Disclaimers: Neither Hotch, nor any members of the BAU team belong to me. Neither does Death, as first imagined so vividly by Sir Terry Pratchett, and transplanted to our world. Any minor characters are mine, the rest I'm just borrowing.
Rating: T. Lots of Hotch-whumping. Physical and psychic.
Spoilers: This is set in the nebulous near future, so up to 4.25/26, "To Hell and Back". Nothing specific for now.
Genre: Crossover (Discworld); Gen
Characters: Hotch; DEATH (Earth); appearances by everybody else.
Beta: The lovely and talented tfm.
Summary: After a raid goes horribly wrong, Hotch find himself in an unusual position. He's never been an apprentice before. But then again, DEATH (Earth) has never *had* an apprentice before, so they're even.
Chapter Two: In Which Much Is Explained, And An Agreement Made
Hotch stared at Death. Death…well, he didn't stare, because staring usually implies emotion of some kind. Hatred, or curiosity, or even some kind of befuddlement. But Death returned his gaze, that much Hotch was clear on.
MOST BEINGS, AT THIS POINT IN THE CONVERSATION, FEEL IT COMFORTING TO EXPRESS SOME KIND OF RATIONALIZATION.
"Like 'This can't be happening', 'There must be some sort of mistake'?"
SOMETHING LIKE THAT, YES.
"But it's obviously not a mistake."
Death glanced down, and rummaged in his pocket. He was not wearing a garment that would appear, on the face of it, to have pockets. But pockets are generally useful devices, so Death rummaged through his pockets, and took out a fob-watch. Made of some sort of metal, shining like gold, but black. Hotch was at once comforted, and disappointed, that it turned out to be black.
APPARENTLY NOT. I CONFESS TO BEING SOMEWHAT AT A LOSS.
I DID NOT EXPECT TO SEE YOU AGAIN THIS SOON.
"You mean that you're not aware of these things down to the nanosecond? I'm disappointed."
I MAY BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR CARE, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN I UNDERSTAND ANY BETTER THAN YOURSELF…HOW THEY WORK.
Hotch smiled at that. "As weird as it sounds…I think I may know what you mean."
MOST MEN ONLY COME TO MY NOTICE WHEN THERE IS VERY LITTLE TIME TO SPARE. BUT A FEW STAND OUT. JASON GIDEON. DAVID ROSSI. OUR PATHS HAVE CROSSED SO MUCH. YOU UNDERSTAND.
"I wish I didn't."
Death had no answer to that. The conversation paused, and Hotch realized that an hour had passed. He knew this, even though his wrist-watch had refused, it seemed, to pass with him into the afterlife. The dingy den, still covered in refuse, was now empty of life. But noises still echoed to eardrums that should have heard no sound.
There was a void present in the dust upon the hardwood floor. A void about the size of a human body. Surrounding it were dozens of footprints, as if a group of people had tiptoed carefully around a corpse. His corpse. He turned his attention to the door, and moved to turn the doorknob.
THAT IS NOT A NECESSARY ACTION.
Hotch smirked. "Thank you, I just remembered that." With a sotto voce "Here goes nothing", he passed through the door. It was less disconcerting than he expected; no physical sensation, just a mental insistence that he should have been able to do that. Continuing, he returned to the front porch. Police lights lit up the early evening haze, and he found himself entranced by them. Forgetting himself, he almost stopped himself from tripping over the two hunched figures on the porch. Before he could resist, he quipped, "No action, no equal and opposite reaction, right, Reid?"
But as Hotch reached the sidewalk, some vestigial sense of propriety caused him to turn around. And as much as he knew he had no body to feel such things, whatever Hotch still had felt as if it had been flattened by a steamroller.
Sitting on the steps, entangled in each other's arms, were Spencer Reid and Emily Prentiss, their head each resting against the other's. Reid wasn't crying. But he wasn't doing much of anything else, either. His eyes blankly stared at nothing in particular, as if some force had wrenched all agency from his facial muscles. He had that familiar look of concentration Hotch belatedly recognized, as though, if he concentrated, thought hard enough, he could fix whatever was wrong. Not this time, Reid. Emily was crying, but quietly. Her left hand patted the younger man's hair in an unconscious, repetitive motion. Her right hand was squeezing Spencer's hand, almost to the point of bruising him. Like if she let go for a second, he would be gone as well.
