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Prologue

It was late afternoon, and the sun shone brightly above the practice field at East Allegheny High School. A young blonde was the only one remaining on the field as she practiced her ball handling drills. The rest of her team had long since left to shower and head home for the evening, but she wasn't quite ready to call it a day. She had recently been named captain of the varsity soccer team, and she wanted to make sure she lived up to the honor of her new title. Rolls, foundation, pull back and go, turns, change with fakes and then back to rolls again – over and over she ran through the drill until she felt the click and pushed through the last set with her eyes closed.

Whooping when she finished the final Rivelino, she immediately started her stretches, already making plans to get in some time juggling the ball when she got home. Pleased with her workout, she headed back into the gym and through to the locker room where she discovered that she was alone. After only a moment's hesitation, she decided to wash up quickly, grab her stuff, and head out. She was just opening her locker when she heard a noise coming from around the corner.

"Who's there?" she asked nervously. Heart pounding, she waited for a response but was met with only silence. Deciding she must be hearing things, she grabbed her bag and her jacket and was just about to lock her locker when she was grabbed from behind. Struggling hard against her captor, she felt the arm around her throat tighten, each gasp for breath more difficult than the last, until, finally, she lost consciousness.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.

Anna Quindlen


 

Chapter 1

Jennifer "JJ" Jareau awoke with a start, grasping at the fading tendrils of whatever phantasm disturbed her slumber. It was not an uncommon occurrence. These nocturnal interruptions were part and parcel to working with the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico – a side effect of the job, if you will. The dreams she used to have paled in comparison to the things she experienced on a day-to-day basis. But there was that one big difference – the elephant in the room – as she once again felt that sense of déjà vu and overwhelming dread. You see, when JJ had one of those dreams, the things that she dreamed about usually turned out to be true.

She knew sleep was no longer an option and so she got up and made some coffee. As she waited for the pot to brew, she reviewed the fragments of her dream. The images were not very clear and seemed somewhat disjointed. If this were one of her premonitions, she would be hard pressed to state with any certainty what was going to happen. This fact gave her hope that perhaps this was merely a nightmare and the sense of dread simply a lingering effect of some of their recent cases. Speaking of… it was late enough now that she could shower and head in to work without being too early.

Freshly showered, with a large cup of coffee in hand, JJ made her way to the BAU. The air was crisp and fresh – it was a truly beautiful day – but the blonde barely noticed as she contemplated her recent dream. She just couldn't shake the feeling that something unpleasant was going to happen today. She parked her car, walked to the elevator, pressed the button for the sixth floor and stepped off when it arrived, but if asked anything about her journey, she wouldn't be able to recall a thing. She moved to her desk, and just as she was settling down to review some paperwork, Supervisory Agent Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner called her into his office.

JJ felt her heart speed up a bit as she wondered if this was the unpleasantness she was anticipating. She watched as the dark-haired man took a seat behind his desk and motioned for her to sit as well. His expression was unreadable, so JJ could only wait for him to speak to find out what this was all about.

Finally, Agent Hotchner opened a folder and turned it toward JJ. "There's a new case we need to brief the team on."

"I didn't get a call on this one," JJ commented as she took the folder and began to read through its contents.

"I know. The case was brought to me so that I could discuss it with you first." Agent Hotchner watched as the blonde perused the documents, watched as her posture stiffened slightly. "As you can see, it involves your hometown as well as your high school. I wanted to give you a chance to look over these documents before the briefing." He waited a few more minutes before placing his hand on her shoulder. "We should get this investigation underway; JJ, will you be alright participating in this?"

Still a bit stunned by what she was able to read about the case, she stood and handed Hotch the folder. "Of course, I'll be fine, thanks for asking, and thanks for the advance notice."

He merely nodded and gestured for JJ to precede him out the door, immediately calling the rest of the team into the conference room for the briefing.

JJ hung back and allowed the others to enter before her. Spencer Reid, boy genius and one time date, as baffling, as he was brilliant, Derek Morgan, a gorgeous man with absolutely no ego whatsoever and never far behind Morgan was the effervescent Penelope Garcia, a wiz with all things electronic and one of the most interesting personalities the blonde had ever met. Then there was Emily Prentiss, a beautiful woman with such a dignified carriage, an aftereffect of her well-to-do upbringing as the daughter of an ambassador. When JJ had first laid eyes on the brunette, she wasn't sure what to think, but they'd soon learned to accept one another, and a comfortable rapport had developed between the two. Finally, JJ entered the room, followed closely by Supervisory Special Agent David Rossi. This man was truly an enigma, and like everyone else, she'd long ago given up trying to figure him out.

As soon as everyone settled into his or her seat, Hotch began to brief the team. "I'll be taking point on this case for reasons that will become apparent as the facts are revealed." His eyes scanned quickly over the team to see how they would react. Satisfied that the widening of their eyes was going to be the extent of their reaction, he went on. "We received a call from North Versailles Homicide," He attempted to quickly continue – at least until the Goddess of all information made the connection.

