it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken
matociquala

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FIC: Lucky (2 of 2)

Title: Lucky (2 of 2)
Author: bear (matociquala)
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Rating: FRM (a little swearing, some serious squick factor)
Genre: Gen
Pairing: No.
Spoilers: yes (this takes place towards the end of the current season.)
Disclaimer: Not for profit, strictly for entertainment, and completely and totally not mine.
Summary: It was Sunday night, and Emily was in an awkward position when the phone rang.

For a loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth.
--Hunter S. Thompson




Hotch was waiting for them when they came out of the interview room. He didn't speak, just raised an eyebrow. And Gideon just shook his head, once, quickly.

"I'll tell J.J.," Hotch answered, as if there had been an entire conversation in those two minute gestures. "We're going to give the profile now. Come on."

They'd been given a conference room in the new, terrorism-proofed Metro headquarters, and when the three of them walked in, the other half of the field team was already assembled. Along with half the cops in Las Vegas.

And an African-American man in a suit and polished wingtips with an FBI badge clipped to his lapel. Hotch introduced him to Gideon and Emily as Special Agent Claude Patterson, and Emily noticed that Detective Henry, who had Reid pinned in the corner by the coffee machine, shot both Claude and Emily a dirty look when he did so. Lines. Inside and out.

Emily raised her voice, figuring that as long as she was getting the evil eye, she'd earn it. "Reid!" She pointed at him, and crooked a finger, and he slid out from behind Henry as she turned reflexively and came over at a quick-step. He'd changed his shirt, from the one he'd slept in on the plane to a horrific pink and green Madras plaid. And she made extra sure not to try to sneak a glance at the crook of his elbow.

While he was walking over, she gave Patterson a questioning eyebrow lift.

"Yeah," he said. "She really wants it to be the Bureau's fault that nobody's put two and two together on this one yet. She's worried about the media. I think she wants to be Las Vegas' first female sheriff someday."

"Christ," Prentiss said. Whatever she might have said next, though, was interrupted when Reid arrived.

"We're ready," he said, and briefed her and Gideon quickly. Nothing new: nothing they hadn't discussed on the plane. "Did you--?"

"Murchison is lawyered up so tight we would have had to use a percussion jack to get him out," Emily said, her voice lowered so that nobody but the team and Agent Patterson would hear her.

Morgan, who had walked up with J.J., said, "Then I guess we go to plan B."

Emily flinched. "The UnSub's going to come gunning for Murchison."

"Gonna cry me a river, too," Morgan said, shaking his head in mock-pity.

"All right, everybody," Hotch interjected, in a voice that was not so much a whisper as a murmur. "Showtime."

Gideon cleared his throat as J.J. shut the conference room door, and the assembled officers fell silent. "This is a preliminary profile," he said, "and not for release to the media as yet. We'll have a more complete profile as we obtain more information. We believe you are looking for a white male in his early thirties. He will be well-dressed in unobtrusive, casual clothes, possibly cowboy boots and a leather jacket. He will be clean, well-spoken, employed at a skilled trade or of independent means, and most likely charming. He has no interest in the media coverage of his exploits. Nor is he likely to attempt to interject himself into the investigation."

As he spoke, his hands described shapes in the air before him, and Emily could almost envision the figure he described. A man about her own height and maybe twenty pounds heavier, his hands folded, his eyes concealed by dark aviator glasses. He stood calmly in the center of the room, the cuffs of his leather jacket fashionably frayed, the zipper closed a third of the way.

Reid, balancing a coffee cup in his hand, took up the narrative as Gideon paused for breath. "He's not interested in celebrity," he said, with a wave of his hand that might have dismissed all of Las Vegas' glitz and glamor. Emily could imagine the UnSub smiling faintly, one corner of his mouth turned up, as he watched a swirl of famous faces and neon lights swept aside like leaves from water. "Or in shocking anyone. This is not the sort of offender who will contact the police or brag about his exploits. He plans to keep doing this for a very long time: he is remorseless and methodical.

