Chapter Three
December 21
st, 2011
11:00 AM

"Fear of the unknown is a terrible fear."
- Joan D. Vinge

She didn't know why they were standing there.

And she hated it.

Emily Prentiss was an analyst. By nature, she questioned things. She pulled things apart and studied their most basic elements. It made her a good profiler, but it was also second nature. She studied the elements until she understood them, until the ever present questions in her mind stopped revolving.

But she couldn't analyze if she had no information. Her heart pounded too fast and her mouth felt dry; she was trying to analyze with nothing to go on. She was trying to make sense of things – but she couldn't.

Nobody could.

They stood in the bullpen, facing the TV screen. There was the inexplicable feel of an entire group of people holding their breath at once. There were things they'd seen on that screen that she'd never forget. There were moments she knew the others wouldn't ever forget either. They'd learned of terrible things on that screen; they'd seen death and destruction and chaos moments before they were thrown headlong into it.

But there was something different when you knew something was coming – but you didn't know what it was. When things happened on that screen, the BAU was often sent headfirst into it. This time, everything was reversed. They were being sent home after the press conference that was going to be shown on the TV.

But she didn't know what that meant. Nobody did.

It was driving her crazy.

Fear wasn't something foreign to her. It was impossible to be an FBI agent and not know exactly what fear tasted like, what it felt like when it coursed through your veins. Often, she displaced it. She waited until the danger was gone until she was afraid, until she let herself feel it. It was useful that way. Emily Prentiss knew exactly how fear felt, but she'd never been so afraid while standing by her desk.

"This had better be somebody's idea of a sick Christmas joke." She ground the words out, easier than letting the questions move in her head like some kind of sick river.

"It's Christmas, not April Fools, Emily." Was she going insane, or was there just the smallest amount of snippiness in Garcia's voice?

"It's not a joke." Rossi said, quietly. It wasn't something that needed to be said. She knew too well that this wasn't a joke.

A long, low beep sounded from the TV screen. That was when Emily knew exactly how much trouble they were in. She knew what the next words would be already; she was already thinking of the effects the words were going to have on the public.

"This is the emergency broadcast system. This is not a test."

The voice was something out of nightmares. It was the thing no profiler or human being wanted to hear. And it was the thing that would send the entire world into a panic. The consequences of this one would be far reaching.

The TV switched to the press conference's setting; a small print on the bottom of the screen said that it was a live feed.

"The Department of Defense is issuing a statement in coordination with the Center for Disease Control."

Emily knew what she was going to be on the screen even before she set her eyes on the woman. She'd know that voice anywhere. It still managed to be a shock when the slender blonde woman's face was shown on the TV, partially hidden by a podium. Emily hadn't seen the Jennifer Jareau face to face for the past two months, but they'd all made an effort to keep in touch.

She'd spoken to her last week. She hadn't said a thing.

"This statement is in effect starting now, for the entire country and outer-lying regions up to one hundred miles."

JJ's voice came out of the speakers and into the bullpen of the BAU. Emily's heart sped up, and in the pause between sentences she couldn't help but look at the others of her team. A profiler couldn't turn off their instincts to profile – and though there was always a pact to never profile the members of her team, it was nature for her to notice the drawn brows, the pale face, and people biting their lower lips.

"There's been a toxin released throughout the United States." JJ said on the screen, and Emily tried to stop from inhaling sharply. "There will be a cure." As it always had when JJ had worked with them, her voice was calm and controlled and warm no matter what the words she was saying.

"The government is already at work, and when this cure is prepared, everyone will receive it. In the meantime-" JJ coughed and adjusted the microphone. Emily's eyes darted to Hotch, and she saw the muscles in his jaw jump before JJ began to speak again. "In the meantime, it is extremely important for you to stay inside your houses. This toxin is airborne."

Emily was acutely aware of the air around her, surrounding her. Again she looked from face to face, wondering, hoping, praying that nobody in this room …

"You need to stay inside your houses." Blue eyes pierced through the screen, and Emily felt immediately as though JJ weren't talking to everyone – but just to them. To loved ones. And while she knew that wasn't the truth – that it was just something that her friend was good at – she couldn't help the feeling. "It is much safer for everyone to be inside than on the roads."

