Title: House of Horrors
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Characters/Pairing: Emily Prentiss, Derek Morgan, team - gen
Summary: On a routine interview, things turn sour. Saving the day isn't as easy as it might seem.
Author's Note: Written for the girlsavesboy ficathon, which technically, isn't until the 1st, but I have other things to do, so I'm posting it now, and I will add the link there later. Many thanks to yellowsmurf6, who helped on this so much that she's practically a co-author, and Windy City Dreamer, who provided some much needed support.
For as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but white.
The snow had fallen thickly the previous night, a blanket covering the world. Beneath it, there was probably green, but that's something that wouldn't be known until the first thaws of spring began. Birds would sing, and flowers would bloom, but the BAU would be long gone by then. In Arizona, or New Mexico, or California, or maybe even at home in Washington D.C.
The house seemed to spring out of nowhere; a blip on the horizon, the only building for miles around. Visibility was affected by the weather, of course, but it still gave off an eerie, isolated kind of feeling. It was huge – Victorian Gothic, if Emily wasn't mistaken. She hadn't exactly studied architecture in any capacity, but after a few weekends of helping Morgan renovate his latest property, and four years of hanging around Reid, you picked up a few things. Not to mention her teenage fascination with all things Goth.
The scene was almost fantastical, as though pulled straight from a book; a countryside manor, a la Austen, or Bronte. There's a Christmas ball, with a feast, and dancing, and no doubt a few unrequited loves. Of course, it was the wrong country – not to mention the wrong century – for that.
Still, it was a nice thought.
The sun was out now, reflecting off the snow.
Emily lowered her sunglasses.
'Nice house,' she commented, pulling her coat a little tighter.
'Probably couldn't afford even a tenth of it on FBI salary,' Morgan replied.
She laughed. 'You aren't raking in the profits from all those properties you keep selling?'
'Don't do it for the money, Princess,' he told her with a shrug. She gave him a look at the use of the moniker.
'Do it for the chicks?'
'Nah,' he grinned. 'That's what the badge is for.'
'Right, because catching serial killers really gets people hot.'
Really, they weren't even fully sure there was a serial killer to be catching. Missing persons cases were a tenuous cause for the BAU to be called in, especially if there were no clear similarities. This case seemed to hover somewhere in the middle – enough of a connection for the team to be called in, but too weak for them to have found any substantial leads.
'So who is this guy?' Morgan asked, in that tone of voice that said he hadn't read the file that Garcia had sent, and was instead relying on Emily to summarize it for him.
Emily did not disappoint. 'Charles Watson, M.D. Ph. D' she told him. 'Professor emeritus of Biomedical Engineering, MIT. Two of our missing women were students of his, and the crime scene technicians found a note with his name on it – it's possible that she was going to meet him.'
'Not exactly a signed confession,' Morgan said, his brow furrowed.
'No,' agreed Emily, 'But if he saw her before she disappeared, then we might be able to narrow down the time of kidnapping.'
'If she was kidnapped,' he countered. Emily rolled her eyes.
'You know, you don't have to play Devil's Advocate every time we get a case that you don't like.'
'I'm just saying, Prentiss – young women go missing all the time, and it usually isn't serial.'
'It's still a week until Christmas, Derek,' she told him drily. 'You'll get home in time.'
He didn't rise to the tease, but he didn't seem particularly happy about it, either. In any case, they walked up to the house; like the driveway, the path was shoveled and salted. While Watson was retired, he didn't seem to be shutting himself away from the world completely.
Emily shivered. It wasn't the cold; she had grown up all over the world – some places so much colder, some places so much hotter. The musical chairs of shifting climates was something she was used to. Morgan, of course, was a Chicago boy; there would have to be a freaking blizzard before he was fazed by the weather.
The door opened just a few seconds after Morgan knocked, and Emily took stock of the man standing there. He was tall, well built – retaining an enviable shape, even though he was pushing sixty. Judging by the buttoned-up Oxford, and the corduroy pants, though, he wasn't particularly interested in showing off.
'Doctor Watson?' Morgan flashed his badge. 'SSA Morgan with the FBI, this is SSA Prentiss. Could we ask you a few questions?'
Watson didn't answer straight away, instead looking at them with some curiosity. 'Of course, come inside.'
He stepped back to let them in, and Emily stood there for a moment, letting the warmth sink into her bones.
'Would you like a drink?' Watson asked, gesturing towards what looked like a sitting room. 'I can set a fire going, but some hot chocolate should warm you up in the meantime.'
Morgan looked a little hesitant, but Emily couldn't deny that some hot chocolate would be really, really good right about now.
'Chocolate has serotonin in it,' Emily told him. 'Maybe help pull you out of that mood you're in.'
He gave her a look. 'I am not in a mood.'
'It's also filled with antioxidants.'
'Thank-you, Doctor Reid.'
'Do you want to hear about the history of the cocoa bean?' she asked him, and he gave her a look that was usually reserved for Reid. Before he could argue, though, Watson returned, bearing a tray with two mugs and a plate of cookies that looked homemade.
'I like to work with my hands,' he said with a smile, following her gaze.
Emily nodded. 'You have a lovely home,' she commented.
'Thank-you.' Watson almost seemed surprised at the compliment. 'My mother…she wanted to turn it into a motel – Lord knows it's big enough – but she died before she could finish. I could house an army here.'
Emily cupped her hands around the mug, drawing warmth from it. Her fingers were still a little bit numb from the outside cold, to the point where she managed to slosh the drink over herself in an attempt to take a sip. The hot liquid stung through her pant legs, but it was nothing Emily wasn't used to.
While her mother had demanded the utmost grace in public, Emily had somehow always managed to klutz things up. Some things had changed in twenty years, but that wasn't one of them.
Fortunately, no-one seemed to notice; Watson was tending to the fire, while Morgan was examining the chocolate chip cookie that he had picked up from the plate. It was with solemn professionalism, though, that he said, 'We'd like to ask you a few questions regarding a couple of your former students.'
'Has something happened?' Watson asked, his voice taking on a worried tone.
'Over a dozen young women have disappeared over the last few months,' Emily told him. 'Two of them – Jennifer Richards and Elise Ivanova – you taught at MIT.'
