Chapter 1: What The Thunder Said
They'd been in the middle of nowhere when it started, but according to Reid, that's probably one of the best places to be in the case of a zombie apocalypse.
Zombie Cantos: What The Thunder Said
* * *
After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot
We do what we must, and call it by the best names.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
* * *
Two Months After the Zombie Apocalypse
The sun beats down intently, and they’d run out of sunscreen a little while ago, so Emily knows she’s probably going to end up with sunburn one way or another. There’s not really much shade, even after they’d made some serious changes to the town’s buildings. Twelve months ago, she’d been as pale as a ghost, and now her skin’s feeling a little like leather – darker, tough, calloused. It’ll be just her luck to die of skin cancer before the zombies ever get around to killing her.
She finds herself a lot more cynical these days, too. They all are, in one way or another. She wonders if she’ll even recognize herself in five years time, whether she’ll simply be another person altogether.
She checks her watch. Five minutes past the hour. Morgan’s late. It’s not usual, but she’s not worried yet. The days tend to drag a bit sometimes, and it’s easy to get lost in your own little world. In any case, it’s a small town – getting lost is next to impossible. He could have fallen down a set of stairs and broken his neck, and part of her hates herself for thinking that such an event might be enviable. Still, she breathes a sigh of relief when she sees him walking up the staircase out of the corner of her eye, rifle slung over his shoulder.
‘Hey,’ she greets him. She’s not ready to leave just yet – she’s too wired, even though absolutely nothing has happened. The same way absolutely nothing has happened for the past two months.
‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘Reid was showing me a new filtration technique he’s been working on.’
The town’s location is both a blessing and a curse – they’d been in the middle of nowhere when it had started, which, according to both Reid and Garcia (who apparently had discussed this casually, before it had even become a blip on the horizon) is one of the best places to be in the case of a zombie apocalypse.
It has its downsides too, of course. Rain isn’t exactly the most frequent occurrence, which means they need to do what they can to conserve water. The smell’s starting to get so bad that it’s a wonder the zombies haven’t managed to track them down from that alone. Next town they hit, she’s going to try and pick up some clothes – at the very least, a new shirt. This one’s torn and dirty, and her skin is so slick with sweat that it’s sticking to her back. Next time it rains, a shower might be nice.
Maybe next time there’s an apocalypse she’ll suggest somewhere a little less dry.
‘It’s not like I have anything else to do,’ she says, which isn’t exactly true. Hotch and the local sheriff are planning a recon trip to search for more supplies, and she wants to go put her name down on the volunteer list. Her name has been on that list for every single trip, the same way that Morgan’s has, as well as Rossi’s and Hotch’s and JJ’s. Reid goes sometimes, when he’s not busy working on new and improved long-term survival techniques, and even though it’s been months, Garcia still hasn’t quite gotten used to carrying a gun.
Apart from that, Emily’s been reading her way through the local library’s collection. It had taken Reid about six weeks. It’s taking her a lot longer. It’s not exactly big – before the zombie apocalypse, the town had housed less than a thousand people, and the library itself is about the size of a trailer. It gives her something to do, though. Something to cling on to besides sentry duty and reconnaissance, and endless games of poker by flickering firelight.
Even then, deep down, she knows that there’s no going back. There won’t be any more weekend barbecues at JJ and Will’s place. No more B-grade sci-fi nights with Garcia and Reid and an overabundance of burnt popcorn because she’d left the saucepan on the stove a little bit too long. They’ve got just enough power to keep the place going without throwing TVs and DVD players into the mix. Maybe one day, when efficient renewable energy is a little more than just a pipe dream.
‘Anything new?’ Morgan asks, letting the rifle settle into a quasi-offensive position. The terrain is such that they’ll see any zombie-related threat long before it gets there, but they haven’t stayed alive this long by throwing caution to the wind.
‘I think there’re a few grains of sand over there that I’ve never seen before,’ she deadpans, and he gives a dry laugh, even though it’s really not that funny. By all technicalities, it’s not really a desert, but a steppe, but the dry heat is so permeating that it’s often hard to think of it as anything other than an arid, lifeless panorama. She thinks of how the cities must look – New York, with its once bustling streets, the sounds of car horns and idling car engines. She’s been in cities her entire life, albeit cities all across the world. Thinking of the stillness that they’re probably overcome with now kind of freaks her out.
The places they’ve hit in their reconnaissance missions have generally been small to medium sized towns – big enough to have a few supplies, small enough that any zombie threat is overcome without loss of life. That said, they’ve lost a few people, and it never gets any easier. Not really.
She adjusts her rifle, slinging it back over her shoulder. ‘I’m gonna go talk to Hotch.’ She gestures towards the building in the middle of town that’s served as something of a headquarters. Before the apocalypse, it had served as the police station, so it’s a big stretch. They’ve just got different aims now. ‘Harrison’s relieving you at four, right?’
‘Yeah – you’ll be at the station?’
She gives him a short wave before climbing down the stairs and heading towards the station. The rest of the team (if they can really call themselves “the team” anymore) is there, along with the local cops, and a few of the more authoritative residents of the town.
‘Hey.’ JJ gives her a nod, unperturbed by the disheveled appearance that’s become the norm. Reid hands her a plastic cup and she peers inside, skeptical. She’s thirsty, yes, but the last time he’d handed her a plastic cup, it had been filled with processed urine.
‘It’s safe,’ he tells her, sounding a little crestfallen. ‘I haven’t perfected the new filtration system, so we’re still going off tank water.’
‘He only wishes he could get you to drink urine again,’ Garcia comments, and Emily laughs, just as Morgan had with her own lame joke, because happiness is something that’s in short supply, and they’re doing everything they can to maintain it, even though it’s not really working that well.
‘Are you sure?’ she asks, still a little hesitant. The water’s old, but the last she’d heard, they were running fairly low.
‘There’s a low pressure front coming in,’ Reid provides, and she can see the light in his eyes at the discovery. In retrospect, she thinks that Morgan must have already known, and had been leaving the news for Reid to present. It does seem to give the former profiler an edge of unbridled enthusiasm. ‘We should get a bit of rain soon. Enough to keep us going for a few months at least.’
It’s welcome news, if he’s right, but she’s come to learn that Spencer Reid is very rarely wrong. She wonders how long they would have survived this without his abundance of seemingly trivial knowledge. He pushes the cup towards her again, and she takes it with much less hesitation. It’s pretty damn hot outside, and she’d rather not pass out from dehydration.
She turns her attention to the map that’s been stuck to the nearest wall, dotted with circles and crosses. The towns they’ve hit and the ones they haven’t. They’ll have to start spreading wider soon, and Emily wonders how long gas is going to hold out. Bicycles might be the transport of the future.
She’s been there less than half an hour before she realizes that she’s seriously tired. It’s amazing how exhausting standing around keeping watch can be. A yawn escapes before she can suppress it.
‘Get some rest,’ Hotch tells her, and she’s almost ready to argue before he adds. ‘You’re no good to us if you’re dead on your feet. Take the afternoon, and we’ll brief you tonight. I want to leave early tomorrow.’
She nods. ‘Okay. Fine.’ There’s a quick round of goodbyes, and Rossi gives her a pat on the shoulder, and part of her wants to punch him for it. She’s pretty sure this new lifestyle is only exacerbating some of his more chauvinistic character traits. At the same time, though, she’s grateful, because it’s another one of those anchors.
Stepping outside she sees the dark clouds in the distance, and wonders why she hadn’t noticed them earlier. Of course, she’d been staring in the other direction all day, the back of the first sentry tower blocking the clouds from view.
Reid is right – there’s a storm on the way. Not one of those metaphorical cliché ones that always seems to show up. Not one of those ones that’s supposed to be symbolic for darkness. A storm looks pretty good right about now, because they definitely need the water. Hopefully it won’t wash out tomorrow’s recon trip.
She pulls a key from her pocket, the number “4” engraved on it. The town’s single motel has become something of a barracks, albeit a barracks with a multitude of near useless technology. She can’t flip on the air-conditioning and watch whatever happens to be on the Sci-Fi channel. Right now, she thinks she’d settle for Lifetime.
It’s just as hot inside, so she opens the single window in the room and strips down to her underwear. It’s not exactly paradise, but she works with what she’s got. Lying down on top of the covers, she grabs a book from the nightstand. Nausea, by Sartre. She’s read it before, but she’s going to read it again anyway, mostly because she needs to.
She falls asleep a dozen pages in.
Outside, the rain starts to fall.
Chapter 2: Miles to Go Before I Sleep
Getting out of town is harder than it looks. Finding your family is much, much harder.
Zombie Cantos: Miles To Go Before I Sleep
* * *
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening – Robert Frost
Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.
* * *
The day of the Zombie Apocalypse.
Jack Hotchner is ten years old the day the world ends.
His aunt had been called away, so he’s staying with Will and Henry. They watch SpongeBob, and Will makes dirty rice, which Jack had been hesitant about eating the first time, but now he loves it as much as he loves the Mac and Cheese that his father sometimes makes when he’s home.
The doorbell rings, and Jack finds himself sitting up a little bit straighter, his eyes straying from the TV to the door. His father’s job is dangerous, and sometimes he thinks he’s waiting for the day where he’s told that his daddy isn’t coming home. Aunt Jessica had laughed and called him “cynical”. He hadn’t known what cynical meant, but his aunt had the look in her eyes that all adults seem to have when they’re trying to hide something.
Will’s had that look in his eye all day.
Henry doesn’t seem to notice anything. The six-year-old laughs at the TV screen. Jack’s pretty sure that Henry never has to talk to the school counselor about his “anti-social” behavior. He’s not entirely sure what “anti-social” is supposed to mean either.
He gets up quietly, and Henry doesn’t seem to notice. There are hushed voices coming from the front door – one of them is Will, and he thinks the other one is Kevin – Penelope’s boyfriend. It’s kinda weird, because both Penelope and Henry’s mom are with his dad, and Kevin and Will don’t really have anything in common.
‘…in Arizona…’ he hears Kevin say. ‘If we leave now before the news starts spreading, we can make it there by Tuesday.’
‘I dunno, Kev. I mean…zombies? You sure you’re not just gettin’ paranoid?
‘The dead are walking, Will. Zombies don’t get much more real than that.’
Jack frowns. The kids at school sometimes talk about zombies – about people rising from their graves and eating other people. He doesn’t find it as funny as they do. He remembers seeing part of a movie once, where zombies tore apart a man. His dad had put a parental lock on the TV after that – he can’t watch anything above PG. He’s not so sure he really wants to.
‘You’ve seen the news,’ Kevin insists. He sounds serious – much more serious than Jack’s ever heard him. Usually, he’s Mr. Funny, trying to crack jokes, even if they are pretty lame. ‘If there’s something going down, then we need to get out of here. If there isn’t, then what have we lost?’
Will turns back towards the television, and Jack realizes that he’s been caught out.
‘Hey buddy,’ Will says. ‘What’s up?’ He’s got that tone of voice, like he’s pretending that everything’s okay, when really it’s not. It’s the tone of voice that his father uses day after day.
Jack hates it.
‘What’s going on?’ he asks. Will and Kevin share a look.
‘We’re going for a drive,’ Will says eventually. ‘Do you want to go make sure your bag is packed?’ Jack knows he isn’t going to help the situation in any way by acting like a whiny kid; there’s definitely something bad going on, even if Will and Kevin won’t tell him what it is.
He goes upstairs to the guest bedroom and packs his things into the matching Batman duffle bag and backpack set Spencer had given him for his ninth birthday. He can hear Henry wailing about the loss of SpongeBob as Will leads him up the stairs.
‘…We’re going to go see your Mama – that’s much better than SpongeBob, right?’ The statement seems to calm Henry down a little bit. A second set of footsteps tells him that Kevin is standing at the door.
‘That’s a pretty cool bug-out bag,’ the technical analyst says. ‘Did it come with a utility belt?’
Jack wrinkles his brow. ‘What’s a bug-out bag?’
‘It’s a bag you pack with all the things you need staying alive in an emergency evacuation. You know, food, clothes, first-aid kit. In case you need to survive some kind of disaster.’
Kevin gives him a grin. ‘You’re a smart kid, Jack. Like your dad.’ He’s not entirely sure he likes that comparison, but he doesn’t say anything.
‘Do you have a bug-out bag?’
‘I do,’ Kevin says. ‘But it’s not as awesome as this one. Batman? We are going to kick some zombie ass.’ He’s lying, and not very well. ‘You prefer DC?’ Kevin continues, picking up a t-shirt that’s lying in the corner of the room and passing it over.
Jack shrugs. ‘They’re both good, I guess. Marvel has Captain America and Iron Man, but DC has Superman and Batman, so it’s hard to pick.’
‘Totally agree. But I must give my heart to DC for one reason alone – Barbara Gordon. Yowza.’ He makes a silly face, and Jack’s not entirely sure what he means, but he figures it’s probably an adult thing. Kevin pats him on the shoulder. ‘You’ll understand when you’re a little older.’
It’s another half an hour before they’re ready to leave, and Henry looks a little confused, but Kevin tells a couple of his lame jokes, which causes Henry to laugh a little.
Kevin takes Jack’s bags and loads them into the back of the SUV. There’s a lot of stuff already in there – two really big backpacks, some big plastic containers, and a lot of stuff that Jack doesn’t recognize. He does recognize the gun case, and immediately knows that it’s very, very bad, because guns aren’t something to mess around with for fun. His dad carries a gun, and so does the rest of the team, but he’s never seen Kevin with one, and Will hasn’t had one in a long time.
Will makes a call before they leave, and the phone makes the rounds before it’s finally passed to him.
‘Dad?’ He’s glad to hear his father’s voice, even if he’s not going to admit it.
‘I need you to be strong for me, okay Jack?’
‘I’ll see you soon, Jack. I love you, don’t forget that.’
There’s a brief moment of silence. ‘I love you too, Dad.’
There are a lot of cars on the road – there always are, but today it seems like there are so many more. In the front, Kevin and Will are talking in low voices, and Jack catches the occasional word. Henry’s ignoring them completely, eyes glued to the portable DVD player that’s flashing bright colors. Jack recognizes the movie as Finding Nemo.
He looks out the window instead.
It gets dark pretty quickly, and Will and Kevin argue about whether or not they should drive through the night. In the end, Will wins out, and they stop at a motel for the night.
‘Who wants McDonalds?’ Kevin asks, a big wide grin on his face. It’s for Henry’s sake, Jack knows, but he’s never been one to turn down Chicken McNuggets.
Henry plays with the plastic toy from his Happy Meal while Kevin and Will sit at the table, talking softly. Kevin has his laptop out, and there’s a serious look on his face – the same serious look that’s been hiding behind the smiles all day.
‘How bad is it?’ Jack asks, his hand clutched tightly around the paper cup of lemonade. His dad won’t let him drink coke at nighttime.
‘It’s pretty bad,’ Kevin says, after he and Will share a long glance.
‘What’s bad?’ Henry asks. He walks the tiny plastic dinosaur across the table with a roaring sound. He looks at his father. ‘You said we were going to see Mommy.’
‘We are, buddy,’ Will smiles, ruffling his son’s sandy blond hair. ‘It might take a little longer than we’d thought, though.’
‘Awwww.’ Henry sticks out his bottom lip. ‘Why?’
Instead of answering, Will pulls the boy onto his lap. ‘I’m gonna tell you a story, how does that sound?’
‘Okay.’ Henry doesn’t put down the dinosaur, instead making it walk up and down his father’s arms. ‘I better warn you though, this story is a little scary. It’s only for big boys.’
‘I’m a big boy,’ Henry tells him. The dinosaur makes another load roar.
‘I know you are, buddy.’
It’s not a nice story, and not long in, the dinosaur stops traipsing along Will’s arm. Jack’s not sure he can understand why dead people are coming back to life. It’s much, much harder for Henry.
‘Why are they doing that, Daddy?’ Henry asks. His voice is filled with fear.
‘I dunno, buddy.’
It’s a restless night. Jack wakes up in the early hours of the morning, with Henry cuddled up against him. The younger boy has already had one nightmare, which could only be calmed by his father. He pulls himself away, getting up to use the bathroom. He’s just washed his hands when the door to the motel room opens with a loud noise. It’s Will, with a plastic shopping bag in each hand. Breakfast, Jack see, but from the look on Will’s face, he thinks that eating might need to wait a while.
‘We need to go, now,’ he says urgently. ‘It’s moving faster than we thought.’
Jack’s still dressed in his clothes from the night before, sauce from his burger dried against Captain America’s face. He puts on his shoes, and helps Kevin take their gear out to the car while Will wakes Henry.
‘Oh, fucklesticks,’ says Kevin. Jack can see why – already, the town is in chaos. Cars are bumper to bumper on the main street. Alarms are blaring in the distance. He wonders how many people never even made it out of their homes.
‘It’s an SUV,’ Jack points out. ‘Can’t we go off-road?’
‘I think we might have to,’ agrees Kevin, hoisting their things into the back of the vehicle. ‘Too much danger of infection on the roads anyway. Too many people.’
There’s a loud moan, startling them both. Kevin goes straight to the gun case, flipping it open and pulling out a handgun. The source of the noise isn’t so far away – Jack’s first impression is that it looks human but not quite human at the same time. It’s a young man – maybe Kevin’s age. His hair is messed, his clothes are torn, and he’s covered in blood. His skin looks like a shade of puke green. It moans again.
Kevin fumbles with the weapon slightly, flicking the safety on and then off again before leveling it towards the creature that’s dragging itself towards them. It moves strangely, though Jack’s not quite sure how to describe it.
The gun fires twice, the first bullet missing, the second taking a chunk out of the man’s head. Jack flinches. So does Kevin.
‘Holy crap.’ Kevin stares at the twitching body before turning to Jack. ‘Get in the car.’ Jack does so, hearing Kevin thump on the motel room door and yelling, ‘Hurry up.’ He slides into the driver’s seat, and it’s not long before Will and Henry are buckled up, and they’re on the move once more.
There’s an eerie silence as they drive. Jack can feel his heart beating rapidly – he’s more scared than he’s ever been. He’s not about to admit it, though.
They drive until the gas runs out, and even then, they’re still a long way from Arizona. Will tries making a phone call, but after a lot of swearing, he gives up.
‘Where are we?’ Jack asks quietly. Henry’s crying – he doesn’t like it when his father gets upset.
‘About a hundred miles from Columbus,’ Kevin replies, checking the GPS. ‘It’s still another eighteen hundred miles to Arizona.’
‘So what’re we gonna do?’ asks Will. ‘Walk? That’ll take weeks. We don’t have enough water for that long, not to mention the kids.’
‘I don’t see we have any other choice,’ argues Kevin. ‘We can’t just sit around waiting to die. We need to find them.’
Only during daylight hours, and only when it’s not really that hot. The “bug-out bag” that Kevin had mentioned has dried food in there, the kind of stuff Jack would usually wrinkle his nose at. At least they don’t have to start killing animals for food yet.
By the end of the first day, his feet are sorer than they’ve ever been, even after the time his Mom had taken him to the park and he’d run around for what’d felt like hours until it was time to go home. It seems so long ago.
He misses his mother.
He misses his father.
By the end of the first week, he’s sort of gotten used to all the walking, and even Henry has stopped complaining so much, even if he still sniffle a lot. When the sun sets, Kevin and Will take turns keeping watch while the rest of them sleep.
It’s been eight days before they hit the small town that Kevin had been aiming for. They won’t stay long – the threat of zombies is far too high. They’ll hit the supermarket, looking for whatever food and other supplies they can. Kevin says that the town seems fairly wiped out – the infection had hit quickly, giving little time for thought of escape. Will seems keen on picking up more substantial weaponry. The man pauses, and seems to consider something.
‘Jack, did your Daddy ever teach you about weapon safety?’
He nods. It’s something his father had insisted on. Jack knows every single danger that a gun holds. He knows not to touch his father’s service weapon. He knows about bullets. He knows how to use it, if, according to his father “it’s absolutely necessary.” Once upon a time he’d thought his father would be around forever, but now he’s not so sure.
Will hands him the gun and he feels his hands shaking. ‘I want you to stay here with Henry. They’re senses aren’t that great, so you shouldn’t need to use it, but…if you need to – make sure the safety’s off, hold it steady and squeeze the trigger. A headshot will kill them, but they don’t really like loud noises either, so you don’t have to hit it. If they keep coming – run.’
He nods again. The weapon feels big in his hands. His throat is dry.
He misses his father.
‘Is my Daddy coming back?’ Henry asks him, after Will and Kevin have been gone almost an hour. He grips the gun tightly. They’ve heard gunshots, which means there are definitely zombies in the town, but that doesn’t surprise him.
Kevin and Will return with food, but they both look a little shocked, and Will’s machete is covered in a weird looking gunk. They’re scared too, Jack realizes then. They’re just trying hard not to show it.
He relaxes his boundaries a little bit.
They keep walking.
A week on, and he kills his first zombie. It’s coming up behind Will, and its mouth must be broken or something, because it isn’t moaning. He pulls the trigger, and its head explodes. He has nightmares that night.
And they keep walking.
It feels like they’ve been walking forever, but according to the GPS, which Kevin turns on sparingly, because it’s almost out of batteries, they’re not even a quarter of the way there. One night, Kevin digs out a travel chess set that he’d almost forgotten about, and teaches Jack how to play. He’s only ever seen Spencer and Emily play before, and they both play a lot differently to Kevin. They’re quiet, observant, whereas Kevin spends the entire game making fart noises, much to Henry’s amusement. The younger boy plays with his dinosaur. Jack loses his first game, but Kevin tells him that he played well for a first-timer. They turn the board over, and then it’s checkers, and Jack loses again, but he’s not really upset about it.
They keep walking.
It’s getting hotter, so the only walk in the early morning and the late afternoon. The rest of the day they take shade under a tree, or if there’re no trees, Kevin and Will set up a tent from the contents of their packs. One night they do run out of food, but they’re walking through farmland at the time, so Will kills a cow with his machete. The cow’s pretty skinny, and Kevin calls it a mercy-killing, but Jack still feels sick when he sees the blood on the dirty blade.
It’s been almost a month, and even though his life has changed dramatically, Jack doesn’t really miss the little things. He’s never really been that interested in television, and he hasn’t really played with toys in a long time. He likes to read, but the only book they have with them is a very tattered copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which he’s read before. He rereads it anyway, and Kevin and Will both tell them stories. Kevin’s stories usually involve ninjas or pirates.
It’s another month before things change dramatically. Jack takes the gun that Will hands him with acceptance. Henry watches as his father leaves with Kevin. They’ve gotten quicker – at first it had taken a few hours or more to find what they need. Now, they’re usually back in an hour or so, as long as they don’t meet too much resistance, and as long as there’s actually food to be taken.
This time when they come back, they’re running.
There are zombies chasing them – lots of zombies. Jack points the gun in their general direction – near the zombies, but away from Kevin and Will – and fires. His hand doesn’t shake this time. Startled by the noise, the creatures scatter. It’s enough of a distraction for Kevin and Will to make it back to the backpacks and get spare ammunition from their cache. It takes almost ten minutes, and Henry has his eyes closed, his hands over his ears, but the immediate threat passes.
‘That was close,’ says Kevin, his voice unnaturally high. Jack expects a response of some kind from Will, but there isn’t one. The other man is silent, staring at his hand. Jack sees the green-tinged bite mark. So does Kevin.
‘Oh, God. I’m sorry,’ Will says. ‘I only just noticed.’ He takes action almost immediately, making sure there’s a bullet in the chamber of his handgun before ejecting the magazine and passing it to Kevin.
‘You know I need to do it, Kev. Amputation doesn’t work, we’ve both seen that. You need to keep going.’
‘Daddy?’ Henry asks, a concerned look on his face. Jack pushes the younger boy behind him. He doesn’t need to see this.
‘When you get there, tell JJ I love her,’ he says, hiding his wounded hand behind his back. He gets down on one knee, and Jack steps out of the way.
‘Hey, buddy.’ Will ruffles his son’s hair. ‘I need you to do something for me, okay?’
Henry nods, the look on his face serious.
‘I need you to be strong for me.’
They’re the same words his own father had spoken – it feels so long ago now.
‘Where are you going, Daddy?’ Henry persists. ‘We need to go find Mommy. She’ll be sad if you’re not there.’
