Chapter 10: The Last Piece
Emily liked to believe that she knew all of the Jedi mindtricks. Hadn't she been the one to convince JJ that Will wasn't a lost cause without admitting she'd known about the relationship the entire year it had been going on?
Lanie Parish, however, was a league all of her own. There was nothing subtle about the ME, but there was an attitude Emily had to admire. Until she, JJ, and Beckett headed down to the morgue for Bryce Moran's autopsy results.
The ME pinned Emily with a look intense enough to actually put a hitch in the agent's step.
"Reign in your man, Agent Prentiss."
JJ, the traitor, snorted from beside her. Emily favoured her friend with a glare. "My man?"
"You're too gorgeous for dumb to look good on you, Sweetie," Parish responded with patronizing sympathy. "Mister Tall, Dark and Somber. Or, Agent."
Emily bit her lip. Was she really that obvious? How much control she could exert over the Unit Chief? "He's fine."
"Uh huh, Sure."
The woman was good. A few straight-forward words and Emily felt like she'd been scolded for not cleaning her room. It was what compelled her to say, "And he's not my man."
"Yet," JJ said with a smirk. Traitor. Still.
Beckett had remained silent, though the smile playing across the detective's mouth made Emily think she was glad it was someone else on the other end of the ME's particular brand of interrogation. They locked eyes and Beckett offered a sympathetic smile. Emily was glad when the detective took pity on her.
"Lanie, the autopsy?"
Parish shot Emily a look that screamed 'we're not done' but handed over a file with her findings. "Bled out, shocker. Still got nothin' on your knife except it's sharp and probably long."
"Butcher knife?" Beckett asked as she skimmed the file.
"Anything I'm givin' you is a guess," Parish lamented. There was frustration, irritation and guilt in her face, like her inability to give them more information was what was holding them back from finding their UNSUB. Emily didn't miss the way Parish's eyes focused on Beckett, as if she was letting the other woman down.
"Right now, it's better than what we've got," JJ spoke up. She hadn't missed the look that passed between the two women either.
"Butcher knife is an option," Parish said. "From what I can tell from the wounds at least six inches. But he's careful. No bruises." She sighed. "We've been checkin' the bodies daily for any latent bruising. So far, nada."
"So longer than six inches. The hilt isn't hitting skin."
"Or he's careful," JJ replied. "Knife goes in slow enough that it doesn't break the vessels to bruise."
Emily's face was grim. "Torture. Fits with the profile."
"But not sadism," Beckett added.
Emily was impressed. The locals often picked up some of the profile techniques, but rarely the nuances. Like sadism. "It's not about the kill it's about the message."
"I hate you."
Parish shivered though Emily knew it was overly dramatic. "That's a nightmare I didn't need."
As if they weren't all going to have nightmares anyway.
Beckett sighed and checked her watch. "I have to go."
"We'll make sure this gets added to the profile," JJ offered easily. It wasn't like exhaustion wasn't running rampant through the Twelfth's homicide department and it wouldn't be the first time the FBI picked up some of the slack. Emily and JJ both knew by now that Beckett would be staying into the early hours of the morning if they let her go back to the bullpen. At least with the two of them, they were more likely to add all of the information and head back to their hotel.
"You have a hot date, Girl?"
Beckett actually smiled, though it was affectionate. "No. Alexis was by the bullpen today. I got conned into heading to Castle's loft."
"Good," Parish said, bluntly. "About time you let the man take care of you." Her eyes cut to Emily. "You might want to do the same for yours."
Emily huffed. "He's not my man. And he was fine after he talked to his son."
"And who made him do that?" JJ asked with a smirk.
"I saved your rear."
JJ just shrugged that smirk still there. "Still. He listens to you and Dave. And I caught you a couple of mornings ago. You looked mighty comfy Agent Prentiss."
Emily glared. Parish laughed. Even Beckett looked like she was amused.
"Get out," the ME said with a wave of her gloved hands. "You all have places to be. Men to be with."
Could Emily counter that? Beyond the fact that there was nothing she could say – obviously – to change Parish's mind, Emily couldn't really argue that the ME was wrong. She had anticipated seeing Hotch, talking to him, making sure he was okay away from the precinct and the case. But she'd do the same for Reid, Morgan, Rossi if they were having a bad case, if their worst nightmares showed up in a closet.