"That makes him a little unusual, and a little more difficult to catch. He is interested in the abduction and eventual murder of young women. He is a particularly careful and patient predator, very selective in his choice of prey."

Hotch stepped past Reid, and caught Emily's eye. She nodded: she would be next, after him. They did it this way for the psychological impact, to present the local law enforcement with the image of a unified and confident team decision. That this particular profile had been almost entirely Reid's work, the local police would never know. Nor would they know when it was Morgan's, or Gideon's, or Hotch's. Or maybe, someday... Emily's own.

Hotch cleared his throat and spoke. "He is of average height and build. What he does is his avocation, his passion. He's spent a great deal of time and money on it, and he'll have a workshop, a special room or location of some sort where he can carry out his fantasies of domination and control. He may maintain a darkroom, although if he is computer-literate that's not as likely as it once would have been. He probably has a female accomplice, who will be employed--most likely in a perceived low-status job such as hairdresser or waitress."

It wasn't just Emily. Everyone in the room was staring at the same place Hotch indicated, where the ghostly UnSub stood, now with a fair-haired girl in a flannel shirt leaning on his shoulder. Emily could imagine her, teasing, reaching up to draw his sunglasses off, and she could almost see him catching her wrist.

Emily glanced away, and caught Hotch's quick glance to her: the handoff. "In almost all cases, he will be the dominant partner. He will be of above-average intelligence. He will drive a late-model American-made vehicle in good repair, unremarkable, with off-road capabilities and plenty of cargo space." She swallowed. "At his home, or at the site where he takes his victims, he will maintain a collection of trophies. There will be implements of torture at the detention site. There may be... training materials."

"Training materials?" Special Agent Patterson reached forward left-handed, his forefinger extended. "For himself?"

"Intended for his victims," she said, while Reid grimaced, rubbing his mouth, and J.J. steadied him unobtrusively. "To terrify them into docility and inform them of what to expect. Brainwashing materials," she continued, because although Patterson stepped back, with a look of horrified enlightenment, several of the Metro officers will still frowning. "For example, David Ray made instructional audiotapes for the women he abducted, explaining how he intended to torture, rape, and sodomize them, to subject them to forced intercourse with animals, and how they would be prevented from escape."

"Oh," said the nearest cop. If he hadn't had a Hispanic skin tone, Emily suspected she would have seen him blanch.

Emily cleared her throat. But before she could finish, thank God, Morgan stepped in. And said, quite calmly, "At some point in the last seven to ten years, he will have purchased the equipment and supplies necessary for tanning leather. And either he, or the girlfriend, will own a high-end sewing machine and know how to use it."

"Christ," one of the cops said. Reid fiddled with his wristwatch band, looping it over his opposite finger.

Gideon sounded out of breath when he spoke, as if he'd been running. "There's a life at stake."

And into the silence that followed, Hotch stepped, effortlessly asserting control. "We're going to need all of your assistance. His latest victim may still be alive, and there may still be time to save her. He's going to be like a child with a new toy for a while: he won't want to leave her. We recommend that officers take copies of the victim photos and canvass every hotel where one of the victims was staying, every attraction along the Strip that's identified in their credit-card records. Especially places that show up more than once. We recommend that officers, both uniformed and plain-clothes, take the profile description around to major tourist attractions and question the staff. If he's hunting, he's got to have hunting grounds. Somebody knows something. We just have to find them."

"Christ." The same cop. The same tone of voice. Emily didn't look at him.

She was too busy watching the UnSub of her imagination smile sardonically and dissolve into a ribbon of smoke.

***

Detective Henry caught up J.J. in the hall, while Reid disappeared into the men's room and the other four proceeded down the corridor, along with the cute local special agent.. "Agent Jareau!"

"Yes?" Something about the woman's tone lifted the fine hairs on the back of J.J.'s neck.

