Point of Authority
By Clarity Scifiroots
Fandom: Criminal Minds (Disclaimers apply! This is a fan's work.)
Characters: Hotch, Reid, Gideon, Prentiss, Morgan, Elle, JJ, Garcia
Genre: AU, pre-slash (Hotch/Reid)
Warnings: Allusions to physical and sexual abuse
Spoilers: The Fisher King episodes & aftermath
Summary: In an alternate reality, the BAU team is called to Las Vegas to determine if the right man was convicted in a series of murders. (Yeah, this is probably the beginning of a series…)
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"Las Vegas, Nevada," JJ announced as the final member of the Behavioral Analysis Unit team took a seat at the conference table. She pressed the remote to bring up pictures of three dead women on the screen. There was no blood in the top two photos; one of the women looked as if she'd died in her sleep. The bottom picture showed a woman covered in bruises and blood.
"Why did the police connect these three crimes?" Emily Prentiss asked, frowning. "The third woman died under very different circumstances."
JJ moved forward, the next screen presenting three cameo photos. Each woman sat with one or two other people – probably family members – but their expressions were distant and paid no attention to the camera. "All three women were being treated for schizophrenia. They're within the same age range of forty to forty-five, and they knew each other."
Unit chief Aaron Hotchner looked up from his copy of the file. "JJ, it says the locals already convicted someone for the murders four months ago."
"There's been a fourth," she answered, flipping to another page – family photo on the left and the crime scene on the right. There was blood on an overturned end table and underneath the woman's head. "She didn't know the other women, as far as local police can tell, but she fits the other victimology aspects. Local law enforcement is basically divided into two different camps. One side believes they convicted the right man and this is a copycat killing, the other side wants assurance that they didn't get the wrong guy."
"Does anyone think this, uh…" Derek Morgan flipped through the file to get the name, "Spencer Reid is innocent?"
"I don't know."
Hotch nodded to his team as he stood. "Meet at the jet in one hour."
Elle Greenaway lingered behind with JJ, an unreadable expression on her face. In the doorway Jason Gideon stopped to watch.
"Do you have more information on Reid?" Elle asked, her folder opened to the booking photo of a weary-looking young man with chin-length hair and bright eyes.
"I've provided everything they sent," JJ said, tilting her head in silent question.
Elle pursed her lips, shaking her head slowly as she stared down at the folder. "He wouldn't last."
"What?" JJ's gaze flickered to Gideon. Elle had been having some dramatic mood swings in the months since being shot in her own home by an unsub.
"Look at him!" Elle laughed bitterly. "You think anyone would leave a kid like him alone in prison? Jesus, if he wasn't so damn tired he'd look like jailbait."
Gideon stepped in with the quiet comment, "You don't know if he's innocent."
Elle shut her folder and turned to face him. Her eyes hard, she said, "And what if he is?" She left the room before either could answer.
Hotch assigned Elle to the newest crime scene, ignoring her angry glare when he announced he'd take Prentiss to interview Reid. He was relieved that Prentiss didn't comment about Elle's behavior on their way to the prison. Instead she focused on the expanded file they'd received on Spencer Reid.
"He's a genius, Hotch. Literally. Three PhDs, two completed BAs, and prior to his conviction he was working on a third undergraduate degree. Graduated high school at age twelve. It was just him and his mother after the father left when he was ten." She frowned as she skimmed some portions of the initial police interview. "Do you really think he'd kill his mother? It seems… unusual that she was the only one who showed significant signs of self defense. It doesn't fit with the idea of a mercy killing."
"I doubt any of these women wanted to die; and if Diana Reid was in one of her paranoid episodes, it would be much harder to subdue her."
Prentiss didn't say anything else until the security gate came in sight.
"I have a bad feeling about this."
"I need you to remain objective," Hotch cautioned. "We don't have enough information yet to decide one way or the other." Prentiss nodded.
A guard had taken the precaution to lock Reid's handcuffs to the table before the FBI arrived. Hotch entered the room with Prentiss a step behind. Although Reid sat up straight and had his hands folded in front of him, he didn't lift his head when the door opened.
Hotch assessed the young man as he moved to his seat. Reid's hair was now short and haphazardly cut, tufts of hair sticking up at odd angles. The knuckles of his right hand were scraped. A large, yellowing bruise in the shape of fingers framed his elbow. A fresh, pink scar disappeared beneath his shirt collar. Hotch had a suspicion as to why the young man kept his head down.
Prentiss took over introductions. "Dr. Reid," she began respectfully, "I'm Special Agent Emily Prentiss from the FBI. This is Special Agent Hotchner."
Reid twitched at the word FBI. It took him a moment to answer. "There's another murder." He glanced up, lifting his face just a little. A dark bruise ringed one eye and the lids could barely open. He flashed a humorless smirk when he saw Hotch frown.
"What makes you say that?" Prentiss asked.
"It's the logical conclusion to draw. If there's been another murder, it casts doubt onto the guilty verdict and the locals know they'll need outside help to determine whether or not this is a copycat."
"Are you suggesting it is a copycat?" Hotch asked.
Reid's expression tightened. "I maintain my innocence. I am not guilty."
"Apparently a jury found compelling evidence to say otherwise."
"Why would I kill my mother, her friend, and a woman who was trying to help them both?" Reid's chin lifted, revealing a split lip and yellow-green bruises along his lower jaw – more fingerprints. For a moment Hotch ignored the young man's words as a jolt of cold shot along his spine.
Prentiss calmly said, "There is a theory that these were mercy killings."
Reid grimaced. "My mother was ill, not miserable," he said in a tight voice. "You have the reports. You know she fought."
"You said one of the women was trying to help?" Hotch prompted.
"Ms. Grenwitch. Her schizophrenia responded well to medication and other therapy. She functioned on her own much better than my mother did. Ms. Grenwitch did a couple of support groups, usually for families to help them—us understand."
"It must have been difficult to care for her," Prentiss said.
Reid stared at her. "I loved my mom. Yeah, it was difficult, but I had studied care options for years. I was prepared to make the best possible arrangements for her if I couldn't care for her by myself anymore."
"So you didn't see her has a burden? What about the other families?"
"You'll have to ask them." Reid's expression went blank and Hotch knew the conversation was over.
"We will." Hotch stood and Prentiss followed his lead. "If you think of anything that could help us close this case, we can speak again later." Reid said nothing, eyes fixed on his hands.
Prentiss had opened the door when Reid asked, "What unit?"
"Which unit of the FBI?"
Hotch studied Reid as he answered, "BAU. Beha—"
"Behavioral Analysis Unit." A twisted smile, more like a grimace, crossed the man's face. "Ironic," he muttered, ducking his head. Hotch shot Prentiss a look and she shook her head slightly; neither of them thought Reid would elaborate right now.
As soon as they'd cleared the building, Prentiss pulled her cell phone out and dialed for Garcia. She pressed the button for speaker just as the last ring sounded.
"You have reached the temple of the All-Knowing Goddess," came the perky greeting.
"I need you to run the name Spencer Reid in connection to anything related to the FBI," Hotch said without preamble.
"Yessir!" Seconds later she gave a startled noise of surprise as one of her computers beeped. "This is weird, sir. Doctor Spencer Reid of Las Vegas, Nevada?"
"Yes," Prentiss frowned at her phone. "What's weird?"
"He filled out an application to join the BAU."
Hotch tapped Reid's folder against his thigh, running the interview over in his mind.
Prentiss said, "Garcia, can you dig up some more information about Dr. Reid's interest in the FBI? And his relationship with his mother."
Prentiss snapped her phone shut and looked over at Hotch. "You know that bad feeling I had? It just got worse."
Hotch didn't say anything, pushing aside his own unease as they got into the car.
The BAU team appropriated a small conference room set apart from the squad room at the police station. The two lead detectives from the previous homicides and their supervisor joined them as they analyzed the available evidence.
Four hours later, Gideon turned to the locals with a grim expression. "Gentlemen, I believe there's still a killer on the loose."
Chief Brandon Crawford's lips thinned.
"Fuck me," hissed Jack Lind. "No. We did everything right. We did our jobs and a jury approved!" He jabbed his finger at the team. "You were not here last year. You didn't do the legwork. It was a good conviction!"
"We'll need to talk to the families of the other victims," Gideon announced calmly. "Detective Lind, would you prefer to let an innocent man sit in jail instead of pursuing an alternative avenue?"
"You don't know for sure, yet," Lind's partner muttered, but his expression gave away his unease.
"I trust we'll find the evidence leading to a different perpetrator."
Elle and Morgan were partnered to talk to the daughter and son-in-law of Linda Wells, the first victim. Hotch took Prentiss to see Lynette Grenwitch's family. Gideon recruited JJ for a different aspect of the case.
"Sir?" JJ questioned as Gideon set a stack of print-outs in front of her. He held the police's file on Reid under one arm.
"This case is more than finding our unsub. I need you on Spencer Reid. Those are from Garcia. Connect with her. I'll be out to see the latest family, but I want to be kept up-to-date."
"Any suggestions on what I should be looking for?" she asked, flipping through the top pages of Garcia's fax. "I mean, won't it be the capture of the unsub that will clear this guy's name?"
Gideon offered her a familiar mysterious smile. As he walked out the door he murmured, "I want to know this kid."
Hotch wasn't sure how he ended up not going out to find Robert Hatch – the man almost certainly their unsub – and instead checked his weapons once again at the prison. Outside the interview room he found a middle-aged woman in a pantsuit eyeing him warily. She had a briefcase in one hand.
"Special Agent Aaron Hotchner," she greeted coolly.
He nodded. "Dr. Reid's lawyer, I presume?"
Curious, Hotch cast his gaze to the clear barrier to eye the young man hunched over the table inside. At least this time he hadn't been chained in place. Hotch's attention turned back to the lawyer. "You've heard that my team believes your client has been falsely incarcerated?"
She smiled cynically. "And it only took nine months for any real effort to seek out an alternative theory. I should be preparing files to sue."
"That's up to you and your client, ma'am."
She snorted softly and glanced back at her client. "He doesn't care for my presence right now. I already informed the guard I'll be in there in a flash if it looks like anything untoward happens. Any and all information that can clear my client will be made available to me, understand?"
Hotch admired her dedication. He offered his hand to her as he said, "Of course. I believe you should have received some of our results already."
She shook his hand with a firm grip. With a tight nod, she gestured for him to enter. Hotch hid a smile at her act of gatekeeper.
"Dr. Reid," he greeted on his way to the table. "You've been informed that we've found evidence of your innocence?" The young man didn't look up and in fact hunched over a little further when Hotch sat down. Prentiss's bad feeling was catching, Hotch decided as a knot of dread formed in his gut. "Dr. Reid," he said quietly. "Are you all right?"
A gusty sound that might have been a chuckle came from Reid. "One-hundred twenty-three days."
"The days I've been here, Agent Hotchner."
Reid's voice sounded hoarse. Hotch turned his head to look for bruises on Reid's neck and found them all too quickly. "Does this happen often?"
"What?" Reid's head lifted enough for him to glance at Hotch in confusion. When he found Hotch staring back, he ducked his head again.
"You have new bruises," Hotch stated.
Reid didn't speak for some time. Hotch sent a glare at the guard in the corner. The man there stared back, lips tight. Hotch frowned at him but admitted he felt relieved that the guard expressed disapproval.
"You already know," Reid finally said. He slid a hand over his tufted hair, fingers smoothing back a longer section behind his ear. As he moved, Hotch realized he could see teeth marks at the base of his neck. "You're the profiler, tell me what happened in here. You don't have to guess."
Hotch closed his eyes and took a moment to keep his breathing even. Reid was right, he could vividly imagine just what the young man would have faced.
"You will get out," Hotch asserted. He stared at Reid, half hoping he'd look up yet dreading what other damage he might find.
"Then at least I won't die here," Reid said, lifting his face. A wry smile crossed his lips. His black eye was a sickening shade of green-purple after two days, the finger-shaped bruises along his jaw were fading, but his split lip clearly wasn't getting the chance to heal over.
Hotch had the surprising urge to say sorry. He didn't know why, obviously an apology would do nothing and he himself had nothing to apologize for. In fact he was aiding the young man in finding justice for his mother and prove his innocence.
When Hotch refocused, he realized Reid was studiously observing him. He couldn't resist asking, "What do you see?"
Reid looked startled by the question. After a moment amusement flickered in his gaze. "You found out I applied for the BAU?" Hotch nodded, leaving his expression open in invitation for Reid to answer.
"I see a man in his mid-thirties, presenting confidence despite inner doubts. You used to be married but it's been some months since the divorce." Hotch resisted the urge to glance down at his hand, rather surprised that Reid had noticed the slight color difference where he used to wear his wedding band. "You probably lost her because you're focused on your job. You're stressed by the work but still dedicated to the cause. I doubt you care about promotion, which means you're probably attached to your team in more than a professional capacity." Reid stopped, gaze roaming over the FBI agent. Hotch managed not to twitch despite how he felt that Reid seemed to see beneath his skin.
Eventually Reid observed, "You wanted to test me." He tilted his head slightly in acknowledgement. "Your posture tells me I was right and you're uncomfortable being profiled." He gave a small smile, finally something genuine. "I'm sure there's some agreement about not profiling coworkers, so you don't get this a lot."
Hotch said, "It seems you'd cleared a significant portion of the approval process for your application."
Reid looked away, mouth tight.
"It didn't make it to my desk."
"Something came up," Reid responded dryly.
"I would have hired you."
Reid glanced sharply at him, his eyes narrowed in anger. The anger faded, replaced with regret that was quickly covered with a deceptively blank expression. Hotch hid a sigh.
"Dr. Reid, we've handed your lawyer enough evidence to start your release process." His gaze traced the numerous marks on pale skin. "And I promise you that you'll be moved immediately to a smaller facility."
"Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world." Reid responded to Hotch's silent question, "The Talmud. It's a Judaic text of rabbinic discussions." He paused, seeming to consider whether he should continue.
"You have no reason to be guilty, Agent Hotchner." Reid glanced down and his fingers strayed again to his hair to brush it behind his ear.
Hotch realized that the gesture was useless and more likely an indication of nervousness. Having no idea what else he could say, Hotch looked at his watch and decided it was time to return to the station. He stood and offered his hand to the young man. "I have a case to close, Dr. Reid."
Reid stared at his hand skeptically for a moment before accepting. His fingers were boney and his grip not quite as firm as his lawyer's.
"Will you come to talk with me when you catch the guy?"
Somehow the request startled Hotch. "I'll be sure you're informed."
Reid's grip tightened for a moment. He clarified, "No. Will you tell me?"
Hotch wasn't sure why it was important for Reid to see him again. "We'll see."
The young man retracted his hand and looked away, his expression closing off. Hotch opened his mouth, tempted to promise that yes, he would come back to see Reid, but the possibility that he might break that promise worried him.
Hotch stepped out of the car with his sunglasses on. He looked around the tarmac, watching the heat waves blurring his vision in Las Vegas' desert heat. He'd kept busy with paperwork during the past twenty-four hours and checking in on Reid's situation. He hadn't gone to see the young man, though Prentiss did.
Gideon clapped a hand on Hotch's shoulder and gave him a small shove towards the jet. "I noticed you didn't go back," he commented.
Shrugging, Hotch said, "I had other things that needed to be done."
The noncommittal hum from Gideon made it clear the older man had another theory. Hotch decided not to pursue that.
Morgan started a game of cards, recruiting the women to play. Gideon played a game of chess against himself. Hotch tried to read and instead ended up closing his eyes and dozed off. He dreamed in his half-asleep state, images of Spencer Reid sitting across the interview table in his mind. He recalled the images of Reid as he had been – long hair, a quirky smile, wearing a shirt and vest.
Garcia walked quickly down the hall, her bright pink heels click-clicking in a staccato beat. She was grinning.
"Hey baby girl, you're looking smug!"
Garcia blew a kiss at Morgan. "Later, Angel," she promised, making her way up to Hotch's office. She was disappointed to find him absent. She looked in next door and found Gideon. He lifted an eyebrow in silent question.
"Where's our fearless leader?" she asked.
She grinned. "Hoo yeah. It's about Elle's replacement!"
Gideon's lips twitched up in his mysterious smile. Garcia pursued her lips as she considered his expression. After a moment she rolled her eyes. "You already know!" she complained. "I bet you even helped push it."
"I know you had something to do with it," Gideon replied, returning his attention to the file on his desk.
Determining that was a dismissal, Garcia turned on her heel. Before she could take more than two steps, Gideon told her, "Don't tell Hotch!"
Well that was interesting.
Hotch washed his face in the men's bathroom. With a grimace at his reflection, he started to shave. After he'd finished his morning routine (except in an office restroom rather than home), he returned to his office to change clothes, apply fresh deodorant, and grab his wallet. He went out to find a large cup of quality coffee, knowing he'd need it to get through the day.
JJ had hinted at a couple case possibilities yesterday afternoon and Hotch had only finished the latest reports at two a.m.. Sometime this week Elle's replacement would arrive. Although he and the team missed her, Hotch was relieved she'd voluntarily stepped away. He hoped she'd keep her future appointments with a Bureau psychologist to help her resolve the issues haunting her from the Fisher King case.
Armed with a cup of coffee, Hotch returned to the office just as Prentiss took off her jacket. She smiled at him and shook her head when she saw the coffee. His team knew when he'd spent the night. The rest of the team arrived in the next thirty minutes and Hotch could hear snippets of a lively conversation coming from the bullpen.
Hotch returned from lunch to find he had company. A thin, long-haired man stood at his office window, staring outside. It took a few moments for Hotch to recognize the face, now free of bruises and cuts. He cleared his throat and Spencer Reid turned to him with a small smile.
"Sir," Reid said.
"Dr. Reid, this is a surprise." Hotch walked to his desk, relieved that he felt less unbalanced when he sank into his chair. "Have a seat. What can I do for you?"
Reid's brow furrowed and he nervously tucked his hair behind his ear. "Um, sir?" His gaze darted to the door and the interior window overlooking the bullpen. Hesitantly he sat in one of the chairs across from Hotch. "I believe I'm assigned to your team…?"
Hotch didn't bother to hide his surprise. "Oh." He stared at the young man dumbly for a few seconds before he realized he should have a note on his computer. He searched for information on his new agent, confused as to why he couldn't find the data right away. He eventually found it and realized Garcia likely had something to do with its misplacement, although he didn't know why she'd do so.
He took a moment to read the notice and then turned back to Reid with a smile. "I apologize for the confusion. Welcome to the team." He held out his hand. This time Reid's handshake was firm and his fingers didn't feel so skeletal. Unsurprisingly, the young man looked significantly healthier overall.
Morgan's laughter from below signified the team's arrival. Hotch stood and gestured to the door. "Let me introduce you to the rest of the team and show you to your desk."
Gideon waited outside, greeting Hotch with a small grin as their eyes met.
"Dr. Reid, it's a pleasure to meet you," Gideon said. He introduced himself and invited the younger man for a game of chess sometime in the near future. Hotch noticed the surprise on Reid's face at the offer.
As they went down the ramp, Hotch saw Morgan's head turn in their direction. Garcia conspicuously peeked around the corner and looked like she was barely containing an excited squeal when she spotted Reid.
"I'd like to introduce the newest member of our team, Dr. Spencer Reid." Hotch touched Reid's shoulder, a casual gesture he often used. Reid flinched away, not overtly, but it was enough motion for Hotch – and probably the others – to take notice.
"We met before," Prentiss said. "But I'd certainly say this is a much better way to meet. Emily Prentiss." She smiled widely, genuinely happy to see him.
"Derek Morgan. Welcome to the team, kid."
Garcia appeared with JJ by her side. "Dr. Reid, it's a pleasure! I'm Penelope Garcia." She eagerly took Reid's hand in both of hers for the handshake. Reid looked disconcerted.
"Hello," JJ said, far more calm. She smiled at Hotch approvingly. "Jennifer Jareau. Everyone calls me JJ."
"Thanks." Once he was free of the handshakes, Reid took a step back and glanced over the interested faces focused on him. "Um, it's nice to meet all of you…"
JJ lifted a folder to catch Hotch's attention.
"I hope you're ready to jump right in," Hotch said. "Conference room, fifteen minutes." The others nodded. JJ and Garcia went to set up for the meeting. "Reid, your desk is here. There's a locker room where most of us keep an extra set of clothes and a ready bag for when we need to leave quickly. You'll learn from the team our basic procedures. If you have any questions, ask."
Reid nodded absently, his gaze taking in his surroundings. "Thank you, sir."
"Hotch," he corrected.
Reid blinked and looked back at him. Hotch wasn't sure why the mild surprise made something tug in his chest. He stared a moment too long. When he turned away, he saw Prentiss studying him with a smile she'd failed to suppress.
Hotch went back to his office, wondering why he kept seeing knowing glances cast his way.
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(Fin, for now)
Word count: 4,190
September 15, 2009