JJ sat inside the bullpen, flipping through the five distinct news channels of Quantico as reports began piling in. This morning, at 7AM, starting two and a half hours ago a young man was brought into the hospital from his office, normally this would not even be deemed news-worthy, not even as a special-interest piece, but when the doctor announced the man had died, it had upped the odds. When half an hour later yet another person was admitted with the same symptoms at a different hospital, it still fell shy of news-worthy, even with the grizzly discovery that the early-thirties-something was poisoned. However, half an hour later when yet another body was wheeled in with the same symptoms, suddenly there was a case.
When the tox-screens came back it began to show a clear picture of how today was going to look. She buzzed the intercom. "Garcia, I need you to pull the files of…" JJ began the routine scrutiny of dredging up paperwork. Within the past two and a half hours, on roughly a traceable half-hour increment a new victim was being admitted to one of the several local hospitals. Of the five so far, two were met with fatality, four of the five going to the Metropolitan Hospital, but at the discretion of the CDC and FBI a network was set up between the busy ERs to communicate symptoms of potential poison victims. It was now the BAU's job to determine how this was happening and who was responsible. Collateral damage-control, as it were.
Reid got off of the subway at a popular commuter-spot in Quantico, typically he would come in to work at start of day around 9AM, today however, thanks to the red-eye flight he and most of the team caught last night after resolving issues with an UnSub in Alaska, SSA Rossi had given the team mates involved an extra hour and a half. It didn't make up for the sparse four hours of sleep he managed between the flight and the start of day, but saying no one had forced him and fellow Agent Hotch to stay awake and casually talk on the flight he could hardly make any complaints.
Tired eyes fueled by only four hours of sleep made it obvious what Reid's mission would be, after coming directly off the less-packed but still full subway. First, he hoped he hadn't picked up the scent of the heavy-set man whom had been crammed in behind him in order to catch the doors for the past several stops. Finding himself free of BO after an impromptu self-check point, he fixed the strap on his messenger bag that probably helped make him look like a college kid. He set about the normal walking-portion of his commute. First, he would need to obtain coffee. Lots of coffee, after all, they didn't call it a red-eye flight for nothing.
Standing in line, longer than what should be legally allowed at any one given franchise, Reid reached the counter. He still had twelve minutes to get to the office, the norm he supposed. Though it hadn't ever NOT crossed him to clock himself, he still managed to resist the temptation of actually strapping on a pedometer. He ordered his standard large coffee, heavy on the milk, he proceeded to the counter where he poured enough sugar into the cardboard cup to put a rat into a hyperglycemic emergency. Making sure he secured the lid, he continued on his way out the crowded store-front and onto the slightly-less but not by much crowded street. As he rounded the corner he suddenly felt his momentum shift to an abrupt stop suddenly filled with a stinging sensation… hot, very hot! His hand flew up, wiping off the hot liquid from his chest, secondarily looking to apologize to whomever he had inadvertently bumped into only to find a very beautiful woman with an even more apologetic demeanor.
Spencer Reid, put on this Earth as if solely to be a joke to this particular sex of the species, laid eyes on a woman who was one of the defining graces of beauty. Her long, slender legs were met with matching long, slender fingers grasping of all things, a napkin. She began patting him down.
"I'm so, so sorry!"
"No, I'm sorry, I, uh… didn't see you there. Are you alright? Thanks." He said as he accepted the napkin, wiping off his sweater-vest, very glad that the makers of the apparel opted to waterproof it.
He caught sight of stunning ice-blue eyes, her medium-brown hair had enough shine to qualify her for being a hair-dye commercial. "I'm such a klutz. Let me make it up to you…" Her lip pouted, Spencer thought to himself that with her height and build, forget being in a hair-dye commercial, she was probably just stepped off the catwalk. Like any man found in this position, in front of a woman deemed far too superior to him, Spencer offered up little resistance to the conversation. "…How do you take your coffee?"
"Don't worry about it, I'm just glad it didn't get on you too…"
"No, I insist, I'll feel just awful if I don't replace your drink." She gave him a look that guaranteed arguments disarmament.
"…I had a large coffee extra light and sweet." He stated.
"Really? That's exactly how I take it…" She said, genuinely amazed. For the first time in the entire conversation, SSA Dr. Spencer Reid realized that the reason he even noticed her fingers was because she too was holding a coffee cup. "…Here, I'll go back in line. It's still hot, I got it five minutes ago."
Reid looked at the gesture and gave a quick glance at the cup then back to her, he took it from her hand and took a sip, "Thanks." After a few moments more falling into her icy-blue eyes he let out a, "It's just the way I make it."
She smiled, "I'm glad… well, have a great day! Again, I'm so sorry for knocking into you…"
"Forget about it." Reid smiled before looking at his watch, "Oh… uh, if I don't leave I'll be late for work, I have to go."
"Okay," she smiled at him with her full lips cracked enough to see the front row of blazingly white teeth, "It was, uh, nice meeting you." And with that, they parted ways. It was like the clouds came pouring back in across the skyscape, the illuminating sun tucked back inside a veneer casting shadows.
