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: This was written for the au_bigbang. 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...
May 23rd, 2011
“St. Paul, Minnesota. In the past year they’ve had ten bodies turn up, all with the same cause of death. Of the first eight victims, eight of them died at least six months ago. Then over the past two days they’ve suddenly had two more. That’s when they called us. The police hadn’t put it together until now because all of the victims had been very different and in different parts of the city.”
J.J. put up pictures of the various bodies on the screen, along with a map of the city showing both where the victims had lived, and died. “Random” was the first word that came to everyone’s mind. One victim had been an 80-year-old grandmother, another, horribly, had been a toddler. A 50-year-old cancer patient, a 24-year-old marathon runner with a broken leg. A teenager in a mental ward, a first grader with the chicken pox… And from all places in the city too: business districts, warehouse districts, public schools and private, neighborhoods rich and poor.
“What’s the cause of death?” Prentiss asked.
“The coroner is calling it brain shock. Each victim has suffered from a massive amount of stress in a short time before they died. It took them this long to figure out the consistencies between the deaths; there may have been other victims prior that they weren’t able to identify.”
“Each of these people were vulnerable to stress,” Reid said thoughtfully. “Very old, very young, sick, or injured.”
“But these were people with families, friends, homes. Hard victims to target, even if they were vulnerable in some way,” Morgan opined.
“Do they know how it’s being done yet? Any traces of drugs in their systems?” Hotchner asked.
J.J. shook her head. “No, the toxicology reports are clear. The victims are showing up at irregular intervals-.”
She clicked the screen again, and it showed the dates when each victim had been found and where.
“The six-month hiatus…” Rossi said slowly, thinking out loud, and pointed to the last two victims. “The last two were a thirty-three year old with an anxiety disorder and a twenty-one year old in treatment for mono. Those last two were much stronger victims than the previous ones.”
“The unsub is perfecting his technique. He took the time off in order to review what he’d learned,” Morgan said.
“We should look into if other low-risk victims might have been overlooked in the six months. The unsub might have been practicing on people less likely to be missed before he attempted another high-risk victims. Garcia-,” Hotchner started, and fell silent when he realized Garcia was just walking in the door, Kevin Lynch just barely visible outside. He turned to her, going to continue his request for her to search the death records for more potential victims, when the Brisbane Storms hit.
Brilliant golden haze suddenly penetrated the room, sweeping in like a storm front and lingering in the air. No one had ever personally seen the phenomenon before, but everyone recognized it: Brisbane radiation. Everyone had a few heartbeats to either appreciate it, or wonder at it, or be disturbed by it, before the pain hit.
Blinding pain erupted in everyone’s head, the wash of golden haze seeming to make it more intense the brighter it became. On the heels of the pain came fear, an intense adrenaline rush that spoke to every instinct to run or fight. Hands shook, hearts raced, and breath burned as the fear and pain mingled, one feeding into the other, as the waves of golden light washed through the building, bringing everyone to their knees.
Hotchner could hear screaming from outside the briefing room, and then the loud retort of shots being fired. The sound sent more bolts of agony into his head, along with a fresh wave of fear for himself, for his team, for anything and anyone. He could barely think through the pain, but forced himself to anyway, opening up burning eyes and gripping the edge of the table with shaking hands. Reid was huddled on the floor, arms wrapped around his middle as if he could force the pain away by will alone. Garcia and Kevin, collapsed by the door, were clutching hands as if trying to draw strength from the other. The rest of the team were clutching onto the walls or furniture to keep themselves upright, agony written in their faces.
The urge to run screaming from the room was strong, but Hotchner's team hadn't become one of the go-to teams for human/metahuman crime without having been subjected, willingly or unwillingly, to a plethora of powers. They'd gone through dozens of Kara's portals, been on the receiving end of an angry and disturbed metahuman's rage aura, been inadvertently near-suffocated by a panicked victim that could thicken the air around her into water, amongst other things. Giving into panic wouldn't help anything, and would probably get them all killed. His team held onto control as best they could as agony and anger tried to force them to a frenzy. Every instinct told them that moving, running, anything active would lessen the pain, but fleeing from the room in a blind panic wouldn't help anything.
As Hotchner got himself upright, he could see the offices just outside the briefing room window. Everyone down there was affected as well, and one wild-eyed agent, screaming something incomprehensible, was firing out the office door. Glass had shattered all over the floor, and smears of blood, vivid scarlet in the golden light, were visible in the hallway.
“Stop him,” Morgan managed to grind out though a clenched jaw, staggering toward the door. All of Hotchner’s muscles screamed at him as he tried to be careful, protesting him trying to move slowly. Everything in him wanted to run, to scream, to lash out, to point his gun and shoot, anything to relieve the awful burning in his veins. He refused to give into the anger and fear, but his body wouldn't respond, the adrenaline surging in response to the deadly golden light.
Morgan reached the door and hauled Garcia and Kevin inside, ducking around the wall as bullets slammed into the door.
“Dammit, stop shooting!” he shouted hoarsely. Outside someone screamed in denial, and more bullets flew.