For a few moments, Watson didn't say anything. 'I wish I could help you, agents, but I had hundreds of students over the years; I can't say I recall Jennifer, but Elise kept in touch with me over the years. I was making some phone calls regarding jobs for her, but she hasn't called in days.'
'She didn't talk to you about going anywhere?' Emily queried. 'A vacation, or…'
'Not that she told me,' Watson said, his expression curling into a frown. 'We weren't…close, as such – when she didn't call, I just assumed that something had come up.'
They ran through the standard fare of questions: "Was she acting strange the last time you saw her?" "Did she have any enemies that you know of?" "Why did the chicken cross the road?"
It was almost ten minutes later when Emily found herself feeling fuzzy. The fire, and the hot chocolate would have had a soporific effect, considering they'd been up for nearing twenty-four hours, but there was something else. Something a lot more sinister.
As though she was hurtling through space at the speed of light, without a seatbelt. She looked towards Morgan, her heart skipping when she saw his head starting to loll, his eyes half-closed.
Mouth open in horror, Emily barely had the presence of mind to turn back towards Charles Watson.
He was smiling.
Her hand scrambled for her gun, but motor function was quickly deteriorating. Spots of grey edged her vision, starting to fade into a dull black.
Emily's last conscious thought was, 'Fuck.'
Her mind swam through a sea of colors.
She was drowning.
She had to find her way to the edge, crawl out.
Bad things were going to happen if she didn't get out of there.
The world was a blurry, fuzzy mess, but it was the real world. She felt as though she'd gotten shampoo in her eyes, but it was the real world. She felt like she was going to throw up, but it was the real world.
Watson and Morgan were both gone, and she was still sitting in the same spot that she had been before, mug of hot chocolate tipped to the side, its contents spilling to the floor.
Drugged, her mind told her. She tried to brush through the cobwebs and take stock of the situation, but it wasn't exactly easy. She might have gotten a lesser dose than Morgan, but it still impaired her cognitive function. Probably the hot chocolate then.
Gripping the side of the chair, she stood. Slowly, her mind was clearing, enough to think, What the fuck is going on?
She unsnapped her holster, not drawing the weapon just yet. She didn't quite trust herself to be handling it, but at the same time, she didn't want to be unprepared if Watson were to return.
Team. Call the team.
It took a few goes to maneuver her phone out of her pocket, but already she was regaining her fine motor control. Whatever she'd been dosed with, it wasn't enough to keep her out of the game.
Emily stared at the phone.
It was impossible; they weren't exactly out in the middle of nowhere, and she'd been on the phone to Hotch just a few miles down the road.
Unless Watson had a jammer. They were ridiculously illegal, of course, but it was small beans compared to kidnapping and murder.
Murder, of course, was only a guess, considering they hadn't actually found any bodies. It was possible that they still could be here, while Watson tortured them to death over a period of months.
The thought made her stomach roil.
There was one option: run. It was the easy way out, but it wasn't the right way out. She'd never left someone behind before, and she wasn't about to start. In any case, Watson might have put precautionary measures in place. Emily could pick a lock, but doing so would leave herself wide open, and she didn't want that. She couldn't help Morgan if she was dead.
The only way she could help Morgan was by finding out just what the hell was going on.
What does the profile say?
She didn't know what the profile said, because they had so little information that forming one had been almost impossible.
But you're here, now. You know what's going on. So profile.
Of course, she didn't really know what was going on. All she knew was that Watson had drugged Morgan and taken him…taken him somewhere. "Why?" was the question that was up for discussion, as well as "what?" as in, "what the hell had he been planning to do to them?" – what the hell he was still planning on doing to Morgan.
He drugged the hot chocolate, jammed your cell phones, and has possibly been abducting women for months without anyone noticing.
It just screamed "organized offender." Even that was a simplistic generalization, according to Reid. There were too few serial killers to collect adequate data, and the data that was collected was of poor quality. They used the descriptor anyway, because it did help narrow the profile down.
When it came down to it, though, profiling was an inexact science. They could profile a disorganized sexual sadist down to a T one case, and the next case they could get their asses handed to them by a kindly looking gentleman like Charles Watson.
Malignant narcissism, with a side order of "what the fuck?" didn't seem to cover it.
Emily tested her fingers, deciding that she had the dexterity to draw her weapon without accidentally shooting a hole in her own foot. If Watson came back for her, then he'd have a hell of a surprise on his hands.
He didn't come back, though. Emily scanned the room, as the minutes ticked by, cataloguing every piece of furniture, every ornament. Then, she noticed the camera; to the average observer, it didn't look particularly out of place, but then profilers were trained to find the small details.
He knew, then. He knew that she was awake, that she was waiting to fight back.
Which meant that she would have to find him.
Not as easy as it sounded.
The house was huge, and if he had security cameras, and a cell phone jammer, then Emily was willing to bet that he had other surprises in store. A regular H. H. Holmes.
The first floor of the house seemed normal. Nothing out of the ordinary; the décor seemed slightly strange for a house like this one, but that was nothing to get suspicious over. What she could get suspicious over was the dimensions. Outside, it seemed huge. Inside it was much less so.
Oh, you have got to be kidding me, Emily thought to herself. Please don't tell me he has a secret passageway, or a hidden room, or a freaking elephant hiding behind the nearest wall. The Holmes comparison had been a throwaway comment; she really, really didn't want it to become a reality.
Moving to the nearest wall, she knocked against it, the resulting noise confirming her suspicions.
The living room and the kitchen – they were just for show. The real action was going on behind the scenes, and Emily had to find a way of getting there. She cleared the floor again, looking for a secret panel, or a loose floorboard. It occurred to her that Watson must have been working on this place a long time. Holmes had gotten away with it by hiring multiple contractors, none of whom knew the grand purpose of his murder castle. Of course, that had been over a hundred years ago. Something like that wouldn't fly these days.
No. Watson did this himself.
If he taught engineering at MIT, then she imagined that he probably had some kind of DIY experience. I like to work with my hands, Watson had said. The words rang in Emily's ears. There were so many ways of interpreting that phrase.
