It had been one of those blissful moments, Hotch reflected almost bitterly, as he scoured the sleep from his eyes and glared at the phone. In truth he was just trying to focus on the caller ID, or at least that's what he wanted to tell himself.
It was Tuesday morning, the week had, until just recently, been scheduled to read as an in-office consultation week. Strauss had made it a point to have Hotch schedule a week like this, evaluations were up, and while it was true the BAU's evaluations were completed and submitted, Hotch had to present them to Strauss sometime mid-week. There was no way Strauss wanted to know that at 3 AM. Hotch expected the schedule to change, suddenly.
He nudged Reid awake, he untangled the spidery-long limbs that tangled his legs with the use of silk sheets instead of webbing to keep him pinned. Reid blinked up at him bleary-eyed as Hotch continued to converse with JJ for another three seconds.
"Tell me I have time for coffee..." Reid started, he knew just as well as Hotch what the 3 AM call meant.
"I'll make you a deal, you pack up a go bag for me, I'll pack up Jack and call Jessica… while I'm in the kitchen, I'll turn on the pot."
"I will take that deal."
"Get dressed…" Hotch warned, he leaned over to kiss his lover on the forehead, he already had his pants on, dress shirt open, but on, and tie in position to be fastened.
In the back of his mind, somewhere, he wondered how good of an idea it was to trust Reid to pack his socks when the poor man hadn't even had coffee yet, but he believed he'd be able to function, just like he believed he could cope with mismatched socks for a singular day before he could find a store to fix it. He was in the hallway before Reid had pulled out his go bag.
Reid pulled open the drawers on Hotch's side of their six-drawer dresser. From the top he pulled the socks, underwear, and ties necessary. Second shelf was undershirts and sleep-wear/active wear in the form of sweats. He then proceeded to the closet for the dress-shirts, trousers and suit jackets needed. He even managed to grab a belt, shoes, and watch all of a matching semi-flat black. Over the years he had learned something from his fashionista friends. He palmed Hotch's back-up watch and slipped it into the front of the bag. He doubted Hotch would forget to put his watch on, but it was always wise to have a back-up.
As the zipper ran around once, the bag was closed, packed, and Reid did the same to his own. In short, it took fifteen minutes to get dressed, tooth-brushed, groomed, and packed for both men, he knew Hotch could pack Jack out in less than 4 minutes, and with that 11 minute window and a 5-minute brew cycle, he knew he had coffee. He could literally smell it.
Twenty minutes later, Hotch had dropped Jack off, still half-asleep, to his Aunt Jessica's, who thankfully didn't utter a word about her exact feelings for waking up at 3:35 AM on a Tuesday, which, by her crossed arms and shoulder-distance planted feet was 'not entirely thrilled'. Both Hotch and Reid gave Jack a hug and a kiss before Hotch continued to transfer his son to his guest bed.
By 4 AM, they reached Quantico, over the course of the next fifteen minutes the others dragged themselves in.
"Meet up in the conference room," JJ said as she passed out folders the way she'd passed out Henry's birthday-flyers to the parents of Henry's play groups. Somewhere in her mind, she really hoped she didn't have to find out how much money it would cost her to cancel reservations for a
bounce-castle and a cowboy rodeo clown (Will's idea, not hers).
"Mogul, Nevada. So far, there are 11 dead…" JJ started, Reid looked up in vague recognition, which he often did when he heard a location. "As of this morning, 2 AM DC time, a fourth SUV was gunned down on West Bound-Route 80 in the past two months. The driver was hit in the head instantly killing him, his SUV flipped over the median, and a long-distance trucker could not avoid hitting him. Four people died in this accident, the two passengers in the SUV, their driver, and the truck driver. In the previous three attacks, the drivers were each shot fatally in the head once, with two shots being fired, one to break the windshield, one to kill the driver. Each time, the vehicle contained two or more people, and so far the vehicles shot at were SUVs. Each time, the make, model and color were different."
"Shell casings?" Morgan asked as he flipped through only half-awake at best.
"None," JJ said with a sad smile, "They aren't really sure how far away the shots came from, either. However, they do have evidence that a person approached the vehicles after each accident, always on the front passenger's side. From that, there is a partial shoe-print, other than that the forensics are clean."
"Are you sure that isn't first responders?" Reid asked as he looked at the shoe-print, the shatter-proof glass didn't give much surface for a print, but it gave the vague outlines for a shoe-size.
"We're sure, it might have been a good Samaritan, but in three of the four accidents, the first responders approached from the rear and were in fire boots that don't fit the size-range."
"…Well, do you have any more good news for us?" Prentiss smiled as she sipped on her double-shot venti latte.
"I do. The press has caught wind of it and have dubbed the unsub The Green Mile Killer. Apparently the creative execs are gunning for their own personal lawsuit, that or think that because the SUVs were each traveling toward Verdi that it would be a great way to sensationalize it."
"Wheels up in 30, people; get your coffee now," Hotch added as he spotted Reid as he stifled yet another yawn.
"Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there." -Richard Feynman
Had life been fair at all there'd be less turbulence on a red-eye flight with too little sleep and too much coffee. Reid put his head back and closed his eyes, but the ride just wasn't conducive to the short nap he had in mind. "More coffee," he said to the cabin.
Hotch looked up speculatively. "Would you mind?"
Reid grinned and nodded. "Coffee or tea?"
"Tea would be great." Hotch returned his attention to the file before him. He wondered about the high body count and if it was part of the unsub's plans. He made a note on a small post-it to remind himself to ask that question. As he wrote the turbulence was more pronounced and he saw Reid nearly juggle the two cups he held.
