Status: complete

All the Madness in the World

Solitary Confinement

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it." – Helen Keller


We were poised outside of 5657 Kallin Street, an hour’s drive from Quantico. Three hours ago we’d been at HQ, all of us filling out our share of paperwork from the case we’d just finished. JJ called us all into the conference room urgently where a very anxious Penelope relayed her story of how she was sent a link to a live stream of four women locked inside some sort of cell with the message “SAVE THEM.” She skipped the usual breakdown of victimology with the much more pressing fact: she’d tracked the IP address and had a location for the house where this was probably happening.

Hotch wasted no time in getting us all ready, requesting a small police presence as the team prepared to meet in the parking lot. All of these little things—the message, the tracking, the address, the order—it all lead us here, to this porch. To one of the cops bashing in the door. To Rossi leading the way into the house. To my gun tracing familiar movements as I cleared rooms. We made it to the basement of the empty house, ears and eyes attentive for any sound of movement. We were short Derek and Emily, who stayed behind to work the rest of the case while we came to rescue the girls. We all figured that the quick location was just evidence of the unsub’s sloppiness and Penelope’s skills.

It was too late by the time we realized the error in such dismissive thinking.

In the basement of the house there was a door which opened easily enough: but it led to nothing. Or rather, no one. It was the exact same room we’d seen on the footage, but as Hotch, Spencer, JJ, Rossi, four cops and I piled into the room we could see that it was lacking one very important thing—the girls we were here to rescue. Looking around the room for some explanation as to what was going on, it was one of the cops who noticed it first; the sound of the door closing behind us. Locking us in. My heart sank as I stared at the metal rectangle and understood this was the plan from the start.

Immediately I took out my phone as the cops tried to pull the door open. It wouldn’t budge and there was no cell phone reception. We were stuck. I pulled Spencer to my side as I scanned the room. There were no windows and two dim lights at either end of the room. There were odd tracks laid out around the room that I couldn’t place.

“What do we do?” One of the cops, a young one, asked in a panicked voice.

“We stay calm and figure a way to get out.” Rossi said as he walked the perimeter of the room, hand trailing the walls. I tried not to think about the fact that with the amount of time it took to get here and how long it would have taken if we actually found the mystery girls—not to mention the fake footage Penelope was no doubt analyzing—it would be hours before the others even considered the possibility that something went wrong.

We were alone.

“You don’t think this is a gas chamber, do you?” JJ asked wide eyed, a hint of claustrophobia showing itself. Her remark didn’t help me stay calm, but it made Spencer even worse.

“I think this unsub has to have something more impressive than gassing us planned if he went through all of this work to get us here.”

“Try to find something, anything really that might give us a way out.” Spencer said to the cops who had grouped up by now.

“Reid, take a look at this.” Hotch was at the far end of the room, hunched over some scribbling on the wall. Spencer crossed over to it, tracing the lines with his fingers as he muttered. Hotch turned to two of the officers and asked to use their flashlights. They reluctantly left their group, but obliged nonetheless.

I should have known from the start that things were never going to be so easy. Before the others even had a chance to turn on the flashlights, there was a horribly loud crashing noise, followed by something even more terrifying. A great metal barrier came sliding out from the left wall, expanding at an alarming pace. We barely had time to process what was happening, my feet only taking me half the distance to the shrinking gap, before it slammed into the right wall and permanently cut us off.

There was a panic that rose within me, blossoming into a wildfire and spreading through my entire body as I screamed for Spencer. My hands flew up, slamming against the dull metal over and over. Some stupid part of me hoped that the sheer force of my punches could destroy it; but it was this wall that destroyed me. I could hear some kind of voice, a drab muffled sound trying to worm its way through the heavy substance, but to no avail.

