Author's Note:

WARNING - CHARACTER DEATHS!

This has nothing to do with anything else I have going. I saw the prompt and it came to me, and for a change, it came to me in a new voice. It's first person but even without the prompts, I think you'll figure out who it is soon enough. And this is also a submission to the special "Pick a Character, Any Character" April bonus to tell a story having each chapter from a different character's POV. So there will be two parts here, each a different team member. And I'm going with Option 1 of that bonus to also mix in another regular prompt from the forum.

Please do heed the character death warning! This is not a cheerful tale so if you're not in the mood for something heavy, please don't read it right now :) I'll have something lighter up in the Girl'verse later today. I would have put that up first, but this was a much shorter proof.

This is a terrible day far ahead in a future imperfect. The title pretty much sums it up.


Prompt Set #18 (May)

Show: Barney Miller

Title: The Vests


Bonus Challenge #12 - The Pick a Character, Any Character Edition!

Show: Gunsmoke

Title: Morgan


Valley of Darkness

Body armor is designed to protect you from injury. They've been making advances on it for the last two thousand years. Really since the first man picked up a stone and threw it at another.

Today we have so many more options for armament than they did even a few decades ago. Hits that would once have resulted in immediately fatal wounds are now usually wholly survivable injuries. And that's because before we're sent out in the world, they give us helmets and shields and vests.

Sometimes even shoulder padding or gloves.

But of course the most common armor, the most recognizable, are the vests.

Hard vests . . . I sigh . . . and soft vests.

The vests themselves often go by different names, they often serve different functions. Most of them are resistant to bullets, some are resistant to blades. Some are even resistant to bombs.

The soft vests I know are designed more specifically for close quarter rounds, usually reinforced to stop sharp knives from sliding into tender flesh. They're worn around the world, most often by police forces, prison guards and private security.

People sworn to protect the public and keep the peace.

People like us.

The hard vests on the other hand, they serve other purposes. They too are supposed to stop bullets and blades, but they're bulky and heavy with ceramic plates inserted into them. And they're designed to help protect against high impact fire and shrapnel from bomb blasts.

They won't stop everything, but every little bit helps. Those vests are worn by SWAT teams and soldiers.

People going into combat.

People going to war.

We wear soft vests, but today . . . my breath catches . . . today we needed the hard ones.

As I stand in the hospital corridor, my eyes stinging from the blood and soot running into them, my finger pokes through one of the jagged holes in the soft blue vest I'm holding. When I look down I see that my brown skin is now tainted with a shade of red.

Crimson magically transformed to rust before my eyes.

And then my eyes start to fill with tears as I stare down at the stain.

It's her blood.

But of course . . . my watery gaze snaps down to my own blue vest, the red splatters already showing as brown . . . I'm covered in her blood.

Emily was standing next to me when the first bomb went off. A piece of shrapnel sliced cleanly through her carotid.

By a matter of inches that could have been me . . . my top teeth dig into my lower lip . . . I wish it had been me. And though I knew that she was dead before she hit the ground, still we rushed her to the ER with the rest of the wounded. Hotch too.

Just in case.

But of course it was already much too late for both of them. His wounds were as grievous as hers were. So as they were together in life, they're now together in death. And though my heart is aching with grief at having lost my two friends, part of me believes that it was probably for the best that they went together.

Neither could have gone on without the other.

Suddenly I feel a familiar small hand on my back, guiding me out of the middle of the corridor . . . I notice absentmindedly that I'm blocking traffic . . . and over to one of the yellow plastic chairs lining that section of the fourth floor hallway.

The chair is hard and uncomfortable, is the first thing that comes to me as I drop into it. But the thought is so petty at a time like this that I instantly feel ashamed for even thinking such a thing.

Hotch and Emily are dead. Who cares about comforts of the flesh now?

At first JJ says nothing as we sit there, the seconds ticking away as the world maniacally spins on around us. We're watching silently as the doctors and nurses in their blue and green scrubs and white jackets . . . all speckled in red . . . rush back and forth down the hall, yelling orders, screaming vitals, racing bloodied gurneys to the elevators to get the mangled bodies to the operating rooms a floor above us.

They're trying to assert control over chaos. So far today . . . just in this city . . . we're at eleven law enforcement dead, two FBI, five ATF and four LEOS. But that count will rise because I know that we transported at least a dozen critical to the hospital.

My heart clenches as I remember that Rossi is included in that second list. Though I've yet to voice the thought aloud, I don't think he's going to make it.

And then there are those like Reid, JJ and myself . . . the still walking wounded.

I hear one of the surgeons rushing past us say to the nurse that this wasn't the type of continuous mass casualty situation that he ever thought he would see on American soil.

Join the fucking club buddy, I think angrily.

