The Things That Define Us
Some think it's holding on that makes one strong; sometimes it's letting go.
'It's been a while since you've seen me. What made you decide to come back?'
'I've been having hallucinations.'
'For how long?'
'I had them for about five years. Yesterday they stopped.'
She lay in the hospital bed, refusing to eat, refusing to talk. Every since they had told her. She didn't need the constant voice in her ear, saying that it was all her fault. She knew.
If she had cleared the apartment like she was supposed to, the mess that followed would never had happened. If she'd cleared the apartment like she was supposed to, he would still be alive. Now he was taunting her, blaming her. Nothing anyone else said made a difference.
'Do you want to know what death feels like?' It was late, and his was sitting next to her bed. She should have been sleeping. She would rather be sleeping. Even the incessant nightmares were better than this.
'That rumor – about life flashing before your eyes. It's true. Every good thing that ever happened to you, all in the space of a few seconds. Reminding you that you'll never be able to do those things again. Never be able to see your friends, see your family. Your wife, your son. Never again. And to think, that if you hadn't been stupid enough to ignore protocol, I'd still be here.' It was a variation on the same mantra he'd been repeating for hours now. She locked away the part of herself that wanted to break down into tears. To succumb to the pain.
'Do you want to know what my last thoughts were? Of how I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to you. But I didn't know. I didn't know that it was your fault. You killed me, Emily. You left a little boy without a father.'
'JUST STOP!' she screamed, and burst into tears. 'I'm sorry,' she whispered, sobs shaking her body. 'I'm so sorry.'
She had been broken down by her own psyche.
He had almost broken down outside the hospital. It took him almost half an hour to gather his composure and head back to the victim's house. He'd seen the photos the unsub had sent. He'd seen what torture these women had been through. By the end of it, he doubted they were even human.
'Feeling guilty?' a voice came from beside him. He almost reached for his gun, when he realised. It was her voice. Or rather, his subconscious's interpretation of her voice. He knew he hadn't been getting much sleep lately – last night had been the exception. The combination of that and his gradual mental breakdown would produce hallucinations.
'Yes,' he told the voice. He got out of the car, slamming the door shut on his own remorse.
JJ, Garcia and Emily were the only ones still in the BAU. The team had fractured, after the catastrophic events that left Aaron Hotchner dead. Even now, Emily barely spoke to the other two unless it concerned a case; a press conference to be given, financial records to be tracked down. She couldn't look them in the eye, knowing that Hotch should still be alive.
'Hands in the air.' She held the grip of her pistol tightly. Her old, faithful companion.
The unsub complied without too much complaint. He knew the score. He wasn't suicidal. When she was cuffing him, he began to speak.
'Do you want to hear what I did to them? How I ravished their bodies? How I made them my own? The sound of their screams as they begged for mercy. The sound of their moans. I'm getting hard just thinking about it.' She shoved him into the back of the police car. 'Oh, you like it rough, do you?' he called out through the glass.
'Nice catch, boss.' Agent Owen Grey had been Morgan's replacement. He was short, wiry, and had a strange fascination with Judy Garland films.
'You sure showed him, ey?' Agent Clark McGregor was Reid's replacement. He was of medium height, had pale blond hair, and his favorite food was nachos drenched in cheese.
'Good job.' Agent Stacy Merriam. Rossi's replacement. Favorite color green.
Their comments were another attempt at getting her to lighten up. She was fairly sure they had money down on the matter. She gave them a half smile – not quite tantamount to loosening up, in their book – and went looking for JJ.
'It was a good takedown,' a voice in her ear said. His voice. Low, rich and warm. How she missed him when he wasn't there for her.
'You've done better,' she replied in a voice equally as low.
'You say something, Prentiss?' JJ. It was almost like talking to a stranger. There was little familiarity between them anymore.
'How's the victim?' She didn't see blame in those blue eyes. She saw pity.
Maybe it was time to let go of the guilt.
'We got here just in time. She should be fine with some counselling.'
'If only we were all so lucky.' Emily's voice was dark. It had been for so long now.
JJ tried to break through the barrier. Usually her attempts had been met with grunts, or brush-offs. Today, when she asked, 'How have you been holding up?' she got a response.
It took a couple of seconds, and some courage, but finally, Emily said, 'I'm doing...better.'
