AN- I suddenly had a new idea, almost as I was going to bed the other night, and I had to write it out. It wouldn't leave me alone until I did. Hope you enjoy!

The Countdown

Chapter 1: Seven

There was something strange in the air when Reid entered the conference room. Some sort of intuition, the type he hadn't gained from books, was tugging at his insides; from the moment he looked at Hotch, he knew that something was horribly wrong.

The rest of the team must have felt it too; he could read it on their faces, and in their confusion, none of them had even attempted to mask their emotions. He noticed how Hotch's eyes kept flickering over to JJ, but that didn't mean much. She'd only returned a few weeks ago, and as glad as they all were to have her back, it was still unsettling to glance over and see her there, as though she'd never left.

Reid glanced at Emily. Their eyes met and they exchanged brief, wistful smiles. All it meant was another case, right?

"All right, everyone," Hotchner said, "Settle down."

Reid decided against mentioning that they were already silent.

"The newest case is local, right here in Quantico. Amelia Hudson, a white woman, age 30, was found shot in the head in an alley behind Super Shopper's Market on South Main Street. There were no other visible injuries besides some bruising around her wrists."

The team glanced at the screen; the woman was blonde, petite. Dead. They couldn't take the time to make more connections to her than those.

"But why would we get this case?" Rossi asked, leaning back in his chair, "Why something so close to home, and so simple? It was an isolated incident, maybe it was just a robbery gone wrong."

"None of her possessions were taken," Hotch said. "And there's one more thing." He motioned to Garcia, and she clicked onto the next slide of information, turning away in her chair so she didn't have to look the picture head-on.

In this picture, the woman's shirt had been lifted. A crude, bloody 7 was carved into her stomach.

"A number?" Morgan asked. Reid leaned forward to get a closer look.

"Not just a number," he said, "The number seven is highly regarded as a magical or special in certain mindsets. However, there is a possibility…I think…I think it may be a countdown."

Hotch nodded, "Precisely what I thought. They want us to catch the unsub before he can kill again. So what do we know here?"

"Well, obviously the unsub's going for a clean kill," Prentiss offered. "There's no sign of remorse, but there's also no obvious hatred- besides wounds sustained from her struggle and the number he carved, there's no sign of torture, prolonged or otherwise."

"Maybe the woman symbolizes someone to him, a surrogate. His kill list is backwards- he starts at seven and leaves the most offensive enemy to be killed last. This suggests that he may increase the torture as the numbers decrease and the offenses of those enemies increase," Reid said.

"So, then, if she's a surrogate and not the real offender, who's the unsub actually after?" JJ asked. Hotch shook his head.

"Don't forget, there's no proof that she is a surrogate. She may be his intended first victim. We're going to the crime scene, sign out an SUV. We leave in five minutes." Hotch left the room, and the rest of the team watched him go.

Morgan was the first to speak up. "Anyone else think something's up with him?"

"Maybe he doesn't like having a case so close to home. Makes him feel vulnerable, like he's not doing his job well enough." Emily didn't sound very convinced. Rossi chuckled and got to his feet.

"And here I thought we said we'd never profile each other."

Prentiss and Morgan, embarrassed, collected the files in front of them and hastily stuffed them into folders. Prentiss grabbed her cup of coffee, papers spilling out of her hands from every angle. "See you guys in the car." She left, Morgan close behind.

"Bye baby girl," he called over his shoulder teasingly.

"Goodbye my chocolate thunder," Garcia chuckled, following him out and planting a kiss on his cheek before turning into her office. JJ grinned at the exchange, then grabbed her bag and also got up to leave. Rossi was halfway out the door when he felt a hand on his shoulder.


"There's something wrong, isn't there." Reid's voice was quiet, and Rossi was surprised at the pure determination in his eyes.

"I wouldn't worry about anything until we get there." Rossi started to leave, and Reid stopped him again.

"That wasn't really an answer."

"Hey, who said I had all of the answers?" Rossi smirked. "Grab your stuff, we're leaving soon." Reid nodded reluctantly and went back to grab his messenger bag, slinging it across his body. He still couldn't shake off that feeling of foreboding. He looked at the screen one last time. Her blue eyes were open. They were staring, he felt it. With a shiver, he left the room and tried to put those eyes out of his thoughts.

"You're finally here, pretty boy? Thought you were planning to miss the car," Morgan joked, tousling Reid's hair. Reid laughed and shrugged away from the touch.

"Miss a car ride with you? As appealing as it sounds…"

"Hey, play nice." Morgan grinned, swatting at Reid. Reid caught his wrist.

"It's not my fault that you're intent upon harassing me at every turn."

"But Reid, you make it so easy!" Morgan pleaded.

"Oh my gosh, I think he's actually blushing," Emily laughed, "I think Reid is blushing."

"Excuse me, is this a car of children?" Hotch sounded more annoyed than amused. "Can we think about the case for a moment?" The others sheepishly quieted.

The car stopped.

"It's this close?" Prentiss asked, surprised. Hotch looked at her in the mirror and nodded grimly, getting out of the car.

"It's this close."

They walked up to the body spread on the pavement, and Reid crouched to get a better look. He had never had trouble looking at corpses before- and there had been many much more gruesome than this- but for some reason his stomach wouldn't settle. It was those eyes again. Bright blue, like JJ's. JJ. It all made sense now.

"Hotch, can I talk to you for a second?"

He seemed to expect the request, and after a moment of hesitation, nodded. Reid got to his feet and they walked away from the team. Out of the corner of his eye, Reid saw Rossi watch them go.

"Is this JJ?" Reid demanded.


"This woman, up close, she looks exactly like JJ. Is that what had you so uncomfortable?" Reid lowered his voice to a whisper. "Hotch, do you think someone's targeting the team? Because if so, they have every right to know. We need to know who he'll target first, number seven or number one. We need protection."

"Reid, don't you think I know that? For now, we have absolutely no idea that this isn't all just a coincidence. And if you ever speak to me like that again, I won't be half as lenient, Reid. You're pushing your luck, and this isn't the first time You're an asset to this team. It would be a shame to lose you."

Hotch turned and left, and Reid was hit with the unfamiliar sensation of speechlessness. What had just happened? Was Hotch that scared, that he would lash out? What information was he hiding?

"Reid!" Morgan called out to him. "We just got a call. There's another victim across town. Get in." He gestured to the SUV. Reid was relieved to see that Hotch was already in the other one.

"You okay?" Morgan asked carefully as Reid got in the car. "What did you and Hotch talk about back there? You look like you saw a ghost."

"It's nothing." He wished that his voice hadn't shook, but Morgan nodded and returned his eyes to the road. His phone rang and he hit speaker.

"Talk to me, baby girl."

"Well, my lovely mister, I have your details on the latest murder as you drive. Charlie Arlington, 33 year old African-American. Rather buff, if I may say so myself. Worked a regular nine-to-five job as a personal trainer."

Reid glanced over at Morgan, those unfamiliar feelings of fear clenching tightly again.

"Thanks, we're on our way."

AN- Hope you liked it! I intend to really get into this one, unlike other fics I have so so many ideas for it. Review please!