Title: "School Daze" 2 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.
Things Aaron Hotchner can cook:
Chicken pot pie with buttermilk biscuit topping (from scratch, his mother's recipe.)
Lemon chiffon pie
Mint juleps on Derby day
...and a whole lot more. If you're almost never home, almost never part of a family, those homely chores can take on a great deal of significance. Feeding your family is feeding the soul of your house.
Sometimes it's good to just get your hands in the flour and thump it around on the pastry board. Sometimes it's good to tackle a job with predictable, satisfying results.
If you know how to build a good fire, shish kebab comes out the same every time.
Emily's spent the last twenty minutes skimming, at Reid-like velocity, a 52-page FBI white paper entitled The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective.
It's somewhat repetitive in style: "The issue facing educators, law enforcement agencies, and the wider public is not how to predict school violence. Reliably predicting any type of violence is extremely difficult. Predicting than an individual who has never acted out violently in the past will do so in the future is still more difficult. Seeking to predict acts that occur as rarely as school shootings is almost impossible. This is simple statistical logic: when the incidence of any form of violence is very low and a very large number of people have identifiable risk factors, there is no reliable way to pick out from that large group the few who will actually commit the violent act.
"After a violent incident has taken place, retracing an offender's past and identifying clues that in retrospect could have been signs of danger can yield significant, useful information. However, even clues that appear to help interpret past events should not be taken as predictors of similar events in the future. At this time, there is no research that has identified traits and characteristics that can reliably distinguish school shooters from other students. Many students appear to have traits and characteristics similar to those observed in students who were involved in school shootings."
In other words, there is no profile for a school shooter, because too many teenagers are lonely, disaffected, and suffer violent ideations. No homicidal triad; no escalating history of violence. Just a calm, cool decision to go down in a hail of bullets, a plan, and a carefully selected day of rage.
Emily shudders and skips ahead. Across the conference table from her, Reid is staring at the photostat in his hands, brow furrowed. JJ sits beside him, flipping through laptop screen after laptop screen of police blotters and human interest news items from what pass for the local papers, hand-picked and delivered by Garcia. Gideon is across the aisle, doing whatever Gideon does, doodling in the margins of a ream of notes with his #2 pencil. And then Hotch gets up at the front of the plane and stumps back toward them, and Morgan follows, sliding in beside Emily.
"Reid?" Hotch says, gesturing to their only piece of evidence.
Reid clears his throat and begins to recite aloud, although his eyes rest on the paper as if he were reading. Emily can see they're not tracking; the only words he's looking at are the ones inside his head.
"May Day is for revolutions. And revolutions gonna get you. I have 3 guns & enough ammo to blow away every poser freak in this school & Im gonna. First Im gonna put shotgun in the principles mouth & splatter his brains all over the wall, maybe stick flagpole up his ass, and then Im gonna hunt down every one of you who ever called me names, faggots, and stick a gun up your asses and blow you all away.
"Manson reference," Derek say. "Are we sure this is a kid?"
"Antisocial individuals often read up on famous monsters." Gideon peers over his reading glasses. "They seek horrific role models. It doesn't mean the unsub is old enough to remember the Manson butchery."
"This is a direct, credible threat," Reid says. "He shows evidence of premeditation. We have to assume he's procured a shotgun and two other weapons. He has a specific date, specific targets, and a workable plan. I think this unsub does in fact present a clear and present danger."
"He?" JJ asks.
"I think this unsub is male," Reid says. "And an adolescent. He's really obsessed with this anal imagery. I bet he gets called 'faggot' a lot. Teenage boys engage in a lot of masculine social programming behavior, wherein they mock one another into building a stereotyped 'male' personality. I think this unsub might be effeminate, small, slightly built, and I think he gets a hard time because of it."
Emily, watching his elegant hands move, wonders how much of what he's saying is psychology, and how much is personal experience.
"He'll be at pains to display masculine behavior, then," Hotch says.
Morgan snorts. "Check the sports teams. Not football if he's small."
