Clowning Around

***

'Absolutely not. There is no way in hell I'm doing this, Hotch.' Morgan is stubborn, almost aggressive in his refusal. And with good reason. This isn't exactly a career defining moment for him.

'You won't be alone,' persists Hotch. 'Reid and Prentiss will be with you.'

But it isn't about going in alone. 'This is about my dignity, man,' he says, frustrated. Not even the thought of Reid and Prentiss having to endure the same humiliation as him is enough to sway his opinion.

There is no way that Derek Morgan is going to Clown College.

Hotch raises an eyebrow. 'This isn't a request, Morgan. There are three training groups – we need three people to go undercover. Rossi refuses to shave his beard, JJ's still breastfeeding, and they already know who I am. You're going in.'

Morgan storms off in a huff.

***

There's a potential serial killer at the Delphinus Institute for Comedic Studies. A note left on the desk of the Dean of Clowns informs of the unsub's intent to murder as many "CITs," or Clowns in Training as possible in this semester of classes. The note is sent to the BAU. The BAU believe that it is a serious threat. Their preliminary profile assumes that one of the instructors is responsible, but they find themselves unable to determine which instructor. Undercover missions are usually fairly uncommon, but this year in the Bureau, there is a budget surplus.

Which means that they are going in.

Only the best are taken into the Delphinus Institute. If you're unfit, or uncoordinated, or unable to tie balloon animals with your feet whilst standing on your head, then you're best to enroll yourself in another institution. Delphinus graduates are prepared for any situation circus life requires, from selling tickets at the admission booth, to doing triple flips from the trapeze. They leave the Institute as well-rounded individuals, ready to take a pie to the face.

The FBI has an easy way in. They have Garcia.

This is why the fake Derek Morgan's records have him listed as an Olympic-class gymnast who only missed the games because of a torn ligament in his right knee. It's why the fake Spencer Reid's records have him listed as a reasonably successful prestidigitator, a label that isn't so far from the truth. It's why the fake Emily Prentiss' records have her listed as a former veterinarian, who is particularly skilled in making dogs jump through hoops.

They are all accepted immediately.

***

It's day one of the ninety-two day course. The first week involves basic skills – making sure everyone can juggle, make silly faces and so on and so forth. After the first week, the course takes a more serious turn. The students learn the tricks of the trade. They learn clown etiquette. They learn that anyone can be a clown. It takes someone special to be a Clown.

Thanks to Garcia's handy intervention, Reid, Morgan and Prentiss are each sorted into one of the training groups. It's mixed feelings; they're apprehensive to be alone, and yet ultimately, they're glad that there are limited opportunities for the others to see them act like a complete idiot.

***

Reid is unpacking his back into a set of drawers in the far corner of the room. It's a double room, and his bunkmate has not yet arrived. Their instructions were to bring very few clothes, as after the first two weeks, they would be forced to wear a clown costume of their own design.

As he's refolding one of three vests that he's packed, Reid hears a knock on the door.

'Come in,' he calls out.

A second later, he's taken aback.

His roommate is almost six foot six, bulging with muscles, and dressed in full clown regalia. Staring down at himself, the man grins nervously.

'I thought I'd, uh…bring my own costume,' he says. 'I guess I'm a little overenthusiastic.'

Reid nods, and then quickly shakes his head. 'It's alright,' he says. 'I brought my own juggling balls.'

And he did. They're red leather things, packed away in the bottom of his duffle bag. He's had them since he was nine years old, teaching himself magic. If you catch him on the right day, he can make them disappear with a wave of his hand.

John Lewis is his roommate's name – a failed actor from California. He is determined to make a stage debut in one form or another, and becoming a clown seemed like the most interesting option. He's friendly, unassuming.

Already, Reid likes him.

***

Prentiss' roommate is far less amiable. Arrogant, obnoxious and a plain pain in the ass, Tiffany Booth joined the Delphinus Institute to piss off her parents. The first thing she does upon entering the room is complain. She complains about the size of the room. She complains about the color of the walls. Prentiss keeps her game face. She's used to rich snobs. Used to ignoring them, or pretending she cares about whatever unimportant issue they're talking about.

'And, like…they think that I should go to college, and have a career, and I'm like, "Mom, I'm nineteen. My boyfriend has a job – why do I need to?" And she's like, "Well, Tiffany, if you don't go to college, you aren't getting that car that you want so much for your birthday." So I enrolled in a college, right?'