As his words triggered a reaction in me, they seem to do the same to JJ and her hand falls to my knee. My fingers immediately cover hers as I wind them together and squeeze.

Though there are people all around us, right now it feels as though we're alone in the world.

Like we've been set adrift.

A second later she begins whispering in my ear. Telling me that Reid's left with an armored escort to pick up Garcia, that he's going to wait to tell her everything until she's here with all three of us. And then JJ says that I'm going to have to take care of her. That she's going to need me.

And though I know that JJ is right, and though Penelope is still my closest friend, for a moment I feel a burst of anger directed solely at her.

She's going to need me . . . I think bitterly . . . well, what if I needed her? What if I want somebody to lie and tell me that they didn't suffer? That it wasn't that bad, that they didn't see it coming. Or the biggest lie of all.

That everything's going to be okay.

My anger is irrational and unfair, I know this. Baby Girl has done nothing wrong, but I can't help the way I feel. Because for just a moment I'm so tired. So tired of everything. All of it.

The murders, the rapes, the wars, the death.

I just want a new life. Or perhaps I just want the old one back.

My self pity is shattered when I hear the next words whispered out of JJ's mouth. Her voice starts getting husky as she tells me that Dave's surgery isn't going well. That the nurse asked her for phone numbers so that they could call his next of kin.

Her voice cracks on the word kin as her fingers suddenly dig into my thigh.

She's trying to hold it together. And hearing that pain in her voice, I pull back from my own grief and pity to turn and look at the woman at my side.

A woman who I love like a sister.

The tears are cutting clean streaks on her dirty face. Her long blonde hair has long since begun to fall from her earlier pony tail. It's now hanging in limp tendrils down to her shoulders. And then to my horror I see rusty streaks drying among the cornflower gold.

Is that her blood or Hotch's?

And that's when I flash on running up to find her frantically applying pressure to the gaping wounds in his chest.

Her screaming at him to open his eyes . . . him continuing to lie motionless on the ground.

And though I can see the small cuts on her face and hands, I remember that when the bombs went off she was as physically close to him as I was to Emily. So, just like the stains on my vest belong to Emily, the blood in JJ's hair probably belongs to Hotch.

My gaze drops to the ground for a moment as a bitter thought comes to me . . . at least we have something to remember them by. Blood splattered clothes and . . . the tears start to well up . . . blood splattered souls.

Though I want nothing more than to go into a dark room and deal with my grief alone, for JJ's sake I know I have to pull it together.

Garcia isn't the only one that needs me.

So I take a breath and bite my lip as I turn to pull her against my side. As JJ begins to weep on my shoulder, a few of my own tears escape and begin to slide down my face.

In an effort to hide my grief from the world around us, I tip my head down to rest against hers.

What the hell are we going to do now?

As I think about our chain of command I realize that I'm in charge of what's left of our team.

But . . . I choke down the sob . . . I don't want to be in charge! I want it to be like it was this morning. When we were all together in the conference room at the precinct, when Emily made a joke to lighten the tension we'd all been under and her husband smiled at her with both dimples. When Rossi spilled his coffee on Reid's notepad and JJ laughed and told him that he was an old man whose reflexes were getting slow.

Even with everything that had been happening in the world these last few weeks, for us it was just a normal day.

And then it wasn't.

And as JJ's tears leave yet another stain on my blue vest, I run through the morning again and again in my mind. Looking for the moment where we fucked up, where it all went wrong.

But we didn't do anything wrong. We did our part by the book. We had a profile of the local sleeper cell, we had a solid plan for capture and we had two tactical response teams with us. And still . . . it all fell apart.

I choke back a sob . . . still we lost three agents today. Rossi won't make it. I know this to be true. He'd half bled out before we got him to the waiting ambulance. And as I picture his chalky face right before the doors slammed shut another wave of grief rises up.

Our numbers are about to be halved.

Halved by a routine raid on a non routine case. Halved by a moment in time where everything went so very . . . very, wrong.

What will become of the rest of us? Will we be able to go on without them? Who will run the team?

I wince in shame . . . it's too soon for such questions. Their bodies are still warm, Rossi's heart is still beating.

There will be time for all of this later.

Suddenly hearing a commotion at the end of the hall, my heart jumps into my throat as I turn to look. JJ's head also snaps up in alarm and she's wiping the tears from her face as she's asking me what's happening. What's that noise?

That's when I see the guns.

I scream the word as we're taught to do as I knock JJ to the ground, shielding her body. The first rounds go whizzing over our heads.

Then our weapons are coming up, the bullets are coming out.

But it's too late to stop this cycle from beginning again. The air is already filled with shrieks of horror, shrieks of pain. Blood splattering against the walls and across the tile floors.

The guards at the end of the hall . . . the one's that had been tasked with securing this floor of injured law enforcement from that morning's raid . . . I can see one of them crawling towards us down the hall, behind him he's leaving a trail of blood and entrails.

