Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to the TV series, Criminal Minds.

Note: This story contains some very small spoilers from season five, but nothing from the most recent episodes. Please enjoy!


Safe
Part 1

By N. J. Borba


Most of the cabin lights were dimmed. Morgan sat beside Reid with Prentiss and JJ facing them across the table. Reid and JJ were playing a card game while Emily read. Rossi was asleep in a seat behind them and Hotch was laid out on the lounge. It was rare that their boss slept on flights, but there was nothing pressing and several hours yet to reach home. The case in northern California had been a tough one for all of them, but more so for Hotch and JJ due to their roles as parents. Not that seeing dead children had been easy on any of them.

Derek had listened to his music for about an hour, but it hadn't done much to calm him down. He was restless and unable to sleep. Reid had politely asked if he wanted to join in on their poker game. In lieu of real money or even poker chips they were using pretzel sticks. Derek shook his head to silently decline their offer. His focus settled on Prentiss for a few moments before he realized what she was reading.

"Little Women?" Morgan screwed up his nose as he leaned forward and glanced at the cover, trying to make sure he was seeing it right.

Emily heard the scoff in his tone and let the book drop to her lap as she regarded him. "What's wrong with Little Women?" she asked in a slightly more defensive manner than she'd planned. "It's a classic," the raven haired profiler pointed out, almost daring him to speak again her statement.

He shrugged a little, not wishing to rile her. A slow smile spread over his face. "You're right, it is a classic. I think my sister Sarah read it at least a dozen times as a teenager. But," he paused a second, not quite sure he should speak his mind.

"But what?" the daring tone in her voice was back.

"I don't know," he held his hands up in supplication, even though he'd already resigned to spit out the words on the edge of his tongue. "It's just that you read things like Kurt Vonnegut, and Little Women in comparison seems… well, it seems kind of girly," Derek finally relayed. He sat back and eyed her carefully, trying to gauge her reaction.

The hint of a smile curled her lips, but it was gone before it really started. Emily pointed to the blonde woman beside her. "I know JJ is our resident media guru, but here's a little news flash for you, Derek; I'm a girl."

Morgan couldn't help but laugh out loud at that comment. And he was grateful when her smile returned, fuller and expressive. JJ chuckled and Reid wore a small smile as well, obviously enjoying the show. "That's true," Derek finally agreed with a nod of his head.

"You thought you had me pegged, didn't you?" Emily asked.

His head shook. "Nah, I'd never make that mistake." Derek watched her again as she brought the book back up to eye level. He waited just a second before leaning forward and snatching the hard bound book out of her hands.

"Derek," Emily's momentary lightheartedness came to a screeching halt. "Please give me back the book." Her voice was low, and not the least bit amused.

He didn't seem to sense her mood had changed and continued to tease her. "So, what actually happens in this book that makes it such a classic?" Derek flipped the item over and ran a finger over the gold embossing along the spine. "Looks like an old copy," he remarked.

"Morgan, give me the book," Prentiss growled the words through gritted teeth, using his last name instead of the first.

Emily's hand was held toward him, but Morgan remained oblivious to her agitation as he turned the book back over and opened the front cover. He noticed some writing on the first page and started to read what it said. "To Emily on her thirteenth birthday…"

"MORGAN DON'T!"

The plane's interior turned deathly silent after that as they all turned to stare at her. Hotch and Rossi had been jolted out of a sound sleep. JJ dropped her cards and Reid found himself with a lap full of pretzels. Morgan sat with her book still opened to the first page, but his eyes locked with hers. Emily balled her fingers into fists as she tried to stop them from shaking at her sides. She could feel everyone's eyes on her, watching her and no doubt trying to read her. Some days she really hated being surrounded by profilers.

"Can I have my book back?" she asked, her eyes never leaving Derek's.

He closed the book and nodded as he silently pushed it across the table to her. "I'm sorry," Derek whispered. Admittedly, taking the book had been rude of him, but he hadn't expected such an animated response from her. He'd just been trying to have a bit of fun with her, like they always did. Derek didn't know what exactly had set her off about the whole interaction but he was well and truly sorry. Seeing the hurt and somewhat confused look on her face made his heart ache a little.

Emily held the book close as she managed to reign in her emotions. She hadn't meant to lose her cool like that, especially not in front of her co-workers. They weren't just co-workers, though. They were her friends, some of the best ones she'd ever had in her life. But she still felt a certain amount of distance from them, a distance she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to bridge. Book still in hand, she stood up and faced the team.

