Title: Rough Start
Series: The Long Journey 1
Fandom: Criminal Minds, Sentinel
Pairings: Hotch/Reid, Morgan/Garcia,
Summary: Divorced FBI agent Aaron Hotchner had known that he was a Sentinel since he was a child. He’d come online after the death of his father and had never looked back. Now he’s seeing all the problems his mother had as he is dealing with a seven year old son who just came online as a Sentinel as well.
When a bad case that involves the death of seventeen Sentinels by a deranged guide, Hotchner is ready to start asking for help from the Sentinel & Guide Consortium when a Guide offers his help. Hotchner has heard of Spencer Reid in passing but never paid the young boy any mind.
No one is ready for what happens.
Warnings: Violence on par with the show
Seven candidates were all Aaron Hotchner had to add a new Guide to his BAU team. The loss of their other Guide to wanting to move across country, Hotch was left with few options. None of the seven were ones that drew his eyes. He knew that he had to pick one. There was one candidate that was higher than the rest but his Guide level was the only thing holding Hotch back. Spencer Reid had been with the FBI just over ten years. He was intelligent and his record with the agency was impeccable but he was a Delta Guide. There were three other candidates with the same Guide level and three with levels higher but the three with higher levels were not so stellar on the record.
“Still having an issue on whom to replace Anderson?” Dave Rossi asked as he leaned into the office. “I still think that we should take the young one with us.”
“Reid? He’s thirty three.”
“Doesn’t look it. Throw in that he’s a Guide and he’s proven with his tests that he’s a good profiler. He’s taken more classes than some of us on it. Strauss tells me that he’s been trying to get into the BAU for years. The only thing that has kept him out is…”
“His Guide level.”
The twist in his gut had Hotch leaning over his desk. The weight of the death was hard on him. He hated that feeling.
“Hotch?” Rossi asked as he moved closer. Not reaching out to touch Hotch but when the man said nothing Rossi moved towards the doorway to check on the rest of the team. Derek Morgan was out of his seat and moving as quickly as he could towards the room where his bonded Guide, Penelope Garcia was. Emily Prentiss was sitting in her seat, in much the same position as Hotch was.
“He’s killed again.” Was all that Hotch was able to get out of his mouth. Rossi nodded and was out of the room in seconds.
Hotch tried to pull himself out of a near zone out and it took him longer than he would have liked. As soon as he was able, his phone was in his hand and he speed dialed the first number in his phone. His ex-sister-in-law answered on the first ring and Hotch could hear Jack in the background.
“He’s fine, Hotch. I was able to keep him from zoning. You need to catch this guy.” Jessica’s voice was strong. She was a bonded Guide so she felt little but the Sentinel in a hundred mile radius whether bonded or not felt it. There were some Guides, bonded or unbounded, who felt it as well. Those were the Guides that Hotch needed to find this killer.
The BAU had been on the case since the third murder but every single other murder after, all fourteen, now fifteen of them had ended the same way. Whoever was killing unbounded Sentinels was smart and efficient.
Noise coming from the BAU bullpen had Hotch standing up. He looked out and saw that Morgan and Garcia were standing at the edge of the room and looking around. Prentiss was doing the same. A few of the other Sentinels and Guides were standing. It was then that Hotch noticed, the effects were gone. It was like he was in the shelter of a protection bubble from a Guide. He’d felt something like it once before as young man. He’d thought then that it had been his Guide but he’d never found him or her.
“What’s going on?” Hotch asked as he exited his office. Prentiss was the first to spin around.
“Sir, it’s all over the entire building. As soon as the backlash started. A Guide somewhere is protecting us.” Her eyes were searching around the area, trying to spot whoever it was. Hotch looked around as well. There was no one in the area that wasn’t supposed to be. He should have been able to feel a Guide of that level if he or she had entered the area. There were only three Guides with that level in the FBI. One was in Texas, one in California, and the last in Seattle.
“We have no Guides on site right now that can do that,” Hotch said. He knew that. He knew where all Guides and Sentinels for that matter were at any given point in time within the FBI. He was the highest Sentinel in the area. His area of control was the city of Washington D.C., the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. He knew all the Guides in those areas at least by power level if not by name. There were no Guides of this level that lived in the area. Unless the individual was hiding.
