CRIMINAL MINDS - ONE OF OUR OWN    

by Winnie

 

PART 2

  
Aaron Hotchner shifted his feet and bit back a cry of pain as pins and needles started in his extremities. His legs shook, but he managed to stay on his feet and keep the pressure off his shoulders. He coughed, a harsh rattling sound in the eerie silence of his cell, and wondered how long he'd been out as the door opened and a man stepped inside. 
 
Aaron didn't say anything as a table was placed in front of him and the newcomer opened a case and placed several items on top. Hotch swallowed several times in an effort to calm his tumultuous stomach, but there was no doubt in his mind that this session would be even worse than the last one.
 
“Well, Agent Hotchner, it's time to let your associates know that my employer is not to be taken lightly,” Greeley said as Roberson entered the room and checked the recording equipment. “Are we good to go?”
 
“We are, but give me a minute to make sure the feed is accepted on the other end,” Roberson answered.
 
“Very well,” Greeley said and smiled as he checked the first syringe. “This will allow you to feel everything, Agent Hotchner.”
 
“We are ready to start,” Roberson said and could feel the captive staring at him as the bright spotlight illuminated the area around him.
 
“I do hope you enjoy this trip, Agent Hotchner,” Greeley said and fixed the mask on his face before reaching for the roll of duct tape.
 
“What is that for?” Roberson asked.
 
“In my experience, it is more effective if his screams are silenced. It is your party so if you would rather...”
 
“Go ahead...I trust your instincts,” Roberson said and watched as Greeley placed a strip of the silver tape across his victim's mouth.
 
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Garcia knew she was making headway, but for her it felt like this was taking forever in the wake of the scene she'd witnessed yesterday. She'd narrowed the area down to a 100-mile radius, but the closer she got, the harder it was to tear back the levels. She was totally engrossed in what she was doing, but was drawn back by the sound of an alarm from her computer. She'd added a program that would warn her when the signal came through again and wasn't sure she was ready to face it.
 
Penelope swallowed several times before hitting the button and gasped when she saw the missing man bathed in a circle of white light. “Oh, God,” she whispered before calling Rossi and the others.
 
“What is it, Garcia?” Prentiss asked.
 
“He's back...the signal is back,” Garcia said as the others gathered round.
 
“Agent Garcia, I am sure you have told the others to join you and so I will keep this short. Agent Rossi, it is time you realized there are consequences to your actions. Death is something we do not wish for, but when a man is tortured he sometimes wishes for death so that there is an end to his suffering. That will not happen today, but there will come a time when Agent Hotchner will gladly beg for death. So, with that thought in mind, enjoy what you are about to witness because you are the reason for it.”
 
Morgan watched Rossi's face and wasn't surprised when the man showed no outward sign of how this was affecting him. Derek knew how wrong that was, and saw it in the man's dark eyes. This was tearing Rossi up, but there was nothing they could do about that until they found out who this bastard was and found Hotch.
 
Rossi knew the others were watching him, but he kept his eyes on the screen as a man wearing a mask walked over to Hotch and slowly injected something into his left arm. It wasn't long before whatever was in the syringe took effect and Hotch began to shake uncontrollably.  Rossi silently cursed the bastards for doing this to his friend, but he kept quiet even when the first thin blade cut a shallow line across Aaron's chest. He had no idea what the man had in mind, but he knew to say anything right now, to show any kind of emotion would be giving the Unsub what he wanted. Hotch deserved better than that.
 
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John Bridges pulled in behind the dark car and shut off the engine before exiting his vehicle and walking to the main door. He rang the doorbell several times, but shifted on his feet when no one answered. There were two cars parked in the driveway, one he recognized, while the other could have belonged to anyone. 
 
John reached for the handle, surprised when the door opened and he slipped inside. “Daniel, are you okay?” he called, but there was no answer and his worry increased with each tick of the Grandfather clock in the corner. He closed the door behind him and moved along the hallway, listening for anything that would tell him the older man was somewhere in the house.
 
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Daniel Roberson had heard the car enter his driveway and quietly excused himself when he heard the man calling his name. He cursed as his weakened body slowed him down even as he made his way toward the door leading into his home.
 
“Daniel, are you all right?” Bridges called again.
 
“I am fine, John. What brings you out here at this hour? I thought you were helping in the search for Aaron Hotchner?” Roberson said, quickly closing the door before the other man had a chance to see where he'd been.
 
“I am and that's why I'm here,” Bridges answered. “I was hoping you could help me.”
 
“I do not know what I can do to help...I have not worked with the police since I was injured.”
 
“I know, but you might be able to help us identify this Unsub.”
 
“How? I have no contacts any more.”
 
“I know, but this particular Unsub talks like you do.”
 
“What do you mean?”
 
“He doesn't use contractions and I remember you said there was an organization for people who wanted to keep the Queen's English as it was meant to be.”
 
“That was a long time ago, John, I gave up attending meetings after your dad died,” Roberson said and wished he could tell the younger man to leave. More than anything he wanted to get back to Aaron Hotchner, but right now that would only make the man suspicious.
 
“I was hoping you could give me a list of names.”
 
“It was a long time ago, John, and most of them were not really into it like I was. I believe I was the last member of our charter,” Roberson said.
 
“I know it's been a long time, but any help at all...anything you can remember could make a difference,” Bridges said.
 
“I will see if I kept the lists, John, but I would not bank on it. I cleaned out most of those files when the charter closed. Now, I wish I could spend more time with you, but you caught me at a bad time. I have some business to attend to and I do not want to keep my guests waiting. There is a lot hanging on my ability to stay focused.”
 
“All right, Daniel, but contact me when you check that list.”
 
“I will,” Roberson said and shook the younger man's hand. “Try not to be such a stranger, John. You know my door is always open.”
 
“I know...I'll check my schedule and maybe we can catch a game.”
 
“That sounds like a plan, Son, I will get back to you this afternoon.” Roberson walked his visitor to the door.
 
“Daniel, is everything okay?”
 
“Everything is fine, John, I just have some things I need to tie up. I promise I will check into those clubs and get back to you as soon as I can,” Roberson said and waited until the younger man got in the driver's side. He waved as Bridges backed up and closed the door, breathing a sigh of relief before returning to watch what was happening to Aaron Hotchner.
 
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Aaron Hotchner felt as if his body was on fire as whatever he was given spread through his veins. He cried out as his tormentor pressed a blade against his abdomen and pushed until a tiny bead of blood dripped onto the floor. He shook as the man reached behind him and held him in place before putting more pressure on the blade. He breathed through tightly clenched teeth as the older man returned and began speaking once more.
 
“So, Agent Rossi, I believe you should realize how wrong you were in befriending a man like Aaron Hotchner. It is because of you that he is suffering and will eventually die. Do you realize how many lives have been lost because of you?”
 
Hotch tried to ignore the agony, but the fire rushing through his veins made it impossible to think of anything else. He knew he was supposed to do something, but had no idea what it was as pain twisted through his gut. He looked down at the blade that seemed to glow with a crimson tide and lifted his head to look into the eyes of his tormentor.
 
“Look at Agent Hotchner's face, Agent Rossi...can you see how much pain he is in? I believe if we took off the duct tape he would curse you to hell and back. Should I do that? Should I remove the tape?”
 
Hotch shook with a combination of anger and pain and knew Rossi and his team were watching this. He needed to tell them something, but it was too damn hard to think with the masked man cutting into him. It reminded him of Foyet, only this time he couldn't go numb or pass out because there was too much pain and his nerves seemed to be firing uncontrollably.
 
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David Rossi kept his face impassive as he listened to the voice of his nemesis. The fact that Aaron Hotchner was gagged and they couldn't hear his pain made it even worse than if his screams were audible. It meant his friend was unable to voice his fears or his pain, yet there was no mistaking the abuse he'd already received.
 
“Now, Agent Rossi, I am sure you are enjoying this since you seem to relish the pain you cause your friends. How many people have you killed? How many friends have you buried because you thought you could do a job that was above your pay grade? I know of several good men who befriended you, just as Agent Hotchner has, and they were given an early grave. Do you think your life is worth more than theirs? Is that what makes a man like you tick?”
 
“Oh, God,” Garcia's hand went to her mouth as the unknown torturer pushed a stiletto style knife into Hotch's right side. He left it there and reached for a syringe on the table. He made a show of tapping it with his finger and allowing a small amount to stream into the air before placing it at the captive's right elbow.
 
“I do not know what my associate injected into his arm, but I can assure you it does not bode well for Agent Hotchner.”
 
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John Bridges stopped his car at the end of the street and tried to figure out what it was about Roberson that set off alarms. The man had seemed anxious to get rid of him, and said that he had guests, yet the house had been quiet. He'd learned long ago that he should trust his gut and right now it was telling him something wasn't right. He turned the car around and headed back to the house.
 
John knew he had nothing concrete, but something in the way Roberson had spoken and acted didn't feel right. If Daniel was in trouble, then he needed to help him, if he was wrong then he would simply apologize, and walk away with egg on his face. If he was right, then he would make damn sure whoever Daniel's guests were understood he was an ex-cop and had friends on the force...friends who would not let him be hurt.
 
Bridges pulled to a stop at the end of the driveway and had second thoughts about going back to the house. He sat for several minutes before turning off the engine and exiting the vehicle. Roberson was a retired cop and had enemies, and maybe that was why he felt as if he needed to make sure his father's former partner was all right. He knew he wouldn't be able to explain how he felt, but if he was right and Roberson needed help, he'd have nothing to feel silly about. If he was wrong, he was wrong and he could live with that, because he would know his friend was fine.
 
John toyed with the idea of knocking on the door, but he wanted to check things out. As a cop, he'd learned it was better to have the element of surprise on your side, even if it meant you had to eat crow when all was said and done. He knew Roberson had been at the back of the house and figured he must have been meeting with his guests on the patio. He was surprised when he reached the back yard and found it empty.
 
Bridges made his way toward the patio doors and looked inside, surprised to find them unlocked. They opened onto a family room with a large screen TV in the far corner and a partially open door that allowed bright light to dance across the hardwood floor. He quietly opened the sliding glass door and made his way across the room.
 
