a/n: Dear Readers, I ask you to please trust me. Don't be alarmed by what you read here, and please carry on to chapter 3 and beyond. :)
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Chapter 2: Pick a Number
The human mind will not be confined to any limits.
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Jackson was nervous. Though she had more than earned an assignment she actually chose for once, her superiors at the Agency weren't thrilled about it. They'd liked her quietly under their jurisdiction where they could keep an eye on her, tell her what to do, and otherwise control her every movement. Now, while she was still technically an agent of the CIA, this Special Liaison position gave a degree of autonomy she'd never had before.
So why the nerves? She should be excited, not nervous. She was excited, of course. She was setting out on her own, starting something new...but what if she couldn't cut it? What if she washed out and had to go crawling back to the damn Agency with her tail between her legs?
No. That wasn't going to happen. Jackson had seen her share of Bad Shit. She knew the BAU wasn't going to be a cakewalk, but she had been trained by the best. And Gideon had read her file.
With a fortifying breath, Jackson stepped off the elevator and onto the BAU's floor. Gideon was there to meet her, and the contrast between this greeting and the one she'd received on her last visit was like night and day.
"Jack!" he called, striding toward her. "I'm so glad you're here." He started to offer his hand to shake, remembered her aversion, and smiled instead. "Perfect timing; we were just sitting down for a briefing. You can meet everyone at once and hit the ground running. This way."
"Thank you, Gideon, it's good to be here," she said as they walked, trying to hide her surprise at his enthusiasm. As they approached the conference room, she briefly touched his arm to stop him a moment. "Gideon, wait, I need to ask you..."
"Hmm?" he muttered, distracted.
"Have you told your team about me?"
"That you're coming? Hotch might have mentioned it."
She shook her head. "I don't mean that. I mean about..." She gestured toward her head.
His gaze suddenly focused as he caught on. "Oh. That. No." He frowned. "Jack. I won't have you reading my team."
She looked insulted. "My first and most important rule: never read anyone without his permission."
Gideon stared at her a moment, eyebrows raised.
"I'm serious!" she hissed in protest. "I wouldn't break that for them, and I won't break it for you, either. If you want your team to know about me, tell them. They obviously won't believe you, but it's easy to prove without being at all invasive. It's your call."
He mulled it over a few moments. "We'll see how it goes. Come on; they're waiting for us."
All talk in the room stopped when Gideon entered with his newest protege. Jackson hesitated in the doorway, trying not to fidget, and the older agent gestured impatiently for her to enter. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her, realizing with that simple gesture she had closed the door on her career with the Agency. Now she had to prove herself to the members of the BAU.
Hotchner nodded to Gideon, then to Jackson. "Dr. Jackson, welcome. I m SSA Aaron Hotchner. Please, come in."
Gideon had warned her that Agent Hotchner hadn't been thrilled by her appointment to his unit, but he seemed cordial enough. Jackson allowed herself to relax a fraction. "I'm pleased to be here, Agent Hotchner," she told him with that warm, face-transforming smile.
The other agents watched this small exchange with a combination of bemusement and fascination. Gideon seemed thrilled, like an excited kid at Christmas, but Hotch looked like he'd been browbeaten into accepting the new recruit. For her part, she looked nervous, but competent, in a knee-length charcoal, cream, and turquoise tweed skirt, knee high black leather boots, cream blouse, and charcoal jacket. Her light brown hair was worn in a sleek, chin-length bob, and the style suited the oval shape of a delicately featured face.
She also looked young. Very young.
"Well. Let's introduce you," Hotch said, trying to infuse some welcome into his voice. Gideon wanted her here; he d vouched for her. Hotch had made a career out of trusting Jason Gideon. "Everyone, this is Dr. Elliot Jackson. She'll be working with us from now on as a Special Liaison on semi-permanent loan from the CIA. Let's make her feel welcome, shall we? Dr. Jackson, my team. Agents Derek Morgan and Jennifer Jareau, Dr. Spencer Reid, and Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia."
Jackson shook hands with each of them, except Dr. Reid, and caught quick, instant flashes of brilliant, incisive minds that took her measure without even trying. She tried to smile and not feel intimidated. Maybe she was in over her head. "Agent Gideon said there was to be a briefing. Let's not delay any further," she said, taking a seat at the long conference table.
