Title: "School Daze" 3 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.
Friday morning, Spencer enters his classroom with sweat pooling in his shoes. He'd rather be anywhere else. There's not even any joy to be had in the fact that somewhere, Hotch and Morgan and Emily are groveling through the piles of paperwork that are usually his duty.
He and JJ have two school days to find a student who plans to unleash absolute carnage on these kids, and all he can think about as the first calculus class starts to filter in is his stage fright, and making sure the navy blue suit jacket doesn't bulge over the gun. Shoulder-holsters are the stupidest thing ever, even if they do look cool in the spy shows.
He clears his throat as the bell chimes and the last students drop into their chairs, and stammers, "Good morning. I'm Doctor Reid, and I'll be covering for Doctor Henderson for the next week or so. Please open your texts to page two hundred and thirteen--"
They're all eyeing him, and he's waiting for someone to ask where Doctor Henderson has gone. But the girls in the front row are already opening their notebooks and fumbling with pencils. And somehow he gets through it, two classes and a prep period before lunch, although afterwards he can't remember much except a blur of derivations.
He drops into the chair across from JJ at the staff end of the cafeteria and puts his head down on his hands, not having even bothered to collect a tray. He doesn't think he could eat, anyway; his stomach is tied in knots.
He just stays there, head down, until he feels her cool hand on his neck. "Buck up, Spence," she says. "Man. I've seen you calmer after a shootout."
"I've been calmer after a shootout," he replies, but takes the glass of milk she pushes into his hand with the instruction to drink it while she gets him a coffee.
Coffee turns out to include peanut better cookies, an apple, and a turkey sandwich, which she puts down in front of him. "Migraine?" she asks, and he nods blindly and gropes for the coffee cup.
"I have classes all afternoon," he said. "I need you to tell Hotch something for me. I keep coming back to that note, and how odd it is that the unsub uses a homosexual slur, which Brown apparently isn't, and doesn't mention that he's black."
"Color's not an issue for this kid?"
"If he were African-American," Spencer says, dunking a cookie in the coffee and ignoring the sandwich and apple, "I might expect him to throw around racial slurs to conceal his identity. If he were white, I would expect him to have the kind of insecurity that makes him believe people unlike him--women, minorities--only get where they are through affirmative action or cheating. So I thought maybe he's Asian--"
"There are four Asian students in the school," JJ says. "All girls."
"Hmph." Spencer slurps coffee. His temples are throbbing. "You are a goddess, Jennifer Jareau. What about black students?"
"Three," she says. "Aren't you supposed to know this stuff?"
"I spent last night going over the gradebooks," he says. "Did you know there are thirty-seven students in this institution whose grades have taken an inexplicable turn for the worse in the past thirty days?"
"Now I do," she says. "You went over every grade book?"
"Being a genius isn't all glamour and beautiful women throwing themselves at you." He closes his eyes. "I was thinking about what Hotch said. Brown is Ivy League all the way. What if it's not a race issue, but a class issue?"
"You think the unsub might not fit in here because he's poor?"
"Just not old money. Nouveau riche--"
"Please don't try to speak French--"
If they weren't in a cafeteria, he would throw something at her. Instead, he rolls his eyes and she laughs, and takes pity on him. "So let's be on the lookout for somebody who might have it in for the old boy's network they're trying to join?"
"Yeah," Spencer says. "Something like that. Have Hotch get Garcia to run background checks or something."
JJ grins. "I'll do it myself. Now eat your sandwich and then go out there and conquer, genius. I'm sure you're making a difference to young lives every minute."
"Sure," Spencer says, despondently picking up his sandwich. "I'm living proof that it's possible to never ever grow out of your awkward phase."
Things Jennifer Jareau knows how to cook:
A pretty good line of bull
She can cook up a damned fine excuse, too, given fifteen seconds' lead time.
If you're pretty, people assume you're also dumb. You could take offense at this, of course. Or you could use it against them, and decide that you're only going to care about the opinions of a few people who matter to you. And then you pick those ones who matter to you from among the ones who catch on that you have a soul and a brain.
You and them, against the world, baby. Being underestimated is half the fun, as long as it's the bad guys doing the underestimating.
