DISCLAIMER: See Part One.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Epic Proportions challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Mercy is for the Just
The Reliant Hotel
It was past two in the morning, and Emily Prentiss was so exhausted she was seeing shadows in shadows, and if asked, she would swear that there was at least two of JJ inside the vehicle with her. A hard yawn caused her jaw to crack loudly.
Hotch's words had stung. Even after showing him the file with the officer's report on the Blaine woman, the other agent had insisted that she go to the hotel and get some sleep.
"I've been assured of her innocence by a reliable witness, Agent Prentiss," he had said. "You're not seeing things clearly because you're tired. Get some rest. We'll tackle this again in the morning."
"I can't believe Hotch tanked me like that," muttered the brunette agent.
Wanting to be supportive, but unsure how to do it without fueling Emily's ire, JJ said, "What made you so suspicious of Elizabeth anyway?"
"You mean you couldn't sense it?" Incredulous, Emily looked at JJ and then pressed two fingertips into her temple. "I hope I remembered to pack the good stuff this time."
"I've got some ibuprofen in my briefcase," said JJ. "And no, I didn't notice anything about her other than the leather." She grinned. "That was one hell of an outfit."
Jealousy flared and rolled around in Emily's gut like a handful of spiked balls. With a grimace of pain, she reached into the backseat and pulled the blonde agent's case into the front. "Well, don't get any ideas. I don't do slut wear," growled the older agent. "I'm too old for fuck-me suits." She dug around in the outside pocket of JJ's briefcase until she located the ibuprofen.
Feeling a little trepidation at the level of anger and bitterness in Emily's tone, JJ attempted to defuse the situation. "Em," she said casually. "Words like that would get your mouth scrubbed by a bar of Ivory soap where I grew up." Flashing a grin, she added, "But don't worry. I don't mind a little rough talk. I'm a big girl." As she brought the SUV to a halt and shut down the engine, JJ turned to face Emily and said, "Just remember, Agent Prentiss, that words aren't the only form of communication." Then before Emily could stop her, she leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "I had hoped we could share a cup of tea before bed, but if you're feeling out of sorts, I'd rather just say good night now."
Headache forgotten, anger fizzling away to nothing and jealousy suddenly gone, Emily hoarsely replied, "No, no, tea sounds great. Really great. I'll just, go turn the pot on." She piled out of the vehicle and stumbled over to the door to her room.
JJ chuckled, collected her briefcase and then followed the suddenly not-so-cranky other agent into the hotel.
Inside Emily's room, the brunette agent dropped her coat on a chair, kicked off her shoes, and then headed for the tiny vanity where a small coffee pot waited. She registered JJ's arrival but did not stop in her single-minded quest to fill and start the water in the pot. Tea would be good. Better than good, it would be an excuse to spend time with JJ without having to talk about the case. An emotion akin to shame had seared Emily's nerves to jangling rawness, and she needed to put it aside and remember that she was human.
Only when the water was pumping into the pot did she turn to face her ersatz guest. With a crooked smile, Emily said, "There's orange pekoe on the table, or I've got some Sleepytime in my bag. Which would you prefer?"
Laying her coat on top of Emily's, JJ cracked her neck and said, "Sleepytime. I don't need any more caffeine tonight."
Emily laughed. "I hear you there. Have a seat. This'll only take a few minutes." She gestured toward the table, but JJ smiled enigmatically and chose to kick back on the bed instead. Suddenly quite light headed at the sight of JJ in what amounted to her bed, Emily leaned against a supporting wall and tried not to bite her lip. "Comfy?"
Can she look any more adorable? "Yes, actually. The bed is softer than the chairs at the Tenth, but not much." JJ relaxed into a limp heap and sighed contentedly. This is nice, though there's something missing. Wistful thoughts stirring in her head, JJ fought to control the rising urge to put voice to her wishes.
"Oh, well, make yourself at home," said Emily weakly. It would be so easy to just no, don't go there, Em. Pushing away from the wall, the brunette hastily retrieved two cups for the tea. Whether it was the distraction of JJ in her bed, or the exhaustion from lack of sleep, Emily's reflexes were dulled enough that when she started to pour water into the first cup, it splashed back and scalded her hand. "Ouch, damn it."
"Are you okay?" said JJ as she started to stand.
Emily waved her off. "I'm fine. It's nothing. Stay there, I'll be right back." She went into the bathroom and ran her hand under some cool water until most of the burning sensation had eased. The woman reflected in the mirror above the sink looked so worn and haggard that at first, Emily thought she was hallucinating. Biting back a derisive snort, she shut off the water and reached for a towel.
Out in the room, JJ had rolled to her side and was watching for the brunette agent's return. "Is it bad?" she asked.
"Nah, it's fine," said Emily as she walked back over to the vanity to finish preparing the tea.
"Let me see," said JJ. "I've got some aloe in my briefcase."
"It's all right, JJ, really."
"Emily," said JJ in a tone of voice that brooked no argument. "Come here."
The brunette was halfway to the bed before she realized it. Her pulse was a trip hammer beat, thudding in a nervous rhythm that was both enticing and frightening. When her knees collided with the edge of the mattress, Emily stopped and swallowed heavily. "JJ, I'm okay," she started to say, but was silenced by the sensation of the blonde's fingers clasping hers.
Gently, JJ tugged on Emily's hand until the brunette lowered herself to the bed. "I believe," said JJ with knowing slowness. "That you're holding on to something for me." She looked up at Emily through the fall of her blonde hair. A slow, sensuous smile pulled at her lips. "I'll take it back now." Bending her head, she lifted Emily's hand to her lips and pressed a soft kiss into the palm and then brushed her cheek against the wrist.
The flutter of Emily's pulse tickled, and JJ smiled. Pulling the brunette closer, she drew her face along Emily's arm and then pressed a second kiss into the crease of her elbow.
Breathless, Emily whispered, "JJ what are you " A single finger touched her mouth.
"Shh." JJ inhaled, breathing in the layers of scent that clung to Emily's body. Tiny muscle tremors caused the brunette's shirt to ripple and JJ felt her own heartbeat start to thrum in staccato sympathy. "Sometimes we don't get a choice," said JJ softly as she stroked her fingertips across Emily's cheek and into her hair. "Sometimes, things just have to happen." In a deliberately measured fashion, JJ pulled Emily toward her until their mouths were almost touching.
Shaking hard, Emily could neither assist nor resist the inexorable destination.
"The only question is if you want them to," whispered JJ.
Emily remembered that moment as she would the brief, electric calm just before a midwestern summer storm. All around her, everything seemed to have stopped. The tickle of ozone was on her tongue, the tang of rain scented the air and the heat was like molasses on her bones. It took an eternity for the words that coalesced in her brain to fall into the silence.
"Oh God, yes." Crushing her mouth to JJ's, Emily abandoned herself to the heady, surreal intoxication that was kissing Jennifer Jareau.
One kiss was not enough. One thousand kisses would not have been enough. Yet somewhere between one and one thousand, Emily and JJ broke apart to stare with tender incredulity into one another's eyes. Captivated by Emily's luminescently umber gaze, JJ imagined that she was sinking into a bowl of the smoothest, richest chocolate. Emily felt like she was flying into the growing dawn; the blue of JJ's eyes seeming a reflection of sky on sea just as the morning fog peeled away to reveal the endless fluxion of azure and smoke. At some point, they had fallen together onto the bed and were now tightly entwined.
