Life and death are balanced on the edge of a razor.
It was dark.
It was dark and it was cold. Kind of rank too.
It was dark, it was cold, kind of rank, and he was really pissed that creepy old guy had managed to get the jump on him—Sam was never going to let him live it down. At least it wasn’t a little kid this time. Best to just solve this whole thing before brother dearest noticed. Kid was dead to the world when he’d left this morning, so if Dean hurried he could pass this off as a coffee run gone bad.
Dean opened an eye slowly. Why was it still dark? His eyes were open therefore he should be seeing the world in full Technicolor. It hadn’t been dark when he left.
His head throbbed. Dean ignored the pain to get a better look around, which was pretty useless given he couldn’t see his nose in front of his face. He was going to have to do this the hard way—navigation by touch. Just like when he was ten and his dad blindfolded him, spun him around, and then told him to find the bag of peanut M&Ms hidden in the room.
His first attempt to figure out where the hell he was revealed another problem; his hands were being very uncooperative. Well, at least they had an excuse. The fucking twine was wrapped pretty tightly. And itched. It wasn’t his hands’ fault they were behind Dean’s back and all they could tell him was that he wasn’t near any walls.
Too bad he couldn’t use the knife he had in his boot to cut the twine.
“Ok, thoughts like that?” Dean muttered, “That’s a concussion.” He slowly stretched down to his boot for the knife it stored. He came up empty-handed and empty-footed. “Where the hell are my shoes? Dammit,” he slurred. “You better not have touched those boots, you sick fucker!”
No one replied.
“Plan B it is,” Dean mumbled, his tongue tripping over the syllables. “Step one, sit up.”
After more false starts then he’d ever admit to, Dean managed to get himself upright and, after more than a few false starts, against the wall. It was cool to the touch but slightly spongy—dirt, not drywall he realized suddenly. Well, at least that explained the damp odor he’d smelled since regaining consciousness.
Though his last attempt at communication had as much impact as telling Sam to get a damn haircut, he decided to try again. “Hey! Anybody out there? ANYBODY?!”
No response, not even a dog barking. Where the hell was he?
He used the wall to steady himself as he rose to his feet, the cool ground causing his bare toes to curl in on themselves instinctively. “You couldn’t have let a man keep his socks?” he bitched.
The ceiling was too short for him to stand upright, hunched over he took a few cautious steps. After only a few steps he ran into a corner. After a several repeats, he could visualize the room—squat, rectangular, and the dirt packed so hard it felt like concrete, though for what purpose he couldn’t imagine.
On his fourth circle, he tripped. With his hands bound and his head still angry at its previous introduction to a hard object, he had little chance of regaining his balance. He hit the ground hard. When he was finally sensate, he groped around for the object he’d tripped on—destroying it wouldn’t do much good, but he’d feel a hell of a lot better.
Finally he managed to pick it up. Smooth and long, but not too thick, he could easily hold it in one hand, though the blood pooling in his palms from the twine certainly wasn’t helping his grip. He gingerly griped it with his right hand, while he searched for more clues with his left.
His fingers traced from the thinnest part in the middle to its knobby end. It got progressively wider as he felt outwards. Frowning, he moved to the opposite end only to find a large bulbous head and a small knob like the head of a cane. Hoping his addled head was giving his imagination free reign; he maneuvered the object onto his lap.
He straightened his legs slowly. It lined up perfectly with his leg, though it was quite a bit smaller. He could picture it as clearly as if the room were lit by the Impala’s headlights.
There was a femur resting on his leg.
There was a femur resting on his femur to be exact. Dean smothered a giggle. Manly men didn’t giggle. When the implication of him finding a human femur in the same hole he was trapped in hit, he didn’t feel like laughing too much anyway.
“Thanks again for getting here so quickly Agent Jareau, Agent Hotchner,” Officer Gabert said as he led the BAU out of the snow and into the small police department. He took off the brightly-colored woolen hat and rubbed a hand over his bald patch absentmindedly. Officer Gabert waved a hand towards several coat racks, already holding coats in various stages of drying.
“We’re here to help,” JJ repeated stiffly, placing her heavy coat on the indicated coat rack. “We’re happy we were able to make it here so quickly. Do you have space for the team to set up? I emailed your deputy what we need before we left.”
Officer Gabert nodded. “We pulled a couple whiteboards and set them up in the conference room for you, but we already have a couple cork boards set up with the possible victim information—did you want that to be taken down?”
“Show us what you have,” Hotch ordered.
Officer Gabert gestured to the sturdy redhead hovering by the secretary’s desk. “Fee,” he barked. “Stop flirting with Stacey and show these fine folks to the conference room.”
Deputy Fee grinned broadly and unrepentantly. She motioned for the rest of the team, who had finally finished stripping off their various cold weather accoutrements, to follow her up the stairs.
JJ watched as Prentiss, Morgan, Reid and Rossi followed Deputy Fee. Reid and Morgan were talking animatedly, though softly, with Prentiss nudging Reid’s shoulder playfully. She supposed they must be continuing their earlier argument over the accurate definition of cold—she was with Morgan and Prentiss. It wasn’t officially cold until someone’s tongue could stick to a pole, until then it was chilly.
She turned to Officer Gabert. “What did you mean by possible victims? When you called earlier you said there were four victims.”
Officer Gabert rubbed his bald patch again. “Honestly? We have no clue how many victims there are.”
Morgan nodded gratefully at Deputy Fee, the rest of the team too busy examining the pictures tacked hastily onto the corkboard to bother with social niceties. He would’ve been right there with them, but his time as team leader had finally driven home what JJ’s lectures hadn’t—playing nice with the locals could only help them, even if every instinct in his body was screaming at him to stop wasting time and start working the case. “Anything new?” he asked his teammates when Deputy Fee left them to their work.
“Not really,” Reid replied. “Four women missing over three years, always about eight months apart.”
“About?” Prentiss teased automatically, not bothering to look up from the file she had picked up from the pile on the conference room table. Judging from her expression, Morgan bet that aside from more local geographic details, there wasn’t any significant change from the files they had read over on the jet. Still, cases had been broken on bits of information the local PD hadn’t thought important enough to send in their case assistance requests, so Prentiss and Rossi each hurriedly scanned the local files for differences.
“Eight months exactly, actually,” Reid replied, He took another look at the dates written below each smiling photograph. “Each time, it’s exactly eight months.”
“How long since the last one,” Rossi asked quickly.
Reid looked at the team. “Four months.”
Rossi looked confused. “Any idea why we’re here then? Doesn’t seem to be an imminent threat here.”
Reid shrugged and Prentiss looked equally blank. “Office politics?” she finally offered.
“There are only 1,714 people across the three towns the women disappeared from. Four abductions from three towns, well three, technically four, if you’re looking at the map,” Reid corrected himself. “It’s statistically significant—”
“JJ was pretty pissed when she called me,” Prentiss interrupted.
Morgan was glad she did. Reid’s skill with numbers was amazing, but he’d been a journalism major in college for a reason—he had no interest in math beyond what he needed to balance his check book. “She didn’t sound upset when she called me.”
Rossi looked thoughtful. “Hotch said something as we were boarding the jet about locals playing the guilty card.”
“You think Officer Gabert pulled the ‘woe is us’ card?” Prentiss asked doubtfully.
“It’s a strong possibility,” Rossi replied. “The case didn’t come in through the regular channels—call went to JJ’s direct line.”
At that pronouncement, the room went silent; each agent wondering how normal bureau politics had been leap-frogged so easily. Morgan dismissed the question of how a police chief from the opposite side of the United States got a hold of JJ’s phone number and refocused on the case. He pulled out his phone and dialed Garcia’s number. “Speak now or forever hold your peace,” she answered cheerfully when the number finally connected.
“Don’t say such things Mama,” Morgan responded playfully. He’d missed his chats with Garcia; being the boss had cut down on the amount of fun he was allowed to have with the perky blonde. “You know I couldn’t stand to not talk to you.”
“Well it’s a good thing you started talking then, isn’t it?” she replied. “What do you need?”
“We’re at Crivitz PD. I need you start looking up the names of the possible victims. According to the file, the local police thought they were runaways. Can you do a quick name and social check on them to make sure they aren’t living it up in Milwaukee?”
He heard rapid keystrokes and was ready to hang up when Garcia asked hopefully, “Could it be possible? That maybe they really just ran away?”
Morgan looked at the photos of the four possible victims. Their physical similarities were striking, from the common height and age to the center part each had through her dark hair. “I don’t think so Mama,” he finally said.
“When you called my office you said there were four victims,” JJ said dangerously, her voice laced with steel. “What do you mean you don’t know how many victims there are?”
Officer Gabert lowered his voice, forcing JJ and Hotch to step closer. “We know there are at least four victims,” he clarified. “And we know that two of these women were taken from Crivitz, one from Middle Inlet, and one from Sweetheart City. But the other agents thought, and I’ve got to agree, that it might be possible women were taken from other towns as well.”
He held up his hands calmingly when JJ and Hotch both tried to speak, “I put in calls to stations across Marinette and Oconto Counties, asking them to send me their files on female runaways and missing persons from the last ten years—I figured we could at least look over the files to check if this creep hasn’t been cycling through the towns in this part of the state.”
Hotch nodded. “Good thinking.”
Officer Gabert nodded gratefully. A gust of wind ripped through the police station suddenly as the station doors opened, causing all three to shiver.
JJ momentarily wondered why she’d thought an investigation in Wisconsin at the end of January was a good idea before dismissing the idea and wrapped her cardigan tighter. She and Hotch started towards the conference room when Officer Gabert’s words hit. She turned around, “What other agents?”
Officer Gabert looked up from his desk blankly.
“When you called my office you didn’t say anything about regional FBI assistance,” she said, any previous idea of walking up the stairs to the conference room forgotten. Hotch was hot on her heels as she stalked over to Gabert’s desk. “So what other agents are you talking about?”
“Fish and Wildlife,” Officer Gabert replied, leaning back in his seat uncomfortably. “Two of ‘em were here investigating, just left yesterday. Since we’re so close to Beaver Creek and Lake Noquebay, they thought maybe there was a stray bear or something in the area.”
“But how did they know about all the women disappearing if your department only found the pattern a few days ago?” Hotch asked.
Officer Gabert looked uncomfortable.
“The Fish and Wildlife agents discovered the pattern,” Hotch said flatly, his left eyebrow rising rapidly.
JJ knew that raised eyebrow; it was the same expression she saw when he came back from a budget meeting or the latest seminar on developing a proper work-personal life balance Strauss had forced the team to attend. Morgan called it the “eyebrow of death,” Garcia the “shit just got real brow,” Prentiss the “brow of last resort.” Reid just called it “Khan” for some reason (she knew better to ask at this point). She’d never asked Rossi. JJ knew better than to name it, she just tried to contain the fallout it produced.
Gabert must have realized the irritation contained within that one facial expression as well, because he suddenly couldn’t explain fast enough. “They couldn’t find any evidence of a rogue bear or anything like that, so human sicko seemed the only other answer. They thought we’d get faster help if local PD reported the problem instead of Fish and Wildlife.”
“Can you get me their contact information?” JJ asked. “Sometimes unsubs try to inject themselves into investigations—it’s possible one or both of the men could be responsible for abducting the women and brought the case to your attention to get media recognition.”
“I doubt either of those boys were responsible for taking those women,” Officer Gabert said doubtfully. “Both seemed real spooked by the possibility some freak’s responsible. Can’t say I blame ‘em, at least an animal’s got a reason for killing.”
As he started to write down the names and numbers of the Fish and Wildlife agents, Officer Gabert caught sight of something in the front of the station. “How about I do you one better,” he asked with a grin. He waved to a tall man talking to the receptionist. “Agent Jones! I thought you and Agent Page left? Come’re, I’ve got some people who want to talk to you.”
JJ felt her heart sink when she finally caught sight of “Agent Jones.” The last time she had run into this tall man and his brother, she’d had to toss her favorite blouse, Morgan had walked away with a nasty scar on his shoulder, and they destroyed a parking lot by blowing up a giant lizard (which was still crazy every time she let herself think about it, which wasn’t often).
Officer Gabert shook his hand warmly. “These are the FBI folks you and your partner told us to call. Agent Hotchner, Agent Jareau, this is Agent Jones from Fish and Wildlife. Agent Jones, these are Agents Hotchner and Jareau from the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico.”
Hotch tried to keep his face blank as he shook hands with the familiar newcomer, but was hard-pressed. At least “Agent Jones” didn’t seem to be having much luck either.
Satisfied at the introduction, Officer Gabert repeated his earlier question, “I thought you both left yesterday? What’re you still doing here?”
“That was the plan, but it’s a bit hard to leave when you’re down a partner.”
“Agent Page is missing?” Officer Gabert questioned dubiously.
The man grimaced. “I thought he might have come in this morning; he had an idea he was working on after we left you yesterday, but wouldn’t tell me what it was. I was hoping he came in here to tell you.”
Hotch gave JJ a look out of the corner of his eye and discretely nodded his head towards Gabert.
Of course. Her turn to distract Officer Gabert while Hotch got to get the real story of why the Winchester brothers told the local PD to call them. Thinking quickly, she interrupted Officer Gabert. “Officer Gabert, do you think you could show me where the files from the other counties have been coming in? I want to give them a quick read-through before handing them off to the team. Agent Hotchner can talk to Agent Jones about his partner and their investigation.”
Whatever Sam Winchester had to say for himself, it better be good, JJ thought as she prepared herself for the joys of paperwork.
Hotch waited until JJ had Officer Gabert’s full attention before grabbing Winchester’s arm and pulling him towards the conference room where the rest of the team was looking over the victim files. “Agent Page and Agent Jones?” He hissed. “Why not just announce you’re impersonating federal officers and get it over with up front?”
Sam Winchester matched Hotch’s glare. “Did you miss the part about my brother being missing? And you’re freaking out over the aliases we use? Not only do most people never pick up on it, but seriously, this is what you want to talk about?”
Hotch fought the impulse to slap the younger man. Not only was it unprofessional, but he had to wonder if he’d even be able to land the blow. Instead, he pulled Winchester into the conference room. “Just explain to me what the hell you think you’re doing?”
“We thought this was our kind of case. It wasn’t. We then spent the better part of yesterday convincing them to call you—they wanted to wait to see if this guy would stay true to form,” Winchester explained tightly, his face getting red. “How is this hard to understand? Go and find the sick fuck who likes to steal girls. I’ve got bigger things to worry about right now.”
Hotch was getting ready to explode when he heard a cough behind him. He and Winchester both turned to find the rest of his team staring at them. Rossi coughed again before saying drily, “As much as I’d love to watch you two battle it out, we’ve got an unsub who’s abducting women and I’d like to stop it from happening again.”
He looked at Hotch pointedly before switching his gaze to Winchester. “Mr. Winchester,” he started, obviously uncomfortable with his next question, “Is there anything here from your realm of expertise that we need to be worried about?”
Prentiss, Reid, and Morgan all looked expectantly at Sam Winchester, each preoccupied with memories from their last encounter. While Reid appeared intrigued and Morgan wary, Hotch noticed the return of the haunted expression Prentiss had worn for months after their initial encounter with the Winchester brothers.
“There’s no time for this,” the tall man snapped. “We got a tip that this might be our kind a job. It’s not, so we had the local PD call you guys.”
Prentiss sighed. “What made you think it was your kind of case, originally?”
“Disappearances in Wisconsin near a wooded area?” Winchester asked rhetorically. “Missing people plus reports of increased bear activity over the last couple years made us think a Wendigo might’ve moved into the Beaver Creek area.”
“I’m going to regret this,” Morgan said slowly, “but what’s a Wendigo?”
“The word comes from the Algonquin tribe,” Reid answered, surprising everyone in the room. “Literally translated it means ‘evil that devours.’ Usually found east of the Rockies in the northern states. They’re hundreds of years old—each one was once a man. During a harsh winter, a man would find himself starving and cut off from supplies. He becomes a cannibal to survive.”
Reid took a breath and continued to lecture. “There are myths in cultures around the world about eating human flesh. Often times, they say the act gives a person certain abilities: speed, strength, immortality. If you eat enough of it over the years, you become this less than human thing—constantly hungry.”
“More than anything, a Wendigo knows how to last long winters without food. It can hibernate for years at a time, but when it’s awake it keeps its victims alive. It stores them so it can feed whenever it wants.”
The entire room was silent after Reid’s extensive answer. Hotch knew the younger agent had a prodigious memory, but he really wanted to know when and how the man had stumbled upon a book on Wendigos. Then again, Hotch supposed Reid had to read something during physical therapy—and not even Reid could read government reports and physics journals all the time.