Hotch whirled around, scanning the barren front yard of Daniel Randolph's suburban death-trap. Rossi, drawn and pale, was in deep conversation with Captain Schuyler. Morgan was nowhere to be seen. A screech of tires shattered the eerie calm, as a Crown Vic arrived. A familiar blond head peeked out of it.
"JJ", Hotch whispered.
He could only watch, paralyzed, as JJ spun around. At a loss for the first time in her life, she seemed not to know where she was needed. She finally headed towards the house, and crouched down in front of Prentiss and Reid.
SHE REMINDS ME VERY MUCH OF SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW. SEVERAL SOMEONES, IN FACT.
"I don't know what I'd do without her."
THAT POSSIBILITY SEEMS AT THIS POINT TO BE SOMEWHAT MOOT.
As strong as Hotch's constitution was, this was too much for him to take. He had no idea what action might possibly help. But he suddenly felt a strong need to not be *here*. Here, swimming in this sea of humanity of which he was no longer a member. His first instinct was to head towards the convoy of police vehicles, as he always did. This quickly proved to be a futile proposition. So Hotch just started walking. The outskirts of Albany did not have the most pedestrian-friendly boulevards in the world, but they would do. Especially for uncommon sorts of pedestrians.
If he had looked back at this point, Hotch would have seen that his scythe-wielding friend had been joined by three grey beings. Their shape was indeterminate, but their general emotional aura would have been familiar to anybody who has been summoned to that immortal institution, the Internal Revenue Service. (And they served a similar purpose, except that their balance sheet exceeded any ordinary auditor's wildest imagination.)
He was told, your mission was very very specific.
IT IS GOING ABOUT AS WELL AS CAN BE EXPECTED.
He was told, expected is not acceptable. Expected is somewhat less than acceptable.
AGENT HOTCHNER IS NOT A MAN SUSCIPTIBLE TO USUAL TACTICS. I RELAYED THIS INFORMATION AT THE OUTSET.
He was told, unusual tactics must then be employed. Said tactics were then detailed, at length.
Death sighed. Death did not have lungs, but he sighed anyway. I UNDERSTAND. And he followed the wandering phantom down North Pearl Street.
Hotch was not sure how long he'd been walking. But he had made it as far as the 17th Precinct Station House, where the BAU had set up their command post. The sun had set, and stars now dotted the cloudy urban sky.
He was not tired. He felt he should be tired, that his legs should be falling off after walking 10 miles. But he wasn't tired. He wasn't much of anything at all, and that disturbed him the most. He looked up at the double doors of the front entrance debating his next move.
Sitting seemed as good as anything, so he did. And he found himself eye-level with a familiar black robe. Death sat down beside him on the concrete stoop.
I WOULD TELL YOU ARE A HARD MAN TO FIND. BUT THAT WOULD BE SOMETHING LESS THAN TRUTHFUL.
"I guess I'm pretty predictable."
NOT YOU, PER SE. BUT I HAVE KNOWN MEN LIKE YOU BEFORE. YOU ARE DRAWN TO PLACES YOU KNEW IN LIFE YOU ARE.…WHAT IS THE TERM THAT IS USED? YOU ARE HOMING.
"So you're comparing me to a pigeon now? And why are you even talking to me? I thought your purpose was to usher souls into the afterlife."
THAT IS ONE PART OF THE DUTY.
"Well, so far, you don't seem to be doing a very good job."
THERE IS NO NEED TO BE INSULTING, AGENT HOTCHNER.
Death was right, Hotch thought to himself. But the lack of other human beings to enforce propriety was oddly freeing. "Technically, I'm no longer part of the FBI chain of command, so I think Hotch will be fine."