Her lips tingling with their kisses, JJ cracked a smile and carded her fingers through Emily's hair. "That was "
"Jennifer, I "
They chuckled, and then kissed softly. Emily murmured, "Still want that tea?"
JJ nipped the brunette's bottom lip gently and then said, "Uh huh, but I don't want you to move, either."
"I'd need to move anyway, Jennifer. The pot has to be turned off."
The pout that greeted that news made Emily laugh; a deep, throaty gurgle that earned her a solid clout to the arm, and then a delicate kiss on the tip of her nose.
With the air of someone about to yank a plaster from a wound, Emily quickly stood and made her way to the coffee pot. It seemed as though it had been a thousand years since she had started the water, but the reality was that only a few minutes had passed. Filling their cups, she added the tea bags and sugar then carried them over to the bed. It was only after she'd set the mugs down on the nightstand that she realized that JJ was under the covers.
Curling back the blankets invitingly, JJ revealed that she had liberated one of Emily's t-shirts from her overnight bag. "I got cold."
"I-uh-this might not be such a good idea," blurted Emily with sudden nervousness.
Getting to her knees, JJ moved to where she was within touching distance of Emily. Distantly, the brunette noted that her shirt barely concealed the pale peach lace of JJ's underwear.
"I think," said JJ as she reached up to unbutton Emily's blouse. "That this is a great idea. I'm tired. You're tired. This bed is comfortable. There's tea, you and me. What's not to love?"
"Just sleep?" said Emily softly. "Anything else seems-"
"Too much?" said JJ. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Sleep is good. In fact, I can't think of anything better than falling asleep in your arms. Except for maybe waking up in them." She smiled. "Got another t-shirt?"
Emily grinned, reached under a pillow and revealed a worn, navy blue shirt with the letters, "FBI Academy" stenciled in yellow across the center. It was at least three sizes too large, but Emily slipped into it with practiced ease. Just as quickly, her bra and slacks hit the floor, while her gun went into the top drawer of the nightstand. The belt ended up slung over the back of a chair.
"Sidearm?" she asked.
JJ smiled. "In my briefcase." She'd crawled back under the covers and was getting comfortable on one side of the bed. Reaching for a mug of tea, she took a sip while Emily bit her lip and looked pensive. "Something bothering you?"
"Put it in the other drawer, over there," said Emily. Pointing at the nightstand on the other side of the bed, she added, "We might as well not break every rule of field work."
It was the first time either of them had overtly spoken of their jobs and the effect any relationship beyond that of colleagues was going to have.
"Shit. You're right. I wasn't thinking." Reaching for her briefcase, JJ retrieved her gun and put it into the drawer on her side of the bed. "I think we're going to have to have a long conversation soon."
"Soon, but not tonight. I'm done in."
JJ nodded. "We will talk, though, because this is going to happen. I'm not going to fight it anymore."
After climbing onto the bed, Emily picked up her cup of tea and said, "I think fighting is a moot point, JJ. I'm crazy about you, and I challenge anyone to stand between us. I'll transfer to Strauss' team before I give up this chance."
The warm flush that suffused JJ's face was no match for the brilliant smile that sparkled in her eyes. "You, my dear Emily Prentiss, are dangerous. I like that. Now turn off the light and hold me. I suspect seven a.m. is going to arrive far too quickly."
Apartment of Kate Lockley and Elizabeth Blaine
"Thanks for calling Luke. I was seriously considering doing something not entirely on the side of the light," said Elizabeth as she and Kate trudged upstairs to their apartment.
Kate snorted. "You and me both, Doc." She shook her head. "I almost called a lawyer, but I sort of understand how they feel."
Shoes got tossed one way, clothes the other as they stumbled into the bathroom. The shower taps spat out a rapidly heating stream of water while the women assisted each other in the removal of makeup, clothing, and jewelry.
"Yeah. I mean, think about how we felt when Caruso took those kids. Or that time with the psycho who swore her husband was cheating."
They stepped into the stall, both emitting similar groans of approval at the bone-melting temperature of the water. Elizabeth reached for Kate's shampoo and started to soap her lover's hair with an unconscious ease that spoke of years' practice.
"Mmm, yeah. That did suck. I hate being on a timeline." She dipped her head to press a kiss on the ball of Kate's shoulder. There was a thin scar there from where a bullet had grazed the investigator. "I'm glad that bitch couldn't shoot straight."
Kate laughed. "I'd have trouble aiming if a six foot tall, redheaded banshee with fangs was attacking me, too, love."
Rinsing the investigator's hair, and then trading places so that Kate could return the favor, Elizabeth said, "She was hurting you. Client or not, no one messes with my girl." She bent her head so that Kate could reach the top, grinning when the investigator gave the ruddy locks a sharp tug.
"I still say you did it as payback for Caruso," grumbled Kate as she rinsed the lather from her lover's hair. It had taken Elizabeth a long time to get over the fact that Kate had shot the psychopathic warlock rather than letting the vampath deal with him in her fashion.
"Well, there may have been an element of scale balancing there, but really, Dick, it was all about the fun." Elizabeth straightened and drew Kate into her arms to trade several lingering kisses. "You know how much I love to kick a little ass."
"Mm, but there aren't any asses to kick here, so why don't you wash my back and we'll discuss dinner and other " Kate nipped Elizabeth's bottom lip lightly. "Things."
"I can do that."
Over dinner, the conversation turned to what had triggered Elizabeth's "creep-o-meter" about the drag queen, Sheila Divine.
"It was something you said, Dick. She was too good. When I took a hard look at her, she was a dead ringer for the police sketch." She chuckled. "It's too bad Agent Prentiss didn't see the show; I might have had company at the precinct tonight. Anyway, when I touched her surface emotions, it was like sticking my hands into a pile of rotting garbage." She shrugged. "It seemed prudent to do a little further investigating, so I checked out the dressing room. The walls were practically painted in negativity, and the scent of old blood was prevalent. The same smell was impregnated in a piece of her clothing."
"Well generally, when there are women involved, old blood might not be so surprising, but how many of the performers at Club 88 are truly male or female?" Kate gestured with her fork. "After all, we only saw the one act."
Elizabeth nodded. "I want to go back tomorrow and ask some questions of that friendly bartender."
"Okay. I'm going to see if I can get anything from one of my contacts at the precinct. Those FBI agents should have given them a profile by now. Maybe something on it will help you understand what you felt."
They finished their meal, cleaned up, and headed for bed. It was very late, but neither was quite ready to sleep yet. Lying in the center of their massive bed, they instinctively coiled around each other. Absently trading caresses and tender kisses, Kate and Elizabeth let the worries of the day fade away as the banked fire of their shared desire flared to life once more.
The Reliant Hotel
The streets of the 4th Ward
There was an incessant, irritating buzz rumbling somewhere near Emily's head, yet she was so deeply wrapped in a world of warmth and comfort that she was loathe to move so much as a single muscle. However, the buzzing refused to stop and the woman in her arms had begun to shift about restlessly.
"Em," said JJ muzzily. "You gonna get that?"
"Guess so," she replied. Fumbling for the phone, she managed to mutter, "Prentiss," into the receiver before the buzzing started anew.
"Good morning merry sunshine." Derek Morgan's voice was far too cheerful for - Emily blinked a few times and checked her watch seven thirty in the morning.
"Morgan, hey. Sorry I made you wait. I must have missed my alarm."
