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Atlas was a Angel

Chapter Text

Aaron Hotchner sits in his black leather chair in his office, diligently filling out paperwork. The building is dark, so is his office. He has his blinds mostly closed and only his desk lamp on, though he can faintly see the lights of the city outside. His suit jacket is thrown carelessly on the sofa opposite him, and his black hair is a mess, constantly falling into his face. Though he can’t see it, he knows that there are heavy circles under his eyes. His shoulders are slumping slightly, and he’s having a hard time focusing on the words in front of him. Hotch thinks that if one of his team members looked this bad, he would order them home for a week.

The BAU had returned home after stopping a serial rapist in Minnesota several hours ago, but Hotch is still here. Working late as usual. The last one to clock out and the first one to clock in, that’s what he is. Though he never particularly enjoyed the paperwork, someone needed to do it, and that was his job as unit chief. Such responsibilities come with the job.

Hotch forces himself to focus on the paper below him, adding the final details to his report. A knock on his door startles him, but he is more surprised to find Erin Strauss, his boss, perched in the doorway. Her clothes and blond hair are rumpled slightly, though not as much as him. She probably isn’t used to staying up so late. Hotch narrows his eyes and leans back, inviting her in as he organizes the overflowing pile of papers and files on his desk. The stack has been growing by the day. Too many jobs have been coming in, too many cases for the small team of seven. The BAU has been doing cases back to back all year, and it is wearing them thin; he knows it. He can see it in how they hold themselves, the way they drag themselves to work each morning, and the amount of coffee they drink. Hotch can feel it himself. He’s tired, overworked, and undermanned. But who would willingly join this unit?

“You’re here late,” Strauss states, sitting in the chair opposite his desk. Hotch refocuses on her, peeling his eyes away from the files.

“So are you.” He answers flatly. Hotch watches her closely through dark eyes. Whenever Strauss comes around, there’s trouble. But he can’t exactly tell her off- only David has the guts to do that- he can only wait for the impending hammer she always drops.

After a moment, Strauss sighs and meets his eyes. “We know that you’ve been overworked.” She begins, glancing at the large stack of papers on his desk, “And I may have found a way to help you.”
This catches Hotch’s attention, and he sits up straighter in his chair. “You’ve found someone?” Unfortunately, he asks a little too quickly.

Strauss folds her hands in her lap, looking away. “Not exactly.” She says, obviously uncomfortable. Hotch narrows his eyes, even more, wishing she would stop beating around the bush like this, but he keeps his voice level.

“What do you have then?”

She sighs again, looking at him. “A mentorship program.”

“A what?” He raises his eyebrows. That was definitely not what he was expecting.

“You’re undermanned, but every time we give you an agent, they leave. They return to their old jobs. Your team is too valuable to get rid of, but the bosses aren’t happy with this.” Strauss fix’s him with her glare. Hotch blows out his breath. Of course, the brass is upset. They’re always upset about something. That’s why Hotch avoids politics; there’s always something to be upset about.

And it’s not like he hasn’t tried to get his agents to stay; they just don’t. First Gideon, then Elle, then Emily -twice, actually- and most recently, Blake. Hotch barely convinced Emily to come back from London after Blake left- but at least the team is solid now. No one is going anywhere. Though that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t use the help.

“So your solution is a mentorship program?” He asks.

“Yes. We already have the kids picked out, all but one. Fresh out of college, top of their class students from all over. Each of you will be assigned one to mentor until you deem them fit to be full agents.”

“College students?” He asks, startled. “This is not a job for kids.” Hotch’s own son, Jack, is about the same age, fresh out of college. At least he is starting his career-low in the FBI chain. And far away from this unit.

“They are well aware of what the job entails, and they can drop at any time. The program is in place; you can’t undo it.” She finishes sternly before softening slightly. “You need the help, Aaron.”

Hotch meets her eyes defiantly. She glances at his ruffled clothes, loose hair, and dark line sympathetically. He stiffens, not comfortable with his exhaustion is on full display. Finally, he sighs, closing his eyes for only a moment. He could fight this, as he has fought countless other threats to the team before. But frankly, he doesn’t think he can. Or maybe he shouldn’t. Perhaps some fresh faces will do his team well, help them brighten up, and take off the workload. They’re all so worn out, not even Garcia has been able to summon more than forced chuckles from them. He takes in a breath, opens his eyes, and looks at her, surrendering.

“Alright. You said you have all the kids but one; where’s the last one?” Piece by piece. Hotch will figure this out; he’ll make it work like he makes everything else work. One thing at a time.

“Yes. sadly, the last one had to drop the program due to family issues.” Hotch nods for her to continue, not needing the details. “We are still looking, but the bosses are considering Jack.” She says, lowering her voice as though it’s a secret.

Hotch is taken aback, his mouth hanging open for a moment as he processes this. “No,” He answers finally. “No, Jack joined the counter-terrorism unit; he doesn’t want to be here.”

“Well, if they transfer him, there isn’t much either of us can do.” Hotch knows this better than most. “But would it really be so bad? Working here with your son?” Strauss asks, tilting her head.

Hotch considers this for a moment. Would it really be so bad to have Jack working with him? Hotch loves his son more than anything, which is precisely why he doesn’t want him working here. This job got Haley, Jack’s mom, killed years ago. How would it affect Jack to see people like that again? To track and hunt and arrest people like Geroge Foyet? Hotch himself struggles to handle it sometimes. He knows that he gets a little too angry whenever they deal with someone killing families. And the nightmares still haunt him; that can’t be good for Jack. He can’t submit his son to that, can he? But what choice does he have? He could argue that it could damage his mental health or that family working together would create biases. But what would that do? If the brass decides to transfer Jack here for the mentorship program, Hotch wouldn’t be able to stop it.

“Maybe you should ask him what he wants, Aaron,” Strauss suggests, snapping Hotch from his thoughts. “Have you?”

“No.” He answers gravely. “How long do we have?”

“They plan to speak to Jack about it first thing tomorrow. They’ll bring in the kids probably less than a week after that.”

One week. He could work with that. Tomorrow he starts. Talk to the team, assign responsibilities, set boundaries, make rules for the kids, child-proof the BAU, fill out the paperwork. Yea, he can do this in a week. But first, he has to talk to Jack.

Hotch checks his watch, which reads 11:46 PM as he responds to Strauss.
“Alright. I’ll prep the team. Keep me up to date.” He finishes before standing and running a hand through his slick, dark hair, pushing it away from his face. He watches Strauss follow the movement with her eyes for a second too long before looking at him again. He’ll have to tell David that he’s got competition.

“I will.”

They shake hands; she turns to leave but stops halfway out the door. Turning back to face him, she adds, “And Aaron. Get some sleep.” Before leaving.

But Hotch can’t sleep, not yet. He pushes the open file aside before pulling out his phone, squinting at the bright light. He waits a moment for it to adjust before opening it and going to call. It’s late, but Jack is young and the newest member of his unit. They may have him working late.

Hotch dials the number, presses the phone to his ear, and waits. There’s been plenty of times he’s been nervous on phone calls before, but he shouldn’t be this nervous now. Though he doubts his face shows any emotion, he is almost certain that something peaks through the cracks when the ringing stops, and Jack’s tired, young voice echoes from the other line.

“Hello?”

“Hey, buddy.” Hotch greets, unable to tamp down his smile. “You working late?”

“Yea, turns out the guys in counter-terrorism are dicks.” Jack curses, and Hotch hears a rustling of paper and fabric in the background. “Why are you calling so late?

Not ‘Why are you working so late’ because Hotch is always working late. Since birth, it seemed.

“I just wanted to ask you something.”

“What is it?” Jack asks, voice growing weary.

Hotch sighs. He’s not Strauss, no beating around the bush. “How would you feel about working in my unit?” he asks.

Jack has gone quiet on the other line, though Hotch can tell by his breathing that he’s still there.
“What?” Jack starts, “Working at your unit, why are you asking, dad?” Hotch hears Jack rub his hand across his forehead, brushing his golden hair away. It’s the same movement Hotch does, and everyone finds it adorable how Jack picked it up. But Jack’s voice is tired and nervous, questioning too. Hotch drops his head almost shamefully.

“Just answer the question, Jack.” He stretches, trying his best not to sound rude.

“I-I dunno.” Jack sighs on the other line. “I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it. I guess it would be fun.”

“Really?” Hotch asks incredulously. “You’ve never once thought about being a profiler?”

“Dad, I’ve taken the classes, so you know I’ve thought about it. But it takes years to build up to your unit. Dr. Reid is the youngest person you’ve had, and he’s basically a genius.” Hotch smiles again, agreeing internally.
“Why are you calling me at midnight to ask about this anyway?” Jack inquires.

Hotch sits back in his chair, not missing a beat to answer. “I just wanted to know.”

“Daaadddd.” Jack draws out, trying desperately to read what little info Hotch is giving him across the screens.

“You’ll see.” He says, then quickly adds, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Before Jack can interrupt him.

After a moment of silence, Jack speaks again. “Alright then. Good night dad.”

“Goodnight, buddy.”

“Oh, and dad?” Jack says just before Hotch hangs up the phone.

“Yea?”

“Go to sleep.”

Hotch chuckles dryly. “You too.”

He hangs up, placing the phone down on his desk and staring at it. After a few moments, Hotch stands, gathers his things, puts the files back together, and throws his suit jacket back on. He tucks his hair into place as he grabs his shoulder bag, opening the door. As Hotch leaves the Quantico building, the secretary guard at the front desk hails him good night. The guard looks up from his post, takes one look at Hotch, and tells him to get some sleep.

God, Hotch wishes everyone would stop telling him that.

Chapter Text

Hotch has had a week to prepare his team. In the six days since Strauss gave him the news, he's gotten the paperwork from her, filled in his team, cleaned up two cups of spilled coffee, answered all their questions, showed them the kids files (all except Jack), starting drawing up rules for the students, got an excited and slightly upset call from Jack confirming that he got the job, got back to the paperwork, called Strauss with more questions, finished the paperwork, stared at the growing pile of files on his desk, help his team prepare to meet the students, go over the rules again, and watch Garcia throw powder from her donut all over the floor in excitement.

In that order, specifically. The latest of which happened about five minutes ago.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! I’m sorry, I'll clean it up!” Penelope Garcia squeals anxiously as she runs for a roll of paper towels to clean the powder.

“Hey, baby girl, calm down. We’re all a little nervous right now, but we'll be alright.” Derek Morgan consoles her, placing a hand on her shoulder before cleaning the powdered sugar himself.

Morgan’s right; they are all nervous. Even Hotch. Who had been sure in his week since his talk with Strauss to get at least one full night of sleep. If solely to stop everyone from telling him he needed it. He hates it when people tell him to sleep, though they say it rather often, and they’re usually right. His hair and clothes are smoothed, and his under-eye bags are gone. Hotch feels more refreshed and excited than he's been in a long time.

Electricity, anticipation, and nerves crackle through the air of the round room. The team sits in the round room, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their apprentices. Morgan and Garcia are crouching, cleaning up the powdered sugar while Garcia chatters excitedly. Jennifer Jareau, aka JJ, and Dr. Spencer Reid have their heads pushed close together at the far end of the table, talking in quick voices, though it is mostly Reid talking too fast to register. Everyone knows how badly the young genius had wanted children; perhaps he sees this as his chance. Across from them, standing by the windows, David Rossi, Hotch’s closest friend, and Emily Prentiss are talking and making some rather animated hand motions. Hotch himself stands by the door, watching them all. Everyone had a file in their hands, the file of the kid they will be mentoring. The day after Strauss had told Hotch the plan, he got his hands on the kid’s files and showed the group, allowing them to pick the kids they thought suited them best.

“Alright, everybody, huddle up!” Hotch calls, waving them towards him.

The team quickly breaks off their conversations and returns to their seats, though no one can sit still. Garcia is bouncing in her chair, Emily is playing with her bracelets, JJ is pulling her ring on and off her finger, and Reid is practically vibrating in his seat. Hotch is momentarily worried that he might explode. Hotch himself has been fidgeting with his hair all day, so much so that he's surprised that the dark lump is still in place on his head.

The only ones who don't seem ready to burst are Morgan and Rossi, who were also the least eager about the whole mentorship program in the first place. Hotch had received the most pushback from those two, but after some stern words and talk of encouragement from the others, they had backed down. So now Hotch wonders if they are going to be a problem.

Instead, he focuses on the good. “Alright, just so we know everyone’s got the right kid, sound off.”

Morgan, who is the closest to Hotch on his right, begins the chain. “Okay. Ava Lee. 24-year-old female, had honors in her classes, black belt in karate, flying in from San Francisco.” He finishes. Hotch nods to Garcia to continue the chain.

“Geez, you talk about her like she's an unsub,” Garcia whispers before Morgan smiles and smacks her arm. “Okay, here we go. My girl is 24-year old Teona Brooks from New York City. Top of her classes, total computer whiz, hacked into the school's private server and exposed emails revealing the principal to be a pedophile.” Garcia hums. “My kinda woman.”

Ried picks up next, talking even faster than usual. “25-year-old Leo Myers from Austin, Texas. Graduated college three years early and finished his master’s degree in psychology last year.” Reid returns to bouncing in his chair again.

JJ finally releases her ring and reads off her own file. “23-year-old Milo Foster from New Orleans, Louisiana. Struggled in high school but flew through college, graduating a year early with a degree in criminal justice. Apparently terrorized his teachers in the academy, known to be a prankster.” She finishes, placing the file down and nodding her head.

Rossi, sitting on Hotch's left, snorts and says, “Have fun with that one.”

Emily picks up the chain again, “Alright. 24-year-old Kassie Bell from Miami, Florida. Daughter of a police chief, has high records and a bright future if she doesn't run off to join the circus first.” Emily laughs.

Hotch nods to Rossi to continue the line, though there isn't much to read. “Jack Hotchner, 25, top of his class in college and the academy, has been working as the errand boy in counter-terrorism for the last four months. Also, a star soccer player in second grade.” Rossi finishes with slightly more contempt than Hotch likes.

Hotch doesn't regret giving Jack to David. They know each other, and Hotch feels it would be odd for him to mentor his own son, as he was already Jack's guardian for 18 years; he thinks that Jack would be sick of him by day one. But no, Rossi doesn't have a problem with Jack; he quite likes Jack, actually. Hotch knows this because Dave helped raise Jack after Haley died, and he would do anything for the kid. No, David is against the idea of mentorship as a whole. As he so calmly stated during the last three meetings about this, children should not be allowed anywhere near this job. Morgan had agreed.

Hotch has to agree as well, but he casts the thought away. He can't undo this, so he might as well make the best of it. Focusing on the file in his hands, he’ll deal with his best friend later.

“24-year-old Angel Atlas of Nebraska. No high school record but entered a community college before transferring to Stanford, where she double majored in psychology and criminal justice, minoring in biology and history.”

“Busy girl.” Emily comments.

Hotch nods, looking down at the file again. This file is much thinner than the others and feels empty in Hotch’s hands, but no matter how much digging Garcia did, they couldn't find anything else. Or anything before high school aside from a birth certificate, for that matter.

“We all have our kids.” Hotch starts, looking at his team again. “Let's make a good first impression. And I'm sure they're nervous too, so don't stress too much.” He adds, looking pointedly at Garcia, who places her hand over her heart and swears to it.

The team nods in agreement, Rossi, and Morgan as well. Satisfied, Hotch turns to the door, reaching forward to open in. Just before he grabs the handle, the door swings open, narrowly missing Hotch’s head. Hotch jumps back, startled. Anderson stands on the other side, looking hunched over and nervous, fidgeting with his clothes and usual.

“Sorry, Sir, I didn't mean to- I mean. The kids are ready for you, sir.”

“Send them up.” Hotch orders, smoothing over his face until it's back to his regular cold scowl.

Hotch turns, catching the smile on David's face before anything else. The team is standing now, some trying to peer through the blinds to the bullpen below.

“Somebody's nervous.” Rossi teases. Hotch only huffs in response.

Hotch turns his head, looking through the blinds where he can see a group of young people gathered around a figure with blond hair. Strauss. It makes sense that she would be here, though Hotch hasn't seen her since last week. He wonders momentarily if she’ll draw to him or Rossi if they're in the same room.

Before he can study the thought, Strauss waves the group up the steps, and the kids follow eagerly.

“They're coming!” Garcia whispers, bouncing on her toes.

As it opens, Hotch turns to the door, watching Strauss file in as the college kids line up across from him. They stand in a perfect, academy-style line before him. Hands at their sides, eyes straight ahead, chins up. They are all dressed in suits or pantsuits. Their faces are stern and focused on nothing other than the wall opposite them. If Hotch had not known any better, he would think this was a group of Marines. Not even Jack looks at him.

After a moment of silence, Hotch clears his throat. “You don't have to stand in formation. This isn't the academy.”

Almost instantly, the young adults break their stances, slumping their shoulders and breathing out, looking around the room. They vary significantly in height, build, and race—a mix of both boys and girls. A diverse group will do them well in a job like this. Different experiences means different perspectives, which is always helpful.

Each of their files contains the most recent school photo of the student, so the team already knows who everyone is. But Hotch wants to get them talking and clear the awkward, jittery air that had settled on the round room.

“Alright, let's do some introductions. I am SSA Aaron Hotchner; these are SSA’s Morgan, Jareau, Prentiss, and Rossi. We also have our technical analyst Mrs. Penelope Garcia and Dr. Spencer Reid.” Hotch points to each of his teammates in turn before turning back to the students. “We’ll go down the line. Say your name, age, something interesting about yourself, and whatever you'd like us to call you.” Hotch sees Strauss roll her eyes from behind the students, and he shoots her a look. She's already forcing them into this; the best she can do now is stay quiet.

Hotch turns to the first kid in line, a short, skinny white boy whose pasty skin is littered with red freckles on every part of his body. His short hair is dyed blue to match his eyes, but Hotch can see his natural ginger color poking through the roots. He wears round glasses and a suit a size too big for him. When he speaks, his voice is quiet and nervous as he pulls in on himself, seeming uncomfortable under all the eyes.

“Um, hi. I'm Leo Myers from Texas. Austin, Texas, I mean. I'm 25. And, um, I like to dye my hair a lot.” He motions to his faded blue. “And you can just call me Leo.” He finishes awkwardly.

Hotch nods to the next man in line, deciding to wait until they are all finished before telling them who their mentors are. The next person is a young black man with light brown skin. He is impossibly tall and lanky and seems to be made up entirely of legs and arms. Despite the man being half Hotch's age, they are nearly at eye level. His curly brown hair is cut short at the sides with more on top in the same style as the others. His eyes appear to be brown, with tinges of green deep in the centers. He wears a dark blue suit with a forest green vest, unlike the others, and it fits his small frame well. The young man bounces on his toes before flashing a sly smile.

Tipping his head slightly as though wearing a hat, he speaks with a thick Louisiana accent. “Hello, everybody. I'm Milo of New Orleans, and it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I'm sure you've read my file, and I'm sure you know that I was nearly thrown from the academy for replacing a boy's shaving cream with expanding foam.” He finishes, tipping his invisible hat again and swiping his leg. The skinny man seems to have no ability to stay still, like a wound-up toy that needs to move.

Strauss gasps at Milo’s words and scolds him. “Do you really think that’s the first impression you want to make, Mr. Foster?” Strauss presses.

Milo simply smiles again and says, “Better than lying.” Hotch has to commend him; not many will talk back to Strauss, who huffs and settles again in her place behind the students. Hotch throws her a warning glare; he wants to hear how the kids speak and see how they move, not listen to Strauss scold them like schoolchildren.

“I'm Kassie Bell from Miami, Florida. But you can call me Kas or Kassie.” The next woman, nearly as tall as Milo, wide-set with long brown hair and big brown eyes, begins. She has one hand on her hip, and her large chest puffed out with her shirt open a little too low. “I like solving crimes, getting wasted, and being the gayest person in the room.” She says confidently. Milo perks up, breaking into another bright smile and cheering.

“Hey, me too!” Milo says, reaching a hand up. The pair whoop and high five, which pulls some chuckles from his team. Strauss stands stunned in the corner with her mouth agape, staring at the young adults in awe.

The sound warms Hotch, as his team has been so down lately, no one could make them smile. Maybe these young ones will do them all some good.

The woman next to Kassie rolls her eyes and has her arms folded across her chest. She is short and skinny, a young Asian woman with sleek black hair cropped along her jawline. She wears long, sharp, black eyeliner that almost looks like knife points. Hotch can see the edges of several tattoos poking up from her collar and cuffs. She appears well-muscled beneath her suit.

“I'm Ava Lee from San Francisco. 24 years old. Call me Ava. Or Lee. Call me anything else, and I'll break your arm.” She states blatantly.

“Damn girl, okay,” Milo says, twisting around Kassie to see her. As he leans in toward Lee, she snaps at him, her teeth locking on nothing but air. Milo jumps back, squealing slightly before bursting into a bubbling laugh that pulls everyone down with him. Hotch only chuckles, though Strauss’s horrified-looking face makes him really want to laugh.

Instead, he waves a hand, quieting them and motioning for the next woman to go. The one he's been watching since she walked in, the kid with only half a file. She is shorter than he expected her to be but taller than Ava beside her. The girl is tan with startling green eyes and golden-brown hair. Her skin is darkened from time spent in the sun, and dark freckles spot her nose and cheeks. Her thick hair is tied in a braid that folds over her shoulder, draping onto the front of her suit. Although, like Kassie, she too has a few buttons undone on the top of her shirt, unlike Kassie, she is armed. Hotch can see spots where barely visible knives are tucked into her sleeves, ankles, and he's pretty sure there is at least one in her coat. No one who had not been trained to spot those would have. But how did she make it through security with so many knives? And if she wanted a weapon, why not carry a gun?

“Allo’ everybody. I'm Angel. Angel Atlas.” Angel pulls two fingers from her forehead in one of the few American Sign Language signs Hotch knows, hello. “I'm 24, come from the middle of friggin nowhere, and totally need to know where you got that watch.” She turns and points to Jack's watch, who is standing beside her.

Everyone looks at his watch as Jack holds it up for them to see. It's the watch Hotch had bought him as a gift for making into the FBI. The watch face has no hands but three semi-transparent circles of color in yellow, pink, and blue, pointing to the second, minute, and hour respectively. When they overlap, they change color. The watch had been expensive, but Jack had loved the thing when he saw it in the display case, so Hotch had not hesitated. He smiles, now thinking of the memory.

“Oh um... Some jewelry store in the mall. I can't remember, sorry.” Jack answers, scuffing his feet lightly. He doesn't look Angel in the eye, but she stares him down mercilessly.

“Oh, and you can call me Atlas.” She finishes, looking around once more. Hotch notes that her accent had switched from east coaster to southern at least once. Her gaze lands on Hotch, and they lock eyes, both too stubborn to break away. Though the girl's face is calm, he can see something moving below the surface, something dark and dangerous. Hotch immediately knows that this is a girl with a lifetime of secrets.

“Okay, I’ll go, I guess.” Jack starts oddly. Hotch reluctantly pulls his gaze away from Atlas’s, his permanent scowl growing deeper when he sees her smile in triumph.

Jack runs a hand through his golden hair and scuffs his feet again before speaking. “Okay. Um, Hello. I'm Jack Hotchner; I’m 25 years old, I previously worked in counter-terrorism for a couple of months, and you all can call me Jack.” He finishes, looking much more comfortable by the end. Hotch knows that his son may be nervous now, but he’ll warm up; it takes Jack time to get comfortable around new people. It will probably take them all a little while to settle down.

“Wait. Jack Hotchner as in his kid?” Atlas asks, pointing to Hotch with wide eyes. Both Hotch and Jack nod in response, and Atlas looks away, regret flashing over her face for only a moment before she says, “Cool.”

Hotch twists his head to catch Rossi’s eye, and they exchange a well that's interesting look before the last girl begins to speak.

The final student in line is a short, broad-set black woman with a dark afro that curls around her head like a halo, glowing in the light of the room. Her skin is darker than Milos and reminds Hotch of fresh coffee, so do her eyes. When she speaks, her voice is quiet and quick, but a smile peaks through the cracks.

“Hi. I'm Teona Brooks, and I'm 24 years old. You can call me Brooks. And I like hacking things.” She finishes, shrugging.

“O.M.G. me too!” Garcia squeals from behind him. Hotch turns, fixing the short woman with a harsh glare until she stills. He turns back to the kids, nodding at each of them in turn.

“Well, it's about time we pair you up and start working. Leo, You're with Dr. Ried. Milo, JJ is your mentor. Kassie, Emily Prentiss. Lee, Morgan. Jack, Rossi. And Brooks, in case you couldn't tell, you're with Penelope. Mrs. Atlas, you're with me.” He finishes, staring down at the green-eyed girl. She locks his gaze again, and Hotch continues his speech without breaking it. “Pair up. Mentors, show the kids around, just as we planned.”

“And kids, be good,” Strauss adds in a motherly tone. “Your future is riding on this.”

“Oh, don't be so harsh, Erin. I'm sure the kids would manage fine as FBI rejects.” Rossi chimes in, chuckling. Out of the corner of his eye, Hotch sees the other kids exchange worried glances, but Atlas doesn't break his stare; she doesn't even flinch.

Well, this is certainly going to be fun.

“Go on; I have work to do. If you need me, you know where my office is.” Strauss waves her hands, and the students scatter out of the way as she moves for the door. Atlas takes one step forward without breaking his gaze. Strauss casts an odd glance from Hotch to Atlas to Hotch again, but he doesn't look at her. Finally, she shrugs, leaving the round room and closing the door.

His teammates begin calling their apprentices away, exchanging friendly and excited greetings. Hotch figures he should get out of this dumb staring contest and do the same. But something is starting to burn in the air between them. Something like electricity but not as potent, fire maybe, or perhaps just smoke. No fire yet.

Finally, after far too many moments, Hotch breaks the trance. He straightens his back and walks toward the door, brushing past Atlas. He walks out, calling for her to follow him. For a second, he thinks she isn't going to until he hears light footsteps on the ground behind him. So soft, almost like a cat. If Hotch wasn't really listening to them, he might not have heard her at all over the sound of the bullpen.

Who is this girl?

Hotch quickly leads her to his office, motioning for her to sit in the chair in front of his desk. He moves to close the blinds and hears her shift behind him. When Hotch looks over his shoulder, he realizes that she is poking at the stack of files on his desk. She doesn't open them; she merely reads the names and dates from the tabs. Hotch huffs and finishes the blinds, taking the chair opposite her. Atlas doesn't pull away from the files when he sits, or when he folds his hands on the desk, or when he stares at her and waits. Instead, she continues reading what little of the files she can see. Her face is pinched in concentration; whether it's from remembering the words or reading them upside down, Hotch doesn't know. Hotch looks away, shaking his head slightly. Why did he have to get the anomaly of a student?

Finally, he looks back, studying her features. Up close, he can see many tiny scars on her knuckles and face, specifically her cheekbones, nose, and eyebrows. Her nails are kept groomed and short, but her fingers are littered with small, thin scars. The knife inside her sleeve glints off the light of his desk lamp when she moves another file into view.

“So tell me, Angel Atlas, How did you get past security with five knives?” He asks.

The girl doesn't even flinch, but she does look at him, registering him for the first time since he came into the room. Her eyes bounce over his face, chest, and hands, and he can tell that she is reading him the same way he did her. A small smile cracks across her face, and she sits back in her chair.

“5?” She says, shaking her head. “Count again.”

Hotch narrows his eyes, scanning her up and down. Where is she hiding more? One in each sleeve and pant leg, one in her jacket… where else? He looks her over for a few moments before giving up, though he remains leaned forward at the edge of his seat.

“Alright, I'll give. Where are the others?” He asks.

Atlas shakes her head in the dim light, her golden brown hair starting to come loose from the braid. “A magician never reveals her secrets.” she smiles wider, flashing sharp, white teeth.

“So you have secrets?” Hotch pries, jumping at the opportunity for info. He burns his dark, cold eyes into her, a face that would make most people cringe away, but she shows no fear.

“Everyone has secrets.” She states, rolling her eyes, “The trick is knowing how to find them.”

“Your file is incomplete,” Hotch says, shifting gears. He needs to get more than riddles out of this girl if he wants this mentorship to work. Plus, if he doesn't do it, then there's a good chance that David will go at her, and he is… much more blunt. “Would you mind filling in the gaps?”

“Maybe,” She answers, shrugging. “Depends on what ya’ want.”

Hotch opens the file, pausing when he hears her accent change again. While most of the time has a typical east coast accent, that's the second time she's lapsed into a southern drawl. Being from Nebraska, he finds it odd she sounds like an east coaster at all.

“Well, let's start from the beginning,” Hotch says, turning the file around and sliding it toward her. “We have your birth certificate, and we have you entering community college 18 years later. So fill me in; what happened in those 18 years? Where were you?”

Hotch watches her reaction closely in the dim light of the office. She stares down at the file, and as he speaks, her face warps slightly, only more a moment, before she seals it back up. But there's something here; he can feel it. And no matter how stubborn or tricky this girl is, he will find it, just like how he finds out the truth with his unsubs. They all need different methods, but they all crack eventually. They all have a weak spot. If Hotch can find that, then he can get everything.

But it's against the rules to profile a teammate; Hotch knows this. He invented the rule. Not like anyone actually follows it anyway… plus, she doesn't know the rules, and she's not a full team member yet. So technically, it's fair ground. Wow, the attorney in him has never found a loophole in his own rules so quickly. Sometimes Hotch even surprises himself.

“Nebraska.” She states, not looking up from the file.

“What's in Nebraska?”

“Literally nothing. Have you ever been to Nebraska? Fucking no man’s land out there.” She mutters.

Hotch narrows his eyes even more. Though Atlas is trying very hard to keep everything close, she seems unable to prevent a witty response.

“What about your parents?” Hotch tries.

Atlas huffs, “Awww, you don't even know where my parents are? Some agents you lot are.”

All at once, Hotch surges upward, tired of listening to her sarcastic comments. He stands, slamming his palm down on the file. His eyes are narrowed, and his back is tight as he stands over the young woman. At the exact moment, Atlas jumps back, pressing against the chair. With the flick of her wrists, the two blades sit perfectly in her hands, held up in a defense position. Her face is hard, and her teeth are bared, but lines of fear carve themselves around her eyes and the edges of her mouth. She's scared. Scared enough to risk bringing knives into a government building. Her face and hands are littered with scars; she is defiant to authority but friendly with peers. She reacted to him, putting her hands in a defensive position instead of running.

Piece by piece, Hotch begins to build a profile.

“Alright.” He says, settling back down in his seat ever so slowly. Atlas waits until he is completely seated before she drops her hands, but she doesn't resheath her knives. Hotch meets her eyes, locking her there. The fear is gone from her face; all that remains is anger and frustration. Hotch looks at her, forcing her bright green eyes to hold his dark brown ones. When he speaks, his voice is low and calm, as non-threatening as he can get.

“Listen, Atlas. I'm not going to hurt you; none of us are.” Atlas snorts and rolls her eyes, but Hotch continues on. “I think that you came here because you're running away from something. Someone in Nebraska, I think.” Atlas goes stiff, her lips pressing into a thin line. Hotch plows forward. “Whatever it is you're running from, you don't have to tell me now, but I’m assuming you want to be here, yes?” She gives a determined nod. “Then you're going to have to work with me. No more snappy comments, no more staring contests, and if you must keep those knives, then at least hide them better.”

Atlas raises her chin, eyes hard as stone. “I hid them well enough to get past security.”

“And while that's remarkable, if I could see them, then others can too. So hide them better, or get rid of them.”

She tilts her head, narrowing her eyes at him. “You’re letting me keep them?” She asks quietly as if speaking too loud will cause him to change his mind.

“For now. But if you prove yourself to be irresponsible with them, I will take them away.” Atlas shifts, gripping the hilts of the blades tighter at his threat. “I can tell you have secrets; I can tell you've been through something, so you may keep the knives only if you agree to be a good student.”

Atlas sighs, looking to the side, then down to the knives in her hands. Finally, she closes her eyes for a moment, placing the blades back in her sleeves. “Deal.”

Hotch nods, satisfied, and sits back in his chair. He glances down at his watch before looking up at her again. “We have a whole day planned for you guys. Right now, the others should be having lunch if you want to join them.” Atlas meets his eyes once more and nods before standing and slipping silently out of the room.

Hotch’s team is low on personnel; everyone is exhausted, overworked, and stressed out of their minds. So, of course, the solution to his problem would come wrapped up in a ball of secrets and green eyes and freckles. Hotch never can catch a break, can he? Well, at least he'll have something interesting to tell Dave later when he inevitably asks.

Despite the challenges he now faces, Hotch feels better. Because now he has a mission, a task to complete. Piece by piece, he'll pick this girl down. Even if he needs help, He'll shape her into the leader she needs to be if she ever wants to take his place as unit chief. They'll solve cases; he’ll talk to her, she'll tell him things, he'll talk her out of this fear, help her get past it as he had for the rest of the team. Because that's what Hotch is good at, solving puzzles and fixing things. And Angel Atlas is just one giant puzzle for him to solve.

Chapter Text

Group Chat

Losechesters

Me, Moose, and Squirrel 

 

Me

Holy SHit boys

 

Moose  

What? What happened?

 

Squirrel

How your first day go? Punch anyone yet? 

 

Me

Holy shit, this is WILD

 

Squirrel

Ooooo what happened??

 

Me

Okay, so u remember the old mean-looking lady I was telling u about?

 

Moose

Yea

 

Me

Well, she was there, obviously, and we were doing introductions, and one of the girls goes, ‘i enjoy being the gayest one in the room,’ and I swear I thought this woman was going to blow a fuse.

 

Squirrel  

Hahahahahhahah

 

Moose

That’s ballsy 

 

Me

Ik right

 

Squirrel

Wait, so who did you get as ur teacher?

 

Me  

Oh no I’m not done

So I swiped a $20 bill of the kid next to me right.

 

Moose

No, you didn’t

 

Squirrel

Get it, girl

 

Me

And a minute later, I come to find that he's the UNIT CHIEF'S SON

 

Squirrel  

Noooooo

 

Moose

Did you return the cash?

 

Me  

Didn’t have time

 

Squirrel  

Wait, so who's ur mentor? The buff black guy? Or the twig-looking dude?

Or one of those hot chicks?

 

Moose

Really dean?

 

Me

Nope

 

Squirrel  

Yes, Sammy I need to know

 

Me  

I got the fucking unit chief

 

Squirrel

No u didn’t

 

Me  

Yea I did

 

Squirrel  

Hahhahaha

ur so dead

 

Moose

Did he catch you?

 

Me

Not yet, but he was laying into me about Nebraska

And found my knives

 

Moose

WHAT? He found your knives??

 

Squirrel

WHTA

 

Me

Yea, but the weirdest part was, he let me KEEP them.

 

Moose

Oh

That is weird

 

Squirrel  

Mhuh. werihpm

 

Moose

Dean, stop voice texting with your mouth full

 

Squirrel

Nohmp

 

Moose

Well, what are you gonna do?

 

Me

I’m not going anywhere yet.

Do you have any idea how long it took ash to forage these documents and hack me into this program? I didnt double minor AND double major for nothing. 

 

Squirrel

Yea he’s still bragging about it.

And I still cant believe you actually did that

 

Me

Well I’m staying

Stay mad

 

Squirrel

Name anyone yet?

 

Me

No

Were hving lunch rn 

Haven’t rlly talked to them

 

Moose

Well you should

 

Squirrel  

For once, I agree with Sammy

Go

Make friends

Since u dont hv any

 

Me

I will pray to Castiel to kick ur ass.

 

Squirrel

Oh, I’m always down for a good ass-kicking from cas ;)

 

Moose

I hate u

 

Squirrel

Love u too

Sage go be social

We’ll be here if u need us

 

Me

FINE since ur forcing me to

Bye

 

Squirrel

Byeeeee

 

Moose

Bye



Atlas stares at the final messages from her brothers on the screen before closing it and placing her phone on the table. She mentally reruns the conversation as she takes a bite of her lunch, a sandwich from a small deli a few blocks away. Sam and Dean had been less than ecstatic when Atlas had presented the idea of joining the FBI to them. It took some convincing and help from Castiel, Bobby, and Ellen, but it eventually worked. Though she is sure that they are probably worrying themselves down about her, they'll have to live. It's not like they can exactly stop in and say hello; they are wanted criminals after all. The boys will have to settle with texting regularly or as regularly as their lifestyle allows.

 

Atlas looks around her, taking in the group. She sits at the table in what she has been told is called the ‘round room’. The other students are seated around her, talking casually or on their phones. Jack Hotchner sits on her left, slowly eating a bagel, while Milo Foster is sitting on her right, hounding into his food. The agents have all left the room, and if Atlas twists around, she can see them talking in the bullpen below. 

 

Make friends, Dean said. Okay, so she'll make some friends. Even if her teacher doesn't like her, maybe the other students will.

 

“Does anyone know what we are doin’ for the rest of the day?” Atlas asks, opening up the question to the whole table. She curses herself internally as her slight southern drawl trickles out again. Thankfully, the others have thicker accents than hers, so she hopes that she doesn't stand out.

 

Milo stretches out beside her, pulling his long arms above his head and groaning. “Dunno. Nobody happened to swipe a schedule sheet, did they?” He asks in his Louisiana accent that Atlas likes more than she is willing to admit.

 

The short boy with faded blue hair -Leo- tilts his head and speaks up. “Schedule sheet?” 

 

“Yea, you know,” Milo answers, relaxing again. “The paper with the plan for the day. Agents love making plans like that. My teacher made one every day in the academy. Never noticed I was taken’ em.’” 

 

Atlas chuckles, and Milo flashes her a bright smile in response. 

 

Jack speaks up next from Atlas’s other side. “There's no schedule sheets here.” He says, shaking his head. “They probably memorized the plan. They do that.” He finishes, shrugging. 

 

“You're the chief's kid, aren't you?” Kassie asks from Milo’s other side, leaning forward with a sly smile.

 

Jack nods in response, taking another bite of his bagel. Atlas turns to him, eyeing the young man up and down. He is tall, though not as tall as Hotch or Milo. His face is round and dotted with light freckles, lacking his father’s harsh lines and permanent scowl. His golden hair is longer than Hotch’s, too, flopping down in front of his face when he shakes his head. 

 

“So you a snitch?” Milo asks with raised eyebrows.

 

“Snitch?” Jack echos, looking confused.

 

“Yea. Come on; you’re the chief's kid.” Milo ads, rolling his eyes. “The leader's kids always talk.”

 

“He won't talk.” comes a low, smooth voice from across the table. Everyone turns to look at the smallest of them all, a tiny Asian woman named Ava Lee, fixing Jack with a stare sharper than stone. Atlas looks at Lee’s tattoos that poke out from where her suit ends, trying to figure out what they are. The ink is all black, red, and white, but Atlas can't make out anything more than wispy swirls and half-covered figures. 

 

Jack shifts in his seat, uncomfortable under Lee’s piercing gaze. If Atlas could only look at the kids' eyes, she would have thought that Lee was related to Hotch, not Jack.

 

“I won't say anything to them. I promise,” Jack swears, looking around the table. “Though they do have a way of figuring this out.” 

 

“What's that supposed to mean?” Atlas asks.

 

Jack runs a hand through his hair, looking at the ground. “Well, they're profilers, aren't they? You all know what they do, how they see straight through people. They don't hold back for anyone, certainly not for us.”

 

Atlas stiffens at his words. While the others exchange worried glances and quick whispers, Atlas looks straight ahead, thinking back to her conversation with Hotch. He had looked her up and down once and seen far more than Atlas is comfortable with. He pestered her about Nebraska, knew she was running from someone, and even knew about her knives. All of them. She’d lied to Hotch when she told him to look for more, she is only carrying five right now, and it bothers her greatly that he's seen them all. And he saw her react. Atlas had made one too many snappy comments, and Hotch had lunged, towering over and slamming a hand down on the desk. It had scared her shitless and momentarily thrown her back into memories of John Winchester. Thankfully, Hotch didn't do anything more, and Atlas had been able to keep her mouth shut. But what does this mean, they see through people? Exactly how much danger is she putting her friends in my being here? She’d known it would be risky, the sister of known criminals foraging papers and entering the FBI, but she'd thought she’d be able to keep the boys hidden. Unfortunately, keeping her past hidden may be a bigger task than she anticipated. 

 

The door of the round room swings open, breaking Atlas from her thoughts. David Rossi, the oldest agent on the team, enters first, followed one by one by the others. The agents file into the room, standing behind their students as the young adults hurry to clean the table, picking up scraps and putting their trash together. Hotch enters the room last, standing at the head of the table with a stack of files in his hands. He doesn't look at Atlas as he begins passing the files out, one per person. As he does, Penelope Garcia walks around to the other end of the table, picking up a remote and turning on the screens. 

 

“Case time, kiddos,” Rossi says, clapping his hands together and smiling down at them.

 

The apprentice's exchange worried and confused glances. A case on their first day? Well, apparently, the FBI does move fast. Atlas remembers the giant stack of files sitting on Hotch's desk with dates going back months. This unit is severely overworked and is probably eager to start emptying the pile. 

 

“Before we begin, there are some rules we need to go over.” Hotch starts, fixing his dark eyes on each of the students in turn. “We are a team, not individuals. We work together and always share our ideas. Apprentices, you are to stick by your mentors at all times, never go anywhere alone. Mentors, keep your eyes on your students; they are your responsibility.” He finishes, looking from the agents to the students. 

 

Hotch nods to Garcia, who presses some buttons on the remote, flashing the screen. "The wonderful first case that has been picked for our kids is in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We have four victims, two pairs of couples killed in their homes. The first pair is Pascal and Eloise Willam, and the second pair is Drake and Velma Farrow. The Williams were killed two nights ago and the Farrows last night. The couples live within a 10-mile radius of each other, but other than that, there's no obvious connection between them." Garcia finishes. She presses another button, and the screen changes, displaying four photos of people, two men, and two women, as well as the crime scene photos. The people were empty-eyed and covered in blood. 

 

Atlas is in the FBI now, so her first thought should not have been a werewolf. 

 

"How were they killed?" Morgan asks.

 

"Several stab wounds to the torso. no sighs of sexual assault." Garcia fills in.

 

"The stab wounds are personal and almost overkill. Was anything taken from the homes?" JJ asks.

 

"Oddly enough, yes. Both homes were missing treasured family items, but the unsub left the tv and jewelry." 

 

"Then this is personal," Emily states, turning back to her file.

 

"Well, the bodies showed up within a day of each other, so if this is personal, the unsub may devolve. We should get moving. Wheels up in 20." Hotch says, turning to leave. He stops just before he reaches the door, twisting his head around and signaling to Atlas to follow. 

 

In a flurry of movement that felt much shorter than 20 minutes, Atlas finds herself boarding a small jet outside the FBI building. She stares at the plane in awe and fear. She's only flown once before in her life, yesterday. The FBI had flown her from Nebraska to Quantico, and Atlas had nearly broken down on the flight. She and her brothers drive everywhere. Mainly because it's not trackable but also because Dean is terribly attached to his car. Their dad's car. 

 

Atlas boards the plane, gripping tightly to her duffle bag. Strauss had told them to bring bags packed for several days, but Atlas hadn't thought they needed it so soon. She follows Hotch and obeys without conflict when he pushes her into one of the white plush chairs. She's beginning to panic and can feel her blood flowing in her ears. Had she been anywhere else, Atlas would have sunk into the chairs like they're made of marshmallows, but she can't. Hotch takes her bag and places it at one end of the plane, piled up with everyone else's. 

 

Atlas takes a moment to look around, realizing that Milo has been seated directly across from her. Across the aisle, Kassie, Leo, Jack, and Ava get themselves comfortable in a set of 4 chairs. Both groups of chairs have small tables between them. Atlas places her phone down on one and notices an open laptop with an empty screen on the others. The older agents stand over them, peering over their student's shoulders and pointing things out in the file. There are other chairs on the small plane and even a couch on one end, but they seem to have opted for leaning on the kid’s chairs. Only now, as Atlas takes in the plane, does she realize that Garcia and Brooks are missing. Atlas opens her mouth to ask, but before she does, the women's faces appear on the screens scattered around the plane. Atlas’s eyes go wide; she’d seen that planes can have screens, but now Garcia and Brooks' faces peer out through the other side. They seem to be sitting in a small, dark room surrounded by screens. 

 

“Hello, my lovelies. Enjoying the jet?” Garcia sings from the computer. 

 

Milo stretches out his legs as much as he can beneath the table, which isn't very far, before hitting Atlas’s legs. She says nothing. “Oh yes! This is great! I didn't know we got a jet!” 

 

The others nod in agreement, still looking around in awe. Atlas glances around but stays quiet, trying not to show just how on edge she is. Planes and flying make her nervous. It's the same for Dean, but Sam is terrified of clowns. Atlas likes to think she got the less dumb fear. 

 

“I wish I got to go on the jet.” Brooks pouts.

 

“Sometimes you do, when we need you guys with us,” Morgan responds, smiling at the screen.

 

“Alright, we're going to take off; call us when we're in the air.” Hotch waves to the laptop.

 

Garcia smiles and says, “Be back in a flash.” Before dramatically disconnecting the feed. 

 

Suddenly, the plane lurches forward as it starts down the runway, taking Atlas’s stomach with it. Atlas grips the sides of the table, stiffening. Though she tries her best to hide it, she can tell her fear is visible in her wide eyes and quick breaths. The small, oval window is on her left, but all she can see is the plane's wing and concrete. 

 

“Not a fan of flying?” JJ asks from where she leans on the back of Milo’s chair. Atlas nods hastily, not trusting herself to speak. The plane is still rolling across the ground, and for now, she's almost okay, but once they start flying...

 

“Did you know that the fear of flying, called aviophobia, is actually very common. About 40% of the general population reports having some fear of flying.” Reid pipes up from his spot behind Leo’s chair. 

 

“Great. Love that. Glad to know it's normal.” Atlas forces out in a stressed voice. The plane starts to pick up speed, and her knuckles go white, gripping the table. 

 

“Why does flying make you so nervous?” Jacks asks sweetly.

 

Atlas swallows dryly. “Only flown once before. When you lot flew me here, we just drive everywhere otherwise.” She says. Eyes fixed on the window; Atlas is only half paying attention to what she's saying. 

 

“We?” Rossi asks, raising an eyebrow. Atlas only hums in response.

 

“Well, maybe talking will distract you.” Emily offers. “Do you have any family?”

 

Atlas bites her lip and shakes her head, not removing her eyes from the window. She doesn’t notice the agents exchanging concerned glances over her head. Then, suddenly, the nose of the plane tips upward, and Atlas is pushed back in her seat. Though she seals her lips tightly together, she isn’t quick enough to stop a slight, strangled sound from escaping her throat.

 

Just as she feels like she’s going to faint, Hotch’s gruff voice speaks up from behind her, surprisingly tentative. “Do you know sign language?” He asks.

 

Atlas is broken from her fear and startled by the question. She twists around to look at him with raised eyebrows, never releasing her death grip on the table.

 

“How did you know that?” She asks. Narrowing her eyes at the older man. 

 

Hotch exhales and meets her confused gaze. “You signed ‘hello’ when you did your introduction.” He states flatly.

 

“Oh. Well, yes.” Atlas responds slowly, blinking in confusion. The plane is still tipping steadily upward, though she is paying less and less attention to it now. The rolling fear in her stomach is also beginning to succeed, replaced by confusion. “Yes. I know ASL and Japanese.” Atlas thinks back to Bobby teaching her Japanese every time he saw her since she was little. Though the boys never bothered to learn, Atlas had immensely enjoyed it, and Bobby had been secretly ecstatic to have someone to teach. A while back, they had been locked down together with her brothers in his house. Bored, Atlas and Bobby had decided to learn ASL together. It irritated the hell out of her brothers that she and Bobby now have two languages to talk shit about them in. 

 

“Really? Those are some impressive languages.” Emily says, nodding with respect. “I know Arabic, Russian, Italian, Spanish, French, and Greek.” She says as though that's a totally normal thing. 

 

The student’s mouths hang open as they stare at Emily in awe, all but Jack, who likely already knew this. 

 

“Seriously?” Kassie gasps, staring wide-eyed up at her mentor. “You gotta teach me some of those.”

 

Emily smiles and nods, seeming genuinely happy. “I will. I promise.”

 

“Oh, wait.” Milo interrupts, breaking out into another smile. This boy seems to never run out of smiles; it’s like he’s made of them. “I think I might know somethin’.” He says just as he starts waving his hands around wildly in what Altlas can vaguely identify as signs. 

 

When he’s finished, the dark-skinned boy looks at Atlas expectantly. Atlas stares back, pressing her lips together before she starts slowly signing a response. Milo’s signs were fast and sloppy, difficult to read, but she thinks she understands. When Atlas finishes her question, she waits again. Milo stares back with a clueless look on his face before throwing his hands up and sighing dramatically.

 

“Yea, you lost me.” He states.

 

Atlas smiles and copies one of his signs. “What do you think this means?” 

 

Milo furrows his brow before leaning in and stage whispering, “Asshole?” 

 

The group chuckles around him, but Atlas breaks out in laughter as his sentence finally makes sense. The students and agents stare at her like she has grown three heads until she can get her laughter under control and explain herself. 

 

“Okay. Listen. So what Milo originally signed was ‘My boss is blue.’ and I was confused because if Hotch was going to be a color, it wouldn’t be blue.” She explains quickly, pointing at Hotch over her shoulder. 

 

“So you meant to say ‘my boss is an asshole’ ?” Morgan asks, sounding stunned. 

 

Milo and Atlas break into fits of laughter, pushing their hands to their faces and wiggling to control themselves. The others quickly join in, first the kids, then the agents smothering laughs behind hands and hair. Everyone throws glances at Hotch, trying to see his reaction. Atlas twists in her chair to get a better look at him. He stares down at her with cold, dark eyes, scowling only slightly more than usual. But Atlas can just barely see his lips pressed together as he too forces down a smile. 

 

“You really need to work on your ASL,” Atlas says to Milo.

 

The thin man pricks up, wiggling in his seat again. “Oh yes, please teach me.” He says genuinely, leaving forward and appearing interested. 

 

The other students join in a chorus of agreements, beckoning for Atlas to teach them signs. They all watch her with wide eyes as she signs out simple words like ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘hello.’ They copy her motions, picking up the signs quickly, even the agents start to join in. No one notices Hotch smiling down at Atlas with genuine warmth in his eyes. 

 

By the time the plane has leveled out and Garica calls again, Atlas’s fear is gone. She had hardly noticed they were even flying anymore. The team had distracted her, drawn her attention away from her fear until she wasn’t scared anymore. Milo had made her laugh so much she had forgotten where she was. Maybe this team could help her in more ways than one. 

 

 Atlas turns to Milo, smiling. “Thanks,” she whispers gratefully. Milo smiles and winks at her before turning to talk to Kassie. 

 

Atlas picks up her phone. Going into contacts, she quickly renames Milo Foster to Smiley bitch  before locking her phone again. One named, 12 to go. 

 

Atlas turns back to the window, momentarily ignoring Garcia’s spray of information and the ideas being thrown around. She can practically feel Hotch burning holes into her back with his eyes, but she can’t tell if they’re good holes or bad holes. Atlas thinks she did well, making everyone laugh and teaching them things while she was scared shitless. But who knows, maybe it takes saving the world to earn Hotch’s respect, or even to get on his good side. Atlas thinks that she would quite like to save the world.

 

 Now she stares through the window, looking at the world below. Taking in the rivers and lakes, the house and streets, the chunks of land that begin to blur together into blue, green, and grey. The plane passes through thin clouds, showing just how high up they are. Atlas wonders what clouds feel like. 

 

So this is what angels see when they look down on earth. No wonder they never want to leave heaven. If Atlas could live with this view every day, she certainly would. 






Chapter Text

“Well, that was interesting.” Dave states as he and Hotch hover on the plane, lagging behind the others. They both know that their apprentices will be practically glued to their sides while on the case, so catching moments alone is going to be more difficult than normal.

Hotch huffs in agreement, facing his friend in the aisle, who is working a little too hard to read him. But this is Dave, that’s what he does. There's no keeping secrets from him, so why bother? Hotch relaxes slightly, letting his guard down for the moment.

“What did you guys talk about in your office?” Dave asks. Hotch knows that he is talking about him and Atlas. He sighs and looks away, pulling on a thread on one of the plane chairs.

“I tried to fill in the gaps in her file, the ones Garcia couldn’t.” Hotch waves the file and Dave nods, well aware of the missing pieces. “But she was snappy and guarded, so I put that fire out quickly.”

Dave whistles, smiling. “Oh, that must have been fun.”

Hotch will stand for many things, he’ll even be his team's punching bag if they need one, but he will not tolerate disrespect. He chuckles and continues, getting very serious. “She has knives, Dave.” He stresses.

“Knives, plural?” Dave asks, looking stunned. Hotch nods, meeting his eyes. “How did she get them past security?”

“I don't know. I spotted five, she said there were more but I think she was bluffing.”

“Well, you're certainly glad you didn’t take Jack now, aren’t you?” Dave chuckles, the tan skin around his eyes wrinkling. “You always loved a challenge.”

Hotch throws his friend a slightly offended face far too animated for anyone but Dave to see. Dave rolls his eyes in repose, gesturing to Reids empty coffee cut he left on one of the tables. Hotch looks at the cup and smiles, thinking back to how he had practically mentored the young genius after Gideon had left. He looks back to Dave and smiles one of his few, genuine smiles. Hotch motions for them to leave and without a word, Dave turns, picks up his bag, and exits the plane. Hotch follows closely behind.

Hotch loves these moments with Dave. The times he doesn't have to be the strict, mean leader but can be himself. He's like that with the team sometimes, but much more with Rossi. They can communicate without talking but are still okay with saying what needs to be said. Dave makes him laugh and always listens to Hotch’s problems when he can force Hotch to talk about them. He’s always a shoulder to lean on, an equal, a trusted friend. Hotch knows he’ll help with Atlas in any way he can, but will probably also want to hear all the juicy gossip. David always was a sucker for gossip.

Hotch smiles to himself one final time before returning to his fixed scowl. He hops off the plane and follows Dave to the car that is waiting for them. Now that the team has doubled in size, so have their transportation methods. Instead of two black SUVs, they now have four. It had taken some convincing, but Strauss had eventually relented with the promise that they would be careful with them. Hotch had no worry about that, well, other than when Morgan is driving. In reality, Strauss has been just as anxious to clear the stack of files from his desk as Hotch is. She'll give them almost anything now. Maybe he can ask for a bigger plane.

Hotch tosses his duffle in the trunk before sliding into the front seat. Dave takes the passenger side while Jack and Atlas are already set up in the back. Hotch adjusts his mirror, looking at the young adults behind him. Both appear comfortable, even Atlas, which is surprising after the rocky takeoff and slightly less difficult landing. They seem to be arguing over something on Jack's phone. Something called The Greatest Showman and who the best character is. Atlas insists that Zac Efron is the hottest but Jack seems certain that Zendaya takes the cake, though Atlas doesn't deny that the woman is good-looking. Hotch doesn't bother trying to keep up. Instead, he starts the car and heads for the Fort Wayne police station. Hotch and Dave are going to the station to set up and talk to the families, JJ and Morgan are going to the crime scenes, and Emily and Reid are off to the coroners, all with their students in tow.

It should be a relatively easy case, a good first one for the kids. The kills seem personal, which will make the unsub easy to find. And while Hotch would have loved a few days to get them situated before starting a case, they simply don't have the time. The stack of files on his desk haunts him, even as he drives the car through the small Indiana town. He hates those files, hates looking at the victims faces staring at him, knowing that every time he doesn't choose their case, it becomes less and less likely that it will be solved. He only prays that these kids will be any good and that maybe his stack of files will dwindle back to its normal level.

Hotch parks the car in the lot of the police station, twisting in his seat to face his son and his apprentice before getting out. They stop, looking at him expectantly.

“When we get in there, let us do the talking. We are going to be respectful and not cause trouble, you understand?” He looks between them, but when his eyes lock on Atlas’s, he stops. She fixes him with her piercing green gaze, muscles tightening in her back. Hotch narrows his eyes and waits. After a moment, Atlas seems to remember their deal and backs down, looking away. Hotch huffs before getting out of the black SUV and leading the way into the station.

Hotch introduces himself and the others to Sheriff Paterson, who quickly leads them to what appears to be a meeting room that is transformed into a workspace for them. A whiteboard on one side of the room is full of crime scene photos and whatever other bits of information they have. Sheriff Paterson informs them that the parents of the first victims, Pascal and Eloise Willam, are already here, the second pair has no family in the area, but they did bring in the close friend who had found the bodies, Annabell Moyer. Hotch thanks the Sheriff, who excuses himself and leaves.

Hotch turns around again to find Jack standing on one side of the room, rereading the case file. Atlas and Dave are both standing in front of the whiteboard, looking over the information.

“Any theories?” He asks, looking between Jack and Atlas.

Jack looks nervously from his file to Hotch, gazing up at him from beneath his golden lashes. So much like his mother. “Well, the unsub took family heirlooms instead of valuable items, so he must know them well enough.”

“The items were valuable, just not to us.” Dave chimes in.

“Or sellers.” Atlas pipes up. “He must be keeping them. Trophies or something.” She says, never removing her eyes from the whiteboard. “Could Garcia figure out where they overlapped?” She asks.

“No. Nothing yet, but she and Brooks are looking now.” Hotch answers. He watches Atlas closely as she traces her fingers along the edges of the photographs. “What are you thinking?”

“Hm,” Atlas hums, eyes narrowed. “Nothing yet.” She decides, pulling away from the whiteboard. “Can't say much till the others get back.” Hotch has a feeling that she has an idea but won’t share it until she has more information to back it up. That's alright, he’ll wait.

“Well, thankfully we won't be completely useless without them,” Dave says, turning and motioning to the four people sitting in the waiting area of the station. Three of them are older, and two are huddled close together. The last one is a young blond woman, about the same age as the victims. All of them are crying.

“The family?” Jack whispers, eyes wide and sympathetic.

Hotch nods, watching his son's face closely before he responds. “Atlas and I will take Annabell Moyer, Dave and Jack, you talk to Eleanor Williams. We’ll reconvene for the Nash’s.” Dave nods and leads Jack out of the room. Hotch sees him speak softly to the older woman before walking her to a private space. Jack drags along behind him, staring at the ground, the file still in hand.

Jack has always been very sympathetic when it comes to victims. He's an empath, just like Hotch is. Though Hotch is very good at hiding it and compartmentalizing. He hopes that Dave will teach Jack those skills so that Hotch doesn't have to. Either way, he's going to have it rough here for a little while, especially if he treats the victims like family. If he thinks of them as his mother. If Jack does that, he'll never be able to do this job.

Once Dave and Jack take Miss. Williams behind closed doors, Hotch motions for Atlas to follow him. She obeys without protest, though her face is still scrunched up as she thinks. Hotch knows he can come off as cold and unfriendly to victims and family members, due to something the others like to call his ‘resting Hotch face’. He was hoping that Atlas could be a comforting presence in the room, but maybe not.

“Be nice, sympathetic. This woman just found her best friend dead, she's fragile right now.” Hotch whispers and he opens the door, walking toward the crying group. “And follow my lead.”

“I understand,” Atlas responds simply.

Hotch shakes Mrs. Moyers's hands and leads the young woman into another secluded room, which he thinks is someone's office. He almost feels bad for intruding before he reminds himself that they were called in, their helping here. The office has a couch, several chairs, and a box of tissues, so it will suffice. He places Mrs. Moyers down on the couch before sitting opposite her. Atlas walks to the desk behind him, taking a box of tissues. Hotch doesn't miss it when her eyes scan over the abandoned papers on the desk. She only lingers for a moment before coming back, handing Mr. Moyers the tissues, and sitting in the other chair. She folds her legs beneath her, sitting criss-cross on the chair like a child. Hotch will have to remind her later that everybody can read body language on some level, and this is not the message he wanted to send. But Atlas leans forward, seeming interested despite her strange pose.

Hotch turns to the sobbing young woman, leaning forward and speaking quietly. “Mrs. Moyers, I'm sorry for your loss. Do you mind if we ask you some questions?” He starts and then continues when the woman nods her head. “Tell us what you found, start from the beginning please.”

The woman nods and answers shakily, clutching her purse close to herself. “We were going to have dinner, so I went over at like 6? I don't know. I felt like something was wrong and the door was open, so I went inside and they were... They...”

“It's alright, Mrs. Moyers, thank you.” Hotch interrupts when the woman falters, trying to keep them on track. “Did the Farrows have any enemies? Anyone who would want to hurt them?”

“No, they were good people, everyone loved them.” Typical answer. Hotch shifts slightly, unsurprised. He opens his mouth to speak, but before he can, Atlas jumps in.

“Why were you having dinner?” She asks, tilting her head. Hotch throws a warning glance but turns to observe the blond woman's reaction. Atlas glances back sharply, meeting his eyes for only a moment before they both look away.

Mrs. Moyers appears confused, her brow furrowing, “We were celebrating.”

“Celebrating what?” Hotch asks before Atlas can.

“Um, it was Drake. He and a couple of his buddies had just bought a spot to open up a restaurant. It had been hard to get so we were celebrating.”

“His friends weren't there?” Atlas asks. Hotch suppresses a growl, though he would be more upset if she weren't asking the right questions.

“No, apparently he had already gone out with his buddies. He just wanted us.” Mrs. Moyers answers.

“And do you know the names of his friends?” Hotch inclines, leaning forward a bit more.

The woman shakes her head. “I don't remember, I'm sorry.” Hotch sighs quietly and nods, reassuring her that it was alright and that they are going to do anything they can to catch this guy. He then excused them, leaving her in the room. He quickly leads Atlas back to their work shift meeting place, where Dave and Jack are already sitting, waiting for them.

“So get this.” Dave starts. “Apparently Pascal William had just bought a very high-demand restaurant space with some of his buddies.”

“Funny. Drake Farrow did the same thing.” Atlas says, gliding back over to the whiteboard.

“What are the odds?” Dave asks, raising an eyebrow.

Hotch already has his phone out and is dialing Garcia.

“What's up, crime fighters?” Garcia answers, cheerful as always.

“Garcia, can you check if Pascal William and Drake Farrow bought any property recently?” Hotch asks, placing the phone in the middle of the table. He hears the sound of rapid key clicks in the background and muttering from who he thinks is Brooks.

“Yes sir. It appears that Drake Farrow, Pascal Williams, and another man named Edison Appleton just won out the bid for a very high demand piece of property in the middle of town. A restaurant space I think.”

“Was the bidding hard?” Dave asks, “The competition high?”

“Oh, yea very,” Garcia says, surprised. “There is a crazy long list of people who wanted that space. It was a tough fight.”

“Okay send us that list and Edison Appletons home and work address.” Hotch states.

“On it. Catch you on the flip side!” She calls before abruptly hanging up. Atlas and Jack exchange a confused look before shrugging. They'll get used to her.

Hotch picks up his phone, looking at the address Garcia sent him. The others should be heading back from the crime scene and coroners now. He calls Morgan on one line and Emily on the other, putting them on speakerphone. Atlas takes a seat across from Jack and Hotch stands beside her, thinking too fast to sit.

“Yea?” Morgan answers first.

“Hey, guys, what's up?” Emily chimes in from the other line.

“Put us on speaker. Everybody fill us in.” Hotch says. He hears movement on the other lines for a moment before it goes quiet again. Emily speaks first.

“Well, all the bodies have several stab wounds each, deep and jagged. Very personal.”

“Brutal.” Kassie echos.

“There were no signs of torture or that they were held down, but some have defensive wounds. Oddly enough, the men have more injuries than the women. It appears that the women were killed quickly but the unsub spent more time with the men.” Reid explains.

“Was he fighting them?” Morgan asks.

“Looks like it. Looks angry.” Emily agrees.

“Morgan, what do you have?” Hotch asks, resting his hands on the table.

“Clear signs of forced entry from the front door, looks like both times the woman was killed first, then the men. Then he took the items. There was blood everywhere, this guy was definitely angry.” He finishes.

“And it seemed like the Farrows were cooking dinner before they were killed. We found a finished chicken on a set dining room table.” JJ adds.

“Yea, and it smelled great.” Milo chimes in from the background.

“Well listen to this,” Dave starts again. “Pascal Williams and Drake Farrow had just bought a prime restaurant space with another man named Edison Appleton.”

Morgan chimes in again, “You think if the unsub had wanted the building and lost, he's now killing the guys who won?”

“That is the working theory,” Dave answers, clapping his hands together.

“Okay, but that doesn't explain the stolen family valuables. If he just wanted the restaurant space, why take family heirlooms?” Emily inquires.

“Maybe it has something to do with the restaurant he wanted to open,” Atlas says, speaking up for the first time. “I mean, if he thinks he's getting away with it, what's better than hanging up the family heirlooms of your victims in your restaurant. Like the ultimate trophy case.” She finishes, looking from Hotch to Dave to Jack, then down at the phone.

JJ sounds skeptical, “Mmm that's a bit of a stretch.”

“Well, what about this Appleton guy? Maybe he can tell us something.” Morgan jumps in.

“He could also be the next target if the unsub is killing the owners of the restaurant,” Reid says.

Hotch nods. “Yea, he's next. Morgan is closer to his home address and we are right by his work. JJ and Emily, come back here and Interview the Nash’s, start stringing the pieces together.”

“On it,” JJ calls.

“Stay safe!” Reid yells over the line just before everyone hangs up.

“Let's go,” Hotch says, swiping up his phone and hustling out of the station. Dave, Jack, and Atlas are on his heels, though Jack is still holding the file and casts concerned glances at the weeping family members as they pass. Atlas hardly even regards them. Hotch slides into the car and the others follow. It's the middle of the day, so it's more likely that Appleton is at work right now. Hopefully, they catch this guy quickly and without much trouble. But since when has Hotch ever avoided trouble?

Chapter Text

Atlas is broken from her daydream of the Harvelle Bar when Hotch comes to a stop outside Edison Appleton’s workplace. It appears to be a car garage; a big, faded red sign reads Joe’s Garage. All the entrances are closed, leaving them with only the office door to go through. The building itself is old and dirty and is surrounded by chunks of rusting metal and old tires. It reminds Atlas of Bobby’s scrapyard.

Atlas, Hotch, Rossi, and Jack exit the car, shaking themselves off and looking around. Before they can even take a step forward, someone shouts from inside. Rossi and Hotch exchange a look before drawing their guns, holding them low at their sides.

“Stay here.” Hotch orders, looking back at the younger pair.

“What?” Atlas protests.

Hotch yells again, firmer this time. “Stay here!”

Hotch and Rossi raise their guns, and as Rossi opens the door, Hotch steps in at the same moment. The older men disappear from view, leaving Atlas and Jack alone on the pavement. Atlas can still hear shouting from inside. Her heart begins to beat faster, and she feels the inside of her sleeve for one of her blades. Atlas touches the cool metal and allows her hunter's instinct to take over. If something goes wrong, she cannot stand out here while Hotch and Rossi get shot. Even if Hotch is kind of a dick, she has to protect him.

“Stay here,” Atlas says firmly to Jack, not looking at him. She runs around the side of the building, ignoring Jack's shouts of protest.

Atlas rounds the back of the building and comes to a screeching halt. One of the garage doors is open back here, giving her a clear view of the inside. She peaks her head around the corner, careful to stay out of sight.

The inside of the garage is exactly what you'd expect. A red sedan is lifted high into the air, its tires removed. Scraps of metal and iron tools litter the floors; thick, heavy chains hang from the ceiling. Right in the middle of the garage stands four people. Farest from Atlas and facing her stands Hotch and Rossi, guns raised, faces hard. Two people have their back to her, one she thinks is Mr. Appleton and the other she guesses is the unsub. The unsub has his arm around Mr. Appleton’s throat and a knife on his neck. The unsub has positioned Mr. Appleton perfectly in front of his body, even keeping his head behind the victims. Atlas can tell that from the agent's angle, they won't be able to make a shot without hitting the victim. She remains hidden behind the wall, and she watches the exchange. Her heart is pounding, but her head is clear. Atlas has done this a hundred times before, and she'll do it a hundred times again.

“You don't wanna do this, Mr. Clark,” Rossi says in a stern but convincing voice. How does he know the unsubs name?

“Of course I do!” The man - Mr. Clark- yells, jerking violently.

“Just put the knife down, and we can talk this out.” Hotch’s voice is calm and steady, but his eyes are cold, prepared. Hotch will shoot this man if he has to, Atlas realizes.

“No.” The unsub growls, voice set. “He took everything from me! He deserves to pay!”

Before Atlas even realizes what she is doing, her knife is flying through the air. It imbeds itself deep into the unsubs right hand, causing him to howl in pain and drop the weapon. Mr. Appleton seizes his moment, elbowing the unsub in the gut before diving away. Hotch and Rossi rush forward, almost in step. Mr. Clark is on the ground now, holding his bleeding hand. Atlas’s knife went straight through and is now sticking out the other side. The man's howls of pain fill the garage as Hotch radios for backup and paramedics. Jack bursts through the door of the garage, eyes wide, terrified looking. It takes him only a moment to take in the scene before he runs over to Mr. Appleton, pulling him away.

Atlas moves to leave, to slip away and disappear as she always does. But before she can, Hotch’s voice comes calling out from inside the garage.

“Atlas.” He says, sounding angrier than she's ever heard him before. “Come over here, now.”

Atlas turns, swallowing and gathering her courage. With his gruff commanding voice, Hotch sounds a little too much like John. At the thought, memories come flooding back to her, and a different kind of instinct kicks in. Not the instinct of a hunter or an agent but of a scared child trying to avoid her father’s wrath.

Atlas peaks around the corner, slowly walking to Hotch, eyes fixed on the ground. She stops several steps away from him, well out of arm's reach. Rossi is already hauling the unsub to his feet, and Atlas can hear rapidly approaching sirens in the background. The rest of the team will be here soon. But right now, she's more worried about what Hotch is going to do.

The dark-haired man towers over Atlas, motioning her closer. Atlas swallows, eyes glued to the ground as she creeps forward. Hotch starts speaking, but she hardly hears him. Her blood is pounding, and her head starts to spin; she can feel the ground moving beneath her. The sirens are getting louder; are they coming here? Hotch is yelling, and he's angry, and Rossi is watching, and Atlas doesn't know what he's saying. But what difference does it make? John always says the same things; that she's useless, that she could have gotten them killed, that she needs to be better. Atlas swears that she can smell alcohol; how bad of a night is it going to be? It's certainly not looking like a good one.

Without warning, Hotch -John?- raises his hand above his head. Maybe he's motioning to something; maybe he's touching his hair, maybe not. Atlas doesn't care, and she doesn't think. The green-eyed girl throws her hands up, shielding her head as she curls in on herself. She screws her eyes shut, clenching her jaw. Atlas braces herself, waiting for the inevitable strike, but it never comes. Atlas stands there, protected and frozen, for several silent seconds. Finally, the silence becomes unbearably suspicious.

Atlas slowly opens her eyes, risking peeking her head out from behind her arms. The three men in front of her are frozen, eyes wide. The illusion fades, and when Atlas looks at the man in front of her, it's not her father but her mentor. The smell of alcohol fades from the air, replaced by gasoline and rust. Hotch looks like a deer in the headlights. His arm is still stuck above his head, palm open, as he was motioning to Rossi. His face is terrified, grief-stricken and hurt like Atlas has never seen before. Anyone would have thought that Atlas had hit him by the way he's looking at her. His dark eyes are wide, and his mouth is open slightly; he stares at her like she's some kind of monster.

Behind him, still holding Mr. Clark by the arms, Rossi has a similar look on his face. Atlas looks between them, not knowing whether it's safe to relax or not. After another moment, Rossi’s face melts into pity. Atlas wants to rip it off.

“Oh, kid,” Rossi breathes, eyes full of sorrow.

Atlas looks from him to Hotch, who seems to be slowly breaking out of his trance. Like he's been encased in plaster and is cracking his shell, one piece of him at a time. He slowly lowers his arm, keeping his hands visible to her. He hasn't gotten control of his face yet, because he is looking at her like she is a wild animal who will shatter into a million pieces if he moves too quickly. Atlas realizes that Hotch isn't her father; he’s not going to touch her, no matter how angry she gets. She can see that now, just by looking into his eyes. This is a man who will shoot a killer without a second thought, but he's not John. He's not a drunk; he’s not a hunter; he's Aaron Hotchner of the FBI, and he looks terrified.

 

Atlas doesn't totally know what happened after that; it’s all very fuzzy. One moment she smelled alcohol and saw John’s angry face above her; the next, Atlas was sitting alone and slumped in the meeting room of the police station. She vaguely remembers Hotch turning away from her and Rossi escorting her out, fending off the questions and concerned glances of the other agents. She remembers a quiet, distracted drive back, where Rossi sat her here and told her to stay, not like she had anywhere to go anyway. He had closed the blinds, so she couldn't even see anyone outside the room.

Atlas plays with her braid, which is now coming undone. She takes out the hair tie, undoing it. Atlas lets her long, brown-blond hair hand loose, the straight strands bouncing along her back. She looks at the photos of victims and crime scenes hanging on the whiteboard, as well as a large, detailed map of the area. Atlas wonders if all their cases are this bloody.

Sitting alone in the meeting room, Atlas has nothing to do but replay the day's events over and over again in her head. She thinks of throwing her knife into the unsubs hand. She hadn't even thought that through; she’d just done it. She hadn’t needed to. The man had a hostage, and he was going to kill him. Atlas had acted, and she doesn't regret that. It's just like when she was a hunter. If a monster takes a hostage, there's no time for thinking. Kill the monster before you have two dead bodies to burn. However, she is still left to wonder how Rossi had known the unsubs name. Maybe she'll figure it out if the team doesn't ditch her here.

Then she thinks of how she reacted to Hotch, and any triumph is flooded with shame. Atlas feels stupid; how could she think that Hotch was John? They don't even look alike. Sure he was pissed and yelling at her, but she shouldn't have reacted to him the way she did. Now he's almost certainly going to question her on it, and that is not a conversation she is ready to have with any of them. Honestly, it is a conversation Atlas was hoping to never have, but she kind of screwed herself on that bit.

The part of the memory that's really bugging her, though, is Hotch’s reaction. Why did he look like that? So heartbroken, so hurt, so scared? He isn’t the one haunted by memories of his family, so why did he look so upset?

Before Atlas can think of it anymore, the door creeps open, and, to her surprise, it's JJ who pokes her head through.

“Hey, Atlas,” She says, her voice laced with pity Atlas doesn't want. “You alright?”

“Fine,” Atlas responds sternly, not looking at the blond woman.

“Do you want any water?” she asks.

“No,”

JJ’s face falls slightly, but Atlas still avoids her eyes. JJ sighs. “Alright. Hotch will be in soon.” She pauses. “He didn't tell us what happened, but Mr. Clark had to be rushed to the emergency room with a knife in his hand; I’m guessing that was you?”

Atlas forces down a chuckle, touching the hilt of the blade that remains in her sleeve, wondering if she'll ever get the other one back. “Yea. That was me.”

“Well, Hotch can be strict, and you'll probably be punished, but he means well, you know?” JJ inclines her head, and Atlas mutely nods in response.

“If you need us,” JJ motions to the door before leaving Atlas alone once more.

Atlas breathes a sigh of relief, slumping even more in her chair. Hotch and Rossi only told the others about the knife. Atlas is thankful for that. She'll take credit for that throw -and it was a great throw- any day. But she’ll deny what happened after till she burns on a pyre.

Atlas doesn't know how much time passes until Hotch comes into the room because she pointedly doesn't look at the clock or watch. Atlas can handle being alone for a little while; though she hates being bored, she can live with it.

Hotch does eventually come in, and it must be a good while later because the noise from the station has decreased drastically. As though the chaos of the day's events are over and the bubble of excitement has died down. Hotch walks into the room, quickly closing the door behind him. Atlas only sees a flash of the team's faces worry and concern clear. Hotch, on the other hand, seems walled off. His face has returned to its usual scowl, which Atlas is steadily growing used to. He doesn't look at her as he takes the seat next to her. Atlas stares at her hands, throat dry. Anything she had planned to say to him vanished, dried up like water in the desert.

Hotch braces his elbows on his knees, reading Atlas from behind his long lashes. “That was a very good throw.” He starts awkwardly. Atlas hums in agreement, Hotch huffs. For all his experience and leadership abilities, he is very uncomfortable. But then again, so is Atlas.

“You shouldn't have done that,” He says, finally breaking the silence. “The knife, I mean.”

Atlas snaps to attention, meeting his dark eyes. “He had a hostage. You didn't have a shot; I did. It's not a difficult equation.” She counters.

“Did it ever occur to you that we were going to talk him down?” Hotch asks his voice stern now.

Atlas opens and closes her mouth once, narrowing her eyes. No, it did not. In the hunting world, there is no talking down monsters because they’re monsters. It's a game of who shoots first, nothing more. Atlas had thought that Mr. Clark was a monster, not an unsub. Unfortunately, she had used the wrong instincts twice. Maybe it's going to be harder to separate them than she thought. “How did you know his name?” She asks.

“Does it matter?” Hotch counters.

“Well, I'd certainly like to know.” Atlas shoots back defensively. She needs to calm down, or this will be even more of a shit show than it already is.

Hotch sighs, not breaking her gaze. “Garcia called us just as we were going in. One man, Mr. Clark, had sent death threats to the victims before the killings started. He was also going to make his restaurant history-themed. According to his online history, he has a thing with family heirlooms.” Oh, so that's why he was taking family items.

Atlas smiles slightly, puffing out her chest. “So I was right.”

“Yes, but that doesn't mean you should have stabbed him.” Hotch fires, smothering Atlas’s smile quickly. She looks away, breaking his pointed gaze.

“I did what I thought was right.” She whispers.

“And do you regret it?”

Atlas meets his eyes, burning with determination. “No, never.” Because despite everything, she still could have killed Mr. Clark. She could have genuinely treated him like a monster and put him down then and there, but she didn't. She spared him. Maybe part of her does know the difference between unsub and monster.

Silence falls on them again, hanging between the pair like a thick mist. They both look away, and Atlas starts fidgeting with the remaining blade in her sleeve.

“Atlas,” He says, his voice tight with barely concealed emotion. Atlas looks up, meeting his eyes. She is surprised to find them soft, sad. “I'm sorry.”

“What are ya’ apologizin’ for?” Atlas asks, her southern drawl breaking through. She raises an eyebrow at the older man, truly confused.

“For scaring you.” He almost whispers.

“Ain't your fault,” She responds. “I overreacted. It's nothing. We can move past it.”

“No, Atlas, we can't.” Hotch’s voice is stern again before softening. “Who hit you?”

Atlas’s back snaps straight, her eyes growing hard. “That's none of your business.” She hisses, anger curling through her like smoke.

“Your father?” He offers. Atlas grips the arms of the chair too tightly. Hotch looks between her white knuckles and her snarling face, taking that as a yes.

“You know nothing. Stay out of my business.” She snarls. Feeling cornered, Atlas throws herself from her chair and moves to the whiteboard, aggressively ripping the bloodied photos down and gathering them into a pile.

From behind her, Hotch sighs. “I know more than you think. And I know how easy it is to mistake someone for your dad, especially when he hit you.”

Atlas freezes, one hand still on the whiteboard. What did Hotch just admit to her? That his father beat him too? Atlas opens her mouth in disbelief, her anger fizzing away. She doesn’t turn to look at him; she doesn't think she can.

“We are not our parents.” He says it like a mantra. Like he's trying to convince himself of that as much as Atlas. “They cannot hurt us anymore; they’re just ghosts.”

Atlas chuckles dryly, looking at the floor. “Ghosts are more trouble than you think.” She whispers, knowing that he won't understand.

“I promise, Atlas. I will never yell at you again. And no one, and I mean no one, will ever lay their hands on you again.” He finishes sternly. Atlas turns to look at him; a dry defeated smile cracks across her face. If her father finds her here, she's certainly dead. But at least Hotch believes that. “And if you ever need to talk about this or anything else, know that I'm always here for you.” He adds, his voice much softer than she had ever heard before. Atlas nods in response.

Shaking his shoulders as if he can shake the conversation away, Hotch stands. It's remarkable how quickly he can seal over his face. How quickly he can go from an understanding survivor to a humorless boss.

He meets her eyes, tapping his hand on the table. “I still have to punish you for stabbing the unsub.” He states.

“Even if you were going to shoot him?” Atlas tries, smiling weakly.

“You were ordered to stay outside. You disobeyed. And we were going to talk the man down, but you jumped the gun.”

“But you admit it was a good throw?” Atlas tries, smiling again.

The barest piece of a smile cracks Hotch’s face. “Yes, it was a good throw.” He turns to leave. Still talking as he opens the door, making sure that the others hear him. “Desk duty for a week. And I don't know where you found that knife, but no more weapons of opportunity.” He pauses, holding the door open for her. “Come on; everything is wrapped up here. Let's head home.”

Atlas nods, hiding her smile as she steps out. Instead, she feigns embarrassment by shoving her hands in her pockets and staring at the ground. She mutely follows Hotch to the others, who look at her with a mix of admiration, relief, and disbelief. She follows them out to the SUVs and then the plane, answering questions when they ask, tamping down the swirl of emotions inside her the whole time.

Hotch let her keep her knives; he trusts her, even though she stabbed an unsub. Which had been the right thing to do at the time, but she probably won't be doing it again. He had trusted her with his secret and promised her protection. No one had ever been able to do that before. Not Dean, or Sam, or Ellen, or Bobby. They never made promises they couldn't keep, and they knew that they couldn't always be around to protect Atlas. But she's with the FBI now. She's with this amazing team full of bright and intelligent people, understanding people. So though she isn't going to tell them her life's story, she feels like she can trust them a little bit more.

Just as Atlas and the others are walking across the airstrip, bags in hand, she feels a presence. A light, gold, ethereal presence she hasn't felt since she joined the FBI. Atlas drops whatever conversation she is having and swivels her head, looking for the angel with that aura.

Then she spots him, leaning up against one of the black SUVs, all golden-brown eyes and lollies. Gabriel meets Atlas’s eyes and waves, a sly smile playing across his lips. She smiles back, standing up a little bit straighter. Gabriel winks at her, snaps his fingers, and he's gone.

Though she hates to admit it, Gabriel is really the only reason Atlas was allowed to leave the boys at all. She had wanted to go to college, and though Sam had gone on his own, they flipped when Atlas brought up the subject. They have always been very protective over her and would never let her go to college independently. So Gabriel had volunteered to go with her. When asked, he’d just said, “college students know how to have fun.” Though he was never around all the time, he kept her out of trouble. He usually just pops in, saying hi, or leaving a candy around for Atlas to find. Gabriel had followed her to the FBI, but she hadn't seen him until now. Atlas has to admit that she feels better knowing that her guardian angel is still around.

