to Quantico, headed to home and safety. Or whether one or more of them, of these people she had come to consider family, were lying in a cold storage locker in some county morgue.
What had she heard, watching some PBS special on the Queen of England last year? QEII was not normally who she would go to for deep philosophical understanding. But she had said something, in a speech she gave right after 9/11.
"Grief is the price we pay for love."
Penelope was pretty sure that fear was part of that price, too.
But that was a price, she had decided, she was willing to pay. She would trade every sped heartbeat, every ache in her gut, for even one of Emily's bad, bad puns, or a handful of Reid's irrelevant factoids. She wouldn't give them up for anything in the world.
Love meant fear.
Love apparently also meant kicking a little SSA ass when necessary.
Thank God for Aaron Hotchner, Garcia thought to herself. And then she just had to laugh.
At a man who saw so clearly in others what he was blind to in himself. That Mr. "I have a busted eardrum, now point me toward the men with the firearms" had been the one to nudge Emily out the door like a border collie in Brooks Brothers.
Speak of the handsome devil.
"Hotch! Stop skulking around there at the door and enter unto my lair. Pull up a rolly chair."
Hurrah for the invention of the sticky-backed computer mirror. Those faces he makes are priceless.
"I never thought I'd see the day they'd get you in seer-sucker."
"Plains State camouflage, apparently."
"They thought you'd seem less like an FBI agent out of the suit? They obviously don't know you that well."
"I'll have you know I do own casual articles of clothing, Garcia."
"Name, for me, the last t-shirt you sent through the wash."
"That did not say FBI, SWAT, or any variation of PD on it."
That stumped him.
"Dear god, Agent Hotchner, were you born at the age of 37?"
"No, no, I've got it. There was that Hokies shirt that Reid brought back a few years ago. But it was irreparably damaged."
"Fatal encounter with a batch of strained peas."
They both laughed, and Hotch smiled, but, Garcia noted, it faded from his eyes rather quickly.
That beautiful little boy, whom he hardly ever gets to see now.
After Haley's initial visit, Hotch had brought Jack in just the once. Soon after he learned to walk. And, she sadly noted, only a little while before Haley had moved the two of them out.
Jack had motored on his tiny legs around the bullpen, like Thomas the Tank Engine, while Hotch chased after. She had seldom seen Hotch light up like that, before or since.
"Yeah, you gotta watch those strained vegetables. They're practically weapons grade."
The office was silent for a moment. Hotch looked like he wanted to say something, but wasn't quite sure how.
"Garcia, I wanted to apologize."
That threw her for a loop.
"After New York, when you were trying to herd me out of my office…"
"Sorry about that, sir."
" – no, no, what I wanted to say is, I understand now what you were trying to tell me. I think."
"Really? Because I didn't."
He looked off in the distance once again. And maybe it was the lighting, maybe it was the hour, but he looked…old. More than he had ever looked before, to her.
"Out in Colorado, at the ranch, when Cyrus discovered Prentiss was the agent…"
Hotch trailed off, and Garcia was almost glad he did. Derek hadn't been able to say much, but from the details he would give her, the bruises on Emily's face, and the ginger way she was walking…Garcia's active imagination could do the rest.
"We had the parabolic mikes set up, so we could hear everything. Everything. The thumps. The cans falling to the floor. The crash of the glass. "
"Oh my God." Penelope whispered.
"We couldn't go in then. It would have been a disaster. Dave knew that, and Emily knew that. But if Cyrus hadn't stopped when he did…"
Hotch's voice caught, and he tried to compose himself. Garcia, on the verge of tears, appreciated the reprieve.
"I guess what I wanted to say was…is, I never quite understood that part of your job before. I think I do now."
"My job? Pah. Piece of cake. I just sit here in my lair while you guys go out and do the hard part. You're the ones putting your lives at risk."
Hotch raised an eyebrow at her, and she knew he had seen through her clever ruse.
"Sure, would I feel better if you all trudged out each day in bullet-proof, bomb-proof, psycho-proof suits of armor? Hell yeah. But, that's the job. And this is the job. And, what's that expression, if they're shooting at you, you know you must be doing something right?"
Hotch nodded perfunctorily. But there was something in his eyes. Something that said he wasn't quite as sure anymore. Not of the job, she knew that much. She knew it had taken the full persuasive powers of the BAU team to get him to take those two days off after Lower Canaan.
No, that wasn't it. Garcia could profile a little too. What he wasn't quite sure of anymore was Aaron Hotchner. Watching Kate Joyner's lifeblood pool on Federal Plaza. Listening to Emily Prentiss being beaten into unconsciousness from 500 yards away. These had stripped away something. His myth of control to which he clung so tightly. And that unknown bourn that lay beyond? There be dragons.
"So you saw Prentiss before she went home?"
Aha, the quick draw subject change.
"Yup, she checked in. I've got you all pretty well trained now."
"Am I going to wake up one day to find you've taken over the BAU in some sort of bloody coup d'etat?"
"Of course not, sir."
"I'll be much more subtle than that."
Was that a- did I just see SSA, Unit Chief Aaron Hotchner…giggle? Nah, must have been a hallucination.
"See you tomorrow, Garcia", said Hotch, as he stood up to leave.
"Bright and early. And, Hotch?"
He turned around.
"You are doing something right."
Hotch didn't respond. He gently closed her door as he headed back across the bullpen.
Sigh. Someone's gotta mother the mother hen once in a while, right?