"Hey JJ, isn't that near your hometown?" Garcia asked the blonde.

"Uh, yeah, it is." JJ answered simply, not wanting to go into any detail, her earlier sense of dread returning twofold. She hoped everyone would let it go, for now at least, so they could get back to the details of the case. It seemed they all caught on quickly as each person's attention returned to Agent Hotchner.

"As I was saying, we received a call regarding what appears to be a string of homicides. It seems no one made the connection between the cases until just recently when a rookie Detective caught the latest case." The dark-haired man handed each person at the table a folder. "These are summaries of the three related cases. The first occurred nearly seven months ago – a blue-eyed blonde, female, late teens, strangled and left in a life preserver bin at a rental cabin in the Finger Lakes."

Pausing to give the group time to review the photos, he went on. "The next occurred 28 days ago – blue-eyed blonde, female, early twenties, strangled and left in a Salvation Army clothing receptacle in Trafford." Once again, Hotch hesitated, stealing a quick glance at JJ before continuing. "The latest victim was found three days ago, blue-eyed blonde, female, late teens, strangled and left in her gym locker at East Allegheny High School." Hotch looked up from the file and turned his attention to the team's audio/visual technician. "Garcia, I want you to check the MO against other similar cases and send your findings here." He handed the analyst a card with access to the server in the hotel where they would be working. He knew she'd have a direct link established well before the group reached their destination.

"The rest of you I want packed and ready to head to Monroeville. We've got rooms at the Radisson and full access to their conference facilities to set up a base of operations as their police station is too small to accommodate us." He looked at the group, JJ in particular, and added, "We'll leave in one hour. It's roughly a forty-five minute flight, so we should arrive around one o'clock. The Homicide Detective on the case will meet us there, and the hotel will provide a late lunch as well."

As everyone stood to leave, Emily moved to JJ's side. "Hey, how are you doing?" The brunette couldn't help but ask. It was never easy when a case hit close to home, and she felt that this one might be even more unsettling to the blue-eyed blonde, varsity soccer team captain, and East Allegheny High School alum.

JJ looked over at Emily as if she didn't hear what was said but recovered quickly and responded. "I'm not really sure… I don't think it's sunk in just yet."

Not liking the slightly glazed expression on the woman's face, Emily put her hand on JJ's shoulder. "Listen, how about I drive you to pick up your bag, and then we'll swing by to grab mine? No reason for both of us to take separate cars, right?" She knew JJ recognized the gesture for what it was but wanted to let it appear as if it were her idea.

"Sure, sounds good to me." JJ replied as they started for the garage. The pair walked in silence the entire way to Emily's car, and the silence continued well into the trip. JJ was still trying to wrap her head around this case and the fact that she was headed back to her hometown, while Emily was contemplating how she could get the blonde to open up to her about the obvious tension she was experiencing over this case.

It wasn't until they were on their way to Emily's place that the brunette decided to break the silence. "So, how are you doing?" Realizing she'd asked that very same question already, she quickly amended. "You know, with the case being in your hometown?"

"Well, I'm not gonna say it isn't a bit disconcerting. I haven't been home in a while, and this isn't really how I wanted to go back. Not to mention what everyone obviously realizes – the similarities between these victims and me." The blonde shook her head. "Particularly the last one, she is who I was fourteen years ago."

"Maybe that will allow you to have insight into the case that the rest of us wouldn't have." Emily offered. "I know that's cold comfort, but it's something to hold on to."

JJ smiled ruefully, "Yeah, I guess there's that."

Arriving back at Quantico, JJ and Emily stowed their bags in the back of the SUV and took the two rear seats, Reid and Morgan situated themselves in the middle seats, and Hotch drove while Rossi rode shotgun. There was silence during the ride to the airport, and during the flight as well, as each person read the available information and prepared to try and come up with the beginnings of a profile on this unsub. To figure out the how that should lead to the why, and then, hopefully, the who.

The group arrived at the hotel just before one and checked in. They were immediately shown to their rooms and told that lunch was waiting for them in the executive conference room whenever they were ready. Everyone quickly dropped off their bags and made their way to the conference room, anxious to get started. As with every case, they wanted to do all they could to solve it before the unsub had the opportunity to strike again. The last to arrive was Agent Hotchner, who was trailed by a striking redhead wearing a gold detective's badge.

"All right everyone," The dark-haired man addressed the group. "I'd like to introduce the homicide detective on this case and have her brief you on any new developments. Detective Todd." Hotch gestured for the redhead to begin.

"Hello all, my name is Mackenzie Todd, but please call me Mac." She looked at each person in the room in turn as she continued, "I'm grateful to all of you for coming here so quickly, and hopefully, we'll be able to find out who's behind these crimes." She smiled at the dark-haired woman, and then her gaze moved to the blonde next to her. "We can visit the..."

The redhead's eyes went wide as she recognized just who the blonde was. "Jay Bird?"

