Title: "School Daze" 1 of 3
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Rating: Gen Casefic / FRT / ~10,000 words
This takes place sometime after Ashes & Dust and before No Way Out Part 2, as is probably obvious in context.
"For every problem, there is a solution that is neat, simple, and wrong." -- H. L. Mencken
Music over the open....
macaroni and cheese
grilled cheese sandwiches
spaghetti with red sauce and salad
That's seven. As many as there are days in the week. Estimated cash outlay for two persons, $42.21, assuming you can get the other one to eat. You can have the leftovers for breakfast and lunch the next day.
They're all things any ten-year-old can cook with ease. You have to take a multivitamin with it, though, because there's not anything like enough vegetables.
But frozen concentrated orange juice is cheap.
Emily walks in a little later than usual, but still on time. She drops her purse in her bottom desk drawer and locks it, turns to see JJ coming around the corner, a post-it-note in her hand which she sticks on Hotch's door. The lights in the office are off, door shut, blinds drawn though Hotch usually beats Emily in.
She clears her throat and JJ turns. "JJ, where's Hotch?"
JJ unsticks another post-it from the manila folder in her hand and steps down the catwalk to Gideon's office. "Bike-to-work rally. He said he'd be half an hour late."
"He bikes?" Somehow, the image of Aaron Hotchner in Spandex also comes complete with an ironed white shirt and a tie. Emily blinks to clear the vision.
"Yeah, and Reid takes the train. We're all about lessening our carbon footprint in between Gulfstream trips." JJ shrugs, stickers Gideon's door, and comes down the steps. "I'm surprised Gideon's not in yet, though."
"Something time-sensitive in the crisis department?"
JJ nods, her long smooth hair moving against her shoulders. She's wearing one of those dresses that should be perfectly professional, but look like a three hundred dollar speeding ticket, and Emily glances hastily away. "Do you mind waiting until the rest get here? I don't want to go over it twice."
"No," Emily says. "I'll find out soon enough. Look, I'm going to get a--" JJ sighs "--coffee. Jaje?"
"Nothing," JJ says. "Nothing. It's just our day in the barrel."
"Get Morgan to explain it to you," JJ says, not unkindly, and steps away. "I'm going to go put my slide show in order. See you in half an hour?"
"Sure thing," Emily says, and plunks down in her chair, forgetting the coffee. Half an hour is enough time to get through some of this paperwork.
Spencer almost walks into Emily in the kitchenette, because he's already slugging back a mouthful of too-hot coffee, black and sweet. He swallows fast, lowering the cup as he backsteps, and she checks hard. "You take the train in?" she blurts, which would be a non-sequitur if it were following anything.
He rubs sleepy eyes and says, "Yeah. I don't own a car."
"I could pick you up," she says, and then blushes and pushes past him to the coffee pot. "Pick you up in the car. I mean, if you wanted."
"I live in town, it's no trouble."
She looks over her shoulder and grins, and then winces as the coffee slops across her thumb. She sucks it clean. "I live in town too. Look, at least when we get called in at night? I really don't mind."
He wonders what "in town" is to Emily Prentiss, and if it involves a doorman. He wonders what she drives. He wonders if there are chicken sandwich and grocery-story sushi wrappers in the back seat.
It's a peace offering. He'll take it. "Sure," he says. "Thank you, Emily. That would be nice."
"Seriously," she says, "no problem."
When she steps away from the coffeepot to fetch out the milk, he refills his half-empty cup and turns away. And then stops, still facing the door, so he can see what's coming. One good turn deserves another. "Hey, Em?" he says softly.
"Yeah?" She's not facing him either.
"Watch out for Morgan this morning. I think he got dumped this weekend. He's in a mood."
He hears her groan. And then she says "Thanks, Reid," and shuts the refrigerator door.
True to his warning to Emily, Morgan starts in on Spencer before he's properly settled at his desk. Spencer's rubbing his temples, and Morgan says archly, "Hangover?"
"Caffeine jones," Spencer replies, and lifts his cup in an ostentatiously shaking hand. "Projecting much?"
Morgan snorts, and starts sorting paperwork. Hotch crosses the bullpen, the garment bag with his cycling clothes in it slung over his shoulder, and as he enters his office Spencer notices that Gideon's door has been opened. Gideon must have heard the voices, because he pokes his head out and says, "Have you seen JJ?"