It looked for a moment like Reid was losing his balance and Hotch stood and reached for one of the young man's arms to help steady him, which ended up with half a cup of hot coffee on his pristine blue shirt.
He stood stock still, looking down at his shirt. A moment later he pulled the front of the shirt away from his skin. He said nearly silently, "Fuck!"
Reid began to stutter, "I am s-so s-sorry, Hotch. Are you okay? Let me help…"
"No, no it's my fault, I shouldn't have grabbed your arm. Timing. Poor timing is all."
Prentiss was up with a napkin as she tried to wipe up part of the mess. "Uhh, no hope for it Hotch, did you get burned?"
"Uh, I think I'm fine. Let me get my go bag," he looked at Reid, "there's another shirt in there."
Reid nodded. He knew there was.
Hotch was removing his tie and unbuttoning his shirt on the way back to the curtained off kitchen area of the jet. All eyes enjoyed the minor strip session. The smiles directed at him would truly have caused a great deal of embarrassment to him had he seen them, were both unusual for the time of day and the job that awaited them.
When he opened the go bag he groaned loud enough for Reid, who stood just outside of the half curtain to hear. "Pink? You packed me two pink dress shirts?"
"You look great in them."
"Spencer... never mind." Hotch sighed and chose the one that looked the least like a peppermint stick. This one was a windowpane pattern of white and blue on pink. The other, which he'd have to wear tomorrow, was pink with thin white stripes. At least the ties were less garish than he expected.
He was never, ever letting Reid pack for him again.
When he reappeared in the plane's cabin he was met by cheers and whistles, who knew JJ could whistle that piercingly?
"Let's focus, people." He looked up to see Reid try to wipe the smile from his lips and eyes. "What do we know about the unsub?"
"We know he uses forensic counter measures." Morgan tried to sound normal, while his eyes snapped and his need to comment on that one hot shirt were stilled before the words were born.
"So that tells us?" Hotch continued in an effort at normalcy.
"That he probably knows what he's doing. Maybe he watches CSI," Rossi added, just because he knew that Hotch couldn't stand the television program.
JJ said speculatively, "Or maybe he's using a rifle, and he's too far away for us to have found anything."
"LDSK?" Hotch said quietly. A little more comfortable now that fashion didn't seem to be on everyone's mind. Though he had to admit he was glad he'd taken off the Zegna jacket and it was safely on the back of his seat.
"I was wondering if his high body count is on purpose? 11 people in 4 incidences seems like a lot."
Everyone nodded. "He's only using two bullets though," Reid said. He took a sip of his coffee between the bounding the plane was doing. "Seems like he's trying to take out the car and driver, maybe everyone else is collateral."
"Why SUV's?" Prentiss posited. "Does he hate big cars?"
"He could be an environmentalist, those cars drink a lot of gas," Rossi brainstormed.
"And it's not a specific model or color, just a type." Prentiss again.
"When we figure out who it is, it'll probably make sense," Rossi said. "Or not."
"One day we'll have to give the profile as: this guy is a whack job," Morgan quipped.
Hotch frowned at him. "SUV's must mean something to him, we just don't know what."
"We've caught exactly one LDSK with a profile, I think we know a little more about them than we used to," Reid started. "From what we've learned with Dowd, this guy is probably a narcissist who thinks he's been wronged, that though he thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, no one knows it." Reid silenced for a moment while the plane took a sharp descent, then continued once the turbulence eased. "He might hold a skilled job. He might have been in the military, maybe sniper trained or one of the elite groups; seals, rangers. So many have died, I'm fairly sure he's not in the medical community."
Hotch nodded, and gave Reid an almost imperceptible smile. "And in the recent past this guy has had a stressor that somehow brought his world crashing down and he's decided to take out his anger on others."
"So we should get the local CSU teams to widen their search areas," Rossi spoke up again.
Hotch looked at the team. "When we get off this roller coaster ride, Rossi you and Prentiss head out to the latest crime scene, see if you can get a feel for what's going on. Morgan you take JJ and set up at the precinct, Sheriff Bennett will tell us where'd be best to do that. Reid and I will go interview the eye witness. Reid, start a geographic profile while I drive. Everyone keep in touch. Let's get Garcia looking into the first responders, marksmen in the area, anyone that might be having problems."
With a sigh of relief Reid grabbed his FBI jacket, glad that Hotch had opted to wear his rather than his lightweight wool. From the open hatch on the plane he could feel the oven heated feel of the air from outside. His short-sleeved dress shirt felt blessed. He probably should have packed one for Hotch, but knew the man would never wear it.
They filed out of the plane and almost each member of the team groaned upon hitting the heat.
"Why do serial killers choose places where it's so damned hot?" Prentiss griped. "And one word about dry heat, Reid, -one, and you'll go home with a black eye."
Reid waved his hand at her, "Not a word."
Near what had to be a terminal for the small jet strip stood three SUV's, two Bureau black Suburbans and a blue and white Sheriff's Explorer. The Sheriff walked toward them to meet them halfway. He offered the car keys to Rossi, who he took for the agent in charge, and Rossi smiled as he introduced, "This is SSA Hotcher, he's our leader," he then introduced the rest of the team.
Hotch shook hands with the sheriff, the man was thin and gray, at least half a foot shorter than Hotch, but with a sharp face and a quick smile. "My mistake. Glad to meet you Agent Hotchner," he nodded and shook hands with the rest of the group except Reid who waved lightly at him. "Ms. Garcia said you might want to check out where the crime scenes were? I'll drive, I know the area really well; it's part of my commute every day."
