Distribution: lj cm-bigbang
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended, no money made, no characters created.
Spoilers: Season three of Criminal Minds, Season 2-ish of Supernatural
Summary: There are thirteen extra Aaron Hotchners in the DC/Quantico area, trying to destroy the original any way they can. The Winchesters have to keep the right one alive and kill the rest.
The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.
Saint Jerome (374 AD - 419 AD)
As a profiler, Aaron Hotchner knew that every circumstance happened due to a process. Events led to even bigger events which, in Aaron's line of work, often led to death. Most people never realized that their slightest self-involvement months ago had been interpreted as a snub and could be added to someone else's psychotic break. In the same way, even the most trained behavioral analyst wouldn't realize when a kind word and a smile could postpone or derail someone's suicide plans. Everything was connected and small events were vitally important in retrospect.
So it was no surprise that even Aaron missed the very first clue that something was wrong in the FBI offices. He might have missed earlier ones, but this one he remembered weeks later. The clue was small, miniscule: his trash can was out of place. It was only shifted two inches to the right, but it was enough for Aaron to notice. Housekeeping was normally more careful. Aaron simply assumed that maintenance had a new employee and sent a friendly reminder to the housekeeping department to leave everything in his office the way he left it. It was best to encourage good habits in the first week of work rather than waiting weeks before correcting a bad habit. The trash can never was moved again and so Aaron assumed that the problem was corrected.
The second clue was just as ignorable: a rumor began to circulate. Aaron, the person, preferred to ignore rumors. Aaron, the supervisory agent, tried to confront rumors and stop them before they caused a rift in the office. So when people –mostly females- stopped talking the second time he entered the kitchen for tea, he pulled Emily Prentiss aside to investigate.
Emily didn't even need to ask any of the gossipers. She had already heard and dismissed the rumor. When questioned, Emily rolled her eyes. "Lauren from Archives is saying that you sexually harassed her late at night sometime last week. Don't worry, no one believes her."
While it was certainly true that Aaron worked too many late nights, especially now that Haley had left him, he had actually gotten home at a decent hour three times last week. Aaron wasn't even sure he had met Lauren. He checked her personnel file and yes, with her blonde hair, petite figure and pretty face she was his type but Aaron had never laid eyes on her in person. Aaron checked her file to see if she had ever accused another person in authority of sexual harassment. She hadn't. In fact, Lauren Mackenzie had once backed her boss when he had been falsely accused of harassment. Behaviorally, the situation was interesting. Personally, Aaron chose to ignore it. Any investigation on his part would be badly and incorrectly interpreted.
The third clue was the one that caught Aaron's attention. Penelope Garcia was chiding him again on his health and work hours. "And what can you really do with all those files in your office if you don't have your laptop?"
Aaron put down the current file in his hands and gave Garcia his full attention. "Garcia, what are you talking about?"
"Your late nights," she looked confused that Aaron was, one, actually listening to the familiar conversation and, two, seemed unaware of the circumstances that he lived.
"Let's be specific. What nights?"
"Tuesday, Sunday and Tuesday," she answered.
Aaron's blood turned cold. Out of all the nights Aaron had been working recently, those three were notable exceptions. "What happened on those nights?"
Garcia looked worried. "Why are you using your coax-the-witness voice on me?"
"You leave with your laptop at eight-ish, or nine-ish or ten-ish," she gave him a very disapproving look for the last one. "You come back an hour or so later and do some work with files and not on your laptop," that was the part that truly confused the tech geek, "for a couple of hours, sometimes in your office but mostly not, and then you leave again to be back in the office by seven."
"How do you know it's me?" Aaron asked.
"I check the security cameras every morning," Garcia said as if it were part of her assigned duties. It wasn't and it was a horrible invasion of privacy, but it was one of the ways that Garcia protected 'her peeps.'
Aaron was most assuredly one of Garcia's 'peeps.' She would not misidentify him. Aaron knew that he had been elsewhere on the nights in question. He didn't have an alibi, but he had not been in the office. Who had been in his office? What files had they read and potentially sabotaged. Aaron wondered how anyone could have imitated him well enough to fool Garcia and her cameras.
"Sir, are you sleepwalking? 'Cause that would explain you acting so out of character to Lauren."
Aaron stared at Garcia. "Was there at one time, video proof of me approaching Lauren Mackenzie?"
Garcia hemmed and hawed and Aaron knew that she had erased it. "You were sleepwalking and it's nothing you would ever consider doing and that camera has been on the fritz for months, a year even and…"
"Garcia, there is nothing that can excuse sexual harassment."
Garcia's jaw dropped. "So you're saying that you did it?"
"No. But I will need your help tonight to prove it."
"You got it," she promised without hesitation. "What do you have in mind?"
"We need to be physically in the same room outside of FBI cameras but somewhere we can remotely view them."
Garcia grinned. "You can come over to my place. I'll have no problem setting something up from there."
"I'll bring Thai and coffee. This might be a long night and it might not be the only one."
"It's a date."
Aaron quirked a smile. "What would your boyfriend say?"
Garcia flipped her hair. "What he doesn't know won't hurt him." Garcia's words and attitude might have been flippant, but Aaron agreed that this circumstance demanded secrecy.
Aaron tried to juggle coffee, take-out and his computer as he knocked on Garcia's door. He waited as he heard the footsteps pause on the other side of the door. The pause continued. "Garcia?"
He heard her fumble with the lock. When she finally opened the door, she stared at Aaron with disbelieving eyes. "Wow. I mean, wow! I know you said that we would prove that you didn't do it, but I thought you had to run back to the office before coming here."
Aaron unloaded his arms on the nearest flat surface. He disregarded the messy tumble to focus on Garcia. "Is my double at the office already?"
"Yes, I thought…"
She had already offered her thoughts, so Aaron talked over her. "Call my phone. I'll use my earbud. Give me a running commentary on everything he's been doing." He never heard her agreement. His phone was ringing before he started up his car. Aaron activated his earbud, "Yes, Garcia."
"Your double is making tea at this moment. Just like you do it. This is more than a little freaky, sir."
"Has he talked to anyone?"
"Nothing more involved than greetings, it looks like."
"Make a list of personnel he's contacted."
"On it." There was an awkward pause. "I'm not allowed to hang up on you, am I?"
"No. You need to be sure to whom you are communicating. That's why we didn't involve the rest of the BAU: they wouldn't know which… one of me was the Unsub."
"Ouch. Any ideas on how anyone can imitate you so well?"
"None. We might have to ask Reid or Prentiss." Reid would know of any scientific advancements and Emily would know the latest scuttlebutt of the spy community.
"I can't get over how much he looks like you. I'm even running a computer identification program and it comes up with you. And he probably will be identified as you every time I check, won't he?"
"I believe so."
"That is so not cool. I mean, it's cool but it's not cool because at least one of them is a sexually harassing idiot. And they're trying to ruin your reputation." Garcia tended to ramble at the oddest times.
"I'm glad you have such a clear cut opinion on the matter," Aaron couldn't help but to tease.
Garcia giggled appreciatively. Then she gasped and Aaron knew that the situation had taken a down turn.
"What is it?" he demanded. He was fifteen minutes from both the office and Garcia's apartment. He could still turn around if it was an emergency.
"Sir! There are two of you currently in the FBI! You couldn't have gotten there that fast. I mean, I've had a couple mornings when I'm running late but it is physically impossible to get to the office in less than twenty-five minutes."
Aaron had to raise an eyebrow at the speeding implied. "What are the two Unsubs doing?" Using normal case terminology calmed Aaron's mind. He could do this if the treated it as just another case.
Garcia's voice turned more business-like, responding to Aaron's attitude unconsciously. "One is in your office, but the other… He's snooping in the archives. What could he be looking for down there?"
Aaron had no idea. "Investigate it. Which Unsub has fewer bystanders nearby?"
"The one in the archives."
"I'll try to isolate him."
"I see you, sir. You've just arrived in the parking garage."
She must have had the camera cued up so that she could follow his progress. Aaron thanked Gideon for having the foresight to hire her all those years ago even if the older man didn't understand the full extent of her capabilities.
Garcia rambled on about doubles and comic book storylines. Fifteen minutes later, Aaron was signing in to the FBI offices. The guard at the entrance gave him a strange look and Aaron realized that the doubles must have used separate entrances on previous occasions.
"Garcia?" Aaron interrupted her. He was hurrying to the archive as fast as his feet could carry him, skipping the elevator and choosing the stairs.
"Yes, sir? I'm following you. Neither of the Unsubs is suspicious."
"Good. I need you to double check Tuesday, Sunday and Tuesday night footage. You stopped last time as soon as you found the Unsub looking like me, but…"
She was smart enough to see where he was heading. "There might have been more than one Unsub looking like you snooping in the FBI office."
"On it. I'll also check last week when the Unsub was harassing Lauren Mackenzie." Garcia calmed about as much as it ever did when she was on a case. Using familiar terminology had been a smart move on Aaron's part.
"Sir, the Unsub's right on the other side of the door from you." Garcia warned.
Aaron unholstered his gun and took a deep breath. He held the gun by his side. He needed to capture the Unsub and interrogate him. He needed answers and if the Unsub thought he was the other Unsub, Aaron might have a chance. After all, Aaron looked exactly like the Unsubs.
Aaron steeled his expression and opened the door. The Unsub looked up at Aaron, confused. Obviously, the two Unsubs weren't supposed to be in the same area in the FBI building. They had a plan and Aaron had just gone off script.
"You find it?" Aaron asked.
The Unsub straightened and alarm flitted across his face. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but threw the open file at Aaron, turned and run.
"FBI, Stop!" Aaron yelled at the retreating Unsub.
The Unsub didn't pause. Aaron stopped and shot the Unsub. The Unsub stumbled, regained his balance and continued running at full speed.
"Holy shit, sir!" Garcia breathed in his ear. "That was a direct shot. You hit him. In the chest."
"He's not down," Aaron pointed out.
"No, no, he's not. He's not slowing. He's running up the stairs."
Aaron followed. He pushed open the door to the stairs and nearly tripped over a blonde woman that had recently fallen. If Aaron had to guess, the Unsub had pushed her. "Are you all right?"
Lauren Mackenzie jerked her head up to meet his eyes. Then she looked at the gun in his hand, not pointed at her and finally in the direction of the Unsub had fled, downstairs. Aaron didn't try to reassure her that he wasn't the same man that had harassed her and had just assaulted her , but when she met his eyes again, there was understanding within.
"Are you alright?" Aaron repeated. He was itching to chase the Unsub. He needed backup to care for the civilians. He had to trust that Garcia would keep an eye on the Unsub.
"Now it makes sense," she breathed.
Now Aaron wanted to stop and question her, because nothing in this scenario made any sense. She reached for her neck and drew a necklace and its charm up over her head. She offered them to Aaron. "You're going to need this."
Aaron knew better than to accept gifts from strangers but something about the charm drew his hand near. Lauren Mackenzie wrapped the necklace around his wrist. "Do not take it off under any circumstances." She tilted her head in the direction of the Unsub. "Hurry. You need to get him."
"There's another one in my office," Aaron told her.
Her eyes turned fearful. "I am going home sick," she declared.
"Go to Penelope Garcia's," Aaron ordered. "She's helping me from her place."
"Good luck," she offered. "You're going to need it."
Aaron ran down the stairs. "Garcia?" he asked.
"He's still on the stairs. Third floor now."
Garcia continued feeding him directions all the way out to the parking lot. From there, it was a car chase, but the oddest one Aaron had ever been involved in since neither he nor the Unsub wanted to attract local law enforcement attention. Interesting. Aaron knew why he didn't want a patrol officer to pull him over, but why didn't the Unsub want to add confusion to the situation?
He was working with the partner. A small part of Aaron's brain wondered which Unsub (both that resembled him) was the dominant and which was the submissive partner. Aaron wasn't submissive. He wondered how much of his own personality he needed to include in the profile of the Unsubs.
