Hotch brought the device attached to his shirt closer to his mouth and said, "Status?"
Immediately, replies poured in.
"Morgan. I'm with Reid and a few of the SWAT guys; we're at the front door."
"Prentiss. JJ and I are covering the back."
"Good," Hotch replied. "No sign of Miller yet. This is a huge house; I'm not kidding when I say you could get lost. I want everyone to stay together, and do not split up under any circumstance. On my command, we enter. Clear?"
Hotchh looked around carefully from his post in the garage, where two members of the SWAT team were waiting patiently for his command. They were at the house of Martin Miller, a reclusive genius who had been killing teenagers all over Duffield, a small town in the south of Virgina, with a mixture of everyday chemicals. His intelligence was equal, if not greater, than Reid's- at least where science and math were concerned. According to Miller's high school teacher, he had failed all other subjects.
Miller had been hard to track down because he'd covered his tracks so well. All that had changed when he'd abducted a young girl on impulse- from what they could understand, the sixteen year old girl resembled his dead daughter. She was the reason for all the murders; Miller felt that if he couldn't enjoy the company of his child, no other parent should be able to either.
The case had been long and tiring, and the team had, for once, been given a break, starting in two days. Well, sort of. They still had to come in to work- give opinions on criminals, give lectures, do paperwork and such- but Strauss had guaranteed them no cases for two weeks. Frankly, it was a blessing that she gave them even that.
"Morgan, " Hotch said in a low voice, knowing the agent's passion for drama. "There is no evidence to suggest that he is in any way armed and the profile says he won't hurt the girl, so I don't want any unnecessary shooting. Get in, get the girl, get Miller, get out."
"That's a lotta 'get's".
"Morgan!" came Reid's voice over the speakers. "We understand, Hotch."
"Okay. Everybody, in!" Hotch ordered as he and the other two men, Cane and Hammil, moved forward. He motioned to them to back up, and knocked down the garage door, gun at the ready. He could hear Morgan doing the same.
They filed into the house, checking each room. Shouts of 'Clear!" came from around the mansion. It took them almost two minutes to check every room; there were so many that Hotch was sure a child could easily get lost in the winding hallways.
"Downstairs is clear," came Reid's voice just as they entered the kitchen.
"Upstairs then." He, Cane and Hammil looked around, each trying to remember if they'd seen the stairs.
"I think it's this way." Hammil gestured to one of the four doors exiting the kitchen. Hotch nodded, and they made their way through the house. Eventually, Hotch realized that they had no idea where to go, and spoke into his device grudgingly.
"Where are the stairs?"
He could hear the laughter in Morgan's voice as he answered, "They're tucked into the corner near where JJ and Prentiss entered. We're heading up now."
Prentiss' voice floated over the speakers, slightly crackly: "We're upstairs already. We've checked the first few rooms."
The three men made their way over to the back side of the house, grinning ruefully when they realized that they'd passed the stairs at least twice, but hadn't noticed the little wodden steps which seemed to be made specifically to be hard to find.
As they climbed up in single file, Hotch could hear rustling upstairs. Suddenly, a shout broke through the silence. Dread filled him.
"I need your status," he said urgently into the microphone.
"He's here; we 're chasing after him," JJ replied breathlessly. "Seems to be unarmed. When you reach the top of the stairs, just keep going straight," she added before any of them could ask.
"We're coming," Morgan's voice announced. "We just need to bactrack a bit."
As they reached the top of the stairs, Hotch could see the necessity of JJ's directions- there were doors and corridors twisting every which way. He ran straight, closely followed by Cane and Hammil.
Suddenly, three gunshots rang out through the house, sounding unbelievably loud in the quiet night.
Yelling and thumping.
Reid on the speaker, shouting at him to come. Shouting that they had Miller and they had the girl, but he had to come quick.
They have everyone? Hotch thought as his run quickened. Then what's wrong? His blood ran cold as he remembered the gunshots.
"Who was shot?" he asked as he neared the only open door at the end of a long corridor. "Reid! Who was shot?"
Reid didn't have time to answer because he was in the room- it was more of a hall than a room, really. There was furniture everywhere: tables, desks, chairs, sofas. Hotch looked around in disbelief, observing the chaos. Morgan had Miller cuffed and pinned to the wall, and was cursing at him. Blood was dripping from Miller's shoulder. Reid was examining one of the many test tubes on a table in the centre of the room. Looking closer, Hotch saw that the room was, in fact a lab.