It doesn't break before the weekend, though Emily held out a fragile hope that just this once, they would have a run of luck and an easy answer. Instead, Saturday morning finds her curled up in a creaky leather chair in the conference room of the administrative building, listening to Hotch snore softly in his chair and flipping through manila folders. Garcia's already in the office back in DC; she's on the webcam and she and Emily are making small talk while they go over their respective stacks of data.
"Let's see, I have seven hundred students all together," Garcia says. "We're looking for any whose parents are in financial trouble, recently divorced, legal trouble--"
"Grade trouble," Emily reminds. Reid's already passed along the handwritten list of students who started struggling in the fourth-quarter. She shakes her head at the evidence of his doggedness, something they all take for granted. It's not in the computers yet. He went over every gradebook, single-handed, to extract that data. Reid and the others seem to take it as a matter of course; to Emily, it looks like a super-human effort, even for somebody who can abstract the sense of a page of numbers at a glance.
She knows it took him hours, and she doesn't begrudge him his sleep now.
"Hey, Em, can you read me Reid's list again?"
"Sure," Emily says, and picks up the yellow sheet. She's running down it, and Garcia stops her at the seventh name. "Jeremy McManus?"
"That's the one." The clicking of Garcia's keyboard sounds like tinny machine-gun fire. "Single mother, who could not afford to pay his tuition. She's a domestic. No father listed on the birth certificate. Given Reid's brainwave, it's interesting to note that Jeremy's got at least one African-American grandparent. The kid himself is listed as blond and hazel, though."
"Got a pic?"
"One second." Considerably less than a full second later, the image replaces Garcia's own on the laptop. A curly-haired--brown, Emily would say, not blond, but people are funny--boy with freckles stares back at her.
"I would never guess he was black," Prentiss says. "Hey, wait a minute. That was the kid I saw at the... fencing practice. He wasn't scared of the starting gun. Garcia, can you--"
"Hack into the school's computers and find out who pays his tuition? On it like a penguin on an ice floe, Princess Buttercup. Hey, did you go to a school like this?"
"I went to embassy schools, mostly," Emily says. "American schools, they call them. Sometimes there were local kids too."
Abruptly, the typing stops.
"Emily, do you know Senator Thornton from Alabama?"
Emily nods, and realizes belatedly that Garcia might not be looking at the screen. "I've had dinner at his house. He's on the Armed Forces Committee."
"He's paying Jeremy McManus's tuition. And guess what? Until about five years ago, the mom used to work for Thornton."
"Oh, crap," Emily says. She can see it in her mind's eye, with all the terrible experience of thirty years spent in her mother's house, attending her mother's parties, getting to know people like Senator Thornton from the inside out. She can imagine the housekeeper's son, the things that don't get said. The small child in his tidy clothes peering out from behind the kitchen door as the great man goes by.
The heavy furniture. The expensive carpets. The champagne parties and the glittering chandeliers.
Being sent away to school. The noblesse oblige and the conspiracy of silence that replace anything like real parenting.
Emily wonders if she ever saw this child before, and her eye just skipped over him as irrelevant to her own shallow, frustrating, political life as her mother's display piece.
Her eyes sting. She pinches the bridge of her nose hard, and says "The kid's his illegitimate son. The tuition is hush money. You want a kid with a simmering pool of resentment in his gut? I think we just found him."
"Gold star, Ems. Go wake up the boss man. I'm going to make this all look pretty for him."
Wake up Hotch. Sure. Easy as pie.
Emily uncurls herself from her chair. Halfway to where Hotch naps, his feet up on the table, she realizes she's tiptoeing, which is ridiculous. I hope he's a light sleeper. "Sir?"
Light enough. His eyes flicker open; he sits upright with a snort. "Was I snoring?"
"It's allergy season," Emily says, hoping it comes out as a joke and not a humorless statement of fact. She can never tell. "Sir, Garcia and I think we have the unsub."
She explains, and Hotch's mouth twitches. "We can't arrest him just because he's a senator's kid," Hotch says.
"I know," Emily answers. "We're going to have to make him crack."