Someone calls her name from up ahead, and Atlas realizes that she had stopped. She calls back and picks up a jog to meet the group. They board the plane, flopping down in the plush seats. She feels her fear for the takeoff beginning to grip her in icy claws, but she pushes it away. Atlas feels filled with warmth and happiness, even on the plane. Gabriel is here, watching over her, just as he had promised he would when she had joined the FBI and left the hunting life behind. He had refused to leave her alone throughout college, and now he's trailing her once more. But Atlas’s usual annoyance with the archangel is gone, now she feels only grateful and protected. Now she has two people protecting her, an angel and an agent. What a weird life this is.

Chapter Text

Hotch sits on the jet with Dave across from him, reading. The rest of the team is sprawled out across the plane, dozing, listening to music, or speaking quietly to each other. Reid has successfully claimed the couch on the far end of the cabin, his long legs curled in tight beneath his blanket. Next to him, Morgan is asleep with his headphones on while Prentiss reads a book Hotch can't quite see the cover of. One row closer to him on the left is Bell and Lee, talking in low whispers. Across the aisle in the four chairs sits Jack and Leo closest to the window and Atlas and Milo on the aisle. All but Atlas are fast asleep. The green-eyed girl has been texting someone on her phone since the plane took off, smiling and chuckling to herself every once in a while. She’s also sucking quietly on a red lollipop that seems to have appeared out of thin air. To Hotch’s right, JJ is curled up in her chair, listening to an audiobook with heavy eyes. 

 

Hotch looks around at his team, which has now doubled in size, with an air of wonder. He had helped build the BAU from the ground up with Dave and Gideon, and now they are training the next generation of profilers on their own private jet. If Gideon could see them now. 

 

Dave lowers his book, studying Hotch. “What are you thinking about?” He whispers.

 

Hotch glances around, but no one looks at them. JJ’s eyes are closed, Bell and Lee appear to have drifted off as well. Atlas is watching a video with earbuds, struggling to keep her eyes open. Hotch chuckles, returning Dave's knowing look. “How far we've come.” He answers.

 

Dave swivels in his seat, taking in the team. “We really have come a long way, haven't we?” He smiles. “Gideon would be proud of us.” Dave turns back around, locking Hotch with a meaningful glare. “He'd be proud of you.”

 

“I know,” Hotch responds, looking away.

 

“I know what you did today was hard, but I think it'll be worth it.” He says, glancing back at Atlas only once. 

 

Hotch nods, unable to answer his friend. He hadn't told Dave what he had said to Atlas in the meeting room, but he didn't need to. David is one of the few people who knows where Hotch comes from, what his father was like, and just how much Hotch fears becoming him. We are not our parents. They are nothing more than ghosts. And ghosts cannot hurt us. 

 

Hotch has always been terrified of becoming like his father, abusive, mean, loud. Especially when Jack was born. The thought had scared him half to death. It had taken all of Haley’s, Dave’s, and Gideon’s willpower combined to drag Hotch away from those fears back into reality. The reality where he is a good dad and nothing like his own. He may be harsh on Jack, but he has never been unfair, and he has undoubtedly never struck him. Hotch’s fear had waned as Jack grew older and was able to assure him of how good he had done, but it had all come flooding back today. 

 

He had never intended to scare her or to strike her, but for just a moment, she thought he had. Hotch remembers the way Atlas had crumpled in on herself when he had raised his hand, the pure terror and pain written clear as day across her face. In her, he saw the cowering boy he was, the innocent child who never deserved those punishments. He remembers it, all of it. Every time he was hit or thrown down or spoken low to, he remembers it all because it is his childhood, just as it is hers. In Atlas’s eyes, for just a moment, Hotch had become her father, his father. Hotch doesn't even know the names of Atlas’s family or if she has any. She had certainly avoided the subject earlier, and now Hotch knows why. Atlas is like him in more ways than one. 

 

“Some people grow up to become serial killers. And some people grow up to catch them.”

 

Hotch’s own words echo back at him. The list of people who know about his father isn't long, but it does include one very different man. A serial killer they had caught years ago by the name of Vincent Perotta. He had used his childhood abuse as an excuse for killing, claiming that everyone who suffered what he had suffered became killers. Hotch would not stand for it. He would not stand by and watch a killer use his childhood as an excuse, Hotch’s childhood. Some people grow up to become serial killers. And some people grow up to catch them.” Hotch had told him. And now the list gets a little bit bigger.

 

“The world is changing, Aaron,” Dave whispers, snapping Hotch from his thoughts. “And we're changing it for the better.”

 

Hotch looks at his old friends' dark eyes, greying hair, and tan skin. He smiles and nods. The world needs changing. One case, one day, one slightly broken green-eyed kid at a time. And Hotch has a feeling that things are going to start changing a lot faster around here.

Chapter Text

A few weeks after joining the BAU

 

“Well, someone looks well-rested,” Morgan chuckles as Atlas walks into the BAU, rubbing her tired eyes and yawning.

 

“Shut up.” She mutters, tossing her bag and plopping down in Reids’ chair as Morgan leans on the desk.

 

In the weeks since the first case, the apprentices have settled well into the Behavioral Analysis Unit. The team has done many things to make accommodations for the students, but giving them their own desks apparently wasn’t on that list. All of the students have to share either desks or offices with their mentors. Most of the kids -other than Atlas, Jack, Brooks, and Ava- just pull up chairs or sit on the bullpen floor, which is what is happening now. Since Hotch, Rossi, and Morgan have offices of their own, their apprentices have set up in those rooms. Atlas quite enjoys having the large office to herself and Hotch, especially since she can fill out her reports on the couch all day. Brooks already has her own setup and monitors inside Garcia's Batcave. The others aren’t so lucky. 

 

But right now, it’s early in the morning, and Atlas doesn’t feel like being isolated just yet, so she hangs in the bullpen, waiting for the others to arrive. She’s usually one of the last ones here, but it seems that her watch is set several minutes early. Atlas doesn’t remember adjusting its time.

 

From what she has seen, only Hotch isolates himself in his office all day. Morgan, Rossi, and Garcia all spend time in the bullpen each morning, drinking coffee, chatting, and greeting everyone as they come in. The usual congregation is here, and now that Atlas is finally here early, she can see who arrives first. Prentiss, Rossi, and Reid are chatting over their first cups of coffee, and Atlas knows that many are to follow. Leo and Jack are sitting on a blanket on the floor, playing some game on their phones. Brooks is leaning up against one of the desks, typing rapidly on her computer- as though that isn’t what she does for a job all day. Atlas is sitting in Ried’s chair with Morgan leaning over her, getting a little too close. Hotch is already in his office; she can see him writing diligently through the blinds. 

 

Before the others can comment on her exhausted state, Garcia and JJ come trotting through the door, smiling and bright as always. Garcia is dressed in something far too cheery for an FBI office and bright red lipstick, chatting away furiously. JJ smiles and nods, sipping from her coffee cup. How Garcia has so much energy every day never ceases to amaze Atlas. Just as she thinks about unending energy, Milo comes bouncing in with Kassie tight on his heels. They have their heads close together, whispering like they have some big secret. The four stop in the bullpen, making their morning introductions and friendly conversation. Morgan greets Garcia with a kiss on the cheek, and Atlas is still yet to figure out exactly what their relationship is. JJ excuses herself to refill her coffee, and Milo joins her- like he needs it. The lanky brown man can never stop moving- or smiling, for that matter. Kassie takes Morgans’ seat atop Reid’s desk, getting too close to Atlas. Does no one know what personal space is?

 

Less than a minute later, Ava walks in, looking stern. Her eyebrows are perpetually furrowed, and her winged eyeliner is perfect as always. She wears a tight, long sleeve workout shirt and leggings. The young Asian woman is yet to let the group see more than snippets of her tattoos, though they are all terribly curious. She nods to the group before going to the half kitchen across the room, making what appears to be a protein shake. 

 

One of the bonuses of working with people so much you practically live with them is really getting to know them. Atlas has gotten good at picking up on everyone’s little quirks and pieces of their personality. She scans the group, going over what she knows so far. 

 

Brooks never seems to stop working, after work has ended and before it starts. The dark-skinned girl needs to be constantly doing something, achieving some goal or another—definitely a workaholic. Garcia, on the other hand, though she loves what she does, seems happiest at times like these. When she’s surrounded by a group of friends. She always wears horribly brightly colored outfits that makes Atlas wonder where she shops for that stuff. Atlas has also seen the inside of Garcia’s office. She was astonished to find the small, dark room littered with light-up toys, glowing and soft objects of all kinds. Children’s toys mostly. Atlas thinks that between Garcia’s outfits, attitude, and toys, she must be some small level of crazy. Who would ever want to be surrounded by all that kid’s stuff? In all honesty, Garcia faintly reminds Atlas of Garth, another hunter who has his own unique , way of doing things. 

 

Leo is a big softy with a heart bigger than his head and a tendency to dye his hair. When questioned about it, the small ginger had been more than open to showing old photos of himself with different-colored hair. From red to green, orange to purple, white, black, and now blue. It seems that this kid has dyed his hair every color of the rainbow throughout his life. He says that once he hits every color, he wants to start doing patterns or designs. And apparently, he only has pink left but is waiting for the blue to fade more. Atlas can't wait for the skinny, hushed kid to be prancing around with pink hair like a princess. Leo’s mentor, Reid, is very strange indeed. Atlas has quickly learned that the tall, skinny man is literally a genius and is not afraid to show it. He spits out facts left and right, having obscene things memorized Atlas could never hope to remember. He holds his gun awkwardly on his hip and seems to have never seen a hairbrush in his life. One of these days, Atlas is going to brush his hair through, even if she has to hold him down to do it. 

 

 Ava and Morgan truly are the perfect power team. They both love to work out, often coming in from a run or leaving together to go to the gym. Ava doesn’t talk as much, though. The short girl is quiet, often sitting around, just listening. It freaks Atlas out a little bit. But when Ava does talk, her tongue is sharper than her winged eyeliner. And she never lets anyone see her tattoos. Ried had asked once, leaning in a little too close. Ava had snapped at him, saying, “You can see them when I'm dead.” No one asked again. Morgan, on the other hand, appears to be much more easygoing. He seems to be caught in a never-ending prank war with Ried, who he constantly calls ‘pretty boy.’ He also refers to Garcia as ‘baby girl,’ so Atlas doesn't really know what to think of it. He seems nice overall despite having no sense of boundaries, which appears to be a common trait throughout the group.

 

So far, Milo has been her favorite person to work with and the only person Atlas gave a unique name in her phone. The young man has endless energy and is constantly cracking jokes about one thing or another. He drinks far more coffee than he needs and fearlessly placed a pan flag in a cup on JJ’s desk. He reminds Atlas of Gabriel. Always smiling, never taking anything seriously or personally, and willing to crack on anyone within range. Milo may be slightly less angelic, though, but Atlas isn't sure. She certainly doesn't think that this particular partnership hasn't been easy on JJ. The young blond woman is always one step behind him, constantly dragging Milo around or chasing his tail. Atlas hasn't spent much time alone with her yet, but she hasn't forgotten how JJ came to check up on her in their first case. JJ had seemed as though she genuinely cared about Atlas, about all of them. Atlas won't be quick to forget that. 

 

Jack had been the most startling of the group, being almost nothing like his father. Where Hotch is all furrowed brows and dark hair, Jack is soft smiles and beams of sunshine. He is always happy, except when around victims or the family of victims. Jack always looks at them weirdly, like he's seeing someone else's face in the photos of the dead. Atlas hasn't asked yet but can sense that that would be a serious conversation, therefore one she would want to avoid. She had also learned that the blond boy had liked The Greatest Showman , so now Atlas is determined to find time for a movie night, as it's been a while since she's seen the film. Rossi has been nothing but kind to Atlas since she arrived, though she has caught him looking at her with pity-filled eyes, which she then wanted to tear out. He is the oldest of the group and always has stories to tell, often filling the plane ride with tales of his adventures or of his three ex-wives. He's certainly never boring.

 

Kassie -who is currently hovering very close to Atlas- is bright and sweet, like honey. But hides it beneath crude words and devilish innuendos. Atlas doesn't know why she does this, only that her and Milo are a force to be reckoned with when they come together. They create a swirl of flashing skin, wet lips, and suggestive eyes that leaves Atlas trailing confused and uncomfortable behind. She can never keep up with the pair and quickly stopped trying. Emily seems largely unbothered by her apprentice's show of skin, brushing it off and citing how Kassie always gets her work done. Atlas suspects that there is more to Emily than she lets on but doesn’t pry. Or can't pry because every time one of the students has tried, she has flipped it around on them. Always avoiding the conversation by forcing them to defend themselves against her profiling. Atlas doesn't like this tactic but isn't willing to risk a profiling session just for a bit of gossip. Overall, Emily is friendly and intelligent, bouncing off Reid and JJ whenever she gets the chance.

 

And then there's Hotch. The greatest known mystery of Atlas’s young life. He had admitted things to her in their first case, things Atlas barely wants to face herself. But he forced her too, and she feels closer to him for it. For all Hotch’s furrowed brows, emotionless face, and endless patience, he truly cares about them, all of them. He would die for this team and almost has, according to the others. He has made it clear to the students that he will take no shit from them, disrespect, laziness, or otherwise. He never smiles, and a few of the kids, including Atlas, have deemed it their personal mission to see Hotch laugh. The agents only wished them luck. Hotch is always the first one in the office and the last one out; Atlas doesn't know how he does it or if he has a social life. He doesn't give her much to work with. But even with his bone-dry humor, she appreciates him. Atlas only hopes he won't try to dig into her life any further than he already has.

 

“What are you thinkin’ about?” Kassie chirps, snapping Atlas from her thoughts. The larger woman is still perched on the desk, elevated above Atlas. Kassie’s eyes glimmer playfully as Atlas rubs a hand over her face, too tired to humor her.

 

“Nothing,” Atlas says, then after a moment. “Didn't sleep much last night; tired is all.” 

 

Kassie nods but doesn't seem convinced, her thick lips pressing into a thin line. “What kept you up all night?”

 

“Brooklyn 99,” Atlas lies. Kassie takes the lie easily, nodding and chatting about the show. Atlas is only half paying attention.

Atlas has hardly been sleeping at all at night in her small, empty apartment. She was so used to sharing beds or hotel rooms with her brothers, or at least the rooms in Bobby’s house or Ellen’s bar, that being completely alone is foreign to her. She misses the sounds of people- snoring, the rustling of sheets, slurred murmurs—the sounds of people, of peaceful, sleeping life. Atlas’s small, government-provided apartment lacks those noises, and she's been unable to sleep because of it. The only place Atlas has been able to snatch more than an hour at a time is on the jet. While take-off and landing are still difficult for her, Atlas has gotten better at distracting herself, and the others help too. Making her listen to them or talk to herself reduces her fear. But once steadily in the air, she can rest easily. Thankfully, almost everyone dozes or is quiet on the way home, so Atlas has never been signaled out for it. But if this keeps up, it's going to get harder and harder to hide. Maybe she should buy some melatonin. Or a cat. 

 

Atlas tries her best to pay attention to what Kassie is saying, but the woman is talking so fast it's near impossible. Hotch relieves her from trying but exiting his office, calling the team into the round room for a case. The team exchanges looks, some excited, some wary, most expectant. Atlas heaves herself from the chair, leaving her bag and following the group. 

 

Garcia presents the case along with several witty one-liners and nicknames. The case is something about a series of disappearances in Tempe, Arizona. Atlas struggles to focus but manages to absorb enough information and participate enough not to be suspicious. The others have obviously noticed her exhaustion, and Atlas plays it off well. 

 

“I may or may not have stayed up watching Brooklyn 99,” She lies again, feigning embarrassment. 

 

“No more TV binging for you,” Rossi says, pointing a finger. Atlas nods in response. 

 

The team loads the jet, chattering away happily. Since they can't communicate with Brooks and Garcia until they are in the air, there isn't much to do but talk. Takeoffs are still the worst for Atlas, but she has gotten better at managing them after a few more flights. 

 

Now she starts what is becoming a takeoff habit. Atlas plops down in the group of four seats closest to the window, which she quickly closes. Milo sits on her right, with Kassie and Ava across from them. Across the aisle is Emily and Reid; the others all take their own seats around them. As they sit, the plane starts up, and Atlas’s heart begins to beat. She clenches her jaw and pulls out her phone, putting in her headphones. Atlas has found that making herself laugh, whether through youtube or TV, makes her fear much weaker. But when she opens up her phone, Atlas is surprised to find a text from Sam.

 

Text Chat

Moose

 

Moose

How are you holding up?

 

Me

I'm alright. Cases are going well, heading out for one now.

 

Moose

Where are you going?

 

Me

Tempe, Arizona

 

Moose

Cool

 

Me

Well?

 

Moose

What?

 

Me

Ik u didn’t text me just to ask where I was going

What's up?

 

Moose

Have you been watching the hunter board?

 

The ‘hunters board’ is how hunters communicate with each other across the country and worldwide. It's not actually a message board, but the name does originate from a town message board where hunters would stick notes for any others passing through. It consists of a few online chat rooms, the personals or comments in newspapers, or phone men, like Bobby. All of the public messages are coded, and everyone goes by fake names. Bobby is one of only a few phone men in the country; Atlas only knows one other, Frank, and a vital player in the hunting world. Though Bobby rarely hunts himself, he has a more important job; he is everyone's fallback, their safeguard. His house is rigged up with phones, each marked with a different role he plays when he answers it. Sometimes it's an FBI chief, or a police captain, or an informant. Bobby's old house is loaded with books, and he knows more about the supernatural world than nearly anyone else; everyone goes to him when they have questions or need to relay messages. But Bobby is just a piece of the hunter’s board. Atlas hasn't been in contact with Bobby, but she has been keeping her eyes on the other parts of the board. She regularly checks in with the chatrooms and has code set up on her phone to alert her whenever one of the hunter’s codenames pops up. The code is courtesy of Ash and works brilliantly. Though Atlas can't keep up with the printed papers, she hasn't heard of anything important coming through the lines. 

 

Me

Yes, but I haven't heard anything

What happened?

 

Moose

Word about you is spreading, mainly through written papers, which is probably you didn't see it.

 

Me

What's the word?

 

Moose

Someone spotted you working with the real FBI. Everyone’s on edge. They may abandon the chat rooms and make new names soon.

 

Me

I'll say something, dont worry about it.

 

Moose

What are you gonna say?

 

Me

That it's true, that I'm working with the FBI, but that I'm not going to expose the hunters. I will try to steer my team clear of hunters and monsters, though we haven't run into any yet. I'll tell them where we're going now as a show of faith. And if I think any r where were headed, I’ll warn them.

 

Moose

Okay, that should work. Put it out everywhere. Idk who's still using what

 

Me

On it. Thx sam

 

Moose

Good luck

 

Atlas quickly closes the text with Samand opens up one of the hunter’s private chat rooms, typing out a message. Starting with her fake name and who she's addressing the message to. She chooses her words carefully, re-reading her statement several times before copy-pasting it to all the chat rooms and newspapers. She alters the message to code before posting it anywhere accessible by the public. Once she does, little lights appear at the top of the screen with names beside them, showing who is currently online. It doesn't take long for several people to flood the room. 

 

Ghost- Everyone

The rumors are true. I am fed. But I am not the enemy. I do not want the brass in the hunting business any more than you do. I am working to steer them clear of hunters and monsters, and I will continue to do this. If I suspect that a hunter is behind one of our cases, I will warn you. Better to have a cold case than an arrested hunter. We are currently headed to Tempe, Arizona, on a case of disappearing. If you are behind this, leave now. I am not your enemy; I am still working to save people, only from a different kind of monster.

 

Atlas stares at the message, praying they understand. Going to college is one thing, but turning into law enforcement? That is another entirely. The hunters likely see this as a betrayal, and only by giving something away can Atlas repair that trust. She only hopes that giving away their location is enough to earn their trust because now she has put her team in danger. Atlas’s team is very high profile, and it's unlikely that anyone would risk attacking them, but the thought still makes her nervous.

 

Atlas realizes that she has spent so much time in the chatrooms and with Sam that takeoff is over. The plane has leveled out, and Garcia is calling them now. Atlas puts her phone away to focus on the case, feeling much more awake than she had 30 minutes ago. She feels her phone buzz in her pocket but focuses on the case. Once the team is done talking, Atlas gets up to go to the bathroom. Where she locks herself in and opens the main chatroom once more. The first message is from Gordon Walker, a hunter Atlas knows well and doesn’t like. 

 

Coin- Ghost, Everyone

How are we supposed to believe you? You joined the feds, who have arrested your brothers how many times? I say we abandon these chats and start new ones, or at least kick her out.

 

Ellen spoke up next, then Garth.

 

Safehouse- Ghost, Everyone

Ghost is telling the truth. Have you even looked at her team? They're everywhere, but they're not like regular brass. Seems to me like they really try to help people. There's worse teams she could have chosen. Plus, mullet (Ash) is too busy with other work to make you babies a whole new room.

 

Cowboy- Everyone

Ghost would never betray us. She just wouldn't.

 

Coin- Cowboy, Everyone

Can it, cowboy. You trust anyone who will give you the time of day. Dont mean we have to.

 

The conversation quickly becomes chaotic as more people flood in, overlapping each other and arguing. 

 

Impala (Dean) - Everyone

Ghost has never done anything wrong. She is one of us. She is as much a hunter as any of us. 

 

Cowboy- Coin, Everyone

I do not trust everyone! Just cause I’m nice to people doesn’t mean I’m stupid.

 

Red Hood (Jo)- Everyone

Ghost wouldn't betray us. She never has before. And you suggest remaking all our code names and rooms??

 

Hound (Lee Chambers)- Everyone

Remaking everything may not be worth it yet. We should wait, ghost has proven to be a good hunter. What would she gain from outing us?

 

Coin- Cowboy, Everyone

You literally named yourself cowboy, you dipshit. You really expect anyone to take you seriously like that?

 

Safehouse- Everyone

Hound is right; what would Ghost get from betraying us? To expose us would mean to admit that she's one of us, and they'd jail her for that too. I'm not worried about her betraying us, but she's nothing to gain from doing it anyway. 

 

Impala- Everyone

^^^^^

 

Cowboy- Coin, Everyone

At least I'm not a mean old man with no friends!

 

Atlas realizes that she is reaching the safe limit of time she can spend in the bathroom. She puts her phone in her pocket and walks out, retaking her seat. Her phone buzzes once, a little too loud, before Atlas can silence it. The team throws her a few strange looks from over their files but says nothing. Atlas returns her focus to the chatroom, ignoring her teammates' conversations.

 

Salt n’ Burn (Sam)- Coin, Cowboy, Everyone

Guys, stop it. Fighting won’t help anybody, and it won't fix anything.

 

Impala- Salt n’ Burn, Everyone

There's nothing to fix. Everything is fine as it is.

 

Coin- Impala, Everyone

Everything is definitely not fine. Ghost could be a leak. We need to nip this problem in the bud.

 

Whiskey (Bobby)- Everyone

Oh, shut up, all of you.

 

Whiskey- Mullet, Everyone

mullet, would you know if this room had been leaked?

 

Mullet (Ash) - Whiskey, Everyone

Yes. It hasn't. 

 

Whiskey- Everyone

Good. Then nothing changes. Ghost is not a leak, or a spy, or a demon who's going to turn around and bite our asses. She's one of us, and it's going to stay that way. 

 

Coin- Whiskey, Everyone

Until when? Until after she rats us out to the FBI?

 

Ghost- Everyone

Until I burn on a pyre like the rest of you.

 

Safehouse- Everyone

This conversation is over. If you want to bitch about it some more, you know where to find me. Now get back to work.

 

Whiskey- Everyone

Idjits

 

Atlas watches as, one by one, the lights flicker off. Everyone drops off the server until only Atlas and Gordon remain. She can almost feel him through the screen, itching to spit some insults. But he doesn't. After an uneasy minute of standoff between their lights, Gordons vanishes. Atlas breathes out a sigh of relief, finally closing her phone and looking at the file in front of her. 

 

But the chat room conversation had not gone as unnoticed as Atlas would have liked. She can feel the eyes of her teammates burning holes into her, curious, suspicious holes. She'll have to be more careful when using the hunter board from now on. 

 

“Well,” Kassie draws out the word. Atlas looks up, meeting her eyes, confused.

 

“What?”

 

“Well, who was that, blowing up your phone?” Kassie asks dramatically.

 

Atlas smoothly fills in a lie. “Some old friends from college,” Kassie and several of the others are still staring at her expectantly. She sighs internally, leaning forward and plastering a crooked smile on her face. “Their hell in a handbasket, that lot. But the drama is just so much fun.” 

 

Kassie snickers and leans back, satisfied. “So you're the friend who stalks the group chat and never actually participates?”

 

“Well, stalking is the wrong word. And I talk sometimes.”

 

“Please, you hardly talk here. If you weren't so weird, I'd hardly know you were here.” Milo chimes in, poking Atlas’s arm.

 

Atlas makes an offended face, not even knowing where to start. “Excuse you; I can be plenty talkative, I usually am. And I am not weird!”

 

“So weird,” Kassie says, rolling her eyes.

 

“You had a lot to say about The Greatest Showman a few weeks ago,” Jack adds, popping up from behind Kassie’s seat. He rests his arms on the top of her chair and lays his chin there, watching her. Leo appears on his other side, mirroring Jack's movement over Ava’s head.

 

“Yea, because it's a good movie ,” Atlas defends.

 

“What's The Greatest Showman? ” Rossi asks from where he is sitting on the armrest of Reids chair, just across the aisle. 

 

All the students stare at him, mouths gaping. Except for Ava, who seems as unbothered as always. “You've never seen The Greatest Showman?” Milo gawks. 

 

Rossi shrugs and looks to the older agents, who also shrug and shake their heads. The kids exchange wide-eyed, amazed looks. 

 

“Oh, come on, everyone’s seen it!” Leo says.

 

“Even I've seen it,” Ava speaks for the first time, nodding. 

 

“Well, now we just have to watch it,” Kassie says, eyes growing brighter by the second. 

 

Milo joins in on the plans. “Yes! We should do a movie night!”

 

“Dave has a theater in his house, don't you?” Jack offers up.

 

Rossi sighs and shakes his head, smiling. “Can't keep anything from you kids, can I?”

 

“Then it's set,” Atlas slams her fist on the table to make a point. “When this case is over, we're having movie night at Rossi’s and watching The Greatest Showman.” The other kids nodded in agreement before looking to their mentors for a response. 

 

The older agents look between each other, exchanging amused glances. “Well, it's a plan then.” Emily smiles. 

 

The kids whoop in success, high-fiving each other with broad smiles. The agents laugh lightheartedly at their students. 

 

Rossi shakes his head again, mumbling and smiling. “I spend all day at work around you people; now you're going to follow me home too?”

 

“Seems like it,” Hotch says, smiling a genuine smile at Rossi.

 

Even though he isn't looking at her, Atlas basks in Hotch’s smile. It's a rare smile and a lovely one. She wishes he would smile more or that someone other than Rossi could draw it out of him. But within a moment, it's gone, whittled down to a thin-lipped smirk. Atlas misses it and becomes determined to see that smile again.

 

Then, the captain announces over the plane speaker that they are beginning their descent. The wave of cheeriness dies down as everyone returns to their seats. Atlas doesn't touch her silenced phone but instead talks with Kassie and Milo about their favorite movies and musicals until they land. 

 

 

The case in Tempe is about as textbook as the books themselves. It seems like a regular sexually driven killer with a tiny hunting ground and large disposal sight. The only thing that is truly surprising about this case is when Gordon showed up.

 

Atlas had been half expecting one of the hunters to appear on this case since she had told them about it. But she is surprised by just how quickly Gordon arrived. Atlas saw him first at one of the crime scenes, a grocery store parking lot with little evidence to examine. The woman who had been kidnapped had dropped a watch which had broken on impact, giving them the exact time of her disappearance. But other than that, there was really nothing to see.

 

Atlas, Hotch, Morgan, and Ava stand in the minimal sectioned-off area of the lot, which is still surprisingly busy.

 

“You would think a kidnapping would slow down business,” Morgan says, gazing at the steady stream of people moving in and out of the store. 

 

“Clearly not,”  Adds Hotch; Ava huffs in agreement. 

 

Atlas looks around the parking lot. Just beyond the yellow tape is a small crowd of people, filming on their phones or whispering to each other. And that's when she spots him. Gordon blends into the group well enough, but he's watching her. His dark eyes are fixed on Atlas. He doesn't even seem to be blinking. Atlas holds his gaze for a moment, tempted to enter a full-on staring match. But her team would undoubtedly notice if she and a stranger were giving each other death glares. Instead, she pulls out her phone, opening the chat room, and entering a private message.

 

Ghost- Coin

Stay out of my way.

 

Coin- Ghost

Or else what?

 

Ghost- Coin

I'm a trained hunter in the FBI, Coin. Use your imagination.

 

Atlas doesn't wait for a response before putting her phone away and walking back to her team. Gordon won’t risk attacking an FBI team, especially not one as high profile as them. Atlas would kill him; her brothers would kill him; her team would kill him. Hell, half the country would want Gordon's head on a stick if he attacked them. No, he doesn't have the balls. He’d have to be incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. And Atlas has seen his old school grades.

 

But since Atlas had turned the ringer off on her phone, she never heard the next chime come in from the chatroom.

 

Coin- Ghost

The suits can't protect you forever, traitor.

Chapter Text

Only a little while after seeing Gordon, Atlas sits at a table in the Tempe police precinct, going over the evidence again and again. The rest of the team surrounds her. After having struck out at the crime scenes, the coroner's office, and dump sites, they have all reconvened here, hoping that together they may spark some new ideas. 

 

“What's strange is that even though his hunting ground is small, spanning only about 10 miles, his dumpsites are spread across the county,” Reid says, pointing at the map with furrowed brows.

 

“And we know that he keeps his victims for at least 24 hours so he must have a secondary location with privacy,” Morgan adds.

 

At first glance, Atlas had almost thought that they were chasing a vampire or some other monster, monsters which she should remember the names of but can't at the moment. But the victims had been killed by several stab wounds. So this isn't the doing of any supernatural monster, but a human one. At least, she's pretty sure.  

 

Atlas sighs and presses her fingers to her temples, feeling a headache come on. She's tired and weary and now has a headache. It's been too long since Atlas has slept properly, she's barely even thinking straight. Atlas racks her brain, trying to think of what monsters might use a knife to kill. Shapeshifters? Sirens? Something else? Atlas doesn't know. But she has to figure it out. Because if her team can't be chasing a monster. And if they are, she'll call another hunter, or she'll deal with it herself.

 

A slice of pain shoots through Atlas’s head and she moves, resting her elbow on her knees and propping her head in her hands. She closes her eyes, trying not to groan in pain or exhaustion. She's really wishing she had slept on the ride over here instead of getting in that stupid argument with the hunters. And then Gordon had shown up when she was working. Ugh, nothing can ever work out nicely, can it?

 

Only now does Atlas realize that she had turned her ringer off earlier and had not checked her phone again since midday. It's nearly dark out now. She should probably see if Gordon had responded to her, or if anyone else had texted. But Atlas has already learned her lesson about texting around this team who can never seem to mind their own damn business. 

 

Atlas stands a little too fast, causing another spike of pain to shoot through her head.  Jack, who is sitting beside her, looks up with worried eyes.

 

“Are you alright?” He asks.

 

“Yea,” Atlas answers, her voice strained as she narrows her eyes against the suddenly bright light of the room. “Lack of sleep is giving me a headache, I think. Ima step outside, get some fresh air. I'll be back in a minute.” Atlas doesn't wait for Jack to respond. She turns on her heels and strides out the door, out the front of the station.

 

Atlas stands just outside the front door, taking in heavy breaths of cool, twilight air. The sun is setting and the stars are just barely visible in the sky. Atlas stays under the light above the door, making sure that the others can see her from inside. After a few moments, her headache begins to dwindle down to just a dull thrum. Atlas will have to live with that. Right now there is a serial killer on the loose in this town, and her team needs her. No more sleepless nights, no matter how quiet the room.

 

Atlas pushes herself off the brick wall and turns to the door, but stops. She hears a faint click click click off to her left, in the shadows of the building. Atlas peers into the darkness, but can't see anything there. Just where she moves to leave again, the clicking comes again. It sounds like metal tapping stone.

 

“Hello?” Atlas calls into the darkness. “Who’s there?”

 

Perhaps if Atlas had not been so tired, she would have heard the footsteps approaching from behind. 

 

A tall, dark figure with big eyes and chapped lips steps into the light before her. Gordon holds a metal pipe in one hand, which he taps against the wall again, creating the click click click. 

 

“Gordon?” Atlas asks, confused. “What are you doing here?”

 

“Oh what? You didn't get my message?” He hums with a crooked smile.

 

Atlas reaches into her pocket, grabbing her phone. “What message-” Atlas is cut off by a swing of metal from behind. Pain erupts through her head, then everything goes dark.

Chapter Text

Hotch watches Atlas’s back as she steps out of the precinct, standing just outside the door beneath a light. She has looked exhausted since she came in this morning, so Hotch is not surprised to see it getting to her now. In fact, Atlas has been tired looking for several days now. Though she seems to sleep fine on the plane. Hotch will have to question her about it later. He can’t have any member of his team, especially not his own apprentice, running around with only half her battery charged.

 

Hotch turns back to the table, looking over their evidence, photos, and maps for what feels like the hundredth time today. The unsub stopped dropping bodies as soon as the BAU arrived, and Hotch has a theory that he skipped town earlier today. If that’s the case, the trail may very well run cold. Hotch hates cold cases as much as the next person, but they happen. Though he hates for the students to have to experience it so soon, it’s a part of the job. And one they should get used to. 

 

Hotch turns to his team and Garcia on speakerphone, ready to take any information they have to give her. Except they have none. Hotch focuses on the photos, narrowing his vision until all he sees is the dead bodies and the missing serial killer. He is so focused, in fact, that he doesn’t notice Jack get up and head for the front door. He doesn’t even see that his son is gone until he comes running back into the room.

 

“Dad!” Jack yells as he bursts into the meeting room. His eyes are wide and wild, terrified looking. He’s holding a phone in his hand. “Atlas is gone.” 

 

Hotch looks down at the phone and feels his stomach drop. “What?” He takes the phone, examining it. The screen cracked slightly, but it had been unbroken this morning. Hotch looks from the phone to his son to Dave beside him before racing out the door.

 

Hotch busts out the front door, looking around frantically. The rest of his team follows quickly behind, everyone looking around and calling Atlas’s name. But the green-eyed girl is nowhere to be found.

 

“Guys, look.” JJ murmurs.

 

Hotch turns to where JJ is kneeled on the ground, right where the light ends, and the shadows begin. The group gathers around her, staring at the spot of pavement JJ is pointing at. The area is wet with fresh blood. Atlas’s blood. 

 

“She was taken,” Emily states what they are all thinking.

 

“But how? She was out here for less than two minutes!” Milo cries, his voice much higher than usual. He bounces on his toes, fiddling anxiously with his shirt collar. 

 

“That’s all it takes,” Dave whispers.

 

Hotch’s brain goes into overdrive. He whirls on his heels, storming back into the building. He barely hears his team’s footsteps behind him over the blood rushing in his ears. Hotch slams his fist down on the counter, startling the front desk clerk.

 

“I need to see the security cameras for out there.” Hotch orders, pointing to the door.

 

“Sure. What time?” The guard asks, pulling up the feed.

 

“Four minutes ago.” Hotch swings around the counter, bending over the short clerk to get a better view. The team crowds in on them, all pushing to see the cameras. The desk clerk pulls up the feed, pressing play and hurrying out of the way. Hotch feels every muscle in his body tense as he watches the footage.

 

At first, it looks perfectly normal. Though the camera isn't great, it's in color and mildly detailed, which is more than what they usually work with. Hotch watches Atlas step outside and lean against the brick wall just beside the door. She has her head tilted back, eyes closed. At one point, she opens them, staring at the stars with a soft smile playing across her face. A smile Hotch has never seen on her before. He’s seen her excited smile, her embarrassed and victory smile, but never this. Never this peaceful calmness that Atlas portrays as she stares at the glimmering lights in the sky. It almost feels like a secret. A secret smile he shouldn't be seeing, not here, not like this.

 

 After a few more moments, Atlas gathers herself and pushes off the wall. She turns to the door, going so far as placing her hand on the door handle before stopping. She looks to her left, to the shadows along the wall of the building. Hotch can hear what drew her attention; a gentle click click click of metal on stone. Atlas stands there for a moment, peering into the shadows until the sound comes again. Then she steps forward and speaks.

 

“Hello? Who's there?” She called. Then a tall, dark-skinned man steps out of the darkness. He is tall with a bald head and regular clothing. Atlas seems to recoil slightly, and her face is lined with surprise. He is holding a metal pipe in one hand, resting it on the wall. The tall man is standing at such an angle that the camera cannot see his face, and he appears completely relaxed. “Gordon? What are you doing here?” Atlas asked, tilting her head. Hotch sees her right hand subconsciously move into her sleeve, feeling for the hilt of her knife. The knife that isn't there because Hotch never gave it back to her. 

 

“Oh what, you didn't get my message?” Gordon hummed with a wicked smile. Hotch’s mouth dries up when he sees another man step out from the shadows behind Atlas. The second man is older and white, with scruffy blond hair and chiseled arms. He also has his back to the camera. Atlas reaches into her pocket, pulling out her phone and tilting her head. The girl begins to speak again but is cut off when the second man slams his own pipe into the back of her head. Atlas lets out a mangled cry of pain before falling forward into Gordon’s arms. She drops the phone, and neither of them seems to notice it, though it cracks on impact. Gordon smiles at his partner before picking Atlas up and disappearing into the shadows once more. 

 

The video ends, and Hotch’s mind is running a million miles an hour. His heart is pumping, and his eyes are wide. But it's no time to stand here staring at an empty screen; he needs to move. Hotch stands straight up, calling for the police captain with his most commanding voice. The captain and the sheriff rush over, but Hotch begins speaking before they can.

 

“One of our own was just kidnapped right by the front door.” Hotch begins, looking at his teammates. Their faces are a mix of fear and anger. Hotch can guess what his own face looks like right now. “They couldn't have gotten far, set up a perimeter. We're looking for the men in this video. Reid, and Leo, break down every second of that video, frame by frame. Get me anything you can.” The two men nod and turn to the monitor, set to their task. The sheriff and deputy turn to watch as well. But Hotch can’t; he just can’t watch that again.

 

Hotch races to the meeting room, throwing the door open. He quickly calls for Garcia, who confirms that she's there with a snappy one-liner. 

 

“Garcia, Atlas has been kidnapped. We have the surveillance video and her phone. Can you get into it?”

 

Garcia sputters on the other line for a moment before snapping to action. “Yes, yes, I can just turn the phone on.” Hotch does. “When did this happen?” She asks, her voice high and panicked. 

 

“Five minutes ago,” Hotch says, bowing his head as he leans his hands on the table. He looked away for two minutes, and Atlas had been snatched. Hotch shakes the thought away; he doesn't have time to blame himself. He has to find his apprentice now. 

 

“Oh my god, oh my god, yes I can do it, I can get into it,” Garcia murmurs; the sound of rapidly clicking keys in the background. “Send the footage to Brooks; she’ll analyze it.” Hotch turns, signaling to Milo for the job. The skinny man races out of the room, calling to Reid and Leo. Hotch turns back to the phones as his team gathers around him, spreading out around the table.

 

“Okay, let's start from the beginning.” Morgan starts, remarkably composed. “Atlas addressed Gordon by name, so she knows him, which means he's probably not our unsub.”

 

“Oh my god, could he be?” Kassie jumps in, biting her nails. “Could this serial killer have made Atlas his next target?”

 

Rossi shakes his head. “I don't think so. We never profiled a team, and we thought that the unsub had left town when we arrived. He had something personal against Atlas; none of the murders were personal. I don't think this is our guy.” Hotch focuses on his breathing, allowing Rossi’s rational thought to lead him to his own. 

 

‘You didn't get my message?’” Emily echoes Gordon’s words from the tape. “Hey Garcia, did anyone send Atlas any strange or threatening messages recently?”

 

“I was just about to get to that,” Garcia calls. “There's something very weird here. The last application Atlas had open on her phone was accessed around late morning, and it's a heavily encrypted site. The type where the messages are deleted an hour after they're seen?”

 

“So what about it?” Morgan asks.

 

“Well, all the messages are gone, except one that Atlas never saw.”

 

“What does it say?” Hotch leans forward, waiting for a response. 

 

“‘Coin to Ghost,” Garcia reads, “‘The suits cannot protect you forever, traitor.’” 

 

“‘Coin’ that has to be Gordon,” JJ says from across the table.

 

Morgan bites his lip. “He called Atlas a traitor. But how did she betray him?” 

 

“Garcia, can you get anything more off the website?” Hotch calls.

 

“I'm trying my best, sir, but it's heavily encrypted. Whoever made this is good. Like, really good.”

 

“So there's no way into it?” Jack squeaks. Hotch looks at his son, huddled close with Milo, Kassie, and Ava. he had almost forgotten they were there. “There's no way to find this guy?”

 

Hotch’s eyes turn sympathetic at the group. Right now, all holding each other close together, fear for their friend in their eyes, they truly look like what they are, children. They are just kids. And so is Atlas. The poor girl has been through so much already; she doesn't deserve this.

 

“We’ll find her,” Dave assures them. They nod slowly, as though they don't entirely believe him. Hotch isn't sure he does either.

 

“I'm sorry, sir, but whoever built this site really didn't want anyone- oh!” Garcia squeaks. Hotch turns back to the phone, speaking as rapidly and clearly as he can. 

 

“What is it, Garcia?” 

 

“Someone just sent me a chat. Someone named ‘Mullet.’” 

 

Dave raises an eyebrow, “who would willingly name themselves ‘Mullet’?”

 

“What did he say?” Morgan asks.

 

“He asked who I am.”

 

“Okay, Garcia, listen to me.” A plan is forming in Hotch’s head. “You're going to text him what I told you and read me his response, understand?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“On the site, Atlas went by the name ‘Ghost.’ Use that; just say ‘Ghost.’”

 

“Uhh, okay. He sent back, ‘No, Ghost can't hack like you can. I’ll only ask you once, who are you?’”

 

“Send back, ‘Who are you?’” Dave nods in approval as they all watch Hotch’s plan unfold. He prays that it will work.

 

“Okay. He says, ‘Mullet. Now answer the question before I lock you out for good.’”

 

“Can he do that?” Kassie whispers behind Hotch. 

 

“How do we want to play this?” Emily pipes up from across the table. “He may know Atlas; we can use that.”

 

“But he might not play friendly with feds,” Morgan adds. 

 

“We can only hope he's willing and cares enough to help,” Hotch says sternly. “Tell him, ‘Do you know Ghost? We know her as Angel Atlas.’” Hotch and Garcia quickly fall into a rhythm. Garcia reads Mullet's messages to them; Hotch speaks their replies; Garcia sends them and reads again. 

 

“Okay, done. He says, ‘Yes, I know her.’”

 

“‘She is in great danger. Someone named Gordon and a partner have kidnaped her. This was the last application open on her phone, and there was one unopened text from ‘Coin.’ Can you help us find her?’”

 

“And.. sent. ‘What was the message? And who are you?’”

 

“‘We are the Behavioral Analysis Unit with the FBI; we are Atlas’s team. No one is more equipped to find her than us, but we need your help.’”

 

“‘Ah, so your her new suit friends.’”

 

“‘Yes. Will, you help us?’”

 

“‘What was the message?’”

 

“‘Coin to Ghost. The suits cannot protect you forever, traitor.’”

 

Garcia goes quiet for a moment too long. Hotch calls her name only once before she responds.

 

“He hasn't written back yet, sir, but he's still online.” 

 

Dave huffs. “What's holding him back?” 

 

“Send him this,” Hotch says. “‘If you know something, please tell us. Your our only lead.’”

 

Dave whistles, “Risky,” He mutters. Hotch knows, and he doesn't care. All that matters is getting Atlas back.

 

“Oh! He responded again! He says, ‘You cannot tell him you got this information from here. And once I tell you this, I have to lock you out of here.’”

 

“Agree with him,” Hotch calls.

 

“Okay, he's typing and… here! ‘His name is Gordon Walker, and his teammate is Kubrick. He doesn't have an address, and I don't know where he is, but he is formidable. Ghost and Gordon got in an argument a few hours ago. He had been angry, but no one thought he was stupid enough to go after the FBI.’”

 

“Tell him thank you and ask what the argument was about.”

 

“Okay, he didn't answer the question but said something else. ‘Gordon and Kubrick are powerful. They have many skills and weapons. Be careful. I'm going to buy you time.’”

 

“How is he going to get time?”

 

“He says, ‘I can slow them down by cutting off their communication if they are apart. If I get their location, I'll send it to you. But now I need to lock you out of here.’”

 

“Tell him thank you again.”

 

“He just said, ‘good luck.’ I'm locked out now. The site is completely closed to me.”

 

“That's alright, find this Gordon Walker and Kubrick guy,” JJ says.

 

“And get me a location.” Hotch adds, “Now Garcia.”

 

“I'm working on it! It doesn't look like either of the men have very much in their names. Kubrick has an old trailer, and both have cars but nothing else. They both went to jail once though. Illegal weapons charges.”

 

“And you have no idea where the cars are?” Morgans asks.

 

“No, I'm so sorry. These guys are total ghosts; they don't even have credit cards under their names.” Garcia responds sadly. 

 

“Then how do we find them?” Milo asks, finally finding his voice,

 

“Let's break down what we know about them,” Dave starts. “Gordon calls himself ‘Coin’ on this website, and he threatened Atlas, calling her a traitor.”

 

“But how did she betray him?” Emily finishes. 

 

Everyone goes quiet for a moment, thinking. Hotch hits a wall. The only thing he can think of is the gap in Atlas’s file between her birth certificate and college. Atlas had lived off the grid for most of her life; she had to learn it somewhere. 

 

Hotch opens his mouth to say this, but Garcia cuts him off with a squeal. “Guys! That Mullet guy opened the chat room again! He sent me something; it’s a video. He says, ‘Gordon is streaming this all over the site. Still trying to find the location.’ Videos going to your tablets now.”

 

The team each picks up their tablets, staring at the screens as the video begins. It appears to be shot on a shitty camera in a small, dull room with a table on one side and peeling paint on the walls. A motel room or abandoned building, maybe. The camera isn't pointed at Atlas’s front but instead appears to be set on an angle. Part of the screen is black, like something is covering the lens or the camera is hiding behind an object. But what makes Hotch’s stomach drop is Atlas. She is tied up by her hands and feet to a chair in the middle of the room. She appears to be unconscious as she is slumped over, her hair matted with blood. Several members of his team gasp around him, staring at their injured friend.

 

“Garcia, where is this?” Hotch demands. 

 

“Working on it. Since he's streaming through the guarded chatroom, I have to get through that first. Mullet will probably beat me to it.”

 

“Show him what you got, baby girl,” Morgan calls in encouragement. 

 

“Oh, you bet I will.” Garcia begins typing even faster on her computer, but Hotch can't focus on her.

 

He calls Reid and Leo into the room, filling them in on the situation as they watch the screens. Nothing seems to be happening just yet. Then all of a sudden, Atlas’s head snaps up, eyes wide and panicked. She quickly grones in pain, clenching her teeth, probably from the painful headache that comes from getting knocked out. After a moment, she regains herself and looks around, struggling against her bonds. Her teeth are bared, she looks snarling and angry. Really angry. Hotch would not want to be in front of her anger now. 

 

Atlas stops fighting bonds and takes in the room one more time before yelling, “Gordon! Kubrick! You rat bastards, let me out of here!” She doesn't notice the camera.

 

For a while, the men don't appear. Atlas continues to fight her bonds, but they are tied up tight. Her braid is mostly undone now, hair falling in her face and matted with blood. Atlas mutters something as she leans down, trying to rip the rope out with her teeth.

 

“What is she saying?” Leo asks.

 

Reid narrows his eyes. “She's definitely cursing someone, but I think she's calling someone too. It's hard to tell, but I think she's calling out for help.”

 

“Well, she's not trying very hard,” Lee growls in a bitter voice. Hotch shoots her a piercing look, and the small woman backs down, shuffling her feet. But Hotch has to agree. If Atlas is calling for someone, why not yell? Why is she muttering to herself?

 

“Garcia, we need an address now.” Hotch orders again.

 

“I know, I know, I'm working on it!”

 

Then Atlas stops. She stops fighting her bonds and tips her head back to the ceiling, closing her eyes. Hotch wills her to start again, to keep going. He prays with every piece of him that she will break her bonds and get away. She can’t give up; she can’t stop now. The rock in Hotch’s stomach grows heavier by the second. 

 

Atlas opens her eyes and smiles softly, still looking at the ceiling, she whispers to herself.  “God, Hotch is going to kill me. I really can't go one case without something bad happening, can I?” 

 

She swallows and blinks a few times before speaking again; this time, she begs. “Come on, Gabe, I could really use your feathery, holier-than-thou ass down here right about now.” She pauses, eyes flicking around as she waits for some response. She sighs again. “Sorry, Rossi, but I might not be able to make movie night.” Her voice is laced with sadness cut through by a bitter chuckle. “And to think I was really looking forward to that.” 

 

Hotch’s breath hitches when he hears his name. Shame, anger, and sadness. Atlas goes through the emotions in moments, like she doesn’t have the time to dwell on them. Atlas has been kidnapped, called a traitor, and is being held and secretly filmed god knows where, and she's thinking about movie night. 

 

“Who’s Gabe?” Emily whispers, as though talking too loud will break something.

 

Before anyone can answer, the team hears a loud crash through the video. The camera cannot see the door to the room, but they listen to it open, and two pairs of boots stomp through. Atlas straightens, her face hard as she looks at the men. Kubrick moves behind her, leaning against the table as he begins to sharpen his knife threateningly. Gordon comes just to the edge of the frame, right in front of Atlas. She locks eyes with him fearlessly. Her face is written in a challenge; Hotch recognizes that look. It's the face one she gave him the first time they met. The look that says fuck with me if you dare, but if you fail, I’ll tear you to shreds. Hotch had succeeded. He had beat her challenge and earned her respect. But he suspects that Gordon won’t. Part of Hotch is eager to find out what Atlas will do to someone who fails this challenge. He guesses he's going to see. 

 

“Sir! I got it!” Garcia yells from the phone line. Hotch had nearly forgotten she was there.

 

“You got the address?”

 

“Yes! Well, no. Mullet got it first and sent it to me. But I have it! Going to your phones now. It's an abandoned building on the edge of town.” 

 

“Thanks, Garcia!” Emily calls over her shoulder as they race to the car. 

 

“Be safe! And get our girl back!” Garcia yells behind them.

 

Hotch abandons his tablet as he races to the door, yelling to the captain, sending him the address, and ordering JJ to call a S.W.A.T. team. Hotch, Morgan, and Lee throw themselves into one car while the others do the same. He wastes no time racing out of the station's lot and toward the house. Morgan gives him directions to the quickest way, and the others follow close on his heels. 

 

Hotch’s heart is pounding in his ears. His fingers are twitching, and his gun feels heavy on his waist, but his mind is sharp. They know where she is, and he's coming for her. Not one hurts one of his own and gets away with it.

Chapter Text

 

Atlas stares into Gordon’s big, dark eyes. Her face is lined with anger, but so is his. Their eyes burn as they look at each other and Atlas silently issues a challenge. Try me, bitch. See how well it ends for you. 

 

The last thing Atlas remembers is Gordon’s wicked smile outside the police station, and then she was here. Atlas had woken up only a few minutes ago in some grey, moldy room, alone. Her head was pounding but dulled after a moment to little more than a low throb. She can't get out of her bonds, for all her struggling and wiggling, they're too tight even for her. In the few minutes she’s been conscious, Atlas has called for Gabriel, apologized to Rossi, and cursed Hotch. Though she knows that only one of them can hear her. 

 

Kubrick is behind her, leaning on a table and slowly sharpening a knife in what is supposed to be a threatening gesture. In reality, Atlas couldn't care less about Kubrick's torturing skills. She's quite literally friends with the king of hell, so the devout blond man doesn’t scare her. If Crowley were here, he'd laugh in Kubrick's face. “One little knife?” He would say, “Oh come on, you'll have to do better than that.” 

 

But Atlas isn't a demon or an angel, despite her name. She is only human, but so are they. They may torture her, but she is stronger than them. And if they dont start moving soon, the men may never get the chance. 

 

Gordon finally breaks her gaze, looking at Kubrick and smiling before he speaks. “Do you know why you're here?” He asks, his voice all gravel and lies.

 

“Assume I didn't get your last message.” Atlas tips her chin, keeping her voice steady even as the ropes burn her wrists.

 

“Gordon steps closer, leaning down in front of her face. “You're a traitor,” He breathes; Atlas recoils slightly from his bad breath.

 

“And traitors don't get into heaven,” Kubrick sing-songs from behind. Atlas doesn't twist to face him, instead keeping her eyes on Gordon.

 

“And what makes you think you're getting into heaven?” Atlas nearly laughs.

 

“Because I believe,” Kubrick stops sharpening his knife. “Do you?”

 

Atlas suppresses a chuckle; she had nearly forgotten how much of a god-freak Kubrick was. “What are you gonna do? Kill me like you tried to kill Sam?” She hisses. “You thought you were on a mission from god. You two are lucky the most we did was put you in jail.” 

 

“Oh yea,” Gordon breathes again, hands on his knees. “That was very kind of you.”

 

Atlas smiles, “Well, we were much kinder people back then.”

 

Gordon chuckles and stands. “Do you know what we're going to do to you now? How we’re going to make you pay for your crimes?” 

 

“Sins,” Kubrick mutters, returning to his knife.

 

Atlas leans back in her chair, “Blow me?” 

 

A bolt of pain slices through Atlas’s cheek and head when Gordon strikes her. She's not surprised by the hit, but she hadn't braced for it, so it hurt much more. Gordon is wearing a silver ring on his right hand, and judging by the burning on Atlas’s cheekbone, he cut her with it. The floor rocks below her as her pounding headache kicks in again, but she doesn’t show it. Instead, she turns and looks slowly back up at Gordon, showing no pain or fear, only anger.

 

“What? Can't take a joke?” She chuckles again, wincing as it sends another slice of pain through her head. She probably has a concussion. Damn these men.

 

Gordon’s hands are balled to fists at his side. His voice is angry now; no humor left there. He begins walking in a slow circle around her, but Atlas keeps her head straight, following him with her eyes. “No, you see, traitors are the worst kinds of people. Almost worse than monsters, but monsters aren't people.” He shrugs.

 

“Do remind me, in what way did I betray you?” Atlas asks, forcing her voice steady.

 

Gordon rounds on her, snarling. “You betrayed all of us!” he yells. “You joined those cunts at the FBI. You were going to sell us out. Even if the others don't want to see it, I'll make them. I'll make you admit it.”

 

“I did not betray anyone; you blasted fools. I only want to help people. At least now I'm not living off stolen credit cards and in ratty old motel rooms.” She growls.

 

“No, now you're living off the wages of the enemy. Now, you are the enemy.” Gordon points at her.

 

What has gotten into this man? Sure, hunters live off the grid and outside the law, but law enforcement isn't always the enemy. Atlas and her brothers often found out information by pretending to be FBI agents, and if the cops had not gathered and filled all the evidence, data would be much harder to find. Even the coroners help hunters. Though none of them know it. They may arrest or hunt them, but they help them too. And the hunters help the cops. The hunters use the cops to take down monsters, and the cops have one less killer on their hands. Though they never see it that way. Law enforcement will always be the hunter’s biggest challenge and their most useful resource. No matter how little Gordon wants to admit it. Atlas looks down and shakes her head.                

 

Kubrick chuckles, unconvinced, but doesn't move. “You’ll admit it.” He hums. 

 

Gordon turns away from her, moving to a small table in the corner of the room Atlas hadn't noticed was there. He turns on a small desk lamp, illuminating the tools laid out there—Atlas gasps at the knives, clamps, drills, and other devices that glitter in the light. A small smile flickers across Gordon’s face at her reaction. He picks up a knife, examining it in the light. Now Crowley would be happy.

 

Atlas hears a whisper of wind move through the room and feels it tug on her hair, but the room has no windows. She feels a presence there, one she knows well. Though she can't see him, he's here. Gordon and Kubrick don't react to the wind and clearly cannot feel the presence. Atlas knows that he's as much of a dramatic bitch as her and will almost certainly wait to make a grand entrance. Fine then. She'll give him one.

 

Gordon turns around, knife in hand, slowly eyeing Atlas up and down. A crooked, evil smile breaks out across his face. He seems to be having just a little too much fun, and Atlas is sick of being tied to a chair. 

 

“He’ll kill you for this.” She growls, baring her teeth.

 

Gordon laughs loudly. “I'm not scared of your brothers. Or of those pretty FBI agents, you've been trailing around.”

 

Atlas looks at the floor, shaking her head and chuckling. 

 

Gordon and Kubrick exchange confused looks. “What are you laughing about?” Gordon asks.

 

Atlas lifts her head. “I'm not talking about my brothers or the BAU. I'm talking about him.”

 

Though Atlas doesn't know it, this is the exact moment Ash finally cuts off the feed, shutting down the video. All over the country, hunters and two female FBI agents sitting in a small, dark room gasp as the screen goes black. Then, at Ellen's orders, Ash broadcast the words, “This video has been taken down by the moderator. All parties involved will be found and held accountable. Please do not act on any content from this video. Coin and Brick have been banned from the site. For any further concerns, please private message Mullet, Whiskey, or Safehouse.” The message remains on screen for only a few moments before Garcia and Brooks are sharply kicked out. While they scramble- and fail- to get back in, Ellen’s Ash’s and Bobby’s phones blow up with questions. They answer them as best they can. Or don't answer at all. 

 

Atlas is aware of none of this because, at the same moment, Gordon is flying across the room, sailing over Atlas’s head until his body connects with the back wall. He falls to the floor with a grunt, holding his ribs. Atlas begins to move again, fighting her bonds even more ferociously than before, ignoring the rope burn and pounding headache. Somewhere in the distance, she can hear sirens. 

 

Kubrick turns from his partner to Gabriel, who steps forward. His eyes are blazing, and even though his hands are empty, he is an unbeatable opponent. Kubrick lunges, holding his knife above his head. Gabriel grabs his arm and punches Kubrick in the gut. The blond man doubles over, grunting in pain. He steps up again, trying to swing at Gabriel's head. Gabe twists Kubrick's wrist, and Atlas hears a sickening crack. Kubrick cries out but is silenced when Gabriel hands a good blow to his head, knocking him out. 

 

Gordon grones from his place on the floor, and Gabriel whips his head around. The small man's eyes are blazing with fury and excitement. Though Gabriel had never liked fighting, he does enjoy winning. He stomps over to Gordon and picks up the black man by his neck, holding him in the air. Gordons eyes are wide as he kicks at nothing, wrapping his hands weakly around Gabe’s wrist. Though the angel is much shorter than the hunter, he holds Gordon off the ground with ease. Gordon kicks and sputters, his breaths growing shorter each moment.

 

Atlas thrashes her bonds again. “Gabe, stop!” She yells.

 

Gabriel freezes but doesn't drop Gordon. He looks at her, his whiskey-colored eyes sparkling in the dim light. “Why?” He asks, sounding offended.

 

“Because it had to look like I got out myself. If you kill him, I'll be charged.” She stresses.

 

Gabriel narrows his eyes. “You won't go to jail for it.” He states.

 

Atlas rolls her eyes. “Probably not, but it's an awful lot of paperwork.”

 

Finally, Gabriel huffs, not looking too happy about it. He gently lowers Gordon to the ground and releases his throat, going as far as to dust his shoulders off and fix his shirt. Gordon looks at Gabe with wide, wild eyes. 

 

“What are you?” He whispers, terrified.

 

Gabriel smiles, a lollipop appearing in this left hand. “The sweetest trickster you’ll ever meet.” Gabriel sings before knocking Gordon out cold. 

 

Atlas stares at Gordon’s body lying limp on the wooden floor below. She chuckles. Suck on that, dickwad.

 

“Alright you flying ape, get me out of here,” Atlas motions to her bonds.

 

Gabriel rolls his eyes and pops his lolly in his mouth before untying her hands. He steps back as Atlas undoes her feet, never taking his eyes off her. Once she's done she stands, wobbling slightly. She almost certainly has a concussion, but she's going to need a lot more than that to pull off her plan. 

 

“Hurt me,” She says.

 

Gabriel's eyes go wide. “What?”

 

“We need to make it look like I did this and there’s no way they’re gonna believe I got out with just a head injury. Come on, rough me up a bit,” She teases. “I know you’ve always wanted to.”

 

Gabriel looks sick, he pulls his lolly from his mouth, staring at her. “You're serious?”

 

Atlas nods. “As the dead.”

 

Gabriel sighs, looking away from her. Eyes closed, he whispers “As you wish.” Gabriel raises his hand, touching two fingers to her forehead. 

 

Atlas explodes in pain. Her side and arm blossom with pain and burn, she doubles over, clutching her ribcage and suppressing a groan. Gabriel ducks his head, not meeting her eyes. He definitely broke a rib, and judging by the blood running down her face and left arm, added some other substantial injuries as well.

 

“Thanks.” She grones. Gabriel only nods. Then, as fast as he appears, he’s gone.

 

Atlas misses him immediately. She always notices his presence, even when she can’t see him. And perhaps Atlas has grown used to the witty, whiskey-eyed angel pulling her out of trouble. She never minded it, Atlas does have a tendency to get herself in over her head. But Gabe has always been there to pluck her away from danger or eliminate the threat, just as he promised her brothers he would. Sometimes Atlas wonders if he does it because he wants to, or because of the promise. Atlas decides not to think about it too hard, she wants out of here anyway, no point in hanging around.

 

Atlas picks her head up, becoming more aware of her surroundings. Gordon and Kubrick are still passed out behind her, and there is a knife on the floor. Atlas goes over and picks it up, observing it in the dim light. Then she slashes it cleanly over Gordon’s arm. The man moves but does not wake. Good, now the knife has blood on it, much more believable. Though Atlas would be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy cutting Gordon. 

 

Atlas stands, taking one final look around the room. The sirens outside have grown much louder, they can't be far now. As Atlas moves to leave something catches the reflection of the table lamp. She turns, pushing a box out of the way of the item. Behind the boxes sits a camera, the red light still glowing. 

 

“Shit” How had she not noticed this before?

 

Atlas can guess where the camera is streaming to, if it is streaming, but has no idea how long it's been rolling. Bile rises in her throat as she thinks of others watching her torture from all over the country. She quickly turns the camera off, removes its memory card, and smashes everything to pieces. 

 

Bright, white light bursts through the open door of the room, coming from the front of the house. Atlas hears tires screech to a halt and the shuffling of bodies along with frantic yelling. She is tempted to collapse here, overcome by tiredness. Maybe she should, maybe she should just let her team find her here.

 

No, that is no way for a hunter to give up. Hunters don't give up. Atlas is friends with angels and demons. She and her brothers have saved the world more than once. She can face her team, even like this.

 

Atlas stands, clutching her side and as pain rushes through her. Her head throbs as she stumbles through the house toward the light, keeping the bloody knife in her hand. Finally, she reaches the door. Someone outside must see her silhouette because they yell for her to come out with her hands up. No. Not just anyone, Hotch. Hotch is here, so are the others. They've come to rescue her. Maybe they still can have movie night.

 

Atlas opens the door, raising her hands as much as her injured body will allow. She can't make out any more than vague shapes of people with the car lights shining on her. Someone yells, but Atlas’s muddled mind can't fully make out what they are saying. Before she knows what's happening, arms are around her, voices are near and she is safe. Her team pulls her off the porch, removing the knife from her hand as more cops and S.W.A.T members enter the house behind her. Hotch and Jack half carry Atlas to the swarm of cars, where she leans against one of the SUVs.

 

Kassie says something before enveloping Atlas in a crushing hug. Atlas groans in pain and Kassie pulls away, apologizing quickly. Someone is saying something about a hospital, and at first, all of Atlas’s instincts scream no. Hunters don't go to hospitals, we can't, well be caught. But she's not a hunter anymore, and she could really use the help.

 

Before Atlas can be dragged away to an ambulance, someone is slammed into a car next to her. Atlas looks over to see Ava pushing a handcuffed, half-conscious Gordon against a police car. Gordon cries out in pain and upon closer inspection, Atlas realizes that his shoulder is dislocated. But Gabe had not dislocated Gordon's shoulder in the fight, Atlas was sure of that.

 

Ava looks at her, meeting Atlas’s eyes. The tattooed girl flashes a rare, devilish smile and winks. Atlas smiles back.

 

Atlas’s last memory of the night is as they load her onto the gurney. She had spotted Rossi next to her, his dark eyes washed with relief. “Sorry I ruined movie night.” She breathes, eyes drifting closed.

 

Rossi smiles, “We’ll wait for you.” 

Chapter Text

Hotch sits in Atlas’s hospital room along with the rest of the team, struggling to stay awake. It's well past midnight now, several hours after they had rescued Atlas from that abandoned building. The doctors had said that the injuries were minor- a cut on her arm, a broken rib, a head injury, and some rope burns. Hotch is honestly surprised that's all she got away with. Gordon and Kubrick had been vicious, and she had fought them both off with such little injuries. He's relieved, but also slightly suspicious. But it's not like he's going to question her about it now. 

 

Though the room isn't really big enough for all of them, the group is making it work. Hotch sits on one side of the bed, close to her head. Next to him, Morgan and Reid are struggling to share one chair. Both are asleep, Morgan resting his head on Reid’s shoulder with Reid leaning on him. Across the bed, JJ is reading something on her phone; Emily sits on the floor, leaning on JJ’s legs. Beside them, Ava is sitting on Kassie’s lap, practically nestled into her. Both women are asleep. Hotch’s eyes linger on Lee for a moment. He knows that Lee had dislocated Gordon’s shoulder while arresting him. Part of Hotch says he should punish her, and part of him knows that he would have done the same. He decided that it's not worth it, if anyone asks, Gordon was hurt in the fight.

 

Dave stands next to the girls, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. On the far wall, Jack, Milo, and Leo are sitting on the floor. Leo and Milo are asleep, but Jack is awake and staring at Atlas, though his eyes are heavy. 

 

Hotch knows that he could send everyone home, or at least, back to the hotel rooms. He knows they would be more comfortable than sleeping here, practically on top of each other. But he also knows that they would never leave. And those who do, wouldn't sleep. No, it's better that everyone is here when Atlas wakes up. She'll be happy to see them. He's sure of it. 

 

With nothing to do but wait for Atlas to wake up, Hotch thinks. He allows his thoughts to drift away, back to the events of the day. He has so many questions for Atlas. Who is Gordon? How does she know him? In what way did she betray him? What is that encrypted chat room and why is she a part of it? Who is Gabe? How did she get out on her own? Hotch wonders if he'll get any answers from her straight or if he'll have to pull them like teeth. Maybe he won't get any at all. 

 

Before he can wonder about it anymore, Atlas moves. Just barely, a slight shake of her head, then her eyes open. She blinks rapidly as she looks around. Within a second, Hotch is on his feet, the noise startling the people around him. The team wakes, all of them jumping up to surround her. Atlas looks around for a second before springing into action. Her eyes go wide as she sits up straight, looking alarmed. Hotch steps forward, resting his hands on her shoulder and trying to calm her with a soothing voice. Atlas throws her hands up, breathing hard. Hotch freezes, looking down at her. Her hands are in the same defensive position as the first time he scared her in his office. Except this time, the movement looks odd and clunky since she has no knives. Hotch soothes her trying to slow her breathing. After a few moments, she looks around, blinking rapidly. She looks at everyone and seems to remember where she is and what happened because she relaxes her arms and begins inspecting the hospital bed. Hotch removes his hands, breathing a sigh of relief. 

 

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” Dave greets her with a smile.

 

Atlas smiles back. “Thanks,” she breathes. “How long have I been out?”

 

“A few hours,” Emily reptiles. “What do you remember?”

 

Atlas narrows her eyes, fiddling with the wire attached to her arms. “Where do you want me to start?” She hums.

 

How much do you know? Hotch hears. He exchanges a look with Dave over her head.

 

“You and Gordon were fighting; what was it about?” Kassie asks, resting her hand on Atlas’s leg. Damned, that's not where Hotch would have started. But this isn't supposed to be an interrogation. 

 

“He’s, uh, someone I know from college.” Atlas starts, narrowing her eyes again. How did you know about that?”

 

Reid answers, “You dropped your phone when you were… Garcia got into it. A guy in that chatroom, Mullet, told us.” 

 

Atlas nods, waiting for someone else to speak. Hotch realizes that he's not the interrogator here; she is. She wants to know exactly what they know so that she never tells them anything new.

 

“He's a little bit old to be in your college, isn't he?” JJ asks. “And Kubrick too.”

 

Atlas nods. “Yea, they weren't in my classes, just the group I ran with.”

 

“Well, that must've been a fun group.” Milo chuckles, desperately trying to bring some smiles to the room. He fails.

 

Morgan fixes Atlas with a stern stare. “Why did he call you a traitor?”

 

Atlas looks away, breaking his gaze. Now that is definitely suspicious coming from the girl who stared down Hotch. “Not everybody likes the FBI.” She mutters. 

 

Hotch exchanges a look with Dave, who opens his mouth to speak, but is cut off by Jack at the foot of the bed. “Who’s Gabe?” Jack's eyes are wide and curious, laced with pain and almost fear. Hotch wonders why that question is the most urgent on Jack's mind or why he blurted it out like that. He'll have to ask later.

 

Atlas looks confused, tilting her head like that wasn't the question she expected him to ask. “Uh, he's another friend from college.” She chuckles to herself. “Gabriels pulled me out of trouble more than once; guess I thought he'd do it again.” She shrugs.

 

“Speaking of which, how did you get out?” Leo asks from beside Jack. “Those guys are a lot bigger than you and had you tied up.

 

Atlas laughs now. Even after all that and through all this pain, she still laughs. “Gordon and Kubrick are strong, but I know them well, and their fools. I didn't do as much damage as I would have liked, though I do remember someone being particularly rough with Gordon toward the end there.” Atlas smiles at Lee.

 

“Well, someone had to.” Lee smiles back.”

 

Atlas’s energy clearly seems to be draining; her eyes are heavy, and she's leaning back now. Though Hotch is desperate for more answers, he'll have to wait. “You get some rest now, we're going to get some sleep, but one of us will always be around.” He assures her, resting his hand on her shoulder. Atlas nods and closes her eyes. 

 

One by one, they turn to leave, all secretly relieved to get to sleep in a real bed. Hotch stays by her side, deciding to take the first shift. Before they can exit the room, Atlas calls out again. “Rossi, wait.” 

 

The group turns looking at her. “What's up, kid?” Dave asks.

 

She looks sad now. “I'm sorry for running movie night.” She whispers.

 

Dave's eyes soften, and he smiles. “As soon as you're ready, we'll be waiting for you. The Greatest Showman isn't going anywhere,” he assures her.

 

Atlas nods, finally drifting off to sleep with that soft smile playing across her face once more. Another secret she keeps locked away. 

 

Dave looks at Hotch, waiting until all the others have left the room and Atlas is sound asleep.

 

“So many more questions,” Hotch whispers, looking at Atlas.

 

Dave sighs. “I fear that asking them may be like opening Pandora's box, Aaron.” Hotch meets his friend's eyes. “Some things are best left unsaid.” Hotch nods. Dave smiles at him one last time before leaving the room.

 

Hotch sits in his chair, staring at Atlas. He thinks about the questions they asked and her answers. The secret chatroom and the men who kidnapped her. The unsub she had stabbed and her abusive father. The first time they met and the gap in her file. This girl really is Pandora's box. And maybe Rossi is right; maybe it's not worth looking into. Perhaps some things are best left unsaid.

 

Hotch makes a decision then, in that dark hospital room that stinks of bleach with his sleeping apprentice beside him. She'll never give him all the answers, not unless he's willing to tear her apart. And he isn't. Hotch isn't going to pick his student down piece by piece, just so that he can see the monsters that lay beneath the surface. No, from now on, he will wait for her to come to him. No more prying, no more questions, not unless he needs to. Hell, wait. He'll make sure she knows that he's here for her so that when she is ready, he can help her slay those monsters.

Chapter Text

Atlas stands outside Rossi's front door, bouncing nervously on her toes as she rings the doorbell. Her hands feel too empty. Rossi had told them not to bring anything, but Atlas has a distinct feeling that she should have anyway. Not like she knows how to cook anything more than boxed mac and cheese and shitty soup. Maybe she should have gotten flowers. 

 

It's been a little less than a week after Atlas was kidnapped by Gordon and Kubrick, after half the ordeal was streamed to every hunter in the country and after Gabriel had broken her out, beating the men half to death as he did. Atlas is thankful that her team has decided to lay off the personal questions, even if it took a kidnapping for them to understand the meaning of privacy. Her brothers, on the other hand, had not learned that lesson. Dean had predictably exploded in anger when he heard about it, calling Atlas and leaving angry voicemails that spiraled into sadness and desperation before she could answer. Sam is more of the quiet anger, his calls are more worried, more questions like ‘have you been eating?’ or ‘does it hurt?’ or ‘do you need help?’. Atlas appreciates them both. 

 

She also greatly enjoys the uproar that began on the hunter’s board since that attack. Everyone immediately disowned Gordon And Kubrick, and those who didn't were shunned by everyone else. The show of care warms Atlas’s heart. Hunters are rarely affectionate, so she'll take what she can get.

 

Rossi opens the door suddenly, breaking Atlas from her thoughts. He smiles at her, eyes flicking to her bandaged upper arm. Gabriel had shown up later after Atlas had been released from the hospital and healed her, but she still wore the bandages. She had insisted that he leave the scar of the cut, knowing that the others would be confused by the lack of one. He had begrudgingly agreed, also leaving behind several candy bars in his wake.

 

“Hey, Atlas! Come in, come in; you’re the last one here.” Rossi waves her inside the grand house. Atlas laps up every detail of the lavish place, eyes wide.

 

“Whoa, Rossi, I knew you were rich but this..” She trails off.

 

Rossi chuckles. “You write some books about our adventures; maybe you can get here too.”

 

Atlas follows him across the house to a large, dark room with a screen on the far side. The room is lit dimly as the film hasn't started yet. Atlas can see the team all spread out along the huge red chairs, somehow still a little too close to each other. Reid and Morgan have their heads close together, whispering something. JJ and Milo are bickering about something lightheartedly as they always are. Garcia jumps up from her place on Morgan's other side as soon as she spots Atlas, squealing and pulling her into a hug.

 

“Ahhh, you're here! I'm so happy we get to do this!” She hops on her shoeless feet. Rossi had told them all to dress casually, so everyone is wearing regular clothes or PJs. Even Hotch is in a standard grey t-shirt and sweatpants. 

 

“Me too,” Atlas agrees, watching Rossi make his way to his seat beside Hotch.

 

“Finally!” Milo yells, throwing a piece of popcorn at Atlas’s head. “We've been waiting for forever! What took you so long?” he cries, faking anger.

 

Atlas smiles and ducks his throw. “I was busy, leaving a little surprise at your apartment.” She smiles devilishly. 

 

Milo’s eyes widen, then narrow to amusing slits as he tries to read her. Atlas is lying; she hadn't left any prank at his house. In reality, she had been talking to Dean and had lost track of time. By the time she got off the phone, she should have already left. But she wasn't going to tell him that.

 

“Atlas, come sit here! I saved you a seat.” Jack waves her over, his blond hair looking brown in that half-darkness. 

 

Atlas walks over to him, flopping down in the massive plush chair. Jack tosses her something soft, and after a moment, she realizes that it's a blanket. Atlas smiles and thanks him, stealing a bite of his popcorn. 

 

“Come on, Rossi, I wanna watch the movie!” Milo complains

 

“Oh please, you'll probably fall asleep halfway through.” Ava scolds, sitting the row in front of Atlas beside Kassie.

 

Milo makes an offended face. “Sleep through The Greatest Showman ? Are you crazy? What kind of heathen do you think I am?”

 

Rossi smiles, leaning toward Hotch. “They're not going to be very happy when we fall asleep halfway through.” Hotch chuckles in response.

 

“You think you'll make it halfway?” Emily laughs. “Doubt it; you and Morgan will last 15 minutes, tops.”

 

“What?” Morgan twists to face her, throwing a piece of popcorn. “15 minutes? You think so little of me?”

 

“Watch the popcorn,” Rossi calls. “You make a mess; you have to clean it up.”

 

Reid laughs, “Morgan, you fell asleep halfway through Indiana Jones.” 

 

“Well, it's not my fault your couch is grievously comfortable.” he draws. Perhaps if Morgan weren’t shaded in the room, Atlas would have seen him blush. 

 

“Alright, all of you,” Hotch calls finally. “Let's watch the movie.”

 

Finally, everybody shuts up as the lights dim. Rossi selects and opens the movie. The opening credits play, and Atlas hears more than she sees Jack adjust beside her. She realizes that Jack is leaning into their shared arm space, waiting for her to fill in the gap. Atlas shifts, touching their shoulders as she sees Morgan and Reid doing below. She steals his popcorn, sings the songs with Milo, Leo and Kassie, and watches as one by one of her teammates drift off to sleep. Starting with Rossi and Morgan, obviously.  

 

Until, finally as the movie is ending, Atlas feels her own eyes flutter closed. She leans back, still partially pressed against Jack, and ends what has officially been one of the best days of her life. 



Chapter Text

Three weeks after the kidnapping 

 

Atlas has finally made it back into work. Despite Gabriel healing her wounds only hours after she got out of the hospital- save her scars and face cuts- it had still taken 3 weeks and far too many doctor visits before she could return. Now she's back, and Atlas couldn't be happier. 

 

Atlas trots into the BAU, head held high, feeling well-rested. She did what she promised herself she would; sleep. No matter how hard it was or how empty the room felt, Atlas managed to sleep; though it took some late-night reading and a bottle of melatonin, she did it. She will never allow herself to be down again; she'll never be caught off guard like that. Atlas will never put her team in danger again, not if she can help it.

 

As Atlas pushes through the glass doors into the bullpen, she's surrounded by cheers. The happy faces of her teammates welcome her back, engulfing her in warm hugs and happy smiles. Though Atlas isn't fond of being touched, she accepts the welcoming wholly because she is thankful for it. The hunters are never so kind. No hunter has ever welcomed her back from an injury with such warm smiles or caring embraces, and certainly not a box of chocolates.

 

"I thought you would like these," Jack smiles at her shyly as he hands her the chocolates. Atlas personally prefers fruit pastries like puff pastries or turnovers, but she'll take what she can get.

 

Atlas smiles back, hugging him. "Thanks Jack."

 

Rossi claps her on the shoulder. "Good to have you back, kid."

 

"Good to be back," Atlas agrees.

 

"Ahhh, I'm so happy you're back!" Garcia squeals. "It's been a little lonely without you," Atlas highly doubts that fact, considering the most exciting thing she's done since joining the team is getting kidnapped. 

 

"Hey Atlas," Atlas turns to find Hotch standing behind her, a natural, pleasant smile on his face. "Good to have you back." He nods at her, she nods at him. 

 

Something has changed in Hotch since her kidnapping; Atlas can feel it. She just doesn't quite know what it is yet, or if it's worth digging into. Maybe there are some things best left unsaid.

 

"While I love the welcoming back party, we have a case," Hotch calls, already starting up the stairs.

 

"He ruins all the fun," Milo whispers, rolling his eyes. Kassie and Leo hum in agreement. 

 

The group files into the round room, everyone taking their seats. Atlas notes that they have gotten more chairs since she had left, so now everyone can sit at the table. Except for Garcia and Brooks, who stands at the front giving the presentation. 

 

"Hello, my lovelies, you are going to party in Mardi Gras because today you're going to New Orleans,"

 

Milo whoops in excitement. Atlas vaguely remembers that New Orleans is Milo's hometown. 

 

"Happy to go home?" Reid asks.

 

"Hell yea!" Milo bounces in his chair, unable to sit still as usual.

 

Rossi turns to JJ, smiling. "Will's gonna be happy to hear this."

 

JJ scoffs, "I think he'll be pretty upset I'm leaving him behind,"

 

"Who's Will?" Atlas asks, tilting her head.

 

"My husband," JJ answers. "Also from New Orleans,"

 

"Yea, JJ's really good at getting those Louisiana men," Morgan teases.

 

Milo sits back in his chair, puffing out his chest. "Well, we are the best type of men." He smiles. 

 

"While I love the banter, we do have more urgent matters at hand." Garcia interrupts. Brooks presses a button, and the screen flashes with images of several dead bodies, all dressed up in bright fabrics, beads, and face masks.

 

"Someone has been killing off older folk in New Orleans and dressing them up like it's Mardi Gras. Betsy Regan, Faith Cole, and Maxim Valencia were all in their 60's and 70's when they were killed in their houses by a bullet to the head, execution-style, before being dressed up and displayed. All three of them were found the morning after they were killed."

 

"Why do they always ruin Mardi Gras?" Milo whispers. 

 

"Well, the unsubs crossed gender and race lines. The women are white, and Valencia is Latino." Morgan states.

 

"When were they killed?" Ava asks.

 

Brooks responds, pointing to the victims in order. "Two weeks ago, last week, and yesterday. Found today."

 

"Well, Mardi Gras is in February; it's November now. So why is he doing this now? And why dress them like it is Mardi Gras?" Rossi asks.

 

"That's what we have to find out. And if he sticks to this timeline, we'll have another body within a week. Wheels up in 30." Hotch dismisses them.

 

Everyone quickly gets up, gathering their things as they head for the plane. Atlas has learned that '30' means '20' here, so she needs to move. Atlas gathers her bag from Hotch's office while he puts together his own things. After a moment of consideration, Atlas pops one of the chocolates Jack gave her into her mouth and shoves the rest in her bag. Better than letting them melt here or risk Anderson taking them. Anderson may be quiet, but if you leave your food unattended, he'll take it. He's basically the raccoon of the office. And Atlas isn't going to let the bandit take her chocolates. 

 

As she walks out to the group already waiting in the bullpen, she sees Morgan pulling Milo aside. Morgan hustles the young man out of the room, pulling him around a corner for privacy. Hotch leads the group away and toward the jet, but that doesn't stop Atlas from asking some questions. 

 

"They good?" Atlas flicks her head to where the two men disappeared.

 

"Yea, they're alright," Rossi says. "Cases can get a little fishy when hometowns and families are involved. That's all." Atlas nods. Makes sense. She wonders if Milo is going to introduce them to people or if he'll know anyone there. 

 

The team loads onto the plane, with Morgan and Milo joining them only a moment later. Milo slides into the seat next to Atlas, with Kassie and Emily across from them. The plane begins to rumble, so Atlas puts her headphones on, playing something by ACDC, and closes the window. She reaches down and pops another chocolate into her mouth, but not without hearing a whine from Milo.

 

Atlas pulls her headphones off, looking at the olive-eyed man. "What?" she asks through her mouthful of chocolate.

