The In-Between Times: Chapter 33

By Helena Fallon

As usual the standard disclaimer is that I intend no infringement of copyright of the Criminal Minds series but I do claim the intellectual property of the characters I invent for these fan fiction stories.

Reference will be made to 'Doubt' and 'In Birth and Death' but this is my interpretation of events in the context of this story. This story does not faithfully follow the events of these aired episodes of the third series.

The three weeks following the distressing events of the Frank Breitkopf's final killing spree were thankfully extremely mundane. None of the team complained and put their heads down and worked steadily through the work Barry handed them. Gideon had returned to work after a fortnight away and seemed to be making an effort to talk to everyone sometime during the day. It was usually only a superficial conversation in the kitchen or just passing through and stopping by a desk for a few words but every one welcomed the attempt at normality. Hotch knew that Don had wished him to take more time off but Gideon had felt that he needed to be doing his normal routine to help him through his grief and Hotch could understand the reasoning behind such a decision. Sometimes it was the normal routines that did help you pick up the pieces after death and they all knew that Gideon was an essentially private man so he would not necessarily share his sorrows with those prepared to listen. The psych department understood all of this and just told Hotch and Reid to keep an eye on him if a case occurred and to check the decisions he might make. Barry had discreetly checked his written profiles before sending them back to the police departments and had been pleased to report back to Hotch that they were as good as ever.

Reid had particularly made the effort to play chess with him before going home in the evenings and had invited him back to his home for a meal on the evenings Jo had extra choir practices in the run up for a concert. Spencer was very sensitive not to force Gideon into a situation where he was with Jo and himself as a couple because he felt it would only remind Gideon of what he had lost with Sarah. Jo understood this and was not upset to find Gideon had already left by the time she got home at 10 p.m. on such evenings but she was pleased that they had enjoyed the meals she prepared for them.

Gideon had not returned to his apartment and had everything removed and placed into 'store' ready for when he found a new place. He had no enthusiasm for apartment hunting at that time and although Jo had said she would willing help when he was ready, Gideon had decided to live out of a hotel room for a while until he was certain where his future lay.

He had less than a year now before he could take early retirement but the rumours of the coming financial settlement for the FBI and the necessary cuts to accommodate it, if true, were the topic of conversation for all the Bureau's staff. Even Reid had been thinking about it all.

They were playing chess after a wonderful meal of home made vegetable lasagne. Gideon enjoyed Jo's cooking especially as her Italian grandmother had taught her to make real pasta. He envied the young man's warm home but he was also delighted that he had this stability finally in his life.

"Do you think cuts are on the cards?" Spencer had asked as he pondered his next move.

"Spencer, I've been with the Bureau through too many financial famines. What usually happens when we get a poor settlement from the government is that the Bureau then sets about a rearguard action to fight the cuts and prove that they are damaging. The Bureau amasses data to prove their point and after a couple of years we get a bigger slice of the money. While all this is happening, all departments have to tighten their belts accordingly. I suspect this time round that 'Homeland Security' and 'Counter Terrorism' will get good settlements but smaller departments, like the BAU, will probably have posts frozen so if someone leaves then they are not replaced or people are re-deployed in the organisation to cover essential positions."

"So you see us as vulnerable?" pressed Spencer.

"Yes, I think posts will be frozen," Gideon replied.

"But not re-deployment?"

"It might happen, I don't know how much our division will be apportioned and that will affect the measures that Strauss will have to take. The BAU is quite a successful unit despite our numbers but they may cut our use of the jet…perhaps we'll be confined to our desks more which at least will mean regular hours," Gideon said with a rueful smile, "Do you think you might be moved?"

"I don't know, I'm the youngest…"

"You're also experienced and Hotch would fight for you to remain with the BAU. Anyway I bet your Jo would go with you if you were sent elsewhere."

Spencer grinned, "She said she would if it came to the crunch but it would be a big wrench because she's part of a closely knit family here," Reid replied in a serious tone and Gideon realised that the young man was genuinely concerned about being sent away from Quantico.

"Spencer, the psych department don't want to loose your abilities and you mustn't think that everything revolves around Quantico. Sometimes a spell in another field office is useful for the different experiences and interaction with other agents and their ways of doing things. You know, sometimes we can get stale working with the same people all the time."

"We don't because there is some turn over of staff," Spencer countered as he moved his bishop. However, he then realised that Elle was the last person to leave and before that there had been the unsettled time after the loss of the team in Boston.

"Change isn't necessarily bad, Spencer," Gideon continued, "And if it happens to you then embrace it and make it work for your career."

Spencer nodded and concentrated on the board. An hour later they agreed that they had reached a stalemate.

"Shall I play my lute for you?" Spencer asked and Gideon's face lit up at the thought of the pleasure. "Anything in particular?"

"How about that lovely Bach you played me the first time I came to the newly decorated apartment?"

Spencer smiled and went to get his lute from its case and to tune it. Gideon sat enjoying the calmness of the large room and let the undercurrent of love that existed it this home soothe his raw wounds.

Late the next day they found themselves en route to Flagstaff, Arizona, following the campus killings of two students in the space of a few days. The campus was understandably nervous and security tight but the local police and the College authorities were grateful for their arrival at short notice. However, for Jason Gideon it was the case that was to be the straw that broke the camel's back. In Gideon's mind a college campus should represent a time of idealistic youth and happiness and for the senior profiler it had been a time of many happy memories. Those happy college memories principally belonged to when he had first meet Sarah some 31 years before. They had not met on this particular campus but it was just unfortunate that in his present emotionally fragile state, any campus would have brought back those memories with a painful vividness reminding him of all that he had lost then and a second time years later.

Gideon had not mentioned his feelings to anyone else on the team but worked solidly to produce a profile as quickly as possible, and the team worked well together to gain the confidences of the students and authorities. But as Gideon examined the scene of crimes' photographs, the faces of the victims were suddenly changed to Sarah's face. He kept seeing Sarah in the student crowds around the campus; she just stared at him with sad silent eyes. Gideon felt that he had failed to protect Sarah who had trusted him just as he was to later feel that he had betrayed the trust the students had in his ability to keep them safe. Any psychologist would have said that this was all a manifestation of Gideon's grief and sense of guilt over Sarah's death but he had not told anyone of his distress because he felt he could handle it himself. Gideon believed that his 'psychological detachment' would enable him to be effective on the case in hand.

The third victim was killed soon after the team had arrived, the Unsub seemed to be undeterred by the strong police presence and the campus security, and panic began to spread amongst the students. The Dean, Suzanne Cable, decided to close down the campus despite all the extra security that had been put into the place. This decision was to concentrate the Unsubs actions; a campus security guard, Nathan Tubbs, fitted the profile and was arrested with a dark haired student in his car but he held his nerve and demanded a lawyer. However, then a fourth student was murdered and questions were inevitably asked if they had the correct person in custody. Gideon and his team felt that this was a copycat killing and in the end gambled that if Tubbs was released, the copycat killer would contact him. Morgan and Prentiss were under instructions to follow Tubbs while Gideon and Hotch used the newly installed extra campus security cameras to try and keep track. However, the next events could not had been anticipated, when a suicidal student, Anna Begley, sought out Tubbs and took him to a quiet campus area and confessed that she had killed the latest student so that Tubbs would be released. Anna then produced a knife wishing Tubbs to kill her because she couldn't do it herself. Tubbs refused and Anna stabbed him, unfortunately Morgan and Prentiss had turned up too late to prevent this but trained their guns on Anna instructing her to drop the knife but the sick woman had turned it into herself.

Erin Strauss had seen this incident as the opportunity to suspend Hotchner for two weeks without pay pending an internal inquiry into the matter. Gideon was suspended for two weeks after he had insisted on going to see Strauss and arguing that it was all his fault for the decision made to release Tubbs and have him followed. The team were shocked, they had written up their reports and then were effectively grounded without the Unit Chief and the senior profiler. The BAU was very subdued and buried themselves with the profile requests that Barry handed out to them but no matter how many post mortems the team had over coffee, beer and meals over the next few days they kept coming back to the same conclusions.

"God…we can't mind read, we were following Tubbs and had to keep a discreet distance but how were we to know about Begley…No one had said anything to us until that student called and you and J.J. went to speak to her." Morgan said taking a drink of his beer.

"Yeah," Reid agreed as he drank his coke, "We could make the connections but the students didn't think to tell us about her behaviour until she'd dyed her hair…Katie was very observant and at least we were on to it…"

"What time are you down for the Board on Monday?" Prentiss asked as she sipped her beer.

"10 o'clock, what about you?" Morgan said eyeing Prentiss.

"11, so you and J.J. have the afternoon sessions?"

"Yeah, J.J. has 2 o'clock…I have 3 o'clock," replied Reid, "Gideon and Hotch are in Tuesday morning."

The other two agents nodded into their drinks. Morgan and Prentiss were both thinking about the last time that they had found themselves before a 'Board'. Their experiences before the Disciplinary Board had been bad enough but this was their Unit Chief and there was the general feeling that Strauss wanted Hotch out of her section.

The internal inquiry was a Board of five very senior agents drawn from outside Quantico. The chairman was Oliver Ecclestone who was Head of the New Jersey Office. He was a very experienced Bureau man who was nearly 60 and rumours were circulating that he was being pushed into retirement. He was completely bald with a florid complexion and was careful to monitor his blood pressure and he never drank alcohol. Ecclestone was 6 foot tall and of a medium build with a reputation for liking a round of golf. He was always dressed in mid grey suits and pale blue shirts with his ties giving some variety to his wardrobe and were surprisingly rather modern in their bold designs when the onlooker would have expected conservative stripes. The other Board members seemed rather like clones in their dark suits, white shirts and striped darkly hued ties which also only emphasied their similar medium builds and heights. Oliver had an air of genial authority and was respected by the other men there.

The four other senior agents sitting on the Board were Alex Thorpe, an expert in Counter Terrorism from the Texas Division. Thomas Hamilton was the Head of Organised Crime for the Washington area. Gordon Wallace was a divisional Head of Prosecution Services from the Delaware office and Viktor Dubcek, a senior manager of Scientific Support Services from the New York Office. Each man had worked extensively in the field at some time during their careers and had sat on several internal inquiries to review an agent's decisions in the field. They had each been given copies of the BAU's individual agents' reports and were at liberty to question any of the team to clarify anything about the incident that lead to the deaths of Nathan Tubbs and Anna Begley. There were also additional Police and Medical reports that had been compiled since the deaths of the two suspects and the actual security camera footage of the incident.