Reid was amazed, in all 27 years of his life, women like that… with rare exceptions, when encountered usually meant two things to Reid, and two alone. Trouble, and rejection. He found himself contemplating this but then chocked up hot coffee over his sweater-vest and likely first-degree burns were technically trouble. He proceeded on his way to work, still sipping on his coffee.
By time he reached the BAU he was technically 2 minutes late, he knew if he spotted Hotch he could easily get excused by extenuating circumstances, but that guilty feeling and goofy smile didn't mean he'd be off scotch-free. He decided to go into the bathroom first, though. To try to salvage his shirts from a massive coffee stain, he was met by Morgan whom had obviously gotten into the office with ten minutes to spare, unlike him.
"Hey, kid. What's with that look on your face? Meet up in the bullpen. JJ's putting a case up." He proceeded to wash his hands, dry them and was on his way as Reid caught his reflection, it made him pale. Reality quickly greeted him about what he did and what world he lived in, the happy others in the outside world rarely caught glimpse of his, and those that did would only rationally describe it as a horror. That thought firmly in mind, his face normalized, overworked and exhausted, the same way Morgan had looked. He picked up his coffee and took a long drink.
Inside the bullpen, SSA Hotchner and Jareau greeted the others as they poured in.
"You're late, Dr. Reid." Hotch said in a semi-stern voice, in truth everything he said came off as either semi-stern, stern or serious enough to shit razorblades, so by comparison it was really just off-handed.
Despite that, Reid apologized. "Sorry, won't happen again, sir." He gave a small awkward smile before dropping the corners of his mouth to his normal expression. "So, what kind of case is it?"
"Local." JJ said, hitting the remote with her index finger turning up the volume on the TV, "Very local."
The news broadcast spilled throughout the room, interrupting the silence of the audience with audio from the reporter. "…So far the tally of poisoning victims reaches seven from this morning. While only two have died, the five other victims are reported to be unconscious and in critical condition…"
JJ flipped down the files before them, briefly glancing at Reid, "So far all of the victims have been males age ranging from 24 to 36, all Caucasian and dressed in business attire. More relevant, all of the victims work within a half-mile radius from this subway stop…" JJ pointed to a familiar station, she glanced at Reid as he stood up.
Slack-jawed, Reid looked at the map, studying it, he used that subway stop… as did thousands for that matter, but he found it surprising all the same. "JJ, where exactly did these victims work?" He took out push-pins and began corresponding a pin to an address. When he completed them, he stepped back. "They aren't in a radius… this is linear, they all passed a common area secondarily to the train-station."
Morgan managed a "Good job, smart-guy…" before they returned to profiling.
"…Also, these incidents occurred in roughly a half-hour interval from each other."
"So the UnSub has a pattern," they looked at the time, "Did the doctors give any indication of what kind of poison we're working with? Or how long it takes for the drug to kick in?" Emily Prentiss asked.
"Statistically, most poisonings are via ingestion. Reports range from 80% and upward…" Reid mentioned, "Poisoning is also more associated as a female weapon of choice, it is distant and passive. However, most poisonings target a spouse or a… a close family member, for it to be at random suggests…" Reid took another sip of coffee religiously, four hours really wasn't enough sleep to run a human body.
"Reid, are you blushing?" JJ asked, eying him in concern.
Pulling at his tie, Reid looked at the others discerned, "What…? No, of course not," it didn't seem to cease the fascination of his compatriots as they scrutinized him.
Morgan reached out a hand to steady him, which seemed unfounded until he clattered to the floor.
Agent Hotch was the first to whip out the cell phone to dial 911, but apparently Agent Prentiss was second-fastest at the draw.
"I'm fine… really… I just missed the chair…" Dr. Spencer Reid said, in vane, from the floor. At moments it would strike him as odd how the rational mind attempts to rationalize gaps to make them explainable, of course in moments where cognitive capacities were second place it didn't come up. He closed his eyes tightly and tried to make the room stop spinning.
It probably dawned on Hotch first that Reid was, as per the norm of Reid, sucking down on a large coffee all morning… however SSA Rossi also eyed the coffee. "Reid, tell me everything that happened to you this morning, starting once you reached the subway."
Morgan hit the intercom, thinking what the other agents were most likely, "Garcia Baby-girl, pull up all the coffee stations within walking distance from here toward the station on…"
Breaths hanging, suddenly a scrawny, taut body began contracting and writhing on the floor of the conference room inside the BAU, Dr. Spencer Reid was having a classic grand-mal seizure before an audience. SSA Rossi, closest of all the agents began pushing chairs back, finally creating enough of a clearing he concentrated on holding Reid's head to prevent him from thrashing into anything particularly dangerous.
Paramedics were inside the room with a stretcher with a response time of ten minutes, not the most impressive but not out of par. After a moment of deliberation behind slate, dark eyes Hotch ventured an affirmative, "I'll ride with him. I'll speak with the doctors and get back to you about the poisoning. I need the rest of you to work on a profile. We have another half an hour before they find the next victim. Rossi," Hotch signaled the coffee cup, "I'll have them test the coffee to see if this is our medium. Morgan, I want you to interview coworkers of the other victims, try to piece together their mornings."
