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...
It was several miles to the BAU building, and it took them almost four hours to reach it. It wasn't just the blocked-off streets or damaged buildings, but also the need to keep hidden. None of the surviving humans wanted anything to do with the metahumans.
“And when I say 'want nothing to do with,' I actually mean 'shoot on sight,'” Kincaid had added shortly.
They hadn't walked through the streets, they'd crept through them. They'd moved as if they were sweeping a house for a suspect, checking windows and corners, watching for danger with every move. Handguns weren't terribly accurate if someone had made themselves a sniper's nest on a high rise, but they were better than nothing. Hotchner made a mental note to make their next scavenging attempt at the local precinct if they couldn't get into the weapons' vault at the BAU building. Even if he could barely hold a weapon steady right now, the intimidation factor alone would be worth the hassle. Any humans left after almost a week, being subjected to the storms several times a day, had to be tough-minded survivors that were probably paranoid and constantly on edge.
Kara might have been able to use her ability to get them to the BAU quickly, if they’d been willing to not carry the contingency of fuel for the generators, but it would have been a risk. If there was something blocking the way, or there wasn't enough room to get a running start, her portals could be deadly. She'd once demonstrated by putting an apple right on the border of an active portal. It had exploded in two directions, ripped apart by the forces of trying to be in two places at once. Kara could only walk across her own portals because she was a crab. Her tough shell could handle the stresses of a slow crossing that would have ripped a normal human apart. But having her along meant that there was always at least a possibility of a quick exit.
The BAU loomed up the next block, and the team moved around to the front lobby, approaching it warily until they were almost certain no one had set up a firing gallery there. Kara forced the lock and then settled in to wait in the lobby; she couldn't possibly fit through the door to the stairwell.
“We’ll go downstairs and check the generators. Then we’ll meet you upstairs,” Lark whispered. If Hotchner’s team had any luck, they’d be able to find the information they needed before they had to meet up. Lark and Kincaid didn't know the BAU building very well, and if any human survivors spied them with the team, being seen in the company of metahumans before they'd had a chance to explain could be deadly.
The team crept up the stairs, checking each floor briefly, finding most of them in the disarray of a mass exodus. A few had bodies, some with signs of trauma, but others with no visible signs: direct victims of the storms.
Silence reigned, other than the buzzing of the flies, there was nothing else to hear. No phones, no voices, no constant hum of trying to keep the world safe. Nothing. The only signs of life were the sporadic lights and flickering terminals showing that the back-up generators were still, miraculously, running, at least partially. After about the fourth floor up, a louder hum started up, and the lights took on a little more stability. Lark and Kincaid must have gotten to the basement.
Unconsciously, Hotchner picked up the pace so he could just get this over with as soon as possible. Garcia had an unbelievable expression of relief when she saw her own sanctum was intact, and seemed to relax for the first time since they'd left this morning. She and Kevin rapidly spun up their computers, hooking into the remaining servers and began running the searches the team had hammered out two days ago. Within ten seconds, they were oblivious to the world around them.
“Rossi, Reid, J.J., stay with them and try to find whatever other physical files we'll need. Morgan, Prentiss, and I are going to try the weapons' vault,” Hotchner said. They'd also theoretically be looking for survivors too, but that seemed to be less and less of a possibility with every floor they searched.
Downstairs, the vault had been opened some time during the storms, probably by one of the decaying bodies lying in the entryway. Someone had tried to find a way to protect themselves, but in the chaos and paranoia of the storms, no one was willing to believe in goodwill. Prentiss counted herself lucky that she didn't recognize whoever was on the floor.
The vault hadn't quite been stripped, but it wasn't far from it. Hotchner and Prentiss managed to scrounge enough ammunition for the M-5s Morgan was unearthing from their cases, but they would have to be sparing with what they had. Encouragingly, they also found a set of tactical radios, still with most of their charge.
Hotchner heard something hit the floor outside the vault, and signaled for silence. He went for his gun automatically, trying to throttle down the surge of fear that would have held him frozen. Even after a day of practice, trying to use a weapon in a real situation took an incredible amount of willpower. Catching Morgan's eye, he signaled to the left. Going right, Prentiss and he circled the shelves of the vault, seeing Morgan coming out almost simultaneously from his side, gun drawn, moving up to face the potential threat as a team. If Hotchner hadn't seen the strain on Prentiss and Morgan's faces, it would have been easy to believe they were as ready for action as anyone.
Another sound up ahead and more signaling between them had the team leapfrogging positions, keeping each other covered as they followed the noise of someone moving around by one of the large windows. But the last person they expected to see, when they rounded the corner, was Erin Strauss.
Though she was slightly disheveled, and wearing clothes far more practical than her usual suit, it was undoubtedly their section chief. Wild-eyed, she cringed away from them at first, the light from their flashlights blinding her, and thrust her gun forward.
“Get the hell away from me!” she snarled, one hand up to ward off the light.
Trying to bring their guns up in reaction to Strauss' threat was virtually impossible, and Hotchner knew a sickening moment of fear that had nothing to do with his imposed aversion to violence. It was the simple fear of being unable to defend himself against a real and present threat.
“Chief Strauss!” he called, lowering his flashlight. “It's Aaron Hotchner!”
The others lowered their lights as well, letting Strauss see their faces. She shifted her gaze from one to the other rapidly, as if trying to discern some kind of trick, and finally lowered her gun a trifle.
“I thought you were dead,” she whispered. “Why did you come back here?”
“It's a long story-.”
“Never mind,” she waved away his explanation. “I saw one of Them down at the lobby door. Do you know what it's looking for?”
Strauss' hands were shaking very slightly with stress, and her eyes were bloodshot. Her movements were jerky and very quick, far too quick with the gun. She was practically giving them a minor panic attack every time she moved.
“No,” Hotchner said quickly. “She's not looking for anything. She's just waiting-.”
“Waiting for the others,” Strauss said, nodding decisively. She shifted her grip on her gun, and Hotchner very, very intensely wanted it out of her hand, immediately if not sooner.
“Erin,” he said, and watched her focus a little more at the sound of her first name. “Erin, we've found some help. We have some leads on what might be causing the storms-.”
“The mets. I know,” she said angrily.
“It's not the metahumans,” he said firmly. “They've been helping us. Erin, they can help you too. The storms are affecting your brain.”