The first day was quite straightforward with the individual junior agents answering questions; they were consistent with the known facts. The next day, the Board was careful to question the senior profiler who insisted that Agent Hotchner should not have been suspended as he had only followed the profile that had been provided by the team and Gideon took sole responsibility for that.

"You stand by your profile Agent Gideon?" asked Hamilton.

"Absolutely, a profile is never perfect but we were in a spree killing and looking at the evidence of a confined area. The lack of defence wounds on the first three victims made us feel certain that the Unsub was part of the campus and seen as a person of trust by these women. The campus guards carried tasers and it was taser marks that lead us to check out the campus guards' backgrounds and Tubbs stood out because he had failed his psych evaluation for the police force. Tubbs had been assessed as borderline with anti-social and socio-pathic tendencies so the police obviously couldn't recruit him. Further delving revealed a broken marriage and a recent court appearance that refused him contact with his daughter…that was obviously the stressor. Further more, all the victims were brunettes and his wife was a brunette…it all pointed to him," said Gideon confidently.

"But you had problems holding him?" said Wallace.

"We had no hard evidence, I talked to him and tried to wind him up a little but he didn't break and demanded a lawyer. We could hold him 72 hours but then there was the copy cat killing so we were obviously under pressure to cut him loose."

"But you still believed you had your man?" pressed Wallace.

"Yes, that's why Hotch had Prentiss and Morgan follow him at a discreet distance when we did let him go and we also used the campus security cameras."

"The fourth victim…was definitely different?" Thorpe asked.

"Yes, we had not released all the details about the previous victims to prevent copycat killings and we had not expected this to happen because Tubbs was not the sort of person to have friends or hangers on considering the 'anti-social' assessment."

"Can you refresh our memories how the copycat was different," Thorpe probed.

"The mode of killing; this victim had been subdued by a blow to the head, probably with a large stone. The body was not posed after death like the previous victims, even the knife wounds were not of the same intensity and then there was the note. The first Unsub had not felt the need to advertise his deeds…but Reid pointed out that it was like this latest murder was the action of a groupie," Gideon quietly responded as if lecturing to a class.

"And you had no idea who this copycat killer could be?"

"No, we didn't know if it was a man or woman. The college authorities never gave us any indication that there were any mentally sick students who might act in this way…The local police had asked those sort of questions over the first murders and we asked the same questions on our arrival and again when the fourth victim was found. We were totally unprepared for what actually happened with the fourth victim…We knew that the copycat would probably try to make contact with Tubbs that was why we kept Prentiss and Morgan tailing him but we had no idea about the severity of her own suicidal tendencies. In effect she wanted Tubbs to kill her and when he refused she felt angry and humiliated and stabbed him. That's when Prentiss and Morgan came on the scene with their guns but she wouldn't drop the knife…However, you can just hear on the film, she asks them if they are going to shoot her and both agents say 'no'. …She wanted them to shoot her because she wanted to die and because they wouldn't comply she turned the knife on herself. We were all appalled by what happened, we tried to save her but the wound was too deep."

"When did you find out about Anna Begley?" Ecclestone questioned

"One of the students…Katie was in the same dorm and went to tell her that the dorm was closing down. She noticed that Anna had cut her blond hair, dyed it brunette and she was cutting her arms and thought she saw the bloodied newspaper cuttings about the murdered students on her wall. Katie rang J.J., who had spoken to the students in that dorm when we first arrived, and Reid went with Jareau to speak with her. He asked if Anna ever self harmed and if she had ever spoken about suicide. The student confirmed both about Anna but none of her fellow students believed her…they thought she was something of a drama queen…Reid rang me immediately as he saw the possibility of Anna being the copycat killer. We then passed the information to Morgan and Prentiss to keep an eye out for a woman meeting up with Tubbs and we quickly picked them up on the security cameras. The murders had made the college install extra cameras but of course because Tubbs was on the security staff and he knew all about that."

"Yes," said Ecclestone, "The detailed analysis of the security footage and enhanced sound techniques have confirmed what you and Hotch could have only surmise was happening between Tubbs and this woman. Also the lack of care for this obviously sick student was not picked up by her tutors or reported by her fellow students to the health services on the campus. The Begley family are obviously very upset but they will not be able to sue us, the failure to help their daughter lies elsewhere and before we got to the campus."

"It was not our fault," Gideon repeated firmly but he was not surprised about the parents' moves, they obviously wanted to assuage their grief by apportioning blame for their daughter's state of health at someone's door. However, this time the blame lay with the college procedures and not at the actions of the FBI personnel.

"And you feel that the whole team correctly followed procedure and worked to the best of their abilities?" Thorpe probed.

"Absolutely. We were all working under pressure but we picked up Tubbs as soon as we could. Unfortunately there was a another murder soon after our arrival but we were all committed to the case and working long shifts…Hotch even had to order people to take time out or the rooms that had been booked for us would have been re-allocated if we didn't turn up."

"Any more questions?" Ecclestone asked his fellow Board members and no one spoke, "Are we still in agreement?" and they all nodded their assent. He smiled at Gideon and the old profiler relaxed.

"It is the agreement of this Board that your suspension over this matter was over hasty. This Board having reviewed all the now available evidence, that was not considered by Agent Strauss, find that you acted in a professional manner during this investigation and you have no case to answer. Your suspension is lifted and you may take the rest of this week as personal leave." Ecclestone smiled hoping that the few extra days leave might be a little compensation for the stress of Strauss's actions.

"Thank you," Gideon said softly and rose and walked out of the room feeling as if he was dragging the bodies of all the victims from the Flagstaff campus. He should have felt elated but he felt drained and he was not sure that he wanted to even to go near the BAU at that moment. Gideon was walking from the main administration building when Spencer Reid caught up with him.

"Gideon!" Reid called running towards him in his awkward long limbed fashion and the long hair flying in the wind. Gideon was sure that Reardon would pull Reid up over that hair soon.

Gideon turned and waited for the young profiler to catch up with him.

"How did it go?" he asked, the big brown eyes shining with concern.

"Well, I told you there was nothing to worry about. Strauss acted before knowing all the facts and the security film, when analysed by the sound experts, confirmed our interpretation of events. My suspension is lifted and I can take the rest of the week as personal leave…"

"Oh that's great," Spencer beamed, "How about a game of chess tonight to celebrate... I'm sure Jo would cook us something nice?"

Gideon couldn't stop the sad smile that formed, "I've a few things to do with the rest of my day but I'll try and see you around 9 tonight in my office for a quick game if you like?"

"Yeah, OK, I'll tell Jo I'll be a bit late, and…" Reid's cell rang and he answered it, "What now?…All right I'm on my way," he turned off the cell, "Sorry got to go and talk to a detective who has just personally arrived from Richmond wanting advice on a note found to be half written in code…"

"Your reputation goes before you…Off you go and I'll see you later," said Gideon and watched Reid run in the opposite direction to where he was heading. He knew that by now Hotch would be entering the room to be questioned by the Board but he wasn't worried, Hotch would be fine. Gideon only wished that he would have the strength to finish what he knew he had to. Gideon made his way to his car, he had so much to think about and he needed some peace and quiet, the extra days Ecclestone had just given him would be useful. The senior profiler was just relieved that he had managed to keep up appearances for today but he knew that his doubts about his place in the world were multiplying at an alarming rate. He kept remembering Morgan's attitude as they boarded the plane home. The younger man was obviously upset at what he had witnessed but Gideon had reminded him that a profile was an educated guess, a tool but not perfect. The man's doubt in the senior profiler's ability kept bubbling up in Gideon's mind. Hotch had stood firm in his belief but Morgan had wavered and Gideon just didn't need a team member doubting him at that moment and he had worried about it on and off since.

Aaron Hotchner stood every inch the confident and very competent Bureau agent in his charcoal grey tailored suit, pristine white shirt and a silk tie of fine burgundy and royal blue stripes with a black thin line dividing the two colours. His short hair only accentuated the square jaw line that gave the impression of an unyielding personality. Hotchner was a man who believed in himself and the organisation he worked for, he had succeeded in every department he had been assigned to. It took dedication to cope with the pressures of the BAU and still believe that you made a difference to the world.

"Agent Hotchner, please be seated," Ecclestone invited and Hotch sat in the chair provided and stared calmly at the Board members. Over the past two weeks of his suspension he had done a lot of thinking. He had also talked a great deal with Hayley and played with Jack but the time had also made him think deeply about his career.

Hotch had decided that if Strauss got her own way and his suspension was upheld then he would resign because he was confident that all the evidence would support the decisions made by the team and he, as the team leader, took responsibility for their actions. Hotch was a very talented man and he didn't doubt that he could return to the law, in many ways perhaps the very skills he had learnt while in the FBI would help him in the court room.

"Agent Hotchner this board recognises that you have a very difficult position when in the field and you often have very little time for reflection before a decision is made. However, Agent Strauss seems to have written a particularly detailed report that covers several cases where she considers your actions dangerous and believes the team, in her words, 'are out of control'."

Hotch was not expecting this line and interjected, "Sir, this inquiry is bound by the purpose given it. I respectfully wish to remind this Board that its remit was to consider the validity of my suspension over the Flagstaff, Arizona, case where both the Unsub and a copycat killer unfortunately met their deaths," said Hotch in his lawyer's voice that reminded Ecclestone that this man had been a fine prosecutor.

Ecclestone knew that Erin Strauss had totally under estimated Hotchner and the damage he could inflict upon her.

"Yes, Agent Hotchner, I know but I am explaining clearly that this is what your supervisory agent has written as part of her explanation for your suspension. As a Board we have reviewed all the evidence of the Arizona case and asked searching questions of all the agents concerned and we have now, in all fairness, to question you." Ecclestone said calmly and could see why the Director thought so highly of this man.

"Quite bluntly, do you consider that sometimes the BAU's actions can be considered …dangerous…unlawful?" he continued.

Hotch sighed, he had not expected such a broad attack but he was good at thinking on his feet and this was what these people wanted to see and he sensed that there was more to this on Ecclestone's part.

