I do not own Criminal Minds, and Kurt Vonnegut owns Harrison Bergeron.
WARNING: Character Death. While there is humor in it, it's also a very stark, blunt view of death. You have been warned.
Morgan barely had a chance to move from the car before the bullets came flying, he immediately plastered himself to the ground, cursing under his breath. They weren't wearing vests, he and Prentiss were just there to question a witness, not bring in a suspect. He coughed at the swirling Arizona dust, and yanked his phone from his pocket.
No signal. Of course.
They were in the middle of the goddamned desert, miles away from civilization, in an attempt to glean information from a paranoid, government-hating nutjob. Said nutjob must have taken one look at their SUV, and decided they were part of the evil government in his delusions. Now they were pinned down without vests, or any way to communicate their need for back-up.
He heard a gasp, and glanced under the car. All he could tell was that Prentiss was on her back, and that wasn't good. "Prentiss?"
"Yeah?" Her voice warbled, strained even with just one word.
"You hit?" Please say no, please say no, please say no, please say no...
"Yeah." Her voice was resigned, even annoyed.
Damn it. Morgan licked his desert-dried lips, and breathed into his hands. Maybe it wasn't so bad. A thud and cracking sounded just above his head, the driver's mirror landing in shards. Another half a dozen shots thudded into the SUV's engine, as he kissed the ground and covered his head. The hiss coming from the engine told him they weren't going anywhere any time soon. Fuck.
Inhaling deeply, Morgan jumped into a crouch, and scrambled around the back of the SUV, falling on his belly as he got to the passenger's side. He belly-crawled over to Prentiss, eyes widening at the bleeding hole in her abdomen. Her breathing was shallow and quicker than it should have been. "Oh god."
"That bad, huh?" She glanced at him, face pale and drawn.
Another deep breath, and he covered his fear. "Nonsense. I'll get rid of this kook, and we'll get you to a hospital."
"That hissing from the engine says different."
"Yeah, well that's my problem right now, you just keep breathing."
She nodded stiffly. "I think I can do that."
"Good..." He looked around, trying to figure a way out of their predicament. There was only one he could see, and it was risky. He looked back at Prentiss, and made a decision. He reached an arm around her, and beside her head, where it had apparently fallen. Prentiss frowned, but said nothing, as he slid it into her hand, tightening her fingers around it. "Just in case."
"Play dead, Prentiss," he directed her, before leaping to his feet. Bullets flew toward the passenger's side, and Morgan gave a shout and allowed himself to fall to the ground, careful not to fall on her.
"M-Morgan?" She asked, her voice cracking.
"Play dead, girl." His voice was strong, his body running on adrenaline, only pretending to be hit.
As he'd hoped, the shooting stopped. A disturbingly barren silence followed for several minutes afterward, several minutes that felt like hours in the scorching desert. Then the shuffling of a door opening, the shriek of un-oiled hinges, and the snap of the storm door shutting. Heavy boot-steps grew louder as he neared them. Morgan glanced at Prentiss, her eyes were shut, her body as still as she could force it. His glock was wrapped tightly in his hand, beads of anxious sweat popped up on his forehead.
The cocking of a rifle, and the boot steps stopped right by their heads. In only a manner of seconds, Morgan rolled over, pointed his weapon, and fired directly into the center of mass-the man's soiled wife-beater covered chest. Their attacker gave a yelp and fell to the ground, his rifle falling from his fingers. Morgan jumped to his feet, grabbing the rifle and ejecting the bullets before tossing it to the side. It was a smaller rifle, a 22, lucky for Prentiss.
He dragged the unconscious man away from her, and knelt down beside her. "I'm going into the house for a phone. You see anyone else with a weapon, you shoot first. Alright?"
"Not my first day on the job, Morgan." She winced as a deep breath forced her whole body to move. He shot her a grin, and ran into the house.
