Aaron Hotchner was not happy.
He stared at Chief Erin Strauss with a look of utter disgust, and threw the file she had given to him earlier down onto the desk in front of her with such force that it shot towards her and she had to catch it before it could hit her in the abdomen.
'Agent Hotchner! Need I remind you of the thin ice you are already on! Borderline assault will not help you in any way whatsoever! Now sit down Aaron, before I have you removed from my office. And whilst you're at it, stop looking at me like I'm a criminal.'
'You practically are, you fucking bitch.' Hotch thought, as he slammed himself down into the chair on the nearside of her desk, and tried, but failed, to re-arrange his face into a more pleasant expression.
'As I was saying before you had your… little tantrum, we have a situation to resolve. And I fully expect you to deliver the verdict to those involved. Also, as a mark of respect for how long and how well you and your team have served the FBI, I am going to let you choose who, and where, one of the two agents in question gets transferred to. And please, Aaron, consider this a kindness. It is more than I would like to have given you, but it appears that the directors find you more tolerable than I do.'
'Ma'am.' Hotch started, with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. 'Do you honestly think I can do that? Both agents are necessary to the B.A.U., losing one of them will damage the work we do, probably irreparably. You're asking me to sacrifice one of our best assets, and a close friend. I will not, and cannot, do what you are asking me.'
'Well, Aaron, that is a shame'. Strauss replied. 'The directors have offered you a deal, and you, not for the first time, have thrown it back in their faces. They will be completely shocked by your complete lack of professionalism and respect, I can assure you.'
'How the hell is asking me to choose to transfer Agent Jareau or Agent Prentiss to another department a kindness!' Hotch got to his feet again, clearly about to lose his seemingly permanent reserve. 'I don't even understand why their private lives are the Bureau's business. They are nothing but professional at work, and I have never met two finer agents. This is a terrible mistake, Erin, I can assure you!' Hotch knew that repeating the woman's words to her was childish, and wouldn't help his argument, but he was slightly pleased with the look of annoyance on her permanently smug face.
'I will not ask you again. Sit. Down.' She punctuated the last two words with two taps with her index finger on her desk. 'I do not care for your tone. And, if you ever call me by my first name again, it will be the last time. Are we clear?'
'You call me by mine, you hypocrite!' Hotch cleared his throat. 'Yes. Perfectly clear… ma'am,' He let the disdain in his voice ring out loud and clear around her office. But she was either too pissed off to care anymore, or too stupid to pick up on it. Hotch was pretty sure it was the latter 'fucking pen pusher. I bet she never even arrested more than ten people. She's not even half the agent Emily or J.J are.'
Strauss handed the file back to Hotch as he took his place once more in the vacant chair. He took it, and placed it into his lap. He then watched her as she sipped some water from a glass that was positioned just to her right and smoothed the lapel on her navy blue jacked down. He wondered momentarily if his sudden anger had shaken her slightly… it would not surprise him. She was the kind of woman that was used to talking down to everyone else, and someone giving her a taste of her own medicine would probably hit her hard. 'What a good stint on the B.A.U frontline would do to her, I would love to see.'
She leant forward slightly across the desk toward him. Placing her elbows onto the wooden surface and clasping her hands in front of her face. She studied him for a moment before speaking again.
'Were you aware of Agent Prentiss' and Agent Jareau's … special relationship?'
'Yes'. 'No ma'am, I was not.'
'Are you sure Aaron?'
'Yes ma'am. They are highly intelligent agents, and Agent Prentiss is an experienced profiler. If they wanted to keep something from the rest of us, they would have been able to.'
Strauss stared at him, like she was waiting for him to give something away in his body language, and he stared right back 'I can lie too, you useless, stupid piece of shit. I used to be a lawyer after all. '
She took another sip of her water, and spoke again.