Reid looked over at Hotch to see if he'd react to the sheriff's offer to drive. He'd come to realize, over time that Hotch drove because of his need to keep the team safe. Not that he didn't trust the others to drive, he'd always let Elle drive all those years ago, somehow it'd just happened. The only thing he saw was a slight tightening around the man's eyes behind his sunglasses. "Do you have maps of the area?" Reid requested.
"Yeah, Ms. Garcia asked for those as well."
"I'll hop in the back seat and start on the geographic profile." Reid informed the two other men as they walked over to the Ford.
"Good," Hotch said. "Sheriff Bennett, what can you tell us about the shooter?"
"Not much, he doesn't leave a trail, we have the one shoe print, the CSU folks think he might be a pretty big guy, wears a size 11 shoe, looks like a hiking or a boot type tread, but they only have what looks like a single chevron type pattern to deduce that from. We just figure he's a guy who's really good with a gun, who knows how to get an SUV to go out of control. The ammunition is .50, we just got a slug out of one of the drivers."
"So it is a rifle…" Reid murmured as he spread the maps across the back seat.
Hotch took off his jacket, folded it and then pulled himself into the passenger seat and buckled in. They'd put on Kevlar when they got to the first scene when they got out of the car. He rolled up his sleeves and made sure they wouldn't wrinkle too badly.
Then the sheriff put on the air conditioning.
Prentiss and Rossi were immediately in the SUV and made their short ride to the last crime scene, fully immersed in ice-box worthy A/C.
The last scene was less than 20 minutes from the landing strip. The area was extremely dry and mountainous.
"This road's uneven and there's construction all along it. The center island is concrete uprights that narrow the lanes. How did that SUV get across them and into oncoming traffic? The driver had to be going pretty fast when he lost control of the car…" Prentiss thought aloud.
"Yeah, being shot and killed will do that," Rossi said, as he shook his head. "The area is marked, we should be there any minute. There, the cop tape."
Prentiss put on her warning lights and pulled the SUV over. "Great, now traffic will get even worse."
And as she said that, they started to notice the cars behind them slow to a crawl to watch them.
Rossi lifted his arm to wave the cars on. The people who had been directly behind them pulled off as well, Rossi went to the car and explained they were investigating an accident.
The Good Samaritan smiled and wished them well, and pulled back out into the now slower traffic.
"Small towns," Prentiss whispered in wonder.
Rossi followed the skid marks, noted a little broken glass. Then he stared across the road where the disabled SUV had gone off the other side. He shook his head. "This place is a classic area for a sniper attack," he pointed to a higher location above the road. "There are half a dozen vantage points, all of them nearly invisible from the road. This guy knows what he's doing. Hitting the windshield is one thing, but then hitting the driver…? That wouldn't be an easy shot."
Prentiss asked, "What is it about the car? Why an SUV? He's blaming someone in an SUV for something. But it's so random. Driver's gender varies, but there's always at least one passenger in the car and not once has there been a kid. Can you even tell if they have passengers in the back seat?"
They walked the site a little more, not feeling that they were getting much done.
"He has to have a car that can get him up into the mountain," Prentiss said as she continued to think aloud.
Rossi nodded, "That could help. Let's call Morgan and see where we're setting up."
JJ had barely gotten to the precinct when what seemed like the entire press corps of Nevada surrounded her.
"The FBI has just gotten here to assist with the investigation of this unknown subject. As soon as I have more information I'll make a statement. Please give us some time. No further comment."
"Back off, back off." Morgan ran interference for JJ to get into the precinct.
"No comment. We'll make a statement when we have more information."
JJ maintained her friendly if intense look as she pushed through the press. She finally latched on to Morgan's belt, and just allowed him to pull her through.
When they finally got into the offices, she breathed a heavy sigh. "Where did they come from?"
"Hello, you're the FBI? I'm Sergeant Dale. Sheriff Bennett has asked me to help you get set up. Welcome to Mogul. Is the conference room okay? We have internet in there and a couple phones."
"That'll work for us Sergeant Dale. I'm Special Agent Jareau and this is SSA Morgan. Call me JJ."
Morgan shook hands with the Sergeant. "I'm Derek."
"Joseph. Glad you're here."
Sheriff Bennett loaded into the driver's seat of his 2004 Ford Explorer. Built into the front dashboard of the converted vehicle were LED lights that flashed blue and white. Atop the modified SUV was a high-powered antenna for the ham-radio, the console had been reconstructed to consist of said radio and a GPS that he had never used.
Hotch got into the front seat as Reid climbed into the back, Sheriff Bennett tossed two maps that he pulled from the sun-shield on Hotch's side.
"Here kid, have at it," he said without any hostility to color his tone. "I can tell ya this, it'll be the easiest damned thing I've ever seen. He's shootin' up people driving 80WB. Doesn't hit the same area twice, though. Not yet, at least," he offered. He turned the ignition and was satisfied by the purr it emitted as the engine turned and engaged.
Reid adjusted his messenger bag to rest on the floor of the vehicle and took out his sharpies. The seatbelts buckled in a string of clicks before the sheriff floored it, Reid's hand jumped, a streak of green marred his left wrist and hand on the back side. Hotch glared at the sheriff then locked eyes with Reid through the rearview, the Sheriff seemed oblivious to it.
In forty-seven minutes they were well across town and in the sticks interviewing a man who had reported seeing the second accident.
