Chapter 1: Prank Me Not
"No one needs a vacation more than the person who just had one."
The putting practice and Ethiopian dinner at Aaron's apartment never happened. Reid didn't come over to Aaron's place to try out Aaron's right-handed golf clubs. Aaron didn't coach Reid on adjusting his grip on the club or his stance. The fantasies that Aaron conjured up on his way home from Quantico most certainly didn't happen.
At four-thirty that afternoon, the BAU was called to Tempe, Arizona to stop a spree killer who was targeting those in fraternities and sororities, specifically those in the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations. It was a brutal six days in which Elle took the lead with the sororities and Aaron with the frats because they were the only two with Greek system ties. Admittedly, Aaron was surprised that Elle belonged to a sorority and JJ didn't; JJ was much more the typical sorority type. Hell, the fact that Morgan, Reid and Gideon weren't members of some type of fraternal organization—even if it was purely academic, not social—was somewhat shocking to Aaron.
He put all those aside and worked the case as best he could. Some of the frat brothers dissed his Phi Alpha Delta ties because it was a law fraternity and his alma mater, Georgetown, was a non-Greek school. Still, Aaron was able to make a connection with the leadership at both frats and got them to convince their members to let the FBI handle the case.
It was an ugly resolution, but a resolution nonetheless. It was one that made the entire team look forward to their annual leave with even more anticipation. Time back at the office was spent churning through paperwork so that when Friday rolled around, they could all leave by five.
So it was very disappointing for Aaron, because he finally had a legitimate excuse (and the nerve) to invite Reid over, but Fate seemed to conspire against him. The only thing that made it more palatable was Reid's promise that when they got back from their respective vacation spots, they would practice putting at Aaron's apartment and Reid would bring dinner.
But first, there was Jamaica.
"It's going to be sick," Morgan promised as he adjusted his fedora and high-fived Aaron. "Really, really sick. I promise!"
And for the first day, it was. On the second day, however, Aaron received a phone call at five a.m.
Aaron had endured his fair share of practical jokes when he first joined the BAU. He considered it a right-of-passage and told himself that he should be flattered that the other team members took the time to yank his chain. None of the jokes were particularly harsh and after the first six months, the Fearsome Foursome—Morgan, Elle, JJ and Garcia—gave it a rest.
Or maybe not.
The stupid phone call warned him 'not to waste time on the first victims,' and was about as clichéd as one could get.
"Ha, ha," he said into the dead receiver before rolling over at going back to sleep.
So, he was immediately skeptical when Morgan pounded on the door of his hotel room later that morning. "Hotch! Open up!"
He barely got the door open before Morgan charged in and announced, "Elle's been arrested for murder."
"What? Did she off one of those unrepentant 'bad men' you called about earlier?" he scoffed, still annoyed at the five a.m. wake up call. "A raspy voice on the other line? Seriously? I'm not some rookie that you can entice into a wild goose chase, Morgan."
"What the hell are you talking about, man?" Morgan demanded as he glared. "Elle's been arrested. I'm goddamn serious."
He almost challenged Morgan again. Almost. But something about the way the man was pacing and the way he was dressed—dark slacks, long-sleeved dark t-shirt, and his phone, cuffs and badge clipped prominently to his belt—made Aaron realize that this wasn't some outlandish hazing that Morgan and Elle cooked up.
Still, he was wary as he asked, "Murder?"
"Decapitated corpse in the room next to hers. Blood trail leading from there to her room. 'Save Her' written in blood over her headboard."
"Was it the guy she was with last night?"
"No idea," Morgan admitted as he ran a hand over his shaven head. "All Dupree gave me was what I just told you. The locals took her away around 6 a.m. She hasn't called me. Obviously, she didn't call you or Reid, else Reid would have called one of us."
"The police should have contacted the US consular when they arrested her," Aaron stated as he went over to his closet. He pulled out his suit and tossed it on the bed. "I'll call to make sure they know." He looked up to find Morgan staring at him.
"Five days in paradise and you bring a damn suit with you?"
He ignored the dig as he began changing his clothes and said instead, "She wouldn't do this."
"Hell, no. If she´s gonna off a guy, we´d never find the body."
Aaron let out a sharp laugh and shook his head. "Let's keep that defense in reserve. We can divide this up, then. I can handle the legal side."
"Yeah, and I'll charm the locals into letting me tag along." Morgan shook his head before shoving his hands in his pockets. "Can't catch a break, can we?"
"Doesn't seem so." He paused before venturing, "So that wasn't you calling me this morning."
"I got a call on the hotel line telling me not to waste time on the first victims." Aaron thought about the words again frowned. "The caller used plurals … 'they' … 'men' … so there's more than one."
"First, I didn't make that call," Morgan stated. "Second, they only found one body that we know of." He paced a bit more. "When I found out, I came straight to you. I haven't called Reid yet." Morgan glanced at his watch. "My friend Dupree said the locals were still processing the scene."
"I'll try Reid then," Aaron offered as he slipped on his dress shirt, "so you can get down to the locals. Cell reception is pretty crappy here."
"It's supposed to be," the other man groused before giving a short wave and leaving.
Aaron let out a sigh before picking up his cell phone.
So much for a vacation.
Chapter 2: Vegas Confessions
Reid's confession to his mom is interrupted by a phone call.
"No one's afraid to confess about how they feel and try again. We're all just afraid of knowing the responses and getting hurt."
Spencer Reid shut the wrought iron gate before taking a few steps over the granite bench. He would have to talk to the groundskeeper again about the flowers; the ones selected weren’t doing as well as Spencer had expected. Then again, he asked for a traditional English cottage garden to survive in the desert heat of Vegas. Contrary to popular belief, he didn’t know everything; horticulture was one of those subjects that really never held much interest.
He sat down, placing his messenger bag at his feet before opening it and digging out a battered book. “Margery Kempe,” he announced quietly. “Your favorite.”
Spencer waited for the scoff, “One of her lesser works,” because that was the joke between him and his mother. Kempe only had one book attributed to her, but there were various editions and translations available. Despite his phenomenal memory, there were a few things that he couldn’t recall with accuracy. The origin of the Margery Kempe joke with his mother was one of them.
He swallowed as he looked up. The sunlight glinted off the polished granite Diana Reid’s headstone. She had been dead for two years and the ache was still there.
Spencer still wrote daily letters although he no longer had someone to send them to. It was cathartic, he knew, and given the horrors of the BAU, he knew he needed some outlet. He thought about bringing them here and reading some of them aloud, but felt foolish for even thinking it. He didn’t believe in Heaven or Hell; his mother was dead. There was no such thing as the afterlife.
Yet here he was. Spencer put the book on the bench and leaned forward. It was barely after eight; even after all these years, he missed the dry, cool Vegas mornings.
“They say when people speak to a grave, it’s because they’re confessing,” he spoke quietly. “I guess my confession is that, it seems easier to visit you like this than it ever was while you were in Bennington. I guess it’s because … I guess it’s because … You’re finally … you’re finally at peace.”
He sighed and closed his eyes briefly. The lavender, his mother’s favorite, was strong and heavy in the crisp air.
“We have a new member on the team, Aaron Hotchner. I think you would have liked him. He’s … thoughtful. Kind. Compassionate. I know the ‘guy you want to take home’ is clichéd but it’s true and Aaron is anything but a cliché. He listens to me. He remembers our conversations.” Spencer felt himself blushing, which was stupid if he really thought about it, because he was confessing to a gravestone and there was no one else around. “And before you think it’s because he’s trying to suck up to me, it’s not that. He’s genuinely interested. And …” He laughed as he stretched his legs. “I’m taking up golf, because of him.”
Spencer wanted to say more but was unwilling to verbalize his feelings about Aaron. Saying things aloud made them real, and while he knew it was unlikely he’d be hurt or disappointed by Aaron, he was still cautious. “You told me always follow my heart. I don’t know if I can. It’s all so complicated.”
He fiddled with the book in his hands. “I still haven’t reconciled with Dad and I doubt I ever will. Did you know he asked me to write a letter of recommendation for Timothy? Dad had the nerve to tell me that I should do it because Timothy is my brother.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “He’s my half-brother and I told Dad that if Timothy wants a letter so badly, he needs to ask me himself. Oh, and stop asking if I’m really an FBI agent. Dad said I was being unreasonable.”
He glanced around the garden again when he caught sight of a small brown envelope wedged in one of the urns of lavender. Curious, he stood and pulled it out. On the front was "Doctor Reid" in simple block lettering, painfully precise in the lines as if trying too hard not to give anything away.
Or else Spencer was simply reading too much into it.
He opened the package and fished out a key. It was smaller than an old fashioned door key, almost like one designed for a jewelry box.
Who the hell would leave him a key at his mother’s grave? More importantly, who knew that he was a) in Vegas and b) planning on visiting the cemetery besides the Team? The only person in town that he could think of was his father. Was this his father’s pathetic way of contacting him?
Spencer inspected the key for a few moments. He put it back in the envelope and then tucked the envelope in his messenger bag. “This better not be Dad’s way of getting me to call him,” he said dourly. “Because it really is rather lame.” He sighed. “Really lame.”
The shrill tone of his mobile broke the quietness of the cemetery. Spencer glowered, because if his father was behind this … yet his expression immediately changed to curiosity as he saw the caller ID: Aaron.
Aaron, who was in Jamaica with Morgan and Elle and calling him at eleven a.m. Jamaican time.
“Hotch,” Spencer said by way of salutation as he answered the line.
“Ah, sir? I know it’s early morning where you are but we have a situation,” the younger man announced. “Elle’s been arrested for murder.”
Spencer blinked, momentarily stunned at his subordinate’s words but work-mode kicked in. “Tell me what happened.”
Hotch’s report was crisp and concise, like always, but there was an edge of frustration in his tone. Spencer knew it all too well: We’re supposed to be on vacation, damn it! Hotch concluded with, “Morgan’s shadowing the locals and I’ll contact the consulate.”
“Obviously, you can’t represent her,” Spencer stated as he put the Kempe book back in his satchel. He rubbed his eyes, wondering why the hell this crap always seemed to happen to his team.
“I guess next time I decide to go out of the country on vacation, I’ll pass their bar exam first,” Hotch quipped, although there was bitterness in his voice.
It caused Spencer to laugh. “You would do that, wouldn’t you?”
“I’ll take the Fifth.” He cleared his throat a little. “Anyway, it’s a moot point in the States. Since I’m a government agent, I’m barred from representing anyone except immediate family members and pro se.”
“But you’re counting on the Jamaican authorities not knowing that.”
“You’re not the only one with a poker face, sir.”
Spencer smiled briefly before turning serious again. Facts and maps swirled in his mind. “The Miami field office is closest logistically. I’ll call and get a forensics team down there as well as Bureau lawyers.”
“Sir, it’s going to take them at least three hours to get here.”
“That’s why you’re going to go down to that police station, flash your badge, and bully them until you can speak with Elle, right?” he prompted, knowing Hotch would be more confident in his approach if he gave permission to throw his weight around.
Hotch answered with a crisp, “Yes, sir.”
“I don’t think there are any direct flights from here to Montego Bay, so I’ll have a layover in DC. When I get my flights set, I’ll call for an update.” Spencer paused, knowing he had to give encouragement where he could. “We’ll get this resolved.”
“Be careful,” he added as he felt the worry settle in his stomach. He trusted that Aaron would keep himself in check and not make the situation worse. Still, he tacked on the incentive, “You owe me golf lessons when you get back into town.”
Hotch snorted a little. “You be careful as well. You owe me dinner.”
“It’s a deal then,” Spencer couldn’t help but smile.
They ended the call and Spencer slid his phone back into its holster. He took a step towards his mother’s gravestone and brushed his fingers across the top. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Duty calls.”
Chapter 3: The Only Good Lawyer ...
“I’m a lawyer. I’m with the Bureau," Hotch explained to Elle. "I’m just not a lawyer with the Bureau.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency, and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The good news was that a lawyer from the consulate—Thurston Gunnery the Third—had already been dispatched to the Montego Bay police station, so by the time Hotch got down there, the lawyer was already in with Elle. When Hotch announced himself to those at the station, he flashed his badge and ABA card, wondering if they would buy the bluff.
There was some hesitation and a few shoulder shrugs by the locals who weren’t impressed, but one of the officers eventually escorted him into the interrogation room where Elle was. She glanced up as he entered; the relief washing over her features was brief, replaced by a confident smirk because she had backup. When Hotch saw Gunnery, it was easy to see why.
Gunnery, a paunchy Caucasian man in his late fifties, was dressed in a loud Hawaiian shirt and board shorts. While there was some part of Hotch that chimed in with, When in Rome…, another part screamed, How the hell is anyone supposed to take you seriously?
“Are you the lawyer from the FBI?” Gunnery asked as he stood.
“Aaron Hotchner,” he introduced and they exchanged handshakes. “I’m a lawyer and I’m with the Bureau.” Hotch looked over at Elle, who was wearing a thin black tank top and short-shorts, and immediately shed his suit jacket. She lifted her left wrist and he saw the handcuff. He glared at Gunnery. “Why is she restrained?”
“She kicked one of the arresting officers in the junk,” Gunnery replied as he leaned back in his chair. The lawyer’s gaze slid across Elle’s bust, lingering just a little too long. “The little lady is dangerous.”
“The ‘little lady’ is a U.S. federal agent, counselor.” He wordlessly offered his jacket to Elle, who accepted it without hesitation. Admittedly, he was surprised that she hadn’t said anything, not even a Thank God, you’re here. Then again, she probably figured that Gunnery had a misogynistic streak in him and decided not to give him any ammunition, even if it meant she remained chained to a chair. “Get someone in here to release her.”
“You know island law then?”
“This isn’t about ‘island law.’” He took a menacing step forward, satisfied when Gunnery recoiled a little. “Agent Greenaway isn’t some co-ed who got caught doing a line or two in the ladies’ room. She’s been arrested for murder based on evidence which is circumstantial at best. Get someone in here to uncuff her now.”
Gunnery stepped up to Hotch. Hotch met his stare with an imperious one of his own. After a few moments, Gunnery looked away and then stormed out of the room. Hotch watched him, waiting until the door closed before he looked at Elle.
