Status: complete

All the Madness in the World

Minimal Loss

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and of unspeakable love." – Washington Irving


“Guys, you need to see this.” JJ grabbed the remote for the television and changed the channel, turning up the volume so we could hear the news report. Derek and I stopped fooling around at the tone of worry in her voice, falling silent as the report went on.

The man on the television meant nothing to me at first, but then he stated his location. La Plata County, Colorado. And he explained what was happening: a shootout had started between the Colorado police force and the French religious group calling themselves the Separatarian Sect. The sect resided on a ranch—the one Emily and Spencer had left to consult on as part of a child abuse and occult case. My stomach was in knots.

“It is believed the three child services agents are still stuck inside on this police raid-gone wrong.” The man on the television said as I screamed out for Hotch, feet glued to the floor. As the report drew to a close I looked over at Derek, trying to figure out how on earth to react. When the broadcast ended all of the phones on the floor started ringing off the hook, which Hotch said meant we were the lead in hostage rescue and negotiations. We got on the jet immediately, the whole time my fingers ripping at the skin around my nails.

Garcia gave us the basics on the ranch on the flight over, how it originated as a Libertarian-cult but the original leader was serving 17 years in prison. JJ explained how the raid had been called by a local politician running for re-election and hoping to use the raid to his advantage. Some asshole trying to make another term in power was the reason Em and Spence were in danger. Although it made my blood boil, although I wanted to scream and panic and run into the place myself, I knew that I had to be rational. None of that would improve the situation, so I needed to remain calm as we drove from the airport to the ranch. Keep cool as we climbed out to the tents set up for our temporary base. Pray to God that Hotch appointing Rossi as lead negotiator was the right thing to do. A man started yelling off to our left about someone not being in charge and the ridiculousness of the situation.

“I’m the attorney general of this state! I demand to know why I wasn’t told that the FBI was sending undercover agents into the sectarian ranch!”

And just like that, Hotchner switched from concerned colleague to absolute alpha-male. He walked up to the attorney general with a scowl and anger in his voice I’d only heard back when he spoke to Carl Arnold.

“The only thing that you’re in a position to demand is a lawyer.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“I’m Aaron Hotchner, unit chief. I’m the guy who’s going to tell the attorney general of the United States whether to charge you with obstructing a federal investigation or negligent homicide.”

“You can’t talk to me like that!” The man scowled as I exchanged a look with JJ at this sudden side of our boss that I’d never expected to be directed at anyone other than a criminal. Hotch took a step closer, narrowing his eyes at the man and standing tall, a few inches taller.

“Get off my crime scene.” He hissed. The man huffed before stomping off back to his car and yelling at his driver, and rolling up the tinted window as the wheels of the car spun dirt clouds into the air. Rossi and Hotch spoke to the man who was taking orders, getting a briefing on the situation as Derek, JJ and I stood by for further directions. When they’d finished talking we were directed into a trailer that had been set up with a bunch of tech stuff but was being used for the moment as a debriefing room.

“This type of scenario is called minimal loss,” Rossi began. “Every person we get out is a life saved. We won’t save them all. All of us have to be prepared to accept that situation.”

And as hard as I tried, I couldn’t.

“Cults are structured like pyramids.” Derek began, walking over to a tiny whiteboard and drawing the shape. “At the top you’ve got the leader. Under him, the die-hard believers. The base, the biggest group, is the followers. Women and children. These are the people we can save.”

“The trickle-flow-gush strategy is designed to get base followers out.” Hotch explained. “First one or two, then three or four, then as many as we can as fast as we can. If at any point it starts to go bad, we go in.”

“The leaders are charismatic sociopaths, who target those most susceptible to their seduction.” Rossi said. “We have to undermine the perception that we’re an invading army laying siege to their home.”

All of the state cops had been sent away, seeing as they were the ones who had messed everything up in the first place, and all remaining personnel were demilitarized to the greatest extent and dressed in plain clothes instead of uniform. The day grew darker as Rossi and Hotch prepared to make the first communication with the church leader. A little girl was put on the radio saying how her parents had been killed and wondering if we were going to kill her too. Rossi assured her that no one was going to hurt her before a man came on.

“This is Benjamin Cyrus, who am I talking to?”

“David Rossi, I’m an FBI agent. We sent the state police away, there’s just us and the local sheriff. All we want to do is resolve this before anyone else gets hurt.”

“Then leave us alone.”

“I’m afraid we can’t do that. One of the police bled out on the way to the hospital. So let’s just resolve this before things get worse. Please just put down your guns and come out.”

“We’re believers Dave. We believe that God says what he means and means what he says.”

“I have no issues with your beliefs.”

“You don’t, but the state does.”