"Josh, you there?" The trio exited the vehicle and walked up the gravel driveway.
"Sheriff Bennett, how've you been? Yeah, I'll be right out, just getting Shelley down for her nap!" He said from the window.
Josh exited the house a few moments later, a stuffed bunny still in his hand, he looked unabashed by it. "So you must be the FBI?" he said as he looked directly at Hotch, "Joe told me you were on your way up. Had I known Sheriff Bennett was driving, I'd have put Shelley to sleep right when he called. This man, good thing he's sheriff, because he cannot drive the speed limit, right?"
"Josh…" The sheriff warned, "Josh here is my wife's nephew."
Josh smiled, beamed, really, "Yeah, but if I went around callin' you Sheriff Uncle people'd give me a look. I think Uncle Sheriff would be worse. So you came out here for something, I'm guessing this has something to do with my witness statement. So what do you want to know?"
Hotch took that as the opportunity to launch into questions. "We would like you to run through what you saw the night of the accident. Did you see the crash?"
"When it happened? Nah, I saw it once it was all over, though. That SUV was jockeying for miles with this white two-door beater since Reno and I was just staying out of their way. Up 'til Mogul I still had eyes on 'em both, but after that the SUV pulled further ahead, didn't see it too well, about… five miles out of town I saw it? Red tail lights perpendicular to the road off to the right. Some guy was walking up to it from the passenger's side, real clean-cut looking but I didn't get a good look at his face. He was probably white, but he was definitely light-skinned. As far as I could tell he was clean-shaven, dressed in khaki slacks and short-sleeve shirt to match, looked like a cop, so I didn't stop. I figured he was just parked on the other side of the SUV or something, but after I rode past, I realized I didn't see the lights flashin' in my rearview. About …a minute later…? I was half-up the road but then I saw the lights, gotta love the visibility. Maybe he was off-duty and just stopped to help. Did he not leave his name or something? That's weird."
"Josh, why didn't ya tell me he was in our uniform?"
"Hey now! I said he was in a khaki outfit and he looked like a cop, I didn't say he was one. I thought he was, and if he was why wouldn't he report it as the first responder? I only even said that much because I didn't want anyone getting funny thoughts about this being like that shooting, it was a basic accident, there was a cop, I kept going, that's it. I have to get back inside… make sure Shelley's actually sleeping…" He sighed before he took his leave.
"Well, that went well…" The Sheriff said before he returned to the driver's seat.
Hotch's knuckles went white from fisting them too tightly, he relaxed it then offered an, "Are there any other eye witnesses?"
The Sheriff shook his head, "Probably a dozen, but no one came forward."
"It makes sense with that ruse, he prevents people from getting involved or looking too closely, but he can watch the passengers die. He's killing the drivers instantly, but it's the death of the passenger that means something to him," Reid offered.
"You got all that from a khaki uniform?"
"No, we also know he's from the area and knows what the police would wear. Snipers are trained marksmen, and this man is demonstrating his prowess. Did you ever have anyone on the force who was a sniper for the army, or passed the marksmanship exams with that caliber?"
"I wouldn't know off the top of my head, no." The Sheriff let out a slow, deliberate breath, "You're not tryin' to say it's a cop, are ya?"
Hotch gave a stony look, "It is possible, this personality type, a long distance serial killer, they seek control and they seek situations that give them that power, and that structure. This unsub had a major event occur in his life that triggered this, he might have been a cop here at one point, or he might still be an officer, he might just be a person knowledgeable on police procedures. We're not ruling anything out yet."
The Sheriff visibly relaxed. "That's good… because we're a small town, these are our friends, and my officers are all damn good people, sure a few of them have had their ups and downs, but not a one of them is capable of this."
"So where to next?" Hotch asked the sheriff, he eyed to make sure Reid was clipped in. His nephew wasn't off base when he called Sheriff Bennett a speed-demon.
"I figured I'd take you to the first crime scene, it's not far from here, it's only about twenty miles from here."
Reid put his marker to the map again, "Sheriff, you said you were taking us to the first one?"
"And that it's 20 miles out?"
The man nodded.
"…How is that possible? These have been taking place closer and closer to Mogul from Verdi, following the roads it would be about 40 miles from…"
"Ah, see, there's a few private roads around here. They don't quite make the map. I'm from around here, so I use Peavine all the time, some of my officers … well, let's say I'd have to order a search and rescue on my own to get them back to my place. Carter'ed have a good ol' laugh doing it too. Well, as long as his uniform didn't get fussed up he'd laugh. I'll introduce you at the station, he's a good guy. It's a shame really." As if to demonstrate, he pulled onto the dirt-packed road at a reasonable 90MPH.
"…A shame?" Hotch reiterated the word, he clutched the oh-shit handle subtly.
Bennett didn't have the chance to answer when he heard his tire rapidly deflate. The pop could have been mistaken for a gunshot if it weren't for the balance going so suddenly in the SUV.
As the vehicle started to careen left, Bennett gave the wheel a hard jerk to compensate right, the fishtail only lasted a moment before the left front tire hit a pothole and caused a cascade reaction as the SUV dipped down, bucked up, over, and rolled. 89 MPH of forward momentum suddenly shifted to sideward force as it carried the vehicle forty feet off the road as it flipped. The jarring sound of metal crunching and glass snapping beneath the weight of the large SUV stopped at two and a half rotations.
Sheriff Bennett braced his arms with the steering wheel while holding his back and neck against the seat to cushion as much of the impact as he could. His body shifted right just in time to avoid the door as it crushed inward on his side, by the pained sound of the scream from behind him, he would have guessed Agent Reid hadn't been as fortuitous in his roll.
