Author's Note: Finally, this is done! This has taken me over a week to write and for me, that's a very long time. I don't know about anyone else. Anyway, I really enjoyed writing it – it is a little AU but bear with it – and I hope you enjoy reading it. Also, shout out to sienna27 as it was her birthday on Friday. This was supposed to go up on Friday and I didn't manage it. So, apologies.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of the characters except Leah. You'll find out who she is in due course.
Prompt Set #13
Title Challenge: The Sound of Snow
The Sound of Snow
"It's snowing!" the words bounced around the bullpen and within minutes, the entirety of the BAU had stopped working and were gathered by the windows spanning the length of the big room. The chatter was loud and excited. It was less than two weeks until Christmas and everyone was starting to feel festive, looking forward to some down time, with or without their families.
Hotch stood in the doorway of his office and watched specifically his team as they chatted. JJ was telling Reid about what she'd bought Henry for Christmas and Garcia had just arrived to partake in the conversation. Dave and Morgan were half-heartedly annoyed as they discussed the possibility of getting snowed in at work.
But at that moment, Hotch realised that not all of his team were crowded at the windows. He looked over and saw that Emily was sitting at her desk. She wasn't working; she was leaning on her elbows with her chin in her hands, her face turned in the direction of the windows and her colleagues. But she wasn't seeing them; she wasn't seeing anything. She hadn't seen anything in little over a year.
This was because, a little over a year ago, the team had been driving back from Seattle after a case that had spanned four days and had revolved around a serial killer who had a penchant for teenage boys. Rather than catch up on their sleep at the hotel, the team had decided to drive back to Quantico and spend the night in their various homes. But, a very drunk driver had also been on the road. Hotch, Emily and Dave had been travelling in one SUV while Morgan, Reid and JJ had been riding in another. Hotch had been driving the first car and Morgan, the second. Hotch's SUV had just crossed over a set of traffic lights when said drunk driver had screeched across the crossroad and smashed into the passenger side of the SUV. Emily had been in the passenger seat.
She, Hotch and Dave had been rushed to the nearest hospital with a multitude of broken bones, lacerations and concussions. Dave, having been in the back of the car, had only sustained a mild concussion, a broken ankle and few lacerations. Hotch had suffered a broken arm, a concussion and many semi-serious lacerations but had ultimately been fine. Emily, on the other hand, had been seriously injured. She'd had a severe concussion and her right femur had been broken in two places. She'd had serious lacerations to her right arm, chest, stomach, neck and face. A couple of ribs had been broken, one of which had punctured her lung. But then glass had had to be removed from her face and eyes from when the window had shattered.
And, since then, Emily had been blind. To top it off, the doctors had informed her that, unless there was a drastic improvement in eye surgery, it was highly unlikely that she'd ever see again.
Emily seemed to sense Hotch watching her. She turned her head and her face brightened in a smile. Hotch still had no idea how she seemed to know when someone was watching her and then know where they were to look at. She had spent a long time at a blind people's clinic, learning to cope with her new lack of sight and navigating while she'd been on crutches. There had been many visits from family and the team. As independent as she liked to be and was now, she had needed a lot of help. As for her work, she had been allowed back at her persistence but on office duty only. She occasionally went out on cases to help with profiling language and to translate if there were any language difficulties but it was difficult for everyone. Noticing behaviour was hard when she couldn't see.
At Emily's feet, her guide dog, Leah, a dark brown German Shepherd, was curled up asleep. Emily had had her since Leah had 'qualified' as a guide dog. Before that, owner and dog had met many times to get to know each other. She had been fantastic for Emily as far as her independence went. It meant that she could get around reasonably easily and do things around her house but going out, somewhere where Leah was not necessarily familiar with was trying for both of them.
Usually, Hotch or JJ or one of the other members of the team would help with things like shopping and getting around. She now had a personal chauffeur to get her back and forth from Quantico. The guy, Ben his name was, was an Ex-Agent who had retired about five years ago. He'd done the occasional chauffeuring for the Bureau and had been perfectly happy to help Emily get there and back. She thoroughly enjoyed his company which was a plus and they chatted about pretty much everything as he drove her there and back. Hotch was very grateful to him. For keeping his Emily safe.
But now, as Hotch glanced out of the windows, he saw the snow was getting heavier. It was falling in huge flakes and it was looking beautiful. Maybe he could talk to Hayley and take Jack out in it at some point. And that gave him an idea.