JJ had an equally stunned look on her face. "Mac?" She went a bit pale as the full impact of who was standing in front of her hit her. Rising to her feet, JJ quickly made her way out of the room, calling out an apology as she hurried through the exit. "I'm sorry."

Mac watched the blonde leave and turned to the remaining group. "If you'll excuse me..." she said and went in search of JJ. Spotting her as she slipped out the front door, Mac quickly caught up to her. "Jennifer," she said softly as she grabbed hold of JJ's arm.

JJ stopped long enough to pull out of the redhead's grip. "Don't," she commanded. "Don't touch me." JJ couldn't make eye contact yet, and with the way her stomach was roiling, she was glad she hadn't yet eaten anything. "Am I supposed to just act as if I barely know you? Or maybe I'll pretend I just met you, because the girl I knew back in high school would have found a way to get in touch with me. She would have let me know she was all right. She would never just leave without a word. Without a word, Mackenzie! More than fourteen years, and I'm just supposed to accept that you're standing here in front of me - whole and healthy - and I'm expected to work with you on this case. Here, back where it all started... ironic don't you think?"

Mac didn't know what to do. She was just as shocked at the turn of events and wanted to tell JJ everything, but knew this wasn't the time. "JJ, I can try to explain it all to you, but not now. We've got to focus on this case and find this killer, and after we do, I promise you full disclosure." The redhead's eyes welled up with tears as she waited for what she hoped would be a positive response.

JJ stared into Mac's gray-blue eyes and saw a pain and sorrow that matched her own. "I've waited fourteen years already; I suppose I can wait a bit longer." Her own blue eyes shone bright with tears as the blonde reached out and pulled her long-lost friend into a hug. "God, Mac, I'm so glad to see you."

The redhead gratefully accepted the peace offering. "Oh Jay Bird, me too, you." She felt the tremor of a laugh at the oft-used terminology. "I never meant to hurt you, believe me." They each tightened their grip on the other. "Now, we better get back to your team and explain our hasty departure."

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

The stunned group had yet to react to the sudden departure of their agent and the detective, each team member choosing to pretend to look over the information in their folders instead of speculating out loud. Of course, not everyone was able to hold his or her tongue, and soon, the disembodied voice of Penelope Garcia sounded over the room's speaker system.

"Okay, what the heck just happened there? You know I don't enjoy not knowing what's going on." This was more than curiosity on the analyst's part, there was a good dose of anxiety in her voice as well.

"Hang on, Baby Doll." Morgan got up and flipped open his cell. "I'm calling you right now." He punched the speed dial as he walked out into the hall. He was as much at a loss for the reason behind recent events as everyone else, but he knew Garcia would worry, and so he wanted to assure her that JJ would be all right. "Hey, Sweetie, listen, I don't really know what the deal is, but it looks like JJ has a history with the detective on the case."

"What's her name?" Garcia asked as she moved to another of her many keyboards.

Morgan knew what the blonde was about to do. "Garcia, I don't think…"

"You don't need to think, just tell me her name!" The analyst shouted.

"Calm down, Baby Girl, just take a deep breath, and think about this for a minute."

"Morgan, please, just tell me her name. I just want to take a look at her. I promise I won't do anything." He knew Garcia needed to do this, to assure herself that JJ would be okay by doing what she did best – getting the low down on the detective.

"All right, her name is Mackenzie Todd, and she's a homicide detective with North Versailles PD." Morgan kept the phone to his ear and listened to the rapid-fire clicking of keys as Garcia dug for information on who'd upset her good friend. In less than a minute, she had access to facts about the detective's life – Morgan often wondered if she realized just how powerful her abilities were.

"Hmm, well it appears she and JJ grew up in the same neighborhood, just a few houses apart, and they attended the same schools, pre-school through high school." The clicking continued. "Uh oh, looks like Miss Todd disappeared right in the middle of her senior year. She resurfaced in Sedona, Arizona and graduated from high school there." More clicking, interspersed with a few sighs, before it finally stopped. "Well, she certainly is squeaky-clean, not even a traffic ticket. She attended the police academy in Arizona and worked her way up the ranks. She transferred here when her mother took ill and stayed after her mother passed away last year."

"So they knew each other as kids, probably lost touch when she left for Arizona which explains JJ's shock at seeing her again." Morgan stated, even though he knew Garcia wouldn't let it go at that.

"There's more to it than that Derek, you promise me you'll keep an eye on my girl." The blonde stated emphatically.

"You know I will." Seeing the women walking into the building, he quickly let the analyst know. "They're heading back now Garcia, get your ears back on." He told her, referring to her link to the conference room.

"Thanks, Sweet Cheeks, talk to you later."

Flipping the phone shut, Morgan went back into the room. "They're on their way back." He told the group as he took his seat.