It was a filthy, fly-infested sty that seemed to barely have running water, and only a rickety 1950's era iron fan as a source of cooling. Tattered, stained furniture was covered in dirty clothes and dishes with the rotting remains of food. Morgan moved through it swiftly, clearing the kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom, before holstering his Glock, and searching for a phone.
There wasn't a single phone, or even phone line in the whole damn place. Morgan released a grunted curse, and slammed his fist into a wall. Another deep breath, and he buried his fear, worry and anger with a mask. Outside, he found a single motorcycle that received care only a little better than the house. The engine was in pieces, apparently in the process of being clean and reassembled.
"God damn it!" He shouted, and kicked the bike over. He proceeded the violently kick at the bike and pieces of the engine, cursing nonsensically.
"Morgan? Morgan!" He stopped abruptly, and rushed over to Prentiss.
"What's wrong?" He asked quickly, searching her for any changes.
"I was going to ask you that." She shot him a look that said she'd heard his little tantrum and had a pretty good idea.
"He doesn't have a phone, and there's no cell signal out here. The engine for the SUV is full of lead, and all he has is a bike that's in pieces. The team knows where we are, but..." Morgan trailed off, the pain in his eyes finishing the sentence.
"They won't suspect anything for a couple of hours at least." She inhaled, and he heard it shake all the way down her throat.
Morgan shook his head, coughing to clear away the lump in his throat. "I'm sorry, Emily. I don't know what to do."
She winced in pain. "Well, I don't think it hit anything major, or I'd probably be dead already. Maybe I can hold out."
Morgan nodded, "I'm going to lift you a minute to check for an exit wound."
Emily nodded, and pressed her lips together tightly to brace herself for the pain. Morgan gentled titled her body, and held her steady while he examined her back. No exit wound. Shit.
Morgan laid her back down gently. "I've got good news and bad news."
"The bullet didn't exit."
"So, god only knows where it landed, or how my organs handled the game of pinball."
He nodded. "Right. Good news is, there's only one wound for you to bleed out of."
"Excellent." At least sarcasm meant she was still cognizant.
Morgan was silent for a moment, and then he pulled his t-shirt over his head, slightly amused to find her looking at him with her raised brows raised in utter confusion. It wasn't exactly hygienic, but probably more so than anything he could find in the house. He pressed the gray shirt into her wound, eliciting a pained whimper from her.
"Sorry Princess," he said, using the nickname he'd only used a few times when teasing her, "I have to put pressure on the wound."
She groaned. "Ugh, and the best you could do was your sweaty t-shirt?"
He chuckled. "You don't want anything in that house, trust me."
"It'd make most teenage boys look like Martha Stewart."
She made a disapproving noise. "That's a scary thought."
"It's a scary sight."
"Glad I missed it."
They went quiet, and Morgan watched her struggle to keep her breathing steady and deep. He marveled at her ability to keep calm; she was laying in a 105 degree desert with a hole in her belly, but was still bantering with him. Morgan was pretty sure those circumstances would sober his sense of humor. He let his gaze travel to her wound, his gray t-shirt growing redder underneath his hand, as he held it in place. She might die out here, and he was completely powerless to help her.
"Hey, Morgan?" Her voice was different, a little scared.
"Yeah?" He could feel his brow creasing and his pulse jump with worry.
Prentiss ran her tongue over her lips, hesitant. "Can you...can you hold my hand?"
He picked up her right hand, and squeezed it gently, staring straight into her eyes. The blood on both their hands made their grip slick and slippery, but they still held on.
Her eyes grew wet, just a little, and she nodded. "Thank you."
They grew quiet again, except for Prentiss's occasional groans and whimpers. Morgan would squeeze her hand, and run his thumb gently over the back of it, but he didn't say anything. She wasn't the type to appreciate empty platitudes, he knew her well enough to know that. After they sat silently for a while, just baking in the desert sun, she spoke again.
"Tell me something."
"Like what?" He asked her, studying the t-shirt, relieved to see the bleeding had lessened considerably, maybe even stopped. He glanced at his watch, 4:30, they'd been at the house for an hour.