"Emily?" he called as he jogged over to her.
She grinned. "Hotch."
"Take a walk with me."
Emily's smile widened. "Of course, sir." she teased. Then she dropped her head so that her face was aimed at Leah. "Come on, Leah." Leah was up on her feet in seconds, sniffing Hotch's trousers. He patted her head; she wasn't on duty at the moment. When they were in the office, as Emily was in an environment she knew, surrounded by people who she trusted and could help her, Leah was generally just there as a precautionary measure. And also she hated to leave her dog at home alone all day.
"Are you gonna put her coat on?" Hotch asked, only half teasing her, referring to the fluorescent jacket that Leah usually wore to inform the rest of the world that she was a guide dog. At present it was slung over the back of Emily's desk chair.
"No," Emily shook her head. "You're coming with me, you can look after me. She can have a run." She reached down and made sure that Leah was wearing her collar. Having been so well trained, she didn't need a lead.
"Let's go then," Hotch took hold of Emily's hand and pulled her gently towards the door. The whole Unit knew that any one holding Emily's hand, didn't necessarily mean anything. When Leah wasn't guiding her, one of the team usually was. So any one of the men holding Emily's hand was just regarded as normal.
"Come on, Leah," Emily called softly as they moved off. Leah was already at Emily's ankles, walking so close that Emily felt her occasionally brush against her calf.
The pair of them and the dog left the bullpen and moved over to the lift. Hotch stopped Emily, squeezing her hand to signify it and pressed the button for the elevator. Emily listened to the quiet pinging of the elevator and leaned against Hotch, resting her head on his shoulder and her free hand on Leah's head. Since the car accident, he'd become her best friend. He'd visited her as often as he could when she'd been living in the clinic and he'd even brought Jack a couple of times which had been so nice. He'd been so sweet. Everything she could've asked for.
The elevator arrived and as Hotch walked her in, she tugged gently on Leah's ear to tell her to come. In truth, she didn't really need as much help as Hotch was giving her but she liked the way he was fussing and she knew it made him feel better, so she let him. They turned to face the door as the doors closed and Emily felt Leah lean against her leg. If anything good had come out of her blindness, it was that dog. Her guardian angel had come in canine form.
They got to the ground floor and Hotch guided Emily out towards the front doors, Leah following them closely. Hotch glanced around and was infinitely glad that at least Emily had been spared the curious and nosy stairs of those who were not in the loop about Emily's blindness. All they saw were two Agents, holding hands with a dog following them obediently. Hotch glowered at them before purposefully increasing their pace.
They pushed through the doors and were instantly hit by a wall of cold air. Emily shivered involuntarily.
"We can go back if you're too cold." Hotch murmured, staring up at the dark sky as the snowflakes fluttered down.
Emily only raised her eyebrows at him and shook her head. "Tell me what it looks like."
Hotch smiled at her even though she couldn't see it. "Okay." He began pulling her along again and as they walked, Hotch described the snow. He told her how the flakes looked like little stars falling from the sky and how they turned golden in the street lamp light. He told her how thick it was on the cars and how it was landing on her shoulders and in her hair. And he told her how much Leah was enjoying being off duty and digging in the snow.
When they reached the park, Hotch lead Emily a little further in so that they would be alone. He still had his gun on his hip so they were pretty safe. Emily couldn't carry a gun anymore. A few times, Hotch had taken her down to the shooting range and once, he had aimed her at the targets, she was still perfectly good. He'd just wanted her to get used to the sound again, so that when she did go out on cases, the noise wouldn't shock her. Not that she'd be going out on raids. But he just wanted to cover every base.
As they walked, Emily listened to the sounds around her. Her and Hotch's breathing, Leah's panting in the cold air. The crunch of the snow under their shoes and the faint city sounds in the distance. It was so nice, so peaceful.
When Hotch stopped her, she stroked Leah's head and then pushed the back of her neck. The dog sprang away from her and Hotch watched as she began sniffing everything and chasing a couple of squirrels.
"She's amazing." Hotch said, probably for the hundredth time since he'd met Leah. "Just the way she listens to everything, especially you..."
"Yeah," Emily pressed her head against his shoulder and he wrapped his arms around her. He was warm, much warmer than Emily had ever realised. She wondered if he was steaming. She smiled.