"Gentlemen, I am by training a lawyer, I am very aware of the law and I still retain my Bar Association membership. The BAU is unique; we face some of the worst criminals. Often we meet very experienced Detectives who will say to us… 'I've never seen anything as bad as this before…' as they explain the crime scene. But often we have seen worse, not once but too many times a year. It does take its toll on the agents, and I will include myself in that, but the toll is usually in our off duty lives. While on the job we are all committed in what we are doing and that is to produce a profile to catch a monster…and often these are the psychopaths, some have been committing their crimes for years before they come under our radar. The most obvious example is Frank Breitkopf, we had to take an extraordinary step in his case when he had kidnapped a school bus of children and left them in the desert. Gideon didn't like what he had to do; we had to let him go in order to get the children back. None of us wanted to be in that situation but we put the lives of the children first…However, can you imagine the public outcry against the Bureau if we had not? Sometimes I have to agree with such decisions for the greater good. We got those children safely back to their parents who have not complained about the actions we had to take…But let me make this clear…we have all paid a price for that decision and Gideon the highest price of all.

The Nevada case and the subsequent surprise return of Frank Breitkopf have affected my team and the actions we took were not taken lightly. We had all stood in Gideon's apartment and stared at the body on his bed that had been eviscerated; there was blood everywhere. But this victim was no stranger, this was Gideon's friend so it became personal and it can be argued that we should not have even been on the case. But the only person who understood Frank's mind was Gideon because he had dealt with him closely in Nevada. The team knew Gideon hadn't murdered Sarah, and at first I had no idea where he was until he called me and I sent Garcia to be with him and to keep his mind on the case so we could try and out manoeuvre Frank. But Frank was ahead of us and two more women were butchered and a young girl kidnapped. I have only praise for my team who kept working trying to find Jane, who Frank wanted in exchange for little Tracey. However, the Director knew what was going on."

"How did the Director know?" asked Thorpe and Hotch wondered if he had said too much because Hotch had not put this explicitly in his own report but had mentioned Max Pentall's concern for Agent Gideon's welfare. But he saw a slight nod of encouragement from Ecclestone who he knew the Director trusted.

" On the Friday evening, Agent Reid had called Dr. Max Pentall to tell him that Gideon's friend had been murdered in his apartment and we, at that moment, didn't know where Gideon was but that the murder had Frank Breitkopf's signature," replied Hotch. The Unit Chief wondered how much, if anything, Strauss had been told of the Director's knowledge. Thorpe might belong in her camp but he watched the other board members carefully and Thorpe was the only one to show some surprise.

"Did you tell him to call Max?" Hamilton suddenly spoke up.

"No," conceded Hotch and then thought that it might imply dissent against his decisions but Thorpe was asking another question.

"Do your team often go behind your back?" Thorpe persisted.

"No, but these were exceptional circumstances. Reid was careful not to make calls to Max in the hearing of his colleagues and I don't believe that even now he has told them about his actions. Reid's concern was for the welfare of Gideon and myself because I was initially being less than forth coming with the Maryland Police and therefore the team as a whole was in a difficult position. Reid has been taking the responsibility for the group dynamics reports as part of his training under the Mental Health Services department here. Reid felt that Max would know how best to help Gideon, the team and of course, at the same time, the Bureau. Max kept in touch throughout the investigation and he was the intermediary with the Director."

"Yes," said Ecclestone, "Agent Reid is highly regarded in the Mental Health Services department. He only mentioned the contact with Max Pentall in his group dynamics report, which went to the Mental Health department, and not his general case report that Agent Strauss would have seen. Reid is something of a dark horse…a very quiet young man and not to be under estimated," Ecclestone said enigmatically and Hotch saw the whole Board look alert at his comment.

"He is the youngest of the team but he is an exceptional profiler, but I believe that Max's department also see him as a great asset for them should he want to move out of the BAU," Hotch conceded.

"So you admit that some of your decisions were…unusual?" probed Wallace.

" Yes, but we were dealing with a very unusual situation. Breitkopf was a very intelligent and manipulative psychopath; even now we don't know just how many victims he killed, we may never know. You see that is the problem, it is the very the nature of the work. The BAU does not deal with the normal criminal. Sometimes we may touch upon the work of a bomber, an arsonist, or paedophile, but the brutal truth is that we deal with the very dark side of humanity and none of you have stood in my shoes or those of my team. I do not mean that as an insult to the individual abilities of this Board. However, it is highly skilled work and like all departments we have our defeats aswell as the successes, fortunately we have enough success to keep us feeling that we still want to do the work. But we are dealing with criminals who have defeated the normal law enforcement agencies and they turn to our expertise to narrow down the suspects and we often point them along more fruitful lines of enquiry.

We usually work alongside the normal police, but when Frank killed Sarah Jacobs we unfortunately needed Gideon's expertise with us. I tried to give the Maryland Police enough information to keep their investigation going and I told them that we believed a psychopath called Frank was the suspect, not Gideon, but of course they wanted to interview Gideon themselves. You see even at that time we didn't even know Frank's name or where he was from…we discovered that during the frantic investigation that followed. Eventually the Maryland Police interviewed Gideon but it was at the end of the case. It can be argued that technically I obstructed them but I did so with the best possible motives for the greater good.

If I had genuinely believed that there was evidence to prove the guilt of one of my team then I would turn them over to the authorities. When Agent Morgan was incorrectly arrested for murder in Chicago, the team only tried to prove his innocence. Although as you may know Morgan escaped their custody but that had nothing to do with my team, that was their poor precinct procedures for suspects held in an interview room," Hotchner spoke with a detached calmness worthy of any courtroom.

"What about Agent Greenaway?" asked Wallace.

"Agent Greenaway passed all the Bureau's investigations into the matter and there was no clear evidence that there was wrong doing on her part," stated Hotchner evenly wondering how often Greenaway's actions would keep being thrown in his face.

"But you ordered her to have further psych evaluations after?" Ecclestone pressed.

"I wanted to make sure that she was ready to undertake field work again," he smoothly replied.

"But she didn't turn up and later she resigned…" Ecclestone probed.

"Perhaps she came to the conclusion that she could no longer do the work, it does take its toll on agents in the field," Hotch justified.

"Do you think she killed…" Wallace began.

"With all respect, I had no proof nor had the Bureau that is why the internal inquires she faced cleared her of any wrong doing," Hotch calmly stated and felt that he would not be drawn into dangerous speculation just because there were others who were suspicious of Greenaway's actions. The fact remained that there was no clear evidence to charge her with murder.

"My apologies, Agent Hotchner, I did not in any way wish to imply that your team is needlessly reckless or has a general disregard for the law. But we have had to ask these questions because they are the very kind of comments that might be aimed at them by the press and public as a whole. Like you say, nothing could be proved against Agent Greenaway to imply a wrongful shooting on her part…

We managed to keep the lid on the Frank Breitkopf case because we used his history has a psychopath to justify the actions taken. But the recent Arizona case has been stirred up by the local politicians, and by one individual in particular, for their own ends. However, all the evidence points to the college itself failing to monitor properly the welfare of its students and the result is the unfortunate suicide of Anna Begley," said Wallace who didn't want to alienate Hotchner and had considerable respect for his abilities. He knew that Hotchner had a reputation, especially for the fairness he had shown in the various departments where he had worked, and knew that the senior levels of the Bureau were concerned by the moves that Strauss had made against him.

Hotchner once more defended his team,"We had a good working relationship with the Flagstaff Police on that case, I cannot be responsible for a media hungry local politician who is out to make headlines by using the poor parents…"

"Yes, we see your point but we also have to be quite sure that when we produce our report that we are very clear as to what happened," Wallace reminded everyone in the room. His own legal mind was still very much thinking of a way to stop a media savvy politician with an eye on re-election and trying to use the FBI.

"You were pleased overall with how your team worked the Flagstaff case?" Hamilton brought the subject matter to the one that was the original reason for the Board hearing.

"I cannot fault the work of my team, both individually and collectively, the outcome could not have been predicted. We want to see the perpetrators brought to justice and we certainly had not expected a sick student to be the copycat killer. I do not know how to make it any clearer, we were as surprised as everyone else when the fourth student was killed. Gideon and I were going to use the 72 hours we could hold Nathan Tubbs to try and build a case by taking his life apart because we were that certain that we had the correct profile and the correct suspect in custody." stated Hotch clearly.

"You cannot see how things could have been done differently after he was released?" Thorpe asked.

"Hindsight is wonderful but we were under pressure because of the fourth killing and his lawyer would have milked that situation despite us explaining that we believed it was a copycat killing. The local detective was backing us and could see the logic of our argument but we had no hard evidence at that moment against Tubbs. The campus was closing down, if there had not been a copycat, then there is always the possibility that the lawyer would have got his client released. If we consider that scenario, then Tubbs might have struck again or gone dormant until the campus re-opened and that would have put the female students at risk once more. There was always the possibility that Tubbs would have turned his attention to a nearby town and still have targeted brunettes there. If that had all happened we would have been criticised for letting the Unsub go and allowed him to commit more murders.

We did not know if the copycat was male or female when we had the fourth victim but Gideon was certain that the copycat would make themselves known to Tubbs, so we kept a discreet tail on him and used the campus security cameras to keep track of his movements. I do not believe we could have done anything more. If we had been doggedly trailing him, only a few yards away, he could have complained of harassment and it would also have prevented the copycat from making a move towards him. What else do you gentleman suggest I could have done? I stand by the actions we took. The deaths of Anna Begley and Nathan Tubbs were not anticipated and we do regret both of them." Hotch stated clearly and he wondered how many more times he would have to repeat himself.

"Thank you, Agent Hotchner, I believe that you have made the situation very clear. Would you wait outside while the Board discusses the issues raised by this matter," Ecclestone said in an even tone.

Hotch walked out of the room and waited in the anteroom. He walked over to the window and stared across the complex. Hotch thought that it was rather odd that Ecclestone had mentioned the wider complaint that Strauss had written in her request for the internal inquiry into his recent actions. Hotchner knew that there was more going on and the Bureau's politics were very active at the moment with the speculation about the financial cuts. He looked at the table and saw a copy of the Washington Post and decided to read the newspaper to take his mind off the wait.