"What is the other Unsub doing?" Aaron asked. He knew that Garcia was busy trying to hack into the traffic cameras, so that Aaron wouldn't lose the Unsub, but this was important.
"Uh… He's settling into your office. He just moved your trashcan. I don't get it."
Aaron did. The Unsub had previously moved the trashcan but hadn't repeated it when Aaron noticed it. He hadn't done it a second time because Aaron had been returning to the office daily. The Unsub wasn't expecting Aaron to return from his chase with the second Unsub.
Up ahead, Aaron saw that the Unsub had pulled into an allotment complex under construction. The Unsub put his car into park and ran toward the back of the house skeletons. There was little light back there. Aaron parked his car and chased the Unsub, gun in hand and Garcia in his ear, begging for an update. There were no cameras for her to hack here.
Aaron caught sight of a second figure. He –the Unsub- paused long enough for Aaron to recognize his own face on someone else… again. What was Aaron supposed to do? He couldn't call for backup because they would never believe him, but he was currently outnumbered. Both of the Unsubs faced him now and they were pointing guns at him. Aaron dived to the side before they could aim. He turned to retreat but there was a third Unsub between Aaron and his car. Aaron shot the Unsub. It should have killed him, but it didn't even slow him down.
All of a sudden, Aaron lost his connection with Garcia. He would worry about that later when he didn't have two of his own reflections –they were Unsubs and Aaron wasn't going to let them play mind games with him- trying to kill him. He suppressed the emotions that implied that Garcia had been the only sane thing in this whole mess.
Aaron had fallen for a trap. It was obvious: the Unsubs had isolated him. Aaron was not hunting them. The Unsubs were hunting him, like a cat hunted (played with) a mouse. He wasn't sure at what point they had twisted the search around against him. Probably about the time that he had snuck around a corner, only to be shot by one of them. The Unsub had winged him, but he wasn't losing much blood and he could still hold his gun. He only knew that he was running now because this sadist, this group of sadists, was beyond anything he had experienced. They were drawing out their fun. They could have ended this easily. His bullets didn't faze them and he had a limited number. And since they all Ilooked/I like him, Aaron didn't know how many were currently trying to kill him. (Why him? He needed to pause and analyze himself both as the victim and the Unsub.)
First, he had to survive this trap. Aaron knew that his only chance was to take advantage of their 'game' and escape. He needed to get outside of the Unsub's… Unsubs' influence and control. He needed to regroup and call in reinforcements before the Unsubs turned on the BAU and harmed his team.
The bullet graze on his arm hurt.
He had to survive.
He had to. He ran out a door as quietly as possible.
What would happen to his team if this flawless impostor was in his place? The Unsub had a partner in Aaron's office. He needed to concentrate on his current situation and worry about his team later.
He needed a bolt hole. Someplace to think and to plan. He couldn't run back to Garcia. Who knew what they would do to the computer tech? Though between Garcia and Lauren Mackenzie, they might have come up with some answers. Aaron rounded another dark corner and came face to face with himself. Again. He started backing away from that cruel, cruel smile. He had never really used that smile himself.
Aaron turned to run but was only faced with another impostor… UnSub. Trapped. He had his gun in hand and he had used it well before (but the Iimpostors/I couldn't be killed, not even with a headshot). Aaron knew that he hadn't missed previously, Garcia had confirmed it.
He heard the gunshot first. He analyzed his body and knew that he hadn't been hit (yet, again). It had been a warning shot? More sadism? Aaron turned to face the one behind him. He was not a coward, he would face his death. To his surprise, the bullet he had heard had entered the Unsub behind him.
And had actually killed him. It. Unsub. Whatever. He didn't care about terminology at this particular moment. The situation was shaking Aaron's legendary calm. Aaron felt fully justified in being unprepared. Nothing in his years as a prosecuting attorney, a SWAT team leader and now the Agent in Charge of the BAU had prepared him for this.
Now a very tall young man stood there with a gun. He aimed it (not quite at Aaron) and pulled the trigger. Again the bullet missed him and hit the other of the Unsubs. This man had excellent aim and didn't flinch when it came to shooting (and killing) humans.
Aaron was standing (bleeding) between two dead (Aaron Hotchner) bodies.
The young man raised an eyebrow. He already had the gun (a revolver) pointed safely down. He didn't consider Aaron to be an immediate danger. "C'mon! Let's go. There're more of them out there."
Aaron didn't have to be told twice. He followed the young man, pausing only to grab a gun from one of the bodies, he was out of bullets for his own. The man led the way to a '67, black Chevy Impala; he was as aware as Aaron of all the movements surrounding them. The car's engine was running and there was a driver fidgeting. Aaron's savior (who had killed two Unsubs on his behalf) slid into the front passenger's seat. Aaron climbed in the back.
The driver peeled out as he tossed a mechanical device onto the backseat. He glanced at Aaron in the rearview mirror. "How many reflections you nail?"
The driver nodded. "Eight more."
The taller one shook his head. "It's too many to get from the shadows. That's why I brought him in." He reached under his seat and pulled out a first aid kit.
"You get hurt?" the driver asked sharply.
"No, he did." The taller one handed over the gauze and alcohol, so that Aaron could dress his own wound until a professional could look at it.
The driver sighed. Aaron knew that he agreed but was making sounds just to be disagreeable. Aaron picked up the device the driver had tossed and asked the easiest question. He would get them used to him so that when he started asking impossible questions, they would answer truthfully. Any lies at this juncture might kill him. "What is this?"
The driver shrugged. "A jammer."
The savior turned in his seat to give Aaron a better answer. "We couldn't chance the reflections getting a call out and turning this place into a bloodbath, or calling for more reflections as reinforcements. Any emergency responders would have trusted someone who wasn't you."
Aaron flipped it around in his hands. He didn't know much about this things and it was dark but still… "It looks homemade."
The driver shrugged again and Aaron's savior bestowed a smiled on him. "It is."
The driver had made it. Interesting.
"Is it off now?"
"Yeah…" the question was implied.
"I have to warn my team."
"If you went crazy, are those who you'd kill first?" the passenger asked. He was sliding shiny bullets into the chamber of the revolver, replacing what he had used. Three bullets. When had he fired the third?
"No. If I ever had a psychotic break with reality, I'd kill my ex-wife." Sad truth. He didn't even need to mull over the thought. So he should have been analyzing himself as both the victim and the Unsub.
Aaron had gained the attention of both young men (mid-twenties). Very competent for their youth.
"At her sister's."
"Where?" the driver stressed.
Aaron gave them the address. The driver made an illegal U-turn to go in that direction. "Are they… me?" Would these two give him answers? Hotch knew that he'd be terrifying as an Unsub.
The two men looked at each other and a decision had been reached silently. The passenger had been elected to speak. "Strictly speaking, no. They're more like a hive mind bent on destroying you, every part of you, for their own purposes." Aaron considered this. The Unsub in his office had subtly claimed the space when Aaron had chased the second Unsub out of the FBI building. The Unsub Hotch had been chasing never had a chance to update the one in the office. The Unsub he had chased had somehow been warned that Aaron wasn't a partner. Hive mind? They weren't saying that the Unsubs were telepathic, were they? And that the one in the archives had known Aaron was Aaron because he couldn't respond telepathically?
"What is their purpose?" Aaron asked instead.
"Immortal chaos. The ability to have thirteen reflections of you killing at any given time."
"What?" That didn't make sense. He wished for Reid to translate.
"Don't worry about it. Just know that for the time being, mirrors are not your friend," the driver answered. He slowed at a stop sign. "Which way?"
This answer was easier for Aaron to answer. "Left. Left at the next sign and then third house on the right."
The driver didn't bother stopping at the other signs. All three men jumped out of the car and raced up the drive. The driver used a twelve-pound sledgehammer to smash open the door without knocking. It was nearing midnight, Hailey and Jessica could be asleep and Jack definitely should have been asleep. Aaron opened his mouth to argue at their tactics but then he rounded the doorway into the kitchen and promptly lost his train of thought and his objectivity.
There Ihe/I was threatening Hailey with a gun. The Unsub had one arm wrapped around her and the 9mm pointed at her head. Another one of Ihim/I was terrorizing her sister and little Jack. Both had guns, much like the two he was wearing. They were even wearing the exact same suit as Aaron.
"Hey, bitch!" The driver threw the sledgehammer at the one standing between Hailey's sister and Jack. The momentum threw Ihim/I into the wall. Jack ran to Aaron screaming 'Daddy' as if there weren't two other men in the room wearing his face. The one that had a gun pointed at Hailey changed his target to Jack. Aaron dove for his son, even as the tall savior pointed the revolver at the Unsub and pulled the trigger. Aaron covered his son's body with his own. He did peek to check for an opportunity to get his family out of the line of fire. At the first sign of safety, Jessica and Hailey rushed to Aaron's side. He had Jack. Even if he was another one of the crazy… reflections, he had Jack and they would protect him. Aaron wondered if Hailey would be able to ever trust his face, his voice again.
The other Ihim/I shrugged off the sledgehammer that should have shattered his ribcage. The driver didn't seem surprised and was waiting. He threw a knife (as shiny as the bullets had been) into the Unsub's chest. Aaron had the… dubious pleasure of watching two more of his reflections die.
"I'll clear the house," the tall one said.
The driver nodded in agreement, glanced around and walked back to Aaron and the women who were hiding behind him. Aaron stood now, Jack in his arms, mostly, the un-bloodied one. The driver put a kind hand on the back of Jack's head and tucked him beneath Aaron's chin. "Close your eyes, buddy. You're safe now. You don't need to see this."
Jack obeyed. His tiny hands clutched Aaron's pressed, (dirty now) white, dress shirt.
Now the driver was addressing the women. "Have you gotten a mirror sometime recently?"
Hailey looked at her sister in confusion. "A mirror?"
"Yes, it could be any size, big or small, but it'll have odd markings on it." Hailey's trembling hand went to her necklace. It was a new antique.
The driver noticed as well. "Give it to me," he ordered.
Hailey looked to Aaron for guidance. And shied away. "Are you really you?"
"Ask me anything."
"First time we met?"
"I joined the crew of Pirates of Penzance to meet you. I talked you into letting me keep the hat from my old costume."
Hailey cracked a smile at the memory and relaxed slightly.
"Trust me. Give the necklace to him," Aaron repeated.
Hailey fumbled with the clasp. Her hands were still shaking. Aaron gently turned her around and unhooked the chain with his free hand. Hailey handed the necklace over. The driver glared at it for a moment and then handed it off to his tall partner who had returned without firing a shot. "What do you think, Sammy?"
'Sammy' touched it with a finger to stop it from spinning in the air. "That's it. Where did you get it?" He handed it back to the driver who dropped it on the ground and then dropped the sledgehammer on top of it.
"A man. He's been flirting with me."
Aaron buried any jealousy. "What his name?"
Hailey shook her head in confusion and shock. "I don't know. I just… see him at the coffee shop. He left it for me via the barista. It was just a small token that…"
…made her feel wanted and special, Aaron understood.
"What did he look like?" The driver asked.
"I don't know, I can't remember."
Aaron could feel their frustration, but noticed that they weren't surprised. "I'll help her," he promised.
The partners nodded. Then the driver started giving orders. "You all have to leave. There're more reflections loose and you don't want to meet up with them, especially now that they're trying to cover their tracks. Grab your purse and an overnight bag and whatever you can't live without for a little while. For safety sake, don't take any mirrors with you. No cell phones, no computers, no electronics. You guys are leaving in two minutes."
"You're not hiding the bodies, are you," Aaron asked. He had survived by identifying allies in a blink of an eye and these two would not hurt his family, blood or chosen. "I need to have proof to show my team, so that they are suspicious of anyone wearing my face." The camera evidence could be manipulated; corpses could be laid side-by-side. "There's an Unsub at my office pretending to be me, right now."
The partners exchanged another glance. If they weren't related they had been working together of a hell of a lot of years to silently communicate so effectively. The driver shrugged. "If they can keep themselves from getting killed, I'm all for it. But why do evil doubles always show up when we're dealing with the feds?"
