Disclaimer: I do not own Criminal Minds.
Author's Note: Alright guys! Thank you so much for hanging along for the ride. I really appreciate all the reviews and alerts I've had with this series, but all good things must come to an end. I would love to hear what you think about the ending or any other ideas you may have about other stories. Thanks again!
"Jareau," JJ answered, traces of sleep gone from her voice after years of practice. "Yes sir. I'll gather my team and meet you at the scene. Yes sir." She ended the call and tossed the Blackberry aimlessly onto the bed. "Em, time to get up. We've got another crime scene." The brunette mumbled incoherently into the pillow. "Wake up, Emily," she sang quietly, leaning over Emily's prone body. In response, Emily moved her sleep-laden limbs to cover her ears.
"No," she groaned.
"Come on, baby. We've got to go get coffee, so we can save the world."
"Too optimistic. Shush. Sleeping."
"I'm your wife. You know I'm not going to shush anytime soon. Get out of the bed. Come on. Wake up. We have to go to work. The sooner we solve the case, the sooner we get to go home where I have a Christmas present for you to unwrap."
"Present," Emily asked hopefully as she squinted her eyes in the light.
"Yeah, Em. But you can't have it until we are in the privacy of our own home after the case is solved. So get up," JJ bargained.
"Hmm, that is part of the present." With a wink, JJ slowly slipped off the bed, grabbing her phone as she went. After calling the team, she quickly went through her morning routine.
"Mornings suck," Emily grumbled as they entered the elevator car.
"Truth, but we get coffee."
"Oh how coffee makes my world go round."
"It's a coffee on the run sort of day," Rossi commented as the doors opened on the lobby. He handed each woman her preferred coffee. "So what have we got?"
"Unsub struck again at a coffee shop around the corner from here. This time there were only four people there because it's so early and the day after Christmas."
"That brings him up to 31 victims in 5 days."
"It doesn't seem like he's devolving. His sprees are still meticulously planned. There are no witnesses, no DNA, and no leads."
"Well we've got a crime scene to get to."
"Talk dirty to me, Princess." Garcia's chipper voice sang through Emily's iPhone as the brunette stuttered on her coffee.
"I… umm. Hi. What?"
"Good morning to you too, Em."
"Too easy. Every time- it's great. Alright what can I do ya for?"
"The video footage from the last crime scene. Do we have an ID on either the victim or the shooter?"
"No, and no. But I think our unsub has a tattoo sleeve."
"Okay. This wouldn't be his first offense. His tattoo maybe recorded in the database. Can you send a jpg of his arm?"
"Sure thing, kitten. Go kick butt."
"How is she so happy this early in the morning?" Emily asked with a laugh as she ended the phone call and slipped her phone into her pocket.
"Constant uppers," Rossi offered with a smirk.
"Nothing is impossible with Miss Penelope Garcia."
"Anyway, our guy has a pretty detailed tattoo sleeve. We're thinking it's somewhere in a database since our profile says he's been in jail before. She'll call us when she's got something. Other than that, the video footage turned up no ID on either the blonde Jane Doe from the second coffee shop yesterday or the unsub."
"In the meantime, while she's running the tattoo, we'll head to the latest scene, and find something to work with."
"This looks exactly like the other crime scenes. It doesn't look like he's losing control or doing anything differently. The spray of bullets is still in the same pattern. The cameras are still destroyed."
"Do we know if he took another woman?"
"No sir," a local replied. "The store just opened. The three customers were the first of the day according to the money in the register. There was one employee. No one was blonde."
"Boss! Boss man! Guess what? Guess what? Guess what?"
"Garcia, what?" Hotch interrupted the eccentric blonde's excited squeal.
"I got a list based on the tattoo. I have three names. Two are locals- Peter Brooks and Charles Schwartz."
"Send the list, Garcia. Good work. Check background information. We are looking for a stressor in the form of a blonde woman."
"Brooks was recently let go from his job, but that was about two weeks ago. Schwartz seems to be in a custody battle with his wife. The case started six days ago. He was deemed mentally unfit to keep his parental rights."
"Great. Send both addresses. Thanks, Garcia." The call ended, and he looked around at the hopeful eyes of his team and the locals. "We've got a name. Sheriff, send half your men to this address. Ask for Peter Brooks. You don't want to arrest him because Schwartz is more likely our unsub, but we need to cover all our bases. The other half of your men needs to follow my team to this address. Okay? You or one of your men will make the arrest, but we will lead the team into the house."
"Yes sir. Guys suit up - bulletproof vests, earwigs, the works."
The house was tan, blending well into the desert background. Brush and cacti decorated the landscape around the house. The houses sat close together. It was a picturesque neighbor; those who lived there probably had given little to no thought that they lived next to a spree killer. Children rode their new Christmas bicycles around the streets as parents watched carefully. It was a quaint scene, and the house meshed perfectly with its surroundings. It was average as was its owner. It didn't stand out or draw attention. "Rossi and I will take the front. Prentiss, Morgan, take the back entrance. JJ and Reid, check the garage, and then, follow in. Let's go," Hotch dictated as everyone formed a tight circle around the hood of the SUVs.
The wood frame buckled easily under Hotch's powerful kick as the sounds of the front and back doors swinging wildly open echoed through the house. It was an open floor plan, and they cleared the downstairs quickly. Hotch and Rossi ran up the stairs.