She arched any eyebrow at him. “You brought a suit on vacation?”
“They’re my pajamas,” he deadpanned.
He rounded the table and took Gunnery’s seat, turning it towards her. “Reid can’t get a direct flight from Vegas, so he’s going to DC first. The Bureau lawyers from Miami are due within the hour. Miami’s also sending a forensics team. We’ll get you cleared.”
“Wait. I thought you said …” Elle narrowed her eyes. “You’re not representing me?”
“You just said …”
“I’m a lawyer. I’m with the Bureau. I’m just not a lawyer with the Bureau.”
“Like I said, I’m a lawyer.” He offered a lopsided smile and was pleased when she gave him a small grin. He turned serious again. “What happened? Last I saw you, it was around ten. We were all in the bar and you headed off with that guy…?”
“His name is Curt,” she replied, emphasizing the present tense as she tugged his jacket closer around her body. “We went to his room …” Elle gave him a look and he nodded; he didn't need an in-depth account. “I got back to mine around midnight.” Again, she wordlessly dared him to make a snarky comment, but he just met her gaze with a steady one of his own. “I went to bed. Alone. Next thing I know, these jackasses are breaking down my door, hauling me out of bed, and cuffing me. Hell yes I kicked.” She glared at the door. “And then I get that as my legal counsel.”
“We’ll get this cleared up. I promise. Morgan went with the locals to check out the scenes. He’s going to meet the Miami forensics team at the airport.”
“This is bullshit, you know. I’m on vacation.”
“Yet you have a suit.”
“I told you. They’re my PJs.”
I can't thank Daylyn enough for her help with "Hotch as a lawyer."
Chapter 4: Ree-wen-gee & Release
Elle being arrested for murder was the first shoe that was dropped. No one expected to have the rest of the closet fall in as well.
"Don't tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results."
It was supposed to be vacation.
A vacation Reid had done some political and paperwork magic to ensure as many of his team—Gideon included—had the same time off. The only reason he hadn’t pushed hard for JJ was because of the favor her husband had asked of him.
“Jen’s been talking about the annual leave coming up, how you’re trying to get all of you the same time off. Well, you know how the Redskins are her favorite team and the training camp dates have been announced and they’re all in late July. I’d like to take her and Henry there for a few days and then down to the Saints’ practice. You know. I can’t have my boy rooting for just his mama’s team. So, can you, ah, make it so she has the July dates off instead of with y’alls?”
Reid had obliged, using his best ‘sad face’ to regretfully inform JJ that her AL could not coincide with the team.
As for Garcia? Well. Her AL always centered around Comic-Con. This year was no different.
So when Reid learned that Elle was arrested for murder, he knew things were going to be bad. When he called Garcia to ask for help on booking flights to Jamaica, her dizzying deluge about honey pots, kernels, and back-tracking someone to the Dark Ages made his head spin.
“You’ve been hacked?” he finally asked, hoping he pieced together enough of her jargon to guess correctly.
“You can bet your sweet britches I have been,” Garcia fired back, fury coloring her voice. “This hacker? Oh. He’s going to pay. Pay hard and bad and … oh … I cannot describe the ree-wen-gee I’m going to visit upon him.”
“Ree-wen-gee?” he asked.
“Revenge, sir. Black Adder. But I promise you, I will find this son of a bitch, okay?! Right now, however? The information highway is closed, so bye!”
The line went dead and Spencer blinked, momentarily stunned by her abruptness. He knew better than to call back, so he began scrolling through his phone contacts for the travel department.
A call from Agent Green interrupted him. There must be more news about Elle. I hope it’s good. “Reid, here. Do you have an update on Greenaway?”
“Uh, Greenaway? No, sir,” Green said. “I’m calling about the severed head that Agent Gideon received at his cabin.”
Aaron watched as a Bureau lawyer charged in and introduced himself as Javier Cueto to Detective St. Pierre, Gunnery, and Elle; Cueto barely gave Aaron a glance. Cueto then brandished the initial autopsy and stated how it cleared Elle completely of the murder. Aaron let out a sigh of relief that earned him a sharp elbow from Elle, which translated as, You thought I was guilty?
“I didn’t think it would be this fast or easy,” Aaron admitted in a low voice as they watched Detective St. Pierre leave the room with the report in hand. Gunnery and Cueto exchanged handshakes, although it was clear that Cueto wasn’t particularly impressed with his Jamaican counterpart.
Cueto turned to where Elle and Aaron sat, and politely ordered Aaron to leave. Aaron knew why—to ensure client-attorney privilege—but he still waited until Elle nodded.
Once out in the main area of the department, he spotted Morgan and immediately went over to him. “Cueto from the Miami office turned over the autopsy report,” he stated quietly. “St. Pierre’s reviewing it now. The victim was dead at least six hours before we arrived on the island, so they don’t have anything to hold her on.”
Morgan nodded. “He’s in with her now?”
“Yes, along with the lawyer from the consulate.” He checked his watch. “Hopefully, St. Pierre won’t pull some bureaucratic bullshit and keep her here.”
“And that’s why you’re not going to share with the locals that Gideon got a head in a box delivered to his cabin until she’s officially cleared,” Morgan stated, as he glanced around. “Get this. The originating address? Jamaica. Quantico’s ID’d the head. Marty Harris, and that’s the name of the guy who checked into the room next to Elle’s. The connecting room to Harris’ was reserved under the name Frank Giles, and he checked out yesterday morning.”
“Which places him here at the time of the murder. That doesn’t make sense. It’s too obvious,” Hotch commented as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“Yeah, which is why Miami’s running Giles’s background right now.”
“Why not Garcia?”
“Her systems are completely down. Someone hacked her.”
Aaron blinked in surprise and held back, That’s impossible. She took security seriously and badgered Aaron until he brought in his home computer so she could “bring it up to code.” The news made him shiver despite the stuffiness of station.
“There’s one more thing.” Morgan heaved out a sigh. “We’ve been recalled . Reid thinks someone’s playing a game with us and he wants us all in one place.”
“You get to tell Elle.”
“Oh, no no no, man. You’re wearing the suit. You get the job.”
Chapter 5: Connections
With Reid and Team back in DC, Garcia confesses about the hacker.
“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting.”
-- Russell H. Ewing
Once Reid received the updates from his various team members, he immediately recalled them to Quantico. If someone was playing some elaborate game with him and his team, having everyone in the city made Spencer feel much more comfortable. The second call with Garcia once he deplaned in DC had been the most difficult, as she explained the circumstances that lead to being hacked.
“You’re gonna be angry,” Garcia told him.
“Penelope,” he urged softly.
He heard the sob. “I was playing a game. A game on my personal laptop that doesn’t have the same security as the Bureau networks. On my break, I swear it was on my break! But …”
“That’s how the hacker got in,” he concluded.
“I am so, so sorry. I swear that …”
“You’ll fix the problem. You’ll track him down. Then we’ll get him and put him in prison for hacking the FBI.”
“Oh, sir. They don’t jail people like him,” Garcia said quietly. “They hire him.”
Reid almost laughed, because he knew how Penelope Garcia came to the FBI; he still had her homemade pink stationary resume in his desk. His hand brushed the strap of his messenger bag as his thoughts returned to the key. Coincidence? He shook his head. “We’ll get this sorted out. I promise.”
“I’m so sorry, sir.”
“I know. We’ll deal with it, okay? But right now, we need to move on.”
As he ended the call, he knew that another round with IA was on the horizon and the best way to shift the odds in his favor were to bring Strauss in on the front end of it. She was less likely to meddle with the investigation if he made her feel part of it, giving her the illusion of controlling of it.
So once he arrived in Quantico, Reid headed straight to Strauss’ office. The meeting took longer than he expected—negotiating to keep Garcia active on the case had been particularly difficult—but by the time he was finished, he knew the rest of the team had arrived.
Reid strode into the conference room, unsurprised to find Hotch and Morgan pacing on either side of the table, Gideon hovering by the evidence board, and Elle and JJ sitting with papers strewn between them. Hotch looked over at him and rolled his eyes a little, as if to say, Can you believe this?
Reid gave a slight nod. He definitely felt the same way.
Photos of Marty Harris’s severed head and the Jamaican crime scene, as well as a Nellie Fox baseball card which had been in the box with the head, were already pinned to evidence board. On the whiteboard was a timeline that included “phone call to Hotch’s hotel room,” “delivery to JJ,” and “Garcia hacked.” On the table was a butterfly shadowbox that had been delivered to JJ at the office earlier that day. Neither JJ’s husband or a member of her family had sent it.
Reid fished the baggie with the key out of his pocket, walked over, and pinned them next to the baseball card. “Someone left this for me at my mother's grave.”
“This joker knows you visit your mom’s grave?” Morgan asked angrily.
“Apparently so,” Reid replied as he sat down next to JJ. He rubbed his eyes, which were still dry and itchy from the flight from Vegas. “Let’s go over the events again.” He thought about ordering Gideon, Hotch and Morgan to sit, but realized that they would be fidgeting in their chairs. Sometimes, it was just better to let them pace.
They were halfway through when Garcia entered the room, tears in her eyes as she wrung her hands. “The hacker only focused on your personnel files,” she announced but refused to meet anyone’s gaze. “Just this team, not anyone else in the BAU.”
“How did he get in to your systems in the first place?” Gideon demanded.
Before Reid could offer an explanation, Garcia stuttered, “I was playing a game.”
There were gasps around the conference room and Reid did his best not to wince.
“My personal laptop doesn’t have the same security as the Bureau’s does. I know that sounds whacky because, hello! But it doesn’t. He was able …”
“A game?” Gideon snarled at her. “How could you be that stupid?”
In a blur of movement, Hotch rocketed over to where Gideon and Garcia were standing. He faced the older agent while shielding the tech analyst. There was a fury in Hotch’s eyes that Reid could feel even though he was sitting at the far end of the table.
The fact that Hotch didn’t say anything was even more telling; the younger agent didn’t trust himself.
Reid knew things could escalate, just by the way Gideon’s hand twitched. He stood up and was about to call them both down when Garcia interrupted with, “I know who he is, the hacker. His name is Giles, Frank Giles. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, four miles from here. I have his address.”
“Giles?” Morgan echoed. “Wait a second. That’s the name of guy who checked into the adjoining room with Harris.”
Gideon now glared at Reid. “Did you know this?”
The chief knew that Gideon was referring to Garcia, not to who had checked into the resort. He could see Garcia hastily wiping away the tears as Hotch continued to block her completely from Gideon. Having a discussion of ‘who knew what when’ wasn’t going to be productive, especially since Gideon still felt he should have the same depth of information that Reid had. Reid didn’t want Garcia hampered by guilt more than she already was, which was why he initially withheld the information from Gideon.
He knew he’d have to explain that reasoning to Gideon later. And the best way to do that was in a car over to the alleged hacker’s apartment.
“Morgan, contact the Arlington PD and have their SWAT meet us at the address Garcia has for Giles,” Reid ordered, gaze never faltering from Gideon’s. “JJ, monitor the media in case our UnSub decides to go public with this.” He waited for their acknowledgements before he walked over to Garcia. She refused to look at him; no matter what punishment the Bureau could come up with, it was nothing to how Garcia now felt. He carefully set his hand on her shoulder as he looked over at Gideon again. “Garcia, good work tracking Giles down.”
“Sir …” her voice was watery.
“Just get your systems back online,” he told her. Finally, she looked up, tears still brimming in her eyes. Softly, Reid said, “We move on.”
Chapter 6: Devil's Advocate
Gideon makes a bold decision. Hotch argues against it. Which one will Reid choose?
This was written before S7's "Hit, Run" established Will as a detective with the Maryland PD.
"You must be careful how you walk and where you go, for there are those following you who will set their feet where yours are set."
--Robert E. Lee
“Are we in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie?” Elle demanded as they stood in Frank Giles’ apartment with a bed in the middle of the room, a dead body on the bed with a sword protruding from his torso.
Hotch couldn’t help but chuckle a little. Elle was right; all this bullshit bespoke of an UnSub with way too many hours on his hands. He peered at the inscription on the sword. “To learn of what should next be done, leave the blade 'til the hour be none.”
“Well, midnight is zero-zero hundred hours in 24-hour time. Would that be 'none'?” Morgan asked.
Hotch thought for a moment. The logic was sound, but “Midnight wouldn't cast a shadow.”
“It's medieval,” Reid announced quietly. The chief walked forward, arms crossed over his chest, as he continued, “The days used to be broken into hourly intervals. The canonical hours of the breviary. Prime: 6 A.M. Terce: 9 A.M. Sext: 12 noon. None: 3 P.M. And vespers: 6 P.M. We’ll need to close the blinds and get a spotlight in here to find out where the UnSub left the next clue.”
They setup the spotlight and, once they located the spot on the wall, Morgan used a hammer to punch a hole in the drywall. There, they found a music box. Reid stated that the key left at his mother’s grave would probably open it, and ordered team back to Quantico instead of jimmying the lock here.
It was also clear the apartment of Frank Giles was nothing more than a stage for their UnSub to deliver another set of gifts.
Marty Harris. Frank Giles.
It explained the cryptic message to Hotch while Jamaica. These two men, presented to the BAU in such a dramatic way, were to get them emotionally invested in the chase. To taunt them, to show that the UnSub was clearly one step ahead of them.
CSU was tasked with scouring the apartment for any additional forensics, but they all agreed that there wouldn’t be any.
Reid ordered them back to Quantico with the latest items and also asked what they wanted for lunch. Ever since that mess in Harringtonville, Reid became a stickler on meals.
Now, the Team (sans JJ and Garcia) devoured deli sandwiches around the conference table. JJ had gone back to her office with her lunch to search if there were any pending cases that could be related to this. Apparently Reid had dropped off Garcia’s lunch in her lair and also found out that neither Harris nor Giles had the background to hack into her systems.
Hotch looked over the evidence recovered from the apartment. Reid was correct in that the key opened the music box. Inside was lock of hair and a DVD; the box played Shubert’s Trout Quintet. They added these items to the list on the whiteboard.