“Then who is it?” Garcia asked.
“Garcia, I want…” Before Hotch could get his words out someone entered the BAU bullpen. Hotch watched as Spencer Reid entered the room like he owned it. Hotch had seen the man before. He never looked or acted like he was now. Of course he had never paid attention to the Guide before and it was that thought that shocked Hotch more than anything else. His records put him as a Delta level Guide. Hotch was seeing the real him for the first time ever. Everyone around him was seeing Spencer Reid for the first time. This wasn’t the same Spencer Reid who moved around the facility like he was a ghost.
“SSA Hotchner, I know that this is unorthodox but I don’t think that you are going to catch this UNSUB without me.” Reid looked around the room before he moved up the stairs and into Hotch’s office without a glance at Hotch. Rossi and JJ were looking at the three Sentinels in the room. The humans were grasping at straws.
“Morgan, get in contact with the Director. I wanna know how this Guide hid from us for over ten years.” Hotch turned and entered his office, pulling the door shut as he did. The blinds were already drawn. Reid was sitting on the edge of Hotch’s desk, with a book from the shelves behind the desk in his hand. He was flipping through the book a remarkable pace.
“Hello,” Spencer said as he closed the book and looked up.
“I…” Spencer stopped and cleared his throat. “I don’t think I even know how it feels to let myself out.”
“You are sheltering this entire building, bonded and unbonded. That’s a feat.” Hotch knew what it had to be taking out of him, especially if he always hid himself.
“Not really. I could do it in my sleep.” Spencer waved it off and shifted as Hotch moved to his seat behind his desk. Reid stayed seated on the corner but shifted to where he could look Hotch in the eye.
“You’ve applied twice to the BAU before this time. Did you really think that you could work that close to me and not be figured out?”
“I spent a year with another Omega level Sentinel like you, Agent Hotchner. He never even had an inkling.”
“I noticed in your file that you are unbonded.”
“Yes. I limit who I touch.” Spencer drew his hands back into his lap at that.
“You don’t want a Sentinel?” Hotch thought that odd. All Sentinels and Guides wanted a partner. It was need driven and at their base of all of their personalities. Hotch had just never found his Guide.
“I don’t want to bond with someone unless I know them beforehand.”
A sharp knock had Hotch standing and moving over. Rossi and Morgan were the only ones that would even think of knocking on the door. The Director of the FBI entered the room before Hotch got to it.
“Sir, I didn’t mean for you…” Hotch stopped as the Director moved over to Reid, not even looking at Hotch as he did. Reid stood up and looked into the Director’s eyes before bowing his head. What would the Director want of the previously normal agent? Hotch had expected to get a request to have Reid talk to the Director, at a later date. Not this, not a personal visit. There was no shame in Reid’s pose. It was more like a child getting caught doing something they knew they shouldn’t be doing but would do again, no matter the consequences. That’s when Hotch knew, the Director had known.
“Spencer…” The tone was soft and easy, a tone that Hotch had never really heard from the director except to his own Guide. The woman had been with him since they had been teens.
“Sir, John…I…I couldn’t let another Sentinel die.”
Hotch watched as the Director of the FBI placed a hand on Reid’s shoulder, offering him comfort. The Director was a Sentinel, a Sigma level at that. Hotch pulled his door shut and leaned against it. He’d never tried to profile the Director. No one in the BAU profiled anyone in the FBI. Reid reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin. The Director looked at it and gave a soft smile.
“If you need anything, Agent Reid, you let me know. I’ll sign the paperwork today to have you instilled here.” The Director turned to look at Hotch. “As soon as the body is found I want the BAU on scene. No other cases, just this one. Agent Reid will help you greatly.”
The Director swept from the office with little fanfare. Hotch turned to look at Reid. The coin was still in his hand, he was bouncing it between knuckles. Hotch watched the coin and then he knew what it was. It was an NA sobriety coin. That shocked Hotch more because he knew what that meant. Reid had brought it out first and that meant that he trusted Hotch with the knowledge. He’d never heard of a Guide getting addicted to anything.
