Victimology, Part 1
Aaron Hotchner entered his house without much enthusiasm. Since Haley had primary custody of Jack, it made sense for her to keep the home that they’d created together. The house Hotch was currently renting was much smaller and lacked all but the most basic of necessities. He was too good of a profiler not to be aware that someone’s environment could mirror their personality. If that was as true of him as it was the average UNSUB, then like his home, Aaron was dark, empty and alone.
It was uncomfortably close to the truth.
With a sigh, Aaron set his bag down. It had been a nastier case than usual; it always was when children were involved, even if those children were teenagers. It was selfish of him, but it was at times like these that he missed Jack the most. Seeing his small son, happy and healthy and blessedly safe, helped lighten the load after one of the dark cases.
Oddly enough, Aaron didn’t miss Haley all that much. He’d loved her once, but that feeling had faded. Or maybe it had just been buried, by both his work and her resentment of it. Aaron had known, when he chose to go back to his team, that there would be a price for his decision. Still, needing a warm body to come home to after a difficult case was hardly a reason to stay married.
Aaron had prepared himself for the consequences of his actions, but he’d been in no way prepared for Jason leaving.
It was ironic. Jason had been waiting for Aaron for years; had warned the younger FBI profiler on more than one occasion that marriage and working for the BAU didn’t mix well. Arrogantly, Aaron had thought his marriage would buck that trend. He was wrong. To add insult to injury, Aaron and Jason had been denying their attraction for a long time and when, finally, Aaron was free to pursue it, Jason was gone.
He’d known that Jason was fragile. Gideon’s nervous breakdown several years earlier had been a clear warning. Aaron had thought, however, that Jason was better, stronger emotionally. That maybe Aaron himself had made some difference. Again, he’d been wrong and while Aaron had been using his time under suspension to futilely try to patch his family together, Jason had broken.
Aaron hadn’t been enough to help him. Just as he hadn’t prevented Spencer from being taken hostage by an insane man, Garcia from being shot, Morgan from being accused of murder and Elle from actually committing one. Maybe Strauss had been right to try and force him out. Aaron had to admit that his track record hadn’t been stellar of late.
He moved into the bedroom, trying his best to leave his morose thoughts behind. As he efficiently stripped, automatically folding his rumpled suit, Aaron’s thoughts wandered back to his team. They’d been through a lot together and, Aaron’s personal feelings aside, the team had actually adjusted to Jason’s abrupt departure far easier than he’d thought they would. Derek was right, though, when he said they’d survive. It wasn’t always pretty, but they were managing.
David Rossi was an unexpected addition. Aaron had fond memories of him as a mentor; Aaron had learned a lot from David when he’d first joined the BAU. Unfortunately, David had taken early retirement and the BAU had changed a lot in the relatively short time he’d been gone. David was adjusting to the team as much as they were to him and it wasn’t always smooth going. For Aaron, David’s presence was like an old shoe that had suddenly gotten a hole in it. For the most part, their working relationship was comfortable, but once in while they hit a major snag. To say it was awkward being the supervisor of the man who’d trained Aaron in the first place was a major understatement.
While Jason Gideon and David Rossi were both gifted profilers, they were entirely different men. Jason was all about passionate compassion. Under his influence, Aaron had been learning to lower his emotional walls, at least to Jason. David, on the other hand, could exhibit a cold ruthlessness that was almost scary. That was also influencing Aaron, as evidenced by the way he’d asked the two sets of parents to listen to the recording of one of their daughters dying. It was a necessity, but a cruel one. Aaron had seen the disbelief in the other agents’ eyes at his choice and wasn’t exactly proud of himself, that he’d used David’s suggestion.
Stripped of his clothing, Aaron padded into the bathroom and turned on the shower. With Haley having primary custody of Jack, there was no little boy sweetness for Hotch to use to refresh himself. He’d have to get rid of the stink of a nasty case the old fashioned way, by scrubbing it off.
As if there was water enough in the world to wash him clean.
* * *
Another day, another psycho.
Aaron Hotchner stifled a sigh and contented himself with rubbing his forehead instead. The local detective who was acting as their liaison on the current case was intimidated enough by the BAU’s presence the way it was, it would do no good to reveal his own frustration to the man.
It was at times like this that Aaron was heartily grateful that his child was male. There was no doubt that more women than men were victims of the dangerous UNSUBs that his team tracked. After all he’d seen on the job, Aaron doubted he’d ever be complacent about Jack’s safety, but he had a feeling that he slept a little better at night knowing that Jack was a boy. Sometimes Aaron wondered if the women on the team felt like they had a target painted on their chest, so often were females the victims of the hideous crimes they investigated.
Their current case had taken them to San Francisco. An UNSUB was attacking women, sexually assaulting them before killing them and anchoring their bodies in school swimming pools. The victims were found dressed, but not in the clothing they’d been wearing when they’d been reported as missing. They were all clothed in a modified Catholic schoolgirl uniform. The last victim had been just 16 years old, although from her photograph, she’d looked much older. Aaron hoped that the UNSUB had mistaken her for older too; he hated to think that the killer was going after younger targets.
“All right, we’ve studied the locations where he’s dropped the bodies,” Aaron addressed his team. “Let’s look at the places he’s avoided so far.”
“Should we set up a stake-out, hoping we might catch the next body drop?” Emily Prentiss asked.
Aaron considered, but shook his head. “The schools in the area have all upped their security measures; that should suffice for now.” He looked at JJ as something occurred to him. “When the schools open, could you pull together the school officials in the red zone and talk to them? We want to urge caution.” The latest victim had been discovered during the night, so even though the team had been at work for hours, it was barely dawn.
“Got it,” she nodded, clearly making a mental note. “We don’t want a trigger- happy hired gun to shoot someone who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I’m confused,” Detective Sanchez, their San Francisco PD liaison, stated. “If we’re not going to set up official surveillance on the schools the murderer hasn’t used yet, why the interest?”
“Because the schools the UNSUB is not using as a body dump might be as significant as the ones he is,” Spencer provided. “Maybe he has a connection and is being careful not to draw suspicion.”
“I’ll have Garcia get on it, see if she can find any conspicuous schools that the UNSUB skipped over,” Morgan said. “Quantico’s three hours ahead of us, she’ll be in the office by now.”
