Hotchner stood on the ledge overlooking the bullpen and stared unbelievingly down into it, where Elle was waving a box full of cookies under Reid's nose.
"Hey," he called, jogging down the stairs. "You're on sick leave, you're not supposed to be here."
Reid looked up. "I just thought…"
But he was interrupted as Hotchner saw Gideon make his way slowly through the bullpen, pushing Morgan in a wheelchair. "And neither are you! What's going on here?"
"I just wanted to be part of the interrogation," Morgan said. "I want to see her. I want to talk to her."
"Are you sure you're up to it?" Hotchner asked, but it was Gideon who answered.
"Hotch, he needs this."
Hotchner looked at Gideon over Morgan's head and nodded.
"Hey," Elle said, walking over to Morgan and drawing a finger along the armrest of the wheelchair. "Sweet ride."
"Sure is," Morgan agreed. "And it even came with a chauffeur. But do you know what the best thing about it is?"
"Uh-uh," Elle shook her head.
"It's a two-seater," Morgan said, gripping her around the waist and pulling her down into his lap. She landed with a squeal and proceeded to give him a bop over the head, a very gentle one though, and asked,
"Tell me, did this loss of intelligence happen before or after the coma?"
"Ooh," Morgan said, scrunching up his face in a pretended hurt expression. "You're dangerous, woman."
Elle bopped him on the head once more for good measure before kissing him on the same spot and standing up, offering him and the others cookies too.
Reid sat by his desk, feeling overwhelmed and insecure. He hadn't expected to see Morgan today. He was nowhere near done thinking yet. He didn't know what to say. When Morgan's eyes ghosted over him, a slightly desperate look on his face, Reid gave him a shy smile, but other than that he didn't offer anything. Thankfully, Morgan didn't push, but then again, he'd promised to do this on Reid's terms.
The elevator opened and JJ escorted a brown-haired woman in her forties with a visitor's badge clipped to her coat out of it.
"This is Janine Panachuk, Kelly's lawyer," she introduced as Ms. Panachuk shook hands with all of them. "She just flew in from Chicago."
"All right," Hotchner said. "Take Ms. Panachuk to interrogation and I'll escort Kelly up."
Morgan had left the wheelchair behind in the bullpen and hung heavily on Gideon's arm as they progressed through the corridor, but in front of the interrogation room he let go of Gideon and stood up straight. He walked into the room with every ounce of his self-confidence showing and sat down next to Hotchner who was already facing Kelly Arden and her lawyer. Gideon walked into the corner of the room where he stood half-in and half-out of the shadows. With his arms crossed over his chest, leaning against the wall, he stood sentinel over his team.
On the other side of the two-way mirror Elle and JJ had pushed Reid down into a chair and stood on each side of him. Elle kept her hand on his shoulder, unconsciously moving her thumb back and forth, rubbing his upper arm soothingly.
Hotchner started the recording device sitting on the table in front of him and recited the information about the case, the date and those present, before turning to Arden.
"Ms. Arden, are you responsible for the deaths of Michael Trenton, Lester Holt and Benjamin Barker and the attempts on Special Agent Derek Morgan's life?"
"I advice you not to answer that question or say anything to incriminate yourself, Kelly," Ms. Panachuk said, leaning in close to her client. "If they have a case, let them prove it."
"Yesterday I woke up with her holding a knife to my throat, Ms. Panachuk," Morgan said bitterly. "How much more proof do you think we need?"
"He's right," Arden said. "I'm going down no matter what. I don't see any point in keeping secrets anymore. The answer to your question, Agent Hotchner, is yes. I killed them."
"Let the record show that my client is confessing against my recommendations," Ms. Panachuk said, and then sat back, feeling she had done her job. If her client wanted to bury herself, there was nothing she could do about it.
"I killed them, and I'm glad I did," Arden said. "They deserved it for what they did to my brother. They deserved it for ruining Henry's life."