When the SUV finally ended the rotation it still continued to slide for six more feet before motion stopped. All things told, the side airbags had deployed, Bennett now realized just what had made him move right during the impact.
Hotch was rolling his eyes back at the sound of the horn blaring, it took him a good twelve seconds to assess the situation, his right arm had rapidly been moved to the left when the airbag had deployed, that of course having come after his head had met the window on that side before the first roll completed. By the way his ear hurt he could assume near just where his head hit. "Reid…" He turned his head, it felt like it had been in slow motion, but sounds and motions suddenly accelerated back to normal time, the horn wasn't blaring at all. That was the sound of a pained scream.
Hotch glanced over to Bennett, the man was trying to calm down his agent in the back seat.
"Son, can you hear me…?"
"I think I've got something wrong in my hip. Part of the roof and there's a boulder under the car. Are you okay? Can you check Hotch." Spencer was suddenly caught up in the pain that seemed centered on his hip, but radiated across his gut. "Oh god. It hurts… Aaron?"
"I'm okay. I'll be fine."
Spencer didn't believe that for a minute. "What is it? Honest Hotch."
"Shoulder, maybe bruised, maybe dislocated." He watched Aaron put his hand to his head. "Maybe a cut or something."
"Son, what's wrong?"
"Sheriff Bennett, are you…?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine…"
Reid looked through the windshield, the world outside was beautiful, the golden-rod sky and the bluest grass he'd ever seen filled in his periphery, and in front of him, Aaron locked eyes with him. A shrill siren was playing in the background, he wished it would stop, it made his head hurt, and as if that thought alone was enough, the sound stopped. In this dream, apparently he was a god.
"Reid where are you hurt?"
Bennett worked his way across the cabin of the crushed car and managed to undo Hotch's seat belt, which caused Hotch to drop onto the top of the car. He heard Hotch grunt and swear.
"…You're bleeding…" Reid said. The way his tone drifted sent a shiver through Hotch and Bennett. "Why are you upside-down…?"
The pain made itself clear in his features, the sky was so beautiful behind Hotch, even with orbs of black appearing and disappearing. He wondered if that was what the stars looked like, but then, why would stars be in the grass?
"Reid! Come on, pay attention… Reid, what's hurt?"
"I don't see any blood…" The Sheriff offered, apparently more mobile than Hotch, he was able to climb into the back. His hands ghosted along Reid, upon reaching his lower torso, Reid emitted a fierce scream, his back going more rigid as he tried to flatten himself into the back of the seat. "Think I found it…" He mentioned, "Shit, Agent Hotchner, looks like he's pinned."
"How? Is that where he's-"
"His knee up to his thigh, it's jammed pretty tight between the door. He isn't bleeding though, that's a good sign. I'm gonna undo his belt… I think he's mumblin' something… hold on." The sheriff leaned in closer.
"Spinal cord injuries are often amplified by the change of position before braces are put into place in sudden-stop injuries. Examples of common places for spinal cord injuries include car accidents, diving accidents, skiing accidents, and bicycle accidents. In Beijing, China, the ratio of bicycles to cars are 200:1, if you drive 10,000 miles per year, there is a 1:6,000 chance you will be involved in a fatal car accident. Skydiving once per year is a rate of 1:100,000…"
"…He's talking about spinal injuries and statistics…"
Hotch took a harsh breath, "That's normal for him when he's panicked, the statistics that is."
That's when Hotch saw it.
It had taken 8.7 seconds for the SUV traveling southward at 89 MPH to halt, a good 40 meters from the start point into the boulder it was currently pinned against. Along the way, the sides had taken the majority of the impact and due to the standard constructs of SUVs, the sheering force traveled through the passenger space. Roll one had dislodged the click-in unit of the rear-middle seat, roll two had it click partly back into place, and somewhere in between rolls one and two had Reid's hip slam down hard enough for something to give that shouldn't have. Somewhere during the second roll as Reid's weight shifted, he was pressed against the spacing left between the dislodged bench seat and the door, and when the door was pressed against the boulder, the seat clicked back into place, subsequently pinning the young man in place.
"Right…" The sheriff started, "Son, I'm gonna loosen your belt, okay?" In a few short moments the sheriff had Reid's shirt untucked and the lower half unbuttoned, belt removed. "When I loosened the seatbelt his leg didn't budge, if I cut him down he'll still be stuck upside-down. I think we should leave him with the support holding his weight."
"Looks like, I'm afraid."
Hotch touched his forehead, "What happened?"
"The tire gave out. That radio won't call in now with the antenna in pieces, ya got your phone with ya?"
"I do, no signal though," Hotch said, he immediately found the device.
"No helping it then…" He climbed into the furthest part of the vehicle and extracted a case of water, roughly 2 gallons worth. "I'll have to hike somewhere to find reception. I'm gonna check to make sure the fuel line is intact first, and see if I can spot what blew out my tire. Your friend here looks like he's in a bad way, probably shock… ya gotta keep him hydrated. Is that gonna be a problem for ya?"
"No, I can still use my left hand."
"Can't believe I hit a pot-hole out here…"
"…Sheriff, did you tell anyone where we were going-? Back in your department I mean?"
"…Sure a handful knew we were going to interview my nephew, but it occurred to me how close we were to the first crime scene while we were there. As I said, the others don't know this road too well. Probably the only person who's actually familiar with it would be Carter. When I call in I'll have him lead the EMTs straight in. You both just need to sit tight. I'll be right back once I call this in."