"About this media report. Is it... really necessary?"

"It's an intrinsic part of our strategy to make the UnSub aware that we know of his existence, yes. We have to force him into the open. It's our best chance of saving Jennifer Preston."

"You realize," Detective Henry said, "that this places the department in a delicate position politically. There will be allegations that we should have realized the situation sooner. The casinos are not going to be happy about any publicity linking the tourist trade to a serial killer."

J.J. took a deep breath, counting three. Backwards. In French. "Our priority has to be the victims, detective, and apprehending the UnSub."

"The local F.B.I. field office has been less that forthcoming--"

"Detective."

The woman stopped, and J.J. reached out, her skin crawling, and patted her on the shoulder. She'd rather shake hands with a serial killer, frankly, but you did what the job demanded. And even before she'd met Gideon, Hotch, and the rest, Jennifer Jareau had been anything but slow at determining hidden motives. "When the collar happens, I assure you, your team will take full credit. All right?"

"All right," the detective said, and stepped back.

God, if this is what their would-be sheriffs are like, J.J. thought, walking away, no wonder nobody picked up a pattern of missing persons before now.

Within fifteen minutes, she'd stuffed half of the Egg McMuffin Morgan handed her into her mouth, passed off the other half to Reid, swilled a half-cup of coffee, and fixed her lipstick. And then she was behind the podium, facing a sea of microphones, in her element.

"It is our unhappy duty to inform you," she said, "that we believe a serial killer may be operating in the city of Las Vegas. Two days ago, the Nye County sheriff's department, acting on a tip received from Metro in an ongoing burglary investigation, raided the home of Alvin Murchison of Pahrump. Among the stolen goods retrieved in that operation were possessions belonging to several young women who have gone missing in Las Vegas since 2003, and evidence indicating that at least one of them met with foul play."

On the screen behind J.J.'s head, she knew, the names and photos of the victims were appearing, along with their dates of disappearances.

"Mr. Murchison is not currently a suspect in these disappearances, and has offered cooperation to authorities. He has been charged with burglary and possession of stolen goods, and will be released on fifty thousand dollars bond this afternoon. However, we need the media's and the public's help in resolving the disappearances of these seven young women. If anyone has any information whatsoever regarding their whereabouts in the days or hours before their disappearances, we ask you to come forward. A number for an anonymous tip line will be provided.

"The F.B.I. is cooperating with local authorities to bring this case to a speedy resolution. Detective Charlote Henry is the Metro lead on the case. Thank you all. Are there any questions?"

***

When Reid came up beside Emily, she was watching J.J. field media questions and face flashbulbs like the consummate professional she was. But she turned to him anyway, and then fumbled in her pocket for a Kleenex. "Here. Frost rose isn't your color, Spencer."

"What? Oh." He took the tissue and wiped his mouth, then peered at it curiously. "Yuck."

She watched him do it, and thought hard, and decided that all he could do was kick her again, if he was going to kick. "Reid, you okay?"

And for some reason, he just looked at her and quoted: "Therefore it behooveth, hire a full long spoon that shall eat with a fiend."

"Chaucer?"

He shrugged.

And so she answered, "For out of old fields, as men say, cometh all this new corn from year to year. And out of old books, in good faith, cometh all this new science that men utter." And while he was giving her the tilted head and half-raised eyebrows of bemused respect, she continued, "There's cougars in them thar fields. Hills."

"Believe me," he said. "I know."

"Well, don't let Hotch find out."

He laughed, folded the tissue, and tucked it in his shirt pocket so the still-white part peeked out like a pocket handkerchief. "Hotch's sense of humor is like a ninja. You never see it until it strikes."

"...meaning?"

"He keeps finding excuses to leave me alone with her." And then he sighed. "I don't think she actually wants me. I think she wants an ally on the team. Or maybe she was kissing the glamour of the B.A.U."

