Title: The Oath
Rating: PG-13
Criminal Minds
Emily Prentiss, Aaron Hotchner, others – gen/canon pairings (Garcia/Kevin, Prentiss/Doyle)
Genre: Suspense/Angst
Aaron Hotchner made an oath to bring Emily Prentiss home alive. Fulfilling that oath just got a little bit harder.
Warnings: Spoilers to Lauren (6x18).
Author's Note: I'll admit, I've played a little fast and loose with some of the stuff they gave us in the episode, partially because it works better for the story, and partially because what they gave us is a little inconsistent. Take with a grain of salt.
Author's Note II: An unbelievable amount of thanks to yellowsmurf6 and microgirl8225, without whom this story would be just a blip on the horizon.

Part Three

Declan sniffled.

'Don't cry,' Doyle told him sharply. At the sight of the boy's face, he softened. 'I know you're upset, but everything's going to be okay.'

'Daddy,' the boy sobbed, through snot and tears. 'Why'd you hurt my daddy?'

'I'm your father, remember, Declan?' Doyle tousled the boy's hair gently. 'I know we have to pretend not, sometimes, but that doesn't mean I don't love you.'

Declan's only answer was another harsh sob, and Doyle made a decision. If there was someone after his son, then he needed to be ready to fight back. He couldn't do that if Declan was being disruptive. As much as he hated the idea of hurting his own son, there was only one solution to the problem.

The dosage would have to be small – for a boy Declan's size, too much would end up killing him. Luckily, Doyle had enough experience at calculating the right dosage.

'Come on,' he smiled at his son. 'Let's go get some ice-cream.'

Hotch stared at the floor as the blood dripped from his nose.

He has him.

Foyet has my son.

No. Not Foyet.


The man who killed Emily Prentiss has my son.

He had fought so hard, but Doyle had been enraged by a passion that only came from exacting revenge. Aaron Hotchner was intimately aware of that passion.

That was the passion that had given him the strength to defeat Foyet. Not soon enough for Haley.

'Hotch? What is it? What's wrong?' At the sound of Rossi's voice, Hotch realized that he had his phone to his ear.

'He took Jack,' Hotch said.

'Who did?...Aaron? Who took Jack?'

'Doyle,' Hotch said, and he was at least lucid enough to hear Rossi's exasperated, "Fuck" on the other end of the line.

'I'll call the team in. Do you need an ambulance?'

"Yes" was probably the most accurate answer to that question, but even concussed, Hotch knew that he wouldn't be able to take part in the investigation from within a hospital room. 'No,' he said. 'No, I'm fine.'

'Right,' Rossi said, in a voice that made it abundantly clear that he didn't believe it for a second. 'Don't go anywhere, we'll be there soon.'

Hotch didn't get a chance to ask where he could have gone; Rossi had already hung up.

His hands were covered in blood – he couldn't quite tell whether it was his blood, or Doyle's. He had gotten in a few solid blows, but that meant next to nothing. Depending on how long he'd been out, Doyle could have been anywhere.

In the end, there was only one thing that stood in Hotch's favor.


'Why the hell would Doyle go after you?' Morgan asked, as they congregated in the kitchen of Hotch's apartment. Hotch frowned, trying to ignore the way Reid was cleaning a cut at his forehead. 'It doesn't fit the profile.'

The profile, of course, being that Doyle would murder entire families. Kidnapping a child was not expected behaviour.

'He's looking for his son,' Hotch said, giving JJ a look. Rossi hadn't called the former media liaison, but apparently, for reasons unknown, Hotch did. Maybe Garcia was right. Maybe they were seeing each other.

Seaver frowned. 'Why would taking your son help him achieve that goal?'

Hotch shook his head. 'It wouldn't. I think he had a psychotic break. He was under the impression that Jack was his son.'

'That's good, right?' Seaver persisted. 'That means he won't hurt him?'

There was a long, almost awkward silence.

'He's safe, as long as the delusion persists,' Rossi explained. 'But any violent behavior that Doyle might have had before is going to get worse in these conditions. We won't be able to get near him without setting that off.'

'So what do we do?' Morgan said, bitterly. 'The only person who would even come close to being able to get in there without him snapping is Emily.'

JJ and Hotch shared another look.

'What is going on between you two?' Morgan demanded, and Hotch's answer was almost immediate.

'Nothing,' he said, and Morgan did not believe him in the slightest. Was there another reason that Doyle had taken Jack?

What the hell were they hiding?

'I can't tell them yet,' Hotch said, the moment he got into the passenger's seat of JJ's car. She hadn't even asked the question yet, but he knew she was going to. 'Morgan's right – she's the only one who even has a chance of getting to Doyle. But I can't ask her to do that.'

At the same time, he knew that it might be the only way to get Jack back alive. There was no-one in the world who knew Ian Doyle better than Emily Prentiss did.

'You know she would do it in a heartbeat,' JJ said, and Hotch could hear the somberness to her voice.

'That's what I'm afraid of,' he admitted. 'We did this…we lied to them, to keep her safe. What if this time it's not a lie?' He felt an enormous amount of guilt, knowing that if he had to choose between his son's life, and Emily's, he would choose his son's. But he couldn't ask her to do this. 'I don't know what to do, JJ,' he told her, his voice cracking.

'We'll get through this,' she assured him. 'If we work off what we know of Doyle, we might not need to call her in.'

'And what about the team?'

'Telling them now will only be a distraction.' She was right. As much as he wanted to tell the team, he needed them focused on finding Doyle. 'They'll understand,' she assured him. 'Eventually, anyway.'

'The team misses you,' Hotch said, which sounded a little non-sequitur, but to him it really wasn't. Today, JJ shared the burden of truth, the same way she had as media liaison. He missed her strength, her input, her unwavering loyalty.

Maybe, if he hadn't failed in getting her back, his son wouldn't be in the clutches of a madman. Maybe, they would still be a team – a family. That definition was ever growing further and further beyond his reach.

'What do we do, JJ?' he asked, with a sigh.

JJ's answer was short, and to the point.

'We get your son back,' she said.

Emily jerked herself awake at the sound of a knock on the door. It was well past midnight – way too late for anyone to be calling casually, even if there wasn't anyone, besides Clyde, that ever even visited.

Still, both the CIA and the FBI had provided Emily with a certain level of paranoia. If it wasn't terrorists or arms dealers or drug lords, it was serial killers and arsonists and rapists. Some of them broke through doors. Some knocked.

The larger gun was fully loaded, with a bullet in the chamber, the same way it had been when she'd checked it before bed. The smaller gun, she tucked into the back of her sweatpants, safety on. Really, though, if 16 rounds weren't enough, then she doubted that the smaller gun would be of any use anyway.

She shut Thursday in the bathroom, much to his disdain, and tiptoed to the door.

'It's just me, Emily,' came Clyde's exasperated voice. 'You can quit the charade.'

