Chapter XIX: Are there better days?
"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." ~ Oscar Wilde
Hotch's ears started ringing after the sound of the shot but he stayed still, following the path of the bullet as he was trained to. The only thing that he heard through that ringing was the sound of two bodies falling, not a second shot, just one. The bullet had found its target.
He approached the fallen persons. The priest's body had covered Gloria's. But the agent wasn't moving. Emily ran towards them. Ignoring the ringing, Hotch kicked the gun out of the man's hand and checked his pulse. He was dead, gunshot to the head. Everything was finished at least for their UnSub but he didn't know about the agent. Emily kneeled, entangled her friend from the priest's body and turned her on her back. Gloria was unconscious, she had blood on her.
"No! No, you can't… It can't… Ria! Ria!" Emily was mumbling checking the other woman for visible injuries. There was no wound on her.
Gloria squeezed her eyes.
"I'm OK," she whispered.
Hotch let out a breath that he didn't know he was holding.
"Thank God!" Emily sighed, pushing Gloria's hair out of her face.
Fighting with the pain, she finally opened her eyes looking at her surroundings and giving him a short, thankful glance. She had a bad back and a broken rib, for sure the fight and the abrupt fall only made them worse. But at least it was just that.
"Are you sure? You were out for a while," Emily continued, looking at the other woman's face with worry and care.
"The blood is his. I'm fine," Gloria repeated nodding.
"You shouldn't…" Emily started.
"Emily… We are all OK. That's all that matters," Gloria said reassuringly, looking at her with meaning and then at him. Was she trying to tell Emily something? "And I'm sorry for whatever I said," she continued closing her eyes in embarrassment.
Hotch shook his head. There was nothing for her to be sorry about.
"I am the one that should be sorry," Emily apologized for what was uncovered during the discussion with the UnSub.
"You know that you left. You decided that you hate politics. Remember?" she smiled, her eyes on Emily again and her hand went to hers.
"But I didn't stop it. You were doing too good and they stuck on nonsense, because…! They forced you to…"
There should have been a political game behind that story. When Emily had told him that politics makes people distrustful, makes them hate themselves, she wasn't talking about her mother, but about herself…
"Nothing like that happened. I never tried to get out, go up, whatever…" Gloria murmured. Her eyes were glistening and she turned them away from them. "I… Richard got killed, Em…"
Emily was surprised. Obviously her friend had never told her. This was the other reason she was taking the fall again and again, doing everything for the job, putting her life on the line. Emily, in her surprise and sadness, turned instinctively and looked at Hotch. There was fear in her eyes but a familiar fear, if anyone could describe that painful, anxious expression, that she seemed so much used to, like that. Lying on the floor was the worst scenario for both of them. There, in Emily's eyes, was the fear of anything happening to him and of what she would have done, the fear she had compartmentalized all those years. Right there, in front of him, he could see himself when his family was ripped away from him and the answer to the 'I don't know' that he had voiced outside that religious ranch: the 'obsession with the chase', the jeopardizing of his own life with nothing to hold on to.
"Timing can be too bad but life too short. What am I saying after what happened, eh?" Gloria returned on her casual tone and tried to get up from the floor unsuccessfully.
"Just stay down. Help is on its way," Emily said putting her hand on the younger agent's shoulder.
"Don't worry. Get yourself checked, you have too many Englishmen to calm down outside. Your man was so anxious that we moved the whole city," she smiled again.
Emily squeezed her shoulder gently. Hotch offered his hand to Emily. It wasn't needed but he needed some physical connection to assure himself that she was alive, that they had made it. She took his and stood up looking at him with the same face that she had when he woke up in the hospital after Foyet's attack, with that look of relief and thankfulness, that he was there, OK and all of them were OK, too.
Hotch saw Gloria trying to get up again. She could barely move her right side and she should have hit her head falling. He knew that she was stubborn enough to keep trying. So he bent and put his hand below her body.
"Lean on me," he murmured and helped her up trying not to put pressure on any hurt areas.
"Thanks," she told him the moment she was steady on her feet. "Go to Emily. It's alright," and she moved to the side as a medic approached her.
Emily was getting checked and she was talking to a police officer. She wasfine . Hotch spoke to another officer and gave his gun for whatever investigation was about to follow. Emily reassured him that everything was fine avoiding his eyes, it wasn't the moment to face what had been told. Why did everything have to come to them in so abnormal situations?
