Fandom: Criminal Minds
Summary: It's been two years since Jennifer Jareau has seen her team. She's been a little busy fighting demons.
Author's Note: Written for floatingamoeba, who bid on my auction post for thepurpledove. Some mentions of character death.
For a full moon night, the bar was relatively packed.
Usually, the mercs were out in force, hunting down any rogue werewolf that strayed from the designated "welfare zones" as they were called. Parks and Wildlife Services paid fifty bucks for any dead 'wolves brought in overnight, in order to encourage "safe shapeshifting." At least that's what the pamphlets said.
At best, the system was corrupt. At worse, it was genocide.
Jennifer Jareau didn't have any excessive sympathy towards werewolves – especially the ones that strayed out of the welfare zones – but she wasn't going to commit murder for a quick buck, either.
Shaking the rain out of her hair, JJ stepped inside the bar.
The security guy at the door eyed her gun belt – two nine millimeters in holsters, and only the bare minimum of what she carried. Out here, in the middle of nowhere, you could barely go half a mile without running into another creature that would sooner rip out your heart than let you pass unscathed.
Security guy nodded her through.
JJ would bet her life on the fact that he had measures in place to ensure that the place remained violence free. Some people she'd met carried demon tails – highly illegal, black market artifacts that allowed the user brief bursts of magic, without selling your soul. Not particularly powerful, but a lot more agreeable than selling your soul, or getting your throat torn out.
Nobody gave her a second glance as she stepped up to the bar. The truth of it was, things were so bad, these days, that seeing someone in a leather duster and packing enough heat to take down a SWAT team single-handedly was pretty much second nature.
'Jack and coke,' she told the bartender, a grizzled guy in his fifties that looked as though he'd lost a fight with a tiger. Any other night, she would have said werewolf, but there was no way he could have prevented the change without some serious mojo – the kind of mojo that would have been picked up by the device clipped to her belt. At present, it buzzed lightly, which was to be expected in a place like this – a residual curse on a guy that had pissed off the wrong demon, or maybe vampire blood that hadn't quite washed out of someone's socks.
'Keep the change.' JJ slid over a twenty, and took her drink. It didn't take long to find the people she was looking for.
Emily Prentiss and Derek Morgan were huddled in a corner booth, engaged in what looked like a serious conversation. Morgan looked up as she approached, and his expression shifted from somber to joyous. The device on her hip buzzed a little harder. 'JJ.'
He stood, and wrapped her in a bear hug. It had been a long time since Jennifer Jareau had been held – by anyone.
Morgan sat back down, and JJ hesitated briefly before following suit. It wasn't that she didn't trust her former colleagues, but when push came to shove, she didn't feel all that comfortable sitting with her back to the rest of the bar.
It had only been two years, but JJ could tell from their expressions alone, that things had changed dramatically. Emily's hand was underneath the table, presumably holding some kind of weapon, and her eyes kept darting about the room. She still hadn't said a word to JJ. Morgan's face and neck were both heavily scarred, and his spine rod-straight.
It must have been Hotch that had picked this place to meet, because it was abundantly clear that neither Emily nor Morgan were even a little bit comfortable.
'I heard about what happened,' Emily said, as though she'd jerked out of a trance and only just realized that JJ was even there. 'I'm sorry.'
'Thanks,' JJ said shortly, even though she wasn't really thankful at all. After everything that had happened, it was hard to be thankful for anything. 'Where's Rossi?' she asked them, eager to change the subject. 'I thought he was travelling with you.'
Emily and Morgan shared a significant look. Unlike them, JJ had never been a profiler, but she didn't miss the guilt that passed between them.
'We had a demon possession incident last month,' Emily admitted. 'He's in a hospital in Denver.'
JJ frowned. 'Possession doesn't usually leave a physical mark.' Emily closed her eyes and bit her lip.
'He wasn't the one who got possessed,' Morgan elaborated. 'He was just the one that got thrown off a four-story balcony.'
Emily shot him a look. 'Derek.'
'What? We spoke about this, remember. No lies.'
'I get that,' Emily said, through gritted teeth. 'But could you please not tell her in a bar full of demon hunters?' She shook her head, and Morgan frowned.
'Denver isn't particularly demon-friendly, so we had to get the hell out of dodge before someone realized what happened,' he continued.
