Title: there is no hunting like the hunting of man

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: PG-ish; gen

Disclaimer: The words are mine, the worlds are not.

Spoilers: Canon through at least Season 4 of CM, and for The Avengers (2012) and associated movies

A/N: Written for jedimasterstar in the 2012/2013 Xover Exchange. Thanks to MaeveBran for the swift beta! Title from a Hemingway quote Gideon used in an early CM episode.

Summary: Four times the BAU profiled the Avengers, and one time the Avengers returned the favor.

1. better left alone

"Before we give our assessment," SSA Hotchner said, frowning at the BAU's guest. "I have to ask. Why come to us now, and not five years ago after the initial incidents?"

The visitor, a bland-faced man in a bureaucrat's suit that almost succeeded at camouflaging a field agent's musculature, seemed unsurprised by the question. "Primary responsibility for tracking Dr. Banner only shifted to the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division after the more recent episodes at Culver University and in Harlem. Prior to that, the Army was in charge of the manhunt, and in particular forces under General Ross. However, the degree of variation between previous profiles of Dr. Banner and the behavior we observed in his counterpart during those events has led us to conclude that a secondary assessment might be valuable."

Agent Coulson's expression remained mild and unaffected as he spoke- as misleading, Hotch was sure, as the very careful wording of the explanation. Hotch's legal background gave him a certain amount of appreciation for anyone who could use so many words to say so little about such obviously charged subjects; but what little there was, was promising. SHIELD had a reputation for a sharp eye and a long arm, and the fact that they had sought outside their own intelligence department for a specialist's opinion made him a little less concerned about their reaction to the conclusions he was about to deliver.

"I'll admit, we were a little concerned at first that Dr. Banner's- eccentricities- might render traditional profiling methods inapplicable," Hotch admitted, returning understatement for understatement. "But the patterns of behavior are clear. In essence, he's a man with dissociative identity disorder, exhibiting primary structural dissociation: one personality with blunted emotional reactivity responsible for day to day functionality, and a secondary personality tied in to fight-or-flight responses, vivid traumatic memories, and strong, painful emotions. We've seen it before. Whatever form he wears, he's still human. But while we do not dispute that he can be dangerous, particularly when the EP is dominant, Dr. Banner does not fit the profile of a violent aggressor."

Coulson lifted his eyebrows a fraction. "Can you elaborate on that statement? At the moment, the tally of casualties and property damage is quite eloquent in support of General Ross' position."

Morgan crossed his arms at Hotch's side. "It's pretty obvious from the surveillance data you brought us that Dr. Banner's alter, the green guy your file calls the Hulk, only emerges when he feels endangered- or when someone he cares about is endangered. Even as the Hulk, he doesn't strike first, and he doesn't continue to attack once the present danger has been neutralized. And perhaps more tellingly- the Hulk is capable of discerning friend from foe, aligned with Dr. Banner's preferences."

"In addition," Reid added, gesturing to the map tacked to a nearby corkboard, "the pattern of the Hulk's behavior in the aftermath of each incident is overwhelmingly recessive." He touched a green pushpin denoting Culver's location, then traced a trail through a series of other pushpins. "Once the threat is removed, he runs, as fast and far as he can. Which is quite far given his, ah, divergent physiology. Dr. Banner's return to Culver this year is the first time he's approached the site of a past incident in the time you've been tracking him, and even that was not an aggressive move; his sole intent seems to have been to cure himself of his condition. And the fact that he failed did not prevent him, as either personality, from defending Dr. Ross or saving lives in New York."

"He will not respond well if confronted or restrained in any way," Hotch concluded. "He has significant negative experience with authority figures, and will not trust another easily, if ever. But he is not an imminent threat. He will defend himself if provoked, but if he hasn't gone on a killing spree in the last five years, he's unlikely to do so in future, absent further stressors."

"Then your advice would be- to maintain surveillance, but keep our distance?" Agent Coulson replied.

Hotch nodded, handing over a copy of the detailed report. "And hope he continues to seek help on his own. Under ordinary circumstances, I'd recommend psychiatric intervention- but I think you'll agree that's contraindicated in Dr. Banner's case."

Coulson nodded respectfully as he took the file. "Thank you, Agent Hotchner. Agents. We had come to similar conclusions, but your recommendations will be of help in informing future policy."

2. one may smile, and smile

Emily bit her lip as she watched Tony Stark needling her boss from across the room. Ambassador Prentiss had invited the team to one of her parties as thanks for their assistance in a recent case; it wasn't any grand important occasion, but there were several minor diplomats and other larger-than-life personalities among the other guests. Including the self-proclaimed "Iron Man".

"Man, look at Hotch grinding his teeth. Think Stark's noticed?"