Winchester looked at Reid suspiciously. “Yeah,” he said slowly, “that’s right. Exactly right…” he trailed off, evidently lost for words and deep in thought.
“Knowing that there are actually Wendigos,” Reid continued, either unaware or ignoring the looks the rest of the room was shooting him, “the native culture-bound syndrome of ‘Wendigo psychosis’ becomes a lot more suspect. Psychologists use the term to refer to a condition where sufferers have the insatiable desire to eat flesh, even when food is plentiful. Apparently some sufferers were cognizant enough to explain that they believed themselves to be turning into Wendigos and would ask to be executed. There haven’t been any cases in recent history, so quite a few academics posited that the condition had just been an urban myth. Though knowing that Wendigos are real, kind of makes you wonder how many other things we’ve missed…”
“And with that cheery thought,” Rossi interrupted, “maybe we could get back to the case before another victim is taken?”
“Good luck,” Winchester said sincerely, though he was still looking at Reid suspiciously.
Prentiss stood suddenly. “Before you leave, can you tell us how you found this case in the first place? Maybe something about it can help us get a better handle on our unsub.”
“Sure, though I’m not sure how much it’ll help,” Winchester replied. “We got the name of the town from a friend of ours, was on her to-do list. Her friend’s younger sister was the latest victim, said she wouldn’t have run away. So we came to check it out.”
“Can you give us the name of your friend?” Morgan asked, pushing a pad and pen across the table. “It’d be helpful to know what angles she considered before handing the case off to you.”
Winchester was stone-faced. “Jo didn’t give us the case. We got it from her to-do list about a month ago.”
“Still,” Morgan pressed. “It’d be really helpful to talk to her.”
“She’s dead,” Winchester said flatly.
Hotch glared at Morgan, while the room settled into an uncomfortable silence.
“So you talked to the family of the latest victim, Grace Nichols?” Prentiss said, not willing to let the silence linger too long. Hotch loved her for that, for plowing through awkward moments by sheer force of personality. He liked to think it was a character trait, that Prentiss wasn’t one to wait for anyone else to act, but more than likely she had learned the skill out of necessity while growing up. It would have been useful in the face of the Ambassador’s...strong personality.
Prentiss continued, “Nichols disappeared in September 2009. According to the missing persons report, she was last been seen on her way to work at Atwood’s Gear. She had a backpack, told her family she was leading a river tour that afternoon. They said that was pretty normal, in the summer she would lead three to four trips a week.”
Winchester nodded, obviously still upset from his conversation with Morgan.
“Did you talk to the family?” Hotch asked.
“Only family left is an older sister, Dean talked to her,” Winchester replied. “He said she made a pretty good case for Grace not running away. Said she’d just been offered a promotion at Atwood’s and she and her boyfriend were really close. According to Dean, there just weren’t any signs that Grace had been making noise about bugging out.”
Winchester checked his watch impatiently. “Look, we had originally thought Wendigo because the dates were so exact. Wendigos are sneaky, quick, and have human intelligence. Since we didn’t see any signs of a Wendigo, or even a skinwalker or black dog, we thought whoever was taking the girls might be human. So we told Officer Gabert to try calling you folks. That’s everything, I promise. Now, I need to go and find my brother.”
He scribbled a number onto a piece of paper quickly and then handed it to Hotch. “This is my cell, if you guys need something more, call. Dean’s phone isn’t going to do you much good right now, but you can always try calling that later.”
“We can have our technical analyst trace the phone,” Hotch offered. “We can track the GPS embedded in the phone.”
Winchester looked at him as if he had suggested the word gullible was written on the ceiling. “His phone’s at our motel, he didn’t take it when he left. It’s one of the reasons I need to you to stop wasting my time—he never goes anywhere without it.”
“You’re really that worried about him?” Hotch asked, trying to reconcile the petty fighting and joking between the two the last time he saw the brothers and the Sam Winchester in front of him, his body tense and eyes slightly wild.
“He left the car in the motel parking lot,” Winchester replied helplessly. “He left the car.”
Hotch nodded, letting Winchester leave the suddenly too small conference room. He turned his attention back to the case. Dean Winchester had proven he could take care of himself; Hotch had a job to do.
JJ stopped to watch Sam Winchester pull on his winter gear; the man’s tight suit pulled over his body quite interestingly.
“Enjoying the view?” Prentiss asked wryly behind her.
JJ turned around quickly, her face flushed from being caught. Prentiss was standing in the doorframe grinning like the Chesire cat. “And you weren’t?” JJ accused playfully.
Prentiss grinned and changed the subject, “What did Officer Gabert say about possible other cases?”
In response JJ hefted the pile of case files she had printed out while the others were interrogating Sam Winchester “He handed me all the other possibles’ files before leaving to handle a shots fired call. What did…Agent Jones… have to say about the case?”
“Just that he and his partner investigated, didn’t think it was their kind of case,” Prentiss replied. “We weren’t able to get too many case details out of Agent Jones, he was a bit preoccupied.”
“Looking for his partner?” JJ asked.
Prentiss nodded. “Apparently Jones woke up this morning and couldn’t find him. I’m not too worried though, Page’s plans might suck but the man was pretty capable last time we met.”
“Any leads on what happened to the girls?” JJ asked as she entered the conference room and spread the new case folders across the table.
The team each grabbed a stack and started to read.
“This guy is definitely a preferential predator,” Morgan replied. He waved a hand towards the corkboard with the photographs of the four missing women. “Each victim is brunette, Caucasian, between five-five and five-seven, and between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five.”
“Well, that should mean our unsub is a white male, probably thirty to forty,” Prentiss said.
“Not really going to help much in this area,” Rossi snarked.
Reid spun slowly in his chair, arms crossed and head tilted to the side. “Crivitz is over ninety-five percent white. We’re going to need more than that.”
“So we profile the unsub by profiling the victims. My first concern is defining our victim pool. If he’s a preferential predator, he’s going to keep to pattern. Toss any files where the victim doesn’t match the physical description,” Hotch instructed.
Rossi and Prentiss each tossed their file into the center of the table and grabbed another. “How many of these do we have to go through?” Prentiss asked, eying the still impressive stack warily.
“Officer Gabert wanted to err on the side of caution,” JJ replied, “So he asked the surrounding precincts to send any and all files for runaways or disappearances from the last ten years. I think we have about fifty-six in total.”
“Without any bodies though, we don’t really know what the unsub’s particular psychopathy is and it’s going to make creating a profile difficult,” Reid said after a few moments of reading.
“Put every possible on the board for now,” Hotch instructed. “We’ll have Garcia run their information to see if any might have just started over outside Wisconsin.”
“I’ve got nothing,” Morgan said, tossing the three files he had grabbed into the center of the table.
“I’ve got one possible,” JJ replied. “Emily Johnson, age twenty-two, disappeared in January 2008 from Oconto Falls.”
JJ added Emily Johnson’s photograph and disappearance date to the corkboard. “Anyone else to add?” she asked.
“Laura Vinhout, age twenty-one from Lena,” Rossi said as he handed JJ a photograph for the board. “Parents reported her missing in September 2008, police never closed the case but it looks like she had been making noise about leaving town.”
“I’ve got a possible from Coleman, Jennifer Grothman, age twenty-three, disappeared May 2009,” Prentiss said, standing to add their information to the board herself.
“Anyone else?” JJ asked after a few minutes of silence. The team all shook their heads. JJ wasn’t sure if she should be happy their victim pool was limited to seven potential victims, or revolted that these women’s disappearances could have been written off so easily.
“So we have a pool of seven victims,” Hotch summarized. “Four from the immediate Crivitz area, three outside it but still in the area, all taken in the last three years.”
“Doesn’t look like there’s enough information to see if there’s a common time frame for when the women are taken,” Rossi added. “Grace Nichols was last seen leaving her home in the morning, but her family didn’t worry until she wasn’t at breakfast the next morning. And the information on Sharon Miller is just as bare.”
Prentiss continued, “Sharon Miller, age twenty-two from Middle Inlet, was last seen on January 13, 2009. Lived with her mother, never showed up for the mid-shift at the diner she waitressed at. Mother says she assumed Sharon was in bed when she left for work that morning.”
Hotch called Garcia. After giving her the names of the new possible victims, he said, “Look for any commonalities between the victims. They’re all young women, maybe they all went to the same school, summer camp, took out loans from the same bank. Anything you can give us Garcia.”
“Got it boss,” she chirped.
“When you factor in the new victims, our unsub seems to take a new victim every four months,” Reid observed. “Looks like he alternates between the Critivz area and outside it.”
Morgan nodded. “He’s smart, probably the reason he avoided detection—a disappearance every four months gets a lot of attention real quick, disappearances every eight months can be written off as runaways.”
“He may be alternating for another reason,” Rossi hypothesized. “Could be work related, might not be actively trying to hide.”
“Guys, the first and last victim are both from Crivitz,” JJ said suddenly.
“Think they knew each other?” Morgan asked.
“It’s a small town, certainly a possibility,” JJ responded as the rest of the team flipped through the files on the two Crivitz victims. “According to Officer Gabert, everybody knows everybody here; overlap could be anywhere.” She thought back to her own hometown. When she’d last brought Henry back for a visit, her family, neighbors, and even former high school teachers had asked her why Will wasn’t visiting as well.
“We’re going to have to rely on family interviews to get a better understanding of this unsub,” Hotch said finally. “Morgan, you and Prentiss go talk to Grace Nichols’ family. JJ, I want you and Reid to drive to Oconto Falls to interview the investigating officers in the Johnson case. Talk to the family while you’re down there.”
“Rossi, you’re with me, we’ll take the Miller family. I want you all to get as much detail as you can from the families—friends, co-workers, boyfriends, girlfriends, anything that can help us find the reason these women were targeted.”
Reid cleared his throat. “Guys, the latest victim, Grace Nichols, was taken four months ago. If he follows his pattern, he’ll be looking for a new victim soon.”
JJ waited for the team to clear out of the room before catching Hotch’s arm. “What do you want me to tell Officer Gabert?”
“Tell him to hold off briefing the media for another day, if we can’t find out more by tomorrow we’ll need to issue a press release to warn the women in the surrounding counties,” he replied after a moment’s thought.
“What do you think chances are of finding him before he grabs another woman?” she asked.
Hotch looked at her, eyes hooded. “See you back here in a few hours,” he finally said in place of an answer.~*~*~*~*~*~*~
At any other time, Sam might feel slightly guilty for storming out of the Crivitz police station (and for snapping at the BAU agents his subconscious helpfully added). He called Bobby again, “It’s Sam—you hear anything new?”
Bobby growled in response. “Boy, I ought to hang up on you for that question. What the hell you been doing in Wisconsin—bashing your head against the wall? Only way I figure you lost so many brain cells in such a short time.”
“Right,” Sam replied sheepishly.
“Castiel check in yet?”
“No, I left another message on his phone though,” Sam replied, grateful for the change of subject. “Though I’m not sure how much help he’ll be; it’s not like he can find Dean with the protection runes he marked us with.”
Bobby was silent. “It’s times like this that truly make me wonder why Dean calls you the smart one in the family. If nothing else, he’ll be able to tell you if Zachariah snatched him up. According to my sources, there aren’t any new spikes of demonic activity. The demons would be celebratin’ by now it they had him.”
A heavy pit settled in Sam’s stomach. It had been over six hours since he rolled over and found the bed across the room cold and empty. He’d assumed his brother had run over to the attached diner to grab breakfast. Dean had been rhapsodizing over their cherry pie for the last three days; he’d apparently charmed Gloria, their waitress the last three mornings, into saving him a piece for morning.
“Sam, are you sure the case didn’t have anything to do with this?” Bobby asked slowly.
“Not our kind of case,” Sam replied. “Handed it off to the feds this morning.”
“Doesn’t mean the two aren’t related.”
“The creep goes for brunette women in their early twenties. As much as Dean likes those criteria, he doesn’t exactly fit them,” Sam said drily.
“As long as your brother didn’t stumble onto anything,” Bobby said ominously.
“He was only gone for…” Sam started to say before thinking better of it.
Bobby snorted, realizing where Sam was headed with that statement. “Your brother’s always been able to find trouble with his eyes closed and it’s only gotten worse since he noticed women.”
Sam grimaced, remembering the hours of training he’d endured alongside his brother when their father had declared if they had so much excess energy to burn, they might as well use it constructively.
“I can be there in under ten hours, less if I speed and the ‘please excuse an old cripple’ act works on any state troopers,” Bobby offered.
“Give me another hour to look around,” Sam said finally. “Maybe he just followed some girl home and hasn’t come up for air yet.”
It was a weak excuse and they both knew it. Dean’s self-professed “skill with the ladies” notwithstanding, even his typically thoughtless older brother would have checked in by now.
“You got yourself an hour, boy,” the older man agreed before hanging up. More likely than not, he had already packed his bags and was making arrangements for Rumsfeld and the new puppy, Clinton. Sam was pretty sure that when he called Bobby next, the man would have “just left” his home in Sioux Falls.
Sam pulled at his tie irritably. Why had he even bothered to put the stupid thing on this morning? Maybe Dean had a point about relying on costumes, though those protests only seemed to come up when he was forced to wear a suit or coveralls. Next time, Sam decided, they were posing as screenwriters or journalists. No ties required.
Grabbing his jeans and the warmest clean base layers he could find, Agent Reid’s explanation of a Wendigo floated through his head again. Why had the man’s words seemed eerily familiar?
It hadn’t taken long to find Laurine Nichols’ small house on Louisa Street. Prentiss almost felt embarrassed for taking the rental car for the two-minute drive, but even though she had teased Reid about his complaints on the weather earlier, it was freezing and she had no desire to walk if she didn’t have to.
Prentiss and Morgan sat awkwardly on the floral loveseat as Laurine brought a pitcher of water out from the kitchen. The house was small, but tidy with pictures of two smiling blondes dotting the mantle over the fireplace. Laurine sat in the ottoman with her own glass of tea and followed Prentiss’ gaze. She smiled sadly at the photographs before asking, “I’m sorry, why did you say you wanted to talk to me again?”
“We’re here about the disappearance of your sister.”
“Look, I already talked to the other agents and the police. Why can’t you just talk to them?” she asked plaintively. She paced the small living room several times before calming down. “And why now? I couldn’t get this kind of interest when Grace went missing—they claimed she had runaway even though I told them that wasn’t Grace’s style. If she’d’ve left town, people would still be talking about it—girl liked to make an exit.”
“We’re investigating your sister’s case as a part of a routine investigation,” Prentiss said soothingly.
Morgan guided Laurine back to the couch. “Any details you have would be really useful.”
“Details?” Roxanne Miller repeated blankly. “What is there to say that hasn’t been said a hundred times already?”
Hotch leaned forward intently. “If you could just go over when you discovered Sharon missing one more time…”
Roxanne sipped at her coffee cup, clearly gathering her strength. “She had just turned twenty-two. Had a big party with her two best friends from high school—they went to Green Bay for a long weekend. She was picking up an extra shift from Janie Mueller in addition to her own. I had to get to the office at eight and Sharon’s never been a morning person.”
She breathed deeply. “She was scheduled to work until midnight. I don’t normally stay up that late, but I wanted to know if she’d changed the oil on the car like I’d asked her to after the trip. But she just didn’t come home…”
“Had she been complaining about anyone unusual or threatening before she disappeared?” Rossi asked.
“No, not that she mentioned,” Jessica Grothman replied to the seated FBI agents. “Jennifer was still in school, she didn’t really go out much but she would have said something if someone was bothering her.”
“What about new friends? A new boyfriend?” Reid asked gently.
“Not that she mentioned,” Mrs. Grothman replied. “I wish I could be more helpful.”
“You did great,” JJ assured. “Thank you again for talking to us.”
She exchanged the usual pleasantries as she gave Mrs. Grothman her card, asking her to call if she remembered any additional information. She doubted there would be any forthcoming, however. “Nothing new,” she said disgustedly when they were both in the car and out of earshot.
“No signs of depression, she followed her normal routine and hadn’t reported any suspicious activities recently. Just went missing sometime between six a.m. and two p.m.,” Reid summarized softly.
“How does that compare to the other victims?” JJ asked.
“No common time-frame as far as I can tell.”
JJ hit the steering wheel of her SUV several times. It made her feel slightly better, though not by much. “Who the hell is this guy?”
“The man in my phone told me you had left me several messages,” said a solemn voice when Sam answered his phone. Sam really regretted deciding to jump over his brothers’ chosen bed to pick up the phone on its second ring—Castiel’s was not the voice he had been hoping to hear.