Sammy smirked. "One does not predicate the other."
"Jerk, watch your language in front of the kid."
The driver rolled his eyes. "Dude, you're the one using words like predicate." And then he glared at the women. "You have one minute to pack a bag." He turned his gaze to Aaron. "And you are not taking your phone."
Aaron nodded and ushered the women upstairs. "Hurry," he murmured to Hailey and her sister at their doorways. "I'll take care of Jack's bag."
The women hurried. Aaron tried to set Jack on his bed, but the little boy clung to him. Aaron didn't have the heart to force the issue. He dialed the number for Garcia Penelope while he grabbed Jack's bag and started throwing clothes and toys into it.
"Sir, Sir? I couldn't contact you. I called and I called and I didn't know who to call for help. I mean, who would believe something like this."
Aaron ignored the computer tech's panic. "Garcia," he said firmly.
"Hotch, sir." He could image her sitting up in her seat.
"Tell me that you've taken all the safety precautions at your house." He waited a beat. "Is it locked up yet?"
He heard her quick breath. "Yes, sir. It is. I locked it as soon as you…" Her voice trailed off as she realized that she might not be talking to her real boss.
"What's going on could be used as the storyline for one of the comic book adventures that you read, but it's even worse than we had assumed." Aaron heard crashing in the background of Hailey's house, but couldn't concern himself with it.
"No, no, no. I don't want to hear that. You don't say things like that," Garcia said. "Prove it's you."
Aaron pressed the cell phone to Jack's ear. "Tell Penelope hi and tell her who you're with."
Jack smiled. "Hi, Flower Lady. Daddy is with me."
Aaron took back the phone, cocked it between his shoulder and his ear and continued packing. Jack now imitated what Aaron had done for him and held the cell phone to his father's ear. It helped. Aaron grinned at him and then continued packing anything of Jack's that he could lay his hands on. "I left my laptop on your coffee table a couple hours ago. My laptop was how you caught on that something was…. Hinky. Is that good enough, Garcia?"
"I am so glad you are you and that you are with Jack. But, I don't understand."
"Neither do I," he told her honestly, "but I have more work for you."
"Okay. Lay it on me."
"First I need you to send my team, before they come in for the day, minus 'me' to Hailey's house and to this house in the east suburbs." He rattled off address of the construction residential maze he had been forced through. "Tell them not to stop and call you at the first body. Remind them that I'm not dead. They have to find the rest of the bodies first. And not to feel guilty, they were trying to kill me. There are multiple Unsubs that they are tracking."
"Bodies?" she squeaked.
"Garcia," Hotch warned.
"Okay, okay, they are not allowed to call me until they find all the bodies. I'll be lucky if they don't call me when they get the message to go."
"And whatever you do, Penelope, don't trust me unless I'm with Jack and don't get caught alone with me. Do you understand that?"
"Good. Stay home as long as you can. Call in sick. Take care of my team, Penelope." He was ready to hang up and she could tell.
"Sir!" she screeched. "What about you? Who's helping you?"
"It's a team, of two, and they've run into… evil doubles before and usually when they cross paths with the federal government. I think they've been presumed to be the Unsubs. They are both over six feet. Sammy is taller at 6'5". If they are not close relatives, they've been working together since high school if not longer. I think Sam is younger. They're both between the ages of twenty and thirty."
"That's quite an age range. Do you have an origin?"
"No…" Aaron finally remembered the car. "Penelope, you can't send the team after me."
"This is scary. I mean, crazy, horror movie scary. I want to make sure that these guys can take care of you and if not I really am sending you the team. You need help, you get the best, sir."
Aaron smiled at the affection and determination. "I'll tell you later. First, I need you to take care of my team. They need to see what they are up against before they can help me. This case is going to break all the rules. I'll update you when I can. Lauren Mackenzie should be coming to your house. She's calling in sick too. Pump her for information. She believed in the doubles immediately and in my innocence. She knows something. Get it."
"Hotchner!" Sam shouted up the stairs. "Time's up! We have to hurry!"
"I'll call you, Penelope. Do not repeat this information to me. I'll be safe if I have Jack. Sam and my driver have killed the evil twin in each time. They understand this in a way that the BAU can't, that I can't. I'll find a way to contact you but it won't be by my phone."
"Goodbye, Penelope Garcia. I know that you will take good care of my team for me."
Aaron left his phone on his son's bed, grabbed his stuff and ran down the stairs. It wasn't that hard to leave this symbol of the BAU behind. It should have been harder, but this way, his family was staying alive. He hugged Jack close and ushered Hailey and her sister out the door and into his saviors' rather distinctive car.
Jack waited five minutes before leaning forward on Aaron's lap. He rested his arms on the front seat. "Who are you?" he asked the driver.
The man spared a moment to grin at Jack. "I'm Dean," he answered, "and this is my little brother, Sammy. What's your name?"
"I'm Jack. This is my mommy and my daddy and my Aunt Jessica."
"Nice to meet you all," Dean said in the rearview mirror.
"I'm Aaron Hotchner and this is Hailey," Aaron offered names.
Sammy twisted in the passenger's seat and offered his hand to Aaron. "I'm Sam." Aaron shook the hand, but Sam didn't let go. He pulled Aaron's hand forward and teased the silver chain out from under his dress shirt. "Where did you get this? Why are you wearing it?"
Aaron had forgotten about Lauren Mackenzie's impulsive gift. Somehow it made sense that Sam recognized it. "That's a long story." He wasn't sure if he wanted to share that much information with strangers.
"We're trying to keep you alive," Dean reminded him.
"It looks like a Scottish protective emblem," Sam examined it closely. "It's strong. I was wondering how you had survived the trap that the reflections sprung, but this could have given you an edge. Where did you get it?"
"A co-worker," Aaron admitted. He pulled his hand back and Sam let him. The young man stared at him, waiting for more of an explanation. Aaron had used that interrogation trick too many times to count. He spoke, not because the silence was too uncomfortable but because these investigators needed the facts. "Two weeks ago, one of the Unsubs sexually harassed Lauren Mackenzie. She was starting the paperwork to report me for the crime. Thankfully, no one believed her. Or maybe not. I was trying to get to the bottom of it all and discovered the multiple Unsubs. When I returned to the FBI office to isolate one, there was a chase and Lauren Mackenzie got in the Unsub's way. She saw me just after the Unsub and… she seemed to understand the possibility of the impostors faster than I had. She insisted that I take her necklace, and said that she was going to go home 'sick'."
"Smart woman," Dean muttered.
"This is smarter than our average monster," Sam said, mostly to Dean. "They tried to drive a wedge between Hotchner and probably the only person in the whole building who had experienced the supernatural and had a defense."
"I agree with your assessment. They lured me to the construction complex and had several Unsubs waiting," Aaron added. "And call me 'Hotch'," he offered.
Sam grinned despite of the serious circumstances. "It's nice to meet you all. Wish it was under better circumstances."
"But then we never would have met unless Hotch was arresting us," Dean joked.
"What laws do you break?" Aaron had to ask. He needed to be prepared for the crimes.
"Desecration of the dead, breaking and entering, trespassing, sometimes theft, property damage, impersonating federal and law enforcement agents," Dean rattled off. He looked at Sam, "Did I miss any?"
"Credit card fraud." Sam twisted around to face Aaron. He wanted to explain the problems. "Sometimes we get blamed for the deaths caused by the supernatural creatures and sometimes the supernatural creatures we kill have a background that makes it sense like they're human, but they're not."
Aaron wanted to protest the killings but he remembered the Unsubs he was currently running from. He couldn't kill them with his gun and they most certainly would have killed him, Jack, Hailey and Jessica if Sam hadn't appeared with his special gun. He knew that a regular prison, or even a SuperMax wouldn't be able to keep a supernatural creature contained.
"We really want to keep all of you alive and safe and we are probably the best people in DC to do it," Sam told Aaron and his family earnestly. Aaron certainly hoped that Sam and Dean weren't serial killers, Sam could convince normally suspicious people into following his lead. He could probably talk himself into and out of anything.
"Why do you do it? Why are you helping a total stranger?" Hailey asked.
Aaron spared a moment to smile encouragingly at her. It was a good question.
"It's what we do," Dean answered. "Saving people, hunting things. It's the family business."
"It can't pay well," Jessica finally spoke.
Dean grinned at her. "And thus the credit card fraud."
"You figure that society owes you for disposing of the supernatural problems?" Aaron asked mildly.
Dean shrugged. "If you say so. I say that it gives me more time to hunt down supernatural ass." He steered the Chevy into a motel parking lot. "Okay, everybody out," Dean ordered. "Bathroom break. Give your lunch-dinner-breakfast- and lunch orders to Sam. He'll go get enough food for a while."
"We've got to pack and make a few phone calls before we hunker down and do some research," Sam explained. "We're not as prepared for this job as we'd like."
"Whatever you get for us for food would be fine." Aaron looked at Hailey and her sister. "Call your work first. Then you can call your mother and tell her that you two are alive and that you'll be okay. Don't take too long. I have to call my team and see if they are interrogating the Aaron Hotchner Unsub in their custody."
Jessica used the bathroom first and returned to the bedroom with a clean face. She then escorted Jack through the process. After Hailey was done with the phone, Jessica called her work. Hotch noticed that neither of the women gave an explanation for their absence from work. He was just as shell-shocked. He couldn't imagine a good enough lie in this circumstance. He washed his face and hands while Hailey was on the phone. He noticed that the bathroom mirror was covered with an odd fabric embroidered with red thread. Aaron wondered what he looked like. Did he look like his whole world had turned upside-down? Did he look as shell-shocked as the women? The faces of the Unsubs haunted him. Like a nightmare, surely it hadn't been real. Surely? But Aaron Hotchner had never shied away from horrible facts and circumstances. For some reason several Unsubs wearing his face were trying to destroy his life and for another unfathomable reason, Sam and Dean were determined to keep the Hotchner family alive.
Aaron was the last one to use the phone. He knew full well that his one phone call would back trace him and tracing him to this landline would be cakewalk for Garcia. On the plus side, they were well outside of city limits and it was rush hour. It would take a while for anyone from Quantico to make it to this hole-in-the-wall motel.
Garcia answered the phone before the first ring had finished. "Hello?" she asked breathlessly.
"Garcia," Aaron said as he waved over his son.
"Sir?" she questioned.
Jack accepted the phone and chirped. "Hi, Flower Lady. The Bad Guys didn't follow us and Sam has a cool car."
"That's my car," Dean protested as he eavesdropped. He grabbed two well-used duffle bags and slung them over his shoulder. "That I am about to pack. Ten minutes, Hotchner."
Aaron merely grabbed the motel phone back and waved Jack to his mother. "Garcia," he said again. "How is the interview going? They did capture my… the other one of me, true?"
"Yessir. And they showed him all the dead you and can I say sir that you better not show up on any more autopsy tables. He's in cuffs, which is wrong on so many levels, but right now he isn't talking. He's silent. This whole thing is too creepy."
"I'm not sure that it can be helped." Aaron remembered part of a conversation. "I believe that there are five more out there to be captured."
"Sir?" Garcia worried. "Are you going to stay out in the cold until they are all caught?"
"It would be difficult to identify me apart from the others," he reminded her.
"Oh!" The computer tech sounded perky again. "But they are all right handed, sir. They all have the calluses on the wrong hand. Emily twigged that."
"Right-handed," Aaron echoed. He saw Sam nod as he collected dusty, old books and take them out to the car. With both of the strangers outside, Aaron was quick to tell Garcia. "My helpers have Kansas license plates on a '67 Chevy Impala." He didn't know if the names they had offered were true.
Garcia's fingers started typing so fast and hard that Aaron could hear them through the phone. "Thank you, sir. Added with the other stuff you told me and now we're getting somewhere. Aha. Samuel and Dean Winchester. You were right… on many points. They've got federal files. Dean is accused of skinning women alive. Just like you said, there's a lot in here about the suspects being in two places at the same time. Dean's body was even found shot dead at the scene of the crime and given a pauper's burial. Sending the pic to your PDA. Oh, wait. You don't have your PDA. Reid found it on Jack's bed."
