Disclaimers: Aaron Hotchner does not belong to me, to my eternal disappointment. (Neither does Penelope Garcia, either.)

Rating: K- Completely harmless.

Spoilers: 1.14, "Riding The Lightning"; 2.1, "The Fisher King, Part Two"; 3.2, "In Birth and Death"; 4.1, "Mayhem"; and 4.22, "The Big Wheel"

Genre: Angst/Missing Scenes

Summary: Sentry, n. 1. A guard, especially a soldier posted at a given spot to prevent the passage of unauthorized persons. 2. The duty of a sentry; watch. (Or, Why Mom Volunteers For All The Crappy Jobs.)

***

He doesn't look away.

The adrenaline rush swiftly fades, the triumph curdles to mere disgust, as in his peripheral vision he sees the executioner flip the switch. Switch on the circuit, sending thousands of volts of electricity coursing through Jacob Dawes. Through the animated corpse that ceased to be Jacob Dawes a few seconds ago. Through the mannequin with the look of absolute hatred frozen on its face. Hatred that that Riley survived, that his absolute will has been thwarted, was thwarted 15 years ago by the last free act of a mother's love.

Hotch doesn't look away as Jacob Dawes is pronounced dead at 12:01 Central Standard Time.

***

He won't look away.

He stands outside the ICU window, watching as Gideon gently holds Elle's hand. Watching as her eyelids flutter just the tiniest bit, even as the IVs and the leads and the machines keep her locked within the strict confines of recovery. He returned 15 minutes ago, his hands still aching. His fingers still stained slightly with the red of Elle's blood, scrubbed from her walls until he would swear he was taking the first layer of paint off.

Gideon, with his preternatural sense of these things, turns, and catches his eye. Motions his head the slightest bit towards Elle's prone form. He motions his head, no, in return, back and forth, but always keeping his eyes fixed on her.

Hotch won't takes his eyes off Elle Greenaway, off any of them, ever. Never again. Because he fears what will happen if he does.

***

He can't look at her.

He knows she's looking at him, he can feel her eyes boring into his skull as he continues to pack. Pack unconsciously, letting the routines he has cultivated for 10 years take him over, as his own mind threatens to tear itself apart. He won't look at her, because if he looks at her right now, he'll lose it. He'll know what Haley's saying is true. It is, and it's as true as what he's telling her. That this job is, has become, what he is, and what he has to be. That the gravitational pull tugging him towards Milwaukee is as strong as the one pulling him here. That he has tried, and will try, to make it not so. For her sake, and Jack's sake, if not for his own.

Hotch can't look at Haley, as he grabs his gun and go bag, as he leaves his bedroom. For what he knows, at some level, will be the last time.

***

He keeps watching her.

He looks up towards the line of ambulances, back at the burning SUV, around at the claustrophobic city block that has become their prison. But his eyes always come back to her. Her color turning paler and paler, the tremors in her tiny form growing more and more profound. But for some inexplicable reason, she is calm. He knows, that Kate knows, that she is slowly slipping away, slipping towards that bourn from which she may not be able to return. But she is calm. Talking about her bag, about the movies, about anything. Her voice's volume slowly crawling towards zero, towards a whisper that he cannot hear over the piercing din filling in his ears.

Hotch keeps watching Kate's unconscious form, as terrified screams fill the empty space of 1 Federal Plaza. Screams that he is only dimly aware of as his own.

***

He cannot look away.

He sits in the unlit apartment, staring at the vacant eyes on the computer, and he counts them, pair by pair. He flips through the Buffalo PD's files, giving each of them a name. 20 eyes, 10 women, 10 lives snuffed out by Vincent's terrifying precision. 20 eyes, and he's sitting here wishing that the number not turn out to be 22, 24, or 36. He cannot look away, even as his phone rings. It's Prentiss's voice, carrying that weird combination of exhilaration and mournfulness that he knows all too well. Stanley, recovered, physically uninjured. Found on the Ferris wheel, next to the body of Vincent Rowlings.

He gives Prentiss a perfunctory, "Good job", as he closes his phone. He needs to finish this, before returning to the station. 3 down, 7 to go. It's going to take a while.

"Hotch?"

He looks up at this, tears his eyes away from the glowing screen. Her vivid colors, her golden (semi-golden) hair, stand out amidst the dim beige of Vincent's rooms.

"You want some help with that?"

He smiles at Garcia, relieved to be looking into her bright, living eyes.

"Yes, I would, thank you."

Hotch looks at Garcia, and Garcia smiles back at him, and he gives a silent prayer of thanks for her, for whatever power chose to send him this living candle against the darkness.

fin