"Sheriff, are you sure this wasn't the LDSK?"
"We ain't even close to Route 80, the tire blew out, that's all…"
"Sheriff, if this unsub has law enforcement experience, then he'd know the windows are reinforced. That would be why he wouldn't waste his shot…" Hotch almost ran out of breath.
"Listen, I get it, the tire might've been shot out, but your friend there's hurtin' mighty bad, he needs help and sittin' in this car 'til someone realizes we ain't back is gonna take an awful long while. Once I call it in, I'll be right back, we'll see if we can get him down but I gotta call this in first."
"What was it with Carter… what was it?" Hotch tried to breathe lightly. His concentration seemed dulled.
"His boy died this year. He hasn't really been his old self since then, before then, he and the missus would host barbeques and do all that sort of stuff, but since then, well, it hasn't affected his job technically… but…" He sighed, "I mean, technically, the IA board didn't find him suspect for it… but he's off the ball."
"He got a bit over-zealous in an arrest of an armed suspect in a police chase. Pulled him out and made the arrest, but it was right after that incident in Fresno with the homeless guy so people were real leery of excessive force… and he was rough, but not unexpectedly rough… that's all. Really." He poked his head out of the SUV. "How the hell'd I manage to shred the damned tire…"
"Sheriff, speed dial 7 is our technician Garcia, call it in to her first, she'll alert dispatch."
"Alright, alright, but Carter'll be here quicker…"
Hotch grimaced as the air filled with another pained cry, his attention taken from the Sheriff as he tried to convince Reid to stay still. "Reid, Reid stay still…"
"Where're you hurt?"
"Huh…? Reid, stop trying to move- Sheriff Bennett's going to call in for help. Someone knows we're on Peavine Road. Hold on, okay?"
"I already told him," Hotch stated.
Reid winced an eye shut, he let out a low, pained moan as his hand fished for the source of injury.
"Reid, you have to stay still, come on…"
"I think I broke my hip…" Reid swallowed back, "I feel nauseous…"
"That's because you're in shock," Hotch offered, "Your hip…? Where does it hurt?"
"I have internal bleeding…" His fingers touched gently, probing the lower quadrants of his abdomen, "I have muscle guarding… peritonitis, most likely caused by hemorrhage… what kind of dream is this…"
"Are we in a car? Why am I upside down…? Dreams aren't supposed to hurt…" Reid complained, "What was that?"
"What was what, Reid?"
"Did the motor misfire? Is the car going to explode? Hotch you have to get me down! We have to get out of here before the gas-tank ignites!" Reid's hands fumbled around the tab, his normally nimble fingers shook too much to get a good grip.
""I can't. I'm so sorry Spencer. Help will be here soon."
Reid stopped grabbing at the seatbelt. There was silence for a long time. Hotch couldn't help but think the timing in Carter's personal tragedy, and his knowledge of the area were anything but good signs.
"How long have we been here?" Reid disrupted Hotch's thoughts. Hotch raised some water to Reid's lips.
"Drink this. Maybe an hour?"
"…Where's Sheriff Bennett?" Reid asked, Hotch eyed him suspiciously.
"Reid, did you hit your head at all?"
"I don't think so… it's really hard to focus though… my stomach really, really hurts… Aaron, do you hear that?"
"It sounds like steps… Is Sheriff Bennett walking around out there?" Reid let out another low moan, his hands clutched at his center near his legs.
Hotch's eyes went wide. It had been thirty minutes since the sheriff had ventured out there, and in those thirty minutes Reid had mentioned a popping sound… he highly suspected the sheriff wasn't the one coming back. He just hoped the man had managed to make the call he was supposed to.
"Reid, you need to be quiet now…" Hotch climbed back into the front. "Reid, you can do that for me, right? I need you to be quiet, this is important…"
He could tell Reid wasn't making the connections like he should be or normally would, it was concerning to say the least, and he could only imagine what that meant for the younger agent as far as the pain he had to be in to lose himself so much. "I need you to stay quiet and still Reid, no matter what, can you do that for me? Can you?"
Spencer frowned, he really thought he'd been quiet this whole time.
The urgency seemed to get through to him, because Reid gave a stiff nod before he brought his hands to his mouth and bit in. Hotch winced at the sight but realized Reid wasn't enough in control of himself otherwise to stop.
Carter approached the SUV worrying at a spot on his hat. He had taken the sheriff down with a clean hit to the neck, he knew he wasn't going to go anywhere, he wasn't going to scream, and he wasn't going to die right away. It only seemed fit, the man thought so little of his skills as an officer that he couldn't even do a simple county-tour for the feds, the man deserved the time to reflect on his mistakes. In all his years, all Officer Carter had ever done was strive for perfection, and in a short period of 12 years he had obtained so much of it, only for it to all get ripped from his hands in the course of a month.
He had been married for 11 years to a beautiful woman he had met through friends in the academy. She was a quiet beauty in Junior College at the time, once he got through his training, he popped the question in a romantic setting, and of course she would have him. A year later they had their son, the apple of both of their eyes. Everything was going perfectly, his arrest record was one of the best in the county, he had a good paying job, they owned a house, his wife was a stay-at-home mom to their bright boy who made all A's and was in peewee football, little league, and wolf-scouts. Everything was perfect, so why did that bitch have to go and throw it all away?