“I was on a case and taken captive. The UNSUB injected me with Dilaudid. By the time I was rescued, I was addicted. I found that it dulled the urge to find a Sentinel. I was free. I didn’t care that my Guide abilities were suppressed. I didn’t have to hide anymore. I was a Delta level Guide for real. Then a case happened where I almost missed a clue to catch a suspect due to not being able to touch my gifts as much. I detoxed with the help of a friend and started going to NA meetings. I carry the coin to help me remember what I want out of life.”
“I almost lost everything that I was.” Reid turned and looked at him. “I have a profile for the UNSUB.”
“What?” Hotch looked at him. The BAU had never even been able to get a preliminary profile on the UNSUB, every new case changed things. How had this agent who had no contact with the case been able to get one together? Hotch would listen to the profile but he was sure that it wasn’t going to match the UNSUB at all.
“I only want to go over this once so why don’t we get the team together.” Reid looked at him. There was such pain in his eyes that Hotch nodded.
It took only minutes to get Morgan, Rossi, Prentiss, JJ, and Garcia into the conference room. Reid was moving around the room, looking at all the information that that the BAU had collected so far. There was very little. Hotch hated looking at the board. It reminded him that so far, he’s been unable to save so many Sentinels.
“Reid?” Hotch asked.
Reid turned to look at the group. His eyes glanced past JJ and Rossi but settled on Garcia. The only other one in the room like him.
“I see on the board that on the list of suspects that Guide is marked off. A Guide willing to kill Sentinels, it’s crazy isn’t it?” Reid turned back to the board. He moved closer and touched the face of the third Sentinel to die. “There are an estimated three million guides in North America alone. Yet there are only one million estimated Sentinels. We have never been able to figure out why the amount of Sentinels and Guides differs so greatly. It’s rare for a Sentinel to reach the age that Agent Hotchner is and not be bonded.”
“You are not that different,” Hotch said as he looked at the file in hand. It was Reid’s file and he wanted to see where the Bureau had not seen what they had. He could understand how the Director knew and why it wasn’t shared. A Sentinel protected Guides even if the Guide was not their own. The younger man couldn’t have found a better sponsor.
“Up until I revealed myself, no one here at the Bureau has ever looked twice at me. I was an average Guide and those here at the Bureau would have never let me in except for the fact that I am vastly more intelligent than most Sentinels and Guides. I never would have been able to join as a Guide without my intellect.” Reid took a deep breath before looking at the board again with the victims. “Sentinels and Guides bond instantly by touch. The press of skin on skin and their instincts take over. It’s easy to forget that little fact. What we have is a Sigma level Guide of unknown gender who is seeking his or her Sentinel. I don’t know what the stressor is but something made this Guide snap. He or she finds a Sentinel that they think is theirs and follows them until the UNSUB get enough courage to try and touch them. I know that the BAU was working under the assumption that the UNSUB was male and that was why the first victims were female but it’s just as easy that the UNSUB is a female with more female leanings than male. Something happened to this Guide and it was traumatic.”
“How do you know this?” Hotch asked. He leaned forward and braced his elbows on the table. He stared at Reid, taking in the sureness of the stance and the look of guilt in his eyes.
“Because that backlash isn’t from the Sentinel as you have wrote on the board.” Reid rubbed at the inside of his left arm, right at the elbow. Hotch wondered what that meant. Dilaudid. It must have been the spot that he used to inject it. That’s why he stepped up; it wasn’t so much that he wanted to join the BAU. The dark circles under the Guide’s eyes showed that he wasn’t sleeping well. Anger flared for a few seconds. How long had he known this? How long had Reid been sitting on the information that would have changed everything? He could have figured out a way to get the information to the FBI without it tracking back to him, the tip line, or even a letter. The call from an unknown man told him why. He remembered the call and it had been dismissed. Hotch wondered if it had been him.
“It’s from the Guide; saddened by the fact the object of their fantasy is not in fact their Sentinel. At some point the UNSUB will snap and make a large mistake. The backlash incapacitates the Sentinel, to be so close to a Guide letting out that emotion will drop a Sentinel and that’s when the Guide goes in for a kill. He or she knows what she is doing.”