Strauss opened her mouth to voice an angry retort when the air suddenly shimmered with the arrival of a stormfront. She collapsed, dropping her gun to the floor so she could clutch at her head with both hands, biting into the fabric of her sleeve to keep from screaming out loud. Prentiss crouched down to try to help her, while Hotchner felt vaguely guilty for being able to stand in the midst of the storm without the slightest hint of pain.
The storm was short, only a minute or so, but the affect on Strauss was profound. Prentiss had had the presence of mind to pass Strauss' gun back to Morgan, but that didn't stop Strauss from leaping back from them with a speed he didn't think she was capable of, and pulling a knife from a boot sheath to menace them with.
“What's wrong with you?” she demanded. “Why didn't the storms get you?”
“Doctor Kincaid found a way to protect us from the storms. He's a healer-,” Morgan started, trying to get over the shock of their dignified section chief waving a blade at them.
“He's a fleshshaper,” Struass spat. “You let him change you!” She began to back up towards the door she'd come in from. “You're not human. Don't you dare follow me! You're not human!”
The words alone, far more than the threat of the knife, kept the team silent as Strauss all but fled from them.
Penelope and Kevin were muttering dark threats at their computers as information was dragged from the servers with agonizing slowness. Still, “slow” from Penelope Garcia was practically light speed for anyone else. Rossi and Prentiss were reading off all the information they needed, while Reid was using another computer screen to correlate the information they had on scanned maps, trying to find a pattern.
“There’s at least a dozen potential laboratories within easy traveling distance of St. Paul. The unsub might be mobile, but he had to have been using St. Paul as his hunting ground because that was his comfort zone,” Reid was saying, marking down the last one on Garcia’s list.
“There’s nothing else left on the coroner’s reports about other potential victims,” Garcia said, her voice a little tight as she shut the windows full of the lists of the dead.
“We have pictures of several of the Brisbane Event experts, but there’s a half-dozen men that could fit the description Briar gave us,” J.J. said. “Kevin didn’t see any recorded evidence of major stressors, no one fired from their jobs or filing for divorce...”
“What about the laboratories themselves? Have any been denied money for grants or had their experiments pulled for any reason?” Rossi asked. “Or are any of them funded by metahuman rights groups? We’re looking for someone who deliberately twisted this radiation to affect humans.”
Garcia tapped rapidly on her keyboard and waited impatiently for the far-scattered servers to spit out the information. “No one denied funding, no one with permits pulled, and-.” She stopped and gaped at something on the screen and had to swallow once to answer. “Sir, there’s two labs that have extensive anonymous funding, but I cracked the codes and they’re being supported by the Friends of Humanity.”
Rossi felt a sudden cold in his gut. Friends of Humanity was a human rights group, sometimes rather extreme, and they detested metahumans.
“We’ve all been assuming that whoever is behind this is trying to kill humans. But what if they’re not? What if humans aren’t the victims?”
Back at the club
“If humans aren't the victims, then who the hell are?” Lark asked, throwing up her hands in frustration.
“You are,” Rossi said.
Lark stared at him without comprehension. “How does killing humans hurt metahumans?”
“Who's left?” Morgan prompted. “And who are they blaming?”
Lark stared into space, her eyes getting larger and larger as she realized what they were getting at. What they'd realized, back in the BAU, suddenly set things into place. The unsub was trying to start a race war. The many deaths, particularly of the weak and wounded, made sure that maximum outrage was felt by the survivors, all of whom were healthy, strong, and rapidly becoming extremely paranoid. Put up against a race of people that couldn't kill, the outcome was seemingly inevitable and devastating.
“Oh God,” she whispered. “Fuck.”
“Lark, we need to get more information from you. We’ve past the point of being able to get information from databases. We have two possible laboratories where our unsub might have been. Right now we need to talk to people. We need to interview people from those laboratories and give them the profile. Is there anyone you know who can locate who we need?”
“I don’t know anyone like that!” she said, looking up at them with despair.
“There's another way.” Kincaid spoke up unexpectedly from behind her. “Lark, Rachel. Tell them about Rachel.”
She turned to look at Kincaid with shock, and he stared her down, lifting his snout to look down his nose at her. “Do it,” he said forcefully. “They need to interview people. They can do it from here, from safety. We absolutely cannot go wandering around the countryside looking for people who, if they aren’t already dead, are probably going to shoot them on sight before you could ask a single question. Tell them about Rachel.”
“Why?” she demanded.
“Chief Strauss. Agent Hotchner told me about her.” Kincaid met Hotchner’s eyes with a kind of grim determination. The doctor had been more than a little disturbed when Hotchner had described their encounter with their former section chief, disturbed enough that even though he’d held himself aloof from the team for the past few days, now he was suddenly very interested in helping them.
“Those humans left aren’t going to last very long. They can’t sleep more than two hours at a time, and their bodies are working in overdrive. Food and water is getting scarce for some. We do not have the time for a leisurely search of the countryside. Now. Tell them.”
Lark turned to look at the team, and curiously met Garcia's eyes with an expression of profound compassion.
“Rachel,” she started, “was one of Taya's patients.” Kincaid nodded, and put his arm around her as they sat down. “She was an akashic. She had access to the akashic record, the memories of all humans back to the oldest human living. She'd started knowing other people's memories from the time she was six, and ended up in mental institutions for the rest of her life trying to figure it out. But if you asked her a question, it might take her a little time, but if anyone in the world knew the answer, she'd know it too.”
Reid opened his mouth as if he were going to correct and clarify her statement, and seemed to think better of it. This was not abstract psychology Lark was talking about; this was reality as she perceived it.
“I was her physician for seven years,” Kincaid added. “I knew how her brain worked, why she was different, but she was still a minor, and I wasn't willing to attempt anything radical even if she sometimes didn't know who she was. She'd been living other people's lives vicariously since she was six, and never learned how to shut it out or sort the information.”
“But she could know anything anyone knew,” Lark said softly.
“And I knew how it worked. I could open one of you to the akashic record, and then you would have the information you needed,” Kincaid said, sounding confident in his skills, and far too casual, considering what he'd just offered.
“One of us?” Reid said, with justifiable alarm.
“You want to change our brains again? After what happened last time?” Morgan asked.