"That's all right, Prentiss. I'm just acting as a messenger, so don't shoot me when I lay it on you, okay?"
Emily chuckled ruefully. "You make it sound like you've got some pretty bad news for me, Derek." Lying on her back with JJ perched on her chest, Emily felt that Morgan could tell her just about anything and she wouldn't care. Absently stroking her fingers across JJ's back, she smiled with real pleasure when the blonde agent began to press soft, open-mouthed kisses against her neck.
"Well firstly, Emily-my-girl, you need to get your butt up and over to the alleyway behind Sharkey's Bar and Grill."
"And that is, where, exactly?"
"South Drexel and East Forty-Sixth. You can't miss it. It'll be the place where there's a whole bunch of cops."
"Another body?" Okay, so maybe there was something that could put a crimp in Emily's sense of well-being.
"Yeah. The UnSub's struck again. Maybe you were right about that Blaine woman after all."
Emily felt a thrill of triumph slice through her almost at the same time as JJ's phone rang. The liaison's rather distinctive ring tone was very loud, though, and it was far too late to hide it from Morgan. JJ pushed away from Emily and quietly answered her phone.
"Well, maybe you aren't quite the lazybones I thought you were, Prentiss," said Morgan. "Say good morning to JJ for me."
"Morgan, I-" Emily started to explain while JJ turned away.
"Prentiss, listen to me and don't make me say this twice: I don't care. Okay, so maybe I do care, but it's not a big deal. And Emily, I do not want to hear any fancy stories. Just, leave it be and we'll talk about it over dinner at Garcia's, okay?"
The relief Emily felt was only eclipsed by the volcanic eruption of love and friendship she felt for the man who could have easily caused her a world of trouble. An uncharacteristic sharpness stung the brunette's eyes, and she blinked, trying to clear away the moisture before it had a chance to fall.
"Thanks, Derek," she said, her voice amazingly steady considering the cyclone of emotion she was experiencing. "I'll be there in fifteen."
"Bring JJ. The media's on this like flies on shit."
"Will do." She ended the call. JJ had already finished her call and was halfway through getting dressed when Emily looked up and said, "I've got to jump in the shower. You should head back to your room and do the same. They need us on a scene."
JJ nodded. "I know. I just spoke to Hotch." The blonde turned a livid shade of red then. "He ah, I think he knows, Em." She bit her lip nervously. "So " she said, shrugging sheepishly. "We should probably say something to Reid and Garcia, too."
Emily buried her head in her hands and let out a long groan. "Kill me, please. Just kill me now."
Suddenly overwhelmed with a sickening sense of fear, JJ said, "If you don't want to do this-"
"No! No, of course I want to God, I need to do this, JJ. For fuck's sake, I lose my mind thinking about you most of the time." Emily quickly went to JJ and wrapped her arms around the other agent's stiff body. "No, it's just that if Hotch knows, he could really make trouble for us. Transfer me out of the unit or, hell, he could send me off to Alaska and I'd have to go." Stroking JJ's hair, she whispered, "I don't want to leave the BAU, but I also don't want to stop being with you."
"Then we don't make our relationship an issue. There's no rule against fraternization, only that we keep it out of the office. And since I'm sure Strauss would love to use this against Hotch, we'll just have to be careful." JJ looked up at Emily and smiled. "We can be careful, Em. It's taken us nearly two years to get this far and no one's noticed."
"Garcia-" Emily started to speak, but JJ's laugh cut her off.
Grinning wryly, JJ said, "Of course. She knows because you told her, didn't you?"
Surprised, JJ said, "She guessed?"
"Sort of. I think her exact words were, 'Em, either JJ's got it bad for you, or your ass is turning green,' and since I have yet to show any signs of Kermit-butt, I suspect Miss Garcia caught a clue."
"Oh my God, I love the Muppets!" JJ laughed and then dragged Emily down for a long, toe-curling, hair-mussing, heart-pounding kiss that left both of them breathing as though they'd just run a thirty mile marathon.
Dusting a trail of tiny, nibbling kisses along JJ's jaw line, Emily whispered, "You'd better go, before we both have to take cold showers."
As her head tipped back to provide full access to her throat, JJ groaned, "Too late." Tearing herself away from Emily's arms, JJ smiled and said, "Emily, last night was-"
"Everything it should have been, JJ. Now go. If you hurry, we can grab coffee and bagels on the way."
The circus-like atmosphere of the crime scene was only a brief scratch on the jubilant emotions that prickled beneath the surface of JJ's thoughts. There was a constant drone of, "She kissed me, oh God, she kissed me," running like an undercurrent that slowly wrapped around her psyche like a blanket fresh from the dryer. It was warm, lilac scented and felt so good, that JJ wanted to climb to the top of the tallest building and shout it to the world.
Instead, she pushed aside the giddy, light-headed feelings of joy and shrouded her face in a mask of propriety and seriousness. What she had heard from Hotch on the way over only fueled her determination to find this UnSub.
Heading over to where Captain MacPherson and Agent Hotchner were having a quiet conversation, JJ calmly ordered her thoughts and began planning what she would say to the media.
Emily stepped away from the SUV, spotted the sunglass and t-shirt clad form of Derek Morgan, and approached the entrance to the alley. A foul, sickly-sweet stench wafted out and assaulted her senses with the unforgettable odor of death. Pausing for a moment, Emily swallowed against the instinctive need to bolt and then pressed on into the alley.
Dumpsters in various states of repair sat in a haphazard scatter along the ragged fence line that separated the businesses from a residential neighborhood. Detritus clustered at the feet of the massive metal containers as if the items had finally won free of their prison and were now stopping to take a break before escaping into the wilderness of the city. Moving amongst the dumpsters and trash were the blue-jacketed forms of the CPD's crime scene unit. The flash of a camera sparked a haze of strobe light afterimages as Emily walked past the uninvolved section of the alley.
In the shade of the building, hidden from public view, was the back entrance to Sharkey's. Mixed with the scent of death were the smells more common to a bar beer, hard liquor, vomit, and urine had soaked into the pavement until it was as much a part of the construction as the cement, paint, and stucco.
At nearly eight a.m. in the morning, it was briskly cold, but Emily ignored the temperature, only noting its possible affects on the presumed time of death. From her jacket pocket, she withdrew a pair of heavy latex gloves, slid them on, and then focused her attention on the body. Distantly, she sensed the arrival of Morgan and Rossi, but shoved their presence aside to catalogue the scene as she had been trained.
Performing a visual grid search, Emily noted a strewn array of garbage that led to the sneaker-covered feet of the victim. At first, she considered it to be a sign of the struggle, but the seemingly haphazard arrangement of debris was purposeful. The brunette agent squatted to get a better look at the pavement and spotted a trail of gravitational blood spatter.
Following the droplets to the body, she was momentarily appalled at the sight revealed. Naked from the waist up, the victim's head and torso were almost completely obscured by a foul mixture of blood and trash. A medical examiner and a CSU tech knelt beside the body, slowly recording and preserving each piece of evidence. As Emily watched, a large piece of bloody cardboard was removed, revealing most of the victim's chest.
Lacerations and contusions too numerous to count had turned muscle and flesh into a shredded and battered chunk of meat. Sickened, Emily brought her wrist to her mouth and swallowed against her rebelling stomach.
Shouldn't have had that second bagel. She felt the press of a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see Morgan gazing down at her, concern etched on his darkly handsome features.