"I'm sorry," Emily's apology was quick and simple. She then moved to a seat by herself at the back of the plane and stayed there for the remainder of the flight.

xxx

Morgan slid into the chair across from Prentiss the next morning. The others all quietly filed into the briefing room and took seats around the round table.

"Another case so soon?" Rossi asked as JJ passed out her report files.

"Bad guys don't take days off," JJ replied. She wasn't any happier about it than she imagined the others were, especially the part about it being a Saturday. JJ had barely had enough time the night before to tuck her baby boy in. And she'd had just a short time in the morning to feed him before the call had come in on her cell phone. "This one came past my desk about the same time as the last one. I chose three-year-olds over teenaged girls," she admitted with a heavy heart as the screen behind her changed to reveal two pictures. "I got a call from the Quincy, Massachusetts police department this morning. Another two girls went missing yesterday while we were on our way home." She pointed to the screen. "The first two victims were found three weeks ago in Boston."

"Two victims?" Morgan questioned as he examined both pictures. "Those pictures look identical."

Emily got up and walked toward the screen, coffee mug in her left hand. "They're not identical. Look here," she ran her index finger along the ear of the girl in one of the pictures. "This one has three earrings in her right ear and two in the left." She pointed to the other picture. "Her sister only has one piercing in each ear. Twins almost always try to find some way to distinguish themselves." Prentiss stood there for another second before she walked around behind the table again, but she didn't sit.

JJ nodded. "Tina and Tracy Monroe are identical twins. They were just a few weeks shy of their thirteenth birthday when they were found slain like this. The girls were both reported missing at the same time on a Friday evening, but their bodies were found at opposite ends of the city."

"That's odd," Reid remarked. "Twin killings are very rare, but most suggest a desire of the killer to be close somehow. There was a case of twin boys being killed in Milwaukee about ten years ago. The boys were always found together, tied together in fact. The Un-Sub was trying to recreate a womb setting. His twin brother had been killed in a car accident at age two and the surviving twin was never the same. This MO doesn't seem to follow that pattern."

"All killers have different reasons," Hotch reminded the team. "Sometimes we get too mired down in the typical behavior to realize that these murderers are always doing new things. We can't let ourselves get so caught up in what should be, but rather we need to be aware of what could be."

Morgan and Reid exchanged a look that clearly relayed their agreement. "I'm assuming these weren't the only victims," Derek spoke up again.

The screen changed to reveal another two girls who didn't look nearly as much alike. "These are fraternal twins, Stacey and Stephanie Colbert. They both disappeared while attending a friend's birthday party at a bowling alley two Fridays ago. Their bodies were found in Brookline at a public park. Today would have been their thirteenth birthday." A moment of silence followed, as if the team were memorializing in honor of their birthday.

"Were they found together?" Reid asked after a beat.

JJ shook her head. "No, Stephanie was laying in a copse of birch trees and Stacey was found near the playground; opposite ends of the park."

"Again with the separation," Reid noted.

"Why is it that twins always seem to be given names that rhyme or names that start with the same letter?" Rossi mused.

Reid jumped on the question. "Actually there have been several studies done on that very topic. Some concluding evidence states that parents use similar sounding names or names with the same first initial as a means of keeping the twins as a, sort of, singular identity. It's easier for parents to look after an individual child versus multiple ones. Sort of a strange kind of psychological phenomena. It can happen even in families without twins or other multiple birth children."

"Okay," Morgan shook his head. "That's odd." He glanced over his shoulder, curious about how quiet Prentiss was. Usually she sat during the briefings, but ever since she'd stood up to point out the difference in the first set of twins, she'd been on her feet. He also couldn't shake the feeling that she was still upset with him, and that was hard to take. Tensions in the team weren't a good thing. But it felt like more than that.

JJ advanced the screen again. One picture popped up showing two girls with dark hair done up in braids. They both wore happy smiled on their faces. "Jessica and Melissa Zanvil were reported missing yesterday by their mother when they didn't return home from school."

"Dark hair," Hotch noticed that all the girls fit that same description. "He seems to be targeting a certain hair color, or they were just the only twins he could find. Twins seem to be a slimmer category to pick from."

"That's not entirely true," Reid piped up again. "There's been a rapid insurgence in the rate of twin births in the last twenty years; multiple births as a whole, actually. Mostly it's due to the increase of couples who use in-vitro fertilization to help them get pregnant. More eggs are fertilized and implanted in the womb with the hope that at least one will go full term."