Emily suppressed a grin at Morgan's comment, and turned to take the extra glass he'd retrieved for her. "Whatever else he may be, Stark's not dumb. And watch- every time he smiles, he shows more teeth. I wonder if Mom knew he was coming when she invited us?"

"Even if she did, she might have thought we'd all react like Garcia," Reid observed, walking up on her other side with a plate of hors d'oeuvres and nodding in the direction of their technical analyst.

Penelope had all but shouldered an impassive Hotch aside as she approached the billionaire magnate, smiling from ear to ear as she babbled something at him; Stark's expression grew even more amused as he replied.

"Baby girl just met one of her tech gods," Morgan sighed, shaking his head. "We'll be lucky to pry her away from him before the end of the night. Good thing his reputation's cleaned up a little since he came back to the States, or I might be thinking about calling Lynch."

Emily raised her eyebrows, turning to him. "You think? I thought Stark usually dated supermodels."

"Usually, yeah. But he always went for the smart ones. Watch 'em," he nodded, solemnly.

Penelope was fairly incandescent in her delight with the current topic of conversation; and Stark did seem awfully disinclined to brush her off. "Huh," she said. "Though I think Hotch might have something to say about that- he looks about ready to actually express a negative emotion."

Morgan snorted. "Nah; Rossi'll head him off before things get that far. If he notices. Where is he, anyway?"

"Schmoozing," Emily shrugged. "I saw him over by my mother, earlier; he has a few fans, here."

"Figures. But I'm sure not throwing myself on that grenade. Especially not when I half agree with the guy. This 'privatizing world peace' business might not set a good precedent- but it's hard to argue with his reasons for doing it."

Reid frowned. "Really? I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that wealth and status and political climate can so influence public opinion on whether a vigilante should be seen as a criminal or a hero, but the precedents are clear. Mr. Stark is charming, resourceful, and has so far confined his victims to terrorists- but in most respects, his behavior differs little from that of other serial offenders who took the law into their own hands after experiencing a severe stressor. While his initial escape was admirable, as was his change of course for Stark Industries, his individual 'missions' since should have been left to the authorities."

"And if the authorities couldn't, or wouldn't, have done anything about those weapons caches?" Morgan argued with him.

"Guys," Emily groaned, "not here. Neither of you are going to change your minds- and unless or until Stark starts devolving, neither is the rest of the world. Try not to embarrass me, okay?"

She tossed back what was left of her drink, then handed the empty glass to Morgan and forged out across the floor. Forget waiting for Rossi; she hadn't talked Hotch into coming so he could have a terrible evening.

"Ms. Prentiss!" Stark greeted her. "I presume you're here to steal one of my conversational partners? Your mother always invites the most interesting people to her parties. You can have the silent one, but I insist on retaining the attention of this lovely lady for awhile longer. I so rarely meet anyone else who speaks my language."

"It's a deal," she smiled back, as Penelope blushed. "But only temporarily; the BAU won't let Stark Industries steal our tech expert that easily."

"Who said anything about stealing? There would definitely be compensation involved."

It took her another minute or so to small talk her way out of the conversation; by the time she did, Hotch looked as strained as if he'd been working a case for forty-eight hours straight. But he gave her a tired smile as she pulled him away.

"C'mon, silent one," she teased him gently. "Let's enjoy the party. Garcia will be fine."

3. what a world to bring him into

J.J. flipped open the latest case file, reading over the details of the murder sent up to the BAU by a local police department. It was a fairly unusual one; the killer had left very little evidence at the scene, and the victim had been known to have a murky reputation complete with a laundry list of enemies. However, the killer had used a bow and arrow rather than a gun, a rarity in an urban environment.

She winced, pushing the file to a far corner of her desk to come back to later, and continued flipping through the folders.

She was nearly done prioritizing the stack, making sure there were no more pressing cases than the one she'd already chosen to bring to the morning meeting, when Rossi came into her office.

"Agent Rossi! Is there something urgent? I'm nearly ready to brief the team; I just have a few more files to look through."

"No; nothing big- I just heard that there had been another hit on that unsub who kills with a high-tech bow and arrow?"

J.J. nodded to the folder still perched on the corner of her desk. "Yes; a politician this time. I haven't researched it yet, but I'm expecting to run into the same dead ends as all the others."

Rossi picked up the file, frowning as he flipped through it. "You're sure it's the same guy?"

"As sure as I can be without being a profiler," she replied diplomatically. Though she privately thought her job involved nearly as much profiling as what the others did- a lot of behavior analysis went into determining which cases involved more potential loss of life than others, before the official profilers in the unit got the chance to dig into the details. "Same type of extremely long-distance, accurate shot; same type of high-tech composite arrow that disappeared without a trace sometime between the death and the coroner's examination. No other actionable evidence- at least, none pointing to the killer."

