AN: A big, wet, kinky thank you to all the beautiful perverts who have taken the time to review this twisted fit of fangirl-crazy (which really shouldn't have been allowed to see the light of day like, ever. Seriously.) I love you guys.


First on the scene after Officer Nuñez was her supervisor, Detective Finnerty. Since the Stalker investigation was considered top priority, the captain himself was in charge of it, but as his second in command Finnerty was arguably the one who would have headed it had the media coverage been any less ferocious. He'd worked these streets for over twenty years, first as a beat cop, then in the narcotics unit, and now as a homicide taskforce leader, and he could safely say that he'd never before been called to the site of a discovered body that was only a short sprint away.

He brought all the relevant personnel within shouting range with him – which was to say not enough this close to shift change, with only one fellow detective and two uniforms still finishing up paperwork in the homicide bullpen. They navigated their way through the building at a hurried trot, emerging into the parking lot not two minutes after Finnerty had received the call. At this hour, it was empty but for one or two cars – social workers or bail posters, if Finnerty had to guess – and their footsteps echoed eerily across the black stretch of asphalt as they made for the chain link gate down one end. He could sense an all-too familiar excitement from the younger of the uniforms, a kid no older than twenty, while the detective and the older officers were simply tense and taciturn. This wasn't New York or Detroit; psycho killers had been thankfully few and far between around here, but they had seen bad things and were never eager to see more. Finnerty himself had worked on a serial, once, albeit one that hadn't been this sophisticated, and he led them all into the alley with a cold knot of dread in his chest. He could see the night that lay ahead, could feel it already settling its lead weight in his limbs, a reluctance so complete that it was physically difficult to pass through the open gates and into the alley. Into the storm.

Nuñez was standing with her back to the body, dancing nervously on the spot with one hand clutching at her radio. They had to walk past her to get a good look at what looked initially like nothing more than a vaguely man-shaped, bundled blanket.

Finnerty saw the hand first, stark white against the black tarmac. Like a dead spider curled on its back. The bloody arm, hinged to a bony shoulder; the roughly circular burns that were by now an unmistakable sight; the equally damaged upper torso that emerged from folds of dark green wool.

"I moved the blanket, sir," Nuñez told him anxiously. "I thought it was a woman, I – sir, I thought he was alive, so I –"

"It's okay," he cut her off, eyes on the boy on the ground. "You didn't touch him after that, did you?"

"No, sir," she replied instantly. The other detective, whose name was Schultz, came up next to him and uttered a soft curse at the sight below. Behind him, one of the senior officers was instructing the other two where to begin securing the scene; the kid had initially craned his neck to see but was now faintly green in the face, holding a hand over his mouth as his partner steadied him.

Finnerty turned to Nuñez. "Did you call forensics?"

She blinked, swallowed twice. "I – no, I didn't, I…"

"You always call forensics," he said sharply, and her already pale face went white. "We can't do shit here until the scene's processed."

"The lab's around the corner, Finn," Schultz spoke up, already dialing a number on his cell phone. "We'll call them now, what's a few minutes..."

"A few minutes is not protocol," Finnerty countered, but Schultz was already moving away with the phone to his ear. "Damn it," he added quietly to no one in particular and took a couple of steps back from the body, crossing himself as he went. A contaminated scene would do no one any good, and he didn't want to think about how the feds would react if they knew a local detective had been called but not a single person who could actually examine the body. Strictly speaking, Nuñez should've called the suits first, then the crime scene unit, then Finnerty. As it were, they could only look from a careful distance at the broken young man who lay spilling out of a rudimentary, unworthy shroud in a dark alley.

Like shocks of electricity, images of the behavioral analyst who had gone missing four days ago kept flickering through his thoughts. He recalled a lanky, bookish creature who had seemed more than a little odd. Elbow patches and corduroy, row of pencils in a breast-pocket. Shaggy hair and an oversized cardigan not unlike one he remembered his father often wearing after retirement. He'd kept his pipe and tobacco in one spacious pocket, and the young agent had looked like he might have had done the same. An old man in a college kid's body.

Squinting down at the corpse, he found it hard to put the two together. The rail-thin youth who talked like someone had shoved an encyclopedia down his throat and this Sally in the alley who was no Sally at all. The awkward professor with his constant cup of coffee and this piece of garbage someone had audaciously discarded in Finnerty's own backyard.

But there was no question. Even with the bruising, he didn't have to take a closer look to know. They were one and the same.

As he took out his own cell phone, he saw that mere minutes had passed since Nuñez's call.

Schultz came back just as he was about to dial Aaron Hotchner's number. "They're on their way," he informed him. "Coroner, too. Five minutes."

"Okay. That's fine. I have to call the feds." He held up the phone, and Schultz grimaced.

"Good luck."

Agent Hotchner answered the call after three long signals, and he hung up without a word in the immediate seconds after receiving the news. Finnerty felt the cold dread in his chest grow colder, and as Schultz took Nuñez with him back out to the parking lot to organize to the unpleasant task of calling the cavalry, he allowed himself a moment to just gather his wits. Alone with the body, he could not look anywhere else, and he tried to think of his daughter and the pancakes they'd had together just this morning. Her smile and her kindness and how the world made sense because of her.

They came the same way Finnerty had come, across the parking lot. Schultz waved them through, and the uniforms who had taken up sentry at the freshly posted police ribbon let them pass without delay.

He was surprised to see all six of them, and while he didn't really expect any kind of scene to take place he was glad to have Schultz and the officers there – all six faces and all six body languages told him as clearly as a diagram that, had they been anything other than FBI agents, they would have been screaming at the top of their lungs and falling to their knees to pound the ground until their hands bled. Agent Jareau, who he had dealt with more than any of the others, was not the only one who was openly crying – another blonde, who he couldn't remember the name of but who he recognized as the feds' resident computer geek, had both hands over her face and was sobbing quite audibly.

Finnerty came to intercept them several feet from the body, just to make sure they had no inclinations to trample onto the scene. Just as sirens began to sound somewhere very close, he got the worst out of the way and said firmly but gently, "It's him."

"We figured as much," Hotchner said tightly, and if Finnerty had thought the man could never get more serious he had been sorely mistaken.

"We need to see him," Agent Gideon stated in a tone that wasn't open for discussion, and Finnerty's heart sank.

"I'm afraid that's not possible. We're still waiting for forensics."

"Doesn't matter," Gideon insisted. "We need to see him."

There was a brief but strained pause, before Finnerty tried in as reasonable a voice as he could muster, "The scene hasn't been processed yet."

But it was no use. Stepping away from the sobbing blonde, whom he had been holding around the shoulders, Agent Morgan approached him. A head taller, his muscular frame was wound with something decidedly explosive.

