Chapter 1: The Case
The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. –JRR Tolkien
SSA Aaron Hotchner studied the file in his hands, skimming the details and pictures before raising his eyes to Jennifer Jareau who waited in the doorway to his office.
"Five victims in two weeks? Why weren't we called in until now?" he asked.
"Local forces didn't make the connection until the second, third, fourth, and fifth victims were found together. The lab work showed that those four shared common wounds and tox screens as the first, and all five were found somewhere on the same property."
"Gather the team."
JJ nodded and walked out with her own copy of the file. When it had crossed her desk the day before, she knew that it required immediate attention, especially given the discrepancy of the victims.
Derek Morgan, Emily Prentiss, and Dr. Spencer Reid. Together with Hotch and JJ and their technical analyst, Penelope Garcia, the team handled the worst cases the FBI had to investigate. Through their profiling skills, they tracked their unknown subjects and then raced to get a step ahead.
Within fifteen minutes, the members of the Behavior Analysis unit of the FBI were seated at the conference table, already reading through the copied files JJ had prepared and set out for them. She saw that Reid was already reading it through, page by page, with his finger marking a seemingly impossible speed. Morgan had begun laying out photos of the victims as they had been found, studying every detail. Prentiss had gone to the pages containing the reports surrounding the property owners involved in the case.
Hotch walked in and took his own seat, gesturing at JJ. "Let's get started."
JJ took the clicker in her hand and brought up several pictures of the victims provided by the families.
"Fifteen days ago, Montrose police were called to the Rosa Stables and Farm. One of the employees had found the body of Peter McCallister who had been missing for less than twenty four hours. McCallister is Caucasian, fifty nine years old; he was found with a contusion to his head and ketamine in his system. He was also stabbed post-mortem five times in the back. They thought it was an isolated event."
"Then the other bodies were found," Morgan broke in, looking at the relevant photos.
JJ nodded. "Right. Casey Rhodes, Nick Russell, Brian Carson, and Mack Hartford, six days ago. All four boys are also white and either twelve or thirteen years old. Due to their age, they were reported missing within hours after their parents dropped them off at the local park. They were found early the next morning, again, at Rosa Stables."
"Same manner of death?"
"Head contusions and ketamine, yes, but not the stabbing."
"So, on the one hand, we have an unsub who uses a blitz attack to subdue his victim, drugs to kill and then is filled with enough rage to stab the victim's body," Prentiss said.
"The unsub could be smaller, or not physically strong," Reid posited. "That could explain the blitz and the drugs."
"Or, he was somehow felt frightened of his victim," Morgan added. "Then after McCallister was dead, the fear turned into rage."
"Or, the drugs were only meant to incapacitate him and the victim died accidentally," Reid pointed out. "The unsub could have then been enraged that the death was out of his control and then acted on that."
"What about those boys, though?" Prentiss asked.
"No signs of sexual trauma," JJ read from the report. "Just an overdose of the drugs."
"Killed quickly, it almost seems impersonal," Hotch said.
"Now, if it weren't for the initial attacks and the drugs, would we even say this was the same unsub?" Morgan asked.
"All were found on the same property," Hotch answered.
"So, this must be a message to the owners," Morgan said. "Except for the stables being a dump site for the unsub, is there any other connection between the victims and the property?"
"McCallister rode and kept two horses there," JJ answered. "And two of the boys attended riding lessons, Casey and Brian."
"But not all of the boys?" Morgan asked for clarification.
"Just the two."
"We need to talk to the owners and find out why someone is trying to give them the message, and what that message is," Hotch concluded. "Wheels up in a half hour."
At Montrose Regional airport, the team was met by a detective and two officers.
"Detective Charles Parker," the man in plain clothes introduced himself to Hotch. "With me are Officers Mitchell and Delgado."
Hotch returned the favor as the teams mingled slightly.
"Officer Delgado can take anyone back to the station to get settled," the detective offered as the man nodded in agreement. "Ms. Jareau mentioned on the phone that you want to speak with the Rosa Stable owners?"
"Their stables are the main connecting factor between the victims so far," Hotch explained. "We need to figure out why they are being targeted."
Parker exchanged glances with the other officer as the two men engaged in a silent conversation. All the profilers noted the easy partnership between the three men and non-verbal communication.
"Mitchell will take you over," Parker finally turned back to the team.
Hotch glanced at his own team before splitting them up. "Prentiss, Reid and I will go with Mitchell. Morgan, go to each site where the bodies were found and JJ, get a feel for the kind of media attention we're likely to get."
The group divided between the two standard black SUVs and went their separate ways.
"The stables back up against the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park," Mitchell explained as they drove, Hotch riding next to him and Prentiss and Reid in the back. "So far, we think that's how he's been traveling to dump the bodies."
"Suggests a familiarity of the area," Reid spoke up from the back. "We could be looking for a local who knows the area well."
"What can you tell us about the owners?" Hotch asked.
"Rosa is owned by Roy Phillips," Mitchell explained. "He inherited from his father twenty years ago. Offers private boarding and lessons as well as public lessons. There are trails both on site and through into Gunnison."
"I understand some of the victims were riders at Rosa?" Prentiss asked.
"Yes. Peter had two horses with them and two of the boys took summer lessons."
"What else do you know about Phillips? Any enemies or complaints?" Reid asked.
"Not that I can think of. Roy lives on the property with his son, Tyler—his wife died about seven years ago. Also living with them is his niece, Juliet. She helps coordinate and teach the lessons."
"And your relation to them?" Hotch asked, noting the familiar way Mitchell spoke of these people.
Mitchell looked sharply at the profiler before turning his eyes back to the road. "Roy is my uncle."
Standing in the middle of the aisle of the main stable with the scent of hay, hair, and manure in the air as well as the soft sounds of horses in their stalls, Hotch noticed that Roy Phillips and Officer Mitchell shared many features in common, including the light brown eyes, straight noses, easy smiles, and dirty blond hair. Where the younger man kept neatly trimmed and clean-shaven per department protocols, Phillips was bearded, showing the handful of gray hairs coming. Both men were tall and solidly built. Where Mitchell wore his uniform, Phillips was dressed casually in jeans, a dark red button down shirt and camel colored jacket.
"Uncle Roy, these are the FBI agents," the officer introduced after the two had shared handshakes and half-hugs. "Agents Hotchner, Prentiss and Dr. Reid, this is Roy Phillips."
Hotch shook hands with the man, feeling the strong calluses of a working man.
"I hope you folks can get this bastard figured out," Phillips said fervently. "Peter was a friend and those boys were just kids. A little rambunctious, but good kids."
"That's what we hope to find out," Hotch agreed. "So far, we believe that this unsub is trying to send you a message."
"All five victims were found on your property."
"Is there anything significant in the exact locations where they've been found?" Prentiss asked.
"Peter was found in the grazing pasture," Phillips answered. "The boys were found together at the edge of the lesson paddocks. My niece found them."
"Is there anyone you could think of that has something to tell you?" Prentiss asked.
"I can't think of anyone who would resort to murder to tell me something," Phillips assured them. "I'm not a man who makes many enemies and we're all outspoken folk out here. Whenever someone's had a problem with me in the past, they've come out and told me to my face."
"Uncle Roy, what about that rider two exhibitions ago that took a fall?" Mitchell pointed out. "I think Juliet mentioned that he was blaming the staff for not clearing the arena properly and cost him the win that day."
Phillips eyed his nephew and the agents doubtfully. "You really think that man would kill Peter and the boys just to get back at me."
"With these unsubs, sometimes the smallest things can set them off. Do you remember his name?" Hotch asked.
"Jules should be able to find it in our records along with his contact information."
"That's a start. Anyone else? It doesn't matter how small the infraction seems to you."
"Fred Gibson," a new voice added.
The gathered group turned and saw the young woman walking toward them with sure steps. Though the blond hair was lighter in color and her eyes were hazel, her face showed enough resemblance to the men for the agents to assume she was Phillips' niece and Mitchell's sister, Juliet Mitchell. She was dressed for riding in jeans underneath black suede chaps, a long sleeved white tee shirt and a green plaid flannel vest.
"Now, Jules, Gibson is business and finished business at that," Phillips argued.
Juliet eyed the FBI agents carefully before turning her attention back to her uncle. "They asked for anyone with a grudge. You refused to sell out to that rat bastard three years ago. Maybe this is his way to get you to change your mind or just to tell you he's pissed off still."
The fire in her eyes told Hotch that the girl felt passionate about helping their investigation. The calm and confident manner in which she spoke to her uncle, brother and the agents told him that she was thoughtful and had considered their request quickly and already came up with another name for them.
"Tell us more about this man," Hotch said, directing the request to all three family members.
The officer grimaced. "He's a business man out from Seattle who wanted to buy the property for some renovation project. Came by and made an offer and Uncle Roy wouldn't even hear it."
"He was an insulting pig, treating me like a county bumpkin," Phillips added vehemently.
"Now, why didn't you think this man could be responsible?" Prentiss asked. "You obviously have a history and he has a reason to get back at you after you refused him."
"That man was an oily scumbag, make no mistake," Phillips said. "But he was so spit-shiny, city-bred, nose-up-in-the-air dealer who would never get his hands dirty. If he wanted to try and face me again, he'd do it with lawyers and red tape, not murder."
"Nevertheless, we'll add him to our suspect list and do full background check," Hotch ruled. "Now, if you could get us those other records we can get back to the station and put together a profile with the rest of our team."
"Jules, get me the name and contact information for that sore loser rider from April, would you?" Phillips asked.
"Sure. I'll make a copy right away."
"I'll go with," Reid offered, following the girl as she walked out of the stable, presumably to the adjacent and connected building that housed the office, front waiting room, and changing rooms.
"Another thing that we need to ask you is about your family history," Prentiss brought up with the two men. "No matter who our unsub is, you are still the person receiving these messages and the more we know about you and your family, the better we can figure out why you are being targeted."
Phillips looked to his nephew first. Officer Mitchell shrugged. "It's standard procedure, Uncle Roy. I'd be doing the same thing."
"Well, I guess you're curious about how our little family came together. Seems to be everybody else's first question."
"Officer Mitchell mentioned already that you live here with your son and niece and your wife passed seven years ago," Hotch summarized.
"John lived here, too, 'til he moved out," Phillips added. "My sister and her husband died when John was ten and Juliet was three—their car crashed one night coming home during a storm. Martha and I took them in, we had just had our son, Tyler. All the kids grew up here on the property, running around the pastures and fields and stables."
"I was just starting at the academy when Aunt Martha got sick," Mitchell continued. "Breast cancer. She died two years after that."
"Juliet and Tyler were still pretty young, but we got on as best we could after that. John finished at the academy and was able to get placed back here. Been a big help."
Hotch and Prentiss talked the two men through a typical day and a typical week, getting a sense for the usual routines of the stable and the family. Hotch almost forgot where he was until a nearby horse let loose a shrill whinny. He looked and saw Juliet and Reid walking to join them again. Reid startled visibly at the sound, looking jumpy and nervous.
"You afraid of horses, too?" Juliet asked with a hint of amusement.
At the questioning glances from the others, Reid muttered, "There was a cat in the office."
"Heather hissed at him," Juliet confided with a smile.
"Reid effect," Hotch and Prentiss confirmed in tandem.
While the two agents as well as Phillips and Mitchell fought back smiles, Juliet took another look at the uncomfortable profiler. Very decisively, she took Reid's arm, and to the confusion of the others, dragged him down the aisle, passing four stalls. She let go of Reid to use both hands to open the stall door, ignoring how Reid stiffened.
"First thing with horses, don't show that you're afraid or nervous. They're skittish and have strong flight-or-fight instincts," Juliet lectured, paying no attention to the baffled Hotch and Prentiss or her family. "Second thing is to always let the horse know where you are. They can see almost 280 degrees, so you're fine for the most part, but don't ever stand directly behind them."
Reid still hadn't moved or even relaxed since the stall door had opened. His attention was fixed on the 900 pound, 15.5 hands tall chestnut colored mare eyeing him speculatively. Juliet smiled and made soft clucking sounds at the mare, running her hands over the massive body before coming to the mare's head.
"This is Mahogany Dream, my Magda. I've been riding her since I was ten. She's patient and fairly tolerant and I can even loan her out to intermediate level students. She is also easily bribed."
