Mask of Sanity
So I got a little obsessed with Criminal Minds this summer. And I started playing around with a cross-over with Supernatural. Which in turn, brought the Sweeds into play. I know. It feels incredibly self-indulgent to insert my own characters into not one, but two, separate television shows. But I can't seem to keep myself from moving all these fun little pieces around in my own little universe.
We'll see how this all comes together.
[If you haven't read any of my Supernatural stories, the Sweeds are a family the Winchester brothers have been involved with in my AU.]
Luke Sweed suppressed a groan and rolled toward the small hand that was plucking at the sleeve of his t-shirt. "Yeah, buddy?"
Tommy was crouched next to the bed, eyes enormous in his pale face.
"You have another bad dream?" This was the second time in as many nights that the kid had woken him. Luke levered himself up, swinging his legs off the side of the bed at the same time.
Tommy nodded, moving close, and Luke blearily wrapped his arms around the boy. He ran a hand sleepily up and down the narrow back, struggling not to drift off even as he tried to offer what comfort he could.
"I'm sorry," Tommy mumbled into his ear.
Luke cleared his throat softly, wondering if they could avoid waking Jo. "'s OK, sweetheart, it's not your fault," he soothed.
"I should have told you," Tommy whispered, voice breaking as he started to cry.
Surprise halted the motion of Luke's hand on Tommy's back. "Told me what, kiddo?"
"I'm sorry." Tommy started to sob in earnest, trying to crawl completely into Luke's lap. Luke felt Jo's presence behind him, pressing against his back, her arms coming around both of them, adding her own attempt to quiet the shuddering child.
"Yeah," Luke said heavily into the phone. "My nephew and a couple of his friends found the body a couple of days ago. They were on property they knew they weren't supposed to be on, and it took this long for one of them to crack."
He listened, rubbing his fingers over his forehead. "Not long, I'd say. Two or three days? No, no one from around here as far as I can tell. The condition of the body was, well." It was no wonder Tommy had been having nightmares, guilty conscience aside. Luke was having a hard time getting the image of the mutilated girl out of his own mind. "I'd seen the alerts and once we determined that it wasn't decomposition or animals, I knew we needed to call you folks in."
Luke sighed and closed his eyes as the voice on the other end of the phone continued. "Yes, ma'am, we can do that." He nodded. "We'll see you then, Agent Jareau."
Aaron Hotchner squinted in the glare of sun as he exited the plane ahead of his team, dropping his sunglasses onto his nose, but not reacting to the temperature even as his people gasped audibly when the heat hit them.
"Sweet Mary, mother of God, it's hot!" Prentiss exhaled, apparently trying to catch her breath in the searing heat.
A gust of wind blew over them, but instead of providing any sort of relief, it just swirled the heat up and around, drying the sweat that had already sprung up all over their bodies.
"It's kind of like a convection oven," J.J. commented wryly. "That must be the sheriff," she said, angling her chin toward the man walking across the pitted tarmac toward them.
Hotch nodded his agreement with her statement, already sizing up the man who approached. Tall and solidly built, Luke Sweed walked with the open gait Hotch associated with people who lived in rural areas like this, loose-limbed, but controlled, hand already extended toward the people he was meeting. A younger man kept pace with him a couple of steps back, letting his boss lead.
"Sheriff Sweed," J.J. said, accepting the proffered hand and shaking it.
"Agent Jareau," the man returned easily. "Thanks for coming." He turned to include the man behind him. "This is my deputy, Matt Rodriguez."
Jareau nodded and shook his hand. "This is our team, Supervisory Agent Aaron Hotchner, Agent David Rossi, Agent Derek Morgan, Agent Emily Prentiss, and Dr. Spencer Reid."
Everyone shook hands. Greeting ritual taken care of, the sheriff said, "What do you need from us? I assume you'll want to see the body and the site where it was found. Talk to the boys."
Hotch nodded, stepping forward now that the niceties had been observed. He was aware that the body had been moved, and while that was something he wish hadn't been done, there was no point in ruffling feathers at this point by making an issue of it. "That will get us started. Do you have a place we can set up operations?"
"We were planning on setting you up at our office. We're a small operation ourselves, so it will be a tight squeeze, but you're welcome to anything we have."