On her second run through, she noticed the grooves in the floor by the bookcase. 'Oh, come on,' she muttered to herself. She scanned the titles that filled the shelf. Most of them were old, leather bound, with gold leaf decoration. A fair few of them were titles that she recognized: a "Who's Who" of classic literature.
Halfway down, a title caught her eye. Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes takes a backseat to Watson in the investigation into Charles Baskerville's death. One of the more well known Holmes stories. She brushes a finger down the spine. Holmes and Watson.
No. This wasn't about paraphilia. Plenty of unsubs "appreciated" the work of their fellow serial killers without there being a sexual element to it, and as far as they knew, all of Watson's victims were young women.
Except for Morgan, her mind added, only Morgan wasn't exactly a planned addition to the trophy case.
No, she tells herself. No, Morgan isn't even going to make it to the trophy case.
She pulled the book backwards, and even though she'd been half expecting it, it still scared the crap out of her when she heard the low grinding noise, and the bookcase began to move, taking the floor with it.
It was rotating, rather than opening outwards, which meant the moment the bookcase clicked back into place, she was stuck. Shit.
It was pitch black – probably one of those situations where a tactical illumination attachment for her Glock would have come in pretty handy. Morgan's gun had one, but she didn't have a clue where Morgan himself was, let alone his weapon.
Emily let her hand move across the wall, trying to find a light switch, or at the very least, a path through the darkness. For a single, horrifying moment, she wondered if the "door in the bookcase" thing was a deadly trap, and she'd die stuck here in this dark, empty coffin. Before the panic could take hold, though, her clambering fingers found what she'd been looking for.
A warm, yellow glow filled the room. The wattage wasn't particularly high, but she figured – hoped – that Watson only used the passageway to move about the rest of the house, and she didn't need to be looking out for tripwires.
What she really needed, was a map, with a bright red dot, and the words "You are here" and then maybe a blue dot with "Morgan is here." As it was, though, she was pretty sure that any house that needed a freaking secret passageway would be pretty labyrinthine.
Where's that ball of string when you need it, Theseus?
There were two choices. Left or right. Two choices. One to salvation, one to a horrific death. Sometimes it seemed like they were making that choice every single day, only it wasn't so black and white. It wasn't one or the other. It was a slow, burning path to self-destruction.
Emily went left.
The passageway continued, dim and narrow. It turned at one point, and Emily got the vague idea that she was moving around the outside of the house, which meant that there was probably another room somewhere on the other side of the passageway. She hadn't found any doors yet – at least no obvious ones. Of course, there could have been a door that only opened when you tapped out Ride of the Valkyries in the right location, at the right speed, but really, there was not much she could do about those doors.
In the enclosed space, the heat was stifling, and Emily got the vague idea that it was actually getting hotter. Like someone was cranking up the heat. Wiping the line of sweat that was starting to form on her brow, Emily started to shrug off her coat. Providing everything went okay, she could come and pick it up later. If the house had a self-destruct button, or a bomb in the basement, she was going to be pissed – that coat was expensive.
The more pressing matter, though, was the fact that he knew she was in there, and he was taking action. If there was some way of making it hotter, then there was a heating system. A heating system meant vents. Vents meant that if he wanted, Watson could pump in poison gas, or suck out the air altogether, depending on the kind of system he had set up. Neither thought was particularly comforting.
The heat continued to rise, and it was with some reluctance that Emily shrugged off her sweater. That, though, she kept tied around her waist. Just in case.
Emily turned another corner, and was met almost immediately with a staircase. While the flat ground felt safe, she found herself apprehensive about the staircase. If it was trapped, then she couldn't exactly just roll a reflex save.
She put her foot on the first step, giving it as much pressure as she dared.
There was nothing.
It was what she should have expected, but considering everything that was going on, her cognitive processes had a fairly strong undercurrent of paranoia. Her hands gripped the Glock so tightly, it was probably going to leave some kind of impression. It wasn't like a raid, where the team was on the offensive, and they had back-up, and Kevlar, and two-way radio communication. Here, even though she was looking for Morgan and Watson, defense was the primary objective. There was no-one there to watch her back, nothing there to stop the bullets, and no friendly voice in the ear. She would have given almost anything for Garcia's cheerful banter, or Rossi's comforting baritone. Hell, she would have even gone for Hotch's "I'm angry" tone, or Reid's "I'm telling you the complete history of Pop Tarts" voice.
At the top of the stairs, there was a landing, and nothing else. No. Scratch that. There was a landing, and a door. The outline of the door was hard to see in the low light, but it wasn't hidden. There'd be no need to hide it on this side.
The thing slid open, revealing a long hallway right in front of her, lit by a series of intermittent bulbs that were much brighter than what had been downstairs. There was another hall to her right, looking just as ominous. Both directions seemed to have multiple doors, leading to God knows what. Cells? Torture chambers? Somehow, she didn't think there would be a nice big bed, with a fluffed up duvet in any of the rooms. Emily took a single step, and then jumped in surprise when she heard an ear-splitting noise, that sounded like a record scratching. FBI agents were trained not to pull the trigger at just anything that surprised them, otherwise there'd be quite a few dead cats out there. It was a very near thing though, and she took a moment to breathe, trying not to freak out.
It was still ridiculously hot, even though she'd left the passageway, and for a brief moment, she wondered if the sound had been nothing more than a hallucination, brought on by her semi drugged-up state.
It wasn't, though. She knew it wasn't, not least of all because her mind was so much clearer now.
Then, the clicking started.
Emily frowned. It sounded familiar. Really familiar.
She keeps Moet et Chandon
In a pretty cabinet
'Oh, hell,' Emily muttered, and the music was so loud, she couldn't hear her own voice.
'Let them eat cake' she says
Just like Marie Antoinette
Keeping one hand on the gun, she used the other to try and block her ears, but it was useless. She couldn't block them without dropping the gun, and there was no way in hell she was doing that.
Both sound bombardment and sound deprivation were used as torture methods. In this case, it didn't really feel so much like torture yet, but Emily assumed that the music, in accompaniment with the heat, was supposed to wear her down somewhat. Preparation for the real torture?
A built-in remedy
For Khrushchev and Kennedy
Emily was a Queen fan at the best of times, but it wasn't exactly the right time to be rocking out. Especially not at this volume. If she didn't get this done quickly, her ears would be shot, not to mention her sanity.