 

"He gave you chocolate!" Milo whispers dramatically.

 

"Yea and…?" Atlas looks between Milo and the two women in front of her, who are exchanging amused glances. Atlas is just confused.

 

Kassie leans forward, keeping her voice low despite the roar of the plane. "He clearly likes you."

 

Atlas furrows her brows. "I thought you all liked me."

 

"No, stupid!" Milo rolls his eyes. "Jack likes you. Why else would he give you chocolates?"

 

Atlas peaks around Kassie's seat and looks at Jack sitting on the far end of the plane, saying something to Reid. His golden hair catches in the light as he smiles and nods. Atlas looks back to the people in front of her, still bewildered.

 

"I thought he was just being nice." 

 

Emily smiles. "Maybe, but if Jack is anything like his dad, he doesn't give gifts for nothing." 

 

"Well, how do you know that?" Atlas asks.

 

"Who cares . Jack likes you, and he's super cute. I say you jump his bones." Kassie adds nonchalantly. 

 

Atlas bristles, suddenly becoming very uncomfortable. 

 

Milo elbows her, wiggling his eyebrows. "Yea, and I know a few good spots where no one'll mess with you." He smirks.

 

Atlas opens her mouth, looking between the three agents. She suddenly doesn't know what to say. "I'm, uh, I think I'm okay." She coughs out awkwardly.

 

"What? Are you not into him?" Kassie asks innocently, tilting her head.

 

Milo snorts, rolling his eyes again. "Please, you'd have to be some kind of broken to not like him."  

 

"Okay, okay, enough." Emily soothes. "Leave Atlas alone. Some people just like to take it slow. Unlike you two, clearly." She finishes with a smirk but still throws a well-meaning look Atlas's way. She tries to smile back, but it falls flat on her lips. 

 

"Well, obviously, we're hustlers." Kassie sings, fist-bumping Milo. 

 

"Your a couple of hoes is what you are," Emily murmurs, looking down at her file.

 

Atlas ignores the students' offended gasps and puts her headphones back on, trying to drown in the music. She looks sadly down at her chocolates. Why did Jack give her chocolates? She thought he was just being nice, but it is a much bigger gift than the others gave her. Was he being friendly, or was he more than friendly? Atlas doesn't know.

 

One thing she does know, though, is that what Milo said keeps repeating in her head. Running circles around her thoughts until it becomes distorted and twisted. 

 

You'd have to be some kind of broken to not like him.

 

You'd have to be some kind of broken to not like him .

 

You'd have to be some kind of broken to not like him.

 

You'd have to be broken to not like it .

 

You don't like it.

 

You're broken.

 

 

"Hello, my partygoers, what have we got?" Garcia's bright voice pulls Atlas from her dark thoughts several minutes later. She shoves the words away, forcing herself to focus on the case. She will not be distracted. Especially not by something as dumb as this.

 

"Okay, what are the first questions we ask when looking at a case?" Hotch asks, looking between the students. The group gathers around the set of four seats, resting Garcia's laptop on the table in front of Atlas. Morgan twists in his chair, raising himself on his knees and resting his arms on Atlas's chair. He smiles down at her warmly when she looks up. 

 

Leo answers first. "Why here; why now; why these victims." Hotch nods in approval, Atlas bites back a scowl.

 

"So why here?" JJ begins, opening up the question. 

 

"The unsub lives here." Kassie offers.

 

Reid speaks up. "New Orleans has a population of 390,845 people and also has one of the highest homicide rates in the country with 58 deaths per 100,000 people."

 

"So he probably does live there. But the bodies have been displayed in public areas pretty spread out." Morgan says. 

 

"So he has a vehicle," Atlas ads. "And the bodies are all in public places, left late at night or early in the morning. So he wants them found. He wants people to get his message."

 

"But what message?" Ava asks, narrowing her eyes.

 

"We don't know, but I bet it has something to do with why he's dressing them up." Rossi starts. "Next question, why now? We still have two months before Mardi Gras, so why is he doing this now?"

 

"Trying to scare people away?" Milo offers, looking lost. "Mardi Gras is supposed to be a feast before fasting for lent, but most people just use it as an excuse to party. Plus, the city is split into 17 wards, like the boroughs of New York." He adds at some confused glances. "People separate themselves by the wards. They're all different. All these bodies have been dropped in the fourth ward, which has a lot of history and tourism stuff. The French Quarter is in the Fourth Ward."

 

"Yea, but they didn't live there. None of the victims lived in the fourth ward." Brooks calls from the laptop.

 

"But if he's putting the bodies in the area most known for tourism, then maybe his message is for the tourists." JJ offers. 

 

"He's avoided the French Quarter itself, though," Reid says.

 

"The French Quarter is always crowded. Even late into the night." Milo jumps in again. "He probably couldn't drop the bodies without being caught."

 

"Last question, why these victims?" Emily asks.

 

"Older folks are easier to subdue," Jack says.

 

Atlas speaks again. "But he's shooting them in their houses, then dressing and displaying them. It is possible that he doesn't care about the victims at all, and they were just the easiest to kill." She shrugs. 

 

"We'll see. Garcia hasn't found any link between the victims yet." Hotch says.

 

"Nope," Garcia calls. "Different jobs, different wards, different everything. It doesn't seem like they overlapped at all, but I'll keep looking." 

 

"You do that, baby girl." Morgan pipes up.

 

"On it, my fine furry friends!" Garcia yells before hanging up abruptly.

 

"Did I ever have her drug tested?" Hotch asks Rossi, who snickers in response. How does Hotch look serious even when he's making a joke?

 

"So, Milo, anything we should know going into the great city of voodoo and alcohol?" Leo asks.

 

Milo puts his hand on his chin, thinking. "Well, there's not much in general. Don't go wandering off on your own 'cause it's easy to get lost. Don't disrespect any old people...Oh! If you go into a witch's shop, anything you touch, you have to buy. And listen to the witches; they're always right."

 

"Witches?" Atlas raises a brow. She hadn't even considered that this could be the doing of a witch. A witch using real magic anyway. But no, witches use hex bags and spells, not guns. 

 

"Oh, yea, the place is full of them. They're spooky but right. A witch once told me I was gonna have bad luck, then the next day, my favorite shirt got ruined!" 

 

"Ruined? How?" Reid asks.

 

Milo ducks his head. "Well, I spilled ketchup on it, but it still counts!" After a moment of consideration and chuckles, he adds, "Oh, and we might run into some of my friends. Don't talk to them. They're not the nicest folk, especially to feds."

 

"But you're a fed." Kassie states.

 

"I know." Is all Milo says about it. 

 

"Okay, here's the plan," Hotch cuts in. "Me, Atlas, JJ, and Milo will go to the crime scenes. Prentiss, Bell, Morgan, and Lee, go to the houses. Reid and Leo, the coroners. Dave, take Jack to the station and set up for us. We'll meet back at the station when we're done." He nods before moving back to his seat. The group disperses, talking or looking over their files in the remaining fly time. Atlas puts her headphones back on. Without the talk of the case, Milo's words come flooding back to her.

 

Atlas shakes her head to chase the thoughts away, instead thinking about witches. She and her brothers have come into contact with many witches and psychics, like Pamela and Missouri. Atlas wonders how Missouri is doing and if the woman is still living independently, giving people readings in that strange little house of hers. Pamela is long dead, killed by a demon not long after Cas pulled Atlas from Hell. What a wild sentence that is, and to think it's all true.

 

Atlas tries her best to focus on the road ahead. Witches are strong but killable. And thankfully, human. Maybe, just maybe, Atlas can find a witch to help her. Though it's more likely, they'll find her first. Atlas touches the iron knife in her sleeve. She has long since gotten a replacement for the one lost to evidence. 

 

Atlas has run into white witches before- witches who don't draw on dark magic for their spells. They are still weak to iron, but maybe one will help her. Sam and Atlas have always been more lenient about enlisting monsters for help than Dean has, at least, until he met Benny. Everything changed after Benny and Purgatory. It gets hard to see them as bloodthirsty monsters when one of them is your friend. And maybe more, but Dean would never give her straight answers.

 

 Still, Atlas has always thought that witches are different since they are still human. A white witch could be of great use to Atlas for more than just the case. Hopefully, she'll find one willing to help a hunter and a fed. She'll just have to wait and see. 

 

Chapter Text

Hotch, JJ, Atlas, and Milo stand around the body of elderly Maxim Valencia on a crowded street, right in front of a very popular bar- according to Milo. The older Latino man is dressed in bright clothes, beads, and a face mask, all in the Mardi Gras colors of gold, purple and green. The mask covers his face well, but streams of dried blood still line the sides of his bald head. The clothes and crime scenes are clean, but they already know that he was killed at his house. 

 

Just beyond the borders of the yellow police tape, a crowd is gathering. Reporters and locals alike jostle for a view, yelling at the beat cops for information. Hotch and his team had needed to dodge them when coming inside. But their seeking, judgemental eyes watch him now. Hotch scans the group, seeing no one of particular interest. He'll have to remember later to talk to the others about working with the media and crowd control; just another thing these students have to learn. 

 

Hotch turns back to the crime scene, observing Atlas and Milo as much as he watches the body.

 

"What do you see?" JJ asks. Hotch had recently asked his agents to help the students engage by asking them questions; he's glad to see it's catching on. 

 

"One gunshot wound to the head, excitation style," Milo starts, lifting the mask to observe the wound. "Same as the others. Changed postmortem. No ligature marks, torture marks, or anything else, really." He finishes, standing up. Milo startles Hotch slightly every time he stands since the skinny man is nearly his height, though he is so much younger. 

 

"Not necessarily true," Hotch jumps in. "Look at how the body is posed. It's laid here, sitting upright, as though it's someone who had fallen asleep on Mardi Gras. Only upon closer inspection would you realize that he's dead."

 

Milo shrugs, looking confused. "Yea, but anyone would think this is weird. I mean, who dresses like this regularly?"

 

"Tourists?" JJ offers. 

 

Milo frowns and shakes his head. Hotch has to admit that he, too, is confused. Whatever message the unsub is trying to send, it's not clear. Atlas is still crouched by the body, noiseless as she inspects it. Her eyes are narrowed and flicking as they take in everything in sight.

 

"Got any ideas?" JJ asks her.

 

Atlas shakes her head. "Nothing solid yet."

 

"It doesn't have to be solid for you to share." Hotch pushes, urging her to talk. Atlas likes to hold back her thoughts until she knows she has something worth speaking, he noticed. She won't share her ideas until she can back them. A trait that does not work well when they're spitballing for theories. 

 

She shrugs, not looking at them. "The bullet to the head is quick, so clearly this guy doesn't care about the victims, only the message." 

 

"But what's the message?" JJ asks. 

 

Atlas sighs. "Working on it," She says. Hotch is really going to have to work to break that habit.

 

Before he can say anything else, Milo draws their attention. 

 

"Uh-oh," He whispers. Hotch follows his gaze to the crowd where several young black people have pushed through to the front. They stare at Milo with a mixture of expressions; some are happy, angry, and upset. All are cause for concern.

 

"Who's that?" Atlas asks, appearing on Milo's other side.

 

Milo whimpers. "My old friends. Like I said, they're not the nicest bunch. I'll talk to 'em. That's probably why they're here anyway." Milo fixes his face before bouncing off to the group.

 

Hotch can now clearly see that the group is three men and two women. None of the men size up to Milo, but one of them is broad as a bear with a nasty scar on his chin. The women are both shorter and have their hair done up in colorful braids down their backs. The group perfectly fits the crowd, though the young man with the scar is staring at Milo with a worrying degree of anger. Hotch is well aware of what Morgan had warned Milo about back in DC, that home towns and families can make cases complicated. All the agents know exactly how true that is for Morgan. Hopefully, Milo will have an easier time. 

 

"I'll keep an eye on him; make sure he isn't running off to parties or anything," JJ waves a hand. Hotch nods, humming in agreement. He knows that JJ and Milo's partnership has been the hardest since they have the most opposing personalities. Milo being surrounded by his friends again certainly isn't going to help. 

 

Hotch catches pieces of the conversation as the wind carries them to him. For a moment, he just stands and listens.

 

“What's going on, Milo?” One of the women asks. 

 

“Everything’s fine, we're gonna catch this guy, I promise.” Milo soothes her.

 

“Well, it's cool that you're here,” The smallest man says, looking up at Milo with tentative eyes.

 

Milo shrugs, barely looking at the smaller man. “Yea, dunno if I’ll be able to stay long though. Once we catch this guy we have other cases.” 

 

A chorus of boos erupts from the group. “Oh come on, you just got home!” The other woman argues.

 

“You have to stay with us!” The second man says. 

 

“Yea, I mean, we can go to the bar like we used to? Maybe later today?” The smallest man tries again. He is curled in on himself and clearly self-conscious. The group speaks over him so that Milo doesn't hear. The man with the scar does not speak, he just stares.

 

“Maybe when you're done, you can spend the night.” The first woman sings, running her hand up Milo’s arm. The taller man chuckles and removes her hand.

 

“Sorry princess, but I've got work to do. FBI work.” He smiles despite her dejected look.

 

Hotch calls Milo back to them and watches him wave goodbye to his friends before joining the older agents. Hotch turns only to find Atlas gone. For a moment, his adrenaline spikes as he thinks of the small girl being kidnapped again until he spots her golden brown braid near the edge of the crowd, talking to someone. Atlas has her head down, speaking low to the person across the yellow tape. The man across from her is tall and dark-skinned, his hair is cut low on his head, and his clothes are more robe-like than anything. He is donned in purples, blacks, and blues. His grey eyes catch in the light, showing interest that his sly smile reflects.

 

Hotch calls Atlas over again, sterner this time. Atlas turns to him, saying her farewells to the man before trotting over to him. The man turns to move away as well, disappearing into the crowd. Just before he does, Hotch spots a small, fresh, pointed burn mark on his hand. 

 

"Who was that?" JJ asks.

 

"Someone who might be able to help us," After a moment of consideration, "A witch."

 

Hotch is startled. "A witch?" He echos. 

 

"You actually believe in all that stuff?" JJ asks skeptically.

 

Atlas nods. "Oh, it's real. At least, some of it is,"

 

Milo tips his head. "What do you mean? I mean, I believe the witches work too but what, you only believe part of it?" Hotch leads the group back toward the SUV parked just outside the perimeter. 

 

Atlas shakes her head, ducking under the yellow tape. "Not all witches are real. It's pretty easy to fake. Real magic mojo is hard to come by."

 

"How do you tell what's real and what's fake?" JJ inquires as they slip into the car.

 

Atlas seats herself, fasting her seatbelt. "There's tests," She pauses; Hotch guesses it has something to do with the fresh burn mark on the man's hand. "I'm set to go to his shop at dusk, which is in a few hours. I think he can help us. But he warned me not to bring 'a parade'" She air quotes. "So I'll drag Reid or someone along with me." 

 

Hotch starts up the car, struggling to drive away through the crowd. Milo nudges Atlas's ribs in the backseat. "You should bring Jack," He teases. Atlas rolls her eyes, masking her face. 

 

"Apprentices must always be with a mentor," Hotch states, watching Atlas closely in the rearview mirror. Her face is impassive. She shrugs like she knew that. Hotch knows that Jack had given her a box of chocolates this morning, and Jack doesn't just give out chocolates. He'll have to keep close eyes on those two.

 

"Do you really think this magic man can help?" JJ says while typing into her phone rapidly.

 

Atlas nods. "Worth a shot. Real, good witches are valuable. As long as we dont run into any bad ones, we shouldn't have a problem." 

 

Hotch nods, wondering how Atlas knows so much about witches. And how she managed to find a 'real' one in the minutes they had been at the crime scene. Hotch doesn't believe in witches or magic. But if he did, he'd think that this place is swarming with it. The man Atlas talked to may not be a witch, but he may be a witness. However Atlas found him, he may be able to help them crack this case. 

 

 

A little while later, the team had reconvened at the New Orleans police station. The young captain was more than welcoming, especially after seeing Milo. They had engaged in friendly -and loud- conversation for several minutes before JJ had dragged her apprentice away. Now the whole team is gathered in the room they had taken over and converted into a workspace. He believes it's a meeting room. 

 

"Okay, let's go over what we have," Hotch says, looking at his team seated at the table.

 

Reid began with the coroner's report. "Nothing special from the corners. COD was a single bullet wound to the head, no ligature marks or defensive wounds on either of the victims."

 

"Same for the guy on the street," JJ agrees.

 

"Well, the house showed no signs of forced entry, but they were well inside the house when they were shot. All three people were killed in their kitchens." Morgan states, sounding defeated. 

 

"So they let the killer in?" Jack asks.

 

Bell nods, sitting heavily in her chair. "Seems like it. And we still don't know how the victims' lives overlapped at all."

 

"So we don't know how they met the unsub," Atlas states. 

 

"It could just be a ruse," Lee shrugs. "'Hey, my phone died, and I need to call my wife. Can I borrow yours?'"

 

"Has Garcia and Brooks called back?" Emily asks.

 

Rossi shakes his head.

 

A heavy silence falls over the room. It's clear to everyone that the case has hit a roadblock. They don't know why the unsub is killing or dressing them up, how he's finding his victims or how they're letting him inside. They don't know how he's getting them to the dumpsites or evading detection. But they've increased public awareness and police presence in the fourth ward, so hopefully, that will help. Sadly, if this killer sticks to his schedule, he won't be out hunting for another couple of days.

 

"Well then, let's hope Atlas's witch can give us some answers." Milo pipes up, smirking. Everyone in the room turns to Atlas, who shoots Milo an unpleasant glare.

 

"I'm sorry, did he say 'witch'?" Dave asks incredulously. 

 

Atlas sighs. "Yeah, I know a guy. Or, I guess, I met a guy while we were at the crime scene. I think he can help us. I'm going to his shop at dusk, which is in about… 20 minutes." 

 

Lee raises an eyebrow. "A witch. Seriously." 

 

Atlas puts her hands up in a surrendering motion. "Listen, you don't have to believe it, but he's real. Realer than a lot of others around here. And I think he can help us." Atlas pauses, motioning to the room covered in files and photos. "Unless you'd rather sit here brainstorming. I think it's worth a shot."

 

Dave smiles. "Let's go see the witch doctor then,"

 

"Ah, ah, ah, not quite," Atlas waves one finger at him. "I'm only allowed to bring one other person. He doesn't want a team of goofy agents stomping all over his shop."

 

"Do you even know his name?" Jack asks, looking worried.

 

Atlas tips her nose up at him. "His name is Eliphas, if you must know."

 

"Eliphas, of African origin. Means "universal gifted person," "intelligent and knowledgeable," or "god-fearing." Reid breathes.

 

"Oh good, so you intend to just waltz into Mr. god-fearing's shop and hope to walk out with some answers?" Morgan says, surprisingly hostile.

 

Atlas rounds on him, bristling. "Calm your tits, chocolate thunder. I know a few witches; I think I know what to expect. And I can take care of myself."

 

Morgan raises his shoulders, getting angrier. Before he can speak again, Dave interrupts.

 

"Well would you look at the time, it's nearly dusk. You'd better get going. If I may ask, who are you taking with you?"

 

Atlas scrunches up her face, looking at the agents in turn. She passes over Morgan quickly, which is good because he would clearly cause nothing but trouble. After a moment, she speaks. "Reid," she says simply.

 

Reid looks surprised but stands to gather his things. 

 

Dave claps his hands, looking slightly disappointed. "May I ask how you came to that decision?"

 

Atlas looks at him levelly, taking a breath before explaining. "Hotch doesn't believe in magic and gives off a stern vibe that'll scare any witch away. Morgan's the same. JJ is wearing citrine around her neck and on her ring. This particular witch hates citrine because he wears moonstone, which is like, the opposite? And yes, even if you took it off, he would reject you because he would feel the stone; they work like that. I fear Emily may also come off as a little aggressive. I think this particular witch likes someone knowledgeable but still willing to learn. And since he's old, he'll get along better taking up a teaching role with younger people, which eliminates Rossi. That leaves smart and eager Reid. Since you won't let me take one of the kids, that is." She finishes. The group stares at her in awe, with several mouths open. "Plus, I'm betting Reid already has the city memorized and can drive us there."

 

"How do you know all this?" JJ asks, touching her ring self-consciously. 

 

"I had an, uh, interesting childhood." She says, glancing away. 

 

Dave inhales, waving his hands. "Well, if you say so. Go on, tell us what this Eliphas has to say about our case since I'm assuming you can't bring him in?"

 

"You assume right." Atlas agrees, standing and grabbing her own bag. She waves for Reid to follow her. "Well, be back soon, probably not long after sundown. And our phones will be off, so we might not see any texts or calls."

 

"They will?" Reid asks, halfway out the door. 

 

"Yup, magic and technology don't work great together, surprise!" She calls as she shoves Reid out the door. "See ya!"

 

The door closes behind them, leaving the team in a swirl of confused, frustrated, and awed faces. 

 

'Well, that was certainly interesting." Dave states.

 

"Let's just hope it's not a huge waste of time," Morgan mutters.

 

Dave turns to him, looking confused. "What's your problem? What are you cursed by a witch or something?"

 

"No," Morgan snaps before backing down at Hotch's sharp gaze. "I just don't like all that magic stuff, too weird."

 

"I just hope she doesn't get hurt," Jack whispers, looking after the pair anxiously. His nervous words elicited a humor-filled look that passes between Bell and Milo. Hotch can guess what it's about but is honestly avoiding the topic. 

 

"I just hope they come back with something useful. Now let's get to work." Hotch states, trying to call his team to action. But there is minimal action in the New Orleans police department at sundown, surrounded by a table of crime scene photos and coroner's reports. Atlas may believe in witches, but Hotch doesn't. So he can only pray that Eliphas has actual, helpful information. Or else they might be waiting for another body to drop.

Chapter Text

Atlas slides out of the SUV at the end of some street on the edge of the Fourth Ward. Eliphas had not given her the shop address, only the street name. She assumes that it’s some sort of test; if she can find the shop, then she’s worth helping.

 

Atlas pauses, momentarily reviewing her conversation with Eliphas. The conversation didn't last long, but he gave her several valuable pieces of information. The witch had called her over at the crime scene by name and introduced himself. He had told Atlas that he is a witch and has information that could help the case, but Atlas had not believed him. In a show of faith, Eliphas had allowed himself to be burned by Atlas’s iron knife, proving himself. In reality, Atlas cant tell a white witch from a regular one on sight, but she had to trust him. He had told her when to meet, the street name, and who to take with her. Thankfully, Eliphas had requested Reid, who would have been Atlas’s second choice after Hotch anyway. 

 

Atlas strolls down the street with Reid trailing just behind her. The tall man is nervous, tucking his hair behind his ears and shoving his hands in his pockets. Atlas understands why; this street is undoubtedly a strange one. There aren’t many people here, and the few that are here lurk in the corners, little more than shadows with glowing cigar butts. Atlas can feel their sharp eyes watching them as they move slowly down the street. A few shift as they walk past, but Atlas and Reid hold their nerves, managing not to jump at every little noise.

 

The shops along this street are dark, painted windows displaying images of physics, magic, or tarot cards. Some of them glow from the inside, and several have candles set out on the displays, casting an eerie yellow glow on the sidewalk. But the street itself is mainly in darkness. There are few lamps here, and many of them are out or flickering anonymously. The light from the sun is rapidly fading, bleaching the sky red. Atlas moves quickly, not wanting to spend longer than necessary here. 

 

“Do you know which shop it is?” Reid asks, clearly trying to contain his unease.

 

“Yes,” No. But she’ll find it.

 

There! About halfway down the street, Atlas spots it. A small anti-possession symbol in the window. The sunburst with the pentagram on the inside is identical to the one Atlas has tattooed on her collarbone. None of the other shops have this design. The sign above the door is faded but reads Arbor pythonissam est scriptor: voodoo dolls, herbs, and more. 

 

“Arbor pythonissam est scriptor. Means ‘Witch’s Haven’ in Latin.” Reid translates. Atlas is thankful for it. She has an affinity for languages, unlike her brothers, but Latin isn’t her strong suit. “Your sure this is the right place?”

 

Atlas glances at the anti-possession symbol on the window. She opens the door. “I’m sure,” she says firmly.

 

Atlas and Reid slowly enter the small shop, letting the door click closed behind them. The shop is dark, lit only by candles dispersed haphazardly throughout the space. Shelves line the walls on either side, making Atlas feel closed off and slightly claustrophobic. The air is thick with smoke and the scent of lavender and wood. The shop is littered with items made for various natural materials. Voodoo dolls, sage, incense, potion bottles, and many other strange things line the shelves. Bones and drying herbs hang from the low ceiling, forcing Reid to duck to avoid them. Atlas lowers her head slightly as the items brush her head. She's not that short, after all. 

 

She leads Reid through the shop, listening to the soft clatter of bones overhead. The shelves branch off in many directions, creating winding paths throughout the space, which looks much larger from the inside. Atlas continues straight on, sure that there must be a counter around here somewhere. Finally, after far too long navigating through candlelight and smoke, Atlas comes to a stop at a glass countertop. The inside of the counter holds glittering gems and geodes, which are being sold at an outrageous price. Atlas looks behind the ancient cash register, but the counter is empty. Reid pulls up beside her, eyes wide and flailing slightly as he scrambles to get away from the hanging bones. Nothing hangs from the ceiling in the few feet around the counter, allowing the patrons to stand up straight. Atlas looks around for a bell but is startled by a deep voice from behind her.

 

“You've nothing to fear from the bones, boy. They don't bite.” Atlas whirls on her heels to face the grey-eyed man she had met earlier. He flashes a smile. “At least, not anymore.”

 

Eliphas saunters around the shop, having emerged from one of the dark passageways carrying a candle. He reaches up, aged and expert fingers inspecting the bones Reid had been working so hard to avoid. Reid opens his mouth to speak, but Atlas puts a hand on his arm, stopping him. He looks at her questioningly as she shakes her head. For now, they follow Eliphas’s lead. Do not speak unless spoken to.

 

The witch takes his time as he moves through the open area of the shop, inspecting his merchandise. He pays the visitors little regards and almost seems to be enjoying prolonging their stay here. Reid appears to be growing uncomfortable as he fidgets with his clothes and stares at Eliphas. Atlas has to admit that she, too, is getting anxious. She doesn't like this dark, closed-in shop. The walls feel too close to her, and the passageways too long. Like she’ll never be able to find her way back. 

 

Finally, Eliphas comes around the counter, placing his candle down. The old man takes a seat on the stool, folds his hands in his lap, and looks at the pair. “What can I help you with, agents?” he asks, his accent thick, the same as Milo’s.

 

Atlas speaks up before Reid can, slightly worried about what the genius boy will say. “You said you would be able to help us with our case. Back at the crime scene?” Atlas offers.

 

Eliphas nods, face impassive but smiling. “I remember.”

 

Atlas pauses for a beat. “Can you help us?”

 

Eliphas nods again, looking from Atlas to Reid. “I can.” He focuses his gaze on Reid, his steel eyes sharpening. “How is your mother, Dr. Reid?”

 

Reid looks taken aback, his mouth hanging open slightly, but only for a moment. “How do you know my name?” He breathes.

 

“Oh, I know many things.” Eliphas sits back in his chair. Atlas knows witches enjoy this, showing off their power and knowledge to anyone who will listen. She resists rolling her eyes. Eliphas rounds on her. “We witches and psychics do enjoy ‘showing off,’ as you say, especially when lives are in danger.”

 

Atlas swallows. So Eliphas is a psychic too. Like Missouri and Pamela. Atlas wonders if he knows them, but she doesn't have to wonder for long.

 

“Yes, I do know Missouri and Pamela,” Eliphas answers her unasked question. “Shame what happened to Pam. Your lot had a hand to play in that if I remember correctly.” The witch leans forward, narrowing his eyes. Reid glances at Atlas in confusion, but she manages to avoid his eyes.

 

“Yes,” She grinds out. “But that's not what we're here to talk about.”

 

Eliphas sighs, sitting back again. “Of course, where are my manners?” He waves a hand. “Tell me what you wish to know.”

 

“Do you know anything about the deaths of Betsy Regan, Faith Cole, or Maxim Valencia?” Reid asks, clearly on edge. 

 

“Perhaps,” Eliphas responds.

 

“Like who killed them?” Atlas cuts in, her temper growing short. 

 

Eliphas waves a hand in an attempt to soothe her. “Calm yourself, child. The answer to your questions is not as far as you think.”

 

“What does that mean?” Reid inquires.

 

“It means that you are near and that you have seen this killer before.”

 

“What?” Atlas gawks, “What do you mean, we've seen him before?”

 

Eliphas shakes his head, still smiling softly. “There is little more I can tell you.”

 

Now it's Reid’s turn to question him. “People in your city are dying, innocent people. If you cared at all, you'd tell us everything you know.” A pause. “And if you don't, we’ll charge you with obstruction of justice.” 

 

Eliphas chuckles slightly at the threat, and Atlas is tempted to bash her knuckles into his face. “There is so much more I can tell you, and you want to know about one tiny killer?” He looks at Reid, “Wouldn't you like to know about your mother? About how she's doing and how she misses your daily letters so much?” Reid gasps, and Eliphas turns to Atlas. “And you, poor stray. Don't you want to know about your brothers, how they are doing? I hear one of them got off with some pretty nasty bruises recently.” 

 

Atlas’s breathing picks up. How does Eliphas know how she is? What is she kidding, he's a psychic and a witch; he probably knows everything about them since the moment they walked into this shop. Atlas shakes her head and forces herself to release her knives, which she hardly realizes she was holding. She will not let her temper get the best of her here.

 

Atlas takes a breath before speaking again. “We are here about the murders, nothing more. Tell us what you know, and we can be on our way.” She grinds out.

 

Eliphas nods, looking away. For the first time since they entered, he seems to be considering something, thinking. Finally, he speaks. “Alright. Have you yet to figure out why this man is killing these people?” Eliphas asks.

 

“We don't know,” Reid answers, seeming about as in control of himself as Atlas is. Which is not very much. 

 

Eliphas nods, eyes narrowing. “Did it ever occur to you that this killer is sending a message to just one man? One you possibly know?” 

 

Reid and Atlas exchange a confused glance. “Wait, so we know the killer and his target?”

 

Eliphas shakes his head, still leading them on by breadcrumbs. “Not his target. His reason.” After a moment of Reid and Atlas staring at him blankly, Eliphas continues. “The FBI doesn't come out to every killing, do they? No, only the weird ones, I think.”

 

Reid looks away, and Atlas can practically hear the gears turning in his head. “So the killer wants us here. But why?”

 

“When our actions go unnoticed, we think there is always a chance for more. We think so right up until the moment the reason for our actions disappears.” Eliphas hums. Atlas curses him internally, hating how much witches speak in riddles. Can’t they ever just say things straight?

 

Eliphas shoots her a stern look before standing from his stool and picking up his candle again. “Sadly, that is all the time I have for today; I must be going. But I bid you good luck on your journey.” The grey-eyed man turns and evaporates into the smoky air.

 

“Come on, let's get out of here.” Atlas signals to Reid as she leads the way back through the shop, Eliphas’s words playing over and over again in her head.

 

Finally, they burst out the front door into fresh, clear air. Well, maybe not clean, but not nearly as heavy. Atlas feels relieved as the pressing walls of the witch’s shop are replaced by open air. She looks up to find the sky completely dark. Stars send pinpricks of light on them, and the moon is nearly half full. Atlas stands there for a moment, breathing in the fresh air and watching the stars. Light, wispy clouds drift over the moon, not thick enough to obscure it completely. 

                                                                                     

Finally, the pair walk to the SUV in silence. They load themselves in and Reid starts the car, but he doesn't drive away. Instead, he turns to her, clearly trying to read her face.

 

“You never told us you had brothers,” He whispers, eyes soft and searching.

 

“And you never told me about your mother. Even Stevens, Reid.” She snaps back a little too harshly. Atlas’s fingers are itching for her phone. She can guess that the witch toned down her brother's injuries with Reid right next to them. But if one of them is hurt enough for him to catch wind of it, then they’re really hurt. But she can't risk texting them with Reid right here; he’d see or say something. And that is a conversation Atlas does not want to have. The moment she gets a chance, she decides, she’ll text Sam. Since Dean never admits when he's hurt anyways.

 

The skinny doctor seems to deflate slightly as he puts the car in drive and pulls them away from the cursed witches shop. Atlas definitely does not like witches, she decides. But at least this one gave her something useful for the case. The sooner they catch this guy, the sooner they can get out of this city. 

 

Chapter Text

Hotch watches as Atlas and Reid walk back into the meeting room, neither looking happy. Reid is fidgeting with his sleeves and hair like he does when he's anxious and Atlas is grinding her teeth, appearing equally worried and frustrated. The pair come into the room and sit at the open chairs. Reid gratefully accepts a cup of coffee from Prentiss while Atlas shoos Jack away, claiming she doesn't need it. After a moment, Hotch places himself across the table from them as the rest of the team sits. They gather around, leaning in close to hear them like it's a campfire story. 

 

“Well it was certainly interesting,” Atlas says with fake amusement. 

 

“What happened?” Hotch asks, wondering what this Eliphas could have said that would have rattled his agents so badly. 

 

“It was… strange,” Reid starts, holding his warm coffee close to his face. “Eliphas knew things he shouldn't have known.”

 

“That's because he's not just a witch; he’s a psychic,” Atlas explains. Hotch struggles to see the difference. 

 

“So that means what?” Morgan asks skeptically. 

 

Atlas sighs. “Psychics read minds and feelings and shit. Witches perform spells. Usually heavier duty spells than regular psychics do.”

 

“And you didn't know he was a psychic when you first met him?” JJ raises her eyebrows.

 

“I guessed, but what he said the first time we talked, he could have just looked up online, so I wasn't sure.”

 

“But you were sure he's a witch?” Morgan presses.

 

“That doesn't matter.” Dave cuts in. “What did he tell you?”

 

Reid, who is staring into his coffee, recites the conversation line by line. He changes his voice just slightly when the speaker changes, making it easier for the group to follow the conversation. Once again, Hotch is beyond thankful for that crazy good memory of his. “He said, ‘Tell me what you wish to know.’ ‘ Do you know anything about the deaths of Betsy Regan, Faith Cole, or Maxim Valencia?’ ‘Perhaps.’ ‘Like who killed them?’ ‘Calm yourself, child. The answer to your questions is not as far as you think.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘It means that you are near and that you have seen this killer before.’ ‘What? What do you mean, we've seen him before?’ ‘There is little more I can tell you.’ ‘People in your city are dying, innocent people. If you cared at all, you'd tell us everything you know. And if you don't, we’ll charge you with obstruction of justice.’ ‘There is so much more I can tell you, and you want to know about one tiny killer?’” Reid pauses, thinking. And Hotch knows that he isn't struggling to remember the conversation. “Then he said something weird.” Reid swallows.

 

“What did he say?” Hotch presses, leaning forward slightly.

 

Reid looks up from his coffee, meeting Hotch's eyes. “He talked about my mother.” Reid breathes.

 

Hotch inhales and leans back, shaking his head. Eliphas is good, but he's a fake, just like all the others. “Reid, whatever he said, he probably looked it up online. He's not a real witch or psychic; he’s human, just like us. You know this.” Hotch knows that Reid knows, but sometimes it's good to have a reminder.

 

Reid shakes his head, looking into his coffee again. “He talked about the letters. When I used to send my mother a letter every day. That's not public information, Hotch.” Reid whispers. 

 

Hotch presses his mouth into a thin line. Reid and Atlas’s uneasiness is leaking onto the rest of the group. Several of them are moving in their chairs, throwing each other confused and worried looks. Hotch shakes his head.

 

“What else did he say?”

 

Reid picks up the conversation again. “‘We are here about the murders, nothing more. Tell us what you know, and we can be on our way.’ ‘Alright. Have you yet to figure out why this man is killing these people?’ ‘We don't know.’ ‘Did it ever occur to you that this killer is sending a message to just one man? One you possibly know?’ ‘Wait, so we know the killer and his target?’ ‘Not his target. His reason. The FBI doesn't come out to every killing, do they? No, only the weird ones, I think.’ ‘So the killer wants us here. But why?’ ‘When our actions go unnoticed, we think there is always a chance for more. We think so right up until the moment the reason for our actions disappears.’” Reid finishes, sipping his coffee. 

 

“Well, that's… something,” Prentiss tries. 

 

“That's more than something,” Dave starts. “The killer wants us here, according to Eliphas. The message, whatever it is, is for one of us.” 

 

“That's all he said?” Hotch asks. Reid and Atlas exchange a look, questioning on one end and warning on the other. Finally, they both nod. They both lie. 

 

“If this guy is trying to talk to one of us, it's probably me,” Milo says, looking genuinely unhappy for possibly the first time ever. 

 

Hotch nods. “Agreed. But do you know anyone who would do this? It's not like you know the victims.” Milo shakes his head. “What about your friends, the people at the crime scene?” Hotch remembers the conversation between the group. “What about the smallest man?”

 

Milo looks up at him, surprised. “You mean Leon? The little guy?” Hotch nods. “No, no, he could never do this. He just couldn't.”

 

“But maybe he would for your attention,” Morgan says flatly while dialing Garcia. 

 

“What’s news?” Brooks answers.

 

“Hey girls, we need you to look up some names for us, ready?” Morgan asks.

 

Brooks responds. “Yup! Garcia will be back soon. Toss ‘em at me.”

 

Hotch motions to Milo, who feeds the name to Brooks. “Leon Boone.”

 

“Okay. Got it.” Brooks pauses, the sound of keys clicking rapidly filling the silence. “Okay, here we go. Leon Boone; 25 years old. Works as a bartender. Still lives with his parents after graduating college last year. No priors. But has a sealed juvie file.”

 

“Don't bother.” Milo waves his hand. “It's just dumb stuff we did as kids.” He pauses. “Now that I think about it, Leon did a lot of that stuff to impress me.” Milo scratches his head, looking less convinced by the second. “He’s the smallest in our group and the butt of all our jokes. He was the most upset when I left for the FBI, tried to convince me to stay. and... “ Milo trails off.

 

“And what?” Bell inquires.

 

Milo looks at the floor. “And I think his mom died recently, and I couldn’t attend the funeral.” Milo shrugs sadly. “I never knew her; we were out on a case. I thought he would be okay with the others.”

 

“How long ago?” Atlas asks.

 

Milo shrugs again, not looking up from the floor. “About a month.”

 

Dave sighs. “And there’s your trigger.”

 

“Brooks, does Leon own any guns?” JJ asks.

 

More keys. “Nope.”

 

“Family or friends?” Hotch tires.

 

More keys. “Oh, yea, one of the guys in his file that he got arrested with a couple of times does. A Jaye Norton. He owned a handgun.”

 

“How did ballistics not match?” Emily asks. 

 

“Probably because this gun is filed as evidence. Jaye had it on him when he was arrested, so they put it in evidence. Nobody checked it.” Books answers. 

 

“How much you wanna bet Leon used Jaye’s gun for the murders?” Dave taps his foot.

 

“That's not a bet I want to make,” Milo mutters, his head down. 

 

“But how did they get the gun out of evidence?” Bell tilts her head.

 

“Any number of ways. They could have broken in, had a dirty cop, replaced it with another one, so no one noticed…” Reid trails off. Hotch is glad to see both him and Atlas paying attention now.

 

Dave looks concerned. “But we never profiled a partner.” 

 

Lee shrugs. “We didn't have very much of a profile, to begin with.”

 

“Why would he do this?” Milo whispers face in his hands. Hotch locks eyes with JJ, who nods in understanding. She kneels beside Milo, who has his elbows resting on his knees. 

 

“Why don't we go ask him?” JJ says softly. Milo sighs, collects himself, and nods. 

 

“Brooks, send us the names and addresses of those men!” Hotch yells as he grabs his coat. 

 

“Both?” Brooks calls back.

 

“Yes!” The room becomes a flurry of movement as the team picks up their things and leaves the station. In a moment, Hotch finds himself driving the car beside JJ, Atlas, and an upset Milo.

 

Looking into the rearview mirror, Hotch sees Atlas trying her best to comfort him, though she seems uncomfortable herself. “It’ll be alright. Well, talk to them, get the story. Maybe we've got it all wrong; maybe they didn't do it.” She soothes.

 

Hotch doesn't hold his breath. 

Chapter Text

Atlas sits in the back of the SUV, struggling to comfort Milo as they drive to -most likely- arrest one of his old friends for murder.

 

Atlas feels dread creep up inside her. She knows how this story ends. She knows what happens when your friends with a killer. Killers get put down or put away. Most of the time, at least. Most of the time, law enforcement is right. And the rest of the time, Atlas and Bobby bust the boys out of whatever county jail they are being held in. 

 

But her team isn’t wrong, she knows this. Still, the only reason they are driving headfirst into Leon’s apartment is because some raggedy old witch had told them to. Atlas doesn’t exactly call that reliable information, but it’s a little too late to say that now.

 

“Why would he do this?” Milo whispers over and over again. He has his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees. Atlas rubs his arms, but she doesn’t really know what to say.

 

“We’ll figure it out, Milo, one way or another.” She says. Clearly, that’s not comforting because the skinny man only looks sadder. God, Atlas wishes that Sam could be here. He always knows what to say in situations like this. 

 

“We’re here,” Hotch says, stopping the car. Before anyone can leave, he twists in his seat, staring Milo down. “Are you going to be alright?” He asks with surprising worry.

 

Milo lifts his chin and steels himself, nodding once. Hotch looks between Atlas and JJ before nodding and exiting the car. The other agent hustle to follow.

 

Atlas hadn’t been paying attention to the drive, but now she sees that they are at what must be Leon’s house. Like the buildings around it, the house is built upward as opposed to out, making it tall and skinny. Since it’s dark out, Atlas can’t quite make out the color of the house. Lights are on inside, though, and the orange street lamps light up the area well. A few people walk the streets, since it’s less than an hour after dark. The moon and stars are still shining in the sky, though tonight they feel very, very far away.

 

 Another SUV has pulled up beside them. Morgan, Reid, Leo, and Ava hop out, ready to move. Without saying a word, Morgan, and Hotch climb the few steps to the porch and knock hard on the door. Reid and JJ are standing just behind them while the students linger on the sidewalk. Atlas knows better than to interfere this time around. 

 

Before Morgan or Hotch announce themselves, the door opens, and a small black man stands there, staring up at the agents with wide eyes. His mouth is agape as he takes them in, but Atlas can’t see his features, only his outline due to the light from inside the house. In one swift motion, the man looks from Morgan and Hotch to Milo, then he turns and sprints through the house.

 

“Hey! Stop! FBI!” Morgan yells as he starts the chase. All the other agents file after him, hands on their guns. Atlas steps forward, hearing crashes and shouting from inside the house, but Milo stops her. 

 

“Guys, wait!” Milo calls. The agents are already gone, but the students stop short on the porch. “Come on; I know where he’s going!” Milo waves frantically before racing away down the street. Atlas exchanges a look with Ava and Leo before following him. 

 

Atlas, Leo, Ava, and Milo race down the semi-crowded street, yelling and pushing people out of the way. The buildings are pushed up against each other here, with no alleyways between them. In the darkness, broken only by street lamps, Atlas can barely see where she is going. No one but Milo knows where they’re heading, but Atlas follows him anyway. 

 

Atlas’s heart pounds in her chest as she runs, and she can barely hear anything over the blood pumping in her ears. Her hair is blown out of her face; her braid pounds on her back as she runs. The group skids around the street corner, turning onto a much busier main road. Brown leaves crunch under their feet; Atlas nearly slips as she turns but catches herself. Cars blind them momentarily as they pass, but the group pushes forward. Sweat beads down Atlas’s brow despite the cool night air. Leo’s faded blue hair is waving in the slight breeze as he moves. Only Ava seems to be largely unbothered by the run. Atlas wonders if maybe those morning workouts are worth it after all.

 

They rounded another corner, and Atlas realizes that Milo is leading them to the back of Leon’s house. The houses are so close together here that they are largely pushed back to back, very few having small, beaten-up yards. This street is directly behind his friend’s house, and he probably has an escape route this way.  The road is darker with fewer people and cars, and several of the streetlamps are out. 

 

Milo screeches to a halt in the center of the street on the sidewalk. Atlas nearly crashes into his back at the sudden stop. She curses and flies her arms, narrowly avoiding falling on her face. Once she regains her balance, she moves to Milo’s side and sees who caused him to stop.

 

In the middle of the sidewalk, Leon is standing there in the light of an orange streetlamp, pointing a gun at Milo. His eyes are wide and wild, desperate looking. Sweat drenches his clothes, and he’s breathing heavily. Atlas guesses that the older agents aren’t very far behind. Leon has both hands on his gun, which is pointed right at Milo’s chest. 

 

Atlas stands on one side of Milo, with Ava on his other side. Leo is panting heavily on Atlas’s right. She touches the knives in her sleeves with her fingertips, wishing that the FBI would let the students carry guns. But it doesn’t matter; Atlas will not allow her teammates to die tonight.

 

Milo slowly raises his hands, Ava and Leo follow. Atlas looks at them and realizes that they are shaking, even Ava. They are terrified. But Atlas isn’t. This isn’t the first time she stared down the barrel of a gun before. And hopefully, it won’t be the last. Slowly, Atlas raises her hands. 

 

“Leon, please don't do this,” Milo begs. His seemingly permanent smile is nowhere to be found, and his eyes are watering.

 

“This is all your fault!” Leon yells, shaking the gun. Atlas touches the knife again, Leon doesn’t notice. This ends the moment she gets an opening. 

 

“Leon I-” Milo begins but is cut off when Morgan, Hotch, JJ, and Reid come bursting through the door of the house beside them.

 

It takes only moments for the older agents to take in the situation, and within seconds their guns are drawn, trained on Leon. They spread out, fanning around Leon in a careful attempt to keep everyone but him out of their lines of fire. They are all panting, but their eyes are sharp, and their fingers are ready.

 

“You don't want to do this, Leon,” Hotch warns, glancing at Atlas. He sees her fingers dipping down toward her sleeve and gives the slightest shake of his head. Atlas grinds her teeth but nods, releasing the knife. 

 

“I am perfectly aware of what I'm doing!” Leon yells, never looking away from Milo.

 

“Why, Leon? Why kill all those people?” Milo begs for an answer.

 

“Because of you,” Leon growls. “You hardly ever even looked at me. No matter what I did. I did everything you asked; I stole for you; I threw away my career for you! And all you ever cared about was the stupid FBI and catching some stupid serial killers!” Leon pauses, catching his breath. “They were all you cared about. You only had time for killers. So guess what? I became one!” 

 

Milo’s face is wrought with horror and defeat. “Leon, I never meant to ignore you. Getting into the FBI was my dream, I-I just didn't have time for-”

 

“Bullshit!” Leon interrupts. “You always had time for Jaye, and Ned and Gwen and Izzy.” Leon spits the last word like it’s sour on his tongue. “But you never had time for me.”

 

“Put the gun down, and we can talk this out,” JJ warns.

 

“I’m done talking,” Leon yells, spit flying. “And I’m done sucking up to you.” He growls. 

 

Leon straights his arm; his eyes go hard. Atlas grabs her knife. The darkness lights up. Boom. 

 

In the blink of an eye, Leon is on the ground, blood seeping from his stomach. JJ’s gun is missing a bullet as she runs forward, crouching beside the fallen man. Milo is there too, holding his friend’s head in his hands. Blood leaks from the wound, staining the ground, their clothes, and their skin red. JJ presses two fingers to Leon’s neck, pausing for a moment before shaking her head.

 

Aside from JJ and Milo, everyone had remained standing when Leon fell, but now, Ava and Lep crumple as well. At first, Atlas is alarmed when Leo falls to his knees, chest heaving. His eyes are wide and panicked, and he seems to be hyperventilating. Reid rushes to his apprentice’s side, instructing him to slow his breathing and calm down. 

 

On Atlas’s right, Ava slowly lowers herself to the ground, still shaking. She stares blankly at the body and the pool of blood forming around it. Morgan moves to her side more slowly, crouching in front of her. Morgan uses his body to block Ava’s view of the dead man, speaking to her in low and comforting rhythms. 

 

Right in front of Atlas, Milo is still holding Leon’s head in his arms. JJ is beside him, rubbing his back in a comforting motion. Though Milo is quiet, his back is shaking. Atlas can’t see his face, but if she had to guess, she would think that he is crying.

 

Hotch’s shoulders block her view of her teammates as he steps in front of her. He looks down at Atlas with concerned eyes. 

 

“Are you alright?” He asks.

 

Atlas shrugs, resheathing her knife. “Nothing I haven’t seen before.” She looks at her teammates. “What about them?” She whispers. “I didn’t know this would hit them so hard.”

 

Hotch sighs, looking at Ava and Leo in turn, with their mentors beside them. “Reading about death and seeing it are two very different things.”

 

Atlas shrugs again, uncomfortable in the heavy air but unsure of how to clear it. “I’m sure staring down the barrel of a gun doesn’t help,” She chuckles dryly. Hotch hums in agreement.

 

Atlas tilts her head as the sound of sirens fills the air. They’ll be here soon, and soon they will all get to go home. 

 

“You were ready to stop Leon, weren’t you?” Hotch draws Atlas away from her thoughts.

 

“If by stop you mean stab, then yes. I was prepared to stop the guy who had a gun pointed at Milo.” She nods, setting her face. “And JJ did. One of us would have. You, me, JJ, what’s it matter?”

 

Hotch narrows his eyes. “Because we dont shoot unless we have to, you were looking for an opening, again.”

 

“So were you.” Atlas snaps.

 

“No, we were willing to talk him down, Atlas.” Hotch counters. “You cannot be shoot-first-ask-questions-later in this line of work.” Atlas bares her teeth at him, and Hotch lowers his voice to a growl, making sure no one else can hear them. “No matter what you did before. No matter what kind of childhood you had. I dont need to know about it, not unless you want to tell me. But until you do, I need you to act like the FBI agent that you are.”

 

Atlas growls, anger burning through her veins. She’s heard this speech before. Or at least, something similar.

 

“You do things my way, or not at all.” John had said, then Dean, then Bobby. Why do all the men in her life feel the never-ending urge to boss her around?

 

“Atlas,” Hotch says. “Do you understand why I’m asking this?” 

 

Atlas scoffs. “Does it matter?” 

 

Hotch’s stern glare somehow becomes sterner. “It’s for your own safety, Atlas. You cannot go around stabbing every unsub we meet.” His voice softens for a moment. “You’ll never get anywhere unless you learn to trust this team. Trust that we are going to help you and that you are not alone.”

 

Atlas pauses, studying Hotch’s face. That she’s not alone? Clearly, she’s not alone; she’s surrounded by people. And more are on the way, judging by the sirens growing louder.  

 

But Atlas knows that’s not what Hotch means. Atlas has been fighting for herself for too long. She sighs, coming back to the same conclusion as she did after the first case. That she cannot act on her own, and she must trust the team. Atlas nods mutely, breaking Hotch’s stare.

 

Atlas looks down at her teammates, her friends and tries to remember what that first time feels like. Atlas has stared down death so many times, whether in the form of a knife, a gun, a monster, or Death himself; she’s done it and survived. Atlas had been so young when she had started the hunter’s life; she had practically been born into it. The monsters have existed for as long as she can remember. Death has lingered at the edge of Atlas’s vision for all this time. And clearly, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. It seems to be just as common here as it was there. 

 

Did Atlas leave one blood-soaked life for another? What’s the difference between being a hunter and an agent? The type of monster they hunt?

 

Atlas stares down at her teammates, watching as their mentors drag them away from the scene. The street is washed with red and blue lights as cars pull up, but the action is over. The only thing left to see is a body. Atlas follows Hotch to the car, shutting the door behind her. 

 

Atlas doesn’t realize it then, but in her head, the line between hunter and agent begins to blur. Both sides are soaked with blood. The blood starts to mix, monster and human. But despite their differences, the color is the same—red on red, death on death. And so, the line begins to blur. 

 

Chapter Text

Milo sits at the end of the plane in a fresh change of clothes, alone. Trying to get as far away from everyone as possible. His cheeks are still stained with tears, but his eyes are dry. His tears had stopped when the horrors of the day had subsided. Milo’s smile is far away now. Though he feels almost wrong without it, he just can’t muster it up right now. Not even a chuckle. 

 

Milo can’t do anything but think and replay the day's events in his head. It was supposed to be a normal case. It was never supposed to end like this. Not with one of his childhood friends dead in his arms. He’s only thankful that he didn’t have to be the one to deliver the news to his friends. 

 

And Milo had really thought that there was no way it could have been Leon killing all those people. Right up until his death. Even though his confession, Milo still had a sliver of hope. But Leon was going to kill him; Milo saw it. He saw the change in his eyes, the straightening of his back, the tightening of his jaw. Leon was wanted Milo dead. That was the second Milo knew it was all true. In the next moment, Milo had been holding Leon’s dead body in his arms.

 

Because it couldn’t have been his Leon, killing those old folks. Not the friend Milo had grown up with, not the man who had been by his side through everything. Leon had celebrated Milo’s birthdays with him, had helped him get his first girlfriend. Leon had been there when Milo’s parents weren’t. When his dad was out working late in the factories and when his mother didn’t return home. How could Milo have missed that? How could he have never thanked his friend, who was there for him no matter what? But Milo had failed to be there when Leon needed him most. His mother had died, and Milo was nowhere to be found. In fact, he had been in Ohio, tracking a serial killer. 

 

Atlas is out; the team needs me.” He had said. A faulty excuse. This team had run just fine before him, and they could have worked without him. Milo had put his job over his friend, and now Leons dead because of it. Because of him.

 

Milo is so engrossed in these thoughts, staring out the plane window at the dark landscape below that he doesn’t notice JJ sit down across from him. She says something he doesn’t catch. Milo’s head snaps up as he takes in his mentor. Her big, worried eyes flicker over his face in the low light of the jet. 

 

“What?” Milo whispers.

 

“I asked if you were okay,” JJ repeats, leaning forward.

 

Milo nods, returning his eyes to the window. “I will be.” That’s what they say, at least. 

 

JJ smiles softly. “It’s weird to see you without a smile. Id started to think it’s a permanent feature of Milo Foster.”

 

Milo chuckles, trying and failing to find some happiness in him. “Seems I give off that impression.” Milo pauses before turning to JJ, meeting her eyes. “I’m sorry iv been so hard on you.” He whispers.

 

JJ tilts her head, confused. “Why are you sorry?”

 

“Cause iv been a shit apprentice,” Milo sighs. “Always running away or being sassy and just making life more difficult for you in general. I’ll try to be better, I promise.” 

 

JJ takes his hand suddenly, her ring cool to the touch. “Milo, none of this is your fault.”

 

Milo chuckles, avoiding her eyes. “Well, I dont know. I think that calling a police captain a ‘moldy old shoebox’ is kinda my fault.”

 

JJ laughs, breaking her gaze, and something sparks in Milo again. Seeing JJ laugh -seeing anyone laugh- is what he loves to do. Bringing joy and humor into people’s lives, that’s Milo’s job. It’s his passion, rivaled only by his thrill of the hunt, the chase. 

 

“Well, that was certainly your fault,” JJ whispers again, the smile falling from her face. “But this isn’t.” 

 

Milo nods. “Maybe one day ill believe that.”

 

JJ pulls away, realseing his hand. There’s nothing more she can say that will convince him; they both know that. 

 

“For once, Milo, let yourself be wrong.” JJ stands and returns to her seat across from Emily. 

 

Milo returns to looking out the window, thinking about JJ’s words. Let yourself be wrong. Milo doesn’t care about right and wrong, good or evil. He just knows that he hates feeling like this; tired, sad, empty. Without his spark, without his smile. He feels lost. 

 

Milo remembers the last time he felt like this. On his first day of school in 6th grade. Milo’s family had been evicted from their house and moved across the city into a new school district. Even though they were just across the river, it felt like a whole new world to young Milo. He had been scared and alone in a big, new school with too many faces and too many names. Each of his teachers had made him come up to the front of the class and introduce himself. Milo had curled in on himself, his long, lean body dirty and wild, his clothes unwashed. He remembers the class snickering, whispering to each other behind their hands again and again. Until finally, in his fourth-period class, something changed. 

 

One of the kids, a big dude with a nasty scar on his chin, had insulted Milo openly for the first time. For anyone else, it could have been the start of a year-long bullying campaign, but Milo wasn’t anyone. 

 

“Haha, he smells.” Young Jaye had yelled.

 

“Yea, like your mom’s perfume,” Young Milo had countered. Little did either of them know that they’d be close friends later. 

 

The class laughed then, an eruption of smiles and joy. Probably not nearly as loud as he remembers, but it was loud to him. Not pointed smiles, like the ones hidden behind whispering hands, but natural smiles. Genuine laughter filled the room, and at that moment, it filled Milo too. Laughter had lit a spark inside Milo, one he had flamed with comedy and humor until it was a raging fire. 

 

Now, several years later, Milo sits on the jet, flying away from home -to home. His spark is almost gone, almost. Milo cans still feel it there, deep within him. It is small and low burning, but he will tend to it as he has before. He will feed it until it is the raging fire he loves. 

 

Because as long as Milo knows how to laugh, as long as he has his spark, he has a purpose. 

 

Chapter Text

A few weeks later

4 months after joining the BAU

 

Atlas sits in the bullpen bright and early, far too early. She is sitting on a blanket on the floor with Kassie beside her, her head against Morgan's desk as her eyes flutter closed. Atlas vaguely hears the group welcoming everyone in for the morning but isn't really paying attention. 

 

Several weeks have passed since New Orleans, and things have slowly started to shift back to normal. Or at least, as close to normal as this group gets. Milo seems alright. He took a vacation for about a week, spent some time with his family, and went to Leon's funeral. But he had returned his happy, giddy self. Though the spark in his eyes was dimmed the last time she saw him, Atlas is glad to see him back to nearly full power. Atlas thinks that Garcia was right this time; it really was too quiet without Milo around. But now he's back. Though one of the first things he did once he returned was give Reid a cookie that tasted like toothpaste. He had earned a high five from Morgan and a scowl from Hotch. So yea, about normal.

 

 And so begins the apprentice's fourth month in the BAU. 

 

Atlas is beginning to doze off when the shoulder she's leaning on suddenly moves. Atlas snaps her eyes open to find Kassie walking away. She shakes herself and stands, seeing Kassie greet Ava excitedly. Atlas nods to the small woman, who does the same in return.

 

"Oh! Ava, hold up!" Kassie says, reaching for the back of Ava's neck. "Your shirt tore."

 

"Shit," Ava curses. She tosses her bag down and twists, reaching for the tear at the back of her neckline. 

 

As she does, the team gets a split-second view of the red, black, and white tattoos Ava has worked so hard to hide. Some lean forward, desperate for a glance, while others look away almost shamefully, as though Ava showed them her ass and not her upper back. Atlas peers at the skin, trying to make out shapes from the swirling ink, but before she can get anything, Kassie throws her hand over the spot, covering it. She smiles at Ava softly, who nods at her, faces unmovable.

 

"Oh, come on!" Milo throws his hands into the air dramatically. "Are you ever going to show us those damn tattoos?"

 

"No," Ava says simply. "Dammit, I really like this shirt," she mutters, twisting to see the hole again.

 

"I have a small sewing kit in my go-bag if you want." JJ offers, sipping her coffee.

 

"You just carry a sewing kit around?" Leo asks as he pushes his fading blue hair away from his face. He really needs to dye that again; the natural red is very visible now. 

 

JJ and Emily nod in unison. Atlas mutters, "I need to get me one of those." 

 

"I don't know how to sew," Ava says, seeming slightly embarrassed for the first time ever.

 

"Wait," Milo says, "You can do a hundred push-ups, but you can't sew?"

 

"Can you?" Ava snaps.

 

Milo rolls his eyes. "Of course I can sew. Used to make my own stuffed animals." He puffs his chest out proudly, and the group snickers. 

 

"I'll sew it for you." Kassie offers, her hand still on Ava's back. "I make my own dresses sometimes." Then, at the amazed look of the team, she hastily adds, "I have hobbies!"

 

JJ fishes the mini sewing kit from her go bag and hands it to Kassie, who nods and marches off to the bathroom, never removing her hand from Ava's shoulder. Atlas yawns and looks around, counting heads until she is sure that the whole team is here. No one mentions her tiredness anymore; they all know now that Atlas is not a morning person. 

 

Rossi and Morgan signal for their apprentices to follow them as they say their farewells to the group, moving to their offices for the day. Jack hurries to collect his things as Morgan grabs Ava's bag, both disappearing behind closed doors. Atlas grabs her own bag, waving farewell as she climbs the steps to Hotch's office, where he is already set up and working. Seems like it's going to be a report day.

 

The BAU can't work cases every day and often takes days in or out of the office to fill out reports, consult on other cases, or go to court. Thankfully, Atlas has come prepared. 

 

Atlas tosses down her bag beside the couch in Hotch's office, feeling tiredness dragging her down. 

 

"Can I sleep here?" She asks, pointing to the couch.

 

"Yes, but you have reports to do." Hotch states.

 

Without saying a word, Atlas reaches into her bag and pulls out a small stack of files. She drops them unceremoniously on Hotch's desk before turning and grabbing a blanket from the corner. Hotch stares at her in confusion and concern as Atlas curls herself under the blanket, back to him. 

 

"Wake me if I'm needed." She mutters, closing her eyes.

 

Atlas had hoped Hotch would wait to ask, but he dosent. "Why are you so tired?" 

 

Atlas twists to look at him. "Lost track of time doing those reports. Finished 'em with no time to sleep." She answers simply. Hotch huffs but doesn't ask any further questions. Atlas hears him take her files, sift through them before writing- making corrections or signing off.

 

That's not quite a lie. Atlas had been up late doing those reports, but she had also finished them with enough time to sleep. But she couldn't fall asleep. No matter how hard she tried, Atlas just couldn't will herself to sleep. Her thoughts had kept circling back to her brothers, Bobby, Ellen, Jo, Ash, and the Roadhouse. She thought of the musty wood, and whisky scent of the bar and the feeling of Bobby's ancient books beneath her fingertips. She thought of speaking Japanese or ASL with him, and the joy of watching Dean and Sam get increasingly upset. She thought of Castiel and his cloak that he is never seen without, and his tie that is always backward. She remembers Gabriel and all the candy he had left her after her kidnapping; she hadn't gotten any more in weeks. The more she thought about them, the more bottomless the pit in her chest grew. Atlas thought of her friends and her family all night until before she knew it, the sun was rising, and it was time to go to work. 

 

Thankfully, Hotch keeps his office dark, even in the day. And he's quiet, preferring to work in silence as opposed to Morgan's blasting music. Atlas drifts off to sleep in moments, dreaming of her brothers and glittering stars.

 

 

Atlas is woken from her dreams of fireworks in an open field by Hotch gently shaking her shoulder. He is leaning over her, his dark eyes obscured by the darkness of the room. Atlas nearly jumps out of her skin at the sight but manages to regain herself.

 

"Come on, we have a case." He says sternly, his voice low.

 

Atlas grumbles in response, waving him away. He backs off, turning back to his desk and gatherings a stack of files. Atlas sits up, shaking her head. She runs a hand through her hair, feeling the straight, soft strands shift on her scalp. Her braid is frayed and undone, so Atlas takes it out completely, letting her hair fall down her back as she stands. She fixes her clothes, shakes herself off again, and follows Hotch into the round room. The rest of the team is already seated, talking amongst themselves.

 

"Have a nice nap?" Rossi chuckles.

 

"His couch is comfier than it looks," Atlas says, her voice much deeper than usual, though she barely notices it. She takes one of the open seats beside Jack.

 

"Whoah," Milo says, staring at her wide-eyed.

 

Atlas runs her hands through her knotted hair, tilting her head. "What?"

 

"What's wrong with your voice?" He asks, smiling. Atlas can already tell he's going to hold this over her for a week.

 

"This doesn't happen to you? After you wake up and when you're tired, your voice drops?" Some shake their heads, some nod.

 

"You almost sound like the captain America meme guy." Leo chuckles. 

 

Atlas smiles, speaking in a German accent. "We shot him in zee legs because his shields zee size of a dinner plate, and he's an idiot." 

 

The younger members of the team, all excluding Hotch and Rossi, break down in laughter. Hotch and Rossi exchange a confused look while the others giggle in excitement. Even Ava cracks a smile. 

 

Garcia giggles as she presses a button, and the screen flashes. "Okay, bitches, here's the tea." 

 

The group struggles to stifle their laughter, even under Hotch's stern glare. But they all lose it again when a photo of some dead guy comes up on the screen, and Emily says, "Oh, big mood."

 

Rossi throws his hands out in confusion. "What language is this?" He asks Hotch. Hotch only shakes his head. 

 

"I wonder what happened to this guy," Leo points. "Maybe he had his identity stolen."

 

"Identity theft is not a joke, Jim!" Milo, Reid, and Atlas yell in unison. 

 

"Okay, okay, enough," Hotch says, desperately trying to calm the group. When no one listens, he sighs dramatically, closing his eyes as though he hates what he's about to do. "Alright, listen up, you little shits! Not you, Reid. You're an angel, and we're thrilled you're here."

 

The group explodes in laughter again as Rossi looks distraught. "No! Not you too, Aaron!" Hotch smiles at him.

 

"I figured I'd have to speak their language." He smiles.

 

Finally, the group settles enough for Garcia to be heard. Though several of them, including Atlas, are still snickering under their breath. 

 

"Okay, my nuggets. Pack your bags because today you're going to San Leandro, California."

 

"Fuck yo chicken strips," Milo mutters under his breath; Atlas chokes back a laugh. 

 

"Alright, what's happening in California, Garcia?" JJ asks.

 

"Well, a stunt man by the name of Charlie Synder has been killed. Apparently, he was working on some big Disney movie, so this is kinda a high profile case."

 

"Which is why we've been called in and why we all need to be on our best behavior," Hotch announces, looking at each of them in turn. "Synder was supposed to replace the famous NASCAR driver, Dillan Lorenzo, next week. He's already in holding, and we'll interview him when we get there."

 

"How was he killed?" Leo asks.

 

"Somebody put a sharpened wrench in his chest," Brooks answers, showing more photos.

 

"If they already have the guy, then why are we getting called in?" Atlas wonders, tilting her head.

 

Hotch shuffles papers. "Well, they're not certain it was Lorenzo. And sometimes, we have to do high-profile cases like this. Just as a formality." 

 

"Seems like a waste of time," Atlas mutters. "I could still be asleep."

 

"Next time, sleep at night like a normal person." Kassie teases. Atlas sticks her tongue out at the larger woman.

 

"Enough. Remember what I said about our best behavior? That means no more of this." Hotch motions to the group.

 

"You just motioned to all of us." Emily states.

 

"Exactly." Hotch nods. "Wheels up in 10."

 

Several minutes later, it's clear to Atlas that the jokes and memes are far from over for the day as she texts the others from across the plane.



No Dads GC

Me (Atlas), Pretty boy (Reid), Eyebrows (Morgan), 100 Guns (Emily), Perfect Woman (JJ), Walking LSD (Garcia), Smiley Bitch (Milo), THOT (Kassie), Muscles Mean Lady (Ava), Golden Retriever (Jack), Colorful Nerd (Leo), Working… (Brooks)

 

Me

What's the point of doing these cases again?

 

Eyebrows

Brass says so

 

Me

That’s dumb

 

100 Guns

Yea but Miss. Judgemental will pound us if we don't

 

Colorful Nerd

Who?

 

Perfect Woman

Strauss

 

THOT

Oh, I hv her in as ‘fucking rossi’

 

Smiley Bitch

‘And probably hotch’

 

100 Guns

Or yea the woman is getting it

 

Smiley Bitch

But she can't get us ;)

 

Me

I smell a lawsuit 

 

THOT

That would be funny tho

 

Pretty Boy

Terrible idea, I’m in

 

Working…

Who named this chat ‘no dads’?

 

Me

I did

 

Smiley Bitch

Cause hotch and Rossi aren't here

 

Colorful Nerd

They’re not our dads

 

Golden Retriever

Well…

 

100 Guns

I got shot once and hotch literally made me pancakes

 

Me

Hotch and Rossi r 100% the dads of this group

 

Colorful Nerd

You got shot???

 

100 Guns

Which time?

 

Colorful Nerd

?!!??!?

 

THOT

Jack u don’t count

Ur a dumbass anyway. Avas more like hotch then u

 

Golden Retriever

WHAT

 

Smiley Bitch

Ahahhah

 

Walking LSD

She’s right

 

Golden Retriever

I hate you all

 

Me

NOW he sounds like hotch

 

Pretty Boy

Wait

If hotch and rossi are the dads of the group, what are the rest of us?

 

Me

Hmm

 

Smiley Bitch

Uh oh

Brace yourselves

 

Me

Strauss is like the mean grandmother we all hv to pretend to like

Morgan and reid r like the obviously gay uncles but won’t admit it

 

Eyebrows

WHAT

 

Pretty Boy

 

Me

Emily is the older sister who will fight anyone

 

100 Guns

Yessss girl

 

Me

Jj is the mildly responsible aunt who has an obsession with cleaning her house but still takes the kids out for ice cream at midnight

 

Eyebrows

Hang on take it back a step

 

Perfect Woman

I'll take it

 

100 Guns

Oh hush u know she’s right

 

Me

Garcia is the crazy cat lady aunt who may or may not be on drugs 24/7

Milo is the foster kid who got kicked out of his last three homes for lighting fires

 

Smiley Bitch

HEY the last one wasn't me! They just blamed it on me!

 

THOT

Sure they did

 

Eyebrows

HANG ON A MINUTE

 

100 Guns

Ignore him

 

Eyebrows

DO NOT IGNORE ME

 

Me

Kassie is the hoe who forcefully gives everyone else makeovers

 

THOT

I accept this theory

 

Me

Leo and jack r the twins who only talk in dnd terms

Brooks is the only kid going to college

 

Working…

Hahaha

 

Me

Ava is knife wife

 

Muscles Mean Lady

Acceptable

 

Golden Retriever

I thought u would be knife wife? 

U literally have knives

 

Smiley Bitch

You WHAT

 

Pretty Boy

Didn’t you stab the guy on your first case

 

Me

Maybe

 

Smiley Bitch

How did I not know about this???

 

THOT

Bc ur a dumbass

 

Smiley Bitch

Am not

 

Golden Retriever

Wait, so who's knife wife?

 

100 Guns

I vote atlas since she literally stabbed a guy

 

Colorful Nerd

Avas is more like the mean sister with a tattoo addiction

 

Perfect Woman

That’s more like it

 

Smiley Bitch

So we're really just gonna gloss over the fact that atlas straight-up stabbed a guy on our first day???

 

Me

And I’ll stab you too bitch

 

Muscles Mean Lady

Well, you don't know how many tattoos I have

Maybe I only have the ones you've seen

Maybe not

You'll never know

 

Smiley Bitch

Nooooooo the suspense is killing me!

 

100 Guns

Easy solution, just screw her

I’m sure reid and morgan can help

 

Eyebrows

HEY

 

Me

U rlly just playing team matchmaker now, aint u?

 

100 Guns

Yup

 

Muscles Mean Lady

Absolutely not

 

Walking LSD
Reids been very quiet lately…

 

Smiley Bitch

What??? Why not???

 

Muscles Mean Lady

Ur not my type

 

Smiley Bitch

U hv terrible taste in men

I’m amazing

 

Me

Emily u might not be as good as u thought

 

100 Guns

I have a few other projects…

 

Perfect Woman

I don't like the sound of that

 

Pretty Boy

What happened?

 

THOT

Oh NOW he comes back

 

100 Guns

Very suspicious

 

Smiley Bitch

Agreed

 

Pretty Boy

?

 

Eyebrows

Ignore them

 

Walking LSD 

Nooooooo don't do that

 

Golden Retriever

U guys r so weird

 

Walking LSD
Get used to it, mini hotch

 

Golden Retriever

:/

 

"Are you all texting each other right now?" Rossi asks from where he's standing in the aisle of the plane. Atlas hadn't even seen him get up. The group looks at each other, stifling laughter once more. Now Rossi looks more betrayed than anything. "You have a group chat without me?"

 

"And Hotch, if that helps." Reid offers. Hotch shoots him a glare, so clearly it does not.

 

"Let me see," Rossi reaches out for Kassie's phone.

 

She recoils, hugging the phone tight to her chest. "No way!"

 

"Why not?" he asks.

 

"I don't want you snooping through my phone like some creepy Italian uncle!"

 

"Oh, come on," Rossi sighs, smiling. "What's the worst that's there?"

 

Everyone raises their eyebrows at him, looking at each other with amused glances. Kassie rests one hand on his arm, feigning sympathy. "Oh, you poor, innocent thing."

 

"Innocent?" Rossi pulls away, shocked. "I'll have you know that I was 25 once too. And I'm not going into your camera roll!"

 

"Here, you can have mine," Jack holds his phone out to Rossi, who takes it while shooting a glare at Kassie.

 

"Thank you." He sticks his nose up as he scrolls through the messages. "Wait, why is this chat called 'No Dads GC'?" 

 

"Because you and Hotch aren't in it. And you're like the dads of the group." Milo answers.

 

Hotch chuckles. "Are you really surprised, Dave? They named our big group chat ' Bitches AU'” Atlas snickers at the memory.

 

Rossi sighs and hands the phone back to Jack. "It's official; we're old!" He announces as he falls back into his chair.

 

"Oh, now it's official?" Morgan asks.

 

"Shut up," Rossi scolds him as Morgan giggles. 

 

Hotch shakes his head, still smiling. "Best behavior today, remember?" The team nods in unison like toddlers appeasing their parents. Hotch sighs. "Can't wait." He mutters. 



Chapter Text

Hotch watches his remaining agents with stern eyes as they enter the San Leandro police station. Rossi and Jack had gone to the coroners while JJ, Morgan, Milo, and Lee had gone to the crime scene. Those that are with him are all quiet now, keeping their faces neutral and their heads down. Even as they pass the swarm of reporters out front. Hotch has trained them well.

 

He had also given them a stern talking to on the jet. Hotch had even gone as far as to physically block them from leaving until they agreed to act reasonably and end all the jokes. Though many of them were funny, none were fit to say around a dead body or to a gang of reporters practically drooling for gossip. He and Rossi had been somewhat betrayed to find out that they had a group chat without them, but he feels slightly better when he remembers that the chat is named 'No Dads.' Though he won't let the others know that.

 

"Agents, good to have you!" The young Captain Simon greets them. This man already looks overwhelmed. San Leandro isn't a small city, but it is unused to this level of attention; that much is clear.

 

"Good to be here, captain," Hotch responds, shaking his hand. "Do you have somewhere for us to set up?"

 

"Oh yes, yes, of course." Captain Simon leads Hotch, Atlas, Reid, Leo, Prentiss, and Bell into another meeting room that was converted for them. There is nothing hung on the board this time, only a tiny file sitting on the table. "Dillan Lorenzo is in our interrogation room, waiting for you. Though he claims he didn't do it."

 

"Obviously," Milo mutters; Hotch shoots him a glare. 

 

"Thank you, captain." Simon nods and leaves the room. Hotch picks up the file, leafing through it. There is little information here, but that's what the BAU is for.

 

"So, what's the plan?" Emily asks. "Do we want to go hard on the driver or what? He's been stewing for a while now." She crosses her arms over her chest.

 

"Me and Atlas will go in," Hotch states, looking at his apprentice. "We'll start out being nice, then put on pressure if he doesn't crack. But I want you to appear as disinterested as possible."

 

Atlas tilts her head. "Disinterest? Why?"

 

Hotch seizes the opportunity for a test. "Trust me," He says. Atlas narrows her eyes, looking unhappy. Finally, she bites her lip and nods. "Reid and Leo, watch his body language. Prentiss and Bell figure out how to handle the media." He orders. The group nods at him. "Alright, let's go."

 

Hotch enters the interrogation room with Atlas trailing behind, leaving Reid and Leo behind the glass to observe. He sits down, so does Atlas; they both take a moment to look at the man.

 

Dillan Lorenzo is a short white man with greying hair and a goatee. He is dressed in jeans and a button-up like he's headed to an office. Lorenzo appears more frustrated than anything; he fidgets with his hands and shifts in his seat. This shouldn't be very difficult.

 

"Hello, Mr. Lorenzo. I am Agent Hotchner, and this is student-agent Atlas." Hotch hates that Strauss forces them to call the apprentices' student-agents'. To him, it feels like a vulnerability, especially in a place like this. Right off the bat, Lorenzo knows that Atlas is Hotch's lesser. It's too easy. "May we ask you some questions?"

 

"Sure. anything to get out of here." Lorenzo says gruffly. His gaze hovers on Atlas for a moment. Hotch is glad to see that she's taking his direction in appearing disinterested. The girl has one knee up against her chest and is idly picking her nails. Her hair is still messy; then, falling down her back in long, straight strands. Her face is tipped upwards, almost snobby, like she thinks she's too good to be here. Her freckles are illuminated in the white light of the room, as are her too-green eyes. At the moment, Atlas truly looks nothing like the agent he knows. Hotch wonders where she learned to act so well. 

 

"What can you tell us about your relationship with Charlie Synder?" Hotch asks, turning away from Atlas.

 

Lorenzo turns away, too, looking unsettled. "Um, he was going to take over driving for me."

 

Hotch fills in the blanks. "In NASCAR next week?" He nods. "And I'm sure that couldn't have been good for you?" 

 

Lorenzo opens his mouth but says nothing. Instead, he keeps looking at Atlas, who ignores him entirely. "Uh, No. I mean- yes, it was good for me."

 

Hotch tilts his head. "In what way?"

 

Lorenzo glances at Hotch, then sighs before speaking at Atlas. "Do you even care right now? I could be locked up for a decade for this!"

 

"Two," Atlas doesn't look up from her nails.

 

"What?" Lorenzo sounds shocked.

 

"Two decades for first-degree murder." Now Atlas fixes him with a sharp green-eyed stare. "And should I care? You killed him, didn't you?" She asks snobbily. Hotch notices that she has even raised her voice a pitch, adding to the brat effect. 

 

"No! No, I didn't-"

 

"Listen, Mr. Lenzo," Atlas twists in her chair, fulling facing him now and purposefully saying his name wrong. "Here's what happened. You're old, and you're fading out. Synder was going to replace you, and you weren't happy with it, so you killed him." She leans back in her chair, looking bored. "Pretty dumb of you to leave your fingerprints all over the murder weapon too."

 

Lorenzo sputters, taken aback. Hotch is slightly surprised, too, because none of Lorenzo's prints were found on the scene. He bounces back quickly, turning to the driver for information.

 

"No! It was my tool! Of course, it would have my fingerprints on it! I'm being framed, I swear!" Lorenzo says more to Atlas than to Hotch. 

 

"Who would-" Hotch begins but is cut off by Atlas's bored tone.

 

"Why would anyone try to frame you? As far as we've checked, you're the only beef in Synder's life."

 

Lorenzo's eyes light up as he speaks. "At work. Synder was having trouble with someone at work!" Atlas leans back in her chair, tipping her chin up. She glances at Hotch, who nods. He's honestly curious to see how Atlas leads the interrogation from here. 

 

"Who? And what was the beef?" Atlas asks, flicking her head.

 

Lorenzo slows down, fidgeting in his chair again. "I don't know; I don't remember his name."

 

Atlas sighs dramatically, rolling her head back. "I'm getting bored, Lenzo."

 

" Lor enzo," He corrects sharply. "And I think I remember now. It was some stunt guy who worked with Synder. I don't know his name or what it was about; he wouldn't tell me." He hurries under Hotch's harsh glare.

 

"So this stunt guy had beef with Synder," Atlas states, crossing her feet on the table and tipping her chair back on two legs. A little far, Hotch thinks. "Now, do remind me why you didn't."

 

"Having Synder replace me was my idea." Atlas tilts her head with interest. "I started a firm about a year ago. The rivalry between Synder and me was fake. It was just to sell merchandise."

 

"And how did you plan on doing that?" Atlas asks.

 

Lorenzo sighs. "We were gonna say some shitty things to each other publicly. Feed the tabloids, you know? But I would never have hurt him."

 

Hotch nods. "Thank you, Mr. Lorenzo." He nods before sweeping out of the room. Atlas does a quick good-bye sign before following.

 

Hotch turns into the next room where Reid, Leo, Emily, and Bell are waiting. Hotch tilts his head at Emily, who he hadn't expected to be there. 

 

Prentiss shrugs. "Figured she could use some help with interrogations." She motions to Bell, who frowns in response. 

 

"That was very good," Leo commends Atlas, who nods in thanks.

 

Hotch turns to her, trying his best not to offend. "Trusting your teammate worked out well, didn't it?"

 

Atlas rolls her eyes and crosses her arms. "Just say I told you so and be done."

 

Hotch leans back, observing the impassive girl. "You did well, really."

 

She nods in response. But Hotch sees her back straighten slightly; he sees her chest puff. Hotch knows he doesn't give praise often, so he's never surprised to find his agents lapping it up. 

 

He turns back to the others. "What did you think?"

 

"I think he's telling the truth." Kassie states. 

 

Hotch nods, "Reid?"

 

Reid turns back to the window, observing Mr. Lorenzo. "He seemed most agitated by the fact that Atlas didn't care at all. He's desperate for someone to believe him. And I think he's really scared. He sounded truly afraid when he mentioned the punishments."

 

"And when Atlas said '20 years,' he freaked," Leo adds. 

 

Hotch nods again. "I agree. I think he's telling the truth too."

 

"So, where do we go from here?" Kassie asks.

 

Atlas smirks, finally breaking her indifferent stare. "We pay a visit to Synder's little stunt friend."

 

 

Hotch and Atlas pull up to the set of the Disney movie Synder had been working on as a stuntman. As they are walking onto the set, Hotch spots a shiny, vintage car out front. Something like that would go for millions now and maybe even more after the movie was made, depending on its popularity. Atlas barely glances at it. 

 

She strides forward with her head held high, an air of confidence around her. She wears this new face as easily as she wore the indifference in the interrogation room. Hotch is starting to wonder if perhaps he should refer Atlas to an acting career instead.

 

A man dressed in black with a headset appears out of nowhere and stops them, demanding to see their badges. 

 

"You can't be here," he says.

 

"FBI," they flash their badges. "Here on official business. We need to speak to the man running the stunt crew." Hotch says.

 

The man fumbles with his clipboard and radios something into his mic, looking overwhelmed. Then, after a moment, he waves them forward. Atlas and Hotch follow the clipboard man through the set, past racks of clothes, around trailers and scenes until finally, they make it to a building behind the others. The warehouse-like building has one side completely open, the floors are lined with mats, and wires and ropes are hanging from the ceiling. 

 

"Yo, Ryan! I got some people for you to talk to!" Clipboard man calls, waving a man over from inside the stunt building.

 

A tall Asian man with a shaggy beard comes out and introduces himself as the clipboard man scurries away.

 

"I'm Ryan Hook, head of the stunt team; what can I help you folks with?"

