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Three Implies Chaos

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“It takes tremendous discipline to control the influence, the power you have over other people's lives.” Clint Eastwood

 

Quantico, VA, 8:50 am

Emily didn't quite leave behind a trail of water as she entered the bullpen that morning, but it was a near thing. Outside, behind the great windows, ice and rain fell down in sheets, painting the world a uniform grey.

Reid looked at her over the privacy barrier of his desk. "Broken umbrella?" he asked.

"Again," she said, dropping her things on her chair and peeling off the wet coat; at least she was mostly dry underneath. "Would you believe that?"

"The evidence seems quite compelling." His expression was owlish, innocent and – Emily knew – wholly misleading.

"Thanks, Dr. Reid," she replied dryly.

"You're welcome," he said, and then, "There's a pot of tea concentrate in the kitchen."

"Now we're talking."

"And there are also honey cookies."

"Honey cookies," she repeated, and then caught up. "We have Garcia cookies?"

"I believe I've just said that."

She opened her mouth, thought better of it, and said instead: "Cookies, then tea. Then everything else."

'Everything else' was a frowning Morgan coming down the stairs. Emily and Reid paused where they were, he with yet another coffee and she with a large mug of the St. Petersburg Hotch must had put up and  two of Garcia's cookies shedding powdered sugar on a napkin.

On the other side of the landing, Hotch was sticking his head into Rossi's office.

Morgan followed Emily's gaze, and nodded once: they had a case.

"We're briefing early today," remarked Reid as they rendezvoused with Morgan,

"Chicago," said Morgan.

"Let me guess," said Emily. "There's talk of closing the airports later today."

"Right in one."

 Garcia glanced up as they entered the conference room. "Oh, good, you found the cookies."

"Yes, I have," said Emily, "though someone tried to keep it a secret."

"I can't imagine who it might be," replied Garcia. She might have said something more – Reid already had his mouth open to reply – but Hotch and Rossi entered the room, and the playfulness dried up abruptly.

Garcia clicked the remote and the screen turned to life, showing the photo of a boy in his late teens, Caucasian, with wavy dark blond hair and brown eyes. "Meet Kyle Woods, 17, from Evanston, Illinois."

In the photo, Kyle was wearing a bright sea-green polo shirt and an infectious grin. He was a handsome boy, with pointy features that age would turn manly.

"Kyle's parents reported him missing the day before yesterday, when he didn’t came home from school. Turns out he'd been picked up by this charming lady," the next photo that came up was of a scowling, same-age Latina girl, "Vikki Silva, also 17, of Rogers Park, Chicago. The police caught up with Vikki at the apartment of a Jason Lund, 21," Lund had the look of someone who had no reason to like the world or anyone in it, "where," another clicked brought up several photos of Lund's tiny studio apartment, "they recovered Kyle's school bag and his clothes. This was yesterday afternoon. Jason and Vikki are – surprise, surprise – not talking."

If they were talking, the case would have never made it to the BAU. That part made sense. It was something else that made Emily's face itch with a repressed frown.

She might as well have known Hotch would address it without being asked.

"That's one reason we've been called in," he said. "Another reason is the pressure applied by Kyle's parents."

Reid looked down at the paper file he had in front of him. "Kyle's father is a Henry Woods – oh," his face lit up, "that Professor Woods. He won the John Bates Clark Medal in 1987."

Morgan raised his hands, palms facing upwards. "Why am I even surprised you know that."

"The mother, Virginia Woods, is a senior partner at Chicago's biggest law firm," said Hotch. "She hasn't been making it easy for either the Evanston or Chicago forces."

The poor cops. Emily flinched in sympathy.

"On the bright side," Hotch continued, somewhat dryly, "what with Kyle being a minor and the locals recommending a low profile for Kyle's safety, her own lawyers have managed to keep the names and faces of Kyle, Vikki and Jason out the media."

"At least for now," remarked Rossi.

This should have been Morgan's cue: to question the necessity of their taking this case, point out they would be stepping into an inflammatory situation and remind them they stood a good chance of being stranded by snow. Emily had seen Morgan step out of Hotch's office, though, and they could all see him pretending to not shift restlessly in his chair. Emily was willing to bet that the Chicago PD detective on this one was an old colleague of his.

These things were all true. It was also true that there was a boy missing out there, with good indications of foul play and the weather working against any chance he may still have.

"We'll continue this on the plane," said Hotch.

 

BAU jet, en route, 9:55 am

The galley only fit one or two of them at a time, but they were practiced enough that the six of them rotated through within a minute. They gathered in a loose circle, tablets at the ready, the laptop with the video link at the middle of a table and the contents of the single hardcopy spread around it.

They started from the beginning, and the beginning was the victim and what the official file could tell them: name, age, residence, relatives. Then it was Garcia's turn.

"What can you tell us about Kyle that isn't on paper, hot mama?" asked Morgan.

"Well, there doesn't seem to be much to tell," said Garcia, voice tinny through the built-in speakers. "If truancy constitutes a record then he has a very impressive rap sheet that abruptly ends about the time he would have started high school. His school grades have certainly picked up some, but he's still a mediocre student. Very dedicated to the community service club, though."

"Does the club have activities in Rogers Park?" asked Emily. They needed to connect Vikki to Kyle.

"I don't see any listed for this year, but the school site doesn't archive previous years', so, still hypothetical."

"Anything else, baby girl?"

"Not right now, no."

"We'll need the contact information for the school," said Hotch. "Specifically for the teacher associated with the community service club."

"Coming soon to an email address near you."

The gesture Hotch made wasn't so much a nod as a shorthand for one. "What can you tell us about Vikki?"

"Victoria Carmen Silva," said Garcia, rolling the syllables. "Oldest daughter of three in a single-parent household, daddy had a thousand and one restraining orders slapped against him when mommy filed for divorce, which has since been long granted. Now this girl? Is a straight-A student who really, seriously wants to be an engineer and has already sent out about a dozen college applications. And from these applications I can tell you that not only is she a model student who has her sights set high, but she also volunteers at a community center in her neighbourhood and assists with teaching at her dojo."

"She's into martial arts," said Morgan, his tone making it a question.

"Karate, black belt."

"Her Sensei is definitely someone we want to speak to," he said.

"Contact information for the dojo, school and community service coming right up."

"That community center," said Hotch. "Does it have a site?"

"Why, yes, it does and why, yes, they do archive their volunteer lists. Watch as their encryption crumbles before my awesome powers, and – bingo. Kyle has been volunteering there as long as Vikki."

"Jason?" asked Hotch.

"This kid's biography reads like a tearjerker," said Garcia. "Or the UnSub Handbook, take your pick. He was born to a using mother, father unknown, has been a ward of the state since he was six, and I really don't want to count the number of foster homes he's been through. His record of destruction of property, substance abuse and the occasional assault begins at the tender age of eleven and had him going in and out of juvie since age thirteen. He has, however, managed to hold on to a steady job since the last time he was paroled, the terms of which he successfully completed his parole four months ago."

"Anything to connect him to Vikki or Kyle?"

"Nothing that pops out at me."

Beat.

Emily leaned forward. "Any recent stressors for any of these people?"

"Other than Vikki's college applications?" Garcia shook her head. "No."

The team exchanged looks.

"This doesn't make sense," said Morgan. "Jason and Vikki had to fight to get to where they're at. Vikki is planning for a future. Why would they kidnap another kid?"

"They have major fault lines running through their lives," said Rossi. "But something does seem to be missing, here."

"Keep digging, Garcia."

"Yes, Sir, like a bagdermole, Sir."

