The Interregnum: Chapter 33

By Helena Fallon

Disclaimer: See Chapter 1

Both Detective Garland and Agent Jareau looked up at the sound of the door opening but Claire Valliere remained studying her coffee cup.

"Thank you Detective," Dr. Spencer Reid said with a quiet but firm business like manner.

Garland gave a slight nod of acceptance but also saw his fleeting glance towards the hidden camera and knew that she was invited to watch.

The man moved to take the chair that Garland had vacated and placed his own cup of dark muddy looking coffee carefully on the table before actually sitting down opposite the interviewee.

"Good afternoon, Ms Valliere," the man said pleasantly, "I'm Dr. Spencer Reid and I'm a Criminal Psychologist and a Senior Consultant with the FBI's Behavioural Analyst Unit at Quantico.

Valliere looked up and found herself staring into the face of the man she had watched on the news that morning. He was not how she imagined he would be. He looked much younger in the flesh and also thinner; the face was long with prominent cheekbones but the bony face had an attractive quality because the man's eyes dominated the features. The woman was momentarily transfixed by the enormous brown eyes that stared patiently at her. They were not hard and coldly calculating, nor did they give any hint of pre-judgement towards her, but they were a warm brown that gave a sense of steadiness and re-assurance. The overall effect was that Claire Valliere felt that she was in the presence of a compassionate man. Agent Jareau had said that Dr. Reid was a patient and compassionate man and she felt her inner world shift into another more alert gear, the news programme had also stressed how successful an agent this man had been before becoming a consultant.

Valliere swallowed suddenly aware that she was staring at the newcomer who in return didn't seem at all perturbed by her behaviour and gave the impression of a benign presence in the room.

"Er…Good afternoon, I'm sorry I've been feeling a bit distracted," she managed to say but her mouth felt dry and she wondered if the coffee really would help. She picked up the plain white plastic cup and sipped the warm liquid. Her inner self reminded her that it would be all right if she stuck with the plan she'd thought out over the past hours of torment.

" Just take your time, Ms. Valliere, the coffee will warm you after your recent shock. I understand from Agent Kingsley and Detective Garland that you wished to talk to me about your friend Nicola Morgan-Paterson," the man gently continued. She nodded not trusting herself to speak at that moment and prayed that her unco-operative idling mind would slip back into gear.

"I've been a colleague of Agent Jareau for a number of years and I'm sure that she has been very understanding of your present position. It is very difficult when we lose a valued friend and for a time the world seems to move a little out of kilter around us as we adjust to the loss," the light soft voice filled the room with compassion. The man took a sip of his own coffee before he continued.

"Agent Kingsley said that you didn't wish to have a legal representative with you at the moment, do you still feel comfortable talking to me without a lawyer?" the criminal psychologist softly asked solicitously and his sensitive eyes appeared to Claire to express his concern for her welfare.

"Yes, it's OK, I'm a law student and I know my rights but this is just an interview… I've not been charged with anything," the woman stated firmly in a deeper voice than Reid had expected after her previous few words and there was more confidence than he'd witnessed before in the observation room.

"Quite so, but it is my duty to make sure that you are feeling comfortable being here but I'm sure that you appreciate that we need to know what happened last night and you did leave Delaney's with Nicola." He silently confirmed his initial observation that her clothing was inadequate for the cold weather and was deliberate in order to give the impression that she was not making logical decisions about her attire for such a chilly day. The inadequate clothing would also mean that she would naturally easily feel cold and tremble. Reid had seen too many distressed victims over the years not to trust his instincts in this case. The trembling that could occur with shock had an intensity that was accompanied by an emotional distress that the victim could not control even when the trembling subsided. At that moment, Reid could not sense that kind of emotional distress emanating from this woman despite the fact that her friend her been murdered only hours before.

Valliere nodded and drank a little more coffee but there was no sign of trembling that had characterised her earlier demeanour. Claire began to think that perhaps she ought to ask for a lawyer, but to do so would show a sudden change of mind that could in turn indicate her wavering indecision and might imply her guilt. But then Claire dismissed the thought as uncharacteristic because once she decided upon a course of action she usually believed in her choice and she was rarely wrong about her decisions. Consequently, Claire decided to pursue the present course that she had decided upon in the car park. She believed that a lawyer would probably be able to claim that she had been under undue pressure during the interview by the techniques used to get her to confess. She hoped that playing the lesser partner in crime could be explained away by the trauma she had suffered at the hands of a rapist. Claire took another sip of the warming coffee while gathering her thoughts.

Jareau sat quietly beside Reid and looked only at the female before them but she sensed that this man was going to get their suspect to confess. Agent Jareau was unsure about Claire Valliere's present mental state and kept changing her mind as to whether Valliere was playing them or really was bordering on being mentally incompetent for questioning. However, observing Valliere now Reid had entered the interview room made Jareau lean towards thinking that the woman was very aware and calculating.

Reid sipped his own coffee and gently smiled with a quiet benevolence whenever Valliere looked his way. He did not want her to see him as an aggressive interrogator but rather as a patient listener, who wished to know about the friendship that Claire and Nicola had shared and what had brought them to the tragic events of the previous night. He allowed the woman to drink half her coffee in silence and slowly sipped his own. He knew that Jareau would understand his lack of acknowledgement of her presence beside him; he needed her in the room but he didn't really want her participating unless he indicated for her to join in.

Reid carefully observed Valliere hold her cup, not resting it on the table while she took small sips to make the drink last longer. The hands and fingers looked very sore while some of the nails looked ragged from abrasive treatment. Reid had his own thoughts about the reason for such ill treatment of her hands by a woman who normally would have naturally prided herself on beautiful manicured nails. Now being closer to her he could see how some nails had been bitten down and pointed to Claire's recent stress levels, or had she deliberately gnawed at her fingers to give the impression of distress? Meanwhile, he placed his own half-full cup on the plastic table with his steady hands loosely encircling it.

Valliere looked at the man's fingers and wondered if he was a musician because he had such long slender, but strong looking, fingers with clean manicured nails that were not very short like most of the men she knew. This small point captured her thoughts. Perhaps he played a stringed instrument like Darren. Darren had played the viola and had strong manicured nails like this man opposite. She suddenly wondered what Darren was doing at that moment; she had enjoyed being his girlfriend but it had not lasted because he had left to study for a doctorate at MIT and she didn't want a distant boyfriend. Claire sipped more of her coffee and wondered when Dr. Reid would begin interviewing her in earnest; the silence was beginning to make her aware of her heart pounding and she tried to consciously take deeper and more even breaths. Claire realised that the strain was mounting just sitting drinking the awful coffee while this quiet man watched her like a cat pretending not to notice the mouse in the corner.

"Do you play an instrument?" Valliere suddenly asked wanting to take control of the room. Jareau was fascinated that Reid had got Claire to break the room's growing silence so quickly.

He waited for the woman to look into his face and he gently smiled and answered in a soft and light melodious voice,

"Yes, I do. I play the violin, lute and the piano," he replied pleasantly.

Valliere couldn't stop herself, her face lit up and her dark eyes shone with interest, "Wow three difficult instruments, I've never met anyone who played the lute before. Have you been playing the lute for long?" she asked conversationally.

"Oh…since I was 10…that's around 20 years now, although the violin was my first instrument followed by the piano. The lute was the last instrument that I took up and my mother's favourite…Are you musical?" he asked in an equally conversational tone and in the observation room, Kingsley, Garland and Ellison all sighed at the man's ability to slip through the woman's defences.

"Didn't take him long to get her to behave normally," Garland observed.

"No, that's why he's got quite a reputation in the Bureau. The Bureau thought it'd lost his abilities when he lost part of a leg in a terrorist incident while on holiday…We're lucky he stayed on with a consultant's position…" Kingsley said not taking his eyes off the interview room scene.