One of the SWAT team, Marks, was reassuring the rescued girl, who seemed unharmed. The other, Andrew, was holding a gun an arm's length away from him, and was staring at it as if he was slightly afraid of it. Andrew and Morgan were in the middle of a heated debate with Miller, which involved lots of swearing and screaming.
Hotch closed his eyes. "SILENCE!" Everybody in the room stopped moving as if frozen in time. "Now," he started calmly, "I want Marks to escort Rebecca Jones to the police station, where she can meet her parents. Cane and Hammil, take Miller too, but in a separate car. And you," he turned his steely gaze to his agents as the four SWAT members did as they were told, "will explain to me what the hell was going on in here when I walked in, and also why I heard three gunshots, and yet only one person seems to be shot."
"Well?" Hotch demanded. "And where are JJ and Prentiss?"
Silence. Reid and Morgan looked at each other, unsure how to start.
"I would like an answer, please." Hotch tapped his foot impatiently, feeling astonishingly like he did when he was trying to get an answer out of Jack.
He noticed their gazes drifting to a big table, and he lifted an eyebrow as if to say 'There?' Morgan nodded. Hotch walked over to the table and bent down, gun at the ready. What he saw left him speechless. Two children stood behind the table, drowning in clothes and blushing furiously.
"He shot them. Darts, I think," Morgan said.
Hotch gently pulled them forward, his trained eyes searching for any injuries. "Who are you? Are you hurt? Did Miller keep you here?"
"It's just us, Hotch," one of the girls said quietly, shaking him off.
"Prentiss?" he asked in disbelief, grabbing both of them by their arms and pulling them into the centre of the room so he could see them better.
"Yeah. And JJ." Emily was holding her cargo pants up to her chest to stop them from falling, nearly tripping over them every time she tried to move. JJ, it seemed, had given up on keeping her pants up, and was simply standing there in her long white shirt, which looked more like a dress, given that it almost reached her knees. Neither girl was wearing shoes; Hotch spotted their boots lying in a heap with JJ's pants.
Emily shrugged. "I don't know. We ran after him, and chased him into this room. He was holding a dart gun, and he had the girl as a shield in front of him; we couldn't get a clear shot. He shot me first, from over Rebecca's shoulder. Then he shot JJ, or she shot him... I don't know. Both guns seemed to go off at the same time."
Hotch raised an eyebrow at JJ, who nodded. "He raised his gun to shoot us, exposing his shoulder, so I took my chance. He shot us both within milliseconds of each other, and I don't know if I shot him first or he shot me first. Emily definitely went down first though."
Hotch opened his mouth to speak. "Okay...but at this moment in time I'm understandably far more interested in what the hell he did!"His voice rose at the end.
Morgan cut in, feeling sorry for the girls. "Apparently he shot them with some form of anti-ageing cream or something like that...Reid, take over?"
"Yes, he inserted amounts of a...de-ager, if you like, into darts, which he shot. It's interesting- none of the darts have the same amount of liquid in them; it's obvious these were being used to test what certain amounts of liquid did. I wonder, is it possible to turn an adult into a fetus, or even a-"
Reid held up the test tube in his hand. "This. He shot them with this."
Morgan went over to look at it. "You sure?"
"It's labelled. See? 'De-ager'."
"Thank God he's organized bordering on OCD."
Hotch closed his eyes. "Reid, is there a cure?" he almost begged.
"I found three bottles marked with 'De-aging cure': versions 1, 2 and 3. I'd guess it's the third one. You know, it really is astounding how he managed to convert a simple ant-ageing formula, designed to keep the face at the age the user is, into a de-ageing liquid. It would have taken years, maybe even decades for him to achieve the fluid consistency needed to balance the mono-"
"That's enough." Hotch massaged his head, closing his eyes for a brief second. When he opened them again, he'd made his decision. "Hospital. Now. Bring the bottles labelled 'cure'. All of them."
He strode over to the girls, and, despite her furious protests, picked up JJ and started to carry her out of the room. Emily smirked.
"Morgan, get Emily," Hotch called over his shoulder. "Emily, no arguments," he added, as she opened her mouth to protest. "Reid, anything you think might be important." To the wiggling girl in his arms: "I'm carrying you to the car whether you like it or not, so stop squirming if you know what's good for you," he said, tapping her back firmly.
JJ scowled but stopped moving.