He wanted to go out and, as his eyes scanned the room, he noticed Gloria missing. He had heard her arguing at some point with the paramedic. For sure she wasn't planning on going to the hospital. When he got out of the room he saw the stairs leading up. The profiler in him told him that she should have gone up, not down. They were on the top floor. That only left the roof and the door was open. He saw her slim figure sitting on a bench. Gloria was a beautiful woman. He hadn't even noticed it, too occupied with her profiles, his gut feelings, the case, Emily. She had worn a police jacket, not bothering to pull her long, curly, fire-red hair out of it. Her features were Mediterranean, he could tell. Only her too pale complexion and her green eyes towards the view in front of her showed that she had some northern European origin. She was holding a cigarette on her left hand and with her right a pendant hanging on a long chain from her neck. He had seen the chain last night but the pendant was always hidden behind her clothes.
He stepped outside. It was rather cold but the sky was almost clear. The sun was rising over London and the height of the hotel gave a very nice view over the city.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she said hearing his steps, not bothering to turn.
He nodded when he got closer. It was marvelous indeed.
"How are you?" he said not averting his eyes from the natural and human miracles combined.
"Getting the chance to watch a sunrise over London is always fine," she answered in dismissive tone.
He turned and gave her a concerned look. She was shutting herself off again. He sat down beside her. He wouldn't let her drop it. He could see himself in her, finally. She had been going to normal mode too quickly, changing moods too quickly. He knew now why. She wasn't unstable or having PTSD or anything that his professional mind had told him. She was suffering and she was hiding, putting up a façade to do right those godforsaken jobs that they both had. He was always afraid of the rise of the monster in him, he had forced it down for his son, for the women that he loved, but she had embraced it by using it, resulting in harming herself. He had done the same when he had no one in his life, neither Haley, Jack nor Emily. Actually, she was the worst version of him and she had neglected her life far too many times, in the same way he had when he had gone into that house with a mentally ill man going after his abusive father.
"You have to…"
"What? Talk about I have done, passed, felt, whatever? Don't give advice, Hotch, that you don't follow," she cut him off, sensing his intentions.
"Sometimes I don't think that I helped myself too much like this…" he admitted.
"It's the character, you know. You can't force it. You are used to hide behind that strict, reserved look of yours. I am used to hide behind the smart ass comments and aggressive tactics of mine. Sharing is not in our blood."
"The truth is that we are afraid of what we may discover about ourselves, if we put in words what's in our head…" he said not accusingly.
He wasn't criticizing her. He was saying what he had felt himself, burying and burying things. She had heard him with the UnSub. She knew what he was talking about. Gloria looked at him in acceptance but she didn't answer.
"Gloria…", he said, noticing that it was just the second time he used her given name since he met her and the first time he meant it.
She seemed to notice it, too. He was trying to make her talk not as a boss, but out of concern. She bent her head and let out a breath. He saw a change in her body. She wasn't stiff anymore. The façade had dropped. Then and there he was going to speak finally with her real self, the one that wanted him to know the whole story after he judged her in that alley, the one that respected the boundaries even his constant attacks, that didn't ask his story respecting his privacy, the one that was Emily's friend and willed to sacrifice herself for her.
"Discover what do we think that we know or what do we really know already, Hotch?" she asked.
She was asking if the priest was right, if they were chasing evil when they were exactly that. He had admitted it and she had played it. She was a woman with all the bios and the skills to be a professional criminal. He had too many violent genes and a childhood bad enough to become one of the men he used to catch. But both they didn't end up like that. There should be more to that.
She was looking at him with big eyes. She was looking for answers. He was older. He should have been the wisest. He wished he had an answer for both of them. But he didn't have. He could only say what he had noticed after so many years of profiling people, watching people hiding dark secrets, good people including himself doing too bad things.
"We categorize ourselves. Good - bad, sinners - saints, monsters - heroes. But there is no white and black in this world, only grey, dark or darker. Nothing and no one's perfect."
"I think it sounded perfect," Gloria replied.
Her tone reminded Hotch of a time that he had said that same thing, while talking with JJ about their job, that it was never perfect but it was still better to care. She had asked if he really believed that. He had given that same answer stating that, sometimes, even that conclusion, that nothing was perfect, wasn't good enough…
She took out the cigarette on the side stone of the bench, dropping it in the way, finally letting the pendant go from her hand. It was a celtic cross. She sensed his eyes observing it.
"It was a gift. I'm not that religious. I mean with the things that I've seen sometimes I think that even God isn't perfect," she simply said.
But she was hanging onto that gift. Hotch knew that in many European cultures giving a cross to someone, a woman mainly, meant not only protection but eternal love and the celtic cross was also about the beauty and the spirituality. Someone had known and loved that woman very much…
"I should apologize for my behavior at some points," he admitted.
