There had been two of them, working in a team. Stepbrothers, the divide in blood had been overcome by the searing abuse undergone at the hands of their father. They'd worked their way back to him eventually; it had fit the profile. The killings had been of abusers, rapists, molesters, they'd seen themselves as a matched pair of avenging angels. The first Sunday of each month, for the past nine months, starting with the new year. Nine bodies, each one a double tap: one to the heart, one to the back of the head. Clean, quick, professional. They'd used a hunting rifle.
Reid and J.J. had been in a jeep, a sheriff's deputy had been dispatched to chauffeur them to the crime scene that had been the father's house; it had been easy enough to connect the dots when they had searched for next-of-kin. The roads were narrow in these northern woods, rutted; it was little more than a dirt path that they drove on, following the narrow spine of a brownstone ridge. The deputy was a young man, twenty-two at most—younger even than Doctor Reid—and he couldn't keep his eyes off of JJ, who sat in the passenger seat, despite the slight but growing curve in her belly and that ring on her finger that had a matched one on Will's. (she'd been a beautiful bride, all that white and that smile of hers were enough to set the chapel ablaze)
Not that Reid blamed the deputy, it was easy to be dazzled by JJ anywhere, even for some jaded cosmopolitan, (even for a doctor with three degrees to his name) let alone here in the backwoods of Maine. It wasn't just her looks, it never had been for Reid anyway, but her ability to put anyone at ease. Her sheer warmth could break any ice, and her smile could set an entire room alight. He loved it all the more because she was so entirely unaware of her charisma. Reid watched her from the back seat, in the mirror; mildly amused by the deputy's obvious besottment. The young doctor wasn't jealous, of either the deputy or of Will. It was true that he loved JJ, but he wasn't in love with her. They'd both realized that after the Redskins game.
JJ kept the relationship between the team and the locals entirely professional, as she always did. But the young deputy's eyes kept skating from the road to Jennifer, as if they'd been controlled by magnets and their polar opposite was the gold of her hair and the curves of her body. There was little to be said for the power of rationality and professionalism against the sway of young stupidity and hormones. The deputy was driving fast, too fast, trying to impress JJ.
And when they rounded one of the final turns up to the cabin, the wheels of the jeep gripped at gravel, spun futilely, fishtailing with a high whine of brakes as time seemed to slow itself to a crawl. The young doctor could recite a thousand statistics on automobile accidents, could explain the physiological reasons why time seemed to slow during accidents, could explain the physics of why the brakes had failed. And none of that mattered as JJ's blue eyes met Reid's golden ones in the mirror.
Then there was silence, as the wheels gripped upon nothing at all.
They flew forward into space, for a moment as if they had defied the laws of physics, then fell through the sun-dappled autumn leaves, like falling through tattered flames. When the jeep hit the first tree, everything went black, to the sound of shattered glass.
When Reid awoke, all was still again. The jeep rested on the driver's side, and his face was pressed to the leaf litter; in front of him, red puddled among the orange of the leaves, dribbling from what had once been the founded curve of the deputy's skull. The steel frame had cocooned his body, and broken it. JJ was strapped in still, eyes closed and her yellow hair like silk webbing, clinging to her forehead. Spencer moved his hand to unbuckle himself from the seat; there was something wrong with the lower part of his right leg, but he couldn't think about it; he had to get JJ out. He had to make sure she was okay. Because she had to be okay. That was the only thing that mattered.
He moved on his knees, forward, between the front seats. Patellas crushed to torn uphostry and the throb of pain and panic running through his every nerve and fiber. He felt the pulse in her throat low and steady beneath his fingers, saw her breath ruffle the hair that clung to her lips, and he felt himself breathe again. He had to move further forward to move her; and he shifted, placing his knee on the dead man's shoulder, feeling the cooling blood wetly on his knees. Unclipping the seatbelt he disentangled limp limbs and took J. J,'s weight into his arms. Moving awkwardly through to the back of the jeep, where the plastic of the back windshield had been ripped free, her head was against his shoulder. His spidery limbs belied the strength given him by height and determination, and by the sheer pulse of adrenaline through his veins, and carrying JJ was little struggle.