The Board was quiet at first, waiting for Ecclestone to finish writing some comment on the report sheet. He looked up and smiled pleasantly, "Well gentleman, I don't feel that Agent Hotchner has a case to answer. In his original reports on both the Frank Breitkopf cases he was very honest about the actions he took and clearly stated why he took his decisions…in fact he repeated his reasoning here this morning. However, although Section Chief Erin Strauss feels Agent Hotchner has a case to answer,I repeat, there is none in my mind. The recent Flagstaff case was unfortunate and the events could not have been predicted. We are all saddened by the deaths of the murdered students and the two murderers. Do you all agree?"

"This was political," Wallace said first, "How has Hotchner crossed her?"

"He hasn't crossed her, he's just been successful in his work and she sees him as a threat," said Hamilton and the men were all silent with their own thoughts for a few moments.

"The subsequent data that was gathered, and the analysis of the security tapes, all support the actions the BAU took with the limited information they had at the time. When the distorted speech is adjusted you can make out Begley's conversation and she wanted Tubbs to kill her, he just wasn't playing especially as he knew there was a camera watching...remember he kept turning towards that camera. Tubbs knew he was being watched once he was released but Begley hadn't a clue…" The previously quiet Dubcek said.

"We can't let Strauss get away with this, Hotch is too good an Agent to lose and keeps that team in control. Can you imagine them without someone like Hotch with his legal mind…then I could see problems arising but this is a trumped up charge…Strauss wanted to pressure him," said Wallace.

"So we are all in agreement that Hotchner is innocent of the complaint stated by Strauss."

"Yes," the four men said emphatically and Ecclestone smiled.

"Oh good because that's what I've written and I will have Ida write up our conclusions. Shall we call him in?" said Ecclestone.

"What about Strauss, she can't just make complaints against people she doesn't like?" Dubcek suddenly spoke up, "I know that my expertise was specifically called upon but Agent Strauss made this complaint before she had considered all the facts. The suspension of Hotchner had even reached the New York Office and added to the disquiet agents are already feeling over the rumoured cuts."

"Oh leave the Director to take care of that, he has his own thoughts on this matter but I think the financial cuts will keep Erin Strauss far too busy to start politically plotting her advancement. Besides, the decision goes against Strauss and weakens her in the sight of her peers and other agents here. Now Alex, would you mind…"

Alex Thorpe went to the door to call the Agent back.

"Agent Hotchner, the Board is in unanimous agreement that these charges are totally unfounded and you are reinstated and your pay restored. I am to escort you to see the Director now and my fellow Board members are bound by the usual code of silence in these matters until the decision is published which will be late this afternoon. Thank you gentleman," Ecclestone said conversationally and Wallace was the first member to approach Hotch to shake his hand.

"Sorry you were put through that but we have to follow through once a section head suspends…"

Hotch shook the hand firmly to show that there were no hard feelings, "Just following procedure, you all were, but thank you gentlemen," he said and each of the Board members shook his hand before they left.

Hotchner turned to Ecclestone, "You're to take me to see the Director?" he asked intrigued, as this was very unusual.

"Those are my orders, don't worry the top brass know what Strauss has been up to and they have their own plans for her. Let's go, the Director's lunches are usually delicious even if the talk is often serious."

Hotch followed the older man to a private elevator that went to the Director's suite of rooms. He was lead into a room he had never been to before, but it was laid out for lunch and there was a long counter along the side that contained a display of dishes to tempt the diners. There were jugs of water and several fruit juices placed on the plain light oak rectangular dining table but he noted that there was no indication of alcohol. Hotch was alert and knew that this was something major, and he must be careful to keep his wits about him because a working lunch with the Director was not to be taken lightly.

"Ah, good," said a familiar voice and he turned to see Max enter behind him, "Oliver you took your time," he stated but the manner was good humoured between the two men.

"I wanted it to be seen that we were taking the inquiry seriously," Ecclestone said.

"Made you feel you were justifying you actions then?" Max asked Hotch but his eyes were twinkling and warm.

"I was not going to back down on any decision I had taken," Hotch said firmly.

"Of course not," said the Director from behind him, "But we had to follow procedure as it is laid down but lets try and relax gentlemen. Hotch, I have every confidence in you which is why you are here for a working lunch. Is Reardon still on the 'copter?"

"Just landed, sir," said the Director's personal secretary who was known to everyone as Ida and was always immaculate in her tailored suits and her straight hair had been cut in its pageboy style for as long as she had worked at the Bureau. She was easily in her mid-fifties and the once ash blond hair was now a soft silvery grey, the colour of her eyes. She had the elegance of old southern manners and its effect was that everyone treated Ida with old-fashioned courtesy. But she was also known for being the model secretary who saw much and said nothing because discretion was second nature to her and it was obvious to Hotch that these men totally trusted her.

Reardon appeared on the threshold and greeted everyone, "Sorry, have I held up proceedings?"

"No, we were going to start without you," Ecclestone quipped.

"Only because Oliver likes his treacle tart," Max added and Hotch began to relax realising that these were people who felt comfortable with one another and he was being included into an inner circle.

"Now, Hotch, the rule is, Ida always chooses her main course first. I sit at the head of the table but then after Ida has chosen her place the rest of you just sit at the table where you like." The Director smiled, "We have to discuss the cuts, but nothing said over lunches here are ever repeated outside my suite," he said seriously and watched Ida fill her plate with steak and kidney pie, potatoes and carrots. "She always tells us that she has never had to diet…" he added wistfully.

Ida looked up, "Well, I guess I'm fortunate, but my daughters are just the same, it's that husband of mine that I have to watch."

Hotch smiled and Max indicated for Hotch to go in front of him along the counter of food. He filled his plated with the delicious looking moussaka and added a few green beans. He found himself being invited to sit to the left of the Director and Max sat beside Hotch. They faced Ecclestone who was opposite Hotch and alongside Reardon. Ida had placed herself next to Max and was busily eating before it got cold. Hotch filled a glass with orange juice and kept wondering why he was part of this unusual meeting.

The Director began to speak when everyone was settled eating.

"Now we have all the provisional plans for the running of the different sections. I have had it confirmed that the financial allocation is as we feared so we will be freezing all recruitment, those already past their retirement age will be assessed on a 'are they effective' basis. You're all right Oliver…we need you!"

Oliver chuckled into his steak and kidney pie.

"Max I will need you to review the recommendations for retirement that Divisional Heads will suggest, some may want to take retirement but we may need them if they are very good at their work and we cannot easily re-deploy into their posts. In those cases we may have to be charming and persuasive to get them to stay a little longer…Most departments are facing cuts of some kind, posts remaining unfilled or even cut, especially with the civilian support staff… That's what we are going to look at this time….

Hotch sat and participated, using his knowledge of the various areas he had worked in over the years and he was amazed how he was accepted as an equal by everyone around the table as they went through the provisional plans submitted by each division. It was obvious that Strauss's division was being left to the very end. By that time they were onto the coffee and had moved into the comfortable easy chairs of the Director's spacious office. Ida kept every one's cups full and also prevented any interruptions.

"Now Strauss wants to have you moved from her department because in her plans for the BAU unit your job is considered redundant." The Director cheerfully announced but it didn't surprise Hotch because of her recent behaviour. "Don't worry I have other plans for you…Now she wants to moth ball the jet, have Gideon sitting in his office grounded but in charge of any major case but instead of sending out the team she wants to go back to more of the original unit."

"You mean sending agents out on their own to liase with a police department and only use commercial flights?" asked Hotch to clarify the situation.

"Yes, but she thinks that Gideon should have the team sit down in the conference room at the start of a case and discuss it to pool their ideas and then Gideon is to pick the agent he thinks will be the best one to go to the actual scene. The agent who is out in the field can call on the expertise of his fellow agents' back at the base but Gideon is in the 'consult' position and can advise the field agent any time. What do you think?" the Director asked Hotch and the other men were alert for his reply.

"The main problem is that the BAU has worked as a team for a long time now. They fire ideas off one another and they have not the experience to run a case in the field on their own like in the old days when the unit was first set up. If they have Gideon at the end of a phone to encourage and share ideas with it might work for a while but I suspect that Gideon will not like being totally office bound. He does like to get the feel of a crime scene, actually we all do because it helps us think ourselves in to the Unsubs shoes…" Hotch thought a few moments while talking a sip of his coffee.

"I don't think its going to be that successful but I suppose it's better than nothing. But I suspect that if a police department has used us as a team before and then get just a sole field agent to help them, they will be disappointed and will measure that agent against the success of the team…" Hotch finished evenly.

"How do you think each agent would cope on their own?" Max asked.

"Morgan is good at certain things, he's not an all rounder. Prentiss is still learning the 'profiling' techniques for the unit…that doesn't mean that she's not capable, just inexperienced. Then there's Reid, he's the youngest but he's the natural profiler and would probably be the most successful but he still needs more experience in some areas. I think it puts far more stress on the individual agent, whereas at the moment we all share the stresses of a case. To work a case on your own is a lot of pressure and the sort of cases we deal with …I can see people leaving or burning out quicker," Hotch finished and hoped that this scenario was not going to be put into action.

"Yes, that was Max's view too but that's the way Strauss wants to play it. I think I am going to let her have her way at first…Given enough rope and she will hang herself," the Director said softly.

"But what about the good agents in the BAU while she's destroying her career?" asked Hotch defensively thinking of the conscientious team he had around him.

"Hotch, she wants to get rid of you, I don't want that because I believe you have been highly successful as the Unit Chief for the BAU…you do enjoy the work don't you?"

"Strangely…yes," he conceded.

"Then the BAU must tighten its safety belts and hang on while its Chief works on improving things…" the Director said carefully.

"Which means what?" asked the suspicious Agent.

"I want to appoint you to work with Oliver and be part of a five man team which is going to be based in Washington. The 'Director's Special Team' is going to gather the data from departments around the country to show the detrimental effects of the financial cuts inflicted by government upon us. You are specifically being based at the Washington office so you are in the best position to lobby our case both amongst senators and congressmen. Your profiling abilities can be put to use amongst them…" the Director said with a twinkle in his eyes. "I'm sure that you will target the most suitable to approach, the ones who are weakening under pressure from complaints from their states about how the cuts are affecting the very people who elect them. Your legal mind will be very useful as so many of these people have legal backgrounds, but above all it is your very experience that will enable you to speak knowledgeably about the effects of the cuts. We know the BAU is going to get criticised, the sooner the better…Don't worry, Strauss has definitely bitten off more than she can chew and Max will keep an eye on the profilers so they don't burn out although I am sure they will get stressed."

"How long do you think this will take to have some effect?" Hotch asked.

