Notes: Last chapter! Thank you so much to all my readers, and doubly so to anyone who reviewed. Your feedback and encouragement mean a lot to me. I hope this ending lives up to your expectations. :)
"FBI, open up!"
Unsurprisingly, there was no response. Aaron held up three fingers in a silent countdown, and kicked down the door. Moments later, the crash was echoed on the other side of the house as Rossi and Jordan joined them.
They cleared the main floor quickly, and converged on the stairs to the basement. The Doctor was leaning against the wall beside them, his relaxed posture belied by the tension in his frame.
"After you," he said, with a sardonic twist of his lips.
Aaron descended the stairs into the well-lit basement, keeping his gun at the ready as his feet hit unfinished concrete. The space at the bottom of the stairs was cramped and claustrophobic, but when he turned the corner it opened up into a large, rectangular room filled with incomprehensible machinery and, incongruously, a traditional desk stacked with papers. An unremarkable, balding man stood on the far side. He held some futuristic device which was unmistakably a weapon, aimed directly at Aaron's heart.
"Don't move!" he ordered sharply. Though his hands remained steady, his voice was shaky and his eyes were panicked. "I'll shoot; I swear I will!"
Aaron halted, and felt the others do the same behind him even as he kept his eyes fixed on Thompson.
"Mr. Thompson, my name is Agent Aaron Hotchner. I'm with the FBI. We're –"
"I know who you are," said Thompson, cutting him off. "Every last one of you; I know who you are, and I know why you're here. Because I can see into your heads! He showed me how."
"Who did?" Aaron questioned, fighting down his horror at the knowledge that these weren't just the delusional ramblings of another unsub and trying not to imagine some alien assassin slithering around in his mind.
"The Phantom," stated Thompson. "That's what he calls himself. He showed me everything. All the pain and suffering. Everything that keeps you up at night. Everything – stop that!" He spun suddenly, shifting his aim to the Doctor, who had been edging around the group, unnoticed.
"Alright, alright!" said the Doctor, putting his hands in the air looking remarkably unconcerned at the gun which was pointed at his chest. "I've stopped, look, this is me, stopping."
"Mr. Thompson, what did the Phantom show you?" asked Prentiss, obviously trying to draw fire away from the one unarmed person in the room. Her efforts were in vain, because while Thompson did answer her, his weapon remained trained on the Doctor.
"I thought I was the only one," said Thompson, his eyes fever-bright. "But he showed me. Beneath all their charm and smiles, everyone's like me. Like Anna."
His voice caught on his wife's name, and Aaron saw his opening.
"Mr. Thompson, your wife was ill. She had Bipolar Disorder. What happened to her was a tragedy, but no one could have done anything to prevent it."
His file had told of the lengths he went to in order to help her, the hours he took off work, the money he poured into different drug regimes. Sometimes the best the world could offer wasn't enough.
"No, no, because it wasn't just her!" Thompson protested, his attention and his aim turning back to Aaron. "It's me, now, and everyone on the street, and – and all of you!"
He began to list them off, pointing the gun at each of them in turn. None of them blinked, used to this type of mind game, but Aaron was sure that they all felt the same sting when the statements hit far too close to home.
"Aaron Hotchner, torn between two families, always letting one of them down. Derek Morgan, always afraid to give up any control, never really trusting anyone. Emily Prentiss, even worse, with so many compartments that she doesn't even know who she is anymore. David Rossi, clinging to his glory days, jealous of the younger, brighter agents. Jordan Todd, always trying to prove that she's more than just a pretty face, always worried that she's not. Spencer Reid, hiding behind his intellect while underneath it all he's still just a scared, lonely little boy. Ruth Stewart, still trying to prove that she's more than just the girl her father didn't want.
"And you, Doctor!" Thompson gave a desperate, hysterical chuckle. "You're worst of all! You carved your hearts out of your own chest and handed them to the Universe on a silver platter, and they spat on you, abandoned you, left you empty and bleeding and alone. I thought it was just me that was tired of living, but I can see now. I can see!"
"You're only seeing what he wants you to see," said the Doctor, face earnest, eyes dark. Despite all his earlier rage at the killer of the alien child, he sincerely wanted to help Thompson. "There's so much more than that. Every human on this planet has something to live for."
