DISCLAIMER: Don't own anything associated with the show… I just like playing with the characters in it from time to time. Dance Monkeys! Dance!
RATING: T - Teen
SPOILERS: Through US Aired Episodes of Season 4
WORD COUNT: 3238
SUMMARY: Gideon goes in search of a former team member to deal with some unfinished business, but finds a great deal more.
A/N: After my monster case file, I was informed by Mingsmommy that I was required to give her something Gideon/Elle with a happy ending. Actually, she wanted fluff, but fluff would not come. This of course means I still owe her another story with fluff.
REVIEWS: Reviews are the way I know if people are enjoying the work or not. So, if you leave one, THANKS! And if not, I hope you found at least a little something to brighten your day, and thanks for taking the time to read.
He had been standing outside the non-descript office building for more than two hours, staring at nothing in particular, as though some kind of answer could be found in the mortar between the battered bricks or the cracked sidewalk under his feet. He was still surprised at how easy it had been to find her, and somewhere in the back of his mind he wondered if it was a trap. But after nearly three days of staking the place out from a table at the coffee shop across the street, he knew she was there and he knew she would continue to be there every day.
It wasn't much to see, but judging from the constant flow of people, he was left to assume they must be doing something right. From suits with briefcases, to women who looked to be on the verge of ruin, people filed in and out of the Los Angeles Women's Initiative Co-op at all hours of the day and night. He had learned it was an organization dedicated to helping women survive the various forms of violence and injustice forced upon them, from rape and domestic abuse, to sex workers and victims of sexual discrimination. And he was not the least bit surprised to find her up to her eyeballs in a place like that.
She was always so much more than the job, so much more than a profiler. Above all else, she was about justice. Right or wrong, she wanted justice and parity for the women who always seemed to populate the cases they worked. She was their champion.
His eyes quickly drifted back into focus as he noticed her exit from the building. Her hair was still shorter, but the cut was much softer without those very severe bangs. Even in the Southern California sunshine, she seemed to radiate an energy he wondered if had ever seen in her before. He watched closely as her confident and purposeful steps brought her right to him, right to the coffee shop. He shrank down in the corner, keeping his gaze on the window, trying his best to hide from her view as she pushed through the door.
At the sound of the bell jingling from the door, the little man behind the counter grinned and welcomed her. "Miss Elle! Here for the usual lunch order?"
She smiled, bright beaming, something that would have lit up even the darkest room. "No, just a coffee for me. Sammy will stop by later to get the lunch order." After a brief round of small talk, she turned away from the counter with a single cup of coffee and Jason pretended not to notice her.
Staring out the glass, he might have missed her, except for the unmistakably delicate scent of gardenias. "How many more days are you planning to stake me out before you call for reinforcements?"
He looked up into her face and saw the same fierce determination that made him think she was ready for the BAU, only now there was something else there. Her fire had been tempered with experience, and something else he had trouble putting his finger on. That was, until her eyes began to sparkle, and he knew what it was: humility. "Because if you really want to know how I'm doing, there are much better ways."
A careful smirk split his tired face. "It's good to see you, Elle."
Her broad smile greeted him as she gestured for the other chair at his table. He nodded and she pulled it out. "You've been seeing me for close to three days now, Gideon. I finally got tired of the suspense, and decided maybe you were just looking for an invitation."
The grace of her movements as she sat down across from him appeared to flow from the incredible confidence she gave off. Even in this brief time he could see she finally seemed comfortable inside her own skin again, and it made his smirk broaden into a smile. "Yes, well, I wasn't exactly sure I'd be a welcome visitor."
"That's ridiculous." Elle waved off his concerns as though they meant nothing. "How could you ever think something like that? If it wasn't for you, I never would've had the chance to fail at the BAU." She gestured grandly at their current surroundings, "And I wouldn't be leading such a glamorous life now." Her laughter was sincere and he tried to chuckle along with her.
When an uncomfortable silence followed her joke, Elle put down her cup and regarded him with a puzzled expression. "What's wrong?"
"It's nothing." He tried to remove the worry from his own expression, but it seemed to be his constant companion anymore.
As he shook his head, trying to convince both of them with his words, Elle reached out and touched his hand with hers. "Gideon…what's wrong?" Her voice became laced with panic. "Is everyone okay?"
Jason quickly put her panic to rest. "Oh, no…everyone is fine." He desperately wanted to paste a smile on his face and take the worry out of her eyes, but they bored into his soul and left him defenseless. "At least, they were when I left them."
She squeezed his hand and asked, "Are you okay?"
"I'm…" He looked away, searching for an answer to her question. He was…fine, getting there, working on it, looking for it, drowning, slipping, desperate, alone, all of the above. He turned to find her eyes and discovered so much compassion and concern there he was compelled to speak with his heart. "I'm trying to be, but I'm…I'm not really sure how to get there."