"Such as it is."

"Such. As it is."

"So... what happened? You kissed her back?"

"She kissed me." He hooked a finger across his upper lip, as if he could still feel the lipstick there. "And then I--you know, I think I scared her off?"

It was her turn to laugh, as she turned to him and bounced a little on her toes. "No, seriously? I'm good at that. I could teach you how. Just mention science fiction books on the second date."

He almost choked, and for a second it was like old times, two nerds against the world. "I find talking about ComiCon works for me." And then he stepped back, and folded his arms, as if remembering that he wasn't supposed to find anything funny anymore.

Emily rushed in--maybe too fast, too hard--to bridge the gap. "So what did you say to her?"

And the light went out of his face. "I told her what it's like."

Emily didn't need to ask what it was, but she nodded. Hoping he'd keep talking. About anything, even if it wasn't the right things. Anything at all.

And in some kind of minor miracle, he did. "I told her that after you've been doing this job for a while, experiencing these killers for a while, you start second-guessing everything. Your own biology, your own biochemistry. You experience arousal, and you think, This is what Ted Bundy felt when he killed. You watch a pretty girl walk down the street, and you hear Jacob Dawes gloating about the eighteen teenagers he tortured to death, David Ray's voice in your head, explaining how he's going to, going to--"

"I know," she said, because she didn't want to hear him say the rest of that sentence any more than he wanted to say it. "We tell ourselves that we're not like them. They're monsters. They're inhuman. But that's what makes it horrible, isn't it? They're not. They're like us. They're so much like us."

He swallowed. There are monsters everywhere. Even inside me. Everybody's a monster until proven otherwise.

She snorted, and tried a joke, but it came out full of bitterness. "You think you have it rough. Try dating men. And wondering which nice, charming guy is the one who crushed kittens under the rocking chair..."

"Yes," he said. And then, a lightning change of direction: "There is no dignity in death. There's just death."

"So you told her that."

"And she stopped trying to kiss me," he answered. "I guess I'll save it for when Star Trek doesn't work as a deterrent."

She laughed, but only for a moment, and even she could hear how strained it sounded. "We're sending Murchison out there to get killed, maybe."

And he rubbed his mouth again and said, "For out of old fields, as men say, cometh all this new corn from year to year."

"Yeah," she said. "Nothing ever goddamn changes."

***

Surveillance operations were complicated. On one level, Penelope liked them, because the team often had time to talk to her. On another, she was less enthused, because they were at risk when they were out there, and anything could happen. So she flipped channels on her headset, dropping cheerful updates on Hotch, Derek, Reid, and Emily. Hotch wanted to know what she'd some up with on the chemical front: she shared the information. There was a small hand-tannery in Henderson, Nevada--Las Vegas' southern suburb--privately owned and to all appearances on the up-and-up, though the Henderson police were going to swing by and pay a clearing visit. And there was a leather and vinyl company in Las Vegas proper--"Specializing in kangaroo leather," she said--and no help there. "I'm waiting for the general manager to call me back," she said. "So I can ask him about current and former employees. Unless you want to put somebody on it?"

"I'll send Morgan," he said. "In person is better. Are you gunning for a slot on the investigative end, Garcia?"

"You couldn't pay me enough to do what you guys do," she said, scraping a mouthful of fried rice out of the box and into her mouth.

He laughed and answered, "Not unless you didn't have that dot com money."

She wondered if he was kidding, or if he knew something, and with her left hand minimized a couple of eBay searches. Baby needed a new pair of shoes. "Some of this stuff is pretty gross. Did you know that you can tan leather with brains?"

"...thank you for that unpleasant visual image."

"Through the auspices of Big Brother--I mean, the current administration, and it's scary what we can do these days via the shadowy instruments of quasilegality, bossman--I have managed to convince the major U.S. suppliers of tanning products to run a records search for me. I'm going to cross-reference any shipments to the Las Vegas area with the disappearance dates of the victims, and see if I turn anything up. But I don't know how helpful this is going to be: it's a much less involved process than I imagined. You can buy kits over the Internet for under fifty dollars."