“Good and once she compiles the data, I want those schools checked out,” Aaron ordered. “Teams of two.”
“I can help with that,” Detective Sanchez offered. “I can assign you some uniforms so your people aren’t so spread out.”
The three younger agents nodded and, with the detective in tow, headed off towards the room they’d commandeered as their own. Aaron only belatedly realized that one team member was left.
“And I suppose you’re going to interview Gabrielle Henderson’s parents,” David Rossi theorized. Gabrielle had been the latest victim, the teenager.
Aaron continued to deny himself the luxury of a sigh. David had been a mentor once, but he was a subordinate now. Well, technically, he was a subordinate, even if David didn't act like one most of the time. Since that was the case, Hotch didn’t want to let the other man in too much. He had with Gideon and look where that had gotten him.
“Someone has to,” Aaron said quietly in response to David’s comment. “She didn’t fit the victomology when the report of her disappearance came in, so we didn’t do much background work on her. We didn’t think she was related to our case.”
“And that wasn’t your fault,” David stated. He pushed himself off the wall he’d been leaning on and stepped forward to put a hand on Aaron’s shoulder. “None of us had any idea the UNSUB would go so young. Let me interview the parents; you don’t have to do it.”
Had it been Jason offering, Aaron would have taken him up on it. He and Gideon had worked together closely for a long time; he trusted Jason to pick up the slack when things got too rough. David, although they’d worked together years ago, was too much of an unknown quantity. Aaron felt like the older man was watching him all the time, but with that inscrutable expression David habitually wore, Hotch didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. Still, Aaron was too much of a political creature to totally turn down the assistance. He wasn’t sure yet how far to trust David Rossi, but didn’t want to offend him either.
“How about you come with me?” Aaron suggested a compromise. “I could use the help.”
“I doubt that you any need assistance,” David disagreed with a lopsided smile that indicated he was on to Hotch's ploy. “But I’ll go along for moral support.”
Aaron found himself grateful for the offer; talking to parents of a deceased child was never easy. “I have to give the police chief a quick update and then we can be on our way.”
“I’ll meet you outside,” David agreed, having to raise his voice to be heard over the din of the police business going on around them, the area was bustling despite the earliness of the hour. Rossi turned and went in the opposite direction of where Aaron was headed.
Like most officers of the law, no matter what branch, Aaron was usually hyper-aware of his surroundings. It didn’t help him. Aaron was as startled as anyone when a man he was walking by suddenly screamed and launched himself at him. Aaron went down in a tangle with his assailant, the odor from the other man’s unwashed body overwhelming him almost as much as the physical attack.
Surprised or not, Aaron instinctively kicked his attacker away. Unfortunately, as quick as he acted, it wasn’t soon enough. Agony sliced across Aaron’s belly as the other man stabbed him. He grunted in pain as hands reached to separate them. Still stunned, Aaron lay on the floor panting as the police officers swarmed over his assailant.
“Aaron, are you all right?” David knelt by Hotch’s side and at Aaron’s nod, turned his wrath to the officers surrounding them. “What sort of operation is this, that you don’t even have your prisoners properly secured?”
“He’s bleeding.” Morgan’s terse observation came from Aaron’s other side. He hadn’t even noticed the younger agent approach. “We need an ambulance.”
Aaron sensed he was rapidly losing control of the situation.
“That’s not necessary,” he claimed, gathering himself in an attempt to rise. “It’s just a scratch-. . . .”
His voice trailed off as he managed to get semi-upright. From the way the world spun and blackened at the edges, his wound was a more than a scratch.
“Yeah, right,” Morgan scoffed. “Just sit back, boss man, and let someone else do all the work for a change.”
Aaron closed his eyes for a moment, but only long enough to regain his equilibrium. “David.”
Rossi leaned close. Sometime during the last few moments, David’s arm had gone around Aaron’s back, supporting him. Morgan had gotten a wad of paper towels from somewhere and was pressing them firmly to Hotch’s side. Aaron gasped as the pressure caused the pain to flare up, but quickly bit back a cry. He could see JJ, Reid and Prentiss shouldering their way through the crowd that had already gathered. Spencer, in particular, did not need to see his boss in undue distress; the young man was still reeling from Jason Gideon’s abrupt departure from the FBI.
“David, you’ll have to assume Senior Agent in Charge status until I get back,” Aaron gasped. “We can’t let this incident impact our investigation.”
“You let us worry about the investigation,” David replied gruffly. “You’re going to the hospital.” Before Aaron could comment, David turned his attention to Prentiss. “I want you to stay with him.”
“I don’t need anybody from the team to go with me,” Aaron protested before Prentiss could. “We need everyone on the case. . . .”
Morgan snorted. “And if it was one of us hurt? No way would you let us go to the hospital alone.”
“I’m hardly alone,” Aaron replied, although his sarcasm lacked bite. He didn’t have the energy for it.
“Besides, you just put me in charge,” David interjected. “It’s not your call anymore.”
The EMTs arrived and Rossi pulled back, but not before he squeezed Aaron’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. We’ll keep working on the case and I’ll notify Strauss about what happened.”
Strauss. He’d forgotten about her. Aaron groaned as he realized that this incident would be one more thing his boss could use against him.
“Agent Hotchner,” the EMT asked as she took David’s place next to him. “On a scale of one to ten, how would you describe your pain level?”
“A six,” he answered. Her partner got busy removing the paper towels and the pain sliced through him again. “Maybe a seven.”
She patted his arm. “You’re losing blood, Sir, so we’re going to apply a pressure bandage and start you an IV. First, though, we’re going to help with that pain.”
The EMT gave him a shot and within moments, Aaron was a lot more comfortable. He knew he should be mortified at the number of people that were milling about, all because of what had happened to him, but whatever drug they gave him made him too fuzzy to really care. With a detached air, he watched as JJ and Morgan cleared enough space for the stretcher and soon he was being wheeled out.
Thankfully, Prentiss didn’t try to ride in the ambulance with him.