'It's three a.m.'

'Doyle's surfaced.'

Emily's heart skipped a beat, and she rushed to unchain the door, but not before checking the peephole to double check. If there was someone holding a gun at him out of sight, well, that was a risk she was just going to have to take.

'So?' she asked. 'Where is he?' The updated profile she'd sent based on the intelligence reports she'd been given reiterated the likelihood that he would go after Declan. If Doyle had surfaced, though…

Maybe she was wrong.

'He was in Virginia,' Clyde said, morose, and it was only then that Emily noticed the apologetic look on his face. 'But we suspect his on his way to Boston now.'

No. Please, God, No.

She let her gun hand drop by her side. 'What did he do? God, Clyde, tell me they're okay.'

'All of your team members are…alive,' he said. Not unharmed. Alive. 'Though it seems Agent Hotchner will have some bruises – to his body, and to his pride.'

'What did he do?' Emily repeated, in a voice that left no room for arguing.

'He took Agent Hotchner's son.'

Emily didn't wait for a single second worth of elaboration. She turned around and walked straight back to the bedroom, pulling things from the shelves of her wardrobe.

'Emily...' Clyde hurried in after her. 'Emily, you can't just jump on a plane back to the States – there are procedures for this sort of thing.'

Emily slipped off her sweatpants and pulled on her jeans, socks and boots. 'It is one thing to let him go after my team, but I will not let Ian Doyle kill a six-year-old boy because of me.'

'I'm sure I can make some kind of arrangement,' Clyde said, in the kind of way that told Emily he had already sorted out both transport and security back to Boston.

There was a long pause as she attempted to put her head through one of the sleeves of her shirt. 'Has he made an exchange demand yet?'

Clyde did not answer straight away, and from that alone, Emily knew he wasn't telling the whole truth.

'No,' Clyde admitted. 'And he won't. According to your team's assessment, Ian Doyle is in the throes of a psychotic break. He thinks the boy is Declan.'

Emily stared at him. 'When did this happen?' she demanded. If the team had already done an assessment…

'Six hours ago,' Clyde told her. 'They're in Boston, now.'


That was what the profile would have said.

That's what Emily would have said, too.

Only Boston was the last place she needed the team. She wanted them – more than anything else, she wanted them by her side as she took down Doyle – but it was too dangerous.

'And you're only coming to me now? What the hell were you thinking?' She felt her expression soften as realization kicked in. 'Hotch didn't want me to find out, did he?'

'He seemed to be under the impression that your first response would be to drop everything and get yourself killed confronting Doyle.' There was a brief pause. 'I can't imagine where he got that idea.'

'Thank-you,' Emily said. 'For telling me.' It became suddenly apparent just how different people Aaron Hotchner and Clyde Easter were. They were both good leaders – and good men – but their leadership styles were vastly different. Hotch had seemingly kept the truth in order to protect her, but Clyde understood that this was something that she needed to do.

She could not rest, until Ian Doyle was dead. It didn't matter where she went; the burden would always be on her shoulders.

This needed to end.

Seven Years Previously

'I want to talk to Sean!' Emily said, as they dragged her roughly into the car. The agents were Interpol, by the looks of it – Sean's people. 'Or Clyde. Anyone.'

'You're his agent?' the man in the front passenger's seat asked.

'No, I just want to ask him how his bowling team is going,' Emily snapped. 'Of course I'm his agent.'

The Interpol guy nodded. 'McAllister and Easter want to debrief you– we're taking you to the airport.'

Emily sighed, sinking back into the leather seats of the car.

She was out.

After over a year, living with Ian Doyle, loving Ian Doyle, she could finally go home. Except part of her still kind of thought of home as the house in Boston, or the Tuscan villa. More importantly, home was with Ian, and with Declan.


For all the mission was about getting inside Doyle's head, he'd done a hell of a job of getting inside her head too.

The drive was a silent one. She didn't particularly feel like discussing the weather, and neither, it seemed, did the agents. They simply drove her to the airport, and escorted her to the private jet ready to fly her home.

At least on the jet, Emily was alone. For the first time in over a year, she could let herself relax; the flight wasn't a long one, but she still managed to squeeze in a couple of hours of sleep. It hadn't been a long day by any definition of the word, but her body was wrought with exhaustion anyway. The stress of everything finally catching up.

In Belgium, her team was waiting.

They were huddled together on the tarmac – like some kind of disjointed family. Only they weren't her family. Not really. She loved them, she really did, but the simple fact of the job was they were all too god damn paranoid to ever consider letting anyone get close.

Still, she hadn't seen any of them in over a year – with Doyle, all of her contact had been with agents that couldn't be traced back to JTF-12.

Half a second after Emily stepped off the plane, Tsia wrapped her in a warm hug.

'Good to be home?' Clyde asked.

'You have no idea,' Emily breathed.

The debriefing was fairly informal, a fact for which Emily was supremely grateful. Her paperwork was another story, but considering she'd just spent almost eighteen months in deep cover, she'd have at least a few weeks to finish off a final profile.

It was over.

So why did it feel as though it had barely begun?

Declan was quiet.

The sedative had worked like a charm – the boy was, for all intents and purposes, asleep.

Not unusual, really – while Doyle had not had an active hand in the boy's upbringing, he discouraged idle chatter. He'd also discouraged tears, but that hadn't stopped the sobs and hiccups that had beset the first few minutes of their journey.

He probably missed his mother.

And Lauren, too – but if Doyle got his way, then Lauren would become his mother. As sufficient a job as Louise Jones was doing, she was a housekeeper, not a warrior. Lauren would come around eventually.

She wasn't answering her cell, which wasn't unusual – sometimes, if she had important business to conduct, the phone would be off for hours at a time. Neither of them used voicemail – the kinds of things they talked about on the phone were not things that Ian particularly wanted to be recorded.

He wasn't worried: she could take care of herself.

Right now, Declan was his priority.

It was going on twelve hours, and it felt as though they had as little information on where Doyle was, as when they had started. Garcia had been able to track the car that Doyle had been driving, but apparently being an arms dealer meant being able to evade detection when necessary. They knew he had lived in Boston, but the address had been wiped from the records, so thoroughly that not even Garcia had been able to hack it.

The only information of note that they had, was Ian Doyle buying an ice-cream.

Hotch couldn't remember the last time he'd bought his son an ice-cream. Weeks, maybe. Months, more probably.

To think that Doyle was doing a better job of being a father…? That hurt almost as much as knowing that his son was in the hands of a psychopath.

He shot JJ a look. She had dropped everything to accompany them to Boston, but not even her expertise was enough to make the impossible possible.

We need to tell them, his eyes said. JJ, ever the mind reader, gave a grim smile and nodded.

'There's something I need to tell you,' Hotch said. Reid looked up from his geographic profile. Morgan and Rossi were discussing something with Garcia over the laptop. Seaver was on a coffee run. Not wanting to repeat this twice, he waited, the tension spreading like a tumor.