It was so quiet. That's what really got her. Usually there was so much noise, so much going on. But now, here, it was so quiet. The city sounds were faint in the background and all she could really hear was the breathing of the three of them.
"You know, if you walk away really quietly, you can escape." Emily joked, breaking the thick silence.
Emily grinned. "You laughed!"
"You don't have to sound quite so surprised." Hotch slapped her gently on the shoulder.
Emily raised her hands to his face and touched his cheeks still curled in a smile. Her fingertips carefully traced every line as she re-learnt the shape of his face and learnt for the first time what it felt like when he smiled.
Hotch touched her cheek as well. "Just for the record, I'd never run off and leave you." He leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
Emily smiled and held on to him as he hugged her.
Emily was enjoying just standing there with Hotch when she heard the crack of a twig from her right. Her head whipped around, and Hotch followed her gaze, concerned and slightly perplexed. Leah was stood in front of Emily, her hackles up, teeth showing as she growled. Emily's grip on his arm tightened.
"Leah," she called softly and Leah was immediately at her side. She reached down and touched the dog's head gently. Then she curled her fingers around Leah's left ear and held it as they waited for whatever was making the cracking sound to make itself known.
Hotch could feel how tense Emily was and peered into the semi darkness of the trees to their right. There was somebody there. He could just make out the silhouette of what looked like a man. Moving his body ever so slightly so that he was blocking most of Emily from view, he reached for his gun and rested his hand on it, just in case. He'd seen Emily holding Leah's ear. Usually when she did that it was for comfort for both owner and dog and she'd told him once that it made her feel safe, holding onto something that she knew would protect her.
Just at that moment, the man stepped out of the trees. It was Foyet. Hotch hissed under his breath and pushed Emily back a few steps. He hadn't neglected to notice that Foyet was carrying a gun. Internally, he was panicking. Here he was, about a mile from the BAU, on his own with a blind woman who relied on sound mainly to get around. And that sound could get her killed tonight. And he couldn't let that happen.
"Well hello Agent Hotchner." Hotch saw Emily recognise the voice out of the corner of his eye.
"Foyet." Emily spat.
"Nice to see you as well Agent Prentiss." Foyet laughed, walking slowly towards the pair.
Beside Emily, Leah barked at him. Emily jumped and Hotch tightened his grip on her arm. He wanted to tell her to run, to hide, to get away but he knew that he couldn't do that. If he did, it could get her killed. No, she was staying with him. With him, he could use a gun and protect her. Hopefully.
"Emily," Hotch hissed through his teeth. "It's okay. Stay with me. I'll keep you safe. I promise."
Emily nodded, her head jerking around as she tried to find a sound that indicated where Foyet was. She could still hear Leah growling and she could feel her body quivering against her own leg.
"How're you gonna do that Hotch?" Foyet sneered as he swaggered closer, circling them like a panther. Hotch followed him, shifting his weight to block his view of Emily. The gun was still hanging casually from Foyet's hand and Hotch didn't want to take any chances. He could feel Emily moving with him and she'd moved her hand to the back of his neck so that she could tell which direction he was looking in. "How are you gonna protect her and fight me? Go on, how?"
"I don't care what you've got to say, Foyet. You're gonna pay for all those people you murdered." Hotch responded. He didn't know what to do. To get to Foyet, he had to leave Emily unprotected and he couldn't do that. And Foyet knew that.
"Give me your gun, Hotchner. I'm not about to let you shoot me."
Resigned, Hotch pulled the gun out of its holster and threw it in Foyet's direction. He wasn't about to leave Emily's side. Foyet took a couple of steps forward and picked up the gun, tossing it into the undergrowth behind him.
But Hotch didn't want to give up without a fight. "I don't need a gun to take you out Foyet."
And as Hotch finished his sentence, Foyet raised his own gun and squeezed the trigger.
Hotch let out a yell and dragged Emily onto the snowy ground. She let out a cry of fright, of course unable to see what Foyet was doing. She scrambled backwards, her head twisting around as she tried to work out what was happening. Leah, apparently sensing her mistress' distress, sprung at Foyet, teeth bared and closed her jaws around Foyet's right arm. He let out a shout and tried to yank his arm from her grasp. His gun was being waved around as he tried to get free.