"Depends on what happens…We only have to have hysteria over a mass murderer and questions will be asked as to why isn't the team being used any more. We can truthfully answer because of the cuts. We'll get the funding because it will be just the tip of the iceberg of complaints. But remember, the BAU under you has had some famous successes and if Gideon has had his wings clipped by being confined to base…Just think of the news broadcasts and the newspapers asking awkward questions! They may even want to talk to you and you will be in the best position to answer those searching questions won't you?"

"Of course, sir," replied Hotch and knew that this wasn't going to be a smooth ride but eventually sanity would be restored.

"Why not think of this as an interregnum," the Director said pleasantly, "I'm sure that you would like eventually to go back to heading the BAU?"

"Would you let me?"

"If that is what you want, then yes, We all know in this room how successful the BAU has been under your leadership, I repeat, it is an interregnum."

Hotch nodded but there was still a nagging doubt.

"What's wrong Hotch?" asked Max, "Speak your mind that is what this meeting is all about."

"Do you think Gideon is strong enough to cope with this at the present time?"

Max understood and looked at Hotch with compassion, "Gideon is still grieving over the loss of Sarah but he insisted on returning to work to help focus his mind onto something useful. Reid has been trying to keep some contact with him outside work and I know that there have been several chess games and dinners together after work. Reid will keep an eye on him."

"But what if Gideon doesn't want to be grounded?" Hotch asked because he felt that with Gideon's present mood he may just decide to resign rather than go along with Strauss's plans for the unit.

"Strauss had the arrogance to say that she thought the team were held back by both you and Gideon," Reardon added, "If Gideon goes then she will just have to cope because there is going to be a recruitment freeze."

"But she might think that Reid could cope…" suggested Hotch worried that Reid would find too much on his shoulders too soon.

"If Gideon goes, then we will protect Reid, we could second him elsewhere…New York have asked for him because they have people being retired and Seattle," said Reardon.

"I'm not sure he'd go that far…Jo was attacked in New York and still doesn't feel comfortable there and Seattle seems very far away from her family…I think he would consider Jo in his plans," warned Hotch.

"We'll cross that bridge if, or when, we come to it," the Director said confidently, "You really don't think that we'd want to lose the genius…Max here would give me a very hard time," the Director soothed.

Max smiled and Hotch hoped that Spencer would be all right during the coming financial tempest but he would just have to trust Max to keep Spencer under his wing.

"Now this is how we are going to manage this change, you will not be going back to work at the BAU. We will announce late tomorrow that you have been appointed to the Director's Special Team to fight the cuts and are going to Washington to work with Oliver…"

At 4:30 p.m. that afternoon, Barry came into the bull pen and mounted the steps and from the upper level called for every ones attention,

"Listen up people!" he began and the area gave him their complete attention, "The inquiry Board that met to review the actions of decisions made by Agent Hotchner and Agent Gideon in Flagstaff, Arizona, have issued this adjudication…

'Unit Chief, Aaron Hotchner has been found to have acted in a thoughtful and sensible manner and that the suspension of the said Agent Hotchner is not upheld, and he is re-instated in his position and his pay restored. Likewise the suspension of senior profiler, Agent Jason Gideon, is found to be without cause and he is reinstated.' They have also given him the rest of the week as personal leave," Barry stopped as there was spontaneous whoops and applause and waited for it to die down before continuing. "Our Unit Chief is expected to be at his desk again tomorrow…so if I were you, team, I would make sure that you have all my profile requests finished by then…"

"Slave driver!" called Morgan from below.

"Keep it down…he might find us some more…" cautioned Emily. But the good humour continued for the rest of the shift and the team did finish their quota of requests.

Spencer went and grabbed a quick meal at the staff cafeteria on the first floor and then returned to the BAU to wait for Gideon to come and a celebratory game of chess. He set up the chess set in Gideon's office and sat back at his own desk and did a few more profile requests that had been placed in Barry's pending tray. He had finished those by 9:30 but Gideon had still not arrived. Spencer tried calling his cell but he only got the answer service so he went to wait in Gideon's office and finally fell asleep.

It was J.J. who found him the next morning at 7:15, sprawled in an easy chair in Gideon's office, the chess set untouched. She told him that they had another case and calls had been made to gather the team but an incomplete team met in the conference room. Both Hotch and Gideon were missing and Emily was late and complained about the Washington traffic on the Beltway when she did arrive. They discussed together the case that the Milwaukee police had asked for help over and it was one that was particularly gruesome. Mothers of school age children were disappearing during the afternoon and two days later were found dead with their hearts cut out and dumped not far from where they had been abducted in the city.

"You've called Gideon?" Morgan asked Reid for the fourth time since he'd arrived for the briefing.

"He's not answering, I told you we were supposed to have a chess game in his office last night but he didn't show and he wasn't answering his cell then."

"When did you last see him?" asked Emily who was concerned for the senior profiler who had been looking very tired recently.

"Yesterday morning, I was watching the main building and saw him leave so I caught up with him to ask how the hearing went."

"But he was cleared…I don't understand…" said Emily.

"Yeah, he told me that. He just said that he had a few things to do and he'd see me later last night…that's why I fell asleep here waiting for him."

Barry suddenly appeared and they looked up.

"Message from Hotch, "He has been called to a meeting with the Director and you are to go with Gideon…Where's Gideon?"

"We don't know, he's not answering his cell," said Reid and Barry registered his concern.

"OK," said Barry carefully, " I'll see what I can find out but he was given the rest of the week as personal leave by the Board yesterday and he may have chosen to use the extra days out of state. Anyway, the plane is waiting for you…"

But suddenly Erin Strauss strode in, "I understand that Hotch and Gideon are not here so I'll be leading this case, shall we get going…" she tersely said and turned and left a stunned depleted team still sitting at the round table."

Barry took control of them, "People, the lady isn't known for her patience especially if her orders are not followed…" he gently reminded them and the four agents pushed their chairs back and silently filed out with Jareau leading the way. Barry was pleased that he was no longer part of the away team but he wondered what was really happening for Strauss to suddenly turn up.

While the team flew to Milwaukee and gingerly worked alongside Strauss, Hotchner was meeting his fellow 'Director's Special Team' members and found, that like yesterday over lunch, that he was the youngest man in the room. Oliver Ecclestone introduced everyone but Hotch was relieved that the three other men were people he had come across before and they were people he had trusted and were utterly committed to the Bureau and all nearing or just past 60 years of age. There was Stefan Brunell who was the Assistant Head of the Miami office and just turned 60. His sun tanned skin seemed to draw attention to the brilliant white wispy remains of a once fine head of hair. Hotch still remembered the athletic handsome man who he had first met 15 years previously after he had joined the F.B.I. Brunell was now a grandfather and still looked fit for his age. Hotch realised that the Director had purposefully chosen people who had 'outstanding' service records. Brunell, like Hotch, was a career Agent and had served in several field offices and different departments during his career.

Philip Crosby was a giant Black American who had been a footballer in the minor league in Upstate New York and he was now 59. This man was still enormous and solidly built but it was sheer muscle even now. He was an expert in white-collar fraud and had joined them from the San Francisco office where he headed the team there. The Director had told Hotch that he had been persuaded to take this position before officially retiring, which had been his intention for his 60th birthday, in January. A widower, his retirement plans were to retire near his married son in Seattle so he could enjoy his grandchildren.

Eric Samuelson was a tiny man by comparison with everyone else; he was only 5 foot 7 inches and was slightly built with sharp features and had been caricatured in the Washington press a few years before as a ferret. Samuelson had doggedly pursued the killers of a group of poor Black boys and built up a case with forensic evidence that lead to the conviction of a group of, by comparison, privileged White teenagers in Tennessee. It had been such a notoriously prickly incident that the case had been moved out of state to Kansas because of the mob reaction to the original crime. He was now 63 years old but he looked younger, the once blond hair, that had hinted at Nordic ancestry, was now a dirty white receding mop which was as unruly now as it had been when younger. It reminded Hotch of Reid's hair, a little too long for his own liking, but Samuelson swept his long hair straight back and it emphasised the high forehead and long thin pointed nose and pointed chin. He had come to join them from the Wisconsin office where he had been the Assistant Head of Scientific Services for the Great Lakes region. He too would have been considered for retirement with the present cuts but his expertise would be needed to evaluate the effects of the financial cuts on the civilian scientific services throughout the Bureau.

The Director's Special Team sat down to discuss the areas of concern between themselves so they each knew where they fitted into the overall scheme of things. Hotchner was accepted as an equal despite his obvious lack of seniority but Oliver Ecclestone had assured him that this could only enhance his career status and he was chosen for his experience and abilities like everyone else. By 9:30 they were all comfortably using first names and Oliver told them that their suite of offices would be ready for them from the coming Monday at the Washington Office and that was where they were next to meet up and settle themselves in. At 11 a.m. Hotch went back to the BAU and began to clear his office behind a closed door with the blinds down. Everyone sensed that this was a 'do not disturb' time and they wondered just what was going on but Barry quietly kept people working and away from the firmly shut door.

It did not take long before the Milwaukee Chief of Police and the Mayor were both complaining to the Director about the arrogant manner of Erin Strauss. She had only been there a few hours before feathers were ruffled and the local police department was not happy with the BAU team leader. Morgan had tried calling Hotch on his cell but Hotch refused to take the calls as he was not going to interfere with the investigation unless ordered and he believed that would only be a matter of time. The phone call came from the Director at 6:30 the next morning and Hotch was on the Director's jet 40 minutes later heading towards Milwaukee. The Director also said that Strauss didn't know the composition of the Director's Special Team and the details would be delayed until after the case but he had permission to tell the team, in confidence, on the way home. Meanwhile, Strauss was longing to get back to Quantico and the admin work that was piling up over the strategy for coping with the cuts but she didn't want to appear weak in front of Hotchner or the team.

The arrival of Hotch was met with relief by all the team and he immediately steadied the group who had been on edge with Strauss. They had just heard that the body of the latest victim had been found and as they made their way to the scene, he spoke quietly to Reid and listened to his concerns about Gideon.

"Don't worry, I've known him to act like this before when under stress. We do forget things when distressed and he is still grieving for Sarah. Reid, I need your total concentration on this case," Hotch said intensely just for his hearing. "He's probably just gone to his cabin and turned his cell off deliberately or he may have decided at the last minute to visit old friends with the extra 'free' days the Board gave him." Hotch tried to re-assure the young agent.