And the stubbed toes stung like a bitch.
“So?” Sam asked impatiently, rubbing his toe through his sock carefully. “Have you heard through Angel CNN or whatever if Zachariah has Dean?”
“Dean is missing?”
Sam sighed. This was like teaching his father about cell phones all over again. “Cas, did you check your messages before calling me back, or did you just call when you saw I left messages.”
“The latter. There was a voice that informed me I had five missed messages and I hastened to call you back. I thought it prudent to not waste time listening to messages.”
Sam suspected Castiel didn’t know how to access his voicemail properly, but this wasn’t the time to press. He put the information into the back of his brain, the same place he remembered the time his father returned from a hunt with green hair and the time he found Jess singing the “Gummi Bears” theme song. Potential embarrassing information was a currency he’d been trading in for years.
“Dean’s missing,” he finally said. “He left the room sometime early this morning, hasn’t come back. I just wanted to know if you knew if Zachariah had nabbed him.”
“I have not heard anything. How did you lose your brother,” Castiel asked, his tone suggesting Sam was like a five year-old who had lost his favorite action figure.
“I didn’t lose him,” Sam protested, grabbing a nearby pair of jeans and yanking them over his hips, cradling the phone against his shoulder to free a hand to root around for a towel. “He’s missing. Been missing for several hours now and I don’t have any leads.”
“I fail to see the difference,” Castiel said flatly. “Where are you currently?”
“The Platter Restaurant and Motel in Crivitz, Wisconsin,” Sam replied. He had wanted to stay at the Best Western just outside the town, but he’d somehow lost rock-paper-scissor. Dean always threw scissors—always, so why had gone with paper this time? Sam looked around the room in disgust, he was sure that in addition to free wi-fi, the Best Western had better taste in interior decorators.
“Room eight,” Sam replied cautiously, toweling his hair vigorously. “Why?”
There was a knock at the door.
Sam tossed his phone back onto the nightstand and grabbed a clean shirt from his duffle. He could not believe he’d cut his shower short (and stubbed his toe) for this. Sighing, he unbolted the door to let the angel in.
“I cannot spare the minutes to continue our conversation over the phone,” Castiel said, looking around the room curiously.
Sam frowned. “You’re on a minute plan? Seriously, you should just go with an unlimited plan…”
Castiel glared at him. “When exactly did you lose your brother, Sam?”
“I told you, I didn’t lose him,” Sam protested again. “I woke up, he was gone. Haven’t been able to find him, Bobby hasn’t heard anything. I called you because I didn’t know if Zachariah had taken him. Again.”
“With the angelic runes you both wear, I cannot locate Dean for you,” Castiel replied seriously. “What does the prophet say?”
Sam stared at him blankly. “The prophet?”
“Chuck Shurely,” Castiel prompted. “He is tasked with recording your journeys.”
“And getting rich off them,” Sam mumbled, still irritated that his life had been written and sold as a crappy paperback series.
Castiel ignored his grumbling. “He is very attentive to detail.”
Sam felt like hitting himself when the implication of the angel’s words finally hit. “I’ll be right back. Don’t touch anything.”
He grabbed a jacket and stepped outside the room while searching for Chuck’s number in his contacts. It was bad enough that he was going to have to deal with Chuck, no way was he going to try to deal with Chuck and Castiel concurrently. He waited impatiently for the phone to be picked up.
“Hello?” a female voice asked.
Crap. “Um, hi. I’m calling for Chuck. This is a friend of his, Sam.”
“I know who you are silly,” she replied. “Sam, I can’t believe you don’t recognize my voice!”
“Becky?” he asked tentatively, hoping he was wrong.
“I knew you’d figure it out Sam! You’re so smart and brave and…”
Sam cut her off, knowing from past experience she could go on for hours. “How’re you doing?”
“Well, Chuck and I moved in together. Obviously, I mean I wouldn’t just answer his phone like I lived here unless I did. He’s such a great guy,” she gushed. “But it’s kind of annoying how no one likes my future fic now. I mean, I’m including Cas and everything, but everyone keeps calling him a Gary Stu and that is totally not fair because I have been really careful to show that even though he’s an angel, he’s a complex character. AND people are accusing me, ME, of being unfaithful to the brothers’ code! Can’t a girl expand her…”
“Becky, I really need to talk to Chuck. Really,” Sam finally interrupted when it looked like Becky might not finish her monologue anytime soon. Or worse, continue to talk about the people out there who thought he was the perfect match for his brother. He shuddered at the thought then wondered absently why Becky was writing about Castiel in the first place. No, it was better not to know.
“Fine,” Becky sniffed. “Here’s Chuck.”
“Chuck? It’s Sam Winchester.”
Chuck laughed nervously. “I gathered. What’s this about? I promise, I turned down that convention invitation. Didn’t even consider it.”
Sam frowned. “That’s not why I’m calling, but good to hear. Do you know where my brother is?”
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. “No, why? Did you lose him?” Chuck finally asked.
“Shouldn’t you? I mean, isn’t that your job, to know what’s going on in our lives?” Sam demanded, heroically restraining himself from a diatribe asking why the world seemed to think he could lose his brother.
“Calm down there Sparky,” Chuck said. “I don’t get everything you know.”
“Really?” Sam asked doubtfully. “Then why’d you stick sex scenes in there?”
“Those were included,” Chuck protested. “I thought I just had a really vivid imagination, it’s not like I like knowing I basically transcribed your sex life!”
“But if you know that, then why can’t you tell me where my brother is?”
“I can’t control what I get to see Sam. In the earlier books I would just start getting inspiration when it was case related…I mean when you were working a case. God this is such a mess,” Chuck muttered.
“We’re working a case now,” Sam said.
“News to me,” Chuck responded. “Angels must not think it’s important enough to beam into my brain. I don’t know what else to tell you, I haven’t heard a peep for the last week or so. Been kind of nice actually. I finally finished up the living room renovation.”
“Great. Thanks for all your help,” Sam ground out as he hung up the phone. He resisted the urge to throw his cell against the wall, but just barely.
“Well, that was a bust,” Prentiss said when Laurine Nichols finally closed the door behind them.
Morgan opened the door to their SUV. “We’ll get there Prentiss.”
“I know,” Prentiss replied. “It’s just…”
“Just what?” Morgan said as he started the ignition. He rubbed his hands in front of the heater futily, knowing as well as she did it wouldn’t heat up for a few minutes at least. “Close the door, would you? It’s not exactly balmy out there. We need to get over to Atwood’s. Laurine said that Grace’s boyfriend, a Jerry Lundegaard, will probably only be there another hour or so.”
Prentiss was staring down the empty street contemplatively. “You go ahead,” she said slowly. “I’ve got an idea and it’s only a five minute walk back to the police station.”
Morgan lowered his sunglasses to look her in the eye. “You sure?” At Prentiss’ nod, he flipped his sunglasses back up and simply said, “See you at the station in an hour then.”
The library had caught her eye when they’d arrived at the small brick house. When she and Morgan had carefully examined Grace’s well-preserved bedroom, full of nature photography, maps, and travel books, Prentiss could understand why the police suspected she had simply runaway. Her own bedroom in Saudi Arabia had been the same, though in her case the maps had been interspersed with posters of Siouxsie Sioux and The Cure. A small stack of books on the corner of Grace’s desk with a green sticky note stuck to the top had given her an idea.
They were different than the rest. Older, but in better shape than the rest—no dog ears, the spines were relatively in tack, and most importantly, they had plastic-covered dust covers. That plus a library down the street meant a field trip was in order.
Maybe it wasn’t right to send Morgan to do the interview with the boyfriend alone, but Prentiss planned on savoring this trip to the library. She still thought fondly on the hours she had spent in the New Haven Public Library during her undergraduate years, drinking in the homey atmosphere of murmured conversation, the deep smell of old books, and the welcome feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of old friends.
She felt she’d earned the pleasure of keeping this experience to herself, especially after running into Sam Winchester earlier in the day. Simply seeing his face had caused all the feelings of despair and helplessness that had haunted her for months after their first meeting. He and his brother had tried, she granted, in their own way to help her recover. Through her layers, she rubbed her tattoo reassuringly as a strong wind raced down the street. It just hadn’t been enough to wipe the cold from her bones.
Prentiss held the beige door open for a haggard women struggling with three small children in bright snowsuits, each chattering happily and independently of each other, to their mother. Upon entering the library, she had to force herself to move away from the heat vent blasting the entryway. Even though she only had to walk across the street, the Wisconsin winter was nothing to sneeze at.
She walked up to the main desk, currently manned by a slightly overweight woman reading a magazine. Prentiss craned her neck, subtly trying to catch the title, but the older woman caught her. Grinning, she lifted the magazine up to expose the December 2009 issue of Wired.
“The article on engaging with Scientology is awesome,” the woman whispered conspiratorially. “How can I help you today?”
“My name is Special Supervisory Agent Emily Prentiss, ma’am. I’m with the FBI,” she said, holding her credentials out for inspection.
The woman at the front desk, Mary-Anne if the nametag was correct, stared at her in confusion. “How can I help you?”
“I’m investigating the disappearance of Grace Nichols and I noticed she had quite a collection of travel books. I was wondering if anyone in the library knew her and might be able to talk to me for a minute?”
Mary-Anne pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Well, I knew her, but only in the sense that I could recognize her and we went to church together. You’re going to want to talk to Flynn Carsen; his office is right through the back there.”
Prentiss followed in the direction indicated, thanking the woman absently as she edged her way past a group of senior citizens.
Sam took a few minutes to recover from his conversation with Chuck. Though he had to wave off a few curious passersby, probably wondering who the crazy kid standing out in the cold with wet hair and no jacket was, Sam needed to refocus before heading back into his motel room. When he finally reentered the room, he found Castiel standing in front of the single window examining it curiously. “Were you spying on me?” he asked curiously.
“No,” the angel replied in his standard rasping monotone. “Why?”
“It’s just...,” Sam started. “Never mind. Chuck’s a no go.”
“He’s not going where?”
This is why he left dealing with angels to Dean. “It’s an expression. It means Chuck can’t help,” Sam explained.
Castiel was still staring at the window. “Sam, can I ask you a question?”
Castiel tilted his head, his staring continuing unabated. “Why is this room decorated with riddles?”
Sam wasn’t even sure where to start with that one. Could semi-fallen angels be delusional? “What do you mean?”
“Why would a bovine attempt to break atmosphere?” Castiel asked seriously, turning his speculative gaze on Sam. “It does not have wings. Surely it would realize such an attempt was futile.”
Sam frowned. “What are you talking about?”
Castiel looked back at the window.
It was just a window with another crappy view of the parking lot, the Impala angled to be visible from the room so Dean could ensure no one messed with it. No cows in sight, just concrete, a diner, and a half-empty parking lot. What was Cas talking about?
Sam brushed the curtain to one side, then froze. The curtain? He and Dean had stayed at so many crappy, themed motels throughout their lives that he tended to block the décor out subconsciously. He took another look around the room, noting Dean had managed to find the one motel obsessed with nursery rhymes in the greater Crivitz area, and more than likely, in the state of Wisconsin.
“The picture is a reference to a nursery rhyme for children. It’s not supposed to make sense,” Sam explained. “You can just ignore it.”
Castiel looked at him doubtfully, but finally stopped staring at the window and turned his attention the wall art.
“Sam, felines do not possess opposable thumbs. How would they play a violin?”
It took extraordinary willpower not to slam his head against the cats and the fiddles. Sam needed Dean back, not only to help him stop the apocalypse, but to deal with this kind of shit.
Dean needed Sam to come and get him now. It had been manageable the first hour or so, but he was more than ready for Princess Dorkface to get his act together and bust him out of this shitty-ass hole.
Ass hole, ha.
He really hoped Sam was going to bring some salt and gasoline. His brother was usually the perfect Boy Scout (whereas Dean had gotten kicked out of his second meeting when he showed those pussies how to build a real bonfire), but Sam could get queer when Dean wasn’t around.
He had a feeling if he could see better, he would be really freaked out by the bone he was absentmindedly fiddling with. Though it had freaked him out initially, it had given him the leverage necessary to get his bound wrists in front of him. Dean was sure the twine was going to break any minute now; his teeth were started to get sore from gnawing at it and the metallic taste wasn’t doing his already queasy stomach any favors.
A wind whispered down his spine. “Seriously, just calm down,” he yelled, though the wind continued to blow. Dean felt every inch of his thirty-one years (seventy-one, his mind corrected traitorously) as his joints protested the sudden change in temperature. “We’ll figure this out,” he promised, hoping it might have some sort of effect. Hell, at this point he’d pinky-swear while wearing a tutu if that’s what it took.
Huh, maybe this was some sort of new scheme of Zachariah’s to get him to agree to be Michael’s angel condom. Dean didn’t think so, being abandoned in a freezing hole lacked that ‘smug asshole’ vibe Zachariah’s plans usually exuded, but maybe the dude was learning.
The cold had well and truly settled into his clothes, hell, into his bones (and the one he was absently playing with, he reflected morbidly).
Sam really needed to hurry the fuck up.
JJ considered riding in car with Reid good training for Henry’s toddler years, but she maintained hope that her son’s breath capacity would be significantly less than her colleague’s. She loved Spence, but sometimes a girl just wanted to crank some Hank and zone out.
With no further information from their interviews, she wasn’t looking forward to reporting the lack of progress to Hotch. However, she seized the opportunity her ringing phone presented to halt Reid’s current lecture regarding the benefits of socialization on toddlers. She wasn’t yet sure if this was a new ploy of his and Garcia’s for increased time with Henry or a rationale for Henry starting preschool sooner.
The caller ID showed Hotch calling. “Hotch, nothing new to add from our end. The Grothman family didn’t recognize the other victims or have any new information to offer.”
Reid poked her in the arm. “Tell him about the investigating officers,” he hissed.
JJ wanted to swat him, but then she’d be driving with her knees and the Bureau would never let her hear the end of it if she crashed their SUV, not to mention her co-worker. She settled for a quick glare instead. “We talked to the investigating officers. They found no evidence of violence or recent threats. Didn’t find any evidence Jennifer Grothman was planning on running away either, but with no leads they couldn’t really do anything besides put the case on the backburner.”
Hotch sighed. “Rossi and I didn’t have much more luck at the Miller house. We’ll see you soon.”
“About half an hour,” JJ confirmed before ending the call. Reid was looking out the window intently. “You’ve never seen trees before?” she teased.
“It’s not that,” Reid replied frowning. “I was looking at the road signs.”
Reid’s face suddenly cleared. “The road signs, JJ. The highway!”
“The highway what?”
“All the victims are from towns on, or near, this highway, US-141,” he said triumphantly. “It’s not much to go on, I know.”
“It’s something,” JJ offered. “Male, Caucasian, uses this highway.”
“Maybe there’s something significant about the highway to the unsub?” Reid theorized.
“So you want to pursue Rossi’s trucker theory now?”
Reid glared at her. “JJ, Rossi’s trucker theory wouldn’t work. A trucker wouldn’t be able to keep to a consistent four-month schedule all these years.”
JJ thought it over. “Well, the same highway year after year implies local.”
“I would have said a seasonal hunter,” Reid said, “but the months don’t really match the local hunting seasons very well.”
“Not too much open in January and September. Hunting’s usually best around October.” At Reid’s questioning look, she elaborated, “My brothers and dad usually liked to make a weekend out of it. It was kind of nice to have my mom to myself for a couple days—we’d always go and get manicures.”
“A weekend,” Reid repeated. “JJ, do you know what January, May, and September have in common?”
“They’re all months?” JJ deadpanned.
“They all have federal holidays—specifically, they all have three-day weekends with Mondays,” Reid replied.
“That’s not much to go on,” JJ argued. “Most businesses take those days off too.”
“Crivitz’s local economy is tourism driven—no way anyone connected to that industry would be able to get away during their busiest times,” Reid replied.
“That should definitely narrow the list of suspects. Call Hotch and Garcia,” JJ ordered, hope blossoming in her chest. They were going to catch this guy before be grabbed another woman, she knew it.
It was time for a break, Garcia decided as she pondered Troll Princess Lovelace’s next move in her campaign to conquer the west side of the desk. Dux Holberton’s forces were making a valiant stand, but the right flank was taking serious damage. But Holberton was crafty and had the home turf advantage, so she might prevail.
Garcia sat up straight and resisted the urge to bang her head against the desk. It would only mess up her bangs and they were slamming today. Hotch had asked her to focus on the most recent victims, as they had the most complete case files and the details of the victims’ disappearances were more fresh in their families’ minds. But normally the boss-man had her look at the first victim—she was usually the most important to the unsub in some way.