White light suddenly flared, momentarily overriding the gold, a shadow and heavy thud on the floor announcing Kara Tucker's arrival.
“Agents, there's something hap-.” Kara stopped dead when she saw the team stricken on the floor, shaking with pain and fear. “Christ, it's all over the city.”
Hotchner looked up at her, eyes blurring, but it didn't stop him from seeing that whatever had struck down the entire building wasn't affecting her.
“What's going on?” Rossi demanded, knuckles white on the back of his chair. Kara turned towards him to answer, when another shot ripped through the room, narrowly missing them and imbedded in the opposite wall.
“Gotta get you out of here!” she said frantically. White light flared again, at the same time as another fresh wave of golden light, and the pain became almost blinding. Hotchner grayed out from the pain, and only felt himself being grabbed and hurled through space. The shock of going through the portal was his only warning to roll with the fall of hitting cold concrete on the other side. Someone else slid into him, and he heard Kara yelling again.
“Lark, get Mitch! It's everywhere!”
More pain surged, and Hotchner clenched his fists against the need to strike out. Someone was fumbling his gun out of his shoulder holster, and he jerked away violently, only to find himself restrained.
“Mitch! Come on, match it, get in synch!” Lark's voice penetrated the roar of blood in his ears, and he felt a faint lessening of the pain, as something seemed to shade him from the barrage of golden light. It flickered, died, returned, brightened, and suddenly seemed to almost click into place, blocking the Brisbane radiation.
The pain was suddenly muted, and the adrenaline rush slowly calmed down. Blinking, Hotchner realized they were in Lark's club, surrounded by a thin crowd of other metahumans. A man with hard, shiny green skin, like a beetle's carapace, and multifaceted eyes, was kneeling next to them. An orange glow surrounded the team, emanating from him, holding the golden light at bay.
“Agents!” Lark exclaimed, releasing her hold on Hotchner's wrists. “Damn, I had no idea it was all the way over there. We thought it was just in our neighborhood.”
“What is it?” Morgan asked, gingerly pushing himself off the floor.
“No damn idea. Ten minutes ago every human around here started going into a full-on freak out, so I asked Kara to see if she could talk to you guys. Then people started trying to get out of the neighborhood, and they were getting violent if anyone was in their way, so I was telling the mets to come here,” Lark explained quickly, looking over her shoulder at the door.
“Wait, it's only affecting humans?” Reid asked.
“Only humans, and I think it's over the entire city,” she said flatly.
Hotchner and J.J. practically leapt to their feet, a new and perfectly justified kind of fear taking place of the haze-induced panic of a few moments ago.
Lark blinked once, but Kara swore sharply and split the air with her claw again, disappearing across town in an eyeblink. The team looked stricken, and Hotchner and J.J. nearly lunged at the empty air with expressions of helplessness on their faces.
“She'll get your kids,” Lark said, looking a little frantic. “Don't go outside Mitch's range or you're going to go batshit.” She turned away from them as someone yelled for her across the club. “Find Taya, get George, Alanna, and the kids downstairs, and get someone on the roof so we know what the hell is going on!” she called back. There was a pounding on the door, and with a look of repressed panic, she dashed away from the team to answer the call.
There was an agonizing few minutes of controlled chaos as more and more metahumans began to fill up the club, many clutching a few possessions and bearing marks of violence. All of them had stories of the same kind of confusion: seeing golden light that turned their human neighbors and co-workers into fearful, painfully frightened versions of themselves. Panic was reigning on the streets. Outside, everyone could hear the screams, shouts, crashes, shots, and explosions that seemed to be marking a city-wide riot.
The waiting was almost unbearable. Hotchner couldn't even think what would happen if Jessica had been affected by the same thing he had felt. What if she hadn't been able to control herself? What if she'd left Jack?
Light almost blinded him, and he squinted against the glare as Kara became visible on the other side. Someone ran through the portal, holding two small figures, followed quickly by Kara.
“That's everyone I could find,” she said wearily.
“Will!” J.J. cried, throwing her arms around her boyfriend. He cradled their son Henry between them, and was letting Jack down from his other arm. Hotchner was there in an instant, holding his son hard, blotting away the tears that stained his face.
“Daddy, my head hurts,” Jack whimpered quietly, holding onto his dad like he'd never let go.
“I know, it's ok,” Hotchner said quietly, and looked over Jack's shoulder at Kara.
“Jessica wasn't there. The door was open,” she said quickly. “I don't know where she went, and I didn't have time to look. Something in the building was on fire.”
Hotchner didn't even have time to respond to that when someone from the upper catwalk began hurling themselves down the metal stairs, shouting the entire way.
“Downstairs! Get downstairs now! Go, go, move, move move!” he shouted. “Planes are falling out of the damn sky!”
The milling crowd began to run for the back of the building, and the BAU team found themselves being swept up in it, carried along down a dank corridor and a wide set of stairs to emerge in a large room below the warehouse. Heavy walls looked like they'd been designed as a bomb shelter, but a quick look around, even in the chaos of trying to keep themselves together and close to Mitch, showed this hadn't been used as a place of protection in a long time.