"How did they deserve it?" Hotchner asked. "How did they destroy your brother's life? They were just doing their jobs. Your brother had committed a crime and it was their job to…"
"No," Arden shouted, interrupting him. "They weren't just doing their jobs, they were playing God. They didn't care that my brother was innocent. They wanted to send someone to prison and they chose him. They were wrong!"
"Your brother wasn't innocent," Morgan protested. "He took part in an armed robbery where a person got killed. A man with a wife and two little girls was killed."
"Henry never killed anyone. He made a mistake, a small one. He didn't mean for anyone to get hurt, but did anyone listen? No! He was just a scared kid, who had to take all the blame, because you were too lazy to find the rest of them, those who were really responsible for the crimes my brother was sent to prison for. Why didn't you? Why didn't anyone speak for him? Why did you all just stand there and watch as he was destroyed? How could you? How could you go on with your life when my brother had lost his? Have you no shame? Have you no honor?" she spat at him.
"It was your brother's choice," Morgan argued, feeling deeply wounded by the accusations. "All he had to do was tell us the names of those who were with him, but he refused. He gave us no choice."
"That's because you didn't care. You just thought of him as another kid from the streets, didn't you? But he was someone. He was someone to me. He was my brother. My little brother…" she sobbed.
"Jellybean-Kelly, that's what he used to call me when we were kids. Jellybean-Kelly. He was the child who crawled up in my lap and asked to hear a story, he was the boy who came home bursting with pride when he scored the winning goal in soccer. He was the young man who cried all night the first time our mother was diagnosed with cancer. He was my brother!"
She looked up at them, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I did everything I could for him. I sold my car to pay for his defense. I sold my house and moved in with my mother. And the only lawyer I could get was this guy Barber, who'd just taken the step from public defender to private practice. He'd be the best I would ever get for my money, he told me. But that no-good, overprized idiot… do you know what he said? Confess, he said. Confess and they'll be lenient. Henry didn't want to, he wasn't guilty, he hadn't done anything, but he confessed anyway. He thought he'd get a suspended sentence, Barber promised him that. But he got eight years. Eight years for witnessing a murder! How is that justice? I ask you, how is that fair?"
But no one answered her, instead letting her spew her sadness and anger onto them.
"When he got out, he wasn't my brother anymore. He was a stranger. There was no joy in him, no life. We got to keep him for eight months, that was all. We did everything we could to cheer him up, to make him come alive again, to remind him how good life could be, but one morning I walked into his room and found him hanging… I couldn't help him. I couldn't save him. Do you have any idea what that feels like?... I remember sitting by the window later that day, once they had taken him away, looking at the neighbors packing their car for a weekend trip, and I wondered how it could be that they were still going on their trip, like the world hadn't just ended."
She looked down on her own hands, which were tearing a Kleenex into small, small pieces, peppering the table with paper snowflakes.
"Eight months after he died, my mother had died too, and my sister had left the country. Dad died when I was still a kid. I was sitting all alone in the kitchen, reading the morning newspaper and saw that the prosecutor, Holt, had been made District Attorney. And that's when I realized that no one cared. That everyone else's life was still going on and moving forward and they were happy. And I thought about it and I thought about it and I thought about it and the more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed. Like my brother hadn't made an imprint on the world. Like he had never mattered. And I couldn't let it be that way. I had to do something."
"It always surprises me," JJ mumbled in the viewing room.
"What does?" Reid turned his head and looked up at her sad face.
"How human they sound."
"Growing up, we'd dream about what we wanted to be," Arden said, sounding like she was talking more to herself than to them. "Henry wanted to be a fireman and an astronaut and a teacher and a gardener and I don't know all the things he said. Melanie, our sister, wanted to be a professor. It didn't matter what in, she just wanted glasses and an office full of books and a black board and chalks of her own. I… I wanted to be a veterinarian or work in a zoo. And look what happened to us. Mel is waiting tables in Australia somewhere. Henry ended up in prison before he got his first real job. He never got to be anything. And look at me. I grew up and started killing people," she said bitterly. "I never thought…Isn't it odd? How we change without even wanting to, without ever meaning to."