"He's right," said Aaron, not missing the significance of the Doctor's choice of words and not willing to let Thompson press him on that line of thought. "The Phantom is manipulating you, Peter."
"He's only showing you half the story," added Morgan.
"He doesn't believe a word of it himself," Rossi agreed. "This is just a job to him, and you're just a tool."
"That's – that's not true," said Thompson, but doubt was clear in his voice and expression. "He wants to help us. He wants to – to do what we're too weak to do ourselves."
"He's a psychopath, Peter," said Emily. "He'd say anything to get you to help him."
"No, that's not – he – he wants to talk to you . . ."
"No!" the Doctor protested. "No, Peter, listen to me, he knows that you're doubting him; if you hand over control he'll never give it back!"
"Listen to him, Peter," Aaron said, but it was too late. Thompson's eyes glazed over, his posture shifted, relaxing, and his face split into a wide, chilling smile.
"Hello," he said, in a very different voice than before. "Sorry about that, he does tend to go on. I'm not sure how you got past my psychic shield and right now I don't really care. Let me go."
"Or else what?" asked Rossi. "You can't shoot all of us."
"No," agreed the alien – because it wasn't Thompson talking anymore, Aaron was sure of that. "Not you. That." He shifted his aim to a large tank which stood in the corner of the room, away from the other machinery. "That's filled with – to put it in your terms – rocket fuel. If I shoot it, this whole building goes up in smoke.
"Now, despite what I've told precious Peter, I know that none of you want to die – well." He shot a sidelong glance at the Doctor. "Almost none of you. And you certainly don't want the others to die, so how's this? You let me step into that teleport over there –" He jerked his head towards a tall, oblong container, stood on its end. "– and we all walk away."
"We can't let you do that," said the Doctor, stepping forward, but halting again as the alien shot him a warning look and tightened his grip on the trigger. "Your psychosis won't let you leave a job unfinished; you'll be back. But I can help you." There was genuine emotion in his voice, not just pity for the alien's illness but real care for the person it had once been. "Let Peter go; come with me; I'll take you back to your planet. There are treatment centers; they'll find you a proper host –"
"Yeah, I don't think so," said the alien, with a mockery of an apologetic grimace. "Sorry. You have your choice, now make it!"
The last phrase was a vicious snarl, and Aaron shifted his aim from the alien's torso to his head. The loss of life would be unfortunate, but the Doctor was right when he said that they couldn't let him go, and they certainly couldn't let him incinerate the house. That left one option, and one shot to take it.
"Last warning," said Aaron. "Put the gun down."
Two fingers tightened on two different triggers.
There was a deafening BANG.
Pink mist erupted from Thompson's head and the alien weapon, unfired, slipped from his fingers.
His body slumped against the machine behind him, flipping switches as he slid to the floor . . . and then the world disappeared.
Derek stumbled, momentarily losing track of where he was, of when he was, overcome by a crushing wave of betrayal shame horror pain grief –
"Morgan!" Rossi's voice cut through the flood.
"I'm fine," he said, regaining his footing and pushing down the emotions which had no place here and now. In truth, he felt like he was going to be sick, his stomach roiling and his head spinning, but it was nothing he couldn't handle. He glanced around, trying to organize his jumbled mind and locate the others.
A grey-faced Hotch was supporting Reid, whose breath was coming in gasping sobs, but that seemed to be the worst of it. Everyone was disoriented, Stewart and Rossi were both very pale, there were tears on Jordan's face, and Prentiss looked extremely shaken, but other than that – good god, what was that noise?
"It's the Doctor," said Hotch, answering the question which Derek hadn't realized he had spoken aloud, his eyes focused on a spot behind him and to his left.
The horror which rose in his throat wasn't artificial, this time. The Doctor had collapsed into a tangled mess of pinstripes, his thin body contorted with agony, his elegant fingers clawing at the floor, the walls, his own hair, and all the while he was screaming –
"Jordan, the machine!"
Jordan jerked into motion at Hotch's sharp order, stepping over Thompson's body, hands fumbling over the strange device and finally managing to flick the right switch. Derek's nausea subsided immediately, and the Doctor's howl of anguish faded into a low, keening wail.