Juliet demonstrated by running her nails along the mare's sensitive, velvet-like nose.
"I could do this for hours and she becomes putty in my hands. For you though, we need something a little more obvious."
As Reid continued to watch in silence and trepidation—and the others watched in either fascination or amusement, Juliet reached into her vest pocket and pulled out a handful of sugar cubes. No one missed the way the mare's ears pricked forward, though did not move forward as Juliet kept all but one cube in her fist and held out her remaining hand, palm up and her fingers flat with the sugar cube in the middle of her palm.
"See what I'm doing? With my hand like this, she can't nip at my fingers and she just uses her lips to grab at the treat and then crunch away."
Even Reid had to smile at the obvious enjoyment in the mare at the sugary treat.
The profiler turned panicky again but Juliet took his hand firmly and shaped it to match her own from the moment before, placing a sugar cube in the center.
"Go on," she encouraged.
Under Juliet's warm smile and the slowly-becoming-astonished faces of his coworkers, Reid lifted his hand, flat as instructed within reach of Magda's mouth. The mare eagerly took the treat from his hand and crunched it quickly. Juliet laughed slightly as Reid backed away almost immediately, looking somewhat stunned at what he had just done.
"Maybe we'll get you riding while you're here," Phillips commented, beaming his own smile.
"Not likely," Reid muttered, but he wasn't standing as stiffly as before.
Juliet gave Magda one last scratch on her velvety nose before backing away and closing the stall door.
"Ready to go?" Prentiss asked Reid with a smirk.
"I've the records of the competitors as well as our victims who rode here," he answered.
Hotch glanced at the young woman. She shrugged, "Thought I'd give you those while I was copying."
"All right," he said. "We'll find Morgan and meet JJ at the station. Officer Mitchell, if you would?"
"Sure. Uncle Roy, I'll try to come back later tonight."
Mitchell, Hotch, Prentiss, and Reid all shook Phillips' hand in farewell, though Mitchell gave his sister a tight and quick hug before leading the way back to the SUV. As they left, Hotch saw Juliet being drawn into a hug with her uncle before the two parted ways.
Chapter 2: The Profile
Once all the profilers had met at the station, they settled into the conference room set aside for their use. In addition to their team, both Officer Mitchell and Detective Parker joined them.
"Morgan, tell us about the dump sites," Hotch started.
"McCallister's site was just barely on the side of the property line. The unsub did a quick dump of the body without bothering to cover it in any way; shows no remorse or he was in a hurry. The boys were found farther into the property, but still it was the closest to the border," Morgan said. "All were laid out, but still no efforts to hide the bodies in any way."
"Why is there such a discrepancy in the ages?" Mitchell asked. "Don't these killers usually have a type?"
"In this case, I don't think the murdered victims matter as much as the victims receiving whatever message," Hotch pointed out.
"So, you're saying my uncle is the actual victim," the officer stated bluntly.
"We'll need to factor in the victimology of your family in our profile as well as the actual victims," Prentiss explained more thoroughly.
"Well, if it's going to catch this sonuvabitch, ask me anything you want."
"So, what do we know so far?" Hotch asked.
"Someone very familiar with the area," Reid put in, standing at a bulletin board displaying a map of the reserve and the pastures. "Also, someone familiar with the stables and surrounding land."
"Not a large man or a strong man," Morgan added. "He needed surprise and drugs to subdue his victims, even the young boys."
"But he also took all four boys at once," Prentiss argued. "He could know these people, be someone they recognize or trust."
"The first killing suggests some latent anger," Hotch said. "And the others were impersonal as if he was angry enough to finally kill to get his message across, and now he's just using death as a tool."
"So, you're saying he snapped and killed the first time and now he's comfortable with it," Detective Parker summarized.
"Very possible," Hotch answered. "That means that two weeks ago, there was some stressor in his life that pushed him over that line. Officer Mitchell, has there been anyone trying to make a point to your uncle before this occurred?"
"No one else that I can think of besides who we've mentioned already."
"Someone in this community knows this man, and someone in your family knows them as well," Morgan said. "We need to get some kind of profile out there to get us started."
"And that is?" Parker asked.
The team exchanged glances, waiting for anyone to add anything else. They gestured to bring in the other officers before sketching out the profile.
"We're looking for a male, approximately twenty to thirty years old. He stays in the background and isn't noticed. He is from this community and has some kind of connection with the Rosa Stables and or the Phillips' or Mitchells. He is angry enough to kill to make his point, but he is clinical about it. These victims are not chosen randomly seeing as though three of the five have also been connected with the stable."
At the end of the briefing, another officer came in and took Mitchell by the elbow. Hotch watched the quick, hushed tones before Mitchell stalked out of the room. Leaving his team to finish the profile and for JJ to work her magic with the local press, he left surprisingly unnoticed by everyone else just as Mitchell had managed.
In the bullpen, there was a teenaged boy sitting at one of the desks, obviously sulking. He was a member of Mitchell's family by the blond hair and facial features—presumably Tyler Phillips. But where the boy's father and cousin stood tall, Hotch saw the boy slouch in his seat, his blond hair in need of a haircut and combed straight around his face, partially obstructing it. His clothing consisted of dark jeans, a black rock band tee shirt and black, hooded sweatshirt.
"Why am I here?" Tyler demanded once his cousin was within earshot. "The donut patrol cornered me after school and said I wasn't allowed to hang out with my friends today."
The inflection was laden with attitude and caused Hotch to shudder at the thought of Jack during adolescence.
"I don't want you out on your own until this is solved," Mitchell answered his cousin with considerably more patience than Hotch expected. Mitchell was obviously used to dealing with Tyler in this mood. "The FBI agents think that the killer is targeting our family."
Tyler scoffed. "Bunch of feds show up and you just do as you're told?"
"No. But you are going to do as I tell you right now. Stay here, finish your homework and once I'm off duty we'll head home."
"You're becoming a real dictator, you know that?"
"Damn it, Tyler." Hotch saw some of the patience break as Mitchell crouched down to meet his cousin's eyes. "Five people are dead, you know them all, does that mean nothing to you? I've let you get away with a lot over the last year, but that is done right now. Now stay here and do as I tell you."
The teenage boy held the piercing gaze for a moment longer before looking down.
Tyler reached into the black messenger bag by his feet and grudgingly pulled out a paperback book. Mitchell straightened and turned around, noticing Hotch for the first time. Once he was within easy speaking distance, the officer asked him, "Do you have children, Agent Hotchner?"
"A son, two, almost three years old."
"Parenting books talk about the terrible twos, but it's nothing compared to the terrible teens." Mitchell ran a hand over his face before going on. "I don't know why I bother, he only really listens to Jules these days."
"She's closer in age to him," Hotch pointed out.
"Jules won't say it, and I would never ask, but I think she stayed around instead of going off to college for Tyler's sake. Roy and I tried to get her to research schools, but she just made up her mind to stay and help with the stable and attend the community college part time. I don't know what to do with her anymore either."
"She seemed to know what she was doing."
Mitchell laughed and shrugged. "Truth is, I'm glad she's still around to help deal with him."
"Would Tyler be able to talk with us?" Hotch asked. "He is closest in age to four of the victims and he might know something the rest of you don't. It's important that we speak with all of you."
"Good luck getting answers out of him," Mitchell answered. "Maybe tomorrow when he's not pissed at me. I'll have Jules talk to him tonight so he'll cooperate."
"How accessible is ketamine?" Prentiss asked back in their working room.
"I saw a mounted box of medical supplies at the stable," Reid said. "It's likely they would keep ketamine as their tranquilizer as needed. Also, I imagine that the veterinarians in the area would have a supply."
"We should find out if any ketamine is missing from the stable and then check with the vets," Morgan suggested.
"Yeah, first thing in the morning," JJ added as she carried in bags of Italian take-out.
The agents swarmed the food, eagerly passing around containers and utensils to each other.
"Where's Hotch?" Morgan asked, sitting down with a plate of pasta.
"Seeing Officer Mitchell and his cousin off," JJ answered, taking her own plate. "Hotch will be here any minute and Mitchell said he would return after speaking more with his uncle."
"Any one else get a look at the kid?" Prentiss asked. "Can't wait to talk with him tomorrow."
"It's very common for boys his age to use clothing and attitude as defense mechanisms and methods of asserting so-called individuality," Reid rattled off as he passed the garlic bread around to the others.
"Yep, 'cause that's why I did it," Prentiss grinned.
"Did what?" Hotch asked, entering the room and heading straight for the food.
"The whole Goth/emo thing," Morgan answered.
"Yeah, I can't wait to see what fashions are like when Jack gets to be that age."
"Oh, come on. He'll be the only kid in first grade going to school in a collared shirt and tie every day," JJ teased. It was a long-standing joke to ask if Hotch even owned clothing that was not suits and ties.
"Back to the case, if we could," Hotch re-directed his team with a practiced mix of exasperation and bemusement. "Where are we?"
"McCallister doesn't have any family, but I'll be speaking with his co-workers tomorrow," Morgan said.
"I'm meeting the parents of the four boys in the morning," JJ added.
"Okay, Prentiss and Reid, check out animal hospitals and clinics in the area and check out their drug supplies," Hotch instructed. "I'll stay and talk more with the Mitchells and Phillips'."
The team kept brain storming as they ate, refining their profile and extracting as much as they could from the details of the case. Some time after they had finished eating, but had not yet made the effort to clear off the table, their process was interrupted by the ringing of Morgan's cell phone.
"You're on speaker, baby girl."
"My fine fellows, I have found your Fred Gibson, aged fifty three of Seattle, Washington," the tech analyst's voice floated in the air. "Owns his own development business that buys and sells property like a pawn shop. He did indeed make an offer to Roy Phillips of Rosa Stables but, as we know, was turned down. From what I can tell, he moved on to other prospects and his financials are clean. Nothing I would classify as suspicious."
The team exchanged glances. "Well, that's one eliminated," Hotch said. "Let's keep going."
Juliet had experienced some tense meals in her life, most notably right after her aunt's diagnosis was brought up to her and her cousin for the first time and especially after her death. Dinner that night was not quite one of the worst, but it still was palpable.
After her brother had left with the FBI agents, she had returned to Magda, giving the mare a thorough grooming before going out for a ride. Much as she wanted to disappear on the grounds, Juliet knew that both Roy and John would pin her ears back later for the action.
Instead, Juliet and Magda remained in sight of the stable and house as she put them through their paces on the jumping course. Heedless to her mistress' thoughts and the new arrivals, Magda was as responsive as ever, allowing Juliet to focus on the exercise and forget the horror happening around her. Once Magda had worked up a sweat, Juliet hosed her down and set her loose to graze for an hour as the sun began to set. After she returned the saddle and bridle to the tack room, Juliet discovered a small bouquet of white flowers on Madga's stall door.
Juliet smiled, immediately placing one flower behind her ear. It was common lately to discover small tokens like that in recent months. Sometimes, it was one her students, other times it was anonymous. She brought the remaining blooms to her nose and inhaled deeply and headed for the house.
Juliet had few memories of her parents. She'd been so young when they died that she couldn't even remember living any where other than the two story farm house situated within sight of the main stable and office building for the riding school. The first floor contained the parlor, den, dining room, and expansive kitchen. The second story housed the bedrooms.
Roy was already in the kitchen preparing dinner. Though not nearly as skilled and creative as his late wife, Roy had learned from her as best he could when her treatments had been discovered ineffective. Juliet had then learned from him and the Food Network.
"Chili?" she asked, smelling the onions caramelizing.
"We had that ground beef to use before it goes bad," the man answered, turning to greet his niece. "Any other requests?"
"Cornbread," she answered definitively. "And there should be some coleslaw in the fridge, in the back."
"All right. Go take a shower, Jules. John called and said he'd bring Tyler home in a half hour."
As she was dressing in sweat pants and a cotton shirt, Juliet heard the front door slam from her bedroom. Steeling herself for her cousin's and brother's likely bad moods, she descended the stairs as Tyler stormed up. Recognizing a losing battle when she saw one, Juliet decided to wait before speaking with him.
Being less than three years apart and losing Martha at the age that they did, Juliet and Tyler were still fairly close. Even as he became belligerent with almost everyone else around him, Tyler still remained the same around her. Even as he began rejecting both Roy and John, Juliet could still talk him into going with her on a ride or to complete his homework.