The pair of paramedics managed to pin Reid's forearm down long enough to swab an area and inject diazepam, immediately followed was an oxygen mask, which seemed psychologically damaging to JJ to see Spencer on, as she clasped her hands to her mouth.
"JJ, come on, Hotch is going with him, he'll be fine… we have to get to work." Morgan said as he guided her away from the door, Reid was carted out and to an awaiting ambulance Hotch in tow and the remainder of the team on-looking before SSA Rossi clapped his hands together.
"Alright, the game just got more personal, but that doesn't solve anything. We're looking for a person who has no problem approaching their victims and making them consume something. The individual is probably unimposing and passive in demeanor, most likely female but that doesn't mean we can rule out any male unsubs…" he pressed the intercom button triggering Garcia's response, "Garcia, I need you to bring up the personnel files up of the victims, see if they have any connection with each other or if this is just geographical."
"A crime of passing, if these are all random targets, why space them apart like this?"
"Morgan's right, if this is meant to be about inflicting as much damage as they can and get out, why take the time out in-between unless they have to." Prentiss volunteered.
"We need more answers than what we have, we need to know more about our victims and what their routine is." Rossi said, re-emphasizing the point Hotchner had previously given. "Garcia, what do you have on victimology?"
Garcia continued clicking at her keys, "Hold your horses, chief, I can only go so fast with these dainty little fingers of mine…" She said, "Oh wait, here we go… two of the victims work at the same IT company… oh, but different departments, it's a pretty big company, they may not know each other after all… so far all the victims have different schedules, they come in to work at different times of the day than the others, nothing really striking about where they live either, three get on at the same stop, but there are literally tens of blocks between each other, one of them has a car and usually drives in… but today it's in the shop… unlucky him. Two are married, two divorced, one of them… wow, widowed at that age? The rest are single. I don't see anything tying them together, sorry Agent Rossi."
"No, that's fine. You said two were divorced, what was the order? Which victim was in what relationship? Sometimes poisoners will commit serial poisonings after-the-fact to cover up their crime, or even during it. I want you to pull up their medical histories, see if you can find any sudden increase with illness, work-schedules too, see if any of the victims may have been the initial target."
"Let me get back to you." Garcia mentioned, cutting the connection as she began to run parameter searches through several open programs.
SSA Derek Morgan entered a large-scale IT company, reaching the receptionist armed with his dazzling smile and flashing his badge he asked the beautiful brunette, "Excuse me, miss… I need to speak to the coworkers of Daryl Baton and Harold Johnson…"
She pressed the intercom to buzz over to the supervisor's office, "One moment please. Excuse me, sir, there's a gentleman from the FBI here… he wants to speak with your department."
"Ok, send him up…"
"Yes sir. They're on the third floor, there's an elevator right down the hall that way…" She pointed.
JJ looked at Emily Prentiss, "What would make a grown man comfortable in taking something from someone else to eat?"
"Well, food services, it is morning… getting something to eat isn't uncommon on your way to work."
"That's true, but if whoever this is, is working in the food industry they would be able to poison more people, so if it isn't about the specific people it's about creating victims. We could have a mission-based poisoner…"
"Wait, didn't you see Reid this morning… he had a stain on his shirt." Prentiss mentioned, her elbow caught in her opposing hand as she gestured, "What sure-fire method is there to make a man do something irrational and stupid and look happy about it…?"
JJ contemplated for only a moment before answering, "A beautiful woman."
"I'm not sure I like where that's heading…" mentioned Morgan as he re-entered the BAU office.
"Think about it, if an attractive woman spilt your coffee and offered to replace it for you… you would take it as your lucky day…" Morgan raised his eyebrow, not impressed, "Okay, well maybe YOU wouldn't, but lots of guys would."
"I smell a sexual-sensitivity seminar coming on after this, Prentiss." Morgan mentioned before sitting down in a chair, "But I see where you're going with this. All of the victims, they all get coffee before heading into work, four get it from Starbucks, two go to the Dunkin Donuts on the same corner, and the guy who drives in usually brings it in a thermos."
"Wait, a thermos? People still even make those…?" Prentiss started, but Rossi quickly intervened.
"…Thermoses aren't easy to spill."
"Well, yeah in theory, but they are so clunky, and what do they have on it, Spider-Man…" Prentiss continued.
"No, I don't think you understand—they aren't EASY to SPILL… if the unsub is using it as a bait-and-switch they'd have to get them to spill the coffee before replacing it." Rossi began pulling at the files, "Morgan, who did you say had a thermos?"
"That was the first victim, Daryl Baton, he's a newly-wed… also, one of the two victims who died." He hit the intercom, "Hey beautiful, I need you to bring up Daryl Baton's life insurance policies… can you do that for me?"
"For you, Morgan, I would move heaven and earth…" She said, digging up the files with ease, "Oh, look, two million-dollar policies…"
"Names, Garcia, I need names of the beneficiaries." Morgan coached.
"Let's see, that's weird… the names on each policy is different. One is to a Mrs. Cheryl Baton and the other is to a Ms. Andrea Summerville. Let me do some digging here… right, got it. Andrea Summerville lives in Henrico County in Virginia… and Mrs. Cheryl Baton lives with the victim… thirty miles out."