"You okay, Prentiss?"
She nodded. "Yeah. It's just a bit too close to breakfast." Standing, she moved to inspect the rest of the scene.
"I hear you," said Morgan. "I had to skip out on mom's biscuits and gravy because I knew this wasn't gonna be pretty."
"Do we have a time of death?"
Rossi answered. "The ME puts it at or around midnight."
Emily just barely managed to stop herself from cursing. We still had Blaine in custody at midnight. It's not her. She was right. Damn, why was I so sure that she knew something? The brunette nodded at the implication and said, "I guess we'll get back to canvassing. Since the UnSub has moved to a new ward, maybe she was careless enough to leave a witness."
Rossi inclined his head. "Perhaps."
"Detectives, agents, you should come take a look at this," said the ME. Two unfamiliar cops joined the agents at the medical examiner's side. He'd finally uncovered the rest of the victim's head and torso. There was a collective intake of breath and even as Emily fought against a cry of fear and outrage, she pressed closer to inspect the scene.
The killer had finally made a mistake. Where the earlier murders had been all about control and domination, this one had been a frenzy of cuts, blows, and unfettered rage. Whoever the victim was, he would have to be identified by his fingerprints or dental records because his face had been utterly destroyed. Smashed, slashed, and battered into an amorphous pulp of blood, bone and tissue, all that was left was the glitter of a single gold hoop earring that stuck out of what once had been the right ear.
Brilliant, carmine red streaks of an oily, garish pink substance mixed with the blood and gore. Out of the corner of her eye, Emily saw JJ kneel beside her and extend a glove-clad finger to indicate one of the patches of material. "Is that lipstick?"
The blonde's hair had been pulled back into a sloppy ponytail and incongruously, Emily found herself noting how utterly gorgeous JJ looked, even against the backdrop of such horror. As if sensing the trend of the brunette's thoughts, JJ looked back at Emily and flashed her a knowing grin.
Using a swab to scrape up some of the unknown substance, the CSU tech said, "It looks that way."
Emily's eyebrows rose. "Maybe we'll get lucky and find some DNA this time."
Behind them, Rossi and Hotch were softly talking with one of the homicide investigators from the local precinct.
"This is the same UnSub as the cases over in the Seventeenth ward," said Hotchner. "The increased patrols and attention to her usual hunting ground might have forced her to look elsewhere."
"It's also pissed her off," said Rossi. "Enough so that she's made some mistakes. We need to revise the profile after the ME is done with the body."
Hotch nodded. "Detective, what we need is for you to allow us to continue working this case alongside the others."
The cop, an older man with a head of iron gray hair and the expression of someone who eats far too many bottles of antacid, grunted. "Take it. Be a load off my back."
"Thank you, Detective. Let me introduce you to our communications liaison. She will tell you what we'll need from your department."
With the innate sense of timing that hadn't failed the team yet, JJ was at his side, holding out her hand and gracing him with one of her patented full-face smiles.
"Hi, I'm Jennifer Jareau, but you can call me JJ."
Revealed by the bright light of day, the club that had seemed so alluring the night before became nothing more than a poorly made-up shop front with some glittering lights and an eye-twitching variety of colors. Elizabeth stood outside and peered in through the window, hoping to detect some signs of life.
"Can I help you?" The voice was familiar and tinged with the weariness that comes from a long night of work.
The vampath turned and gave the young man a friendly smile. "Hey, I was here last night, and I saw this drag performance that was really awesome. Anyway, I got a cousin in Vegas who's always looking for something special to showcase, if you know what I mean." Elizabeth winked and flashed a crisply folded twenty-dollar bill, causing the bartender to grin.
"Yeah, I get you. So, who was it, do you remember?" The bartender didn't bother to look beyond the green of the cash in Elizabeth's palm.
"Sheila Divine," said the vampath shortly. With a slight effort of will, Elizabeth exerted her projective empathy and established a gentle, but coercive link with the bartender. Regretting the necessity, but knowing that the truth would be important, the vampath eased the young man's suspicions and instilled him with a need to be particularly loquacious on the subject of Sheila Divine.
"Oh yeah, yeah," he said, nodding enthusiastically. "She's fantastic. Just spot on. All the college boys go nuts for her. Always has 'em eating out of the palm of her hand, that one." He locked the door and stuffed his hands into his back pockets.
Elizabeth frowned slightly and affected a look of concern. "Yeah? Does she take advantage of that? My cousin wouldn't want any trouble from jilted lovers, you know."
Shaking his head vigorously, the bartender said, "Oh, no, no, Sheila's not like that. I mean, she's good at charming the crowd and stuff, but off stage, whew! What a diva. No, I can't imagine Sheila going home with any of the guys who party here." He scratched his head and shrugged.
"Does Sheila have a boyfriend? Or a girlfriend?" Dropping the pretense, Elizabeth exerted a little more pressure on the link as the bartender blinked sleepily.
"You know, I'm not sure. I've never seen Sheila with anyone. I mean, she's so hot, and everyone really digs her on stage, but man, I have never met a Queen who was such a cold fish."
Elizabeth feigned regret. "Too bad. Hey, uh, one more thing ever seen her without the get up? Like, what he's like under all that glam and glitz?" She started to extend the hand that had the twenty in it.
The bartender gazed hungrily at the bill and said, "Only once. I was out back having a smoke, and I saw him arrive. Almost didn't recognize him. Real emo type. Only thing that was the same was the long hair. It was like a river of blood like yours, sort of, without all the product and poofery of Sheila's look. Maybe it was a little shorter, too."
"Okay," said Elizabeth as she let the money fall into the bartender's waiting palm. "Thanks. My cousin'll love hearing about this."
Grinning, the bartender pocketed the money and said, "Well, hey, if your 'cousin' ever needs anything else, look me up. Name's Jamie Ryan."
Tilting her head slightly to the side, the vampath grinned and silently disconnected the empathic bond. Offering her hand, she said, "Elizabeth. Elizabeth Blaine."
Kate's contact at the Tenth was a low level clerk who, for a small consideration, was more than happy to look the other way whenever the investigator needed to make use of the department's extensive collection of case files. Soon after Kate had established Lockley and Associates, Vivienne Drake, Wolfram and Hart's Special Affairs liaison, had introduced her to Larry Kaplan. The hotshot attorney had vanished at the same time as the firm, but Kaplan remained.
"Hey Larry," said Kate as she wandered into his office. "Got time for an old friend?"
Kaplan looked up from his computer screen and swallowed. Ever since that Drake woman had made his troubles with the IRS disappear, Larry had felt pressured to make sure her friends got whatever they needed from him, but when Vivienne vanished, he felt certain his debt had been paid.
"I-I-I'm kind of busy, actually, Miss Lockley," he said.
Kate frowned and Larry automatically paled. He was not the bravest of men. In fact, it would be generous to call him "Larry the Meek and Mild", and Kate knew this. "Oh, come on Larry surely you're not going to tell me you want to give up our little lunches?" If he rabbits on me, I'm gonna have to find another guy inside this precinct. I should have brought Doc. Could use her brand of persuasion right about now. She pulled out a chair and sat, giving the nervous clerk a wide, toothy grin. "I brought your favorite," she sing-songed and held up a white bag with the logo of a local deli embossed on the paper. Two, twenty-dollar bills were clipped to the side facing the clerk.