Morgan had seen enough dog-fighting rings during his time as a cop to recognize a larger version of one immediately. A circle of reinforced, movable panels was in the middle of the room, surrounded by bleacher seats. One end of the room had something that looked very much like a firing range, and the other held a battered collection of free weights and modified work-out gear. This was some kind of fight club, situated right under Lark's night club. This had to be a Pit.
Two months ago
“Is there anything to those rumors?” Morgan asked.
Kara couldn't precisely shrug, but she made an expansive gesture with her claw. “Metahuman fight clubs organized all over the country? You know how that sounds.” Her voice sounded a little amused, but her eyestalks were twitching slightly. Kara might not have much of a face to read, but Morgan hadn't spent a dozen cases with her trailing the team without learning how to interpret everything he could.
“Kara, you knew that unsub was bulletproof. You're the one that kept us from going in after him directly. You probably saved a lot of lives today. How did you know how tough he was if you didn't know him very well?”
“We talk about our abilities, our mutations. I mean, all the time. It's our favorite thing to talk about, anytime, anywhere. You talk about yours, you talk about other people's, you pass information on... None of us have much of a basis for comparison, you know? So we compare what we have,” Kara said, clacking her claw shut meditatively.
“So there are no Pits?” Morgan persisted.
Right then, Morgan's phone had rang, and Kara hadn't let herself get cornered again.
The crowd was a lot calmer than Rossi had expected; after feeling the power of the golden light himself, he could just imagine what any other human outside of here was feeling. He would have thought that the metahumans would have had a much worse time with seeing humans turn against them. It had to be a worst-case nightmare scenario for many of them. But after watching the crowd for long minutes, seeing a kind of resignation on many faces, Rossi realized it was the opposite. All their lives, they'd been waiting for the hammer to fall. Now that the worst was here, it was almost a relief.
The metahumans simply huddled protectively against each other as they heard and felt deep crashes and booms rocking the building overhead. There were two muted explosions, and a much louder one, shockingly close, that rocked dust from the ceiling and made the lights flicker and die. Sparks flew as the building groaned, and a few people screamed as the darkness surrounded them.
“Hang on, hang on!” Lark's voice rang out in the darkness, and a faint purple radiance began to illuminate her as she invoked her power to stave off mass panic. “Calm down, everyone. I'm going to get the generator going, ok? Keep cool, we're going to get through this.”
She managed to get the generator started, and a few lights returned, but it didn't stop the chaos from going on upstairs. For the next two hours, everyone huddled on the floor as the explosions, screams, and crashes that announced the world's end played in symphony. Finally there was only a deadly hush, and faint screaming. And still the golden light hung thick in the air.
“That's it,” someone whispered. “It's over.”
“No.” Hotchner didn't even realize he spoken until everyone turned to look at him. “We're still here.”
There was a beat of silence, and Jack simply clung to him, nodding into the fabric of his suit.
“He's right,” Lark added, throwing a look of undying gratitude at the BAU team for being a rock of calm. “You know he is, who they are. Come on guys. Carmine, see who's here, who's missing, and who's hurt. Angelo, take two people and check upstairs. Gavin, check to see what supplies we have.”
The small groups of metahumans reluctantly pried themselves out of their huddles and began to sort themselves out, slowly. Lark heaved a sigh of relief and made a beeline for the team.
“I hope you don't mind; I was borrowing,” she said in a quiet undertone, catching Hotchner's eyes. She waved vaguely at the purple glow surrounding her. “You have f-,” she quickly modified her language with a quick glance at Jack. “Fricking ice water in your veins, agent. And sorry about the gun earlier.”
Hotchner was going to ask why, but kept his mouth shut. She'd just seen all the humans around her going effectively insane, and disarming the ones she knew had guns would have been the only logical move. “Borrowing” his emotional state, if he’d been the calmest one there, might have been the only thing that had kept everyone else calm and intact through the worst of these storms.
“We’ve got to find a way to protect you from this. Mitch can’t keep this up forever,” Lark said quietly, looking over her shoulder at the golden haze still shining on the air.
“Mitch can’t keep this up for another hour,” Mitch said testily, eyes flashing. Hotchner recognized him vaguely from other visits to Lark's club. He was one of her regulars, and knew the BAU team by both name and reputation. “I usually do this for maybe thirty minutes at a stretch, not three hours. Just make it soon.”
Mitch's shielding effect, whatever it was, wasn't perfect. Hotchner could still feel a low-grade headache right now, and it had been getting steadily worse as time went by. Hotchner kept his arm around Jack, holding him close when he whimpered in discomfort. Jack was trying very hard not to cry, even though he was in pain, and Hotchner could see his own stoicism in his little boy. That was hurting far worse than his head right now.
Someone banged on the door upstairs, shouting, and Kara opened it up to let whoever it was downstairs. Doctor Kincaid slipped through, looking far worse for the wear. His scaled skin was marked with soot and spattered with something that might have been blood.
“Where the hell have you been?” Lark demanded, and Kincaid shot her a glare that froze her in place. “I’m sorry,” she said immediately.