"It sounds like someone might be living a double-life."
"WAS living a double life, he's dead now." Prentiss corrected.
"Speaking of double-lives, it seems that Mr. Baton was doing quite a job of it, Ms. Summerville, or Miss Summerville I should say, has two kids, a young boy and a younger girl, ages 2 and 1. Wow, lovebirds."
"Garcia, your point?" Rossi questioned.
"My point being he was married for two and a half years. He might be able to say the first one was before he met the Mrs'es, but the second one was square in married-time."
"Do you have any images of Mrs. Baton and Ms. Summerville?"
"I'm looking, but they both have clean records… I don't think we're going to be able to get a mug-shot…"
"Think outside the box, Baby-doll, did any of them do any modeling work, or pageants? Check under maiden-names." Morgan added.
"I'm doing that… they're ghosts. I have some credit card receipts but I can't find anything with any images. I'm sorry, you're going to have to go to the addresses."
Doctors buzzed about the spinning corridor as SSA Dr. Spencer Reid floated in and out of consciousness and seizures. The most worrisome moments of consciousness were in actively tasting the breathing tube plastic. If he could say, he'd say he didn't enjoy it, but at the moment talking was out of the question.
Agent Hotchner approached one of the doctors holding Spencer's chart as a steady bleeping played concert behind him, "Excuse me. I have some questions for you. The other victims… have any of them come to?"
"No, so far another one of the patients died from hypotension… he had a pre-existing condition, three of the others are in a coma, and besides your friend here… the other patient is in delirium. It's a common symptom for periactin toxicity." He approached Reid, Hotch stepping aside so the doctor could work, he checked the pupils, finding them to be the size of saucers. He noted down, 'dilated pupils'. "He's one of the lucky ones, we got the activated charcoal to him in time to do some good, his levels are still incredibly high, but still what we clinically call 'sub-lethal'. He's absorbed maybe 3 grams worth of the drug. The ones who died had upwards of 6 grams detectable."
"Thank you, doctor. Do you know how long these symptoms should present for?"
"…Well, the half-life for the drug is roughly 4 hours, in another two hours or so the others, in theory, should be able to wake up… but the brain… it isn't a forgiving organ. These men might not ever wake up again."
Suddenly, an agitated tone played before them, bleeps coming in more rapidly, Reid's vitals were spiking as his heart-rate hit 104 beats per minute, his blood pressure though still hypotensive adding two points in both systolic and diastolic as he tensed his arms.
"Is he having another seizure?!" Hotch said sharply, he immediately found himself locking eyes with Reid's, though the younger of the two men wasn't able to keep his gaze fixed, as it darted about the room.
"No, I think he's having a hallucination… I should sedate him before he can--"
"No, don't!" Hotch said, intervening, "He wouldn't want any treatment with opiates." He put his hand on Reid's shoulder, "Reid… Reid, listen to me, whatever you're seeing… it isn't there. It's not there, do you understand me, Reid? If you understand me, answer me Reid. Blink."
Reid blinked his eyes pursing them closed tightly before opening them wide, his heart-rate reduced back down to 90bpm instead of the whopping 104, not much better, but given the circumstances, the doctors would take it.
"What did you see…?" Hotch asked softly, Reid caught eyes with him expressing willfully that he didn't want to know before he looked back at the pen in the doctor's hand. "Reid… you want a pen?"
Spotting a nurse, Hotch quickly acquired a pad of paper and a pen, "Here, Reid. What is it?" He put the pen in Reid's hand, clutching his fingers around it to make sure the younger man knew he had it before touching it to paper.
He scrawled in his normal calligraphy, "ICE-BLUE EYES CAUCASIAN. BRUNETTE 5'7" 120LBS. FEMALE UNSUB." He looked back at Hotchner before letting go of the pen.
Pulling it from beneath Reid's coolly tempered hand, Hotchner read the BOLO before whipping out his cell phone. He glanced at the large and prominently displayed NO CELLPHONES sign before turning back to Reid, "I need to call the description in. I'll be RIGHT back." Reid merely blinked knowingly.
"Hello Mr. Sexy Thang…" Garcia started.
Hotchner cut in, "…Wait, what? Garcia… this is Hotch, Reid gave me a description of the unsub. I need you to pass this on to the team. Caucasian female, brown hair blue eyes, 5'7" and light build. Did you get that?"
"…That sounds like Cheryl Baton…"
"Who?" Hotch asked the phone indignantly, if this was some pop-star he'd probably kill Garcia.
"The UnSub, well, the first victim's wife. It looks like the first victim was leading a double life and the team went to check to see if his wife is the unsub. Problem is, she has an out-of-state license and their database isn't giving me any images, apparently there was a big storm…" She offered.
"Let the others know, if they find her, bring her in. We can have Reid ID her if she's the unsub."
Garcia nodded, "Right you are, sir. And sir, how IS Reid doing?"
"He'll be okay, Garcia. Don't worry about him, I have to get back in there."
"…Oh, and Garcia, don't ever call me that again."
"No. Mr. Sexy Thang… Thing… whatever, it's disturbing."
"Oh, right, right sir. Sorry sir."