At anytime an invitation
You can't decline
Emily blinked, trying to mentally compensate for the sound. Compartmentalize, she told herself. It's just another thing to lock away. You've been doing that all your life.
When they got back to civilization, Emily would be having a serious chat with her psyche. If they were still on speaking terms, of course.
Caviar and cigarettes
Well versed in etiquette
She came to the first door, her hand twisting the doorknob slightly. Unlocked. Still, she stood well back as she pushed it open, vindicated when the spikes sprung from the floor in the area surrounding the door.
The guy had fucking spikes in his floor. She stepped over them gingerly, eyes watching the floor for anything that might set off another trap.
The room itself was strangely empty – a light switch by the door, and nothing else – as though it was only there to lure people in; an explanation that was not entirely out of the question.
She's a Killer Queen
Dynamite with a laser beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind
Satisfied that Morgan wasn't hiding behind any of the non-existent furniture, Emily stepped out of the room, pulling the door as far shut as the spikes would allow. The fact that the trap hadn't reset yet suggested that it was at least partially under manual control.
Recommended at the price
Insatiable an appetite
The second room was much the same, though the trap was gas, instead of spikes. It hissed from the vent in the wall, and Emily stepped back outside quickly She pulled the door to that room shut, hoping like hell that it wouldn't seep under the door and kill her. In retrospect, though, it probably wouldn't have; the spikes had been designed to incapacitate, so she assumed that the gas was too. If Watson wanted to keep his victims for an extended period of time, then he would try to avoid traps that killed immediately.
To avoid complications
She never kept the same address
She spoke just like a baroness
The third room, there didn't seem to be a trap, but the room was dark. The light bulb outside the room was out – deliberately, or otherwise. There was a little bit of ambient light from the other bulbs in the hall, but not enough to see much of anything. Emily stepped inside, half expecting to have a boulder drop from the ceiling and crush her like an ant. In that faint light, she could see the same switch that had been in the first room. Flipping it, her heart almost skipped a beat.
There was someone in here.
Met a man from China
Went down to Asia Minor
Then again incidentally
If you're that way inclined
Young – maybe eighteen or nineteen – female, bound at the wrists and ankles. She had her hands to her head, trying to block out the noise, but the rope didn't quite give enough leeway. Emily dropped down beside the girl – the woman – and pulled the Swiss Army knife from her pocket. Having spent most of her childhood overseas, Emily had never quite had the chance to be a girl scout, but she'd had her own learning experiences anyway.
Emily put a hand to the woman's shoulder, and she started, body writhing against the rope. She looked upwards in fear. Emily recognized the face – it was Elise Ivanova, one of their missing persons. Emily tried to give a reassuring look, and started to hack through the rope. Elise calmed down considerably, once she realized what was going on.
Perfume came naturally from Paris
for cars she couldn't care less
Fastidious and precise
'Are you okay?' Emily said, her voice still drowned out by the song.
'Make it stop,' Elise moaned, her now free hands covering her ears. Emily wondered just how long she'd been experiencing torture at Watson's hands. As if on cue, the music cut out, and the deadly silence was a harsh dichotomy. Emily's ears were still ringing when Elise Ivanova hugged her tightly.
'Thank-you,' the teen whispered. 'I…I thought I was going to die here.'
'It's okay,' Emily managed, a little shakily. 'I'll get you out of here.' She paused, remembering that she hadn't identified herself yet. 'My name's Emily – I'm with the FBI.'
Elise seemed to brighten at the revelation, as though the presence of a real authority figure meant that everything was okay. Emily was pretty sure that was a bald-faced lie. Yes, she was an armed and trained field agent, but that didn't mean she stood a chance against a man like Charles Watson. Gas, and spikes and ridiculous heating were one thing, but if they started getting any more lethal, then chances were that nobody was going to make it out alive.
But that's not something she was going to tell the hysterical teen that'd just spent days in the clutches of a madman.
A scream split the air; a scream that Emily only had a split second to analyze.
Morgan's screams – she'd never heard him scream before, no matter how ugly their cases got. She'd heard him yell, and it was a similar sound, if a little less guttural. The sound was coming from the speakers again, which told her two things: one, Watson wanted to keep her guessing, and two, the room that he was in was probably soundproofed. The screams were so loud, so penetrating, that she was sure that she should have heard them.
Emily could block out the screams – or at least try to – but Elise Ivanova was another matter altogether. At the sound of the first one, her face went pale – paler – and as they continued, her panic grew. With the number of potential victims that Watson had, it wasn't entirely out of the question for him to have dozens of recordings, playing them over and over again, to reduce morale and send everyone else insane. It served the same purpose as the music, but it hit so much harder.
'We've got to get out of here,' Elise said, breathlessly, grabbing at Emily's shirt, and before Emily could do anything, the other woman was running.
'Stop!' Emily called out; in a house that was filled with traps, running was perhaps the worst thing to do. She bolted after the younger woman, managing to pull off a tackle that would have made Morgan proud. There wasn't much time for self-congratulation, though. The screams stopped just in time for Emily to hear an ominous creaking sound. The floor seemed to shift slightly underneath them.
Trap door? Pressure plate? What would happen if either of them moved?
The more horrifying question was, what would happen if they stayed?
'Stop,' Emily said again. 'Don't move.' She moved her weight slightly, testing the weight distribution. Moving too quickly would put too much pressure on the thing, and probably set off whatever trap they were trying to avoid. The surface area of the trap seemed to be fairly wide, which, now, was good news. 'I'm going to stand up slowly,' she told Elise. 'If anything happens, get out of the way as fast as you can. Back that way, there's a secret door in the wall. The passageway behind it doesn't have any traps. Outside, there's an SUV – the keys are in my pocket…if you need them.'
Elise gave a helpless moan that Emily took for confirmation. Even though the girl had been through a lot, there wasn't time to sit her down, give her a physical, a psych evaluation, a complete checkover. They had to keep moving.
Emily stood slowly, taking great care not to trip over her own feet. It would be just her luck if she set off the trap thanks to her own clumsiness. It seemed to take forever, but in reality, it was probably only a couple of minutes before Emily was standing, even if she was still on the pressure plate.
