- Death-Minor Character
- Alternate Universe
- Crime Drama
- Established Relationship
- Science Fiction
“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” – Bertrand Russell
November 18th, 2008
Colorado Springs, CO
The November chill is heavily present when Lara steps out of the restaurant, a scattering of light and warmth escaping into the night air like a brief halo behind her. She waits for the kitchen door to click closed behind her before she steps forward again, one hand wrapped around her keys and the other free except for the keychain of a canister of pocket pepper spray dangling from her index finger.
It’s later than usual and the city is wet with slush and ice when she finally stumbles toward her car. Her feet hurt up through her calves, and the sight of it is a blissful one.
The parking lot in the back for employee use is dark, the street light twenty feet back having been blown out for nearly a week. She’s not worried, not really. She’s done this walk between the back door and her car a million times and never has anyone noticed her, let alone tried anything.
Because she’s not worried, she doesn’t see her attacker until it’s too late, her bright pink canister slipping out of her reach in her startle to splash into the puddle of half frozen slush at her feet.
“Miss?” She turns toward the voice warily, not relaxing when she sees it’s her last table.
“I’m off duty,” she says, every part in her itching to reach down, grab her pepper spray, and run.
There’s an arm across her throat before she even realizes her attacker is close enough to touch her, pressing hard until she can hardly breathe, let alone scream. “I know,” is the reply into her ear before she’s smacked bodily against her own car, ripping an earring out in the process.
She fights, of course, she fights. But she’s never been all that physical and it had been such a long shift and she’s not as strong as she wishes she was.
She doesn’t realize that her attacker is going to leave with her until the sharp stab of the needle is in her neck, injecting her with something she doesn’t know and doesn’t want.
By the time she passes out, she’s already in the back of his car and the lights of the city are moving past them.
Detective Regan Campbell wakes with the dawn to the ringing of her cell phone, a good twenty minutes before her alarms are set to go off. Her partner mumbles an expletive before burrowing under the pillows and flipping Regan off.
She ignores it, stretching her arms out with a loud yawn before she answers. “Campbe–” she only gets part of her name out of her mouth before she’s interrupted.
“There’s another body,” Sergeant Fortier says, his voice carefully even, “same as the last one. Except this one’s a woman.”
“Fuck,” Regan says under her breath, throwing back her comforter to climb out of bed. She’s halfway to her closet before she replies to him. “Same campground as last time?”
“No. And this time some kids found the body.”
She sees the children first, three boys and a girl hardly older than her own kid. Eleven, maybe twelve. Two of the boys are silent and still, the only evidence of emotion the wet tracks across dirty cheeks. The other boy is outright sobbing, and she can see specks of blood on his blue jacket. She doesn’t know how it got there and isn’t sure she wants to.
The girl is talking, the crying boy’s hand in hers as she’s questioned by a uniformed officer. She’s maybe a year older than the rest of them if Regan had to guess, but things like dead bodies make it hard to tell.
The air smells like smoke and fireworks when she breathes it in, and she thinks she knows why this one is so much worse.
“Weeks, what happened?” she asks anyway, offering a warm cup to her fellow detective when she meets him a few feet out. The younger man takes the proffered coffee but doesn’t sip at it.
“Boys snuck out of the camper in the early morning. Big sister followed them to make sure they weren’t doing any damage. They didn’t see the body until the first couple firecrackers went off.”
“Lovely,” Regan says in a low voice, watching the concerned parents of the four. She didn’t think they were involved, but she couldn’t preclude them either.
“There’s one major difference between this body and the others though. Other than, you know, boom.”
“That sounds ominous.”
“The killer fully decapitated her.”
“Reggie, you all right?” her partner asks when Regan calls just after ten. She hesitates to answer but in the end, she knows it won’t matter.
“This case is really bad, Ellie. I know… I know you don’t like to talk about it, but I–”
“If you’re going to call, you deserve the best. I’ll bring you the number after class.”
“Regan,” Elle interrupts, her voice even and soft, “Let me do this.”