Emily and Reid caught each other's eyes, lips quirking.

"Thanks, gorgeous," said Morgan.

"You're welcome, my heart. Garcia out."

Morgan reached forward and disconnected the video chat.

"We have quite a few interviews," said Hotch, "and not the best driving weather."

He didn't need to say that there were only five of them.

"Barry Logan and I know each other," said Morgan. "He's one of the good ones."

Hotch hesitated for a split-second, and then nodded. "Fine. You and Logan look into the subjects. Start with Lund. Reid, Prentiss – you work on Kyle. Rossi and I will interview the mothers. Now, let's see what we can come up with until we land."


Figure 1. Map of some sites featured in the story.



24th District PD, Chicago, 12:30 pm

Barry Logan was of average height and medium build, with thinning light hair and quite a bit of wariness behind the ready smile and slap on the back he greeted Morgan with.

"And these are SSAs Hotchner and Rossi," said Morgan. "Reid and Prentiss have already headed out to Evanston."

Logan nodded. "I'll introduce you to Milena – that's Detective Droyanov. She's keeping an eye on the moms."

"Both of them are here?" asked Hotch sharply.

"Yes, they are," said Logan. He sounded about as exasperated and worn-out as could be expected.

The squad room was busy, but surprisingly quiet. Hotch attributed the atypical hush to the slim woman to the side of the room, watching quietly but with palpable intensity: Virginia Woods. Dolores Silva had to be the dark, tired woman visible through a conference room's open blinds. Detective Droyanov could be identified even before Logan called out to her and she turned as she was the only cop in the room not doing the best she could to ignore Ms. Woods.

"Good to have you here," she said. Her brisk speech, strong handshake and tight hairdo were likely cultivated to counter the impression of her wide, freckled face. The gaze of her round, dark eyes was focused and attentive. "Care to be introduced?"

"Actually, we'd like to take a look at the subjects first," Hotch said.

"We put them two doors down from each other," said Logan as he showed the three of them down the hall.  "Shared observation room."

"Nice," commented Rossi.

Logan flashed him a tight grin. "Thought you'd like that. There we are."

Vikki Silva was in the room to the left, Jason Lund to the right. At a first glance their posture was similar: leaning back, legs stretched forward, shoulders hunches together. Vikki's arms were crossed on her chest and her gaze directed forward, openly hostile. Jason's arms were lower, and he was looking sideways. He could disappear in a crowd and no one would give him a second glance. Vikki was a different matter. Stocky build; strong, angular features that she may or may not grow into; and a messy braid that fell down her right shoulder, oddly feminine in its length. Hotch noted her school logo splayed across the front of her hoodie.

"They haven't said a word?" he asked.

"They aren't even making eye contact," said Logan.

"Her too?" asked Morgan.

"Yeah. She just glares at the glass."

"You feel like taking me on a field trip?" asked Morgan. "Show me where you picked them up, talk to his boss?"

"Sure," said Logan. He glanced at Rossi and Hotch.

"And we'd better ask Detective Droyanov for that introduction," said Hotch.

 

Evanston Township High School, Evanston, 12:40 pm

Patty Hicks, the community service coordinator, hadn't quite met them at the gate but her anxiety was nevertheless that palpable. She played with her rings when she wasn't brushing imaginary stray locks behind her ear, and the constant frown was not a regular feature on her face. She was in her mid-thirties, dressed in dark slacks and a fuzzy peach knitted sweater, and Emily thought that on a good day, Patty Hicks was a teacher that the students readily trusted.

She didn't recognize Lund's face or name, but her expression cleared a little when Emily brought up Vikki's photo on her tablet.

"Yes, I remember her," she said. "She worked with the older kids, I think? Kyle worked with the youngest." Her stilled and her expression turned wary. She looked up at Emily. "Does she have anything to do with…?"

"She was seen with Kyle the afternoon he disappeared," said Emily.

Ms. Hicks's expression became brittle. Her hand twitched, almost reaching for her mouth.  

"What can you tell us about Kyle?" asked Reid.

"What do you need to know?"

"Everything," said Emily. "What's he like, who does he hang out with, what are his favorite subjects – anything you know. Nothing is too little."

 

24th District PD, Chicago, 12:40 pm

"My daughter," said Dolores Silva, voice thick with pride and unshed tears, "did not do this."

Medium height, dark hair, dark eyes; unmistakably Hispanic; probably not of Mexican origin; care and hardship put lines in her face ahead of her time; strong, stable hands clenched together in her lap.

"That's why we're here," said Rossi. "To find out what happened." He kept his voice low, concerned, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. This woman was terrified for her daughter, and she needed to be listened to. Rossi would hazard a guess that what instinctive distrust she had for him was because he was there to investigate her daughter, and not because he was law enforcement, and a man.

"My daughter would never do anything like this," she said. "And she would certainly never hurt Kyle."

"Have she and Kyle known each other long?"

Minute relaxation in her shoulders: no one had affirmed the connection between her daughter and the victim since the girl had been taken in. "Nearly five years, now."

Five years before, Kyle and Vikki had been in middle school. Rossi did not let his surprise show. "How did they meet?"

"It was Easter break. Kyle was – " she didn't quite huff, but it was a near thing, " – wandering around. Toya knew that he didn't belong."

"That's quite a bit of wandering, for a boy that age."

Her expression shifted and her voice became shorter, almost clipped. "That didn't change."

"What do you mean by that?"

And then he waited, patiently, until finally she said: "I must have sat down for more dinners with the boy than his parents."

Kyle's mother had been haunting first Evanston's, and then the 24th district's PD since she reported her son missing. All parents felt guilty when something happened to their children. Maybe, thought Rossi, Virginia knows what she's guilty of.

 


 

Virginia Woods was a small, lean woman of well-defined features. Her suit was dark, well-tailored and strictly conservative, as were the pearls at her throat and ears, but she wore her hair long, braided like a crown around her head. Another woman, of the same physique and a different substance, would appear delicate, almost fragile. Virginia spoke like one who regularly commanded with a whisper, and carried herself like one who could easily tower over men a foot taller than her.

It was a dangerous assumption to make, that one knew a subject they had only just met, but Hotch was tempted to think that he knew her, and the long look she'd given him when Droyanov introduced them indicated she was tempted to make the same mistake. The rapport was instantaneous, and they both knew it for the tool it was.

"I never heard Kyle mention either of these people," she said.

Hotch nodded minutely. "Vikki volunteers at the same community center as Kyle, in Rogers Park."

Virginia returned the nod. "Kyle has many extracurricular activities," she said. "Most of which are community-oriented. He's very dedicated."

"I've seen a partial list," said Hotch. "It's quite impressive."

Virginia's lips might have twitched in the shadow of a smile. "It should get him into a good college despite his grades."

“Where is he considering?”

“Northwestern is currently top of our list,” she said. “They have several good Social Science degrees.”

Hotch noted the 'we'. "Seems like something that might be interesting to Kyle," he said, neutrally. "The application deadline must be near."

"Two weeks," she said.

"Must be a lot of pressure for Kyle."

Virginia said nothing.

"Ms. Woods," said Hotch, gently as he could, "any kind of pressure Kyle's been under, I need to know. Anything that might have worried him. Anything he cares about."

Virginia's sigh was inaudible and, if he hadn't been cued to seek very small tells, would have been invisible as well. "Kyle finds Northwestern to be intimidating," she said. "I'm sure he'll do well – he's improved so much over the last years, and he presents himself quite well. I told him I'm confident in him, but he's still apprehensive."