"Not wrestling," JJ says, and Emily bites back on a laugh.
"Not gymnastics. Soccer?" Reid suggests.
"Swimming," says Gideon, and heads swivel. "Or track. He's not a loner; he's a joiner. But he's a joiner nobody likes. He wouldn't be comfortable in a team sport."
Silence. Sometimes, Gideon just knows things. It might be less creepy if he couldn't explain how he knows them, but once he does, there's always an evident and yet irreproducible logic chain.
"I'll talk to the principal," Gideon continues. "They need an evacuation plan. They probably put the school on lockdown in the case of an intruder, and that will just make them sitting ducks."
"We're not going to fail," Hotch says.
Gideon shrugs, flipping pages on his legal pad. "Just in case."
More silence, too long, until Hotch clears his throat. "What if we identify a suspect?"
Emily taps her reading, the paper light and soft under her fingertips. "There are four elements required to make a threat assessment once we have a person of interest. The personality of the student, the family dynamic, the school dynamic, and the social dynamic. That comes after we have somebody in custody, though. What about the other Beatles reference?"
"More Manson?" JJ says.
"Maybe there's a class issue," Hotch says. "The May Day reference--this is a pretty exclusive school."
"Where, by exclusive, you mean Mom and Dad have money," Emily says, trying not to let it show in her voice that she's stung. "Should we check scholarship students?"
He nods. "Right. JJ, I'm going to need you to canvass the sport coaches, see if any of their students have displayed a change in affect recently. Reid--"
Reid rattles his overlong fingernails on the desk. "If he's concerned about his sexual identity, he'd be very uncomfortable with--" He shakes his head.
"Anybody who seemed a little light in the loafers?" Morgan jokes, and Emily finds herself regarding him speculatively. Derek Morgan has guts, she realizes, and not for the first time. Not just physical courage, bravado. But the ability to take it on the chin emotionally, too. She isn't sure she could have survived what he has and come away a whole human being, able to crack sly jokes about it.
And from the crooked little grin Reid is thinking the same thing. "God," he says, "this really is going to be high school all over again."
"Look at it this way," Hotch says. "We're not just trying to save lives, here, this time. We're also trying to save one miserable screwed-up kid's chance at a future."
As they roll up in the inevitable Chevy Suburban, Spencer stares out the window, contemplating the campus. It's nestled in a dip on the mountainside, dotted with sugar maples still the fragile greens of spring. He spots the building from the promotional photo right away.
"Pretty," JJ says.
"It'll be prettier when we don't have five days to stop a mass murder," Gideon answers. "Reid, with me."
They stump across the freshly-mown grass, and Spencer tips his head back to look up at the cerulean sky. They don't come that color in Las Vegas, and it almost makes up for the cramped horizons. It also helps this look nothing like his high school, though he keeps his hands shoved into his pockets anyway, so Gideon doesn't see him driving his nails into his palms.
Research with mice indicates that traumatic memories are generated and stored in a particular manner. Which is to say, they're recorded more clearly than regular memories, in crisp and vivid detail, because it's an evolutionary advantage to be able to remember what happened the last time something went terribly wrong. The model used demonstrates this as an ascending pyramid, with a general category--traumatic events--at the bottom, and with the associations, which researchers call cliques, rising in tighter and tighter groups up to the top. So when you experience a stressful event, your mind automatically flips through its card file of traumatic memories to understand, and try to figure out the best survival strategy.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a survival mechanism. It's a perfectly pragmatic and sensible reason for flashbacks and flashbulb memories, and your survival instinct doesn't care that they leave you cold and sweating and looking for a discreet place to puke.
He probably shouldn't take a Klonopin right now, in front of Gideon, but it might ease the panicked shortness of breath in his throat. The little orange pills are only half a miligram, anyway--
Reid, he tells himself, firmly, in Hotch's voice, mind on your job.
"Reid, it's over here," Gideon says, and Spencer turns to follow him inside, concentrating on keeping his expression neutral, his breathing slow and even. He pulls off the sunglasses as they step inside.
