Fandom: Criminal Minds
Spoilers: Up through Season 5
Characters/Pairing(s): Aaron Hotchner, David Rossi, Emily Prentiss, Derek Morgan, Dr. Spencer Reid, Jennifer Jareau/William LaMontange Jr., Penelope Garcia/Kevin Lynch, (Jack Hotchner, Henry Jareau), various OCs
Warning: Violence, language, and apocalpytic scenarios
Word Count: 37,872
Notes: Much thanks to speccygeekgrrl, redandglenda, brighteyed_jill and the very patient redhillbones for betaing, correcting, and just plain telling me how to make it better.
Summary: In 1952 the world was changed when the unexplainable Brisbane Event caused the rise of a new race, the metahumans. Sixty years later, the B.A.U. team is one of the leading experts in human/metahuman crime. But when the Brisbane Event returns with a vengence and terrible consequences, Aaron Hotchner's profiling team must team up with the metahumans to discover an unsub with a plan that has world-wide consequences for both races...
It was known as the Brisbane Event. February 2nd, 1953, 10:54 Greenwich Mean Time, a golden haze settled over the entire Earth for precisely sixty seconds. It was seen both in daylight and in darkness, illuminated the oceans down to the sea floor, and was noticed in the deepest mining shafts. After that one minute, the haze dissipated, and was never seen again. No one knew where the haze had come from, or exactly what it was. All countries of the world denied any involvement in the creation of the haze as the scientific community scrambled to try to explain the phenomenon.
An astrophysicist living in Brisbane, Australia at the time was the first person to describe the event and publish his account. Though most of the scientific instruments of the time could give no clear answers, Dr. Phillip Engstrom believed the golden haze was a stellar anomaly, a complete freak occurrence of an unknown, but presumably harmless background radiation.
With no other explanation forthcoming, and as no discernible after-effects could be detected, the Brisbane Event became relegated to the annals of the inexplicable happenings of the universe for the next several decades.
Then came the rise of the metahumans.
Approximately twenty years after the Brisbane Event, a small percentage of children began to be born with strange mutations. Unlike birth defects, these mutations were impossible to catalogue accurately, as no two were the same. Some children were born with skin of impossible hues, orange or blue or bright pink, with strange modifications: feet like an eagle, teeth like a shark, bones that could bend without harm. Others were a clear mingling of animal traits with humans: children born with scales like a lizard, fur and tail like a monkey, or the slick, moist skin of a frog.
When the children reached puberty, they became even stranger. Each displayed some kind of unusual ability: the ability to heal with a touch, to produce fire out of nowhere, to secrete poison, to see through walls. The more severe their mutations, the stronger their powers seemed to be.
Fear was inevitable as the medical community labored to understand the strange, worldwide birth of an entire new race. It was by sheer coincidence that a radiologist in New York made a connection to the Brisbane Event while taking X-rays of several metahuman teenagers. He thought he recognized some anomalies on the X-rays that were similar to the unknown background radiation of the Event, and careful study proved him right. Every metahuman tested showed faint signs of Brisbane radiation. The far-reaching effects of the phenomenon had begun, and no one was certain where they’d end.
With the civil rights moments still fresh in everyone’s minds, initial attempts to remove metahumans from public view were met with strong protests, despite the possible danger of having metahumans live amongst normal humans; most metahumans were only teenagers by the time the protests reached their height, and forcing terrified minors from their parents did not sit well with much of the public. Some accidents involving metahuman powers had already happened, and while some hate groups formed, the reactions to metahumans were more often tempered by the fact of the metahumans’ youth, and their own willingness to learn control.
Inevitable questions as to metahumans’ use in the armed forces were vetoed by an unexpected source: the metahumans themselves. Despite the fact that many metahumans possessed powers or mutations that would have made them effective killers, virtually all of them shied away from excessive violence against others. Sadly some, when cornered by bigots or violent gangs, let themselves be killed rather than bring lethal force to bear. Metahumans who accidentally or deliberately killed someone with their power or mutation virtually always suicided. The initial panic by some that metahumans were the birth of a new race that would take over the world collapsed in the face of their strange, universal passivity. It was difficult to sustain panicked hate against an enemy that wouldn’t fight back.
The fears and paranoia surrounding metahumans faded slightly over the next thirty years. Though some metahumans entered prominent fields like entertainment, medicine, or engineering, usually assisted by their powers, very few sought out any sort of public life. Most metahumans segregated themselves from regular humans, forming their own neighborhoods, effectively creating cities within cities, with houses and buildings modified for their wildly varying body types. Insular to an extreme to avoid the stares, taunts, and ridicule of the outside world, metahuman communities were closed worlds to outsiders. Some humans made a study of them (anthropologists trying to make a name for themselves) and some humans lived with them (social pariahs or fringe groups that enjoyed the fact that they weren’t strange amongst the metahumans), but few people that lived in both worlds really understood them.
Though metahumans were very rarely murderers, other types of crime still occurred within their communities. Dysfunction was built into the metahuman communities much more strongly than most human ones. Those metahumans who were born of human parents were often abandoned. Most metahumans could recall at least several years living on the streets, without homes or guardians. Later in life, many metahumans had chips on their shoulders and were quick to take offense. Though they very rarely struck to kill, most did not hesitate to use their strangeness to their advantage against those who tried to hurt or humiliate them.
Some humans detested metahumans, and crimes between them could become very violent. Hate groups were on both sides, and anyone trying to solve interracial crimes had to be very careful to not touch off further hostilities.
However, even in the closed community of metahumans, crimes did happen. With almost no metahumans on police forces, it was up to other groups to prepare local officers on what to look for when rare calls came in from the metahuman neighborhoods. It took a certain kind of mind to look at something completely new and different and then to find the one thing in it that was out of place.
The year Jason Gideon returned to the FBI, the BAU had begun fielding cases of human/metahuman crime. While studies on those kinds of cases had been compiled over the past few decades, there was no specialized team that handled unusual situations. Expertise in that field tended to come from experience, rather than training, and even some FBI agents shied away from getting to close to the potentially volatile metahumans. However, the best teams of profilers learned not just from what information was available, but by keeping an open and analytical mind. And having nerves of steel.