'Take your time,' Emily said, holding out a hand for Elise to take. Everything went to hell before Emily even had a chance to realize what was going on. Elise tripped, yanking her hand away from Emily's grasp. They both tumbled to the ground, hard and fast, and Emily was hyperaware of the sound of the trap being set off.
Of course, even if she hadn't heard it, she certainly felt it – the pain came all at once, like someone had hammered a red-hot poker into her shoulder. The only thing that she could really compare it to was a bullet wound, thanks to a raid gone back in Chicago a little over seven years ago, but it wasn't exactly the same. It wasn't a bullet, after all; it was an arrow.
No. Not an arrow.
There were some difference; bolts were shorter, and usually used in crossbows, rather than longbows. The shape was a little different, too, but the main thing was, there was a fricking piece of wood burning through her flesh.
Morgan's screams still sounded in her ear.
At least you're not dead, she told herself, and regretted the thought almost immediately, because she rolled over at discovered that Elise Ivanova hadn't been so lucky. One bolt had torn through her neck, the blood spreading like it was water. Emily tried not to look at the other wounds.
There wasn't time to mourn, or dwell, no matter how much she wanted to. She stood shakily, one hand pressed against her shoulder wound. The bolt was still in there, and she had to get it out. There might be more blood, but if she kept it in there, the damage would probably get even worse. Still, pulling the thing out wasn't a particularly appealing idea, especially considering the fact that it hadn't gone all the way through.
She closed her eyes, and grimaced. Push it through, then snap off the fletching. She was lucky that Watson had apparently made his own bolts, rather than using store-bought ones. Store-bought ones probably would have been metal, and that really would have sucked.
Emily couldn't mask the whimper of pain, as the bolt was pushed through. Deal with it, Emily, she told herself. As nice as it would be to curl up in a ball and wait for rescue, that was probably the stupidest move she could take. Even if there were traps everywhere, it could take days for rescue. She didn't have days, and neither did Morgan.
She had to keep moving.
The bolt discarded, she took her knife and sliced off the sleeve of her sweater. It wasn't exactly sterilized bandages, but it would have to do. Already, the blood was blossoming through her shirt. She blinked away the light-headedness. Without adrenaline, she probably would have fainted already. It was still a possibility, though, with the smell of blood permeating her nostrils.
She had to get out of this hallway. It might have been just a gut hunch, but she didn't think Morgan was anywhere near here. There wasn't any soundproofing on these doors, and she would have heard his screams if he was nearby. No, he had to be somewhere else. That left either the ground floor, which she doubted, or…or the basement.
The basement always seemed to be the place where psychopaths held their prey. Maybe it was something about the psychopathology of unsubs; they all just been born with the inherent knowledge that the basement was the best place for torture and murder.
On that note, the music starts up again, and it's even louder and more headpounding than before. This time, Emily didn't recognize the song, though it sounded like some variety of metal. The name "death metal" seemed appropriate, even if it wasn't quite that.
Ignoring the doors on either side of her, Emily instead focused on finding a way down to the basement. She decided to keep moving, instead of just doubling back to that first fork in the road. It turned out to be a very big mistake.
She felt the hairs prickling on the back of her neck, as though there was someone else there with her. She knew there wasn't. There were cameras though – maybe if she could find the control room, she could get a look at the whole house at once. The door at the end of the hall had an almost ominous look to it. It seemed more solid than any of the other doors, and there was a series of wires running through a hole in the wall up near the ceiling. A door like that would almost certainly be trapped.
Cautiously, she walked towards it, eyes jumping from the floor, to the walls, to the ceiling, and everywhere in between. Nothing seemed out of place.
Then, the music cut off, and she heard the growls.
Emily quite liked dogs. Thanks to her nomadic childhood, she'd never actually had one to call her own, but for a few months in Spain, there was a scruffy stray that had wandered by the embassy looking for scraps. One day, the dog simply disappeared. It wasn't until years later that Emily discovered that her mother had the creature put down ('You don't know what kind of diseases that thing had been carrying, Emily.') Still, whenever they had a team get-together at Morgan's place, she'd toss a ball with Clooney, and Dave's hunting dog, Mudgie had licked her face on more than one occasion.
The dog that was growling wasn't like any of those dogs. Emily's knowledge of dog breeds wasn't particularly extensive, but pit bulls were pretty easily recognizable. They were also – if Reid was right, which he usually was – regarded as one of the most dangerous breeds of dog available. Bleeding to death or not, Emily wasn't about to let herself get mauled to death by a dog.
Before she could raise her weapon, though, the dog was on the move – running straight towards her. She fired one shot from the hip, but it missed.
The door was right in front of her. She grasped at the knob, trying desperately to turn it, but the door was locked. Mere seconds to spare, she didn't have time to test the weight of it. A good solid kick would probably be enough.
Good thing you wore boots today.
The door splintered, just as the dog bore down on her, and the forward momentum sent them both to the ground, or at least it would have, if there was any ground to fall onto. Instead, there was a deep, dark pit.
All in all, not one of Emily Prentiss' proudest moments. Alice in freaking Wonderland, falling down the rabbit hole.
If the pain from the bolt had been bad, this was a hundred times worse. It wasn't a long drop, in the scheme of things; maybe two stories. Not as bad, at least, as the time she'd accidentally tackled a suspect off a four storey building. That had ended with over two months on crutches, and six months on desk duty because of recklessness. Her ankle hit the ground first, twisting with the velocity of the fall. She moved her body to avoid the bolt wound, but apparently gravity was having no truck with that; her bad arm hit the ground first, and she heard a loud and nauseating snap as the bone broke.
If that wasn't bad enough, fate decided to screw her over even more by having the sixty-odd pound pit bull land right on top of her. By some miracle, the gun was still in her grasp, her hands shaking so badly that she pulled the trigger by accident.
The dog whimpered.
A few seconds later, she was alone.
For one brief interlude, she let herself consider the possibility that maybe, the SUV had crashed on the drive over, and this wasn't their witness's house at all. Maybe she was dead, and this was some kind of eternal punishment. Considering all the things she'd done in her life, she wouldn't be surprised.
