by C.M. Decarnin
It hadn't been one of the "interesting" cases. No flamboyant means, no diabolically clever puzzles left to taunt them. So of course it was long and hard. The sexual serial killer seemed even unaware of their pursuit, focussed only on his victims and his urges. Forensically the scenes, most of them years old, had been barren simply because everything left there was common as dirt, without a glimmer of individuality, the DNA was not on record, the women of no special type. He killed them because they were there. He was caught because someone saw something and called it in. The sincere thanks of the rural sheriff for the BAU's help had been almost embarrassing to accept.
Yet in some ways it was quite satisfying. This type of killer often went on murdering undetected for decades, and the team knew that their three-week slog had helped save unnumbered lives.
But even as they were packing to leave Idaho, Gideon's cell phone rang. The BAU had gotten an urgent request from Minnesota. They would not be going back to D.C.
So the silence at the start of this flight wasn't the usual exhausted decompression from a fast adrenaline high but more like a universal wish that the plane could be more than merely a harbinger of home. They wanted friends, familiar rooms, their own pillows at night, the relaxation that only came with one's own space. They'd had to buddy up on motel rooms, lucky they could even get three on such short notice. The Bureau was tightening the purse-strings again, and thrift had dictated they continue the arrangement when they saw they were there for the long haul. JJ with Prentiss, Hotch with Morgan, Reid kept under Gideon's watchful eye.
Because their boy genius hadn't recovered.
No one said anything. There wasn't anything really concrete to comment on. But all of them had noticed.
Idaho, Day 2
JJ glanced up from the 1996 case file to find Reid staring with nothing less than desperation at the pile they'd already gone through. His fingers were almost in the shape of claws around a folder open on the table before him.
"How can we ever find him?" He'd felt her stare. His voice nearly cracked. "1998, the print of a size twelve workboot. 2002, one denim fiber from Levi's jeans."
She leaned forward. "It's true forensic evidence isn't narrowing it down much. But we'll get him on something else."
"Behavior? He rapes, he kills." From Reid, it was brutal phrasing. "One construction site. Four rural fields. One barn. One parking lot. Two wooded areas. A fairground. If these are even the same unsub."
"They were all struck on the head and later strangled." She'd meant it to sound encouraging. Only realizing when he turned his dark eyes to her how terrible a job had to be when those were your encouraging words.
She didn't know what to say to him. The normal Reid would be... involved, yes, deeply. But with that intellectual focus that looked so like detachment. This -- this looked like panic. With nothing to hold on to. His mind should have been roving over a thousand seemingly unrelated thoughts, synthesizing. Instead, he was stuck on what they didn't have. And fearing failure.
"We won't always catch them, Reid." It was the bald truth. "You know the statistics." It felt surreal, saying that to the guy who quoted percentages at them like Spock on the bridge of the Enterprise.
With pain, his eyes were again on the stack of case files, as his fingers lightly touched them. And she knew he was thinking, as if he had said it, that every folder was a murdered human being, who had had no one to help her in a nightmare hour.
They weren't statistics to him any more.
Idaho, Day 3
Morgan knocked at the motel-room door a second time and heard a muffled call within.
At length, after a slight rattle of hardware, the door swung open to reveal a dressed but rather rumpled, sleep-faced Reid. Morgan raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah. I --" Reid had the confusion and disorganized movements of one raised from deep sleep. "I lay back on the bed a minute and I guess I fell asleep. Come on in." He shuffled into the bathroom and shut its door while Morgan strolled into the room and idly looked over the two unmade beds. Reid and Gideon had put their things away in closet and drawers, something the team rarely had time to do, so suitcases were stowed out of sight instead of open on chairs. On the writing table against the wall two laptops reposed side by side, next to a grocery bag of snack food. On the bedside table on Reid's side, wristwatch, glasses-case, earplugs, a paperback; on Gideon's side, notepad and pen and a tiny Maglite for those wee-hours thoughts about the case. The pad was blank. On Reid's bed lay two police files.
Gideon was out with Prentiss; JJ and Hotch by now were forty miles north in what was, most likely, an entirely empty field. Being shown the exact empty spot where another housewife had been found, three years ago. He thought of Hotch's sharp eyes, and Gideon's, and wished them luck.
Reid came out of the bathroom, put his watch on over his shirt-sleeve, and picked up the two files.
"Aren't you going to leave your bed thing?"