So far, the only member of the team who hadn't been involved directly somehow was Morgan, which didn't sit well with Morgan at all. Was there something else out there for Morgan? Or did the UnSub feel that Morgan wasn’t worthy of the attention?
“Maybe it’s on the DVD?” Elle suggested as she picked up the remote.
Instead, they were treated to video of a girl being held hostage as the UnSub’s raspy voice outlined his conditions for the quest. When the photos of the Team came on screen, the realization of how thoroughly the UnSub had stalked them hit. They weren’t culled from newscasts or the internet. These were ones the UnSub had personally taken.
Morgan playing football with a bunch of gangly teens. Gideon leaving the National Museum of American History. JJ walking with her husband and son in a park. Elle dancing with an older Latino. Garcia holding hands with a weeping woman. Reid conversing with the FBI’s second in command at some coffee shop. Hotch lining up a shot on the driving range.
Suddenly, JJ came tearing into the conference room, holding up a clear plastic evidence bag with a sheet of paper in it. “A courier came to our home and gave this to Will,” she said as she handed it to Reid. “When Will opened it and saw the numbers, he brought it down here immediately.”
“Did the courier say anything to Will, like this was part of a quest?” Reid asked.
“No,” JJ answered. “Will bagged it, grabbed Henry, and headed over right away.”
“There won’t be any forensics,” Hotch commented quietly as his gaze drifted to the board. “The UnSub is too careful. If he can track three of us to Jamaica, have a key waiting for Reid in Vegas, and send a head to Gideon’s cabin, he damn well knows Will is an ex-cop who knows how to handle evidence.”
“Is Will still here?” Reid asked as he pinned the newest piece of evidence on the board.
“He’s in my office with Henry.”
“Bring him in, please.”
“What are you thinking?” Morgan inquired.
“He’s seen our UnSub, or has met with the guy who has seen our UnSub.”
A few minutes later, the former New Orleans detective came in the room followed by JJ, who carried their son. “Something was off about the whole delivery,” Will told them. “JJ called me earlier about the butterfly box, asking if I had sent it. So when this guy shows up with this? I hightailed it down here. Guess we’re lucky that today’s the only day I’m not teaching.”
“Not luck,” Elle corrected as she suppressed a yawn. “Like Hotch said. This scumbag knows us. Knows our routines.”
“Will isn’t named as part of the quest, though,” Hotch commented.
“What does that matter?” Gideon’s tone was frosty, disdainful.
Hotch bit back his reply and glanced over to where Reid stared at the latest piece of evidence, clearly lost in thought. Hotch knew that they needed Reid’s leadership, not Gideon’s, but he had no clue on how to prompt the chief into action.
He barely listened to the questions that Gideon was asking Will as he made his way over to the evidence board. Hotch knew sometimes that all he had to do was stand next to Reid and the chief would snap out of his internal musing. Yet as he read over the numbers, something on the paper caught his attention. “A coded message.”
It was an obvious statement and Hotch wasn’t sure why he said it aloud.
“I was thinking that, too,” Reid agreed. “In the video, didn’t the UnSub say something about a book?”
“Yeah. ‘A book that inspired many an adventure.’”
“A book code,” the chief murmured.
That was when Hotch heard Gideon declare: "Tell the world."
He turned to face the older agent. He repeated, “Tell the world?”
“He may have seen this son of a bitch,” Gideon replied icily.
When no one jumped in, Hotch knew it was up to him to play Devil’s Advocate. “Didn't he say that we had to keep this within the team?”
“Since when do we allow an UnSub to dictate how we run an investigation?”
The silence in the room was painful. Hotch dared to glance at the chief. Reid’s brow was furrowed as he agreed, “We do need to talk to the courier.”
Hotch glanced over to LaMontagne, who watched the exchange with keen interest. Hotch said, “The courier wore a uniform. We can pull employee records …”
“My systems are still kaput,” Garcia told them miserably. “And the CTU jerks aren’t sharing.”
“No offense, but we’re not crippled by the lack of Google. We can make phone calls,” Hotch argued. “Will, you saw the name of the delivery company. You can give us a description of the man who delivered this. We call the company or go down there. Get dispatch to bring him back to the office or else we track him to his next stop. Question him then. We hold off on the press conference if those leads don’t pan out.”
Gideon snapped, “We need to make a statement.”
“I’m tired of being one step behind this bastard,” Morgan added as he stood up. “He’s been running the show since the get-go.” The unspoken, Time to remind him who he’s messing with, clear. Morgan glanced over at Elle, who despite fighting back a yawn, agreed with a nod of her head. Garcia stared at her hands and Hotch knew she thoroughly blamed herself for what was happening.
Hotch immediately remembered Reid’s words from the Palm Springs bomber case: Don’t keep your opinions to yourself. It was why he wouldn’t let this drop. It felt wrong.
“He has our personal information. Look at the photos he has taken of us! This is organized. Methodical. He’s been planning this for a long time. How else would he have been able to infiltrate Garcia’s systems the way he did? The UnSub has all this detailed information about us and it can’t be all from a database or a telephoto lens. Gideon, do you seriously think that your personnel file lists that Nellie Fox is your favorite baseball player?” Hotch turned to JJ. “Or that you collected butterflies as a child? These are intimate details.”
The older agent’s grin was sharp, unkind. “A press conference is gonna send the right message.”
“We call the shots,” Morgan needlessly added.
“If we want to call the shots, then we do what we do with every other case,” Hotch fired back. “Start with victimology. The girl in the video.”
“And take a chance on losing a witness?” Elle scoffed. “Hell, no.”
“We’re not losing a witness …”
“We’ll approach it both ways. Press conference and phone calls,” Reid finally interrupted, voice quiet yet still seemed loud in the room. The chief habitually listened to all of his agents before making a decision, and this was no different. This time, however, it was a hell of a lot more aggravating.
“And the press conference will be after we find out the identity of the driver,” Hotch insisted, frustrated by Reid being so fucking passive about the whole situation. Sure, it was stepping on toes but, damn it, Gideon already stomped on Reid’s.
Reid lanced him with a harsh stare, one usually reserved for local cops who overstepped their bounds. Stunned and chastened, Hotch closed his mouth and looked away.
“The press conference and phones calls will be simultaneous,” Reid announced. “Gideon and JJ? Talking points for the press conference. Will, if you haven’t already, sit down with our sketch artist. Morgan can show you the way. Elle, call Katie Coles in CAC unit and run our victim’s photo. I’ll stay here and work on the code. Garcia?”
“I’ll get my systems back up, my liege. I swear.”
“Hotch? Phones with the courier company,” Reid concluded.
“Yes, sir,” Hotch said with as much professionalism as he could muster, even though he knew he was being punished for his perceived insubordination. He couldn’t bear to look over at the man who once declared himself Friend, lover, confidante. Whatever you need.
As Hotch gathered his things, he didn’t miss the condescending look in Gideon’s eyes.
Suck it up, Hot Shot, he told himself firmly. Suck it up.
It hurt to call down Hotch, but Reid worked with Gideon long enough to trust the man’s instincts. Yes, the strategy would likely anger the UnSub but in the past, getting the UnSub off his game usually produced the best results.
Still, the look of betrayal that Hotch had given him followed with the crisp, “Yes, sir” (which sound suspiciously like Fuck you) was a sharp ache in Reid’s belly.
Once the case is over, he’ll understand. He’ll see that this dual approach is the best way to get the answers the fastest, he consoled himself. Put it aside. You’ve got a case to solve. He also had to update Strauss on what was going on.
Delivering the newest information wasn’t going to be pleasant, and based on the length of his first meeting with Strauss, it wasn’t going to be a short one either. He did agree with Hotch regarding the time the UnSub took to stalk them and create this elaborate quest. It was wholly unsettling that the UnSub had this much information on his Team.
Some son of a bitch had created an elaborate quest for his Team, people he considered his family.
And no one fucked with Spencer Reid’s family.
Of course, the press conference yielded the fastest results; the delivery company happened to be one of the largest in the area and Hotch played phone tag with six people who didn’t seem to comprehend the words, “Federal investigation.”
He tried his best to ignore the nagging voice which chided Told you so, but Gideon’s triumphant “Yes!” when it was announced that someone was here to see them about the press conference really irked him. Hotch still stayed on the phones, out of stubbornness more than anything else, until the courier was brought up to Interrogation. He joined Morgan and Will as the man was settled in the room.
Will confirmed the driver’s identity the moment he saw him behind the glass, and then Morgan began the interview. Hotch and Will went out into the hallway and walked towards the bullpen.
“They want to put me and Henry up at a hotel,” JJ’s husband drawled as he shook his head, “like I’m some defenseless housewife. Just because I don’t carry a badge anymore…” He trailed off and shoved his hands into his pockets.
Hotch knew he didn’t have to explain why they were being moved to a more secure location; LaMontagne had been one of the top detectives in New Orleans before he chose to be with JJ after Henry was born. He also understood how galling it was that people forgot that, being dismissed as a milquetoast househusband when the man was anything but that.
Will glanced at him. “As long as I’ve been around, I’ve never seen anyone challenge the old man like that.”
Hotch supposed that “old man” could be deemed as a term of affection for Gideon, but somehow … Hotch got the sense that it wasn’t. He shrugged, not trusting himself to answer.
“Jen told me a bit about the case. This whole 'quest' goose chase,” Will continued. “That son of a bitch is gonna be pissed that y’all broke the rules.”
“It could throw him off his game,” Hotch replied diplomatically, although he was grateful that he had at least one ally in his way of thinking. For him, holding that press conference was too much of a risk. “It could give us the opening we need.”
“Spoken like a gentleman,” he laughed. “Where in Dixie are you from again?”
“Virginia.” Hotch grinned a little. “And I think my answer was more ‘lawyer’ than ‘gentleman.’”
“And here Jen says you don’t have a sense of humor.” Will grinned.
He laughed and shrugged, but another thought struck Hotch. It was a stupid question, sure, because it wasn’t like a former cop was just going to walk out of his house with his only son and not be armed, but Hotch had to make sure. He didn’t know what kind of gun Will carried, but he still offered, “Need rounds?”
“Have two already plus my daddy’s trusty Winchester,” the man answered, a pleased tone to his voice. “Thanks for asking.”
They looked up when they heard JJ pushing the stroller down the hall towards them. She looked frustrated and worried. “No new news,” she addressed Hotch before turning to her husband. “Reid wants to get you guys settled at the hotel ASAP.”
“Making his list and checking it twice?” Will asked with mild annoyance as he rounded the stroller and stood next to JJ.
“I’ll let you two go,” Hotch said before extending his hand. He exchanged a short handshake with Will. “Take care.”
Hotch headed back over to the conference room, surprised to find Gideon there and Elle was crashed out on the couch. There was no sign of the chief, which probably meant he was still dealing with Strauss. Hotch was suddenly filled with trepidation, knowing that whatever was going to happen next wasn’t going to be a good thing.
Gideon barely glanced at him before checking his watch. The older agent went over to where Elle was sleeping and shook her shoulder. “Elle.”
Instantly, she sat up. “I’m awake.”
“I’m sending you home.”
“No,” she protested as she pushed his hand away and stood.
“You haven’t slept in 36 hours,” Gideon sounded paternal as he spoke. “Go home.” Then, he looked over his shoulder. “Hotchner will take you.”
Hotch immediately straightened and took a step forward. There was no way in hell Gideon was kicking him out. “Anderson is still …”
“That’s an order, Agent Hotchner,” Gideon’s tone was icy.
Elle protested, “I’m fine.”
“She’s fine,” Hotch echoed, because even though he knew she wasn’t, his own ego wouldn’t allow him to be summarily dismissed—which was exactly what was happening—because he dared to challenge Gideon’s authority in public.
Gideon sneered, his voice barely above a whisper, “I gave you an order.”
Hotch was about to argue, when he felt Elle grip his elbow. “C’mon.”
“Which hotel then?” Hotch demanded of the senior agent.
Gideon fixed him with a look. “What?”
He stared. “Which hotel will I be taking Elle to? The same one as Will?” Elle’s grip tightened on his elbow. “This UnSub has our personal information! A secured location …”
“Enough!” Gideon barreled forward, getting right up in Hotch’s face. “You’re allowing yourself to be spooked like some rookie over a few Candid Camera moments. You’re giving that insignificant little man power that he doesn’t deserve. You’re a goddamn BAU agent, Hotchner! This isn’t some Mickey Mouse SWAT club. Act like the agent you’re supposed to be! Or aren’t you man enough?”
Hotch sucked in a breath. He straightened. The words struck him to the core.
Elle’s grip was painful. “Let’s go, Hotch.”
Gideon stared him down.
Hotch could continue to argue. He could delay until Reid got back and have the chief back him up, but Reid has already sided with Gideon once. You saw how wrapped up he was with the evidence and dealing with Strauss. That nagging voice of his father rang through his mind. You little sissy boy, all scared like the pansy-assed, cocksucking faggot that you are.
Experience told him that this wasn’t a fight he was going to win, nor was it worth the attempt. Hotch broke away from Gideon’s gaze, looking down and to the side as he asked Elle, “Where’s your bag?”
“At my desk,” she answered. She then addressed Gideon. “You’ll call if anything comes up?”
“Of course.” Gideon replied.
Chapter 7: Hot Shot
Taking Elle home didn't mean leaving here there alone.
"Look not back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around you in awareness."
The ride to Elle’s home was spent mostly in silence, with her yawning out directions when she remembered that Hotch didn’t know how to get to her place. As much time as the team spent together, only JJ and Will had any of them over. He refused to think about the time Reid was in his apartment because the thrill he used to get about it was now sour and dull.
He pulled into her driveway and shut off the engine. Elle got out of the car, slinging her bag over her shoulder and trudging to the front door. Hotch followed, hitting the remote lock for the car.
“What the hell?” she groused when she heard the chirps of the alarm. She glared at him over her shoulder.
“We're dealing with an UnSub who has all of our personal information, including our home addresses.”
“Jesus Christ, Hot Shot, give it a rest.”
He lifted his chin. The use of his old nickname burned. “Absolutely not.”
“This is about the argument with Gideon, isn’t it? Okay, yeah. It was a bit out of line, but for God’s sake! You are acting like a rookie. Get over it! Look, you’ve dropped me off. You can go back. You won’t miss a thing.”