'Yep,' says Prentiss, and for one fleeting second, she hopes that there really is a killer out there, and that they'll decide to murder Tiffany Booth first.

'Hey, Emily? Do you think they'll let me pick my own clown makeup? I mean…that white stuff is great, but it makes you like kind of…I dunno…pasty?' She gives Prentiss a quick look. 'Of course, being pale is okay, I mean…it's a choice, sure…'

She keeps talking, but Prentiss isn't listening anymore.

She thinks she's going to learn just how long ninety-two days can be.

***

Morgan's roommate is a short, wiry man. He's quiet, and the last person Morgan would pick to be a clown. In some ways, he is reminiscent of Reid, diligently studying a well-thumbed copy of "So You Want to Be a Clown."

His name is Clifford Crichton, and he is a Physics graduate student from Ohio. Why does he want to be a clown?

He shrugs. 'I don't know. I guess I just woke up one morning thinking, "what have I done with my life?" At seven years old I was solving algebra equations, when every other kid wanted to run away and join the circus. I guess this is my inner child, living through me vicariously.' It's the most he speaks for the entire time Morgan knows him, as if he's trying to get it all out in one shot.

The revelation makes Morgan think. The people here are just regular people. They aren't of a particular personality type, or a particular race or religion. They're just people who woke up one morning and decided "I'm going to be a clown."

And that, he thinks, is more courageous than tackling serial killers, or staring down cannibals.

***

The three training groups eat breakfast together in the dining hall. Mealtimes are the only part of the day in which Morgan, Prentiss and Reid can interact with each other, weekends aside. The rest of the time is spent with their own group.

'Can I sit here?' Morgan asks Prentiss pointedly, gesturing to the empty seat beside her. She is sitting at a table in the far corner, hoping like hell that Tiffany Booth doesn't want to sit anywhere near them.

'Of course. I'm Emily.' They're keeping up appearances. She holds out a hand for him to shake.

'Derek.'

Soon, they are joined by Reid, and when the din of voices is loud enough, they find their chance to talk properly.

Their profile of the note puts the unsub in the category of white male, in his forties, a description which matches none of the people they've met so far.

Their time together is short, and soon, they depart for their first class.

The History of Coulrology.

***

Morgan taps his pen against the desk.

It's the fourth day of classes, and he's already learnt far more than he needs to know about clowns. He imagines that Reid is probably soaking all the information up. Their human sponge.

Instead of listening, Morgan is profiling every member of the class. He's looking at the (admittedly rather spry) eighty-year old in the front row, and the forty-year old suit that's sitting to his left. He's looking at the soccer mom that's taking diligent notes, and the college dropout that keeps popping his gum.

He jerks back to attention when he hears his name being called. 'I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?' He says it with as much politeness as he can muster. After all, he left college a long time ago.

Their professor is a white man, around forty-five. His name is Niles Wilkins. He fits the profile. And now he's giving Morgan a dressing-down for not paying attention in class.

'…this isn't Mime School, Mr. Morgan. We expect a certain level of conscientiousness from our students. You'll never make it as a Clown if all you're going to do is goof off in class.' The irony of his words is evident to at least one other person.

'Detention, Mr. Huff. You will not undermine my authority. And you, Mr. Morgan. My office, this afternoon.'

Morgan swears.

***

It's five o'clock on the sixth day when they find the first body. It's a Saturday, which means they're free to engage in social activities. Reid is going to meet Morgan and Prentiss behind the pie range when he sees the feet sticking out from the bushes.

He gives a strangled cry, more to keep up appearances that from any actual shock. God knows he's seen bodies worse than this.

Morgan and Prentiss are first on the scene. They act shocked, when mostly, they're feeling frustration for not being able to stop this.

Morgan stares at the face. It's Gerald Huff, twenty-eight, son of some oil tycoon, and the man that he spent most of Thursday afternoon in detention with. That gives the professor possible motive. He whispers this to Reid and Prentiss quietly before anyone else gets there.

The students are eventually ushered away by the Dean of Clowns. He's wearing a black suit, in conjunction with a fully made-up face. It's disconcerting, like something out of a bad horror movie. Looking flustered, he immediately pulls out his phone.

'Agent Hotchner,' he says eventually. 'This has gotten out of hand.'

***

The show must go on, is what they are all told. So in spite of the fact that a dead man was found this morning, his face painted with clown make-up, they're still forced to complete their weekend assignment. Designing a clown costume.