Looking toward the edge of the small airstrip, Hotch saw two sheriff's vehicles parked in the lot. "I'd like to have Agent Rossi and Dr. Reid start with the dump site."
If the man's expression tightened slightly at the use of "dump site," he didn't give any further indication that he was bothered by the term.
"Of course," he said. "Matt can take them. I'll take the rest of you into town. The morgue's just a block from the office, if you'd like to see the body."
The sheriff and the deputy exchanged a look, and the younger man nodded. "This way, gentlemen," he said, and Rossi and Reid followed after him.
Sheriff Sweed led the way to the other vehicle, opening the door J.J. reached for before she got a hand on it. One of her eyebrows went up as she glanced at him, but the sheriff seemed unaware of her reaction.
"I'll have Jimmy bring your gear to the office," he said, already talking to Hotch through the open door as Hotch climbed into the front passenger seat. He continued to hold the door as Prentiss followed J.J. into the car and shut it behind them before opening his own door and sliding behind the wheel. He checked the rear view mirror, taking in Morgan and the two women. "Y'all set?" he asked, waiting for their nods before he turned the engine over.
Hotch glanced into the backseat, noting the amused looks his team exchanged at the courtesies.
"What can you tell me about the boys that found the body?" Hotch asked. "Any chance they messed with it?" Hotch paused deliberately. "Any chance they might have had something to do with the girl getting there?" He knew one of the kids was the sheriff's nephew, and he wanted to gauge the man's reaction to the suggestion.
The muscle along the sheriff's jaw jumped, but he answered evenly enough. "No. No chance at all." The look he leveled at Hotch was sharp, calculating. "You know that one of them's my boy." He was checking to make sure that was true.
"Yes," Hotch said coolly. Interesting, he thought. "My boy," not "my nephew."
The sheriff nodded. "They're good boys, all three of them. There's absolutely no chance in hell they had anything to do with that girl's death. None." He paused. "And I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have messed with the body. It scared the crap out of them. All three said they just ran when they realized what they'd found." He shook his head. "Slowed down enough to agree not to tell anyone evidently." Now he sighed. "Idiots," he muttered. "But Tommy's had nightmares ever since and Kyle's folks and Joe's have said the same about their boys."
"We'll need to talk to them."
"I told their parents y'all were on your way as soon as I knew you were coming. You want me to have them come on in?"
At Hotch's nod, the sheriff pulled out his phone. He hit what was obviously one of his speed dial numbers.
"Hey. Yeah, they're here. Yeah. Yeah. OK. Thanks." He hung up and dropped the phone back in his breast pocket. "They'll be there."
The sheriff had not been lying when he'd said they had a small operation. The sheriff's office seemed to consist of a large open area with a couple of desks and an additional room in the back that J.J. assumed held whatever cells the building might contain.
"We've cleared off Matt's desk for y'all to use," the sheriff said, pointing. "We, uh, don't have a conference room, but you're welcome to use the holding area, if you need privacy for anything."
Derek gave the sheriff a quick look, but the man seemed to be serious.
Sweed shrugged, noticing the glance. "We don't have much call for more space than we've got," he explained.
"That will be fine, sheriff," Hotch said. He looked around. "I'd like to have my people look at the body."
The sheriff nodded again. "Right." He pulled his phone out and made another call almost identical to one he'd made in the car. Evidently, the presence of the FBI was not a secret in town.
The door of the office opened and four adults with a couple of young boys came in. They all blinked uncertainly at the strangers, the children edging closer to their parents as they took in the federal agents.
"Y'all come on in." The sheriff – Luke, he'd said his name was – moved back to the front of the room, ushering the witnesses in and around the invaders. He shook hands with the adults, and touched each boy briefly, smile reassuring parents and children alike. "Pull up some chairs around Matt's desk. We're just waiting on Jo and Tommy, OK?"
The door swung open again and every head in the room turned that way. "Doc," Luke said this time, attention now on the gray-haired man who'd entered. The sheriff looked at Hotch. "This is our M.E., mostly part time. Rob Jones."
Hotch stepped forward, a glance getting Morgan headed his way. He shook the man's hand.