'Agents Jareau and Prentiss have gotten themselves into this mess by having the kind of relationship that does not fit in with what the Bureau expects.' Strauss stated, and at Hotch's angry look, she continued hurriedly. 'I do not mean the homosexual aspect of their relationship, this is not the military. I am merely referring to the fact that personal relationships that extend beyond friendship between two people who work in the same department are completely forbidden. This fact is made expressly clear, without exception, to any straight, gay, or lesbian person who joins the FBI. If these agents wish to continue their personal relationship, one of them will have to be transferred. Regardless of their importance to their current placement. Prentiss and Jareau should be thankful of your… chivalry, barging in here to protect them, however ill-advised your actions are, agent Hotchner, But ultimately, all of this lies with them,
He shifted in his seat. Unable to look at her, resigning himself to the fact that she was right.
'Agent. I know how difficult this will be for you. But you have no other option. If you do not choose, and if you do not have the transfer request on this desk, in writing, by nine tomorrow morning, I will choose the agent and their destination myself. Now, I am sure you and the other parties involved would prefer that you do it. But make no mistake, you will have to choose. And if either of your agents refuses to go, they will be discharged from the Bureau. Please make this clear to both of them.'
Hotch let out a breath. A very long one. He sat a little straighter in the chair and opened his mouth to speak, but he could find no words.
'We are done, Agent. Please see yourself out.' The Chief dismissed him curtly. He had really pissed her off this time.
A short while later, Hotch was on his was back to his office. His head was swimming with thoughts… a loophole maybe… someway he could hang on to both of his agents. But he had left his hope in the doorway of Strauss's office, and each step he took away from it just re-affirmed what he had to do. 'This is really going to destroy the team'.
He jolted suddenly when a familiar voice rang out behind him, but he'd not been listening well enough to hear what was said. He turned to find David De Rossi striding down the corridor towards him, and was suddenly glad to have some friendly company.
'How did it go? Are they able to stay?' Rossi asked in a hushed voice so that no one could listen in. Hotch looked into his friend's face and saw something he'd never seen in the older man's expression before. Desperation.
Taken aback, Hotch paused before answering. 'Come with me, we'll have to talk in my office'. He turned on his heel and walked briskly away toward the part of Quantico that the B.A.U and his office were in; acutely aware of Rossi's eyes boring into the back of his head.
Once inside the familiar interior of where he worked, Hotch ushered Rossi inside and shut the door behind him. He then moved to the blinds on the windows that faced out onto the main work area of the Behavioural Analysis Unit, closing them firmly so that no one could see in. He turned to Rossi, and motioned for him to sit down on the couch that was just behind him, and then placed himself opposite the older man.
'One of them has to move to another department. And either I choose who and where before nine tomorrow morning, or Strauss does.' He let his head fall into his hands, and closed his eyes. He was suddenly aware of how drained he felt.
'Aaron, I'll go and talk to her. We have a history, maybe I could…' Rossi trailed off as Hotch held up one of his hands.
'This goes beyond her, Dave. For once, she's the monkey, not the organ grinder. There's no use trying to fight this, or we'll all end up losing our jobs. The B.A.U doesn't deserve that.' Hotch sighed. He was stuck, for once in his life he had no idea what to do, and it was scaring him slightly.
'The Unit doesn't deserve to lose Emily or J.J either!' Rossi exclaimed. 'I cannot believe this. How did Strauss even find out about them?'
'Do you remember Officer Goodman, from Alabama last week?' Hotch asked, referring to a case they had come from, where a man was killing social workers, because he blamed them for failing him as a child. Goodman had been one of the officers involved, and had spent a lot of time with J.J when she was releasing press statements to the public. 'J.J had left her jacket in his car when he had driven her to the hotel late after a conference. He realised before he drove away, and decided to take it up to her hotel room. He asked the receptionist which room she was in, and headed up there. He apparently heard J.J talking to Emily on the phone through the door, saying how much she missed her and how long it would be before she would be finished at the scene… and…uh… some other stuff. You get the idea. Being a devout Christian and an upstanding member of the church community, he was apparently offended and disgusted by the notion of two same sex FBI agents being involved. So he waited outside in his car, and sure enough, Emily turned up an hour later, with a bottle of wine. He followed her into the hotel, got into the security office and watched on the CCTV as she went into J.J's room. He asked the guy working security there overnight if he would let him know what time Emily left the room, and sure enough, the guy called him the next day to confirm that Emily had spent the night in there, even though she had her own room that was only across the hall.'