David grabbed my shoulder, trying to pull me away from the barrier and calm me down. A million disastrous thoughts were flying through my head as I obeyed and took a step away, lingering close but no longer staring at the immovable object. Anything could be happening to them on the other side of that wall. They could be gassed. The unsub might be in there with them right now. But there were four people in there; surely they could overcome one person? Unless there was more than one unsub. There could be five, ten unsubs.

Or maybe there were spikes coming out of the floor on their side as well. I heard the noise before I felt the pressure, a hissing noise and then the sound of metal scraping against something. A scream escaped me as I half-stumbled forward, one foot held back. David supported me as I shook, struggling not to scream even louder. All along the floor surrounding the barrier were three neat rows of metal spikes, each three inches in height. Two of them had pushed through the soles of my shoes and into my foot. JJ was on her feet, eyes wide at the sight, rushing over to my side as David said something—I was too deep in the pain to bother paying attention. I couldn’t lift my foot out, could barely handle having it attached to my nervous system at all. My foot was stuck.

“JJ, her shoe.” I came back to reality, realizing only now how much my nails were digging into David’s shoulder as he dictated orders to JJ. She knelt, hands shaking slightly as she worked at the laces of my shoe. “Tasha, I need you to listen to me, okay?” David said calmly as I nodded. “I’m going to try and lift your foot out, but it’s going to hurt. Tell me when you’re ready.”

“Just do it.” I said through gritted teeth. David motioned to one of the cops who took his place as my crutch. The cop, Coleman, supported me and kept saying words of encouragement as David got down and, using Coleman’s flashlight, surveyed the injury. JJ backed away as David counted down from three.

When he got to one I took in a huge breath, holding it in my lungs as he began to slide my foot from my shoe. The pain shot through my body like an electric shock, ricocheting off of every possible nerve ending I had; it was like all of the pain receptors had congregated at the precise points where the spikes were, and as they were removed bit by bit from my skin the spikes hit every single one. I was sobbing, my good leg threatening to give way. Each second, it felt like an infinitesimal eternity. When I felt the cool air rushing against my bloodied foot I knew I was free. The breath rushed from my lungs and I clutched onto Coleman’s vest tightly, knowing at any moment I could fall over. Coleman and David helped me over to a corner of the room and made me sit.

My thoughts switched rapidly from my foot to Spencer and back and then to Hotch and back. JJ was helping me keep my foot elevated, trying to evade the blood gushing from the wound, as David worked at ripping part of his shirt into a makeshift bandage. He wound it tightly around the wound and tied it, instructing me to keep it off the ground as much as I could. JJ sat beside me and took my hand in hers—it was only now that I realized my hands were bloody from all the pounding on the metal. In a matter of minutes I’d managed to get myself enough injuries for the lot of us.

JJ was quiet, far quieter than I was used to. I saw in her face an alarming amount of fear that she was trying to keep under wraps. Everyone she loved: Will and Henry, they were locked away from her where she couldn’t reach them. I could only imagine having a child and not knowing if I would ever see him again.

“We’ll get you back to them.” I said quietly. She heaved out a shaky sigh and rested her head against mine. David was using the flashlight to survey the rest of the room in detail, no doubt looking for any other places where something might find its way into the room—or our bodies. When he seemed satisfied he crossed to the door, commencing an exhaustive study of ever last inch of it.

Over the next couple of hours the pain in my foot became a steady, reliable feeling: and so gradually it drifted further and further from the front of my mind. I began to worry more and more about the others, and the panicked thoughts from before were resurfacing. All that I knew was that I needed to find a way to communicate with them. Our phones had no service. There was no way to hear any voices clearly through the wall. If there was only some way to send a signal of some sort, then we might be able to use it…No light would penetrate the wall, and we had nothing by way of making a loud enough sound…And then it hit me. There was one thing that Spencer and I had perfected in our childhood: a means to communicate with each other when something needed saying and one or more of our parents, usually in the room, weren’t supposed to hear it.

“Morse code!” I breathed, struggling to get to my feet.