Aaron Hotchner’s team of profilers thought they’d been assigned a normal case. At first, it just seemed to be a series of arsons, each strangely involving extensive property damage and minor injuries, but no deaths. Most arsonists preferred to destroy buildings, and injuries were almost always incidental. The fact that both humans and metahumans had been targeted also made the case odd.
It had been when the team had realized all the victims were members of the same group, the Tolerance Initiative that the profile had fallen into place.
“Imagine that instead of fire, all of the victims had been shot. This person invades their homes, shoots them, and hauls them outside to be found. Then he destroys their homes, not because he wants to see them burn, but simply because he wants these people to end up with nothing,” Gideon said.
“He’s determined to leave them with nothing, like he’s getting revenge for losing everything he had,” Morgan had added.
“But he’s very careful to make sure his victims live,” Reid said cautiously. “That’s inconsistent-.”
“Unless the unsub is a metahuman,” Greenaway finished.
“Or wants us to think he’s a metahuman,” Hotchner pointed out. “But the kind of control necessary to burn six people and have them all live would be unusual for a human offender.”
Garcia had helped them narrow down the suspect pool from there, using the names the Tolerance Initiative had provided from those that they hadn’t been able to help. The group helped both humans and metahumans find housing and employment, but if the person in question had had problems that didn’t stem from prejudiced employers or landlords, there was only so much they could do.
“If someone fails a drug test for a job, or can’t pass a physical, then we try to find them help elsewhere for those problems. But some people get bitter. They just want to blame their problems on other people, not themselves,” the director of TI had told them.
That fit with the profile, and Garcia had narrowed the search area down to something reasonable. It wasn’t always possible to get names; the Tolerance Initiative had cooperated, but many metahumans had very spotty records due to years on the streets and off the grid. So now it was up to the team to find them and talk to them. Outsiders thought it was easy to identify metahuman criminals, as metahumans were so very distinctive; there was no such thing as a metahuman “passing” amongst humans. But many metahumans had similar powers to one another, and attempts to create a national registry of metahuman abilities and mutations had been a hot button issue for decades. Simply rounding up every man that was known to have fire powers wouldn’t necessarily do any good; that kind of simplistic profiling had been proven to be worse than useless, as it tended to make metahumans close ranks against the authorities.
J.J. tried to head off an incident by giving the profile in a press conference, making it species-neutral in the hopes that someone would recognize the unsub and bring him to the authorities’ attention without having to directly confront multiple suspects in such a delicate case. While that generated a few more leads, it was only on the human side of the neighborhoods, and their alibis checked out. It had been eerily silent on the metahuman side of things. It meant they had only one choice.
“Gideon, Hotch, are you sure we need to do this?” Morgan asked quietly as they got out of the car. “There’s a lot of potential for damage in there. There’s not going to be a lot of ways to contain it if things get violent.” They were parked down the block from the converted warehouse that held a club, deep in the metahuman district of D.C. With no metahumans seemingly willing to come forward after the press conference, going in after their possible suspects had become the only choice.
“I know,” Hotchner replied, his voice just as low. “But the unsub is probably using the club as a safe haven. If no one knows what he’s doing outside of it, he can use the resources of the neighborhood against the police for as long as wants.”
Few members of the police department wanted to tackle any metahuman community head-on, and with good reason. Most metahumans formed their own neighborhood watch groups, trying to solve their problems internally, and often didn’t like interference. The only reason some had been willing to talk to the FBI at all was because there were victims of both races. A few discreet inquires had pointed the BAU team to a club called Circus; several people who could fit the profile usually hung out there almost every evening. Even though it would be mostly metahumans, it was still a public area: neutral.
“No one is willing to force a raid on the club, and we’re not going to either. We’re just going in to talk to the locals and ask for their cooperation,” Gideon said confidently. “This isn’t a witch hunt, and we need them to realize that. Nobody wants this to turn ugly.”
“The unsub isn’t waiting more than a week between victims,” Reid piped up. “The last two times have been only five days apart. If he starts accelerating, he could become lethal very quickly.”
“And then he most likely suicides, taking his last victims with him,” Morgan said, nodding slowly. “If he loses control of his power, we could be looking at more than just a one-house fire.”
Greenaway was keeping a lookout down the block, uncomfortably aware that the team could, in no way, blend in here. There were virtually no humans waiting to get inside, just the brightly colorful, almost garish metahumans, all of them chattering at each other excitedly. The other times when the team had had to go into a club to try to find an unsub, they’d been noticeable in their somber clothing and professional demeanor, but here… They’d stand out to an extreme degree. There was a profound difference between talking to a few metahumans at their homes or businesses and walking onto a dance floor filled with people who held powers as potent as the gun at her side. This might be the politically neutral option, but it wasn’t necessarily the safest.
She took a steadying breath as Hotchner led the team right up to the door, flashed his badge and gave a brief explanation to the bouncers (one bluish, with skin like pebbles and a powerful build, the other lanky, with limbs pale and sharply delineated as a quartz crystal). The waiting crowd had half dispersed when they saw the team, not even needing to hear the words “FBI,” by the time the bouncers finally waved them inside.
There was a miasma of distrust almost thick enough to see as the metahumans reluctantly parted to let them in. Few people were talking, unwilling to give anything away, but when they moved aside, they kept their arms up and turned slightly sideways. It was like the defensive stances used in hand-to hand combat, presenting a smaller target to your opponent. Chitin clicked and creaked, stone groaned, and slick, sticky skin made oozing noises as the metahumans shifted, emphasizing their nonhumans traits almost defiantly. It gave the team a bare hint of the kind of welcome they could expect once they were through the doors.
Inside the club, controlled chaos reigned. It wasn’t so different from any number of other clubs, with its multitude of colored lights and loud dance music, aside from the clientele. The place was crammed elbow-to-elbow with bouncing, dancing, and grinding bodies, and Greenaway felt like she was going to lose the others in the crush. She actually did lose sight of Reid as the bulk of someone as heavily built and thickly skinned as a rhinoceros came between her and the others, and she struggled to rejoin the team.
The colored lights above the dance floor pulsed far slower than the spastic strobes of some other clubs, but still managed to confuse and disorient as they traveled across the crowd. Bands of intensely colored light turned Greenaway’s skin blue and shone red on her hair, making her harder to spot in a crowd where everywhere she turned someone was a different color of the rainbow.