‘I know, Henry. You’ll just have to give her an extra big hug for both of us, okay?’
Henry nods. Jack’s pretty sure he doesn’t understand.
Will puts a hand on Jack’s shoulder. ‘You’re a good kid, Jack.’ He turns to Kevin, and simply says, ‘Thank-you.’
Jack turns around as Will heads back towards the town.
They keep walking.
It’s over a minute before they hear the gunshot.
Their progress is a little slower now, with Will gone. Kevin stays up all night, keeping watch. The chances of them being caught out are low, he says, but they’re still there. He lets Jack keep watch for a few hours during the day while he gets some rest.
It feels like a lifetime before they make it to Arizona, but in reality it’s another three weeks. ‘We’re on the home stretch,’ Kevin tells him. He sounds tired.
The next town is probably the last before they head to what is now referred to as the Fortress of the Undead. Kevin says the words like he’s joking, but he doesn’t joke as much anymore.
They’re quiet as they walk into town – Henry refuses to leave Kevin’s side for whatever reason, so their next best option is to stay low.
They go into the supermarket, and it smells rotten – the produce and the meats have been rotten for a long time now. A lot of the shelves are empty, but there are still a few cans that they could use. Kevin and Henry are quietly stocking up a bag with beetroot, and Jack rounds the aisle silently, stopping as he sees the gun pointed at his chest.
His heart skips a beat.
‘JJ?’ he asks, a little uncertain. The woman does look a lot like Henry’s mom, but she looks a little wilder than he’s used to. Her clothes are dirty, so is her skin and hair.
‘Jack?’ Her voice is fearful, as though she’s expecting a different answer. He finds himself captured in a very tight hug. ‘Oh God, Jack.’
‘Mommy?’ Henry says from behind him, and Jack feels himself being dropped, but he understands the reason why.
‘Oh Henry, baby.’ She kisses his head, over and over again. ‘I missed you so much.’
Henry’s reply is muffled by JJ’s shirt. It seems like forever before they finally pull apart. Kevin’s standing there, a little silent. Jack can see the apology in his eyes. JJ doesn’t even need to ask.
‘I’m sorry,’ he says eventually.
‘JJ? What’s going o…’ It’s Derek Morgan’s voice, and he trails off as he sees the scene before him. He steps forward, putting a hand on Kevin’s shoulder.
‘You look like you could use a shower.’
Kevin cracks a tired grin. ‘Likewise.’
Morgan leads them out of the grocery store. JJ clutches Henry’s hand so tightly, it looks as though she’s never going to let go.
‘We’ve wiped this town of zombies,’ Morgan explains. ‘But it’s still good for supplies.’
There are two people waiting for JJ and Morgan at the SUV – Emily, and a man that Jack doesn’t recognize. Emily stares at them, wide-eyed.
There’re a few moments of silence as they’re checked over for bites, but once it’s clear none of them are infected, everyone seems a lot happier.
More accurately, Morgan drives. JJ and Henry sit in the back seat, with Kevin beside them. Emily is in the back, her rifle resting on the window. The other man – Harrison, Morgan had introduced him as – is with her. Jack sits in the front seat.
The trip seems to take forever, but it’s much, much quicker than walking. They pull to a stop outside another small town, and Jack scrambles out of the car.
His father is waiting for him.
Penelope’s there too, apparently, as well as Spencer, but he doesn’t realize that until later. Right now, his eyes are only on his father. He sees the look of shock, followed by complete joy. He hears his name being called, but none of that matters.
His father says nothing, instead pulling him into a hug. It’s much tighter than JJ’s had been, but he realizes that he doesn’t care.
‘Can I sleep with you tonight, Dad?’ he asks, as they walk side by side.
‘Of course you can,’ his father says, and Jack knows that he’s finally home.
Chapter 3: The Burden Of Dead Faces
In the fight for survival, Spencer Reid thinks about what was left behind.
Zombie Cantos: The Burden Of Dead Faces
* * *
The burden of dead faces. Out of sight
And out of love, beyond the reach of hands,
Changed in the changing of the dark and light,
They walk and weep about the barren lands
Where no seed is nor any garner stands,
Where in short breaths the doubtful days respire,
And time's turned glass lets through the sighing sands;
This is the end of every man's desire.
A Ballad of Burdens - Algernon Charles Swinburne
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants
* * *
Eight months after the Zombie Invasion.
‘Six minutes,’ he says off-handedly to Emily, as they stand outside the police station, taking in the day’s events. She pauses in the middle of lighting a cigarette.
‘It’s just something I used to say to my mom,’ he says. ‘Every cigarette takes another six minutes off your life.’ He feels a slight pang at the thought of his mother – it’s been eight months, and he hasn’t quite gotten used to the thought of not having her around. Never mind that he’d barely seen her. The rest of the team have some semblance of hope that their loved ones might survive – they’re able-bodied, after all – but part of him knows that he can’t hold out the same hope for his mother.
She stares at him, incredulous. ‘Reid, corpses are rising from the dead, and you’re worried about me smoking?’ She shakes her head, but pockets the cigarette anyway. He’s not entirely sure where she’d gotten them from, but apparently they’re supposed to be some kind of stress relief. He doesn’t care to test the theory. It’s not the time, nor the place to foster a new addiction. It’s not the time or the place to bring up old addictions either, but he doesn’t tell Emily that. He’s pretty sure she already knows.
He’d stepped out to get some air, because without power, the station is stifling in the heat. The sparse energy they get from solar and kinetic power isn’t nearly enough to waste on air conditioning – at least not for the police station.
After the purge, there are only about a hundred people left. In terms of continuing survival beyond their own life spans, that population is beyond the point of no return. Even if they manage to hold out, the human race is doomed to extinction. There could be other safe havens out there, of course. Other strongholds of humans fighting against the zombie invasion. They’re not exactly in a position to go out looking, though. Not yet. He thinks that that plan is at the end of a long list of other courses of action, mostly keyed to short-term survival.
Maybe one day, when the zombies have died out, or they’ve found some miracle way to cure the virus, they’ll go looking, but right now, it’s all about staying alive.
That’s the assessment he’d given Hotch seven and a half months ago, because even though he’s not technically qualified, he’s the one with the most knowledge about survival rates and post-apocalyptic scenarios. It’s a field of interest that’s never really held much practical application until now.
‘Are we ready?’ Morgan asks from the door of the station. His t-shirt is stained with dried blood, and the rifle that’s slung over his shoulder looks more like an extension of his body than a tool for survival.
The words aren’t for Reid – he’s been sitting out more and more of the recon and retrieval missions lately – he’d never been a field agent, and this experience is only hammering home that fact.
‘Sure,’ Emily nods, ‘Hill and Bruty just finished loading the truck.’ They give Reid a gesture of farewell, and Morgan tells him:
‘See you soon.’
Reid knows that one day, not everyone will make it back.
He’s a pragmatist, not an idealist. He deals in empiricism, rather than faith. It feels strange, then, to think that there might be an end to the madness that’s consumed them.
He tries, though.
He doesn’t stop trying.
As long as he keeps trying, survival isn’t just a myth.
He steps into the quarantine room, pulling on the lab coat that hangs by the door. It’s much cooler here, where they do use the air conditioning. The Arizona heat isn’t really conducive to scientific experimentation.
‘How’re we doing?’ he asks the woman in the lab coat at the end of the room – Jean Harrison. She’s young (but not as young as Reid), with red hair and green eyes. She’d been the local coroner before the end of the world, and the only person that’s really qualified to be doing this. Technically speaking, he’s not really qualified, but degrees and certificates and letters after names really don’t seem to matter so much anymore.
His eyes drift to the containment chamber – to the zombie that’s strapped to a gurney. Really, sedation would be the best option, but they can’t afford to risk contaminating the samples.
‘No reaction,’ she tells him grimly, with an added roll of the eyes. ‘We’re going to be fighting off zombies with our walking sticks before we find something that will cure them, won’t we?’ she asks.
He doesn’t say anything – cure is the optimal solution, but he’s beginning to think that their best bet might be some form of counter-virus. If they can’t cure, then at the very least, they can find something that works better than bullets. Something that spreads. The trick is finding something that won’t kill off the remaining humans.
‘It’s past the designated waiting period,’ he says eventually. ‘We should terminate.’
Jean nods. She takes a hypodermic needle from the drawer, and Reid finds himself looking away. He’s never told her why she’s the one that always has to draw blood, why she’s the one that always has to administer the shots. The danger is minimal – zombie strength is no greater than human strength, and it would take some kind of super-strength to break through the multitude of restraints – but he still feels guilty about it sometimes.
He waits until she’s taken the blood sample before picking up the machete from the table. They can’t afford to waste bullets on creatures that can’t fight back.
They take the body outside and burn it – Jean says a few words, because before it had become a brainless killing machine, it had been a person. A woman – someone’s daughter. Perhaps someone’s mother, someone’s sister. An aunt. A best friend. Sometimes it seems so much easier to see them as something not human at all.
He thinks of his own mother, or rather, his memories of her. He doesn’t want to ponder the possibility that she could be one of these walking dead. He takes some solace in the fact that she probably would have died quickly. Diana Reid had not been a weak woman, but a mental institution isn’t the best place for survival even during the best of times.
He watches the flames flicker in the midday heat. There’s still a long way to go yet.
He hopes that she would be proud of him.
Chapter 4: Towards Its Own Darkness
Every zombie apocalypse has its beginning.
Zombie Cantos: Towards Its Own Darkness
* * *
The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
There they are, the young moons, trying
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
The wheat leans back towards its own darkness
And I lean toward mine
Beginning – James Wright
But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.
* * *
The day before the Zombie Apocalypse
They’re looking for a remorseless killer.
He shoots his victims in the head with nary a second thought and then burns their corpses, and there are four people dead already when the Behavioral Analysis Unit shows up in The Middle of Nowhere, Arizona.
Reid sits up when he hears the reports of mysterious deaths on the SUV radio, but then Rossi flips it off, and they start talking about the profile, and that’s that.
Or at least, that’s what he thinks at first.
There’s some hinkiness with the security footage that’s available, and it can’t be worked remotely, which means Garcia’s there, riding along with them. She’d been giddy at the thought of using the jet, and is less so, now that they’re actively discussing the case. Morgan’s in the other SUV with Prentiss and Hotch, which means that there’s not even the prospect of witty banter to cheer her up.
He tries to make her laugh with a joke about solipsism (and can almost hear Rossi rolling his eyes in the front seat), but it doesn’t really work when it’s followed up with a dissertation on mutilated corpses.
Burnt corpses in a small town, no less. They see big cities a lot. They see medium sized cities, and smaller ones too. It seems strange then, to think that they so often are called to a small town, in which everyone seems to know each other. Is it so easy to hide pathology? He thinks back to his tryst with Dilaudid – remembers how no-one seemed particularly fooled by his erratic behavior.
He’s sure that the prevalence of serial killers in small towns must be a coincidence – perceptions of population density coupled with the fact that small town cops are less equipped to handle a murder investigation that their big city counterparts.
Still, they’re dedicated officers, and, he discovers, when they make the round of introductions, pretty nice people. All too often they’ve been shunned by local police who feel that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is imposing on what should be their case.
There are four officers there, serving a town of over a thousand. The coroner, they’re told, has a more fluid jurisdiction, but right now, they’re the only town within a hundred miles that has four murder victims on their hands. All twelve of them are squashed into the police station now, and it’s starting to get a little hard to breathe.
To give them some room as much as anything else, Hotch sends Reid and Morgan to the morgue with the coroner. They can learn a lot from a corpse.
The coroner’s name is Jean Holloway, and she has a very nice smile. He gives her an awkward wave, and as soon as her back is turned, Morgan elbows him softly in the arm.
‘What?’ he whispers, not wanting his voice to be overheard.
Morgan just grins.
* * *
Emily and Dave go with two of the local cops to the crime scenes. Sam Harrison and Brian Clark had both grown up in the town, and four burnt corpses is a little beyond their expertise. Still, they’re both pretty hardy anyway, which is good, because Emily gets the feeling that this isn’t going to be an easy case.
She doesn’t know just how hard it’s going to be.
At the first scene, the smell of burnt flesh still lingers, as though the corpses had permanently soiled the area. There’s no sign of any accelerant or ashes, which means that it’s a dump site, rather than a kill site. Definitely not an impulsive killer.
They need to keep working the profile.
‘Small town like this, where would you burn a body?’
‘Couldn’t be a crematorium,’ Rossi says. ‘Bodies are too intact for that.’
‘No crematoriums in town anyway,’ explains Harrison. ‘Small place like this, they wouldn’t get so much business.’
‘It seems almost unnecessary,’ Rossi muses, kneeling to the ground, his fingers brushing the dirt. It looks as though he’s trying to determine what had happened by touch alone, which even for them is impossible.
‘What do you mean?’ asks Clark. He’s young – fresh-faced, innocent. He, out of all the officers here seems the most horrified by what’s going on, his face green with nausea. He scratches the bandage on his left hand – apparently there had been a scene at the station this morning – one that the team had missed by almost an hour.
‘With the caliber bullet that was used, a headshot’s going to be fatal,’ Emily explains. ‘Burning the corpse serves no other purpose than concealing identity – which didn’t help – or sending a message.’
‘What kind of message?’ Harrison says with a bitter voice. ‘I’m a sick son of a bitch, try and catch me?’
Rossi shakes his head. ‘No, that doesn’t fit with the bullet wounds. Shot to the head is methodical. An execution. It’s as though this was some task that he had to complete.’
‘Delusions, maybe,’ Emily suggests. ‘He could be killing them because he’s under the misapprehension that certain rituals need be performed.’
‘What, you mean like Satanists?’ Harrison asks, clearly surprised by the suggestion.
Emily shakes her head, shooting an amused glance back at Rossi. ‘Satanic cults are a myth. If this is ritualistic, then it’s one person. Probably mentally ill. Obsessional, maybe.’
Emily jumps slightly as her phone rings in her pocket. Shedding the blue gloves that she’d put on to walk the scene, she answers it with a short, ‘Prentiss.’
‘You need to get back to the station.’ It’s JJ’s voice, and she sounds almost…panicked?
‘JJ, what…’ Her words are cut short at the sound of a gunshot on JJ’s end of the line. It’s muffled, but Emily Prentiss has heard far too many gunshots in her time to mistake it for anything else. ‘JJ?!’ There’s a clattering sound, and then nothing but dial tone.
She heads straight for the SUV, trusting that Rossi, Harrison and Clark are following.
‘What’s going on?’ Dave asks her.
‘Something’s going on at the station,’ she tells him, and it’s the only excuse he needs to execute a rapid-fire u-turn that kicks up the once still dust.
* * *
Jean pushes the drawer shut on the fourth and – so far – final victim, the C.O.D being the exact same as it had for the previous three victims.
‘But,’ she says, waving a gloved finger in Reid’s direction. ‘I did have something else.’
She leads them over towards a microscope, where there are a series of Petri dishes lined up on the counter. ‘I took some blood samples, and there is some really. Hinky. Shit. Going on.’ She punctuates her words with pauses, as if to accentuate the severity of the situation. ‘All four victims had the same virus,’ she tells them. ‘I don’t recognize it, but then, I have a medical degree, not a microbiology degree. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.’
‘Could I…?’ Reid asks, and Jean raises an eyebrow.
‘What are your qualifications?’ she asks, apparently out of interest, rather than disbelief.
Before Reid can answer, Morgan butts in. ‘He has three Ph. Ds – Math, Chemistry and Engineering.’ At Jean’s impressed look, he gives Reid a wink. Reid says nothing but steps towards the microscope.
Technically speaking, microbiology isn’t his area of expertise either, but he’s read a few books on the subject, and he admits – it does look strange. Before he can voice his opinion on the matter, though, he hears a loud thump coming from one of the drawers.
For a town this size, there’s not much need for a sizeable morgue. As it stands, though, there are five bodies in there now – four are their murder victims, and the fifth is an older man whose body had been found earlier today. The morgue is the only place to keep the body until a representative from the funeral home from the next town over comes to pick it up.
‘Which drawer is that coming from?’ Morgan asks.
‘5,’ Jean says. ‘That’s Steve – the body we picked up this morning. Bite marks of some kind. Some kind of wild animal. Scared him so much he had a heart attack.’
There’s another thump, and this time all three of them jump.
‘You sure he’s dead,’ Morgan asks, skeptical. Jean shoots him a fiery look.
‘You think I’m stupid?’ she asks. ‘Of course he was dead.’
‘Well, in my experience,’ Morgan retorts, not unkindly, ‘Dead guys don’t make this kind of noise.’
With a tiny shrug, Jean steps towards the drawer, pulling it open. Whatever they had expected, being attacked by a man with half of his face torn off had not been it. His movements are jerky, almost robotic. Reid’s fingers are slowly unsnapping his holster, and beside him, he can see Morgan doing the same.
There’s barely a split second between the corpse almost collapsing on top of Jean, and Reid pulling the trigger. Jean pushes the body off of her, clearly disgusted by the experience.
‘What the fuck?’ She stares down at the body in disbelief. ‘There is no fucking way that guy was alive when I put him in the drawer.’
‘That wasn’t human,’ Morgan says, and his voice is more somber than Reid has ever heard it. ‘That was some kind of…monster.’ Reid’s almost amused at Morgan’s sudden shift in opinion, but there’s no time for talking about it now. Jean’s right. There is definitely something very strange going on in this town.
* * *
Everyone seems to jump to attention the moment they hear the gunshot from downstairs. It’s not the most common thing to hear a gunshot in a police station as isolated as this one, but Aaron Hotchner has been vigilant for a long time; he had been like this before Foyet, but his experiences with the Reaper had almost tripled his paranoia.
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you,” Rossi had said once, and even though he’d said it in an overly cocky tone of voice, Hotch isn’t about to disagree with it. Still, he hadn’t expected it all to come crashing down in The Middle of Nowhere, Arizona.
He’s so focused on getting down to the morgue, that he almost doesn’t see the person coming at him from the right. It’s not a person anymore, he realizes. The eyes are dead white, and the skin is a sickly green, and those moans are definitely not human.
What the hell is going on?
He throws a punch that hits the creature square in the jaw, but it doesn’t deter it. Out of nowhere, JJ swings a chair at its head, and he jumps backward to avoid the follow-through. She has a hell of a swing, and it seems down for the count.
‘What is that?’ Garcia asks, her expression half-terrified, half-curious. The Sheriff – George Pegg – is standing in front of her, one hand on his weapon, the other held in a protective gesture.
‘Prisoner we had in lock-up,’ Pegg explains, his eyes looking down the hall to the cells. ‘He went crazy, bit two of my officers this morning. Then he was out cold for a while. I guess he woke up.’
Hotch starts down the hallway, because if the prisoner had managed to get out, then it’s not really good news for the officer that had been watching the cells.
Officer Benjamin Ryan is unconscious, bleeding from a head-wound, and a nasty looking bite mark on his arm that peeks out from underneath a once white bandage. It looks infected. Hotch can see the stain on the wall where the prisoner had thrown the law enforcement officer against it.
‘I’ll call Prentiss and Rossi,’ JJ says when Hotch rejoins them in the main station. He nods, not sure what else to do or say.
‘You need to get back to the station,’ JJ says over the phone, without any preliminaries, and Hotch sees the creature on the floor moving towards her almost in slow motion. He starts pulling his gun out, but before it’s even halfway free of the holster, someone else beats him to it. A non-uniformed someone, standing at the door with a rifle.
JJ drops the phone in surprise, her eyes wide open.
‘I thought it was out,’ she says eventually.
The man with the rifle scoffs. ‘Not gonna go down without a shot to the head, and even then, you’d best burn the corpses to make sure you’re doing the job right.’
The words take a few seconds to sink in, and then Hotch has his weapon out, pointed at the stranger with the rifle. ‘You killed them. You murdered those people.’
‘Trust me, boy, that wasn’t murder. That was survival.’
Hotch feels a rush of anger going through him. He hasn’t been called “boy” in a long time, and he doesn’t particularly want to, either.
‘Down on the ground,’ he commands. ‘You’re under arrest for the murder of Dean Whitlock, Stacey Chambers, Marcel Chen and Eric Kozlov.’
‘They were dead long before I got to ‘em,’ the man says, not moving an inch.
‘Put the rifle down, Harold,’ the Sheriff warns, his own gun drawn. ‘These people are from the FBI. You don’t want to mess with them.’
‘Don’t you understand?’ Harold says, his voice rising. ‘These people are zombies. They rose from the dead. You’re all going to die!’ He swings his rifle towards Hotch, and Hotch finds himself squeezing the trigger, too late realizing that the rifle isn’t pointed at him, but at the creature that’s about to take a bite out of his neck.
Benjamin Ryan. The man that had thirty seconds ago been lying on a bench where Hotch had lain him is now lying dead on the floor, a bullet hole in his head. His still-open eyes are white, and in the brighter light of this room, Hotch can see that his skin has a deathly green tinge to it. He then looks towards the unbreathing body in the doorway, and realizes that he had just killed the man that was trying to protect them all.
‘What’s going on?’ Morgan asks from the top of the stairs. He, Reid and Doctor Holloway are all breathing heavily, as if they’d just run a marathon.
Hotch’s eyes are still caught on Harold’s body. ‘Zombies,’ he says.
Reid’s eyes widen, and Hotch gets the feeling he’s about to learn every single thing he ever wanted to learn about the walking dead. He’s not wrong. In fact, Reid’s still talking ten minutes later when they hear the SUV screeching to a stop outside.
Pegg turns to Hotch. ‘Clark was bitten too,’ he says, as if only just realizing it. With a determined grimace, Hotch raises his weapon, ready to shoot anything inhuman that walks through the door.
Emily steps in first, mouth open wide at the scene before her. Hotch gestures her in silently, and she turns back only briefly before stepping in. Harrison’s next, hot on Emily’s heels. He hesitates a little longer, relenting only when he sees the bodies on the ground. Rossi is through next, for which Hotch is relieved, because shooting Clark while Rossi’s still outside would feel like something of a betrayal.
The man that steps through the door last is clearly infected, now that Hotch knows the signs. Green skin, bite mark. He levels the gun.
‘Wait, what’s going on?’ Harrison asks, seeing what Hotch is about to do.
‘The dead are walking, Sam,’ Pegg tells him, and the disbelief is clear in the man’s eyes. ‘Clark’s about to become one of them.’
‘That’s ridiculous.’ Harrison steps towards Clark, only to be thrown into the wall by the man that’s just crossed the border between human and not human. Half a dozen guns seem to fire at once, and Emily’s at Harrison’s side before Clark’s body’s even hit the ground. He seems okay. Dazed, but okay.
‘We need to check everyone for wounds,’ Hotch says, taking charge of the situation. At the same time, though, he doesn’t know what he’ll do if one of his team are infected. He works every day to make sure his team goes home alive. He doesn’t think he could handle having to kill one of them. Part of him knows that one day he’ll have to.
‘What now?’ the Sheriff asks.
‘It’ll have spread through the town by now,’ Hotch says. ‘We need to save who we can.’ He’s almost surprised at himself for taking this so easily, but then, it’s a lot like the job; evil’s out there, save who you can. Can’t save everyone.
He looks out through the open door of the police station.
There’s work to do.
Chapter 5: Through The Night
They might be alive, but the battle has just begun.
Zombie Cantos: Through the Night
* * *
Music of whispering trees
Hushed by a broad-winged breeze
Where shaken water gleams;
And evening radiance falling
With reedy bird-notes calling.
O bear me safe through dark, you low-voiced streams.
I have no need to pray
That fear may pass away;
I scorn the growl and rumble of the fight
That summons me from cool
Silence of marsh and pool
And yellow lilies is landed in light
O river of stars and shadows, lead me through the night.
Before the Battle – Siegfried Sassoon
You cannot run away from a weakness; you must sometimes fight it out or perish. And if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?
Robert Louis Stevenson
* * *
The day of the Zombie Invasion.
It’s nearing sunset on the first day of the rest of their lives.
Though he’s used to seven different flavors of horror, Spencer Reid has never experienced something like this. He’s shaking. His hand is gripped tightly around his gun, and he’s shaking, so damn hard.
Today, he’s fired more bullets than in his entire FBI career. Hell – in his life.
