So, this is the "last" chapter. I am unsure whether or not to write an epilogue—on the one hand, I'm a huge fan of ambiguous endings—they're a lot more fun, because they leave the ending up to the reader's imagination (which is what fanfiction is all about, right?) On the other hand, I feel as if you guys deserve some sort of explanation after the ending I've thrown at you—so, I'll see what kind of responses I get, and if everyone is really confused or wants some sort of closure I'll probably write an epilogue (I might end up writing one either way.)
Overall, I just wanted to thank everyone who has stuck with me throughout this whole story (I'm pretty sure it's at least 45,000 words, which I consider an awful lot of writing.) I really cannot thank you guys enough. I hope you all realize how awesome you are, and I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
"I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well…the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." –Albert Camus
Reid awoke to heat.
He hadn't actually intended to fall asleep. It was more of an escape than anything—he had wanted the voices to stop. He had wanted the pain in his leg to stop. He had wanted Tobias and Booker and Hotch to all just go away, he had wanted to pretend he was somewhere else, he had wanted to close his eyes and wake up after the nightmare was over. What he had forgotten, apparently, was the fact that he hadn't slept in at least forty-eight hours. He was barely conscious for two seconds before everything descended into a calm, peaceful blackness.
But when he woke up, the nightmare wasn't over.
Reid had no idea how much time had passed. He pushed himself to his feet, struggling to take in his surroundings. Booker was still standing on top of the rafters—but he looked uneasy instead of cheerful. Hotch was shouting up at him—but Reid wasn't listening to the words. It was hot. Much too hot.
"What's going on?" he asked. He looked around for Tobias—but Tobias had disappeared once again. Reid gritted his teeth—why was he never around when he actually needed him?
Reid stumbled towards Hotch. "What's happening?" he asked, clasping his boss' shoulder for support—his leg really hurt. "Why is it so hot?"
Hotch's gaze said everything—he was terrified, but didn't want to show it in front of Jack. "There might be a fire," he said softly, his grip on his son's arm tightening significantly.
"There's no fire!" Booker shouted, raising his gun in the air, his eyes burning with irrational anger.
"I wouldn't be so sure," Hotch said, speaking with the well-trained voice of a profiler.
"They don't know we're down here!" Booker shouted, turning the gun on him. "There's no way!"
"Eva does," Hotch said carefully. "Think about it. What better way get rid of the evidence? Nobody knows what she's done except the five of us. Maybe she's grown tired of playing games with you."
"I'm playing the games!" Booker shouted, his voice distorting with anger. "Not her! Not you! Me!"
"We have to get out of here now," Hotch said, his voice dark and severe. "We're all going to die unless you show us the way out of here. She's going to get away with it unless we live."
But Booker wasn't listening. He had stopped his violent outbursts and was now standing very still, staring at the ground. The smell of smoke grew stronger—small wisps of it began to creep underneath the door. Henry started to cry.
Hotch shook his head. "Fine," he snapped. "We'll get out of here ourselves."
"NO!" Booker shouted, instantly springing into action. Reid automatically took a step towards Henry, but Booker turned the gun on him. "DON'T MOVE!" he shouted. "THE GAME IS OVER WHEN I SAY IT IS!"
"You're delusional!" Hotch shouted. "You're insane! We're all going to die!" Henry started to cry again, louder this time. Jack slipped out from under his father's legs and bolted over to Henry, as if hoping that Booker would fail to notice him on account of his size.
He was wrong. In a wild gesture of rage, Booker turned the gun on the two boys.
Reid stood petrified in horror, watching the scene unfold, knowing that any movement on his part would only make things worse. Hotch, however, completely lost control.
"YOU COWARD!" he shouted at Booker, so loud that Booker stopped what he was doing and stared at Hotch in astonishment. "You're a coward and a fool," Hotch hissed, glad at having diverted his attention for several moments. "Your sister outsmarted you, and you're taking out your anger on people who can't fight back. You're the victim of your own game, Lloyd."
Booker was seething with anger by this point. "Take it back," he snapped.
"Or what?" Hotch replied, letting out a laugh. "You'll kill me? We're all going to die anyways. You're not going to kill me because you don't want to accept that the game is over. You won't kill me. You won't kill any of us. You're too much of a fool. Of a coward. Too much of a—"
The rest of Hotch's sentence was cut off by a loud, deafening shot.
Things moved in slow motion—Reid might have heard screaming, but the ringing in his ears made it impossible to hear anything. Hotch staggered backwards for a second, clutching his chest, then collapsed onto the ground.
Everything was completely silent for less than a second. Then, Jack got to his feet—his eyes wide, his hands shaking—and, slowly, took one step towards Hotch, before stopping—as if too frightened to continue—and then collapsing onto his knees again, his eyes not moving from his father's figure. Mechanically, Reid bent down and felt for a pulse. He felt nothing. "Hotch?" he whispered.
There was no answer.
"The game isn't over." Reid's eyes were jolted away from his fallen teammate as Booker started to speak. His voice was strange—it was dazed, disembodied, and almost remorseful. "It's not over yet. Is it, Spencer?"
