Author's Note: Cooperation Verse, post Aftermath.
Disclaimer: I do not own Criminal Minds.
The unsub has a gun and his back to the wall. Hotch storms the room, Prentiss close on his heels. There's a victim on the floor, Hotch can't tell much more than that as he trains his gun on the unsub. What he's not expecting, not at all, is that Prentiss doesn't stop moving.
He doesn't have time to think because the unsub is swinging his gun towards her and his finger is tightening on the trigger. Hotch puts a bullet just over his right eye and the corpse slumps against the back wall. He clears the unsub's gun, and then turns to find out what Prentiss thinks she's doing.
Morgan already has his gun away and is kneeling next to Prentiss, who is giving the victim chest compressions. Except the victim is dead, tiny bullet hole through the forehead, nothing left in the back except gore. It's the victim's face that makes him freeze, as Morgan tries to pull Prentiss off the body.
Then time is moving again. Morgan's got Prentiss and hands her off to him once she stops fighting. The rest of the team has arrived, so Hotch nods the scene over to Rossi and gets them out of the room, out of the house, down on the front steps.
SWAT is milling around, but no one bothers them, as Prentiss sits blankly next to him. It's below freezing outside and Hotch can feel the cold seeping into his bones, but he's not moving until Prentiss is ready or he hauls her off to the ambulance. At this point he's not sure what it's going to be.
"No one could have known," he says in a low voice, calm and even. This is one tragedy he has been spared; his lover's blood on his hands. So far.
Prentiss is breathing too quickly and Hotch sets a hand on her back and waits.
"Fuck," is all she manages to get out before she doubles over, head in hands, trying to slow her own breathing. "Fuck."
They sit there in the snow for what seems to be hours. It's not, and Morgan appears once the crime scene is secured and the bodies loaded on gurneys. "They're ready."
Hotch looks at Morgan and tilts his head to the back door. Morgan nods and then disappears: no bodies come near them.
"She was in Indianapolis last I knew," says Prentiss, head still between her knees.
"Protesting?" asks Hotch.
Prentiss sits up, takes a deep breath. "Married."
Hotch stops himself from asking if she married a guy or if it was the new kind of Boston marriage.
"Okay," says Prentiss. One more deep breath and she is standing.
Hotch stands beside her, looking out on the snow covered landscape. The lights from the police cars give an eerie glow to the snow covered trees and make Prentiss look even paler than she already is.
She doesn't look like she might throw up all over the unsub's front step any more, but that's about all he can say at the moment. He knows her though. He's been keeping her close since Gideon… since Gideon did what he did. She's a good agent and he's going to see to it that she becomes a better one. It's what Gideon did for him.
The rest of the team wanders into the front yard, and Hotch lays a hand on her shoulder. "Looks like we're wrapping up here. Let's head to the car."
Prentiss nods and they start the walk down the icy driveway. Her words cut through the silence, startling him, "I spoke with her a few weeks ago. She and Jen had just finished building a house together. They had a baby, you know, Francis Olivia. I was going to send them a present. It's still on my desk, back in D.C."
"I didn't know you still talked," said Hotch. The last time he'd seen Caitlin Ford was the night he escorted her out of Ambassador Prentiss' Christmas party. She and Prentiss had knock down, drag out in front of half the US Senate and several foreign dignitaries. Love at eighteen is never very rational, and those two had been like gasoline and matches.
Caitlin hadn't been back to the Prentiss house while he was on the detail. Prentiss had gone on to Jeffery Howard, who had turned out to be an even worse romantic partner for all that he was a Senator's son. He would have never guess Prentiss and Caitlin had kept in touch, though he had kept up with Caitlin's growing arrest record.
"She was in Chicago when I was posted there before the BAU," explained Prentiss. "We broke it off, no one knew. She was a professional activist, it would have been bad for both of us if anyone had found out." She pauses, staring into the snowy expanse. "Could the unsub… do you think he knew?"
"No," says Hotch firmly, but he can tell Prentiss isn't listening, is adding ways in which she has failed to the list she carries around in her head. "It's not your fault," he says, hoping to cut off her mental task taking. "It just happened."
Gideon would have known what to say, to do, but Hotch is not Gideon, though if he can keep her more or less together, Prentiss just might be someday. But Gideon had fallen to the demons of his own dead lover and now Hotch is alone and in charge.
He gets her in the car, and has Reid sit with her, while he goes and talks with Rossi and Morgan.
"I take it we've got a victim ID," says Morgan, gesturing to the car.
"Caitlin Ford. She was an activist: the environment, anti-globalization, women's rights. Prentiss' college roommate." The description was strictly accurate, if not complete. He isn't going to air Prentiss' business unless she wanted it aired. "She's also the daughter of former Texas state representative Allison Ford."
Morgan doesn't question his description. "You think it's political?"
"At the moment, no," says Hotch. "We'll know more when we get IDs on his other victim." Three skeletons had been found laid out in the Olbrich Gardens a week ago in the middle of one of the worst blizzards the Midwest had seen in years. The local ME could tell them one was male and two female, all adult, but for the rest they had shipped the bones back to the Jeffersonian. It had been a forth skeleton, placed like a scarecrow in a farmer's field in Rio, Wisconsin, that had led them to the unsub.