Hotchner was trying to keep his equilibrium the closer he got to the stage. This was worse than any club he’d been in before; it wasn’t even possible to hear yourself think, and the crowded floor made it impossible to move easily. Even talking to someone would be a trial, and they wouldn’t hear half of what you said anyway. If the unsub was hiding here, he’d chosen well. The profilers were all very far away from their comfort zone, and here the unsub was likely surrounded by those he considered friends. It would have to be up to the team to explain what exactly a “trusted” friend and neighbor was doing in his free time.
“Hey!” someone shouted, his voice impossibly carrying over the music. Hotchner turned to see a smooth-faced young man, looking unfinished as a clay doll, open his mouth to an impossible degree and shout. “Hey, Lark! Lawmen!”
His voice pierced the air, and after a couple of seconds, the music abruptly died. The crowd drew away from the FBI agents, leaving them in a clear space on the floor. Looking behind him, Hotchner was dismayed to see how scattered the team had gotten in the press of bodies.
The club lights faded, replaced with white lights that illuminated the place in stark shades and sharp shadows. On the stage, a very thin woman in her late twenties stood up and vaulted over the sound system to land in front of Hotchner. Her feet made sharp staccato sounds when she landed, and Hotchner glanced down to see that she had hooves like a goat at the end of backward-bending knees. Now that she was in strong light, with no distracting colored club lights, it was clear she was a soft purple from head to hoof, hair, skin, eyes, and all.
“Lawmen,” she said solemnly, with a precise dip of her head, and a slightly ironic smile. “FBI, right?” She gestured in welcome, her translucent fingers undulating oddly. Where her hands should have been was instead another slender double-jointed forearm, and atop that, three boneless, jointless fingers. Scars striped the skin of her arms, as if she’d been in more than one knife fight.
“Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner,” he said in reply, and made quick introductions of the rest of his team. This was not going as planned, and he cursed inside that the unsub might have slipped out in the confusion.
“Lark Vincent, neighborhood watch captain,” she said in reply, nodding at everyone in greeting. She was holding her authority like a shield in front of her, not giving the team any ground other than common courtesy. Having the home field advantage gave her confidence she was unwilling to relinquish. They'd have to be careful about challenging her in front of the crowd. “Who’re you looking for?”
“The person who’s been responsible for the arson attacks in the last two months-,” Hotchner started.
“And you just assume it’s one of us?” someone yelled, feeling bold for being protected in the crowd.
Lark glared at that section of the room, and the grumbling there stopped. Despite her relative youth, the people here respected her. Her position as watch captain had probably been well earned. That made her one of the best people to talk to, if she wouldn't shut down on them.
“You assume it’s one of us?” she repeated in a more reasonable tone of voice. Her strange arms were folded in a complicated pattern, but still spoke of defensiveness and nervousness.
She knows something's wrong, Hotchner realized immediately. Whether she knew the unsub directly wasn't certain yet, but she wasn't ignorant of what was happening.
“We’re trying to find the most likely suspect, and bring him in for questioning. We put the profile out yesterday during a press conference, but haven’t heard back from anyone in this neighborhood. Some of the victims have been from here, and one of you may know this unsub. Because no one called us, we chose to come to you,” Gideon said. Lark stiffened in alarm, and looked around briefly. Fear and anger crossed her face, quickly followed with dismay.
“A lot of us don’t have TVs,” she said. “They make a lot of mets nauseous after a while.” Lark shrugged. “We don’t know why. That’s why no one saw the press conference.”
That was one of those very crucial little pieces of information that somehow rarely made it into the general public. It was something the BAU hadn’t known, and needed to. No wonder public announcements seemed to be ignored by metahumans. They simply weren’t seeing them if they were just on T.V.
Gideon asked, “May we give the profile, then? You might know this person and not even realize it.”
Lark was looking profoundly unhappy, but nodded anyway, waving to give Gideon the floor. Though Gideon looked relaxed, Hotchner was hiding unease. If Lark, as the watch captain, had missed a metahuman criminal in her own neighborhood, then bringing this out in public was humiliating for her. Finding one unsub could end up poisoning relationships between the FBI and the metahumans for a long time.
But they couldn't stop now.
“The profile indicates he might try to hide someplace like this, where he could easily lose himself,” Gideon said. “He’s in his early twenties, frustrated, probably hasn’t had a relationship in a long time.”
“He’s a loner, and likely has had difficulty in holding down a job,” Morgan picked up the thread of the profile without missing a beat. “He asked for help from the Tolerance Initiative, and whatever they did he felt it wasn’t enough. He wouldn’t complain out loud, but he’d agree with anyone who was disparaging the Tolerance Initiative within earshot.”
“He is fascinated by how fire works, and probably spends an inordinate amount of time in public showing off. But lately his control has been getting worse, and he doesn’t seem to care.” Hotchner moved up with Gideon, presenting a united front.
“He shows great resentment towards acquaintances and neighbors who have had greater success than him, but likely doesn’t say anything. He focuses his anger on things outside the neighborhood so no one will think ill of him,” Greenaway said, closing the gap between her and the rest of the team.
“He likely has been spending more and more time here over the past two months, particularly in the days after an arson attack. When he’s surrounded by others, he effaces himself, but constantly eavesdrops on other conversations to try to overhear news about himself,” Reid added.
Lark stared at the team for a long minute, and suddenly the air around her brightened perceptively; she must have invoked her power, whatever that might be. Hotchner kept himself from flinching, barely, and he saw Gideon’s back stiffen slightly, but neither of them moved. It had the feeling of a test.
“People, talk to me,” she said, turning to the crowd. “Somebody knows him. I don’t, but someone here does. There are some people in here that just recognized what they said, and there's someone who just recognized himself. There’s someone who’s afraid.”
Murmurs were sprinkled throughout the crowd, but no one moved. Lark turned to look over the club and shook her head.
“These people are not lying to us. We missed finding someone who’s doing crap that’s going to bring a lot of trouble down on all our heads. We missed it,” she said, voice rising in anger. Gideon took a half step forward, his hand out in a calming gesture, as Lark turned to the other side of the room, her eyes narrowing at the silence in the crowd. “People, there’s some seriously sick fuck in here right now who’s been burning people’s homes. Bring him out here!”