Spencer nodded but there was a nagging doubt at the back of his mind that he shut off to give his full attention to the case. Before Strauss returned to Quantico, she insisted on going with the team to see the newly found body of Claire Thompson that had turned up like the other victims after 48 hours minus her heart. Seeing the body at the dump site had brought home the reality of the job to Erin Strauss but Hotch, ever the natural leader, gave her the time to regain her composure before she escaped to take the Director's jet back to Virginia.

It was Reid who turned the case round to the right direction and suggested the opposite of the profile of the child being used for bait. Originally they had been looking for a problem child but then Reid had remembered how he had made sure that he was the perfect pupil for his teachers. He had been eager to participate in extra work in order that no one would start to dig further into the problems he was having with his sick mother. Reid had an absent father and the last thing that he wanted was to be taken away and put into foster care. The change in profile quickly pointed to David Smith and then the case moved swiftly to the Smith home and the rescue of the most recent victim, the school nurse, although Emily did get slightly hurt. The aftermath for the team was their concern for David Smith and the long-term damage inflicted by being the bait for his sick father's insane murders. The team universally hated cases where children were involved.

On the way home, Hotch and Reid sat apart from the others doing their reports and after these were finished Hotch called the group together.

"I want you all to know that it will be announced tomorrow that I have been appointed to the Director's Special Team to assess the effects of the financial settlement upon the FBI. I will be based in Washington in order to be able to lobby the government. I believe that this is going to be the last case the 'away' team works, and that this jet is going to be moth balled." Hotch said quietly watching the serious faces and the looks of vulnerability about their own positions.

"Who's going to lead us?" Morgan asked hoping that it was not going to be Strauss again because the recent brief experience was more that enough for him.

"I don't now what has been finally decided by Strauss but I was told that the idea being considered was that Gideon would act as the senior consultant and you would be called together as a team to discuss a case. Then Gideon would choose the profiler he thought would be most appropriate and that agent would be sent to liase with the local police and everyone else would be available for consult if needed…but Gideon would have the overall say in things."

"And we'd have to use public transport…boy that's going to add to the time factor," said Prentiss.

"But they're going to keep us together?" Jareau asked.

"That was the thinking yesterday but recruitment is being frozen and the personnel cuts are going to hit those of retirement age and the civilian support workers," Hotch said softly but he noted how subdued and silent Reid seemed and suspected that he was still worried about Gideon.

"Hey, we ought to take Vicki Melrose for a goodbye drink…she's been a good pilot over the past few years," Jareau suggested and thought that would raise some spirits.

"Nice idea J.J. but I've got to get home because I had told Hayley that I wouldn't be doing another case and then the Director intervened."

"I'm in!" said Prentiss with a grin and Morgan added his voice of assent.

"Sorry I've got to get back," said Reid, "But I'll go and have a few words with her now…Has she been told about the jet?" he asked Hotch.

"I don't know, I'd just keep it to the grounding of the team and see how she responds," suggested Hotch.

"I'll come with you," said J.J.

Vicki had been told already that this was her last assignment with the team but she was still going to be employed within the FBI at Quantico but covering other flights so she just pleased to have the employment.

After speaking with Vicki, Spencer went and sat on his own and Hotch went to sit with him after speaking to Morgan. Hotchner then spoke in a low voice so he would not be overheard.

"I wanted to say that we are all going to be affected by these cuts but just try to do the best you can with the situation. Max will be keeping an eye on you but you are a very good profiler, Spencer, so hold on until we manage to get the extra funding. The Director has promised that I can return if I want when I've managed that…Just think of it as an interregnum. I'm only in Washington and I've never met Jo so when things have got into a routine I would like to ask you and Jo over for a meal at my home…I've not asked the others…"

"Thank you, I'm sure Jo would love that and to meet Hayley and Jack…Jo has a niece and nephew who we spoil…" he replied with a smile and felt honoured that Hotch would invite him into his home.

"Ah, there's J.J., I want to have a word, remember…it's just an interregnum," he repeated softly.

"Good luck," Spencer said as he rose and Hotch turned back and gave him a rare open smile, "Thank you, it will be a little different to what I've been doing."

"Oh, I don't know…the madness of politics?" suggested Spencer with a grin and actually didn't envy his role on the Director's Special Team.

Spencer turned his old Volvo into the narrow road that lead up to the cabin. He had not rung Jo to say he was back but he had needed to come out here to settle his own mind. He was concerned about the level of depression that Gideon was suffering although it was understandable but the Flagstaff case had upset him deeply. Reid had sensed the distress of the older man and thought he had witnessed the odd moment of Gideon's mask slipping when he thought he was alone. The student victims had all been brunettes just like Sarah had been and he had witnessed the look of horror as Gideon first saw the crime scene photographs. Normally Gideon would not have expressed any reaction to such things other than the clear thinking comments of the experienced profiler. However, this time Spencer had noticed Gideon flinch and had seen the haunted look of a person who had seen too many distressing scenes. Spencer sensed that the man was unravelling but then Gideon had suddenly regained control again and was totally committed once more giving his all to the case in hand.

Spencer pulled up outside the utterly dark and uninviting cabin. He didn't like the dark, there were too many childhood memories of a mother who had shut him in the basement…He shut his mind to the thoughts and pulled himself together. He was an adult and Gideon's friend and he now silently prayed to a God he wasn't sure existed. Spencer got out of the car; the night was chilly and full of the noises of the forest that only intensified Spencer's unease. The car's headlamps were trained on the porch and the door and shadows seemed to mock Spencer's disquiet, the cabin was too quiet and forlorn. He prayed he'd not find Gideon's body. He had been worried about that scenario all the way up here…

Reid pulled the thick brown cable knit cardigan around his thin body, it was warm and Jo referred to it as his comfort blanket as he tended to wear it in times of insecurity. He had been given a key five years ago and Gideon had insisted that he kept it. There had been times over the intervening years when he had come at different times of the seasons just to walk in the forest. It all seemed a long time ago now and those visits had been before Hankel. Spencer had not brought Jo here perhaps because it was too far into the forest.

Spencer had the flashlight he kept in the car's dashboard but he still felt scared as he stepped on to the porch and looked around him. The car was clearly visible as he had also left the vehicle's courtesy light on but the area around it stared darkly back threatening him. Spencer rapped on the door but he could hear no movement from inside. He reached for his key in his pocket and placed it in the lock, but it was not needed, the cabin's door had been left unlocked and that alarmed Spencer even more as to what he was going to find inside.

He tentatively opened the door a little and called out, "Gideon!" but the sounds of the oppressive dark surrounding forest answered him. Spencer's heart throbbed and he felt his senses stretched and all on edge as he pushed the door further open and stepped across the threshold.

The light from the headlamps and his own flashlight illuminated the entrance and his initial impressions, as he swept his light around, were that the place had been cleared out of personal belongings. There were no books on the shelves, no art on the walls, no old records neatly stowed in and on the small cupboard where once sat the old record player. The circular table was still in place and four dining chairs, and there was a reading lamp placed on the table…it was all carefully set up, he had been expected.

Reid touched the lamp's switch and the room was filled with its light and he could see that his initial room scan with the flashlight had been correct…. There on the table were Gideon's gun, identity badge and two envelopes, one addressed to the Director and the other with "SPENCER" written boldly in Gideon's hand. He sat down at the table and tore open the envelope.

"I knew it would be you who came to the cabin to check on me. You must be frightened, I apologise for that, I never meant to cause you any pain and I also never envisioned writing this letter. I've searched for a satisfactory explanation for what I'm doing. All I've come up with is a profiler needs to have a solid footing; I don't think I do anymore. The work confuses me, the cruelty, the indifference, the tragedy…."

And Gideon's words told Spencer how difficult it had been for the senior profiler to work the Flagstaff case while he was grieving for Sarah. It told how the work had destroyed his ability to see the goodness in the world and to question his abilities to do the work.

"How many times have I told you that a profiler cannot do the job if his mind is unfocused, if anything is going on in your personal life that could cloud your judgement. My mind has never been more unfocused than it was on that campus…….

I used to understand my place, my direction, where I was headed. Profiling requires belief, belief in the profile and belief in yourself. After Sarah, I no longer trust myself at home but after Tubbs, I no longer trust myself in the field. Without that I have nothing. Hotch having to give Strauss his badge…that was the last domino…Hotch being suspended over something that was my fault…"

Spencer sat back in the chair and felt a mixture of anger and sadness that Gideon had not been able to talk to him and say goodbye to his face. But at least he had tried to put it in a letter even if it was at times bordering a confused ramble. However, what had happened here was what all profilers dreaded; the job finally breaking you.

Spencer reached into his trouser pocket and got out his cell, he quickly found the saved number and waited for the voice to answer.

"Spencer, are you all right?" the quiet but solicitous voice of Max came out of the tiny speaker.

"Yeah, I'm at Gideon's cabin…He's gone, just left a letter for the Director, his gun and badge. He left me a rambling letter too…"

"Are you on your own?" asked the concerned Max.

"Yeah, I thought…I needed to know he was all right, I was expected." Spencer replied with a flat voice and Max could hear the undercurrent of pain in the controlled speech.

"It was very brave of you to go on your own," said Max remembering that he had revealed at the Clinic the reasons for not liking the dark. "Does he sound suicidal?" he asked as gently as possible.

"No, just drained…you know the job has just taken too much from him but he doesn't sound as if he will take his own life…I think he just wanted out so he can find some light once more to break through the dark that has taken over…"

Max nodded thoughtfully to himself. Don too didn't think that Gideon had been suicidal when he had last spoken to him before the Board had met.

"Spencer, I will try to find out where he has gone and I will let you know but I think he was right to realise that the job had become too much. Spencer, you are not Gideon, and I've told you before…I will tell you if I think the work as a profiler is destroying you…remember?"

"Yes, " Spencer said and felt strangely comforted by the assurance that Max was once more repeating. Max was right, he was a different personality to Gideon and he had his own life to live.

"Spencer, you will need to take the gun, badge and letter to the Director's office first thing tomorrow. I will tell his secretary to expect you. Ida is a nice lady and she will ask you to sign a document saying that you have brought the things in and then you will return to the BAU."

"Yes," he said dully and felt very tired. He just wanted to get back home.