"I don't know. How's your mother?"
He smiled. "She's good, keeping herself busy volunteering at church and a homeless shelter, and nagging me for grandbabies."
"Yeah? You ought to give her some." Prentiss commented.
"Oh really?" He asked, his voice colored in amusement. "You volunteering to help me with that?"
Her eyes widened. "Hah!" She said, and coughed. "I didn't know you were shopping for a baby-mama."
Morgan laughed. "And, there's the problem."
He shook his head. "Nope."
Prentiss studied him, from her much lower vantage point on the ground, likely profiling him, even though she shouldn't. That little rule had never stopped any of them. She wouldn't ask him, but he knew she could read his reasons right off him. Two of his colleagues had lost significant others to serial killers because of their jobs, Hotch almost lost his son too. And, it was just too damn hard, and too damn painful to let people in that far. That he knew she'd understand.
"That shouldn't stop you...you'd be a good dad." Sure enough, she'd more or less read his mind.
Morgan just shrugged. At the moment that was neither here nor there. But, he allowed his thumb to absently rub circles over her hand, and it seemed to sooth them both. He could tell she was getting weaker, breathing was requiring more focus and effort for her.
He inhaled a deep, exhausted breath. "That case in Alaska? I still dream about it. About Garcia out there."
"That he didn't run."
"Yeah. She's got those same slashes, like the victims...I wake up completely freaked, Clooney staring at me like I lost my damn mind." Morgan shook his head, poor Clooney was still confused by his nightmares, even after all these years. He'd sit beside the bed, and whimper.
"Clooney?" Obviously, she didn't get what he was trying to say-that this day would be in his nightmares for the next forty years or however long he lived.
"He's a dog, Prentiss," he said, sarcastically.
She struggled through a breath, and then shot him a 'so what?' look.
Morgan rolled his eyes, and then looked toward the ground. "He's been walking a little funny, so I took him to the vet...he's got arthritis…Clooney's getting old."
Now it was her that squeezed his hand, and Morgan shifted to sit closer to her, so that their hips touched. Prentiss shifted slightly, and moaned through her own movement. He held her hand a little tighter.
"I think you've talked enough, save your strength now. I'll tell you a story." She looked at him skeptically. Morgan wasn't much of a storyteller, but surely he could remember enough of one book to turn it into a narrative. Then he remembered a short story he knew she'd like, might have even read already. "So, some time in the distant future, there's a kid named Harrison Bergeron-"
He was cut off by a chuckle that turned into gasping whimpers. He almost regretted picking a Vonnegut story, and making her laugh, but then she squeezed his hand, and he knew it was a good idea. He picked it back up.
Morgan droned for a good two hours, adding his own little embellishments to drag it out, talking straight through the beginning of the sunset. They sat in silence for a while, holding hands and trying not to think about the obvious.
Morgan wasn't stupid, he knew it wouldn't be much longer. He could feel her grip weakening, hear her fast, shallow breathing, and see the sweat-covered pallor of her face. It was a minor miracle that she'd held on that long, but that only served to piss him off. Anywhere else, and she'd be in an OR. He'd be on his cell phone trying to calm Garcia down, and telling her that Prentiss would be fine. But, they weren't. The middle of fucking nowhere.
She was dying, one of his closest friends, a part of his little BAU family, and he couldn't do a single goddamned thing to help her.
"W-what you said ear-earlier...bout Garc-cia..." She struggled to talk, and Morgan had to struggle to swallow.
"What about it?" The nightmares?
"If y-you're going to dream about m-me...m-make it someth-thing good." Her breathing was heavy and labored after she got through the sentence, her face twisted in pain.
"I'd be careful what you're suggesting there," he said, turning his trademark flirty-charm up onto high.
Prentiss gave him a strange look for a minute, and then seemed to realize what he was saying, and started to laugh. It didn't last long, it was too hard for her.
And, then everything was suddenly happening so fast.