His right leg would not hold him; exiting the Jeep, he brought weight to bear upon it, and it gave way beneath him in a white flash of pain. So it was on his knees that he crawled with JJ still in his arms, to the wide base of a sycamore, and laid both of them down.
JJ's blue eyes were beginning to flicker open, untouched but for the knock to the head, and Reid was tearing the already shredded sleeve from his oxford shirt to wrap around the gash in her forehead that was beginning to mat her golden hair with red.
His adrenaline was beginning to fade, leaving him with shakes that began in his fingertips and hummed through his bones. He could feel the bits of glass that he wore in his knees, could feel that the white pain in his lower leg was a series of broken bones beginning with toes and ending with a cracked shinbone; that it was the blood from his hands staining the edges of shirtsleeve red even as he tied it around JJ's head.
And then he was aware, suddenly of movement at the edge of his vision, and the slow turn that took in two pairs of heavy brown workboots, flannel jackets, a hunting rifle, and two faces he knew too well— the same eyes that were in the files still in the Jeep, younger, black-and-white, wearing the bruises given to them by a father they'd killed mere days ago.
He moved without knowing it, putting himself between JJ and the men. The two pistols in the Jeep—one on the hip of the deputy's corpse, the other in JJ's bag—might as well have been a hundred miles away and sealed in concrete, for all the good they might do him here. He was aware only later of how he must have looked, bloodied and on his knees, as if he could defend her, let alone himself.
The shorter one—Jacob—spoke first, said "Now what do we have here." No question mark; it hadn't been a question. The taller one—Daniel—moved across the clearing, squatted down to pull the FBI credentials from Reid's pocket; he only noticed now that Jacob held JJ's credentials in one hand, they must have the gun as well. Not that they'd need another, of course, they were entirely competent at doing the job with just the hunting rifle, there were enough crime scenes with bloodstains inky in black and white. Daniel's blue eyes lingered over Reid's face, and Reid was suddenly aware of the copper taste of blood in his mouth.
"Spencer Reid." He read, then his eyes flickered up again, taking in the blood, the broken glass. "Doctor."
"It seems you've had an accident, agents." Jacob said. Reid said nothing, and Jacob turned his attention back to his step-brother. "If you don't mind, Daniel, I'd like to meet Agent Jareau."
Daniel lifted up the young doctor as though he were a rag-doll, wrapping his arms under Reid's just above where those on the right had been fractured; Reid tried to struggle but then went limp with a choked sound of pain as he kicked his right leg back into the ground. "Take it easy," the man said into Reid's ear as he gasped "Take it easy." His heart throbbed a frantic telegraph against the man's hand.
"He thatjustifieththewicked,and he thatcondemneththejust,even theybothareabomination unto theLORD. Neither of you will be harmed." The voice was low and steady.
JJ was awake now, and Jacob began to speak to her. "Agent Jareau. We've been following your announcements on the news for some time now." Reid could see JJ's face as she took in Jacob's words, then his face, and he felt his stomach knot as her blue eyes widened. "You could say that I'm a fan."
"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance." JJ replied; her voice was steady and she'd hardly missed a beat. Bleeding on the forest floor meeting a serial killer face-to-face, and she never lost her composure; JJ had courage, Reid thought. Maybe more than he had.
"The pleasure is all mine." The polite formulations took on more sinister implications in his mouth. "My brother and I are going to bring you somewhere more hospitable. Provided, of course," his hand slipped to the butt of his rifle with unmistakable implications, "there are no objections?"
They'd handcuffed both JJ and Reid before moving them to a battered van, parked what Reid calculated to be just over 2 kilometers away. JJ had been led by Jacob, but Reid had to be carried. It was a strange intimacy, head pressed into the hollow of the man's shoulder, he could feel the slow thud of his heartbeat, through ribcage and muscle. He was careful of the fractures in the young doctor's ribcage, of his battered leg, Reid was sure of it.