'So he's there alone?'
'Garcia's with him,' Emily explained, refusing to meet JJ's gaze. 'Last we heard, he was on crutches.'
'Oh,' was all JJ said. It was all she really could say. 'Do you know why Hotch called us in?'
They didn't, as it turned out – like JJ, they'd gotten the middle of the night phone call that had only given a date, time and location, along with the codeword they'd come up with to use in emergencies – Bluejay.
A waitress came to the table with a plate of wings and side of fries that someone – Morgan, presumably – had ordered. JJ took a single fry, ignoring the small bowl of aioli – in her experience, most bars in this part of the country added extra garlic to their sauces these days in order to stave off vampire attacks, and that kind of bad breath wasn't something she wanted to deal with, on top of everything else.
It was an hour later before Hotch showed up. By that point, the rain had stopped, and most of the bar's patrons had left in hunt of werewolf pelts. No doubt most of them would kill actual wolves, instead of shapeshifters, either in the hopes that the Rangers wouldn't be able to tell the difference, or flat out ignorance.
She almost didn't recognize him at first – once upon a time, Aaron Hotchner was the man that had slept in starched suits. The man that stepped up to the bar was ragged; hair untrimmed, clothes unwashed, and an eyepatch on his left eye. The only reason she could tell it was him was the way he held himself – above all else, Aaron Hotchner would always be the man that carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. A modern day Atlas.
Now, he kind of looked like Snake Plissken.
His companions were conspicuous in their absence; it was Morgan that finally asked. 'Where're Reid and Seaver?'
'Seaver's dead,' he said bluntly, in a voice that was Aaron Hotchner's, only so much darker. 'Reid's…gone.'
There was a long silence, and JJ didn't miss the expression of both grief and horror that crossed both Emily and Derek's faces.
'What do you mean, "gone?"' Emily asked, eventually.
'Gone as in "missing,"' Hotch explained. 'Abducted by demons, I don't know.' More than anything, the sheer despair in Hotch's voice struck JJ to the core. This was the man that had been a pillar of strength within the BAU. This was the man that had kept them all sane during their years of tracking down serial killers. To see him so desolate was a stark reminder of the state of the world.
'What happened?' Morgan pressed.
'We were cutting through Montana,' Hotch started, and already, JJ could see where the story was going. Montana was one of the more infested places in the country. While that meant there were more mercs roaming around, it was still probably the most dangerous places to be. 'Locals were disappearing in one of the fortressed towns, and the security forces weren't doing anything about it, so we checked it out.'
'Turned out, a guy who fancied himself some sort of necromancer decided he would deal with the demon problem by performing human sacrifices. He's finishing up his incantations when we storm the place, and Seaver managed to take him down before he slit his victim's throat, but it was too late.'
There was a long pause. 'Demons don't like being summoned without getting their fill of blood.' They could have filled in the blanks from there, but Hotch was not the kind of person to leave out details just because they were a little messy. 'It snapped Seaver's neck, and took Reid. I don't know why it didn't kill either of us, or what it wanted with him.'
'Some demons just want to fuck with people,' Emily provided. 'But if someone was dealing in sacrifices, then chances are this demon wasn't some minor player.'
Hotch nodded. 'That's what I figured.' His expression shifted to a frown. 'Where's Rossi?'
'Denver,' Emily answered, not elaborating.
'We can pick him up on the way, if he's willing.'
They were in Texas, of all places, a fact which made JJ pause just a little – if this had all gone down in Montana, then why did Hotch bring them to Texas? It was a day's drive between them, at least. She didn't have a problem with the driving – it was all she seemed to do, some days – but it was kind of weird.
The realization hit JJ with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
He was scared.
The actual answer had something to with the fact that Morgan and Emily had been nearby, but that didn't change the fact that a scared Hotch was about as common as friendly demon. Not unheard of, but not something you saw on every street corner.
'We shouldn't drive tonight,' Morgan said decidedly. 'I don't want to get capped in the ass because some drunk idiot thought we were a bunch of werewolves out for a spin in a Ford Escape.'
'There's a motel in town,' JJ added. 'We can spend the night and discuss our travel options in the morning.' It might have been easier for them to all travel in the one car, but JJ did not want to leave behind the comfort and safety of her own vehicle. And maybe there was a tiny part of her that didn't really want to be seen hunting demons in a Ford Escape.