Unlike a public school, it's not closed up tight. The students move about the campus between classes, and Spencer and Gideon move freely down the corridor of the administrative building toward the office. There's no appreciable security, but as a pair of chattering students brush past, Spencer jumps. Gideon made him switch his gun to a shoulder holster, and it's a heavy uncomfortable lump in his armpit, where he can't touch it casually for security.
He tries to move like it's not there.
The secretary rises to greet them. She glances around their bodies as they come through the door, and sees the students eavesdropping from the corridor. "Doctor Reid," she says, sounding pleased, but looking at Gideon. "Welcome to Swanwick. I'm Amelia Brighton. Doctor Brown will see you in a moment; he's expecting you."
Spencer moves forward. In the game they're playing, he's the one with a reason to be here, and Gideon's the escort. At least, anywhere that the students can see them. He thinks of JJ saying, This is the lie, and it calms him. "Ms. Brighton," he says. A pleasure to meet you, how soon can I see where I'll be teaching, all the banalities handed back and forth. Gideon watches, lips twisted sideways, glowering.
Gideon is always glowering, these days. Spencer tries not to speculate how much of it is his fault. It doesn't matter; he can't bear to get too close to Gideon anymore.
He should have figured out by now that he's going to lose everybody, one way or another. And it's usually going to be his fault.
He's pleased to be rescued by the prompt arrival of Doctor Brown, who is an African-American man bigger than Morgan--though not as buff--with greying temples and a Harvard tie. "Doctor Reid," he says, and he knows which one of them to look at. "And you must be Jason Gideon?"
No Special Agent. They're under the radar, more or less. As Doctor Brown stands aside and ushers them into his office, Spencer thinks about what it means that there were absolutely no racial overtones in the threat, even though the principal is black.
Once the door is closed, Gideon is in charge again. "We can't release a profile in a case like this. We feel that they are so general as to be unhelpful, and perhaps actively damaging to the investigation, as they can confirm unfounded prejudices. But I can give you an idea of what we think we'll find once we've identified a suspect."
"I'll take it," Brown says. "Coffee?"
"Please," Spencer says, while Gideon shakes his head, palms out. The coffee comes in a ceramic mug with the school crest on it, and it warms his palms. He sits on the edge of a leather sofa when the principal takes his chair.
"Please," Doctor Brown says. "Tell me what you can tell me."
"I'd like to have the school psychologist in the room, if we may, so I don't have to go over this twice."
With calm efficiency, Brown picks up the phone and arranges it. A few moments later, they are joined by a slender young man with hazel eyes, who glances curiously from Spencer to Gideon while Brown fills him in. "Ron Kapowski," he says, and there's another round of introductions all around.
And then Gideon clears his throat and begins. "One thing to look for is what we call leakage. When people are obsessed with a course of action, references to it turn up in their writing and speech with regularity. And they tend to project their own motives upon others. So we're looking for somebody who is cynical, opinionated, both intolerant and suspicious. They will exhibit a low tolerance for frustration, may be prone to angry outbursts, and will show evidence of a macabre fascination or fixation. They may be what we call an injustice collector, which means someone who takes slights very personally and looks for reasons to take offense, nursing the resulting hurts for a long period of time. The unsub will exhibit a lack of empathy, dehumanize others, externalize any blame for their actions, and still engage in narcissistic or attention-seeking behavior. We are not specifically looking for a creepy loner. Rather, we're looking for somebody who is bullied, rejected, and who has tried and failed to make a place for themself in the social hierarchy."
Brown coughs into his hand. "Congratulations, Agent Gideon. You've just described a teenager."
Gideon smiles his self-deprecating smile. "I said we wouldn't release a profile based on what we know about school shooters. However, there are some things we can tell you about this individual, with a high degree of certainty."
Kapowski leans forward, inserting himself into the conversational space between Gideon and Brown. "Such as?"
