Again, I apologise for the delay in updates. This chapter officially marks halfway through the story, something for which I'm glad. Hope that you enjoy it and please review.
Disclaimer: See Chapter One.
Previously on The Audacity of Man…
She grabbed her phone and texted Hotch quickly.
'Meet u at the park around the corner in 5.'
She pulled out of the driveway, made a turn at the T-intersection, and stopped at the park away from the streetlights. Hotch was already waiting for her.
"Feelings are not supposed to be logical. Dangerous is the man who has rationalized his emotions." ~David Borenstein.
"What happened today?" Blunt and to the point. She could tell that Hotch was angry. "Agent Prentiss?"
Okay, really angry with her.
"I wasn't to blame for this, Hotch," she reasoned, the rational part of her brain, which never seemed to work well around him, especially not recently, telling her to remain calm and brief him on the day's events from her perspective. After all, he said that he trusted her, and for him to admit that to her was something exceptional.
"You were arrested," his voice was laced with anger and another emotion that Emily couldn't quite put her finger on. And she had no idea as to why he was so enraged.
"I was trying to pull Ryan away," Emily started to explain. She stopped. Hotch was emanating an expression that told her that no amount of explanation would cover her actions. And that made her furious. "I didn't know there was going to be a counter-protest today."
"Nor did I."
"Then why is this my fault? Why didn't you have Garcia monitoring the social networking sites? She could've picked up on this and then I wouldn't have even been there." She regretted the insubordination, but she spoke the truth, and with the way her emotions were running away from her, she was grateful that worse didn't spill from her gaping orifice.
Hotch just looked at her, and Emily found that it was impossible to tell what he was thinking.
"I'm sorry," she finally said. It was the second time she'd apologised for her outbursts in as many days and if she wasn't careful, she knew, then she would go back to DC without a job. "I hadn't meant that. I know that you're working hard on this. I'm just… tired." And she genuinely looked it.
Hotch's face changed. It was no longer a mess of anger and disappointment, but rather, a clam mix of sympathy and understanding, and possibly something else, but Emily couldn't tell.
"You are right, though," Hotch admitted, a little bashfully. "I missed it and it's my fault that you were thrown into that situation. I'm the one who should be apologising."
He was handing her the white flag? Emily had not expected that when she stepped out the silver hybrid a few minutes earlier. "Accepted." She was smiling now.
"Did you find out anything about your new friends?"
"Uh, yeah," she told him, a little confounded by the speedy change in subject, "Ryan has an alibi for the night of the attack. He was studying with a group of classmates in the library at UHD."
"And the others?"
"I haven't spoken much to Anabelle or Jace about it," Emily conceded, "but I don't get a bad vibe from them. Jace seems distant, reclusive, almost introverted, and I haven't really spoken to her about anything yet."
"She's a lobbyist," Hotch enlightened her. "Rossi and Reid are going over her submitted reports as we speak and she focuses a lot on the harmful effects of illegal dumping and breaches of the Clean Air Act on both humans and the local ecosystems. Emerson Petroleum has had some trouble adhering to the Clean Air Act, even if their CEO denies it. They were fined $160, 000 last year by the EPA."
"I can see if she's left her notes lying around somewhere," Emily offered. "It might give us more insight."
"Good idea. Now what do you know about Anabelle?"
Emily sighed. She liked Anabelle and genuinely didn't believe her to be involved in the bombing, but the rational part of her brain said otherwise. "When I met Ryan, he brought up the subject of the bombing with Anabelle and she appeared uninterested or perhaps unwilling to talk about it."
"Well, which was it? Uninterested or unwilling?"
"I'm not sure," Emily admitted. She was slightly abashed about this confession, but she really couldn't tell.
Hotch didn't push her. "Okay."
Headlights beamed towards them and Emily desperately hoped that it was Morgan bringing the bread and milk. They were standing there, only inches from each other, in the desolate dead zone, lightless and noiseless, and they remained motionless when the black SUV came to a stop beside them.
The electric window scrolled down. "Soy and light milk, and multigrain bread," Morgan announced, holding up the plastic bag.
Emily glared at him. "In a plastic bag?!"
He realised his mistake. "Hippies," Morgan cursed under his breath.
"There are probably calico bags in the back of Ryan's car," Hotch put in, unperturbed.
You beautiful man. Emily could have thanked him a million times over. And in a million different ways. She struck the thought from her head, but could feel herself blushing. Diving out of the male agent's sight, she dashed over to the hybrid, popped the trunk and was pleased to find out that her boss was right. Bio-bags!