"Robby, this is Agent Hotchner and his team." The sheriff finished the introductions, and J.J. was impressed that he'd remembered everyone's name. There were a lot of people involved in the case at this point.
"Dr. Jones." Hotch didn't waste any time. "I'd like my agent to see the victim and hear your report."
The doctor nodded. "No problem," he said, shaking hands as he exchanged greetings with Derek.
"You walk?" Luke asked. At the doctor's nod of affirmation, the sheriff turned to Derek. "You OK with that? We're short on rides."
Derek shrugged. "That's fine," he agreed.
J.J. couldn't help the slight smile at Derek's slightly disgruntled expression. He wasn't excited about walking in this heat.
"Thanks." J.J. asserted herself into the conversation. "We've got transportation on its way. We just wanted to get on scene as soon as possible." The federal vehicles had left from Midland, as she understood it, but wouldn't be there for a couple of hours.
The sheriff nodded briskly. "That'd be helpful," he agreed.
When the door opened a third time, the doctor left with Morgan, passing a woman and another boy in the doorway. The doctor said something to the woman, rubbing a quick hand over the boy's head as he went by.
The two newcomers warranted the most personal acknowledgment by the sheriff, who kissed the woman on the cheek and curled his arm—reassuring and protective—around the boy, who had stepped close as he eyed the suited men and women in the room.
"Agent Hotchner, this is my wife, Jo. And our boy, Tommy."
Expressionless, Hotch extended his hand. "Mrs. Sweed," he said. He gave the boy the same blank-seeming stare. "Tommy."
Nervously, the boy held his hand out, eyes flicking to the sheriff and then back to Hotch. "S- sir," he faltered as Hotch shook it.
Hotch had put two of the boys in opposite corners of the room and sent Tommy and Jo into the jail area to be interviewed. He'd wanted all the kids separated and had given J.J. the task of talking to the sheriff's family on her own.
"Find out exactly what the boy's relationship is with the sheriff," he'd said quietly when he'd given her the assignment. "Sweed seems sure the kids aren't involved," he'd added dryly, "but I'd like a second opinion on that possibility."
The sheriff had joined the questioning, sitting on one side of the boy, while his wife sat on the other. He was clearly assuming the role of "parent" as opposed to "law enforcement" for the interview, and J.J. kept that in mind as she proceeded.
"Hi, Tommy," she said softly, smiling at the boy. "I'm J.J., and I just want to ask you some questions about the body you and your friends found. Are you OK with that?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said quietly, gaze flicking to the woman next to him, leaning toward her.
"Ms. Sweed," J.J. said. "I'm going to ask Tommy a few things about how the boys found the body and what they saw." She looked at the sheriff to include him in the instructions before she returned her attention to the boy's… mother? "I'd like Tommy to answer as best he can, so I'm going to ask you and the sheriff to refrain from answering for him, if you would."
The woman was tight-lipped and pale, but she nodded readily enough. "Yes, ma'am," she agreed, one hand rubbing almost compulsively over the boy's back.
"Sugar," the sheriff said gently, hand coming up to still his wife's. "Ease up, a little, OK?" He smiled somewhat ruefully at J.J. and then laid the same hand on top of Tommy's head briefly. "You just answer Agent Jareau's questions as best you can, and it will all be OK," he told the child.
"Yes, sir," the kid whispered.
J.J. smiled at him. "Good. So, why don't you just start at the beginning for me."
"I've got to agree with the Sheriff on this. I don't think the boys had anything to do with the girl's death," J.J. told Hotch. They were gathered back in the jail area. Reid was leaning against the wall, while Morgan and Prentiss lounged on two of the sparsely made bunks. Hotch stood with his arms crossed in the door of the cell and Rossi was seated in the one chair at the rickety table. It wasn't quite Mayberry. Quite.
"I'm with J.J," Prentiss agreed without hesitation. "Kyle Smith is a sweet kid, and I didn't see any indication that he was anything other than a terrified boy, who was traumatized by what he'd seen and scared of getting in trouble for being where he wasn't supposed to be." She shrugged. "His parents seem to be a little strict, but they clearly love him. And as concerned as they were for their son, they were also upset about the girl. Asked about her parents, wondered who was taking care of making sure her family was notified."