They knew that something was wrong.

They didn't know what.

They probably couldn't even guess what.

But they knew that there was something.

'We need someone who knows Doyle,' Hotch announced.

'We already tried getting in contact with Easter,' Seaver said with a frown. 'He's off the grid.'

'I'm not talking about Clyde Easter,' Hotch said. 'I'm talking about Lauren Reynolds.'

'That's ridiculous,' Morgan said, 'Emily's dead, why would—' He jerked to a halt mid-sentence, and Hotch imagined the realization hitting him with the force of a sledgehammer. The other man gave Hotch a look that was some bizarre mix of anger and betrayal, as if saying, Please tell me you're not saying what I think you're saying.

'What is it?' Garcia asked. 'What's going on?'

'You faked her death, didn't you?' Rossi asked. Hotch gave a grimace, then a nod.

'You faked Emily's death?' Morgan repeated, incredulous. 'What the hell, man?'

'It was for her safety and ours,' Hotch explained. 'If Doyle knew she was still alive…'

'What, he would have gone after her? We could have stopped that.'

'It was the only option!' Hotch thundered. He saw Morgan's fist swinging, but he didn't do anything to stop it. Maybe that was because he thought he deserved it.

The fist cracked against his cheek, already bruised by Doyle's punches. Before Morgan could throw a second one, though, Rossi had grabbed him by the arms and pulled him away.

'Hey, hey!' Rossi said. 'Calm down.'

'Calm down?' Morgan spat. 'You want me to calm down? He let us grieve for her. Do you know how hard is was to cope with her loss? Not to mention the fact that she's been alone for the last three weeks – how is that something I can just accept?' He looked around the room, brow creased in frown. 'Did any of you know about this?'

'I did,' JJ said, eyes cold as steel. 'It was my suggestion. And I stand by it. If we hadn't faked Emily's death, then it could have ended far worse.'

She shot Hotch an apologetic look – not for revealing her part in the lie, she knew, but rather because she had implied that losing Jack was not the worst possible outcome.

'You knew?' Garcia asked, from the laptop. Her voice was filled with betrayal – she and JJ were very close. He would have gladly shouldered the blame, but he knew JJ wouldn't have allowed that.

'That's not important right now,' Hotch said, wiping the fresh blood from his face. 'We need to get hold of Emily, if only so she can tell us anything about where Doyle's Boston haunts are.'

Rossi gave him a look. 'Can I talk to you outside?' he asked, and Hotch frowned.

'Look, Dave,' he started, as soon as they'd shut the door of the Boston Police Department conference room behind them. 'I know you're upset—'

'You think I'm upset about this?' Rossi asked, eyebrows raised. 'Aaron, you know I trust your judgment. And in this case, you and JJ were absolutely right – it was the only way to get Doyle off her tail.'

'That doesn't make it any easier.'

'I know it doesn't. That's why I think you should go back to your hotel room.'

'No,' Hotch answered, almost immediately. 'I can't do that. Not with Jack still out there.'

'You've been beaten up twice today, and being here isn't going to help. Trust your team, Aaron.'

'I…I can't lose him, Dave.' Hotch was vaguely aware that he'd let out a sob. 'Not after Haley.'

'We won't let that happen.' Rossi put a hand on his shoulder. 'Please, Hotch…' Rossi went to find a patrol officer to take him back to the hotel, and Hotch let himself sink into one of the chairs in the hallway.

What the hell have you done, Aaron?

It was dark when the plane touched down on U.S. soil, and Emily Prentiss was dressed for espionage.

More specifically, she was dressed like Lauren Reynolds – creams and beiges and whites, compared to the blacks and blues and reds that Emily herself favored. If Doyle was caught in a psychotic break, then Emily was going to do every single little thing possible to keep that belief going, at least until Jack was out of there alive.

Clyde stayed behind in London, promising to take care of things on that end. Emily knew that whatever happened, she was never going back there. Today, she would either die, or be reborn, like the phoenix.

She grimaced with pain as the scar at her stomach pulled. Maybe after today, she could finally relax – whether that was in a coffin, or in her own bed, depended on what way fate took her. Emily was not a determinist, by nature, but some days it still felt like she had absolutely no control.

A CIA agent who Emily didn't recognize greeted her. She'd been out of the game for way too long. 'Everything that happens today is off the record,' she told him. Her presence here wasn't exactly sanctioned.

'Agent Easter briefed me, ma'am,' the agent answered, and Emily gave a small sigh of relief. This wasn't her operation, but she didn't particularly care in the least. Doyle was going down.

She called JJ the moment they stepped out of the airport. 'They know,' was the first thing that JJ said. Emily bit back a curse. It wasn't how she wanted it to go, but it would have to do.

'Can you talk?'

'Quickly – they think I'm on a bathroom break.'

'They're angry?'

'Morgan, more than anyone. Reid and Garcia are hurt, Seaver's confused, and Rossi's pretty much just taking it in stride.'

Emily paused, biting her lip. 'I need to ask you to lie again.'

'What are you going to do?'

'I'm in Boston now,' Emily answered. 'I'm going to give you an address, but don't raid the building. I'll go in first.'


'JJ – I really, really hate to ask you to do this. But I need to get Jack out of there alive. If nothing else, trust me to do that. You can't tell them I'm here.'

'I won't,' JJ promised.

'And if I fuck it up, tell Hotch…Tell him I'm sorry – for everything.'

'They'll figure it out – I can't just give them an address and not say where it came from.'

'Just give me two hours to get inside. I'll send you a message confirming that he's there. You'll know when to raid the building.'

They didn't talk for much longer. JJ could only rationalize her absence for so long.

Emily gave the CIA agent the address, instructing him to drop her two blocks from the house. She hated to think what Doyle might have done to the people who actually lived there now – would their presence be enough to shake him from his delusion?

God, she hoped not.

In the distance, the sun was coming up over the horizon.

The door had been kicked open and propped back on its hinges. Emily's heart skipped a beat. If the delusion was this strong, this persistent, then the aftermath was going to be all the more catastrophic. Emily gently shifted the door out of the way, only to come face to face with Ian Doyle.

Seven Years Previously

JTF-12's source, as it turned out, was Louise Jones.

Emily wasn't entirely surprised by that fact – over the past year, she'd wondered just what the housekeeper had done to get involved in this kind of thing. To do that, and to raise Declan as well? The woman was a hero.

And Emily Prentiss had to kill her.

For the camera, at least.

Louise was a smart woman – she understood the consequences of her sacrifice. She knew that if anyone ever found out that Declan was alive, he was as good as dead. So Emily killed him.

She held the gun three feet from his head in freeze frame, while the camera flashed. Doyle had used this warehouse for storage – he'd recognize it. He would know that they died in Boston. He wouldn't think to look for them under a different name, in a different state (or country).