"That's not the magic I expect from the Oracle of Quantico," he said. She heard the rhythm of his breathing change as he moved the phone to sip coffee. "Can you ship me an air conditioning unit for the same price?"

"Too hot for you?"

"Too hot for anybody. Except Reid. Is that all you have?"

"As soon as I have more you'll be the first to know. Garcia out!"

She pushed the disconnect, and tried not to let her hands shake as she set her rice down. She'd give Hotch five minutes to make his phone call, and then she'd push the speed dial and check in on Morgan, before he arrived at the tannery.


***

When the call came, J.J. was the only member of the team at the station. She had been sitting in the conference room with Agent Patterson, going over still more ten-year-old rape case files, just in case they had missed something and might catch one of those early offenses that Reid had mentioned.

"Serial killers don't come out of nowhere," she explained, while Patterson slowly turned pages. It felt odd to be the knowledgeable one--about this topic, anyway. But Patterson was soaking it up. "Like anything else, it's a learned skill. And if they make mistakes, it's going to be early on, before they've refined their process."

"So we're looking for the time he blew it."

"The one that got away," she confirmed. "Or the one that he hadn't yet worked himself up to kill."

She might have missed the commotion in the bullpen if he hadn't gotten up just then to freshen his coffee, because when she turned to hold her own cup out, her eye drifted across the louvered windows. And she saw Detective Henry, her new least favorite peace officer, hurrying away. "Patterson," J.J. hissed, "I think Henry is trying to ditch us."

To his credit he set his cup down and was on her heels before she was halfway to the door.

"You have no idea," he muttered, "what working with her is like."

J.J. held the door for him. "I'm learning."

They pursued her down the hall, and caught her in the parking lot. "Detective?"

She turned, hands on hips. "Agent Jareau?"

"Something going on that I should know about?"

She deflated, visibly. "I'm on my way to interview a potential witness. It's probably nothing."

"All the same." Don't make me call the sheriff, detective.

"All the same," Henry said. "Would you like to come?"

"Yes," J.J. said. And because she'd won, she decided she could be generous after all. "It might be nothing. But it might be important, after all. Let's just hope we get lucky."


***

When J.J. called him on the way back from the interview, Gideon picked up his phone on the first ring. "I'm driving," he said. It was rush hour by then: there was enough traffic noise outside the car J.J. was riding in that she couldn't tell how bad it was on his end. "Can you talk to Prentiss?"

"Sure. Hand her the phone." There was a rattle, and Emily came on the line. "J.J.? We're outside of the Fiesta. Apparently, our cat burglar decided to hole up in town for the night."

"We got a witness," she said. "One of the roller coaster operators at the Stratosphere recognized the profile. Unobtrusive man with a black leather jacket, who visits the observation deck religiously. And a few times a year, he brings a date."

"Let me guess," Emily said, dry as toast. "Always a redhead."

"Smart lady. No name or address, but the witness is coming back to the station to work with an artist." She cupped her hand around the phone. "D'you have anything?"

"Not yet," Emily said. "I'll tell Gideon what you said. Text us the composite when you have it. Oh, bollocks. Gotta go, Jaje, we've got something."

"Be careful," J.J. breathed. And, after she hit the disconnect: "Bollocks?"


***

It was always this way. The waiting, and then the waiting, and then the waiting. And then the moment when Emily spotted the white Ford Explorer turning into the parking garage, and nudged Gideon's arm. "I see it."

He touched his earpiece. "Watch this one."


***

Morgan, Reid, and Hotch were inside, Penelope--twenty-five hundred miles away-- tapped directly into casino security feeds, monitoring every camera. The casinos used sophisticated face recognition software: they could track an individual from camera to camera seamlessly.