She took the environmental threat from Morgan's hands, exchanged the bag that the products were in and threw it back at him light-heartedly. Hotch watched on, enjoying their playful banter. It was as much a part of their team Reid's smarts, Rossi's misplaced understanding, JJ's preparedness or Garcia's brightness. And his… there were times where he couldn't exactly articulate what he brought to the team, and he guessed that it was just one of those times.
"I should get going," Emily pronounced, interrupting Hotch's thoughts and Morgan's teasing.
"They'll think you abandoned them for a night of summer-lovin'," Morgan joked.
Hotch cracked a smile and Emily glanced in his direction. Their look held for several seconds, and the third wheel was starting to get a little edgy. Until…
"You should go, Prentiss." Hotch's voice was stern once more and he could see her deflated expression. He hadn't wanted her to leave anyway, but there was work to be done.
"Or McCready will think you smashed his hippie-mobile," Morgan joked.
Emily's eyes rolled as she walked away from them. Hippie-mobile? Why is humour always the response to tension? It was unfortunate that Hotch never saw it that way. The way she and Morgan reacted to tense situations seriously was often vastly different, but when they fell back on their laughs, they were peas in a pod. As she drove away from the unlit natural shelter of roadside Oaks, Emily drew herself back to the look in her boss' eyes just moments earlier.
She had felt Morgan's apprehension. Had he noticed something? Her feelings for her boss was definitely not something that she wanted broadcasted to her entire team and if the others were half-way good at their job, then they already knew something.
Hotch found himself in a daze the following morning. His concern for Emily's safety meshed with his unnatural feeling that something unfortunate would happen to her was putting a dent in his superhero complex. He felt as though he should be doing something, but if he had to be honest, then he would have to say that he had no clue as to what that something was.
He stared across the precinct's empty squadroom. It was too early for the day shift of law enforcement to arrive, too late for the night shift to be anywhere but where the coffee was, and his team was AWOL at the same time. He saw Reid on the other side of the room in a vehement webcam discussion with Garcia, and had remembered that Rossi and Morgan had left ten minutes ago, told him where they were going, but, as per usual for the past few days, he hadn't listened. Now, Supervisory Special Agent in Charge Aaron Hotchner felt lost. Not even a little disorientated. Just lost.
Pulling his head in enough to think about what he could be doing to assist Emily, and in a wider sense, his extremely capable team in the investigation, he walked over to join Reid and Garcia.
"But why the sulfuric acid?" he heard Garcia say. "They didn't use it before."
"What's this?" Hotch pulled up a chair behind Reid and adopted a very masculine approach to sitting on it.
"I received a report that a substantial quantity of sulfuric acid and nitric acid have gone missing from the University of Texas Health Science Center Fayez S. Sarofim Molecular Biology Research Building." And as an after thought, she added, "That was a mouthful."
"How substantial?" the boss asked.
"They're still checking through their messy inventory but as far as I can tell they're missing about five litres of 18 molar sulfuric acid and possibly twenty of 24 molar white fuming nitric acid," Garcia answered.
"Considering the concentration of the sulfuric acid, my guess is that it would be used as a catalyst for a chemical reaction of some kind," Reid told him.
"More reactions than the Mensan has time to illuminate," Garcia answered for him.
"But given its quantity in addition to the WFNA, it will probably be used to concentrate the level of nitronium ions in the solution," Reid added.
"Nitronium ions?" Hotch could definitely say, albeit with no amount of certainty, that he did not really belong with the scientific minds of the present company.
"More bang for the buck," Garcia explained. And Hotch definitely didn't need more than that.
"They're altering their MO, now the size of the bomb," Reid continued, "and it's a fair bet to say that they will intend to kill more people this time."
"And they intended to confuse with this change," Hotch put in. "They're intelligent enough to know that we would look at the same materials they used last time."
"It could suggest prior knowledge of law enforcement."
"Or that they watch TV," Hotch delivered, knocking back Reid's unsubstantiated conclusion, before heading back to the side of the room from whence he came.
"Where are the others?" Garcia asked, more out of concern for her colleagues after this recent news broke rather than any attempt to change the conversation.
"JJ's on Emily's detail with the head of the Houston FBI office," Reid answered, "and Morgan and Rossi left about fifteen minutes ago to re-interview more of the executive staff of Emerson Petroleum in light of the fact that most of the oil workers from yesterday's counter-environmentalist protest are employed there."
"Really?" Garcia questioned and Reid could tell by her tone that the blonde technical analyst on northern side of the country fully intended to gossip. "So how much trouble is our neighbourhood Planeteer in with the Bossman?"