The BAU team froze at her combative words, afraid she’d just antagonized the crowd beyond hope of recovery. There were a few heartbeats of silence, and then a chair fell over behind the crowd. Someone shouted, and part of the crowd moved, surging towards the wall. Fire flared, was quenched by water, causing steam and a chorus of curses, and a corridor appeared in the crowd. The two bouncers hauled along a sopping wet red-skinned man with acid yellow hair, the scowls on their faces matching the anger on his.
“Tom Ringholme,” Lark said quietly, the air around her flaring with purple light.
Other energy powers were filling the club with many hues of light as the metahumans saw the arrogant, bitter anger on Ringholme’s face, and the hair on the back of Hotchner’s neck stood up. Metahumans didn’t always like the authorities, but they particularly hated it when they were right. It rankled when the outside world had to intrude on their own neighborhoods to solve crimes. Many put a lot of pride on their ability to police their own kind. Lark, apparently, was one of those, and she'd tried to grab her own authority back from the FBI by her dramatic accusations.
The metahumans’ anger had suddenly turned away from the intruders in their midst to the man who’d caused their world to be intruded upon. They were seconds away from a possible riot. Hotchner saw Morgan and Greenaway taking a more defensive stance, their hands very close to their guns.
Though he wasn’t showing anything on his face, Lark seemed to pick up on Hotchner’s fear, and saw the rest of the team’s reactions. With her own authority re-established, she seemed mollified. She turned to the crowd, the light around her seeming to bleed into the air amongst them, and made an expansive, calming gesture.
Gideon added his own words to try to stem the tide of emotion. “Thomas Ringholme, we need to speak to you regarding the attacks on Kevin Holmes, Walter Richardson, Kimberly Quinton, Oscar Patz, Julia Mossman, and Justin Halden,” he said firmly.
Hearing the list of the victims, the look on Ringholme’s face, guilt and anger combined, took on more uncertainty and panic. It was definitely the same kind of expression Hotchner had seen on captured unsubs before, and it seemed to mollify some of the crowd. It mollified Lark even more, and she drew herself up to help Gideon calm the waters she had stirred.
“Everyone just calm. Down,” Lark added sternly. “The only riots you guys get to have in my club are on the fucking dance floor to techno music, so put a lid on it!”
The power displays slowly died down at both sets of words, and the frission of danger in the air faded slightly. As the powers faded, so did the purple light emanating from Lark. Hotchner had never seen a crowd go from a near-riot to calm in such a short period of time before. It had taken him seeing her in action, but he thought he realized what her power was now. She could influence emotions, strongly enough to control a crowd in a near-frenzy. A useful ability for a watch captain. A deadly ability in the wrong hands.
Morgan was talking to Garcia to try to confirm what information they could with Ringholme’s records, and Hotchner saw him sigh in relief. “The Tolerance Initiative got him a shot at being a firefighter. He failed the tests, two months ago.”
Tom looked like he was about to go into an angry diatribe, but one of the people holding him scowled and hissed something in his ear that made him shut his mouth.
“Agents, you can have him. But you better let Paul and Chris go with you, or Tom might set your car on fire,” Lark said, glaring at the man with both disgust and anger.
Morgan called the reluctant D.C. cops in to pick up their suspect. As the blue uniformed officers came to lead him away, the other club patrons drew away from him, as if he had some kind of disease that might spread.
“That was impossible, what you just did,” Lark said quietly, as Morgan and Greenaway helped escort Ringholme, and his self-appointed extinguishers, out to the waiting cruiser. “Finding him like that.”
Hotchner turned to look at her, and she shrugged as she tried to explain, frustration in her voice.
“I’m an empath. I sense emotions; I see them like colors. I knew some people in here aren’t exactly right in the head, but no one really is, to some degree. It comes with the territory. Finding the one really rotten apple in the bunch though…” She trailed off, the air around her brightening as anger influenced her power. “That’s supposed to be my job. I’m supposed to be able to keep guys like him from giving us a bad name. From hurting us.”
“Ringholme wanted to make his boasting sound like everyday venting,” Gideon said gently. “He was trying to hide and protect himself, using his neighborhood as his shield. Plenty of other people have done the same in the past; it’s not your fault you didn’t realize what he was doing.”
“What we do, it’s pattern recognition, psychology, and experience,” Hotchner added. “We’re trained to look for those kinds of things; it’s our job. People don’t want to think someone they know can be responsible for things like this.”
“I know,” she said, and one of her odd hands clenched into a tiny fist. “Agent, I know. He wasn't good, he wasn't right, but I already could see that he was messed up, and I kind of have a policy of not delving into anyone's personal life unless I'm invited or there's obvious reason to.” She looked away for a second. “I need to know 'those kind of things.' I could see he was mad as hell, but I couldn't figure out why, or when he’d gone from just being angry to doing something about it.”
Gideon and Hotchner exchanged a glance, and Lark looked hopeful.
“What are you asking for?” Gideon asked, sounding honestly curious.
“A little information...” she began. Hotchner looked at her sharply, and she tried to explain. “You guys could have come in here with guns out and a full media crew and been real jerks about everything. You knew Tom was in here already, didn’t you?”
Gideon nodded slowly. “We knew there was a good possibility he was here.”
She shook her head. “I missed this one. I missed Tom, and that’s on me. You guys were fair. Fair isn’t something we always get around here. I can be fair with you too. You didn't know about the TV thing. Most people don't; it just doesn't seem to come up that often. You probably don't know about the allergies or the kids or why we can't... I don't know how you got Tom, you don't know about us.”
“You're offering to answer our questions?”
“You teach me how to police my own house, I'll tell you what you want to know so you can keep anyone else from going off the deep end any further than they already have,” she said firmly.
“Usually coming in and taking over an investigation on someone's home ground isn't a good way to get invited back,” Hotchner said neutrally. The police forces that had been intentionally or unintentionally upstaged by the FBI usually didn't even respond as well.
“They have their pride and their reputations. We have our pride, our powers, our mutations, no ability to hide them, and few hundred million people that still think we're the bogeyman under their beds no matter what they say to the cameras. If someone has to hunt the bad ones, I'd rather it were someone fair,” she said, raising her head up in defiance.
Fair wasn’t something Hotchner or the others got all the time either. People died before they could be saved, killers were released from prison for good behavior, crimes went tragically unsolved. Knowledge was often the only bulwark they had against chaos, knowledge and the ability to apply it fairly.
“I think we can do that,” Gideon said, smiling faintly.