"Oh." Reid opened the drawer of the nightstand and took out his neatly lettered page saying Please Do Not Make Up This Bed. Thank You., and laid it on the sheet. "Thanks." He couldn't stand having his feet bound down by tucked sheets, and it was much less trouble not to have to tear the whole thing apart each night after a long, ugly day.
"Get anything from the files?"
"No." Reid grabbed his down jacket off the closet rail on the way out. March was still fiercely cold this far north.
Coffee and a big bag of Egg McMuffins were greeted with gratitude by the Sheriff's deputy who drove them to the sixth crime scene.
"Not much to see," he said apologetically as they crunched across the light drift of powder snow between tan dried weeds of an empty pasture, toward bare trees. "There never was, actually, even at the time."
The trunks were slender when they got among the trees, all recent growth. The sky above was gray, the light even and not reflective. Morgan, glad of his lined bomber jacket and hunting cap, wondered what on earth anyone would have been doing out in this desolate place. The photos had shown the dead woman dressed much as they were, in slacks and winter jacket and gloves. Only, her slacks had been pulled down and her woolen knitted cap had fallen off.
On the very point of the top twig of a tree a bird outlined against the sky called a few repeated notes. Brush and dead branches crackled here and there beneath their boots and their breath puffed out white in the cold.
The deputy stopped at a little hollow. Looking sad, he gestured over dead leaves. "She was right here."
Reid pulled the file photos from the big inner pocket of his down jacket and they compared the orientation of the body with the scene, and which way the tracks had seemed to come from.
"They combed the whole place, but there was nothing, really. A few pieces of old newspaper blown over from the road, some junked tractor parts. Stuff like that." He paused. "She was a nice lady."
Morgan looked around. Save for one or two old raccoon nests the trees were bare, you could see between them out across the whitened fields, to other winter trees, and hills beyond. Barbed-wire fences, phone poles by the road, but not a house to be seen, and the parked cop car was the only vehicle. You didn't really know what lonesome was, in the cities and suburbs.
He glanced over. Reid was standing looking out over the bleak landscape, hands in his jacket pockets. Morgan was about to suggest they head to the other scene, when Reid spoke, his voice, always slightly surprising, like one that had never quite finished changing, quiet on the clear, cold silence.
"It's beautiful here," he said.
Idaho, Day 1
They were there because two bodies had been found within two months and someone had finally strung these together with all the earlier cases and set off the alarm. Up until then, so much time had passed between each of the killings that, lost among the region's other unsolved cases, no pattern had been noticed.
"We had five," the Sheriff explained slowly, "over a period of nine years. When we stuck some pins in the map and saw what we had, I called over to Spokane." He meant the Washington State Patrol office. "They found the other five. And I called you. Nothing so far in Montana."
Gideon nodded slightly, studying the leaning yellow pushpins protruding here and there from what looked suspiciously like two frayed Triple-A maps from somebody's glove compartment taped together at the Idaho/Washington border. "He's escalating -- unless there are a lot more cases that haven't been identified as part of the pattern. Or a lot of bodies that haven't been found."
The Sheriff gave an equally slight negative shake of the head. "Out here, it's not like in the city. A person doesn't go missing without somebody notices."
"That's good, for us. We can be more confident of our profile if we know we have all the incidents of the same type."
Hotch added, "Especially in a state that seems to be about eighty percent national forest."
The team, gathered in the little office that was being made over to them during their stay, were just in from the airport.
Prentiss put in, "But don't you also have a lot of tourism in this area?"
"I believe it's mostly hunters, Elle. Very very few hunters are women." Reid looked to the Sheriff.
The Sheriff nodded. "And women who come here camping are almost never alone, they're with their families. It'd be reported even faster than a local, if they disappeared." The Sheriff was oblivious, but everyone else hearing Reid's words had frozen for a moment. Emily Prentiss looked a bit nonplussed, then embarrassed. The tableau broke without Reid noticing, his eyes back on the map.
"The approach to the attacks seems unsophisticated," he said. "We may be able to assume that the circle formed by the crime sites has the unsub as its center."
Gideon stood. "Work with Garcia and the Sheriff's staff to see what you can come up with as a rough locale. The rest of us will start going through the files and physical evidence and work out a plan for visiting all the scenes -- I'll need to talk to your contacts for the Washington sites to arrange that," he added to the Sheriff, who nodded. It was nearly dusk but Garcia had volunteered to work a double shift back home so they could hit the ground running. Reid flipped open his cell phone.