"The unsub will have exhibited a change of behavior recently, since he made his decision to play out a mass-killing scenario. He may seem calmer and more grounded, or he may have grown more nervous. He's been making plans and laying groundwork. He may have lied to friends to get them to perform preparations for him. Somebody may know something that will help us, if we can uncover it."
"I don't want a general panic at my school. But we could start searching dorm rooms."
"He's probably smart enough to conceal his weapons where they won't be located by a room search, unfortunately for us. We don't want to trigger him before we know who he is. Appearing to ignore his threat may provoke him to a grander but still premature gesture, if we're lucky. However, do I urge you to speak with the staff about an evacuation protocol. The FBI does not recommend shelter-in-place as the best option; all that does it provide a potential target-rich environment for a moving shooter."
Brown gazes at Gideon levelly, biting his lip. "Sitting ducks."
Brown nods. "I'll do what I can do. How long do we keep it a secret?"
"If we can't locate the unsub by Monday, we're going to have to assume that he will go through with his plan on Tuesday. At that point, I would suggest canceling classes and taking more drastic steps--but not until Tuesday morning."
"All right. What else can you give us?"
Reid clears his throat a moment before Gideon looks over. His cue. "The unsub will have experienced what we call an inciting incident before beginning to make preparations. These individuals don't just snap, as is portrayed in popular media, but something usually does occur to send them into their final spiral. Often you'll find that they have turbulent family relationships with little intimacy and no discipline--" His palms are sweating; it's an effort not to scrub them on his trousers. How can Morgan be so comfortable identifying with killers? Is it because it hurts less, it's less scary than what Gideon does, identifying with the victimized? But there's no bright line between the two, not until the moment when the victim makes the decision, the synapse bridges, the finger tightens on the trigger and something irrevocable happens.
You killed him.
When we describe the killers, we are describing the victims. And when we describe the victims, we are describing ourselves.
"Also, we believe this particular letter-writer is a male, and that he is or has been socially ostracized for not seeming masculine enough to the other boys. Is the academic culture here at Swanwick inflexible, Doctor Brown? Old-school, disciplinarian?"
"A little too lax, if you ask me," he says with a smile. "The boys and girls, though--they have traditions and student groups."
"Hazing? A code of silence?"
"There always is," Brown says. "But we at Swanwick have a code of honor."
When Spencer looks over at Gideon, Gideon is nodding.
"So," Kapowski says, "you're looking for somebody with a serious character disorder."
Gideon shakes his head, that little sideways defusing gesture of dismissal that somehow allows him to contradict people without losing their cooperation. "We don't think the problem in this case is a psychopath. A psychopath--"
"They don't call them psychopaths anymore."
Touché, Gideon's expression says. But his mouth says, "They don't. But we do."
And Reid, watching the psychologist's face, manages to put his coffee cup in front of his mouth before he says something nasty, along the lines of Don't you think it's a little intellectually dishonest to keep shifting your terminology?
He really hates school psychologists.
Things Jason Gideon knows how to cook:
Months since he's cooked for pleasure, or for a friend:
It's a hard thing to lose your simple joys in life, to see them become contaminated. Tainted. Eventually, it wears you down.
Emily is walking across the grass to the field house when she hears trotting footsteps thudding into the ground behind her. She glances over her shoulder just as Morgan catches up, and for a panicked moment she scans his expression for signs of tragedy, but instead she gets a wincing apology as he drops to a walk beside her.
"I would have waited," she says.
He grins. "You're worth running after. Hey, Em, look. I was a prick, and I'm sorry."
Just like that, flat apology. Something she wouldn't have expected from Derek Morgan. But he's a pretty good teacher sometimes.
She nods. "It's okay. I'm pretty good at hiding it."
"Do you have to?"
"Derek." She starts walking again, but a hand on his elbow encourages him to come with her. "I grew up an ambassador's daughter in the Middle East. By the time I was fifteen, I knew, and I knew I could never tell anybody." She pats his shoulder before she releases it. "I'm sorry I blew up in your face."
"Nah," he says. "S'cool. You know, closets get pretty cramped." He gives her one of his big-eyed puppy dog looks, and she shakes her head and laughs.
