Through the Streets of London

Chapter XVI: Is this the end?

"Between the desire and the spasm, between the potency and the existence, between the essence and the descent, falls the Shadow. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper." ~ T.S. Elliot

And before Hotch and Gloria had the chance to make a quick speculation about the UnSub's direction, he turned again towards the Thames, avoiding the police cars that was coming from the side. They avoided them, as well, with such a sharp maneuver that Hotch was really glad it didn't send them off the road. The conditions inside the car were beyond freezing, the icy fog coming in from the broken driver's window with force. He threw a glance at the driver. Gloria was focused on the road and confident with the car. He had guessed from the beginning that she wasn't the type of person to drive too conventionally. At that moment he was content that she had those driving skills, though. But he noticed her shifting one or two times. She was struggling a little. Apparently the abrupt movements and the low temperature didn't help her backside. But she kept going with determination. She had some characteristics similar to Emily's, finally.

And then the unexpected happened. Once they were crossing one the Southwark Bridge, the UnSub's car exploded right in front of them, in the middle of the road, pieces of it flying everywhere. Hotch could swear that he felt their SUV jumping a few centimetres off the ground, the windshield cracked as a piece of metal landed onto it, thankfully stopping there and not continuing on their faces. With not enough distance to stop or turn, Gloria turned the wheel to the right in an attempt to avoid the collision and hit the breaks. But there were cars coming on ther other lane stopping abruptly and turning even towards the pavement, leaving a very small space till the barrier of the bridge. She barely managed to turn the wheel straight again and adding the high speed, the SUV scraped the metal barrier. Smoke was filling the car and metal was smashing with a frightening sound. After a few metres, Hotch, unsure if Gloria was in position to react with the crash on her side, grabbed the wheel and turned it to the left. The car finally came to a stop. Silence fell for one minute, the policemen closing the road and rushing to them, more sirens could be heard from afar. He could feel blood running from his ears. He turned to the woman beside him.

"You shouldn't complain. Your trip to London has it all," he heard her speaking while she was trying to focus. He wasn't sure if she murmured it or he couldn't hear normally.

"How are you?" he asked concerned, unbuckling his seat belt and moving on to hers, fortunately they weren't stuck.

"The world is turning, my ears are ringing and my upper body hurts like a bitch. I have the most wonderful time of my life. What about you?" she had another thing common with Emily, the dry humor.

"Let's get out of here," he said and he opened the door.

A policeman came to assist them. He helped him get out and Gloria crawl through the passenger's door as hers couldn't open. He led them towards an ambulance, the paramedic offering her a blanket, noticing her shivering. He stood by to proceed what had happened. Was their case finally finished? Was this the end? His hearing wasn't full finally. Being close to an explosion for a second time wasn't good. But he heard the voice coming from a few meters away.

"Hotch! Ria!" Emily jumped out of the lastly arrived car running to him.

"We're OK," he said.

"You ears are bleeding. You aren't!" she said to him.

After all, she was expressing her anxiety freely, a feeling that, he was sure, she kept hiding all those years when he was coming out of a place injured and in trouble. It wasn't only her that attracted the danger. It was him, too. Her eyes fell on their crushed car with all the damage on the right side and she turned to Gloria.

"You are going to the hospital, both of you," she continued, seeing her in worse condition than him. She was dizzy and obviously in pain, her right hand bent on her chest. "Did he blow himself up?"

The fire brigade was already putting out the fire.

"It seems so," he answered.

"I have to deal with the mess. You two go," she replied.

"We are fine, Emily," Gloria said, close enough to hear their conversation. Hotch was going to protest, too.

"Let a doctor say that," Emily said back and looked at him with a look that said she wasn't going to negotiate. It was the same stare that he had given to her multiple times in the past, trying to convince her to seek medical attention and from his experience he could say that it always worked. So he obliged and got into the ambulance, followed by Gloria. He let her sit on the bed guessing that she was going to need to lie down and he took a seat.

"I really don't want to be in her shoes right now," Gloria spoke watching Emily as she was talking with an irritated high rate policeman. "This city goes nuts when an explosion happens."

They arrived at the hospital after a rather quiet ride. Hotch was OK but he had to be careful with his ears and the doctor suggested to him not to fly in just three days. He wasn't sure that he was going to anyway. He was already worried that they weren't finished yet.

As he was walking into the main room of the hospital, cotton in his ears and plasters on the few scratches on his face, he spotted Gloria sitting on a chair, looking not so different from him with her right hand hang from her neck in a cloth.

"Wow… We look like we almost got blown up," she said getting up swearing under her breath. "I added in my collection one broken and one bruised right ribs. How are your ears?"

"Nothing I haven't heard before," he spoke.