He sighed. "I still think he's either an ex-military vigilante- or a black ops agent of some kind that we're not supposed to know about. The extreme degree of organization and lack of commonality among the victims apart from criminal behavior points to the latter, but the weapon's a little flashy for government issue. Heck, it's a little flashy for private issue; you'd think he'd switch up every now and again to avoid attention."

"That's assuming he doesn't already, and that he chooses the bow in these cases specifically to make a point," J.J. winced. "Isn't that what you suggested the first time we investigated one of these?"

Rossi gave a sour grimace. "If he does- the victims are probably lost somewhere, lumped into the rest of these files or written off as single unsolved homicides. I must have called every custom bow maker and fletcher in the country for that first case, and didn't come up with even a single lead. Everything else- even the shoe prints we finally found on the building where the killer perched for his shot- was utterly generic. No hint of him on any surveillance video, no fingerprints, no distinctive grit in his footprints, no suspicious characters turning up in any of the victim's recent known interactions. If he's killing via some other, less noticeable method as well, we'd never know it."

"He'll have to slip up eventually," J.J. shrugged, stacking up the last of her files and picking up the one that would become the day's assignment. Then she stood, pressing one hand against her stomach. She couldn't wait for her temporary replacement to arrive; she loved her job, but it got more tiring every day. Not that maternity leave would be very restful either, but at least it would be a more rewarding type of exhaustion.

"Not that we'll know when he does, if he is an assassin," Rossi shook his head, setting the file down. "His agency will pull him as quickly and as cleanly as he does those arrows."

"Either way, though, at least we'll stop seeing his victims cross our desks," she shrugged, then followed him out of her office.

The topic didn't come up again for another three and a half years; there were no more files, and no notable arrests of men armed with high-tech crossbows. But when the thwarted alien invasion of New York hit the news, complete with coverage of the 'Avengers'- J.J. met eyes with Rossi across the conference room, and wondered.

4. reaching out to touch someone

"I haven't known him for very long, but yes, I count him as a friend," the witness replied to Derek's question. "He came almost every day, helping out as much as he could, until he suddenly stopped showing up late last week. I've been worried something might have happened."

Ordinarily, Derek might wonder if there were other layers behind that answer; might look for emotional cues that didn't match the words, perhaps hints that the witness was covering for the unsub, or just not wanting to speak ill of a friend. Or not wanting to cooperate with a cop at all.

It was downright impossible to suspect anything of the sort from this guy, though. Derek had gaped when the leader of the clean-up crew working to clear the rubble from the streets of New York after the alien invasion had introduced him to 'their best guy'; it wasn't every day you ran across Captain America in his civvies. Even without the stars and stripes, he fairly radiated wholesomeness and sincerity; you could tell he was a guy that had seen things, but still cared more than the average, everyday human being. If he said the guy had been a good worker? Derek believed him.

"Had he lost someone in the invasion?" Prentiss asked gently, beside him. "Or had he received some other bad news, recently? Something that might have upset him?"

Captain America- Rogers- nodded in response, his expression clouding up. "His wife was in the disaster zone when it happened; one of the flyers crashed into their apartment. We tried to keep the Chitauri as close to the tower as we could, but there were still far too many casualties. I talked with Greg about it a lot; about losing everything that meant something in your life, and how you rebuild from there. But he seemed to be dealing with it about as well as could be expected."

Derek cleared his throat. "Can you think of anything that might have been- different, that last day? Did he have any visitors? Maybe a phone call? Did he talk about anything he hadn't mentioned before?"

Rogers frowned. "Now that I think about it- he may have found something when we were clearing the street that day..." He turned to the bag at his side and pulled out a sketchbook, flipping through the pages. They were covered in pencil drawings; good ones, from what Derek could see. He snuck a quick, amazed glance in Prentiss' direction, and caught her rounding her eyes at him, too.

"I didn't think anything of it at the time, because we weren't anywhere near his old apartment, and it wasn't a piece of the alien tech- SHIELD already went through and collected the remaining artifacts. It was just- a piece of a sign, I think. Yeah, here."

He stopped on a sketch of a man bending in front of the remains of a collapsed bus shelter, a half-wrecked street behind him. Cars lay overturned, and broadly sketched, damaged buildings framed him; in his hands, the guy held a twisted piece of metal. He looked almost stricken by it; fascinated and disbelieving, somehow. And the face, though small and lightly detailed, was clearly that of the unsub.

"This is him?" Derek asked, just to confirm. "What made you sketch that moment?"

"Something about his expression just- struck me. I've been doing a series of these about the rebuilding; someone saw me sketching the first day I was here, and, well. They're going to be published in a coffee table book when I'm done, the proceeds to go into a fund to help the victims." He shrugged, diffidently.