For all intents and purposes, Declan Jones was dead.

Doyle would never find him.

'Hey,' Ian greeted her with a smile, and a quick kiss to the cheek. 'I missed you.'

'I wasn't gone that long,' she replied, suppressing every urge telling her to turn away as he kissed her again, this time on the lips. Inside her pocket, she pressed the button that would send a text message to JJ.

'Someone took Declan,' he admitted. 'I got him back, but…I thought he was safer here…'

'Is he alright?' Emily asked; the concern on her face deathly real. If Doyle had hurt Jack, she could never look Hotch in the eyes again.

'He's fine,' Doyle nodded. 'Sleeping. I haven't been able to rest…I…If one of them comes back…' Emily looked down, and saw the blood that stained his shirt. Her stomach roiled.

'It's okay,' she said, brushing his cheek. 'We're safe here, remember? We're not going to let anyone harm your son.'

'Our son,' he corrected, and Emily didn't argue. God, she so wanted it to be true.

She straightened at the sound of footsteps, and turned to see a young boy standing at the foot of the stairs.

She grinned, but inside, her heart was breaking.

'Hey, buddy.'

Morgan wasn't talking to her.

JJ couldn't exactly blame him.

After all, she had lied to him again. Even if it was to protect Jack, there was no going back on that.

They'd picked up Hotch from the hotel on their way through – while Rossi had flat out refused to let him into the field, he'd demanded to ride along anyway. Reid and Seaver stayed in the second car.

'We need to wait for Emily's signal,' JJ reiterated, for what felt like the hundredth time. She'd gotten the preliminary text from the other woman, confirming Doyle's presence in the house.

You'll know when to raid the building.

JJ really, really hoped that Emily didn't have anything drastic planned.

Jack stared at her, open-mouthed. He was too young to understand the concept of a death being faked. Too young to understand the concept of death at all, really. Emily knew that this would absolutely not help him comprehend his mother's death, but she needed to get him away from Doyle as quickly as possible. For now, the former arms dealer was complacent in the thought that his family was together again, but the delusion wouldn't last.

Ian Doyle's wrath was no sight for a six-year-old – even one as resilient as Jack Hotchner. She walked over to the stairs, and knelt by his side, wrapping her arms around him in a hug.

'I need you to pretend, okay?' she whispered into his ear, tossing an amused conspiratorial glance in Doyle's direction. She remembered – a whole lifetime ago – whispering into Declan's ear, convincing him to tickle his father, or to hide behind the sofa. She didn't blame the man for wanting to live this life again.

You know what I am, Lauren. A warrior. I lead warriors. I raise warriors. I can't just leave.

You want me to raise your son, so he can have your life?

Is it that bad a life?

There are so many things I would do to make you happy…but…I can't do this.

Once upon a time, he might have been a better man, but he was never a good man. He had loved his son, and he had loved Lauren Reynolds, but love was not restricted to the pure of heart.

Emily herself could testify to that.

'Is he a bad man?' Jack whimpered, his fingers squeezing Emily's so tight she was sure he was going to break them.

Emily bit her lip. 'Just stay strong,' she told him, which felt like a complete and utter cop-out. She slipped her phone into his pocket, and kissed his cheek. 'When I tell you to, run as hard as you can, as fast as you can, and call your Daddy on that phone, okay? Do you remember his number?'

'I remember,' Jack nodded resolutely.

Emily straightened as Doyle walked behind her, putting a hand to her shoulder.

There was only one way to distract Ian Doyle.

That didn't mean she had to like it.

Hotch jumped when his phone rang. He pulled it out, staring at the screen. "Unknown number." JJ gave him a look.

'Emily?' he asked, hesitant.


Hotch was familiar with that voice. That was the voice that accompanied scraped knees. That was the voice that accompanied grumpy six-year-olds that hadn't napped. That was the voice that accompanied weeks of sleepless nights after Haley's funeral.

Right now, though, it was the most beautiful sound in the world.

'Jack?' he croaked. 'Jack, buddy, where are you?'

'I don't know,' the boy said. 'There are lots of trees, and houses.'

'Can you any letterboxes with numbers on them?'

'Uh huh. One one two five,' he recited, which told Hotch he was a few hundred feet away from Doyle's location.

Thank-you, Emily.

'I will be there in five minutes, Jack – five minutes, okay?'

'Okay,' Jack sniffled.

Hotch was there in less than two. He ran towards his son, sweeping the boy into a tight hug.

'I'm so sorry, Jacky. So sorry.'

Jack brushed the bruise at Hotch's cheek. 'Why did he hurted you?'

Now was not the time for grammar lessons. Nor was it the time to explain why people did the things they did.

One thing he did know was that he wasn't going to let go of his son for a long time.

Emily let her lips brush Ian's – a little more aggressive than when she'd first seduced him, but it was still an Ian Doyle kiss. Another man might have wrapped his hands around her ass, but he didn't. His hand brushed her cheek, and their noses pressed together.

'I love you, Lauren,' he murmured, and for however long this was going to take, Emily Prentiss let herself be Lauren Reynolds. She relaxed her shoulders, and let herself smile.

'Love you too,' she replied nuzzling into his neck. 'Come on,' she said. 'Let's move this somewhere a little more…private.' She gave him a wild grin, and took the lapel of his shirt, pulling him towards the master bedroom.

She let him push her down onto the bed, pillows jumping. Admittedly, Emily would have preferred being the one in control – if things went south, she didn't want to be pinned under an infuriated arms dealer in the midst of a psychotic break – but Lauren had never been like that. Lauren had always been content to let him dominate her. That was mostly because he seemed more likely to give up information that way.

She held her emotions in check when his hand went to her top button. The last time Ian Doyle had unbuttoned her shirt, he branded a four-leaf clover into her chest. She hoped like hell that the mark wouldn't set off his memories, but really, all she needed was to keep him distracted while Jack went for help, and if that meant fighting off a stranglehold, then so be it.

Emily Prentiss had prepared for this death a long time ago.

He kissed the peaks of her breasts gently, lovingly. He paused on the brand, and Emily's breath caught in her through.

'Is this for me?'

'I thought you might like it,' she told him, with a sigh that was simultaneous pleasure and relief. It had been a long time since she'd last had sex – years, really – and her body was reacting to the situation accordingly. She tried to swallow the nausea in her stomach without him noticing; as much as it needed to be done, that didn't mean she was particularly happy about having to do it.

He kissed his way down her torso, unbuttoning as he went. He reached her navel, and stopped. He let his fingers brush over the scar, sending a jolt of pain down her torso.

'When did you…'

I got this scar when you shoved a broken table leg into my stomach.

Realization dawned in his eyes, and his hand went to her wrists, pinning them against the headboard. '…Emily? You're alive.' His eyes filled with a bizarre mixture of rage and love. Before he could do anything about it, though, Emily had the presence of mind to drive her knee up into his groin. Not the classiest of attacks, but sometimes you needed to play dirty.