D.C., Day 1
Garcia threw a different map up on each of her screens and whittled them down to one or two parameters each in relation to the crimes: highways; population density; waterways and railroad lines; where hunting was permissible; camping and recreation areas and resorts; Indian reservations; National Forest lands. The only thing that showed any positive correlation was proximity to small back roads. So the unsub had a vehicle. In other words, he was an American.
Her case line rang.
"Tell me your innermost secret desires," she answered it.
"Garcia, we need a satellite view of the area that's central to all the murder sites." It was Reid's voice. "With types of buildings labelled. Names of roads and so on."
"How wide do you want me to go?"
"The furthest distance between two scenes is a hundred and twenty miles, so... maybe ten by ten, so a hundred square miles? Can you do that?"
"As we speak, Young Einstein. It's -- hm, countryside, pretty much. I'll send it to your computer and the local cop shop in a couple of hours. I'm also sending my correlation grids, or should I say non-correlation grids."
"That could be important, if it shows anything he specifically avoids."
"Well... there are three Indian reservations reachable within that sixty-mile radius from the center, and I know ten cases isn't a huge sample, but none of the murders took place on Indian land."
"So either he's not comfortable there --"
"-- or he doesn't hunt at home. But all three reservations are at least forty miles from the center point, so --"
"-- he's probably Caucasian."
"A white male. That eliminates three percent of the male population of that county. Gee, glad I could help zero in on him there."
Reid's silence sounded unhappy.
"Hey, sweet thing, you'll find him."
His voice when he replied was low and old. "If we don't, a lot of women are going to die."
Disconcerted, Garcia searched for an answer. Reid was always gung-ho on a case, like an eager bird-dog, casting back and forth between the clues and his fund of peculiar knowledge, seemingly unaffected by all the morbid brutality strewn in the unsub's wake. Now he sounded on the brink of despair. "A motorcycle racer once told me the way to avoid a crash is to look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go." She let her voice reflect her concern. "That's you, hon. That's what you do best."
"Did you find anything on sex offenders?"
"Sent it to Gideon an hour ago. Nothing came up as really obvious. And we can't be completely sure how far back to look for his early career moves."
"You're welcome, Grasshopper." She clicked off and started on the central map. She'd make two or three versions of different scales -- there was no point in sending high-rez photo-maps of weeds and bushes, of which she was seeing quite a lot. She could zoom any areas with habitation. A key with different colors for different types of structures. She could do one overlaid with the addresses of any previous suspected sex offenders. It was nice to have the luxury of plenty of time to work. Ironic that that was because they didn't have a genuine clue, though. To dispel the glum thought, she switched on her B-52s playlist. Maybe she should have prescribed music to Reid. But... for what he had been through... she wouldn't be so presumptuous. Just watching it had been so horrible --
Setting her mouth, she turned up the music and focussed in on her map. Where she wanted to go.
Washington State, Day 4
Gideon took Reid with him into Washington. In a single day they inspected three of the five crime scenes there. Reid got quieter with each one, as they worked their way along a ragged arc from Tiger in the north toward tomorrow's destination of Spangle, ninety miles south. A State trooper hooked them up with local deputies who knew each crime scene, and which people they needed to interview. The parking lot of the Gifford murder was actually within an eight-hundred-square-mile national recreation area. But the killing had taken place in the off-season, when no one was around.
Since victimology was almost all they had to go on, their interviews with surviving family members and friends were painstaking, but so far had seemed to yield little they couldn't already surmise. They were women who liked to be out of doors and go for walks, most did not work outside the home or only had part-time jobs and were therefore often alone on weekdays. Their ages spread over a range of thirty years, and other than being white -- like 95% of the women around them -- and -- like 90% of all adult serial victims -- small in height and weight, they shared no physical characteristics. They were middle and working class, socially some were gregarious and others solitary, most had children, all but one were married or divorced.
"Eight years ago," said the surviving housemate of that one. "It's strange you should come today. This is her birthday."
She had poured tea for them and there were cookies set out on the kitchen table.
"So now you think this man has killed other women? I always wondered. It was so senseless."
Gideon nodded. "We believe he has. You were together for a long time."
The woman pushed the plate of cookies toward Reid. He took one. "We raised two children together, and saw them have kids of their own." She waved a dismissive hand. "Oh, I know what you're thinking, but Leese and I weren't lovers. We just liked each other better than anyone else we knew and decided to stick together. We dated a bunch of guys around here, but nobody worth leaving home for. None of 'em killers."
"I know you answered a lot of questions at the time. But we're trying to get a picture of what Lisa was like. Hobbies, for instance?"