Hotch hung up the phone, unhappy for the image.
Re-entering the hospital, Hotch made his way back to Reid's bedside only to be met by several doctors. "You can't go back in there."
"What? Why not?"
"Sir, please just wait in the waiting room…" The doctor volunteered, "Mr. Reid is…"
"DOCTOR Reid, Supervisory Special Agent DOCTOR Spencer Reid…"
"Uh… right, Doctor Reid, your friend, he went into fibrillations, we have to stabilize him and you can't be in there while we do it." He found himself talking to a blank space as Hotch made his way to the curtained off area, looking inside to see several doctors and nurses working with a defibrillator and sending courses of shock through the thin man's body.
"I was JUST talking to him…" Hotch's eyes gave him away, looking suddenly very tired and more concerned.
"…The hallucination, the sudden change in heart rate was followed by a palpitation, it happened in a bad spot and he coded." The doctor explained, "But you can't be in there right now. Please go into the waiting room, I'll be back as soon as I can with an update of his condition."
Hotch didn't feel stonewalled, per say, but he also knew he probably shouldn't have specified doctor the second time. He sat in the waiting room realizing that he should attribute the discomfort of the room to the stress over the accommodations, but nevertheless he felt he had landed himself in the equivalent of the room with sharp razorblades for chairs. Clutching his hands together he let out a breath as the seconds ticked by, "Come on Reid… pull through this…" He whispered as if directly to the body in the other room.
He let out in an even fainter voice, "The team needs you… I need you." A few moments later he heard a noise at the doorway, standing up he came eye to eye with one of the doctors, she had jet-black hair, thin almond-shaped eyes with the slightest of tilt to them, her cheek-bones accenting them perfectly.
"I'm Dr. Lee. I understand you're the supervisor for Dr. Reid?" She mentioned cautiously, frustrating Hotch to no ends, he didn't want to play cat and mouse about such an important subject.
"I am… and he is…? Is he alright? What state is he in?" He locked eyes with her, the alpha-male top-notch prosecutor sizing up the piece of meat in front of him, sizing it up for slaughter.
"We were able to resuscitate him, but that's the end of the good news. He's slipped into a coma."
"How is that possible? He was fine just a few minutes ago, the doctor SAID he got here in time, he SAID the charcoal worked…"
"…It did and he did. Please sit down. He was unresponsive for two minutes, that and the drop of blood-pressure cut off adequate blood supply to his brain. When we were able to restart his heart we resumed blood-flow. We won't know if there has been any permanent damage from the episode until we can run some tests, which we are running now. There is a cafeteria downstairs, after we finish running tests we are going to transfer him to the ICU on the third floor. The tests will take about two hours to run, the results will take a little longer. He's approaching the 5 hour mark, which is good, the effects of the drug in his system should begin to wane."
"How can you say that? Just five minutes ago you said he went into cardiac arrest…"
"I understand that this must be stressful for you, we'll let you know the results as soon as we have them."
"…Wait, did you say 5 hour mark?" Hotch quickly looked at his watch.
"Yes, five hours from suspected exposure." She clarified.
"And there haven't been any new patients with the same symptoms…?"
"No, the last patient presenting with signs of periactin-overdose is your colleague."
"…And you said it will be two hours…?"
The woman blinked, "Before he's done with the tests, yes."
Hotch proceeded to the exit before stepping outside the hospital, again dialing his phone, this time he connected with Morgan.
"Hotch, thank goodness man, how's Reid doing?"
"Listen, Morgan, the unsub hasn't poisoned anyone since Reid. She stopped." Hotch clutched the phone.
Listening for words that weren't apparent, Morgan let out a sigh, "Hotch, tell me how Reid's doing… I can pass on the word about the unsub but you know it won't sit well if I can't update the team about Reid too."
"Hotch? Is Reid alright? …Hotch! Answer me." Morgan gripped the phone tightly.
"He's in a coma. You'll know more when I know more. Three of the remaining seven victims died. Four including Reid are in comas and one is delirious. What Reid gave us is the best testimony we're going to get as far as description goes from the victims. I need you to concentrate on bringing in the unsub, right now we don't know why she stopped. It could be because the mission is complete or it could be that she's taking a lunch break or waiting for tomorrow morning, either way we can't leave her out there."
Morgan let out a breath, "She wasn't home, Hotch. JJ and Prentiss are in Henrico, they're talking with Andrea Summerville, the first victim's mistress. We're hoping it will lead us to the unsub."
"Alright, I want you to canvas the area between the station and the bureau, she may be close by trying to monitor the damage."
"He'll pull through. You know he will." Morgan said, a moment of silence fell between the two of them, a mutual understanding before Morgan disconnected, dialing Prentiss to pass on the word.
"What the hell do you mean he's in a coma?" Prentiss mustered, after a collective string of words from the other side of the phone, she looked back at JJ who seemed horrified. "Well don't you think you should MENTION he's in stable condition before that kind of bomb-shell…?"
More one-sided dialog left JJ at a loss, but she waited until Prentiss was off the phone before continuing with her. "He's in a coma?"
"Yeah, but on the plus side there haven't been any more victims since Reid, Morgan came up empty, apparently the wife isn't at home."
