It wasn't the BAU's case anymore, but that didn't prevent Hotch from following the investigation and doing what he could to assist in tracking down Ian Doyle. He worried at times what the appropriate level of concern for a person in his position should be. Of course, Morgan, Rossi, Reid, Seaver, and Garcia were all intensely interested in finding Doyle and bringing him to justice. But they had a calm sense of determination about it. For them, Emily was already dead. The urgency was over. He was worried that they would be able to sense something different about his own interest in the case. If he had to put a name to the feeling that overcame him when he thought about her - utterly alone, hunting him down - it would be panic. And as there was no way he could communicate with her, there was nothing that could alleviate this panic. So he controlled it as best he could, and tried to model his behavior after Rossi's. Angry, grief-stricken, methodical, and resigned to the fact that the only thing they could do for Emily now was catch her killer.
JJ couldn't give him any information beyond her initial confirmation that Emily was, in fact, alive. As much as he wanted to press for details, or get Garcia to hack into whatever database she needed to for information, he understood protocol, and that the reason for all the secrecy was Emily's safety (and their own). So he never pushed, and that tightening in his chest when he thought about her never went away.
The team was coping. Every day got a little easier. Almost a year had gone by. JJ was back at the BAU, which helped the team immensely, professionally and in dealing with the personal loss of Emily's absence. Hotch was proud of the way they had carried on. And yet, when he thought about Emily (it was not lost on him that he always thought of her as Emily now and not Prentiss) he realized that he missed her now almost more than in the weeks immediately following her "death." She was a great Agent and a skilled profiler. But she also brought a spark to the team – her sense of humor, her ability to make them smile. It wasn't something he could define, but the team was somehow diminished without her.
If he was being honest, he just missed her. Not her presence as a member of the team. Just her. He missed her. She was his friend, and she had lost literally everything in her life because of Ian Doyle. She was alone. Her friends thought she was dead. She didn't even have her own name anymore. He hoped that she could get it all back someday. He hoped Ian Doyle would pay for what he had done to her. He hoped, more than anything, that she was safe.
He was in the middle of signing off on a stack of reports when JJ burst through his door without knocking. Puzzled, he watched as she shut and locked the door behind her and closed the shades. She very purposefully walked over to his desk. She didn't bother sitting down, but rather placed her hands on his desk as if to brace herself as she said the two words he had so longed to hear: "Doyle's dead." He dropped the pen from his hand and stood up as well.
Hotch responded with one word, "Emily?"
"He was bouncing around Europe from country to country. The last piece of intel Emily was able to get had him in Germany. The Interpol team was able to locate him before he moved on. A German SWAT team moved in right away. He went down shooting. But he is confirmed dead."
JJ paused, as if the news she was about to deliver to Hotch was just sinking in for her as well. "She's… she's in Paris. Her debriefing is wrapping up this week. A few more days of paperwork and signing statements, and that's it. It's over."
Hotch was surprised to find himself close to tears. After everything that had happened… It was over. It was too overwhelming. JJ continued, "They said one of us can go." Though he was technically never supposed to know that the government had faked Emily's death, the leads on the case knew that Hotch knew the truth. "You should go."
Hotch looked at her questioningly. It was no secret that Emily and JJ were good friends. He figured that she would want to see her as soon as possible.
"I saw her in Paris. Right after she arrived there. I know this has been eating you alive, Hotch. And it will be good for Emily to see another friendly face. Plus, it's easier for you to get away without it seeming weird. We can say you're doing a consult in Oregon or something. Will and I can even watch Jack, if you want."
"He's at his grandparents for the week. I… when?"
"They're holding a seat on a commercial flight tonight."
"I just need to call Jack's grandparents and go home to pack."
"I'll send the details to your phone. And don't forget your passport."
JJ turned to leave, but paused before she walked away. She and Hotch stared at each other for a moment, their faces showing bewilderment at the sudden turn of events, relief that their friend was alive, and joy that she could finally come home. They both broke into a smile. Hotch even chuckled, until he noticed that JJ's smile had disappeared.
"Make sure she's really ok, Hotch."
Hotch's face became serious as well. He nodded earnestly.
"And call me the second you can."
"I will." JJ started walking away when a thought struck him. "The team. What do we do about the team?"
"We make sure Emily's ok first, and then, I guess we figure it out from there."
Hotch made sure he had enough Advil PM to help him sleep on the flight to Paris. He knew he wouldn't be able to fall asleep on his own, and he didn't want to be jetlagged or groggy when he made it to Emily. As JJ had told him, there was a driver waiting for him when he collected his suitcase. He cursed the traffic as the gendarme drove him into the city. He had no idea where he was going, but the car finally stopped at a hotel not terribly far away from Les Invalides.
The French officer helped Hotch collect his suitcase from the car and then turned toward the entrance. "If you would follow me, sir."
Hotch nodded and followed the man inside. He spoke quickly to the desk clerk inside and then walked back over to Hotch, handing him a key card. "Room 317. Your colleague knows how to contact us if you require anything." After shaking Hotch's hand, the man turned and walked out the door.
Hotch took a moment to collect himself after he stepped off the elevator on the third floor. He was expecting to see her in a police station or other type of government building, surrounded by Interpol officials and CIA agents. He could not deny how anxious he was when he knocked on the door of room 317. He heard what sounded like a person approaching the door, then silence for a few seconds. He guessed she was checking the peephole.
For a solid ten seconds, they stood facing each other – Emily holding the door open and Hotch holding his suitcase – neither saying a word. Hotch was still frozen when she suddenly stepped forward and threw her arms around his neck. It took only a second for him to drop his suitcase and wrap his arms around her.
In all the years that he had known her, he had never hugged Emily. This was, by far, the closest contact they'd ever had. He was aware that his tight embrace was decidedly un-Hotch-like behavior. But he was also aware that didn't want to let her go just yet. And technically, he wasn't even sure that he was her supervisor at the moment. He didn't know what the status was of her personnel file at the FBI – she was, after all, officially deceased. Her career was one more thing that Doyle may have taken from her. So he let himself tighten his hold on her and pull her a little closer to assure himself that she was really here. Without letting her go, he asked quietly, "Are you alright, Emily?"
She loosened herself from his grip and placed her hands gently on his shoulders. "It's over."
It was not lost on him that this was not an answer to his question, but he supposed that she hadn't had time to process everything yet.
She turned back toward the door of her room for a second, and then turned back and smiled. Seeing that smile again struck Hotch like a physical blow. He hadn't realized how much he missed it.
"I think I just locked us out of the room." When she rushed forward to hug Hotch, she had let the door close behind her.
He shook himself out of his reverie in time to stop her from walking toward the elevator. "I have a key. I think. The man who brought me here gave it to me." He tried it, and seeing the green light, opened the door and gestured for her to lead the way. Hotch grabbed his suitcase and followed her inside.