“Okay,” Regan says, swallowing around the word before she continues, “Can you pick up Sonya from school today? I don’t know that I’ll have time this afternoon and I… I need to know she’s with someone who can protect her.”
“Of course. I love you, you know,” Elle says, and it still makes something in Regan warm at the sound of it.
“I love you, too,” Regan says and means it.
Even from the start, JJ knew she loved being a mother. It wasn’t really in question, but sometimes, it was really hard.
Henry was generally a happy baby, but when he got fussy it was usually when she was exhausted and Will was working.
She didn’t regret Henry–not remotely–but moments like these made a part of her wish she was working again too.
She’s trying to keep him calm and quiet while she feeds him when her phone rings, startling him into another long, plaintive cry that will probably take him far too long to calm down from.
She answers it just before the answering machine would have picked it up, in the lull between fussy baby and even fussier baby with a sharper “What?” than she’d intended to, but it was an unfamiliar number and she was tired.
“…is this Agent Jareau?” the voice on the other end asks, after a noticeable pause. JJ sighs, annoyed with herself more than anything.
“Yes, was there something I could help you with? I’m currently on leave.”
“Oh,” the woman says, obviously hesitating, “I didn’t mean to bother you. It’s just, my partner suggested we call you about what’s going on in my town.”
“I’d love to help, but I’m on maternity–shhh, it’s okay–maternity leave.”
“I’m sorry, Elle said she didn’t keep up with you–”
“It’s–wait, Elle? Do you mean Elle Greenaway?” JJ has to sit back down at the realization of that, settling into the rocking chair with Henry in her arms.
“Yes, Agent Jareau. Elle’s my partner. She said your team was the best, and well, we need the best.”
“I…” JJ starts, unsure what to say. She looks down at Henry though, deciding to settle down for Momma for whatever baby reason he has, and knows then.
“I’ll talk to them. You want to send me all the details?”
“Yes, thank you so much.”
She spends nearly an hour looking over the facsimile that Detective Campbell sends her, taking advantage of Henry finally being asleep to look up public details herself. The police in Colorado Springs have done a fairly good job of keeping the details quiet, but her gut instinct says that they’ve been lucky.
The case that Detective Campbell presents is bad. Not the worst one they’ve encountered, but bad all the same.
She straps Henry to her chest and gets ready to leave.
Her team has somewhere to be.
She doesn’t stop to speak with anyone as she makes her way through the bullpen, not even Spence when he lights up at the sight of her and the baby. She wants to, but she doesn’t want to let Campbell and her city wait any longer than they have to.
Hotch is working on paperwork when she knocks on the doorframe, his body folded half over his desk. He looks up, at first impassive and then, just a little, happy to see her.
“JJ,” he says, and she smiles at him, just a little. “You’ve got what, two weeks left?”
“Yeah,” she says, but then she drops her smile, “but I have a case for you. It came to me personally.”
“The detective in charge got my number from Elle.”
“Two weeks ago, a man’s body was found in a campground in Colorado Springs. There was a trio of stab wounds in his chest and evidence of attempted decapitation. There was damage done to his hands that police initially believed to be defensive wounds, but the local ME concluded that the unsub carved a hole in the center of each hand and removed some of the muscle and tissue.”
“Experimentation?” Rossi suggests, but he’s shot down before the question goes further.
“The cuts were precise and specific. However, the ME was unable to conclude decisively if it was made by someone with experience in the medical or veterinary fields,” Hotch says, before turning away from the file and back up to where JJ stands.
“At the time the second body was found, there were no suspects. The first victim, Gregory Bryant, worked for the Humane Society for the Pike’s Peak Area, but police concluded that no one in his social or employment sphere had reason to kill him.”
“It says here the second victim suffered the exact same injury pattern?” Reid asks, somewhat surprised.
“Well,” JJ hesitates, before clicking to the next slide, “with one exception. With Hans Luick, there was evidence that he was still alive when the attempted decapitation was started. He survived several minutes after the damage to his hands and was likely aware of what was going on, even though he was unable to escape.”