"And this case has been federal for the past twelve hours," he said quietly, his words brimming with that same tinderbox emotion. "Now get out of the goddamned way."

Looking automatically to Hotchner for some form of compromise and seeing only dark determination there, Finnerty heaved a sigh. Empathy won over professional pride after a very short struggle, and he stepped reluctantly aside. "Suit yourselves."

Morgan led the way, followed instantly by Hotchner and Gideon. After a short moment of what must have been hesitation, the dark-haired Agent Prentiss went after them, leaving Agent Jareau to comfort the woman in the neon pink pants. As she hugged her, she looked over the top of her platinum white head towards the place where the body laid, her face completely stiff and her blue eyes much too wide as more tears rolled down her doll-like face. She was Lydia's age, and Finnerty couldn't bear to look at her. Turning away, he instead followed the other agents back to the body.

They had halted a rough three feet off, and now stood rigidly next to each other in identical, frozen reluctance. Coming up beside Agent Prentiss, he read expressions of shock and devastation on their usually so composed features, and the sight was, to put it mildly, unsettling. Agents Morgan and Gideon were on different ends of the same spectrum, the former radiating a kind of mercurial, half-suppressed fury while the latter rubbed a hand over his face and released a sigh so heavy and suffused with desolation that it seemed to taint the air.

"Oh my God," Agent Prentiss said faintly. "It's him. It's Reid. Oh my God…"

And she sucked in a sharp breath, turned away and headed down the other end of the alley, away from the others. Finnerty saw her double over, heard her make little sounds of denial as she dragged down breath after breath of chilly midnight air. Her colleagues left her to it, didn't even look her way, as if they knew without communication that she needed the space.

"This is a message," Hotchner was saying, eyes darting over the injuries that were visible. "The only reason he would dump him here is to make a point."

"To hurt us," Gideon put in, very softly. An unmistakable grimace of pain was half-formed on his face.

Agent Morgan, who had been silent since laying eyes on the body, shook his head slowly.

"Something's not right," he muttered hoarsely. "Something's wrong with this scene."

"The blanket," Gideon said.

"There's too much blood. He didn't clean him like he did the others." Hotchner.

And before Finnerty could say a single word, Agent Morgan was moving, taking two long strides across to crouch directly beside the body. Finnerty held his breath; although the agent kept his hands to himself, he was all too aware that even the act of breathing on a corpse these days could be enough to screw up a trial.

Tilting his head to the side, Agent Morgan looked into the ruined face below. Finnerty thought he could discern the suggestion of a shine in his dark eyes, the beginnings of grief on his handsome face.

"He wouldn't leave a blanket like this," he said quietly, almost fearfully. "Not unless he felt differently about this vict – about Reid. It's…wrapped around him. Protective."

He stared down at the young man who had presumably been his friend, and Finnerty was convinced he would either burst into tears or find something he could destroy within seconds. But he only drew a tremulous breath, lowering himself closer to the body.

"Oh, Reid," he said, broken-heartedly. He sat perfectly still, balancing on his toes, seeming to force himself to take in what he was seeing as more sirens sang into the night. Blues and reds flashing over the ground, over the dirty brick wall of the alley. Over Agent Reid's still face. They could hear movement in the parking lot, footsteps and radio static and shouted instructions. A chopper whirred into gear high above their heads.

"He shut his eyes," Morgan murmured, seemingly to himself. "He didn't do that with any of the others."

Finnerty frowned. The blind, staring eyes of the six other boys flickered through his head. Agent Reid's were closed. Like he was sleeping.

"Did you…" Morgan went on, still in a murmur, and if he finished the sentence Finnerty didn't hear it. He was still, too still, and to Finnerty's horror he reached a hand towards the corpse.

"Morgan," Hotchner said warningly, but it was too late. He was touching it. At first, Finnerty thought he was going to pick up the hand that lay slung out on the asphalt and hold it like a lover, but he simply slipped two fingers onto the wrist. As if to…

"You don't need to do that!" he heard himself protest; Morgan raised his other hand in a silencing gesture, which was a peculiar thing to do if you'd just knowingly messed up an unprocessed crime scene.

"Morgan?" Hotchner said again, taking a slow step closer, and this time when he said the name it was with confusion. Next to him, Agent Gideon's face had tightened into a frown.

Five seconds, no more, before a shout erupted from below.

"I've got a pulse!"

Looking wildly up at them, Derek Morgan's face was transformed.

"Call an ambulance! He's alive!"

He was dying. It would happen soon. He could feel it. A stone-solid knowledge resting over everything. If there had been a possibility of survival, he had spent it.

The house felt cold. Like the air conditioning had broken. All but shivering, he paced through the rooms, the darkened spaces that made up the building's structure. Walls, floors and ceilings, plaster and paint and smooth wooden boards underfoot. Sockets and switches in the walls, ducts from which artificially fresh air streamed quite steadily. Doors and windows to shut out the world.

The dog was in his basket on the living room floor. He watched his master move slowly to and fro through the house, as if he could sense that something was not as it should be. The predator had poured him two full bowls of food and water, since there was no telling how long it would take before someone found him. Before someone found them both.

The world had gone blurry around the edges. Like an old television flashback sequence. It was all vaguely unhinged, sort of abstract and without logic, and he wasn't entirely certain how he'd managed to return the doctor without driving into a ditch or a lamppost or the front of his house. He must have been running on fumes, must have let the fates guide him again. Guide him back to where it had all started, to the police station and the old fire escape that had let him inside on that night. To the beginning, and to the end, to the circle closing so beautifully that he knew there was no point in wondering even for a second whether it had been worth it.

It was all he had ever lived for, after all. He could have lived without it, could've forced himself into a different mold, but it would have been half a life, a ghost's existence. It had taken him this long to learn that he would rather die. It had taken the doctor to teach him. So it wasn't a bad way to go, really. Dying here, and now, and for this purpose. For him. It was as meaningful an end as he could ever have hoped to see.

On the few fleeting occasions that he had contemplated his mortality, he had always assumed that he would fall victim to illness. Old age had seemed too conceited an idea, simply going in his sleep somehow more than he should be able to hope for. No, his money had been on cancer, or maybe a heart condition like the one his grandfather had succumbed to. Something mundane that took more lives than war. Inelegant and without meaning.