Licking his lips at the sight of the cash, Larry tucked his pencil behind his left ear and caved. "Well, okay. I guess a guy's gotta eat," he said as he reached for the money.
"That's my man," said Kate, handing over the bag.
Snatching it close to his chest, Larry mumbled, "No mustard, right? You made sure they didn't defile it with that horrid stuff."
"It's exactly the way you like it, Larry. Mayo, sprouts, catsup, olives, onions, and kosher dills on a whole wheat roll with shaved ham and provolone." Kate felt a little ill listing the ingredients, but it seemed to make Larry happy, so she added, "I got you a bag of those salt and vinegar chips you like, too."
Larry looked up at Kate, his watery blue eyes filled with an emotion that might have been wonder, but was probably the precursor to a serious case of heartburn. "You must really want something, Kate."
Leaning forward, Kate rested her elbows on the desk, folded her hands and set her chin against her knuckles. "Oh, it's nothing much, Larry. I just want to talk. You know, shoot the breeze, hear a little office gossip."
He eyed her suspiciously. "About?"
The investigator shrugged nonchalantly. "What can you tell me about this 'Kiss of the Vampire' thing?"
Sprawled in chairs around a table covered in the remains of their last meal, the agents of the BAU stared blearily at several movable whiteboards. Crime scene photographs, diagrams, and hastily scrawled lists of text mocked them with the killer's bloody secrets. It had been a very long day, and it seemed as though it would only creep inexorably on, even with the advent of new evidence.
Dr. Reid was standing in front of a blank whiteboard, attempting to link the various clues while Rossi paced, muttering softly to himself about the differences between the original cases and the latest victim. "He or she is decompensating," he muttered. "But why? Why not just choose a new hunting ground and be happy with it?"
"No comfort zone? Sharkey's isn't exactly the high point of any bar hopper's night. Maybe our UnSub wants a certain class of victim?" Morgan stood and walked over to the boards. "Look at these guys. They're all young, fit, good looking. College types. They were out for a little fun; a little bit of a wild time."
"You said, 'He or she'," said JJ. The blonde agent was thumbing through a case file. "I thought we decided that the UnSub was a woman."
"I thought so too," said Rossi. "But with what we learned this morning "
The latest victim had been identified as Jason Chandler. Upon reaching the number listed as his emergency contact in his cell phone, they had spoken with a deeply grief-stricken older man who had identified himself as Jason's partner.
"I don't understand," he'd cried. "Jay was just going out for a little fun because I had to work."
After ascertaining that Jason had identified as homosexual, the team had begun to re-evaluate their profile. It was, as Agent Hotchner often said, an inexact science, and with every clue, new piece of evidence and scrap of information about the UnSub, their profile evolved.
Chucking her pencil onto the table, Emily said, "This sucks."
The door opened, admitting Aaron Hotchner. His face looked flushed, but there was a gleam of excitement lighting his dark eyes. "We've got something. They found DNA. The lab is forwarding the results to Quantico."
The collective sigh seemed to act as a revitalizing force as Morgan brought out his cell. Punching a single button, he set the phone on the table and waited for it to connect.
"Oracles-R-Us: prognostication, investigation, and information on demand and at your command. Sister Garcia will hear your plea, o puny mortal. Speak and be guided."
"Hey Baby Girl, we got us a break. You're about to get some evidence from the CPD, we need you to work your mojo and get us everything you can once the techs give you a name."
"Awesome. Let me just exercise a little Garcia magic." The clatter of keys was all they heard for several long minutes and then, "Hmm, well there's nothing in CODIS that matches the preliminary results. I'll keep trying and get back to you as soon as I have something. There is one thing, though."
"The sample definitely came from a woman."
Office of Lockley and Associates
Three years ago, Derskingorlus' prospects included many things, none of which would have found him hunched over a fancy laptop that was rigged and jiggered to purr like a fat cat on a pile of valerian. Dersk's mother, Tiatitania, had once told him that she wanted nothing more for him but to be happy and if asked, the half demon would say that yes, he'd achieved that, but happiness itself wasn't the only thing he felt.
The deep, almost spiritual sense of satisfaction that went hand and glove with every case that ended positively was almost too good to be true. Working for Kate and Elizabeth had put him on a road to a life that was a paradox of shadows and light that suited his dual nature. A part of that road had been learning how to use a computer, which after a few stumbles, he'd taken to like a duck to a pond.
Trained by a master hacker, Dersk's abilities had gone from hunt and peck to something approaching a respectable ability with data mining and information retrieval. With a Bluetooth hands-free device perched on his ear and his testosterone driven laptop open in front of him, the half demon waited to hear from his bosses.
First to call in was Elizabeth with a query that sent him off seeking info about the drag queen, Sheila Divine. What little data he'd been able to locate was quite interesting and he was about to call her back when Kate contacted him to have him start pulling information on a case being reported in another area of town.
It seemed the serial killer had struck again. Dersk groaned. His email was already overflowing with complaints from his friends about the case. This was only going to make it worse. Nothing riled up the nonhuman community faster than some idiot human doing something that drew too much attention to the shadows where their world flourished.
Cursing softly, he dug out a remote, opened the cupboard that hid the office's small television, and turned it on to the local news. With the afternoon anchors bleating about the "Kiss of the Vampire" killer and the soft dings as emails quickly filled his inbox, Dersk set to work digging through the internet for any new information about the killer.
"Marcus James Coleman? All right, see what you can come up with on him. No, don't do anything hinky, Dersk. No use in going to prison for a job we aren't even getting paid for." Elizabeth chuckled at something in the half demon's response and then said, "I gotta go, Snake Boy. She's here."
Elizabeth was meeting Kate for lunch at a café near Sharkey's, the scene of the latest killing. Once the police had left the area, she and Kate planned to do a little snooping around and see what evidence they could find.
"Hey," said the vampath as she stood and kissed her lover on the cheek. "I missed you."
Kate rolled her eyes, but returned the kiss. "You're such a goofball. It hasn't even been five hours."
"It's still been a long day. So, what'd Kaplan tell you?"
They sat down at the little table and perused a couple of well-worn paper menus. The café was small and had been a fixture in the neighborhood for years. Back when Elizabeth had worked for Sharkey's, she had often stopped by in the morning for breakfast after a long shift. The food was simple, plentiful, and cheap.
"Not much, unfortunately, but I was still able to pick up a little of the random gossip. Oh, and he had some notes from the BAU's profile, so I got a look at that, too. No real surprises except one: they're pretty sure it's a woman who's doing it." Kate looked up as a waiter came by to drop off a couple of glasses of water. "Could I get a beer? Yeah, here's my ID," she said, showing the young man her license. "Thanks."
"Me too," said the vampath, but when she went to pull out her wallet, he waved her off.
"S'okay, Liz. I remember you from the old man's place. You're cool."
"Right, right David, right? You're Sam's youngest, aren't you?" Elizabeth hadn't gotten too close to Sam Sharkey, but she remembered that he had quite a large family and that most of them worked at their old man's bar.
"Yeah, Pop got me a job here when the last guy quit. It's been nice. Haven't had to toss out a drunk or break up a fight in months."
If Kate could have sent telepathic kicks into Elizabeth's head, she would have. Instead, she concentrated on trying to find the elusive thread of the link that she and her lover sometimes shared. For once, she was in luck and she was able to "feel" it activate. Of course, now that she was in the rapport, she wasn't exactly sure what to do with it, so she focused on something simple like, a strong sense of curiousness.