“One of you,” Kincaid said. “Preferably, one used to sorting huge volumes of information.” He looked pointedly at Garcia, and Morgan physically stepped between Kincaid and her.
“No way in hell,” he said flatly.
“Derek-,” Garcia started.
“Do you have any idea what you're asking?” Hotchner demanded.
“And why one of us? If Rachel had a power, wouldn't it be easier for a metahuman?” Rossi asked.
“Rachel was human,” Lark said, and effectively silenced the room.
“Human?” J.J. asked tentatively.
Kincaid nodded. “You didn’t think something like the Brisbane Event was finished with this planet after just dropping us on it, did you?” he asked, gesturing at him and Lark. “I think it's been modifying this world for a long, long time. Rachel wasn't the only psychic out there. There are others. Not as many as claim the power, but some. And she was one of them. The shock of the storms killed her. She was thirteen years old.”
“What would that do to one of us?” Morgan asked. “If the storms killed her-.”
“She was young!” Kincaid almost yelled, standing up. “She was young, and terrified, and sick, and had been anyone but herself for over half her life. All of you are strong. You know who you are. You're used to putting yourself in another's place. You're tougher than Rachel. You will survive.”
Morgan backed down marginally; Kincaid had been caring for Rachel for years, and her death must have hit him hard.
“I know what the differences are between psychics and not, and what changes would need to be made in the brain to open someone’s psychic potential. It’s as much an act of science as of will, but you’ll need both. I can take care of the physical, if you’re willing to take on the responsibility,” Kincaid continued, spreading his clawed hands. His gaze was back on Garcia, ignoring Morgan's icy stare.
“If- if it works, what would…?” Garcia asked in a very small voice, trailing off in uncertainty.
“You would be able to discover all information known by any person. If there were someone that’s behind this, you’d be able to find him or her, if you knew where to look. Kara said you could find a needle in a haystack. That’s what this is. It’s just a very, very big haystack,” Lark explained.
“You can train your mind like you’ve programmed your computer. Whatever search programs you’ve created, you can use that in the akashic record, if you keep them clearly in mind. You can keep the information from overwhelming you, because you’ve been doing it with cyberspace for years already. You wouldn’t have to sit around here, your skills going to waste,” Kincaid said. The last was with a slight hint of irritation that made all the humans bristle. The implication that Kevin and Penelope would be useless, dead weight now that they'd already raided the remaining databases for what information was available, was intolerable.
It was all the more infuriating because Kincaid was right. Hotchner hated to admit it, but neither of the technical analysts, smart as they were, had many practical skills outside of their genius with computers. But to ask one of them to open up their minds like this, to change themselves so radically…
“What are the risks? You said Rachel was institutionalized,” Rossi asked, his mind apparently on a parallel track.
“She was because she was born with her mind wide open. I don’t anticipate that happening with this procedure,” Kincaid said. His offhand reference to it as a “procedure” made Hotchner clench his jaw in anger. This was no tested and tried technique; that’s why he was afraid, Hotchner was certain of it. Kincaid was trying to be casual as to not alarm anyone any more than he already had.
“However, there is a risk of losing oneself in the record. And since I’d be making changes in your brain, there will be pain. Headaches, possibly migraines, even without the influence of the storms. Vision problems, possibly. I don’t believe there will be any personality changes, at least not with what I’m doing. If you change, it’ll be because of what you’ve seen and what you learn, not because of what I’ve done. The modifications wouldn’t be permanent; two hours should get you everything you need.”
“Why Garcia? Why not anyone else? Why not me?” Reid asked, standing up. Kincaid looked at him and slowly shook his head.
“You have eidetic memory, right?” At Reid's nod, Kincaid shook his head again. “You'd be an excellent akashic. You'd excel at it. Then you'd go insane. And then you'd die. You couldn't forget anything you'd see. It'd kill you.”
Reid's eyes widened in surprise.
“And because I know it would kill you, I can't do it to you. Garcia, you are one of the best people for this. And with it, you'd be able to find whoever is creating the storms. Please,” Kincaid asked. The mask of the arrogant physician was now entirely off. The only thing on his face was honest fear, compassion, and a silent pleading.
Garcia was looking incredibly pale, and she was holding Kevin’s hand so hard her knuckles were white.
“I have to think about it,” she whispered. Kevin nodded in dumb agreement, mouth working, but no words coming out.
“Garcia, Kevin, you don’t have to do this at all,” Morgan said gently, and turned a sharp glare on Kincaid. “This is insane, what you’re talking about.”
“Yes. Yes it is. It’s completely insane, and totally unprecedented, and I’m positive I can keep either of them from dying, but beyond that I can give no guarantees. However, just remember what I did for you less than a week ago. ‘No guarantees’ from me means something a lot different than from anyone else. I am trying to do something that will let you find the bastard behind this,” Kincaid said, eyes very bright and intense.
“Because if you can’t help us find whoever is behind turning this world into a wasteland, we’re just going to have to bar our doors and wait for the Apocalypse. No one else can do this!” Lark said, her voice cracking with strain. She turned and abruptly fled, leaving the rest of the team staring after her.
Kincaid bowed his head when Lark left. “Tell me what you decide, one way or the other.” He turned and stalked out of the room, back and tail stiff.
Silence reigned for a few seconds before Morgan shut the door firmly.
“They’re terrified,” Prentiss said flatly. “She’s not being overly dramatic. They think this is the last hope. They’re on the brink of giving up.”
“Both of them believe what they’re saying is absolute truth,” Reid said positively. “Their reasoning is sound, in its own context.”
“We don’t have any way of verifying what they’re asking,” Rossi said, sounding skeptical.
“Yes, we do,” Hotchner broke in. He touched the side of his neck briefly, over the scars left by Dr. Kincaid’s healing. “We know what he can do is real.”
“Hotch, I don’t care if he can do it, he’s talking about opening someone’s mind up to something no one could handle-,” Morgan started.
“I could,” Garcia said quietly, but almost no one heard her.
“And he doesn’t even really know the consequences, because he sure as hell didn’t know that we’d end up being unable to fight back, and then didn’t even have the decency to talk to us about it to our faces.”
“We need the information, but it’s insane to ask anyone to do this-.”
“Do we even have a choice?”
“Derek, I can do it,” Garcia said more loudly, bringing the conversation to a halt. Everyone turned to look at her, blinking nervously behind her glasses. “Kevin, I’ve been doing this longer than you have, ok?”
