Title: Standing Still (1/4)
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Summary: Whilst conducting a custodial interview, Rossi and Prentiss find the nature of their relationship shifting. Things don't go as planned on both fronts.
Author's Note: Big thanks to Windy City Dreamer, who betaed this, despite the fact that she doesn't really like the pairing, and would much prefer that I be writing Morgan/Prentiss.
Warning: Some dark imagery, and be pre-empted of the fact that Part Four will be M-rated. But you don't have to worry about that just yet.
Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still.
It's a little past eight a.m when Hotch puts the case file on his desk, not offering any form of explanation. Rossi flips it open, and the first thing he sees are the photos of mutilated corpses. The second thing he sees is the picture of the man who killed them. His eyes are dead and hollow, his hair slicked back. The smile on his face would be disconcerting to someone who hadn't seen ten times worse in their lifetime.
Robert Albright. Forty-three years old. Convicted of the rape, murder and torture of seven women. Sentenced to death by lethal injection. All appeals denied. Rossi had retired by the time Albright had started killing, but he remembers following the story in the papers, unconsciously building up a profile. Intelligent, arrogant, well-paying job. But then Albright had been caught, without the Bureau having called him for consult.
He closes the file with a little more harshness than is necessary. He'd forgone coffee this morning, on the assumption that the cut price break room stuff would have been enough to serve his needs. Of course, he hadn't counted on the coffee machine being out of commission, and he wasn't about to touch that instant crap. The taste of mouthwash still lingers, taunting him.
'I'm fairly sure this one's already solved,' he says dryly, which causes Hotch to raise an eyebrow slightly. It's the only outward sign the Unit Chief gives of amusement.
'Albright has consented to a custodial interview,' Hotch says shortly, and things start making a little more sense to Rossi. In less than a week, Robert Albright will be nothing more than another prisoner who is put to death with a deadly cocktail of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. His crimes, though, will leave an imprint upon the world, and it's an imprint that the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Behavioral Analysis Unit would like to gain a better understanding of.
'You want me to do the interview?' Rossi asks, but it's more a statement of fact than a question.
Hotch nods. 'The execution is next week,' he reveals. Then he pauses momentarily, before adding, 'You should take Prentiss with you.' He leaves without further explanation, but then Rossi opens the file once more, and takes note of the fact that all of Albright's victims were brunettes. He understands both the necessity of Prentiss' presence at the interview and Hotch's veiled hesitancy.
Rossi's not exactly worried, though. Emily Prentiss can take care of herself.
Emily puts the Styrofoam cup down, shrugging off her coat and scarf as she gets to her desk, the stifling warmth of the heaters already starting to make her feel uncomfortable. It's a startling dichotomy to the cold outside. Across from her, Morgan's on the phone, but he gives her a short wave in greeting.
She gives him a small nod in reply, reaching enthusiastically for her caffeinated salvation. Sleep hadn't come easily last night; replaced instead by one of those inevitable sessions of self-reflection that always seemed to follow cases. It's part of the reason why she's a little later than normal.
She inhales the scent of cinnamon, following up with a long sip. In her haste, she forgets just how full the cup is, and inevitably spills it over her recently degloved hands. She mutters an expletive, and, noting Morgan's silent amusement out of the corner of her eye, shoots him an irritated glare. It's not the first time this has happened, which is why there's a box of Kleenex on her desk. It's also the reason she doesn't drink in the car anymore. Soon she'll probably forgo buying coffee altogether, and simply make it when she gets in, but even that has a less than perfect success rate.
It's the closest thing she's got to a drinking problem.
She's scrubbing at the fresh dark spot on her shirt when she sees Rossi walking towards the bullpen, and unconsciously starts scrubbing a little harder. She doesn't know whether or not he saw the little incident that led to the stain, but somehow, it suddenly seems very important that he doesn't think she's a complete klutz.
'Maybe you should buy a thermos,' he suggests, telling Emily that he did see, and she feels herself blushing slightly. Hopefully, though, it won't be noticed beneath her wind-burnt cheeks.
'Are you kidding?' she asks, feigning incredulousness. 'With my luck, it'd explode in my face.' It's an exaggeration of her misfortune, and they both know it. He grins at it anyway, and passes her a case file.
She knows this case. She'd been working out of the Chicago Field Office when he'd been at his peak, and a few of her colleagues briefly investigated the disappearance of one woman before it became evident that it was a serial matter. By the end of the case, he'd killed two women from Illinois, one from Indiana, and four from Ohio. The BAU caught him torturing the eighth victim red-handed.
'What about him?' she asks, her voice taking on a comparatively somber tone.
'He's "consented to a custodial interview,"' Rossi says. 'If we leave now, we should be able to make it to Youngstown before it gets too late.'