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“I do not know what my associate injected into his arm, but I can assure you it does not bode well for Agent Hotchner.” Roberson stopped when a sound reached his ears and cursed when he heard footsteps from the upper floor. He hurried toward the stairs, but knew he was too late as a voice reached his ears.
 
“Daniel, what's going on down there?”
 
“What are you doing here, John?”
 
“I was worried about you. Something didn't seem right. Who is down here with you?”
 
“It is nothing for you to worry about...”
 
“I thought I heard you say Hotchner's name,” Bridges said and tried to move past the older man.
 
“I was asking an associate if he knew anything about Agent Hotchner,” Roberson lied and tried to stop the other man from seeing what was happening in the room.
 
“Why don't you introduce me to your associate and I can ask him myself?” Bridges asked and saw a flash of anger in the other man's eyes. “What's really going on, Daniel?”
 
“I told you I was having guests over, John, and I really do not appreciate you interrupting me again. Leave now or...”
 
“Or what?” Bridges asked, not liking what he saw as Roberson once again blocked his way. “What are you trying to hide, Daniel?”
 
“None of your business, John,” Roberson cursed as the younger man pushed past him. He heard movement inside the room and hurried after him, too late to stop him from seeing Aaron Hotchner, but just in time to see Greeley plunge a knife into John Bridges abdomen. The man held him in place as if twisting the knife until he was sure Bridges would not survive. 
 
“D...Da...Dan...”
 
Roberson rushed forward and caught the younger man when Greeley released him. He dropped to the floor and pulled the heavier man into his arms as his eyes filled with tears. “God, John, why did you come back?”
 
“Mr. Roberson, I turned off the feed. Do you want me to turn it back on and continue with your plan?” Greeley asked.
 
“What?” Roberson asked and looked up at the man as he tried to stop the bleeding from the wound to Bridges' abdomen.
 
“Do you want me to continue with your plans for Agent Hotchner?”
 
“No...not right now,” Roberson said and gasped as Bridges lifted a blood soaked hand to his cheek.
 
“You w...were a c...cop...could y...you do...do this...dad would...”
 
“Your dad would be alive today if it was not for David Rossi,” Roberson spat and rocked back and forth as the body went still in his arms. “God, John, why did you come back? How can I live with this now? What was the point of all this if it meant losing you? I am so sorry...”
 
“Mr. Roberson, do you want me to...”
 
“Leave...just leave!” Roberson ordered. God, how could this have happened? How could he live...funny, live...he didn't have long to live anyway, but even those few months seemed more like a death sentence than the one the doctor had imposed on him. John Bridges Jr. was not supposed to be bleeding out in his arms while David Rossi got away with killing his father.
 
“What about Agent Hotchner?”
 
“Let him die...I do...do not care anymore,” Roberson answered.
 
“You paid me to make him suffer and I like to finish the job I'm paid to do,” Greeley told him.
 
“I paid you in full, Mr. Greeley, so just leave before I call the police,” Roberson said, grief evident in the way he held on to the young man. How could this have turned so badly so fast? Why hadn't he made sure John Bridges had left? God help him, but this was his fault. The young man he cared so much about had died in his arms and that made him just as bad as David Rossi. He reached down and stroked the hair away from the man's forehead and allowed the grief to explode in a pain filled scream that shook him to the core.
 
A smile formed on James Greeley's face as he stared at his employer. There was something about the despair he saw on the anguished face that fed his own needs. It shone in his eyes, an evil so dark it burned his soul black and he knew what he had to do. It was time to kill Hotchner and Roberson, but death would not come easily for either of them,
 
“Mr. Roberson...”
 
“I told you to leave.”
 
“I can't leave...not until I finish what you paid me to do.”
 
“Keep it as a bonus...it is too late now. Everything is ruined. You killed him and now there is no reason to continue,” Roberson told him. 
 
“I had no choice...he would have told everyone and I will not go to jail. I have clients who rely on my anonymity and they would lose everything if I was caught. I have files on my employers and if something was to happen to me they would go to the proper authorities.”
 
“I do not care what you do, Mr. Greeley. Nothing matters anymore.”
 
“Your life must be worth something even to you.” Greeley wiped the bloody knife on Roberson's shirt and tilted his head slightly as he saw something in the other man's eyes. There seemed to be an emptiness there that hadn't been apparent before...there was no doubt in his mind that Daniel Roberson wanted to die, even craved it. If that's what he wanted, James Greeley was just the man to give it to him.
 
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“Garcia, were you able to refine your search?” Rossi asked when the screen went black.
 
“I've got it down to a forty mile radius, but there wasn't enough time,” Garcia answered. The last scene they'd witnessed had sent terror through her and she wondered just how much more Aaron Hotchner could handle. She didn't dare look at Prentice or Jareau because her eyes were already misted with unshed tears.
 
“Was there anything new about the voice?” Morgan asked and looked pointedly at Rossi.
 
“Except for the distinct lack of conjunctions I didn't notice anything else. I'm going to call John and see if he got anything from Roberson,” Rossi said and walked out of the room.
 
“Garcia, you're our only hope of finding him, Baby Girl,” Morgan said as JJ and Emily moved to check the files with Reid.
 
“I know, Derek, and I'm reworking some of the programs...I just don't know if there's enough time.”
 
“There is...and we both know you're a Goddess when it comes to computers,” Morgan told her and got a thin smile as she continued to tear back the layers in hopes of finding their missing boss. He looked up as Rossi came back into the room wearing a frown. “What's wrong?”
 
“John's not answering his phone,” Rossi said and looked at Garcia. “Can you see if his phone is turned on and if so where he is?”
 
“I think so,” Garcia said and brought up the program that would allow her to locate the phone. It took several minutes, but she soon had the address and showed it to Rossi.
 
Rossi called Daniel Roberson's number, but was met with the same thing he had with Bridges. He knew there could be a logical explanation, but the hairs on the nape of his neck were standing on end. “I'm going...”
 
“I'll go with you,” Morgan said.
 
“It could be nothing,” Rossi said.
 
“Who are you trying to convince…me or you?”
 
“Both, I guess,” Rossi answered and hurried out of the office with Morgan beside him.
 
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James Greeley reached down and pulled the dead man from the older one's arms. Daniel Roberson tried to hold onto him, but he didn't have the strength needed to do so and simply sat where he was, staring at the blood on his hands.
 
Roberson knew he was going to die, but the truth was he would welcome it with open arms now. John Bridges Jr. was dead and revenge against David Rossi no longer took precedence because he was as guilty as the BAU agent. They'd both allowed good men to die and now they would have to live with that knowledge. Although he would not have to live with it for long as the other man returned.
 
Greeley knelt in front of his employer and placed the blade against his throat. “Do you want to die now or would you rather see Agent Hotchner die first?”
 
“It no longer matters to me...I am already in hell,” Roberson said and stared into Greeley's eyes.
 
“Then get on your feet and come with me. I want you to witness the conclusion of our deal before you die,” Greeley said and moved away from the other man. Roberson remained where he was, his gaze shifting from his blood-covered hands to the body lying close by. Silently cursing the man, Greeley grabbed his right arm and dragged him into the other room.
 
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Garcia stared at the screen as she painstakingly narrowed down the search for the signal. She frowned when she realized the address where John Bridges was visiting was nestled inside the radius.
 
“Penelope, are you all right?” JJ asked.
 
“I think so, but Derek and Dave could be in trouble.”
 
“Why?” Prentice asked as she and Reid joined them at Garcia’s station.
 
“That address is practically at the center of the search grid. See this...it means Hotch could be there and if my figures are correct Bridges could be in on Hotch's disappearance,” Garcia told them.
 
“We need to let them know,” Prentice said and reached for her cell phone. She quickly called Rossi and updated him on what Garcia had told them.
 
“Should you go after them?” Garcia asked.
 
“Morgan and Rossi can handle themselves, but perhaps we should follow them,” Reid said and wasn't surprised when JJ and Emily readily agreed.
 
“Call me as soon as you find out anything and be careful,” Garcia told them and continued with her search.
 
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Rossi hadn’t felt like driving and had allowed Morgan to drive. It gave him time to think, too much time as his imagination conjured up pictures of Aaron Hotchner at the hands of a madman. He still had no idea who was behind this, but the guilt that gnawed at his gut was very real. Hotch was at the mercy of this bastard because they were not just colleagues, but friends as well.
 
“We all have enemies, Dave,” Morgan said as he took a turn a little too sharply.
 
“I know…it goes with the field, but this isn’t one of Hotch’s enemies…it’s mine,” Rossi told him.
 
“Do you think Bridges is involved with this?”
 
“I don’t know…God, I hope not, but it is possible. Take the next right,” Rossi ordered as he checked the street names. He didn’t say anything, because right now he didn’t feel like talking. All he wanted was to find Aaron Hotchner and make whoever had him pay.
 
“Isn’t that John’s car?” Morgan asked and pulled into a spot several cars behind the familiar vehicle. He looked at the man seated beside him and wished he could do something to alleviate the guilt he saw in the man’s eyes. “Maybe you should wait here.”
 
“No, I’m okay, Derek. We need to be careful because if John and Roberson are behind Hotch’s kidnapping…”
 
“I know,” Morgan said and exited the car. “How do you want to play this?”
 
“If Hotch is in there we need to be careful,” Rossi observed and turned to see a black SUV pull into the curb at the end of the block. “Looks like the others are here.”
 
Morgan nodded and waited for the others to join them and kept far enough back so anyone in the house could not see them. He knew they would have to come up with a plan. Hopefully one that would not get Aaron Hotchner killed.
 
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Hotch no longer bothered trying to take the weight off his shoulders and felt only a modicum of relief that the burning sensation along his nerves no longer outweighed everything else. He had no idea where his tormentor or Daniel Roberson had disappeared to, and hoped they would leave him alone. He knew he was dying; there was no other explanation for what he was feeling as he opened his eyes and stared down at the knife sticking into his right side.
 
There was a pattern of blood beneath him and he frowned at the marks made by his feet as another pearl of blood dripped from the edge of the knife and hit the floor. He watched as if transfixed and wondered why he no longer felt pain…was he beyond that now? Was he already dead and this was just his imagination playing tricks on him?
 