However, Juliet did recognize that in his first year of school after her graduation he was getting worse. More fights were reported and his work was becoming spotty. She did her best, and he still responded to her with more consistency than anyone else, but she could tell that she was fighting an uphill battle.
John casually flicked the flower she had re-tucked behind her ear.
"Probably one of the boys would be embarrassed to be caught giving flowers to the teacher," Juliet responded before a serious expression crossed her face. "Actually, I had thought it was Casey, but obviously not." There was another pause before she asked, "Are you staying for dinner?"
"Wish I could, but Charles wants me back to work with the profilers."
"They seemed like good people," she commented.
"I agree." John grinned. "Did you really feel the need to torture poor Dr. Reid that way?"
Juliet grinned back. "Nothing bad happened. Besides, I wanted to prove a point."
Like a good brother, John did not feel the need to ask for clarification. However, his grin vanished and his demeanor shifted to something more serious.
"Look, Jules. These guys seem to think that whoever is out there killing folks, our whole family is a target, not just Uncle Roy. That's why I had Tyler at the station with me until I could get away to bring him home."
"You want me to be extra careful," Juliet surmised. "Way ahead of you there."
John sighed in relief. "Good, good. And Jules, one more thing before I leave."
"They want to talk with Tyler tomorrow. Well, actually, Agent Hotchner wanted to talk with him today more likely, but I convinced him to wait since Tyler was, well, his usual self."
Both siblings gazed upwards through the ceiling as if they could see into the boy's bedroom.
"I'll talk with him," Juliet promised.
"Thanks, Jules. Leave it to Tyler to piss off FBI agents."
Juliet almost didn't say anything else, but as John turned to walk out the door, she spoke up.
"He's been very upset lately, you know."
John turned back and fixed her in a quiet stare. "We all have been."
"No, I mean—John, remember that Peter stayed for dinner with us two nights before he died? I heard him arguing with Tyler before he left."
"What were they arguing about?"
"Tyler's attitude, what else? And Peter had to add the whole, Tyler will inherit the stable one day thing. Now Tyler is feeling guilty that they argued right before he died."
Now John sighed in exasperation. "Great. Just talk with him, Jules? The more we cooperate, the quicker we find this son of a bitch."
Chapter 3: The Suspect
Having worked until late at night, the team had returned to their hotel rooms for a few hours' sleep before joining again at the police station before splitting for the day. Detective Parker and Officer Mitchell had kept the same hours, contributing local experience and expertise on the people involved.
Hotch had to admit, it made their job so much easier when the local authorities were cooperative as they were in this case. That Mitchell was also able to provide information related directly to the victimology from a personal standpoint aided their cause as well.
They were still gathered when Juliet Mitchell arrived at the station. Apparently, she was very familiar with the police station and its workers were familiar with her presence as none of the uniformed officers nearby seemed to mind her walking in. Some even eyed the basket she carried and smiled in relief. Her brother was not immediately in sight at the moment, so Hotch walked over to greet her, noting the massive picnic basket.
"What's all this?" he asked.
"The hotel's version of breakfast is awful," the young woman pointed out bluntly. "And I bake when I'm tense."
"And you did all this before eight in the morning?" Hotch asked skeptically.
Her smile was full of mirth and good humor. "Agent Hotchner, I've also exercised two horses this morning, cleaned up, did the baking and cleaned the kitchen afterwards." She shrugged. "I'm a morning person."
Hotch watched Juliet approach a side table where some stale donuts were already laid out as well as the double coffee pots that were already on their second batches. She swept the donuts aside with a casual air and then opened her basket to unload its contents.
As she revealed fresh apples, bottles of orange juice, loaves of golden bread, blueberry muffins and butter and jam, Hotch was joined by Prentiss and Morgan.
"Is that what I think it is?" Morgan asked.
"I think I see steam coming off the muffins," Prentiss noticed, almost licking her lips.
Hotch and his team converged on the food with the local officers, his team taking their sustenance with them to their cars to separate for the day and the uniforms returning to their desks or heading to their squad cars for their shifts. During that time, Officer Mitchell had returned, greeting his sister with a quick peck on her cheek before sinking his teeth into a piece of bread.
It was as Hotch, Mitchell, and Juliet were the only three left standing when Mitchell asked, "Where's Tyler?"
Juliet arched an eyebrow. "Sleeping. I tried to get him when I left to ride this morning, but he wouldn't budge. I set three alarms before I left and Uncle Roy said he would drive him in."
"In the mean time, I've got to get back to work," Mitchell said. "Thanks for breakfast Jules."
He left, leaving Hotch and Juliet alone.
"Any news?" the young woman asked.
"We've eliminated Fred Gibson as a suspect," Hotch answered. "And he doesn't fit the profile we've established."
"What's the profile?"
Hotch summarized what the team had shared the previous day, wanting to see if Juliet could think of any more suspects. When he was done, she shook her head.
"I'm sorry. I just can't think of anyone I know from around here who would do that."
"If you do think of someone, please don't hesitate to inform me or your brother."
Juliet could have returned to the stables, but decided to wait with her uncle as Agent Hotchner spoke with Tyler who had arrived in his usual, bleary eyed and cantankerous morning state.
"Did you get some riding done today?" Roy asked as they waited.
"Yeah. I took Rags and Bella out," she said, naming Peter McCallister's two horses. "And yes, I still stayed in the closest rings to the house and barn."
After John had left the previous night and Tyler had returned to his room, Roy had also taken Juliet aside to caution her on the danger.
"Okay. What does the schedule look like this week?"
Uncle and niece discussed business for close to an hour. Even at eighteen years old, Juliet was responsible for many activities and duties at the stable from paperwork to teaching lessons herself. She knew that her uncle wanted Tyler to take more of an interest in his family business. She knew that her uncle was still hoping Tyler would own the stable at some point, but Juliet found it unlikely at the time. He was too angry, felt pressured, and wanted to defy the expected path for him.
Juliet was about to run out and get lunch when she saw Agent Hotchner and her brother come out into the bull pen from the interview room.
"Mr. Phillips, may I have a word?"
Trading a questioning glance with Juliet, Roy walked over to join the FBI agent and John. Juliet imagined that the two men were counting on the ambient noise to cover their conversation, but they had failed to account for the air vent directly above their heads and the connecting vent right next to Juliet's seat.
"What can you tell me about your son's interaction with the victims?"
"Peter was a close friend of mine for years; he's actually Tyler's godfather. And Tyler would have seen the boys at school or at the stables. Why do you ask?"
"Tyler obviously has a lot of anger right now and based on his behavior, it seems to be directed toward you and the stable. Also, Officer Mitchell informed me that Tyler and McCallister fought shortly before McCallister was reported missing."
Hearing the words and recognizing what she herself had told her brother, Juliet remembered the profile the agent had told her only hours before. Angry, wanting to send a message, not physically strong, familiar with the grounds and their family, access to ketamine, and a trigger needed to set him off. She could have screamed, but instead found herself storming across the room without really thinking about it.
"You think Tyler killed these five people out of what, teenage rebellion?" Juliet accused as soon as she was near enough to the three men.
Agent Hotchner's face was closed off and unreadable as he met her stare. Juliet turned her head to her uncle and found him covering his face with one hand while the other clenched into a fist.
"And you think it's possible," Juliet concluded. "This is your son!"
"And you know how he's been acting lately!" Roy shouted back at his niece.
"Roy, Jules," John said tersely, eyeing the other officers paying close attention.
"And what about you?" Juliet turned on him. "Do you think Tyler could murder five people and then leave their bodies out like trash?"
After a moment, he admitted quietly, "It fits, Jules."
"I can't believe you."
"John, have someone take her home," Roy decided. "I'll go speak to Tyler, if that's allowed?" he asked Agent Hotchner whose face remained inscrutable.
"Just back here," the agent directed, leaving the Mitchell siblings alone.
"Damn it, Jules, it looks bad, you've got to admit that," John hissed at his sister, grabbing her by the elbow and dragging her toward his desk.
"I don't care. You and Uncle Roy have given up on him; I haven't."
She stood, fuming, as John approached another officer. Before anything else could happen, Roy came rushing into the bull pen.
"How did a teenage kid escape from a police station?" Prentiss demanded after hearing the update when she and Reid had returned from their interviews.
"When he's a teenage kid that knows this building inside and out," Detective Parker answered. "Our family members almost have free reign here since we're so small."
"Regardless, we need to find him before he lashes out and maybe kills again," Hotch said. "Where would he go?"
Unconsciously, all the assembled officers and agents turned to Officer Mitchell. He had stepped out to see his uncle and sister leave and had returned with a pained expression on his face.
"Friends' houses, the skate park, and the library," Mitchell summed up.
Even Detective Parker raised his eyes at the mention of the library; Tyler's school records and below average grades were common knowledge. Mitchell saw and elaborated, "He likes reading but hates having to analyze books for school. Don't ask me, I don't get it either."
"All right. Please write down the addresses of his friends and we'll split up to look for him," Hotch said. "We need to convince him that we're listening to what he's saying. He's been killing because he thinks no one is paying attention."
What followed was absolutely fruitless searching. He had not been seen at the skate park or library for days; friends had not seen him since the previous day at school. Talking with people to gain more insight on the boy also proved relatively useless as no one had anything to add that they didn't know already.
At one point, Hotch found himself alone with Officer Mitchell.
"I understand this must be difficult for you."
The other man eyed Hotch before running a hand through his hair. "What, believing my cousin has murdered five people, four of them kids, or hunting him down like a criminal?"
"All of it."
"Part of me wants to side with Juliet and deny that all of this is possible," Mitchell confessed. "I want to believe that my little cousin who used to ride on my shoulders couldn't possibly murder anyone. I want to think that he ran because he was scared or angry, not guilty."
"But he's also our best suspect right now," Hotch added.
It was getting dark, and there was still no word of Tyler Phillips.
"Garcia, anything?" Morgan asked while the technical analyst was on speaker phone.
"Nothing my super agents. His cell phone is off but I have an alert if it comes back on."
"Thanks baby girl."
"He could be in Gunnison forest," Parker pointed out. "Lots of acres to hide in."
Mitchell frowned. "He hasn't been in there in at least five years."
"Is it land he's familiar with?" Hotch asked.
"Up until recently, very."
"It's more than what we've got right now. Detective, please organize some search parties."
"At this rate, we'll be searching all night," Parker muttered as he walked away.
Hotch saw the strain on all the local forces, especially Mitchell. He had meant what he said earlier and was beyond relieved that Mitchell and Phillips were cooperating with the search and not stonewalling them or in denial.
All teenagers read like sociopaths, he knew. And Tyler Phillips read like a text book case of repressed rage. Losing his mother at a young age and then the pressure set on him by his father eventually snapped when Peter McCallister also exerted pressure to fall in line to what was expected of him. Hotch theorized that Tyler then saw murder as a tool to get his own suppressed message to his father and maybe ruin the family business that he didn't want to be a part of.
When Tyler had at first exploded and then shut down during the interview, Hotch saw the pieces fall into place. On the run, Hotch wondered what the boy would do under even more pressure.
"Officer Mitchell, come with me."
Explaining as the two men drove back to Rosa Stables, Hotch and Mitchell made record time and walked up to the main house.
"John? Agent Hotchner?" Phillips looked at them in mingled fear and hope. "Did you find him?"
"Not yet," Mitchell answered.
"We think he might come here to confront you," Hotch explained. "I've talked with my team and the other officers and they are on stand by."
"Why not have them here?" Phillips asked.
"I don't want Tyler to be too scared to approach if he sees too many of us here. Right now, this is the best chance we have for bringing your son in safely."
Phillips was nodding, but some what absently. "I'll go get Juliet and tell her. She might be able to help." He disappeared up the stairs.
"She probably won't though," Mitchell muttered. "Not when she still thinks this is a mistake."
"Then we can tell her that guilty or innocent, we need to find Tyler and convince him not to act out so we can get to the truth," Hotch determined.
Hotch and Mitchell rushed to the bottom of the stairs as Phillips came speeding down.
"She's not here and her window is open."
"Shit," Mitchell swore and without waiting for either man, walked out the door and into the dark. Hotch and Phillips followed closely as Mitchell walked into the main stable, hitting a light switch on his way. Hotch watched and saw Mitchell approach the same stall that he had seen opened just the day before. At that moment, it was empty.