Her lip twitches slightly. It's an interesting way of bringing it up. He's not asking if she'd like to tag along, he's treating it as a given.
'Sounds like one hell of a romantic getaway,' she quips, and almost regrets it, because the last time David Rossi was in Ohio, Zoe Hawkes died. Though he hasn't really spoken about it at length with anyone, she knows he still feels guilty. Knows that he thinks he could have done something more to save that young woman from a serial killer.
'As long as you're not going to make me listen to Peter Coyote read the Foundation Trilogy, I think we should be fine,' he says, and Emily relaxes slightly.
'Well I don't have the Foundation Trilogy,' she starts. 'But if you're interested, I could bring along Stephen Fry's rendition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy…' She doesn't mention that the only reason she owns that is because she finds Stephen Fry's voice as sexy as hell.
'I think we can survive without it.'
She doesn't have any plans for the next few days, which isn't coincidence so much as it is a fact of life. There are no phone calls she needs to make to inform anyone of her absence. No-one, save for the people she works with, that would even notice if she did go somewhere.
It's depressing. It gives her little comfort to think that the same could be said for Rossi, Morgan and Reid. JJ has Will and Henry, Garcia has Kevin, and Hotch (even if he forgets it sometimes) has Jack.
She sighs inwardly, pulling her go bag out from underneath her desk. She's fairly sure that its contents are suitable for a road-trip to Youngstown, Ohio. After all, it's not really much different from a case. All her clothes have been washed and refolded, the tiny little bottles of shampoo and conditioner refilled.
The case file she slips into her bag, fastening the brass-colored buckles. The tan leather feels soft under her fingertips, an old familiar friend.
'Got everything you need?' There's a vaguely amused tone to his voice, and for a moment she wonders if there's anything to it, or whether it's just her imagination.
It's almost ten, and they've been on the road for half an hour when she flips open her bag, navigating past her laptop and a journal article on culture conflict and crime to find the case file.
She tests the weight of it in her left hand, noting the thickness. It's even more disconcerting to think that it's mostly abridged files in there; summaries of crime scene reports and autopsies. To have included all of the details of the case would have required several boxes. If it were an actual case, rather than a custodial interview, she would have considered powering up the laptop, and opening the file attachments she had asked Garcia to send her, but she doesn't have that much battery life left, and using the laptop in the car can be as awkward as hell.
Even the abridged versions aren't exactly good bedtime reading. She's vaguely reminded of some macabre children's fairy tale. Innocent young woman is kidnapped by the evil prince. Evil prince then proceeds to torture, rape and kill the innocent young woman. Rinse and repeat. Every victim is a slightly different version of the same story. The first one, he had sliced the nipples off with a scalpel. The second, he disemboweled. The photos of Albright before the arrest show a sophisticated, clean-cut man. It seems strange to think of him as the kind of man who could perform such vile acts, but then, she's seen stranger discrepancies. Before Danny Murphy, she'd never fully appreciated the reality of a child murderer. That had put off the maternal urges for a good couple of days.
'Everything alright?' Rossi asks, his eyes leaving the road briefly to meet hers.
'It's like Snow White had a run in with the Spanish Inquisition,' she mutters, almost regretting it. There's a joke there to be made, but he doesn't make it. It's as much from the fact that he's not going to make light of their deaths as the fact that his knowledge of 1970s British comedy is lacking.
'It was a pretty gruesome one,' he admits, and she's not quite sure whether he's doing it to make her feel better, or if he's just being frank. It doesn't really make a difference, because he's right. For all the prevalence of sexual sadism in the media, it's not as common as the public would like to think. Some of their unsubs use sex and torture, but it's very rarely to this extent. Titillation at its finest.
She flips to the original psychological profile, briefly noting the name Jason Gideon on the first page. Gideon had been the Unit Chief before the Boston incident, she remembers – he probably took over after Rossi left for the first time – which means that there's a fair chance that Hotch worked this case as well. Why the Unit Chief isn't the one conducting the interview, she isn't quite sure, but she isn't about to pass up the opportunity.
Sociopath. Narcissist. Both corroborated by the post-arrest psychological evaluation, only then, they had used the words Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as though it had been more concrete when they had someone to stick the profile to.
In a way, all of these things are very good for them, but also very bad. She remembers reading a paper on interviewing sexual sadists; it all comes down to the fact that they enjoy the attention. They enjoy flaunting their supposed intellectual superiority above the interviewer. The paper had also mentioned that interviews were likely to be lengthy and exhausting. Of course, the paper had been referring to sexual sadists as suspects, and it's been a long time since Robert Albright was merely a suspect.