“What?” JJ asked from beside me, getting up in sync with me. She helped me as I hopped over to the wall, careful to stay back from the spikes. Kneeling down in front of the barrier, I brought up the code in my mind and placed one hand on the floor to steady myself as I leaned forward and tapped out a simple starter with the palm of my hand.


It wasn’t anything specific, just a general phrase to signal the start of communication. I held my breath, waiting for some kind of response. It was contingent on Spencer being conscious, near enough to the wall to hear it, and able to comprehend what I was doing (as well as remember the code himself). A minute went by and I repeated the signal, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in my gut as the possibility that something had happened began to swirl in the back of my mind.


“Is that Spencer?” David asked behind me as I sighed in relief.

“He taught me the code when we were kids.”

.-/.-./. | -.--/---/..- | …./..-/.-./-

.-/.-../.-.. | …/.-/..-./. | -./--- | .--/.-/-.-- | ---/..-/-


“They’re all safe, but they’re just as stuck as we are.” I reported, sitting down fully and resting my foot on my left knee.

.--/…./--- | …/-.-./.-././.-/--/./-..

I hesitated before responding, trying to determine whether or not it would be a good idea to reply. “What did he say?” JJ asked. I rationalized that if I lied and said it was JJ they would be just as worried, so it wouldn’t hurt to be honest.


“He asked which one of us screamed.” I explained, massaging my temples in an attempt to ward off the approaching headache. Looking around the room, I had a hard time believing that just a few hours ago I was complaining about how hard it was to block the light out of my bedroom window. We’d only been in here a few hours and already I longed for the sun, missed the fresh air.

The problem was the longer we were in there, the more likely someone was to get hurt. But there was literally nothing more we could do to try and escape. We were one-hundred percent dependent on Derek, Emily, and Penelope piecing together that we were gone too long and not answering our phones and in very grave danger. If they took too long to realize it…

Spencer was tapping something out on the wall again and I borrowed Rossi’s pen and notepad to jot down the message. He told me there was a code scratched into the wall: 10, 3, D, 2, 8, G, 6, 4, B. Codes were easy enough to break if you knew the pattern or the key—if you didn’t have that, it was almost impossible. This, unfortunately, was one of those cases. I told Spencer to keep thinking as I poured over the number-letter sequence. No matter how I looked at it, no matter how many different keys I tried, nothing fit.

When my watch beeped for the fifth time, signalling our fifth hour locked in this place, my hopes began to drop to a new low. The codes meant nothing. There was no way out. There was no food or water or washroom. Since the spikes, there hadn’t been much activity in the torture department—a dripping noise was sounding from somewhere that was driving us all insane, but that was it—so it pretty much looked like the primary motive here was psychological torture. The unsub wanted to drive us insane before we starved to death.

I kept thinking about my boys stuck on the other side, my Spencer tucked out of my reach, out of my sight. It was a stupid thing but my mind kept courteously showing me new things that could be happening to him over there. When I wasn’t thinking about that I was feeling guilty about Hotch. I’d been unnecessarily cold lately despite his efforts to smooth things over; why was I being stubborn? The knot in my stomach grew as I considered the possibility that I’d never get the chance to apologize; I’d never be able to hold him or kiss him or tell him how I felt. This renewed the sense of panic within me and I needed to get through the wall. I didn’t much care about dying in here—so long as it was with him.

There was a series of bangs on the door and five heads swivelled to look at it. A voice was trying to find its way through from the other side. JJ went close despite David’s protests, listening close and announcing it was Derek. She began to scream back, letting him know we were okay. She pressed her ear to the door and translated the muffles for us, relaying his instructions for us to back away from the door.

I limped over to the wall once more, sending the SOS signal so Spencer knew to pay attention. When he told me he was there I set to work at giving the news that Derek was there with backup and he was breaking down the door. Spencer gave me the okay and, I assumed, told the others. I stood by the wall, my heart rate picking up at the thought of all of us escaping.