"It had to be done. We don't want the rest of the…," he ended up using Sam's word for the Unsubs, "reflections to find us. Describe the Winchesters."
"Sam Winchester is 6'5" and really cute. Wavy brown hair, longish and hazel eyes. Dean is a knockout that's about 6 foot with short, sandy hair and green eyes. I can't decide which one is better looking. Dean is more of a character though. Well, if you had to be helped by outsiders with records, you probably picked the best looking of them all."
"That's them," Aaron confirmed. "Dean's not dead."
"Yeah, that's what everyone else is wondering. They were caught in Baltimore and the grave was exhumed and they swore that it was Dean. And there was a bank robbery in Milwaukie in which they got clean away but didn't take any money. There too, a girl was found with a knife in her heart and at the same time her double was also escorted out and living. Again there's conflicting evidence about people commit crimes after time of death that the coroner gives their bodies."
"History, Garcia. The Winchesters." He had to know if he could trust these two with his family. Were they good enough to solve this case? Were they smart enough? Aaron had no idea how he would deal with the Unsub impostors without their help.
"I'm a miracle worker, sir but even God needed six days."
"I need something to build a working profile. I need to know how they think. Can I trust them to take care of my family?"
"Well, if you believe that someone else killed the girls that were skinned alive, not much of what's in their FBI file will help you. Your own observations are probably of more use than anything I can give you."
"Facts. Start with their parents."
"Both parents are dead. Mother died when Samuel was six months old, in his nursery. John Winchester witnessed it and insisted that some person was in there and… huh, somehow pinned his wife to the ceiling and caught her on fire. Obviously, he recanted that story as soon as social services started sniffing around his boys. That wasn't enough to make the case worker back off, and soon he hit the road with the boys, living mostly off the grid. John Winchester was wanted for impersonating a federal agent and multiple local law enforcement personnel, credit card fraud and drunk and disorderly. Also wanted for B&E and grave desecration. I've got record of child services called on him in at least eight different states. He was a Marine before your stressor and a well decorated one at that. He was also a half owner of a car shop." The list of charges greatly resembled what Dean had rattled off in the car. They weren't trying to hide the soiled parts of their past.
"What did child services records reveal?"
"Mostly neglect. The boys were left alone for days to weeks. They normally found out after Dean started stealing food. No record of them after Dean turns thirteen."
"He had become a better thief," Aaron guessed.
"Probably. Medical history: Dean had quite a lot of bruises, cuts and broken bones, Sam not so much. Dean has GED and mediocre grades. Sam had straight A's and a full ride scholarship to Stanford. Prelaw."
Somehow, Aaron wasn't surprised that Sam had tried to be a lawyer. He would have gone far. "Why did he drop out?" he asked. Sam seemed to be more stubborn than most.
"His girlfriend died in a fire. There are some similarities to Mary Winchester's death."
"Something supernatural got both of them," Aaron mused out loud.
"That's… that's really scary," Garcia said. "I mean, I thought it would be awesome if werewolves and vampires existed but if they do they're predators, they would be worse that serial killers, 'cause whatever these Unsub reflections are, they are evil. They're trying to sully your good name."
"Sorry, sorry. This is scary."
"You are safe locked in your apartment. Don't go anywhere until I get back."
"I won't, but that means you have to return," Garcia insisted.
Dean tapped the bed. He tilted his head toward the door. They had to leave now. "Civilian helping?" he asked.
"Have her line all her windows and entrances with salt. It's a quick and dirty way to keep out the supernatural."
Aaron repeated the instructions to Garcia.
"Really?" she asked. She sounded as disbelieving and hopeful as Aaron felt.
"What will it hurt to help? By the way, has Lauren Mackenzie stopped by?"
"Find her," Aaron ordered. "She might know more ways to stay safe."
"Hotch!" Sam yelled.
"Bye Garcia," Aaron said.
"Good bye, sir and good luck."
Aaron had a feeling that he'd need all the good luck she wished him. He glanced around the motel room and saw that the Winchester brothers had cleaned out. There was no indication of their presence. Then he looked out the window and saw a line of salt. They practiced what they suggested for others' protection. Jessica, Hailey and Jack were already climbing into the black Impala. Aaron locked the door behind him and followed.
This time when Aaron climbed into the back of the Impala, he noticed that all the mirrors of the car were covered with material embroidered with odd occult symbols similar to the fabric that had covered the bathroom mirror.
"How do you feel about tattoos?" Dean asked as he pulled onto a main road and drove further from Washington DC.
"Will it truly keep my family safe?" Aaron asked in return. He was just following the advice of the local experts, that's the mantra that he repeated to himself.
"That charm from Lauren Mackenzie is really effective but it can be removed from your person and it only protects you. It will help if all three of you did it. The protection can't be removed unless you pay for it." Sam had a very reassuring and convincing nature. Aaron could almost forget the cold eyes that had shot four (lookalike) men dead.
"Okay," Aaron agreed.
"Aaron?" Hailey was less sure.
"It's to keep Jack safe."
Dean snorted. "I really want to know how you explain the reflections using conventional logic."
"Clones?" she ventured. Cloning with humans was highly debated but theoretically possible; whatever Sam and Dean were very carefully not verbalizing was not.
"Even you don't believe that," Dean observed. "Will you get the tats or no?"
"Yes," Aaron answered.
"All of you?" Sam asked.
"Yes." This time Aaron answered over the women's protests. "I'll pay for them to be lasered off after," he promised. "But for right now it will help with identification for Jack's safety."
"First we have to figure out what tattoo will be most effective," Sam reminded them.
"You may get lucky and we kill all of the reflections before that point." Dean offered hopefully.
Aaron hoped for the same resolution.
Dean drove out of civilization and into the hills. It took hours. Aaron should have been cramped in the back of the Impala with Jessica, Hailey and Jack, but he was too preoccupied. Hailey and Jessica curled up next to each other and slept. They had nightmares. Jack slept on Aaron's lap. He didn't have nightmares. Aaron was relieved at that but still wondered why not. Eventually, Sam directed Dean to a country road and then to a trail. They knew where they were going, so Aaron wasn't too surprised when Dean pulled into a driveway.
The house was isolated and ram-shackled, but its foundation was firm and none of the windows were broken. Aaron waited in the car as Dean cleared the house. The Winchesters weren't expecting any trouble here because Dean went in alone. Sam was alert, but stayed with Hotch and the family. When Dean waved from the front door, Sam collected his books. He glanced at the women. "We'll be right back for them," he told Aaron.
Aaron decided that he would wait and keep everyone in view at all times. He wanted assurance that everyone would survive this. Dean was first. He opened the other passenger door and gently pulled Jessica out. The woman never woke up as she was carried inside. Sam was next. Just as easily, he coaxed Hailey out and carried her into the house. Aaron followed with Jack. Sam carried Hailey into the house and through the bedroom door. He laid her on the only bed, full size, right next to her sister. There was still enough room on the bed for Aaron and Jack. Aaron set his son onto the bed in his mother's arms. He needed to keep watch for a little while.
He returned to the living area and watched Sam and Dean divide books among themselves. Sam found an internet cable, connected it to his laptop and started searching on his computer. Garcia would be faster than him but Aaron wasn't sure that they'd accept her help. Or if she could find anything online about the reflections. After all, if the supernatural really existed, why hadn't she found proof of it on the internet before now?
"Anything I can do?"
"Coffee," Dean grumbled.
Aaron should have felt like a junior agent while he puttered around the dusty kitchen looking for supplies, but he was still on autopilot. Not to mention, Sam and Dean looked like they needed coffee to continue. He found a coffee pot in a cupboard, washed it and then filled it with water. The filters were in a large ziplock bag and the coffee grounds smelled a little stale but Aaron figured that the Winchesters knew what was available in the kitchen better than he did.
He needed to contact Garcia. If Lauren Mackenzie had showed up at her place, the two of them could have some answers. He really wanted an update on how well his BAU team interviewed the Unsub. He wanted to know how they were adapting to the impossible. At the same time, he didn't want to distract Sam and Dean from their research. The sooner the brothers had a solution, the sooner Aaron and his family could return to their lives.
He knew that they wouldn't want Aaron calling Garcia, not from their bolt hole and Aaron could see the wisdom in that. Like those in Protective Custody, calling from their location could compromise their security. Aaron would argue for the chance to call from elsewhere but that would take precious time. When Aaron saw Dean stand and stretch and go outside for a quick break, he followed. Now was his chance to explain his request.
Dean was not amused at being ambushed.
He listened to Aaron's explanations and reasons. Finally, he said, "If I don't take you to town to call, will you snag one of our phones and call your friend?"
Aaron considered it. "What if my team needs protection too?"
Dean's jaw tightened. He knew he was being manipulated. Aaron was pleased that such a simple question did manipulate him. It showed that Dean had the correct priorities. "Fine," he grumbled. "I'll take you to town, but that means leaving your family here with Sam." He was trying to make Aaron back down by insinuating that Sam might do something to them.
Aaron just arched a brow. Sam had risked his life to save those women, he wasn't going to turn around and endanger them.
Dean threw up his hands. "I need to go to town anyway. Sam bought vegetables, crackers, lunchmeat, bread and a flat of bottled water for all our meals. He didn't buy any chips and pop. I don't have anything to eat." He turned and walked to the Impala. Aaron could see the outline of the gun tucked into his jeans.
Aaron hurried to follow and mentally checked his own weapons. He realized that neither man had tried to disarm him. Dean drove straight to town. He pulled into a gas station and in front of a pump. Aaron watched him flip through his wallet for a credit card and remembered the previous conversation.
"Here," he said. "I've got cash to cover it."
Dean looked mutinous. Why would he re…? Oh, charity.
"Payment for services rendered. You did save my life."
Dean didn't argue with that. He grabbed Aaron's cash and pointed to a payphone at the corner of the lot. "You've got ten minutes."
Aaron nodded. Dean started pumping gas and Aaron walked to the payphone. He made a collect call to Garcia, knowing that she would pick up.
"Garcia, Jack's sleeping right now, but you gave me your resume on pink, homemade paper. That paper's not on file," Aaron said as soon as she answered the phone.
"Good to hear your voice, sir. I have been very worried."
"Update me. First, what did Lauren Mackenzie say?"
"She's home, I think and has been dodging all calls from the FBI. I've been watching her call log and she won't accept anything from Quantico or an unfamiliar number. So I haven't actually gotten to talk to her yet. I did leave her a voicemail and an e-mail with my information so that she can get back to me."
"Is she calling out?" Was she still alive?
"Looks like it. She's been making calls to Scotland and accepting calls from there." Aaron wanted to contact her and learn what information she had gathered.
"And the team?"
"Still trying to interview the Unsub, but he's being stubborn. He ignores all questions from everybody. We're having trouble keeping the case quiet. After all, we have five Aaron Hotchners in the morgue and a sixth one in interrogation. That's the most interesting thing to ever have been said around the water cooler."
That didn't surprise Aaron. "How is the team handling it?"
"Reid's fascinated. The rest are trying to treat it like a case. Strauss is pretty much freaking out, but she's doing so privately. Rossi's holding everything steady."
"Good. How did the arrest happen?"
Penelope Garcia cheerfully explained that she had timed it right. Through the hacked cameras, she managed had to see Aaron Hotchner walk into the director's office with JJ and no one else did. It sure looked like her boss, but she knew what was really happening. Well, kind of. She sent a text message to Morgan and Prentiss, sending them to the construction site address that the true Hotch had given her. She sent Rossi and Reid to Hotch's ex-wife's house. She wasn't too terribly surprised when Morgan and Prentiss sent her phone pictures of Ithree/I different dead Aaron Hotchners, but it hurt. Oh, did it hurt to see her boss dead. It hurt more than some of the horrible cases they had worked on. She was expecting the next set of pictures. Rossi and Reid found two more bodies that looked a lot like their friend and unit chief but no evidence of where Hotch, the real Hotch, and his family had escaped to.