“Ok, Garcia,” she said out loud. “Profiling 101, the first victim is special. Add that to the disgusting fact that our creep of the week likes to alternate between Crivitz and surrounding areas every four months, and what do we get?”
She wondered what was so special about, she checked her notes, Mary Hardsof that had set the unsub off. The twenty-four year-old was one of the oldest taken and she, like Grace Nichols, was from Crivitz. The unsub had started in Crivitz and then avoided the actual town for three years before taking Grace Nichols. What was going on?
She twirled a sparkly pen thoughtfully. “Someone is trying to hide their tracks.”
She allowed herself a victory twirl in her chair before resettling to stare at the screens. “Ok, I’m a psycho who likes to abduct women. I start in my hometown, then travel around the area for other victims. But I take another victim from Crivitz, why?”
Garcia frowned. “This getting inside the psycho’s head is a lot more fun, and sexier, when Morgan does it,” she disclosed to a nearby picture of the man. “Oh, beautiful boy, if you only knew the extraordinary lengths I go to for you.”
She picked up Dux Holberton and stroked her lime green hair thoughtfully. “You’re right, home turf advantage. I go back home because it’s safe. No one noticed what I’m doing, so it’s ok to cycle through again.”
“OK computer,” she cried, replacing Dux and cracking her knuckles. “Don’t fail me now. We need a white guy, currently in his thirties to forties who’s been living in Crivitz since at least September 2007.”
“Prison and police records? Why yes, Troll Princess Lovelace, that would be useful data to check against tax returns from the area. Thank you for the suggestion.”
“Dean walked from this room?” Castiel asked, at last apparently satisfied with the room’s décor.
Sam nodded, not trusting himself to restrain the impulse to throttle the angel if he asked another question about nursery rhymes.
The angel continued, “And you searched the surrounding area?”
“Walked for a mile in each direction,” Sam confirmed. “Couldn’t find a trace of him.”
“Dean likes the Impala,” Castiel said. “He would not have left it if he had anticipated a long journey.”
“That’s why I’ve been freaking out all day,” Sam said slowly, as if talking to a dim-witted child. At Castiel’s glare, Sam made a mental note to remember that while Castiel looked like a walking model for Tax Accountants-R-Us, at his core he was an ancient force who could smite him as easily as Sam could squash a fly. And Sam was not Castiel’s preferred Winchester brother. Dean might get a pass from the angel for most of his attitude, but since Sam had released Lucifer to walk the earth again, he was pretty sure Castiel tolerated him at best.
Castiel cleared his throat. “How far would Dean consider an acceptable distance to walk in place of driving?”
“Under five minutes,” Sam replied promptly. His brother could find any excuse to drive the Impala. He and Dean used to do so many “errand” runs the summer his father had officially given Dean ownership, Sam wouldn’t be surprised if they had added an extra 200 miles just from driving between the crappy apartment they were staying in at the time and the local Wal-Mart.
Castiel was looking at him. “What?” Sam asked self-consciously.
“What is within five minutes of here that Dean may have wanted to visit?” Castiel prompted.
“There’s the police station a couple blocks south and the restaurant is right next door,” Sam replied, dropping into the beaten-up chair in the corner of the room heavily. “But no one there has seen Dean. Laurine Nichols lives a few blocks southeast of here, but I don’t know why he’d go back. Talking to her was what convinced him this wasn’t our kind of case.”
“Would he have gone back for,” Castiel paused to frown, “other matters?”
Sam frowned. His brothers’ libido was legendary but, “I never saw her, I was at the library down the street the whole time. But he probably would have taken the car for that.”
“Would he have gone to the library?”
“I doubt it,” Sam replied. “But it beats sitting around here. Let’s go.”
“Come on in,” a voice instructed from somewhere inside a fortress of books. Well, Prentiss amended mentally as she tried to find a clear path into the room, it wasn’t so much a fortress as freestanding piles upon piles of books level with her shoulder. She imagined Reid’s apartment might look somewhat similar; she’d have to test the theory once the case was over.
A man in his mid-thirties finally popped his head out from behind one of the piles of books. He was Caucasian, had a wide, round face, and wore glasses. He held out a hand as he approached, “Flynn Carsen, it’s nice to meet you…”
“Special Agent Emily Prentiss,” she replied, matching his firm handshake. “Do you have a minute to talk? I was hoping to ask you a few questions about a missing persons case I’m working on.”
“Sure, take a seat.” He gestured to two wooden chairs, each mercifully free of books. “Who’re you looking for?”
Prentiss took a seat and opened her notebook. “It’s actually an older case, but Mary-Anne at the front desk thought you might be able to help with some lingering details. Did you know Grace Nichols?”
Carsen looked up at the ceiling. “It’s a pretty small town, Agent Prentiss. Everyone knows everyone, at least a little. I moved here eight years ago and it’s like I grew up here—everyone knows everyone’s business. I knew Grace a bit; she used to come to the library pretty frequently. I always pulled new travel books so she could be the first to read them.”
“Did she ever talk to anyone specifically? Complain about anyone bothering her?”
“Not that I recall,” Carsen confessed. “She was a real pretty girl, looked kind of like you actually.”
The hair on Prentiss’ neck stood up at that. Male, Caucasian, wouldn’t meet her eyes, about the right age—time for a tactical retreat to sick Garcia on him. Pulling out a business card, she stood and shook Carsen’s hand again. “Thanks for all your help, Mr. Carsen. If you think of anything, could you give me a call?”
She was at the door when Carsen spoke up. “Oh, Agent Prentiss,” he called out.
She turned and met a crowbar head-on.
The library wasn’t the biggest he’d been in, but neither was it the smallest. On the whole, it would have been unremarkable save for the new microfiche machines and office chairs they had installed. Sam had been treated to a twenty-minute lecture on the new additions when he visited earlier in the week. Jo’s notes had been maddeningly vague; all they’d had to work with was Laurine’s telephone number and a short list of creatures that could have taken Grace without leaving a body.
Still they owed it to Jo, not to mention to Ellen, to see her jobs finished. If they hadn’t asked for help in Missouri… Sam stopped his train of thought there. They had gone out fighting, died so he and Dean could have a shot at killing Lucifer. It may not have worked, but Sam would be damned if he’d let himself, or anyone else, try to cheapen their deaths by living in “if onlys.”
Mary-Anne Krakowski was working the front desk again. Sam crossed his fingers that she wouldn’t try to cop another feel. Lady might be older, but she was feisty. He could tell the moment she sighted him, she sat up straight and arched her back.
Sam really wished Dean was there; he ate this shit up.
He turned to Castiel and whispered, “Just let me do the talking, all right.”
Castiel looked vaguely offended. “I have done this before.”
They reached the front desk before Sam could press him for details.
“Agent Jones,” Mary-Anne cooed. “It’s so good to see you again. Did Agent Page pass along my regards?”
Mary-Anne looked annoyed. “Agent Page was here this morning, we had a real nice talk. You should have told me you had a partner! And such a cute one too. I asked him to pass along my regards.”
“That’s actually why I came in,” Sam said, hope rising rapidly in his chest. “I haven’t been able to contact Agent Page all morning and I’ve been trying to retrace his steps. Do you know what time he left? Did he say where he was going?”
“You know,” Mary-Anne said frowning, “I don’t know. He wanted to talk to Flynn Carsen, something about that poor girl’s disappearance. I must have missed him leaving somehow,” she trailed off, frowning in consternation. “Not really sure how though.”
She looked at him, “Is something going on with the Grace Nichols case? A FBI agent was here earlier asking about her too, told her the same thing I told your brother—Flynn Carsen’s your guy.”
“Would it be possible to talk to Mr. Carsen?” Sam asked, jumping at the chance of finding his brother.
“Go through the double-doors in the back there. Flynn’s office is pretty easy to find—it’s the one with the books flowing out like there’s been some sort of book-alanche.” She laughed at her own joke.
Normally Sam would have forced laughter alongside her, but the idea of wasting another minute on social niceties when he could be finding Dean was too hard. He settled for nodding and flashing her a quick smile, dragging Castiel to the back of the library quickly.
Mary-Anne’s description of Flynn Carsen’s office was an understatement. The hallway floor was covered in books. The bibliophile in Sam shuddered at their slipshod conditions. He knocked on the door several times but no one answered. He tried the knob, but the office was locked.
He knelt down and took a look at the lock. “Cas, keep a lookout, would you?”
“Where am I looking out to?” Castiel asked as he stared at Sam reshaping a paperclip he had fished out from his pocket.
“I want you to watch the hallway,” Sam explained. “I’m breaking into the office to take a look around. We don’t want anyone to catch us.”
After a few false turns, they were finally in. Thank god the library hadn’t sprung to update the locks along with the microfiche. He opened the door cautiously, “Hello?”
If Sam thought the hallway was bad, the office was another level entirely. While there were careful piles that formed paths towards the back, the area closest to the door was a disaster. The meticulously stacked piles had been decimated; books flung haphazardly, spines bent at awkward angles. There was something by the corner, Sam noticed uneasily, a puddle of dark liquid.
Fresh blood, judging by its color, which ruled out Dean. But hadn’t Mary-Anne mentioned a federal agent had just visited?
Morgan hated cases like these, where every possible witness was another dead-end, they had nothing tangible to work with, and time was slipping through their fingers. He hated himself for thinking it, but at least with bodies they had a starting place. Was their guy a sadist or maybe a sexual sadist? Did he prefer strangulation, firearms, knives?
Morgan wanted something solid, he wanted someone he could chase down a street and pound until he knew the sick bastard would never get a chance to hurt another woman again. He resisted the urge to snarl as he dropped into a chair in the conference room. The board hadn’t changed much in the hours he’d been gone; Hotch’s precise letters had added a theory about state or federal employees and the unsub’s connection with Highway 141 to their earlier theorized physical characteristics spelled out in JJ’s loopy script.
Hotch spared him a sympathetic look before returning to his hushed conversation with Officer Gabert.
“No luck with the boyfriend?” Rossi asked, cradling a cup of steaming coffee protectively.
“Kid had a lot to say,” Morgan replied. “Nothing useful though. Did Prentiss tell you if her theory panned out?”
Rossi looked blank. “What theory?”
“I don’t know. She had some idea she wanted to test out after we left Laurine Nichols’ house,” Morgan replied. “Where is she anyway?”
“Hotch,” Rossi called. “You’re going to want to hear this.”
Morgan’s stomach sank. “Prentiss isn’t back yet?”
Both men shook their heads. “What time did you two split up?” Hotch asked.
Morgan checked his watch. “We finished the Nichols interview around two. Prentiss said she had an idea and would just walk back to the police station. It should have been a five minute walk, max.”
“Call her phone,” Hotch instructed Morgan. “Dave, call Garcia. See if she can pinpoint Prentiss’ location from her phone’s GPS.”
“Call won’t go through,” Morgan reported after his third attempt still refused to connect.
“I’ve got Garcia,” Rossi said as he pushed several buttons on his Blackberry in an attempt to get the technical analyst on speakerphone. Morgan reached over and put the older agent out of his misery, but the man only shot him a sour glance in response.
“I was just about to call you,” Garcia said cheerily. “I think I can help narrow down your suspect pool.”
“Garcia, that’s wonderful. But could you do us a favor first?” Hotch asked. “Track Prentiss’ phone down, she’s not picking up and was due back about two hours ago.”
The analyst cursed loudly and creatively. Morgan was pretty sure he and Rossi had matching raised eyebrows; he didn’t know his baby girl knew so many colorful expressions. “That’s it, I am getting you kids tracking chips,” he heard mumbled over the clacking of Garcia’s keyboard.
“What was that?” Morgan asked.
“Nothing,” Garcia replied, too intent on her work to bother feigning innocence. Morgan wondered if he should be worried about any of his medical or dental appointments in the coming months.
“Prentiss’ phone is off,” Garcia said, suddenly all business. “But a little thing like that can’t stop me. Let me just access the GPS...oh crap.”
“Garcia?” Hotch asked.
“Sorry boss, no can do on the GPS. Looks like the chip’s been damaged or something, it’s not transmitting,” she replied despondently.
“Keep trying,” he instructed. “Call me immediately if you find anything.” Morgan interrupted before she could disconnect. “You said earlier you could help us narrow the suspect pool. How?”
“I looked at the residents of Crivitz and its immediate surroundings and pulled everyone who has been living in the area consistently since September 2007, when the first victim was taken. That pulled up pretty much all the male members of town, not a lot of population change. Anyway, after JJ and Reid told me to exclude men who work in a tourism related industry, I got the list down to about twenty.”
“Can you…,” Hotch started to ask when Garcia interrupted.
“Send the names to you? Already done. I’m still looking to see if any of them have criminal records.”
Morgan grinned. “Thanks Garcia.”
Morgan had started debriefing JJ and Reid when Officer Gabert stuck his head into the conference room. “I’ve got some visitors for you if you have a moment to spare.”
They had time, Hotch thought. Rossi was still scanning the names Garcia had sent earlier. The list was too large to be useful until Garcia could narrow the list further, but it was either go over the scarce case details once more with JJ and Reid or try to gleam something new from the basic files Garcia had sent with names. It wasn’t exactly a difficult choice, it was what Hotch had chosen to do as well; leadership had its perks sometimes.
Hotch nodded at Officer Gabert, who let two men into the room. Sam Winchester, now dressed in jeans and heavy jacket, was obviously upset, but his companion seemed perfectly at ease, looking around the room curiously. If anything, Winchester’s companion looked the part of a federal agent much more than Winchester; maybe it was the trench coat combined with a loose tie, or perhaps the shorter haircut.
“I see you brought a friend,” he said when it became obvious that Officer Gabert wasn’t planning on sticking around. He gave the police chief a curt nod as he exited.
The stranger rummaged through the inside pockets of his trench coat. “FBI,” he said as he carefully displayed his credentials. “Eddie Moscone.”
Sam Winchester frowned, but closed the door before he spoke. “Sorry, this is Castiel,” he said to Hotch. He turned to his companion. “Where did you get that?” he asked, gesturing to the credentials the man was still displaying.
The name stirred a memory in the far recesses of Hotch’s brain. “Castiel, as in the angel your brother was looking for?” he asked Winchester.
Sam ignored him.
Castiel was admiring his credentials. “I displayed them correctly,” he said to Winchester. “I have practiced since the last time.”
“Last time?” Winchester and Hotch both asked. Hotch knew that the Winchester brothers had a history of impersonating federal officers, but he would have thought they’d use that particular cover less given their increased notoriety over the past few years. Of course, he reflected, both brothers were currently impersonating federal officers and had apparently continued to do so in the face of their wanted posters still decorating police stations across the country. It was how they’d been caught last time.
Why wouldn’t they drag an Angel of the Lord into committing felonies? Well, Hotch amended mentally, Dean Winchester convinced an angel to commit a felony judging by the surprise naked on Sam Winchester’s face. Somehow, Hotch couldn’t bring himself to feel the same shock.
Morgan, Rossi, Reid, and JJ looked up at the three men, blatantly ignoring their work in favor of watching the newcomers.
“Dean gave them to me when we were looking for Raphael in Maine,” Castiel replied solemnly. “Because humans prefer to hear falsehoods so that they may become presidents.”
Hotch didn’t even want to try to detangle that logic. Judging from Winchester’s snort neither did he.
“Have you found your brother?” Morgan asked curiously, obviously finding the current spectacle more interesting than briefing JJ and Reid. Reid had grabbed the updated case file and was scanning it; Hotch wasn’t too worried about him falling behind in the investigation and made a mental note to brief JJ when he had a spare moment.
“Not yet,” Winchester replied. “But I think I have an idea what happened to him.” He looked around the room. “And I think he might be with your missing agent. Agent Prentiss.”
Dean heard the man before he saw him, not entirely unsurprising given his current location. The man was muttering to himself, cursing the government, pigs, and bleeders, whoever the hell they were. Dean could hear him huffing in between complaints, obviously struggling in the deep snow and cold.
Great, Dean had been beaten up by an out-of-shape old guy.
Suddenly, light streamed in, forcing Dean to shield his eyes. The roof opened slowly, heavy metal dragging across concrete to expose the hole to muted light from above. In some ways, the light made everything worse.
He wasn’t sure which jerk first described dying as going towards the light, but he was itching to punch the dude a couple times. The light just made everything more surreal, ghastly, and horrifying all at the same time. In the dark, Dean could pretend the femur he had been playing with was just another stick – the kind he used to pick up from the nearby creek and poke Sammy with until he cried that summer he was eight and Sam four. The light revealed two nearby skulls, tilted towards each other as if passing gossip like high school girls, and the femur in his hands was covered in blood, probably from his hands and wrists.
