a/n: For those of you who know St. Augustine/Anastasia State Park/Anastasia Island well, you'll notice I've taken some geographic liberties. It's difficult to set a story in a particular place and keep it exactly in situ - all authors need to play a bit. Also, I've changed the name of Flagler College in St. Augustine to Colben College; I didn't want the actual school stricken with bad karma from my story. :)
Since I haven't included Prentiss as a character in my AU (yet), Jackson gets to be Reid's whipping...girl...in Prentiss' place. She's the new kid, after all.
Remember, loves, the prologue goes at the end of the story, chronologically. Now we're back in proper order.
Chapter 1: Friends, Lovers - Lost
I want yesterday to come back again;
Nothing is as simple as I once knew.
Why can't everything be the way it was
Before the day that I lost you?
-Ari Hest, "Strangers Again"
Anastasia State Park
St. Johns County, FL
He loved the park. It was like a second home to him. He loved it in winter, when the wind off the ocean sliced straight to the bone and he had the place nearly to himself. He loved it in autumn, when the nights grew longer, colder, and the sun began to lose its menace. He loved it in summer, when the heat was thick enough to cut and the sand adhered to his skin with a layer of sweat.
Most of all he loved it in spring. The weather warmed. The birds sang. And the people came back to the park. He watched them all – families, school groups, nature clubs, couples. Especially couples.
On this warm, sunny day, one pair in particular had caught his eye. They were young, early twenties, and attractive. She had dark skin, long, wavy black hair, and big, soft brown eyes. He wasn't very tall, but he was well-built and had matinee-idol good looks, like a young almost-Paul Newman.
He watched as they played. Kissed. Bickered. The boy glowered in frustration as the girl turned away from him, her laugh floating on the breeze like a flower petal. The man smiled in anticipation and turned off the trail to wait.
He loved the park. It was like a second home, and like home, he knew it intimately – far better than two young, feckless college kids hiking its back trails. His grin was the leer of a predator, and the happy, carefree couple never saw him coming.
Quantico, VA - Four Days Later
"I give it five minutes," Derek Morgan said, expressive brows drawn together over chocolate brown eyes.
"Cut him some slack, handsome; I say ten," Penelope Garcia replied, swatting her friend lightly in the stomach.
"Not a chance. That kid is wound way too tight, and somehow Jack just twists the springs tighter."
The seemingly mismatched pair was leaning against Morgan's desk observing Spencer Reid and Elliot Jackson, the BAU's youngest agents, as they stood together at the coffee bar. Reid was dumping sugar into his coffee, studiously ignoring his colleague, while Jackson was waiting patiently for him to hand over the dispenser.
He kept pouring, and the jar was nearly empty. They watched as Jackson made a comment, her face blooming into one of those bright, lovely smiles they knew so well. Garcia's expression turned into a protective frown, Morgan's into a narrow-eyed glare as Reid snapped something at Jackson and slammed the sugar shaker down onto the counter. She flinched back, her smile dying, and she opened her mouth to say something further, but he had already stalked off.
"He needs to take a breath," Morgan muttered.
Garcia shook her head, multi-colored curls dancing. "I didn't realize it had gotten that bad."
"I don't know what happened in Houston," he said in reference to a recent case, "but she's been extremely...polite to him, and he's barely even looked at her."
"What are we looking at?" Jennifer "J.J." Jareau asked as she joined them. Jackson had moved on by this time, so they were just staring at scattered sugar and lingering coffee stains.
"A tragedy," Garcia lamented.
"We're out of sugar," Morgan interjected before Garcia could share any of her half-baked theories about Reid and Jack with J.J.
"That's unfortunate," the pretty blond said, "but we've got bigger things to worry about." She indicated the files in her arms. "Briefing in five. We've got a case."
Morgan waggled his brows at Garcia. "Gotta work, baby girl. See ya later."
They all gathered in the conference room, offering good mornings and friendly jokes among themselves. The only one who stood apart from it was Reid. He sat alone at his end of the table and sipped his too-sweet coffee. Mornings were the hardest. Once he actually got his day started he could usually focus on work, blot out the cravings that controlled him, but in the morning...
He sipped. Enough sugar was sometimes an adequate substitute for the drug he lusted for so strongly. Adequate wasn't the right word, maybe. How about...sugar had to substitute, at least for the time being, because even though the Dilaudid in his bag called to him like a Siren, he still didn't quite have the balls to actually shoot up inside this building. Somehow, he thought, they'd know. They would all know, and they would all look at him the way Elliot did.
She couldn't know. Well, she could, though around her he thought only nonsense, random quotes by Plato or Aristotle, mathematical theorems that were beyond her comprehension, or he concentrated solely on their cases. But she could still know. They all could. They were all profilers, and his behavior had certainly altered since Henkel.
That was how he divided his life now: before and after, because the after Reid was nowhere near the same person as the before Reid.
"Reid," Aaron Hotchner said, interrupting the young agent's thoughts, "care to join us? J.J. was about to present the case."
He flushed, swallowed. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir, my thoughts were elsewhere." As he turned his attention back to the team and the meeting, his eyes met Jack's intense, glass-green stare. Though he knew she wouldn't read him without his permission, his knee-jerk reaction was to start reciting Star Trek scripts in his head. He started with "The Cage," and he'd barely completed the first scene when she dropped his gaze and turned away. Relieved, he leaned back in his chair and tried to focus on J.J. and the case she was presenting.
"We have four victims so far," she was explaining, projecting images onto the screen as she spoke. "Emily Watson, Michael St. James, Elizabeth Woods, and John Richter. Four victims: two couples, all students at Colben College in St. Augustine, Florida."
"Couples?" Jason Gideon asked, brow furrowing as he examined the file.
"Yes," J.J. confirmed. "Both couples were discovered in shallow graves in Anastasia State Park, just outside of St. Augustine." More pictures flashed up. "In the case of Emily and Michael, he was shot, while her cause of death was asphyxiation."
"More specifically," Morgan said with a shudder of horror, "the ME says she was buried alive. There was sand found in her nose and mouth."
"But the causes of death are reversed with Elizabeth and John," Jackson said. "She was shot and he was asphyxiated. Weird."
"How long were they missing before the bodies were discovered?" Gideon asked.
"With Emily and Michael, three days. Over a week with Elizabeth and John," J.J. told him. "Now another couple has gone missing: Michelle Gonzalez and Tony Donaldson. They were last seen four days ago."
"No sign of torture or sexual assault with any of the victims," Reid noted as he read the autopsy reports and examined the pictures, "and they cover a variety races – white, black, Hispanic. There's no real rhyme or reason to this victomology besides just couples."
"The UnSub only killed one of them," Gideon speculated, looking around the table over his reading glasses. "Emily shot Michael, and the UnSub buried her alive. Vice versa with the second couple."
"Patient son of a bitch," Morgan remarked. "The first one only took three days, but the second almost twice as long. Most killers would've given up and just shot them both."
Reid shook his head. "Not this guy. It's the waiting he likes."
"He's keeping them for as long as it takes," Jackson said. "He's watching to see which one cracks first."
"Kill your lover and I'll let you go," Gideon confirmed grimly.
A small silence fell as the team considered.
"And I doubt Emily and Michael were his first. No way an UnSub develops an MO like this overnight," Gideon continued.
"Ok, everyone, wheels up in an hour," Hotch told them. "We need to get down there before the next couple turns up dead."