In simpler times, talking about what to do in case of zombie apocalypse had been a hobby. A joke. He’d join Garcia in her lair, and sometimes Kevin would join them, and, on a rare occasion, Emily, and they’d toss around ideas about defences, and long-term survival, and the best ways to kill a zombie at close range. They’d laugh about it, when Kevin professed his plan to go to town with a machine gun, because the guy’s never handled a machine gun in his life. They’d laugh about it when Garcia argues the merits of going to sea, because as far as pop culture tells them, zombies can’t swim (except for that one movie, but he usually discounts that when forming his own strategies).
They’re not laughing now.
‘Hey.’ Morgan waves a hand in front of his face, drawing his attention back to the present. ‘We need to get back to the station before sun-down. There’s no way we can hunt these things at night.’ Morgan’s shaking too, even if there’s no way he’s going to admit to any feelings of fear.
Because really, it’s terrifying.
The end of the world is upon them, and there’s nothing he can do about it. There are no statistics, no weird bits of trivia that will help undo what’s been done today.
And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.
What he’s seen today is beyond anything he could have ever possibly imagined. Their flesh rots, even though it hasn’t even been a day since infection. Their eyes turn a milky white. They shriek, and moan, and groan – sounds that no human could possibly make, and yet they had been human once. They had all been human.
He thinks about the people he’s killed today. About the fathers and the mothers and the sons and the daughters.
His hand shakes.
Morgan pulls him to his feet, and they’re both running, the path clear. He can see the light in the distance – the fire that had been lit to burn the corpses. It seems to be working equally well to repel the creatures though, which is a relief, because as terrifying as it is killing zombies during daylight hours, he imagines that it would be a million times worse at night.
He’s vaguely aware of Hotch hurrying them inside before the door slams shut. His hands are at his knees, and now his whole body is shaking. He would give anything in the world right now for a tiny vial of Dilaudid. In the short term, it’ll calm the shakes, but they’ll come back even worse. But that’s not his only reason for saying no.
‘How’d you go?’ Hotch asks them.
Morgan shakes his head. ‘Couldn’t find any survivors on the last run-through. I’ll bet people are locked inside their houses, either dead or dead-scared.’
Hotch nods. ‘We’ve been making some calls. It’s not an isolated incident, but it’s not a full-blown epidemic, either.’
‘These things have their own momentum,’ Reid says, sitting down at a nearby desk. ‘At the rate this is spreading, It’s going to be a full-blown epidemic pretty soon.’
‘So what do we do?’ Morgan asks. They’re looking to Hotch for answers, even though there’s really only one answer – it just becomes more real if Hotch is the one giving the orders.
‘We stay,’ he says. ‘We stay and we fight.’ There’s a pause. ‘And once we’ve done that...we survive.’ It’s what the whole day’s been gearing up to so far. While Reid and Morgan have been out killing zombies, other people have been doing other things. The station’s a lot fuller now than it had been twelve hours ago. There are scared people taking up every bit of space they have available. It’s even harder to breathe now.
‘How many injured do we have?’
Hotch deflects the question towards Doctor Holloway, who’s busy stitching up a head wound on an older looking man. She had insisted on going out to help with the killing, relenting only when Reid reminded her that they already had eight people with weapons qualifications, and that she is the only person so far with medical qualifications, and that’s far, far more important right now.
‘Half a dozen or so,’ Jean says, not taking her eyes off the old man. ‘People panicking, hitting their head on doors while trying to run from zombies...They aren’t used to this.’
‘None of us are,’ says Reid, and there’s a moment where they all reflect on how true that statement really is.
Without any verbal agreement, it is decided that the subject should be changed, and then Morgan’s handing over the containers that they’d managed to pick up while outside. Hotch takes them to the sink in the station kitchenette, and starts filling them with water. They don’t know how much longer the utilities will be in working order, and water is something they definitely do not want to be going without, especially in a climate like this one.
‘Hotch...’ The Unit Chief’s head jerks up at the sound of JJ’s voice across the room. She, JJ and Hotch have been trying on and off all day to get through to D.C., but there have been problems with the phone-line. Apparently a connection’s been made now, but whether Garcia had finally gotten through, or whether it had been Will or Kevin that made the call, Reid isn’t sure.
Either way, Hotch looks almost exasperated before the phone is passed to him, and there’s a brief conversation between Will and Hotch, whereby Hotch tells the other man to do whatever it takes to get out of town. The city is not a safe place to be right now.
‘Jack?’ Hotch’s voice is almost a sob, his veneer cracking at the events of the day. ‘I need you to be strong for me, okay Jack?...I’ll see you soon, Jack. I love you, don’t forget that.’
He hangs up with a choked cry and hands the phone back to JJ, who isn’t even bothering to suppress her own tears. They all know how low the chances are of seeing their family make it out alive. If nothing else, the phone call prompts Morgan to slip away to “get some air”. Reid stares at his own phone for several minutes before making a decision.
He dials the number from memory, and even though he rarely calls it anymore, it’s not particularly surprising. He remembers the number of a pizza place he hasn’t been to in three years.
He clears his throat. ‘I’d like to speak to a patient, please.’
‘I’m sorry; you’ll have to call back during-’
He cuts the voice off. ‘My name is Doctor Spencer Reid. I’m with the FBI. I need to talk to my mother.’
There’s a slight crackle on the line, the only sound that punctuates an otherwise awkward silence.
‘Dr. Reid, of course,’ the voice says eventually. ‘Unfortunately, your mother isn’t in particularly healthy state of mind at this time. She had an episode.’
Part of him knows that if the secretary knows offhand about his mother’s condition without looking up a single file, then it must be bad. He’s about to enquire further when the phone goes dead, and he stares at in disbelief for a few seconds before jumping at the sound of Morgan’s voice.
‘I think the cell towers are down,’ he says. ‘I got cut off too.’ There’s a certain sadness in his voice, as though he doesn’t think he’s ever going to see his family again. Chicago to Arizona is no easy trip, but then, neither is D.C. to Arizona. The best Morgan can hope for is that his mother and sisters find some other small-town fortress.
There’s a brief knock at the door, and Morgan’s the closest, so he opens it to let Rossi and Sheriff Pegg inside. The sun has just slipped under the horizon, and there’s still one team out there; Prentiss and Harrison.
‘Did you see anything?’ Hotch asks Rossi, and Dave shakes his head, but that really doesn’t mean anything. They’ve been hearing screams and gunshots and a wide variety of other noises all day; it’s almost ambient now – a soundtrack to their waking nightmare.
Then there are shouts, and the gunshots are going closer, and they all seem to draw their weapon as one while Hotch pulls the door open. Emily almost runs straight into him, she’s too busy looking back. Harrison’s inside just seconds later, and the door slams shut. The zombies won’t go near the fire, but Hotch grabs a rifle anyway, and goes up the stairs that lead to the roof. Rossi follows him.
‘You okay?’ Morgan asks Prentiss, who seems a little dazed. A quick onceover of all the teams confirms that no-one has been bitten, so they all breathe just the slightest bit easier, even though the police station is at the point of turn into a claustrophobe’s nightmare.
‘Is there any booze in this station?’ Emily says eventually, which elicits a half-hearted laugh from Morgan.
‘I think most of it’s being used as wound disinfectant,’ provides Harrison.
‘Kid obviously hasn’t been on the job long enough,’ says the Sheriff in an amused tone. ‘You think he’d know by now what I keep in the bottom drawer of my desk.’
No-one comments about the unprofessionalism of drinking on the job, because if there’s a time to take the edge off, it’s now, because chances are, they’re all going to be ripped to shreds tomorrow.
‘It’s the end of the world,’ Morgan says in a glum tone. ‘Why shouldn’t we get drunk?’
‘Save some for Hotch,’ Garcia says, downing a shot of whiskey like it’s cordial.
They don’t drink much in the end, because if something does go down tonight, then blind stinking drunk isn’t the condition they want to be in.
It’s not particularly late, but it feels like it, because there’s nothing much they can really do aside from sitting around, waiting for morning to come.
Hotch and Rossi are already up on the roof, so they take the first night watch while the rest of them try and sort out sleeping arrangements for themselves, and for the two dozen refugees that are there with them.
‘We spent all day running around town,’ Emily says in a frustrated voice. ‘And we didn’t even think to pick up a damn pillow.’ She shrugs, and pulls a shirt from her go bag, stuffing it with other articles of clothing. It’s unnecessary really, considering none of them are going to be sleeping anyway. They’re all fired up with adrenaline, and the intermittent gunshots from the roof don’t exactly help.
It’s four a.m, and he’s doing his sentry duties with JJ. He’s fired six bullets, and she’s fired three, which tells him that the ammunition supply is going to run out very, very soon. He’s surprised that it had lasted this long.
The sun rises, and they do the same thing as yesterday, sweeping the town for zombies, and redirecting any survivors to the police station. It’s not just the police station that’s used as a fortress now though – thanks to yesterday’s efforts, most of the surrounding buildings are clean too, and they spread out the base. Any non-injured non-combatants spend the day preparing for the rest of their lives.
Reid almost envies them.
He fires another bullet. Kills another zombie. He hasn’t killed a human in the beginning stages of infection yet, and he really, really doesn’t want to. It would just drive home the fact these people had been human once. That maybe there’s something still human inside of them.
He pulls the trigger again, and his hands shake.
He hadn’t signed on to kill people; he’d signed on to save them.
There are a lot of different ways of saving people, he tells himself.
Talking to yourself Spencer? You’ll go insane yet, another part of him says.
He ignores the second voice.
Chapter 6: A Dream Within A Dream
It's been so long, it almost doesn't feel real. It's been so long, he's not sure what he's fighting for.
Zombie Cantos: A Dream Within a Dream
* * *
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
A Dream Within a Dream – Edgar Allen Poe
Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.
* * *
Three months after the Zombie Apocalypse.
Aaron Hotchner has been staring at the sleeping form of his son for almost an hour, just watching the rise and fall of the young boy’s chest, reassuring himself that this is real, that Jack Hotchner is really there.
It seems like it would be just his luck if he were to wake up, only to discover that their reunion had just been some cruel nightmare. A nightmare because he had long since given up hope of seeing his son again.
To have him here now is the greatest gift Aaron Hotchner could have asked for. The journey had been long though, and not without its blows. He knows that the son he has now is not the same son that he had left behind in Virginia three months ago.
War changes them all.
He pulls the motel door behind him softly, though it’s less of a motel than it is his permanent residence now. Even though the purge had afforded them almost a hundred empty houses, it seems wrong to sleep in the bed of someone whose brains you’d blown out.
He sits on the edge of the concrete pathway outside, staring at the stars. It’s beautiful – there’s not so much artificial light polluting the sky anymore, and most nights he can see more tiny white dots, more faint clouds of dust, than ever before.
The only other light around are the bonfires that seem to burn around the clock, serving as both warmth, and a repellent to any stray undead. There’ll be a few people sitting around it now, in lieu of any other available activity. He doesn’t even consider getting up.
He thinks about his son, about all the horrors the boy must have seen over the past three months. Burning houses, hordes of zombies, a plague of death upon the world. Would death have been a preferable option?
No. Not death.
As much as he wants to save his son from this eternal nightmare, he could never wish death upon the boy, not even for mercy’s sake. It’s safe enough in the town, even if it’s a far cry from the life that once was.
‘Hey.’ He hears JJ’s voice from behind him, the approaching footsteps telling him that she’s about to sit down beside him.
‘Hey,’ he says, and his own voice is as humorless as hers.
‘Penny for your thoughts?’
‘I think I left my wallet behind in the last town we hit,’ he says, and even though it’s not really a joke, she gives a short, if artificial laugh anyway. He lets the silence hang in the air before telling her, ‘I was just thinking that this is no place to raise a child.’
‘Maybe not yet,’ JJ concedes, ‘But we’re getting there. The school’s in full swing, even if we don’t really have many real teachers, and it’s not as if it’s an all out war-zone. We’re well defended, Hotch. We’re on our way to becoming a real civilization.’
He nods, but that’s not the only thing that’s bothering him. ‘And what happens when I get taken by a zombie – is that the kind of thing that’s likely to happen in the real world?’
‘No…but every single day you strapped on your vest in the pursuit of a killer, you ran the risk of not coming home. Jack understands that. He understands why you need to do what you do. It’s the same reason it’s always been, even if the enemy is a little different.’
‘For a better world,’ he says softly. JJ nods. Just as softly, he says, ‘I’m sorry about Will.’
She says nothing, but out of the corner of his eye, he can see tears glinting under the night sky, see her teeth biting down against her lip. She chokes out a sob.
‘It…it took everything I had to come out here and sit down beside you,’ she admits. ‘I’m afraid that if I leave him alone for more than five seconds, then I’ll lose it all.’ She doesn’t specify who the “he” is, but then she doesn’t need to.
‘It’s natural,’ he says, loath to bring up his experiences of Haley’s death, because the last thing JJ needs is another reminder of what’s been lost. Of what losses are still likely to come.
Because she’s right.
They’re still fighting for a better world, and he gets the feeling that this fight will be just as unending as the fight to stop serial killers, rapists, arsonists. Seven billion people in the world, and even if only a fraction of them are infected, it’s still more than all of them put together can kill in a lifetime. The same can be said for the people they used to hunt.
The fight’s the same, even if the enemy’s a little different.
So why fight.
Survival, the greater good, a chance to save who they can? All of the above.
And that’s why he needs to keep fighting.
Chapter 7: Material Place
Getting caught in an exploding house definitely hadn't been on her list of "things to do" today.
Zombie Cantos: Material Place
* * *
One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Far safer, of a midnight meeting
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.
One Needs Not Be a Chamber to Be Haunted – Emily Dickinson
Without the capacity to provide its own information, the mind drifts into randomness.
* * *
Fourteen months after the Zombie Apocalypse.
It’s an older looking house – not the first one Emily would have raided for supplies, but they’ve hit this town a few times before; the supermarkets and most of the other houses have been stripped bare. The infection had hit here pretty fast – no time for any of the townspeople to react, they’d all turned before escape had even crossed their minds.
It’s good news for them, in a way, because it means that the town has more supplies. It’s bad news because it’d been over-run with the undead their first time through, and they’d lost a couple of people. Most of the zombies are gone now, but they occasionally find a stray one; brain-dead creatures that have no idea how to work a door.
Of course, it being the apocalypse and all, there’s no-one hanging around to stop the buildings from falling into disrepair. Floorboards creak, and the stairs look downright terrifying - almost as though a chunk had been blown out of them. She sees the World War II medals hanging on the wall, and wonders if the man that lives – had lived – here had gone down fighting zombies to the last.
She thinks it would have been a terrifying way to die. Unable to do anything but repel hordes of creatures until they over-run you. She hopes that when she goes out, it’s much quicker than that. Then, Emily wonders how long she’s been referring to death at the hands of zombies as an inevitability, rather than a possibility.
She tightens the grip on her pistol, and makes towards the staircase, thinking that if the person who lives here – lived here – had gone down fighting zombies, then there might still be some ammunition and weaponry that they can add to their own stocks. Even after over a year, it still feels wrong to steal from the dead, but that’s survival for you.
She turns at the sound of a foot creaking against the wooden floors, her finger tightening against the trigger. ‘Damnit, Sam,’ Emily breathes, her heart racing. ‘No sneaking around, okay? I really don’t want to explain to Sheriff Pegg why you’ve been double-tapped in the head.’
‘Sorry,’ Sam Harrison says with an awkward smile. ‘I was just checking the front yard. Zombies lurking in trees, you know?’
‘What?’ She puts an almost hesitant foot onto the first step of the staircase, willing it not to collapse beneath her. ‘Are there zombie birds waiting to tear our eyes out?’
‘No,’ he deadpans. ‘The zombie virus only affects humans.’
The staircase wobbles slightly under her feet as she continues to ascend, and a glance backwards tells her that Harrison is waiting until she’s upstairs before he attempt the climb. It’ll take longer, but it means there’s less chance of them ending up with some rather inconvenient broken bones. Morgan and Rossi are searching the houses in the next street over, so if something does happen, then chances are they’ll be waiting a while for help.
It’s eerily quiet upstairs, the only sound she can hear being breathing and footsteps.
And a soft moaning, she realizes, coming to a screeching halt. The sound is unmistakable. There are zombies in this house. Well, one zombie, at least. Harrison stops behind her, and she doesn’t turn to face him, simply holding up two fingers of her left hand to warn him of the potential danger. Without even thinking about it, she slips into offensive mode, both hands curled around the Glock, feet as soft as she can make them on the creaking wooden floors.
Noise as a tactic only really works to scare zombies. It also attracts them, which is why it’s only preferable if your plans involve running away as fast as possible. Here, they don’t need to run away, and if there are any more zombies around, she doesn’t want to attract them. As it stands, they can probably take this one down without killing it – Reid had mentioned his needs for a new test subject, and it’s easier now, than trying to isolate one out of hundreds in some of the more zombie-infested towns.
Eyes kept straight in front of her, she scrambles at her belt for the tranquilizer gun. In any other town, she would have packed a little more heat, but today, they hadn’t expected anything other than the occasional stray.
The reason for this particular zombie’s stationary nature becomes clear the moment she steps into the room. The zombie is wheelchair bound, its legs amputated below the knee. It looks skeletal. Inhuman – much more so than any of the other undead that she’s seen. She thinks she should be feeling some kind of sympathy for it, but then she remembers it doesn’t really feel anything at all.
There’s a rifle on the ground, from where it must have fallen after the monster had first turned. Her speculation had been correct – all obstacles aside, this man had gone down fighting.
But not the way he would have liked to have gone down, she realizes, too late seeing the grenade in his hand. The pin is caught in a bony finger, and his arms are flailing at the sight of fresh meat, which means that they are well and truly fucked, never mind the other half dozen grenades that are in a box on the floor.
‘Run!’ she calls out to Harrison, the noise breaking through the silence. They both reach the top of the stairs at the same time, tripping over each other in an attempt to get down before they’re blown to pieces. Halfway down, the running turns into falling, and she grunts with each bump, giving a soft cry when her arm cracks on the final step. She tries to pull herself from the ground, but is immediately overwhelmed by an immense heat, and a noise that floods her ears. A piece of wood falls from the ceiling, landing heavily beside her, and she realizes that the grenade must have gone off. The crawl to the door is cut short when a heavy beam falls across it. The next piece of wood hits her head, and dizzy, she lifts her good arm to the wound, fingers coming away crimson.
She hears her name, but the voice sounds as though it’s coming from a million miles away. She slips further and further out of consciousness, before finally closing her eyes to the last of the settling dust.
* * *
She feels like she’s been bashed with a sledgehammer as she wakes up. Or, more accurately, as though a freaking house has just fallen on top of her, Wicked Witch of the East style.
Shouldn’t have worn those ruby slippers today.
It hasn’t completely caved in, for which she’s grateful. She’d be dead already if that had been the case. As it stands though, survival hangs on a pretty fine precipice; her head is pounding, and everything’s still fuzzy, and she’s pretty sure that she’s got a moderate concussion. She tries to move, only to find that her leg is pinned down by something heavy, but she can’t quite lift her neck to see what it is. Trying to move it out of the way isn’t really a viable option, but she tries anyway, earning a shooting pain down the right side of her body for her troubles, the whimper of pain escaping her before she can stop it. She’s glad she’d worn long pants today, even if it is summer, and even it does mean that she’s sweating like nobody’s business. Dust gets into her open mouth, and the moan turns into a long, protracted cough, which starts the pain rippling all over again.
‘Oh God,’ she mutters. She’s been in dangerous situations before, but this one seems that little bit more hopeless. She can’t move, and she’s not sure how much oxygen is in the confined space, and she’s not exactly the perfect picture of healthy living. Broken arm and a concussion, at the very least. The leg’s probably not in very good shape either, considering the fact that it’s stuck under a massive bit of rubble.
Hopefully Harrison’s doing a little better.
Her eyes widen as she remembers that she hadn’t gone into the house alone. She’s not the only one trapped inside. She almost kicks herself for forgetting him, but kicking isn’t really an option right now.
‘Harrison?’ she calls out, the simple act of talking burning her throat. She coughs. ‘Harrison?’ There’s no answer. ‘Sam?’
His answer comes through a veil of haze, and it takes her a few seconds to realize that it’s a voice, rather than a figment of her own imagination.
‘Yeah, I’m here,’ she wheezes, trying to turn her head to see where he is. It’s a fruitless effort. The angle, and the darkness means that she can only hear his voice, and the concussion means that even that is a little indistinct. ‘Probably should have gone into the house with the nice rose garden,’ she says. ‘Probably less chance of paranoid old guys with volatile weapons caches.’
‘I hear you.’
‘You think they’re coming?’ she asks, as much out of a desire to keep the conversation flowing as it is out of a need to know that hope is not lost.
‘Probably,’ he says. ‘Never leave a man behind, and all that.’
‘Marines, right?’ she asks, vaguely recalling that he had brought the subject up once.
‘Sure,’ he tells her, pain creeping into his voice too. Wherever he is, he’s probably trapped as well. ‘Grew up in town, then joined the Corp for a few years...’
‘Why come back?’ she asks. ‘Small-town cop is pretty far from the stuff the Marines do.’
‘Yeah,’ he laughs. ‘To be honest, I missed my family. I wanted a job where I could help people, but still be with them.’
Emily grimaces at the admission. His parents had both died in the first few days of the attack, along with most of the rest of the town. It’s another stark reminder that no matter how much they do, it’s never going to be enough.
‘What about you?’ he asks. ‘Why join the FBI?’
She laughs bitterly. ‘To piss off my mother.’
He laughs too, and for a moment, it’s almost as though they’re not trapped under an exploded house. ‘Seriously?’
‘She’s a politician. Wanted me to join the State Department, or follow her footsteps. Joining the FBI’s pretty much the most scandalous career option I could think of while still retaining my dignity. “Plumber” was next on my list.’
‘Well, you know what they say,’ he says. ‘Not everyone needs a brain surgeon in their lives, but everyone needs a plumber. Plus, they can make a shitload. No pun intended.’
‘As tempting as it sounds, I prefer running the risk of taking a bullet than having my arms elbow deep in sewerage.’
‘So the sleepless nights, the nightmares, the dead bodies. It’s all worth it?’
It occurs to her that she’s talking about her career in the present tense, even though it’s been fifteen months since she’s so much as profiled a disorganized blitz killer. In a way, the job’s still the same. She still has the sleepless nights, the nightmares, the dead bodies. She wonders what her mother would think of her now.
‘It can be,’ she says finally, but she’s not entirely sure she believes it.
‘She was an Ambassador, right?’ he asks, and it’s a little bit non-sequitur, but in a way, she’s glad of the subject change. ‘Your mother,’ he adds, in case there had been some confusion in the matter.
‘Mmm,’ Emily says. ‘She was in the Ukraine when…when it started. Even if she’s still alive…’ She gives a shrug and immediately regrets it. They’re not even really sure how far the infection has spread. Maybe it’s just their landmass. Maybe the rest of the world has decided to shut them away and get on with their lives. It’s not really a comforting thought.
Time passes in a strange fashion, and part of it’s the head wound, but part of it’s the fact that there’s no real indicator of chronological progress. She can’t see the sun setting on the horizon, or the ticking of a clock. Sensory deprivation in its purest forms. The closest she gets to having confirmation that there is in fact an outside world comes when she hears her name being yelled through the piles of debris. It’s soft at first, but grows louder as – she assumes – they dig their way inside. She calls back, but she’s not really sure that her voice breaks through, because anything louder than a normal speaking voice is impossible, thanks to the dust that’s infiltrated her lungs.
A little while later, her stomach growls, and she laughs, because really – if there’s a time for food, this is not it. Still, she ponders the merits of McDonalds. It’s been fifteen months and nine days since her last cheeseburger, and she hadn’t even realized that she’d been counting. Fries. Fries would be good too. And a cinnamon melt. Thanks to an ever-changing array of foreign embassies and fancy dinner parties, she’d become something of a fast food connoisseur in her adult life, if only to make a point. It’s especially useless now, seeing as the food they’ve got amounts to processed non-perishables that are starting to expire, and whatever grows in the hydroponic gardens that have been set up. Garcia’s heard rumors of people taking back farms and rekindling cattle ranches in other parts of the country over the ham radio she and Kevin have been tinkering with, but that’s still a long way from golden arches. Some water would be good too, because summer in Arizona is no joke, and it would be horribly ironic to get out of this alive only to die of dehydration, or heat stroke.