Hotch saw his opportunity and clambered onto his feet. He ran at Foyet and joined Leah, desperately trying to get the gun out of the Reaper's hand. In the chaos, the gun was fired and Emily let out a yelp as she heard the explosive sound. She was panicking. Not being able to see anything, she relied on sound and the sound at that moment was terrifying. She could hear the sound of Leah ripping and growling at something, Foyet's curses as he struggled and then the gun shot. She couldn't hear Hotch. She prayed that he hadn't been hit by the stray bullet.
"Hotch? Hotch?" she called, the hysterical edge to her voice cutting into the night. She'd never considered herself someone that ever got hysterical but since she'd lost her sight, everything became a lot scarier. She couldn't help, she couldn't stop the Reaper or protect Hotch and that was what was frightening her the most, being in a whirl of sound and not being able to work out what was going on or where people were.
"I'm here, Emily. I'm okay." Hotch's voice was tense from what Emily could hear and she tried to crawl towards it, her hands hurting as her fingers clawed against the snow. She whimpered.
"Not for long, you're not." Foyet growled in response to Hotch's reassurances.
With some effort, Foyet wrenched his arm from Leah's mouth and hit her around the face with the gun, knocking her to the ground. Emily heard the patter of her feet as she came galloping over to her. Reaching up to stroke her head, Emily could feel the dog quivering.
On the other side of the clearing, Foyet kicked at Hotch, catching him around the knee and sending him crashing to the floor. He let out a cry and groaned. Emily froze, still on her hands and knees, unable to work out what had happened or what to do. She knew that Hotch didn't go down easily. Leah started to growl and quickly, it turned into the sharp sounds of her barking.
"Hotch?" she squeaked. Her entire body was stiff as she strained her ears, listening. "Hotch?"
There was the sound of crunching, the sound of snow being compressed as someone walked towards her. And then she felt something cold and metal touch her forehead. Her heart stopped. She couldn't breathe.
"I suppose Hotch was wrong, Emily." It was Foyet's voice. Then he spoke again but this time, it was quieter as if it was directed over his shoulder. "And Hotchner, if you move, I'll shoot your girlfriend."
Emily thought she was going to be sick. Foyet had a gun to her head. And if Hotch tried to help her, she was getting a bullet.
Leah's growling had reached vicious levels and Emily only just heard Foyet's voice over them.
"Please stop your dog growling at me before I put a bullet through her head and yours."
Emily wanted to argue, to stand up to him. But she didn't. She reached over and her hand touched Leah's right front shoulder. Deliberately, she tapped her first two fingers against the muscle. Leah's growling stopped. But Emily could still feel Leah's hackles up on her shoulders.
"Thank you." Foyet's voice was almost pleasant.
Emily didn't speak, she didn't move. She didn't know what to do. She didn't know where Hotch was, what had happened to him and she didn't know how to get herself out of this situation. She couldn't see; how was she supposed to protect herself? And then an idea hit her.
"I thought you liked to make your victims suffer." She raised her head to where she assumed Foyet's face would be. She noticed that the gun stayed pressed against her forehead even when she moved her head. "You stabbed Amanda Bertrand sixty-seven times; what are you going to do to me?" She could still remember Foyet's face, the scruffy hair, the restless gleam in his eyes. He could've cut his hair but that look in his eyes would never change.
"Oh, you can't imagine..." Emily flinched as she heard the gun click. Then it left her forehead, left her slightly breathless.
Emily slowly shifted her feet under her and stood up, so that she was face to face with Foyet, even though she couldn't see him. She wondered briefly whether Foyet was freaked out by her scarred eyes.
"Try me." She hissed.
She heard a curse from what she guessed was about seven metres away where she guessed Hotch was. She didn't know whether it was because of what Foyet had done to him or because he was letting her know that what she'd said was stupid. But her adrenaline was pumping and she was angry. She was angry with Foyet for the pain he'd caused so many people, for the pain he'd obviously caused Hotch and she was angry that she was blind, that she couldn't fight back.
"You're going to regret saying that." Emily felt Foyet run the tips of his fingers run down the side of her face. She could feel his breath on the side of her neck. Feeling the fury well in her stomach, she balled her fists and praying to the God she hadn't believed in for a long time, she swung her right arm back and powered it forward. There was a satisfying crack as her knuckles connected with what she assumed was Foyet's face.
There was an 'oomph' sort of noise and then a loud thump as Foyet hit the ground.
"Emily!" Hotch called. Emily could hear the fear in his voice. She was starting to see the stupidity of her actions too. What the hell had she been thinking? She was blind and in mortal peril from an infamous serial killer. But the adrenaline had temporarily taken over and now she was in deep trouble. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more frustrated she was with herself.