Derek was the first to move. He flicked the safety on his gun and handed it to Rossi rather than holstering it, remembering Thompson's comment – "Almost none of you." – and direction of the glance which had accompanied it. Slowly, carefully, he moved forward.
The Doctor had curled into a fetal position, his hands gripping his hair and his arms covering his face as he sobbed. He looked tiny and pitiful; an orphan huddled against the storm.
He wasn't just sobbing, Derek realized with a jolt as he moved closer, ignoring the ominous sparking of the machine behind him. There were words among his ragged gasps; piteous, heart-wrenching words.
". . . sorry, I'm so sorry, please, make it stop, please . . ."
"Doctor," Derek said firmly, crouching down beside him.
The Doctor froze, the flow of words ceasing.
"Morgan, we have to get out of here," said Hotch from behind him. "That thing is going start a fire, soon, and if it reaches the gas tank this whole place will explode."
"Doctor," Derek repeated, holding up a hand to Hotch. "It's over, it'll be fine, but we need to leave right now."
The Doctor unfolded – slowly, slowly, and Derek could feel Hotch's urgency as he ordered everyone else out of the room and his own impatience gnawing at his stomach, but he refused to push, afraid of sending the Doctor skittering back into himself.
The Doctor's eyes met his, and Derek's breath caught at the sheer pain in them.
It was all the encouragement Derek needed. He hauled the Doctor to his feet and past the furiously sparking machine just as a nearby stack of papers caught alight. Hotch caught hold of him on the other side and together they half pulled, half carried the much lighter man out of the house. By the time they made it down the front steps there was smoke pouring up the stairs, and they were barely ten feet from the house when –
Everything exploded into heat and light and sound, and they were thrown to the ground. Moments later someone was rolling Derek over, worried faces hovering over him and familiar voices making their way through the ringing in his ears.
"I'm fine," he said, perhaps a bit too loudly, sitting up and waving Prentiss and Reid away. He glanced over and was relieved to see Hotch having a similar conversation with Rossi and Jordan.
Content with his wellbeing, Prentiss moved next to the Doctor, who was on his hands and knees, struggling to control his breathing.
"You alright?" she murmured softly, reaching out to touch his shoulder. He gave a burst of mirthless laughter as he rocked back on his heels, making her pull back in alarm.
"Always, yeah," he said with a sickly grin, made even more unconvincing by the backdrop of the burning house.
He swayed as he straightened, but twisted away from Prentiss' hand as she reached out to steady him. His hands were shaking as he ran them over his face, but when he let them fall his expression was flat and blank.
"That's this mess sorted, then," he said tightly, miles from his previous levity, obviously barely holding himself together. "I'd better be off. If I could get a lift back to the TARDIS . . .?"
"I'll drive you," Hotch offered, before Derek could even open his mouth.
The Doctor gave a sharp nod of thanks and the two strode off towards the cars, dark silhouettes against the flames.
The Doctor was still and silent in the passenger seat, posture slumped and eyes distant.
Over the course of his life, Aaron had seen people break in innumerable ways. He had never seen anyone crumble quite like the Doctor was doing. Usually, in the face of tragedy a person's defenses would fail first – Reid's intellect torn apart by Hankel's drugs, Gideon's self-confidence shaken by Bale's unanticipated bomb, Elle's faith in the team destroyed by Garner's attack – and the rest would follow. The Doctor, though – his shields were still in place, or had been, a few hours ago. There was just nothing left behind them.
No, Aaron corrected, glancing sideways as the man who was staring blankly out the window. Not nothing. Not quite. Beneath all his stunning complication, the facets and illusions and tricks of the light that made up his surface, the Doctor was still a man, lonely and broken and hurting and impossibly, achingly good. At the core of him was someone who bristled at the slightest injustice, who wept for every life lost, who really, truly cared for everyone he met, and who suffered all the pain that came with that.
The car rolled to halt in front of the first crime scene. The Doctor led the way around the house, to where a large, blue box was standing in the back yard. 'Police Public Call Box' read the softly glowing sign. Aaron felt a spark of curiosity, but held his tongue. He could always ask Reid later.
The Doctor ran his hand along the door in something almost like a caress, a weary smile flickering onto his face. It stayed in place as he turned and met Aaron's eyes.