Agent Jareau pointed a remote control at a projection screen and hit a button. Photos of an alley, bloodstained and dirty, began to appear, along with the mug shot of a girl much too young to be appearing in mug shots. "Our victim is Lacey Middleton, age eighteen. She was working as a prostitute two nights ago in Detroit, Michigan when apparently she was approached by our UnSub. He took her into this alley where he slit her throat, dismembered her, and removed several of her body parts. He left others wrapped in newspaper." She clicked a few more times, and pictures of neat, bloodstained bundles tied in butcher's twine appeared.
"Wait," Jackson spoke up.
"Yes, Dr. Jackson?" Hotch said a touch impatiently. "You have a question?" He glanced at Gideon, his thoughts written all over his face. The older agent made a gesture asking for patience.
"I know I'm new here, but this doesn't make sense. Don't most killers who do work like this; dismemberment, I mean; have a home base type situation? A pre-set kill site? Why would this guy rely on the privacy of an alley? Anyone could have discovered them. He could have been interrupted."
"New girl has a point," Morgan said. "He took the time to dismember her, wrap the pieces up nice and neat, take the parts he wanted and just stroll out, all in an alley. The former points to an organized killer, the latter to a very disorganized one. It doesn't make much sense."
"He would have to be very practiced," Reid spoke up. "An experienced hunter or butcher can break down a deer carcass very quickly, less than five or ten minutes."
"J.J.," Gideon said, "you said 'victim,' singular. Is she the only one? Why have they contacted us for one victim?"
"She's the first victim the Detroit P.D. has found intact...so to speak," J.J. explained.
"Intact? You call this intact?" Garcia demanded, face pale.
"The day Lacey's body was found, these packages were mailed to the Detroit authorities," J.J. said, displaying more pictures. The screen showed several shots of bloody newspaper bundles, each one carefully opened to reveal a body part.
"Oh God," Garcia whispered as she ducked her head.
"How many?" Hotch asked, brow furrowed.
"They've received only three actual pieces, but six different blood types have been found on newspapers displaying different dates."
"All working girls?" Gideon asked.
"So far," J.J. confirmed.
"No one cares about prostitutes alive or dead until they get mailed to you in pieces," Jackson murmured before she could stop herself.
"What?" Morgan barked.
Her clear green eyes widened as she realized her mistake. The thought had come directly from Morgan's mind. It was so damn hard to block here. Their brains worked too hard all the time. "Um. Well. It's true, isn't it?" she asked, trying to play it off.
Morgan relaxed, smiled. "Yeah, seems that way," he said, visibly deciding to attribute the incident to coincidence. Damn funny coincidence, but coincidence all the same.
"So clearly he's been at this a while," Gideon said, smoothing over the awkward moment.
"The earliest date on the newspapers is March 3, 2001," J.J confirmed.
"The public style of this one is clearly an escalation," Reid offered, frowning as he studied the pictures J.J. passed around. "And, look. You can see from these photos that the earlier victims were dismembered much more cleanly." He pointed at the ends of the severed limbs in the photographs. "He was in a hurry, very aware of his public surroundings with this new murder. It seems like he did have a kill site before."
"An eviction would certainly be cause for escalation," Jackson agreed, leaning closer to Reid to examine where he indicated.
"Um..." Reid stuttered a moment, distracted by the subtle, spicy perfume that wafted over him as her arm brushed his when she reached for one of the pictures. "Right. Eviction," he said, picking up the scattered threads of his thoughts. "Or the breakup of a relationship. A divorce, perhaps. He might have been kicked out of the house."
"These girls usually stick together for safety," Morgan said. "He would probably have been watching them for a while, waiting until one of them broke away from the others, or until he found one who spent a lot of time alone."
"We need to see those newspapers," Jackson said, squinting at the pictures. "We need to know all the dates, to see if he's speeding up."
"Bring a coat," Morgan advised. "It's gonna be cold in Michigan."
"Alright, everyone," Hotch said, rising to his feet, "wheels up in an hour."
As the team filed out, Hotch hung back a moment. "Dr. Jackson."
She stopped, readying her smile before she turned to him. "Agent Hotchner," she replied.
He studied her, struggling against the BAU's main rule: never profile your team. He wanted to understand this woman, why she was here, why Gideon had been so adamant about having her. After a moment he nodded. "You did well in there, Dr. Jackson."
Her smile suddenly became genuine. "Thank you, Agent Hotchner. I intend to earn my place here."