"She liked landscaping the place, gardening. But she wasn't in any garden clubs or anything like that. She'd build little things, birdhouses, benches. But with her job at the park there wasn't a lot of free time."
Reid said, "I noticed that red hedge. Is that part of your property? It's very striking."
"Yes. I try to keep it in shape. We get so many comments on that, in winter. It needs to be cut back to the ground every year. Meant to get out there last weekend."
"I'm glad I got to see it."
"Leese put in a lot of wild color combinations, but you can't see most of it till things leaf out."
"Do you have photographs?"
Gideon intervened quietly. "Maybe we could finish the interview first." He was willing for Reid to view any evidence he wanted, but they had a protocol to follow.
Since it had taken place on federal land, this particular murder had been investigated by the local Bureau, so they already had a more systematic profile of the victim than on most of the other cases, with a good timeline of her final activities. But they filled in details and tried to get a feel for her personality. "It seems strange," the woman said slowly, "him being out there at all. Just such terrible luck." Reid raised his eyes to her from his notes, with a peculiar expression. He continued to look thoughtful until she got out snapshots of the property to show him.
"She put in these beech saplings with the purple foliage in front of that stand of aspens. In the fall when the aspens turn gold... and then when the beeches get red-orange..."
"Wow," Reid said, holding the photos. He looked at all that she showed him, seeming to take a very real interest, until the State trooper shifted a bit in his chair.
Reid looked up. "I, uh, I'm afraid we need to get going. Thank you very much for showing me these."
Gideon stood. "And thank you for your help."
In the car, he waited, but when Reid spoke it wasn't about landscaping. "This unsub... she said it was terrible luck, her housemate running into him..."
"You think it was more than chance?"
"No, that's just it. Except for the two recent ones, the Priest River fairground and the construction site near Kootenai, these women have been attacked in places even more unlikely, where you would never expect to find another soul. It's as if he spent an enormous amount of time in such places. Roaming the countryside. Not necessarily looking for victims -- it would be an incredibly inefficient way to do that -- but for some other reason."
"Hunting... fishing... birdwatching..."
"Or even just to be out there. Maybe some compulsion to be outdoors."
"Mm." The trooper turned onto Route 25 for the hour's drive to their motel reservation for the night. "So what did you get from the photos?"
"Oh. I just wanted to see them. She was an artist. Really original."
Gideon's eyebrows rose, but Reid was looking out the window into the dusk.
After dinner of fishwiches and fries brought back to their room, Reid sat at the table to write while Gideon settled in the armchair with Reid's paperback. There was calm with Spencer, unlike the workaholic twitch of rooming with Aaron, or Derek Morgan's engaging conversation. After a while he got up to turn down the thermostat a bit, and Reid leaned back and stretched. "Do you want a soda?" he asked. Gideon shook his head. Reid got his wallet and left, picking up the ice bucket on his way out.
As he passed by the table, Gideon glanced down and the word "narcotic" in Reid's clear handwriting leaped out at him. Without compunction he stopped and read from the top of the page:
how we used to go up in the mountains sometimes. The air was so clean and sweet it was like a narcotic, you noticed what you were breathing, not like ordinary city air. It was magic. It's like that here, and the silence. The world is so different from what we have made it. The reality is this. You walk across a field, on into a pine forest, with years of tan-colored pine needles under your feet and fallen pine twigs, and the silence is full of excitement, the shade of the huge limbs over you is mysterious; out under the sky again everything is absolutely still, the cold is like something sacred, that quietens the land. It's hard to explain, but you become more of a person out there, less defined by your relations to other people. I think the man we are following spends his life in these places, and may think that they belong to him, or that he belongs in them in the way an animal does. Without law or constraint.
I wish there were no murderers in the world.
Futile, I know, but to be able to walk alone in these beautiful places, without apprehension -- in either sense of the word, to neither fear nor have to catch this man and the others like him...
No one writes such a world in fantasy, it wouldn't make much of a plot. My job
The words cut off.
He had always wondered how Reid found enough to say to his mother in the letters he wrote her every single day. Apparently, the answer lay partly in the things he didn't say to anyone else. Spencer was perhaps the least reserved member of the team, simply because it would never occur to him to conceal what he thought. But he tended to take his topic cues from conversation around him. Gideon gazed sadly at the letter. So it had been, until his brutalization by the tripartite madman, father, son, and holy ghost; after that, Reid had just stopped talking. Nothing came out of his mouth that wasn't case-related. But now, on this trip, a word or two, if not necessarily to the team members. The woman in Gifford had borne no physical resemblance to Reid's mother, but...