Hotch closed his eyes and thought about his son. Jack had been through so much in his young life and had already buried his mother. How would he get through this? Who would stand beside him and explain why daddy wouldn’t be coming home again? Jessica and her parents would be there for him and they would make sure he had a good life, but they could not give him what he needed. They could not give them a father’s love.
 
“I’ll fight, Jack…I won’t give u…up,” Hotch said and wondered how he’d managed to get rid of the gag. He lifted his head when he heard laughter from the open doorway.
 
“That’s funny, Agent Hotchner. Death is about to swoop down on you and you really think you can stop it!”
 
“I’ll st…stop you!” Hotch vowed.
 
“No, I don’t think so, but we don’t have much time now. Old man Roberson is ready to die now, but I believe in letting my client see what they’ve paid for. He paid me not just to kill you, but to make you suffer and I believe I’m doing a good job of that,” Greeley said and wrapped his fingers around the handle of the knife buried in his victim’s right side. “The beauty of this knife is that it is such a small blade, but it can cause so much pain don’t you think?”
 
Hotch stopped breathing as Greeley twisted the knife slightly and cried out when the man released him. He could hear Roberson breathing nearby, but didn’t feel sorry for him as Greeley lifted him onto a chair and tied him there. Hotch knew he couldn’t get free and as Greeley seemed to be focused on Roberson, he let his mind wander back over his life.
 
If he made it out of this alive, what would he do? Would he stay with the BAU or would he give up the job he’d been doing for so long? He didn’t know the answer, but he wasn’t sure he needed to as another drop of blood hit the floor. At this rate he would be lucky to see another hour. His head dropped to his chest as his vision wavered.
 
“Agent Hotchner, did you hear me?” Greeley asked and grabbed the man’s chin between his thumb and fingers. “I asked you a question, Agent Hotchner and I don’t like to be ignored. I know you have a son…”
 
“Don’t…”
 
“Don’t what?” Greeley asked in a voice that was steely calm.
 
“Don’t to…touch him!”
 
“Beg me!”
 
“Please…don’t…” Hotch ground out easily as he stared past his tormentor at the man strapped to the chair.
 
“I have never hurt a child and don’t plan to anytime in the near future, but someone like you is an enigma to me,” Greeley said and released his hold as he walked around the captive. “I see scars…they’ve faded quite a bit, but they are still there and I’m sure George Foyet would be proud of what he did if he was alive, but he is not an artist. Not like I am. Did he talk about himself?”
 
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David Rossi stared at the house as if he could see what was going on inside.  The others were working out a way to get inside without alerting whoever was inside, but no matter how they went about it they were going in blind. If Roberson was the one who had Hotch kidnapped, then they had to get in there without him knowing. If John Bridges was involved, then that meant they had to be doubly careful.
 
“Rossi, we need to move,” Morgan said.
 
“I know,” Rossi said and sighed heavily. “We need to get in there…something’s wrong and if John is part of it then we need to stop him and Roberson.”
 
“You know we could be wrong about this,” Prentice observed.
 
“I hope you’re right, Emily,” Rossi said as they moved toward the house. Prentice and Jareau would try the front door and when Roberson or Bridges answered, he and Morgan would check the back. They didn’t have much of a story worked out, but Emily would simply say they were looking for John if someone answered the door. If no one answered then they would try the door and if it wasn’t locked they would go inside and start searching.
 
The agents split up, Rossi leading the way around the back of the house. He checked the back yard and the surrounding area, but nothing moved as a dog barked in the distance.
 
“Rossi, the door is open,” Morgan said when they reached the patio. He knew Rossi was angry at the thought of John Bridges being involved in Hotch’s disappearance, but right now he needed him grounded. They couldn’t afford to make any mistakes, not when their friend’s life depended on them. 
 
Rossi heard the doorbell and waited to see if there was any movement inside the house. It rang a second time, but again it went unanswered as Morgan reached for the door and slowly slid it all the way open.
 
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John Greeley’s head snapped up when he heard the doorbell ring and he turned to see his former employer smiling at him. Blood dripped from his nose, and his right eye was swollen nearly shut. He knew he’d been heavy handed with him, but the man was reneging on the deal they’d made. That was something he would not allow.
 
“You better get that,” Roberson said.
 
“Were you expecting anyone else?” Greeley asked and waited to see if the sound was repeated. Several seconds passed with nothing but Aaron Hotchner’s harsh breathing to remind him why he was here. “Sounds like whoever it was has given up, but since I want to be away from here before the police arrive we’d best get on with it.”
 
“You should leave now,” Roberson said and looked at Aaron Hotchner. The man looked like hell, and Daniel felt as if a knife had been plunged through his heart. Hotchner had nothing to do with John Bridges Sr. He didn’t even know the man, yet he was here because he was a means to an end. That end seemed wrong now, as wrong as the other man’s death. Now John Bridges Jr. was dead and Daniel had no one to blame, but himself.
 
“Shall we get on with it then?” Greeley asked and turned back to the BAU agent as he picked up a cattle prod. He pressed it against Hotch’s chest and pushed the button, smiling when the force of the charge rocked the man’s body.
 
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Morgan and Rossi had entered the house and were searching the upper floor when Prentice and Jareau joined them. The cry of pain from somewhere below sent chills down their spines and there was no doubt in their minds who it came from.
 
“JJ, call for backup!” Rossi ordered as they headed for the open door. He stood at the top and held up his hand for the others to wait and listened for any sound from below. He heard voices, but could not quite understand what was being said as he nodded for Morgan and Prentice to follow him down the narrow staircase.
 
The voices got louder as they reached the bottom, but Dave didn’t give a damn what they were saying as he spotted the body crumpled up in the corner. He wasn’t sure how he felt at seeing the sightless eyes staring at him. It was a mixture of horror and relief…horror at seeing the young man dead and relief that he hadn’t been wrong to trust the young man. He knew he couldn’t do anything for John right now, but he would grieve for him once they found Aaron Hotchner.
 
“Rossi, he’s dead,” Morgan said softly and saw the man nod once before moving toward the open door.
 
Rossi reached the door and stood to the right while Morgan and Prentice moved to the left. He looked into the room in time to see the Unsub place something against Hotch’s left side and quickly moved into the room. He used hand signals to let the others know he was okay as he crouched behind the chair holding an elderly man.
 
“So, Agent Hotchner, do you think your friends will find you in time?” Greeley asked and turned to look at Roberson.
 
“They’re clo…closer than you th… think,” Hotch managed. He’d seen a blur move into the room, but thought it was his imagination until Dave Rossi stood up from behind the chair. He wasn’t clear on what was happening, but he heard Prentice and Morgan and several gunshots that were far louder than anything he’d heard before.
 
“Hotch, we’re here,” Morgan said and looked around for something to unlock the cuffs surrounding Aaron’s wrists. He saw the man lying on the floor with three bullets in his chest and went to search his pockets as Prentice and Jareau moved to their boss.
 
“How could you do this? You were a cop for Christ’s sake!” Rossi snarled at the man in the chair.
 
“The keys are in the top drawer over there,” Roberson told him and saw the man he thought was Derek Morgan move to the well-worn dresser.
 
Aaron Hotchner could not stand any longer and cried out as his legs gave out and his shoulders took the bulk of his weight. He tried to breathe through the agony that seemed to encompass every pore of his body. He felt hands touching him, but that touch only added to the pain he felt.
 
“Easy, Hotch, we’re going to get you down,” Morgan told him. He could see the knife in the man’s side and knew they had to leave it in place until help arrived. “Rossi, we need you here!”
 
Rossi moved to the other side as Prentice reached up and unlocked the cuffs. Jareau held his arms so they wouldn’t drop down, and helped eased the injured man to the floor.
 
“Agent Rossi, are you down there?”
 
“Yes…we’re cleared, but we need the paramedics down here!” Rossi shouted as Jareau found a first aid kit and began stabilizing the knife buried in Hotch’s right side. He heard several people come down the stairs and realized there was no way anyone else could fit inside the small room.
 
“Dave…”
 
“I’m here, Aaron.”
 
“Don’t…don’t blame you f…for an…any of this,” Hotch managed.
 
“There’ll be time enough to talk about that later. Right now you need to concentrate on breathing,” Rossi told him.
 
“Ma…make sure some…one stays w…with Jack.”
 
“We will, Hotch,” JJ assured him.
 
“Agent Rossi, you’re going to have to leave so the paramedics can tend to Agent Hotchner,” a cop suggested from the doorway.
 
“Come on, Rossi, we need to let the paramedics in,” Morgan said.
 
“What about him?” Prentice asked of the man strapped to the chair.
 
“I don’t give a damn about him,” Rossi snapped, and looked at Hotchner once more before walking past the elderly man. His anger intensified when he saw John Bridges’ body outside the room. He removed his jacket and covered the dead man with it as Prentice and Jareau joined him.
 
“Rossi, are you all right?” JJ asked.
 
“No, I’m not, JJ,” Rossi answered honestly, but didn’t elaborate on it as the arrival of a second team of paramedics made it necessary for them to move again.
 
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Aaron Hotchner fought to open his eyes as the others left him alone with the paramedics. He’d heard Morgan answering their questions and soon felt an IV being started in his left hand. A second man seemed to be attaching monitoring equipment and Hotch tried to keep his breathing even, but it was getting harder and harder to draw air into his oxygen starved lungs.
 
“Agent Hotchner, I’m going to start you on oxygen and make sure that knife is stable before we move you,” Alexander Llewellyn told him.
 
Hotch nodded that he understood and felt the man lift the head of the stretcher. Next he placed an oxygen mask so that it was sealed properly around his mouth and nose. He felt the darkness reaching for him and fought to stay conscious even as the two men got him onto a backboard and somewhere along the way a collar had been placed around his neck. 
 
“Okay, Agent Hotchner, we’re going to get you on the gurney and get you out of here,” Llewellyn told him.
 
Hotch nodded and glanced sideways in time to see Daniel Roberson being helped from the chair. He knew he shouldn’t feel sorry for the man, but Roberson looked defeated and Hotch knew the need for revenge could twist a man’s insides until he could see nothing else. He’d dealt with those feelings himself when George Foyet had murdered his wife. 
 
“Agent Morgan, could you make sure the stairs are clear,” Llewellyn ordered.
 
