Emily sat surveying Spencer Reid, thinking he looked even skinnier than usual in his casual clothes instead of his cords and sweater vest. In fact, everyone looked different out of their work clothes, especially Hotch who was so rarely seen out of a suit but was now wearing sweatpants and t-shirt after refusing point-blank to wear a hospital gown for the third day. The only people who still looked remotely official were the few Pima County officers and detectives who were squashed in to the little hospital room along with the seven members of the BAU.
“Who would want to kill the Sheriff?” Reid asked.
"I can think of a few people,” came a voice from the door, and a second later, Holmes appeared in the room, badge and gun still missing. Prentiss studied him as he stood at the foot of the hospital bed, his perpetual scowl even more pronounced than usual. He was a hard man to read, and she would be lying if she said she didn’t consider him a suspect, especially after his reckless behaviour the day before. Watts shot Holmes a warning look.
“What he means is half the criminals in Pima County will have a grudge against the Sheriff. He’s put a lot of people away in his time.” Compared to Holmes, Watts was a profiler's dream come true. Easy to read and honest, it was clear that he had a lot of respect for the Sheriff and he had taken the news of his death hard. Watts caught her eye and gave her a small, sad smile.
"Let's start by looking in to anyone in the county who was arrested by the Sheriff for murder, attempted murder, or GBH,” Hotch said to the gathered officers. “And look for people who have been released from prison recently. There was no hesitance in this murder, we are almost certainly looking for someone who is comfortable with violence. It's a long shot but we need to try and narrow this down before the copycat kills again." Holmes and Watts left with the rest of the police officers, but once they were out of the room, Watts grabbed Holmes by the sleeve.
“What are you doing?” he hissed. “You can’t just keep walking in here and joining the investigation whenever you please, you quit remember? And while I’m at it, you can’t just throw your career away every time you get pissed off either.”
“I’m not throwing my career away,” Holmes said.
“Really? Because who ever ends up as the next Sheriff isn’t going to see it like that. You handed in your badge, so if Falconer had started the paperwork for your resignation before he died, you won’t have a job to go back to.”
“I didn’t exactly expect him to die,” Holmes said drily.
“So you just threw a bitch fit in his office for the sake of a little drama? Was your day not quite interesting enough so you thought you’d throw a cop-show tantrum to keep the viewers watching over the ad break?”
Holmes grabbed Watts by the upper arms, and looked down at him intently. Watts fell silent but his jaw was still clenched.
‘I’m sorry,” Holmes said, and it was clear that he wasn’t just talking about his resignation. “I’m so sorry.” Watts pulled himself from Holmes’s grip.
“I’ll meet you back at the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. Holmes looked like he wanted to say something else but Watts’s stony look kept him quiet, so he closed his mouth again and walked from the ward, out of view of the BAU, who had been watching the conversation unfold through the glass. Watts continued to stand there, apparently lost in thought.
“Is it just me, or - ” Prentiss started.
“There’s something off about Holmes?” Morgan finished.
“So it’s not just me?” she said.
“He had a lot of anger towards the Sheriff, he even said that he held him responsible for Robert Fox’s actions.”
“Do you think he could have killed Falconer?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” said Reid.
“I think it’s a possibility,” said Morgan.
“I’m not so sure,” Hotch said.
“Rossi?” Prentiss asked, looking to the older agent.
“You’re a talented profiler, Emily,” he said. “I think you’d be stupid not to follow your hunch. I just hope you’re proved wrong.”
“Me too,” she said, looking out at Watts who was now sitting in one of the chairs in the hallway, staring at the ward door.
“Just be careful,” Hotch said. “They’ve all lost a friend today.”
Prentiss nodded and left Hotch’s room to sit down beside Deputy Commander Watts. She had to tap him twice on the arm before he even realised she was there.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Fine,” he said, his eyes not quite focussed on her.
“Listen, I know this isn’t a good time but - ”
“You want to talk to me about Commander Holmes,” he said. Prentiss nodded apologetically. “He had nothing to do with this, Agent Prentiss.”
“It’s still something we have to consider,” she said.
“Well you’re wrong,” said Watts, more firmly, his gaze meeting hers properly at last. “He would never hurt the Sheriff, no matter how angry he was. And the truth is, he’s not even angry at the Sheriff, he’s angry at himself for letting Jacob Fox abuse his son for all those years.”
“But it wasn’t his fault,” Prentiss said.
“I know that, you know that, but he doesn’t.” Watts sighed, seeming to search for the right words to convince Prentiss of his partner’s innocence. “Agent, when I joined the Sheriff’s Office back in ’93, Holmes had no one. He had no friends and he hadn’t spoken to anyone outside of the office for almost a year. Every day he came to work, did his job and went home. By himself. His entire life revolved around work and keeping other people safe. It took me two years to convince him just to have drink with me, to have contact with someone outside of the four walls of the office. He even started patching things up with Sheriff Falconer after a while…” Watts stopped to take a breath. “He doesn’t trust easily so I can understand why you might think he’s evasive and cold, because I did too when I met him, but I can promise you he’s a good man.”