When Reid had called Prentiss "Elle", it had revealed to the entire team the roots of his sporadic hostility toward her. She was where Elle ought to be, a reminder of his feeling of failure and guilt. But Gideon saw more: that the reason for their comrade's exile, her transgression, was heavy in Reid's thoughts.
Tomorrow, two more crime scenes, two more sets of witnesses. When they got back to Idaho they would launch an intensive canvas of the core area, and one of the questions would be about who spent days roving the fields and woods.
Gradually, after the first stowing of carry-ons and strapped-in thoughtfulness during take-off, they drifted together near the card table, where Morgan had decided to teach JJ and Prentiss to play Machiavelli. The game devolved into a lesson in Italian street slang. As Hotch sat down, Reid was looking disconcerted at a very unseemly phrase JJ was explaining.
"Nice catch," he said casually. It had been Reid, powering through transcripts of their tip-line calls, who had noticed the call that had led to the unsub's name.
Reid smiled a little. "Thanks."
The others glanced over. "Yeah," said Prentiss. "This one might easily have gotten away."
"That's true," Reid admitted. "He had so little ego involvement in his kills that he would never have behaved like a suspect."
"And we were wrong about the escalation," Gideon added. "He hadn't really changed his pattern of acquisition." It had turned out that a new job had brought the murderer into closer contact with towns and, hence, more unsuspecting women. "He was still just passively drifting around until victims crossed his path. You nailed that profile."
JJ and Morgan were smiling at Reid. The team wanted to be open, inviting, to bring him back into his old participation, without pressuring or fussing over him. Seeing lines around his eyes that had never been there before, Hotch wondered how much sleep the kid was getting. As far as anyone knew, the job was his life. He wasn't what Hotch thought of as computer-social, as so many like him seemed to be; he had no online friends. All he seemed to do outside of work was read. The on-call nature of their job made them all poor candidates for clubs, sports, musical performance, volunteer work, even pet ownership, anything that called for responsibility and being there. Himself included. If Haley hadn't been as independent and easy-going as she was, their marriage would have been in trouble long since. The others were younger, but still it was ominous and far from the Bureau norm that none of them were married or in a relationship. Would they have to quit the Unit to have a life? Would Reid? Though in Reid's case, the job might not be the only problem. It had made him smile, sometimes, to see Reid falter optimistically through simple social interactions the rest of them took for granted. Now, when all those attempts had stopped, he could only see their pathos and their bravery.
It had to be hard for him now, just to be with them. They might be his only life, but they were also the witnesses to his degradation. Hotch knew for a fact that he himself would never have been able to face the team again if it had happened to him. But Reid was a law unto himself. Hotch would never forget Reid's arms thrown around him, and the emotional "I knew you'd understand!" in tones of utter gratitude.
There beside that horrible half-dug grave.
So many times since, he had turned his eyes searchingly on Reid, to see how he was surviving, and the answers were always ambiguous. But if he couldn't learn what he sought to know about Reid, he had confirmed something about himself during those searching gazes.
He wanted Reid near him.
He worried when he was out of his sight on a case, thought about him when they were off-duty. Wanted to offer him things, coffee, cups of tea, cookies and fruit from home. Feeding behavior in the nesting male, he'd realized wryly.
Now he observed him, long legs stretched out in a seat across the aisle, facing the card table, arms crossed, watching the players. Hotch had seen him quietly shake his head when asked if he wanted to play.
"Then there's the whole pig series." JJ had gone back to the Italian. "Porco Dio, porca Madonna."
"Porco Giuda," Morgan agreed. "Though I only ever heard that one in a movie."
"Madonna maiale," JJ proclaimed on a dramatic falling note, and Derek laughed, collapsing sideways in his seat. Prentiss suddenly raided their played cards in some way, to cries of "Nooo!"
"Do you understand the game?" Hotch asked.
Reid nodded. "It's basically rummy, with more strategy and an element of surprise."
"I've never heard of it."
"Neither have I. It's not listed in Hoyle."
Of course Reid would know that without having to look.
"Tentacles off!" Morgan commanded, shooing Prentiss's hands away. "Miss Grabbypaws. You can't take my joker unless you can use it in a -- oh." Morosely, he watched his sets being rearranged. "Octopus Woman."
"Squid Girl," JJ corrected, viewing her own cards sadly. "The most tentacles -- ten."
Reid piped up: "The lion's-mane jellyfish can have up to a thousand tentacles, a hundred feet long."