She looked at Morgan with fire in her eyes, anger bubbling in her chest.
"Do you realize how much I've hungered for revenge? How I've longed to see you cold and pale, beyond the reach of any human hands and minds. How I've dreamed of seeing your mother cry as mine did when my brother was buried. How I've ached to see your sisters devastated like Mel and I were when we heard the sentencing. Have you any concept of how much I hate you? You and those conspiring with you to ruin my family. He was my brother. My brother!"
She broke down, leaning over the table, sobbing, her lawyer awkwardly patting her on the back.
Hotchner turned off the recording. The interview was over.
Several weeks later, Reid lay in bed, twisting and turning, sleep nowhere near claiming him. Tomorrow was the day. Tomorrow was Morgan's first day back at work.
Time had moved much too quickly. The last couple of weeks had just whizzed past as he'd been thinking about his choices, wondering about the consequences.
Otherwise he was doing great. He was in therapy twice a week and he had no problem talking to the rest of the team anymore, even though he still felt guilty for lying to them for so long. He'd been back at work for a while now and he was eating fairly well, even though he was still a bit too skinny. He was, however, being drowned in well-meaning calories, as the break room these days resembled a bake sale more than anything else and complimentary fruit- and muffin baskets had begun to show up mysteriously in their department instead of staying with their original recipients. JJ had gained three pounds since he'd come back to work. She was not happy. Reid, however, was. He'd never known he had so many friends in the building.
But he knew he was still being watched. He hadn't earned back the complete trust of his team yet.
And he had been avoiding the subject of Morgan, except for brief interludes with his therapist. He felt like that was a decision he had to make on his own.
He now thought that he had reached a decision. He was sure it was the right thing to do… almost. What if it wasn't? What if it backfired on him? What if it screwed everything up beyond repair? He was taking a huge chance here. Would he be able to pick himself up again, if it blew up in his face? Did he even have the guts to go through with it?
Flopping over on his back and kicking off his sweaty covers, he sighed and stared into the night.
Tomorrow was the day.
It was Morgan's first day back at work, and it appeared as if the team had been kind enough to save him three weeks worth of paperwork, just to keep him sufficiently occupied. Perhaps not his favorite task, but it was much better than sitting at home. He'd finally convinced his mother that he was well enough for her to go home, and his place was finally back to the bachelor pad he knew and loved.
Morgan had been rather nervous coming here this morning, and it had been strange for a while. There were a lot of people walking on eggshells around him. Not his own team, but the rest of the agents and support staff occupying the bullpen. But mostly he'd wondered how things would be between him and Reid. They hadn't seen each other since that day of Arden's interrogation, and though Morgan had missed his friend, he'd been perfectly willing to give Reid all the space he needed. But he couldn't help wondering how things would be now.
Reid had been rather subdued during the day, like he always was when he was thinking hard about something he couldn't quite figure out. Morgan had caught him looking at him contemplatively several times during the day. It was getting close to quitting time, and he still didn't know which leg to stand on in regards to Reid.
In the corner of his eye, he suddenly caught sight of Reid, who was walking nervously up to his desk.
Morgan immediately abandoned the keyboard and turned his full attention to Reid. Was this it? Was this his sentencing?
"I… I… I've got these tickets. Basketball. It's this weekend. Would you… Do you… Do you want to come with me?"
Morgan's face split into a toothy grin and he almost laughed with relief. It would take time, of that he was sure, but he and Reid would be all right.
"Sure thing, buddy. Sure thing."
Author's Notes: We'vereached the end on the line, folks. I would say that I hope you've enjoyed the story, but judging from the reviews, I already know you did. Therefore I would like to thank you for your time and patience and especially thank you for all the reviews. A lot of sunshine has been sent my way and I dearly appreciate it. Thank you.