Kevin smiled, looking fearful and relieved and guilty in equal measure. “You’re the best at records retrieval. You’re kind of crazy fast on that,” he said, voice uneven.
“I can do this, I can. They’re right, anyway. Hotch, what were we going to do if we’re stuck here with nothing? I mean, sometimes I hear you guys go into raids and I’m stuck behind my computer and I can’t do anything to help, and I hate feeling so useless! I don’t want any of you to feel like that,” she said, her voice a little more firm.
“You’re never useless, Baby Girl,” Morgan said sternly. “Don’t you ever think that.”
“It’s the end of the world,” Garcia said, smiling nervously. “It’s kind of the time you want to be all kinds of not useless.”
“We won’t let you do this alone,” Morgan said, looking up briefly to catch everyone’s eye. There were slow nods all the way around as everyone caught his meaning. “We’re going to be right in there with you, as far as we can.”
“Thanks,” Garcia said, and took another deep breath. “Let’s get this over with, ok?”
Hotchner found Lark on the upper regions of the catwalks, folded up like an unlikely origami sculpture, all strange angles of her odd elbows and knees. He stood next to her, following her stare out one of the high windows facing the setting sun, and waited for her to speak first.
“I feel like the Leading Player,” she said after a moment.
Hotchner was silent, knowing she’d explain herself in time.
“From Pippin? Did you ever see that musical?” Lark asked.
“I don’t believe so.” Aaron’s disastrous turn as the worst Fourth Pirate in Pirates of Penzance had made him swear off theater for life.
“I saw a performance once. There’s this young man, Pippin, son of a king. He thinks that he’s born to be extraordinary. He’s guided through everything he tries by a troupe of actors and the Leading Player, who sort of eggs him on. He keeps trying to find something extraordinary to do, war, vice, ruling, but nothing makes him happy, so he runs away. He meets a woman and her son, and tries to be happy with them as a family, even falls in love with the woman, but that’s not extraordinary enough for him either.
“So the Lead Player, who’s kind of disgusted with him at this point, tells him it’s time for the finale. He says Pippin can get all the beauty and power and glory he wants, if he sets himself on fire. He'll go out in glory, and everyone will remember him.”
Lark heaved a sigh and blinked into the sunlight.
“Taya’s going to have to crack her mind open like an egg and let the whole world inside. And I was supposed to convince her to become extraordinary, even if it means risking her life,” she concluded.
“How did the musical end?” Hotchner asked.
“Pippin almost does the finale, but then the woman comes back and he eventually decides that he was happiest when he was in love, instead of looking for an extraordinary life. The Lead Player gets all pissed off and takes away all the sets and costumes and the orchestra, and leaves him alone on the stage with the woman and her son.”
“Garcia already said she would do it,” Hotchner said quietly. “She knows we need this.”
“God,” Lark said quietly. Her shoulders heaved for a few long moments, and she discreetly wiped her face on her sleeve. She knew they should have refused. The team had the examples of Gideon and Elle for what happened to profilers whose work finally hit too close to home. This was far more than that; Garcia would, at least for a little while, be the people that the team needed to interview. The team wouldn’t even have the usual comfort of being able to interrogate a completely different individual.
This was not backing off from the poisonously persuasive Leading Player to forge one’s own destiny. This was leaping into the flames of the finale and hoping one had the strength not to burn. She turned to look straight at Hotchner, and could see the cool blue auras of confidence covering the faint orange of perfectly reasonable fear. He believed they could do this. He believed in them.
“You have really good people on your team,” Lark whispered, clenching her hands into painfully tiny fists.
“The best,” Hotchner said simply.
Most of Garcia’s “opening” was something Hotchner would have been hard-pressed to put into words. It was disconcerting, watching Kincaid press his claws into her flesh, knowing he'd twice been on the receiving end of something like that himself. But this time it wasn't for the healing of an injury, or necessary survival, it was purely for information. Voluntary, but still not something to be taken lightly. And this time, they weren’t going to let anyone do it alone.
The entire team had said they were willing to help, and Kincaid had taken them up on it.
“We have to end this as soon as possible, and I know you'd rather not be out for another day,” Kincaid said, looking at Garcia. “If you want to help, lend me your energy.” What might have been considered a new variety of insane last week was just one more necessity right now. Jump through a portal, get your brain changed, talk across hundreds of miles through an owl-woman, see your section chief pull a knife on you, what was “lending energy” stacked up against that?
Kincaid had everyone hold on to Garcia's hand or arm, and Hotchner could feel a faint pull, like from a bleeding wound, as Kincaid drew on the energy of the team to keep Penelope safe during the healing. Fatigue followed in the wake of the energy drain, and after that, memories became hazy.
Hotchner remembered Kevin and Penelope talking throughout most of the opening, speaking, quite literally, in code. Together they were helping her by putting in as many mental buffers as she had had on her computer, translating her craft from silicon to synapses. He didn't understand most of it, but he could see the result. The fear and shock that had been on Garcia’s face when Kincaid had first started had begun to mellow out to more of Penelope's good cheer, overlaying the nervousness she had when asked to do something crucially important. That was when Hotchner was certain this was going to work.
“You're sure you're okay, Baby Girl?” Morgan asked.
“For the eighty-second time, yes,” Garcia said from her spot on the bed. Kincaid had done everything he'd promised in opening Garcia up to the world's memories, but some things couldn't be helped. The akashic record was huge. Garcia had been talking shop with Kevin the minute she'd woken up, and whatever she'd said about the enormity of what she'd been opened to had impressed the hell out of him. But it was so large, so incredibly complex, that finding a fast answer to the dozens of questions the team had prepared wasn't going to be easy.
“She’s fine now, but I am not going to hold her open for long,” Kincaid warned. He was standing right behind Garcia’s head, one clawed hand on her skull, apparently monitoring her vital signs. His eyes were closed when something like pain flashed across his face. Taking a deep breath, he leaned over Garcia’s head so she was forced to look in his eyes.
“Penelope, when they begin to ask you things, you’ll be pulled toward the memories you need. Let them wash over you, and become who they want to speak to. Answer as they would. Keep in mind that these are your friends, and you trust them.” Kincaid’s eyes flicked up to the rest of the team, and turned towards Kevin, who gave Penelope’s hand an encouraging squeeze.