In the SUV, Hotch put JJ in the back seat and swiftly buckled her in, ignoring her complaints of 'I can do it myself!". Morgan, not stupid enough to try that with Emily, simply put her down on the seat and then climbed into the driver's seat.
"Okay, I'm going to St. Peter's downtown. Any protests?" Morgan asked, starting the engine.
"Yes," JJ immediately piped up.
"Other than JJ?"
"Alright, but I know what you're going to say."
"No you don't!"
"So your protest has nothing to do with Hotch doing your seatbelt up?"
"Not really..." JJ said defensively, but it was apparent from her tone that it most definitely did have something to do with that.
"Enough, you two," Hotch said. "Morgan, drive fast. We don't know if there are any harmful effects of this."
Twenty minutes later, they screeched into the hospital parking lot. The nurses, already familiar with the FBI agents from cases there before, took the girls to a room to get tests done. Reid silently handed the doctor the test tubes and bottles he'd brought.
After that, all they did was wait.
Hotch made a call to Garcia and Rossi to let them know what was going on.
They waited some more.
Garcia called five times, demanding to know what the doctor said. Reid told her the doctor hadn't come yet.
Almost five hours later, a doctor finally showed up to the waiting room.
"Jennifer Jareau and Emily Prentiss?"
"Yeah, that's us!" Morgan practically ran to the doctor, quickly followed by Hotch and Reid.
The doctor, a stout, middle-aged man, motioned to them to follow him. "Ben Daniels. I'd like to take this somewhere more private."
They followed him to his office, where he shut the door behind him slowly. "Take a seat, please." He waited until they were all seated on hard plastic chairs. "Well, Agent Hotcher, good to see you again. What's it been, three months?"
The doctor sighed. "Now. Down to business. I can't say I've seen anything like this before."
"We brought a cure...?"
"We'll need to run extensive tests on all three bottles before we can give it to your agents. If it's the wrong substance, it could quite easily kill them. I'm sure you understand."
"Yes, of course. How long will that take?"
"Depends. If we need to send it to another hospital, up to three weeks. Otherwise, one to two weeks."
"Three weeks?" Hotch exchanged looks with Morgan. "What are we supposed to do with them for three weeks?"
The doctor's eyes met his, and Hotch was surprised to see that he was amused. "It could be only a week, Agent Hotchner. Now, I need to talk to you about their...mental health, if you will."
"He's damaged their brains?"Morgan was furious. "When I get my hands on that son of a bitch he won't know what-"
The doctor shook his head. "No, Agent...Morgan, was it? They just have some...issues. You see, as I'm sure you've noticed, they hold all their adult memories, as well as their adult knowledge. However, after extensive testing with the hospital's psychologists, we've concluded that they have the emotions, fears, needs, motor skills, taste buds and attention spans of a child their respective ages."
"Although they look three and six, Agent Jareau is physically almost five, and Agent Prentiss is seven. Now-"
"What do you mean?" Hotch cut in. "How can they look a certain age, and yet physically be a different age?"
"Oh, it's nothing to worry about," Dr. Ben replied. "They're simply small for their age. By physically, I meant their bone and organ development as well as their teeth. Agent Prentiss is missing a tooth, as I'm sure you've noticed."
Morgan looked up. "Wait, four and seven? What, did JJ get hit with more or something?"
"Actually, Agent Jareau received a little less than Agent Prentiss."
"JJ's younger," Hotch explained quietly.
"Yes." The doctor agreed. "Now, what I wanted to talk to you about was what I mentioned earlier. Their emotions, attention span, needs, senses, and critically, their logic, are that of a child; however their knowledge is that of an adult."
"They won't like coffee or vegetables, for one thing." The doctor chuckled. "As for the rest...Let me give you an example. Say, you give one of them a lollipop, or tell them that you're taking them to the beach. Agent Hotchner, you have a child who is seven, I believe. Tell me, how would your son react?"
"He would...either run around the house screaming or hug me."
"And your agents would want to do these things, but they wouldn't, because they have the knowledge that says it is inappropriate for a federal agent to run around the bureau screaming. However, as they have the logic of a child, they won't be able to figure out why. They'll just know they can't."
"And that's a problem?" Hotch asked.
The doctor nodded. "Children are prone to extreme emotions. Your agents, as adults, are not used to that. They will try to hide or bottle up these emotions, especially feelings like anger, sadness, hurt and others which show vulnerability. Eventually, as the days go on, their adult mind will get used to the emotions and won't think them strange. So after a few days, your agents will be acting like completely normal children, except that they will be unbelievably intelligent."