Still, it's a good thing she's got a week's worth of clothes in her bag.
Exactly what they're trying to learn, she's not quite sure. On a broader scale, the information will be used for the Criminal Personality Research Project. Collated and filed with dozens of other interviews. If that was the only reason for the interview, then Rossi probably would have taken Reid. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why she had been the one picked, and it's not because of her profiling skills. She's been a member of the FBI for almost thirteen years, and yet this is uncharted territory for her. Rossi's probably done a fair few of them, both as a Bureau employee, and as research for his books. She wonders if he'll use what they learn today for a new book.
Emily tries but misunderstands.
She lets the file fall to her lap, and leans back in the seat. She doesn't quite sigh, but Rossi repeats his previous question.
'How many of these have you done?' She avoids his question completely, fingers absentmindedly tapping the armrest.
He's silent for a moment; adding them all up, she thinks.
'A dozen,' he says, 'Maybe more.' It's a casual response, as if he's talking about the number of books he's read in the last week. Of course, he sounds like that a lot; a sort of blasé arrogance.
She processes that information, not entirely sure what she's gained by asking it, beyond an assurance that she's out of her depth. In fact, she's not confident that her presence is defined by anything more than the fact that she shares the physical characteristics of the victims.
The interviewer should be of detective status or above, preferably older than the suspect, and superior to him in physical stature, personality, and intelligence. The interviewer must appear confident, relaxed, and at least as calm as the suspect. Any personal feelings about the crime or the suspect must be suppressed.
'Did you want to stop for lunch somewhere?' he asks when the clock hits one, and she's immediately glad of the subject change. There's only so much rape and torture she can read about.
After an affirmative answer, he drives into a gas station just off the Interstate, where they find food that manages to somehow be both ungodly expensive and actually tastes half-decent; a rare combination in their experience. Usually it's expensive and tastes like crap.
She carefully balances her chicken sandwich, and the glass bottle of diet coke that Rossi had picked up for her while she had made a thorough examination of the station's restrooms. Her standards for restrooms aren't particularly high; a childhood of living in countries that favored the squat toilet ensured that.
'Are you going to spill that everywhere?' Rossi asks, eying the bottle of soda. He won't make jokes about the dead, but making fun of her is fair game.
'Let's just say I'll need to stop and change my shirt every few miles,' she deadpans, and he gives a short grin.
'I hope you packed for that,' is all he says.
She smiles, but grips the bottle tightly nonetheless. If physics decides to screw her over though, it's not going to be of much help.
Four hours later, and Emily's fast asleep, the case file returned to her bag, and the empty soda bottle in the bin of a rest stop fifty miles back. The drive had remained mercifully spill free.
Seeing the dark circles under her eyes, he had declined her offer to switch drivers. He's driven much longer trips than this. Back in the early days of the BAU, they never had the private jet, and travel was conducted by car, or, if they were lucky, a commercial flight. Technically speaking, they probably could have taken a commercial flight for this trip; less than an hour, compared to the nine or so that it's going to take them by car. The main problem is the cost. It's a custodial interview, which means that in the scheme of things, it isn't particularly urgent. Jet fuel is expensive, and commercial travel isn't much better. He could have paid for the flight himself – they both could have – but the Bureau has reservations about such things. Something to do with insurance.
In any case, he doesn't mind. It's good company, despite the fact that she's asleep right now. She's a good agent, and a good person, in spite of any doubts there are on her end.
She's never actually done a custodial, which had surprised him at first, because although she hasn't been in the BAU for very long, she's got a decade of Bureau experience before that. But then, experience in the Bureau doesn't necessarily equal experience in the field of serial offending, a fact which become painfully clear every time they find themselves flying out to a field office in Austin, or Reno, or any other city in the continental United States. The number of agents who still believe that some form of psychic powers is involved in profiling is astonishing.
He had almost been surprised when Hotch had told him to take Prentiss. He's got every confidence that she can handle the interview, but he's not entirely sure that he'll be able to handle the inevitable threats of a serial killer. He's not exactly the calmest person when it comes to certain situations. And that's not even taking the nature of his relationship with Emily into account.
It's a little while later when they're driving into Youngstown that he nudges Emily awake. She blinks slowly, taking stock of her surroundings.
'We're here?' Her voice still sounds tired, a lethargy that will hopefully be remedied by tomorrow morning. They're both going to need to be at their best. It might be just an interview, but it's not going to be a cakewalk.
'It's past eight,' he says, by way of greeting. 'We could grab a late dinner and go through the files at the hotel. That should give us plenty of time to get some rest before tomorrow.' Of course, he only sleeps five hours a night, so at the very least, he'll be rested.
She nods, yawning. 'That sounds good.'