As soon as each team found the second dead body, they were calling up Garcia for an explanation. She paced her apartment and put them all on speakerphone and replayed the conversation she had had with Hotch (she had recorded it). She also detailed the clues that she and her boss had pieced together. Then she told them that Ia/I Hotch had just arrived in the office and what did they want to do?
"I don't think that the Hotch in the office is the real one," Reid finally had announced.
"How do you know," Rossi asked.
Prentiss answered. "For one, he's right handed, not left."
No one could argue. They all had noticed that rumors of Hotch acting completely out of character had been circulating but they hadn't believed them. None of them had ever imagined anything along these lines. How was this even possible?
Then, they had to contain the scenes and process them. Morgan had Garcia e-mail the Director Strauss and have her keep the 'Hotchner' in a meeting until further notice. Then she sent out the coroners to pick up all the bodies. The BAU planned to confront the 'Hotchner' with all of his doubles. They had no idea how to create a working profile, but interviewing the 'Hotchner' in the FBI was a logical place to start. It was just that he wasn't cooperating.
Agent Rossi also had asked Morgan and Prentiss if any mirrors in the residential neighborhood had been destroyed. Morgan hadn't found any. Prentiss found one. Reid shared that every single mirror in Hailey's house had been shattered. All of the profilers wondered if the Unsubs had done it or Hotch's mysterious helpers. They wanted to ask Hotch, the real one. Hotch didn't know exactly why the Winchesters had broken all of the mirrors. The evil twin theory was keeping Reid's mouth occupied but even he said that this many multiple births the year that Hotchner had been born would have made national news.
Morgan and Prentiss returned to the FBI with the bodies. Rossi and Reid waited until the coroners picked up the bodies at Hailey's residence and then drove to Hotchner's house. Again, logic dictated the move. If someone was trying to take over Aaron Hotchner's life, his home would be a vital place to start. Garcia had talked them through the security system and into the house. There they found evidence of a struggle and two very large pools of drying and sticky blood, one up stairs and one downstairs. Reid guessed that both indicated death of a victim many hours ago. They had called for the forensics team.
They noticed that once again, every mirror in the house had been shattered. Due to the shards of glass in the blood, they could tell that the decimation of the mirrors happened after the two bodies had been killed. Two someones had been presumably killed there. Who would be in Hotch's house but the Unsubs? Who were the two men who were helping the true Aaron Hotchner? (It was the true Aaron Hotchner, wasn't it? Garcia, at least, was sure. The rest of the team kept asking for proof.) And how were they helping? How had they gained Hotch's trust so quickly? Why were they helping? Aaron didn't want to distract the BAU by telling them what he had learned from the men. They had killed the five fake Aaron Hotchners already collected. The BAU was so confused they didn't know who counted as the Unsub in this case.
They had way too many questions and not enough answers.
Hotch couldn't help them much. He wanted Garcia to pass on a message for them to keep trying on the Unsub in custody, to stick to together and not to trust another Aaron Hotchner unless he related some personal event that wasn't in the files. He relayed the suggestion of staying in someplace safe and lining the windows and doors with salt. They weren't going to do that until they could get the Unsub in custody talking.
Dean waved from across the parking lot. "Hotch! Time's up!"
Aaron nodded to indicate that he heard the order. He told Garcia to keep a sharp eye on the cameras at the FBI and to keep the BAU members paired up at all time. Then he hung up on her. She had started to argue that he should bring his family into the FBI for safety, but Aaron knew better.
He paused for a moment with his hand on the public phone and then jogged to where Dean was waiting. He slid into the passenger's seat and put on his seatbelt as Dean drove back towards the cabin.
"My team hasn't gotten anything useful out of the Unsub in custody," Aaron informed him.
Dean grunted. "Then they're not going to. They either blab from the get go, or they're silent. The silent ones tend to be more dangerous, but we already knew that we were dealing with some sort of plan. The question is: how long has the plan been in the works?"
Dean wasn't expecting an answer from Aaron, so he kept his mouth shut. He wished this nightmare was already over.
Hailey, Jack and Jessica were awake and munching on carrot and celery sticks when Dean and Aaron returned to the cabin. The women and Jack were relieved to see Aaron walk through the door.
Sam and Dean exchanged some silence conversation. Aaron thought he caught enough to know that Sam wasn't haven't much luck searching. Aaron hugged his son and offered some physical contact to the women to encourage them. He ushered them to a corner and let them vent some of their worries to him. Aaron listened. He had many similar worries, but he wasn't letting them overpower him. Jack didn't care about all of the reflections. As long as he was curled up on his daddy's lap, he was happy. He even asked to be taken to the bathroom, out of his mother's sight. Aaron did the duty and wasn't terribly surprised to find the mirror covered with embroidered linen.
After Jessica and Hailey relaxed in the temporary safety, Aaron retreated to the kitchen for a cup of coffee (Dean had apparently bought new grounds at the gas station) and some sustenance. While searching for more food, Aaron was surprised to find an extensive stash of teas, carefully sealed away from moisture and dust.
"Be careful drinking that," Dean told him with a smirk.
Aaron turned to look at the younger man.
He explained, "This is a Hunter's cabin. And teas are not just teas here. Unless there's a label and that should be safe. Should. What you have in your hand is actually a tea that enhances your vision against the supernatural. Do you really want to see more?"
Aaron considered it. Would it solve the case quicker?
"No," Dean said.
Aaron raised an eyebrow.
Dean grinned. "It won't solve the case faster." The young man was extremely good at reading expressions. "Come to the table when you have your drink. We need to ask you some questions."
Aaron fixed his coffee and sat at the table. Hailey, Jack and Jessica crowded around.
"Something doesn't make sense," Sam muttered.
Aaron didn't react to the assertion, but Hailey looked flabbergast. "How does any of this make sense?"
Sam ignored the question. It made sense in his world. "These reflections don't randomly choose their victims. They picked Hotch. Why?"
"You've never crossed the supernatural?" Dean confirmed.
Aaron nodded. "True. Not that I know of."
"We're not getting anywhere trying to find a reference to reflections like this so we're trying another angle. You are just an FBI agent," Sam mused. "Granted a supervisory agent, but still you have limited power. This took a lot of planning. And time. They picked Hotch for a reason."
Aaron remembered the 'don't profile the profiler' rule with rueful humor. He wasn't the profiler here: he was the victim (and the Unsub). It was interesting watching these civilians proclaim their profile with confidence. They knew what they were doing. Aaron had to believe it, because he didn't have any frame of reference for the Unsubs.
"More research?" Dean asked tiredly.
Sam nodded. He didn't look defeated, but a little challenged at the idea. The expression on his face reminded Aaron of Dr. Spencer Reid. Aaron imagined that Reid had that exact expression on his face at this exact moment, trying to solve the case.
"What can we do?" Jessica asked.
"Can you read Russian?" Dean asked back hopefully.
She shook her head no.
Dean shrugged. "Then sorry. I've already gone through all of the English books. We're waiting for a friend to get back with information. He has a much better library."
"Can I ask some questions?" Aaron probed.
Sam and Dean shared an amused look. Dean eventually shrugged. "Go for it. We won't tell you stuff that's none of your business though."
"So you travel around the country looking for…" Aaron wasn't sure how to finish the thought.
Dean grinned and finished the thought for him. "Supernatural ass to kick. We're damn good at solving cases, too."
"And you kill the supernatural," Aaron fished.
Dean shrugged. "As much as you can kill the supernatural. Ghosts, we force to move on, either to heaven or hell. Nearly everything else we need to kill to stop it from killing humans."
"How do you find your cases?" After all, it wasn't like they had an office that people could call with their cases. They didn't have a JJ to evaluate the necessity of their presence.
"Reading the papers, scanning the internet. We look for key words, 'missing,' 'no explanation,' etcetera," Sam explained. "Some times, other Hunters pass along tips if we're closer than they are."
Aaron carefully broached the subject that had been worrying him. "I imagine that if that's how you find your… cases, you might end up… Hunting someone that isn't supernatural. A serial killer that's entirely human, for example." Aaron still found it odd that Dean referred to the supernatural hunts as 'cases,' but it made easier to relate to him.
"Yeah," Dean admitted. "Sometimes we run into your cases. Serial killers sometimes do ping our radar."
"Have you, personally, had contact with a serial killer?" Aaron asked.
"Well, it was a whole family of serial killers. Does that count?"
"Yes. What did you do with them?" Aaron was fully expecting hear 'put them down like rabid dogs.' After all, they didn't have any problem ending the life of the reflections.
"Left them for the police to handle. The father got killed during the case, but neither of us pulled the trigger. I think all three of the Bender kids were alive when the cops finally showed up."
"The Benders?" he echoed. The name was familiar.
"It was this family, like I said," Dean started. "Completely crazy and completely not supernatural. They would kidnap people…"
"And then hunt them down," Aaron remembered the details of the case. Reid had wanted to go interview them and they would, eventually. "Two brothers and the sister survived the raid on their farm."
Sam snorted. "That wasn't a raid. That was Dean stumbling around and getting side-lined by a twelve-year old."
"Hey! You got caught too."
"You're not in files." Aaron spoke to bypass the typical sibling argument.
Sam shrugged. "We kept the sheriff alive. They had gotten her brother. She was appreciative."
"How did you find out about my situation," Aaron asked.
Dean dodged the question. "Don't ask. Seriously, there are some things you just don't want to know. And Missouri is one of them."
The phone rang and Sam was relieved when he read the caller ID. "Bobby," he greeted cheerfully. "What did you find?"
The conversation paused as Sam listened to his contact. Aaron relaxed at the idea that killing humans wasn't even considered by the brothers. Dean hadn't expressed any regret at not shooting the children. He knew that they were serial killers but they were humans and as such fell into Aaron's jurisdiction, not his.
Aaron was slightly alarmed at the information Dean was withholding. Why would Dean not tell them how they had found out about the reflections? What was so special about Missouri? Aaron had just stumbled over the reflections and he knew for a fact that the story had not been written in any newspaper. So how did they just appear when Aaron needed them most? It was suspicious to say the least.
Sam thanked Bobby and hung up the cell phone. "So Bobby said basically what we already knew about the reflections: there should be thirteen of them. They have a hive mind that isn't quite telepathic among the reflections, but close. They've been around for a while. Technically, they are shape shifters so the silver that we're shooting them with should work. It'll take a lot of energy to recreate a reflection that we've disposed, but once we get the right tats on Hotch, they won't be able to do that. That's the good news. The bad is that he has several possibilities that might be most effective, one –actually it's a pretty elaborate set of tattoo runes- was first used by Samuel Hamilton Walker. It's probably more than what we need."
"Who?" Dean asked.
"He was a Texas Ranger and a contemporary of Samuel Colt," Aaron explained.
The Winchester brothers stared at him. "How did you know that?" Sam asked.
"According to family history, he's my great, great, great, great grandfather. His son was born out of wedlock to Louisa Hotchner. Is that important?"
Sam and Dean exchanged a long look. They were communicating, rather effectively. Aaron wished he knew what they were obviously discussing. Sam nodded as if a decision was made and then picked up his phone.
Dean settled in front of Aaron. "Samuel Colt is one of the most famous Hunters –supernatural hunters- in the US. Any friend of his with tattoos is bound to be important. Tell me every story you know about Walker and the rest of your family."
"There're several stories that are rather… fantastical in nature," Hotch said. "You don't think…"
Dean smirked. "I think exactly that. You're being chased by reflections for a reason. This reason. This isn't a coincidence. You inherited trouble." His grin was more sorrowful than reassuring. "Don't take it personally, it happens quite a bit in this business."
One didn't have to be a profiler to sense that Dean was speaking from experience. Aaron knew better than to ask about Dean's experiences. He didn't need to know right now. Dean was the investigator and interviewer. He would only tell his experiences if he thought that it would help Aaron tell his ancestor's stories. Aaron wasn't a traumatized witness (he was, but he was in control of his reactions). He didn't need to be coaxed into talking when those words would solve the case.