“The chest wounds were made post-mortem? Why would the unsub do that once he’s killed him?”
“Any connection between the victims?” Prentiss asks, but JJ shakes her head.
“Not that anyone’s found so far. The third victim, who has yet to be identified, was the first one to be totally decapitated and was the first one put into an actual smoldering fire pit. Additionally, she was also the first female victim.”
“There’s excessive damage done to her chest cavity, and the ME is currently trying to determine how much was the unsub and how much was the result of firecrackers. The children who found her didn’t see her until it was too late,” Hotch continues, still studying his pages.
“How much time between kills?”
“Two days,” JJ answers, and the looks on her team’s faces tell her all she needs to know.
“Jayje, you have two weeks left of maternity leave,” Will argues in a low voice, shutting the door to the nursery behind him as he follows her out.
“And as soon as this case is over, I’ll go back to it.”
“What is so–”
“Don’t you dare ask me what’s so important about any case. You definitely know better than that.”
“I’m sorry, JJ. That’s not how I meant that.”
“I don’t want to go back to work yet. I’m not ready. But someone asked me for help and I can’t just sit here and wait.”
“I know, chere,” Will reassures her, pulling her into a tight hug, “Just promise me you’ll be careful?”
“I will,” she whispers into his shoulder, “I will.”
More than 39,000 feet in the air, Derek Morgan slides his headset down to his neck as the team gathers around to discuss the case, pausing his music without hesitation. They throw some ideas around, but Derek doesn’t feel like any of them fit. Whatever is up with the unsub, he doesn’t think it fits quite right into a perfect little bubble.
“Hey, ho, chickadees, I have some news for you,” Garcia’s voice speaks from the laptop at the table, sudden but not surprising. Derek sits up from his lazy slouch, listening.
“What’s up, baby girl?” he asks, more out of reflex than anything else. Rossi makes a faint chuffing sound of amusement, but Derek chooses to ignore it.
“In addition to having the lovely Agent Jareau here with me,” Garcia says, and that’s when Derek sees JJ standing behind Garcia with a smile, “we have more information from the ME’s office on our Jane Doe.”
“Her name was Lara Croft, and she worked as a waitress. She got off her shift at one am, and was taken from the parking lot. He had her for a few hours and killed her within an hour of her being found. Police were notified of her disappearance by a fellow waitress when her car was still in the parking lot when she came in for the early morning breakfast shift at five.”
“The unsub did all of this damage,” Prentiss asks, waving a hand toward the crime scene photos in front of her, “in just a few hours?”
“The ME reported that most of the chest damage was caused by the fireworks, but there was at least three additional stab wounds to the chest that the previous victims didn’t have. She should be finishing up with her report by the time you guys land,” Garcia tells them, “and in the meantime, I’ll be looking into Lara to see if we can’t figure out what links her with the other victims.”
“Thanks, Garcia, JJ,” Hotch says as she signs off.
“Additional stab wounds could mean overkill,” Prentiss says, and Derek thinks about it.
“It could mean that he didn’t get the thrill he expected from completing the decapitation and thought that stabbing her a few more times would sate that urge.”
“It could also be personal. The fact that he risked getting so much closer to being seen to dump the body where it would be more likely to be destroyed by fire–”
“If the unsub’s goal was to have evidence destroyed by fire, why doesn’t he start one himself?,” Reid asks, “It would pose less risk to do it himself, even if he still brings the bodies to campgrounds.”
“It must be part of his ritual,” Hotch says, “something he feels compelled to do.”
“Anyone else get the feeling this case is going to be bad?” Derek asks, leaning back in his seat again.
“Why do you think JJ brought it to us?”
Colorado Springs, CO
They separate upon leaving the airport. Without Agent Todd or JJ, they’re down a man, but they make it work anyway.
Derek doesn’t mind being paired up with Reid–in fact, sometimes he prefers it. Reid rides shotgun while Derek drives, following the GPS in the SUV to the campground where the latest victim was found.