More frequently, he had considered the possibility of dying in prison or at the wrong end of a standard issue firearm. Lethal injection, perhaps. But it had never stuck, had never felt real. He had always been so sure of his process, had always been so confident that, if he kept to the checklist and continued to perfect his routines, he would never be caught. It hadn't been some notion of self-importance or an overblown ego – he would never permit himself that kind of delusion – but a realistic measure of his abilities. He left no evidence, left no geographical pattern, left nothing whatsoever apart from the bodies. Familiar with the methods that were used to track down offenders such as himself, he was careful to live his life in a way that aroused no suspicion. Rather than making himself completely invisible, he tried to maintain a lifestyle that was normal but not overly average. Rather than suppressing the parts of his personality that might draw attention to him he let them hang out, let them be something others would like or even admire. He had developed interests, had perfected skills, had taught himself to enjoy the casual company of others. There had been friends, there had been lovers, there had been arguments and break-ups and personal problems. The art of offender profiling, which people like him often failed to defeat the efficiency of, had only been one of many exact and inexact sciences he had read up on in order to fly under their radar. They were just tools, and he had it made a point to render them useless.

He was the first to admit that his success at evading capture had been something he took pride in. While not emotionally invested in the frustration or hopelessness of those who hunted him, he took a general pleasure in being not one but several steps ahead. It wasn't until the doctor that he first saw a deeper pleasure in defeating them. But then he was the first to be one of them.

There would be no defeat. No deeper pleasure, no gentle boost to his ego. It had only ever been a bonus, nothing more, and he couldn't say with even a hint of sincerity that he regretted it. At this point, he literally could not care less.

He stood in the door to his study for several minutes, staring at the computer. Felt the dog's watchful eyes on him from the living room. A stab of sadness for the animal, who had only ever known and loved one human being regardless of what that human being had done to others. To him, the predator had always been the perfect pack leader. He hoped someone strong and energetic would come to take care of him, even though he was a murderer's pet. Someone who could take him running.

There was no reason to dispose of the computer, something he would most likely not have been able to do had it been necessary. His strength was all but tapped. It would have involved a hammer and, to some extent, the fireplace, and not having to do it felt strange. His routine, his beautiful routine, was moot. The last integral part of him slipping downstream and out of sight. The last seam unraveling, leaving nothing to hold his structure together. Since it had been destined to happen for so long, now, the sensation wasn't particularly noteworthy. More of a relief than anything else, to finally be rid of the stubborn dregs that had clung to the bottom of him.

The basement door stared at him when he turned away, with its dark brown stains around the handle where he had fumbled after the doctor stabbed him. The trace of blood still dotted a path from the bathroom, and he followed it to the door. Halted a foot short of it as the doctor's absence drifted through the impenetrable steel, a near-physical emptiness like a vacuum.

This was not grief. He had passed the stage of grief, couldn't even see it behind him anymore. This was simply death.

Taking a deep breath, he grasped the handle and pulled the door open. The basement angled up the steps, greeted him with a hollow whisper as air rushed down into the compact space. It was still lit, revealing even from above the nature of the use it had been put to. A broken string of pearls, the predator's blood lay in small drops along the steep length of the stairs, dark red against the white concrete, meeting with the many leavings of the doctor's below. Uniting them still.

He descended. One last time, he descended. Let the door fall shut behind him, let the basement swallow him as he slowly followed the crusted red trace down the stairs. The cold air was still thick with the smell of sex and violence, metallic and sharp and sickly sweet, and to his dismay he couldn't discern the doctor's scent in its midst. It had left with him.

The floor was under his feet; the past days' activities written all around him. The chain, snaking into the corner where he had loosened it from the doctor's ankle. The table, pushed against the wall, almost completely drenched in coppery red. The recollection of his body strapped to it, helpless and ripe for the taking, ghosted through with a shadow of plummeting regret. He crossed to the sizeable bloodstain near the corner where he had first taken him, a remnant of broken virginity, and replayed the moment in his mind. Welcomed its melancholy. The doctor's skin, the scent of it, his long and wiry muscles. His face. Delicate and fine-boned, in beautiful balance with its angled jaw and heavy brow. Imperfect enough to be more than just esthetically pleasing. And his eyes. His eyes…

He fell to his knees. Kept the memory of the prize crisp in his mind. The fifteen before him, who had all been beautiful, swam below it. Their names were there, too, he couldn't seem to shake them, but it was alright. It would be over, soon. That was why he was here. That was why he had made this last and final descent.

He could think of no better place to die.

The ambulance got there before the crime scene team. Not even two minutes; more than enough time to ascertain that Agent Reid was not only alive but breathing steadily if very shallowly; the rise and fall of his stomach was hidden under the blanket and much too subtle for the naked eye to see. It was a rhythm of deep unconsciousness, something Morgan further confirmed by lifting Reid's lids and shouting his name, all to no avail. If he could have shaken him he would have, but even in the sudden chaos he knew as well as anyone not to touch him more than he had to. There was no way to know what kind of internal damage had been done to him in addition to what they could see – folding aside as much of the blanket as he could without moving him he revealed more bruises and cuts and, unexpectedly, a pair of sweatpants that were considerably cleaner than he was.

As confusion mounted, he, Hotch and Gideon stayed near Reid while the others strode to immediate action, that first flare of knee-buckling relief turning into productivity like the flick of a switch. Prentiss rushed off towards the mouth of the alley to help JJ calm a very confused Garcia, who was still clinging to the former as she attempted to digest the new information. They didn't need any orders from Hotch to know what they should be doing, and together they went out into the parking lot to assist the equally confused Detective Schultz. In less than a minute the process that had been started upon finding a body was called to a screeching halt, making room for one that was similar but altogether different. The night was suddenly not as dark, the air not as thick, the smell of blood and sweat that had had time to settle in the alley not as sickening. Where before there had been a tangible sense of defeat, there was now a flurry of activity that held the promise of hope.

The ambulance turned into the parking lot, its flashing lights mingling with those of the squad cars that already waited there, and under much shouting and excitement the paramedics were directed into the alley. The sound of the gurney's wheels on the asphalt, in actuality quite indistinguishable from the sound a shopping cart would make, was like music to their ears.

Reluctantly, Morgan, Hotch and Gideon stepped back. Assuring the medics that they hadn't moved him even an inch, they watched, their breaths suspended, as Reid was gently eased away from the dirty brick wall of the alley and laid out flat on his back. A brace was secured around his neck, an IV was started, and his vitals were thoroughly checked. The process was practiced, swift and impersonal, and the profilers had no difficulty deriving from the medical jargon that there appeared to be nothing immediately life-threatening to take into account.

Morgan went in the ambulance. His eyes stayed on Reid like searchlights, only darting to the faces of the paramedics when they addressed him to keep him informed or get him out of their way. Each and every prayer he could recall the words of was rolling silently through his head.

Meanwhile, Hotch and Gideon had to go back through the station house to get to the parking garage, find one of the cars that had been assigned to the team and, finally, navigate their way out into the street and to the hospital they had been informed Reid would be taken to. They passed Erin Strauss in the corridor, and Hotch graced her only with a terse affirmation that Dr Reid was not dead, after all, before turning away and ignoring each and every word she shouted at his retreating back.