"Yeah," she says. "I get that. How does it feel to be out, about--" --your abuse, but she doesn't quite get it out there.
"Scary." He shrugs. "Not so bad. This gang gets weirder things than us--"
"--free with their breakfast cereal. Exactly. It's better than I thought."
"When did you tell Reid?"
"I didn't," she says. "He must have guessed. He barely talks to me anymore."
"He barely talks to anybody any more."
"Well, you know. Closets. Cramped. And sometimes you can scream all you want in there and nobody can hear you." And then she takes a deep breath and says "What are we going to do about him?"
Not much of a segue, but he must have been expecting it. "Reid? Wait him out," he says. "You catch the thing at the briefing?"
"Going on about John Nash? Hotch said something cryptic. I take it there's backstory I don't know?"
"His mom," Derek says, "is committed to a mental institution. She's a noncompliant paranoid schizophrenic. And as far as I know, has been all his life. I've never heard anything about a father."
"Jesus," Emily says, stumbling so Derek catches her elbow, and resolves to be nicer to one Spencer Reid. She swallows hard and asks, "How old--?"
"Reid? Twenty-five and a half."
"Nash went at thirty."
"Yes," Derek says. "The stressor was getting busted for homosexuality and losing his job at RAND. Don't look at me like that; Reid gave me hell for never reading the biography, so I made the time."
"Reid identifies with him."
"If you were Reid, wouldn't you?"
"Probably." She shakes her head. "Reid's had a stressor too."
"Yeah," Derek says. And then, a long time later, "He knows."
It kills the conversation until they're almost in the shadow of the field house, and then Derek says, "Where are we going?"
"To check out Gideon's idea about the swimming. There's a practice now. Unless you have a better plan."
He grins at her. "Nope. Hotch said spend the afternoon learning the lay of the land." He steps ahead to grab the door and swing it open for her, and they walk into the cool of a dirty old stone building.
Emily blinks her eyes to clear them from the sting. "Gah. Could they use more chlorine?"
"Kids pee in the pool," says Derek. "Looks like it's this way."
They move past tumbling mats, a vaulting horse, fencers, a half-court basketball game. There's no separate room for the pool, but there is a step down and seats, and a skylight over it, flooding that half of the field house with late-spring light. Emily pauses by the white-painted concrete lip and watches four young men and two young women surge back and forth in the Olympic-sized pool. "Don't ogle," she says, helpfully.
And Derek, bless him, says "Jailbait."
She gestures to the bleachers. "Let's have a seat, watch a while."
"There's a track meet this weekend. We should check that out too unless we have a better lead," Derek says, climbing up the white metal seats. "This is shorter than the stack I used to have to run."
"You should talk to the coaches," Emily says. "You're an athlete. They'll relate to you."
"Yeah," Derek says. "I'll get on that today. Ask about behavior changes, kids in crisis. You see anybody here who looks excluded?"
"The redheaded kid is alone on his end of the bench." She doesn't point, and keeps her voice lowered, though it makes her harder to hear over the splashing, the crack of fencing foils, and the cries of the basketball players.
There's two dozen kids by the pool. "What do you notice about them?" Derek continues. "As a group?"
"High-end athletic bathing suits," she says. "Expensive haircuts and goggles. Money. We knew that. All of them are Caucasian."
"Also not surprising," Derek says. He hunches forward. A couple of the kids wave; Derek waves back. Belatedly, awkwardly, Emily copies him. Another group of kids lines up at the edge of the pool as the last group finish their sprints. The starter's gun bangs, and she almost jumps out of her chair. Off to her right, somebody cries Touché! A little curly-haired kid of about fifteen has taken advantage of the distraction of the gun, and scored against a bigger opponent.
"Derek," she says, the clash of foils ringing in her ears, "don't you think a school like this would have a gun club?"
"Fencers," he says. "Shooters. Boxers." He nods. "Sure."
(Part one behind this fake cut tag)
(Part three behind this fake cut tag over here)