“The hospital’s gone. The whole damn place… We lost everyone. Everyone on the operating tables, the intensive care ward, hospice, post-op, neo-natal, oncology, mental ward, people on the transplant lists, half the E.R.-,” Kincaid paused for breath. “Those that didn’t die on the spot from the shock of the storms started fighting their way out. Anyone that wasn’t doing the same got ripped to shreds.” He stopped for another heartbeat and looked up at Lark, eyes huge and liquid. “Rachel died.”
“Oh, God,” she whispered, and closed her eyes briefly.
“Wait,” Reid said suddenly, frowning. “J.J., do you still have the file from this morning?”
J.J. stared at the apparent non sequitur, and looked down at her feet, where she’d dropped the folder she’d been carrying in the briefing room. It felt like weeks since the morning meeting. Reid held it out to the others, pointing at the list of victims in St. Paul.
“Guys, look at the victims. Each one of them was very vulnerable to stress and shock.”
Hotchner’s eyes sped over the list, picking out the vital clues: grandmother, toddler, cancer patient, ill child, disturbed teen…
“Doctor Kincaid, what did your patients die of specifically?” Reid asked.
“Brain shock. I was trying to help some of them before everything went to hell,” Kincaid said promptly, eyes opening wide when he realized they knew something of what was happening.
“St. Paul might have been a practice run,” Rossi said tentatively. At his words, the metahumans turned to stare at them all.
“Practice run? Someone is behind this?” Lark asked sharply.
“We had a case that came to our attention this morning,” J.J. said. “The victimology was the same as now. And the cause of death.”
“But how could someone being doing this?” Rossi asked, gesturing at the golden haze beyond Mitch's shield. “I hate to ask, but could it be a metahuman?”
Kincaid shook his head. “Look, Kara has one of the strongest powers I've ever heard of, and she almost didn't survive her birth. Anyone with a power strong enough to do this should have died in the womb from the extent of his mutations. Besides, even if someone could do this, how could they keep it up for this long? We were getting sporadic reports of chaos across the country before I had to run. And it might even be bigger than that.”
“I'm not a scientist! What I know about the Brisbane Event could be written on the back of a spoon with room left over to stir coffee,” Kincaid said testily.
“Guys?” Mitch said. “A little help here?”
Kincaid glared at him, and then looked at the group carefully, seemingly sizing everyone up.
“Agent Prentiss, I need you to step outside the shield. I need to see what's causing the pain before I know if I can help you.” It wasn't a request, but Prentiss still hesitated. She wasn't eager to experience that fear-filled, searing pain again.
“I want to compare you to Lark. Forgive my use of the scientific method,” he added, the last a little sarcastically.
When the world was ending, it was not the time to argue semantics. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Prentiss walked outside the shield.
The pain was so severe she was grayed out for almost the entire procedure, only coming to when she felt Reid and Morgan carefully helping her sit back up under the cover of Mitch’s shield. Kincaid was crouched next to her, Lark right behind him, a compassionate expression on his scaled face.
“The good news is, I figured out what's causing your pain and can fix it. In metahumans, the radiation is just getting channeled through our bodies and out again, with no ill effects. In humans, it's getting impeded in the nervous system, particularly in some structures deep in the brain. Those are resisting the radiation like a bad electrical wire, and it's throwing the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. Everyone who's being affected is in an extreme fight-or-flight reaction right now, and they're trying to justify their fear-.”
“By blaming it on the nearest convenient target,” Rossi finished, and Kincaid nodded.
“Metahumans are very convenient, especially since they aren't having their systems and reactions ratcheted up to eleven,” he concluded.
“You can fix it?” Prentiss prompted.
“If you allow me to change the deep structures in your brains that are resisting the radiation, then yes, I can.”
Silence descended inside the shield. Kincaid waited with his head bowed slightly, not willing to rush them, no matter the danger.
“Change our brains?” Reid asked very softly.
“Yes. I would not have to touch the cerebral cortex, this is much deeper, almost on the level of instinct. It shouldn't have any affect on your memories or personalities...” Kincaid trailed off, knowing what he was saying wasn't much comfort. He was known to be a trauma surgeon, a healer of flesh wounds, not a neurosurgeon.
“What would that make us?” Will asked, unconsciously holding both Henry and J.J. close. “Would that make us like you?”
Kincaid shook his head slowly. “I'm not doing a DNA shift, if that's what you're asking. But beyond that, we're in uncharted territory. I know it won't kill you, but that's all I'm certain about.”
“How bad is it outside?” Morgan asked. “What are the people doing?”
“It's like something out of a zombie film,” Kincaid said flatly. “People are angry, frightened, and pumped up on adrenaline. They're still thinking, but only in survival terms right now. People with weaknesses are dying. No one is left but the strongest.”
An unvoiced thought that perhaps they'd been able to ride out the pain quickly was discarded. The storms were killing the weak. Henry and Jack wouldn't survive very long fully exposed to the effects.
“You might survive the storms. Your children will not. I just left behind an entire ward full of dead infants,” Kincaid added baldly, purposefully voicing what they desperately didn't want to hear.