His hands were covered in blood. He might not be a geek like Sam, but even he could appreciate the irony in the situation.
His literary ponderings were cut short when something landed on him. There had been no warning, just a dead weight dropped suddenly from the sky. His vision blown from the sudden light, he couldn’t tell what it was. Blacking out for a few minutes hadn’t helped much either in figuring out what the hell it was either. Where the hell did his bone go?
He was still stunned when the roof started to pull close.
“What the hell?” Dean tried to yell. It would have been a lot more effective if he could breathe properly. Whatever the hell had been dropped into the hole had certainly done a number on his ribs. He supposed it wouldn’t have mattered even if he could yell as loud as he wanted, the man didn’t say a word to him, he simply continued his strange rant from before. He simply pulled the roof back, plunging Dean back into a world of darkness.
He explored the best he could. The twine that bound his hands had stubbornly refused to yield to teeth and invective, making it difficult for him to navigate by touch alone.
He found the femur finally. The wind picked up again. “I’m looking, I’m looking,” he said softly, hoping to appease the wind. He started feeling around the hole again to figure out what had squashed him Wicked Witch of the East style.
A groan to his left interrupted his negotiations. “You ok?” he asked curiously. Apparently the heavy thing had been a person. He made his way towards the voice slowly.
Another groan, shorter and slightly more aware. “Yeah,” a feminine voice finally replied. Heavy thing had been a woman, he corrected mentally.
“Listen,” his new roommate continued, “My name is Emily Prentiss. I’m an FBI agent. Can you tell me where I am?”
“We got to stop meeting like this, Agent Prentiss,” Dean replied, grinning wildly in the dark. Agent Prentiss was a hell of a woman—meet demons, angels, and thunderbirds in the same day and was fit to fight Godzilla-lite later that evening. He had a feeling she would have loved Jo and Ellen. “Creepy dude get you with the shovel too?”
“Crowbar,” Prentiss corrected, sounding more alert. “Wait a minute, who are you?”
“Dean Winchester,” he said. “And here I thought you’d never forget me. I’m keeping my fingers crossed you didn’t forget my advice at least. Please tell me you got the tattoo at least.”
“Got the tattoo,” she confirmed. “Gets some interesting looks from dates, but I got it. Your brother came into the station early this morning, he was looking for you. Guess I’ve figured out where you disappeared to.”
“First prize to you,” Dean replied automatically. “Wait, what time is it now?” The dark was messing with his perception of time—he would have bet his favorite Metallica tape that he’d only been gone a few hours.
Prentiss didn’t reply immediately. “I’m not really sure. It was a little after two when I interviewed Flynn Carsen, but I blacked out. And to top it all off, my watch is missing.”
“Do you have your shoes?” Dean asked curiously, wondering if the shoe (and knife his mind reminded him) theft was a special treat just for him.
“No,” Prentiss replied in a low, dangerous voice. “My gun’s missing too. Damn it.”
“Are your hands free?”
“Bound,” she replied tightly. “Feels like some sort of twine. Yours?”
“Oh yeah,” Dean replied. “And here I was feeling all special too. Thought I was the only one to get this special treatment.”
The wind whipped through the air again, sending chills down his spine. “Sorry,” he muttered, his hands tightening around the femur reflexively. “Prentiss, you’re supposed to figure out what makes dudes like this tick right? So what’s his deal?”
“Without a body it’s hard to tell,” Prentiss admitted after a long silence. “We’ve been operating under the assumption that the unsub, though it’s probably safe to say Carsen given the circumstances, is a preferential predator—he likes to take a certain type of woman. He’s organized, he’s been careful to space out his abductions across towns and counties to avoid detection. Given the age range of the victims and the fact that no bodies were ever recovered, it’s understandable that the cops assumed the victims were runaways and not victims. But without bodies, we really don’t know what drives him.”
“Give me a monster any day of the week,” Dean replied. “I don’t get humans sometimes.”
Prentiss had nothing to say in response, though Dean wondered, belatedly, if reminding the woman that her job sucked major balls and bringing up her possession by Meg was rude. Sam would know, probably would say something to smooth it over, maybe get a laugh or smile out of the woman by the end. Oh well, too late now.
He cleared his throat awkwardly. “Any ideas?”
“Well, my team should have figured out I’ve gone missing by now,” Prentiss said. “I didn’t tell Morgan where I was going though.”
“I’d say that was stupid,” Dean replied, “But considering I did the same thing this morning…,” he trailed off.
“Guess we’ll have to focus on getting our asses out of here instead.”
Yeah, Jo and Ellen would have loved Prentiss. “Sounds like a plan,” He said finally.
“What have you tried?”
Sam had been planning on going to law school until Jess had been killed by the yellow-eyed demon. He knew and often respected the legal system. When he was twenty-one and sitting at the bar with Jess and Hunter, each trying to figure out what exactly they were going to do when they graduated, law made sense. He’d spent too much time saving people growing up to stop—he’d just wanted to do it in his own way. Not living week to week in shitty motel after shitty motel, not needing to lie to every man, woman, and child he met in order to keep a low profile, and certainly not fearing every phone call as the one to tell him he’d lost another family member. He and Jess had had it all figured out; he’d be a lawyer and she’d be an elementary school teacher. It had all seemed so simple and perfect.
But as he waited in the suddenly too small conference room in the Crivitz Police Station, he was almost glad that his life hadn’t worked out as planned. Almost. While he’d always prided himself as being the more patient Winchester, the idea of waiting for a piece of paper to go rescue someone was galling.
Agent Rossi had tried to comfort him earlier, saying that as neither his brother nor Agent Prentiss fit the unsub’s exacting standards there was reason to hold out hope. The introduction of Dean and Agent Prentiss, both strong personalities likely to put up more of a fight than any of his previous victims, might throw the unsub off his game. Sam had looked at him. If the Winchester’s had a patron saint, he’d said, it would be Murphy. Rossi refused to answer him when he’d asked what the worse case scenario was.
Sam was pretty sure he could figure that out for himself. If not, he had years of extremely vivid nightmares to draw from.
Sam knew that he was taking his frustration out on the other in the room, and that wasn’t making him any friends among the BAU team, but he couldn’t stop himself. Agent Hotchner had threatened to expose him and Dean to the Crivitz PD if he left without them. He’d added, as Sam started to calculate how long it would take him to slip the cuffs and escape from lockup, that while he and the rest of the BAU were investigating Carsen, the entirety of Crivitz’s police force would be charged with making sure Sam couldn’t escape.
While Sam pouted, Agent Reid finally worked up the courage to start peppering Castiel with questions. “Castiel, you’re the same kind of angel as the other one we met – Anna, right?”
Castiel nodded gravely from his perch on the conference table.
Agent Reid apparently had an idea. He was sitting up straight and waving his hands emphatically. “Anna just appeared at the police station, she didn’t need Dean to summon her or anything. She just knew where to find Dean. Can’t you do that now? Find Dean and Prentiss that same way.”
“It is impossible,” Castiel replied. “The runes I placed on Dean and Sam make it impossible for any angel to locate them.”
Reid frowned. “Runes?”
Sam jumped in before Castiel could answer. “We found Castiel pretty much right after meeting you guys last time. He gave us Enochian sigils to hide us from view.” He really hoped that was enough to deflect the younger man’s curiosity.
“Could Dean have lost the sigil?” Reid wondered.
At the same time, Agent Hotchner asked, “Why would you need to be hidden from angels?”
“Dean and Sam cannot lose the Enochian sigils,” Castiel replied before Sam could. “I carved it into their ribs. And they need to be hidden from both demons and angels now that the Morningstar walks the Earth.”
Everyone looked sick. Sam broke the silence. “Couldn’t you find Agent Prentiss though?”
Castiel considered the request for a moment. “I am unable to. The sigil protects an area, not simply the body. It is likely your missing agent is in close quarters to Dean.”
“Not exactly new information there, Cas,” Sam said testily.
Castiel frowned. “We are wasting time,” he said to the room at large.
It sounded rather ominous to Sam’s ears.
Rossi swore if Sam Winchester checked his watch one more time, he was going to handcuff the kid to the table. It wasn’t like he was unsympathetic, he wanted nothing more than to storm Flynn Carsen’s house, arrest the bastard, and find Prentiss. But until Officer Gabert could find a judge – the local judge was apparently on vacation and his replacement was in session for another two hours – they couldn’t move. Not without jeopardizing any future case against Carsen.
Winchester’s eyes narrowed across the room. Rossi had seen that expression once before, just before a giant mythical bird had destroyed his SUV. “Reid,” Winchester said slowly, “have you ever heard of an author named Carver Edlund?”
Rossi looked on incredulously as Reid blushed deep red and refused to look anyone in the eye. Winchester nodded once, as if a great question had been answered, and sat back in the chair he had been perching on for the last half hour. The angel Castiel seemed unruffled, though it was hard to tell with the man — he was infuriatingly opaque. After announcing he couldn’t find Prentiss, he’d resolutely kept his mouth shut unless directly addressed.
Father Davidson would have his balls for dinner if he knew Rossi had been entertaining such impure thoughts about God’s first children. Hotch, Prentiss, and Reid had told Rossi a bit about the encounter with Anna, but for all of his beliefs that had been shattered that day, Rossi had been slow to believe an angel had appeared and cast a demon out of Prentiss.
Prentiss had changed that day to be sure, but it was still a large leap from giant monsters roaming the earth to accepting that the biblical battles he had always assumed were figurative were actually literal. He never breathed a word to Prentiss, but he had a feeling she knew. Probably something to do with his steadfast refusal to pour salt around his hotel room or join her and Reid at the tattoo parlor. He tried to pass it off as simply being too old, too set in his ways, but it was hard to fool a profiler, particularly one on this team.
There was no way JJ and Morgan would let the youngest member of their team off so easily, especially with such a deep blush. “Who’s Carver Edlund?” JJ finally asked.
“An author,” Reid replied warily. “Wrote a series about a family fighting supernatural creatures.”
Morgan and JJ looked to Sam for confirmation, which he gave readily enough but didn’t expand on Reid’s explanation.
“Is this about not knowing the Twilight series?” JJ asked. “I get that you hadn’t heard of it…,” she said when she was interrupted by a loud groan.
“Those books are a menace to society,” Sam said vehemently. “Vampires are not cuddly, they do not sparkle, and they tend to think of people as tasty, not beautiful.”
“Vampires are real, I take it?” Morgan said drily. Rossi forced himself not to be appalled by how casually the Winchester brothers brought life-changing revelations into his worldview.
Sam nodded. “You should hear Dean go on about it sometime, if you think I’m bad.” He chuckled morosely and eyed his watch again.
Rossi felt his eye twitch. He checked his pockets for a spare pair of cuffs.
Hotch’s phone rang. “Hang on Garcia, I’m putting you on speaker,” he said immediately. “What do you have for me?”
“Flynn Carsen, age forty-eight, has lived in Crivitz the last ten years,” she replied immediately. “He’s educated, he has a Masters in library science from the University of Illinois. He’s apparently a pretty terrible driver—he’s gotten five speeding tickets in the last four years and three parking citations. Interestingly, all the speeding tickets were on Highway 141—another check in the “he’s your guy” column. Here’s where it gets interesting—he has no history prior to 1996.”
“He changed his name?” Morgan asked.
“Most likely,” Garcia said. “He did a decent job though. It’ll take me another hour at least to get his previous history. I’ll update you when I know more.”
Hotch thanked the tech before hanging up. “JJ,” he asked, “Can you go check on the progress of the search warrants?”
Rossi found himself checking his own watch. It had been too damn long.
They waited until there were no sounds from above to test their options. Prentiss wasn’t sure what kind of shape Dean was in; at times he seemed perfectly lucid, at others he seemed to be talking to the wind. He was mumbled these conversations, almost as if he was trying to keep her from overhearing. How he thought he’d accomplish that in an eight by ten pit, she couldn’t fathom, but he was attempting it.
At first she had thought he was trying to summon help, perhaps from Anna or the missing Castiel he’d mentioned the last time they met. When she voiced this idea, he had shot the option down fairly quickly, however, with an explanation that still boggled the mind. Runes carved into his bones?
Dean had laughed hollowly at her surprise and told her to remind him to tell her the story about when one angel gave him stomach cancer and removed his brother’s lungs. Prentiss was really hoping the serious concussion the man was suffering from had scrambled his brains some. She had finally come to terms with the fact that demons, monsters, and all the things that gave her nightmares as a child walked the earth far more regularly than she would have ever suspected. She didn’t think she was ready to hear that all angels weren’t the creatures of virtue as she had been taught for so many years in CCD classes.
Prentiss had paced the small cell several times. Dean’s assessment of the situation had been pretty accurate for a guy who was suffering from, if she wasn’t mistake, at least a Grade Two concussion.
The twine binding her hands severely limited her movement, but at least Carsen had bound her hands in front of her body rather than behind as he originally had with Dean. A part of his signature or simply a result of backwards thinking, that she couldn’t be as dangerous as a man without her gun?
“My toes are cold,” Dean complained as Prentiss made a fourth loop, hands carefully spread in front of her for guidance. The dirt floor solid and relatively level, Carsen must have used some type of heavy machinery to dig out the pit. They were probably in a fairly remote location, or one where the neighbors weren’t going to ask a lot of questions.
“A lot of unsubs like to take trophies,” she eventually replied.
Dean snorted. “They take shoes? Not much of a trophy.”
“You never really know what’s important to a serial killer’s specific delusion,” she said falling into the lecture automatically. “We’ve found serial killers who take wedding bands, eyes, drivers’ licenses—you name it, pretty much.”
“He could just be an asshole,” Dean suggested. “A shoe-stealing asshole.”
Prentiss grinned in the dark. “Could be. Not having shoes does make it harder to run. But some unsubs just like to have a physical reminder of their victims, so they can revisit their kills over and over again.” She thought of Charles Holcombe and George Turner with their endless rows of shoes and repressed a shiver.
“I don’t get humans some times,” Dean grumbled. “Monsters, they’re usually just hungry. Demons are evil. Ghosts and poltergeists,” he paused. Prentiss noticed the longer he talked the more he slurred. “They just couldn’t move on. Sometimes it’s ‘cause they were freaks in life and stayed freaky in death, but other times it’s ‘cause there’s something holding ‘em here.”
“Sometimes they don’t realize they’re dead,” Dean replied. “But most of the time it’s a strong emotion that keeps ‘em from passing on—they’re too angry to be dead. Stick around to get revenge on their killer, that kind of thing.”
Prentiss thought of the hundreds of victims she’d seen over the years. The women, and the occasional man, who had been brutally beaten down, violated, and killed. “That can’t be right,” she protested. “I investigate serial killers. No way all those victims wouldn’t have wanted revenge! I would have seen something.”
She could hear Dean shifting next to her. “Not everyone who dies violently becomes a ghost,” he finally offered. Prentiss wished for the thousandth time that it wasn’t so dark; she was positive he was hiding something but she couldn’t tell what from his voice alone. Dean continued, “And sometimes it can take a while for the spirit to figure out what’s going on, might not get enough power to do anything for years.”
Prentiss made a mental note to revisit her earliest cases for suspicious events when she had some free time. She shook her head, free time—what was she thinking? Maybe she could have Dean pass the names along, it sounded like Hunters didn’t mind trading jobs from what Sam had been telling her earlier.
Besides her Dean had stilled and started to mumble again.
“Hey, you know what would be pretty useful right about now?” She asked in an effort to break the tension that had settled over them, as dark and all encompassing as their cell. “A big demon killing sword. That’d be helpful. At least we’d have the stupid twine off.”
“Wow. Why didn’t I think of that? Hold on, let me just get it now before I summon a flying unicorn to get us out of here,” he replied sarcastically.
“No need for the attitude,” Prentiss snapped. She frowned. “Wait, are unicorns real?”
“I’ve been stuck in this hole for hours and my toes are freezing. I think there’s plenty of need for attitude,” Dean replied. “And unicorns aren’t real, no matter what Sam may try to tell you.”
After a pause he continued, “Besides, the sword really isn’t that useful most of the time. Bullets work just as well in a lot of cases and give you some distance. I usually just leave the sword in the trunk. Besides, you think the dude would have taken our shoes, your gun, and my knife but left me with access to a sword? If only.”
“You got the sword from an angel,” Prentiss replied exasperatedly. “How am I supposed to know what it can do?”
The burgeoning argument stopped abruptly when they heard footsteps crunching through the snow. Carsen was back.