"Could he have drugged him?" Gideon muttered as he fastened his seatbelt. It was unclear whether he was talking to himself or not, but Hotch answered him nonetheless.

"Drugged him and left him behind the police station?"

Utilizing his FBI training as ruthlessly as if he were embarking on a high-speed car chase, he steered the SUV out into the dark street with a scream of burning rubber. "It makes no sense," he went on. "What would be the point?"

Gideon steadied himself against the glove compartment. He was staring into the street as it rushed towards them, but appeared not to see it. "Isn't it obvious?"

Shifting his attention from the road for a short moment, Hotch shot him a look of alarmed incomprehension. "It is?"

"We've always known he kills his victims out of necessity," Gideon replied. They could hear the ambulance amidst the chorus of police sirens somewhere ahead. "He doesn't want them dead. It's not the act of murder that gives him his release. For some reason, he decided not to do go through with it this time."

"He decided to let him live," Hotch murmured. "But why?"

"He must have been aware of the risks involved in taking this particular victim," Gideon said. "Maybe he figured it wasn't worth it."

Hotch raised his eyebrows. Ominous silence stretched across the length of a pounding heartbeat. "You really believe that?"

Ahead, they could see colored light dancing over a tall sign; moments later they were close enough to see the word emergency amidst the blues and reds. Gideon shook his head.

"No. No, I don't."

They knew they wouldn't be allowed into the ambulance bay, and as the SUV drove past the entryway Morgan saw it as a flash of metal out of the corner of his eye. He had leapt out of the back to make way for the gurney, and even though he had spent the past minute staring at it, the sight of Reid's face, as white as the neck brace that held his head in place, was startling in the clear white light spilling from the emergency room entrance. The medics had established that he was hypothermic and had wrapped a blanket tightly over his body, and as they deftly set him down on the asphalt he was so still he looked like a doll stuffed feet-first into in a sock.

Two doctors in white coats and a single nurse were waiting for them. Morgan dropped behind the gurney to give them room, but he had no difficulty keeping up with them as they started at a jog towards the glass doors. Sliding open with a soft hiss, they admitted them into a spacious, bright waiting area, and Morgan had time to take note of the half dozen people who looked up to watch them pass.

Ahead of him, the paramedics were relaying the specifics of Reid's condition to the doctors. He possessed a basic understanding of what they were saying, and it was vaguely bizarre, hearing the details of what had been done to his colleague over the course of several days expressed in such dry, scientific terms. He was far from ready to accept that Reid had been put through the same hell as the UnSub's previous victims, but now it was coming at him from all directions, the dark knowledge he had been suppressing these past four days in order to keep his wits about him, hurling at him in the undeniable shape of facts. He had seen the wounds, the burns on his shoulders, the blood, but it was only now that he began to fully grasp the reality of it.

His mind was still reeling when he sat down in the corridor. The nurse had been forced to tell him twice that he couldn't go with Reid, since it hadn't registered at all the first time, and he now placed his head purposefully between his knees and took several measured breaths. The air smelled unpleasantly of disinfectant and human waste, but he took it deep into his lungs nonetheless, willing his thoughts to come together.

By the time Hotch and Gideon found him, he was on his feet, pacing back and forth outside the swinging doors through which Reid had been taken.

"Do they know anything?" Hotch said without preamble. "How is he?"

Morgan rubbed one big hand over his face. Took another deep breath, and briefed them to the best of his ability. He wasn't at his most coherent nor his most professional, but neither of them seemed to care or even notice. They found chairs and sat down with him, heedless of the trickle of traffic that passed through the corridor. Down the other end, another group of chairs held another group of people, a family by the looks of them, and there was a distinct sense of suspended fear lacing the air. Dark anticipation, a dare to hope resting over the faded linoleum floors. Several minutes passed before any of them moved a muscle, and then it was Hotch who had to step outside to make the necessary phone calls. Gideon and Morgan exchanged a glance across the empty seat he vacated, and it was a glance full of both confusion and half-formed dread. As if the things they couldn't yet understand were looming out of the shadows, revealing contours they were not yet ready to examine.

Prentiss, JJ and Morgan arrived with Detective Finnerty and a forensic technician fifteen minutes later, at which point Reid was still being treated. A Dr. Sofer had been out to inform them that a full inventory had been made of his external injuries, but that they needed him conscious in order to determine whether he'd been hurt internally. He had lost large amounts of blood and had a fever that needed to be taken down, and x-rays had revealed a sprain in his wrist. His ankle, in turn, was covered in sores as if from a manacle, another injury that corresponded with the previous victims. They had counted nine second-degree burns, most of which were on his back and shoulders, and a flesh wound on his forearm was going to need stitches. Scatterings of shallow, less severe cuts along his spine and across his abdomen had been cleaned, and he had been administered antibiotics, a morphine drip and thermal blankets. A toxicology screen had been ordered and rushed, and a rape exam was next on the list.

The doctors still needed to bandage the wounds and treat his burns, but the technician would be sent in first to gather evidence and take photographs. In a display of subtlety the profilers weren't surprised to see, Finnerty had chosen a motherly-looking woman for the job, and she offered them all a warm, kind smile before disappearing through the doors. Reid would not be awake to see her, and the gesture was most likely meant for them as much as him. They didn't object.

The following hours were a peculiar mix of torturous waiting and abrupt activity. Chief Strauss and the district attorney came for a briefing, and a pair of uniformed officers joined them at Finnerty's request. What they were there for was unclear, but one of them was the officer who had found Reid. She was practically buckling under guilt and shame when confronted with them, and Morgan felt compelled to take her aside to explain exactly how she was without blame. Only minutes had been wasted on the misapprehension that Reid was dead, and in the relief of having their colleague back with them in more or less one piece, they hardly mattered.

At some point, they began to discuss the profile. It turned into a circuitous matter, returning them again and again to the dead ends that the night's events had proposed. The behavioral pattern they'd so far determined was no longer of use to them, and it soon became abundantly clear that they were profiling just to keep their misgivings at bay.

The technician spent a little over half an hour with Reid. By the time she came out to see them, Gideon, Prentiss and Garcia had gone back to the police station with a promise to return as soon as possible, and she fired off another friendly smile before giving them a brief description of her finds.

First of all, there was absolutely nothing that corresponded with the evidence found on the six previous victims.

"Because there was no evidence on the others," she muttered, shaking her head as she took a firmer grasp on her bag. "Apart from the blanket and the pants, there was also a great deal of material on his person. A whole host of fibers, among other things. I found black fabric under his fingernails, along with traces of blood."