The man who exited the white Ford was about Emily's height and maybe twenty pounds heavier, his hands tucked into his pockets except as he chirped the alarm, his eyes concealed by dark aviator glasses. He moved calmly through the parking garage, the cuffs of his leather jacket fashionably frayed, the zipper closed a third of the way. "I've got him," Penelope said. "He's walking towards the elevator. Pushing the down button."

"Can we see his face?" Reid asked, a little plaintively.

With deft motions, she captured the image and texted it to all six phones.

J.J. answered before any of the men. "I just showed it to the witness. That's our guy."

Morgan's voice, low and intense: "Do we take him?"

Hotch, under his breath, said, "He hasn't done anything illegal yet. Can we get an I.D.? We might have enough for a search warrant on his house."

Penelope wrung her fingers. Adrenaline made her sick. It wasn't her job to be in at the kill like this. "He's in the elevator. He's leaving the elevator. He's in the casino, guys."

"We don't have enough for a search warrant," Gideon said.

"I have a visual," said Morgan. "I'm moving toward him, but I'm going to break the visual contact, as long as Garcia has him."

"Come and go like the wind, oh magnificent one," Penelope said, and hoped he didn't hear the worry in her voice.

"My goddess watches over me," he said, and then she heard only the chime of slot machines as he moved along the rows. She could have tuned one of the cameras to track him, but her eyes needed to be on the UnSub. "How's casino security doing?"

"Watching over you too," Reid--who was in the security office--said. "They're not obvious. Oh, wait, guys, this is not good--"

Penelope jerked her head around, staring wildly at the other screens, and caught herself before she clenched her fist.

Three uniformed officers, lead by Detective Henry, had just entered the casino.

"Guys," she said. "You're not going to like this."


***

J.J. usually avoided being anywhere in the same time zone with Gideon when he was tearing somebody a new one. But just this once, she wouldn't have minded being a fly on the wall. Instead, she stood elbow to elbow with Emily on one side, Spence on the other, and watched Morgan and Hotch discuss strategy in hushed tones. She hated the private pow-wows between the senior agents. It always made J.J. feel like she and Emily and Spence were waiting in the living room for the grownups to figure out how to break some kind of bad news to them, and it drove her crazy.

Whatever was going on in Detective Henry's office, it wasn't enough to rattle the door, but the blinds were closed, and Gideon never needed to raise his voice to make somebody wish they'd never been born.

When Hotch came over, finally, he looked predictably grim. "We can hold him for forty-eight hours," he said. "Then we have to charge him with something."

"Something we don't have," J.J. said. "He lawyered up?"

"Faster than a shark could have eaten him," Hotch said bitterly. "We have absolutely nothing."

"Jennifer Prescott is still out there somewhere," Spence said, in a small voice that made J.J. want to squeeze him.

"We're not giving up on her." Emily squared her shoulder and walked across the conference room, eyes front. There was a cop standing by the door: she brushed past him with aristocratic arrogance, and he fell back a step. The others followed, J.J. hanging back a little, as she led them into the observation bay next to the interrogation room where their UnSub, one Michael Kaminsky, sat with folded hands, his closed eyes visible now that his sunglasses had been bagged and tagged. She stood there, for a moment, watching him, as the rest of the team watched her from the door.

And then she looked down and began taking items in evidence bags out of a file box. "There's got to be something," she said. "Something that will get us a search warrant. Anything."

Silently, J.J. walked over and began working beside her. Marlboro lights, half a package. A cigarette lighter. Wallet, with a receipt for the amount of cash that had been in it.

Morgan's phone buzzed: Garcia's ring. He stepped aside to answer it. "Hey, sweet cheeks."

Emily's hands moved in and out of the box, taking out objects, weighing them, setting them aside. Pocket knife. Wrist watch.

She stopped, dead. Her shoulders jerked, as if she wanted to fling away the thing she held in her hand. And then she said, very calmly, as J.J. touched her elbow, "The watchband is leather."