"She went out to find him," Phillips said, shocked.
"No, she went out to meet him," Mitchell corrected in carefully controlled frustration.
"Does she have a cell phone as well?" Hotch asked.
"Yes," Mitchell answered. "But I know where they are. Tyler on the run could be any where, but if Jules is with him, there's only one place they would both go."
Chapter 4: The Attacks
Magda hated going out at night, but Juliet had taken her on enough late night rides that the mare was at least willing, if not enamored of the idea. And the trail they were on was one they had traveled together countless times at all times of the day.
It had taken hours after arriving home for Juliet to feel safe enough to sneak away. First, Roy wouldn't let her alone for longer than a half hour at a time. Finally she had snapped at him, demanding space before he left her alone. Then she waited, dressed in her jeans, turtleneck, chaps and riding boots with a packed bag of food and water. At dusk, she eased out of her bedroom window onto the roof above the front porch and then leapt onto the ground.
Juliet could saddle Magda in mere minutes which she did and set out on the trail, trusting and hoping that her instincts were correct. Tyler could not have done these murders. Tyler had to be where she thought he was.
As children, they had explored every inch of Rosa's fields both on foot and on horseback. And though it was not allowed, they had ventured into the neighboring forest preserve in their adventures. A half mile in from the shared border, there was a glade that had become their own secret hideaway whenever either of them needed to escape. They had put together a ramshackle little hut, in a massive hollowed out tree trunk, decorated with their own carvings and drawings, with old saddle blankets and bean bags for furniture.
After an hour of riding, moving at a walk or slow trot, Juliet pulled Magda to a stop and dismounted. The mare huffed her displeasure which Juliet tried to soothe with a nose scratch. Juliet loosened the girth on the saddle and swapped the bridle and bit for a halter. Under the fallen leaves was still some grass the mare happily munched.
The glade and tree trunk were dark.
At first, her voice sounded out clear and alone, without even a wind rustling in the trees.
Slightly more strained and full of emotion and conflict.
Tyler's pale face practically glowed in the darkness against his dark clothing and surroundings. Juliet rushed toward him and swept him into her arms, squeezing the life out of him. She could feel the slight tremor of his body against her own, whether from strain or chill she couldn't tell. Tyler didn't return her embrace, but rather stood, shaking, in the comfort of her arms.
"They- they think I killed them, Jules," Tyler stuttered in a somewhat dumbstruck tone of voice. "John and those feds, they think I'm the murderer. And I got so angry, I always get so angry but I could see in their faces, even John's. And when they left, I picked the lock and just ran. I didn't know where to go. I just ran and I wandered around until I thought of, well, coming here."
"Shh, shh, shh. I know. I heard them talking."
"I didn't do it, Jules. I swear I didn't do it."
"I know that, too."
"John and Dad think I did. The FBI agents—"
"I don't care what they think or say or come up with their stupid profiling. I know you. We'll figure this out, but we need to get back to do that."
Tyler tore himself out of her grasp as if her touch suddenly burned.
"I can't go back there! They'll arrest me and won't listen because they never listen to me! What are you thinking?"
"We can't make this right by hiding and running away, Tyler," Juliet argued.
"Well, watch me."
The dry leaves on the ground crackled under both sets of feet as Tyler ran toward the forest and Juliet followed him. In the dark, just ahead of the teen boy at the edge of the glade another dark figure moved. Tyler cried out in surprise and then pain as the two dark clad figures collided and merged until one fell to the ground. Juliet reached out in the dark and saw that the body on the ground was her cousin's while the mystery attacker hovered still at the edge.
She dropped to her knees at Tyler's side, seeing his face contorted in agony. Against the black clothing she saw liquid glistening on his abdomen.
Looking up revealed nothing. The figure wore black clothing and a black mask and stood partially obscured by the trees. After a long, breathless moment, the assailant disappeared into the trees.
Her hands found the bleeding wounds and pressed down strongly.
"It's okay, it'll be okay," she muttered.
Suddenly, the sound of more people moving around the trees could be heard. Keeping her hand firmly in place, Juliet looked around desperately for the source.
She saw the flashlights and heard multiple voices, recognizing her brother's and uncle's among them.
Hotch followed close behind Officer Mitchell as the man traveled the path with certainty even in the scant light of their flashlights.
"Juliet, where are you?" the man shouted.
"Here, at the glade! John, Tyler's hurt!"
Hotch and his team picked up their pace as Mitchell, Phillips, and Parker broke out into a flat run. In the confusion once they broke through the trees into the clearing, Hotch noted and dismissed the horse tethered and whinnying and focused straight on the crouched form of Juliet Mitchell and prone Tyler Phillips.
"Jules, what the hell happened?" Mitchell demanded, coming to his sister's side.
"He's out there, he attacked Tyler and he ran-" Juliet spoke so quickly the words were tumbling over each other. "He's bleeding…"
Hotch heard Morgan call for paramedics and then take off in the woods with several officers. Roy Phillips was at his son's side, placing his larger hands over the bleeding wounds.
"Which way did he go?" he asked.
"North, he went north, I think," Juliet stuttered.
"Paramedics won't be able to make it back here," Mitchell pointed out to his uncle. Hotch noted that Tyler had passed out from shock.
Mitchell and Phillips acted without speaking as the officer took over putting pressure on Tyler and Phillips took off his jacket and shirt, ripping the shirt to shreds. Quicker than Hotch would have thought possible, Tyler's entire midsection was bound tight.
"A hand, Agent Hotchner?"
Tyler had come to some form of awareness during the process, but he was clearly still in shock. Hotch and Mitchell formed a chair with their locked arms and lifted the boy who slung his arms around their shoulders. Phillips walked backwards in front of them keeping the bindings tight and Juliet walked in front of them with a flashlight in each hand to light the way.
One thing was certain: their unsub was still out there and he had just upped the ante.
At the hospital, Tyler Phillips was rushed to the ER, his father and cousin trailing closely behind until they were turned away by the medical personnel. In the harsh lights, Hotch saw the bright red blood on the hands of Phillips, Mitchell, and Juliet, as well as the stains on Juliet's shirt from when she had been crouched over her cousin.
Mitchell guided a pale Juliet to a chair, forcing her to sit; the girl did not resist and seemed unaware of where she was. Phillips paced, glancing frequently at the closed doors that hid his son from his sight.
Hotch and Prentiss had already spoken with Juliet on the ride over and passed word to the rest of the team. There hadn't been much she had seen due to the darkness and swiftness of the attack.
JJ and Reid joined them, standing off to the side while Morgan was coming in from the field, unable to find or trail the unsub.
"He's devolving," Reid said. "Instead of abducting his victims, drugging them and killing them in a secondary location and then dumping the bodies, he's gone for a straight attack."
"And in front of a witness that he didn't touch," Prentiss added. "That type of confidence doesn't fit with what we've seen already."
"Why leave a witness anyway?" Hotch asked. "He's already proven that he can control multiple victims when he took the boys. Juliet and Tyler couldn't be much different as a pair."
"We know the unsub has now taken it to a more personal level," Prentiss said. "He's killed Phillips' friend, some of Phillips' students, and now he's attacked the son."
"Maybe leaving a witness is part of the message," Reid theorized. "That he could have attacked both of them but didn't could be a show of power."
"Leaving Phillips with the knowledge that he could have lost both, a form of psychological torture."
"He's growing in confidence, then," Hotch concluded. "The attacks are more personal and more violent."
"His behavior is bound to have changed in the last two days," Prentiss said. "We should go back and see in anyone has noticed a drastic change in demeanor."
"JJ, try to keep the press at bay and then stay here. I don't think Phillips is going to leave here any time soon," Hotch instructed. "Prentiss, you and I will meet with Morgan and go around town again first thing in the morning. Reid, add the new attack site to the geographical profile and see what it adds. For now, let's get some sleep."
Juliet started awake from the hand gently shaking her shoulder.
"Tyler?" she asked through a yawn, stretching out her arms and neck.
John smiled slightly. "All stitched up and knocked out. He's been moved to a recovery room and just needs to be watched for infection. Roy is sitting with him."
Juliet stood on shaky legs. "Let's go."
John held her back. "Jules, why don't you go home for a while?"
"No, I want to see Tyler."
"Jules. Please. Just go home, wash up, change clothes, eat something. Come back after a few hours."
"What about you?"
"I'm working interviews with the other agents."
"You mean now that you know Tyler didn't murder those people which means that bastard is still out there?" Juliet accused with uncontained acid. She instantly regretted it as her brother's face darkened.
"Yes, okay? You were right and we were wrong, I'll admit it. Do you honestly think you can make me feel any worse than I already do? How about Uncle Roy? You want to throw this back in his face, too?"
John turned away, hand rubbing at his eyes while Juliet brought her own hand up to pinch the bridge of her nose.
"I'm sorry," she said softly.
Her brother breathed deeply before facing her again. "Will you do as I ask?"
"I'll change and clean up, but I'm coming right back."
John led Juliet to the entrance of the hospital just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. Waiting for them was Agent Hotchner.
"Juliet is still a potential victim for the unsub," the agent explained. "I'll drive her."
Juliet was silent in the car as was Agent Hotchner. She knew better than to expect an apology out of the man as she had her brother, and part of her could admit that the man was only doing his job. Despite her rationality, she was still pissed.
The stable and rings were empty. All classes had been canceled and those who boarded their horses were asked to keep their distance for several days during the investigation. The stable hands had not yet arrived to begin their work as it was still very early. Agent Hotchner parked right at the porch and followed Juliet inside the house.
"I'll just be a moment," Juliet murmured, disappearing up the stairs.
Her jeans went in the hamper—the chaps had come off once she had arrived at the hospital the previous night—though her blood-stained shirt went into the sink to soak. Planting both hands on either side of the sink, Juliet eyed herself in the mirror, noting the dark smudges under her eyes and pale skin. After a moment, the tears came, fueled by exhaustion, terror, stress and relief.
Minutes later, shaky hands wiped at her face, splashed cold water on her cheeks, and then wiped dry with a soft towel. A sudden chill swept through her body, reminding her that she was only clothed in her bra and underwear. Juliet slipped on another pair of jeans, a white tank top and pulled on a well-worn flannel shirt for comfort. On her bed, she saw white blossoms tied off with a ribbon. She picked them up, trying to remember if they were the same flowers she had found the previous day and left forgotten on her bed.
Downstairs, she heard a large and loud thump and wondered what Agent Hotchner had managed to knock over. She walked down and looking for the FBI agent, found him unconscious on the floor of their living room. Juliet rushed over and felt for a pulse which was strong and steady.
Just as she looked up from him to look for anyone else in the room, a blinding hot pain erupted at her right temple, ceasing all her thoughts and awareness.
Chapter 5: The Revelations
It hadn't been that long ago when Roy Phillips had sat and listened to his son breath while he slept. A habit he had formed when Tyler was a baby had kept on in years, especially after the death of his wife. Roy was a light sleeper and would walk the hallways of his house at night, checking in on the children in his charge.
John had been a still and silent lump sprawled half under and half over his covers in stark contrast to the self-contained manner he kept in his waking hours. But Roy had never been as worried about his nephew as the other two. A quiet and serious boy, John had remained so as he grew and became a quiet and serious man. Roy was proud and grateful.
Checking on Juliet sleep was always an adventure. Some nights, the girl would lay stretched out as she had fallen asleep while reading. Other nights and he would find her on her stomach, clutching her pillow. She was his lieutenant and the one he trusted above all with his horses and his son.
Watching Tyler sleep in the hospital bed was not how Roy wanted to watch over his son. Tyler slept like the dead, curled on his side with the blankets covering up to his head. Here, Tyler lay on his back, pale from blood loss and bandaged, his hair swept away from his face. Even in sleep, his son's features were troubled, but above all, he was breathing. Still breathing.
The doctors had explained that Tyler was very lucky. The attacker was either very unskilled to miss vital organs that could lead to bowel infection polluting the rest of his body, or the attacker was very good at finding the places to stab that wouldn't kill him.
Either way, Roy would let his nephew and the FBI agents consider the implications of that development. His place was at his son's side. Call it fatherhood asserting itself or penance for believing his child a murderer, but Roy would not abandon Tyler.