Rossi's brow creased a little in thought. "So, it's more likely that these twins would be fraternal and not identical? Does that help us at all?"

"Maybe," Hotch replied with a one shoulder shrug. It was still really early in the case to say anything for certain.

"At least these two have identifying names," Rossi added.

Reid frowned, running a finger across his lips. "If you really think about it, the names Melissa and Jessica are still very similar. Both have three syllables, the double s and the a at the end." He looked around at the blank stares he was getting and sunk down in his seat a little.

"What about the messages?" Prentiss finally spoke up. "The things he's carving in their backs?"

All heads spun around to regard her. "What messages?" Hotch asked as he quickly flipped through the file JJ had provided them at the start of the meeting. "Did I miss something?" he looked to JJ for an answer.

The light-haired woman looked just as shocked as the rest of them. "There were no messages that I'm aware of. The bodies were pretty clean. Mostly they were killed by a blow to the head or strangulation." She looked to Emily with worried eyes. "What messages are you talking about?" she asked, noticing that her friend didn't even have a file in hand.

Emily stood there for a long time before she replied. "I don't… it must have been some other case I was thinking about. Sorry."

Everyone turned back toward JJ except for Derek. He watched Emily for a moment, trying to gauge exactly what was off about her. But he couldn't seem to pinpoint anything so he also returned his attention to JJ and the other team members. "There is another case that the Boston PD are combing for reference," JJ began again as more photos filled the screen. Four girls in two groups showed up. "These four girls were killed almost twenty-five years ago in a fairly similar manner. Two sets of twins, bodies were found separated from one another, and they all had dark hair."

"Was the killer ever caught?" Rossi asked.

"No," JJ shook her head.

"Twenty-five years ago?" Derek questioned. "Are we really considering these deaths a part of the same case?"

Hotch sighed. "Unfortunately, we know that some cases have been known to span that many years. It's rare, but it does happen."

"There's one other thing," JJ said as she reached for a file on the table. She flipped it open and pulled out a 5x7 picture of another girl. JJ held it up for everyone to see.

The sound of something shattering caused them all to jump. Derek was the first to turn around and see Emily standing in a puddle of coffee and broken porcelain. Her left hand was red, clearly burned by the splash of hot coffee. She didn't appear to register the pain, though. He followed her gaze to the picture of the girl that JJ was still holding up. Reid was at Emily's side the next second, first aid kit in hand. He promptly applied some burn ointment and wrapped her hand in gauze. Rossi mopped up the coffee with some paper towels.

"Are you alright?" Reid asked Emily when he was done tending to her.

She smiled, thankful of his help. "Yeah, I'm good. I didn't get enough sleep last night, I guess that makes me a little clumsy," Emily tried to cover her unease. "Thanks for your help."

Reid nodded and sat back down. Derek was still concerned about the accident, but remained quiet as they all returned to what JJ had been about to say before the coffee spill. "I found another file grouped with the old cases. The thing is, it was completely blacked out. Except for this photograph."

"So, you think she was one of this guy's victims too?" Hotch asked.

"One?" Rossi posed the question. "The Un-Sub's MO is clearly to go after twins, but this was just one girl?"

JJ shrugged. "I can't be sure. There was only one picture in the file."

"Maybe they were identical and only one picture was included," Reid pitched in his thoughts.

"It seems unlikely," JJ replied. "The police are usually more thorough than that. And there were no other photos, nothing with a body or crime scene."

Derek glanced at the picture again. "Maybe she was one of the lucky ones, maybe she got away or was found?"

"All possibilities," Hotch acknowledged as he closed his file. "Either way, it looks like we've got ourselves a case." He glanced down at his watch. "I've got an important report that needs to get out this morning or heads will roll. Why don't we shoot for a twelve-thirty departure. That gives me about an hour. If I'm not done by then, I'll have to take it with me and face the wrath of the bass. I don't want these girls to wait any longer."

They all nodded and filtered out of the room. Derek was going to stop Emily, but she was gone before he could even stand up. Instead, he walked around the table and looked down at the picture of the last girl JJ had shown them. Something about it called to him and he picked it up to examine it more closely. "Who are you, mystery girl? And what secrets might you be able to tell us?" he whispered to himself.

xxx

He was barely through the door when he heard Garcia speak. "Apologies are good, but flowers are better."

"What?" Morgan put a hand to the back of her chair and spun her around.

The technical analyst flashed a lopsided frown. "Emily, I heard you pissed her off on the plane ride home last night," she arched her brow and turned back to the computer at her desk.