“You’re a sore loser.”
Hotch marched up and towered over her. He rarely went into bully mode with any member of the Team, but, “Taking you home doesn’t mean dropping you off. You should be at a hotel like LaMontagne … some place we’ve already secured.”
“I heard your back in Quantico! For fuck’s sake, stop being so goddamn paranoid!”
“I’m not leaving you alone.”
For a split second, he thought she was going to kick him in the balls. Elle didn’t; instead she shook her head and spat, “You’re such a sore loser, Hot Shot.”
He didn’t respond, just waited patiently as she fumbled with her keys and got the front door open. She walked in and immediately dropped her bag on the floor next to the window seat. Her holster, cell phone and keys landed on the table. She then sat down on the window seat.
Hotch stared at the bay windows behind her. He dropped his voice to a whisper. “They’re open,” he told her and jutted his chin.
Elle glanced behind her before stretching out on the cushions. “My neighbor takes care of the place when I’m gone. She’s totally New Age and this is a way to release the ‘evil spirits’ so I won’t succumb to darkness in my own home,” she said dismissively and settled on her side. “As for you? Talk about taking a hit from the paranoia pipe. You’re worse than my neighbor’s father. Fucking relax, okay?”
But he couldn’t. His belly was on fire like it always was when he knew that something was wholly wrong. He pulled his Glock from his holster and flipped the safety off.
“Oh, Jesus Christ, Hot Shot,” he heard her mutter as he slowly made his way through her living room. He wished he had the tactical illumination option on his Glock that Morgan had, since he didn’t have his own mag light handy. Elle lived in an older home, one with odd angles that provided lots of places for people to hide in the shadows.
Living room. Clear.
Kitchen. Dark and full of shadows but the backdoor was closed. He moved towards it but then the nagging voice in his head chimed in with, You’re such a fucking pussy. There’s no one here.
Hotch let out a breath. He lowered his weapon. Clear.
Linen closet. Clear.
Guest bedroom. Clear.
Master bedroom. Clear.
Master bath … Poor lighting because of the glass block windows. Yet … a flicker of movement behind the shower curtain. A shadow that wasn’t supposed to be there.
"I told you that there was one rule!" a male voice rasped as the shower curtain was wrenched to the side.
Hotch caught sight of the gun. He yelled, "FBI! "
Suddenly, a shot rang out. He automatically fired two quick ones of his own. White hot pain seared through him before his left side went numb, his breath stolen.
It was weird watching the shower curtain and rod crash down, because his body seemed to follow along.
Aaron fell, hard. His gun clattered to his side. There was a black blob crumpled in Elle’s shower. Aaron’s head hit the back of the bathroom door as he slid to the ground.
Elle suddenly loomed over him, gun drawn and screaming, “Motherfucker!”
Aaron stared upwards, wondering why the hell Elle had a popcorn ceiling in a historic home.
He then wondered why the hell he was thinking that when there was a goddamn UnSub in her bathtub.
Christ, such a fucking cliché to find the bad guy hiding in the shower. He could hear the teasing from the team now: Hot Shot’s Shoot-Out in Elle’s Bathroom.
He felt hands on his shoulder and chest. “You stay with me, goddamn it!” Elle ordered fiercely.
Aaron frowned as he looked into her eyes and saw tears. Surely, he was mistaken. Elle didn’t cry.
“You stay with me you stubborn son of a bitch!”
“Elle …” he got out, confused that she looked so terrified.
And then everything went black.
Chapter 8: Paying the Price
The UnSub told them that there was only one rule. Reid gave the order to break it.
"Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune."
It took careful negotiation combined with an explosion of statistics to keep Strauss from pulling Spencer’s team from the case. He agreed to continual updates but was able to persuade her from making an appearance in the bullpen. He didn’t need her as an additional distraction. When Strauss began her diatribe against Garcia’s game playing on Bureau time, Spencer fired back with the estimated number of minutes per day it took to nurture a Bonsai tree.
Strauss had backed off after that.
Still, the entire ordeal gave him a headache. When Reid walked back into the bullpen and found Morgan and JJ at Morgan’s desk, he was a bit surprised. They should have been in the conference room working on the case. The fact that the door was closed could only mean one thing: Gideon and Hotch were at each other’s throats and Elle was refereeing.
David Rossi once said that being a unit chief was synonymous with being a dad. There was that fine line of praise and discipline. Refereeing arguments. Giving time-outs. But today, Reid sided with oldest children while the youngest looked at him with betrayal that Reid knew wasn’t going to go away any time soon.
Because Reid knew that Hotch had very valid points. Hotch was a protector by nature, the oldest son who spent his teenage years trying to shield his little brother from the abuse at home. Yet now, in the BAU, Hotch was at the bottom of the pecking order of older and more experienced profilers and agents. Hotch did struggle, but kept his ego in check for the most part.
Hotch only went into “lawyer mode” when he firmly believed in something. And that was why Reid’s compromise of doing the press conference—Breaking the rules so the UnSub makes a mistake, his mind whispered—and the phone calls—The safest approach because the UnSub knew way too much about them—had clearly upset Hotch. Hotch made his argument, a very solid one that included sound bites from lectures and insights that Reid and Gideon had given over the past year, and hadn’t won.
Reid knew it was going to sting, and that Gideon and Hotch were likely to go at each other for the rest of the case. Hotch hated losing almost as much as Gideon despised being proven wrong.
And now? God.
Screw the so called “clean slate.”
Reid was stuck playing Dad again when he should be cracking the goddamn book code.
Oh, for the days when Rossi ran the show. Hell, Reid would even take Cooper and those stupid meetings in the health club instead of the conference room.
Reid shook himself from his reverie. He approached JJ and Morgan, noting how both agents stood and fidgeted. He dismally wondered just how nasty the argument between Gideon and Hotch had been to drive both Morgan and JJ out. Elle probably stayed in there, just to keep them from coming to blows. “Morgan …”
“The delivery guy got a grand in cash to deliver the package to Will,” Morgan cut him off. “Said our UnSub was badly scarred, like a burn victim. His voice was raspy and he moved kinda slow. Hotch had said the guy who called him in Jamaica sounded raspy too, so it’s possible that it’s the same person.”
“We got a hit from CAC,” JJ added and held out a file. “Rebecca Bryant. She went missing from South Boston, Virginia two years ago. There’s not much to go on, just the first report from the locals. There was no follow-up because the girl ran away several times before. One time, it was for two months.”
Victimology, Reid thought and resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. He knew better than to second-guess himself, but Hotch had been right. They got caught up in the emotionalism of the case, the insult of being lead around by an UnSub who thought he was something more than he was. A cold chill ran down Reid’s spine. Why did I trust Gideon so quickly when I knew that his judgment has been off since the Bale bombings? Because I couldn't stand the fact that some UnSub is making us dance to his tune.
Reid took the file and flipped through it. The details were scant, but a few things stood out about Bryant: drug abuse, vandalism, theft, truancy. He closed the file and looked at JJ. He knew the answer before he asked, but he did anyway. “Do Gideon, Hotch and Elle have a copy of this?”
“Um … Gideon sent Elle home. She hadn’t slept in 36 hours and crashed out on the couch,” Morgan said. He paused before adding, “He ordered Hotch to take her.”
Reid kept his features blank, although he wondered if they could see the anger in his eyes. Hotch would obey the directive because the man followed the chain of command. And while sending Elle home was logical, Gideon’s blatant exertion of his authority over Hotchner and disobeying Reid’s order that they all stay together … Shit.
No time for this now, he told himself. Reid thought for a moment, calling up the map in his head. “South Boston is a three and a half hour drive from here,” he stated but then recalculated. “Two forty-five if Morgan drives. JJ, go with him. We need to find more on Bryant.”
Morgan nodded crisply. “Let’s go, JJ.”
“Stay together,” Reid ordered firmly. “No excuses.” They both acknowledged him and he dismissed them both. Tapping the folder against his leg, he made his way up to the conference room, his anger building with each step.
I was only gone for an hour and this happens.
So Reid opened the door, walked in, and shut it sharply. Without preamble, he declared, “You sent Elle home without clearing it with me.”
Gideon was peering at the evidence board, his back to Reid. “She hadn’t slept in 36 hours.”
“Is she at the same hotel as Will?”
“Is she at the same hotel as Will?”
“You sent her to an unsecured location.”
“Hot Shot is with her,” Gideon said dismissively, with that little wave of his hand.
The use of Hotch’s retired nickname let Reid know precisely what had happened. He tried his best to keep the scowl off his face. “We already know the UnSub isn’t working alone.”
“Giles and Harris were nothing more than pawns,” he scoffed. “I shouldn’t have to explain that to you.”
Reid marched up, grabbed Gideon’s shoulder and spun him around. “There are more than two pawns in a chess set, Gideon! This UnSub … he could have people waiting in our homes …”
“Hot Shot is with her,” Gideon repeated and shook the hand off his shoulder. “Or did you suddenly lose confidence in your prized pet?”
“I thought we were over this pissing match with him!”
“I’ve been doing this job for almost thirty years,” he told Reid coldly, “and one of the few things Rossi and I agreed on was that an UnSub was an UnSub! Look at yourself! Allowing this pathetic little loser to lead you around like some toddler.”
“Being cautious does not translate as being weak,” Reid ground out. “And we’re not allowing him to control this investigation.” He held up the folder before pushing it hard against Gideon’s chest. “Hotch was right to start with victimology first. He was the only one of us who put his ego aside long enough …”
“That little prick’s ego could fill this room,” Gideon snarled. “He’s been sniffing around the BAU for years …”
“That’s not the point.”
“He’s after your job.”
“So is everyone else,” Reid fired back. “You don’t think I know about the political maneuvers that happen around here? You think that I’m some naïve little boy who hasn’t done this job…”
“I made you.”
The verbal slap made Reid stand straighter. He peered down, using his height as a factor because he knew how much Gideon despised being loomed over. Softly, with a deadly edge that conveyed the full brunt of his fury: “Yes, you may have opened the door to the BAU, but you did not make me the man I am today. I earned this, just like I earned everything else in my life. I worked for it. So do yourself a favor and stop pretending that you’re some kind of deity, because you’re not. You’re not omniscient. You’re not infallible. You make mistakes, but unlike everyone else on my team,” he stressed the possessive, “you’re like a spoilt child who refuses to admit that anything could be your fault.”
There was shock in Gideon’s features, which quickly turned to that smug little grin. That expression, one that Reid had seen so many times over the course of his career, triggered a sudden epiphany for Reid. Gideon was clearly crediting himself for Reid’s ‘insight,’ for Reid being able to stand up for himself.
He then realized that since joining the BAU, Gideon made a show of playing “mentor” more than Rossi. Reid hadn’t honestly thought much about it because Gideon was like most professors he’d dealt with over the years. Gideon liked to show off his protégé and garner accolades from people for doing such a great job grooming him. Yet, honestly, Reid learned just as much about the Job, about being a man, and about dealing with life in general from David Rossi.
Rossi didn’t want the spotlight while Gideon seemed desperate for it, dead set on being seen as a “good dad” to at least one kid.
But Gideon wasn’t a good dad, not now. Not after the disaster in Boston which robbed Gideon of his self-confidence. The Bale Bombings changed the man—it changed all of them but none as profoundly as Gideon. Reid recalled Hotch’s words from that hotel room in Alabama, how they all wanted to believe their mentors could do no wrong. He remembered his own response, that he truly (if erroneously) believed that everyone could bounce back from everything.
There was part of Reid that wanted to reestablish his authority, to take the power from Gideon, but the ruthlessly logical part of him chimed in with, Hotch will take care of Elle. You know he will. And we need to focus on victimology in order to save Rebecca Bryant.
It took some willpower to rein in his temper. His voice was that hardened command tone he learned from Rossi with the soft deadliness of Cooper. “Right here, right now, we focus on victimology. We lost sight of that.” Reid pushed the folder against the older agent’s chest again. “Morgan and JJ are on their way to South Boston, Virginia, to dig up information on the girl in the video, Rebecca Bryant. Garcia’s still working on getting her systems back up and running.”
For a moment, the two men stared at each other.
He straightened, letting the folder go and watching in satisfaction as Gideon quickly grabbed it. The older man’s features were unreadable, and Reid wasn’t up to devoting more time to decipher what Gideon was thinking.
“We need to go back to the beginning. Rework the list. What do we know about the UnSub? What kind of training and funds would he have to have to pull this off? I’ll continue with the book code.”
For a moment, Reid wondered if Gideon would follow the order but after a very long pause, Gideon nodded his head. He walked over to the whiteboard and erased what Morgan had written. Reid went to the evidence board and began methodically reviewing what they had. They worked tensely, quietly. The only sounds were from the rustle of their own clothing as they moved and the squeak of the dry erase marker on the whiteboard.
The buzzing of his phone broke Reid’s concentration. He plucked it out of the holster and, for a split second, stared confused at the caller ID: Elle. He answered with, “Elle, I thought you were …”
The words died in his throat as he heard the wailing of a siren in the background. “Hotch has been shot.” Elle sounded furious. “The UnSub was in my bathtub and shot him! Goddamn it!”
Reid’s blood ran cold. Aaron was right. Oh God, Aaron was right. Guilt rushed through him but he fought it back. Guilt wasn’t going to do a damn bit of good right now. “Where are you now?”
“EMTs are here … I’m …” she paused and he could hear her stomping around. “I’m so totally going with him. That’s my partner, goddamn it! Deal with it!” It was followed by a series of Spanish curses.
“Elle!” he snapped sharply, ignoring the gestures Gideon was making at him.
“He was clearing my house,” she explained, voice high and tight and so totally not Elle. “He was clearing my house and got to my bathroom and that fucker was waiting for him and shot Hotch!”
“What about the shooter?”
“Dead,” she spat out. “Hotch took him down with a headshot. In my bathroom!”
“What hospital is he being taken to?”
“GW,” she answered, “and I’m going with him.”