“So we are looking for an online Guide who had something traumatic happen to them seven months ago?” Morgan asked. He looked over at Garcia who immediately started to type away on her laptop. Garcia was the quickest way to contact the Sentinel & Guide Consortium.
“Given that Guides can come online at any point in their life, the stressor could have been what triggered the change or the UNSUB could have been online for years.”
Hotch dropped Reid’s file and started to think back. Something this traumatic would have crossed his desk. He would have been made aware of it from one of the Sentinels in the area. He just had to think.
“That the murders are all happening with the area of Agent Hotchner’s control then we can guess that whoever it is doesn’t want more attention brought to themselves. The Consortium has been doing their own investigation but the Guide still hasn’t contacted the BAU or the police or the Consortium at all. We…”
“Tracy Johnson,” Hotch said, looking at Reid to ask forgiveness for interrupting him. Reid just turned to look at him and stared. “I remember reading the report from the Maryland State Police. She was camping in a park with her brother, a younger brother and latent Sentinel. A group of men entered their camp in the middle of the night and killed the young Sentinel before taking turns raping her. She was released from the Consortium’s mental health hospital just seven months ago after being there just three months. I was made aware because she was moving here to DC for a change in jobs. The Consortium was worried she would never be able to bond. I promised to keep an eye and make sure that she was fine. The seventh and twelfth murders happened within two miles of her home and work.” All the information about the case flashed through his mind. It was something that he could see her doing. She worked as a nurse and it would be easy to clean up after herself. Gloves and such would make sure no DNA was transferred.
Reid nodded. Hotch jumped from his seat, grabbing his phone and dialing. He could hear JJ and Garcia making calls as well. Morgan was up on his feet and pacing. Reid stood where he had been watching the BAU team launch into action. Rossi moved closer to him. Hotch listened into the conversation.
“I’ve never seen Hotch so shocked by anything, kid.” Rossi was all smiles but there was something else in his eyes. Rossi had been around Sentinels and Guides longer than most of the agents in the FBI. The BAU team always had a Sentinel and Guide on the time, sometimes a bonded pair and sometimes not. In its current incarnation it was more Sentinel than anything else but it worked. Between Rossi and JJ it was easy to make sure that the human angle was covered. Having a female Sentinel on the team helped as well.
“Sir,” an agent came running in with a printed piece of paper and Hotch took it as his call was connected to the DC police captain. Hotch had only read a sentence when he heard a gasp from the far side of the room and then the buffer was dropped. Hotch was down on his knees. He watched as Morgan stumbled but stayed up, his hands on Garcia’s bare arm. Prentiss who had stayed seated was slumped back in her chair, unconscious.
It was worse. Enough time had passed that it shouldn’t have been this bad now. Hotch let his phone drop as he turned, feeling a zone out coming. He couldn’t do that. He focused on the breathing of his team in the room, the smell of the carpet at his knees, the taste of the old coffee on his tongue, the feel of the shirt on his back, the look of the room around him. The in and out of his breath was easier the longer he focused on his five senses. The pain was horrendous. He wasn’t sure what was causing it. None of the other backlashes had ever felt like this.
“Hotch!” Rossi was right next to him and Hotch turned his head to face his friend and that’s when he saw that Reid was lying on the floor with JJ on her knees beside him. She had him pulled up into her lap, cradling his head. “He dropped the same time that you did.”
Hotch nodded, not able to speak. He handed the paper over to Rossi, it was crumpled from his grip on it but Rossi took it and straightened it out, Rossi’s eyes glanced over the page. It was printed on light green paper. It was supposed to be meant for Hotch’s eyes only as it came over his Consortium printer but there was no way that Hotch could read it right now. His weakened shields were dropping fast and he wasn’t sure how long he could hold off a zone out. Prentiss was already gone.
“Hotch, Johnson is dead.” Rossi’s voice was far away and fading fast. “She was found in a mall…” He knew no more.
