A month after Garcia and Morgan returned from London, the
team was beginning to jell again as a unit. Garcia had some difficulty
adjusting to Alex, but JJ was able to advise her, from personal experience,
that she shouldn't be quick to judge. Alex brought her own unique set of skills
to the team, some of which mimicked those of Prentiss, but some of which
overlapped with the others. All of them made adjustments, and, gradually, the
team found a new rhythm to its work.
Reid's relationship with Maeve was continuing to deepen, as was his worry about her. She insisted upon keeping him at a distance, ostensibly to keep both of them safe. But he couldn't help but think that she was making a mistake. This had been going on for far too long. If her stalker was an obsessive, he should have long ago given up and moved on. Her stalker had to be an avenger, or even a psychotic, acting on a delusion. Staying in hiding would only prolong the situation, and delay the inevitable.
To complicate his life further, the situation with JJ hadn't improved at all. She'd apologized to him about Henry declining their visit to the zoo.
"I don't know why, but he just really wanted to go with his dad. I'd asked Will to call you while I was out with Garcia. I didn't know he was going to make Henry do it."
He could tell she was upset about it. "It's all right, JJ. He doesn't get to see Will much during the week, does he? I mean, with all of Will's overtime."
She could feel his gaze on her, and knew he was gauging her response. They may not have openly discussed it since the case in Missouri, but she knew Reid was still concerned about her, and about her marriage. As was she, although she was too proud to admit it. Instead, she tried to cover.
"You're right, he loves to do things with his dad. Thanks for being so understanding, Spence."
He responded slowly. "Not at all." Reid started to turn away, but then turned back. "JJ?"
He hesitated. She thought she could actually see the idea in his head, and his decision not to speak it aloud.
As he walked off, JJ followed him with her eyes. She knew he was honoring his promise not to intrude, but a very large part of her wished he would break that promise. And the rest of her wished she could muster the humility to ask for help.
Since then, he'd kept a distance. He'd discussed it with Maeve last weekend.
"I feel like any time I ask to do something with Henry, she stiffens up. If I didn't know better, I'd think she didn't want me around him. But I'm sure it's Will. I'm sure he's doing his best to make sure that neither of them, neither Henry nor JJ, have any relationships outside their tight little family."
He knew he sounded bitter, but he couldn't keep it out of his voice, even knowing she would pick up on it.
"It upsets you, Spencer, doesn't it? You love them both very much."
He still hadn't told her he was in love with her. But that was different. He wasn't in love with JJ.
"I do. And I don't want to see them hurt. Not by him. Not by anyone."
"Spencer….." Maeve hesitated, not wanting to upset him further. But she wondered….
"….do you think he…..hurts them?" The emphasis on the word told him what she meant.
Reid swallowed thickly. It wasn't a new thought. He'd been surreptitiously scanning JJ for signs of injury and been relieved not to have found any. The idea that Will would be physical with either of them turned his stomach. He was sure JJ wouldn't stand for Henry being hurt, but he was equally sure she might be too proud to admit if she had been.
"I haven't seen any sign of it. But I don't want to wait for it to happen, either."
She was silent for a long minute. He'd learned to wait out her silences.
"Spencer, do you remember when we spoke about perspective? That she would need to find the space to acquire the right perspective?"
"I told you then that she would have to do it on her own. That you should honor your promise not to interfere."
"And I have, Maeve. You were right."
"No, Spencer, that's just it. I wasn't right. I can see it now."
She gave a small chuckle, laughing at herself. "I guess I needed some more perspective myself."
"What do you mean?"
"That I realized that your JJ's situation is quite different from mine. She has a child."
He didn't understand. "How does that make it different?"
"When I was with Bobby, even when I began to realize how much he was constricting me, I still thought I could change it. That I could change him. I thought that, if I just stayed with him, I could find a way to make it work. I'm an intelligent woman, after all, I thought, and I should be able to solve the problem."
"But you couldn't."
"I couldn't. Or, actually, I could. I did. I solved it by leaving him. But I only had to solve it for me. Can you see how having a child would change that?"
He was quiet, thinking. "She has to do what's best for Henry, not just for her. And she can't even think that it might be best for him to leave his father."
"So she'll stay with him, and keep trying to change him, no matter how long it takes, for Henry's sake."
He couldn't see her nodding. "Henry is the veil that keeps her from seeing who her husband really is. And what he is."
Maeve could hear Reid expelling a deep breath.
"So I'm going to have to help her see, is that it? She can't get there on her own?"
"If she is the woman you've told me she is, she would eventually get there. But there might be danger to her, or to her son, if she stays much longer."