Garland had noticed that Reid had a slight limp from the first time she'd met him and the media had raked up all they could about the talented man to fill in airtime while they lacked concrete developments on the murders. It took the pressure off the people working the case to have him there and his steadiness since arriving had given every one a new injection of energy to succeed.

"Jeez…He walks pretty well, I'd not realised until the media started giving a biography…" replied Garland and her estimation of this man rose a few more notches and wondered how many of her male friends would have coped.

Back in the interview room, there appeared to be a perfectly normal conversation flowing between two adults. It was the kind of conversation that occurs when people have been recently introduced and are probing for more information to form an opinion of the new acquaintance and perhaps find points of commonality.

"Well I took piano lessons from the age of six but I don't play regularly now although I do have a piano in the house."

The consultant nodded, "I'm sure that you find your law studies very time consuming. I understand that the bar exams are very demanding," he sympathised.

"There are a lot of case studies but I've always tried to have a total break from the studies at least a couple of times a week to do something totally different."

"That's a very sensible attitude. What do you like doing to unwind?" the man asked giving her his complete attention. Jareau observed that Valliere wasn't taking any notice of her despite her close proximity to Reid. The woman had unconsciously even turned her body a little so as to take in a wider angle of Reid and consequently obscure her vision of Jareau at the table.

"Oh, I like the theatre and classical concerts and I like to do things around the house…I made my own cushion for a chair I'd renovated and some drapes for the spare bedroom. I've even tried my hand at decorating."

"Mmm…I've done my own share of home decorating," Reid confessed and he smiled broadly at the memories that suddenly surfaced of decorating his apartment after he'd left the clinic.

Valliere couldn't stop herself from responding to the boyish enthusiasm mirrored in his smile and thought that his wife was lucky to have this man around. Valliere's eyes settled on the broad gold ring, she hoped that the wife was good to him.

"Does your wife help?" she asked and then felt strangely embarrassed at her forthright manner and how ordinary this conversation was and nothing like she had anticipated.

Reid merely raised his right eyebrow and cocked his head a little to one side and smiled broadly once more before replying, "Mrs. Reid is a demon for decorating but she orders others about to get the results she requires."

The response was amusing to Jareau and she couldn't stop herself from smiling at the thought that filled her mind…Considering Jo's profession, and the company she worked for, the agent could imagine Jo taking control of her 'decorators' and her high expectations for the finished product.

"So what's J.J. finding so amusing?" asked Garland out of curiosity.

"She knows Mrs Reid…I think Reid said she's an interior designer," Kingsley clarified.

"So Ms Valliere, or can I call you Claire?" Reid asked in a friendly tone of voice.

The woman shrugged, "Yes, you can call me Claire, the others did who brought me here."

Reid nodded and continued, "Well Claire, did you meet Nicola at a concert or the theatre?" he asked to get the woman back on the subject he was really interested in.

"Oh no! Nicola prefers clubs and disco music!" Claire suddenly blurted out and it hit her how unguarded she had just been and how she had spoken in the present tense of her dead friend.

"Then how did you two meet because you were both students at different establishments and ordinarily your paths would not have crossed?" the psychologist asked reasonably while his large compassionate eyes never left Claire's face.

Claire suddenly felt invisible walls closing in around her. She took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts; nothing was going to plan since this man had walked into the room. Once more she wondered if she should insist upon a lawyer but then that would immediately be interpreted as admitting that she was guilty and her plan was a more complicated path to win over a jury.

She looked up and found the man's open inquisitive face still watching her but it was not in a cold manner, it seemed to the woman that he gave her a kindly look of understanding.

"It's a bit complicated…We had both experienced a similar bad situation," she replied in the guarded manner that she had practised a few hours earlier before her dressing table mirror.

Dr. Reid's features seemed to soften and the eyes locked onto the woman's giving her his complete attention.

"You were both badly hurt by men," he softly stated.

Claire was surprised by this confident statement. "How did you know?" she asked in a childlike voice.

"Oh it's the little things, Claire. Like changing your hairstyle and colour it's a symbol of change to the world. You probably experienced a change in your weight as well; both changes are very common in women who have faced a traumatic experience where they felt out of control of their lives. I had a girl friend who had been brutally attacked and she went through a period of overeating and also changed her hairstyle…" Reid quietly admitted.

Jareau listened and instantly thought of Jo's badly scarred and cold hand and how Jo could no longer straighten out her fingers to lay her left hand flat on a surface. It was typical of Spencer to buy her an antique gold locket instead of an engagement ring so as not to draw attention to her damaged hand. However, Jo did wear a plain band of gold, just like her husband, but it was her locket that most people remarked upon.

"Did she get over it?" Claire Valliere asked genuinely interested in the unknown woman's fate.

Jareau mentally noted Claire's normal sympathetic reaction to another woman's plight and this was another pointer for the agent that this suspect was not mentally unstable.

"Yes, although sometimes memories come to the surface. Traumatic events have a tendency to haunt us at the most unexpected times…" Reid replied and let the words hang in the air. He noticed that she was obviously thinking about her next move because she couldn't meet his eyes but stared intently at the slate grey tabletop. Reid wondered if his words had suddenly reminded Claire of the previous night's events and she was trying to regain control of her thoughts once more. Whatever the real reason, the consequence was that silence began to fill the room radiating out from the table to the corners. However, Spencer Reid let her think a little more before he eventually clearly cut through the invisible tendrils of a scheming mind.

"Did you both share the experience of date rape?" the man's voice acted as a spear that pierced the heart of the matter and the woman's head shot up at the question, but he knew the answer from her manner.

Jareau felt a surge of compassion for the woman. It was a fine line these days, and difficult for jury's to convict, even if a case made it to court, because often it was a matter of merely a man's word against the woman's. If both had been drinking then the police were not very interested unless there was obvious violence or evidence of a drugged drink. Jareau saw Valliere's eyes widen with the memory of the fear and self-loathing that the question evoked.

"Did you report your rape?" Reid gently probed.

Claire shook her head and then spoke keeping her eyes on an imagined spot on the table about 2 inches in front of Reid's loosely placed hands.

"No…What was the use? Who would believe me? Like he said, it was my word against his and we had both been seen drinking and I'd also snorted coke so that wouldn't go down very well with the police. I went back to his place but I didn't remember consenting to sex or our performance being watched. I didn't know his friend would be there at his apartment and I was watched by this other guy…I couldn't claim I was a virgin and he was very careful…They laughed at me in the morning and said that I wasn't that good in bed. When I started to complain about my treatment, I was told that it was very unlikely that I'd get any sympathy from the law because it was consensual and it'd had been a good night out at an expensive club so I should stop whining. He was so confident that there were plenty of women queuing up to be seen out with him and I should consider myself fortunate to have shared his evening…He was just so arrogant and dismissed me. "

"Ah…one of the sport jocks that occupy any college campus and big city life, and this one was rich aswell so you were up against a good family who could make life difficult if you pursued a complaint. It was no doubt doubly difficult having a comfortable amount of money yourself aswell because women of your social standing don't bring such matters to court," Reid continued with his scenario and persisted…. "So how did you meet Nicola?"

"We women who have money don't go to the usual support groups…Rape happens to other women not us," she replied bitterly, "We can afford to see expensive psychs. I even went to a female one, like several other women I've met since, but even she was unsympathetic…so many are. They will tell you that you were behaving like a silly little girl and you'll not get yourself into that situation again. They will eagerly take your money for their time but underneath the mock sympathy they think you deserved it for being so gullible. Do you know what one very expensive female psych told me, 'Forget it honey, put it down to experience because you weren't beaten up, viciously cut, kept prisoner or photos taken or recorded. So put it down to a bad experience and go out and choose a real man next time and steer clear of the sport jocks because you now know they're just not worth it!'" she bitterly spat the memory out. For a few moments the atmosphere of the interview room seemed to crawl with invisible snakes of disgust.