The door opened shortly thereafter, and JJ entered, followed closely by Mac. The pair stood together to face the group, but since these people were JJ's team, she was the first to speak. "Sorry for dashing out of here like that. It was just a bit of a shock to see Mac because I wasn't sure I'd ever see her again." JJ sighed and ran her hand through her hair. "I still don't know all of the facts, but suffice it to say, I'm very happy to see her, even if the circumstances aren't the best." Her gaze moved to each of her teammates, and she realized just how amazing these people were as she saw nothing but understanding in their eyes. "I assure you that my focus will be on this case, and I, like the rest of you, will do my best to get it solved."

"Now, I'd like to make brief introductions, and then turn the floor over to Mac." She looked at the redhead as she began her introductions. "Detective Mackenzie Todd, you've met Supervisory Special Agent Hotchner – this is Supervisory Special Agent, David Rossi." JJ waited as the two acknowledged one another. "To his left are Senior Special Agent Derek Morgan, and Special Agents Spencer Reid and Emily Prentiss." Once again, she waited for nods of acknowledgment. "And via satellite is our Audio/Visual Technician, Penelope Garcia."

"Greetings, one and all," issued from the speaker system as the technician made her presence known.

"Well, hello again, everyone," Mac stated to the group and then took her turn to explain her sudden departure. "I have to say it was a pretty good shock for me seeing JJ today, and I do look forward to being able to catch up with her, but until the opportunity presents itself, we are both committed to working on and solving this case." The redhead waited as JJ took her seat. "So, as I was saying, you will be able to access the latest crime scene today, so let me know when you'd like to head over there. In the meantime, I have copies of the autopsy on the latest victim and a list of friends and faculty who were either in the building at the time or were the last to have seen the victim." With that, Mac handed each individual a folder containing the aforementioned information and took the remaining seat at the table.

There was silence as the group scanned the new information, and then Agent Hotchner spoke up. "Garcia, what have you discovered as far as similar MO's?"

Once again, the voice of Penelope Garcia sounded over the room's speaker system. "I'm glad to say that I didn't find any other cases like these three. I'd like to get the list of friends and faculty, though, so I can start work-ups on them. Could someone scan them for me?"

Detective Todd was momentarily startled, but recovered quickly. "Uh, sure." Mac answered the unseen woman and walked toward the equipment on the table. "Can somebody point me to the scanner?"

"Hey, Hot Stuff, why don't you show the good detective how it's done?" Garcia requested of Morgan.

"You got it, Sweetness." Special Agent Morgan responded as he rose to give Mac a hand.

The pet names didn't go unnoticed by the Detective, but Mac kept her own counsel. She knew she was probably already on their shit list for causing problems for one of their teammates, and she figured the daily exposure to brutal crimes was pretty damn intense, which would definitely cause the team members to develop a strong camaraderie. She wasn't about to step on any more toes; oh no, she was going to be on her best behavior.

"The Goddess has received the data and will start to work her magic… feel free to talk amongst yourselves," Garcia informed the group.

Once again, Mac was a bit taken aback by the casualness of the remarks but tried not to let it show. Of course, she would soon find out that hiding things from this particular group was close to impossible.

"I've been thinking about the timeline in relation to the crimes, and I believe the unsub might have accidentally murdered his first victim." Reid observed. "The lengths of time between the first and second murders, and the shortened gap to the third, suggest that he felt he could now get away with it."

"Very plausible," Emily added. "The crimes themselves weren't overtly violent, the victims weren't sexually assaulted pre- or postmortem, and there's been no mutilation or taking of souvenirs."

"Right, and the victims bodies were placed as if they were resting, not dumped haphazardly." Morgan intoned. "I'd say he's a young white male, maybe late teens, early twenties, and he has major issues with blue-eyed blondes."

"Yes the victimology suggests that he's had at least one extremely negative experience with a female fitting the victims' descriptions." Reid continued. "Perhaps a family member or a girlfriend."

Mac was amazed at the leaps of reasoning on display before her. She'd been taking notes all the while, and looking at the possible suspect list, realized there were no males to be found on it. Mac decided to give voice to her observation "I don't see any males on this list."

"I think I have something. There's a Valerie Trent on the list, biology teacher and coach of the girls' soccer team." Garcia spoke from her remote location. "She was at school when the third victim was killed, she lives in Trafford, and, get this, she was vacationing in the Finger Lakes area at the time of the first murder."

"Wow, but she's not a male." Mac queried, still somewhat amazed at how quickly the group was able to access information.

"You're correct, Detective, but she does have an eighteen-year-old son who still lives with her." Garcia continued. "She was recently divorced – her husband left her for a younger woman, and guess what?"

"She's blonde with blue eyes…" Mac said disbelievingly.

"Got it in one!" Garcia added.

"Okay, he's eighteen, so we can question him without her permission, but I think she should be there." Mac stated.

"I agree." Rossi said. "As a matter of fact, I don't want her to think he's a suspect. Tell her we'd like to speak to both of them since they were in the vicinity of a crime scene. Just a few questions to see if they might be able to shed some light on who might have been responsible."

"Okay, I can get a squad car to pick them up and bring them to the precinct." Mac rose as she flipped open her phone. "I'll make the arrangements and let you know when they should have them there."