"What a surprise, you'd think she would be waiting by the phone to hear the news of her husband's death…"
"Or at work, where she's expected to be." Prentiss expanded.
"…OR, at the hospital! Where she's expected to be mourning her husband, AND keeping track of her victims! Hotch said…" JJ paused, "Hotch said she might try to stay in the area so she can keep tabs on the victims. Prentiss, she might be there right now."
"Dialing now." Prentiss said, phone back to her ear.
Hotch answered the phone with a gruff, "What did you find?"
"Prentiss here, the other woman was a wash. She didn't even know he was married to another woman, she just thought he put in a lot of overtime. No one puts in THAT much overtime…"
"Well, except for BAU agents…" Hotch mentioned offhandedly.
Prentiss covered the mouthpiece in shock, "Joke… He just joked…" She looked at JJ audaciously, "Hotch, are you okay? I mean, how are you holding up?"
"If this is a social call…"
"No, it's not. Hotch, we think the unsub might show up at the hospital. We think she's going to show up to be the perfect wife, and use it as an excuse to keep tabs on the other victims."
"…I want you to head back immediately, contact Rossi and Morgan and have them rendezvous here ASAP. I'm hanging up."
"Hotch! What are you going to do?"
"What the doctor told me to, to go to the cafeteria and get a cup of coffee."
"…Huh?" And with that Prentiss was talking to dead air. "I think he's off his rocker…"
JJ looked at Prentiss concerned, "I'll make some calls, you drive."
Hotch dialed Morgan, met immediately by the other's voice. "Morgan here… talk to me."
"Did you find any pictures of her?" Hotch asked, a vague question that Morgan picked up on immediately.
"Yeah. Pretty little thing, Reid was spot-on with her stats."
"I need you to send one to me, and forward the rest of the team on it. We suspect she might be in the hospital playing the grieving widow to keep tabs on the other victims. I need you to get back here immediately."
"Hotch, what about the other victim? He was sent to the other hospital…"
"The other victim died, it was announced on the news, she's more likely to be here."
Morgan nodded, "Alright. Lights blazing I can get there in under fifteen, wait for me."
Dr. Spencer Reid, boy-prodigy, felt the entire world around him shifting. He identified it as cerebral, the kind of Jungian representation that could be viewed as nothing but the marriage of the abstract world of brilliance and insanity. He pondered for a moment about whether this is what his mother's world looked like to her, too, but lost the thought to quick to delve into it. Instead he was busy studying the bizarre landscape he found himself around, it truly made him question his own psyche… the sky, in the distance was most obviously blood. It was strange, looking in the horizon it was obvious that it was liquid and the crimson color of only the freshest variety, but where he stood, the atmosphere around him held the properties of air, good old-fashioned regular air, except as he breathed it in, he could taste something off about it, almost ethereal. The ground was white, not like snow, more like a blank page, with no traces of him moving or progressing in any direction. Even the stationary jagged trees never let him make head-way, he was perpetually walking to explore the world and perpetually the world moved at equal pace to be avoided by him, that is until he stumbled upon a rock.
Of course, the rock was underneath the paper, leading him to tear the paper with his own foot as he fumbled. Grabbing a corner of the tear, he pulled the paper into a bigger gash. It sounded like a scream as he tore open the page, and as he looked down at the rock, what was covered up… it was no wonder he heard a scream, it had been his own.
He fell into the hole only to be in the hole as if he were digging it… the worlds running anti-parallel, and if he had to pick, he'd have gone back to the other world in a heartbeat. Taking the shovel, he continued to dig, hoping that he could get back instead of relive this particular memory. He could barely see it, the other world… what he did see looking back through the tear was a three-eyed bird, as it opened it's mouth to caw at him angrily he saw it had dripping fangs and torn flesh between them. For a moment he was taken aback.
That is, until a voice commanded, "Dig faster, boy!"
He flinched, was it better to be in non-sensible terror that rationality couldn't fight or a sensible terror where reality already had played out? He wasn't sure if it was better in that exact moment to opt that insanity had invaded this more realistic world and grant him a different outcome, or if he should stumble back through the looking-glass. As he focused at the bird, he could see it resembling a Jub-Jub bird, whimsically… not that a Jub-Jub bird was ever drawn… but it was how he imagined it to be.
In his own imagination… go figure.
That sentiment made him realize something important though, in that moment he realized that as a rational being all things within him would hold some level of rationality. The question was whether he was inwardly an escapist or did he really kick the drug habit. If he was an escapist, he could easily just face that fantastical world and try to argue it, it would be insane, it would be irrational, but it wouldn't be the person he thought he was.
"I can't. I'm not strong enough." Reid said, of all the things he knew about himself, he knew that he didn't take the easy way out, especially if that risked his own sanity. He couldn't risk going insane in a dream-world, he'd never know if he got back. At least here there were clear expectations… memories…
…And then that line of thinking went out the window. Apparently it never was meant to be his choice, suddenly he was surrounded by roses. The oddest thing was he couldn't tell what color they were despite looking right at the blooms, and it wasn't because of it was dark or because the roses were clear, he could see them but not perceive them fully, as if the world was monotone, but only as far as the roses were concerned.