His fists lashed out wildly, one striking the side of her head. Emily rolled, in an attempt to gain the advantage. Vaguely, she wondered how long it would take for the team to get there; under the circumstances, she was fairly sure that she could hold him off a lot longer today, than she had managed the last time she'd found herself in a fight to the death with Ian Doyle.

Last time, she'd been concussed, dehydrated and handcuffed.

This time, she was ready; the phone hadn't been the only thing she'd brought with her. Straddling Doyle, Emily pulled the smaller Beretta from its holster by her boot.

She looked into his eyes, as her finger pressed against the trigger. They used to be the eyes of a man that she'd loved. Now…actually pulling the trigger was a little harder than she'd anticipated.

Taking advantage of her hesitation, Doyle moved upwards with enough momentum to swing them both off the bed. Emily kept hold of the gun by her fingertips, but it was a near thing. Reaffirming her hold on the thing, she turned, only to find that she wasn't the only one who had been packing.

And Doyle had none of Emily's hesitations. She squeezed the trigger a split second after he did, which was a split second before his bullet tore through her shoulder, sending a wave of agony through her body. The gun fell from her fingers as her right arm spasmed, and she turned to Doyle in horror, so certain that he was going to end this, right there.

But he didn't. He couldn't.

Emily had fired from the hip, but the shot had gone through his chest – perilously close to the heart. His eyes were open, and there was still life left in him, but not much.

'Em—' He tried to cough out her name, choking on his own blood in the process. 'Declan – where…where is he?'

Emily didn't answer. She took the gun in her good hand, and leveled it at Doyle's head. It was cold-blooded, but she knew she had to do it anyway.

She fired twice, just to be safe.

'Goodbye, Ian.'

The wave of nausea hit her like a truck, bile rising in her throat. She rushed to the bathroom, making it to the sink, but not the toilet. Retching seemed to make Emily's shoulder hurt even more, and the fact that she was standing in front of the mirror, gripping the porcelain of the sink to stop herself from falling over, mean that she could see the blood spread across her open shirt.

She thought that maybe she could hear someone calling her name in the distance, but really, her head was spinning, and consciousness was slipping away, and it was kind of hard to tell what was real and what wasn't anymore.

Emily's fingers slipped from the basin, and her legs fell out from underneath her. As she closed her eyes, she hoped like hell that Jack had managed to call for help.

The sound of a gunshot was enough to send them into action.

The sound of two more was enough to send Morgan's heart thumping into overdrive.

Now, the house was quiet.

Too quiet.

There were no gunmen by the door, no minions stalking the premises. A stark contrast to the scene in the warehouse almost a month prior. Morgan hoped against hope that the outcome of the raid would somehow be different, but the stillness that hung in the air was troubling.

Over the weeks, he had become accustomed to the idea of living a life without Emily Prentiss, but the thought that she might yet be alive made his heart soar. Morgan didn't particularly care whether or not she was ready to die; he wasn't ready to lose her. None of them were.

Gripping his gun so tightly, he was afraid the damn thing might snap, he followed the SWAT team into the house. The kitchen was clear. The living room was clear.

He found Doyle's body in the bedroom, two bullets to the head.

There was blood everywhere, and it was evident that there had been a struggle, but Emily wasn't in the room.

'Emily?' he called out, hoping – praying – for a response. Then he noticed the blood trail leading towards the ensuite.

His first thought, was that they were too late. Emily's body was sprawled across the tiled floor, blood pumping from a wound in her upper shoulder. Her eyes were closed, and her body was far, far too still. Then, he saw the rise of her chest, the flutter of eyelids.

Calling for a medic, he dropped down by her side. The scene was playing itself out far too similarly to the last time he'd been in this position. This time, though, her shirt was half off, and he could see the tattoo on her stomach, as well as the scar that cut across it. The faded ink told him that it wasn't new, and in any case, he doubted that getting inked so soon after a near-fatal stab wound was a very good idea.

'You're here,' she murmured, as he took hold of her hand and squeezed it tightly. There was a strength in her voice that hadn't been there the last time, and it made him just the little bit more confident that the outcome would be a good one.

'You think I'd be somewhere else?'

'I just thought…' She swallowed, dark, broken eyes looking up at him. 'I just thought maybe…' She bit her lip, and let out a small choking sound, as though the sentence was too painful for her to finish.

'We will always have your back, Emily,' he told her. 'No matter what. So next time you're thinking about chasing after an international arms dealer, remember that.'

'I will,' she breathed, trying to pull herself up by his hand.

'Hey, hey…Take it easy,' Morgan said, gently lowering her back down. 'They'll be here soon. When did you get the tatt?' He needed to keep her distracted, and the tattoo seemed like something far removed from the situation.

'Long time ago,' Emily murmured. 'Before I joined the FBI. Before I joined the CIA, even.'

'I didn't know you had any tattoos.'

'That's because you've never seen me naked,' Emily laughed, wincing at the pain that it brought. Morgan brushed her cheek with his hand.

'Is that an offer?' he asked, less out of the desire to follow through on the question than it was an attempt to keep her grounded in reality.

'In your dreams – actually, no…if you're dreaming about me naked, then I really don't want to know about it.'

He grinned.

'So you're alive, huh?' he asked, after a brief pause. Where the hell were those medics?

'Yeah,' she admitted. 'Sorry…I didn't exactly get much of a choice in that. I hope you didn't give Hotch too much of a hard time.'

Morgan chose not to answer that question. Luckily for him, though, the paramedics burst into the room at that moment, and he moved himself to the side, deciding not to let go of Emily's hand.

Not this time.

He had been here before.

It was the same hospital – the same waiting room, even – and it hadn't even been three months since their last agonizing wait.

He wondered if they'd even changed the magazines.

If not for the weight of Jack pressed into his side, Hotch would have paced. Since escaping Doyle's captivity, Hotch had refused to let the boy leave his side, even going so far as to hand control of the raid over to Morgan, who refused to even speak to Hotch after discovering what he had done. Judging by the look on the other man's face, the moment Jack was out of earshot, there would be a heated argument.

'I can watch him, if you wanted to go get coffee,' JJ offered in a stage whisper. Morgan had not reacted as violently to JJ's knowledge of Emily's fate, but then, JJ hadn't been the one to lead them through the aftermath.

Hotch hadn't slept for a single second since Doyle had taken his son, and he wouldn't, until he got the news that Emily Prentiss was going to be okay. He had made an oath to Clyde Easter, and after everything that had happened, breaking that oath was a horrifying outcome.

If Emily Prentiss died, then the team would never forgive him. More importantly, he would never forgive himself. It didn't matter that the choice to confront Doyle – to save Jack – had been hers. If she died, then the weight of that would be on Hotch's shoulders the rest of his life. He deserved that much.