"Wait a minute," Hotch said, raising an almost offended hand. "Blood?"

"Yup," the woman said, shaking her head again. "And his hands had some blood spatter on them that didn't look like it could've come from him."

There was a pause, and it was full of confusion.

"So either he injured the UnSub," JJ said, "or there was another victim there with him."

"My money would be on the former," the tech said. "The pattern suggests it landed directly on his hand, rather than being transferred there from somewhere else."

"Someone left him in that alley," Morgan said. "He didn't get there on his own. The UnSub must have an accomplice, or the injury wasn't serious."

"I think it was," the tech said. "There's quite a bit of blood. It didn't seep, it spurted. And because it was only partly smudged, I'd say he was very weak when it got there or it happened fairly close to the loss of consciousness. He didn't try to wipe it off."

Hotch was already on the phone, giving the order to check the hospitals for any patients fitting the profile who had recently come in with bleeding injuries; JJ sprinted out into the admittance area to check with the front desk for the same thing.

"The doctor also finished the rape kit," the tech said, nodding down at the bag in her hand. "I have it here. There were intact semen deposits, and they looked fresh. He didn't clean him inside, either, like he did with the others."

They digested this for a moment. Putting away his phone, Hotch said firmly, "Make sure that those samples get top priority. I want the results tonight."

She looked alarmed at this, but nodded obediently. "Of course."

Once they were satisfied with her report, they let her get the evidence back to the lab. Finnerty went with her.

JJ came back and, expectedly, there was no such patient here. Five minutes later, Garcia confirmed the same about the other hospitals. There was one man across town who was getting stitched up after an alleged bar fight, but upon closer inspection she had found that his blood alcohol was much too impressive – other than that, it had been a remarkably quiet night. As if the town had stilled around the culmination of the Stalker killings.

The doctors worked on Reid's burns for another hour, and when they were finally allowed to see him it was past one in the morning. Prentiss and Gideon were back by then, and Garcia was called as soon as they were told. Reid had been put in a room of his own, and they filed inside in a near reverent hush, as if reluctant to wake him even though they knew it wasn't yet possible.

"How is that tox screen coming along?" Gideon asked Dr. Sofer, who assured them that the results would be back in an hour or two.

"But if I had to guess," he added carefully, "I would say that he's been given some kind of tranquilizer. The puncture marks in his neck speak for themselves. Assuming he was down for less than an hour before getting here, I'd reckon he'll come around before the results do."

He left them with Reid, white coat billowing in the wake of his efficient stride. The lights in the room were bright and ruthlessly exposing, and there were only two chairs available. JJ went in search for more, and they grouped around the bed, looking down in silence on the unresponsive Reid.

He was on his stomach. The neck brace was gone, as were the thermal blankets, and the sheet that was drawn up to his waist lay folded from his left leg, where they were startled to see two more burns under white gauze in the large muscle of his thigh. The seven injuries on his back, shoulders and neck had been seen to in the same manner, and they could smell the pungent salve that had been used to treat them. Dr. Sofer had explained that they were minor and showed no signs of infection, but that the time that they had been allowed to go untreated made eventual scarring more likely. All in all, it was the considerable blood-loss that had been the most worrying, and a transfusion had redeemed that. Presently, his heartbeat was displayed on a monitor next to the bed, and the steady beep of it was very comforting. He was alive. Against all odds, he was alive.

And they had no idea why.

Over the next hour, at least two members of the team stayed with him at all times. They were coaxed out in order to make trips back to the police station or to take short naps in the seating area in the corridor outside. Coffee and candy bars were fetched to keep them awake, and Garcia came by with a heart-shaped balloon and a bouquet of sad, hospital-bought flowers.

It was she and Prentiss who were in the room when he came out of unconsciousness. It started with a slight increase in his heart rhythm, and then he was breathing heavily as his lids fluttered slowly open.

Morgan was the only other agent still at the hospital, and he was in the corridor with Officer Nuñez when Prentiss poked her head out the door and shouted his name. When she turned back to the bed, Reid was still trying to open his eyes. Garcia had punched the call button and was now on her feet, bent over to put her face level with Reid's.

"Reid? Come on, darling," she said anxiously, one hand hovering uncertainly over his shoulder. "Sugar, it's Penelope. We found you, you're safe."

Morgan came crashing through the door, and when he saw her face, saw the relief and joy and despair fighting for dominance under platinum-white bangs, he strode right over and put one arm around her.

"Give him some room," he murmured, and moments later Dr. Sofer and the nurse arrived.

"Step back, please," he said and positioned himself beside the bed. Unknowingly mimicking Garcia, he bent over to see his face; one hand was used to place a stethoscope between his shoulder blades while the other shone a light in his sluggishly blinking eyes. On the other side of him, where he couldn't see, the nurse slid a hand across his head to feel his brow.

It was this, it seemed, that first stirred a reaction. Drunkenly, he raised one arm to swat at the touch, fingers flexing to fight off the offending hand. His already labored breaths quickened, and a low, wordless moan cut through them like the growl of a cat. The nurse simply used her other hand to keep him still as she reached for the ear thermometer on a table behind her, and Reid let out another sound of protest, like a mishandled violin, this time, and writhed more insistently under her touch. Moving his head into the pillow, away from the glaring overhead light as if it hurt his eyes, the muscles in his back dancing nervously; both arms now moving he lashed out groggily for the nurse, who stepped back with a soft tut of disapproval, and tried, to the horror of everyone present, to push himself up off the bed.

When the doctor placed a firm palm on the uninjured part of his back, he turned his face upwards. Eyes wide open and clouded over with a dense, feral and completely deranged brand of panic.

Garcia let out a yelp, and Prentiss spoke sharply to Sofer and the nurse, "He thinks you're the man who abducted him. You need to back off."

Dr. Sofer looked up at her, but neither he nor the nurse relinquished their holds. "We need his vitals, agent."

She raised her hands in a pacific gesture. "I know that. But if you back off now, give him time to know where he is, it'll go much more smoothly. Trust me."

Adding impressive weight to her words, Reid chose this moment to grab the front of Sofer's coat. He had twisted his legs in such a way that the sheet had slipped sideways, revealing what looked like a hospital gown that was neatly tucked across his backside. Somebody had taken pity. Specks of blood stained the pale fabric, and Garcia let out another startled cry. After an equally startled pause, Morgan decided to lead her out of the room, leaving Prentiss to reason with Sofer.

"Please," she said earnestly. "You don't have to let him go, just let me talk to him." Fixing him with dark brown stare, she wore him down in a matter of seconds.