“I hate to pressure you guys, but I have about ten more minutes left in me, and then I'm tapped out,” Mitch interrupted. He was already swaying in place, skin paling and balance starting to go. The headache was steadily increasing with every passing moment.
“He can’t kill you, or seriously hurt you, you all know that, right?” Lark asked. “You’re our friends, we’ll do everything we can to save you.”
“Try it on me first,” Prentiss said suddenly, standing. Henry was whimpering again, and Jack was holding on to Hotchner's suit jacket so hard his little knuckles were white. She had to make sure it was all right so the children would be ok.
“And me,” Rossi added, glancing at her sideways. Of everyone here, they had the least to lose: no children, no spouses or significant others, no young siblings or aging parents depending on them. They were the safest choices.
“No time to argue,” Kincaid said, and waved them down on the floor, face up. The last thing Prentiss saw was Kincaid's scaled snout, upside down, filling her vision. “Breathe.”
Then the light was gone.
Hotchner was the last to go. He watched first Prentiss, then Rossi submit to Kincaid’s claws, the tension and pain in their faces suddenly smoothing into a peaceful sleep. The deadly Brisbane radiation didn’t seem to bother them at all, and both Lark and Kincaid looked suddenly triumphant.
“We’re good,” she said, looking up at the rest of the team. “They’re all right.”
“Kids next,” J.J. said quickly, and Kincaid just gestured her closer, face set and determined. Hotchner waited until everyone else had gone, holding Jack through it until he’d relaxed into painlessness. Reid had gone second to last, clearly repressing terror and needing some kind of reassurance even in the face of the almost unbearable pain. Hotchner himself was jamming his teeth together hard enough to hurt in trying to keep from making any noise at the end. Lark had to pull him down into Kincaid’s range, and the sting from Kincaid’s claws almost pushed him beyond control.
Then, he woke up.
“You know your name?”
Hotchner stared at Lark Vincent for a few heartbeats until the question actually penetrated. They were no longer in the basement, but in what looked like a storeroom. He wasn’t lying on cold concrete, but rather on what felt like a cot. And, he realized, the golden light was finally gone.
“You’ve been out for almost a day. Do you know your name?” she repeated.
“Aaron Hotchner,” he said automatically, and looked around for everyone else. The others were still out on their own cots, with Kincaid bending over J.J. next to him, preparing to wake her up next. “The storms stopped?”
“Sort of. Wait until everyone else is up and I can tell you all at once,” she said wearily.
“He and Henry are with Alanna. They woke up before you did, and they’re both perfectly fine, I swear,” Lark said, running over the top of him. She stopped herself, took a deep breath, and managed something close to a reassuring smile.
Hotchner sat up slowly, knowing Jack was safe and realizing the rest of his team was right there stopping him from jumping out of the room like an over-protective parent. He’d picked up a lot about the local metahuman community over the past six years, and recognized most of Lark’s regulars and friends. Alanna did daycare for most of the immediate neighborhood; with spiders’ legs and six more eyes than the norm, no child escaped her sight or eluded her grasp. He could afford to wait at least until J.J. and Will were up.
He went to stand, and realized his fingers were curled around a small piece of paper.
“Kara did some checking up on people for you. We did what we could. I have to help Taya, I’ll be right back,” Lark said quickly, and left to attend to the healer’s side. She looked thinner, and was sweaty, smudged with dirt, and seemed incredibly weary. More questions about exactly what had happened would keep for a little while longer, at least until she’d had a chance to rest too.
Hotchner unfolded the paper in his hand instead, reading Kara's heavy printing with a growing feeling of surprise.
Sean is alive, but wouldn't come with me. No sign of Jessica anywhere. Didn't know Gideon's current location, but his house is intact. Greenaway is defending her house against all comers; she's very safe.
Hotchner swallowed and folded the paper back up again. Just the idea that someone had checked on his friends and family, had tried to help them even if they didn’t want to be helped, eased a burden he didn’t realize he had. He might be able to convince Sean and Elle to come with them where Kara had failed, once he had a chance to talk to them. And he knew places Jessica or Jason might go…
Putting the paper in his pocket, he turned to see J.J. finally sitting up, and Will beginning to stir as Kincaid and Lark went down the line of cots to wake up the others.
“Henry and Jack?” she asked almost immediately.
“Come on,” Hotchner said, putting aside the concerns of the moment to focus on what was most important.
Hotchner felt no different now than when he'd been put under, aside from the knowledge that he'd been altered in some deep way without knowing the consequences. What the price had been to save them from insanity or death, Kincaid didn't know even now, and he'd said as much. But whatever it was, it hadn't seemed to bother Jack in the least. That was something Hotchner had been privately afraid of. The kids had weathered Kincaid's modifications with far less worry than their parents, and had been up well before them. The single saving grace in this disaster was that Jack didn't seem to realize exactly what had happened. He'd been playing with the other metahuman children when Hotchner came to see him, under the supervision of a woman with spider legs and eight eyes, his only concern that his dad was feeling all right. Once that had been established, Jack had been willing to go back to his games, leaving his father to deal with the crisis as best he could.