After all, she wasn't the only one he had failed to save.

Hotch went to the bathroom first, and returned to the coffee maker to find Rossi pouring out two cups.

'You look like crap,' Rossi observed bluntly, passing one of the cups over. 'The week you've been having, it doesn't surprise me.'

'You're not going to punch me, too, are you?' Hotch asked, black eye throbbing.

'If I was going to judge your actions, I would have done it already,' the older profiler said, and Hotch knew that it was true. Rossi had never really been secretive with his motives. 'Am I upset you didn't tell me? Hell yes. Am I offended? No. You did what you needed to do to keep us safe, and more importantly, to keep her safe. There is no way any of us could have predicted what Doyle did.'

Hotch gave him a look. 'We're profilers, Dave. All we do is predict criminal behavior.'

'With the information we had, there was no way any of us could have predicted what Doyle did,' Rossi amended. 'You want to blame someone, blame the CIA for not sharing their reports. Blame Doyle for being a murderous psychopath, but do not blame yourself.'

The scene was far too familiar. The first time had been in a back alley by a crime scene where the Reaper had killed six people. At this point, Boston was almost worse than Florida.

More than anything else, Hotch felt weak. He felt weak because he couldn't have stopped any of this. He felt weak because he hadn't done anything to fix it. He felt weak because he had no idea what he was supposed to do now.

The team would never trust him again, regardless of the circumstances.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Maybe one day, they'd forgive him.

But he would never forgive himself.

The world was a blurry, twisty kind of haze that Emily normally would have associated with a drug trip (only there hadn't been one of those in a long time). Reality was just beyond the reach of her fingertips.

'Emily?' a voice asked, and it could have been miles away, or just feet, but she couldn't tell.

Had that bullet actually killed her?

''m I dead?' she choked out, the dryness of her throat a good indication that the answer to the question was no.

'You wish you could get away from us that easily,' a second voice said, its tone a strange dichotomy between happy and sad.

Emily tried to clear both her eyes and her brain, the first task infinitely more doable than the second. Her surrounding came into focus within seconds, but it took a little longer to comprehend what she was seeing. A hospital room, yes, but with six overly concerned expressions staring directly at her. Emily immediately felt self-conscious; she hated being the center of attention.

Standing on the left side of the bed was Morgan and Garcia, on the right, Reid, Rossi and Seaver. JJ was at the end of the bed, but Hotch…

Emily frowned. Where was Hotch?

'Can someone…?' Emily gestured towards the remote that controlled the bed, after it became apparent that sitting up was not an option. 'Is Jack okay?'

'He and Hotch are outside,' Rossi explained. 'We didn't want to overcrowd you.' Seeing as how there were six people in the room, Emily didn't really think that a couple of more would have made a difference, but judging from the expression on Morgan's face at the sound of Hotch's name, there was a little more to it.

Or maybe it was just the morphine.

'What about the people that lived in the house?'

'Doyle killed them,' Rossi answered shortly, clearly unhappy at the fact that she had asked the question. They had gotten Jack back, but they still couldn't call it a win.

'You are never, ever, ever leaving my sight again.' Garcia dove in for what looked like it was going to be a bear hug, but changed her mind at the last second and planted a wet, lipstickky kiss on Emily's right cheek.

She was astounded – no, perplexed – by the reaction. They were happy. They weren't declaring blood feuds, or shunning her, or being distant. They were honestly, genuinely happy to see her. It kind of made her feel like a fraud. After everything she'd done, she didn't deserve this kind of love.

'Sweetie, what's wrong?' Garcia asked, concerned. It took Emily a few seconds to realize that she had started crying. With her good hand, she wiped away the tears.

'Nothing,' she said, choking on her words. 'I just missed you guys so much.' The tears started flowing a little more freely then, sending a shockwave of pain through her right side as she tried to clench her shoulders.

It took almost ten minutes for her to regain some semblance of composure; she could feel their pitying gazes burning through her skin. After being away from them for what had felt like an eternity, all Emily really wanted was to be left alone.

That wasn't exactly true.

What she wanted was for things to be back to normal. She wanted to be able to have a movie night with Garcia, or talk to Morgan about Vonnegut, or play chess with Reid. All without having people question her loyalty, or her past, or whether or not she was doing okay.

That kind of normalcy would not come right away. Maybe it would never come.

Doyle was dead, but things would ever be the same again.

It was Rossi that first suggested that they go home.

Morgan stared at him, incredulous. 'Seriously? After everything, you think we should just leave her here?'

'Emily needs to recover – both physically and emotionally – and that isn't going to happen if we hang around pressuring her into it,' the other man said. 'You can come back tomorrow.'

Morgan was about to shoot back a scathing argument when he felt Garcia's hand at his shoulder. 'He's right,' Garcia said softly.

'What happened to never letting her leave your sight again?'

'She isn't going to get abducted by aliens just because we aren't here,' Garcia argued, more bluntly than he had heard from the technical analyst in a long time. 'Besides.' She shot Rossi a look. 'I don't think he's talking about everyone leaving.'

'So what, you and Hotch get to stay here while we go home?'

Rossi stared him down. It wasn't often that he played the senior profiler card, but Morgan got the feeling that he was about to. 'You need to calm yourself down. No matter what Hotch did that you don't agree with, being angry about it is not going to help Emily.'

Morgan knew that Rossi was right, even if he didn't really want to admit it. Still, it was with a lot of hesitation that he followed Garcia and Seaver down the hallway. JJ had stayed behind with Hotch, and Reid seemed to not want to move at all.

'Everything okay?' Morgan asked. Reid looked over, as if only just noticing that there was anyone else around. 'Is it…' He trailed off, not knowing if Reid had told anyone else about his headaches.

Reid shook himself out of the stupor. 'I'm fine,' he said, but Morgan could tell from the tone of voice that the other man was lying. He stared, eyebrow raised.

'Seriously, Reid.'

'It just…it doesn't seem right to just leave her here without saying anything,' Reid frowned.

'Doyle's dead. She's not going anywhere,' Morgan said, but Reid did have a point. They ducked back into Emily's room before they left, with reassurances that they would be coming back. There were careful hugs, and Reid whispered something in Emily's ear, which seemed to brighten her mood considerably.

'Stay safe,' Morgan ordered Emily, who gave a sad smile.

'I'm pretty sure I'm going to have eyes on me twenty-four hours a day for the next six months,' Emily smiled.

'I know,' Morgan grinned. 'But stay safe anyway.'

Rossi left not long after the rest of the team, leaving just JJ, Hotch and Jack by Emily's bedside. Jack was understandably confused by the situation – he no doubt knew that his father caught the bad guys, but explaining things like psychotic breaks, and undercover work and faking deaths was a little harder.

He didn't want to have the conversation in front of JJ and Prentiss, so he took Jack by the hand out to the waiting room, where they sat down on one of the couches.

