Fandom: Criminal Minds
Characters/Pairing: Hotch - gen
Summary: It's inspection time, and backstory inconsistencies are going to bite them in the ass.
Author's Note: In terms of logistics as to how a fictional character can be real, think of this as a TV version of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next universe, which you should all totally read, because it's really awesome. In any case, if a logical plot is what you came for, then you'll probably be disappointed anyway.
* * *
Plot-wise, it was a late Thursday afternoon, about a day and a half before the next case was due to kick in. It was sweeps, apparently, which meant that the case would be grueling, both physically and mentally, and Hotch was fairly sure that Reid was going to be kidnapped again.
He really hated ratings season sometimes. It was all well and good for the networks, but his team were the ones that had to go through the trauma. Just because they were fictional characters didn't mean they couldn't feel pain.
In any case, due to the fictional nature of the job, he wasn't actually required to do anything while the narrative wasn't in his hands. He was free to roam the boundaries that had been laid out within the universe, as long as he got back in time for the case.
Most of the time, Hotch preferred to remain in the office, going over paperwork – it helped with his characterization. His head lifted at a knock on the door.
The man was professionally dressed; suit, tie, suspenders, glasses. Not technically out of place in the building, but at the same time, something was off. He was too detailed to be an extra, and yet Hotch couldn't remember having seen him anywhere before.
'Who are you?' Hotch asked sharply, eyes not moving from the strange man that stood in the door of his office.
'Paul Swift, Department of Continuity in Fictional Media. I'm here to inspect your canon.'
Hotch's frown persisted. 'Inspecting our canon? In the middle of sweeps? I thought such inspections were usually conducted during the summer break?'
'There have been some complaints. Inconsistencies in backstory, and so on and so forth.' He clicked his pen twice against the clipboard in his arm. 'I'll need to interview the main cast.'
Hotch moved towards his desk phone, but Swift interrupted with a terse, 'That won't be necessary. I've made the arrangements for them to return to the office. I'd like to talk to you first, if that's alright.' He paused, taking note of something written on the clipboard. 'Get the worst over and done with.'
'Excuse me?' Hotch asked, his eyes narrowing.
'Tell me, Agent Hotchner.' Without waiting for an offer, Swift sat down in the chair opposite Hotch's. 'How did your father die?'
There was a long, pained silence.
'According to my notes, you attributed your father's death to a heart attack in the season one episode, The Tribe, and to lung cancer over a full season later in Ashes and Dust. Which is it?'
'It's not outside the rules of continuity to lie to a suspect,' Hotch pointed out.
'But it is outside your characterization,' Swift countered, 'And Improper Characterization is a far greater offence than Backstory Conflict. In any case, Evan Abby was not a suspect at the time you revealed this information. This is a misdemeanor, so you'll probably only get a fine, but there are a few more inconsistencies I'd like to discuss.'
'Fine,' Hotch glared, already irritated by the inspector's presence.
'You were both a prosecutor, once upon a time, is that correct?'
'And you were a member of S.W.A.T?'
'After which point you joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation?'
'And according to your 1987 High School yearbook appearing in part one of The Fisher King, you're 39 years old. A number that is refuted by Faceless, Nameless, which puts your age at approximately 43. In either case, both numbers seem a tad…unrealistic, if you will.'
Hotch raised an eyebrow. 'I don't see how my career is "unrealistic."'
'Allow me,' Paul leaned forward. 'Allowing for graduation from high school at eighteen, College and Law School would have taken no less than seven years, after which point you were a prosecutor, for no short period, judging by your skills. Not even taking into consideration your time at S.W.A.T., it almost seems as though you've managed to fit two careers into one lifetime.'
Hotch said nothing.
'Need I remind you that the use of time machines and reality warpers in the Crime Genre is strictly prohibited? Under section twenty-seven, subsection four of the Code of Television Genres, you may, if you so desire, make the transition to Supernatural Crime, but that would incur a "Shark Jumping" fee. You toed the line with Cold Comfort and Demonology, but any explicit references made in order to bypass the rules of continuity will result in a heavy fine. As it stands, efforts should be made in order to fix this timeline issue, or you will risk the possibility of being charged with a backstory felony.'
'Of course,' Hotch said, not even bothering to hide the venom that had started to seep into his voice. He had his reasons for the violations in question. Reasons that a man like Paul Swift could never understand.
Swift clicked his tongue, and made a few more notes on the clipboard. Hotch resisted the urge to pull it from his hands and hit him across the face with it. The Aaron Hotchner that the world knew would never do that, but then, they weren't exactly watching.
Swift looked up.
'Haley Brooks was your high school sweetheart?'
'I'd prefer not to talk about Haley.' Though her death had been necessitated by plot, it still stung. Everything stung.
'I'm just doing my job, Agent Hotchner – I'm sure you've asked your own share of painful questions.' Swift tapped the pen against the clipboard – the reaction was evidently a common one.
'Haley was my high school sweetheart,' he confirmed, the urge to grab the clipboard rising.
'You were together for almost twenty years before your son was born, then. Is there any reason why you decided to wait so long?'
'Career reasons,' Hotch said shortly.
'Really?' Swift raised an eyebrow. 'Are you sure it wasn't done so as to create character conflict emphasized by the choice between work and family? Subsequent storylines seem to indicate that that may be the case.'
'Regardless, just because something is unexplained does not mean it's an inconsistency.'
Swift gave a smirk, pen scribbling across the clipboard. 'You know, of all the people I interview, it's always law enforcement that seems to take it personally.'
'What I do is more important than any inspection,' Hotch replied testily, knuckles white as his fists clenched.
'While your series propagates the importance of family, and other positive messages, the serial killers you catch are fictional, Agent Hotchner,' Swift stressed, and Hotch felt a surge of anger.
'You think that just because we're fictional that makes us any less human?' Hotch stood, and Swift shrunk backwards slightly. 'I'm sure someone from the outside world wouldn't exactly understand our situation, but we feel everything that you do. We feel anger, we feel pain. We suffer. Every single fictional victim feared for their lives before they died. Every single fictional serial killer is every bit as dangerous as their real-life counterparts.'
Swift looked a little taken-aback. 'I'm just doing my job, Agent Hotchner. I'm sure you can understand that too.'
He bent his head back down to the clipboard, scribbling for almost two minutes. He clicked his pen twice.
'I think that's all I need from you, Agent Hotchner. I'll be interviewing Agent Reid next.' His brow furrowed. 'Three PhDs? Hmmm.'
He stood, and held out his hand to Hotch. There was a few seconds of pained silence before Hotch shook the hand.
Swift went to the door, and stopped, as though considering something.
'My condolences on the spin-off,' he said finally, and closed the door behind him.