The garage was empty. An old-school truck sat collecting dust next to a pile of rusting tools. JJ nodded towards the house with her head, and Reid led the way as he had entered the garage second. As they walked towards the back door that was hanging at an odd angle, a strong arm wrapped around JJ's neck, pulling her tightly into a man's body. His voice sounded gruff in her ear, and his unshaved face brushed roughly against her cheek.
"Put the safety on, and drop the gun." She felt the cool barrel against the side of her face and obligingly dropped her weapon.
Hearing a noise behind him, Reid turned around, his gun wavering slightly as he saw the unsub shielding his body with JJ's. "Garage," he said into microphone at his wrist. "Charles, we're with the FBI. Put down your weapon." The young man's voice gave away his fear as his voice lacked the confidence he wished it had.
"I don't think so. It looks like I have the upper hand. She is a pretty blonde, isn't she?" Charles pulled JJ backwards until his back was flush against the solid wall of his garage. JJ gripped his arm as it pressed painfully into her throat; she was having trouble breathing.
"Charles Schwartz, put down your weapon. You don't want to do this," Morgan commanded, his voice steady. Emily kept her mouth shut and fanned out, creating a semi circle around Charles. Her gun trained on the man's head, but he kept shifting his weight, causing her sight to lose its target.
"He's too close to her. I don't have a shot," Rossi whispered into his wrist.
"Schwartz, you don't want to kill a federal agent. Think about how this will affect your daughter."
"My baby," he mumbled into JJ's blonde hair. "They took her. They took my baby, my beautiful baby."
"If you kill a federal agent, they will never let you see your daughter again. Don't do this. Let her go."
"They won't ever let me see her again anyway. The courts say I'm unfit. Do you have children? I bet your daughter has beautiful blonde hair. My baby does." He paused waiting for JJ to respond, but she couldn't due to the pressure on her throat. She was starting to feel light headed from the lack of oxygen. "Answer me," he screamed.
"Charles, she can't. She can't breathe."
"Fine, you tell me. Does she have children?"
"Yes," Emily responded. "Yes. Do you want them to lose their mother? Think about the pain your little girl feels about losing you, about never getting to see you. Do you have her children to feel that loss too? You have the power to keep our family together. Charles, please, let her go," Emily pleaded, begging with JJ's captor.
"My baby's too young."
"Your daughter is six. She knows you. She loves you. She is your little girl, and she's going to miss having you in her life. Please don't make her children suffer like that. You need to let her go." JJ started to slip into unconsciousness. Her knees gave way, and Charles continued to hold up her body weight with a tightened arm around her throat. Her head drooped forward, her blonde hair covering the man's forearm. "Please, don't make her children feel that loss, not around Christmas. Please think about your daughter. Do you want someone else's children to hurt like your daughter does?"
There was a long pause, and Emily could hear her heart beating in her chest.
"No," he mumbled as he released his grip. JJ's limp body fell to the ground, her neck already starting to bruise. He dropped to his knees and placed the gun on the ground, putting his hands behind his head. Morgan rushed towards him, kicking the gun away as he locked the handcuffs around the unsub's wrists. Emily fell to JJ's side, checking her pulse.
"Jen, look at me. Please baby. Open your eyes." In the distance she heard the sirens and knew the medics were close. "Jennifer," she whispered softly, sighing in relief when she found a faint pulse beating softly against the pad of her finger. JJ's body shuddered as a cough ripped through her. "Thank God," she whispered. "The medics are almost here, Jen. It's okay."
As the suns set in the sky, casting a beautiful pink hue on the clouded world below, the team lounged in their usual seats on the plane. JJ slept quietly on the couch, using Emily's lap as a makeshift pillow. The brunette ran her fingers absentmindedly through her wife's blonde hair as she rested her eyes. Morgan flipped through photos of Lily on his cell phone as the trademark headphones blocked out the world. Reid flipped through the pages of some abnormally large foreign novel as Hotch and Rossi conversed quietly.
"I'm just wondering how many chances we get," Hotch mumbled.
"What do you mean, Aaron?"
"How many close calls do we get? We have been at this for a long time. How much longer will be lucky enough to come back as a team?"
"I don't know, but this isn't a career choice. It's a calling. We do this to protect our families, to protect those we love, and to be the hero our children need to look up to. We're not lucky. We're good."
Nighttime fell over the northeast as the team finally returned home. Morgan immediately rushed to the crib in the guest room of the Prentiss house, lifting his slumbering child from her bed. Groggily she clutched his t-shirt in her fist and snuggled into his chest. Garcia was close behind, placing a kiss to Lily's forehead. Downstairs, Hotch and Rossi dropped into their usual seats while nursing shallow tumblers of scotch. They joked and laughed along with the elderly Jareaus as JJ rested her head on her father's shoulder. Emily sat cross-legged on the couch with Hayley in her lap. She braided the young girl's hair and listened to stories about her day. The Ambassador played hearts on the coffee table with the twins and Henry. Jack and Reid battled through a game of chess as Duke curled happily on the couch.
It was a touching scene to finish a hectic case. The family was back together, all as one, spending the holiday as it should be spent.
"The family is a haven in a heartless world." Christopher Lasch