There had been almost no forensic evidence in the Gardens, just bones picked clean of body. The skeleton in the field had proved more useful: footprints in the snow, a description from a neighbor and a few dead flesh eating beetles. All of which pointed to Dr. Elijah Huntington, a professor of entomology, who'd been fired from the university two month ago after exhibiting some bizarre behaviors.
They'd driven out to his farmhouse in a blinding snow storm and Hotch had almost put the SUV in a ditch twice. They managed to arrive alive, however, and with a full SWAT team just behind them. They'd been going for subtle, but then there were gun shots and Morgan had crashed through the front door, everyone else following behind.
Now they had a dead unsub, a dead victim, a basement crawling with flesh eating beetles due a clumsy SWAT guy, and another snow storm on the horizon.
"If you're going to make it back to Madison tonight, you should head out now," says the local sheriff. JJ would remember his name, but Hotch has already forgotten it. "The weather guy is saying eleven inches before morning."
Hotch nods. There isn't anything left but the clean up and it's too damn cold to stand around where they aren't contributing. "Morgan," he says, "you're driving," and throws him the keys as the rest of the team piles in. Morgan learned to drive in Chicago and Hotch feels he has the best chance of getting them back to the hotel in one piece.
He slides in the back seat, pushing Prentiss into the middle, but she doesn't complain. She's regained her composure, though Hotch can tell she'd cried before the rest of the team had returned to the car, mascara a bit smeared. The ride is long and silent, but Morgan gets them back to the hotel, just as Hotch thought he would.
The next morning comes too early. Hotch wakes to the blare of his cell phone. It's not within reach and before he can figure out where he is and where it is, it flips over to voicemail. He has a crick in his neck and his feet are freezing. Apparently, he's sleeping on a love seat, feet hanging over the arm. At least he's in his own room; actually it looks like everyone is in his room. JJ and Prentiss are in one bed, Morgan and Reid in the other and Rossi is no where to be found. If it wasn't four am, Hotch would have guessed the bar, but maybe he's in his own room sleeping.
No one in Hotch's room is sleeping anymore, the cell phone saw to that. This was fine, because now it had been joined by the room's landline. Hotch manages to grab it in time, "Hello?"
"Agent Hotchner, this is Agent Howell, we just IDs back on the three skeletons from the Olbrich Gardens. Nadia Tellman, Shawna Keller, and David Weston."
"I know those names," says Hotch, searching his memory as to why.
"All three are environmental activists with ReGeneration. We're still waiting on an ID on the skeleton from Rio, but Dr. Brennan has bad news. All four people were kept for weeks before they were killed. Possibly in an enclosed space near farm land; the bones all had trace evidence of pesticides. There are six other high profile environmental activists currently location unknown in the US, two from Canada."
Hotch is immediately awake and his team looks at him and knows something is up. "You think there might be victims still alive?"
Prentiss inhales sharply and JJ lays a hand on her arm. She catches Hotch's eye and herds the rest of them out of the room. "We'll be ready in ten," JJ says, closing the door behind them.
Hotch turns his attention back to the phone, where Agent Howell is detailing the search parties he's set up, "I've got a crew with dogs and GPR out at Huntington's place, but the snow has picked up and we've just closed I-90. We won't be able to put together a larger search party for a while due to the weather. Most of the locals are out pulling stranded motorists out of their cars before the temperature drops again. Forty degree drop before noon, maybe more further north."
"We'll meet you at the station and see if there is anything that will help narrow down a location," says Hotch.
Howell replies with his thanks and hangs up, leaving Hotch to his empty room.
He showers at land speed records: just enough to wake him up enough to find coffee and get dressed. At four fifteen the hotel lobby is eerily silent. His team stands in a sleepy huddle, sipping coffee. Morgan is the most awake, and is wrangling another night out of the desk clerk. Reid and Prentiss both look like the walking dead, they are leaning against one another and JJ is hovering protectively, trying to make sure they don't decide to go back to sleep on the lobby floor. Even Rossi looks like he could have slept for another three hours.
It takes ten minutes to get them all out to the car, and Hotch narrowly avoids falling on the ice three separate times. Morgan has the keys again, and since he's the only one willing to drive in this weather, they all squeeze into one vehicle. It's a long, quiet drive through the city and even the street lights look dim in the cold. It's too early and too icy for there to be much traffic, which is good, because even Morgan can't keep them from sliding about the streets like a hockey puck.
All the lights are on when they arrive at the police station. Officers are scurrying about, trying to rescue the people still out on the highways. Howell waves him over and explains, "Three transformers blew from the ice and at least one of the fires it caused is spreading. Plus, an SUV went into Lake Menona. It must have hit where the ice was thin, because they had to call in the cold water rescue teams." Sometimes Hotch forgets that there were other ways to die, beside the hands of man.
Howell continues as they walk to the conference room they'd been working out of all week, "The Governor has declared a state of emergency, and they've called in all of the local Search and Rescue teams, plus a few from northern Illinois. They've been finding cars in ditches all night and there is a school bus full of high school hockey players that's missing, so we're having trouble getting more people up to Huntington's because everyone is spread so thin."