'Do you remember when you and Mommy had to go away to keep you safe from the bad man?' Hotch asked. Jack stared across at him with broken eyes, nodding. 'Well it's like that, only we had to pretend that Emily was dead so that the bad man didn't try to go after her.'

The question, when it came, was the one that he had been expecting, but that made it no less heartrending.

'Does that mean Mommy's alive, too?'

Hotch bit back the tears that were threatening to escape. 'No, buddy. Mommy's up in heaven.'

'I miss her,' Jack said dolefully.

'Me too, Jack.'

Jack looked thoughtful, as if considering some deep question. 'Is Emily going to be my Mommy?'

That question, was one that Hotch hadn't been expecting. He knew that part of Doyle's delusion meant that Emily would have had to pretend to be Lauren Reynolds to gain his trust, which also meant that she had to pretend to be Jack's mother figure.

'Your Mommy will always be Mommy,' Hotch told the boy. 'But I think that Emily would appreciate it if you gave her a big hug instead.'

There was a long silence. 'Can we still keep Sergio?' He pronounced the name with extra emphasis on the "gee" sound.

In spite of the situation, Hotch cracked a small smile. 'How about we keep taking care of him while Emily gets better, and then we'll take about it?' Jack nodded. 'Remember, though, he's not our kitty, so if Emily wants to keep him, then that's her decision, okay?'

'Okay.' Jack let out a long yawn, reminding Hotch that the boy had just spent almost twenty-four hours with a psychopath, and probably needed to go home. He was taking the situation remarkably well – that should have reassured Hotch, but somehow it only made him more terrified for his son's future.

Is this the life you've given him?

Will he grow up, thinking that this kind of thing is normal?

They returned to the hospital room, where JJ was briefing Emily on the events of the past two months. She couldn't give as accurate a picture on the team as Hotch could, but that would need to wait until later.

'I need to take Jack home,' he said, guiltily. 'But I'll sort something out so I can come back tomorrow and—'

'No,' Emily interjected, surprising both Hotch and JJ. 'Tomorrow, you are going to spend the day with your son. No exceptions, okay?'

'Okay,' Hotch conceded. He saw the look in Emily's eyes. 'This wasn't your fault – you saved his life, Emily.'

'His life wouldn't have needed saving, if not for me.'

Before Hotch could argue back, Jack decided to settle the issue himself by walking over to Emily's hospital bed, and hugging her. He wasn't quite tall enough to reach, and the arm in the sling made things somewhat harder, but it did achieve what Hotch couldn't – it stopped Emily from pressing the issue further.

Her guilt – his guilt, everyone's guilt – was something that they would need to work through slowly.

Maybe one day they'd be a family again, but until that day, they just had to keep trying.

The day of Emily's release from the hospital, it was JJ that picked her up. Hotch was still on leave, and the rest of the team had picked up an urgent case in Cleveland.

'Your apartment hasn't been rented out yet,' JJ told her, as she pushed the hospital-mandated wheelchair down the hallway. 'But the furniture's mostly in storage.'

'I was thinking of getting a new place,' Emily said, letting her gaze focus on the doorway. She'd picked up her painkillers from the hospital pharmacy, but not taken any just yet. What she had taken, hours ago, now, was starting to wear off a little, and Emily felt the throb of pain in her shoulder. 'A fresh start, you know?'

For so long, she had spent her life looking over her shoulder. The fact that was no longer necessary instilled a sense of freedom that Emily had not felt since before Doyle. Of course, that freedom would be somewhat limited until things returned to normal.

In the meantime, she would accept JJ's offer of a spare room, feeling like an intruder in their happy, family life. The life that Emily never got to have. The life she kept throwing away.

Maybe it would be easier to go to a hotel instead – not that any of the team would actually let that happen – but at the same time, she knew she needed it. She needed the warmth, and the security, and the love that being with a friend brought.

Not to mention the fact that JJ had apparently called ahead and told Will to start making lunch. It had been a long time since Emily's last home-cooked meal. Even before Doyle's return, she'd mostly subsided on takeout and hastily made sandwiches. The few dinners the team had had together at Will and JJ's house attested to the fact that the former New Orleans Detective was superb in the kitchen.

Henry wasn't old enough to be asking questions about what had happened – a fact for which Emily was extremely grateful. It had been hard enough dealing with Jack, and the memories of Declan that rescuing him had brought up.

'So what are your plans?' JJ asked, as Emily – somewhat inelegantly – scarfed down her spaghetti; someone had no doubt revealed her secret weakness for the dish.

'Put things back together, I guess,' Emily said, once she'd swallowed. 'The team…I know they're keeping quiet about it now, but eventually, they're going to start questioning my loyalty. I don't know if I can handle that.'

'You thinking of resigning?' JJ asked, and Emily was grateful for her straightforwardness on the issue.

'I was going to go see Hotch tomorrow,' Emily revealed. 'To discuss my options.'

And that was how Emily found herself outside Hotch's apartment the next day, overcome with a kind of nervousness that she hadn't felt since she'd first joined the BAU, and blatantly lied about her past.

'Daddy, there's someone at the door!' she heard Jack's voice call out, but it was still another couple of minutes before the door opened; after Foyet and after Doyle, Emily couldn't blame Hotch for being hyper-vigilant about security. Maybe he was considering moving, too.

'Emily!' Jack shouted, and wrapped his arms around her waist in a tight hug. It seemed almost bizarre – a few months ago, she had just been another one of his father's colleagues. Now, she was the woman that warranted a bone-crushing hug as Hotch opened the door.

'Hey,' Emily said, awkwardly.

'Come on, buddy, give Emily a bit of room to breathe.'

Jack obliged, instead taking hold of her arm. 'Come see this!' he said, enthusiastically, pulling her across the room. Emily shot Hotch a look of helplessness, and she could have sworn that he was laughing.

'It's a kitty fort,' Jack announced, gesturing to a structure of pillows and blankets. 'Sergio sleeps in there, sometimes.' He flipped the blanket up, revealing the black cat stretched out, completely oblivious to the rest of the world. Emily scratched his belly, causing the cat to open his eyes blearily.

'Hey, Serge – did you miss me?' The cat gave an apathetic yawn, and for a moment, Emily wondered if he had even realized that she was gone. Then, he stood, stretching, and walked over to rub himself against her pant leg, meowing. 'Great,' she laughed. 'I'm back five minutes, and the first thing you want is food.'

'He has treats,' Jack told her in a stage whisper, as though afraid the cat might discover his nefarious plan. 'Daddy?' He looked up at his father, question in his eyes.

'You can give him a treat,' Hotch agreed, some amount of humor still in his voice. Jack ran off in search of said treats.

'He hasn't been a pain in the ass, has he?' Emily asked, concerned that Sergio might have been shedding his fur all over Hotch's suits.