"What does his father think?"

The muscles around Virginia's eyes went taut, but she said: "Henry believes Kyle should be allowed to make his own choices."

Hotch leaned back, only slightly, but enough to communicate the message. "Would that be because he believes in Kyle that much, or that little?”

Her lips pressed into a thin line. "Kyle and Henry are not very close," she said. "It happens, with teenage boys."

He could press her; he could offer his best empathetic concern; or he could thank her and end the interview. Knowing that she would read the intention behind his actions, Hotch opted for the latter.

 


Figure 2. Sketch of Jay's apartment.



Edgewater, Chicago, 12:50 pm

Logan might have exaggerated when he said that Lund's apartment was just around the corner, but only a little. Morgan glanced at the building and up to the sky as he stepped out of the car. The snow was mild, and while he was not in the habit of believing the weather forecast, in this case he thought the forecast of nastier weather just might be true.

Logan walked around the car's front and stood next to him. "So what is the building telling you, Patrick Jane?"

Logan's smile was teasing, so Morgan didn't give him his best irritated look.  "Very funny."

"I didn't call you Shawn," said Logan.  "Come on, you can better commune with the building if we step inside."

Morgan had expected a traditional brick-and-limestone building, in need of a thorough scrubbing inside and out. The building was newer than he'd expected and, on the outside, in better shape. Inside was a different matter. The floor was clean, he supposed, for a sanitary value of cleanliness; the walls were that shade that looked dirty when it was freshly painted, stronger light wouldn't have hurt and the out-of-order sign on the elevator door was entirely unsurprising.

"Please tell me it isn't the fifth floor."

"I would, but that would be lying."

Lund's apartment was longer than it was wide, with the main room, kitchen and bathroom on a single axis. A chest of drawers was to the immediate left of the door – Morgan nearly bumped into it as he entered – with the bed across from it.  A small, rickety table was on the other side of the kitchen door from the bed, surrounded by three equally-rickety chairs. There was a worn beanbag to the immediate right of the entrance, bringing a full round view of the room. The blinds of the single window – above the table – were closed shut but, unless Morgan totally missed his mark, it looked out into the alleyway. What Morgan could see of the kitchen seemed like an adult man could not stand there without bumping into the corners, and as for that bathroom, well.

It gelled well with the sense Morgan had gathered from the photos. He'd hoped to be wrong about that.

Logan moved into the apartment, giving Morgan room to walk in and close the door behind them. "What do you expect to find here, exactly?"

"It's not 'finding'," Morgan told him. He spread his arms. "What does this place feel like to you?"

"Seriously?"

"Profiling isn't magic. It's just noticing what people do, their behavior, and asking what kind of a person would do those things that way."

"Well." Logan shoved his hands into his pockets as he looked around the apartment again. "I'd never believe this was the dwelling of a single-living young man, for starters."

Morgan nodded. "He's organized. Wants to control his environment; needs to control it."

Logan nodded back. When it didn't look like he was about to add anything more, Morgan continued.

"No personal affects," he noted. "No photos, no anything else – just the bare furniture. Except for this."

'This' was a small squirt gun set on top of the chest. It was tiny enough that only a small child could comfortably hold it. Morgan snapped a few photos, and then pulled out a glove and lifted the squirt gun for inspection. The plastic was cheap and worn, crisscrossed with countless scratches.

"It stands out," agreed Logan meanwhile. "A keepsake?"

"Could be," said Morgan. "It's definitely important to him, and belongs to a child. It could be a souvenir from someone important or from a special event, or it could just be something he's managed to hold on to."

"The kitchen is just as freakishly neat," reported Logan. "So is the bathroom. "

"I'm not surprised," said Morgan. He brought up the original set of photos for reference. "Kyle's bag was tucked under the table, but his clothes were on Jason's bed." He walked over to Logan and brought up the photos. "Now, the bag under the table, that's for convenience – it's the one place it wouldn't be underfoot. But the clothes on the bed, that's personal. And they were folded with the same care Jason takes with his own things."

Logan's gaze sharpened. "Jason's beginning to sound like some husbands I don't like."

"There are definitely similarities." Morgan gave the space another measuring glance. "Let's see what else we can find."

Morgan took the drawers, so it was Logan who found the photo under the pillow. It was printed on high-quality printer paper, but not photo paper.

Holding the photo, Morgan backed up to the table. "They put the camera on the table."

"Makes sense. Not many ways to take a photo of three people in this place if you're one of the three."

"Yeah," agreed Morgan. He tapped the photo with the nail of a gloved forefinger. "Kyle in the middle."

"I don't like where this is going."

"Yeah. Neither do I."

 

ETHS, Evanston, 12:55 pm

There was a line of students outside the door. Emily knew she was staring.

"What's going on here, Ashley?" asked Ms. Hicks.

The student who had to be Ashley looked like she was trying hard not to squirm as she met Ms. Hicks's eyes, gaze darting to Emily and Reid for a split-second. "We heard that there were FBI agents wanting to know about Kyle."

"That's right," said Emily, making her voice light and warm. This was quite the turnout, and judging from Ms. Hicks expression it was unexpected. "Are you guys all Kyle's friends?"

"Well, yeah," said one of the boys.

"Make that two interview rooms," Reid told Ms. Hicks.

 

24th District PD, Chicago, 13:00 pm

The thin press of Hotch's lips when Rossi joined him in the room assigned to them told Rossi everything he needed to know about Virginia Woods.

"Kyle and his parents had a 'strong disagreement' regarding his college applications on the weekend," said Hotch without preamble.

Rossi raised his eyebrows. "And Kyle disappeared on a Monday afternoon."

"Exactly."

The timing was conspicuous, but as nothing was missing from Kyle's room, he hasn't made any cash withdrawals since and – most damning – his clothes had been found in Lund's apartment. It was more likely that the fight had left Kyle vulnerable than he'd run away.

"It wouldn't have been difficult for him to hide things from his parents," continued Hotch. "His father wouldn't have been paying attention, and Virginia wouldn't have noticed anything she didn't expect to see."

"Like her son having a girlfriend from Rogers Park?"

"Really?"

"For years, according to Dolores." Rossi leaned against the desk, across from Hotch who was standing by the evidence board. "She trusts her daughter quite a bit," he continued. "Apparently the divorce was Vikki's initiative. Her mother says she would have never had the courage if it wasn't for Vikki, who also made it possible for her to complete her master’s degree with two younger girls to take care of."

"Vikki is a surrogate partner to her mother."

"Yes. She's trusted, unsupervised…"

"…and under a lot of pressure," completed Hotch. "Not a good combination."

"Not at all."

 

Edgewater, Chicago, 1:10 pm

Duane Harris, Jason's boss at the auto shop, was a tall, black man who looked like he'd been working with his upper body most of his adult life. "Yeah, sure I know those kids," he said. He'd only given the photos a cursory glance. "The girl, Vikki, she's a regular. Does most of the work on her own car by herself, nowadays, but she buys what she needs through us. She's been coming in for two years, now, since she got the old lady. The boy, that's her boyfriend." He frowned. "Is he the boy that's missing?"

"He is," said Logan.

Harris tucked his chin in sharply, expression freezing and elbows minimally tucked in. It seemed he was genuinely startled. "And you're looking into Jay?"

"Kyle's things were found at his place," said Morgan.

"That'd be because they're friends," said Harris.

"They're friends."

"They are." Harris shook his head. "It's not my business what Jay does after hours so long as he doesn't bring it here, but he and these kids, they're friends. Not that this Kyle kid didn't have to work at it a while – Jay's like one of them alley cats that way. But kid can charm the paint off the walls."