The visit to the hospital was unpleasant. His wound hurt, but it wasn’t just that Aaron resented the pain. He begrudged the time away from the investigation. The entire time he was being examined and stitched up, Aaron could almost hear the clock ticking. Four women and a teenaged girl were dead already. Aaron wasn’t conceited enough to think that he could solve the case himself, but every member of the team was important. They were less effective without him and if a sixth woman died while he was incapacitated, then Aaron would shoulder a large part of the guilt for her death.
“Well, Agent Hotchner,” the doctor stated as he entered the emergency room cubicle that Aaron had been placed in. “You’re a very lucky man. The puncture wound was deep, but managed to miss all of your organs.”
“Good,” Aaron acknowledged the news as he started to ease himself off the bed.
The doctor’s eyes widened. “Agent Hotchner, that doesn’t mean that you’re ready to be discharged.
Aaron gave him the quelling look that always worked so well on Spencer. “In case you haven’t heard, there’s a serial killer on the loose. I have an investigation to run.”
The glare didn’t work as well on the doctor as it did on Reid. He just returned Aaron’s gaze with a steely one of his own. “You’ve lost blood and we have to keep an eye out for infection. I’ve stitched you up, but you should be admitted, at least overnight.”
“I appreciate your concern,” Aaron shook his head. “But I simply don’t have time.”
“And if you collapse on the job?” The doctor asked pointedly. “What will that do for your investigation?”
Aaron closed his eyes. “What would you do if there was a patient out there, you didn’t know where, and she was going to die if you didn’t find her in time? Could you just lie in a hospital bed under those circumstances?”
When he opened his eyes, the doctor was looking at him with much more sympathy. “I guess not.” He put a hand on Aaron’s arm to keep him from getting up right way. “At least stay here long enough to get the entire IV in you. Besides, we have some medication that we need to send with you and that’ll take some time to prepare.”
“Thank you,” Aaron’s smile was tired, but sincere. “If you could send my colleague in, I’d appreciate it.”
The doctor agreed to do as he asked and left. Aaron lay back, not looking forward to the coming confrontation with Emily. Prentiss had definite ideas of how she thought things should go and wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion. Still, she could have spied on him for Strauss, thus insuring her own rise in the FBI. That she hadn’t done it spoke for her strength of character. Besides, as bad as Emily was, it could have been worse, David could have sent Morgan with him. Derek was a far more effective mother hen than Prentiss.
“They’re not keeping you?” Prentiss demanded as she entered his treatment area. “That’s outrageous.”
“Believe me, the doctor isn’t any more happy about it than you are,” Aaron replied mildly. “But it wasn’t his choice, any more than it’s yours. I’m not staying at the hospital with this UNSUB still unaccounted for.”
Emily’s lips thinned with displeasure. “There is such a thing as being too dedicated.”
Aaron raised one eyebrow. “And there’s such a thing as speaking too openly to your boss.” He softened his voice as a hurt expression crossed her face. “Emily, do you really think I would be able to rest here, when the UNSUB is out there, getting ready to kill again?”
“No, you’re too good at your job,” she admitted reluctantly. She sighed and held up a bag she’d been carrying. “And Rossi is too. He knew you wouldn’t stay in the hospital.”
After taking the bag, Aaron looked inside and grimaced. He knew the clothes he’d been wearing during the attack were either ruined or bagged as evidence. It was thoughtful of David to send him something to wear, but instead of having someone go to the hotel and get another one of Aaron’s suits, Rossi had sent sweats. Regulation gray sweats imprinted with “Property of SFPD” across the chest of the shirt.
As a profiler, Hotch understood the strategy behind having him dressed in SFPD gear. The FBI’s relationship with local cops was always delicate, so having an agent hurt on the police department’s turf likely had ruffled some feathers. By dressing Hotch in something that blatantly marked him as the SFPD’s, Rossi was subtly assuring them that the FBI had confidence in the locals.
Hotch sighed. He understood David’s likely reasoning, but he didn’t like it. The idea of interacting with the local police while dressed in something as casual as sweats was decidedly unappealing; Hotch always remained impeccably dressed. He usually only removed his suit coat to put on soft body armor. Even in sweltering heat, Aaron didn’t strip down. He’d learned back in law school that appearance, especially how you were clothed, made an important impression and Hotch took advantage of that. He didn’t wear perfectly pressed suits and pristinely white dress shirts just out of personal preference; they were a uniform of authority and something he shamelessly used to full effect.
Which was probably another reason why David Rossi had sent sweat clothes. Aaron was hurt and would not be able to operate at 100%. Rossi probably didn’t like the idea of Hotch coming back to the case any more than Prentiss did and was using the clothing as a subtle way of reminding Hotch of his diminished capacity.
Sometimes working with other profilers sucked.
Hotch held on to the last of his patience as he waited to be released. He glared at his IV, resentful of every last drip. He hadn’t been moved from the ER cubicle, so Hotch couldn’t maintain contact with the others. Prentiss could and did move out into the waiting room to get updated via cell phone, but Hotch was concerned that she wasn’t telling him everything she found out. Not only was he frustrated, but he hurt too. Hotch couldn’t even perform desk duty if he was under the influence of heavy painkillers and so he refused them.
Hospital processes were slow, but eventually Hotch’s IV was empty and his medication was ready. He took the antibiotic right away, but pocketed the painkiller unopened. Thankfully, even Prentiss wasn’t brazen enough to offer to help. In short order after finally getting his release papers and being warned against doing anything but the lightest of lifting, Aaron was gingerly seated in a SUV while Prentiss drove them back to the PD.
“I thought you would want to know that Alexander Dill died,” Emily declared, not taking her eyes off the road.
“Thank you,” Hotch tried not to gasp as she went over a pothole and the jostling made his stab wound ache. He was exhausted. It wasn’t yet lunchtime, but his day had started in the middle of the night and Aaron felt like he was sitting in a fog. “Who is Alexander Dill?”
She shot a worried glance at him. “The man who stabbed you. He started exhibiting symptoms of a meth overdose after the attack, but died shortly after they got him to the hospital.”
Aaron felt oddly removed from the conversation. “I was never told his name.” His gut hurt and Hotch deliberately changed the subject. “What about the case?”
Emily shook her head in dismay at his focus, but answered him anyway. “With Garcia’s help, we’ve narrowed it down to five Catholic schools located in the general vicinity of the body dumps that the UNSUB has not used.”