The entire conference room was on edge. JJ had only been gone for a minute when Castiel turned to Winchester and said, “I am done wasting time. Where is our destination?”
Winchester stood quickly and indicated Carsen’s property on the local map tacked to the corkboard below the victim profiles. The man had a small house near Lake Noquebay and the state’s public hunting grounds. Morgan stood as well. Winchester was wearing the same expression he had when Morgan first met him—grim, determined, and strangely calm. Morgan saw the same expression on Hotch’s face as the older man steeled himself for doing something nasty but necessary.
Castiel placed a hand on Winchester’s shoulder. “Be still,” he instructed. Winchester screwed up his face nervously.
Hotch realized at the same time Morgan did that something was off; they lunged simultaneously.
Morgan wasn’t really sure how to explain what happened next. It was dark for a second, and then he was elsewhere, but that second was one of the longest of his life. The dark hadn’t been like turning off a light or walking down an alley with no lights; it was primordial, as if the very concept of light had yet to exist. But then it ended and he was outside.
He was outside of Flynn Carsen’s house with no winter gear. He checked his pants nervously, searching frantically before relaxing. Whatever Castiel had done, at least Morgan still had his gun. He noticed Hotch doing the same out of the corner of his eye.
Winchester had his gun drawn and Castiel was storming purposefully towards the front door. Morgan couldn’t believe his own nerve, but he grabbed the smaller man (‘Creature?’ his mind wondered) by the shoulder. “What the hell are you doing?” He demanded. “You can’t just go in there!”
Castiel stared at him flatly. “Your ways are too slow.” He shrugged off Morgan’s hand with a small glare.
He looked to Winchester for support. “You really think I’m going to wait to rescue my brother?” He asked incredulously as he followed Castiel down the long dirt driveway towards the house.
Morgan could only look on in shock as Hotch started to follow the others down the path. “Hotch man, I want to poke around there just as much as you do…”
Hotch interrupted. “Morgan, you can stand there or you can aid me in the pursuit of two suspects.”
Hotch could be a real sneaky guy sometimes, Morgan thought with admiration. He only wished he and the rest of the team hadn’t wasted so much time keeping Winchester at the station—they could have used this excuse hours ago.
Officer Gabert ran into the conference room waving a blue piece of paper. “I’ve got the warrant!”
At any other time, JJ would be thrilled by the man’s obvious enthusiasm. He had, in fact, been one of the easiest LEOs to work with in her time at the BAU. Gabert had given them space, physically and mentally, to get to work and figure out the unsub. He hadn’t fought any of the suggestions they made, he made regular check-ups on their progress, and was unfailingly polite. He had even brought them a homemade lunch (though JJ still was on the fence on whether he was trying to be kind in gifting the team with herring casserole or it was his subtle way of threatening them - close the case or risk more casseroles. Even Reid, who normally inhaled anything set in front of him, had only taken enough to be polite.).
But she had bigger things to worry about right now. Specifically, what the hell had just happened?
Gabert noticed her teammates’ absence as well. “Where’d the rest of your team go?”
“Long story,” Rossi deflected as he barreled out of the room headed for the parking lot. “We’ll meet up with them there. Officer Gabert, can you round up any extra help and send them to meet us there? JJ, Reid—let’s go.”
As Rossi sped down Henriette Avenue, JJ did not think about what she might find at Carsen’s house. She didn’t worry about what had happened last time she had met a Winchester brother while separated from Hotch and Prentiss. She didn’t worry where Castiel might have taken her team. And she certainly didn’t worry about what new nightmares would form when she finally found Prentiss.
It only took a few minutes of desperate driving down the dark roads, the moon providing anemic light through the naked branches creating odd shadows, to reach Flynn Carsen’s house. Rossi killed the car at the base of Carsen’s driveway and signaled for them to follow him up the gravel path.
She got into position behind Rossi, ready to move into the house at his signal.
She was too busy to worry, she thought as she checked the safety on her gun. She had a job to do.
As the roof yawned open again, Dean and Prentiss attempted to shield each other, which left them both looking rather foolish and awkward. It wasn’t like either could do much with their bound hands, cold feet, and the fact that they had been stuck in a fucking hole the last few hours. They couldn’t even stand strong against the weak moonlight that was filtering its way down to them.
Carsen peered down at them. When Dean first met him, he’d had a moment of mental triumph. Everything about him had screamed stereotypical librarian, from the sweater vest to the khakis to the large, round glasses secured by a golden chain around his neck to the extra fifteen pounds he was carrying around his gut, and the slight hunch, as if he had tried to hold the world on his shoulders and found the burden to be too much. Sam kept trying to convince him there had been some hot librarians at Stanford, but Dean was pretty sure Mr. Carsen was yet another tally in the “things the porn industry only wished were real” category.
A wooden ladder was shoved into the hole suddenly. “Get up here, both of you,” Flynn instructed.
As another gust of wind ripped through his jeans as if they weren’t there, Dean rubbed his hands up and down the bone he still held. As far as plans went, this was probably his crappiest. Hell, he wasn’t even sure the wind he’d been talking to wasn’t really a wind. If he ended up killed by a fuckin’ librarian because his addled head had imagined he wasn’t alone in that hole, well, that’d be icing on the cake when he landed back on the rack.
When he made his way up the ladder cautiously after Prentiss, Carsen waved a rifle in their direction. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen,” he mumbled.
Dean couldn’t resist. “What? You never heard of ladies first?”
Prentiss glared at him, clearly wishing he would shut the hell up and let the only person present with some experience in dealing with human psychopaths do the talking. Dean frowned. It was strange to realize he could read that much into a single glare, it’d been a long time since he’d been able to do that with anyone besides Sam or Bobby.
“We’re really sorry about interrupting your routine,” Prentiss said gently. “We can just leave, no harm no foul.”
There had been times in Dean’s life where he’d wanted to be a real policeman, firefighter, or FBI agents. This wasn’t one of them. The idea of apologizing for being kidnapped went against every grain in his body. He was pretty sure if Prentiss wasn’t there he would’ve already jumped the guy – gun or no gun. He was also sure Prentiss knew this and stepped in front of him with the sole intention of blocking his view.
She looked back at Dean to make sure he’d stay quiet and finally got a good look at him. He must have been in worse shape than he thought, as Prentiss’ eyes grew wide. They flicked to his hands, then back back to his face, clearly asking him what the hell he thought he was doing.
What was he doing? He was freezing his balls off in front of a psychopathic librarian and a FBI agent…oh, she probably wanted to know what he was doing with a leg bone in his hands.
Maybe he’d let Prentiss take a crack at the psycho first. It was her job, and he really didn’t want to think about all the things that could go wrong with his back-up plan.
“You’re here now,” Carsen responded, his voice annoyingly nasal to Dean’s ears. “Can’t let you go now.” He waved the rifle threateningly towards a path leading into the woods. “Start walking.”
As they trudged along, Dean tried to look for anything that would give him a clue to their location. Sadly, he and Sam had spent most of their time on the main roads of Crivitz and for all of Dean’s hunting experience, most trees just looked like trees to him. Though even he could tell they were heading deeper into the woods.
Prentiss continued trying to draw Carsen out. “Why are we wrong Flynn? What made those other girls so special?”
“You’re not right,” Carsen insisted again. “Too old, just plain wrong. The others though…”
“What about the others Flynn?” Prentiss asked.
“So pretty,” Flynn said dreamily. “All of ‘em, almost perfect, just needed my help.”
Dean wasn’t sure how Prentiss could put up with this crap week after week. She bumped his shoulder and looked at him significantly. He must have been talking out loud again. Shutting up now — this was her show. For now, at least.
He rubbed his hands along the bone again. Wasn’t really quite sure why Carsen didn’t make him drop it, but he was grateful.
“How did you help them?” Prentiss pressed.
Dean looked over his shoulder just in time to see a crazed smile cross Carsen’s face. “Made sure their outsides reflected their insides. Stop here,” he commanded. “Turn around.”
Carsen gripped the rifle tightly. “Any last words?”
“You don’t want to do this Flynn…,” Prentiss started to say before Carsen crossed the small divide and jabbed the rifle into her head. She went down hard, but was moving and groaning. Well, Dean though philosophically, there went their best option for escape. Time for Plan B. He really hoped this worked.
Carsen turned to Dean. “You gonna waste your words, or do it right?”
It was now or never Dean thought as he took a breath. He hoped he wouldn’t end up like Prentiss; his head had taken enough damage today. “Did you know ghosts are the spirits of people who can’t move on? That something happened to ‘em, sometimes something so bad that they can’t leave, can’t rest. Sometimes they just can’t accept that they’re really dead, others are just too mad. So they spend their time waiting, just waiting for their chance.”
He looked Carsen straight in the eye, the man obviously confused at Dean’s impromptu lecture. Dean imagined not too many of Carsen’s victims started lecturing him on the supernatural while they had a rifle pointed at their gut. “It’s that second category you should really be worried about,” Dean concluded.
Dean threw the bone at Carsen, who caught it reflectively with his left hand and stared at it for a second.
“This supposed to scare me?” Carsen growled. He kept the rifle trained on Dean and Prentiss and dropped the bone negligently at his feet.
“No,” Dean replied. He looked over Carsen’s shoulder and almost collapsed with relief at the sight. People could complain about his plans all day and night, but sometimes they came together. He pointed as best he could, “But she might.”
Grace Nichols flickered behind Carsen with murder in her eyes. Seemed fair to Dean.
When he heard the squeak of the front door, Hotch knew Rossi, JJ, and Reid had finally arrived. “We’re in here,” he shouted from the kitchen. “It’s all clear.”
Rossi entered cautiously, his gun still drawn.
“I said it was clear,” Hotch said, annoyed.
Rossi cocked an eyebrow as he holstered his gun. “Never can be too careful, especially with the front door broken in when we got here,” he replied gruffly. “What’ve you found?”
“Agent Prentiss and Dean aren’t in the house,” Sam Winchester replied from the dining room where he was looking over Morgan’s shoulder as he went through the paperwork spread across the table.
Rossi looked at Hotch as if he was straight out of the academy.
“It’s not like I could stop him,” Hotch tried to justify. Not after Castiel had brought them to the house, and not after seeing Sam Winchester kick Carsen’s reinforced door in like it was made of tissue paper. Winchester had been surprisingly capable of clearing the house, picking up the hand signals easily and responding in kind. Castiel, on the other hand, had been almost useless—standing too close, speaking too loud, and ignoring more than half of Hotch’s instructions.
Hotch had a moment of panic when he commanded Castiel to say in the cleared den as they moved to the basement and second floor, but he figured anyone who could teleport three grown men across town could be trusted to take care of himself for a few minutes.
“What now?” JJ asked, looking around the empty house in disgust.
“I’ve got some bills, mail, magazines,” Morgan called from the table. “Nothing suspicious.”
“Carsen’s done a good job keeping a low profile in town, he’s not going to keep evidence out in plain sight. They’ll be something in the house, we just need to find it,” Rossi replied as he explored the den off the dining room.
Hotch had looked it over himself when he first cleared the house, but beyond some truly terrible furniture, he hadn’t seen anything that would give them an idea where Carsen was holding Prentiss and Dean Winchester. He pulled out his phone. “Garcia, any leads on Carsen’s identity?”
“Looks like he was born Thomas Harris,” she replied. “He was not nearly as smart as he’d like to believe—idiot actually kept his birth date.”
“I’m putting you on speaker,” Hotch said, motioning the rest of the team around the table. Winchester and Castiel hovered by the doorframe, both obviously interested in what Garcia had found, but too uncomfortable to get closer. “What can you tell me about him?”
“Carsen, Harris, whatever you want to call him, thirty-seven years old. Erased his identity in 1996 then immediately went for his Masters in library science. No clue why. Looks like he was an average student at best. Graduated middle of his class from University of Wiscon… oh.”
Hotch knew that sound. That was the sound of Garcia finding something she didn’t like, something that humanized their unsub.
“He had the paperwork for a marriage license, but it looks like he never got married,” she finally said. “Name on the license application says Cathryn Harding.”
“Can you,” Hotch started to say when Garcia finished his sentence.
“...look up the illusive Ms. Harding and find out why the wedding didn’t go through?” she finished, “No problem.”
“Hey Hotch?” she asked before he could hang up the phone. “Anything new on Prentiss?”
When he didn’t reply, she only said, “Bring her home Hotch, you bring her home.”
Hotch ended the call and looked around the table at his team. “JJ, Reid, you two take the house, find me something. Rossi, Morgan, you’re with me. We’ll do a grid search, add in the locals as they arrive.”
“He’s got over two acres,” Morgan replied. “That’s a lot of space to hide in.”
Sam felt a pang of guilt for slipping out the back door while the agents were discussing Flynn Carsen’s past. He knew what would come next, they’d want to set up a coordinated grid search. He wasn’t Dean; he didn’t hate coordinated and logical action on principle alone. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that Dean was in serious trouble, and he hadn’t made it this far by ignoring his gut, so waiting for the feds was out.
Castiel stood beside him, trench coat billowing slightly though the wind had died down. He was a silent but steadying presence. After all they’d been through in the past year, Sam knew that Castiel would do everything in his power to find and protect his brother.
“Where do we go?” Castiel asked. “Which way will we find Dean?”
Sam scanned the snowy landscape carefully. No visible car tracks or footprints in the moonlight—where would Carsen have gone? And how would he have gotten there? Sam scanned the horizon. Trees, trees, and more trees. “Carsen had to go somewhere….”
He saw Agent Hotchner out of the corner of his eye; the FBI agent saw him as well and jogged over. Sam scanned the area again and thought. Carsen would have been carrying his brother, then later Agent Prentiss. Neither would be easy to carry, Carsen would’ve needed some sort of assistance.
Sam pointed, “Track, there, into the woods.” Too small to be a car or truck, but an ATV’s wheels might fit. The trail started about three hundred yards from the house near a freestanding shed.
Sam started running, followed the tracks into the woods Castiel by his side and Agent Hotchner on his heels. Distantly he could hear the agent talking on his cell, but dismissed it. The important thing was to find his brother.
Then find Carsen and teach him why it was a bad idea to mess with a Winchester.
The tracks continued, over hills, through gullies, and ever deeper into the forest. At times it got so dark Sam worried about losing the tracks. He stopped worrying when he heard the first scream.
The first thing Prentiss noticed about Grace Nichols wasn’t the gaping and bloody hole in her chest, the way her long fair hair had broken free of the perpetual ponytail she once favored and seemed to float around her, or even the rivers of blood that covered her jeans and University of Wisconsin tee shirt. Rather, the first thing Emily Prentiss noticed were Grace’s yellow socks with penguins on them.
She was so young.
There was a moment where no one knew what to do and everything stood terribly, stupidly, still. Prentiss had imagined quite a few scenarios of what would happen once she and Dean got free of their cage, but she could safely say that the ghost of one of Carsen’s victims appearing had not featured among them.
She wondered if Dean had known this was coming, if that had been the reason for their earlier conversation on spirits and why he decided to bring the bone out of the hole with him. How many other bones were in that hole anyway? Had she been sitting on the remains of Carsen’s other victims all night? At the time she had passed it off as a desperate attempt at finding a weapon, and had felt justified when he threw it at Carsen, but now she was looking forward to some answers. Assuming she survived this latest turn of events.
The standoff ended when Carsen lifted the rifle and shot Grace Nichols.
“Not a good idea,” Dean mumbled as he dropped down to give her a hand up. He continued to lecture as she shakily made her way to her feet. “Bullets are useless on ghosts, unless they’re filled with salt or iron. Only way to ward off a spirit, though even that only works for a little while—‘specially if they’re pissed.”
Grace flickered for a moment and the wind howled. Carsen took it as a sign to fire another round into her chest. Prentiss noted absently that the bullets would have hit Grace dead center, right in the heart, if it had still been present. Instead, the bullets passed through her without any visible impact.
“You killed me,” Grace shrieked, her unearthly voice shaking with rage. She advanced on Carsen slowly. “You stole me, hurt me, killed me.”
“I gave you what you deserved,” Carsen replied, reaching into his pocket for another round, boots crunching the snow loudly as he backed away from Grace. “You asked for it. You all asked for it.”
Prentiss couldn’t decide if the man was stupid, deranged, or so out of touch of reality that he would really try to argue with the ghost of a woman he had killed. Perhaps all three, she thought distantly. Behind her, Dean tugged on Prentiss’ arm again, but she couldn’t move, not until it was over.
Grace yelled again, a primal sound of wrath, fury, and desolation. Prentiss imagined it was the closest thing to a banshee’s wail she would hear in her lifetime.