Whether that worked or not, Kate was relieved when Elizabeth said, "Bet your old man wasn't happy with all the hoopla this morning."
David looked around. The café wasn't busy, so he hooked his foot around a chair and dragged it over to the table. Straddling the seat, he said, "Oh man, you ain't kidding, Liz. Pop just about cracked a brick when he found that man's body in the back. Danny says he hasn't stopped complaining about it all day. Seems them FBI folks told him he'd have to stay away from the area for a couple of days."
This was standard crime scene procedure. Kate had far too many memories of informing people that they couldn't have access to parts of their homes or businesses until the techs were done gathering all the evidence. Some took it well, understanding the need to document a scene, while others acted as though they wanted to forget that anything bad had ever happened to their precious places. Then there were those like Sam Sharkey, for whom the almighty dollar was for more important than catching a serial killer.
"That must have gone over about as well as a fart in a wetsuit," said the vampath. "I'm glad I wasn't there."
Chuckling, David said, "Yeah, I bet Danny wishes he hadn't been either. To hear him talk, you'd think Pop was more mad that he'd lost a potential customer rather than the fact that some kid got himself whacked on our property."
Did they know the victim? Was he a customer? Did anyone see anything unusual? Come on, Doc, pump the guy. Kate was concentrating so hard that she almost missed the slight narrowing of Elizabeth's eyes. Oh, sorry, honey. Too much. She took a breath and tried to calm herself.
"So anything weird happen lately? You know I don't get to hear the good stories anymore," said Elizabeth confidentially. "My boss here has me so busy chasing down deadbeat dads that I miss the real kooky ones." She indicated Kate with a nod of her head and gave the young man a rakish grin.
Turning his attention to the blonde investigator, David said, "So you're the one who lured Liz away from the glamorous life of beer slinging and wet t-shirt contests. Hoo boy, you should have heard Pop that day. I don't know what you offered her that he couldn't top, but he was almost sad enough that he forgot to water down the whisky."
Elizabeth snickered while Kate gave the young man a deadpan look and said, "It must be the benefits package. I hear it's one you can fall in love with."
The vampath's laughter turned to a choking cough, which caused the young man to reach over and pound her on the back. "Hey, hey, no inhaling the water, Liz. Sheesh. You okay?"
She waved him off. "Yeah, yeah, I'm good. Just swallowed wrong. Anyway, you were gonna tell me about the wacky stuff."
"Oh, yeah, well, there isn't much to tell. I mean, aside from the freaky looking chick that came into the café this morning. Man, she was really creepy. It wasn't anything real, you know, specific. Just, her eyes, man. They were dead. Like, she looked at me as if I was a big, ugly bug."
Elizabeth reached out and pinched his cheek. "Aww, and you're so cute, too."
Flushing hotly, David looked away and then said, "Anyway, then Danny called about the body, and the next thing I knew, the place was crawling with cops and she was gone."
"So, besides the freaky eyes, what'd she look like?"
Shrugging, David said, "She was average. You know, dark hair, dark eyes, narrow face, medium build. I almost thought she was a guy until she turned and I saw that she had, well " He stuck his hands out to mimic breasts. "Oh, she did have a nice voice. Probably would make a mint on one of those phone sex lines."
Kate started to get excited, but when the waiter's description didn't match their suspect, she sighed. Nothing here. Maybe his brother will have more. Oh well, at least we can get a decent meal out of it. Letting go of the rapport, the investigator settled back and waited until the conversation came to its natural end and then ordered her lunch.
Sharkey's was closed. Without access to the garbage cans, the bar couldn't operate to code and thus, had to keep its doors shut. Kate and Elizabeth had peeked around to the back, but there was still an officer posted on the scene, which put the kibosh on any possible snooping.
Disappointed, the women agreed to meet back at the office. Dusk was rapidly approaching, and Elizabeth felt the itchy need to patrol some of the usual vamp haunts. Dersk's comment about the nonhuman community being a little put out by the media's attention had her hackles up; she needed to remind the bloodsuckers that she was still bigger, meaner, and not afraid to get a little dusty.
"Gotta burn off some of this energy, Dick. I'm starting to feel stir crazy," she said as she climbed into her car. As much as she liked riding Kate's bike, she preferred the semi-armored safety of her '75 Plymouth Duster. The metallic purple vehicle had been a rare find a bonus from a grateful client, who had been so ecstatic when she and Kate had rid him of his "little problem" with some imps that had infested his garage, he'd given them their pick of his personal restoration projects.
Leaning on the door, Kate poked her head in through the window and pressed a kiss to the vampath's cheek. "Just be careful, okay? The new case of Dermabond hasn't arrived yet."
Elizabeth grinned. "I promise not to get shot, again. I love you." She cupped Kate's face gently and kissed her slowly. "I'll bring home dinner, too."
"Pizza. It'll make Dersk happy, and he's been working hard."
"Right. I'll get him one of those 'everything plus' meat happy ones that he loves so much."
Kate paled. "No anchovies. They make his breath smell for days."
"Okay. No fishies. You good with garlic chicken and tomato?"
"Sounds great. Okay, get going before I decide I want to play, too." Kate backed away and watched as Elizabeth put the metallic purple car in gear and then drove off toward the lake.
Putting on her helmet, Kate straddled her bike and kicked over the motor. Above the roar of the engine, she could not hear her cell ring. It was only when the bike settled into steady thrum of idle that noticed the more subtle vibration at her hip.
"Answer phone. Lockley," she said, hoping that the new Bluetooth device was sensitive enough to function.
"Hey Boss, got some more info for you." Dersk's voice was loud and clear. "Or at least, something interesting. Did you know that Sheila Divine, A.K.A Marcus Coleman, sometimes performs as a drag king under the name of Mark Cole?"
"Really? How'd you figure that out?"
"I called a friend over at Limbo to ask about Sheila, and she said that Ms. Divine rarely graces them with her talents, but that sometimes a drag king with the exact same taste in pre-show treats plays there at least three times a week. I asked around at some of the other gay bars, and it's looking like Sheila's not a Marcus, but rather Marcus is a Sheila. Or something. I'm a little confused with all the aliases. Anyway, my friend seemed certain that Mark Cole is a woman under the makeup because she overhead him mention that he was a lesbian."
"Okay." Kate felt the beginnings of a headache stir. I'm going to need a scorecard if this gets any more complicated.
"Yeah, but then, I called that bartender guy over at Club 88, and he said that he was pretty sure that Sheila only comes on to the guys. Said she pretty much ignores the women in the audience."
"Did you find her address like I asked?" Rush hour traffic was starting to heat up so Kate took side streets, zipping through residential neighborhoods and quickly making her way across town.
"Yeah, there's an apartment for Marcus listed at the Baycrest Arms. It's number fourteen."
"Okay, I'm going to check it out. You know the drill."
"Yeah, yeah, if I don't hear from you in an hour, call Elizabeth and raise holy hell."
Kate chuckled. "You might want to give the cops a ring, too. This really is more their bailiwick than ours."
"Why are we doing this, again?"
Kate brought the bike to a stop just outside the Baycrest Arms. Dismounting, she pulled off her helmet and locked it in place on the seat. "Because the killing has to stop, Dersk. And if we can help, we should. I know we're not getting paid, but business has been good to us. Consider this part of giving back to the community."
"Whatever. I think I'll be happier when we go back to the usual cases of vampires, demons, and cheating spouses."