They needed to focus on the case and keep his family out of danger. The sooner, the better.
Dean, Sam, their friend Bobby, Samuel Colt, the owner of this cabin and whomever in Missouri that had tipped the Winchesters onto the reflections. That was quite the group of people. Aaron was surprised that there was an entire sub-culture devoted to destroying the supernatural. No, he was not surprised about the sub-culture. He was surprised that the things that they hunted were not figments of imagination and one of his own ancestors had been numbered among the more famous ones.
Aaron got comfortable on the kitchen chair and helped Jack climb onto his lap. Then he told the story of Samuel Hamilton Walker and the Black Dogs. It was the only story Aaron remembered that wasn't too bloody for young ears.
During story time, Sam pulled out the guns to be cleaned and to replace the regular bullets in the handguns with silver. He even set aside the correct caliber of bullets for Aaron to load his guns with silver. Aaron accepted them gratefully.
Dean eventually talked Aaron into getting the tattoos. Admittedly, the younger man knew all of Aaron's weak spots. He had two (well, three but the BAU was presumably safe). Seeing as Sam's gun had damaged the reflections when Aaron's hadn't harmed the Unsubs, he had to listen to the Hunter's advice.
Aaron wasn't sure whether or not he believed the Winchester's logic and knowledge of the supernatural. Was it truly possible for a tattoo on Aaron's body would stop the reflections from creating more? He now believed that the supernatural existed. He had been forced to accept that. He was pretty sure that he didn't believe that his own ancestor had been a Hunter of the same ilk.
In the end, Aaron agreed to the elaborate runes inked on his skin because the Winchesters promised that it would help keep Jack and Hailey safe. They hadn't led the Hotchners astray yet.
The Winchesters knew of a tattoo artist that could keep his mouth shut and wouldn't comment on Aaron's choice. The artist turned out to be a rather plump female with dyed black hair and multiple silver studs on her face. Her own tattoos resembled Dean's and not the more common flowers or script. She never offered her name and Hotch never asked.
She inked up Hailey and Jessica first. Their designs were small, simple and placed in the small of their backs. Dean managed to tease the two of them into smiling by telling them that 'tramps stamps' were hot.
Aaron's tattoos were considerably more elaborate. It took hours… and chanting. The chanting left Aaron more on edge than the pain or the need to keep still. Sam and Dean switched back and forth on the chanting. Sam had it memorized. Dean read the foreign language from a scrap of paper. Aaron had plenty of time to consider the fact that he was having the same tattoos applied as his ancestor, Samuel Hamilton Walker. Samuel Walker had used his tattoos to sniff out the supernatural for Samuel Colt to kill. Once the supernatural had realized his 'powers,' they had tried to kill him. Walker had retaliated with more tattoos, the updated set specifically for protection. Since the Winchester's friend Bobby could only give an educated guess as to which tattoos were for protection and which tattoos were for investigation, Aaron was getting the entire set inked on his body. The actually tattoos were tiny symbols. A line of symbols was inked on the inside of each wrist, a full three lines circle on each bicep and then in an irregular grid on Aaron's back. All of it could be hidden by a long-sleeve collared shirt and all but the wrists would be covered by a t-shirt. A watch could be used to hide one set of wrist tattoos and Dean suggested a bracelet for throwing knives for the other wrist.
Jack sat in a seat of honor and watched the tattoos get applied with great fascination and no horror. This was good, if the Winchesters were correct and this trouble was hereditary, some day he would need to have the same tattoos inked on his skin. With Aaron's protection being made permanent, Lauren Mackenzie's protective amulet was entrusted to Jack. They would have to figure out a replacement eventually. According to Sam, the amulet was priceless and assuredly a family heirloom. Aaron really should return it to Lauren Mackenzie at the earliest opportunity and ask her where he could obtain replicas. Though he would (hopefully) never have to explain everything supernatural to the BAU, he could hand them amulets for protection and they would wear them.
Finally, the artist was done. She wrapped up the tattoos on his back so that Aaron could wear a shirt without pain. Sam insisted that he leave the tattoos on his wrists exposed so that the indicator portion of the protection runes could be seen if a reflection was near. Aaron paid the artist with a credit card and breathed a sigh of relief when it wasn't refused. Sam looked worried that he had just left a paper trail that the reflections could follow.
As they were leaving the tattoo parlor a fight was breaking out among the residents of the street. Aaron lifted his head, trying to find the instigators and the agitators. Why was a riot starting in the middle of the day? Had they been drawn here via e-mail or the internet? At the same time, he ushered Jessica, Hailey and Jack toward the Impala.
Dean shook his head at the mob. "Monsters I get. People are crazy. How sure are we that there's nothing supernatural over there?"
"Dean," Sam called from Aaron's side. "We already have our hands full. And it could be a trap to expose us."
Dean nodded and covered their retreat. He accepted his brother's assertion, but he looked pained at the violence.
Aaron had witnessed Dean's compassion and sense of duty. It was a very beat cop mentality. Somehow, Aaron knew that Dean would have made a wonderful cop, honest, hardworking and knowing the correct time to bend the rules. But Dean would also have burnt out within ten years. He was burning the candle at both ends with his current 'job' and didn't care nor complain. Aaron hadn't seen a single piece of evidence indicating that Dean was planning for the future. He didn't seem to plan past the current case, let alone next year. He ate garbage as if he could die tomorrow.
Aaron took the warning to heart.
Aaron heard Hailey scream. The 'men' had been hanging out outside. The women had promised to start dinner and hadn't wanted anyone underfoot. At the scream, Dean picked up Jack and nearly threw him into the Impala.
"Stay and lock the doors," he ordered. Jack hurried to obey. "He'll be safer in there," Dean told Aaron as they lined up outside the cabin's door, weapons drawn. Then his eyes dropped to Aaron's wrist. "Well, at least we know that the indicator runes work."
Aaron saw the red on his previously black tattoos but shoved it into a corner of his mind. He had a rescue to participate in. Sam nodded and Dean kicked in the door. The two rushed into the living room and cleared it as professionally as the BAU did. The two Hotchner Unsubs trying to break down the bedroom door turned to face the Hunters. Dean shot the one of the right and Sam and Aaron shot the Unsub on the left. The Unsubs fell and didn't twitch. Silver bullets apparently worked better than regular ones.
Aaron changed his focus to the bathroom as an Unsub charged out of it. Dean shot it without giving it a chance to surrender. It –he- fell and exposed the reinforcements. Aaron Hotchner after Aaron Hotchner was Iclimbing out of the bathroom mirror./I They were stepping over Jessica's bloody body on the floor.
Dean shot the one on the right again. Aaron aimed for the middle one as Sam shot the one on left. This time, Aaron didn't considering shouting a warning. He fired and all three reflections fell. Dean rushed forward and yanked the linen out from under Jessica's body. He threw it over the mirror. Sam held a gun at the ready in case another reflection was about to attack his brother. Once the mirror was covered, Sam yelled, "Hailey?"
"Aaron?" She yelled back from behind the bedroom door.
"Only the good one is still alive," Dean told her. He and Sam were dragging the reflection bodies outdoors.
"What about Jack?" Aaron worried.
"I'll make sure that he doesn't see anything," Sam promised. "You take care of Hailey."
Aaron knocked on the bedroom door. "Hailey, please let me in. It's the real me. I… I had a problem naming Jack because every name you suggested had a serial killer connected to it."
Aaron heard the shift of furniture being moved and was pleased that she had blocked herself in and barricaded the door. Eventually, she cracked the door open and peeked out. Tears were streaming down her face. "Aaron?"
Aaron slid into the bedroom and gathered her into his arms. He held her close to comfort her.
"She only wanted to see how the tattoo looked," Hailey cried in his arms.
"She took the veil off of the mirror," Dean growled. He turned on his heel and stalked out the door. He did remember to close the door behind him so that Hailey wouldn't see the dead Unsubs or her sister.
Aaron held Hailey for a while and let her cry. Her sister was her best friend and she was now dead. "Jack?" she finally asked.
"Sam's watching him," Aaron assured her. "He won't let Jack see anything he shouldn't." The two brothers seemed determined to keep Jack's innocence intact.
Hailey decided to stay where she was for a few more minutes. She burst into a fresh set of tears. Aaron could feel a tear or two slide down his cheeks as well. Jessica had been a wonderful person.
Aaron knew that the Winchester brothers hadn't meant for it to be a trap, but it worked. The cost had been high, but they had killed five more of the reflection Unsubs. Now the only remaining reflection was at the FBI, unless they had managed to recreate additional Unsubs before Aaron got inked. Now Aaron believed that a tattoo could stop something that climbed through mirrors. One impossibility seemed to match the other.
A knock sounded at the door and Dean walked in. "Pack up," he ordered. This time, the Hotchner family didn't hesitate. They knew that their survival truly depended on the Hunters' knowledge. He and Sam would never order them into danger.
"We need to give Jessica a Hunter's funeral," Sam said.
It was in how he said it as he watched Hailey that made Aaron nervous. She was going to hate this.
"What do you mean 'Hunter's Funeral'," Hailey asked carefully.
"We burn our dead," Dean said bluntly. He didn't pussyfoot around. Aaron normally appreciated that but knew that Hailey wouldn't. "You don't want her to come back as an angry ghost, do you? You want her to have peace?"
Hailey fought between her previous beliefs with their current situation. Aaron had never been more proud than when she straightened her shoulders and answered, "Can I have some time with her body?"
Sam nodded kindly. "It'll take at least an hour to gather all the wood." His posture turned firm. "Do not take a lock of her hair or anything that has blood on it. You could chain her to the earth if do that."
"Trust me," Dean added. "You do not want to chain her to the earth."
"You agree to our conditions?" Sam asked.
Dean pointed to a group of trees. "She's in the shade over there. We wrapped her up, but the blanket's just folded over her head."
"Thank you," Hailey murmured.
Dean reached for her arm. "Hey Hailey?" She turned and Dean suddenly looked awkward, nervous, and vulnerable. "I'm sorry. I… I wish I had been faster."
"I wish you had been faster too," Hailey admitted. At Dean's stricken expression, she reached out to soften the verbal blow. "But I also wish that Jess had taken your warning seriously."
Dean schooled his expression but Aaron knew just how angry an agent was when a civilian disobeyed direct orders and became a victim or a corpse. Aaron was impressed that Dean didn't yell. It indicated discipline that Aaron found surprising. "Lesson learned?" Dean asked as mildly as Gideon might have.
Hailey quirked a smile at Aaron and he knew that their thoughts followed similar veins. "Yes."
Dean turned with Sam. They started heading for the woods. "I'm still going to duck tape the barriers to the mirrors next time. None of you will be able to look in a mirror without using a knife."
Aaron escorted Hailey to the Winchesters' car and coax Jack out of it. He walked them up to Jessica's resting place and kept watch over the cabin and the woods. He watched Hailey and Jack mourn Jessica under the pine trees. Aaron mourned Jessica as well. His sister-in-law had given Hailey support that Aaron couldn't. She was dependable and wanted the best for Hailey and Jack. She had offered support to Aaron too, speaking words that comforted him in the midst of the divorce. She had understood how much Aaron and Hailey loved each other and somehow she had understood how much the BAU meant to Aaron.
The whiff of smoke had Aaron turning his head to see Dean salting and burning the reflection Unsubs. It was done safely but without ceremony.
Sam, on the other hand, knelt at Hailey's side. "Ready?" he asked quietly.
"No," Hailey answered honestly.
Sam smiled sadly. "I am sorry, but we need to do this now. Before the sun comes up and reveals the smoke. Before someone reports Dean's fire. We don't know how much time we have."
Hailey nodded and stepped back. Sam gently picked up Jessica's body and carried her to a nest of wood. Aaron followed. He could smell the accelerant on the wood. This would be quick.
Dean appeared at Hailey's side and silently offered her a matchbook.