"So Kyle's closer to Jay?" asked Logan.

"Well, obviously. Vikki's Kyle's girlfriend."

They thanked him and left.

"They have to be good friends if even Jay's boss noticed," said Logan. "He's got quite a few people, there."

"Kyle's between Vikki and Jay in that photo," agreed Morgan. "Seems that way, yeah."

"So what's Vikki doing protecting Jay?"

"Well, we might find out when we get to Rogers Park," said Morgan as they entered the car, "but we have another stop first."

 

24th District PD, Chicago, 1:30 pm

Rossi's way of courting insight was to tinker with the PD's coffee machine; Hotch went to the observation room and brought his printouts with him. The tablets had their advantages, but it was still easier to think with the case laid out across a desk. He stood in the middle of the small room, considering the printouts, Jason, Vikki, and the printouts again.

Then his phone rang. Hotch glanced at the ID before he answered. "Go ahead, Prentiss."

"We're just leaving Kyle's school," she said. The quality of the line suggested that her phone was set on speaker. "You know what they say about universal popularity being impossible to achieve?"

"Yes."

"Well, Kyle's about to prove them wrong. We had kids lining up to tell us how great he is. Literally lining up."

"And they weren't from a single clique, either," continued Reid. "We had jocks, geeks, goths –"

"Everyone," said Prentiss before Reid could continue that list. "But that's not the half of it."

"None of these kids described themselves as being Kyle's friend," said Reid, "but they all described him as consistently and exceptionally kind."

"He's having lunch with the outcasts and still gets the jocks to respect him," said Prentiss.

She'd summed up the gist of it, but Hotch spelled it out anyway. "He's socially gifted. You're the first to report back, but…" He summarized his and Rossi's observations.

"Vikki has to be unusually socially competent as well to succeed in her role," noted Reid.

"It might say all sorts of interesting things about Kyle's and Vikki's relationship," said Emily skeptically, "but this is wading deep into conjecture-land."

"Keep us posted," said Hotch.

"Will do," she said.

It wasn't a minute after she and Reid hung up before his phone rang again, this time flashing Garcia's office number.

"So I just pieced together the story of Vikki's parents' divorce," she said without preamble. "And I made it all the way to the police report that started it all."

Hotch knew that tone of voice of hers: it meant that whatever she'd found involved quite a bit of violence, most likely with associated photographic evidence, and there were a wife and three little girls involved. "How bad is it?"

"Well, this really depends on which definition of 'bad' we are using," she said. "It goes like this. Vikki's dad was regularly horrible to his wife, with the occasional beating, and he wasn't all that nice to his oldest, either. And then one day – or rather, one night – he raised a hand to the middle daughter, who was, at the time, eight years old. Vikki smashed a kitchen chair over his head. She was twelve years old."

"She smashed a chair over her father's head?" Hotch repeated.

"She climbed on the table to do it, but yeah. That was when her mother finally called 911."

There was a knock on the door. "A moment," he told Garcia, and called out, "Come in!"

It was Droyanov. "Theo Woods is on his way from O'Hare," she said. "The Woods's older son."

"Ms. Woods told you that?"

"No," she said, confirming his assessment. "But we all know that if she didn't want me to overhear that conversation then I wouldn't have."

He nodded as he headed for the door. "Garcia," he told the phone, "did you get that?"

"Theo Woods," she said promptly, "biography coming right up."

He closed the observation room's door behind him. "Thank you," he told her.

"Nessun problema, mio capitano. I'll call you back in a few."

 

Rogers Park, Chicago, 1:35 pm

Morgan picked Jay's former parole officer out of the diner patrons before she got up and waved him and Logan over from across the room. Charlene DuFort was a stocky medium-height woman, black, probably in her forties and dressed comfortably.

"Charlene Dufort?" Morgan asked anyway when they got to the booth.

"That's right," she said. Up close, she gave off the unmistakable shrewdness of a seasoned cop. "And you must be Agent Morgan."

"That's right," he replied, and watched the corner of her mouth twitch at the mirroring. "And this is Detective Logan."

They shook hands and sat down.

"So what's this about?" she asked.

"Jason Lund," said Morgan.

"Jay? Did he get in trouble?"

"You seem surprised."

"Well, yes." She paused. "I know better than to think I can tell how each of these kids will turn out, but some of them…" She shook her head once. "Ask me your questions."

"You were Jay's parole officer for almost two years," said Morgan. "You probably got to know quite a bit about him. What was your impression?"

"You read his file?" she asked. They nodded. "He barely stayed out of trouble for a month at a time, but he never got into anything serious. To me, this meant that he was trying. So when we had our first chat, I told him I was going to sit on his ass hard; that he was running out of time, and this time he can't screw it up. You know how he reacted?" She continued without giving them time to reply. "He was happy, as much as a kid like that knows how to be happy. I had him under a microscope that first six months, and he never complained once. He still calls me every month to tell me that he's fine." She leaned back. "What happened?"

Morgan brought up the Vikki's photo on the tablet and showed it to her. "Ever seen her?"

"No."

He scrolled to Kyle's photo. "What about him?"

"No."

"The boy is Kyle Woods. He's been missing since Monday. His schoolbag and clothes were found at Jay's apartment."

"Kyle," she repeated. "The girl, is her name Vikki?"

"Yes," said Morgan cautiously.

"Jay has a best friend named Kyle," she said. "Though the way Jay made it sound, I thought Vikki was Kyle's sister."

Morgan and Logan didn't quite manage to not glance at each other.

"What did he tell you about them?" asked Logan.

"Not much," she said, leaning back in her chair. "Vikki's a customer at the shop where Jay works. She should be going on eighteen, now.  I know she actually intimidated Jay less, at first, which I attributed to her 'brother'," she made air quotes, "being unusually outgoing, but now I think he isn't a Rogers Park kid. He's that kid whose name the media aren't telling, isn't he; and with that last name…" she let the sentence trail.

Morgan ignored it, leaned with his elbows on the table, and continued with the questioning.

 

Woods Residence, Evanston, 1:40 pm

Henry Theodore Woods looked the part of the charismatic middle-aged professor.  Tall, but not exceptionally so; a broad, soft-side-of-chiseled face, and a Roman nose; elegant wire-framed glasses; a close-trimmed beard; a figure that was once might have been described as powerful and was now softening. His clothes were like the house he'd cordially invited them into: understated and exuding privilege.

Professor Woods was far more interested in Doctor Reid than in Agent Prentiss, and Emily was quite ready to let Reid – who'd caught up on Woods's publication history in the car – lead the interview. The house and the man made her uncomfortable. Reid was deliberately covering for her. She'd apologize later; for now it gave her freedom to wander around and take stock of the house, profiling the family. The living space was designed like a diplomat's, tailored to communicate a chosen matrix of social messages. The personal items on display had been subject to the same stringent curation as the art.

There were family photos on one of the mantelpieces, of course. Photos of an older son to the one side, photos of Kyle to the other; never a photo of either son with one or both parents; Henry and Virginia always together; the older son most often alone with other people as background, and a few times with a woman; Kyle equally often on his own or as part of a group.

When she'd had enough she requested permission to see Kyle's room, and went upstairs. She knew families like this: all too often the areas not exposed to the public eye were relatively neglected. Here, though, the upstairs hallways were not held to a lesser standard. Trophy family, then, but it was better than the alternative.

Then she saw Kyle's room.

Reid found her there several minutes later, sitting on Kyle's bed. She looked up at him when he entered.