For the same asshole who set them up together, no less! After 12 years of perfect in one month she wasn't happy, she wanted a job, she wanted independence- he had provided everything for her and that was her answer? And then she took everything away. She killed their son driving to California to live with that bastard, no less, and then didn't even have the gall to tell him in person! She didn't even come to the funeral! No, he had to lie for her about how she was still in the hospital, hurting. He had to lie to protect her image while all she did was slap his image in the face. He wished he could have killed her before she had taken away their son, he should have… but now, all he could do would be to prevent others from doing what was done to him… and then the feds showed up.
Like anyone could stop what had already been started! He had to admit, when he'd watch them die- it was his favorite part. To see the life travel out of their eyes and cloud over was spectacular.
Spencer saw the legs of someone approach up to the car. He mumbled to Hotch. "…Too soon."
Aaron licked his lips. "Play dead."
So he closed his eyes and woke some time later. He could tell because the blood on Aaron's face seemed drier. But he worried because Aaron was too still.
"Hello…? Is anyone in there?" he asked, as he approached the front passenger-door. He could tell there was at least one body there, how many feds came into town anyway? He heard something muffled, quieted moans maybe. He smiled, someone was still alive, but not for long. Hand on the Sheriff's gun, he started to circle the vehicle. It would be a nice touch, to kill the feds with his boss's weapon.
Hotch, upon the realization that Carter had focused in on a potentially more enticing audience in the back seat, he offered a loud cough. Carter completed his circle back to the front passenger door.
In the front side was the fed he had seen through his scope, he was silent, face obscured by blood.
The cop walked up to the passenger door. "You the FBI?"
"Yes," Hotch answered as if from a distance.
"You guys look bad off. Hang in there I'll go call for more backup."
"Carter?" Aaron whispered, he sounded very far away, very broken.
"Yeah. Just stay still. Help will get here. You're friend in a lot of pain back there?"
"Don't think he'll make it. I'm pretty sure he's got internal bleeding."
Spencer knew that was true, and was slightly surprised that Aaron did.
Carter raised his gun to Aaron's head.
And Spencer watched as Aaron blacked out, perhaps dead. He did his best to play possum. Carter grinned at them, he offered Reid a wink.
"Fucking coyote food."
The cop walked off. Spencer was glad the man didn't want to spend the bullets on them.
"Hotch, oh god, Hotch are you okay?"
He watched as his lover roused himself. His hair looked stiff. Spencer shook his head a little, because that couldn't be right. But then Hotch seemed upside down anyway. That couldn't be right. The pain must be overwhelming his mind.
Some time later, again Spencer wasn't sure how long he'd been unconscious or asleep. Aaron was now nearer to him. He felt a hand press to his face, he moved slightly and moaned as pain raked across him.
"Drink a little, Spencer. Bennett left us water." Aaron was breathing hard, as if each breath was a challenge.
Then Spencer's own pain overwhelmed him again. He drank a little water for Aaron's sake. He coughed, but kept it down. Aaron capped the water.
Hotch crawled out of the upside down car. He'd become slightly claustrophobic in the crushed cabin. The slight shadow from the SUV was on the side of the car Reid was trapped on, so at least he could see his lover while he waited. In his mind he was waiting for Morgan to arrive with the cavalry, but he also knew that, very likely, Carter would be back to make sure they were dead before his team could even find their position.
If they waited much longer he wasn't sure that Carter's time wouldn't be rewarded with what he wanted.
He was fairly sure that Carter was likely leading the recovery team to their location, figuring they'd just find the bodies. He hoped that Bennett might still return, but had all but given that hope up.
The trouble with compartmentalization, Hotch thought, was that some things just didn't fit into small boxes. He found he could generally dismiss the pain in his shoulder, but the itch from the dried blood in his hair drove him mad. He wheezed in a deep breath and regretted it. Closed his eyes, he waited.
He tried to differentiate the muffled sounds he was hearing. There were times his hearing was like listening to a nautilus shell. He refrained from shaking his head to clear it, he'd tried that in the car and had blacked out for a time. Luckily when Carter was about to shoot him he used the same trick. When he'd wakened, Carter was gone and Reid, though he seemed unconscious, was crying.
So he went back to his wait, he'd rouse Spencer every so often, share water with him. And worked at not falling asleep or blacking out which took up the majority of his time.
"Come on Derek."
"Are they here?" Spencer mumbled.
"Soon, Vegas, soon."
Spencer smiled through his pain. "You have a plan?"
Aaron almost leered. "I have a plan."
"No plan B then?"
"No." He didn't shake his head, he was saving any further movement. He felt that if he could do something between one breath and another he might be able to take Carter. He left no room for doubt. That had happened when he discovered his Glock 17 was gone, he'd momentarily allowed a sliver of despair. Then he'd reached down and touched the baby Glock still in his ankle holster and allowed a small smile. No nod, he conserved it.
An hour or so later Carter showed up again, perhaps to see how his corpses to be were doing. Aaron had dragged himself into the shadow of the car. To all intents and purposes he looked quite dead. The blood from his head now stained the collar of the pink shirt. His shoulder was swollen and obviously painful.
Hotch let his breathing go shallow. No one would notice the slight movement of his chest.
Carter looked into the car. The body in the back was likely dead, his pallor was not that of a living person, his eyes looked bruised, his lips so chapped they looked colorless. He'd never get out of the wreckage even if he were alive, which Carter doubted sincerely.
Then he looked down at the guy in charge. "Big Mr. FBI man." He scowled. "Not so big now." How'd the guy get out of the car, he wondered. Well, it looked like it took everything from him. He used his rifle to push at the distorted shoulder.