"The word on the sign- the way it's bent, the visible text seems to spell out his wife's name," Prentiss replied, wincing. "I think we found the stressor."

Derek frowned. Poor bastard. "Yeah, I think you might be right."

Rogers sighed, his shoulders slumping a little. "He never told me her name; I should have realized something was wrong."

Derek shook his head, feeling incredibly awkward; who was he to comfort Captain America? "Whatever he did, if it was him- it ain't on you, man. You aren't responsible for your friend's choices."

"I still feel like he's one more person I failed," Rogers sighed. Then he tore the page out and handed it to Prentiss. "I just hope this tragedy doesn't claim any more victims."

"We all do, man," Derek replied. "We'll do our best to make certain of it."

5. when it rains, it pours

Spencer happened to be looking up at just the right moment to watch the man in the flowing red cape and ornate armor drop out of the sky beside him, as impossible in person as he had been on TV.

"Are you the agents who sought to apprehend this villain?" the warrior asked- or rather boomed, his voice carrying clearly over the chaotic noise of battle around them.

"Yes!" Spencer replied, then thought better of the brief answer; it was possible there were other agencies involved, after all. Thor worked with agents from SHIELD, according to the newspaper reports. "That is; we're from the FBI, the Behavioral Analysis Unit. I'm Dr. Reid; this is SSA Hotchner." He pointed to his boss, currently crouching on his other side behind the wrecked car they were using as a defensive screen.

"Well met!" Thor replied, then ducked as some kind of energy blast flew overhead and started spinning his hammer in one hand. It moved more swiftly, and more smoothly, through that circular path than Spencer would have thought humanly possible; but then, Thor wasn't human, was he? He stared as the hammer flew from Thor's hand, impacting with something beyond Spencer's line of sight in a loud clang; then the hammer retraced its path, smacking solidly against Thor's palm.

"I take it this lab is more than just a biochemical research facility?" Hotch called out. Neither the unsub's method of killing, nor the stressor that had led him to start killing college-aged women, had appeared to have anything to do with his job or his place of work; they'd been caught completely by surprise when they'd flashed their badges at the door and been suddenly swarmed by an army of- well, Spencer wasn't sure what they were. They resembled something out of the order Lepidoptera, only several times the size of an unaltered butterfly, and armed with what appeared to be lasers.

"Indeed not!" Thor replied. "It is affiliated with that most persistent of organizations known as HYDRA. Ill luck, my friend! Though we shall certainly defeat his minions, I mislike your chances of retaining him in your custody." He raised his hammer again, though upward this time, not swinging it around; then a vast shock of energy streamed down from the sky, drawn from suddenly-appearing clouds, and channeled through the hammer to blast down a cloud of the oversized, cyborged insects.

Gods and monsters, Spencer thought absently, blinking the dust thrown up from the shattered concrete out of his eyes; though it would have been more poetic had the god in question been Heracles, rather than a member of an entirely separate pantheon. He had read primarily Greek and Roman mythology as a child, not Norse, but he was fairly certain the scaled enemy associated with Thor was the world serpent Jörmungandr, not the multi-headed Hydra.

"Just stop him, and I won't contest jurisdiction!" Hotch called back, then coughed and spoke low in Spencer's ear, his voice roughened by both debris and frustration. "That should have been in the file! Remind me to ask Garcia when we get back to find out who thought we didn't need to know about this."

More blasts flew overhead; then a red and gold armored figure shot by, followed by an enormous, roaring green form. Spencer looked up again, and thought he saw a figure with a compound bow and a red-haired woman in a tight-fitting leather outfit atop a nearby building, firing at individual laser-wings as they broke from the mass to swarm upward; and somewhere out of sight, he thought he heard the loud, vibrating clang of a disc-shaped weapon impacting a hard target.

"I must leave you here; do not move, for your own safety, I beg of you," Thor said as a parting shot.

"Not going to argue with that," Spencer replied to both of them. The overlap between the pool of unsubs they investigated and the world of heroes and supervillains had been growing rapidly of late; they might have to start taking unusual precautions, such as carrying tranquilizers and tasers, to prevent further catastrophes. He had heard via an online acquaintance that the latter were even effective against Asgardians, if applied with sufficient charge and lack of warning.

He'd have to tell her all about the day's events later; well, whatever turned out not to be classified.

Another flash of electricity lit up the area with the taste of ozone, and Spencer settled down to wait out the show.


(Prompt: Partially inspired by the specific prompt, "Avengers/Criminal Minds - either one or all of the BAU ends up solving a case in New York that has them keep running into one or all the Avengers", and subtitled from five of the recipient's general prompts. Requester also asked for no Natasha.)