A/N: I couldn't resist writing something post-"Lauren". This story will have a chapter for every character. Not sure if I'll do one for Seaver though, but I probably will. Though it'll be short, I'm sure.

I know I should update my other CM story, but I'm still on the fence about that one.

Originally I meant for this to take place during the funeral, since I felt that scene was much too short, but I got caught up in the moment :)

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Criminal Minds. If I did, I'd force Paget Brewster to remain on the show. She's my favorite character :D

ENJOY!

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Hotch

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"The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do so for them."

~Lois McMaster Bujold

The day was a blur.

From the moment JJ walked into the visitor's center of the hospital, Hotch knew. He knew nothing would ever be the same again. Then the words slipped from between her lips.

"She never made it off the table."

Those awful words. Such horrible words coming from such a pretty woman. That was when everything started to blend together for him. He was so consumed with those words that the most reaction he could manage aside from his usual brooding look was a flinch. There was nothing else. Nothing left inside of him. They'd come so far in those few short days. So close, yet so far from what they'd attempted to save.

They say when a friend dies that a part of you dies with them. Hotch could attest to that. Of course, he still felt that she was with them. Like nothing had happened. Like Morgan had never found her bleeding on the concrete floor. Like she hadn't been carted into an ambulance. Like they weren't even there at the hospital, waiting to hear what they so desperately wanted to hear.

Sadly, it wasn't like that. Yet at the same time, it was all the same. Only, what they'd wanted to hear was news of her recovery. They wanted to know that she was still with them. They needed assurance that she would be okay.

Disappointment is bitter.

Hotch walked away after that. He couldn't bear to be there, smothered by her undeniable presence though she wasn't really there at all. She never would be. Gone forever, that was her. Unreachable.

As Hotch stood apart from his team, only a short distance away yet it felt like an eternity, he decided it was better this way. She was better off dead than hunted mercilessly by Doyle. Still, he couldn't help the selfish part of him that wished she were here. With them. Where she belongs.

Then JJ disentangled herself from Reid and pushed open the doors to join him. Her red-rimmed eyes met his distant brown gaze. The former media liaison had never been one to shy away from anything. She was tough as nails, and had a silver tongue to boot. There was a strange combination of sadness, pity, loss and nostalgia in her blue eyes. It threw him off, because something was missing from that odd brew of emotions. Something he couldn't quite place.

"Hotch." She addressed him coolly.

Then it hit him.

Grief.

She showed no signs of grieving. Yet the two women had been close, being the only females on a team can do that. It occurred to him that he'd been somewhat close to her as well, but he didn't show any signs of grief either. Still, something about the absence of it put him off.

"JJ." He replied just as calmly.

The blonde paused, sudden doubt painted her features, and the look on her face became contemplative. She seemed to decide something because her face showed no lingering traces of the previous doubt. Her next words shocked him to the bone, "She's alive."

Time came to a complete stop, or so it seemed to Hotch. For a minute he was at a loss for words as his mind struggled to come to terms with this new information. Then he realized something: there were no words for this situation. It was completely unprecedented in his experience. He'd never had to deal with something like this before. Then he felt a burst of euphoria as the words finally sunk in.

Emily Prentiss was alive.

Just as soon as the emotion had come, it was banished to the recesses of his mind again. The profiler in him had taken control. "What do we do now? Doyle will find out sooner or later, and then Prentiss will really be dead."

JJ's lips curved up slightly, but there was no humor behind the expression. "Don't you see? We're faking her death. Just like she did when she pretended to be Lauren Reynolds. Why else would I say... Why else would I purposely cause that?" She swept her hand out, gesturing towards the team. Hotch cringed imperceptibly; he couldn't stand to see them like that. It was awful.

"I understand," Hotch said curtly. This needed to be done as soon as possible. Once his team recovered a bit, they'd wonder where he was. And when they found himself and JJ secluded from everyone else they'd get suspicious, then they'd notice that he was no longer feeling the effects of their "loss".

"We're all set then," JJ seemed just as withdrawn as he did. Both of them knew too much for their own good. They also knew that sooner or later, the shit would really hit the fan and this whole scheme would blow up in their faces.

Hotch only nodded in response. JJ seemed to understand that Hotch would ask anything else. He knew that the less informed he was, the better it would be for Emily. He just couldn't wrap his head around the fact that she was still alive... and that he'd have to hide it from his team.

That made him glance at them. He frowned when he noticed that Seaver had her head in her hands; he couldn't tell if she was more or less affected than he'd expected.

His heart sank a little when he saw Reid standing there, looking forlornly at the doors. As if Prentiss would just come waltzing through them, or, more realistically, be wheeled in to see them. The young genius that knew everything knew nothing about handling loss. Hotch was sure that reality would hit him full-force soon enough.

His shoulders slumped forward when he saw Rossi, his own shoulders shaking slightly, fighting tears. The older profiler was so clearly torn up. Hotch supposed Rossi had lost agents before, but he also knew that back in his day no one in the BAU had been close. Rossi definitely understood the situation, and at the same time he didn't. After this, it would be incredibly hard to keep anything from him. He'd be on his toes now, never to be caught off-guard again, and surely he'd see right through Hotch's lies?

His hands clenched into tight fists at his sides when he saw Garcia openly sobbing. She held Derek's hand as he looked heavenwards, surely praying to anybody for it not to be true. The two gripped each other so tightly that Hotch thought they'd hurt one another, but then a thought occurred to him: physical pain would surely be preferable to the hell they're in now, wouldn't it?

He locked eyes with JJ again, saw everything he was feeling mirrored in her eyes. Would he be able to keep this terrible secret? He knew it was all for Prentiss's safety, but already he felt tempted to barge in there and tell them all the truth. He just wanted everyone to stop hurting. He wanted himself to stop hurting.

Just then Hotch made himself a promise. He vowed to bring Ian Doyle to justice, though Prentiss wasn't technically dead. But for all intents and purposes, she was. And the dead can't call out for justice. The ones left behind were meant to do that for them. Hotch steeled himself for the inevitable turmoil the oncoming months would bring.

Then he wondered: how many times could Prentiss fabricate her own death and get away with it? Would it even work this time?

Time would tell.

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So tell me what you thought, maybe some favorite lines or something. Any review is a good review!

And by the way, I had a reviewer that reviewed anonymously as "Olivia". They told me to message them back, but since "Olivia" was signed anonymously, I can't. Olivia, if you're reading this and if you have an account please let me know! BTW, your info totally helped!