"So we treat them like kids?" Morgan asked.
"To a certain extent, yes. However, you do have to remember that they are adults and they will not appreciate being treated like babies. Agent Jareau, for one, would not stop telling me about a seat belt...I didn't quite catch what she was saying, but it seemed to have something to do with you, Agent Hotchner?"
Hotch nodded. "This doesn't make sense to me. Why would they want to hide their feelings?"
"Because, agent, they have no control over them. Imagine you, with your mind, were put into the body of a child and suddenly when anyone said anything to you, you immediately felt strong feelings, whether they be positive or negative. Another example: you tell the girls that you'll buy them a cookie, and you forget. You tell them that. As adults, they'd understand. As children, they know, thanks to their adult knowledge, that what they're feeling is irrational, yet they can't help but feel angry or hurt because of their child logic which doesn't explain why the feeling is irrational."
The doctor paused. "To put it simply, they'll know that they shouldn't feel what they're feeling, but they won't understand why, so they can't make that feeling go away. Eventually, their child logic will win over, and in a day or so they'll ignore the adult part of the brain that says 'It's irrational to feel this way! He forgot! It was a mistake!"
"What?" Morgan was startled. "They won't listen to their...adult knowledge?" Dr. Ben nodded. "Why not?"
"Because, agent," the doctor explained patiently, "it would be like me telling you to accept that the moon is made of cheese. I'm presenting it to you as fact. Do you believe it?"
"Because simple logic would tell you that it's not..." he paused. "Oh. Point taken."
"So they could throw tantrums?" Hotch asked.
Hotch paled. "Oh, no."
Ben Daniels chuckled. "And what about you, young man?" he addressed Reid. "Do you understand?"
"Yes- it actually makes perfect sense. You mentioned fear earlier?"
"Ah. Yes." Dr. Ben looked grave. "That may be a slight problem. You see, any fear that they had as an adult- of, say, a certain serial killer will be a hundred times worse."
"Why is that?" Reid asked, eagerly leaning forward. Hotch got the impression that he was enjoying learning about the human brain through JJ and Emily's misfortune.
The doctor replied, "They will, as I said before, have their memories, so they will know and remember each and every killer you have come across. They will remember the victims, the murders, the crime scenes, any traumatic experiences...everything. All of these memories, in a child's brain. I certainly wouldn't want to be them. That is something else that you have to make sure they don't try to hide from you- when they get scared. Also, they will have regained any childhood fears, like a fear of big slides at the park."
"Okay." Hotch ran a hand through his hair. "Slides. That I can handle."
"Can we just go home now?" Morgan begged.
"Of course," the doctor smiled. "Let me just get the girls for you. Don't obviously treat them like kids. And also, they'll be untactful, blurt things out...don't get mad at them."
He returned moments later with JJ and Emily in tow, both of their clothes rearranged, courtesy of a kind nurse. They were both only wearing their shirts, and they each had a man's belt around their waist, making them look like they were in dresses or tunics.
"Good work," they heard Dr. Ben tell the nurses. He passed JJ and Emily some sheets to sign, which they did, albeit shakily. Once all the paperwork was finished, they started to leave. Morgan and Reid both looked a little unsure of what to say, so were silent.
As they were leaving, Hotch saw Dr. Ben slip a lollipop into each of the girls' hands. They both pretended they didn't care, but Hotch smirked as he saw JJ quickly unwrap and pop the lolly into her mouth. Prentiss looked longingly at hers, but refused to give in, and stoically followed Morgan to the car.
Hotch shook his head, staring at them both. We have our work cut out for us, he thought grimly.
A/N: Now, this story is mostly fluff! No casefic. Haha I forgot all about Rossi so I had to slip him in there.
To clarify: Set post-Gideon. I don't like Rossi, so I might change it to post-Gideon pre-Rossi. Vote on that in your reviews.
Haley's dead either way. Pairings: For obvious reasons this won't be focused on romance, but once they're back to normal, would you like Hotch/JJ, Morgan/Prentiss, or Hotch/Prentiss, Morgan/JJ, or maybe something else? Vote on that too. I don't like Rossi, so I'm not writing any romance about him.
And, if you've read 'The Art of Profiling', which is also one chapter long, which story do you want me to focus on? Vote on that too.