"Now, you had better get home to your Jo she will be concerned," Max said gently and thankful that Jo would be there for him.

"Yeah, thanks Max, I'd better lock up here, goodnight," he said in a more confident voice but he felt drained by the whole experience.

"Goodnight Spencer and a safe journey," the psychologist said and then heard Spencer cut the connection.

Jo lay awake thinking, she knew the team was back because the case had been reported on the news earlier and they always flew back as soon as they could. He had rung her as they set out to Milwaukee and said Gideon had not turned up at the start of the case and she wondered if Spencer had gone to see him. After Sarah's death there had also been a change in the intensity of her relationship with Spencer. On the Sunday he had come home, after the Frank case had been wrapped up, and Spencer had opened up even more on an emotional level with her. It was as if the death of Gideon's friend had opened another door into the very private Spencer Reid and she glimpsed more of the intensely sensitive man and more of the vulnerability that went hand in hand with that hidden side.

Jo had felt that there had always been an intuitive sensitivity between the two of them but Spencer had tried to explain it away as being the unconscious consequence of Craig and Melinda preparing the ground for their eventual meeting. But gradually Spencer had been talking a little more about his work and along with that came his desire to be touched more frequently. He would hold her close more when he got home after a case and she felt him relax under her touch. Sometimes he would put his head on her breast and she would stroke his soft curling hair and she would hear him sigh with pleasure. Jo likened it in her own mind to a cat purring and smiled to her self at the image. He was a long, skinny cat but he was relaxing more to her physical presence and he had recently let her use massage on him. Before her hand was damaged she had learnt the art of aromatherapy and had recently tried this with Spencer who had always accepted the colder touch of her left hand. This sensuality of touch and scented oils had become a regular part of their lovemaking over the past few weeks and he had reciprocated eagerly exploring another dimension of passion.

She heard the apartment door close, the bedroom door opened a few minutes later and she instantly sensed his tension.

"Are you all right?" she asked tentatively, but he had his back to her away from the small bedside lamp that was illuminating the room and she couldn't see his face.

"Yeah, I was worried about Gideon so I went out to his cabin. He's gone, I've got his letter of resignation and things to hand in tomorrow," he said without any emotion and Jo was alert knowing that he was too tightly controlled. Spencer was discarding his clothes still with his back to her.

"I need a quick shower," he tersely said and he walked out to the bathroom.

Jo got out of bed to pick up the clothes and placed them all in the linen basket as things to be washed. She stood by the basket thinking about the resignation of Gideon and all Spencer had said about the rumoured cuts and wondered if Gideon had been pushed into it to save money. She heard the shower being turned off and thought about how she was going to handle this situation. Spencer was fond of Gideon despite all the misunderstandings that had arisen over Spencer's return but they had seemed to be on a more mature level of understanding now…

Hands reached round her from the back and a familiar bony body pressed against her.

"I was scared but I had to go despite the dark," he whispered, one hand still holding her round her waist while the other slide upwards to rest on her left breast and she leaned even further into him with the pleasure of his touch. "He left me a letter where he tried to explain things but he was burning out just like we thought."

"I'm sorry he couldn't say goodbye to your face," she said and felt him squeeze her to him a little and groan into her neck.

"He was hurting too much, Jo, it's what this job can can sometimes bleed us dry and I don't want that to happen to me," he confessed in a whisper as if even speaking about it was throwing down a gauntlet to the fates.

Jo understood and turned to face him.

" Well, while we're together, you have something that is far stronger than the job to come home to. I won't bleed you dry, I'm here to replenish your belief in normality…" she said hugging him as Spencer wrapped his long thin arms around her.

"I love you, " he whispered and she felt that his cheek was wet and reached up with her finger to wipe away a tear.

"You'd better, I've never been the one-night stand type…Life is too precious to throw it away on such a trashy existence."

"Yeah," he managed as his hormone levels soared and his mind was filled with the over riding desire for this woman. He wasn't satisfied by one-night stands either and he couldn't have existed like the pre- Angela Morgan. But then the analysing stopped and he gave in to the passion he loved to feel with Jo who he trusted to save him from the job.

Jo smiled as he was tugging at her nightdress and she pushed him playfully away to lift it over her head. Jo was determined to give this man the pleasure he deserved and the stability that he needed to do the work. The payback was worth it, an intelligent, trustworthy and sensitive man who was not jealous of her own talents and encouraged her career just as long as she was there for him when needed. The job was demanding when it came to the hours but she had never met anyone like him and had never felt this depth of desire either….

Spencer had needed the healing power of their love making when he had returned home and again before he left for work. Jo enjoyed the closeness and would not have denied him because she sensed his need for re-assurance in the strength of their relationship. They had talked over breakfast about what Hotch had said were the proposed plans for the BAU but Gideon's departure would obviously change all of that. Spencer was understandably tense about the future with both Hotch and Gideon disappearing off the scene at a time of uncertainty for the Bureau but Jo tried to be supportive before he left. When she got into the office she went and talked to her aunt and uncle about the uncertainties surrounding Spencer's work. Fortunately, that Friday was not filled with appointments for Jeff and Marilyn Bevan and they sat with their talented niece listening to her concerns about the future.

Spencer had followed Max's orders and met the pleasant and efficient Ida before going to the BAU. Most of the agents were already at their desks and as soon as he walked through the door Paressi had told him that there was to be an announcement soon about the cuts.

"Hey man you all right?" Morgan asked as Reid sat down at his desk feeling uneasy about even being there.

"Yeah, Gideon's gone," he said softly but with those brief words Prentiss, Jareau and Morgan suddenly moved over to his desk.

"What happened?" Morgan asked and Reid kept his voice low and explained the previous evening.

"Jeez…You went up there on your own…" Morgan stopped and realised that Reid had probably driven to the cabin thinking that he'd find his mentor dead.

"Perhaps he knew that Hotch was being re-assigned and didn't want the pressure anymore," Morgan reasoned for the younger agent.

Reid didn't say anything, keeping his thoughts to himself. Perhaps he should have rung Hotch but he suspected that Max would do that. He felt a creeping numbness inside as if the world he had once felt comfortable with was about to collapse around him. It was a shock for Hotch to be moved but for Gideon to go aswell was a double blow. Then Reid felt ashamed of himself for being so weak. Hotch had told him it was an interregnum so it was for them to hold on tight until they were all together again. But he also knew he was still upset that Gideon had not said 'goodbye' to his face, even when his father had left he had said 'goodbye' to him. Barry approached on his way to the steps and stopped beside Spencer and suddenly squeezed his shoulder and whispered,

"He'll be all right, Gideon has a strong sense of self preservation that's why he left while he still knew he could cope with life. He'll be in touch once he has found his stability again."

Reid nodded and remembered the period after the Boston bombings and how Gideon had eventually come back to teach and then to rejoin the team. But he was grateful for Barry's touch; their comradeship went back to his first days at the BAU. Then Barry continued up the steps to the upper level because he had the anticipated announcement to make.

"OK People, listen up!" Barry began, " We have just been informed that the financial settlement is as bad as we feared. All recruitment is frozen, many operatives past retirement age will go and their posts may remain unfilled or present personnel re-deployed to cover vital positions. It is confirmed that Aaron Hotchner is now a member of the Director's Special Team based in Washington to fight the cuts. I also heard this morning that Gideon has resigned and will not be returning even to teach. The away team is grounded, the jet is moth balled, and special cases will be considered on the need to send an agent on their own to liase with the police department who has requested specific help. Due to Gideon's resignation I don't know who will be put in as the lead consult and I guess there will be some meetings going on as I speak. Let me remind you all, any of us, I repeat any of us…and that could mean me too… could be re-deployed to another department or field office. I understand that any re-deployment will be handled by Charles Reardon and personnel will be contacted personally to go to his office sometime today."

The assembled BAU personnel were stunned by the announcement, the upheaval was beginning and no one felt safe as they huddled in small groups with friends to discuss their prospects.

"Oh Great! I don't want to be sent too far away, I've a nice place and then there's Angela, she's got a good job here…" said Morgan.

"Well it took me long enough to get a transfer to Quantico and out of the Mid West," said Prentiss quietly, "And I've a good relationship with George."

Garcia was quiet and worried. Her position was weak after her appearance before the Disciplinary Board, but she'd be grateful if she still had a job at the end of the day.

J.J. was quiet, she was still reeling from Hotch's statement on the plane last night and now Gideon was gone as well. She looked at the quiet thoughtful Reid, his eyes seemed large and reflected the vulnerability of them all but he had been silent since telling them about going to the cabin. Jareau felt an urge to hug him but didn't think he'd like it but she hoped that his Jo had understood his sense of abandonment when he got home last night.

They all sat subdued at their desks but not really able to concentrate on the profiles Barry had handed out to try and keep some normality.

At 10 a.m. Reid's desk phone rang and his colleagues couldn't help stopping their work as they heard him say, "Yes, sir, right away sir."

He put the receiver down and Reid was frozen still for a moment, as if calming his own emotions, before pushing his chair back and looking up.

"Reardon?" Morgan asked and got a tight nod. Then they silently watched the youngest profiler head for the door because his colleagues didn't know what to say for the best.

The news of the call swiftly went round the bullpen, everyone was shocked and then speculation took hold of the room.

"Well perhaps the psych department want him…he has been doing all that training with them," said Anderson.

"Perhaps because of that training they want him as the lead profiler…" suggested Paressi.

"No," dismissed Morgan, "He's too young."

"Is he?" countered Prentiss, "It isn't about age but ability…" Prentiss watched Morgan and sensed he was uneasy at the thought of Reid holding the senior profiler position.

Morgan didn't say anything more but he would not take orders from the kid. He didn't even want to think about working under Reid who was 10 years younger than him. Morgan felt it would be unfair if the Bureau did that because he had worked more departments than Reid and had been in the Police before the Bureau.

"Come and sit down, Dr. Reid," said Charles Reardon who noticed how young the man appeared but he also knew that appearances could be deceiving.

"The Director wished me to thank you for going out to Gideon's cabin last night, it has not escaped the understanding of some of us that you must have thought the worst as you made your way there."

Spencer was unsure what to say but kept his face as neutral as possible and just nodded.