"So you and Nicola shared the same psychologist?" Reid probed needing to know the connection.

Claire shook her head, "No, I told a fellow law student I trusted what had happened and she told me about a support group that wasn't advertised…just for us wealthier types. We met at the woman's apartment…she's called Laura and there were 6 of us the nights I attended. We only ever used first names and I've no idea where the other women lived. Nicola was there…We just talked about what happened to us and about putting the pieces together. Mostly the others just wanted to forget about it because they knew that they couldn't prove anything, but they seemed to be drowning in the memories of their experiences and it was all about trying to feel a woman again. But Nicola said that these men ought to be punished…I was the only one who understood her desire for vengeance, the others were not strong enough to see beyond their own humiliation. We went a couple of times to Laura's but then decided to support one another because we needed to act against these men not just sit there drinking coffee and moaning about them…"

Reid nodded in understanding, "Yes, the pair of you were both capable women and used to getting what you wanted out of your lives, from a very early age, so letting these men get away with it just wasn't right," he stated evenly in his soft voice.

"Too right, that bastard took advantage of me, it was just supposed to be a coffee before I went home in a taxi. He said that the coffee would help me to come to my senses because I was a bit out of it. I wasn't used to the amount of alcohol and coke I'd had that night with him. The previous time we'd been out to a classical concert and he behaved like a real gentleman. When he asked me out again I didn't hesitate. It was then that he suggested the venue because I didn't know the club scene and he wanted to take me to one of his favourite places. It was different and I just followed along thinking that was what everyone did there and I didn't want to be out of place with him. Stupid of me but I felt confident with the guy…. I just didn't expect him to be all over me after the club," she bitterly explained.

"Oh so it was a double betrayal because you felt reasonably confident about being in his apartment that second date. But you mentioned a second man?" he gently enquired.

She nodded and brought her arms across her body as if for comfort against the memory.

"The first time at his apartment he had been on his own then the second time he'd raped me. Just because the first time we didn't have sex, I trusted him and really I didn't want sex that night either but the drink and drugs were affecting me. You see I was not used to mixing alcohol and coke and I just didn't react forcibly. Then I found that he had an old friend staying in the apartment, and he had watched from the bedroom door and asked if he could have a go too because he was up for it. The thing is part of me wanted it all to stop but I didn't seem to have any control over what was happening, everything happened so quickly and I wasn't in control. It was as if I was just too passive and that's not me but I couldn't feel anything, I was numb to it all and the most I remember is the weight of the men on top of me."

Jareau mentally flinched, she didn't doubt that this was the truth.

"What were the men called?" Reid gently continued to probe the incident.

She shook her head, "I can't remember the friend, he wasn't based in New York and had come for a visit. He's not even a person I can really describe properly because parts the memory is blurred. I suppose that's all due to my reaction to the coke and alcohol…I've not touched drugs since," she confessed.

"I'm not surprised Claire, but I need to know the name of the man you trusted?" the consultant persisted with his soft voice and the watchers held their breaths.

Claire Valliere felt sick but she spat out the name, "Martin…Martin Armitage"

Jareau felt her heart leap but there was no outward sign of triumph as Dr. Reid continued to interview the suspect murderer.

"Jeez…" whispered Ellison, "That was the third victim. Reid said that they might have practised before they targeted their real victims."

"Yeah, he was taking us in the right direction before we even got him here," replied Kingsley, "I'm glad that the Bureau managed to keep Reid because he has a real flair for this work."

Garland remained silent but she appreciated all that had happened in the room after she had left. She now saw the suspect, not just as a murderer, but as a real woman and one who had been badly used…but that still didn't give her the right to go around shooting men.

"Did a similar thing happen to Nicola?" Reid kept gently questioning not wanting this woman to suddenly clam up because she was reliving a distressful episode that she had not been properly counselled over.

"Nicola understood because it had happened to her, only a second guy wasn't involved. But she admitted that she had mixed coke and drinks and remembered saying no but Adam ignored her."

"Did Nicola tell you Adam's full name?" Reid kept going but he already felt it would be the name of the second victim.

Claire nodded in a defeated way; her confidence had disappeared in the telling of these events.

"Nicola warned me about Adam Tyler…right cocky bastard that one!" she suddenly vehemently stated.

"So when did you and Nicola decide to get your own back and teach Martin and Adam a lesson?"

Claire looked up and captured Reid's attention with a very earnest expression, "You understand don't you, we couldn't let them get away with what they had done to us…The bastards didn't recognise either of us a few weeks later when we acted to teach them a lesson. God knows how many women they had had after us but we obviously were nothing special in their world. You men just don't understand how different a woman is…We like to feel appreciated and not just be another notch on the bedpost of conquests," the voice seemed to deepen with the intensity of her feeling.

"Not all men behave like Adam and Martin behaved toward Nicola and yourself, some actually try very hard to understand the differences you allude to," Reid gently reasoned. Jareau once more thought of the relationship that she had observed between Jo and Spencer and hoped that she might find such compatibility eventually for herself but she was still looking.

"I'm not saying that, I'm just saying that they deserved what they got!" Claire suddenly flared with a flash of temper.

In the observation room, the watchers waited amazed because Reid had basically managed to get this woman to confess to her part in two murders and she seemed to be coherent while revealing her calculating nature. All they needed was for Reid to get her to explain how they chose the victims and plotted the deaths and that detail would destroy any plea for temporary insanity.

"When did you and Nicola decide to act?"

"It was Nicola…she had the idea that we could save other women from the bastards who had hurt us. She thought of a way to trap them. We watched Adam and Martin carefully and got to know where they liked to go during the week. Nicola was the 'club girl' really but I knew I would have to tag along and learn how to play the game if we were going to be successful," she said almost like a naughty little girl caught red-handed but ready to blame an absent accomplice.

"And of course you did have in your favour the fact that you had both slightly changed your appearances. By this time, following your distressing episode, you had lost weight and changed your hair…It used to be a light brown had it not?" Reid innocently enquired.

"Yes, I needed a change. I lost a good 20 pounds and the longer hair made me look like a witch so I had it cut shorter and more round my face to make it look fuller," she explained with a steady voice.

Reid nodded and his facial features encouraged her to continue. At the back of his mind he knew that she was probably going to plead 'temporary insanity' and blame Nicola for the planning and pretend that she was only ever the junior tag along partner. Dr. Spencer Reid had discovered a little more about this woman than she probably was prepared to give him credit for and he continued to gently probe before he burst her illusion.

"Did Nicola also lose weight?"

"Not as much as I did but she did change her hair style and began to change her style of dress, she admitted that she now wore more provocative clothes for evenings at the clubs," conceded Claire.

"I'm interested to know where did you and Nicola meet to discuss your plans after you left Laura's informal support group?" Reid continued in his mild manner.

"Initially at Nicola's apartment because it was so central and we could fit in meetings in between our studies, whereas I had the town house out in New Rochelle and it was more difficult with the traffic. My place was all right for the weekends but Nicola preferred being at her apartment because she was intent on keeping up appearances. She refused to let the rape take over so she tried to behave like nothing had happened to her. Nicola didn't want any other person to know what had happened because she thought that they would then see a weakness in her for not fighting back, or think her stupid for letting herself get into that situation in the first place…She even regretted going to Laura's. Nicola said that I needed to take control of my life again, like she had, and then I'd feel better about myself too and would never let a man treat me like that ever again. She also found it strange that I liked living in New Rochelle and preferred it to the Big Ugly Apple," Claire recounted and it all flowed so well considering the hours of practise earlier in the morning.