Maybe she was just delusional from blood loss.
With all the strength she could muster – which wasn't much – Emily pushed the dog off of her, and attempted to crawl away. Pain shot down her torso. She bit her lip, trying to hold in the cry of pain. The world was swimming, and she couldn't hold off unconsciousness for any longer.
At least, she thought to herself, At least you won't have to deal with the pain.
It felt like years later, when Emily finally woke up. The pain was still there, though, biting away at every limb, every nerve ending. When all of this was over, she was going to sleep for a week.
Standing seemed more than a chore – it was the most agonizing thing in the world. She put most of her weight on her uninjured leg, but the movement still jarred.
Get Morgan, she told herself, for what felt like the hundredth time. Get Morgan and get out of there.
Unfortunately, it was easier said than done, especially considering the fact that she now had to add broken limbs into the equation.
The room she had fallen into was dark; so much so that Emily had to spend a few precious moments letting her eyes adjust to the darkness. There was a doorway to her left, which seemed to be the only way out. She looked upwards, trying to determine whether or not there was a giant boulder that would fall from the ceiling and crush her if she crossed the threshold.
With no other options, though, she went for it.
Maybe there were no traps on this floor; it made sense, if this was the place where the actual torture happened. Maybe she just hadn't set it off. She couldn't be sure that either option was an accurate assessment.
The next room was not quite as dark – there was light somewhere, but it was hard to say where. With the limited illumination, she was able to determine that this room was some kind of storage space. There were tools and construction materials; some wood, and a few dozen cinder blocks piled against one wall. Maybe Watson was making upgrades. It was a terrifying thought.
Nothing in there was a better weapon than her Glock, but she did grab a shovel to use as an impromptu crutch. Not as good as a real crutch, of course, but it was better than nothing. Unfortunately, it also meant that she was using her good arm to walk, which meant that actually holding the Glock was going to be an issue.
Her left-handed aim wasn't anything that was going to win awards – especially with a broken arm – but it was going to have to do.
In the next room, Emily saw the torture devices; things that she was usually used to seeing in the houses of the sickest minds the BAU had the luck to encounter. This was one of those houses. It sickened her to think that Morgan was being subject to that kind of torture. The bile rose in her throat, a combination of that thought, and pretty much everything that had happened so far. She didn't want to think about what condition he'd be in when she found him.
She didn't have to suppress the thought for very long.
He was tied to a chair in the middle of the room, shirtless and unconscious, she first thought, but then his head lifted, and she saw the blood running down it.
'Morgan,' she whispered, not quite sure if they were being watched. They probably were, she decided, pretty quickly.
Morgan's head shot up so fast, he must have pulled something. 'Emily?' Emily had never heard the sound of pure joy until that moment. Whatever he had been through, it wasn't pretty.
With some difficulty, she managed to bend down and cut the ties at his wrists. She noticed the welts across his arms and chest, tiny circular things. She'd seen enough torture victims to know what electrical burns looked like, and the shape suggested a cattle prod, or something similar.
She couldn't quite manage the flexibility required to cut his ankle ties, so she passed him the knife. Only when he had cut himself free, did she bring herself to ask, 'Are you okay?'
He gave a small, frustrated sound. 'I've been a hell of a lot better.' He stared her up and down, eyes lingering at the blood-stained sleeve tied against her shoulder wound, and the unnatural angle of her arm. 'Seems like I should be asking you the same question.'
Emily had no time to answer, as the lights started to flicker on overhead. She dropped the shovel, and transferred her weapon to her right hand. She might only get one shot at this. Beside her, Morgan picked up the shovel.
Her hand shook as she leveled the gun at the doorway, and she wasn't really surprised to hear the long, slow clap as Watson entered the room.
'Well done,' he said. 'I was so sure you would have given up after the girl died.'
Morgan shifted slightly at the words, but Emily didn't – couldn't – take her eyes off of Watson.
'You sick son of a bitch,' she said, unsure there had ever been so much hatred in her voice. 'Getting off on other people's pain.'
'And you put on quite a show,' he said, jovial, his arms gesticulating. 'As I'm sure you will continue to do—' Emily pulled the trigger, and Watson dropped like a stone, a bullet to his left eye.
'I am sick of your bullshit,' she said, exasperated. She felt a little strange, hollow at the fact that she had basically just killed someone in cold blood without even hesitating. She dropped the weapon, shaking, if it were possible, even more than she had been before.
'Emily,' Morgan said, a hand on her shoulder. 'We need to get out of here.'
She gave a shaky laugh. He had no idea.
For as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but white.
They trudged, or rather, in Emily's case, limped through the snow with a shovel, leaving pinkish stains in her wake. All things considered, there wasn't much blood, but considering what had gone on inside the house, any amount of blood was enough.
It was just their luck that the basement had a set of doors leading to the outside world, because Emily wasn't particularly interested in navigating that house, avoiding traps and fucking pit bulls, looking for a way out.
There had been few words, attention focused on escape, rather than discussion.
Emily's whole body ached, the pain worst in her ankle – which might have been broken – and her left arm – which definitely was broken. The wound in her shoulder was still bleeding, but not as profusely as it had been an hour ago. She'd made it through the house on adrenaline, but that was fading away now, and her mind was starting to become fully aware of the sheer agony.
She checked her phone, as if hoping that somehow whatever was jamming her would have died along with Watson. No such luck. She didn't particularly feel interested in dodging traps to find the cell phone jammer, so she went for the next best thing.
She pressed the little red button about the rearview mirror with her thumb, sighing with relief when she heard the voice that said, 'You've reached ONstar, how can I help you?'
'This is Supervisory Special Agent Prentiss with the FBI; we're in need of backup and medical assistance at…' She paused, unable to pull the address out of her memory. 'At wherever the hell we are.'
There was a few moments pause before, 'Ma'am – you're connected with the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department – go ahead with your requests.'
Emily took a deep breath, repeating what she had told the ONstar operator. 'This is SSA Prentiss with the FBI – we're in need of backup and medical assistance, and could you please get a message through to Agent Hotchner with the BAU, who should be there at the station – we think we found our unsub.'