'Any food preferences?'
They end up grabbing a few cartons of Chinese food from a little place off one of the main streets. Though there's a liquor store right next door, they forgo the opportunity to buy a bottle of red – they'll need clear heads tomorrow morning. He does hit the 7-11, though, and buys a box of cereal, a quarter-gallon of milk and some other bits and pieces. They won't have time to find a diner in the morning, and he wants to face the day on a full stomach.
The hotel JJ had called ahead and booked them into is a little off the beaten track, but it's close to the prison, which will be useful, especially if they end up staying longer than expected. The rooms are pretty standard fare; double bed, nightstand, table, television, bar fridge, bathroom. The beds are a little bit lumpy, and the shower is barely big enough to swing a cat in, but they've certainly stayed in far worse places. If anything, Rossi would find himself complaining about the sickly green color that the walls have been painted. It clashes horribly with the mauve bedspread, and he finds himself mentally writing out the customer feedback form to management.
They freshen up slightly before getting started; the long car ride hadn't been particularly kind on either of them. He relieves his bladder and washes his face before grabbing his briefcase and opening the adjoining door to Emily's room. She's already got the cartons of food spread out on the table, serving it out into a couple of plastic bowls that they'd picked up at the 7-11. Hotel rooms don't even have basic crockery anymore.
He pulls the only chair in the room up to the edge of the bed. Since the table's covered in half empty boxes, they're using the mauve bedspread as their workspace. Emily's sitting at the other end of the bed, cross-legged, almost looking like a kid at a sleepover. A very dangerous sleepover, he amends, noting the holster that's now sitting on the nightstand. He's still wearing his own weapon; the things he's seen, sometimes he's afraid not to, though he's not going to actually admit that to anyone, least of all himself.
They spend the next two and a half hours going over the pertinent details of the file, trying to establish the direction they'll be taking for tomorrow's interview. There's a tiny footnote on one of the pages, barely two lines, but it's enough to give them a starting point. Albright has suspected involvement in the disappearances of other women; links that could never be proven. Half a dozen women, all of whom have since been declared dead. Albright had never confessed to their murders, and their cases remain unsolved. It's leverage.
Emily stands, stretching. There's a certain tiredness in her eyes, and he's not about to deny the fact that sleep would be nice right about now. It's been a long day; not the longest they've ever had, but that's neither here nor there. What's important is that they're both at their best tomorrow morning.
He gathers the bowls and empty cartons, dumping them unceremoniously in the trash can. She brushes past him to get to the other side of the bed, where her go bag is pushed up against the wall. He catches a whiff of something that might be lavender. He's reminded briefly of piece of trivia passed on to him by Reid, in which three young boys suffered from temporary breast growth after having used shampoo with lavender and tea tree oils. But breast growth isn't something he wants to associate with Emily, so he tries to push the thought out of his mind. It doesn't really work though, as evidenced by the concerned look on Emily's face when she asks him what's wrong.
He kisses her.
He doesn't even process the thought entirely; he just leans in and catches her lips. He's surprised as hell when she actually starts kissing him back. He pulls her in closer, letting his arm snake around her waist. She makes a small noise, which at first, he thinks is satisfaction, but is proven wrong when she starts to pull away.
He lets go.
'I'm sorry,' she breathes, and for a moment, he wonders why she's the one apologizing – after all, he's the one that instigated the kiss – but then he notices where her eyes are, and he understands. Crime scene photos aren't exactly the biggest turn on.
Her face is tinged red, whether it's from embarrassment, or from the heat of the moment, he's not quite sure. 'I can't do this right now,' she says, apologetic. Her gaze jumps back towards the crime scene photos, the mutilated bodies no doubt burning into her retinas. 'I don't want to be distracted.' She finishes in a voice that suggests that she knows her words sound a little bit weak, but she doesn't particularly care right now.
'We should get some rest,' he says abruptly, and she gives him a grateful smile. He knows he shouldn't push, and yet part of him still wants to. That's probably the part of him that led to the signing of three different sets of divorce papers. He'd like to think he's learned his lesson though, because he packs his stuff and returns to his own room without bringing up the matter again. To his credit, though, it's not as awkward as it could have been.
He kicks off his shoes and socks, unbuckles his belt. His pajamas are sitting on the top of his ready bag. Usually, he doesn't bother with the things. If he's on a case, then chances are they'll be up into all hours of the evening. This trip has some semblance of a nine to five life, though, so he shrugs off his jacket, shirt and pants, and pulls on the flannelette bottoms.
After he's made himself comfortable beneath the mauve quilt, it doesn't take long for him to drift into a slightly uneasy sleep.
After all, tomorrow's going to be a long day.