She gave an agonized yell, and grabbed at her wound, or rather his t-shirt, lurching a few inches off the ground, before collapsing back down. She was writhing on the ground in pain, gasping and moaning, tears pricking her eyes, and falling down her cheeks.
"Prentiss, what's wrong? What happened?" Morgan asked, leaning over her, trying to figure out what to do.
"Th-think the bull-bullet moved...oh jesus-sh-shit hurts!"
Morgan stared wide-eyed as the gray left on the t-shirt began to grow red again, faster than it had before. She was hemorrhaging, which meant she was probably right, the bullet moved and punctured something. He pressed the t-shirt more firmly to her wound, and she released an awful squealing-shriek of pain, twisting under his hands, fingers grabbing at his hand feebly, tears streaming out her eyes.
Then suddenly, she stopped moving. Morgan grabbed her hand again, holding it between both of his, as Prentiss lay there, panting, her breathing and heart both rushing as fast a dog's after running. Her hand was clammy, fingers barely twitching against his.
"No, no, no...don't you do this, you've got to hang in there a little longer," Morgan begged her. "They'll be here, I promise, just a little longer."
Prentiss opened her mouth slowly, but nothing came out. She stared at him with tired, frightened eyes, tears still falling slowly down her cheeks. "Hurts," she finally managed.
"Come on, Princess, please don't do this to me...you were doing so good." Morgan felt tears burning the back of his throat, and his stomach tight with knots.
She began to whimper, cringing against the pain, and trying in vain to wrap her fingers around his. She just didn't have the energy or the fine motor skills left to do it.
Morgan could feel the flutter of her pulse through the thin skin of her wrist, felt it racing under his fingertips. "You've just got to hang on a little longer. The team will be here with help," he said, gently lifting her into his arms. He had to believe that, the alternative made him sick to his stomach.
He could not watch her die.
Prentiss's head lulled against his bare chest, she closed her eyes, sighing, and Morgan brushed the hair away from her face. A shaky sigh emanated from his mouth, as he tightened his grip on her hand, he wouldn't let go. Her breath brushed hot and fast against his chest, and warm tears tickled his skin. Her eyes began to flutter, and he quickly lift a hand to brush against her hair.
"Come on now, girl. Keep those eyes open." His voice cracked.
She didn't respond verbally, but the look in her eyes was enough to tell him she'd accepted the inevitable. The soft, almost serene look that was like a translucent layer over the pain. He knew it wasn't all calm acceptance on her part though, part of it was her mind already drifting away. His stomach turned itself inside out, and he held her tighter, as if physically anchoring her would keep her alive.
"You are the most stubborn person I know, sheer will should keep you here," he told her, trying to keep his voice light. But, she had that same look in her eyes. "No. Don't you look at me like that. Don't you give up, Emily!"
Her lips were moving, slowly, like it was a challenge to remember the shape she needed to put her mouth in. "S...sor..ry."
"No, no! You don't get to give up. Please, please stick it out with me, Emily. I've got you, and I'm not letting you go, you've just got to keep breathing for me," Morgan begged her.
With a choked sigh, her breathing became wheezing, her body lacking the strength to operate her lungs, and the blood to keep the flow of oxygen. A wash of tears slipped out of her eyes, and Morgan lifted trembling fingers to wipe them away. He left pinkish smears from the blood on his fingers. With tears in his eyes, and burning in his throat, Morgan pressed a chaste kiss to her head, leaning his head against her, holding her close.
The serenity in her eyes bloomed to full-out glazing, and he felt as if he was watching her mind disappear. In the hand he was holding, he felt her pulse shudder to a slow thud that grew slower and slower until he couldn't feel it anymore. The hot tickle of her breath against his bare skin disappeared, and that area of his chest felt instantly chilled. She was just gone.