"No." Emily says, reappearing from the corridor with Garcia right behind her. "But she left a note on the door." She crosses in front of Spencer and puts the cup on her desk--which is Elle's old desk also--and starts to pull out the chair.
Just as Morgan saunters over and leans one arm on the half-height glass divider. Spencer winces, but Morgan actually looks like he's making an effort. He likes Emily, Spencer remembers. Of course, he likes Spencer, too. He's just got a funny way of showing it sometimes. "So where were you Saturday night? Pen and I called to see if you wanted to go see Spiderman."
And Emily, sourly, one hand on the back of her chair, says "Date." She's looking down at her shoes, not looking at Morgan and not looking at Spencer, while Spencer desperately tries to send Morgan the psychic message to drop it now.
Apparently his telepathy still isn't working, because Morgan's eyebrows go up in exaggerated surprise, and now he is teasing, but it's not the cutting kind. "Not your type of man?"
Emily's back stiffens, her hair falling farther forward. She says, brightly, "Yeah, he--" and then she stalls and her head comes up. Hotch appears in the doorway of his office as if summoned. Gideon begins to move toward the stairs, and Garcia puts her hand on Emily's arm. And Emily says, in a high, brittle voice, "Oh, damn. You know what? I just can't lie about this anymore. Guys, everybody? I have an announcement to make."
Spencer holds his breath. From the step back he just took, Morgan does too. And Emily grabs a great big deep one and says, "I'm sorry I concealed this from you. I've been having a lot of guilt about it lately and I need to share something." She grinds to a halt, shakes her head, and continues. "I'm gay. I'm a lesbian. I'm A BIG FUCKING DYKE." And then, face flaming brilliant red as a sunburn, she turns to Garcia, kisses her square on the mouth, and brushes past, nearly running to the ladies room.
Silence follows, until Gideon drops his mostly-full coffee cup.
That's the only thing that startles Reid. He turns, craning his neck back, and catches Morgan's expression of shock. "What. You guys didn't know?"
"Don't sit down," JJ says from the side of the room. "We're on duty."
"Oh, god." Garcia dabs at her mouth with a fingertip. "I haven't had breakfast yet. Can't this wait until after coffee and lolcats?"
JJ might as well have not heard her. "Gideon, you were looking for me?"
Gideon squats down, mopping at the coffee stain with the papertowels Hotch just tossed him, underhand. He doesn't look up. "Just about the case."
"Right. Round table room, five minutes."
"Right," says Garcia. "I'll go fetch Emily."
Things Penelope Garcia knows how to cook:
Your hard drive.
Your credit rating.
When you've got it, you've got it. What else do you need? What else is there to say?
Emily's done splashing cold water on her face and is fixing her makeup in the mirror when Garcia comes in. She drops her mascara wand in the sink, and curses as she fishes it out again. It's a good excuse not to look Garcia in the face when she comes up beside her. Instead, Emily stammers, "Look, ah, Pen--I wanted to apologize for the sexual harassment, there. I was just--"
"You wanted to make a point. And make Derek choke on his tongue."
She looks up, grateful. Garcia is grinning at her in the bathroom mirror. "Yeah. Kind of. Crap, I hate lying. And I suck at it, too."
Emily starts to grin back, and Garcia says, "You can't harass me. You're not in my chain of command. Though I guess I could call it 'creating a hostile work environment.' Though what's hostile about a big wet kiss, I'm not sure I follow."
Emily could cry. No, honestly; she feels the tears starting to sting, and reminds herself fiercely that this is how it's supposed to be. Nobody's supposed to care any more than they care what color her eyes are.
But she actually keeps it together until Garcia nudges her with an elbow, checks her face in the mirror, fusses with her bangs, and says, "Oh, I forgot, with all the kissing. JJ and I are going out Friday night. Want to come? Maybe we can break up a couple."
"I'd love to," Emily says, and grabs a kleenex from the box on the counter to blow her nose.
They walk into the round table room side by side. Everybody else is already there, and Reid is just plugging in Garcia's laptop. Hesitantly, Emily reaches out and pats his shoulder, and he looks at her confused, as if wondering what he's done to deserve it.