'How many patients do you have?' the dispatcher asked. Emily blinked, remembering that she actually had to communicate beyond "get the cavalry out here, quick."
She bit her lip. 'Two patients, trauma, possible broken bones, one concussion, an arrow wound, one with electric shocks…' She trailed off, trying to remember the exact nature of Morgan's injuries, but luckily the dispatcher seemed to quickly understand the severity of the situation.
'Just hang tight, Agent Prentiss – we'll have someone out there soon.'
Satisfied that help was on the way, Emily retreated to the back of the SUV, putting as little weight as possible on her injured leg. There, Morgan was examining his wounds, which were a lot less severe than she'd first realized.
'What happened in there?' Morgan asked. A frown creased his forehead, blood running down it in bumpy rivulets. 'How did you escape?'
Emily was confused at first, before she remembered the hot chocolate. He evidently thought that she, too, had been rendered unconscious and tossed into a basement cell.
'I didn't,' she told him. 'I pretty much spilt that hot chocolate all over my pants the moment I got it. He dragged you down to the basement, and I managed to evade him…kind of.'
'What do you mean, "kind of"?' Morgan asked.
'It was like a game of cat and mouse,' Emily said, 'Only the cat had decided to use mouse traps instead of just his claws.'
'Are you alright?' Morgan asked quietly, his words threaded with more gravitas than she'd ever heard from him. Emily shook her head. Now that they'd escaped, now that she wasn't running through halls, or falling through pits, or dodging traps, she could fully process the events of the day. She closed her eyes, and she could see a young woman dying before her, the image burnt into her mind, like a plasma TV that had been left on for too long.
Morgan put an arm on her uninjured shoulder. 'Hey,' he said; his voice was still somber, but somehow, it was a lot more soothing. 'You got us out alive. I'd say you did okay.'
'I didn't get Elise Ivanova out,' she revealed, not meeting his eyes. 'She died right in front of me, and all I could do was watch.'
'She was still alive?' he asked, a little surprised.
'Was being the operative word,' Emily muttered, taking a seat beside him in the back of the SUV. It felt good to take the weight off her foot; under the boot, it was probably starting to swell. She worked the boot off, noting the red and puffy skin. Cold air simultaneously stung and numbed the skin.
The wait for back-up seemed to take an eternity. There was no pressing need for it, considering that both Watson and his final victim were dead, and the injuries that they had sustained weren't exactly life-threatening, but Emily wanted to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
The ambulance and the back-up got there about two minutes before the rest of the team, and Emily found herself being checked over by a paramedic as Hotch, Reid, Rossi and JJ walked up to the scene.
There was a moment's pause. 'What happened?' Hotch asked, only he was looking towards Morgan.
'I have no idea,' Morgan answered frankly, nodding towards Emily.
'I am never listening to Queen again,' Emily said, and they looked at her as though she'd gone insane. Part of her wondered if she had.
Emily sighed. 'He was kidnapping women and torturing them to death,' she said bluntly. 'The entire house was his torture chamber. He offered us hot chocolate while we asked him questions.'
'Drugged?' Rossi asked, to which Emily gave a lamenting nod.
'Yeah. Be careful when you go inside, though – the whole place is rigged up like Holmes' freaking murder castle.'
Reid's eyes brightened. 'Really?' He took a tiny breath, which told Emily that he was about to go into information overload mode. 'Many people consider H. H. Holmes to be the very first serial killer, but that's a common misconception. As it stands, though, some reports suggest that he killed upwards of two hundred people, many of them visiting Chicago's World Fair.'
'Reid,' Emily cut him off as politely as she could. 'Please…not now.' The whole experience was far too fresh in her mind to hear Reid rattle off every single tiny fact about the hundred and fifteen year old case.
She sighed. 'Elise Ivanova's body is in there, too.'
She was almost grateful when the paramedic told her that she'd have to go to hospital for X-Rays. The team wasn't grilling her, by any definition of the word, but she still felt uncomfortable, knowing that she was the only one that had the whole story. Morgan was pronounced in fairly good condition, all things considered, which really should have been ironic, but her head hurt too much to think about what was ironic and what wasn't. In any case, the paramedics suggested that he should have a follow-up examination at the hospital, which meant that at the very least, Emily wouldn't be taking her ambulance ride alone.
At the hospital, they gave her an MRI, and two X-Rays. There was no swelling in the brain, which was something, and the arm was most definitely broken, but the leg was only a sprain, if a serious one. The shoulder wound they gave stitches, ugly black ants marching across her skin. Emily didn't even want to think about how long she'd have to stay out of the field – hell, how long she'd have to stay out of the office. She'd be celebrating Christmas hopped up on painkillers.
There was brief discussion of making her stay in hospital overnight – a topic that was quickly quelled, to Emily's relief. It was bad enough being injured without being forced the indignity of having to stay in hospital. They did recommend she use a wheelchair while the bones were still healing, but Emily was not particularly interested in sitting around for six weeks – or more – so she opted for the single crutch approach. It would hurt at first, and it would be a little unbalanced, but she preferred it to the constraints of a chair.
Either way, she did have to use the wheelchair to get out to the hospital car lot when Rossi and Reid arrived to pick them up. Morgan gave her a grin as he took the handles of the chair. 'Haven't we been here before?' he asked her.
'Go to hell,' she muttered, rolling her eyes, following it up with a half smile, so that he knew she wasn't entirely serious.
'We had bomb squad go through the house first,' Rossi told them. 'The whole place is wired up like a marionette. We'll have to be pretty careful if we want to get any evidence out of there.'
'I saw security cameras,' Emily said, the memory flashing into her mind like a lightbulb. 'I couldn't find a source though.'
'He was probably taping the tortures and watching them later,' Reid continued. 'Reliving the experiences.' An awkward silence fell upon them then, and no-one spoke for the entire trip back; not even when they stopped at the pharmacy for their assorted needs.
It was late afternoon when they finally made it back to the hotel and Emily tossed up between shower and sleep, quickly deciding on sleep. Shower was an awkwardness that she didn't want to deal with just yet. The painkillers did their job well, putting her to sleep quickly.
Then, the dreams came.