Derek sighed, crossing arms over his chest while still holding an object in one hand. "Where did you hear that?" he asked.

She smiled knowingly. "JJ might have mentioned it."

"You know I was just goofing around with her, baby girl. Just a little teasing to cut the tension, the way we all tease each other. We'd just solved a case that involved a guy who was killing three year old kids and locking them in a freezer. Not even my music was calming those demons."

"I'm sorry," she put a hand on his forearm and squeezed it affectionately. "But I imagine Emily was just as upset by it all, and you sat there and read a personal inscription in her book; out loud for the others to hear."

Morgan uncrossed his arms. "Did JJ give you an entire transcript of what happened last night?"

"Just the cold hard facts," Penelope smirked.

He felt even worse, hearing how his misdeeds sounded coming out of Garcia's mouth. Derek tried to think of something that he might be able to do to smooth things over. "Isn't her birthday coming up?"

"Miss Libra, yes," Garcia nodded. "I believe Reid said her birthday was October twelfth."

Derek sighed. "Five days. I have five days to think of a way to make this up to her."

Garcia arched her eyebrows again. "Chocolate is divine and diamonds are a girl's best friend," she replied in a sing-song voice.

"Yeah, yeah," he shook his head at her antics and leaned over her chair as he sat a file down on her desk. "I need you to run something for me." Derek flipped open the file folder and used his right index finger to point down at the photo in question.

"Cute kid, who is she?"

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "We think she might have been murdered twenty-five years ago in connection with some other cases back then." Derek hated to see how her face fell when he mentioned the murdered girl. More days than he could count he wished his job were a happier one. "The other four killed around the same time were two sets of twin girls, all aged thirteen. This picture was in a file on its own, everything else was blacked out."

"Blacked out?"

"Most likely sealed up tight by some official. But those past cases might link up with the case JJ just went over with us," he revealed. "Do you think you can get a hit on the picture?"

"You know I will do my very best," Garcia replied as she scanned the picture into her system. "And…voila." The image popped onto her screen and Garcia started tapping into all the data bases that she could think to look for information on a thirteen year old girl. She glanced over to see that Morgan was pulling up a chair beside her. "Uh, this could take a while. Don't you have a plane to catch?"

Derek sat down. "Wheels don't go up for an hour. I've got some time." He placed an elbow on the chair's arm and leaned his head against his hand.

"All right, what's going on with you former boss-man?" Garcia asked even as she continued to click away on her computer. "I know taking over Hotch's duties was rough, and giving him back the reins can't have been easy either. If that's all there is then I understand, but it seems like more. Is it more?" she pressed.

Morgan grinned, wondering when she'd grown eyes on the side of her head. She could see his troubles from a mile away. But it went both ways. "Nothing," he tried to cover it up. When she turned, rolled her eyes at him and then turned away again Derek knew there was no amount of lying that could quell her inquisitive mind. "It's about that woman whose brother was killed. And before you say anything more, I know you told me it was a bad idea. I didn't listen."

"Was it a bad idea?" Garcia queried.

He nodded. "Yeah, bad on a lot of levels."

"Well, we won't even touch the fact that she was a victim's relative," Garcia shook her head, trying to keep her I-told-you-so look to a minimal. "However, trying to force a relationship with someone when you're really not interested but just trying to cover up the fact that you have feelings for someone else who you don't think you can or should be with… well, that's the real issue, isn't it?"

Derek stared at her for a long moment before he threw his hands up. "I'm not even sure what all you just said."

"You can not lie to me, Derek Morgan," she replied. "I know more about the goings on in this BAU unit than I ever let on and…" her computer beeped loudly, causing the woman's train of thought to return to the job. "I think I might have something already." Garcia typed away for a few seconds. "This photo tripped an archive at a picture studio that specializes in school portraits. Picture Perfection," she named the company. "It deals with digital photos these days, but they have a massive archive from the last thirty years. It looks like everything was scanned in by hand. I'm sure that was a fun task for someone. Apparently the company has been run by two generations of the same family. Currently under a Rodney Metcalf Jr."

Morgan leaned forward. "You need to give me more than that. What about the picture?"

"I'm working on it, my impatient love," she quipped. "The photo in the company's database doesn't have a name, but it is tagged with a school ID number and year." Garcia continued to scroll through the data. "Got it; The Winsor School. The picture was taken in 1984."

"Twenty-five years ago," Derek acknowledged. "Well, at least it seems to be in the right timeline. What can you find out about the school?"