She found herself sighing as they all said their goodnights and went their separate ways. She and JJ were in the elevator to the Twelfth's homicide bullpen when JJ finally spoke.
"She got to you."
"Who?" Emily asked without thinking. She earned an irritated look from JJ. "Oh. Doctor Parish." She paused. "Not really."
"She did," JJ said firmly. "And you know she's right."
"Hotch isn't mine, Jayje," Emily replied quietly as the elevator doors slid open. "We've talked about this."
"No, we've talked about the fact that you're scared and I'm not saying you shouldn't be," JJ retorted. "What I'm saying is that if you wanted it, if you wanted him, you could have him. Easily."
"Not easily. Not easily at all," Emily hissed back, her frustration starting to break through. "JJ, rules, Foyet, Jack… seriously?"
"Seriously." And JJ was exactly that. She was dead serious. She believed, in a twisted way, in Hotch and Emily, in what they brought out in each other, in what they could bring each other. She didn't have a doubt in the world about whether or not Emily could get along with Jack. Emily would fit seamlessly into that little family unit because she was already there. The only person who didn't seem to see that was Emily.
"Beyond the fact that you both have enough baggage to go on a trip for a year, you are the only person who doesn't realize he's into you."
Emily rolled her eyes.
"Okay, you're the only one who can't see that he needs you."
"Having a happy family is screwing with your brain."
That pulled the brunette up short. It wasn't the swearing that caught her, but the tone. She blinked at JJ, watching her friend's blue eyes flash with anger and frustration.
"You're a damn coward," JJ accused. "You won't take the leap." She paused, forced herself to suck in a breath, trying to get herself back under control. "Look, you're my best friend and it's not entirely out of line to say Hotch and I are close. Fundamentally, I want you both to be happy. Coincidentally, I think you guys will be happy together. And it drives me crazy that the two of you are so stubborn about pretending you're not attracted to each other."
She all but stormed out of the elevator when it hit the homicide floor, leaving Emily gaping after her. Emily sighed, snapping out of her shock when the doors started closing again. She chose a slower pace through the bullpen though. Why couldn't JJ understand the myriad of problems she and Hotch would face? It wasn't like the detective and her writer. If it was all about attraction, Emily was sure she and Hotch would have just… dealt with it. Maybe. But it wasn't.
It never was.
JJ had already launched into the autopsy results when Emily stepped into the room they'd commandeered as a command post. Detective Beckett and Castle were the only ones missing, but it didn't seem like anyone really cared. She was glad, and found herself gravitating towards Hotch, as she was wont to do when something was bothering her. He looked much better, calmer, and he shot her a look of concern. She shook her head. It wasn't the time and it definitely wasn't the place. She needed time to think anyway, to figure out why JJ was so up in arms about the whole thing and why the hell she kept telling Emily she was blind.
Even if she was, blind that is, it didn't negate everything else.
And everything else was a lot to handle.
Time passed differently in Castle's loft. Maybe it was because it was different there. She didn't have to think very much – about the murders, or the victims. They wouldn't let her. For just a few small hours she could simply be. And god, it was sanity.
It didn't change her, though – it didn't change that the thoughts came back unbidden, and she couldn't help but to think it – that she was sitting here while out there, someone was being hunted… but she had to eat, didn't she? At least, that was what Lanie kept telling her.
And, as Castle had told her – she needed to sleep. Both of them were tired. It was easy enough for her to tell that he was, too – there'd been no snide comments about sleeping and beds, or sharing said bed – just the same genuine concern she'd been seeing for awhile now, since the day he'd found her sleeping at the precinct.
She'd tried to insist on driving herself home instead of staying the night like he'd suggested, but he kept insisting. He'd have absolutely none of it. She'd stayed before, hadn't she? Of her own volition too. And really, she was tired. Her eyelids felt like sandpaper but there was no way she was letting him in on that one. He'd already had enough of a hint at just how tired she was when she'd fallen asleep three times while watching Jeopardy with him and Alexis.
The third time was when he'd absolutely insisted. She wasn't normally one to give in but it felt nice for once, just a little bit. Castle had gone off to sleep a half hour ago with a yawn and an exclamation of his own exhaustion. "The guest room's yours, Kate." He'd said, and like she hadn't noticed he'd been calling her by her first name more and more often these days. It was completely unreasonable that it sent a shiver down her spine. Honestly, it was just her name.