“Do you have an ID on the shooter?” Normally, Reid wouldn’t have to prompt. Normally, Elle was tough as nails with a been-there-done-that nonchalance. Yet this … Reid knew why she was totally off her game: exhaustion coupled by the chilling fact that Hotch was gunned down in her home.
“Heavily scarred face and hands,” Elle replied, “like he survived a fire.”
It fits the description the courier gave, Reid thought before he said aloud, “I’ll get CSU down there right away. Tell the locals not to process the scene until our crew gets there.”
“Okay.” She made a frustrated noise.
“Stay with him.”
“You’re goddamn right I’m going to stay with him.”
“I’ll meet you at GW as soon as I can,” Reid told her before saying goodbye and ending the call. He let out a slow breath, forcing himself to calm down. When he looked over, Gideon was staring at him. Reid slid his phone back into its holder. “An UnSub was waiting for Elle in her home. He exchanged fire with Hotch, who took a bullet and is being taken to GW now. The UnSub is dead. Elle says he matches the courier’s description.”
There was a split-second pause before Gideon shrugged, as if he expected it to happen. It made Reid’s stomach churn. When did Gideon develop such a blatant disregard for a fellow agent? But that couldn’t be addressed now.
“It shouldn’t take long to ID him.” Reid went to the board and pulled the paper with the code off. He grabbed his messenger bag from the chair and carefully put the page inside. “I’ll call Morgan and JJ. We’ll still need to have them interview Bryant’s parents. This UnSub isn’t going to make finding the girl easy.”
“Where are you going?”
Reid barely glanced over to the older man, who had become frighteningly still. “To the hospital. I’ve got the rest of this,” he gestured to the board and then tapped his temple, “in here. I’ll call if I come up with anything.”
“So I’m supposed to sit here?”
“No, you and Colson are going to the coroner and get us an ID. Then, you both are going to work on how our dead suspect fits in to this whole thing. We travel in pairs. No exceptions. Is that clear?”
Gideon’s eyes narrowed a little and gave a slight nod.
“I need a verbal acknowledgement,” Reid insisted, because damned if he was going to be blamed if Gideon was hurt not following his orders.
“You want a ‘yes, sir’?” Gideon asked, his voice just on the edge of a taunt.
“That’s how you’re supposed to address your unit chief.”
The older man twitched again but finally said, “Yes, sir.”
Satisfied, Reid strode out of the conference room, suppressing the guilt as best he could as he headed towards Garcia’s lair, signaling Green to accompany him. Garcia wasn’t going to like having a shadow, but Reid wasn’t taking any more chances.
Aaron’s been shot. Protecting Elle. Shot because I agreed with Gideon’s decision to hold that press conference. Shot because I didn’t listen to the one man who never puts himself above the team.
For the first time in a very long time, Spencer Reid wished he believed. But he knew Aaron did so he did it for Aaron. Please, God, don’t let Aaron die.
Agent Anderson subscribed to the Derek Morgan School of Driving: fast and ‘no such thing as stopping distances.’ Usually, Reid rode in the backseat with all the maps and files while someone else rode shotgun. He would never admit that Morgan’s driving could be downright terrifying and the less he actually witnessed it while riding, the better off he was.
Reid didn’t care. His orders to Anderson were direct: “Get us to GW fast. Once there, take Elle back to her place to work with CSU. See if the UnSub left any additional messages. Have her pack a bag and get her to the same hotel as Will. Make sure they have adjoining rooms. I don’t care if you have to put them up in a suite. Stay with her no matter what. This UnSub? He's not working alone.”
Anderson didn’t question him after that, concentrating on his task while Reid made the call to Morgan and JJ. Reid had already contacted Will directly and then his team at the hotel; he wasn’t going to fail a second time.
Knowing Morgan would want to turn the car around immediately, he placed the call to JJ because she would hear him out. When she answered, Reid said, “I need you listen to me and not say anything to Morgan until I’m done.”
“Okay,” JJ told him and the wariness in her voice spoke volumes. She could always read him well.
“Hotch was shot inside Elle’s home.” Reid stared out of the window. “The shooter is dead and Elle says he matches the description that the courier gave us.” It suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea what condition Elle was in. Had she been injured? He’d forgotten to ask. Then again, it was unlikely Elle would admit to any kind of wound if Hotch took a bullet for her. He forced himself to go on, “They're taking Hotch to GW, which is where I'm headed and Elle is waiting for me.”
JJ let out a slow breath. “Okay.”
“Your orders are to interview Bryant’s parents and the lead detective on the case. This UnSub … he may not be working alone and the girl is still missing.” He counted to five before he said, “I know Morgan will want to turn around, but we need that information on Bryant. There’s nothing you can do at the hospital except pace and wait.”
“I understand.” JJ’s tone was flat, distant.
“I called Will to brief him on the situation. The team at the hotel has been put on high alert,” Reid went on. JJ’s gasp of relief was barely audible, but it made his belly twinge all the same. “Garcia’s got a shadow as does Gideon, who is going down to the morgue for an ID. As soon as I get any updates, I’ll call.”
“Please tell me you have someone with you.” JJ’s voice was soft, worried.
“I've got Anderson,” Reid replied and noted how the younger agent sat a little taller. “I’ll stay at the hospital and he’s going to stick with Elle.”
“She’s going to eat him alive,” JJ told him.
“I have sauce and napkins in my bag,” he replied dryly and earned a light laugh from her. His tone then became hard. “Stick together. No splitting up. Period. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” JJ said.
“Good. Call Garcia when you get any information.” He hung up once JJ said goodbye and he stared out the window.
“Sir?” Anderson ventured cautiously, attention firmly on the road. “Um. Sauce and napkins?”
“For when Elle eats you alive,” Reid replied.
Reid looked over. “I’m still not good at telling jokes, am I?”
That won a small grin from Anderson. “No, sir.”
When Spencer entered the waiting room, Elle rocketed to her feet and quickly closed the distance. Her rosary was clenched in her fist. She stopped cold when she saw Anderson coming in behind him. He wondered if she would have embraced him if the other agent wasn’t there. As prickly as she could be, Elle required her fair share of hugs. Spencer was always surprised that he got the honors, but it was always in private.
No one else got to see Elle Greenaway break down.
“Hotch is still in surgery,” she reported, but she refused to look at him.
Spencer pulled out his wallet and dug out two twenties. He hated making the other agent a glorified errand boy, but he knew that Anderson understood. “Could you?” Spencer handed the money to Anderson. “The greasiest burger the cafeteria has but put it on squishy white sandwich bread. Extra pickle, no onion, no lettuce, lots of tomatoes. Tartar sauce on the side. Two large coffees.” Spencer almost laughed at the horrified look that briefly crossed Anderson’s face; the other agent had no idea about Elle’s comfort foods. “Get whatever you want but get something. We’re not resting until this stops.”
“Yes, sir!” Anderson scurried out of the room.
Elle poked him in the ribs. “And what are you going to have?” but her teasing sounded strained.
“I had a Greek yogurt with honey and a protein bar before you called,” Spencer replied.
He watched as her face suddenly contorted and she turned her head away sharply. Her voice cracked. “It should have been me.”
“Stop that, Elle.”
“First Boston? Now this?”
“You weren’t medically cleared to travel to Boston.” Usually, he wasn’t the type to grab someone’s chin to force her to look at him, but he did with Elle. “You had kidney stones.”
“Donnie had no business going in there! He never cleared a bomb scene in his life!”
“Don Hazelton did his job,” he countered fiercely, just like he'd done after his agent was killed by Bale. “Just like Hotch did.”
Tears welled in Elle’s eyes. “I ridiculed him, Reid. I called him Hot Shot. You know how hard he worked to get rid of that. All because I told him to.”
“He’s not going to hold it against you.” He released her, stepping back. “If you would have been hurt …” He trailed off.
Aaron could probably give ‘ferocious’ lessons to Morgan on protecting the team. Spencer remembered what Aaron was like in that bar in Seattle when they first met … how now Aaron took it upon himself to look after everyone, including the interlopers from Quantico, after a case. And now? Aaron continued to do so, with a ‘one beer limit’ before switching to iced tea but only ordered the beer in the first place if JJ and Elle gave him epic amounts of shit about it.
Elle interrupted his thoughts with a shrill, “How did that fucker know I was going home? He was waiting for me! Jesus, do we have a goddamn mole in the BAU?”
Spencer swallowed hard, because that was another possibility. Their UnSub knew way too much. Way too much about them. Personal things. Things that people only shared in quiet conversations with close friends, not colleagues. Please, don’t let this be some crazy scheme Gideon came up with in order to eliminate Hotch.
Spencer rallied, because he didn’t want to believe anyone that was in the BAU could betray them so profoundly. “The UnSub had access to our cell phone information. He hacked Garcia’s systems. He could have used the GPS locators and tracked us. He waited until one of us left.”
“I left with Hotch!”
“Hotch lives at the Langley,” he replied. “Forty-five minutes in the opposite direction of your …” He trailed off as his thoughts began tumbling. “Your house.” Spencer yanked opened his messenger bag and pawed around for his atlas. “So … the UnSub’s observing the cell signals,” he muttered mostly to himself. “Tracking you … you specifically. Why you?”
“I live the closest to the office.”
“You’re a woman and live alone,” he corrected as he continued to search. Of all the times not to have his atlas with him. “The UnSub knows our personal information. He knows that Will teaches firearms for the Virginia State Police and law enforcement classes at two colleges. The UnSub is too calculating … too organized to take a risk like that.”
Elle crossed her arms over her chest. “Goddamn it, I’m the best shot the BAU has.”
“Had,” Spencer corrected as he pulled out his notebook. Sketching the map from memory just had to do. “Hotch blew away your scores his first week in.”
“He didn’t goddamn tell me. That little bastard.”
“And you didn’t hear it from me,” he retorted as he fished out a mechanical pencil. “But our UnSub also framed you for Harris’s murder down in Jamaica. He knows you have to be working on little sleep. He believes you’re weak.” Spencer clicked the pencil until the lead appeared as he sat down in the chair “He’s going on gender bias, not on actual interaction. He doesn’t know you. Personally. He doesn’t know any of us personally … just … third party information.”
“What are you saying, Reid?” she challenged.
“That every thirty-four days, I make damn sure I have a stash of double-stuff Oreo cookies for you.”
He didn’t look up as he began sketching. “It’s biology.”
“And JJ?” she snapped.
“Twenty-nine days and Andes mints. I figured out she was pregnant a month and a half before she announced it,” Spencer replied calmly. “Did you know there is a lot of debate about the syncing of menses? It’s the only subject that I’ve ever been literally slapped upside the head for when I started to talk about it.” He looked over. “Rossi hits like a nine-year-old girl.”
Elle looked at him and then choked out a giggle. “The David Rossi hits like a nine-year-old girl?”
“Don’t tell him I told you that.”
“He’ll hit you like a guy then.”
She paced a little before settling into the chair next to him. She watched him sketch for a minute before she finally said, “He dropped him in my shower.”
Spencer glanced over. “What?”
“Hotch. He yells that he’s FBI and drops the son of a bitch with a headshot while the fucker’s in my goddamn shower.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “A fucking headshot. One mirror. Glass block windows but that side of the house was in the shade. No lights. Sniper’s challenge.” Then she frowned and hugged herself again. “But that personal thing … You’re not making sense. This UnSub … he knows personal things about us, things that we only tell our closest friends but he doesn’t know us personally?”
Spencer shook his head. “I know. I know. I can’t wrap my head around it. Gideon, JJ, and I were the only ones who got very specific gifts. Why us?”
He quickly drew his map with rough landmarks. His first circle centered on Quantico and how long, on average, it took to get to Elle’s home given the time of day. The second centered on Elle’s home and he used the same the average time to see where the two overlapped. The next set of circles was probable distance traveled at the end of the press conference. It gave a much wider overlap but it was likely the UnSub’s home base was within those areas. It wasn’t much to work with, but it was still something they could narrow down.
Spencer drew for a few more moments before saying, “I need you to tell me exactly what happened at your home from the moment you pulled into the driveway.”
So Elle did, voice breaking when she told him about Hotch noticing the windows were open and her making fun of him. Her dozing on the couch when she heard the shots. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Hotch looked so confused, like he didn’t know he’d been shot. His white shirt was already mostly red.”
“Locals said the backdoor was forced?” Spencer prompted.
“Forced but closed. Hotch… I don’t think he checked the door. Probably because I made fun of him. If he had …” She wrung her hands in her lap, rosary wound around her fingers. “I sat on my ass in the goddamn living room.” Her tone was full of self-hatred. “I didn’t have his back.”
“You were exhausted.”
“So you're going to hate yourself for trusting him? He’s not going to blame you,” Spencer assured her quietly, careful to keep his attention on his drawing. He thought about how Aaron tried so hard not to be judgmental, especially when something went wrong on a case. “He’s not that kind of man.” Spencer sketched one of the expressways. “I don’t blame you. This is not your fault. It’s not Garcia’s fault either. Neither of you caused this.
“We have an UnSub fixated on us … who has been fixated on us for at least two years when Bryant went missing. Two years is a lot of time.” Spencer added the second highway. “It takes money to do what this UnSub accomplished. Independent wealth. It also takes an obscene level of skill to do what he did to Garcia’s network.”
Spencer drew the map’s scale at the bottom of the page.
“He’s clearly organized. Disciplined. But this attack was … it was disorganized … it couldn’t have been part of his original plan. He named you specifically in the quest, so why try to eliminate you? It’s like … The UnSub clearly believed that we were going to follow his instructions. Having that press conference … it infuriated him.” Spencer shook his head. “It made him go off script.”
And that’s precisely the angle that Gideon is going to take when he tells his side of the story. Does he even care that Aaron was gunned down? That it could have been Elle if Aaron hadn’t insisted on securing her home? Spencer thought to himself.
Anderson cleared his throat from the doorway of the room. “Greasy mama burger with tomatoes and tartar on the side. Two coffees.”
Spencer continued to work. “And yourself?”
“A grilled cheese with burn marks resembling a Cylon.”
“Classic or reboot?”
Spencer looked up and then shifted his gaze to Elle. “Eat.”
“This is yours?” Anderson squawked in disbelief as he stared at Elle.
“Sauce and napkins are in my bag,” Spencer reminded him blithely.