Morgan nodded and cleared the way as the two paramedics wheeled the gurney out of the room. He moved to help as they started up the stairs and wasn’t surprised when Rossi did the same at the other end. He could see Hotchner was awake, and wondered whether they’d given him anything for the pain. 
 
Hotch knew something was wrong and would have laughed at that thought except he didn’t seem to have enough air to do that. He looked at the man at the front of the gurney as they reached the top and knew Rossi could tell something was very wrong.
 
“Agent Hotchner, I need you to concentrate on my voice and that’s all,” Llewellyn ordered as his partner adjusted the oxygen mask and checked the monitors. The injured man’s eyes were open and he was looking right at him, but he could also tell the patient was in trouble. “We need to get moving…we could be dealing with a punctured lung.”
 
Morgan, Rossi, Prentice, Reid, and Jareau raced alongside the gurney until they reached the ambulance and helped put Hotchner inside. The paramedic quickly told them where they were headed before the doors were closed and the driver headed away from the house.
 
“Go, Rossi, we’ll take care of things here,” Morgan said and nodded when Prentice said she was going to call Garcia while JJ and Reid went to talk to Jessica and Jack.
 
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Daniel Roberson no longer cared if he lived or died as the paramedics hovered over him. He wanted to refuse their services, but didn’t have the energy to do so. He was pretty sure one of them had asked if he was allergic to anything, but couldn’t remember if he’d answered or not.
 
“Mr. Roberson, your blood pressure is a little high. Are you on any medication?”
 
“No,” Roberson answered.
 
“How is he?” Morgan asked. Once the ambulance pulled away he’d returned to the basement to find out what this man knew. Roberson looked defeated and Morgan could not understand the change in the man. If this was the Unsub who called and taunted them, then something had happened to change his actions.
 
“I am fine. I do not need a hospital and wish to go to jail,” Roberson answered.
 
“Actually, he should get checked out at the hospital, but aside from a few bruises he seems to be okay,” the paramedic said.
 
“I’ll have an officer assigned to go with you,” Morgan said and motioned for one of the cops to come over. “Ride in the ambulance with him.”
 
“Yes, Sir,” the cop said and listened as Morgan assigned another cop to follow the ambulance while making sure the coroner was on the way. 
 
“Emily, did you get through to Garcia?” Morgan asked when Prentice and a female officer came down the stairs.
 
“She’s meeting Rossi at the hospital,” Prentice answered. “She’s also calling Strauss to let her know what’s happening.”
 
“Good,” Morgan said and looked at the dead man in the room. He wondered who he was and whether he was in the database, and how many other people he’d tortured. “We’re almost through here.”
 
“Are you all right?” Prentice asked as Roberson was carried out on a gurney.
 
“I don’t know, Emily. I keep wondering if we’re making a difference.”
 
“We are, Morgan.”
 
“Really…it seems like for every one we catch a dozen more show up,” Morgan said.
 
“I know, but it would be even worse if we stopped,” Prentice said. “Come on, let’s go check on Hotch.”
 
Morgan knew she was right and followed her upstairs. He nodded to the officer in charge as the coroner was escorted into the house along with several CSIs. They stepped out just as the ambulance left the scene and moved to the SUV where Emily got behind the wheel and drove away from the house.
 
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Dave Rossi entered the ER doors in time to see a doctor and two nurses push Hotchner inside a trauma room. The paramedic was with them and he heard him giving a detailed report of what they’d done to treat the injured man. Dave knew he couldn’t follow Hotch inside, but there was paperwork that needed to be done and he walked to the main desk where a lone nurse was speaking with a young couple.
 
“Can I help you, Sir,” the nurse asked once the couple was taken care of and shown to a curtained off area.
 
“I’m here with Aaron Hotchner. They just took him inside and I figured you might need his information,” Rossi explained.
 
“Are you related?” she asked.
 
“No, we work together, but I have the info you need to start treating him. He has a son, but he’s not old enough to sign the papers for treatment,” Rossi explained.
 
“We can get started on his chart,” the nurse said and began taking the information they would need for immediate treatment.
 
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JJ Jareau rang the doorbell and turned to look at the street as she waited for Hotch’s sister-in-law to answer the door. A dog barked in the yard next door and a woman’s voice called a child’s name. It was such a peaceful scene, and people were blissfully unaware of what had happened to one of their neighbors.
 
“It’s strange how people’s lives continue while someone they know is suffering,” Reid observed.
 
“I know, but it’s probably for the best,” Jareau said and turned to the door as the inside one opened and she smiled at Jessica Brooks.
 
“Tell me you have good news.”
 
“Can we come in?”
 
“Yes, of course,” Jessica said and reached up to unlock the safety on the outer door. “Come in.”
 
“Thank you…where’s Jack?”
 
“He’s playing in the back yard with Dylan,” Jessica told her. The boys were the same age and played well together and right now that was something Jack needed. “Did you find Aaron?”
 
“We found him, Jessica,” Jareau said and leaned against the wall next to the door so they could watch the boys. “He’s at the hospital…”
 
“How bad?” Jessica asked.
 
“He was tortured…”
 
“Oh, God,” Jessica said and brought her right hand up to her mouth. “Is he…”
 
“He’s alive and that’s something to be grateful for right now. I know you want to go to the hospital…is there anyone we can get to watch Jack?”
 
“Not really, besides I think Jack should be there, especially if…if his father is as bad as you seem to think. Jack is smart for his age and he knows Aaron would be here if he could,” Jessica told her.
 
“Why don’t you get him and I’ll drive you both to the hospital?” Jareau suggested.
 
“Thank you, JJ,” Jessica said. “I’ll need to bring Dylan home.”
 
“You go ahead and Spencer and I can get Jack ready,” JJ said and followed Jessica into the back yard.
 
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Aaron was aware of hands touching him, of people speaking to him, but he couldn’t make sense of what was happening to him. It was a struggle to breathe and he felt someone pressing something against his kin. It hurt, but that was nothing new to him and he forced his eyes open. It didn’t surprise him to see strangers, but what did surprise him was that they were dressed in hospital uniforms.
 
“Agent Hotchner, you’re in the hospital. I’m a resident here and you were just given morphine and it should act pretty fast. I know you’re having trouble breathing and I believe it’s because a broken rib has punctured your lung. I just injected a freezing agent and I am going to insert a chest tube. It will make it easier for you to breathe and then we’ll be better able to deal with everything else,” Gerald Harris told him as a nurse pushed a cart closer.
 
“Dr. Harris, X-ray is outside,” Gillian Freeman told him.
 
“Tell them to give me a few minutes,” Harris ordered and watched the injured man’s face.
 
Hotch let his eyes close as the medical team continued to work on him. Someone touched his right hand and he tried to jerk away, crying out when raw pain erupted along damaged nerves.
 
“Easy, Agent Hotchner, we just need to see what kind of damage was done,” Harris explained. He ordered more medications and knew when the man lost consciousness as he proceeded with inserting the chest tube and getting the patient ready for x-rays.
 
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David Rossi looked toward the door as it opened to allow Morgan and Prentice to enter. He motioned them over and told them he was still waiting for the doctor to update him on Hotch’s condition. Roberson was in a room at the end and was under guard while he waited to be treated. He’d fought the urge to confront the man, but sooner or later he would see him and find out why he’d done this to Hotch instead of facing him like a man.
 
“JJ’s on her way with Jessica and Jack,” Morgan told him and saw Rossi nod as a doctor exited the room across from the main desk.
 
“Are you people here for Agent Hotchner?” Harris asked.
 
“Yes, we are. How is he?” Rossi asked.
 
“I’m Gerald Harris…one of the residents here and I am treating Agent Hotchner.”
 
“How bad?” Morgan asked.
 
“Well, his right lung was punctured by one of his ribs and I inserted a chest tube. His right hand will be x-rayed, but it looks to have several broken bones. He’ll be seen by Dr. Jamison…she’s our orthopedic surgeon. He’s also got a knife wound in the right side and that’s just the surface wounds we can see. X-ray is in with him now and when they’re through we’ll have a better picture of what we’re dealing with,” Harris explained.
 
“When are you going to remove the knife?” Prentice asked.
 
“Once x-ray is through we’ll know more and hopefully there’ll be no damage to major organs,” Harris told them. “Look, I’ve got a couple of other patients to check on while x-ray finishes with Agent Hotchner. Why don’t you go to the waiting room and I will come speak with you when we know more.”
 
“Thank you, Dr. Harris,” Prentice said as the man hurried away. “Rossi, why don’t we go see if the coffee in the waiting room has improved since the last time?”
 
“I doubt they’ve made a fresh batch,” Morgan observed and got a smile from the others as they headed for the waiting room. Derek went to the vending machine and realized he had no change as Prentice and Rossi began searching their pockets.
 
“Hello, my lovelies, please tell me you weren’t thinking about drinking the poison in that machine,” Garcia said with a smile as she placed a tray of coffee on the small table.
 
“Woman, you really are a goddess,” Morgan said and kissed her cheek before reaching for a large coffee.
 
“And you are my God,” Garcia said. She knew the others understood there was nothing romantic between her and Morgan, but they would always be able to lean on each other in this way. It was a coping mechanism that often helped them deal with the horrors of their jobs and she was more than grateful to have him as a friend.
 
“Thanks, Garcia,” Prentice said.
 
“You’re welcome…how is he?” Garcia asked and listened with horror as they told her what the doctor had told them. “What about Jack? Has anyone…”
 
“JJ and Reid went to tell them,” Morgan explained. “Did you talk to Strauss?”
 
“Yes, she’s in meetings all day and wants me to call as soon as we know anything definitive,” Garcia told them as an elderly couple came in and sat down near the window. She wondered what had brought them to the hospital and hoped it was nothing more serious than a splinter, yet she knew there had to be more reason than that.
 
Morgan sat next to Garcia and reached across to touch her hand. He knew this was hard on them all, but Penelope Garcia had always found it hard to see the evil in this world. She covered it with the flashy clothes and hairstyles, but he’d always been able to read her.
 
“Derek…”
 
“He’ll make it, Baby Girl,” Morgan told her and pulled her close as they waited for word on Aaron Hotchner.
 
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David Rossi knew he shouldn’t do this, but he needed to face Daniel Roberson and to hell with procedures. He nodded to the officer and showed his ID before entering the room to find another man standing guard. Roberson looked washed out pale and the bruising on his face was even more pronounced. He could tell the elderly man was awake and waited for him to open his eyes.
 