He was no longer holding a shovel, he closed his eyes, "Please don't be a flamingo… please don't be a flamingo…" Spencer said before opening his eyes, when he did he was rewarded with a sword, and a coffee.
"What am I supposed to do with a sword?" He said to himself, suddenly the world was reacting, light shining, a gentle whirring, as if he was in a drying machine. He felt as if water was swirling all around him, as if he were drowning in it before his eyes shot open wide, he began pulling at his mouth, he wanted everything making it hard to breathe to go away.
…And was succeeding at it, to his surprise. He became painfully aware that he was in a confined space, probably an MRI, but he couldn't be certain at the moment, what with the tube half-down his throat and all. He continued to pull at it in panic as a treadmill pulled him out from the machine and into a group of orderlies.
"Dr. Reid… Dr. Reid, please calm down. You're in a hospital…" One of the orderlies tried to explain, Reid wasn't particularly listening, but now that he wasn't inside the machine he was sure of two things, one, it was an MRI machine, and two that tube was now only a quarter the way down his throat. He stopped thrashing and instead opted to pull the tube out until finally, with a "Grk…" the wider tip of the tube left his mouth, he began gasping for air, suddenly it felt harder than before to get in the oxygen he needed.
Wheezing and panting, he finally found a rhythm of breathing, faster than what he had been breathing, that was more accommodating to the normalized oxygen levels inside the atmosphere.
Several doctors relieved the orderlies in order to address Reid. "Dr. Reid, may I call you Spencer?"
Reid nodded, opting to continue to take in his desperate breaths over verbally replying.
"Spencer, you're in the Metropolitan Hospital, you went into a coma… how do you feel?"
"Diz…zy." He panted out.
One of the doctors left in order to retrieve his blood gas levels, he returned holding an oxygen tank with a slitted tube. It was quickly secured under his nose, giving a continuous supply of bubblegum scented oxygen. He found the fact that it was scented disturbing.
"Now how do you feel?" One of the doctors flashed a light into his eyes, checking his pupil reflexes.
He waited about thirty seconds, three breathes, before answering. "Where's Agent Hotchner?"
"We told him he couldn't accompany you while we ran these tests. We're going to bring you upstairs soon. We just need to take a few measurements."
No sooner was it said than the blood-pressure cuff was strapped on and a stethoscope was listening to the rhythm of his heart, listening for any discord no matter how faint, even his pulse was taken.
"Pulse 75bpm, blood pressure 90 over 60, no sounds detected." One of the doctors mentioned, another jotted down the notes.
"Spencer, we're going to take you back upstairs now."
Dr. Lee approached the cafeteria, spotting SSA Hotchner studying his phone intensely.
"Agent Hotchner, I have good news, he's woken up."
Hotch looked at the woman in surprise, the woman was probably no taller than 5'2", falling several inches lower than him. "How is he?"
"He's recovering nicely. We're running a few more blood-tests to check his levels for periactin, but he's alert and stable. If you want to talk to him, now is a good time."
"What room is he in?"
"We transferred him to the ICU just to be on the safe side, he's in room 302."
Hotch picked up his phone before quickly stepping into the courtyard, sending a brief text message to Garcia, "Reid awake AOK." He used the time passing through the courtyard to cross over to the elevator that would take him to the third floor, as he did so Morgan pulled to the front of the hospital, Agent Rossi a minute behind him.
As Hotch went to Reid's room he heard Reid talking, charismatically. He wondered if he was speaking with one of the doctors, but doubted it, the conversation didn't seem focused on any serious topic…
Reid paused, he looked at the door, "Is someone there?"
Hotch entered the doorway, he was going to offer a small polite smile, one of the rare ones he seldom doles out, but the sight at Reid's bedside quashed it from his face.
Reid smiled, "SSA Hotchner, I'd like to introduce you to… Cheryl Baton, her husband was one of the victims." The way he emphasized it, Hotch knew, just like he knew from staring at the image on his phone, he knew that Reid knew who this woman was. The very same brunette with icy-blue eyes who had successfully killed three men and hospitalized five others was sitting beside Reid pumping him with questions and comments, good-wishes even.
Hotch glanced at Reid, as if trying to measure what the expected response was supposed to be, was he really trying to interrogate her, as a victim, at the bedside of his hospital bed? "Cheryl Baton…"
"Yes, my husband was the first victim. It's tragic, so hard to believe he's gone. He doesn't even take the subway normally." She had the expected crocodile tears.
"…Step away from the bed, Cheryl." Hotch said, approaching her.
"What?" She laughed, "Oh right, you said he has does that 'agent' thing."
"Actually, what I said was that he IS a Federal Agent, SSA Aaron Hotchner, with the BAU… to be more specifically." He watched her, measuring her.
"I bet that's the same line he feeds HIS wife too."
Reid's lips turned downward into a pout, "Actually, we were discussing things through, Cheryl here informs me that after running into me today, her day started to get better." He looked at Hotch, communicating in volumes.
"Do you know, when I spilt coffee all over him, what his first response was?" She smiled proudly.
Hotch took another step closer, now mere feet from the woman and Reid respectively.