‘I’m hungry,’ she says, with a noise that’s half laugh, half cry. ‘God, I could eat a horse.’
‘You know, that’s just a rumor. McDonalds only use beef in their burgers.’
She laughs loud at that, in spite of – or perhaps, because of – the pain. The fuzziness is almost gone now, but she knows she’s not out of the woods yet. They’re still trapped under god-knows how much rubble, and it’s getting harder to breathe by the minute.
She hears her name called again, and this time it’s close. Close enough that she can tell which direction it’s coming from, that she can tell there’s not much debris left between them.
‘Morgan,’ she chokes out, with the same half-laugh, half-cry.
‘I’m here, Em,’ he calls back. ‘We’re almost through. Just hold on, girl.’
‘Looks like we might survive after all,’ she says. There’s no immediate response, but she doesn’t really think anything of it.
Then, the light’s streaming in, and there’s a gust of air, and she sucks down oxygen like it’s going out of fashion.
‘Emily!’ Morgan’s still digging through the rubble, trying to get to her. She’d been fairly close to the wall when the house had collapsed, so there’s not so much to dig through. Rossi’s there with him, and so is Hotch.
Strange. She doesn’t remember Hotch having come on this mission. Then she sees Reid and Jean and realizes that someone must have made a radio call back to the town at some point. It makes her wonder just how long they’ve been trapped under there.
‘Help me move this,’ Morgan demands of Rossi and Hotch, and neither of them argue, in spite of the insubordination. Technically, “supervisory special agent” and “unit chief” don’t really mean that much anymore, but Hotch is still in charge, whichever way they look at it.
The beam lifts off her leg, and she tries to move it, but that’s a no-go. It’s broken too, apparently, which is unsurprising considering the velocity with which it must have fallen.
‘Harrison,’ she coughs, trying to at least move her head to try and see him, and when she does, it’s like a stab to the heart. He’s still, and his eyes are closed. She feels the tears swimming, threatening to break free.
‘He’s gone,’ Reid confirms, and that’s all anyone really mentions of it. She wants to grab them by their shirts, and scream at them. Tell them that he’s worth more than just two words. That the only reason she’s alive is because of him. She knows for a fact that she’d be dead if not for him keeping her going.
It hurts even to move, though, so she doesn’t say anything, just tries to grit her teeth against the pain as they slide a board underneath her and carry her out. Morgan has a water bottle in his hand, and he’s trying to help her drink some water, even as they’re still moving. The liquid seems to sooth her dry throat, even if it’ll hurt again in five minutes, and it spills across the lower half of her face, but she’s still insanely thankful.
As if realizing now that it’s okay to let go, she once more closes her eyes to darkness.
* * *
She’s not sure how much later it is when she wakes up. It’s been at least a couple of hours though, because she’s not in the abandoned town, or in the car, she’s in a hospital. It’s not technically a hospital, it’s the lab, but that’s where Jean keeps most of her medical supplies, and the air flow is better here. She takes a deep breath, cherishing the oxygen.
She casts a quick glance over her body; the arm and the leg are both splinted and bandaged. There’s something of a shortage of real plaster. She wonders just how long she’ll be spending bed-ridden. A couple of months at least. The thought doesn’t please her.
‘Morning sunshine,’ a voice says from her left, and she turns as much as her body will allow her. It’s Morgan, and he’s trying to mask the worry in his eyes with a smile, but just because she’s lying in bed with broken bones doesn’t mean she can’t profile.
‘Hey.’ Her voice is a little croaky; the after-math of all the debris she must have swallowed.
‘You scared the crap out of me,’ he says, a little more seriously.
‘Sorry.’ Her voice is sheepish, and she can’t help but feel the slightest bit embarrassed; surviving hordes of undead only to be almost taken out by a grenade.
He grins slightly. ‘You just keep yourself alive from now on, you hear?’ His hand covers her good one, squeezing her fingers.
‘I…’ There’s something she needs to say, only she’s not so sure how to say it. About how she hadn’t been the one keeping herself alive. But that would sound crazy, even if she’s not sure why. ‘He was dead the whole time, wasn’t he?’ she asks, and Morgan’s confused. He doesn’t know anything about what had happened in the house yet; they’ve probably all been waiting for her to wake up for that information. ‘Sam,’ she elaborates, ‘He died the moment the house collapsed.’
Morgan nods. ‘The beam crushed him. I don’t think he was in pain.’ He misinterprets the reason for her question, but she’s not quite ready to correct him. The end of the world isn’t the best time to be going insane.
‘How long was I in there?’
‘Around nine hours. I was afraid that I’d…I was afraid that we’d lost you.’
‘You can’t get rid of me that easily,’ she chokes, battling the tears that are threatening to break free.
‘I brought you something,’ he says, turning to grab something from behind him, and she for a moment she feels defeated from the lost of his touch. ‘I knew we had one in the ration packs we’d swiped from the army surplus store, and I know it isn’t Mickey D’s, but I thought you might appreciate it anyway.’
She loses the battle with tears as he produces the hamburger, and she spends a good two minutes just crying. Crying about everything – the loss of home, of family, of friends. The loss of Sam. The loss of her mother. Her arm aches, and her leg aches, and really, everything aches. His arm curls around her.
‘I didn’t realize you hated ration packs that much,’ he says softly, and she has the presence of mind to give a small laugh, if only to reassure him that she hasn’t completely broken down.
‘How did you know?’
‘You talk in your sleep,’ he smiles, pressing the burger into her hands. ‘Unfortunately, they didn’t have a ration pack for fries.’
She takes a cautious bite, and almost gags at the taste. Morgan laughs.
‘I had the feeling it might be like that. They’re certainly not made to be gourmet.’
She takes another bite anyway, and for some reason, the second one doesn’t seem as bad. ‘You want some?’ she offers, through a mouthful of food.
‘Sure,’ he says. ‘Why not?’
Chapter 8: Time's Fool
Penelope Garcia's an optimist and not even the apocalypse can change that. Garcia/Kevin.
Zombie Cantos: Time’s Fool
* * *
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Sonnet 116 – William Shakespeare
There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.
* * *
Three months after the Zombie Apocalypse
She knows, even before she can see their faces.
She knows that something has changed the moment she sees the wheels kicking up dust in the distances.
Realistically speaking, she thinks she should have given up hope a long time ago; even in a town as small as this one, almost the entire population had succumbed to the virus. Even if they had made it out of town before the worst struck, it’s a long journey, and there would have been a lot of zombies in between.
Penelope Garcia’s an optimist, though, and not even the apocalypse can change that.
She still has hope for some kind of future, because even after all that they’ve been through, they’re surviving. And today she just has something else to be hopeful for.
‘Oh my stars and garters,’ she whispers.
Hotch notices that something’s going on at about the same time as she does, his eyes lighting up for the first time in what seems like eternity – there hadn’t been any ten-year-olds sitting in the front seat on the way out of town, that’s for sure.
She’s on her tippy-toes as the vehicle draws closer, trying to get a glimpse of who else is there. Morgan’s driving, as always, and she can see a flash of blond in the back seat, but her glasses have cracked sometime in the last three months, and prescription lenses aren’t the easiest thing to find when all the optometrists are either dead, undead, or looking for more effective ways to grow hydroponic potatoes.
The SUV comes to a stop, and her heart is beating so hard, it’s almost as though there’s two of them in there, thumping away in tandem. Time lord victorious.
She only wishes she could go back in time, if only to savor the past.
Scratch that, though. The car doors open, and she’s not entirely sure her heart hasn’t stopped beating altogether. Morgan’s out first, and then she sees JJ, clutching the bundle of limbs that can only be Henry to her chest, as though he’s some kind of lifeline.
Then she sees Kevin, and everything else seems to fall away. She’s vaguely aware of Hotch’s tearful reunion with Jack, and of the tears in JJ’s eyes, and the fact that Will is noticeably absent, but she right now all she can think about is the strong arms that are wrapping around her, holding her tight.
‘I missed you,’ she murmurs into his chest.
‘Missed you too,’ he says back, and in those words, she hears volumes. He sounds so much more serious. A somber echo of the man that she loves.
Hotch and JJ split off from the group, their respective children in tow. Kevin looks after them, giving a small sigh.
Garcia nudges him. ‘So I guess you’ve been playing big daddy, huh?’
‘Yeah,’ he says, his smile somehow managing to convey great sorrow and great happiness at the same time. ‘Will died,’ he says, and it seems non-sequitur, but Garcia gets the feeling that the thought has been lurking under the surface for a long time. ‘About a month ago. The kids, they…’ He pauses, biting his lip. ‘They’re strong,’ he says finally.
‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ Garcia whispers, her own voice starting to choke with tears. Because it’s not alright. It will never really be alright.
She doesn’t ask about what happened, about the circumstances that led to Will’s death, or about any single thing that’s happened since the day the world ended. There’s plenty of time for that. Nothing but time. At least now she has someone that can help her work on the radios that she’s been tinkering with, once it had become clear that they’d probably be staying in this town for a little longer than two weeks. It’s not a vacation, it’s their lives.
She takes his bag for him, and together they walk back towards the motel, leaving the others to deal with the unloading of whatever supplies they’d managed to pick up before the impromptu rescue mission.
Kevin’s clothes are torn, and he smells a little bit, but she’s almost used to that by now. Still, she grabs a bucket and fills it with water from the limited supply that they’ve got. A bucket bath is all she can give him right now.
‘A sponge bath?’ he asks, the grin on his face widening. The smile doesn’t quite meet his eyes, and part of her wonders how much of it is put on for her benefit. ‘With my very own sexy nurse?’
‘I think I left that outfit back in D.C.’ she shrugs. ‘You’ll have to deal with post-apocalyptic retro technical analyst, which, if I recall correctly, was on your list of fantasies anyway.’
‘As long as it’s you, I’m smitten,’ he says, lifting his shirt over his head. The skin is rough and tanned, which means he’s forgone wearing a shirt a few times. Three months ago, that would have meant showing off the slight belly that had resulted from a diet of bacon donuts and Big Gulps. He’s lean now, and there are more than a couple of scars decorating his torso.
Squeezing the sponge dry, she hands him a towel. It’s no decontamination shower, but it’s as good as they’re going to get until they can procure a renewable water source, even if it means accepting the urine-water that Reid’s been working on.
She lays a hand on his bare chest, not saying anything. After three months, after the zombie apocalypse, after everything, she’s not really sure what she can say, beyond what she’s already said. So instead she kisses him. It’s soft, and it’s gentle, and it’s nothing like the sometimes awkward, sometimes humorous makeout sessions they’d had when they’d first started dating. A lot smoother than the series of unfortunate events that had found Kevin standing naked in front of David Rossi after a post-coital shower. That’s not to say that there’s never been any real romance. They’d just done romance a little differently than most couples. Geeking out over the latest Terry Pratchett novel, rather than getting gooey over romcoms.
It’s different, but it’s nice.
Three months isn’t enough to make her forget that he’s incredibly ticklish, or that he likes it when she licks his nipples, even if there’s a scar running through one of them now. It’s red, and ugly, as though it hadn’t really had the medical attention it should have. She makes a mental note to have Jean take a look at him in the morning, but right now, he’s all hers.
She makes good use of the condoms that Morgan had jokingly given her a few weeks back. He’d picked them up on one of the supply runs, and given a box to all of the team, saying that it’s really not the time or the place to be having kids. She’d given him a half-serious slap then, because they’d been a reminder of what she’d lost. Now, though…she makes a mental note to thank him.
In any case, she’s fairly sure that she’s the first of the team to be using them, though surprisingly, it’s Reid that’s come the closest to getting some. She shouldn’t really be surprised, come to think of it, because nerds are incredibly sexy. She’s got living proof, calling her “Oracle” as he worships her body. She returns the favor and calls him “Nightwing.”
Time’s changed some things.
But not everything.
Chapter 9: Thou Bitter Sky
Winter's here. There's more than one way to find warmth. Morgan/Prentiss.
Zombie Cantos: Thou Bitter Sky
Blow, blow, thou winter wind.
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind – William Shakespeare
Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.
* * *
Twenty months after the Zombie Apocalypse
Not blisteringly cold, because it’s Arizona, after all, and not Chicago, or Switzerland, or any other one of those places that, at this time of year, would be covered in a blanket of snow. Two years ago, she might have been reveling in a post-Christmas haze – happiness for the sake of happiness, even though it’s just hit New Year’s, and she’d been no closer to having something that resembles a life.
Of course, now isn’t really much better, considering Christmas had been a feast of expired canned goods, and moonshine. Sometimes it doesn’t really feel like there’s much to celebrate.
Especially not now.
End of the world, and all that.
More to the point, it’s the end of the world, and she’s using a fricking cane to get around, because things like X-Rays and broken bones healing properly are the kinds of things you take for granted while they’re still around.
She’d made jokes about Reid’s walking implement once upon a time. Not so funny anymore. Not so funny when the only outlet she’d had has been lost to her. Not so funny when she can’t pick up a gun, put on her backpack and go on the supply runs with Morgan and Rossi and an ever-changing cast of others, because it’s not just her own life she’s putting in danger. The ailment doesn’t just make her useless – it makes her a burden.
So she’s stuck, so to speak. Stuck in this small town – a fortress, but at the same time, a prison. After a lifetime of traveling from country to country, city to city, it should be freeing, but it’s not. It’s really, really not.
It’s cold, and her body aches.
The leg is the worst – pain shoots from her ankle to her thigh, and sometimes it’s hard to believe that it’s been almost six months since it had broken. The arm isn’t so bad, but still noticeable, and there are a plethora of other injuries that like to act up – injuries from back when a broken leg would have meant six weeks on crutches.
Remembrance of things past.
There’s a scar on her abdomen from a grazing bullet wound, a scar on her forehead from one of the concussions that she seems to collect like other people collect baseball cards. Privately, she thinks that these are all child’s play compared to the internal scars, and she’s pretty sure that she can say that about every single member of the team.
Still, right now she thinks she’d almost prefer another internal scar, considering it wouldn’t hamper her ability to walk. No matter how much Penelope had pimped up her cane (that had been looted from someone’s house, she remembers) it’s still another bitter reminder.
And winter really doesn’t help.
She reads – partly to pass the time, partly for escapism, but (and never in all her life had she imagined that she’d ever say this) it’s starting to get old. A broken childhood isn’t the only reason she’d joined the FBI. She misses the adrenaline rush. The kind of rush you just can’t get from watching TV, or playing sport.
It’s a rush you can get from fighting zombies, but really, that’s a moot point, since she’s not going to be fighting them any time soon. Maybe in ten years or so, the limp will have gone, but she’s not exactly getting any younger; it’s no surprise to any of them that Rossi’s started staying behind more often, much to his chagrin. Morgan, she thinks will keep going until his last dying breath.
It’s kind of terrifying.
She returns the books that she’s just finished to the library shelves; it’s grown exponentially in the time they’ve been there – after a couple of months it had become apparent that forms of entertainment were just as important as food and medical equipment during their supply runs.
‘Any Vonnegut?’ She jumps at the sound of Morgan’s voice from the doorway, white-knuckled fingers gripping her cane.
‘Yeah.’ She gives a grimace. ‘But I’ve read them all half a dozen times. I was thinking Proust – at least that way it’s the last thing I’ll ever have to read.’
‘You could try writing, instead,’ he suggests, and she looks down, not wanting him to see her eyes – all the alternatives in the world won’t get her back to doing what she really wants to do.
‘Maybe,’ she says, but it’s an empty word, said in lieu of anything else.
Even after almost two years, he’s still a profiler. He’s close. So close. She misses this closeness. The lying side by side with a crossbow as they take out zombies from a distance. The ridiculously pointless conversations in the car on the way back, as if they’re really ever going to see another game of Major League Baseball in their lives. The best she can hope for is watching Morgan slide home, kicking up red dust, and Hotch will argue that it’s clearly out, because even though Jack’s only twelve, he’s a pretty good Catcher, and you really can’t take the mother hen instinct out of Hotch.
Maybe they’ll even let her take score.
One hand still gripping the cane, she turns to face Morgan, and with no other reason than the fact that it seems like the right thing to do, she leans in and kisses him slowly. He kisses back at first, and his lips are dry, because it’s Arizona, and it’s winter, and they don’t exactly have an overabundance of moisturizer at hand.
‘Emily…’ he says, his words dulled by her mouth against his. He pulls away. ‘Emily,’ he says again.
‘Please,’ she chokes out, and it’s only then that she realizes that she’s crying. That things are just so. Fucked. Up, and she really, really just needs to let it all go right now.
She feels pathetic.
As though she’s begging for sex, which even in her loneliest times before the apocalypse, she had never, ever done.
And then he’s holding her tight, and pressing kisses to her hair, and she feels that it’s coming from a place of friendship, rather than anything else, because she knows that it’s been a long time for him too.
They walk back to the motel, and Emily brushes him off when he tries to let her put an arm around his shoulder. Sex is one thing, but she can damn well walk by herself. Still, when the door clicks shut, she drops the cane and wraps herself around him, trusting that the embrace should suffice to keep her vertical. It’s a little awkward though, because it means her arms are still around his waist as he unbuttons her shirt, elbows sticking out. Emily’s not wearing a bra, because she’s lost enough weight that support isn’t so much of a problem anymore, and in any case, most of hers are on the verge of falling apart.
She lets one of her hands creep up his back, settling in the fuzzy growth of hair that hadn’t been there two years ago. He still shaves it sometimes, but the beard he usually just trims. His hands cup her breasts, and for a moment she regrets that he’s only doing this now, instead of two years ago, when her body was something that someone could have actually given a damn about. Now, she’s far too skinny, and her skin is rough, and there are scars everywhere. She feels like a meth addict, holding out for just one more fix.
He doesn’t seem to mind.
Her cry is one that’s half pain, half surprise as her lowers her onto the bed. He pauses briefly, but she pulls him down by the neck of the shirt and then takes advantage of her hold on the garment and slips it over his head. His knees are on either side of her thighs, and he’s not pressing down on her yet, but already she can feel the length of him, throbbing with want. She feels the heat low in her own abdomen, and silently urges him to hurry up. His hands rest at the waistband of her pants, the question lingering in the air. Her fingers grope for the buckle, encouraging him to continue with his endeavor to strip her entirely. He lowers himself down, the moment her pants are off, and she’s suddenly totally aware of his weight.
It’s not something she’s ever really been conscious of during sex; it’s usually about the need, the want, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. But six months ago, she’d been trapped under a fricking house for nine hours, and that crushing feeling is suddenly the most terrifying fucking thing in the world.
Her breath hitches in her throat, and there are tears in her eyes, and he stops.
‘I can’t…’ she says, and he starts to move off of her. ‘No!’ she says, and it’s almost a yell. ‘It’s just…Can I be on top?’
His face relaxes in understanding, because again, even after two years, he’s still a profiler.
Can take the agent out of the BAU, but you can’t take the BAU out of the agent.
He rolls over so that he’s lying face up on the bed, and she moves to straddle his thighs. The pain shoots down her leg, but it’s better than the crippling anxiety, and she is not about to stop this now. His hands trail her torso, almost lovingly, but it’s not really about love, it’s about comfort. The end of the world is a very lonely place to be.
She slides his jeans and boxers down together, holding his erection with both hands. It’s long, and it’s thick, and she’s so fucking tight right now that it’s probably going to be good for both of them, if a little painful, but she’s already resigned herself to the pain.
She’d resigned herself to the pain forty years ago.
With a long arm, Morgan moves to the nightstand to grab the box of condoms that he’d brought back as a joke, so long ago now, and she’s almost a little surprised that it hasn’t been opened, because he’s Derek freaking Morgan, and even though she knows he hasn’t done anything, his name and abstinence don’t really seem to go together. She’s almost disappointed that they need to use a condom, but she’s pretty sure in these circumstances, and at this age, childbirth would probably kill her. Part of her is counting down the days to menopause, because protection issues aside, tampons are really fucking hard to find.
The hot flushes will almost be worth it.
She rolls the condom over his length, and slides her panties down to her thighs. Once upon a time she could have kicked them off with some leg acrobatics, but that’s not happening today, so she just leaves them there, and positions herself over him. Her whole body aches as she lowers herself down, and he’s filling her – stretching her, and it’s painful, but it’s so fucking good. She leans down so her breasts are pressed up against his chest, and she takes a moment to just lie there, savoring the warmth that he gives her.
His lips brush against her neck, and then progressively towards her lips, and it’s only when he’s kissing her, hard, that she starts to move against him. It’s still kind of awkward, because she’s trying to minimize the movement of her leg, which makes everything lopsided. His hands move to cup her ass, encouraging the slow but forceful thrusts. She wants to go faster, rougher, to replicate that adrenaline that she’s been so sorely missing, but doing so would probably result in another hospitalization, so she shelves the idea for another time.
If it ever even happens again.
The tempo does speed up a little as they approach climax, and he moves his hand from her ass to between her legs, and rubs against her clit with his thumb and forefinger, and she’s screaming his name. They’re not exactly going to be able to hide this one. She doubts they would anyway, considering the people they hang around with.
He sits up slowly, gently lifting her off of him, and she’s too exhausted to accuse him of being chauvinistic, and really, she’s kind of grateful, too.
She collapses next to him, and is the slightest bit surprised when he spoons her from behind, curling her body into an embrace. The blanket that’s lying in a tangle at the bottom of the bed he pulls up over them, because even though they’re both still covered with sweat, the heat will be gone soon.
The sun will set, and the nighttime desert chill will set in, and she will remember that it’s winter, but she’ll be warm, if only from the arms wrapped around her chest.
At least for a little while longer.
Chapter 10: Sounds Of Things To Come
It's all about the little things. Reid/OC.
Zombie Cantos: Sounds of Things to Come
* * *
But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
Frost at Midnight – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.
* * *
One month after the Zombie Apocalypse
Reid checks the cages at the back of the truck; it’s their first time doing this, and he really doesn’t want it to end with the accidental zombification of everyone he knows. Everyone he knows that are left, he corrects himself. Most of the people that he knows are dead.
Well, survival can be a pretty tough game to play, even without zombies. As it stands though, they don’t really know much beyond “aim for the head,” which means that they need to do a little bit of experimentation.
Jean had been far too excited at that prospect, stating, almost mournfully, ‘They won’t let me go on any of the raids, because apparently being the only person with medical training means you get treated with kid gloves.’
Morgan, Prentiss, Harrison and Bruty are going with them – the muscle, he thinks wryly. They’ll corner the zombies and herd them into the back of the truck. Maybe muscle is the wrong word. Maybe they’re just shepherds. Which makes Reid the one that’s manning the slaughterhouse.
‘Most people assume that being “treated with kid gloves” refers to a person’s tendency to treat someone like a child, but actually, it’s an allusion to gloves made from the skin of a young goat, the leather of which is softer than other kinds, and were thus a symbol of gentleness,’ he says, almost offhand, because his mind is somewhere else.
She blinks and then grins. ‘Okay.’
He’s not entirely displeased about being squashed together in the back seat with her as they drive along the deserted highway. Any cars that had been abandoned, or their inhabitants turned, have long since been pushed off the road, their bodies starting to rust.
The town, too, seems empty when they pull to a stop, but Reid knows that there are zombies lurking in every corner. It’s not the most infested of places – enough that they’ll be able to capture half a dozen zombies in less than half an hour – but not so infested that they’ll be overrun and torn to pieces.
‘Remember,’ Reid says, as they exit the truck and make sure that their weapons are in order. He’s not sure why he’s become the voice of authority instead of Morgan or even Prentiss, but it probably has something to do with the fact that of the team, he’s the only one with an encyclopedic knowledge of zombie movies. ‘Male between eighteen and thirty-five with no obvious physical impairments.’
‘Is being a zombie considered a physical impairment these days?’ Emily asks, with an eyebrow raised.
Reid doesn’t answer the question, but acknowledges her statement with a small smile. ‘We need our test subjects to be as similar as possible in order to provide standardized results.’
‘And since we don’t have time to survey them,’ Jean continues, ‘We’re just going to have to do it by sight.’
The statement earns her a few half-hearted chuckles, but they don’t have time to hang around discussing the finer points of zombie humor.
