You're looking into a suspected Anthrax attack when your boss tells you that the BAU are coming to assess the situation. You wonder if it will be them, if it will be the team you worked with for almost six months and yet never felt entirely part of.
You find yourself working closely with Agent Hotchner – Hotch, he reminds you to call him. You see him look at lifeless corpses without flinching, you hear him talk about victims as if they were never even people. You remember that they all do this, albeit unconsciously.
His smiles are few and far between. He doesn't laugh, doesn't cry – at least, not that you've seen. You've dismissed him as cold, heartless.
But then one day, you see his true colors.
You're the only one with him when he gets the call. The two of you have been interviewing suspects. You see his face turn an ashen white. He hangs up the phone, eyes staring off into the distance at nothing in particular.
'What is it?' you ask. 'What happened?'
His voice is blank, you think at first, but then your realize that behind that façade is an unparalleled fear. You can see it in his furrowed brow, in his almost quivering lips.
'The suspect let off a biological agent as our agents entered the house. Morgan, Rossi and Prentiss were in there.'
Your heart drops. Though you wouldn't go as far as to call these people family, they are still friends. 'Are they…' You don't want to say the word "dead." You know that would make it too real.
'They're in quarantine,' he tells you. 'They won't know anything more until they've isolated the chemical compound.' His voice is shaking now, as though he can't stand to think he could lose one – or even three – of his agents today.
You put a hand on his shoulder. You understand now why he distances himself from his emotions, why he tries to see the victims as anything other than people. If he sees them as people, then it's all too much, then the barriers break, then he can't do his job effectively. It's a coping mechanism. One that you never fully understood in your time at the BAU. One thing you could never bring yourself to do.
You have no comforting words for this; you can't tell him that it's all going to be okay, because you're not sure that it will be.
The results come back a few hours later; it's tularemia. You breathe a sigh of relief. While it's highly incapacitating, the disease has a low lethality rate if treated immediately. It doesn't spread from person to person, so they'll be out of quarantine already.
Hotch's demeanor changes noticeably. A great weight has been lifted from his shoulders. His mask is back in place. Whatever he's feeling, he's not showing it.
'I wanted to apologize,' you say, as you drive to the hospital. Though your eyes are steady on the road, you know that he's giving a slightly quizzical look.
'Before I left the BAU, I may have acted in a way that was…unprofessional. At the time, I thought you were emotionless, that you didn't care. But now I know that it's not that.'
He doesn't say anything, so you continue. 'I know that seeing the victims as something other than people is the only way you can hold on. And today…It's a lot harder to see them as objects when you love them so much. Just make sure you remember to tell them, rather than keeping it bottled away.'
He sits in silence for a few minutes. But then, he says. 'You're right. I…thank-you.'
'But it's not just them.' He speaks again eventually. This time, you take your eyes off the road briefly, and you can see that he is smiling.