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Gotta take a second to thank all our loyal readers for sticking with us. Tonnie and I are having a blast bringing y'all stories. We do want to let you know that our posts may be a tad bit slower over the next few weeks. Tracia's husband will soon be home from Afghanistan on mid-tour leave (Hallelujah!) and Tonnie's real life is a bouncing handful right now (also a Hallelujah, just a bit more subdued!) We appreciate your support, and we are diligently working on all of our epics and many new oneshots!
Now, on with the show...
But Penelope Garcia was nothing if not determined. Especially when she felt like she'd been betrayed by the one man she trusted above all others. Lifting her chin, Penelope glared at Aaron. "Cut the crap, Captain Ahab," she snapped. Stepping forward, she jabbed a finger into Hotch's broad chest as she spoke, "We rode those freaking waves to find your whale! And you're suggesting we just leave Em in the ocean to drown? Screw that!"
"This isn't a sophomore literature class, Garcia," Hotch replied, grabbing her arms when she would have slapped him again, capturing her fingers in an iron grip. "And Moby Dick was small potatoes compared to Ian Doyle. Nothing here is black and white."
Blinking back angry tears, Garcia met Hotch's serious eyes. "Who else knows?" she whispered.
"Myself, JJ, and Clyde Easter," Hotch informed her succinctly, watching as the younger woman seemed to sag. Damn it to hell and back, Hotch silently cursed as he realized that he might have just destroyed one of the strongest friendships he'd ever seen. JJ and Garcia were closer than most sisters he knew. Penelope was JJ's son's godmother, for Christ sake. "Garcia, JJ didn't have a choice," Hotch explained quickly, hoping against hope to ameliorate the destruction that was sure to come. "Her orders to remain silent came from so high above our pay grade that it gives me altitude sickness to think about it."
Coldness descended over her as he spoke, but she didn't really hear anything he said. "Both of you?" she breathed, looking away from him to stare at the wall over his shoulder. "You did this together. You let us believe that we buried one of our own. How can you possibly justify that?"
"Penelope, not only would Emily be in danger if we told the rest of you, but the entire team as well. Doyle has a vendetta and he'll stop at nothing to exact his revenge," Hotch explained, tightening his hands around her wrists as he felt her delicate muscles constrict to pull away. Of all the members of his makeshift family, this woman was the one he least wanted to disappoint...to see her looking at him with those bright, wounded eyes, rounded with pain and disillusionment. "One team member in danger is bad enough, but all of you?"
"You don't have the right to play God," Penelope whispered, forcing herself to meet his somber stare in the dimly lit room. "She was...she is," Pen corrected, swallowing painfully as she felt another wave overwhelm her, "our friend, too. Our family."
"I made a decision that would keep the greatest number of people safe, Penelope," Hotch stated softly, forcing himself to remain calmer than he actually felt. "You can hate me for it if you choose. God knows, if Emily comes home..."
"When!" Pen spat. "When she comes home!"
"You're right," Hotch conceded. "When she comes home, I'm going to have to defend my decisions to the rest of the team. I don't expect you all to agree with me. I never did. But, there isn't another way. We're going to get Doyle. But, I can't allow all of you to become targets in the process."
"You won't allow it. You could. You could choose to let us do our freaking jobs and hunt this whack-a-doodle like we have all the other creeps we've caught. You're choosing not to do it. You're making the choice to throw Emily to the wolves."
"You're making me into a monster," Hotch bit out, his heart shredding as he realized just how close to the mark she was with her assessment.
"You're acting like one," Pen retorted angrily, her eyes glimmering. "I don't understand, Hotch. When I got shot, you moved heaven and earth to find the jerk that put a bullet in me. You broke rules and oaths left and right..."
"Ian Doyle is not a garden variety unsub, Penelope," Hotch returned sharply, refusing to allow her to make correlations that discounted the true danger of the situation. "He's a terrorist. They're totally different animals."
"They're first cousins and you know it," Pen huffed, smacking his arm. "I may not be a profiler, but even I'm savvy enough to pick up on that." Lifting her chin and taking a step closer, coming nose to chin with him, she challenged, "Tell me that we couldn't have helped, Hotch. Go ahead, try me."
Bending his head to stare at her for a long, charged moment, he finally shook his head. "I can't," he confided huskily, blinking. "You're right. We could have helped."
"We still could," Garcia pleaded, pulling one arm from his grip to grab a handful of his tee shirt in desperation.
"Garcia, it wasn't my choice," Aaron confided truthfully.
Rolling her eyes as she refused to accept that statement on face value, Penelope held her ground. "We've gotten around other agencies before, Hotch. We've broken the rules and lived to tell the tale..."
"It wasn't mandated by the Agency either, Penelope," Hotch interrupted, pressing a finger to her moving lips to quell the words coming from her lips. Seeing the confusion shining in the blue pools of her eyes, he sighed. He so didn't want to do this to her...to any of them. But, he knew this determined, passionate woman...nothing less than complete honesty would sway her. "It was Emily's decision. I offered to put the full force of the Bureau and our unit behind her to bring Doyle into custody. Strauss even signed off on it. Emily wouldn't go for it."
"Huh?" Garcia breathed, some of her earlier wrath dissipating as quickly as it had arrived, that piece of information suddenly deflating her righteously fueled balloon. "I don't understand," she whispered as her heart sank into her stomach.
"Emily didn't want to place her friends and family at risk. Not only were we in danger, but her father...the Ambassador...everyone she cared for and about. She threatened to simply disappear. To vanish."
"She did that anyway!" Garcia whimpered, her hand tightening in Hotch's shirt, the solid beat of his heart beneath her hand the only thing assuring her that this wasn't some freaky dream she couldn't wake up from. "She's a ghost."
"She is," Hotch agreed, slipping his arm around Garcia's waist. "But she's still on the grid. You proved that tonight. She has a handler. And we're still following leads. No one is going to just forget Doyle is out there, Sweetheart. Least of all me," he promised solemnly, nodding. "But I've got to keep everyone safe, Penelope."
"Swear?" Pen whispered, allowing her head to fall against the wide chest in front of her.
Closing his eyes, Aaron dropped his head to bury his nose in Garcia's soft hair. "I swear, Penelope. We'll make it right. But for now, promise me you'll forget what you saw tonight. I don't want you anywhere near Ian Doyle or Prentiss...even online. It's too dangerous."
Garcia nodded slowly against him, her earlier anger once again slowly sublimating into the depressed sadness that had been her default position since Emily had left them ."As long as you promise me that you'll bring her home."
"I'll bring her home," Hotch vowed, pressing a kiss to her head as he pulled them back against the sofa. "Anything else to say?" Hotch smiled faintly, resting his chin against her head as she relaxed against him.
"Yeah," Pen grunted unhappily, lacing her fingers with his, "I suppose from now on, you can call me Ishmael."
Chuckling dryly, Hotch lifted his eyes heavenward. God save them all from this unholy whale of a situation.