Hotch holds the door open as his team piles into the conference room and goes straight for the coffee maker, while he listens to Howell.
"I'm going to meet up with one of the search and rescue teams from Illinois and then head up to the scene. I've got room for two of your agents in the car."
Hotch nods, "Rossi and Morgan will go with you." The two agents gather their snow gear and follow Howell out the door. By the time everything is settled, the coffee is ready and Reid is spreading out the evidence from Huntington's house across the table that a patrolman had wrangled out of evidence for them.
"I tried getting maps too, but no luck as of yet. Things are a little crazy around here," Reid comments plopping into his chair. "Harriman is going to keep looking."
Hotch nods and flips open his cell. It's almost five, so he tries Garcia's office first, with no luck, and then dials her house.
"Hello?" a sleepy male voice comes across the line.
"Garcia?" Hotch asks, wondering if he's dialed the number wrong.
"Just a sec," the voice is familiar but Hotch can't place it. Whoever it is, he must be Morgan's backup on Garcia-watch while he was out of town. He can hear the man knock on a door, then moments later, whisper, "Pen? It's your boss."
"Garcia here," she says, abandoning her usual banter.
"We just got intel that Huntington may still have victims imprisoned somewhere. Problematically, the locals are being overwhelmed by the blizzard that just hit. We need topo maps of Huntington's property, and a list of any other property he or his relatives might own or rent or even just frequent." He can hear rustling in the back ground, and he's sure Garcia is out of bed and getting her stuff together.
"I can do the first from my laptop in the car on my way, the second I have to get to the office to do so it'll be a bit longer," Garcia explains.
Hotch nods, even though she can't see him, "I'll be waiting," he says and hangs up, and turns back to the conference room. Reid and Prentiss are sorting through evidence, every once in a while staring at baggies and then once again setting them aside. JJ and the patrolman, Harriman, come back with another load, just as Reid's stomach grumbles.
"Chief just sent someone on a doughnut run," comments Harriman, "I'll make sure some come your way when they get here."
JJ smiles like he's promising world peace. "Thank you."
Harriman ducks out with a smile. Moments later he returns with the maps Garcia had faxed over.
"I think you're right. He must be keeping them somewhere besides the house," says Reid holding up a set of keys. "Four keys, a car key, a house key, a post office box key and a padlock key. This man is meticulous, organized. He wouldn't have keys on his key chain that he didn't need. If we can find the padlock we'll find where he kept his victims."
Prentiss looks pale again, and Hotch knows she's replaying yesterday's events over and over, but she's not off her game. "We're probably looking for a shed or a storm cellar. Something that can be padlocked shut. It's won't be on his main property, he wants to keep his victims separate from himself until he's ready. Plus if it had been, we would have found it by now."
Harriman spreads Garcia's maps over the table and a highway map he grabbed out of a patrol car too.
Reid immediately jumps on the highway map, marking locations in red sharpie. Bodies, the abduction sites they know about and Huntington's property all get marked, followed by lines and squiggles. Prentiss is staring over Reid's shoulder and if she's standing too close, Reid doesn't say anything.
"This guy was bold," she says, tracing a line from the Huntington property to the Olbrich Gardens in Madison with her finger. "He had no problem driving with the bones in his car for hours. Or with bodies for that matter." Prentiss stares at the map as she speaks and Hotch knows this is going to take a long time to recover from. "I called Caitlin's wife last night. She was in Chicago at a conference when she disappeared. He had her for five days, before," Prentiss trails off.
When this is over and they get to go home, Hotch is going to make sure she gets anything she needs. This isn't going to be Elle all over again, he promises himself. Until he can get them home though, they are going to solve this case, hopefully rescue some innocent people.
His cell rings, disrupting any awkwardness. It's Garcia on the other end.
"I've got a complete list of possible properties and I'm faxing it over, but four miles down the road from Huntington's is six acres of land registered to Anne Carson, which is Huntington's mother's maiden name." Garcia rattles off an address and hangs up after promising to call if she finds anything else.
Hotch calls Rossi and relays the information.
"We're down to a single search and rescue team," Rossi says, "But we're on our way now. I'll call you back if we find anything."
Hotch hangs up and prepares to wait. They don't stop coming up with theories, Huntington's victims may not be on his mother's land. Hell, there might not be any other victims. Hotch doesn't know.
The doughnuts finally show up and everyone digs in, even Prentiss eats after some ribbing from JJ. Close on their heels comes Garcia's complete list of property owned by Huntington, so they get back to business.
Thirty minutes later, Hotch's phone is ringing again: Rossi. It's either really good or really bad.
"Alive. We found them alive," are the first words over the line. Rossi's worked long enough in this business to know what needs to be said. "Three women in a storm shelter on the Carson property. Dogs went straight for it. The women have some minor frostbite, are a little hungry, but besides that all three are healthy."
Hotch breath out in relief. "Alive," he passes on to the rest of the room, and his team breaks out in smiles and slumps of exhaustion. Now it's time for the hardest part: recovery.
"To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless." - G. K. Chesterton