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Masks

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Behind every mask there is a face, and behind that a story.
Marty Rubin


 "Agent Y/L/N?"

You turn around to face a tall man in a black suit, hair almost the same shade. Smiling, you nod and reach out a hand. He shakes it solidly and gives you a tight-lipped grin. You get the feeling he doesn't smile often.

"I'm Agent Hotchner," he introduces himself. "Welcome to the BAU."

"Thank you," you reply graciously, and leave it at that.

"Let me introduce you to the rest of the team." He turns around to see mostly everyone already behind him, looking at you curiously. You keep a polite smile on your face, despite feeling uneasy with so much attention.

Agent Hotchner continues. "Everyone, this is Agent Y/N Y/L/N. She will be our new Communications Liaison now that JJ is officially a field agent." He points out an attractive woman with long blonde hair. She smiles broadly and reaches out a hand, which you shake.

"Really nice to meet you. I'm excited to see what you do with my old position," she says.

You give a short laugh and reply, "I hope I can live up to expectations."

"I'm sure you will." She winks knowingly and you feel yourself wanting to continue the conversation, so you turn your attention back to Agent Hotchner.

"These are Agents Derek Morgan, Emily Prentiss, David Rossi, and Dr. Spencer Reid." Agent Hotchner points them out one at a time. Agent Morgan is tall and muscular with beautiful dark skin. Agent Prentiss has a prominent nose and nice smile. Agent Rossi seems like he's got age-old wisdom, and his silver hair backs that up. You wish you could fangirl a little, meeting one of your heroes and all, but you keep it reined in.

"Don't feel the need to be so formal. You can call me Rossi, him Morgan, her Emily, her JJ, and him Spencer or Reid," Agent Rossi adds with a half-grin, and the rest of them nod. You don't return the gesture, but shake hands with all of them. All but Dr. Reid.

"I don't shake hands," he says, just looking at yours stretched out in front of you. After another second, you let it fall back to your side and look at him questioningly. He notices and goes on, seeming surprised he's allowed to continue. "Shaking hands is notorious for spreading unknown pathogens. It's actually much safer to kiss."

You crack a smile without thinking. And then the thoughts appear: Tall, cute, nerdy, with great hair. Not good. Let's stay away from that. Agent Hotchner seems like the safest option so you look back at him once again, not catching Spencer's small grin at your reaction.

"Not to overwhelm you, but we do have a case. Agent Y/L/N, would you mind presenting? I believe you were briefed before you arrived."

You had indeed been briefed, having been sent the case file last night. You'd actually needed a solid hour to recover from what you read, it was so gruesome. But it was already in your brain and it can't surprise you anymore. No reason to think you'd give anything emotional away now. So you nod and say, "Of course."

The team seems to turn as one and heads towards the stairs, you following. You all eventually land in a conference room at the end of the hall. As soon as you walk in the door, a blur of pink and green grabs your hands tight.

"You must be Agent Y/N." Her voice is high-pitched and bubbly, and all you can do is nod in response. "I'm Penelope Garcia, tech whiz for the BAU, and we are going to be great friends."

As she peers at you through her wide glasses, standing a little too close, you feel panic snake up your spine. I can't become friends with any of these people. You can feel your eyes widen but you can't do anything to stop it. Your breathing is catching and you feel hot and--

"All right, baby girl, let's give her some space." Morgan steps in and places his hands on Penelope's shoulders, forcing her to move further from you. Penelope sort of goes willingly, and you breathe into the space she just vacated. Looking at the rest of the room, you catch Spencer looking at you intently and look away just as quickly.

Agent Hotchner motions for you to come to the front, standing in front of a large monitor. He hands you a remote and says, "Whenever you're ready."

You take a breath, trying to make the panic disperse, and press a key on the remote. Photos of three young, attractive women pop up, along with their respective crime scenes.

"Three women were found tortured to death in St. Louis, Missouri these past two weeks. They were all 25 years old. As you can see, none of them are - were - the same race or have the same build, and their lives are - were - pretty different from each other." You catch your verb mix-ups and try to stay calm. "Anna Davis, Victim #1, was found in her apartment, chained to her bed frame and beaten to death. Five days later, Lucy Marvin, Victim #2, was found in her apartment building's basement, tied up and electrocuted to death. And five days after that, which was yesterday, Grace Bowen, Victim #3, was found in her kitchen, chained up and starved to death."

The team doesn't say much when you finish, their faces giving it all away.

"How far are the crime scenes from each other?" JJ asks.

"Roughly six miles."

"And who found the victims?"

You look down at your notes. "Anna Davis was discovered after she didn't show up for class, and Lucy Marvin was found by her roommate, who had been away for the week. Grace Bowen was found when a neighbor heard her daughter crying." Not lifting your head, you close your eyes for a second, trying to get rid of the disturbing picture in your mind.

"So the unsub's signature is torture. Why?" Emily muses aloud.

"And how did the unsub keep the victims quiet?" Rossi tacks on. "Lucy Marvin's basement is isolated, sure, and Grace Bowen clearly had her mouth taped shut. But what about Anna Davis?"

You can answer that one. "The M.E.'s report says that most of the beating was postmortem. It seems like the unsub killed her early on in the fight, keeping the noise down, then just didn't realize she had died earlier than expected."

"Or didn't care," Morgan says, and you suppress a shudder. "And he obviously didn't care if anyone heard him. Plus, they were all found in their own homes, or buildings at least. Our unsub is using convenience for the kills and has no need for dump sites, but must be bringing his own supplies to do the killing."

"There was no sign of forced entry at the scenes," you add.

Spencer finishes your thought: "The victims knew the unsub."

He makes eye contact with you, and you realize too late that you'd been staring and smiling at him as he completed your sentence. Breaking it quickly and looking back down at your notes, you say, "There were also no signs of robbery," just to direct your attention somewhere other than Spencer's adorable face.

"Did they find any kind of sexual assault at the scenes?" Agent Hotchner asks.

Without looking up, you answer, "Yes. All three."

"So, obviously a sexual sadist," Rossi inputs.

"What kind of unsub could this be?" Emily questions, but just goes right on. "Garcia, see if you can find anything in their online presences that points to relationships of some sort. Dating apps, Match.com profiles, conversations with someone they have little to no history with. They could've all met the unsub through that outlet."

"Will do," Penelope answers Emily, already typing. "You know," and her voice is soft, just for you, "I tried doing your job once, but I couldn't handle it. You must be a better woman than me." You grin again without trying, and when you look back at her, she's lit up like a Christmas tree.

You turn your attention away. "Male?" You ask.

"Most likely," and you smile at Spencer's voice. "The bodies don't seem to be handled with any care, and there are no signs of remorse or guilt. The unsub just chained them up, tortured them to death, and then left them there."

Your smile has faded with his words. These poor girls.

"All found five days apart as well," Agent Hotchner notes.

"Which means," JJ says, "we've got three days to catch this guy."

"Then let's get going," Agent Hotchner sighs. "Wheels up in thirty. Agent Y/L/N, I hope you brought your go bag."

"I'm all set," you reply.

The team slowly leaves the room, some of them congratulating you on the way. You accept them politely but distantly, hoping you come across as courteous yet almost unapproachable. Eventually, it's just you in the room, and you take a minute to look at the photos still on the screen. The crime scenes still hurt to look at, and you wonder why you took this job and whether you'll be able to pull it off.

Downstairs in the bullpen, everyone is moving except Spencer. He stares into the conference room, and watches you stare at the victims.