 

Hotch and Atlas flash their badges again. "I'm Agent Hotchner, and this is student-agent Atlas with the FBI. We'd like to ask you a few questions about a co-worker of yours, Charlie Synder?"

 

Hook's face flashes with something close to sadness. "Yea, we all heard about Charlie. He was murdered, right?" 

 

"How would you describe your relationship to Mr. Synder?" Hotch asks instead.

 

"Oh um, pretty good. He was our main stunt guy. Sucks, now we have to find a replacement on short notice."

 

Atlas's eyes widen. "Well, that was fast. Synder died, what, two days ago? Things move quick in Hollywood, I suppose." She shrugs.

 

Hook chuckles uncomfortably. "Well, the show must go on; that's what they say." 

 

"Do you know of anyone who would want to hurt Synder? Any enemies?" Hotch presses. 

 

Hook shifts. "Nope, we all liked him." He nods.

 

Hotch exchanges a look with Atlas, who nods. "Mr. Hook, where were you two nights ago?"

 

Hooks eyes widened, and he babbled. "Wait, you don't seriously think I killed Synder, do you?"

 

"According to Mr. Lorenzo, you and Synder had some disagreements." Hotch states. 

 

Hook sputters again. Hotch takes over. "Where were you two nights ago, Mr. Hook?"

 

"Here. I was here, cleaning up some things after shooting." He states forcefully.

 

Atlas tilts her head, resting one hand on her hip. She seems to be enjoying this a little too much. "Well, the video footage of you at the bar where Synder was found dead says otherwise." She smirks like the devil. "Your fingerprints on the murder weapons certainly don’t help."

 

Hook's eyes go wide, and within a moment, he bolts. But Hook doesnt get far before Hotch grabs him and pushes him up against a trailer. "Ryan Hook, your under arrest for the murder of Charlie Synder." Hook grones as Hotch cuffs him. Hotch reads the man his Miranda rights and hauls him back to the police car waiting out front. But before he can close the door, Atlas steps in the way, blocking him. 

 

She leans down, locking eyes with Hook. "Since we've already got you, why'd you do it?" She whispers like it's a secret. 

 

Hook growls but answers. "We were going to be rich, Charlie and I."

 

Atlas tilts her head. "How so?"

 

"There are things around here worth a million, ripe for the picking." He snarls.

 

"And let me guess, Synder, dipped once he got the NASCAR offer, so you got pissy and stabbed him, framing Lorenzo?" Hook looks away. "I'll take that as a yes." Atlas stands and closes the door in his face. 

 

"Good job." Hotch commends her as they walk back to the SUV.

 

"Thank Garcia for spotting Hook in those security tapes. The bar was so crowded I thought we'd never find him." Her southern accent kicks in again, rounding out the edges of her words.

 

"Still, you did well. Though the fingerprints thing was a little far." There were no fingerprints on the weapon; they just needed Hook to admit it or run.

 

Atlas sighs as she slides into the car. "One step forward, two steps back." She mutters, smiling. "What are we gonna do about the press?"

 

Hotch steps on the gas, driving away. "I think Kassie is going to make her first appearance on big-time television." 

 

 

"...And so, the FBI has concluded our investigation into the death of Charlie Synder. May he rest in peace." Kassie finishes. The woman bathes in the lights of the camera's flashes, even as reporters yell for more information. But she gets only a moment to bask in the spotlight before Emily takes the mic.

 

"No more questions, thank you." She states before hustling Bell off the stage.

 

Hotch and the rest of the team watch the press conference from the sidelines. Finally, Bell and Prentiss come trotting up to them, though Kassie can barely contain her excitement.

 

"Yes! I did it! Was it good? Did I get anything wrong?" She speaks frantically, bouncing on her toes as she does. 

 

"You did great, kid." Morgan commends. 

 

"Perhaps you should have been my student, then I could have taught you how to be a press liaison." JJ chuckles. 

 

"Oh," Kassie's face falls for a moment before shining again. "But you can still teach me, right? I like doing that, answering questions and speaking to people."

 

JJ laughs, patting her shoulder. "Of course, I can still teach you. Though there's a little bit more to it than that." Kassie squeals happily.

 

Rossi chuckles. "I think we found our new press liaison." He states. Hotch nods, smiling slightly.

 

Bell spends the rest of the day bouncing on her toes, celebrating her first press conference even on the flight home. Though by then, nearly everyone is asleep. Hotch does not sleep yet. Strauss is waiting for him at Quantico; he knows it. And he will not report to her with a case of bedhead. Better to stay awake for the flight home.

 

“What time are you going to meet the judgemental express?” Dave asks from his seat across from Hotch.

 

Hotch chuckles. “I'm meeting Strauss as soon as we get back.”

 

Dave nods. “Good luck.”

 

Hotch looks at his sleeping team splayed out across the plane. Even Atlas is sleeping now. He smiles to himself. One by one, they are falling into their roles as profilers. Atlas had taken the lead today, without Hotch telling her to. She had trusted him and relied on him as they solved the case. Even though she had been unhappy with doing a case because the brass said so, she still put all her effort into it. She pushed herself and came out a little bit better. If she continues going like this, she'll make a good unit chief one day. 

 

Chapter Text

“Do you want me to take that to your office?” Atlas asks Hotch as they step back into the Quantico building. She motions to his go-bag. 

 

“Yes, thank you.” He hands it to her. “Get some sleep.” He calls after her. She gives him the peace sign and walks away.

 

Hotch turns, bidding his good night to the rest of the team as they file into the bullpen. They’ll most likely be gone by the time he comes back. Though he hopes to do this quickly, he knows it won't be.

 

 Hotch walks down the hallway, heading for Strauss’s office. Her door is closed; he knocks and enters when she calls. It's dark out now, but her room is well lit by several lamps in the corners and her desk light. Hotch squints slightly at the brightness of the room, wondering how she stands it all day. 

 

“Aaron. Good, your back.” Strauss remarks, hardly looking up from the papers on her desk. 

 

Hotch stands in front of her desk, staring down at her. “All went well. The killer has been caught, and the press has been managed.” He states.

 

Strauss waves a hand, looking up at him. “Sit down.” He does. “I saw that Bell did the press conference, was that wise? Mrs. Jareau was the old press liaison, but her apprentice is Foster, right?” Strauss asks, contempt and suspicion laced through her voice.

 

Hotch sighs. He knew she was going to do this. Strauss has questioned every move Hotch has made since the apprenticeship program started. She gave him hell when Atlas was kidnapped, and now she'll wring him dry for this, too, even though none of them did anything wrong. Well, except when Atlas stabbed the unsub, but Hotch had played that off as inexperienced and nerves.

 

“Yes, Mr. Foster is JJ’s student.” He states patiently. “But Ms. Bell clearly shows more of a liking to the liaison job, so if she wants to learn that, she will.”

 

Strauss nods, pursing her lips. “Will you make Foster Prentiss’s student instead?”

 

Hotch shakes his head sternly. “No. Everyone is pleased with their mentors, and JJ has offered to teach Bell about the job. So they will continue as they are.”

 

“Would it not be easier to switch them?”

 

Hotch holds back a frustrated sigh. “Everyone has already connected with their mentors. So I don't think that any of them would like switching. But if one of them requests it, I'll look into it.”

 

Strauss leans back in her chair, studying him. “Speaking of connecting with mentors, how has Atlas been?” 

 

Hotch nods, masking his face into indifference. “Better. She did well today. She actually took the lead at one point and got us some good information.” 

 

Strauss nods, looking away. Even though they are alone in the office late at night, she lowers her voice to a whisper. “We haven't been able to crack that encrypted site she used. So we still don't know who's behind it or what it's for.”

 

Hotch lifts his chin, thinking about the private chatroom Atlas had used. The one they had taken advantage of when she was kidnapped. The people on that site had known her and her kidnappers. But Garcia had been unable to crack the code before Strauss came demanding answers. Hotch had no choice but to tell her the truth. Strauss had taken the chatroom and sent it away to someone else who was supposed to get into it but is clearly failing. A piece of Atlas’s life that remains hidden to him.

 

“And the file?” He asks.

 

Strauss shakes her head. “Nothing.”

 

Strauss also has people, not including Garcia, digging into Atlas’s past life. But so far, there has been no record of her outside the file they have. No family, no hometown, no school reports. Another piece. 

 

This, mixed with the encrypted chat room, puts an uneasy feeling in Hotch’s stomach. It's not a far stretch to think that it's all fake, that Angel Atlas isn't her real name. That she uses the secret site to communicate with people from her past life, or maybe people that she's still involved with. People like Gordon and Kubrick. Killers and psychopaths, the type of people the BAU spends their days hunting down; Atlas may be linked to. Or maybe it's something else. Perhaps it's a terrorist cell, or a mafia, or a drug scheme. There is any number of things that the chatroom could be used for that those people might be doing. 

 

Hotch is sure of nothing, but he knows Atlas. He knows that she has an abusive father because he's convinced she wasn't lying about that. He knows that she loves The Greatest Showman, and he knows that she is finally starting to trust him. But there is also so much he doesn't know. So much he is scared to see. So many pieces he holds and so many he doesn’t. Atlas’s life is like a puzzle that no one can finish. 

 

And if it is all fake? If Atlas really is a mole, living some sort of double life? If she's really just a monster, who enjoys playing the hero? Well, if that is the case, Hotch thinks that the team wouldn't be pleased about it. And frankly, neither would he.

 

“We’ll find something, Aaron.” Strauss tries to soothe him. 

 

He nods, looking at her. Then, without saying a word, he gets up from the chair and exits her office, only pausing to wish her a good night. He marches back to his office, unsurprised to find most of the team has gone home already, including Atlas. She had left his bag beside his desk, just as he likes it. In the darkness of his office, Hotch smiles to himself. He looks at the bag, the nicely folded blanket, the finished reports written in barely legible handwriting. 

 

What they find is exactly what worries him. Because what will happen to them, to him, to the team, when the puzzle is complete?

Chapter Text

Six months after joining the BAU

 

Atlas wakes from her sleep on Hotch's couch when he shakes her, finding that much less time has passed than she would have liked. She grumbles and rolls over, forcing herself up and awake. She stretches and yawns, ruffling her hair as Hotch throws a file at her, signaling that they have a case. 

 

This routine has become a regular one. Atlas goes home each night, does her files, lies in bed wrought with homesickness until morning, then drags herself to work, where she sleeps on Hotch’s couch until he wakes her for a case. The team asked about it more initially, but Atlas blew them off each time until, eventually, they stopped asking. After all, how can she explain homesickness when they know nothing of her home?

 

“We've got a weird one today, my soldiers of Artemis,” Garcia announces as Atlas and Hotch walk into the round room. As usual, everyone else is already there. Atlas tiredly takes a seat beside Jack as she usually does. She's only half-listening to the presentation as she braids her hair. 

 

“You're headed to Dunwoody, Georgia, to catch a serial killer,” Brooks announces.

 

“Yup! Sweet old Georgia has a case of the vamps.” Garcia tweets.

 

Atlas’s head shoots up, locking onto the screen. Photos flash, four dead, all young men and women. Each has a massive opening in their necks, and their skin is as white as snow. Vampire bites. Shit.

 

The BAU has yet to contact any actual monsters, but it seems it's happened. Vampires are nasty but easy to kill. Relatively, at least. Atlas zones out momentarily, thinking about what to do as her eyes glaze over and her fingers still in her hair. Alerting the hunters would mean telling them where she is going, and Atlas really doesn't want a repeat of the whole Gordan fiasco. But can she handle it on her own? A lone vampire, maybe. But a nest? Atlas, Dean, and Sam together often have trouble taking down entire nests. No lone hunter is stupid enough for that; it’s basically a suicide mission. And she certainly can't ask the team for help. God only knows what they would say if she started talking about actual vampires. 

 

Maybe she should make sure this is a real vampire and not just some human knockoff. She would hate to call in any hunters only to learn that they're hunting a human with a blood fetish. But the team will be able to tell. Or they’ll help her tell. Suppose they find evidence and catch a guy, all good. If stuff starts to get weird, too weird for even the BAU, Atlas will ring Dean. 

 

Jack’s whispering voice snaps Atlas from her thoughts. “Hey, you alright?” He inclines his head, eyes worried.

 

Atlas nods, flashing him a smile. “I'm good, just zoned out.” She begins to rebraid her hair, looking back at the screen as the others talk.

 

“Yea, all this blood-draining stuff is freaking me out too.” Jack nods, turning back to the front. He cringes slightly at the images, and Atlas doesn't respond. Let them think the blood bothers her; she’s seen plenty of it. 

 

“So we've got one man and three women dead, with bite marks in their necks and their blood drained, in two weeks? With the whole town as the hunting zone?” Morgan summarizes, shaking his head. “We have to be looking at a team.” 

 

“Agreed. The victims were last seen in a mix of public and isolated spaces. Two of the women picked up outside bars, while the last one and the man were caught on dark backroads. Very different hunting grounds.” Rossi adds.

 

Reid nods, babbling. “What's strange is that they return the victim to the place they were kidnaped. They couldn't have drained the blood there because that takes equipment and time.”

 

Kassie nods, catching on. “So they take people, drain the blood, tear the hole in the neck, then return them to the kidnapping site?” 

 

“So it seems,” Emily interjects. “But both of the victims were reported missing until hours after they were taken.” 

 

“Something about this doesn't add up.” Milo drums his fingers on the table, uncharacteristically serious.

 

“That's why we're here to help. Wheels up in 20.” Hotch dismisses them. 

 

Atlas rises from her chair, finishing her braid with a hair tie. She gathers her things, collecting the files as she moves to exit the round room. She is stopped by a hand on her arm. Atlas turns to see Jack behind her, asking her to wait. Atlas pauses, narrowing her eyes suspiciously at the blond man. The rest of the team trots out of the room, one or two casting strange glances at them. Atlas’s skin pricks at the looks. They had just started giving her space and stopped asking questions. She was finally beginning to relax. She prays that Jack isn't here to throw a wrench in her calmness. 

 

Once the room is empty and the door is closed, Atlas turns to face Jack fully. His face is worried, and he is fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. He barely glances at Atlas, minted, watching the team in the bullpen below through the half-closed blinds.

 

“Well?” Atlas asks after a moment, knowing that the longer they stay here, the more suspicious the others will be.

 

“Uh, I wanted to ask you something.” He starts, looking at her. His brows are pushed together, and his blue eyes are nervous. Atlas leans forward, lifting her eyebrows questioningly. 

 

“I wanted to know if you would have dinner with me?” He asks, clearly trying his best to appear confident and failing.

 

Atlas pulls back, startled. She had almost been worried that he would question her about something or ask more about why she's been sleeping on his father’s couch. Atlas doesn't know what to say. And for a moment, she says, nothing. Her mouth hangs open as she stares at Jack’s blue eyes, awaiting an answer.

 

Dinners are for relationships, right? People ask people to dinner as a date, as Sam does. Not like Dean did. Before he met Cas, that is. Cas and Dean go to dinner all the time alone; Dean likes it. Something about getting away from his bratty siblings. Sam always suspected that Dean tries to copy their parents. However, Atlas doesn't remember that. According to her brothers, their parents would go out for romantic dinners all the time. Date night, they called it. 

 

Jack is asking her on a date. And she hasn't responded. And he's standing there, waiting for an answer. 

 

Finally, Atlas forces her mouth to work. “Y-yes.” She sputters, not knowing what else to say. She shakes her head, regaining herself. “Yea, I’ll go to dinner with you.”

 

All the tension in Jack's shoulders releases as he sighs, looking away for a moment. “How about after the case?” 

 

Atlas nods. “Sure when the case is done.” Her skin pricks with uncertainty. But what else is she to do?

 

Jack nods, a bright smile breaking out on his face. “Come on, let's catch up to the others before my dad yells at us.”

 

Atlas follows the beaming man out the door, ignoring her teammates' stares as she rushes into Hotch’s office. First, she moves the tea table and cushions back into place before folding the blanket, laying it across the couch as Hotch does. He has enough on his plate and his desk that he doesn't need to come home from a long case to find his office a mess. It's the least Atlas can do, really. 

 

She finishes fixing her mess and gathers her go-bag before rushing out. Closing his desk lamp and the door as she does. Atlas hops down the stairs, spotting Jack speaking excitedly to Leo. Everyone else is chatting to each other, sharing theories and general thoughts. 

 

Finally, Hotch calls them to go. The team boards their small jet. Atlas plops herself down in the window of the four-seat, surprised to find Leo sitting beside her. Milo and Kassie take their regular seats across. Before Atlas can even pull out her headphones, Leo speaks to her in a whisper. His faded blue hair is bouncing across his face.

 

“I'm glad you said yes.” He smiles. “He was very nervous about asking.”

 

For a moment, Atlas is confused, then it clicks. “Oh! Oh, well, yes. Dinner could be fun, I think.”

 

Milo leans over the small table, butting into everyone's business as usual. “Who’s going to dinner?”

 

“Her and Jack, you idiot.” Kassie playfully smacks him on the head with her file as the place begins to move. 

 

Milo makes an O shape with his mouth, ribbing the back of his head. His eyes slide to Atlas, who looks away, her skin prickling. Unfortunately, there’s no version of this conversation that ends well.

 

“Took him long enough.” Kassie rolls her eyes, keeping her voice low. “Poor things been fawning over you for ages. I'm amazed you didn't see it.”

 

Atlas shrugs, wondering what anyone else would say in this conversation. Under the piercing eyes of the other students, Atlas grows increasingly uncomfortable. She shifts, not looking at them.

 

Clearly not taking the hint, Milo leans back and crosses his arms over his chest, speaking easily. “So, you gonna fuck him now?”

 

Atlas swallows, some form of disgust rising in her. She forces it down, but with it come Milo’s old, twisted words in her head.

 

You're broken.

 

You're wrong. Atlas shoots back at no one.

 

“Life isn't all about sex, Milo.” Kassie sings, opening her file. 

 

“Then what else is it about?” Milo asks dramatically.

 

Leo shrugs, leaning his chin in his hand. “You know, where do we come from, how did the universe begin, what tattoos does Ava have, the great mysteries of life.” He nods.

 

Kassie, focus still trained on her file, mutters, “I like the dragon one best.” casually, not even looking up.

 

The other three kids twist to face her, with Milo speaking first. “Wait, how do you know what tattoos Ava has?” he points.

 

Kassie finally looks up from her file, a startled and worried look on her face. “I don't.” She says too quickly. “I saw it when I stitched up her shirt.”

 

“Bullshit.” Atlas leans forward, thankful for a new focal point of the conversation that isn't her. 

 

Kassie looks between them with wide eyes before twisting to glance at Ava, who has her back to them. Milo’s mouth falls open again. “Oh my god.” he breathes. “You and Ava are a thing!” He squeals.

 

“Shhhh!” Kassie immediately starts hitting Milo with her file again as he giggles. Leo and Atlas exchange a glance, leaning back from the assault. 

 

“So it's true?” Leo asks once they calm down.

 

“Fine! Yes, it's true!” Kassie hisses, lowering her voice again. “But you can't tell anyone. Ava’s trying to keep it on the down-low.”

 

Milo raises his eyebrows. “Wow, you guys are almost worse at keeping this a secret than those two.” He waves to Morgan and Reid, who are discussing something about the history of Russia. 

 

Atlas tilts her head, confused. “Wait, what?”

 

The others turn to her with amused looks. “You don't know about this?” Leo asks, pointing at the men again.

 

 Atlas shrugs. “I thought they were friends?”

 

“Wow,” Milo collapses into his chair again. “No wonder it took six months for you and blondy to get together.” They laugh as Atlas looks away, confused and embarrassed. 

 

The other continues the conversation, diverting it back to Kassie. The boys pummel her with questions as she tries to fend them off. Atlas barely hears them; instead, she looks out the window, thinking about Jack and his dinner offer. 

 

Does Atlas like Jack? Yes. Is he good-looking? Also yes. Is Atlas nervous? Does she know what she's doing? Or what he wants? Can she do what he and the others expect her to? Yes, no, no, and probably not.

 

Again, Milo’s words come back to her, but it's not Milo’s anymore. It's her father’s—the twisted, broken voice seething with hate and anger. You're broken. It says. Again and again, her father’s voice repeats the line in her head. Whether he had really said it to her or not, Atlas can't remember anymore. But it's here now, loud and commanding and freighting. It sends a nervous jolt up Atlas’s spine, one that tells her something terrible is about to happen. The voice comes, again and again, no matter what she says to it.

 

And piece by piece, Atlas begins to believe it. 








Chapter Text

As the team empties off the plane, Dave hovers, shooting Hotch a glance that says, ‘I've got gossip!’ It’s probably Hotch's least favorite of Dave’s looks. 

 

Hotch waits, allowing the others to shuffle off the plane before turning to his friend. He has an idea of what Dave is going to say and is not excited about it.

 

“Well, took them long enough,” Dave chuckles, leaning on one of the tan, plush seats of the jet.

 

Hotch shifts, nodding in agreement. 

 

“Jack and Atlas, I mean,” Dave clarifies.

 

“I know,” Hotch mutters, looking away.

 

Hotch almost wishes he could discourage relationships within the group, but it would be unfair if he did. Everyone knows of Morgan and Reid’s barely hidden relationship, even Strauss. She just ignores it since the team functions fine even with them together. However, that took a stern discussion from Hotch and several warning words to the men to get there. Hotch is pretty sure JJ and Prentiss had a fling years ago, before Will and Henry. He is also fully aware of Lee and Bell, who are not doing a brilliant job hiding their relationship either. With so many couples within their small group, it would be unfair of Hotch to discourage this particular pairing. Though he would be lying if he said a relationship between his son and his apprentice didn’t make him slightly uncomfortable.

 

“What are you thinking?” Dave asks, eyes concerned.

 

Hotch steels his face before answering. “Just hoping nothing goes bad.”

 

Rossi raises his head, watching Hotch closely. “You sure? Nothing about the whole my-kids-dating-my-apprentice thing is bothering you?”

 

Hotch sighs, “I can’t exactly say anything, what with all the other couples here.”

 

“Oh yea, we really are just a team of lovers,” Dave nods.

 

Hotch hums in agreement before turning and leaving the jet, Dave in tow. They load themselves in their own SUVs and head for the station, ready to catch a serial killer.

 

In the back seat of the car, with Leo beside her, Atlas appears uneasy. She is gazing out the window with twitching fingers, eyes flicking to take in the road as they pass. Hotch had seen her reaction to the photos in the round room. The way the color had nearly drained from her face, the way her fingers had frozen in her hair had startled even him. He was beginning to think that nothing could get to the green-eyed girl, but apparently, he was wrong. Though if anything is going to get to her, it would be this. Vampirism is a nasty thing, wicked, some would say. Hotch would call it Tuesday. 

 

 

Group Chat

Bitches AU

Me (Hotch), David Rossi, Derek Morgan, Spencer Reid, Jennifer Jareau, Emily Prentiss, Penelope Garcia, Angel Atlas, Jack Hotchner, Milo Foster, Kassie Bell, Ava Lee, Leo Myers, Teona Brooks.

 

Derek Morgan

Guess what we just figured out?

 

Emily Prentiss

What u got?

 

Derek Morgan

Turns out that the holes in the neck ARE bite marks

And the DNA all registers to

Wait for it

 

Milo Foster

Don’t leave me in suspense

 

Derek Morgan

People registered as dead or missing

 

David Rossi

Oh, that’s new

 

Kassie Bell

Seriously?

 

Derek Morgan

It would seem so

 

Angel Atlas

Is it possible that the lab is wrong?

 

Leo Myers

Who? And how many people?

 

Spencer Reid

Two is a coincidence, three is a pattern.

 

Derek Morgan

Angelica Delacruz, Rhia Mcmanus, Denzel Coffey, Macie Dillon, and Fred Maguire r our monsters of the week.

 

Kassie Bell

Wow, that’s quite the pack.

 

David Rossi

With a pack this big, they have to have some sort of dynamic.

 

Me

What are you thinking?

 

Jennifer Jareau

They’d fall apart otherwise.

 

Angel Atlas 

I think we should hv the lab rerun it.

 

Spencer Reid 

We need to find out who the ringleader is and fast.

 

Milo Foster

They’ll be a leader, a deputy, and followers, right?

 

Derek Morgan

Yes 

 

Jennifer Jareau

Atlas that will take too long, plus spencers right it’s unlikely their wrong

 

David Rossi

But with this many, we may not have much time before it becomes unstable. They’re bound to break eventually.

 

Angel Atlas

hmm

What r we gonna do?

 

Me

I'll set up a hotline at the station once we get there

Reid get a geographic profile going

 

Penelope Garcia

Uh, sir?

 

Me

JJ, Emily, and Morgan, take your kids and start looking into the pack

Yes, Garcia?

 

Penelope Garcia

I don’t think you’re going to have time for that because we just got another crime scene.

 

Derek Morgan

Where?

 

Leo Myers

Where?

 

Emily Prentiss

Where?

 

Penelope Garcia

Damn u guys text fast.

Hotch and the coroner boys r the closest

I’m sending addresses now

 

Derek Morgan

Thx bby girl

 

Kassie Bell

Anytime, chocolate thunder

 

Milo Foster 

Ur welcome, my muscled husband

 

Leo Myers

Love you, my raging stallion of glory

 

Emily Prentiss 

HAHAHA

 

Derek Morgan

Fuck you guys

 

Me

Enough

Reid, do the geo profile with Leo

Garcia, JJ, and Dave look into the pack, set up a hotline

Me, Morgan, and Emily will check out the scene

 

Milo Foster

1 2 3 GO TEAM!

 

 

Hotch pulls up to the crime scene, which is a dark alleyway behind a club with a glowing sign that reads ‘Toxic’ even in the daytime. Though the club appears to be shut down, most likely because of the swarm of police cars and tapes covering the area. News crews and crowds gather at the edge of the border, so Hotch gets as close as he can to the scene. 

 

He and Atlas hop out of the SUV, moving swiftly through the crowd while denying questions. Emily, Bell, Morgan, and Lee meet them inside the border, nodding before they all walk together into the side ally.

 

The ally is unremarkable, other than the dead body. The body of a young Latina woman, no older than 20, lies thrown on the ground. A gaping hole in her neck but no blood on the earth. Not a drop of it is on her clothes or skin, or in her body, by how pale her skin is. Hotch almost thinks that this looks like every other crime scene for this case until he sees the wall.

 

“‘You can't hide forever, coward,’’' Emily reads the writing on the brick wall of the club, across from the body. The message is written in sloppy yellow spray paint.

 

“Found the can,” Lee calls from a few paces away. She lifts an average-looking can of spray paint for them to see.

 

“Give it to the lab, have them run it for prints.” Hotch orders. Lee nods and moves to the crime scene techs. 

 

While Morgan and Bell inspect the wall, Emily and Atlas are crotched around the body. Emily points to things on and around the scene- the lack of ligature marks, evidence of a struggle, and the viciousness of the bite. Atlas hardly seems to be paying attention. Her eyes are glazed over as if she is thinking about something very far away. And she is far quieter than usual. Atlas has been getting better at speaking her mind, or so he had thought. Hotch begins to walk over to his apprentice, but Morgan interrupts him by speaking.

 

“Who do you think they're talking to?” 

 

“A team member who fell out, perhaps?” Lee asks, pausing beside the brick.

 

Emily nods, “Or the next victim. Perhaps it's more targeted than we thought.”

 

Hotch hums his agreement, looking at Atlas for her input. The girl is standing now, staring at the wall with a flat expression on her face. Too flat. She's hiding something; Hotch knows it. He knows because he invented that face. The porcelain look with carefully sealed cracks but cracks nonetheless. And he can tell that the others are picking it up too. Though Bell and Lee discuss their theories about the message, Emily and Morgan exchange a knowing and worried glance. Hotch will have to talk to her before one of his teammates beats him to it.

 

“I think we need to get back to the team. See if the others have come up with anything yet,” Hotch dismisses the group and leads Atlas to the car.

 

Once safely alone and inside the SUV, Hotch attempts to speak to his apprentice.

 

“Is something wrong?” He asks as they drive.

 

Atlas is staring out the window with glazed eyes. “Weird case, that’s all.”

 

“You sure?” 

 

“Course,” she turns from the window, her eyes finally focusing on him as a sly smile cracks her porcelain. “I’m terribly worried you're going to catch my vampiric habits, and then I’ll have to kill you to keep the secret.” She laughs dryly.

 

Hotch chuckles and shakes his head, sliding into the station parking lot. Despite her jokes, Atlas is correct. This is an odd case and a strange group of killers. The undead, apparently. 

 

“It’ll be alright,” He assures her. “We’ll catch these guys before anyone else has to die.”

 

Atlas nods, her eyes glazing over again as they exit the car. Hotch gets the feeling that there is more here than meets the eye. Something else about this case is worrying Atlas, but Hotch had promised himself he would not probe her for answers anymore. Hopefully, they’ll catch these guys before he has to.

Chapter Text

 

Atlas shuffles through papers in the station, looking at files on the victims and the pack. The vampires who’ve been feasting on this town are all registered as dead or missing in every database they check. Which is unsurprising to Atlas; vampires don’t exactly go to college or family dinners.

 

The team surrounds her, each one working on something different. Reid and Leo are drilling over a map marked with sticky notes and circles. JJ and Kassie are watching the news, discussing with Hotch about how to best handle the press. The rest of them are steadily shifting through the files, reading them over and over again with the hope of finding a pattern. They murmur to each other as they read, but no one comes up with anything case-breaking. Jack sits on Atlas’s right and Ava on her left. Atlas stands in between them, unable to sit as fear pulls a knot in her belly. 

 

Atlas can barely focus on the files before her because all she can think about is what would happen if her team meets the vampire nest for real. What if the vamps get tired of the FBI and decide to get rid of them? What if the group finds the nest and goes to confront them? Even though the BAU outnumbers them two to one, none of them know how to kill a vamp. Their bullets are useless. What’s going to happen if they find the nest and attack? The vampires won’t spare them. Atlas may be able to take down a few if she’s lucky, but how many of her teammates will die before she can help them? 

 

Images flash through her mind, dark and bloody. Vampires ripping her team to shreds. One tears Morgan’s arm apart, no matter how much he hits it. JJ and Emily have already emptied their cases and are fighting with their fists, but it’s useless. Kassie and Ava are back to back, together till the end. Leo is already on the ground, blood seeping into the soft dirt. Hotch is on his own, fighting more vampires than he could ever beat. He’s bloody and sweaty, and he’s losing. No matter how hard Atlas fights, no matter how many heads she removes from shoulders, she never makes it to him in time.

 

Atlas has seen these images before, with her brothers, her friends, herself. But never with the BAU. They’ve never been in danger this way. They’ve never come head to head with the monsters underneath their beds; only the ones in the news.

 

“We may have something over here,” Rossi’s voice snaps Atlas from her nightmare. She looks up at him for only a moment before turning back to her files, reading quickly to catch up on the missed words.

 

Morgan asks, “What do you have?” 

 

Atlas isn’t paying attention anymore. “Some guy came in on the hotline, claiming to know something about our pack,” Rossi explains. “He’s coming in now, a Benjamin Oarvill.” 

 

“When’s he coming?” Emily pipes up.

 

“Any minute now,” Rossi answers.

 

Then, a deep, rough voice thick with a sailor’s accent pulls Atlas from her thoughts once more.

 

“Well, I’ll be.” 

 

Atlas snaps her head up, turning on her heels. She takes in the big man behind her. He is tall with a scrubby brown-grey beard and a blue beret on his head. He is wearing a simple tan wool shirt with suspenders and a dirty blue overcoat. Atlas’s mouth falls open as she meets his eyes, as blue as the sea.

 

“Benny?” She breathes in disbelief.

 

Benny smiles, pulling his hands from his pockets. “In the flesh.”

 

“Wait, you know him?” Jack asks from beside Atlas.

 

Atlas looks around at her team, her joy of seeing her old friend morphing instantly into fear. Benny is here. Benny, the vampire. Is here. With her team, who is currently hunting a nest of vampires. This could not be going worse.

 

“Uh, yes,” Atlas babbles, tripping over her words as she rushes to explain. “He’s an old friend. Well, my brother's friend, technically. I haven’t seen him in ages; I had no idea he was here.” Atlas explains to Rossi. 

 

The team nods, exchanging puzzled and knowing looks. Before anyone can tear Benny away and ruin everything, Atlas moves to his side. She places a hand on his elbow and signals for him to follow her.

 

“Why don’t we catch up a little? The coffee here is mediocre, but it’ll do,” She shrugs. Benny nods and allows her to lead him to the opposite side of the station, away from the prying ears of her teammates. Though she can still hear them whispering behind her. Hotch’s eyes burn into her back as she walks away, but she doesn’t stop.

 

Finally, they get to the coffee machine, and Atlas busies herself with preparing two cups. She leans close to Benny, touching their arms together. His thick overcoat is warm, and he smells like the sea.

 

“What are you doing here, Benny?” She whispers urgently, desperately trying to keep her face expressionless. “What were you thinking? Coming to a police station with the FBI around?”

 

“In my defense, I didn’t think it was the actual FBI here, certainly not you.” He responds, wary eyes flicking to the people around them.

 

“So, what was your plan? You march into a police station, right when they're hunting vampires, and hope a bunch of hunters are going to help you?” Atlas struggles to keep the anger from her voice as she pours the coffee. 

 

Bennys face hardens defensively, though he quickly erases the emotion from everything but his voice. “For your information, I was planning on playing dumb. A regular civilian who noticed things he shouldn’t have. I didn’t plan on them being here.” He jerks his head to her team, who is still staring at their backs.

 

Atlas twists her neck, looking at them with narrowed eyes as she tries to read their faces. Hotch and Rossi have their heads close together, whispering and glancing at the pair. The older agents are mulling over the files but are facing Atlas. And she can guess that they are barely reading the papers. The apprentices are doing something similar but standing, mimicking their mentors. Only Jack is sitting alone. He hasn’t left his seat as he stares openly at Atlas and Benny. His eyes are narrowed, and anger lines his features. It’s a strange look on him; Jack doesn’t often get angry, and rarely enough to turn his knuckles white.

 

Atlas turns back to the coffee, turning over a plan in her mind. “And why would you be helping the FBI in the first place?” She hisses.

 

“Because that nest is after me,” Benny growls in response, adding sugar to his coffee very slowly. 

 

“That message, ‘you can’t hide forever, coward.’ That was for you?” 

 

Benny nods, frowning. “Yea. Turns out, not all vamps are besties forever.”

 

“And remind me again why they hate you?”

 

“Old grudges is all.” Benny pauses. “But I ain’t happy that they’re killing civilians. It ain’t right.”

 

Atlas huffs in agreement, a plan begins to form. One where Benny makes it out alright, and her team never even has to see the vampires. “I think I have an idea, but you have to do exactly what I say, got it?” She looks up at him, fixing the salt-scented man with an iron gaze. He meets it for a moment; he smiles and nods.

 

“You really are just like your brother.” He chuckles in his thick accent. Atlas rolls her eyes. “Alright,” Benny huffs, “Tell me what to do.”

Chapter Text

Hotch watches Atlas and Benjamin Oarvil, Benny, as she called him, through narrowed eyes. They are huddled a little too close together in front of the coffee machine, clearly taking their time to talk. 

 

Hotch doesn't trust Benny. The man is much bigger than Atlas and has an odd air about him. Hotch can’t quite place it, but a few words pop to mind when he looks at Benny. Salt, smirking, and dangerous. 

 

Finally, after a few minutes of hushed whispers besides the machine, Atlas leads Benny back over to the team. Her head is held high and her eyes are clear in a way they haven’t been since the beginning of the case. Benny has a careful, easy smile on his face that makes Hotch wary. Clearly, something happened in that exchange that sparked the change in both people. Hopefully, it will help the case, but Hotch is doubtful. 

 

Atlas pauses before the group, who quiets and gives them their full attention. Atlas tips her chin and speaks in a commanding voice. “Morgan, show Benny to the interview room, please.”

 

Morgan looks to Hotch questioningly, not knowing if he should be taking orders from an apprentice. Hotch nods to Morgan, who huffs with narrowed eyes before leading the bearded man away. Everyone turns back to Atlas, who speaks before they can question her. She keeps a calm, authoritative voice throughout her explanation.

 

“Benny is an old friend of mine, or more accurately, a friend to one of my brothers. Yes, I have brothers. No, I didn’t tell you,” she adds to the raised eyebrows. “I had no idea he was here or that he was involved in this. He claims to have seen suspicious people that match the description given to the press. We should interview him and listen to what he has to say. Benny has no reason to lie, especially not to me.” She finishes. 

 

The group is silent for a moment, processing. But the quiet doesn't last long, because seconds later, they explode with questions. Yelling and overlapping each other with no care whether they’re answered or not. Hotch stays silent.

 

“You have brothers? Why didn’t you tell us?”

 

“Who is this guy?”

 

“How did you not know he lived here?”

 

“If he’s involved in this case, then you could be compromised!”

 

“How do we know he isn’t a part of the case? As more than just an informant?”

 

The last question came from Jack, which is the first one Atlas responds to. She whips her head around, fixing him with a fiery stare. Her commanding voice has a dangerous edge to it now, and Jack's eyes widen as she speaks, though he doesn't back down.

 

“Benny is an informant . He's not the villain here. He's good. ” She snarls.

 

Jack meets her eyes, fists balled as he stands. Hotch is impressed. Despite Atlas’s size, she is intimidating when she wants to be. Her green eyes burn into Jacks the same way they had burned into Hotch’s the first day they met. Except now, she's angry. 

 

“You don't know that! You trust him so much just because he's your brother's ‘friend’? You never even told us you had brothers!” Jack puts far too much emphasis on the word ‘friend,’ almost like he doesn't believe that's the truth.

 

The few police left at the station are beginning to stare, and Hotch doesn't like it. Dave steps in, placing a firm hand on Jack's chest. Hotch moves as well, putting himself between his son and his apprentice, choosing to face Atlas. Before either of them can speak, Atlas yells again, bending to look at Jack around Hotch.

 

“I didn't tell you I had brothers because I like to keep my private life private. Same as any of you!” Jack opens his mouth to retort, but Atlas cuts him off. “And I trust Benny because he's not just my brother's friend; he’s my brother's ex , you dipshit.” She finishes.

 

Everyone pauses, taking in the new information. Hotch puts his hands on Atlas' shoulders, but she angrily shakes him away. Jack stares at her for a moment more before turning on his heel and storming off. Dave stares after him and shakes his head; no one follows Jack. 

 

Finally, everyone begins to settle. Atlas crosses her arms across her chest, tapping the remaining knife in her sleeve. The rest of the group exchanges looks before backing off slightly. Some warily sit down, still staring at Atlas with interest.

 

Reid is the first to break the silence. Only when Hotch looks at him does he realize that Morgan has returned. The men have their shoulders pressed together as they stand. “What are their names? Your brothers, I mean.”

 

Atlas hesitates for a moment, thinking about whether or not to answer. “Micheal and Luci,” She grinds out, oddly rubbing the fabric covering her left bicep. Something is off about the way she says the names, as though they are bitter on her tongue. Maybe she has a similar experience to them as she does with her father. 

 

“Luci?” JJ asks, raising an eyebrow. 

 

“Nickname,” Atlas answers, still touching her arm. She seems very uncomfortable under the seeking eyes of the group, but who wouldn't be?

 

“Why didn't you tell us before?” Hotch tilts his head forward, curious and slightly upset. 

 

She meets his eyes, not unlike their first meeting. But now, there's something more behind them, more than confidence and a lust for victory. Now there's passion, desperation, and fear, each emotion buried a layer deeper than the last. 

 

But her voice shows only anger. “Because I don't want you lot snooping around in my private life. I doubt you would want us looking into all your family shit.” She snarls. Hotch tips his head, tempted to dig farther, but she speaks again before he can, dropping her hands to her sides. “We're wasting time here. We need to interview Benny and get an official statement before another body drops.”

 

Now, Hotch agrees. “Alright. We’ll do this later.” He turns to the group, knowing that work will help them forget this, though it's unlikely they'll ever forget it entirely. “Me and Atlas will interview Benny. Leo and Milo, get to that geographical profile. JJ, Bell, and Lee call Garcia and Brooks, have them run Benjamin Oarvil through what they've got, just to be safe. Dave,” He hesitates for less than a second, then makes his decision. “Go check on Jack. The rest of you, with me.” 

 

Hotch leaves Emily, Morgan, and Reid to watch the interrogation, mainly because he doesn't trust Benny. But he knows they'll be watching Atlas as well. Hopefully, one of them will do or say something worth remembering. Atlas can hide things well, but not from this team. Or so he had thought; but maybe she's hiding more than he knows. Hotch thinks back to the encrypted chat room Atlas had used and considers it a very likely possibility. 

 

The team nods before scurrying off to their jobs. Hotch leads Atlas and most of the agents to the interrogation room, though only she follows him through the door. On the way, she is texting rapidly on her phone. Hotch wonders what's so important but doesn't get the chance to ask. The others enter the room just before it, where they will observe from a big mirror. Before they're all gone, Morgan taps Hotch’s arm, calling his attention. Hotch signals for Atlas to wait before entering the interrogation room. He leans close to Morgan as the man whispers to him.

 

“Are you sure taking her in is a good idea?” He asks, glancing at Atlas. She has finally found some manners and is politely staring at the floor, though is clearly eavesdropping. 

 

Hotch nods. “They're friends; he’ll be more likely to open up to her. And we need all the help we can get.” Morgan nods before disappearing inside.

 

Hotch and Atlas enter the small grey room, each taking a seat at the table. Benny sits across from them, appearing unbothered as he rolls a coin over his knuckles. He is leaning back in his chair, whistling to himself. When the agents come in, he sits up, resting his arms on the table, never stopping his coin. 

 

“What can I do for ya, agents?” Benny asks, his accent thick. An easy smile rests on his face, and though he looks at both of them, his eyes linger on Atlas for a moment longer. 

 

Hotch clears his throat, drawing attention. “I’m SSA Hotchner, and you already know student-agent Atlas. Mr. Oarvil, we’d like to ask you some questions, if that’s alright?”

 

Benny waved his hands, looking slightly amused. “That’s why I’m here. Ask away. And call me Benny, if you will.”

 

“Tell us why you came in today, Benny.”

 

Benny clears his throat and begins his story. “We’ll I saw your news post ‘bout some shifty lookin’ folks and remembered that I’d seen a group like that out on the edge of town. Abandoned farmland. Probably a barn or somethin’ out there.”

 

Hotch nods, “Do you know where this farm is?”

 

Benny looks away, thinking. “Southside of town. Out past the midnight diner.”

 

Atlas sits relaxed but motionless beside him. Hotch decides to probe a little further. It’s for the case, he tells himself. “And do you live here, Benny?”

 

Atlas’s shoulders stiffen for only a moment, but she brushes it off and tilts her head. Benny doesn’t react.

 

“I’m just passing through. Looking for work, you know? Been eating at the diner. Seen the group. That’s all.” He finishes slightly defensively.

 

“Of course, Benny. We're just trying to be thorough.” Hotch soothes. Benny nods and sits back, still rolling his coin. “Do you know anything else about the group that could help us?”

 

Benny shakes his head. “They're your regular skids. White, thin, raggedy things. About the sort who’d do something like this.” He shoots Atlas a meaningful glance, and she twitches in response. Hotch is about to ask another question but before he can his phone rings in his pocket. 

 

Text from Derek Morgan

The farm's real, abandoned barn has several noise complaints. Ready when you are.

 

Hotch returns his phone to his pocket and stands, speaking. “Well, Mr. Oarvil, thank you for your help. We're going to release you but ask that you stay in town for a little while in case we need your help again, okay?”

 

Benny nods, “Got it.” He looks away, then seems to remember something. “Wait!” He calls. Hotch stops and turns halfway out the door with Atlas just behind him. Benny looks between Hotch and Atlas, indecision clear on his face. Then, after a moment, he speaks to Atlas directly, ignoring Hotch.

 

“You've been hearing the whispers?” He asks, voice suddenly serious. Hotch realizes that Benny has stopped rolling his coin.

 

Hotch looks from Benny to the mirror, shooting a sharp glance at the agents behind. He hopes they are listening and watching as hard as he is right now because if Benny’s talking in code, then it must be important.

 

Atlas straightens, looking at Hotch frantically before responding. “No, what happened.”

 

Benny glances at Hotch once more. Perhaps it's Hotch’s permanent scowl or his watchful eyes, but something pushes Benny back slightly. His eyes continually return to Atlas when he speaks, but now his voice carries weight; he sounds weary and regretful. “It's your daddy. Word is he's been stirrin’ up trouble, making friends with our pals downstairs.” he pauses, looking at the mirror. 

 

Atlas is as stiff as a board. Her back has gone straight, and her fists are balled at her sides. “What's he doing?” She asks carefully.

 

Benny hesitates again. “I don't know the details, but apparently, he's been working hard on something. Asking everybody not to send our downstairs friends back where they belong. Instead, he's been takin’ ‘em. Nobody knows what he's doing. But if it's your daddy, we both know it's nothin’ good.” Atlas swallows, and Benny looks away. “There's a bad moon on the rise, kid. Be careful.” He finishes solemnly.

 

Atlas nods, grinding her teeth. “Thanks, Benny.”

 

The sailor leans back in his chair, nodding. “Stay safe, kid.” 

 

In a moment, Atlas is out the door and speeds walking down the hall. Hotch quickly excuses himself and follows her, meeting up with the others in the hallway. Including Dave and Jack, who must have joined sometime after they started. Hotch looks at his son for only a moment, taking him in. Jack’s frown is set, and his eyebrows are pressed together with worry, but his fists are no longer tight. Though Hotch can see the thin red lines where Jack's nails had dug into his palms. They'll have to talk later; right now, Atlas needs his attention. 

 

Hotch and the rest of the group walk out of the hall and into their small meeting room, where Atlas, Leo, Milo, Lee, and Bell are already gathered. The apprentice’s huddle around the table as Atlas recaps the interview, though she avoids the ending. She looks up when she sees them enter.

 

Hotch pauses before her, looking her up and down. There is still tension in her shoulders, but her voice is stern and commanding. She avoids his eyes, and Hotch can see why. She is moving quickly, in short, jerking motions. Her eyes are wide and flickering, though slightly glazed. Hotch knows panic when he sees it, and the fear in Atlas’s eyes only adds to his unease. Whatever's going on in Atlas’s head right now certainly isn't good.

 

Hotch steps in front of Atlas, though she talks around him. “Atlas,” He cuts her off. “ Atlas,” He says again, sterner this time. Finally, her eyes focus on him long enough for him to speak. “We need to talk about this.”

 

“We need to talk about this case,” She snaps, eyes fiery. “I will deal with my father on my own, later. For now, let's try and make sure no one else shows up bone dry, shall we?” 

 

Hotch stiffens, unhappy with her tone. Though he doesn't take his eyes off Atlas, he can see Jack explaining the situation to the very confused apprentices in the back. But he can't look at them right now because Atlas has him held down with that iron stare of hers. The same one from before, the same one from the first day they met. Hotch used to believe that he was immune to his own special trick, but clearly, he was wrong. 

 

The tension is only broken by JJ, whose voice is full of concern. Hotch doesn't break his stare, and neither does she. Even as she responds with a biting resort to each agent. 

 

“We can help you, Atlas. I'm sure we can find a way-”

 

“There is no way you can help. I'll do it on my own.”

 

Dave tries his hand next. “If you would tell us what Benny was saying-”

 

“Clearly, we didn't want you to know.”

 

Finally, Hotch speaks but never breaks his gaze. “You need to learn to trust us, Atlas.”

 

Atlas’s face crumples with anger. “I trust you to solve this case! To save these people!” She nearly yells. “I will handle my bastard family on my own, so keep your noses out of it!” 

 

Atlas takes a breath, opening her mouth as though she is going to say more. But something stops her. For just a moment, Atlas looks over Hotch’s shoulder at something behind him. At that moment, she shuts her mouth, and her eyes change. She becomes calmer and seems to reel herself in slightly. Hotch peers over his shoulder but sees nothing behind him except a water cooler and a whiteboard with crime statistics. Nothing that would cause such a change in Atlas so quickly. He turns back to her to find her face stern and resolved. Her voice is calmer now but still tight with anger.

 

“For now, let's focus on this case and what Benny gave us. I'll deal with my dad later, okay?” She asks, raising her eyebrows. 

 

Hotch relaxes his shoulders and nods, silently breathing a sigh of relief. He turns to his team, taking in their confused, concerned, and one angry face. Hotch begins dolling out orders, preparing the group and the other officers for a raid on the barn. The sooner they end this case, the sooner Hotch can help Atlas get as far away from her father as possible.

 

Another piece of Atlas’s life has fallen into his lap. But how does this bit line up with the others? Where does Benny fit into this? Or her strange, mysterious brothers? Or the chatroom or the ‘downstairs people’ Benny referenced? All the pieces of Atlas’s life, and none of them seem to fit together. Whatever is happening here, Hotch is missing a big part, right in the middle. Until he gets that, nothing is going to make sense. 

Chapter Text

Fuck

Fuck

Fuck

 

What is Atlas going to do now?

 

Atlas sits in the passenger seat of the SUV while Hotch drives steadily on. They're alone in the car, and with the radio off, the silence is nearly crushing. The only noise is that of the vehicle as it flies down the road and the sirens of cops behind them. But it all sounds muffled and far off like there’s a waterfall between her and the world. Atlas is staring out the window, face crumpled. 

 

For now, they're still on the main road, but they’ll leave it soon on the way to the barn. And when they get there, they’ll go charging in, guns blazing as they do. Or maybe they’ll try and call the vampires out. That’s more like Hotch. It’s more like Atlas and her brothers to charge in without warning, more of the hunter way. But they’ve done that before as agents, haven’t they?

 

Atlas thinks about her brothers as she watches the world fly by outside her window. She thinks about everything that happened here today. 

 

Benny showed up, and that could have been okay, but he just had to go and ruin everything? He really needed to spill all her secrets to her team? And then, of course, she had to cover it, she had to explain.

 

The handprint burn scar on her arm begins to burn again as she thinks of the conversation. Atlas had referred to Dean and Sam as Michael and Luci, their angel counterparts. She thinks of her own angel, Raphael, as she ignores her burning arm. 

 

Years ago, after their dad had disappeared, Sam had been kidnapped by Azazel and killed. Dean was going to sell his soul for Sam's life, but Atlas had beaten him to it. She had sold her soul, won a year of life with her brothers. And once that year was up, the hell-hounds had appeared to drag her down to hell. She had spent four months, or 40 years, there before Castiel had dragged her out, leaving the scar on her arm which he never bothered to remove. 

 

Later, Dean, Sam, and Atlas had learned that they were each destined to have an angel possess them and fight- to the death. Michael, Lucifer, and Raphael, to be exact. They had met Gabriel around this time, the remaining archangel who had gone to earth to get away from his brothers. At first, he hadn't wanted to help them, but he came through in the end because it meant preventing the apocalypse. He’s been attached to their sides ever since. 

 

The boys were supposed to fight, Micheal was supposed to kill Lucifer, and Raphael was going to watch. He was supposed to be the judge, the ultimate authority, and Atlas was supposed to be his meat suit. 

 

Instead, the Winchesters had foiled the plan by throwing Lucifer, Sam, and Michael into the cage. Sam had spent a year there before he had been spit out, soulless, but alive. They got his soul back, and then the leviathans appeared. At the end of that mess, Dean and Cas had been launched into purgatory. And then Dean had come back with Benny and without Cas. 

 

They had gotten Cas back, and for a while, things had finally been peaceful. Cas and Dean had been happy together- though that was a journey in itself. They had all been hunting as a family again, though without their dad. John Winchester has been MIA for years since he was severely injured in a car accident and fled without warning. He never came back, and they had never heard from him till now. Atlas had nearly started to believe- hope that he was dead or that she would never see him again. Clearly, she was wrong.

 

After a few months of them hunting as a group, with Gabriel occasionally, Atlas had gotten bored. She decided she wanted more with her life than this. Though she knows that no one can ever truly leave the hunting life, but she can try. Who knows, maybe she would be the first. Her family had been the first at so many things much bigger than this, so why not this?

 

And so Ash had created a new identity for her. From Sage Winchester, the most wanted woman in the country, to Angel Atlas, the FBI agent. She had never thought that her father would resurface right when she was happy. But that’s just like him, isn’t it? To come barging in and ruin everything, leaving nothing but a trail of misery and pain behind him. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s doing it again.

 

But what did Benny mean? Dad has been assembling a group of downstairs people? Demons? How did he manage that, and why does he want a pack of demons on his side? Whatever John Winchester is planning, it’s nothing good.

 

“You should let us help you, Atlas,” Hotch whispers, despite the empty car.

 

“I can handle it myself,” She snaps. 

 

Hotch doesn’t react but turns them off the main road and onto a smaller side path.  “But you don’t have to,” he breathes. He’s never this quiet. Atlas doesn’t like it.

 

But she can’t look at him, so she looks away, shifting in her seat. “I've been through hell, Hotch. I'm pretty sure I can handle my father.” 

 

They’ve all been to a hell of their own, the Winchester kids. Atlas in hell, Sam in the cage, and Dean in purgatory. They’ve each been to some of the worst places in existence and come out fighting, screaming, crying. Nothing scares them anymore. 

 

“What stopped you?” Hotch breaks the silence again, his voice slightly louder.

 

“What?”

 

“You're going to argue more, but you stopped. Why?”

 

Atlas growls, turning away from him. “Didn’ want to dig myself a deeper hole,” she answers in a southern drawl. She stuffs a hand into her pocket and is surprised to hear something crinkle. Atlas pulls her hand out to reveal a lollypop and a few pastel-colored taffys. Gabriel. Atlas loves taffy, and he knows it. She smiles to herself before shoving the candy back into her pocket. 

 

Atlas had been staring at Hotch, anger flooding like fire through her veins. She had nearly said everything, nearly told them why they couldn’t help her. Because Atlas belongs to a family of monsters. Killers, criminals, people who beat death; that’s what they are. And if they understood that, maybe they’d leave her alone. 

 

But really, are the agents and the hunters that much different? JJ had killed Leon a few weeks ago, and Atlas is pretty sure that most of the grown agents have taken a life at some point. And it’s not like the hunters kill in cold blood. Anywhere outside this job, the agents would easily be considered criminals. But they do the same job, hunters and agents, don’t they? They both hunt monsters, they both protect people, they both get on Atlas’s nerves. They just hunt different types of monsters. 

 

No. The FBI agents are people of the law, government workers. The hunters are criminals who live and work below the radar. They are not the same.

 

When she was yelling at Hotch, It had been Gabriel who’d stopped her. She had felt the change in the room and heard the rush of the air a moment before he appeared behind Hotch, leaning casually against the water cooler. He hadn't said anything, only slowly shaken his head. That alone had reeled Atlas in, made her see sense. She has no idea how he knew to come to her because Atlas had not called him. She vaguely remembers Cas saying something about prayers being more than thoughts, something about feeling when a person needs you. He was talking about Dean, of course. But maybe Gabriel is the same? Atlas doesn’t want to think about it. She already has a headache.

 

Hotch stops the car in front of an old, wooden barn bleached by the sun and weathered by the years. The other SUVs and cop cars pull up beside them. Cops and agents hop out, some drawing their guns as they prepare to attack. Atlas moves for the door, but Hotch puts a hand on her arm, stopping her. When she meets his eyes, she finds them more sincere than ever before. 

 

“Whatever hell you’ve been through, know that we’re always here waiting for you when you’re ready.” He nearly whispers, voice heavy.

 

Atlas nods and goes to the door, pulling out of his grasp. She opens the door and steps out, feeling the knife in her sleeve. Atlas and the others- cops and agents- creep forward until Morgan and Rossi are right outside the barn. Morgan holds the door as Rossi prepares to charge.

 

All the Winchester kids have been to some form of hell, in a way. Hell, the Cage, and Purgatory. It seems they enjoy being below ground a bit too much. Or maybe Death just doesn’t want to keep them. It’s funny, in a way. Three people who survived some of the worst places in existence, two half-fallen angels, a missing dad, an aunt and uncle who run a hunters bar, a genius with a mullet, a Scottish demon, and a cousin who refuses to speak to her. That’s what Atlas’s family is. 

 

“Three,” Morgan whispers.

 

Three survivors, two angels, one agent. 

 

“Two.”

 

Or maybe, if Atlas survives long enough to call them family, 14 agents. 

 

Maybe. Hopefully. 

 

One.

Chapter Text

“Three, two, one.”

 

The barn doors burst open. Cops and agents alike run inside, guns waving. Dust fills the space, making the air thick and the light heavy as it pours in through a hole in the roof. There is ancient hay on the ground that makes Atlas’s nose itch. Mice and rats skitter for cover as the people charge into the building.

 

And they find… nothing. 

 

Not a scrap of evidence that this barn has been used or inhabited by anyone but the mice in years. No food, drinks, or tracks. Nothing. 

 

Thank god. Atlas breaths out a sigh of relief and lowers her hands as the others swarm around her, desperately looking for something, anything. But they’re not going to find anything. Atlas knows it. This hunt is futile. The vampires aren’t here, and they never were. 

 

Thank goodness Benny can lie through his teeth. Atlas was so worried that Hotch or one of the others would pick up on it. But they had been so distracted by her family and the case that no one but Jack had outwardly considered the chance of Benny lying. 

 

Standing in the middle of the barn, Atlas scratches her nose and pulls out her phone, checking her messages.

 

Impala - Ghost

The warehouse is clean. We’ll bury the vamps tonight and split tomorrow. Can we see you before then?

 

Atlas pauses, thinking, before responding to Dean.

 

Ghost - Impala

Thx for handling it. The team is gonna hang around for a while longer until they’re sure it’s cold. Meeting up is risky, they know your faces. 

 

Impala - Ghost

Ik it’s risky but we haven’t seen you in forever, it’s been six months! We miss you! Sam, cas and benny r here too. Come on, your our little sister, sage. You have to see us while we’re here. 

 

Atlas pauses, staring at her name on the screen. Sage. Damn, it really has been a while. 

 

Ghost - Impala

My team is good, like, really good. I’m worried they’ll notice something. Plus, we’ll all be at the station, slamming these files for at least a day.

 

Impala - Ghost

Well, you have to eat, don’t you? There’s that cruddy diner on the edge of town, not far from you. Convince them all to go there for dinner tomorrow. Well, be there.

 

Ghost - Impala

Meeting in public?? With FBI agents around??? Are you crazy?? You’ll so get caught.

 

Impala - Ghost

We'll be fine, we've got an angel on our side, and you've got one too.

 

Atlas pauses for a second but knows there's no point in arguing with Dean, so she switches topics.

 

Ghost - Impala

Did Benny tell u that stuff about dad?

 

Impala - Ghost

Yea

 

Ghost - Impala

Well? What do you think? Did u know about it? 

Don't make me wrestle it out of u, dean.

 

Impala - Ghost

Please, we both know I’m a better wrestler than you.

 

Ghost - Impala

Yea, okay, dean

What do you know?

 

Impala - Ghost

We heard about it, bits and pieces. I didn’t know how much of it was true since it’s not reliable channels.

 

Ghost - Impala

Y didn’t u tell me???

 

Impala - Ghost

We didn’t want to worry you.

Apparently, dad has been asking hunters not to kill any demons they find. Instead, he’s taking them for something, but no one knows what.

 

Ghost - Impala

What the hell does dad want with a bunch of demons?? And how is he gonna wrangle them all? Their not dogs

 

Impala - Ghost

Ik, sage. Idk what’s going on, but we’ll figure it out. For now, you stay safe in your little FBI team, and we’ll focus on dad.

 

Ghost - Impala

‘Safe’ ha

 

Impala - Ghost

Fine. SAFER

And don’t forget about dinner.

 

Ghost - Impala

Yea, yea, I got it

Bye, dean

 

Impala - Ghost

Bye sage

 

Atlas hovers on her phone for a second more, still staring at her name. Sage. Sage Winchester. It’s almost strange to hear it again. It’s even weirder to think that she’s never heard it from her team. She wonders what the name will sound like in their mouths. She thinks of how they say ‘Atlas.’ Perfectly split into two sounds and always said with care. And a little bit of honor too. Perhaps as a nod to the original Atlas, the man who held up the world. Atlas wonders what her birth name will sound like if her team ever says it. Will it be warm? Round? Hopefully, she’ll never know. 

 

Atlas finally looks up from her phone to see that she has drifted to the corner of the barn where dust and hay crowd her until she sneezes. Atlas tucks her phone away and moves for the wide doors, still sneezing into her arm. She curses the grass for making her eyes all puffy and her skin scratchy. 

 

Atlas makes it outside and moves back to the group of cars where the other apprentices are waiting. The older agents and most of the cops are still inside, sweeping every inch of the barn. Atlas isn’t going to tell them how useless it is, that they’ll never find anything. So they’ll have to live with a cold case. 

 

As she stops beside the cars, so does her sneezing. The others regard her with nods, aside from Milo, who must make a joke of everything.

 

“What’s wrong? The vampire barn making you runny?” he giggles.

 

Jack scoffs and rolls his eyes, clearly upset. “It’s obviously not a vampire barn because if it were, there would be vampires. ” He turns on Atlas, who is still rubbing dust from her eyes. “Turns our Benny was wrong.”

 

“So he was,” Atlas answers smoothly, not willing to give Jack the satisfaction of another fight. He seems surprised by her calmness. “Why don’t we go ask him about it?” She shoots back. 

 

Jack huffs and turns to face the barn again, crossing his arms as he leans against a car. One by one, the agents are giving up and coming outside—each one looking more defeated and dusty than the last.

 

Atlas repeats the previous conversation at least three more times before they get back to the station, but she manages to stay cool each time. Atlas only allows herself to get defensive enough to seem believable, but she doesn’t put her heart into it. She’s too tired.

 

Between seeing Benny, talking to Dean, lying to her team, and learning about this demon stuff with her dad, Atlas doesn’t have much energy left for today. She’s been through a whirlwind of emotions that swept through her like a tidal wave and left nothing behind. Her mental battery is drained, and she would love a shower. She would also like to dig into this stuff with John and get to the bottom of it. But Atlas bets herself that Hotch will make them pull an all-nighter on this case, especially once they realize that Benny is gone. 

 

“What do you mean he’s gone?” Morgan yells at one of the beat cops with tight fists. Atlas forgot that before the all-nighter, she would get to watch her team flip out over Bennys sudden disappearance. “How could you just let him walk out of here?”

 

Rossi comes over and pulls Morgan away from the poor cop, who probably didn’t even know he was supposed to keep Benny in the station in the first place. Atlas has already collapsed into a chair with her chin resting on her hand and her eyes drifting closed. She watches Morgan’s blurry form approach her but can’t sum up the energy to look up. She knew this was coming, this anger, this reaction; it makes the whole situation much less interesting then it should be.

 

“Where is he?” Morgan demands.

 

Atlas shrugs. “I don’t know. I already texted him, but he hasn’t responded. I think the numbers old anyway.” she answers lazily.

 

She hears Morgan growl in frustration before stalking off, then hears Reid’s light footsteps as he follows. Atlas can imagine the others faces, probably a mix of tiredness, worry, and anger. Everyone hates cold cases and busted leads, but with Benny gone, they’ve got nothing. 

 

“Well? Now what?” Kassie asks.

 

Hotch sighs. “Now, we work.”

 

 

The Next Day

 

It had taken Atlas far too long to drag the team from their desks to the diner. Everyone has been working relentlessly on the case, determined to put the killers in jail. Atlas probably would have been working just as hard if she thought that the vampires were anywhere but six feet underground. Instead, she worked enough not to be suspicious but never really wore herself out. Now, she’s finally managed to pull them all away long enough to get some food and to get out of that dammed station. It was getting crowded in there, and with every passing second, Atlas became more and more anxious about seeing her brothers.

 

The waitress shows the large group of 12 to a table, and they all take their seats. Atlas orders, talks, and looks around, desperately seeking out her brothers. Atlas is sure that she’s looked around the diner at least a dozen times before they appear. Literally, just appear. The four large men, Dean and Sam are facing her with Cas and Benny across from them at a booth. Atlas knows Cas must have flown them in. Within a moment, both Atlas’s and her brother’s table have their food. 

 

The others are talking about who knows what, but Atlas isn’t paying attention. She looks at her food, then at her brothers, then down again. She cant look at them for long, or else the team will notice. But when she does look, she drinks them in—every glint in their eyes and a bit of stubble on their faces. Even Cas and Benny sometimes turn to look at her, thoughtful, careful, warm smiles over their shoulders. 

 

They look healthy, almost happy. There are no dark circles under their eyes, they have no fresh cuts and their cheeks are filled out. Atlas tries to think about the last time her brothers looked this good. Cas and Benny may always look relatively the same, but the boys are human. And Atlas is happy to see them healthy.

 

At one point, Atlas looks up at just the right moment to meet Dean’s eyes. He smiles at her, all green eyes and brown-blond hair and freckles, just like her. Atlas has always looked more like Dean than Sam, but she never minded much. Now, his smile is soft and round, a rare smile for Dean, who always seems to be a man carved from stone. 

 

Sam looks up and smiles too, he is genuine, and his face falls into it easily. He always wore a grin easier than Dean did. Where Dean is made of stone, Sam is formed from the pages of ancient books. Old stories and scars twining through his hair and his head and his chocolate brown eyes. Atlas wonders how they see her, what she’s made of to them. 

 

Within a second, the moment is over. They all look down at their plates and stifle their smiles. No one looks up again. They don’t risk it. Atlas turns back to her team; she participates in the conversation. 

 

And somehow, none of the greatest minds in the world notice that the most wanted criminals in the country- her brothers- are sitting less than ten feet away from them. 

Chapter Text

It’s official; the case has gone cold. 

 

Hotch and the BAU have been in Dunwoody, Georgia, for a week now, and they've turned up nothing. Not a scrap of evidence about the killer or about Benny- who disappeared during their excursion to the barn. He hasn't resurfaced, and neither has the team of killers. Hotch theorizes that Benny is one of them, that he came in to throw the FBI off their trail. If that was his plan, he succeeded. The question is, did he know about Atlas? She clearly didn't know about him, and he seemed pleasantly surprised to find her here. Maybe he knew and used her. Perhaps he didn't and had to improvise. Either way, Benny’s tied to this somehow and by association, so is Atlas. But she refuses to blame him or talk about her family.

 

“He still hasn't texted you back yet?” Morgan asks Atlas for the hundredth time today. They are all still sitting at the table in the station, leafing through files they've seen a dozen times. 

 

“No, and when he does, I'll tell you,” Atlas responds, sounding exhausted. She is sitting across from Morgan on her phone, typing rapidly. Atlas has been spending a lot of time on her phone lately, but Hotch can't blame her. Whatever information she learned about her dad was clearly shocking, and since Atlas won’t let anyone else help, she's stuck doing it herself.

 

Morgan sighs, dropping the file and leaning back. Reid reaches over and pats Morgan's shoulder, looking defeated. In fact, the whole group looks done with this case. It's been days with no new leads, and everyone is exhausted. Aside from when Atlas dragged them all out to dinner at the lonely diner on the edge of town, they've barely left the station. Hotch can see their baggy eyes, rumpled clothes, and messy hair. It’s time to call it quits, he decides.

 

Hotch sighs and stands, gathering their attention. Everyone hates cold cases, but they can't go on like this forever. “I think it's time we retire this case.” He announces. 

 

“But we haven't caught them yet!” Milo protests loudly. His curly hair is pressed flat on his head, and his usually dapper clothing is threading. 

 

“And I hate that as much as you do, but we've got nothing new here, and there are other cases that need our attention.” Hotch's phone weighs heavy in his pocket, where several texts from Strauss wait for a reply. He is just as aware that there are other cases, other people who need their help. “Cold cases happen; they just do. we can’t win them all.”

 

The group sighs, and one by one, they nod—even Atlas, who puts up no protests to his decision. Perhaps if Benny had not been involved, Atlas would be less willing to give up, or maybe Atlas is really just worn thin. 

 

It doesn't take long for the team to gather up the mess they’ve made the last week. They clean the table and collect their things, saying their goodbyes and apologizing to the captain. The team hops on the jet, but there is no gossip to be said. Nearly everyone, including Hotch, passes out on the way home. The flight is gentle and easy, and Hotch is grateful for the rest. 

 

The real surprise comes when they return to Quantico. 

 

“Welcome back, my darling hero’s!” Garcia greets them as they enter, looking way too happy for the late hour. Brooks is close on her heels, a playful smile on her face. Both of the women are holding suspicious plastic bags and grinning. 

 

“What are you up to now, baby girl?” Morgan asks, throwing his arm over Garcia’s shoulder and peering into the bag.

 

The blond woman slides from his grip, bouncing on her toes. “Well, we know how upset you are about the cold case, so we got you a gift!” Garcia pulls out a large tube of hot pink hair dye, waving it before them.

 

Leo steps forward, taking the dye, “holy shit, really? Iv been meaning to do this for a while now.”

 

Garcia nods. “I know. We got permanent dye for you,” she and Brooks pull several more tubes of various colors for the bags. “And temporary dye for the rest of us! We can have a party!” She squeals. Brooks tips her chin and smiles, looking at the vibrant colors in her hands. 

 

“No, you didn’t,” Emily gasps, looking at the dye. Then, she smiles and faces the others waving a tube. “Hair dye party?” 

 

Kassie nods, “hair dye party.”

 

“No way are you people dying my hair neon orange.” Dave protests, waving them off. The rest of the group breaks out in smiles at the challenge.

 

“Oh, we are absolutely giving you orange hair.” Milo snickers.

 

“I want purple.” Atlas chimes in, seeming much more awake now. “Do you have purple? I like purple.”

 

“Yup.” Brooks nods, pulling out a purple tube and tossing it to Atlas. “There’s enough for everyone.” 

 

“While I love the idea of turning Rossi’s hair orange,” JJ begins, chuckling at Daves’s wrinkled nose. “We’ve been up for hours, and I miss my bed.”

 

“I second that,” Dave adds eagerly.

 

Garcia begins to pout, but Hotch speaks before she can complain. “We’ve all been through a lot, and it’s been a long few days. Garcia, this is very generous, so why don’t we rain check for tomorrow night?” He soothes.

 

Garcia perks up immediately, her bright smile lighting up the dark halls. “Tomorrow at my house. 6 pm. Don’t be late!” She calls as she stalks off with Brooks, bouncing on her toes.

 

The rest of the team quickly moves off, most of them stopping by their desks before turning back to the exit. But, before Hotch can retire to his office for his paperwork, Dave leans in with a smirk.

 

“If I’m going orange, then you’re going green.” He promises with an evil smile. 

 

Hotch smiles back at his old friend. “We’ll see about that.”

 

Chapter Text

Morgan bids his goodbye to Garcia and her tubes of hair dye by planting a kiss on her forehead. The cheery blond woman hugs him in return before moving off to retire for the night. The rest of the team follows, slowly spreading out to their desks and offices.

 

Morgan picks up his duffle and moves for his own office, Ava close on his heels. The short tattooed woman doesn’t take long to gather her things, sweeping out of the office before Morgan even got the chance to sit down. Most people would say that she's in a hurry, but Morgan knows better. He knows that this is just how Ava moves, efficiency through and through. She always clocks the best miles times, does the most pushups, and files the fastest reports without being told. Ava never talks just to talk; she always has to have something to add. Others might call it odd, but Morgan appreciates being able to sit in comfortable silence with his apprentice; that is, when she isn't rushing out to meet her girlfriend. 

 

“Have a good night,” He calls after her.

 

Ava nods, “You too.”

 

Morgan sits at his dark wood desk, looking around him. Everything is right as he left it; his pens, papers, and unsorted files are all in neat piles. Morgan sighs and pulls the file for this cold case from his bag, and begins his report.

 

“Why don't you do that at home?” Reid startles Morgan from writing his papers. Morgan looks up to see his boyfriend in the doorway, a soft, tired smile on his face.

 

Morgan smiles and leans back, waving Reid in. “Because at home I have you to distract me, so I never get anything done.” Reid walks over and places a hand on Morgan's shoulder, reading the papers on the desk at lightning speed.

 

Morgan and Reid have been an almost-thing for far too long. In reality, Morgan had refused to admit his feelings for the other man until a few weeks ago, when Atlas had accidentally forced him to confront them. She had meant nothing but a joke by the text message, but it had shocked Morgan into reality. The others had seen it coming from miles away, and so had Reid. Though the genius had been respectful enough that he had never pushed anything on Morgan, he was more than happy when they finally got together.

 

“So you're not going to make it over to my place then, I presume?” Reid asks, breaking Morgan from his thoughts.

 

Morgan looks away and sighs. “I just got a lotta work to do, but I’ll try.” He adds after seeing Reid pout.

 

“Okay, just don’t stay up too late.” Reid has to lean down far to plant a kiss on Morgan's head. The lanky man turns and leaves the room, bidding Morgan goodnight and shutting the door after him.

 

Finally, Morgan is alone. Though he never minds the company of his team, he is still able to enjoy his privacy. Morgan gets to work, filling out his report for the case, still heavily unsatisfied with the ending.

 

Morgan really has so little idea of what happened in this damn case. Mainly, what happened surrounding Atlas. Her old friend- her brother's ex, no less, Morgan hadn't even known she had brothers- had come into the station to try and help them. Instead, all Benny had done was spill Atlas’s secrets and lead the team astray before splitting from the station and disappearing completely, along with the killings. Morgan has so many questions he wants answers for, but he'll never ask them. Because Morgan, above all people, knows what happens when this team goes meddling into someone’s past life. Morgan would never wish that upon Atlas unless she genuinely needs their help. But she clearly doesn't want to talk about it, so he gives her space.

 

After a while, Morgan finishes his report and starts sorting the old files on his desk. Morgan hates leaving cases unfinished and will often leave cold cases on his desk for months before returning them to his drawer. It's finally time, he decides, to put some of these away.

 

With a sigh, Morgan opens his drawer of cold cases and begins putting away the newer files. Once he is finished, he drags his finger sadly along the ever-growing stack of papers. So many killers are still out there, so many questions unanswered. It pains him to his core to think of all the people, all the families they couldn't save, because he hadn't been strong enough or fast enough or smart enough; because he hadn't been good enough to stop the bad guy.

 

Sometimes this job haunts people, but for Morgan, this drawer is the worst of them all. Because while drawers are filled with monsters of all types, this drawer has the ones they never caught, the ones who are still out there.

 

Morgan's finger stills over a file as though some force is drawing him into it. He moves the tab and reads the name Winchesters. Morgan pauses, one hand holding the file slightly up, the other suspended just above it. Finally, Morgan takes the file, slams the drawer closed and begins to read.

 

Morgan has been working the Winchester case for years; it was, in fact, his first-ever cold case. Morgan has it all, from the death of Mary Winchester to the beginning of John Winchester’s killing spree. The scattered school records of the three children, Dean, Sam, and Sage, and the disappearance of John Winchester after a car crash had put him in the hospital. The beginning of the Winchester children’s crime sprees to Victor Henriksen, the FBI agent killed when the kids had bombed a police station. Everyone had assumed they died there until the kids had popped up again a few years later, continuing their steady spree of killing a grave robbing with only small breaks or lapses in between. A little more than four years ago, things had massively slowed down, then slightly picked up again after two. But, even now, they had never returned to their peak killing and remain largely on the down-low. 

 

Morgan turns a page, looking at the photos of the family. None of them are new. John and Mary’s are from their old driver’s license pictures years ago, while the children’s are terribly outdated. There are school photos of all three kids from middle to high school age, all taken the same year. Dean and Sam are in high school, while Sage is in middle school. The boys had been arrested once and had headshots taken by Agent Henriksen. There are more recent- though blurry- photos of the boys that the FBI had managed to salvage from the police station cameras after the explosion, but nothing of Sage. Sadly, the most recent picture of the youngest Winchester kid dates back years, though they have much clearer shots of the older two. 

 

Morgan stares at the old photo of Sage in the file, confused. The face feels familiar. The angle of the cheeks, the freckles, the green eyes, and the straight brown-blond hair all remind him of someone… But Morgan can't quite put his finger on it. He must just remember the picture from the last time he opened this file. He shakes his head and pushes the nagging thought aside. He was never as good with faces as Reid is. 

 

Morgan digs through the file, absorbing all the information once more. He checks his computer, updating his notes with anything that even sounds remotely like the Winchesters. 

 

Morgan may not be able to get answers about Atlas, but maybe he can get some answers about the most villainous family in the country; the Winchesters. 

 

And as he stares down at the file, he feels so close to the answer. Like the solution, the missing puzzle piece is staring him right in the face. But whatever that piece is, it's like trying to find a black hole in the night sky, invisible until something around it explodes. 

 

Chapter Text

Atlas stands outside the door to Garcia’s apartment, getting flashbacks of Rossi’s mansion. But this couldn’t be any more different. Garcia lives in a regular apartment building, and her door is decorated with colorful items one would find at five below. Unlike Rossi’s grand mansion, Garcia’s door is homey and warm. But, similar to Rossi’s house, Atlas is a nervous wreck as she knocks on the door.

 

Thankfully, Garcia answers quickly, throwing the door open and squealing excitedly. Atlas can’t make out the blond woman’s words as she drags Atlas inside. Atlas stares at the apartment as it flashes by her. Everything is brightly colored, and strange nick-nacks line everything. There is not a single item that matches another. It is truly the perfect house for Garcia as it suits her wonderfully. 

 

“How are you always the last one to these things?” Garcia asks as she drags Atlas into the bathroom. 

 

“Bad timing, I guess.” Atlas answers. She stops in her tracks when she sees the rest of the BAU.

 

The BAU, some of the most brilliant people in the country- in the world- are sprawled across Garcia’s too-small bathroom and covered in hair dye. Jack, Brooks, and Reid are barking at Leo to remain still as they paint his head pink at the sink. Ava, Milo, and Kassie are standing in the bathtub, giggling to themselves as they choose their colors. Even Ava is smiling. Emily, JJ, and Morgan surround Hotch and Rossi, demanding they dye their own dark hair with the temporary dye. There is music playing from a small speaker in the corner of the room, and someone had decided to play AJR. 

 

Atlas stares in awe at the group for a moment before Garcia moves past her, motioning for Atlas to join. Garcia goes over to the older agents and grabs a tube of dye, shoving it toward Rossi. 

 

Atlas turns to Leo, marching over and grabbing his head to hold it still. The ginger yelps but locks eyes with her in the mirror and smiles. Reid and Jack grin at her in acknowledgment and thank her for the help before returning to their work. Brooks moves out of Atlas’s line of sight, wrinkling her nose at her dye-colored clothes. The room is a fountain of laughter and giggles as, one by one, the astute FBI agents change the color of their hair from dull blacks, browns, and blonds to vibrant reds, blues, and yellows. 

 

With Atlas’s help, Jack and Reid manage to hold Leo still for long enough to change his bleached hair vibrant pink while badly staining Garcia's sink. But she doesn’t mind much.

 

“It adds a pop of color!” She calls from where she is turning JJ’s hair a lively green. 

 

Morgan snorts and rolls his eyes goodheartedly as he rubs yellow dye into Emily's dark hair. “Cause that’s what this house needs more of!” Garcia smacks him in response. 

 

Once Leo is done, Jack demands that she take his place. Atlas smiles at the involvement and takes her place on the stool, selecting purple and blue as her colors. Jack and Reid open the tubes and begin to work the dye into her hair. Atlas isn't sure how she feels about the boys rubbing her head with the thick paint, but she ignores any negative feelings, focusing on the goodness surrounding her. 

 

At one point, while having her hair done, Atlas looks over to the bathtub. Inside it, she sees Milo, Kassie, and Ava laughing loudly and painting each other's hair with a bright array of colors. Milo is already done with pink, yellow, and blue stripes staining his dark, curly hair. Kassie has her head split into three parts one blue, one purple, and an unfinished one pink. Ava is just putting her first color on, but Atlas can see her plate of colors, all various shades of pink and orange. Only after a moment does Atlas realize that the colors are for each kid's pride flags. Pan, Bi, and Lesbian. 

 

Watching the three apprentices apply their colors should not affect Atlas, but it does. It pangs something deep within her. Some longing, something undiscovered or untouched. Something burning so deep within her, she is afraid to look at it for the risk of everything coming undone. The three look so happy as they laugh at each other while applying the dye. Standing in the bathtub together, they look like their own little club. And the more Atlas watches them, the more left out she feels. But why does she feel left out? Atlas is straight, through, and through. So why does she so badly want to jump in and join them? And, most importantly, what is this pang in her chest, and why does it hurt so much? 

 

Atlas looks at the mirror beside her, catching Jack's eye. The blond man smiles at her, his hair untouched so far. Atlas pushes the feeling away and smooths her face, smiling back. Had Atlas been paying attention to anything but the longing in her chest, she would have noticed Reid watching her with saddened eyes. 

 

Soon, Jack and Reid are done with Atlas’s hair, showing off the sloppy purple-blue fade in the mirror. Atlas stares in awe at the colors on her head, her golden-brown hair completely lost beneath them. If her brothers could see her now, they would laugh at her like she's grown a third head. 

 

Atlas turns from the mirror just as Milo, Kassie, and Ava attempt to drag Morgan and Reid into the bathtub with them. The older men fight slightly, each with their own responses. 

 

“I don't have any hair to dye!” Morgan yells at Milo and Ava, who, even working together, are struggling to push Morgan into the bathtub. “This tub isn't big enough for us anyway!”

 

“And I don't have enough hair to dye! I’ve too many colors!” Reid yells from beside his partner, where Kassie has picked him up and tossed him into the white tub. Reid is a tangle of arms and legs as he falls, laughing and grunting. Atlas wonders what he means as she watches Morgan attempt to fight the two apprentices. 

 

The others laugh as Kassie joins Milo and Ava in their attempts to shove Morgan into the tub. At first, it seems like he will win, but the three steadily begin to overpower him. Finally, Morgan's feet start to slide across the tile floor, and the apprentices cheer in response. Reid is still in the tub, laughing at it all. 

 

Morgan looks over his shoulder for a moment at Reid, scowling. “Are you going to help me?” He cries, straining against the kids.

 

Reid laughs and throws his hair back. “Nope!”

 

“You're a useless boyfriend!” Morgan grunts. 

 

Finally, the three apprentices completely overpower Morgan's bulk and successfully shove him into the tub. Morgan falls right on top of Reid, who grunts as he takes an elbow to the gut, but recovers quickly and continues laughing. Morgan smiles and kisses Reid while everyone else is laughing themselves stupid around them. Milo and Ava shove Reid around until he is sitting with his back to them as they kneel just outside the tub, which really isn't big enough for everyone. On the side, Kassie has a new plate and is compiling a new jumble of colors. Atlas spots various blues, greens, purple, grey, black, and white before she turns away.

 

Atlas can now see that JJ’s hair is an ombre of green to blue while Emily's entire head is bright yellow. Garcia has dyed her blond hair a red-purple fade and is now attempting to rub pink into Brooks’s endlessly coily hair while the dark woman wrinkles her nose at Garcia.