"It's a good thing that you can still hear, though," she joked with his use of that verb when they were talking about ears.

Her tendency to joke after what had nearly happened to them twice was kind of weird. He expected that she was going to struggle a lot more. Either she was coping or she was hiding. Despite the abnormality, he smiled.

"It suits you, you know," she remarked in a casual tone. "Smiling," she clarified after a questioning look from him.

He got confused. It was a neutral comment, he could say that she wasn't flirting with him or anything. But he was puzzled with her. Till that morning, it was more than clear that she was aggressive towards him. But after he appeared in her car she was acting differently and he couldn't read into that behavior.

"Anyway. Let's head out. I hate this sterilized smell and I am high enough on the painkillers they forced me finally to take," she turned heading to the exit murmuring. "I know, wrong word me, too," referring to the word 'high' and her history.

Outside, a car and a man that Gloria greeted as Michael were sent from Emily to pick them up.

"What happened doesn't fit the profile," Hotch spoke once the car started moving. Judging from her look she had thought, too, that they weren't finished yet. Their UnSub wouldn't have given up like this. Maybe he would have gone down shooting but not like this. Or did he just tried to take them with him and he failed?

Emily had just concluded her discussion with someone who seemed to be a fireman, when they entered the bullpen. She looked at them worried. Walking back meant that they were ok, but her expression was telling that something serious was going on.

"The bomb was placed below the car," she informed them her eyes wandering to his face and ears, watching Gloria, too, that took a seat near them.

"Did he ignite it himself?" Gloria asked.

"We don't know, ma'am," the man replied. "The bomb was activated remotely. We are trying to reconstruct it."

"Either he used the remote himself or someone blew him up," Emily clarified. "And the second means…"

"That he has another partner," Hotch assumed.

"Nice. We have a contemporary version of Lernaean Hydra," Gloria commented.

She was right, though. Every time they got close to a suspect, another UnSub appeared.

"You have to give your statement to the police. I couldn't postpone yours," Emily told her.

"OK… Let me get changed first," she replied not very enthusiastically, stood up wincing and walked slowly towards a room at the back. She was uncomfortable with her outfit in the office and she had already received some weird stares for the Michael-guy that drove them back.

Emily rubbed her head watching her friend leaving. She was exhausted herself. They were working and on edge for the whole day and he was sure that dealing with the explosion had worn her off.

"It's a miracle that you both came walking out of that tonight…"

"The target was to eliminate the lead once again. Not us," Hotch tried to comfort her. He wasn't so sure, though.

"Hotch, we brought you here and you almost got killed, twice," she carried on concerned. She was blaming herself for putting him in danger. "If anything…" she started under her breath but she stopped herself. She had already shown her feelings towards him. She didn't want to look weaker, he knew that.

'If anything happens to Prentiss or Reid… I don't know…' his own words came to his mind, outside a religious ranch. He almost smiled sadly with the irony. His usual, cool self had betrayed him and he had admitted what was going on long time ago. Reid had been in dangerous situations before. He cared for the young genius like a father. He had seen him suffer in the hands of a serial killer before but Hotch had coped. Emily's involvement in that situation was what had thrown him off his tracks. Thank God for Rossi's coolness that they had a good ending back then. How had Hotch been able to just go back hiding in his hole after all that? Because he thought that his reactions derived from Kate's death… Damn his psychological analysis, once again. But he cared for that woman and he had lost her, too. There should be a curse hanging above his head somewhere.

"It's just the job, you know that. You should rest," Hotch suggested, her well-being becoming his priority for one more time.

"I'm fine. I just need a cup of coffee," she replied stubbornly.

"Emily, there is nothing we can do till the sun rises. We need a few hours of sleep. We have to be able to think clearly," he tried to persuade her. It always hurt him when she was pushing herself too much. He could tell that she understood this hurt and she complied finally.

"OK. I need a shower anyway. And someone has to feed Sergio," she said.

By no chance he was leaving her to go out there by herself. It was possible that there wasn't any danger for them. Even if there was a partner, he would probably think that they hadn't figured out his existence yet. That was the reality actually. They didn't know who ignited that bomb. But after what had happened with Greenaway years ago, he would prefer Emily to stay put with him.

"Do you want me to keep an eye on you?" he asked uncomfortably. She was going to her apartment and he was proposing to go with her.

"I'm a big girl, Hotch. You were in an explosion and a car accident. Just rest," she answered shaking her head in disagreement.

"Emily, I need to be sure you are ok. Get a room in my hotel," he could propose to her to take someone for security, but he couldn't trust anyone else to keep her safe. "You are not the only one that is afraid of that 'if'," he admitted, making clear that he heard her a few moments ago. "Please.", he added.