Anderson’s eyes widened, but he got the hint. He shuffled forward and handed over the bag to Elle, who had stuffed her rosary in her pocket. He set the cup holder with two coffees and a Red Bull on the table. Packets of cream and sugar were piled in the middle.
Spencer set the sketch aside and began making up his coffee. Elle pulled out the burger, inspected it, and then tasted the tartar sauce. Satisfied, she dipped the edge of the burger into the small container and began eating. Anderson gaped.
After she took her third bite, Spencer sipped his coffee—burnt and watery but still coffee—and stated, “Anderson’s with you until we finish the case. No arguments.”
“Reid!” she protested with a mouthful of food.
“No. Arguments.” He met her look with a hard one of his own. “You’re heading to the hotel where Will is, staying in the adjoining room, and getting some sleep. Anderson is with you. Will is watching over Henry and Rawson has taken point at the hotel. If this UnSub has a partner … we don’t know if the man Hotch killed in your shower was the dominant or the submissive or just another pawn. The organized killer or the frenzied one, if there is more than one. No risks. No more hospitals.”
The fire died in her eyes. The hamburger rested in her lap. “You?” she challenged.
“I’m staying here at least until Hotch is out of surgery. I’ll call the office to get someone to pick me up.” He then smiled ruefully. He tapped his temple for the second time that day. “Until then … working from home.”
“You know that A plus you got for humor a while ago?” Elle asked.
“You just failed again.”
Spencer shrugged. “I get one joke a year.”
She laughed a little. She finished her sandwich. Anderson chugged the Red Bull like a frat boy at a beer pong party.
“No risks,” he reminded them both as they headed towards the door.
“No risks,” they repeated.
And Spencer went back to his sketch. The book code could wait.
The geographic profile couldn’t.
Chapter 9: Vigil
Reid stays by Hotch's bedside. It's the least he could do.
“Guilt is the very nerve of sorrow.”
-- Horace Bushnell
Six hours had passed. Six hours in which they ID’d the body (Randall Garner), got the background on Rebecca Bryant nee Garner, and the BAU's second unit located and rescued Rebecca Bryant.
Garner’s home was in the exact area that Reid predicted from his hand drawn map. It was yet another validation that their methodology—when they did it the correct way—worked.
And while Spencer could have sent Gideon to the address, he forbade the agent from leaving Quantico. Yes, Gideon could have been an integral part of the recovery, but Spencer wasn’t above his own pettiness and motivations. He recalled Aaron's observations on Gideon's need to be needed; he knew that Gideon would position himself as Rebecca's savior if given the chance. So he used the very valid excuse that until they were certain that Garner did not have any additional accomplices, Spencer was not lifting the 'travel in pairs' edict and he knew damn well that Gideon would take off unless he gave a very specific order.
Now, Spencer edged into the ICU room where Aaron was resting. Security had already taken up point outside; Spencer wasn’t taking any chances on an attack at the hospital. If the UnSub went off script once, the loss of his partner or pawn or whomever could cause him to rapidly devolve and become even more unpredictable. Until they were certain that the UnSub was working alone, they would all stay covered.
Spencer walked up to Aaron’s right side, trailing his hand along the blanket as he looked at the monitors and translated the readings.
Ventilator assisting his breathing, but expected.
Spencer gently grasped Aaron’s hand, which was unnaturally cold. Aaron radiated heat, which was why Elle and JJ tended to fight over sitting next to him on the jet during those chilly flights. There was more than one occasion where Aaron ended up sandwiched between the two on the couch, Morgan calling him a man whore and Aaron asking if Morgan wanted to snuggle too.
Spencer would have gladly taken him up on the offer.
You have it so bad for him, his mind chided. You were so set on not showing any favoritism towards him that your decision resulted in him being shot! It was followed by a forlorn, You almost lost him.
Spencer knew he couldn’t change anything, that he had to move forward. It didn’t stop the guilt that flowed over him. He squeezed Aaron’s fingers. He brushed that errant lock of hair from Aaron’s forehead, the one that seemed to escape the confines of even the best hair gels by ten in the morning. The lock that, along with the dimples, added to his charmingly boyish looks when he smiled.
His words were soft. “We located the girl. Her name was Rebecca Bryant. We don’t have all the pieces yet … how this UnSub knew so much about us … but when we do, I will do everything in my power not to let this happen again. And when my gut tells me that you’re right, I’ll follow that instinct and not give a damn about what other people think. I’m sorry I doubted you. I really am.”
He held on for a few more moments before reluctantly releasing Aaron’s hand. Having being in too many hospitals over the years and familiarizing himself with the equipment, he knew that the whole “cell phones interfere with medical equipment” was mostly bogus, but he reached for the hospital in-room phone anyway.
He called Elle first, followed by Garcia, JJ and then Morgan. He asked Morgan to relay the update on Hotch’s condition to Gideon. Spencer reminded all of them, “Until we’re sure that the threat has been neutralized, we stay in pairs. No exceptions.”
Finished with his call to Morgan, Spencer hung up the phone and then pulled the hard plastic chair next to the bed. He made sure his shield was clearly displayed so he wouldn’t be arbitrarily kicked out. Spencer leaned forward, pressing a benevolent kiss on Aaron’s forehead.
“You owe me golf lessons, do you understand?” Spencer told him quietly. “I’m going to arrive at your apartment and you’re going to help me with my stance. I’m going to make comments about balls and shafts and strokes until you blush and stammer. Then, I’m going to ask to kiss you. I hope you say ‘yes,’ Aaron. I hope you’ll somehow forgive me for all of this.” He squeezed Aaron’s hand again. “I will make this up to you. However I can. Whatever I need to do. I swear.”
“He’s still slacking off?”
Morgan’s question jolted Reid awake, causing him to nearly fall out of the chair. He blinked and scrubbed his eyes, careful of his contacts. He’d spend the night at Aaron’s side, somehow managing to charm the night-shift into allowing him to stay. He struggled to get his bearings as he checked his watch again. It was almost eleven in the morning.
Spencer blinked. “They took him off the ventilator three hours ago.”
God, the look of terror when Aaron woke up and struggled against the tubing down his throat was still fresh in Spencer’s mind. And when Aaron’s gaze—confused, pleading, frightened—met Spencer’s, all Spencer could do was stutter lame reassurances and stroke Aaron’s forehead trying to calm him down until the nurses got there.
He’d never seen Aaron look so scared.
He never wanted to see it again.
He rubbed his eyes a second time before he was able to look up and see Morgan standing at the threshold of the ICU and sliding his credentials back into his pocket. The man’s tone may have been obnoxious, but there was no mistaking the worry in Morgan’s features.
Morgan remained silent for a few moments before finally entering the room. In his left hand, he had an FBI file.
Reid checked his phone, thinking he must have slept through their attempts to contact him. No. They would have called the hospital directly … Aaron’s room directly …
“What is it?” Reid prompted and when Morgan looked over, he nodded towards the file.
Morgan’s posture changed again, this time his shoulders slumped like they did when he was about to give really bad news. He cleared his throat, which was unusual because Morgan wasn't the type to pause like this. He took two quick steps forward and then stopped. His voice was low. “CSU finished their rounds at Garner’s. It took them awhile; they needed to call in the bomb squad because Garner had a shitload of explosives in one of the rooms. Garcia checked his background out as well.”
“Garner was a patient at Bennington.”
Reid felt as if his heart stopped. He closed his eyes, dreading the next words but knew what was coming.
“He knew your mom.”
Reid forced himself to breathe.
“CSU found two of your letters to her at Garner’s place.”
Reid’s gaze flew up to meet Morgan’s as things clicked into place. He surprised himself with how steady his voice was as he said, “The ones mentioning Nellie Fox and JJ’s butterflies.”
Morgan nodded. He shifted again. Quietly, Morgan told a story of a house fire that killed the whole Garner family except for Randall and Rebecca. The time Garner spent at Bennington. The doctors observing that Garner attended Diana Reid’s lectures.
Morgan explained CSU finding the notebook that detailed Garner’s plans, how Reid became Sir Percival in Garner’s mind. How Sir Percival would answer his question, save the girl, and Garner would be healed once and for all.
The burning in Reid’s veins began. He gripped his thighs, willing himself not to scratch the insides of his elbows.
“What question was he gonna ask, Reid? Do you know?” Morgan finally asked. “I mean, this guy was sick and all, but a question to heal him? Seriously?”
Letters of the alphabet began to swim in Reid’s mind. The images of the evidence they collected joined in the dance. Reid swallowed hard as he thought about Garcia’s knight that she met online. “Sir Kniegfh. It’s an anagram for Fisher King.” He did not let his gaze drop from Morgan’s despite the pain of his words. “Garner must have believed that if I ask him a question, his wounds would be healed. But the Fisher King wound is one to the mind, not to the body. There is no right question, Morgan. There isn’t.”
Morgan looked away first. “This shit is fucked up.”
“I don’t think I can include that particular phrasing in my official reports,” Reid replied as he looked back over to Aaron. The words fell out of his mouth. “I bring this man to our team and he gets hurt …”
“Doing his job,” Morgan interrupted. “Or is that just a bullshit line you feed us so you can wallow in the guilt all by yourself?”
“I know he was doing his job.” His voice was soft. “But I can’t help but feel that I’m the catalyst for this, Morgan.”
“Garner being fucked up in the head is the catalyst,” Morgan shot back. “Don’t you make me go and repeat all your damn lectures.” Morgan stormed up to him. “And you know as well as I do, Hotch would never be able to forgive himself if Elle had gotten shot instead of him. He’d fucking resign because he’d suffocate from the guilt ‘cos he’s that kind of guy. So as fucked up as all this shit is, it’s fucked up this way for a reason.”
“That is the worst line of logic I’ve heard from you in a year,” Reid retorted.
“This shit ain’t exactly logical.”
“And you’re speech pattern is definitely becoming more colloquial.”
“You wanna rumble over it, skinny boy?”
“I’m a pipe-cleaner with eyes,” Reid corrected, anger coloring his voice.
“Yo,” came a raspy voice. “shut the fuck up.”
Reid rushed over to Aaron’s beside and quickly grabbed his hand. He looked into Aaron’s bleary gaze, thrilled to see the spark there. The bit of humor through the haze. “Morgan accused you of being a slacker. I was setting the record straight.”
“Boss man thinks he’s setting the record straight, bro,” Morgan corrected as he stood next to Reid, “but you are totally a slacker. Look at you, lounging in a stylin’ bed just waiting for all the pretty nurses.”
Reid then saw the panic surging in Aaron’s eyes as the injured man seemed to recall the events that got him here. Reid felt the man’s icy fingers clutch his. Reid knew the question that Aaron was going to ask, so he said firmly, “Aaron, Elle is safe. I swear to you, she’s safe.”
“You took down that son of a bitch,” Morgan added. “Elle’s with Anderson and Will at the hotel and she’s teaching Henry the good Spanish.”
“And the girl in the DVD?” Reid continued, tightening his hold on Aaron’s hand. “Her name is Rebecca Bryant. We found her. She’s safe. It’s all over, Hotch. It’s all over.”
“You need to rest up, man,” Morgan told Aaron. “You hear?”
“Elle’s okay,” Aaron whispered.
“I swear,” Reid declared. “I swear to you she’s okay.” He watched as Aaron nodded faintly and his eyes slipped closed. Aaron’s hand went slack in his. Reid let out a slow breath. “She needs to be here the next time he wakes up.”
“I’ll call Elle and hang out here,” Morgan offered. “You should go. You look almost as bad as he does.”
Reid nodded, forcing himself to move his hand away from Aaron’s. As much as he hated leaving, he knew he had to. “Keep me updated.”
“You got it.”
Reid turned to towards the door.
“Hey,” Morgan called out. Reid looked over his shoulder. “None of us blame you, man. It ain’t your fault. It ain’t Garcia’s or Elle’s … it certainly ain’t yours. And telling your ma about us? There ain’t no crime in that.”
Reid offered a sad smile. “I realize that your words are meant be reassuring, but your grammar … it gives me a headache.”
The other agent grinned. “But I got you to smile. And I meant what I said.”
“I know.” He nodded towards Aaron. “Take care of him.”
“I’ll tone down whatever Garcia has in mind. We don’t want him to have a stroke from embarrassment.”
Chapter 10: Homecoming
Hell, Aaron Hotchner decided, was being stuck in a hospital bed without pants and his female coworkers parading in and out.
Hell, Aaron Hotchner decided, was being stuck in a hospital bed without pants and his female coworkers parading in and out. The urinal on the rollaway table was especially humiliating. A new kind of hell, he amended because he’d been various versions of hell his entire life.
And when two of the three women fussed over him because they believed they were the reason he was in the hospital?
Oh God. Aaron had been self-sufficient for so much of his life, so this crush of attention was overwhelming and unnerving.
There was Garcia’s brand of fussiness, which included decorating his hospital room like one in the children’s ward, tying balloons his IV pole, and presenting him with a hospital gown with a jacket and tie printed on the front so he would be “dressed properly.” The nurses adored it, of course, and made sure that it was laundered promptly so he could wear it as much as possible.
Then, there was Elle’s brand of fussiness, which included harassing the nursing staff to ensure he was “treated like the goddamn hero he is!” He overheard more than one heated argument in Spanish between Elle and one of the nurses. When he asked Elle to take it easy, he earned a glare that convinced him not to ask again. He realized that she was working through her own guilt and there was nothing he could do to alleviate it.
Aaron got somewhat of a reprieve from JJ, although having someone he considered a kid sister acting all motherly towards him was uncomfortable.
Morgan kept him up-to-date on the IA inquiry—“Strauss hammered Reid and you know he belly-flopped on a grenade for Garcia … hell, he’d do it for all of us, but shit, have you ever won an argument against him that he wants to win?”—and the resolution of the Garner case. As to what triggered Garner to focus on them, to create this elaborate quest, Morgan became quickly evasive and told him to ask Reid.
It wasn't until the day that he was to be released that Reid finally showed up. Okay, Aaron knew that the chief had visited during Aaron’s stay in the hospital; he vaguely remembered waking up in the middle of the night to find Reid in the chair next to him and it happened more than once. He somewhat recalled Reid's explanation about Randall and Rebecca and some long dissertation about the evolution of golf balls, but it was all slurred in his mind.