 

The rest of the team laughs from their places around the room, and Atlas hops up onto the sink as she shoves Jack into the chair. Atlas takes her own plate and begins sifting through the colors. Before she can pick one, Jack grabs a neon green from the sink and holds it up, yelling for his father.

 

“Dad!” Hotch looks up from where he is, teasing Rossi’s now-orange hair. Jack points to the bottle. “Matching?” He asks with a devious smile. 

 

Hotch smiles back, a genuine, bright smile that makes Atlas glow from the inside out, all the way to the tips of her purple hair. Hotch pushes through the group and comes over, inspecting the bottle. He looks between Atlas and Jack suspiciously. Hotch opens his mouth to protest, but before he can get a word out, Rossi plants his hands on Hotch's shoulders, grinning.

 

“If I go orange, you go green, remember?” Rossi says as he not so gently shoves Hotch down onto the stool beside Jack. Rossi comes around the back beside Atlas and grabs the neon green paint. 

 

Atlas has to stifle a laugh as she looks at Rossi. The usually ancient agent now has bright orange hair, or as bright as they could get the dye to lay over his natural black. Atlas puts her hand over her mouth and accidentally covers her face in purple dye as she tries to hide her laughter, but Rossi catches her anyway.

 

“Oh, you're laughing at me, are you? Have you seen yourself?” He grins at her.

 

“Have you seen yourself?” Atlas laughs again. Rossi shakes his head and pours out the green dye, putting it on a plate between them.

 

The Hotchner's exchange a worried and comical look as their friends apply the first of the dye to their heads. Rossi and Atlas are all too excited as they look down at their teammates and begin with the paint. 

 

Atlas suddenly becomes hyper-aware of every single movement she or Jack makes. She watches carefully as she parts his golden hair to apply the dye, and she pulls away whenever he gets too close. Despite Jack’s relaxed demeanor, Atlas feels like she's next to a wild animal, worried that any slight movement could set him off. Again and again, Atlas scolds herself for flinching away when Jack gets too close. Why does she care so much? Her nerves must really be frayed because her shoulders are tense, and her hands are getting stiff. Why is this happening?

 

Though Jack's hair is yellow and Hotch’s is black, they both have neon green hair by the end of the night. Atlas feels her shoulders relax when Jack stands, as she can finally stop worrying about touching him. Rossi high-fives her as the Hotchners observe their new hair in the mirror. Rossi and Hotch smile and laugh at the sight of each other, something old and soft exchanging in their eyes that Atlas doesn't quite understand. 

 

Then, Jack looks at her. He is smiling and laughing like he has all night, but this time, it's for her. Atlas feels her stomach flip as Jack stares at her with his sky blue eyes. He looks around once before leaning in to whisper in her ear.

 

“Hopefully, this will come out before our date tomorrow night.” He whispers with a grin.

 

The date. Holy shit, Atlas had completely forgotten. Jack pulls away to look her in the eyes again, and Atlas stumbles for a witty response. “Green hair is fitting for a formal event, I'd think.” She mutters, breaking his gaze. 

 

Jack smiles at her once more before turning to laugh at his dad. Atlas bites her lip and steels herself, feeling like an idiot. She's a hunter and an agent, and she still can't talk to a boy. 

 

A chorus of laughter sounds from the tub again, where Atlas turns to see the same group gathered around. Now though, Reid’s hair is shining with slick dye. One side of his head is a fade of blues and greens with white, while the other side is purple, fading into grey, black and white right down the back of his head. If those are flags, Atlas doesn't recognize them. But then again, she doesn’t know very many pride flags off the top of her head anyway. The group laughs again at some joke Atlas can't hear, and that longing in her chest pulls at her once more. Atlas tears her gaze from the group and shoves the feeling down. She has no reason to feel anything toward that group. Not a drop of anything. Not a drop.

 

Chapter Text

Atlas stares at her reflection in the mirror, a thousand thoughts reeling through her head. Is this dress okay? Did she do her makeup right? Should she wear heels? Is this too much? Should she go at all? 

 

Atlas's first date with Jack is tonight, and she's freaking out. Atlas has never been on a date before, mainly because her hunting life got in the way. All her life, Atlas never really considered the possibility of being with somebody; it was never in the playbook. Unless Atlas found another hunter to date, as Bobby and Ellen had, it was never going to happen.

 

She had watched her brothers try and fail over and over again with tons of women, some they cared about, some they didn't. Usually, though, the boys would disappear for a night and return the next morning with a spring in their step. But Atlas never did that. She never had any interest in it. No matter how much they made fun of her for it, little Atlas just wanted to be friends with everyone. Well, everyone, she could, at least.

 

Atlas stares at her reflection some more and begins to panic, thoughts spiraling quickly through her head. Her hand begins to shake, and she can feel her breathing picking up. Atlas shakes herself, desperately waving off the crowded walls that threaten to crush her. She never gets nervous like this over a case or a job, even when she’s facing down monsters. So why is Atlas getting so worked up now?

 

Then, her doorbell rings. Atlas’s head shoots up, and her back goes ramrod straight. She checks her watch; Jack isn't supposed to be here for another hour. And Atlas isn't expecting any visitors.

 

Within a moment, Atlas shifts into hunter mode. She creeps out of her bathroom, struggling to walk noiselessly in her heels. Heart pounding, she stops right before the door and silently pulls a heavy handgun from the drawer. She's not supposed to have a gun, but she'll be damned if she's caught by intruders empty-handed. Atlas quietly checks the pistol, finding a bullet in the chamber. Only then does she look through the peephole.

 

“Open up, Atlas!” Kassie calls from outside, ringing the doorbell again. “We know you're in there!”

 

“What the hell,” Atlas mutters to herself as she quickly stashes the gun below a layer of papers in the drawer. Atlas sets her frown as she opens the door and is greeted by Kassie, Milo, and Ava, the latter of which looks less than excited to be there. “What are you doing here?” Atlas demands.

 

“We're here to help!” Kassie answers cheerily. “And clearly, you need it.” She motions to Atlas’s plain blue, knee-length dress as she barges into the apartment, the other apprentices on her heels. Atlas doesn't admit that she likes the dress because of its mobility and the long sleeves that hide the handprint scar on her upper arm.

 

“What- why..” Atlas sputters as she shuts the door. Ava stops just inside the door and removes her shoes in an almost automatic motion before following Kassie to the bathroom. Milo quickly makes himself comfortable on her couch and flips on the TV.

 

Atlas isn't surprised they know where her apartment is because she knows where they all live too. They all live in flats the government gave them when they started the program several months ago, all in the same building. In fact, Atlas shares her floor with Leo and Milo. It's remarkable they don't run into each other in the mornings and afternoons more often. So, no, she's not surprised they know where she lives, but more so that they invited themselves over. 

 

“Your apartment is so plain,” Milo complains from the couch. “We need to spice this place up a bit.”

 

“This place doesn't need any spicing up, thank you very much.” Atlas fires back, hands on her hips.

 

Her apartment is indeed plain. Atlas has added few more decorations than what the fully furnished, one-bedroom space came with. She never saw a reason for it. In all honesty, Atlas has never had a place to decorate before since she's been living out of motels and abandoned buildings her whole life. Plus, she doesn't own any items for decorataion. Hunters don't have many material possessions, and rarely do they have anything that they can't carry on their person. All her life, Atlas has needed to fit all her belongings into a duffle bag, nothing more. So it's really no surprise that when she moved into an actual apartment, she wouldn't have anything to decorate it with. 

 

And maybe a tiny part of Atlas knows that she won't be around long enough to consider it home.  

 

“Girl, get in here. We're gonna help you get ready.” Kassie calls from the bathroom.

 

“I don't need your help. Why are you here anyways?” She asks, throwing her hands up. 

 

“To help you get ready for your date, duh.” Milo rolls his eyes like it's the most obvious thing in the world that they would come over just to help her. Atlas stares at him open-mouthed as the lanky man gets up and marches over to her kitchen. He complains about her lack of food- another hunter habit- as he ransacks her fridge and pantry. Atlas ignores him and instead turns to yell at the girls from the living room.

 

“Come on; we’ll fix your makeup!” Kassie calls again.

 

Atlas feels a mix of anger and gratitude well up in her chest, pushing away her panic. How dare they come marching in here like they own the place? Eating her food and wasting her makeup, which she has so little of in the first place? But at the same time, they came over with the sole purpose of helping her, helping her. Well, maybe not Milo, who is digging into a bag of chips at the moment. 

 

Finally, gratitude wins over, and Atlas stomps into the bathroom, still unhappy with them for showing up unannounced. Ava pushes Atlas onto the toilet as she begins to go through the makeup with a scowl on her face. Kassie chatters along about something while Milo hovers by the door, munching loudly. Atlas looks between them with a mix of awe, anger, and shock until something Kassie says catches her ear.

 

“... And obviously you want to look good for you, but also for him too. Especially if he brings you back to his place. You'll need waterproof mascara then.”

 

“Wait, what?” Atlas cuts her off, suddenly on high alert again. 

 

Kassie and Milo look at her with confusion, but Ava doesn’t break her iron gaze away from the makeup. “Waterproof mascara?” Kassie asks.

 

“No,” Atlas shakes her head, “ takes me back to his place?

 

“Well, yea,” Kassie shrugs. “I mean, that might be a little fast for the first date, but he'll probably at least kiss you.” She explains.

 

“We hooked up after our first date.” Ava finally chimes in, glancing up at Kassie. 

 

Milo shrugs. “Your lesbians. Lesbians always move fast.” He shoves another chip in his mouth and chews loudly. Ava rounds on him, quick as a snake, and lands a blow to his shoulder. Milo whimpers and moves away from her, standing directly in front of Atlas as he apologizes to the other women. 

 

“He's only partially right,” Kassie whispers to Atlas when Ava isn't looking. 

 

Atlas feels panic and confusion rise up in her chest again. She hadn't thought of any of this. She hadn't even entertained the idea of going home with Jack. And kissing him? Atlas begins to feel sick.

 

“Hey, are you okay?” Milo asks, looking genuinely concerned. 

 

Atlas turns to the mirror to take in her face. Even with all the makeup she has on, her face is still glowing white under the bathroom’s lights. All color drained from her, and her hands are shaking slightly. Atlas’s chest begins to feel tight. She growls and shakes her head. There's no reason for her to be feeling this way. She should be excited, not dreading this. People are supposed to feel excited before dates, aren't they? She certainly doesn't think they're supposed to feel like this.

 

“Hey, what's wrong?” Kassie kneels in front of Atlas, placing a hand on her knee. The bigger woman is looking up at Atlas with worry, and so are the others. Atlas shakes herself, taking a breath in an attempt to calm down. Kassie tilts her head sympathetically, “Have you ever kissed anyone before?” She asks quietly.

 

Atlas laughs dryly. “Of course I have; I’m not ten.” Though she realizes that she doesn't sound very convincing. Atlas has only kissed one person before, years ago. When she was thirteen, behind a bar. Atlas remembers blond hair and brown eyes, anger and resentment… “It's been a while, that's all.” 

 

“Tell us about it,” Milo says, still munching on chips.

 

“What?” Atlas responds, shocked. 

 

Milo shrugs. “They say it helps to talk about things. So tell us about it, or whatever’s worrying you.”

 

“Yes! While we do your makeup!” Kassie chimes in, reaching for a makeup wipe. 

 

“Whoa, hang on.” Atlas bats Kassies hand away, looking between the three. “I never even asked you to come over; now you expect me to tell you my life story like your some therapist or something.”

 

Ava shakes her head solemnly. Her straight black hair, red-white-black ink tattoos, and razor-sharp eyeliner along her thin eyes makes her look more like the hot villain in an action movie than a real person. But when she speaks, her voice is calm and reassuring. “We're not your therapist. We’re your friends. And we’re here to help you.”

 

Something in Ava’s voice soothes Atlas because she knows that the small Asian woman speaks the truth. Ava may not talk much, but when she does, she’s always worth listening to. Atlas can see why Kassie is so drawn to her. Kassie may speak enough for  both of them, but Ava is ancient in a way beyond her years. As though her tattoos whisper wisdom into her ears. Atlas imagines the swirling, flowing ink coming alive like smoke, jumping off Ava’s skin to tell her stories or teach her lessons. The same way the ancient ink of Bobby's books used to for Sam. How they could show him things Atlas could never see. Ava is similar to her brother in that way, and it reassures Atlas greatly.

 

“Plus,” Milo adds after a beat of silence. “If this goes wrong, we'll be stuck between you two at work, so.”

 

“That would be a problem.” Kassie agrees, grabbing a wipe again. “So let's make sure it isn't one. Talk to us.”

 

“About what?” Atlas asks, unsettled. Kassie takes hold of her chin with a soft hand and tips it up before removing her face from the makeup. 

 

Milo shoves another chip into his mouth. “Tell us about your first kiss.” 

 

“Why on earth do you want to hear about that?” Atlas demands. Kassie hisses at her, holding her head more tightly in place. Atlas meets the larger woman's eyes, Kassie’s long brown hair billowing around them as she leans in close. After a moment of struggle, Atlas relents. It's three against one; she’ll never win this fight. And in reality, Atlas could use their help. She really has no idea what she's doing. 

 

“Fine.” Atlas huffs, and Kassie gives her a stern look.

 

“Close your eyes, then talk.” Atlas obeys and begins to tell the story of her first kiss.

 

“I was a kid, 13, I think.” She wrinkles her brows at the memory. “My really close family friends, we consider them family, have a daughter. She was like a cousin to us. Me and my brothers, I mean.” No one responds, so Atlas continues. 

 

She launches herself into the story, gaining traction as she talks, afraid that if she stops, she'll never start again. “She was a little older than me and a little younger than Micheal. We were all just kids, though. When our dad went away for work, he would leave us with them. They ran a bar, and my uncle had a garage. We basically lived there sometimes, and while the adults were busy, it was just the four of us, free to roam and play. One day, Michael and Luci had run off, me and Jo had been left behind.” Atlas internally curses herself for using Jo’s real name. Castiel’s handprint scar under her dress begins to burn at the names of the other angels, but Atlas grinds her teeth and ignores it. Kassie must have cleaned her face because she switches from the wipe to foundation, but Atlas keeps her eyes closed.

 

 “We were behind the bar. I don't remember it that well. I had no idea it was coming either; she just kissed me.” Atlas pauses, sinking sadly into the memory. “I don't know what I did wrong, but she ran off and refused to talk to me. She still barely talks to me today, only when necessary.” Atlas doesn't add how she never told her brothers about it, no matter how much they questioned her about Jo’s dirty looks toward Atlas. She's never told anyone that story before, and now she holds her breath as she waits for her friends' responses.

 

Milo responds first, huffing in disbelief. “She's still pissy at you? That's dumb. You were just kids.”

 

Atlas relaxes, exhaling. Kassie joins in, her breath close to Atlas's face as she applies more makeup around her eyes. “Milo’s right. Clearly, you missed a cue or something.” She pauses, “So what, you're worried that's going to happen again? You think Jack is gonna ditch you?”

 

Atlas sighs. “I don't know. I'm not very good with this stuff. I never had much practice in it all.” She admits. 

 

“That's alright; a lot of people don't,” Kassie assures her. “But I promise, Jack will not leave you stranded. He's a good guy. He likes you, and you like him. I'm sure it'll go fine.” 

 

Kassie finally pulls away, tipping Atlas’s chin up. “All done.”

 

Atlas opens her eyes and turns to the mirror. Her mouth falls open as she takes in the face looking back at her. “I had no idea you could do this.” She breathes. 

 

Kassie smiles. “Yea, well, we don't get much of a chance to in the FBI, and Ava did the eyeliner.” She adds offhandedly, shooting a smile over her shoulder to her girlfriend. 

 

“Thank you,” Atlas says solemnly, looking up at Her friends from where she is still seated on the toilet. 

 

“You're very welcome for all our generous help,” Milo puffs up his chest before Ava smacks him, having to reach a little to hit his upper arm. 

 

“You didn't do anything at all,” She scolds.

 

“Course I did,” Milo raises the chip bag. “I had dinner.”

 

“That's a disgusting dinner,” Ava says with a deeper frown than usual. 

 

“Yea, well, it's mine.” Milo sticks his nose up at her. 

 

Atlas looks between her friends and laughs slightly at their bickering. Kassie has finished cleaning up the makeup on the sink and now helps Atlas up from the toilet, inspecting the rest of her outfit while humming. After a moment, Kassie nods and pushes everyone out of the bathroom and into the living room. On her way out, Atlas trips on her heels and barely catches herself before landing on her face. 

 

“Maybe we should put you in flats.” Kassie comments.

 

Atlas nods, “Agreed.”

 

Soon enough, Atlas has on new flats and fresh makeup, and she almost feels ready to walk out the door. But when she checks the time, it's nearly time for her to go. She's supposed to meet Jack in the lobby of the building in 10 minutes. 

 

The others begin to hustle out of Atlas’s apartment. While Kassie and Ava clean up the bathroom, Milo tosses out his chip bag and offhandedly comments to Atlas, “Don't worry, we won't tell anyone that you like girls.” 

 

Atlas sputters for a response, completely thrown off. “I don’t- I never said- I’m not gay.” she finally says.

 

Milo raises an eyebrow, “Well, you certainly attract the group,” He waves at Kassie and Ava in the bathroom. 

 

“I don't like girls,” Atlas says sternly. Milo just shrugs.

 

But who do you like? A small voice whispers in the back of Atlas’s head.

 

Jack. That's who. Atlas likes Jack. Because he's pretty, and he's nice, and he's a good friend. That's what it means to like someone, isn't it? Maybe Atlas doesn't feel a spark now, but she will. On the date, or perhaps when he kisses her. Then, shell feel something. She has to.

You don't like it.

You're broken.

Atlas shakes her head to run the thoughts away.  The twisted, broken voice nags at her, demanding her attention. Thankfully, the real world steals it back before she can spiral.

 

“Alright, we're all done here,” Kassie says as she comes out of the bathroom. “We’ll leave you. You'll be fine, and don't be late.” She says.

 

Kassie, Ava, and Milo say their goodbyes and good-lucks before heading out the door. Atlas closes it behind them with a sigh. It has already been an overwhelming night, and she hasn't even met Jack yet. 

 

Atlas gathers her things, her purse with extra makeup, her phone, and her wallet. Atlas feels the heavy metal knife attached to her upper thigh, hidden beneath the dress. She pulls the door open but stops just inside. 

 

Maybe it's her nerves; maybe it's the retelling of one of her least favorite memories, perhaps it’s the fear of this date. But something stops Atlas just inside the door; something tugs her back. An unsteady feeling takes hold of her gut. A warning Atlas learned to listen to long ago. So she does what she always does when this feeling arises, she prepares for the worst. 

 

Atlas turns around, reaches into her drawer, and secures the handgun in her purse.

 

Then she walks out the door.

 

… 

 

Atlas steps out into the lobby of her apartment building, taking in the steel-grey furniture and blue accents that cover the tall room. She picks her head up, feigning confidence despite her fried nerves as she marches across the room. Atlas doesn't even spot Jack until he intercepts her halfway to the door.

 

“Atlas!” Jack smiles warmly, stopping in front of her.

 

Atlas stops to take him in. He is wearing a pastel green button-up with nice pants, only slightly more casual than work. Thankfully, Jack doesn't take after his mentor or father in their workly dress because it's hard to get more formal than a full-on suit. His smile is bright, and his blond hair is clear of dye. Atlas’s panic kicks up as she remembers the coloring and she worries that she didn't get it all out. No, she's certain that she had. After all, she didn't waste half her shampoo bottle this morning for nothing.

 

Atlas pushes her anxiety down and smiles up at him. “Hey, Jack. How are you?” She says, thankful she remembers her manners. Atlas holds her purse in front of her, though the small bag is heavy in her hands.

 

“I'm doing well, you?” Jack turns and makes for the doors. When Atlas only hums, he speaks again. “I called us a car; hope that's alright.”

 

“Of course.” Atlas smiles again. It already feels tight.

 

He leads her outside the building, even holding the door for her, as the load into the backseat of a cab. The driver is playing typical pop music, and for the first few minutes, he and Jack chat about nothing at all. Atlas, on the other hand, is thinking about everything. Trapped in the back of the small car, her senses go on overdrive. She smells the driver's cigarette smoke, hears the tires run along the pavement, watches as Jack's knee just barely brushes up against hers. Atlas can feel her heart racing, and her head begins to pound once more. She remembers all the cases of women kidnapped by their dates. How many of those men had blond hair?

 

“Oh, yea, it's nice to get some time off, right Atlas?” Jack says from beside her. Atlas looks up at him, and her anxiety pops like a bubble. This isn't some random man; this is Jack Hotchner, probably one of the sweetest men alive.

 

“Yea, yea, it is.” Atlas stumbles along, pretending that she was paying attention. Finally, she sits up straight, realizing that she had moved to lean far against the door of the car. Now she forces herself to focus on what's real and ignore the fears in her chest. 

 

“Oh, lucky you two. I never get time off.” The driver huffs. “Cabbies, you know.”

 

Jack and Atlas nod in agreement. Before the driver can ask them anything else, they pull up to the restaurant. The man huffs again as Jack pays for the ride.

 

“Good luck, love birds!” He calls after them as they exit the car. Atlas stares at her feet and shuffles away quickly.

 

“Well, he was nice,” Jack says, chuckling uncomfortably. Atlas murmurs her agreement. For a moment, they both stand there in front of the restaurant. Neither of them move or look at each other. An air of embarrassment drops between them, like neither of them know what they're supposed to be doing at this point. Atlas is relieved when Jack breaks the silence. He motions to the restaurant, smiling sheepishly, “Would you like to go inside?”

 

Atlas nods and allows Jack to lead her through the mildly fancy sushi place until they get to their table. Atlas takes her seat, placing her bag on her lap above her napkin, close to her hands.

 

After a few moments, Atlas chuckles, “I'm sorry this is so awkward. I thought you'd be better at this.” She immediately wishes she could swallow her words. Curse her bluntness.

 

But to Atlas’s surprise, Jack laughs. “Yea, you'd think so, wouldn't you?” Atlas would think so. Jack is handsome, kind, respectful- and with a dad in the FBI, Jack's high school years must have been full of breezy girls and sushi dates.

 

Atlas wonders if any of them looked like her.

 

“And you don't have to apologize, by the way.” He adds, pulling Atlas out of yet another spiral. 

 

She smiles and nods. “I don't have much experience with the whole dating thing, is all.” She explains, sipping her water.

 

“Really?” Jack sounds surprised and continues to talk as a waiter comes over and gives them menus and scorching hot tea. “You seem like you'd have men lined up down the block during high school and college.” He laughs.

 

Atlas chuckles as she begins to relax. “Me? No way. My brothers are the studs of the family. I was never as into it.” Atlas attempts to pick up her tea, only to find it too hot even to touch. 

 

Jack nods and looks down at the menu, so Atlas follows suit. They are quiet for a moment, each looking at the options until Jack speaks again.

 

“Well, I hope you have at least some experience, but if not, I'd be more than happy to guide you.” Atlas looks over her menu to see Jack smiling again, but a different type of smile this time. One with layers, layers that threaten Atlas and make her stomach turn.

 

Heart pounding, Atlas nearly leaps from the table. “Excuse me.” She rushes out as she finds the quickest way to the bathroom, desperate to escape the heat of the room, which is suddenly closing in on her. 

 

Atlas bursts into the too white bathroom, which, thankfully, is a single person. She locks the door and holds her bag in one hand against the sink, trying desperately to breathe before she passes out.

 

“Well, that was totally out of line.” A snarky voice comes from behind her. Without thinking, Atlas pulls the handgun from her bag and whips around, only to find the barrel inches away from Gabriel’s comical face. The archangel is leaning against the wall next to her, but the space is so small that he’s barely a few feet away. 

 

Atlas sighs and lowers her gun. “What the hell are you doing here, Gabe? I didn't call for you!” She hisses, angry but worried about raising her voice.

 

Gabriel has his arms and ankles crossed in front of him until he waves a finger in her face. “I'm here to watch you on your little date.” He pauses, narrowing his eyes. “And you know you don't have to call for me to hear you, right?”

 

“Then how did you know to come? And when did you get here anyway?” she throws her hands up, not really upset at Gabriel but needing to be upset at something. 

 

Gabriel looks away, thinking. “I kinda can just feel when you need me, ya know? And I came ages ago. You were so caught up in blue-eyes over there you never even noticed that I was sitting at the table right next to you,” he rolls his eyes dramatically.

 

Atlas sighs, puts her gun away, and turns back to the mirror. Her reflection is pampered- fluffed up by Kassie’s makeup and the dark blue dress of the night. She even put on silver necklaces and bracelets, though she hates wearing jewelry. Atlas is still overheating in the dress’s long sleeves, but she'd never go anywhere without sleeves. 

 

“Wait, you're sitting right next to us?” Atlas asks, slightly startled. 

 

Gabe nods. “Oh, yea. And I heard what he said back there, totally out of line.” Atlas sighs and nearly digs her palms into her eyes, but it would ruin her makeup. Gabriel leans forward, looking genuinely concerned.

 

“What should I do?” She asks, feeling confused and defeated. 

 

“Well, I say we sneak out the window, go back to your apartment, eat chips and watch a movie, but something tells me you're gonna wanna go back out there.” He says. 

 

Atlas laughs softly, “Milo ate all the chips.” 

 

Gabriel shrugs, unfazed. “Then I'll make more.”

 

Atlas looks at him, at the archangel who is always there when she needs him. It only comes to her now just how unbothered by the world Gabriel is. Nothing affects him, nothing gets through his shield of jokes, drugs, and women, yet he still listens for her calls. He comes even when she doesn't call. He's here to bail her out or help her through. Gabriel really is Atlas’s guardian angel. 

 

Atlas stares at her reflection in the mirror and shakes her head. “I can't ditch him. Maybe if he was anyone else, I could, but I work with Jack. And his dad. I have to see this through.” She pauses, forcing a smile. “And who knows, maybe I'll get something good out of it.”

 

Gabe shrugs again, his frown a little bit deeper. “If that's what you want, I'll be next to you. And who knows, maybe your tea will be cool by the time you get back,” he says a little lighter. 

 

Atlas nods, thankful for his support despite his disagreement. Just as she thinks Gabriel is about to disappear, the angel leans in again, locking eyes with her in the mirror.

 

“And I know you've never been big on the whole ‘dating’ thing, but if you're gonna start now, maybe be careful with who you choose,” Gabe’s eyes flicker to the door as his voice suddenly becomes serious. “We're not all like our daddies, remember.” Then, with a whoosh of the air, the archangel is gone. 

 

“Helpful,” Atlas growls to herself in the mirror. Finally, she collects herself, takes a deep breath, and leaves the bathroom.

 

Jack looks beyond apologetic when Atlas returns to the table and begins talking almost immediately. This time, Atlas notices Gabriel sitting at the table nearby by himself, slowly emptying a glass of bourbon. 

 

“I'm so sorry about what I said; I never meant to offend you. I thought we were cool like that.” He scrambles to explain. 

 

Is anyone cool like that? Atlas wonders. She shakes her head as she speaks. “It's fine, Jack. Let's just order dinner, shall we?” 

 

Jack sighs and looks at his menu as well, looking as unhappy as Atlas feels. Atlas almost thinks it's going to be fine until he murmurs under his breath. “Now that I know that you're the sensitive type, I'll be more careful with my jokes.”

 

Shocked by his sudden rudeness, Atlas opens her mouth to reply. But before she can, Jack's cup of hot tea tips suddenly, dumping itself down the front of his shirt. Jack howls in surprise and pain and leaps from his chair, startling the people around him. In a flurry of movement and curses, waitresses come over to the table, cleaning the spill and offering napkins to Jack, who quickly excuses himself for the bathroom. 

 

As fast as it began, the commotion was over. Workers scurry away from the table once the spill is cleaned up and Atlas sheepishly lowers herself back into her seat, feeling the eyes of the entire room on her. After a few more moments, Atlas risks a look over her shoulder to Gabriel's table, the archangel smiles at her and winks. Atlas laughs under her breath but stifles her smile as she sees Jack returning from the bathroom.

 

An angry Jack sits back down, a large stain on his shirt. “How did that even happen?” He rants. “I wasn't anywhere near the tea!”

 

“No idea; I didn't see it either.” Atlas lies. 

 

Jack huffs, brows furrowed. “Whatever.” He fumes. Atlas shrugs and hides her smirk behind her menu once more. 

 

The rest of the night is surprisingly uneventful, at least at the restaurant. Jack and Atlas order food, eat, and talk- about work, for the most part. They chat about topics like sports teams, movies, and TV shows, none of which is terribly interesting. Atlas is careful to steer clear of family topics, though Jack asks about her brothers more than once. She avoids the subject again and again, diverting or asking a new question. Gabe sits silently at his table, watching them and sipping on his drink. 

 

Atlas offers to pay for her part of the bill when the dinner is done, but Jack insists on paying for the meal.

 

“You can pay for the next date.” He says with a wink. 

 

They take a cab home in a similar situation as the first time. Atlas is still overly aware of every one of Jack's movements- where his hands and legs are compared to hers. But this time, it feels less like worried-about-going-on-a-date nerves and more like bad-gut-feeling nerves. But Atlas manages to keep herself in check throughout the entirety of the ride from the restaurant, the walk through their lobby, the elevator ride, and finally to her door.

 

“Thanks for dinner, Jack,” Atlas says formally once they reach her door. 

 

Jack shifts his weight from one leg to the other. “Well, it could have been better,” He chuckles as he motions to the stain of his shirt. Atlas laughs softly as well. “Maybe it could end better than it started?” He whispers, leaning down slightly.

 

Atlas goes into panic mode again, her blood racing. She takes a quick step back from Jack, who looks more surprised than anything. “Thanks again for dinner. I'll see you at work.” Atlas opens her door and swings inside, not even waiting for him to say goodbye.

 

One inside the safety of her apartment, Atlas sighs, collapsing against her door. She slides down until she sits on the floor with her head in her hands, trying to process what just happened. 

 

This time, she isn't surprised to hear Gabriel's voice. “Damn girl, you totally skirted his last-minute kiss!” Gabe yells from the couch. 

 

Atlas looks up at him, her voice laced with tiredness and sarcasm. “You'd think that as a profiler, I'd be better at this.” She groans as she forces herself up from the floor and plops down on her couch next to the angel in a flurry of skirts.

 

“Well, you're a hunter first, and hunters are dumbasses,” Gabriel says with a smirk.

 

He wrinkles his nose at her dress. Gabe snaps his fingers, and with a pop of air, Atlas suddenly finds herself in soft pajamas. The angel snaps his fingers twice more, putting himself in Pjs as well as conjuring them an array of snacks and treats on Atlas’s tea table. 

 

Atlas laughs at his magic. “Turns out we get movie night after all.”

 

“So we do,” Gabe agrees. 

 

Atlas turns on the TV, finding an appropriate movie for them to watch. She picks up a bowl of chips, holding it in her lap as she throws a blanket over herself. Atlas is leaning on one arm of the couch with Gabriel on the opposite side, their feet together. The angel kicks her and snatches half the blanket away, causing her to squawk in faked anger. But despite Gabriel's greed for the blanket, Atlas feels much better in here with him than out there with Jack. 

 

That thought laces guilt through her stomach, Atlas likes Jack plenty when they’re at work together, so why is this different? Why is she not feeling the things she should? In the movies, girls come back from dates ecstatic. They talk about feeling butterflies and sparks in their chests, but the only thing Atlas has felt so far was anxiety. 

 

It's only a few moments after they settle before Gabriel speaks. “Are you gonna go out with him again?” He whispers.

 

Atlas looks over to her friend, surprised to see real concern on his face. She sighs. “I don't know- I don't even know how I feel about him. It's not like the books say, or like it is in the stores.” 

 

Gabriel tilts his head. “What does that mean?”

 

Atlas sighs again, struggling to find the words. “Everyone always says that when you like someone, you feel something. Some emotions or tug or something. But I've never felt that with anyone. There's no want or liking or lust or anything . I just want to be friends with everyone, really.” She shrugs. 

 

Gabriel looks back at the movie, unbothered. “We're all built differently. Maybe you like nobody in the way that I like everybody. That's just the way dad made us.” He shrugs.

 

Atlas hums. “Maybe it is.” She agrees quietly, grateful once more for the ease Gabe handles things. The way things just wash over him, the way nothing seems to affect him; Atlas envies it. If only she could care so little.

 

Could Gabriel be right? Maybe she isn't broken; maybe it's just the way she is. But everyone wants to be with someone, right? So is it possible that she can't? That she simply doesn’t want a partner or a sex life? But how would other people react to that, and is there even a name for such a thing? How would Jack respond to that? How would her family react?

 

You're broken.

 

Her father’s voice comes through again, booming and angry. Atlas has to resist physically flinching back. 

 

Not well, she decides. Not well at all. 

 

Chapter Text

John Winchester is many things. 

 

John Winchester is a widow. He is a father of three. He is a hunter, one of the best. He is a wanted man. He is missing, according to the world. 

 

And now, John Winchester is a pioneer. 

 

The world knows all of those, except for the latter. At least, the people who run in John’s circle know those things. But now, only one person knows the last. And they're not even a person. They're a demon. 

 

John stalks through the damp basement of an abandoned house he's been calling home for nearly a year. The rotting cabin sits in the middle of nowhere in Vermont, with barely the insulation required to stand the northern cold. A thirty-minute drive to the nearest town, it is isolated, alone atop a mountain in the middle of the woods, and it is far away from where anyone would come looking for him. 

 

Which is good because what John is doing requires the utmost privacy.  

 

John's heavy military boots stamp on the concrete floor of the basement, caked with dirt. The walls are lined with old metal shelves packed with tools and weapons, guns, knives, books, and holy things. Some racks even have cans of food and water reserves, for when the winters get really harsh. Sometimes, the snows come down for days, the sky never stopping for a breath as it battered the land with ice. At times it even feels as though God himself is trying to stop John from his work. He never succeeds.

 

The only light down here comes from a string of bulbs overhead that cast creepy shadows in the corners. Had John been a civilian, or a child, perhaps he would have been scared. But John owns these shadows; they belong to him. Nothing of his own will ever be a threat to him.

 

John pauses at a table near the stairs, looking down at a previously abandoned stack of newspapers he got from town. All of them are old, as it takes time for the news to reach the little village. The one on top of the stack has a headline that reads, The Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI solves murder case of 30-year-old NASCAR driver in San Leandro, California . On the front page are several photos of low quality. One is of the dead man, another is of the murderer slumping in a police car, and the final is a photo of the entire team who caught the man. A range of men and women, all are smiling with their arms around each other. John has read enough articles about them to be familiar with their faces by now. But one of them is unique, one of them belongs to him. 

 

John crumples up the paper in his hand, grinding his teeth. He marches on, going further into the basement. His Sage has joined the damned FBI. Instead of hunting monsters and fighting demons like she's supposed to be doing, Sage is off playing cop. Like they won't turn around and arrest her the moment they figure out who she is. John saw her fake name at the bottom of the photo. Angel Atlas. The kid couldn't even be bothered to take her mother’s name. What a fucking disgrace.

 

John doesn’t think about it much, but when he left his children all those years ago, he thought they were better off on their own. The car crash had shown him something. He had seen how close his kids were, how much they relied on each other and turned their backs on him. And it hurt a little bit. Once he realized that Sage and Sam were spending more time huddled around Dean's hospital bed than his, he knew for certain; they didn't need him anymore. He had been raising them to be soldiers, to be hunters their whole lives, ever since their mother had burned. And then, it was complete. They could fight for themselves, and John could go on his own once more, as he much preferred. So John had disappeared; he’d run away. And he had been running all these years since. 

 

But now, it seems that he's been gone too long. Their judgment has become flawed. After all, why else would Sage join the FBI, and why would the boys let her? John had heard of all the fantastic things they've done through the channels, but this was not something he wanted to hear. No kids of his were going to join the FBI, no, that isn't their job. Their job is to be hunters, to spend their lives avenging their mother, and killing anything that even could have hurt her. Because that's what John has been doing all these years, and they'll do the same. Because they're his, they belong to him.

 

Finally, John makes it to the end of the basement, where what used to be a nuclear shelter sits. The small room is thick and all made of iron, and right now, the door is closed. The shelves and tables beside the entrance are lined with torture tools, leather, iron, and vials of holy water. A desk lamp is on, illuminating the schematic drawings John has been working on for months ever since he found out that his daughter was in the FBI. Ever since he decided to free her from them.

 

Or free them from her, perhaps. If Sage is half the menace to them she was to him; then they'll be glad when John finally comes along to take her home. 

 

Having forgotten that the newspaper is still in his hand, John steps forward, opening the massive deadbolts on the door one by one. A demon trap is scribbled in rough white paint at the base of it. With a huff, John heaves the heavy iron door open.

 

And suddenly, he is staring face to face with a demon.

 

But John doesn't flinch. Instead, he locks eyes with the beast, a small woman with short-cut blond hair and a crescent moon scar on her chin. But the woman who was once here is long gone. Now her eyes are ebony black and devoid of all life. It sits on the floor in the middle of the room, right in the center of a demon trap. At first, there's nothing special about this demon until you realize that it has a collar around its neck.

 

The collar is thick iron with leather lining on the inside to prevent it from burning the demon's neck constantly. There are several vials encased in iron attached to the collar. Each vial as a needle jammed into the demon's neck. The jars are filled with holy water, ready to spring free into the demon's veins upon command. John stands opposite the monster, just outside the bomb shelter. He holds up a remote of iron with only one button. 

 

“Stand,” John commands. 

 

The demon doesn't move, doesn't flinch, doesn't make a sound until John hits the button. 

 

The demon howls in pain as holy water rushes through its unclean veins, burning it from the inside out. John stands there, staring at it, emotionless. He watches it scream and claw at its neck, which only causes it to burn more. Finally, after several moments, the demon quiets down. It is panting, hatred rolling off it in waves as it stares at John. He raises the remote once more.

 

“Stand,” He commands again.

 

This time, the demon doesn’t waste a second. It scrambles to its feet, facing him.

 

“Sit,” He growls again, looking down his nose at the demon.

 

It sits, hissing at him.

 

“You will address me as ‘sir’ and nothing else. Do you understand?”

 

“Yes.” The demon scowls its reply.

 

John presses the button again and waits once more for the demon to stop its wailing.

 

“‘Sir, yes, sir.’” He corrects her.

 

The demon locks eyes with him, anger and malice rolling off it like a tide. “Sir, yes, sir.” It grinds out. Now, this demon is his, it belongs to him. 

 

And though it is not human, though its eyes are black as night, though it rose from the pits of hell to kill people and wreak havoc on their world, some small part of this demon reminds John of his children. Or at least, what his children used to be.

 

John straightens his back and closes the door, locking all the deadbolts in place. He turns around, dropping the remote into his pocket. John looks at the desk lamp before him and realizes that he still has the newspaper in his hand. He lifts it into the light, staring at his daughter's face once more.

 

John Winchester smiles as he tosses the newspaper down onto the desk. His daughter will not be trapped with the FBI for much longer. For John is a pioneer, and he is going to build a demon army. 

 

Chapter Text

Two days after Date Night

 

Hotch is awoken by his phone buzzing loudly on his bedside table. He groans and rolls over, flicking the screen on and squinting at the burst of light that assaults his eyeballs in the comfortable darkness of his room. Hotch reaches over and turns on his bedside lamp, illuminating his cool-toned room and grey sheets. He doesn't even sit up as he opens his phone, inspecting the time and the urgent text from Anderson, who's on night duty tonight while the BAU takes the weekend off. His phone tells him that not only is it three AM, but that they have a case. A serial, nonetheless, with the fourth body just dropped. 

 

Hotch sighs and hauls himself out of bed. He's too old for this; he thinks as he opens his phone. Hotch blasts the group chat; time for work, he tells them. He showers, ensuring that no green hair dye remains on his head, and gets himself dressed in his perfect suit, pausing to examine his grey hairs in the mirror. He frowns and touches his temple, wishing his night-black hair back into place. Hotch understands many things about getting old; why his hair is slowly growing unattractively silver is not one of them.

 

He grabs his coffee and a breakfast burrito which he heats up in the time it takes him to brush his teeth. Though the burrito is overly cheesy and horribly unhealthy, Hotch does like the taste. This is a breakfast saved for only the earliest of mornings.

 

After an uneventful drive, Hotch is unsurprised to find that he is the first one at Quantico. Anderson, clearly jittery from one too many cups of coffee, hands Hotch the file with trembling fingers. He looks it over at his desk, watching as his team filters into the building one by one. Their clothes are rumpled, and there are heavy bags under their eyes. Several of them don't even acknowledge the others, moving straight for the coffee machine. Perhaps Hotch should limit their caffeine intake or make them pay by the cup.

 

Hotch watches Reid stumble into the building, not even looking at the others. He already has a cup in his hand, which he refills in the half-kitchen. Maybe Hotch would enact that policy if he wanted a caffeine starved Reid to put a knife in his neck. 

 

Unsurprisingly, Jack is one of the first people in the building, while Atlas is one of the last. More surprisingly, Atlas seems to be working very hard to ignore him. Hotch is well aware of their date night two days ago, but he purposely didn't ask either of them about it. Hotch is honestly kind of uncomfortable by the whole situation between his son and his apprentice. But it seems things may not have worked out as they hoped.

 

Atlas sits on the kitchen counter with her head back, and her eyes closed, probably drifting off. Hotch is well aware of her poor sleeping habits, as more often than not, she passes out on his couch early in the morning. Hotch has been meaning to ask her why and is a little worried about her nocturnal schedule. Now though, she's not the only one-half asleep.

 

Looking at her, Hotch remembers the end of their last case. Atlas has said nothing more about Benny or her family, nor has she asked for help. Instead, the freckled girl seems more than content to leave the whole situation in the past, at least for the team. Hotch is certain that she is doing something about it on her own. But for now, she'll tell him nothing. This is one more piece of Atlas that Hotch doesn't fully understand yet. 

 

Jack is sitting on the floor, leaning against a desk with Leo beside him. Leo’s bright pink hair is clearly visible from all around the office. Hotch can see some of the night shift agents whispering to each other as they throw hooded glances Leo’s way. The blue-eyed man doesn't notice, as he too is half asleep. Hotch makes a mental note to loudly compliment Leo’s hair in front of the other agents to ensure this doesn't become an issue. Next to him, Jack is awake and staring at Atlas with unreadable eyes. Hotch watches his son for a few moments until the last of the team exits the elevator.

 

Hotch tears his eyes from Jack as he stands, chugging the last of his coffee. Finally, he leaves his office and calls the BAU to join him in the round room. With minimal complaining, the team drags themselves up the stairs and into their seats. Hotch stands next to the screen, deciding to present this one himself since Garcia hasn’t finished her first cup yet.

 

“Sorry to wake you all up so late, but we have a serial killer to catch.” He starts, attempting a witty line as Garcia does. Unfortunately, Hotch doesn't think that he succeeds when no one laughs. 

 

“How do you not even look tired, man?” Milo slurs, waving at Hotch while slumped in his chair. For one in his life, the wound-up toy that is Milo is nearly completely exhausted. 

 

“Hey, that's your unit chief, not some man .” Dave corrects Milo sharply. Hotch nods to him before continuing. 

 

“In Rochester, New York, four people have been killed by stabbing in the last five days.” He clicks a button, and faces flash on the screen. “In order, 27-year-old Doyle Day, 24-year-old Loren Curry, 31-year-old Beatrice Woods, and 33-year-old Eugene Wilson. Found all over the city by a civilian not long after the attack. All of them died in the emergency room or in surgery.”

 

Morgan sighs. “So we have four victims between the ages of 24 and 33, all attacked in public places. He crosses gender lines, not race ones, though.”

 

“84.6% of Rochester is white, so that's just the victim pool,” Reid says with glazed eyes from beside Morgan. 

 

Ava chimes in, “Well, he's not good enough to kill them on scene, no matter how many times he does it.”

 

JJ narrows her eyes. “Four kills, you'd think he'd know how to finish them off before they get to the hospital.”

 

“So he's a poor killer,” Atlas deadpans.

 

“Or, he doesn't want them dead,” Hotch adds. 

 

Kassie tilts her head, hair bobbing, “Why wouldn't he want them dead?”

 

“That's what we have to find out,” Dave shrugs.

 

“And why we have to move fast. This guy has killed four people in five days; this is officially a spree. As far as we know, nothing is stopping him from doing it again. Wheels up in twenty.” Hotch dismisses them.

 

The group files out of the room, heading for their bags. Atlas and Hotch go to his office, but Hotch catches Atlas by the arm before she can leave. She rolls her sage green eyes tiredly at him but stays put. 

 

“How was your weekend?” He starts uncertainly. Hotch feels as though he needs to be there for his apprentice and his son. Whatever is going on with them. Though he pledged to give Jack space, perhaps they could use his help.

 

“Great until I woke up at three AM to work.” She says sourly, still unable to hold her tongue.

 

“I mean,” Hotch starts, lowering his voice. “How was your date?”

 

Atlas shifts her weight away from him, looking at the ground. “Fine.” 

 

Hotch narrows his eyes at her, but she's looking away. Clearly, something is wrong. Atlas never avoids him like this, and she never holds back a snappy quip. “What's wrong? Did something happen?” He asks gently.

 

Atlas shakes her head sternly. “Unless you count Jack spilling tea all over himself, no. were all good.” 

 

“You don't seem ‘all good.’”

 

At this, Atlas shakes herself, finally regaining her usual lighthearted composer. She pats his chest without meeting his eyes. “Ah, profilers. So desperate to know everything.” She smiles. Before Hotch can question her more, she hurries from the room, duffle in hand. 

 

Hotch reruns the interaction in his head as he meets up with the group and boards the plane. Atlas seemed distracted, worried, even a little upset. It's unlike her to get upset at things like this. Atlas may have a temper like fire, but she usually gets angry at things; she looked almost sad. Hotch does not yet understand why. Perhaps something did happen on the date, something Jack might be more willing to tell him.

 

Soon after liftoff, Jack rises from his seat and moves to the small coffee pot near the plane’s head. Hotch casts a look around at the half-sleeping faces. Atlas is in her usual four-seat with Milo, Kassie, and Ava, though she still has her headphones on from take off. They've flown countless times now, and Atlas still gets stressed around take-off and landing. Hotch supposes that it's a good reminder to both of them that Atlas is not invincible, no matter how much she acts like it. 

 

Hotch rises from his chair, glancing at Dave across from him. The Italian man says nothing as he has his nose buried deep in some cookbook at the moment. Hotch shakes his head and joins Jack by the coffee pot.

 

“How was your weekend?” He asks again, trying to sound normal.

 

“Don't you already know?” Jack shoots back.

 

Hotch is startled by his harshness, “What do you mean?” He lowers his voice. 

 

Jack's brows are knitted, but he doesn't look at his father. “Well, you asked her first, so I'd assume you already know.”

 

“Perhaps I want to hear your side of the story.” Hotch fires back a bit too quickly. 

 

“So, what did she say?” Jack grinds his teeth, surprisingly upset. “Did she laugh when I embarrassed myself or brag about how she waved me off?” 

 

Hotch’s eyes widen, “No, she did none of that.” 

 

His son scowls at him again, voice low, “If you want gossip, talk to Rossi or Atlas since you clearly go to them first.” Before Hotch can say anything else, Jack shoves past him, bumping their shoulders as he storms into the cabin.

 

Hotch doesn't understand why Jack is so upset or why anger is rolling off him in waves. Did Hotch make the wrong call, choosing to give Jack space all those months ago? 

 

Before he had joined the BAU, Hotch had spoken to his son often, even had meals with him sometimes. Nowadays, Hotch is not sure when the last time he talked to Jack was. Really talked to Jack. Not during work or about a case, but about life. Normal things. Only now, as Hotch makes his way back to his seat, does he realize just how much he has been prioritizing Atlas over Jack. Atlas has been getting his attention over his own son. Jack already lost his mother because of this job; he can’t lose his dad too.

 

“That looked rough,” Dave comments, lowering his book. “You alright?”

 

Hotch nods, meeting his old friend's eyes. Was Hotch right to mentor Jack to Dave in the first place? They get along great, just as Hotch knew they would, but he had never predicted this. He had never thought that this program would force them apart instead of drawing them together. 

 

Did Hotch make a vital mistake, and is any of this worth it if he loses his son?

Chapter Text

“Sailing on a ship in a bottle

Anchor all your thoughts to the bottom

Pulling ropes and pulling your head back

To see what is breaking the foremast.”

 

Atlas is awoken from her half-sleep on the jet by a prodding finger in her shoulder. At first, she startles, the music in her headphones a little too loud. Ship in a Bottle by Fin had been playing on Atlas’s ever-growing playlist. With the help of the others, she has finally started exploring her own music. Atlas has found that she quite likes bands like Coldplay, Bastille, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The latter of which isn't really all that far from her dad's music. She pulls her headphones off, listening to the last verse before she pauses it, though the tune continues to run circles in her head.

 

“You set sail alone there is no crew

No one on the deck who can help you

This is all your own battle to win

This is your ship, and you are the captain.”

 

Atlas looks at Milo beside her, who is still jamming his finger into her arm. His eyes are wide and greedy looking. Atlas swats him away with a scowl. She looks across her to find Kassie and Ava staring at her expectantly. Why does this keep happening?

 

“Sooooo,” Kassie draws out, leaning forward excitedly. “How was the date?”

 

Atlas isn't surprised by the question; in fact, she had been expecting it. These three had helped her prepare; of course, they would want to know what happened. 

 

Atlas shrugs, keeping her cool better than she had done with Hotch. “Nothing special,” she says, glancing across the plane. 

 

Hotch and Jack are standing by the coffee pot, talking in low voices. Jack has the same angry face he's had on all day. It's been hard for Atlas to avoid his eyes and even harder to avoid Hotch’s. Especially when he's staring her down and demanding information out of her. Atlas absolutely hates it when he does that. But Jack is his son, and Atlas could expect Hotch to put him first. 

 

“Oh, come on,” Milo rolls his eyes, resting his chin on his hand. “There must be something.”

Atlas shrugs, thinking of the strange night. From Jack's comments to Gabriel to Atlas’s almost-self realization, it was pretty packed. Atlas shakes her head, dispelling any thoughts about the end of the night. 

 

The song’s tune, which is still running circles around Atlas’s head, comes back to her, supplying the next verse whether she wants it or not.

 

“Oh, captain, let's make a deal.

Where we both say the things that we both really feel

I feel scared, and I'm starting to sink

And I only sink deeper the deeper I think.”

 

“Well, what do you remember?” Kassie starts, “Did he say anything romantic?”

 

Atlas hums, “Hm, not quite.” She quickly retells the story of Jack's first odd comment, how she had run to the bathroom, his second comment, and the spilled tea. 

 

At first, Atlas doesn't quite know why she's telling them this. Then it occurs to her that they had come over to her apartment an hour before her date to help her out. They'd even said that they were friends. Friends deserved to hear this, didn't they? Atlas only hopes that she didn't let them down. 

 

By the end of the story, the three apprentices are open-mouthed and wide-eyed. Even Ava looks offended. “How dare he?” Kassie snarls. Atlas hisses at her to lower her voice.

 

Milo leans his head in and whispers, “I can’t believe he actually made a sex joke on your first date. I mean, that's never okay, and you clearly don't give off those vibes.”

 

“What vibes?” Atlas whips her head around.

 

“The vibes of someone who's cool with fucking sex jokes,” Milo explains. Atlas nods.

 

“It was odd,” She agrees.

 

“Did he kiss you? I think he was planning to.” Kassie asks.

 

Atlas leans in closer until the four have their heads tucked close together in a conspicuous circle over the table. “I think he tried to, but I got inside my apartment quickly.” She doesn't add that there was an archangel there waiting for her or that she had a gun in her purse the whole time. 

 

Ava nods, sleek hair bobbing. “Good.” She states.

 

“Are you gonna go out with him again?” Milo asks much more innocently than Gabriel had.

 

Atlas shifts, equally uncomfortable. “I don't know. I don't know what I’m gonna do next.” She admits.

 

“Well, do you like him?” Kassie inquires.

 

Atlas shrugs again. “I don't know,” She says, looking around the small circle. She doesn't admit that she's unsure if she likes anyone at all. That's a little too personal, even for friends. 

 

Milo waves his hand. “So that's probably a no then.”

 

“I wouldn't.” Ava states.

 

“Course you wouldn’t, ya freaking gay,” Milo says easily. 

 

At first, Atlas is alarmed because that almost sounds like an insult. But Kassie and Milo laugh while Ava only chuckles and rolls her eyes, the equivalent of a laugh from her. 

 

Once they settle, Kassie leans back, locking eyes with Atlas. “Don’t worry about it; you’ll find somebody. You're crazy pretty; you’d pull easy if you tried.” Ava and Milo nod in agreement.

 

Atlas blushes under the complement, unused to it. Very few times in her life has she ever heard that she is pretty. And such an offhand but genuine comment makes it mean even more to her. Still, something pulls deep in Atlas’s stomach. She could find someone if she wants to, but what if she doesn’t? What then?

 

The pilot comes overhead, announcing that their short flight is over. Atlas puts her headphones back on and presses play. Drowning out the world around her, even if it's for only a moment.

 

“Oh, captain, make up your mind.

Before the salt burns your eyes and you run out of time

'Cause you're popping the cork

You get lost in your brain

And you lose touch with all the things that made you feel sane.”

 

… 

 

A little while later, Atlas, Hotch, Reid, and Leo are standing together at the coroner’s office, staring down at four bodies. Atlas never liked the coroner’s office, where it felt like the dead were on display. But at least she’s away from Jack and his waves of anger that have been pouring out of him even heavier since the plane ride. Whatever he and Hotch had talked about, it clearly hadn't helped.

 

Four bodies are laid out before them, each one paler and colder than the last. Two women and two men, their victims. Atlas wrinkles her nose at the smell of cleaning supplies and bleach covering the building like a tarp. Even when she was a hunter, sneaking into the coroner's office to retrieve or examine bodies had been her least favorite part of the job, second only behind gravedigging. Which never feels less than horribly disrespectful. 

 

“What do you have, Mr. Phelps?” Hotch asks. 

 

The coroner, a fat man with glasses and thinning white hair, hands Hotch a clipboard as he speaks; the other lean over his shoulders to read it. “All the victims were stabbed between ten and three times each. What's weird is that the newer victims have fewer lacerations than the older ones. For example, the first body, Doyle Day, has ten stab wounds while the latest, Eugene Wilson, only had three.”

 

“And where were they stabbed exactly?” Atlas narrows her eyes to peer at the bodies. 

 

“That's another odd thing.” Mr. Phelps begins, pointing at the bodies. “They were all stabbed in particular places. Never the heart or lungs or neck, always around the leg or stomach area.”

 

“So he avoided areas that he knew would kill them quickly,” Reid whispers. 

 

“He most likely wants to keep them alive then?” He asks, looking between Hotch and Reid for agreement.

 

Reid nods, “Maybe he wants them to survive that attack, but why?”

 

“Or maybe he wants to draw out their suffering,” Atlas adds.

 

Leo walks to the other side of the table, his pink hair flashing brightly in the white room. “So a sadist then?” 

 

Atlas hums. “Possibly, but why would a sadist give his victims a chance? They all made it to the emergency room before they died.” 

 

Both Atlas and Leo turn to Hotch and Reid for a response. Both older men have their eyes narrowed as they examine the bodies before them. They both shrug. 

 

“Let's head back and figure it out,” Hotch says.

 

Soon enough, the BAU is gathered at the Rochester police station in yet another makeshift workroom. Kassie, Ava, Milo, JJ, Emily, and Morgan have returned from the crime scenes while Jack and Rossi have set up the walls with papers and notes. They are all circled around a small table while Garcia and Brooks speak from the phone in the center. Atlas avidly avoids Jack's eyes.

 

“So the crime scenes didn't give us much new information,” Morgan begins. “They were all stabbed in public places. Bystanders heard the screams and called 911. Ambulance took them away until they died in either the emergency room or surgery.”

 

“Well, we learned that each victim was stabbed fewer times than the last, none of them in vital organs. So the killer definitely wanted them to live.” Atlas adds.

 

“Actually, Morgan might be wrong,” Brooks says from over the speakers. 

 

Morgan whips his head around, “What was that, Brooks?”

 

“I said that you might be wrong,” Brooks answers fearlessly. “I looked into it, and it turns out that a call to 911 was made at each crime scene from a payphone before the civilians called.”

 

Kassie shakes her head. “Wait, what?”

 

“Is it possible the killer called 911 for his own victims?” Milo asks.

 

Brooks hums from the other end of the line. “I listened to the calls; it’s all the same guy. Can’t make out much, though; they’re really short.”

 

“Hang on,” JJ interrupts. “How did you get the 911 calls? And why did you even look at those anyway?” 

 

“Oh, I always do,” Brooks explains like it's the most obvious answer. “While you guys are out hanging around dead bodies, I'm busy here chasing loose ends. Or checking things.”

 

“That's my girl.” Garcia purrs.

 

“How did you even get into them?” Reid asks.

 

There is a silence on the other line for a moment, broken only by the clicking of a keyboard. “Doesn't matter,” Brooks finally answers hastily. Atlas pushes her mouth into her shoulder to smother her laugh. 

 

“She's my kid, that's how.” Garcia supplies.

 

Rossi shakes his head, smiling. “ However you got in, you got them. Can you play the calls for us?”

 

Brooks agrees, and within a moment, a deep, husky voice is playing over the speaker, as well as the stereotypical 911 caller voice. 

 

“911, what's your emergency?”

 

“67 Paradise Ave, someone’s been stabbed. Send an ambulance.” The unsub says calmly.

 

“Someones been stabbed? Alright, an ambulance is on its way. Sir, can I have your name?” The tech asks.

 

“Don't wait too long.” The unsub answers before hanging up.

 

“That's the first victim, I have three more, but they're all pretty similar,” Brooks says.

 

“Play them.” Hotch orders.

 

And so they listen to the three other 911 calls made by the unsub. Each one is from a payphone directly after the attack. In each call, he sounds calm and in control, though always in a rush. No matter what the 911 technicians ask him, he always hangs up. As soon as he knows an ambulance is on the way, he leaves, Emily points out. On the third call, the tech was a little slow and took much longer to get the address down. The unsub became increasingly angry until the tech had confirmed that he had the information. Only then had the killer hung up.

 

“So he definitely wants them rescued.” Milo supplies once the calls are over.

 

Rossi nods, “But why? Why call 911 on your own victims? And why purposely ignore vital organs?” 

 

Morgan shakes his head, “Clearly, he wants something with them. Maybe he feels guilty about hurting them. Maybe he can’t stop but can at least try to save them.”

 

“He doesn’t sound remorseful on the calls, though, only cold,” Atlas says. 

 

“What about this?” Leo asks. Atlas turns to him, finding the freckled ginger holding a book bigger than his head close to his face. The cover reads Serial Killers and their Motives. “What if our unsub is an ‘angel of death’?” 

 

Atlas tilts her head, momentarily alarmed by the mentioning of an angel. For a second, she thinks that the team will start talking about Azrael, the real angel of death. Atlas doesn't think she could handle another supernatural case so soon after the fiasco with the vampires.

 

Reid nods, his encyclopedia of a brain immediately supplying information. “ Angel of death is a type of criminal offender who is usually employed as a caregiver and intentionally harms or kills people under their care. They are often in a position of power and may decide the victim would be better off if they no longer suffered from whatever severe illness is plaguing them. But we have seen doctors before who have targeted healthy people so that he can save them and take the credit.”

 

Atlas sighs quietly, momentarily turning away from the group. But, of course, they're not talking about the actual angel of death. They're not talking about Azrael because they aren't Bobby or Sam or Cas; they’re the BAU. And the BAU deals with people. Not monsters. Well, Atlas supposes that some of these people could be considered monsters, sometimes. 

 

“Garcia,” Hotch calls. “Look at the hospitals and EMT stations that took in the stabbing victims. They were all attacked at night, so see if anyone was on every single shift on those days.”

 

“On it, sir.” She responds.

 

Ava puffs. “What's the likeliness that there was even one person working all of those shifts?”

 

“Three, actually,” Brooks says from the speaker. “Three people were working every night shift when our unsub struck. Two doctors in the ER and an EMT.”

 

“Then that's who we interview.” Emily stands up straight with a glint in her eye, the way she always does whenever they have a lead. “Got their names?”

 

“Right here!” Garcia says, “The EMT is 45-year-old Dan Peters, and the doctors are 31-year-old Gayle Gray and 48-year-old Natasha Walters.”

 

“Let's roll out!” Milo says suddenly, jumping to his feet like he just took a shot of espresso.

 

Hotch nods, “Agreed. Let's start by interviewing these three, see where we go from there.”

 

The rest of the team nods and begins to fan out, discussing theories or leaving to bring the medical workers in for questioning. Atlas remains standing at the table for a moment, pretending to be reading the folder in front of her. In reality, she can feel Jack's white-hot glare burning holes into her from across the room. How do both Hotch and his son have such fiery rays? 

 

Atlas continues to study the folder, growing increasingly uncomfortable under Jack's gaze. She shifts her weight from foot to foot, not wanting to look at him but not wanting to move away either. The horrible stalemate is finally broken when Kassie marches over and plants her arms on Atlas’s shoulder, causing her to jump.

 

“Come on,” Kassie flicks her head, “We need your help over here.” 

 

Kassie practically drags Atlas out of the room, though she breathes a sigh of relief the moment she is out of Jack's line of sight. 

 

“Thanks,” She whispers to Kassie gratefully.

 

Kassie makes a sour face. “Of course. He shouldn't be staring at you like that anyway; it’s weird.” 

 

Atlas nods, casting one last look over her shoulder into the workroom. She can just see Jack's back as he sits hunched over a file, intently focused on it. Atlas doesn't know how much longer she can handle this, the awkwardness, the anger, the staring. It can't go on forever, can it? 

 

Without warning or invitation, Atlas’s brain supplies yet another verse from the song. And for a moment, the tune drowns out every other thought in Atlas’s head until all she can hear is the song and the waves. 

 

Oh, captain, let's make a deal.

Where we both say the things that we both really feel

I feel scared, and I'm starting to sink

And I only sink deeper the deeper I think.”

 

“Oh, captain, make up your mind.

Before the salt burns your eyes and you run out of time

'cause you're popping the cork, you get lost in your brain

And you lose touch with all the things that made you feel sane.”

Chapter Text

Hotch watches as two uniforms march Dan Peters, the EMT, into the interrogation room. Dave is standing beside him, a placid look on his face as he hums at Mr. Peter's appearance, a skinny white man with bleach blond hair and long, whittled fingers. He doesn't appear muscled enough to stab a person nearly a dozen times, but looks can be deceiving; Hotch knows that.

 

“Who are you gonna send in?” Dave asks, still staring at the door where Dan disappeared.

 

Hotch looks at him, a new spark in his eyes. “Actually, I had an idea on that.” 

 

Dave turns, immediately suspicious. “Uh oh, I know that look. You're planning something.” He waves a finger in Hotch’s face.

 

Hotch chuckles and bats him away before twisting to look at the rest of the team who is gathered in the meeting room. “I was thinking we could use these interviews as experiments.”

 

“Experiments?” Dave raises a brow.

 

Hotch nods, meeting Dave's eyes. “We've never had the kids interview someone on their own before; I think it's time, don't you?” 

 

A wicked smile cuts across Rossi’s features. “Alright, who’re the lucky losers then?”

 

Hotch hums, “Milo and Leo?” 

 

Dave nods. “The wound-up toy and the silent ginger, nice pair.”

 

“Jack and Lee for the next two. Then Atlas and Bell.” He offers.

 

“They can both be pretty intense,” Dave warns, referring to the former pair.

 

“That’s the point. We’ll see who cools down first.”

 

Dave scoffs. “No offense Hotch, but Ava is definitely going to beat Jack. She’s way tougher than he is.”

 

“With those tattoos, I’d hope so.” Hotch chuckles, glad to see Dave smiling too. Hotch doesn’t always understand others' senses of humor, so it’s always a risk when he makes a joke. Thankfully, Dave always seems to get his jokes better than other people.

 

In silent mutual agreement, the pair marches off toward the meeting room. For a moment, they stand at the doorway, watching the crew work. They flow easily around each other, trading ideas and thoughts as they leaf through files and papers. Hotch enjoys this, watching them work. He always loved the dynamic of his team so much more than he is ever willing to admit. After a moment, he clears his throat to gain their attention.

 

“Dan Peters, the EMT, is here for questioning. Milo and Leo, you're going to interview him.” Hotch announces.

 

Leo’s jaw drops to the floor while Milo springs to his feet, bouncing on his toes. “We get to interview him alone?” The tall man asks.

 

Dave nods. “We’ll be watching, but you’ll be alone in the room, yes.”

 

Milo pumps his fist into the air with a cheer. Unfortunately, Leo looks less than happy. In fact, his face appears to have drained of what little color his pale skin holds until the poor kid looks queasy, “What if we mess it up?”

 

Morgan steps in and claps the kid on the shoulder in that fatherly way he does. “You’ll be fine, kid.” Leo hardly looks reassured. 

 

Hotch waves them on, not wanting to waste any time. The entire group eagerly follows him to the interrogation room. He can hear the apprentices talking in rushed whispers behind him, scatters of encouragement and advice. All of the students have interrogated suspects before, but only ever with a mentor present and leading them. Finally, Hotch decides that it’s been long enough. He has been holding their hands since day one; now it’s time for them to learn to walk independently. 

 

Hotch stops in front of the twin doors identical to every other police station. He turns, tipping his chin up with a little bit more grandeur than he’ll admit, and faces the kids. Within moments, the whispering stops. Hotch always strives to command respect in a room, for people to go silent when they see him stop. It may have taken years and been the uphill battle of a lifetime, but Hotch did it. And he never tires of it.

 

“Milo and Leo, you're up first. Figure out how you want to play this; it’s all up to you. We’ll be watching.” He turns and shuffles the others into the watching room. Just before he closes the door, Hotch pauses, turning on his heel to deliver one final message of hope. “And don’t stress, you’ll be fine.”

 

It may not be the most reassuring thing ever, but Hotch never was good at that.

 

From behind the two-way mirror, Hotch and the others watch as Milo and Leo enter the room, introducing themselves to Mr. Peters. The bony, thin man eyes them suspiciously, jutting his teeth out in defense. 

 

While Milo appears confident and at ease, Hotch can see the nervous tap of his feet under the table. Leo, on the other hand, is failing spectacularly at hiding his feelings. The kid is as pale as a ghost, and he’s nearly bitten his nails to bleeding. They both need to get a hold of themselves, or this interview will crash before it even starts.

 

“He's got nerves like you, pretty boy.” Morgan claps Reid on the shoulder, giggling slightly. 

 

Reid looks away, huffing. “He's not my kid; he’s just nervous.”

 

“And he has every right to be.” Hotch jumps in. “But if they listened to their mentors at all, then they should be fine.” He turns around fast enough that he misses the agent's warm smiles at the praise. It’s part of why Hotch doesn't praise often; it makes it feel so much better those few times when he does.

 

“Mr. Peters, can you tell us where you were last night between midnight and two Am?” Milo starts. 

 

He sounds confident, but he is not pretending to be relaxed. Milo has his arms placed on the table with his hands together in front of him. His dark blue suit and vest with grey stitching and matching hat are not helping to paint him as a serious man. But neither is Leo’s bright pink hair. Leo is sitting beside Milo, also at attention but reading the file in front of him. They are clearly struggling to play toward their strengths, instead lapsing into the roles they have watched their mentors do time and time again. 

 

“I was working,” Peters answers, practically spitting already.

 

Leo nods, looking up at him through his lashes. “You work as an EMT, yes?”

 

Peters nods, so Leo continues. “And according to this, you responded to the calls of Doyle Day, Loren Curry, Beatrice Woods, and Eugene Wilson? Is that correct?”

 

“Yeah, that's right.” Peters huffs, accent heavy. “Now, what's the job got to do with me?”

 

“Well, Mr. Peters,  were investigating the murders of these individuals.” Milo states. 

 

Peters immediately changes. He sits up straighter and puffs out his chest. Then, just as he opens his mouth to speak, Leo cuts him off. “We were hoping you'd be able to help us, sir.” 

 

“Good save,” Dave whispers from beside Hotch, who agrees.

 

Just as Hotch refocuses on the interview, he is distracted by sounds of shuffling behind him. Hotch whips his head around, fixing Atlas and Kassie with an icy stare. The two women duck their heads and stop moving, clearly embarrassed at being caught. Hotch watches them for a moment, long enough to see Bell shoot a glare to the other side of the room toward Jack, who is looking intently at the interview. None of them lock eyes, at least having the dignity to look embarrassed. Finally, Hotch twists his head back around, suspicious but hoping they won't cause any more issues. 

 

“Well, you see, there's a lot of people working all those nights,” Peters explains, looking much more relaxed than before. “We're short-staffed, ya see. I'm not the only one working overtime.” 

 

Leo nods in understanding. “We often have to work overtime too. We know how stressful that can be.” He sympathizes. 

 

Peters cracks a grin. “Good to know someone understands. It's hard, ya know? I got a family to feed, with so many jobs and so much overtime, it's hard to keep it all straight.”

 

Milo jumps in, cocking his head. “What other jobs do you do, Mr. Peters?”

 

“I'm one of those phone salesmen during the day. I work night shifts at the hospital or the ambulance.” He explains. 

 

“I see,” Milo nods, looking at Leo before glancing back at the mirror. Both men seem unsure of where to go next. Silence settles heavily in the room. 

 

“I didn't kill those people if that's what you're wondering,” Peters says suddenly. Apparently, they had gotten him more comfortable than Hotch had thought. “The EMT job doesn't pay great, but I like helping folks. I may not be the best dad in the world, but I save people. Hopefully, one day my kids will realize how important that is and how much it means to me. I would never throw that away by killing some poor folks.” He finishes defensively. Hotch swallows, completely understanding.

 

Milo and Leo exchange another stunned look before excusing themselves. They come back into the interview room and are immediately greeted with praise and comments of improvement. Hotch doesn't move from his place by the mirror. Instead, he continues to stare at Dan Peters. The skinny man with his greying hair is leaning back against his chair, staring at the wall with a solemn look on his face. 

 

Hotch hates to admit- even to himself- just how much he relates to Peters. In a way, they are in similar situations. Granted, Hotch isn’t a murder suspect, but their children seem to be very similar. Peters put into words what Hotch had struggled to do, his job means so much to him, but so do his children. That's exactly why Hotch does what he does. To help people, to make the world a safer place for Jack. Hotch had given him the space to find his own place in the world, only for Jack to land right next to Hotch. So Hotch had given him even more space, hoping that the job would teach Jack what he needed to learn on his own. But what if Hotch had been wrong? What if Jack had joined the FBI, joined this unit so that he would be closer to his dad? What if Hotch's devotion to this job, to Atlas, had pushed his son further away than he had noticed, even when all Jack wanted was to be seen by his father?

 

“Hotch, what did you think of it?” Milo calls from the center of the group, breaking Hotch from his thoughts. 

 

Hotch is sure that he has his stoic, hard-browed thinking face on. He turns to face the group, running his eyes over the hopeful faces of the apprentices, hovering on Jack for only a moment. “I think you did well, but you need to work on your dynamic more. Two different but supporting people will be more efficient than the same person twice.” He nods.

 

Milo bobs his head, a satisfied smile on his face. Leo writes his words down in a mini notebook Hotch hadn't noticed before, now filled with advice from the others. 

 

Now, for the judgment question. “Do you think he's innocent?”

 

Milo and Leo exchange a look, though Leo has to tip his head up to meet the taller man’s eyes. They glance at Peters before finally turning to Hotch and nodding. “He’s telling the truth,” Milo states, shoving his hands in his pockets. Leo nods.

 

“Good, I think you're right.” Hotch returns his gaze to Peters. “Let's get him out of here and call in Natasha Walters.” 

 

The team nods and scurries to obey. Hotch suddenly feels hopeful about the entire situation. Not just this case, though they don't have a killer yet, Milo and Leo have proved themselves to be good interrogators. A necessary skill in this job. Soon, the others will get their chance too.

 

But Hotch also feels good about his own situation with Jack. He knows what to do. When this case is over, Hotch is going to talk to Jack- really talk to him. He's going to get their relationship back to where it should be. Hotch will set everything right between him and his son as soon as the case is over. 

 

 

Only a little while later, Hotch once again stands in the viewing room while two uniforms usher Natasha Walters into the interview room. This time, it's Jack and Lee on the chopping block. Two of the more intense students. While Atlas does tend to be more hot-headed, she's simply too good at pretending she's not. While she gets angry or frustrated easily, she's better at reading the room. Hotch fears that if Atlas were placed with Ava, she would simply put on a calm demeanor and do the talking while Ava stands silently to the side and intimates the suspect. On a typical day, putting her with Jack would mean throwing a hot head and an intense, unconfident quiet kid into the room, who simply wouldn't bounce off each other as well as the former pair. But this isn't an average day, and Atlas and Jack do not have a normal relationship. Plus, the whole point of this exercise is to force the kids who wouldn't work well together to do so and figure it out.

 

Just after Walters, an older white woman with dyed blond hair and brown roots, is seated, one of the uniform officers comes into the viewing room, a pained look on his face.

 

“Um, Sir? We have a bit of an issue with Dr. Walters,” he says, biting his lip.

 

“What is it?” Hotch demands, not wasting a moment.

 

“Well, sir, it appears that she's deaf.”

 

Hotch narrows his eyes. “And we don't have a translator.” 

 

The officer shakes his head. “Not at the moment, sir. She's not in our system, so we had no idea.”

 

Hotch sighs; turning to his team, he dismisses the officer. “How do we do this then?”

 

“Atlas,” Reid points out. “You know sign language, don't you?”

 

The whole group turns to Atlas, who is leaning against a wall in the corner with Bell, Lee, and Milo. She shrugs, glancing at Jack for only a second before locking eyes with Hotch. “Yeah, I can translate. If you're sure you need me.”

 

Hotch narrows his eyes at her. Though she appears relaxed enough, she had one hand placed on her upper left arm, which she seems to do whenever she gets anxious. “We need you.” Hotch states.

 

Atlas nods, surprisingly not putting up a fight. She pushes herself off the wall, still holding Hotch’s gaze. “If you say so.” She shrugs.

 

Hotch nods, and without another word, Jack, Ava, and Atlas walk into the interrogation room. While Jack and Ava take seats at the table, Atlas hovers in the corner behind them, in Walters view. Jack and Ava introduce themselves verbally while Atlas signs to Dr. Walters. The woman keeps her eyes on Atlas as the other two talk, responding only in motions that Hotch doesn't understand.

 

“Well, this should be fun,” Dave says, taking his regular place beside Hotch at the mirror, who nods. 

 

“Dr. Walters, do you know why we called you in here today?” Jack starts, fussing with the file on the table. His eyes are narrowed, and his back is tight, clearly on edge. 

 

Hotch can see that Ava is in a similar situation, though slightly more relaxed. Her face is entirely void of emotion, much like Hotch’s. Atlas stands in the corner behind Ava, pointedly avoiding looking at Jack. Even from the next room over, Hotch can feel the tension in the air. It's almost palpable. It's no surprise that Walters looks so uncomfortable. 

 

Atlas signs Jack's words in a flurry of motion and strange face movements. Dr. Walters quickly responds with something similar, to which Atlas vocalizes for them.

 

“She says that she doesn't know,” Atlas says.

 

Jack huffs. “We are here investigating the murders of Doyle Day, Loren Curry, Beatrice Woods, and Eugene Wilson. Do you know anything about what happened to them?”

 

Atlas signs the question, and though she seems to be working fast, it still takes a moment. Jack, already irritated, snaps at her as she signs. “Can you go any faster?”

 

Atlas’s shoulders tense, and she finishes her sentence; Hotch can only assume she asks for Dr. Walters’s patience. “I have to completely rewrite the sentence and write out every single name letter by letter, and I'm sorry that I don't remember how to spell out Beatrice.” She hisses back at him 

 

“We'll figure it out and go faster.” Jack snaps back, twisting to glare at her.

 

“If you think I'm so slow, why don't you do it?” 

 

“Enough, both of you. Stop being stupid and do the damn interview.” Ava cuts in, glaring at them both. Her words cut nearly as sharp as her eyeliner, and even Walters sinks a little further down in her seat. Hotch can feel anger and disappointment in both his son and his apprentice bubble up in his chest, but he doesn't show it. Finally, they both settle down, if only slightly.

 

Atlas finishes signing to Walters, who signs back. “She recognizes the names, but they weren't her patients. She only helped them in the emergency room, but she didn't perform the surgeries.”

 

“So who did?” Jacks asks. This time, he holds his tongue as Atlas and Dr. Walters sign back and forth.

 

“Gayle Gray, a surgeon she works with. That's the third guy on your list.” Atlas adds.

 

Ava nods to Dr. Walters. “Can you describe him? What is he like?”

 

As Atlas begins to sign, Jack forcefully whispers to Ava, “Why would you ask that?” As though whispering will prevent the deaf woman from hearing him.

 

Ava shrugs, looking stoic but unbothered. “Because I want to know.”

 

Jack opens his mouth to speak again, but Atlas cuts him off. “She says that he's strange. Arrogant and full of himself, which is normal for surgeons, but there's something else. She's using some signs that I don't know. But I caught a few. ‘Angry,’ she says. And I think poison….” Atlas trails off as Walter signs again. After a moment, Atlas’s face lights up with clarity. “Oh! She said ‘toxic.’ She says that he gives her a bad feeling and always plays the hero. If we were looking for a murderer in the healthcare system, we should be looking at him. Why is toxic such a weird sign….” Atlas mutters, trailing off. 

 

“But how did she know we were looking in the healthcare system?” Jack asks, narrowing his blue eyes. 

 

Hotch wonders too, for a moment, until Atlas explains. “She saw Dan Peters walking out of here. When she heard that we were talking about murders, she put two and two together.” Atlas pauses as Walters signs some more. “She promises that it's not her and has people who can vouch for her whereabouts for every night of the murders.”

 

Jack hums, looking down at the file again while Ava nods, arms crossed in front of her. Jack starts to say something else, but Hotch doesn't hear it because suddenly, an officer bursts into the viewing room. 

 

“Sir, there's been another stabbing.” The officer says, eyes wide and panicked. 

 

“What? But it's the afternoon, not nighttime.” JJ says from behind him.

 

“He must be working this shift,” Hotch says almost to himself. 

 

Without waiting, Hotch pushes past the officer and swings the door to the interrogation room open. Four faces look at him in a mix of shock and anger. Before any of them can speak, Hotch turns to Atlas. “Ask her if Gayle Gray is working right now.”

 

Atlas does as she's told. Walters nods before signing franticly. Atlas struggles to speak and read at the same time. “Uh... Yes, yes, he's working right now. She says… she says he won't go down easily and might get, uh, angry. Especially if he's with a patient… he's inseparable from them. From his uh, reputation.” She finishes. 

 

Hotch nods before turning to the window, talking quickly and calmly. “Morgan, Reid, Lee, Leo, and Atlas were going to the hospital. The rest of you, stay here. Don't let her leave!” He yells as he runs from the room, his selected group close on his heels.

 

If Dr. Walters is right and Gayle Gray is their killer, then this case might be coming to a close. But first, they have to catch him. 

Chapter Text

Hotch, followed by Morgan, Reid, Leo, Ava, and Atlas, storm into the emergency room, all dark suits and flashing badges. The emergency room is surprisingly calm, save a few whimpering patients with bloodied bandages or stuffy noses waiting to be seen. Hotch drags his sharp eyes around the room but doesn’t spot Gayle Gray. If Dr. Walters is right about him being the killer, both Dr. Gray and the victim should be arriving any minute now. 

 

Hotch marches up to the front desk, flashing his badge. “Has Dr. Gayle Gray arrived for work yet?” He asks, not wasting a moment. 

 

The nurse working the desk, an older woman with a hooked nose and reading glasses, looks up at him through her lashes. “Yes, he arrived a little while ago for his shift.”

 

“Where is he?” Hotch demands.

 

“I don't know, but I can call him down for you.” The nurse shrugs as though she's seen this all before. Perhaps she has. 

 

“Don't tell him it's the FBI.” Hotch cuts in. “Just say it's important.” The nurse raises an eyebrow but does as she's told.

 

Hotch’s heart is pounding as he turns to face his team, but he keeps a calm face. He’ll never show them just how nervous he really gets when confronting a killer, especially with so many civilians around. They never know how it's going to turn out, and Hotch has been held hostage by an angel of death in a hospital before; he's not eager to do that again.

 

The agents are looking around tensely, waiting for Gray to appear. While they do that, the patients and nurses are looking at them. Hotch spots a blond woman huddling over her son, who seems to have a fever. She is looking at them with intense hatred. Hotch fixes her with his signature glare until she backs down. Some people really need to learn to respect the police. 

 

“So now what-” Before Leo can finish his sentence, panic erupts in the emergency room. 

 

A gurney with a young brunette woman is wheeled into the room by several paramedics. Nurses swarm the station, yelling out numbers and orders to others. The senior nurse at the front desk is quickly replaced by a younger one. The older nurse moves to the gurney, swiftly and calmly giving out orders while the others scramble to obey. Hotch has never seen a disrespected senior nurse. 

 

When Hotch looks closer, he sees several blood-soaked bandages on the woman's arms and torso, several more than even on the first victim. 

 

Hotch opens his mouth to speak to his agents, scrambling out of the way of the medical staff as he does. Before Hotch can get so much as a word out, Gayle Gray rounds the corner, throwing his white coat over his shoulders as he does. Gray is a tall, handsome man with short, brown hair that is -ironically- beginning to grey, like Hotch’s. 

 

“Hey!” Morgan yells, throwing himself into the storm of workers.

 

“Stay here,” Hotch orders the apprentices and Reid, giving him a pointed look. Hotch follows Morgan into the fray, trying not to lose an arm to a bloodthirsty nurse.

 

“Dr. Gayle Gray,” Morgan calls, flashing his badge. “FBI, we need to speak to you!”

 

“I'm a bit busy at the moment!” The doctor yells back, turning and speaking quickly to the paramedics around him. 

 

They begin to wheel the gurney away, and Hotch realizes that they will lose him if they don’t act soon. There are other doctors around; he can see them. But this one is a murderer, and they need to get him now. But they don't have the evidence. They've nothing but Dr. Walter's word. 

 

Suddenly, Hotch remembers Dr. Walter's words, or rather, signs, in the interrogation room. 

 

“He won't go down easily and might get angry. Especially if he's with a patient. He's inseparable from them. From his reputation.”

 

The pieces fall into place before Hotch's eyes. Suddenly, he knows what to do.

 

“Dr. Gray!” Hotch calls out again, pushing through the small crowd that is now running alongside the gurney. There isn't much time.

 

“Go away; I’m busy!” He yells back angrily.

 

“Dr. Gray, do we have permission to search your car?” Hotch says it like it’s the most normal thing in the world despite the confused glances the nurses throw him.