Jerking awake on the couch in his office, Hotch looked around. His office door was closed and his white noise machine was running. There was only a single smell in the room that wasn’t there usually. It was a new scent. He wasn’t sure what it was but sitting up, he figured it out. Reid was sitting at his desk with a book in hand, feet propped up, and reading. His eyes glanced over to Hotch before they moved back to the book for a few seconds then the book was closed.
“The Consortium is on hand with the Director of the FBI.”
“What happened? Rossi said something about Johnson being dead.” Hotch tried to take a few breaths to clear his head. He’d been in a zone out he knew that but he’d never been moved during one before and hadn’t known it.
“Morgan and Garcia are with Prentiss in the infirmary. She came out of her zone out quickly with the help of Garcia and a few other Guides.” Reid was dodging his question.
“Tracy Johnson was at a mall in her hometown in Maryland with a niece when she bumped into a man. Every Sentinel and Guide within a mile was knocked unconscious and you can see the backlash for the rest of us. Unbonded Sentinels went into zone outs. Unbonded Guides are being treated in hospitals.”
“She found her Sentinel,” Hotch whispered.
“Every single thing she had ever done in her life slid under the shield that her Sentinel had. It shocked him so much that he killed her. He was an off duty detective and snapped. The backlash was followed by another when he took his own life for killing his Guide. The Consortium is keeping as much about it quiet as they can. The Director was able to stay up and moving because of the depth of the shield is wife has on him. I was stretched so thin from protecting everyone from the first backlash that I was unable to stop the second from getting through.”
“One hour from when the bond happened and when the murder-suicide happened. I’m sorry…”
“Don’t,” Hotch said as he stood on shaky legs. He took a step towards Reid but stopped when he knew that his legs wouldn’t handle it. This was his worst zone out in nearly twenty years.
“A lady named Jessica Brooks called and I talked to her. She was able to protect your son, Jack. I told her that you would call her as soon as you woke back up.”
“How is he?”
“He sounded shaken up but that was it. Why hasn’t your son bonded at least slightly with Miss Brooks?”
“What?” Hotch looked at Reid. What did the young man mean? How could the Guide know that just from talking over the phone to them?
“Your wife was human. He had as good a bond with her as he could. When she died, he should have sought out a bond with the closest figure in his life and since Miss Brooks is a Guide it should have been easy. Miss Brooks spoke of how hard it was to protect him. Your son doesn’t let her into his mind and past his own shields.”
“I don’t know.” Hotch had never been able to figure out why his son hadn’t started to bond with Jessica more than what he had been bonded to her.
“Is your own bond with your child that strong?” Reid set the book down on the desk and moved closer to Hotch. He placed a hand on his shoulder and Hotch nearly cringed at the feeling. His skin was sensitive. Reid saw the aborted movement and pulled his hand away.
“The Director put the team on a week down time. He marked it as time for you, Prentiss, and Morgan to get to know me without the stress of a case.”
Hotch nodded and gave a weak smile to the young Guide. He could do with a week off. The Sentinel homicide case plus the normal cases of the BAU meant that the entire team hadn’t had a day off since the BAU had been brought in on the Sentinel case.
“The Consortium is handling all press on the case; the Director isn’t challenging them on it.”
“The FBI has done little with the case. You helped us find a name but not before the case was already at a close.”
“It was always going to end this way,” Reid said as he exited the office. Hotch wanted to call him back and ask him what he meant but after a few minutes of thinking, he knew what it meant. Johnson was always going to end up dead, she had snapped and there was no coming back from that. The Consortium would have to answer to why it had let an unstable Guide out. It was out of Hotch’s hands now. He wanted to go back to the normal cases.
He moved to the doorway of his office and saw Reid gathering up a messenger bag, slinging it over his shoulder and leaving. The downtime would be good for the team. A week off was something the team got rarely outside of annual leave. Hotch was going to spend his at home with his son. Jessica could probably do with the break. There was little that Hotch could do at the office. The casework could be typed when he got back; he wasn’t going to forget a bit of it. First though he needed to get his team to take the leave for what it was. A chance to recharge after seven months of going nonstop.
He wondered what life was going to be like with Spencer Reid on his team and he wasn’t sure that it was going to be easy.
Next Part: Jack Meets Spencer