In the three of them were in the back of the van, Jacob in driver's seat. Daniel pulled a bottle from under the seats, liquor, Reid could smell it as it was uncorked. The taller man took a long pull, then slid a hand under Reid's head, put the bottle to his lips telling him to drink, that it would help. It wasn't vodka, but stronger, moonshine, and it slid down Reid's throat with a clean burn like the white lightening they called it. It settled in the center of his chest like a warm ember, moving outward from there. His extremities were the first to go loose, fingers and toes. He felt as though the liquor was in his bones, turning his joints to mercury, and was losing the edges of things.
Reid profiled the brothers, silently, wishing he had more time, wishing that that 500-mega watt brain was functioning at full capacity, but even rattled, the young genius was miles ahead of any ordinary agent. Daniel was younger, Jacob older, and seemed to be the dominant. Both were clearly intelligent, versed in scripture, the careful pronunciation and the unfailing politeness were overcompensation; Jacob who'd barely graduated from high school, David who'd graduated from state college on scholarship, spent a year in medical school before dropping out—no money, mounting debt, the siren call of liquor. It occurred to the young doctor precisely how brutal the killings might have been if Daniel had applied those particular skills: the knowledge of where veins lay so as not to extinguish life accidentally, the knowledge of where thick bundles of nerves lay, ready to sing with pain. But they'd been efficient, and fast.
He'd bet, as well, that Jacob took pleasure in the killings, that they were more than mere duty. Daniel may have played the part of king's executioner, but did not relish them. That was written in his face, in the few words that he'd spoken, in the way he held that bottle. And that meant there was hope for the two agents.
He didn't know how long they had driven; JJ spoke sometimes but he couldn't understand. Every time the van jounced, pain ran through his entire body, and everything faded to that pain and JJ's blue eyes and Daniel's blue eyes. Every so often he'd put the bottle to Reid's lips again, and he'd drink again. Reid slumped to one side, his head drooping down to rest on the tall man's shoulder.
When he woke again, they were in a cabin. He was on the floor on a folded blanket, his vest removed, his shirt unbuttoned and ribs swathed with clean white bandages. His right pant leg had been slit to above the knee, and his foot and lower leg splinted with what appeared to be pine kindling and white bandages. He rolled his head to one side to see JJ seated in a battered armchair; it might have been any ordinary day if her forehead patched with white bandaging and her right wrist cuffed to one arm.
Tilting his head to the other side, he saw that David was seated in a straight-backed wooden chair, one hand held a Bible open against one knee, the other hand absently scratched the gray cat seated on his other knee behind one ear.
"Am I expected to enjoy tormenting small animals? Does that fit my profile, agents?" he asked, looking from JJ to Reid, then back to the cat again, which rolled over to expose the soft fur of its belly.
"No. Not in this case."
"Tell me. I'm curious."
JJ and Reid traded a glance, and JJ gave him a nod.
So Reid did. That they were vigilante killers, seeking justice denied, that it was consistent with the type of abuse that they had suffered at the hands of their father, that they were intelligent, organized, efficient.
Reid never forgot that this man had killed nine men, or watched them die. But the tenderness still surprised him. He knew what those nine men had done, they'd seen the case files, seen the mangled flesh, the blood, the expression of what had been inflicted in eyes that were far too young to see these things. And the team had heard the clamour of the reporters, asking in voices made for sound bites, whether the community wasn't better off with these victims as corpses anyway? And hadn't their execution had been merciful in light of what they'd done to their own victims? And Hotch had given a speech to the team on the rule of law, and putting faith in the justice system, no matter that it had its imperfections; that they had an oath to follow. And Reid had given an explanation to Garcia by way of Kantian ethics, that all other obligation was derived from the duty to obey the categorical imperative, and that murder could not be permitted by the categorical imperative, by definition.
It was night, and the wood of the cabin was whisky golden with the light of the fireside. Jacob was asleep on the bed, face to the wall, his bulk bunching the sheets. JJ was in the armchair, on the edge of slumber, and Daniel moved from sitting by the hearth, eyes lost in the lick of the flames, to lift a stack of blankets from a high shelf, moving first to the slender blonde. He tucked the edges of the quilt around her, gently, as if she were a small drowsy child who he took care not to disturb.