Grace didn’t so much run as launch herself at Carsen, pinning him to a tree. Carsen struggled, but couldn’t break the slight girl’s hold. With a beatific smile on her face, Grace leaned in closely and hissed, “I didn’t ask.”
The smile stayed as she plunged her hands into the man’s ribcage and pulled out his still beating heart. Grasping it with both hands, Grace raised it to the sky and screamed in triumph. Blood ran down her arms and dripped onto her face, cascading down her cheeks in a perverse parody of tears and splattering down onto her ruined tee shirt.
Prentiss couldn’t tear her eyes from the gory scene, wondering distantly why the blood didn’t go though Grace’s body to the ground like the bullet did. Yet another answer to demand from Dean when, if, this ended.
Carsen’s body slid down the tree and landed heavily, blood staining the snow bright red, reminding Prentiss of the cherry sno-cones she used to beg her mother for at the July Fourth parties in the diplomatic quarter. Prentiss resisted the urge to kneel down and check his pulse.
Perhaps it was the shock of seeing Carsen’s brutal execution, or maybe it was the fact that Grace hadn’t stop flickering in and out of existence until she had ripped Carsen’s heart from his ribcage. When Grace had first appeared, she’d seemed insubstantial, wraithlike, but now she looked solid, dangerous.
Then Grace looked at them and Prentiss felt her blood run cold.
Reid was looking forward to the day when the sight of a set of stairs didn’t immediately fill him with dread. Physical therapy was helping, but not fast enough for his comfort. Academically, he knew his leg would heal in time, but nagging fears that he wasn’t healing fast enough or that his leg would never be the same persisted. It was rather like when he learned to drive—the knowledge was there, but sitting behind the wheel and fully understanding he was in control of two tons of steel, wiring, and combustible materials was another thing entirely.
He was stalling. He gripped his cane and made his decision - the basement. Statistically, it was more likely to contain incriminating evidence than Carsen’s bedroom or guest room. And maybe he would get lucky so he wouldn’t have to face the second set of stairs, a small voice in his head whispered.
JJ gripped his shoulder comfortingly. “Want some company? Crivitz PD has secured the scene and I’ve got Officer Gabert in charge of sorting out the extra manpower coming in for the search.”
The single light at the top of the stairs wasn’t enough for Reid’s comfort. The wooden stairs creaked ominously under Reid and JJ’s combined weight. He had been teased in the past for his fear of the dark, but given the cases he worked and the creatures he’d recently discovered were real, Reid thought he was fairly justified. He gripped the silver talisman he’d taken to wearing since meeting the Winchester brothers with his free hand, the other holding onto his cane so hard his knuckles were turning white.
JJ ducked a cobweb at the bottom of the stairs and searched for a light switch. It was a depressingly normal basement once the light went on. Unfinished, tools strewn across the concrete floor, a few gallons of gasoline in the corner, a closet door on the west wall, a refrigerator and a freezer chest taking up the south wall.
He and JJ looked at each other. “Freezer chest?” she asked.
“Freezer chest,” Reid confirmed.
She opened the door gingerly and promptly swallowed a relieved laugh. The long chest obviously had JJ thinking along similar lines as he was; the lack of bodies was a welcome change. At first glance, it seemed to be an average freezer for a single man. Frozen vegetables, meat, and pizzas filled a majority of the space, but one area was carefully apportioned from the rest.
Ten icy glass jars sat neatly in a row. But even the frost couldn’t hide the deep red tint inside the jars.
“What do you think these are?” JJ asked, picking up a jar carefully.
Reid examined one of the jars carefully. It was a mason jar, normally used for canning and jams. He turned it a few times curiously. “There’s something in there,” he said slowly.
It was a standard mason jar, which in and of itself was weird. Mason jars weren’t typically recommended for freezing, the glass typically couldn’t handle the cool without cracking. Reid thought for a moment, the jar was larger, could most likely hold a quart—a volume of 1.72 liters, 58.15 liquid ounces. He held it up to the light, unscrewed the lid and broke the seal. He looked inside curiously.
He put the jar back in the freezer when the idea hit him. Fit wouldn’t be a problem, on average, they weighed between 10 and 13 ounces. If Carsen didn’t wait for them to cool, they would still be flexible enough to place in the canning jar. And then Carsen apparently canned them and stuck them in the freezer. After all this time on the job, Reid was surprised to find himself disgusted.
JJ was staring worriedly at him; he must have let something slip. “What’s in there?” she asked.
He swallowed. The urge to wash his hands in boiling water was strong. “JJ, I think they’re human hearts.”
JJ looked at him worriedly. “Reid, we only identified seven possible victims. There are ten jars here.”
Dean allowed himself a moment of self-congratulations. He wasn’t sure what Sam was complaining about, his plans totally came together when it really counted.
Although, Grace was staring at Dean and Prentiss like they were the last double-bacon cheeseburgers in the world. With the blood running down her face and the heart grasped almost negligently in her right hand, Grace was making Dean worry Sam had a point about needing to think things through.
“You got him,” Prentiss said in the same soft tone she had used with Carsen. “You got him. It’s over.”
Grace stared at the agent distrustfully. “He hurt me,” she protested. “He hurt me and he hurt the others.”
“He’s dead,” Prentiss replied. “He’s not going to hurt anyone anymore.”
Grace tossed Carsen’s heart to the ground. “What if he does it again?”
“You need to move on,” Dean interrupted. “You don’t want to stick around.”
She looked unconvinced.
“You don’t want to stick around,” Dean repeated more gently, trying to mimic Prentiss’ soft tone. “It just gets hard to remember why you’re angry. Then you start lashing out at anyone and everyone.”
“I don’t…,” Grace trailed off, suddenly looking impossibly young and fragile despite the gore. She stared down at her socks, her hair covering her face. “I don’t…”
“You just need to let go,” Dean replied. “Look around, there should be help.”
Grace looked around curiously, then beamed warmly at something invisible to her right. She looked back at Dean and Prentiss, her face full and light. The blood was gone, not only from her face but from her chest. Grace Nichols stood lightly on the snow in front of him, as whole and happy as her pictures had shown, and smiled once last time.
Then she was gone. Hopefully.
Prentiss apparently had the same doubts. “Are you sure she’s gone?”
Dean caught sight of the bone that had kept him company earlier. “I sure hope so.”
“Who’s in charge here?” a gruff voice bellowed from the living room. When all the local LEOs looked at the floor, the ceiling, or out the window, JJ realized she was. Reid gave her a sympathetic glance from his kitchen chair, but made no move to come with her as she hoisted her tired self up, resisting the urge to audibly groan. She was totally going to give him extra consultation requests when they got back to the office. Then make him babysit the next three weekends they had in DC.
Officer Gabert met her at the entrance to the living room with a man in a battered suit sitting in a wheelchair. “Agent Jareau, this is Agent Ellsworth Williams from the Fish and Wildlife Service, he came by the station to see if we’d heard from his agents and they sent him over.”
JJ shook the man’s proffered hand easily. “You, um, work with Agents Page and Jones?” she asked, trying to hide the doubt in her voice. The man in front of her looked more uncomfortable in a suit than Reid, which was saying something.
“Unfortunately,” Williams replied drily. “Where those two chuckleheads anyway?”
Gabert took the opportunity to slide out of the room, leaving JJ to break the news alone. “Agent Reid, could you join me in here please?” she called back to the kitchen. She wasn’t sure who this was, but if he was involved with the Winchester brothers, she was sure this would be a hell of a story.
Williams raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know where they are,” he said as Reid entered the room.
“This is SSA Reid,” JJ introduced. “We’ve been working the Carsen case your agents recommended to us.” She and Reid sat in the loveseat while Williams’ wheeled himself in front of them. She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “How do you really know the Winchester brothers?”
“Known ‘em since Sam was in diapers,” Williams replied, not a trace of surprise at his cover being busted so easily or quickly. He held out his hand again, “Someone has to try to keep their asses in line. Nice to meet you, call me Bobby.”
JJ raised an eyebrow. “Just Bobby?”
The man in the wheelchair didn’t give an ounce. “No offense ma’am, but in my line of work, the less you tell the feds the better. Dealing with them has never been sugar and spice.”
Reid had been staring at Bobby and startled suddenly. Bobby noticed as well. “What’s crawled up your ass?”
“Erm…” Reid said eloquently. “Just that it’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Singer.” He was blushing the same deep hue he’d worn in the station when Sam Winchester asked him if he had read some books. JJ racked her brain for the author, Carver something?
“Now how in the hell would it be an honor to meet me?” Singer asked suspiciously. “We ain’t never met before in my life. And how the hell do you know my last name?”
Reid squirmed in his seat uncomfortably. “It’s more that I know of you,” Reid finally admitted. At Singer’s incredulous look, he said, “From, erm, the books.”
“Which books?” Singer asked flatly.
“Carver Edlund’s,” Reid replied, blushing slightly.
Singer covered his face and muttered incoherently into the palm of his hand for a few seconds before asking, “Any clue where the boys are?”
“We’ve got three of our agents and over twenty local police officers searching the area,” JJ stated, glad to escape the conversation over Reid’s odd reading habits. She’d have to get Garcia to research why the Winchesters and their friends didn’t seem to like Carver Edlund — and why Reid seemed embarrassed to talk about it. Normally they couldn’t get him to shut up about the latest tome he’d read.
Besides her, Reid looked pensive. “I know Sam told us that this wasn’t his type of case, or yours I guess, but we found several hearts frozen in jars in the freezer in the basement. Is there any kind of creature that would do that?”
JJ realized she was unconsciously holding her breath for the answer.
Singer shook his head. “No critter I know of that leaves the hearts in a jar. Monsters would eat ‘em sooner rather than preserve ‘em, and witches usually need ingredients fresh. Freezing would ruin any spell. Sorry to say, but I think you’re just dealing with your average psycho.”
“Officer Gabert told me you were in here,” Rossi said as he walked in the room, rubbing his hands together vigorously. “It is cold out there.”
After JJ introduced Rossi to Bobby Singer, careful to include his alias, she asked if he’d had any updates on the search.
“Nothing in my grid,” Rossi said as he shook Singer’s hand. “But there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Any news from Garcia?”
“Speak of the devil,” JJ laughed as she felt her phone buzz from its clip on her belt. “Garcia, what did you find?”
“Good evening to you as well, Agent Jareau,” Garcia replied testily.
Before JJ could apologize, Garcia continued, “Sorry, that was uncalled for. But for the record? I do not like interviews. Ask me to hack into the CIA? Hard, but I’ll do it. But I do not like interviews.”
“What’d you find?” Rossi interrupted.
Singer was watching the BAU intensely, but vaguely amused. “Not how I pictured most FBI teams,” he whispered to JJ.
“We get that a lot,” she intimated softly before focusing on Garcia’s debrief again.
“Ok, so I talked to Cathryn Decked and based on what she told me, she had good reason to call off her wedding to Carsen.”
Prentiss looked around cautiously. “Is it over?”
“Think so,” Dean speculated. He walked over the Carsen’s body and started checking his pockets.
“What are you doing?” Prentiss asked incredulously.
Dean turned around indignantly. “What you don’t like your fingers? I’m trying to find a knife, get this fucking twine off.”
Prentiss was pretty sure he muttered “dumbass” under his breath when he knelt back down, but didn’t want to push the issue. And it was a pretty good idea. After a few moments of awkwardly rooting around Carsen’s jeans pocket, Dean let out a triumphant crow and raised a penknife into the air.
After cutting Prentiss free, he handed her the blade. It was difficult sawing through his twine; it was soaked in blood and drops continued to fall as she awkwardly attempted to maneuver the small blade, difficult in the best of times, but especially trying when she couldn’t feel her fingers.
Dean shivered as a strong wind raced through the trees. “Huh, I kind of thought that would die down once the ghost was gone.”
Prentiss stared at him. “Do you mean to tell me that the wind down there was a ghost?”
“Of course,” Prentiss said loudly. “It’s never just a wind when you’re around, is it? Also, newsflash, we’re in northern Wisconsin in January at night—You think it’s not going to be cold and windy?”
“Good point.” Dean shifted from foot to foot. “Christ, my feet are freezing, you?”
“Yeah, because trouser socks are really meant to stand up to this kind of thing,” she shot back. She glanced at Carsen’s boots speculatively.
Dean followed her gaze. “You want them?” he offered. “I wouldn’t mind the socks myself.”
“We need to preserve the evidence,” Prentiss protested weakly.
Dean looked at her, then starting unlacing Carsen’s boots. “Screw the evidence, I’m pretty sure not having our toes fall off beats procedure. Now, you want them or not?”
As she laced up the boots, the sudden warmth sent a shiver of pleasure up her spine. Dean asked, “Now what?”
“Any idea which way to civilization?”
Dean shrugged. “Woke up in the hole. Bastard knocked me out in town. You?”
Prentiss shook her head. “Time to hug a tree then.”
“You seriously want us to just sit here and hope someone comes to our rescue?”
She struggled not to roll her eyes, but really what else could she do? “We’re both disoriented and I’m pretty sure you have a concussion. Please tell me you don’t think it’s a good idea to start wandering around in the woods at night without any idea where we are.”
“Well, when you put it that way,” Dean replied as he sat carefully on an overturned tree nearby. “So tell me, should we braid hair or play truth-or-dare first?”
When he heard the first scream, Sam’s gut tightened so much he was afraid he was going to have to stop running. If Dean died, if a fucking librarian killed Dean, Sam didn’t know what he would do. Without his brother, Sam didn’t know if he could stand Lucifer’s weekly visits; without his brother to make fun of “Lucy’s” increasingly elaborate and heart wrenching visits, Sam doubted he’d be able to continue to refuse the offer.
And then he’d doom the world. Again.
So when he passed a large hole and ran into a clearing, Castiel right on his heels, he wasn’t prepared for the intense desire to kill his brother.
Sam stopped dead at the sight. His brother was laughing. His brother and Agent Prentiss were sitting on a log laughing and Sam reminded himself that fratricide (in front of a federal agent, no less) was not the answer.
Castiel passed Sam and walked over to check on Dean and Prentiss. “Are you well?” he asked.
“Cas!” Dean exclaimed. “What are you doing here? I though you were looking for God on tacos in Peru!”
Castiel shook his head. “I am here because you were not. Your brother worried that Zachariah might have taken you. Also, I have not tried Peru yet.” Although, if Sam was reading his tone right, that was probably going to be his next stop.
“Nah, not a lot of missionaries around,” Dean replied, then burst into laughter. “Emily, this is Cas. I was looking for him last time we met. Cas, this is Emily Prentiss—she’s awesome.”
Dean finally noticed Sam standing in the shadows. “Sammy! You should have heard Emily’s story about stealing a car in Saudi Arabia—I nearly died laughing.”
Agent Prentiss waved from her perch, wiping a tear from her eye. “Please, that’s nothing compared to your pink panty story Dean.”
“Dean! Agent Prentiss, you’re both alive!” Finally, the expected rush of relief flowed through him; he was so very relieved to find them both alive. He had been entertaining visions of finding Carsen hunched over them, gun or knife in hand, their bodies barely warm. A few years ago, Sam would have been appalled at his utter lack of disgust at seeing Carsen’s ruined body a few feet away. Instead, all he felt was cold satisfaction that the man had met his just desserts.
Sam thought back to Prentiss’ last statement. “Wait a minute, pink panty story? Dean, how come I’ve never heard this story?”
Dean and Prentiss started laughing again. Sam felt the first trickle of concern at the sound. While his brother had a fondness for pranks, he’d never been the kind of fall off his chair laughing. Or fall off a log as it fit the current situation. Both Dean and Agent Prentiss were bruised and bloody; Agent Prentiss had a hell of a shiner developing along her right cheek and Dean was clutching his ribs as he struggled to get back to her former perch on the log.
Sam looked closer, noticing that Dean’s dress shirt cuffs were stained red and his wrists were bloody. And then he caught Agent Prentiss’ shiver. How he could have missed it, or his brother’s, wasn’t clear. Both were still in suits - the thin material no match for the harsh weather. Sam slid off the jacket he’d stolen from Carsen’s house and draped it over Prentiss’ shoulders.
“I’m fine,” she slurred in protest. “Dean doesn’t even have shoes, he should get the jacket.”
Dean shook his head. “‘M not even cold, you take it. We can switch off later.”
Sam looked at Castiel. “Is there anything you can do for them,” he asked quietly. “Warm ‘em up, heal them?”
Castiel shook his head sadly. “Healing has never been my strong suit.”
“Can’t you can just beam ‘em to a hospital?”