"Sometimes it's just for being you, you know," she says, and drops into her habitual chair. Hotch is already in place. He nods as she catches his eye, and Derek assiduously looks at the screen. Gideon stares at his hands, but that's normal.
As Reid sits down behind his coffee cup, JJ clears her throat. Hotch rocks his chair back. "What have you got for us, JJ?"
"This could get ugly." An unnecessary qualifier: when could what they deal with not? Her thumb tenses on the remote and a photo of a gracious hundred-year-old brick building in a bucolic setting appears. "This is Swanwick. It's an exclusive coeducational boarding school in the Green Mountains of Vermont."
"And it's got a serial killer?" Morgan says, leaning forward.
Rather than answering, JJ clicks the remote to bring up the next frame. It's an image of a block-printed letter on white binder paper, and Emily squints to read more clearly at a distance. The first few lines are enough to make her fold her arms across her chest defensively.
"Not yet," JJ says.
Beside Emily, Reid sits back against the chair with a thump. "Where was that recovered?"
"Slipped under the principal's door overnight," JJ says. "No trace of fingerprints."
Reid's Adam's apple bobs in his skinny throat when he swallows. He says, "That's the writing of a spree killer in anticipation." He glances at Gideon, who gestures him to continue. "A school shooter," he clarifies. "Like Charles Whitman, at Texas A&M in 1966, or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, in Littleton Colorado in 1999."
"Another Columbine," Morgan says. "Shit."
Hotch's face doesn't change, but Emily hears his chair creak, and when she studies his expression, that muscle in his jaw is tensing rhythmically. Hotch hates it when it's about kids, and she doesn't blame him. "What do we know about school shooters?"
"Not enough," Gideon says. "The Violent Crime program and the Secret Service have performed interviews and a survey, and couldn't establish a consistent profile. We have a checklist for after; nothing for before. Patterns do suggest that school shooters will be thwarted joiners, not loners at all. They crave acceptance and can't find it. They don't 'snap,' suddenly; they plan for weeks or months in advance. Often they use legally obtained weapons."
"Male?" says Emily. "Caucasian?"
It's Hotch who shakes his head. "Brenda Ann Spencer was only sixteen when she wounded nine and killed two in San Diego."
"She's the inspiration for that Boomtown Rats song, isn't she?" Garcia asks. Hotch doesn't answer, but Reid catches her eye and nods slightly. I Don't Like Mondays. Now Emily's going to be humming it under her breath all day.
"It's not even always a student," Reid says. "Many older shooters show signs of mental illness well in advance of their actions. Laurie Dann wounded five, killed one, took hostages and eventually killed herself when she was 31. There was a great deal of advance warning in her case. She appears to have suffered from untreated obsessive compulsive disorder and delusions, with disorganized thinking. Charles Whitman suffered a brain tumor, and there's some speculation that that was what triggered his actions."
"So we're maybe looking for a schizo," Derek says. "Somebody who's completely out of touch?"
Reid winces until his chin almost touches the knot of his crooked tie, and Emily thinks JJ rolls her eyes. But Reid shakes it off and keeps talking. "Actually, it's not that a schizophrenic is out of touch with reality. Rather, it's almost as if they are too in touch with it. Schizophrenic delusions often follow intricate and subtle logic, seemingly as if the mind attempts to make sense of chaotic input. It creates narratives, in other words. For example, John Nash's madness was marked by the creation of collages, complex mathematical puns, and attempts to apply a rigorous pattern to the world he perceived. But because that perceived world was not amenable to his tools, he turned to numerology and vast conspiracies to explain what he sensed."
Derek lifts a hand, preparatory to interjecting, but Garcia puts her hand on his wrist and forces it down. There's some sort of byplay here that Emily is missing.
Garcia says, "So what you're saying is that he was building a system in which it made sense that everyone was out to get him."
"After a fashion. Because his brain was telling him that everything going on around him had meaning and applied directly to him. One of the hallmarks of paranoid schizophrenia is that the patient both suffers delusions of persecution and of grandeur. So they construct a narrative to explain it. Hey, did you know that Nash said he believed his delusions about space alien contact because he got the answers to mathematical problems through the same intuition? And he could prove those answers were right. So essentially, he was looking for the same proofs that what the voices told him about conspiracies were also right--"
Nobody interrupts Derek when he clears his throat this time. "Could our potential shooter be doing something similar?"