"I hear you're being released today," Reid said as he gave that half-wave and entered the room.
"Kicking me out is more like it," Aaron corrected as he fumbled with the bed controls so that he was sitting more upright. Of course, he had to be shot on his left side and his left hand was basically useless because every time he moved, there was too much pain. The bullet punctured the top of his lung, narrowly missing the major veins and arteries. However, it clipped his clavicle and damaged his left shoulder ligaments on the way out. The hospital specialist told him that it was a pretty spectacular bullet wound.
Reid smiled and shrugged. "You, ah, want to stay here? Because I'm pretty sure I can talk them in to extending your stay."
"God, no!" Aaron protested. "Please. I've had enough of this."
The chief nodded and moved to the side of the bed. "I wasn't sure if your brother was picking you up or if you were meeting him back at your apartment …"
Aaron couldn’t help the scowl that crossed his face; he didn't know that answer either. The Team, in all their good intentions, apparently thought having his college-age brother babysitting Aaron during his recovery was a good idea. Then again, Aaron had purposefully perpetuated the myth that he and Sean actually got along, going so far as to do a little bragging about Sean’s scholarship to Georgetown and acceptance letters to various law schools.
What the team didn’t know was that Aaron hadn’t spoken to his brother since Christmas, and even that was a short phone call to wish the younger Hotchner ‘Happy Holidays.’ They didn’t spend the holidays together. The last quality time they spent with each other was when Aaron helped out—oh, who was he kidding?—was when he completed the law school applications for his brother because Sean had asked.
Home, even with a difficult brother, was still home. It was why Aaron said, "I just want out of here."
"I can take you home if you'd like."
He stared for a moment; the hesitation in Reid's voice surprised him. Aaron's mind then translated the chief's posture and tone of voice. His conclusion stunned him.
As skilled a poker player as Reid was, his guilt was so evident …
"It's not your fault," Aaron blurted.
His words startled Reid, causing the man to take a step back. Then, the chief shook his head. "Aaron …"
Undeterred, Aaron continued, “I should have taken Elle to the hotel where Will was staying and sent a team to clear her house. We should have had teams at all our…”
“I was Randall Garner’s target.”
“Randall Garner was a patient at Bennington along with my mother,” Reid explained, sadness clear in his features. “He stole two of her letters from me, ones were I wrote about JJ and Gideon.” He made a face. “Garner used those letters to create this quest.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Which lead to me to ignore the sound advice of a trusted agent, one who never puts himself above the team, because my ego wouldn’t allow me to be one-upped by some guy who acted like he was smarter than us ... than me. I failed you, and for that, I’m deeply sorry.”
It took a few moments for Aaron to digest the information. It explained why Morgan was so cagey with details on the IA investigation and why all three women completely avoided the subject. Aaron knew that Garcia had received a five day suspension without pay, but she still kept her job. There was no word on if Reid had been suspended, but surely if the man had, he would have shown up during the day to visit.
Aaron could easily blame Reid for being shot. Clearly, Reid was expecting him to by how rigid his posture was despite the slouch of his shoulders. However, Reid apologized. He admitted his mistake outright. Reid made no pretense of hiding behind Gideon for the decision to hold the press conference, and that was something that Aaron wholly respected.
“It’s not your fault,” Aaron said again.
“Will you at least accept my apology and pledge to make it up to you?”
He considered his options for a moment. He could certainly hold this over Reid, using the chief’s guilt to his advantage. Aaron found that he couldn’t. So he offered, “How about you get me home and we call it even?”
Reid looked up, looking as weary as Aaron had ever seen him. “Okay.”
Chapter 11: The 19th Green
Reid brings Hotch and his brother dinner. He wasn't expecting a theology lesson.
"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."
- Albert Schweitzer
Admittedly, Aaron’s forgiveness was frighteningly quick to earn. It didn’t ease Spencer’s conscience because he knew that it was one thing to say everything was okay while doped up in a hospital room, but it was something else completely when they were out in the field.
What would Aaron’s reaction be when Reid favored someone else’s plan/reasoning over his during a case?
He knew he had to push those thoughts aside. Aaron was out for a minimum of five weeks; rehab was going to take some time, which meant desk duty until he was cleared for the field. Spencer knew that the younger agent would push himself to recover faster, so he’d already planned on ways to keep Aaron feeling like part of the team without him compromising his health.
While Spencer called daily over the past ten days since Aaron’s release, he didn’t stop by Aaron’s apartment. The aftermath of the Garner case had kept him in the office extremely late, preparing for and then testifying at the IA hearings. That was on top of his normal workload and being one profiler down.
Another reason he kept his physical distance was he was concerned that his presence may overwhelm Aaron. Spencer remembered how he felt while recovering from various injuries over the years. The crush of people stopping by quickly became annoying. Garcia and Elle already took turns stopping by Aaron’s place, using the excuse that they were making sure that Sean Hotchner was taking proper care his brother. However, when Spencer pressed for details, the women would only say that Sean was a typical frat boy and he looked and sounded nothing like Aaron. Spencer wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, but neither woman would say if Sean’s presence was a help or hindrance to Aaron.
The most he got was, “You have to meet him yourself.”
Tonight was the first night he had free after finishing and turning in a two hundred page, typed report to Strauss. The look on her admin’s face was worth the long hours, because Spencer could easily envision Strauss’s reaction when it was handed to her. To celebrate, Spencer picked up Ethiopian takeout—something he’d promised the younger agent weeks ago—and headed over to Aaron’s place. He had tried to call Aaron and then Sean beforehand, but both phones went directly to voice mail.
Spencer now walked down the hallway to Aaron’s apartment, carrying a bag of food. He could hear raised voices coming from the agent’s apartment and saw that the door was slightly ajar.
Years in the BAU demanded that he put the bag down, draw his revolver, and approach with caution, being ready to talk down or shoot the intruder. Instead, he shifted the bag to his other arm and palmed his gun as he got closer.
“Will you stop trying to goddamn control me!” shouted a younger male with a distinct Virginia drawl.
“I’m not fucking controlling you,” Aaron snarled back. “For God’s sake, you’re throwing away four years of work! You have fifteen credit hours left to get your degree! What is so damn hard about sticking it out?”
“Fuck you, Aaron! Fuck you!”
“So you’re just going to give up. And then you’re going to come back here with your hand out after you blow through your trust fund and goddamn beg me to help you out!”
“Stop profiling me, Aaron!”
“If I profiled you, really profiled you, you’d be in that corner, crying like the immature, bratty child that you are!”
“You have no idea—no idea—what it’s like to follow your dreams. Oh no! Because Dad was a lawyer and you were a lawyer, you think that I have to be a lawyer!”
“You need a goddamn real degree in a real goddamn field!”
“You know what? You’re not Dad. You’ll never be Dad!”
“And you should pray to every fucking deity you can think of that I’m not!”
Reid was at the door of the apartment, hand still on his gun. The door swung open, momentarily blinding him with the sudden light. He heard the younger man scoff, “There’s a gun-wielding Mormon at your door, asshole.”
Aaron’s yelled, “Proselytizing Mormons don’t carry guns, shithead!” carried down the hallway.
A young, tall blonde haired man came into view, motorcycle helmet in hand. He would have shoulder-checked Reid if Reid hadn’t stepped aside. He watched as the guy marched down the hallway, oblivious to his surroundings. Reid turned toward the open door and took a tentative step towards it.
He wasn’t expecting to hear, “I’m an atheist, I fuck men up the ass, and do you seriously believe a bunch of Israelites migrated from Khor Kharfot to America six hundred years before the birth of Christ? Or that Jesus popped by America on his sold out Resurrection Tour? C’mon!”
It took a moment for Reid to recover, because he never thought he’d ever hear that coming from the mouth of Aaron Hotchner.
A large shadow suddenly loomed in the doorway and twenty dollars was shoved in his face. Aaron’s tone was even surlier. “Give me all your Watchtowers so you don’t bother my goddamn neighbors!”
To which Spencer replied drily, “Watchtower is a publication by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mormons carry, well, the Book of Mormon.”
There was a long moment of silence. The shadow became eerily still. Reid’s eyes adjusted to stare at Aaron Hotchner dressed in basketball shorts and an oversized t-shirt. His left shoulder and arm were in an uncomfortable-looking, heavy-duty sling to keep it stabilized as it healed. Aaron’s hair was messy and his beard was an uneven scruffy mess. It just wasn’t a good look.
Aaron’s mouth hung open. It flopped a few times. Finally, Aaron spoke, his voice an octave higher than it would normally be. “Sir? You, ah, oh God … what did you … ah … hear?”
Spencer could help but laugh, “You’re an atheist, I’m a lucky man, and apparently I dress like a member of the Mormon Church. Oh, and you know your Latter Day Saints theology.”
Aaron closed his eyes. The humiliation was clear on his face. His right hand grabbed the door frame and he hung his head. “Sir … I want to …”
“Spen-sir,” Spencer corrected, hoping that the delicate joke between them would help ease tension. “I brought dinner.” He held up the bag.
It took a few moments but Aaron finally relented, shuffling over to his dining room table and pushing feebly at the mess on top of it.
Spencer glanced around as he closed and locked the door.
Unlike last time he’d been here, the place was decidedly messy. He could smell stale cigarettes and the funky waft of spilled beer. Field agents in the BAU who lived alone tended to be meticulous about their living spaces, mainly keeping it tidy so that they could better recognize if something was tampered with. Spencer noted the blankets and pillows on the main couch, the strewn DVD jackets on top of the table, and the lamp that used to be on the end table was now on the floor next to the table.
Quickly, Spencer walked over to the dining table and set the bag on it. “Sit down,” he said softly.
Aaron obeyed, his shoulders slumped and looking every kind of miserable as he scratched as his beard. It didn’t take much to clear off two spots on the table; they had dined in much smaller spaces and much dirtier surroundings while in the field.
He opened the bag and efficiently laid out dinner. Spencer was thankful he kept it simple: injera with sega wat, iab and kitfo. He knew Aaron began watching him as the takeout containers came out of the bag. It wasn’t the traditional way of serving the cuisine; that would require a large platter and a basket for the injera. Still, Spencer did the best he could without (hopefully) making Aaron feel any worse.
He always knew that Aaron had a temper; all of them did. He knew it was ferocious and vicious just by the way the man had to rein himself back sometimes talking to UnSubs, especially towards abusive parents.
Spencer didn’t utter a word as he grabbed a piece of injera, tore off a piece and handed it to Aaron, who accepted it. Aaron didn’t move, just held the bread limply in his hand until Spencer got his own piece of injera, scooped up a bit of the sega wag, and popped it in his mouth. He chewed for a moment, watching as Aaron mimicked his movements. Spencer then realized that they didn’t have any beverages.
“Tea in the fridge?”
“The pitcher on the left. The one on the right is some insidious concoction my brother insists is hip.”
“And I’m apparently too goddamn old.” Aaron let out a harsh breath. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“Spen-sir,” he called over his shoulder as he headed toward the fridge. If the rest of the house was a mess, the kitchen was a damn war zone. The fridge was filled with saucepans, Ziploc bags, and plastic containers. Spencer pulled out the pitcher of tea. He located two clean glasses. Bringing those and the tea back to the table, Spencer was thrilled to see Aaron eating.
The gauntness in his cheeks was appalling.
“What I said earlier …” Aaron began, sounding all kinds of miserable.
“Was a private conversation between family members,” Spencer interrupted as he set the glass in front of the younger man and poured it full.
“It was inappropriate …”
“You’re allowed to express yourself, Aaron.”
And, damn, that got a reaction. Aaron stared at him, eyes blazing with that terrifying intensity of his. “You have no idea …”
“You mentioned profiling your brother until he was a mess in the corner,” Spencer cut in blandly. “Well, I’ve got more experience than you do and have read your personnel file. We really don’t need to go down that path, do we?”
Just like that, the fire left Aaron. He sulked, looking every bit the surly young man who had stormed out of his apartment. He ate in silence, although only reaching for the food when Spencer did.
While Aaron may have forgiven him for the reason he was shot, Spencer wondered if that same generosity would extend to the fact, “I had Garcia contact Sean.”
“I’m not mad that you did it.” However, Aaron tossed down the injera in disgust. He wiped at his chin whiskers with the napkin. “It’s just that you don’t know what a selfish, narcissistic prick he can be. You don’t have crystal ball, sir. You’re not always right.”
“I never said I was,” he countered.
“All you know about Sean is what I wanted you to know. I didn’t want anyone to see how goddamn dysfunctional my family is.” Aaron’s scowl grew deeper. “Elle and Garcia have visited. Did they tell you Sean thought Elle was my housekeeper? He said that to her face, even though her sidearm was in plain sight.”
“No, they didn’t.”
“I was waiting for her take his head off. She didn’t.” He picked up a piece of injera and stared it for a few moments. “I wished she had.” He put the bread down. His voice grew even softer. “Don’t even ask what he said about Garcia.”
Spencer didn’t because he could easily guess. He wanted to say something like, It’s not the worst she’s heard, but didn’t. He also didn’t say, Sean’s young or He’ll grow out of it. Yet now he knew why the women had been so cagey about Aaron’s brother.
“I was so pissed, I had Garcia cut off my ‘net so that Sean couldn’t access porn on my laptop, his laptop, his smartphone or the goddamn gaming console he has hooked up to my TV.” Aaron poked at the bread again. “There are things I don’t need to know about my brother.”
It teased an unexpected laugh out of Spencer. “Sean has no idea just who you have in your arsenal.”
“Tech goddess, MMA fighter, Barbie girl with a ninja wit, salsa-dancing Latina,” Aaron stated before finally dragging his gaze to meet Spencer’s. “An adjunct professor at Georgetown who got my lazy-assed brother a two-week pass from classes, coursework and exams because I was shot.” He glowered. “Sean’s had everything handed to him on a goddamn silver platter since he was born. And you add to it. Apparently, Georgetown has such a hard on for you that they’re kissing up to Sean because of this.”