But then there'd been Lanie today, doing her best to knock Agent Prentiss over the head with a giant clue the woman honestly needed in her life – and of course she knew what Lanie was doing. She'd known the woman long enough to know exactly what she was doing. It wasn't like the ME hadn't done it before, with Kate. She did that. She pushed and shoved into people's lives and even though Kate knew it was for what Lanie honestly believed was a good cause, it didn't mean it didn't add to the stress they already had.
Unless, of course – unless being with someone that, to be quite honest, Kate knew would make her happy in ways she hadn't let herself begin to address – unless that would help. And maybe it would. It was fully possible that it would, but could she do that? Could she allow herself to take that step, right now?
She wasn't sure she could. She wasn't sure she could allow herself to do that, to rely on someone even the slightest, right now in the very least. The thought made her mouth go dry, and while she didn't know as much about Agent Emily Prentiss as she did about the people in her precinct, she could see that the woman was a lot like her. Of course, Kate could see the tension between Agent Prentiss and Agent Hotchner as easily as Lanie could, but that didn't mean she thought it was right to push them, right now.
It was another thing to add to the growing pile in her mind.
The movie that she and Alexis were watching was on so quietly that Kate was wondering whether either of them were paying attention to it when the younger Castle nudged her with a foot. Kate looked over to find Alexis watching her.
"Kate?" She asked, and the detective noticed the hesitance. "About what I said earlier…"
Kate shook her head. "It's okay. Really, Alexis. I understand-"
"That's …" The girl sighed. "You know it's not what I meant, right? You know it's not you? I like you. I think you're good for him. He's happy and he's not as crazy and I think you helped him grow up a little, you know? It's not you, because I like you. It's the shadowing. I'm worried about him."
During Alexis's speech, Kate had sat up more fully, so that the two women were now turned towards each other on the couch, both sitting Indian style. She hadn't had the chance to find the right words yet before the teen spoke again.
"To be honest, I'm worried about both of you."
"I mean it." When her eyes met Kate's, there was a fire there that reminded Kate of herself, in a way. There was stubbornness in the teenager's eyes. "I've never seen him come home and look so… worried But you – and don't take this the wrong way- you're even worse."
It wasn't something that she didn't know. And if it was just a little bit more worrying that she was proud of that – that he looked less worried than she did – then that was something she was going to have to consider later. That was an entirely different beast.
"I know he does." Kate said instead of dwelling on that fact. "To be honest, Alexis, I've been trying to keep him out of this one."
"Because he doesn't need to get close to it. There's a line. And he doesn't need to cross it."
"And this does?"
"Okay." Alexis paused, then sighed. "And what about you?"
"It's my job. Not your Dad's. I signed up for it. This comes with it."
"All I know is that when you're upset, my Dad's upset." Alexis said. "He worries about you."
"And you worry about him." It wasn't a question.
"Of course I do." Alexis answered simply.
Kate couldn't help but smile at the sincerity in her voice, even though her mind was drawn back to so many years ago – when her father had fallen into that hole and couldn't get back out. She didn't think she'd done more worrying before in her life. She hadn't slept. She'd hardly eaten. And she hadn't been that much older than Alexis, not at all. It wasn't the same sort of worrying but it just wasn't something the girl needed on her plate.
Kate reached forward and put a hand on Alexis' knee.
"I don't want you to." She said, voice honest. "I'm doing my best to keep him out of it. I'll continue to do that."
Alexis nodded, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "Can you promise me something?"
Kate took a breath. "I'll try."
"Take care of yourself, too."
Kate's heart clenched, and simply because she couldn't bear to give another answer, she heard herself say, "Okay."
"Okay." Alexis smiled, though it wasn't as wide and bright as some of the one's Kate had seen before. It cracked Kate's heart a little to know the teenager suspected a lie. Still, Alexis didn't push it. Instead, she asked brightly, "Ice cream?"
When Rick woke, the house was suspiciously quiet. Glancing at the clock told him he should, at the very least, hear Alexis. It was with slow, measured steps that he made his way down to the den and was greeted with a sight that made his heart skip, almost the same way it had the first time he'd found two of the most important women in his life asleep in the living room.
Alexis and Kate were curled up together on the couch, both of them still asleep. He smiled, taking in the picture for a minute before reaching out for his daughter.