"Fine," he snapped and twitched his head in a motion for her to approach the bed. Reid kept struggling, kept snarling and yowling wordlessly, and when she dropped into a crouch next to the bed he didn't appear to see her at all. His teeth were bared, strangled breaths hissing through, and his eyes were glazed with flat incomprehension. It was like looking in the eyes of a cornered animal; there was nothing to relate to in there. Nothing in there remembered it was human. She forced herself to meet them nonetheless, and took a moment to devise a strategy.

"Reid," she said loudly, and a heartbeat later she clapped her hands together. Nothing. "Reid!" she shouted again. "Dr. Reid! Spencer!"

Above her, Sofer was thoroughly unimpressed. But just as he was about to order her out of his way, it did the trick. A glimmer of recognition took hold deep in Reid's eyes, and seconds later he was no longer struggling. He sort of sank into the bed, the whining growls of protests ceasing as if punctured, and simply breathed, swift and hurried gulps of air like he'd been running. The room went still. Morgan appeared in the doorway, cell phone in hand in spite of rules. Prentiss didn't dare even a glance his way but kept her eyes on Reid's, which were slowly clearing of their madness. Gestured subtly for Sofer and the nurse to let him go.


A soft whimper, a slackening of his features as the panic receded. "Emily?"

Feeling a smile overtake her face, she nodded. Forced back a wave of emotions that was sure to reduce her to tears if she let it. "Yeah, it's me. You're in the hospital."

This took a moment to register. "Hospital? You…you found me?"

He tried to move, as if to sit up, but she put a hand on his arm. It wasn't the best move she could've made; he froze and sucked in a sharp gasp, but at least he stayed still.

"I'm sorry," she said and retrieved her hand. "You can't move. Your back is a mess."

"I know," he murmured, wetting cracked lips. "I'm thirsty."

The nurse passed Prentiss a mug of water with a straw, and she helped him get a couple of sips down.

Morgan had by now moved around the bed and placed himself behind her, while Garcia had taken up his spot in the doorway. Prentiss had never seen her look more terrified. Not even when Tobias Henkel had done what he did on an online live feed.

"Hey," Morgan greeted Reid softly. Blinking up at him for a moment, Reid breathed an identical response.

"Hey. You found me."

Morgan exchanged a glance with Prentiss, but neither of them corrected him. Now wasn't the time.

"The doctor needs to check your vitals," Prentiss told Reid, who once again had to mull over the words before they seemed to make sense.

"Okay," he whispered, and she got to her feet. Dr. Sofer pushed past her and caught Reid's eye. In a voice that was warm and reassuring but free of pity, he introduced himself and proceeded to tell Reid exactly what he was going to do before he did it. Reid appeared confused but relatively calm, and while he went stiff as a board under the doctor's hands he stayed perfectly still.

Once finished, Sofer took the nurse with him and left. Only now, they became aware of the sound of sirens again, the sound of the city outside. The three of them stood over Reid's bed for a moment as the stillness settled, and there was a distinct sense that there were too many people in the room. As if Reid took up much more space than his feather-weight frame ever could.

Without speaking, Morgan communicated to Prentiss that it should be he who stayed. She nodded silently, in complete agreement, and gave Reid the happiest smile she could muster before heading out into the corridor with Garcia. The door closed soundlessly behind them.

When Morgan sat down beside him, Reid was visibly fighting off whatever drug it was that had knocked him out. His lids kept falling shut, and his breathing was irregular.

"It feels like…the same thing," he muttered weakly, as if he'd been thinking along the same lines. "The same drug."

Morgan was quiet, sensing that he would do his best to get out whatever he needed to get out without instructions or encouragement. If he knew Reid at all, and he thought he did, it would be information. He took a deep, rattling breath, and sure enough –

"It was a basement."

His gaze was far away, now, and Morgan wasn't even aware of holding his breath.

"Four hundred…square feet. Painted white. There was a…toilet. And a sink. A shower. I don't think…there are building permits, though. They looked old. Eighties. An old bathroom. The house…could be the same age."

He squinted, as if trying to discern something in the distance. One of his hands was clutching the sheets. "He was…six foot one. 165 pounds. Blue…"

And his breath seemed to catch in his throat. Squeezing his eyes shut, he forced the words out. "Blue eyes. He had blue eyes. He was right-handed, and he had calluses…on one hand. On the fingertips. Like he plays an instrument. He…he was circumcised."

For a brief moment, Morgan had to close his own eyes. Silently, he let out his breath and tried not to move a muscle. Reid was thinking, was struggling to make his drugged mind work for him, and Morgan was convinced even the slightest movement would pose a threat to the process. He had gone to a different place, a dangerous place, where shadows lurked around every bend. How he had gathered the courage, how he had managed it so soon upon waking, was either an effect of the sedation or a sign of something Morgan had already suspected. Keeping your head on straight in the face of absolute terror wasn't something that came naturally to most people, and Morgan himself had acquired the ability only through training and experience.

Reid was a completely different story.

"There's something…else," he muttered. "I should remember…"

"There's no hurry, kid," Morgan said quietly, and even though it was a blatant lie Reid seemed calmed by it. He swallowed, seeming to burrow deeper into the darkness. Morgan was simultaneously grateful and frustrated that he couldn't be in there with him. Couldn't protect him. He knew better than anyone that no one could. No one had been in that dark place with Morgan himself, and no one could be in there with Reid. It was a place he would need to find the door to and close tight, all on his own.

"No, I…I know there's something," he whispered now, pulling the words from a sore and tired throat.

"Take your time."

"I am," he snapped; a glimpse of the know-it-all Morgan knew and loved. A second later it seemed to come to him, the darkness scattering as light suddenly flared.

Shifting his gaze to look up at Morgan, he was back inside himself, the place he'd forced himself to go retracting its venomous hold.

"Alabama," he muttered breathlessly.

Morgan frowned. According to the doctor, his fever had broken an hour ago – there was no reason for delirium.


"His accent. I heard it … just for a moment. He'd trained it away, but I … I heard it."

"Wait," Morgan said, not quite following. "He had a Southern accent?"

"That's … that's what I said. Alabama. Northeast … Appalachian."

"Are you sure?"

Dark eyes looked into his. They were still Reid's, but something else was in there, too. Or something wasn't. He couldn't tell which.

"I'm positive."

Death came slowly. It took its sweet time, and he couldn't for the life of him understand why. In reality it was a matter of hours, no more than two, but in the rank and cold light of the basement it felt like days. An eternity and more. He could have lived another life in its endless, glacial pace.

His neck bled steadily, draining his strength little by little, and it wasn't long before he could no longer think straight. Once he had lowered his brow to the cold floor, once he was resting in utter stillness, the workings of his mind began to deviate from the chosen path. Began to spiral out into the atmosphere, out into the overgrown trails he had walked throughout this life and left behind. It was a drawn-out version of what was supposed to flash before his eyes. It passed him by with the same steady languidness that was bleeding him dry, pumping it out through the hole the doctor had opened in his neck.