“Good,” Aaron stated. “I take it that Garcia is analyzing data from the schools for comparisons.” When Prentiss didn’t answer, Hotch tried again. “Emily?”
“She can’t,” Emily admitted. “We’re talking private schools with not enough funding; computerized records are the pretty far down on the list when it comes budge-crunching time.”
Prentiss obviously expected him to be angry, but Hotch was just tired. “I bet Garcia had something or two to say about that.”
“She had a few choice words,” Prentiss told him, a faint smile on her lips. She sobered as she turned to him briefly. “Are you sure you’re okay, Sir?”
“I’m fine,” Aaron reassured her.
Hotch wasn’t sure that he’d convinced Emily and then was positive that he hadn’t when she insisted that she park the SUV right in front of the police department.
“They can give us a ticket if they want,” Emily told him in a clipped voice when he suggested that she pull around to the visitor’s lot. “It’s their fault you got hurt.”
Aaron decided not to protest. It was his choice and not that he was too breathless from simply getting out of the SUV. At least, that was what he told himself. With Prentiss walking at his side and keeping to his slower than normal pace, Hotch felt conspicuous. It didn’t help that many of the officers they passed recognized him.
They hadn’t gotten too far into the building before the figure of the police chief came barreling down on them. Hotch groaned inwardly. Interagency politics was the last thing he wanted to be doing, but it was necessary.
“Go on,” Hotch encouraged Prentiss. “I’ll catch up.”
She hesitated. “You sure?”
“Absolutely,” he assured her. It was going to be hard enough to placate the man’s pride without Emily as a witness. “He’s on our side, remember?”
Prentiss didn’t look convinced, but she did head in the direction of the conference room that the BAU had been given to use as their own. Hotch turned to face the police chief, wincing when he moved too quickly.
“Special Agent Hotchner,” the police chief addressed him. “I want you to know that the SFPD prides ourselves on our safety record. The officers involved with not securing that prisoner properly have been put on leave and the matter will be thoroughly investigated, with discipline to follow once the guilty parties have been properly identified.”
“I appreciate your concern,” Hotch responded, although the police chief hadn’t inquired after his health. No doubt the man was only worried about the embarrassment that came because his department had been involved in an injury to a member of the FBI’s elite. “These things happen; I’d much rather your staff’s attention be kept on the case.”
For once, Hotch had said the wrong thing and the police chief’s face darkened. “We may need the FBI’s help with the serial killer, Special Agent Hotchner, but I think I can decide about the disciplining of my own men.”
“Of course,” Hotch murmured. “Now, if you’ll let me rejoin my team and get back to work. . . .”
“Certainly,” the chief graciously answered before he turned towards his office. “And you can do so in perfect safety.”
“Thank you,” Hotch said sincerely. The chief didn’t know that Hotch was thanking him for leaving and, satisfied, walked away.
After the man was gone, Aaron hobbled towards the room that the rest of the team was using. He stopped just outside to gather himself. The BAU were the FBI’s elite. If Hotch didn’t want his people to know just how badly he was hurting, he’d have to hide it very, very well. Once he was ready, Hotch pushed the door open and entered the room. Five pairs of worried eyes immediately began scrutinizing him.
Hotch quietly took the seat next to Rossi. The sweatpants he’d been given had pockets and Hotch dug around in one. Finding what he wanted, Aaron took out a pill bottle and set it in front of David. Rossi picked it up and read the label. Looking at Hotch with upraised eyebrows, Rossi asked a question without saying a word.
“The only pain medication I’ve had was the morphine administered on site,” Hotch stated. He studiously ignored the unhappy noise that Morgan made at that announcement, instead focusing on David’s reaction.
Rossi nodded solemnly and pocketed the medication. “I have one of your guns, Agent Morgan has the other. But. . . desk duty only. You are not, under any circumstances whatsoever, going out into the field.”
Hotch nodded. “Understood.”
“The last of the schools delivered their records a little while ago,” Rossi explained, evidently satisfied that Hotch wasn’t going to try to be a hero. “We’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way.”
David didn’t need to explain what they were looking for, they all knew that commonalities were what they were searching out. Unfortunately, they didn’t know if the UNSUB had skipped these schools deliberately or if there were one or two that he just hadn’t used yet. It made finding patterns a challenge.
As they worked, Aaron realized how much they’d all come to rely on Penelope Garcia. When records were computerized, finding patterns was much easier and she made it look like magic. Going through files by hand was far more time-consuming. Despite feeling like the minutes were slipping away, however, Aaron also found the work soothing. By immersing himself in lists of employees and service contracts, he could almost forget the throb in his belly from the stab wound.
The room was quiet as the agents worked, until the sound of Spencer’s stomach growling interrupted them. Blushing, the youngest of the group looked incredibly sheepish. “Sorry.”
Rossi looked at his watch. “We’ll need to draft a uniform to make a lunch run.” Often, the team took a break at a restaurant, but not this time. Not with a table full of files still to be searched.
JJ wrote down everyone’s order, although Hotch had a feeling she knew, just as he did, what each of them would specify before they said it. A meatball sandwich for David, salads for the ladies, turkey on whole wheat for Spencer and roast beef on rye for Morgan.
“And you, sir?” JJ looked at Aaron expectantly.
The last thing that Hotch wanted to do at the moment was eat. In fact, his stomach rolled at the very thought, a combination of the pain and the strong antibiotics he’d been put on as a precautionary measure. A quick glance at David Rossi’s imposing expression, however, brought a quick change of heart.
“Just soup for me, thanks,” Hotch chose the least nauseating thing he could think of. After JJ wrote it down, Aaron bent his head back to his work.
When the food arrived, the odor of it did little to settle Aaron’s stomach down. He took a few sips of his soup to mollify the others, but pushed it aside as soon as he could without drawing too much of their attention. When no one nagged at him, Hotch thought he’d succeeded, until he felt the presence of someone at his side.
“When a person donates blood, the body can replace the fluid in 24 hours, but it can take up to four weeks replace the plasma,” Spencer said awkwardly as he held a bottle of water out to Hotch. “Drinking a lot of fluids is the best thing, but water is better than orange juice. Orange juice actually a diuretic, although imbibing it helps the body absorb iron more efficiently.”