“Okay,” Prentiss said, feeling suddenly a little guilty for questioning her newfound friend, but that didn’t stop her from carrying on. “I’m sorry, but I have to ask. Do you know where Commander Holmes was between 11 and 2 last night?”
“He was with me,” Watts said.
“Now if you’ll excuse me.” He stood abruptly.
“Of course,” Prentiss said, watching the Deputy Commander follow in Holmes’s footsteps off the ward and towards the elevators.
“Well?” asked Morgan when she re-entered Hotch’s room.
“Watts speaks very highly of him,” she said. “He was pretty convincing, and he says that he and Holmes were together last night during the murder period.”
“But what do you think?” JJ asked, apparently sensing her friend’s uncertainty.
“I don’t know,” she said with a long sigh. “Holmes makes sense as a suspect; he’s isolated, he’s got motive but I can’t put my finger on it… he just doesn’t seem… murder-y.”
“Murder-y?” Morgan echoed with a little smirk. “They teach you that at Yale?”
“Give me a break, Morgan,” she said, rubbing her forehead. “I’m really tired.”
While they had been talking, Garcia had pulled her laptop out of her bright yellow bag and opened it up.
"I'll start working on the other possible suspects," she said.
"Absolutely not," Hotch said abruptly. "Call Kevin and have him do it."
"But sir - "
"No buts, Garcia, you can't access FBI files while you're suspended. Your career is already on the line and I'm not going to let you jeopardise it further." Garcia looked like she might argue for a moment but instead she did as she was told.
A second later, she had hung up the phone with Kevin, looking crestfallen. ”I hate not being able to do anything.” Morgan put his arm around her and gave her a comforting squeeze.
"You saved our lives, Baby Girl. You’ve done plenty already.”
"I don't regret what I did, not for one single second," she said earnestly, tucking her blonde hair behind her ear, "but I don't want to lose my job either. I can't imagine not seeing your beautiful faces every day!"
"I promise you, angel, if you get fired I'm quitting too, and I'll make Strauss sorry she ever messed with my girl." As soon as Morgan said that, Prentiss had an idea.
"What if this is about revenge?” she asked.
“You just said you didn’t think Holmes was guilty,” said Morgan.
“No, no, not revenge for the other victims, revenge for Robert Fox.”
“Who would want to avenge his death?” JJ asked. "Fox was a total loner, he had no one.”
"But what about his father, Jacob?" Prentiss said. "He still lives in Green Valley."
"183 West Cedro Drive," Reid said.
"And he has a long history of violence," Prentiss added.
"You think he could have killed the Sheriff?" Rossi asked.
"According to Holmes the Sheriff and Jacob Fox were friends for years, right?” Prentiss said. "Jacob might have been a terrible father but if you found out that your best friend had been involved in the death of your son, I bet you'd be pretty damn angry, no matter how rocky the father-son relationship had been in the past.”
"It's a possibility," Hotch said. "Prentiss, you go to his house and talk to him. Morgan, Reid and Garcia, go back to the Sheriff's department and work on a preliminary suspect list. And don’t even think about accessing the FBI database,” he added. He looked at Rossi for a moment, taking in his bruised skin and plastered leg. "Do you want to stay here, Rossi?"
"No, I'll go to the Sheriff's department. I'll be fine if I can sit down."
"You're getting old, Rossi," said Morgan.
"Say that again and I'll smack you," said Rossi.
"Okay," said Hotch, with a faint smile. "JJ, you go with Prentiss to Jacob Fox's house and bring him in."
Emily was pleased that Hotch had selected JJ to accompany her, he had clearly learned that JJ didn't appreciate being wrapped in cotton wool, and it also meant that Emily would have plenty of time to find out more about the secret life her friend had been leading for the past six months.
A little less than an hour later, they arrived at Jacob Fox's house, which bore an uncanny resemblance to his son’s. The painted door was blistered and chipped and the tall weeds in the small front yard were creeping up on to the porch, and in the failing light of the evening, they looked like long claws reaching up from underneath the house. It was completely out of place in amongst the well-kept homes either side. Prentiss laid her fingers on her gun reflexively, as though checking it was still there as she remembered the long list of assault charges that Jacob had accumulated over the past few years, along with a substantial drinking problem. JJ rapped loudly on the door.
"Jacob Fox? FBI." There was complete silence from inside. JJ waited a few moments and hammered on the door again. "Jacob Fox! This is the FBI, we need to talk to you."