"Do these people know anything about their son at all?" she asked. She knew what her voice sounded like but it was only Reid, closing the door to a hallway that held no Henry.

"Look at this place," she continued, gesturing. "It's the room of the boy they think they should have, not of the boy they do have. Look at the size of this desk, at these bookshelves. Do you see even a single photo, a single poster, a single post-it of anything we know Kyle cares about? Do you see anything that doesn't say 'up-and-coming young professional'?"

Reid came over and sat down next to her while she talked. "No," he said. "I don't." He spread his fingers over the bedspread: blue and beige, dignified. Not something a lively teenager would chose for himself.

She shook her head.

"Where would you hide it?"

"Where would I hide what?"

"Teenagers hide things, whether they have a reason or not. Somewhere in this room there is something that Kyle cares about."  He didn't say, you know this family; you know Kyle. He asked, "Where would you hide it?"

If Rossi would've said it she would've taken his head off; if Hotch, the two of them wouldn't be able to meet each other's eyes for a while; and Morgan would know better than to ask. This was Reid, though, so Emily looked at him, said nothing, and then walked to the center of the room and turned around slowly.

"It'll be fairly obvious," she said. "His parents are secure in the control they have: they wouldn't actively invade his privacy, and he knows it. All the visible surfaces are perfectly clear," she noted, spreading her hands in emphasis.

"The desk has drawers," noted Reid.

"And that's a very big closet," she agreed. "Oh," she added a moment later.

"What is it?"

"Garcia would love his taste in clothes."

"She would?"

She turned her head and saw Reid roll the desk's swivel-chair to take a look. "Oh," he said when she saw. "She really would."

"Yeah," she said. "I don't think we'll find a single black item in here." She considered the shelves upon shelves and walk upon walk of brightly-coloured, comfortable, carefully-cut clothes. "Or anything beige or dark blue, for that matter."

"He definitely has his own taste."

"You can say that again. I don't think he's hidden anything in here, though. Is that a laptop?"

"Yes."

She left the closet open and came over. "And is that a password prompt?"

"Yes, but," Reid raised his left forefinger, "if you're right…" He hit the return key.

"There's no password!"

"A password prompt is a psychological deterrent." He didn't say, It's your profile.

She squeezed his shoulder, but didn’t quite lean over for a closer look. "What have we got?"

"It would be easier to say what we haven't got, which is a data structure. It seems all of his files are in a single folder." Reid narrowed his eyes at the monitor. "Most of these appear to be media. I don't think I see anything that might be homework, broadly construed."

He reached for his pocket, but she got to her cell phone first. "Get the IP and we'll get Garcia on it."

 

Silva Residence, Rogers Park, Chicago, 2:20 pm

The Silva home was a two-story house, old but in a decent condition. To Morgan's eye there were signs of renovations which seemed five to ten years old: the family must have bought the house in a poorer condition and had some work done.

With the mother and the oldest sister gone, the two younger girls were staying with a neighbouring family. The FBI request to see the house and specifically Vikki's room had been passed along in advance, though, and the neighbor, Manuela Ruiz, was waiting for them there with Vikki's sisters.

Ruiz was tall, wide at the hips, lines in her face and her hair streaked with more than a little grey. She regarded the two LEOs with more than a little suspicion and her hand stayed firmly clutched to six-year-old Rory's shoulder. Rory seemed mostly confused and somewhat upset; fourteen-year-old Isabel, on the other hand, made Ruiz seem trusting and talkative in comparison. The girl sat with her homework at the kitchen table. Morgan spent a few minutes trying to so much as get the girl to look at him before Ruiz intervened.

"Isa," she said sharply. "That's enough."

The girl lifted her pen and pointed it at the stack of books and writing pads. "No, it isn't."

"Isa!" Ruiz reached over her shoulder and pulled away the notebook, which finally made the girl look up. "Don't be a child," continued Ruiz before the girl could say anything. "Talk to them. To the living room; go, now."

The kitchen, where Ruiz and Rory stayed, had a clear line of sight to the living room. Morgan could hear the woman and Logan conversing as he and Isabel walked the short distance to the living room and sat down.

Isabel was still refusing to make eye contact, body language mutinous and strongly reminiscent of her older sister.

Even if he couldn't get anything else out of Izzy – the name she immediately corrected him to – he'd already learned something he and the team should know.

 

24th District PD, Chicago, 2:30 pm

He could have picked Theo Woods out of a crowd even if Garcia hadn't sent them a photo with that biography. At a first glance, he looked just like an aged-up version of his brother’s photo. At a second, Theo had his mother's hair and his father's eyes where Kyle had inherited the opposite, and though it was difficult to tell, Rossi thought Theo's bulk and strength of features took after his father, whereas Kyle had more of Virginia in him.

Rossi watched mother and son through the open blinds. There was distance there, as he'd expected, but Theo had gone straight for his mother and their greeting – hand on shoulder or arm, kiss on the cheek – suggested that Virginia may be less reserved with her family than they'd estimated. There was trust there, on both sides: it was in Virginia immediately updating her son, in the focus of Theo's attention.

He was not the least bit surprised that Droyanov, on the other side of the squad room, watched the two just as carefully and then walked to the conference room without so much as glancing in their direction.

"What's your impression?" he asked when she opened the door.

She raised her eyebrows, stepped in and closed the door behind her. "You're the profiler."

"And you're a good cop who's been observing that woman longer than I have."

"Her shoulders dropped half an inch once he stepped in," Droyanov said. "Makes me wonder why we haven't seen her husband here at all."

Rossi nodded.

"Also makes me wonder if charisma is a genetic trait," she added.

Rossi's lips twitched. "Inherited – yes, sometimes; genetic, no."

It was her turn to nod. "What do you think?"

"That Theo just might be able to provide key insight into this family." He stepped forward, until he was nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with her. "Let's go introduce ourselves."

She didn't raise her eyebrows, but it was a near thing. He knew what she didn't ask: Don't you want to get Agent Hotchner?

"I'll talk to the brother," he said. "Make her that coffee before you approach her."

"You do know she'll see right through it."

"Yes," he agreed. "But she has an ally of her choosing, now, so she just might feel a little charitable." Droyanov was young, and looked younger; Rossi was sure she'd get it.

Judging by her smile, she did.

 

Rogers Park, Chicago, 2:45 pm

Prentiss barely bothered to shrug out of her coat before she sat – or rather, crashed – down. "Oh, god, I'm famished."

Morgan gave her a critical look. He'd known in advance that Reid was not made for Chicago winter, but he didn't expect Prentiss to take to it that badly.

"Yeah, you look like it, too," he said. "You too, kid. Did either of you had anything to eat but cookies, today?"

It was a deliberate serve; one that, judging by the lukewarm quality of his irritated stare, Reid was too miserable with cold and hunger to properly return.

"So what do you guys have?" Prentiss asked once she and Reid had ordered some late lunch.

Morgan took out the photo in its clear plastic bag and slid it across the table. "Found this under Jay's pillow," he said. "One of two personal items in the apartment."

Reid gave the photo a cursory look. "We found more of these on Kyle's computer," he said. "Garcia's still sifting through them, but they seem to support Dolores's claims regarding the nature and duration of Kyle's and Vikki's relationship and date Jay's presence in their lives as approximately one and a half years."

"Matched Jay's boss's version."

"And Hotch says Kyle had a fight with his parents just this weekend," said Prentiss.

"Anything missing in his room?"

She made a face. "Other than clothes, there's nothing to be missing."