"Guys," Spence said, from where he stood, just outside the open door. "So is his jacket."


***

Whatever Emily felt about the soft, pleasant texture of the thing in her hand, it was enough for a warrant. And that made it a victory.

Of sorts.

And what Garcia had to tell Morgan was that she'd tracked down an address in Beatty, a one-stop-light town ninety miles north of Vegas. It was the home of a Rebecca Davis, that had been receiving shipments of tanning supplies, each order placed a day or so after an abduction.

"Beatty," Reid--the Las Vegas native--said. "Oh. I know what he did with the bodies."


***

When Gideon emerged from Detective Henry's office, he was calm, and she was white. He walked away from her, toward his team.

J.J. went halfway, to meet him. "What was that about?"

"That..." he said, very softly, "...woman decided early on that it was going to be the F.B.I.'s fault that there's been a serial killer working Las Vegas unmolested since 2003. This is the result."

"It's okay, Jason," Hotch said. "We've got him. Get in the car, we're going to Beatty."

More precisely, although they drove to the airport, the bulk of the journey was accomplished by helicopter. Two of them: one taking Hotch, Gideon, and Morgan to Beatty proper, to lead the assault on Rebecca Davis' house; the other to carry the remaining three team members to Rhyolite.

"Where we won't get in the way," Emily said, and J.J. laughed.

Teams of Metro officers and state troopers awaited them.

Rhyolite, J.J. was surprised to learn, was a ghost town. They landed at the bottom of a hill, behind a gold mine, just as the sun was sinking below the mountains. "Have we really only been here for twelve hours?" Emily yelled over the noise as the rotors spun down, and J.J. nodded.

It felt like a week.

Emily kept scrubbing the palms of her hands against her skirt. Spence... didn't. He checked his earpiece, though. "Hotch, can you hear me?"

When J.J. caught his eye, he nodded. He had them. And then he turned off his microphone, so he wouldn't say something to confuse them.

She slipped her own earpiece in. And while they walked up the long round-pebbled dirt road, past the limestone skeletons of caved and crumpled buildings, she felt as if she was two people.

One of them rode on Hotch's shoulder, heard his barked instructions, Gideon and Morgan and officers whose names she did not know announcing themselves, shouting thing like "Clear!" and "Check the crawlspace!"

She imagined chaos, yelling men in body armor, close rooms, breathlessness. Her heart pounded in sympathy. She might have closed her eyes to concentrate on what she heard, but she had to walk, and Emily and Spence with their long strides were pulling ahead.

There was gunfire, and all three of them cringed simultaneously, but then she heard Morgan's voice, soft and angry. "I had to shoot the motherfucking dog. Shit. I hate shooting dogs."

J.J. bit her lip, and didn't say anything.

There were two more dull thumps, very muffled. Morgan said, "Was that a gun?"

And then Hotch said, "What's out back, Jason?"

So that was half of her.

And the other half was here, the baked earth warm through the soles of her shoes, the dry air lifting the hair off her neck, her right shoulder facing a rank of empty facades as two-dimensional as tombstones. The places where their windows had been were as empty as the eyeholes in a skull, and a pewter-blue sky shone through them. The peace and forlorn beauty struck her as obscene, at first, and then, as the last sliver of sun dipped behind the mountain and flocks of bats began to empty from the collapsed basements, she breathed out and reclaimed some peace of her own.

Nature takes it all back in the end. Even in death, sometimes, things serve a purpose.

The bats were really beautiful.

"We haven't got much light left," Reid said. Maybe an hour, J.J. judged, or ninety minutes. The sun had set, technically, but it was only behind the mountain, not below the lip of the world. There was still a lot of daytime left, though it was a gray daytime now. "We'll need to hurry, and be careful."

"Where do you think we should start looking?"