She looked at him surprised. She had characterized him as a guy who didn't say sorry very easily and she was right. But at that moment he was feeling guilty.
"It wasn't your fault, anyway. My character doesn't help too much and given my stories, me, myself, I would have been suspicious. You learned more facts than my superiors really do know to believe I'm too damaged goods."
He had guessed that he had learnt facts kept hidden from everyone except Emily. Her drugs story was one of that. She wouldn't have been there, if her superiors had known.
"Clyde shouldn't have let you reach that point," he stated with a bit of anger in his voice. He didn't even want to think that that man was once responsible for Emily's safety. "I don't even want to express an opinion about him ignoring you."
"I guess I can easily become the collateral damage…" Gloria murmured.
Hotch was aware of some of his coworkers' mentalities, turning some of their agents into the loose end, ready to be cut if needed, sacrificing their people for the job. They were cruel and Hotch always disagreed with these actions. So he voiced it.
"No one deserves that. No one has to be the collateral damage, even with cost. We will never catch them all. What is important is the people we are working with to catch them."
She turned her head to him. She needed to hear this. He was sure that Emily had told her the same thing but she needed to hear it from a man in the same position as the man that had betrayed her.
"Your instincts and your investigation stopped three dangerous individuals. And if you hadn't made that last speculation..." he said his voice trailing off, shaking his head. If she hadn't said the word 'priest', Emily could be...
"Emily believed in me, you put the pieces together. In any way we finished it."
"You do good work," he told her reassuringly.
"The thing is that this is all I do and look where it got me... It took everything that I had away from me, little by little. Gosh! It even took away my reliability and finally my health. We say we are insane to stare into the abyss but we do a job that can push us straight into it. And believe me, it takes too long to realise that you are already in it with no way out..." she confessed calmly. "I'm tired, Hotch."
He got the idea he was the very first person on earth that she admitted that out and loud.
"I know," he replied with understanding.
She recognized that understanding. He had lost much for his job, too much -his son's mother for god's sake!- and these jobs was never enough to keep someone sane. Only inside themselves they had to find the strength to overcome the tiredness, to recover the pieces that these jobs take. But they were the type of people whose selves weren't reliable…
"Why are we still doing it, Hotch? Why we can't move away from it?" she asked, turning to him.
"Because maybe we were meant for it," he answered.
This what he considered for himself. There had been a point in his career when he said that he didn't want to leave the BAU. The BAU was for him and he was for it.
"Why weren't we meant for opening a fish and chips shop?" she replied cracking a small smile. "Or would you have gotten your ties dirty?"
His lips turned upwards. Even in this condition she was joking. She wasn't as deep into the abyss as she thought.
"You are just having some bad days," he said, reassurance again in his tone.
"I've stopped believing in better ones for too long," she replied honestly sighing.
"There will be," he said and that sounded like a cliché.
"Then why have you stopped fighting for yours?" she asked, turning the subject to him.
He got the feeling that he just listened to the voice of his consciousness coming from Gloria's mouth. He knew what she was meaning. She was talking about letting Emily go, about not fighting for her, even now. After all, there was no point on playing the dumb card.
"Emily…" he whispered bending his head.
"My bad back doesn't mess up with my brains, Hotch," she stated as a matter of fact. "But let's just say that Clyde was feeling too guilty and he stayed long nights with me in the hospital telling me stories, including Emily's."
"Did he tell you that…?" he asked ,suddenly worried if she had learnt on a hospital bed that her friend was dead, if he had caused grief to another person with his decision.
"No, no. He was sure that her Unit Chief had taken good care of her, a Unit Chief with tears in his eyes while he was trying to find her…" she answered.
He lifted his head and looked at the view in front of them. As it concerned that Clyde knew how to be a good profiler. The moment Hotch had found Emily's things in her drawer, he had lost it. They were chasing a seriously dangerous man about whom they didn't know the full story and this man was chasing Emily. Doyle was ten steps ahead of them and Emily five. It wasn't looking good. He had to keep it together but his eyes had betrayed him…
"You aren't a man of words, Hotch. You are a man of actions. So just act. You know, there is someone out there to whom we are perfect no matter who we are, who we were, what we have done. No matter what," she finished returning to their first topic.
Silence fell for a short time, each of them into their own deep thoughts watching the sky lighten up. Could he be perfect to Emily after all? Was he worthy of any chances anymore?
"Thank you," Gloria broke the silence.
He turned with a questioning look on his face.
you for being there, for taking that shot yourself. After all, you
still showed up in my car last night having my back," she explained why
he had noticed that shift in her behavior last night, "Whatever the
outcome was, I knew you were the one to take the best shot, the best
choice. And you did and I'm still here," she said getting up, admitting
without looking at him that she trusted him.