"Thank you," he said, soft and sincere.
"You're welcome," Aaron replied, with equal honesty, aware that they were talking about far more than the ride to the house. There was a pause, and this time it was Aaron who broke the silence. "You have friends, Doctor."
"What makes you say that?" asked the Doctor, with genuine curiosity but no real hope.
"The head of Torchwood," said Aaron, and the Doctor's eyebrows shot up in recognition. "He's put effort into keeping you safe, and he's stepped on a few toes to do it."
"Oh, Jack needs absolutely no motivation to step on toes," said the Doctor, some thin mask slipping back into place. His smile turned lighter, though there was still a melancholy, almost bitter edge to it. "And he certainly doesn't need me interfering with his life again. Believe me when I say he is much better off without me."
"Maybe you should let him decide that," Aaron suggested.
The Doctor shook his head, and Aaron knew, from the twist of his lips and the dullness in his eyes, that he wouldn't take his advice. He also knew that advice was all that he could offer him.
"Take care of yourself, Aaron Hotcher, and that team of yours," said the Doctor, blithely ignoring the recommendation as he slid a key into the lock.
"And you, Doctor," Aaron returned, and was unsurprised by the mirthless, fatalistic smile he received in response.
The Doctor stepped into his ship, and soon a grinding roar filled the air as a wind whipped up from nowhere.
Moments later, Aaron was alone on the lawn.
"Nothing makes us more vulnerable than loneliness, except greed." – Thomas Harris
Emily stared out the window of the jet, not even bothering to attempt to focus on her book. It had been a strange few days, but it wasn't the case which was bothering her. They often hunted men who wanted to watch the world burn – this one just happened to have stumbled across someone who could actually enable him to do so.
It wasn't what he had said about her, either, or about the rest of the team – she was profiler, and what she hadn't already known, she had guessed.
What he had said about the Doctor, though . . .
Morgan slid into the seat across from her.
"What's up?" he asked, friendly curiosity and mild concern in his eyes. Emily hesitated a moment before responding.
"Do you think it's true? What he said about the Doctor?"
"Only as true as what he said about the rest of us," answered Morgan with a shrug.
"That's really not reassuring," said Emily with a half-hearted chuckle, and Morgan smiled ruefully in return.
"Nah, it's not, is it? So come on, what's bothering you about it? Sure, the man's been through hell, but we see stuff like that every day."
"Yeah, but usually . . ." Emily trailed off, struggling to find the words.
"Usually when the world chews someone up and spits them out like that they end up twisted," said Morgan, as if he could read her mind. "They end up being the kind of people we chase, not the ones we work with."
"Exactly," agreed Emily. "And the Doctor, he said that he'd been saving this planet for nine hundred years. Nine hundred years of saving us, and after all that time, he's still alone. Abandoned, Thompson said. What does that say about us?"
"I don't know," said Morgan. "But think about it this way –" He leaned across the table, meeting her eyes. "After nine hundred years, he still keeps coming back. What does that say about us?"
Emily huffed a chuckle, and the tension broke.
"Lord, you make it sound like a booty-call with a bitchy ex. Who do you think that assassin was after, anyway?" she asked, changing the subject before Morgan could voice his undoubtedly lewd comeback.
"Who knows? Earth certainly seems to attract enough aliens," said Morgan, the wicked gleam still in his eye. "Could have been anyone."
Sergeant Leroy Jenkins sifted through piles of ash and charred paper, searching for half-heartedly for something salvageable. More likely than not, anything they did recover would be absolutely useless, anyway. It would be tucked away in a file with other pointless alien documents: things in untranslatable languages, incomprehensible technical specifications, modern art . . . .
There was a piece of paper, mostly intact, and he could read it. It was in English. The alien must have translated it for his human lackey – but wait, it was shifting. The letters were changing before his eyes, morphing into some unrecognizable alien alphabet.
Oh. The Doctor was probably leaving. It was his ship that had been translating; now that it was gone, so was any chance of figuring out what this meant.
Leroy deflated and went back to work, slightly more sullenly than before. If he had ever even seen it, he quickly forgot the snippet of writing on the singed page.
Target: Captain Jack Harkness.