Morgan shook his head. "Something's not right with this picture. Vikki's definitely the alpha, and she'd definitely act to protect who and what she thinks is Hers – but that's the thing: she sees herself as a protector. And she's very organized. An impromptu action like this – I don't think it's her style."

"Kyle's been in her life much longer. I don't think she'd protect Jay if he did something rash and hurt Kyle," said Prentiss.

"We're definitely missing something," said Reid.

Their food arrived.

"You guys have any more stops on your list?" asked Morgan a few minutes later, after Reid and Prentiss had all but inhaled their food.

"The community center," said Reid.

"We have Vikki's school and dojo," said Morgan. "Listen, how about we switch partners? The dojo is only two blocks down from the community center."

Prentiss caught on immediately. She looked better, but Reid still a bit blue from the cold.

"Logan and I will take those."

Logan made a face at her, but it was good-natured. Reid didn't protest, which was all the confirmation Morgan needed. "You and I take the school and head back to PD, all right, pretty boy?"

"I think I'll have another coffee before we go."

 

24th District PD, Chicago, 2:45 pm

"I'm sorry I can't help you more, Agent."

"It's all right, Theo."

The younger man flexed his fingers and then passed them through his hair. "I just – "

Rossi watched him quietly. Thirty-year-old graduate of two major universities, running his own business with his fiancée, tall as Hotch and built like a jock, Theo was the standard that Kyle fell short of in their parents' eyes. Rossi didn't think that Theo was aware of it, though: the older Woods son had lost essential contact with his younger brother's life since he'd first left Chicago for college. He'd dropped everything and came for his mother, not for his brother.

And yet.

"I just," Theo said again. Then he shook his head. "How did this happen?"

"Teenagers are vulnerable and secretive," said Rossi. Carefully, comfortingly: it was much more effective in putting Theo off-guard. "It's not a very safe combination."

Theo shook his head again. "Kyle's good with people. Always has been, and enough to impress Mom. It's hard for me to believe he's been taken advantage of by someone not much older than he is. He might have just – run away."

Enough to impress Mom. The jealousy ran both ways, then, and Kyle was Virginia's son in more than his physique. Rossi considered, and then took out his tablet and brought up the photos Emily and Reid had taken. "These are photos of your brother's room," he said. "Would you know if anything is missing?"

"I can try."

They sat on the edge of the table, not on the chairs; Theo was too restless. A few moments later, he said: "Wait."

"What is it?"

"There's – the summer before I left for college, we went to a fair. They had these stupid booths like they always do. I won him a squirt gun – just this tiny thing. He'd always had it on a shelf or something in his room, as if on display. Mom's been trying to get rid of it for years, but Kyle –"

"A squirt gun."

"Yes."

Rossi thumbed the file browser to the folder of Morgan's photos. "Like this one?"

Theo stared at the photo. "Not 'like.' That's the one."

"You wait here," said Rossi. "I'll be right back."

Kyle's older brother might have just cracked the case.

 

Rogers Park, Chicago, 3:30 pm

Prentiss's phone went off almost as soon as they stepped out of the community center. Logan, who had the keys anyway, got into the driver's seat and watched her expression out of the corner of his eye as he drove.

"What is it?" he asked as soon as she terminated the call.

"Found our missing piece."

"Really?"

"The squirt gun you found in Jay's apartment? It really is a childhood keepsake – of Kyle's."

"Kyle's? But – "

"He ran away."

"But his clothes –"

He could see her smile humorlessly in his peripheral vision. "He couldn't wear that on Jay's block, not if he wanted to stay there for a while."

"So where the hell is he?"

"That's what we need to get Vikki and Jay to tell us."

"That's what we needed them to tell us all along."

"Yes," she agreed, "but now we know how to talk to them."

 

 24th District PD, Chicago, 3:35 pm

It was going to be a close race to find Kyle that night. There was only an hour left until sunset, and it was storming out. The weather also meant that the rest of the team wouldn't be returning to the PD anytime soon, for all that both Morgan and Logan were experienced in driving in this weather. Hotch and Rossi would just have to make do.

Vikki, as Hotch had pointed out, was fairly straightforward to handle, once they understood her motives; Jay was a different matter, and they might not have the time to get Vikki to trust them enough to talk to him for them.

Rossi suggested using Theo; Hotch pointed out that Theo could not go in on his own, and that Jay was not likely to react well to either of them; Rossi suggested Droyanov. She wasn't a profiler, but she didn't need be one: she needed to be a good interviewer whose mere presence would not cause Jay to clam up. That she was, and for everything else they had earwigs. And as an added advantage, Rossi argued, this would allow him to follow both interviews and pass relevant information from Hotch to Droyanov and back.

Hotch gave Rossi a Look, looked out the window to see the rapport Droyanov had finally managed to establish with Virginia and Theo and agreed with a sigh.

 


 

"He's just a sad, lonely kid," Agent Rossi had said: "He knows how much trouble he can get in, here, but if Vikki or Kyle decided that the three of them shouldn't talk to us then he wouldn't. They're everyone he's ever had, those two. He'll talk to Kyle's brother; won't be able to ignore him.

"Jay's lonely and probably terrified. Get him to talk about Kyle. We'll figure out the rest of it as we go."

Jay glanced at them when they entered the room, an automatic response to a sudden noise. He didn't even see Milena, for all that she could tell. Theo was older, more rugged and had different hair and eye colours than the boy she'd seen in the pictures, but his resemblance to his younger brother was uncanny. Jay's gaze locked on him immediately.

She'd tried interviewing him before, and didn't re-introduce herself.  "Hi, Jay," she said. He didn't look at her. "Someone's here to see you. This is Kyle's brother, Theo."

"Hi, Jay," said Theo.

You had to hand it to the man, she thought as they walked over to the table and pulled out chairs for themselves.  He'd been nervous and very nearly jittery on the other side of the door, but now he seemed at ease and had made the hello sound perfectly natural.

Get Jay's attention, check; introduce Kyle's brother as such, check; next step. "We brought something," she said as she adjusted her chair. The brought out the evidence bag and placed it on the table, putting it at equal distance from the three of them. "Theo here told us that it's Kyle's, and that he would have only brought it to your place if he felt at home there." She paused, trying to gage his reaction. It was a non-reaction to her eyes but, thankfully, there was a profiler on the other side of that glass.

'Skip telling him we know he didn't do it,' instructed Rossi in her ear. 'Tell him we know he and Kyle are friends.'

"It tells us you are Kyle are friends," she said. "Good friends. Everyone who knows either of you says the same thing, too."

'Now use Theo. Appeal to his connection to Kyle.'

"You're good friends; you know each other real well," she continued. "Which is why Theo's here, now. Would you tell Theo about Kyle, Jay?"

Jay was looking between Theo and the squirt gun. He didn't seem as detached, anymore. She could almost see the cogs turning in his head, trying to make up his mind.

'Distance it from the current predicament,' instructed Rossi. 'Ask about how they met, that should be safe enough.'

"How about the time you met?" She suggested out loud. "How did that happen?"

Almost: she could see it, now. Jay's eyes were flickering faster and he was sitting straight instead of slouching back. All they had to do was to wait a little –

– or push very hard. Theo leaned forward and picked up the bag, lifting it about an inch above the table. Jay startled, eyes locking on Theo's face again.

"I won this for him," Theo said. He didn't seem intense in any way: just curious, and perhaps concerned. "He probably told you that, right?" Then he put the bag down and fell back in his chair. "That was a long time ago," he added, more quietly. "Twelve years. That's a really long time. Maybe if I'd been there things would have gone differently, but I hadn't been. You were, though. You've been there for him."