“Well I can’t answer for them. Now the three child services workers.”

“One of them is dead. It wasn’t us.” At his words I covered my mouth, reminding myself the need to keep a level head. It wasn’t Spencer or Emily. It couldn’t be them. It wasn’t possible.

“I need a name to inform the family.”

“Her name is Nancy Lund.” I exhaled the breath burning in my lungs and allowed myself a moment of peace at the fact that, for now, they were safe. I didn’t even feel bad for my lack of remorse at the death of Nancy. It would no doubt haunt me later. Rossi asked for Cyrus to send out his wounded but he refused, asking only for supplies which Rossi promised would be delivered at first light. I didn’t want to linger on the thought of Em and Spence stuck in there over night.

“They could take you hostage.” Derek pointed out as we all helped to put together the requested medical kits. “At least let me go with you.”

“No.” Rossi objected, taking out his gun and putting it on the table. “This thing is about trust.”

We concealed microphones in all of the bags we were sending in so that we could have some form of surveillance in the place, seeing as parabolic microphones wouldn’t work on the windows. I felt completely useless otherwise, just sitting by and waiting for the moment I was told there was something I could do. Anything I could do to help bring them to safety.

“How you doing, T-Bird?” Derek asked, nudging my foot under the table with his own. It was only at this action I realized I’d been twitching my leg in anxiety.

“I’ll be fine.” I nodded, looking out the window at the sliver of building I could make out between the tress. “I just…want them back.”

When the sun rose I helped pack up the boxes and bags into the back of a pickup truck and wished Rossi luck as he got in and drove down to the church. Again, I was stuck doing absolutely nothing but waiting impatiently while he made the trek down to exchange the supplies for proof of life. JJ was off making phone calls to local media stations to try and keep the news contained, seeing as the cult had full access to televisions. Sighing, I went back inside and sat down beside Hotch.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Not for the moment.” He said, eyebrows furrowed as he kept his eyes peeled for the return of David. “I know this must be hard, with how close you and Reid are.”

This was the reason for the slightly elevated concern. Because of course everyone on the team cared about Emily and Spencer, of course everyone wanted them back safely. But if something went wrong and Spencer didn’t make it—well, I would be the first to be notified. They wouldn’t just have to deal with a phone call to Nevada and hear a weeping Dianna Reid, they would have to witness firsthand the complete breakdown of a team member.

“You know, for my sixteenth birthday Spence bought me this 600 page collection of Cicero’s greatest work complete with anecdotes and appendices—the entire thing in Latin.”

“What the hell kind of twelve year old buys his cousin a book in Latin?” Derek asked, walking over with JJ.

“I think Spence is probably alone in that.” She smiled.

“He spent five months teaching me the language until I could read the whole thing myself.” At this we all sort of smiled, acknowledging that yes, this was very much a Spencer thing to do. A reason to love him. A reason to miss him.

“What was he like as a kid?” JJ asked causing me to laugh.

“Exactly the same. Only less of a genius at that point, I guess. It still didn’t make for good ice breakers in 8th grade. There was this one time when a girl in my grade kept making fun of him all the time, and he told me to leave it but—he’s like my little brother, you know? I had to stand up for him. So one time in the hallway she was mouthing off and I lunged at her and kept her pinned down until she apologized. After that everyone sort stopped saying anything—to his face, at least. I don’t think it’s what my dad had in mind when he taught me self-defence, though.”

It felt more like a sad memory because Spencer wasn’t there to hear the story and Emily wasn’t there to make some joke out of it. When the gravel started crunching we all turned to the door, Rossi walking through and promising that they were all okay. Before he had time to say anything else one of the men reported he was picking up a signal from the microphones and we all grabbed a headset to listen in.

“We have all just drunk the poison.” I turned to Derek with wide eyes, and just like that the environment changed. Hotch was instructing the second-in-command, Dan, to prepare the men to go in. Rossi was fighting this, explaining how mass suicide didn’t fit at all, how Cyrus had been too calm and completely lucid for this to be his plan. If they went in and this was a bluff, people would die. My heart was racing but I sided with Rossi, trusting his instincts and not wanting to go near anything that would put all those people as well as Spence and Emily in danger. Cyrus rambled on for some time before explaining that he had been bluffing, testing the loyalty of the people to see if they walked with Satan or not.

JJ announced that the cult’s previous leader was here from jail and Derek took over talking to him. It was a short conversation that ended with him making a full map of the place for us and promising to help us in any way possible to get Cyrus—who was using a fake name and had actually been accused of child molestation as a young man—off of the ranch. Garcia gave us what she could on him but there wasn’t much by way of leverage. Hotch was in the middle of telling JJ what to release to the press when she got that look on her face that meant something wasn’t going our way. She pulled up a feed of the same broadcaster we’d seen the previous day, this time painting an even worse picture. Apparently someone at the attorney general’s office had leaked that an FBI agent was in the ranch, a notion that would more than likely drive the volatile leader already on edge to take drastic measures. Possibly fatal ones.