After the success of the Ringholme case, Hotchner’s profiler team was frequently tapped for other cases involving metahumans. The connection they’d made with Lark Vincent turned out to be more than very usefull it was invaluable. She wasn’t a trained psychologist, but between her power and her deep involvement in her community, she had two things the FBI had lacked for years: knowledge of how metahumans thought and a willingness to talk to the government. She wasn’t the only consultant they ever talked to, but she was local, and she respected the BAU.
Every member of the team had talked to her at least once to try to find insight into the metahuman mind, and they’d had several round-table discussions with her to pick her brain as a team. Twice they’d asked her to consult on cases, needing a willing metahuman to talk to very reluctant suspects. Though they couldn’t get her into the FBI building (her power made those in charge nervous) she became a frequent absent visitor over the phone. In return, she all but absorbed whatever insights they could teach her about profiling, the red flags she could look for to prevent another Ringholme.
Hotchner’s team had quickly become the go-to team for metahuman-involved crimes that crossed their desk, because they were one of the few with direct, non-hostile experience with metahumans. That put them in a much more prominent position than before, but it still didn’t relieve them of their duties to track down the perpetrators of purely human crime.
A few months after Gideon left, just after Rossi re-joined the FBI, Lark had insisted on meeting with Hotchner about why he’d gone. She’d known him for only a couple of years, but Gideon had been liked by almost everyone. His absence would be tough for the team to deal with, and Lark considered herself enough of a team member to want to know something of what had happened. He’d come down to her club on a incongruitously sunny afternoon to talk about one of the team’s darkest hours.
“Do you think anything could have stopped that guy?” she asked. Though the FBI wouldn’t release the details, and Lark was officially only an occasionally off-site consultant, Hotchner had felt he owed her enough to at least give her a clear idea of why Gideon wasn’t coming back.
“I doubt it,” Hotchner said sincerely. “Sociopaths aren’t capable of creating bonds; the unsub didn’t have the capacity for feeling remorse. He wouldn’t have stopped for any reason.” That was a tough truth to come to grip with for any profiler, and Lark was just as affected by it as any of them. None of them could have stopped Frank, or reasoned with him, or even gotten him to pause, and they’d lost more than Gideon when it was all over.
Sound echoed oddly in the cavernous club, looking strange in the daylight as the employees swept and scrubbed to prepare for the evening’s festivities. Lark toyed with the ice in her glass of water for a long minute, and finally set it down firmly, the glass making a ringing tone.
“Physically, I mean. If you could have gotten there sooner… or something,” she persisted. “If someone had gotten to Gideon earlier or knew where the guy had attacked him was or-.”
“Maybe.” Hotchner’s voice got sharp, and Lark pulled back a little, her odd hands up in defensive apology. Too many times on cases he’d thought the same thing, that if they’d gotten somewhere sooner, just a few minutes, an hour, a day, they could have stopped another tragedy.
“Look, I liked Gideon. He was a great guy; what happened to him… It’s not fair, it’s not right, and there’s nothing anyone could have done to stop it,” she said, sighing. She looked at the tabletop for another long minute, like she was trying to decide something, and finally looked up decisively. “Agent Hotchner, if your team ever needs anything impossible, call me.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “What are you asking for?”
A squeal of feedback cut across their intense conversation as someone tested a speaker, but both ignored it.
“Nothing, damn it!” she said, glaring. He waited for another few heartbeats, and she sighed. “I don’t have that many human friends. Greenaway left, Gideon was all but driven away, and you guys are some of the few in the country that are capable of digging out the bad apples without burning down the orchard. That’s kind of impossible some days, as I damn well have the experience to know. Mets are impossible. If sometime you need something impossible, just ask. It’s not going to do us any good to keep trying to hide all the time.”
Hotchner was surprised to hear Lark call herself a “met,” the slang term for metahumans. And twice as surprised to hear her volunteer not just herself, but others she knew for what she saw as a good cause. She had been willing to help, but even with her and others trying to temper metahuman views towards police (and vise versa), there were very few that were willing to go out of their way to help. What she was offering represented more than just a desire to help, it was a change in how far metahumans were willing to go and put themselves in the public eye. Specifically, she was potentially putting them in the public eye for the go-to team for problems involving metahumans.
“Thank you for the offer-.”
“Look, I know there have to be some legal issues or God knows what, but if you ever really need to ask, I’m guessing it’d be for something of life and death importance,” she said intently.
Hotchner knew he couldn’t accept her offer, not officially. Lark Vincent wasn’t quite a friend that he could take her up on that casually. And she was more than an asset. He didn’t want to reject help that he might truly need, some day. His job was hard enough as it was.
“You don’t compromise,” she said suddenly, interrupting his train of thought. “Don’t think you have to for this. This isn’t a bribe, all right? You guys are working your tails off to make things better for everyone, and I’m just trying to offer some extra help, that’s all.”
Lark did that sometimes, seemed to discern intentions with as much insight as a profiler, because of her power and what she'd learned. She wasn’t as consistent as his team, but Hotchner didn’t discount what she could pick up. He’d seen powers in action too many times to disbelieve.
“I’ll keep it in mind,” was all he said.
Despite having the option of that favor available, Hotchner didn’t call it in for almost another year. He wanted his team to be self-sufficient, to be free of tangles of trading favors and politics. He’d had a belly full of that already, and wouldn’t put his team through any more for a trivial reason. The reason he’d finally called was as far from trivial as they could get.
The unsub they were trying to find was hanging women. Always petite brunettes, he hung them precisely at midnight on a Friday, and then transported their bodies, leaving their corpses hanging in woods along hiking trails to maximize the victims’ humiliation and the shock of the public. But the killing itself was done in deepest privacy.
Reid had narrowed down the geography, Morgan and Hotchner had determined the age and type of man they were looking for, while Prentiss and Rossi had firmly narrowed down the types of victims he preferred. Garcia had crunched the numbers, run the files, and come up with one name.
“Got it! Randall Holt, age fifty-three, has a hunting cabin in Taylor woods!”
By then it was almost too late. Eleven thirty on a Friday evening, with Angela Baxter missing since Wednesday morning. Taylor Woods was particularly thick, the roads to the cabins overgrown and the terrain unforgiving. Even traveling five miles to one of the cabins could take a half-hour, particularly with all the rain the area had been having.
