"His name is John Curtis."
With the exception of Garcia, who had remained behind in case they managed to establish phone contact again, the team had gathered in Erin's hotel room. Aaron and David had taken the two chairs at the table by the window, Derek was sitting on the bed, and Spencer and JJ remained standing near the wall. Alex was ludicrously reminded of giving one of her lectures at Georgetown. Her chest was tight, and she hadn't taken a full breath for what felt like hours. Hotch and Rossi had wanted to hear some background once Alex remembered where she'd heard that smarmy voice before.
"He was one of the agents who worked on the Amerithrax case," she continued, her voice nearly a monotone. "He was also demoted, then was sent to some little office in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. His career never recovered."
"So this is revenge?"
The linguist lifted her shoulders in a shrug, then nodded in response to Hotch's words. Their presence had helped her pull it together, but she was impatient to go and start the search. The guilt on her shoulders was getting heavier with each passing second, and all this talk wasn't solving anything. Erin might be already dead, and if she was...
"He's carried this grudge for a long time."
That was JJ, and the blonde agent shifted in her spot against the wall. It had been an offhand remark, the observation of a profiler who had seen her share of monsters. She was worried for the Chief too, since she'd seen the photographs of what the Replicator had done to his other victims. What she hadn't been prepared for was the way Blake's posture tightened up.
"What are you implying, Agent Jareau?"
"That wasn't an implication," JJ answered in a confused voice. She saw Reid rub a spot above his left eyebrow. The temperature between the two women dropped a few degrees. "I was just..."
"You were 'just' being thoughtless," Alex said in a clipped voice. She had folded her arms tightly across her breasts. The breasts Erin had had her mouth on a few short hours ago. Was she still alive? How badly was he hurting her? Why weren't they moving yet?
JJ's confusion had turned into annoyance, and she pushed off from the wall. "I don't know what you think you heard," she said evenly. "But I wasn't implying anything. Although considering the chip you had on your shoulder about your demotion, I'm surprised you can't relate."
That had been a thoughtless remark, but it hit Alex where it hurt, and added to the guilt. She bristled, drawing herself to her full height.
"So you're saying she deserves this? That I wanted her to be hurt? How much of an imbecile can you be?"
Morgan and Reid spoke up at the same time, but it was Spencer's use of her name that made Alex pull back. Except for him, they were all staring at her. The breath she took was shaky. The band around her chest had tightened. "I need some air," she muttered.
"What was that?" David was looking back and forth between JJ and the door to the balcony, which Blake had used to step outside.
"Spence?" The blonde sounded querulous. She'd never seen Alex fly off the handle that way, not even momentarily.
Reid rubbed the spot above his eyebrow again. "Give me two minutes," he told Hotch, and Aaron nodded. Reid was the one who had known Alex the longest, and they'd have to trust him to get er through this.
"You know she didn't mean what you heard."
"I don't care what she meant. She doesn't know me. She doesn't know Erin either."
Erin. Not 'Strauss', but 'Erin'.
Alex felt Spencer's hand on her shoulder, and she resisted the urge to shrug off the attempt at comfort. She had hated Erin for a long time; for making her love her, for making love to her as if it mattered and then coldly betraying her, and even last night might have been nothing more than nostalgia. That 'I love you' didn't mean as much when it happened in the middle of sex. She had said it, though, and Alex hadn't.
But the opposite of love wasn't hate, it was indifference. And she'd never been indifferent about her. Love her or loather her, she'd always felt something when it came to Erin. The brunette shivered.
"Feelings are complicated." Reid was still touching his friend's shoulder. Alex's fingers covered his hand. His grasp tightened, then relaxed.
"Just tell me she's alive. I'll believe it coming from you."
"Don't give up hope." Spencer wanted to give assurances, to say the words because she wanted to hear them so badly, but if he promised and it turned out not to be true, that would be a betrayal all by itself. "As long as you believe in your heart that she could still be alive, then the possibility is there."
She tried to chuckle, and it was a watery sound. "Do you have a Kleenex?"
Reid let go of her shoulder, offered her a cloth handkerchief. In the dim light, she saw his initials stitched into the fabric, and that made her smile. Spencer's affectations were adorable.
"All right. I'm all right." The iron band had loosened microscopically, and Alex handed the square of cloth back to Spencer, who pocketed it. "Let's find her while there's still time."