 

Dr. Gray is red in the face, and he waves them off, not even looking at Hotch. “Sure! I don’t care what you do; just get out of my way!” With that, the doctor gives one final shove of the gernuy, and the whole group disappears behind double doors with a nurse ordering them to stop. But not before Hotch slipped his hand into Grays’s pocket and grabbed his keys. 

 

Hotch and Morgan face the doors, panting slightly. The Reid and the apprentices come running up to them, staring at the doors. 

 

“What the hell was that?” Atlas asks. 

 

Hotch spins on his heel, not wasting a moment. “Our opening.”

 

He stops at the front desk once more; this time, though, a younger nurse is stationed there. “Where is Dr. Gray’s car?” Hotch asks, ignoring her bewildered stare. 

 

She types rapidly on her computer for a moment before waving him around the counter. Hotch swings around and bends to see the screen. The woman points to a car on the screen in a parking lot. “That one. The silver sedan. Lot two.” 

 

Hotch memorizes the plates before asking, “Can you show us when he arrived?”

 

“Um, yes, but it would have been a while ago.” She says, uncertainty.

 

Hotch doesn’t respond; instead, he waves the others behind the desk with him until it is suddenly packed with agents. Hotch crouches down so that his shorter friends can see over his shoulders. His heart is still pounding from the lightning-fast interrogation, but he suppresses it. “Rewind the tape.”

 

The nurse obeys, setting the security tape to rewind at high speeds. Within a couple of seconds, they watch Dr. Gray's car pull into the spot in reverse. 

 

“There, what’s the time stamp on that?” Reid asks, pointing at the screen.

 

“Um, that doesn’t make any sense. This was less than ten minutes ago. His shift started before that.” The nurse says, puzzled. 

 

“We got him.” Morgan grins as Hotch leaps up and leads them to the parking lot. He follows the signs to lot two and quickly finds Gray's sedan by its plates. Hotch unlocks the doors with the keys he swiped from Dr. Gray's pocket and opens the front door. The others begin to follow suit.

 

“Is this legal?” Leo asks without moving from the side of the car. “And when did he give you the keys?”

 

“He gave verbal permission to search his car,” Hotch says, voice muffled because his face is currently underneath the passenger seat of the car. He pops his head back up, “And he dropped his keys.” Hotch says plainly.

 

Atlas, who is digging through the driver’s side of the car, chuckles. Hotch pauses in his search to look up at her. She locks her green eyes onto his with a knowing grin, Hotch frons in response. Though Atlas looks away, she doesn’t stop smiling.

 

“He guys, we got something back here,” Reid calls from where he is rooting around the trunk. 

 

The group comes over to him as Morgan whips his flashlight out to shine some light on the items in the dim garage. And there, lying right in the middle of the trunk, is a pair of bloody clothes and a blood-stained knife. 

 

“Like a Christmas gift,” Ava says, with a rare smirk.

 

“What on earth is your Christmas like?” Atlas asks, never able to avoid a snappy quip.

 

Hotch brushes past them and closes the trunk. “Reid and Leo, stay here and call the station to deal with this. We’ll get Dr. Gray.” He says solemnly before marching off back toward the hospital entrance with Morgan, Ava, and Atlas on his heels.

 

Hotch goes back to the front desk and doesn’t waste a moment with the nurse. “We need Dr. Gayle Gray immediately.”

 

“I’m sorry, but Dr. Gray is in surgery right now, so he is unavailable.” She says, hardly sounding apologetic.

 

“Then call him up and tell him he’s under arrest for the murder of four people.” Hotch states. He watches the color drain from the nurse’s face as she quickly picks up the phone, dialing the number with shaking hands. Hotch steps back and waits.

 

“That was a little harsh, don't you think?” Atlas whispers from beside him. Morgan and Ava have moved to the entrance hall where Dr. Gray should appear, out of earshot.

 

“Sometimes harsh is necessary, sometimes, it's not.” Hotch fixes Atlas with a pointed stare. “Sometimes, it's useless and only causes issues.”

 

She looks away, fiddling with her hands, fully aware that he is talking about Jack. “He deserved it.” She mutters.

 

“Even if he did, it's not your place to say.” she huffs in response. 

 

“Why did you steal his keys?” She asks, lowering her voice even more. “I thought you lot didn’t do stuff like that.”

 

Hotch narrows his eyes at her, confused by her wording. “Sometimes we bend the rules when it’s necessary to catch the killers. I don’t like it, but that is a lesson I learned a long time ago.” 

 

Atlas puffs a laugh, “Like Garcia and Brooks breaking into the internet itself.” She jokes.

 

Hotch is pretty sure that isn’t how the internet works, but he lets it slide with a nod. For a couple of seconds, silence hangs heavy between them. Hotch finally broke it. “What do you mean ‘you lot’? Your one of us too, an agent. You know that, don’t you?”

 

Atlas looks away for a second, touching her upper arm once more, she opens her mouth to respond, but before she can, Dr. Gray bursts through the double doors. His face is puffy and red, and Hotch can practically see the steam coming out of his ears.

 

“What the hell are you talking about? Murdering people? I did nothing of the sort!” Gray yells, throwing himself into Morgans’s space. Morgan, not missing a beat, yells at him to back up and turn around. Hotch moves to intervene, but Ava is closer and quicker. The small but muscled girl grabs Gray by his white coat and shoves him into a wall.

 

“You're under arrest for the murders of Doyle Day, Loren Curry, Beatrice Woods, and Eugene Wilson. As well as the assault of Jessica Volt….” Morgan trails off reading the man his Miranda rights. Hotch realizes that Morgan had been talking to a nurse and gotten the girl’s name on the gurney. His agents were always one step ahead. 

 

Hotch and Atlas move forward to help with the arrest as Gray tries to wrestle himself away, but it's pointless against all four of them. Soon enough, uniform officers and the rest of the team, save Dave and Jack, are at the hospital. They load Gray into a police car and send him back to the station. Hotch tells other officers to deal with the evidence in his car and get the security tapes from the hospital. He then phones Dave and tells him to release Dr. Walters as she is no longer a suspect.

 

As the flurry of movement begins to die down, Hotch spots the apprentices hovering in the corner of the emergency room, unsure of what to do. He waves them over. “This case is closed.” He says. “It's time to go home.” Hotch turns before he can hear the collective sigh of relief. 

 

Hotch doesn't make it farther than two steps out the door before he is called back. “Agent!” Hotch turns to see the senior nurse before running out to him. At first, Hotch's heartbeat spikes, worried that something else might have happened.

 

“What? What happened?”

 

“Nothing bad.” The nurse shakes her head, panting slightly. “I just wanted to tell you that Jessica Volt, the young woman who was stabbed, she survived. She'll be alright.”

 

A warm feeling bubbles up within Hotch, overwhelming everything else. The worry about his son or Atlas, his disappointment in them from the interview, his fear from the unsub, all of it going with a  wash of relief. The girl survived. They saved another life and caught another killer.

 

“Thank you.” He says to the nurse with a genuine smile. Hotch turns around and slowly walks to the SUV. Toward home.

 

Peters was right. Helping people is more important than anything else. And at the end of the day, that's what they do. That's what this job is. Helping people. Hunting killers. That's the job, that's the business. And Hotch loves it.



Chapter Text

Atlas sighs as she heaves her bag into the Quantico building, tiredness leaching at her bones. She's barely gotten any sleep since this case started, since Hotch woke them all up at 3 in the morning for it. And to think, Atlas had finally started sleeping in her own bed without pangs of homesickness. It seems that seeing her brothers- if even for a moment- had helped Atlas greatly. Now though, Atlas thinks that she is too tired to make it back to the apartment. Maybe she'll fall back into her old habits and pass out on Hotch's couch. 

 

Atlas and the rest of the BAU stumble into the building, ignoring the glances from the desk workers. Everyone tiredly breaks up to their desks or offices, preparing to head home for the night. Atlas begins to follow Hotch up the stairs, but Jack intercepts her, his blue eyes deep with worry.

 

“Can I talk to you? Alone?” Jack whispers. He looks serious, and Atlas is too exhausted to protest. She follows Jack down the stairs and around the corner, not far from Morgan's office, though well out of sight. 

 

Atlas looks up at Jack, his blond hair swaying in the low light. He looks nearly as tired as she feels. There are heavy bags under his eyes, and his hair is astray, falling into his face. As Atlas stares at him, she remembers how rude he had been during their joint interrogation earlier in the day, though that feels like weeks ago now. An ember of anger flickers in her chest, but Atlas is too tired to care for it. He had acted like a dick because Atlas had blown him off, and now he is going to apologize for it. Atlas isn't surprised, but she doesn't care enough to keep her guard up.

 

“Well?” She prompts him. “Get on with it then.”

 

“You don't even know what I'm going to say.” Jack starts defensively.

 

Atlas sighs. “Just say what you need to say so we can go to sleep, Jack.”

 

Jack sighs heavily and runs a hand through his hair. “I wanted to apologize for how I acted on our date. It was rude.”

 

Atlas nods in agreement but doesn't speak. 

 

“I was hoping you'd give me another chance.” He smirks. Atlas resists scoffing in his face. Clearly, he mistakes her silenced laughter for agreement as he plows on. “I thought you would agree. Things didn't go as smoothly as either of us would have liked last time.”

 

While Atlas’s senses feel dulled from exhaustion, she guesses that Jack's arent. As she looks into his eyes, she finds them alight, almost hungry. Atlas raises her shoulders and opens her mouth to correct him, but he speaks before she can.

 

“Why don't we begin now?” He hushes.

 

And then his mouth is on hers. 

 

Jack is kissing her, and for a moment, her mind stops working. Atlas thinks of the bar, and Jo, and her blond hair and her anger…

 

But when Atlas feels Jacks’s stubble scratch her cheeks, she quickly remembers where she is and what is happening. Her eyes are open; she isn’t breathing from shock—disgust rolls in her stomach. Disgust at Jack, at the kiss, at herself. She can't believe any of it. 

 

Atlas is wide awake now; any traces of exhaustion banished instantly. Her mind goes wild, alarms blaring in her head. Atlas plants her hands on Jack's chest and gives him a firm shove, throwing him away.

 

 Finally, she can breathe. She pants, placing one hand on her chest and nearly doubling over. Whatever just happened, it was wrong. And now Jack is standing across from her, anger and hurt written all over his face. 

 

Atlas channels all of her suddenly overwhelming feelings into the white-hot fire in her core. “What the hell was that?” She spits.

 

Jack's face grows a spotty red. “I thought that was what you wanted!” He cries.

 

Atlas sputters, trying to think straight as her mind wheels in endless directions, without direction. 

 

Jack’s face scrunches up. “Wait, so this isn’t what you wanted then?” Atlas merely shakes her head. Jack stands up straight, fists tight. “Then why would you lead me on like that?” He yells. 

 

Atlas flinches back, forever afraid of large, angry men and what they could do. But this time, she doesn't cower. She doesn't wait for him to scream at her or raise a hand or kiss her again. Atlas turns and runs. She races around the corner to the only place she knows she can hide; Hotch’s office.

 

Atlas flies into the office and closes the door behind her, barely saving it from a slam. She doesn’t stop, though, not a moment of rest. Her heart is racing, her mind is running in circles, her palms are sweating, and she feels sick. Atlas turns to the couch and crouches down, reaching for her go-bag so that she can finally go home. Only then does she notice that it's not there; it’s back in the hallway with Jack, right where she left it.

 

With this seemingly minor inconvenience, Atlas collapses. She sits on her ankles, staring at her hands in the warm, dark light of the office. Tears blur her eyes.

 

“Atlas? What's wrong?” Hotch says from behind her. Of course, he's here; how did she not notice he was here? It is his office, after all. “What happened?”

 

What just happened? Atlas has no answer for him.

 

Atlas doesn't turn; she only listens as Hotch rises from his chair and kneels behind her. Her long hair has come undone and has fallen over her face, only sturred by her shaky breaths. Hotch reaches over, and with surprisingly gentle fingers, he pulls her hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. Atlas doesn't look at him; she’s too ashamed. What is she supposed to tell him? How is she supposed to explain this?

 

“Atlas,” Hotch says, his voice remarkably soothing. “What's wrong?”

 

Atlas shrugs. Her throat feels so tight she can't even speak. She's barely holding her tears back, though her vision has completely blurred to masses of color. 

 

Hotch settles beside her, gazing with worried eyes. “Atlas, you have to tell me what's wrong; otherwise, I can't help you.”

 

Atlas finally breaks then, releasing some crushed, choked laugh. “What am I supposed to say? You can’t help with this Hotch; you just can’t.” No one can. Atlas doubts even the angels could.

 

“Explain it to me.” He says softly like he's speaking to an unsubs' latest victim. Atlas hates it. “I think I can help if you let me.” But you have to let me. Not like how you wouldn't let me help with your father, your brothers, or Benny. He doesn't say, but he doesn't have to. 

 

Atlas nearly chokes as she opens her mouth. She doesn't look at him. Instead, she stares at the blobs of color that are her hands. Hotch has one hand pressed against her back, anchoring her down. 

 

She doesn't know where to start, so she starts at the beginning. The very beginning. Everything that Atlas has been too scared to tell anyone, even herself, she confesses now. In the darkness of Hotch’s office, shielded by her hair and his arms and the thin walls, she speaks. 

 

With a brittle laugh, Atlas begins. “You know, I spent my entire life wishing I was normal. Wishing, praying that I could wake up and be a normal kid who did normal kid things and not ....” Not spend a lifetime hunting down the monsters who killed my mother. “I spent my whole life wishing that I could be normal, but I never wanted it more than I do right now.” 

 

Hotch doesn't speak when she pauses, though his eyes narrow in the way they do when he takes in new information. Atlas wonders if that's all she is to him, a new mind to dissect. To learn about and profile and file away. But Atlas can only handle one crisis at a time, so she pushes the thought away.

 

“I went to hell once, you know. And I think it broke me. I don’t feel things like other people do. I don’t want the things that regular people want. I mean, I want to want to, but I just don’t, I can’t. I don’t know why. But it must have been hell, right? People aren’t just like this, are they?” She sputters, trying to get the words right, but they just aren't. No words match this feeling in her chest, in her stomach. This lack of something that she would never have even noticed had Jack not so abruptly pointed it out.

 

Hotch shakes his head. “Atlas, I don’t understand…” he trails off.

 

 “Jack kissed me.” She interrupts him. Hotch immediately tightens his jaw, probably uncomfortable. Atlas decides that she can't spare him from this anymore. He's in it whether he wants to be or not. The first tear falls unceremoniously into her lap. 

 

“Everyone says you’ll like it, that’s it’s a spark or something, but all I felt was disgust. Which is so mean because Jack doesn't disgust me. I mean, he’s….” She pauses her rush of words, glancing at Hotch and cringing slightly. “Your son, obviously. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I don’t like anyone that way. Girls or boys, it doesn't matter. I just can’t. I think I’m broken, Hotch.” she finishes with a sigh. Finally, the tears come flowing without a sound. Atlas isn't a loud crier; she was never allowed to cry at all.

 

Hotch rubs her back in a circular motion, pausing to think before he speaks. “Atlas, you are many things, but broken is not one of them. You are strong, and firey, and one of the smartest people I know. And you're so loyal and caring… hell, you stabbed your first unsub because there was a threat of him hurting us.” Atlas breathes out a laugh. 

 

Hotch continues. “You are many great things, but you aren't broken. And I assure you, whatever hell you went through is in the past now. Your past does not define you; your family doesn't define you.” Atlas knows what he's thinking, and she also knows that Hotch will never understand the full scope of what she is saying. He’ll never know what hell is like, what it's like to torture others, or how horrible Atlas had felt when she learned that she had broken the first seal. Hotch will never understand any of that because Hotch is never going to hell. Atlas would drag him to heaven if she had to. 

 

 “What is this then? What’s wrong with me?” she asks desperately, waving her hands around. 

 

Hotch bends his head down. “I don’t think anything’s wrong with you, Atlas.” 

 

“How can that be true?” she asks, sharper than she intended. 

 

“You know that Reid is gay, right?” Hotch starts, sounding uncertain. Atlas takes in a shaky breath, wondering where this is going. 

 

 “Yea?”

 

 “Did you know that he’s also asexual?”

 

She tilts her head, tears beginning to dry. “What’s that?”

 

Hotch sighs, looking away. “Well, he’d be better equipped to explain it than me, but from what I know of it, it’s people who simply don’t want sex. Sometimes they don’t want partners either. There's nothing wrong with them; it’s just the way they are. They like nobody in the way that people like Milo, pansexuals, like everyone.” 

 

Atlas was suddenly reminded of Gabriel's words a few days ago.

 

“We're all built differently. Maybe you like nobody in the way that I like everybody. That's just the way dad made us.”

 

Atlas wonders why he isn't here right now. Maybe Gabe can only protect her from physical threats, not emotional ones. 

 

Atlas chuckles dryly. “I had a friend tell me that recently.”

 

Hotch nods. “Well, I think your friend was right. If you want me to, I’ll call Reid in here. He can explain it to you better than I can. But Atlas, believe me when I say that you are not broken. You are so much more than you give yourself credit for. And I know I don’t give praise often, but you truly are an amazing profiler and a great person. You’ll get through this; I know you will.” he reassures her.

 

His praise warms Atlas because it's true. Hotch doesn't tell them good things often, so they bathe in it when they can. She still feels like shit, but it helps—a little. 

 

She nods. “I'll talk to Reid.” Atlas thinks that maybe Hotch just wants to get himself out from between Jack and her so that he doesn't have to pick sides. Atlas has no doubt in her mind that he would pick Jack, but she doesn't want him to have to choose, anyway. 

 

Hotch nods and stands, quietly leaving the room. Alone now, Atlas focuses on her breathing, drying her tears. She thinks about how stupid this all is; having a breakdown after being kissed, it makes her look weak. Atlas internally scolds herself for it, though she doesn't move from her place seated on the floor, facing the couch. Her feet are tucked under her, and are beginning to fall asleep. Great, now she won't even be able to stand soon. 

 

Atlas shifts to sitting criss-cross as she hears the door open once more. This time though, it isn't Hotch’s heavy footsteps on the carpet; it’s lighter ones. Steps with smaller feet but long strides, a light but tall body. Reid.

 

“Hey, Atlas.” 

 

“Hey, Reid,” Atlas doesn’t turn around. Instead, Reid comes over to her, closing the door behind him. He plants himself on the carpet beside her, looking up with worried eyes. 

 

“You alright?” he whispers. Reid always whispers wherever he's trying to comfort someone. 

 

“Not really. This is so dumb; I can’t believe I’m crying over this.” She laughs bitterly, swiping at her eyes.

 

Reid shakes his head. “It’s not dumb, Atlas. You're learning about yourself, and everyone does that differently. For me, it was in college; for you, it’s here. It would have happened eventually, It just happened to be with a teammate, and that’s fine.”

 

Atlas raises an eyebrow. “It’s weird.” 

 

Reid hums. “It’s a little weird, but we’ve had weirder things happen around here.” 

 

Atlas wants to ask, but she doesn't. Instead, she treads a paper-thin line between okay and too personal. “How can you and Morgan be together if you're…” she trails off.

 

Reid fills in. “Asexual? Because Morgan loves me, and we make it work. But from what I hear, you don’t want that either.” he states.

 

Atlas shakes her head. “No,” 

 

“What do you know about asexually?”

 

 “Let’s say nothing?”

 

Reid begins the lecture in his ‘reciting from Wikipedia voice.’ Atlas listens closely with interest.  “Asexuals like me are people who don’t like sex. The prefix ‘a’ means none. There are also aromatics who don’t like romance or relationships. Someone can be gay and ace, like me. Or people can be both aromatic and asexual; we call those aroaces. They don’t want relationships or sex. They just wanna be friends with everybody.”

 

Atlas shrugs, pulling at a stray string in the carpet. As she talks, Atlas notices that the nasty feeling in her stomach begins to subside.  “I just wanna be friends with everyone. I mean, I can love people, right? I love my brothers, and I like the relationship I have with Kassie and Milo and Ava and them….” 

 

“Those are friends and family, and everyone needs family, Atlas. But not everyone needs dates.” He explains.

 

 Atlas puts out her hands. “Why? Why are we like this?” 

 

Reid sighs, looking away. “I don’t know. There’s a few scientific theories, but nothing solid. It’s just the way we are. We’re born this way, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Or us. No matter what anyone else says.”

 

Atlas sighs, frowning. Her tears are dry now, and her heart has stopped beating wildly. Atlas finally feels like she's in control again. She thinks over what Reid told her, trying to absorb it all. “So that's what we are? Asexuals and aromatics?” She asks.

 

“Those are our labels, but they are not all of us. They're just words, and you don't have to use them if you don't want to.” He offers his voice back to normal, which is still a little too fast for Atlas.

 

She nods. “I like them. I like having a word. I never had something to describe this….” She motions to her chest. “Feeling before. Like a lack of something I didn't know was missing until someone else pointed it out.”

 

“Until Jack pointed it out?” Reid asks, lowering his voice again.

 

Atlas thinks of her friends and her brothers, the years of comments and strange looks. “He was the final nail in the coffin, I think.”

 

Reid chuckles. “Well, I hope it isn't a coffin.” 

 

Atlas shakes her head, smiling. “No, I don't think it is.” She looks up at Reid, meeting his eyes. “Thank you.” She says genuinely.

 

Reid smiles. “Of course.”

 

“Now what?” Atlas asks.

 

“Now,” Reid tilts his head. “We get to go home and sleep. If you want, of course.”

 

Atlas looks away, thinking of her undecorated apartment she can't reasonably consider home yet. She thinks of her bed waiting for her. Any bed would be a blessing at this point. Even those nasty old ones from the countless moldy motel rooms she has slept in. She looks up at Reid and nods. “Let's go to sleep.” 

 

Reid smiles and stands, holding a hand out for her. She takes it and pulls herself up, shaking out her leg, which is still half asleep. Atlas takes a deep breath in and wipes any remaining tears from her eyes.

 

Atlas has found it, finally. She found herself; she discovered her friends, her real friends. Without her dad bearing over her or monsters lurking in the shadows. Atlas has found people she can trust, trust with nearly everything. Nearly.

 

Atlas may not be broken, as she's beginning to believe, but she is torn. Atlas will always exist in two halves. The hunter who is quiet and mean and angry all the time, the silent killer who spent her childhood throwing knives and shooting monsters. And her other half, the agent. The queer, who is proud and stubborn and smart, the profiler who saves lives instead of taking them. 

 

Atlas may spend her entire life split into two halves. Like two stars endlessly circling each other. They long to be together, and every day they inch closer and closer. But they know that the moment they touch, everything will explode. 

 

Chapter Text

David Rossi sits in his office sifting through reports with ancient hands. Mid-morning light floods in through the window, bathing the floor in a white glare. Rossi’s ears ring with boredom as he stares down his hundredth report. Exhaustion drags at his bones, stalling his fingers and drooping his eyes. But Rossi has no intention of going to sleep yet. He’s done this enough times to know better; Rossi will wait until dark to give in to sleep. He has already accidentally made himself nocturnal one too many times, thanks to this job. And that’s the best of what this job has done to him.

 

Rossi’s gentle peace is suddenly shattered as Jack throws open the door to his office, then slams it closed. Rossi’s tiredness disappears in a moment as he takes in his apprentice.

 

Jack is fuming. His face is red and patchy as he paces the length of the room. His fists are balled at his sides, and he is grinding his teeth so much Rossi thinks he’ll break them.

 

Rossi sits up, “Jack? What's happened?”

 

Jack continues to pace, not looking at Rossi. “I cannot believe this! The audacity of them both!” He grinds out.

 

Rossi stands and holds his hands out, waving toward the couch. “Why don't you sit and try to calm down?” he offers carefully.

 

Jack wheels on him, getting in his face. “Don't you dare tell me to calm down! I’m fucking pissed!” He yells.

 

Rossi doesn't flinch. Instead, he hardens his face and his voice. “Sit down, Jack.” He orders. “You'll solve nothing by screaming at me except for pissing me off.”

 

Jack opens his mouth to yell again, but Rossi raises an eyebrow, stopping him. The apprentice may stand a few inches over Rossi, but he isn't intimidated. Jack, wisely, closes his mouth and throws himself down on the couch with a huff. Rossi gingerly lowers himself down beside Jack, feeling like he's speaking to a wild animal or an unsubs victim.

 

“What happened, Jack?” Rossi asks. Jack picks the skin on his finger, burning holes into the carpet with his eyes. He doesn't answer. “Jack. What's wrong?” he says again.

 

Jack huffs, still steaming. He grinds his teeth as he speaks. “Atlas ran away.” He mutters.

 

Rossi tilts his head. Oh, this is about Atlas. “Ran away?” He echos.

 

“Ran away from me.” Jack spits. “She ran away from me, even though she's totally been leading me on for weeks. I made a move, and she completely blew me off!” Jack begins to raise his voice again. Rossi would ask him to lower his voice; had he not been so worried he would implode. “She ran away to my fucking dad like she always does! And like always, he protects her!” 

 

Rossi snatches up a chance to speak when Jack pauses to breathe. “Hang on, you made a move on Atlas, and she ran away to Hotch?”

 

“Yes!” Jack throws his hands up. 

 

Rossi licks his lips, thinking. “So, are you upset that Atlas turned you down or that she went to your dad?”

 

Jack turns his blazing eyes on Rossi. They are angry but also sad, and hurt, and confused. Rossi’s stomach drops slightly. “Both! I thought Atlas liked me, but I guess not. And now I'm not even sure my own father prefers me over her! I mean, for fucks sake, he didn't even want me as his damned apprentice! He chose her over his own son!” he curses, turning away.

 

Rossi’s confusion disappears as realization dawns on him. Jack is not only upset about Atlas, but he feels as though Aaron has abandoned him. Like Hotch didn't want to mentor him because he was bored of Jack. Rossi sighs, thinking back to the conversation several months before. Then, when the mentorship program had first been approved, Hotch had pulled Rossi aside.

 

“Dave, I want to talk to you.” Hotch had said, eyes worried.

 

“What's up?” Rossi tried his best to read his friend's features, but the man is made of stone, even to him.

 

Aaron sighed. “It's about the mentorship program.” He starts.

 

 Rossi's shoulders stiffened. He wasn't a fan of the program. Rossi firmly believed that kids belong in college or working far away from this job-as far as they could possibly get. Rossi had already watched this work drain the joy from his teammates one by one; he didn't know if he could stand to see that again. 

 

“What about it?” He asked coldly.

 

Hotch looked away as though thinking about what to say. 

 

“Well? Spit it out.” Rossi prompted.

 

Hotch locked eyes with him. “One of the students in the program is Jack.”

 

“Oh,” Rossi breathed. At first, he hadn't known what to think of this. Jack was already working in the FBI, and he was a good kid. He doesn't deserve to deal with these horrors. 

 

“And I want you to mentor him.”

 

That part had shocked Rossi. “What?” He asked. “You don't want to mentor your own son?” 

 

Hotch shook his head, mind working. “Jack was already under my protection for 18 years, Dave. I think he's sick of me.” He tried to laugh, but it fell flat in the air. "There's another girl I'm going to take on, but I think that you should have Jack. He trusts you already; you practically raised him after Haley died. He'll listen to you, be more willing to learn from you, Dave." Hotch's eyes had been questioning. "Will you do it?"

 

Rossi sighed and looked away. As usual, Aaron was right. And Dave would be lying if he said he didn't love the little blond boy he had helped raise. 

 

Rossi nodded. "I'll take Jack. I'll make him the best."

 

Hotch had smiled. "I know you will."

 

Now Rossi stares at Jacks's pained face and clenched fist. "Jack," He sighs, patting him on the back. "Your dad had never meant for you to feel this way. He had asked me to mentor you because he thought that you were sick of him. He was worried you wouldn't listen to him or get special privileges because you’re the chief's son. He just wanted you to have a fair shot, same as everybody else. He never meant to push you away."

 

Jack looks up at him with hope piercing his eyes. "So you chose me? He asked you to mentor me?"

 

Dave nods. "He did. Because he cares for you, he never meant to push you away."

 

Jack looks at the floor, hanging his head. "Oh. I never knew that."

 

"Your dad never meant to hurt you. And honestly? Atlas doesn't have anyone else but us around, so it's expected that she goes to Hotch. But if you want your dad's attention, maybe you should try talking to him instead of striking out at Atlas." Rossi's shoulders tense as he waits for Jack to process his words. 

 

"She still ran away." He grinds out.

 

"And that sucks." Rossi sighs. "But it happens. You're a good kid; you’ll find another. I'm sure if you talk and apologize to her for being forward, it will all be alright."

 

Jack stiffens again, yanking himself from Rossi's grip as he stands. "What makes you think I need to apologize?"

 

Rossi puts his hands up, back on the defense. "I'm just saying, maybe you should talk to her to get it all sorted out. That's better than being angry at her every day, isn't it?" 

 

Jack growls as he burns holes into the floor again with his eyes. Rossi wonders how he had failed to see this anger bubbling up in Jack after so long. How did he miss this? How long has Jack been feeling like this? 

 

Rossi should have been more observant. He should have been paying more attention to the people closest to him instead of his unsubs. How many times have the people closest to Rossi suffered because he put the job first? Because he failed to notice them? Too many times. 

 

“Jack, please, hear me out.” Rossi pleads, standing.

 

Jack throws his hands out, “No!” He yells. “I'm done with this! Done with my dad pretending like I don't exist! Done with it!” Before Rossi can stop him, Jack storms from the room, slamming the door behind him.

 

Jack leaves Dave behind in a flurry of colliding emotions; anger, sadness, and regret. A combination that is familiar to Rossi, along with the slammed door. In the middle of his office, he stands there and stares at the door for several more seconds. 

 

But, as he's done so many times before, Rossi turns away. 

 

Chapter Text

Hotch stands stiff just inside Morgan's office, looking at anything and everything except Morgan. The younger agent silently bears down on Hotch with suspicious eyes from his desk, but he doesn't ask questions. Typically, Hotch is more than comfortable in silence, but now it feels heavy, suffocating, almost, in Morgan's bright office strangely absent of loud music.

 

Hotch bows his head as he thinks of his apprentice. Hotch had left a crying Atlas with Reid, hoping that he could comfort her in a way that Hotch couldn't. Despite everyone's hopes, Atlas and Jack seem to have not worked out. Whatever happened between them today when the BAU returned from this case has severely hurt Atlas, but Hotch struggles to think of what Jack could have done. He knows his son better than almost anyone else; they grew very close after Haley died. Back when it felt like it was just the two of them against the world. 

 

Though Hotch would be lying if he said this event did not grant him slight relief, no matter how guilty that thought makes him feel. 

 

But now, he is left to wonder where he went wrong, where he failed to notice Atlas’s internal conflict. How did he not see it? He's given Atlas so much of his attention lately, but there always seems to be something wrong with the green-eyed girl. From her issues with her father to her brothers to Jack, and now this. Atlas never seems to be just okay. She attracts trouble like a magnet. Sooner or later, it's going to land her in deep trouble. So deep that not even Hotch and all his resources will be able to dig her out of it. 

 

Desperate to break the stale quiet, Hotch scans the file in Morgan's hands. “Why are you reading the Winchester case?” He asks, narrowing his eyes.

 

Morgan grimaces and looks down at the thick file, a falling look on his face. Hotch knows that this was his first cold case and that Morgan could never truly give it up. It's always difficult to let go of the ones that got away, especially when their rap sheets break the worst records they have. 

 

The other man purses his lips before answering. “I was just going over it again.” Morgan's dark eyes flicker over the paper, drawing in information he has undoubtedly read several times over already. 

 

Hotch nods. “Maybe they'll strike again, and we’ll catch them.”

 

Morgan hums. “They never go so long without causing trouble. They’re drawn to it. Sooner or later, they’ll show themselves. And when they do, we’ll put them down.”

 

Hotch nods in agreement. The Winchesters are the worst of the worst. They undoubtedly deserve to rot in prison for the rest of their lives, eating scrap and losing their minds if they haven't already. Though Morgan seems to have more extreme views. But Hotch can't blame him. The Winchesters are grave robbers, cop killers, and murderers. If they end up six feet under, Hotch won't look back. 

 

Hotch opens his mouth, prepared to warn Morgan about the dangers of continuing to work the case without reason, but he stops when he hears a door slam. Hotch whips around, slinging himself through the door of Morgan's office just as Jack rushes by. His son's fists are balled, and his face is red; anger rolls off the kid in waves. Hotch throws a silent look back at Morgan before chasing after his son. 

 

“Jack!” Hotch calls. He catches up to him just as Jack bends down to swipe his duffle off the floor. Why is his bag here? “Hey, Jack, what's going on?” He asks, trying to make his voice as kind as possible.

 

“Shut up,” Jack growls without looking at him.

 

Hotch flinches back, stunned by his son's cruelty before anger surges through him. “Don't talk to me like that.” Hotch snaps before forcing himself to settle. “Jack, come on, talk to me.”

 

“I don't want to talk to you.” Jack tries to slide around Hotch to get away, but he stops the apprentice, his broad shoulders blocking the way. 

 

“No.” Hotch stands his ground. “Atlas is hurt; you’re hurt; I need to know what's going on.”

 

“Oh, you need to know.” Jack mocks, rolling his eyes dramatically. “You always need to know everything, but do you actually care?”

 

“Of course I care; you’re my son,” Hotch says, hurt.

 

“Well, you don't act like it!” Jack yells suddenly, jaw tight. “You barely talk to me anymore; we never see each other outside of work! After mom died, you said you would always be there. You always said that it was you and me against the world. And now you run off with the daughter you never had. What am I supposed to do?” Jack's voice turns from anger to despair, cracking Hotch's heart in two.

 

His son's words feel like a punch to the gut. Especially because it's all true, Hotch may have lost his wife all those years ago, but Jack lost his mother. And now, he's losing his father too. Hotch meets Jack's too-blue eyes, glancing at his shiny blond hair. Haley’s hair, Haley’s eyes. 

 

It hits Hotch like a bullet. By how close he's grown with Atlas, he's pushed his son away. And this was the tipping point, the trigger. 

 

Hotch reaches out, eyes heavy. “I'm sorry.” Jack's head shoots up, the anger draining from his face as though he wasn't expecting Hotch to say it. “I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was hurting you. And you must know that I never meant to. You're right; after your mom died, it's been just you and me, and I'm sorry I pushed you away. But you're not alone, Jack. You never were, and I’m sorry I made you feel like you were.”

 

Jack’s face crumples with emotions, relief, and sadness together. His shoulders slump as his eyes begin to water. Hotch can almost hear his heart crack. “Dad.” Jack cries before throwing his arms around Hotch, pulling him in tight. Hotch hugs him back.

 

“Can we go back to the way things were?” Jack asks, his voice muffled in Hotch's shoulder. “The dinners and the talks?”

 

Hotch laughs slightly, “Of course we can. Everything can go back to normal. Everything is going to be alright. Always.” 

 

After a few moments, Hotch untangles his arms from Jack, motioning for him to pick up his bag. Hotch had left his in his office, which currently has closed blinds and thin light filtering through. Hell came back for it later. “Let's get you home.” He says warmly. 

 

Jack nods, smiling with tears in his eyes.

 

Hotch motions for Jack to lead the way past Morgan's office to the elevator and bullpen. Jack calls the elevator, shoving his hands in his pockets as he waits. 

 

Meanwhile, Hotch thinks over their conversation, realizing how angry Jack already was when he confronted him. Angry as though someone has already aggravated him more than Atlas had.

Hotch turns on his heel, squinting to see across the bullpen into Daves’s office. Rossi is sitting at his desk, filing the paperwork Hotch knows he despises so much. His eyes look heavy, and his hands move slowly, sadness leaking through his carefully sealed porcelain cracks. 

 

Rossi had let Jack walk away, and he had not chased after him. Dave was probably planning to let Jack steam, allow his anger to fizz away before confronting him again. And when he comes back, he'll be gentle but stern—a rock for him to lean on with the warmth of a father. To Dave, Jack is the son he never had, the kid he helped raise after his mother’s death. Jack is everything to Dave, just as he is to Hotch.

 

David Rossi, a negotiator at heart. 

 

And perhaps, Hotch thinks, Jack wasn't too far off about him and Atlas. Maybe he has been treating her like the daughter he never had, the little girl he never got the chance to raise. All because the love of his life was snatched away from him too soon. Maybe Hotch does see this as his second chance, his chance to make things right. Possibly Haley would be happy, wherever she is now.

 

Hotch remembers what he had been thinking about while in Morgan's office; how Atlas is going to land herself in deep trouble one day that even Hotch won't be able to scrape her out of. Hotch prys his eyes from Daves office to the shut blinds of his own, where Atlas is hopefully no longer crying.

 

Hotch makes a decision then. Everyone matters to him; Dave, the team, Jack, and Atlas. They're all important, and they all deserve to be protected. And if it comes down to it, Hotch will fight tooth and nail for each and every one of them, as he has before.

 

The elevator bell rings, Hotch and Jack load themselves in. A new beginning for all things good and all things trouble. 

Chapter Text

Ten Months After Atlas Joined The BAU

Two Months After The Angel Of Death Case




“Alright, thanks, Bobby. I know, I’m sorry. We’ll get him, I promise. You guys hold on over there, all right? Okay, bye.” Dean hangs up the phone, a familiar feeling of heaviness settling onto his chest. Right when Dean thinks all his friends are done dying, another one falls. Another buddy to bury. 

 

“What did he say?” Sam asks from the stained bed of the dusty old motel room, typing at rapid speed on his laptop. He doesn’t even look up at Dean when he speaks, never peeling his eyes from the screen.

 

Dean is seated at the small, rickety wooden table while Cas leans silently against the wall, staring at nothing. His trenchcoat waves slightly in the breeze coming in through a window that won’t close, his hair is damp and shiny, but his eyes are clouded. With grief, perhaps. Dean can feel his own grief constricting his chest, making his favorite flannel shirt feel like a rope around his ribs, slowly squeezing the air from his lungs. 

 

They are all together again, aside from Sage, huddled in a damp old motel room against the rain battering the windows. Dean never liked the rain, but the east coast has an awful lot of it. And right now, the Moonlight Motel in Newark, New Jersey, seems to be taking the brunt of mother nature’s anger. 

 

Dean twists in his seat, making a face at his brother’s rapid typing. “What are you doing over there? Writing a thesis?” he asks sarcastically.

 

“Haha, Dean, but I already wrote my thesis when I finished college,” Sam replies without humor. “I’m working, Dean. some of us have jobs.”

 

Dean throws his hands up in a mocking motion. “Well, I’m sorry, Mr. lawyer-man. At least I’m not running around plastering my face on billboards all over the state.”

 

Sam finally pushes his computer aside, narrowing his eyes at Dean. “I am not putting my face on the side of billboards. I work at a small law firm for domestic abuse victims under a fake name. Nobody would ever come looking for me in the middle of nowhere in Kansas.” Sam rolls his eyes.

 

A smirk takes over Dean’s face. “And what was that fake name again?”

 

Sam looks back at his computer, muttering. “Mark Adler.” 

 

“Mark Adler,” Dean says incredulously. He pauses before continuing, waiting for his sister to jump into the banter with a sly quip or a quick insult. But of course, she doesn’t, because she isn’t here. The air hangs silent for several moments as they quickly remember the gap in their team, in their joking. Finally, Dean laughs stiffly, trying to fill the now awkward air. “Can’t believe you picked that one. So stupid.” He turns away from Sam, facing the door again while staring down at the phone in his hand. 

 

Dean can feel Sam’s soft, caring gaze burning holes into his back. 

 

“We have to tell her,” Sam says quietly.

 

Dean shakes his head, whipping around to face his brother again. “Absolutely not.”

 

Sam throws his hands up, work forgotten at the chance to argue. “How do we not tell her! She needs to know! How is she supposed to protect herself from dad if she doesn’t know what he’s up to?”

 

“We don’t know what he’s up to.” Dean snaps.

 

“How is she supposed to mourn?” Sam yells.

 

Dean feels his face flush red with anger. Why does Sammy never understand? “We are protecting her! You know Sage, she’s gonna wanna come around and make sure we’re alright, and it’s gonna drag the cops over here and get us all in trouble. Not telling her is the best way to keep her safe.” Dean puts his foot down.

 

Just as Sam opens his mouth to argue again, Cas cuts him off. The angel’s voice is deeps and stern, one of Dean’s favorite voices in the world. Though now, he sounds angry and almost sad. “Sage deserves to know,” Castiel states, iron-blue gaze flickering between the brothers. “She is stronger than you grasp. And she has protected herself for this long. She has the right to know that her friend is dead.” 

 

Cas turns, locking eyes with Dean, a stubborn frown set on his face. Castiels dark hair is shiny, and his coat is damp, but he hasn’t bothered to dry himself off yet. Dean doesn’t look away. Instead, he stares his boyfriend down, green against blue, iron against iron.

 

After a few moments of tension, Sam clears his throat, shifting uncomfortably on the bed, once again caught between the two men and their silent arguments. Sage always had a more creative way of breaking them up. Sam always just gets uncomfortable. Thinking about Sage only makes Dean’s heart hurt more. He doesn’t know how much more of this he can take. 

 

Dean shakes his head, turning away from the other men. Then, after a moment of silence, Sam speaks again.

 

“So what are we going to do?” he asks carefully.

 

“About what?” Dean glibs, typing on his phone without looking up.

 

“About Sage? What are we going to tell her?”

 

“Nothing. We have nothing to tell her.” 

 

“Dean…” Sam whines.

 

Dean whips around in his chair; anger fired up again like a flame in his chest. He raises his voice to a mocking pitch as he speaks. “What are we supposed to say, Sammy? ‘Oh hey, Sage, we know your busy being an FBI agent and all, but we just wanted to tell you that Benny showed up on Bobby’s doorstep without his neck and a newspaper stuffed in his mouth. Guess what was in the newspaper? Oh, you got it right! It was a paper about you and your little team, but your face was all scratched out! So yea, we hate to call you out of the blue like this, but it turns out that dad has lost his fucking marbles. See you at Christmas!’” Dean finishes, fixing Sam with a bored stare, letting the reality sink in.

 

Sma shrugs, looking away. “So what? We just don’t tell her anything?”

 

Dean nods, face stern, jaw set. “We say nothing. For Sage.”

 

Sam meets his eyes and nods. “For Sage.” Dean doesn’t have to look closely to see all the love and grief and fear there because he knows that the same look is mirrored in Deans’ own eyes. All the pain of losing a friend, the fear of their father, and the love they hold for their little sister. Everything they have and would give up for her. Everything they may have to soon enough. 

 

Cas looks at the floor and shakes his head. He looks up at the sky, his sea-blue eyes narrowing as though someone is calling him from far away. The air in the room whispers as the wind blows, invisible feathers filling the space. When Dean looks up again, the wall where Cas had been leaning only moments before is empty. 

 

Dean sighs, another weight settling on his chest.

 

“For Sage.” He mutters to no one. 



Chapter Text

Ten Months After Joining The BAU

 

Hotch sits at his desk, his office dark and cool, just as he likes it. He pushes the files aside one by one as he fills them out, the stack on his right growing steadily taller than the stack on the left. Across from him, Atlas quietly fills out her own pile of paperwork on the coffee table while seated on the couch with a blanket across her lap. Her lips are set in a pinched frown as they usually are when she is doing paperwork. Hotch is simply glad that she is no longer sleeping through her days on his couch.

 

Two months have passed since the angel of death case, and it seems that the waters of the BAU have since calmed down- as much as they ever do, at least. Hotch can’t remember the last time they were truly at peace within the team, but it appears that they may have reached that calm just now.

 

Atlas and Jack have made up and are once again able to work without spitting fire at each other- thankfully. Atlas has stopped sleeping on his couch and has gotten much closer to the team; she may even be considering them friends. Hotch and Jack have started talking again, and now they even have dinner once a week. Or at least, when they can. This job doesn’t always leave time for father-son bonding time, but they make it work when they can.

 

The cases have been going well, and everyone seems to have settled into their places within the team. The mentors and their apprentices have been advancing quickly. On top of all of that good news, Strauss has finally gotten off Hotch's back. He can once again breathe easy.

 

And then, as always, they get a case.

 

Hotch’s phone buzzes and a file appears on the screen, far too small for him to read. He stands, fixing his papers as he grabs his suit jacket from the back of his chair. Atlas pauses in her writing to look up at him with her pale green eyes.

 

“We have a case.” He states.

 

“Yes,” Atlas mutters happily while pushing her papers aside. 

 

Hotch leads the way out of the office, waving to the team seated in the bullpen below. They don’t wait a moment before rushing to follow him to the round room. Clearly, Atlas isn't the only one sick of paperwork.

 

Once the team has gathered, Hotch hands a tablet to Garcia, who presents, while Hotch stands opposite her, looking over the group. 

 

“Hello, my lovelies. Today we have a particularly interesting case unless, of course, you have paperwork to get to.” Garcia begins with an elegant wave of her hand, oversized jewelry clinking.

 

“Absolutely not!” Milo stretches out his long arms and legs, and he's clearly not the only one happy to be away from their desks. 

 

Dave nods. “Get to it, Garcia.” 

 

Garcia waves her arms, motioning to the screen. “The sunny lagoons of Miami, Florida have been plagued with a band of burglars who so far have robbed three places, Diamond Jewelers, Mindset Bank, and Perfect Gems and Crystals. We have been called in because a gem cutter, Jack Slone, was killed as he tried to escape in the latest robbery. The merry band of killers is expected to strike again soon, so we need to move quickly.”

 

“What have they been stealing?” Milo asked. 

 

“Jewels and money,” JJ answers her apprentice.

 

Emily tilts her head. “How many are there?”

 

Garcia sighs. “Ah, now that's where it gets interesting. There were only security cameras for the last of the three burglaries, which showed four robberies. The largest of the group was the one who made the kill.” Garcia presses play, and the security footage plays on the screen.

 

The footage shows four men, all masked and dressed in plain black clothes. The men sweep the place quickly after picking the lock, swarming the building while collecting valuable items. Mr. Slone emerges from the backroom, clearly not realizing the robbery in progress. He looks shocked for a moment before the largest of the group shoots him down, much to the others dismay. They quickly clear out after that.

 

“Well, that was interesting,” Morgan states, folding his hands in front of him. 

 

“It's hard to tell who's the leader, which is odd. It looks like they're taking orders from someone we can't see.” Reid states.

 

Atlas shrugs. “Maybe the leader runs the operation from the outside.”

 

“But wouldn't he want to be there to supervise it?” Milo asks, serious now.

 

“Apparently not.” Ava shrugs, eyes narrowed. 

 

“We need to figure this out before they kill anyone else. If the killing was not part of the plan, then the leader won't be happy. They might devoule. We need to get moving to Miami. Wheels up in ten.” Hotch states, gathering up the files.

 

“Wait, Miami?” Kassie asks, perking up suddenly. 

 

“Yea, aren't you from there?” Emily tilts her head as she stands. 

 

Kassie jumps up. “Yea! My dad is captain of the police department there!” She squeals excitedly.

 

“We’ll be working with him then,” Dave says solemnly, exchanging a warning glance with Morgan and Hotch. Hotch grimaces and nods, understanding the silent warning.

 

“Careful when it comes to family members,” Morgans warns. “You remember what happened when we went to New Orleans.”

 

Milo bowed his head, suddenly sullen. Everyone remembers what happened in New Orleans.

 

But Bell isn’t damped for long. She loops Ava and Atlas into her arms and drags them from the round room, chattering excitedly about her parents. Hotch looks at Morgan, smirking and shaking his head as they clear the room.

 

Kassie’s energy doesn’t dwell on the plane either, as she spends the entire two-hour ride telling every story she knows about her family, from her crazy wine aunt to her homophobic uncle and her niece, who she loves will all her heart. Bell is practically glowing as she speaks. And her energy is contagious. Milo and Atlas quickly start adding stories of their own, though Atlas’s are strangely vague and in-between. As though she wants to participate but can't for whatever reason. Hotch understands her apprehension with talking about her family, but he still hopes she can open up to the prospect in the future. 

 

When the plane landed, Hotch and the rest of the BAU offloaded, traveling to the Miami police department from the airstrip.

 

They were greeted by a short, chubby captain with a round face and stark white hair when they entered. His resemblance to Kassie was striking, though she was much taller than him. Captain Bell opened his hand to Hotch, a warm, familiar smile on his face. 

 

“Agent Hotchner, welcome to our humble abode.” Captain Bell laughed, and Hotch nodded. “We're so happy to have your help. We've got a place set up for you just like you asked. Deputy O'Reilly will show you around.” he waved to the woman beside him, whom Hotch was immediately on guard with.

 

Deputy O’Reilly was Captain Bell's opposite in every way. She was a tall, thin woman with dark hair tied back in an impossibly tight bun, pulling at the edges of her face. Her uniform was beyond perfect, and her lips were set in a thin tine, narrowed eyes glaring at Hotch with barely restrained hostility. She nodded sharply before turning on her heel and stalking away. The captain didn't seem to notice his deputy's coldness.

 

Hotch narrows his eyes, grimacing as he follows the deputy away. Behind him, he hears Kassie greeting her father in a loud but happy hug.

 

“You look so good, Kassie! Your mother will be so happy to see you!” The captain's voice faded away as Hotch entered the meeting room that now belongs to the agents.

 

Deputy O’Reilly turned sharply, fixing Hotch with a razor-sharp gaze. “This room is yours, don’t reck it.” She snapped before stalking out.

 

David raised an eyebrow. “Well, that was certainly something.” He said as the group, excluding Kassie, spread out around the room.

 

“I don't trust her,” Atlas stated blatantly. 

 

JJ shook her head. “She's the deputy. And we don't have to like her, but we do have to work with her. Only for a while.”

 

“How could such a nice man have such a rude deputy?” Milo asked, pursing his lips.

 

“Oh, I've known the deputy since I was little; that’s just how she is,” Kassie assures them with the wave of her hand. “She can be rude and secretive and all, but she means well.”

 

Atlas hums in disagreement, watching the door as though the deputy is going to suddenly reappear in a flaming ball of bullets and rudeness. With all the strange things they've seen, Hotch wouldn't be surprised if she did. 

 

Hotch claps his hands once, gathering their attention. “Let's get to work.”

Chapter Text

Atlas thumbs through the files on the table at the Miami police department with Milo and JJ beside her. The rest of the team is off inspecting the crime scenes and the body at the morgue, leaving the meeting room horribly quiet. Hotch is nowhere to be found, but he tends to disappear on his own sometimes. Why isn't Atlas ever allowed to do that?

 

 Atlas tries her best to commit the information to memory, but it just isn't sticking for some reason. And she thinks she knows why.

 

She is distracted. And for once, it's not Jack, or her brothers or her father, but the case itself. Atlas has had a weird feeling from the moment they walked into the station, and it only increased when deputy O’Reilly was introduced. The straight-backed deputy puts Atlas on her nerves, and she doesn't know why. But she does intend to investigate.

 

Atlas pushes up from her chair with a frown set on her face.

 

“Where are you going?” JJ asks. Milo doesn’t look up.

 

“Coffee,” she answers simply. “Want any?” They both shake their heads.

 

Atlas stalks out of the meeting room, careful to look inconspicuous as she heads for the coffee machine. She quickly surveys the space around her, littered with desks and paperwork normal to a police station. Atlas can see the entrance to the holding cells to her right and the captain's office to her left. Right outside his office is the deputy, seated at a desk and working furiously. It's rather odd that she doesn't have an office herself, Atlas thinks as she picks up a cup.

 

Without noticing it, Atlas has once again transitioned from agent to hunter, watching everyone and everything through the eyes of a wanted man and person who has seen enough nightmares for a lifetime.

 

An officer approaches Atlas, pouring himself a cup of coffee. She surveys him. He is well built in a less-than-perfect uniform. His curly, black hair and beard are wild against his tan skin. His dark eyes flicker around in a motion almost maddening, but before she can do anything, he speaks in a ruddy, odd voice. 

 

“How's it going in there?” He asks, not turning to her.

 

“We're working on it,” Atlas answers flatly, adding sugar to her coffee. 

 

He nods. “I hope you catch the guys soon; they’ve been causing a ruckus around town, though. Been getting so much air time.” He laughs, and Atlas hums in agreement.

 

“Hey, I do have a question, though.” He starts turning to her. Atlas faces him, finally reading his nametag, Officer Pimento.

 

“Shoot,”

 

He leans in close as if whispering something scandalous. “What happens if you don't catch them?”

 

  Atlas sees the man seated to her right, at the desk closest to them, stiffen. She can't see his face, but his back goes ramrod straight, and he stops what little work he was doing. His chest isn't moving; he appears to be holding his breath. 

 

She turns back to Pimento, taking in every aspect of his too eager face. “Well, we want them to be caught, so we're going to try our best.” She states matter-of-a-factly.

 

Pimento’s laugh sounds forced and anxious. “Well, obviously, we want them to be caught, but what happens if you don't catch them? If the case goes cold, I mean.”

 

Atlas narrows her eyes, casting a quick glance around. The station is suddenly too quiet. Many people are still talking, female officers, desk attendants, and one officer with a man in handcuffs at his desk, but everyone else has stopped. Frozen in time as though they too are listening to the conversation. Atlas feels the cold, familiar fingers of danger creep up her spine, causing the hair on her arms to rise. She has to step carefully here, or she could end up dead. 

 

Atlas may not be facing vampires or demons, but men can be just as deadly. She has known that for a long time.

 

Atlas plasters on her best smile, forcing her voice to sound sincere. “Well, in the short time I've been working with this group, we’re yet to have a cold case.” She lies, ignoring the flash of fear on his face. “Nearly did this one time, when a man took a bus full of hostages, and we had to let him go. But you don't have to worry; I have some ideas up my sleeve already.” She winks with a smirk before stalking away, coffee in hand. As she does, Atlas flashes another glance around, this time looking specifically at the deputy’s desk, who has been to her back before.

 

The deputy’s eyes are cold and hard as iron when she meets Atlas’s gaze. She feels the thin fingers of danger creep up her spine again. Atlas quickly looks away and hurries back to the safety of her friends.

 

~

 

Morgan and Ava are the last to walk through the meeting room doors after a horribly long time. Atlas doesn't wait a moment before getting in front of Hotch; her eyes are narrowed and cold.

 

“We need to talk, away from here.” She whispers, casting a quick glance around. 

 

Hotch nods, solemn in a second. Atlas is grateful for how quickly he believes her. “All of us?” She nods.

 

Hotch waves his hand, gathering the troops quickly. Though some of them look like they're going to ask questions, they are silenced by the steel-eyed look on Hotch’s face. She's starting to love him for it.

 

Hotch leads them out of the room, loudly saying something about getting lunch, and Atlas can hear the other mentors instructing their confused apprentices to act normal. Act like nothing's wrong. They say. For just a moment, keep quiet and pretend. How many times has Atlas heard her father say the same thing? Her brothers? She doesn't know. All she does know is that right now, at this moment, Atlas feels far more like she's with a group of hunters secretly infiltrating a police department than the FBI.

 

Once outside, Atlas takes the lead. She laps Hotch and leads them farther away from the police station, hiding the group behind one of their giant SUVs, hoping that they are not being watched. The team gathers into a small huddle, all facing each other.

 

“What’s this about?” Morgan asks, hands shoved in his pockets against the chill breeze. 

 

They all look to Hotch, who looks at Atlas. She turns her gaze to each one of them in turn, taking in their confused faces. “I think that the cops here have something to do with the robberies, the deputy too.”

 

An audible gasp comes from the group, who cast around wild and suddenly suspicious glances; some nod their heads, eyes narrowed in careful agreement, but Kassie stomps her feet, looking upset.

 

“No, no way! I’ve known deputy O’Reilly for practically my whole life; she can’t be a crooked cop!” Kassie throws her hands up, eyes pained. Ava grabs her hand, obviously trying to soothe her. But before she can get very far, Kassie jabs a finger in Atlas’s face. “What makes you think so? What proof do you have?”

 

Atlas puts her hands up, not looking to start a fight. Instead, she quickly retells her interaction with Officer Pimento and the strange reaction of the others in the station. 

 

Emily and JJ nod, exchanging a look. “It makes sense,” Emily says. “It was four male robbers, and if the deputy is the leader, then that would explain the video.”

 

Kassie shakes her head, looking away. 

 

JJ joins in. “We also were wondering why the police responded so late to the call; turns out the officers closest were Pimento, Lou, Pie, and Hernandez.”

 

Atlas grimaces. “Those were the ones who were watching me, I think.”

 

“You think?” Kassie throws her hands up, looking upset. “That’s not enough! We need real evidence against them! That accusation could ruin their careers!”

 

“And that’s exactly why we don’t tell anyone this.” Hotch steps in, voice commanding. “For now, we keep this to ourselves. But we have to consider it a theory, and we must investigate. Students, you will never be alone without a mentor around, understand?” They nod in unison. “Good. Emily, JJ, and Milo figure out why the officers didn’t respond on time. Kassie, Ava, and Morgan continue looking at other offenders and angles besides this one. Dave and Jack, keep eyes on the deputy and captain, try to talk to the officers if you can, but don’t let them know that we’re onto them.”

 

“Wait,” Kassie interrupts, unbothered by Hotch’s glare. “We’re considering my dad now? I know that he isn’t crooked. I know it!” She cries. Atlas wishes she had a way to comfort her friend, but she simply doesn’t know how. 

 

Hotch nods. “Only for now, but I have a feeling your right. Whatevers going on here, I don’t think it includes your dad. Stay vigilant. Be careful. The rest of us will continue the case as normal. Don’t speak about the case unless your absolutely sure that you aren’t being watched, alright?”

 

“The walls have ears, the sky has eyes. The earth has fingers; the sea will die.” Leo mutters suddenly. The whole group turns to stare at the pink-haired boy, who casts his eyes down. “Poetry.” He mutters. They nod, looking away. 

 

“Be careful,” Hotch warns one final time before they disperse. 

 

The walls have ears, the sky has eyes. The earth has fingers; the sea will die.



Chapter Text

Hotch works through the papers with his team on one side of the meeting room, while the other side of the chamber works on the same case but differently. Hotch has been jumping between the theories of regular unsubs and corrupt cops being the cause of the string of robberies turned murders plaguing Miami, Florida.

 

Across the table from him, Kassie has her head in her hands as she gazes down at the file with determination, set on clearing the names of the officers and her father, who the BAU has quietly accused. Hotch is grateful for her strength because if Atlas is wrong, they will need someone who finds the correct answer.

 

Though right now, Hotch is unsure as to who is right.

 

Emily, JJ, and Milo enter the room just then, drawing the entire team’s attention. They are all distracted and anxious, trapped in a station with potentially killer cops. Hotch knows firsthand just how far corrupt cops are willing to go to protect what they have built. He has seen entire stations taken over by it. It’s like a disease that sweeps through, taking everyone in its path and leaving nothing but destruction and death behind. 

 

Hotch stands to face the three. He can feel the eyes of his teammates on them, begging for answers. “What do you have?” He asks in a low voice.

 

Emily faces him but speaks to the whole team. “So, get this. The reason those cops hadn’t answered their calls was because their radios were broken. But when we looked at them, it looked like the wires had been cut. Purposefully.”

 

JJ nods and joins in. “And we learned that at every robbery, those officers were the ones patrolling that area, all of them were assigned by the deputy.”

 

Now, Hotch is slightly more sure.

 

An uneasy feeling settles over the room with the news. Knowing what this means and the now very real danger covers them, smothering all their other thoughts. The knowledge that enemies surround them causes Hotch to bristle, and by the looks of his teammates, they feel the same. 

 

“Every time we walk into a station, we're the most powerful people there,” Leo says softly, almost to himself. “Until we’re not.”

 

Atlas nods solemnly, her eyes cloudy as though she is very far away. “Our power is an abstract one. It is not one of blood or light or ancient words. It is our badge and our privileges. We often think those impenetrable until it is swiftly taken away.” 

 

Hotch narrows his eyes at his apprentice, wondering what she is comparing the FBI’s power to. Blood, light, ancient words? Whatever it is, it sounds powerful and dangerous enough for Hotch to avoid. 

 

Hotch hears a thump and turns around to find Kassie face down on the table, groaning slightly as Ava rubs her back. Morgan is speaking soft, reassuring words to the distressed apprentice. Hotch feels a tinge of sympathy for the young woman. Finding out those you trust, people who are practically family to you, betrayed you can hurt like hell. 

 

The dark, overcast mood has settled over the room, causing the agents to hang their heads and cast suspicious glances out the door. Hotch feels the weight on his chest grow heavier as the true danger to his teammates is revealed. 

 

He looks around, taking in the scared faces of the apprentices and his son, who is clutching so tightly to his paper it begins to tear under his fingers. Hotch steadies himself; he must keep his head for the sake of his son and his team.

 

Hotch plants his palms on the table, looking at his teammates one by one. “We’re going to fix this, we’re going to stop these people, and we’re going to live through it.” He assures them sternly. They nod, one by one, as he scans them. 

 

Finally, Hotch looks at Atlas beside him, her jaw is tight, and her hand is clamped over her left bicep. She seems unhappy but not out of her element. Oddly enough, she looks as though she has a plan. 

 

Hotch lowers his head, whispering as he leans in. “Why do you look like you have a plan?” 

 

She meets his eyes, a different type of spark in them than he is used to seeing. The glow he saw in her the first day they met is somehow different from what he has seen recently, he now realizes. Like an other colored fire buried deep in her eyes. Hotch wonders what it means and if he should be concerned.

 

“Because I do.” She whispers back, a crooked, dark smile creeping up her face, sending a shiver down Hotch’s spine. 

 

“How do you know it’s going to work?”

 

Suddenly, there is a commotion from outside the room, in the central station. Dave shoves his head out the door as the rest of the team stands or tenses. Kassie picks her head up off the table, her hair wild and her eyes wide. Dave turns around, locking eyes with Hotch.

 

“There was another robbery; they’ve got hostages,” he says, stunned.

 

Atlas smiles even wider. “Because fate is on our side.”

 

Chapter Text

Atlas stands at the door to the meeting room with Reid, watching the rest of her team and the officers race from the station. Another robbery is in progress, and this time, they have hostages. Pimento, Lou, Pie, Hernandez, and the deputy are nowhere to be found. 

 

“Stay here, do some digging while the station is empty, see what you can find,” Hotch orders them before joining the group in the SUV. The black car tears down the street in a flash with Morgan at the wheel. 

 

Within moments, Atlas and Reid are left in the dust, with a nearly empty station. They lock eyes, nod, and silently enter the station once more. Finally, hopefully, they can find what they need.

 

Reid moves for the deputy’s desk, and no one questions him as he begins to dig around in her drawers, scanning files quicker than any computer ever could. Atlas turns and walks toward the evidence room, feeling more like an enemy in the police station than ever. It’s hard to tell precisely when it happened, but at some point, Atlas switched seamlessly from agent to hunter and is now using all the instincts that her father taught her to stay alive. 

She enters the dark, cool evidence room. A large closest lined with shelves and filled with boxes, files, and evidence of cases past. She runs her fingers along the boxes as she walks, finding the ones she needs. They were supposed to be given all the information for this case, but as Atlas suspected, they weren’t. So here, on the shelf in the corner of the room, sits an unmarked box with ‘guilty’ practically written all over it.

 

Atlas feels the cold of the room seep through her clothes. That chill of death runs clawed fingers up her spine again, causing the hair on her arms to bristle. Atlas reaches for the box.

 

“I wouldn’t do that if it were you.” A voice says from behind her. Atlas here the click of a loaded gun. She slowly raises her hands but doesn’t turn around.  

 

“You just had to get in the way, didn’t you?” Deputy O’Reilly asks, her voice full of poison and bearly restrained anger. 

 

Atlas figures that it isn’t worth lying at this point. “What’s in the box, deputy?” She asks, very slowly turning around to face O’Reilly, hands in the air.

 

The deputy looks as impeccable as always. Her hair is tied back in a perfect, tight bun that must be giving her a headache. Her eyebrows are perfectly plucked, her fingernails manicured. Her eyes are sharp as flint and nearly the same color. Her uniform has not a spot of dirt on it. Atlas thinks that even if the building came crumbling down around them, the dust would avoid her simply out of fear. 

 

“You really think you’re going to get away with this?” Atlas asks, keeping her voice steady. Staring down the barrel of a gun, Atlas momentarily thinks about calling Gabriel, but she throws the thought away. Gabe has swooped in to save her enough times; Atlas can do this herself. Hotch has taught her that much, at least.

 

“It’s your fault they’re doing this,” O’Reilly growls, grinding her perfect teeth. “They got the hostage idea from you. Barely even listened to me about it.”

 

Atlas shrugs. “And you saw that they weren’t going to listen to you, so you took your chance.” She fills in. “Killing an agent in the getaway will cause a nationwide manhunt, but you knew that already, didn’t you? Your not that stupid.”

 

The deputy’s grip tightens on her gun. Atlas pushes forward, shoving her fear away. She knows that the box behind her contains all the evidence she needs to put these officers away, but first, she has to get out of this little situation.

 

“So, what’s your plan here?” Atlas asks. “You kill me, run away with the evidence, then what? How are your people going to get out? My team and a dozen other officers have them surrounded at that bank, there not going anywhere. So, where do you go next?”

 

Now, the deputy breaks out a wicked smile. “Not me, us.” She says.

 

O’Reilly steps forward, still just out of reach. “You’re coming with me. We’re going to save my people together.” Atlas’s eyes go wide as the deputy waves her gun, signaling Atlas to lead the way out the door. As she begins to walk, the deputy picks up the box, pulling it under her arm without taking her eyes off Atlas. 

 

Now Atlas might be in real trouble. She had thought she could talk the deputy down by showing her she had nowhere to go, but clearly, O’Reilly is smarter than that. So now her only hope is Reid, who is unaware out in the station, and Gabe, if he decides to show up. 

 

Reid doesn’t know what’s happening, and Gabe won’t come quick enough. The rest of her team is out, and her brothers could be half a world away. Atlas is on her own.

 

She tenses, realizing what she has to do. Just before the door, Atlas stops, hearing the deputy halt a few paces behind her. 

 

“What are you doing?” O’Reilly asks, sounding frustrated. “Keep moving!”

 

Atlas doesn’t budge. Just a couple more paces…

 

“Deputy O’Reilly? What are you doing?” A soft voice calls out from behind the pair. O’Reilly whips around as Atlas cranes her head, barely believing what she heard.

 

“Kassie?” the deputy asks, sounding astounded. She lowers her gun only a little. Not enough yet. “What are you doing here?”

 

“What are you doing, deputy? That’s my friend!” Kassie cries, face a mask of sadness and betrayal. Atlas has the heart to feel bad, but not enough to stop and dwell over it. The deputy lowers her gun a little bit more, turning a few more inches away from Atlas. 

 

“Your not supposed to be here, Kassie.” 

 

Kassie shakes her head. “Why, O’Reilly? Just why?” Her voice laced with sadness.

 

The deputy lowers her gun a bit more; Atlas turns slightly, getting just a little bit closer to her, hoping Kassie can distract her for just a moment longer.

 

She shrugs. “We needed the money. Those places had faulty security, and they were going under away. No one was supposed to get hurt.” Her hands tighten on her gun. “Until Lou decided to fucking shoot that guy. If it weren’t for him, you guys would never have been called in.” She pauses, thinking. “And I would never have had to do this.”

 

Before she can think, Atlas launches herself at the deputy, barreling her to the ground. The gun is thrown away, skidding to a stop at Kassie’s feet. Atlas grapples with the deputy on the floor, rolling over as they swing. The deputy may be bigger, but Atlas is stronger than she looks, and she knows how to fight like hell. 

 

O’Reilly throws a punch, splitting Atlas’s lip. Blood fills her mouth as her vision turns red. O’Reilly strikes again, sending pain thrumming through Atlas’s head. Despite the pain, she doesn’t stop.

 

Atlas swings at the taller woman, watching her perfect bun come undone strand by strand. Atlas takes particular pleasure in ruining the officer’s flawless uniform. She plants her foot on O’Reilly’s stomach and shoves her off, sending her flying across the room into one of the shelves; the evidence boxes rattle on impact. 

 

~

 

Though the two women are too busy grappling to see it, Kassie stands in front of them, gun in hand. Her face is troubled as her gaze flickers between the fighters, for she has a choice to make.

 

Deputy O’Reilly, the woman Kassie has known nearly her entire life, turned crooked. 

Deputy O’Reilly, one of the first people to encourage Kassie to try for the FBI, the person who set her on this path.

Deputy O’Reilly, who raised Kassie like her own. Who killed a man. 

 

Angel Atlas, her fellow apprentice, with whom Kassie has walked through some of the hardest parts of her life.

Angel Atlas, her friend who welcomed Kassie into her home and who helped her feel like a good friend again.

Agent Angel Atlas, the brilliant, funny, damaged girl who has sniffed out the crooked cops where Kassie would never have looked. The woman who isn’t afraid to make the hard choices, who isn’t a coward, not like Kassie. 

 

Perhaps Kassie is a coward, exactly as she always feared. She knows that she likes the stage better than the desk. She knows that a gun has never felt comfortable in her hands. She knows that the only time she has ever felt right in this entire god damned job was when she was up on that podium, speaking to the public and the press, telling them that they could sleep a little safer tonight. Kassie knows that one of her friends will die if she doesn’t act now, or maybe they’ll tear each other to shreds while Kassie stands here trying to make her hands move.

 

She looks between the fighting women again. Atlas plants her foot on the deputy’s stomach, throwing her away and into a rattling metal shelf. They don’t seem to notice Kassie standing there, their life in her hands. She looks at them; she looks again.

 

Kassie has been a coward all her life. Telling her parents about her bisexuality, revealing her relationship with Ava to the team, joining the BAU in the first place, she covers it up with flirty smiles and flashing skin, but in reality, Kassie is scared. Terrified of the world around her. 

 

Kassie will be scared no more. So she aims the gun and fires.

 

~

 

Atlas’s ears ring as the sound of a gun firing bounces off the thin metal walls of the evidence room. For a moment, she froze, thinking it was her who had been shot. But by who?

 

Then, Atlas hears a sputter from the deputy, still crumpled against the shelf opposite her. O’Reilly presses her hand to her shoulder; hot, red blood trickles through her fingers. She gently looks at the wound, processing it as fast as Atlas’s frozen brain is. Then, they both turn slowly to stare at the shooter.

 

Kassie stands there, the gun held awkwardly in her hands. She stares wide-eyed at the women, her jaw on the floor. As though even Kassie herself cannot fathom what she just did.

 

Something changes in Kassie’s eyes as she gazes at the wound, blood starting to drip onto the floor. “I did it.” She breathes. “I shot someone.” 

 

Atlas swallows, her throat suddenly dry, but before she can open her mouth to speak, Reid charges into the room, gun drawn. It takes him only a moment to absorb the situation. 

 

He rushes forward, holstering his gun as he kneels by the deputy. He presses his hand to the wound, and she cries out. “Kassie, go call Hotch,” Reid orders her. Kassie doesn’t move. “Kassie, Now!” he yells again. 

 

Kassie finally zones back in. She drops the gun haphazardly on the ground before turning and fleeing the evidence room. 

 

“Atlas, are you alright?” Reid asks, his voice laced with worry. 

 

The world that had been muffled and cloudly a moment ago becomes clear at the sound of her name. She pulls herself up, shaking her tired, sore limbs out. Her split lip hurts, and her ears ring, “I’m alright.” she tells him. 

 

Reid nods, not wasting a moment. Reid and Atlas work quickly, dragging the bedraggled deputy into an empty holding cell. Atlas drops her unceremoniously onto a plain wooden bench before grabbing a medkit. 

 

The agents quickly patch the deputy up as well as they can, with little arguing from O’Reilly. Thankfully, since Atlas doesn’t know if she could hold back another punch if she starts talking. 

 

“Wheres Kassie?” Atlas whispers to Reid as he shuts and locks the cell. 

 

He shakes his head. “I’ll find her and call Hotch. She should be alright for a while, but I’ll call an ambulance.” He starts to walk away, the pauses. “Are you alright?”

 

Atlas nods, her eyes narrowing. There is blood under her fingernails and cuts on her face. But her heart has slowed, and her head is clear. “I’m good. I’ll stay here to watch her. You find the others.” She remembers the hostage situation at the bank all of a sudden. “What about the others? And the hostages?” 

 

Reid shrugs. “I’ll ask.” is all he says before he disappears from the holding room. 

 

The door slams behind him, and all is silent in the room. The quiet is like a big, thick blanket thrown over the room, stuffy and muffled. Atlas is unused to being on this side of a cell door and finds it weirdly comforting. 

 

Atlas stands outside the cell, leaning against the opposite wall, facing the deputy. Atlas looks at her, finally getting a chance to take the taller woman in.

 

O’Reilly’s hair is ruffled and undone, dark strands falling from her bun in messy clumps. Her usually perfect uniform is wrinkled and covered in dust and dirt. Her eyes are narrow as she stares at the ground. White bandaging is visible under her shirt as she buttons it back into place. Atlas imagines she doesn’t look very different. She begins to dust off her shirt when the deputy speaks.

 

“I know who you are.” She says quietly. 

 

Atlas’s head shoots up, a thousand thoughts running through her head. Her hands freeze on her shirt, fear stopping the blood in her veins. “What are you talking about?”

 

The deputy meets her eyes. They are full of disgust and humor, as though all of this is funny.

 

“The great Sage Winchester, showing up at my doorstep trailing behind the FBI like a lost puppy.”  A wicked smile cuts through her face; Atlas feels her eyes widen. “Oh, yes, I know who you are. I ran into you and your brothers a few years back. You killed some people, but we never caught you. I’m surprised you don’t remember.”

 

Atlas doesn’t remember. She’s been to so many places, killed so many monsters and people alike; how could she remember them all?

 

“I’m honestly more surprised that your team hasn’t figured it out yet,” O’Reilly says.

 

Atlas growls, anger and fear flooding her. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

If O’Reilly reveals her, Atlas is doomed. She’ll go to jail; her team will hate her; her family will run to save her and will tear down everything and everyone in their way. If Atlas is revealed, everything will crumble.

 

“Oh, but I think you do,” She whispers. Atlas grinds her teeth. The deputy stands, limping heavily toward the door until she is leaning on the cell, peeking her head through the metal bars. “I’ll make you a deal. You get me out of here, and I’ll keep your secret. I won’t tell anyone.” She pauses, letting the reality of the situation sink in. “But if you don’t, I’ll tell them all. I’ll tell it to anyone who will listen. Soon, your whole team will know who you are. And I can’t imagine they’ll take that well.” she shrugs. 

 

Atlas’s anger curls like fire in her chest. She rushes forward suddenly, shamming her hands into the bars with a loud crash, teeth bared. The deputy stumbles back, shocked by the impact. 

 

“You will say nothing,” Atlas growls, fingers trembling. She grips onto the metal tighter to hide it. 

 

O’Reilly smiles wickedly, limping forward a few paces until the women are face to face. “As long as I remember,” she starts, “Your my pawn.”

 

A thought sparks in Atlas’s head at the words. She glances away, ignoring the deputy as she continues to talk. Instead, Atlas calls upon Gabriel as loudly and silently as she can. 

 

“I don’t care about the others, but you’re going to help me get out. And I know you won’t kill me because you simply won’t risk your position in the FBI. Which is exactly why you’re going to get me out of here.”

 

Atlas begins to wish she would just shut up at this point, but Gabe doesn’t respond. Unfortunately, Atlas doesn’t have time to wait. The others will be back soon; Atlas needs to do something now. 

 

“Tick-tock,” O’Reilly singsongs. 

 

Come on, Gabe, where are you?

 

But Gabriel doesn’t show up. Precious seconds slip by, and Atlas’s guardian angel fails to appear. So she decides to change tactics.

 

“Well?” O’Reilly asks, “What’s it gonna be?”

 

Suddenly, the wind blows despite there being no open windows in the room. Atlas hears a rustle of feathers behind her. Hope sparks through the fear freezing her veins. 

 

She turns on her heels, dark hair, crystal blue eyes, and a pale trench coat coming unto view. Atlas feels a smile break out on her face despite the threat of the deputy behind her. “Cas,” She greets him warmly.

 

Castiel nods his head, eyes flickering to the cell and the injured deputy. “What’s wrong? I got your call and came as fast as I could, though your brothers may be suspicious.”

 

Atlas waves her hand. “They’ll live. I need your help.”

 

“I assumed.” He says flatly, as sassy as always. 

 

Atlas can feel time slipping between her fingers; they have to move quickly if they want this to work. She points to the deputy while looking at Cas. “Her. She knows who I am. I need you to erase her memory.” Atlas turns to face O’Reilly. The woman’s face is pale, and her eyes are wide. Atlas can practically see her brain fizzing out as she tries to understand where Cas came from. She may know who Atlas really is, but she has no idea what she really does.

 

“Are you sure about that?” He asks, looking at O’Reilly while talking painfully slow. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”

 

“Look, Cas, as long as she remembers who I am, I’m in danger. And that means that the boys are in danger too. She has to live, or I could be charged for the murder of a cop, but she cannot know who I am.” Atlas talks fast.

 

Atlas distantly hears the station’s front door open, chatter drifting through the air and into the cell. O’Reilly’s face is lined with fear, but hope seeps through the cracks.

 

“Were running out of time, Cas. Please,” She begs. “I’ll owe you.”

 

Castiel looks at her; blue eyes narrowed as he takes her in. Atlas feels that he sees right through her; she hates it when he does that. Finally, after what feels like an impossibly long time, he nods.

 

Cas steps forward, moving through the metal bars of the cell as if there is nothing but mist. Atlas looks at the door, her heart racing. The deputy scrambles back, falling onto her rear as she rushes to get away from the angel. But Cas pushes forward, slowly, relentlessly. 

 

Finally, O’Reilly’s back is up against the wall. Her eyes are wide, and her breathing is coming in short gasps, her hair wildly framing her face. Cas says no words of comfort as he leans down and places his hand on the deputy’s forehead. She opens her mouth as though she’s going to scream, but no words come out. 

 

Instead, blue light pours from her mouth, eyes, and nose, the same light glowing in the pits of Castiel’s eyes too. It only lasts for a moment, almost soundless, before the deputy drops unconscious, slouching over as the light fades. Cas removes his hand, standing and stepping back. Atlas can hear the voices outside getting closer.

 

Cas turns and meets her eyes. He looks at her as though he has something he wants to say but holds his tongue. Atlas wonders what he’s thinking about. 

 

“Thank you,” Atlas breathes. 

 

He simply nods; then, like all the other angels, he is gone. 



Chapter Text

“Oh, calm down, Ava. They’re going to love you.” Kassie reassures her girlfriend.

 

Ava rolls her eyes. “Parents don’t love me. They judge me.”

 

Kassie snickers and shakes her head, wondering where Ava came up with that ridiculous idea. Why would she ever think that? Because of her tattoos? Her makeup? Her muscles? All things Kassie loves and things she’s sure her parents won’t judge them for.

 

Almost certain. 

 

Kassie and Ava are standing outside her parent’s house, the sun low in the sky. The air is wet and warm against Kassie’s back, open to the world in her blood-red dress. Ava is wearing a professional-looking pantsuit with one too many buttons open. Though if you ask Kassie, she thinks it’s one too few. 

 

Kassie is holding a box of pastries from her family’s favorite bakery, the pink box tinted by the fading light. She looks down at the box before shoving it into Ava’s hands. 

 

“You hold it. My mother will like you better if you bring her food.” Kassie states. 

 

Ava nods. “I can’t remember the last time iv had desert.”

 

Kassie makes a heartbroken face, placing her hand on her chest. And she wonders why Ava is so skinny. She doesn’t eat dessert! What an awful life. Kassie opens her mouth to give her girlfriend and piece of her mind and maybe a pastry, but her mother throws open the door in front of them before she can.

 

“Kassie! It’s so good to see you!” Kassie’s mom, Melissa Bell, reaches out to her daughter, wrapping her in a hug. Melissa is a tall, wide woman with Kassie’s wavy light brown hair and big eyes. Her smile is as warm as a sunny Florida day as she invites them inside. 

 

Melissa takes the box from Ava’s hands, thanking her profusely and waving her forward. Before Kassie can follow, her mother grabs her gently by the arm, pulling her aside.

 

“Be careful with your father. He’s pleased to see you, but he’s fragile right now.” Her mom whispers. Kassie meets her eyes and nods, a silent agreement. 

 

She trots up to Ava, who narrows her eyes. Kassie smiles reassuringly, hoping that Ava knows to be gentle without her saying. Although, Ava is usually anything but delicate. But the smaller woman meets her eyes and nods. She was probably eavesdropping as she likes to do, and for once, Kassie doesn’t mind. 

 

“Hi, Dad,” Kassie smiles and embraces her dad, whose smile doesn’t reach his eyes. He kisses her cheeks and greets her, then shakes Ava’s hand.

 

“Shall we eat?” Melissa waves at the table.

 

Kassie smiles again, looping her arm through Ava’s, forcing her to sit in front of the giant meal. Ava looks nearly overwhelmed with the amount of food, but Kassie isn’t surprised. Her mother always goes all out when they have guests over.

 

They talk through the night, stuffing their faces with potatoes and cheese and vegetables and meat. Kassie loves every minute of it. Since she was a child, she has adored her mother’s cooking, and being away has only made her want it more. Ava slowly begins to eat, gradually getting more comfortable around Kassie’s parents. Ava begins to answer their questions more and more willingly, although she never eats much. 

 

At one point, Melissa expresses her concern for Ava’s low weight. “You must eat something, Hunny, or you’re going to starve!” Kassie had laughed while holding her girlfriend back.

 

The night was filled with laughter and stories, and though her dad was more sullen than usual, it was still a fun evening. Ava manages to smile and talk without throwing any punches, which is a new record for her. Usually, Kassie is the one talking while Ava nods and smiles, forcing Ava to actually talk to others never ends well.

 

Soon enough, the night has ended, and Kassie and Ava are on dish duty. Kassie washes while Ava dries. They stand silently beside each other, swaying to the soft classical music playing in the background, though Ava would never admit it. 

 

“So, did you enjoy my mother cooking and her awful stories?” Kassie snickers.

 

Ava exhales, a smile tinging her lips, “Your mom’s stories weren’t that bad.”

 

“Oh, Please,” Kassie rolls her eyes. “Those are the stories she tells to her friends at wine club, there not supposed to be interesting. You did a good job pretending, though.” Kassie’s hip bumps her lightly.

 

Ava opens her mouth to speak again but stops, hands freezing on the dish. Kassie is about to ask before she hears it, too, her dad speaking to someone in a stressed, confused voice from the living room beside the kitchen. Kassie and Ava exchange a look, eyes narrowed. Kassie knows she shouldn’t be listening in on her dad’s conversation, but she is a coward, and it certainly piques her interest.