"Don't forget the Khemdar rats," said the investigator with a grin.
"Oh no, I won't ever forget those," said Dersk as he ended the call.
The mood within the conference room was tense as everyone waited for the phone to ring. When it did, it was Hotch who answered.
"What have you got for us, Garcia?" The dark haired agent stood with his arms crossed; coat long discarded, tie askew and collar buttons undone. Across from him, Dave Rossi paced the room, his eyes filled with the fire of a man who needs a mission.
"The sample came back with a big, fat double nothing on a primary identity, but I did manage to match it to an old open case."
JJ spun around her laptop to face the rest of the room. A presentation was loading, displaying grainy crime scene images depicting a woman who had been brutally beaten.
"Mary Louise Jacobs, twenty-two, was found in an abandoned home near Evanston, Illinois in 1980. She'd been drugged, beaten, and raped. No arrests were ever made, but eight months later, a healthy baby girl was delivered via cesarean. "
"What's the connection?" said Morgan.
"Her DNA is a partial match to the UnSub's. Sir, I think this might be the mother."
"Is there any next of kin listed?" said JJ.
"Let me take a look." A clatter of keys was followed by, "Now this is interesting."
"What's that?" said Emily.
"She's in a long-term care facility in Evanston. Oak Hollow Memorial has her listed as a patient for the past fifteen years," said Garcia.
"Next of kin?" Hotch grabbed the back of a nearby chair and gripped it. They were close; he could feel it.
"The record's sealed. I could "
Hotch cut her off. "No, let's not do that just yet. Prentiss, I want you and JJ to head up to Evanston. Find out what you can and get back here as soon as possible."
The women nodded, grabbed their coats and took off.
"Sir, I've got one more thing for you. I'm uploading a picture of Mary Jacobs taken just before she was attacked."
The men turned their gazes to JJ's computer and watched incoming image resolve.
"Good work, Garcia," said Hotch as he leaned over and typed in several commands.
"I aim to please, Garcia out."
Across the room a printer began spitting out copies of the picture. Reid picked one up and said, "Like mother, like daughter?" The face that looked out from the faded color image bore a deeply striking resemblance to the police sketch of the UnSub.
"Let's get these out to the public. Maybe this will help jog some memories," said Hotch.
Oak Hollow Memorial Evanston, ILLINOIS
According to the GPS, the drive to the hospital in Evanston would take a little over half an hour, which left Emily and JJ a small window of time wherein they could put aside discussion related to the case.
Hesitantly, like a swimmer approaching an unfamiliar pool, Emily dipped her toe in the water that surrounded the events of the prior evening. Clearing her throat, the brunette agent said, "So, we should probably talk about this " With a futile gesture, she encircled the air that filled the spaces between them. "Thing that we're doing."
JJ's face gave nothing of her emotions away, though a keen observer might have noticed the slight tightening of the flesh around her mouth and the deepening of the blue of her eyes. If, given to stopping and examining the subject further, one also noted that those cerulean eyes had started to glitter with a suspicious wetness and that the subtle rise and fall of the blonde press liaison's chest had began to judder as though breath were impossible to draw and hold, then one could start to sense the nervousness that erupted within JJ at Emily's less than eloquent words.
Several responses sat, like leaden candies, upon JJ's tongue. What she chose to say though, was simply, "All right. I suppose we should." Risking a sidewise glance at the brunette, she felt a mild sense of relief trickle over her upon discovering that Emily looked as discombobulated as she felt.
"I know it's early days, so I just want to make sure we're on the same page with regards to how we're going to proceed on the job. There are protocols and all kinds of shit that could make any relationship we choose an impossibility." Emily tried to sound calm, but the words came out harshly. Foot, meet mouth. Add salt and a little catsup and you might even be enjoying a good meal there, Em. Just blunt your way through it, like Garcia said. JJ deserves your honesty. Shaking her head, the older agent sighed and said, "What I really want to say, is that I enjoyed being with you, JJ, and I don't want that to stop. And despite anything I might have said before, I really do like working with Hotch and the guys. I'd hate to have to give that up."
"I would never ask that of you, Emily." JJ's tone was solemn and a little hurt. "I don't want to give up working with this team either."
"So what are we going to do? I can't imagine that you want to tell the team that we're God, what are we doing? Dating?" Of all the convoluted, idiotic messes you could have gotten yourself into, Emily Prentiss. Your mother will be so proud.
"If you want to call it that, then we are." JJ pursed her lips and tried to sound nonchalant. "This is all new territory for me, Emily. I may have gone out with a few co-workers before, but there was never any real risk involved with that. Now there is. Now I have something to lose, and it isn't my job." She took a deep breath and whispered, "It's my heart. So whatever this is, however you want to proceed, I'll follow your lead."
The wide-eyed, "Oh," of surprise that was Emily's response was followed by a lengthy silence. Finally, the brunette agent reached out to press her fingertips against the skin just below JJ's ear. Distantly, she could sense the thready, pulsating throb of the blonde's heartbeat. "Jennifer," she said in a low, rumbling tone. "You're not the only one whose heart could go astray."
"Well, if you find mine, could you take care of it? I promise to do the same for you." The sweet smile that she offered Emily was full of tremulous hope.
God, no wonder she's the communications liaison. She can turn me inside out with just a few words. Emily licked her lips and said, "It's a deal. As for this thing, well, I guess we'll just have to play it by ear." With a slightly watery smile, she added, "But I can't promise not to stick my foot in my mouth from time to time."
JJ's laugh was light and golden and more than enough to drive away the slightly burnt scent of crisped nerves.
The hospital had a depressed aura about it that automatically set JJ's teeth on edge. Underneath the strong scent of disinfectant was the darker, more noxious odor that only the terminally ill produced.
Approaching the information desk, she reached into her pocket, pulled out her badge and said, "Hello, I'm Jennifer Jareau, and this is Agent Prentiss. We're here to talk to someone about a patient in residence?" Beside her, Emily displayed her badge, and the paired looks of determination went a long way toward impressing the receptionist.
Picking up the phone, she pressed a button and said, "Hi, this is Martha in the front. Could you please have Dr. Mason come down here?" She looked up at the agents and said, "The doctor will be right down. Why don't you have a seat over there?" With a gesture, she indicated a bank of benches that lined the wall opposite the desk.
"We'll wait here," said JJ. "Thank you."
Emily hugged herself, rubbing her arms as if to ward off a chill. Since childhood, hospitals had always been places of pain and loss. The death of a cousin to leukemia still lingered in her memory as one of the low points of her childhood. Oak Hollow, with its walls drowning in subtle, institutional shades that all but screamed, "This is where the dying are," made the brunette agent's teeth ache. When the soft, seeping warmth of a hand was laid against the base of her spine, Emily very nearly kissed JJ right then and there. Instead, she leaned back into the touch and then turned to smile at the blonde agent.
"Thanks," she whispered softly.
JJ's lopsided smile was playfully mischievous. "Anytime. I know you don't like these places." A memory, one cherished and held up to the light whenever things were tough, surfaced.
The warmth of the hand gripping hers slowly crept up JJ's arm. Turning, she favored Emily with a brief smile. The older agent's dark eyes were deep with unspoken emotion, and the longer JJ gazed into them, the harder her heart thudded in her chest. JJ wanted to speak, to say something to acknowledge their connected hands but could not find the voice to press through the grief clutching her throat.