They all keep a watchful eye out as Morgan dons the HAZMAT suit that had been scavenged on a previous raid. Really, an NBC suit would be better, but there’s not exactly an abundance of military bases around these parts. Even if there were, he’s fairly sure they would have been the first to be raided, if they’re not a safe haven from the apocalypse.
‘You look like an astronaut,’ Emily laughs as she adjusts the hood. ‘Major Morgan, slipping the bonds of a crass and material world to journey beyond the stars.’ Whatever reply Morgan has is muffled by the suit, but he gives a thumbs up, indicating that he’s ready.
Because Morgan’s the only one who’ll be having actual physical contact with the zombies (if all goes to plan) the rest of them are only wearing thick, long-sleeved clothing. Rabid though they may be, the undead still have human teeth, which aren’t really designed to tear through fabric.
After a nod from Reid, Harrison points his weapon skyward and fires. It’s less than a minute before the walking corpses slowly amble from their hiding places. Groans fill the air where there had once been silence.
Harrison and Bruty are taking out any that don’t fit their criteria from a distance, while Emily has a tightened grip on the tranquilizer gun, waiting for their chosen few to get close enough to take down. It’ll do no good to take them down in the midst of the other zombies, because even with the HAZMAT suit, there’s no way Morgan would be able to deal with the rest of them while trying to drag a tranquilized zombie back to the truck.
Reid watches the process with interest. His own weapon is out in front of him – just in case – but he knows better than anyone that once too many bullets start firing, some of those bullets are bound to hit the wrong people. His eyes transfix upon a toddler, crawling slowly, but groaning with that unmistakable zombie quality. Its head explodes as Harrison pulls the trigger. There’s a long pause before he hears the next crack from the deputy’s rifle.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that these things had been human once.
Once they’ve filled the cages and dispatched a good portion of the still lingering beasts, they load up, and let the wheels kick up dust. There’s a cache of weapons at Reid’s feet that will be used for testing purposes – the start of more stringent experimentation if things go well.
Who knows. Maybe one day they might even cure it.
Now though, in a beaten down truck with half an armory at his feet, and six unconscious zombies in the back, and five other people that had just spent the last hour herding up said zombies, normalcy seems that much further away.
They pull to a stop in the middle of nowhere. No zombies for miles and miles. Plenty of space to toss a grenade and not have every single creature within the sound radius come running, or at the very least, lurching.
‘Can I have a go?’ Jean asks as Reid swings the weapons case open. She’s eying the shotgun almost dangerously.
‘You sure?’ Reid asks, frowning.
She sighs. ‘It’s been a month since the fricking zombie apocalypse, and I’ve been stuck in the morgue the entire time. I just want…I just want to shoot a fricking zombie, because it’s the end of the world, and I’m really kind of pissed about it.’ Her voice rises, and Reid notices the looks they’re getting.
‘No,’ he says hastily, quickly attempting to fix the situation. ‘I meant, are you sure you want to use the shotgun – I don’t think buckshot will be as effective for killing zombies as popular media would have you think. The damage needs to be more concentrated, to the point where it’s only useful for extremely close range, and one would imagine that if you’re that close, then you’re probably dead already.’
‘You are an impossible man, Doctor Reid,’ she says, shaking her head. ‘I love that. But my sentiment remains. If there is to be some zombie-killing today, then I would like to be a part of it. Rule 32.’
Reid frowns. ‘“Be careful what you sell. It may do exactly what the customer expects”?’ The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition don’t exactly apply to the situation, so he’s not entirely sure what she’s talking about.
She laughs. ‘Not Star Trek, Crusher. Zombieland. “Enjoy the little things.”’
There’s a long, awkward pause. ‘Crusher? Really? I’m almost insulted. Wesley Crusher is consistently voted as the least popular Star Trek character. Even Wil Wheaton, the actor responsible for his portrayal, found him to be too much of a “Gary Stu.”’
Jean raises an eyebrow. ‘Fine. Other attractive nerds. How about I call you Peter Parker, then? Or maybe just Spiderman?’ His ears only really catch on a single word of the sentence.
‘Wait – attractive?’
She grins. ‘Sure. You don’t think I’m hanging around you all the time just because we’re science buddies, right?’
He can’t quite control the blush that spreads to his cheeks. In any case, Jean seems to find some amusement at his embarrassment. He’s grown more confident over the years, transitioning from socially awkward genius to a somewhat competent field agent, but he doesn’t think he’ll ever quite get used to the idea of being flirted with.
A statistic about the fallibility of workplace relationships jumps into his mind, but he represses it. Most statistics aren’t worth a thing here, at the end of the world. In any case, they’re not colleagues so much as they are, in Jean’s words, “science buddies.” There’s no workplace anymore. Just survival. The little bit of primal instinct inside of him thinks about the merits of survival – the kind of merits that usually involve fornication.
In lieu of any other option, he leans in, and kisses her full on the lips. She pulls back slightly, and he finds himself faltering.
‘About frickin’ time,’ she mutters, and pulls him back towards her. The open weapons case has been ignored entirely, and he tries desperately to do the same to the cat calls that Morgan has started making.
And maybe normalcy doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s just the little things.
Chapter 11: Soul Serene
Sometimes building the future comes at a cost. Sometimes, things happen for no reason at all.
Slight M/P. This chapter also contains CHARACTER DEATH. Proceed at your own risk.
Zombie Cantos: Soul Serene
* * *
If I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;
If birds should build as early,
And bees as bustling go,--
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
'Tis sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with daisies lie,
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It make the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene,
That gentlemen so sprightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!
If I Should Die – Emily Dickinson
Pale Death with impartial tread beats at the poor man's cottage door and at the palaces of kings.
* * *
Twenty-four months after the Zombie Apocalypse
The fire flickers in the night, sparks jumping through the darkness. Silence hangs dead in the air. It’s late, and most people are sleeping, save for the team.
The Team. Capital T. Will always be the Team, even though there’s no FBI anymore. No BAU. They don’t even really work together as much as they used to, but they still can’t let go of the one thing that ties them together.
Jack and Henry are there too – Jack plays with a stick in the fire under his father’s watchful eye, and Henry’s fallen asleep in his mother’s lap. Reid wraps his arms a little tighter up against Jean, and she pushes against his chest. Garcia and Kevin are so intertwined in each other that it’s hard to tell whose limbs are whose.
No words are spoken.
‘Hey, Dad?’ Jack’s voice cuts through the silence. ‘Can I come with you tomorrow?’
Hotch hesitates. For a long time, he had resisted on letting his son out of his sight, but recently, their supply runs have been uneventful – both in terms of zombie activity and in the presence of supplies. The lack of supplies isn’t as much of a problem as it once had been – they’re almost fully self-sufficient now, even if things will never really go back to the way they were. Not in this lifetime, at least.
Jack might only be twelve years old, but he’s been through so much more than any other child his age. Not that there are really that many of them left anymore. There are a few from before the zombie apocalypse, and a few more that have been born in the months since, but it’s a far cry from a healthy environment for any child. Jack’s growing increasingly independent, skulking off to the library to read, or wandering around the town limits alone for hours at a time. Perhaps going along on one of the raids will help bring the boy out of his shell.
‘Okay,’ he says with a smile that’s somewhat forced. It’s been twelve years, and he’s still not sure he has any clue about how to be a father. He can profile a disorganized offender, he can take down one of the walking dead with a single shot at fifty paces, but he has no idea whether he’s doing the right thing when it comes to raising his son.
The fire keeps burning, an eternal flame. It hasn’t gone out in a long time now. During the day it provides security – the zombies are as afraid of fire as they are of loud noises – and at night it provides warmth. More importantly than that, though, it is a beacon of hope. As long as it keeps burning, they keep fighting.
Even if it’s a fight they can’t win.
* * *
They wake up early – before the sun has risen. The place they plan to hit isn’t too far out, and they might be able to make it back well before nightfall. In the future, the trips won’t be nearly as short – after two years, they’ve drained all the gas stations within a hundred mile radius. Going further for fuel isn’t that cost effective, which means they’ll be forced to use the self-sufficiency that they’ve spent so long building up. They’re working towards using renewable energy methods for transportation, but it’s difficult, even with the limited electricity the relatively primitive turbine system gives them.
Today’s trip is another step towards cementing that self-sufficiency. They’ve long since demolished the extraneous houses in the town, using the supplies to build and reinforce the structures that they do use. Empty buildings would just be hiding places for the undead, and really, any hope that the town might ever return to normal is a fool’s hope.
It’s a long time since Aaron Hotchner has dealt in fool’s hope.
Before the BAU, before the FBI, before S.W.AT, before the District Attorney’s Office. And really, it’s not just hope in a professional sense, so he goes back even further; before Jack, before Haley. It might have begun the day he started going to bed with bruises from his father’s fists.
Hope is for other people. Less proactive people, maybe. People that haven’t taken their lives into their own hands. But then, no-one’s fate is their own. Not really. Not anymore.
And that’s another reason he’s agreed to take Jack along today. In this kind of world, manhood comes a lot sooner. Once upon a time, children wouldn’t have undertaken target practice as part of their education.
Once upon a time, children were allowed to be children.
Hotch drives, and Morgan rides shotgun. Jack sits in the back seat with Hill and Garth. Bruty and John are behind them in the truck, because they can’t really fit that much in the back of the SUV.
Jack doesn’t really speak on the journey. He keeps his head pressed against the window, even though Morgan tells him that it will bring on carsickness. Hotch says nothing – he knows his son is doing exactly the same thing he’s doing, albeit in a different way.
Watching the world go by.
Even if this all ended today, even if every zombie was wiped off the face of the Earth, there would still be no going back.
The evergreens here are a good source of softwood, and according to Reid, 80% of the world’s production of timber once came from softwood. Timber that’s used for, amongst other things, structural building components. It’s not just physical things they’re building. Not just houses, or plants, or stations. They’re building so much more than that.
They’re building a future.
* * *
They pull to a stop, and the moment the engines stop rumbling, they’re almost shrouded in silence. Almost shrouded, Morgan thinks, because he can still hear the birds, and the insects, and the rustling of the trees, but he can’t hear any mechanical noises. It’s not as though they’re shanty-town of a fortress has much in the way of mechanical noises anyway, but this place has a much more distinctive “nature” sound.
After two years, the world is a different place. Nature is taking back what had once been hers. Without loggers, without constant pollution, without all those other human inventions – without humans, really – the world is a very different place. That’s without even putting zombies into the equation.
It almost seems a pity to chop some of these trees down. Really, though, he’s pretty sure that the trees – and the birds, and the animals – are going to outlast humans. Zombies don’t seem to have any inclination for animal flesh, and the virus hasn’t jumped the species barrier.
It’s a sobering thought, to think that one day, zombies will be the dominant life form. Maybe they are already.
Theoretically, Morgan knows jack-all about biological theories, and evolution, and natural selection, but practically, he knows a lot about survival of the fittest. A lot more than any book can tell him. In his mind, they’ve been fighting too long, too hard for it to end like this. Fighting too long for it to end with the last dregs of humanity just wasting away. Because survival is about fighting through the pain. Becoming stronger. Carl Buford had led him to the FBI, and the FBI had led him here, and right now he can’t see a way out of the tunnel, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Even if they end up a hundred miles from where they’re supposed to be, they’ll still have the light shining down.
The weight of the axe feels good in his hands. It’s not a sledgehammer, and he isn’t knocking down walls, but it has the same purpose. Destruction for construction. Knock down walls to build better houses. Cutting down trees to build better houses.
Twenty feet away, Hotch is helping Jack – the axe is probably just that little bit too heavy for a twelve-year-old – his first few goes are wobbly, and barely make a dent. By the middle of the day, though, his swings are a little more precise, even if Hotch is still watching out of the corner of his eye.
Garth keeps watch, sitting on the edge of a rocky outcrop, rifle slung across his knees, and a bored look on his face. The sentry vantage points are the main reason they’d chosen this site – it’s a little harder to get to, but the height gives them a better vantage point to see any approaching zombies. The only downside is that taking the trees back to the truck might take a while.
Getting this done in a single day could well have been wishful thinking.
Sunset approaches, and after stripping the trunks of their branches, they’ve only got half a truckload, so Morgan gets the tents out of the SUV, and Hotch gets the fire going. There’s a smile on Jack’s face as he talks to Garth about something completely inconsequential – monster trucks, maybe, but he’s not entirely sure. He’s relieved by the fact that there’s a smile on Hotch’s face too.
John takes the first watch. Morgan’s is from 3am to 7am.
The zombies come at dawn.
* * *
They move differently, which is the first indication that something’s wrong. They’re a little bit faster, a little bit more fluid, but still chaotic, as though they don’t really know how to move the muscles properly. The second indication is the fact that one of them has three arms. The third arm is small, not really an arm, functionally speaking, but then the zombies don’t really use their limbs that much anyway, save to rip someone’s brain from their skull.
There are a few dozen of them, dragging themselves over the ridge. The night-time darkness had all but hidden their approach, especially considering they hadn’t really expected them from this particular direction. Zombies like the flat ground; they don’t deal with climbing particularly well.
It’s good news in a way, because access to the vehicles hasn’t been blocked off – they can make a tactical retreat if they need to.
The preferable option would be to take out the zombies and continue with the wood-cutting, because they need to make this trip last. It all depends on how the battle plays out.
Hotch sends Jack, Bruty and John back to the vehicles. Jack might have had battle experiences thanks to this God-forsaken apocalypse, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for an all out firefight. If it comes down to it, the two of them will drive back alone.
It’s not going to come to that.
Derek Morgan hasn’t come this far just to die chopping wood.
The first zombie he takes out doesn’t go down as easily as usual.
“Mutant zombie” is his first thought, but it doesn’t last very long, because he’s too busy killing the bastards to think too much after that. Between him and Hotch and Garth and Hill, they make short work of the creatures, even with the new developments. Afterwards, they stand around, panting for breath. Zombie-killing is not easy work.
‘What the hell was that?’ Morgan says eventually, his confused mirrored on the face of every single one of his companions.
‘Could the virus have mutated?’ asks Garth – he’s a mechanic, not a scientist, but the conclusion is apparently one that they’ve all come to. A conclusion that can’t be confirmed unless they take a body back.
On that point, there’s some argument.
‘What if the mutation changed the way the virus spreads?’ argues Hotch. ‘We can’t subject the rest of the human race to possible infection.’
‘By studying the mutation, we might be able to find a way to reverse the infection,’ Hill responds.
‘I’m pretty sure we’re beyond that point now,’ says Morgan with some finality. It’s a truth that a lot of the town have been trying to deny for some time now. Trying to hold onto those last shreds of hope.
They reach a compromise, taking back a skin sample.
‘I suppose it doesn’t really matter,’ Garth says, staring off into the distance. ‘If it’s airborne now, then we’re dead already.’
Morgan doesn’t respond.
* * *
They start the drive back right away – the noise could have attracted more of the mutant zombies, and not even the thought of more wood is enough to keep them there.
The drive is silent, almost painful. They’ve lived for so long with this new status quo, the thought of it changing once more looms over them, a dark storm cloud.
It’s barely mid-morning when they make it back, and Morgan can’t even find it in himself to crack a joke when Reid answers his motel room door half naked. He and Jean dress quickly, and Morgan can hear the buzz of confusion from those that are already out and about.
It’s no surprise when the rest of the team show up in succession. First Garcia and Kevin, then Rossi, then Emily, and finally JJ, with a bleary-eyed Henry trailing behind her.
‘Could you get me the Geiger counter?’ Reid asks Jean, who searches through half a dozen drawers before finding the device.
‘We’re about 200 miles from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station,’ Reid tells them, waving the Geiger counter over the sample they’d brought back. ‘Without anyone around to make sure the system runs smoothly, the plant could have overheated.’
‘So what?’ asks Morgan, exasperated. ‘We’re talking radioactive zombies?’
‘Certain amounts of radiation have been known to cause mutation in animals,’ he says, by way of answer. Then, with a thoughtful look on his face, he adds. ‘You know, with the right amount of people, we probably could have taken over the plant.’
Morgan privately disagrees, but then, Reid’s always been ambitious in his intellectual pursuits. Running a nuclear generating station is one step short of being a mad scientist. The turbines they’ve set up to generate electricity are far less complicated, far less deadly.
‘How would radiation affect the contagiousness of the virus?’ It’s the same question Hotch had asked, only this time, they have a scientist qualified to give an answer.
‘I don’t know,’ he says eventually, launching into an explanation of ionizing radiation and gamma rays, an explanation that apparently goes over almost everybody’s heads.
‘We’ll need to test it,’ he says, when it becomes clear that his crash course in nuclear physics for dummies isn’t going to stick.
That’s their cue to leave, apparently. It seems a little anti-climactic.
Morgan finds himself gravitating to Emily’s side. It’s become something of a routine. He’s not sure if he’d call it love, or even a relationship, but it brings them comfort and sometimes, that’s enough.
Today, it’s not about sex, though. He’s tired, and quite frankly, all he wants to do is sink into bed and fall asleep. Still, he’s not entirely displeased when he realizes that while sex isn’t on the agenda, cuddling apparently is, even if he’d never admit to calling it that. Sometimes, holding onto someone is just as comforting as the more physical aspects. Maybe it is a relationship, even if that part is a little hard to admit as well.
‘Do I have to give you the full Silkwood?’ Emily asks as he strips off his shirt. He pretends to consider the idea – an idea that, once upon a time, probably would have led to shower sex. Not the best idea with limited resources, though.
‘Just make sure I don’t turn in my sleep,’ he laughs, even though it’s not a particularly funny joke. She gives him a playful swat anyway, her eyes shining, and it’s the greatest thing in the world to see her smiling. For a long time now, they’ve been few and far between. He thinks that happiness is probably more important than any technological advancement they make. No point in sticking around if you’re only going to spend your life being miserable. They’ve been working towards that as much as they’ve been working towards everything else.
He drifts off to sleep with a smile on his face.
* * *
Hotch is tired.
Tiredness is a feeling he’s grown used to over the years – it had started long before zombies had come into the scene. It had started with late nights working cases and trying like hell to make his life fit together. He loves Jack, had loved Haley, and there’s a part of him that still does love her, eight years on. He sees her smile, her eyes, in Jack, and in a way, he’s building this future for her as much as he is for his son.
A testament to those left behind.
A testament to the world of the future.
Already, he knows that this future doesn’t belong to him. He’d helped built it, but he isn’t going to live long enough to bring the world into a new age.
Part of that’s the tiredness. He’s not as young as he used to be.
Mostly, though, it’s the green tinge that’s slowly starting to spread across his skin.
Though he would never care to admit it, Aaron Hotchner is afraid. Not so much for himself, but for his son, for his team, for his family.
Jack’s already back at the motel room, for which he’s grateful. The boy still has nightmares about his mother’s death sometimes, waking up screaming about the sound of gunfire, and the sound of George Foyet’s voice.
‘Aaron?’ He hears Rossi’s voice behind him, and he’s glad that it’s Rossi rather than anyone else. David Rossi understands.
‘Radiation does affect the way the virus spreads,’ is all Hotch says, and it’s enough for Rossi to realize what’s going on. He doesn’t say anything for a good few seconds. The implications could be far worse than they’re aware of; he’s not the only one that could be infected. Morgan had been there, as well as Garth, Hill, Bruty, John. Jack had been there. ‘I need to know that he’s going to be okay,’ Hotch says, not even allowing himself to look towards the older man. He doesn’t want to reveal that all-consuming fear that’s filled his eyes.
His own death, he can live with. His son’s, not so much. It’s something he can’t fight, can’t stop.
He checks the chamber of his gun, and ejects the magazine, handing it to Rossi. The back-up weapon he passes over without even really thinking about it.
‘Please...’ he starts, and he can feel his body succumbing to the effects of the virus. His mind is slowing, and any control he might have ever had is slipping away. ‘Tell him I love him.’
Rossi nods. ‘I’ll send JJ back,’ he says quietly “To keep an eye on you” are the words that go unsaid. Hotch nods. It might be cruel, but it’s far less than the horrors that might go down if it’s JJ that checks on Jack. Parenthood hasn’t affected JJ’s objectivity in the way that some people might believe, but it’s definitely affected her ability to cope with having killed a child.
He looks back down towards the gun, and considers ending it before it has the chance to get out of hand. In his experience, complete transition from human to zombie takes several hours, but the radiation has already had strange effects, so he doesn’t know what to expect.
The same way Will went out, some small part of him remembers, and it feels a little inconsequential, because those had been completely different circumstances. Still, he finds himself walking out beyond the buildings, because if he does turn sooner than expected, he wants them to take him out without too much effort.
Not the death that he’d imagined.
He’s come so close to death before. New York. Foyet. This time feels different. Nothing he does will change the outcome.
JJ’s voice. He looks up, and there are tears in her eyes. Tears for him.
His body lurches, and he falls to his knees. No time to say goodbye – not to Jack, not to anyone.
‘Do you want me to... ?’ JJ starts, and for a split second, he has the urge to say yes. I can’t do it myself. It only lasts that split second, though, and he shakes his head.
‘You should turn around.’
The gun feels heavy as he lifts it towards his mouth. The metal’s cold against his tongue, bitter. A coppery taste that makes him think he might be bleeding, only he hasn’t pulled the trigger yet. His body lurches once more, as though it’s trying to actively rebel against his conscious thought. His finger starts to squeeze at the trigger before it’s too late.
You’ll have to build a fut‒
He doesn’t hear the sound of the gunshot.
* * *
Emily hears the gunshot, and it pulls her from admittedly, a fairly light sleep. She hadn’t been particularly tired, but Morgan had been, and she’d missed the warmth of him beside her.
She groans, brain still trying to catch up.
She jerks up quickly, because there’s only one reason there would be gunshots heart in this town, and that reason is Zombies. A warning bell, of sorts.
She dresses quickly, vaguely aware of Morgan stirring from the bed. ‘You sure you didn’t bring back a Zombie Queen nest?’ she asks, not really expecting a serious answer. It’s kind of problematic, though, when she doesn’t get an answer at all.
She’s frozen, socks still in her hand, as she turns to face him. Dead eyes meet hers. Dead eyes, and dead skin, and all those other things that are definitive of the walking dead.
‘Morgan?’ Her voice is small, soft, as though she’s waiting for someone to jump out and yell “April Fools!”
The reply he does give is a long, protracted moan, and he staggers towards her, arm outstretched.
‘Oh, god no.’ Her words are directed to no-one in particular, but she scrambles to find her gun, his gun, any gun. The search fails, partly because she’s half hysterical right now, because waking up next to a zombie is not the most calming of things.
‘No, no, no...’ She mutters the words under her breath, like some kind of twisted mantra, and her fingers grasp onto the nearest object, which happens to be her cane. With as much force as she can muster, she swings it towards Morg‒...the creature’s head, knocking it off balance.
It comes back again, and this time her swing isn’t quite enough, and she finds herself falling backwards onto her ass. It takes every bit of strength she has to keep his mouth away from her flesh. His mouth. She remembers kissing that mouth. Running her tongue along the lips. She remembers that mouth touching her, caressing her.
The realization that Derek Morgan is dead almost makes her want to let go, to let the creature take her. At least then it will be over.
She hadn’t gotten this far by giving up.
She spies the gun on the nightstand. The most obvious place, really – the place she puts it every night – but her mind’s not really at its best. The creature pushes forward again, its arms flailing against her grip, and she kicks backwards, simultaneously lunging for the gun. Lunging and furniture doesn’t work particularly well, and she feels the pain shoot up her bad leg, but she has a weapon.
Her fingers shake as she aims, squeezing the trigger. The eyes that look back are dead eyes, but they’re still Derek Morgan’s eyes.
She shoots twice. The first shot hits between the eyes, the second hits lower down as he falls.Emily can’t quite bring herself to move and check that he’s dead, but apparently she doesn’t have to, because it’s about two seconds later when the door’s kicked open.
Rossi’s voice. She can hear it, but she still hasn’t quite processed what has just happened. Her whole body is shaking, and she can’t take her eyes off of him. It’s another few moments before she realizes that Jack’s standing there too – why is he crying? – and a few moments after that, curiosity gets the best of some other people.
Rossi shoos them off, and Jack leaves too, albeit reluctantly – there’s something going on there, but now isn’t the time to ask.
He kneels down beside her, saying softly, ‘We need to get you checked out.’