And then she heard Foyet scramble to his feet. He was in her face in a second; she could hear his breathing and she could feel it on her face.
"You're really going to regret that." Foyet spat and then Emily felt him backhand her across the face. Even though she had expected something like it, it caught her off guard and she tumbled to the ground, landing in the bracken. She felt the little thorns snag her hands and face.
Foyet reached down and closed his hand around her throat, lifting her up a little and pressing the blade of a knife against her neck.
"Great victory." Emily choked out. "Killing a blind woman." She didn't know what else to do. Of course, she could've shot him if she'd had a gun; she was close enough to shoot him at close range without needing to aim but she didn't have a weapon on her. Apparently the Bureau didn't think these situations came up very often.
Foyet chuckled. But it wasn't a normal laugh. It sounded so sinister. The pressure of the knife increased against her neck as did Foyet's grip around her windpipe. Emily tried to suck in her breath but found she couldn't. Her brain was starting to go a little foggy.
And at that moment, she heard the simultaneous clicks of at least five guns being cocked. Foyet dropped her and she landed in the snow with a thud. She groaned, winded and coughed into the snow, her hands so numb that she no longer felt the cold. Something wet nudged her face and Emily reached it was Leah's nose. She pushed herself up onto her hands and knees.
"George Foyet." It was Morgan's voice.
Emily thought she was going to burst into tears. She'd never, ever been so pleased to hear his voice, any voice in her life.
"That was always going to catch you out Foyet." It was Hotch's voice. Emily's head whipped in the direction of his voice. He was okay. She felt like she could breathe again.
"And what would that be?" Foyet asked, his voice betraying no edge of nervousness.
"You get too excited, too immersed in the chase and the capture. One day you were going to slip up. You forgot to take my phone. You were too eager to get going. You're going behind bars this time."
Foyet just laughed as he allowed Morgan to drag him away.
There was a crunching sound and then Emily felt a hand on her neck. She flinched.
"It's okay, Emily." It was Hotch's voice. "It's me. Foyet's gone, and he's going down this time."
Emily relaxed and smiled at him. "Leah?"
The dog rubbed up against her, pushing her head under Emily's arm. "Good girl."
"Are you okay?" Emily's voice was faint.
"Yeah, Emily. I'm fine, I promise. Just a bit bruised."
"Okay," Emily rested her forehead against his chest and sighed, exhausted by the fear.
"Is she alright?" It was JJ's voice.
"Yeah, she's fine." Hotch called back.
"Can you take me home, Hotch?" Emily asked quietly.
"Of course." Hotch's fingers ghosted over her cheek. "And might I say that you still have an excellent right hook on you, Agent Prentiss."
"Why, thank you sir." Emily teased and allowed him to pull her to her feet. Once she was standing, she turned her head to where she could hear JJ and Reid talking. "Thank you."
"Anytime, Emily. We'll pass that on to Morgan and Rossi." Reid told her and she smiled in the direction of his voice.
JJ and Reid chorused their goodbyes and Hotch nodded in their direction. He carefully put his arm around Emily's shoulders and guided her away, back towards the FBI Academy where his car was parked. Emily called to Leah who was instantly at her side, and reached down to hold onto her ear. Then she remembered something. Foyet had hit Leah.
"Hotch?" her voice was panicked again and Hotch glanced down at her, worried.
"Is Leah okay? I mean, Foyet hit her. Is she okay?" Emily's voice had risen to a squeak.
"Calm down, Emily. Let me check before you start freaking out." Hotch knelt down.
"Bit late." Emily muttered darkly but Hotch ignored her.
"Let her know that I'm allowed to touch her?"
Emily reached down and held Leah's left ear gently. It wasn't really something that she had taught the dog; it was just for comfort, letting Leah know that Hotch was a good guy.
As quickly as he could, Hotch ran his hands the length of Leah's body, checking everything for blood. He wasn't in any way a vet but he reckoned that he knew enough about Leah in particular to know if something was wrong. It only took a few seconds before he sat back.
"Nope, she's fine. But we can take her to the handler if you want to."
Emily dithered for a moment, unsure of what to do. Then she shook her head. "No, I trust you."
Hotch smiled and stood up. "Ready to go?"
"Very." Emily nodded vehemently.
Hotch laughed. "Let's go then."