That did it, all right. It took Jay a moment more before he spoke – swallowing, looking away, looking back again – but then he did.

"He did tell me," he said. "About this." His hand hovered above the bag with the squirt gun.  He looked up at Theo, making direct eye contact for the first time since they'd brought him in. "About you."

Theo sat straighter, looking engaged, eager almost. "Would you tell me about him?" he asked.

"What do you want to know?"

"Anything," said Theo, and added the prompt he and Milena had been instructed to give: "Anything you want to talk about."

 


 

Everything about Vikki said defiance. Hotch was careful to ignore that without ignoring her. He came in carrying one slim folder tucked under his elbow, two empty glasses carefully balanced in one hand and a full pitcher in the other. He set the pitcher, the glasses and the folder down in this order, and filled both glasses, setting the pitcher closer to Vikki.

It was with the same offhand neutrality that he sat down and said, "My name is Aaron Hotchner. I'm with the FBI." He took a sip of water; Vikki mirrored him, though she took a few gulps. They set their glasses down nearly simultaneously.

"I'm going to tell you what we think we know," he continued. "Feel free to correct me." He opened the folder and pushed the first document across: a reprint of the photo Morgan had found at Jay's. "Kyle Woods," he said, pointing. "You met when you were thirteen, and you've been best friends since. Jay Lund," he moved his finger two inches. "First he was your mechanic. They he became Kyle's other best friend and, by extension, yours. He's on his own, except for Kyle and yourself."

She followed the show-and-tell with her eyes, even if her posture still communicated apprehension; so far, so good. Hotch pushed forward the next document, a copy of her application essay to Northwestern that Garcia had gotten. "You want to be an engineer," he said. "You applied to good schools, and you can make it. Your mother and Ms. Lin from the community center say that Kyle expressed interest in making working with kids a career. His mother, on the other hand, wants him to go to a top-tier school and get a different kind of degree. She and he just had a bad argument about it this past weekend."

He pushed forward several documents, all photos: Kyle's school bag under Jay's table, Kyle's clothes on Jay's bed, Kyle's squirt gun on Jay's drawer chest.

Vikki didn't quite lean forward, but it was a near thing.

Definitely engaged, now; good. Hotch continued his narration. "Kyle decided he'd had enough. He'd probably stocked on cash in advance. He left all his school things in his locker. He'd changed into Jay's clothes, because his own would stand out too much, and he wasn't going anywhere. You couldn't change his mind, so you decided to do the best thing you could do to protect him, which is to support him. He'll turn eighteen in a few weeks, which would make it a different game. There was no reason he couldn't stand up to his parents. You could make it."

She'd reached for her glass while he was speaking. Engagement, basic trust: good, and getting better.

"We know you and Jay didn't do anything wrong, Vikki."

She paused in replacing the empty glass on the table, completed the movement and made a failed-surreptitious attempt to clear her throat.

"If you know that, then why are we still here?"

"Because we can't find Kyle," he said, directly. "Why wasn't he at the apartment? Where would he go?"

She stared at him for a long moment, and then busied herself with carefully pouring herself another glass. When she raised her glass to drink Hotch did the same with his own.

Still holding her glass, she asked, "Is Jay in trouble?"

"Neither of you is in trouble," he said. "But it's storming out and it will be dark soon, and we really need to find Kyle."

It was a moment more before she said, "He just went out for some groceries. Probably saw all you cops swarming the place when he came back, and turned tail."

"Where would he go?"

"I don't know. Anywhere he won't freeze to death. He's not stupid, and his coat wasn't that warm. There are shelters in that neighbourhood, you know."

 


 

Rossi had Garcia on speed dial, and she answered on the first ring. "We need the address of every shelter, soup kitchen and halfway house within two – make that three – miles of Jay's place," he told her.

"All right, but not all those places have websites – "

"Don't worry about that. Just email us the addresses for those that do." He thanked her and terminated the call. Then he Rossi hit the button and spoke into the mic  connected to Droyanov’s earwig. "We got it," he told her. "Wrap it up," He let the button go and headed out of the observation room to find that Hotch was already acquiring the addresses for the rest of the shelters from the locals.

Kyle was people-smart and Vikki seemed to think he had a modicum of common sense. All he had to be is a little lucky on top, and he'd be coming home safe tonight.

 

24th District PD, Chicago, 4:10 pm

The squad room she and Logan stepped into was bustling with activity. It didn't take Spencer Reid – poring over maps in the conference room, talking to thin air or perhaps to Garcia on speakerphone – to realize that a search was being organized.

"Looks like a search to me," said Logan.

"Yes," she agreed. "Can you show me where the electric kettle is?"

He raised his eyebrows at her, even as he started in what was – she hoped – the direction of the break room or kitchenette. "Got your priorities straight, don't you?"

"Yes," she informed him. "My team would have already pounced on me if there was anything requiring my immediate attention or if they couldn't brief me on the way, we're going to be out that door again in minutes, and I want my tea."

"Your coat and gloves aren't really made for this weather, are they."

"No," she admitted, "not really."

When she turned back to the squad room, hands wrapped around a steaming mug of tea, it was just in time for the drama. Rossi was to one side of the room, next to an anxious woman Emily figured for Dolores Silva; to another side were two people Emily recognized from the photographs as Kyle's mother and older brother; and then Hotch and a local Emily did not recognize came from down a hallway, escorting Vikki and Jay.

The woman who'd been standing next to Rossi was definitely Vikki's mother, as she cried out and ran forward to embrace her daughter. After a long moment and quite a few kisses on the cheeks she finally let go of her daughter, and turned to offer a similar if less intense treatment to a rather shell-shocked Jay.

Emily didn't need to be able to hear across the din to know that the local was telling Dolores that she and the two kids would have to stay for a while more, but she had no idea what Kyle's mother and brother were arguing about.

She found out a moment later, as the team gathered together and the brother stepped up and addressed Rossi.

"I'd like to come with you," he said.

"I'm not sure that's a very good idea," said Hotch.

The brother – Theo – glanced at him, and turned back to Rossi. "I meant what I said in there," he said.

Hotch looked at Rossi, Rossi looked at Hotch, and Emily wouldn't have placed a bet on how things would turn out.

Virginia stepped closer to her son, raised her hand to touch his arm and changed her mind. "Theo," she said, quietly.

"No, Mom," he said. "What went wrong, it's not on them," he indicated Vikki and Jay with his head, "and not on Kyle. It's on us, you and Dad and me."

"Yes," Virginia agreed after a moment, and the word was almost a sigh. "But this is not the best way. They'll find him, Theo."

The tableau held, for a moment, and then Theo looked at Hotch. "What do you think?" he asked directly.

Hotch replied in kind. "That we have many shelters to search and that the chance you yourself would find your brother, which is what I believe you want, is slim."

Theo blinked, and then deflated. "Bring him home safe."

"If he's there, we will most likely find him," said Hotch.

"Hold on," added Rossi.

Hotch nodded once. "Let's go," he said.

And they were gone.

 

Chicago, 8:21 pm

Emily's first thought at her head snapped around to follow a certain smile and a certain posture was that she'd almost missed him; her second, that Kyle would be impossible to overlook at a place like this. Three days on the street meant the kid needed a shower and could use a few square meals and a full night's sleep, but if they had put a dent in his sense of confidence then it didn't show.

"Hi," she said ,once she was close enough to grab his elbow if she needed to.

The grin he flashed her had to be autopilot, but it was effective nonetheless. "Hi."

"I'm Emily."