John brought him coffee, but otherwise left him alone. He was told that Juliet was asleep in the lounge and Roy knew that he owed an apology to her but couldn't fathom doing so until he knew his son would be all right. Other than that, Roy was aware that John was conferring with Detective Parker and Agents Hotchner and Prentiss.
Roy heard the breathing pattern change as Tyler began to wake up sometime around four in the morning. He moved his chair closer to Tyler's bed and took his son's hand in his.
Roy felt himself smile for the first time all day and night. "Yeah, it's me. How do you feel?"
"Kinda funny… my head's all fuzzy."
"You've had a lot of drugs pumped in you," Roy explained. "Do you remember what happened?"
Tyler's eyes closed for a minute and it seemed that it took monumental effort for him to roll his head over to watch his father.
"I didn't kill anyone, Dad," Tyler whispered. "I didn't kill anyone."
"Yeah, I believe you. We all do."
Tyler managed a short snorted breath. "Yeah, now that…someone tried to kill me." After a moment, Tyler jerked and tried to sit up. "Juliet? Is she okay?"
"She's perfectly fine. He didn't touch her," Roy assured him.
Tyler eased back into the hospital bed in relief.
Father and son sat in silence and Roy almost thought that Tyler had fallen back asleep until the boy spoke softly.
"I'm sorry about Peter."
"Want to tell me what you fought about?"
"He said that it was because of me Juliet never went to college. He told me to get my act together and start owning up to my future. I just didn't want to hear it."
Another moment of silence.
"I'm sorry I've pressured you, Tyler. I just couldn't stand watching you mope around and get into fights. I thought that I could get you on track and I just went about it the wrong way."
"Dad. I don't want to own and run the stables."
"I don't know what I want to do yet."
"That's okay, too. We'll figure it out together."
Roy had lost his sister. He had lost his wife. He would be damned if he lost his son.
No one looked like they had gotten much sleep in the handful of hours Reid noticed as he drove to the police station with Prentiss, Morgan, and JJ. The other officers in the bull pen were equally subdued; word of Tyler Phillips' attack had spread like fire. Mixing his first cup of coffee for the day with plenty of sugar reminded him of Juliet Mitchell.
"We'll need to follow up with Dr. Zare's clinic and employees," Morgan started by naming the veterinarian who worked the most with Rosa's horses.
"We should go to the school again," Prentiss added.
"We'll have to wait for Monday for that," Morgan said.
The two of them left for the animal clinic, leaving Reid to ponder the map he had started to outline.
"So how does that work?" a voice asked from behind him.
Reid turned and saw Officer Mitchell holding out a refill cup of coffee for him. Reid accepted the cup and sipped, finding it wasn't quite sweet enough, but didn't let that stop him.
"By analyzing the sites of where the victims were abducted and left to be found, and now Tyler's attack last night, we can narrow down the likely home of our unsub, or at least where he feels the most comfortable," Reid explained at his usual breakneck pace.
"I can't believe he found them last night," Mitchell remarked. "I barely remembered the place and not even Uncle Roy ever knew that's where Juliet and Tyler would run off to."
"It's likely that he followed one of them, which still supports that he is very familiar with the area," Reid said.
"If he had been following Jules, Magda would have noticed," Mitchell stated with authority. Reid remembered what Juliet had explained to him almost two days ago. "But if he had followed Tyler, why wait to attack him for hours when Jules was there?"
"We think that leaving behind a witness is a sign of escalation," Reid explained. "His message isn't being understood so his methods are changing."
"What does that mean for finding him and stopping him?"
"We refine our profile and keep a look out."
Some hours later, Morgan and Prentiss returned to find Reid poring over the case files and crime photos.
"Reid, where's Hotch?" Prentiss asked. "We might have something."
Reid blinked and looked at his watch. It was almost noon.
"Not here yet. That's weird."
"He was just going to take Juliet back home and then drive her back to the hospital," Mitchell said. "Maybe she actually listened to me and went to sleep."
The BAU agents watched as Mitchell took out his phone and speed dialed.
"Voice mail," he muttered after a moment and speed dialed again. After another pause he said, "Answering machine." A third time, he dialed.
"Roy, is Juliet there? No? No answer at the house or her cell."
Morgan had whipped out his own cell phone, presumably calling their leader, but his results were the same as Officer Mitchell.
"I can't get Hotch."
Prentiss kept trying Hotch's cell as Morgan put in a call to Garcia.
"I'm picking up his cell at the Phillips house," the tech goddess spoke over the speakerphone as Morgan, Prentiss, Reid, and Mitchell moved out to the parked vehicles.
"This is not good," Reid muttered, mostly to himself.
John Mitchell burst from his car and bolted up the porch steps, into his childhood home. With a sinking heart, he noted that the front door was wide open. The front hall was empty, as was the den and living room and kitchen. Leaving the agents to search the rest of the first floor, John hurried up the stairs and straight to Juliet's room.
It, too, was empty of his sister's presence.
He rejoined Morgan, Prentiss, and Reid in the living room. All three were grouped around in a circle, staring down at their feet. John saw a cell phone and two holstered guns on the floor. It didn't take a large stretch of the imagination to guess that they belonged to Agent Hotchner. Scattered around the floor were white flowers which John recognized.
He wasn't the only one.
Morgan knelt carefully to avoid disturbing anything and gestured to the flowers. "I noticed flowers like these last night while we were chasing down the unsub."
"She said someone left her a bouquet two nights ago, but those are still upstairs in her room," John said in a state of shock. "These are new."
"Your uncle hasn't been the target," Prentiss realized. "It's always been about your sister."
"You're telling me that the man we know has killed five people, attacked my cousin, and all in an effort to make clear some message we have yet to figure out has been targeting my sister. And now this same psycho has mostly likely kidnapped her?"
"And one of our agents," Reid added, flushing when the three of them stared at him incredulously.
"We need to go over everything again," Morgan determined. "We're still missing something."
"Yeah, like why go through the trouble of abducting a federal agent when he now seemingly has the person he really wants," Prentiss pointed out darkly.
John walked away to the front door, punching the door frame without thought and without feeling the pain in his hand. Ignoring the agents behind him, he stalked to the stables, hoping to find answers. This time walking down the aisle, he found Magda in her stall.
John looked up and saw the head of the stable hands, Carlos Vega.
"Senor John, what has happened?"
"Juliet has been abducted," John said shortly. "Carlos, I need to know if anyone has been on the property today besides you or your boys."
"Just my boys, senor. I saw the SUV when I arrived this morning, but it was empty and no one was home."
John sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
Agents Prentiss and Morgan had tracked him down.
"We think we may have a name," Prentiss informed him.
"Dr. Zare at the clinic this morning said that one of his employees has been acting strangely in the last few days. Do you know a Clark Graham?"
John stopped breathing. "He worked here a year ago, but we had to let him go. That's when he found the job with Dr. Zare."
"Senor," Carlos interrupted. "Clark was always very fond of Senorita Juliet. And when he comes with Dr. Zare, he always has eyes for her."
Morgan got on his phone and John heard him demanding for an address.
John met Carlos' eyes as both men remembered the young man. Clark Graham had been an awkward and introverted young man. He was a nobody that John hadn't thought of in a whole year.
But Clark Graham had kidnapped his little sister.
Chapter 6: The UNSUB
It wasn't often that an unsub got the drop on Hotch, and he didn't appreciate it. The throbbing headache was the least of his worries at the moment as he woke up to find himself bound in a chair in an unknown location. Each foot and each hand was tied individually to a leg or armrest of a very sturdy wooden seat. The absence of weight on his waist and ankle indicated he'd been searched and relieved of his sidearms.
By the brightness of the sunlight streaming through the single window of the room, it was somewhere around midday and Hotch had to wonder if the team had even noticed his absence yet. How long would it take to realize that he and Juliet were missing and what kind of trail could exist to help his team find them?
The room must have been an attic, or the top level of the building, judging by the slanted ceiling, wooden floors and walls. He could smell hay and dirt, but didn't think he was lucky enough, nor the unsub stupid enough, to be in any of the barns or buildings on Rosa property. Besides his chair, there was only a bed on the opposite side of the room. On the bed was Juliet.
Still unconscious, knocked out as he had been based on the goose egg on her forehead, the girl had been stripped of her clothing save for underwear and tank top. A length of rope was tied to one of her wrists and the other end was tied to the wire bedframe. If she would only wake up and attempt to untie herself, they might be able to escape…
What bothered Hotch the most was that he couldn't fathom how the unsub had gone from impersonal killings and body dumps, to a direct, confrontational attack, to kidnapping. That Juliet was here was the only part that did make sense. Hotch understood how knocking him out was to take out the threat so that the unsub could get to Juliet for whatever reason he had. But why then take the risk of bringing him along? And how had he managed to transport two unconscious bodies?
A pained groan cut off Hotch's thoughts and he turned his attention back to Juliet.
"Juliet?" he called out softly.
Her untied hand raised lethargically and touched her head until her fingers reached the lump. She hissed in pain and finally opened her eyes.
"Are you all right?"
"Someone hit me. What the hell?"
"We've been abducted by the unsub, though I'm not sure why. Can you get free?"
Juliet had discovered the rope tying her to the bed. She rolled to her side with a groan before sitting up carefully. Hotch watched as she felt around the knots on both her hand and the bed frame and even smelled them.
"Super glue," she concluded. "He glued the knots sealed."
Hotch could already tell that she didn't have enough slack in the robe to move farther than two steps from the bed.
"Do you remember anything about what happened?"
She shook her head and then grimaced in pain. "I heard a noise and found you downstairs on the floor. Nothing after that."
Juliet then seemed to notice her state of dress.
"Why the hell did he take my clothes?"
Hotch was beginning to have a theory, but knew she wouldn't like it. In the short days of knowing this young woman, Hotch knew that she would want to hear it anyway. "I think that you have been our unsub's focus this whole time. It would explain why he didn't hurt you last night and why he's kidnapped you now."
"What does the rest of it mean then?"
"That I haven't figured out yet."
"Can your team find us?"
"What do we do?"
"The unsub has been trying to tell you something. When he comes, play along and listen to him. What he reveals to you will tell me more about him." Hotch stared at her, taking in the way she had begun to shake and worry her bottom lip with her teeth. "Juliet? Can you do this?"
She took in a shuddering breath and closed her eyes tightly. After several breaths, she opened her eyes and stared back at him. Nodding her head, she answered, "I can do this. I can do this."
"All right," he said, putting as much comfort and support as he could in his voice. "I will pretend to be unconscious still so that he focuses on you. But I will be here right with you, understand?"
"Yeah. Um, oh God. Is he going to, will he-?"
Hotch took a moment to seriously consider the possibility and likelihood of this unsub taking that action. He owed Juliet the truth.
"I believe that if that was his intention, he would have taken you last night when he attacked Tyler. There's more going on that we don't know yet."
At first, Juliet did not respond but breathed heavily. After a moment, she spoke again. "Okay."
"I'll be right here."
"You're not alone."
Both of them jerked their heads when a hatch on the floor cracked open.
"Hi, Juliet. How are you feeling?"
The person climbing up through the floor's opening, Juliet hadn't seen in several months.
"Clark," she said, absolutely confused at first. "What are you doing here?"
"I thought we could talk, just the two of us."
Clark Graham was in his mid-twenties, Juliet remembered. He had worked for her uncle for a year and half before catching the short straw when they had had to downsize. She knew he had been hired by Dr. Zare and often accompanied the vet on his visits to the stable.
Then the entire situation washed over her as she realized the obvious. She closed her eyes, not even having to fake the pain she was still feeling, taking the time to gather herself. She heard his footsteps as he walked through the room and stopped just in front of her. Agent Hotchner's instructions sounded in her mind.
She met Clark's eyes, remembering that he had always been shy. He was just as tall and skinny as she remembered, with unkempt dark hair and nail bitten fingernails. She pulled her legs close to her body as he bent down and brought out a folding chair from under the bed. He set it up directly in front of her and sat down.
"What, what did you want to talk about?" she asked uncertainly.
"I've been wanting to talk to you for a really long time."
He looked so normal it was painful. Try as she did, Juliet didn't see any lingering anger or malignancy in his eyes. He spoke as if they were back at the stable, exchanging a few words.