Reid listened, he knew from the morning's enquires that there was evidence for both women being in denial of the consequences of their date rape. Laura, a final year medical student, had told them both to seek professional help and Laura thought they had when they had stopped attending her self-help group. He also mentally noted that Claire was persistently following the route of blaming Nicola for all the planning and the leading astray of the saintly Claire. Dr. Reid decided to string her along a little longer.

"It must have been comforting for both of you to share similar experiences but you say it was Nicola who planned revenge?" Reid pressed once more for clarity.

"Yes, I think her attitude scared the other women at Laura's support group. But I found it refreshing because those other women seemed to wallow in their debasement and they didn't appear to want to strike out confidently into the world once more. Those women had been damaged by those men…I was damaged by what happened to me…I felt I'd lost my self-confidence in judging people. Women don't knowingly set out to go out with potential rapists, and I wanted my life back. Those other women didn't seem to want their confidence back because they were not even trying to move on from what had happened to them. I wanted to trust the men around me again but after what happened I saw all men as senseless rampaging hulks of hormones that they didn't even attempt to control. They're dogs…just like dogs on heat that you see in the back streets." Claire suddenly began to rant in a stronger voice while her face seemed to harden and was transformed to a strong determined mask before the watchers' eyes.

Reid calmly sat and listened and Jareau kept her own composure, observing the changes in the suspect's voice, the animation of her features and the sense of violence that lay just beneath the surface of her performance.

"Whose idea was it for each of you to entice the other's victim?" Reid gently slipped in the very pointed question.

"Nicola…she had thought it out so well. She's an art historian you know and I must admit I'd not expected an arty person to be capable of such careful planning…I suppose it was the chess, she told me that she'd been her school chess champion. Nicola said that we could work together and that way we would get our own back but no one would suspect two women. I'd lure her target, Tyler, while she'd turn all her charms on Armitage but the beauty was that we got to eliminate our attacker. The one driving, and not doing the temptress act, pulled the trigger and therefore we have each achieved victory over the man and his crime," she triumphantly explained for Reid. "We didn't think the police would think about women being behind the murders because it's not something you often hear about."

Dr. Reid nodded carefully noting that she was speaking so freely and rationally about her part in the murders but still had not asked for a lawyer. Meanwhile, Jareau noted that Claire still referred to Nicola in the present as if by denying her part in her death meant that she was still alive. She wondered if it was really Valliere's conscience speaking the truth or merely all she had practised before they had caught up with her. The agent's thoughts were put aside when Jareau heard that Reid was still alert and pressing their suspect for more revelations.

"She didn't think women capable of serial killings?" Reid asked gently probing the unrepentant and quite confident sounding woman before him.

"Don't you see…You of all people must know that women are rarely considered serial killers like men who hunt down women. I told her that case studies in law leaned heavily towards males as the predators and certainly for serial murders. The police wouldn't think to look for women at first and if they ever chose to then our social standing and being respected professionals would help to cover our tracks."

"Wow, Did she really just say that!" said Garland not turning to see the men's faces.

"Yes, she really did just explain her complicity in the planning of these murders. I've got to hand it to Reid he's playing this so quietly, just by being so innocent and harmless looking. He's quite an actor…J.J.'s brilliant just playing the observer role and trusting the way Reid is taking the interview, " Kingsley muttered but then stopped before he said anything too revealing. He personally thought that neither Morgan or Ellison would have probably taken such a quiet backseat role because both had their own professional egos and would have felt, that as the agent, that they should have some say in the interview of this murderer. But Reid knew he needed an agent with him because he was only a consultant and not a law officer. There would come the time for the agent to take over but Kingsley knew that Reid would confidently hand over the baton for Jareau to finish this marathon interview at the correct moment.

"Mmm…So Nicola chose the weapon too?" Reid continued with a lead question.

"It couldn't be anything else really. A knife would have meant too much blood and would have been difficult if the target was wearing a thick coat because of the night chill setting in this time of year. Nicola also had a small gun and she taught me how to use it, she took me to her gun club and it was easier than I thought. We agreed that a bullet to the head would be perfect, although brain matter would be spattered and the 'temptress' would have to be well out of the way…."

"Oh definitely," agreed Reid mildly showing none of the revulsion he was feeling, "But that would need careful planning," he added with admiration in his voice. Detectives had already talked to people at the gun club and established that Nicola had taught a friend called Claire to shoot in a short space of time. When recently shown a photograph of Claire, taken from the Delaney's footage, they had all identified her as the friend.

Claire nodded thankful that this man seemed to appreciate the careful preparation that the two women had put into their actions.

"Yes, it did, we had to practice our moves to get it right and we decided on the temptress saying an agreed phrase, something that would excite the man but he'd not suspect the accomplice holding a gun near his head."

"But wasn't he suspicious that the accomplice was so near to him and the temptress? Afterall those two were getting pretty intimate," questioned Reid with curiosity in his voice and manner as he kept his gentle open features concentrated upon her face.

Claire then actually suddenly chuckled in delight. The watchers in the observation room collectively held their breaths in the commonly felt horror of hearing this attractive woman actually laugh about the murder of a man.

"No…none of them minded. All you had to do was to dare them to have sex in the shadows because you'd never done that before but it sounded exciting …You'd already softened them up with sex in the back of the car and they all just wanted sex full stop. They were told that the other would keep watch, just in case someone came along. We always chose the shadows alongside a development site in good parts of the city but one that didn't have a guard or CCTV fitted. These developments would be guarded once the expensive building equipment and materials started to arrive but, after pulling down the original building, there is usually a little window of opportunity before 'security' gets organised. It was simple, the information for all the proposed building sites are on the city's web development pages. Afterall, what city doesn't want to highlight its new developments and how it continues to attract money for new buildings? Well, like I said, you just keep your eyes open about the progress of the building," replied Claire her voice was quite animated with being able to reveal the extent of their planning. It was as if she was proving that Claire and Nicola were intelligent women and therefore it was natural for them to meticulously plan the murders.

"But Adam wasn't the first victim," said Reid with puzzlement in his voice and she looked at him and blinked at his stupidity and sighed before replying.

"Of course he wasn't the first target. We had to practise the routine and Nicola decided that she'd find a suitable target so I could practice with the gun. You see Nicola wasn't too sure about me and asked me a couple of times if I thought I really could shoot a man in the back of the head. Well I proved I could. Nicola picked up a guy called Fraser and he just didn't know what was coming. It was so easy, they all were," Claire replied lightly. "God they were all so out of it just thinking about sex and how we were going to be an easy lay. I mean it was so simple, the one who picked up the man just said, 'look we can do this in the shadows while the other keeps watch and when we get back to the apartment you can reward her…while I have a little rest.' What man is going to turn down a night with two women to satisfy his ego." Claire explained in a quiet and reasonable voice.

"Christ, are we all seen as so fickle?" said Ellison bleakly.

"Well I've never behaved like that," answered Kingsley primly.

Garland turned to look at the red haired agent and raised an eyebrow. "I met too many bed hopping men while at college and like a lot of my friends told them to keep it in their pants because I wasn't a potential conquest. But young men, away from home for the first time, can behave differently from how their families believe that they would conduct themselves or have you forgotten those wild days of a new freedom? The majority calm down to be quite civilised but you get some, like the typical sports jock, who think they can have a harem and the pick of females on offer."

Ellison felt uncomfortable under Garland's gaze; sometimes it was best not to think too deeply about your early student days. Kingsley gave him an understanding look and both men decided with this woman it was best to keep silent on this matter and the interview room once more became the focal point of interest.

"So Nicola chose Fraser, do you know why him, was it before you even went to the night club?"