He checked his watch. 7:13
There's a beautiful tension that hums through a living person. It's not rigid bones or strong muscles-even newborn babies who can't yet hold up their heads possess it. It's beautiful because it means life. When someone dies and it leaves, they become less than a rag doll. There's no tautness left in the body, and it feels almost as if they're going to melt away. Emily felt like wet paper disintegrating in his arms, and it was terrifying. He shifted and she shifted with him, her body beyond limp, and the horror of it was sealed in him mind forever.
She was gone. Within minutes, everything that was Emily, every ounce of stubborn strength and gentle compassion vanished like it never existed. Morgan felt sick, and the burn in his throat and eyes became unbearable, until finally something had to give. He didn't wipe away the tears or try to quiet the trembling in his body. There was no point. The breakdown ended on it's own, but he remained still.
Morgan sat there hugging her to his chest, holding her hand like he promised. He continued to rub his thumb slowly along the curve of her hand. He didn't move for the next hour and a half, until the rest of the team arrived in a blaze of headlights and panic. He heard doors slamming, and running footsteps that dead-ended beside him. Voices-loud, confused, frightened, demanding, male, female, but most of them didn't penetrate the fog encasing his mind.
Even then, he couldn't bring himself to let go. She'd asked him to hold her hand, and he'd told her he wouldn't let go. It took Hotch and Rossi to talk him into prying his fingers loose, talk to him like he was an irrational unsub that had had a break with reality. But, finally he untangled his fingers from hers, flakes of dried blood crusting off, and he eased her out of his arms to lay her back on the desert floor. He was careful, as if he didn't want to hurt her, as if she was fragile as a newborn baby.
And then, everything was as if he'd been sleepwalking through it. He remembered JJ crying, Reid staring into space, looking like he'd been slapped, and Rossi quietly whispering a prayer. Cops milling around, Hotch talking, directing the scene like it was any other case. He knew their leader was feeling just as much of the rest of them, but Hotch considered it his responsibility to maintain that in-control facade. It wasn't until after the coroner's van showed up, that things got clearer, at least for a bit.
It started with the tight painful feeling in his chest, the tension coiling through his body as he watched them unfold a thick black body bag and lay it beside her. His heart started beating faster as he watched them work. And, when the ME and his assistant lifted her up, and her body sagged and drooped, her arms falling to the sides, he nearly threw-up. The ME tucked her arms inside the bag, and the assistant delicately moved stray pieces of her raven hair inside. When the ME grabbed the zipper to pull the bag closed, Morgan had to fist his hands and lock his feet together to keep from running over in objection.
That moment was clear. That moment he'd remember forever.
And, he let everything drift away again, until they returned to the hotel. He laid awake for a long time. He'd called Garcia, given her the bad news before it hit TV screens; JJ had called Ambassador Prentiss. Hotch had called Strauss and requested another team come out to finish the case for them; they'd all be useless for a while. And, Morgan kept hearing her voice, kept seeing those last few moments of her life.
When he finally drifted off, he did dream about her, and she was so very much alive.
The jet was pretty quiet as they flew home, buoyed from a successful case. Emily was smirking as she watched Reid study the chessboard, trying in vain to figure out how she'd beat him. JJ was beside Reid, looking as amused as Emily. Morgan slid in on the profiler's side, nudging her over.
"You beat him again?"
"Yep." Not an ounce of humility.
Morgan chuckled. "This is getting embarrassing, Reid."
The younger man glared at him briefly, and turned back to the board. Morgan turned back to Emily. "So, you want to tell me about this 'train wreck' from the other night?"
Her eyes widened, and she looked quickly to JJ, who help up empty hands. "How'd you know about that?"
"You two are not that quiet when you talk." Emily scowled. "So, what went wrong with this Prince Charming?"
"Who said he was charming?"
"Or a prince," JJ snorted.
Morgan gave an exaggerated wince. "What did he do?"
"Other than obviously miss a step in evolution?" Emily asked,
In his sleep, Morgan smiled. It was a good dream.
A/N: My intention was to illustrate the horror of being helpless while your friend died beside you (I don't remember where this idea came from), which is harder than you might think. On that note, I promise the next story I post will be happy.