“Rachel was brave. You are braver by far. Thank you,” Kincaid said solemnly, and leaned back again. Garcia smiled tremulously and took and a deep breath. He looked up at the team once more, and nodded.
“Ask your questions, quickly.”
Morgan waited a beat, and then nodded reluctantly at Rossi. They had no more time to argue.
“Let’s do this,” Rossi said, and opened up the notebook that contained the profile, and the names, that they needed.
“Theresa Lake,” he started, and watched in muted horror as Garcia’s eyes rolled back into her head.
Hotchner had ordered Morgan out of the room after the third “interview.” Hearing Garcia’s usually cheerful and chipper tone take on the throaty voice of a hard-bitten, long-time smoker, or the gravelly tones of a man ten years her senior, or the uncharacteristic nervousness of a frightened intern had made him so angry and anxious that even through a foreign personality, Garcia was picking up on it. And right now, right this minute, Garcia couldn’t afford to be Garcia.
Lark was waiting for him when Hotchner had all but forced him out, leaning back against the wall, glowing slightly as she wrapped her arms around herself.
“I couldn’t stand it in there either. I don’t even know her that well, but… I couldn’t stand to be around Rachel much either. I-. I know people by their emotional auras, and Rachel’s changed all the time. It’d be like someone changing their face every few minutes. I couldn’t even look at her for long,” Lark confessed.
“She didn’t have to do this,” Morgan said, starting to pace, looking up at the door every few seconds. A muffled pleading came from behind it, cut by a few sharp words from Rossi. He’d been taking the hard line on this; with the most experience of all of them at interviewing, he was willing to take the brunt of the emotional impact of seeing Garcia as anyone but herself.
“I’m going with you. When you find who’s behind this, I’m going with you,” Lark said. “I owe it to you. If you guys are going to risk your minds for us, the least I can do is-.” She choked herself to silence, her glow brightening and dimming as Garcia snarled at someone inside. “This is worth fighting for.”
“Our world is worth fighting for?” Morgan asked, momentarily distracted. He knew, much better than most, how hard many metahumans had it. Unable to hide, unable to fight, marked with a target on their backs from birth, most metahumans died from murder and suicide, accidents and disease making up the rest. They hadn’t even existed long enough for any of them to die from old age. Morgan’s world had not been kind to them.
“Call me a coward, but I’m not ready to go at life alone. Humans have had a few million years to figure out how to live. We’ve been around less than fifty. Us newbies have to save the antiques, right?” she asked rhetorically.
Morgan had been about to respond when Rossi suddenly opened the door. “Derek, listen to this.”
He opened his mouth to object when he heard what was Garcia was saying, in the bitter, despairing voice of a thwarted fanatic.
Lark listened too, lips pressed together as she heard the outpouring of hatred toward her race, an unwelcome but not unfamiliar barrage. But something in it had light bulbs going off over Morgan’s head. She’d heard much of the profile the team had been working on, but didn’t quite know how this was different from any other garden-variety bigot.
She’d been learning from the BAU for six years, but her own purpose hadn’t been for finding unknown subjects, but rather to determine the red flags in known people. Lark had wanted to be certain she could tell when someone had gone from sad to depressed, from depressed to desperate, from angry to furious, from just talking about something to ready to act on what they’d said. She combined her own power to see emotions with her knowledge of the people around her, and added that to what she’d learned from the profilers to keep her own people from ending up on the evening news.
But she knew the profilers could walk into someone’s house, check their financial records, question their friends and co-workers and know how a person would react with as much accuracy as someone who actually knew them well. Lark wasn’t anywhere near that proficiency with assessing strangers yet. And somewhere in the barrage of jargon and bile that was spewing from Garcia’s mouth, Morgan and Rossi had managed to pluck out a few crucial facts she had missed.
“That’s it. The patent, that’s the stressor. No one would let him patent the amplifier and show what he could do. That was his life’s work, and he couldn’t get it past the ethics committee, not even with his family reputation,” Morgan said, looking alarmed.
“And he had a satellite office in St. Paul,” Rossi said triumphantly.
“Hold her down!” Kincaid barked from inside.
Lark forgot her own unease as Rossi and Morgan ran inside, helping Prentiss and Hotchner hold down a thrashing Garcia.
“I have to close her mind, I’m losing her!” Kincaid warned.
“Where’s Engstrom?” Rossi demanded. “Garcia, where is he now? We have to know!”
“We don’t have time-,” Kincaid started.
Garcia thrashed hard enough to almost throw off everyone, and Kincaid swore fervently as he tried to position his claws to heal her.
“Omaha!” she shouted desperately, voice cracking and sliding from her own to a deeper pitch.
“Do it,” Hotchner said, and almost stumbled as all the resistance abruptly went out of Garcia’s body. Kincaid had his head bowed over hers as he rapidly healed her mind back to as normal as he could, and pulled away from her, leaving Penelope sleeping peacefully in her cot.
“Is she-?” Reid asked faintly. Kevin, having been shoved aside when Garcia had started thrashing, pushed through the senior profilers with a complete lack of his usual deference to be next to her.
“Fine. She closed,” Kincaid said. “Just asleep.”
“Omaha,” Prentiss repeated, forcibly bringing up the relevant information that Garcia had worked so hard to get. “What now?”
“We take Engstrom out,” Rossi said firmly.
“Engstrom?” Lark repeated incredulously.
“Grandson of the original descriptor of the Brisbane Event,” Reid confirmed.
Lark opened her mouth for the inevitable “why” and “how” questions, and then shook her head. They didn’t matter. What mattered was stopping him, not the minutiae of how he’d managed to pull it off, not now.
“He’s not alone. He couldn’t have possibly done this without help, and the headquarters for Friends of Humanity is in Omaha,” Prentiss pointed out. “So, us and what army is going to take him out?”
If this had been a normal raid, Rossi reflected, they would have had a small army of people on their side to help them. SWAT, Hostage and Rescue, police, even possibly the National Guard. But they weren’t going to be that lucky. They had Lark, Kincaid, and Kara.
“I don’t suppose you know anything about the FoH headquarters?” Morgan asked, as they sat down with all three of the metahuman volunteers.