Hotch knew the young man well enough to know that Spencer was trying to express concern. “Thanks, Spencer,” he said with a small, but genuine, smile as he accepted the bottle.
Shortly after lunch, they had a list of possibilities. A maintenance company had contracts with four of the schools, a food service company with three and a security company with all five.
“We’ll be looking for an adult male,” Morgan explained to their SFPD liaison, Detective Sanchez, as they got ready to move out. “He’s mature, organized, but he takes just a little bit too much interest in the girls at the school.”
“He idolizes them,” Prentiss continued the profile. “In fact, he has a fixation on the stereotype of the pure Catholic school girl. The women he kills don’t measure up and he kills them for it.”
“We’ll split up,” Rossi instructed. “Morgan, you and Reid take the security company, JJ and Emily, you’ve got the maintenance company and I’ll take Detective Sanchez with me to check out the food services.” He looked at Hotch, as though expecting the wounded agent to protest.
“I’ll stay here,” Aaron offered. “And assume’s JJ’s liaison duties.”
Rossi frowned. “Or you could get some rest.”
Hotch shrugged, hiding the grimace of pain it caused. “I will if it becomes necessary.”
David didn’t look convinced, but didn’t protest further either. JJ stopped briefly by Hotch before she walked out. “Here, thought you might need these,” she said with a smile as she put a bottle of ibuprofen in front of him. “I don’t leave home without them.”
Aaron picked it up with a wry smile of his own. JJ wasn’t a profiler, but she was every bit as observant as one. “Thanks.”
After the team left, Hotch found himself coordinating a few phone calls, but nothing that took up much of his attention. The team split up on every case they worked on, but Hotch had never felt so useless before. He was restless, despite the exhaustion that plagued him, but it hurt too much to pace. Hotch found himself hunched over the files, looking for anything that they may have missed.
He needn’t have worried. Sometimes investigative work was as much luck as skill. The second man that Rossi interviewed was called ‘Uncle Mike’ by the school’s all-female population. Rossi noticed an oddly feminine neck chain that the man was wearing and upon closer inspection, realized that five rings were strung on it. All five were far too small for a man’s finger.
It hadn’t even necessary to bring ‘Uncle’ Mike Flanagan back to the station to begin questioning. Aaron had been right; the man had thought his last victim, Gabrielle Henderson, was much older than she was. It weighed heavily on the murderer’s mind that he’d killed one of the very girls that he idolized. All it had taken was a nonchalant comment about the necklace and Flanagan had confessed.
“I have Morgan and Reid going to Flanagan’s apartment,” Rossi told Hotch when he called with the news. “We’re bringing Flanagan into the station to wrap things up.”
“I’ll work with the local PD, make sure there’s a search warrant ready for Morgan and Reid,” Hotch offered.
“JJ can take care of that,” Rossi disagreed. “Why don’t you find a couch somewhere and rest?”
Hotch reminded himself that the older man was trying to helpful. “A couch in a police department?” He scoffed. “Even if I could find one, I’m not sure what its state of cleanliness would be. It’s likely safer for my health if I don’t bother.” He disconnected before David could argue with him.
Flanagan didn’t change his mind about confessing once he got to the station. Aaron watched from the observation room in weary disbelief as the man spilled his out his tale with little prompting. Flanagan’s wife had left him for another man, after announcing that her lover had gotten her pregnant. The incident had caused Flanagan to lash out at adult women, punishing them for not measuring up to the pure Catholic schoolgirls he remembered from his youth.
At first Hotch was suspicious. Often when someone was so eager to confess, they weren’t an UNSUB but someone troubled enough in their own life to want to confess to a crime that they didn’t commit. Morgan and Reid’s search of the man’s townhouse, though, had turned up substantial corroborating evidence. Flanagan had dressed each of the women in a schoolgirl’s uniform after he killed them. Their original clothing was found at Flanagan’s, along with video tapes of the crimes themselves. It was as solid a case as Aaron had ever seen.
“Well, that’s one disturbed individual that won’t kill again,” David said with satisfaction as Flanagan was led away by the local police. The entire team had gathered to watch.
“We were lucky,” Hotch pointed out. “We caught him while he was still feeling guilty over killing a teenager. If given another day or two to contemplate the murder of Gabrielle Henderson, no doubt Flanagan would have twisted it in his mind so that it was her fault.”
“Don’t they always?” JJ responded, sounding tired.
“We had the right profile, at the right time,” David stated firmly.
Morgan grinned. “That’s the way I like it. Break a case by lunchtime; have it wrapped up by dinner.”
“There’s still the paperwork,” Prentiss groaned.
“I took care of most of it already,” Hotch told them. “We should be ready to go in an hour or two.” Thankfully, being the FBI’s elite had its perks. The BAU came in and helped solve cases, but the local FBI agents got stuck with the lion’s share of the documentation.
David looked at him disapproval. “I thought you were going to rest.”
“I was available and it needed to be done,” Aaron responded. “Besides, I can rest on the plane.”
“We’re not flying out tonight,” Rossi retorted. “You got stabbed this morning, Hotch. You need to rest – in a bed.”
Hotch was aware that the other agents were watching them avidly. “David, can I talk to you privately for a moment?”
The others took a hint and suddenly found tasks to occupy them. Rossi took Hotch by the elbow and guided him into the now-empty interrogation room.
“You put me in charge, Hotch, it’s not your decision,” David said stubbornly. “You shouldn’t be out of the hospital, let alone have worked a case. We are not flying back tonight.”
Aaron crossed his arms over his chest. “David, you know the Bureau’s policy as well as I do.”
The FBI was under budget constraints, just like everyone else. The BAU still got to use the Bureau’s jet when they needed to get to a case quickly, but if a case was wrapped up early enough, the team was to fly back and save the cost of another night of hotel bills. It sounded petty, but hotel rooms for six agents, not to mention feeding them, added up quickly. Aaron was just thankful that they weren’t made to share rooms; their cases were always tense. He, for one, needed the solitude of his own room to help him deal with it.
“The FBI can kiss my ass,” David was usually laid back, but appeared to be working up a temper. “I’ll pay for the rooms myself if I have to.”