'Did you want to talk about it?' JJ was expecting a no. It was always a no. She was reminded of Hotch in his dark period. She didn't want this to end the same way.
'The custodial was on Monday.' She didn't need to say which custodial, for JJ immediately understood. 'I saw Dave. He's doing well. I guess I kind of got a bit of closure. I guess I finally understand some things.'
'But you'll never understand why I did what I did.' She tried to brush away that voice. She couldn't see him anymore, but she could still hear him.
A cancer, eating away inside of her.
Her fingers burned. He'd focused on the fingers today – she wasn't quite sure why. Thumbscrews, bamboo shoots. She wanted to clench her hands into a fist, but couldn't, for fear of breaking them further.
There was a tray of food in the corner. Quiches and pastries. Finger food.
'Looks like someone has a sense of humor.' He was back.
'Knowing that he has a sense of humor isn't all that comforting.' Her hands were shaking. She was hungry – starving, even. This was the first food that'd been put out in three days.
That's why he was there. To help her get through the pain.
A broken hand reached out for the tray.
'Do you understand the reason for the hallucination?'
'He was there to help me get through the pain.'
'And if the hallucination remains, what does that imply?'
'...that I'm still in pain.'
They sedated her. Reduced her to a shivering mass. None of the BAU team could bring themselves to leave her side.
'We think she's hallucinating,' a doctor told them. 'We've arranged for another appointment with the psychologist. Maybe she'll be ready to talk by then.'
'But will we be ready to listen?' asked Morgan softly.
'What was that, Morgan?' asked JJ. Her head was drooped, and he seemed tired.
'I'm just wondering if we're ready. Look at us. We'd break down the second we hear her story. We're all feeling guilty about one thing or another.'
'And we always will,' said Rossi dully.
Signs of a struggle at the victim's house. Blood on the floor. Her blood.
His fingers brushed it lightly. His stomach lurched. He was going to be sick.
Had he done this?
He pulled out his phone, called Morgan. 'Morgan, it's Hotch. Don't worry about checking out her apartment.'
'You found her?'
Vomit rose in his throat. He thought he was going to be sick.
'No. There's blood at the house. I think the unsub's got her.'
There was a clattering sound on the other end of the line, and then a long beep. Hotch could guess what had happened; Morgan had dropped his phone.
He couldn't hold it in any more. He emptied the contents of his stomach in the corner of the room. The pain in his lower stomach remained, though he knew it was probably that guilt, rather than nausea.
She was always trying to protect the rest of them, but gave little thought for protecting herself. He wanted so much to be able to protect her now.
A hand touched his back. A phantom hand, but a hand nonetheless. He'd felt her touch before, in Lower Canaan. Firm yet delicate fingertips. He supposed the hallucination was based on that moment, plus his own mind filling in the gaps.
'It's okay. I'm here for you.' Was that the kind of thing she'd say? Probably. She'd probably tell him not to blame himself, but he knew he couldn't believe that.
Because if he couldn't blame himself, then he couldn't blame anyone.
'Hey Garcia.' The media liaison would often come down to see Garcia in the off hours. It gave them both an outlet from the stress of the job.
'Hey, chickadee. How'd the case go? I heard Prentiss gave one hell of a takedown.'
'Yeah. She spoke to me, afterwards. The custodial was on Monday.'
'Oh God, I completely forgot.'
'She's doing better, I think.'
I'm going to try and find the tapes.' Garcia wanted – needed – to know what had gone down in that interrogation room. JJ normally would have ordered against it, but her desire was just as strong.
They'd spent five years trying to get their Emily back, damned if they were going to stop now.
It was dark. He hadn't turned on the lights in two days. He'd just left her there, wallowing in her own filth. He'd taken away the bucket. He'd taken away her clothes. No food, no water. She was sure it was supposed to be some kind of ritual humiliation, break her down until she was ashamed to even be human.
But she had a secret that he didn't know.
She wasn't alone.
On the third day, he dragged her out of there. Brought her to a small room, the impossibly white light a stark contrast to the previous surroundings. He loosed her bonds, and turned a tap on the far wall. A torrent of water shot from the ceiling in stinging needles. Raw wounds screamed with pain. Dirt and bodily fluids washed from her skin.
She didn't move from the foetal position she had adopted. She didn't want the unsub to see her face. Didn't want him to see the grim determination that was planted upon it. There were whispers. A voice, telling her how brave she was, how special she was. For that time, it made her feel above humiliation.