'Did you know that a clown can register his make-up with the Clowns International, in England? It's sort of a copyright, so that no professional clown can steal another one's design.'

They're in the Clowning History section of the library, voices low. Though they are talking about the case, each has their share of scrunched up pieces of paper detailing a variety of designs.

Morgan isn't looking forward to Monday.

'Do we think that this killer is using a particular type of clowning ritual, or is he trying to throw us off?'

'The victim was made to look like an "Auguste" clown,' supplies Reid. At Morgan's confused expression, he raises an eyebrow. 'Were you even listening in class, Morgan?' It's an answer that they all already know the question to. Shrugging, Reid continues. 'The clown partnership is usually made up of the Whiteface and the Auguste. The Whiteface is the leader, usually more serious and arrogant. The Auguste is the joker, who has a much lower status than the Whiteface. The Whiteface will boss the Auguste around, and the Auguste will fail to perform the task at hand, either out of incompetence, or because he purposefully messes up. This is what usually supplies the humor in the situation.'

Morgan's heart skips a beat. 'The victim. Gerald Huff. Professor Wilkins accused him of trying to undermine his authority.'

'You're saying Wilkins is the Whiteface in this thing?' asks Prentiss. 'Then why didn't he kill you? You gave a more direct display of disobeying him, right?'

Morgan shrugs. 'It's just a theory.'

Their whispered conversation is interrupted by a throat being cleared. They jump back quickly.

The Dean of Clowns is standing there with a rather smug looking David Rossi.

'This FBI Agent would like to talk to the all the students regarding the unfortunate death of Mr. Huff. If the three of you would like to see him one at a time…' He trails off, leaving the situation in Rossi's hands. The moment the Dean is out of the room, Rossi gives them a warm smile.

'So how's Clown College?'

They give him a brief rundown of the situation. After that, the conversation moves to other things.

'No, no,' Rossi says. 'Reid, you're definitely an Auguste. Someone of your caliber could never be a Whiteface. You can be naïve sometimes, it's true, but you're not above being a trickster.'

'Okay, okay,' interrupts Morgan. He gets the feeling that he's going to be next, and out of the ordinary though it is, this still feels like profiling. 'You need to go talk to Wilkins.'

'Talking to the other professors, Huff had the makings of a great clown,' Rossi tells them. 'See what you can find from that.'

And then, he bids them farewell.

***

On the tenth day, Prentiss is just about ready to kill herself. Tiffany was on the phone to her boyfriend until two o'clock in the morning, and Prentiss is running on little to no sleep. It's so bad that she doesn't see the body at first. She walks past it, oblivious. Then, she double-takes, and walks back.

It's Tiffany.

It's the one time Prentiss has seen her not complaining, and that's because she's stone cold dead. Throat slit, just like the first victim. If, by some strange magic, she were to be brought back to life, she wouldn't even be able to complain, because the cut is at least an inch deep. This was done in anger.

Prentiss runs to find someone. Anyone.

Two minutes later, she returns with the Dean of Clowns. She watches him as he examines the body. Frowning, she realizes that he doesn't look shocked, doesn't look particularly angered. He looks…content. Of course, he's trying to hide it. The signs are there for behavioral analysts to pick up and, unfortunately for the Dean of Clowns, he's got one standing right next to him.

'Do you think it's the same person who killed Gerald?' asks Prentiss in her attempted at sounding terrified. It's not something that she's often had to fake.

'I think it could be,' the Dean says carefully, and in that moment, she knows that he knows something. Whether he is the killer or not is another matter altogether. In any case, she vows to keep a closer eye on him, and she'll make sure that Morgan and Reid do too.

'You should go back to your studies,' he tells her absent-mindedly. 'Remember that your costume and make-up need to be ready for classes tomorrow.' He's trying to get rid of her, she realizes. It could mean that he left something at the scene.

'Won't the FBI want to speak to me?' she asks nervously. She's not nervous. She's got a transmitter in her pocket that's sending everything she's saying right back to Garcia. Hotch and Rossi will come calling soon enough.

Sure enough, just seconds later, she sees Rossi striding across the room. She straightens.

'Your secretary called me,' Rossi tells the Dean. 'Is this the woman that found the body?'

The Dean nods.

'I just need to talk to her alone, if you could give us a moment.'

'You think he's good for this?' Rossi asks the moment the Dean is out of earshot.