"No, we just went out looking for a super-confident asshole," she smoothly answered back, "It wasn't difficult, they are often high earners and think they can have anything. We went to the best clubs to get the right clientele, but we were also careful about the amount of alcohol we had and we had promised each other never to have drugs…and believe me, there was always a choice on offer. But I decided that the one with the gun had to be sober because we had agreed the shooter would also do the driving. We couldn't take a taxi or we would have been tracked down too easily taking our victim anywhere and it wouldn't have been private enough in a taxi. Believe me, that time in the back of the car was the clincher…You had to get their trust and praise their performance so they'd be eager to show off a bit more…Anyway, Fraser and Nicola enjoyed themselves while I drove around a bit…"

"But how did you get them in the car…was it always your car?" Reid's soft voice continued to seek out detail.

"Yeah, mine had room in the back, you couldn't have stretched out for a bit of fun on the back seat in Nicola's sports…No, it was a good job that I had the sensible Mercedes. But it was all so easy; the temptress would ask if they came by taxi and if it was an affirmative then you turned on the charm. You asked them if they would like a lift and a bit a fun on the way home…Implying that a threesome might be on offer if they were interested…You know these men all fell for it, not one of the men we approached refused the offer. We always parked the car a few blocks away so we told them to leave so many minutes after us depending on how faraway we'd parked. We would pick up the victim in a side street…It was so simple, then the temptress would open the back door and entice them in, all done in a few seconds really and they were soon enjoying themselves on the back seat."

"Only the targeted victims …Didn't you women enjoy yourselves too?" pressed Reid carefully keeping a soft even voice so as not to alarm this woman and to keep her talking freely by not appearing judgmental in any way.

Claire shrugged, "Sometimes the sex was good but not always. The last one I had tempted, that was another Daniel, he couldn't perform in the car; probably too much alcohol or he was one of those you needed more coke than usual…Whatever, he was useless so I felt a bit cheated because Nicola usually enjoyed herself," she replied in a flat voice.

"Jeez…what a pair!" Ellison said under his breath but Garland and Kingsley heard him.

"A deadly combination of a friendship forged through a traumatic experience and the shared desire to teach men a lesson," Garland added in a weary tone without turning to face either of her companions in the small observation room.

"Yes, but what went wrong last night?" Kingsley asked the room and hoped that Reid would get her to talk about that soon.

"Yeah, is she as innocent and easily led as she makes out?" asked Ellison.

But the interview room was governed by its own pace as the account of the events unfolded and time meant little to the three people seated there. Reid was in no hurry and deliberately kept to his low key style with its gentle and unthreatening manner. He believed that this method would undermine the woman's practised replies for an interrogation, but it was still his duty to seek out the truth of her role in the murders.

"Where did you go after the killing of the 'targets'?" he continued with his soft melodious voice.

"We drove to my place to clean up. We would burn our clothes in the wood burner and we washed and vacuumed the car before we went to bed," she reported in a flat dejected way. It was as if the remnants of her feisty spirit had dissipated as she realised she had walked, with very little resistance, into the trap Dr. Reid had laid down for her.

"But last night things didn't go right did they?" the consultant asked solicitously inviting the woman to explain the tragic events that led to one of the friend's being dead.

Claire shook her head as if to clear her mind of the haunting memories of those moments when everything had not gone to plan.

"It was all Nicola's fault, she used the code phrase we had agreed on. Everything had gone to plan until then. She had picked up a guy called Daniel while I enjoyed the dance floor. He was just like the others and couldn't keep his hands of her once in the car so the dare of sex in the shadows was eagerly agreed upon. I was behind them, the gun already in my shoulder purse and Nicola was all prepared…She'd taken her panties off before Daniel even got into the car…it made things simpler and the man got the impression that she was there to have some fun with while I drove. So you can imagine, by the time they went into the shadows, the guy was not taking any notice of my presence. Then Nicola said the usual 'Hi baby, let me help a little down there' and she was then suppose to bend down out of the way to give some attention to the man's zip. That way her head should have been out of the way but it wasn't when I fired the gun on cue. You see, at the same time the man had moved his head out of the way stopping Nicola. The bastard moved, I thought later that he'd probably moved so he could suck at her nipple…but he wasn't supposed to do that. It was all Nicola's fault, her head wasn't supposed to be there. I couldn't stop the bulled once I'd pulled the trigger…You see it was all Nicola's fault. She'd the agreed words but she didn't get her head out of the way like she usually did, like I did …so you were out of the way when the bullet hit the back of the head." Claire's voice pleaded for understanding and her brown eyes welled up with tears for her friend and accomplice.

"You killed your friend by accident," Reid gently stated keeping his large compassionate puppy dog eyes on her and saw Claire's eyes well up and her lower lip tremble with the emotion she felt for her lost companion in crime.

"I would never have hurt Nicola, she was my friend. She understood what it was like to be treated like a sex object and then cast aside afterwards. We just wanted to get our own back and treat those men in the same way they had treated us," she whispered holding back her tears.

"But you still shot Daniel after you had killed Nicola…"

"I knew I had to…It was what I was supposed to do, I did it like Nicola had planned for the night," the woman justified with a tearful voice.

"But why did the pair of you go on to kill Keiron Hadlam, Daniel Plaine and Daniel Willard after taking your revenge of Armitage and Tyler?" the consultant asked in a slightly bewildered voice seeking for enlightenment from this intelligent woman.

Claire stared at him, and slightly cocked her head to one side as she considered this question while regaining control of her emotions.

"Because we wanted too. Nicola said we could rid the city of a few more predator males so we took it in turns to play the temptress and it was…" she stopped and Reid's eyes seemed to grow before the watchers into enormous dark pools of innocence as he waited for her to complete her sentence.

"It was what?" he mildly asked and Jareau thought the question echoed around the interview room.

The woman swallowed and stared back with eyes that suddenly lost their previous confidence. Jareau wondered if this was Claire realising that Reid had got her to confess to her part in the murders without any effort and she had fallen for his gentle and sympathetic manner.

"Shall I tell you what I think Claire?" Reid suddenly changed tack and his voice seemed firmer in tone although the volume was still soft.

Claire Valliere sat transfixed and nodded feeling all her ideas about pretending to be insane and switching from one mood to the next had all disappeared once in the presence of this harmless looking man.

"I think that the pair of you actually enjoyed the hunt, the sexual teasing of your victims and finally the killing of each of those men. You see by killing those men you felt empowered because you had the ultimate power over life and death and both of you enjoyed exercising that power. It amused you both that it was so easy to entice those men to their deaths. Four of those men had actually done nothing to you or Nicola in the past, but the pair of you worked together to take the lives of successful men who happened to be somewhat fickle in their relationships. Unfortunately, some men never quite out grow the teenage years and consider the one nightstand to be part of their successful life. The sex is an ego trip that they enjoy but they can't seem to settle down to one woman because that takes a commitment and effort and they enjoy the variety on offer too much…

None of those men deserved the bullet that was put into their heads, no matter how badly they might have treated women, not even Adam Tyler or Martin Armitage. But both you and Nicola were behaving no better yourselves because of the casual way you wanted sex before the kill just to prove that you still had power over the man, especially as you both knew what was coming next. You and Nicola were badly treated by the two men who date raped you but neither of them tried to kill you…"

"You're beginning to sound like that psych I saw!" Claire suddenly snapped back.

"No I'm not," Reid calmly stated, "I think that she should have counselled you better and helped you heal by showing you how to move on and to try to put the incident into perspective. You did say that the psych you saw did point out that you had not been taped, physically hurt, or kidnapped and held against your will…Although with the amount of alcohol and drugs you had consumed that had probably clouded your judgement and your subsequent memory. It's not a pleasant lesson and you learnt the hard way but I think your psych was trying to put your experience into perspective, considering perhaps some of her other patients who had suffered far more trauma and long term damage."

"You said you'd understand," Claire said and suddenly turned her attention to Jareau, "You said he'd understand!" she indignantly challenged the agent.

"Yes, I did and Dr. Reid has shown that he understands you very well," Agent Jareau calmly stated.

