Disclaimer: I do not own Criminal Minds and intend no copyright infringement.
Penelope Garcia's triumphant "YES!" easily penetrated the thin conference room walls of the police station.
Rather puzzled, the sheriff looked up from the map he'd been staring at for the past few minutes and looked around.
"Our technical analyst", Hotch said.
"She has found something." Rossi took a deep breath and then released it audibly.
"That's my girl", Derek smiled.
They were all exhausted. The air in the conference felt so thick, you could cut it with a knife. Hours had passed since they had sat down to discuss the case one more time, but they were still stuck on square one. Frozen solid, so to speak. Reid, Emily and JJ had left a while ago to take another look at the crime scene, but nothing new from them so far as well. Their hopes were resting on Garcia.
"The omniscient goddess of all knowledge has taken a deep look into the abyss and this came out…"
Hotch contacted the others and put her on speaker. She showed them the digitalized version of an old case file on the conference room's computer screen.
"The details match our case one by one. Again we're missing six women. Only difference is we've found no bodies yet." Rossi absentmindedly kneaded his beard. "The unsub committed suicide in the end… A partner maybe? But why wait all these years?"
"Garcia, can you compare the details of our new case with the details the press released back then? Are really all details matching?" Reid's voice via speaker.
"The question is not "can I", the question is "how fast can I"..." Garcia's fingers flew over her tablet pc's touch pad. "And it turns out … at light speed, Dr. Reid!" Digitalized versions of old newspapers appeared on the screen.
"Apparently our new unsub doesn't know anything about the pink rope or the dice." Hotch frowned. "This somehow looks familiar to me, all of it, but only very vaguely…"
"Back then the BAU was asked to take the case but decided to choose another one", Garcia read from her tab.
Rossi and Hotch looked at each other. Derek studied the two, then it dawned on him, too. But before any of the three could speak, Reid's voice came through via speaker again. "At what stage of the abductions was the BAU called in?", he asked.
"Dammit, kid, that was my question!", Derek laughed. It was almost a liberated laugh. They were finally onto something.
Garcia worked her magic again. "During the sixth abduction. It turned out the unsub kept that woman alive the longest. He killed her only hours before the police found him and he killed himself."
"Did the woman leave any close relatives behind? A child maybe?" Hotch's eyes were glued to the image of the old case file now.
"Hey, you just beat Dr. Reid to a question", Emily told him via speaker.
"A son. Twelve back then." Garcia looked crestfallen. They all did. Hotch was hinting at something horrible. A victim becoming a perpetrator, that belonged to the worst kind of defeats any law enforcer could suffer.
"Do we have a telephone number?", Hotch asked.
Now everybody just stared at him.
"You want to call him?" Rossi was the first to voice his consternation, the others followed suit.
"We need to locate him!"
"We need to check his background!"
"We need to send officers!"
... ... ...
"…but you ignored all of your teams warnings, went ahead and called Trent Ashton, son of Eileen Ashton, murder victim, abductor of six women." Erin Strauss closed the file in front of her and rested her eyes on Aaron Hotchner. "Explain."
"I knew he wouldn't hurt any of the women. That's not what he wanted."
Strauss made a small, impatient gesture with her hand, urging him to continue.
"He wanted an apology. The unsub was dead, he couldn't get one from him, so he settled for the next best thing and that was us, the BAU – if we had accepted the case back then maybe we would have found his mother in time. Thus he created a crime that would attract us. This wasn't about payback. All he wanted was to find peace of mind."
"Is that why we now have no valid victim statement against Mr. Ashton?"
"Kidnapping is an extremely traumatizing experience..."
"Let me rephrase that: Did you persuade all six women not to testify against Mr. Ashton, Agent Hotchner?"
In the silence that followed Strauss' question the noises outside the room, echoing footsteps, the hissing of a coffee machine, even a bird singing outside her window, suddenly became audible.
"I see you're pleading the right to remain silent", Strauss finally said. "But maybe you can tell me at least one thing – how? How did you know all Ashton wanted was an apology?"
It took Hotch a while to answer. "It's something that Jack told me. I asked him what he felt about the man who had taken his mother's life away. I was afraid he was developing some kind of deep-rooted hatred… He replied he wished the man could be sorry for what he had done. Apologies are important. Recent studies have shown..." He let the sentence trail off. "They help healing", he finally said.
After this, Erin Strauss quickly dismissed her agent. Deep in thought she watched as leaves from the tree outside slowly sailed to the ground. Trent Ashton was finally getting the treatment he should have gotten years ago. The six women were alive and well. Should she let this go?
Maybe they could indeed have saved Eileen Ashton, had the BAU accepted the case.
Yes, probably an apology had been due.
She decided not to mention the incident in Hotchner's official file. Her unofficial record on Agent Hotchner and his antics, however, became a couple of pages thicker that afternoon.