His mouth burned like liquor on Reid's and his fingers caught and tangled in the young doctor's hair. Outside somewhere in the night, there was the high wild death cry of a rabbit, and he could feel the man shiver even as the chill ran up his own spine. Reid wondered what he was thinking when he shivered like that.
Reid let him kiss him at first, just stayed still with the man's hands in his hair and the man's lips on his, and the man's breath mingling with his own breath. And then—he couldn't say if he'd done it because of JJ, because he'd crawl on hot coals and swallow them whole if that's what it would take to save her, or if he'd done it because he felt Daniel drowning out there and he'd do anything to make a connection, or if it were the moonshine, or if it were something else—but he leaned forward half an inch, and he kissed him back, his tongue skimming over the other man's lips, slick and warm. He knew that JJ could see them both from across the room, but he kissed Daniel back, felt it hit him somewhere deep, like a benediction, like a knee in the chest. When Daniel let the kiss break and drew back his hands, Reid let his head drop forward against the hollow of the man's neck, let his lips touch his skin and his breath slide across it and let his head lay still.
The next morning, though, Jacob was up again, and had his eyes and hands on JJ; and in the end Daniel said something, said to stop.
"I'd say that you're jealous, but then again, she's not your type. Too…female. Isn't that right?" Jacob's eyes ran over the young doctor. His voice had roughened, dropped that polite patina, taken on a backcountry rasp. "He looks like your type, though. One for you, one for me. Perfect, don't you think? Just fell out of the sky like… a gift from heaven." Daniel had his back to the two, his voice too low to hear, but Reid could see from his body language, the slight shake of his head, the set of his shoulders, he didn't agree.
He was rambling now, begging—don't hurt her, she hasn't done anything, just take me, just let her go, please, she's pregnant, please, just take me, I'll do anything, I'll do whatever you want, please, please, please, just leave her alone, please –and his eyes were locked on Daniel's, not Jacob's. Daniel sat across from him, eyes steady, as Reid leaned forward against the handcuffs, battered against them like a bird breaking its wings against the bars of a cage, but that didn't matter, the blood on his hands didn't matter.
"Shut him up, Daniel," Jacob ordered flatly from across the room, but Reid couldn't stop, he just kept on, his voice was an incantation, a prayer, and he wouldn't stop and he wouldn't stop saying Daniel's name. Daniel took a slow sip of liquor but never moved his eyes from Reid's.
"Daniel." The voice was a snarl, now. "Shut. Him. Up."
Jacob was across the room in two strides, and the back of his hand cracked across Reid's face hard enough to bounce his head off the wall with an audible thunk.
"Why is it that I have to do everything, you drunken waste of skin?" Jacob hissed.
His hand was around the young doctor's throat before the black had faded from his vision, forcing Reid's eyes to his own dark ones. Reid's nose was bleeding copper into his mouth, down his chin and over Jacob's hand.
"You will shut up. Or I will make you very, very sorry. You understand?"
Through blood, Reid choked out, "Leave her alone." The hand tightened around his throat.
"I didn't quite catch that."
"leave… her… alone." His voice was a rasp, his vision beginning to black around the edges.
The pressure was suddenly released. Daniel had pulled Jacob from him and thrown him across the floor so hard that he'd fallen against the other wall.
"I believe he was telling you to keep your hands off of Agent Jareau."
"Look at you, brother. Just like our drunken dead father."
"No. Not just like. Aproudlook,alyingtongue,andhandsthat shedinnocentblood, these things are abominations unto the Lord.Never raised a hand against an innocent. Have I?" The unspoken, unlike you, hung in the air. "Have I?" Something had cracked between them when Jacob had unbuttoned the first button on JJ's shirt, had shattered when he'd backhanded Reid.
His voice was low and clear. "When we were boys, you taught me. You said, there comes a time when an animal is sick-" Jacob lunged left for the hunting rifle, but Daniel already had JJ's gun in his hand. One shot dropped his brother to the ground. "—and you've got to put it out of its misery."
Jacob was twitching on the floorboards in the slick of his own blood; if he wasn't yet dead, he would be in minutes. David dragged him, still twitching, through the door, and there was the sound of another shot, the signature double tap, one to the heart, one to the head.
The sound of retching, then another shot.