"Misses Jareau," A voice off-screen called, and JJ nodded. "How can we tell if family, friends, loved ones … ourselves … have already been affected?"

JJ's eyes darted to her side, to what Emily could only guess was a higher power giving her approval. When she turned back, she continued to speak. "The toxin can begin with a headache. The person affected will become distressed, and/or paranoid hallucinations." Again, JJ's eyes darted off-screen, but they were back in a second and she pushed a hand through her hair.

"What can we do?"

She paused again before speaking, but she didn't look to her side this time. "Try to keep… keep them calm until a cure is found and delivered."

Emily's eyes darted to Hotch again, his mouth was turned down in a way that was more than a frown. She turned back to the screen in time to see JJ lean on the podium.

"Misses Jareau, you said they could become paranoid."

"I did."

"What does that entail?"

Emily couldn't be sure, but she thought that she saw JJ shudder. As quickly as it had come, it was gone, and her former colleague was speaking again. "Keep those you think affected away from items that could be used as potential weapons. This is a precaution both for yourself and for them."

JJ's eyes darted off-screen again, and suddenly, Emily knew. The way she kept looking off-screen, the way she was gripping the podium, the shudder she thought she'd imagined … she felt sick to her stomach.

"Oh, my God, Jayje."

Hotch's hand touched her shoulder. It was brief, but enough for her to realize that he knew, as well.

There were tears running down Garcia's face, but the technical analyst was remaining otherwise silent.

"Just…" There was another pause, longer this time, and Emily felt her stomach turn. There was a certain helplessness to it that made her feel absolutely stuck. ".. try to keep …" Again her eyes darted to the side, her face paled, and the screen turned black.

But not before a terrorized scream was broadcast on national TV.

"I think I'm going to be sick," Emily murmured, but her feet were rooted to the spot and her eyes glued to the screen that was coming back to life with a new face. It was no longer JJ standing behind that podium, no longer her friend's calm, assuring voice projected out for the nation to hear.

Emily realized that she was trembling.

The young man on the screen opened his mouth without a word of what had happened to JJ.

"Keep yourselves safe, keep yourselves protected and indoors. If you think somebody is affected, make sure they can't harm themselves or others. Have –"

Another voice from the crowd jumped in. "Is this toxin fatal?"

The man who'd taken JJ's place only paused for a second before continuing. "It can be. Keep those affected calm, and the risk goes down tremendously. The hallucinations increase with anxiety."

"Is that what just happened to Misses Jareau?"

The replacement didn't pause with that one. "Are there any further questions?"

If there were, they weren't aired. The camera zoomed in to the man on screen and focused on his face as he said, "The Department of Defense and CDC will keep you updated on the toxin and cure. Stay inside your houses and.."

Emily wasn't listening to the recap. She'd turned towards Hotch, who was still standing in the same cross-armed position as he had when the announcement had started. Most of the members of the team were moving closer, coming in to form a circle. There was chatter among the members of the entire unit, but the six that made up her team were silent until she opened her mouth to speak.

"That's it, then. We're being sent home?"

Hotch nodded. "There's nothing we can do as agents. The CDC and DoD have control over this."

Morgan was livid. Emily couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him this angry. "That's bullshit, Hotch. You're telling me we can't do anything for her?"

An exhausted, drained expression had come over Hotch's face. "We go home. We do what she said."

"Hotch, we can't-"

The man in question cut off Reid with a sharp look. "There is nothing we can do. If we risk going out there we're no help. She has people, Reid."

"I don't like this." Emily said, quietly.

"None of us do." Rossi added, meeting eyes with their team leader. "But Aaron's right. She has people."

"Go home." Hotch said. "Keep yourselves safe." He paused before he spoke again, meeting each of their eyes. "I want everyone back here. Understood?"

She understood.

Author's Note:

Will KDZL get tired of hearing her name in thanks? Well, I don't care. She's awesome.

I know it's been awhile since I've updated – the holidays were a crazy time, and I had zero inspiration during them to write. I'm back now. Don't worry, I'm not planning on abandoning any of my stories. I do hope that you've been enjoying reading – all the reviews are fantastic!

I hope that all of you had a fantastic holiday … be kind and review? We'll call it a holiday gift.