'This...hallucination. Of Agent Hotchner. It shielded you, for lack of a better term, until you discovered he had died. Then what did it do?'
'Accused me, for a while. Taunted.'
'Made you feel guilty?'
'Was there any external stimulus to suggest you should be feeling guilty?'
He was still there when she woke up. Dark eyes, taunting. She had never realised how expressive he could be with his eyes. Black lights, tearing into her soul.
'Hey, girl.' Morgan was at her bedside. He seemed to be the only other person in the room. Apart from her constant companion, of course. 'How're you feeling?'
An interesting question. "Like my heart's been torn from my chest" would have been an appropriate answer. He looked into her eyes, and, blinking back tears, she tried to turn away. She didn't want his eyes boring into her as well.
She grunted in dishonest assent. She couldn't be fine. He wasn't shielding the pain anymore. He was intensifying it. 'Tell him. Tell him how you forgot to check the apartment for hostiles. Tell him how getting kidnapped was your own fault. Tell him how my death was your fault. TELL HIM.'
'Please, Derek,' she pleaded with him. 'Make it go away.'
Hotch hadn't slept properly in weeks. But then, his waking hours were just as painful. When he slept, he was awoken by her screams. When he was awake, he was tormented by dead ends in the investigation and her constant gaze.
Haley was leaving for Phoenix that week. Taking Jack away from him. His life was falling apart around him.
'Hotch.' He looked up at his name. His hair hadn't been cut, his chin unshaven. His tie was askew. Tired eyes looked out at JJ.
'Strauss wants to see you. Now.'
He got up from his desk. The normally organised surface was strewn with files. He couldn't even see the polished veneer.
His knuckles rapped the solid door. 'Come in.' If he hadn't been so distracted, he would have noticed the barely concealed strain in Strauss' voice. A missing agent was stressful for everyone.
'Sit down, Agent Hotchner.' He sat, knowing that whatever Strauss wanted him for, it wasn't coffee and cake.
'Your team has been working this case for two months. Not only have you produced no discernable results, one of your agents is missing. I'm afraid I have no choice but to call in another team to take the case.'
Aaron Hotchner cracked.
She seemed a little easier with them, JJ noted. She made a joke or two, but it was so unusual that no-one noticed immediately. Early morning, after a case, she called out to JJ as she was leaving.
'How...' her voice cracked. She was having difficulty even asking JJ the question she wanted to ask. 'How're you doing?' It was so simple a question, but it had taken her almost five years to ask.
JJ cracked a smile. 'I'm good.'
'And Will? Henry?'
'That's good....Did you want to grab a drink sometime? Old times, y'know.' She talked fast. Nervous, afraid of rejection.
'You think getting their approval will make killing me okay? That it will just make it all go away?' Emily froze at the sound of his voice. Her breathing patterns changed.
Though not technically a profiler, JJ picked up on these changes. 'That'd be great,' she said quickly, before Emily could run away.
'Okay. Great.' Emily let out a deep breath, blocking the voice in her head. 'Eightish?'
She wasn't going to let that guilt get the better of her. Not anymore.
He had a knife in his hand, but he didn't seem to be interested in using it anymore. Fresh wounds decorating her torso already leaked crimson tears. Absent-mindedly, his hand stroked across her upper body. He wouldn't – couldn't – look into her eyes.
'He's breaking,' a voice told her. She glanced across, and saw him leaning against the wall, clad in his impeccable suit and tie. 'He can't stand to cause you pain anymore.'
On an unconscious level, she must have known that. Must have noticed that. After all, he was a part of her, wasn't he? Her mind's way of minimising the pain. The image she found most comforting.
The image that would cause her the most pain to lose.
'Without the guilt, would it still have hurt as much?'
'Why do you think that?'
'...Because I was in love with him.'
'Hey, hey. It's okay.' Morgan knew it wasn't okay. How could he look her in the eye, knowing that they probably could have done more to save her.
They shared no solace in their private guilt.
When the Psychologist came at the scheduled appointment time, Morgan left. He knew better than to interfere with professionals.
He looked at his watch. It was almost 10am. He had his own appointment.
His own guilt.
Morgan got in to work just a few minutes late, but felt as though he'd missed a whole lot more. Hotch, screaming bloody murder at Erin Strauss. He only caught the tail end of it, which involved Hotch stalking past him furiously into the open elevator.