An officer points them the way once they’re inside, and it’s a blue-eyed Latino detective in an expensive looking suit who actually meets them a few yards from the blocked off fire pit.
“FBI, I presume?” he asks, offering a hand to shake, “Detective Peter Weeks.”
Derek shakes the man’s hand, unable to help the sliver of smile when the man releases his hand to offer to shake Reid’s. “Agent Derek Morgan, Doctor Spencer Reid.”
There’s a brief conversation about dirty handshakes when Reid declines, but Weeks seems to take it better than some.
“Croft’s body was found right over here,” Weeks tells them, lifting the crime scene tape to let them under, “but the parents don’t remember anything until the firecrackers woke them up, and then the kids started screaming.” The camper is still parked just within the edge of the tape, maybe thirty yards from the still blood-strewn fire pit.
“Why were the kids up that early if their parents were still asleep?” Reid asks, pulling out a pair of gloves as he crouches in front of where the body had been laying.
“Andy said that the triplets were up all night being preteen boys in the back. She was reading with one of those bookmark lamps and followed them outside when she couldn’t get them to stay in. She didn’t remember seeing anything, but she thought she heard something snap about a half hour before the boys came out. Didn’t think anything of it since she was safe inside, just checked on her brothers and went back to her book.”
“So the unsub could have seen the light from the camper but chose to dump the body anyway?” Derek asks, and Weeks eyes widen a little at the realization.
“Yeah, he probably did. Andy still had the light on when the first responders showed up, and it lit up the whole scene. One of those fancy LED things that clips onto your page, and it was still on when I showed up a half hour later. The sun was already half up by then.”
“That probably isn’t a good sign,” Reid says, half under his breath. Morgan shares a look with him, well aware of what it could say about the unsub.
“Wouldn’t it be a good thing, someone seeing him?” Weeks asks.
“It could mean he doesn’t care,” Derek says, “because he knows we won’t be able to find him or because he’s too caught up in his ritual.”
Regan has half a power bar in her mouth when a couple agents from the FBI show up, presumably from the BAU. She recognizes Agent Hotchner from Elle’s description quickly enough, but the dark haired woman is unfamiliar. She thinks, maybe, she’s Elle’s replacement on the team. A part of her, a small part, can’t help but feel that they’re missing out without Ellie.
She finishes the bite in her mouth before wrapping the rest back in the wrapper and setting it back next to her water bottle, hoping there are no errant crumbs visible on her blouse.
“Agent Hotchner,” she says, standing and offering her hand, “I’m Detective Regan Campbell. I spoke with your liaison this afternoon?”
He shakes it, a firm quick grip, releasing her hand and turning slightly toward the other Agent. “This is Agent Prentiss. Our other agents are at the crime scene and visiting with the ME.”
Regan shakes her hand too, before motioning toward the conference room just past her desk. “We’ve got the case set up just over there. Doctor Isles is only a visiting ME–she’s in the state for an interview at Cheyenne Mountain and working for the city for a few weeks while our Chief Medical Examiner is on paternity leave, but we’re lucky to have her. She’s supposed to be the one of the best.”
“What can you tell us about the victims?” Prentiss asks as Regan leads them inside.
“Bryant was a single, divorced father of two. His twins are seventeen and were out of the country visiting their mother in Europe. His relationship with both his children was good, as well as his ex-wife. She reported that the divorce was amicable. Given that it happened twelve years ago, I’m not inclined to believe she was lying about it. They called each other monthly, and she’s engaged to marry her longtime girlfriend at the end of the year. He didn’t have a lot of friends, but the ones he regularly spoke with reported that he was a quiet but good man.” Regan answers, taking a short break to drink from her bottled water.
“He spent his time away from work fostering dogs and building model airplanes. His coworkers reported that he was good with animals and respectful with people. His boss reported that he only ever received one citation at work, about two years ago, regarding an animal that was put down against the owner’s wishes. There was a miscommunication between the owner and a woman who had been taking care of the cat while he was away. It never went any further because the owner declined to push it.”