“David, it’s Friday,” Hotch pointed out gently. After an out of town case like the one they’d just wrapped up, the team got a mandatory couple of days off. It was a rare opportunity for a weekend when they could count on not being called out. “I think the team deserves a weekend at home – a whole weekend. Didn’t you say something about going hunting if we were back soon enough?”
Rossi’s expression softened. “This is your weekend to have Jack, isn’t it?”
Hotch’s stomach clenched, causing a new round of pain. He’d been trying very hard not to think about his son. With a stomach wound, the doctor had given him lifting restrictions for weeks. Jack was a toddler and well exceeded those limits, but was still young enough to be needed to be carried at times. There was no way that Haley would let Aaron have the boy for the weekend.
“It’s not about that,” Hotch discounted David’s comment. “The whole team deserves a weekend to relax.”
“It’s okay to want something for yourself,” David stated quietly. “No one begrudges you wanting to spend time with your son.” He went on before Aaron could respond. “We’ll fly back tonight, but you are going to sleep on the flight.”
“I think that’s pretty much guaranteed,” Hotch smiled sheepishly, but the smile bled away as something occurred to him. “Do you know what happened to my cell phone? I know you said that you had one gun and Morgan the other, but I don’t know what happened to the rest of my personal effects.”
Rossi put one hand under Hotch’s arm as he escorted him from the room. “Everything was so crazy, I’m not sure. I tell you what, I’ll assign Morgan to help you track them down while Reid writes the report of the search of Flanagan’s apartment.”
Hotch approved of the division of labor even as David’s easy assumption of leadership gave him pause. Rossi hadn’t had a lot of experience at teamwork, but given how Strauss felt about Hotch, Aaron just hoped that his former mentor didn’t end up with his job.
Morgan was a good choice, at least when it came down to figuring out what had happened to Hotch’s stuff. Derek had an innate sense of when it was best to flirt; when it was better to intimidate; and, most embarrassing for Aaron, when it was advantageous to play up Hotch’s injuries.
“There you go, boss man,” Derek sounded satisfied as he eventually handed Hotch his cell phone.
It had taken some fast talking to convince the property clerk that the phone wasn’t a vital piece of evidence in the attack against an FBI agent. Hotch had let Morgan do most of the talking. Normally it would have been child’s play for him to accomplish the same thing, but he was just too tired to put much effort into it.
“Thanks, Morgan,” Hotch tried to put all of the gratitude he felt into his voice as he thanked the other agent.
“Anytime,” Morgan walked with Hotch as they went back to ‘their’ conference room. It was empty, the others no doubt frantic to finish up so they could leave. The prospect of a free weekend was like blood in the water to a pack of hungry sharks.
“Hotch? You okay?”
Hotch shook himself mentally. He’d been lost in his own thoughts and hadn’t realized that they’d reached their destination. Morgan looked at him in concern, clearly not comfortable in seeing his drill sergeant of a boss at somewhat less than his best.
“I’m fine, Derek,” Hotch reassured him. “I’m just tired.”
“Well, you go in there and take it easy,” Morgan suggested. “I’m going to go see how Reid is doing on that report.”
The conference room was set up as such rooms typically were. The large table in the middle was now empty, the school files having been returned to their owners or placed into evidence, depending on the importance of the file. The chairs were a step up from plain plastic, but not by much. It wasn’t a room conducive to rest. That was all right with Aaron, he wasn’t planning on resting just yet anyway.
As soon as Morgan left, Aaron sat with his phone and scrolled through his contacts until he found his old home phone number. He impatiently drummed his fingers against the table’s surface as it rang.
“You better not be calling to tell me that you’re away on a case and not going to be able to have Jack this weekend,” Haley said as she picked up. Caller ID was a mixed blessing. “He’s anxious to see his daddy and I’m not going to break his heart.” The ‘again’ tag on that sentence was as clear as if she’d said it out loud.
A sarcastic comment was tempting, but since Aaron was ultimately going to have to tell his ex-wife that he couldn’t, in fact, have custody of Jack over the weekend, Hotch resisted.
“Our plane leaves in a little while,” Aaron stated, hoping it would soften the news. “I’ll be home late, but I’ll definitely be in town this weekend.”
Haley knew him too well. “But. . . .?”
“But Jack can’t stay with me this weekend,” Aaron closed his eyes, anticipating his ex’s reaction. Haley didn’t disappoint.
“Aaron, I cannot believe this,” she hissed. Hotch had the feeling that he wasn’t getting yelled at only because Jack was probably nearby. “You promised that if you could have Jack every other weekend that you would be there on your weekend, come Hell or high water. Do you want to be a part of your son’s life or not?”
“I was stabbed this morning, Haley,” Hotch told her bluntly.
He almost enjoyed the dead silence that his comment invoked.
“Oh,” Haley finally said in a small voice. “Are. . . are you hurt badly?”
Hotch’s smile was bittersweet; Haley still cared for him, even if just a little bit. “No, I wasn’t even kept overnight. But it was an abdominal wound. The doctor’s instructions were no lifting anything over 15 pounds for the next several weeks.”
“That’s not going to work, Aaron,” Haley replied. “Jack needs help getting in and out of a big boy bed, getting in and out the bathtub, not to mention the car seat. What if something happens and you have to carry him somewhere?”
“I know,” Hotch admitted. “It’s not safe to have me be his sole care provider when I can’t even lift him.” He took a deep breath. “I was hoping you would allow me to visit him instead? If not at the house, then maybe we could meet at a park somewhere?”
Since Jack was so young, Haley didn’t want to have Aaron come in to the house. She was worried that it would confuse the little boy to have Daddy there when Mommy kept telling him that Daddy didn’t live with them anymore. On Hotch’s days to have their son, they met somewhere or Haley dropped Jack off at Aaron’s rental house.
There was another brief silence before Haley answered. “Aaron, I’m going to New York this weekend; I’ll have to take Jack with me.”
“New York?” Hotch closed his eyes. He wanted to see his little boy desperately. “What about your sister then? I know she doesn’t like me very much right now, but I would provide most of Jack’s care, I just need back-up in case he needs to be lifted onto anything.”
“My sister is going out of town; she has a life of her own, you know,” Haley told him tartly. Their parents lived out of state and weren’t an option to help. “I’m sorry, Aaron, but you’ll just have to miss this week.”