Emily bites her lip. She's not usually one to drop accusations on everyone she meets, but the Dean had acted rather suspiciously. She thinks back to the first scene, tries to recall his behavior. It had been a little more subdued then, she thinks.

'It's possible.' Is the answer she settles on. 'He wanted me out of the way. He might have left something on the body.'

He nods. 'Okay. You should go now.'

She turns to leave, but he hasn't finished.

'And Emily?' He nods towards the bag she's holding awkwardly in her left hand. 'It'll look great.'

His departing gesture is a wink.

***

It's the twelfth day, and they're wearing their clown costumes for the first time. The three training groups have congregated, and Derek Morgan is standing in a corner, trying desperately to disappear beneath his bright red wig.

'Don't say a word,' he tells the approaching Reid. 'Don't say a God damn word.'

It had been bad enough hitting himself in the face with a juggling ball. It had been bad enough that, in his enthusiasm, had pied the instructor's face on his first throw. This, though. This was downright humiliating. His face is painted entirely white, with thin black lines through the eyes. The lips, too, are black. He'd tried to go for something of a "street-savvy" clown, but in his opinion, he looks like a complete idiot.

'You look fine,' Prentiss reassures him.

'So why are you laughing?'

'I'm not laughing,' she protests. 'It's all the face!'

And at that moment, their relatively light-hearted conversation is interrupted by an earth-shattering scream.

***

It's coming from the big top. Before it can even stop, Prentiss, Reid and Morgan are on the move. What they're wearing doesn't matter. Beneath it all, they are what they have always been. Ass-kicking FBI Agents.

The Dean of Clowns is standing in the center of the arena with a bloody knife in his hand. Morgan's roommate – Clifford Crichton – is clutching at his bleeding neck. They don't have time to agonize over their failures.

'Drop the knife, Dean,' Morgan calls out. He's feeling oddly naked without his Glock 17.

And then suddenly, the Dean is running. Morgan looks to his left. There's a table with nothing on it but cream pies.

He remembers his football days. He puts every ounce of his strength into the throw. It takes the Dean in the back of the head. It's enough to distract him, but only momentarily. By that time, the three agents are already moving.

'Get me a bucket of water!' commands Morgan, who is leading the fray. Fumbling with a bucket, Reid manages to spill most of the water onto himself before getting the bucket to Morgan. So focused on the Dean, Morgan fails to notice that the bucket is empty when he throws it in the Dean's direction.

In floppy shoes five sizes too big, running is difficult. While trying to flank the Dean's left, Prentiss manages to trip all three of the team up, sending them crashing into the fleeing clown.

A tangle of feet, baggy pants and fake noses, the four individuals are met with the sight of three FBI agents, two of them looking highly amused.

'You're under arrest, Dean,' says Hotch, rummaging through the pile of bodies to try and find the Dean's wrists.

'They could have been anything!' yelled the Dean, and six sets of eyes roll. The inevitable post-takedown rant. 'They could have been anything they wanted, and they chose to go to clown college! They had all the opportunities I didn't! They're wastes of space, I tell you!'

And Hotch leads him a way, a firm grip on his wrists.

JJ tends to Clifford Crichton, whilst Rossi helps his teammates off the floor.

None of them look amused.

***

The head of the Delphinus College of Comedic Studies has a strange look on his face. Children were afraid enough of clowns as it was – then the Dean had to go and become a serial killer?

'Thank-you for your help,' he tells the three members of the BAU who had, until ten minutes ago, been undercover as clowns. They are now sans makeup, and back in their own clothes.

'Though I must express my regrets at your status. You gave a fine performance in your takedown. I'm sure you all would have made exceptional clowns.'

Morgan frowns. 'Wait, how did you see that? We were the only ones there.'

The head of the school smiles. 'We have security cameras in the big top,' he explains. 'I'm quite certain this footage will go on our promotional videos. With due credit attached, of course.'

Morgan's lip twitches.

***

Two days later, they're back at the BAU, and Derek Morgan is pissed as hell.

'Who put this up?' he's yelling. 'Who?'

It's a picture of the three of them in full costume, complete with the subtitle: "Finest Minds in the FBI."

'Ten bucks it was Garcia,' says Prentiss bitterly. She's still limping slightly from their ungainly takedown of the unsub.

The thought of it being Garcia doesn't seem to comfort Morgan. He's still got an angry look on his face.

Reid nudges Prentiss. 'I guess we know who the serious, arrogant one is,' he mutters.

Prentiss laughs.

Sometimes, all they can ever do is laugh.