“Go save the world, Daddy,” had been Jack’s last words before he went back to a game of tag with a girl with a turtle shell and a boy with electric blue skin.
Go save the world. Hotchner looked over the crowded warehouse, most of the former dance floor now having been turned into beds and living spaces for the hundred-odd metahumans. Bottles of water and boxes of supplies were crowded around everywhere where there was space, and the faint chug and hum of the generators let the place be lit in pitiless clarity. From what scattered information he’d learned in the hours of the storms, this building might be all that was left of the world. They needed to talk to Lark and figure out what they’d missed while they were out.
It was time to save who they could.
Lark appeared a couple of hours after Kincaid had left, clutching a notebook in her hand and running a hand through hair frazzled with dozens of nervous gestures. She shut the door to the storeroom behind her and sat on the edge of a battered desk, her odd legs flexing restlessly, in a way human joints simply weren’t meant to operate.
“Ok,” she said, with a long sigh. “Ok. What do you need to know?” Lark looked as if she hadn’t slept since the storms started, and as if she’d been living off of caffeine for a week prior. Her eyes were frantically bright, but a little unfocused, as if she didn’t quite know where to focus all her energy. Like an overworked police officer with more information than she knew how to interpret; the team had handled that more times than they could count. The question galvanized the team, focusing them away from their own troubles to a more pressing threat, and Hotchner nodded slightly to Lark. She knew them well enough to know work would keep them focused even through something like this.
“The storms have stopped?” Rossi asked, getting the ball rolling with the basics.
Lark took a deep breath to focus herself, and opened her notebook as she answered their questions. “Not exactly. The continuous storms stopped about two hours after Taya put you guys out. We thought they were over… but then they started again. They’re coming about nine or ten times a day now at pretty equal intervals, and they’re only lasting about two minutes each time. Mitch has been keeping track,” she said, tapping the notebook. She handed it over to Reid without comment when he held out his hand.
“What about other survivors? Any response from anyone? Attempts at rescue? Military response?” Hotchner asked. Planes had fallen out of the sky, a city-wide crisis had happened, and it would have been tremendously comforting to know if someone, anyone else was out there to help. The BAU team was more used to smaller-scale problems than large disasters.
Lark paled a little and looked briefly at the ceiling.
“The airwaves are dead, the public ones anyhow. Some of the police frequencies are in use, but the people talking on them are pretty damn strung out. Nothing on TV, when we can get a signal, which we mostly can’t. And I’m sure your guys already found we pretty much don’t have internet.”
“That’s a ten-four,” Garcia piped up from her cot at the back. Hotchner turned around to see her and Kevin bent over her laptop, both wearing identical expressions of frustration.
Lark nodded absently. “Phones are mostly dead. What cell towers the crashing planes and building fires didn’t destroy, the power outages pretty much wiped out. We’re on our own.”
There were several beats of stunned silence. Lark looked mostly resigned, a curious blankness in her expression that spoke of shock. As soon as they’d gotten what information they must, Hotchner knew he had to get Kincaid to make her sleep.
“The city?” J.J. asked.
Lark stood, looking pale in the fluorescent lights, and gestured for them to follow her. “Come with me. I’ll show you.”
The main dance floor outside was no longer as crowded as it had been a few hours ago. Most of the adults were slowly making their way to the back, some coming back from a different room bearing supplies. A few looked up with mild curiosity when the team emerged, and almost as quickly looked away. Reid could see intense expressions of pity on more than a few faces when they passed, and felt a sudden cold inside him that had nothing to do with the extensive list of problems they were facing. It was the kind of pity he’d seen on the faces of friends of victims.
He’d already had more than his fill of being a victim already.
Lark lead the team up the narrow metal catwalks that were used to change the lights that hung above the dance floor, and pushed open a trap door to the ceiling. Late afternoon sunlight poured in, along with a whiff of smoke and acrid fumes.
“Just poke your head up. And stay low,” she whispered.
Hotchner went first, then Rossi. When Morgan came back down, he shook his head subtly, but Reid didn’t heed the warning. This wasn’t a time when a second-hand account was going to work. Reid climbed up the short ladder and shielded his eyes from the descending sun. The looks of pity and Morgan’s headshake suddenly made perfect sense.
The streets were littered with rubble, trash, and abandoned and burnt-out cars. At least two buildings in his line of sight showed the signs of the airplane crash they’d heard while they were in the basement, and another looked as if something had exploded inside it. Columns of smoke were rising sluggishly from several areas of the city, and when the wind shifted, the scent of smoke was suddenly overlaid with the stench of death. Trying not to retch, Reid vacated the ladder so Prentiss and J.J. could see for themselves.
“It looks more like Baghdad than D.C.,” Prentiss said quietly, her tone so completely controlled that it spoke volumes of how disturbed she was.
“I wouldn’t know,” Lark said, her fingers restlessly parting and braiding her hair. “But it’s not just here, either.”
“How far could this have spread?” Morgan asked faintly.