‘I’m fine,’ she murmurs, which is the biggest lie she’s ever told in her life.
‘They weren’t bitten,’ he says, and even though she already knows that, the realization still hits home pretty heavy. If the virus had mutated into an airborne strain, or even one that’s spread by touch, then they could all already be infected.
‘We can’t just leave him here.’
‘We won’t,’ he assures her gently, and she takes the proffered arm, and he pulls her to her feet.
Outside, the atmosphere is grim, and it’s a good thirty seconds before she realizes that it’s not because of Morgan.
‘Dave...’ She doesn’t use his first name all that often, but now she needs to, even if she’s not quite sure why. ‘Dave, what happened?’
He doesn’t answer straight away, but her mind is a little more organized now, and she puts the pieces together. Jack, the gunshot, the mutated zombies.
The affirmation he gives is both grim and silent.
This new world is starting to fall apart.
* * *
The next twenty-four hours is probably the most harrowing of David Rossi’s life. There are tests, and quarantines, and tests in quarantine, and one more turning – Bruty, who had been taken out by a headshot from JJ. By the end of it all, no-one else has started to show the signs of infection, and they all relax a little bit.
Of course, relaxation means that they have time to grieve, and the tears don’t really stop for a few days.
All three bodies had been burnt, so there’s nothing to bury, but they have a ceremony anyway, the bright, hot fire the only source of light, both physically, and emotionally.
Jack hangs around Henry and JJ for a while, but then gravitates towards Emily, who is probably taking the situation the hardest, mostly because she can’t quite get past the idea that she had killed Derek Morgan.
They’re looking to Rossi for leadership now, and he’s not entirely sure that he can provide. He doesn’t do leadership. He does the lone wolf thing, and he does the back-up thing, but he doesn’t really do so well at commanding people. The Sheriff’s still around, but he’s just as shell-shocked as the rest of them right now. For so long, they’d managed to avoid disasters like this, and then to lose three of their best in one day.
Definitely not progress.
Rossi sighs, turning a stick in the fire.
Right now, the future is uncertain.
But then, it always has been.
Chapter 12: The Heart of Man
Dealing with death is never easy.
Zombie Cantos: The Heart of Man
* * *
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
Reluctance – Robert Frost
Being prepared for loss is never the same as being ready for it
Randy K. Milholland
* * *
Twenty-Four and a half months since the Zombie Apocalypse.
It’s been two weeks since “that day.” There’s no need for any further clarification, really. They all know what “that day” is – the worst day of their lives. It takes Emily a little while to get used to the fact that Morgan and Hotch aren’t in her life anymore. They’ve been a staple presence for almost ten years ago – a world without them just doesn’t feel right. Some days, she half expects to see Hotch standing at the whiteboard, putting together an attack plan, or waking up and feeling Morgan’s warmth beside her.
All that’s gone, now.
It’s kind of hard to comprehend.
But as hard as it’s hitting her, there’s one person that has it a whole lot worse. Jack’s twelve years old, but he’s stronger than most adults she’s met. He cries silent tears at the memorial service they hold, but he’s a pillar of strength in the darkest moments. She expects nothing less from Aaron Hotchner’s son.
This morning, Jack had knocked on her door, and asked if she wanted to play chess. She wonders briefly why he doesn’t ask Reid, or Kevin, or even Rossi, but she doesn’t turn him down. It’s been a while since she’s last played, but it’s not a game that you ever really forget to play.
She’d been the one Jack had drifted towards in the wake of his father’s death, and it had taken her a few days to figure out that it was because she’d lost someone too. Never mind that she doesn’t really know how to be a proper role-model to a child. They’re big shoes to fill, and her own teenage experiences are really, really not an example Jack should be following, even if some of them are a little impossible in a post-apocalyptic world.
Still. He’s a good kid – a smart kid – and he plays a mean game of chess for a twelve year old. “Almost thirteen,” he reminds her when she says this, and she just smiles. It’s a sad smile, because he’s twelve years old – “almost thirteen” – and he’s lost both his parents, and he didn’t do a single fucking thing to deserve it. None of them had.
It’s all so fucking unfair, and part of her wants to drop everything, a sort of “screw this, I’m done,” to the universe. She doesn’t, though. There’s something in there keeping her going, even if she isn’t quite sure what it is. Maybe it’s the grin on Jack’s face as he checkmates her – admittedly, she’s beaten him a dozen more times than he’s beaten her, because you don’t play chess with Spencer Reid without learning a few things. It still feels good though, because if nothing else, it means that Jack’s not letting go of everything, which somehow feels more important.
I believe the children are our future. It’s not often that she praises the merits of Whitney Houston, but the phrase seems appropriate for the situation. What the future itself will be is another matter altogether. It doesn’t seem right that they’ll grow up into a world like this. The world before hadn’t exactly been perfect, but it had its moments.
If I'm not kicking down doors, I'm smashing down walls. At the end of the day, they both make me feel like I'm changing something... for the better.
Morgan’s words – from so long ago now – ring in her ears, as though they’re some kind of testament to his memory. Keep going. Keep fighting – there’s something worth it. Only part of her thinks that she’s just lost the one thing that had kept her holding on. It’s the reason she finds herself unsure of what answer to give when Jack asks her, ‘Were you and Derek boyfriend and girlfriend?’
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that he is only twelve.
‘It’s complicated,’ Emily says finally.
‘Zombie complicated, or adult complicated?’ he counters, and Emily gives a bitter laugh.
‘“The important thing was to love rather than to be loved,”’ he says, and Emily frowns.
‘Aren’t you a little young to be reading that kind of stuff?’
‘I dunno,’ Jack says. ‘It’s just something Mom used to say. At least, that’s what Dad told me. I don’t really…I don’t really remember that much.’ His voice takes on a sad note, and Emily wants nothing more than to take him into her arms, and to tell him that everything will be okay. Even if it is a lie. ‘I remember the gunshots,’ he says, the words seem almost disconnected.
Emily closes her eyes. She remembers the gunshots too. She remembers the look on Hotch’s face – it’s burnt into her memory, along with so many other horrific things.
‘I didn’t know her very well,’ Emily admits, ‘But she was only ever kind to me.’
She checkmates him this time, and Jack suggests that they find a couple of other people and play Monopoly instead, because it’s the kind of world where you can play Monopoly at 11am on a Monday morning without really feeling too guilty about it.
‘Sure,’ Emily smiles. ‘Why not.’
There’s hope for Jack yet, even if she’s not quite sure about herself.
Chapter 13: The Road Not Taken
A lot can change in two and a half years
Thirty-one months after the zombie apocalypse.
The city looks like some kind of post-apocalyptic hellhole. Which really, is fitting, considering it actually is one. In some ways, it reminds Emily of Chernobyl – she’d toured the exclusion zone with her mother once upon a time – so long ago now. A rusted Ferris wheel, a stark remind of those that had died at Pripyat. Of course, they’ve seen the effects of time and neglect on other cities – smaller cities. It doesn’t compare to seeing dozens of square miles of derelict skyscrapers; some destroyed by fire, some by things much more mundane. Seeing a city once crawling with life so empty, so dead…it makes the end of the world that much more real.
This is worse than Chernobyl. It’s not a few dozen dead, with a couple of thousand more to follow in the years afterwards. This is millions – billions – of people, torn apart by the living dead. No matter how many people they can contact over the shortwave radio, they’ll never really be able to find out the magnitude of the disaster. Not until the world gets put back together, and really, that might never happen.
They’ve been standing there for ten minutes, just watching, and the rifle’s starting to get a little heavy in her arms. Considering she’s been holding the rifle at attention for the last ten miles, it’s unsurprising. Satisfied that Reid, at least, has his weapon at the ready, she lets her shoulders drop slightly, letting one hand rub against the ache in her leg. She’d tossed the cane away a long time ago, but they’re walking at such a pace that her limp isn’t going to hold anyone back unless they need to start running. If the zombies do attack, they’ll have plenty of warning – someone’s been along this road and cleaned it up, zombies exterminated, and car bodies removed. They might have been taken for parts, or they might have been destroyed, giving the undead one less hiding place.
Cleaning up the world is a long, slow process.
‘What do you think?’ Kevin asks Reid, who doesn’t answer straight away. He’s the one that had plotted out their route, taking into account climate and proximity to former major population centers, and so on. They want to stay relatively near civilization, for supply purposes, but not too close, because there still could be pockets of undead lurking, two and a half years on.
There’s been no progress on finding a cure, no progress on finding out whether the zombies have some kind of finite lifespan. They just need to keep fighting.
‘It’s getting dark,’ Reid replies, staring at the sun, starting to dip below the horizon. It stains the sky a brilliant orange, and in another place, another time, it might have been beautiful. Maybe it is beautiful, and Emily’s just getting cynical.
They get a few fires going, and Kevin and JJ take the first watch. Food and water are passed around, both in scarce supply – they don’t exactly have that self-sufficiency thing going anymore. What they do have though, is the tiniest sliver of hope – a haven that is so much more than their tiny town in the middle of nowhere had been.
Maybe it’s just a pipe dream, but really, it’s all they’ve got left. It’s kinda sad in a way, but then, they haven’t really had that much hope in a long time. On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. She’d never been much of a Palahniuk fan, but he’s not wrong. They’re all going to die, some day. Part of her thinks that maybe she’s a little bit dead already. Everyone else has something keeping them going.
It’s too early for sleep, so they sit around the fire, not relaxed, because they can never, ever be relaxed anymore.
‘Wish we had marshmallows,’ Jean comments, a little wistfully, leaning into Reid’s chest.
‘We can pretend we have marshmallows,’ Henry tells her solemnly, and for an eight-year-old kid, he’s pretty smart. They’ve had something of a wandering school going on, Reid telling Jack and Henry about laws of thermodynamics, about the three-domain system of biological classification, about chemical equilibrium. It’s not these things, though, that will define their future. It’s how well they can shoot, how good they are at finding food, finding water.
Not the greatest childhood memories.
Some days, though, they get stories instead, and that’s when everyone chips in. Garcia likes to put in unicorns, and Reid likes to put in intelligent, capable heroes, and everybody has their own contributions, and the end result is always horrible in its complexity, but they have fun creating the fantasy world that’s never going to be real.
Of course, three years ago, zombies were never going to be real.
Three years ago, they all had a life, even if it had been mostly work.
Three years ago, they had Hotch, and Rossi, and Morgan.
Three years ago, they had hope.
Maybe some of them still do.
But Emily isn’t one of them.
Chapter 14: The Horizon's Edge
In a mad world, only the mad are sane. Character Death.
Zombie Cantos: The Horizon's Edge
The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,
The strata of color’d clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint, away solitary by itself—the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud;
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.
There Was a Child Went Forth – Walt Whitman
A mother's love for her child is like nothing else in the world.
The Day of the Zombie Apocalypse
Diana Reid is more perceptive than most people give her credit for. When people think “Schizophrenic” they think of people chained in strait jackets, locked in padded rooms. That’s not what it’s like at all. Often, the mind is more of a prison than the real world can ever be, but she has her good days, too.
On the good days, she reads the letters that Spencer has sent her, and sometimes thinks about sending one back, but she never gets the chance. Diana can’t be sure, after all, that she isn’t going to lapse in the middle of the letter, and call him by his father’s name, or even just forget what she’s trying to say altogether. More than that, though, she doesn’t write because she knows that it’s a constant reminder to him, of the possibilities. He’s scared of becoming like her, even if he’s never told her.
A mother knows.
A mother knows when her son is in danger, too; she doesn’t know where he is, or what he’s fighting, but she knows that he’s being brave, and being strong, and being all of those things that he always is.
A mother knows when she’ll never see her son again.
‘What’s going on?’ another patient asks – when you start losing your mind, you start to see things a little differently, and for some reason, they can sense the danger before it comes. They sense the danger before they hear the moans, before the front doors start splintering, before the screams start.
The orderlies and the nurses and the doctors – they aren’t prepared for this kind of insanity. They’re so used to their textbook diagnoses and their ordered world, that they can’t see past the madness. If you want to find your way in the darkness, then find someone who can see in the dark. If you want to make sense of the insanity, then find someone who’s insane.
The good thing about being trapped in a place where people aren’t supposed to get out is that it’s hard to get in, too. Heavy doors that are designed to withstand the strength of a patient in a psychotic break. A single patient is one thing, though, dozens of strange, undead creatures quite another.
Diana’s world is a topsy-turvy mess, no longer Chaucer and Proust, but rather breakfast at eight a.m sharp, and bingo tournaments with people that can’t even remember their own name.
It doesn’t take long for them to break through the door.
Though she doesn’t know what they are, or what they’re going to do, Diana does know one thing. She isn’t going to let them take her.
In a mad world, only the mad are sane.
Once the medication runs out, and the visions and the hallucinations and reality mix into one horrendous nightmare, her world will be a living hell.
She’s not going to let that happen.
Even in the darkest of hours, she had never been suicidal, never considered taking her own life. This isn’t an act of depression, though. This is an act of self-preservation.
Maybe one day she’ll see her Spencer again, she thinks, taking the knife from the body that’s lying, bleeding on the floor.
‘I’m sorry, baby,’ she whispers to herself. Spencer will be able to keep going where she can’t. Spencer will survive.
A mother knows.
Chapter 15: A Surrendered Life
Zombie Cantos: A Surrendered Life
I am not dreaming
Of a hope-victory-life.
I am just dreaming
Of a hope-survival-life.
Yesterday my need was world-conquest.
Today my need is my own survival.
I am failing.
Tomorrow my need will be a surrendered life.
I shall fail.
Survival – Sri Chinmoy
Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
John le Carre
The Day of the Zombie Apocalypse
A politician’s greatest tool is information.
With information, you can win wars, bring down opponents. With information, you can make a name for yourself. The thought of an event where nobody has any information at all is unnatural, almost terrifying.
At first there are rumors, which is how information starts, so everyone keeps their ear to the keyhole, waiting to see what comes. What comes, in this case, is a dozen different stories, none of which have any corroboration at all.
A voodoo priest casts a curse, a diseased animal goes through the slaughterhouse. Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, nobody has seen anything like it before.
Distracted by a terse situation that needs her strict attention, Elizabeth Prentiss is uninterested in anything less important than a full-scale global disaster. It’s only when she hears the flights in and out of the entirety of the Americas have been cancelled that the seriousness of the situation strikes home.
‘What’s going on?’ she demands of the nearest person she finds – he’s a secretary of some variety with a cheap tie and a shocked expression. If anything, his face contorts into sheer terror at her words. He almost crumbles to dust under her gaze.
Elizabeth Prentiss is not a person to be trifled with.
‘They say the dead are walking,’ he tells her, eyes cast downwards. ‘I don’t…they’re not telling me anything. I’m sorry.’ He rushes off in the opposite direction, leaving her no more enlightened than she had been before his revelation.
“The dead are walking.” Really. He might as well have said that there were moon-men landing on the White House lawn, for all the incredulity it instills. She goes in search of someone a little more trustworthy. The problem with politicians, though, is that none of them are particularly trustworthy. There’s some kind of irony in that.
All the phone calls she tries to make are unsuccessful; a disconnected line, or a busy signal. Finally – finally – she manages to get a call through to a contact in the Pentagon, who tells her exactly the same thing that the secretary had, which is more than a little disconcerting.
‘What can be done about this?’ she asks sharply.
‘Everyone that can pull a trigger is fighting back, Ambassador,’ he tells her, which is probably something of an overstatement. ‘The infection is moving fast – faster than anything we’ve seen.’
As it turns out, her phone call beats the official statement by about half an hour, and the emergency meeting by an hour and a half.
In terms of importance, the American Embassy in Ukraine isn’t top of the list. It’s been almost thirty years since the end of the Cold War, and international relations are more focused on the Middle East. That’s not to say it’s gone and forgotten, though.
There are a mixture of people packed together in the conference room; foreign dignitaries, and soldiers, and a lot of people that Elizabeth doesn’t recognize. Some of them will be from other embassies; it’s not just the United States that this is affecting. She mentally kicks herself for not paying enough attention – she’s tried to call Emily almost a dozen times now. Defeat isn’t easy to accept when you’re not used to losing.
There’s a map on the screen, a white dot representing the start of the infection. Patient zero. More than a third of the continental U.S as well as most of Central America is marred by a red stain. A blood stain. Those are the infected areas. There’s a second stain – an orange one this time, that spreads up into Canada and down into South America – a 24-hour extrapolation.
It’s not an epidemic. That word doesn’t seem powerful enough to describe what’s going on. This is like an epidemic on crack. Spinning out of control before anyone knows what’s going on or how to stop it.
‘The infection has been contained within the continent,’ the speaker at the front of the room informs them. ‘Any cases that made it out of the country have been dealt with.’ Elizabeth Prentiss has been a politician long enough to know what “dealt with” means, and it’s usually a bullet to the head, rather than a quarantine facility.
She’s hyperaware of the fact that Washington D.C. is included in the infected zone, and that chances are, Emily is already dead. Still, there’s still some hope – if the infection is only spread by bodily fluids, as the rumor mill tells her, then there’s the slightest possibility that her daughter is still alive.
Politicians don’t deal in hope, no matter what campaign messages tell the general public. They deal in numbers, in statistics. For the most part, they’re cynical realists, not idealists. Idealists tend to get themselves eaten alive, zombie pun not intended.
There are a multitude of questions once the speaker has finished, ranging from “What are we going to do about this?” to “How will this affect the exchange rate of the greenback?”
“Nothing” is the answer to the first question, or at least that’s what it seems like he’s saying. Maybe a more realistic evaluation would be “not much.” Several government agencies are still holding out, and apparently they’re the ones who are taking care of things like finding out just what the hell is going on, and how they’re supposed to stop it. It’s good news, in a way – it means there’s an avenue of communication to find out where her daughter is.
In the end, it takes three phone calls and a lot of yelling to find out that Emily had been on a case when everything had gone down. There’s a lot of database corruption, and a lack of electricity over there, though, which means exactly where this case had been is as much as a mystery as anything else.
The moment she finds out where the task force is being set up, she requests the transfer out of the Ukraine. It’s signed off on almost immediately, which is a testament to just how dire the situation is. She packs her bags and gets on the small, crowded jet that’s been provided for them. All these people volunteering in the fact against the enemy that they don’t really know anything about.
All they really know is that there’s work to be done.
Chapter 16: Said Death to the Maiden
Spencer Reid wonders when he stopped being just "resident genius" and started being "resident Zombie exterminator."
Zombie Cantos: Said Death to the Maiden
Said the sun to the moon,
You cannot stay.
Says the moon to the waters,
All is flowing.
Says the fields to the grass,
Seed-time and harvest,
Chaff and grain.
Change – Kathleen Raine
We did not change as we grew older; we just became more clearly ourselves.
The amount of pressure it takes to kill a zombie depends on a number of things. It depends on the kind of weapon you’re using, it depends on whether you’re trying to decapitate, or cause skull fracture. It depends on how hard-headed your enemy is. Decapitating zombies with a machete isn’t something Spencer Reid had practiced to any extent in his old life, but an encyclopaedic knowledge of physics and biology make this his forte.
He wonders when he’d stopped being just “resident genius” and started being “resident zombie exterminator.” It’s unsurprising, though, when he thinks about it; Hotch, Rossi and Morgan had been those most inclined to leadership and fieldwork, and now they’re gone. JJ’s too busy trying to protect Henry, and sometimes he wonders whether Emily’s still with them at all. She’s by his side when it counts, though – like now, for example, decapitating the zombie that’s about to take a chunk out of his arm with one swift strike.
‘Thanks,’ he says, his eyes wide. It’s a long, long way from his first time on a raid, where his hands had been shaking as he’d held his gun, staying to the back while Hotch, Morgan and Gideon took the lead. It’s a long, long way from missed targets and getting pinned to the mat by Morgan, and the not so silent whispers that maybe he just isn’t cut out to be an FBI agent.
After all, what kind of FBI agent has PhDs in Math, Chemistry and Engineering? He often doubts that he would have even considered the option, had it not been for the intervention of Jason Gideon. Some days he resents that, but today is not one of those days. Today he’s a little too worried about the fact that they’re fighting down hordes of zombies to find one potential survivor.
It’s a few words on a radio, and there’re thousands of zombies standing in their path, but the BAU is in the business of saving people, whether it’s from murderous unsubs, or the walking dead.
Thousands might be something of an exaggeration, but it’s in the hundreds at least, and it’s not as though they’re without back-up. Even if the back-up is essentially two technical analysts, a coroner and JJ, who is a crack shot, but refuses to leave Henry’s side. Jack’s there too, but they try to keep the boy as much out of the action as possible, even if he doesn’t like it that much. None of them will ever forgive themselves if Jack dies. As though there’s some final, unspoken promise to Hotch. Reid is pretty sure that keeping that promise will be difficult, considering the fact that it’s the end of the world, but he’s going to try his hardest.
‘They’re clustered up ahead,’ Emily points out. ‘If we hit them with a grenade, then we can pick them off while they’re still disoriented.’ When it comes to zombie hunting, “disoriented” is something of a nebulous term, but they’ll be blustering enough that it won’t be so difficult for Jean to get a few shots off with the rifle, half a mile away.
The most effective long-range rifle round is the .408 Chey Tac, working from distances of up to 2350 meters. The bullets fire at around 1000 meters per second, and deliver a maximum of 63,800 pounds per square inch of pressure. Of course, in times like this, finding the best equipment isn’t easy, so they’re forced to work with something with a much shorter range. Thanks to the terrain, the vantage points are limited, which means if they get overrun outside the line of fire, they’ll be forced to deal with the attack solely on the melee front.
‘Fire in the hole,’ Emily calls out, as she tosses the grenade, and a second later, it explodes in a ball of heat and shrapnel. They’ve got their fingers on the trigger almost immediately, bullets cracking through the air in quick succession. The smell of gunpowder reminds him of the firing range, only he doesn’t have any eye or ear protection, and instead of firing a pistol at a single stationary target, he’s firing a semi-automatic rifle at a series of moving targets.
Desperation will do wonders to your aim.
Emily empties her magazine and drops behind him as she reloads. His is spent too, but there’s still a handgun in an unclipped holster. The moment Emily’s finished, they swap. ‘Watch your six, Spence. I can’t get a shot off,’ he hears over the radio, and he turns swiftly, shooting from the hip. By some amount of luck, it hits the zombie in the neck, which isn’t a brain shot, but it’ll hopefully damage the spinal column, so it isn’t a complete loss. In any other town, this might have been a complete death trap, but this place has been cleaned out fairly well, aside from the obvious flock. There’s someone here, picking off the undead, and he’s willing to bet that it’s the person that they’d heard on the radio.
Sure enough, it’s Garcia’s voice that he hears next. ‘Hey, cowboy – two blocks north, and then one west. You think you two can make it that far without dying?’
Emily gives a grunt. ‘We’ve made it this far, haven’t we?’ she asks, but there’s no malice in her voice. There’s nothing of the dry humor that had once been omnipresent. Just another one of those changes.
They clear their way through the undead, going back to the machetes once they start to thin out. His rifle’s within reach, though, and the holster is still unsnapped. Spencer Reid, fastest gun in the west.
It takes the better part of an hour to make it to the location Garcia had given them, and it would really, really suck if this turns out to be an ambush. As they stand outside the building, it occurs to him that they’ve just managed to take out a couple of hundred zombies in a little over an hour, without sustaining any losses. There’s something to be said about wearing bite-resistant clothing, because it’s not as though they haven’t tried. There’ll be bruises, but no infections.
It seems almost surreal, the thought that there might be a survivor – someone new, someone that hasn’t succumbed to the infection – after over two and a half years. It’s theoretically possible, but Reid’s still curious about the specifics.
The man they meet is wary, but that’s nothing new. They’re all a little wary, thanks to everything that’s happened. Nobody moves, until a zombie interrupts their Mexican standoff, and three bullets sound almost simultaneously.
His name is Simon, and he doesn’t want to talk about it. From the body language, Reid gets the idea that he’s lost someone fairly recently, which might explain the sudden desire to join up with them, but he doesn’t ask, and Simon doesn’t tell.
They’ll get out of dodge, and get as far away as possible before settling down for the night. Soon they’ll hit the coastline, and who knows what drama that’s going to bring.
Just another day at the end of the world.