“Downtown Omaha, five or six stories tall with a flat roof. Ugly as shit and built like a bomb shelter,” Lark said flatly. She’d managed to scrounge a map of the city from one of the glove boxes in the cars outside, and pointed out its location. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, that’s what they say.”
“How many people are inside?”
For that, Lark had set Lauren to listening. After five minutes she’d confirmed there were “eight hearts” inside the building, and little else within easy walking distance of the building. After an hour, she’d relayed the meat of a valuable conversation, before being too drained to continue. The sounds of the screaming humans at every storm were wearing her out almost as badly as the survivors.
“The elder, he is angry and afraid. All are afraid. Their hearts beat quickly. They argue and say that too many have died. He argues that it’s necessary. All are worried that someone will come for them. They cry out as the cycle on the machine ramps up, and the storm begins.”
“We might be able to play on those fears,” Rossi said. “We can get them to come out, rather than going in after them.”
“We’d need something to distract them, something large enough so they couldn’t miss, even if they’re sleep deprived,” Prentiss said
“Like what? I said I’d come with you guys, but I wasn’t thinking about being bait…” Lark said.
“This is a club. Are you sure you don’t have anything?” Morgan prompted.
Kara tapped the wall next to the door in her version of clearing her throat, startling everyone into looking up. “What about the leftovers from the Monster’s Ball?” she asked.
“Brilliant,” Lark declared, and dove into the back of the storeroom to come up with a pair of what looked like silver paint cans with wires coming from them. “They’re fountain sparks, for stage effects,” she explained. “Fireworks. We got them for this year’s Monster’s Ball, but didn’t need them.”
“Six damn years I know you guys, and you never once came down to the club during normal hours,” she griped good-naturedly as she untangled the wires. “The Monster’s Ball is our Halloween bash. You ought to come sometime.”
“That’ll be enough of a distraction,” Rossi said, redirecting the conversation back to the task as hand. “Once they’re out there, though, things could get ugly. I appreciate you wanting to come with us, but once the FoH members see you, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to reason with them.”
“Would you anyway, with everything any human’s been going through the past week?” Kincaid asked, easily matching Rossi’s sarcasm.
“You need us anyway. You’re not getting to Omaha without me,” Kara said stoically.
“Things are going to get more than ugly once we have Engstrom and the others in the open,” Hotchner explained. “We’re dealing with fanatics. Their idealism has been badly eroded in the last week, but they’re most likely armed, and all of them are very, very dangerous. We might not have a choice in how we have to stop them.”
That put a chill on the room, and Hotchner slowly met everyone’s eyes one at a time. Garcia, still sleepy, and Kevin looked away immediately. Rossi held his gaze, as did Morgan. Prentiss took a deep breath and kept her head up. Reid wavered, torn and in torment, until Hotchner subtly shook his head. Reid shook his head in return and sat up straight, finding his courage. J.J. only locked glances with Hotchner for a second and then looked away.
Hotchner turned to look at the metahumans, and was faced with three very stubborn sets of eyes, in brown, yellow, and purple. They were going, death danger or not.
“All right. Let’s get ready.”
The ones who were going took a few precious minutes alone to prepare with careful precision, using the excuse of getting their vests on with exacting care or loading their weapons very slowly to collect their thoughts and courage. J.J. found Hotchner with the children, giving Jack a fierce hug, and blinking away moisture in his eyes as his son gave him some innocent words of encouragement. Next to her, she could feel Will holding a kicking Henry very still. She could never tell her boyfriend how much she loved him for what he’d done for her and Henry. He’d taken being thrust into the middle of the world’s end with remarkable grace, and hadn’t put any demands on her in the midst of this crisis. And now, he’d agreed to something that not many would have, for the sake of her friends. She took his hand as Hotchner turned around and saw them.
“Good luck,” she said, squeezing Will’s hand hard. She knew was Hotchner was risking, more so than anyone else on the team. That’s why she’d asked Will the question she had.
“Thanks,” he said softly, and started to turn away.
“If anything happens,” J.J. broke in, and Hotchner turned back. “We’ll take care of Jack.”
She saw him close his eyes for a second, an intense expression of agonized relief cross his face.
Now the team crouched a half-block from the FoH headquarters, a five-story tall building that held their suspect and his conspirators. It was a shockingly mundane place to have planned the end of the world. What Engstrom had done was simple, even if the results had been apocalyptic. In an attempt to cleanse the world of the “cosmic mistake” of metahumans, he’d convinced others to go along with his plan to “strengthen the human race.” The mind of a genius combined with a hatred that stemmed from some irrational accident with a metahuman had set the stage for the almost total annihilation of thousands of years of progress.
Lark could barely understand it, and shuddered at the thought of anyone who could convince people that the salvation of the world depended on its destruction… and had the power to carry out his plans.
And now seven Friends of Humanity were protecting Engstrom and the power source of the machine that fed the storms. Simple, this might be. Easy, it would not. They might have equal numbers, but one group was far more likely to start shooting indiscriminately.
“We don’t want them on the street. Too much cover,” Rossi opined, pointing at the rubble-strewn road.
“The roof?” Prentiss suggested. “Kara, you could get us up there, right?”
“No problem,” she rumbled.
“We’d have to set those fireworks up pretty high to get everyone to come to the roof.” Rossi looked around, and pointed at a building across the street, a good eight stories tall. “There.”
“If we corner them, there’s a chance they’ll take the easy way out,” Hotchner warned.
“Better that than the alternative,” Rossi said, the cold tone of his voice at odds with a troubled expression.
“This machine needs expert help to disarm it. It’s a unique device,” Reid warned. “We have to be sure Engstrom doesn’t jump.”
“I’ll hold him,” Kara broke in. “No one gets out of my grip. Just give me a clear path to him.”
“Done,” Rossi said, nodding.
“I’ll get the fireworks. Faster for me to get up and down that building than having Kara do it. Less conspicuous too,” Lark said, pulling on the backpack that contained the spark fountains. She froze in mid-gesture, and the BAU team watched the metahumans turn towards the FoH headquarters in perfect synch as a new stormfront pulsed from the depths of the building.
As the golden light of a Brisbane storm erupted like a miniature sun, two strobe lights, protected behind barred windows, flared into spastic life. It seemed random, almost pointless, until Hotchner saw all three metahumans fall back into cover, retching and covering their eyes.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” Lark was whispering very quietly, burying her head in her arms to prevent herself from seeing the smallest part of the flickering light. Kincaid was silent but rigidly tense, his eyes closed, and Kara was almost curled double to keep her eyestalks in shadow.