He should have been more upset than he was. But, in truth, he was relieved. He'd felt constrained by his promise not to interfere in the face of his great worry about them. Maeve, although not positioned to do so, had given him permission to act.
That same week they were called to a case in Minnesota. Three children had been abducted, all young boys between one and three years of age, all within a fifteen mile radius, all within the past two weeks. The town was in a frenzy, and the FBI was taking charge of the case. The BAU was called in to help prevent the next kidnapping. Garcia and Hotch gave them a short briefing. Getting there quickly was the priority.
Garcia was all business today. "Each of the children was abducted from the car. Two of them were taken when the parents ran back into the day care to get something they'd left behind. And the third was taken from a gas station, when the mother went inside to pay."
"Garcia, did they leave the cars running?" Morgan was ready to disapprove.
"Two of them did, at the day cares. They didn't want the kids to get cold. So the parents ran inside and left the cars running, and the doors unlocked."
JJ could see it happening. If she hadn't been in the FBI, if she hadn't known better, she might have done it herself.
"What about at the gas station?" Rossi wanted to compare.
"The car wasn't running, because she'd been pumping gas. But she hadn't locked the door."
"But the unsub didn't take any of the cars? Just took the kids right out of the car seats?" Rossi couldn't make sense of it.
"Right. And they got a little bit of a view from a camera at the gas station. They think the unsub is a woman."
"Did they see what kind of car she was driving, Garcia?" asked Alex.
"They got a partial. It was a small SUV, probably silver or grey. Several possible makes."
Reid was curious about the behavior. "Garcia, how long did she take to get the child out of the car seat?"
"It looked like just a few seconds."
"So she must be experienced with it." Reid was thinking aloud. "And how long after she took him did she drive away?"
"Ah, you're on to something, Boy Wonder. There seemed to be a gap of up to thirty seconds between when she….if it was a 'she'….took the child from the car and when her car drove off. So they think she spent that time putting him into a car seat."
"Taking care of the child," mused Reid.
"Do you think that means she was taking the child for herself?" wondered JJ.
"She could have been taking it to give to someone else. Either way, she'd want the child safe." Alex was being practical.
"And she obviously already had a car seat installed in her car. So either she was prepared for this, or she has a child of her own," observed Morgan.
"Hard to say which," mused Rossi. "They certainly seem to have been crimes of opportunity."
Their unit chief wanted to get his team moving. "This unsub has been moving quickly, so we'll need to do the same. Wheels up in thirty."
The plane ride out was quiet. Cases involving children did it to all of them. Having heard what little there was to know, each member of the team became introspective. The parents among them tried to ignore that tendency to wonder what it would have been like for them, had it been their own child.
They arrived late in the day, to find the local police in mobilization mode. It seemed there had been a break in the case. They'd received a call from one of the local hospitals. They'd just received a lab result that they couldn't explain. In light of the recent abductions, they thought to notify the police.
The lead detective, Detective Loring, briefed the team. "I guess the little boy was showing signs of a genetic condition, and the doctor ordered genetic testing of the whole family. The good news is that the kid doesn't have the condition. But the bad news…it turns out, she's not his mother."
Rossi wanted to clarify. "You're saying the test showed that she's not his mother?"
"Not that she'll admit it but, yes, that's what I'm saying. The genetics service called us, because they knew about the abductions, and they wondered if this could be related." He nodded over his shoulder, towards an interview room. "We picked her up when she was getting the child from day care this afternoon."
"Have you been to the residence?" Hotch was acutely aware of the urgency.
"Getting a warrant as we speak."
"Good. Morgan, Rossi, Blake, join them at the house. Reid, I'm going to have you work on the location angle. JJ, you'll do the interview." Capitalizing on the advantage of having one young mother relate to another.
Turning back to Detective Loring, Hotch asked, "What about the father?"
"At work. We have a couple of uniforms picking him up."
Loring escorted JJ toward the interview room. The others would watch through the glass. Before they got started, Reid communicated his misgivings to his superior.
"I don't know, Hotch. Admittedly, it's a strange situation, but I don't know that she would have anything to do with it. I mean, she's got this child long enough to be taking him to doctors' visits, and getting lab testing. Why would she suddenly need three more?"
Hotch agreed with Reid, but could think of a scenario that might explain things. "Maybe, with the first child defective, she's seeking a replacement. Maybe she's gathering a few, in the hope of getting a healthy one."
Reid nodded, understanding his unit chief's thinking. It spurred an additional idea in his mind. "Or maybe she's a collector."