“Did you follow up with the owner?” Hotchner asks, studying the board she’d been painstakingly putting together.
“As much as I could. Doctor McKay is a contractor with the USAF and is currently abroad, but I spoke with his direct supervisor who said he wasn’t in the country. The nature of his posting is classified.”
“A doctor would certainly know how to cut as–” Prentiss starts, but Regan is quick to correct her.
“He’s not a medical doctor. He’s an astrophysicist engineer. But as far as we could tell, he’s had no interaction with the second or third victim.”
“Tell us about the second victim,” Hotchner says, as he looks at the second display of crime scene photos.
Regan takes a deep breath and begins.
The sky is halfway dark by the time they leave the crime scene, the late autumn chill clinging to them. Derek is tired, and he can see Reid lagging a bit as well. He’s more than ready to head back to the precinct and see if Hotch will release them once they talk over their conclusions for awhile.
“Damn it,” the detective with them says, dropping his flashlight in a puddle of muddy water that had been icing over.
“You alright?” Derek asks, picking the flashlight up for him and handing it over.
“Yeah,” Weeks says with a sigh, taking it gratefully, “The baby’s been sick lately so I expect my wife isn’t happy with me at the moment.”
“Sorry, man,” Derek commiserates, gathering a half-smile from the detective.
“It is what it is,” Weeks says, but then he stops suddenly, his flashlight pointed away from the darkening path toward the trees on the right.
“What is it?” Derek asks, but then he sees it.
Reid has his gun out and ready before Derek even has a chance to tell him, and the three of them separate, walking cautiously toward the body while alert to potential danger.
Weeks calls for the ME after getting close enough to see that the man–and it’s certainly a man–is dead. Reid calls for Hotch, and Derek mostly waits, still armed and ready for the worst.
“Are we waiting for the ME to check for ID?” Morgan asks, but Weeks just shakes his head.
“There’s no need. I recognize him. He’s supposed to be on paternity leave, but that’s definitely the Chief Medical Examiner.”
Regan wants to go home, wants nothing more than to sink into Ellie’s arms on the couch and watch whatever show Sonya’s got in the Netflix queue with the two of them, quiet and calm and comfortable.
Instead, she’s tromping her way through the same campground as she had fourteen hours prior, heading to where the body of the usual Chief Medical Examiner lay.
Since the man had been on paternity leave, it wasn’t as if anyone had noticed his absence from work. Dr. Isles’ arrival had been perfectly timed so he could take six weeks leave and everyone had been happy with the arrangement. But it bothered her that his wife hadn’t filed a missing person’s report, especially if he’d had been dead for three days already. It bothered her enough that she had sent two officers over to check on his wife and kid.
The evening cold is enough to have her pulling her coat a little tighter as she walks across the uneven ground, heading toward the copse of trees bracketing the fire pit and illuminated by heavy duty lights.
Weeks, while speaking in a low voice on his phone, lifts the crime scene tape to let her through once she’s close enough. She’s pretty sure he’s calling his wife instead of actively working, but it doesn’t really matter either way. Frankly, she doesn’t blame him.
Dr. Isles, dressed in an expensive red dress and sharp heels but leaning down to examine the body with gloved hands anyway, is a picture of beauty while she works.
Regan isn’t afraid to admit that she admires her for a few seconds before getting back to work.
“Dr. Isles,” she says, crouching down next to the other woman, “what do we know?”
“Detective…” she says with a brief pause, “Campbell, I won’t know much until we get him back to the morgue but he appears to have the same amount of overkill as Croft. There’s no firework damage, but there are at least six gouges in his chest from a knife.”
“I was told he’s been dead at least three days?”
“I can’t be more specific than that until I get him back,” Isles says, “but that’s my estimate, yes.”
Her phone rings then, an unhappy twanging sound that classifies it as a work call.
“Campbell,” she answers without looking at the caller, stepping back from the body.