You know they all say that. You're kidding yourself.

There was his mother, they way he remembered her when she was still worth remembering, cowering under his father's drunken, swaying form. The sight of her blood was such an early memory that he had never trusted it to be real. He couldn't recall his father's face at all, but now he saw the back of the man's neck, thick and stubbly and the color of burnished amber. He remembered staring into that neck, remembered watching vigilantly for any inclination to turn around and direct that bottomless rage at his son rather than his wife. There was no fear in the memory. No anger. There was nothing there at all.

The funeral, crowded and full of tall, black-clad people he didn't know. He was still small, still a child – had he truly been that young?

His other father, the first one's complete opposite. A stepbrother. Wild and curly hair in the shade of a red dusk, long and thin limbs moving with an awkward grace that suggested he paid them no attention. Jonah. Jonah Christopher Jones.

He had taken him in the dead of night, with the adults sleeping in the next room. He had been brave, he hadn't cried. Afterwards he'd said the predator's name before he fell asleep, Mikey, Mikey, Mikey. So many such nights, so many that they had blurred into one.

Other lovers, frightened faces as they suspected or learned what he was. What he wanted. His mother, a strange and formless image at a kitchen table in early morning light, as she told him she could see his father in his eyes. Had he been angered by the comparison? Couldn't remember. Couldn't…

The first time he had put a blade to milk white skin came slicing through the rest, and a quaking shiver overtook him. Bright red, dripping onto his hand, and the trembling body under his touch, the fearful voice that pleaded with him to stop. The rearing need as he ravaged him, the music of his own moans mingling with the whimpers and cries below. That was the moment when he fully understood who he was, when he knew himself completely. It was like he had gazed into a mirror his whole life without seeing himself – now he saw it, now the image came together.

After that, his life had steadily taken him back to this destiny, had returned him to the inevitable realization that it was time to live and not just survive. Again and again, he had found himself looking at that image without recognizing it, and again and again he had been compelled to set it right. He had the tools and the intelligence, and there was no reason to refuse. He was blessed with the power and the will to delve into his true self and fulfill it.

And so it had led him here. The fates had rid him of the barriers that others went through life surrounded by, and they had guided him to this very moment in time and to this very place. With a broken heart and an empty soul he relived the last remnants of his destiny, already out of his grasp, and awaited his death. His end. The circle of his life coming to a close.

The doctor was with him, then, his memory so sharp and clear that he was momentarily convinced it would end right then, in a tumbling flash of regret and desire. The ones before him, all of them so breathlessly beautiful. Him, the most beautiful. A flower of them all.

With the feel of him so near and so true, with his memory locked safely in his heart, he became suddenly aware of death's presence. It had found him.

It was here.

It came from above, silent and smooth like a pouncing panther, and he knew in the heartbeats before it was upon him that he was as ready as he was ever likely to be. He could feel its intrusion as it approached, could hear it as footfalls above, could smell it as a mix of fresh air, metal and sweat. Lifting his head from the floor, he sat up on his knees and waited for it to reach him. Patient as ever.

It was through the basement door, then it was slithering down the stairs. The snake deceiving its way into paradise. When it spoke, its voice was eager and hungry, full of murderous urges that he knew all too well.

"Michael Ray Jones."

"Yes," the predator said, raising his hands in the air before death could ask him to. "That's my name. I've been waiting for you."

He could hear it breathing now, heavy and hoarse. "Get up," it said. The predator gathered the strength to obey, well aware that death could not be reasoned with, and climbed slowly to his feet.

"What took you so long?" he asked it, hearing amusement in his own voice. "I was beginning to think you wouldn't make it."

"Shut up," death said, and now it was right behind him. He could feel its rabid breath on his neck, and then warm hands were grasping him, pulling his arms down. The click of metal, and icy cold steel wrapped around his wrists one at a time.

"Michael Ray Jones, you are under arrest."

A fifth day dawned crisp and clear, with a thin sheet of mist hovering just out of reach. The city was silent in the hushed hours before the sun appeared in the sky, waiting reverently for its illuminating light. As though absolution would come with that light and drape the land in truth. There was very little traffic, and only a handful of people had been kept awake by the sirens that had quieted shortly before three a.m. Of those that were awake at this hour, several ascribed the racket to the discovery of another dead boy, and the news stations were in full capacity, trying to make sense of the confused, inadequate information they had so far managed to glean from their sources. As far as they could tell, no body had been found, but other significant developments had taken place. Exactly what they were was yet to de determined, but soon enough there would be just barely amount of time before the morning issues went to print to incorporate the front page news that a suspect was in custody. The picture painted would be one of sensational triumph, with blurry, bad photographs of the FBI profilers taken outside one of the city's downtown emergency rooms, blown up to show the victorious heroes who had made the arrest. That the Stalker's most recent victim had been found alive would not reach the public until the next day, and his name would never make it into a single newspaper. An insidious process would be set in motion on the faceless field of the internet, where each and every rumor of the kidnapped agent's identity was slowly and unnoticeably smothered by a formidable player whose skills had landed her a job that allowed her to do it legally. The discussion would vanish altogether, and among the morbid laymen who would spend time and energy dissecting the case of the Riverside Stalker, it would soon be considered common knowledge that the information in question was impossible to obtain. They would warn each other not to try, for tall were the walls that the FBI built around their own.

David Malcolm awoke that morning to find the street outside crammed with cars and a small crowd. He didn't notice it until he went downstairs to make coffee, and when his eyes drifted through the window he dropped the mug he was holding. It clattered into the sink, unharmed, but the sound roused him from his shock and urged him to move before giving it even a second thought. Padding barefoot to the front door, he stepped into his flip-flops and went outside.

Later, he wouldn't be able to say exactly why he'd felt such a need to leave the house, in his pajamas no less. He just knew that, whatever had happened, it was as far from good as it could possibly get.

The chilly morning air hit him like a pressure wave, making him shiver violently, and he spent a glance on the unexpected mist before pacing slowly into the street. Reluctantly, he accepted that the house the commotion was centered around was number twenty-four. Moments later the horrible suspicion took root that he should have trusted his instincts.

Still hoping he was wrong, he came to a halt at the rear of the crowd that lined a yellow plastic ribbon. Up close, he saw that most of the people gathered there lived on the street. Finding a familiar face, he sidled up to number sixteen.

"What's going on?"

Number sixteen turned a worried look his way. "No idea. They won't say. But those marshmallow suits they're wearing…"

David followed his gaze back to the front of the house, where police cars and two SUVs and a silver Chevy crowded the sidewalk. A white van rose out of their midst, and to and fro from it trickled people in white, baggy overalls.