"Is that why you—is that why you killed those people, to get my attention?"
Clark seemed genuinely surprised. "No," he said. "I had to kill them because they were in the way."
"But, if you just wanted to talk to me," she argued, keeping her anger in control. "All you had to do is just ask, they wouldn't have stopped you-"
"No, they would have been in the way for us to be together!" Clark shouted and stood with such force he knocked the chair over.
"How?" Juliet demanded, letting some of her anger get through. "Casey and Brian were just kids!"
He was pacing, but he turned to look at her again. "You don't see it yet, do you?"
"See what? I don't understand."
"We have a chance to change what happened before. It's all so similar, but we have to be careful. You have to be careful."
"What happened before, Clark? Tell me, please, I don't understand."
He knelt in front of her on the bed. Juliet flinched and then tried to relax. Clark reached out with one hand and gently took a piece of her hair and brought it to his nose. She couldn't control her shaking and desperately wished to push him away.
"I had almost forgotten how good you smell," Clark murmured with his eyes closed. "I would try to stand close to you in the stables to smell your hair. Like apples."
Juliet looked over and saw Agent Hotchner staring at her intensely. He nodded to her in encouragement, jerking his chin at Clark in an unspoken signal.
"Please tell me what happened before, Clark," Juliet repeated. "Help me understand what we need to do differently."
Clark met her eyes and she swore that she saw hope in his expression.
"You're so much like her. Strong and fierce, but you do need someone to look after you. I can do that, I swear. Your brother, your uncle, they don't care for you, not like I do. They'll leave you behind, but I'll never leave you."
"I know. I know that," she lied. "But who is she?"
"Eowyn. You're just like Eowyn."
If Clark hadn't looked so serious, Juliet would have thought he was playing some kind of sick joke.
"Eowyn?" she repeated numbly.
"You see? You and your brother living with your uncle and cousin. It's just like in Rohan."
"And the horses," Juliet added only to herself, but Clark heard her.
"Yes! Now you understand."
Pushed too far, Juliet began to shake her head. "No. No. This is too crazy. Clark, what are you thinking? I'm not Eowyn, this isn't Rohan, and who did you think Peter was? What about Casey and Brian and their friends? They have nothing to do with this and you murdered them!"
Clark backed away as Juliet leaped to her feet, pulled short by the rope around her wrist. His face twisted in anger.
"Peter was in the way, trying to convince your uncle to talk you into leaving!"
Gandalf, Juliet thought, making the connection.
"And did you think the boys were the Hobbits?" Juliet demanded. "Damn it, they were just children!"
Clark reached out and seized her by the shoulders, shaking her so hard her head swung forward and back.
"You were supposed to understand!"
With a final shake, he pushed her backward onto the bed and then escaped through the trap door.
For Juliet, the shaking had released her final amount of control as she curled on the bed and cried.
Chapter 7: The Evidence
Reid followed Prentiss as she entered the apartment of Clark Graham. Detective Parker, Officer Mitchell and Morgan had already cleared it, finding it empty as they had expected. Well, Reid had hoped that Graham would be found, interrogated, willing to talk and then they could go rescue their team leader and Juliet Mitchell. He had hoped, but had expected the outcome that had proved true.
The apartment was small and cramped, with the kitchen consisting of nothing more than a two burner stove and sink. From the cord hanging on one wall opposite the small television, Reid guessed it was a pull down bed which would convert the living room to bedroom. There was a dingy bathroom and a miniscule closet and that was all.
What caught Reid's attention though was the wall covered in photographs. Mitchell and Morgan were already studying the pictures; he and Prentiss went to join them.
Though the photos were taken in a variety of locations, most prominently the barn and fields of Rosa Stables, there was one common element throughout them all: Juliet. There were pictures of her riding both dressed casually and dressed formally in competitions. Other photos were of Juliet working in the barn or sitting on the front porch. Some even appeared to be taken with a telephoto lens with close-ups of Juliet in her bedroom through the window.
"He's been stalking her," Morgan commented.
Mitchell pointed out one picture of Juliet and Tyler from the side as the two had been standing next to each other and staring out into a field. Juliet looked mostly the same, but Tyler Phillips, in addition to looking younger, was also wearing ripped blue jeans and a red tee shirt.
"That was at least two years ago," Mitchell said, frowning. "He's been stalking her at least two years now? Why didn't we notice?"
Reid heard the self blame in the man's tone and words and hoped that Mitchell wouldn't lose perspective.
"It's more than possible that for the past two years, he's been content to hide at a distance, to keep whatever fantasy he has alive," Prentiss explained. "We need to find the trigger that set him off."
"What kind of trigger would cause that?"
Reid quickly scanned through the photos and found a likely trigger.
"These appear to be in chronological order," he began, reaching with one arm to trace the photos' progression like the words of a book. "They started when he was working at the stables and feature Juliet in every aspect of her home life at the stables, including the people around her. Around here, the pictures become less frequent because of his change of job. And later on, I think this is the trigger; it's the first picture that doesn't have Juliet in it. It's connected, somehow, and it's likely for that reason."
Reid stopped on a photograph of the first victim, Peter McCallister, and Tyler as they knew him now. It was dark in the photo and the man and boy were obviously fighting.
"That must be the fight Juliet mentioned, right before Peter went missing and was murdered," Mitchell said. "But why would that be the trigger?"
"We'll have to ask Tyler," Morgan said, pulling out his phone. After a moment, he spoke, "JJ, you at the hospital still? Yeah, I'm on my way to talk to Tyler, he might know what the trigger was for Graham."
"I'm coming with," Mitchell said after Morgan had hung up.
"Let's go. Prentiss, Reid, see what else you can learn from the photos. We're still missing why he thought those victims were threats to him."
Prentiss crouched down and moved a table aside to view more of the pictures. Her movement had caused a folder to slip off the table onto the floor. Reid picked it up and looked through its contents.
These pictures were, if anything, more disturbing. "Prentiss, you need to see this."
He handed the photos over and watched her face. There was a duplicate of the McCallister/Tyler photo, as well as several photos of the other four victims, Roy Phillips and John Mitchell. All those pictured had red X's over their faces. Even worse, the bottom of the pile had pictures of Hotch with similar X's.
"I'm worried," Reid said quietly. He had been holding it back throughout the day, but this had been the first time one of their team had been captured by an unsub since his own nightmare with Hankel.
"We'll find him. We'll find them," Prentiss promised.
"John, I need to know your head is on straight," Parker said to him as John was exiting the car after Agent Morgan at the hospital.
John let out the breath he'd been holding before answering. "My cousin has been accused of murder and attacked with a knife within twelve hours. My sister has been abducted less than twelve hours after that by the man I now know has been stalking her for two years. My head won't be on straight for weeks, but I will not sit on the sidelines now."
"Fair enough, John. But keep your wits about you."
John walked in and found Morgan talking with the blond agent, JJ in the lobby.
"He's been sleeping on and off all day, but the doctors told me he'll make a full recovery," she was saying as John walked up to join them.
"You're talking about Tyler?" he asked.
She nodded. "Your uncle hasn't left his room yet, but I've kept him up to date with everything that's developed as it's relayed to me."
"Thank you for that. I haven't been able to call him as much as I've wanted to."
"We should go see if Tyler can talk with us," Morgan broke in.
John nodded and the three set off for the elevator, riding it up four floors to Tyler's room. The two agents deferred to John as they reached the door, allowing him to walk in first.
He had last looked in on his uncle and cousin around six thirty in the morning before sending Juliet home for a break. Tyler had just fallen back asleep after speaking with his father, so John had brought back coffee before meeting Agent Reid at the station. It had all gone downhill from there.
"Roy, got a minute?"
If his uncle was feeling tired, he wasn't showing it, but that was the way it had always been. Throughout his aunt's illness, whenever John had been home, there had been very little sign of strain on his uncle as the man had supported his wife and been strong for his son and niece. It had only been after Martha's death and as Tyler had gotten more intractable that Roy had even confided in John that he felt overwhelmed.
"He fell back asleep a half hour ago," Roy said quietly, standing from his chair and stretching before walking out into the hallway.
"We were hoping to talk with Tyler," John explained, closing the door behind his uncle so that Tyler's sleep was undisturbed. "We think his fight with Peter triggered Graham."
"He told me it was about his attitude. Peter also told him that Juliet stayed home because of him."
Morgan frowned. "Was that true?"
John exchanged a look with his uncle before nodding slightly.
"John and I thought that Juliet wouldn't go to college because she wanted to stay close to Tyler and make up for him, somehow. Peter is my- was my best friend, so I spoke with him about it. I've been worried about her future just as much as my son's. She might as well be my daughter, now how is this helping to find her?"
"If Graham thought that Juliet would move away, that is what made him act on his fantasy," Morgan explained, taking Roy's growing frustration in stride.
"So that explains why he killed Peter, but what about the boys?" John asked.
"We don't know that yet. What do you remember about Clark Graham?"
"He was a quiet young man. Kept to himself and did his work. I can't believe he's behind all this."
"Did you notice his attention to your niece?"
"No, I didn't." John heard as much self-recrimination as he held for himself. "Is that all?"
"Yeah, we'll keep you updated."
After Morgan and JJ left, John stared at his uncle. "Get some sleep, old man."
"Will you sleep while she's missing?"
Chapter 8: The Confrontation
It was hard for Hotch to hear Juliet crying and the father in him wanted to hold her through the tears. At first, he thought that she had completely forgotten his presence as she cried hiccup-y sobs like a person did when they thought they were completely alone. But after long moments, Hotch heard words coming though the heavy breaths and sniffs.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?" he questioned.
Juliet sat up and rubbed at her face which was red, puffy, and moist.
"I tried playing along, I tried, but then he just—and I couldn't take it anymore and I snapped. I'm sorry, I should have done better."
"Juliet." Hotch waited for the young girl to meet his eyes before continuing. "You are doing an amazing job right now with everything in consideration. This isn't easy for anyone and you still did it. And sometimes, we have to antagonize someone to learn more information. So even losing your temper is helping. You have nothing to be sorry for. Okay?"
"Yeah. Okay. What now?"
"Now we wait for him to come back."
Hotch left her alone to further compose herself as he tried to refine the profile. That Clark Graham had been stalking Juliet was now a given and a possessive stalker at that. In addition, he was a delusional stalker, though Hotch still didn't know how deep that delusion was. His first victim was chosen to get rid of a threat to his perceived relation with Juliet which brought the delusion to the fore. Once the delusion was in place and affirmed, he had run with it and took out victims that weren't plausible except in the context of that delusion.
Other than that, Hotch's Tolkien was a little rusty as he couldn't see where he fit into the delusion and couldn't guess where Graham saw himself. He did remember that the part Juliet played in Graham's fantasy was in danger as it was highly unlikely for Graham to identify with one of the "good" characters.
He looked out the single window and saw the light beginning to fade.
"Can you look out the window and recognize where we are?" he asked. Though the question had been on his mind for hours, he hadn't seen the urgency in the answer when there was no way to get the information to his team. Now with another plan forming, it was time to ask.
Juliet brought her feet onto the bed and stood as tall as she could while still tied to the bed post.
"I know we're not anywhere on Rosa land," Juliet answered after awhile. "Beyond that though, I'm not sure. But if we're anywhere within ten miles, I'll be able to figure it out."
"You know your way around that well?" Hotch asked somewhat skeptically, though he should have realized by now to not underestimate this young woman.
She simply nodded. "Yes."
"Then we need to play into his game to get you free so you can escape."
Juliet sat down and faced him straight on. "What about you? And how can I get free?"
"I'm bound more heavily than you, that has to be on purpose. He wants to be able to let you quickly for when you fully submit to his fantasy, which he will still think he can do. When that happens, I'll distract him so you can run."
He saw the wheels turning in her mind as she processed the new plan.
"So, I play along again, convince him that it's safe to cut me loose and abandon you."
She did not sound pleased with the plan of action.
"It's our best shot right now. When you get back to my team, you'll be able to lead them back here."
"Yeah, after he's already killed you," she pointed out.
"He hasn't yet."
She had no response to that, and Hotch was glad, because he was running out of arguments. He was suddenly grateful he and Haley had a boy, or maybe it was just this particular young woman who could continue to argue with him.
After a while, she spoke again.
"I think I know who he thinks he is."
"Can you work with it?"