Garcia had been shot. God, it was like someone had reached into her head, ripped out one of her worst nightmares, and splashed it onto the pavement for all to see.
"I hate hospitals," said Emily softly. "I never feel warm enough inside them." She shivered, but did not release her hold on JJ's hand. "It's going to be okay, you know," she said, so softly that her words barely carried to JJ's ears. "Garcia's tough, and she has us pulling for her." Their fingers slid together then, crossing and gripping so tightly that JJ was sure she'd have marks later.
It was a lifeline; one to which she clung through the hours of Penelope's surgery and when it was all over, when Battle had been shot and the remains carted away, it was the sensation of Emily's fingers twined with her own that had lingered, not the smell of cordite or the fine mist of blood that had dappled the white walls of the BAU's bullpen.
Emily's softly whispered, "I don't, so let's get this over with so we can get our UnSub and go home," was enough to send the sweet memory back into the recesses of JJ's mind.
Baycrest Arms Chicago, ILLINOIS
In the hall outside Marcus Coleman's apartment, Kate pressed her ear up against the door and listened for signs of life. When nothing materialized, she took a quick look around before pulling out her lock picks and making swift work of the deadbolt and doorknob locks. Drawing her sidearm, Kate opened the door and stepped inside.
Quickly, she went through the apartment, ascertaining that it was empty before returning to the front room, closing and locking the door. Holstering the gun, she flicked on a light and gasped in surprise. The apartment was almost monastically bare. A chair, a table, one bookshelf, and a single lamp were the only pieces of furniture in both the living and dining rooms.
There was no artwork, anywhere. Instead, the walls, which at some point had been a chalky white, were covered with row upon row of crabbed, block-letter writing. Closer examination revealed the text to be passages from the bible, scribed with every imaginable implement possible; some of the words were even carved directly into the drywall.
The writing continued down the hall and into the bathroom, where the potently heavy scent of bleach lingered. In the bedroom, the scrawl continued in less precise, scattered lines that appeared in random spots and corners.
Aside from the bed and one dresser, the room was furnished with a desk and a chair. Sitting at the desk, Kate noted a row of photo albums lined up against the wall. From her jacket pocket, the investigator pulled out a pair of latex gloves, slipped them on, and then chose an album at random.
Page after page of darkly gruesome images greeted her inspection. Pictures from magazines had been defaced beyond recognition. Men's faces scratched out, their chests boldly emblazoned with bright red phallic symbols. Words were scrawled on some of the pages, the letters written over and over.
"Men are pigs," decorated one page. "Never trust a man," was scrawled on several. There was more, in the same vein, throughout the album and all the rest. The level of rage and hate seemed to build with each book until the last one was just a mass of twisted pen marks and hacked up images.
Kate replaced the albums and went over to the closet. Opening the doors was like entering a whole different world. Where the apartment was spare, the closet was filled with a flowing curtain of color. Dresses, suits, jewelry, hats, wigs, even a small vanity with a mirror and a tray of makeup filled the space. Flyers decorated the edges of the mirror, ads displaying the names of several local clubs, all of which sponsored drag acts, including Limbo and Club 88.
There was a calendar on the wall, with dates and places marked on it. Upon eyeballing it, each of the circled days corresponded to a murder.
"Okay, Marcus er Sheila, whoever you are, it's time to find you and bring you to the attention of the authorities," muttered the investigator. Slowly, she put everything back as she'd found it and then quickly made her way out of the apartment. Once outside, she called the office.
"Lockley and Associates, how can we help you today?"
"It's me. I need you to do a deep background on Marcus Coleman. He wasn't at home, but he's definitely the guy."
"Girl, Boss. I got a few tips from Willow and did some more digging. Turns out that Marcus is really Michelle. The 'fibbies' were right on the money. Anyway, she's been in and out of mental hospitals for most of her life but has been out on her own for about a year now. She started doing a male drag act at Limbo, then got the gig at Club 88 when someone pointed out how good she was at the guy thing anyway, according to her medical file "
"Please tell me you did not hack into someone's medical records, Dersk." Kate pinched the bridge of her nose and tried not to groan.
"Of course not. Willow did." The half demon made it seem as if it were all perfectly kosher. "Anyway, do you want to hear this, or do you want to bitch me out?"
Kate sighed. There was no unringing the bell, and she might as well get some use out of it. "Go ahead." Straddling her bike, she cinched on her helmet and kicked over the engine. It was time to go have a chat with the FBI.
"Well, she claims to be gay, but there are reams of notes about how she likes guys. One of the shrinks even writes that, 'She's no more gay than I am. Investigate possible childhood trauma related to fear of men.' Creepy, huh?"
Given what she'd seen in the apartment, Kate said, "You don't know the half of it."
Parish of Saint Joseph's
Entering the rectory at St. Joseph's, Elizabeth spotted Father Luke sitting at a table, sipping from a cup of tea. Nearby, his housekeeper was bustling about, dusting and straightening the room, all while exchanging a barrage of cheerful chatter with the young pastor. Upon noticing the vampath's arrival, the housekeeper paused in her cleaning and said, "Elizabeth, child. Welcome, come right in and have a seat. Would you like a cup of coffee? I've just brewed a fresh pot."
Taking the chair to Luke's left, Elizabeth smiled in return and said, "No thanks, Edith, I can't stay long." With a casual shrug, she dropped a duffel bag on the floor. It landed with a hefty thump, causing the housekeeper to frown briefly.
Edith tsked, but cheerily continued on with her cleaning.
"Any developments with the serial?" asked the priest as soon as Edith was out of earshot.
"Some," said Elizabeth. "But you know I'm not here about that."
Luke nodded. "I figured. There isn't much; that last cleansing has kept things pretty quiet."
"But there is something, otherwise I wouldn't be here." Over the years, Elizabeth had come to realize that her symbiote could sense more than just random emotions; it could also, if she concentrated on it, pick up on supernatural activity, especially that of demonic origin. It wasn't an overt sense, more like an underlying tickle that hummed at the back of her mind. The vampath had learned how to measure the drone; most days, it was such a subtle undertone that she ignored it, but today, it was as though her head was full of bees.
The priest made a face. "Don't you have enough on your plate already?"
"Maybe, but I need something I can fight right now, Father. Even if I were to be presented with the killer, all I could do is make a citizen's arrest." Something of Elizabeth's frustration must have come through in her voice because the priest sighed in resignation.
"All right, but don't get your hopes up. It's just a rumor. You'll want to go up by the port. There's an old warehouse, just off pier twelve. Look for the eagle with the red feathers. I understand that there may be ten to fifteen vamps living there."
"Are they hunting?"
"Some. Dazz said a couple of the younger girls are missing."
"They must be turning what they're taking because we haven't gotten any calls from Kaplan or any of the others." The file clerk at the Tenth wasn't their only contact within the CPD, nor was he entirely unaware of their interest in the so-called, "strange" cases. "I'd better get going. Can I use your restroom to change?"
"Always. Be safe," said Luke. They stood, and the priest withdrew a vial of oil from a pocket. Anointing her, he whispered a small blessing and then kissed her cheek. "Go with God's fist as your weapon and my prayers as your shield, my friend."
Elizabeth grinned. "Nice way of sayin' 'kick their asses,' Luke."
Rattling his rosary at her, the priest said, "Gotta keep up the old appearances, Liz. It's all part of the job."
Laughing, the vampath picked up her bag and headed for the bathroom.
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