The lights were a low-grade security system, a metahuman deterrent during the storms themselves, when the humans inside would be most vulnerable. Not even humans would tolerate a strobe for very long, but even a few seconds’ exposure laid out metahumans flat. The BAU hadn’t ever been in a position to use it as a deterrent, but Lark had talked about it before. It was easily as effective as a tazer, scrambling the signals in a metahuman brain, bringing on nausea and loss of motor function in seconds.
And the entire team was looking right at the strobes with nothing more than a mild expression of annoyance for the lights themselves, and sympathy for their ailing friends. Suddenly Hotchner had more hope that they’d be able to come out of this raid alive.
After a couple minutes, the storm dissipated, and the lights clicked off, bringing sighs of relief from the metahumans as they shook themselves back into coherence. Around them, the team kept watch for anyone who’d been caught out in the storm. The streets were still eerily silent, through in the far distance, there was the faint shrieks of humans pushed past their limits of endurance.
“You ok?” Morgan asked urgently. Lark pushed herself upright, checked her balance twice, and finally nodded. Kincaid looked none the less for the wear, and Kara, though a bit pale, still seemed as solid as ever.
“Yeah, we’re fine. Should have figured they’d have those kind of cheap tricks,” Lark muttered, glaring at the building in chagrin. Taking a quick steadying breath, she went back to tightening the straps on her backpack containing the fireworks.
“You all were fine though,” Kincaid stated, looking each profiler up and down shrewdly.
“No more side effects, if that’s what you’re asking about,” Rossi said with cheerful sarcasm. Kincaid rolled his eyes and distained to respond.
Lark finished with her strapping and pointed again to their chosen building to set up their distraction.
“All right, that’s me. Back in two minutes,” she said.
“Are you sure you can get up there?” Morgan asked. It looked like a tough climb on the outside to him, or a very long climb inside, if it was even stable.
Lark threw him a withering glance. “Agent Morgan,” she said tartly, “I have the legs of a goat, longer arms than an orangutan, and fingers like an octopus.” Morgan coughed very slightly in the awkward silence that followed. Then Lark gave him a gamine grin. “Of course I can climb it.” With that, she broke cover, leaping from their hiding place to another, and reached the back of the building in a few inhuman leaps. A few seconds after that, she’d swarmed up the side of the building faster than Morgan could have run the same distance.
One minute later, her voice crackled over the tactical radios Hotchner had distributed to everyone.
“Set and ready.”
A moment later, twin fountains of white sparks shot up into the dim twilight sky, making a loud hissing noise and illuminating everything in a brilliant glare. Lights went on in the Friends of Humanity headquarters, and distantly, Hotchner could hear yelling. It was time.
Engstrom was panting, soaked with sweat as he leaned on the edge of the roof to watch the unknown white fires drenching the sky. His remaining bodyguards, harried and nervous men with twitchy hands, were on their last reserves of concentration and sanity. When the hellish white light from Kara’s portal split the air, they couldn’t even tell the difference at first between that and the fury of the storms, and flinched away from it in almost reflexive pain.
The BAU team ran through, spreading out to cover each other, guns raised to the shocked and surprised faces of the humans who’d thought they were saving the world. They’d never thought humans would come for them. They’d always thought they’d be defending themselves against mets, never against their fellows…
“FBI! Put the guns down, now!” Hotchner shouted, peripherally keeping track of the others. Morgan and Rossi were carrying the more intimidating M-5s, and put themselves in front of Kara and the others as they came through the portal. Prentiss and Reid fanned out, keeping the FoH members from thinking about flanking them. The Friends of Humanity gaped at them, rifles wavering as they tried to focus between their hated enemies, and the completely unexpected arrival of human authorities.
“Drop it, do it now!” Morgan yelled. The fear and anxiety of holding weapons steady on living targets was subsumed by anger and purpose; no one’s hands were shaking now.
“You can’t do this,” Engstrom said weakly. The humans looked rapidly back and forth between their leader and the FBI, searching for direction, and finding none.
“You’re going to kill every human on this planet before anything happens. You’re destroying your own world,” Rossi said. “You’ve failed. Give it up.”
Engstrom paled, and looked over his shoulder at the drop below.
“He’ll do it. He’ll jump,” Rossi said, sotto voce. He heard Kara shift her weight behind him, and got ready to step to one side.
“I haven’t failed. Not completely. Not yet,” Engstrom said slowly.
“This ends tonight,” Hotchner said, firming his grip on his gun. Engstrom’s lack of orders was eroding his follower’s faith, especially after a week of pain, panic, and sleeplessness for all. Guns slowly started to lower, and Hotchner felt the anxiety of aiming at a living target easing up.
“It should have worked. Why didn’t you…” Engstrom trailed off, face crumpling. He looked to be on the verge of surrender. Then his hand tightened on the concrete balustrade.
“No!” Hotchner yelled, time seeming to go into slow motion as Engstrom prepared to jump. His fingers tightened on the trigger, and the retort of his own gun was thunder in his ears as he saw the bullet fly. Engstrom twisted as the bullet grazed his arm, but it didn’t stop him from completing his jump. Horrified, Hotchner felt fear seize him as Engstrom started to disappear over the edge.
A reddish blur suddenly filled Hotchner’s vision as Kara rushed past him, putting on a burst of speed he hadn’t thought she was capable of. Just as Engstrom fell into space, she dove over the roof after him. Everyone ran for the roof edge, stand-off forgotten as they clamored to see their fate.
Kara reached out for the falling Engstrom with her arm, and split the air with her claw, opening up a portal as she fell. With a scream, she grasped the edge of her own portal to arrest her fall and used her momentum to swing her and Engstrom through it. The other end opened onto the street below, and in an instant, Kara had gone from falling through space to skidding along the street. She slammed into a car hard enough to flip it, and finally lay still, Engstrom captured and protected in the hollow of her stomach. After a second, Engstrom moved feebly, drawing gasps of astonishment from his remaining bodyguards.
“No,” one of them said quietly. “No, no, I am not going down like this!” One man shoved away from the edge and brought his rifle up again, followed by the others in quick succession.