"Already ahead of you there," she had the school's web site up and displayed on her main monitor. "It's a private, all girls, school in Boston. A school for academically promising and motivated girls, grades five through twelve," she read the words at the top of the screen in a hoity tone. "I'm accessing their databank right now, looks like it goes back well past the twenty-five year mark. Here we are, 1984… eliminating all male students from the search criteria," she glanced over her shoulder. There wasn't even a smirk of acknowledgment for her bad joke. Garcia returned to the land of serious. "I found a match for her picture, but… hmm, the file is all blacked out except to state that she was in the seventh grade."

Derek drummed his fingers on the back of her chair. "Just like the case file. What else can you get me? Anything useful?"

She shook her head. "There's nothing. I don't get it. Someone went to a lot of trouble to keep this girl anonymous."

"Or to try and forget her," Morgan mused aloud. He wasn't sure why that particular thought had come to mind, but it was sticking firm for the moment.

"Whoa, ho, ho… back up the school bus, Mr. Principal," Penelope squinted at the screen as she scrolled back through the names of the students in the girl's seventh grade class. She could have sworn she'd just seen something familiar flick past her eyes. "Gotcha!" She pulled up the name that had caught her attention. "Well, this is certainly interesting. Look who went to school with her that year," Garcia moved her head so he could see the screen a little better.

He felt his gut tighten. "Is that for real?"

"Yep, same grade and everything," Garcia reported.

"You think that's just coincidence?"

Penelope sighed. "Any other line of work, maybe. Our line of work, probably not. That's the only hit I got on the photo. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"No, baby girl," Derek shook his head. "This is more than enough for now. Thanks."

Garcia watched him go, but she didn't feel very good about the information she'd just armed him with.

xxx

Just twenty minutes after take off the team had already finished going over the case. Mostly because there was very little to go over. Derek pulled out the picture he'd had Garcia run through the system for him. He got up and moved toward the table where Hotch, Emily and JJ were all seated. Looking down at Hotch, Derek softly asked the man to scoot over so he could take a seat with them. Hotch promptly obliged him.

He placed the picture on the table's surface. "I think figuring out the identity of this mystery girl could be a big help," Morgan said as he looked to Hotch and then JJ.

JJ nodded. "I agree, do you have any ideas on how to accomplish that?"

"I already had Garcia run the picture," Derek responded. "And there's someone on this plane who I think can tell us at least some of what we need to know."

Hotch looked to Derek, then to JJ and finally back to Morgan again. "I'm afraid I'm not following," he admitted.

Derek slid the picture across to where Emily was sitting; the very same Emily who had dropped her gaze the second Morgan had sat down in front of her. "Can you tell us who she is?" he asked. "Even just a name would be a big help," he implored the woman.

"Please, don't do this," Emily's voice was softer than most of them had ever heard before. There was also a distinct crack in her tone that betrayed her fragile state of mind.

Morgan extended his hand across the table and rested it atop one of Emily's, the one that hadn't been burned. "I know the two of you attended the same school in the seventh grade. All I need from you is a name, something more searchable than this photograph."

Hotch rested his forearms on the table and leaned forward in his seat. "If you know something about this case, Prentiss, I'd like to hear it." He tried not to sound so clinical about it, clearly seeing and hearing her distress. But the lives of two young girls were hanging in the balance and they needed all the information they could get. "If you can help Jessica and Melissa, wouldn't you want to do that?" He deliberately used the girl's names to appeal to her kind heart. "Their lives could depend on this information."

"Don't you think I know that?" She sat up straighter and finally faced the two men. Emily felt JJ place a comforting hand against her shoulder.

Derek could see the tears welling in her eyes. He squeezed her hand, feeling bad for having ambushed her. "What was her name?"

She sighed and bit down hard on her bottom lip to keeps the tears at bay. The last thing she wanted was to cry in front of her team. "Erica," the name came out in a raspy whisper.

Morgan gripped her hand a little tighter. "You two were close?" he asked, though he could already hear the confirmation in her strained voice.

"She was my best friend," Emily revealed to them. Her eyes moved to the picture and her bottom lip trembled as she looked down at the girl in the photo. She wanted to both smile and scream as she regarded the girl who looked so serene. Emily remembered another time she'd seen a picture of the girl; a time when Erica had looked anything but serene. "She was also my twin sister," she finally admitted with a shaky breath. One solitary tear rolled down her cheek. It beaded at her chin and then dropped, landing on the picture of Erica.


To be continued…