I flash on the moments immediately after the bombs went off, and it's déjà vu all over again.

Out of the corner of my eye I see JJ's revolver has stopped firing.

Her clip's empty.

Shit. And hearing her scream of fury a second later I know that was her last one. But of course we weren't prepared to go from war zone to war zone today.

We packed too light.

I only have five rounds left in my own clip and then I too will be screwed with the Glock. But leaving my girl defenseless isn't even an option, so I yank my spare gun from the holster by my ankle and shove it into her hands.

That's our last good weapon. Once those bullets are gone we're completely fucked.

And you know what that means Derek . . . I berate myself as my adrenaline spikes . . . WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!

JJ apparently has just had the same thought because she throws me a panicked look before she again fires at the men coming down the hall.

The men that are taking their time, going slow, killing as many people as they can.

It's a massacre that I'm beginning to see that we can do nothing to stop. Our bullets are nearly useless against their armament.

They have hard vests.

Hard vests and shields and helmets. Kevlar and ceramic and reinforced polystyrene plastic.

These were the men we were after this morning.

Some of them got away. That's why we're doing triage off the ground floor. That's why we had the guards.

Guards that . . . . I duck and roll . . . begin to fire from the other end of the corridor. They're the reinforcements. Since the attacks last week that began our involvement in this new war, and the explosions this morning that killed a third of our team, the hospital has been crawling with police and federal agents.

Bullets are whizzing and zipping past our bodies.

JJ and I are suddenly in the middle of a turkey shoot. And through the spike of panic and adrenaline, I know that we have to move now before we get our heads taken off.

If the UNSUBS don't get us, the friendly fire will.

I grab JJ's arm, with a scream.

"RUN!"

And I yank her up off the cold tile floor. Shielding her body with mine I half drag, half carry her down the hall, trying to keep us against the wall.

There are bullets flying passed us, screams and dying pleas for help assaulting us from both ends of the corridor. And not for the first time today I have the sensation that we've been transported to hell.

Tickets punched one way trip.

My own safety is a negligible concern as the chaos of war again reigns around us. The only thought in my head is that JJ has to live. I can't lose anyone else today.

My heart won't be able to stand it.

We slam into a door ten feet up the hall, it's as far as I dare to run. Any further and one of us will definitely get hit.

I shove JJ through in front of me, she stumbles slightly almost falling, I'm a half a step behind, slamming the door shut behind us.

Time's speeding past me again as I lock it and shove the bed in front to slow down the assassins in the hall. Of course I know that my pathetic barricade isn't stopping anyone with a semi-automatic and a duffel bag full of clips.

The door is wooden.

But it might slow them down a little, and well . . . I feel a wave of bitter impotence rise up . . . it's all I can do.

Once I've stacked the dresser on top of the bed . . . it might catch a stray bullet for us . . . I spin around and my eyes lock with JJ's.

Hers are wild with fear and panic. I know mine are the same way.

Though we have no time to waste, I need to do something to reassure us both that we're not alone in this nightmare. So I step forward, picking her up and crushing her to my chest. Then I close my eyes for a moment and pray for deliverance from a hell I had no previous knowledge of.

It's the second time I've sent up this prayer today, but God doesn't seem to be listening to me. Or if He is my request is falling on deaf ears, because he's already killed at least two of my friends. And clearly what's happening now in this city hospital is the same thing that happened this morning at that apartment building ten blocks away.

A paramilitary assault the likes of which we just don't see here in America.

The war has definitely come home.

That knowledge is an ice pick in my heart. But holding JJ is providing me some slight bit of comfort, false though that comfort may be. But I feel as though perhaps with her this close . . . with my arms around her . . . I might be able to protect her from what's coming. To save her from the same fate that already befell Hotch and Emily and Dave.

It's a foolish hope.

Today survival is all a matter of chance and luck. And my greatest fear at the moment is that JJ's luck is about to run out.

Right now her body is warm in my arms, her breath is hot and ragged in my ear, and even through both of our vests I can feel her heart pounding and her fingers digging into my back.

She's so alive that the alternate fate barely seems possible.

And then she speaks.

"Derek . . ."

My name comes out as a whimper. And hearing the terror bleeding into her voice is agony for me, but it's also enough to finally get my own panic under control.

If these are our last moments on earth I won't let her live them like this.

So I whisper in her ear not to be afraid, that we'll be okay, that we're going to live if for no other reason than our friends deserve justice.

And we can't give them any if we're in a pine box too.

I could have mentioned her son, but I didn't want to be cruel. I know he's been on her mind all day. Hotch and Emily's deaths have left two children orphaned, there's no way that JJ hadn't made a correlation to her own family back home. But I don't want her focusing on that, it's a distraction.