The observers collectively sighed and the two men grinned at Jareau's remark.

"What a piece of work. I don't think I would have liked Nicola either," said Garland as she continued to watch the interview scene.

"I think Reid would also say that both women were only children who had usually got their own way throughout their childhood and as a consequence expected the world to treat them well. Then they each had a bad experience, it was the stressor and they were thrown together by the need to right the perceived wrong done to them," said Kingsley quietly.

"Yes, but they didn't just kill the two guilty men, they had a trial run and then continued after taking the original revenge…Now that enters another realm of calculation. Like Reid said, they actually were enjoying the power they had over those men," said Ellison who was impressed with all he had seen that afternoon.

But things were moving on back in the interview room.

Claire had fallen silent but Dr. Reid was not finished.

Reid's voice dominated the room, "I believe that you returned home after killing Daniel and Nicola, like you usually did. You then set about cleaning up and destroying evidence, in the usual manner. But this time there was no triumph and you had no Nicola to help and to share the success of the evening like the previous times…White spirit perhaps after a coating of paint to get rid of any lingering gun residue?" he asked staring at her red hands. "But there was still the gun. Now that is odd, you knew that you had to get rid of it because it tied you to the murders. You see you could have claimed that you dropped Nicola and Daniel off before continuing to New Rochelle, especially as you had cleaned your car and destroyed any other evidence from it. I think you spent the rest of the night cleaning and thinking about your alibi. The major obstacle was the murder weapon because it was still in your possession. By the morning, you knew from the news reports that the police were looking for you and it would only be a matter of time before someone provided your name and address.

You were found just sitting with the gun in your lap. It was empty so you were not considering taking your own life. You had driven to that big park because there were lots of possible places to hide that damning piece of evidence but you had left it too late because there you were confronted by the FBI. Thinking quickly, you played the role of the mentally distracted accomplice and the one who was lead astray by the stronger murderess. Perhaps you had anticipated being caught so had already considered this course you now took and a woman of your intelligence would have had been practising the responses to possible questions in an interview situation. If you played the instability card, with the mood swings, it would put doubt into a juror's mind. I think you also hoped for a more dramatic interview with agents pressuring you to confess. Finally, you hope a sympathetic lawyer will put forward a defence of temporary insanity caused by the traumatic experience of a date rape. Perhaps you even planned to use a tape of this interview to show undue pressure on a 'disturbed' mind by Bureau personnel. Well, Ms. Valliere, I did not play the role you anticipated…

Agent Jareau, I think it's time for you to formally charge Claire Valliere," he calmly announced and pressed his hands down on the table as he pushed his chair back and rose up to his full height.

Claire Valliere watched the whole movement. She was annoyed with herself that all her practising had not helped her once since Dr. Reid had entered the room. Claire mentally cursed herself, she had been wrong not to have a lawyer when she thought she could use that refusal as evidence that she wasn't thinking straight as a law student. She had miscalculated that her actions since found in the car park would help her to put forward a plea of temporary insanity…This quiet man had been correct, he had understood her moves all along. Claire wondered whom to have as her lawyer, it would have to be someone with experience and preferably one who was sympathetic to women and could stress her role as the misguided victim whose actions had got out of hand.

"Good day, Ms Valliere," Reid formally said as he turned away from her and reached for the door. As he went he could hear J.J. beginning to formally charge the murderess and state her rights in law.

Reid stood in the corridor for a few minutes to gather his thoughts and Kingsley stepped out of the observation room to find him.

"That was a pleasant piece of interrogation masked as a concerned chat," he said with a raised eyebrow.

"It was what the lady said she wanted…just to chat to me, but I was not going to play her game. However, I do think that she is genuinely upset over Nicola's death and that is what made her especially vulnerable. I don't think she would have been such an easy pushover had she not made that kill…"

"But those six men…"

"Were the victims of cold hearted planning. Like I said, two women brought together by a common traumatic experience and then they liked the power they had and exercised that ultimate power over life and death. Thankfully, it's rare for a traumatised victim to react in this way but Tyler and Armitage sounded insensitive bastards towards women. I wonder if the previous women in their lives will have the guts to tell the truth now we have the reason behind these murders," said Reid as he began to walk toward the coffee machine with Kingsley beside him.

"Do you think a good lawyer will get her off?"

"I don't think so. She's not insane, upset but not insane, and all that preparation on Claire's part; learning how to shoot and changing her lifestyle by entering the club scene…no it all shows pre-meditation. I don't think Mrs Morgan-Paterson is going to like our version of events, having a daughter who was one half of a murdering pair of women isn't something any of us would like, but for a woman of her social standing it will be particularly difficult. I suspect she will try to put all the blame on to Valliere, however, we do have the evidence of Nicola teaching Claire to shoot and how Claire's behaviour had changed with that friendship…Isn't that what Valliere's neighbour had said to you?"

"Oh yes, Mrs. Lancaster…To think that was only this morning…Things have really just taken off so fast!"

"Yes…and evidence about the two women is still being gathered. By the time it comes to court there should be a solid case to show that they were equal partners. Remember, Claire said that she was the one who had insisted that the one with the gun, who would also be driving, shouldn't drink any alcohol…"

"You do see them as equal partners then?" Kingsley asked as Reid passed him a coffee cup.

"Yes, I do, despite her performance. I think they latched onto one another because they both originally wanted revenge and to make Tyler and Armitage suffer and the ultimate suffering was death. But they enjoyed the plotting and the actual murders and they wanted to feel that thrill of the ultimate control over a man's life again and again. I'm not convinced that they kept murdering as a service to other women. Revenge, Matt, woman take their time to plot their revenge and these crimes were well thought out and, lets face it, they might have even got away with a few more murders before they were caught. Nicola's death was the unexpected and fate played us a hand to take advantage of…But revenge and power, that ultimate control over another's life…heady stuff. They were a dangerous pair of ladies! I think J.J. will enjoy the next news conference."

"Won't you?" Kingsley asked.

"No, not really, I did produce the profile that got people thinking in the right direction but I'd not expected another death, or rather two deaths, so soon…Like I said, fate helped us this time. But the Chief of Police and the Mayor will both want to be seen on the same platform, each with their own agenda…I don't like news conferences that get hi-jacked by political considerations. No, I think it will be far better if we praise the work of the LEOs and just say that we were glad to help and get on that plane back home," replied Dr. Reid as he sipped the awful cheap coffee.

Two hours later, the team was back on the plane heading homeward. Reid leaned back into his seat and felt pleased that the jet had been reinstated while he was still with the CACU. Hotch had told him that his high profile successes, that culminated with the paedophile ring in the Washington area, had all helped to get their government funding restored. So the jet was returned to service along with the comfort and convenience of getting to far-flung places as quickly as possible and that all helped any case that they had to work on.

Reid closed his eyes but he was not asleep, he just didn't want to be disturbed. He listened to the team as they wound down and he felt the tensions between the personalities. Reid suddenly felt a twinge of nostalgia for the old team and the banter that could flow and the card playing with himself trying to cheat undetected all the way along. He recalled conversations that he sometimes had with Gideon or Hotch after particularly disturbing cases; they had both been conscious of his sensitivity and their need to make sure that the youngest team member was coping. It was ironic that with his difficult childhood he had learnt a number of coping mechanisms that still worked for him in profiling.