And she truly did sound sorry. Given Haley’s bitterness over what she termed Aaron choosing his job over his family, that was just short of a miracle.
“Perhaps the next week, then?” Aaron pressed. He knew he was begging, but didn’t really care. “It isn’t that I’m missing this weekend because I’m away on a job; I’m physically incapable of taking care of Jack right now.”
He could hear Haley’s hesitation. Because of how she felt about Aaron’s dedication to the BAU, she’d informed him that if he missed his weekend with Jack, that was it. There would be no switching at the last minute.
“I don’t know, Aaron,” Haley admitted. “Let me think about it.”
“Can we talk about it when you get back?”
Her sigh came through clearly. “All right. I have to go now. Jack’s at a play date and I’m running late to pick him up.”
“Please let Jack know that I love him,” Aaron asked her.
“I will,” she promised. “I’ll help him call you when we get back.”
It was a little thing for Aaron to be so grateful for, but he truly appreciated it. Jack’s voice on the phone was a poor substitute for Jack’s presence, but it would have to do. “Thank you.”
After Aaron folded his phone up, he realized that someone was hovering around the doorframe. It was JJ and, judging by the badly hidden embarrassment on her face, she’d overheard at least some of Hotch’s conversation with his ex-wife.
“We’re all set to go,” JJ informed him.
Hotch used his hands to push up from the table, minimizing the effort needed to get to his feet. Once there, he waited for a moment, a little lightheaded. He hadn’t realized that he’d closed his eyes until he opened them to find JJ had moved a lot closer.
“Are you all right, Sir?” She asked. She looked as though she wanted to offer physical support, but didn’t know if it was a good idea or not.
Aaron dredged up a tired smile for her. “I’m fine,’ he lied, “it’s just been a long day.”
JJ’s return smile had more energy to it. “We seem to get a lot of those.”
The other agent kept her steps slower as she led Hotch down the corridor, but managed not to make it too obvious. Not for the first time, Aaron wished he’d been able to convince JJ to take the necessary training to become a profiler; she would make an exceptional unit chief for the BAU one day. Derek Morgan would be the more obvious choice, but he lacked JJ’s deftness in working with other agencies, not to mention that Morgan had a tendency to lose emotional control once in a while. JJ had a cooler head than Morgan, a trait that would serve her well as she moved up the FBI’s ranks, whether in the BAU or elsewhere.
The others were waiting for them just inside the SFPD’s entrance. Hotch was glad to see that only Detective Sanchez was there; the police chief and his wounded pride were not anywhere in sight.
“Agent Hotchner,” Sanchez spoke to him as soon as Aaron and JJ got close enough. “We’re really grateful for the BAU’s help on this one and, on behalf of the entire San Francisco Police Department, I’d like to apologize for the injury.
“You’re welcome,” Hotch responded to each comment in return. “And apology accepted, even if I don’t think it’s necessary. I should have been more aware of my surroundings.”
David stepped forward, glowering. “Since we’re officially done with this case, you can take these now.” He handed Hotch two pills with a glare that defied the younger man to refuse.
Almost meekly, Hotch accepted the medication and the water bottle that Spencer handed him. The rest of the team watched as he took the pain pills and Aaron was tempted to open his mouth wide after he swallowed, just to demonstrate that he’d been a good boy about taking them.
“Let’s roll,” Derek said eagerly after Hotch finished.
The group walked out to the waiting SUVs and Hotch grimaced as David gave him an arm to help him get inside. The two of them sat in the back, with JJ up front with Detective Sanchez, who was driving them. Prentiss, Morgan and Reid were in the SUV behind them.
Hotch looked out the window dully, only mildly surprised when the Sanchez didn’t take the turnoff that would have been necessary to go back to the hotel. David must have sent one of the agents back for their things. Given the usually sudden nature of their travel needs, the BAU team members always kept everything packed, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t the first time that a couple of them had checked out on behalf of everyone.
“Just relax,” David said quietly. “The case is solved and the team is accounted for. There’s nothing left for you to worry about except getting better.”
Aaron could have argued the point, but he just nodded and let his head rest against the back of the seat. He must have slept, because the next he knew, Rossi was gently shaking his shoulder.
“We’re at the airport,” David told him. He was no longer sitting next to Aaron, but was outside of the SUV, on Aaron’s side of the vehicle, and had the door open for him.
“A’ready?” Aaron asked, blinking his eyes as he tried to wake up. For some reason, his eyelids just didn’t want to stay up.
“Yes, I’m afraid so.” David reached to help Hotch, who was having a hard time getting the seat belt buckle to cooperate.
After Hotch was finally free of the restraint, he pushed himself off the seat and, with David’s help, stood. It was a good thing that the other agent was supporting him. Aaron immediately swayed and might have fallen if not for David’s quick grab. The jolt of being caught should have hurt and only then did Aaron’s foggy mind remember the pills he’d taken.
“What have you eaten today?” David demanded.
Hotch frowned as he thought about it. “Soup?”
“That’s all?” Rossi sounded angry. “One of the uniforms was supposed to bring you something to eat while we were in the field. If I’d known that, I would’ve waited until we got you on the plane before I gave you the pain meds.”
Derek Morgan jogged up and Aaron was able to focus enough to see that the others weren’t far behind him. “He okay?”
“Like an idiot, I gave him the full dose of pills before I knew he hadn’t eaten anything,” Rossi explained. Hotch was aware enough to realize he should have been able to answer for himself, but it felt too good to just let David do it. “He’s pretty out of it.”
“We’ll get him on the plane and then he can crash,” Morgan took Hotch’s other side. “I’ll help.”
Between the two of them, they walked Hotch over to the plane and up the stairs. Morgan was in front and went up the stairs backwards, holding onto Aaron’s arms and pulling him along. Rossi was behind him and kept steadying hands on Aaron’s hips. Hotch was all but asleep on his feet as he stumbled between them. Thankfully the pain medication that was making him so uncoordinated also made the transfer relatively painless. Within a few minutes, Aaron was being settled onto blessedly soft upholstery and a blanket was being spread over him.
“Is he going to be all right?” a woman asked. Hotch thought it was Prentiss, but didn’t care enough to open his eyes to check.