Right now I need her to be the badass that I know she can be. The woman who didn't even blink as she shot a bullet straight through our glass fortress and into a human skull.

That's the woman I need with me right now, not the terrified mother who just wants to get home to her child.

And I believe that woman is coming back to me. Her tears are still running hot against my neck, but my words (lies) seem to permeate the mortal terror that was surrounding her. She starts nodding vehemently as she whispers back a furious.

"Right, for Emily and Hotch . . . and Dave."

The last name spoken causes her voice to catch again. But still I can feel the mental shift beginning to take hold of the woman in my arms . . . hope slowly beginning to reassert itself . . . so I take a breath and then another. Now that I've refocused our efforts to stay alive, my eyes begin scanning the room. Looking for weapons, communication . . . a way out.

THE WINDOW!

It's over JJ's shoulder. And though I want to run to it, there's something else that I need to do first. Something that needs to be done before I break contact with JJ.

Though I can still hear the screams and gunfire out in the hallway . . . so many people are dying today . . . as I slowly lower her to the floor I look down and muster up what I hope is a genuine smile for her.

I'm trying to tell her that I love her, that she's not alone, and that no matter what happens . . . we'll be okay.

I was able to pull it together long enough to do this for her. But seeing her try to conjure up a watery one for me in return again breaks my already broken heart.

If there's a God in his heaven I will get her out of here alive. With that vow to myself I kiss JJ's dirty cheek and squeeze her fingers before hurrying past her to the window.

Only one crazed thought is in my mind.

WE HAVE TO FIND A WAY OUT!


A/N 2: The vest factoids are not meant to be a manual or anything :) I did a bit of research on a few different sites, learned some stuff I didn't know and then cobbled together relevant pieces for what happens to them here. If anything looks familiar from like wiki or something, it's unintentional. It's kind of like writing an essay, if you're trying to convey a fact there are only so many ways to rephrase. That said, I don't think any of my opening phrasing comes from anywhere but my own head.

This horrible world kind of was inspired by one of my favorite books, A Brief History of the Dead. It's a future (though decades from now) where the world's kind of slipped into this chaos that, western countries at least, didn't really think could ever happen to them.

This is my first JJ/Morgan story. I think I've said before that pairing intrigues me and I considered giving them a romantic thread but given the horrors that they were dealing with, I felt that here just their familial love for one another gave it enough 'oomph' that it didn't need any additional angst with a romantic subplot. Morgan's still alpha and has to save her because he can't tolerate losing anyone else.

It was funny, you'd think (given my preferred pairing) that I'd have just written this as H/P but the characters really aren't (contrary to the network's assessment) interchangeable. Morgan was the one that started talking to me about the vests and I just couldn't hear Hotch's voice for this segment. I guess because he was already dead! So it was just Derek talking in my head and then JJ walked down the hall with the streaks of blood in her blonde hair, and that specific imagery just didn't work with Emily so she was never an option here either. And then once I accepted that I was playing in a new sandbox with just these two characters, the rest of it started to slowly fall together.

The conclusion will be up in a couple of weeks. This has been a little side story I've been plucking away at for months but this segment was done so I figured I'd put up this piece of it. Otherwise I've been working on "regular" stuff and I'll be going back to that again. Just trying to clean out my folders so I can move on to the next thing :)

Also, JazziePerson, if you aren't familiar with her work, you should check her out off the TV Title Forum. She's also started putting up her submission for the same bonus of a story told from multiple POVs, it's called More Than One Pair of Eyes, and she has two chapters up. If you like what you see, please give her a little feedback. She's on "holiday" right now but she'll be finishing up that story when she returns. I know was also planning a story on that bonus but I'm not sure if she has hers up yet :)

Prompt Stuff: Lastly, as it relates to the forums, Kavi and I have been pooling our bonus ideas and we'll have a ton of new ones over the few months. One really fun one that will show up in both forums is about Super Heroes! And I've put up a new thread on the Story Title Forum asking for people's suggestions as to which Super Hero/Comic Book character you see the different team members as being. We have some ideas but neither of us are super familiar with the comic book universes so we're sure we're probably missing some great connections. Though we'd love to get thoughts on everyone (or anyone) we're especially looking for ideas related to alter egos for Garcia, Reid and Rossi. So if you have anything for us please bop over there and drop a note.

Just an FYI, we always put the threads requesting feedback under the "Admin" section of the dropdowns so they're easier to find. So if you ever have any ideas for prompts or bonuses in either forum please let us know. We do try to work in things wherever we can. Speaking of, I'll be putting up our most recent list of "Fan's Choice" prompt picks later today in TV Title. And why am I doing all of this stuff? Because Kavi is a TOTAL slack ass! Kidding! :) She's actually off the grid for a couple days so if you have any questions about the forums you can shoot them to me or if you want to talk to her she'll get back to you a bit later.