The correlation between cases and nightmares was fairly high – the charred limbs, the mutilated corpses, those she had grown used to. This dream was a whole 'nother level of weird. In retrospect, the Percocet in conjunction with the day's events wasn't a mixture conducive to a good night's sleep.
She's in the house – the parlor, and she's holding that mug of hot chocolate, and the whole team are there too. There's a knife wound across Reid's neck, and his head lolls backwards.
'It's his brain,' Morgan says matter-of-factly, seemingly unaware of the giant, gaping hole in his chest. 'Too heavy.'
'Too much weight for the hot air balloon,' Hotch adds, and instead of eyes, he has dark, empty sockets, blood trickling down. 'Someone's going to have to take the fall.'
Emily turns away, to vomit, maybe, but Watson's there instead. He's wearing a deerstalker hat and a smoking jacket, wisps of smoke curling from the pipe in his hand.
'Holmes,' Emily says, even though her brain is saying "No, that's not right."
'There's no Holmes here,' Watson says. 'Just me.' He laughs. 'Elementary, my dear.'
The parlor's gone now, and they're back in the basement. Morgan's in a chair in the center of the room, screaming.
'You can't save him just standing there,' Watson says, and Emily's hand grips a little tighter on her gun. 'You know what you have to do.'
She scans the room, and sees the door. It's a green door, and she's not really sure why that matters, but she knows she has to open it. It's locked, but you don't go through fourteen years in the FBI without learning how to open a locked door.
It swings open, and she falls.
The slide is long, but it's not really a slide; it's a rabbit hole.
Round and round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.
She tumbles out onto the ground, grass cuttings staining the knees of her jeans. The sun shines brightly, and the snow has melted. It's spring again. The white witch is dead.
No. Not dead. Just waiting.
'Wouldn't it be nice,' the voice says, and it's her voice, only she's not the one speaking. 'Wouldn't it be nice if you could wake up and realize that it was all a dream?'
She stands, dusting herself down. There's a figure standing in front of her, or maybe there's just a really, really big mirror.
'The burden's on your shoulders,' the doppelganger says. 'That's what happens when you save the day.'
'I don't want the burden,' Emily tells herself, and she doesn't. She doesn't want the memories, the constant reminder that she hadn't really saved the day at all. There's still blood on her hands.
'That's the price you pay. In the business, we've got a saying: "Life's a bitch." Working that out? That's the hard part.'
She closes her eyes, and she's back in the basement, and Watson is hovering over Morgan with the cattle prod. Emily fires her weapon twice, and Watson goes down, with a bullet in his head, and a bullet in his heart.
'The trick is not caring,' Morgan tells her, 'But we all know that's impossible.'
'She's dead. She's dead, and I could have stopped it.'
'There are a lot of things we could have stopped. Doesn't mean we have to dwell on them. Being the hero – that's not easy. It means having to accept that you can't always win.'
'I'm not a hero.'
He smiles. 'What are you, then?'
And then she woke up.
Confused. Tired. Sore.
It was dark outside, the alarm clock beside the bed telling her that it was a few minutes shy of midnight. Carefully, Emily swung her leg over the side of the bed, wincing slightly as the cast hit the floor. Her stomach grumbled.
She'd had a sandwich at the hospital, but that was hours ago, and the day hadn't exactly been a relaxing one. Maybe room service was a good idea. Did they still serve room service this late?
Flipping on the bedside light, she dug through the second drawer of the nightstand to find the room service menu. Before she could start looking through it, though, there was a soft knock on the door.
She grabbed for her crutch, leaning up against the wall beside the bed. There hadn't been much time to practice walking around, except for the trip up from the parking garage, when she'd had Morgan and Rossi hovering like overprotective mother-hens. It was probably one of them now. It could have been JJ, as well, but Hotch would have let her get some sleep, and she didn't think Reid would want to get involved.
Some things never changed.
'Just a sec,' she called out. It would be so easy to pretend that she was still asleep, but running – or hobbling – away wouldn't work forever.
It was Morgan, which was expected. What was unexpected was the pizza box he had balanced on his right hand, and the six-pack of root beer in his left.
Emily's mouth watered unconsciously.
It was a lot harder to say no, knowing that he had brought pizza with him.
'This is bribery,' she grumbled, stepping aside awkwardly to let him in.
'Oh this?' He gestured towards the box. 'This is for me. I was just wondering if you knew if there was anything good on TV tonight.' He winked, and Emily rolled her eyes.
'Don't make me beat you to death with my crutch.' She breathed in the smell of pepperoni and cheese as he set the box down on the small table adjacent to the TV.
'Need a hand?' he queried.
Emily shook he head. 'I need to get used to it, if I'm going to be crutching around for the next couple of months.'
There was a long pause, during which Emily fished out a slice.
'Are you going to be okay?' Morgan asked finally.
Emily raised an eyebrow. 'I'm not the one that got tortured.'
'I'm not the one who's in plaster.'
She raised the bottle of root beer in defeat. 'Touché.' In a more somber tone, she told him, 'I'll be fine.' Another pause. 'There might be nightmares, but that's nothing new. It's just…That though keeps coming back – is any of it really worth it in the end? We went in trying to stop this guy, and it ended up worse than if we didn't come at all.'
'That's bullshit, and you know it,' Morgan said sharply. The tone of his voice was surprising – he was usually more for the softer reassurance. 'If we didn't come, that guy would still be out there, waiting to kill more people.'
'That doesn't make it any easier,' she said, and her voice sounded like an echo of the words repeated a thousand times before. No matter how many people they save, some things never change. We've got to keep on trying, anyway.
'Sometimes it feels like we're going in circles, doesn't it?'
Emily laughed. It was a bitter laugh, filled with the memories of every single failure.
'"The hardest thing in this world is to live in it,"' she answered, which really, wasn't much of an answer at all.
She yawned again, stretching as best as she could with the plaster shackles. Though she'd only had a couple of slices of pizza, she wasn't really hungry anymore.
'I should let you get some rest,' Morgan said, standing in his spot.
'No,' Emily said quickly, before she could even rationalize why she was saying it. 'I…would you mind staying? Just for tonight.'
He sat down, as quickly as she'd spoken, and Emily figured that he didn't really want to be alone either.
They'd keep on fighting.
For at least another day.