“Detective Campbell? This is Officer Jenkins,” the young man says through the phone, “we found evidence of foul play at the Wallace residence, but there’s no sign of Mrs, Wallace or the baby.”
Fuck, she thinks to herself, this is just what we didn’t need.
“Have you called for crime scene techs yet?” She asks, drawing attention to herself from Dr. Isles.
“Yes, sir,” the office states, “right before I called you.”
JJ slips into the private bathroom just off Garcia’s office with a heavy breath, holding her bag to her chest. It locks closed behind her, and she waits a long minute, staring at her pale-faced reflection in the mirror.
The day has already been more tiring than she’d expected, the transitions from full-time mommy to Agent and liaison more difficult than she’d expected. She doesn’t regret it, but a part of her wishes she’d eased into it instead of jumping in headfirst when Elle’s partner had called her.
It takes a few minutes longer to pump than usual, her distraction with both the case and the sudden resurgence of Elle Greenaway doing little to help to maneuver in the small bathroom.
By the time she returns to Garcia’s office, it’s been closer to half an hour than fifteen minutes, but Garcia doesn’t seem to notice.
JJ sends a text to Will asking about Henry after she borrows Garcia’s fridge, and then goes back to work.
Nearly an hour later, Garcia’s phone trills with an incoming call. She answers it without hesitation, hitting the speaker button immediately afterward.
“Speak and be spoken to, peon,” Garcia says, sharing an amused grin with JJ.
“There’s been another victim. We need everything you have on Simon Wallace,” Hotch’s voice comes through the phone, his words hard and even.
“On it, sir,” Garcia answers, halfway to the end call button when Hotch speaks again.
“The ME puts his time of death as at least three days ago, so keep an eye on missing person reports for the Colorado Springs area too, just in case.”
“Will do, bossman,” Garcia says, “was there anything else?”
“Look into his wife as well. Is JJ still there?” Hotch asks, and JJ finds herself standing as if he can see her.
“Right here, sir,” she says respectfully.
There’s a brief pause before he responds, as if he’s thinking something over. “We need you in Colorado if you’re ready.”
JJ shares a brief knowing look with Garcia before the other woman speaks for her. “I’ll book the next flight and she’ll be there pronto.”
Colorado Springs, CO
The room Simon’s murderer has Dominique Wallace in is cold but dry, not even the faintest hint of mildew inside it. But there isn’t anything to fight with inside it, the room devoid of anything except a bare mattress, a package of bottled water and an unopened box of crackers.
She’s had her belt and shoes taken but Eliza was left swaddled in her blankets, something that Nikki is thankful for even if she doesn’t understand the reasoning behind it. The baby doesn’t like the disruption in her life any more than her mother does, but there isn’t anything they can do about it.
Her only goal, in this dark cold empty room with no windows, is to protect Eliza, who is helpless and innocent.
Watching what happened to Simon–it had been so hard and so… painful. She doesn’t want to give his killer a reason to do it to her, or especially, to her baby.
Nikki settles down slowly to the mattress with Eliza cradled in her arms, shivering in the cold. Eliza, for her part, is quiet. It worries her, but she doesn’t know what to do about it. She’s not hungry and she’s not dirty and Nikki has hardly put her down.
She’d been struggling enough as it was with the baby–that had been the reason why Simon had asked for time off. Because she hadn’t been prepared for it as well as she thought she’d be and now…
Now Simon is gone, and she is totally alone in some stranger’s basement wearing pajamas and a bathrobe while her baby suffers in silence.
She is afraid. Since giving birth she has been terrified of not being good enough of a parent for Eliza and now that she’s faced with an unknown attacker and an uncertain fate, she’s even more afraid.
But she knows that if they make it through this, her and Eliza, they can make it through anything.
If something happened to Eliza, something permanent and real and hard, Nikki doesn’t think she would survive it. Losing her daughter–especially so quickly after watching her husband’s brutal murder–would be far worse than death.
Nikki waits and watches and does what she can to soothe Eliza and thinks, what the hell are Wraith anyway?
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt