Disclaimer: Property of Jeff Davis and CBS.
Set way back when, in season 2, some time after "Jones".
This came about from my fascination with Dr. Reid and how very victimizable (not a word, I know) he seems to be - mortal peril looks good on him like nothing else. Plus he's freaking adorkable and I want to eat him with whipped cream on the side.
Contains elements of slash and non-con.
It was the process that made it all worthwhile. The steps, the paces, the motions. The build-up to the point where he could take what was his.
He was careful not to lose himself too soon. Patience was golden during the days he could spend with the prize. He would remove himself from the basement altogether for hours at a time, to make it last, to make it as slow and sweet as it could possibly be.
The time upstairs was filled with a headiness of its own. The waiting, the staying. The beautiful agony of delayed gratification. If it became overwhelming he would settle by the computer and look at the live feed for a few minutes. No longer. He didn't watch the old recordings. That was for later, when the basement was cold and empty and waiting for its next inhabitant.
He had just started the process now. He had planned this one for less than a week. It had been hastier than usual, but no less organized. He knew what he was doing, perhaps better than ever. This one was special, after all. This one was unique.
Those who searched for him would assume he was losing his grip. He allowed himself a certain relish at the thought of their impotence. They would flail and thrash for a solution, they would panic and eventually, they would fail. At their feet he would leave the prize, the precious one, and his pleasure would deepen as he basked in their defeat.
This one would be better. This one would be perfect in so many, different ways.
But he had only just begun. The bulk of the process still before him, all the slowness still to come. Quite apart from the bonuses that this one brought, there was the prize itself, and that just wasn't to be contemplated right now. It was too early; he would not be consumed.
The moment he'd laid eyes on this one, he'd known the fates were rewarding him. It was destiny, this one, it was his destiny. The universe was centring, convening around him with this most precious of gifts.
The research he'd done beforehand, the careful research he always did, had been too torturous. He'd been unable to satisfy himself with the recordings of the others. Instead he'd looked at the footage he'd taken of the new one, the special one, though it wasn't nearly as exciting as the old recordings. He'd watched as the new quarry went about his work, work he was already privy too. Watching him at night had been more satisfying. He'd sit in the car outside the hotel, where, by another stroke of luck, he'd had a near perfect view of the window.
Dr Spencer Reid didn't sleep much. He would spend much of the hours he and the rest of them were allotted for rest on the phone or lowered over books. He spread everything out on the bed, placing himself in the centre, bony legs folded awkwardly beneath him, back lazily hunched as he meditated over various volumes or maps or calculations. At night he abandoned his otherwise ever-present mug of coffee, but was still too restless to sleep. Outside his window, the predator watched, a small digital camcorder taking him just a little closer to his prey. One hand would inevitably come down to try and subdue his erection, but he never took his eyes off the prize. Tragically distant though they were, he drank in the details of his body and demeanor; the way he folded his hair behind his ears, the way his long, spindly hands expressed a myriad of thought and emotion, the way his full bottom lip shot out ever so slightly when he frowned at something he was reading. It took immense willpower not to spiral into thoughts of what he would do to that mouth, those hands.
He almost couldn't watch when he undressed for bed. It was a matter of removing his shirt and sometimes his pants before drawing the curtains, but it was more than enough to make the predator edge his free hand into his jeans and address his erection the only way possible. Once the curtains were drawn he would watch the shadows behind them as he swiftly exhausted his arousal, keeping fresh in his mind the image of a pale chest that tapered down to a drum-flat stomach and pronounced, statuesque hipbones. Pink nipples, a childlike absence of hair, the defined shoulders and slight muscle of a man but the lithe slimness of a youth. By the time the lights went out behind the curtains he was spent, breathing heavily as he cleaned himself up. He had to force his thoughts away from that achingly beautiful body on the cold concrete floor of the basement, that narrow back arching in pain, those pale nipples bitten to a swollen redness…
It was just as well that they moved him. By then he was all but done with the research, and his plans for commencing the process were nearly in place. The only thing left was the wait for the opportune moment.
They put him in the police station. He wasn't worried. He'd counted on their discretion, although certain it was no more than a precaution. The next day he was out and about, as usual, and as usual the predator followed him unnoticed. He was sure they had seen both the risks and advantages of bringing the doctor before they had even arrived in the city, but their precious profile told them he was not likely to become prey. Instinct alone had encouraged them to keep him just a little bit safer. Jason Gideon's instincts were an admirable force. Their threat to him was at most marginal, but they were not to be underestimated.
He had never been inclined to underestimate those who searched for him.
The days before he could start the process were agony. He was so close, so maddeningly close and still out of reach. The fourth day was monumental. He thought he would perish from the sheer pain of his need.
He knew it was an irrational move. Unnecessary and even dangerous. His longing was getting the better of him, but he couldn't say it wasn't part of the pleasure. Another added bonus. To sit right in front of them, within arm's reach, and see their blind eyes, hear their deaf questions. To sit before them on their own domains as an innocent man.
"Mr. Jones," he was greeted when the proper personnel finally had time for him. "I'm sorry to keep you waiting."
"Oh, that's okay," he replied, with a small smile of understanding. "I can imagine there's, uh, quite a lot to do…" He trailed off, flapping a pointless gesture with his hand. A little awkward, a bit nervous, not entirely sure how to act.
If there was anything he'd learned since the first boy all those years ago, it was discipline. When he had to be, he was in complete control of himself. It was how he had survived. If he was to be perfectly honest with himself, he was a mite anxious that Jason Gideon might detect something, but he doubted it. If he'd been there, in the cold little room, as a potential suspect, he would have been more concerned.
He could've met them on his own territory, but the allure of facing them on theirs was too sweet to resist. If he'd insisted they'd come to his house, he could probably have avoided Jason Gideon altogether.
Ulitmately, it was the chance to be in the same room as the prize that blinded him to the risks.
"I see you got some coffee," Gideon said pleasantly, referring to the paper cup in front of the predator. "I'm Special Agent Gideon." He shook the predator's hand over the table, used the other to put a number of manila folders on its scarred surface. "This is Dr Reid."
The painful ease with which he stayed in character was a fire in his veins. The doctor was disheveled and pale, his piano hands splayed like spiders over the additional folders he held in his arms. Lips flattened into an awkward smile, brown gaze clear and focused under drowsy, almost transparent lids. Clavicles jutting out from a shirt collar that was tilted by an ugly, lopsided tie. The predator shot him a fleeting glance, maybe a little curious about his age, before turning his full attention to the man who was obviously in charge. He didn't shake the doctor's hand.
"I understand you have some information," Gideon said as he began flipping through the pages of a file the doctor fumblingly handed him. "About the fourteenth of last month." Once he'd found the page he was looking for he turned his eyes on the predator. They were startling eyes. Hawk-like, seeming to flay the top layers off whatever they settled on. "The night Adam Morrison's body was found."
"Uh, that's right," the predator said, scratching his chin nervously. "I saw the news yesterday, about the van, and I remembered something. It's been over three weeks, so it's not real clear or anything, but I remember – I was walking my dog that night."
"What kind of dog is it?" Gideon interrupted, smiling politely. His eyes were unwavering, never moving from the predator's face.
"Uh, a Labrador, what – why d'you ask?"
Jason Gideon shook his head dismissively, still smiling. The predator understood that he was supposed to be unnerved, so he frowned and squirmed a little on the uncomfortable chair. Took a fidgeting sip of coffee. "Do, uh, d'you want me to go on?"
"Please," Gideon said.
He fed them his story, keeping his mask on with little effort. The false information would slow them down a fraction, send them in the wrong direction, but held in itself no strategic value. It was an excuse for him to be here. As he spoke, as Jason Gideon probed him with his easy questions and penetrating stare, he relished the feeling of the doctor's presence. He allowed himself, now that he was in complete control of himself, to think of him, his face, his body, his voice. Sometimes he would put in a question of his own, and the predator would imagine that voice whimpering, keening, pleading. He didn't look at the doctor more than he needed to, but when he did he registered every change in expression, every subtle shift in his features, every movement of his gorgeous hands. He imagined running his own hands over the length of that sinewy throat, imagined biting into that soft flesh, imagined that tumble-down mop of hair between his fingers.
Another small, unexpected pleasure was Jason Gideon's apparent obliviousness. It was a glorious feeling, letting his need wind through his thoughts unheard, unknown, while hawk eyes watched him. It was almost a shame that he would never know that he'd had his UnSub within arm's reach. It was a shame he'd never know these thoughts.
But he paced himself. Suppressed his arousal, ignored his need. He was burning, itching all over to reach across the table and take what was his, but his control was iron-clad. In time. In time, the process would begin. In time.
When he once again shook Jason Gideon's dry, cool hand he was feeling absurdly victorious. Smug. Gideon thanked him for his help, gave him a card and urged him to call if he remembered anything else, anything at all, about the van.
"God, I don't think I will," the predator said regretfully. "I just wish I could help more. It's so awful about those kids."
"There was no way for you to know who was driving that van," the doctor pointed out, a slight frown between his brows. The predator nodded heavily.
"Well, I'll keep my eyes open from now on."
Two whiteboards stood at an angle in the squad room. Both were nearly completely covered in scribbled notes and photographs. Bathing in pale dawn light, their collage of murder looked faded. Somehow unreal. The police station was in a state of subdued activity, the squad room itself simmering with the distant sounds of clicking computer keyboards and muttered conversation. Floating in from surrounding rooms, it witnessed of a very late shift that was drawing to a close.
The whiteboards stood in solitude. Pens and markers were scattered along the sills at their base. A collection of magnets clustered in a small blank corner. A waste basket stood on the floor below them, a single ball of crumpled paper littering the floor beside it
White, misty light shivered over the pictures and notes. A large city map was central on one of the boards. Six red pins were scattered around the part of it that depicted a university area. Flanking the map on either side were photographs of two different young men. Five others were pictured elsewhere on the whiteboards. In some of the photos they were smiling, vibrant, alive.
Somewhere near, a window was opened. The draft that breezed through the squad room danced across the boards, making the pictures and sheets flutter and sway. A soft sound like flags passed through the room.
Miles and miles away, in another city in another state, Penelope Garcia's office stood equally empty. Black screens gaped from the desk and walls. The smell of coffee had found its way into the darkened room, as if to coax someone out who was not there.
At the Crescent Vines Hotel, on the edge of the campus area, Emily Prentiss was sleeping like the dead. She hadn't undressed; her shoes were still on her feet, her cell phone clutched loosely in her hand. In the next room, Derek Morgan had passed out on the bed, where he'd been perusing a large collection of files and reports. His gun was poking into his stomach, but he slept through the discomfort. Across the room, Aaron Hotchner was in front of the television, where the early morning news rolled by without sound. He stared at the screen without seeing it.
Back at the police station, in one of the overnight rooms, Jason Gideon sat on a narrow bed and let his gaze wander over the impressive mess that had somehow managed to personalize the drab, blank room. Books, notepads, files, cardboard boxes, at least a dozen large paper cups. A couple of hideous ties were slung over the back of a chair.
He was thinking about fish guts and archangels. He was thinking about innocence and sin, nightmares and wisdom. The carelessness of age.
He didn't look up. With a rustle of unusually rumpled clothes, she stepped inside the room and leaned against the wall. Dark circles under her eyes. Blonde hair lank and greasy, tied back from her face.
"It shouldn't have been a problem," he told her. Looking up at her, he shook his head. "How many times have we taken a case where they look just like you?"
She met his eyes, opened her mouth to speak. Sighed.
"It shouldn't have been a problem," Gideon repeated.
"He went off script," JJ said quietly.
"Yes," Gideon agreed, getting to his feet. "He went off script."
As first light grew ever stronger throughout the police station, he pushed past her and headed for the squad room. Hesitating, JJ followed at a slower pace.
Not bothering to turn on the lights, Gideon placed himself in front of the whiteboards. Hawk eyes traveled from one end; from Joshua Hale, over Silas O'Rourke, Michael Preston, Kyle Horowitz, Adam Morrison, Timothy Berg, to the other. Spencer Reid. His picture was up there, too. A very magnificent seven. They could've been cousins, brothers.
"You went off script," Gideon muttered to the pictures. Beside him, JJ crossed her arms and tried to see what he was seeing. All she saw was Reid's shyly smiling photograph.
Gideon tilted his head to the side. "Why?"
They stood unmoving before the board. Dawn light spreading over the murderous scrapbook. Another draft fluttering through the room. Silence. No answer.
The other six had all been wonderful in their own ways. Each one was different, each one was its own treasure, and each one was beautiful. But he could not help but feel as if this one was what it had all been leading up to. That this one was what he had been ... practicing for. He had already decided that he would lay low afterwards. He would go somewhere. Disappear. He knew that, after this one, the need would be stilled for some time.
It wasn't just the audacity of it that appealed to him. That was just a bonus. It was the destiny. When the doctor had first appeared, unfolding his lanky frame from a car in front of the police station, he had known. The feeling had been indescribable. Unlike anything. Coursing through him like wildfire, from the tips of his toes and fingers to the deepest recesses of his brain. There he was, perfect in every sense. So beautiful, so frail, so expressive. A perfect piece. His breath had caught in his throat, his knees had turned weak. He came ready wrapped, delivered to his doorstep. The fact that he was there to find the predator made it all seem the more destined to be. As though he had taken the others just so he would come. As though he had called for him.
Initially he had not planned it. Initially it had been nothing but a fantasy. He had not allowed himself to think of it as more than that. It was too extravagant, too dangerous, and completely out of the question. His process could not be adapted to its fantastical proportions. He had even been suspicious, thinking it a trap, a perfect trap to lure him and snare him, and even if it wasn't it was too high a risk to take. Yet he had been unable to let it go. Like a fever it had burned through him, leaving him weak and delirious. So he had done some research. Just to cool off. What he found, rather than stilling his need, had convinced him once and for all.
The boy genius, the fragile prodigy, come from a broken, troubled home. The bumbling oddity, too tender and precious for the enormity of his own mind. Unaware to the point of absurdity of how appealing he was. And, driving the predator to surrender all remnants of doubt, the things that had happened to him before. His history. Already wounded, already made prey by another, already made stronger by survival. Cracked but not yet broken.
Perfect. So painfully perfect. His gift. His reward.
The day before he began his process had been a searing daze of heady anticipation. He had awoken to the sharp realization that he couldn't wait any longer. It wasn't possible. It was time. He'd had to watch some of the new footage just to be able to think straight, and the recordings of the doctor walking down the street, speaking to his colleagues, sitting in his room, was like a montage of exquisite visual torture. The brief footage taken a number of consecutive nights just before the hotel curtains were drawn brought him to climax right there in his desk chair, as he lacked even the presence of mind to put the disc in the DVD player. It was surprising even now how it could give him so much pleasure before the prize was in his possession. The other six had not satisfied him like this. None of them had driven him to this level of…madness.
Once he'd showered and shaved and prepared himself physically, his mind felt clearer. His concentration came to him when summoned. The anticipation, the need, was not so pressing that it was frustrating, not so controlled that he didn't savor it. He was ready.
It took him the better part of the morning to make his arrangements. First the car. Since he'd gotten rid of the van it was new, and so this stage in the preparations was new. He took his time. Then the equipment. The checklist. Sorting the tools he would bring with him into one bag, the ones he would use later into another. Then the basement. Preparing the basement was something he had always taken the greatest care in. He enjoyed it. It was the very last step in his preparation phase, and he did it slowly, meticulously. It still smelled of bleach down there, and he cleaned the walls and floor with ordinary soap, somewhat diluting it. He cleaned the table, polished it, pushed it into its corner where it would wait patiently to be used. He inspected the camera and the speakers, made sure they were still functioning. When he was finished, he stood in the middle of the floor and scanned the room one last time. It was ready.
He didn't allow himself any leisure time for the rest of the day. He walked the dog. Went to work. Kept the mask on. Didn't think of his plan, didn't ponder its risks, didn't worry. Didn't indulge in fantasies of what was soon to come. Kept his mind blank, focused, clear. Time passed at an agonizing pace, but his patience did not slip. Patience would make it all the more sweet. He needed all of it.
That afternoon he was even more cautious than usual when following the doctor. He didn't bring his camera, and he kept his distance. The art of invisibility was one he had mastered long ago, and it served him well now. Apart from the two presumable witnesses whose homes he visited, the doctor only spent an hour outside the police station when accompanying his coworkers to dinner. The predator watched him eat from a nearby booth, fascinated with the slow-paced process, the way he wasn't half as interested in his food as in the thick folder on the table in front of him. The other agents took no notice of him except when he spoke up, contributing to their conversation with a piece of information only he possessed. At one point he launched into a lengthy explanation of something the predator could not hear, and the others watched him with amused exasperation. The unexpected flash of rage caught him off guard. Did they not see how precious he was? How could they not see? Quickly reigning in his temper, he thought of the grim pleasure he would take in their eventual defeat. Their regret.
When they left, he followed. Watched the doctor as he walked. Long hands in his pockets, shoulders low, his long, languid stride carrying him forward with that strange, unselfconscious elegance. Even when he was in a hurry he walked like that. Strangely cat-like, without any trace of the cat's pride.
A dark pit opened up inside him when the doctor was swallowed by the glass doors of the police station. Every time he had to remove himself from the physical presence of his prize he was overcome with the same sense of sadness, but he knew how to overcome it. It would be redeemed.
He went home to a quiet house. The dog greeted him with obedient stillness, didn't protest when he was chained outside as usual. Music helped the predator relax as he settled himself by the computer, the Rolling Stones filling the house with distracting life. He watched the recordings again, and again, looked at the digital photographs, read through the information gathered from his research. The hours passed slowly. He forced himself to keep his control. Didn't lose himself. Not yet.
He slept. Dreamt. Woke from his need, sweat sticking the sheets to his skin. Slept again. The doctor moved through his dreams, just as he would be. In the darkness of the basement, his pale skin glowed white, his dark eyes shone feverishly with fear. Against the rough concrete his flawlessness was all the more prominent. So easily destroyed. Intoxicating power laced the dreams, painfully arousing, drawing him in and out of sleep. In the illogical world of his dreaming mind he had only to reach out and have that soft skin under his hands. The doctor was right there, at his feet, in his arms, and he was just about to take what was his, just about to ravage that thin, frail body, when the alarm clock jerked him into wakefulness. Irrational fury at the interruption made him reach out and slam his fist into the black plastic box before hurling it at the wall.
Almost immediately, he was calm again, staring down at the broken clock with blank detachment. Now he would have to get a new one.
But that was the day when his process began. No slight mishap would affect his mood today. Today those dark dreams would become reality.
There was no such thing as an odd dumpsite. The place could be completely irrelevant, it could make a disturbing amount of sense, it could provide new information about the UnSub or none at all. It was just a facet of the murder that had led up to its use. In and of itself it couldn't be fully categorized or analyzed. In some rare cases it was all about the dumpsite – it had to make a statement, the statement the murder was committed for. In some cases the dumpsite told them more about the UnSub than the actual evidence did, but overall it was a factor that didn't stand alone. Not like, for example, victimology.
"So you're honestly not bothered at all?" Derek Morgan tore his gaze from the ground and turned to look at Reid. "Not even a little?"
"There's no reason," the young doctor replied distractedly, not looking up from the photographs he was perusing. "There was no reason when we took the case and there's no reason now. The UnSub's need for self-preservation is too strong – he won't take an interest in any of us as individuals, if at all. If he wanted to he would have already."
"But there is a possibility that he has contacted us," Morgan reminded him. He crossed the alley to stand next to Reid, looking towards the street as he went. The police ribbon was free of spectators. "We know he might've come forward as a witness."
"Yes, but that has nothing to do with us." Reid looked up at him. "That would be a way for him to keep track of the investigation and possibly, you know, to mislead us."
"It's risky, though, for someone so careful." Morgan paused. "He wouldn't be completely certain that he wasn't the only one to fit the profile."
"Seemingly well-adjusted, single white male between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five, flexible work hours, owns or may have owned a van?" Reid breathed a small laugh and turned back to the crime scene photographs. "I think he'd risk that."
"Yeah," Morgan muttered. "I think he would, too."
"I hate to say it, but we won't close in on him until he snatches another victim." Reid closed the file with a grimace. "We should've been called in as soon as they recognized the MO. Five years ago he vanished, he'll do the same this time."
"Mm-hm. But since he got away back then he's more likely to make mistakes now. When he does, we'll catch him."
Reid nodded absently. He was staring down into the asphalt. "Timothy Berg was virtually tortured to death," he muttered, seemingly half to himself. "Adam Morrison before him bled out, Kyle Horowitz died from blunt force trauma. He kills them because he has to, not because he wants to. " He looked up at Morgan. "The next one will probably be very special."
"It'll be messy," Morgan said.
"It seems that way."
"I don't get it, though. If it doesn't bother you, why did you agree to be moved to the station? It must be hard to get any sleep there."
"I don't sleep much," Reid said. "And it doesn't bother me. That was Gideon's idea, not mine."
"That's what bothers me."
"What?" Reid frowned at him, clueless.
"If Gideon's in any way worried, why aren't you?"
"He's not worried. It's a precaution, that's all." Reid was uncomprehending. "It's not like I can't go outside. I'm still working."
"Yeah, he makes sure you're there to question almost every single witness. He's using you to sort the potential suspects from the rest of them."
Reid blinked. "He is?"
"'Course he is, pretty-boy." Morgan smiled. "I thought he told you."
Reid frowned at the graffiti-covered wall of the alley. "I guess I should've realized that."
"He's probably just covering his bases. He's hoping you might distract the UnSub, make him slip up. He also knows it's a long shot."
"The UnSub wouldn't get distracted," Reid agreed. "He's too organized."
"That he is. Look who's here." Morgan turned towards the mouth of the alley, raising a hand to greet the two approaching people who ducked under the tape.
"We're headed back," Prentiss said as she and Hotch halted near the faint bloodstains on the ground. "You need a ride?"
"The detectives already left, so yeah." Morgan eyed Hotch's scowl. "What's up?"
"Some of the local church groups are apparently campaigning for the immediate shut-down of the local gay bars." He looked between Morgan and Reid. "You can probably imagine how helpful that will be."
"But the UnSub won't be frequenting gay bars," Reid said perplexedly. "None of the victims were gay. It's the UnSub's sexuality that determines the victimology, not the victims'."
"The fact that the first victims five years ago were hustlers probably has something to do with it. Anyway, JJ will address it on the press conference tomorrow," Prentiss said wearily. "I would not want to be in her shoes right now."
Reid was stuffing the Tim Berg file into his bag. Apparently there wasn't room for it; he had to take a number of items out and put them aside on a nearby dumpster lid to fit it in. The others watched this fumbling process patiently, supressing smiles. When he was finished he looked up at Prentiss and Hotch, a small frown on his face. "Where's Gideon?"
"He's revising the witness statements. He's hoping to find some anomaly, some detail. I'm not sure exactly what, but…" Hotch trailed off.
"It's probably our best shot right now," Morgan mused. "We were just talking about how he used Reid as a distraction."
"If that had worked you would probably have noticed something when you were questioning the guy," Prentiss said to Reid as they started towards the street. "And you didn't, did you?"
"No. I didn't," Reid answered. "What was I supposed to look for, anyway? It's not like he would've asked me out on a date."
Prentiss allowed herself a snort of laughter at the unexpected joke. "No, but he might've been acting strangely. Absent or unfocused. He might've looked at you too often or avoided looking at you altogether. He might've directed his attention at you instead of Gideon or acted as if you weren't there."
"But most people act a little strangely when they're being questioned, even witnesses. I don't think it would've been easy spotting the UnSub that way."
"Of course not, but it might provide us with a direction. A line of inquiry. Anything."
"Well, if Gideon didn't notice anything…"
"You're right. It's unlikely." She heaved a sigh. "Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could just get DNA from every single white male ever interviewed on this case?"
The others laughed tiredly. They had arrived at the car; Reid took a moment to look around, seeming a little skittish. Morgan noticed, his mouth tilting into an amused grin.
"I thought you said you weren't worried?"
"I'm not." He pulled the car door open. "But now you've messed with my head."
"Oh, have I? I'm sorry," Morgan chuckled.
In the car, everyone except Reid was swiftly engaged in conversations on their respective cell phones. Hotch was being accosted by Quantico while Prentiss spoke to the local police and Morgan checked something with Garcia, but Reid was too distracted to register what was going on, his attention on the contents of his bag. He was sure he'd put his wallet in the inside pocket, but it seemed to have disappeared. Digging through the files, notepads, countless pencils and miscellaneous debris, he could not locate it.
"Wait, guys," he said, extracting his hands from the depths of the bag. "I think I forgot my wallet at the site."
"Jesus, Reid," Prentiss commented, covering the phone's mouthpiece. Without a word, Hotch glanced at Reid in the rearview mirror and turned the car around.
"Sorry," Reid mumbled, biting his lip.
"Where's your head, kid?" Morgan said.
"I'm not sure," came the quiet answer.
They pulled up outside the alleyway, and Reid darted out of the car before any of the others could follow. "There he goes," Morgan sighed. "Shouldn't one of us go with him?"
But the other two were both still on the phone, and Hotch was simultaneously steering the car back around. Morgan didn't press the matter, knowing it was unnecessary. Knowing the profile as well as the investigation so far dictated that there was no reason for increased vigilance, knowing that it was just an alley, that he and the other two were just a short sprint away. But in the back of his mind something persisted, repeating to him the supposedly irrelevant fact that Reid was now staying in a secure room at the police station, snugly locked up at night like a princess in a tower. He knew how to interpret his own gut feelings. They'd been a constant companion for too many years.
"I'm gonna go with him," he announced, exiting the car before it even pulled to a stop. He crossed the street at a jog, pushing past a man walking a dog as he went, and came around to the mouth of the alley to find that it was empty.
His heart skipped a beat, but he kept calm. "Reid?" Striding swiftly into the alley, ducking under the police tape, crossing the patch of asphalt where Tim Berg had been found less than a week earlier. Trying to hold at bay the unbidden memory of that naked, broken body as he made his way to the dumpster where Reid had been unloading his luggage to make space for the dead boy's file. "Reid!"
"Found it," a voice said somewhere close; Morgan's hand flitted automatically to his gun.
"Reid, you airhead," he breathed as the doctor stood up behind the dumpster. "I almost shot you."
"It must've slid off," Reid explained, holding up the offending item. "Sorry if I scared you."
"At least you didn't get yourself kidnapped."
Reid laughed uneasily. "Again."
They went back to the car. In a nearby doorway to an apartment building, the man with the dog watched them go. The Labrador at his feet sat quietly, obediently. The predator reached down to pat its black, glossy brow, his eyes on the departing vehicle. A shadow of a smile hovered around his lips.
Night came too slowly. He was left alone with his thoughts, thoughts that drove him to such frenzied frustration that he was compelled to retreat to the basement. Closing the heavy door behind him, he descended into pitch darkness, cool, black silence closing around him like a thicket of night. It helped. His thoughts stilled, left him in something resembling peace. Blind as a bat, he traced the grainy concrete walls with his fingers, leading himself slowly around the square room and its sparse furnishings. He found a strange comfort in experiencing the place as they had experienced it. As the doctor would experience it. Under his fingertips he felt the smooth surface of the table, the soft leather of the straps fitted to its sides, he felt the cold porcelain of the sink and the toilet bowl. Putting his hand into the blackness, he felt the cold, bleach-scented air. Emptiness caressing his skin. He could hear his own slow breathing, his regular heartbeat. Without meaning to, he began imagining this place as the doctor would soon come to know it. Began seeing himself as the doctor would see him. It was confusing. Not altogether unpleasant, but strange.
At least an hour passed in the dark. He began feeling pleasantly relaxed. Content. This was just what he needed. Why he did was a mystery he did not care to explore. None of the others had driven him down here before he had fetched them.
He emerged into the darkened house clear-headed and refreshed. A feeling of destiny had settled upon him, and he relished it, answered to it as he finally commenced the process. It called to him with a steady persistence, telling him with sharp clarity that he was ready. It was stronger than ever, so strong he felt something akin to fear, something sharp and unfamiliar. He was about to embark on something very important. Afterwards there was no telling who he would have turned into. Crucial times lay before him. It was tantamount, as if written in stone, that he do this right. This one was special. This one was his destiny.
The doctor's face, every detail of it, his sharp jaw line, full lips and deep, jewel-bright brown eyes, hovered in his mind like a vision as he quietly left the house and stepped out into the warm evening. Soon it would be his. Soon all of him would be his.
He knew now that he loved him.
Over the past week, the furious activity which had held the police station in a state of near uproar had simmered down considerably. It was still there, but now it seethed like something that had been left on a stove too long. The pace had slowed; the energy had seeped out like air from a balloon. Elvis had left the building.
It was like clockwork. Investigations like this took time, and much of that time was spent in what could seem like inertia. The press usually had a way of making it look like nothing at all was happening, but this was not the case. Follow-ups were rigorously done and done again, facts were checked and rechecked, witnesses were re-interviewed, new angles were cautiously explored. The results tended to be slim, but these activities were nonetheless important.
No one needed to say it, it didn't need announcing, it was well understood – what they did need was another victim. They had reached a point where they were hoping for one. It was surreal, at the very least, to hope for the discovery of another dead boy, but there it was. The team of behavioral analysts who had come to town when Timothy Berg's brutalized body turned up were used to this part of the process. They didn't like it, but they were used to it.
At night, the slow activity of the day was virtually non-existent. There was one detective on duty, who spent very little of his shift inside the station house, and a couple of officers were manning the tip lines, but other than that Reid was very much alone. Gideon was the only other BAU member who hadn't yet returned to the hotel, but he had barricaded himself in the squad room with the entire case stacked around him in cardboard boxes. He was still pursuing the direction that the UnSub was to be found somewhere among the witnesses, and when Reid finally gave up his attempts at sleep and headed for the squad room himself he was met by a staggering mess.
"Good God, did you set off a bomb in here?" he said, crisscrossing the grid of tables and chairs to get to the other side. Gideon glanced up at him distractedly, intent on his work. The table he was seated at virtually groaned under its weight of files and books. Reid picked up one of the latter, recognizing it as a fairly obscure piece of literature on sexual sadism. "This is new," he observed. "You think the UnSub might be transsexual?"
"Not at all," Gideon answered without looking up. "I just needed the list of source material in the back."
"Oh." Reid put the book down. "I was just getting coffee, do you want any?"
Gideon didn't watch him leave. He would take the main corridor to the little lunchroom by the elevators, passing no less than two coffee machines on the way, and he'd take the time to make a pot of poison that would keep him awake for another couple of hours; hours spent trying to locate whatever research out there he had not yet come across. Not because he was taking the case personally. Not because he identified with the victims. He was simply doing his job. When the job was done, he would pass out on the plane just like the rest of the team.
Once alone, Gideon quickly lost himself in dark musings. All sense of time fled. He soon began muttering quietly to himself, voicing thoughts as they tumbled into place.
"You return them," he whispered. "You clean them. But you don't cover them. You don't dress them. You simply give them back. No ceremonies, no rituals. Just a delivery. You know they won't reveal anything useful about you or where you've kept them. That's why you clean them in the first place; to wash away any trace evidence. The only thing you let them tell us is what you did to them. Are you taunting us?" He paused, squinting down at the mess of papers and files on the table. "Or are you just showing us how confident you are? The extent of your meticulousness is something you take pride in. Do you need us to see it, too? Is that why you return them? You certainly don't want forgiveness. All you care about is the fulfillment of your fantasies. You need to take what's yours. You need to be in control."
He pulled a notepad towards him and started scribbling seemingly random words. "Control," he muttered. "Control is everything. You need to plan it down to the smallest detail. The whole process needs to be mapped out carefully before you start. There's nothing sloppy about it, nothing's left to chance. You enjoy the planning and the preparations almost as much as you enjoy the boys. You pace yourself, you take your time. You're in control of your own need as well as your victims. You take pleasure in your own restraint as well as their pain. Control." He printed the word in clean, large letters on the lined paper. "Control. Control is everything."
In the sudden silence as his stream of thought trailed off, Gideon felt himself frowning. A moment later he lifted his gaze from the notepad, suddenly becoming aware of something. It was picking at his attention like the insistent buzzing of a mosquito, fleeting and faint but definitely there. Like he had forgotten something he was supposed to remember. He straightened on the chair and stared into space, trying to pin down the feeling.
Another second or two later his gaze focused on the ticking clock on the wall above the door right across from him. Night was displayed there in two angled arms.
"What…?" he heard himself whisper. His chest tightening unpleasantly; a sensation like tumbled ice cubes trickling down his back; a numbness of the arms and legs. Breath dying in his throat, the machinery of sharpened thought grinding to an abrupt halt.
A moment lasting no longer than a heartbeat passed, suspended and lengthened in the vacuum of sudden flaring panic. "It doesn't take twenty minutes to get coffee," Gideon said to the empty room; another heartbeat later the spell broke and he was on his feet. Seven long strides took him out into the darkened, empty corridor. Irrational backwaters of his mind conjured Reid there, ambling down the linoleum floors with coffee steams trailing behind him, unscathed. Gideon passed this wishful thought and broke into a half-jog.
There was no time to reason with his instincts. He would have, gladly, but in spite of a dogged assumption that he had overworked himself into paranoia he knew – he knew – that something was very wrong. It was one of those pieces of near-preternatural knowledge he'd never had to explain to those who trusted him. One of those certainties that had ushered him again and again into the presence of the creatures he hunted. He just knew.
Light spilled from the lunchroom doorway. It formed a dull white mist on the floor of the darkened corridor. Heart lodged firmly in his throat, Gideon crossed it and halted in its center. Bathing in the same glaring light, the lunchroom looked somehow obscene. Exposed and naked. Like a spattering of unsavory fluids, broken glass glittered on the floor, spread out around the black plastic handle of a coffee pot. Its rightful place, the coffee maker, stood abandoned on the counter. An open kitchen cabinet gaped above it.
Gideon looked at the mess for no longer than a second. As he retrieved his cell phone from the pocket of his jeans he was already spinning on the spot, determining the route the UnSub had taken. To his right were the elevators, two of them, and to his left the corridor that led back the way he'd come. The latter was a dead end as far as Gideon knew.
He dialed a number and put the phone to his ear as he crossed to the elevators. A tired voice answered on the second ring. "Hotchner."
Brief, ominous silence. Then, "What's wrong?"
Gideon looked between the two elevators. Neither of them was presently moving. Softly, he spoke into the phone. "I think Reid's gone."