"Good." Hotch spoke up for the first time. "If he is the killer, he may be in a state of denial about the actual murders. We'll need to ascertain his level of anger toward blue-eyed blondes." He looked at all three women in the room. "I think Mac should question him since she is a local cop. At some point, I'd like Emily to enter and see how he reacts to her." At Emily's nod, he turned to JJ. "If he has a positive response to both Mac and Emily, I'd like you to enter the room and make direct eye contact with him while you speak to Detective Todd."

"If he is the unsub, he'll definitely react to JJ's directness." Reid agreed. "He may even break enough to give us some more insight into his psychosis."

With everyone agreeing on the plan, Mac made her call. "They should have them at the precinct in half an hour. Seems both mother and son were at home when the call went out."

"Alright, let's get to the precinct. We don't want him to see Agents Prentiss or Jareau until we're ready for him to see them." Rossi instructed.

The group quickly disbursed and made their way to the North Versailles PD – males in one car and females in another. Mac was behind the wheel and couldn't help but remark on what just transpired. "You guys are amazing! Coming up with a suspect in just about an hour's time, unbelievable."

"Just remember, Detective Todd," Emily spoke seriously. "He's only a suspect until we can prove otherwise."

"Right. I think Agent Hotchner's plan is a good one though." Mac said as she made the final turn into the precinct lot.

The group reconvened in one of the observation rooms while Mac spoke to Mrs. Trent. "It'll go a lot faster if we can speak with both of you at the same time, Valerie."

"I understand that, but I don't know why we need to be in different rooms," the dark-haired woman stated. She was nervous about the whole thing, but she wanted to do what she could to help. Each of the girls had attended her school, and the last one was the star of her soccer team. But she was still protective of her son; even if he was eighteen, he was still her boy.

"It's easier to recall things when you're not being influenced. You both may interpret things differently, so it's important to get unbiased answers. I'm going to be the one talking to Jeremy if that helps." Mac tried to soothe the woman's nerves so they could proceed.

"All right, if you're the one he'll be talking to, I'm okay with it."

"Thanks. Now, you'll be speaking with Agent's Hotchner and Rossi over in that room." She said as she directed Valerie to the door and introduced her to the two men. Turning toward Jeremy, she motioned to another door. "Right this way, Jeremy," she said as she watched him pull himself up to his full height. Jeremy was a pretty good-sized young man, just about six feet tall, maybe one-ninety and looked to be in good physical shape as well. Mac could imagine him easily being able to overpower any of the victims.

She motioned him into the room and gestured to a seat on the opposite side of the table from her. She didn't waste any time starting the interview. "So Jeremy, can you tell me what you were doing this past Thursday evening while you waited for your mother at the high school?" Mac asked the young man.

"I was just chillin' outside listening to some tunes." He answered, holding up his earbuds as if to prove his point.

"So you never went inside the school?" The redhead asked.

Before he could answer, there was a knock at the door, and Emily Prentiss popped her head inside. "Sorry, Detective Todd, I need for you to look at this for a second." The brunette nodded at Jeremy as she approached Mac. As she leaned over to show the redhead the paper in her hands, she made sure to flash quite a bit of cleavage, a view that didn't go unnoticed by the teen sitting across the table as his eyes were glued to the creamy flesh on display.

After a few mumbled comments, Emily left and Mac turned back to the young man. "Sorry about that, it's a bit hectic around here."

Mac could see his chest puff up as the apology increased his sense of importance and stroked his ego, which was exactly what the redhead was attempting to do – she would make friends, Emily would be eye-candy, and JJ would be the true test. His very positive responses to the brunette and redhead meant nothing if he was equally responsive to the blonde.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

"Mrs. Trent, what can you tell us about Margaret McCandless? We understand she was a student of yours as well as the new captain of your soccer team." Agent Hotchner queried the brunette.

"Yes, she was a truly special girl... I still can't believe she's gone and that someone murdered her." Valerie was quite distraught and took a few calming breaths before continuing. "I was in the biology lab that night - I can't help thinking that if I were in the gym, I might have kept this person from doing what they did."

"But you weren't, and it happened; now we need you to focus on anything you may have noticed that night, or perhaps in the days leading up to it, anything that doesn't quite add up." Rossi explained in his matter of fact tone. "Anything that stands out to you in retrospect."

"I've been trying to recall the events of that evening... I was in the lab, setting up the next day's experiment. The lab is located at the opposite end of the building from the gym, so I really didn't see or hear anything unusual."

"Mrs. Trent." Agent Hotchner prepared to fill the brunette in on the extent of the crimes. "We have reason to believe that two other murders may have been committed by the same perpetrator. There are facts about each that are similar in nature to Ms. McCandless' case."

"What? Who?" The woman was clearly shocked. "Why didn't anyone say something sooner? We could have kept Margaret safe if we'd known there was a killer on the loose!"