The deep rumble of Rossi’s voice responded to the question, but Aaron was too far gone into sleep to understand the answer. He slept deeply and undisturbed until another gentle shake roused him.
“Aaron?” It was David’s voice again. “Come on Hotch, wake up.”
Reluctantly, Hotch opened his eyes. David’s face was close to his, but once the older man realized that Aaron was awake and aware, he sat back on his haunches.
“Sorry to do that,” Rossi apologized. “But we’ve landed. I think you’ll be a lot more comfortable in your own bed.”
The flight between the two coasts took hours, but for Hotch, it had seemed like a blink of an eye. He sat up carefully, holding one arm to his stomach as the movement caused his gut to ache. They’d been in the air long enough that the pills had started to wear off. David offered a bottle of water, the cap already off, and Aaron took it gratefully. Aaron’s hand shook as he took a couple of swallows, but after he drank, he felt a lot better.
“Thanks,” he said gratefully.
“Let’s get you home,” Rossi stood and offered an arm to Hotch. It wasn’t just a politeness, it was a necessity to get Aaron on his feet. Once again, he swayed when he was upright.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be alone,” Rossi stated, a crease of worry appearing on his forehead. “You should stay with me tonight; I have plenty of room”
Hotch shook his head. As much as he appreciated the offer, he preferred solitude. “You’re going hunting, remember? I’d appreciate a ride home, though.”
Rossi gave him a long look before capitulating. “Fine.”
Aaron couldn’t help but notice how Rossi insisted on going down the plane’s steps first. It was a little bit funny. Shorter and older than Hotch, David probably wouldn’t have been able to catch him had Aaron fallen, but it was a nice gesture anyway.
It was full night, the long flight and time change both contributing to the lateness of the hour. Hotch blinked at the lights that surrounded the airport. The other agents had started to disperse to their own vehicles, but more slowly than normal, as though they were waiting to make sure that Hotch was okay.
Just short of Rossi’s SUV, Hotch hesitated. “I have to get my car.”
“Already taken care of,” Rossi informed him. “Morgan’s going to follow us and Garcia’s going to follow him. Now quit worrying for once.”
That was easier said than done, but Aaron did allow himself to be assisted into the vehicle and again rested his head against the seat as Rossi drove. He didn’t fall asleep this time, rousing as Rossi pulled up in front of his house. As Hotch made his slow way out of the SUV, he saw Derek pull his own car into his driveway.
“You all right, boss man?” Dark eyes looked at Hotch in concern as he hobbled towards the front door.
“I’m fine, Morgan, thanks.” Hotch glanced over to where Penelope Garcia was waiting for Derek. “Go on. Have a good weekend.”
Morgan didn’t take much convincing. “All right call if you need anything.” And he was gone, not quite jogging to the waiting car, but it was a close thing. Hotch wasn’t offended. A free weekend was a rare thing indeed.
“I’m still not sure this is a good idea,” Rossi complained as he escorted Hotch to the door. He had Aaron’s bag, having been concerned that it exceeded the wounded man’s lifting limit. “You were pretty out of it on the flight.”
Hotch unlocked his front door and stepped inside, automatically flipping on the light. “David, thank you, but I’m fine. All I want to do is sleep. I’ll won’t even unpack my bag, I’ll just leave it here in the foyer and take things out a piece at a time, just so I won’t strain anything.” He gave Rossi a tired smile. “Go. Enjoying your hunting; I know you’ve missed your dog.”
Rossi had looked unconvinced as Hotch spoke, but that last bit seemed to have changed his mind. An avid bird hunter, David had reluctantly given his dog to a good home when he returned to the BAU. Their crazy hours just weren’t conducive to having a pet, not unless you were like Morgan and had someone like Garcia to dog sit while you were gone.
“All right,” David conceded. “But you have an appointment with the Bureau’s doctor on Monday. Make sure you don’t miss or I’ll hear about it.”
“I won’t,” Hotch assured him.
David handed him a pill bottle. “And take these. They don’t do you any good if you won’t.”
“I will,” Aaron promised. “Just not until I’ve got a handy bed to fall into.”
David hesitated for a long moment, but finally turned to leave. “Take care of yourself.”
With a deep sense of relief, Aaron closed the door behind the older man. He appreciated David’s concern, but it was a bit overwhelming. Aaron was always desperate to unwind after a big case. The fact that he’d been hurt and, in such a careless way, made it worse, not to mention the crushing disappointment of not getting to see Jack. Aaron sighed and headed for the bathroom.
After taking care of some basic body functions and getting a glass of water, Hotch hobbled into his bedroom. He didn’t bother to turn off the light or to take off his clothes. He simply toed off his shoes after he sat on the edge of the bed. Aaron raised the glass in a salute to the absent Rossi and obediently took two pills. With a sigh of deep relief, he crawled under the covers, not bothering to remove the disliked sweat suit.
Sleep rolled over Aaron like a soft blanket and he went willingly in its embrace. Like on the airplane, Hotch was quickly out deeply as both the medication and the effects of his wound caught up to him.
Hotch had fully expected not to wake until morning, but an unknown time later, an odd sensation disturbed him. “Wha-. . . . ?”
“Hello, Special Agent Hotchner,” a male voice answered him. There was something very wrong with how the voice sounded, but Hotch was too sleepy to figure it out. Aaron felt a heavy weight settle on his hips as a man-sized form straddled him. “I’ve been waiting to spend some quality time with you.”
It was hard to throw off the effects of the pain medication, but the situation was alarming enough to pull Hotch out of the pill-induced fog. Becoming more awake by the moment, he opened his mouth to demand who it was on top of him and what the hell he was doing there. Instead, however, Aaron gasped. One of the stranger’s hands had gone unerringly to Hotch’s wound and ground into it harshly.
“Oh, yes, we’re going to have a lot of fun,” the voice told him gleefully. As Aaron opened his mouth to cry out involuntarily in pain, liquid was poured down his throat. Aaron tried not to swallow, but he had to in order to breathe.
The combination of pain and lack of oxygen from choking caused Hotch to start to black out. As his consciousness faded, Aaron felt the man on top of him begin to grind his crotch against Hotch’s.
“Oh, yes. We’re going to have a lot of fun together.”
~to be continued~
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