“I will not apologize for what I did,” Roberson said.
 
“Good, because I wouldn’t accept it even if you did…I just want to know why?”
 
“Because he was the only way to get to you,” Roberson said.
 
“What did I do to you?”
 
“You killed someone…someone who was a brother to me.”
 
“So why go after Hotch?”
 
“I saw the way you were with him. He was a friend…closer than that even. He was like a brother to you and that was the trigger I needed.”
 
“Why not come to me?”
 
“As I said you killed someone close to me and I believed it was just to have an eye for an eye.”
 
“What about John? Why kill him?”
 
“I did not. That was Greeley. He killed John before I could stop him. I am just as guilty as you…”
 
“I don’t feel any guilt. I just feel sorrow. John was…”
 
“His father’s son and you are guilty of getting him killed…”
 
“Getting who killed?” Rossi asked, unable to understand what the man was saying.
 
“You made a rookie mistake that got a good man killed. John spoke highly of you and thought you were going to be the best he had ever seen. Instead he walked into a bullet that should have been yours. I do not care why or how it happened…it has been far too long, but you needed to pay for his life.”
 
“Your need for revenge got John killed today…I hope you spend the rest of your life living with that guilt.”
 
“I will, Rossi, but I can assure you it will be short lived. That is why I was forced to step up my plans. You see I am dying and there is nothing the doctors can do. I have advance stage pancreatic cancer and it is too late for anything. I go to my grave knowing I caused John’s death, but you must live with your guilt.”
 
“I already told you I feel no guilt. Whatever you think I did to John Bridges is your problem…not mine. What you did to Hotch doesn’t make me guilty. It makes me angry and that’s something I can live with. You may not have long to live, but you are guilty of what you did to Hotch and for the death of John Bridges, Jr. Good luck with that,” Rossi said and turned to leave.
 
“John wasn’t meant to die,” Roberson said softly.
 
“But he did,” Rossi said and left the man to his guilt. He walked toward the waiting room, but stopped when someone called his name.
 
“Agent Rossi, I was just coming to see you,” Gerald Harris said.
 
“How is he, Dr. Harris?”
 
“Why don’t we go to the waiting room and I’ll tell you what’s happening,” Harris said and led the way.
 
Rossi stepped into the waiting room to find Reid, JJ, Jessica Brooks and Jack Hotchner had joined the others. Jack was cuddled up to his aunt and Rossi walked over to them, and knelt in front of the boy. “Jack, Dr. Harris is here to tell us about your dad. Why don’t you and I go get…”
 
“I need to work the case,” Jack told him and sat up. The little boy’s eyes were filled with unshed moisture as he stared at Rossi and he knew there was no point in making him leave. Jack was so much like his father and had been through so much in his young life.
 
“All right, Jack,” Rossi said and waited for the doctor to speak.
 
“As you know Agent Hotchner suffered a punctured lung,” Harris said and quickly updated them on the treatment given so far. “The orthopedic surgeon had a look at the x-rays and although there are several broken and fractured bones in his hand he’s hopeful that Agent Hotchner will regain full use of it. We removed the knife from his side and although there doesn’t seem to be any damage to the major organs we will be monitoring him closely. Then there’s the problem with the burns and bruises. Right now all we can do is wait.”
 
“Can we see him?” Jessica asked softly.
 
“For a couple of minutes, but they’ll be moving him upstairs to ICU. He’ll spend the next 24 hours there and if all goes well we’ll move him to a regular room,” Harris said.
 
“Jack, would you like to go get some hot chocolate?” JJ asked.
 
“I want to see Daddy,” Jack said and stood up.
 
“Jack, your dad…”
 
“Please, Aunt Jessica,” the boy said softly.
 
“Jack, your dad is sleeping…”
 
“But I want to see him,” the child told them as he fought to keep the tears from falling.
 
“It’s probably best that you let him see his father,” the doctor told them. He’d seen many children in this situation and if something happened, then this could be the last time he saw his father alive. It happened too often for him, but that was life, such as it was. His wife was a psychiatrist and they’d often discussed how children reacted in situations like this. Most were able to deal with it in their own way, and he had a feeling, even at such a young age, Jack Hotchner was a well-grounded child.
 
“Okay, Jack, we’ll go see your dad, but just for a few minutes,” Jessica told him and took him by the hand. They followed the doctor to the trauma room and she knelt on one knee so they were eye to eye. She took both his hands in hers and smiled as she spoke to him.  “Jack, your dad is hurt and you’re going to see a lot of things around him, but don’t be afraid. The doctors and nurses need them to make sure they are doing everything they need to. Okay?”
 
“Okay,” Jack said and straightened his shoulder. He didn’t want anyone to know how frightened he was; because he wanted to see his father and they wouldn’t let him do that if he cried like a baby.  He waited for his aunt to open the door and they stepped inside. There were so many things around the bed that he couldn’t see his father and he swallowed several times as they got closer and a nurse smiled at him.
 
“Hello, my name is Cindy. I’m one of the nurses taking care of…”
 
“He’s my Dad and he’s the best FBI agent there is. We’re working a case and we found him. My name is Jack,” the child said.
 
“Well, Jack, you must be a pretty good FBI agent too. Why don’t you talk to your dad while I finish with some papers?”
 
“Thank you,” Jack said and stood on the stool so he could see his father better. “Daddy, I worked the case and you’re safe…”
 
Aaron Hotchner heard the voice speaking so close and allowed the warmth it created to spread through him. He forced heavy lids open and smiled at the boy who looked too serious for someone so young. There were signs of tears in his eyes, and Hotch lifted his left hand to reach over the rail and touch his son’s cheek.
 
“Daddy, I knew you were going to be okay. I worked the case just like you do, but I didn’t find you.”
 
“You’re here and that’s all that matters,” Hotch said and sighed tiredly. He wanted to remove the oxygen mask, but didn’t have the energy to do so.
 
“Aunt Jessica let me play with Dylan and I told him you were hurt. He thought you were dead, but I told him you’re my dad and you would beat the bad guys,” Jack said, pride evident in the way he held his head.
 
“Jack, your dad needs to rest,” Jessica said. She’d seen how hard her brother-in-law fought to keep the pain from showing and knew it was time to take the child home.
 
“But I need to stay and help protect him from the Unsub,” Jack said.
 
“Jack, Morgan and the others are here and you trust them, right?” Hotch asked.
 
“Yes,” the boy answered.
 
“Will you let them work the case so you can take care of Aunt Jessica?”
 
“I guess,” Jack said.
 
“Can I come back to visit?” Jack asked and saw his father nod. “I love you, Daddy.”
 
“I love you too, Son,” Hotch said as Jessica helped the boy down. “Thank you, Jessica.”
 
“You’re welcome. Now get better and come home,” Jessica ordered softly and kissed his cheek before leading Jack from the room.
 
Hotch closed his eyes and listened to the nurse speaking with the doctor. He felt her at the IV and knew she’d given him something to help ease the pain that had reawakened. It wasn’t long before sleep reached out and embraced him.
 
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David Rossi watched as the gurney was wheeled from the trauma room. Jessica Brooks had taken her nephew home and he’d promised to call if anything changed. Erin Strauss had called for an update and told him that Daniel Roberson would be transferred to the prison infirmary as soon as they could arrange transport. The man still showed no remorse for what he’d done to Aaron Hotchner, and Dave didn’t care what happened to the man as long as he stayed away from the people he cared about.
 
“Agent Rossi, he’ll be going to ICU and they’ll need an hour or so to get him settled. Why don’t you and your team go get something to eat?” the nurse suggested as the orderly pushed the gurney toward the elevator.
 
“Come on, Rossi, my treat,” Morgan said, relieved when the older man nodded and followed them toward the stairs leading down to the cafeteria. Once there they checked the menu disinterestedly, but ordered salad and sandwiches before making their way to a small alcove with a window opening onto the back garden.
 
“I spoke to Roberson,” Rossi told them and saw the flash of anger cross each face.
 
“What did the bastard say?” Morgan asked.
 
“He blames me for what happened to John Bridges,” Rossi answered, using his fork to move the salad around on his plate.
 
“You weren’t even there when John was killed,” Garcia spat.
 
“Not him, his father. John Bridges, Senior was my first partner and he was killed on a routine call,” Rossi said and sighed as he sat back, leaving the food untouched. “I don’t think any call is routine in our line of work, but this one went bad from the moment we arrived.”
 
“What happened?” JJ asked.
 
“It was a shoplifting call, but when we got there the clerk at the counter had a gun in his hand and the perp was dead. John was talking to the clerk and trying to get him to put the gun down when a kid walked in. The clerk panicked and fired and John stepped in front of the kid. He saved the girl’s life, but he died on the way to the hospital.”
 
“Why did Roberson blame you for what happened?” Prentice asked.
 
“I don’t know, but during the investigation there were rumors that I made a rookie mistake and that it wouldn’t have happened if two veteran cops were on the scene,” Rossi told them.
 
“What happened?” Morgan asked.
 
“Long and short of it…I was cleared. Not everyone was happy with the decision, and I guess Roberson was one of them. I remember thinking he had a grudge, but he put in for a transfer and I never saw him after that. I guess that’s why this doesn’t make sense. Why the hell didn’t he say something back then instead of waiting all this time,” Rossi observed.
 
“I gave up trying to make sense of what makes people like Roberson tick a long time ago,” Prentice told them.
 
“Roberson’s dying. He told me he had pancreatic cancer and it’s in the advanced stages,” Rossi said.
 
“I don’t feel sorry for him,” Garcia said of the man who’d kidnapped and tortured one of their own.
 
“I don’t think any of us do,” JJ assured her. She thought about her husband and son and couldn’t wait until she held them again. They would be waiting for her when she got home and she would make damn sure they knew how she felt about them. Life was too short and no one could predict when something tragic could happen and tear their loved ones from them.
 
“JJ, why don’t you go home?” Rossi said.
 
“I can stay…”
 
“Hotch would understand, JJ…he knows the value of family,” Rossi assured her. “I’ll call if something happens.”
 
“Go, JJ, and give my Godson a hug from me,” Reid said. 
 