He stared at JJ, open-mouthed. 'What just happened here?'
JJ gave him a grim, tired look. 'Strauss is taking us off the case. Hotch got mad. Then Hotch got suspended.'
Morgan suspected that there were a few details missing from the explanation, but he didn't have time to think about that. He had his own anger now.
He found Strauss, his eye fiery. 'What do you think you're doing, ma'am?' He injected the final word with enough venom to kill an elephant.
'Your team has lost its objectivity. You're all getting far too emotional, and getting emotional means that you will miss details. I thought it best for everyone that a less-involved team take the case. By no means are we letting this rest, Agent Morgan.' While it may have been a logical explanation, Morgan found his anger wanting to trump that logic. "And that's why you're off the case," a tiny voice in the back of his head said.
'Yeah,' he muttered to himself. 'Shut up.'
It was seven-thirty, and she was sitting nervously at the bar. A few men had tried to approach her. She had sent them away with a fierce glance.
JJ got there at quarter to eight, and she wasn't alone. Garcia, Morgan, Reid and Rossi were with her. She had really done the rounds.
'You knew this was a bad idea.' It wasn't him anymore. It had stopped being him a long time ago. Now it was some twisted demon, preying on her mind, infecting her with its poison. Using that famed compartmentalisation skill, she tried to lock away that addiction.
Morgan grabbed what appeared to be the last free table, scaring off a frat boy that had been about to steal it from under him. He did look scarier – it was the eyes.
She let herself be hugged, first by Garcia and JJ, then by Reid and Morgan. Rossi seemed willing to content himself with a professional handshake, but halfway through, he changed his mind and pulled her into a hug.
'They still blame you. Can't you see it in their eyes?'
The voice barely even registered.
She felt guilty. She always would.
But then, she wasn't alone.
He let her shower. Let her wash clean of the filth that marred her once flawless skin. The scars would remain, reminding her of those months they spent together. He let her towel dry, gave her fresh, clean clothes. A heavenly experience in comparison to the rest of her stay.
He locked her in the cell, a tray of food – real food – and drink sitting at the door.
He went upstairs, to the telephone. He dialled a number. He'd never called before, never contacted them in that personal manner. He'd sent letters, pictures. Enough to let them know what he was doing.
'FBI tipline? Your missing agent, Emily Prentiss? I can tell you where she is.'
Downstairs, he sat with her in the darkness. Her constant companion. 'He's either going to kill you, or release you. Which do you think is more likely?'
'I don't know which one is more likely, but I know which one I want.'
Hallucinations aside, Emily Prentiss prayed for death.
He was sitting in his car. She sat in the passenger's seat, silent.
'You aren't going to stop me?' he asked bitterly.
'There's no reason to,' was her simple reply.
He stared at the gun. His salvation.
Maybe he'd find some kind of solace, some kind of peace. He turned sideways to his constant companion. 'I love you,' he said.
He put the gun into his mouth, acrid metal poisoning his tongue.
It took them seven hours to clean blood and brains from the leather upholstery.
'I was surprised to hear about your stay of execution.'
'I needed this conversation. Alone. No other agents to spoil the fun.'
'You wanted to see how I was doing?'
'I admit, I have ulterior motives.'
'Would you tell me what they are?'
The guard came in, uncuffed him from the table. In a blur of movement, a flash of color, he'd knocked out the guard, his limp body blocking the door. A second later, and his hand was at her throat.
'It's been five years,' he said. 'You couldn't do this yourself?'
'I was afraid.' He tightened his grip, slowing the oxygen to her lungs. She choked out a cough. Her hands seemed to be on a separate wavelength to the rest of her, trying to pry those fingers from her throat.
'Thank-you,' she managed, before slowly sinking into unconsciousness.
When the guards finally broke through the door, the unsub was sitting at his chair, as though nothing had happened.
Her eyes were wide open, bruises at her neck. That distinctive scar, snaking its way down her body. Two fingers to the wrist. 'She's dead,' said the guard to his companion.
The unsub smiled to himself. He'd killed his number twenty-seven.
He was not alone in his facial expression.
He was waiting for her on the other side. The person who defined her.
A/N: I wasn't expecting to write this, but there were a few things I forgot to include in Part I. And yeah, I went the ultra-depressing route.