'Aside from a few attempts at sleeping in my shoes, no,' Hotch said with a smile. In a softer voice, he added, 'Jack loves him.'

Emily nodded. 'Do you think…you'd be interested in keeping him?' she asked, even though she wasn't entirely sure herself. She loved Sergio, but it was painfully clear that Jack was smitten, and after everything that happened, a cat like Sergio was good for him.

'I think Jack would love you for all eternity if you asked him that.'

So when Jack returned with the back of treats, Emily asked him. His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, and in that moment, Emily knew why Doyle had seen Declan in those eyes. They had the same tragic innocence, the same sweetness that almost broke her heart.

'You'll still come over and visit him, won't you?' Jack asked, in the tone of voice that suggested he was asking less for Sergio's sake, and more for his own.

'Of course I will,' Emily smiled. She stood, leaving Jack to play with the cat while she followed Hotch into the kitchen.

'Coffee?' he asked.

'Sure,' Emily nodded. She paused, biting her lip. She wasn't quite sure how to tell him.

'Everything okay?'

'Yeah,' she nodded. 'I just…I didn't come here just to check on Jack.'

'I know.' Of course he did.

'I wanted to tell you in person that I plan on resigning.'

'I stepped down as Unit Chief,' Hotch revealed, and Emily had to stop her jaw from dropping.

'You're kidding me.'

'Being Unit Chief is based on trust,' he told her, spooning the exact amount of Splenda that she took into one of the cups. 'I lied to the team – we can't function if they don't trust me to have their back.'

'You did it to protect them.'

'We both know that doesn't make a difference.'

There was a long silence, punctuated only by Emily's thanks for the coffee that Hotch passed over.

'I don't think Rossi will be all that willing to let you go,' Hotch said eventually.

Emily frowned. Last she'd heard, it was Morgan that was tipped to take over the BAU once Hotch stepped down. 'Why Rossi?' she asked. 'Why not Morgan?'

Hotch gave a grim smile. 'Because apparently punching your Unit Chief after discovering that he was complicit in faking the death of your colleague is frowned upon by the Section Chief.'

'Oh,' was all Emily said. It was all she could say. The team had broken apart, and it was all because of her. 'We aren't coming back from this, are we?' She stared over at Jack, who was lying outside the cat fort, staring upwards at the ceiling. She wondered if he'd had any nightmares about Doyle yet. He hadn't hurt Jack as such, but he had taken the boy away from his father, which was nightmare enough.

'You ask some people in the Bureau, and we've been on the verge of mental breakdown for the last seven years,' Hotch said, which wasn't exactly the answer Emily had been looking for. 'Hanging onto the cliff's edge by our fingertips seems like something profilers are especially good at. We've had obstacles in the past – this one might seem like it's a little more devastating, or a little harder to get through, but as stubborn as we all are…we'll make it through this.'

Somehow, Emily believed him.

In Santa Monica, the sun was shining.

Emily Prentiss lowered her sunglasses as she stopped outside a single-storey house. It wasn't quite summer yet, but she sweated profusely anyway – with her arm still in a sling, driving wasn't an option, so she had resorted to public transport.

Every single member of the team had offered to accompany her on the trip, but she had declined – this was something she needed to do alone. Still, the fact that they had even offered gave her some comfort in the thought that maybe one day, things would return to normal. Rossi had refused her resignation – a fact which did not surprise her in the least. He suggested that she take a vacation – a real vacation – and think about it a little more.

She stopped at the doorstep, fist hovering just inches from wood. It had been eight years – would he even remember her?

Emily knocked, and held her breath.

The woman who answered the door was in her mid-fifties – her hair had gone grey, and her face was gaunt, but Emily still recognized the housekeeper that had fed JTF-12 intel on Doyle's activities. Garcia had tracked down the woman in a little under five minutes, which made Emily a little doubtful about the security measures in place. It took all of three seconds for Louise Jones to realize who Emily was, her eyes widening in surprise.

'Come in.'

Louise – or Carole, according to her new identity – made tea. 'We saw your death on the news. Steven – Declan – was very upset.'

'I wasn't sure he'd remember me,' Emily murmured, staring over at a photo on the wall. Declan would be twelve – almost thirteen. He had his father's smile.

'He keeps a photo of you in his room…Ia-His father never told him anything about his real mother. He always loved you.'

Emily shook her head. 'I'm not here to take him from you, I just…I came to tell you that Ian Doyle is dead.'

For a long while Louise didn't respond. 'We've been living this life for so long, it sometimes seems surreal to thing that there might have been something else before it.'

'If you want to go back, then I can make it happen,' Emily told her. 'But if you don't, then that's okay too.'

'He's not like his father,' Louise said, which wasn't really an answer at all. 'He's kind and intelligent and compassionate. Nothing like his father at all.'

'We have you to thank for that,' Emily said, warmth flooding her heart. To know that Declan Jones would not become like his father was the greatest gift that she could have ever hoped for.

Before Louise could answer, the door swung open, and Declan walked in. Emily could have sworn that her heart skipped a beat.

She stood, not particularly caring that she knocked her tea over. Declan let his school bag drop to the floor, and ran towards Emily, wrapping her in a tight hug.

'You're getting tall,' she said with a laugh. No longer was he the quiet, shy little boy with a high-pitched laugh, who loved playing hide and go seek.

'I play power forward,' he offered nervously, and Emily gave a wide smile.

'Maybe you two should go for a walk,' Louise suggested.

'Are you sure?' Emily asked; she wanted nothing more than to spend some time alone with Declan, but she didn't want to intrude.

'Of course. It's safe, now.'

It's safe, now. No matter how many times Emily heard those words, she would never quite believe them. Ian Doyle was dead.

She was freed of that burden.

They walked down to the pier, as Emily asked every single question she could possibly think of. Favorite book (Harry Potter), favorite movie (The Empire Strikes Back), favorite ice-cream flavor (vanilla fudge ripple).

At a lull in the conversation, Declan asked, 'Did he do that to you?' as he gestured towards her arm.

'Yeah,' Emily said, but she didn't elaborate. Thirteen still wasn't quite old enough to understand what Emily had done. Hell, she didn't even really understand it herself.

'Did you kill him?' The tone was not accusatory, but rather…fatalistic. As if he already knew the answer.


'Am I going to turn out like him?'

Emily stopped in her tracks, and turned to face Declan. His bright blue eyes were calm, and serious. She put a hand to his shoulder. 'No,' she told him. 'Absolutely not. Your father…Your father didn't have a very happy childhood, and that's part of the reason why he turned out the way he did. What you want to do with your life – that's up to you, not your genetics.'

Declan nodded, but Emily could tell that he didn't quite understand that either. One day, he would.

Down at the pier, they played skee-ball (left-handed, in Emily's case), and ate ice-cream as they watched the sun set over the ocean.

Tomorrow was a new day.