Lark swallowed, and Hotchner watched her tug on her hair hard enough to cause herself pain. “Kara went to two dozen major cities all over the world to see why no one was coming to help. Paris, London, Rome, Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Sydney, Lima, Rio, L.A., everywhere. It’s the same. I don’t know how many people died, but if it’s anything like around here, I think we lost a third.”
Rossi leaned back against the railing hard, the shock on his face mirroring the rest of the team. A third. A full third of the world’s population. The magnitude of the disaster was almost too big to take in. Lark pushed past the team to lead them back to the relative safety of the storeroom, letting them try to absorb the disaster on the precarious walk. This time, the metahumans didn’t avert their faces. They seemed like they were waiting for a sign of hope. Or for the team to crack. One could be as likely as the other if they couldn’t manage to pull themselves together.
“What are the survivors doing?” Prentiss asked finally, when Lark had shut the door behind them.
“Some people are leaving the cities. Others are holing up, gathering supplies, and digging in. We’ve been trying to secure everything we can…” Lark said, and trailed off slightly, looking over her shoulder. Before Prentiss could ask what she was looking for, the air began to shimmer again with golden light. She almost winced automatically, before she realized there was no pain. The agony and panic she’d been expecting simply didn’t happen. There was a vague rush of warmth, almost like sunlight, but nothing else.
“Ok,” Prentiss said softly, after a long moment of silence, which seemed to break the team out of their trances.
“You doubted Taya?” Lark asked, looking exaggeratedly wounded.
“Heaven forfend,” Rossi replied with equal sarcasm. Lark smiled slightly as the tension in the room finally broke.
Morgan took a closer look around the room during the banter, his attention caught by Lark’s earlier statement about “digging in,” and realized there was far more than just the typical survival supplies. Lots of military surplus gear: meals-ready-to-eat, clothing, containers of flares, backpacks, tarps and canteens. Five-gallon bottles of water, vitamin pills, iodine tabs for water purification, glow sticks for emergency lighting, full gas cans, those things he expected. But some things were a little odd, like cases of wine, a box of various vegetable seeds, and-. Morgan’s casual perusal of the things stacked along the wall came to an abrupt halt when he saw the boxes of ammunition.
There were rounds for their Glocks, Reid’s revolver, Rossi’s gun, every weapon they had on them. Having odd items stocked up wouldn’t have surprised Morgan; some metahumans had strange allergies or dietary needs, from needing extra tannins, like in wine, or being unable to digest meat. But having ammunition in a metahuman storeroom would have been like finding an alligator in his bathtub. Improbable to the point of impossibility. Most metahuman couldn’t even pick up guns. He’d been amazed when Lark had apologized for trying to disarm Hotch when they’d come in.
“Lark?” he broke in. “What the hell is that?” Morgan pointed at the ammo, and he saw her flush just a little bit.
“I said, we got supplies.”
“Food is one thing. That’s ammo for us,” Morgan said sternly.
“You’re the only shooters we have,” she said quietly. “Every time we go outside, we’re getting shot at. Taya’s had to treat gunshot wounds every time we had people go out. I dug a dozen bullets out of Kara’s shell when she got back from her world tour. If you have to go out, I kind of thought you’d like to be able to defend yourselves!” Her voice rose angrily on the last sentence, and she was starting to glow.
“Lark,” Hotchner said calmly, mollifying her a little. “Who’s shooting at you?”
“Everyone. Every group of humans that’s found someplace to hole up and has guns. It’s bad,” she said flatly. “That’s why we haven’t tried to bring anyone else back here, even those friends and family of yours that we found. People are scared to death and want to fight back.”
Hotchner hadn’t said anything to the others, but he’d seen almost everyone else with similar notes to his, the expressions on their faces when they had read them either relieved or concerned or simply accepting. No one asked what his note said. He didn’t ask about theirs.
The news of the rest of the team's loved ones and friends, whether bad, good, or just knowing the attempt had been made, relieved a burden they hadn't known they were under. But Lark’s explanation made him realize why his team was still the only humans in the building. Anyone who had gotten caught in the storms must be in a powerful cycle of fear and animal panic. If blame had been assigned to metahumans, no surviving human was going to go along with a met, even if they had promised healing and safety.
Lark was silent for another few heartbeats while Hotchner’s team absorbed the information, and finally shrugged, seeming to let her anger go.
“You said someone might be behind this.”
J.J. blinked a few times and nodded, reaching down to grab the stack of files next to her bed, and froze. She’d had a lone file from the St. Paul case with her when Kara had taken them from the BAU, but now it seemed she had everything she’d brought with her into the briefing room. “Wait, I didn’t bring all these with me…” she said hesitantly.
“Kara jumped to the BAU and grabbed the files in the briefing room, and all your go-bags. We thought you’d need them,” Lark said, smiling grimly.
We thought you might need the bulletproof vests that were in them, Hotchner interpreted.
“What else do you think you’re going to need to know?” Lark asked, seeming to get more animated and centered by the moment. “I know you didn’t have a lot of time to think before Taya put you under, but-.”