Things Derek Morgan can cook:
As Spencer is dressing for work on Monday morning, he checks the clip in his gun three times. He tapes the wire to his chest and hides both it and his weapon under his green corduroy jacket, wishing he could wear a cardigan instead, because it's raining. His hair is clean and his hands are shaking, and the circles under his eyes are the color of the western sky after all the reds of sunset have faded out of it. His hands shake so hard that when he goes back into the bathroom to take his meds he drops both pills in the sink, the anti-anxiety and the pain pill. He feels like an old man until the back pain eases.
He stamps on the shoe with the orthotic insole and thinks And what will I be remembering, what pain will I be reliving, every morning when I'm forty-five?
It's been three months; he won't let the others see him limp. He may be a weakling, but he's got his pride.
The unsub, if he is the unsub, is in Spencer's second-period class. He's quiet and well-behaved, but he hasn't turned his homework in for three days, and that's an excuse to keep him after class.
"Jeremy," Spencer says, sitting on the edge of the kid's desk, a little too close, blocking him if he makes a grab for his backpack.
Spencer doesn't want to think too hard about what could be in that backpack, but he has a short mental list, anyway, because it's smart to be aware of the dangers. He folds his hands over his knees, elbows close at his sides, and invades Jeremy's personal space a little more.
The kid leans way back.
"Jeremy," he says, "I know I'm not your regular teacher, but I feel like I have to talk to you. I know you've been troubled lately. It's showing in your grades. And I feel like maybe I can offer you some empathy."
"Doctor Reid? I'll work harder--"
The kid is lying. But the person Spencer's pretending to be wouldn't notice that. "I don't think your work is the problem. I think maybe you're a little different from some of the other kids, and they don't understand you."
The red flush rising in his cheeks. Oh, yes, he knows what Reid is driving at.
"More sensitive than some of the boys. Smarter. They pick on you a lot, don't they? Haze you? Jeremy, you can talk to me--"
He puts a companionable hand on Jeremy's shoulder, and that's all it takes. The kid detonates, up out of his chair, over the back of it, scrambling away. "Get your filthy hands off me, you fucking faggot! You can't touch me! You'll all pay for this, bastards, you rich Harvard faggot bastards--"
He's out the door, backpack forgotten, shoes squeaking as he takes the corner. A thump as he ricochets off the far wall, and then he's pounding down the hall.
"Princeton," Reid says, softly, more to himself than anyone. "Actually." And then he secures the backpack, slings it over his shoulder, and says "Hotch, it's him."
"I heard," Hotch says in his ear, under a burst of static. The earpiece hates these old stone buildings. "We're on it. Armed?"
Reid hits the door at a trot. "I have his pack. He can't have anything bigger than a pistol. He's headed out the west doors--"
"Got it," Morgan says, between gasping breaths. The volume control takes the edge off it as he raises his voice and yells "Federal Agent, kid! Stop right there!"
Spencer might be clumsy, but he has had plenty of practice running. As he bursts through the still-swinging door, long legs eating up the ground, trying not to skid on the wet, he sees the kid running full-out, Morgan gaining on him, Gideon and Emily closing from around the far corner of the building. JJ appears across the quad, running like a soccer player, cutting off the escape.
"Jeremy!" Reid yells. "We're FBI. Get down on the ground!"
Jeremy turns, and Reid sees with seasick precision the black shape in his hand. His own gun comes out; Morgan jerks to a halt, no weapon in his upraised hands. A hundred feet away, a crazy unlikely shot with a handgun, Emily and Gideon have their weapons out and are closing. JJ is hopelessly far away, but the kid won't get past her, and he has to turn his back to her to face Morgan and Reid.
Morgan is nearest. Reid is next. "Jeremy," Spencer says. "Drop the gun, okay? You haven't done anything yet that can't be fixed."
"No!" Jeremy turns the pistol. It's wavering. It's not exactly pointed at himself, or at Morgan either. "No, I can't--he won't--"
The gun swings toward Morgan, and Spencer's heart leaps up his throat. A bright kid, curly-haired, hazel-eyed. Smaller than the other kids. Maybe a little girly. Scared. The gun swings toward Morgan, and Spencer is the only one armed and close enough to take the shot. Morgan is in everybody else's field of fire.
Spencer lets his finger slide inside the trigger guard. Front sight. Trigger press. Follow through.