"Oh, yeah. If I'm right, I can work it."
By the steadiness of her eyes, Hotch had to believe she was capable of following through. He could only guess right now how to play the unsub. Juliet was the one who could outmaneuver him.
Juliet was losing her battle with her declining body temperature when the trapdoor in the floor creaked open again. About to put on the performance of a lifetime, her nerves weren't helping the shivering either. But that would now work in her favor.
Eowyn had been one of Juliet's favorite characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There was a lot to relate to, which Juliet was now realizing in startling clarity. But mostly what Juliet loved was that Eowyn had defied convention and tradition and still managed to be a woman at the same time.
But that was not the Eowyn that she needed to play at that moment. If her guess was right about Clark, she had to play the vulnerable woman first.
Clark climbed awkwardly up the ladder and placed a bundle on the room's floor before climbing the rest of the way. Juliet watched him carefully, noting that Agent Hotchner was doing the same, not faking unconsciousness this time around.
Clark wouldn't meet her eyes at first, and still completely ignored Agent Hotchner's presence. He carried the bundle over to her and unwrapped it enough to retrieve a bottle of water.
"I thought you might be thirsty," Clark said quietly, still avoiding eye contact.
"Thank you," Juliet said just as quietly, letting her body droop just a little and let the shivering take control.
Clark looked pleased that she hadn't refused or yelled again. He held out the bottle with a small smile on his face, watching as she untwisted the cap off and took a small sip. She sipped again, stalling for time as she thought of what to say.
"You've been crying," Clark pointed out with a hint of caution in his voice.
"I cried when I realized I had upset you," Juliet explained, glad for the opening.
He finally looked up and faced her. "Really?"
She nodded and forced a small smile. "I hadn't wanted to upset you." Well, that was the honest truth, if for a completely different reason. "You've been trying to help me, help us, and I let my emotions get the better of me and I'm sorry."
With wonder in his eyes, Clark reached out again and ran his hand over her cheek. Juliet's shudder was masked by the shivering.
"You're cold!" Clark suddenly realized.
"A little," Juliet admitted, really wishing that he had a solution before she caught pneumonia.
"I brought this," he said shyly, holding out the rest of the bundle. He let it unfold, revealing a long white dress. Juliet almost rolled her eyes at the cliche, but stopped just in time.
"It's beautiful," she said instead. "May I?" It would at least cover her up.
It was extremely awkward and difficult to put the dress on, and in the end, the rope ended up tangled in the corresponding sleeve, but it was warm.
"You're so beautiful," Clark breathed, ghosting a hand over the bare skin of her shoulder. Juliet couldn't stop the shudder this time.
"Sorry, still cold," she said when his eyes narrowed.
He seemed to accept that and brightened again. "So, you understand now? Why I had to kill those people?"
"Yes," she lied. "You're right. Peter wanted me to leave and Uncle Roy and John agreed with him. They don't understand me like you do." She paused, but then steeled herself to continue. "They don't love me like you do."
"So you know what we have to do now?"
At this, Juliet allowed her confusion to show through. "No, I don't. What do we need to do? Why is he here?"
It was the one thing Juliet couldn't figure out in her head. All the others involved in the case had a parallel, except for Agent Hotchner.
"You don't recognize him?" Clark asked. "You don't see who he is?"
"No, please, Clark, help me to understand."
"He's come to interfere and confuse you. I know you think he might love you, but look at the ring on his finger, just like-"
"Aragorn," Juliet finished, finally seeing the connection. And it was rather scary how close that resemblance was as well: dark haired, noble in a quiet, stern way, an outsider to their community and lives. Maybe Clark had seen her talking to him at the police station and thought she had a crush which would have been confirmed in his eyes when Agent Hotchner had driven her home to clean up.
And, ironically, instead of a jeweled necklace from his lover, Agent Hotchner had his wedding ring from his wife.
"Once he's gone, we can leave together and live the rest of our lives without anyone else getting in the way," Clark assured her, both hands grasping her shoulders.
Juliet fought the urge to throw up.
"It's okay, it'll be quick and then we can get out of here."
"Wait," she choked out. Both Agent Hotchner and Clark stared at her, the agent in warning and the delusional killer in frustration bordering on anger. She spoke quickly, knowing she only had seconds before she lost her chance. "Let me do it."
Now Clark was staring at her in wonder and Agent Hotchner in shock. Juliet gave her full attention to Clark as she spun her plan further.
"You've already done so much for me, for us. Let me do this to prove to you that we're in this together."
Clark looked to be considering her words while Agent Hotchner looked ready to chew her out for the next five years just to start. But even as Juliet promised herself that she would apologize a hundred times over if—when—this was over, she could still see that Clark was hesitant. Had he come to enjoy killing so much he didn't want to share it, or was he still seeing her as Eowyn the pure who should not bloody her hands? She needed to up the stakes and there was only one way she could do that.
"I love you just as much as you love me. Let me prove it."
She brought her hands up to his face, feeling the cold, damp skin of his cheeks, and bought his head down to her level. Before she could change her mind, Juliet kissed him.
When Clark pulled away, he was smiling brightly and brought his hands over Juliet's as they remained on his face. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
She hoped that he thought she sighed for relief that he had listened to her, and not because she had been afraid he either refuse her or keep touching her. The smile on her face was genuine as Clark pulled out a large switchblade and quickly cut through the rope tying her to the bed. He kept an arm around her, pulling her close to his side as he walked them both over to the restrained FBI agent.
Eyes never leaving the irate agent's face, Juliet accepted the blade from Clark and gripped it tightly.
"See right there? Aim right there and you'll get the heart."
Juliet nodded and gathered herself to move.
Chapter 9: The Rescue
Things had not gotten much better at the station and Reid's eyes were beginning to blur on the map he had been working on for the past four hours. Morgan was helping collate the reports from the search teams, but he was distracted. JJ was still at the hospital with Roy and Tyler Phillips and coordinating the press releases but was also calling them for any updates they had reached. Reid himself kept wondering if this is what the team had felt when he had been missing. One the one hand, they had had the video feed to know he was alive—well, and died but was resuscitated—but they had also known what he was suffering. Being on this side of the coin, Reid wasn't sure which way he preferred.
"Officers are covering the fields and Gunnison, but nothing so far and there's an APB on his truck," Detective Parker reported over Mitchell's radio. "We'll keep looking, but it's getting dark."
Prentiss consulted her notepad and added, "Graham went to work and went home, according to Dr. Zare. He didn't interact much with the other workers or clients except for Rosa Stables. No friends and no family that's local."
Morgan called up Garcia and put her on speakerphone. "Baby girl, tell me you have something."
"I wish I could, my supers, but Clark Graham is barely on the grid. I've got tax forms and work records, but the man's never had a parking ticket. His parents are deceased and he was an only child. I've been looking for property in his name or his parents' names, nothing."
Mitchell looked up as if shocked. "Ms. Garcia, could you look at his earnings compared to what he spends on a regular basis? Rent, utilities, whatever."
"Is that Officer Mitchell? I am so sorry and I promise I'm typing as fast as my fingers can fly over the keyboards—"
"Garcia," Morgan interrupted.
"Right, working on it and I'm seeing that his little hole of an abode cannot possibly be eating his finances the way they empty every month which means he's got to have some other little hideaway. But I'm telling you, I've been looking and there's nothing."
"Nothing under his name," Mitchell repeated. He turned to the other profilers in the room. "You've said that Graham is obsessed with my sister and his fantasy. He thinks they belong together and he might have already stolen her social security number. Check her name."
"Searching for property under one Juliet Mitchell's name…and still nothing, intrepid heroes."
"Try Juliet Graham," Reid suggested.
"Bingo, genius man! There is a cabin owned by Juliet Graham and its upkeep is paid out of a joint account of Clark and Juliet Graham. Can't believe I missed that."
"Address, Garcia," Morgan prompted.
"Right, 1326 Caraway Lane."
"That's two miles away from Rosa," Mitchell commented as they rushed out the doors to the SUV's. Mitchell then pulled out his radio to call Parker to rendez-vous.
Mitchell drove as Morgan sat shotgun and Reid and Prentiss took the back seat.
"What are the odds of Juliet being hurt?" Mitchell asked, tense and strained as if he had been holding the question back until he couldn't any longer.
Reid caught Morgan's eyes in the rearview mirror before offering a half shrug.
"He hasn't displayed aggressive or violent behavior toward your sister, just obsession and fantasy. Even his kills so far have been expedient," Morgan explained. "We have no reason to think that your sister is in danger as long as she doesn't disrupt whatever fantasy Graham has."
"And if she has?" Mitchell asked, his tone dry as well as concerned.
"If Hotch is with her, he'll be coaching her through," Prentiss assured him.
Reid breathed faster as Mitchell took a sharp turn down a dirt lane and increased speed. In the distance, Reid saw a cabin at the edge of the woods, feeling a pang of hurt thinking of Gideon. Their team was mostly moving on from that loss, but just the thought of having Hotch taken from them was even more painful.
"There's his truck," Mitchell said, pointing at the beat up pick up truck on the chimney side of the cabin. "Parker's five minutes out."
Mitchell parked behind a large stand of trees, hiding the SUV from the cabin's sight. All four of them exited and reached for the protective vests and ear piece radios in the back trunk for Reid, Morgan, and Prentiss. Reid followed Prentiss to the east side of the cabin while Mitchell and Morgan took the west side.
"Looks like just the one entrance," Reid reported as he scanned the building and looked through the windows.
"No one on the first floor that I can see," Morgan shared.
They were ready to wait for Parker and his back up to arrive before going in, but then they heard sounds coming from the attic.
"That sounds like a struggle," Prentiss said, voice remarkably calm.
Then, Reid heard a scream.
"Go in, now!" Morgan ordered.
Hotch expected the action, but was still caught off-guard when Juliet suddenly swung around and punched Clark Graham in the jaw, sending the man tumbling to the floor. Juliet then planted her foot on Graham's ribcage and forcibly shoved him further away before spinning on her feet back to him and began fumbling at the rope tying his right hand.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded harshly, keeping one eye on the fallen and dazed man and the other on the girl hunched over her work.
"Plan B," she responded shortly.
Despite the rope's thickness and complexity of the knot, he watched her fingers manipulate the knot loose and moved on to the one on his right foot as he worked one-handed on his left hand. It was too bad she didn't know he was now using his non-dominant hand, but Juliet had merely gone for the knot closest to her which Hotch couldn't argue.
But as he was untying his own knot, he let Graham out of his sight until he saw Juliet get seized from behind and hauled away him. She screamed as Graham threw her against the wall, no doubt rattling her teeth. The knife which she had dropped to attack Graham was now in the stalker's hands again.
"You were supposed to love me!" Graham shouted, grabbing a handful of Juliet's hair and pulled her in closer to him. "You weren't supposed to betray me like she did!"
As Hotch hurried on his bindings, Juliet screamed back, "I am not her!"
His left hand came free as Juliet caught Graham's hands in her own, stalling the knife aimed at her neck. He yanked one of his feet free and worked on the last knot keeping him from protecting this girl. Just another few seconds and he threw himself out of the chair and lunged for Graham who had Juliet trapped against the wall. Hotch barreled into the man and added his hands to the mix to keep the blade away from Juliet.
Graham suddenly let go of the blade and elbowed Hotch in the sternum, causing the breath to violently expel from his body. He hunched over and then caught a fist in his mid-section before retaliating with his own punches.
Graham wasn't as strong as Hotch, but he hadn't been tied to a chair for most of a day; Hotch's limbs felt sluggish and he could not afford that right now. As he prepared for another attack, Hotch was pushed aside by a white-clad body which now tackled Graham to the floor. He watched, somewhat incredulous, as Juliet wrestled on the floor with Graham until Graham used his superior height and weight to flip them over, pinning the girl to the floor.
Hotch reached for Graham and hauled him off of the girl, noticing that the man had suddenly gone limp in his grasp. Hotch soon saw why and stared at the teenaged girl, still lying prone on the floor, with fresh, red stains on the white dress and bloody knife still held in her stained hands.
Juliet looked stunned, as if she were just as surprised at her actions as Hotch and Graham who was now whimpering in pain. Hotch laid Graham across the floor and placed his hands over the bleeding wound.
The voices of his teammates were a relief, coming up from the lower level of the building.