"Mrs. Trent, please." Agent Rossi tried to calm the brunette. "We just became aware of the similarities between this killing and other recent murders. We need you to help us now, help us catch this guy before he hurts another girl."

"I just can't believe... of course, I'll do whatever I can to help." Mrs. Trent nervously placed her hands in her lap.

"Thank you." Agent Hotchner said as he placed a folder in front of the woman. "These are the basic facts behind two very similar murders that took place within the last seven months." He was grateful that the brunette was being so cooperative, and he tried not to think what she might do if she knew that her son was a person of interest at the moment. "Let's walk through the first one."

******

In the room across the hallway, JJ entered as planned and looked directly at the teen sitting across the table from Detective Todd. This signaled the defining moment, and there were many trained eyes watching the young man's response. Mac looked closely for any indication that Jeremy might leave his chair and go after JJ while Morgan, Reid, and Prentiss observed the scene from behind the two-way glass. Everyone held their breath but didn't have to wait long as Jeremy's reaction to the blonde was immediate. The teen's eyes widened, and his face was suddenly split by a huge grin as he mumbled a somewhat squeaky hello.

No one was quite as stunned as JJ, but she quickly recovered, offering Jeremy a nod and a hello of her own, before turning to Mac and handing her a folder. The detective accepted the file and peered at its contents, giving the young man ample time to react further. It worked like a charm as Jeremy's eyes traveled the length of JJ's body.

Writing something in the folder, Mac broke the young man's spell by rising to stand in his line of sight. The redhead whispered in JJ's ear. "He definitely had a reaction to you." And then followed her words with a louder, "Thanks, I think I'm just about done with Mr. Trent."

JJ took the folder, giving Mac a crooked grin, before walking out of the room, while Jeremy nearly fell out of his chair in his attempt to catch one last glimpse of the blonde. Mac cleared her throat to get the teen's attention, and Jeremy had the good grace to blush at his obvious ogling of JJ. "Sorry, uh, is she a cop?"

"Special Agent Jareau is a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigations out of Quantico, in Virginia." Mac suppressed her amusement as the boy's eyes widened with realization.

"She's FBI! Wow. She's hot!" He continued to consider this new information. "How about the brunette?"

"Special Agent Prentiss is also with the FBI."

Jeremy was slack-jawed at this revelation. "Man, I think I need to give some serious thought to getting into law enforcement!"

"Well," Mac suggested. "You can start right now by seeing how much you can remember that may be relevant to the death of Margaret McCandless."

The young man sobered a bit at the detective's words. "What can I do?" He asked.

Mac was torn between being glad that this young man was not a killer and the fact that this meant the killer was still out there. "Can you think of anyone that might have wanted to hurt Margaret?"

Jeremy shook his head. "Nah, man I wish I could, but ya know – she was a nice girl."

"Did you know her well?" Mac asked.

"Not really, one of my buds asked her out a while back." Jeremy rolled his eyes. "I don't know what he was thinking. She turned down a date with the star quarterback – I don't know what made him think she'd go out with him."

Mac jotted down a few notes. "What's this guy's name?"

"Scott, Scott Gerber. You're not thinking it could've been him are you?" The teen snorted at the thought. "Dude, he wouldn't even kill a bug if it walked right under his foot."

Mac smiled at his remark but then turned serious. "When you're working a case, you have to take note of every little thing – no matter how trivial it appears – because it could turn out to be the linchpin of the case." Jeremy nodded his head in understanding so Mac continued. "When you're investigating a murder, or any type of crime really, the more evidence you have the better your chance of finding the perpetrator and getting a conviction."

The young man's brow furrowed a bit, as if he were trying to remember something. "Ya know... there's this dude at school who's always hassling the girls. He works there, cleaning up and taking out trash, stuff like that. I think his name's Abilene or something."

"What do you mean by hassling?" Mac asked, knowing full well that the group on the other side of the glass was already gathering information on the unknown man.

Jeremy shrugged his shoulders. "You know, eyeing them up, whistling at them… it really creeped them out. A few of them told him to knock it off or they'd tell the principal. He just laughed and said he couldn't help it, they were hot and he's a guy…" He shook his head. "I didn't think much of it at the time, but I probably should have stepped up to him." 

"As much as that may have gotten you points with the girls, Jeremy, in a situation like that it would be safer for you to tell an authority figure about the incident." She gave Jeremy a looked that brooked no argument; she wanted to make sure he knew how serious she was about this. "You never know what people are capable of these days. Playing hero could very well lead to being a victim."

"I hear ya, Detective Todd."

"All right. I don't think I have anything else right now." Reaching into her pocket she withdrew her card. "Here are numbers where I can be reached if you think of anything else that might help us with this case."

The young man took the card, pulled his wallet from his pocket and placed the card inside. "Thanks. I hope you find the guy who did this." Jeremy extended his had to Mac who shook it with a firm grip.

"So do I. Jeremy, so do I." Mac responded as she walked Jeremy out into the squad room to join his mother.