Spencer suddenly thought of Elle. He'd not thought about her for some time but now he wondered what she was doing these days. He had tried to help her but he knew that she only saw him as the youngest team member and not with the gravitas that Gideon and Hotch naturally had. It would be so different now, of course, people naturally looked to him for his advice and dispensing of his expertise…but he had earned that reputation since Elle's departure. Reid wondered how Elle would have managed in this team. She would probably have clashed with Kingsley, as much as Morgan did, but then Elle always got on well with Morgan and she definitely came from a tough female cop background. The well-worn expression, 'one of the boys' naturally sprang to mind whenever he thought of Elle. However, she could also pull Morgan into line so perhaps she would have been an asset, rather than a liability, if she had stayed. 'If'' was a big word! Elle had left under a cloud but Hotch was right, you couldn't have an agent who you couldn't trust at your back or in the field. Poor Elle had lost her nerve and her last kill had been suspect. She had needed help but she had refused it when offered. Hotch had taken the only course open to him but Spencer also knew that Hotch regretted the way that Elle had forced his hand.

Spencer felt it would do no good raking over past issues and turned his mind to a new internal game, that of choosing names for the expected baby. After he became bored with that diversion, he began to think about the possibility of regularly keeping a journal just like his own father had done after he had left them for England. That journal was now one of his most precious possessions along with his father's violin and purple scarf. It was a source of evidence of the depth of love that his father had felt for Diana and their son and Spencer often found solace in the words the man had written. Life was rarely a simple journey and he hoped one day to show his own child the journal that their long dead grandfather had produced. Perhaps he too should try to record the little expressions of love and private thoughts on matters that reveal the depth of one's hidden feelings.

Dr. Reid went back with the team to Quantico because he had not used his own car in the early morning. As soon they entered the Unit, Garcia's voice resounded in the bullpen, " The Doctor's back!" and various staff turned to nod or smile a greeting to the returning team.

Barry stopped chatting to Prentiss outside his office and was ready to greet the returning successful team with a smile along with "Well done, all of you, another good outcome for the BAU."

Kingsley beamed at the praise but he also added, "Well we had the help of our new consultant and the Doctor here cast his spell and charmed the Chief of Police and the Mayor!"

"Well that's what's he paid for," quipped Barry cheerfully knowing that he had known Reid the longest in that room and his gentle humour would not offend. It seemed a long time ago now but that had been a time when Gideon had headed the unit and that team no longer existed.

"Oh yeah…the pay, yeah its not bad…much better than the meagre agent's pay I was on before. But do I get extra for the unexpected travel?" he grinned mischievously at Barry.

Garcia's excited voice cut through the banter, "You've got several requests on your desk…"

"Garcia! I'm supposed to be heading this unit and that means I tell the Doctor about such things," he chided but Garcia looked defiant and grinned at the boss before her. Barry slowly shook his head and turned once more to Reid, "There are several requests for making time to interview some of our more vicious prison inmates," Barry replied in mock exasperation. Everyone in the bullpen knew that Garcia and Barry had a good working relationship and Barry enjoyed the grumbling tyrant role he played to Garcia's extrovert rebel, but only when the office was winding down. It all helped to break the tension of some of the more hectic days.

Reid nodded and headed for the steps, dragging his small case on wheels behind him. He then noticed Prentiss buttoning up her purple winter coat at the base of the steps, "Your court appearance work out?"

"Fine, the evidence we had against that pair was solid but the whole team had a grilling by their lawyers," she replied. "Hotch personally warned us about the lawyers, apparently he'd trained with them in New York," Emily explained, "The rest of my team have already gone home but I had to go over the Jacquard case with Steven Gardell because I'm back in court on Monday."

"I bet he's prepared you well so have a relaxing weekend," Reid answered with a smile that the tall and elegant woman returned.

"Oh George and I have something planned to take my mind off work!" she replied as her face lit up with delight, "But I'm not saying so no one can find me to drag me back here!"

"Right! Well enjoy it!" Reid said as she winked at him and made her way to the exit doors.

Reid was pleased that Morgan had slipped on his wedding ring while on the jet and was now speaking to Angela on his phone.

"I'm about to leave…How's little Juliet? Good, I'll look forward to that…"

Morgan raised his hand in farewell to the team members as he too headed for the doors, "I'm out of here…have a great weekend every one!"

"My love to Angie and Juliet!" J.J. called to the departing agent and Morgan briefly turned to give his colleague one of his devastating smiles in reply.

As Reid slowly mounted the steps with his case, he heard Kingsley address Ellison.

"Got anything special planned this weekend?"

"Promised to have Sunday with my brother's family but I'm just going to take it easy tomorrow, Emma's on duty tonight but we'll probably go out for a meal tomorrow evening."

"Good," Kingsley replied, "At least nurses understand our rotten hours!"

Reid concentrated on walking steadily to his office. His stump was a pain and he didn't want his colleagues to notice. The office chair was comfortable and he sank down and reached for the pile of letters and various internal messages that had accumulated for him in such a short time.

A few minutes later a familiar voice broke through his concentration.

"The word soon got around that you'd officially taken up residence here," Hotch said ruefully eyeing the papers.

"It's good to finally be back but didn't feel right until I'd got my first case sorted," he confessed and Hotch nodded his understanding.

"It's good to have you back at the BAU, you've been missed while on secondment, but you're definitely on form after your performance in New York."

"Yeah…well I thought the travelling was supposed to be less," he answered.

"You didn't say no," Hotch reminded him softly and wondered if he'd put too much pressure on Reid to take the case.

"I couldn't Hotch…I was needed but I know I won't always be able to go with a team…I've so much to do here," he replied and pointed to the letters and papers on his desk.

"You'll find a way to make it work, Spencer. You're a well-respected criminal psychologist and profiler. The demands for your expertise are probably going to increase rather than lessen," Hotch quietly stated and then lightened his tone, "I'm here to offer you a lift home because I sent a car this morning to take you to the jet. Just remember, not everyone gets driven home by their Section Chief."

"Except when he's feeling a bit guilty about sending one of his people away at very short notice after everyone had agreed I was supposed to be office based," Spencer replied reminding the older man of Pentall's concerns about his return to the BAU so soon.

"Is Jo really pissed about it?" Hotch asked deciding not to tell Reid that Max had been to see him in the morning after he'd seen the news report with Reid obviously in New York

"She expected it to happen sometime, but not quite so soon," replied the younger man getting ready to push himself upright.

"Well I can see her point it was within a few hours of sitting at your desk here…Will it help if I tell her that I wasn't expecting things to move so quickly either?" Hotch offered.

"I shouldn't worry about it…The job is full of the unexpected and I think Jo is used to it all by now."

The younger man had used his hands, pressed down on the desktop, to push himself up out of his chair. The Section Chief watched the action. He had seen the man do this often since his rehabilitation but Hotch also noticed the dark lines that were now apparent under his eyes. It had obviously been a long 24 hours for Reid and he'd probably devoted all his energy to the case.

Reid reached for his tan messenger bag and placed the internal and general mail inside and closed it up. He looked up into Hotch's serious face.

"What?" Reid asked in reply to his superior's scrutiny.

Hotch sighed, "Jo's going to kill me…You look tired."

"Don't fuss, the case took off and we all worked hard on it. I rested on the jet and the whole team needs to wind down and that's what we're all going to do."

Hotch nodded but he wanted to talk about Kingsley's team on the drive, that way they would not be overheard. The Section Chief wasn't too happy about its dynamics and that put an unnecessary strain on Kingsley. Hotch picked up Reid's suitcase and lead the way out, Reid paused to switch the light off and close the door. His eyes settled briefly on the nameplate; he was home and felt worthy of the position now he'd notched up his first major case. He turned and carefully headed for the steps, Hotch was already at the bullpen level. Reid held on the handrail to steady his descent.

Across the bullpen, Kingsley and Barry observed the progress of the younger man.

"It was good to have him with us," Kingsley softly said to Barry.

"It's good that's he's still with us," Barry added and smiled as Kingsley turned to respond to the warmth in Barry's voice and the big black American nodded and returned the smile. Kingsley said no more but he was pleased that Reid was with the BAU, he just had that rare ability to form a unifying link between strong personalities and to quietly hold steady under pressure. He had obviously learnt a lot from working under Hotchner.