I picked up a pair of headphones along with the others and listened as a gun was cocked and pointed at someone. My heart was racing as Cyrus demanded to know which one of them was an FBI agent. There was no outcome of this situation that I would be okay with, and as Emily took the blame I cringed at the sound of her being hit. We had to listen as she was dragged somewhere and beaten like a rag doll, things breaking around her and a mirror smashing. Every part of me wanted to tear the headphones away, but it would be an injustice to her to take refuge in the silence of the room and leave her to wince and cry out with every blow.

“I can take it.” She said, Cyrus’ rage elevating as Hotch and Rossi argued about whether or not to go in. As much as I wanted to go in my damn self, get rid of Cyrus and get Emily the help she needed, it would blow the whole thing out of the water. “I can take it!”

“We have to go in there.” Hotch said as Derek ripped the head phones off.

“Listen to what she’s saying.” I pleaded as she was hit again and again.

“She’s antagonizing him.” Hotch said.

“No, she’s talking to us. She’s telling us not to go in.”

There would be time to worry later. For now, they were keeping her alive and they would likely send one of the women to tend to her. Spencer’s voice was registering again as he spoke with Cyrus about not knowing of Emily being an FBI agent. Cyrus believed him. Spencer worked his way in, little by little, until he convinced him that the best thing to do would be to release just one child in exchange for the name of the agent.

We waited until morning for the call to come.

Rossi said, as he was expected to, that he couldn’t reveal the name of the agent despite Cyrus’ promises not to harm her. Cyrus released a child nonetheless in a show of good faith, and Hotch sent Derek to cover me as I went to pick her up. She was so little, this girl who’d lost her parents in the raid. She wandered up the dirt road crying as Derek drove up near her and kept an eye out.

“Hi sweetheart,” I crouched down a little as the girl looked at me nervously so that I was more at her level. “It’s okay honey, just come to me. I’m going to help you, okay?”

She hesitated a moment before running into my arms. I held her closely, trying to calm her tears as I carried her back into the car and Derek reported that we had her safe and sound. She called out for her mommy and I did my best to hush her fears, stroking her hair and promising everything would be alright. When we got back she was taken by a child services rep and we were filled in on what had happened—the sudden pouring out of people from the church were released due to their lack of loyalty. Shortly after another phone call came, Cyrus saying that he would surrender the following day at noon but wanted the media there to ensure they were treated fairly. He also asked for food to be sent in for everyone, to which Rossi willingly obliged.

Spencer started talking again with Cyrus and the man who had been there the last time, Christopher. Spence got further into Cyrus’ good books by flawlessly explaining the plan he deduced to have been made—that at noon the true mass suicide would happen in front of the media. Christopher asked how Spencer could have known all of that.

“I’m always looking for a sign of what’s to come.” He said.

“He’s talking to us.” I said, heart racing. “He’s asking us to tell them when we’re coming in—But they still have all those children, we need to hit them when they’re least prepared.”

“3 am.” Dan said, explaining something about biorhythms affecting our mental preparedness most at that hour.

“We need a diversion, something that plays with their expectations.” Derek said as men were fixing up the requested food.

“The plan is hinged on Reid and Prentiss being able to separate the remaining followers from the diehards—and making sure the diehards don’t get in the way of our plans, but that’s not my main concern.”

“What is your main concern?” Derek asked.

“Letting them know when we’re coming. The whole thing is useless if they don’t know we’re going in at 3am.”

“What if…” I got to my feet, crossing to the containers of food and prying the lid off of one. I raised my eyebrows to see if they got where I was going with things, but proceeded to write on the lid a little blurb about how the restaurant was open late till 3 am—underlining the last part and adding a few explanation points. “Spence will get it. He’ll make the connection.”

As we crawled deeper into the second night my eyes began to strain with tiredness. The food had been delivered and a message had been given to Emily about the time by way of shining a laser through the window to the room she was in. She would get the women and children into the basement for 3 am, that was the easy part. The hard part was finding a way to get her and Spence separated from the diehards and Cyrus himself. Every few minutes I glanced at my watch, forever willing it to be time for us to go in and commence the rescue mission.