“We can’t get there in time,” Rossi had said, frustrated, the wail of the sirens and roaring of the engine almost drowning out his words. They were speeding along the highway towards the woods along with as many patrol cars as could be spared, but it wouldn’t have mattered. It would take them at least fifteen minutes to reach the edge of the woods, and even with the help of the locals, getting through to Holt’s cabin would take too long. Angela Baxter would already be dead. The fact that they would most likely be able to apprehend Holt didn’t even seem to matter.
“Almost impossible-,” Morgan has said, very quietly, his hands tight on the steering wheel as they went around a tight bend. The word tugged at Hotchner’s memory, and he turned to look at Rossi and Prentiss in the back seat. Morgan wasn’t giving up, he would never give up, but he knew there was something else they could do.
“Impossible,” Hotchner repeated, knowing they would remember the conversation he’d told them about. That kind of potential favor he couldn’t keep only to himself.
“If there was ever a time for it,” Prentiss said grimly, hanging on for dear life as they raced to fail to save a woman’s life. “It’s now.”
“Let me make the call,” Rossi urged. “I’ll take responsibility if it comes to that.”
Hotchner should have called. He was the team leader; he was the one that would have to fill out the paperwork afterward, the one that would justify any decisions. Rossi making the call would have consequences, but Hotchner knew why he wanted to do it. Rossi could afford to be suspected or even fired, if things went badly.
“I’ll do it,” Hotchner said, and saw Rossi nod in understanding.
He dialed the number. The phone only rang once.
“Miss Vincent, my team needs to get to a densely wooded location ten miles away in less than ten minutes,” he said in greeting.
There were a few beats of silence, and then Lark was back, her voice sounding almost unnaturally clear and calm. “I know someone who can do that. Can I call you back at this number?”
“Stop your car and get out. You’ll need the GPS coordinates of precisely where you are and where you need to be. I’ll call you back in a minute,” she said shortly, and hung up.
“Morgan, stop the car.”
“We’re trying something impossible. Prentiss, call Garcia and get our GPS location, Rossi same with Reid and the location of Holt’s cabin.”
Morgan wrenched the car over to the shoulder of the road, grim-faced and angry. The team piled out onto the uneven shoulder, the police cruisers speeding on ahead of them. It was the longest thirty seconds of Hotchner’s life before his phone rang.
“Agent, I’m Kara Tucker. Where are you?” The voice was odd and deep, sounding like it came from the bottom of a well. It didn’t sound like anyone he’d ever met before, human or metahuman.
Hotchner had his phone on speaker, and Prentiss rattled off the string of numbers that Garcia had given her.
“I’m coming to you. Stay next to your car and don’t move. Just a warning, I’m kind of a crab.”
With that inexplicable statement, the phone clicked to end the call. For a minute, Hotchner thought that Ms. Tucker meant that euphemistically; it was late, and she might have just woken up. Being hauled out of bed for a life-or-death race wasn’t going to make anyone very polite. In the next minute, when a hellish white light pierced the air just a few feet away, he realized she had meant it literally.
A huge red claw, glowing with white light, ripped through the air, inscribing a circle that suddenly showed a dim view of someone else’s home. It was a portal to another location, a way to immediately go from one place to another, the exact impossibility they'd been praying for. An enormous figure stepped through the portal and twisted its claw, the light and foreign view winking out like it had never existed.
“Agents, I’m Kara Tucker. Where are you going?” The voice was the same as it had been on the phone, a deep, hollow tone that seemed to be rumbling up from somewhere inside her. She loomed over them, towering over Morgan by a foot, and was as nearly broad as she was wide.
Rossi gave Tucker the coordinates to Holt’s cabin in a very detached tone as he stared at her. They were all staring at her; they couldn’t help it. It was possible, with a bit of imagination, to imagine what Lark Vincent would have looked like if she’d been born human. It wasn’t even possible to begin to understand what Kara might have looked like.
“Give me just a second…” she said, and closed her eyes to concentrate. Kara had called herself a crab, and with her reddish spiny shell and six crab-like legs clamped to her abdomen, she looked it. But despite her clawed right hand, her left arm and legs were mostly human. Armored with chitin, but human. She didn’t have a head, just mouthparts set into the top of her shell, but her short eyestalks topped with all-too human eyes.
Her claw began to glow with white light, and the team watched, mesmerized, as she thrust it into the air. Part of her claw disappeared into the night sky as she inscribed a circle. As the circle was completed, the portal flashed into being, no longer showing a stretch of highway, but the looming bulk of a cabin with one light in the window.
“Back up!” she shouted, as the team peered through uncertainly. “You have to sprint through the portal or it’ll rip you apart.”
“What?!” Morgan demanded.
Kara’s eyestalks twitched as a deep rumbling laugh, unsuccessfully smothered, rolled up from the depths of her. “If you go through fast, you’re fine. If you can’t run, I can toss you through. Go!”
Shadows moved at the window, and Hotchner felt his heart clench when he realized the unsub might already be dealing with Angela.
“Five minutes to midnight,” Prentiss said loudly, reminding everyone that crab women, portals, or otherwise, they still had a rescue to go through with.
Hotchner narrowed his focus to the cabin, to Angela Baxter’s fate, how the other women had looked hanging from trees in the woods. He’d asked for the impossible, and here it was. Instant transport across rough and unforgiving country, to take custody of an unsub who thought he was untouchable. Hotchner backed up, and ran.
The shock of going through the portal was like being hit by lightning, everything going completely white, a feeling like being punched in the chest and being unable to regain your breath. It lasted for just a split second, and then his feet skidded on the gravel outside Holt’s cabin. He heard three other sets of footsteps right behind his own; his team had been just a step behind him. Two heavier thuds and the sudden extinguishing of the light told him Kara had come through as well.
Hotchner breathed for a moment, making certain he still could, and then brought his gun up to bear on the door.
“Morgan, Prentiss, back door,” he said quietly, and heard Rossi move up beside him. They moved in together smoothly, with the ease of long practice. A few minutes later, they’d kicked open the doors and found Russell Holt with his hand on Angela Baxter’s noose. Fifteen seconds later, he was on the floor, Morgan cuffing him with brusque efficiency, while Prentiss and Rossi got Angela out of the hanging rig.
If they’d been five minutes later, Angela would have been dead. They’d pulled off the impossible.