“Without regular access to the Host, my powers are limited and bringing the extra FBI agents with us from the station has strained them greatly.” He thought for a moment. “I cannot transport them without severely overtaxing my powers.”
“You’re telling me just beaming two extra people from one part of town to another is enough to knock you out of the game now?” Sam asked doubtfully.
Castiel frowned. “It has been a long week, Samuel. My quest to find my father has not been without difficulties. As it is, I have lost much time, too much time, on this adventure with little to show for it. But I will see what I can do.”
Castiel walked over to the log where Dean and Prentiss were sitting and placed two fingers on their foreheads. Dean leaned away quickly.
“No zapping, orbing or beaming or whatever the hell you want to call it,” Dean said loudly. “No way. I couldn’t poop for a week last time you tried that.”
Prentiss looked concerned. “That’s not good. I wonder why?”
“It was not my doing,” Castiel protested. “Perhaps you should choose a diet with more bifidus regularis. And possibly fiber…”
“Dude, did you just reference an Activia commercial?” Dean asked incredulously.
“Angels watch TV?” Prentiss demanded. “I don’t even get to watch TV! CCD never went over this kind of thing.”
Sam felt like slapping all of them. They were stuck in the woods, two of them fairly seriously injured, and they wanted to debate Dean’s bowel function? “Hey guys, if you let the nice angel do his thing, we can get back to the issue of getting you back to civilization?”
“You know where it is?” Dean asked. “That’s m’boy!” He struggled to his feet. “Let’s go Sammy, get a move on.”
“You are well enough to travel?” Castiel questioned Dean fussily.
“Course,” Dean replied.
“I do not believe you,” Castiel said. Before Prentiss or Dean could protest, he placed his hands on their foreheads once again and closed his eyes in concentration. “Is that better?”
“Dude, you rock,” Dean replied. “My own angelic space heater! I can feel my nose again. That’s awesome, thanks.”
Prentiss nodded gratefully from her seat as well.
“It won’t last long,” Castiel warned. “I must return to my quest.”
He vanished, not even leaving a set of footprints in the snow to show he’d once been present. Sam wasn’t sure why he was surprised; Castiel tended to leave pretty quickly once the action was over. But he couldn’t help feeling a bit upset that Cas had left him alone with two broken and addled adults. Hopefully Agent Hotchner would be able to follow his trail; he’d left the older agent behind almost immediately after spotting the ATV tracks, but he’d need all the help he could find to get his brother and Agent Prentiss back to town.
Prentiss stood unsteadily and walked around the area Castiel had vanished from warily. “Did he really just disappear?”
“Angel,” Dean reminded her. “They do that. A lot as it turns out.”
“Dean,” Sam asked, “can you really walk?”
Dean looked at him flatly. “What other choice do we have?”
Sam looked down, saw his own footprints, then wanted to slap himself. The trail! Walk? He was almost as big an idiot as Bobby constantly accused him of. “Give me a minute Dean, I’ve got an idea you’re going to like so much better.”
“I think I hear something, I’ll call you right back,” Hotch said, ignoring JJ’s protests and hanging up his cell phone. JJ and Dave were sure to give him hell later for staying out in the field far later than he should, but there was no way he was going to abandon the search now.
A motor was approaching him, loud and high-pitched, all wrong for a car. Snowmobile or ATV, he supposed. Hotch stopped, hopefully whoever was driving could give him a clue—some area that Carsen jealously protected from trespassers, a cave system, something that might help him find Prentiss.
He didn’t expect to see his agent carefully driving the ATV, another passenger tightly gripped behind her, nor Sam Winchester casually jogging besides the vehicle. They were all smiling. And debating loudly.
“So, if sirens are real and witches are real, does that mean minotaurs, giants, and centaurs are real?” Prentiss was asking.
“I sure as hell hope not,” Dean replied. “Odysseus was kind of an ass. My best guess is half that stuff was just exaggeration.”
Before Sam could respond, Prentiss caught sight of Hotch. “Hotch!” she shouted gleefully as she stopped the ATV and let it idle. “We found you!”
“I think technically Sam found you,” Hotch stated cheerfully, shooting a relieved grin at Prentiss.
“Yay,” Sam replied wearily, “Let’s all get back to the house in one piece.”
He pulled back and murmured to Hotch, “Carsen was dead when I got there; his body’s at the end of the tracks about 3 miles back. Prentiss and Dean are both a little addled, neither are tracking well and both stopped shivering about three or four minutes ago.”
Hotch remembered just enough from his bi-annual certification to know that wasn’t a good sign. “I’ll call ahead for an ambulance.”
“Thanks,” Sam replied. “I would have, but my cell didn’t make the trip when Cas grabbed us.”
As Hotch dialed, he watched Sam jog to catch up to the ATV. The careful way he patted his brother’s shoulder, the relieved grin. Dean must have said something, because Sam grinned and laughed, the open expression making him seem years younger.
Hotch though of Sean suddenly, about the way they constantly tiptoed around the verbal minefields that dotted their childhoods and adolescences. He thought of the long pauses between conversations, the perfunctory monthly calls made to check-in rather than truly talk, the awkward moments that occurred when he realized he knew very little about his brother as a person. Hotch made a mental note to invite Sean over for a long weekend once he returned from the course he was taking in Paris.
“JJ, I found them. We’re coming in.”
The sudden silence always surprised him. Every time, it was as if someone had flipped a switch. Dean Winchester and Prentiss had been bundled into state trooper cars, too far from the nearest hospital to wait for ambulances when neither patient required stabilization.
Bobby, who Rossi was positive he’d seen before, had swatted both Winchesters on the head for making him worry and left as well, following the state troopers in his beaten up van to the hospital. JJ, Reid, and Morgan had elected to go with Prentiss, and neither Rossi or Hotch had the heart to deny their requests after the long day—besides, the evidence wasn’t going anywhere, not with Carsen dead and the local police in firm control of the crime scene.
Hotch joined him in the living room, the joy of finding Prentiss alive still obvious despite his exhaustion. He dropped heavily onto one of the plaid sofas. Rossi would feel guilty for what he was about to do save for the fact he knew Hotch would do the same thing if their positions were reversed.
“So what the hell happened out there?”
“Carsen was dead when we finally found his body,” Hotch replied wearily. “Dave, his heart had been pulled from his chest…we found it a few feet from his body.”
“Somebody had a pretty ironic sense of justice,” Rossi replied. “You think Winchester…” the question trailed off.
“Neither Prentiss nor Winchester had the kind of spatter on them that would indicate they were responsible.” Hotch looked pensive. “By the time I got there with the other troopers, the coroner estimated he’d been dead about two hours or so, which backs up Sam Winchester’s story of Carsen being dead when he got to the scene. And I didn’t get a chance to ask Prentiss or Dean Winchester what happened before they were taken to the hospital.”
Rossi frowned, memories of what had been responsible for the string of murders last time he met the Winchester brothers dredged to the surface. “You think it was their kind of thing?”
Hotch shrugged and sank back into the sofa.
“Our lives have gotten inordinately more difficult since meeting them,” Rossi finally said.
“JJ told me what she and Reid found in the basement,” Hotch replied. “I’d say our life was pretty difficult even before we knew about the Winchester’s world.”
Rossi nodded pensively. “Garcia did some digging,” he mentioned after a few minutes of silence. “She talked to the former fiancé, Cathryn Harding, who I’m sure you’ll be surprised to find out is a brunette about five foot, six inches.”
Hotch groaned. “She the stressor?”
“Looks like,” Rossi conceded, rubbing his temples. “Apparently she called off the wedding to Thomas Harris when she came home one night and found her cat dead by her back door. Apparently Harris never liked the cat, but refused to take responsibility for killing it. According to Harding, she said the whole thing felt rehearsed and it was like she didn’t know him, so she called off the wedding.”
Hotch looked around the darkened room. “Probably a good call.”
“Kind of. Didn’t work out for her so well the first few years afterwards,” Rossi said. “Apparently she’d get letters, never with a postmark but she said it was obvious they were from him. They all said the same thing—she tore out his heart, he’d never love again, there wasn’t anything wrong with him, she was the one with the problem, and so on.”
Rossi nodded. “Apparently he just stopped sending them about ten years ago.”
“Because he found something better,” Hotch said slowly, his hands in his head. “He’s killing her over and over again. Did JJ and Reid tell you we found an additional three jars in the basement freezer? We may never know who they were.”
“I heard,” Rossi replied as he crossed the room. He placed an arm on Hotch’s shoulder. “He’s done now though, focus on that. C’mon, we can figure it out later, let’s go see Prentiss.”
Morgan wasn’t sitting guard, not matter what Prentiss, JJ, or Reid might say. He was simply sitting in the best chair in the room, which just so happened to have a perfect view of the door, the nurse’s station, the elevators, and the stairs. Rearranging the chair’s position had nothing to do with sight lines, it had just been a matter of comfort.
Prentiss was virtually unrecognizable cocooned under heavy blankets with bruises fully developed across her cheek. Still, she was laughing at the story Reid was telling, and the sight loosened the knot that had formed in his chest at her disappearance.
He saw their slow approach, but didn’t want to interrupt the joke JJ had taken over from Reid. Dean Winchester shuffled into the room, now out of the cheap suit, dressed in jeans and a black hoodie that swallowed him. Given the man’s size, that was a pretty impressive feat. Sam Winchester hovered behind him, also dressed in civvies.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” Prentiss laughed when she noticed the newcomers.
“You’re telling me,” Dean replied hoarsely. “How you doing?”
“I’m fine, the doctors just want to keep me here overnight as a precaution.” She frowned, “How’d you get out?”
“Against medical advice,” Sam replied grumpily. “Because he’s an idiot with a traumatic brain injury, why not ignore the professionals?”
“C’mon Sammy,” Dean protested. “I’m fine dude, nothing some sleep and some blankets won’t cure. No reason to be in the hospital for that.”
“Then why’s Agent Prentiss still in a hospital bed?” Sam replied waspishly.
Dean was adamant. “Dude, I’m not staying here. I promise, I’ll be the best patient ever—you and Bobby can keep me up to my eyeballs in liquids and blankets and I won’t even whine. But I’m not staying here.”
Sam didn’t look convinced, but Morgan was betting that if he’d really wanted his brother to stay in the hospital, he would be.
“We just wanted to say goodbye before we headed back to town,” Sam said.
“Well, Bobby kind of told us we had to or we’d be walking back,” Dean admitted. He looked at Prentiss intently. “You ok, with everything?”
“Yeah,” Prentiss replied, “Or, I will be.”
“So it goes,” Dean said, shaking his head. “Take care of yourself.”
Sam poked Dean in the shoulder for the third time in the last twenty minutes. “C’mon dude, no sleep for you,” he said.
Dean batted his hand away irritably. “Not asleep Sammy,” he mumbled, his eyes barely opened. “Just enjoying the warm.”
If his brother got any closer to the Impala’s heater, Sam was afraid the vents would be permanently imprinted on his face. When he said as much, his brother opened an eye and mumbled, “I’d still be prettier than you asswipe.”
“Jerk,” he retorted.
Dean continued to doze - and Sam continued to poke him - on the drive back to their motel.
“Glad that you found me Sammy,” Dean said when they finally pulled into the parking lot, Bobby’s van parked next to their room.
“Anytime,” Sam replied, turning off the ignition. Now that they were safe (and what did it say about their lives that a motel parking lot was considered safe space), Sam exhaled loudly. “C’mon, let’s get you into the room.”
The door opened as Sam frogmarched his brother from the car. “What are you waiting for?” Bobby demanded gruffly from inside the room. “An engraved invitation? Get your sorry asses in here.”
Sam didn’t notice the coolers set on the small folding table until after he’d dumped his brother in bed and set his cell to ring in three hours. “What are those?” he asked Bobby suspiciously.
“Just tying up loose ends,” Bobby said innocently, ignoring Sam’s glare as he took in the bright yellow “crime scene” tape across each of the three coolers. “Seems like you and Dean actually like these FBI folks, didn’t think they’d appreciate a host of nasty visitors.”
Sam thought for a moment. “It’s not like they need them to make a case against Carsen. He’s dead. And they did do us a pretty big favor when we ran into them in Missouri—Agent Hotchner didn’t need to let us go. Might as well return the favor.”
“Exactly,” Bobby beamed.
At the end of the day, the good guys had all walked away. Given the last few months (years), Sam was going to count that as a win.
Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant.
Reid ignored Morgan’s steady stream of complaints with a practiced ear. Yes, it was cold, yes, it was dark, but it wasn’t like they could do this during the day. He thought Morgan had understood that when he demanded to go along.
“Why the hell do we need to do this again?”
Reid sighed. “The only way to get rid of a spirit is to salt and burn all parts of the body. Carsen, and his heart, were cremated so we don’t have to worry about him coming back. But so far there aren’t any evidence logs for the other bones Prentiss thinks are in the hole she was held in.”
“Humor me for a moment,” Morgan said. “We’re breaking into a federal crime scene so we can pour lighter fluid and table salt into a big pit to make sure no other ghosts start haunting the area?”
Reid winced. It wasn’t like he was looking forward to breaking the laws he had sworn to uphold. But there wasn’t anything in the FBI bylaws (and he had checked, twice) that dealt with the possibility of ghostly murderers. They had enough on their plate with human serial offenders; if breaking into the crime scene meant they wouldn’t be called back in the event that the spirits of Carsen’s other victims grew strong enough to attack innocents, than Morgan was just going to have to suck it up. “I think the clearing is just ahead, the report said it was about three miles away and we’ve done that easily.”
“Pretty boy, even if we do manage to find, salt, and burn every bone in the pit don’t we still have to worry about the hearts Carsen kept in the freezer?” Morgan asked as they continued to make their way through the fresh snow that had blanketed the area last night. “And some quack stole those before they even had a chance to enter them into the evidence log. So according to your rules, won’t Carsen’s victims still have a shot at coming back as ghosts because a part of them still exists?”
“They aren’t my rules,” Reid protested as he ducked under the police tape. “Besides, finding the bones should be relatively easy—an initial crime report claimed there was a large quantity of dermestid beetles in the area. So we’ll really only need to look for…” He froze and dropped low to the ground. There was someone else at the crime scene, walking around the perimeter of the hole Prentiss and Dean had been held in the previous day.
Reid made a sharp gesture to Morgan. The older man swore under his breath and pulled out his gun. “FBI! Put your hands up and turn around!”
A tall figure turned around slowly, then dropped his arms. “Agent Morgan? Dr. Reid? What are you two doing here?” Sam Winchester asked.
Morgan nodded at the salt shaker and lighter fluid Winchester was holding. “Same thing as you it looks like. Needed to finish the job.”
“I thought you left town,” Reid asked curiously.
Sam still looked confused. “I made Dean go with Bobby, I’m pretty sure he’s got bronchitis on top of the head injury, but the idiot won’t admit he’s sick. Bobby should be able to keep him in bed for a while at least. Only way he’d go was if I promised to take care of this.”
“You really think the other victims could become ghosts,” Morgan asked doubtfully. “Wouldn’t they have done so already?”
Sam shrugged. “You can never tell. Dean said he wasn’t even sure Grace Nichols was going to come back. He apparently spent a lot of time talking to a bone and rubbing it in hopes of awakening her spirit.”
Morgan and Reid stared.
Sam looked embarrassed on his brother’s behalf. “Not usually how we do things, but you work with what you’ve got. Now why are you two doing this—isn’t destruction of evidence a pretty big no-no for the FBI?”
“It’s the right thing to do,” Reid said softly.
“Wait a minute,” Morgan said. “How much good is this really going to do? Reid was saying you needed to burn all body parts to prevent…ghosts—and the victims’ hearts were stolen.”
Sam rubbed his head. “You guys really don’t need to worry about it,” he said, discomfited.
Morgan was pissed off. “You stole evidence?”
“That’s rich coming from you, what are you here to do?” Sam hissed. He visibly calmed himself down before looking chagrined. “Besides, I didn’t steal the coolers.”
“Who did?” Reid asked.
Sam grinned. “Bobby can be a tricky guy sometimes. You guys ready to work?” He picked up a shovel and headed towards the hole in the ground.
“Wait a minute,” Morgan protested. “Why do we need a shovel? Don’t we already have a pretty big hole right in front of us?”
Sam grinned broadly over his shoulder, an expression Reid usually equated with his phys ed teachers and the trainers at the FBI academy. It was an expression that promised lots of hard work, physical pain, and the inability to move normally for a week. “Agent Reid, you read all about this. You know why we’re going to need a shovel.”
Reid swallowed. This was going to be fun.