He offered his hand for a shake as if it was natural. "Kyle. You work here?"

Yes, she did stand out that much. "Not exactly."

It took him an extra second to ask, "What's that mean?"

"It means I'm FBI."

His eyebrows shot up. "FBI? Seriously?"

She showed him her badge.

"Right, FBI." He threw in another grin and said, making it a question: "I didn't do it and I don't know who did?"

"You're not in trouble," she said, "but Vikki and Jay are."

He pushed himself away from the wall, facing her fully. He was young enough that the instant worry made him seem younger. "What happened? Wait," he added, as the fact that she had to have been looking for him registered, "what's going on?"

"Vikki and Jay have been brought in for questioning on your kidnapping?"

"My what?"

She waited, letting him sort it out for himself.

"No, they didn't do anything. Look, Agent, I…"

"Ran away?" she completed. "Yes, we figured that out."

She had a sneaking suspicion he knew exactly how dropping his shoulders and opening his eyes wide made him look as he asked, "But they're going to be all right now, right? Now that you proved I haven't been kidnapped."

She shook her head. "It doesn't work this way, Kyle. You know that."

He gave her a one-shoulder shrug. "Why not?"

She sighed. "They're not in the clear unless and until you come back. And another arrest, over any charge, is really not something that Jay needs."

It was dirty, but it worked; that was the job. Kyle followed her quietly as she let the attendant know she had gotten who she came for and then headed out to the car.

The silent treatment. She hadn't expected that from him.

She turned the key in the ignition, made sure the heat was turned all the way up and called Hotch.

"I've got him," she said. "He's fine. We're heading to the hospital now."

 

Swedish Covenant Hospital, Chicago, 8:50 pm

Morgan had his doubts whether it was smart, to have the Silva women and Jay wait for Kyle at the hospital together with his mother and brother. From the look Droyanov had given him in reply to his raised eyebrows he surmised that Vikki had insisted, and neither her mother nor Kyle's had put up a fight.

He hadn't spent the day profiling Kyle, but he had the sense the moms’ behavior was new.

It was far from being the most awkward situation he'd been in, but it was still fairly uncomfortable. It would have been better if Hotch or Rossi would've gotten there before him and Reid, but considering all the thousand other ways in which they had gotten lucky today, Morgan wasn't complaining.

Virginia Woods was still refusing to sit down and though she looked as impeccable as she had earlier that afternoon at the PD, but in bright lights of the ER at night she seemed more brittle, somehow, and less as if she was made of Teflon and steel. Henry Woods wasn't coming: in this weather, his wife and sons would be in and out of the hospital and back home before he'd make it downtown.

Virginia was standing ramrod-straight and had been silent except for that one conversation with her husband. Dolores, conversely, hung by the nurses' station, chatting quietly with the reception nurse and keeping one eye on the entrance and another on her daughter and Jay. Droyanov, seating across from the kids, was doing the same.

He hadn't seen Theo Woods in about ten minutes, but the man had no reason to disappear and Morgan was relatively certain nothing was going to happen to him in a hospital. Which was not to say that Morgan wasn't attaching himself to Theo when he deigned to wander in.

When Theo did come back it was with a six-cup carrier with one empty space and a paper bag. He handed the first coffee to Dolores, who thanked him quietly; the second to his mother, who nodded without a word; and the next two to Vikki and Jay. Then he sat down on Vikki's other side with his own coffee, took out one pastry and offered the bag to Vikki who, for her part, stared at him as if he'd grown another head.

Still not looking anywhere but the floor, Jay bumped her shoulder with his, waited a second, and reached past her to pull one pastry out of the bag. Vikki twisted in her chair. The angle was wrong for Morgan to see Jay's face as he met her stare, but the set of his shoulder was mutinous. He didn't actually bite into the pastry until Vikki turned around and took one herself.

"Thanks," she told Theo, grudgingly and with more than a little suspicion.

Morgan could almost see Theo weigh different phrasings and tones of speech, before opting for a wry, oddly fond: "You're welcome."

 

Best Western Hotel, Chicago, 1:30 am

They weren't flying anywhere that night. If they'd get lucky the storm would ease off by tomorrow afternoon of the next day; if not, it would be a strange way to get a vacation. In the meantime, Emily was grateful for a hot shower and an electric kettle.

The knock on her door was faint enough that at first she thought she'd only imagined it. In retrospect, she should have expected Spencer.

"I could have been asleep," she said, as she stepped aside to let him in.

"I hope I didn't knock too loud."

She swallowed back a smile. "There's tea," she said. "If you want coffee then you're out of luck."

"Your tea or hotel tea?"

"What do you think?"

"That I'll take extra sugar in mine."

"Didn't think otherwise."

 There was a chair by the desk, but it was past 1 a.m., they were both in pajamas, and at any rate it was less strange for both of them to be sitting next to each other on the carpet, backs against the bed, then for one of them to be on the bed while the other was in the chair.

"You know, this one ended unreasonably well."

"I know," she said.

"Then what's wrong?"

"Who says anything's wrong?"

"Well, like you said: you could have been asleep."

She could, actually, win at verbal sparring against Spencer. She didn't enjoy being that person, though, and this was far from worth it.

"Do you think anything is going to change?" she asked, after a long pause.

"Yes," he answered without hesitation. "Kyle's parents are not going to wake up and forget the choices Kyle had made over the past few days, or that Vikki and Jay exist. But what you intended to ask, I think," he continued, "is whether things will change for the better."

"That too," she answered after a pause.

"What more, Emily? What else?"

She looked away. She knew she was picking her nails, and that he would notice, but it was difficult to not do so.

"Emily?" he asked again.

She signed. "There's a very big elephant we left out of the official report," she said. She'd guessed before, but anyone of her team who had been at that hospital should have figured it out. When Spencer said nothing, she said: "It's going down in writing that Vikki is Kyle's girlfriend and Jay is his best friend."

"It is not false."

"It's most likely not entirely true, either."

"I concur," he said, "but I think it is evident why we all elected to neglect mentioning in the official record of events that Kyle, Vikki and Jay are probably all intimately involved with one another."

Because Jay is over eighteen and Kyle and Vikki aren't, she thought. Because the purpose of that law is to protect the vulnerable, but here, it's Jay who is so much more vulnerable.

"Maybe they'll make it," said Spencer, very softly. "Maybe they won't. But I don't think – I think either way, there's a good chance they will all come out better for it."

She opened her mouth to ask another question, but there was a knock on the door and then again, while she and Spencer exchanged glances.

He picked up both their cups while she got the door.

On the other side of it was Morgan, wearing several layers under his warm coat, carrying a suspicious-looking paper bag in one hand and balancing two pizza boxes on the other.

"What – ?"

He shouldered his way into the room without waiting for her to finish. "Figures," he said, making his way to the desk and placing both the pizza and the paper bag on it, the latter of which indeed clink at it was set down. "You two were up at the wee hours of the morning drinking tea." He said the last word as if it was an insult or a curse word. "So I figured," he continued, pulling the beers out of the bag, "that we might as well make it a real party."

"You are incorrigible, you know that?"

"Are you saying no to free pizza?"

"Do they have mushrooms?" Spencer asked. Judging by his expression, he'd skipped dinner.

Come to think about it, so had she.

"Not this one," said Derek, separating the two boxes and pointing to one. Then he pointed to the other and grinned at Emily. "Care to guess what ‘s on this one?"

"Incorrigible," she repeated, but she was smiling as she said it.

"I never denied that," he said, and offered her a slice. "Pepperoni?"

 

"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone.”
 
Orson Welles