"He apologized. Do you know he's the first one to say that to me?"
Hotch played the line again in his head, making sure to extrapolate as much meaning from it as was there, "First one of what to say that to you? The first man… the first victim…?"
"Yes, exactly! You got it." She said, vaguely, "All the others… their first reaction was 'Watch where you're going bitch', or ' what the hell is wrong with you'… he's the only one who apologized." She slapped his knee, Reid merely looked toward her awkwardly. "He's the first one I felt really bad about it with."
"…About what?" Hotch gauged.
"…Oh, you know, spilling their coffee. My husband, you know, I found out he was cheating on me, he had two kids by the other woman… here he was, telling me, his wife, that he wasn't ready to have kids… and what was I doing? I was listening to him. I thought about all the overtime he put in, about all of it… and I just couldn't help but feel like I was asking too much from him, and what was he really doing? He was fucking another woman, giving HER children… he had to go." The serious, cold look in her face disappeared for a moment when she met eyes with Reid. "But this guy here, he actually felt bad about spilling the coffee. All of that, and he almost didn't take the damn thing."
"You poisoned eight men, killed three… all to cover up killing your husband and you stopped because someone said sorry?" Hotch was amazed, amazed at the kind of trigger that flat-lined a killing spree.
"That's all it took. That's all it ever had to be…" Her face faltered, "All he had to do was be sorry for what he did…"
Hotch grabbed her shoulders, shocked, "You almost killed him and the reason you stopped was because he said SORRY and you felt GUILTY?"
"Hotch, calm down. Cheryl, don't get upset, this guy is just a very serious type. Cheryl, you need to turn around now, so he can handcuff you to take you in." Reid said, mediating, a little surprised himself at how upset Hotch was. Reid knew that Hotch did tend to get serious when a team-member was injured, that he worried when it happened, but seeing it so close-at-hand, to see someone get angry for Reid's own benefit, Spencer wouldn't admit it even if they polygraphed it, but he was touched.
Metal bracelets soon adorned the woman's dainty wrists, her long thin fingers perfectly manicured, traces of white powder collected just underneath the nail of her pinky finger.
Cheryl smiled, "I bet you don't believe it, but I wanted to get caught. I wanted people to know."
Agent Hotchner escorted her outside of Reid's room as Agents Rossi and Morgan found their way to his floor.
"…She showed up... Is Reid okay?" Morgan said quickly, catching eyes with Hotch before looking at the woman.
"He's inside, he's alright." He mentioned, guiding the woman past the two other agents until Rossi but his hand forward.
"Hotch, I'll take her in, go speak with Reid."
"She was Mirandarized and confessed to the intentional poisoning of eight individuals, leading to the death of three." Hotch clarified, "She hasn't gave specifics as to how she acquire the periactin, see what else you can get out of her."
"And David, thank you."
"No problem." He said with a smile, with an understanding.
Spencer began to fidget under the dual pairs of dark eyes looking his way. Hotch let out a sigh before sitting down on a chair, roughly. "Don't scare us like that again, Reid."
Morgan gave Reid a look, a look a little heavy on criticism, but he wasn't sure if the look was scolding him for taking food from strangers or not catching the name of an incredibly attractive woman, he decided not to pursue either line of thought though.
"I agree with Hotch, next time you decide to break-dance on the bullpen floor, please just be really drunk… and not going into a seizure."
Reid's eyebrow shot up, "Is that what you call dancing?"
Morgan smiled deviously, "Well, not good dancing, but we can only expect so much out of a guy like you." Reid couldn't help but smile, folding his arms across his chest in annoyance.
"That aside," Hotch gave Morgan a tempered look, "Morgan, call Garcia and the others, let them know Reid's awake now…" He gave Morgan a look, "And would you please stop encouraging Garcia's excitable salutations? She referred to me as a 'sexy thang'. Never again."
Morgan did his best to suppress his smile, but failed miserably, "Sexy thang? I can see it, I can dig it…"
"Morgan." He said firmly.
"Right, boss-man, I'll call the girls and check in." He waved his hand over his shoulder as he dialed Garcia, "Sugar… got some good news for you…"
Hotch let out an audible sigh. "Spence," He locked eyes with the younger man, who caught his gaze fervently. "…"
There was an emotion there, a raw one, a young one, but not entirely a new one, Spencer leaned up into the bed, propping himself at a right angle, "Yeah Hotch…" He looked at the other, as if testing the waters, "Aaron…"
The moment ended after a moment, nothing else needed to be said, but after the silence drew long, Agent Hotchner finally let out a soft, "I'm glad you're back with us. I would miss you greatly if you were gone."
"…Does that mean you… me?"
Aaron and Spencer locked sight with each other, in that glance, the answer was clearly given, Aaron ruffled Reid's hair gently, the air reverting back, all the wiser for the encounter. "Yeah, it does."
All he could do was smile in response, time wasn't ready for more, just yet. Reid glanced at one of the nurses, convincing them to come inside the strange atmosphere, however unfazed by it that the nurse was, "They want to keep you over-night. Do you want me to grab something from your apartment or the office?" Hotch offered.
"If you wouldn't mind, I would appreciate it if you could bring a book over, and a change of clothes."