In the year since her rescue, Amanda Mason had reclaimed her body, her freedom, and her life. While she was officially disabled due to the emotional trauma of her experience and some lingering physical issues, she had enough good days to work as an advocate for victims and their families. There had, in that year's time, been several articles written about her and one in-depth interview, where she happily talked about the miraculous work of the BAU and other law enforcement agencies but refused to give salacious details about the rape and torture she'd endured.
Parkson had been sentenced to prison for life, astonished that his civil suit against Dyer's estate had been dismissed less than twenty-four hours after it had been filed. He had been killed by another prisoner during a short lived riot. Prison officials suspected he'd been targeted by other inmates as soon as his identity and crimes were known.
Now, though, she stood before the members of the BAU team which had rescued her, and she was the center of her attention. She wore prostheses for her missing fingers and earlobes – realistic enough not to draw notice, but not so flawless she couldn't point them out if necessary. Plastic surgeons had done a great deal for her, and with the resources of her sister's estate, she'd purchased a very small house with enough room for a garden and paid for a personal trainer to help her rebuild her body in a healthy manner. She'd gained enough weight that she no longer looked fragile. She'd cut her hair a little shorter and dyed it a reddish brown. She'd gone back to wearing eclectic and individualized jewelry and clothes. Heimdall went everywhere with her. Garcia had let slip that she'd applied for and been granted a concealed weapon permit and was training at a local firing range. All of these, Rossi, Reid, and Hotch deemed, were perfectly normal and healthy coping mechanisms for her past injuries.
“I've said before,” she began, “how grateful I am and how much I wish I could thank you, and that it never really seems enough.”
“Seriously,” Morgan started, “it's our j-”
She pointed an index finger and wagged it at him. “My turn, Agent Morgan.”
With a chagrined smile, he shrugged and ducked his head.
“After talking to the others in the support group Penelope directed me to and talking to Penelope as well,” Amanda continued, “I became aware that I was far from the only people who felt this way. So, with Penelope's help, a great deal of research, some travel, and a lot of technical stuff, this is my thanks to you.”
She stepped aside and pressed a button on her remote, which started a video on the oversized monitor behind her. Instantly, an older couple sitting on a tasteful sofa appeared.
“You may not remember us,” the man said, “and that's okay. From what Amanda has told us, you deal with as many as five major cases a month. Our daughter, Cassandra, was kidnapped at the mall, and you were the ones who found her. You saved her. If not for you, she'd be dead.”
The woman was already in tears. “I can never say 'thank you' enough for giving us back our baby. Cassandra?”
A teenage girl walked in, and her parents made room for her on the couch.
“Hi, everyone. I don't remember anyone's names, but what I do remember is when you found me. I remember how hard it was to breathe and how scared I was, and how I thought I was going to die, and I'd never see my mom or my dad again, and then . . . you were there. There was a lot of yelling, and you took care of me. By the time I knew what was going on, you were gone, but I know that you saved me. Thank you.”
The scene changed to a woman in a sherrif's uniform and a man standing beside her.
“We know a little bit of how much each of you has been through,” the woman said. “I know I'll always be haunted by what I saw that man do, and I know you see things like that every day of your life. I don't know how you do it, but I am so thankful that you are there and that you do the job you do every day.”
“I thought she was dead,” the man standing beside her said. He put an arm around her, hugging her, the sudden memory of nearly losing her making him squeeze harder than he meant to. “You found her in time. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
The scene changed again, to an older woman, sitting by herself. Her face was lined with grief, but there was calmness in her expression.
“I know that you never had a chance to find my daughter in time to save her, and that you never had a chance to save my husband's life when he saw what those killers did to her,” she said. “But you found my baby, and you brought her back to me, so I could bury her, and you found her killers and brought them to justice, and I can never thank you enough for that.”
The scene changed again.
Each time, one or more persons – whether their child or sister or husband or friend had been rescued while still alive or only recovered after death – told them how much it meant, how thankful they were, how they wished they could tell each member of the team each and every day of their lives how grateful they were for what the BAU had done.
After ten minutes, Amanda paused the video.
“There's two more hours of this,” she told them. “With Penelope's help, I tracked down every survivor, relative, or friend related to cases you've handled that I could. If they were still alive, more than ninety percent of them agreed to film a statement to you. I didn't tell them what to say. I wasn't really surprised when they all said thank you.”
JJ, Emily, and Garcia were openly crying. Reid had quietly wiped his eyes. Morgan's eyes were wet, and Rossi blew his nose on a tissue. Only Aaron stood, apparently unmoved.
“What's more,” Amanda continued, “is that with Penelope's help, I've set up a website with access given to victims and their families after your help, so that they can leave you messages. After reading just about my case, about Dyer and Parkson, and what you had to deal with, I knew that I couldn't let you go without giving you as much as possible. There's a copy of this on DVD for each of you, and Penelope has backups if you ever need them.
“Now,” she said, “I know that you have cases to look at and that you'll need some time to collect yourselves, so I'm going to leave now, but I'll be in touch. Don't doubt it. If any of you ever need anything – a new scarf, pet sitting, dry cleaning picked up, or a champion in the media – all you ever have to do is ask.”
Hotchner escorted her out of the office, leaving the others behind.
“How do you think it went?” she asked him, taking his arm as he always offered it.
“I think exactly the same thing that I did when I first laid eyes on you,” he told her. He paused and looked down into her eyes. “You are a remarkable woman, and I am very, very lucky to have met you.”
“She calls you Penelope?” JJ asked as they hurried to the elevator to catch up with Amanda and extract a promise of lunch or dinner or girls' night out or anything social.
“And she, honey bun, is the only person I have ever granted that right to,” Garcia said.
They rounded the corner to the foyer before the elevators, and JJ suddenly caught Garcia by her sweater and hauled her back out of sight. Then she furtively peeked around the corner. After a split second of reconnaissance, JJ turned back around, eyes wide as platters.
“I knew it!” she declared.
“What?” Garcia demanded.
“Look, but make it quick!” JJ instructed.
Garcia peeked around the corner, and when she saw what she saw, she stifled a gasp.
There, waiting for the elevator, while Heimdall sat on his haunches, observing with a very doggie smile, Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner and Amanda Mason stood nearly toe to toe, her hand on his shoulder, his on her waist, and his other hand cupping her cheek as he kissed her.
Garcia whipped back around, hands clapped to her mouth. By then, JJ had broken into a wide smile.
“Oh, this is better than Christmas!” Garcia squeaked.