Chapter 17: Shards of Steel
Zombie Cantos: Shards of Steel
The fields of wheat are sheening gold,
The flocks have silver fleece;
The signs are sweetly manifold
Of plenty, praise and peace.
Yet see! The sky is like a cowl
Where grimy toilers bore
The shards of steel that feed the foul
Red maw of War.
The Monster – Robert William Service
My home is not a place, it is people.
Lois McMaster Bujold
Twenty-seven months after the zombie apocalypse
Penelope Garcia has been manning the radio for a little over two years.
It’s old school, compared to the technology she had been an expert with. Different, but in the end, both used for the same purpose. The transmission of information.
Knowledge is power, they say, and Garcia is in the business of making sure she has as much knowledge of possible.
Of course, getting reports on zombie activity from half a country over isn’t the same as knowing who’s sleeping with who in the FBI data pool, but the principle is similar.
Rescue, they learn, is not imminent.
Yes, the pandemic is isolated to the continent, but evacuating however many hundreds of thousands of people and making sure that the disease is dead and gone is no mean feat. While she hasn’t been able to get through to the official military relief effort yet – she tries every damn day – there are a few key sources that she gets her intel from. A few of them are stateside – other people in other havens fighting the same fight. Sometimes there’ll be news, about a particular attack, or new strain of virus, but sometimes it’s just about listening to a friendly voice.
Some other sources are overseas – France and Germany and Britain and a whole slew of other places. Garcia’s foreign language skills are limited to a few words of seduction in French and Italian, so she usually brings Emily in for those calls. That’s how they get their “big picture” news – it’s been a long time, since the start of the zombie apocalypse, but it’s still something of a hot topic. The infection might be contained for now, but there’s still the threat that it could spread. That the rest of the world could be next.
The man she’s speaking to now calls himself Icarus. There are international laws regarding the call signs of amateur radio operators, but the apocalypse has changed a lot of things. In a way, she understands why he goes by “Icarus” and not “Ryan” or “Jim” – while the zombies aren’t exactly about to intercept their radio communications, using call signs is a stark reminder that this isn’t just a lazy chat on a Sunday afternoon.
Some days, though, she wishes someone would start the conversation with, ‘Hey, this is Steve.’ It’s been so long since she’s felt normalcy that sometimes it’s hard to remember what it really is.
Icarus is in a high-rise apartment building, in the middle of Seattle. It’s very, very different to the life in small-town Arizona, but there’s not really much news he has that Garcia hasn’t already heard before. Still, he’s been alone for a long time, and Garcia suspects that he just enjoys their daily conversations. Usually, she keeps them moving with inconsequential stuff, stuff that doesn’t really matter anymore, like books, or movies, or music. Today, though…today Icarus does have news.
‘I’ve heard rumors,’ he tells her, and Garcia is immediately intrigued, if a little skeptical. This lifestyle has turned her into much more of a cynic than she used to be. She doesn’t get to speak to every operator out there, and sometimes it turns into a maddening game of Chinese Whispers; a couple of hundred Zs congregating near Gastonia goes through the network and becomes six thousand Zs marching your way, carrying chainsaws and singing Auld Lang Syne.
‘What kind of rumors?’ Garcia queries.
‘Bandits,’ he tells her, ‘Moving cross-country. Highly organized, and heavily armed.’
For a moment, Garcia’s confused. ‘So what, they’re just stealing supplies and moving on?’
There’s a moment of hesitation. She knows from their conversations that Icarus had been an IT consultant before this. Like her, only nothing like her at all.
‘They’re massacring everything in their path,’ he explains, a hint of despair in his voice. It’s one thing to have zombies killing people, tearing throats out, infecting, spreading the disease. ‘It’s like this thing is turning them all into monsters anyway.’
Penelope Garcia knows the truth. She’s seen the case reports, the crime scene photos, the victims’ statements. Some people were monsters long before the zombie apocalypse ever came along. There’s that difference between survival, and plain, unmistakable evil.
Some people cross the line.
The fire burns on the ground, and thousands of balls of flaming gas burn in the sky. It’s a beautiful sight.
Astronomy isn’t exactly the first subject to come to mind when people think “post-apocalyptic school” but as it turns out, it’s a fairly good subject for the kids to learn, considering the circumstances. At night time, there isn’t much to do – they try to conserve electricity, because even though they have their rudimentary system set up, it won’t do well to overload it with lights. Some groups put on performances – plays or musicals mostly – and rehearsals take care of daytime boredom as well. All things considered, they’d found a fairly substantial number of telescopes in the houses of the dead. It feels somewhat disrespectful still, to be using their things, but in times of need, practicality takes over.
Reid had been more into quantum physics than astrophysics or cosmology, but he still knows a great deal, and there are a few amateur astronomers that pick up the slack. He knows that Emily has a fairly good knowledge of the constellations, but she doesn’t interact with many people these days; not since Hotch and Morgan’s death. She does her part in the school, teaching French and Spanish every Tuesday and Thursday, but it’s easy to tell that her heart isn’t in it. It’s a skill that they might never be able to use – the rest of the world seems so much further away, now. At the very least, though, it keeps their minds active. Reid knows for a fact that learning languages other than English is important for developing critical thinking and problem solving – skills that are very important in this day and age.
‘…the two stars on the top right, you can see as representing the fin of the dolphin – Alpha Delphini and Beta Delphini, otherwise known as Sualocin and Rotanev. This was something of a joke, played by Niccolò Cacciatore – backwards, they spell the Nicolaus Venator, the Latinized version of his name. Both of these are actually clusters of stars, but because they’re so close together, only one light can be seen…’
The children are a variety of ages, but the kind of stuff he’s teaching isn’t exactly difficult. There’s no age limit on the wonders of the universe.
It almost seems like everyone’s out tonight, but that’s an exaggeration. The area surrounding the bonfire – their eternal flame – is probably big enough, but a lot of people like to keep to themselves. So used to an individualistic society, that these communal behaviors are still foreign, even after so long. There’s probably a Social Psychology paper hiding in that statement somewhere, but Reid is far too busy to be writing, these days. In any case, there’s no way he could access the journal articles needed for such a venture.
‘Spencer,’ Jean says, in a loud whisper, a short reminder that he’s rambling again. The information overload doesn’t seem to bother anyone in particular, but it’s getting late, and there’s still that common peacetime convention of getting the kids to bed on time.
Once upon a time, the monsters came out at night.
Now, they come during the day as well.
It’s not long before they pack up the telescopes, and Reid’s vaguely aware of Henry telling JJ everything they learnt, in that excited eight-year-old voice of his. He doesn’t seem to realize that she’d been there too, watching and listening and learning. It doesn’t matter how many zombies attack, eight-year-olds have a narrow field of view. They see the world through still developing eyes – he’s just moving into the concrete operational stage. Elimination of egocentrism hasn’t quite fully taken hold just yet. Jack trails behind them, seemingly off in his own little world.
After about half an hour, the children and their parents have filtered away, and all that’s left is half a dozen people sitting around the fire. Opposite Reid, Kevin and Garcia are curled into each other, not a word spoken between them. Sometimes, words aren’t needed, but he’s not sure whether he’s at that stage of social interaction just yet.
Jean slides in next to him, humming, of all things, Benny and the Jets.
‘I didn’t know you liked Elton John,’ Reid says, not quite looking at her. The fire dances in his eyes.
Jean cocks her head, frowning slightly. ‘No? Huh…I thought you did.’
‘…I guess I’ll have to take you to a concert one day.’
‘Zombie glam rock – it’s the latest craze.’
For a little while, they just sit there.
‘Do you want kids?’ Jean asks, and Reid finds himself straightening in surprise. ‘Not now,’ she says, her face flushed. She backpedals quickly. ‘I mean, I’m not…but…maybe one day, when this is all over…it might be nice.’
‘It might be nice,’ Reid echoes, but he can’t hide the doubt in his voice. Not because he’s not interested in children – the idea isn’t horrifying. He’s just not entirely sure that this will ever be over. If his child becomes ill – physically, or mentally, really, but he’s thinking about one illness in particular – there are no drugs, no clinical psychologists.
All things considered, they’ve been lucky; there have been a few minor epidemics, about a dozen deaths from injury or illness, but no plagues, no serious dilemmas, other than the freaking zombie apocalypse.
Reid looks up as Emily and Rossi join them at the bonfire. Jean nudges his shoulder, and gives him a significant look. No words are spoken, but then sometimes words aren’t needed. Reid shrugs. The universal gesture for “I don’t know.” In the middle of an apocalypse, with a town population of less than one hundred, relationships aren’t as complicated as they could be, but they’re complicated enough.
In one way or another, Rossi is a comforter, and god knows that Emily’s needed comforting since Morgan and Hotch’s death. They’ve all needed it, really, but that’s beside the point. The point is, with so few people around, you start to go a little crazy with loneliness. As if there aren’t enough things to be going crazy from.
A shooting star passes across the night sky, but Reid’s the only one who notices.
He doesn’t make a wish.
The next morning dawns, hot and bright – that dry, summer heat. It should be a day just like any other, only it’s not.
Emily stares at the ceiling, hyperaware of the warm body pressed up against hers. It’s something, but it’s not something. Maybe once upon a time it could have been something more. Maybe the Earth could have been overrun by mystical unicorns that shoot cupids’ arrows from their horns, instead of zombies, and maybe she might have lived happily ever after, but even before the end of the world, the thought of a happy ending had been a pipe dream.
Now? Now it feels like she’s barely clinging to sanity.
‘Everything okay?’ Rossi asks, at which point Emily realizes that she’s been staring at the ceiling, nigh-catatonic, for almost ten minutes.
The easy answer, of course, is “No, everything is not okay,” but she’s pretty sure that Rossi already knows that. After all, that’s why he’s here. The thought makes her feel just that little bit pathetic.
She ignores Rossi’s somewhat crestfallen look as she pulls herself out of bed. Helping him with his morning wood isn’t exactly going to make her feel any better about the situation. It’s very different to the kind of relationship she’d had with Morgan, but then, back then, she still had some small amount of hope.
There’s a gun sitting on the nightstand, and every single day she stares at it, wondering if maybe, today’s the day.
Maybe today’s the day that it all becomes too much.
In amongst all that despair, she clings to one thought: I can’t do that to them. And she’s had enough experience with abnormal psychology to know that that’s the thought that’s keeping her here.
Today’s a designated showering day, so they manage to snare a couple of minutes under a spray of freezing cold water. If nothing else, it curbs Rossi’s sex drive, so that’s one less problem to deal with. As it turns out though, fate is quite willing to provide another.
It’s midday, when the alarm is signaled.
By all technicalities, it’s a call to arms – an early warning from one of the four people on sentry. Everyone readies themselves for a potentially brutal battle with a bloodthirsty horde of zombies.
What’s unexpected, though, is the fact that it’s not a bloodthirsty horde of zombies. It’s not even one zombie. It’s a human being. They loosen their trigger fingers a little, but not much, because Garcia had passed on Icarus’s warning.
She’s young – maybe eighteen or nineteen – and she’s skinnier than Reid, which is really saying something. Her skin is marred with dirt and blood, and her eyes have a pleading look in them. It’s kind of intimidating to have a couple of dozen people pointing loaded weapons at you, though, and she faints before anyone can even ask her name.
There’s a flurry of movement, then; Jean and Reid carry the girl down to the makeshift hospital, while the rest of them gather for a council of war. It’s their first new face in a while, and it should be a simple decision, but it’s not. They’ve all become more than just a little bit paranoid.
‘She could be one of them,’ Sheriff Pegg points out. He hasn’t been a sheriff in a long time, but titles stick like glue. ‘Your guy.’ He nods towards Garcia. ‘Icarus – he said there were bandits?’
Garcia looks uncomfortable. Torn. ‘He said there were rumors of bandits. I don’t know if it’s true. And she’s only one person.’
‘Could be a trap,’ Rossi suggests, and there’s an uncomfortable silence. The painful truth is, nobody wants it to be a trap. They’ve lived in their tight-knit community for a little over two years – not exactly cut off from the outside world, but sometimes it feels like they might as well be. To see a new face is something big.
‘Everything’s a risk, these days,’ Emily points out. ‘It’s about making sure it’s a calculated risk.’
‘Is it, though?’
There’s a long silence. Finally, Emily finds herself saying, ‘We’re not monsters. Whatever happens, we can’t turn out like them. I think we need to take the chance.’ It’s been a long time since she’s cared so much about anything.
The meeting dissolves quickly, opinions divided. Really, there’s not much more they can do until the girl wakes up. According to Jean, she’s unconscious from shock more than anything; there’s malnutrition too, as well as a whole slew of other complications, but that’s all par for the course. They can’t just walk down to Walgreens for some cough medicine anymore.
‘What do you think?’ Reid asks; patients aside, it’s just the two of them there now.
‘I think that everybody’s jumping to conclusions. That’s not how profiling’s supposed to work.’
‘They’re not profilers,’ he points out.
Emily concedes the point. ‘True. I guess you could say that we aren’t profilers anymore either.’
‘That’s a lie.’
Emily gives a hollow laugh. ‘Can take the agent from the profiling, but you can’t take the profiling from the agent.’ The laugh echoes into silence. ‘Even if this all stopped tomorrow, things will never go back to normal, will they?’
Reid shakes his head sadly. ‘No. They won’t.’
Their semi-nostalgic reminiscence is cut short by a groan from the bed. Emily gives Reid a look. He jumps up to go find Jean.
‘Hey, it’s alright,’ Emily says, in what she hopes is a soothing voice. It’s a voice that she hasn’t used in a long time. ‘You’re safe now.’
The young woman’s name, they learn, is Charlotte. She’d been with a group of nomadic survivors up until a little over a month ago, when they’d found a particularly active zombie nest. She’d come here because it’s the closest haven that she’d known about.
At least, that’s what she tells them.
A look passes between the three remaining profilers of the Behavioral Analysis Unit.
‘I don’t think she’s lying,’ Rossi says eventually. There’s a short silence, before Reid adds:
‘Though sometimes, with sociopaths, it can be difficult to tell. Sociopaths don’t typically show many features of stress, such as sweaty palms.’
‘Reid,’ Emily says, interrupting him. ‘We know.’ His face drops, crestfallen, and Emily is reminded of the Spencer Reid of two and a half years ago. The young genius who would get so eager over the smallest things. He still does, of course, be he has grown a lot, too.
‘So what?’ asks Sheriff Pegg. ‘Your assessment is that this kid is either trustworthy, or a complete psychopath?’
‘It’s a little more complicated than that,’ Rossi replies. ‘Things have changed. People have changed.’
The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.
It’s like a consult, only if they’re wrong, then chances are, everyone could end up dead. Emily, really, really hopes they’re right.
Three days later, the shit hits the fan.
Later, Emily learns that Charlotte had slipped out of her bed in the middle of the night, and killed Alice – the former nursing student who had been watching over the patients. They find her the next day, her neck snapped, and just another casualty to add to the growing list.
They were wrong.
The first sign comes in the middle of the night. Emily wakes up, and has the immediate feeling that everything is wrong. She’s not sure what it is – maybe it’s the hair standing on the back of her neck, maybe it’s the bright lights shining through the window, maybe it’s the sound of vehicles in the distance, even though they haven’t driven anywhere in months.
Maybe it’s the gunshots.
She grabs the gun on the nightstand. Beside her, Dave is already up, pulling on his shoes.
‘What do you think?’
‘I think I picked a hell of a day to quit sniffing glue.’
He gives her a look, and Emily just shrugs. Half a second later, the alarm sounds. Later, Emily learns that with three gunshot wounds to the chest, Hill had managed to crawl over and pull the switch, before taking a shot to the head.
There are a couple of shotguns in the closet – for emergencies – but only a dozen or so shells. As comfortable as the sweats she’d worn to bed are, they’re not much in the way of protection against zombie teeth, and she’d rather take a few extra seconds to get ready, than die because she’s only wearing a tank top. She finds the motorcycle leathers that she’d found at a store a few towns away.
Later – or rather, sooner – Emily knows for sure that they’re not dealing with zombies at all.
Kevlar would have probably been better. Just like old times.
She opens the door and frowns.
There are two SUVs just down the street, their headlights ridiculously bright. She lifts her weapon, scanning the street. The first bullet slams into the wooden door frame, and the second whizzes over her head, just seconds after she’s ducked to the ground.
‘Fuck.’ She drops even further and slithers backwards before slamming the door shut – it won’t be much protection against bullets, but it’s better than nothing.
‘You okay?’ Rossi asks, hugging the ground.
‘Yeah,’ she breathes, edging towards the window. Pulling the curtain back slightly, she assesses the situation outside. She can see three of them – all armed heavily. ‘I guess they’re the bandits Garcia warned us about.’
Neither of them mentions how this happened, but they both already know.
‘We need to get out of here,’ Rossi says, ‘If we stay pinned down, we’re dead.’
Emily nods. Like fish in a barrel. ‘They don’t know there are two of us. If I draw their fire, can you take them out?’
He doesn’t seem particularly happy about that idea, but they’ve already seen her, and if he’s the one that walks out that door, then they’ll know that something is wrong.
‘We’ll need to open the window then,’ is all he says.
As it turns out, they don’t, because the second Emily pulls the curtains back, the whole damn thing shatters, sending a cascade of broken glass over them. She doesn’t look back, but she knows there are two bullets lodged in the wall behind her.
Her ears ring.
‘Good luck,’ Rossi says, giving her a quick kiss. It feels kind of weird, but she doesn’t press the issue. After all chances are she could be dead in thirty seconds. Maybe a little part of her wants to be slow on the trigger finger, and let the bullets tear through her body. At least it’ll be quick.
Going through the motions.
She opens the door slowly, making sure that they see her. Another two bullets slam into the door, and Emily moves to the side, firing twice. She uses a pole for cover, but it barely covers a third of her. The point is to distract them long enough for Dave to get his shots off. She turns again, firing, and one of them takes a shot to the chest, but they’re not exactly Stormtroopers either, and she feels the burning pain as a hunk of lead buries itself in her shoulder.
It’s peripheral, and it’s a through and through, which is good, because this gunfight has only just started.
It is her right arm though, which really sucks, because her left-handed aim really sucks.
Before the zombie apocalypse, they’d all taken time at the range practicing with their non-dominant hands. It doesn’t change the fact that, even without the slow blood loss, Emily couldn’t hit a fricking skyscraper at twenty paces. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but even with the adrenaline pumping, her next three shots miss.
Apparently Rossi has better luck though, because after a minute, the shots stop. At least the ones nearby do. Through a haze of pain, Emily can still hear more gunfire in the distance, and she takes a split second to hope – to pray? – that the rest of the team make it out alive. Maybe that’s a little selfish of her, but the team is family.
A ridiculous, kind of dysfunctional, zombie-hunting family.
‘You okay?’ Rossi asks, and Emily starts, realizing that he’s standing right next to her.
‘You’re hit,’ he adds, as though she hadn’t noticed.
She shakes her head, dismissing the problem. ‘Just a graze.’
He gives her a look – that look that is so very Rossi that says “I know you’re bullshitting me, but I’m not going to call you out on it.” She’s grateful for it. There’s too much at stake for him to start getting all concerned over nothing.
‘We need to find cover,’ Emily says, hearing the sound of a door opening behind her. Her heart’s beating like a jackhammer, and she turns, gun in hand, her finger pressed so tightly against the trigger.
She almost shot JJ, right in front of Henry and Jack. If that’s not a sign that everything’s gone to hell, then she doesn’t know what is.
JJ has her own weapon out, unperturbed by Emily’s near trigger-happiness.
Emily shakes her head. ‘Humans.’
JJ’s eyes widen at that, and Henry lets out a small gasp. It’s a different threat. Not the threat they’re prepared to deal with.
‘Guess we should have built those tunnels, huh,’ Emily adds, but she’s not laughing.
‘You need to get the kids out of here,’ Rossi tells JJ, and she nods, her skin deathly pale. They don’t have a contingency plan for human attacks, but there’s enough gunfire around them that it might afford a distraction. If that proves too hot, though, there are bolt-holes – places to hide out until the action has died down. They’re a safe haven, right to the point where they become a death trap.
‘Good luck,’ Emily says, her voice hollow. To Rossi, she says, ‘Where to?’
‘Police station,’ he says, and Emily nods in agreement. It’s the most likely place for a showdown, if they’re actually going to have one.
And they do.
They run like hell, zigzagging as the bullets fly around them. By some miracle, they’re not hit, and Rossi knocks on the door like a madman. A second later, they’re both inside, breathing heavily, but still alive.
This is where most people had rushed to, a few with bullet wounds, a few with white sheets pulled over their bodies. The rest are probably locked inside their homes, doors barred, waiting for it all to end. They’re the ones who – even after the zombies came – had never picked up a gun. They’re the ones who have been working on their rudimentary electrical system, or repairing damaged houses.
‘How many do we have?’ Rossi asks, and Emily’s vaguely aware of someone checking over her shoulder. She tries to ignore it.
‘At least a dozen,’ Reid says. ‘Well-trained and ruthless.’
‘Charlotte?’ Emily asks. ‘She…?’ She can’t quite bring herself to say the words out loud.
‘She brought them here,’ Pegg confirms, and his voice sounds bitter, unsurprisingly. ‘She killed the night sentries, and she contacted them.’
There’s a long, pained silence. They’d taken a risk, and it had blown up in their faces. Monumentally. Already, people are dead.
‘We need to fight this out,’ Kevin says. He and Garcia are huddled in the corner of the room; Garcia has a gun in her hand, and doesn’t look particularly happy about it. Nobody disagrees.
Emily follows Rossi up to the roof of the station, a couple of others joining them. They keep their cover at first, because there are at least two bandits in sniper positions. She tries not to look at the dead bodies already there.
There are two loud cracks, and they lose a bad guy and a good guy, almost simultaneously. The good guy is Garth, a mechanic who has been in the thick of it for a long time. He’s a nice guy, but there’s no time to mourn. Rossi fires two shots in the direction of the second sniper, and there is definitely something to be said about having thirty years worth of firearms experience.
But even someone with thirty years worth of firearms experience can get shot in the back.
They hadn’t cleared the roof.
They hadn’t cleared the fucking roof.
Emily fires half a dozen bullets into the chest of the woman that had betrayed them, but it’s not enough to wipe her mind of the sight of David Rossi falling to the ground. She probably would have fired more, only her clip is empty.
She drops by his side, ignoring the still stinging pain in her right arm. His eyes are wide open, and the breaths come in short gasps. Blood bubbles from his lip.
‘Sorry,’ he manages, and Emily can feel the tears running down her face.
‘Don’t you dare say that. You aren’t going to die on me.’ The words fall on the ears of a dead man. She brushes his eyes shut, and bites back the anger, the pain, the sadness.
Why is this happening?
The team had spent every waking hour of their lives, fending off the darkness, only to be defeated by an even greater foe. Hotch and Morgan and Rossi…they had sacrificed everything to make the world a better place, and their fate was death.
If Emily hadn’t already been questioning her faith, then the absurdity – the sheer fucking injustice – of it all would have done that.
And it’s not over yet.
Maybe in the morning, they’ll all be dead. Maybe someone will toss a grenade or two into the police station, and they’ll all die in a fiery explosion. Maybe they’ll find JJ and Henry and Jack and shoot them where they stand. Maybe it’s all over.
But it’s not.
If survival is the word you could use to describe it. They’re alive, and they won, but there are a lot of people dead. Rossi is dead. But then, so are the bad guys.
Garcia cries, and Kevin comforts her. Reid excuses himself, with Jean following after him. JJ bites her lip.
‘Some day, huh?’
But the day isn’t over yet.
The fire burns bigger and brighter than it ever has before. Bodies are a hell of a fuel source.
The town feels so much bigger, so much emptier now, and Emily knows it’s only a matter of time before they have to leave. Their incentive for that comes almost a week later, when Reid comes to find her in the library.
‘Garcia wants you,’ he says, an unreadable expression on his face. She hasn’t seen him cry, and she isn’t sure what to think about that.
Garcia, as it turns out, has been on the radio again. ‘I finally managed to get through to the relief effort,’ she says, voice tinged with pride and sadness simultaneously. Emily knows what she must be thinking – a week too late.
‘That’s great,’ Emily smiles, and it’s a genuine smile, if besmirched by that same sadness. ‘What did they say?’