She had a survival plan in mind when she turned the target on her and it was him. Even her issues, even his hard behavior towards her, she sensed that she could trust him with her own life, because she wanted to live.
"And this means more days to come," he stated, standing up himself and she nodded in understanding. Since she still wanted to live, she still hoped. She hadn't given up. She still hoped for better days. The worst version of him still believed in better days, even if she denied it. Therefore, they, both of them, should finally fight for them.
"Did Emily finish with the police?" she cleared her throat.
"They were backing off rather quickly. She can be pretty persuasive and scary sometimes," he smiled.
"She is the best. She learnt from one," Gloria added casually.
Hotch offered his hand.
"Thankfully we have you on our side, Gloria," he said.
"'Thankfully'? Does SSA Aaron Hotchner consider me dangerous?" she smiled and winked at him to lighten the mood, accepting his hand. "I'm flattered!" she laughed.
"And I'm glad," he replied smiling, "Take care," he continued more seriously.
"Take care of yourself and of her, Hotch," she replied. He nodded and he squeezed gently her arm with his other hand.
Emily appeared in the roof, watching their friendly interaction. Gloria just smiled at her and she left without standing by to chat. Emily came near him.
"Did she have to end up in front of the barrel of your gun to finally get along with each other?" Emily said half joking, half seriously.
He shook his head from side to side. Ironical as it was, it was the truth.
"I'm sorry for that," he said apologizing for putting another person in danger to save her. He just couldn't... If anything had gone wrong… He couldn't risk her life. He couldn't live with it. But could he live with her hating him? Could he actually sacrifice someone else for her? His mind started drifting back into the darkness. Emily looked at him with sympathy and care, guessing his thoughts through his dark eyes.
"We are all OK. That's all that matters," Emily repeated Gloria's words. "You were her survival plan, weren't you?" that was what her friend tried to tell her in the hotel room.
"We finished with everything. You just have to give a formal statement but this can wait till tomorrow," she informed him and turned to the view in front of them. "Whatever we did and felt chased us here. There isn't any escape, is there?" Emily carried on.
Hotch was unsure about what she was actually meaning. Was she referring to their actions or to their feelings for each other? She had used, though, the same word he had used that night near the London Bridge. 'You obviously wanted to escape from something.' But to both the answer was no. They couldn't escape either. But they could use the latter to heal the first in order to achieve those better days.
"No," he said and his hand went to hers holding it softly.
He noticed her light shivering at the touch. He knew that what he had did and said with the UnSub around hadn't sunk in yet. It was too much compared to what hadn't been done and said during all those years and this last was his fault. Maybe there were no better days, no more chances left for him anymore. He bent his head and Emily took the courage to sneak her other hand up to his cheek. It had been too long since someone touched him with so much care, someone that knew so much about him and still cared.
"If I count, to me Hotch, you have nothing to do with what you are afraid of," she spoke quietly, repeating the same she had said minutes ago trying to save his life.
As she pushed his head up lightly, he saw acceptance and love. She knew now why he hadn't kept talking during that 'talk' for their UnSubs' ears and she knew as what he cared for her finally.
"Emily…" he breathed, his hand travelling to her neck, avoiding the small bruises that had started to form there.
And after that he did what he was good at. He just acted. He pulled her to him, both of his hands tangled in her hair, and landed his lips to hers, taking advantage of her slight open mouth. The kiss wasn't kind but it was one of passion and desperation. He couldn't put in words what he had felt not just in that moment, not just on those days, but during those whole years. So he showed it. Emily was taken aback for a few moments and after she responded with the same passion and even more desperation. Her hand on his cheek went to his neck and the other to his back pulling him closer to her, like it was possible, pulling his whole body on hers, because the woman in his arms, who was taking his breath away both literally and figuratively, wanted him all, exactly like he was. He was perfect to her, no matter what. This made his eyes water and he could feel the salty taste of Emily's tears between their mouths.
On that chilly roof, with the sun fully risen in an almost clear sky over London, Hotch was wishing that the start for better days had just taken place.
"And I'm sick of all my judges. / They're so scared of letting me shine, / but I know that I can make it / as long as somebody takes me home / every now and then… / You know I see London, I see Sam's Town, / Holds my hand and lets my hair down, / Rolls that world right off my shoulder…"
"There is no such thing as freedom on earth. Only different kinds of bondages. And comparative bondages… You love me - THAT'S a bondage." ~ L.M. Montgomery