Oh, shit, not again.
"Jeremy," Emily says, and the kid's head snaps around. "Hey, do you remember me? I came to your father's house a couple of times when you were little. My name is Emily Prentiss. My mom was Ambassador Prentiss. Do you remember?"
Jeremy, the gun temporarily forgotten, shakes his head.
And Spencer sees Emily's face go pale beneath her makeup, but it's not because of the gun, or because Jeremy doesn't remember her. It's because she's going to tell a lie, and Emily Prentiss is really bad at lying.
"I remember you," she says. "When I was home after Yale. You used to peek out from behind the kitchen door at the guests, do you remember? The long table with the gold tablecloth? And there were always the red and white roses that Mrs. Thornton grew herself, in the greenhouse."
"Bitch," he says, but he says it softly, and it's not about Emily. "She made us leave. She found out about my mom--"
"I know," Emily says. She reaches out, softly, and hands her gun to Gideon. "You know, my mom?" Inching closer now, hands wide. "She always used to spend hours on her makeup and dress, and I had to too, and I remember seeing you back there behind the kitchen door and wishing I were you, that I could kick off my pinching high heeled shoes and slip away unnoticed and do whatever I wanted. Hey, have you ever been to Connecticut? It's pretty--"
"No," Jeremy says. "I was never allowed to go anywhere--"
The gun's off line. Spencer lets his finger slip out of the trigger guard, not yet daring to breathe. And then Morgan is airborne, two steps and a flying leap, covering seven yards easy, taking Jeremy off at the knees and pounding his gun hand against the grass again and again and again until the pistol slips free.
Spencer runs forward, but he's not needed. Morgan already has the cuffs twisted on and is patting Jeremy down for more weapons. Knife in his boot, knife in his belt-buckle. Emily draws up beside Spencer, JJ and Gideon panting behind.
"Nice job," he says to Emily. "Thank you." Knowing she'll know what he means: thank you for saving this life, thank you for buying this kid a second chance, thank you for making it so I didn't have another one to remember when the lights go out.
"Thanks yourself," Emily says. She rests an elbow on his shoulder and leans on him, not too hard. "Nice job in there too."
"You were listening?"
"Sorry he called you a faggot."
Gideon hands Emily back her gun. She holsters it as Reid holsters his. Spencer shakes his head and laughs. "Nothing I haven't heard before. In the FBI, we say, 'Take 'em away, Chief. Now I'm going to go HOME and sleep with my WIFE.'"
Gideon looks at him like he's grown a second head, but that's okay, because Emily, hands on her knees, is laughing helplessly. Beside her, Spencer sits down on the soaking-wet grass and looks at his soft white hands.
Emily's waiting for Hotch when he comes up the stairs. With a nod, he gestures her in before him, and shuts the office door. "That was good work in Vermont, Emily."
"Sir," she says. "Thank you. I--" She should let him get to his desk. She should pull up the opposite chair. Instead, with him trapped between her and the door, she stammers.
He watches evenly for a moment, and then says, "Spit it out, Special Agent."
"Sir, I'm... sorry about the scene earlier."
He's not going to make this easy. "In the bullpen? When I came out? To the entire FBI? Sir?"
And Hotch, stern and humorless, says casually, "Oh. Yeah, I had last week in the betting pool."
She's speechless. Utterly, completely undone. She staggers back, gropes until she finds the chair back, spins it without looking, and sits.
Hotch says, "It cost me forty bucks."
She tries twice before she finds her voice. "Who won?"
"Reid. Of course. You couldn't have cracked a little sooner? He always wins these things--" But he's standing aside, moving to give her a clear path to the door, and turning the handle.
She stands up. They should just put her name on the door of that lady's room. "Yes, sir. No, sir. Because he's from Vegas--" she moves toward the space he's made for her "--Sir." And then she stops, in the open doorway, turns, lowers her voice, and says, "Morgan?"
"Morgan said you were 'way too hot to be a lesbian.'"
He smiles softly, touches her on the shoulder, and says, "We don't tell Gideon everything."
"Fall seven times. Get up eight." --Proverb
(Part one behind this fake cut tag)
(Part two behind this fake cut tag)