“Don’t do this,” Hotchner warned. “You’re not thinking straight. Put your guns down.”
“He lied to you,” Reid spoke up, nodding in Engstrom’s direction. “He promised you no one would get hurt. But he was in St. Paul for months, testing this ‘creation’ of his on the young and old, the sick and injured. He was killing people so he could be certain only the strongest were left. Because he wanted everyone to be so angry, so out of control, that they’d commit genocide. He was using you. And you know the truth.”
“This isn’t their fault,” Rossi chimed in, and glanced in the direction of Lark and Kincaid. “It’s his.”
The remaining Friends of Humanity looked over where Engstrom was lying in the street, a street that had been part of a thriving city, now a shattered shell. A week of seeing their friends die, of living with constant fear and pain with no promised utopia in sight, had taken its toll on them. Slowly, with expressions of despair, they began to drop their weapons.
All but two.
“No!” one man screamed, and brought his rifle up, a second man behind him doing the same thing, both of them pointing their weapons at Lark and Kincaid. Time didn’t slow this time, instead it seemed to speed up. There was no chance to think, only to act as one saw right. Hotchner didn’t hesitate, the scream of denial enough to cut through any resistance, and fired, Morgan right with him. Rossi targeted the second man, the loud retort of the M-5 shattering the quiet of the city. Morgan and Hotchner’s shots didn’t miss, Morgan’s to wound, Hotchner’s to kill. Rossi’s went just a hair off a kill shot as the man leapt as the same instant, firing his own rifle. His shots missed the metahumans, but hit Rossi squarely.
Rossi fell, and Hotchner saw the roof erupt in purple light as Lark, screaming, leapt for Rossi’s shooter. Her whip-like fingers wrapped around the man’s throat, and she jerked hard. There was a sickening crack, and the man fell limp.
The remaining bodyguards let their guns drop from nerveless fingers as Lark looked up in shock.
Hotchner had been expecting something worse, something infinitely worse when he’d pulled the trigger. He’d been expecting that crippling anxiety and fear, and had steeled himself against it, knowing he might die because of it anyway. He couldn’t let the people that had been working with him for years, who had saved them from the storms, who’d given their all to help them through this crisis, die.
“They’re… dead,” she said faintly, looking from the man Hotchner and Morgan had shot, to the man at her feet. “And… you’re not.”
“It was worth dying for,” he said. Hotchner had felt something break inside him when his bullets had pierced the man’s heart, almost feeling like when his shoulder had snapped back into place. He’d made his choice with the full knowledge of the consequences, and the irresistible suicidal impulse he’d been expecting hadn’t come. He felt in control of himself again, his body and mind no longer at war.
All he felt was a vague pity and distant sadness for the man who’d been so unable to compromise he’d chosen suicide by cop rather than face the knowledge that he’d been duped. He had overcome it by sheer force of will.
“Rossi?” Lark asked distantly.
“Is fine,” Kincaid said quickly, helping Rossi sit. “Vest took the shots. Damn it, don’t get up yet, unless you want those bruises for a month!”
“You’re not dead,” Reid said to Lark, pointing at the limp body at her feet with astonishment. Lark looked like she was holding her breath, as if she was trying not to explode as she followed Reid’s gesture.
She looked up at them all, the glow of her powers surrounding her. Hotchner knew she had been channeling him, she’d been doing that off and on throughout the week. And if she’d been “reading” him when he’d somehow managed to short-circuit his imposed aversion to death…
“It was worth living for,” Lark said defiantly, and stepped away from the corpse she’d created.
After the destruction of the Engstrom amplifier, the Brisbane Storms ceased, six and a half days after they’d begun. Freed from constant pain and fear, the survivors recovered quickly, and the world began the slow process of recovery.
Metahumans, having been unaffected by the ravages of the storms, became invaluable in helping the world return to normal.
But Hotchner knew they’d never be “normal” again. However he had managed to keep himself alive, Lark had managed to “see” it, and understand it. She was the first, but she wouldn’t be the last metahuman to figure it out. She hadn’t been in a psychotic break, just a woman desperate to save her friends and stay alive. Just like any human. That had been Engstrom’s inadvertent gift to the world.
Maybe not soon, but sometime, somewhere, there’d be cases of unusual deaths, of metahumans who’d worked out what Lark had, who were more "human" than others, and who had years of repressed anger needing an outlet. It would be his team who’d have to find them and stop them. They were the only ones who knew their minds, who knew enough about metahumans to stop them before they found something worth killing for.
Hotchner knew his team could have asked for anything. They had saved the world; they could write their own ticket to anywhere. Yet long before the storms, he and members of his team had fought to stay in the BAU, wanting to put their skills to use to make the world a better place, needing that above and beyond a high office or prestigious position. And now they were needed more than ever; prisoners had escaped, records had been lost, and every remaining person in the world had just had one hell of a stressor.
But being the saviors of the world did have its advantages. What the team needed, they received, what they wanted, was provided. Hotchner could now handle his team the way he wanted to.
And he wouldn’t have to do it alone. The FBI had lost hundreds of agents in the storms, and those metahumans who’d helped them were interested in being more than a consultant, a voice on the phone or the lurker in the background. Opinions had shifted, opportunities were opened, and the metahumans were stepping up to take their place in the outer world.
Two years later
“You owe me,” Lark said, folding her hands. Her smile was very faint, and she tugged self-consciously at her new clothes, tailored for her odd physique. “I’m a few years away from finishing up my classes, but I need to have this now, and you know it.”
Hotchner glanced at her across his desk and flipped through her preliminary FBI application briefly. “A letter of recommendation?”
“Who else but you?” she said matter-of-factly. “I told you on that rooftop, I found something worth living for. Something worth coming out of the shadows for. It’s time we stopped being afraid, after everything we went through. I’m willing to try.”
Hotchner reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a sealed envelope, and put it in her folder. “Give that to Chief Strauss. I think she’ll be willing to listen.” More than listen; Chief Strauss no longer actively or passively interfered with Hotchner, ever.
Lark snuck a look at the envelope, and blinked at the date. “You knew I was going to ask?!”
“We all did. From the minute you asked us to save the world.”
“You did,” Lark muttered, shaking her head.
“We did,” Hotchner corrected, and held out his hand in welcome. Smiling, she wrapped her fingers around his hand, and it was the most normal thing in the
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3