“I will…tell Hotch I’ll see him tomorrow,” JJ said and left the group.
 
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Jessica tucked her nephew into bed and reached for the book that lay open on the table. It was an old edition of a book Haley had loved and one she knew was a favorite of Jack’s since he was born. She watched his face and realized the book would have to wait as a single tear slid from his right eye.
 
“Why did that man hurt Daddy?”
 
“He was very mixed up. Jack.”
 
“Is daddy going to die like mommy did?”
 
“No, Jack, he’s not. Aaron…your dad is strong and he is going to be home before you know it,” Jessica said and smiled as she handed him a tissue. “You’re like him you know?”
 
“I am?”
 
“Sure you are. You’re strong and you work the cases with him. I bet he’ll tell you that when he’s feeling better.”
 
“Daddy likes oatmeal and chocolate chip muffins. Can we make him the ones like mommy used to make for us?”
 
“Of course. I bet I know the ones you’re talking about. Your mommy and I used to make them when we were little. I even know Mom’s secret ingredient.”
 
“I do too…mommy said it was love,” Jack said.
 
“Yes, it was,” Jessica said and pulled him close. “Mom would always hug us before we started mixing the ingredients and the best part was licking out the bowl after we were done.”
 
“Mommy always gave the bowl to Daddy and me,” Jack told her and sat up. He wrapped his arms around her neck and felt the tears escape from beneath closed lids.
 
“It’s okay to cry, Jack,” Jessica said and felt the small body shake as she held him.
 
“I miss Mommy.”
 
“So do I, Jack,” she whispered and rocked her nephew until she felt him relax against her. She eased him back to the bed and covered him with the blanket, silently praying that she was right in telling Jack that his daddy would be home soon.
 
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Rhonda Bailey had been an ICU nurse for over ten years and knew how to take care of her patients. Not just their physical needs, but their emotional ones as well. She’d helped move Aaron Hotchner from the gurney to the bed and worked to set up the equipment needed to monitor his vitals.
 
Rhonda wasn’t surprised when she looked at her patient and found him watching her with the most intense eyes she’d ever seen. Even the medication he’d been given did nothing to take away the vitality she saw in them and she briefly wondered how those eyes were when he wasn’t injured and unable to care for himself.
 
“Wh…what time is it?” Hotchner asked softly.
 
“It’s nearly two in the morning. How do you feel?”
 
“Numb,” Hotch answered honestly.
 
“Good, that means the medications are working. Why don’t you go ahead and sleep. I’ll be here if you need anything,” the nurse told him and watched as his eyes closed. She knew what had happened to him, and wondered why some people were forced to endure the real ‘monsters’ of the world. She reached for the chart at the end of the bed and made several notations.
 
“How is he?”
 
“Visiting hours are over,” Bailey told the newcomer.
 
“I know…how is he?”
 
“He’s doing very well considering what he’s been through,” Bailey answered.
 
“Would you mind if I sat with him for a while?”
 
“Who are you?”
 
“My name is Dave Rossi. Hotch and I work together at the BAU.”
 
“The BAU?”
 
“Behavioral Analysis Unit,” Rossi answered, and walked over to the bed. “We profile Unsubs…”
 
“Unsubs? Serial killers and people like that?” Bailey asked.
 
“Yes,” Rossi said.
 
“That’s dangerous work.”
 
“Yes, it is, but I hope the work we do helps keep people safe. I know we can’t save everyone, but we do what we can with what we have,” Rossi told her and watched as she replaced the chart. 
 
“I have always wondered about peoples priorities in this day and age. I just can’t understand why we’re fine with paying some athletes millions of dollars to entertain us, but if a police officer or a fireman or emergency worker asks for a raise everyone is up in arms.”
 
“I hear you…and the same can be said of doctors and nurses. You people save lives and deserve better. Thank you for doing what you do,” Rossi said.
 
“You’re welcome,” Rhonda said and looked at the monitors. “I am going on break in a couple of minutes, so you can stay with him until I get back, but then I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
 
“Thank you, Rhonda,” Rossi said and pulled the lone blue chair closer to the bed. He sat down and leaned back with his hands clasped behind his head as he studied Aaron Hotchner’s face. Roberson’s man had done a job on the younger man, and Rossi knew it would be a long time before Hotch could use his hand again. The orthopedic surgeon had given them some good news, but it wasn’t a guarantee and Dave could only hope the man was as good as his reputation proclaimed him to be. 
 
Rossi watched as Hotchner turned his head slightly, but didn’t open his eyes. He knew the man was sleeping with the influence of heavy medication and he hoped he was pain free. He silently cursed Daniel Roberson for losing sight of the job they did and taking his misplaced anger out on Aaron Hotchner. He closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples in an effort to relieve the mounting headache.
 
“You should go home.”
 
“And you should be sleeping,” Rossi said, relief evident in his eyes as he stood up. “I’m sorry.”
 
“For what?” Hotch asked.
 
“Roberson took his anger out on you and you didn’t deserve it,” Rossi answered.
 
“Roberson let his anger turn him into someone we hunt, Dave. It wasn’t your fault and I certainly don’t blame you for what he did,” Hotchner observed, wincing as he tried to shift further up in the bed.
 
“You should probably lie still,” Rossi advised.
 
“Tell me about it. Look, Dave, I need you to make sure Jack’s okay while I’m in here…”
 
“You don’t need to ask, Aaron. I’ll make sure he’s okay.”
 
“Thanks…he’s been through so much in the last year.”
 
“You both have, but he’s your son and he’s strong.”
 
“Haley was strong too,” Hotch offered softly.
 
“Yes, she was and she’d be proud of you both,” Rossi told him.
 
“She is…was the strongest person I ever met,” Hotch said, his voice filled with sadness. He heard the pump kick in and knew the pain medication would take effect quickly.
 
“I should let you rest. Have them call me if you need anything,” Rossi said and stood up. He pushed the chair back where he’d found it and walked toward the door.
 
“Dave.”
 
“What?” Rossi asked and turned to look at the injured man.
 
“You’re not to blame for what Roberson did to me. We’ve both profiled enough Unsubs to know the victims are not to blame and neither are the survivors.”
 
“I know, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” Rossi told him and left the room as the nurse returned.
 
Aaron Hotchner sighed tiredly as the effects of the medication and injuries combined to lull him toward sleep. He knew he should rest, but his mind kept replaying the day George Foyet had killed Haley and he realized that at some point in time he needed to practice what he preached. Somehow he had to find a way to live with the guilt he felt at her death and make sure Jack understood his mother would always be a part of their lives.
 
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Daniel Roberson lay back against the pillows and turned his head to look at the handcuffs that successfully kept him a prisoner. One metal circle was wrapped around his left wrist while the other was locked around the bedrail. The IV had been removed and he would be transferred to the prison in the morning. He wasn’t afraid of prison; he was too damn old and frail to care what happened to him and doubted the other prisoners would give him a second glance.
 
Daniel knew that as a former cop, he would probably be sequestered from the prison population, but it didn’t really matter because he was a walking dead man anyway. The cancer was so advanced now that even the pain medication did nothing to stop the burning in his gut. He wondered if his doctor had been generous with his estimate, because right now he was pretty sure death was close and he would readily embrace it.
 
Most people had regrets when they faced death, and he was no exception. Did he regret what he’d done to Aaron Hotchner? Yes, in a way he did because Hotchner had nothing to do with John’s death. Did he regret what he’d done to David Rossi? If he was truthful with himself the answer would be yes, because if he didn’t, then how could he regret what happened to John Bridges Junior.
 
Roberson looked toward the window and pressed the button to raise the head of his bed, gasping as pain seared through his midsection. He sat for several minutes, breathing through tightly clenched teeth as he ignored the need for medication.
 
Daniel wondered if Aaron Hotchner was awake and if he would be willing to accept an apology. He doubted the man was ready to do that, but the truth was there wasn’t much time for him to try to make amends. Could he remove the handcuffs and escape the room without the officer in the corner stopping him?
 
“Going somewhere, Roberson?” Brian Willows asked without looking up from the book he was reading.
 
“I am tired of lying in this bed and would like to stretch my legs. Would you be so kind as to release me and get a nurse?”
 
“Sorry, but I guess my kindness disappeared when I found out you’re a dirty cop.”
 
“I am no longer a cop,” Roberson told him.
 
“Good, because I’d hate to think a real cop would do what you did. You might as well relax and enjoy this because come morning you’ll be transferred to the prison,” Willows told him.
 
“You do not understand the reason…”
 
“No, I don’t and I doubt I ever will. You tortured a good man because of some twisted need for revenge. I know the story…every cop does by now and you won’t find any sympathy here so don’t bother trying.”
 
“I am sorry for what I did to Agent Hotchner, but I have no regrets for why I did it,” Roberson told him and lay back. He closed his eyes and allowed the pain to give him the strength he needed to face what was ahead of him. He would die in prison, forgotten in some dirty cell with people he had helped capture. It was a good thing he had no children and no real family to leave this legacy to.  He heard the door open, but didn’t open his eyes until the nurse reached his bed.
 
“Mr. Roberson, do you want something for pain before I go on break?”
 
“I believe it is time…yes, I need something,” Roberson told her. It didn’t take her long to get the prescribed medication and inject it into his shoulder. He closed his eyes and waited for it to take affect and hoped his dreams were not filled with memories of what he had done to Aaron Hotchner and John Bridges Junior.
 
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Erin Strauss stood in the doorway of Aaron Hotchner’s ICU room and watched as the nurse finished checking the equipment. She had an idea of what some of it was for, but she didn’t think she’d ever get used to seeing it used on one of her agents. There were times in her life when she regretted her choices, but keeping this man as head of the BAU was the best decision she’d ever made. There was a time when she thought he was burned out, but he’d proved her wrong and continued to have the best record in the agency. Morgan, Garcia, Rossi, Reid, and Prentiss were damn lucky he’d chosen to stay on after Foyet murdered Haley Hotchner. 
 
Erin walked into the room and smiled at the nurse as she finished making notations on the chart at the end of the bed. “How is he?”
 
“Who are you?” the nurse asked.
 
“My name is Erin Strauss…I’m a co-worker and a friend,” Strauss said.
 