 

“She was saying what, Thompson?” Her dad sighs, Kassie can hear him ruffling his hair. “You’re telling me that my deputy, who has been in holding for less than 24 hours, has completely lost her mind? Yelling about the Winchesters and an angel? The Winchesters are one thing; she worked that case years ago, but angels? O’Reilly has never been the religious type...” He trails off.

 

What is he talking about? Deputy O’Reilly has gone mad in her holding cell? That doesn’t make any sense, and it certainly doesn’t sound like O’Reilly.

 

Maybe it was Kassie who drove her mad. She did shoot her, after all. It was the first time in her whole life she felt like more than just a mouse on the sidelines. The first time she actually did something to help someone, and she was shooting her oldest friend. A pit sinks in Kassie’s stomach, but she pushes it aside to listen to her father.

 

“Where did all that rambling crap come from anyway? Why does she suddenly care about Sage Winchester so much?” Her father signs again, his voice taut. Kassie lowers the sink’s water pressure just enough to hear him clearly; her fingers are slippery with soap and sweat on the handles. Why is she sweating? 

 

“Listen, Thompson,” The officer dad has assigned a temporary deputy while O’Reilly is in holding. Dad’s voice suddenly grows hard. “There’s no reason for her to be talking about some cold case from years ago. I know that case hit her hard, but still. Give her something to calm her nerves, and I’ll deal with it tomorrow after Kassie leaves. For right now, I want to be with my daughter, got it?” after a moment, he hangs up the phone.

 

Kassie and Ava hastily resume washing the dishes when they hear his footsteps coming toward them from the living room. They stare down at their hands, exchanging only a guarded glance. Captain Bell walks back into the kitchen to bid the girls goodnight.

 

“Well, I’m going to retire to bed,” He says calmly, stress only an edge in his voice now. “You too should as well. I’ll see you tomorrow. Love you, Kassie.” he kisses her on the cheek and waves goodnight to Ava before heading up the stairs to bed.

 

Once they can no longer hear his footsteps on the creaky stairs, Kassie breathes a sigh, turning off the water. Ava raises an eyebrow at her.

 

“What was that about?” She whispers, studying Kassie’s face.

 

She shrugs, “No idea.”

 

Ava looks ahead; eyes narrowed as she places the last plate down on the drying rack. She has her thinking face on, Kassie almost smiles at its intensity. “Why would O’Reilly lose her mind and yell about Sage Winchester after only a few hours in holding?”

 

Kassie sighs. “That’s the big question, isn’t it?” They both know of the Winchesters; they are pretty much infamous. And their own mentors were the ones to chase them, so they do love to retell the story. They know that the Winchesters are cop-killing, grave-digging psychopaths who have some sort of crooked mission and will kill anyone who gets in their way. They are seriously messed up in the head. 

 

Ava shakes her head, eye dark. “No. the big question is; what triggered this? Why does O’Reilly bring Sage up all of a sudden? I mean, it’s not like she could have seen her, or we would have.”

 

“Do we even know what she looks like?” Kassie asks suddenly, running her hands along the edge of the sink. “We know what Sam and Dean look like, but the only picture of Sage we have is years old. She could look like anyone, be anyone.”

 

Ava finally turns towards her, tilting her head. “What are you saying?” she says, even though she definitely knows exactly what Kassie is going to say.

 

Kassie sighs, gravity suddenly five times stronger. “What if Sage was there? I know O’Reilly; she isn’t crazy.” But apparently, she is crooked, so maybe Kassie doesn’t know her as well as she thought. “Your right that this wouldn’t just come out of nowhere; something must have triggered it. So is it possible that she was there? That Sage Winchester was right under our noses, and we didn’t see her?”

 

Ava shakes her head, lost at the thought of being tricked. She doesn’t respond.

 

Kassie turns away, leaning against the sink to stare at the dining room table. 

 

Is it possible? Could she be right? Could one of the most remarkable criminals in the country have been right under their noses this whole time? But why would she be here? Why risk being caught? And where are her brothers? There seldom apart; Morgan has a theory of codependency for that. 

 

If it’s not true, Kassie will feel just awful for driving O’Reilly to madness in just a few hours, though that isn’t supposed to happen to someone who isn’t half-mad already.

 

If it is true, if by some slight chance Sage Winchester was there, then Kassie feels more cowardly than ever. Because she was so caught up in her own feeling and stress that she overlooked a killer right under their noses.

 

No matter what’s true, Kassie knows one thing for sure as she feels dread creep over her like a cold blanket. Something awful is going to happen. Something so terrible it will tear their whole world in two.

Chapter Text

Two Months Later

One Year After Joining The BAU

 

It's a perfectly normal day in the BAU. The sun is shining into the bullpen; the coffee is fresh, the people are happy.

 

But today, on this perfectly ordinary day, something awful is going to happen. 

 

Atlas can feel it. She can feel it in her bones. The type of ache and paranoia she gets when she knows that a monster is lurking around the next corner, just out of sight. 

 

Atlas shifts on her feet in the small half-kitchen while she waits for the coffee. She doesn't know exactly what's going to happen, only that it's going to be bad. And if she isn't prepared, it might end in flames. 

 

“Hey, you alright? You seem a little jumpy today.” Milo says from behind her. His dark eyes are soft and lit up from the sun glare, but his lips are pressed into a thin line.

 

Atlas shrugs, not realizing how contagious her anxious energy is. “I’m fine. Just a bad feeling.”

 

Milo tilts his head. “Bad feeling about what?”

 

Atlas shrugs again, turning away. “Don’t know yet.”

 

Milo leans back, tapping his feet in his pointed dress shoes. “Let’s hope you don’t have to wait long.” He says, dropping his voice.

 

Atlas doesn’t think about it as she pours her coffee, adding a healthy amount of sugar. Milo fills his own cup after her, adding an unhealthy amount of sugar. 

 

“Do you really need that much sweets?” Atlas asks. “Arnt you energetic enough already?”

 

Milo shrugs, sipping his overly sweet coffee. “Got a reputation to maintain.” Atlas hums in agreement, following him to his and JJ’s desk.

 

The rest of the team is seated at, on, and around the desks in the bullpen, with only Garcia, Hotch, and Rossi missing. Ava is sitting on the floor with Kassie lying down, head on her girlfriend’s lap. Brooks sits on Reid’s desk beside them, her dark halo of tight curls bouncing as she talks to the genius at lightning speed about some sciency thing Atlas can’t even begin to comprehend. Jack and Leo face each other, criss-cross on the floor, throwing down shiny, colorful cards with dramatic shouts. 

 

Atlas’s eyes don’t linger on Jack for long. It’s been months since their almost relationship ended, and it’s been surprisingly alright. Jack hasn’t approached her since, and Hotch explained that he has been spending more time with his son, who is learning to divert his energy elsewhere. Like this card game, for example. 

 

“Can you guys believe it’s been nearly a year since we joined the BAU?” Brooks claps her hands, gold bracelets jingling. Milo and Atlas lean against the desk opposite her, sipping their coffee.

 

“Has it really? Emily asks, eyes wide.

 

“In a few days.” JJ nods across from her. 

 

Emily smiles sadly, “We’ve been through a lot in just a year.” 

 

“With this job? That’s nothing new.” Reid taps his pen against his leg rapidly.

 

“But at least now, we know what’s next.” Brooks bounces on her seat. “Aint nothing bad gonna happen before our first anniversary; I just know it.”

 

Atlas’s stomach sinks further. The monster around the corner inches closer. 

 

“Uh oh,” Emily says, looking past them. “I wouldn’t bet on that just yet.”

 

The group turns to the glass doors of the bullpen, seeing Garcia walking hurriedly down the hall. She has a worried look on her face, a file and a tablet in her hand, her brows are creased, and her chunky bracelets are jumbled, as though she has been fiddling with them hastily.

 

Garcia enters the room, throwing the group a pained look. “This is a rough one,” She says sadly. Then, as one, the group rises to gather in the round room, though Garcia disappears into Hotch’s office. 

 

Atlas takes her seat toward the head of the table, gut sinking. This is bad, very, very bad. This is a calamity. She can feel it. The monster is about to jump; it’s going to dig its claws into her and tear her throat out. It’s going to take her eyes, her tongue, her heart. It’s going to rip her to shreds, leave ribbons of her draped across the room. Atlas can feel it; she can-

 

“Alright, friends, this is a bad one, so be prepared.” Garcia’s sweet, sad voice yanks Atlas from her spiral, her heavy eyes scanning the room, locking on Morgan for a second longer than necessary. She looks to Hotch behind Atlas, who nods for her to proceed. Atlas hadn’t even noticed them come in. 

 

Garcia clicks the remote, dozens of photos appear on the screen. “This is an old one, guys. And a pretty sucky one too.” Bodies show up on the screen; each one is more brutal than the last. But something is wrong with them. The bodies are crooked, arms and legs bent in odd directions. They are lying on painted red circles; lines are crisscrossing under their bodies. Their eyes are open and vacant, and there are strange pools of water around them, along with the blood leaking from their noses, but that’s as far as the visible injuries go. 

 

Then, her dad’s face appears on the screen.

 

Garcia turns to them, sighing and solemn. “The Winchesters have returned.”

 

~

 

Chaos.

 

That’s what happens when Garcia announces that the infamous Winchesters have returned. 

 

Chaos around Atlas, chaos inside her.

 

Around her, Morgan slams his fist onto the table, speaking harshly as Reid tries to calm him. The apprentices are whispering to each other quickly, eyes bright but worried. Hotch and Rossi exchange a knowing and worried glance.

 

But it’s as though Atlas is watching through someone else’s eyes. Her hands don’t feel like her own, and for a moment, time seems to stop completely. Sound slows to a stop, angry faces frozen, mouths open. 

 

Inside her, the monster has leaped. Her thoughts are spiraling. They’ve found her; they’ve found her brothers. They’re going to kill her, arrest her, throw her in prison to rot. All the awful things they could do, they will do. They’ll-

 

No. They are her friends, and they won’t hurt her. They won’t. Atlas has to believe that, and she has to figure out what to do. At this moment, where time has stopped, she has to think. She may never have another chance to assess her options.

 

She could run. Get up now and flee before they make the connection. Become a fugitive again, betray her friends. Atlas knows how to live on the streets, on her own. She’d head home first, grab her gun and whatever cash she has saved. She’ll shed this alias, take a new name, new face. Maybe she won’t even leave a note behind.

 

But if she runs now, her team will chase her to the ends of the earth. She has seen their determination, their skill. They will never stop chasing her, though they probably won’t catch her.

 

And if she runs, Atlas will never get the chance to explain. 

 

So, no running. She has to stay, work this out, but how?

 

Her time in this frozen world is running out; she can feel it. The sands are slipping through her fingers, threatening to drown her. Atlas has to choose something now, or she’s fucked. 

 

Time starts to speed up again, sound slowly comes back to her. The team begins to move, slowly at first, then faster. Then, at once, sound comes back, slamming her ears like a tidal wave. 

 

Time returns to normal, and Atlas has no idea what to do. 

 

~

 

“Why the fuck were we told about this earlier?” Morgan yells from across the desk, shocking Atlas back into reality. His face is strained, but his eyes are on fire. “A dozen people dead, and we're just getting this case now? Why would Strauss keep this from us.” He slams his fist on the table, anger rolling off him in waves.

 

Morgan is pissed, absolutely, utterly raging. At Strauss, at the Winchesters, at Atlas. 

 

Atlas looks around the table, ice creeping up her veins. The others have the same look on their faces. Emily’s hands are fists; Milo is aggressively tapping his feet; even Hotch looks upset, his brows knit and narrow.

 

And for this first time in nearly a year, Atlas is terrified of the people, the team around her. Her team. 

 

Not if they don't find out who she is.

 

But what is she going to do?

 

“We should have been told sooner,” JJ adds, hair swishing. 

 

Hotch nods. “I know. Strauss kept this from us, and I don’t know why but I intend to find out. For now, though, we work this case like we would any other. And we will not -” He glares at Morgan, “Get over-emotional.”

 

Rossi tips his head, gazing at the pictures on the screen. “Like any other case.” He agrees.

 

Atlas follows his gaze to the screen, pointedly avoiding her father’s face. She narrows her eyes at the pictures of bodies and the odd features surrounding them. 

 

It appears that the bodies are resting on demon traps, painted on the floor in red spray paint. If those people were possessed by demons when they were alive, then that liquid around them is likely holy water. So someone was torturing demons. But why not clean up after? Why not move the bodies? What kind of hunter would just leave them there? 

 

“How long has it been since they resurfaced?” Reid asks, hand on Morgans’ arm. 

 

“Nearly seven years,” Morgan replies automatically. 

 

“I thought John Winchester was dead?” Leo cocks his head. 

 

If only. Atlas thinks.

 

“How do we know this is them?” 

 

Rossi shakes his head. “John Winchester disappeared a few years before the kids went underground; some thought he was dead, killed by the kids or someone else, but there’s never been any evidence of it, so it’s possible he’s still alive.” He pauses. “Speaking of the kids, don’t we have photos of them?”

 

Garcia nods. “Yes, but not in digital form since this case is old. Plus, we don’t have recent photos of the kids anyway.” 

 

Hearing the team talk about Atlas and her brothers is so strange, as thoughts, she’s living through someone else. They keep calling them kids. 

 

“Did anyone ever figure out why they kill people like this? What is this ritual for?” Ava asks, eyes trained on the screen.

 

Morgan nods. “This was my first cold case when I started here. I made a profile marking them as psychopaths with advanced delusions and possibly codependent, especially the brothers.”

 

Atlas’s temper flares. “They’re not psychopaths.” She spat. Codenpent, maybe. But psychopaths? No way.

 

The group turned to her. “How do you know?” Rossi asks, eyes narrowed. 

 

Only then does Atlas realize she can’t actually back that statement up, not without being horribly suspicious. “Something just doesn’t add up.” She mutters.

 

Hotch nods. “Atlas is right about that. Unfortunately, nothing about this case has ever added up right. Since the death of the mother, Mary Winchester, this family has been on a downward spiral of crime and killing.”

 

Atlas tries not to flinch at her mother’s name, though she barely remembers her. Dean said she has their mom’s face. Well, he said it once, when he was drunk and sad because he never talks about mom any other time. 

 

“For now, though,” Hotch continues, unaware of Atlas’s grief. “We work on this case like normal. Go dig up everything we have on the Winchesters from the basement. That includes your file, Morgan. We’ll stay here for now since the last crime scene has already been processed. Let’s get to work.” and with that, the group disperses, most of the apprentices following their mentors to the basement. Atlas stays where she is, thinking.

 

“You alright?” Reid asks, across the table from Atlas.

 

She nods, forcing a smile. “I’m fine, just don’t like this case, is all.”

 

He narrows his eyes, but nods. “It is a strange one. Don’t let it get to you. The Winchesters may be monsters, but they can’t get to us here. This place is safe as any.” he smiles at her.

 

Atlas smiles back. Oh, how wrong you are. 

 

Reid walks away, leaving Atlas and Garcia alone in the round room. Garcia is distracted by something on her tablet. Atlas’s eyes flicker quickly before she swipes out her phone. Atlas is so fearful and anxious; she doesn’t think to use her secure meeting room to text her brothers.

 

Group chat

 

Losechesters

 

Me (Atlas), Moose (Sam), and Squirrel (Dean)

 

Me

They’re onto us. We have your case. You need to get as far away from DC as possible.

 

Me

Someone’s been torturing and killing demons without cleaning up. They think it’s you and dad. 

 

Moose

Seriously? It wasn’t us, might have been dad though.

 

Me

He hasn’t resurfaced in years?

 

Moose

Well…

 

Squirrel

Sammy, private chat

 

Me

Hey!??

 

There is a pause in the conversation as Dean and Sam talk apart from Atlas; she frowns, feeling left out.

 

Me

????

 

Squirrel 

Okay fine

We have something to tell you about dad

 

What’s wrong with dad? 

 

Atlas waits, tapping her foot rapidly as she watches the three dots appear on the screen. There is a pit in her stomach. Something is wrong; she can feel it.

 

“Atlas,” Reid breathes, standing across from her once more. There is an old box in front of him, along with many of the others. Atlas hadn’t even noticed them come in.

 

Atlas opens her mouth to speak, but the words catch in her throat. Reid is holding an evidence bag in front of him. Inside it is a long, slender, dark knife. Identical to the ones on Atlas’s wrists. 

 

“Atlas,” Reid breathes again, betrayal and disbelief written across his face. Hotch looks up at the first from across the room, the same look with sadness in his eyes.

 

I’ve been caught.

 

~

 

“Hey Hotch, can you look at this for me?” Morgan asks.

 

Hotch stands at the doorway to the round room, watching the agents file in with boxes and paperwork, all about the Winchester case. Everyone is working hard, except for Atlas, who is fixed to her phone. 

 

Hotch turns his attention to Morgan and his thick personal folder. “What is it?”

 

He opens it and begins flipping through the pages. “There’s this old photo of Sage Winchester that I from when she was a kid, and I just feel like I should know her from somewhere.”

 

Hotch narrows his eyes at his agent but agrees. Morgan pulls out the small picture.

 

Hotch scans it, knowing right away. But that can’t be right, can it? The brown-blond hair, the green eyes, the freckles, the fresh healing cuts around her eyebrows and cheeks. But the thing that makes her stand out the most is the dangerous glint in her eyes. The one that says don’t mess with me.

 

Hotch would know that look anywhere.

 

He’s been looking in her eyes for nearly a year. He’s been looking in Sage Winchesters’ green-as-grass eyes for almost a year and had no idea. 

 

The weight of the world comes down on Hotch’s shoulders as he looks up, gaze locking on Atlas, who is no longer staring at her phone. 

 

Instead, she is staring a Reid, who is holding an evidence bag in his hand, something dark and heavy inside. But Hotch doesn’t need to see it to know the truth.

 

Lier

 

~

 

I’ve been caught

 

Stars collide, the color of blood. Worlds clash, sound explodes in her ears—a supernova inside her, red and green and blue, and murderous. Atlas’s phone falls to the floor, forgotten. Nobody hears it buzz. 



Group chat

 

Loosechesters

 

Squirrel

Dad is back, and he’s coming after you. 



Chapter Text

Lier

 

Lier

 

Lier

 

The word rings through Hotch’s head like a bell as he stares at his apprentice. Former apprentice? Convict? Hotch doesn’t know anymore.

 

Hotch looks away from Atlas’s stunned face to Reid. His former apprentice has wide eyes; his mind whirls as fast as Hotch’s when they meet.

 

Is this true? Reid seems to be asking.

 

Hotch frowns, nodding slowly; I’m afraid so.

 

Reid’s face falls as he looks down at the item in his hand. Atlas looks between them; her eyes are wide and desperate. 

 

“I can explain.” She croaks. 

 

Suddenly, anger flares up inside Hotch. Without warning, he storms forward, clasping Atlas in his grasp. She cries out, drawing the attention of the other agents.

 

“Hotch?” Emily asks, eyes narrowing. “What are you doing.” 

 

Hotch doesn’t stop to answer her as he drags Atlas from her chair with little protest. Though the others voice their concerns, but not loud enough. Hotch doesn’t hear them over the rushing of blood in his ears and betrayal in his head. 

 

Suddenly, it all starts to add up. From the first day Atlas arrived in this building, she has been different. She somehow got into Quantico full of knives, which she proceeded to use on an unsub, which she should never have done. She is terrified of her father, who, by her descriptions, perfectly matches the profile of John Winchester. The violent drunk, prone to delusions after the death of his wife.

 

Her brothers that she talks about in vague, the family she rarely mentions. She even went as far as to give them fake names. Micheal and Lucy. Hotch practically spits.

 

He drags Atlas from the round room and down the stairs, ignoring the protests of the others, though they are quieter now. Hotch catches Reid and Morgan showing Rossi and Emily the evidence from the corner of his eye. Atlas doesn’t give him any trouble.

 

Which just confuses him even more, Hotch would have expected her to fight for her life, but she barely touched him aside from his iron grip on her arm, tight enough to bruise.

 

What else has she lied about?

 

Who was that Benny guy? What happened during that whole case? Everyone had assumed Benny had been a part of that and that he had helped them escape, though Hotch had refused to believe Atlas was a part of it. Perhaps she was. Maybe she ran the whole operation, killing people and slipping away from right under their noses. 

 

And then, even earlier, her kidnapping and miraculous escape, Hotch still doesn’t know how she did it. Did she have help? And why did those men hate her so much? Because they knew who she was? 

 

The secret message board no one can get into. Is that how she communicates with her family? What information has she been feeding them? Has she sold out the entire team? Put them all in danger? Why? Hotch thought they could trust her, his own apprentice.

 

 Oh, how wrong he was.

 

Hotch throws open the door to the interrogation room, blood pounding in her ears. He swings her around, ignoring her stricken face, and pleas to explain. Instead, he roughly reaches into her sleeves, yanking her knives out by the hilts. He’ll put them somewhere safe later. 

 

“Hotch, wait, please. Let me explain; I can explain!” She pleads.

 

Hotch doenst liten to her. Instead, he practically tosses her into the room, his head spinning. The truth of her betrayal runs circles around him. He feels his foolishness rising up before him, a guilty tide he may not overcome. Nothing hits them worse; nothing hurts more than a betrayal. Not a broken heart, not a death, not a failure, because betrayal is all of those things.

 

It’s his own broken heart, knowing that she never cared about any of them the way they cared about her. It’s the death of the person he thought he knew, who never existed at all. It’s a failure, a failure to notice, failure to stop it, failure to see that Atlas, his apprentice, his friend, was his enemy the whole time. 

 

She reaches out, pulling herself up from the floor with a grunt. Hotch absently wonders if he hurt her badly, but he shoves the thought away.  She has hurt them all worse. She stabbed them all in the back, feeding their information to killers and psychopaths.

 

Atlas is a killer and psychopath.

 

No, not Atlas anymore.

 

“It’s over, Sage.” Hotch watches her face fall, feels his heart shatter in his chest. He closes the door, pressing his forehead against the cool metal. He breathes, “It’s all over.” 

 

~

 

The BAU stands in the watching room, staring through the window at Atlas as Anderson handcuffs her to the table. Her head is bowed, and she doesn’t speak to the agent, who looks as stricken as Hotch feels.

 

The air in the room is silent and suffocating. The hilts of Atlas’s knives dig into Hotch’s palms, the cool metal keeping him grounded. 

 

He wonders how many people these knives have killed, how much blood is on Atlas’s- Sage’s- hands. The Winchesters are ruthless killers who just had another dozen bodies added to their pile; how many are Sage responsible for? How many throats has she slit? How many bodies has she buried? Or dug up, for that matter, since the Winchesters are also famous grave robbers for god knows what reason. 

 

Hotch sighs, how quickly things change. He thinks. How many times is he going to have to learn this lesson?

 

Piece by piece, he had once thought.

 

He had once thought he would piece together Sage’s life bit by bit, using the drops of information she gave him. He had felt that he would help her, heal her, make her the best of them, but now that dream has all come crumbling down. 

 

“She joined us nearly a year ago,” Reid breathes, face stricken. Hotch doesn’t know where he’s going with this but doesn’t interrupt. “On her first case, she killed a man because she thought he was going to hurt a civilian or one of us. We thought that showed loyalty, empathy-” 

 

“But now it just looks like she was bloodthirsty and trying to gain our trust.” Emily jumps in, voice full of venom.

 

Hotch can’t quite believe that, not with the things Sage had confessed to him afterward, not with the fear he saw in her eyes. He just can’t. 

 

Reid speaks again. “She was kidnapped by two men none of us knew, but they knew her. We found a secure, secret chatroom on her phone but could never break into it. Whoever was running it admitted caring for her and went so far as to help us rescue her. But we barely needed to because she miraculously escaped, taking down two fully armed men on her own. Which we thought valiant and brave….”

 

“And impossible,” Morgan mutters.

 

Reid nods. “We had called it lucky and had stopped looking. Then there was the witch in New Orleans.” Hotch had forgotten about that. But now he remembers that Reid had been with Sage at the time, up close and personal to the so-called witch. “He had spoken to her as if he knew her, had talked about her brothers like he knew them. I didn’t even know she had a family then. I just thought she was sensitive about it, but now, looking back, it seems so strange that I didn’t see it before.”

 

Morgan rubs Reid’s arm; anger is masked momentarily behind concern. “It’s not your fault; none of us saw this coming. You couldn’t have.”

 

Reid sighs, nodding. He looks away for only a moment before starting again. “Then there was the vampire case. There was Benny, the old friend of her brothers, which you guys only then learned existed. We thought it was odd that he had shown up, how they had acted, but we assumed she was just caught off guard. What else was there to think? Then the killers had disappeared, and she hadn’t seemed bothered at all. We thought the case was getting to her, that she was happy to be rid of it. But maybe she was covering for the ones causing it.”

 

Reid continues, speaking faster and faster with each word. “She had seen corrupt cops before anyone else, despite never working with them before. Or maybe she has. She moved about the station as though she was a criminal in their midst, not an agent. While in her cell, deputy O’Reilly had been screaming about Sage Winchester, and we hadn’t seen it then, but she was trying to warn us. Maybe she had recognized her, but something else had happened. The deputy had gone mad. Maybe she had done something, maybe something had happened, but either way, we didn’t see it.” Reid finally stops, letting the accusations hand in the air.

 

Hotch breathes, “You won’t say her name.” He says quietly, not looking away from the window.

 

Reid shrugs. “I don’t know what to call her anymore,” he whispers.

 

Hotch grinds his teeth, anger like a roaring flame inside him. “Her name. Her real name.” He spins to face them, eyes made of steel. “Sitting before us is one of the most dangerous criminals of all time. Sage Winchester, a killer, a grave robber, a kidnapper, and a traitor. She is dangerous beyond our understanding, and we will treat her as such.” he states, voice devoid of all emotion besides splintered rage. 

 

“This can’t be true.” Milo’s voice breaks through the crowd. He is standing at the back, his arms slack at his sides, and his eyes are empty. “She’s our friend; Atlas is our friend! We can’t actually believe this, right?” He looks around desperately, but everyone diverts their eyes.

 

“He’s right.” Garcia jumps in, eyes wet. “We don’t have any real evidence on her. Her knives are the same; the photo looks similar, so what? That’s not enough; we know that.” 

 

“Well,” Emily says, holding a phone in her hand. “There is one way to find out.”

 

“Is that her phone?” Kassie says, voice high and strained. She is gripping onto Ava’s arm with an iron lock.

 

Emily nods. “She has one unopened text. From ‘Squirrel’” She furrows her brows, confused. 

 

“Her brothers, maybe?” Morgan says.

 

Emily shrugs before reading. “It’s rather creepy. ‘Dad is back, and he’s coming after you.’” another heaviness settles over the room. Hotch feels like he’s suffocating. How much more of this can he take before it crushes him? 

 

Emily hands the phone over to Garcia, who begrudgingly takes it, tears in her eyes. “Can you crack this?” Emily asks, with the courtesy to keep her voice soft. 

 

Garcia nods, looking at the phone. “Yea,” she whispers, “Yea, I’ll get into it. Come on.”

 

Garcia turns, slowly leading the way from the window room. Her heels click softly on the floor, the shuffle of feet behind her loud in the quiet halls. The others can do nothing but follow, heart heavy. 

 

Hotch feels like a failure, like he’s lost everything he has worked so hard for over the last year. All because he couldn’t see beyond the shadowed eyes and sly hands of his own apprentice. And now they’re about to see the full extent of what Sage has done, what she has done to them. 

 

Garcia takes her seat at her computers, the rest of the team piles into the small, dark room. Any other time, Hotch might have called it cozy, but now it just feels suffocating. The air in the room crackles with nerves as the agents shift on their feet, wringing their hands and cracking knuckles. 

 

Garcia plugs the phone into her computer, pausing. “Are you sure about this?” she asks quietly, turning back to the agents. She looks at each of them one by one, stopping finally on Hotch.

 

He can’t stop now, not when they’re already this far in. Sage has dragged them all into deep trouble, and now it’s Hotch’s job to drag them all out.

 

Hotch nods, staring at the screen, “Do it.” He orders.

 

Garcia sighs, looking away. After a horribly slow moment, she presses the keyboard. The screens flood with info, all of it. Hotch’s heart shatters in his chest. 

Chapter Text

Atlas sits in the holding room, staring at the grey concrete walls, the grey table, the silver handcuffs. The white lamps bleach everything with an ugly light, and the mirror reflects it all. Everything is grey. Atlas wonders how long she would have to spend in this room before she turns grey too. 

 

What the hell am I going to do?

 

Atlas needs to explain herself, but how? How does she convince them of her innocence without telling them everything? And she’s not really innocent, is she? No, Atlas has done many of the awful things they think she has, but not for the reasons they know. And she has never betrayed them. 

 

Except when she told her brothers about the case, that would count. 

 

Atlas had learned a while ago that she had lost her phone somewhere along the way from the round room to the interviewing room. She is certain they have it, and they’re probably looking through it right now, learning all her dirty little secrets. Atlas has far too much incriminating info on that phone. Her brother’s contacts, information about her dad, about herself, and loads of saved info about monsters. They’ll think her mad. 

 

Atlas tips her head back, staring at the grey on grey ceiling. She contemplates calling for Gabe because he could bust her out of this. Atlas debates with herself. 

 

But running away can’t be the correct answer, can it? They’ll never forgive her. But if she doesn’t figure out how to get the BAU to believe her, Atlas is going to be thrown in the deepest pit of hell for the rest of her life. Until she ends up back in the real hell, that is.

 

Atlas’s crippling indecision halts when the door slams open. Morgan comes stalking in, Emily on his heels. Both of them have fire in their eyes, and their muscles are tense under their shirts. Morgan’s dark skin is bleached in the light of the room, turning him and Emily a sickly grey. Atlas looks down at her own clothes. She is wearing a white button-up shirt with a maroon jacket and pants. At least her clothes have some color in them; Atlas thinks she would go mad otherwise. 

 

Morgan slams an item down on the table, causing it to shake under her palms. “We have everything on you.” He growls. “Everything we need to put you away forever, right here.” he points to Atlas’s phone on the table, just as she suspected. She hangs her head.

 

“Have you anything to say for yourself?” Emily asks, voice lined with venom. 

 

Atlas looks up at them, reading her friend’s faces. “Would you listen to me?” she asks, palms up. “Your pissed, and I understand why. I so badly want to explain; I really do. But I can’t. I wouldn’t even know where to start.” she shrugs hopelessly.

 

“I have an idea about that.” Emily takes the seat to Atlas’s right across the table, Morgan on the left. “Let’s start with your dad.”

 

Any calm Atlas had left disappeared. Her shoulders are stiff, but she leans back nonetheless, feigning calm. “What about him?”

 

“Tell us about him,” Morgan hums, voice far too smooth. He knows this is a bad area; they both know it. “Sage.”

 

“Not my name.” She says matter-of-a-factly.

 

“Oh, but it is.” Emily hums.

 

Atlas frowns. “You can call me Atlas; it’s what you’ve been calling me for the last year. Why change now?”

 

“Because now, we’ve learned the truth,” Morgan says. “Now, back to your dad.”

 

If they’re going to talk about her dad, Atlas might as well use the tricks he gave her. She begins tapping her fingers rhythmically on the table without looking away from the agents.

 

As Atlas thinks about her family, she is reminded of a song she knows, which she now taps out the beat to. The lyrics run circles in her head as they speak. 

 

“What do you want to know?” she asks again.

 

“What was he like?” Emily shrugs, playing along.

 

Wires got crossed when I was about 3

Dad had bloody heavy hands, used them on me

My mamma? Bless her heart, 'cause she gave me a start

She got killed, bad man, dad stiffed in a scam

 

Atlas looks between them. “A pretty typical dad. Bought us burgers, helped us with homework, little rough around the edges, but aren’t they all?”

 

“He teach you how to kill?” Morgan raises an eyebrow. 

 

Shy at the start, 'til this guy named Shifty

Who had 100 pounds on me called me "Brittle Bones Nicky"

A target aimed straight at my face

Big house of kids, cred is cake

Rounded up a couple bucks, got it freshly baked

Sat down to dinner

Put it right in his face

Right in his fucking face

 

Atlas shrugs. “Pretty typical.” She repeats.

 

“And according to our reports he….” Emily tappers off, staring at Atlas’s drumming fingers with clouded eyes. “Is that Brittle Bones Nicky?

 

Atlas grins, “Felt appropriate; I’m surprised you know it.” 

 

Morgan growls, looking away. Emily sighs, standing. They exchange a look, a mix of anger and defeat. Atlas caught them, and they all know it. 

 

“Let’s change the subject,” Morgan says as he stands. 

 

Though Atlas stops tapping her fingers, the song still plays in her mind. 

 

Bounce ahead a couple years, king of my peers

We biked the block, cheersin' pretty girls beers

Did alright for myself, petty thefts I pulled

I dropped outta school, built a circle of bulls

 

That was close. Atlas thought, trying uselessly to push the song away.

 

It’s a good thing Atlas knows their tricks and their weaknesses. And she has a handful of her own up her sleeve.

 

Distract them, John had told her once. Throw them off their game. With the right kind of pig, they’ll get all angry and leave, forgetting their questions. 

 

Atlas doesn’t internally thank her father, but she does thank Hotch, the best teacher she could have asked for. Never could he have imagined that it would turn on him like this.

 

“Let’s talk about your brothers, or better yet, let’s talk to them.”

 

Shit.

 

Emily holds Atlas’s phone in front of her face, opening her contact. “Let’s send them a message, shall we?”

 

“That’s not going to end well,” Atlas warns, still temped to hum the tune.

 

Bars, new world, who could I trust?

Killers were nice, smugglers were rough

 

Morgan grins, vicious. “Maybe not for you. What should we say?” He asks Emily, leaning back in his seat.

 

She follows suit, relaxing. “Tell them, ‘Sage has been caught, turn yourselves over, or we’ll throw her in the darkest prison we can find, and you’ll never see her again.”

 

Atlas knows the words are supposed to scare her, but they don’t. Atlas has been to hell; she has tortured, been tortured. She fought demons and her father. Their words don’t scare her; it’s the person whos saying them. 

 

“I don’t think that’s going to do you as much good as you think it will,” Atlas says, mirroring them in their chairs.

 

“That’s not very elegant,” Morgan says, ignoring Atlas.

 

Emily shrugs. “Does it have to be?”

 

Atlas frowns; she doesn’t like being ignored. “They’re not going to agree to anything.”

 

Finally, Morgan looks at her. “Which chat are they? The Moose and Squirrel one? What’s with the names?”

 

Atlas’s frown grows deeper, digging permanent lines in her face. “It’s a joke.”

 

“Not a very funny one,” Emily says.

 

Atlas huffs.

 

“Okay, no, here’s what we have. ‘Dean and Sam Winchester. This is the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI. We have your sister, Sage, in custody. Turn yourselves and your father over to us at any FBI station around the country, or else we will throw Sage into the deepest prison cell for the rest of her life. Then we'll hunt you down, and toss you in with her. You have 48 hours.’ How’s that?”

 

“Awfully aggressive,” Atlas mutters.

 

“Think they’ll do it?” Morgan asks.

 

Atlas shakes her head, telling the truth. “They’re not that stupid. They know that even if they come, you’ll just throw us all in prison.” she hums.

 

If it cost me my life, man, I'd save my only friend

That's something I could live with

I could take that 'til the end

 

“So they’d rather leave you out to dry?” Emily asks, eyebrow raised. 

 

Atlas shrugs, “You’ll see.”

 

“Hm, so we will.” Emily agrees.

 

Finally, the agents rise from their chairs. Morgan hits send with an exaggerated flourish, waving the message in front of Atlas’s face, frowning when she doesn’t react. They leave the room without much ceremony, undoubtedly debriefing with the others.

 

Atlas has no idea what her brothers will do upon reading the message, but it’s probably going to be something stupid. 

 

Atlas looks around once more at the grey-on-grey room, now empty aside from her. She looks down at her dark red clothes, now stained to the color of dried blood. 

 

Finally, the song ends.

 

Tried to do what I thought was best

And that's coming to the grave with me

As I lay here in my final nights, I try to have a laugh

I didn't win the game of life

But I'd give myself a pass

Chapter Text

One hour passes, then two, then three. Three hours of grey on grey on white on black on grey. And it’s not exactly comfortable either. The chair is painful on Atlas’s ass, and it’s several degrees colder than she would like it. Atlas thinks that she will lose her mind if she spends much more time here.

 

With nothing to do, her imagination runs wild throughout the little room. She thinks about what kind of monsters and ghosts could show up in that huge, annoying mirror. She imagines vampires storming in and flipping the table for no reason whatsoever. She thinks about what havoc a changeling could cause if it took her face. 

 

I survived hell; this is nothing.

 

Hell was always moving, always burning; something was always happening. Even if it was the worst thing, it never sat still. This room is stillness personified. But that is the point, she thinks.

 

Finally, after nearly three hours of sitting in the horrible grey room doing nothing and thinking about everything, the door to Atlas’s room opens once more. 

 

But this time, instead of Morgan or Reid or JJ, Crowley walks in.

 

“Crowley?” Atlas asks, eyes wide, leaning forward, surprise evident in her voice. She takes in the short Scottish demon. His black cloak and hair stark against the grey and white of the room. “What are you doing here?”

 

The demon breaks into a wicked grin. “Your brothers sent me.” He says, accent thick. “I owed Moose a favor; this is him calling it in.” He waves a hand lazily, as though he would rather be anywhere but here. On her wrists, the handcuffs click open, but Atlas doesn’t move. “Come on then.”

 

“What?” Atlas asks, still slightly stunned.

 

How is Crowley getting her out? The BAU has an iron grip on her with all the charges; there is no way even Sam and his law degree could get around that.

 

Then she remembers that Crowley is a demon, and demons don’t play by the law.

 

“What do you mean ‘what?’ You're coming with me. Come on, let’s get out of this pigpen.” he says, turning tail toward the door. 

 

“I’m not going with you, Crowley,” Atlas says sternly, not moving from her seat, no matter how uncomfortable she is.

 

Crowley continues talking over her, “Maybe we can stop for lobster on the way- wait, what?” he wheels around, staring at her like she’s mad. 

 

Atlas shakes her head. “I’m not going with you.” 

 

“What do you mean you're not coming? How else do you intend on getting out of here?” he hisses, waving at the camera in the corner and the mirror. Atlas prays that no one is watching from that camera, or else they’ll see a blurred and ghostly image instead of Crowley’s face. 

 

Atlas rolls her eyes internally, demons and their tricks. Just more complications she doesn’t need right now.

 

“I'm talking to them, Crowley.” She insists. “They're my friends; they’re listening to me.” she lies. Morgan and Emily barely let her speak, yet alone take her words to heart. Atlas doesn’t know if the others will be any different, but she has to try, right?

 

He takes a step forward; his voice is sarcastic, turning to anger. “Oh, listening to you, are they? Did you forget who they are? Their cops, and they don't see any world other than their own.” Crowley closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, they're black as night. Atlas suppresses a shiver. “Or did you forget about ours?”

 

“How could I with big bird over my shoulder this whole time?” she deflects. Crowley looks to the corner, where Gabriel would be leaning had he been present. The angel may not be in the room, but they can feel his presence, his energy. He’s watching. 

 

Angels and demons have hated each other since the beginning of time. Atlas’s predicament or their newly aligned interests aren't going to change that. 

 

“Fine,” Crowley growls, straightening. He blinks again, and his eyes return to normal as though the piece of hell was never there.  “Stay here among the pigs. But know that your brothers won't be happy when I come back empty-handed.” 

 

Atlas snorts and rolls her eyes. “They'll live.” 

 

“Oh yea, live to do something stupid.” Crowley spits, then turns and stalks from the room, but just before he leaves, he turns around, fixing her with an icy glare. “They're not your friends, kid. Friends don't throw each other in jail.” 

 

An angry fire roars up in Atlas’s core. “What would you know about friends?” She snaps back.

 

Crowley looks away for a moment, almost dejectedly. But it's gone in an instant, replaced with cold indifference. 

 

“You want my advice?” He speaks again before Atlas can tell him where to shove his advice. “Lie through your teeth, like you just did to me.” He hisses. “They’re not going to listen to you or believe you because they aren’t your friends. They hate you; they hate people like you and don’t believe in beings like me. They know nothing of what’s going on here, and you shouldn’t let them in on it.” he pauses, thinking. “Lie.” He finishes.

 

Crowley slips from the room and disappears without another word, leaving Atlas feeling more alone than ever.

 

Chapter Text

Less than an hour ago, Crowley had shown up at Quantico and was promptly rushed to Hotch’s office.

 

“Consider me a stand-in for the Winchester brothers.” He had said.

 

“Are you their attorney?” Hotch had asked, thrown off by the appearance of the short Scottish man.

 

Hotch had not expected the brothers to take their offer, but this was certainly a surprise. Sending a strange man to talk to Atlas in their places was unexpected and clearly done quickly. It’s been less than three hours since they sent the text. 

 

Which means that the brothers can’t be far away. 

 

Crowley had laughed at the agent’s question, “Ha! No, I’m just an old enemy who owes Sam a little favor.”

 

Hotch shivered when Crowley laughed, a wicked sound that bounced off the walls and reverberated through his bones. Something is very wrong with this man, but he just can’t seem to place it. It’s as though even the air shrinks away from Crowley’s skin.

 

Hotch had narrowed his eyes; what an odd description of himself. An enemy who owes a favor? So he’s not a friend of the Winchesters, but he’s good for his word. This is surprising in and of itself because this looks like a man who would spend his time slithering between deals like a snake with his dark, dark eyes. 

 

Hotch held this information close, “But you wish to speak to her?”

 

Crowley had nodded, “If I can.” 

 

Hotch paused to think, letting the silence hang. Usually, he’d hope that the silence would cause a person to squirm, but he got the feeling that Crowley was a person used to and comfortable in silence. 

 

What has Hotch gained from letting them speak? He’d be watching, obviously, so maybe he could gain information from whatever they talk about. If he believes they start speaking in code, he can always pull Crowley out since Atlas has no legal right to see him. And, he can question both of them afterward.

 

Atlas is too guarded to talk to the agents, but maybe she’ll talk to Crowley. Or perhaps he’ll surprise her, throw her off her game; they could use an upper hand right now. And Crowley might just be the way.

 

Hotch had nodded, “I’ll show you where she’s being held.”

 

~

 

Hotch leaves the window room, stopping in front of Crowley just as he exits the interrogation room. The short, dark-eyed Scottish man pauses in front of him, looking up at Hotch with a slight flare of anger in his eyes.

 

Clearly, Atlas’s sharp words hurt Crowley more than he’s willing to show. Hotch knows very well just how badly the girl’s words can burn. 

 

“What was that supposed to mean?” Hotch asks, thinking about Crowley’s conversation with Atlas and all the pieces of it he doesn’t understand. 

 

“Which bit?” the short man asks, shoving his hands in his pockets. His eyes flicker around as Morgan, Reid, and Rossi, who watched the scene with Hotch, file out behind him.

 

“All of it?” Morgan raises an eyebrow.

 

Reid scratches his head, “What did you mean by ‘beings like me’?” 

 

Crowley smiles faintly, round face twisting with amusement. “The Scottish,” he answers, chuckling to himself. Reid tilts his head like a confused puppy, and Hotch narrows his eyes.

 

What is this man up to? And why does he act like he knows so much more than them? 

 

“You said one of the brothers sent you to get her out, but we’re not letting her go. We have enough charges to put her away for a long time.”

 

And now he can’t let Crowley leave. That man is friends of the Winchesters and likely an accomplice. Hotch has too many questions that need answers and a free interrogation room with Crowley’s name written on it. 

 

If Atlas won’t give him answers, then he’ll get them from somewhere else, but he’ll get them, one way or another. 

 

Crowley hums, narrowing his small, dark eyes, searching for something within them. He seems to be looking not only at Hotch but through him. Every cell in Hotch’s body protests being so close to this man, and some part of him begs him to flee. He feels cold from ears to toes, so cold that he is surprised his breath doesn’t cloud the air. Hotch has never felt fear like this, primal, horrible fear. 

 

Something about this man is very, very wrong. He suppresses a shiver.

 

When Crowley speaks, his voice is low and heavy, serious and foreboding. Hotch feels as though even the walls are listening to him.

“The Winchester kids have gone up against angels and demons alike and come out alive. They’ve faced god- they’ve faced me and survived. I saw all that, and somehow I’m the only one who knows to never underestimate the Winchesters.” 

 

Crowley rubs his beard before reaching into his pocket and pulling out a coin. No matter how many fancy toys you have, no matter how much power you think you hold, no matter what happens,” Crowley flicks the coin into the air toward Morgan, who catches it against his chest. Everyone’s eyes follow the coin as it flies through the air. 

 

Then, just an echo of a voice. “I’ll always bet on the Winchesters.”

 

When Hotch looks up again, Crowley is gone. 





Chapter Text

Atlas sits in the grey on grey room- bored out of her mind- and contemplates Crowley’s words. 

 

Could he have been right? Will the agents ever understand her? Will they even listen to her? They aren’t a part of the world she knows, and they probably never will be, so how are they supposed to trust her? 

 

Atlas has to find a way for them to trust her; she just does. 

 

The door swinging open cuts off her train of thought.

 

Reid comes padding in, staring at the file in his hands. His hair is ruffled in the way it is when he gets anxious, and his fingers are twitching. Atlas almost feels bad for him.

 

JJ comes in just behind the doctor, less sad-looking than Reid but just as wary.

 

They take their seats in front of her, and Atlas reacts accordingly. She leans forward, folding her hands in front of her. She shifts her still unlocked handcuffs, careful to ensure that the agents don’t see them. Atlas may try to reason with them, but she isn’t stupid enough to lock herself down. Crowley left her this, and she isn’t going to get rid of it just yet.

 

“Morgan and Emily are still pissy, I assume?” Atlas begins.

 

Her joke doesn’t seem to land. “Do you understand just how bad this is, Atlas?” JJ asks, big eyes sympathetic and caring. 

 

She hums, “Least you're still calling me Atlas, then.”

 

“You're still our friend,” Reid says sharply. Atlas gets the feeling that he has been saying that a lot lately. 

 

“You seem to be the only ones who believe that.” Atlas whispers, a well of sadness growing in her chest. Morgan and Emily were angry, and Atlas knows how to handle anger, but sadness? She isn’t so familiar with that. 

 

JJ sighs, looking away. “Everyone is upset, and they have reason to be,” She adds with a sharp look, “but we want to help you.”

 

Atlas nods, “I want you to help me too; I just don’t know if you can or if you will.” 

 

“You know how many people we’ve helped,” Reid pleads, “Let us help you.”

 

When Atlas remains silent, thinking, Reid speaks again, mistaking her sadness for indecision.

 

“Do you remember the witch in New Orleans? Eliphas?” Atlas nods, wondering where he is going with this. Could Reid be sniffing out the supernatural? Eliphas’s shop was full of the supernatural; hell, he had the same anti-possession symbol on the window that Atlas has on her chest. “He knew about your brothers, just like he knew about my mother. And he shouldn’t have known either.”

 

“Your point?” Atlas cuts in. Reid is so close to the truth. The truth is that Eliphas is a real witch and that Atlas is wound up in all of it. It’s right there, right there. Part of Atlas so desperately wants him to find it himself, simply so that she doesn’t have to explain it all to him.

 

“Eliphas was a real witch, wasn’t he?” Atlas imagines Reid asking. “It’s all real, magic, angels, demons, all of it. Everything you and your family have been doing was to protect us against monsters we didn’t even know existed. You never meant to hurt anyone; you just wanted to protect people.”

 

Yes! Atlas wanted to scream. Because if anyone could get to the bottom of this, it's Reid.

 

But Reid speaks again, and Atlas’s dreams shatter. “When I questioned you about your brothers, I thought you were just shy, or you didn’t like them very much. You never talked about them, but eventually, you became comfortable enough to share their names.” he leans back in his chair, staring her down. “But apparently not.”

 

“Where are you going with this?” Atlas snaps, temper growing short. 

 

“We trusted you.” JJ jumps in, “With everything we have. Now we ask for you to trust us.”

 

Atlas stands on the edge. Crowley’s voice echoes through her head, lie.

 

“Tell us about your brothers,” Reid says gently but firmly. 

 

Lie

 

Atlas leans forward again, once more folding her hands in front of her. “Fine,” She agrees, gut sinking. “What do you want to know?”

 

JJ and Reid exchange a look, clearly surprised by Atlas’s change of heart. They smile at each other faintly. Atlas’s heart drops further.

 

“Do you know where they are now?” Reid asks tentatively, as though she’s going to run away.

 

Atlas shrugs. “No idea. You’ve been following them for long enough to know how resourceful they are. They could be anywhere. But I’ve no idea.” At least that isn’t a lie.

 

“I believe you.” Reid meets her eyes; his are brown and sad, a heaviness Atlas had forgotten weighs on her shoulders. “Can you help us find them?”

 

They’re not asking any important questions. Atlas thinks. Somehow, the team’s emotions have their judgment so clouded that they forgot how to interrogate her—asking the where instead of the why. 

 

Atlas’s temper grows short. “No,” She states

 

“Please,” JJ pleads. “We don’t want them hurting anyone else.”

 

At that, Atlas’s anger flares. Maybe Crowley was right; maybe they really don’t care. “I’m not helping you find them because you’ll never find them, even with my help.” She snaps. Her frustration and wariness growing by the minute, her guilt pushed off. “They’re too good for you, but you should know that by now, shouldn’t you? You lot have been chasing us for years, and yet you haven’t even been able to catch our tails. No, you're too slow to catch us. The only agent who ever did ended up dead, so if I were you, I’d take that as advice and leave. It. alone.” She growls, leaning back in her seat, glowering.

 

JJ and Reid lean back, reeling at the harshness of her words. Finally, they stand, dejected, gathering up the papers on the table.

 

“Us, huh?” Reid whispers, looking into her eyes.

 

Only when Atlas sees the hurt, does she realize what she had said. 

 

Us, huh?

 

Atlas lowers her head, brows still knotted in anger as the pair exit the room. She blinks back tears. Left Atlas alone with nothing more than her thoughts, her guilt, and her pain.

 

~

 

Atlas barely feels it when the wind ripples throughout the small room, even though there are no windows here. 

 

Her exhaustion is so heavy, her guilt so thick, she doesn’t even look up at the ruffle of feathers.

 

“Sage,” A heavy voice from in front of her.

 

Atlas looks up, though her muscles feel like iron. Slowly, piece by piece, she takes in Castiel in front of her. His tan coat, twisted blue tie, and messy black hair. His blue on blue stare her down. His color pierces through the room, drawing all of Atlas’s attention. 

 

When she looks down at herself again, Atlas realizes that her maroon suit has been tinted grey, the color leaching from her bones. But Cas is bright, full of color Atlas yearns for. Her eyes are drawn to him, his blue and tan, his smell of wind and wood that fills the small room. It’s as though the bleaching lights don’t affect the angel even as he stands below them. 

 

Atlas doesn’t bother to think about how he got in or where the others are at the moment. 

 

“Sage,” He says again, drawing her attention up to his eyes. His blue on blue eyes have never looked brighter. Atlas can see why Dean loves them so much. 

 

Without warning, though Cas rarely gives warning for anything he does, he reaches forward, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. The room fills with blinding light, and Atlas opens her mouth to scream, but it is over in a second. When she opens her eyes again, Atlas feels her energy return, her body powered by supernatural energy.

 

But when she looks down at her clothes, they are still red-washed grey. Atlas frowns. Her energy has returned, but her color has not. 

 

“Thanks,” She says, looking up at Cas. His eyes are narrowed, his face stone cold. Though others may think him indifferent, Atlas can read the thin lines around his mouth and eyes. “Why do you look so worried?”

 

“Dean and Sam sent Crowley to you without my agreement, and I am glad to see you did not go with him.”

 

“You are?” She asks, tilting her head. Atlas rights herself in her chair, pushing up slightly, though still careful to keep the unlocked handcuffs around her wrists.

 

Cas nods, voice grave. “Running will not solve anything. Neither will lying, which I am to assume Crowley advised you to do.”

 

Atlas nodded, remembering their fight. She seems to be getting into a lot of arguments with people that matter lately.

 

“You must talk to them if you believe they will listen. We do not need more enemies, and you do not need this on your conscience.” 

 

Atlas fears she already has plenty on her conscience. “I’m honored to know you care,” She flashes a tired smile, brown-blond hair flicking over her shoulder as she does. 

 

Cas either doesn’t get the joke or doesn’t care, and it’s impossible to tell which is true. “Tell them the truth, and we'll get you out of here soon, I promise.”

 

“Even if you have to bust me out?” She asks, humor gone.

 

He nods gravely. Cas takes a step back, and Atlas feels the air around them change and condense as he prepares to take off. 

 

Just before he does, though, he says something Atlas doesn’t understand. “And by the way, I’m sorry about Benny, but we’re keeping an eye out for your dad. We’ll find him eventually.”

 

“Wait, what-” Atlas tries to ask but is cut off by a blast of wind against her face. When she looks up again, the angel is gone.

 

Atlas is left there, more confused than before. Here energy may be returned, but something else is there too.

 

What happened to Benny?

 

And how does it involve dad?

Chapter Text

Hotch watches Reid and JJ exit the interrogation room with their heads down. 

 

Us, huh?

 

Nothing here is going as planned.

 

The pair enter the window room, joining Hotch, Rossi, Emily, Morgan, and Garcia. All the apprentices have been sent out, not allowed to watch the interrogation of their friend. Hotch almost wishes he didn’t have to watch it either, but part of him knows he has to. He has to get to the bottom of this himself, or it’ll never end. Even if it means Atlas is in jail for the rest of her life, at least it will end. 

 

“Are you alright?” Garica steps forward to console the pair. JJ looks away, and Reid simply shrugs. 

 

Reid cast a sad, longing glance at Morgan, who is facing the mirror with his arms crossed and shoulders tight. He doesn’t look back at his boyfriend, knitted brows focused solely on Atlas. Reid looks down dejectedly and stands in the back of the room beside Garcia.

 

Turns out this betrayal is getting to everybody.

 

The silence grows heavy in the room, crushing Hotch’s shoulders.

 

“What now?” Dave asks, the only one willing to speak.

 

“I’ll talk to her.” Hotch feels the eyes of his team turn to him, even Morgan. 

 

“Are you sure about that?” Emily asks, eyebrow raised. “She trusts you the most, but right now, you're also the most vulnerable to her. And we still don’t know her angle.”

 

“It’s almost like she doesn’t have one.” Reid shrugs behind him. Hotch turns around to face the others, forming a circle with his back to the mirror. “She seems to want to tell us things, but then she doesn’t. She’s not asking us anything, she has no communication with her brothers, and when Crowley came around, she didn’t go with him. She claimed she had wanted to stay and talk, but then she didn’t talk to us.” He shakes his head. “I can’t figure it out.” 

 

“Maybe she really doesn’t know what to do,” JJ adds. “She could be just as confused about this as we are. She certainly didn’t expect to get caught.” 

 

Hotch could have sworn he heard someone speaking from inside the interrogation room, but when he looks over his shoulder, all he sees is Atlas staring at the mirror intently, as though someone is there. But aside from her, the room is empty. 

 

“Maybe she’s just as lost as we are.” Reid sighs.

 

“Of course not,” Morgan snaps, shoulders tense. “She must be playing us, somehow. The Winchesters are criminal masterminds. We made that profile. We know that for a fact. You can’t seriously believe this wounded puppy act is real?” He snarls. 

 

Reid inches away from Morgan uncertainty. Hotch definitely doesn’t like how much the group is divided over this. 

 

“We need to work together to fix this, not argue among ourselves.” He states, looking at them one by one. “I’ll talk to her. We raided her apartment, so now we have more evidence; I’ll use that as my opening and see where it goes from there.” 

 

One by one, the team nods, relenting. “You sure you want to go in alone?” Dave asks, his eyes filled with worry for his oldest friend. 

 

Hotch wishes he could smile to reassure him. Instead, he just nods and picks up the evidence. Once again, Hotch thinks that he hears a deep, manly voice from inside the room, but when he opens the door, Atlas sits alone, staring down at her hands dejectedly, a confused glaze over her eyes.

 

“Let’s begin.”



Chapter Text

Hotch enters the room only moments after Castiel disappears.

 

“Let’s begin,” he states, closing the door and taking the seat before her. Hotch is the only one so far who has come in alone. His white and black suit both blends in and stands out in a way that Atlas couldn’t describe if she tried. Both ethereal and demonic, yet wholly human.

 

He places three evidence bags down on the table, and Atlas is distressed to find that she recognizes them immediately. 

 

“We raided your apartment,” He states, utterly devoid of emotion.

 

Atlas tilts her head and leans back in her chair, pushing her racing thoughts about her father and Benny aside. Besting Morgan was about distracting him, throwing him off. Beating Reid was about hurting him, clouding him with emotions. But to beat Hotch, Atlas is going to need everything she’s got; she can’t risk being distracted.

 

Two warring voices clash in her head.

 

Lie, Crowley snarls.

 

Truth, Cas advises. 

 

Atlas finds herself caught in between.

 

“I can see that,” she answers, keeping calm. Hotch’s disinterest has thrown her off. Everyone else has been so full of emotion that she could keep herself safe. Now Atlas doesn’t know what to do.

 

She smooths over her face, remembering something Hotch himself said to her several months ago. Sometimes you beat them by being them.  

 

“You didn’t have very many things,” He states, speaking slowly, his dark eyes focused entirely on hers. Atlas remembers a time when she would have done anything for his attention; now, she wants nothing but it. He nudges the bags. “Except those.”

 

Atlas looks down at the bags. In the first one is her phone, still cracked slightly from her encounter with Gordon all those months ago; the second is a bundle of money she kept under her mattress for emergencies, a habit she never broke. The third is her handgun, which she kept in the drawer by the door. 

 

Hotch sees her eyes survey the gun; he taps it. “Your not supposed to have that.” 

 

Atlas shrugs, “Can you blame me?”

 

“For the gun? That’s not what surprised me about the raid. I would’ve bet money that you had a weapon around there somewhere, considering that you’ve hidden knives up your sleeves since day one.” Atlas nods in agreement. Hotch leans forward, resting his elbows on the table. “What I’m more surprised about is just how empty your apartment is.”

 

Atlas remembers what Milo and Kassie had said the one time they had visited, months ago. It’s so empty, do you even live here? Atlas had told them that she simply hadn’t had time to decorate.

 

In reality, Atlas had feared that this facade wouldn’t last forever, and she knew she would need to pack up quickly. Another old habit she never dropped.

 

Well, she was right about the first part, at least. 

 

“I supposed you didn’t really feel like getting settled.” He says, leaning back again, his dark eyes boring into her. “You knew you’d have to run once the job was done.”

 

Atlas tilts her head, confused. “The job,”

 

Hotch waves a hand, signaling to the mirror behind him. “The job, this job. Gathering whatever information you could, helping your family, infiltrating the FBI, the job.”

 

She shakes her head, crestfallen. Is that what they think of her? “It was never a job.”

 

He raises an eyebrow. “Then why were you so ready to up and move. It’s like you barely even lived there.” he leans forward again until Atlas feels trapped by his broad shoulders, “Why?”

 

Atlas feels anger bubbling inside her chest. Why is everyone asking the wrong questions? Why do they care if she didn’t decorate her damn apartment? Atlas has kept them safe from vampires, for fucks sake! The king of hell just waltzed in here, trying to break her out! And Hotch cares that Atlas didn’t buy some stupid fake fruit?

 

Truth, Cas had told her.

 

Atlas narrows her eyes, her voice growing thicker with venom as she speaks. “No, I didn’t have many things. But that is because my entire life up until one year ago, my personal belongings consisted of whatever could fit into a duffel bag, whatever could be packed up and thrown in the car at a moment’s notice. Do you have any idea how long it took me to unpack? To buy new clothes?” She doesn’t even stop to breathe, her anger and tiredness crushing her.

 

“I’ll tell you. It took me a month to put my clothes in the closet and another two to actually go shopping because I had already exceeded what the bag could hold. So yea, I don’t have many things, and I may have a gun in my apartment, but I’m trying to tell you why. We were raised like soldiers. We made our own bullets . We picked pockets, we ate when we stopped, and sometimes didn’t stop for days. I didn’t exactly have a normal childhood, so I’m not exactly a normal adult, but you know, sorry about that.” she ends sarcastically.

 

Hotch stares at her, and she can practically see the gears turning behind his eyes. She waits patiently. Waiting to see what he will do.

 

After a moment, his clear eyes cloud with questions. And Atlas can read them well. Questions about her father, her brothers, what she had said. No one cares about the why. No one knows how to ask the right questions, and Atlas doesn’t know how to answer them.

 

And underneath it all, Atlas can sense his pity. 

 

She shakes her head, turning away from him before he can speak. “Come back when you’re ready to ask the right questions, Hotch.” 

 

“What are the right questions?” Hotch asks.

 

Atlas doesn’t respond.

 

“Atlas,” she says nothing. “Atlas, you need to trust us, or we won’t be able to help you.”

 

She remains silent, staring at the wall until he finally gives up with a hefty sigh and leaves. 

 

Lying hurt them, but telling the truth hurt her. If Atlas can’t do either of those, what is she supposed to do?

 

~

 

It feels like an eternity has passed before the air shifts. Atlas hears the rustle of feathers, but she is so tired, she doesn’t even want to look up.

 

“Well, you look like shit,” Gabriel chuckles from where he leans against the mirror. 

 

It is late at night, and Atlas doubts anyone is around. Though part of her knows that her team won’t leave until this is over, hopefully, they’ve at least retired to the round room for the remainder of the night. Maybe some of them will even go home.

 

“They’ve started nodding off, don’t worry,” Gabe says, his golden eyes looking her up and down. Atlas looks down at herself, finding her maroon pantsuit nearly completely grey washed, as though she is in a black and white TV show. She never thought her friends would be able to drain her color so quickly.

 

“I saw that Crowley and Cassey came around.” 

 

Atlas nods, looking up at his silky hair and leather jacket that reminds her of Deans. “Yea, they both gave me very conflicting advice.” she chuckles tiredly. 

 

Then, she remembers what Cas had told her, or better yet, what he hadn’t. 

 

“What happened to Benny? And how is my dad involved?” She asks outright, too tired to dance around the subject. 

 

Gabe frowns, crossing his arms over his chest. “They haven’t told you yet?”

 

Atlas sits up, tiredness forgotten. “No, we were texting about it, and Cas mentioned something, but I don’t actually know.”

 

Gabe signs, his usual hyper demeanor gone. Atlas’s shoulders stiffen. “Your dad has gone… a little off the rails.” He says slowly as if he’s scared of spooking her. 

 

She leans forward, open handcuffs still looped around her wrists, clicking against the table. “Gabriel,” she says coldly, staring him down. “What does that mean?”

 

Gabe shifts uncomfortably, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t know if I’m the one who should tell you this.”

 

“Well, there isn’t exactly anyone else around to keep me updated,” She waves her hands around at the empty room. “Spill.”

 

“A little while ago, something happened.” Atlas nods for him to continue. “That vampire friend of yours, Benny, he showed up on Bobby’s doorstep. Dead”

 

Atlas straightens. Benny’s dead?

 

“It was pretty brutal, but most vampire deaths are.” Gabe shrugs. “But he uh, he had a newspaper with him, and it had your face all scratched out. Apparently, it looks like your dad’s handiwork. I think your brothers were trying to warn you.”

 

Benny’s dead, and dad killed him? 

 

And now he’s coming after me.

 

Atlas leans back, eyes glazed. Gabe tilts his head forward, waiting for her reaction.

 

“Well,” she starts, struggling to process the information of her friend’s death and her father’s role in it. “That complicates things, doesn’t it?”

 

Gabe leans back, sighing with relief. “Guess that makes all this a little more insignificant, huh?”

 

“Easy for you to say when you can just up and fly away.” she pouts, “I’m stuck here.”

 

The angel shrugs. “Well, not really.” He points to her hands. “You could leave, but you chose not to.”

 

“I want to reason with them, but they won’t listen to me,” she growls, the frustration making her head hurt.

 

“Maybe your not saying the right things.” He shrugs again.

 

“What am I supposed to say?” Atlas throws her hands up. “I did what Crowley said and lied to Reid and JJ, and it hurt them. It hurt me, and I hated it. I did what Cas said and told Hotch the truth, and he hated that. Morgan and Emily would barely even let me speak. What am I supposed to say?” she repeats helplessly. 

 

Gabriel pushes himself off the wall with surprising angelic grace, perching on the edge of the table. He looks down at her with a pearl of ancient wisdom he usually hides behind his jokes. Atlas blinks, suddenly remembering who, what, he is. Sometimes she forgets just how old Gabriel really is.

 

Gabe holds one hand out, palm up. “You didn’t trust them, so you lied, and that didn’t work.” he holds the other hand out, “You wanted to trust them, so you told them the truth, but not the truth they needed to hear.” he brought his hands together, “There is a middle ground here, a sweet spot. You need to tell them what they need to hear, but in order to do that, you have to trust them. Really trust them, Atlas. And trust yourself.” he cuts her off when she opens her mouth to speak.

 

Atlas lowers her eyes to his overlapping hands, which he rests on his lap. Gabe’s honey eyes watch her with sympathy and surprising patience as the gears turn in her head.

 

Trust them, trust yourself.

 

“What if they don’t trust me?” She asks, looking up at him helplessly as she suddenly feels vulnerable and alone. 

 

Gabe sighs, looking far away from her now, as though he is talking about a memory and not her current situation. “You have to decide if it’s worth trying. If the relationships you’ve built are strong enough to withstand this.”

 

Atlas shakes her head. “I don’t think anything is strong enough,” She whispers—the word betrayal echos in her head. 

 

Gabe shrugs, his eyes focusing on her once more. “We’ve been through worse.”

 

He stands, flicking his wrist. Then, in a trick Atlas’s eyes don’t understand, a lollypop appears between his fingers. He hands it to her with a smile. The wrapper is waxy and blue under her fingers, and she smiles back and tucks the candy away.

 

“Trust your gut Atlas.” He says; the air rustles as he fluffs his great, invisible wings. Long, almost distorted shadows line the grey walls, his body the only thing untainted by the lights.

 

Atlas has long since wondered what Gabriel’s wings looked like. Only Dean has ever seen an angel’s wings. He had described Castiels wings as long and black, but not pure back, no. Instead, he said they were inky black, with blue and green and purple undertones like oil. Iridescent. A word that Atlas had learned that day. 

 

But Atlas doesn’t think Gabe’s wings are black. That may make sense for Cas, but not for him. He’s too vibrant, too lighthearted, too full of life for ink-colored wings. 

 

No, Atlas thinks that Gabe’s wings are gold. Like dripping honey, like shining amber, like whiskey in the sun. She would love to see them one day.

 

Gabriel smiles a knowing smile, as though he can read her mind. He winks at her, honey-amber-whiskey eyes twinkling with a vitality he is never seen without. 

 

There is a woosh of air, a whisper of feathers, and Atlas ducks her head. And when she looks up again, all that gold is gone.



Chapter Text

Atlas waits in the interrogation room as she has been for what feels like forever. But this time is different. She is not angry; she is not going to lie or manipulate, not anymore. She is going to trust Hotch, and herself, and hope, pray that they trust her in return.

 

Hotch enters the room like a stone sentinel, face impassive, movements stiff. His hands are empty, which surprises Atlas. She says nothing as he takes the seat across from her. And though she cannot see them, Atlas can feel the watching eyes of her teammates through the glass across from her. She does her best to ignore it.

 

But before she can even get a word out, Hotch folds his hands and speaks. A question she was not expecting, nor is she prepared to answer.

 

“Why be Atlas?” He asks, eyes boring into her.

 

Atlas sputters, thrown off, “What?”

 

Hotch doesn’t look away. “You told me to come back when I was ready to ask the right questions. I think that is a good question to start with.” He pauses, eyes flicking suspiciously over her confused face. “You could have chosen any name in the world. You could have been something basic, something forgettable like Anna or Clare, but no. you chose the name Angel Atlas. You chose to name yourself after not one but two mythological beings. Why?”

 

To Atlas’s surprise, his voice isn't filled with sarcasm or contempt, just plain curiosity. And she finds herself agreeing with him; this is as good a place as any to start.

 

“What do you think?” she tilts her head, “I want to hear the profiler’s thoughts first.”

 

He nods, small, dark eyes narrowing. “You could have chosen a forgettable name, but you didn’t. You don’t want to be forgettable; you don’t want to blend in.” He began in his drone voice that he uses whenever reciting information he’s already prepared. Atlas hides her grin. “‘Angel’ could mean many things. You don't strike me as the strictly religious sort, but your father has been known to ramble about supernatural beings from time to time, so maybe it has something to do with that.”

 

Atlas nods, “In his lower moments,” When the night is late, and the bottle is empty, and when he remembers that mom is dead.

 

“But ‘Atlas’ is strange.” Hotch continues. “The myth of Atlas is the man who held up the world, and many metaphors have sprouted from it. The one who feels as though they have taken on all the responsibility, as though they carry a whole world on their shoulders.” He trailers off, waiting for her to fill in the gaps.

 

Atlas sighs, thinking. A year ago, she would have refuted this harshly, claiming she just liked the words. But now, she isn’t so sure. She shrugs. “I supposed I have been carrying a world on my back this whole time; you guys just couldn’t see it.”

 

“Carrying two.” Hotch jumps in. “Us, and them. Balancing them must be quite difficult.”

 

It is not the first time since Atlas arrived at Quantico that she felt this pressure, this weight on her shoulders. She allows herself to fall into the hole Hotch has dug for her, though she is not unaware of its presence. “Crushing,” she looks away. 

 

Though now, the more she thinks of it, the more the pieces begin to add up. How many times have the Winchesters saved the world? How many people have they protected from its dark underbelly? How many people has she lied to or pushed away to keep this secret? The secret of a whole other world hidden from view.

 

Crushing indeed.

 

“Atlas,” Hotch leans forward, pausing for a moment to see if she will interrupt him; she does not. “We need you to trust us. Please,”

 

Atlas realizes then that she has never heard her mentor beg. 

 

She chuckles, too nervous to answer his unspoken question directly. “I didn't, at first. Trust you, that is.” she starts. He doesn’t move; he can feel the edges of a story in her words, so he gives her the air with which to tell it.

 

“Do you remember, on the first day, when we were in that little line Strauss had us do like we were fifth graders?”

 

He nods, “I remember.” 

 

“Well, you know how I pointed out Jack's watch, which drew everyone's attention there?”

 

“Yes.”

 

She chuckles again, turning to the side. Now, thinking back, she realizes how foolish the thievery was—a piss-poor attempt at rebellion. “When everyone was looking at his watch, I snagged a twenty from his wallet. Then, I learned that he was your son, the chief's son, my mentor's son. I thought I was thoroughly fucked after that.”

 

“But we never caught you.” He says, looking surprised and slightly confused. Atlas knows that he is wondering why she is telling him this.

 

She shrugs again. “I know, but still. I was gonna keep the money for myself until I realized that for the first time in a while, I felt guilty about it. So I slipped the twenty back to him a few weeks later, once I got sick of the guilt.”

 

“So you do have a heart,” Hotch attempts the joke.

 

At least, Atlas thinks it to be a joke. She grins in response, hiding how close to home the blow truly landed. She sobers quickly. “I didn’t trust you then.” She leans forward, tossing her unlocked handcuffs aside and holding her hands up. “But I do now.”

 

Hotch tenses up, eyes flicking from the handcuffs to her and back. “Crowley.” is all she has to say.

 

Hotch doesn’t mention his distaste for the demon, how cold he makes him feel, but he doesn’t need to. Atlas can see it in the thin line of his lips. And because she knows Crowley and Hotch will never get along. They are too much alike, each too clever in their own ways. 

 

“You expect me to lock you up again?” He asks, gears turning behind his eyes.

 

Atlas shrugs, “I'd prefer you didn't, but I won't complain if you will. The point was that I had an out; I had the upper hand. I'm giving it up. I want you to trust me, but I need to trust you first. And myself. I see that now.”

 

Hotch gathers up the handcuffs. He stares at the shining grey metal for a moment before sliding them into his pocket. Atlas sighs with relief and rubs her red wrists. 

 

“What changed your mind?” He asks.

 

Atlas smiles softly, looking away. “An old friend.”

 

“Smart friend.” 

 

“You have no idea.”

 

Silence falls over the room then, each unsure of where to go from here. Atlas has played many of her cards, showing much of her hand. But she is still reluctant to give him more. 

 

“You're very loyal to your brothers,” Hotch states, clearly hoping to get the conversation going again.

 

Atlas nods, leaning back in her chair and looking away. “They’re all I have. I need to see them again, Hotch. At least one last time.” she pleads.

 

Hotch shakes his head. “We can't do that.”

 

“Bullshit. You can do nearly anything and much more if you just don't tell Strauss.” her voice gets heated. The fear of them locking her up, of never seeing Sam and Dean again, overwhelms her.

 

“It's not that simple.”

 

Atlas looks away, mind racing through the techniques both her father and her mentor have taught her over her lifetime. When she speaks, her voice is heavy, laced with sadness. “Nobody ever cared about us; we only ever had each other.” she starts. 

 

“When they caught Dean stealing, they only cared that he’d stolen, not that he'd taken bread and eggs to feed us. When Sam had beaten a kid up, they only cared that he had, not that he had been defending me. When I cheated on my middle school tests, they only cared that I cheated; they never asked why. They never asked why I was sleeping through their classes.” She sighs, thinking back to her long, hard school days. Back when she and her brothers were at the mercy of their father, they were treated like dirt and soldiers if they were lucky. “And I’ll tell you why. I slept through class because we were up nearly every night, awake in shifts waiting for dad to wake up, stumbling and drunk. I cheated because I never had time to study. But no one cared about that, did they? No. We’ve only ever had each other. No one has ever cared about us.” She pauses.

 

 

John is coming for her, he killed Benny. But her father is no fool, no matter how much he has lost his mind. He isn’t dumb enough to try to bust into an FBI building. But if he did, he certainly would take out anyone in his way.

 

No, John is going to find the boys first. He’s going to hurt them, though he would never kill them. She is certain of that.. Anything to get to Altas. Once John sets his mind to something, he never lets it go. And if he finds out about Dean and Cas… 

 

She has to get to them first.

 

“So if you can give me one final wish before you throw me in the pits of hell you call a prison cell, it's to see the only people who have been by my side my whole life. Please,” she adds. 

 

Sam and Dean will be able to help her; she knows it. They can convince her team, talk to them. Sam was always so much better with words than she was; that’s why he became the lawyer. They can show the BAU what hell their lives have been. If they're lucky, maybe they can all work together to fix it. Atlas knows that is a fool's dream, but she is a fool, and there is nothing else to do in this room but dream.

 

And still, the fear of never seeing her family again- of them dying without her- scares her worse than hell, or purgatory, or whatever other awful thing the universe will throw at them next. Because she won't be there to fight with them. 

 

Fear overwhelms her. “I so badly want to tell you everything, I really do. Even though I know, you’ll call me mad. But I don’t know how to tell you; I don’t know how to convince you that everything we have done has been to help people, not to hurt them. I know I can’t convince you, but maybe they can.”

 

Hotch seems to be thinking hard on her plea, and for not the first time, Atlas wishes she could tell him everything.

 

He stands, nodding at her. “I'll see what I can do.” 




Chapter Text

Hotch enters the meeting room, surrounded by the others. His head is still reeling from all the information Atlas dumped on him. The handcuffs are cold and heavy in his pocket.

 

Trust her, a voice whispers in his ear. It doesn't sound like his own.

 

The round room is silent. The apprentices have returned and had watched the latest interview. Now, everyone is standing or sitting, scattered across the room, lost in their own thoughts. 

 

“I thought I had lost those twenty bucks,” Jack says, voice somber as he stares at the floor. “Never even noticed she returned it.” 

 

“So,'' Dave claps his hands, looking around the room. “What do we do now?”

 

Everyone remains silent. In the center of the table, several items rest on the dark wood, Atlas’s phone, the screen dark, one, much older knife in an evidence bag, and two shinier knifes tossed on top. Hotch reaches for Atlas' unlocked phone, his hand skimming the cool blades. They have had unlimited access to it since Garcia unlocked it, but most of the team doesn't believe what they see. And Hotch isn't so sure either.

 

The private chat room is still locked and requires a passcode to get into, which Garcia had once again stated as impossible. Her text messages have provided little answers, as the ones between her brothers seem to be checkups every month or so, small bickering normal between siblings. Nothing incriminating there. 

 

But there are more concerning things than that saved on the phone. She has files full of mythology about monsters, demons, and angels from all over the world. Wendigos, skinwalkers, werewolves, and vampires… if Hotch had not known better, he would truly think her mad. 

 

But there is one thing that makes Hotch stop in his tracks. She doesn't have much in her camera roll and only has one favorited photo.

 

The picture is of four people around a black Impala resting in a field on a seemingly nice day. There is even an old-style windmill in the background and cut straw on the ground.

 

Furthest to the left, Sam Winchester is sitting on the car’s hood with his ankles crossed, an item obscured in his hands, probably a phone. He is looking at the two other men in the photo while laughing. In the middle of the picture is Dean Winchester, leaning against the grill with his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. He is looking at the ground and appears to be laughing. Furthest to the right is an unidentified man of medium height and built in a pale button-up, a blue tie, black dress pants, and a strange, long tan overcoat. The man has dark hair and tan skin. He has one hand in his pocket and the other outstretched toward Dean; he is smiling and appears to be explaining something amusing to the oldest Winchester.

 

In the background between Dean and the stranger, sitting on the roof of the car with her boots on the windshield, is Atlas. She is laughing at the men, looking between them as she does. There is a twinkle in her eye so bright that even the photo could capture it. At the top of the image, printed over the blue-grey sky, are the words carry on.

 

It is such a candid photo; Hotch is left to wonder who took it. And if the people in the picture are even the same monsters he has been hunting for years.

 

His rational mind knows that the stranger is probably an accomplice, that they have probably stopped at this field while on the run from one of their crimes, that they likely have an armory or at least some shovels in the trunk of that car. He knows for certain that the half blurred license plate has since been changed.

 

But his heart, the part of him that has spent the better part of a year teaching and training Atlas wills him to ignore those things- to see beyond them. The people in this picture look happy, almost carefree. In the photo alone, one cannot witness the pain, the blood, or the misery that these people carry. The lives they have ruined. Or their betrayals. 

 

Hotch has so many questions for Atlas, but right now, at this moment, if he could ask only one, he would ask, did we ever make you this happy?

 

“What are you thinking about?” Dave asks Hotch, looking up at him with worried eyes.

 

Hotch tries to conjure a smile for his oldest friend but finds that he cannot. He looks back at the photo once more, trying his hardest to memorize every detail before sliding it to the center of the table, giving everyone a chance to see it. 

 

“These are the people we’re hunting,” Leo states flatly.

 

“They look… so normal. So human.” Kassie says, tears lining her eyes.  

 

Emily sighs. “We’ve always painted them as cold-blooded killers, as psychopaths. We thought we would spot one from a mile away, and we wondered how much fun they would be to interrogate. We were so wrong.” She uncrosses her arms, looking down at the floor with guilt-laden eyes. “How did we get it all so wrong?”

 

“What if we were wrong about the others too?” Milo jumps in, his eyes so hopeful it hurts Hotch’s heart. “What if… what if Atlas is telling the truth? If she really does have a good reason behind everything but just can’t tell us? She's never done anything without reason before; why would this be any different?”

 

Morgan snarls, “This is completely different.”

 

“Do you really want to believe that?” JJ counters.

 

“It doesn't matter what I want to believe. This is how it is.” Morgan jams his finger into the table. “This is how it is. The Winchesters are vicious. We are completing the set by delivering Sage to them, which makes them even more so. We cannot risk that. Plus, Strauss would never allow it.”

 

“Strauss doesn't know,” Hotch states; the room instantly quiets, all eyes turning to him.

 

“What?” Emily leans forward as if trying to hear him better.

 

“Strauss doesn't know anything about any of this. I've elected not to tell her. As far as she is concerned, we're still working the Winchester case like normal.”

 

“Do you ever plan on telling her?” Reid asks, not seeming particularly upset.

 

Hotch shakes his head. “I knew that if the brass got wind of this, they'd snatch it away from us. Its protocol. We need to deal with this ourselves, without Strauss. The only other person who knows is Anderson.”

 

“He’ll keep his mouth shut if we tell him to,” Ava says, peering out the blinds into the bullpen.

 

“Careful, or you’ll start to sound like a Winchester,” Jack says quietly, joining Ava by the window. 

 

“So we’re on our own?” JJ asks.

 

Hotch nods, “Let's try to keep it that way.”

 

Silence settles over the room again. Everyone shifts, staring at the bullpen or their feet or into the street below. 

 

“We know one thing for sure.” Reid starts, “There is much more going on here than we know. And I don't think any of us could ever just walk away from this. We need to end it.”

 

Hotch nods. “We need to find the other Winchesters. We need to finish this.” He reaches out, taking the phone again. He glances at the photo, pushing down the swell of emotions it conjures. “Are we in agreement?”

 

Around the table, the agents nod one by one. Finally, so does Morgan.

 

“Good,” is all Hotch says before he slides out of the room.

 

~

 

Hotch pushes the phone across the metal table of the interrogation room with a screech; Atlas catches it effortlessly.

 

“What's this?” she asks.

 

“We agree.” Hotch crosses his arms, standing over her. “Text your brothers, set up a meeting place. We want to hear you out; we want to end this.”

 

She narrows her eyes at him, a swirl of emotions flicking behind them. Finally, she nods. 

 

Looking at her face, her hair, and her freckles, all Hotch can see behind his eyes is that photo and the words above it. Carry on. 

 

Atlas begins typing rapidly on the phone. Hotch moves behind her to peer at her texts, and she doesn't swivel away. 

 

Once the message is typed out but unsent, she hands the phone back to Hotch, who reads it over.

 

Boys, it’s Sage. They have agreed to meet you guys, not to capture you, but to explain. Please, we need to work this out in a way that ends without any of us going to jail. We can convince them that we aren’t psychopaths because we aren’t. There is a field a few miles outside of the Roadhouse, the one with the old windmill. Meet us there at noon, don’t bring backup, maybe just Cas. Love you. Sage. 

 

For proof, I have a lollypop in my pocket. 

 

“What does ‘lollypop in my pocket’ mean?” Hotch asks.

 

Atlas shrugs, “Proof that I’m me.” She reaches her hand into her pocket and holds up a bright blue lollypop. Hotch has no idea where she got it from. “You guys won’t bring any backup either, right? You’ll already have them outnumbered.”

 

Hotch doesn’t miss that Atlas says them and not us. 

 

He shakes his head, knowing he can’t get others involved without Stauss’s permission. “Just us,” he states.

 

Atlas nods, looking away. “Good. Call me when we’re ready to leave. There is a bar nearby that field; we can wait there.”

 

Hotch steps toward the door but stops half in the room. He looks back at Atlas, then down at the text message. 

 

With a flourish, he hits send and leaves the room. 