"Gideon told me you have no behavioral training."
"Not as you would understand it, no."
He frowned. "I'm not sure what that means."
She hesitated, considering. "The profiles you build are highly-educated guesswork. What I was trained to do is more concrete."
His look was skeptical, to say the least. "There's very little concrete about the human mind, Dr. Jackson."
"That's true," she agreed, conceding the point. "But..." Jackson shook her head, realizing she wasn't going to get anywhere with this man unless he understood more about her. Reaching behind them, she closed the door. "I'd like you to indulge me for a moment, Agent Hotchner. Think of a number. Any number."
"I don't think this is a time for games, Dr. Jackson. We have a case--"
"Agent Hotchner, please."
The lines around his mouth deepened in displeasure, but he nodded curtly. "Fine. Between one and ten?"
"No. That would be too easy. I said any number." A moment later she rattled off a number so long she had to draw breath in the middle of it, and he stared at her, blinking.
"Is this a joke? Is this Gideon's idea of a joke?"
"Are we laughing?" she asked rhetorically.
Hotch slowly sat in one of the conference room chairs and poured a glass of water. He took a careful sip and gave her a long, hard look over the rim of the glass. "This is why Gideon wanted you so badly."
"This is impossible."
"And yet you believe it so readily."
"I don't believe it."
"Yes, you do. Shall we do it again? Think of any word, in any language. If I can't pronounce it I'll write it down." Suddenly she laughed. "That isn't very nice, Agent Hotchner."
"What you said about the prostitutes in pieces..."
She fidgeted. "That was an accident. I've discovered several things over the years. One, it's much harder to block out the thoughts of extremely intelligent people. That's your entire team. I'm trying, of course, because it's rude to eavesdrop, but it's tricky. Tricky, too, because of another thing: strong emotion makes thoughts project further...louder...whatever. When Agent Morgan thought that, he was angry. Obviously. It came through like he'd spoke it aloud. I'm sorry; I'll try to be more discreet in the future."
Hotch suddenly looked thunderous. "I can't have you hearing the thoughts of my team. I don't know what the hell Gideon was thinking when he brought you on board, but there's no way--"
"Agent Hotchner, please, calm down. Don't you think the CIA trained me well? I'm not like some radio you left on sitting in the corner, constantly tuning in station after station. I can block people out. I don't like to shake hands because it's much harder to block when I touch someone. It's also harder to block when someone projects his thoughts, like Morgan did with that one today. Mostly, though, it's simple. I won't be invading your team's privacy."
Hotch absorbed this in silence, thinking it over. He took another sip of water and stared into the glass as though the clear liquid held the answers he sought. At last he looked up at her, his dark eyes hooded. "He wants you to read suspects."
"Yes. Crime scenes, too, probably."
That gave him pause, but only for a moment. "Did the CIA send you here?"
She laughed before she could stop it. "No. Not at all." She turned away, walked toward the wall of bookshelves and seemed to study the titles for a moment. "Imagine the implications of a gift like mine," she said, irony suffusing her voice. "The really exciting part is I don t just read minds; I can influence them, too, in small, subtle ways. You're feeling angry? I can make you angrier. You're feeling sad? I can make you sadder."
"I didn't want to be their weapon," she told him quietly. "I'm a human being. They wanted me to use my ability to hurt people, to get their information 'at all costs,' 'for the good of the country.'" She shook her head angrily, turning back to face him. "They didn't care what it cost me, or what it turned me into. I came here in the hopes that I could still use my abilities, but on my terms. I want to catch the bad guys, Agent Hotchner, but I don't want to become a bad guy doing it."
"Gideon knows all this?" he asked carefully.
"Yes. He's read my file. The real one, not the dummy version you've read."
Hotch let out a long sigh as he stood. "The rest of the team will need to know some of this eventually," he said.
"It would probably be helpful."
He nodded, adjusting his cuffs. "The plane takes off in an hour, Dr. Jackson. I expect to see you there."
She smiled. "Thank you, Agent Hotchner. And everyone at the Agency called me 'Jack.'"
He raised an eyebrow. "That's my son's name."
"Oh. Well. I can see how that might be awkward for you."
"Indeed. See you in an hour, Dr. Jackson."
It wasn't much of a victory, but it was a victory. She'd take what she could get.
I know what you're thinking, but like I said: trust me!!