THAT IS A PLEASANT GESTURE, HOTCH. ONE THAT I CANNOT, UNFORTUNATELY, RETURN.
"I hadn't thought of that. "
I WOULD RETURN IT, HAD I A FIRST NAME TO GIVE. IT IS NO MATTER.
"Doesn't someone in my position sometimes get the chance to ask three questions?"
THAT NUMBER IS TRADITIONAL.
Hotch thought long and hard. "Do you actually play games of chess with people for their lives?"
IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE CHESS. A YOUNG WOMAN NEARLY WON A GAME OF SCRABBLE OFF ME, ONCE. (Death looked down, almost sheepishly, at this.) BUT NATURALLY, I HAVE A RATHER LARGE VOCABULARY.
"Impressive. Do people plead for things like their beauty, or their wealth?"
LESS OFTEN THAN ONE MIGHT THINK. DEATH TENDS TO HAVE A CALMING EFFECT ON PEOPLE. AND YOUR LAST QUESTION?
Hotch paused, and looked away, smiling. "Have you ever dressed as David Bowie?"
PENELOPE GARCIA IS A FORMIDABLE WOMAN.
'She certainly is." And somehow, the thought of never hearing Garcia's voice on the other end of the phone, ever again, was what did it for Hotch. The conversation, once gently buoyed by the airy memory of mortal frailty, crashed to the ground with as much grace as an elephant to whom someone had previously attached a small jetpack.
Hotch darted to his feet again, and turned a pale and pained imitation of his once formidable glare upon his companion. "So you know when, and how, all this happens, what my fate is?"
TO A POINT.
"Then why am I still here? The last few years seem to have been rushing me towards this state of being. So what superior being have I further pissed off, that they want to continue to screw with me after I've popped off the mortal coil?"
The deep and centered green eyes did not flinch at Hotch's anger.
YOU ARE DESTINED, FOR NOW, TO BE COUNTED AMONG THE NUMBERS OF THE UNDEAD.
IT APPEARS SO.
Hotch, from force of habit more than anything else, climbed the stairs, and paced in front of the door. "Perfect. Wandering the earth for all eternity. In ALBANY, of all places."
As he turned, he thought that he glimpsed Death finishing a conversation. But no one else, of any natural or supernatural status was visible.
THERE MAY BE ANOTHER OPTION. THOUGH IT WOULD STILL REQUIRE SOME WANDERING ON YOUR PART. BUT WHAT IS IT THAT YOUR MR. TOLKIEN SAID ON THE SUBJECT?
"Not all who wander are lost." Hotch quietly answered. He gave a silent prayer for spending more than half a decade in the near constant company of Spencer Reid.
EXACTLY SO. I HAVE BEEN INFORMED RECENTLY BY MY SUPERIORS…
"You have superiors? So even the Afterlife has its own version of Erin Strauss?"
WORSE. IF I MAY CONTINUE?
THEY FEEL I HAVE SPENT TOO MANY YEARS IN ISOLATION. THAT MY DUTY MAY BE BETTER FACILITATED IN TAKING ON…AN APPRENTICE.
OR INTERN, IF YOU LIKE. THAT SEEMS TO BE THE MORE CURRENT PHRASE.
Having trained enough Bureau interns, Hotch blanched, his pride rearing its ugly head. "No, I think apprentice is accurate enough."
SO YOU WOULD ACCEPT?
As police sirens pealed around him, echoing off Albany's tall buildings, Hotch considered the prospect. He had spent most of his adult life trying to fend off the ravages of death, at least the unnatural kind. He had come to the BAU to snatch as many men and women as possible from his current companion's grasp. And yet, the balance always fell on Death's side. Always. Didn't those souls deserve his due diligence as well? Hotch looked at Death again, cocking his head to one side, and smiling bitterly.
"Sure. If I'm going to spend eternity doing something, I guess I should at least make it something useful."
IT IS YOUR CHOICE.
Before his ghostly eyes could blink, Hotch felt a tug on the cuff of his jacket. Albany dissolved, and the world swirled around them.
To be continued