"Jellyfish-Wench," Morgan immediately accused Prentiss.
"It can reach a diameter of eight feet across the bell, which is fairly remarkable considering it only lives for a year."
Eight feet! That's two feet wider than we are tall, Hotch thought, slightly appalled.
"Even at that it's long-lived for a jelly," Reid pursued. "Most only live two to six months. But there is one, Turritopsis nutricula, that is immortal. It lives its entire life cycle of egg, planula, polyp, scyphistoma, ephyra, and medusa, and then changes back into the polyp stage and starts over."
Hotch frowned as at an intransigent case. "Is it sexual or asexual?" He had always been taught that sexual reproduction marked the origin of death in animal life.
"Jellyfish are both."
"Hot Portuguese Man o' War love." Morgan finished totting up his points and shuffled the cards. "Garcia should hear this."
"Actually, the Portuguese Man o' War isn't a jellyfish, it's a siphonophore, a group of different zooids living together as a colony, each with a specific shape and function as part of the overall creature. They need each other to survive. One animal is the digestive organ, others are tentacles, and so on."
"Now that is weird." Morgan dealt the next hand.
"There's another siphonophore in the genus Erenna, off the coast of California, that looks like a feather boa full of twinkling red lights -- one of only two life-forms known to make red bioluminescence."
Gideon, still listening from his nearby seat, nodded. "It's an amazing order."
"Symbionts and cooperation are far more common than was once thought. We now even see obligate multicellularity in single-celled life-forms. There's a recently discovered magnetotactic bacterium that appears to only live in colonies. There are other prokaryotes that live in aggregates, but this is the first one ever found that seems unable to survive separately at all. They form into a hollow sphere, and if you disrupt it, the individual cells die.
"Also the bacterium Pseudomonas putida mutates to another shape according to whether it does or does not live in a biofilm with bacterium acinetobacter, which manufactures benzoate as food for it."
Reid suddenly noticed the rapt faces all turned toward him, and stopped talking, and self-consciously cleared his throat and fingered the paperback in his lap.
Gideon caught Hotch's eye, and signalled with a glance toward the galley.
"I'm getting some coffee. Want some?" Hotch asked Reid.
A moment later Gideon joined him at the tiny cubbyhole, staying in the doorway so he would see any approach.
"Have you talked to Reid?" he asked.
Hotch felt a rush of shock he hoped Gideon didn't see. "Talked to him?" Profilers aren't mindreaders...
"Keep him with you on this case. He needs the field experience anyway." Gideon took the cup of coffee that Hotch had finally thought to pour for him. "This next unsub is purposeful and psychotic," he said. "I don't want Reid off on his own somewhere. He fits the victim profile just a little too well."
"A loner, a reader." That much was true, though they didn't yet have anything else to link the victims to one another. The killer was striking fast, possibly at random, three deaths within a week.
"And what with this tonight..." He nodded toward the group they'd just left.
Hotch frowned. "Expounding on about jellyfish? Seems like normal Reid."
"Was that the topic you heard?"
He reflected a moment. "Immortality... and belonging?" Gideon closed his eyes briefly in approval. Hotch went on, following the thought, "Immortality, which implies mortality. Death. Partnership. He's talking about this job. Is he thinking of quitting?"
"I hope not."
"He went through his psych eval with flying colors."
Gideon made a little scoffing sound.
"He would know how to do that," Hotch conceded. "Okay. But why would he fake it?"
"Why would you?"
Hotch's voice took on extra somberness. "Not wanting to open up. Feeling too much. Fear of appearing incompetent." He paused. "Shame."
"Anything you're not saying?"
Hotch stayed silent.
"Then I'll say it. We know he was given Dilaudid, yet there was no needle or drug at the scene. The presumption being Tobias took them away and never brought them back to the shed." Gideon waited, but still Hotch said nothing. "I know you lost one team member to malfeasance --"
"The cases aren't parallel."
It was dark outside the window over Gideon's shoulder, nothing to be seen, but Hotch stared out anyway. "You think I drive them too hard, expose them to too much risk."
Gideon smiled faintly, shaking his head. "No. I think you think that, when things go badly." Hotch didn't respond. "You're going to have to talk to him about it."
"Me in particular?"
"You're the disciplinarian. He needs to know you'll support him, but that he's not pulling the wool over your eyes."
"What if we're wrong?" He turned to face Gideon, and saw his expression under the craggy features, kind but quiet, immovable.
"We're not wrong."