Hotch nodded. Nothing she said was at odds with his own interview of Joe Williams. Good kid, good family. There were no signs that any of these kids were monsters in the making.
"What's the relationship of the sheriff with Tommy McCrae?" Hotch asked more out of curiosity than anything else at this point.
"Tommy's parents were killed in a tornado when he was still a toddler. Jo Sweed is his aunt, his father's sister. She took in Tommy and his brothers after their parents died, married the sheriff a year or so ago."
Hotch nodded. That explained both "nephew" and "my boy." He looked at Derek, "Body?"
Derek sat up from where he'd been slouched on the bunk. "Same as the others. Throat slit, eviscerated with multiple post-mortem stab wounds. Primitive tattoo on her forehead. This one was a 9." Derek leaned over to rest his elbows on his knees. "She shares a lot of the same physical characteristics of the original victim 9. The pictures they took of the body at the crime scene are pretty good, but," he blew out a breath, frustrated. "I'd much rather have had the opportunity to see it laid out." He shrugged his resignation. "She was positioned like the others, too. And there were indications that she'd been held for awhile before she'd been killed." He dropped his head below his shoulders. "I don't envy those kids their dreams for awhile."
There was a moment of agreeing silence.
Emily frowned slightly. "We're missing 4 through 8," she observed.
"And 10," Rossi added.
"So he's recreating his original murders?" J.J. said. "After an 18 year lull?"
"But in different locations."
"Copy cat?" Morgan offered.
"Seems unlikely, though, of course it's possible. There are aspects to the earlier killings that were never released to the public and whoever this is is following the original in every way…"
Almost 20 years ago there had been a series of murders across the south and southwest of women between the ages of 18 and 30, who had been kidnapped and tortured before being killed and mutilated. Each had had a number tattooed on her forehead. There had been ten deaths before the killings had stopped abruptly.
Five months ago a 19-year-old girl in Phoenix had disappeared and been found several days later with her throat cut, her torso ripped open, and the number one tattooed on her forehead. Two months later a 29-year-old in Farmington, New Mexico marked with a three, and a month after that a 31-year-old in Baton Rouge bearing a tattooed two. Each woman had been found in a remote area, miles away from where she'd last been seen.
The new victims, in addition to the tattoos and the manner in which they'd been killed, matched the original victims in physiology – both women marked with ones had been fairly solidly-built, blond, college girls, while both of those numbered with twos had been slender, professional African-American women. The 3s were white again, more brunet than blonde this time, each one married with a single child.
The 9s – the latest victim and her match – were Hispanic, in their early twenties. They didn't have a positive I.D. on the new girl, but if she shared more characteristics with her counter-part, she'd be involved in the health care profession in some way. The first victim had been a dental hygienist.
All of the women were firmly entrenched in their lives, missed quickly by roommates and colleagues and families. The Unsub wasn't picking women on the fringes of society – prostitutes or the destitute – or lonely women who isolated themselves by choice or circumstance. Each of the victims had been described by friends and family as outgoing, smart, and driven. The original profile spoke to an unsub with a deep hatred of women who exhibited independence or self-confidence. It seemed likely that they were looking for a male in his mid-20s to late 40s, who was in a position of weakness or under the authority of a woman or women who made him feel powerless. The new killings didn't appear to warrant any changes in that initial assessment. Except maybe a bump in his possible age.
"It looked like the unsub was headed east from the locations, but he's west again," Rossi said thoughtfully. "The original murders didn't seem to follow any geographical pattern, though – hop scotched all across the south and southwest."
There was an abrupt knock on the door into the main office and then it swung open.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," the sheriff said, oddly breathless and grim looking. "But we've got a report of a missing girl."
"You see this?" Dean Winchester was sitting at the table, scrolling down through a news article from an online small town newspaper. He glanced up at his brother who was scrolling through a menu displayed on the television. Sam had been calling out show possibilities to Dean, who had purposely agreed only on shows he knew Sam didn't really want to watch. Why, Dean couldn't say; it just seemed like the thing to do. Sam had stopped asking his opinion.