Her deep sigh gently blew warm air over their joined hands as she closed her eyes. He noticed her every movement, even the slightest change in the flutter of her eyelids, or the catch in her breath. Nodding her head, she simply said, "I know what that's like."
He came there looking to make peace with Elle, to apologize for getting her in so deep, and then not being there when she needed him. She was some of his unfinished business, and he wanted her to know that he was sorry, that he never meant to let her go the way he did, and he needed to know she was okay. Okay with her life, and with her departure from his. But now…
Now, it seemed as though he was looking for more than a chance to make amends. He wanted the answers she so obviously had found since leaving the BAU. Maybe she could show him how to find his way again.
He was about to ask her the questions plaguing his mind when she stood up, still holding his hand and tried to tug him to his feet. "Come with me."
Looking around, he asked, "Where?"
Her warm, inviting smile brought him to his feet. "Come to the Co-op. I want to show you something."
"Oh, I don't know." He tried to tell her no, but the light dancing in her eyes made it hard for him to come up with a coherent argument. "I'm not really dressed for-"
"Don't even! You've seen what I wear every day. You're fine." She laughed at his half-hearted excuse. "Hell, you smell better than most of the people I see every day." Elle gave him a wink and added, "Including the lawyers."
Elle pulled with a little more force and he took a couple steps to follow her. "Come with me. See what we're doing, and I'll buy you lunch when we're done." Elle called over his shoulder to the little man at the counter. "Put his check on my tab, Bobby."
There was nothing he could do. He was completely powerless to her charms. She was so alive and vibrant, and he wanted to know the secret she appeared to have found; the one that brought her out of the darkness once surrounding her. The same darkness that had him so tightly in its icy grasp.
"Okay, okay." He gave in, grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair as she pulled him out into the street.
They spent the next hour and a half touring the building. He saw a small food bank preparing bags of essential items to hand out to the various clients coming through their doors. There was a two room clinic, staffed with volunteer physicians and nurses, giving out basic care, as well as dispensing medications and health education. They had several offices with pro-bono lawyers advising clients of their rights and helping to file various legal documents and motions to help protect and defend them. He was surprised to find a fully equipped day care at the back of the office, and to see it staffed with professional psychologists and social workers donating their time gave him a glimpse of the dedication present in the staff there.
As they watched a group of scantily clad women talking in a support group for sex workers, with a vice detective and a social worker leading the discussion, Jason could no longer contain his wonder. "This is absolutely incredible, Elle. This whole place, it's just…it's just so full of…"
"Hope." She beamed at his excitement, and he felt it. He could feel the hope, all around them.
Overcome with the revelation, he merely nodded at her answer.
Later, as they sat in a small café, Elle told him about the various programs at the Co-op, and he found himself at a loss for words. She was animated and so filled with optimism he wondered if she was really the same woman he brought into the BAU so long ago.
Right in the middle of Elle's story about a young runaway they helped to find a safe home, enabling the girl to rebuild her life and her faith in humanity, he just blurted out, "How'd you do it?"
"Well, once the beat cop got her to give up her real name, we-"
"No… How'd you turn it around? When you left, you were so…angry, so filled with rage. How did you find this light, this hope?" His questions were sincere, but he could see the confusion in her face. "With all the evil we've seen, with everything that's wrong in this world, how can you be so happy now?"
She only smiled. A wide, lustrous, glowing smile. A smile that spoke of hidden wisdom and the very secret to happiness. "I asked those same questions when I got here. And you're right. I was angry. I was angry even before Randall Garner. I was angry before I came to the BAU. I've spent most of my life trying to make up for those evils you talked about, trying to find justice for them. But it was never enough."
Jason shook his head. "We do everything we can to put them down, but they never stop, because there's always another crime, always another criminal waiting to take the place of the last one. We never truly see the light at the end of the tunnel, because there's never an end to the tunnel." His voice faltered with the heavy despair ruling his thoughts.
"First off, you have got to get out of that tunnel." It was his turn to look confused and she went on to explain. "Making the criminals pay isn't even half of the problem. You have to let go of the vengeance."
"How did you let it go?"
"It's stupid." She blushed slightly as her eyes turned to the table and he found himself wanting to see them looking back at him again.
"Tell me, please?" When she returned her gaze to him, it held a hint of surprise, but the warmth was still there.
"I was at the airport. There was a little girl begging her mother for some kid magazine in the newsstand. It had those cartoon dolls with the giant heads and the tiny bodies. And I thought to myself, how could anyone find that stuff appealing?" Jason watched her expression turn from amusement to frustration. "That's when I saw it… These two college girls, in ridiculously tight jeans, so thin they were practically emaciated, with these tired, drawn expressions."
She stopped to shake her head in disgust, and he was obliged to ask her to continue, "And what?"
"And the little girl's father followed those girls with his eyes, all the way across the terminal." Disgust and revulsion flooded her features as she explained. "That's when I realized this poor little girl with these adorably round cheeks would spend the rest of her life feeling inferior to those lollipop head girls, because she saw through her father's eyes what he considered attractive."