Valerie had been waiting for him for almost ten minutes, and so she rose quickly as she spotted her son.

"Jeremy, are you all right?" She asked, moving to his side.

"Yeah, mom, I'm fine." He smiled over at Mac. "Detective Todd was cool to talk to."

Mac addressed the pair. "I want to thank you both for coming in on such short notice." The detective directed her next statement to Mrs. Trent. "You've done a great job raising Jeremy. He's a fine young man. I've given him my card with contact information, and I'm sure Agent Hotchner has provided his to you. Please don't hesitate to call if you think of anything else that may be helpful," she added as she led them toward the exit.

As soon as the Trent's left the station, Mac joined the group that had reconvened in the observation room to review any new information garnered from Mrs. Trent and her son Jeremy.

Hotch started the ball rolling. "Mrs. Trent was extremely cooperative; unfortunately, she didn't have much to add to this case or the search for the unsub." He gestured toward Mac. "Detective Todd's interview of Jeremy Trent, on the other hand, gave us a new lead to follow up on - one Mr. Carl Abilene, assistant to the superintendent. We gave Garcia the name Jeremy provided, and with her usual speed and proficiency, she's given us enough to make Mr. Abilene a very viable suspect." Hotch added as he passed Carl Abilene's information to his team.

"It seems that Carl had found trouble in almost every town he's been in for the last eight years. A few of the incidents made it to actual filed charges, but there were several complaints on record regarding his behavior around young girls," Rossi added. "The few charges brought against him garnered him a couple of stints in local jails, but he never served any hard time. Mr. Abilene is currently in a holding cell in Steubenville, Ohio on DUI charges. Agent Hotchner spoke with police chief, Bill McCafferty, and he agreed to allow Mr. Abilene to be taken into FBI custody for questioning in the murders of the three young women here in Pittsburgh."

"Agent Rossi and I will be going to Ohio to escort Mr. Abilene back here for questioning." Passing a photo to each person in the room, he instructed them further. "Reid and Morgan, you'll be heading to Trafford to see if anyone recognizes Carl Abilene. Prentiss and Detective Todd will be visiting the Finger Lakes to do the same." He nodded toward JJ. "Agent Jareau has arranged a press briefing for first thing in the morning."

"I want to make sure there's no widespread panic, if and when the case leaks to the public." JJ spoke to the group. "Now that we've questioned the Trent's and asked for them to contact us with any information, we can expect them to let those closest to them know what's going on." JJ passed a sheet of paper to each person in the room. "Here's a summary of the information we will be providing to the media. As you can see, it does not include information on Mr. Abilene specifically – but states that we do have a viable suspect."

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

It had been a long day, and everyone was bone tired as the group gathered to prepare for the next day. Tomorrow, there would be the press briefing, and JJ was concentrating on that – becoming familiar with the relevant facts and going over the itinerary until she could no longer keep her eyes open. Mac and Emily were discussing tomorrow's visit to the crime scene at the Finger Lakes, while Reid and Morgan prepared to visit the scene in Trafford, and Hotch and Rossi discussed strategies for picking up Mr. Abilene from the lock up in Ohio. No one could remember who started it, but soon a round of yawning erupted – passing from one person to the next, until Agent Hotchner decided to put an end to it.

"I think we can all agree that a good night's rest is the next logical course of action." He watched as each person in the room turned their attention his way. "Let's call it a night. We've all got our assignments for tomorrow, and we'll reconvene in the afternoon for an update."

Murmurs of agreement were quickly followed by a mass exodus – each to their respective rooms and Mac to her home. She was looking forward to some quality time with her lover, having already called Carla during a brief lull earlier in the day to tell her about JJ. Mac had told her long ago about the beautiful blonde girl who had stolen her teenaged heart. She kept nothing from this woman who had been the only one to help her heal. She hoped Carla would be awake when she got home. She needed their connection now more than ever.

When Mac had first arrived at her aunt's home in Arizona, she'd been extremely sullen and introverted. Although her aunt was a favorite family member, Mac had remained in her shell, heart broken and world-weary at the age of seventeen. Almost a year would pass before the redhead would be of legal age, and she'd planned to make her getaway as a birthday gift to herself. When one was so young, a year seemed like an eternity and, although Mac had still longed for JJ, the pain of her absence had gotten a bit easier to bear. And when she'd met a certain brown-eyed blonde, who gave her heart a second chance, she'd decided to stay.

Half an hour later, Mac pulled into her driveway, and wearily, she made her way to the porch, fumbling with her key in the porch light. Finally, she got her slightly trembling hands to cooperate and opened the door. Stepping into the living room, she basked in the familiar surroundings and quickly noticed that her lover was not on the couch. Silence was her only company at the moment, and she sighed as she realized her lover – not expecting her to come home this early – had probably gone to bed. Carla was an ER nurse and made the most of her downtime by catching up on lost sleep, and Mac was loath to wake her. Of course, she knew Carla would welcome the disturbance, and so she made her way to the bedroom.