"What?" Sam asked, frowning absently at the screen across from of him. They didn't often stay in places that allowed this kind of viewing choice, and he was having a hard time settling on something.
"This." Dean explained unhelpfully. He squinted at the story.
Sam rolled his eyes. "Dean."
Dean ignored the bite in his brother's voice. "Body found, mutilated, FBI called in."
Sam still didn't understand. "And?"
"And. Luke's quoted as saying that some local boys found the girl and reported it."
"Luke?" That got Sam's attention. He scooted off the bed and reached for the laptop, pulling it out from under Dean's hands. Dean surrendered the machine with a slight rumble of annoyance.
A couple of years earlier, the Winchesters had found themselves stranded, first by exhaustion, then by sickness, at the hotel of a single woman with three boys. Jo Crouch and her nephews had absorbed the Winchester boys into their family so seamlessly that it sometimes still took Dean by surprise. Her marriage to Luke Sweed hadn't changed much of anything, and the Winchesters checked in fairly regularly by phone or email or visits. Or by reading the weekly online edition of the local newspaper. The police blotter—written mostly tongue-in-cheek by either Luke or Matt—was sometimes the funniest thing either Winchester would read in a month.
"You don't figure it would have been Tommy or Jake, do you?" Sam asked, glancing at his brother.
Dean shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets as he stood. But he was biting his lip, eyes scanning the room, looking for his phone.
"Why would they call in the FBI on this?" Sam asked. "There must be something…" His brow was furrowed as he read through what little information was included in the news story. He cocked his head. "Does any of this sound familiar to you?" He stopped reading and opened a new window, started typing. "This sounds familiar to me."
Dean tuned his brother out, picking up the jeans he'd tossed at his duffel when he'd gotten out of the shower. He pulled his phone out of the pocket.
He hit the speed dial number. "Luke's Voicemail," he told Sam. "Hey, it's Dean. I was checking the paper online and saw the thing about the body. Just… wondering how everyone was, I guess." He disconnected, but continued to stare at the phone. "Should I try Jo, do you think?"
"Hey, look at this." Sam turned the laptop toward his brother, and Dean left off his contemplation of his cell, moving forward obediently.
"This isn't the first body found like this." Sam pointed to a story of a woman discovered in Farmington, N.M. "See. Mutilated. Tattoo on her forehead." He changed windows. "And here. Phoenix. Throat cut, post-mortem mutilation. Symbol on her forehead." He looked up at Dean. "In the story Luke just said that a body had been found, but further down the page, the reporter mentions "markings" on the girl's forehead." He leaned forward again and clicked on another window. "And then there's this." He sat back to let Dean read.
"You remember that true crime phase I went through when I was, like, 11?"
Dean snorted. "How could I forget? Every time Dad found a monster to go after, you were convinced it was a serial killer." He grinned. "And I lost track of how many times I had to kick you out of my bed in the mornings cuz you'd scared yourself so bad."
Sam flushed. "I was eleven."
"You were an idiot," Dean returned. "You were so determined to be 'normal,' you decided that serial killers were a better option to explain things than anything supernatural. Like that is normal."
Sam huffed out an exasperated breath, but then laughed ruefully. "Yeah. You're probably right." Dean looked at him in surprise and Sam just shrugged. "I was eleven," he repeated. "Anyway. That," he gestured to the computer and the Wikipedia entry that was open, "was one of the stories that really fascinated me. I mean, he'd killed all these women, and then he just stopped."
Dean nodded. "You think maybe he's started up again?" he asked. "That he's somewhere close to the Sweeds?" Dean felt a shiver of fear go up his spine, and without thinking about it, he started to pack. It wasn't their kind of gig, but….
"Maybe," Sam said. He stood, responding instinctually to Dean's controlled agitation, shutting down the computer and reaching for his own bag. "I remember reading that they're not always sure why these kinds of killers stop, because they so rarely do if they aren't caught. Sometimes they figure these guys get injured so badly they can't continue or they end up in jail and don't have the opportunity to keep on." He paused. "Sometimes they die."
Dean stopped and turned to his brother, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. "A serial killer ghost?"
"Maybe," Sam shrugged.
Huh. Dean nodded. Either way, they were going.