Prentiss hopped down from the porch, avoiding the cracked and splintered steps and pressed her face up to one of the filthy windows. She caught a glimpse of her own reflection and frowned at the ugly red cut along her cheek before refocussing her eyes to investigate the inside of the house. It was as neglected as the outside and it was hard to tell if someone even lived there at all. Bottles and broken furniture littered the floor and she was pretty sure there was a rat moving around under the coffee table. Still squinting in to the living room, Prentiss heard JJ walk across the porch.
"Emily." Something was wrong, that one word was all she needed to hear and her hand flew to her gun as she whipped around to face JJ. She was still standing on the porch but it wasn't her footsteps that Emily had heard. Her blue eyes were wide with fear as the shadowy shape of a man stood behind her, his arm around her neck and his gun pointed to her head.
"Put your gun down," Jacob Fox said quietly. His face was almost entirely hidden as he used JJ as a shield but Emily could make out his thin jaw and sunken eyes through the darkness.
"How about we both put our guns down," Emily said. "We just want to talk."
"Put your gun down on the porch or I shoot her," he said, thrusting the gun harder in to JJ's forehead. Emily obeyed this time, slowly placing the gun down on the rotting planks. "And your cell phone," Jacob added.
"Let's just stay calm," she said as she dropped the phone as well and Jacob stepped forward and crushed it beneath his heavy black boot.
"You aren't the agents I was hoping for," Jacob said, glancing around skittishly but never lowering his gun from JJ's temple. JJ wasn't moving but she was struggling to keep calm.
"Who were you hoping for?" JJ asked. It was one of the first techniques they learned in hostage negotiation; start a conversation with your captor, build a rapport, make them see you as a person and not a bargaining chip, but Jacob wasn't taking the bait.
"Shut up," he spat, tightening his grip around JJ's neck, making her hands fly up to pull at his arm. Even from several feet away, Emily could smell the bitter stench of alcohol on his breath.
"Who were you hoping for?" Emily asked quickly, trying to divert his attention back to her.
"That black guy and the old fella," he said. "They shot my son, they’re going to pay, I'll make sure of it." JJ abandoned her efforts to pull Jacob's arm away from her neck and instead she started inching her hand towards her belt and towards her gun.
"What makes you think it was them?" Prentiss asked, keeping Jacob's eyes on her.
"Sheriff told me. First I thought it was him that killed my boy, but he was pretty damn quick to tell me that it was your agents. Thought it would save his life, I suppose. But I killed him anyway."
Emily glanced at JJ. Her hand was just a few inches from her gun, she almost had it.
"If you put the gun down I'll take you to them," Prentiss said but Jacob ignored her. JJ was so close now, she closed her fingers around the butt of the gun but before she could pull it from its holster, Jacob began yanking her off the porch and groping around her waist. He pulled the gun from her belt and threw it in to the bushes. JJ tried to struggle away from him as he felt around again until he found her handcuffs but this time he threw them to Emily.
"Put them on."
"Don't, Emily," JJ choked.
"Shut up!" Jacob yelled. "Put the cuffs on or I'll shoot her in the face. Do it! Do it now!” Emily fumbled with the cuffs and fastened them around her wrists as quickly as she could. Jacob's large hand went roaming again, searching JJ's pockets for her cell phone. Once he found it, he put it in his own pocket and began dragging JJ towards his pickup truck.
"Get in the truck," he said to Emily. JJ shook her head but Emily didn't know what else to do.
"Where are we going?"
"I said get in." He was drunk and angry and completely unpredictable. He could pull the trigger for absolutely no reason and then JJ would be dead. And her baby. Oh God, the baby, she thought. Hotch would be destroyed. And Henry and Will and Garcia and Reid… If she could just get JJ out of danger, even if that meant putting herself at risk instead, it would at least be a small victory. So she pulled the door handle with her bound hands and stepped in to the truck. Jacob slammed the door shut and Emily realised the windows were completely blacked out, she had completely lost sight of Jacob and JJ. There was a cry of pain, a loud thump and then Jacob got in to the truck alone.
"What did you do to her?" Emily yelled, as Jacob started the engine. "What did you do? JJ!" She struggled to reach the door handle, "JJ!" She kept screaming her friend's name until Jacob pointed his gun at her.
"Shut up, just shut up!" he said. “I can’t think straight with you whining! Now shut up and let me drive. Someone is going to pay for killing my boy." He backed out of the drive and began weaving down the dark streets with one hand on the steering wheel and the other awkwardly pointing the gun to her chest. The violent swerves of the car threw her back and forth across the back seat, unable to steady herself with her hands as they drove out of town and in to the desert, leaving JJ far behind.
Emily tried to remember every turn and memorised every possible landmark she could see out of the windshield and she realised how strange it was for a captor not to blindfold his hostage. Then she realised that it didn't matter if she saw where they were going, because Jacob Fox was planning to kill her.