 

All he can do now is pray that this won’t end with his head on a spike. 

 

Chapter Text

Morgan pushes Atlas into her seat on the jet rather roughly, though she only huffs in response, not wanting to aggravate the already unhappy agent. She is simply happy to be out of the grey room and back to a world with color in it again. 

 

Though she is on her usual seat, the four-seater closest to the window, it isn't the apprentices who surround her. Instead, Emily sits on her right, with Hotch and Rossi right across from them. The others take their seats across the plane. The air inside feels hushed and dense. 

 

As the jet engine starts up, a loud thumping echoes through the cabin. Atlas can feel it in her feet as the plane begins to crawl forward. She stiffens, preparing for takeoff.

 

“You'd think after flying so often this past year, you'd be used to it by now,” Emily says, scanning Atlas with watchful eyes.

 

Atlas huffs, turning back to the window, “I have more than just the plane to be worried about now.”

 

Silence falls over the cabin again as the jet picks up speed. Atlas almost wishes they would talk, if only to distract her from takeoff, which she has apparently not become as accustomed to over the months as she thought.

 

With nothing to do but think, she remembers her first time on this plane, nearly a year ago. She had been nervous and closed off and just short of terrified every step of the way. Comparing who she was then to who she is now, Atlas nearly feels like a different person. Back then, she was terrified of them finding out who she was, but now they know. Not only do they know, but Atlas is willingly leading them to her brothers. 

 

This feels like an end. Atlas thinks just as the plane's wheels pull off the ground.

 

This may very well be the last time she ever steps foot on this plane. This may be the last day she ever spends with the BAU, with her friends. 

 

No matter how much hope she tries to hold onto, Atlas cannot ignore the worst possibilities. 

 

They aren’t even entirely in the air before Reid is out of his seat, standing over Emily to question Atlas.

 

“What happened to agent Henriksen?” he asks, his eyes narrowed and his voice soft in the way it gets whenever he knows he is talking about a complex subject.

 

Atlas blinks, surprised and momentarily thrown off. She hadn’t expected them to ask that. “Henriksen was an agent who chased my brothers and me relentlessly, though we only ran into him a couple of times.”

 

“How did he die?” Reid asks, eyes wide and searching. 

 

Atlas sighs, knowing they are looking for a story, not the answer in their files. “Henriksen had been chasing us for years and had so far been unsuccessful. Then one day, Henriksen was given a tip on our location by an old enemy of ours-”

 

“Who?” Morgan cut in, too eager to wait.

 

Atlas scowls. “There’s no point in looking; she’s long dead.” Atlas closes her eyes for a moment as she thinks of Bela Talbot, the cunning and witty woman who had been an ally and an enemy in her lifetime before she was dragged below by hellhounds. The boys may not have liked her, but Atlas always admired Bela’s quick thinking and sharp tongue. She had perhaps been the most upset of them when Bela sold them out and nearly killed Sam. 

 

“Anyway,” Atlas continues, “We had been sold out, and the FBI managed to capture Dean and Sam, but I had been out at the time, so they didn’t get me. A lot of shit went down in the next few hours, but it ended with us being attacked by another enemy-” Lillith, Atlas bites the name, “And the station burning down. Henrikson died in there, and we decided to make it look like the boys had died too. Get the feds off our backs for a little while.” She shrugs, excluding some key details such as Henriksen being possessed and eventually turning to help the boys once he realized they were right. 

 

“So you didn’t kill him?” Emily asks.

 

“Agent Henriksen? No, it was the fire.” Atlas feels a curl in her stomach at the lie, but she can’t exactly tell them that a demon killed him, can she?

 

Silence falls over the cabin again. Atlas turns back to the window, finding the soaring high above the clouds, the cities and towns visible far below. Everything is lit up by the half-light of the rising sun. It is early in the morning, and the jet reeks of coffee, more than usual. If Atlas’s calculations are correct, they will arrive at the Roadhouse with a few hours to spare. The team really wasted no time getting off the ground.

 

“Gordon?” Emily says by way of question. 

 

Atlas shakes her head, remembering the older hunter and his god-fearing partner. Months ago, the pair had kidnapped Atlas right outside of a police station, only to be freed by Gabe. She then had Gabriel injure her badly enough to make the agents believe that it was her who broke free, though she paid for that idea later.

 

“They weren’t people I ran with in college.” She sighs.

 

“Could’ve guessed that.” Ava rolls her eyes.

 

Atlas shoots her a look. “They're people like me; my family has worked with them a few times. A couple of years ago, Kubrick went a little crazy and tried to kill Sam. So we reported them to the police, and they went to jail on weapons charges. But they must've had friends in the department because they didn't stay in nearly as long as I would’ve liked.”

 

Rossi hums, “And they called you a traitor for joining the FBI?”

 

Atlas shrugs again, “I didn’t lie about that.”

 

That, at least, seems to soothe the group. Atlas turns back to the open window, her stomach dropping as she looks at the land far below.

 

So this is an angel’s point of view. The had once thought. Not for the first time, Atlas wishes she could grow her own wings and take to the sky herself, like an angel.

 

Like Gabe. 

 

She thinks of her father, probably waiting for her, and she knows she cannot allow her team to go into this blind. Not completely.

 

“There’s, uh, there’s something else you guys should know.” She says all the heads that had turned away refocused on her. She sighs.

 

“What is it?” Rossi asks, voice surprisingly calm.

 

She bites her lip. “My brothers aren’t a danger to us, not as much as you think. They’ll listen to me, but….” She trails off, not knowing how to say it. As if when she says it, it becomes real.

 

“What is it?” Kassie asks softly, her big eyes wide with worry. 

 

Staring at her, Atlas decides that she cannot let them walk into danger unknowing. She cannot risk their lives more than she already is. 

 

“It’s my dad.” She sighs. “He left a… threatening message at the boy’s doorstep. He’s coming for me. It will be dangerous. He’s coming; I know he is.” 

 

“And he doesn’t like us.” Emily nods, looking away. “We know.”

 

“What do you know?” Atlas raises an eyebrow.

 

JJ jumps in, “You got a text ‘he’s coming for you’ from your brothers about your dad. We know what we’re walking into.”

 

“But thank you for warning us.” Reid ads quickly. Atlas nods; she had never seen that text. They must have sent it after she was locked up.

 

You have no idea what you’re walking into. 

 

For a while, the only sound is the jets engine as they tear through the sky towards the Roadhouse, toward home. Atlas’s heart aches at the thought.

 

Finally, Hotch moves across from her. He pulls her phone out of his pocket, opening it and sliding it to her. But this time, it isn’t a text message on the screen, but a photo.

 

An old picture of her, Dean, Sam, and Cas from years ago, sitting on the impala in some field and laughing. Atlas can’t even remember what they were laughing at. She fights down a smile.

 

“What does ‘carry on’ mean?” Hotch asks, his voice solemn.

 

For a moment, Atlas is confused. Hotch should know what the words ‘carry on’ mean; it’s not that complicated. But when she looks up into his dark as night eyes, she can tell what he wants to know what she thinks it means. He wants another story. Well, she did promise. 

 

Atlas sighs, staring down at the photo. “We went through a lot of shit, you know?” She thinks about hell, purgatory, the cage, everything from Cas to Gabe to Lillith to Crowley. “Some of it I wish I could tell you. Most of it I cant.  ‘Carry On’ was a way for us to remember what’s important, what we’re fighting for.”

 

“What are you fighting for?” Hotch asks.

 

Atlas looks down at the towns and cities below. At the people too small to see, the people living their lives, unbothered by the dark underbelly of this world. Unafraid and unaware of the monsters that lurk in the night. All because a small group of people have dedicated their lives to fighting those monsters, to keeping some light in a world they may never get to enjoy. 

 

Atlas opens her mouth, trying to put this feeling into words. They have fought for people, each other, and sometimes, just to see another tomorrow. But when she tried to speak, all that came out was “A world where we don’t have to fight anymore.” 

 

And it is the truest thing she could ever have said.

 

Chapter Text

Atlas stares at the rotting old boards of Harvelle’s Roadhouse. The neon sign on top lit up red and white, the whole place awash with milky early morning light. There is only one car out front. The first home Atlas ever had, right where it belongs. Even the dirt seems to be in the right place. Atlas breathes it in, the smell of stale alcohol and dust and blood.

 

The closest thing she has ever had to a home. Her heart swells in her chest.

 

The spell breaks as Atlas is shoved forward, tipping over her own feet and nearly face planting into the dust. She manages to catch herself in time, shooting a nasty look at Morgan over her shoulder. The agent only frowned further at her, pushing her onward. 

 

And so, Atlas leads the BAU into Harvelle's Roadhouse.

 

Atlas can feel it the moment they open the door. A change, like the earth itself shuttered when the agents laid hands upon the sacred hunter’s safe haven. Atlas could have sworn the pictures shook on the wall as they crossed the threshold. She wonders what kind of spell she just broke, what cosmic bet was just won, and what the consequences will be for the loser. 

 

The bar is exactly as she remembers it. The wood is dark, the lights are low, though now sunlight is streaming in through the half-shuttered windows. The air is heavy with the smell of whiskey and gunpowder. Music plays faintly from the ancient jukebox in the corner. Atlas forces her face flat as she scans the Roadhouse, though her heart jumps at every face she sees.

 

The place is strangely barren, as it is usually packed with customers. Behind the bar, Ellen is wiping down the counter while Bobby works the register. At the end of the counter, Ash is working on his bulky computer with the wires hanging out the side, fingers moving as fast as Garcias. They would be best friends in another life. To her right, Jo is cleaning the pool ques with a rag that appears to be as old as her. Atlas’s gaze doesn’t linger.

 

And to her left, with his feet up on the table and the sun in his hair, is Gabe. He barely even glances at them as they come in; he just eyes them from over the rim of his whiskey caught in the light—the same color as his wings.

 

Atlas holds back tears. Her family, finally. Some of the weight on her shoulders lifts, and for a moment, she feels as light as air. No longer like Atlas holding up the world, but like a sage leaf in the wind. Light and feathery, and if you saw it passing by, you’d wonder where it’s going and possibly where it came from.

 

But the feeling of lightness comes crashing down almost instantly. The floor squeaks under Hotches feet as he leads her forward by the elbow, his pristine suit looking out of place with the dusty old bar. 

 

He pulls her forward and takes a seat in the middle of the bar; Atlas follows beside him. Reid flanks her other side, with the others spreading out around them. They have a few hours to kill, and Atlas watches Ava and Milo approach the darts; she doesn’t think they’re going to last long.

 

“Well, this is quite the possy you’ve got yourself here.” Ellen addresses Hotch, her accent heavy as she wipes down the already spotless counter in front of them. “What's the occasion?”

 

“The end of the world,” Atlas says morbidly before anyone else can. The boys must have warned them, or Gabe did. They were ready for this. That's why no one is here.

 

Ellen simply nods, her face set in a grim line. Her eyes shift over Atlas quickly, searching for injuries. A mother’s gaze, Atlas realizes. Looking for hurt or pain to wipe away with a kiss on the cheek.

 

“What can I get for you lot?” she asks.

 

“Waters all around, we have a long day ahead of us,” Morgan says from Reids left. Atlas doesn’t look at him. He hasn’t exactly been nice to her since this all started, though she can’t blame him. That doesn’t mean she has to be happy about it.

 

“The ones over there too?”

 

Atlas looks over her shoulder to see all of the apprentices gathered around darts, aside from Milo, who is leaning against a pool table and talking to Jo with a fearless smile on his face. Fear pits Atlas’s stomach. She told Milo about her and Jo, all those years ago. She even used Jo’s real name. But he would never make the connection. He wouldn’t think her stupid enough to bring the agents straight to the rest of her family.

 

Across the room from them, Atlas’s heart stops. 

 

Rossi is talking to Gabe. 

 

Oh no.

 

Gabe is casual; he has invited Rossi to sit, evidenced by the pushed-out chair he has not accepted. The angel swirls his drink in his hand, and no matter how much Atlas strains her ears, she can't make out what they're saying. She curses internally.

 

“Just lay the glasses out for them, please,” Reid answers Ellen's question. She nods and disappears.

 

Atlas rests her forehead on the table, relishing the cool wood on her face. Her head is spinning as the world splitters before her. It feels as though the two sides of her life have clashed, the agents not where they're supposed to be, surrounded by people they're supposed to hate. Atlas wouldn't say it's quite as violent as stars colliding. No. It's as if someone took two pieces of paper with completely different stories on them, laid one on top of the other, and held them up to the light. Though the words from both papers are visible, they are muddled and blended together. No matter how much you look at them, they are never clear. At best, you'd catch pieces of each story, but they wouldn't line up.  Atlas tries to focus on the slightly sticky bar under her hands to find some peace.

 

But not even that lasts more than a moment.

 

“Wait, you’re doing what?” Garcia’s voice carries well from the end of the bar.

 

To Atlas’s surprise, it’s Ash who answers her. She can easily imagine his mullet swinging in the low light, eyes lighting up as he talks. “I’ve created a clone of the CIA’s firewall, and now I'm trying to improve it. Adding barriers and altering the CPU.” she hears fabric shift as he shrugs.

 

“That's so cool. I once did something similar with the FBI; that's how I was offered a job.”

 

“Yes, Garcia, and that is thoroughly illegal, ” Hotch informs his tech just as Atlas picks her head up. She sees Garcia leaning over Ash’s shoulder, staring at his screen intently.

 

Ash winks at her, Atlas nearly screams.

 

“Which is exactly why we don’t talk about our hobbies, Ash .” Bobby chimes in from the register, a deep-set frown under his beard. He turns to face the agents, narrow eyes flickering over all of them. They don’t stay on Atlas for more than a moment. “You lot cops?” he asks, accent think.

 

“FBI,” Morgan answers, flashing a badge.

 

Ellen hums, placing several glasses of water in front of them, “We don’t get many folks like you around here. What brings you out to these parts?”

 

Atlas can feel Hotch stiffen slightly beside her. He is wary of them, but he has no real reason to be. He's probably suspicious of everyone now. A betrayal will do that to you. 

 

“Work,” is all Hotch says, his tone clear that the conversation is over. 

 

Quiet settles over the space again, though the air is filled by the sound of keys clicking, a faucet running, and the gentle music drifting from the corner. Atlas sighs, closing her eyes for a second, tiredness dragging at her bones.

 

Atlas snaps her eyes open to see a small green bowl of pretzels placed before her. Ellen smiles at her from behind the bar. A mother’s smile.

 

“You look like you’ve had a rough day.” She smiles again. Atlas smiles back, accepting the pretzels gratefully. 

 

“Feels like a lifetime.”

 

“I know what you mean.”

 

Ellen fixes Atlas with an intense stare, pinning her in place. Atlas wisely keeps her mouth shut, knowing better than interrupting the stiff southern woman when she’s thinking.

 

“Before you start a war, you better know what you're fighting for.” Is all she says before disappearing behind the bar once more.

 

And just like that, the conversation is over. Ellen walks away, taking any motherly presence with her, though it aches Atlas’s heart to think about. She only mulls over Ellen’s warning momentarily. Finally, she shoves some salty pretzels in her mouth, casting one last look around the bar.

 

Milo is flirting with Jo; the apprentices are playing darts. Garcia is still hovering over Ash, both of them talking way too fast for Atlas to understand. Rossi has taken a seat across from Gabe, looking more comfortable with the angel than he had a minute ago. Bobby is now cleaning glasses as Ellen cuts limes. 

 

Her family, her home, her team together. 

 

Atlas dreads whatever is going to happen next, the thing that she knows is going to tear them apart. She can feel it coming like the monster lurking around the corner again. It’s there, and it's inching closer.

 

Noon. At noon, it will strike.

Chapter Text

Hotch waits in the corner of Harvelle's Roadhouse, a small aisle leading to the bathrooms at his back guarded by a faded red curtain. The most isolated spot Hotch could find on short notice.

 

He stands, breathing in the stale smell of alcohol and disinfectant. He sees a flash of dark hair before Rossi saunters around the corner, hands in his pockets. Hotch nods at him before disappearing behind the curtain, trusting his friend to follow.

 

“Well, this is just charming.” Dave looks around at the wooden walls, dimly lit by a single light overhead. Though it is clear that everything has been cleaned, there is still a layer of grime covering the place that comes with age. Hotch is too used to the pristine clean of government buildings, though he likes the low light. 

 

“The place isn’t nearly as interesting as its people.”

 

Dave raises one bushy eyebrow, “Oh? Do tell.”

 

Hotch huffs, trying and failing to find humor in his friend’s voice. Though he doesn’t feel very jolly at the moment, Hotch is grateful that Dave is willing to try.

 

“The woman was being very nice to Atlas,” His voice almost catches on the name. “I don’t like the way they were looking at each other.”

 

“How were they looking?” 

 

“Like they knew each other. The way they were talking too. Ash winked at her.”

 

“He seems important. Hacking into the CIA and not being afraid to say it? He must be pretty good with that junky old computer.” he shrugs. “Especially since the man called it his ‘hobby’”

 

Hotch narrows his eyes, “What are you thinking?” 

 

Rossi leans in slightly, and Hotch mirrors him. “Remember that private chat room from when Atlas was kidnapped? The guy running it was called ‘Mullet,’ and two others were with him. ‘Whiskey’ and ‘Safehouse,’ Remember?”

 

Hotch nods. “Maybe this isn’t such a random location after all.”

 

Rossi leans back on his heels, glancing at the ceiling. “Maybe we’ve underestimated her. Perhaps she's led us right into her nest of vipers.”

 

Cold fingers crawl up Hotch's spine. He knows that whenever a criminal is given a chance to choose a location for something, they always give themselves the upper hand. He isn’t naive enough to think that isn’t what's happening here. “How much danger do you think we're in?”

 

“I don't think they're going to kill us; if they wanted to, they would have already.”

 

Hotch finds himself agreeing. Whatever these people are behind, whether it’s the chatroom or not, he must be wary. Hotch knows his apprentice well, which is why he knows that they may very well be walking right into a trap. But does he know her as well as he thought?

 

Doubt seeps into Hotch’s skin, clinging to him like oil. He tries to shake it off, but it’s sticky. It gets caught in all the little nooks and crannies in Hotch’s brain until it feels like it’s a part of him. 

 

Hotch knows he should talk about it more, but he finds himself fleeing the topic. “What about the guy you talked to? By the door?”

 

“Gabriel,” Rossi answers, eyes flicking. Hotch knows that Rossi knows that Hotch is anxious, but neither says it aloud. “He was quite talkative.”

 

Hotch inclines his head for Dave to continue. 

 

“He is a common patron here, apparently. He didn’t give me much, very good at dancing in circles.” Dave narrows his eyes, looking away. His face pinched in concentration. 

 

“I know that look, Dave. What is it?”

 

Rossi shakes his head, looking more confused than anything. “Gabriel had this strange air about him… compelling, almost. Ethereal. Like whatever he said, I wanted to do it. Like he had this presence, this power. I could almost touch it; it was so palpable.”

 

Hotch tips his head, becoming worried for his friend. Maybe this case is simply too much for him. 

 

Dave sees his skepticism, his eyes clear. “You remember Crowley?”

 

Hotch nods, cold washing over him again as though the Scottish man is standing right behind him. He suppresses a shiver. He remembers the power, the cold, almost demonic essence that had flowed off of Crowley on waves. 

 

“Gabriel is like that, but the opposite. Ethereal instead of demonic. I can’t explain it, but it’s the same. Yet different.” Dave shakes his head, looking crestfallen. 

 

But Hotch understands. “We’ve met a lot of strange people lately.”

 

Dave hums in agreement. For a moment, neither of them look at each other, each lost in their own heads. 

 

Suddenly, Hotch snaps his head up. “When Atlas was kidnapped by Gordon and Kubrick, wasn’t she calling for someone named Gabe?”

 

Rossi narrows his eyes. “She said he was an old friend with a habit of getting her out of trouble.”

 

“Which she has a habit of getting into.”

 

“You think he’s come to save her again?”

 

Hotch peers at the faded red curtain, though low sounds of the bar are muffled behind it. “If he is, he's biding his time.”

 

Dave hums, glancing away. Hotch feels the conversation teeter off. 

 

“The young woman?” Hotch asks.

 

Dave shrugs. “Only Milo has talked to her.”

 

Hotch huffs. “‘Talked’”

 

“Think he has her number yet?”

 

“For his sake, I hope so.” 

 

Hotch and David chuckle together, some of the heaviness lifting from the hallway. 

 

Hotch checks the old watch on his wrist, remembering the watch he bought Jack as a present for joining the FBI, though it feels like a lifetime ago.

 

“What’s gonna happen next, do you think?” Dave asks, focusing on Hotch too intently for him to like.

 

Hotch shakes his head. “Nothing good.” he pauses, fixing his cuffs, “We have to be prepared for the worst.”

 

“And what, exactly, is the worst-case scenario?”

 

Hotch focuses on Dave's dark, dark eyes. His hair and skin are complementary to the voids on his face. He sighs. “The very worst case? We kill the Winchesters before they kill us.” 

Chapter Text

High Noon.

 

The sun is at its peak in the sky, burning down on the fields of glittering green and gold grass, the tall stalks swaying gently in the wind. The sky is open and blue, not a cloud above. The ancient windmill turns ideally in the background, unaware of the tension gathering on its field.

 

A cricket jumps away from Atlas’s feet, chirping indignantly as it goes. The wind tugs her hair out of the fresh braid, the brown-gold strands sparkling in the light. The breeze brushes her cheeks with straw-scented dust. There is a faint ringing in the air, and the old windmill creaks on its hinges. Her legs skim through the grass as she walks away from the heavy, dark SUVs behind her, away from her team. Several meters away, another black car rests, shining under the golden sun. But it’s the men around it who catch her eye.

 

The impala sits in front of Atlas, crushing the grass beneath her wheels. Home for so many years. Dean, Sam, and Cas step forward, stopping several meters from Atlas in the center of the field. Behind her, she hears the footsteps of the BAU, pausing at equal distance. 

 

Under the high noon sun, the BAU stands behind Atlas, faces of steel and hearts bruised. The Winchesters stand in front of her, eyes cold and ready for a fight.

 

Atlas stands in the middle, her two worlds colliding, tearing her apart.

 

Never has the weight of the world on her shoulders felt heavier than right now.

 

Dean throws out his arms, smile crooked. “Welcome to Kentucky, folks!”

 

Atlas finds herself smiling.

 

“Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester,” Hotch calls, addressing the boys by their full names. His gaze flickers over Cas, clouding with uncertainty. 

 

Dean drops his arms, looking at Cas beside him before answering. “Castiel Winchester.” he provides. Atlas feels her heart swell slightly. 

 

Only the Winchesters, in the darkest of nights, could find a drop of light. 

 

“Castiel Winchester,” Hotch states, a hundred questions in those two words. His face pinched, eyes narrowed against the light as he stares at the boys across the field. 

 

Atlas feels fear creeping up on her, fear and distrust. What are the agent’s intentions?

 

Atlas shakes her head; she will trust them even if it kills her.

 

Hotch opens his mouth to speak, but Dean cuts him off. “Let her go,” he calls, all the laughter gone from his voice, replaced with venom.

 

Hotch shakes his head, “We can do that. And we can’t let you go either.”

 

Dean and Sam exchange a look that makes Atlas want to roll her eyes into the back of her head. Crowley was right; they’re going to do something stupid.

 

“Nobody is ‘letting us go,’” Sam says, small eyes narrowed. “We're leaving and were taking Sage with us.”

 

“And you're not going to follow,” Dean adds.

 

“Now, why would we do that?” Morgan steps forward, grass crinkling under his boots.

 

Dean reaches a hand behind him, though he doesn’t pull out his gun. The agents follow suit, though no one draws. “Because you’re on our turf, our rules.”

 

The windmill goes silent. Tension makes the air thick until not even the wind can blow it away. The two sides stare at each other. Atlas looks from her brothers to her team to back again.

 

Her insides go cold. In Deans’s eyes, in Hotch’s, Sams’s, and Morgans, Atlas sees the thing that scares her the most. Murderous intent lines their eyes, curling their fingers around their weapons. 

 

Atlas’s heart is in her throat. “Enough!” she yells suddenly. “Enough talking about me like I’m not here, like I’m just a prize to be won!” she looks between the two groups, anger masking her fear. “I brought you all here because I trust you, all of you, no matter how little you may trust each other. None of us are going to rot in jail, and nobody is going to die here today.”

 

“Than how does this end, Atlas?” Emily asks, stepping forward until the sun catches on her dark hair. “You started this; you should be the one to end it.”

 

Atlas looks at the agents, at their perfect clothes rumpled by too little sleep, anxious fingers resting on the hilts of their guns. Garcia and Brooks stand behind the others, unarmed, eyes wide. Morgans eyes are cold, Reids are pleading. 

 

And Hotch? Hotch is staring at her as though nothing else in the world matters more than right here, right now.

 

Atlas turns to her left, staring at the stark contrast of her brothers to the agents. The boy’s clothes are old and worn but well-loved, while Cas seems almost untouched in his ethereal way. Sam’s gaze is worried; Dean’s is as stiff as his back. Cas is cold, looking at the agents as though imagining how easy it would be for him to tear them to shreds with his angelic strength. 

 

Then Dean locks eyes with Atlas, and suddenly she is Sage again. Suddenly she is just a kid, staring up at her stronger, smarter, better-in-every-way older brother. Eyes staining with tears as he shoves her in a cabinet, as gentle as possible, urging her to be quiet. 

 

She is Sage again, biting into her hand so hard it bleeds, all so that she doesn’t make a sound. But she can do nothing about the sounds outside the dark, stuffy cabinet. Her father’s yelling, a bottle breaking, Dean crying out, Sam running away. 

 

Atlas wasn’t strong enough to save them then, but she is now. She will be. She will protect them. Atlas, Sage, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is her family, both of them. 

 

Atlas looks between the two groups, trying desperately to find a way to speak these thoughts and memories swirling through her head like a typhoon. 

 

But before she can get anything out, the ground begins to shake.

 

“What’s that?” Milo asks, looking down at the trembling grass with furrowed brows. The others do the same, murmuring among themselves: Dean, Sam, and Cas exchange concerned looks. 

 

The grass shakes, and the bugs take off, moving away as quickly as possible. Atlas sees a green cricket, the same color as her eyes, tremble with fear as it hops between the stalks. 

 

“Sage!” Dean calls, eyes wide with concern as he walks toward her, somewhat off-balance. “What’s going on?” 

 

The rumbling grows louder, the earth-shaking underfoot. Sam, who is leaning on the Impala for balance, points behind Atlas, “Look!”

 

Everyone turns, and no one expects to see what is rapidly appearing, plowing the field as it goes.

 

A massive, corroded silver truck is pumping thick, ugly black smoke into the air as it drives. Its tires are coated with mud, which is a stark contrast to the dry, dusty fields. The metal around the tires is rusted and broken into sharp shards. The windows are blacked out, and a headlight is broken. 

 

But it’s the people standing and hollering on the bed, crawling and scratching for handholds that startles her. They are of all different shapes and sizes, but they all look equally vicious. There are strange collars around their necks, thick and shiny. But the one thing they all have in common is their eyes, black as night.

 

Atlas looks at Dean, whose face is stained with equal confusion and terror as hers. “Demons.” he breathes. 

 

Cold fear seeps through her, drowning her thoughts like a tidal wave. The truck plows forward, tearing up grass as it goes. It belches black smoke into the air. The windmill creaks as though in protest of the disgusting vehicle.

 

“Uh, guys?” Jack calls, loud over the engine. “It doesn’t seem to be stopping!”

 

Jack is right. The truck is picking up speed, heading straight for Atlas. But she can’t seem to focus on anything but the shouting demons in the back, their teeth bared and smiling.

 

The truck is getting closer; Atlas doesn’t move. Her feet seem frozen to the ground. No matter how much her mind screams at her to move, to run, she stays in place. The truck pounds forward, tearing up the ground. She stays in place. The demons hoot and holler, but still, Atlas doesn’t move.

 

“Atlas!” Arms wrap around her waist and smash her face into the ground, skidding along in the dirt. Air blows from her lungs, and dust stings her eyes. She feels the rough ground scratch her cheek as she lands.

 

The world sways, shifting under her in ways it shouldn’t. She sits up and shakes her head, forcing the dizziness away. Atlas coughs, dust in her lungs and hovering in the air. She blinks, her face and hands coated in dirt. Looking over her shoulder, Atlas sees Dean, her better-in-every-way big brother, coughing into his sleeve.

 

“You okay?” he asks, green eyes shining.

 

She just nods.

 

Then, Atlas realizes that it is silent. The ground has stopped shaking, and demons are hushed. Then, as the dust begins to clear, Atlas sees the rusted old truck bearing down on her, its massive front wheels dug into the earth where she was standing only moments ago. 

 

Atlas stares at the truck up close; she realizes she knows it. She has seen this truck before, years ago, and in much better condition.

 

She hears the BAU, Sam and Cas coughing and stumbling to their feet around her, but Atlas and Dean are still, staring up at the truck in terror. 

 

The windmill grones as it turns, a gust of wind clearing the air before them. The door to the truck opens, and one large boot plants itself on the rail. 

 

Atlas slowly looks up, from the steel-toed boot to the worn-out jeans to the tearing plaid shirt. All the way up the bearded face of her father.

 

John Winchester stares down at his oldest and youngest children, and then, he does the scariest thing of all.

 

John Winchester smiles.

 

Chapter Text

John Winchester smiles down at Dean and Sage. The oldest, headstrong and loyal, though not the sharpest in the tool shed. And the youngest, his daughter, who always looked a little too much like her mom. The daughter who had betrayed him just as she had.

 

And now, John is going to get his revenge. 

 

Sage and Dean stare up at him with terror in their eyes. As though he’s the terrifying one. John isn’t the one they should be worried about.

 

He casts his gaze around the clearing field. Off to his left, Sam and that stupid little angel- Castiel, maybe?- are getting to their feet. Sams’s eyes are wide and fearful, but Castiels are narrowed and wary. He looks at the demons in the bed on the truck, who are silent now. The only sound around them is the whistling of the wind through the half-crushed grass.

 

On Johns’s right, those bastard agents are staring at him with wide eyes. The one in the front, his dark hair, suit rumbled, and dusty, has death in his eyes. His fingers twitch toward his gun, but John isn’t scared. Not of a couple of weak, squirrely little agents.

 

He turns to the demons in the bed of his truck, running his eyes over their collars, one last check that they are on tight. The skin on their necks is red and raw from constant exposure to iron. The vials of holy water rub their shoulders when their heads turn, but the demons quickly flinch away, for they know the consequences of breaking those vials.

 

John has spent the last several months working for this moment, training those demons like dogs, and he’s not going to throw it away.

 

He looks at the demons one by one before lifting the remote in his hand, the iron glinting in the sun. He makes sure that each of them sees it; he watches them curl away from him. Their fearful growls fill a hole in his chest he didn’t know he had.

 

Why on earth hadn’t he done this earlier?

 

John is used to power, but god, it never used to feel so good.

 

Slowly, John turns his head, smiling down at his children again. Sam has joined them, all three backing away a few extra feet. Castiel is not far behind.

 

John Winchester smiles at them, meeting his daughter’s eyes. Her betraying, sinful eyes. So much like her mothers. Her mother, his Mary, who burned and set them all on this path. This is not the life she would have wanted for her only daughter. Throwing everything John has given her away for the fucking feds. 

 

John is going to right this wrong. For Mary.

 

He does not look at the demons as he gives them their orders. “Bring me my children, one last time.”

 

Chapter Text

“Bring me my children, one last time.”

 

And then, chaos.

 

Chaos explodes around them. The demons leap out of the truck, somehow obeying John's orders, even though that defies the order of the universe. They rush the agents, who draw their useless guns and begin shooting.

 

Sam grabs Atlas’s arm while Cas grabs Dean, tugging them away from John. Her father just stares down at them, eyes hungry.

 

“We have to help them!” Atlas points at the agents but speaks to her brothers. She has seen this before, her team getting torn apart by supernatural beings too strong, too swift, too otherworldly for them to beat. And now, it is happening in real life, right before her eyes. 

 

The agents fire off round after round, and though many of them hit home, they make little difference. The demons outnumber them, but even if they didn’t, the agents still wouldn’t win. The monsters fight brutally and without pizzazz as they slowly overtake the agents. 

 

The group has split apart. Reid and Morgan are back to back, Garcia and Brooks huddled between them. Garcia has found a steel bar somewhere which she now swings at the demons mercilessly, her large bracelets clicking as she does. JJ, Emily, and Rossi are still firing the remaining bullets in their guns, but they will run out soon. The remaining apprentices are all huddled together, fighting like hell. Ava swings and kicks, taking the brunt of the assault. Blood drips from a cut on her hairline. 

 

And Hotch is alone.

 

Atlas’s heart plummets when she sees her mentor fighting off two massive demons all alone. She watches him fire his final round before he starts swinging with his gun and his fists. Sweat is flying off his brow; his suit jacket is torn where blood drips from his arm. But he is fighting like hell, as he always does.

 

Atlas tears her eyes away, turning back to her brothers. “We have to help them; they can't fight this!” she pleads, desperation threading her voice. 

 

The boys exchange a look, then nod, unable to leave even enemies struggling. Cas yanks two angel blades from thin air, one of which he hands to Atlas. She measures the strong, round blade in her hand. Dean pulls the demon-killing knife out while Sam unsheaths two regular iron blades.

 

 With a roar, the Winchesters throw themselves into the fight.

 

Atlas quickly loses sight of her family in the fray, but she knows who she is going for. With a snarl, she lunges at one of the demons attacking Hotch, just as it lands a horrid punch to his face. Atlas could have sworn she heard something crack. 

 

She buries the blade up to the hilt in the demon’s back, and it roars with pain. The wound and the demon’s eyes glow for several seconds with divine light before it falls to the dust. She doesn’t stop to look at Hotch’s stunned face before going for the second enemy. But before she can strike it, it turns tail and flees for another group.

 

Atlas pauses to catch her breath, looking at Hotch. His eyes are wide as he stares at her, the bloody blade in her hand, and then the demon at their feet. He saw its black eyes; he saw the light pouring from it in the moments of its death, he knows. At least some part of him knows.

 

He knows.

 

Atlas breathes heavily, swiping at the blood dripping down her dirty cheek. “I told you earlier; there is more going on here than you will ever know. And I promise I will explain it later, but right now, we have to win.”

 

Hotch steals himself, surprise fading from his features. He nods, stoic and self-assured as ever. Atlas envies him for it.

 

“I trust you.” He says.

 

And despite the battle raging around them, Atlas wants to cry. 

 

With a smile and a nod, Atlas and Hotch turn off into the battle to help their friends and to save both of Atlas’s families.

 

But everyone is so distracted with not dying that no one sees John pull out his phone, still perched on the stand of his truck, and send a text. 

 

Bring in the backup.

 

~

 

Hotch has absolutely no idea what is going on.

 

If someone were to freeze time and ask him to tell them everything he knows about this exact moment, he would say only three things.

 

  1. John Winchester is alive and hates his children. Which is unsurprising but still a known fact. 
  2. His team is being attacked by people with black eyes who glow when killed, who are also impervious to bullets. Which would usually be considered impossible, but Hotch has figured it best at this point to abandon all reason.
  3. Atlas had a chance to run, but she didn't. She didn't even hesitate. Despite staring into the face of her father, a man she fears more than anyone, she didn't run away. Instead, she ran into the fight; she ran to help Hotch.

 

Maybe he should add a fourth item to that list.

 

  1. He trusts Atlas

 

This is what Hotch is thinking about as he and Atlas dive into battle, throwing themselves at the ‘people’ attacking Morgan, Reid, Garcia, and Brooks. He cannot possibly think of where Garcia got a steel pipe from, but he is grateful for it as she swings it wildly, distracting the attackers enough that only one of them sees Hotch and Atlas approaching. 

 

A heavyset man with night-black eyes turns on the mentor-apprentice pair. When those eyes lock onto Hotch, he wants to do nothing more than curl up into a ball and hide. Despite the heat of the day and the sweat from the fight, he feels cold trail its boney fingers down his spine as he punches the man square in the jaw. The strike thrums through his arm but barely seems to affect his attacker. The thick collar around his neck catches the light as he stomps toward Hotch, arms out.

 

But before he can move, Atlas slips between them, slashing his stomach with the strange, round silver blade in her hand. The man roars, finally showing pain. Like an animal, he turns his attention to Atlas. He swings at her. Hotch catches one of his vast arms with his own, his skin cold to the touch. The man turns his eyes on him again, and Hotch finds himself shivering.

 

But as the assailant raises his other arm to swing, Atlas buries the blade deep in his chest, almost the hilt. The black-eyed man screams, yellow light flaring out from his wound, eye sockets, and mouth as if coming from inside him, like a star going dark. After a couple of horrible, mind-numbing moments, the man falls still, and the light dies. 

 

Atlas wastes no time yanking the blade from his chest as she leaps onto her next victim, not even checking if Hotch is okay. Of course, he isn't, but he doesn't really have much of a choice right now. He doesn't have the option to not be okay.

 

He lets the man fall to the ground, staring into his now normal eyes. Without the black to overtake them, Hotch can see that this man's natural eyes are blue.

 

“How?” Hotch asks as he leaps back into the fray, shoving Brooks behind him as he takes another hit. 

 

“There's a lot to explain.” Atlas kicks a short blond woman about her height square in the chest, sending her tumbling backward.

 

“Oh, You think?” Morgan chimes in, voice laced with venom and anger. He swings his now empty gun. “Who are these people? What the hell is going on here, Atlas?”

 

Atlas lands on the woman, sitting on her stomach. She raises the knife above her head and, with both hands, plunges it into the lady's chest. She holds firm as the blond screams, and eventually, the light dies. Finally, she stands, facing them. “They're not people,” she says, meeting Hotch’s eyes. “And I'm sorry.”

 

“What does that mean? ” Reid cries, dirt and blood caking his hair.

 

“Were not quite as psychopathic as you think we are.” Atlas slashes another tall, red-haired woman on the arm. “People like us are more important than you know.”

 

“Stop. Talking. In. RIDDLES.” Garcia pants as she hefts the bar over her shoulders, chest heaving. 

 

Atlas cuts again, her hair flying out of its braid and catching in the light, the gold strands shining. “It’s kinda hard to explain.”

 

“I have a place we can start.” Morgan grinds his teeth as he fights. “What are these things?”

 

“I don’t think you would believe me if I told you.” Atlas finally buries the strange blade deep in the woman’s neck. Light once again pours from her body before she falls. Her green eyes stare vacantly at the sky. “If we survive this, ill tell you all about it.”

 

“Lucky for us, looks like we just might.” Rossi points away from them. 

 

John Winchester whistles loudly from where he stares intently at the battle. The last man fighting them turns tail and flees back to the truck.

 

The team staggers to their feet as their attacker flees. Dean, Sam, and Castiel yank the attackers off the apprentices, ending them in flashes of light.

 

The remaining three assailants return to the truck; teeth bared as they press their backs against the rusted metal. Their dark eyes glint in the high light of noon, along with the collars around their necks. Hotch stares at them curiously, peering at the burn marks on the skin around the iron collar. What are those?

 

The two split halves of both groups, the BAU, and the Winchesters, meet in the middle of the field. Morgan spits blood from his mouth, and Kassie shoves her hands into her hair, shaking out as much dust and sweat as she can. The dirt and blood on the Winchesters mix with the soil and blood of the agents, and for possibly the first time ever, no one argues. The two mingle, forced together by the threat of John Winchester.

 

Hotch looks at his battered and bloody team, already tired from the fight under the high sun. Leo and Jack stand on either side of Sam, whose shoulders are heaving as he breathes. They don’t flinch away from him or look at him like he’s a murderer; instead, they nod at him and the blood on his knife. 

 

Dean and Castiel are next to each other, but Ava and Kassie are on one side, with Morgan and Reid on the other. Morgan and Dean lock eyes for just a second, enemies for years, what feels like a lifetime. Hotch freezes, not knowing how his teammate is going to react. But then, to his amazement, they nod at each other. A truce forged in war.

 

On his right, her cheek is bleeding, but her eyes set in a determined stare stands Atlas. His apprentice, everything he has worked so hard for. He looks over her head to Dave on her other side and somehow finds it in him to smile.

 

“Why are they obeying him ?” Atlas snarls, pointing her blade at John, who is eerily silent.

 

He stands on the step-up of his truck, staring at them. The aggressors, two women and a short man, all with those wicked collars, stare at them with hatred in their dark eyes. Hotch doesn’t imagine that they can feel much else, whatever they are.

 

“What are they?” Morgan asks again, his question directed toward the group.

 

The Winchesters shrink away slightly, exchanging sharp glances and scuffing their feet.

 

“Well?” Emily prompts, raising an eyebrow.

 

Atlas scratches the back of her neck, looking profoundly uncomfortable. “I don’t think you’d believe us if we told you.”

 

“At this point, I think I’ll just about believe anything after what I saw him do.” Milo points a thumb at Castiel, who narrows his eyes at the taller man. “He was literally taking them out with his mind . Whatever they are.” 

 

Hotch raises his eyebrows at Milo. Castiel doesn’t seem bothered by the accusation. Though the Winchesters are still exchanging glances, the dark-haired man surveys the group. “Their demons.” He says in a flat, almost bored voice.

 

Garica shifts. “What?” 

 

“They are demons.” Castiel repeats, eyes scanning the group. “I am an angel of the lord. They are demons of Satan and are impervious to your weapons. Fighting them is difficult without proper training. I believe it is best for you all to leave, allow us to handle this.”

 

Stunned silence follows the man’s words. On any other day, Hotch would not have believed him. He would have thought Castiel a mad man. Angels? Demons? Do they seriously expect them to believe that?

 

But then Hotch looks to his left, to the blacked-eyed men and women perched on the truck. He looks down at the strange, round blade in Atlas’s hand, which doesn’t seem quite like any metal he has seen before. He pictures the glow of his attackers when they die.

 

Demons.

 

“You're serious,” Reid says slowly.

 

Atlas looks at them one by one and nods. “There is so much I couldn't tell you.” She starts, voice strained. “The world is so much bigger than you know, there's so much you haven't seen, and this is just the beginning.” She waves a hand at her brothers. “We aren't psychopaths; we don't like hurting folks; we try to protect people.” She pauses, sighing. As if resigning herself to what she is about to say. “I know you don't trust me, and you have no reason to, but if we all want to survive this, you have to believe us. Afterward?” She shrugs. “Hate me all you want. But we need to work together now.” 

 

Tension hangs heavy in the air. The agents look among each other, confused and disbelieving. 

 

Despite everything that has happened, Hotch feels his chest swell with pride.

 

Milo turns to Castiel. “You really an angel?” Castiel nods. Milo's eyes go wide. “Oh shit.” He whispers. “You're not gonna smite me, right?” 

 

Dean snorts, hiding his smile behind his hand; Atlas giggles softly at Hotch’s side. Castiel tilts his head, looking confused. “No.” He says slowly. “I'm not going to smite you.”

 

Milo nods, bouncing on his toes. “Good to know, good to know.” He mutters to himself.

 

And just like that, the tension in the air is gone. Castiel's face is almost comically confused compared to Milo’s slightly stressed one, dried blood caking his brow. Atlas and Dean exchange a look, glitter in their eyes. Reid is staring off into the distance, probably contemplating life. 

 

“So,” Rossi starts, even the adaptable one, “What now?”

 

The Winchesters look between each other, nodding. 

 

“Now,” Dean says, “We fight.”

 

Hotch could have sworn he could hear the dramatic music building up in the background as the agents and the Winchesters, forever enemies, teamed up to fight an even bigger threat. He can hear the blood pounding in his ears; his hands curl into fists. Drums pound behind his eyes. Time to fight, time to win, time to-

 

“Uh, just one question.” Leo butts in, holding one finger up. The drumming stops. He points to the demons. “Why are they wearing collars?”

 

Sam purses his lips, “We don't know, actually. We don't know why they are listening to him at all. Demons hate people; it's in their blood.”

 

“Cept’ Crowley,” Atlas adds. 

 

Ava steps away from the circle, walking over to the short blond woman Atlas stabbed in the chest a few minutes ago. Red blood stains the grass around her, her eyes brown instead of the previous black. 

 

Ava reaches down, turning the woman over gracelessly to unlatch the collar before handing it over to Castiel.

 

The angel inspects the collar, narrowing his eyes and pursing his lips as he concentrates. “Iron.” He states, tapping the collar itself. Then he breaks one of the pegs off the side with superhuman strength, which now Hotch sees is a vial filled with water and coated with iron. “Holy water.” 

 

“That's how he controls them,” Dean whispers, narrowing his eyes at his father over his shoulder, who is still eerily still. 

 

“Explain that to those of us who don't speak demon?” Emily raises an eyebrow. 

 

Atlas stares off at John as she speaks. “Everything is vulnerable to something. Everything can die; every being on this earth has a weakness. For demons, it is iron and holy water.”

 

“And these,” Dean waves the round silver blade then points to Castiel. “And angels like Cas.”

 

“You wouldn't happen to have any other angel friends, would you?” Jack grinds his teeth as he inspects a cut on his hand. Hotch resists the urge to help. 

 

The Winchesters exchange a look. 

 

“Actually, we do,” Sam says.

 

“That's not a bad idea.” Atlas nods, having some silent conversation with the others that Hotch doesn't understand. “And while we're at it, let's get Crowley in here too. These are his charges, after all.” 

 

Hotch chills again at the thought of Crowley. However the Scottish man plays into this, Hotch isn't surprised in the slightest. If anyone was going to actually be a demon, it would be him. 

Now that he’s thinking about it, that actually isn’t all that surprising.

 

“Woah, Woah, Woah, pause. Before you go calling in backup and all, how do we know your dad isn't actually just possessed and it’s a demon making him do all this?” Milo waves his hands, remarkably quick on the uptake.

 

The Winchesters go silent again, staring at the ground or off into space, lost in thought.

 

“He's not.” Dean grinds out.

 

“How do you know?” JJ asks softly.

 

“Because that happened once, years ago. And I figured it out because he was too nice to me.” Dean’s voice is cold, laced with venom, and barely covered hurt. “I wasted a bullet; dad would've ripped me a new one. He was too nice.”

 

Hotch blinks and takes in the Winchesters for what really feels like the first time. Only now does he see the scars that litter their bodies. The small, circular marks on Deans' forearms are consistent with cigarette burns, as though someone put out their cig on his skin. He sees the depths of Sam’s eyes and wonders what awful places he has been to, what horrible things he has seen. He looks down at Atlas and once again sees the small, white scars that fleck her eyebrows and cheeks. Castiel may be spotless on the outside, but no one lives as long as an angel without having a horror story to tell.

 

For the first time, Hotch sees the Winchesters as something more than faceless monsters, more than the men they have been chasing for nearly a decade. More than the FBI, more than what everyone makes them out to be.

 

They are just children trying to find their way in a world that doesn't want them. Children who never deserved what happened to them. Children who, for the longest time, had nothing but each other.

 

“But that doesn't matter now,” Atlas says, voice wavering slightly. For a moment, Hotch fears that she saw into his head before he remembers what they were talking about. “We need to call Gabe and Crowley, and end this, now.”

 

The boys nod. In some unspoken agreement, Dean and Atlas peel away from the group, and to Hotch’s horror, slice their hands open on purpose.

 

“What are you doing?” Kassie yells, alarmed.

 

“Calling for backup,” Atlas states as she and Dean crouch in front of the SUVs and begin writing on the cars with their own blood. Not writing, but drawing. Strange symbols that Hotch doesn't recognize. 

 

Hotch opens his mouth to say something about this, perhaps about how absurd it is that they are writing in his cars in blood, but he never gets the chance.

 

Because right then, the ground begins to rumble again.

 

And in the distance, two more cars approach, too fast, too full of enemies. 

 

“Guys, you might want to hurry up because we've got company!” Sam yells back to his siblings. 

 

Hotch diverts his eyes from the approaching vehicles to the standstill one across from him. John Winchester still stands on the truck's step, but he is looking away, focused on the new players. 

 

As if he feels Hotch’s glare, he slowly turns his head back, meeting his eyes. The two stare at each other. Leaders, fathers, monsters in their own right.

 

And to Hotch’s dismay, John Winchester smiles.

Chapter Text

Atlas stares at the huge, dark cars approaching rapidly in the distance. Fear curls up her spine, but Sams's yell breaks her from her trance. 

 

“Guys, you might want to hurry up because we've got company!”

 

Atlas turns back to the symbol she is haphazardly drawing on the side of the black SUV in her own blood; Dean crouched beside her. She draws an angel summoning symbol for Gabe, while Dean draws a demon one for Crowley. Blood pools in both their cupped palms where they sliced their skin for the ink. 

 

They could just call Gabe's cellphone, but who really knows if he’ll pick up.

 

“When this is over, I'm gonna kill that bastard. For everything. For our childhood, for us, for Benny.” Dean growls, eyes narrowed in concentration. 

 

Atlas sighs, loss threatening to crush her chest in. she has been able to avoid it, keep busy with the team's questionings and the impending threat of seeing her brothers. She has barely even thought of her friend.

 

Benny, who always smelled like the sea. Benny, who always laughed with his chest, even when something wasn't really funny. Benny, who helped Atlas, who trusted her, even when no one else did. Benny, who died because of her father's rage.

 

Benny, who died because of her. 

 

Bennys death is Atlas’s fault. 

 

And Johns.

 

Rage bubbles up in her chest. She can feel her heart thumping in time with the punding earth, the other cars rapidly approaching the team. 

 

“Done,” Dean says, hand hovering over the design. Blood still drips from his palm onto the straw below. A moment later, Atlas nods, her drawing finished as well.

 

They face their drawings, about to touch them, when the rumbling suddenly stops. The siblings twist to see that the approaching vehicles have arrived, stopping on either side of Johns's truck. At least another two dozen demons unload, joining the remaining three and John in a line before the team. They all have wicked dark eyes and iron collars around their necks.

 

The BAU, Sam, and Cas stand together, fists tight and faces grim as they face down the small army of demons. They stand between Atlas and John. 

 

For a moment, all is quiet.

 

Then the windmill creaks, and chaos erupts.

 

Right before throwing himself into battle, Sam twists back toward his siblings. “Finish it! We’ll hold them off!”

 

Atlas turns to Dean, face set in a determined stare. They nod. At the exact moment, they press their hands to the sigils and chant: different words, different meanings, different outcomes. But Atlas prays to the stars that they both work.

 

The sigils begin to glow with the power of blood and words. The angel summoning drawing begins to burn Atlas’s hand where it is pressed against the truck, digging into the wound on her palm. But she doesn't let go; she doesn't even flinch. She grinds her teeth, blocks out the sounds of battle from behind her, and chants. 

 

After a few moments that feel like a lifetime, the ethereal glow from the sigil dies, the burning fading with it. Atlas looks over at Dean and sees his sigil dying down too.

 

“Care to tell us what's going on?”

 

Atlas whirls on her heels, heart soaring.

 

Gabe and Crowley stand before her and Dean, backs to the fight, looking confused. Atlas wants to throw her arms around Gabe's shoulders, but before she can even get a word out, Dean cuts her off.

 

“John is controlling the demons with the collars around their necks, iron, and holy water. They're going to kill everyone if you don't help us.” He says, ever the negotiator.

 

Crowley turns toward the demons, and for a moment, he just watches his own people tear the agents apart. On someone else orders. He frowns. Without a word, he throws himself into battle.

 

Dean and Atlas turn to Gabe, who smiles at them. A smile that outshines the sun. He pulls out an angel blade, winks at her, and jumps into the fight.

 

Dean and Atlas exchange one final glance. A look they have done a thousand times. It's full of I love yous, and I'm sorry, and I’ll see you on the other side.

 

And then, they fight.

 

~

 

Crowley is royally pissed.

 

He jumps into the fight, holding his own iron blade carefully by its wooden handle as he slashes and cuts, ignoring the humans as best he can. Though they give him some very startled looks. He wonders momentarily if his jacket is dirty.

 

The high sun beats down on his back, but he barely feels it. He is far more concerned about what's in front of him. 

 

His demons, his people, were taken hostage and forced to take someone else's orders. 

 

Demons taking orders from someone other than him. 

 

Crowley had clawed his way up to the top. He had fought tooth and nail, had bet it all to get where he was today. He had risked everything, and everything paid off. He is the king of hell; all the demons in the world are under his command.

 

Or so he had thought.

 

Though he hates to admit it, Crowley hadn't even noticed these guys had gone missing. They were grunts, lowlives; they had supervisors that should have reported to Crowley when they didn't return to hell. He doesn't have time to keep track of every little demon who wanders the earth. How would he ever get anything done?

 

And yet, he still finds himself furious for not knowing.

 

Furious at John Winchester for daring to take his demons hostage and use them as his own. Furious at his lowers for failing to report their missing charges. And furious at himself.

 

He's mad at himself. He failed to notice. Let his grip slip enough that he was not told that nearly forty demons had gone above and not returned below. 

 

If he missed this, what else did he miss?

 

Crowly is going to have some serious cleaning up to do down below. 

 

He fought his way to the top, and he is not about to lose it all now. 

 

Crowley has won and lost many things made many bets that did or didn't work out in his long life. But one bet that always played in his favor was the Winchesters.

 

So now, as Crowley throws himself into the fight, as he tears the collars of the demon's neck, allow his own hands to scald in the process, as he pushes the agents aside, taking blows instead of them, he thinks of many things.

 

But he knows one thing for sure. 

 

Always bet on the Winchesters. 

 

~

 

Atlas fights like her life depends on it, because it does. 

 

Everything is moving so fast she barely even sees who is beside her.

 

One moment, it's Sam, his broad shoulders blocking the light as her eyes rapidly try to adjust, then he is gone.

 

The next second, it's Emily and JJ, their hair swinging as sweat flies off their brows. The women are a kick-ass pair, and Atlas wishes she had more time to watch them before they too disappear in the dust.

 

She is so distracted by those in front of her, by the dark eyes and the cold skin and the glinting collars of the demons, that she doesn't notice that she is alone. She doesn't see that there is no one behind the dust.

 

She doesn't see her dad come up behind her.

 

One heavy hit to the back sends Atlas sprawling in the dirt. Dust makes her eyes water, and her ears are ringing. Her blade skids from her hand, landing somewhere in the earth. Atlas pulls herself to her knees, desperately rubbing her eyes with one hand as she feels for her knife with the other.

 

Before she can find it, someone lifts her off the ground by the back of her shirt. But not in an affectionate way. They do it roughly, nearly choking her on her own shirt collar. She coughs and sputters before she is finally returned to the ground.

 

Eyes clear, Atlas turns to face her attacker. 

 

The breath is gone from her chest.

 

Johns's face takes up most of her view, and what little it doesn't is further obscured by dust clouds and lazy sunbeams, so simple and at ease compared to the man before her. His beard is thick and heavy, streaked with grey. He looks older than she remembers, wilder too. His eyes are shiny, and deep wrinkles furrow into his face, yellow teeth bared as he stares his daughter down. 

 

Before she can get a word out, his huge hands grab her by the shoulders and slam her up against something rough. The silver truck bucks slightly under the force of the blow, Atlas swears something cracks. Whether it was the truck or her, she isn't quite sure.

 

“Caught you,” John growls, spittle gathering around his lips.

 

Atlas struggles, thrashing her legs as she wraps her hands around his wrists. Her fingers don't even touch.

 

“Get off me.” She snarls, sounding a lot braver than she feels.

 

Suddenly, Atlas hears a slash of fabric and skin a second before her calf begins to burn horribly. She must have cut her leg on the sharp rusted edges of the truck, deep by the feel of it. 

 

“You betrayed me.” John rumbles, eyes wide and clouded. Something flickers in Atlas’s mind. A beginning of a thought.

 

“You died.” She spits. “You left us. You up and walked away just cause you didn't feel like taking care of us anymore. You barely cared for us in the first place.” She thrashes her body again, feeling hot blood race down her leg—the sounds of battle pound in her ears, almost louder than her own heartbeat. But right now, John is taking up all of her vision and all of her focus.

 

I didn't die; you did! ” He yells, slamming her back against the truck again. This time, something in Atlas definitely cracks. “You died and left me all alone! Three kids to raise, a killer to catch, and nothing left to live for!”  

 

Oh. Oh no.

 

He thinks I'm mom.

 

Something breaks in Atlas then. Deep in her core. She always knew she shared a  certain resemblance to her mother, saw it whenever one of the boys looked at her while a little too drunk. Saw the pain flicker in Dean's eyes. But it hurts now more than ever. 

 

She looks at John, really looks at him for the first time. His eyes are clouded, his skin is unwashed, and his beard wild. John has been losing it for a long time now; this is just the breaking point. 

 

“You betrayed me!” he yells again. Now, his hands move to her throat.

 

She kicks at him when he begins to squeeze. 

 

“I’m…not…mom..” Atlas forces the words out, barely able to breathe.

 

Her dad loosens his grip slightly, clouded eyes now narrowing with confusion. Atlas thought his mouth moved like he was asking a question, but whatever it was, she didn't catch it.

 

Finally, he seems to come to his conclusion. 

 

“It doesn't matter.” he states, rage burning in his eyes once more. “Sage, Mary, your both the same. You both betrayed me. You both abandoned me! ” His hands begin to close around her throat again.

 

Atlas can feel the light fading. Her vision is narrowing until she cannot even see beyond his dark, oily hair or wild eyes. The details on his face become blurry as the world becomes a mist of pain. 

 

As she begins to slip from life, Atlas tries to find her last words. She has had many times that were narrowly her last. Many words she may not have gotten the chance to change. Some she knew were coming; some had taken her by surprise. But she never thought her death would be like this. Slow, quiet, and at her father's hands.

 

Finally, Atlas chooses her last words. “We… never belonged… to you…” she breathes out her final breath. Whether the words were even loud enough for anyone to hear, she doesn't know.

 

The light goes out, and Atlas’s only regret is that she didn't get to say goodbye. 

Chapter Text

For a second, Atlas thinks this must be a dream.

 

Or maybe, she's just dead.

 

Because there's no way, this could be happening otherwise.

 

Atlas stands among an expanse of white, though she isn't really paying attention to it. She sees flickers of light dancing around her, like multicolored fireflies bobbing in the wind. Except when each one glows, she hears a voice calling out to her. But she can't quite make out the voices or what they're saying. She knows them, or at least, she should know them, but she can't quite hear their words. They are separated from her, as though someone is yelling down a long hallway. And though the words may have been clear once, they are fuzzy and distorted by the time they reach her until they are unrecognizable.

 

Her whole head feels fuzzy, as though someone stuffed her brain with cotton. She is vaguely aware that nothing hurts anymore. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Atlas- Sage?- knows that her calf should hurt, that she was cut, though she can’t quite remember how. She feels phantom hands wrapped around her throat. But before she has the time to panic, they are gone.

 

A thousand and also no questions spring to mind. Everything she should know and care about is tucked away in a corner somewhere out of reach. Atlas searches for them in her mind. How did she get here? What is this place? Where was she before… now?

 

“This place is safe.” says a voice Atlas barely remembers. But it's a different type of memory loss. This one faded with age, the kind of thing you know you encountered as a child but haven't seen or heard since.

 

Atlas turns on her heels, only to come face to face with her mother.

 

“Mom?” Atlas hears herself say, though she doesn't think she meant to speak. 

 

Staring at her mother now, she can almost see how John mistook them. (When did John think Atlas was Mary?) They have the same eyes and nose, and though Marys's hair is dyed blond, Atlas knows that they share the same golden brown locks. 

 

Mary lifts one gentle hand to Atlas’s cheek. “My daughter.” She whispers, tears in her eyes. Her voice echos slightly in the white space. For a moment, Atlas is able to forget the pulsing lights, the strange, half-known voices, and the fact that Mary is wearing a white dress, the same one she burned to death in.

 

“Mom,” Atlas says again, burying her face in her mother's hands. “I've missed you.” 

 

“I've missed you too, my little Sage.”

 

And with that one word, everything shatters.

 

Because Atlas isn't Sage anymore, or at least, she hasn't been for nearly a year.

 

The dam breaks inside her head, and she remembers everything. Her leg should hurt where she cut it on the car; her hand should bleed from where she cut herself. 

 

Suddenly, the lights glow so brightly they hurt to look at. The voices are loud and clear, though Mary doesn't move. She doesn't even seem to hear them.

 

Sage! Dean yells, his voice coming from a light close to Atlas’s head. Sage, come back, please. She hears him sob. Dean doesn't sob.

 

Come on, kid, wake up. She almost feels Rossi's rough hands shaking her shoulder.

 

Atlas. Another light says. It's Hotch’s voice. Wake up.

 

Atlas turns away from the lights, back to her mother. Her mother, who she never really got a chance to know. Her mother, whose death sent them on a path that would make their lives one of a kind. 

 

“Am I dead?” Atlas asks, not knowing what else to ask.

 

Mary tilts her head in a way that reminds Atlas of Cas. “Not yet. But you could be if you chose to.”

 

“What?” Atlas shakes her head. “Since when do we choose to die? Winchesters fight until they are put down; we don't choose.”

 

Her mother looks at her with caring eyes, and Atlas realizes that she has never wanted anything more. “You get to be the first.” She says. “You get to choose now. Come with me. We can be happy. Not can hurt you ever again.”

 

Atlas thinks for a moment, looking at her mom's face, staring into her eyes. Then, a light pulses again. 

 

Atlas! This time, it's Reid yelling her name. Atlas!

 

He doesn't ask anything of her, doesn't call her back or tell her to wake up; he just calls her name over and over again. 

 

Atlas breathes in a shaky breath.

 

“There is a pain to living,” Mary says, her eyes never straying from Atlas’s face. “Do you really want to go back to that pain, Sage?”

 

Atlas thinks of her friends then. She thinks about all they have been through.

 

Did it hurt, everything with Jack? Yea, it did. But she also remembers how Kassie, Ava, and Milo broke into her rooms to help her get ready, how they listened to her fears, how they made her feel better. She remembers the awful uncertainly of trying to figure herself out, and the calming presence of Reid as he talked her through it showed her the way. She remembers the pain her father put her through and the dots of light, the tiny bright spots in their lives her brothers managed to find through it all.

 

She remembers Cas and Alistair. Gabe and Lucifer. Sam and Lillith, Reid and Dean and Crowley and Hotch and everyone who has ever mattered to Atlas. All of them are waiting out there for her, calling her name, willing her back.

 

But Mary and Benny and Bella are here, and they are waiting for her. 

 

Atlas! Hotch calls.

 

Sage! Dean cries.

 

Give ‘em hell, kid. Gabe whispers, and yet that comes through loudest of all.

 

Atlas has not had a lot of choices in her life. She never got to choose her path or her blood, but she did get to choose the BAU. She choose her friends, Gabe and Cas and Benny and even Crowley. Atlas could have ended it at any time. But she remembers then what she told Hotch aboard the plane, only a few hours ago, though it feels like a lifetime now.

 

What are you fighting for?

 

A world where we don’t have to fight anymore

 

And it was the truest thing she could ever have said. 

 

Gathering every ounce of strength, courage, heart, and loyalty Atlas has grown over her lifetime, she pulls away from her mother's grip, no matter how much it hurts her.

 

“No.” She says. When Mary’s face falls, her heart nearly cracks. 

 

“I have to go back. I don't belong here.”

 

Mary blinks. “You would choose the pain of living over an eternity of peace? Up here with me?” She asks, her voice thick with pain.

 

Maybe the world is made of pain , Atlas thinks, reaching one hand out to brush a blue pulsing light, like a fallen star. But that pain is worth it for the people who love us. For all the things we get to see and do. For everyone we get to help. Every sunrise is worth it. Every dusk. Because we won’t get to see them all.

 

Atlas looks at each of the glowing lights dancing around her. All of the fireflies willing her to open her eyes again. She smiles. 

 

“I would.”

 

And this time, when the world goes dark, Atlas doesn't regret a thing. 

 

~

 

The first thing Atlas feels when she opens her eyes is pain.

 

The next she feels is relief.

 

Which is almost enough to drown out the pain, but her body is pretty freaking hurt. Before her eyes even have the chance to focus, she registers the cut on her palm and her calf, the sticky blood on her cheek, and the possibly fractured rib.

 

But Atlas is alive, and pain comes with life. She is alive, and that is what matters.

 

Her eyes come into focus, and she sees the faces of her team, her two-family surrounding her. All of them are stricken and worried; Kassie looks like she's going to throw up.

 

The only one who looks mildly okay is Gabriel.

 

Give ‘em hell, kid.

 

The memory of the dream world, or maybe heaven? Is fading rapidly. She knows that within a moment, it will be gone. The memory of her mother's face, her soft touch, and her offer for peace slipped through Atlas’s hands like sand.

 

She looks up at her friends, he mentor, her angels and demon, her family.

 

“What did I miss?”

 

~

 

“Well, that was an eventful day,” Rossi says, taking a seat at the bar next to Hotch.

 

“Understatement of the week.” He says, sipping his whiskey.

 

The BAU, the Winchesters, two angels, a demon, and a girl who doesn't quite fit into any one category have returned to Harvellle’s Roadhouse for a much-needed drink and bandage. Hotch and Rossi sit at the bar while Garcia and Brooks peer over Ash’s shoulder at his computer. Hotch momentarily wonders if they are doing something illegal. He decides that the answer is probably yes and that he also doesn't want to ruin the fun. 

 

To his left, the apprentices and the young blond named Jo are playing darts. Next to them at a table, Jack and Leo have many shiny, glittering cards set out before them, Sam sitting across from them as they play a game Hotch doesn't understand. On his right, Emily and Gabriel seem to be caught in a drinking contest. Morgan, Reid, JJ, Crowley, Dean, and Castiel stand around them, cheering for their respective sides. Morgan and Reid, as well as Dean and Castiel- Cas, as he is called- are leaning on each other heavily while cheering. There are at least a dozen glasses on the table, yet Hotch can't tell who's winning. Bobby- the older man with the beard- is supervising with a frown set on his face. Atlas is nowhere to be seen.

 

“It'll certainly be a day to remember.” Dave smiles into his cup.

 

“We have a lot of those around here.” Ellen, the older woman working the bar, jumps into the conversation. Maybe that would have annoyed Hotch once, but not anymore. Not today, at least. 

 

Ellen and Bobby strike Hotch as folks with many stories to tell. This whole place seems a story in and of itself. Like the sweat and blood and tears in the floorboards and walls remember all those who have passed through. He wonders if that is a supernatural element, or if Harvelle's Roadhouse is simply unlike anything else Hotch has ever seen.

 

The evening sun shines golden rays of light through the half-shuttered windows of the old bar, illuminating the dust motes floating in the air. The music is playing higher than it was this morning, and the atmosphere is different now. Everything is different now.

 

The group catches in the light, and for just a moment, Hotch swears he can see one pair of massive black wings curled up behind Cas, even though the light is yellow. Not completely black, but iridescent, like oil or ink. Like Castiels hair. Behind Gabe, for just a second, two huge, golden wings shine in the sun, the color of glowing whiskey. 

 

Then, Gabriel looks over his shoulder at Hotch, around the massive glowing wings of an angel, and winks. 

 

The moment is over, the light moves, and the wings are gone.

 

But Hotch smiles to himself. Atlas was right. The world is much bigger than he ever knew, bigger than he ever probably will know. And he is ready to see it all.

 

Maybe not today though. 

 

This is exactly what he is thinking when Atlas walks, or limps, out from the back, gingerly taking her seat beside him. The golden light catches on her equally gold hair, making her look more ethereal than the angels to their right. One of which is starting to sway in his seat. 

 

Hotch wonders if she has wings too. He doesn’t quite know the rules of this new world yet, or where what he knows ends and what he doesn’t know begins. Maybe it’s possible. Or maybe Atlas is just human. Though that seems far less likely.

 

“A beer, please.” She asks, the finger-shaped bruises on her throat rippling as she speaks, her voice still rough.

 

Ellen plants a water down in front of her with a little more force than necessary. “No liquor for you until you all healed.”

 

Atlas makes a wounded face. “But the boys get to drink!”

 

“The boys didn't just die. ” She states, walking away and ending the conversation. Hotch notices how Ellen doesn’t sugarcoat the subject, in fact, it sounds almost normal. He fears what passes for normal around here.

 

Hotch feels the energy drain from the air around them slightly, but Atlas just grumbles into her drink.

 

Staring at his apprentice now, Hotch thinks back to those moments on their field. When the whole world nearly caved in on him.

 

He had been fighting a demon- a demon for god's sake- when he turned around to see John facing the truck. And for a second, for a precious few seconds, he hadn't realized that he was holding Atlas there, by the neck.

 

Hotch had run forward, punching John square in the head. The man fell, Atlas collapsing to the dirt. John had spun, raising his fists to face Hotch.

 

At that moment, time seemed to slow. As Hotch stared at John's creased face and dark, haunted eyes, he could see the madness and mania there. He could see the years of pain taken and pain inflicted.

 

Only then did it occur to Hotch that this man is truly Atlas’s father. He remembered when Atlas had flinched at Hotch, just because he’d raised his voice. He remembered her gaurdednes and her knives, her inherent distrust for everyone around her.

 

Hotch realized then that all of that trauma is his fault.

 

And Hotch beat the shit out of him.

 

By the time Hotch had come out of his red, bloody haze, John Winchester was face first into the dirt, his nose, arm and at least one rib broken. 

 

“Atlas!” Reid yelled from Atlas’s side, where the girl was still collapsed, unmoving in the dirt.

 

Hotch had raced forward to help, but he was too late. He remembers yelling, though he isn't sure exactly what he said. It's a bit of a blur. Someone had cuffed John at some point, though it wasn't Hotch. When Hotch was loading him into an SUV a little later- though he did consider dragging John behind- he noticed a few bruises that weren't there before. He didn't comment.

 

He remembers falling to his knees before his apprentice's body, her body. Her eyes were closed; her chest was still. The now prominent bruises around her neck were just beginning to emerge, and blood was leaking from the back of her calf in a steady stream. Someone had tied up the wound, though it wasn't him. Hotch thinks it was Ava. He’ll have to ask the girl later and commend her for keeping her head if it was. 

 

They spent the next several minutes in agony, waiting, waiting for Atlas to come back. Hotch had wanted to do CPR, because she was dying for god's sake, but Gabriel had stopped him. The angel had planted one hand on his chest and told him to wait.

 

Wait, agent. He had said, his voice like a harp. Let her make her choice.

 

He had then turned to Atlas, and while all the others were yelling her name, shaking her, and telling her to come back, to open her eyes, he just said, give ‘em hell, kid.

 

Hotch doesn't know who Atlas gave hell to or what choice she had to make. But he can guess. And if he is correct, then Atlas is a very strong young woman indeed.

 

“What are you gonna do with your dad?” Dave asks, pulling Hotch back to the present.

 

Atlas places her glass down, looking far older than she has this morning. How much can a person truly age in a day? “I dunno. I have to talk to the boys.” She paused for a moment, then continued. “I think it's best we bring him back with us. Let him stand trial and spend the rest of his life in jail before an eternity in hell. Better than keeping him in that cellar downstairs. Plus, Strauss’ll be happy.”

 

John Winchester is currently knocked out and chained up downstairs in a bunker made entirely of iron and covered in demon traps. When questioned, Bobby claimed he had a ‘weekend free.’ Hotch thinks he needs to find more creative things to do with his weekends. 

 

“Yea, especially since Strauss doesn't actually know why we came out here.” JJ jumps in, sitting on Atlas’s other side and bumping shoulders with the young woman. 

 

“She doesn't?” Atlas looks at Hotch with one eyebrow raised.

 

He avoids her eyes. “The only other person who knows we had you in chains in Anderson. So yes, bringing back John Winchester will keep her off our tails.”

 

“Though we’d have to lie about how we found him,” Dave adds.

 

“What, we can't just say ‘oh hey Strauss. Sorry, we disappeared for a while. We had to go fight some demons and also my dad. Who, by the way, is on the most wanted list. You want him?” Atlas pitches her voice higher when she talks and giggles when she finishes. Hotch’s chest warms at her smile. 

 

Hotch chuckles. “No, we can't just say that. Sadly.” He tries to joke. This time, everyone laughs.

 

“Hey, Emily and Gabe are really going at it over there; you should come to see.” JJ giggles in a way that says she might have had a drink to two herself. Hotch hopes there’s an inn nearby, otherwise his agents might end up sleeping on the pool tables. 

 

Atlas smiles but shakes her head, finishing her water in one gulp. “I cant. I've got something else I've gotta do. Thanks, though.” JJ shrugs and turns back to the table.

 

“You alright?” Hotch asks Atlas as she stands, keeping her weight off her right leg.

 

She looks him in the eyes and nods. And though she is holding something back from him, she isn't lying. He lets her go.

 

And Hotch trusts her. 

 

He turns back to his drink just as she disappears behind the bar. A few moments later, Milo and Jo slip behind the red curtain hand in hand; Hotch rolls his eyes internally. 

 

“You think we’ll be alright?” Dave asks, voice quiet and solemn.

 

Hotch throws one final look around the bar. He sees Jack pump his fist in the air as he wins the game, whatever it is. Dean plants a kiss on Cas’s temple, smiling wholeheartedly as he does. Kassie grones as she loses yet another round of darts to her girlfriend. 

 

Enemies turned friends, agents, and hunters. Trust and laughter hum through the air.

 

“Yea, I think we will be,” he says. And it's the truest thing he could ever have said.

 

The storm has passed from the BAU, at least for now. The best they can do now is enjoy their time in the sun. 

 

~

 

Gabriel has lived a long life.

 

He has seen many things throughout his life. He has seen the beginning of the world and what was supposed to be the end of it, too—multiple times. And yet, again and again, the Winchesters have proven to defy everything he thought possible.

 

Maybe that’s why he likes them so much. 

 

“Really think you can beat me, bird-boy?” Emily asks, one eyebrow raised teasingly across the table from him. She lifts her glass into the light, the liquor shining. 

 

Gabriel smirks. “I’ve been alive since before humans walked the earth, I think I can hold my liquor,” and with that, they drink. 

 

Gabriel has seen a great many things in his lifetime. As the alcohol burns his throat, he looks at Cassie beside him, face still as stoic as ever even though he leans on Dean. 

 

But he wasn’t always like that.

 

Once, a long time ago, Cassie was as filled with wonder as the youngest child. He took in the world with big eyes and open ears. In a time when angels were so separated, left alone in the heavens, Cassie was an abnormality. But so was Gabe. Maybe that’s why they fit together so well.

 

Don’t step on that fish, Castiel.

 

Big plans for that fish. 

 

Cassie grew up with humanity, came of age in their bronze age. He learned from them, maybe even more than he did from Gabe, who practically raised the kid. 

 

Gabriel doesn’t know if Cassie remembers it all. If he remembers how Gabe practically raised him, Balthazar, and even Anna. Back when dad wasn’t around. If he ever was really around. Back when Gabe’s older siblings were simply too rough on the kids. Gabe had always liked kids. Especially angel kids. With their little wings and scruffy hair, he’d taken to them, up in heaven. Back before he left.

 

And maybe Gabriel had missed those kids; he thinks as he takes another shot.  

 

Maybe that’s why he had attached to the Winchesters as he did.

 

Castiel may have spent his life caring for humans, but Gabe had spent it being among them. Partying, drinking, indulging in whatever fun the humans had to offer. And they had a lot of fun ideas. 

 

“Shots! Shots! Shots!” The small crowd cheers. Emily and Gabe down the drinks faster than Bobby can pour them. His chest grows warm as his thoughts grow slow. It takes a lot of alcohol to get an angel drunk, and this might just do it. 

 

So maybe Gabriel had missed the kids. Perhaps he had missed having a family to care for—someone to watch over. 

 

Maybe that’s why he took Sage under his wing. Both literally and figuratively. Perhaps that’s why, when he found the Winchesters the first time, back when they were young and still at the mercy of their father, he took to watching them—making them faster, sharper, nudging their bullets in the right direction, pulling them out of messes whether they realized it or not. 

 

Gabriel feels eyes burning into his back. Looking up, he realizes that the golden light filtering in through the window has caught on his back. Taking a moment, Gabe rustles his vast wings, far too big for the small bar. 

 

He glances over his shoulder, feeling those eyes on his wings. Dark eyes and dark hair with a deep-set frown meet his eyes. Gabriel smirks at Hotch, allowing his wings to catch the light. He relishes in the stoney agent’s face, his mouth dropping open slightly as he takes in the impossible. Gabe chuckles and snaps his fingers quietly. The light disappears, and his wings go with it. 

 

If Sage had to end up under anyone’s care, Gabriel is happy that it’s Hotch’s. For all the man’s cold exterior, he cares for her. He cares for this whole little family he has created with his team.

 

Gabriel takes another shot, ignoring Bobby’s stern glare and disapproving frown. 

 

Hotch made his own family.

 

Sage found a new one without letting go of her old clan.

 

But it’s different for Gabe. His original family is in the past. Half of them are dead; the other half hate him. All he ever wanted was people to care for and be with the people who mattered to him. And for him to matter to them too.

 

“Pretty good for a baby with wings.” Emily chuckles. How is she still upright?

 

Gabriel smiles, picking up another drink. He is vaguely aware of Sage disappearing behind the bar. But he’s always vaguely aware of where she is. Like a sixth sense. Cassie too. Maybe that’s just how Gabe is.

 

“Pretty good for a little agent like you.” He laughs, clinking their glasses together. 

 

They both drink, but the sounds of excitement around them have begun to die off. It seems like the group is getting a bit bored of a drinking competition when neither party is dropping. Dean is pulling Cassie away by the collar. Gabe winks at his little brother with a gross smirk plastered on his face. Cassie rolls his eyes.

 

“Maybe just a water now, thanks.” Emily waves to Bobby, who nods approvingly before placing a large water in front of both of them. “Thanks, Bobby,” He disappears behind the bar.

 

Gabriel and Emily are left alone at the table now, nothing but the waters in their hands, the jazz music in the air, and the liquor thrumming through his veins. Gabriel always liked this feeling, the muffledness that comes with drinking. Less likely chance of bad memories popping up.

 

“How old are you, exactly?” Emily asks, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Older than this world, that’s for sure.” 

 

She hums. “So you’ve seen a lot. You know a lot about people.” She says it as a statement, not a question, but he nods anyway. 

 

Emily pauses for a second, staring at his face, his hair, where his wings should be behind his back. Considering something, what exactly it is, Gabe doesn’t know.

 

“How would you like a job?” 

 

Gabe freezes, his glass halfway to his mouth. “What?” He sputters.

 

Emily hums again. “Think about it. You're an angel, older than the world and with the memories to say so. We pride ourselves on knowing about people predicting their movements, but we’ve only been watching them for our rather short lifetimes. You’ve been watching people for centuries. You must know them well.”

 

He nods. “Life wasn’t always good up in heaven.” He pauses, looking away. Gabriel hasn’t told his story to many people, but maybe it’s time he does. A lot of things have happened today Gabriel hadn’t imagined would happen. Perhaps he can add this to the list. “When it got bad, I spent time watching people, learning from them. It was an escape. From my brothers, from my father, they weren’t nice folks. And when heaven was torn apart, I fled, living among humans because they were nice, new and strange and exciting.” he pauses, refocusing on Emily; she nods for him to continue, paying close attention. “Humans are never boring,”

 

“This job certainly isn’t boring.” She shrugs. “Plus, you get to keep an eye on Atlas.” 

 

“Your bosses cool with that?” Gabe asked before he could second guess himself.

 

“I think they will be.” She takes another sip, studying him with dark eyes. “You’d be a valuable asset, especially if we run into more supernatural elements.”

 

Gabe nods, looking away. 

 

His life has been rather dull lately. Bouncing around between clubs and bars, waiting for someone to call upon him. Waiting for someone to need his help. Waiting for his family to accept him again. 

 

Maybe it’s time to make his own family.

 

Time to start his next adventure.

 

Emily puts her hand out between them. “To new beginnings.”

 

Gabe considers her for a long moment. Then he shakes her hand. “To new beginnings for us all.”




Chapter Text

Atlas limps downstairs, the pain in her calf thumping in time with her heart. Her hand is bandaged, too, though that one wasn't nearly as deep. The cut on her cheek is shallow, and the rib turned out to be fractured. She’ll just have to be careful of the next few weeks, is all. 

 

What she's about to do isn't careful at all.

 

Atlas makes it to the bottom of the stairs and follows the winding basement to the end, to the iron cell covered in demon traps and sigils, all of which Atlas recognizes, all of them she is too tired to read. There is one last heavy, iron door between her and her father. With a huff, she yanks it open.

 

John Winchester sits in a pile of hair and clothes on the bed, his hands and feet chained, his body searched for items. The only things they found were his favorite gun and a small remote that he had used to control the demons. Tomorrow, the remote and the collars will be destroyed, and the bodies of the demons burned on a pyre. But that is tomorrow; this is now.

 

Her father looks up at Atlas with vicious eyes. His hair is oily and thick, beard a mess, and clothes unwashed. Atlas doesn't know how long he's been planning this for, but by the clouded look in his eyes and the crazy written on his face, this has been a long time coming.

 

“You failed,” Atlas says, her voice ringing through the chamber. “You failed in everything you tried to do. You couldn't save mom. You couldn't raise us; you couldn't even kill me, right.” she spits. Atlas watches each blow land, savoring it. “You never did anything right, and now you're going to rot in prison for the rest of your life, then you'll spend an eternity in hell. I hope you hate every minute of it.” her chest heaves. With her rant done, she turns to leave.

 

“I made you strong,” John growls, stopping Atlas in her tracks with her back to him. “I made you strong enough to survive everything this world throws at you. And look at you now! Wasting it all away with the dammed FBI!” He yells. Atlas cringes slightly, not from fear of him or his raised voice, but because she knows that if her brothers knew she was down here, if they heard what he said to her just now, they’d beat him bloody. 

 

“You think your so good, so high and mighty! You would never be where you are without me! You would be nothing without me! You are nothing without me!”

 

“I'm not strong because of you.” She says calmly. Not even looking at him. “I'm strong despite you. I am strong because of them. For them, I will always be strong. For them, I will live.” 

 

And with that, Atlas closes the door and walks away from her father, forever. 

 

Nothing will ever be the same for them or for her. But life moves on if you choose it to. 

 

I am not kind. I am not good. I am mean and ragged and sharp. 

I have seen the horrors of the world and below, the wonders of the heaven above.

I am made of knives and cunning, steel and pain. 

I have held worlds on my shoulder, my back, felt my bones crack under the pressure.

But my eyes are clear, and my heart is on fire. 

There are not many like me, so I will do my job and bring justice to those who need it.

I will live, I will fight, I will see another day. 

I will make my own family, I will make my own way in this world, because it belongs to me just as much as it belongs to anyone else.

 

The sun will rise tomorrow, and we will be there to greet it. 

This life is ours for the taking, if only we choose to take it. 

So go, run with the rivers, soar through the sunsets, live my friends, because we do not live forever. Love this life while you have it.

Until we meet again in the next life, 

Goodbye.