"Up here!" he shouted back. Hotch looked over to see Juliet slowly sit upright, staring at her hands and the knife. "Juliet. Juliet!"
She jumped when she finally realized he was speaking to her. "I didn't mean to," she said tonelessly. "I didn't mean to."
"I know that," Hotch assured her. "We'll figure it out later, just open the trap door so they can get to us."
The knife clattered to the floor as she crawled over to lift the trap door just seconds before Morgan, Prentiss, and Officer Mitchell came climbing up.
"Hotch!" Morgan rushed to his side. "What happened, you okay?"
"I'm fine, he has a knife wound in his abdomen, call for paramedics," Hotch answered, glancing up to meet his agent's eyes and then looking over to where Mitchell was crouched over his sister.
"Are you hurt? Where are you bleeding?" Mitchell demanded, performing his own examination of her body.
"I'm fine," Juliet answered. "It's not mine, it's not my blood."
Mitchell helped his sister to stand, holding her firmly by the shoulders as she swayed slightly on her feet. Hotch let Morgan take over stabilizing Graham who had fallen unconscious and walked over to the siblings.
"I told you to run," Hotch said sternly. "Not take on the man himself and try to untie me."
"Then you would be dead and not lecturing me," she pointed out softly.
Juliet watched numbly as paramedics came and took Clark away. She listened numbly as they said he was stable and would likely make a full recovery. She felt numbly as John wrapped an arm around her shoulders and tried to get her to speak. It was as she brought a hand up to rub her aching head that she noticed the blood staining her hands.
It was now the second time she had seen bright red on her skin, drying in splotches on her palms and underneath her fingernails. She even felt the blood gluing the white dress to the skin on her stomach and she could no longer stand it. Shrugging off her brother's arm, she bent over for the knife—the knife she had plunged into Clark's body—and started slicing at the stained fabric.
"Juliet, what are you doing?"
"I want it off, I want it off, I want it off."
Her hands shook so much, it wasn't hard for John to reach out and pluck the knife from her hands.
"Okay, just wait a second. We'll get outside and get a blanket from the paramedics, okay?"
Juliet could only nod and let her brother lead her down the ladder, seeing the cabin's main floor for the first time. Later, she would think about the framed photographs of her over the years, but right then, she stalled for her peace of mind. Later, she promised, one thing at a time and she wanted the dress off in the worst way.
Agent Prentiss had joined them outside, Juliet noticing that the place was suddenly swarming with police and other responders. It was Agent Prentiss who helped her remove the dress, setting it aside as evidence. Her tank top was stained as well, but Juliet left it for the moment and merely huddled under the gray blanket offered to her.
"We'll get to the hospital and get you cleaned up," Prentiss promised. John had stepped aside, Juliet assumed to call Roy.
"Where is Agent Hotchner?" Juliet asked.
"He's gone with Morgan to escort Graham to the hospital in custody," the agent explained then smiled. "It was the best way we knew to get him there himself so we could check him out which is where we're headed with you, young lady."
"I'm fine," Juliet tried to say.
"Before he left, Hotch told us you got thrown around like a rag doll, so don't even try it."
It wasn't until she was admitted to the hospital—room next to Tyler at her insistence—that the FBI agents, her brother and uncle gathered to lay everything out in the open. John and Agents Reid and Morgan outlined how they had found Clark's photo shrine to her in his apartment and then how they had finally found his second home. She resolved to feel freaked out later just thinking about being Juliet Graham when she wasn't feeling so drained.
So she lay on her hospital bed, a saline drip in her arm most likely laced with something to take the edge off the headache for both dehydration, whiplash from being shaken, and the large bumps on her head from the initial attack and hitting the wall and the floor.
Agent Hotchner explained what had happened from when they were at the house, to waking in the cabin's attic and what they had discovered on Graham's motives. While she noticed John and Roy react incredulously, the FBI agents seemed to take it in stride. They had seen stranger things, she guessed. She jumped when she was addressed directly.
"You never told me who Graham was in the delusion," Agent Hotchner prompted as all eyes focused on her.
"Wormtongue," Juliet answered. "He thought he was Grima Wormtongue."
"An odd choice," Agent Reid muttered. "But it most likely fit the best with where he saw himself as a man who watched from a distance which was all he was comfortable with until the delusion was threatened."
Somehow, Juliet wasn't surprised that Reid was as knowledgeable as she when it came to the characters. The two shared a small smile as the others looked on in patient exasperation.
She drifted off as they continued to discuss the legalities of the case, the past thirty six hours catching up with her.
Chapter 10: The Closure
Juliet work to the dawn light streaking through her window.
"Hey, Jules, you awake?"
She looked at the chair to her left and saw her uncle, seated, but now leaning forward.
"How is Tyler?" Juliet asked.
Her uncle didn't even comment that her first thought was for Tyler. "He's fine. We're… fine."
Juliet nodded slightly, understanding the implication. "Good. And, Clark?"
Roy's eyes darkened, but he answered, "Full recovery and on his way to prison. Juliet, I swear if I had known he was doing this-"
"Don't," Juliet interrupted. "No one knew. No one could have known."
"I don't deserve you."
"Uncle Roy. You took us in when Mom and Dad died; you didn't have to. I love you and Tyler. I'm just sorry that everyone was hurt because of me…"
Her last words were lost to tears and Roy lost no time in jumping up and pulling her into his arms.
"It is not your fault. Don't you even dare think that," Roy said as he rocked her gently. "You are the biggest victim in this God-forsaken mess and I am so grateful that you are alive and well."
Her uncle continued to hold her and rubbed his hand up and down her back as she cried herself out.
Juliet sniffed and swiped her hand over her eyes before looking at her brother.
"So, when can I bust out of here?" she asked, struggling to smile.
"No concussion or other injuries, you're hydrated and medicated as a precaution, so as soon as we sign the paperwork, you're golden."
"And Tyler?" Roy asked.
"He'll be here for another day or two while they monitor for infection," John reported. "Here, I brought you a change of clothes."
"I'll meet you in Tyler's room," Juliet informed them both, watching the two men leave, each looking back at her before closing the door.
She pulled on the jeans and sweater, examining her body in the process. There were finger shaped bruises on her upper arms and her right wrist was red and still slightly swollen. Brushing her hair caused the skin around her face to pull and disturb the bump on her temple as well as the laceration on the back of her head from her impact with the wall.
No stab wounds. No drugs. Of all Clark's victims, she had come out the luckiest. She replayed the events in her mind, still unable to believe some of the aspects that had gone into the actions. She had played into the fantasy of her deluded stalker and then attacked him. She had watched him attack her cousin and kept the blood from seeping out of Tyler's body. She had verbally berated an FBI agent who had later supported her and guided her through their shared captivity.
Her hands were shaking again. Juliet breathed deeply and reminded herself that she and Tyler were alive. She mourned for Peter, Casey, Brian and the other two boys, but she and her cousin were alive.
She walked out of the room and went next door, finding her cousin sitting up in bed and speaking with Roy and John.
"Hey, Ty," she said quietly, using the nickname for the first time in years.
"Hey, Jules," he returned just as quietly with a smile. It was the first smile she had seen in almost two years.
Juliet ignored John's offer of his chair and perched on the bed next to Tyler. She reached out and took his hand, squeezing it gently. Tyler squeezed back.
"You okay?" he asked. Juliet wondered how much he had been told.
"I will be," she answered honestly. "I'm more worried about you."
Tyler blushed and included his father and John in his sheepish gaze. "Yeah. Sorry about all that."
Roy shook his head. "All right, before this gets any further, I want to make one thing clear." The man fixed all three of them in his gaze. "There will be no more apologies for this, hellish and tragic case from any of us beyond what we say right now. So, I'm sorry Juliet, that I didn't notice that Graham was stalking you. I'm sorry that I didn't notice that you were in danger and that I didn't listen to you when you said Tyler was innocent.
"Son, I will never forgive myself for even believing for a second that you could have possibly murdered Peter and those boys. I'm your father and I should have protected you and when I didn't, I let you run off into more danger. I will never doubt either of you again."
While Juliet struggled not to cry again, John spoke.
"I'm sorry, Tyler, that I thought you were a killer. I'm sorry that I've been pushing you and not understanding what you've been going through. Jules, I'm sorry that I failed at protecting both of you."
"I'm sorry that I've pushed everyone away," Tyler admitted. "I'm sorry that I've been a jerk and that Peter is dead."
"I'm sorry that it's because of me that Clark killed five people and hurt Tyler," Juliet confessed. "I'm sorry that I didn't trust you when I went after Tyler on my own."
Tyler's arms gingerly came around her shoulders while Juliet reached carefully around his abdomen, mindful of his stitches and bandages. John stood and supported them from behind while Roy joined them and embraced them from the front. The family remained that way for several moments.
"Now, when can I get the hell out of here?" Tyler asked.
Juliet laughed and rested her head on Tyler's shoulder as John and Roy stepped back.
"Tomorrow," Roy answered. "And then we're going to talk about some punishment for running away from John, the police, and the FBI."
Tyler groaned half-heartedly and Juliet sighed in contentment. She was with her family and they were stronger for this incident. That was all that mattered.
On the jet, Morgan had retreated into his Bose headphones, JJ and Reid had begun a game of Crazy 8's, leaving Hotch reviewing the case file and Prentiss watching him.
"Something I can do for you?" he asked without looking up.
It wasn't until he met her eyes that she spoke.
"That was an interesting case. Not often we get unsubs who think they're living a fantasy life, from a fantasy series, no less."
"There certainly wasn't a lot of evidence for it," Hotch admitted.
"I'm a little surprised Reid didn't pick up on it," Prentiss laughed.
Reid's protest carried over from where he and JJ were sitting. "It's not like Graham went out of his way to integrate his delusion into his actions. If he had incorporated other aspects of Tolkien's works such as the sigil the Uruk-hai used to represent Sauruman on his victims or even—"
Luckily, JJ elected to smack Reid's arm to cut off what would have likely been a long and detailed list of Lord of the Rings references he would have spotted. Hotch smiled and resolved to mention this case a little as possible as a preventative measure.
"Lucky he didn't get more creative," Prentiss remarked, a shade of darkness creeping into her tone.
Hotch knew why. He remembered Georgia and Tobias Hankel just as well as the rest of the team. It must have awakened very unpleasant memories when he had been kidnapped and been missing. The looks on his team members' faces when they had come storming into Graham's cabin had made that perfectly clear. The relief had been palatable when he had reported that he'd received nothing more than the blitz attack and a few punches, leaving bruises, but nothing more.
"His victims were never more than items needed for his message," Hotch said. "He showed no signs of sadism."
"Right, of course."
All of which was true, even taking the fantasy out of the profile. McCallister, as the first victim and trigger was still only drugged and stabbed post mortem. The boys had been even less connected and had had painless deaths. Even Tyler Phillips had been attacked swiftly and efficiently. There was nothing in Graham's behavior that should have truly worried his team beyond the obvious uncertainty and anxiety of his abduction. And yet.
"I wasn't even acknowledged until it was time to get rid of me," Hotch remarked. "It was Juliet who was in more danger as the focus of his delusion. If she had refused him strongly enough, he might have turned violent to convince her otherwise."
"I couldn't help but notice that you said you didn't try to talk to Graham yourself when you were coaching her on how to play him."
"She had the advantage and anything I said would have been uninformed," Hotch said curtly, trying to turn back to the file.
"Still," Prentiss went on. "It must have been hard, trusting her in that situation."
He abandoned the file, knowing Prentiss wouldn't let up until she was finished with whatever line of inquiry she had started.
"Yes," he admitted. "It was a risk, putting that much pressure on her to talk Graham down, but she was the more familiar with the fantasy and he wanted to talk with her. She could make the connection."
Prentiss smiled. "It's not like you to take a back seat. That must have been difficult."
"Not really. Juliet is a remarkable young woman. I knew she could do it."
Finally, Prentiss seemed willing to let the subject rest. "Well, she did manage to get Reid to feed a sugar cube to a horse. After that, confronting Graham must have been a piece of cake."
Reid looked affronted again while Prentiss and JJ giggled like school girls. Hotch cracked a small smile and then smiled wider when Morgan took his head phones off in surprise.
"Wait. Reid did what?"
The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater. –JRR Tolkien