Emily went to settle the bar tab that she and Morgan had rung up, as JJ brought up the issue of sleeping arrangements.
'I'll stay with Prentiss,' Morgan said, so quickly that JJ raised an eyebrow in surprise.
'It's not like that,' he amended – even more quickly. 'Just since the demon thing…she gets nightmares…They can be pretty violent.'
'Nightmares?' Hotch asked, frowning. He didn't question the "demon thing" which made JJ realize that the two groups had probably been in constant contact.
'I dunno,' Morgan shrugged. 'Visions, maybe. Some kind of residual aftereffect.' There was a long pause. 'Or maybe they're just bad dreams.'
Nightmares weren't uncommon, even before the world had (literally) gone to hell. The fact that they were dealing with actual monsters, rather than serial killers only meant that the subject matter had changed a little.
The motel room was small, and sparsely furnished – two beds, and a single table and chair. It could afford to be – so many people lived nomadic lives these days that any form of overnight accommodation was in high demand, and motel owners could charge through the nose for it, which they did. It certainly would have been cheaper to sleep in the car, but a motel room had one luxury the car didn't – a shower.
Between the four of them, they had three vehicles, and only two allocated parking spaces. Once they got on the road, any more than two cars would be a hindrance. With little hesitation, Hotch had taken his car down to the garage, and returned with a wad of cash – decent cars were another thing in high demand. When you drove cross-country killing monsters, it was important to have a vehicle that functioned like clockwork.
In any case, the cash would be even more useful, since a good credit rating was a thing of the past – at least out in demon country.
JJ watched as Hotch set his go-bag on the end of the bed, and pulled out a worn travel case.
'You need a haircut,' JJ said abruptly, half startling herself. She would never have said something like that to Hotch three years ago, and they both knew it. He stared at her.
'Are you offering?' The tone of his voice was almost amused – the stealth humor that the Aaron Hotchner of old was famous for.
But he didn't smile.
She didn't cut his hair, if only because the only cutting implement she had was the six-inch hunting knife sheathed in her boot, and that wouldn't give a very good haircut. Judging by the fact that Morgan's hair (or rather, lack thereof) looked like it had some kind of regular maintenance, he probably had some kind variety of electric clippers.
Hotch made his way to the bathroom wordlessly and JJ found herself staring at the motel room door. The simple lock and chain wasn't nearly enough security, so she grabbed a chair and wedged it under the door handle. If someone really wanted to get in, it wouldn't stop them, but at the very least it would provide some warning.
JJ usually showered in the mornings – that, at least, was one thing that had carried over from her normal, everyday life. Back then, it had been breakfast, coffee, shower, kiss Will and Henry goodbye. Now, the order was a little different, and some steps were missing altogether.
She changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt – comfortable enough to sleep in, but more importantly, if the shit hit the fan, she wouldn't be fleeing the motel in panties and a singlet.
Sleep came quickly, but it was not a deep sleep. Deep sleep was for fortified cities, and the days of yore, when there wasn't the chance of a werewolf, or a vampire, or a demon bursting through at any moment.
Of course, deep sleep brought its own issues.
The depths of darkness that the real world couldn't even begin to show.
Emily stood in front of the bathroom mirror, staring. Usually, possession didn't leave a physical mark. But that didn't account for the scars that came from a knife, or a bullet.
It was only one shot, but it had been well-placed – enough to incapacitate her while Morgan exorcised the demon. The memory of the events was burnt into her mind, and no amount of demon killing or vampire slaying would change that fact.
Morgan knocked on the door. 'You almost done?'
'Yeah,' she called back, wrestling her shirt on. The scar at her shoulder itched and burned, but that seemed psychosomatic more than anything. Whatever had happened to her was nothing compared to what JJ had gone through.
Without pulling the covers back, she lay down on the bed closest to the door, and stared at the ceiling.
'When did everything get so fucked up?' she asked Morgan, when he came out of the bathroom. He didn't answer straight away, but she the bed sink down at the end.
'Things have always been fucked up,' he answered grimly. 'That's how we know we're still alive.'
'Just got to roll with the punches, huh?'
'Something like that,' Morgan said. Neither of them spoke again for a long time.
Outside, a wolf howled.