The Reid house had the drapes and blinds drawn with several windows indicating that there were lights on in a few rooms on the different floors. But as Spencer walked up the path to the front door he had noticed the attic lights were on and that meant Jo was busy with her artwork. She loved the attic rooms and had claimed the domain for herself. Spencer raised no objection, she was talented and JEM was building a following and her pictures could command six figure sums now.

Spencer entered his home softly and took off his messenger bag and placed it in the study, an area that was considered his personal space. Jo rarely worked in there unlike when they lived in the rented Berwyn Heights house, but he had claimed the painting of the 'apple tree' from that home for one of the study walls. It gave him a feeling of calmness and the desire to create the kind of family home that the Petersens had made. He was neither hungry nor thirsty and his inner self acknowledged that he'd been drinking too much coffee and would have some mint or camomile tea later. After hanging up his corduroy jacket and overcoat he headed slowly up the stairs to surprise his beloved wife.

When he reached the top floor he could hear the soft tones of a lute CD and instantly recognised the early 16th century pieces of the Italian Marco Dall'Aquila. Suddenly, he knew what he had to do next time he went to his office; he would take in his spare lute. Spencer was sure that its gentle tones would not disturb the bullpen and no one would hear him if his door was closed but it would be part to his working world that he had created in that room at Quantico. The musical instrument would be the final piece alongside Jo's desert painting, the chess and Go sets, coffee machine, berry red mugs and the standard professional volumes. It was with this decision that Spencer Reid felt an inner contentment settle, he was finally to be himself, in the place where Gideon had hoped he would succeed him. It had been an interesting journey but the experiences, although not always easy, had given him the strength to take up the challenges offered to him.

Spencer carefully pushed open the door that had been slightly ajar. He stood watching Jo in her old painting shirt, one of her father's old blue shirts, that was splattered in acrylic and oil paint of various colours. It was worn over a pair of old grey pants that looked as if they might have belonged to Margaret because they were not like Jo's usual denims or tailored pants. She wore an equally worn pair of once white scandals with a very low heel. Spencer smiled, few art critics or her clientele would have believed this to be the sought after JEM. Meanwhile, Jo was intent on putting the final touches to another desert scene.

The scene evoked memories of the week spent in Nevada and the last visit they had made to see his mother. Diana Reid knew he was married but the fact did not fit into Diana's version of the world. To his mother, he would always be the young bachelor son who had committed her to the institution that was now her home. The Bennington was an excellent and expensive nursing home for the mentally ill, but it was sadly also a kind of prison for Diana because with her illness she could never cope with living out in the community. The schizophrenia had taken its toll over the years and the drugs she took to control the most distressing symptoms of her mental state were beginning to effect her general health. They had visited her together and, like on previous visits, Spencer had played his lute and Jo sang for her and any residents who wished to join them in the sitting room of the east wing. Diana refused to acknowledge that Jo was his wife but she did say that she had a charming voice.

On this occasion they had also told Diana that she was to be a grandmother. Diana had stared at the pair in silence and they waited for a reaction. Spencer had hoped at least for a smile of acceptance but suddenly his mother spoke the words that he would not forget…

"I have a lecture to prepare for my students on Dante, such a wonderful topic at this time of year and your music was so appropriate, Good day," she had said and rose gracefully and turned away from them to leave the room. Dr. Anne Chow, who had stayed for their little concert and witnessed the scene, came over to them.

"I'm sorry, Spencer but your mother has only ever heard what she has wanted to hear and she gets no better. But I wish to congratulate you both on your wonderful news and hope all goes well for your pregnancy…You must be very excited," Dr. Chow said with a warm smile.

"Thank you, we are," Jo had replied covering for Spencer's silence.

He had quickly chided himself for being hurt by his mother's reaction. She was ill and couldn't help how she reacted to her environment. Most of the time she was terrified of her immediate world and often escaped into her comfortable and controlling one of the past, where she had been a successful teacher. This was Diana Reid's way of dealing with the unexpected and the unwanted changes that might be inflicted upon her.

Jo had squeezed his hand in understanding. She had not made matters worse by saying the obvious like it didn't matter because the Petersen family was thrilled about their news. Jo was sensitive enough to know that Diana could still affect him, even if he could reason her reaction away by blaming the 'illness'.

"Spencer!" Jo had turned and was now beaming at him and his tiredness seemed to recede in the smile for his homecoming. She put down her brush and reached for a 'wet wipe' in an attempt to remove the paint on her fingers.

"How long have you been standing there?" she asked as she busied herself cleaning her hands.

"Not long, it was just good to watch you and listen to the Ricercar…You don't often work to Italian lute music."

"Guess I've missed hearing you play…It's a very smoothing CD and there's some Da Crema later. Are you hungry? A drink?" she asked noting how tired he looked.

Spencer shook his head, "I'm fine for the moment, I just wanted to come home to normality. You've been very busy recently," he added looking along the far wall at the finished canvasses propped up and waiting for the finishing touch of a frame. He was an expert at smoothly directing the conversation away from work and Jo was no fool but played along.

"Yeah…I've been just full of ideas these past few months and I've got gallery space at the Art Factory for a special show in 9 weeks. I might get some good prices for the canvasses that have been lying around as well as these new ones. It will be all good for the college funds!" she replied grinning.

Spencer raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, "College funds, just how many children do you have in mind because on your current popularity, just one of these will pay school and college fees easily for a couple!"

"Well, I've always told you I've never wanted an only child and I thought you agreed on that so…at least two!"

"Right…but number one is still incubating in there," he said staring at her abdomen, "Unless it's twins?" he asked suddenly not quite sure of the answer but she usually only referred to the baby.

"No, definitely just one," she replied, "But I had a good education and its expensive so I'm doing my bit while my work is in fashion," she explained and then changed the subject.

"Like my pants? They're a pair of Mom's…" she lifted the shirted to reveal the waist band, "Draw string waist, I can't get in mine any more. I'll have to do some shopping for maternity clothes soon," she grinned triumphantly and began to unbutton the stained shirt to reveal a clean navy and white broad striped tee shirt beneath.

"You're looking less pale tonight," he said moving toward her to give her a warm embrace.

"Yeah, first day without being sick for most of it," she mumbled into his chest. It felt good to have him safely home. "Everyone happy with the outcome of the case?"

"Yeah…Things moved really quickly and the rest of the background investigation can be completed without us now, but I got her to admit her part along with the why and how they planned the murders... That's why we came back, Hotch gave me a lift home."

"Nice of him," she said rubbing her hands in a circular motion on his back. She knew he liked that and could feel his muscles relax under her touch.

Reid just let the warm contentment flow over him. He considered himself to be a very fortunate man, not only to be alive but because he also had Jo sharing his world. The job was demanding but Spencer often recalled having overheard Hotch tell Elle that he coped by giving the job 100 percent while at work, but his family got 100 per cent of his attention when he went home. Spencer felt that Hotch had got the balance right, although every agent knew that they needed that special partner who could cope with the stresses of the work and it wasn't easy. They did need some wind down time when they got home and that included Spencer now, he may no longer be an agent but he was still involved in working with distressing cases. So far, Jo had coped with the FBI demands on their time together. Spencer treasured the life he had and he hoped that the baby would make their joy of being alive even more intense and precious.

Later, that night when Spencer held close Jo's dozing body in bed, he wondered how the Bureau would react to his spare lute taking up residence at the BAU…No doubt about it, Dr. Spencer Reid was going to add a few more extra details to his growing legend!

The End.

I do have another story that belongs to this universe, with the Reids and the Hotchners and their respective families, but I plan posting it next year. But for now, I'm going to leave the newly appointed Senior Consultant and concentrate on writing some other Criminal Minds stories that have been inhabiting my imagination alongside some science fiction pieces.