He squinted through his confusion. Her story was nothing more than a basic fact of human development, not some earth shattering discovery. "That's normal psychosexual development, Elle. How did that change anything?"
"Because it made me realize I was working from the wrong end of things. I couldn't do anything for these women if all I did was punish the people who had already taught them how the world worked." She squeezed his hand and Jason could feel the excitement building in her touch like an electrical charge. "I needed to change the way these women saw themselves if I was truly going to make a difference in their lives. If I could help them to stop being victims, to see themselves for the wonderful creations they were, then people like William Lee couldn't harm them. The sexual predators I've spent so much of my life fighting to make pay would never get the chance to make them their victims, their spoils."
It was no great revelation, but it made all the difference in the world for Elle. He could feel her zeal for life pouring out through her skin, making her a glowing beacon of happiness. Elle was truly alive and she had found something Jason was desperately searching for in his own heart; hope.
He could sense it in her, but he had to be sure, and so he asked, "So, working with these women, at this center, it's given you hope?"
She let loose with a burst of laughter and it filled her eyes with joy as he waited for her answer. "Oh, Jason… It's given me so much more than that." She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath and then let out the most contented sigh he ever had the pleasure of witnessing. "For the first time in my adult life, and not since I was a very small girl, since before my father died…" She paused, fought to keep the smile from completely taking over her face and then said the words he had been longing to hear, "I actually believe in happy endings again."
A sad grin strained to form on his face as a tear slipped from the welling in his tired eyes. He looked to the heavens and sighed, "What I would give to have that again."
Wrapping both her hands around the one he rested on the table, her touch brought his gaze back to her eyes as she said, "The only thing you have to give…is your time. Stay here, and let me show you."
The sadness in his heart made it difficult to believe anything could ever be that easy. "It can't be that simple."
"Who said anything about simple, Jason?" Elle chuffed at his remark. "Nothing here is simple. It's hard, and it's demanding, and it will make your heart hurt in ways you never imagined."
"Then why do you do it?"
"Because at the end of the day…I'm not drinking away the images of another dead girl and the face of the animal that killed her." The fierce determination in her eyes held his gaze in a vise so tight, he dared not look away. "Jason, we help these people avoid becoming just another statistic for a profiler to catalog in their notes. Wouldn't you rather keep a scrapbook of success stories than a murder book of all the people you've yet to avenge?"
With great pain in his heart, Jason broke her gaze, unable to bear the disappointment he was sure would reflect back at him. "I don't think I have anything left in me to give."
"That's not true." She slid her hand up along his arm until it rested on his shoulder. "You're just feeling lost right now, that's all."
Shaking his head, he tried not to let the dam break loose on his emotions. "No, it's more than that."
"You feel like that part of you is broken, and it can never be whole again, right?" Upon hearing the words, his eyes instantly searched for hers again. She was speaking the truth, his truth. Her face told him that she knew it, too. "Yeah, I know." Her hand moved to his neck, her thumb gently stroking the side of his face. "But it's not broken, Jason. It's just wounded."
"I don't know how you do it." There was a nervous smile trying to break loose upon his face. "You always seem to recognize the best in me, even when there's nothing good to be found."
Elle shook her head and softly smirked, "You're wrong about that." She moved her hand to catch the tears falling down his cheek. "Because your heart is always there. And even when it feels broken, like now, it's still beating strong."
Ever so slightly, he leaned in to her touch, hoping to draw some kind of solace from the caring gesture. "How could you possibly know that?"
His eyes closed against the sensation as she traced the side of his face, smoothing out the lines with her gentle caress. "You might have been able to fool everyone at the BAU, Jason, but you can't fool me." Elle leaned in and whispered, "Only someone who cares as deeply as you do would work so hard to hide his feelings away from everyone in order to protect them."
"How did you get so good at reading people?" Tentatively, he reached up to touch her hand where it rested on his cheek.
Her smile was subtle, but it was comfortable, and it was familiar. "I had an excellent teacher."
"And like every good pupil, you have exceeded the teacher." He took her hand down from his face and turned it over in his two hands. Staring at the stark contrast of her delicate, slender fingers intertwined with his thick, clumsy ones, he tried to find a way to make her understand his apprehension. "But I just don't know, Elle. I can't even trust myself anymore."
"You don't have to…not yet." Her other hand reached over and tucked a finger beneath his chin, raising it up until their eyes met once more. "Trust me, Jason, and let me help you find your way."
He felt a slight tremble begin in his jaw and he knew the emotions he was struggling to keep in check were about to spill out. Her words were spoken with so much sincerity he wanted to believe in them. He wanted to believe in her, but there was something he wanted to believe in more than anything else.
Sensing his worry, or perhaps she truly did understand him, Elle offered one last argument. "And maybe we can find that happy ending together this time."