‘Maybe you want to talk to her yourself,’ Garcia pats her on the shoulder – her good shoulder – and walks out. Emily’s a little confused, but sits down, and sets herself up. She doesn’t have as much practice at this as Garcia, but she knows what she’s doing.
‘Hello?’ she asks in a shaky voice. It’s not really her voice at all.
‘Emily?’ is the reply, and there’s no mistaking that voice.
‘Mom?’ Her voice is choked with tears, and usually she doesn’t like showing so much emotion when she’s talking to her mother, but damned if she doesn’t care. ‘Oh my God.’
‘Are you alright, Emily?’
It’s a hell of a question.
Chapter 18: To the Eastward Lie
Zombie Cantos: To the Eastward Lie
The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky
Burned like a heated opal through the air;
We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair
For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.
Impression De Voyage – Oscar Wilde
How nice--to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.
Thirty-Three Months After the Zombie Apocalypse
Outside, the rain pelts down hard.
Lightning cracks the sky in two.
Six months ago, this is the kind of weather that would have been welcome. Six months ago, when they’d still been living in a desert, with rain a rare occurrence.
According to Reid, who is still a repository of knowledge after all this time, the storms will decrease the closer they get to California. “Thunderstorms are more common in the south and the mid-west,” he’d explained. At least it’s not a hurricane, JJ reasons. ‘Actually, we’re probably in greater danger of an earthquake,’ is what he says to that.
Not particularly comforting.
Still, the weather is wild enough that continuing to walk – especially with zombies hanging around – would be a very bad idea. So they’d pitched their tents and their tarps, using whatever natural cover could be found.
‘Mom?’ Henry’s eight now – almost nine – and sometimes JJ can’t help but think to herself, Where did all that time go? He’s mature for his age, but that’s to be expected. He’s sitting at the front of the tent, watching the rain.
‘What is it, Henry?’
Since they’d started on the road again, boredom had become a big problem for the kids – hell, for all of them. Stories are only good for so long. Jack’s off with Reid, scoping out the area; they’re fairly sure it’s zombie free (otherwise there’s no way that Jack would have been allowed to go), but there are other things to take into consideration. Things like food, and water, and dry firewood.
The water’s not too much of a problem of course. Even without the rain, there’s a river close by. Looking around, it’s hard to tell that they’re living in a post apocalyptic world. The trees look the same as they always have, growing wild and free. Maybe they’re better off without people.
In the end, nature laughs last.
‘Mommy, are you going to die?’
The words hit her like a sledgehammer. She’s been surprised in her life, but those words strike home so freaking hard, that for a moment, she forgets to breathe. No child should ever have to ask that question.
‘The last time we went on a long walk, Daddy died. I don’t want you to die too.’ His voice makes him sound five years younger, but he says it with the most serious look that JJ’s ever seen.
JJ pulls he son into a hug, whispering into his sandy blonde hair, ‘I’m not going to die, sweetie.’ She makes herself believe those words. She makes herself believe that she isn’t going to leave her son behind.
It might be an easier thing to believe, if they hadn’t lost so much already. The end is so close, and yet so far away, and maybe it isn’t really an end at all. Things will have changed on the outside world just as much.
Their world doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There will be economic changes, and social changes, and maybe some other country is taking charge of the political stage. Maybe no-one even cares at all. Maybe the thought that’s going though everyone’s head is, “Good riddance.”
It’s extreme, sure, but over the past few years, JJ’s found herself unsurprising pessimistic. She puts on a smile, and she keeps on going. Just like the rest of them.
She does it for Henry, who’s lost his father, and who needs to grow up believing that the world isn’t a terrible, unforgiving place. She does it for Garcia, who can’t quite see the light the same way she used to. She does it for Emily, who sometimes it seems doesn’t see any light at all. She does it for Reid, who isn’t the man that he used to be. More than that, though, she does it for Hotch, and Rossi, and Morgan, because as long as they’re remembered, as long as they keep fighting, then the situation isn’t quite so hopeless.
Apparently, they’re in a safe place – or at least safer than everywhere else – because a little bit later, Jack comes by and drags Henry off to play some complicated game involving sticks and stones.
When you take away the zombies, and the guns, and the camping in the middle of a thunderstorm, they’re still kids. That small but significant fact lights a tiny fire of hope in JJ’s heart.
‘Based on the geographical and astronomical observations, I’d say we’re approximately here.’ Reid draws a small X on the map with a Sharpie that he’d picked up somewhere along the journey. It’s still raining, but the tarpaulin that’s strung between trees provides enough cover to keep them mostly dry. Ideally, the fire would be out in the open, but that’s not really an option. Over the months, though, they’ve all gained considerable experience at noticing things in the dark.
In any case, it’s entirely possible that the zombies will be scared off by the thunder. Freeze, fight or flight response. The fact that they show this kind of fear has enormous psychological implications – what else do they feel? – and in another lifetime, Spencer might have found himself interested in studying the phenomenon, but now...
Now, he’s a different person.
He’s wearing combat boots and frayed khakis, instead of corduroys and cardigans. He hasn’t cut his hair in a long time, so it’s pulled back into a messy ponytail. The people he’s with might be good at a lot of things, but giving a decent haircut isn’t one of them. The rifle slung over his shoulder is his constant companion.
Simon, the guy they’d picked up a hundred miles or so back, doesn’t say anything. Of all of them, he’s probably the best qualified to recognise the area, but he doesn’t talk unless he has to. Spending so long alone isn’t healthy for anyone.
‘If the rain doesn’t keep up, then we should make it to the coast in time,’ he announces eventually. Nobody asks what will happen if they don’t make it in time. Their radio conversations with the relief effort had revealed that flights into the war zone are rare: they’ll drop off troops one day, and pick them up a month later. Taking the country back inch by inch.
At this point, another month seems like nothing. After all, it’s been years since any of them have seen the real world.
The next morning, it’s still raining.
Garcia wakes when she hears Kevin getting out of bed beside her. “Getting out of bed” probably isn’t the right term, because their bed is a couple of self-inflating mattresses and a single sleeping bag. Once upon a time, Garcia had loathed camping, and its inherent lack of basic Wi-Fi, but now she’s kind of used to roughing it.
‘Pancakes for breakfast?’ he asks her jovially, but even his jovial expression is pretty morbid compared to the Kevin of three years ago. Maybe she should be worried, but then, he’s not the only one who’s changed.
‘I wish,’ she says with a groan. ‘Pancakes, and an encrypted server to hack – that’s the paradise I’ve been waiting for. Not long now,’ she says, with a bitterness in her voice that had never been there before their world had been taken over by zombies.
Optimism only goes so far, after all.
Yes, they’ll be reaching some kind of civilization soon, if all goes to plan, but their lives have changed irreparably. No matter how far they run, there’s always the chance that they’ll be in the exact same situation, months from now.
But she puts on a smile, and she pretends that everything is okay.
Her hair hasn’t been a shade of lurid red in a long time, and she doesn’t have her extensive collection of bright troll dolls, but there are other ways of hiding the darkness, even if nobody is all that fooled.
In the end, they all keep the darkness inside of them.
By some miracle, the rain stops the next day.
Miracle is probably the wrong word, though, because any faith that Emily might have had is long lost. Some people cling harder to their beliefs in times of tragedy, but Emily’s seem to have slipped away, pulled down by the tides.
Maybe it died with Morgan and Hotch. Maybe it died with Rossi.
Maybe it died a long time before any of that.
They pack up their tents and their tarps and their thoughts, and they keep walking. It might be harder to believe in God, but it’s easier to believe in each other
It’s not quite enough.
There’s a short group swim in the river before they head off, because who knows when they’ll next be able to bathe properly again. Privacy has been in short supply for a long time, so it’s not really uncomfortable anymore.
Still, it’s difficult not to notice how haggard they all look.
Once they start walking and the heat sets in, Emily feels as dirty as before, but there’s not really much to be done about it.
They keep walking.
Emily’s pretty much lost count of the days, by the time they reach the designated meeting area. Reid’s keeping tally, but she doesn’t ask. All she knows is that they’re the only ones there.
So they wait.
Two days later, the helicopter comes. There are two pilots on board who introduce themselves warmly , and it’s a little surreal, because it’s the first time they’ve really seen anyone from “outside” since before the apocalypse. Diego and Richard are both Spanish, and after a brief conversation, Emily determines that they don’t really know much about what’s going on.
Just like a normal war, Emily muses.
The flight is short and silent.
The base is probably on a skeleton crew – enough to keep out stray zombies that wander too close, and to keep whatever systems they have, running. It’s not much, but even having a base in a place that’s so torn apart is a pretty good achievement. Especially when your enemy is so unpredictable.
The dozen or so uniformed personnel are hanging around a couple of hundred feet from the Helipad. Are there so few survivors that something like this is an extraordinary event?
After three years, it’s very much a possibility.
A single khaki blur steps out from the crowd, and Emily’s heart skips a beat.
Not even war can stop her from recognizing that poise.
‘Emily?’ Garcia whispers, and it’s only then that Emily realizes that she’s crying. It kind of feels like it’s a long time coming.
They’ve barely touched ground, when she jumps out, not particularly caring about safety protocol.
Her mother looks strange in a military uniform. One day Emily might crack a joke about it.
The hug is tight, and the tears are wet. It’s probably the most emotional that she’s ever seen the Ambassador.
‘God, I’ve missed you, Emily.’
‘Missed you too,’ Emily murmurs, and she feels like she’s a six-year-old that’s just scraped her knee.
They’re taken inside to food and coffee, and everything still feels kind of numb. Maybe it’s shock. Maybe it’s relief.
The plane comes in the next day, and almost everyone is ridiculously eager to board. Everyone except Emily.
‘You coming?’ Reid asks, frowning.
Emily stops, and stares out into the east. The sun is rising, a brilliant blood orange.
The life they leave behind.
The lives they leave behind.
‘Yeah,’ she says finally. ‘I’m coming.’
Chapter 19: Another Sky
Before the fall.
Zombie Cantos: Another Sky
There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields -
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!
There is another sky – Emily Dickinson
Things are more like they are now than they ever were before.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Four months before the Zombie Apocalypse
It's New Years Eve, and Penelope Garcia is delightfully wasted.
For the first time in what feels like eternity, they've been taken off rotation for the holiday season, so tonight, she can drink without the fear that they might be called in. Of course, that also means that tomorrow morning, she's going to have a killer hangover, but what's New Years without one?
Morgan, for some reason that Penelope assumes can only involve football, has an impressively sized television, upon which the Death Star blows up in high definition glory. She's seen Empire Strikes Back no less than fourteen times, but it remains one of the few movies in Morgan's collection that is actually suitable for Henry and Jack.
The point is somewhat moot, considering both boys are fast asleep. Their childlike enthusiasm has been replaced by an inebriated argument between Reid, Emily and Kevin over the philosophical implications of the Rebels' actions.
'It's like the terrorist bombings of the Resistance on New Caprica,' Kevin argues. 'They did what they had to do in a difficult time to ensure that the cylon regime was overthrown.'
'And it's that kind of thinking that inspires vigilantism,' Reid says with a frown.
'Oh come on, you're saying that if you met Batman, you wouldn't want to shake his hand?'
The frown persists. 'Batman's a fictional character – there's no conceivable way for me to shake his hand.'
'Oh, cut the pedantic crap, Reid,' Emily snorts, and she'll no doubt be embarrassed about this in the morning when Garcia provides photographic (and video) evidence. 'It was an allegory, and you know it.'
'Actually, an allegory—'
'Spence.' JJ pats his back as she slides into the chair beside him. 'Nobody cares.'
He gives a slight pout that's almost certainly in jest; it's happened so often, Garcia kind of doubts that he's still upset by the team's sometimes aversive reaction to his spouts of intellect.
Hotch has an almost amused smile on his face, and Garcia takes the opportunity to shift the camera in his direction, because a smiling Hotch is a rare, beautiful sight. An endangered animal that may yet be extinct.
'Any words from the camera, O' Captain, My Captain?'
'If any of this ends up on YouTube, you're fired,' he says in a deadpan voice. One, because he'd never actually fire her for something like that (she hopes), and two, because there's no way she would ever put something like this on YouTube.
YouTube is for kitties jumping into boxes, or of lions being reunited with their lost owners. Something like this is for her own private collection, to be brought out after the toughest of cases. Even more than baby pandas and puppies playing in the snow, even more than troll dolls and World of Warcraft, this is her antidote.
It's watching Emily and Reid and Kevin argue about the philosophy of science fiction, it's about Morgan sitting back with a beer and pretending like he isn't a nerd, even though he happens to own Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-Ray, and quotes Yoda when he thinks no-one's paying attention.
It's about watching JJ hold hands with Will as they both stare down at their sleeping son. It's about Rossi still trying to act like he's a lone wolf, when really, he'd be lost without them. It's about Hotch's smile.
They keep drinking, and they cheer as the New Year rolls in, and fireworks crack the sky. In the morning, the hangover is as wicked as she'd expected, but the video footage is far more blush-worthy than she'd anticipated, so it's a good trade-off. Two months later, when they're hunting down a serial rapist/torturer in Philadelphia, it dries her tears. Five months later, when they're hunting down zombies in Arizona (she doesn't actually have the battery power to watch it, but she remembers every single second anyway) it makes survival just that little bit easier.
Three and a half years later, after she pulls it off the internet (she might not have put it on YouTube, but her information back-up procedures are second to none) and watches it again.
It's almost surreal.
She'd like to think that thirty-three months they'd spend in hell had somehow made her a stronger person, but she barely makes it a minute in before the tears start to swell.
Kevin wraps an arm around her, and he doesn't ask what's wrong. She tells him anyway.
'I miss them,' she manages, through wracking sobs. 'Oh, God, Kevvy, I miss them so much.'
He holds her closely as she cries herself to sleep.
Chapter 20: No Tomorrow
The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Reid/OC, Garcia/Kevin.
Zombie Cantos: No Tomorrow
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow
And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had
Mad World – Roland Orzabal (Tears for Fears)
Must not all things at the last be swallowed up in death?
The first day of the rest of their lives
Upon their arrival in a classified location, they are all given a series of stringent medical exams. It’s a little more extensive than the cursory one they’d been given at the California base – that one’s main purpose had been to confirm that none of them were zombies in disguise.
Reid alone finds that he has a laundry list of diagnoses that would have sent him reeling just three years ago. He’s not a hypochondriac, as such; he just likes to be aware of what’s going on with his body.
They take blood and urine samples, and they give him X-Rays and MRIs. There are no horrifically significant issues, and he’s shunted out quickly so that Kevin can have his turn at being poked and prodded.
He finds Jean in the mess hall, and greets her with a passionate kiss, which she doesn’t entirely reciprocate.
‘Hey,’ Reid says with a frown. ‘Is there something wrong?’
‘I’m pregnant,’ she manages, and for a second, it feels like his heart has stopped.
‘You’re pregnant?’ he repeats, which, admittedly, is not exactly one of his “genius” moments. ‘That’s...’ He pauses, unsure of the right word. More than half a million words in the English language, of which he knows a fair chunk, and he can’t think of a word. ‘Amazing,’ he says finally. ‘That’s amazing.’
He pulls her close and holds her tight, as though their rescue had been some dream, and really, they’re still stuck out in the middle of nowhere, and the zombies might come at any single moment and snatch her away. ‘How far along?’
‘Six weeks, give or take,’ she says, with what he senses is relief. He remembers their conversation – it feels like it had been years ago, but in reality, it’s only been about six months. His main concern had been about the lack of healthcare, but now...
Even without the lingering fear that the zombie plague might spread worldwide, there’s a small part of him that’s absolutely terrified at the thought of becoming a father. More specifically, at the thought of becoming like his own father. Then, he’s not the same man that he had been before their world had gone to hell.
They all carry the burdens of the past – of the people they used to be. It’s a little hard to reconcile with the person he is now. For all intents and purposes, their war is over.
Time to start a new life.
Their “classified military base” (which is in Germany, according to Reid, who’d calculated flight time and a myriad of other variables) is home for the next two months.
The recovery effort is apparently fraught with bureaucracy – apparently they’re not the only ones who have been pulled out of the Z-zone, as some people call it. The UN had to negotiate citizenship under mitigating circumstances, which is apparently completely different from the laws pertaining to asylum seekers. Persecution on the grounds of “zombies want to eat my brains” pretty much screams special circumstances.
Still, they get to choose where they want to live, and after a long group discussion, choose Geneva, in no small part due to its proximity to the Large Hadron Collider and abundance of fine chocolate.
There’s still more paperwork after that, the culmination of which finds Garcia comforting a sulking Emily Prentiss one sunny Thursday afternoon. She’s staring down at a piece of paper dejectedly.
‘Hey, buttercup.’ Garcia slides in beside Emily and puts an arm around her shoulder. ‘Everything okay?’
‘Apparently I’m “emotionally unstable,”’ she says, apropos of nothing. It takes almost ten minutes for Garcia to wheedle the story out of the other woman.
‘Now that we’re...here,’ Emily says, choking back a half sob. ‘I figured that since Jack...he doesn’t really have a family, and I’d...’ She stops, biting her lip. ‘He seemed eager enough, so I put in an application for adoption, and—’ She waves the piece of paper in front of Garcia, too fast for her to be able to read the words on the page. ‘I mean, who the fuck wouldn’t be emotionally unstable? You think some old couple in freaking Reykjavik are going to understand what he’s been through.’
Garcia gives her a small smile that holds little humor. ‘Sweetie, we’re not going to let them ship Jack off to Iceland. We’ll figure something out, even if it means I have to adopt that boy myself. You don’t split up family.’
The words seem to comfort Emily a little, but Garcia still has half a mind to find the person that had rejected the adoption, and give them a piece of her mind. Failing that, she’ll hack the system and ruin their credit rating, which, if nothing else might make her feel better.
Emily makes some noncommittal comment about going to the gym, which Garcia takes as a declaration that she wants to be alone. She gives the other woman a long hug, and goes off in search of Kevin.
In the middle of a secret military base in Germany, Kevin Lynch has found himself a bacon donut. It’s almost incongruent with the fact that he is currently shirtless, and showing off a fairly impressive six-pack. The situation rapidly turns from silly to sexy, and Garcia marks off another location in her mental list of “places to get naughty.” Some places will never get marked off, like the White House, or Mount Rushmore.
While there hasn’t been any official announcement, deep down, she knows that she’s never going back.
As a hacker, she’d been something of a nomad. In her mind, home is people, rather than place. It still makes her heart ache.
It always will.
It’s spring when they finally leave Germany.
JJ’s never seen Switzerland in the spring. In actuality, aside from trips to Canada and Mexico for work, Germany had been her first time out of the country. Not the way she’d planned it, obviously.
No, she’d planned that it would be somewhere else. Somewhere maybe a little exotic, but not so exotic that they’d get lost in the culture clash. They, of course, meaning her and Will, because babysitting duty for this romantic getaway would have fallen to an overenthusiastic Garcia, and a clueless Reid.
Now, Will’s gone, and it’s just her and Henry.
Well, no. That’s not entirely true. It’s her and Henry, and it’s Reid, and Jack, and Emily. It’s Jean, and Kevin and Garcia.
Everyone else is a memory.
Aside from Emily’s mother, nobody else had been able to track down family, which isn’t much of a surprise. The attack had happened so swiftly, so unexpectedly, that it would have taken some kind of miracle.
She lights a candle for her parents, and for her brother, and for Will. She lights a candle for Hotch, and for Morgan, and for Rossi.
She lights a candle for the survivors, because sometimes, survival is the hardest thing of all.
The hardest thing in this world is to live in it, is what Garcia had said once, and judging by the reaction from Emily and Kevin, it’s a quote from a movie, or something, but it still holds true. JJ had never taken the profiler training, and she might not be a media liaison anymore, but she can still analyze behavior with the best of them.
They’re all tired.
A Psychiatrist might say that it’s PTSD, and maybe that’s true for some of them more than others. They can’t go around pretending like there’s nothing wrong, like they used to. They’re all fine. Freaked out, insecure, neurotic and emotional. Maybe that’s a movie quote too. Movies suddenly seem to have less bearing on your life when you’ve lived the impossible and survived.
Escapism isn’t quite what it used to be.
She, and Henry and Jack get settled into a small apartment that’s near a school, and JJ manages to find work in journalism, of all things. There are a few book offers for their story – while a lot of people had been shipped out of the USA after the “invasion” not many had survived for almost three years. It’s not exactly the kind of story that she wants to write – the bits that are interesting aren’t tales that she’s willing to recount, and the bits that aren’t wouldn’t make for a very good book. Sensationalist media, at its worst.
Day by day, life slowly takes the path back to normality.
Emily’s psychiatrist is Austrian, and he has a bushy white beard. Once upon a time, she might have found that ironic. Aside from those two factors, though, he’s as far from Freudian as it’s possible to get. He doesn’t focus on her childhood, or on any underlying penis envy, or anything like that.
He focuses on What Happened.
Because she knows as well as he does that Morgan and Rossi’s death both had a pretty bad impact on her. Not to say that Hotch’s didn’t as well, but then, she hadn’t been given front row seats to that one. She hadn’t felt his still warm body, seen the blood pumping from his chest…
She hadn’t failed him.
The point that Doctor Renner tries to make, is that she hadn’t failed Morgan or Rossi either, but that’s a guilt that will never fade, the same way she knows that Matthew Benton’s death is her fault too, in the end.
She’s only vaguely listening as he finishes the session, wringing her hands over the handle of the new cane. Her medical examinations had all but confirmed her suspicions that the leg would never be the same again.
Nothing will ever be the same again.
That’s what terrifies her.
As a profiler, though, she knows what markers they look for in a psych evaluation, and, more importantly, how to lie her way through it. If Doctor Renner notices, he doesn’t say anything, which is good, because hospitalization would put an annoying spanner in the works.
On the way home, she calls her mother, still in Germany, still fighting for some measure of freedom. In a way, it’s almost the same as thirty years ago, only she’s not exactly doing Ambassadorial work anymore. Maybe Renner was wrong. Maybe her childhood is kind of important to the situation.
It’s not as though it matters.
Not now, at least.
This is the day that’s been coming for a long time. Maybe since the day on the rooftop when Rossi died. Maybe since she put a bullet in Morgan. Maybe it’s been coming for so much longer than that.
How nice it would be, to feel nothing at all.
Instead, she stares out over the city and feels only pain.
Things, Garcia seems to tell her so frequently, things will never be the same again.
And maybe she could have handled that when there was a war to fight, when there were unsubs to catch, or zombies to kill. Now, she might have a chance for that family she’s always wanted, but deep down, she knows it will never come.
Maybe one day, they’ll forgive her.
She makes it home, and pours one last drink. It’s a lot stronger than any drink she’s ever had, mostly because its contents were strong enough to kill a human being.
Phone in hand, she makes one last call.
‘Hey, Emily. How’re you settling in?’
She almost gives a bitter laugh, but doesn’t. ‘Oh, you know. Like that. How’s Jean doing?’
‘Over the morning sickness now, thankfully. I’ll bring the latest ultrasound picture to dinner on Saturday.’
‘That sounds nice,’ she says, which isn’t entirely a lie. ‘You ever read Tolkien?’ she asks him, which is probably a strange question – firstly, because it’s Spencer Reid, and he’s read damn near everything. Secondly, because it’s not exactly the kind of thing you bring up in a phone call.
‘Of course,’ he says, and Emily can almost hear the frown. ‘I read The Lord of the Rings when I was seven.’
Those are kind of heavy themes for a seven-year-old to digest. Emily didn’t even read The Hobbit until she was eleven.
‘The scene at the end, when Frodo is saying goodbye to Sam before he sails to the Grey Havens.’
‘Emily…’ Reid is a profiler for a reason, and he’s pretty damn good at fitting together the pieces of the puzzle.
‘The world’s been saved, Reid…But not for me.’
‘Emily, please don’t do whatever it is you’re about to do.’ His words fall on deaf ears. After all, they both know that some people just can’t be talked down.
‘Tell them I’m sorry,’ she chokes out, and it takes almost half a second to realize that she’s crying.
This day’s been coming for a long time.
She hangs up before he can say anything more, because she knows she’s not quite strong enough to keep going if she hears his voice. That’s the problem.
She’s not strong enough for this.
The drink doesn’t taste nearly as bitter as she’d expected.