'Let me guess,' Rossi shook his head. 'Being a good Christian, he was just itching to let the Bureau know?' The older mans eyes flashed. He was beginning to mirror Hotch's anger in Strauss' office.
'I should tell Emily and J.J.' Hotch said to no one in particular. 'Excuse me Dave, I have to attend to this matter.' He was past feeling sorry for everyone now, he had to be professional. Sensing the shift in his Colleague's behaviour, Rossi got to his feet and nodded.
'Don't worry Aaron; we'll sort something out. We always come through these things that try us. It's how we work. I'll look into it, see if I can come up with anything.' He left the office, leaving the door open behind him.
Through the open door Hotch could see the other members of his team grouped around Reid's computer looking at something on the screen and laughing. He hated that he was going to have to go and ruin their good moods, as a good mood was something a member of the B.A.U was seldom afforded. But, he had to bite the bullet, and he had to do it now.
He walked out onto the raised platform that ran along in front of the row of offices that his own was situated on, turned right and proceeded down the stairs into the main hub of the B.A.U. As he worked his way around the maze of desks that littered the room, his stomach grew nauseous, and his heart beat faster. He was nervous. Sooner than he liked, he reached the group, straightened up and cleared his throat.
'Hey! Hotch! Look! We made the BBC in England! They were following the Alabama case. Apparently one of the victims was from a place in England called… Hull, wherever that is.' Derek Morgan informed him.
'It's a city, kind of half way between Edinburgh and London, on the East Coast of England, and it runs along the north bank of the River Humber. It's known for its links to fishing and trade with mainland Europe. Oh, and it also has the worlds only Submarium.' Interjected Spencer Reid, and on the incredulous looks he received from the rest of his team, he returned to studying the screen in front of him.
'Do you eat facts for breakfast?' laughed Prentiss, and scuffed her hand lightly across the back of the young mans head. 'There are pictures of us, you know,' she told Hotch with a wry smile, 'They managed to get a really terrible one of J.J! That's what we were laughing at. I didn't think that would be possible, but apparently, British cameras don't always get your good side! Look.'
She pushed the screen round towards Hotch, and he looked at the picture on the screen. Sure enough, it was not the most flattering snap of the blonde he had ever seen, the picture had been taken as a gust of wind had caught her hair, so it was all stood on end, and the same gust must have gotten in her eyes, because they were half closed. She did look pretty funny, but he found it hard to even muster a smile, and this did not go unnoticed.
'What's up?' an unusually quiet J.J asked him.
'I need to see you and Prentiss in my office please.' He told them without emotion. 'Right now.'
The two women exchanged panicked looks. They know. They've probably been expecting this.
Reid and Morgan looked up, puzzled. Hotch stared them down until they had both turned their attentions back to the computer.
'Come on.' Hotch reiterated, and led them back toward his office, the more confident brunette behind him, with the shyer blonde trailing at the rear, obviously nervous about what awaited her on the other side of the door that bore her boss' name.
Upon reaching his office, Hotch stood aside to let the two women enter first. He then followed, and shut the door behind himself. Before he turned to face his agents, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath to compose himself.
'Hotch?' Prentiss' voice was like a bullet through the silent room. He must have been stood there longer than he had thought.
'Please. Sit.' He spoke without turning, waiting to hear them both choose a seat before he did. Slowly. Very Slowly.
'We have a situation.' He began, trying to put some authority into his voice. 'I am not going to treat you like you are both stupid by telling you what this is about. You both know.' He sat down opposite the two of them, looking into their faces in turn. They looked shocked almost, as if they couldn't quite believe that they were having this conversation. They knew what was coming, and Hotch could tell neither of them wanted to hear him say it. He saw them physically brace themselves when he opened his mouth to speak.
'If you want to carry on with your relationship, one of you has to give up your place on this team'.