The smile dropped from Spencer’s face; he was stunned by his subordinate's words, especially the harshness of his tone. He cringed, “Aaron, I had no idea …”
“You don’t, and that’s the shit of it,” he spat and grabbed the bread again. “Sean thinks this is Spring Break.”
“Fifteen credit hours from graduating,” he went on, going after the stew with gusto. “Fifteen hours from graduating with a degree, acceptance letters from some of top law schools in the country, and he wants to quit.” After a few more mouthfuls, Aaron went on. “Says he wants to go to goddamn culinary school.”
And “culinary” was said with dripping disdain. Clearly that was what the argument was about. Aaron’s anger wasn’t necessarily directed at Spencer but that Sean was changing schools just short of obtaining his bachelor’s degree. So Spencer sat back and listened, because he had a feeling he was the first person Aaron had ever confessed his true feelings about his brother to.
“You have no idea what it’s like," Aaron continued angrily. "You know that our parents died when he was still in high school. Well, I busted my ass to get him a scholarship so he could use the trust fund for important things. He gave me this song and dance about wanting to go to law school and needing my help on the damned LSATs, so I paid for those courses so he didn’t have to. Hell, I even footed the bill for the pre-test classes so he could get into a good school. He scored a 169 on the LSAT, which could probably get him into any top tier school except for Harvard and Columbia, so he asked for my help on the law school apps.”
“The paperwork on the jet,” Spencer murmured aloud, as he remembered some of the flights back from a case where Aaron would spend almost the entire flight scribbling on forms.
“Yes! I was dog-assed tired but I still did it!” Aaron nearly shouted. “He had his goddamn pick of what school he wanted to attend. Stanford. Northwestern. Jesus Christ, even Yale considered him! And then the little fuckwad pulls this stunt! Fucking culinary school!”
He tossed down the bread and threw himself back in the chair, clearly forgetting about the gunshot wound. Aaron’s face contorted in pain before he hunched over. Spencer reached forward, but stopped when Aaron waved him away.
It took a few moments before Aaron straightened, scowl still on his face as he stared at the food. Aaron went on bitterly, “Like I said, you have no idea what it’s like.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You don’t have a brother.”
“I have a half-brother,” Spencer corrected as he picked up his glass of tea. He paused and then offered a lopsided smile. It was a story he rarely told, but knew that Aaron would understand. “Ten years after my parents divorced, my father remarried. He had son with his new wife. His name is Timothy.
“While Timothy wasn’t the greatest at sports, he still got on every team he tried out for: basketball, baseball, football, track and field…. He graduated from high school at the appropriate age and went to every homecoming dance and all the proms—each time with a different girl. He married Alyssa when he was twenty-three and gave my father and his wife two grandchildren within the first three years they were married.
“Timothy also isn’t the best businessman, which is why my father believes that a letter of recommendation from me would help boost my half-brother’s security business in Vegas.”
He spared a glance to Aaron, who watched him intently. Aaron asked, “Did you write it?”
“If Timothy wants a letter so badly, he’ll have to ask me himself,” Spencer stated, echoing the words that he spoke to his mother’s grave. “Oh, and stop asking if I’m a real FBI agent.” He shrugged. “I’d much rather a tech goddess, an MMA fighter, the Barbie girl with a ninja wit, a salsa-dancing Latina, and a former prosecutor who pulls off sniper shots after being shot as family than Timothy.” He deliberately didn’t mention Gideon, because he wasn’t sure just how to describe his relationship with the man now. Instead, he shrugged. “So, I get it.”
“You didn’t play sports as a kid?” Aaron asked, sounding genuinely surprised.
“I preferred chess to Little League. Plus, I was twelve-year old child prodigy in a Vegas public high school,” he answered. “Technically, I was a member of the men’s basketball team because I could deduce shooting percentages and figure out the opposing teams’ weaknesses. But no one wants to go to a dance or prom with a kid who hasn’t hit puberty yet.”
Aaron shook his head and snorted. “Okay, I’ll shut up about my brother now.”
“That was not my intention,” he quickly said. “What I was trying to say is that I understand and you’re welcome to talk about your brother.” Spencer put his glass back down. “And if you want me to speak with him directly about the value of completing his bachelor’s degree before going on to culinary school, I’d be more than happy to.”
The younger man considered for a few moments, but then said, “He’ll just blow you off.”
“Unlikely,” Spencer replied and then grinned. “After all, I’m a gun-wielding Mormon.”
That teased a smile out of Aaron, and his dark mood seemed to lessen.
Spencer gestured to the food. “Do you want any more?”
“No, I’m good. Thank you. I’m sorry that I didn’t beforehand. Thank you, that is. For dinner. Ethiopian, right?”
“Correct. I did promise you dinner, although it’s taken a little longer to make good on it than I expected,” Spencer stated as he stood up. He began putting away the foods and Aaron began to help. He waved away the injured man. “Let me take care of this.”
“But you brought dinner …”
“I’m also the reason you were shot and the reason why your brother is here. I know it’s not much, but I am trying to make it up to you.”
“I said I wasn’t mad.”
“I realize that, but please. This will make me feel better.”
Aaron frowned for a moment before nodding. “Okay.”
“Thank you.” Spencer finished packing up the leftovers and brought them over to the fridge. He cleared out a space and before turning his attention to the piles of dishes on the counter and in the sink. He wanted to clean those up as well, but knew that Aaron would be beside himself if he tried. Instead, he finished with the dishes used for tonight’s dinner.
When Spencer came back to the table, Aaron was toying with the Velcro strap on his shoulder sling. Aaron had an air of vulnerability right now, one that Spencer wasn’t sure how to deal with. So he sat in the chair and folded his hands on the table. He wasn’t expecting Aaron to shyly reach out and brush the tips of his fingers.
“The dinner was to be in exchange for golf lessons,” the younger man said almost to himself. He then looked up. “It’s going to be a while before I can help you with that.”
“You can always observe,” Spencer replied. “While I wouldn’t mind a hands-on lesson, having you watch the way I line up my putts wouldn’t hurt. Maybe by the time you’re healed enough to swing a club, I’ll be able to putt properly.”
Aaron laughed a little, moving his hand so that now his fingertips were resting lightly on Spencer’s. He focused on their hands as he said, “Those clubs I was talking about are underneath my bed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to hit my brother with them, and then thought, ‘Wait! Those are for Spencer! I can’t damage them!’”
The thrill of hearing his first name quickened Spencer’s pulse as he laughed at Aaron’s statement. He remembered what his mother always said: Follow your heart. He also recalled what David Rossi always said: Follow your partner’s lead. It seemed Aaron was working up the courage to take his hand, so Spencer slid his so that it was a little more underneath Aaron’s fingertips.
Aaron didn’t move away. A good sign.
What’s the next move? Spencer wondered before admonishing himself. Be patient!
“Would you like to start tonight?” Aaron asked and then looked over to Spencer. There was that charming bashfulness in his eyes as he smiled just enough for his dimples to show. “I mean, you’d have to set everything up because of my shoulder, but it’s not that difficult.” His hand slowly crawled over Spencer’s until it rested fully on top. Aaron chewed the inside of his cheek a little.
Spencer smiled as he maneuvered his thumb so he could give Aaron’s hand a gentle squeeze. Is Aaron really this forgiving? Where is his resentment? Yet Spencer knew he couldn’t pass up this opportunity and all the layered meanings it might have. Aaron made the overture to him. Aaron made the offer to him. So it was only natural for him to reply with, “I would very much like to start tonight.”
Aaron met his gaze again, earnest and eager and bashful at the same time. “The set is under my bed.”
Spencer nodded and rose from his chair, reluctant to move his hand from Aaron’s. As he passed by Aaron’s chair, however, Aaron reached over with his right hand and caught hold of Spencer’s wrist. He tugged and Spencer stopped. Still holding on, Aaron got to his feet, squeezing Spencer’s wrist as he found his balance. They stood face to face, a half-foot separating them. From the look on the younger agent’s face, Spencer knew Aaron was internally debating himself. He stayed still, curious (and hopeful) as to the man’s next move.
Slowly, Aaron leaned forward, watching Spencer intently for any kind of reaction. When Spencer didn’t move away, Aaron tilted his head slightly and then brushed his lips against his. The younger man pulled back, eyes wide and nervous.
Spencer simply nodded once and then gently returned the kiss as he closed his eyes. Aaron responded eagerly yet with reserve and Spencer kept himself in check. The chief hadn’t kissed anyone with a full beard in years and he quickly remembered why he wasn’t a fan of heavy facial hair. It was scratchy and he had no desire to nibble on Aaron’s whiskered jaw. Aaron, however, seemed to have so such reservation. He trailed light kisses along Spencer’s jaw, his beard tickling the sensitive skin as he went, until he nuzzled Spencer’s ear.
The chief slid his hand along the younger man’s shoulder before carding his fingers in Aaron’s short hair. He placed his other on Aaron’s hip, careful not to jostle the heavy brace. It was a very loose embrace, but one Aaron melted into. Spencer could feel the tension drain from the younger man as he relaxed. Aaron’s good arm snaked around Spencer’s waist, his hand splayed against Spencer’s lower back. The younger man rested his forehead on Spencer’s shoulder, as if soaking up the physical affection.
Spencer knew instinctively that there wouldn’t be a golf lesson tonight. He could feel the weariness in Aaron’s body and the need to simply be held. So he did. They remained like that, two men carefully entwined and breathing in sync.
When Aaron worked his way back up to Spencer’s mouth, his tongue snaking out to caress Spencer’s lips, Spencer obliged. Their tongues touched, just like the night on Aaron’s couch when Spencer sat on the man’s lap. He ran his hand through Aaron’s short locks again, earning a moan.
Aaron shifted but then gasped and turned to the side. He muttered, “Damn it,” as he dropped his good hand away.
Spencer ran his fingers along Aaron’s whiskered jaw. “We should stop.”
“I don’t want to,” Aaron replied petulantly.
“We should take it slow.”
“At this rate, we’ll never hit the greens, let alone a driving range.”
Spencer laughed. “Oh, my dear Aaron, I fully plan on playing a full game with you, but I want you healthy.”
“The doctor says I’ll only be out for two months,” He stated but then flashed that charming smile, complete with dimples. “Maybe I can return earlier if my supervisor gives me some encouragement.”
“Golf lessons can’t be exchanged for reinstatement.”
“But I have a great stroke.”
“I’m sure you do.”
“It’s so good, it will change your mind.”
“Is that so?”
Then, Spencer’s phone began ringing and Aaron stepped back. Spencer checked the caller ID—JJ—and instinctively knew it was about a case. “Go ahead, JJ.”
“It’s a bad one, sir,” she stated without preamble. “Knoxville, Tennessee. Four undergrad women went camping over the weekend, and were supposed to be back on Monday but they never showed. A boater found one of their bodies on Douglas Lake two hours ago. Drexel from the Knoxville office want us there ASAP. He says the damage to the corpse wasn’t done by fish or any wildlife.”
“Have everyone meet at the airstrip. We’ll do the briefing in air,” he told her.
“I’ll make the rest of the calls. See you there.”
Spencer ended the call and saw the look of longing in Aaron’s eyes. “I have to go.”
“Knoxville.” He picked up the used glasses. The few minutes it took him to help clean up wouldn’t hurt; he would still be the first person to the airstrip.
“I’ve got this,” Aaron said, hand settling on his.
For a moment, they just stared at one another. He could see the worry in Hotch’s eyes, the worry that every team member got when they were down with an injury. “You’re still part of this team, please believe that. So you don’t have to come up with creative ways to return to the office, because I know almost all of them.”
“You do?” Aaron asked, sounding a little surprised.
“I’m the first BAU agent to sign off on my own reinstatement paperwork,” he admitted as he grinned as he set the glasses down. “After all, I am a doctor and a doctor can provide a second opinion. When Rossi found out? Well, I learned a few more Italian curse words. Oh. And he made me retake my firearms and physical requalification exams. It wasn’t fun.”
For the first time that night, Aaron genuinely laughed. “So whatever I come up with will be pedestrian?”
“Oh, I’m sure it will be creative and legally sound,” Spencer shot back with a smile. “But just because I don’t have a JD doesn’t mean I don’t know the rules. I won’t be as harsh as Rossi, but I won’t let it slide.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“I’ll call when we get done with the case. Perhaps I can bring dinner over and …” he trailed off.
“I’ll coach you on the putting green.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
And because he could, Spencer leaned in and shared one more kiss with Aaron, one that Aaron eagerly returned. When they broke away, Spencer grasped Aaron’s right hand and squeezed it tightly. He refrained from saying anything else, worried that he would spoil the moment. Instead, he offered a soft smile which Aaron returned.
Aaron also squeezed his hand and lifted it slightly. For a moment, Spencer wondered if Aaron was going to do something silly and chivalrous like kiss the back of his hand. He didn’t, and Spencer wondered why he felt a flare of disappointment.
“What is it that you always say to us?” Aaron asked rhetorically, his voice hushed. “Safe travels? Well. Safe travels, Spencer.”
The unprompted use of his first name sent a shiver down Spencer’s spine. He knew he was grinning stupidly, but he didn’t care. “Thank you, Aaron.”
“I mean it about the putting green.”
Spencer smiled broadly. “I have no doubt.”
“Be careful,” Aaron added softly.
“I will. I promise.”
Aaron then took a step back. Spencer reluctantly released his hand, knowing that their one-sentence conversation could keep going as they struggled with how to say goodbye. So Spencer nodded his head once and made his way to Aaron’s door. He was surprised that the other man didn’t follow up to see him out the door, but Aaron was probably feeling as awkward as Spencer about Spencer’s departure.
With one last glance over his shoulder as he unlocked and opened the door, Spencer held Aaron’s gaze and smiled again. Aaron returned the smile and waved a little. Laughing to himself about just how cute the scraggly agent looked, Spencer finally left the apartment, closing the door behind him.
As he walked down the hall, Spencer couldn’t believe his luck. Maybe, after all these years of semi-disastrous relationships, he lucked upon one that could actually work.
God, Spencer wanted this to work with Aaron.
And he knew just by the expression on Aaron’s face, the younger man wanted it to work as well.
At least, that’s what Spencer hoped for.