"As you know they will have to be some changes and some personnel re-deployed. There have been several field offices that have put in requests for your talents and we have thought about them carefully. We do not think that it would be fair to put you in the lead consult position now Gideon has left…in fact his move is most unexpected so that position is still being discussed as we speak. However, we do feel that you need more experience in the field and fortunately an ideal placement has occurred with the maternity leave of the deputy of another specialist unit. Such a position can give you the admin and leadership experiences to prepare you for a senior position later in your career. We are aware of your attachment for Virginia but we hope that your partner might like to go with you to support you in this secondment,"

Reid sighed with relief; a secondment didn't have the same permanent ring to it as re-deployment.

"Don't look so worried, Dr. Reid, we are hardly going to waste all the training we have put you through. On Monday you are to report to Dr. Katie Cole at the Crimes against Children Unit. She would appreciate it if you could be there by 10 a.m. but I understand that you have worked briefly with this unit before?"

"Yes sir," said Reid finally finding his voice as his mind raced over all the logistics of moving. It wasn't too far and Jo might be happy about joining him because it was close enough for her work in Washington.

"Dr Cole specifically asked for you as soon as she knew that Danielle was pregnant and with the rumoured cuts, Josh Kramer was hoping to get you for his unit…So you see you are much wanted by Maryland."

"Yes, sir," was all he could manage, it was true he did know people there and he did like Kramer.

"Now you can leave immediately, clear your locker and desk and go and discuss it all with Ms Petersen," Reardon smiled hoping that Max and his people had not misread their relationship.

"Yes, sir, Thank you, sir," he said wanting to be away as quickly as possible.

Spencer closed the door behind him and found Max waiting for him in the anteroom where the receptionist sat, acting as the gatekeeper for the Deputy Director.

"I'll help you clear your locker," said Max and they left together, Reid still feeling that he was trying to catch up with the world as it raced ahead of him.

"I suspect that you didn't want to be working with children…but Katie will look after you and you were her first choice. Maryland is close enough to be in contact. You will still send a copy of your group dynamics report to Arnie and we will continue to pull you in to help with psych evaluations…Maryland know all about that. They are facing severe cuts themselves in the psych department and Arthur is going to be there two days a week to help out."

Reid looked up and stopped filling the large sports bag with his spare clothing and toiletries and grinned.

"Arthur will be there twice a week?" he asked for confirmation.

"Yes, I'm sure the pair of you will wrangle a working lunch some time," replied Max with a smile thinking back to the time at the Clinic and how much Arthur loved his food.

"I'll walk you to your car before you get the cardboard box to empty your desk."

"Yeah, that will seem so final," Reid said and realised that he had never seriously thought how he would find himself leaving the BAU.

"Just think of it as a time to learn. Remember, it's just an interregnum," said Max with a smile as they walked to his old Volvo. "Spencer you have the personal numbers of several of the Mental Health department, we are there for you just like we were when you left the Clinic."

Reid shut the lid of the car boot, "Then there's a Christmas evening dinner at my home…I haven't forgotten and I look forward to being introduced to your lady."

Reid tried to feel positive but he had to explain all of this to Jo yet.

Max read his doubts, "I believe that she will go with you and I will try to found out what I can about Gideon so don't worry," Max said knowing that these were the two things that were dominating his thoughts at the moment. " He was last seen heading north through Pennsylvania, I suspect he's going to visit Stephen. Now go and get your box, don't linger because you have to see Jo…"

"Thanks Max," Spencer said softly and knew that he was fortunate to have the support of a man like Max Pentall in this organisation.

"Where are you being sent to?" Prentiss asked before Morgan as soon as she saw Spencer enter carrying the standard box for 'desk clearing'.

"Maryland, I'm being seconded to cover for maternity leave, I'll be working under Katie Cole," he said trying to sound upbeat about it.

"Jeez…Crimes against Children…that's tough," said Morgan who got a sharp look from Prentiss for his lack of encouragement for their younger colleague.

"It will be good experience and its only maternity cover. I liked Katie Cole when I worked with her that time…"

"Yeah, real alpha female…" said Morgan remembering her appearance in the conference room.

"She's an excellent profiler, I worked alongside her when she was here," said Barry who had come up to Reid's desk as he was just tipping the few things from the drawers into the box. "You'll learn a lot from her; it's a good career move," Barry added wanting to boost Reid's confidence knowing that he would be feeling insecure with all the things that had happened over the last few days.

"Anyway, I want to go and talk to Jo, you know, ask her to her face if she'll come with me," Reid said and his colleagues all understood. Then began the goodbyes and Reid felt overwhelmed by the number of people who came to wish him good luck. He knew that he and Anderson would keep in touch and Anderson quietly told him that as he lived in Maryland perhaps they'd be able to join his family for a meal sometime.

J.J. just hugged him and he went a little pink at her action, "We're going to miss you, Spence," she said and Reid saw her large eyes well up with tears.

"Hey, it's a secondment, right?" Reid added with more cheerfulness than he was actually feeling.

Then suddenly there was Garcia. These days she dressed more in sober suits but her blouses were always a riot of colour and today it was a swirl of gold, reds and sapphire blue. Her vermillion red shoes were a reminder to everyone that she was rarely seen in black or brown.

She threw her arms round him and squeezed, "I'm going to miss my Junior G man," she whispered, "We had better hear good things about you!" she added fiercely.

Spencer returned the hug to his fellow sensitive, "Keep your promise and be good around the computers…I'll be back," he said and smiled at her when she released him.

But Barry was the last person to go to him and the others naturally moved away.

Barry suddenly gave him a brief hug, and whispered, "Remember it's just an interregnum."

Reid nodded and he began to think that perhaps Barry knew more of the Bureau's long-term plans than he let on.

"Go on get out of here, go and tell Jo!" he said loudly and gave him a gentle push towards the door. Spencer Reid picked up his box, gave them a brief smile and was suddenly gone. Jareau and Garcia thought that they felt his warm and gentle presence leave the BAU bereft as soon as he passed through the doors. That feeling didn't go away and people kept glancing towards the empty desk.

Meanwhile, Max Pentall and the Director were having coffee together.

"My Special Team seem to have gelled well together…You were right, Hotch fits in well despite being the youngest in the group and it has totally wrong footed Strauss," the Director said sipping his black coffee.

"He's perfect, he has all the people skills to be effective with the lobbying and Oliver's organisational skills will keep everyone focused," Max said quietly thinking about the shock on Strauss's face when she was told of Hotchner's appointment. The woman's ambition would be her downfall. There was nothing wrong with ambition but real strength was knowing when and how to harness the abilities and power of those around you so you could accomplish goals together without creating unnecessary conflict. However, Strauss was beginning to attract attention for removing people she saw as a threat to her own promotion prospects and she wasn't that good; she was expendable.

"Is Reid going to be all right?" asked the Director who was concerned for the young agent who had experienced a very tough year so far.

"He has all the skills he needs for the job but he has to believe in himself," replied Max evenly.

"Are you sure he'll cope, it's a tough placement for anyone?" pressed the Director who remembered his concerns when Gideon had first wanted the rules bent for Reid's admission to the Bureau.

"Reid is lazy. We have taken him out of his comfort zone and he will now have to use all his abilities. Our genius is very manipulative like any good psychologist," said Max with a smile, "But Reid no longer has Hotch or Gideon to act as his safety net or to poke him gently into action. Now he must use all he has learnt in a different place and act like the capable agent and profiler he is and the experience will give him the confidence to manage older agents. When he returns it will be as a senior profiler and if his former colleagues can't cope then they will have to move on."

"You're a genius, Max!" the Director said understanding why it was necessary to remove the promising young man to force him to grow away from his present colleagues who tended to shelter him.

"Oh, it takes one to know one. Reid will be fine. He will be happier if Jo is with him but even alone he has the strength to survive," Max assured and didn't doubt his faith in his fellow genius.

As Reid drove doubts bubbled away in his mind. When he reached home he did not take the things from his car; he just parked and then walked down to the station to get the metro into Washington.

Once on the train, he sat thinking about his life since Tobias Hankel had turned his world upside down. That case had been a turning point, it had forced him to be a patient at the Clinic but there he had confronted himself, even the bits that he didn't like, and came to terms with who he was. There would be no more hiding behind a naive awkwardness that was supposed to characterise the genius in society. In academic circles it was useful for the highly intelligent to play up the 'social awkwardness' where it was a fine excuse for not conforming to social expectations and allowed the academic to get on with what they considered important; their research without being interrupted by lesser minds. Wes was very like that, but he had then decided that he didn't want to exist with the trivia of lesser minds however, Spencer was not like Wes.

The humans he met fascinated Spencer Reid and he sought to understand them. But he was also a chameleon because of his empathy and able to play the part those he interacted with wanted of him. It made the more ordinary people feel comfortable because he was meeting their expectations. But Max knew the truth along with Don and Arthur, these people were aware of the deeper and manipulative Reid. There had been times when he had mis-calculated with this behaviour and felt the rush of shame again over playing the naïve genius when the new team had been formed under Hotch. It had been safe and yet he had dug himself into a hole and it had been dangerous…it had been another campus in Arizona but arson that time…Gideon must have known why he was acting that way but Hotch had not known him before Boston. He had confessed it all at the Clinic and had not liked himself but he was different now, more confident in his abilities as a profiler and more at ease with himself.

Spencer knew he was fooling himself, he was not that confident over his personal life. He felt a creeping panic as he thought about it, would Jo go with him? He needed Jo, she had become essential to his stability but had he been fooling himself all along by talking himself into believing he was in love? He had known Craig and his little family before finally meeting Jo and he had envied Craig's implied stable family background. A stable family was the one thing he had lacked and he needed that to function in society and be able to use his genius mind for the greater good. Jo ticked all the boxes of the sort of partner he wanted but he was scared of Jo's rejection. There had been too many sudden changes all at once with Hotch and Gideon going…the stability he had known in the BAU world was shattered and he was now on his own heading for a new department in a different field office. It was all making him doubt his place in the world. Would Jo understand, did she really love him? Had they both been playing at love because they both needed to create a normal life after their own traumas?

There were too many questions and uncertainties swirling in his mind. The train pulled into Union Street Station, it was only a short walk to the Fairfax Estates office and he would soon have his answers.


The sequel, THE INTERREGNUM, will continue this story following the lives and work of those left at Quantico, as well as how Hotch copes with his Washington task, and Spencer's experiences in Maryland. It is totally AU and will also touch upon what happened to Jason Gideon and will include more from Max, Don and Arthur during the period of financial constraint.