a/n: Just tying up loose ends here. I created a rather ridiculously complex case, so I felt like I needed a "summary" somewhere. Here ya go, for those playing the home game...
Epilogue: Above Ground
One may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night.
- Kahlil Gibran
"Only someone as obsessive as Lloyd Henry would devise a system so complex," Reid observed as they were together again settling down on the plane for the flight back to DC.
"Find a prostitute, become a regular, give her a coat. That was Brady's signal to start following her. When Henry took her to a show, that was the signal to kill her the next night," Morgan summarized.
"The closing nights, of course, being the murder nights," Hotch said.
"Henry had Brady kill the women so he could 'keep' them. He had all their heads. It wasn't just about the relationships, though. He also liked casting them in different shows," Reid continued.
"Crazy shit," Morgan said succinctly. "And all a bit too elaborate for a poacher with a temper," he continued, tossing a quick glance in Jackson's direction.
"Indeed," Gideon agreed.
"His system was so complicated because he had to be sure each woman was absolutely perfect before he added her to his collection," Reid said. "Otherwise he'd be stuck with, ah, 'flawed merchandise.'"
"Ew," J.J. commented.
Reid shrugged, face scrunching. "Not my point of view."
"So why Endgame?"
"He liked the symmetry of it; Brady was his Clov, and he decided to kill Brady like the girls to keep him the same way. That way Brady could never leave. He wanted to surround himself in what he held dear, the same way Hamm did. The symmetry of it was perfect for him," Reid explained.
Jackson shook her head and tuned out their conversation. Her eyes roamed the beige interior of the plane restlessly for a moment until she realized Hotch had been gazing at her steadily for the past several minutes. "Can I help you, sir?" she asked.
He rose and moved to the unoccupied seat beside her, but for a time he said nothing. She sat looking at him, her expression politely curious. He clearly had something he needed to say, but she could wait. "In the basement," he began at last.
"Yes?" she prompted.
"Before we went inside, I gave you an order. I was just wondering..." He trailed off awkwardly. Frowning, he looked away, out the window, around the plane, anywhere but at her.
"I didn't use my ability on you or Henry, sir," she told him quietly. "I thought about it. I could have used it to calm him a little, or distract him from your presence, but you told me not to. Also, I wanted to prove to myself that I could handle the situation without it."
His dark gaze settled on her at last, and his expression softened a little, his mouth flickering upward briefly. "At the risk of sounding condescending, I'm proud of you. You did well in there. You kept your cool in a tough situation, and the UnSub was apprehended without anyone else getting hurt."
"With all due respect, Agent Hotchner," she said, smiling thinly, "I'm new to the Bureau, but I'm no rookie. That wasn't my first talk-down." She didn't tell him about that moment of near-panic, that instant where, if he had hesitated any longer to act, things might have gone very, very differently. He didn't need to know; it was her own darkness to delve.
He looked slightly taken aback, but after a moment he let out a small chuckle. "I'm sorry, Dr. Jackson. Of course." There was another pause, then, "You know, 'Jack' is my son's name."
She cocked her head, giving him a quizzical look. "So you said."
"The rest of the team seems to have taken to the nickname, though."
"Maybe I could call you 'E.J.;' we have a 'J.J.,' but I doubt she'd mind."
Now it was her turn to be taken aback. After a stunned moment, she laughed brightly, the sound causing heads to turn in their direction. "Yes, ok. Maybe I'll actually start calling you Hotch," she said.
"I'd like that. It's what my team calls me."
She smiled with genuine warmth. "So you said," she repeated softly. She let out a long breath and glanced out the window, then back at him. "I appreciate...your criticism. I know that sounds odd, but it helped."
"I meant what I said. You're not perfect, so don't expect to be."
"That's the problem, isn't it? I do expect perfection. It's just...who I am. Honestly, is it that wrong?"
"No, not in and of itself. The problem comes when the pressure is too much. This job is enough pressure; don't add to it by being so hard on yourself."
"That's your job, right?"
A charming dimple emerged in his cheek, and she wondered if three smiles from him in five minutes was some sort of record. "Something like that. I'll let you get some rest," he said before rising and moving away.
Shaking her head in wonderment, Jackson was about to open her book when she looked up to see another visitor standing by the empty seat next to her. Her lips curved warmly. "Reid," she invited, "join me?"
He smiled back awkwardly and sat down. "Um, so, I've been thinking," he began.
"Have you?" she replied teasingly.
He ducked his head, tucking a lock of hair a few shades lighter than her own behind his ear. "Yeah. Not philosophy."
"No," she agreed.
"Ancient history," he said, looking up and meeting her gaze, "with a focus on religious texts and ritual. Also ancient languages with a focus on religious folklore. You're right; I never would've guessed."
Her clear green eyes narrowed. "You had Garcia run a background check."
He squirmed a little. "You've read my file!" he accused.
"Duh. I'm a spook. What do you think I do for a living?"
"You're a behavioral analyst with the BAU," he replied, lips twisting.
"Oh. Right. Silly me. I should probably quit with the spy stuff, but old habits die hard. I guess that's Garcia's excuse for running a background check on me," she said wryly.
He looked innocent. "I guess so." He fiddled with his watchband a moment. "Why such a focus on religion?" he asked.
"I don't know. It's interesting." Jackson looked out the window a moment, watching the sunlight play off the clouds. "I don't believe in God," she told him. She pressed her fingers against the window, enjoying the cold of it. "I want to understand why people do. Not our modern ideas; that's so tiring. I want to know what ancient man thought when he looked at the sky. I want to know how he explained the sun and the moon and the stars. It's so much more beautiful than 'on the third day...'"
She turned back to him, shrugging. "It's nothing against modern religion. I just don't believe it. Anyway. I guess I owe you lunch."
"Nah. I cheated."
"No," she said, grinning. "I don't mind. I just said you couldn't read my file; I didn't mention Garcia's powers of detection. Pick the places; I'll be there."
"I guess, um, a bet's a bet," he said, fidgeting again, jaw working.
"If the idea of having lunch with me for a week is that unappealing..."
"No, not at all! No, I mean it sounds great. Fun. You can tell me all about ancient folklore."
She laughed. "We could meet in the middle and talk philosophy," she suggested.
"Philosophy it is," he said, smiling. "So...I guess I'll see you at lunch."
"See you there," she said. He rose to go, and she tossed him a quick, laughing wave.
Alone at last, Jackson was finally able to dive into her book, but she couldn't concentrate. She was, she realized, a member of the BAU. Her life at the Agency was over, and her new life at the Bureau had begun. Looking out the window at the sun-washed clouds, she couldn't help but smile. Nasty cases or not, the future seemed pretty bright.