The success of the Holt case allowed the BAU team to make a change in how they did their job. Specifically, Hotchner knew he’d want someone like Kara Tucker to call on in a tight spot. The ability to get instantaneously from one place to another was priceless, and in their job, an advantage they couldn’t turn down.
When asked, Kara had been speechless, blinking in surprise.
“You want to make me official?” Her voice had squeaked on the last word, sounding utterly incongruous with her usually deep voice.
“If we need help like that again, it doesn’t have to be a favor. The Bureau treats its consultants well,” Hotchner had explained, handing the paperwork over to her. Unlike Lark, who’d been difficult to get as a consultant due to gaps in her record, Kara’s background was both complete and clean. Aside from the binding agreements she’d have to sign practically in blood to not enter restricted areas of the FBI without permission, it had been almost easy to get her. Dramatic rescues, though not ideal, made good press, and good press was always welcomed.
If Lark Vincent represented those metahumans who kept to themselves and worked to change from within, Kara Tucker represented those metahumans who generally kept themselves sequestered from the outside world almost entirely. When asked about her day job, she'd said she'd been working as a trouble-shooter for a shipping company. Generally she worked in warehouses, out of sight of the general public; like many others who were as strongly mutated, she had preferred to stay out of sight. But something had changed in the last few years. With Hotchner's team specializing in catching those humans that preyed on metahumans, and those few metahumans that were involved in crime one way or another, some metahumans were beginning to emerge from their self-imposed isolation.
Kara’s presence was the living proof of that. It amazed Hotchner that a seven foot tall crab woman could fade into the background, but that’s what she managed to do. Instead of becoming a focal point, her usual quiet nature made her able to be inconspicuous, once both the team and the local authorities got over their initial astonishment. After a time, she was no longer “the metahuman asset.” Like Lark, she was just an adjunct to the team.
Even with the option of the impossible, however, not everyone could be saved. When Foyet took Hotchner’s family hostage later that year, the only thing Kara was able to do was get the rest of the team there sooner than they could have otherwise. She’d had to wait outside while they converged on the house, being too large to even get in the door. That day was one of the only ones Morgan had ever seen her flinch, when they’d brought Haley and Foyet’s bodies out.
When he asked her about it later, Kara had had been twitchy and nervous, and almost beside herself with shame.
“I knew there would be killing,” she said finally, eyes glittering with tears. “I couldn’t be part of that.”
Though the team had talked extensively to Lark about the suicidal metahuman aversion to killing, she claimed that it was very difficult to understand for someone who had never experienced it. However, Morgan could recognize the signs by now; he’d seen enough cases. Metahumans seemed to have two choices when faced with a kill-or-be-killed situation: let themselves take the fatal blow, or strike to kill their attacker and then themselves in the same heartbeat. Even if she had been able to, going into Hotchner’s house that day would have probably resulted in her death too. No one wanted more blood on their hands, least of all that of someone who, by nature, couldn’t hurt a fly.
Hotchner waited impatiently in the doctor’s office, holding his arm still with his other hand as to not jar his shoulder any further. The unsub had kicked him into a doorjam during the takedown, and Hotchner’s shoulder had been dislocated. The EMTs hadn’t been able to get it back into joint once they’d gotten the unsub into custody, and Hotchner had reluctantly gone to the hospital while Morgan and the others dealt with the aftermath and paperwork.
“Agent?” The door finally pushed open, and Hotchner tried to not look so irritated. It wasn’t the doctor’s fault he had gotten hurt, or that he wasn’t going to be able to make the flight home. It also wasn’t the doctor’s fault this case had been particularly gruesome either.
“I’m Doctor Taylor Kincaid. It’s good to finally see you after all these years,” he said, waving his scaled hand in greeting so Hotchner didn’t have to try to be polite and accidentally cause himself more pain.
“Likewise,” Hotchner said, brightening considerably, some of his pain forgotten. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Kincaid smiled slightly, showing the sharp, sharp teeth of a carnivore, and bobbed his hairless, scaled head in acknowledgement and amusement. Hotchner had heard about Kincaid for years; he was Lark’s father. Or rather, her guardian. Like many metahumans born to human parents, she’d been abandoned at birth and raised by someone with enough compassion to care for a mutated infant. Almost every bit of medical information Lark had ever told the BAU about metahumans actually came from Taylor Kincaid (or as she called him, “Taya.”) One of the few metahumans in a prominent position, Kincaid had a powerful healing touch. And normally Hotchner would not have gone to a healer, they were expensive even on government health insurance, but in this case the healer had come for him specifically.
“I have too, all of it good. Lark doesn’t impress easily. And she warned me that if you ever came in here, and I didn’t treat you well, she’d make me feel guilty. I hate disappointing my daughter,” Kincaid said, reaching up and pressing the tips of his claws to Hotchner’s injured shoulder.
“You’ve done more for Lark than you realize,” Kincaid added softly, as he seemed to concentrate on the injury. “She used to have to act as the watchdog, and the neighborhood counselor, and the bounty hunter, disciplinarian, and peer judge. It was hard for people to trust her when she took on all those roles, even with her powers. You took that job on your shoulders.”
“We would have anyway.” It would have been criminal to have left Lark without support, even if she hadn’t volunteered her knowledge to the FBI. If she hadn’t offered her services, Hotchner still would have at least tried to help by getting her in contact with certain organizations.
“But some wouldn’t have. You know how much some people are afraid of us. Many are content to have us policing ourselves, no matter how much that divides us. We thought we couldn’t trust the government to do anything right… until you came into Lark’s club. You don’t know how much you’ve changed things. You let us believe that we didn’t have to take on everything by ourselves. So, believe me when I tell you that not only do you deserve this, you’re long overdue. Now, try to relax and let me look at you.”
Some might have found relaxing around the healer rather difficult. Kincaid looked something like a short velociraptor (Jack was going through a dinosaur-crazy stage, and Hotchner had inadvertently picked up a lot of information), hairless and covered with gray-green pebble-like scales. He had a short tail, lizard-like yellowish eyes, and if he lacked the characteristic sickle-like claws on his feet, he certainly had short claws on his hands. He was small, not even topping five feet in height, but like Kara, was clearly not one to be trifled with. When he spoke, his teeth were sharp and serrated, like knife blades. “Doctor” was not the first profession anyone would associate with him.