Polite, and back on track. "It's possible," Gideon says, and is off on a convoluted explanation of the psychology of mass-murderers and spree killers, and the technical difference between the two, and why spree killers are more likely to be narcissists.
Emily knows this bit. She leans away from Reid, who is writing something on a legal pad, and says behind her hand to Hotch, "Reid thinks a lot about John Nash, doesn't he?"
And Hotch, without looking at her, whispers a cryptic three words that do nothing to settle Emily's worries, and everything to provoke her to speculation. "Nash came back."
"...right," Gideon sums up. "Wheels up in 45 minutes. For a change, we've got a chance to catch this guy before he does anything irrevocable. Reid, go over that letter and see what you get out of it. We'll brainstorm on the plane."
Things Emily Prentiss knows how to cook:
If you grow up with servants and staff to do the cooking for you, you don't learn by osmosis, the way most people do--by watching mom and dad and helping out in the kitchen, peeling carrots and squishing garlic with the back of a spoon.
Spencer's stuffing his overnight bag into the closet when Hotch comes up behind him and clears his throat. He jumps guiltily, exactly as if he had something to hide--oh, of course he has something to hide; everyone has something to hide, and his own list is long and shameful: pride, envy, sloth, despair--but at least the thing he's hiding isn't in his luggage, today.
Weakness, though. Failure. That's always with him. He doesn't even have to close his eyes to hear Gideon calling him strong, or his mother doing the same.
If they knew how wrong they were, they would only despise him. As he despises himself.
Georgia didn't teach Spencer anything new about himself. All it did was teach him that his cowardice isn't a fluke; it's a part of him, marrow-deep and poisoning everything he does. It doesn't matter how brave a front he puts up, how many chances he takes, how many armed unsubs he faces empty-handed. He will always be a coward. A weakling.
"Hi, Hotch. I haven't finished with the letter yet--"
"No," Hotch says. "I mean, that's okay, I don't expect the psycholinguistic and graphological analyses until we're in the air. There's something else I need to tell you."
You're off the plane. Go for a psych eval. How much had he given away when he jumped? However much it was, he isn't giving anything else away now. "Oh?"
"We're sending you undercover."
Spencer Reid blinks, and almost laughs. For one moment his stomach clenches, and he thinks, I really am going down just like Elle. But then he swallows hard and fists his hands inside his pants pockets, and says "All jokes aside, I really do not look that much like an eighteen-year-old."
"No. But you do look an awful lot like a student math teacher."
Oh, Jesus. He's serious. "Can't JJ do it?"
"JJ is temporarily coaching the soccer team. We want a man and a woman. For coverage."
Spencer's heart squeezes inside his chest, painful as if a small scrabbling animal were caught in there. He's really going to send me in there with a budding mass-murderer. He really is. "What about Morgan? He's great with kids!"
Hotch just shakes his head. "We need somebody who can connect with the outcasts. Someone similar to them in age--"
He has to turn it into a joke. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, man. You realize you're asking me to relive my worst nightmare, here."
And from the narrowing of Hotch's eyes, Spencer knows that he's said the wrong thing, again, and Hotch is now wondering exactly what Reid's worst nightmare is. But Hotch only says, "Didn't you teach when you were a doctoral student?"
"I had a research assistantship. They're teenagers, Hotch. Am I supposed to profile them while they're gnawing on my limbs?"
"If that's what it takes." Hotch smiles, one of his rare honest smiles. "Reid, all kidding aside. Honestly, can you do this? We won't send you in there if you're not ready."
No. Just like you didn't send Elle in. Spencer swallows, and opens his mouth to say he's not ready, he'll never be ready--
"I'll be fine, Hotch. Seriously."
"Good man," Hotch says, and the faith in his eyes makes Spencer want to crawl under a row of chairs and claw his face off with his own fingernails. "You've got fifteen minutes for that analysis, by the way."
"Right," Spencer says, and throws himself inelegantly down on the nearest seat, dragging the files out of his messenger bag before he's even really settled. Might as well work, if you're working.
(Part two behind this fake cut tag)
(Part three behind this fake cut tag over here)