A swirl of color surrounds me. Stepping through this portal is like nothing else I've experienced. I have been detached from the corporeal plane of existence. I feel the very core of my being hurtling towards an unknowable end. Is this death? Is this the darkness – the true darkness – that has been waiting to meet me? Is this the end of it all?
No, a tiny voice tells me. This party's just getting started.
My exit is rather ungainly. I trip forward, rolling twice before I manage to bring myself to a stop. Breathing heavily, I sat up, examining my surroundings. If I had expected to see a familiar place in my own world – my office, perhaps – I was sorely disappointed. By this point, though, I've come to expect the disappointments.
Instead, I see something that is truly breathtaking. We're standing on a strange, rocky surface. I see reddish brown dust staining my pant legs. I look up, and I am met with an unending field of shining stars. Galaxies spiral in masses of color; nebulae gracefully drift in an eternal attempt to form planets. If there was ever an image that was representative of oblivion, of creation, then this is it.
Around me, the others stare with an unbridled awe. They are just as surprised to be here as I am. Of course, the only person who doesn't look surprised is Hans Berkstein.
'Did you know this would happen?' I ask. I am trying to be angry, but at the same time I feel almost grateful that I have had this experience.
'It's not over yet,' he tells me.
'Where are we?' Reid asks. He manages to hobble to his feet with Dave's help. He cannot keep the pain from his voice – I know that if he is to survive, then we must return home immediately. The question, of course, is how?
'You are in the space between universes.' A voice says. It is not the voice of Hans Berkstein. It is a much deeper, much more godlike voice. I turn, startled, but I see no-one.
'Who are you?' I call out. I'm still turning, still trying to find the source of this voice. He seems to fade into view before me. He's not particularly extraordinary, at least, not in comparison to the world around us. He is the Ted Bundy of divine beings.
'Me?' He laughs, and it's an average laugh. 'I'm just this lonely guy. It's nice to have some company around here.'
'"The space between universes,"' Reid quotes. 'Is that…it links the multiverse? You can jump from one universe to the next, but you have to stop here first. It's a layover.' He grasps the situation rather quickly, even with his rapidly increasing blood loss.
'Precisely,' the man grins, and it's an average grin. 'Normally, it isn't this…picturesque, but I fear that its normal appearance may have startled you. The human mind cannot cope with oblivion.'
'Then you aren't human?' It seems an obvious conclusion, but then, he laughs again, as if amused by my train of thought.
'Like you, I was pulled from my own universe. I was ripped out of the timeline, and brought here, to this forsaken place. Taught to master the threads of reality.'
It dawns on me. 'You. You stole our lives from us. Abandoned us in the city.' I'm not altogether sure if I'm angry or thankful. I don't like my life being tampered with, but then, if I had never gone to the city, then…
Derek looks as though he wants to tackle the man, but he is paralyzed by some mysterious force. He settles on saying, 'You son of a bitch.' His fists clench around Emily's arm. She pulls away, not wanting to interfere with his discharge of anger.
'Why?' It seems so simple a question. Why are we here? Why did you bring us here? Is it sadism, psychopathy, a broken home? Here we are, profiling this master of the multiverse.
He shrugs, as if the answer is unknown to him too. 'Why does anything ever happen?' It's all he is going to say on the matter.
'Can you send us home?' I ask, dreading the answer.
'Yes,' he says, and we all seem to breathe a sigh of relief. But then, I realize, he hasn't finished. 'But it will require a sacrifice.' I feel the outrage now.
'You took us from our homes, brought us to a god-forsaken city, and now you want a sacrifice?' The idea seems ludicrous; as though we haven't given up enough already.
'It's the way the world works. One of you must remain behind.' I see the look on Hans Berkstein's face. The look that tells me that he knew of this tradeoff. I think, perhaps, he has tried this before. He brought us here simply to throw us to the wolves.
There is silence among us. I see Emily start to open her mouth; I anticipated this. The way she quit the BAU rather than betray us, the way she revealed herself as the FBI agent in Cyrus's compound rather than see Reid hurt. The way she would throw away anything just to see us through. I anticipated this, and I prepared for it.
'I'll stay,' I say. I see the look of horror in their eyes. I see the look of pain in Emily's eyes. I give her my own look in reply. How many emotions can I convey in that one look? I was aiming for forgiveness, for apology, for loss, and for above all, love. I feel the ground start to slip away beneath me. This rocky surface quickly becoming air.
'NO!' She's already running. I don't think I've ever seen anyone move that fast. She grabs at my arm before I plunge. We're at the edge of a precipice. Inch by inch, I'm falling backwards into the darkness. She's gripping my arm for all she's worth. I can see the pain in her eyes, both physical and emotional.
'Let go,' I tell her, but there are tears in my eyes as I say it. I may be sacrificing myself to save her life, but I don't know if I can save her heart.
'I'm never letting go,' she tells me. But her words belie her; I slip another inch, and she slips with me. She makes a frustrated sound, and tries to pull us back up again. Behind her, Derek is trying to figure out the best way to help without sending us both plummeting into nothingness.
'Let go,' I repeat. 'It's the only way he'll ever let you return home.'
'I can't,' she says. The dark, dripping pools mirror mine. 'I don't want to lose you. I love you, Aaron.' I almost smile. I don't remember her ever calling me Aaron, in the city, or otherwise.
I can't bring myself to say the words. I love you too. Instead I say the very thing I don't want to say.
'I'm sorry.' I wait until I'm sure that Derek's holding her. Until I know that she isn't going anywhere. Then I pull at her injured arm, making her recoil, making her let go.
I can see her disbelieving face as I fall backwards.
Into the darkness once more.
Yes, actually, I am deadly serious. This is the end of Para-Noir. I cannot write a happy ending to save my life. The plotline itself will continue however, first in an interlude piece, then in Return to Darkness, which will detail Emily fucking people up just to get Hotch back.
For those interested, here's a list of the influences that were paramount in the creation of this fic:
Sin City (The concept mainly; I haven't seen the movie, nor read the graphic novels, but I am familiar with some of Frank Miller's work)
There are probably more that I've forgotten but as I've forgotten them, I can't really list them.
Thanks to my avid readers, particularly Arcadya who made a point to review every single chapter (except chapter 18). Thanks to everyone who favorited the piece, or who were on edge enough to be alerted every time I posted a chapter. Tell me what you thought, and don't be afraid to give constructive criticism; criticism helps me know where I'm fucking things up. If you can't think of anything to crit, just review to let me know you were reading. Every thought counts.
Until I get a chance to write and post the Interlude, take a look at some of my other fics. You won't regret it, I swear.
I hope you'll all forgive my overzealous use of commas.
Thank-you, and goodnight.