Hailey was surprised. The surprise changed to determination. She struck the match and tossed the whole matchbook into the woodpile on top of the blanket that covered Jessica. With a quiet 'whoomp' the blanket and the dry wood caught fire.
Aaron stood with his family and watched the fire burn. He was vaguely aware of Sam and Dean piling things into the Impala and cleaning up the cabin. Finally, as the sun was rising in the east, the body and the wood were ashes. Sam and Dean poured water over the pile to ensure that there wasn't a forest fire.
No one spoke as they trudged to the backseat of the Impala.
They had to relocate to a new place now. The reflections had found their safe house and could presumably return anytime they pleased. They just needed to find a mirror close. It was a good thing that the cabin didn't have any nearby neighbors. Between the mirrors that could carry combatants and the fires the Winchesters had lit, well-meaning neighbors would have caused trouble. Dean picked a motel closer to DC and drove everyone back to the city. He refused to let the Hotchner family sleep in a room by themselves. They needed a guard and Dean was more knowledgeable about reflections than Aaron.
The FBI agent couldn't argue with that. He offered the last of his cash to pay for their double room once he realized that the Winchesters paid for everything with false credit cards. Dean rolled his eyes at Aaron's morals but didn't turn down the cash. He was getting used to accepting Aaron's money.
Sam slept in the bed nearest the door. He would switch watch with Dean half way through the night. Aaron was assigned the bed further in the room. Hailey and Jack slept in his bed that night. It was only for comfort in the midst of mourning but Aaron cherished the feeling that his family was together, if only for a short while.
Aaron awoke twice during the day. The first time was when Dean checked his tattoos before going to bed and the second time, Sam touched his tattooed wrist with a quiet 'hmmm.'
"Something wrong?" Aaron asked.
Sam shook his head. "There is a lot more supernatural in DC than we thought, but none of these beings are causing trouble. Yet."
Aaron was too tired to let the pronouncement bother him.
There was one last thing to do. Dean drove Aaron and Jack to another random DC gas station and let them call the BAU computer tech. They needed an inside source.
She answered on the first ring. "Hello?"
"Agent Hotchner?" she asked back slowly.
Aaron handed the phone to his son. "Hey, Flower Lady. Are you doing good?"
"I'm doing much better now," Garcia's smile radiated through the faceless phone line. She was already tracing the call. "Can I talk to your daddy now?"
Jack handed the phone back. Aaron accepted it with a solemn nod. "Garcia. Where's my thirteenth double?" The only reflection that the Winchester brothers had yet to kill was the one in the custody of the FBI. Aaron mused for a second on the fact that his terminology had changed from that of a FBI BAU agent to that of a Hunter. And it had taken only seventy-two hours.
Garcia muttered at the previously unknown group size. "Thirteen? Really? I'm glad that we haven't found all the bodies. You –I mean the not You- here is too creepy, but it's even worse when they're dead."
"Garcia," Aaron warned.
She wasn't quite done. "Thirteen. Isn't that just going overboard on the stereotypes? That's destroying the classics. The Unsub's here, constantly being monitored and that is a little freaky, if I can say so, sir. The CIA is transporting him out of here. They want to study the live one."
Aaron barely resisted cursing. He might never be able to return to his life if the CIA were involved. Jack didn't need to learn the words from him as well as from Dean. Aaron was determined to return to his life and the CIA would not stop him. "When?"
"Garcia, you must tell me everything."
Penelope told him.
Dean looked through the scope at the CIA agents protecting the door. They looked serious and focused. They were trying to find him, or anyone like him, who might mess up their fucked up plans. They wouldn't see him; Hotch, Sam and Dean had plotted this assassination together. They only wanted the monster dead. Dean couldn't understand why anyone would want a reflection alive. The monster probably could become any one of the agents, kill the original and disappear. Dean wondered why it hadn't yet. That would screw with their heads, mirroring the agents themselves… also it would probably make the CIA try harder to get the reflection to obey them. They would probably try to brainwash it. They would be unsuccessful, but they would try. They must have prevented it from getting close to any mirrors. It would have been able to escape if it had access to a mirror. Dean wondered if they knew how close to they had been to losing the reflection.
The CIA didn't know what they were playing with and Dean wanted them out of his sandbox. Finally, Dean saw the movement that indicated that they were transporting the reflection now. He steadied his breathing and his body stilled. The reflection was cuffed, wrists to ankles like a prisoner to the supermax. Interesting precaution considering the reflection could probably break those chains.
The reflection was looking around. Dean thought that the face was a little too intent for enjoying his last bit of sunlight before being buried in a secret prison. Then the reflection looked at Dean. He shouldn't have been able to see Dean in his little sniper nest, but he had the same knowing glance that Hotch used.
'Do it,' the reflection mouthed.
Dean pulled the trigger without hesitation. The back half of the reflection's head splattered the CIA agents.
Dean disassembled the rifle, packed it in the non-descript suitcase and hurried to his escape route. He didn't want to be caught by the CIA anymore than the reflection had. Dean stepped onto the street, adjusted his dark tie and suit jacket and joined the throngs of business men on their way home from work.
His job was done. He and Sam could pack up.
Hotch wanted to return to the FBI and his civilian life. Anyone else and Dean would have discouraged him, but Hotch was an immoveable force. If anyone could pick up the pieces after being hunted by reflections, it would be Hotch. He would be able to twist the CIA into knots and convince the FBI that they need him to run his team. Hell, he was even mending things with his ex-wife. Haley, Jack and Hotch would re-enter the world and get cozy behind a white picket fence… and salt wards. The Hotchners weren't stupid; they would take the lessons learned with them.
Dean was a little bummed. Hotch would have made an awesome Hunter. He already had the tattoos for it.
Look in the mirror. The face that pins you with its double gaze reveals a chastening secret.
Aaron Hotchner always wore a suit and tie, but all the agents on his team had, at one time or another, glimpsed the new tattoos he now sported on his wrists. The cuffs of his dress shirts normally covered them, but Hotch had refused to get them lasered off when he came in out of the cold. It was one of several compromises Hotch had refused to make when he had demanded his job back. The negotiations for returning to his job and previous life had lasted longer than the actual hunt of the thirteen reflections. The team had no idea what the tattoos were or why he had them, but they knew that it was as important to the Hotchner family as the silver medallion gifts that the entire team now wore.
So when Aaron shed the suit jacket and unbuttoned his white shirt's sleeves, as was his habit for a SWAT entrance, Morgan kept close. Hotch was amused by the man's obvious curiosity. He wanted to see what the tattoos were. He wouldn't recognize the symbols as any language but...
"Weren't those black?" Morgan asked. Hotch looked down and the middle symbol was now red. Morgan had tattoos. He would know that the colors were normally inked before the shadow, so it wasn't as if Hotch had recently visited a tattoo parlor to add the hue.
Aaron Hotchner swore out of frustration. He hadn't planned for this. Morgan's jaw dropped. Hotch never swore, not with his famous even-keel self-control. Just that fast, Hotchner was back in charge of his emotions. He knew what he needed to do. He pointed at Morgan and then at the newly arrived Spencer Reid. The rest of the BAU crowded around, sensing something that they hadn't been briefed about. "Morgan, Reid, you come with me. The rest of you, stall the SWAT entrance as professionally –and as long- as possible."
Hotch turned on his heel and palmed his blackberry. He expected his teammates to follow his commands without further direction. He tapped into his phone a number that he had memorized the first time Dean had told him, but never called. He mentally shook his head; even Jack had this number memorized for an emergency. They couldn't call to keep in touch because the CIA was extremely interested in Aaron's contacts. They had been tapping his phone since the incident with the doppelgangers.
Aaron considered calling Lauren Mackenzie for a moment. The FBI agent in the archives had turned out to be a good friend to him and a great friend for Hailey. She truly understood and believed how Hailey had lost her sister. She had recanted the sexual harassment charge against Hotch to her own detriment. The woman had centuries of family knowledge of the supernatural at her fingertips. Unfortunately, it was all book knowledge and no practical knowledge. Though she would be able to interpret the changed tattoos (and hide evidence of the supernatural from the FBI reports since that was her 'second' job), Lauren wouldn't know how defeat whatever was acting like a serial killer in the mountains of West Virginia. She would just tell him to call the Winchester brothers. Apparently, the two families had joined forces against the supernatural.
Dean and Sam would be able to supply Aaron with both an identification (probably) and a method of disposal (definitely). Aaron found a place in the woods, off the trail, but within yelling distance of the staging area. He stopped there and handed the still-ringing phone, now on speaker, to Morgan, starting to strip out of his FBI-emblazoned bullet-proof vest immediately. That he handed to Reid, along with his tie. As he was unbuttoning his shirt, Dean answered. Morgan was sure to recognize that it was the elder of the Winchester brothers.
"Hotch, what's wrong?"
Aaron yanked off the shirt. "The middle rune on my right hand changed to red."
"Shit." Dean didn't have any compunction against swearing. "Where are you?"
"Culloden, West Virginia."
The agents could hear the squeal of tires. "Damnit, Hotch, we had a deal. We'll try not to commit any felonies that you would have to hide and you would pass along our cases to us. You know, the people trained to deal with it. Here, talk to Sam."
Morgan and Reid had to raise their eyebrows at the easy, whole-hearted chide. Aaron didn't bat an eye as he explained, "There was nothing in the profile that hinted toward your type of case. Are you near enough to help?"
A new voice, presumably Sam's, answered. "We had tagged Culloden on our own after we finished the last one..."
"A satisfactory conclusion?"
"A lost little girl found and sent on her way. Are you somewhere where you can read the more specific indicator runes? Near any mirrors?"
"Spencer?" Hotch prompted.
The young doctor's hands fluttered over the inked skin of his boss's back. "These tattoos are intricate, elaborate, accurate and extensive," he gushed.
"I was out in the cold for a little while," Hotch reminded him. "Just read the ones that are now red."
Spencer obeyed. There was silence on the other end. Hotch started getting dressed.
"Are you missing a bunch of little old ladies, one for each younger person that's also missing," Dean asked.
"How could you possibly know that," Morgan asked in return.
"It's my job," Dean sniped. "Do you have a grid designation that we can find you at?"
"Reid," Hotch said. Reid rattled it off.
The men on the other end of the line confirmed their destination. "Should be there in thirty minutes," Sam announced.
"Can you make it faster? I've got a regional SWAT team gearing up and they are not going to like delays."
There was a muffled curse from Sam. "Damnit, Hotch, Dean already drives like a maniac. And there are not a lot of guardrails on these hills and curves."
"I'll have somebody waiting with two FBI bullet-proof vests. Use them," ordered Hotch.
"Have you set eyes on the house yet?" Sam asked.
"No, but we interviewed an eyewitness." Hotch was easy with the information. He fixed his tie knot and reached for his FBI vest.
"Did they say anything about a root cellar, or a basement?" Sam trailed off and Dean picked up the thread of thought.
"Hell, what about a bomb shelter?"
"It's not in the original blueprints," Reid answered. "You think that the Unsub created a hidden nest, even out in the middle of rural West Virginia?"
"It's hidden, but this is a lazy SOB. He'd use caves just as easily. That's where he'll be. In his burrow."
"Thank you," Aaron told them. "Call when you're five minutes out."
"Will do," Sam said cheerfully and hung up.
Aaron ordered Reid. "Add a burrow to the geographic profile." Reid nodded, mind already whirling. "Morgan, ask the locals for anything thing resembling a burrow around the area. Get Rossi, Prentiss and JJ to help you. Divide into pairs. No one wanders off by themselves. The Unsubs that the Winchesters chase are more dangerous than ours. You have twenty minutes to find an answer."
Morgan jogged straight to the team. He interrupted their chat with the SWAT commander to tell them all that they just figured out a vital piece of the profile. They might not be in the right place because the Unsub had a nest somewhere. Morgan ordered the SWAT unit to pair up and to surround the house. They were to keep in constant radio contact and to report any movement in a basement or root cellar.