With a shout Hotch bolted into motion, grabbed the little glock from his ankle and swung up, he caught Carter right under the chin. Carter went down, out cold.
Hotch tried to put the gun in his waistband but he couldn't angle it well enough so he handed it to Spencer, who just stared at it. Sweat poured down his face as he worked to remove the cuffs he carried on a loop at the back of his belt.
"Fucking bastard cuffs." He struggled and the pain in his shoulder nearly paralyzed him. Finally he freed the cuffs, he kneeled and got one side on the man's wrist and cuffed it to the crumpled car door.
Already down on his knees, he thought he'd vomit. But instead he just felt light headed. Sweat dripped from his downturned face. He collapsed to the ground. After a few moments he was able to move to his side and levered himself so he was sitting next to his prisoner and watched Spencer.
He took the moment to disarm Carter as the man had so thoughtfully done to him on their previous encounter.
Compartmentalization he thought.
He went back to waiting for Morgan. Once his breathing settled to something near normal he retrieved his phone from Carter. With a lot of effort he turned it on, got to his feet and walked no further than 30 feet and got enough bars to make the one call that he knew would get the cavalry to arrive.
"Garcia," he said. "Can you find us?"
"I've been tracking you since you switched your phone back on, sir! We'll be at your location in 15 minutes!"
"You are a genius." Aaron coughed and crumpled to the ground. "Soon Garcia."
"Yes sir. Hotch, stay with me! Sheriff Bennett said something about a bad crash and said Reid was in really bad straits, no offense, but you don't sound like you're in much better straits yourself… I have Med Evacs en route…"
The sound of the helicopter broke through his muffled hearing. He genuinely smiled. "They're coming Spencer," he mumbled before he passed out.
Seventeen hours later, and Hotch was content to wear the peppermint print shirt his lover had so kindly packed for him. Who'd have thought that only ten little stitches (three of which being internal) would fix so much for him? His right arm was in a sling, but saying the worst of it was over? He hardly cared. Morgan was handling Carter and Hotch was very glad he wasn't there to witness it or he'd have to fill out his own IA report for excessive force, he was sure.
He doubted he would, after all, he hurt Reid. He killed the sheriff with one round to the windpipe, and Hotch's shoulder wasn't exactly rainbows and kittens either, it was a bleak stain of pain to match the purples and blacks that pooled under his normally ivory skin.
Rossi sat next to Hotch as the lefty easily completed his paperwork, despite the nurses' insisting they'd help him. Seriously, one-in-ten people are left handed, was it so hard to believe he could manage?
Thoughts of that statistic immediately made him think back to Reid, he had come out of surgery for the internal bleeding, but he hadn't been able to see him when he was taken out of surgery since they hadn't completed the immobilization of his hip, but now? Once his discharge papers were fully filed? He put the pen down after his signature and then immediately locked eyes with Rossi.
"…JJ and Garcia are in with him now, shall we join them?" He merely started to walk in the direction to Reid's room, Hotch immediately behind him.
"Garcia? When did her flight land?"
"While you were still under, I don't even want to ask how SHE got first class tickets on a sold-out flight that my best agent and all the flaunting of cash in the world wouldn't get ME… because I'm smart enough not to ask those kinds of questions."
When they arrived, Garcia and JJ were giggling and Reid was groaning, which Hotch was unsure if that was because the girls were giggling and thus somehow torturing him, or if he was in that much pain.
Garcia capped her sludge-green marker after drawing a cutesy frog on Reid's cast that included his upper outer thigh. Captioned with a: Glad you didn't croak; Reid glared at the thing.
"Come on, I have to go through the airport, can you stop drawing on me now? Please?"
Rossi smirked and settled his hand on Hotch's uninjured shoulder, "Sucks to get old, doesn't it, kid?"
Reid looked to Hotch, spotted the sling. "Hey." Instantly, both men were smiling.
"Broken hip, huh?" Rossi let out a smirk.
"Don't worry, I'll take some of your chondroitin, I'll be up to shuffle-board in no time."
"My preferred game is Bocce, actually," Rossi commented, "But I'll still accept another member to the old-men club."
Garcia took her phone out as Don't Cha by the Pussycat Dolls played, she hit answer, "Morgan, Reid's here." She smiled, pressing the speaker icon on.
"So how's boy-wonder?"
"He broke his hip." Garcia let out a giggle.
"Really? Damn, so I'm guessing Hotch'll be in a bad mood for the next couple of months…"
"What was that?" Hotch glared at the phone as Garcia blushed and blanched at the same time, somehow.
"...Baby-girl, tell me you didn't have me on speaker phone…"
"…I didn't have you on speaker phone… but I did switch it on…" she winced, "And yes, Hotch just heard that."
"…Son of a… Garcia, when we get on that plane, we need to have a talk."
"I get that."
2 months later
Reid looked at Morgan and Rossi, he knew there would be comments. He sighed inwardly, but also smiled because it meant the family was back together.
"I hear there's a storm rolling in. So Reid, old man, how's the hip?"
"Just fine David, we elderly really appreciate all the technology these days. And I think it'll miss us, no arthritis flare-ups today."
Morgan later stole Reid's crutches and made his way across the bullpen, "Too bad you're out of the market, crutches are such chick magnets."
Prentiss stared up to the ceiling. "Grow up, Derek."
Reid laughed at them all, appreciating them. "I missed you all."
JJ stood on the catwalk with Hotch, "Back to normal then…"
Raising his eyebrows Hotch nearly smiled, "Or for what passes as normal here."
JJ pretended to punch his shoulder and was a little surprised to see Hotch wince.