Reid just stared at Booker numbly—he was slowly being obscured as the room filled with rising smoke. "We never wanted to play your game," Reid whispered. It was at this point that Henry's crying started up again—Reid ran over to him and picked him up off the ground, unsure of what else to do. "I want to go home," Henry whimpered, over and over. "I want to go home, Dr. Reid. I want to go home."
Reid didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say. By the time he had turned around, Booker was gone.
"Have they heard any news?" Rossi demanded. The sheriff had just gotten off of the phone with one of his officers—although he knew there was nothing he could do to help, Rossi couldn't suppress the feeling that he should have gone with Morgan instead of staying at the station.
The sheriff shook his head. "Not yet," he said. "Your teammate and a few of my guys drove down there to check out the scene, but it doesn't look good so far—it's difficult for them to get at the fire. They're not going to send any men in just yet—it's a suicide mission, and besides, we aren't even sure if there's anyone down there. He could have set fire to the place to get rid of evidence."
"There would have been no reason for that," Rossi said, "especially since he had no indication that we even knew the place existed. Setting it on fire would just call attention to it—and it's not like there's anything he needs to hide. We already know his identity."
"So, what's the point?" the sheriff asked. "Is there something we're missing?"
"That," Rossi said, "Or it was an accident. The amount of chemicals he must have needed in order to make all these explosives he's using—it's bound to create a hazardous work environment."
"Well, let's hope for that one," the sheriff said. "If this son-of-a-bitch burns to death in a chemical fire, it'll be the bare minimum punishment for the people he's killed."
"True," Rossi muttered darkly, "As long as his victims don't burn with him."
"Sir!" Both Rossi and the sheriff turned around, surprised, as Eva Booker approached them. She was holding a cell phone. "I'm sorry," she said. "I know I've just been interrupting your investigation. My friend just called me—I'm going to stay over at her house."
Rossi was surprised at this rapid change in opinion. "Are you sure?" he asked her.
She nodded. "Yes," she said. "I do hope you'll call me when you find any news on him—zoom—but this whole thing has been incredibly taxing on my nerves." She gave Rossi a smile. "Lloyd's made his decisions, and I have to accept that he wasn't the person I thought he was." She paused for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders once. "What I mean," she said, "Is that I suppose it's time to move on."
Rossi gave the girl a sympathetic smile—he could only suspect that this sudden calmness was some sort of defense mechanism, but he was glad that she would finally be out of the police station. "Of course," he said. "We'll call you as soon as we hear any news."
Eva's smile widened. "You've all been awfully nice to me," she said. "I can't thank you enough. A lot of people would have kicked me out the door for being such a nuisance. Zoom."
"No need to thank us," the sheriff said, although the large smile on his face suggested he was quite alright with the flattery. "We're just doing our jobs, miss. You have a nice day now."
"Thank you," Eva said, glancing briefly at the sheriff. "Goodbye, Agent Rossi," she added with a smile. "It's been very nice meeting you. Zoom." Then she glanced back down at her phone and walked out of the police station, not looking back.
"Well, thank goodness she's gone," the sheriff said. "Family members are always a bit of a distraction, especially if they can't get control of their emotions."
"Yes," Rossi muttered. For some inexplicable reason, however, he couldn't dispel the feeling that they'd made a huge mistake by allowing her to walk out the doors.
"What's wrong?" the sheriff asked. "I'm sure she'll be fine."
"Yes," Rossi muttered. "But, it's just… she is his sister." He paused for a moment, struggling to find a rational excuse for his hunch. "Sometimes people remember things that they don't even know are important."
"So we might learn he was afraid of clowns as a kid," the sheriff chortled, rolling his eyes. "In all truthfulness, Agent Rossi, you profilers do good work, but there's a point where you need to stop focusing on the guy's past and just focus on catching the son-of-a-bitch. We're so close to bringing this guy to justice—we can't afford any more distractions at this point."
"Yes," Rossi muttered, decidedly pushing Eva Booker out of his mind. He would figure it out later—right now, he just needed his friends to get home safely. "Yes, I suppose you're right."
"Jack, you have to get up."
"No." The child sat somberly, defiantly, angrily, clasping his father's hand.
"Jack, I'm sorry. I know you want to stay with him. But if you don't come with me, you're going to die."
"We take him with us," Jack said simply. "We have to take him with us or I'm not coming."
Henry started coughing. The smoke was making it difficult to see.
"We can't," Reid snapped. "I have to carry Henry. I can barely walk on my own."
"Then I'll stay here," Jack said bitterly.
"Jack, you're only a child. Your father was just killed. You're not thinking straight. Hotch would have wanted you to come with me. He would kill you right now, if he knew what you were doing. You have to—" Reid broke off suddenly as he started coughing himself. They didn't have much time. In a fit of desperation, he grabbed onto Jack's arm and attempted to manually pull him towards the doorway.
"NO!" Jack shouted, wrenching his arm away with such force that Reid almost fell to the ground. He threw himself on top of his father. "He died saving me," Jack said. "He wanted us to be together."