Emily looked at him in confusion but she complied. Hearing her former Unit Chief saying 'please' to her for the very first time ever made an impression.

They informed Gloria. She was going to come to the hotel after finishing with her statement, to stay in Emily's room. Emily drove him to the hotel. It was better than walking at 4am in deserted, icy London streets. They didn't exchange any word till the moment he walked her to the door of her room. It was one floor over his. Unfortunately there was no free room closer to his.

"Get some sleep," he told her.

"You, too," she replied neutrally like she had some years ago, a night that he had wished she had stayed there with him, had a drink, just talked. But he couldn't ask for more back then. He couldn't even ask for those. Apart from Rossi, she was the only close person that he had left during that time. The bond was there but it hadn't developed into friendship. Who knows why? Maybe because they knew they couldn't keep it just to that…

"Call me if you need anything," he said , as she nodded and got into the room.

He wasn't able to sleep. His ears were still humming. He drifted off only for fifteen minutes and he woke up again abruptly. He preferred to have slept on the floor of her room than there. But Emily being Emily would have never let him. His phone rang.

"Hotch? I imagined you aren't sleeping," Gloria's voice came from the device.

"Are you with Emily?" he asked anxious. At least this could calm him down a little.

"No, not yet. I just finished with the statement. Look, I was thinking of something. The two killers were both Catholics and too religious, that means the third, if there is a third, is too. They have a mission against sinners after all," she started talking.

"Yes, that's right."

"Something that Emily said about Clyde coming to find me and our Executioner seeing him and the Planner knowing about him and so on... "I had a look in Marks' travelling patterns. He was indeed in Rome during that time. But coming back to me and seeing Clyde is highly unlikely. I mean… I was lying in that alley for five hours. If he wanted to come and finish the job, he had plenty of time to do it before and why risk it at the end of the day?"

"What do you have in mind?" he asked getting impatient. He didn't know where all this was going.

"When I… when I was a mess, I used to frequent a catholic church nearby. Don't start again I didn't talk to anyone," she rushed to speak, to prevent him from opening his mouth, after admitting that she didn't do all these things with light heart. "But Clyde knew that habit of mine, the second part anyway. When he started searching for me he went there first."

"But in this way, no one could make the connection between you and Clyde."

"Hotch, the church is a way for them to know that I was using..." she admitted embarrassed. "And then I remembered something. There were rumours that the priest in that church was accused for something in the US some years ago but nothing was proved. Before you ask, I don't know his name, at least I don't remember. As I told you, I wasn't in my best when I was there."

"So you think that there might be a connection. Two American UnSubs and a priest with history in the US in the same area at the time of the attacks may not be a coincidence," he finished thoughtfully.

"These last moves are directed personally towards us, mainly you and Emily. So at least one of three of them has it in for two American agents."

"And neither the first not Marks seem to have a grunge against us."

She had some points. Marks could have easily disappeared and the third UnSub as well. And all what was happening was too personal.

"It's a complete mess… I don't know. Have you ever pissed off a priest before?" Gloria continued.

Hotch froze. Something started to click. A wild idea was in his mind.

"Hotch?" Gloria asked.

She couldn't understand the reason of his lack of response. Suddenly his instincts and his gut were telling him something. It was a deep feeling that neither he could explain. Sometimes it used to happen to him with Jack, when his little son was ill or in trouble. He could feel it. He had heard that there was a sixth sense when it comes to mothers and children. So he used to think that after Haley's absence for so many years he had developed it himself. But now he was feeling it for Emily.

"Come here with back up," he told her.

"Hotch is everything alright?" she asked clearly worried.

"Yes but… I don't know," he answered confused with himself.

"OK. As fast as possible," she said and ended the call.

To his surprise Gloria didn't stand to reason with him. She followed his judgment without her usual comments. 'Judgment'? Hotch would have never acted like this under any other circumstances. He didn't have a single clue, a single real fact that what was in his mind was even near the truth. But his gut was telling him that it was the truth and there was an immediate danger.

He ran the steps up to Emily's room, in no time. As he was approaching the door he heard a voice, a voice he had heard before, the voice of the man he had thought of. And that man had killed before.

"What do you have to say Emily?"

At that moment Hotch wasn't just scared. "The last time you sent me home, Hotch, you got me shot!" Greenaway's words rang in his ears. The image of Halley's dead body flushed in front of his eyes. Mistakes that he regretted his whole life. He failed his agent and his son's mother. In both times he thought that he had the control, that he could manage, overestimating his powers but he had failed. The fear of something similar happening with Emily was almost paralyzing. For the first time in his life, the stoic Aaron Hotchner panicked.

"Don't be afraid of your fears. They're not there to scare you. They're there to let you know that something is worth it." ~ C. JoyBell C.

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