“He had a rough night and is running a fever. Dr. Harris and Dr. Jamison were in to see him at seven this morning and changed his meds,” Deanna Carlyle explained.
 
“Did they say what’s causing the fever?”
 
“It could be one thing or a combination of things. That’s why the doctors are working together. They’ll be watching him closely and making sure they stay on top of things.”
 
Erin Strauss watched as Aaron Hotchner showed signs of waking up and waited until his eyes opened before speaking. “Hello, Aaron, how are you feeling?”
 
“Honestly, not much of anything, Erin,” Hotchner told her. “What time is it?”
 
“It’s nearly ten, and I know you should be resting, but I wanted to check on you for myself. I’m sorry we didn’t find you earlier, but your team did everything they could,” Strauss said.
 
“I know…I would have died if they hadn’t found me when they did,” Hotch offered.
 
“I don’t think so,” Strauss said. “I know you well enough to know you would have fought to the bitter end to get back to your son. Jack needs his father, Aaron…and your team needs you. Rossi seems to think he’s at fault here and we both know that just isn’t so.”
 
“Dave has a habit of shouldering guilt that doesn’t belong to him.”
 
“It seems to me that’s a trait your whole team shares,” Strauss said. “I just wanted to stop by and check on you. Give yourself time to heal and stay out of the office until you’re cleared for duty.”
 
“Thanks, Erin,” Hotch said and closed his eyes.
 
“Take care of my agent,” Strauss told the nurse before leaving the room.
 
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Jessica Brooks watched as her nephew toyed with the cereal in his bowl. Jack had finally fallen asleep around midnight and she’d stretched out beside him when he cried out in his sleep. She’d felt the tears slip from her eyes when his small body trembled and wished there was some way to protect him from the real horror that resided in their lives.
 
. “Are you all right, Jack?”
 
“I’m okay, Aunt Jessica, but can we bring daddy a present?”
 
“Sure we can. What would you like to bring him?”
 
“We made the muffins, but I want to make him a card. Mommy and I made one for him before…before she….before she,” Jack fought to keep from crying, but tears slipped from his eyes as his aunt pulled him into her arms.
 
“It’s okay to cry, Jack. I know you miss your mommy…I do too, but she’d want you to be strong for your daddy right now. Do you think you can do that for her?”
 
“I think so,” Jack said and wiped the tears from his face. “I want to make daddy a card just like mommy did.”
 
“Well, let’s finish breakfast and then make that card before we leave,” Jessica told him.
 
“When will daddy come home?” Jack asked as he held the spoon in his hand.
 
“Jack, your daddy was hurt a lot and right now he needs the doctors and nurses help to get well. You don’t want him to come home until he’s feeling better do you, Jack?”
 
“No, but I miss him,” the boy whispered and found himself embraced in her arms. She was so much like mommy and he felt safe like this, but he really wanted his daddy home. He leaned against her and couldn’t stop the emotional outburst any longer as his aunt held him in her loving embrace.
 
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Daniel Roberson knew his time was short, but there were things he wanted to say before the cancer finally took him. Would he be allowed to apologize to Aaron Hotchner? Not for what he’d done, but for choosing to use him in his plans for revenge. If he was honest with himself he’d admit that he was indeed sorry for what he’d done.
 
During the last 24 hours he’d done a lot of thinking and a hell of a lot of soul-searching and really didn’t like what he found. Two men were dead and although he’d blamed Rossi for John Bridges Senior’s death, he could no longer condone what he’d done to Aaron Hotchner. John Junior was dead, and the blame for that lay solely at his own feet. How could he continue to blame Dave Rossi without being culpable himself?  He needed to speak with Rossi, even if it meant he faced his own failings. God, help him, but he didn’t want to die knowing he’d let anger and vengeance take away the good he’d done in his life.
 
“Roberson, we’ll be transferring you to prison in an hour,” a uniformed officer told him.
 
“Is David Rossi here?” Roberson asked weakly.
 
“Why?” the cop asked.
 
“I would like to speak with him before the transfer,” Roberson answered.
 
“I’ll ask him if he wants to see you, but I wouldn’t bet on him being open to the idea.”
 
“Tell him it’s a dying man’s last request,” Roberson told him. He lay back against the pillow and waited, but he wasn’t sure how he would feel if Rossi did come to see him. He stayed where he was, listening to the sounds of life outside this room until he heard footsteps approach his bed.
 
“Officer Collins said you wanted to see me. I thought we’d said our piece already,” Rossi said.
 
“I thought we did as well, Agent Rossi, but I have had a lot of time to meditate on my life and the choices I have made. Perhaps I was wrong in blaming you for John’s death, but only you know the full story of his death. It no longer matters to me, but it does give me reason to question my own choices. There is no doubt that I am responsible for John’s death and it is something I will have to live with.”
 
“Tell me something I don’t know!” Rossi snapped.
 
“I regret what I did to Aaron Hotchner…”
 
“Why should I believe you?”
 
“There is no reason, except, perhaps, that this is a deathbed confession. I wish I could take back what I did, but it is not possible and two good men suffered because I felt the need for revenge.”
 
“You don’t feel that need now?” Rossi asked.
 
“No, but I do not expect you to believe me. I am to be taken to the prison infirmary, but I wished to speak with you first. I wish it was possible to speak with Agent Hotchner…”
 
“No, I won’t ask him to see you. I won’t give you the satisfaction of asking his forgiveness, Roberson. You can go to hell as far as I’m concerned and I won’t regret that decision,” Rossi snapped.
 
“Should that not be his decision?”
 
“He’s in no shape for visitors, especially not the man responsible for him being hurt. You know he has a son and the boy’s already buried his mother because of a bastard just like you. I won’t be responsible for letting you anywhere near Hotch or his son. Go to your grave with the knowledge that you won’t be forgiven.”
 
“I understand, Agent Rossi, and I forgive you…”
 
“Forgive me for what? I did nothing wrong and I have no regrets…what you did was take a good man and have him tortured for your own pleasure…”
 
“I took no pleasure in what I did…”
 
“You could have fooled me…I remember every word you said and you don’t deserve to be forgiven, Roberson. I don’t consider myself a vindictive man, but I’m tempted to make an exception where you’re concerned. Don’t go trying for forgiveness when you damn well don’t deserve it.”
 
“I understand how you feel…”
 
“Really…were you forced to watch helplessly while some bastard tortured a friend? Oh, wait; no you were the one who arranged it. I hope you burn in hell with the other bastards who thought they had the right to hurt someone just because they felt they had a twisted right for revenge. I hope you’re plagued with nightmares, Roberson, because you don’t deserve a peaceful night’s sleep,” Rossi said and walked purposefully away from the man.
 
Roberson took a deep breath and tried to ignore the fiery pain in his gut as he lay back against the pillows.  He hadn’t really expected anything from Rossi, and knew he would never agree to let him see Aaron Hotchner, but perhaps there was another way. Perhaps he could send a note through the nursing staff, but he would need to do so now, before they came to take him.
 
“Roberson, the bus was delayed, but it should be here within the hour,” Jim Collins told him.
 
“Would you give a dying man one last request?” Roberson asked.
 
“Guess it depends on what it is,” Collins said.
 
“I know I do not deserve your sympathy or understanding, but I believe I owe Agent Hotchner an apology for what was done to him. Would you have a nurse deliver a message for me?”
 
“I don’t know…”
 
“Are you a devout Catholic, Officer Collins?”
 
“I am, but I don’t see what that has to do with your request.”
 
“I am a Catholic and my last request is to confess to the man who bears the marks of my sins. It is not for my soul since I know I am destined for hell, but it might help Agent Hotchner deal with what I did to him,” Roberson said.
 
“I’ll speak with Agent Hotchner when my relief gets here, but don’t hold your breath,” Collins said.
 
“Thank you,” Roberson said and closed his eyes. He knew it was a long shot and that if Collins spoke to Rossi he would nix his request on the spot. This was something he had to do, not because it would appease anything he’d done in his past, but because it was the right thing to do. Perhaps, some day Aaron Hotchner would find it in his heart to forgive him, but it didn’t really matter anymore. All that mattered was facing death head on without this one mistake hanging over his head.
 
“I hope you can live with what I did to you, Agent Hotchner,” he whispered and turned to look out the window as the sound of a bird chirping reached his ears.
 
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Aaron Hotchner was awake and aware of what was happening around him and listened to the sounds from outside his room. He felt like hell, probably a combination of the meds and his injuries, but he recognized Rossi’s voice. He opened his eyes in time to see a uniformed officer walking away and leaving an angry Dave Rossi standing in the doorway.
 
“What’s going on, Dave?” Hotchner asked.
 
“Nothing that you need to worry about, Hotch…how do you feel?”
 
“I’m tired, but I know when you’re hiding something, Dave. What is it?”
 
“Roberson,” Rossi answered with a weary sigh.
 
“What about him?” Hotchner asked.
 
“Hotch, he doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters is you and…”
 
“Dave, I know you’re trying to protect me, but I don’t need that. What I need is for you to tell me what’s going on.”
 
“He wants to see you.”
 
“What for?”
 
“He’s probably looking for absolution and you don’t need to give him that,” Rossi said.
 
“I won’t, but maybe I need to face him,” Hotchner said.
 
“Why?”
 
“Victimology,” Hotchner answered simply. “I know he’s dying, Dave, so this might be the only chance I get to face him.”
 
“You’re in no shape to do this…”
 
“Yes, I am…I have to be. Not for him, but for me. I need to look him in the face and…”
 
“And what?”
 
“I don’t know, but I want this, Dave. When are they taking him to prison?”
 
“They’re supposed to pick him up in less than an hour.”
 
“Bring him here or get me a wheelchair,” Hotchner told him.
 
“Hotch…”
 
“Do it, Dave.”
 
“All right, but he doesn’t deserve forgiveness.”
 
“I don’t plan on forgiving him, but I need to put this in the past,” Hotch said and lay back against the pillows. He heard Rossi leave and sighed tiredly as he looked at the IV leading into his arm. God, help him, but he wanted to call for his nurse and have her give him something for pain, but he wanted to be clear headed when Roberson showed up.
 