The room was dark with just a sliver of moonlight casting a stream of silver across the pale blue bedspread. Mac moved slowly into the room, shedding her clothes as quietly as possible, before grabbing a tank top and boxers from her dresser. She stood naked in the moonlit room, gazing at her sleeping lover and wishing with all her heart to see brown eyes peering back at her from the bed. When her wish remained unfulfilled, she turned and entered the bathroom, washing up quickly before joining her sleeping lover.

Mac turned off the light before opening the door and, although her eyes hadn't quite adjusted, made her way quickly to the bed. She wasn't paying attention and was startled when she felt hands grab her hips. "Hey, you're awake," she stated the obvious to her lover, who was now sitting on the edge of the bed.

Carla chuckled and slipped her hands under Mac's tank top. "Uh huh. I watched you undress, and then watched you standing naked in the moonlight." Hands moved up Mac's torso. "I was just about to let you know I was awake when you turned to go into the bathroom. I thought I'd wait for you to come out, maybe get you to stand naked in the moonlight for me again." She lifted the tank top up, and Mac pulled it off, tossing it aside as Carla started to slip her boxers down over her hips. Mac stepped out of the boxers as soon as they hit the floor. "Spread your legs for me." Carla asked, and Mac acquiesced as the blonde slid a hand up Mac's inner thigh and cupped her mound.

"Oh God." Mac moaned as her lover's fingers began dancing over her labia, swirling through the wetness and gently circling her clit. Mac watched as Carla sat back a bit, slid her hand a little lower, and slipped inside her. "Carla." She moaned again, struggling to stay on her feet when, suddenly, her nipple was captured by her lover's mouth, sucking and biting, as fingers surged between her legs. The twin sensations were wreaking havoc on Mac's senses and her legs began to shake uncontrollably. "God, baby, I can't..." Mac swallowed hard as the blonde slipped off the bed to kneel in front of her. As soon as Carla's tongue touched her clit, she fell forward, leaning on the bed as her lover continued her ministrations. Mac's hips surged against the welcomed mouth, her arms trembling from the strain of holding herself up. Within moments, orgasm ripped through her, and she collapsed forward onto the bed.

It took some time for Mac to recover enough to realize she'd somehow ended up under the covers with her lover spooned behind her. "Oh God, baby, what did you do to me?" Mac turned to face the smirking blonde.

"I've still got it, don't I?" Carla said as she brushed a few loose strands of red hair behind Mac's ear. 

"Got it? You never lost it baby!" Mac smiled as she leaned forward to capture her lover's lips. "Now, let me see if I've still got it."

******

On the other side of the city, JJ keyed the door and entered her hotel room, shedding clothes as soon as the door snicked shut. Making her way to the bathroom, she quickly performed her nightly ablutions and stumbled to the bed. She barely had the strength to lift the covers, and no sooner had her head hit the pillow, she was fast asleep. Being thrust into the midst of unspeakable crimes and coming face to face with the perpetrators of those crimes had always taken a toll on JJ. This case was no different from all the others; as a matter of fact, it was one of the less disturbing cases the blonde had been a part of. The extraneous circumstances, however, were sapping what small amount of energy JJ had, and seeing Mac again was wreaking havoc on her psyche.

For a few hours, JJ slept the sleep of the thoroughly exhausted, and then slowly, she began to dream. Her dream was a disjointed series of snapshots – some of her now, some of her as a teenager, and some with a teenaged Mac. Then suddenly, the dream grew darker – past crime scenes, victims, unsubs, finally culminating in the locker room at East Allegheny High School. JJ walked up to her old locker and opened it, coming face to face with a blue-eyed blonde. She stared at her own image peering back at her from the interior of the locker. She had to get out of there, but it seemed she couldn't move. Just as panic was about to overwhelm her, JJ felt arms wrap around her from behind, but instead of being frightened, she felt a sense of comfort wash over her. She turned into the arms that held her and gazed into grey-blue eyes. Tilting her head slightly, JJ pressed a kiss to the redhead's lips.

"Mac," she murmured against the soft lips of her friend. Mac had always been there for her, they were so right together and she needed her so much. Soon, the scene shifted to JJ's old room in her parent's home. Mac had just locked the door and turned toward her, causing a shiver to run through JJ at the look on the redhead's face. "Mac," she murmured once again as the redhead captured her lips, never losing contact as she lowered her to the bed. Next thing she knew, they were both naked, and Mac was kissing her way down her body – stopping in all the right places along the way. JJ was writhing beneath her lover and moaned loudly when Mac finally tasted her. She was so close to climax, and she knew how much Mac liked to look into her eyes, so with a supreme effort she opened them, expecting to see darkened grey-blue… instead, she was met with the nearly black eyes of Emily Prentiss.

JJ awoke in the throes of her climax, and as she struggled to regain her control, the image of desire-darkened brown eyes burned into her soul. She trembled, and gasped, curling into a ball and sobbing uncontrollably for the love she'd lost and the love she'd never have.