Kincaid barely even glanced at Hotchner’s chart, simply reaching up to put both clawed hands on Hotchner’s shoulder, resting lightly as to not cause pain.
“I take it the other guy looks worse?” he asked without preamble.
“He’s in custody,” Hotchner allowed guardedly. Father of a friend or not, he still wasn’t supposed to give out pending information.
Kincaid snorted at that, eyes narrowing in anger. “I’ve been reading the papers. He liked unusual hides on his wall, they said.” If it had been sanitarily acceptable to spit, Kincaid looked like he would have spat.
“Not anymore.” Not ever, if the BAU team had their way. There’d been enough evidence in the house to convict anyone for several consecutive life sentences. It wasn’t the only “hunter” of metahumans they’d heard of, but he’d certainly been the most prolific that had ever been caught.
“Good,” Kincaid said shortly. “Remember to breathe.”
With no more warning than that, Kincaid did something that made the muscles Hotchner’s shoulder relax in one way and contract in another, pulling his arm back into position. He felt it slip back into its socket with a clunk, and gritted his teeth to keep from making any noise at the reawakening of the pain.
Kincaid firmed his grip, the tips of his claws pressing painfully into Hotchner’s skin through his shirt, and finally shook his head.
“You did a number on your labrum, the cartilage around your shoulder socket. And your rotator cuff. Tears in everything. You’re going to need surgery,” he said, eyes closed, seemingly listening to something Hotchner couldn’t hear. He’d never seen a healer in action before; the drawback to that kind of ability was that it couldn’t be used on the reluctant, nor could a healer use it if he didn’t want someone to be healed. It was why those metahumans that had it often ended up dead, because someone who wanted to be healed attempted to coerce them, to often-tragic results. In order to be healed, both the patient and the healer had to want it to happen.
Hotchner turned his face away in resignation, and Kincaid cleared his throat.
“I’m not that much of a jerk,” he said pointedly. “Like I said, Lark speaks well of you, and I trust her opinion. I do want to help you.”
“Surgery?” Hotchner prompted, raising an eyebrow.
Kincaid smiled slightly. “Yes, I can heal you. I didn’t know if you wanted it. You’d be surprised at how many don’t. It isn’t as easy or painless as most people imagine. You have additional lingering damage,” he added abruptly. “The nine stab wounds to your torso from a year ago. There’s scarring. I can take care of that too, if you want me to. I can get rid of them.”
The words felt like a physical shock, and Hotchner felt himself go pale. Foyet had taunted him, while Aaron lay in a puddle of his own blood, that he would look like him for the rest of his life. That he would be reminded of the power Foyet had had over him, forever. Nothing on earth could erase Hotchner’s memory of that, of that feeling of helplessness, both then and when he’d heard Haley die. But to get rid of the scars…
“Agent?” Kincaid asked, probably wondering what was going through his head. “Lark didn’t tell tales, if that’s what you’re wondering. But she knew you had hell rain down on you just for doing your job. Things have been better for us since you started. Mets know that we don’t have to take on all of our own problems anymore.”
“Yes,” Hotchner said abruptly, for once not stopping to analyze every possible consequence.
Kincaid moved with brisk efficiency, not questioning anything, and gestured him down flat on the table, pulling away Hotchner's shirt just enough to clear his neck and shoulders.
“You work too hard, Agent. I hear your name in too many places for you to do anything but overwork, and you're doing a damn fine job of it. If you’re going to drive yourself this hard, you need to be in good shape to do it,” Kincaid said, the tips of his claws resting beside Hotchner’s head. “I have your permission to heal you?”
Hotchner nodded, and he felt Kincaid’s claws slightly dig into his skin at his temples, down his neck, and the top of his shoulders. “I have to have hard contact to do this. It will hurt. But afterward the only scars you’ll have are the ones I’m going to have to give you now.”
Hotchner took a few deep breaths to settle himself. Fear kept too many people from allowing metahumans to use their powers productively. Fear drove many to highly dysfunctional ends, either as unsubs his team had had to track down, or, more often, as easy victims in other unsubs' violent fantasies. But he was one of the few who’d been able to see metahuman abilities in up-close and useful situations. He’d watched an empath calm a crowd in near-riot, he’d hurled his body across potentially-dangerous portals to rescue victims, and he’d seen dozens of other powers used in simple, everyday ways. He was no longer afraid of what they could do.
He felt Kincaid’s claws pierce his skin. The pain surged, white-hot and burning in his shoulder, stabbing and throbbing in his gut. Every moment the pain lessened, fading just behind his ability to control it, slowly going from pain to heat, heat to coolness, coolness to simple, agonizing relief. When he finally opened his eyes again, a nurse was briskly checking him over, and the pain was completely gone. He waited until she left to get some paperwork before taking a single tentative look at himself in the mirror. He hadn’t been able to look at his own scars, deliberately averting his eyes from mirrors after he showered, not wanting another forceful reminder of Haley’s death. The single look made him realize he no longer had that reminder. The only scars left that he could see were the tiny white puncture wounds where Kincaid’s claws had gone in.
Kincaid was just outside, talking to Morgan and Rossi (when had they gotten to the hospital?) and didn’t bother to lower his voice when Hotchner finally opened the door, even with the obvious stares from both of them letting Kincaid know someone was behind him.
“…And he’ll need, at bare minimum, twelve hours of sleep tonight, or he’ll have some lovely bouts of narcolepsy for the next three days while his body tries to catch up on replenishing the energy I just stole from him to speed the healing process. Make sure he eats, and not just three cups of coffee and a breakfast bar. If necessary, drop a sleeping pill in his nightcap and lock him in his bedroom-,” Kincaid turned around, not pausing an instant in his instructions, “-Because if you, as his friends and colleagues, have any influence over Agent Hotchner, I suggest you use it to make sure he doesn’t collapse.”
Hotchner just raised an eyebrow at the diminutive healer and almost managed a smile. Kincaid took the paperwork from his nurse and thrust it at him, his own smile quite satisfied.
“You’re discharged, Agent. Twelve hours’ sleep and two good meals and you’ll be fit for duty.”
The Brisbane Storms hit on May 23rd, 2011, at 8:34 a.m. Eastern time. The effects of the Storms changed the course of human and metahuman history forever.
Part 2, Part 3, Part 4