They had three probable locales by the time Dean's iconic car pulled up the drive. Reid was waiting as promised with the FBI Kevlar. He was professional enough not to ask a ton of questions at that moment. He did ask their opinion of where the Unsub would be out of the burrows they had found.
Sam and Dean had agreed on the cave to the back of the property as the most probably location. So Hotch had Rossi (and Reid) leading one SWAT team and Morgan (and Prentiss) leading the other team to the less likely sites. Hotch did not want this supernatural escaping on his watch. He would go with the Winchesters to the most probable burrow. JJ was tasked with keeping everyone else off the property, insuring that no one lost radio contact and to run interference between the Winchesters and the local law enforcement officers. Hotch did not want them to be asking too many questions about Sam and Dean. Not when they opened their trunk and started loading up on weapons, completing the armory with pickaxes and flashlights.
The plan was to hit all three burrows at once, for multiple reasons. Each was to remain near their burrow until everyone declared an 'All Clear.' Under no circumstances was anyone to enter into a burrow they had not been assigned unless help was requested. It was too close quarters and Hotch was not going to allow for friendly fire. He followed Dean into their cave. Sam took drag as if he had been assigned. Hotch knew they were in the right place because of the human bones littering the rocks. These were small bones, hands and feet. Hotch was impressed when Dean labeled each one without hesitation. He knew his human bones. Hotch figured that it had to do with all the ghosts' bodies he had uncovered.
JJ checked in twice as they walked deeper and deeper into the cave. She clicked twice in the prearranged signal and Hotch clicked in return. The cave was starting to smell of decomposing meat. The Unsub was a messy eater. Hotch was glad that the rest of the BAU didn't have to see or smell this crime scene. He knew enough about the Winchester's habits to know that the cave would collapse before they'd let in civilians.
Hotch had excellent time sense and knew about when JJ should have checked in for the third time. Hotch judged that they still had several hundred meters before finding the lair, so he chanced using his radio. He clicked. Nothing. He clicked again. Still nothing. He checked the connection.
"We're too far in," Sam whispered. "No reception. Better this way."
"No civilians rushing in, demanding answers," Dean finished. "No need to lie on the spot."
Meaning that Hotch would have to come up with some very convincing lies later.
Dean paused and his very posture indicated that they were near the lair. Hotch and Sam fell in line. Dean turned off his flashlight and Hotch could see light up ahead.
Silently, they inched forward. They were careful to make no sounds. They rushed into the lit cave to surprise the Unsub. He wasn't there in the stalactites and stalagmites. They silently checked behind every rock formation. Nothing.
Hotch didn't know what he was expecting. After all, the reflections had definitely appeared human, so when a quick glance only revealed dead bodies lit by firelight, he lowered his gun. They had missed the Unsub. He wasn't here. The Winchesters, however, kept their guns level. Hotch was alert, but he certainly hadn't been expecting the large stalagmite in front of him to iopen its eyes and jump at him!/I
Hotch jumped and rolled away, shooting as he rolled to his feet. The bullets connected with the Unsub and chipped away at it, but weren't doing much damage. Hotch ran out of bullets. When he stepped back to reload, the Winchesters stepped forward. They had holstered their guns and were tagteaming the Unsub using their pickaxes. They were doing a hell of a lot more damage then Hotch had been doing with his gun.
He wasn't of much use without a pickax of his own, so he skirted the fight and checked on the apparent pile of dead bodies. He wasn't surprised that all of the bodies were corpses in various stages of decay. No survivors. He was even less surprised to turn around and see that Dean and Sam had reduced the Unsub to gravel. Dean was even stomping on the remains.
"Will he be able to put himself together?" Hotch asked fearfully. The supernatural could do all sorts of impossible feats.
Sam flashed him a quick smile. "Nah. We talked with Lauren and she told us the herbs we would need to keep it apart." He held up a baggie of dried leaves and flowers. "It wasn't anything that we didn't have on hand." He poured the mixture onto the gravel that had been the Unsub and then mixed it together. It seemed too simple for how many humans the thing had killed and eaten.
Dean knocked shoulders with Hotch. "Hey. We won. Now we have to clean up. We can't leave a mess for your team to find." Hotch nodded in agreement. He scoured the cave for evidence. He grabbed personal items of the victims. He would be able to return that to the families, at least.
There was nothing but bones left of any of the younger victims. The older victims were stacked like cordwood in the corner. The Unsub had been burning them for intermitted heat… possibly? No, probably light. When Hotch wondered out loud why he –it- hadn't eaten the elders as well, Dean broke the solemn silence.
"The young ones were the meat and the old ones were the drink. Vintage is important, I hear." Dean was trying to crack a joke, but it fell flat. Hotch appreciated the effort and from the way Sam glared, he didn't realize that his brother was trying to protect him by giving him an alternate focus.
Dean poked the fire. "Huh. It had an oxygen vent right here. That's why the bodies burned at all." He took a whiff of a nearby gas container. "Not gas. But this probably made them light right up."
The brothers just looked at each other and apparently decided that they should burn the bodies of the older victims. Hotch could understand not wanting civilians to gain a few clues to the supernatural. Dean dragged the bodies to the Unsub's fire pit and Sam lit them on fire, one by one. As Dean had guessed, the bodies burnt quickly. Hotch wondered if it was supernaturally quickly, because Jessica's body had taken longer to turn to ash. Had the Unsub only needed a little bit of light?
Sam and Dean searched the cave for any evidence of the supernatural. They really didn't find anything. Then Dean started laying down charges. Hotch was certain that the C4 couldn't be traced, not even by Garcia. Hotch and Sam backed out of the cave to a midway point.
"What was it?" Hotch finally asked.
Sam grinned, teeth bright in the dark. "Honestly, I'm not sure how to pronounce it, but don't tell Dean that. Ask Lauren. Dean knows what it is, but he'll tease me if he figures out that I don't."
Hotch smirked at the continuing sibling rivalry. He relaxed and turned on the radio. JJ was hailing him and had probably been trying to get his attention for a while. Hotch acknowledged JJ's hails and told her to stay back. The situation was still unstable. As if to punctuate Hotch's remark, Dean lit the fuse. Hotch was pushed to the forefront as they ran out of the cave. He didn't know how much of a lead time Dean had given them until Sam grabbed the back of his vest.
"Wait," he huffed. "We're right near the entrance. It'd be suspicious if we exited right as the cave blew."
"A little too action movie," Dean teased.
Hotch heard a 'whomph' and the air around him pushed him to the ground. The rocks all around him shook, but held firm. He could hear the cave collapse further in the mountain. Dean knew his stuff. The three sat and waited. They caught their breath and listened.
Dean handed Hotch his radio -When had he dropped that?- and he answered JJ's frantic calls. "We're fine," he said. "We'll be out soon."
"And the Unsub?"
"He's not coming out. Don't let anyone come in. We don't know how secure the scene is yet." JJ acknowledged the statement and would wait until they were safe to follow up.
Considering that Hotch's team was the only one with any contact with the Unsub, not to mention the 'cave-in,' it wasn't a surprise that the BAU and the SWAT team were waiting at the exit of the cave. Prentiss was the smart one with a canteen of water on hand. Hotch took a drink thankfully and then passed the canteen to the Winchester brothers. He wasn't surprised that Dean insisted that Sam drink first. Hotch eyed the brothers. They were whole and healthy and a little dusty. Hotch imagined that he appeared exactly the same. They smelled of burnt meat.
"The Unsub committed suicide by destroying the cave rather than let us apprehend him alive," he lied to those waiting, but it was a lie that the BAU and the SWAT team would believe. The Unsub had been profiled as the type and Hotch normally wouldn't lie about a case resolution.
"What about the victims?" Morgan asked. "Any of them?"
"Dead," Hotch cut of the hope before it could cement. "He was a cannibal. He started eating them raw, before he even was all the way into his burrow. We followed a trail of bones most of the way in. He burned whatever remained."
Two of the SWAT team choked on the idea and probably the smell that was emanating from Hotch's team. "Have your men secure a perimeter," Hotch ordered the leader. "It'll be a while before the crime techs will find their way here."
The leader nodded appreciatively. It would give his group a chance to subdue their reactions and get them upwind. Hotch just didn't want them asking too many questions about the Winchesters, who were walking toward their car, stripping themselves of their armory.
Diverting the SWAT team and the locals was one thing. Diverting the BAU profilers was something completely different. Aaron hadn't given his team much of an explanation of the reflections and so they were fishing from the alternate source: the Winchesters. Aaron knew that the brothers would protect the 'civilians' from the supernatural as much as possible. Aaron wanted to tell them that their attempts would be akin to diverting the Colorado River: possible but problematic and one better have a damn good reason for expending all the time and energy. Aaron knew that his team would meet –probably at Garcia's- as soon as they returned to DC to correlate and compile all that they had learned on the case.
Currently, Prentiss, Morgan and JJ watched from a distance as Rossi and Reid were trying to pin down the brothers and ask them a million questions about the supernatural in general and the reflections specifically. Dean was spouting BS and the experienced profilers couldn't identify it as such because they didn't have a proper frame of reference. Hotch was amused and knew that Sam wouldn't let things get too out of hand (ie let Dean say something that might lead the agents into trouble down the line). Aaron checked his wallet and wasn't surprised that he only had a twenty inside. Hailey had warned that she was stealing his cash this morning.
Aaron needed an alternate plan. He approached Derrik and demanded, "Give me all your cash," with a completely straight face.
Derrik Morgan cracked a grin. "Aren't you supposed to be pointing your gun at me during a hold-up? Do you need the Chicago boy to tell you how to rob a person?"
Hotch made a gimme-motion with his outstretched hand. "I'll pay you back. I don't have enough cash on hand."
"Why can't you use your credit card?"
"I'll explain later."
Derrik pulled out his wallet. He'd do this for the story if nothing else. "How much do you need?"
"All of it."
Derrik handed it over. Hotch counted it as he walked up to the Impala and the Winchester boys waiting. He grabbed Sam's wrist and put the money it.
"Damnit Hotch," Dean complained. "You already pay us. No charity."
"Consider it hazard pay for doing my job. And use it to dump the phones at the first opportunity and get new ones."
Dean opened his mouth to argue, but his brother cut him off. "Thank you and we will."
"Let me know when you have a new number."
"Okay." Dean paused. "Oh, hey Hotch?"
"We have new numbers." They were technically criminals; they probably had a pile of burn phones in the car. Morgan was amused at their timing. They yanked Hotch's chain like few dared.
"Write it down."
Sam searched the car for a little while and came up with a fast food receipt. He scribbled quickly before passing the scrap of paper to Hotch. The agent read it quickly before pocketing it.
"You two take care of yourselves," Hotch told them.
Dean nodded. "You too. How's that pretty family of yours doing?"
Hotch smiled for real. "Hailey and I are back together and Jack's always good."
"Glad to hear it," said Sam. "Did you get our Christmas presents?"
"Yes. Thank you. You two should get going."
"Consider us gone." Dean climbed into the driver's seat and revved the engine. The next moment, Dean was pulling out of the driveway and Sam was waving back at them.
Hotch and Morgan watched them go. "You have good friends," Morgan said.
"Yes, I do."
"You gonna share that number?"
"They asked me not to."
"Morgan. The CIA is still bugging my house so that they can track them down. That's part of the reason they let me return to my job. No."
"If something crazy happens to you –again, we need to be able to contact them."
Hotch considered it for a moment and then let Morgan in on a very dangerous secret. "If something happens to me, call Hailey."
Morgan nodded slowly. He would take that information to his grave, he would only share it with the rest of the team when the danger was already on their doorstep. If anyone else knew that Hailey could contact the Winchesters, she would be kidnapped and then tortured until she broke. It'd be easier to do it to her than to Hotch. People were that desperate to find answers of the reflections Unsubs that had tried to steal Aaron's life. They were living on the knife's edge, but they were living. Hotch wouldn't tell his team just how precarious their security was but he would use himself to protect his team.
This was status quo.