He lifted an arm and pointed, his watch rattling on his wrist, his hand moving in an arc across the mountains. "The gold mines. One of them ought to have fresh tire tracks leading up to it, if I'm right."

And one did.

When they entered it--cautiously, in teams of two, dragging ropes behind them and stepping as lightly as possible below the hundred-year, desert-dried crossbeams, they found, way at the back, half-buried in debris, six identical grey forty-gallon rubber garbage cans with the navy blue lids duct-taped tightly on.

"Six," Reid said, fierce and soft. "Six."

Underground, their earpieces were useless. J.J., behind him, turned and called softly up to Emily, who waited at the mouth of the mine. "Six," she said. "Only six. Tell Hotch to keep looking."

And Emily called back, even more softly, as if the echoes of her voice sifted rock dust on her dark head and not J.J.'s bright one, "He says he will."


***

When they broke into Michael Kaminsky's underground chamber of horrors, they did not reach Rebecca Davis in time. The bullet, self-administered, had torn through the roof of her mouth, shattered her soft palate, and blown her brain out the back of her skull. Her long blonde hair, stained red, fell forward over her face, bringing much of her scalp with it.

Twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Prescott was strapped into a stirrup chair beside her, naked, brutalized, and bleeding. Incidentally, from her vagina, anus, and a dozen minor injuries. Copiously, from a gunshot wound to the chest.

But Rebecca Davis had not made sure of her.

And Flight for Life was already on the way.


***

The team rejoined in the restaurant of the Stage Coach Hotel and Casino, the largest building in Beatty. Dinner was on Hotch, which wasn't as much of a treat as it sounded like, because that really meant that it was on Hotch's expense account.

But Emily was too tired to care. The food was good plain American, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, tough yellow corn on the cob and garlic bread. She ordered a steak you could have dressed as a double bed and dozed with her head on her fists, trying not to think, glad in her soul that she hadn't been the one counting garbage cans by flashlight or shooting a German shepherd dog with the misfortune to be owned by a couple of sociopaths.

Beside her, J.J. played with a plate of French fries, and Gideon more listened than talked to his cell, relaying: "The Nye County Sheriff's office obtained the warrant for Kaminsky's house. The search is ongoing, but it looks like his mother's whole side of the family is red-headed. There are a lot of what look like ritually defaced family photographs."

"Rage at the mother," Derek said. "Well, whatever he blames her for, it'll come out in his defense."

"How's Prescott?" Emily asked, because it kept her from revealing just how little she currently cared about Kaminsky's defense.

"Prescott's out of surgery," Gideon said, and flipped he phone closed. "Barring complications, she'll be all right.""

"How can anybody be all right after that?" Emily asked, not quite managing to lift her head. They'd saved her life, but right now Emily wasn't certain that was a kindness.

Reid seemed utterly oblivious, staring into his coke at the far end of the table as if he'd dropped a quarter into it, and as she touched her lips with her fingertips, she was happier than she had any right to be that he apparently hadn't heard her.

Beyond him, Hotch was on the phone to Haley, telling her he was coming home. "...tonight," he said. "I'll sleep on the plane. Don't worry."

And she wondered how he did it. How he packed it up and didn't let it make his hands dirty when he touched his wife, his child.

"Well, we saved Detective Henry's job for her," she said, and bit a hangnail off her thumb. "Yay."

"Em," Derek said. "We got her. Let it go."

She did. Physically, while they all watched, with a broad gesture of her hands as if pushing something away. "I just wish we could have gotten to her sooner."

Gideon nodded, his mouth compressing and relaxing. Agreement, even as he reminded: "We got to her."

Yeah, thought Emily. She got lucky. And I know what Morgan's going to say, too: the rest is on her.

But the food came, then, so he didn't, and she didn't have to scream.



"Therefore it behooveth, hire a full long spoon that shall eat with a fiend."

-- Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Parliament of Fowls."




...and some music for the closing credits....

Tags: fanfiction, geeks with guns
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