At 2:45 we geared up, the vest feeling like lead on my torso and the gun on my waist more like a wooden sword against the fear I was swallowed in. They’d made it this long, I wasn’t about to lose them now. While we waited for the command Derek took my hand in his. A gesture established between us long ago as a subtle reminder that things would be okay. An unspoken promise. The grown up pinky swear. A pact without the blood that we made to one another: whatever it took, we would bring them out alive.

We got to the basement entrance, a battalion of hummers driving up to the front to create a distraction as the SWAT team disarmed the guard in the basement and filed in. A sense of relief rushed over me as Emily turned the corner, a procession of women and children following her. I ran to her, eyes wide at the bruises and blood that decorated her as she explained the whole place was wired to explode.

“Em, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, we need to get everyone out of here now.” She helped usher people towards the door as Rossi said we needed to get her medical attention.

“We need to get Reid!” She exclaimed, voicing my opinions for me.

“I will get Reid, where is he?” Derek promised as Emily explained where to go. “Tash, get them out of here.”

“Derek—” I reached out to tell him I was going with him but he gave me a silencing look and I pleaded him to be careful before helping Emily and the others out of the building. I worked at getting them as far away from the building as I could, but we were only half way to a safe distance when the ground shook and the sky lit up with fire. I turned back in horror at the sight of the building blown up, smoke flying at us and orange glowing through the blown out windows. For a moment it just felt like I was dreaming, because this couldn’t possibly be my reality.

I left the pack of people, knowing that there was enough of a police force to get everyone away safely. My feet wandered to the long steps of the main building, waiting for Spencer and Derek. Waiting for their return. For their voices. For a sign of life. Anything. But it didn’t come. Rossi and Hotch flanked me as we stared at the flaming building, praying to God that our worst fears weren’t coming true. My heart was pumping blood so quickly I could hear it in my ears, eyes going watery at the smoke flying into them. I took a step forward, and then another, but Hotch’s hand grabbed me. I threw him off, screaming for Spencer as I broke into a run for the burning building. I almost made it to the fire, the heat hitting me in waves, when two figures stumbled out of the rubble. My boys. I cried out, throwing my arms around the both of them as they struggled for air. A muffled thank you left me for Derek before I turned all my attention to Spence.

I knew how much Spencer hated being babied. He’d suffered so much bullying his whole life for his maturity and intelligence—it was as intimidating as having a gun in your face. It wasn’t easy for him always being the kid, always being that little boy in the BAU who speaks in statistics and fights with logic. That in addition to his slight build just made him a target—everyone always wanted to care for him, everyone always wanted to cradle him like a child. I knew better than most how irritated he was with this, but he knew better than most why it was such a profound gesture of kindness that he allowed me to do it.

Without Spencer I was hopeless; a floater adrift in the sea with no sign of land or ship. He somehow represented everything I’d ever lost, this last glimmering hope at rescuing what had been taken from me. I wept for him openly, using him as a surrogate for myself. I was not the victim. I would never be a victim. He didn’t try to stop my crying or brush off my panicked tone or worm his way out of my grasp—because he knew. He understood. If I could just keep him safe, maybe things would be alright.

If I could just save him, maybe I could save myself.


On the jet home, my eyes were still sore and red and puffy from the crying. I figured that, if ever there was a time where weakness was to be allowed on the job, it could be at the end of one when everyone returned safely. I sat on the end of the couch, Spencer’s feet draped across my lap. It comforted me having him so close, so safe and alive and at peace in his sleep. Because it was late most of the team had gravitated to their own corners of the plane, but I caught Rossi and JJ smiling at the sight of me. They were sitting in the quad with Hotch as he did some paperwork. Looking over at Spencer, I figured it would be okay to venture a few feet away. Getting to my feet and making sure the blanket covered him properly, I took a seat beside JJ and pulled my sweater closer.

“You know, I knew everything he did with this job was dangerous, but it’s so much more different being there when it happens; not being able to do a damn thing.” I shook my head at the sight of him, smiling despite myself. “I owe you guys for keeping an eye out for him all this time.”

“He’s a good kid.” Rossi said.

“You know how much he loves you guys, right?” I turned to face them. Rossi and Hotch gave me incredulous looks, as if the word Spencer and Love weren’t exactly synonymous terms. But JJ, she understood.

“Reid?” Hotch joked.

“What do you think we talked about all these years?” I asked. “I mean, it’s not hard to imagine that his circle of friends was nil. Then he came to this place and found you guys and he didn’t feel so alone anymore. Even though you tease him, you care for him. And as much as he’ll never be able to put it into non-awkward terminology, he loves you guys.”

The words hung in the air for a few moments before I left to be with a still conscious Emily. I reached out and took her hand in mine, squeezing it gently. A simple way of saying how glad I was she was with us without breaking into a chick flick moment in the middle of the jet.

It was just good to have everyone safe.