Hotch had no idea how much time passed, but he heard footsteps approaching and a soft squeak from the wheels of a chair. He took a deep breath, wincing at the reminder of his injuries and opened his eyes to face the man responsible for them. Dave Rossi stood just inside the door and Hotch knew he would take control if he thought things were getting out of hand.
 
“Agent Hotchner, thank you for agreeing to see me,” Roberson said.
 
“I didn’t do it for you,” Hotch told him.
 
“I understand…it would be foolish of me to think you would show me such a simple kindness.”
 
“Why should he?” Rossi snapped.
 
“It’s okay, Dave,” Hotchner said. “What do you want, Roberson?”
 
“I simply wish to apologize for what was done to you.”
 
“Don’t you mean what you did to me?”
 
“I suppose that is what I should do, but I told you why I did what I did and why I chose you for your role in all of this. I sought revenge for the death of a friend…”
 
“Revenge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when it comes from a twisted mind,” Hotch told him.
 
“My mind may have been twisted with the need for revenge, but with death looming so close I feel the need to apologize for what I did to you. I do not expect your forgiveness…”
 
“Good, because I don’t plan to forgive you,” Hotch said.
 
“I do not expect you to and since I explained the reasons for what I did, I will simply tell you that I hope you recover and continue to do the job you are so good at.”
 
“I will…nothing you did could stop me from going after Unsubs like you.”
 
“Touché, Agent Hotchner, I will take my leave of you now, and I do not believe we will meet again,” Roberson said.
 
“I can safely say I’m glad to hear that,” Hotch told him and watched as Rossi signaled for the cop to take Roberson away. He closed his eyes and wondered whether he’d done the right thing in facing Roberson, but he knew it was something he had to do.
 
“Agent Hotchner, I have your meds here,” a dark haired woman said and placed a bag of antibiotics above his head. “I’m also giving you something for pain.”
 
“Thank you, Jenna,” Hotchner said and shifted on the bed. He nodded as Rossi came back into the room and knew the man was worried. “I’m okay, Dave.”
 
“I know,” Rossi said and smiled when he saw the people waiting outside the room. “Well, it looks like you’ve got more visitors so I’ll go grab a coffee.” 
 
Hotch smiled when he spotted the visitors Rossi mentioned and sat up a little further in the bed. Jessica reminded him of Haley, not always, but at times like this and he was grateful for her help with his son.
 
“Good morning, Daddy, I brought you some muffins,” Jack said and climbed onto the bed.
 
Hotch hugged his son, relishing in the sounds of his heartbeat and the warmth of his body. He looked at Jessica and thanked her for bringing Jack in to see him. “The muffins smell great, Jack.”
 
“Aunt Jessica helped me make them. We also made you a card.”
 
“You did? You’ve been busy,” Hotchner observed.
 
“When are you coming home, Daddy?”
 
“Not for a little longer, Jack,” Hotch told him. “The doctors have to do their job just like we do when we work a case.”
 
“Jack, why don’t you give your dad the card you made him,” Jessica suggested when she saw her nephew’s shoulders slump.
 
“Here it is, Daddy,” Jack said and handed the card to his father and waited expectantly for him to open the envelope.
 
“Did you draw this, Jack?” Hotch asked and watched as the boy nodded his head.
 
“I wanted you to have a picture of us as a family. That’s you and that’s me and mommy. Aunt Jessica helped me with the sparkles,” Jack told him.
 
“Thank you both,” Hotch said and sighed tiredly as the medications took hold.
 
“Jack, your dad needs to rest so why don’t you tell him where we’re going today,” Jessica said.
 
“Aunt Jessica is taking me to the museum and then we’re going to see a movie.”
 
“That sounds great, Son,” Hotch said.
 
“Do you want a muffin before we go?” Jack asked.
 
“I would love one,” Hotch said and took the muffin.
 
“We put butter on it just the way you like it,” Jack observed as his father broke off a piece and started to eat it. “This is delicious, Jack.”
 
“Okay, Jack, it’s time to go,” Jessica said and helped her nephew down. “Aaron, if you need anything just call me.”
 
“I will. Thanks, Jessica,” Hotchner said and smiled at his son. “I love you, Jack.”
 
“I love you, Daddy,” the boy said and walked toward the door, but stopped, turned, and ran back to the bed. He climbed back up and hugged his father as soft sobs escaped and his body shook. “I miss you and I miss mommy.”
 
“I do to, Jack, but mommy would want us to be strong wouldn’t she?”
 
“Yes,” the boy said.
 
“Can you do that for both of us?” Hotch asked as Jessica worried her bottom lip while tears formed in her eyes. 
 
“I’ll try,” Jack said and kept his head on his father’s shoulder.
 
“That’s good, Jack,” Hotch said as his son lifted his head and looked him in the eye.
 
“I’m going to take care of you when you come home, Daddy.”
 
“I know you are, Son,” Hotch said and watched as Jessica took Jack by the hand and left the room. He pressed his hand against his side and knew the pain would ease now that he no longer held his son. Not that he would change what had just happened, Jack was his son and if he needed to be held, then he’d put up with the discomfort. Sleep beckoned to him and he gave in to the combination of meds and exhaustion.
 
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Aaron Hotchner relaxed as he watched his son playing in the back yard. He’d been home for a week now, and would be on sick leave for at least another month. It gave him time to spend with Jack, and for that he was grateful. He shifted slightly and laughed as Jack raced around without a care in the world. It was something he wished would last forever, but real life usually crashed down on them without warning.
 
Hotch smiled as Jack continued to kick around the soccer ball and knew the boy loved the game. He coached Jack’s team and with Rossi’s help they not only played the game, but had fun doing it. Jack’s team had won the championship the day before and he had been there to celebrate. Jack had helped set up the winning goal and both team managers had voted him MVP for the game.
 
Aaron looked at both trophies with pride and knew the others would be there soon to help them celebrate. They’d been at the game and cheered his son on, with Derek picking the boy up and carrying him around the field after the game was over. He’d wanted to do it, but there was no way he could have lifted Jack without help and he was grateful to Derek for stepping in. 
 
Jessica had been staying with him, but she was going home today. He knew Jack would miss her, and if he was honest, he would miss having her around. She reminded him of Haley, but that wasn’t the only reason. The other was a more selfish reason in that she had been a great help while he was too weak to do much of anything.
 
“Aaron, are you sure you don’t need anything else before I leave?” Jessica asked.
 
“Thank you, Jessica, but I believe Jack and I can handle things now,” Hotchner told her and hugged his sister-in-law. “Jessica, thank you for everything you’ve done for us. I know it was a lot to ask…”
 
“You didn’t ask, Aaron, I offered. Jack is my nephew and I care about both of you,” Jessica told him.
 
“I know and I am grateful for what you’ve done. Jack needs to know I’m not the only one who cares about him. You and all of Haley’s family are welcome here any time,” Hotchner vowed and hugged her.
 
“Thank you, Aaron,” Jessica said and returned the hug before leaving the house.
 
Hotch returned his attention to his child and walked slowly toward him. The soccer ball rolled close to his foot and he kicked it back to Jack, enjoying this time with his son and smiling when Jack kicked it back to him. God, it felt so good to be home, and even better to spend time with his son. He knew he’d pay for it later, but right now he could ignore the twinges of pain and enjoy doing what came naturally.
 
“I’m going to score on you, Daddy,” Jack said and shuffled the ball back and forth between his legs.
 
“Not if I can help it,” Hotch said and pretended to move left, then going to his right as Jack kicked the ball past him and cheered loudly.
 
“I scored!”
 
“That you did,” Hotch said and turned to find the other members of his team enter through the gate.
 
“I scored on daddy!” Jack told the newcomers as Derek reached down and picked him up.
 
“I saw that, nice deke,” Derek said and ruffled the boys hair. “Come on, I think it’s my turn.”
 
“Did you see my trophies?” Jack asked.
 
“I did…you can bend it like Beckham.”
 
“Bend it like who?”
 
“Beckham…he’s a really good soccer player,” Derek told him and reached for the soccer ball.
 
“How are you feeling, Hotch?” Prentiss asked.
 
“Not a 100%, but I’m getting there,” the agent answered.
 
“Good, JJ, Garcia, why don’t we go get some plates and cutlery?” Prentiss said and headed into the house as Derek kept Jack busy.
 
“What’s going on, Dave?” Hotch said when they were left alone at the patio table.
 
“Daniel Roberson died this morning,” Rossi answered and saw several emotions cross his friend’s face. Aaron Hotchner was not a man who held a grudge, but he was human and there were times when he could not ignore what had happened to him. This was one of those times and no one would blame Aaron if he spoke what was on his mind.
 
“I can’t say that I’m sorry he’s dead,” Hotchner observed.
 
“Neither am I, but I had a look over his files, Aaron, and he did a lot of good before he decided to become judge, jury, and executioner. I’m not excusing what he did or how he did it…I’m just saying he did some good in his life. Not sure that counts for anything with you…”
 
“Not right now it doesn’t,” Hotch advised. “Ask me again in a couple of years.” 
 
“I’ll do that,” Rossi said. “How are you really feeling?”
 
“Tired and sore, but it’s getting easier each day. Knowing Roberson is dead will probably help,” Hotchner answered honestly. “What about you, Dave? How do you feel about his death?”
 
“I’m not sure how to answer that…I’m not sorry, but I wish he’d been made to pay for what he did to you. He may have apologized, but I’ve had a chance to listen to the calls we got from him and I really believe he took pleasure in what he was doing.”
 
“I know he enjoyed toying with you,” Hotch said. “He taunted the team, but especially you with what he was doing, Dave, so don’t give him what he wanted. Don’t go shouldering the blame when it doesn’t belong to you…”
 
“Hope you guys are hungry!” Garcia said and gently hugged her boss after placing the cutlery on the table.
 
“I am,” Jack called and kicked the ball into the corner before joining the others at the table.
 
Hotch smiled as his ‘family’ gathered around him and knew these people were more than just colleagues, they were the people who formed a tight knit family. He took a glass of lemonade from JJ and sat back to watch as they took care of each other. He was home, Roberson was dead, and maybe they could all face the future feeling just a little safer.  This truly was his family, and no matter how different they were he was glad to have them.
 
If the family were a fruit, it would be an orange, a circle of sections, held together but separable - each segment distinct.- Letty Cottin Pogrebin
 
 




PART 1

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