The teenager's nose wrinkled, but she settled in again. Her companion, however, woke almost immediately, eyes clear but not quite awake. Rick graced her clear hazel eyes with a gentle smile. "Detective."
"Castle," she greeted, relaxing again as she realized everything was okay.
He took a chance, resting a hand on her thigh, his thumb stroking in gentle circles. "How did you sleep?"
Kate shrugged. "I slept."
He arched an eyebrow, then took in the DVD screen and the two ice cream bowls. When he looked back at her, she simply shrugged.
"What time is it?" Her voice was still husky with sleep.
"Late," he replied. "Alexis is going to be late for school."
"We needed the sleep," Rick soothed.
"No one called?"
Their conversation had woken Alexis and Rick got a real treat as Kate ran her hand through his daughter's long red tresses. "Good morning."
"It's morning? Am I late?"
"Yup," Rick spoke up. "I'll call the school, but you need to get into the shower."
Alexis' blue eyes shot open. "Dad!" she whined detangling herself from Kate quickly. "Why didn't you wake me?"
Rick just chuckled as the teenager scampered quickly up the stairs. He watched Kate reach for her phone then sighed.
"Does this mean you're staying for a long leisurely breakfast?"
"We're late too, Castle," she argued.
"Then no one will mind if we're a little bit later," he responded.
"The victims and their families mind," she said fixing him with a nasty glare as he moved around the couch.
Rick held in a sigh, but just barely. Kate was cranky and exhausted, running herself ragged and it was taking its toll. Instead of going to pull out things for breakfast, he rested his hands on her thin shoulders, feeling the ridiculously tense muscles beneath. "My god, Kate." He hadn't been able to hold in the released breath as he realized just how hard she was taking the case.
A shiver drilled down Kate's spine, both at the heat of his hands and his softly breathed words. It struck her then, that he was less damaged than she was for the sole reason that he'd separated himself and been separated from the case. He came home to Martha, Alexis and ice cream sundaes. More than that, this wasn't his fourth victim like it was hers. He had ways to separate himself.
And, as she was feeling, he had amazing hands.
Rick, his brow wrinkled, worked his thumbs into her shoulders and her neck, ignoring how smooth her skin was under his hands. She was terribly tense, which lent to explaining some of the headaches she'd been experiencing over the days since he'd been back.
Kate let him pull her under, for once in her life, simply allowing Rick Castle take her mind away from four dead people and the FBI. The spell was broken by Alexis' whirlwind down the stairs.
"Dad, where's your wallet?"
It was with reluctance that he allowed Kate to slip out from beneath his hands. "You can use the hall bathroom or the master bath."
She expected innuendo, some sort of underhanded sexual comment about joining her, but none came. She was just climbing the stairs when her name stepped her, and she found Alexis' steady gaze.
"I hope you solve your case," she said sincerely.
If Penelope Garcia never saw a yearbook again, she'd decided she'd be the happiest tech genius in the world.
Annie Bryers, she'd concluded, was the missing link. Bryers was going to be the one that linked them all. She'd already pulled out her bag of tricks to dig up the graduating class, now her job turned to focusing on who it could be. Who had the connection? Who was the one who hated their victims the most?
It had taken her forever.
The team, she knew, had made all the connections they could. It was her turn now. That was the way their team worked. And she would not let them down.
Nuh uh. No way.
"Come on, baby," she murmured to herself as she entered in the last remaining bit of data she hadn't. The names, the signature…
Her head cleared with surprising alacrity and her heart jumped. It wasn't often she made the connections ahead of her superheroes.
But looking at the information in front of her, the pictures she could remember seeing combing through yearbooks to file everything….
She was pretty sure she just found the key piece of their deadly puzzle.
We made our timeline! We said January and it's January! I'm going to say March, but more realistically it'll be April by the time we get the next one done. SSW just switched schools and I'm trying to finish my thesis by March 1st so all of my writing is sidelined.
As always, we say thanks to the ends of the earth and from the bottom of our hearts to each of you that's reviewed, and even more so for your patience. Allowing us to work at this at our pace so we can produce the best chapters we feel we can means a lot to both of us and takes a lot of pressure off of our shoulders. When we started this, I don't think either of us anticipated the feedback we have received for a crossover, so it's three times as awesome for us to see those of you who are so encouraging of the story and of the way we want to write it.
Hope you enjoyed! Don't forget to leave us a note on what you thought of it.