With that thought in mind, each of them wondered what their colleagues would find at the house.
The woman was emotionally distraught, both at the accusations being made against her, and at the fact that the police had separated her from 'her' child.
JJ introduced herself. The woman responded in kind.
"I'm Marcia Lounsbury, and I need to see my son!"
JJ was calm. "Tell me about your son, Ms. Lounsbury."
The woman's eyes widened. "So you believe me? You believe that he's my son?" The police hadn't explained why, but had accused her of not being his mother. Subtlety did not play a role when there were children's lives at stake.
JJ was noncommittal. "Please tell me about him."
Lounsbury grasped at the possibility that this woman might actually try to help her.
"His name is Carl…he's Carl, Jr. He's just twenty months, he's just a baby. And he's going through that phase where he's afraid of strangers." She was getting more upset, put her hand to her mouth. "Oh, he must be so frightened!"
JJ flashed on when Henry was like that. "Ms. Lounsbury, do you understand that there are children missing? All of them are close to your son's age. And all of them are little boys, with blond hair and blue eyes." Realizing this description fit a great many children in this part of the country.
"But I don't understand, why would anyone think I had anything to do with it?"
She seemed genuine. JJ realized that she probably hadn't been made aware of the genetic test results. Now her job was going to be that much more difficult.
"Ms. Lounsbury, you and your son had some laboratory tests done recently, correct?"
The woman looked completely lost. "Yes. But what…."
JJ kept her voice calm, modulated. "The tests apparently show that Carl Jr. isn't your son. That you couldn't be his mother."
Marcia Lounsbury just stared at her interrogator, stunned into silence. JJ thought her reaction was completely sincere, and began to doubt the whole situation. But she continued her interview.
The woman shook her head, trying to make sense of what she'd been told. "It's not possible. Of course I'm his mother. They must have made some mistake at the lab."
"Apparently they don't think so, Ms. Lounsbury. The test was compatible with Mr. Lounsbury as his father. But not with you as his mother."
She still looked confused. "I don't understand." She paused to think, then, "Can't they repeat it? Can't we just take the test again?"
It had already been discussed. Repeat testing was planned. But the child would not go home with Marcia Lounsbury until the results were known. Too much was at stake. JJ explained.
"Not come home? NO! You can't do that! He's just a little boy! He'll miss me! He'll be so scared! You can't do that!"
JJ was barely holding her composure together. She felt for this woman, and identified with her situation more than she was willing to admit. Gently excusing herself, she left the room and met with Hotch, Reid and Loring.
"Are we sure about this? Because she seemed genuine. She's acting like a mother."
Even as she said the words, JJ knew that a pathological liar could accomplish all of those things, and especially one that had stolen a child she might desperately want. Reluctantly, she resigned herself to the plight of the woman and child.
There were no signs of other children at the Lounsbury home. Carl Sr. handled the entire situation with less distress, and far more outrage, than had his wife.
"Of course he's our son! Marcia gave birth to him, we've raised him. This has to have been a mistake with the lab. And, by the way, we'll be suing that genetics office for violating our privacy. Don't they know about HIPAA?"
Mr. Lounsbury was an attorney, and he knew the law.
So did Hotch. "They're mandated reporters, sir. There is no right of privacy when a child may be in danger. They did the right thing. We'll find out soon if it was a lab error or not."
"How soon? Will my son be home with me tonight? No! That's what I was told. That my son will be removed from my custody until you prove that the lab was wrong!"
Hotch recognized the paternal fear masked by anger. He sought to calm the man. "Mr. Lounsbury, I'm sorry that there's no other way. I'm a father myself, and I can sympathize. But I am also an FBI agent, and I can't risk the lives of other children."
In a low voice, now having managed to control his anger, Lounsbury retorted, "Giving my son back to me puts no one at risk."
Hotch felt as torn as JJ had. He simply shook his head, said, "I'm sorry" and left the room.
Reid trusted the instincts of his colleagues, and especially the parental instincts of JJ and Hotch. They were inclined to believe the Lounsburys, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. It went against everything he'd learned and believed, but Reid was willing to entertain the thought that science might have failed them in this case. Until he remembered that there was one person who might be able to help him preserve his faith in both the science and his colleagues' instincts.
It had become habit for Reid to scope out the location of any pay phones in the area, so he knew exactly where the closest one was now. Excusing himself early from dinner, he went to make a call. It wasn't Sunday, but it was important. And he was glad to have a reason to hear her voice again, so soon after the last time. Reaching the phone, he put in his coins and paged the woman who still didn't know that he loved her.