"You won't be together if you're both dead!" Reid shouted, completely exasperated. He started coughing again. "Jack, you don't understand. If we don't leave now, we're all going to die."
Jack still didn't move. "People are always saying I don't understand," he said bitterly. "They think that kids can't understand anything. But I do. I know that my dad came here to find me because I'm all he's got. Now we're together, and I'm not going to leave him. He wouldn't leave me, and I'm not going to leave him."
Reid just shook his head. He couldn't speak anymore—the smoke was stinging his eyes, burning his nose and his mouth. "He would have wanted you to live," Reid gasped eventually. "Jack…please…"
"I don't care," Jack whispered. "It's not about what he wants. It's about what I want. I want us to be together. I want…" Jack stopped speaking entirely, his rapid breaths turning into the awful sound of coughing as the smoke filled his lungs. Henry's crying had turned to screaming.
Reid couldn't move. He wished that Tobias were here. He was feeling incredibly lightheaded—his vision started swimming as tears of pain and anger filled his eyes. Numbly, he took a step backwards.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered, unsure whether he was speaking to Jack or to Hotch. Then he clutched Henry closer to him and ran for the door.
The next room was slightly clearer, but Reid couldn't see any other doors in sight—just a small ladder leading upwards. "Don't let go of me, Henry," Reid demanded, heading towards the ladder as the terrified child clung to his neck.
"Is Jack going to die?" Henry whimpered, his small voice nearly inaudible. Reid ignored him as he pulled his exhausted body up the ladder, barely able to see through the haze of the rising smoke. After what seemed like an eternity, he had reached the top—he realized that he was now looking down from the same type of rafters Booker had been standing before. He crawled forwards, trying to keep his head down—but the smoke was everywhere.
"Are we going to die?" Henry asked, his voice sounding cloudy and far away. Moments later, the child fell limp in his arms.
"Hold your breath, Henry," Reid although he knew his advice would not reach its listener. He crawled forwards blindly—he shut his eyes against the smoke and reached out in front of him, praying to find any sort of ladder or door that would get them out of this. What he came in contact with, however, was a human arm.
Reid recoiled in horror—when he raised his hand to his face, he was confronted with the smell of warm blood.
"Booker?" Reid gasped. The villain's face swam into view—Reid felt as if he were going to throw up. Half of the face had been blown off, replaced by a half open skull and a flowing red tide of blood that seeped down his neck and onto his shoulder, inches from Reid's face. One eye stared aimlessly at the ceiling. The handgun lay on the ground several inches away.
"I guess this means you lose," Reid whispered, completely transfixed by horror and anger and a strange sense of satisfaction. He was snapped back to reality, however, by a small flicker of light out of the corner of his eye—inspired by a frantic sense of hope and desperation, he crawled over Booker's bloody figure and towards the light, one hand continuing to clutch Henry to his chest. As he approached it, Reid saw the source of the light—a small hole, several feet above them, beautiful and surreal—
Reid grasped onto the first rung of the ladder, attempting to pull himself up—but his leg gave out underneath him, and he collapsed back onto the ground. Furiously, Reid grabbed onto the ladder again, attempting to climb the rungs using one arm and one leg.
He made it two rungs up before he fell again. Letting out a scream of rage, Reid grabbed on the ladder again. The smoke was even thicker higher up—Reid couldn't breathe anymore—he could feel himself growing dizzier, fainter, weaker.
"No!" he shouted, surprised at the strength of the voice coming from his lungs. "We'll make it, Henry. Don't worry. It wasn't for nothing. I promise. It wasn't for nothing." He pulled himself up one more time, the blood on his hands causing them to slide on the rungs of the metal ladder. "We'll make it. For Hotch. For Jack. For JJ." He pulled himself up another rung—the light seemed miles away. "We'll make it," he said nonetheless, forcing his exhausted body to climb further. "We'll make it…we'll make it…we'll…." He felt his hand slide off of the ladder without ever consciously allowing it—moments later, he crashed to the ground again, the excruciating pain from the fall numbed by his slow and steady loss of consciousness. He felt Henry fall out of his arms and onto the floor, but he couldn't muster the strength to reach out towards him again. The child didn't move.
Reid simply lay there for several moments, barely able to think through the shock and anger and exhaustion. He could hear voices calling his name—voices that sounded familiar but for some reason he couldn't identify. He gazed upwards at the small circle of light. He thought he could see a face swimming into his view, peering down at him from the other side. "Tobias?" Reid gasped. He couldn't make out who it was—it was nothing more than a silhouette. Was this the joke all along? Reid thought bitterly, no longer able to speak. It was never about the decision. We were always going to die in the end.
Although the face was far away, he could hear Tobias' voice as if it were right beside him. "It was always about the decision," the voice said. Reid continued to stare at the circle of light. More faces appeared. But they seemed so unreachable—so far away and insignificant. He hated the circle of light. It wasn't a rescue—it was a torment.
My whole life's been a nightmare, he thought. And I'm so, so tired…
Seconds later, he was enveloped in darkness.