I'm resurrecting the Grief series, and here is the next part. FYI, these are not in going to be in chronological order.


As he walked away from Strauss's office, having just suffered a team 'check-up' with Her Highness, Hotch ran over the last couple of months in his head. They were long months, quiet, and the smiles were so sparing, he wasn't even sure there had been any.

His team wasn't what it used to be. His team was changed forever.

He'd spent these two months asking himself over and over why he didn't take one look at the eager-beaver brunette stalking his office, and send her packing like his initial thoughts had suggested to him. Why had he felt compelled to give her a chance, even though he hadn't really trusted her? She was damn persuasive was the best explanation he could manage. That was how it started, but then she was almost gone at one point, and then he'd gone to her apartment and persuaded her to come back. Why did he have to do that?

And why did she have to fit so easily into their team, into their family?

If she hadn't, if he hadn't given her that chance, this whole mess the team was still recovering from could have been avoided. Oh sure, the team likely would have still been on the Doyle case, and she still would have been a missing FBI agent, but the hunt, the search, would have been without the tangible desperation. And, while losing a fellow agent was always hard, he wouldn't be stuck watching his team all disappear inside themselves in their hurt and grief.

Hotch reached the BAU, hesitating slightly as he pushed open the glass doors. The bullpen was quiet, even their colleagues not on the team were still shell-shocked from the loss. The chair that still sat empty. There were people working, the occasional conversation, but there was a thick tension over everything. The type of suffocating tension that settles on a house after a loss.

Reid was at his desk, eyes focused on a file folder, but not actually seeing it. He shifted suddenly, his face twisting into an expression of intense concentration, but his eyes darting toward the desk to his right. The very empty desk to his right. He quickly averted his eyes.

Morgan must be in his office. He ventured out of the bullpen much less than he used to. Normally, he got restless and came to the bullpen to tease Reid or flirt with Prentiss. Now he was avoiding it like the plague. The reminder that she was gone, and wasn't coming back.

So was Garcia. At least she had dry eyes when he did see her; that in itself was a big accomplishment for her. He wondered if she had cried herself out, or if she just saved it for home now. He should ask Kevin how she's doing, but that could be a very awkward conversation.

And, Dave was in his office, staring off into space. That was not usual his style. David Rossi was a very focused man, to the point of being irritating sometimes. And, yet here he was, staring straight ahead at the wall separating him from the conference room, and seeing only what was going on in his head.

Hotch stepped into his office and tried very hard not to, but still glanced at the couch he'd found her warming the day she insisted she was meant to be a part of his team.

Please tell me you haven't been here for four days.

It felt like every inch of the BAU was saturated with her memory, which was ridiculous because she'd been with the less than five years. He'd been in the BAU over a decade, surely he could think of a space that didn't make him think of her. And then his eyes fell on the chair in front of his desk, something that should be completely innocuous. But, she was sitting there, telling him off for accusing her of playing politics.

Or sitting next to Dave, accepting a tumbler of scotch, the three of them touching glasses and drowning the horrors of the case in companionship and booze.

Or in the conference room, stunning them all by flawlessly and effortlessly translating Arabic.

In the bullpen, perched on Morgan's desk, laughing at something, while he looked dubious and Reid tried desperately to explain his thoughts.

She was everywhere. And he wished like hell that she'd just go away, because the weight of this secret was slowly suffocating him.

He sighed and fell into his seat, resting his head in his hands, and silently hating himself. She wasn't dead, but he had to keep them still believing that she was gone forever. His team was suffering, and there was a way to stop it, but he couldn't do it. It didn't matter that he could trust them with her safety, the more people that knew the more danger she was in. And really, what would be the good in telling them now anyway? They were already mourning her, and he couldn't bring her back, it was too dangerous and he had no idea where she actually was.

JJ might know, but he wasn't even sure of that. Prentiss might be totally off the grid by now, and she could very well be anywhere from the mountains of Nepal to the jungles of Zaire. The one thing he was sure of was that she was alone. Not just by herself, but alone in the most terrifying and profound sense.

Hotch would not want to trade places with her.

And yet, his situation was no picnic either. As many times as he wished he would have just sent her away the day she showed up in his office (the second time), given the chance, he wouldn't change letting her stay. He wouldn't change her becoming part of the team. Even with all the pain they were going through now, even with all her baggage (which was extensive), Emily Prentiss was still family, and certainly once of the closet friends he'd ever had.

And, he missed her.