The minutes passed, the room full of an incessant buzzing noise as those on the outside tried to break through with some kind of machine. There was a zapping sound and the lights in the room went out. In the silence we were all-too aware that our saviours on the other side of the door were no longer trying to break us out. JJ and I exchanged a look right before something began to fall from the ceiling. It was a mist-like substance being shot out of the place where the lights were connected to the ceiling. David instructed us all to cover our mouths and noses, but my thoughts flew to the others trapped on the other side of the wall. They had no way out.

Without warning the door opened, blinding us all with light, as Derek and Emily began to rush in. David stopped them and they caught sight of the gas, immediately covering up their airways. Everyone made their way out, but I stayed put.

“C’mon, I’ll help you.” Derek said urgently, trying to sling my arm around his shoulder. I stepped away from him shaking my head.

“I can’t leave them!” I cried, coughing horribly as I inhaled.

“Natasha!” He argued. I looked frantically from the open door to the wall, trying to figure out some way, any way to help.

“How did you open the door?” I forced out. He motioned to the room we first came through and I let him help me out there so we would go faster. My heart was racing as he led me to a part of the room that had been concealed when we first came in. Inside it was a single table with a multitude of identical unlabeled buttons, sitting at the foot of a range of screens. One of them, the foggiest, had four bodies on screen. I scanned the buttons, forcing myself to make a connection. Then I remembered what Spencer told me was on the wall. 10, 3, D, 2, 8, G, 6, 4, B. Not a code: instructions. A manual. “Morgan what button did you hit?”

“We found the unsub in here and he hit one of these.” He was so much better than I was at concealing the panic in his voice. He had motioned to a general area and I counted 10 buttons over and 3 buttons down. D for Door. I figured G meant Gas, so I immediately found the corresponding button and hit it again, not pausing to see if it worked before rushing to hit the last one. B for Barrier. All was silent for an excruciating moment and then the barrier began to slide back into the wall.

Ignoring the pain in my foot that came with each step, I raced back out into the main room and watched as the others began to file out. As rude as it was, I didn’t care about the officers who came out coughing first. I was only content when Spencer appeared in the doorway, Hotch following close behind him. I limped over and threw my arms around Spencer, holding him in a death grip as I refused to let myself cry.

“You’re okay?” I choked out, pulling away and inspecting him for any signs of injury. “Nothing happened, you’re fine?”

“I’m fine, Tash.” He said. David was talking to Derek, Emily tending to a shaken JJ. When I was satisfied that there was nothing Spencer needed from me I turned to Hotch, trying not to wince with each step I took towards him. He met me halfway, not objecting as I embraced him as well. It was a sensation I had so often taken for granted: the feeling of his arms around me. It didn’t matter that we’d escaped, it didn’t matter that we were safe; because some part of me still felt like I was at risk of losing him.

“We need to clear out.” David announced. No one needed to be told twice, and we fell into line and began to file up the stairs. Hotch tried to help me walk but I insisted I would be fine, taking slow steps and doing my best not to show how much pain I was in. Hotch sighed behind me and, without warning, managed to scoop me up and began to carry me up the stairs.

“I can walk!” I protested weakly, knowing full well that it would be hell to go up a flight of stairs and walk all the way to the no doubt awaiting ambulance. He ignored me completely, only focusing on getting us out of the building.

“Why are you always the one getting hurt?” He asked quietly once we were safely outside. There was a host of medics around and everyone who’d been inside the room was being checked, but the gas seemed to have no long-term effects.

“Because I’m stupid enough to think I can actually protect the people I love.” He set me down inside a free ambulance and the paramedic began to inspect me. My eyes wandered around the scene, taking in the sight of everyone safe, but resting on an unfamiliar face in the back of one of the police cruisers. The unsub. He looked furious that his plan had failed, but I hoped to sleep at least somewhat easy knowing he was behind bars.

But, of course, nothing ever goes as planned.