"They look like the ones on 'CSI'," number sixteen finished, and David was inclined to agree with him. Unless he was less savvy than he liked to think, Jones' house was a crime scene.

"The guy who lives there," he said, and was surprised to hear the fear in his voice, "have you seen him?"

"No," came the puzzled reply. "My wife said there was an ambulance here before, though."

"Was the siren on?"

"What?" Turning to look at David again, number sixteen furrowed his brow in confusion. "I don't know. Why d'you ask that?"

"Well," David said, "If it wasn't, someone's dead, right?"

Number sixteen stared at him for a moment, before giving a nervous shrug and sidling away from him. David didn't watch him go, his eyes on the people on the other side of the police ribbon. There were uniformed officers, a whole host of them, but the presence of a number of official-looking characters in black suits told him as clear as day that he had not been wrong, after all. The only business the FBI had in town was with the man who had murdered six people. With a start, he even caught sight of the blonde who had held that press conference. She looked tired.

Liddy's scoffing words came back to him, and he was glad to learn that he didn't feel even the slightest inkling of excitement at the prospect of telling her that she had, for once, been wrong. Staring up at the house he had lived across the street from for longer than he presently cared to recall, he made a silent vow to get off his ass and give her that stupid ring before it was too late.

He didn't know what he'd been expecting to see.

If pressed to answer, he might have said nothing. Just a nobody, a nondescript, unremarkable nonentity. He had seen so many of those, both face to face and in the pages of books and files and articles. It was by all accounts one of the most efficient weapons you could have at your disposal if your inclination was to commit serial murder. Dull and drab, polite and boring, forgettable. A guarantee that no one would look twice at you, never mind suspect you of being responsible for something so memorable. Obviously there were exceptions, as to any rule – one that had been seen more than once was that of the handsome killer. Bundy was the most famous example. They were suave and charming and thereby evaded suspicion almost as efficiently as the grey little men who were just as depraved. If pressed to answer, Reid might have said that the man in the hospital bed in front of him fit in somewhere between the two.

He was still under from the anesthesia, which was the only reason Reid felt safe to be anywhere near the room he'd been stowed away in. It was smaller than Reid's and lit up like a stadium – the lights were as glaring as the basement had been, a fact Reid felt vaguely panicked over for no clear reason. He had always feared the dark, but in the hours since finding himself in the hospital he'd been increasingly drawn to it, palpably averse to the ever-present, glaring light of the institutional lamps. The shadows were safer.

Other than this, he was fairly numb. Once the drugs had left his system, he had been a zombie, barely able to look at anyone and even less empowered in the art of conversation. Words were a sudden nuisance, which was an unfamiliar sensation. Overall, everything was unfamiliar, even the team. It was like he'd never seen them before, only just beginning to attach their faces and voices to his subconscious. Like they were strangers. During the night they had all been understandably busy, and he felt immeasurably guilty for the gratitude he'd experienced for this. Of the six of them, Garcia and Gideon had been around the most, the former due to the sudden absence of urgent tasks to perform and the latter for reasons Reid didn't know nor cared to learn.

Physically, he was still in bad shape, and he thought the inner goings-on would have been far more chaotic if he hadn't been in so much pain. The morphine drip had at his request been removed hours ago, and he could feel every single wound like they had voices of their own. Screeching, supersonic voices. He could stand up straight without assistance, but it made his whole body reverberate with agony with every beat of his heart. Currently, it was pounding against his ribs as if set on reducing them to dust, which didn't help at all.

"Do you want to leave?"

The voice startled him; he had forgotten Gideon was there. Looking over his shoulder to where he stood in the doorway, he swallowed and took a steadying breath.

"No, I…why?"

Eagle eyes soft and watchful, the older agent spoke quietly. "You were moaning."

Reid blinked. Unconsciously drew his hospital bathrobe tighter about himself. "I was?"

Gideon raised his eyebrows in silent assent. "You sounded like you were in pain."

I am, he thought, but didn't have the energy to voice it. Gideon didn't seem to care if Reid answered him, though, and he had to admit it was comforting to hear the complete absence of pity in his voice. He talked to him like he always did.

"We were off on his age," he muttered now, stroking his chin pensively as he gazed towards the bed. "Just by three years, but it's still noteworthy. He looks even younger."

Reid released a slow breath. Tore his eyes from Gideon and looked back at the figure on the bed. Michael Ray Jones was not as handsome as Ted Bundy, but nor was he by any standards drab and dull. His dark brown hair was thick and coarse, and even after the three-hour surgery that had repaired the damage in his neck you could see that it was cut in a spiky, tousled style that probably didn't require much upkeep. A dark stubble currently shadowed his cheeks, but he was otherwise beardless and blemish-free, with a clear complexion that was completely devoid of wrinkles and which made him look no older than twenty-five. He had a thin face, with high cheekbones and a softly aquiline nose, and his brow was high and smooth, giving him a vaguely intellectual appearance. He was attractive, Reid supposed, in a brooding kind of way. They had been informed he was in excellent health, which had been a major contributor to the success of his surgery.

It should probably have been strange, seeing him helpless in a hospital bed. Reid knew he should be putting it into perspective, should be outmaneuvering the image of the towering black shape in the black mask to make room for this, this…human being. But all he could really think, even if he put his mind to it, was that he had looked bigger in the basement. Not much bigger, but bigger. It was likely due to the fact that he'd been on the floor most of the time. A child's vantage point.

Staring at his attacker from an all but nonexistent distance of five feet, Reid could feel the panic like a hand around his heart. Even in the numbness, even in a world that had gone oddly muffled and colorless, he felt it. Like he was still in that basement. He knew it would be a while before it faded, and even longer before it never came back. If he'd been any less cut off, if he'd had any of the profiler's instincts left, he would've had the presence of mind to be at least anxious about the recovery process he would have to face. But the profiler inside him was finally still, and he couldn't think much further ahead than the moment when he'd be out of this room and back in his bed. Distantly, he longed for when he could be out of the hospital altogether, something he'd been told would happen today. Why they'd been forced to take Jones here at all was beyond him, but he couldn't be bothered to be upset about it; it would've made no difference if he'd been on the other side of the city.

There were no windows in the room, but he knew the sun had come up. Dawn was here. His first, in many ways. This day would pass, and there would be a tomorrow. A luxury he hadn't had just a few hours ago.

Taking a step back from the man who had done his best to destroy him, he turned his back and looked at Gideon.

"I'm done," he told him. Gideon gave the smallest of nods.

"Come on," he said and held out his arm. "I brought my chessboard. We've got time for a game before you get out of here."

AN: If you want more, the sequel is called "Broken Things".