Now, suddenly, the meeting had taken on the quality of a simple brainstorming briefing session, and Hotchner saw his team respond to the relative normalcy of that like a flower turning to face the sun.
“We have to make certain these storms are having the same effects as in St. Paul. If it’s the same unsub at all; we have to make sure we aren’t working on two different cases at once,” Rossi said.
“The victims there were the same initial victims of the storms here,” Morgan pointed out.
“But we don’t know if they died the same way. The victims in St. Paul were killed one at a time, over a period of almost a year. It’s possible that others died similar deaths and just weren’t reported,” Reid said, bringing up theories from almost two days ago.
“What kind of information do you need?” Lark asked.
Hotchner automatically turned to Garcia, who looked at him with a kind of wild desperation in her eyes. Behind her, Kevin Lynch wasn’t that much calmer.
“Sir, I don’t have a connection here,” she repeated nervously. “I need to see if I can get a signal somewhere else, maybe…”
“We had some of the files back at the BAU, on my desk,” J.J. said. “They had some additional information-.”
“We’d also need the full coroner’s reports for all the unexplained deaths over the past year in the St. Paul area, just to make sure we haven’t missed anything,” Rossi said.
“Maps of St. Paul, so we can start a geographic profile of where the unsub would have been operating or hunting-,” Reid added, stopping when Lark held up a hand.
“If those people died the same way,” she said, playing devil’s advocate. “If this is the same thing.”
“We aren’t going to know unless we start looking,” Morgan said stubbornly. Lark held both hands up in surrender.
“Ok…” Lark said slowly. “I think I know someone who could help. We’d have to wait until after dark to contact him, but he’d be able to tell you what you needed to know.”
“Um, Lark?” Garcia piped up from the back of the room. “Is there anyway we could get back to the BAU? There’s no connection here, and I know the BAU has back-up generators, so at least we’d have access to some files that are stored on the servers. Could Kara take us?”
Lark shook her head violently, but it was Reid that had the answer.
“She must have made over fifty portals yesterday. She must be exhausted,” he said. Two dozen cities, plus the places she’d been to check on the family and friends of the whole team, plus already going back to the BAU herself, it was no wonder they hadn’t even seen Kara yet. The news she’d given him about his mother and father hadn’t been the best, but in this case, no news could be good news. And she’d cared enough to try.
“Yeah, Taya grounded her for a day. Not to mention the fact that some of the bullets I had to pry out of her shell were from when she went back to the BAU to get your stuff.”
“There’s people still there?” J.J. asked, aghast.
“Don’t know who, but they shot Kara on sight, so I’m not exactly racing to bring them in-.”
“If we could get them here, could Dr. Kincaid help them? The reason they were shooting was because of the storms!” Garcia asked.
“Taya can’t help them if the don’t want to be helped. You know that. And, again, they shot at Kara, so he’s not feeling real charitable right now,” Lark snapped. Garcia looked chagrined, but what Lark had said didn’t sit well with the rest of the team. It didn’t make what she’d said any less true, but it still meant they were on their own. It was possible, Rossi realized, that the team might be the last completely sane humans on the planet. It didn’t make his day any better.
“I have to go. I’ll be back up here after dark. Then we can get going.” She jumped off the desk, and paused at the door. “We’ll give you whatever we can get. Everything we have, it’s yours.”
Hotchner felt a strange sense of déjà vu when Lark spoke. How many times had other police officers or sheriffs said the same thing to him during a case? It gave the entire horrible situation a veneer of desperately needed normalcy.
“Thank you,” he said. “Can we do anything to help?”
“Whatever you think you need to do,” she said a bit cryptically, and left them to their thoughts.
Lark pressed herself against the wall next to the door and tried desperately to absorb its strength. She wished she had Paul’s power, for she’d give anything to have that kind of stony stability right now. It had worked. Taya’s last-minute save had protected the minds of her friends, and the last remaining people in the world who might have a solid chance of figuring out exactly who was behind plunging the world in an apocalyptic nightmare. It had been a closer thing than she’d wanted to admit to them.
She hadn’t slept for almost three days, riding high on the emotional energy of a world gone mad. And while she could use that energy as fuel, burning anger and fear was a fast route to becoming a raging lunatic. Best she take the edge off now. Being around the BAU team, with their disciplined minds and hard-won control, had been a godsend, but she needed to bleed off some stress, and had three hours until dark to do it. Besides, she had a building full of people with little to do but worry. A training session would do everyone good.
Lark’s empathic power let her see emotions as auras of color. When people were calm, they glowed in cool shades, when angry or frightened, blazed like fire in red and yellow. Every emotion had a color, and right now, from her point of view, the main dance floor was a bonfire with yellow shades of anxiety, bright orange fear, and flickers of red rage. She needed people to burn themselves out, so they could finally rest.
Pushing off the wall, she began to walk towards the basement. Behind her, she heard the door to the storeroom open. She knew Morgan had recognized the Pits. It was time he saw one in action. And it was past time to lift the last curtain. Hotchner’s team needed all the power knowledge could give them.
Part 1, Part 3, Part 4